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5 Seconds of Summer Settle For No. 2


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5 Seconds of Summer, the new Australian teen band, has nothing to hang their heads about; debuting at no. 2 with 143,000 copies of a four-song EP (She Looks So Perfect) is definitely notable.  Settling for that no. 2 spot behind the unstoppable Frozen Soundtrack (149,000 copies sold) – well that should boost confidence even more considering no one can end Frozen’s run.  After the slim margin separating album nos. 1 and 2, there is a huge gap.  Chevelle’s La Gargola sold 45,000 copies, good for the no. 3 spot.  Former “Jar of Hearts” pop singer/songwriter Christina Perri debuts at a familiar spot (no. 4), but does so smaller numbers for sophomore album Head or Heart (40,000 copies).  Country gets its representation from Dan + Shay, who sold 29,000 copies of Where It All Began (no. 6).  Nickel Creek also get a top ten berth, selling 27,000 copies of their first album following a lengthy hiatus, Why Should the Fire Die?  Hey, they don’t call it lucky no. 7 for no reason, right?

On the songs chart, specifically the Billboard Hot 100, Pharrell Williams continues to make us all “Happy” for yet another week, according to Billboard.  What is most shocking to me is that John Legend’s “All Of Me” is so hot, though I felt the hit potential when the underappreciated Love in the Future arrived in September 2013.  For R&B and for Legend, the popularity of the rather conservative track is awesome.

Next week doesn’t seem electrifying as far as notable new releases.  Still, albums arrive from Martina McBride (Everlasting), MercyMe (Welcome To The New), James Durbin (Celebrate), and SoMo (SoMo) among others. “It is what is”.

Review: Ledisi, ‘The Truth’


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Ledisi unleashes more contemporary R&B moments on The Truth

Ledisi • The Truth • Verve • US Release Date: March 11, 2014

Ledisi4-20140110-222Ledisi Young is one of more talented R&B singers of present times, period.  Honestly, the 41-year old artist has nothing short of extraordinary, soulful pipes; the passion translates easily. Even so, being talented doesn’t necessarily convert to exceptional commercial fortunes, as numerous artists – particularly urban artists – know all too well.  Ledisi did manage to debut in the top ten of the Billboard 200 Albums Chart when 2012 LP Pieces of Me bowed at number eight with 36,000 copies sold.  How her sixth studio album The Truth will ultimately be received commercially after it’s all said and done is questionable, but critically, The Truth is another well-conceived effort from the singer.  In fact, Ledisi opts for more contemporary R&B tunes here, something of a departure.  Don’t get it twisted, she’s not suddenly morphed into Beyoncé, but Ledisi keeps things fresh.

I Blame You” opens with album with an adult contemporary R&B sound, not completely dissimilar stylistically to “Pieces of Me” or much of her previous album of the same title as a whole.  It isn’t until the bridge of “I Blame You” that shades of jazziness appear into the picture, where the harmonic progression truly drives the sentiment.  Vocally a ‘beast’, Ledisi is always most potent when she kicks into her soaring upper register, something she does here to bring home the accusatory opener.  Nearly matching the level of quality, “Rock With You” is the first notion of more contemporary fare from Ledisi.  It’s not quite the tour de force of the opener, but its well produced and does give the artist a different look.

Ledisi1-20140313-70That Good Good” is even more of a stretch stylistically, employing gimmickry from the onset, also conveyed through repetitious lyrics: “I’m the type of woman, woman, woman…” A legitimate question asked while listening to this is, has Ledisi ever sung over an 808 before?  Where this is or isn’t her first time, “That Good Good” ends up being more effective than one would expect judging Ledisi’s earlier work.  Even if one is secretly thinking “sellout”, there is plenty of excellent, sassy lyrical moments to absorb, whether it’s “I’m the type of woman / know what she wants and / ain’t afraid to say what I need” (Verse one) or “Your time your touch boy give me that affection / I need your attention” (pre-chorus).  Honestly, since Ledisi is referencing lovemaking, is a grooving banger so far-fetched?  If it is, the slower, seductive “Lose Control” is more of Ledisi’s niche – artistic lane if you will.  She’s still talking about sex, but she’s classier on “Lose Control”.  Hey, she’s a grown woman!

Like This” switches gears to a more neo-soul approach, with the throwback vibe perfectly suiting the singer. Even though it references the past it is no anachronism; it still retains hipness.  In addition to a sub-style switch, Ledisi also trades the physical for the emotional side of the relationship: “I can’t love you like this…when we argue like this… I can’t love you like this.” Again, Ledisi let’s her upper register shines and cut through exceptionally on her ad-libs.   Neo-soul doesn’t last for long as “Anything” shockingly begins with enthusiastic synths – unexpected by all means.  While the synths are off-putting on a Ledisi album, eventually things settle in.  Again, the ‘look’ is fresh, giving Ledisi a pop-R&B vibe.  “Anything” isn’t the cream of the crop of The Truth, but its no deal-breaker either.  If nothing else, there are some special lyrical highlights, most notably “Love means anyone who tries to curse you / by default they’re cursing me too.” Oh and the electric guitar solo is definitely on-point.

Ledisi-ZNV-002513Titular track “The Truth” is worth the wait, landing at number seven on the track list.  “The Truth” benefits from its production, which includes synthesized vocal synths at the onset.  The harmonic underpinnings also make “The Truth” special, particularly the colorful quirks.  And what is the truth – “I don’t wanna be lonely / don’t wanna spend a lifetime to make you mine / it’s time to face the truth / the truth about me and you…”  “Missy Doubt” is definitely interesting, giving the singer an in your face sort of a track.  Ledisi does awesomely with funk, though “Missy Doubt” isn’t a personal favorite. Conceptually though, Ledisi has something working here despite slightly flawed execution.

88 Boxes” more than atones for the question marks left proceeding “Missy Doubt”.  If “Missy Doubt” had a good concept going, “88 Boxes” has an even better one.  Basically, Ledisi feels as if her relationship – her life – has become nothing but bLedisi-ZNV-002440oxed-up memories.  It’s over and it’s done – she wasted her time. “88 Boxes I counted / my life it went from years to 88 boxes,” Ledisi sings on the chorus.  If The Truth were lacking in innovative spirit, “88 Boxes” infuses some using familiar, authentic scenarios.  “Can’t Help Who You Love” ends the album solidly, but certainly is a shade less enthralling than opening punch “I Blame You” or the top echelon of The Truth.  Still, the messaging is relatable: “You can’t help who you love / the heart’s just got a brain of its own.”

Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement.  Don’t get me wrong, The Truth is no slouch, but comparing it to juggernauts like Lost & Found or Turn Me Loose may be a bit much.  Still, the ten tracks that grace the LP are generally all worthwhile and do show Ledisi ensuring she doesn’t box herself in as only one type of artist.  Maybe “That Good Good” (for example) is exactly the right answer, but it’s not that far off or too ‘left-of-center’ either.  Overall, Ledisi gets it right once again.  We (the fans) wouldn’t expect any less.

Favorites:

“I Blame You”; “Rock With You”; “Lose Control”; “Like This”; “88 Boxes”

Verdict: ★★★★

R&B: The Good & Bad Takeaways So Far in 2014


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2014 has been a mixed year for R&B.  There’s been some good and there has also been so bad.  Even though R&B is still struggling, 2014 has allowed for R&B to have its moments.  Then again, it’s also had its bombs…big time bombs. 

The Good :)

Beyonce3-20130903-63Beyoncé gave R&B a shot in the… well she gave it a shot of commercial relevance with her ‘visual album’

Alicia Keys regains some lost swagger, besting John Legend for the Grammy award for Best R&B Album

 Sharon Jones shows she’s back with a vengeance following cancer on her new LP (with The Dap-Kings), Give The People What They Want

Toni Braxton & Babyface perform better than expected commercially on Love, Marriage & Divorce (66,000 copies sold the first week)

Pharrell WilliamsG I R L debuts at no. 2 and sells a respectable 112,000 copies…

The Recording Academy finally recognizes Robin Thicke with multiple Grammy nominations, albeit in pop categories.

Ashantiz-20140127-165Ashanti’s long-delayed BraveHeart sells 28,000 copies and keeps her top ten Billboard 200 streak alive; better than expected after a lengthy hiatus and a switch from major to indie

John Newman (Tribute), Daley (Days & Nights), and Sam Smith (Nirvana EP) bring top-notch Brit-soul to America.

Algebra Blessett delivered one hot independent R&B album with Recovery (eOne).

Electronic duo Phantogram give legendary soul group The Chi-Lites some love on their song “Bill Murray” (Voices), which samples “The Coldest Days of My Life”.

Bruno Mars was awesome at the Super Bowl.  Classify him as pop if you want to, but Bruno has plenty of soul.  Oodles of it!

The Bad :-(

81hOVzIzucL._SL1500_R&B STILL doesn’t sell like it used to (except for Bey…)

Tamar Braxton gets no Grammy love for her powerful adult contemporary R&B hit “Love & War”… guess it didn’t matter how much she was fighting for love…

No Grammys for Fantasia’s Side Effects Of You? Guess that’s what happens when one is nominated alongside Rihanna.

Candice Glover debuts with embarrassing numbers for her debut R&B album Music Speaks; additionally the numbers are south of R&B contemporaries (no. 14, 19,000 copies)

Going back to that American Idol thing, Ruben Studdard released his sixth album, Unconditional via Verve. It got very few bites… that would be an understatement.  But this again, his debut did have that song “No Ruben” on it… just saying!

41u6FsCRi-L._SL500_AA280_John Legend doesn’t win a Grammy of any sort for Love in the Future, a truly brilliant, soulful affair… just wrong! Do we have no appreciation for one of the classiest, soulful artists of our generation?

Ashanti’s numbers suck (regardless of the “good” point)… 28,000 copies, really? #NOSWAG

British R&B singer Daley’s debut album, Days & Nights got slept on big-time… Where was the promotional intensity? Dude can blow vocally!

Ty Dolla $ign is, um, NASTY! Have you heard Beach House (EP)?

Did I mention R&B doesn’t sell like it used to? I thought so.

 

Candice Glover’s Troubling Numbers


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Candice Glover-20140214-114I don’t blame her in the least – Not even an ounce!  Candice Glover, like millions of others, went into American Idol with the dream of being a superstar.  And the thing is, Glover has superstar talent, sporting one of the better voices to win the competition.  But as has been proven time and time again, it takes more than talent to win over America… and I’m not talking about the American Idol viewing audience.  By win over America, I’m referring to those near-extinct, extremely archaic things called album sales.  Judging by the title, you can tell my girl’s sales are… “U-G-LY/ you ain’t got no alibi” Yes. What’s the word on the street? That on tomorrow’s Billboard 200 Chart, Candice Glover’s Music Speaks is a new entry at no. 14 with 19,000 copies sold.  19,000 copies! “Damn” (Track number four BTW).  I won’t bore you with the stats of other victor’s albums sales, but know that comparatively, the robust-voiced Glover truly ‘laid an egg.’

Back in 2013, I penned a post entitled “Five Reasons Why Candice Glover May Have an Uphill Battle”.  The give reasons were as follows back then: (1) low American Idol ratings, (2) unremarkable single sales (“I Am Beautiful”), (3) R&B continues to trend down, (4) lax promotion, and (5) major record labels tend to have a ‘short leash’.   I went on to make the following prediction to conclude the post:

 “Candice’s first album may compromise her talent/potential talent level by being rushed by a quick ‘turn-around’ date.  The album will likely have insufficient promotion, hurt by ailing Idol ratings, poor single reception/sales, and a lack of deeper monetary investment.  Because of this, the album will likely fall short in the sales department… Hopefully my pessimism is a Worst-case scenario.  I wish Candice the upmost success and career.

Candice Glover2-20140214-115As much as I hate to say it, many of my guesses were accurate.  Believe me, as a hardcore fan of Glover, I hoped that my fortune-telling ways truly stank.  But, having seen how often an album is “done” before it even has a chance over the years, this is no surprise.  Of those five reasons, Glover’s ugly numbers are directly related to – DING, DING, DING – all five.  The sole reason you could argue might be excused is the downtrend of R&B.  R&B is still cooling, though there has been some success with albums by Beyoncé (Beyoncé) and Toni Braxton & Babyface (Love, Marriage & Divorce). That said, those are all established artists and Candice Glover was the winner of the least heralded season of an aging show.  Oh well.  Can’t cry over spilt milk?

Sooooo…What’s a talented artist to do? Keep on hustling another day.  Make the most of the lot that is being given.  The ceiling of the numbers is definitely discouraging, but as Ellie Goulding said best, “Anything Could Happen.”  Do I believe it will… it’s another pessimistic no, unfortunately.

It’s Frozen… At The Top of The Charts Again!


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81XCKteKIXL._SL1425_The Frozen Soundtrack is sort of like winter itself – it just don’t stop! Once more, Frozen finds itself atop the Billboard 200 Albums Chart selling 89,000 copies.  It is surprising that Frozen was able to rise to the top once more, particularly after Eric Church blew the competition out of the water with last weeks no. 1 debuting The Outsiders, which had sold 288,000 copies.   This week, Church takes a step back to no. 2 with only 74,000 copies sold… yuck!  Country newbie Cole Swindell debuts respectably with 63,000 copies of Cole Swindell, good for a no. 3 bow.  Issues – an up and coming rock band – lands at no. 9 with Issues, selling 22,000 copies.  Notice Candice Glover misses the top 10 with debut album Music Speaks.  What a shame.  Also no signs of Phantogram‘s Voices.

51HOVga9zOL._SL500_AA280_By the way, the “Dark Horse” has been dethroned… Pharrell Williams takes the incredibly fun “Happy” to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.  First he “got lucky” at no. 2 and now he’s incredibly “happy” at no. 1.  Top spot baby! Who’s got next on next week’s charts? Beck (Morning Phase), St. Vincent (St. Vincent), and Schoolboy Q (Oxymoron) are all strong candidates.  Where they will land, well only time will tell.

 

Heartbreak City: It’s The End For Robin Thicke and Paula Patton


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Speaking from the perspective of a bachelor, being single isn’t too bad.  Sure, you get lonely sometimes, and you may not have someone to share your innermost secrets with but – yeah being single can suck! For those who have found their soul mate (cue the late-great Gerald LeVert’s song “Soul Mate” please), better yet their wife or husband, marriage, if approached equally from both sides, certainly should be the most wonderful thing, like ever… EVER!  I wouldn’t know mind you, but I imagine if I were to find the right gal, were to “put a ring on it” (sings “Single Ladies”), a brother would have it M.A.D.E. Scareface album from 2007.  Sigh, “all this love talk”…. Oops, one of my own lyrics. LOL.

But enough chitter-chattering from moi about hopeless romanticism and emo-love – “ain’t nobody got time for that!” (any number of sources, be it the viral video, Childish Gambino, or otherwise). I’m not usually one to even give a celebrity split the time of day unless its one of Taylor Swift’s endless breakups that turns into an annoyingly-delicious country/pop song (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”, “Dear John”) or of course Justin Bieber.  However, after having such a big year, I can’t leave my boy Robin Thicke out of the gossip – err news.  The news that broke recently was that Robin Thicke and teenage sweetheart Paula Patton are separating following eight years of marriage and being linked together for what, two decades?

Well, we all know that relationships in “Hollywood” (regardless if that’s where they actually take place) are usually short-lived.  But for a while, it seemed Thicke and Patton seemed to work.  As of yet, there are no concrete details on the reasons for the break-up and honestly, and its really none of our business.  That said, much has been said about Thicke’s ‘behavior’ and no that doesn’t completely lay blame nor completely neglect that god-awful, abysmal, and ill-fitting Beetlejuice suit that was violated by Miley Cyrus’ more horrific twerking at the MTV VMAs.  JUST SAYING – It really didn’t help that Cyrus really “won’t stop” and “can’t stop” when she really, really NEEDS TO [BLEEP] STOP! Sigh! Apparently, Mr. Thicke seems to “get around”.  Again, speculation and gossip are horrid things, but one has to wonder, did a potentially “Unfaithful” Robin Thicke drive Patton crazy, making her feel undervalued? Did you catch the Rihanna song reference?

Here’s a “slow motion” version of Miley’s infamous VMAs performance for your enjoyment… or torture.

Then again, one has to question the incredibly controversial “Blurred Lines” and its effect.  Not only was the song raunchy regardless of what he and Pharrell intended, but the video was X-rated.   Yeah men enjoyed it – why wouldn’t they? But ask most married men if their wives would be okay with them filming a music video with nude women? That would be grounds for break-up or divorce for many right there, I can assure you and I ain’t put a ring on no one’s finger!  If the nude females didn’t do it, perhaps the reference to the size of the “crown jewels” would truly be the last straw… If you don’t catch my drift, well watch “Blurred Lines” again for yourself.

Sure, “Blurred Lines” was the biggest hit of Thicke’s career, trumping his more chivalrous “Lost Without U” from 2006 (The Evolution of Robin Thicke).   “Lost Without U” could be argued to be the better song of the two because of messaging, but it only made it into the top twenty.  “Blurred Lines” was the gift that just kept on giving, through theft charges, misogyny, and general bad taste.  The voters at the Recording Academy knew they couldn’t even reward the juggernaut – it’s lack of substance, despite its addictiveness, was just in “bad taste”.  No song references here, sorry!

Robin Thicke-AES-123459Did “Blurred Lines” destroy the Thicke marriage? Likely not, but for as much success as Thicke had after a lengthy career in the period of one year (2013), there has been an equal amount of controversy.  It was once said that “controversy sells”.  While it does to an extent, when does controversy become too much? Same could be said with marriage.  With whatever problem that arises, where is the breaking point? I mean, Keri Hilson said “Every women has a breaking point y’all…” (I think this was before she threw shade at Beyoncé).  When does a spouse’s bad decisions reach past the point of repair and too damaging to patch up?  Being the positive being I am, I hope that Thicke and Patton can one day work out their differences (Yep cue up “We Can Work It Out” by The Beatles) whatever they may be, but as of now, they are “Done.” – The Band Perry.  Go ahead and give me kudos for my country music reference.  Peace peeps!

BTW, in all seriousness, separation and divorce is no laughing matter.  But I think that many truly perceptive pop culture fanatics could tell something just wasn’t right…

Review: Candice Glover, ‘Music Speaks’


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After much delay, Candice Glover finally delivers her debut album

Candice Glover • Music Speaks • 19 • US Release Date: February 18, 2014

Candice Glover-20140214-114Honestly, it seemed like an urban-sounding artist might never win American Idol again, let alone a female contestant after a string of victorious males.  Candice Glover became the first female victor since Jordin Sparks, though bad timing kind of killed her vibe.  Glover was brilliant throughout a season where everything seemed dead WRONG.  The judges’ panel lacked chemistry (and sometimes tact) while many of the contestants seemed, um, blasé.  The ratings were down and despite a set summer 2013 release for Glover’s debut, it was pushed back to the Fall.  After being pushed back to the Fall, well, the album again was pushed back… until 2014.  Finally, Glover delivers Music Speaks to her fans.  Unfortunately, what little buzz surrounded her or the show seems nearly mute, and winning single “I Am Beautiful” doesn’t even make the album cut.  Still as Lupe Fiasco would say, “The Show Goes On” and Glover definitely shows she has considerable talent throughout Music Speaks.

Promo single “Cried” opens Music Speaks incredibly.  A well-written, heart-wrenching track (co-written by R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan), “Cried” showcases the power, finesse, and nuance of Glover’s voice.  As far as being a single that truly elevates Glover to stardom or commercial aspirations,  “Cried” is likely not the answer.  Another minor rub against the notable cut is its specific placement within the track list; perhaps it could’ve been even more effective elsewhere besides the opener.  Regardless, Glover gives her all on the incredibly underrated single.

Die Without You” isn’t a shabby follow-up in the least, sporting a “cool, calm, and collected” sensibility about it.  “Die Without You” succeeds at being both modern yet old school.  “Die Without You” has enough swagger that it falls in line with the tenets of adult contemporary R&B, but also has that ‘grown folks’ sexiness (“I’d die without you”).  If there is one nitpick, it is that Glover could have even freed her voice more on the ad-libs.  Still, that falsetto towards the end is pretty sweet. Two tracks in, Glover is on the right track.

Same Kinda Man” benefits from its retro-soul production, which proves to be a perfect fit for Glover.  Glover feels as if she’s found her niche here; it doesn’t seem far-fetched that she’s an old soul.  Something about the ambience of horns and a compelling, powerhouse voice makes “Same Kinda Man” extremely appealing.  “Damn” is equally captivating, even if the full production of  “Same Kinda Man” is traded for a more stripped, piano-driven backdrop.  Regardless of less instrumentation, Glover truly sells the “I love another woman’s man” narrative.  Sure, the concept is ‘tried-and-true’, if not completely cliché, but even if Glover doesn’t seem to be the type to experience what she sings of, it’s still a treat.  “Damn, damn, damn / I fell in love with someone else’s man,” she sings on the simplistic, but addictive chorus.  So far, so good for Candice Glover.

Passenger” from a first listen comes off a bit of a bore; its length certainly doesn’t help either.  After a couple of spins though, the adult contemporary track has some magic about it, specifically the chorus (“I’ll be your passenger / I’ll go where you want me too / I’ll let you navigate / just let me ride with you”).  By the end, Glover’s rousing ad-libs certainly atone for any miscues.  Perhaps it isn’t quite as ‘elite’ as the opening quartet; “Passenger” is another solid, love joint.  “Forever That Man” and “Kiss Me” also lack the same fire/intensity of the opening tracks.  Both are solid listens ultimately, but they don’t necessarily separate Glover from other artists in the same vein.  “Forever That Man” gives Glover a pop-oriented ballad, which does at least open the door for crossover appeal. Even so, it isn’t quite a perfect match.  “Kiss Me” lacks a bit of excitement, though Glover certainly performs it well.

In The Middle” is a surprise once it begins playing, particularly following somewhat more conservative cuts like the trio preceding it.  The interpolation of “Ting A Ling” is obvious, but it definitely works contextually. If anything, compared to the previous three cuts, “In The Middle” has more sass and personality.  Worth noting is that former American Idol champ Fantasia serves as a co-writer.  The personality of “In The Middle” also translates onto “Coulda Been Me”, a six-eight cut using some chopped-n-screwed vocals for flavor.  Don’t worry folks; Glover’s talented pipes remain intact and flawless.

Candice Glover2-20140214-115Penultimate cut “Thank You” has a vintage nature about it, given its main idea and production, but it shows Glover truly in her ‘zone’.  Like “Cried”, “Thank You” may not be the lift to propel Glover to commercial success, but it is definitely enjoyable and inspiring.  “Love Song”, Glover’s ‘ace in the hole’ on American Idol, concludes the brief 11 track affair.  The performance is solid, but similar to Fantasia’s cover of “Summertime” is a performance that just can’t be perfectly replicated in the studio setting.  Still, “Love Song” caps off Music Speaks sincerely and appropriately.

Ultimately how does Glover’s Music Speaks stack up comparatively to former Idol debut albums? It’s respectable, though not classic. There is enough solid material and magnificent vocals from Glover to make the album sound and enjoyable, but there is nothing that makes it a contemporary masterpiece.  The greatest pro in regards to Music Speaks is its potential; that potential is certainly grand.

Favorites:

“Cried”; “Die Without You”; “Same Kinda Man”; “Damn”; Thank You”

Verdict:  ★★★½

Eric Church Gets It Done At No. 1 Once More


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Let the “Church” say yes… Corny, I know.  But one of country’s rising stars, Eric Church, just continues to rise.  The Outsiders gives Church his second no. 1 album, selling a healthy 288,000 copies.  Sub 100K weeks are done, at least this week.   How does The Outsiders’ numbers compare to the numbers that greeted Chief? Well ole boy “Doubled Up”… or nearly doubled up (145,000 copies).  In a slow weak for new releases, well, Church was the bright spot.   Compilations continue to do soundly though, as Frozen Soundtrack sold another 100,000 (no. 2) and Now 49 sold 77,000 copies after a no. 1 debut.  From there, the numbers are only so-so.  What is notable, however, is that Toni Braxton & Babyface only see a small drop in sales of Love Marriage & Divorce (it is no. 8 this week).  Go figure.

On The Billboard Hot 100, Katy Perry continues to rule the roost with some help from Juicy J on “Dark Horse”.  However, being “Happy” definitely helps Pharrell Williams, who’s Academy Award nominated hit sits at no. 2.  

81hOVzIzucL._SL1500_As for next week’s chart impact from new releases, Candice Glover, the American Idol season 12 victor, released her debut album Music Speaks.  Unfortunately, with little fanfare behind the album, who knows how well it will sale.  Otherwise, unless Cole Swindell is incredibly established as a new country force, sales might underwhelm.

Shopping List: Seven ‘February 18′ Albums You Should Consider Purchasing


Ah, another week and the necessity for new music.  February has been a slow month, particularly last week’s scant choice of releases.  The three most notable releases last week included two country music artists Eric Church (The Outsiders) and Frankie Ballard (Sunshine & Whiskey), as well as a more underrated R&B release from British singer Daley (Days & Nights)This week isn’t exactly stacked, but there are seven new releases worthy of your consideration, particularly if the music collection is becoming a bit uninspired! 

1

Candice Glover

Music Speaks

19 Records

R&B 

81hOVzIzucL._SL1500_After much delay, American Idol season 12 victor Candice Glover drops her debut album Music Speaks, led by single “Cried”.   Unfortunately, season 12 could be described as a ‘bust’ (at least in my eyes), so there isn’t a great amount of buzz surrounding this album.  Still, Glover possessed a powerful voice; don’t sleep on it!

2

Phantogram

Voices

Republic

Alternative/Electronic 

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My sole experience with indie-pop duo Phantogram (Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel) involves a Flaming Lips song called “You Lust” in which the duo guests.  If their work on that track is an accurate preview, sophomore album Voices their first album in five years – could be something special.  On their official Facebook page, Phantogram’s music is described as “a mix of organic and electronic sounds, with swirling guitar, spaced out synths, and chopped up samples and rhythms.” Sounds right up my alley! 

3

Cole Swindell

Cole Swindell

Warner Music

Country 

81XCKteKIXL._SL1425_One of my flaws as a music journalist as of late has been not giving enough love to country music – shame on me! I missed an opportunity with the release of Eric Church’s The Outsiders last week, the biggest music release last week, as well as Frankie Ballard’s Sunshine & Whiskey, but I’ll make sure I give Cole Swindell some press. Why – well he’s a newbie.  It is always difficult to breakthrough, particularly in the crowded market of country male singers.  Think about it folks, how many new country male artists have come and tried to dint the charts? Additionally, there seem to be fewer country female artists lately for whatever reason.  Regardless, Cole is the latest artist looking for a breakthrough.  

4

St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Half the City

Single Lock Records

R&B

61lsC3OlbXL._SL500_AA280_Don’t let folks tell you that soul is dead – it ain’t. St. Paul & The Broken Bones, a Birmingham, Alabama based sextet, releases their soulful debut, Half The City on Tuesday.  There is a distinct difference between soul and contemporary R&B; his band is about the authenticity of soul.  Kudos St. Paul, kudos.

5

Talib Kweli

Gravitas

Javotti Media

Hip-Hop/Rap 

51CJao5-QfL._SY300_In recent times, rapper Talib Kweli hasn’t exactly lit up the charts (2007’s Eardrum Warner Bros. album did manage a no. 2 bow on the Billboard 200), but he keeps on releasing albums.  This year, following 2013’s Prisoner of Consciousness, TK releases GravitasWith a shortage of rap in 2013 – until the big-time Schoolboy Q release on February 25th – TK might just be the album to tide rap fans over.  

6

Noel Gourdin

City Heart Southern Soul

Shanachie

R&B 

817zTHyGpdL._SL1500_Underrated as albeit, Noel Gourdin quietly releases his third album, City Heart Southern Soul via Shanachie Records.  Gourdin’s previous efforts came courtesy of two different labels – major label Epic and indie powerhouse eOne.  Gourdin is no household name and likely will never achieve such status, but having personally reviewed his previous two LPs, I can attest to the fact that Gourdin is no slouch.  The man can sing!  Don’t sleep on him either!

7

Lost in the Trees

Past Life

Anti

Alternative

41PomL1OndL._SY300_Who exactly is Lost in the Trees?  Lost in the Trees is an indie-rock/pop group led by Ari Picker.  The group’s 2012 LP A Church That Fits Our Needs was an exceptional album that tackled the topic of Picker’s mother’s suicide.  Sure it had its sad moments given the heavy topic, but it was masterfully done.  One of the year’s most underrated and overlooked albums, A Church That Fits Our Needs truly showed off Lost in the Trees’ musicianship and incredible potential, blending sound compositional technique and exceptional lyricism.  2014 effort Past Life certainly has a tough act to follow, but it’s definitely worth checking out to see what this creative collective comes up with.

Review: Dana Salzman, ‘Deep Down’


Deep_Down (1) On Deep Down, Dana Salzman delivers an eclectic album mixing jazz, funk, and hip-hop

On her third album Deep Down, vocalist Dana Salzman presents herself as a premiere eclectic artist, delivering a mix of jazz, funk, and hip-hop.  Throughout the 16-track album, Salzman’s musicianship shines through both her nuanced pipes as well as her thoughtful arrangements.  A trained pianist, under the tutelage of her mother (a notable Russian pianist), as well as the recipient of a degree in jazz from the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, Salzman definitely has no shortage of musical knowledge.  Besides her formal background though, Salzman also possesses that natural music intuition, which is apparent throughout Deep Down.  An enjoyable listen from start to finish, Deep Down is a musical gift of which everyone should partake.

The bright spots are abundant for Salzman.  Opener “Joy” (featuring Valentino) definitely sets the tone of Deep Down, with its pronounced jazz cues and specifically its embrace of the electric piano.  Tasteful urban synths enhance the overall timbre.  For the nerdy, perceptive listener (HA!) the timbrel contrast with the use of piano (acoustic as opposed to electric patch) following Valentino’s guest verse is an incredibly thoughtful one.  Speaking of Valentino, another sound musical contrast is vocally between him and Salzman.  “Joy” may not even be the best track from Deep Down but examined microscopically, there is a wealth of musical excellence to behold as a listener.

IMG_7114All For You” is a definite highlight, finding Salzman embracing both her singing voice as well as her hip-hop side.  Regardless whether she is singing or rapping, Salzman’s agile, rhythmic vocals are a pro. The crossover between soul, jazz, and hip-hop could’ve been an epic fail in others’ hands, but Salzman makes it work out magnificently.  The chorus isn’t what might be called ‘deep’ lyrically, but it definitely unifies the song: “This is all, this is all, this is all for you / day and night / give my all, give my all, give it all for you / love you right.”  Throw in some scatting and a hip vamp on “rather be with you tonight baby” and “All For You” is loaded.

I’m Ready” finds Salzman collaborating with Rappin’ 4-Tay and Samuelle Prater with respectable results.   Sensual sounding backing vocals definitely enhance this ‘romantic’ number of which Salzman states “I’m ready, ready to go deep with you / I’m ready / what you wanna do?”  Better yet is “Because Of You (live)”, one of several live cuts to grace the album. Like later proceeding live cuts “Hunger (live)”, “Sometimes (live)”, and “Rollercoaster (live)”, the atmosphere truly captures the singer at her musical peak.  While live authenticity is truly hard if not impossible to capture even on a live recording that has been released via CD or digital formats, the listener still gets a good idea and feel of what these performances were like in their original setting.  That is definitely further testament to the level of musicianship that Salzman possesses.

Like several of the live cuts, there are also studio versions.  “Rollercoaster”, a standout, first appears in studio form, once more featuring Rappin’ 4-Tay and Valentino.  Opening with a level of mysteriousness, a sensual vibe is established.  If the musical backdrop itself didn’t signal this sensual nature, the lyrics certainly confirm it.  The chorus obviously has the bedroom in mind: “Ah, put your body on me.”  That said, it is Valentino’s line from his guest verse that is even more suggestive, if cleverly so: “Your body is a lock, you’re giving me the key / it’s telling me that this is what you really need.” Ooh la la, Ooh la la!

In between two live cuts, “Again” has more of a contemporary R&B sound compared to other cuts.  One of the notable moments is when there is a touch of reggae, which perfectly fits within the song.  Worthy of individual isolation is “Sometimes (live)”, a cut that begins deceptively slow with its pianistic intro, but transforms into a groovy, complete soulful performance.  Salzman as always is on her game, but she isn’t alone in her artistry.  A fine electric guitar solo proves to be one of many sound musical touches.  Later on, “Real Thing”, again featuring Samuelle Prater delivers a duet with extraordinary vocal chemistry.  Additionally, having those jazzy piano harmonies don’t hurt.

Fill It Up” adds some trumpet to the mix, another example of how timbre and timbrel contrast play a vital role to the success of this album.  The bass line, yet another instrumental specific, also pleases the ear given its activeness.  Following a feistily titled “Instant Climax”, “Mountain” should appeal to those who love the six-eight meter/groove of gospel music.  Slow and relaxed, the bluesy “Mountain” is yet another side of Salzman that contributes to the complete package that is Deep Down.  Vocally, one of the best moments is when Salzman ascends into her upper register; now that’s swag!  Even the tracks not mentioned have ample redeeming qualities, with all deserved of their inclusion on this LP.

IMG_7177 copyUltimately, Deep Down is a fine album that appeals to multiple musical bases.  There is very little to quibble about, but clocking in at over an hour in duration, nitpicking might suggest that the effort is too long.  Otherwise, Salzman flexes her musical abilities magnificently, impressing much more often than not.  If you have never heard of Salzman or have failed to check her out, you should; she’s the total package with ample things to offer.  As for Deep Down – well – it receives my blessing.

Favorites:

“All For You”; “Because of You (live)”; “Rollercoaster”; “Sometimes (live)”; “Real Thing”; “Mountain”

Verdict: ★★★★

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