After much delay, Candice Glover finally delivers her debut album
Candice Glover • Music Speaks • 19 • US Release Date: February 18, 2014
Honestly, 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.
Penultimate 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.
“Cried”; “Die Without You”; “Same Kinda Man”; “Damn”; Thank You”
Daley • Days & Nights • Republic • US Release Date: February 11, 2014
Call 2014 the year of British soul. The U.S. has been blessed by the gifts of John Newman (Tribute), Sam Smith (Nirvana EP), and now one Daley Gareth with his full-length debut, Days & Nights. Daley first made some noise in R&B circles in the U.S. with his EP, Alone Together, which featured a killer collaboration with Jessie J (“Remember Me”) as well as a cover of Amy Winehouse’s soulful “Love Is A Losing Game”. Two songs from the excellent prelude to Days & Night are reprised – “Blame The World” and “Alone Together”. At 12 tracks and shy of 50 minutes, Days & Nights shows that Daley has plenty to offer the R&B world. Perhaps its not an innovative album per se, but Days & Nights is certainly well conceived.
“Time Travel” initiates Days & Nights mysteriously with a modern R&B vibe written all over it as far as songwriting and production work. After a more restrained production approach on the first verse, the second verse sports the full production, with Daley delivering more robust vocals to match. Ultimately, “Time Travel” is a great start for Days & Nights, with Daley vocally impressing with the pureness and jubilance of his tenor. Follow-up “Look Up” isn’t too shabby, shifting from modern R&B to more classic, neo-soul quality. Chivalrous, Daley sings: “I wish that we could face / the things that hold us back / before we fade to black / instead we choose to chase things we know won’t last…” Deep, philosophical talk Daley – deep. Again, the Brit’s higher-pitched vocals shine like a beacon, never fighting with the production work. Strings lift the bridge and Daley matches the more excited, emotional intensity generated as well. A solid opening duo gets Days & Nights started upright.
“Blame the World” is a dramatic, soulful, and moving track, originating on Daley’s Alone Together EP from 2012. “Betrayed your one and only / the tears fell now you’re lonely / now you wanna blame the world,” Daley sings passionately on the memorable chorus. The intensity of the standout is elevated by its soul styled production including synthesized strings, piano, swirls of organ, and horns. A marching snare aids in differentiating the bridge from the other sections of the song. This eliminates predictability and keeps things interesting.
While “Good News” has a tough act to follow, it’s another solid showing ultimately. The tone of “Good News” is one of more hope for ‘good news’ rather than actually spreading it. A number of instances, Daley looks for the positives, though he’s planted in the negative. “I want to take a leap of faith escape it all, but it / seems like there’s no relief whichever way I fall,” he sings on the first verse, only later to follow it up with “We all want the same / love without the pain / truth without the blame / but we’re stuck inside of the storm…” On highlight “Love And Affection”, Daley seems to transcend anything casual: “Thank you / you took me dancing / cross the floor cheek to cheek / but with a love I can really move, really move / I can really dance, really dance.” Daley isn’t being literal about the ‘dancing’, but rather he wants things to get truly serious – he’s not in it for playing around!
“Be” again finds Daley taken by the girl, this time asking her “Will you sleep tonight / or will you lie awake like me / pillow to pillow back to back / pulling the sheets and all of that / waiting for eyes to meet…” Sigh Daley, that’s so romantic. “Alone Together” is even better, pairing Daley with fellow British R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius (formerly of Floetry notoriety as well as being a solo artist). Vocal chemistry is top-notch, particularly upon and proceeding the bridge. “You’re the desert sand, I’ll be your water and you’re the perfect plan I never thought of…” Can you say ‘power duet’ – I think so. “Pass It On” and single “Broken” are both highlights as well, showcasing the best of Daley. On “Pass It On”, Daley rivals Ne-Yo’s contemporary R&B work (patterned after Michael Jackson). “Broken”, on the other hand, shows off Daley’s tremendous vocal skill. The chorus is definitely an attraction: “That’s why I’m never gonna love this way again / I’m never gonna give my heart again/ cause every time I try, I end up broken.”
Days & Nights closes out strongly with the trio of “She Fades”, “Love Somebody”, and of course “Days & Nights” the title track. Still, none of the three are the best of the effort necessarily. “She Fades” benefits from Daley’s continual thoughtfulness in both vocal performance and songwriting. “Love Somebody” details the emotional pull of being truly infatuated (“I’m feeling restless in the morning / composure screwed up on the floor / I’m such a mess when you ignore me / you only leave me needing more”). Similarly, “Days & Nights” is invested in a broken relationship of the past: “Days and nights, spent alone, thinking of no one / the factory of you and me diminished long ago …” Modern production characterizes the concluding title track.
All in all, Days & Nights is an exceptional full-length debut from Daley. What is unfortunate is that there isn’t more buzz surrounding the Brit R&B standout. With such mad pipes, Daley deserves much more recognition. Regardless of his commercial lot, Daley has it going on strongly on Days & Nights.
“Time Travel”; “Blame The World”; “Love And Affection”; “Alone Together” featuring Marsha Ambrosius; “Pass It On”; “Broken”
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.
“All 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.
Ultimately, 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.
“All For You”; “Because of You (live)”; “Rollercoaster”; “Sometimes (live)”; “Real Thing”; “Mountain”
Studdard is in excellent voice on the relatively safe Unconditional Love
Ruben Studdard • Unconditional Love • Verve • US Release Date: February 4, 2014
On February 4th, R&B artist Ruben Studdard released his sixth album, Unconditional Love. It is hard to believe that the “Velvet Teddy Bear” has released six albums. Unless you’re an avid Studdard follower, you are likely in the dark about many of Studdard’s albums given their underrated, quiet release. Studdard’s career went “south” commercially following gold-selling gospel album, I Need An Angel. On Unconditional Love, the perception given from Studdard – newly signed to Verve – is that he just wants to make music. An album where the majority of songs are covers, Unconditional Love isn’t innovative in the least, or particularly exciting, but finds the singer is in excellent voice. Safe it is Unconditional Love also seems to fit Studdard’s musical personality as an adult contemporary R&B singer. Don’t call it the next masterwork, but Unconditional has its moments.
The effort opens with a vocal standard, “The Nearness of You”. The interpretation is executed in a light, soulful approach, with Studdard sounding very similar to a mellow Marvin Gaye. Perhaps it’s a bit ‘sleepy’ to open the album, but Studdard sings extremely well, never breaking a sweat…figuratively speaking. He follows up with Teddy Pendergrass’ beloved classic, “Close The Door”. As with “The Nearness of You”, Studdard definitely has the chops to convincingly pull off the soul gem. The problem is, it is so similar to the original, it doesn’t allow for Studdard to infuse much extra that we haven’t already experienced with the original. Sure, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but for an artist who has struggled with commercial aspirations as of late, Studdard could take more risks.
If “Close The Door” could be considered an obvious song for Studdard to cover, “Love, Look What You’ve Done To Me” is a bit more unexpected. The Boz Scaggs classic receives sound treatment in Studdard’s hands, though it takes a while for it to ‘percolate’. By the end, Studdard allows himself to truly take over the song. Safety seems to be this album’s M.O., with a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” sounding incredibly ‘true to the script’. Don’t get me wrong – it’s freaking beautiful – but many people (including Tank just a couple of years back) have covered it. Quibbles aside, the backing vocals are certainly a nice touch, not to mention Studdard’s ad-libs on near the end. Another slower cut follows in “Hello Again” (Neil Diamond). While the set is all about ‘unconditional love’, at this point, the lushness and tempo come off a bit lethargic. Like “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, some of Studdard’s best energy comes near the close.
By the arrival of “Love, Love, Love” (Donny Hathaway), the groovier, mid-tempo is more than welcome. “Love, Love, Love” is still quite ‘old-fashioned’, but it has a bit more life compared to the ballads. Face it, horns, strings, and organ make things better. It also doesn’t hurt that Studdard exhibits more personality here. As pretty as “They Long To Be (Close To You)” is, it definitely lacks flashiness or innovative spirit. Studdard’s duet with Lalah Hathaway, “If This Word Were Mine” is a much better, more exciting showing. The vocal chemistry is definitely a selling point, as is the particular arrangement of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic. Perhaps it doesn’t supersede a Grammy-nominated version courtesy of Alicia Keys and Jermaine Paul from the So Amazing: An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross compilation, but it is a fine take.
“My Love” (Paul McCartney) is incredibly energetic and feel-good. Sure, The Velvet Teddy Bear is exceptional at big ballads, but he can also lose some of the stodginess when the tempo is a bit quicker or lays somewhere in the middle. The standard version of Unconditional Love closes with two originals. “Unconditional” proves to be lovely, soulful ballad, co-written by pop songwriting standouts Toby Gad and Lindy Robbins. “Meant To Be” is the final statement, co-written by numerous folks including Studdard, David Foster, and Charlie Midnight. As for the deluxe version, Studdard covers Michael Bublé’s “Home” (tempo seems a smidgen too slow) and Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” (receives more contemporary R&B treatment than the original). Unless one is just married to hearing ‘Roo-ben’ tackle those two popular cuts, the standard edition suffices.
Verdict? Unconditional Love is an enjoyable, if safe album that finds Studdard at the top of his game vocally. After years of experience, albeit somewhat underrated following his commercial success, Studdard is a much better vocalist at this point in his career. Unfortunately, Unconditional Love will likely only play to more mature fans and won’t win back the audience who was thrilled with say “Sorry 2004” or even the Big Boy anthem “What Is Sexy?” Still, if “Superstar” was Studdard’s true ‘ace in the hole’, then maybe Unconditional Love as a whole is just what the doctor ordered. Personally, my opinion lies somewhere in the middle.
“The Nearness of You”; “Love, Love, Love”; “If This World Were Mine” featuring Lalah Hathaway; “My Love”; “Unconditional”
The Opposite Sex Dominates Ty Dolla $ign’s Mind on Beach House (EP)
Ty Dolla $ign • Beach House (EP) • Atlantic • US Release Date: January 21, 2014
Ty Dolla $ign arrives in 2014 as a new voice in hip-hop; He’s an R&B singer, but he also has some rapping chops. As seems to be popular (and safe) for the newbie these days in urban circles, Ty releases an seven song EP, Beach House before dropping a full length album for Atlantic Records. Beach House ultimately lacks meaty substance. If the barometer of substance is the inclusion of socially conscious, political, or legitimate relationships, then Ty Dollar $ign fails miserably – like #EpicFail. Beach House is what it is – an EP that thrives on its excesses and perversion as opposed to delivering a message containing depth. Since Ty Dolla $ign represents what is trendy in both hip-hop and contemporary R&B, he is on his game contextually. That said, one has to question if there is truly more to Tyrone Griffin then what he presents at the beach house.
“Work” (featuring Nate Poetics, Casey Veggies, and Twista) initiates Beach House superbly, even if it lacks depth. Ultimately, it is well produced, and a change of pace during the bridge section keeps things fresh. Ty’s mind is focused on sex, specifically on strippers. “Work” is far removed from love or a relationship, evidenced by lyrics such as “I’m gonna work on it / you gon’ get this work, girl / I’mma throw these bands / you gon’ make it clap with no hands…” The hook further cements the sentiment of only ‘thinking with his pants’, as potential partners are referenced to as “hoes” – Charming. Twista definitely confirms the shallowness of “Work” during his guest verse, but at least he’s got a sick flow. Shameful it may be, “Work” stands out.
“Paranoid” stands out as well, particularly the first version featuring B.o.B. Things grow even dirtier, as it always seems better (and trendier) to “Double Up”, as R. Kelly would put it. “Both b**ches drive Range Rovers,” sings Ty on the first verse. “None of my b**ches can stay over / both of my b**ches look good as f**k / your b**ch look like a boogie wolf.” Later, Ty is truly “paranoid” because he believes his two girlfriends (or whatever they may be to him) maybe “tryna set [him] up.” Even more dramatic on the bridge is that Ty keeps it ‘one hunna’: “I’m f**kin’ around with two b**ches / but I never made them h**s my missus.” B.o.B certainly contributes to the raunchiness, managing to blaspheme in the process: “I put my name on it and that’s mine / p**** so wet she thought it got baptized.” SMDH!
A remix, featuring French Montana, DJ Mustard, and Trey Songz is even raunchier. Trey Songz quite possibly delivers the crudest line: “All of my b**ches eat p*** too…” Still, “Paranoid” is a highlight
“Or Nah” overdoes sex, or perhaps it’s the fact it follows three sexually-charged tracks. Wiz Khalifa guests and establishes the ‘culture’ of “Or Nah” pretty quickly: “Heard you not the type that you take home to Mom / is we f**king when we leave the club or nah?” Similarly, Ty asks this girl a number of perverted questions, with his funniest inquiry being “Can I bring another b**ch? Let’s have a threesome…” Geez! The outro is completely inappropriate, but appropriate in the context of the material as Wiz raps “Gonna make that a** clap…” Rappers love clappers… rhyme!
“Familiar” sports exceptional production work, a trend of this EP. The production work certainly compliments the lyrics, even at their most salacious. The familiarity of “Familiar” includes money and Ty’s name…to hoes. Basically, “Familiar” is your cocky, overconfident rap joint. Travis $cott and Fredo Santana come along for the ride, and it is definitely one worthy of asking for forgiveness or going to confession. Travis $cott claims to be “a snort addict, whore addict / and I’m a porn star attraction…I need two Miss Jacksons / a full pack of Magnums…” on the second verse while Fredo has little respect for women on the third verse (“Can’t trust these b**ches / I swear these h**s familiar / she kiss you / but swallow all my children…”). “Familiar”, content aside, isn’t bad. But it’s hard to feel truly ‘innocent’ listening.
“Wood & Leather” doesn’t switch gears in Ty’s topic of choice, but it definitely has a more distinct sound compared to “Or Nah” or “Familiar”. The production truly gives this cut ‘new life’ contextually within the album, even if Ty is still concerned about the action he’s getting: “I could take yo b**ch whenever / all my cars got wood and leather…if she ain’t got no a** she got some t**ties”. Being the confident, perhaps vindictive person is, Ty Dolla $ign makes sure he gets to you: “Every time you see me, man do nothing / I f**ked yo b**ch in the trap on the futon…” Ty, you know you can’t mess with another man’s girl!
In the context of Beach House, an street-smart set, “Never Be The Same” does possess the most substance. Basically, it is an introspective number about the pitfalls of ‘coming up’. Ty sings on the pre-chorus that he “know(s) the trouble the money and fame brings / this time I swear it’s different / I’m in the right place…” Still, the street is firmly planted in Ty on the chorus: “Some n***as hated on me / some b**ches never looked my way / now that I made it homie / there’s some things that’ll never be the same”. Jay Rock guests on verse two, rapping “Tryna make it up out the ghetto / the block is like the Olympics, we walk around with our medal.” It is a fitting close, even if it’s not the set’s best song.
Overall, Ty Dolla $ign shows he has great potential. If the street savvy of Beach House isn’t a deal breaker, it can be considered quite enjoyable. Still, the rub is that Ty Dolla $ign seems to put all his eggs in one basket – sex and more sex. Beach House’s unfavorable view towards the relationship versus it’s liberalized view about hooking up and lacking respect for women (misogyny) is questionable morally and even as a listening experience. Still, the potential is abundant, with some fine-tuning when a full-length album arrives.
“Work”; “Paranoid” featuring B.o.B; “Wood & Leather”
Up and coming R&B singer CJ Hilton has released a steamy new mixtape. Are you ready for the title? Hilton’s latest is called Sextape! *Gasps* *Screams* *Women swooning* Judging by its overt title, it is obvious Hilton has bedroom endeavors in mind. The cover gives this much a way, as Hilton is sitting in the nude on the side of the bed, with his girl lying next to him. Sure, it’s nothing that R. Kelly probably hasn’t tried in some fashion, but Hilton definitely puts himself out there where his artistic vision lies on this mixtape.
Again, one doesn’t even necessarily have to listen to hear where Hilton’s mind is at (cough* cough* down south). Just glancing down the track list, Hilton features such suggestive joints such as “Take Off Your Clothes“, “Let’s Make Love“, “Sexy Eyez“, and of course “Down“. If Pitbull and Ke$ha subtly played up the double meaning of “it’s going down” on “Timber“, Hilton is ‘so serious about’ it really going down, like SOOOOOO SERIOUS. Even though Hilton is thinking with his pants, he does so with incredible pipes and a boatload of potential on his side. He’s no household name YET, but Hilton definitely has something to offer urban music listeners and YES it transcends physical desires! And with R&B always in need of fresh, creative blood, why not CJ Hilton?
Sextape has its moments for sure. It is apparent that Hilton has done his homework from R&B masters of past, known for the sex appeal of their music. Among my favorites moments from Sextape is the penultimate cut “I Luv It”, which is exceptionally produced and overall kind of addicting. Of course, the earlier “Down” is none too shabby, even if it plays up clichés that have played out within the R&B playbooks for years. But honestly, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Even if “Down” is somewhat ‘tried and true’ thematically, “Come” (featuring Mario) has that cool, modern R&B sensibility about it. Hilton also doesn’t pass up the opportunity for the double entendre, a goal that seems atop the list of many contemporary artists regardless of genre.
Ultimately, as aforementioned, CJ Hilton is definitely onto something. Make sure you check out Sextape to see if you’re feeling the Hilton vibe. Just don’t get too bothered by its steaminess!
“Take Off Your Clothes”; “Down”; “Come”; “I Luv It”
Journals steps in the right direction stylistically for Bieber, but isn’t without flaws.
Justin Bieber • Journals • Island • US Release Date: December 23, 2013
For a brief time via iTunes (beginning December 23), Justin Bieber has compiled his Music Mondays releases into one digital album, Journals. Over the past two months, I’ve reviewed the previously issued singles from Journals and have added the newly added five to the arsenal. Overall, I’ve found Journals as an album to be a mixed bag. There are some surprisingly bright spots, but there are also some equally unimpressive ones. Here’s a song-by-song examination of Bieber’s Journals… barf – err… yeah.
Here goes nothing…
Beyoncé shocked the world with the surprise release of Beyoncé, her fifth album, released sans single or buzz to promote it. Regardless of the unorthodox release, Beyoncé has become one of pop culture’s biggest presences. Because of the following Mrs. Carter sports, everything that she does or says draws attention. Unsurprisingly last I checked, Beyoncé’s latest album is set to shake up the charts, even given a Friday, digital-only rollout. After five studio albums, it’s high time to order these by quality and importance. Here it goes!
4 might be considered to be Beyoncé’s oddest and least heralded album; critics and fans were divided alike. When I first listened to it, I was confounded in several respects. The track ordering seemed awkward, particularly opening with ballad “1+1″ as opposed to the clunky girl empowerment single “Run the World (Girls)”. The experimental, foreshadowing of alt-R&B touches is appreciated, though at the time, felt very un-Beyoncé like. After being accustomed to a more dance-pop oriented artist, 4 was a departure from the expected. Still, it definitely had it bright spots.
“Love on Top” was the sole Grammy recognition for the album, winning deservingly for best traditional R&B performance (a very underrated, talented Melanie Fiona might have something to say about that though). “Countdown” had some swagger about it, but didn’t quite receive the same buzz as Beyoncé’s previous ‘home-runs’ you might say. There were also clunky moments like the blasé “I Was Here“, a song attempting to rekindle Beyoncé’s adult contemporary success on I Am…Sasha Fierce. “Best Thing I Never Had” does adult contemporary R&B more justice, though I’m not sure it supplants say “Irreplaceable” from B’Day. Ultimately, 4 was a flawed album with good intentions and some worthwhile moments overall.
“1+1″; “Best Thing I Never Had”; “Love On Top”; “Countdown”; “Run the World (Girls)”
I Am…Sasha Fierce (2008)
Normally, if an album is nominated for such a lofty honor like album of the year, you’d expect it to crown the top of the rankings of an artist’s discography. I Am…Sash Fierce was by no means a bad album, but nor was it Beyoncé’s ‘crowning achievement’. I suspect part of the reason that Beyoncé wasn’t awarded the big award on Grammy night was that Beyoncé tends to make an album of big ‘records’ as opposed to say ‘songs’. That is no knock against Bey, but may not ever earn her the coveted AOTY.
Bey definitely does show more artistic range on this double album, split between more of an adult contemporary pop set (I Am…) and her more expected danceable contemporary R&B joints (…Sasha Fierce). Bright spots from I Am… includes the brilliant “If I Was A Boy”, the angelic “Halo” (a Grammy nominee and winner), and the moving “Ave Maria“. From the edgier …Sasha Fierce, standouts includes the ubiquitous song of the year winner “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”, the hip-hop swag “Diva“, and the egocentric “Ego“. Be them just big records or decent songs, I Am…Sasha Fierce was stacked with some fine moments.
“If I Was A Boy”; “Halo”; “Ave Maria”; “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”; “Diva”; “Ego”
An argument could be made that B’Day stacks up equally to both albums ahead of it in these rankings, specifically her debut album Dangerously in Love. That said B’Day is in some respects more like an extension of Dangerously in Love as opposed to say an innovative tour de force. That doesn’t mean it is a ‘copycat’ as it’s not, but it is patterned after the style of her debut, naturally. Regardless, quality shines brightly upon this effort, yielding numerous hits and garnering Beyoncé both Grammy nominations and a victory for Best Contemporary R&B Album.
Promo single “Déjà Vu” failed to match the oomph that “Crazy in Love” possessed from her debut, but it was by all means consistent and a worthy successor. “Ring The Alarm” was another attempt at achieving the lofty expectations of the singles chart performance of Dangerously in Love, but like “Déjà Vu”, it would fall short. Manic, “Ring The Alarm” was still an exceptional track, as was the suggestive gem “Freakum Dress” with its hard, buttressing drums. Other cuts allure as well for various reasons, whether it was the ultra successful adult-contemporary R&B no. 1 pop sing “Irreplaceable”, the feisty “Upgrade U” and “Suga Mama”, or the traditional R&B highlight “Resentment”. Expectations were stratospheric for this album – way too high – but ultimately, I find it to be well rounded.
“Déjà Vu”; “Ring The Alarm”; “Suga Mama”; “Freakum Dress”; “Resentment”; “Irreplaceable”
Surprise fifth studio album Beyoncé (“The Visual Album”) is by far Beyoncé’s most risqué effort to date. Also, I believe there is a legitimate argument this is her best album not because of the risqué quality, but because of Bey’s willingness to experiment and transcend the label of dance-pop contemporary R&B artist. Vocally, Beyoncé is as stunning as ever – no questions asked. The records on this particular album also match the compelling voice, even with more sexuality involved in the mix. Beyoncé also doesn’t spend all of her time being naughty; she’s opens with mighty punch with “Pretty Hurts” and closes with heavy numbers in “Heaven” (arguably about her miscarriage) and “Blue” (about the joy that is daughter Blue Ivy).
But let’s face it – the “Naughty Girl” side of Beyoncé is quite alluring without question. Ojn “Drunk in Love”, Bey’s booze isn’t Jack Daniels, but rather Jay-Z. On, “Blow” she transforms candy, specifically skittles, into sex. “Rocket” is both incredibly passionate and explicit, with Beyoncé role-playing what’s going down in the sack… On “Jealous”, Beyoncé does everything she can to keep her man while on the Drake assisted “Mine”, she’s also incredibly paranoid. Then she balances controversy and feminism on “***Flaweless” where on the first half she infamously repeats the line “bow down b*tches” while on the second half she drives home women’s empowerment. Beyoncé is a site to behold.
“Pretty Hurts”; “Haunted”; “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z; “Blow”; “Rocket”;
Dangerously in Love (2003)
Is Dangerously in Love my favorite Beyoncé album? The jury is still out on that one chief. I believe that Dangerously in Love is the chanteuse’s most important album as it serves as the genesis of Beyoncé the solo superstar. Ultimately, it is a well-crafted affair. At the time of release, it was a standard-setter, period. Because of its importance, this is the reason I’d rank Dangerously in Love at the top. Sure, Beyoncé has evolved since this effort, particularly evidenced by the curve balls of 4 and most recently Beyoncé, but this is where the magic all began.
“Crazy in Love” was iconic with the dance itself serving as one of the defining moments of the year and arguably the decade. This was the peak of producer Rich Harrison, who would go on to produce Amerie’s biggest hit “1 Thing”. “Naughty Girl” is now tame compared to Beyoncé’s recent songs, but at the time, it was deliciously edgy without overstepping boundaries. “Baby Boy” was pleasant, and featured a then hot reggae-rap star, Sean Paul. “Dangerously in Love 2” found Bey flexing her balladry muscles, while “Be With You” also slowed things down, but kept it sexy. Other nice touches include the reprisal of powerful cover duet “The Closer I Get To You” (with Luther Vandross) and the lovely, thoughtful “Daddy”. No matter what Beyoncé releases in the future, Dangerously in Love will always be considered the ‘classic’.
“Crazy in Love”; “Baby Boy”; “Naughty Girl ”; “Be With You”; “Dangerously in Love 2”;
- The First Time I Saw Beyoncé She Screwed Up (buzzfeed.com)
- Secret Beyonce album to debut at No. 1 (cnn.com)
- Review: Beyoncé, ‘Beyoncé’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
- ‘Beyonce’ Heading for Number One (rollingstone.com)
- Sex and Versatility On #BeyoncesNewAlbum (princeakeem.com)
- Beyonce Sells Over 500,000 Albums During the Weekend (news.softpedia.com)
Jesse McCartney continues where he left off with 2008 effort Departure
Jesse McCartney • In Technicolor (Part I) • EightOEight • US Release Date: December 10, 2013
After five years, actor/sometimes pop star Jesse McCartney finally makes his return to music (notice ‘finally’ is underlined). The looming question is what took so freaking long? Those who followed McCartney’s career know that he was set to release his fourth studio album, Have It All back in 2011. Well, Have It All never came through – only single “Shake” hails from the unreleased effort. Bummer things turned out that way as McCartney was on a roll (contextually) once he finally embraced his more ‘urban’ pop roots on 2008 album Departure. Maybe Departure wasn’t a classic, but it did yield two notable singles – no. 10 pop hit “Leavin’” and the Ludacris assisted remix of “How Do You Sleep?”, a top 40 pop single itself. Thankfully on his new EP of new material, In Technicolor (Part I), McCartney keeps the ‘Justin Timberlake’ swag going.
So how much analysis and criticism can be made of a four-song, 12-minute EP? Well if you know Brent Faulkner, he can nitpick at anything – really! The good news for my homeboy is, well In Technicolor (Part I) tickles my fancy. Why? Well, McCartney has ‘old-school’ in mind here. Rather than thinking contemporary-electro pop/R&B, McCartney hearkens back to feel-good music from the seventies. He doesn’t do so anachronistically – he still has that twenty-something swagger. But unlike many artists his age, he seems to understand that the ‘bread is buttered’ with classic sounds and influences.
“In Technicolor (Part I)” doesn’t even clock in at two minutes, but manages to pack a punch regardless. McCartney’s vocals are clear as a bell; they’re most distinct when he infuses upmost emotion and a dash of falsetto. On the catchy chorus (“Technicolor / waiting for that…searching for that…”), McCartney is assisted by soundly arranged backing vocals, further sweetening the track as a whole. Ultimately, “In Technicolor” suits McCartney’s sensibilities – straddling the pop and soul world much like JT.
As good as an under-two minute opener may be, “Back Together” stands out even more. From the title, you’d correctly assume this is all about rekindling a broken romance. Slickly produced with a taste of funk and those retro-soul/pop cues in play, “Back Together” feels good, a similar sentiment that McCartney tries to convey within the writing. Speaking of the songwriting, it’s strong and further strengthened by sensible structure and form. A favorite lyric hails from the first verse: “Lipstick on my cigarette, how you used to hog the bed / the little sh*t that I can’t forget…” It doesn’t end there as the pre-chorus serves as masterful, poetic segue to the chorus (“I reminisce with the stars tonight/ and think of how we knew them all by name / but they don’t shine half as bright / ever since you walked away…”). Cheers to “the little sh*t” which McCartney refers to as it works out well for him.
I’m a single guy and I’ll readily admit I’m not ready to concede my ‘singlehood’ for commitment, but I definitely appreciate McCartney’s openness for marriage on the chivalrous “Tie the Knot.” Burst of horns add a little extra spice on top of this romantic gem, something that is certainly the antithesis of much of urban music, which relies too heavily on sex and the shock value of being overt rather than subtle. McCartney realizes something else that many artists don’t – subtlety can carry as much if not more weight than brashness. Take R. Kelly’s Black Panties for example – the veteran totally strips romance in favor of emotionless sex. “Tie The Knot” is drenched in emotion, without being a ‘bump-n-grind’ ballad.
Closer “Checkmate” is the most contemporary track on In Technicolor, firmly planted in contemporary, modern R&B. Like the previous three tracks, McCartney is in exceptional voice. What is different is that McCartney clings to his lower register more, further crafting another winning performance. If he’s more restrained on the verses, McCartney makes up for it on the bridge, which is more excitable and contrasts the rest of the song. The chorus rocks lyrically as McCartney tells her “…girl you will always lose when you choose to make the moves that you make…” CHECKMATE!
Honestly, there is little to denounce about In Technicolor (Part I). 12 minutes may not provide a full picture of what McCartney has up his sleeves, but it certainly at least gives the listener a worthwhile hint. The biggest quibble ultimately is that there is only 12-minutes of music and McCartney has been gone for five years! But, if it is indeed “the little sh*t”, well this little album is pretty enjoyable.
“Back Together” and “Tie The Knot”
- Jesse McCartney – AMAs 2013 Red Carpet (justjared.com)
- New Tunes Tues: 5 Songs To Know This Week From Jesse McCartney, Rebecca Black’s “Saturday” (!!!) And More (okmagazine.com)
- Throwback Thursday: Jesse McCartney (apekejoy.wordpress.com)