Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse

Music Shopping List: 7 Albums to Consider Purchasing May 26, 2014


Austin Mahone 2014 iHeartRadio Music Awards - Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium Los Angeles 05/01/2014 © WENN
Austin Mahone 2014 iHeartRadio Music Awards – Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium Los Angeles 05/01/2014 © WENN 

May continues to be an impressive month for new album releases – whew, April was lacking! The May 27th release date may not be the sexiest of the month, but it’s hard to call it a ‘bust’ when Mariah Carey is in the mix.  Throw in the latest teen heartthrob (Austin Mahone) and there seems to be plenty of meat to sink one’s teeth into this week.

Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah 1) Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse (Def Jam)

Mariah Carey’s first album in five years hasn’t had the smoothest promotional campaign, nor does it sport a title that just ‘flows’ right off your tongue.  The moderate success of single “#Beautiful” with a then hot Miguel is also long gone.  How will Me I Am Mariah perform? Time will only tell.

Austin Mahone, The Secret

2) Austin Mahone,The Secret (EP) (Universal Republic)

After taking ample time to establish a fan base – as well as reach 18 – Austin Mahone is finally going to give the ‘Mahomies’ something to talk about on his EP, The Secret.   The timing for Mahone’s EP seems great, particularly considering that there is no big teen-pop artist hogging the spotlight at this point in 2014 (5 Seconds of Summer haven’t been dominant).

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3) Neil Young, A Letter Home (Reprise)

Neil Young may be getting older, but the arguably underrated veteran artist keeps on cranking out album after album it seems.  A Letter Home follows up Young’s 2012 double-LP Psychedelic Pill.   A Letter Home is a covers album.

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4) Kiss, Kiss 40 (UMe)

Kiss 40 celebrates the legendary rock outfit’s 40th anniversary with you guessed it, a compilation containing 40 of their biggest songs.

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5

James Newton Howard

Maleficent Soundtrack

Walt Disney

The soundtrack to the highly anticipated Disney film Maleficent – starring Angelina Jolie –features Lana Del Rey’s haunting cover of  “Once Upon a Dream”.

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6

Neon Steeple

Crowder

sixstepsrecords 

Christian artist David Crowder (just referred to as Crowder here) releases his follow up to 2012 LP Give Us Rest (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])Neon Steeple features a collaboration with Emmylou Harris on track “My Sweet Lord”.

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7

Sorry I’m Late

Cher Lloyd

Epic

British pop star Cher Lloyd returns with her sophomore album, Sorry I’m Late, following her 2012 debut effort Sticks & Stones, which debuted at no. 9 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart.  Single “Want U Back” gave Lloyd a top 15 US hit, peaking at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

MIchael Jackson, Xscape © Epic

Review: Michael Jackson, ‘Xscape’


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Xscape proves to be a ‘much better than expected’ posthumous MJ album
Michael Jackson • Xscape • Epic • US Release Date: May 13, 2014

“Couldn’t have said it better myself!” – my thoughts on another new Michael Jackson album that is, as excerpted from a previous post:  “Let’s not kid ourselves at all here – Michael Jackson’s most important/best work has come and gone.  No questions or skepticisms whatsoever. The classic albums that the late pop/R&B star previously released are what cement his legendary status, not something like the highly anticipated, posthumously released Xscape.” Perhaps I was a bit harsh or the slightest bit too pre-judgmental, but truthfully, unless MJ had released another Thriller posthumously somehow, his new album wasn’t going to supersede his best work.  That said Xscape is no slouch in the least.  This skinny eight-track album (the nine tracks in the deluxe editions are different mixes) is a fine one that’s more than worthy of some spins. Think of Xscape as what MJ would’ve sounded in the 2010s – swag written all over it!

Love Never Felt So Good” kicks off XScape, carrying classicism about it.  The track doesn’t feel anachronistic, but does preserve a neo-disco sound that was incredibly popular in the 80s, of which this cut hails from.  The production work is tasteful and lush, giving this unreleased track fresh life in the pop-soul vein.  Sunny and optimistic, while “Love Never Felt So Good” may not reach the unreachable and untouchable status of Jackson’s universally acclaimed classics, it is a noteworthy addition, definitely stronger than “This Is It” was.

“Chicago” has a difficult act to follow, but the sound track from the Invincible sessions (late 90s and early 00s) holds its own.  Perhaps even more than “Love Never Felt So Good”, the sound is more contemporary oriented, certainly more than it would’ve been had it made Invincible back in 2001.  Still, the vintage appeal of Jackson and the tail end of the New Jack swing era is apparent. “Loving You” is an even older cut than “Chicago”, hailing from Jackson’s Bad era.  Arguably, “Loving You” sounds more contemporary given the modern production tricks of Timbaland and co-producer Jerome “Jroc” Harmon.  The balladry of the number does reminisce back to “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, notably the harmonies, but still feels fresh in 2014.  Maybe that freshness is most attributed to the timelessness of Jackson the artist.  Regardless, the lushness of “Loving You” truly incites a romantic vibe.

“A Place With No Name” arrives from the Invincible sessions like “Chicago” did, but sounds older.  According to the liner notes, “A Place With No Name” contains a portion of “A Horse With No Name” written by Dewey Bunnell, a 70s song, which would explain the ‘older sound’.  Even so, “A Place With No Name” definitely has the script listeners have come to characterize Jackson with – busy percussive groove, minimalist rhythmic production cues in general, and MJ’s signature scoops and yelps (for lack of a better word).  There is a sense of familiarity with “A Place With No Home” that naturally elevates this track up a peg or two on the listening hierarchy.

“Slave To The Rhythm” hails from the heart of New Jack Swing, Jackson’s Dangerous era.  “Slave To The Rhythm” definitely has the elements that made a joint like “Jam” or “In The Closet” a success. Even with Timbaland’s updates, he doesn’t tread too far to strip the new-jack sound – he merely refines it for the times.  Production details aside, the real draw of “Slave To The Rhythm” is that it possess the grittiness of some of Jackson’s best. “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” is definitely a Jackson record, with a pronounced socially conscious message front-and-center.  “Do you know where your children are?” the pop star asks on the chorus, “…If they are somewhere out on the street / just imagine how scared they are.”  David Williams’ electric guitar solo towards the end of the cut definitely signals that 90s sound that Jackson bought into on both Dangerous and the more underrated History.  A highlight here is the gargantuan drums and the impact of the hits.

“What you gonna do / you ain’t no friend of mine / the blue gangsta”. No track my have more swagger than the slick “Blue Gangsta”, which opens incredibly mysteriously before settling into mean-sounding contemporary R&B.  Timbaland delivers some of his most inspired production work, truly updating the original.  The final funky brass hit is an incredibly thoughtful production choice.  Besides a killer groove and superb palette of sounds, vocally Jackson sound impressive, particularly his biting, gritty upper register.  The feistiness of the pop star truly shines through here; you could totally envision Jackson ‘eating up’ this cut when he originally recorded it.

Title track “Xscape” concludes the standard edition of the album. A cut about escapism (“Everywhere I turn, no matter where I look / the system’s in control, it’s all ran by the book…”), “Xscape” seems optimistic, but not without pain or disillusionment.    Unsurprisingly, the production work continues to be impressive, this time at the hands of Rodney Jerkins, a seminal part of Invincible.  “Xscape” only has one flaw of note, from the musical critic who is also a total music nerd – MJ’s lower vocals on the verse are coarse in sound as if he was rushed, playing less attention to accurate pitch.  Once he gets into his upper register – where fans’ ears have become tuned the most to – “it’s all good”.

The deluxe edition of Xscape features the original versions of the standard tracks as well as the duet version of “Love Never Felt So Good” featuring Justin Timberlake.  Additionally, the deluxe edition comes with a DVD, which features a documentary about the project.  After listening to the original versions, it makes sense why producers opted to enhance the material with new mixes and more development.  The originals are solid overall, but don’t necessarily have the pizzazz that the newer mixes do.  Additionally, some of the originals sound ‘dated’ (contextually) compared to today’s music.  Sure, they everything sounds very MJ like, but there is a draw to the slick production work courtesy of Timbaland, Jerome “Jroc” Harmon, Rodney Jerkins, and Stargate.  Wouldn’t a truly contemporary Michael Jackson sound, well, modern?  I think so.

Ultimately, Xscape proves to be a ‘much better than expected’ posthumous MJ album.  It doesn’t fall into the same league as Jackson’s ‘Big 3’ albums (Off The Wall, Thriller or Bad), but it certainly is a welcome addition to the pop star’s discography.  Each of the eight new songs is worthwhile – none of them misses the mark.  Even being nitpicky, it’s hard to deny this is more of the MJ caliber album desired when Michael arrived in December 2010.  Personally, this is how I would’ve envisioned Michael Jackson’s sound evolving past his prime, had he lived.  Xscape receives my blessing.

Favorites: “Love Never Felt So Good”; “A Place With No Name”;  “Do You Know Where Your Children Are”; “Blue Gangsta”

★★★★

Review: M&O, ‘Almost Us’


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M&O isn’t a household name, but perhaps the duo should be

M&O • Almost Us US Release Date: April 3, 2014

In an age where many of us music listeners are searching for the next ‘big-thing’ – aka the next breakout artist/band – too often WE think ‘too big’ and end up missing out on a treat that wasn’t so far-fetched to discover. There are a number of independent artists who offers just as much, if not more than our ‘idea’ of what and who the next big-time major label artist should be. Among those artists – the “lesser-known” artists as they could be categorized – is a duo that shouldn’t be slept on by the name of M&O. Formerly known as Milo & Otis, Jamila “Milo” Woods handles vocals/vocal arrangements while Owen “Otis” Hill handles instrumental/production duties. After releasing an EP in 2013 entitled The Joy (it’s available digitally), the Chicago duo return (new name intact) with a second EP entitled Almost Us. Generally credited as an R&B offering, Almost Us is eclectic and definitely transcends R&B and labels in general. Available digitally and physically via music bandcamp as of April 3, 2014, Almost Us won’t leave the listener disappointed.

House” opens Almost Us, exemplifying the popular, newfound alt-R&B sound that is breathing new life into the R&B genre. Like major-label contemporaries including Jhene Aiko or Miguel, the alt-soul cues are definitely in play from both Milo (vocals) and Otis (production). “House” has a chill vibe, alluringly lazy vocals, and exceptional production. Referencing those ‘lazy’ vocals, M&O’s sound reminisces back to Erykah Badu in her prime (Baduizm). On “Run”, Milo definitely has strong opinions lyrically: “I would rather run, far away from you / I would rather run.” Besides another well-penned song and hypnotizing vocals, “Run” features a hard anchoring beat that propels the track forward. The overall production thrives from its creativity and minimalism. A variety of tasteful synths and sound effects once more provide a compelling backdrop for Milo to paint with her voice. The use of cool, soulful background vocals doesn’t hurt the cause either.

Jimi Savannah” has more of a pop/rock-oriented sound about it, definitely contrasting “House” and “Run”. Milo’s voice is incredibly versatile, so the shift from more overt R&B to pop/rock is by no means drastic. As always, Otis is there to lockdown the production exceptionally. Perhaps even more than “House” or “Run”, minimalism plays a driving force, specifically courtesy of guitar and bass lines. “It Was The Song”, featuring Donnie Trumpet, gives Almost Us some tempo to work with aka it’s quicker than “Jimi Savannah”. Additionally, after a brief stint with pop/rock, “It Was The Song” returns M&O to R&B/soul fare. “Hollow” features some of Otis’ most adventurous production as of yet, completely abandoning a specific style or niche. Because of the initial unpredictability, “Hollow” has the listener sitting at the edge of their seat just to see what’s going to happen next. The vocal production on “Hollow” definitely shines, playing into the minimalist sense of the overall production. A slow, grinding cut, “Hollow” ends up being one of the most alluring.

Blue” builds off of the tremendous vocal arrangement of “Hollow”, opening stunningly with layered vocals.   The best way to describe the opening is lush and fluffy – think of a baby kitten (Aw!). After making an opening statement with its vocal salvo, “Blue” develops into yet another compelling, alt-R&B number. “Blue”, like the majority of Almost Us, lacks in vocal histrionics that much of R&B possesses, which reduces some of its heart-wrenching, spirit-filled edginess. That said the vibe and the intensity built from the production sort of makes up for the gospel-tinged runs.

Penultimate track “Neighbor” opens mysteriously as anything else, perhaps even a bit off-putting (if you have preconceived expectations). Vocals once more serve as a gargantuan, unavoidable piece within the production. The difference here is that initially, the vocals aren’t layered like “Blue”. With pacing once more serving as a pivotal characteristic, “Neighbor” eventually rounds out into form as the pieces meld together. If the duo of “Blue” and “Neighbor” seemed bit ‘too far out’, “When Pigs Fly” is more accessible. Even so, “When Pigs Fly” definitely doesn’t supersede the album’s two best cuts, “Home” or “Run!”

Ultimately, Almost Us offers the listener a wonderful exemplification of the new school of R&B, with all its ambitious eclecticism. All eight songs have redeeming value, which is a testament to the musicianship of the duo. That said, sometimes it could be argued that M&O play it the slightest bit too ‘cool’ throughout the effort – sometimes it is a bit too ‘chill’. It is nitpicking – nitpicking that could be easily fixed if there were bit of a ‘push’ or extra bite. Still, if you enjoy your music with some unpredictability and incorporating a couple of styles, Almost Us is certainly the right listening opportunity. Hey, it definitely receives my praise and blessings.

Favorites:

“House”; “Run!”; “Hollow”

Verdict: ★★★★

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Review: MKTO, ‘MKTO’


MKTO © Columbia

MKTO don’t reinvent the wheel, but deliver worthwhile pop music

MKTO • MKTO • Columbia • US Release Date: April 1, 2014

Every year, there are new pop acts that come and go. Some make a gargantuan impact and either exemplify current trends soundly or begin a new trend. Others fall by the wayside, going unnoticed. For MKTO, made up of actors/musicians Malcolm Kelly and Tony Oller, they don’t reinvent pop’s wheel (if there is such a thing), but they do execute pop’s current trends very well. Don’t call MKTO the saviors of pop or perhaps even the next ‘great’ thing, but the twenty something duo definitely have something to offer. With Kelly handling the rhymes and Oller handling the soulful vocals, debut album MKTO definitely shows there’s something there.

Thank You” begins MKTO incredibly positive and upbeat; there isn’t the slightest ounce of negativity. Calling “Thank You” something previously unheard in pop music would be a major overstatement, but in the context of a debut album, MKTO get off to a solid start. If nothing else, the vocal grit courtesy of a soulful Tony Oller is noteworthy.

MKTO in Concert at Q102's Performance Theatre in Bala Cynwyd - November 18, 2013 Q102's Performance Theatre Bala Cynwyd, PA, USA 11/18/2013 © Paul Froggatt / PR Photos

While “Thank You” is a highlight, “Classic” is even stronger. Don’t go so far as to say it exemplifies its title, but it is definitely irresistible pop. I mean lyrics like “I wanna thrill you like Michael / I wanna kiss you like Prince…” are just, scrumptious and that’s not even the chorus (“You’re over my head / I’m out of my mind / thinking I was born in the wrong time…you’re one of kind living in a world gone plastic / baby you’re so classic”)! Malcolm’s pop-rap swag seals the deal (“A 70s dream and an 80s best…Girl you’re timeless, just so classic.”)

God Only Knows” isn’t bad, though it doesn’t quite live up to the bar established by “Classic”. Still, “God Only Knows” is no waste, once more benefiting from catchy lyrics, most notable on the chorus (“God only knows /how much I need you…”). A song of both emotional investment and physical desire (“When you touch me with your body / and all that I can think is how to lose our clothes”), “God Only Knows” is highly relatable to all ages.MKTO in Concert at Q102's Performance Theatre in Bala Cynwyd - February 21, 2014 Q102's Performance Theatre Bala Cynwyd, PA, USA 02/21/2014 © Paul Froggatt / PR Photos

American Dream” opens with the statement, “Do something with your life”, a definite foreshadow to the positivity of the song. Where Malcolm played a minimal vocal role previously on “God Only Knows”, “American Dream” allows the MC to shine as well. The results are none too shabby, though again, nothing incredibly innovative or ‘brand new’. Still, hard to deny clever lyrics like “This ain’t the same summer that you used to know / ‘cause Jack left Diane thirty years ago…”

Could Be Me” brings pop-soul singer/songwriter extraordinaire into the mix, Ne-Yo. Like everything else, the results are definitely pleasant, particularly adding Ne-Yo’s smooth vocals. As expected, “Could Be Me” is a soundly crafted pop cut with great potential to appeal to multiple audiences. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of “Could Be Me” is that Malcolm doesn’t allow the perceived ‘innocence’ of “Could Be Me” hold him back when it comes to his rhymes: “She keep on searchin’ for the wrong man / with the iced out Cartier on hand / So mean but he look like Tarzan / little b*tch but he act real hard man.” A little gutty-ness never hurt anyone, right?

Forever Until Tomorrow” cedes no momentum, as the duo continue to please. The lyrics are revolutionary, but simplistic, conveying emotions everyone experiences: “Girl I, I’m gonna love you / forever and ever and ever / girl I, I’m gonna hold you / forever and ever and ever…”

If there was any doubt that MKTO had some rebelliousness despite their ‘feel good’ pop, “Wasted” definitely proves this – all it takes is one f-bomb, right? Honestly, “Wasted” is the edgiest song of the otherwise ‘sunny’ debut, and the only ballad up until this point of the effort. “Am I crazy to think that I could be in love when it all ends up,” sings Oller on the chorus, “…I’d give you my heart, but I’d just f*ck it up / we’d end up, we’d end up wasted / la la la…” The sharp song manages to reference “Jack and coke smokin’ on the fire escape” as well as the religiously skeptical lyric “If I believed in God I’d pray, to God I’d pray.” Maybe it won’t appeal to those who enjoy everything being utopian, but personally, a little edge never hurt anyone.

Atonement arrives on “Heartbreak Holiday”, in which a quicker tempo and bright sound returns to MKTO. Even so, it’s pretty safe to say that MKTO don’t enjoy February 14: “(Baby I hate) I freaking hate / (Valentines Day) Valentines Day / (I’m feeling this pain) It cuts like a blade when I think about you…” Even through Oller’s soulful disdain for being without his baby, the listener is treated with another winner overall.

The opening of “Nowhere” is certainly suggestive…um, just plum freaky (“Breakfast in bed, bacon and eggs… she keeps me fed / breast and some legs / well done, yeah, well done”). It is what it is… hey MKTO are comprised of two twenty something guys – what do you expect? Ultimately, MKTO aren’t going “nowhere” anyways, though one has to question if it’s merely the emotional benefits of the relationship… just saying!

Penultimate cut “No More Second Chances” opens lovely, with Oller displaying the sheer beauty of his pipes on the chorus (“No more second chances, no more plastic lies / no more giving me reasons to make me have to say goodbye”). It follows with quasi-rap/spoken word by Malcolm, who gets a slight change of pace with the production to progress the cut. Sure, Malcolm goes a bit stupid, but the reference to Waka Flocka and a variant on the f-bomb does capture one’s attention: “She trying to be my flame like Waka Flocka with the focka”. A guesting Jessica Ashley definitely shines here, providing another contrasting voice to the mix and eliminating any sense of predictability. In regards to the production, “No More Second Chances” works well.  MKTO in Concert at Q102's Performance Theatre in Bala Cynwyd - February 21, 2014 Q102's Performance Theatre Bala Cynwyd, PA, USA 02/21/2014 © Paul Froggatt / PR Photos

Closing cut “Goodbye Song” puts the sentiment of ‘goodbye’ out there explicitly: “Ya I’mma put your sh*t out on the lawn / leave my heart and take your bone / there’s nothing left to say so long / this is your goodbye song.” Well, at least the album ends with a bang.

Overall, MKTO is an enjoyable, solidly conceived pop album. Like many of the albums it competes with, the rub is its lack of big-time innovation. Though MKTO isn’t particularly innovative or strikingly different from other pop/hip-hop hybrid acts, it’s still one of the better albums using this style. There are no misses, just certain numbers hitting home more than others. There is room for improvement, as there is with a number of artists and bands, but MKTO certainly get off to a good and speedy start.

Favorites:“Thank You,” “Classic,” “Could Be Me,” “Forever Until Tomorrow,” “Wasted”

★★★½

Photo Credit: © Columbia, © Paul Froggatt / PR Photos

Review: Kid Cudi, ‘Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon’


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Kid Cudi’s surprise fourth LP is both ‘creative’ and ‘off-putting’

Kid Cudi • Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon • Republic • US Release Date: February 25, 2014

KidCudi-081310-0001Describing Kid Cudi as merely “one of a kind” might be the biggest understatement ever…change that – it is the biggest understatement ever.  Album release by album release, the left-field/alternative rapper (or singer or both) continues to deliver music that is, well, completely different from everybody and everything else out there.  Kid Cudi’s surprise fourth album, Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon, is no different from previous Cudi albums in regards to the fact that the artist is in his own world, beating to his own drum.  Satellite Flight is different than previous Cudi albums in regards to the fact that it is only ten tracks long and of those, four are instrumental.  Non-standard and unconventional, Satellite Flight is a true-fans type of album that is more mixtape than studio album worthy.  Hardcore fans will ‘eat it up’ while the more casual listener will find it off-putting.

Destination: Mother Moon” initiates the effort, opening unsurprisingly mysterious with ‘Cudi-ness’ written all over it.  One of four instrumentals (40% of the album), it is exhilarating and interesting to listen to.  The real heat comes with “Going To The Ceremony”, the first vocal track of Satellite Flight.  Opening uniquely itself with spoken word intro (“Now certainly we all recognize the extremely, extremely low probability / of life existing on the moon”), the track dives right into the rock-rap, left-of-center approach that Kid Cudi as well as WZRD has come to be known for.  This includes the typical humming, the repetitive lyrics (“But I don’t know where I’m going / where I’m going, it’s all happening / I’m going, it’s all happening”), as well as the driving, minimalism.  “Going To The Moon” is familiar fare for the artist.  So is its follow-up, “Satellite Flight”, an equally alluring, oddball offering that is as cosmic as the title.  “Satellite Flight” is all about ‘vibe’: “Com on don’t be shy / let your guard down and work it.”

Kid Cudi-20131113-5Copernicus Landing” continues with the ‘vibe’ and all things cosmic.  It is the second instrumental of the effort.  Ultimately, a few minutes gives you the idea while the totality of the cut may overwhelm you with its minimalism.  From a classical or electronic music perspective, the techniques are legit.  For a mainstream album, maybe this isn’t what you’d expect.  Atonement arrives with “Balmain Jeans”, which is by far the freakiest track of the album.  Face it, it’s all about the three-letter word, with the confirmation coming on the clever, but salacious “Can I come inside your vortex…” Vortex? I’ll leave that one alone, but I’m sure it’s being used as a substitute for another word…  But even subtler, having Raphael Saadiq guesting confirms that the Cudi isn’t that extraterrestrial… he’s still a man who enjoys the things men enjoy… yeah…

Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” is even better, even if it Cudi sets aside pleasure in favor of more direct rap.  Kid Cudi is a rapper, but he’s definitely not a gangster.  “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” doesn’t change his lot, but it does find him spitting with a mad, agile flow.  The hook hooks, and he has some memorable verse lyrics to match, including “All hail King Wizard in the f**kin’ house / been chill for a minute quiet as a mouse / now I got the juice, call me Bishop when you see me round / I be showin’ love / showin’ love baby…” The evolution and pacing of “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” contributes to its success.  Unfortunately, “Internal Bleeding” which proceeds isn’t quite the triumph.  It’s not bad, but it is definitely more a B than an A grade cut.  Still, lyrics like “Cut me down / slice me deep / I dare you / burn my crown / spit on my grave…I’ll haunt you…” makes it worthwhile.

In My Dreams 2015” is a variation on Cudi’s track from Man On The Moon: End of Day.  Lasting under two minutes, it’s a pleasant instrumental.  The proceeding instrumental and penultimate cut, “Return Of The Moon Man” (Original Score) should’ve been a drag, particularly at over five minutes, but it is actually an enthralling listen.  The best of the four instrumental cuts, “Return of the Moon Man” sports jagged, rhythmic lines and thrives off its minimalism.  Very much in the Cudi style, “Return Of The Moon Man” doesn’t feel out of place in the least; it fits the album’s off-putting narrative.  Concluding cut “Troubled Boy” is appropriately placed, particularly given vibe, but don’t call it a classic.  It fits, but it doesn’t rival the top echelon juggernauts.

KdCudi-091710-0001So, how does Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon stack up? It is a solid, but ultimately off-putting album.  Give its incredibly ambitious, yet easily forgettable title (I continually must check the title on my iPod), the contents work perfect contextually. Title aside and accessibility considered, well, Satellite Flight is all-over-the-place.  Cudi’s albums are ‘all-over-the-place’ naturally, so in that regard, he’s still “In-di-cud”.  But perhaps where a standard, accessible effort is concerned, Satellite Flight is more jumbled.  Again, this album will appeal most to hardcore fans while those who want a ‘cohesive’ taste of Kid Cudi’s work may be better served with his earlier efforts, particularly the Man on The Moon series.  I’m onboard for the most part though, but I’m not hailing it the ‘second coming’.

Favorites:

“Going To The Ceremony”; “Satellite Flight”; “Balmain Jeans”; “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now”; “Return Of The Moon Man (Original Score)”

Verdict: ★★★½

Aquafina Flavorsplash Concerts with Austin Mahone at Bryant Park in New York City - January 29, 2014 Bryant Park New York City, NY, USA 01/29/2014 © PRN / PRPhotos.com

Austin Mahone Is An Artist Trending Up


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Teen pop is something that has truly irked me over the years – badly! Something about young, cocky, good-looking heartthrobs being proclaimed to be the ‘second coming’ of music just doesn’t appeal nor sit well with me.  Yeah, maybe I’m just jealous I couldn’t get the attention all the girls give to these guys, but honestly I tend to be utterly annoyed because of the music itself.   I mean, how far does eye candy go if the music is subpar, aka it sucks?  My point exactly! However this time, I’m not going to criticize a teen pop start; I’m going to praise him.  Hopefully, this praise that I’m giving does backfire on me later and turn into utter blasphemy!

Austin Mahone-PRN-107554Austin Mahone seems to be going in the right direction musically.  When Mahone first materialized a couple of years ago, I was not onboard the train.  Don’t call me a “Mahomie” now – reserve that description for his teenage fans – but I actually think that Mahone has star potential.  Whether that ‘potential’ translates into Mahone being a star, or eventually being able to break free of the teen-pop mode without turning irresponsible like say Justin Bieber, well only time will tell.  But for now, Mahone seems to be pacing his career steadily without much controversy.

During his incredibly youthful “Say Somethin’” and “Say You’re Just A Friend” phase, I was ready to completely rip Mahone apart, being the ‘sensitive’ music critic/journalist I am.  Nah, it really wasn’t about Mahone personally, but at the time, he seemed like the ‘mold’ – looks with little artistic substance.  Neither single truly made me a believer, even with him being so young and just at the beginning of his career.  The pivotal change of heart came with the more urban-pop flare of “What About Love”, which sounded more like an artistic statement that could transcend teen pop.  Sure, it was still a song by a teen aimed at teens for the most part, but there was also more room for “What About Love” to expand.  That was evidenced by its ability to dint the Billboard Hot 100, something previous singles hadn’t accomplished.

“What About Love” would’ve been the perfect song to give Mahone some momentum into his debut album, but Mahone fell ill and it wasn’t to be at the time.  While being the cynical critic I can be, felt that the time elapsed between “What About Love” and his most recent single “MMM Yeah” was a missed opportunity (after he got better mind you), perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing that Mahone is taking his time and developing his artistry rather than just jumping right in.

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“MMM Yeah” is a single I’d rank closer along the lines of “What About Love” or the preceding “Banga Banga“, because there is more maturity there.  No, it’s not really ‘mature’ in content, but Mahone sounds as if he owns his musical personality and truly bought into artistry.   Regardless what one thinks of the song (it’s likably corny), the lyric video Mahone has released – with YouTube video personalities included – is nothing short of infectious.

Did I make a misjudgment on Mahone initially? Perhaps, but truly Mahone is now truly beginning to take off and is trending up as a new artist to watch.  This also may give the young pop star a chance to get an audience that is comprised of more than just teenage girls who thinks he’s hot.  Just saying!

Austin Mahone-PRN-107553

Review: Ruben Studdard, ‘Unconditional Love’


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Studdard is in excellent voice on the relatively safe Unconditional Love 

Ruben Studdard • Unconditional Love • Verve • US Release Date: February 4, 2014

Ruben-Studdard-jr13On 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 AngelOn 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.

Ruben Studdard-ZNV-002088If “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 Ruben Studdard-ZNV-002259Lalah 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.  “UnconditionalRuben Studdard-PRN-105909” 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.

Favorites:

“The Nearness of You”; “Love, Love, Love”; “If This World Were Mine” featuring Lalah Hathaway; “My Love”; “Unconditional”

Verdict: ★★★

Review: Ty Dolla $ign, ‘Beach House’ (EP)


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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 sign4-20140129-77Ty 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 RecordsBeach 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

Ty Dolla sign-20140129-78Or 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!

Ty Dolla sign1-20140129-75In 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.

Favorites:

“Work”; “Paranoid” featuring B.o.B; “Wood & Leather”

Verdict: ★★★

Review: Mary Lambert, ‘Welcome To The Age of My Body’ (EP)


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Empowerment Is On Mary Lambert’s Mind on Debut EP 

Mary Lambert • Welcome To The Age Of My Body • Capitol • US Release Date: December 17, 2013 / February 4, 2014 (physical)

Mary Lambert-20140110-233Singer/Songwriter Mary Lambert is best associated at this point in her career with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for her work on Grammy-nominated song, “Same Love”, which is all about tolerance, marriage equality – prevalent social issues in 2013 and beyond.  On her EP Welcome To The Age of My Body, Mary Lambert showcases the beginnings of herself as a solo artist; a singer/songwriter.  12 minutes is a short amount of time to make an evaluative decision about a burgeoning artist, but even Welcome To The Age of My Body gives the listener an idea.  Originally released December 17, 2013, a physical version of the EP arrived February 4, 2014.

Body Love Part 1” initiates the EP quite mysteriously; it bucks the expected. The gist of the opener is about women accepting their bodies for what they are, no matter how they look, how they are built, or how it makes them feel.  In other words, Lambert is going for empowerment. Lambert delivers a spoken word performance for the majority of the track; She provides an impassioned and poetic take on these body self-esteem issues and how damaging they can be.  She sings the last 30 seconds or so: “I know I am because I say I am… my body is home.”  The concluding “Body Love Part 2” is very similar, serving an extension of the opener with more production.  Both have great intentions, if both are a bit, um, odd.  Point is well taken though and Lambert’s words are wise.

She Keeps Me Warm” is the main attraction to Welcome To The Age of My Body.  The chorus specifically comes from the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hit “Same Love”. “And I can’t change, even if I tried / even if I wanted to…my love, my love, my love, my love / she keeps me warm, she keeps me warm”, rings the powerful refrain.  Here, Lambert truly puts her stamp on “Same Love”, extending the narrative tailor made to her as a singer/songwriter.  “She says I smell like safety and home,” Lambert sings on the first verse.  “I named both of her eyes ‘Forever’ and ‘Please Don’t Mary Lambert-AES-124451Go’…” Lyrically, “She Keeps Me Warm” is very thoughtful and warm.  Matching the lyrical sentiment, Mary Lewis delivers hauntingly, beautiful vocals.  By the end, Lambert truly cuts loose, flexing her instrument capably.

Sarasvati” proceeds slowly and extremely expressively.  Lambert places emphasis and weight on every note and lyric, drawing the listener into her performance. “Pull the bones from their sockets / Please be soft while you do it for I am fragile and fading / Sarasvaties sew me to sleep”. Sure, “Sarasvati” is indulgent, but isn’t that an attribute from a singer/songwriter perspective? The accompaniment by piano solely is a sound decision, keeping things nice and intimate.  By the way, Sarasvati refers to the Hindu goddess of knowledge and music.  “Body Love Part 2” concludes.

Ultimately, Welcome To The Age of My Body shows the possibilities for Mary Lambert as a singer/songwriter.  Even so, the EP also leaves the impression that one needs to hear more from Lambert before embracing her as a viable artist.  “She Keeps Me Warm” certainly gives Lambert an identity and sets up her career, but perhaps more moments like “Sarasvati” give an even better indication of what a Mary Lambert album might sound like.  As for the “Body Love” series, it is certainly unique, but also clunky in the same regard.  As far as this snapshot into Lambert, the potential is definitely there.

Best Song:

“She Keeps Me Warm”

Verdict: ★★★

Shopping List: Nine Albums to Consider Buying February 4, 2014


Toni Braxton-20140128-29January has come and gone – thank goodness!  Still it’s cold and those bills keep on coming in – SMH (add a “D” or an “F” between the “M” and the “H” for extra intensity).  Still, there’s nothing like the gift of music to give us those “High Hopes” that Bruce Springsteen was singing about a couple of weeks ago.  Face it, that Frozen soundtrack won’t keep you occupied forever! Here are nine albums to consider buying this week beginning on new release day, Tuesday, February 4.  

1

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After the Disco

Columbia

Alternative 

After The Disco is the second album by Broken Bells, which is comprised of James Mercer (The Shins) and Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse.  Broken Bells is alternative all the way – indie-pop. Danger Mouse was played a pivotal part to the sound of the short-lived Gnarls Barkley (assuming they don’t record anytime soon) and Beck’s 2008 album Modern Guilt.  The Shins are of course known for their indie-pop/rock brand.

2

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Now 49: That’s What I Call Music (Now 49)

UMe

Pop

This one’s pretty self-explanatory.  Like pop hits and don’t own the respective albums of which the various pop hits are from… well Now 49 is for you.

3

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Love, Marriage & Divorce

Motown

R&B

Two of adult contemporary R&B’s greatest come together for the rare R&B duets album.  Toni Braxton and Babyface may not represent the current generation of R&B listeners (as scant as that generation seems to be in numbers), but both are the cream of the crop vocally.

4

71U0NFR98RL._SL1500_Ruben Studdard

Unconditional Love

Verve

R&B

It has been about 11 years since “Sorry 2004” was a top ten Billboard Hot 100 hit.  Who sang it – you got it, Ruben Studdard, the winner of the second season of American Idol in 2003.  Times haven’t been as hot for Studdard since Soulful and I Need An Angel gave the R&B singer platinum and gold albums respectively.  Still, “The Velvet Teddy Bear” keeps recording and winds up on Verve for Unconditional Love, his sixth studio album.

5

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Welcome to The Age of My Body (EP)

Capitol

Pop

Mary Lambert played a key role on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” – specifically the refrain.  Now, Lambert goes out on her own to release her 4-song EP Welcome to The Age of My Body, which includes “She Keeps Me Warm”, based off of “Same Love”.  The digital version has been available since December 17, 2013; the physical version arrives February 4.

6

91dW4SoF0IL._SL1425_Pat Metheny

Kin (<–>)

Nonesuch

Jazz

 

For jazz lovers, veteran jazz guitarist Pat Metheny just keeps on releasing albums.  Metheny’s quite prolific – check out his entire discography sometime.

7

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From His Head to His Heart To His Hands [Box Set]

Columbia / Legacy

Blues

The “gone too soon” blues guitarist’s legacy lives on via box set From His Head to His Heart To His Hands.  The box-set certainly doesn’t have the Garth Brooks pricing working in its favor (< $30), but if you do purchases the $53 3CD/1 DVD set, you surely won’t be disappointed.

8

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Salute

Columbia

Pop

The British X-Factor winners release their second album less than a year after their debut DNA appeared in the U.S.  DNA bowed at number four on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in 2013.  Salute actually bowed elsewhere in 2013.

9

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Wow Gospel 2014

RCA Inspiration

Gospel

 

Ah, something for everybody.  If you enjoy gospel music, specifically black gospel and contemporary gospel, then Wow Gospel 2014 just might tickle your fancy – or inspire your soul! Amen!