Here are 10 standout albums for the year. These albums are in no particular order, and they standout for different reasons. Some are solid debuts: Amy Winehouse (U.S. debut) and Lily Allen. And while this wasn’t Mandy Moore’s debut, she took on more creative control of her music and did a great job with Wild Hope.
As I Am – Alicia Keys No One
Back to Black – Amy Winehouse Rehab
Italia – Chris Botti Italia
The Reminder – Feist My Moon My Man
Alright, Still – Lily Allen Smile
Wild Hope – Mandy Moore Extraordinary
Not Too Late – Norah Jones Sinkin’ Soon
In Rainbows – Radiohead
Icky Thump – The White Stripes Icky Thump
Best New Artist:
Having her video for 1234 featured in an iPod Nano commercial is the best that happened to the Canadian singer, Leslie Feist. It started the Feist frenzy – 70,000 downloads in a week and her album The Reminder hit the Billboard top 20.
While Feist might be new to many, the rest of us have been rooting for her success since her 2005 debut album, Let It Die. Both albums are excellent and her success is well deserved! Her original music is playing on the jukebox to the right.
So, snap your fingers, count 1, 2, 3, 4… and click here!
More on Feist during my Grammy coverage next month.
Biggest Pop Star Train Wreck:
Britney! by a landslide.
The baby-popping, head-shaving, pop tart released an aptly-titled and flop of a CD (Blackout), didn’t take rehab seriously, suffered a meltdown, and gave the worst performance of the year – her dazed, sloppy, and poorly lip-synced Video Music Awards fiasco. Let’s hope that 2008 brings some peace and clarity for Britney Spears. She needs it and so do her kids!
Runner-up: Amy Winehouse
At least Winehouse has songwriting skills and talent. She went from being the Next Big Thing to canceling shows and performing sloppily in the ones she did go through with. Now if she can only get rid of her louse of a husband and check in to that place her hit song claims she won’t go…Rehab!
Live Earth on 7.07.07
1 day, 150 acts, 12 locations, 1 great cause.
This was Al Gore’s attempt to bring the crisis of global warming to the attention of the world’s youth through music. It was a great reason to bring musicians, actors, and activists together, and to raise funds. It was probably this event that garnered the former VP the Nobel Peace Prize for all his efforts to save our planet. Thank you, Al!
Best Reunion Tour:
The Police, hands down!
Van Halen, Genesis, and The Eagles were among the bands who reunited and went on the road this year. But, The Police were the clear winners.
The Police rocked and ruled the concert box office in 2007 harder than the rest. People excitedly paid a lot of moola to see the trio, making it the top-selling, top-grossing ($243 Million!) concert tour of the year. The Police hadn’t played together in more than two decades, and even though they didn’t play nice when they were together, Sting, Andy and Stewart proved they can still rock the stadiums and arenas as they did in the 80s.
The Mystix serve up a delectable mix of blues, R&B, country, and rock with Blue Morning. These musicians are at their finest, and have crafted an album full of soul that could easily become a new favorite of any music lover.
Jo Lily – the band’s front man – plays acoustic and slide guitar, and sings with the raspy voice of Tom Waits, Dr, John, and Bob Dylan. Bobby Keyes, who has recorded with greats like Jerry Lee Lewis and Ben E. King, plays guitar and his excellent skill dazzles. He can switch from funky blues style to rock riffs effortlessly. Bassist Marty Ballou and drummers, Marty Richards and Dennis McDermott, round out the Boston-based group. Keyes and Lily co-produced the CD.
While all ten songs on Blue Morning are good, some standout a little extra. A Change in Jane is a ballad that would fit nicely on one of Dylan’s later albums or pass for one of Van Morrison’s movie songs. It’s strong on images, and because it’s a short song, it leaves you wanting more. The spirited rhythms on the aptly named New Orleans set the scene for a rollicking street party in The Big Easy. New Orleans is the liveliest song on Blue Morning. Another lively tune is The Mystix’s cover of Rattled. And while the Traveling Wilburys: Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison are and were the masters, The Mystix’s version just might beat the original.
The title track slows things down a bit. It’s a heartbreak song that offers the hope that there’s always a new day, offering a new start. Which Side of Heartache is a weepy country tune and is reminiscent of The Tennessee Waltz. Hi-Line closes Blue Morning. It conjures up the image of an empty bar when the last shot of whiskey has been served and the final song is coming to an end.
The Mystix’s Blue Morning is a solid album that mixes genres seamlessly. It’s got something for everyone. Blue Morning is an excellent example of how good songwriting and instrumentation can create a perfect listening experience.
Chris Botti’s 2002 holiday set, December, is comforting; a much needed and welcomed feeling during this last month, and often the most stressful time, of the year. It’s clear the holidays aren’t always the most joyful time for all, so comfort and joy are the gifts Botti offers with this collection. Yes, there’s a feeling of melancholy at times, but that’s fine, because that’s what true jazz does sometimes.
Botti’s trumpet always sets an intimate and soothing ambiance, and that is exactly what we get here. Most of the songs are instrumental, and not drenched with jingly bells. Botti takes on vocal duties on two songs: Perfect Day and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Winter Wonderland gets a swinging rendition and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town gets a Brazilian beat. O Little Town of Bethlehem has romantic piano accompaniment. And it’s quite a surprise to hear a Leonard Cohen tune on a Christmas album, but Hallelujah appears here. I’ll Be Home For Christmas closes December, and it’s smooth, uplifting, and a perfect ending to a great CD.
This lovely collection will appeal to fans of jazz, easy-listening and fusion. Chris Botti delivers comfort and joy with ease and style.
I will be seeing Chris Botti perform at the legendary Blue Note in New York City tomorrow evening and I can hardly contain my excitement.
For more on Chris Botti, mainly his latest release, Italia, see my October 28th post: Viva Italia!* This CD was reissued in 2006 with Ave Maria replacing Perfect Day.
Check out these live performances:
Lover Man with Gladys Knight
A Song For You with Michael Bublé
The Look of Love with Paula Cole and Burt Bacharach
Holy Cole’s 2001 Baby It’s Cold Outside is a low-key and sultry contribution to the holiday genre, and a welcomed reprieve from the hustle of holiday stress.
While Ms. Cole does include some often-covered holiday fare, her approach to them is inventive and subtle. For instance, Cole’s only accompaniment on Sleigh Ride is David Piltch on bass. I’ll Be Home For Christmas and The Christmas Song get jazzy renditions, while the title track has Ed Robertson from Barenaked Ladies dueting with Cole.
Cole and her pianist/arranger/coproducer Aaron Davis include less frequently covered tunes and they are the highlights of this collection. Merle Haggard’s If We Make it to December and Percy Faith’s Christmas Is get coverage on Baby, It’s Cold Outside.
The three standout songs on this album are ‘Zat You Santa Claus, Santa Baby, and What About Me. Ms. Cole gives very sultry performances and shows off her range. Baby, It’s Cold Outside is an exceptional collection of holiday music, along with being a great jazz album to be enjoyed by new and old fans of Holly Cole. If you don’t know Holly Cole, then this album will make you want to hear more of her, over and over again!
Christina Aguilera in her 2000 My Kind Of Christmas gives passionate renditions of holiday standards as well as some new material. While Christina and her powerhouse voice are always passionate, in some places on this album it was too much. But in the end, we’re always amazed at the heights her voice can reach!
The standout songs are Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, O Holy Night, Merry Christmas Baby, and Angels We Have Heard On High, along with two of the new songs, Christmas Time and This Year. The CD begins with these two songs, and they are great pop songs. While, Xtina’s Xmas is a great titlefor a song, it’s a weird 90-second interlude of who knows what…
Christina’s strongest performance on My Kind of Christmas is Merry Christmas, Baby. It starts with the opening of Auld Lang Syne, and Dr. John is the guest piano player and vocalist. Dr. John, trombones, trumpets, and saxophones, and of course, Christina’s voice make this the funkiest and strongest song in this collection. Check it out on iTunes, and if buying the album is too much, don’t hesitate to spend the 99 cents on Merry Christmas, Baby!
Here’s Christina and the fabulous Brian McKnight performing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.
Two things about Christmas songs, mainly the religious ones: Not everybody can sing them and some people really shouldn’t. But when it comes to the two divas who can reach octaves as high as the Star of Bethlehem: Mariah and Christina – Let Them Sing! Let Them Sing! Let Them Sing!
Mariah Carey’s 1994 Merry Christmas is not a pop-filled album. The focus of this album is not the winter wonderlands, gifts, or the sleigh rides, but celebrating the birth of Jesus and being with the ones you love. Only three songs are poppy or non-religious: Miss You Most (At Christmas Time), Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and All I Want for Christmas is You. Of the three, the last is the best, and in true Mariah style!
She belts out the most difficult Christmas hymns quite beautifully – Hark The Herald Angels Sing, O Holy Night, and Silent Night, and the sleep in heavenly peace doesn’t sound awkward as it quite often does. She gives these and Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child very soulful renditions. A standout song for me is Joy To The World. Here she sings the traditional hymn and it seamlessly turns into Three Dog Night’s Joy To The World. So subtly, you might miss it!
She is accompanied by gospel singers on several songs, and her voice (in case there was a doubt) has volumes of soul, making Merry Christmas one of Mariah’s most solid albums, along with her self-titled debut and The Emancipation of Mimi. So, take a listen on iTunes, and for only $7.99 make it part of your collection this season!
The first holiday album I’ll recommend is Christmas With The Rat Pack. The album is a must-have, because Frank, Dean, and Sammy celebrate the holidays with panache. And the Rat Pack never goes out of style!
While all the songs are great, because these guys were the masters, the songs that stand out in this 21-song collection are the ones that arent’ the usual holiday fare. And they include: Christmas Time All Over The World, I Believe, Baby it’s Cold Outside, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, and Mistletoe and Holly.
So, let’s have Dino start things off with a performance of Marshmallow World.
Click on the song below for another classic performance.
Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting tingling too.
Come on, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.
Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling “yoo-hoo!”,
- Come on, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.
As the holidays are approaching, music is the best way to get into the spirit of the season. My next posts will help you do just that.
I’ll recommend some holiday albums that will have your bells jingling, your lords a leapin’, and your wishing for a white Christmas!
We’ll see what the pop, rock, soul, and jazz worlds have to offer to bring about holiday cheer.
Early on, John Lennon loved rock ‘n’ roll, and formed his first band when he was sixteen. Paul McCartney attended a performance in 1957 and became a band member soon after that. Paul and John shared mutual admiration for each other’s musical abilities and intelligence. They knew they could create magic together, and agreed that everything written by either of them would be credited to Lennon-McCartney, a promise they managed to keep for almost fifteen years.
As the 60s were fading and the U.S. morale was too, the Beatles captured the essence of the time. The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be, released in ’68, ’69, and ’70 were the beginning of the end for the group.
When the group broke up, Lennon switched his loyalty from McCartney to Yoko Ono, and suffered because of it. His public statements and behavior insinuated as much. However, the difficulty proved to bring forth his most fascinating and enduring works: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, released in 1970 and 1971.
Those emotionally-driven albums set the tone for Lennon in the 70s, his last decade. He spent the first half fighting the U.S. Immigration Department for his green card, drinking too much, and begging for peace. He spent the second half in seclusion and being a househusband caring for his son Sean. His sentiments come to life on one of my favorite songs, Watching The Wheels.
A creative frenzy emerged in 1980, and Double Fantasy was released a month prior to his death. On the evening of December 8, 1980, John and Yoko were already at work on their next project when, coming home from a recording session, Lennon was shot to death by a young man to whom he’d given an autograph that same afternoon – Mark David Chapman.
The death of John Lennon was perhaps the most emotionally felt of rock deaths. He, in many ways, represented the soul of the Beatles and of 60s rock. Yes, there was an equal outpouring of emotion for Elvis Presley in 1977, which still continues today. John Lennon’s death was equally as shocking, but also violent, and came at a time when he was emerging from a period of silence and at a time when the world really needed his voice.
Click on the songs below for their videos:
James Paul McCartney was born on June 18, 1942 in Liverpool, England, and was the bass player for the Beatles. He founded the group with John Lennon, forming the most successful songwriting partnership in musical history.
The Beatles were among the few artists that were the best at what they did as well as the most popular. The group was imaginative and experimental and fascinated the world. Their reign as rock icons remains unequaled to this day, decades after their 1970 breakup.
They were a self-contained rock band in that the group, headed by Lennon and McCartney, wrote and performed its own material. As composers, their craft and melodic inventiveness were key to the evolution of rock. As singers, McCartney and Lennon were among the best vocalists in rock. Their harmonies were intricate and the arrangements were multi-layered. As a group, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were refreshing. friendly, and photogenic.
It could have been a clash of the founders’ egos that caused the breakup. And perhaps the creativity of all the members needed to go in different directions, as their solo work does vary in style. Or maybe their popularity, talent, and egos were too great, that combustion was unavoidable. The Yoko Ono intrusion is very likely as well. But, it seems that George Harrison said it best: “All things must pass.”
Paul McCartney released his first solo album, McCartney, just two week before the release of Let It Be. It was followed by his public announcement that the Beatles were going their separate ways. McCartney formed the band Wings his late wife, Linda Eastman McCartney soon after the Beatles’ breakup. From the time he ventured on his very successful solo career to releasing his 34th album Memory Almost Full in 2007, he has proven to be music’s greatest songwriter. He manages to create compositions that could easily be two or three songs in one; Band on the Run and Live and Let Die are prime examples. His presence has been constant for nearly five decades.
He’s worked on film scores, classical music, and electronic music. He paints and writes poetry. He has taken on many charitable projects and causes. McCartney holds the record as the most successful musician and composer in music history. He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1965, and became Sir Paul McCartney in 1997.
His standout solo albums include Band On The Run, Wings At The Speed Of Sound, Venus And Mars, Tug Of War, and Flowers in The Dirt.
To this day, Silly Love Songs from Wings At The Speed Of Sound is one of my favorite songs. And here it is: Silly Love Songs.
Click on the songs below for their videos:
Ringo Starr was born Richard Starkey Jr. on July 7, 1940, making him the oldest Beatle, only thee months older than John. He was also the last to join The Beatles in 1962, replacing Pete Best as drummer.
Starr is left-handed, but plays a right-handed drum kit. His left-handedness contributes to his distinctive drumming style. He’s had an influence on modern drumming techniques and now-famous drummers, while still being underrated. He uses the matched grip – the method of holding both sticks in the same way. He also tunes the drums lower. His unique style is especially effective on Hello, Goodbye, Hey Jude, and the dynamic bass drumming in Lady Madonna.
Aside from keeping the beat, Ringo’s baritone voice took the lead on one song per album, most notably on With A Little Help From My Friends, Yellow Submarine, and Octopus’s Garden, which he composed.
While I am too young to have seen the Fab Four perform as a group, I was able to see Ringo playing drums for the Beach Boys after they lost Dennis Wilson.
His best known solo hits include Photograph, It Don’t Come Easy, and You’re Sixteen.
Here’s an article entitled “13 Reasons To GIve Ringo Some Respect.”
Watch the colorful, fun video for You’re Sixteen here.
George Harrison, born February 25, 1943, was the youngest of The Beatles and the composer of the group’s Here Comes The Sun, Something, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Blue Jay Way, among others.
His first solo album, the majestic All Things Must Pass – a triple LP – was made up mostly of songs he had written during his time with The Beatles. It was remastered and expanded in 2001, making it even easier to appreciate the talent of Harrison. My Sweet Lord, What is Life, Isn’t It a Pity, If Not For You and the title track are his greatest songs and all appear on this highly recommended album.
Click here for a tribute to George Harrison with All Things Must Pass as the backdrop.
For George’s acoustic version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, click here.
In honor of the upcoming December 8th anniversary of John Lennon’s passing, the next few posts will be Beatles-related. I’ll be remembering the Fab Four – the group that changed the look and sound of music forever.
To start things off, click here for an introduction to the Beatles prior to the Ed Sullivan Show.
And here, on their first visit to America and The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beatles sing I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Vote for your favorite Beatle below: