Skip navigation

Category Archives: Music

The name says it all. Music reviews (songs or albums) that I’ve recently recently listened to.

Less than 30 days after the passing of Etta James, one of the greatest vocalists of all time, Whitney Houston, suddenly passed away as well. She was one of the biggest-selling female artists of all time and had tremendous success throughout most of her career, and despite her troubles, still left a legacy behind her. Whitney‘s rich, smooth and soulful voice was what made her standout star and her practically impeccable technique was unparalleled during her peak and she inspired a legion of many other singers who came after her. Here is a list of top 10 favourite Whitney Houston songs (singles):

10) Queen Of The Night

9) Million Dollar Bill

8) I Have Nothing

7) So Emotional

6) I Will Always Love You

5) When You Believe (with Mariah Carey)

4) Run To You

3) I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)

2) One Moment In Time

1) How Will I Know

Advertisements

Last month we lost of the music industry’s most iconic and influential singers of all time, Etta James. She was traditionally a church, jazz and blues singer but she mixed those roots with funky, soulful, rock’n’roll sounds and was considered a sharp-tongued, bad girl in her time. Etta had a very distinctively deep, raw and raspy, gritty, growly tone to her voice but could also keep it smooth and sultry when she wanted to. Here are my top 10 favourite Etta James songs:

10) Security

9) Tough Lover

8) A Sunday Kind Of Love

7) Tell Mama

6) Pay Back

5) I Prefer You

4) I’d Rather Go Blind

3) Something’s Got A Hold On Me

2) I Just Wanna Make Love To You

1) Tighten Up Your Own Thing

If you thought the original “Dirrty” song and video by Christina Aguilera was “bad”, this XXX-Rated version of the lyrics (nippled-tweaked by me) makes it look like an innocent children’s playschool song! Not for the naive, prudish or faint-hearted

Ooh…

Oh, I’m overdue
Give me some lube
I’m seeping through
Babes and dudes
In the mood
Now me and you are gonna shake the room

My head is spinning (smack my clams)
Let’s get dirrty (lick my jam)
I need that, uh, to get me off
Sweat until my clothes come off

Orgasm’s explosive, keep on pumping (oh)
Still humping, havin’ sex in the morning
Table dancing, let’s get it happenin’ (oh)
No questions, give me some action

Temperature’s up (let me feel it)
I’m about to erupt
Gonna get my girls
Get your boys
Gonna make some noise

Wanna get rowdy
Gonna get a little unruly
Make me cum in a hurry
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time that I came to start the orgy
Cum dripping over my body
Dancing getting just a little naughty
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time for my arrival

Ah, heat is up
So ladies, fellas
Take off your tops
My body’s hot
Flip me on my back
Fuck my ass
I like that

Real tight asses (out for show)
Let’s move it somewhere else (on the floor)
I need you, uh, to get me off
Frig me ’til I get myself off

Legs are open, cause a commotion (ooh oh)
We’re still sexing, ’til eight in the morning
Don’t stop cumming, keep my cherry popping (oh)
Hot cock sucking, everyone’s fucking

Give all you got (give it to me)
Just hit my G-spot
Gonna get my girls
Get your boys
Gonna make some noise

Rowdy
Gonna get a little unruly
Make me cum in a hurry
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time that I came to start the orgy
Ooh cum dripping over my body
Dancing getting just a little naughty
Wanna get dirrty (oh, oh)
It’s about time for my arrival

Here I cum, I’m the one
You’ve been hittin’ on
Get up, get it up me
Yup, that’s what I want
Give me just what I want
To the maximum
Uh oh, here we go (here we go)

You can tell when everyone’s panties
Start to drop
That’s when we all go and fuck
In the parking lot
And I bet you everybody’s
Gonna wanna get a cop
Uh oh’s, here we go’s (here we go)

Ohh ooh ohh, yeah yeah…

Wanna get rowdy (rowdy, yeah)
Gonna get a little unruly (ruly)
Make me cum in a hurry (hurry)
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time that I came to start the orgy (orgy)
Cum dripping over my body (body)
Dancing getting just a little naughty
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time for my arrival

Rowdy
Gonna get a little unruly
(Ooh oh)
Make me cum in a hurry
(Ooh oh)
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time that I came to start the orgy
Ooh cum dripping over my body
Dancing getting just a little naughty
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time for my arrival

Rowdy
Gonna get a little unruly
Make me cum in a hurry
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time that I came to start the orgy
Cum dripping over my body
Dance and getting just a little naughty
Wanna get dirrty
It’s about time for my arrival

Uh, fuck!

Oh dear, Leona. Just “oh dear”. Since she stole the spotlight during the third series of the “X Factor” and unsurprisingly won it, Leona Lewis has been labelled one of the UK’s best ever vocalists and is well-known as a great balladeer, with a pure and an angelic voice, with some even calling her “our Mariah Carey – a bit of a far-fetched statement, but she proabably is the closest person we’ve got who could imitate her, sorry “do her justice”… That was a joke, I do like Leona and I’m not a Mariah Carey stan in the first place either!

Anyway, while pop ballads are indeed Leona’s speciality, she has yet to really shine with a good up-tempo number – her version of “Lady Marmalade” on the “X Factor” came across as more of a school concert performance than anything else and the closest thing she has since given us of an upbeat song is “Forget Me” from her debut album “Spirit”. Yet not long ago, Leona announced that she was putting together, writing and recording new material for a third album and her manager Simon Cowell was even quoted as saying “there’d be no ballads”! Preposterous. Is he really trying to sink her, like he did to Cheryl Cole? Lewis also said this album would let people see a totally different side of her and she wanted to explore different sounds since she is an avid fan of an eclectic mix of genres, including dance and dubstep… Yes, dubstep. In honesty, it is hard enough imagining Leona raving out to hardcore dance music, let alone actually sing a song with that kind of heavy, dance-like element!

The cover for Leona Lewis' new single "Collide" - crap song but at least she looks good... maybe the sex appeal is there to draw us away from the bad music? Doesn't quite work though!

 

The first single from this new album, which is not out until November and hasn’t been named yet, is called “Collide” and will be released in September… maybe they knew this song was not going to be an instant hit and would in fact be a grower? Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like a hit, nor does it sound like a grower – more like something that by the time it is available to download in just under two months time, it will have run out its short course… For someone who is renowned for big torch ballads and mid-tempo R&B numbers, Leona has not just stepped outside of her comfort zone here but actually leapt well out of it. But for someone who we are used to having blow us away with her normally amazing vocals and heartfelt songs, she has really disappointed us (well, me) with this drab song. More of a wind-down dance track with a thumping beat reminiscent of a relaxed heartbeat than an energetic one over a repetitive piano riff, there is not much more to comment on the actual musicality of the instrumental itself. Although she can undoubtedly sing, like the brilliant Christina Aguilera on her commercially poor electro-pop album “Bionic”, Leona‘s usual multi-octave and riff and run-infected vocals have been heavily reined. Even by the time she gets to the chorus and hits some relatively big notes (but does so without any energy… maybe she was just as bored singing it as I am of hearing it?!), any attention on the song so far is already lost.

The lyrics, written by the same lyrical genius (not) who wrote that annoying Cher Lloyd‘s absolutely awful debut song “Swagger Jagger”, also fall flat in sounding the slightest bit ingenious: “I’ll pick you up when you’re down/Be there when no-one’s around” and the bridge “You’re all I want, yeah yeah/I know you’re the one, yeah” (in which Leona’s vocals have been distorted to the point where you can barely hear what she’s saying), do not exactly sound like the most inspired of lyrics. Thankfully though, they’re still not quite as bad as Lloyd‘s song, but quite close. The chorus also adds to the feeling that little effort was put into the writing with “CRAAAAASH IIIIINTO MEEEEE/AAAAT FUUUULLL SPEEEEED/We can collide/We can collide/We can collide/We can collide!” being repeated twice. We’re not sure exactly where the idea of her wanting someone to ‘crash’ into her comes from when the rest of the song comes from the tiresome theme of “I’m here for you if you need me”. Big yawn…

Above: Take a listen to Leona‘s new song if you want… see if you agree with me that this is not her best, to say the least!

Also, in the wake of the premiere of “Collide”, immediate claims of plagiarism arose against Lewis, writer Autumn Rowe and producer Sandy Vee (who does have previous experience of working on much more memorable songs such Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In The World)” and “S&M” ).  They were accused of “stealing” the instrumental from up-and-coming Swedish DJ, Avicii’s song “Penguin” – which when listened to, does indeed sound exactly the same. While Sandy Vee has angrily argued that Avicii is actually credited on the song, the Ministry of Sound are still calling it a blatant rip-off… maybe he is credited but wasn’t actually asked and paid? Oh dear, it’s all going on! But still, if you are going to copy someone else’s music, at least change it so it doesn’t sound 100% the same, note-for-note… Controversy aside, it still seems like Leona may have a lot of fans to win back after this unimpressive and lacklustre attempt at re-inventing her sound. However, with the album not out until November, there’s still plenty of time to lay down some great ballads if this song does really prove that the “new” Leona is not so popular.

Above: Avicii‘s “Penguin” (no, I don’t know why he called it that either…) – Does it sound familiar? Where have you heard it before? Just now, in the other song I linked?

Rating: 1/5: I’m really sorry to have to do this to you Leona, but I think you need a reality check if you think this song is good, or at least good enough for a lead single… maybe a filler song though?! Rather than return with a huge, danceable hit on her hands, it seems even remixes of Lewis’ older songs would create more of a buzz in the clubs than this one, which sounds more like one the DJ would play right at the end of a night when the last twenty people are getting ready to leave! While she doesn’t sound that bad, I am only giving this unexciting (and allegedly “unoriginal”) song with it’s unimaginative lyrics one star because she sounds at least nearly half decent and she should be applauded for taking the risk of having done this… unfortunately her usually beautiful vocals still do not save her from this big disappointment.

The likes of Adele and Leona Lewis have, in the past few years or even just months, skyrocketed to worldwide fame selling millions of albums and singles across the globe, and whilst I do like them, it baffles me how someone like Beverley Knight has not garnered the same amount of success or sold nearly as much. She’s been on the scene since 1995, has released seven albums including a greatest hits collection (which is actually her biggest-selling to date but is only one to be certified platinum so far) and is now on her eighth, entitled Soul UK. And she has only had two Top Ten hits, the highest charter being ‘Come As You Are’, which reached No.10 in 2004. The thirteen tracks on this new album are all covers of obscure soul, funk, jazz, blues and R&B songs by classic British soul artists – some famous, like Jamiroquai, George Michael and Soul II Soul, but most are virtually unknown singers and bands… All the songs are ones that Knight grew up listening to by artists she has admired for paving the path for British soul music. She has recently been heavily promoting it across the country and it has received practically unanimous critical acclaim so far – and rightly so!

The cover art for Beverley Knight's new album, "Soul UK"

Normally when some artists do an album full of covers it is seen as more of a “cop-out”, wanting to take a break from writing their own music or because their creative juices have run dry. Beverley on the other hand, gives these old tracks a new life by injecting her distinctive, soul-enriched voice into each one and giving it a new twist – for example, her laid-back, slow-jam version of Jamiroquai’s debut single ‘When You Gonna Learn’, is an interesting and unique take on the trippy original that should not be overlooked. One small criticism however, is her sometimes Amercanised twist on her typical Midlands accent… what British person sings “c’mon” like Michael Jackson and pronounces “why” as “whaaa”?! This slight annoyance aside and you have a pretty much perfect masterpiece of music at hand.

The album’s funky, upbeat tracks hark back to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, when edgy acid jazz met cool, soulful disco, as heard in lead single ‘Mama Used To Say’, Soul II Soul‘s ‘Fairplay’ and ‘Southern Freeez’. However, it is ‘Cuddly Toy’, one of the unfortunately few real vibrant, high-energy tracks that makes you want to stomp your feet and clap your hands all the way through that is one of this album’s stand out tracks, reminiscent of some of the more hearty, gospel-influenced songs Beverley has done in the past. When it comes to passionate ballads, Knight’s rich, warm vocals soothe and soar effortlessly, with ‘Always And Forever’ and George Michael‘s ‘One More Try’ being the most emotive and powerful. If you have heard any of the songs before you will probably agree with me in saying the most definitely do the original version and their artists’ justice and proud, and even if you haven’t it is always a good chance for you to discover old and forgotten but still great music. Some, like ‘Cuddly Toy’ and ‘One More Try’ also most definitely have the potential to be decent hits for Knight if she pushed it further and was finally given the recognition she so very much deserves.

Bev with a large Union Jack behind her... rather fitting!

Whether you’re a fan of Beverley and soul music or not, or just fancy a much-needed change from the overly commercial and heavily auto-tuned electro dance-pop phenomenon that is taking the world’s charts by storm, Soul UK will not disappoint. While husky, smoky-voiced Adele and the airy, angelic-voiced Leona are great in themselves, Miss Knight is here to show them who still owns the throne and to show us that you don’t need to sell several million copies of your albums to have credibility or be a legendary soul star. “Highly underrated” would be an understatement (more like criminal that she is really!) when describing the first and original lady of modern British soul, but the rather amazing Soul UK is well-deserving of the high ratings it has been getting…

Rating: 4/5 – Probably still the best female singer Britain has at the moment and definitely one of the albums of the year. While we all know that sales figures and chart positions do not always equal great talent (just look at some of the so-called “artists” out there today!), it would still be nice to see Bev do really well with Soul UK

Ok, so although they didn’t release the Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo track “Nasty” that I previously blogged about, on the upside she recently teamed up with Adam Levine and his band Maroon 5 on their new single, “Moves Like Jagger” which I guess is going to be taken from their next album. News of this originally broke not so long ago but no other information besides the track’s name was given and there was unusually no preview or leak – but we were told they are going to perform this song on the third live show of “The Voice”, after which it will be available to officially download online. However, the song has now finally leaked not long before its live premiere… how exciting!

On first hearing the name of the song, “Moves Like Jagger”, it is obviously a reference to the legendary Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, and while I had hoped for classic 60’s and 70’s sounding rock and roll throwback sound, it’s actually more contemporary pop-dance and nothing like the Rolling Stones and nothing like what Maroon 5 or Christina Aguilera have ever done before… but I like it! More of a dancefloor anthem, both singers put their smooth and sexy voices to work on this track about using “Moves Like Jagger” (I guess in reference to the rock star’s suave and player-like charm) to woo someone… The thumping beat definitely makes you want to shake yo thang on the floor and show off your own moves and while Adam Levine‘s voice doesn’t sound too girly and nasally, Christina also reins in her own powerhouse vocals so she doesn’t sing over the top of him or the song – but on the downside she doesn’t make a sound until over 2 minutes into the just under 3-and-a-half-minutes long song and sings just one verse… while it is of course more of a Maroon 5 song, it’s a shame she does not get to sing so much on it and I believe if they had made it more of a duet it would definitely be even better than it is!

In the end it seemed Maroon 5 decided to jump on the current music trend of making club-friendly songs, which may be a big turn for them, but it is a pleasantly surprising sound to hear from their older work. Their third album last year (no, I didn’t know they had released a third one either and in fact I can’t even remember when their second album was released!) did not do so commercially well as their previous two efforts and it seems they made the good decision to make a comeback after the success of “The Voice”. And with a pretty darn good first single on their hands to do that with, it may work for them this time… Christina has also not had much success with her music career sales-wise in the past year (ok ok, few years) but her appearance on this radio-friendly track could definitely re-boost her profile in the music industry before she launches her own full-on comeback.

Rating: 4/5 – I can definitely see this song being a big hit on the radio and in the clubs this summer and is an excellent chance for both artists to regain a foothold in the business. My biggest disappointment? The under-use of Christina and her killer vocals!

If you’re a fan of Christina Aguilera like myself, you’ll probably be as excited as I was to hear that a new, previously unreleased song by her recently surfaced on the internet… The song, called “Nasty” features modern-day Motown-inspired man Cee Lo Green and was leaked as a fuzzy-quality, short demo not long ago and soon spread, with Cee Lo making a statement only last week saying that they recorded it a few years ago but was never put out, but was optimistic that they’d release it soon. And a few days ago, the full and better quality version was made available and now more people are beginning to notice and talk it. As of yet, Christina herself has not spoken about the song.

The pair of them apparently wrote and recorded it way back for her “Back To Basics” album, but for some crazy reason didn’t make the cut. They then got together again to re-arrange and re-record it for the “Burlesque” soundtrack, but once again it was not used (but then again, probably wouldn’t have fitted in well with the other songs). But perhaps it was a good thing that it didn’t get put on either album – meaning they could release this song soon and promote it whilst they are coaches on the new talent show in America, “The Voice” and it would hopefully become the comeback hit that Christina needs and deserves after the disappointing underperformance of her previous efforts (which were really not bad at all!) and all the other mishaps and consequent backlash she has endured over the past year… And with the help of the (admittedly) more popular Cee Lo, it could work! I mean, if J.Lo can release a hit song (which is good in some parts and a bit rubbish in others) while coincidentally being a judge on “American Idol” at the same time, why can’t these two do the same too?

The title of the song may remind people of her controversial yet rather classic and amazing 2002 single “Dirrty” but it’s actually very different. This 70’s and 80’s inspired funky jazz-soul song samples the 1978 disco track “Dance Across The Floor” by Jimmy “Bo” Horne – no, I had never heard of him either (but having researched him, he’s pretty good and so is the original song!) – and the horn blares and saxophone sounds definitely give this song its extra groove. Since it was originally intended for “Back To Basics”, the modern-day twist on old-school throwback songs is obviously there and this sound is what a lot of fans (and even people who don’t like her) believe she does best… And it’s probably true. Her vocals are, as usual and as expected (or unexpected, to those that think her voice has deteriorated over the past few years), on full form and set to full blast. Cee Lo also gives it his all too, but unfortunately comes off sounding a bit nasally and under-used in the song – it would have been nice if he’d sung more, I mean, the song is only just under 3 minutes long, so they definitely could have extended it!

Above: Logo for “The Voice”, America’s new singing competition which has employed real singers to find people who can actually sing, without having to humiliate those who are plain shit.

While the majority of the commercial, mainstream industry is still hooked (can someone please tell me why?) on electro-influenced dance-pop sounds (yeah, you know the people I mean…), and Christina herself attempted this style last year but ultimately failed at really pulling it off (she’s just too good for that kinda stuff, let’s be honest), not many have taken to bringing back the soulful vibes of yesteryear with fresh, 21st-Century urban sounds (and not many could). Well, except for these two mainly! So here’s hoping that these two (or at least their managers) realise the potential of this potential hit and get promoting and releasing it properly and do so soon… DOOO ITTT!

Rating: 4/5 – Pretty good. Might not have been as great without the sample, the song could be longer and Cee Lo could have done more or worked on that nasal sound he has going on… Sure, it’s a retread of “Back To Basics” from five years ago but she’s definitely still got it and this doesn’t mean her next album will sound like this either!

A lot of people like to ask me what kind of music I like… And they’re surprised when I say I prefer old school soul and funk from 60’s and 70’s (as well as the 50’s and 80’s too) – I mean, what kind of music do you think I listen to? Cheesy Chinese pop? Hardcore hip-hop? Heavy metal? “Dirty house” (whatever that is…)? Justin fucking Bieber? Lady *groans* Gaga? Christina Aguilera? Well, yeah I do as well of fucking course! But this kind of music that I’m gonna talk about is where real music is at – fuck the lame shit that gets over 100 million views on YouTube (usually so people can see how god-awful it is… I hope!) and gets blasted out in every other standard club or is over-played constantly on the commerical, mainstream radio! So here’s a rundown of 20 of my favourite soul songs… You don’t really need to worry so much about the rankings – some I like just as much as others! Some you will probably know (well most definitely should I hope) and others you might not, which in that case I would highly recommend/urge you to go and listen to!

20) Midnight Train To Georgia – Gladys Knight & the Pips

I love this easy-listening kind of soul that, with Gladys and her male backing singers’ smooth vocals, you could laze around listening to all day.

19) (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher – Jackie Wilson

This is definitely one funky-ass tune… It just makes you wanna dance around happily singing along, no? Jackie Wilson‘s falsetto voice is really lovely to listen to as well.

18) It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World – James Brown

This man is not called the Godfather of Soul for nothing! This song screams soul just like James Brown screams with all his soul when singing.

17) Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye

Nowadays, most songs about sex by male artists are not sexy – they just get straight to the point about bonking girls and getting some… Marvin Gaye‘s smooth, sensual voice on this song easily trumps all of them and shows them how to be sexy and not just plain sleazy. 

16) Groove Me – King Floyd

Another rather sexual song, with a groovy reggae beat to it. You might remember it from an episode of The Simpsons when Homer tries to get his “ass groove” back into his beloved couch… Classic.

15) Something’s Got A Hold On Me – Etta James

Etta James – the lady who has had huge influence on the likes of Janis Joplin, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce and Adele, and has one smokin’ hot voice. She’s a badass, no nonsense chick and could slay the majority of “singers” out there today with just one note. This is really good song – check out Christina‘s version too… She does it and Etta justice for sure!

14) Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye

Marvin GayeKing of Love-making Soul Songs. Can’t beat a good bit of sexual healing when you’re feeling down. This song was like a follow-up to Let’s Get It On and was just as smooth and sensual… Just listening to it makes you feel better!

13) Rescue Me – Fontella Bass

The great thumping beat, horn blares and sax coupled with Fontella‘s soulful voice really gets you moving and singing with it.

12) Respect – Aretha Franklin

This woman’s energy and soul when singing and performing knows no bounds. Everyone knows this song and if you don’t love it, you sure have no respect, nor any knowledge of real old school soul music or singing is.

11) Heatwave – Marthella and the Vandellas

One of the greatest girl groups of all time and a great summer tune – I mean, the name says it all really. Great drum beats, great harmonies and great voices. Great song… Just simply great!

10) Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours – Stevie Wonder

“You set my soul on fire” is a line of from this classic song, and that’s definitely what this song does. A nice, happy love song that isn’t soppy and cheesy… Stevie definitely delivers.

9) You Turn Me On – Labelle

While a lot of female singers sing about getting down and kinky like sex-starved little sluts, Labelle know where the fine line between sexy and sleazy is. Check their emotions in the line “I cum like the pouring rain, when you call my name” – I’m surprised it wasn’t censored back in the day! The three ladies’ raw soul and of course their mind-blowing vocals (especially by Miss Patti Labelle, Queen of High-octave Belting) make this an absolutely amazingly sexy song.

8 ) I Just Want To Make Love To You – Etta James

Miss Etta James does it again. You probably know this song from one of the Coca-Cola adverts years ago. This is a cover version of the original song by Muddy Waters (yes, that was the name of the singer) – but she turns up the heat, throws a whole lot of sassy attitude into it and injects her rich, sultry voice to make this track the sex bomb that it is.

7) Rock Steady – Aretha Franklin

This song is some fucking good rockin’ soul right here… You can’t help but get up and move to this joint! Just be aware that Aretha doesn’t say “it’s a fucking load I’m feeling”… Ha. The correct words are in fact“it’s a funky low-down feeling”!

6) Superstition – Stevie Wonder

The beat, horns, sax and this legend‘s voice on this track are completely off the hook. Stevie Wonder really is wondrous… An absolute musical genius. Love this song – wish it went on forever!

5) Tighten Up Your Own Thing – Etta James

Hard-hitting beats, raw, growly vocals and a meaningful message – Etta really slams this joint all the way home… Some true, funky soul at its best!

4) I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye didn’t just excel in singing sexy, sensual soul, but he did heartbroken soul really well too. Another of his most famous songs, this one is amazingly soulful, yet sad and tinged with pain at the same time.

3) Feeling Good – Nina Simone

Many artists have covered this song over the years – some did it really well, but NONE have come close enough to the original. Nina normally has a very melancholy tone to her voice, but on this one she really puts a lot of positive, feel good emotion into it, yet she still does it so effortlessly and beautifully. Love the deep, rich tone in her voice!

2) I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown

If you saw this god of music performing live, the energy he radiated was just immense – the sweat rolling off his face as his passion for music flows out of him. Who doesn’t love this song and just want to get up and dance to it?

1) Spirit In The Dark – Aretha Franklin

If you watched the Grammy‘s this year, gospel singer Yolanda Adams did a great but short rendition of this song in the medley. If you didn’t see it – go and watch it! That tribute to the Queen of Soul was the highlight of the night (yes, better than other performances… no names! Ha). And if you’ve never heard the original (it’s quite a rare song but it is on YouTube…) then I suggest you listen to it! This song is some really amazing toe-tapping, foot-stomping, hip-shaking, soulful gospel – and once again, Aretha‘s energy is boundless, as are her off the chain vocals.

Since her days on American Idol, Jennifer Hudson has been known as having one of the best new voices to emerge in the music industry in the past few years. Although she didn’t win, she did still go on to become a popular artist and actress: she managed to do to Beyonce what Beyonce usually does to other artists – overshadow her – in both acting skills and in singing, on their film “Dreamgirls”… She may have been known as the co-star, but in reality she shone the brightest! In 2008 she then released her highly-anticipated, self-titled debut album which did moderately well (in the US anyway). But not long after she suffered great sadness, shock, heartbreak and pain when some of her family members were murdered, and she understandably disappeared from the limelight to recover from her loss… And now she’s back with her equally highly-anticipated second album entitled “I Remember Me”, which I will be reviewing here!

Above: The album cover for “I Remember Me”… Look at the size of that bracelet-thing!

This album is a mixture of big ballads, mid-tempo and a few uptempto R&B tracks that separates Jennifer from the booty-shaking, highly sexually-charged or badass “ghetto” girl vibe of artists you hear so almost unbearably often nowadays, for example, Beyonce, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, and instead harks back to the more mature, adult-orientated R&B or old-school rhythm and blues-type music from the 90s. Here, Hudson‘s songs and voice are more reminiscent of big-voiced divas like Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton and Mary J. Blige back when they were at their peak, with a touch of the soul and funk found in older singers, like a younger Aretha Franklin or Patti Labelle.

It was slightly disappointing to see that Jennifer only co-wrote one song on the album – the title track “I Remember Me”, as I was hoping to see her pour her true feelings, her life story and whole heart on this album, like many artists do when they’re ready to bounce back from such hardships. “Still Here”, probably the best and most heartfelt song on the entire album, is the only one where she really showcases this, but she does so in a beautiful and emotional way. She did however, make up for the lack of her songwriting input by having some other good songwriters and producers on board, for example: Alicia Keys, who co-wrote three of the songs (but a duet with the two of them would have been even more epic), R. Kelly (who wrote “Where You At”, the first single from the album – which was a weak choice in my opinion), and Dianne Warren (a ballad-writing legend who wrote the forementioned “Still Here”). Although some might have been disappointed by the lack of more upbeat songs on the album, I feel those are not Hudson‘s strong points anyway – she should most definitely leave the sex-selling and ass-shaking to the other more controversial divas out there – I think she was definitely in her comfort zone with these songs and while some were quite forgettable or felt too repetitive, she more than up for it with her rich and versatile vocals without the need to overdo it too much with too many high-octave belts/screams or stretched-out runs.

Above: Jennifer Hudson looking and supposedly feeling good after losing weight, thanks to Weight Watchers (apparently)

I think it would have been nice to hear more Dreamgirls-esque songs, like the swinging funk of “Love You I Do” and the amazing torch song which really showed off Hudson‘s immense power, soul and range, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” (check both of those out) or some toe-tapping, rip-roaring gospel-inspired tracks, but here’s hoping that she may do so in the future. She’s brought back pure and mature R&B, and hopefully she’ll bring back some rockin’ old-school soul and funk next. She definitely showed hints of that on her empowering, sped-up cover version of Nina Simone‘s “Feeling Good” (from the new Weight Watchers ad, incidentally), which I thought to be one of the best cover versions of this classic song, and probably the best by another female singer…

Standout tracks: I Got This, Angel, I Remember Me, Still Here, Feeling Good, Believe.

Overall Rating: 4/5 – All hail the new Queen of R&B? Well, there isn’t really anyone else out there right now who is good enough to challenge her and her mighty vocals!

You can say what you like about Christina Aguilera‘s looks and attitude, but there really is no denying that she has talent. Admittedly she’s not always on top form for every performance and sometimes she may overdo it slightly where it ends up being more about what she can do with her voice rather than the song itself. However, when she is on top form – nails every single word and note and pours her heart and soul into the singing and performing without “just showing off”, she’s practically unparalelled. These are my top ten favourite Christina Aguilera performances and why, so if you’re looking for some amazing all-round performances and a lesson or ten in what real and good live singing is (note to Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha, Cheryl Cole, Britney Spears and Katy Perry stans, etc. especially), then check these out:

1) I’m OK – VH1 Storytellers (2010): This song was a non-single track from her “Stripped” album and probably the most personal and emotional song she’s ever done. If you’ve heard it and didn’t shed a tear, then I don’t know what’s happened to your heart and soul, but on this song she poured every bit of hers into it. She performed it for the first and only time last year, and admitted it took a lot of courage to do so. Her vocals are extremely raw and every note is tinged with sadness and pain that you can’t help but feel even more upset upon hearing her sing this song live. Like the true performer she is, she bravely soldiers through to the end and still remains note and pitch perfect throughout, despite the obvious hurt she is putting herself through remembering the story behind it. Truly beautiful and truly heartbreaking at the same time.

2) Ain’t No Other Man – 2006 MTV Movie Awards: From the very first note that she belts out with extreme power and amazing clarity but no straining force, right to the end when you would normally expect an average singer to be totally breathless, this is her best (and was her first) performance of this song. The only disappointment? Everyone in the audience, except two people, stood up to clap and holler enthusiastically. Were they deaf? Or thinking that they were at the opera? It is however, always nice to see one of her peers look on speechlessly (Jessica Simpson)… The music and her voice brought back the fun and feel-good funky soul genre that many thought was lost back in the 60s and 70s, gave it a few modern R&B and commercial pop twists and added her rich and unmistakable vocals to make this a dynamite of a performance.

3) It’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World – 2007 Grammy Awards: Since this was voted the third best-ever Grammy performance after Celine Dion and Green Day respectively, there’s no real need to elaborate on why this is such an amazing performance. But I will anyway. James Brown was known for his “scream-singing” – which is obviously basically screaming but hitting proper notes and doing it in a way that it still sounds good musically, and some could say Christina does the same sometimes too. Here she perfectly channels the late Godfather of Soul‘s emotion on probably his most slow-tempo song ever that didn’t see him moving his feet, twisting his hips and jumping up and down but still had him scream out at the top of his lungs about how he feels about the world’s society in terms of gender. Christina roars and screams into the mike for all she’s worth, really feeling and believing the lyrics herself, practically reviving James Brown, reliving his soulful spirit and taking the entire audience to the church to be reborn. Even the high screaming note towards the end that some people thought was off-pitch, while others believed that was meant to be, just as James Brown did it too, didn’t falter the overall delivery. And in the words of Jamie Foxx at the end of the video, “that’s the shit right there”. Indeed it was the shit. NB: She had apparently recently gotten over a cold during this time.

4) Walk Away – The David Letterman Show (2004): This song has Christina doing what only some of the best singers do well, which is change between various different pitches within one phrase – from rich, deep and husky to light, high and airy. Again, it has the audience totally mesmerized by her soulful, versatile voice as well as being absorbed by the dark lyrics. Aside from being dressed like an Italian mob boss, the whole performance is flawless… her voice is pitch perfect and hauntingly beautiful, not restrained but not over-used and while most singers feel the need to stand up straight in order to force out the power in the voice, she’s sat down for this one and it still comes out of her with practically no effort at all.

5) Makes Me Wanna Pray – Back To Basics Tour (2007): To those that say she oversings a lot, they are probably not familiar with gospel music, which is all about being as loud as possible so that the Big Guy Upstairs can hear your love and praise – here Christina puts her bluesy melismas, inflections and well-executed mid-range belts into full gear and use and sings for all she’s worth about how thankful she is to God for her loved one. Her sexy, Etta James-inspired growls and the belts (not screams) at the end are HD-clear, fantastic and right on target, even after all that high-octane singing and moving she did throughout the song. Her band, dancers and incredible backing singers really shone too, for an all-round foot-stomping, hand-clapping and soul-packed performance. If you didn’t feel like you were right in the middle of an energy-blasting Gospel Church and choir, then Lord help you.

6) Beautiful – The Ellen DeGeneres Show (2004): Probably her best performance of this song to date. For the first minute and a half she sings it acapella, and even after that she just has the help of a piano and  six backing singers to harmonize, proving that the best performances don’t need special effects, ridiculous outfits, crazy dancing or even any music. A very simple and seemingly effortless, yet powerful and emotion-evoking performance. And as Ellen DeGeneres says at the end, “that’s singin’!” It sure is…

7) Ain’t No Way – 2011 Grammy Awards: In another tribute, this time to Aretha Franklin, Christina tackled one of the Queen of Soul‘s hardest songs to sing. She puts every ounce of soul she has into this performance, but not by trying to replicate or be better than the original or “copy” Aretha‘s unique voice, but instead managing to make it her own with her own unique voice, which is what the best singers do when wanting to honour their idols. Obviously some will compare it to the original, and while it admittedly is not as outstanding, Christina definitely did the song justice and Aretha proud, allowing her soul and the feeling of the song to carry her and her voice through it. Her runs were well-executed but not too overdone, her falsetto/head register is still there and ample, and while her voice wasn’t completely perfect, this performance was definitely her best in recent months. It was just the kind of performance she needed to pull off to make people forget her “ruining” and messing up the words to the American National Anthem just a week before.

8 ) Beautiful – Stripped Tour (2003): Here Christina also sings the first verse and chorus acapella, in front of 12,000 fans, but unlike during other performances, this gave the audience a chance to participate and sing along with her, and despite the obvious difficulty of trying to hear yourself hit the right notes with thousands of fans screaming at you, she did it. Her look was laid-back and casual and her voice was beautiful and effortless, even after having already been performing for an hour and a half. While most of her performances are ones where the audience just looks on in amazement by hearing her voice live, this song will also always allow people to feel the need to sing along and relate to the song by feeling its lyrics and meaning.

9) I Love You Porgy – 2008 Grammy Nominations Concert: In a tribute to Nina Simone (notice how she is always asked to do these tributes to the great singing legends of the past over other people? And not because others are unavailable to do them, it’s because there are hardly any others available at all…), who was well-known for her extremely deep contralto voiceChristina shows her rich, melancholy lower register without “showing off”. Even though at the end she turns the volume up slightly and adds a couple of runs, she keeps the majority of the song as pure and straight as it is meant to be. She channelled Nina’s mellow and soul-enriched vocals and emotion well, that it is not meant to excite the audience, but spellbind them instead.

10) You Lost Me – 2009 American Idol Finale: Things were resting heavily on Christina‘s performance of this song here, especially after the first single “Not Myself Tonight” from the album “Bionic” did not do very well… people accused her of using sex and nudity to sell, but ultimately failing to do so, while others were disappointed at the lack of her using her big voice on the album… even though many had criticized her before for over-using it in the past. You just can’t win can ya?! So Christina needed a solid second single to come out with, and although this was also not the greatest of choices and didn’t do particularly well either, its simplicity and her emotion-filled vocals reminded most people again of why she still has one of the best voices in the business today. She went for a toned-down look and it was just her and her mike singing over the instrumental… no gimmicks and no unneccessary runs – just a lesson for the all “American Idol” wannabes about how to put on a simple yet beautiful performance with great vocals. Shame the judges just sat there and clapped politely at the end, whereas they gave Janet Jackson a standing ovation despite her boring performance!