2014 May

Electric Lady ft. Solange by Janelle Monae

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I’ve showcased a song from Janelle in a Thursday Tunes session before (Q.U.E.E.N. Ft. Erykah Badu), but she recently performed at Justin Herman Plaza for free last Friday and I thought I’d share another song from her most recent album ‘The Electric Lady’. I won’t go in to much detail about Janelle, outside of saying that I think she is an extremely talented artist who will be on the music scene for many years to come. I wanted to speak to her talent as a live performer, which I felt was fantastic! The performance at Justin Herman Plaza was provided to the public for free in celebration of Salesforce 15 year anniversary. The lunchtime performance was filled with a few hundred people and didn’t disappoint. On stage Janelle commands attention and definitely puts on a show to please the masses. She danced through the whole performance, jammed with her band, played to crowd and actively requested crowd participation on numerous songs. You’d think that a free concert would only entail 3-4 songs from an artist, but to my surprise she was on her 6th song when I headed back to the office upon my lunch break being over. I have a friend who works for Salesforce and he informed me that she performed for 1 ½ hours before finally wrapping up. The reason why I decided to share this song with you today is primarily because I loved the live performance she gave of this song in Justin Herman Plaza. I tried to see if anyone uploaded a video of it to YouTube, but I didn’t see any. Therefore, I’m providing you with both the album version of the song that includes Solange (Beyonce’s younger sister) as well as a live performance that Janelle did during the Arsenio Hall Show a few months back (which has the same band and background singers that were with her on Friday).

Live:

My House by Kacey Musgraves

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Another national debut released in March of this year, Kacey Musgraves has gained a lot of attention in country music circles. Kacey hails from Texas and made her stage debut and the very young age of 8. She started writing songs a year later, and learned to play the guitar, harmonica and mandolin. She self-released three albums between 2002-2007. In 2007 she was on “Nashville Star”, an American Idol type of competition and garnered some attention even though she placed 7th. She started writing songs for some of the bigger country artists like Miranda Lambert and Martina McBride. This led her to signing a deal with Mercury Records in 2012, and the 2013 release of “Same Trailer Different Park”. Like Ashley, Kacey has shown some strong songwriting skills and has received a lot of positive reviews for her major label debut album. She has a wide-variety of songs on her album, and is a little more modern sounding that Ashley. With 12 songs, she could have probably pared a few songs off of her album but she has many good tracks throughout.
“My House” highlights her voice very well, with one of the more sparse instrumental tracks on her album. Harmonica, guitar, simple percussion and her voice propel the track along. This song kind of reminds me of Kimya Dawson, who you may remember hearing on the “Juno” soundtrack (great movie). A very simple and enjoyable song, with some funny lyrics.

Monroe Suede by Ashley Monroe

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“Monroe Suede” is an uptempo song, but still has the old country song. More fiddle on this track. Again, nothing groundbreaking about this track, but it’s just executed much better than most. Short and sweet.

I’m the Man by Aloe Blacc

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Aloe has quietly been in the music scene since 1995. He was well known in the indie rap underground scene under the moniker Emanon, where he dropped a mixtape, an EP and three albums. In 2003 Aloe became a solo artist and released 2 EPs on his own, before being signed in 2006 to Stone Throw records. In 2006 he released ‘Shine Through’, but soon after he began to contemplate on whether or not he wanted to be a rapper or a songwriter. He felt that the focus of hip-hop reflects one’s ego, and he wasn’t really able to express everything he had to say in life; he took a break from rapping and focused on songwriting until 2010 when he released his second album ‘Good Things’, which was a commercial success in the UK and spanned an international hit with the single “I Need a Dollar.” Recently, Aloe has gained a lot of recognition in 2013 for co-writing and singing on Avicii’s track “Wake Me Up”. Thanks to this song, in September 2013 Aloe was signed to Interscope records and immediately released a 5 track EP tilted ‘Wake Me Up EP’. This EP included the song “I’m the Man”, which has been featured in the Beats headphones commercials with Kevin Garnett, Colin Kaepernick and Richard Sherman (these commercials were in heavy rotation during the NFL season). What I enjoy most about this song is the horn play in conjunction with Aloes voice. I think that the arrangement of the two complement one another very nicely; also, I enjoy that his approach to the song is in the form of singing/spoken word. I like that he isn’t rapping or strictly singing on the track, he blends the two effortlessly and I think that adds value to the song overall. I must say that after listening to some of his earlier work, I’m a fan of his new approach to music. As an FYI, I’ve included the link to the Beats commercial that has Colin Kaepernick in it. Enjoy!

Beats Commercial:

Happy by Pharrell

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Pharrell is a widely known music producer, songwriter, singer, rapper, drummer and newly a fashion designer. He is best known for his producing skills under the name “The Neptunes” with his friend Chad Hugo. They began working together in 1990 and since then they have produced numerous soul, hip-hop and R&B songs for mainstream artist including: SWV, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Beyoncé, Britney Spears and many others. In 2003, Pharrell released his first solo single ‘Frontin;’ oddly, he didn’t release a debut album until 2006 (In My Mind) but during that 3 year gap Pharrell was busy producing and writing songs for other artist. The same can be said for his 2nd album, it’s taken Pharrell 8 years to put it out but it’s largely due to how busy he has been with other artist and getting his fashion company off the ground. In late 2013, Pharrell hit the music scene with a bang! He was featured on the track ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk, ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke and he had the lead single for the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. The song I’m bringing you today can be heard in the Despicable Me 2 movie, all over mainstream radio, and it will be on Pharrell’s new album that will drop on in March. I like this song because the title definitely reflects the entire vibe of the song. Every time I hear this song, I can’t help but want to dance like the folks do in the video. It’s a song that just lifts my spirit and makes me instantly happy . If you were to walk by my cube this morning, you would have seen me bouncing around in my chair after I found the link to this song on YouTube. Sammi and Michele can vouch for this bounciness in my cube, lol. In the video there are various people dancing and singing lyrics to the song; Jimmy Kimmel, Magic Johnson and Steve Carrell (who voices Gru in Despicable Me 2) can be seen dancing in the video also (oh and life size versions of the minions dance too). Enjoy!

Two Weeks Late by Ashley Monroe

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Ashley Monroe has a pretty interesting back story – I’ll try to keep it brief. She released her debut album in 2007 at the age of 19. She was singing and winning talent contests since she was 11. Her family had a great love of country music, and she had relatives in the Carter Family and is also related to Carl Smith. When Ashley was 13, her father died and this motivated her to start songwriting to help her deal with her loss. She began making trips to Nashville to perform her music (she lived in Knoxville, TN). It wasn’t long before she went ahead and moved to Nashville. As soon as she was 18, she signed a deal with Columbia. However, her first album and single was not well-received. She broke ties with Columbia, and started working behind the scenes for the next few years. She wrote songs and sang background vocals, most notably with Miranda Lambert and performing sessions at Jack White’s studio/label. Her frienship with Lambert led to the formation of the female trio Pistol Annies, along with Angaleena Presley. Their 2011 debut album was a pretty big hit and has sparked the second phase of her solo career. Vince Gill agreed to produce her second solo album “Like a Rose” which she released to great acclaim in March this year. What I like about the album is that it has a lot of “old country” sound on it (I did hear plenty of country music when I was a kid so maybe I’m impacted by nostalgia), plus I like Ashley’s voice. She has a nice variety of songs on the brief album – which is actually another plus. The nine songs are over so quickly that you still want more when it ends. No filler is a good thing.
“Two Weeks Late” is definitely a classic sounding country song – lyrics, music and everything else. Self-pitying chorus, steel guitar, piano, upright bass and catchy title line in the chorus. But it’s all put together very well. Ashley’s singing is right on, there’s some interesting instrumentation and even guitar solos.

Latch by Disclosure ft. Sam Smith

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Disclosure comes to us from the UK and were recently nominated for a Grammy in 2014 for Best Dance/Electronica Album. The Band consists of two brothers who found success with multiple singles and various EP releases before their debut album (Settle) dropped in June 2013. Their debut album was led with the single ‘Latch,’ which features vocals by Sam Smith. Sam is also from the UK and to be honest, I think it’s his voice that enriches the song. The underlying beat from Disclosure is very simple and not too heavy electronically, which enables the listener to hear Sam’s talented voice. The chorus is by far the best part of the song, Sam’s voice hits a high falsetto and the beat is vibrant enough to not overpower him, nor does it fade out to the background. I think overall the song comes through as an extremely nice pairing between vocals and the beat. Thanks to this song, Sam was able to get a record deal and will be releasing a debut album in May of this year. Disclosure gained commercial success with this single and thanks to this single, they charted 3 additional top 10 singles in the UK. Their debut album debuted at number 1 in the UK and they have since gone on tour throughout the UK, USA and Canada. I expect to hear more from these guys since the pop music scene seems to be heavily influenced by the combination of Electronica music and talented vocals. Enjoy!

Scalpal by Alice in Chains

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Alice in Chains go way back to 1990 when their debut album “Facelift” came out. Lumped into the Seattle “grunge” scene, the band stood out with their mix of grinding hard rock and a more subtle acoustic side. This helped them appeal to fans of both metal and grunge. By the time their 2nd album “Dirt” came out in ’92, they were popular enough to go multi-platinum with that release. The band struggled with many tensions during their initial tenure. Singer Layne Stayley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell had different musical pushes – Cantrell more toward the mainstream and Stayley was more edgy and seamy. The band was also plagued with drug rumors, especially Stayley and heroin. The combination of creative difference might have helped spur some interesting music, but the band did little touring because of their differences and then there were also the lingering drug issues. They did play the Lollapalooza tour in ’93. This helped set-up a milestone for the band. In ’94, they released an EP “Jar of Flies” which was the first EP to ever top the album charts at #1. However, the band wasn’t touring again. In ’95 they released their 3rd full-length album “S/T” and it also charted at #1. Still no touring. However in ’96 they played one show – MTV’s “Unplugged”, which was later released as an album that year. This would end up being the last album the band released with Stayley that wasn’t a “live” album or greatest hits package. Stayley died in 2002 from a heroin and cocaine overdose. Bass player at the time Mike Starr had also battled drug addiction during these years and he ended up dying in 2011. Cantrell did some solo work, but eventually in 2009 he set out to record a new Alice in Chains album. He recruited singer/guitarist William DuVall to help fill-in on vocals and the band released “Black Gives Way to Blue”. Now, four years later we have the second album from the new incarnation of the band “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”. The band has done a nice job carrying on, and I’m enjoying this album more and more with each listen.
“Scalpal” showcases the acoustic, lighter side of the band. This track also grabbed me immediately, but in a different way. First, it’s a great break in an album filled with darker, more gritty music. And especially with the slide guitar, it almost ventures toward country music. It’s just a very different side of the band, and it’s great to see how well they can make the disparate styles work. It’s a really exceptional mellow piece of work.

Surrender (Piano Version) by Digital Daggers

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Digital Daggers comes to us from Los Angeles and they are a duo composed of Andrea Wasse (lead vocals) and Jason Smith (known as “Space”). The two met while working for EMI Music Publishing, while writing songs for other artist in 2008. It didn’t take long for them to collaborate, which eventually lead to the formation of Digital Daggers. Right away Digital Daggers started to make a name for themselves and they were able to drop a digital EP (Human Emotion) in late 2010. Thanks to their of their digital EP, they were able to sign a record deal. The follow up to their EP came in the form of a mainstream debut album, ‘The Devil Within,’ in early 2012. Their debut album catapulted them to mainstream success and their music has been featured on numerous network television shows, such as: The Vampire Diaries, CSI: NY, Pretty Little Liars, Once Upon A Time, and countless others. The song I’m bringing you today comes from their debut album, and I’ must say that I prefer the piano version of the song, instead of the original version. What drives me to the piano version is the fact that you can honestly just focus on Andrea’s voice. Even though the track only has her voice and the piano, Andrea’s voice isn’t overbearing to the piano which leads to a harmonic energy throughout the entire track. I believe this is overshadowed on the album version of the song due to the electronic accompaniment and therefore I don’t think the album version of the song garners the same admiration from me as the piano version. I’ve provided both versions of the song, that way you can determine which one you prefer.
Piano Version:

Album Version:

Huey Newton by St. Vincent

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The beginning of this track is very different than the latter part. It starts off with synth like guitar line with St. Vincent throwing random lines out around the music. But this song really takes off with about two minutes left when out of left field St. Vincent breaks into a dual guitar massive rock riff and the band just rides that out until the song ends. It’s a great example of how a particular type of lead-in can really enhance the impact of a sound change later in the song. In the live version, listen to how the crowd reacts when the heavy guitar lead starts up.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWSLQiZdOpk
Live in Berlin: