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25 May

The Listen List

What is beatin’ on my eardrums this week:

Albums

1. “Blunderbuss” by Jack White – This album has really grown on me. I like it from the start, but now I’m lovin’ it. I always appreciated the White Stripes but was never a huge fan. But this one is turning me into a big Jack White fan.

2. “Vows” by Kimbra – Hopefully here guest vocal on Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” will provide enough exposure to get folks to buy this. Great voice, songs, and production. A really good listen.

3. “The Ultimate Bee Gees” by Bee Gees – Another brother goes away too early…

4. “Trespassing” by Adam Lambert – His debut had moment, but like most Idol debuts it was messy. This album as a whole is far more cohesive and sounds like an artist’s album rather than one dictated by producers and such. Surprisingly good album.

5. “Out of the Game” by Rufus Wainwright – Finally, he lightens up the mood! Welcome back!

 

Songs

1. “Sixteen Saltines” by Jack White – It is the hardest song on the album and one of the best. And there is something really both funny and creepy about the lyrics that gets me. Starts right off in the opening line of “She’s got stickers on her locker…”

2. “Oh My!” by Haley Reinhart – An Idol alum from last year, she’s not someone I’d thought I’d be listening to, but her debut disc is actually pretty good. This opening track is a funky retro jam and fits her perfectly. It’s like Amy Winehouse and Duffy had a baby that is being babysat by Nancy Sinatra.

3. “Kickin’ In” by Adam Lambert – The song on the disc that I kept playing on repeat. Love the mish-mash of vocals on the chorus.

4. “Into the Wild” by LP – I thought I was over this song, but I’m not. Still in love with it and her siren voice.

5. “When the Rain Begins to Fall” by Jermaine Jackson & Pia Zadora – We found this great 80’s station on the radio in Portugal. They played tons of great songs and it took a few days before repeats snuck in. When this song came on I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t heard it since I bought the single back in the day. It’s pretty awful. It must have been a big hit in Europe because it was repeated several times. It has an equally horrific video…

Categories: Music, The Listen List Tags:
24 Apr

Ik hou echt van Marco Borsato!

No, auto-correct did not screw up the post title. It is Dutch – a language I’ve heard quite a bit through friends I have vacationed with over the past couple of years. I’ve been to the Netherlands (many, many years ago) and have gotten to know the culture a bit through my Dutch friends, but being a music person I realized that I never really explored any type of music from Dutch artists. With a vacation looming with the Dutchies, I thought it might be interesting to explore some Dutch popular music and maybe surprise them with what I’ve learned – or better yet, just start playing it on the iPad and see if they notice it…

I found some data from the Dutch pop charts that pointed towards the most popular artists. In addition to other worldwide artists like the Beatles or Madonna, there were several superstars that are basically just based in the Netherlands. From the list I took a listen to some of the past and current artists. I have to say, well, I wasn’t impressed. It seems popular Dutch music, or Nederpop as it was called in the 60’s and 70’s for Dutch-language pop, is quite folky and bouncy – much like the German schlager music (the Dutch equivalent is levenslied). I think a good example of this was a worldwide hit for the George Baker Selection – who are from the Netherlands – and the song “Paloma Blanca.”  It’s very oom-pa-pa-ish. And even in some of today’s Dutch stars this still runs through their music. I’m not a fan of this style so I was not connecting with anything.

I tried Jan Smit, who is very schlagery. Andre Hazes, who is a bit better and kind of country-ish. Then an earlier hit group called BZN (who, discovered Jan Smit). Still, that schalger was all over the place. Another comparison might be through ABBA. Some of their songs, especially earlier hits like “Waterloo,” border on schlager but lean more towards what we know as mainstream pop. But none of these folks were ABBA. Some of their rock bands like D.A.D. are better, but they typically sing in English and therefore have potential for a wider world audience. I really wanted to find a Dutch artist that I could get into. Then, I came across Marco Borsato.

Marco Borsato is the number one Dutch artist in the Netherlands. In pop chart accomplishments he is only second to the Beatles in most #1 hits, most weeks at #1, and most weeks at #1 within a year. Where he actually tops the Beatles (and everyone else) is that he has the biggest #1 single of all time. His song “Dromen Zijn Bedrog” was #1 for 12 weeks. Plus, another #1 hit of his is tied in second at 11 weeks, “Rood.”  He has had 14 #1 hits all together from 1994-2011. By comparison, the Beatles had a 16. No other artists come close to this record. Therefore, I had to take a listen. And I was really pleased.

I think the difference is that Borsato’s music, although in Dutch, has a more worldwide pop sound. Several of his songs you could easily translate to English and hear them on the radio in the States or elsewhere. Only a minor few of his songs tend toward the home-style levelslied, and even then it sounds more updated and less folky. There were songs that only after a listen or two stuck in my head. I figured I needed to get a collection of his songs and on his website he recently released “#1,” a hits collection of 32 songs. Perfect! It was a bit of a bear getting it downloaded as I had to figure it all out in Dutch and pay via PayPal, but I got it. And I’m glad I did. I’ve been “singing” his songs for a while now, and I have know idea what I’m saying – or even if I’m saying it right! But regardless, I can feel the music and really enjoy it. Some of the words I started to recognized and thought – hey, this may mean such-and-such. I’d look it up and sure enough, I was right! So I must be understanding something. It’s a shame that foreign language songs really never get a change here in the States. There is some really great music out there that should be heard, regardless of the language. I just know I’m glad I discovered Borsato. Now, if I ever get back to the Netherlands, I’ll have to coincide the trip with a concert!

Here are three Borsato songs I’ve really enjoyed. The first, “Binnen,” reminds me of Robbie Williams. The second, “Wit Licht,” is his most rock-oriented outing. And “Dochters” is just a really fine tune. P.S. If you like “Binnen,” then YouTube the live symphonic version – pretty awesome.

 

 

 

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04 Apr

The Forgotten Ones: Merril Bainbridge

I decided to add a new category today called “The Forgotten Ones.” Lately I’ve been listening to some recordings that may or may not have been popular at the time of their release, however these days the songs, albums, and sometimes the artists themselves seem to have been forgotten. Have you ever found yourself listening to a certain recording and thinking “I wonder if I’m the only person in the world listening to this right now.” We all have these forgotten ones in our collection so I thought I might highlight some that are in mine.

First up, Merril Bainbridge. A singer/songwriter from Australia, she hit here in the States in 1996 with the cheeky tune “Mouth,” which hit number four on the Billboard chart and was a certified gold single. Although the song was bouncy and fun, other songs on her disc “The Garden” were superior and not as cutesy as “Mouth.” The opening track “Garden in My Room” sets the tone with a dark, sensual sound. From the more rock-leaning “Sleeping Dogs” to a acoustic take on Pet Shop Boys “Being Boring,” the disc is full of surprises you wouldn’t expect after hearing the initial hit.

Bainbridge released one more album in 1998 called “Between the Days,” which failed to do anything. Although a solid disc, it just wasn’t in the same league as “The Garden.” I think it is a special album and one that I always seem to listen to on a warm spring day. If I have this playing with others around, I’m usually asked who it is because they really dig it, so that always a good test for quality music.

She attempted a comeback in 2003, but it never really came to fruition. It seems these days she is writing songs for other Australian pop artists, which is not a bad gig at all. It is unfortunate that “Mouth” is all she is really known for because she offered so much more. It’s spring now and I just listed to this disc. I suggest checking her out and seeing if “The Garden” can fit in your spring rotation.

 

 

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13 Mar

One Nation, Under Music

Last week, two of my favorite artists release CDs on the same day. What was strange is that neither of them have much in common, yet they approached similar subject matter in their music – the current economic state and world view of the US. Both artists have covered similar social subjects before, but launching on the same day gave rise to comparison in message and approach.

Bruce Springsteen has done his share of musical commentary on the state of our country and/or explored the state of the human experience. From “Nebraska” to “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “The Rising,” he has covered some territory normally reserved for the Woody Guthries and Bob Dylans (neither of which he is) of the new musical order. His views are rarely pointed and are typically either wrapped up in bombastic anthems or stark guitar meditations. That has all changed with “Wrecking Ball,” a charged-up mass of spit that is probably his biggest and loudest political statement. Just the titles alone can make you either sad or angry – “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Shackled and Drawn,” “Death to My Hometown,” and “This Depression” to name a few. Each song has a message and Springsteen pushes it down your throat in 8-cylinder “Born to Run” fashion. The thing is, the disc is really great. Sonically charged, driving, fist pumping, etc., it is probably his most vibrant disc in a very long time. And some of the old magic from him and the band hits its apex with “Land of Hope and Dreams,” complete with a banging’ piano riff and one of Clarence Clemon’s last sax solos. It rocks. Still, for me he just kind of says he’s angry with the current state of our world and economy and that the days of “My Hometown” are over and don’t it suck. I guess it is fine, but this coming from a multi-millionaire who probably wears $1000 boots and designer jeans and having it all wrapped up in a high-sheen studio gloss seems a little too much to swallow. As much as he thinks the fat cats and politicians are out of touch with the people, he has to realize he’s not really “one of the people” any longer either. It’s like he hasn’t realized that he has moved into a world where his nickname, “The Boss,” means something different. I think it’s a great record and love hearing it, but the message portion just doesn’t equate for me.

On the other hand, Todd Snider has been making sly commentary on the world around us for a long time now. His self-described “peace hippy” personal has played well and has turning him into a kind of modern folk hero. The new collection, “Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables” brings to life some of the same subjects Springsteen covered, but in a more observational and less confrontational way. By comparison, his titles like “New York Banker” and “In Between Jobs” are more subtle and less in-your-face and his approach is more real – as if he walked in a studio and plugged in a guitar and mic and just started a song. It is a more appropriate setting for the subjects and his lyrics make you pay attention and want to hear what he has to say. Some of his lyrics are pointed, but done in a more ironic or humorous approach. When he strums along and sings about “good things happen to bad people,” you kind of just nod your head and say “I hear ya, bro.” And it feel natural. He’s a hard scrabble cat still just trying to make his way in the world and we can relate to him. It’s a terrific disc.

Snider and Springsteen are worlds apart. Which suits your world better?  You can look at it this way: if you love your Miller Lites, are mad as hell and don’t wanna take it any more, and dig raising your fist in the air, you need Bruce. If you like a bit o’ Jack, are wishing everyone would just have some common sense and get along, and like to see the world through a little bit of haze, seek out Todd.

 

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03 Mar

The Listen List

These are buzzin’ around my ears like mad bees this week:

Albums

1.  “Some Nights” by fun. – Although I had heard the song on “Glee” the other week, I didn’t know who the original artist was, and wasn’t that interested. But since Janelle Monáe was attached to the song and EW had an interesting write-up, I listened to the album. I’m glad I did. They have a great sound – kind of retro 70s glam with doses of Queen, yet tossing in some new flavor ala Scissor Sisters. It’s really…well…fun.

2.  “The Best of the Monkees” by the Monkees – I went through a major Monkees phase last year so the passing of Davy Jones was quite sad. I think this Rhino disc captures most of their best moments on one disc. But I still had to play the other studio albums for some choice tracks and memories.

3.  “The Singles” by Goldfrapp – A bunch of awesomeness collected on one disc plus two new choice tracks.

4.  “Purple Rain” by Prince – Finally picked up this disc after having the LP in storage all these years. Why was I waiting? “Computer Blue?” C’mon. This disc is a freakin’ masterpiece.

5.  “A Different Kind of Truth” by Van Halen – They really played this smart by reviving demos and songs they did back in the day. I think that contributed to this disc sounding like the old VH more than anything. This was an unexpected pleasure.

Songs

1.  “Fall From Grace” by Meat Loaf – A track off his upcoming disc and one written by the brilliant Bleu, who I was lucky to be in the studio with last year. Seek it out kids – this is a killer track.

2.  “Run Run Run” by the Explorers Club – Super delicious retro throwback with that pop 60s vibe. Should be in the backseat of a convertible with a martini being driven down the main South Beach drag.

3.  “These Days” by Foo Fighters – Choice track from their Grammy-winning album.

4.  “Some Nights” by fun. – This is the second single from their CD and I think is better that “We Are Young.”

5.  “Big Love” by Jim Moray – This guy is a folkie who revels in traditional British folk songs (like June Tabor) and gives them a modern update. On his excellent new disc “Skulk” he puts his skills down on this modern Fleetwood Mac tune (on banjo, no less) and makes if fit well among the ancient traditionals.

 

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