Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mary Wilson: Live! In Washington, D.C. 2/21/09

In February 2009, Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. showcased one of popular music's most unsung heroines: Miss Mary Wilson. Mary Wilson is known as one-third of The Supremes and stayed through each (six total) line-up changes between 1959 through 1977.

Her solo career kick started officially in 1979, and she's continued to plow her own way globally to rave reviews. I was fortunate to see her Up Close show on February 21st this past weekend, where Wilson and her band did a protean mix of standards.

La Wilson's setlist for the evening criss-crossed jazz, pop, and soul, a good portion of them coming from "The Great American Songbook." With a moody blue, but affirming hue, the show opener "Here's to Life" got the crowd going with her sincere delivery. Wilson then shimmied into the burning yearn of "Body & Soul," an excellent platform for her experienced presence that Wilson has always possessed as a singer and performer. "Smile" and "What a Wonderful World," easily the most beguiling numbers, demonstrated how Wilson's voice cut between pluck and sensitivity.

Other noteworthy performances from Saturday night included "The Girl From Ipanema" covered by Wilson in her Supremes days on The Supremes at The Copa (1965), the lesser known Supremes gem "My World Is Empty With You" got a workout too. Yours truly was featured on back-up vocals with Miss Wilson, from my seat mind you. My best friend in attendance with me that night was quite amused.

All of this didn't deter La Wilson from being funny, personal, and lively with the audience at Blues Alley. I was blessed to meet Mary Wilson after the performance, where she signed my New Ways, But Love Stays (1970) and Touch (1971) Supremes LPs. I chatted her up about my admiration of her and how her as an artist. Miss Wilson also outdid her own hype as "the sexiest Supreme" with major body and beauty for someone of 64 years of age!

The evening made it crystal clear that Mary Wilson is an undervalued commodity among her Motown peers. Wilson is the example of talent that won't be held back by anyone or thing, I was glad to see it in the flesh.-QH

[Editor's Note: For more information, tour and event dates for Mary Wilson, visit QH]

Monday, February 9, 2009

Vitamin C: Witty Pop for Your Music Diet

Colleen Fitzpatrick is no stranger to musical classification with her start was in the power pop outfit Eve's Plum. From 1992 through 1995 two records were cut, Envy and Cherry Alive. Inexplicably, Eve's Plum never caught on and the group drifted apart. Fitzpatrick  resurfaced in 1999 with her solo record Vitamin C, bearing the same name herself. Ten years later, unless you were immediately immersed in the last few gasps of 1999's and early 2000's pop, Vitamin C will be nothing more than a byproduct of citrus. Both Vitamin C and More (2001) have held up in the ensuing years and deserve a second look.

Vitamin C (1999)
John Deutsch and Garry Hughes worked together over Fitzpatrick's fizzy debut. Likely to be remembered for the reggae splash "Smile" and sentimental "Graduation (Friends Forever)," these tracks don't belie the sly attitude of the remaining album work. A furious concoction that included new wave, hip-hop, pop, dance, and R&B laced by Fitzpatrick's beguiling wisp made for punchy pop bliss.

"Me, Myself, & I," the forgotten single, was a tango-tart that complimented "Not That of Kind of Girl," a nod to Fitzpatrick's Eve's Plum roots in its rock blusto. Fitzpatrick at her best can be found on the French intelli-seduction "Girls Against Boys." Several sexually charged jams rounded out the album in "About Last Night" and "Fear of Flying."  Both songs made no bones about their bedroom mindset.  On the strength of the mentioned "Class of 2000" anthem "Graduation," Vitamin C won platinum victory in the U.S.

More (2001)
More beat back the sophomore slump by bringing in the same production unit from Vitamin C. Opening with the electrified "The Itch,"  Fitzpatrick blended influences from Blondie, Madonna, and The Go-Go's. Fitzpatrick gave further face to her teenage idols with a kicking version of The Waitresses "I Know What Boys Like." Fitzpatrick's cover featured a strobe-lit disco dipped middle.

Finer feelings were extolled on the bell-tolling epic "Dangerous Girl," vocoder ridden "She Talks About Love," and the hazy mood of "Sex Has Come Between Us." The embraceable and heartfelt "Special" softened disappointments on More, like the heavy handed "Real Life" and "Busted."

More, a confusing commercial failure, was cohesive enough that it built on Fitzpatrick's previous LP if not outmatching its original wit. Fitzpatrick returned in 2002 with her striking rendition of The Strokes "Last Nite" with interpolations of Blondie's gem "Heart of Glass." It managed to scrape into the U.K. Singles Chart (#75). The lukewarm reception cost her ties with U.K. based V2 Records label. Since that time rumors swirled of Vitamin C working on a new effort. Now independent and free, one hopes that Vitamin C returns to brighten our days with her creative energy. I know I'm waiting.-QH

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mýa's "Sugar & Spice" a Compelling Listen

When Mýa graced U.S. shores with 2003's Moodring, she was caught in a rush of competition with the emerging Ashanti, the ascent-ready Beyoncé Knowles, and predecessor Monica. After achieving fair rewards with "Moodring," it was safely assumed that Mýa's next project would be a shoe in for release. Departing Interscope Records and signing with Universal Motown set off a series of career setbacks and when Liberation (2007) finally hit, the U.S. R&B scene had become less kind for her. Seizing the chance to continue where she was wanted, Mýa signed with Manhattan Records, a Japanese label. Her fifth outing to date, and second after Liberation to have a Japanese release only, Sugar & Spice is a fantastic play on Mýa's strengths.

The record began shakily though when Mýa nodded to the mainstream dilution of dance with the clumsy, if intriguing "Must Be the Music." From the lead single "Paradise" onward, Mýa jumped back to her established sounds: glossy grooves, boudoir beckons, and summery jams.

On the chill cuts, "Sold On Your Love" and "One For Me," she straddled smoothed out hip-hop-lite foundations, sprinkled with late '80's R&B melodies, and sweetened all of this with her trademark purr. Her bedroom valentine techniques saw her take a cue from Janet Jackson's manual of seduction with "Almost Naked," a confident song that left enough to imagination and little inhibition.

"Back to Disco," a shot of inventive fun, energetically  referenced the period Mýa was affectionate toward.  There was also growth in other subject matter and how Mýa vocally handled it. Check out her glistening anthem "All In Your Mind,"  or her tender performance on the teary-eyed "Cry No More." A reproach to "Fallen," from Moodring, "Fallen Part 2" showed that not all fairy tales end happily. On the aggressive "Fallen Part 2" former Pharcyde member Tre assisted, which was appropriate considering she tapped their song "Runnin," that initially sampled Luiz Bonfá's "Saudade Vem Correndo" for the original "Fallen."

Sugar & Spice's fortification of Mýa's music is absolute when viewing that she wrote majority of the songs with production from Jimmy "Klev" Juarez, Arkatech Beatz, Chris "Riddim Fingaz" Garvey, Ne-Yo, Stevie Hoang, Yonny, D.Botts, and Michael Duque.

U.S. support is still elusive at this point, but Mýa doesn't seem to be too bothered. In Japan's Oricon charts (the Japanese equivalent of our own Billboard charts), Sugar & Spice has sold well since its December 3rd, 2008 drop date. It's unlikely this will see a domestic release, but if you're willing to pay the price, you can own of one of the better R&B records out there. Four out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: This is a Japanese import which can be expensive, I ordered my copy through CDJapan and they have an affordable exchange rate. Visit CDJapan for decent priced copy of Sugar & Spice. For more information on Mýa, visit -QH]