Sunday, December 9, 2012

The QH Blend's Records of 2012

Another year, another batch of records released into the world to soundtrack our lives. This year held several surprises and made the case that there is always something to discover under the surface. One simply has to look beyond what is provided. The QH Blend took to a simpler and all-inclusive approach for 2012.

Below the records of the year are split into five sections: "Hits," "Almost, but...," "Misses," "Honorable Mention," and "Considerations." For the latter, I buy all of my music legally and sadly I can't buy every record within the year of its release. See the mentioned category for a full listing of artists considered. For previous entries on The QH Blend for year-end reviews, see the following hyperlinks: [2008] [2009] [2010] [2011].

Record of 2012
Vows (Warner Bros.)
Finally making its (complete) global debut this year, New Zealander Kimbra’s Vows is the dynamo of 2012. Each song is its own mini-epic guided by the insanely adaptable voice of Kimbra, the featured vocalist of Gotye’s Stateside hit “Somebody That I Used to Know.” From the freestyle meets Motown zing of “Cameo Lover” to the power ballad “Old Flame,” Kimbra’s pop is all heart and art, accept no substitutes.

Listen/Watch “Settle Down” here

Return to Paradise* (Island Records)
Sam Sparro’s Prince influences are exchanged, with an exception to the acid cool of the titular cut, for a D-Train meets Deee-Lite pattern.  Return to Paradise takes the best from throwback disco heat and pairs it with early ‘90’s dance music with a modish pulse. Sparro is in fine voice throughout on “Paradise People,” the lovechild of Blondie’s “Rapture,” and the cruise ‘o’ funk of “Let the Love In.”

In Our Heads (Domino)
Hot Chip, England’s favorite acerbic pop outfit, is back with their fifth album, In Our Heads. If the title is correct, what is in Hot Chip’s head is a mesmeric brew of S.A.W., Zapp, and Daft Punk styles that combine pop, dance, and electronic music across eras. These genres, contrary to popular opinion, don’t always run together. Here however, they sashay and strut together on “Motion Sickness” and “Don’t Deny Your Heart” with sickening ease.

Listen/Watch “Night & Day” here

Covered (429)
Macy Gray continually defies the genre gravity of R&B that grounds her peers. Covered, Gray’s first covers album was a revelatory read into Gray’s own eclectic tastes. The material is performed with care, humor, and acuity that prove that Gray isn’t showing signs of slowing down. Read the full QH Blend review here.

Two Eleven^ (RCA/Chameleon)
Norwood's sixth LP Two Eleven is a fantastic interplay of contemporary and established aesthetics. La Norwood navigates soundfields of hip-hop aggression (“Put It Down”), sensual soul (“Paint This House”), and riveting R&B (“Wildest Dreams”) with her familiar peppered tones. Read the full QH Blend review here.

Listen/Watch “Wildest Dreams” here

channel Orange^ (Def Jam)
Stepping out into his own spotlight, Frank Ocean created the conversationalist music piece of 2012 with channel Orange. A difficult, but consistent medley of post-modern R&B, Ocean is strong as a singer and songwriter in his own right. Matching every ounce of hype generated, channel Orange is sure to be remembered as Ocean’s brave first moment in a string of accomplishments. Read the full QH Blend review here.

Listen/Watch “Pyramids” here

Push & Shove (Interscope)
Absent for 11 years, No Doubt’s sixth album Push and Shove was highly anticipated. The gang delivered on the promise of accomplished musicianship, if not acquiescing to the climate driving popular music in 2012. Their most personal album to date, Push and Shove isn't as racket ready as some of their punky past efforts, but a few rollicking numbers in the title track and “Settle Down” more than make up for the patient pace of the LP. Read the full QH Blend review here.

Listen/Watch “Settle Down” here

Words & Music by Saint Etienne*^ (Heavenly/Universal)
The pristine pop trio Saint Etienne returned with Words & Music, an epic tour de force that combined varying elements from British pop past, present, and future. Sarah Cracknell, the female vocalist of the outfit, is still the pink plush realness when handling the electro-acoustic fantasias of “Haunted Jukebox” and “Heading For the Fair.”

Listen/Watch “I’ve Got Your Music” here

The Spirit Indestructible^ (Interscope)
Striking a balance between the conformity of Loose (2006) and the expressive highs of Whoa, Nelly! (2000), Folkore (2003), and Mi Plan (2009) The Spirit Indestructible is a pop record that is proper due to its kaleidoscopic range. Whether cathedral cathartic (“Spirit Indestructible”) or knowingly placing her hip-hop-lite tongue in cheek (“Big Hoops”), Furtado is confident and in control.

Havoc and Bright Lights^ (Collective Sounds)
Morissette’s musical compass has consistently been set to her truth. That kind of uncompromising honesty is rarity in popular music regardless of the style. Havoc and Bright Lights largely picks up where 2008’s Flavors of Entanglement left off, dealing with fragile concerns of the human experience with gentle, but probing candor. Read the full QH Blend review here.

Radio Music Society (Heads Up International)
Spalding’s transition from an instrumental artist to vocalist has been completed with her fourth album, Radio Music Society. Building on the classical black pop of Chamber Music Society (2010), Radio infuses a healthier amount of jazz and adult R&B influences led by Spalding’s pretty and pleasant voice. Solid with its original fare in “Radio Song,” an understated cover of Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It” also makes Spalding a fantastic interpreter.

Listen/Watch “Radio Song” here

Not Your Kind of People^ (Stunvolume)
After the monotonous treading of Bleed Like Me (2005), Garbage seemed to be confined to the alterna-pop history books. While Not Your Kind of People isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it does update their raucous power pop for a new generation and eye Garbage’s finest records Version 2.0 (1998) and (the underrated) beautifulgarbage (2001) in the metal dance floor filler “Automatic Systematic Habit.”

Listen/Watch “Big Bright World” here

Stages* (Red Girl Records)
For former Spice Girl Melanie C, Stages is her first records of covers. The concept behind this project is the songs of the stage, lovingly paid tribute to. The star of the album is Melanie C herself, in her subtlest voice she delivers astute and competent performances on classics like “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” and “Maybe This Time.” Read the full QH Blend review here.

Elysium (Parlophone)
One of the most hailed duos in pop music, the Pet Shop Boys effulgent and opulent music is again reimagined on their newest album. “Leaving” ranks as one of the Pet Shop Boys solid pieces of mood music committed to record thus far. Mirroring Yes (2009) in terms of its clarity, if not tone, Elysium is self-deprecating wit and pathos played to the nines.

Listen/Watch “Leaving” here

Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note/EMI)
With The Fall (2009), Jones began shaking the sleepy time jazz-pop that had become her calling card. Little Broken Hearts may appear calm on its surface, but the quiet riots that readily rear their heads in “Happy Pills” and “Take It Back” suggest that heartbreak does Norah Jones good for inspiration.

Roses (Downtown Records)
The Cranberries dreamy alternative pop-rock may be from a period bygone to some. For others, their first album since 2001’s Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Roses is a comforting reach around to the sounds of their groundbreaking debut Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993).Thankfully, there are a few colorful detours that break the monotony and echo the experimental reaches of Bury the Hatchet (1999) and the mentioned Wake Up.

Strangeland^ (Island Records)
Dogged by comparisons to Coldplay since their start, the gentlemen of Keane have tried their best to beat back the criticisms without appearing too self-conscious. After the misunderstood Perfect Symmetry (2008) and Night Train EP (2010), Keane regrouped and took a slightly back to basics feel with Strangeland. Not a complete rewrite of Hopes & Fears (2004), the album deals in meditative ballads and (some) unexpected moments.

Almost,  but…
Almost, but...of 2012
MDNA^ (Live Nation/Interscope)
The Queen Mother of Pop Madonna returns with MDNA, her 13th album overall, a welcome earwash to the aural mess of 2008’s Hard Candy. Not to state that MDNA is perfect, there are several blunders that make navigating the album perilous, but the salt (“I’m a Sinner”) and sugar (“Masterpiece”) contained within the album more than make-up for the mistakes. Read the full QH Blend Review here.

Listen/Watch “Give Me All Your Luvin’” here

Glassheart*^ (Syco/RCA)
Lewis courts the same kind of sound expansion that helped Will Young shake off his reality television inception curse. Much like Young's junior effort Keep On (2005), Lewis' Glassheart is an intelligent and sensitive appropriation of contemporary and (surprisingly) classic adult-pop bathed in Lewis' vocal restraint versus overindulgence. Her need to please the charts at times impedes her ("Stop the Clocks"), but with compelling entries like "Trouble," "Fireflies," and "Colourblind" the lady shows that she's more than just a voice, she's a person with a story to share.

Listen/Watch "Trouble" here

Perfectly Imperfect (RCA)
Not a pin-up for alternative soul, nor a lemming for contemporary R&B, Elle Varner’s appropriately titled debut is an album that concerns itself with finding a voice between the two extremes black music has found itself caught between. Excusing a few unnecessary numbers (“Oh What A Night”) sexy boasts (“Sound Proof Room”) collide with self-confessionals (“So Fly”) with electric after effects.

All of Me (Warner Music/Atlantic/Homeschool)
“Freak” and “Fall In Love” preceded British rapper/singer Estelle’s third album by two years, unfortunately neither song appears on the general version of the album. Despite this, All of Me is a great stride forward, tempered by a cool mood that lends even the Mary J. Blige swag attack of “The Life” a head bopping gravitas. Only bogged down by several pleasant, if unneeded, narrative interludes, Estelle’s third LP is great modern soul (“Love the Way We Used To”) and hip-hop music (“Speak Ya Mind”) done right.

Listen/Watch "Back to Love" here

The MF Life^ (SRC/Universal Republic)
Canadian soultress Melanie Fiona is taking music matters into her own hands with The MF Life. Still cutting up in the retro lane, as heard on the roller boogie of “Watch Me Work,” Fiona spliced in a few “now” flavors on “This Time” with a feature from J. Cole. Mentioning duets, those are the only dull points on The MF Life, with a pass issued to the John Legend assisted “L.O.V.E.”

Magic Hour^ (Polydor)
That this album has wrapped on the somber note of an extended hiatus makes it that much more frustrating. Feeling like an extended hangover from 2010’s superior Night Work, Magic Hour does have several moments to cheer for. The tribal groove of “Keep Your Shoes On,” the "slippery when wet" vibe of “Let’s Have a Kiki,” and the irreverence of “Shady Love” evidence that the Scissor Sisters pop purity will be missed.

Soul 2 (Reprise)
Seal shares his second album of covers and only slightly improves upon the mistakes he made with Soul (2008): song selection and arrangements. In part, the return of his former principal producer Trevor Horn (alongside David Foster) helps give a better backdrop to Seal’s fantastic voice on a show stopping take of the Rose Royce classic “Wishing On a Star.” Seal will one day create the proper “covers album,” until then with work starting on his follow-up (with Trevor Horn), all one can do is wait.

Miss of 2012
Fortune^ (RCA)
Brown needs to find new roads to travel musically, as his electro-soul sneaks have worn thin on Fortune. Granted, from a production standpoint Brown remains unmatched as heard on the ear shattering “Bassline.” Yet, without a lyrical net to support the sonic structure, the songs collapse into mean, muddy murk. The likable and artistic Brown heard on Exclusive (2007) and Graffiti (2009) is long gone and if he wants his legacy to extend beyond the lesser fare here, he must return to putting his songwriting first.

Secret Symphony* (Dramatico)
With The House (2010), Katie Melua gave an awe inspiring face-lift to the sweet, if sagging jazz-pop that had defined her previous work. Instead of continuing in the forward momentum, she back tracked with the pretty, but pedestrian Secret Symphony. It is a covers record and Melua is in fantastic form (voice wise). The arrangements aren't terrible, but they've been heard on her first three albums, which is what makes it a slight decline following The House.

The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Sound)
Both darlings of their respective fields, alternative soul/pop icon Neneh Cherry teamed with the Norwegian/Swedish hipster group The Thing to create The Cherry Thing. This follows their 2011 effort Mono and Cherry’s Man from 1996. What sounds good on paper doesn't always translate and the album suffers under the pretensions that ersatz, erratic noise patterns equal expression. To be fair, this avant garde music has an audience and “Cashback” showcases Cherry’s fantastic pen. An acquired taste.

Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Part 1 (1st & 15th/Atlantic)
Lupe Fiasco has had a time handling the success of Food & Liquor (2006), the debut that placed him at the forefront of a movement that birthed B.o.B. and Kid Cudi. Along the arc that led to this, Fiasco’s fourth LP, Fiasco bravely handled an ambitious sophomore slump and a label assassinated third effort. It isn’t that Fiasco lacks ability; his intelligence and heart imbue “Bitch Bad” with a lost sense of communal responsibility missing in hip-hop. It’s the music, here reduced to mixtape flatness, that doesn't support his large lyrical precepts. With the proper accompaniment Fiasco will achieve a longer reach of greatness versus bursts of genius.

Listen/Watch “Bitch Bad” here

Honorable Mention
The Abbey Road Sessions (Parlophone)
Another highlight in the event marking Minogue’s 25th year in music, a collection of her reworked classics, and a castoff from ‘07’s X (“Flower”), performed against either orchestral or acoustic canvas’ is breathtaking. Minogue has long since been successful at reinterpreting her work in live environs, here she recreates “The Locomotion” in a ‘60’s soul-pop paean it finally deserves and delivers more poignancy (if possible) to one of her iconic ballads, “Finer Feelings.” Some of the song selections are a bit too predictable (“I Believe In You” should have been exchanged for “Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi”), but Minogue services almost every facet of her fan base with this fine piece.

Listen/Watch "Flower" here

Considerations of 2012
Christina Aguilera Lotus, Andy Allo Superconductor, Tori Amos Gold Dust, Eric Benét The OneCéline Dion Sans Attendre, Melissa Etheridge 4th Street Feeling, Vivian Green The Green Room, Alicia Keys Girl on Fire, Diana Krall Glad Rag DollMaroon 5 Overexposed, Mint Condition Music at the Speed of Life, Monica New Life, P!nk The Truth About Love, Angie Stone Rich Girl, Joss Stone The Soul Sessions Volume 2, Tamia Beautiful Surprise, Karyn White Carpe Diem, Robbie Williams Take the Crown

[Editor's Note: ^=Denotes expanded/alternate edition was reviewed. See respective social media outlets for each artist for further information. *=Denotes album is an import, not a domestic U.S. album. Special thanks to Andrew Bird, Darren Spence, and Frank Coleman Jr. for their tireless enthusiasm and help. Special thanks to Everybody's Records in Cincinnati, Ohio that made it possible to buy & own these LPs.-QH]

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Serious Music: Hall & Oates '72-'79

Hall & Oates in the '70's
When Daryl Hohl (later Hall) and John Oates, two Temple University kids, met at the Adelphi Ballroom in 1967, the partnership they struck became legend. Christened “the most successful recording duo in American music” by Billboard, Hall & Oates have become a staple of popular music and culture. 

Before “You Make My Dreams” and “Maneater” however, there was “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl.” The latter two songs were from Hall & Oates ‘70’s stretch. Forty years ago, Hall & Oates were adventurous enough to criss cross their love of classic R&B with pop, folk, rock, and every other genre imaginable. The result of Hall & Oates first decade of work was a string of youthful records that defied the rules. Not always full of “hits” like their self-produced output from 1980 through 1988, their ‘70’s material had them learning and trying new things. 

In Hall’s own words, he summed up their first decade of recording,

I went back and listened to our ‘70’s music and I’m hearing us as these guys who came out of Philadelphia, were influenced by people around them there, like (Kenneth) Gamble and (Leon) Huff. And then we went to New York, where we came under the tutelage of Arif Mardin and all those musicians. Then we took the Philly thing to California where we mixed and matched those sensibilities.

On the 40th anniversary of Hall & Oates first recorded release, The QH Blend looks back to the decade where two men took their brand of blue-eyed soul and pop on a decade long road trip that shaped their career, and others, for years to come.

Whole Oats (Atlantic, 1972)
Proudcer: Arif Mardin
Synopsis:  A well-paced set of quiet, reflective pop tempered by R&B and folk dominated Whole Oats. Both Daryl and John had pleasant pipes, Daryl possessed an immediate commercial charm whereas John’s voice held an odd, inescapable quality. “Fall in Philadelphia” and “I’m Sorry” were handsome blue-eyed jewels that sparkled. The pensive “Lilly (Are You Happy)” and comforting “Goodnight and Goodmorning” proved the Hall & Oates pen was sensitive, smart, and accessible.

Abandoned Luncheonette (Atlantic, 1973)
Producer: Arif Mardin
Synopsis: A dreamier album manifested on Abandoned Luncheonette. Dual sun rising classics shone on “When the Morning Comes” and “Had I Known You Better Then.” Groovier undercurrents steered “Las Vegas Turnaround” and “She’s Gone.” The latter saw covers by Tavares, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Lou Rawls from its release here onward. The Philly color was making itself known here, though a rounded trio of aural pop cinema in “Lady Rain,” “Laughing Boy,” and “Everytime I Look At You” closed the record on an empirical note.

War Babies (Atlantic, 1974)
Producer: Todd Rundgren
Synopsis: On Hall & Oates first charting album (U.S. #86), a dramatic shift occurred. A rockier affair than their last two hushed efforts, War Babies made guitar and drums the core of its sound on the aptly titled “I’m Watching You (A Mutant Romance).” Shout-outs to the downright ephemeral post-psychedelic R&B of “Can’t Stop the Music (He Played It Much Too Long)” and “You’re Much Too Soon” that softened the cynical crunch ‘n’ munch of War Babies harder numbers.

Daryl Hall John Oates (The Silver Album) (RCA, 1975)
Producer: Christopher Bond
Synopsis: New label, new look, (sort of) new sound. Referred to commonly as “The Silver Album,” it was the long player that landed Hall & Oates one of their first hits (“Sara Smile”) and struck a balance between the rock 'n' roll of War Babies and the calmness of their first two efforts. Hall & Oates were wearing their soul influences proudly (“Alone Too Long”) and alternated between confessionals (“Out of Me, Out of You”) and comedy (“Gino The Manager”). Consistent and fulfilling, Hall & Oates had made one of their first declarative statements.

Bigger Than Both of Us (RCA, 1976)
Producer: Christopher Bond
Synopsis: Delivering another hit with “Rich Girl,” Bigger Than Both of Us had the boys in full control of their skills. A “Mach 2” variation of Daryl Hall John Oates, the white street soul of “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” and “Back Together Again” played well against the radio friendliness of “London, Luck, & Love.” Closing on the high drama of “Falling,” it pointed to the next direction of the Hall & Oates journey.

Beauty on a Back Street (RCA, 1977)
Producer: Christopher Bond
Synopsis: The last of the Bond trio, Back Street lived up to its ominous title by returning to the harshness of War Babies, but with the slick soul harmonies of Bigger Than Both of Us. In fact, the title track to Hall & Oates last LP appeared here and is the only song that offered a respite to the rough, experimental edges (“Bad Habits and Infections,” “Winged Bull”). An interesting fusion of doo-wop and bar rock claimed a revival vibe on “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts?” and made Back Street a curiosity worth discovering.

Along the Red Ledge (RCA, 1978)
Producer: David Foster
Synopsis:  Not as heavy as the record that preceded it, Along the Red Ledge made its case as a straight ahead pop record. Plays in T-Bird rock (“Pleasure Beach”) and posh Philly treats (“Have I Been Away Too Long”) rode alongside the beautiful balladry of “It’s a Laugh” and the remarkable cool of “Serious Music.” With its smart interpolation of George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Serious Music” had Hall & Oates still trying on sounds but working toward an overall identity.

X-Static (RCA, 1979)
Producer: David Foster
Synopsis:  Who’s afraid of the big bad disco/punk wolf? Not Hall & Oates. After spending the decade working as pop pioneers of the musical outback, Hall & Oates tackled the scenes of popular music with their Philly soul as the primer. Whether giving that classic ballad (“Wait For Me”) or fussing with dance (“Running From Paradise”), Hall & Oates located their formula. See “Portable Radio” for even more fun details.

 [Editor's Note: All of the records here are in print physically & digitally, with an exception to Whole Oats. Whole Oats can be located for an affordable price used. See Hall & Oates Official for tour events & updates.-QH]

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Brandy's "Two Eleven" Hits the Spot

Brandy, Circa 2012
How do you follow up one of the best R&B recordings of the last decade? When Human (Epic), Brandy Norwood's fifth album, released at the end of 2008, it was to acclaim if not sales. Norwood's continued commercial slide owed to a climate that eyed her age (29 at the time) as a "deciding" factor to her relevancy rather than her art.

Human's honesty in its vulnerability made it an easy target for scapegoating, and Norwood, being the sweet, if at times insecure woman she is, bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

The three years separating Human and Two Eleven were filled with speculation. What direction could Norwood take her music in? Desiring a chart score without losing her core (read: adult) audience of 18 years, Norwood had a fine line to walk. A duet with longtime colleague/competitor Monica earlier this year, "It All Belongs to Me," left feelings of fear in the place of anticipation due to its inane nature. Norwood's first RCA outing, Two Eleven takes its name from her birthday and the date her mentor/friend Whitney Houston died.

Norwood requested the assistance of individuals to capture the scene of black music in 2012 and fit it to her. A cross section of the producers and songwriters include: Bangladesh, Chris Brown, Sean Garrett, Dem Jointz, Mario Winans, Danja, The Bizness, Rico Love, Frank Ocean, Mike City, and Warryn Campbell. For those that have been into R&B and hip-hop in the last five years, a bulk of the names on the list will not be unfamiliar. The exciting names to see Norwood bring back aboard were two former Full Moon
(2002) principals (Campbell and City) and Ocean. Ocean already in a big year himself with his debut, his background with Norwood extended to two of Human's shining stars: "1st & Love" and "Locket (Locked in Love)."* Norwood's association with the old and new promised she'd take care of business.

Brandy in Blue
With a surface luster that is haughty, but irresistible, Two Eleven is (almost) all killer no filler in its retrofit of contemporary R&B to the Brandy personae. Norwood's voice, at its most cavernous and cool, saves the obvious commercial contender (currently U.S. R&B #3), "Put It Down." Chris Brown steps from behind the mixing board to drop in a funky rap that didn't clutter Norwood who straddles and guides the burping synth track.

In fact, her voice is the melody of "Put It Down," its additional seasoning making the track bearable to those not keen on Norwood's most chart aimed song thus far.

Elsewhere, Norwood acquits herself to the luxurious and galactic material that uses everything from up front guitar and rippling synth lines, layered versus superfluous. The discernible edge that characterizes the rugged "Let Me Go"  and "So Sick" have their eye on the aggressive sides of Full Moon and Afrodisiac (2004). Closer inspection to the form fitting video game soul of "Slower," courtesy of Chris Brown's production and Norwood's pen, proves Two Eleven as the proper experimental follower to Full Moon in place of Afrodisiac.

The decadent trio of sonic erotica Norwood shares ("Paint This House," "Can You Hear Me Now," "What You Need") might make Janet Jackson envious. The trio position Norwood into tastier waters without reducing her to trash. The only complaint leveled at Two Eleven is that it's too immaculate, a listen to the honey soul of "Music" reveals an icy, detached feeling underneath it. The arctic chill may not bother some, it does immediately set Two Eleven a distance away from Brandy (1994), Never Say Never
(1998), and (of course) Human.

She only gets warmer with two lone numbers, "Wildest Dreams" and "Scared of Beautiful." "Scared," the Ocean/Campbell contribution, is a lovely self-styled duet with herself that Norwood sends into the stratosphere. "Wildest Dreams," the second single, is undeniable with its razor sharp hook of "Ooooh, ne-v-er" snaring ears within the first few moments of play.

"Put It Down" w/ Chris Brown
Directed By: Hype Williams

In all, Two Eleven is a claim for Brandy Norwood as the premier interpreter of her era. Two Eleven also is an anomaly for an artist of Brandy's caliber who readily could have gone into a rightful veteran streak. Somehow, in plunging headfirst into the tepid soundverse of modern R&B, Brandy carved a record that was thoroughly her own and relevant without sacrificing consistency or class. Four and a half out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: Deluxe version of Two Eleven reviewed here. *-"Locket (Locked in Love)" only available (physically) on the Japanese pressing of Human or the U.S. iTunes edition. Blue wash photograph of Brandy courtesy of Andrew Bird. For more information on Brandy and Two Eleven, visit]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No Doubt's Return with "Push and Shove" Examined

On the set of the "Settle Down" video
Blondie's reconvene in 1982 with The Hunter, despite possessing a few underrated moments, was a turning point for the group. Undeniably, Blondie had embodied a certain point in popular music history and their gusto to dare was infectious. Autoamerican (1980) made them pop savants, The Best of Blondie (1981) closed their first run, but was preceded earlier in 1981 by Deborah Harry's avant garde album Koo Koo.

When The Hunter dropped, it happened when Blondie's music and image (whether right or wrong) was no longer the "go to" for popular music stimulus. At this point I'm sure many readers are wondering why I'm discussing Blondie in what seems to be a No Doubt review? All of this is because No Doubt follows a hauntingly similar trail to their punky predecessors. Like Blondie, No Doubt was led by an electromagnetic lady in Gwen Stefani, but she was not the band itself. The men were as integral to the mix as Stefani: Adrian Young (drums), Tony Kanal (bass), and Tom Dumont (guitars).

No Doubt's last record, 2001's Rock Steady, like Autoamerican saw No Doubt's artistic ambitions ripen outside of the genre of ska where they originated. Later, No Doubt wrapped up their initial run of singles (see The Singles 1992-2003), and Stefani released Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (2004) and The Sweet Escape (2006). Stefani's confessed "art projects" endured acclaim and derision, and her band mates themselves stayed busy with their own gigs in the interim. So when No Doubt began the touring rounds three years prior to the release of Push and Shove, their sixth album and first in 11 years, questions hovered. How would a group so attached to a past period find audiences (core, casual, and nonplussed) in 2012? Could they beat the same fate that befell Blondie when they decided to get back in the ring?

L to R: Adrian, Gwen, Tony, Tom
Push and Shove only makes one mistake: its title. Presentation is everything. While it is a great title, it doesn't sum up the whole of the album once consumed. To explain, the record doesn't "push and shove" as much as it gives off a "sparkle," ironically a song title on the project.

Push and Shove's mass deals in a shiny batch of new wave, alternative '80's and '90's pop-rock gloss so well prepared that the previous acts that have used the techniques cannot be recalled. The tricks though, chiming synths, layered vocal swatches, and perfectly placed guitar/drum accents, are as magical as they ever were.

The mood of Push and Shove, reflective and melancholy, matches Return of Saturn (2000) slightly for somberness with beguiling ballads like "Easy," "Gravity," and the curtain closer "Dreaming the Same Dream." Whereas Return of Saturn dealt with fear of the unknown adult world, the emotional undercurrent of the new LP is grounded in reminiscing. Remember, all four members of No Doubt are married with children now. The lyrics, Stefani can still pen pensive, make the album's release during the first week of autumn prime for looking back to the recently departed summer. Stefani hasn't lost her vocal energy, one of the last jewels in the rusting American pop crown, she catwalks her band's musical paths.

No Doubt get rowdy on a select section of cuts for those worried that Push and Shove might be too mellow. The first single, an already definite No Doubt classic, "Settle Down" is a dually Asiatic and Jamaican baked good that knocks, rolls, and rides as confidently as "Hey Baby" did in the fall of 2001. The title track, with toasts from Busy Signal and Major Lazer, kicks out a pronounced ska-lite rhythm. The kick is thanks to the two "phantom" members of No Doubt: Stephen Bradley and Gabrial McNair. Tour mainstays since the mid-
'90's, their trumpet and trombone are staples of the No Doubt sound and dance on the titular cut and "Looking Hot's" middle eight with welcome joy.

"Settle Down"
Directed By: Sophie Muller

Thankfully, not a trace of the streamlined "thump-a-thump" of current Top 40 is heard, but there is a careful commercial sheen (courtesy of co-producer Mark "Spike" Stent) present. Such patience to not "rock out" (frustrating) or "sell out" (commendable) will land No Doubt somewhere in the middle of the 2012 popular music landscape. Push and Shove is a record about relevancy based on No Doubt's perfected talents. Four out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: Push and Shove is available in all music retailers, for information on different editions and other No Doubt updates visit No Doubt Official.-QH]

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The "Stages" of Melanie C's New LP

Lady Chisholm Has Arrived
Melanie C does standards? Correction, Melanie C peers into the classics of the stage for her sixth solo recording and situates herself exquisitely.

In a year that has seen the Spice Girls reappear in the popular music and culture landscapes, the timing of Melanie C's newest album Stages couldn't be better. Then again, Melanie C has been at it as her own woman for over a decade now.

Stages follows behind The Sea
(2011), Melanie's fifth record that gave a knowing kiss to the genre hopping that put her debut Northern Star on the map in 1999. Prior to The Sea, Melanie embarked on a journey to the West End, one that took her back to her pre-Spice Girls roots in studying theatre. Appearing in the Willy Russell produced musical Blood Brothers as Mrs. Johnstone, the six month gig in 2009 gained Melanie a "Best Actress in a Musical" Laurence Olivier Award nomination. Currently starring as Mary Magdalene in the U.K. arena tour version of Jesus Christ Superstar, Melanie has got her authentic threads adorned to pull this record off.

Paired with producer Peter John-Vettese who has worked with Melanie on her past endeavors, as well as her former group mate Geri Halliwell, Vettese took the task of bringing life to known classics with reverence and vitality. The cast of Stages: "Maybe This Time" (from Cabaret), "Another Hundred People" (from Company), "I Know Him So Well" (from Chess), "Aren't You Kind of Glad We Did?" (from The Shocking Miss Pilgrim), "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (from Jesus Christ Superstar), "Both Sides Now" (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), "Ain't Got No/I Got Life" (from Hair), "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" (from Shout! The Mod Musical), "I Only Have Eyes For You" (from Dames), "Tell Me It's Not True" (from Blood Brothers), "My Funny Valentine" (from Babes in Arms), Something Wonderful (from The King & I), and "Anything Goes" (from Anything Goes).

Andrew Lloyd Webber & Chisholm in 2012
The selection is strong and varied, some already pop classics before they transitioned to theatre or found life outside that medium. Specifically "I Only Have Eyes for You," with a stamped take by The Flamingos, and "Both Sides Now." "Sides," made a hit by Judy Collins in 1968, was written by Joni Mitchell who created her own great turns on Blue (1971) and Both Sides Now (2000).

Restraining her powerhouse inclinations, Melanie paints in a subtle and soft tone never encompassed over an entire long player before. It is that knowledge of song reading that makes Stages capture and captivate, because Melanie applies her voice correctly to each song. From the slow dance sway of "Maybe This Time," complete with golden horns and brushed drums, Melanie's never been so seductive. The pace elevates on the dynamic rush of "Another Hundred People" before segueing into the duet calm of "I Know Him So Well."

Partnered with her former group mate Emma Bunton (Baby Spice), it actually is not their first collaboration. In the past they teamed on a colorful cover of The Waitresses chestnut "Christmas Wrapping," the flipside to the Spice Girls single "Goodbye." Melanie also appeared on backing vocals for Bunton's solo tune "(Hey You) Free Up Your Mind" in '99, a lost soundtrack gem that found life as the b-side to her '01 hit "What Took You So Long?" The arrangement is a bit too washed out (if pretty), something that plagues only a few cuts on Stages ("I Only Have Eyes For You" notably). Still, Emma and Melanie's interplay is so relaxed and intoxicating, it will delight longtime Spice fans.

Stages EPK Circa 2012

Promotional Shot for Stages
Elsewhere, Vettese and Melanie collide and spark madly as heard on the initial single "I Don't Know How To Love Him." Melanie C matches the changing moods of the score with conviction, infusing it with passion and power.

The song that bears a true seal of emotion is her take of "Both Sides Now." The words hold meaning for the woman singing them, who has openly struggled with self-love, and recently the separation of her longtime partner Thomas Starr. The eloquence, elegance, and heartache come across clear and realized.

Whether taking a vivacious bite out of "Ain't Got No/ I Got Life" or burnishing the perennial "My Funny Valentine" with an unexpected introduction, Melanie is in versatile form throughout.  Cover records are never easy, but Stages is rare in that it includes comfort and surprise tucked away if one listens closely. Four and a half stars out of five.-QH

[Editor's Note: Stages is available in all digital outlets, "Anything Goes" is an iTunes bonus track only, the version reviewed here is the physical edition. To obtain a physical version, visit your local indie record store or where current updates are available.-QH]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A-Z, The QH Blend's 22 Female Singer-Songwriters

Girl Power
The female singer-songwriter ideal isn't one that is removed from clouded perception. Is she, the female artist in question, to be sitting on a stool, cardigan fitting her just so, a guitar resting on her knee? Or is she supposed to be stripped of all make-up, all feminine sexuality, a raw visage with no airs?

Unlike the male singer-songwriter, a rarely discussed boxed convention in and of itself, women are expected to occupy a certain space as artists. They can only be so sexy, so smart, so accessible, and in some instances, they can only be one color and age. Being a male feminist and a longtime admirer of female artistry in popular music, I sat down and thought about which female singer-songwriters move me? Which ones are likely not to be mentioned, which ones usually are (rightfully so), and which ones normally wouldn't intersect in discussion?

The list presents at least 22 of my favorite female singer-songwriters across a spectrum of music. These women all work with words and music to translate their experiences, and those of others, into real aural pieces that people can step into. It goes without saying that all of these ladies are beyond exceptional, they're extraordinary.

Born Myra Ellen Amos, Amos came out of the womb to portents that predicted greatness for her art later in life. Her father a minister and mother a teacher, Amos bounced between the two extremes while showing proficient skills in piano playing. Taking the name Tori Amos, she found out the hard way what happens when you aren't true to your artistic spirit (see Y Kant Tori Read, 1988). Later, she forged ahead to her own truth and with her debut Little Earthquakes (1992), Amos helped reintroduce the piano back into popular music for women. Amos' works are noted for their fascinating, if difficult inclusions of folklore, modern day politics, religion, and sexuality, all allusions to the general human experience. Keeping her piano as the center of her music, her sound has transformed through the years.

Performing "Black Dove (January)," Circa 1998
Pulled off of from the choirgirl hotel (1998)
The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Scarlet's Walk (2002)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Tori Amos' Works

Along with Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton became one of the bright faces to characterize the decidedly girlish approach to the Venus songwriting archetype in the early '00's. "A Thousand Miles," from her first album Be Not Nobody (2002), will be forever remembered. Label politicking cost her dearly when her second album, the fine and fair Harmonium, released in 2004 to little fanfare. Undaunted, Carlton continued to put out records as recently as last year with the mind blowing Rabbits on the Run. With her tender, youthful vocalizing matched with her virtuosic piano playing, Carlton's sound is instantly recognizable.

Performing "White Houses," Circa 2007
Pulled off of Harmonium (2004)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Rabbits On the Run (2011)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Vanessa Carlton's Work

From music teacher, to commercial jingle and background singer for Michael Jackson, Crow later made her mark with Tuesday Night Music Club (1993). Initially, Crow balanced weekend escape from weekday wear with cursory introspection turns. As she sauntered further into the '90's, Crow's music absorbed a wealth of influences and made her lyrical observations open wider. Crow's introspection became as prominent as her recreation retreats, tempered no doubt by bouts with love and cancer: Wildflower (2005) and Detours (2008). Now a single mother of two, Crow's music may not take as many chances as it did earlier in her career, but it remains compelling and comforting.

Performing "Good is Good," Circa 2005
Pulled off of Wildflower (2005)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Wildflower (2005)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Sheryl Crow's Works

Melissa Etheridge released a trio of intense rock recordings from 1988 through
1992, all hailed for their power. Etheridge then broke into the mainstream with her fourth long player Yes I Am (1993), a title that played on the question of her sexuality. Etheridge did come out the same year as Yes I Am, becoming one of the great GLBTQ figures in popular music. Surviving cancer in late 2004, Etheridge is a fierce artist whose music deals in the complexities of human attraction and the consequences of said attraction.

Performing "Your Little Secret," Circa 2001
Pulled off of Your Little Secret (1995)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Lucky (2004)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Melissa Etheridge's Works

The daughter of jazz great Mary Stallings, goddaughter of saxophonist Pharaoh Saunders, Evans seemed destined for greatness when she started working the music scene in Los Angeles. There, she met her musical/romantic counterpart Dred Scott, the co-producer of all her output. Her eponymous first album, that dropped in 1997, held a lush mixture of bright hip-hop and vintage, melodic R&B. It got lost in the neo-soul shuffle. Her experimental second affair Nomadic appeared in 2004. Television and film director Patrik Ian-Polk ushered in the next phase of Evans career. "Remember the Love," from Nomadic, became the theme to Polk's Noah's Arc, the first black-gay drama in 2006. Exposure from Noah's Arc helped bring this stimulating soul chanteuse to more ears.

Performing "Seein' Is Believing," Circa 2011
Pulled off of Adriana Evans (1997)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Walking With the Night (2010)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Adriana Evans' Works

India Arie Simpson, to become India.Arie, used her reflective brand of R&B to fight ahead of the pack 11 years ago with Acoustic Soul (2001). The Grammy winning LP set expectations high for Arie, who consistently met the bar she created with the three follow-ups to Acoustic Soul: Voyage to India (2002), Testimony Volume 1: Life & Relationship (2006), and Testimony Volume 2: Love & Politics (2009). The acoustic guitar is a principal player in Arie's sound, but she dabbles in other musical templates along the three mentioned records.

Performing "Ghetto," Circa 2009
Pulled off of Testimony Volume 2: Love & Politics (2009)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Testimony Volume 1: Life & Relationship (2006)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of India.Arie's Works

Now known for straight ahead country-pop and children's recordings, when Jewel Kilcher arrived in 1994 she was a fresh faced neophyte. The female singer-songwriter movement was doing quite well by the mid-'90's, but her first album Pieces of You (1994), became one of those hit records many only dream of.  The singles "Who Will Save Your Soul?," "You Were Meant For Me," and "Foolish Games" became instant staples.

Eager and natural, Jewel's voice held a power that demonstrated she'd be more than just a one-genre ingenue in waiting. She quickly followed up Pieces of You with Spirit (1998), an ambitious recording with a cache of influences.  Although the road from Spirit fell fraught with criticism of her authenticity, (2003's excellent 0304 remains divisive among fans), Jewel showed no fear to take her voice and heart-on-her-sleeve lyrics to new horizons.

Performing "Intuition,"Circa 2006
Pulled off of 0304 (2003)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: This Way (2001)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Jewel's Works

Carole Klein, known as Carole King, created the blueprint for women in songwriting in the modern music world. Originating as one of the "Brill Building" writers with her first husband Gerry Goffin, King helped create the American songbook by writing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?," "The Locomotion," and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." Later, relocating to Californian shores from New York, King began the tentative steps to her solo work with the (still) under appreciated starting point LP Writer (1970). Its follow-up, one of, if not the leading record of the female movement, Tapestry (1971) became one of those larger than life albums. Think Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (1977) or Michael Jackson's Thriller (1982).

Though the bulk of the albums that came after Tapestry were accomplished (most superior to Tapestry), the unending success of King's sophomore recording led to an impromptu halt to her work in 1983. After spending the '80's in relative obscurity as an eco-political actvisit, King returned with City Streets in 1989, and embarked on a still continuing trail of recognition and celebration of her earthy-pop talents.

Performing "Jazzman," Circa 1981
Pulled off of Wrap Around Joy (1974)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Fantasy (1973)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Carole King's Works

Former Blue Angel member and enduring MTV generation icon Cyndi Lauper has worn many hats and made a career of doing it. Musically speaking. In her own unique niche, a portion of her hits ("Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," "All Through the Night," "True Colors") were not written by her. A prolonged glance into her discography reveals not only hits, but a wide selection of albums and songs that signal Lauper's ability to write varied tales of her own. The ode to self pleasure in "She Bop," the dark, celebratory tale of drag queen transformation in "Ballad of Cleo and Joe," and the dance floor fury of "Into the Nightlife" are all wholly Cyndi Lauper, boasting longevity and relevance in abundance.

Performing "Sisters of Avalon," Circa 2008
Pulled off of Sisters of Avalon (1997)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Hat Full of Stars (1993)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Cyndi Lauper's Works

A patient voice, Lisa Loeb's duality was enigmatic in that she was removed, but engaged in her singing practices. That unaffected slant brought across her writing flavors where blends of confrontation, confession, and story telling swirled easily. Loeb later fleshed out her sound, a good thing, giving it dimension outside of its guitarish beginnings. The Way It Is, her fourth and last long player of original art, hit in 2004. It prompts one to insist on  Loeb's return, where she can share her exciting cerebral pop challenges.

Performing "I Do," Circa 1997
Pulled off of Firecracker (1997)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Cake & Pie (2002)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Lisa Loeb's Works

Mary Christine Brockert didn't begin as the tornado of creativity which embodied her stage name Teena Marie right away. Under the guidance of Rick James, Brockert flourished. Lady T (1980), her sharp second project would be the last to not bear her name on the producing, arranging, composing, and writing tags. Teena Marie's albums overflowed with literal poetry, her own usually appeared on the inner album jackets, and of course there were the actual lyrics of the songs themselves. Referencing everything from Maya Angelou to John Lennon, or films like Sparkle, Marie worked within the arenas of analogy and allegory almost unmatched.

Performing "Casanova Brown," Circa 1990
Pulled off of Robbery (1983)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Robbery (1983)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Teena Marie's Work

Roberta Joan Anderson, the Canadian charmer that became Joni Mitchell, remains a stalwart for women in popular music culture. Mitchell's uncompromising nature infuriated and enraptured die-hards, critics, and peers. Shine (2007), Mitchell's last affair to date due to health concerns and her ire at the music industry's (continued) sexism, achieved what Mitchell's best records often did: dividing and conquering minds in analysis like good art should.

Performing "Coyote," Circa 1980
Pulled off of Hejira (1976)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Hejira (1976)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Joni Mitchell's Works

An unlikely candidate for inclusion to this list when considering that Moore had materialized as one of the four blonde bombshells to assault pop at the tail end of the '90's. Careful reinvention birthed Coverage (2003), a stellar set of covers from the '70's and early '80's with emphasis on the songwriter medium. Moore's sweet and sturdy voice fit the covers better than the dance-pop she'd peddled prior, with an exception issued to the blasting Canto-pop of "In My Pocket." In the wake of Coverage, Moore revealed her talent at writing her own music with Wild Hope (2007) and the awing Amanda Leigh (2009). Barring where she started, Moore has come into her own.

Performing "Merrimack River," Circa 2009
Pulled off of Amanda Leigh (2009)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Amanda Leigh (2009)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Mandy Moore's Works

 One time dance-popper, Morissette issued her third long player Jagged Little Pill
(1995) to acclaim critically, commercially, and creatively. Morissette had been quickly acquired to record Jagged for Madonna's now inert label Maverick, a branch-off from Warner Brothers. Morissette had the misfortune to be immediately pigeonholed after Jagged's win. Fearless, Morissette tracked her own travels based on her emotional integrity. It did not always win her favoritism, but it allowed Morissette to escape the traps that a few of her colleagues fell into in the last decade.

Performing "In Praise of the Vulnerable Man," Circa 2008
Pulled off of Flavors of Entanglement (2008)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Under Rug Swept (2002)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Alanis Morissette's Works

Her roguish blend of hip-hop, jazz, funk, R&B, and pop is Prince-like in its reach. Michelle Johnson, to become Meshell Ndegeocello, is the other individual also signed to Maverick Records by the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna. Dealing in the politics of sexual orientation (Ndegeocello herself identifies as bisexual) and race, Ndegeocello never shied away from controversy with songs like "Deuteronomy: Niggerman" and "Leviticus: Faggot." Her handling of romance is detailed too. A visit with her junior effort Bitter (1999) will prove its worth as a permanent soundtrack to the brokenhearted. Ndegeocello functions as an highly sought after musician, working with the previously mentioned Madonna, Zap Mama, and Vanessa Williams among others.

Performing "Fool of Me," Circa 2009
Pulled off of Bitter (1999)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Comfort Woman (2003)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Meshell Ndegeocello's Works

Almost nothing short of mystical, Stevie Nicks' weathered and warm voice has been behind a bountiful selection of striking songs in pop and rock. Sustaining a career in both Fleetwood Mac (she joined in 1974) and her own solo path (which began in 1981), Nicks flitted between both with an acute knowledge of her abilities in sound progressions. Despite having her personal ills nearly derail her life in the mid-'80's, Nicks never stopped channeling her experiences into her music. Such sincerity made works like "Edge of 17," "I Can't Wait," and "Rooms on Fire" as fantastic as her non-single material.

Performing "Every Day," Circa 2001
Pulled off of Trouble In Shangri-La (2001)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Trouble In Shangri-La (2001)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Stevie Nicks' Music

Laura Nigro (reconstructed to Nyro), a reserved New Yorker, penned tunes for other artists, notably the pop-soul quintet The 5th Dimension. Nyro shone when she decided to step out on her own path. Nyro's demure position was endearing, often bringing across her innate shyness. The crop of records Nyro recorded from the late '60's through the late' 70's are cherished by critics and fans alike. Cancer claimed Nyro in 1996, but her music stays immortal.

Performing "Save the Country," Circa 1968
Pulled off of New York Tendaberry (1969)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Christmas and the Beads of Sweat (1970)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Lauro Nyro's Music

Like a brush of spring air, Rae's laid back phrasing and folk-soul propelled her to heady heights internationally. Rae, while riding high on the success of her self-titled debut, was struck down by an unimaginable blow: the sudden, tragic death of her husband. Rae took a few years off to realign herself before returning with the soul solid The Sea (2010), her follow-up to Corinne Bailey-Rae (2005/2006). Stronger in its artistic arc, despite its mild selling point, Rae's lyrical and vocal poignancy enthralled. Rae also bears an impressive interpretive stroke, having covered works by the likes of Prince ("I Wanna Be Your Lover"), Bob Marley ("Is This Love?"), and  Björk ("Venus As a Boy").

Performing "Feels Just Like the First Time," Circa 2011
Pulled off of The Sea (2010)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: The Sea (2010)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Corinne Bailey Rae's Works

One of the women building bridges between mainstream R&B and jazz, Brenda Russell is a well kept secret in music. Brenda Russell (1979), a stunning stroke of a first album, laid bare Russell's quirky and impassioned voice. Musically, Russell's concoction of the aforementioned jazz/ R&B notions but with elements of European pop showed Russell's music, like the woman, is well traveled. Russell's pen has done well by other artists like Diana Ross ("Let Somebody Know"), Luther Vandross ("If Only For One Night"), Donna Summer ("Dinner With Gershwin"),  and Oleta Adams ("Get Here"). Russell's compositions sometimes stand stronger, musically, than the cover as heard on her stark take of "If Only For One Night."

Performing "She's In Love," Circa 2000
Pulled off of Paris Rain (2000)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Between the Sun and the Moon (2004)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Brenda Russell's Works

Daughter of Richard Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster Publishing, Simon had to break out on her own to become the woman she is known as today. 1971 was the year Simon announced her presence with the single "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be," an intimate look at the whispers of a ruined relationship and an emergent feminine call-to-arms. Starting in 1975 through 1983, Simon shed her folk-pop beginnings and embraced stylistic shifts that highlighted her songwriting in hues of reggae, jazz, disco, standards, and rock rhythms. That kind of pop palette play allowed the ladies listed here (Sheryl Crow and Jewel) to take risks similar to the ones Simon did first. Her intellectual, sexual, and tender way with music carried Simon into her fifth decade of recording.

Performing "We Have No Secrets," Circa 1995
Pulled off of No Secrets (1972)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Spy (1979)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Carly Simon's Works

Vega's appearance in 1985 was odd as the type of music she was waxing wasn't making ripples then. The sometimes solemn, but riveting story songs that lined Suzanne Vega drew acclaim and cult status. In 1987, seemingly out of nowhere, Vega's second album Solitude Standing hit big on the back of its singles "Luka" and "Tom's Diner." The latter song in its 1990 chill edit, courtesy of the dance production unit DNA, placed Vega before even larger audiences. Vega preceded the female singer-songwriters boom of the
'90's by several years, recording as recently as 2012.


Performing (I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May," Circa 2001
Pulled off of Songs in Red and Grey (2001)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Nine Objects of Desire (1996)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Suzanne Vega's Works

Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman are the women that rounded out Prince's recording/touring group The Revolution for the better part of the '80's. Known for their distinct harmonies, this duo contributed to a series of Prince's best albums (Purple Rain, 1984, Around the World in a Day, 1985, Parade, 1986). After Prince disbanded The Revolution in late 1986, they followed with their breathtaking debut, Wendy & Lisa (1987). Four records, a lucrative career in session work, film and television scoring later, Wendy & Lisa are still the best at what they do.

Performing "Lolly Lolly," Circa 1989
Pulled off of Fruit at the Bottom (1989)

The QH Blend Album Recommendation: Eroica (1990)
Visit All Music Guide for a Tour of Wendy & Lisa's Works

[Editor's Note: Artwork concept created by Quentin Harrison, artwork created by Travis Müller & Andrew Bird. It has to be said that the All Music Guide, which I often use for information on this space, does not wholly represent The QH Blend's views of the women featured here. I do find them to be an excellent resource for people who need a good overview of an artist and their music's history, because of that they are used as the hyperlinks for overall discographies of the artists. Note, they (All Music Guide) are not always complete. An apt example is Wendy & Lisa's 2008 effort White Flags of Winter Chimneys, amongst others, is not featured on All Music Guide. Additional research may be required. Please contact me if you'd like more information on this work. Not all of the records by these women mentioned are in print, visit Amazon or iTunes for further information on availability.-QH]