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 MelanieC.net 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]

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Alanis Morissette's Continued "Havoc and Bright Lights"

Morissette keeps looking up
All right already, we know Jagged Little Pill (Maverick, 1995) was the ‘90’s Blue (Reprise, 1971), or Prozac. Like Joni Mitchell did post-Blue, Morissette followed up her third album (if you’re counting her first two straight up pop records for MCA Canada: Alanis, 1991 and Now Is the Time, 1992) with her own difficult diamond: Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (Maverick, 1998).
Not a red haze of anger, it bled its complex emotional states all over the wax messily. Thankfully, Morissette focused her feelings and found a bridge between expression and contemplation with the remaining albums leading up to her eighth LP, this year’s Havoc and Bright Lights (Collective Sounds).

Unfortunately, Morissette has had to fend off the nostalgia nitpicking that plagued her when she refused to record Jagged Mach 2. Morissette clearly could care less if she is pleasing or confusing a sect of her fans/critics that want her to retreat to anger for anger’s sake. That freedom rings throughout Havoc and Bright Lights which plows the fields of the human experience that are not as easily resolved as a jilted heart.
Morissette with field & flowers

Working with Joe Chiccarelli and previous producer Guy Sigsworth (Robyn, Madonna, Björk, Lenka) Morissette lays down a map of music that is all at once kinetic, quiet, surprising, and acquainted.

The first song, and lead single, “Guardian” features a colossal crash of guitar undercut with a piano echo that earnestly proclaims devotion to the art of guardianship.  In other places, Morissette’s love of Eastern music pops up on the claustrophobic “Numb” (lush violin work courtesy of Lily Haydn) or the shimmering “Guru” (a Target bonus exclusive) featuring a rap from her current beau Souleye (real name Mario Treadway, father of her son). The appeal of Souleye’s rap, which genuinely works rather than fails, is based solely on the accessibility of the ear it greets.

Directed By: Baris Aladag

Still operating her reverse syntax lyrical approach, Morissette recasts her feminist position on the buoyant (if cerebral) “Woman Down,” and gives her take on the “add a drop of water for fame” mentatility on the stinger “Celebrity.” Whereas “Celebrity” is the closest to the classic sneer of “You Oughta Know,” it’s the soothing “’Til You” and burst of contradictory bright melody on “Spiral” that accentuate Morissette’s consolidation of her brand of alterna-pop she’s been at since 2002’s Under Rug Swept (Maverick).
As seminal as Jagged remains, Morissette's recorded several records that outweigh that one and deal in the harsher realm of human intimacy we rarely wish to delve into. Havoc and Bright Lights is a fantastic, defiant addition to Morissette’s plentiful discography. Four and a half out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: Havoc and Bright Lights is available physically & digitally in several formats:  deluxe, Amazon, iTunes, Target, and Japanese editions all include new tracks not on the standard issue of the LP. This review was on the Target version of Havoc and Bright Lights Visit alanis.com for further information on the variety of formats.-QH]