Friday, January 25, 2008

New Music: The Ladies Are In The House!

I'm not generally one to brag about my Christmas gifts. However, the one thing I will say is that 2007 was a musical re-awakening, and Santa was good to me in terms of music. Not only did I get some great new albums, I got a new stereo, something that had been sorely lacking in Casa K8 for a few years. This one is awesome on another level - it's got an iPod connection so I no longer have to suffer my earbuds for hours on end whilst studying at home.

There is some amazingly great music coming out these days - I think the pop scene is starting to swing back toward the "singer/songwriter" scene, which I absolutely favor over the formulaic, "pretty girl/boy, sing about love and love lost" thing that gets sent out over the airwaves every few years. Pop music is a pendulum and it seems to me that, whilst there are plenty of ways to enjoy it all, I will go for a couple years where I buy a new CD every week or two because there is so much good music coming out. Then after awhile, I'll go a few months, up to a year, really, without buying anything because there's nothing worthwhile. I tend to download the tracks I like on the radio, if for no other reason than I end up with a really cool mix of music that makes me remember where I was when I first heard it.

I'm in a CD buying period right now, so I want to write down a few of my recent musical procurements. I tend to look upon a CD as a piece of artwork - often, there are a couple songs that draw me in, but I appreciate it as much for the photography and the liner notes as I do the music inside. And my first listen is ALWAYS uninterrupted, all the way through - no repeats. I like to get my first taste of the work as I'd hope the artist intended.

Seems as if the boys are out to pasture at the moment - I love me a boy with a guitar, don't get me wrong...and I'm thisclose to breaking down and springing for the new Lifehouse and/or the new Maroon 5 (though not really new on either count - I think I just like the music more now that I've had a chance to let it marinate for awhile via the radio). Today's theme is the girls - I've gotten three amazing CDs from three amazing female artists. Two of them are girls with pianos, one is a girl with a guitar. Two are relatively new, one is a Grammy winning veteran. All of them hit me in a different place, and they all suit my moods beautifully.

Alicia Keys, As I Am

I was so excited for this album to come out, I actually went to Borders a week early because I had the release date wrong! I'll admit, Lesson Learned, the collaboration with JM, was what originally drew me to this record. I knew and loved Miss Keys before this, but never bothered with her albums, and I now know what I was missing. I adore her radio work, but As I Am is a career-defining album. She's got a fierce piano style and her vocals have matured beautifully - she goes from sweet church singer straight to throaty full-on dark soprano in a matter of a key change and a piano run. It's clear she's stretching her style, but her artistry and interpretation are second to none. My favorite tracks are probably "No One, "Go Ahead" and "Lesson Learned." I also dig the sentiment in "Teenage Love Affair" - I remember being the girl who rushed home to wait for the boy to rush home to call the ONE family phone line, so we could talk for an hour before dinnertime (and if you remember this feeling, you are at least as old as I am, because none of us had cell phones and text messaging back then. I think that might have been a good thing.)

Colbie Caillat, Coco

If forced to define "California" in musical terms, three things automatically pop into my mind: the Beach Boys, Dick Deltone (the surfer song dude who performed "Miserlou" - otherwise known as the theme from Pulp Fiction), and Colbie Caillat. I pop this lovely little CD into the stereo and it doesn't matter what I'm doing - making dinner, studying, cleaning the house, I'm automatically transported to a beach in Southern California. You know her as the girl who sings that "Bubbly" song on the radio, but her album is just a lovely collection of sand dollars and beach glass, and if I had to describe the music in non-musical terms, it's how you'd feel, sitting on a beach, wind in your hair and sun on your shoulders, the waves tickling your bare toes. It's just that effervescent and upbeat. It's a lovely escape from the oppresively cold Minnesota winter - even if my feet are cold, Colbie warms my spirit.

The music isn't terribly challenging or complex, with a couple exceptions, but it's clear that Colbie has a career ahead of her - her vocals are clear and tonally beautiful, and though she has some help in the guitar department, I think her songwriting will evolve as well. She's very young - only 23 - and she's got a lot to learn. However, this is a strong debut album and I can't wait to see what she'll do next. She's doing what a lot of young artists do - defining their sound and writing what she knows. My personal picks: "Midnight Bottle," "Tailor Made," and "Magic."

"Midnight" seems like a torch-bearing love story, but as a mom, I pick up another meaning. Perhaps Colbie didn't mean it this way, but I hear the lyrics and I picture a new mom and baby, up for a midnight feeding, and the mom is thinking back to life before motherhood, possibly dealing with some baby blues. Maybe I'm projecting my own situation...but that's what it brings to my mind. Take a look:

Midnight bottle take me come with me my memories and everything come back to me
Midnight bottle make it real what feels like make believe so I can see a little more clearly
Like every single move you make kissing me so carefully on the corners of my dreaming eyes

I've got a midnight bottle gonna drink it down
A one way ticket takes me to the times we had before, when everything felt so right
If only for tonight...A midnight bottle gonna ease my pain
From all these feelings driving me insane, I think of you and everything's all right If only for tonight

Got a midnight bottle drifting off into the candlelight where I can find you in your time
A midnight bottle I forgot how good it felt to be in a dream just like you had me
'Cause lately I've been stumbling feels like I'm recovering
But I think it's only for tonight

Sara Bareilles, Little Voice

Sara B. is my most recent acquisition, as I picked it up a couple days ago on a Target run (eggs, milk, new closet storage, laundry soap, new music - gotta love Le Tarjhay). A big bonus (beyond the music, which is both beautiful and soulful), is the fact that "Love Song" - the current radio single which is burning up the airwaves - is one of the Girl's favorite songs. She's really been getting into music lately, and I recently showed her the Youtube of the video for "Love Song." She played "piano" on the dining room table as she watched on my laptop, and attempted to learn the lyrics and sing along. Any music that moves my kid works for me.

However, Sara's album is, without a doubt, a contender for a Grammy next year - if it isn't Album of the Year, she should be up for Best Female Pop Vocal, or possibly Song of the Year for "Love Song." This album is a tour de force - Sara pulls no punches in her vocal style. She's got a strong, throaty alto with incredible range. She does a great service to her own songs, bringing passion to each note. Her piano and guitar skills also show up nicely, though she has help in the studio from a few recognizable names, including Jamie Muhoberac (who did studio keyboards for JM). Especially notable for a harder texture than you might expect: "Morningside" and "Vegas."

Top picks on this album: "One Sweet Love," which I pick for the next radio song, and should be a Top Ten hit without batting an eyelash, and "Many The Miles." MTM is a gospel-soaked song of healing, and it hit me in the gut the first time I heard it. I've been immersed in the song and the lyrics for the last couple days - I think they speak for themselves. As someone who tends to read ecclesiastical sentiment into anything, I can't help but think the gospel-style arrangment was purposeful. The opening piano sounds like you'd hear in a Baptist church on a Sunday morning, and echoes the start of "Seasons of Love" from Rent. I don't know if Sara is praying or pleading, or healing or begging...but I know that the best gospel stirs the soul, and that's exactly what happens when I listen to "Many The Miles." In a way, it's what I want to be, and in a way, it's exactly where I am.

There's too many things that I haven't done yet
Too many sunsets I haven't seen
You can't waste the day wishing it'd slow down
You would've thought by now, I'd have learned something

I made up my mind when I was a young girl, I've been given this one world
I won't worry it away
But now and again I lose sight of the good life, I get stuck in a low light
But then love comes in

How far do i have to go to get to you?
Many the miles
Send me the miles and I'll be happy to follow you Love

I do what I can wherever I end up, to keep giving my good love
And spreading it around
'Cause I've had my fair share of take care and goodbyes
I've learned how to cry and I'm better for that

How far do I have to go to get to you?
Many the miles
Send me the miles and I'll be happy to follow you Love

Red letter day and I'm in a blue mood, wishing that blue would just carry me away
I've been talking to God, don't know if it's helping or not
But surely something has got to got to got to give,
'Cause I can't keep waiting to live

How far do I have to go to get to you?
Many the miles

There's too many things I haven't done yet
Too many sunsets I haven't seen

Indeed. Thanks, ladies, for your gorgeous music.

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