Archive | December, 2012

Bringing Soul Back – David Lee

21 Dec
David Lee with his mentor, Willie Mitchell

David Lee with his mentor, Willie Mitchell
Photo by Antoine Sanfuentes

Willie Mitchell knows soul music. In 1969, a little known R&B singer named Al Green came into contact with Mitchell after struggling with his first release. After hearing Green’s voice, Mitchell quickly scooped him up as a vocalist. His instrumental piece of advice? Find your own voice. Be unique.

David Lee is unique. Born in South Korea in 1986, Lee and his family moved to Virginia when he was eight. After voraciously diving into new music, Lee borrowed an acoustic guitar from a friend and played it until his fingertips were frayed and the guitar was worn. He devoted his time to writing and recording several songs, but, like Al Green, he had difficulty defining a sound after years in the studio. Enter Willie Mitchell, who almost 40 years after discovering Al Green, was inspired by Lee’s smooth voice and perspicacious sense of melody. Mitchell took Lee under his wing as one of his last projects before his death in 2010.

Without Any Guard, the culmination of five years of labor (three with Mitchell), will be released in February 2013.

David Lee’s endearing voice carries his tunes. In “Stay Away From You,” the last song on his 11-track debut, his sweet John Mayer-like croon washes over a tranquil blues rhythm. There is a coffee-shop quiescence to the track; a touching sentimentality best suited for a quiet venue. It’s an impressive song despite seeming so effortless. This is one of Lee’s best attributes. He makes good music seem so easy. And as any wise musician will tell you, this is not an effortless task.

“Happy Birthday” begins with a picked riff – comparable to a bit of a Pachelbel’s canon/Always on My Mind mixture – proceeding into the main rhythm, a toe-tapping beat. The vocals are laid-back, but they remain subtly powerful and delicate. Lee balances power and control. His singing is skillful. In the CD version of this song, Lee is joined by a chorus that echoes “don’t let your heart down” and adds even more power to the piece without ever seeming overdone.

Lee’s music is engaging, melodic, and bluesy. He is a soul singer with his roots now fully embedded into a soul culture that Willie Mitchell first thrived in more than 40 years ago. Lee is an exciting new artist, and I fully endorse his new album. Don’t miss out!

Pre-order Lee’s debut album at: Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


The Wall of Boolfight

17 Dec

Boolfight - Album cover (cover art by Klara Domröse)We are crossing the Atlantic Ocean today to become acquainted with Boolfight, a French Indie-rock outfit that successfully blends beat-driven synthesizers with Killers-like rhythms and melodies. The band released their new album, Feral, in November, and the inventive spread of tunes benefits from a collaboration with Nicolas Fromageau, who many of you M83 fans might know as the musician that created the band’s first two albums with frontman Anthony Gonzalez. After leaving M83, Fromageau founded his current heavy-electronic group, Team Ghost, which will release its second album next year. Adding Fromageau’s proclivity for an effective electronic sound helps elevate Boolfight’s music in the new release, but Boolfight provides a far tamer sound than heavy shoegaze electronica.

“Deluxe” has a simple 80’s feel to the opening of the piece. It’s refreshing. This is one of Boolfight’s greatest attributes. The music is not cumbersome. It is electronic easy listening. The melody is clearly defined and refreshing. The vocals, too, are clean – reminding me of a subdued Brandon Flowers. The end employs a wall-of-sound technique, but the music remains composed. At no point does it fly off the handle. There is almost a subtlety to it, and I am a fan.

“Majesty” starts similarly. The buzzy synthesizer at the song’s inception reminds me a bit of M83. Enter in some percussion and concurrent synth and the song transforms into Keane on electronic steroids – an elegant combination of pop melody and synthesizers. “Majesty” is my favorite track, and I believe that it, if introduced to the American public, it could go far. I mentioned the Killers and M83 in this post, and Boolfight molds these influences into a graceful track.

Check out the rest of Boolfight’s album

Rocking Babies to Sleep…Musically!

11 Dec

Beatles Baby

Let’s face it, babies just do not understand good music. While we adults turn on Beatles’ tunes and pretend we are Paul or John, babies are content with any mellifluous sound that distracts them from the poop they just made in their diapers. Why pick any old pleasant sound, when you can show your baby what “good music” is before they even have the opportunity to grow up and shriek at some teen idol with meticulously practiced dance moves and vocal manipulation?

Meet Rockabye Baby, an extraordinarily creative music project that since 2006 has created CDs of instrumental lullaby versions of popular rock bands. Since the first releases in 2006 (Coldplay, Metallica, and Radiohead), Rockabye Baby has put out nearly 50 albums, the latest a tribute to U2. So, parents, here is the perfect opportunity to introduce babies to “Enter Sandman” without traumatizing them. “Enter Sandman” goes from advising babies to ignore the voices they hear from the beasts under their bed, closet, and head, to an instrumental that, while also rather freaky, is significantly more baby-friendly than Kirk Hammett’s guitar. Hammett, by the way, bought the Metallica version of Rockabye Baby for his son.

Not a Metallica fan. No worries. Bathe your baby with Beatles music. Here is a lullaby version of “All You Need is Love.”

I am caught between singing along and falling asleep. The version is just…so…relaxing. I *yawn* think I am going to just rest my eyes for a little bit. Forget about the baby, I want this as the soundtrack of my nighttime snooze. A parent (supposing the lyric is appropriate) can sing the song to their baby while rocking them to bed. “All You Need is Love” is certainly appropriate. I might not suggest singing the lyrics to the rendition of “Brain Damage” by Pink Floyd. Even though the baby may not understand what you are saying quite yet, it is probably unwise to alert them of the lunatic in the hall.

The Pink Floyd CD (and The Beatles) will certainly be in my future child’s music collection. Start them young, right? Don’t laugh, a child’s impressionable ears are a horrible thing to waste. My father would play “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt when I was a baby. I consider it one of most incredible pieces of music I have ever heard. It was hardwired into my fledgling brain!

Talking about Rhapsody, why not introduce your baby to Queen. The lullaby version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” may be the best of all the albums.

Buy the CDs at Rockabye Baby.

Merry Fitz.mas and Happy Caves

6 Dec


 “Twas the advent of Christmas,  And all through the land,  Not a creature was stirring,  but one festive band” – Fitz.mas

Fitz, a London-based collective of musicians led by Singer/Songwriter Sam Fitzpatrick, has brought new meaning to the Christmas advent calendar. Instead of a little pieces of candy, Fitz is providing listeners with a variety of song nuggets from popular Christmas movies. FOLLOW THE CALENDAR. The audio/visual tidbits are released every other day, with the other days of the month devoted to giving visual clues of the song that will be released next. It’s creative, different, and fun. It also just demonstrates the talent of Fitz.

Yes, Fitz is far more than an advent calendar. He is an uber-talented singer/songwriter with a penchant for sweet vocals and skillful acoustic melodies. His talent is only outweighed by his subtlety. Fitz’ music creeps up on you. It’s soft, even pastoral, and it is vast – a wide-open field of wonder and tenderness, like the bright green field depicted in the video for his song “Caves,” which was released back in October.

Fitz’ British Americana style – yes, I understand the contradiction in that sentiment – is that of a folk troubadour. The music is comfortable, low-key, and relaxing. But, at the same time, there is a vivacity in his tunes, a strength in his voice that calls out to listeners. Fitz understands how to mold a song, and he does so with wonderful precision.

The video of “Caves” tells the story of a young boy who leaves home to explore a verdant world. It is a true coming-of-age video, as the characters suggest. The boy in the video takes a picture of the “tallest tree” and then tosses it in a stream after he sees an even taller tree. In his exploration, he grows. It is a story of adventure and aging – with the universal color for growth, green, as a backdrop.

I want to provide you with one video from the advent calendar. Here is an enthusiastic, albeit self-deprecating version of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Merry Fitz.mas!

Check out more about Fitz at the website, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

6 to 1 – A Look at the Remaining X Factor Contestants and Predictions

3 Dec

X Factor Season 2

The X Factor is down to the final six contestants of its second season, and I think it is high time for a little season-in-review/prediction post for those who watch the show. Overall, the season has been a bit (cue the smug Simon Cowell) boring. The performances have been just as gaudy as season one, but, the contestants have been, dare I say, lacking. I felt this way about the stock of season one talent as well. While that may be the case, there are a few acts that do garner excitement, and some of these act still remain on the show (except for Vino, who I am still unhappy was booted).

Disclaimer: This is just my opinion. Feel free to disparage me in the comments. What do I know? Right? I’m eager to hear your opinions!

Let’s hit on the new judges first. Simon and L.A. are music-industry staples. They understand the business. While I do believe that Simon continues to be a little too nice, I will not carp on that because it is his show, and he does not want to come off too honest. To a point, Britney Spears also understands what it takes to be a pop star. She is one of the biggest stars of the last two decades. Spears, though, has been mentally nonexistent at the judges table. Behind a largely vacuous exterior are several brief, ineffectual comments. She speaks in platitudes, and it does seem like every one of her comments has been planned and written out for her. Does this surprise anyone? After he nervous breakdown, it would have probably been wise for her to retire from the scene entirely. There was money to be made, though, and I cannot blame her and her associates for jumping on the money train. Ms. Spears is a profitable brand. Her talent is unmistakable, and she does seem like a kind, loving individual. My complaint is only with her judging, and I believe it is sub par. However, I must admit Demi Lovato has been a surprise. She is staunch, stubborn, and cogent (at times). She, though, is too young. I believe she has done a terrible job with her team, and the last of her contestants will be ousted come this Thursday. She also does not understand that music is a business. Her complaints are unfounded. She is not a producer or an experienced music veteran. She does not reflect the industry, which in some ways adds a fresh change to the table, but it often just makes her look like a little girl making attention-seeking comments at Simon Cowell.

On to the contestants. In this post, I will how I believe the last few weeks will go – from sixth place to first place. I will include a video of their performance last week.

6.) CeCe Frey

The reason why CeCe Frey is still in this competition is somewhat unclear. The judges have been difficult on her, and this has increased her sympathy votes. Through her cocky, garish exterior is an individual with actual talent, so that helps her case. Stripped down, her voice is impressive. She is also easy on the eyes, and that doesn’t hurt. This performance above though represents why she will be gone next. Demi has done an awful job picking songs for CeCe. She has turned her from a diva to Ke$ha to a balladeer. Where does CeCe stand? She wants to be Ke$ha. Everything from the spots on the face to the eclectic outfits suggests it. This week, viewer’s choice, CeCe performs Katy Perry. Fittingly, on the following night, when Ke$ha performs, CeCe will be sent home.

5.) Diamond White

Diamond is a 14-year-old Beyonce sing-alike. She models herself after Beyonce and Rihanna. Her voice is limited. It is not as good as CeCe Frey’s voice, but she is singing Rihanna this week (comfort zone), and will achieve just a tad more votes than CeCe. Her elimination will be less about her and more about the talent in front of her.

4.) Fifth Harmony

There have not been many succesful pop girl bands. Spice Girls, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Pussycat Dolls – what did all of these bands have in common. I’m not vain, blame the public. Destiny’s Child had Beyonce. That band was carried by its tremendous lead vocalist. I’m not saying Fifth Harmony doesn’t have the “look” to succeed. They certainly do not have Beyonce. The band is made up of young girls with mediocre to above-average voices. Honestly, this band has better vocalists than Emblem3, but Emblem3 will make it further because they are in higher demand on the market. I do not see Fifth Harmony succeeding outside of this competition, and I see them being eliminated fourth.

3.) Carly Rose Sonenclar

This is my first surprise pick. Let the backlash begin. How can I say the best singer in the competition will end up third, especially since she has been #1 in the voting for most of the weeks? Scratch that. I’d be willing to say that this unassuming Freshman from Westchester, NY may have one of the most exciting voices I have heard in a few years. Her voice is masterful. She has perfect tone and timing. At times, she goes on natural runs that are actually unreal. She also sings with passion beyond her years. Her performance of Adele’s break-up masterpiece was mind-blowing because I doubt Carly has seen her fair share of nasty splits. So why do I have her finishing third? The market. Where does she fit? Can she fit into the Adele category of singers. That is where she needs to be. I don’t see her dancing. If she DOES fall into that realm, I think Carly can be quite succesful. It may very well happen. She will get a recording contract no matter where she finishes in the competition. But, I am going to go with the two acts that already have set niches.

2.) Emblem3

The SoCal boy band. Simon can’t wait to get these boys over to the studio cutting their first album. Emblem3 is his American One Direction. Boy bands are big again – for whatever reason – and Simon was specifically looking for his next money maker this season of X Factor. He found it in Emblem3. And, this time, he didn’t even have to put them together himself. The band has talent, yes, but it is the effervescent personality of the surfer boys that gives them their kick. There is the quiet one with the sweet voice, the loquacious lead singer, and the off-the-wall, reckless rapper (who has a marked habit of taking off his shirt). If all goes according to plan, win or not, Emblem3 will be up the charts in no time.

1.) Tate Stevens

That bring us to #1. Tate Stevens is a genuine Country music star who chose to put his dream on hold so he could support his wife and children. He is a loveable and charming individual with a warm and amicable personality that shines through the television screen. He will also soon have the grand prize. Let’s put the story aside. Stevens is a prototypical modern Country star. He has the look. He has the voice. The judges know it, and the voters know it too. And while I may not be much of a Country music fan, I hope he wins and is succesful. He is a feel-good story with tremendous talent. You cannot get any better than that.

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