Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Debunking the Grammy Curse

Tomorrow, John Legend performs at the Araneta Coliseum as part of his highly successful EVOLVER world tour--proof that there is life after Grammy's Best New Artist Award.

Many consider the award to be a curse perhaps because some winners have never been able to duplicate the successes of their debut records. Legend won the award in 2006 for his GET LIFTED album, particularly for the track ORDINARY PEOPLE (thankfully, he decided to keep the song for himself after initially considering it for a Black Eyed Peas project). But 2 more albums and 6 Grammys later, Legend is going strong.

Maybe the supposed curse more accurately pertains to the likes of Milli Vanilli, who won in 1990 but were stripped of the award because...well we all know why.

Check out below the list of Best New Artists ever since the award was created in 1960. Any protests? I have a few.  

Meanwhile, I've got the Green Light to head to Cubao tomorrow. If you can't catch the show, pick up the album: EVOLVER, from Columbia Records.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Whatever happened to these Idol alums?

Today, Dolly Parton sound- and look-alike Alexis Grace was eliminated from Season 8 of American Idol--and not even the show's judges believed the petite singer from Tennessee was worth saving. This is not to say of course that Grace was without talent; she was after all likened to Kelly Clarkson early on in the competition. Which makes one ask: what happens to contestants like her who do not win the reality show's plum prize? 

Several entries back, we talked about Season 6 third placer Melinda Doolittle's debut album. Now here's a peak at what other Idol alums have been up to.

According to friend and Idol fanatic Leilah Alarilla-Tadlip, this Season 5 seventh placer (bowing out to winner Taylor Hicks) shed off 75 lbs after judge Simon Cowell had commented that the show would need a bigger stage to accommodate the singer. Since her stint on Idol, Mandisa has released a contemporary gospel album (TRUE BEAUTY, 2007), which debuted #1 on the Hot Christian Albums Chart and was nominated for both a Grammy and a Dove Award. Late last year the artist launched a Christmas CD (IT'S CHRISTMAS, 2008), and is about to release her next album, FREEDOM on March 24. A sample of her new pop/dance Christian single MY DELIVERER can be heard on her official website: MANDISA.

The once junior high school music teacher took home 7th place in Season 4 (when Carrie Underwood walked away with the top prize), and was eliminated after his performance of Earth, Wind & Fire's SEPTEMBER. Though recording occasionally, the artist has taken a more active role on stage, having played Collins in the touring cast of Jonathan Larson's iconic rock musical, RENT. He then went on to play Jesus in the Syrcause Stage production of Stephen Schwartz's award-winning work, GODSPELL, which ended its run last December 28.

The youngest contestant on Season 5, Bennett eventually landed the fifth spot on American Idol, being edged out by 4th placer and now superstar, Chris Daughtry. After touring with the other finalists, she immediately worked on her debut album, dishing out PRINCESS P (after the monicker given to her by Ryan Seacrest) in 2007. The project, which carried an urban electronic vibe, failed to showcase the jazz style Bennett was known for, and as such, the album bombed. The artist then recorded a holiday album (A ROYAL CHRISTMAS) in 2008, this time with a classic R&B and acoustic jazz feel. In a few months, Bennett will be releasing her next studio album, opting again for a classic jazz musical direction. Bennett gave birth last October to her daughter, Egypt.

The Season 6 Idol finalist who vowed to make David Hasselhoff weep (the celebrity did when Taylor Hicks won), Chris Sligh was 10th place when Jordin Sparks was the eventual champion. Immediately after the show, Sligh, a devout Christian, signed up with the same management company that has handled Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, and with the independent label Brash Music, recorded the album, RUNNING BACK TO YOU in May 2008. As a result of the project, USA Today called him, "the most musically ambitious Idol to date." Since then, he has been touring relentlessly. For more on the artist, visit his personal blog: CHRIS SLIGH.

Lastly, we go to Makati-born and Hawaii-based singer Camile Velasco, who took 10th spot in Season 3 when Fantasia Barrino won (and fellow Fil-Am Jasmine Trias was 3rd). After touring with fellow Idols, Velasco appeared in many guest performances across the U.S., mostly for Filipino audiences in events such as the Fil-Am Unity Jam, Fiesta Filipinas, and Lumpiapalooza. Through these stints, she has performed with Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, and the Aegis band. She has also fronted for her personal idol, Lauryn Hill. In 2008, Velasco premiered a weekly YouTube show titled, CamileTV where she covers such pop acts as Alicia Keys, Indie Arie, and Amy Winehouse. Later in the year, she recorded her first single, GUAVA JELLY, and her debut album, KOY, is set for release in 2009. View Velsaco's YouTube channel here: CAMILE VELASCO.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Amazon prices the imported album at $57.99--pretty steep, especially because Filipinos can purchase Monday Michiru's MY EVER CHANGING MOODS locally for just P350.00 or $7.

I have always thought that the Japanese-American's distinct brand of 70's-inspired soul-funk appealed to such a minority in the Philippines, but I guess Universal Records saw the wisdom of bringing Michiru's recording to Manila and promoting it locally just recently. The artist has had close to 20 albums since the mid-90s, but as I recall, only 2 have found their way here: OPTIMISTA (1999) and now, MY EVER CHANGING MOODS (2007).

Like all her past projects, MY EVER CHANGING MOODS showcases the artist's passion for acid jazz and dance, blending elements of R&B, and club while injecting some Brazilian groove. This time, however, Michiru chooses to cover the works of artists who have somehow influenced her music; and the range is diverse: Barry White (I'M GONNA LOVE YOU JUST A LITTLE BIT MORE BABE), Patrice Rushen (REMIND ME), The Police (WALKING IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS), Blondie (CALL ME--samba style), Cyndi Lauper TRUE COLORS), and Style Council (MY EVER CHANGING MOODS), among others.

Some may find Michiru's usual loungey, underground electronic vibe a tad too psychedelic, but this album practices much restraint (perhaps a reason why Universal brought it to the Philippines); nonetheless, I still prefer to listen to this CD any other of Michiru's after I've had a drink or two. My particular faves are her sexy cosmopolitan take on Barry White, and her dizzying vocals on ALDEIA DE OGUM from Brazilian singer Joyce. But truly, all tracks carry her inventive signature. And this is perhaps what makes Monday Michiru such an artist--though all covers of other artists, the songs in the CD reflect no one else's ever changing moods but her own.

Check out the title track, MY EVER CHANGING MOODS:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Feels Like 1991 Again: Kevyn Lettau's and Peter Sprague's WHAT IS ENOUGH?

On my way to work 2 weeks ago, I tuned in to 106.7 FM and was greeted by two of my favorite sounds: Kevyn Lettau's voice and Peter Sprague's guitar. I was certain the radio station was playing music from Lettau's 1991 album, Braziljazz--except for the life of me, I couldn't recognize the tune.

Odd, I thought, as I was well-acquainted with the CD, and had often recommended it to those with an ear for new Brazilian-inspired music performed austerely--with only voice, acoustic guitar, and hand-held percussions to breathe magic into the Latin melodies.

Fortunately, after the track had played its final chord, the announcer on board identified the song to be a fresh cut from Lettau's and Sprague's first album as a duo (Braziljazz was with Lettau, Sprague, as well as Lettau's husband, percussionist Michael Shapiro), WHAT IS ENOUGH, released late last year. 

A trip to MUSIC ONE led me to the CD--a compilation of 12 delightful tracks traversing Brazilian samba and jazz swing, all recorded with that unplugged feeling and organic rhythm I have so enjoyed with Braziljazz. Joyful are are covers of John Mayer's  BELIEF, Stevie Wonder's HAVE A TALK WITH GOD, and Antonio Carlos Jobim's WATERS OF MARCH. But equally divine are WHAT IS ENOUGH (Lettau's collaboration with guitarist Mike Stern, who recently performed an instrumental version at the Rockwell Tent during the Philippine International Jazz and Arts Festival), DRAWN TO YOU (written by Lettau and Yelowjackets keyboardist Russel Ferrante), as well as Lettau's and Sprague's CANTAR. Oh, and Lettau's fans will be excited about her new and minimalist rendition of the classic, SUNLIGHT.

All in all, WHAT IS ENOUGH is a wonderful CD to invest in. And as usual, Lettau's followers in the Philippines and Japan are among the first to be exposed to it (as of last checking, amazon has no record that the CD even exists). The music and talent are as fresh as they were in 1991, and the the experience of listening, as glorious as being re-acquainted with a dear, old friend.

Here is that track I first heard from the album, HEED MY CALL:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Seal's Soul

It was panned by critics. Labeled an innocuous collection, even an unnecessary record. But innocuous and unnecessary to whom?

True, Seal is the not the first to resurrect classic hits we have all come to love--Rod Stewart, Michael Bolton, Queen Latifa, even Amy Winehouse have all done so. Perhaps this alone was reason for skeptics to be wary of Seal's most recent offering, SOUL.  They suspected that because the artist's 2007 album SYSTEM did not take off, Seal desperately went the tried and tested rout of recording covers. Forget that the project was placed in the hands of mega producer David Foster and that the singer was backed-up by a full orchestra; concept alone, the album seemed to mirror an artist's creative drought.

Add to this the fact that Seal chose to remake a playlist of the most iconic, soulful tunes: Sam Cooke's A CHANGE IS GONNA COME, James Brown's IT'S A MAN'S MAN'S WORLD, the Impressions' PEOPLE GET READY, Ben E. King's STAND BY ME, oh the inventory continues. Not only have these songs been covered too often, none of the remakes can ever outshine the originals. Besides, Seal's versions do not exactly stray too far from the first cuts.

But do these observations make Seal's SOUL, soulless?

Strangely enough, most of those whom I know have heard the album, fancy it.  Funky and groovy, it is also intense and almost brooding. On one hand, the music conjures images of classic Corvettes careening through hot stretches of desert road. On the other, smoky bars with ladies in big skirts and huge hairdos clinging to to their men and shuffling to some slow rock. You can shimmy to the music, bounce to it, snap your fingers or click your heels. Seal's SOUL possesses a range of rhythms that will make you sway and swoon.

So do I think the album has tired concept? Perhaps. But it is especially tired for a unique group of listeners (well-researched music critics, for instance) who have religiously followed the music of Al Green, Otis Redding, and all these blues greats who have defined the genre. But to the greater majority of us who no longer recognize these names but can instantly recognize great music, Seal's album will satisfy. The arrangements are rich (and faithful to the originals), the interpretations are sincere, and the voice, full of yearning soul.

Here is one of the tracks, A CHANGE IS COMING: