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Posts Tagged ‘artists’

Al Jarreau

Posted by purplemary54 on February 12, 2017

You might only remember Al Jarreau if you are a person of a certain age or if you were a huge Moonlighting fan.  A consummate singer and performer, Jarreau had pretty much dropped out of the spotlight in the last couple of decades.  In fact, I think the last pop culture hit he had was the theme to Moonlighting.  At 76, Mr. Jarreau has moved on to the next plane of existence.

Take a minute to familiarize yourself with Mr. Jarreau if you don’t already know his work.  He was originally a Jazz singer, but he crossed into so many genres that he was impossible to pigeonhole.  And wow, was he smooth.  No.  Not just smooth.  Al Jarreau was smooooooooooth.  His voice was silky and pure and clean.  There were no missed notes, no extraneous flourishes, no gratuitous posturing. There was just music, and it was good.

Now all the smooth leaves no room for rough edges, which means Jarreau was never quite to my taste.  But this, singing his 1981 hit “We’re in This Love Together” is how I will always remember him.  Another great voice is just a memory, but it’s a pretty fine one.

Posted in Jazz, Music, Obituaries, Pop, R&B/Soul | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Leonard Cohen

Posted by purplemary54 on November 10, 2016

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they do.  In the middle of all the personal and political difficulty comes the news that Canadian poet, songwriter, and singer Leonard Cohen has left this plane at the age of 82.

He’s one of those cult figures, an acquired taste if you will.  Cohen made the kind of music that other musicians listened to.  He is best known in the United States for his very nearly perfect song “Hallelujah,” which was covered to perfection by the late great Jeff Buckley.  (It’s also been covered by a lot of other people, so many that there’s a book about all the iterations of this one song.  I’m also especially fond of k.d. lang’s version.)

He was a cynical romantic.  He wanted to believe in all the fairy tales but experience taught him to know better.  He was dark, but the way a smoke-filled bar is dark: there was always a neon light in the window selling beer and sputtering candles on the tables to light your way, after all.  It seems weirdly appropriate that his voice is suddenly gone at a time when it was suddenly the truest voice in the room.  We’ll just have to find our own way out of this crappy dive bar we’re suddenly living in.

Posted in Music, Obituaries, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

R.I.P.

Posted by purplemary54 on October 24, 2016

I’ve spent an awful lot of time this year memorializing people in popular culture.  I am really sick of it.  There’s still a couple of months left in the year, and I’m kind of still waiting for the other shoe to drop; I’ve had this terrible feeling that as bad as it’s been for music and other arts, it’s just gonna get worse somehow.  I really, really, really hope I’m wrong.

Sadly, I’m not wrong today.  The news has come out that music has lost two very different sorts of Pop singers.

First up is Bobby Vee, who passed as a result of Alzheimer’s complications.  Vee was a teen idol in the early 60s, when the music industry had, temporarily at least, managed to sanitize and contain Rock & Roll into safe, marketable, bland Pop stars.  It didn’t take, thank goodness, but during this more gentle time in music history, Bobby Vee and his clean-cut ilk ruled the airwaves.  His music isn’t to my taste, but that doesn’t mean it’s less entertaining than anything else.  His music has a nice doc-wop quality that makes it quite listenable.

The other Pop singer we lost today is, visually and stylistically at least, on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Dead or Alive had a big hit in the 80s with “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” and singer Pete Burns made the most of it.  His flamboyant style was perfect for the big hair, big money, big gloss decade of my adolescence.  This song happens to be a favorite of mine.  Bouncy and dancey with just enough sex and menace to make people nervous.

Neither one of these performers was currently on the cultural radar, but then again, not much else is right now besides the election.  But for their brief times on top, they both shone like stars.

Posted in Music, Pop | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Rothko Chapel”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 22, 2016

Considering that I used to go visit my dad in Houston pretty regularly when he lived there, I am saddened that we never went to the Rothko Chapel.  In my own defense, I had not yet discovered the brilliance that was Mark R0thko and his use of color block paintings to convey transcendental emotions.  In this sacred space are the final paintings Mark Rothko completed before his suicide, a series of black tones on huge canvases.  You would think they would be sorrowful and empty, but everything I’ve seen of the chapel conveys something else.

Rothko’s work brings a peace to my mind that nothing else has ever done.  It is the closest I’ve ever come to true silence in my head–no mean feat given the hamster wheel consistency of my brain.  These paintings are to me the Zen concept of nothing mind in color.  And the light, oh my stars, the light!  I will never know how he did it, but Rothko captured light in a way that I cannot describe as anything but pure.  Even his darkest paintings–and those in the chapel qualify–convey a sense of the depth and gradation of light.  The dim brightness of the sunrise, the gentle wash of the sunset.  It’s all there, and it is a miracle.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I found out there was music composed to accompany the Rothko Chapel paintings.  The chapel opened not long after Rothko’s death, and they commissioned his friend Morton Feldman to compose a piece.  It is perfect.  I don’t mean perfect as a piece of music, although I think it is very, very good.  I mean that is matches these paintings perfectly, complimenting their monochromatic atonality and diversity, creating a space for meditation and quiet while simultaneously honoring their spirituality.

I’ll get back to Houston one day and see the chapel in person.  Until then, I can listen to it.

 

Posted in Experimental, Music, Orchestral | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sharon Jones

Posted by purplemary54 on August 12, 2016

I just read in my newest Rolling Stone that singer Sharon Jones’ cancer has returned and spread.  Her current prognosis is not good.  Having been dealing with my mother’s latest illness, I’m especially sensitive to these kinds of stories.  While I’m not exactly a super fan, I think Jones is an extraordinary singer and performer.  And it breaks my heart to think of all that marvelous talent being cut down so quickly.

Like the late great Warren Zevon, Jones is not taking her diagnosis lying down.  She is working, with a new album almost completed.  I’m looking forward to hearing it.  But in the meantime, let’s celebrate her while she is still hear.  And let’s enjoy this music.  Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings really put the soul in Soul Music.

Posted in Music, R&B/Soul | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Marni Nixon

Posted by purplemary54 on July 25, 2016

You’ve heard Marni Nixon’s voice hundreds of times, even if you’ve never seen her face.  West Side Story.  My Fair Lady.  And one of the few musicals I enjoy, The King and I.  These and many other movie musical performances were the incomparably versatile Marni Nixon.  She was probably the most famous ghost singer in film history.  The studios would call her in when they didn’t feel the leading actress had a strong enough singing voice for the role.  Actresses like Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn were immensely talented (and highly photogenic), but not great singers.  They weren’t bad, but they weren’t as good as Marni.

Here’s one of my favorite musical clips ever, with Marni Nixon singing for Deborah Kerr.  “Shall We Dance” also happens to be one of the sexiest scenes in movie history, so feel free to enjoy the afterglow.  RIP, Marni.

Posted in Music, Obituaries, Soundtracks | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I’m Not in Denial About the State of Things. . .

Posted by purplemary54 on July 18, 2016

The world kind of sucks right now.  My personal world hasn’t been a bed of roses lately, either.  (I’m assuming the phrase “bed of roses” refers to the soft petals and not the thorny bush.  And my choice of metaphors will make sense in a moment.)  I’m not denying any of it, and I’ll probably post something about it soon.  I just don’t want to be sad and angry right now.  Which is why I’m posting this song.

“Love is Rose” is a Neil Young song, but Linda Ronstadt owns it.  I’ve always preferred her version anyway.  Like Neil, his version of the song tends to be kind of prickly; his focus seems to be on the thorns and not the flowers.  “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it” seems to be sound advice as far as he’s concerned.  Fool around to your heart’s content, but don’t fall in love; it’ll only end in tears when you gash your hand open and bleed all over the place while screaming in pain.

In Ronstadt’s version, that line is also a warning but the emphasis is different.  Let’s do it.  Let’s fall in love, but don’t try to own me.  Don’t  imprison me in your world.  Let me grow and thrive in my own environment.  If you do try to cut me off from the things that made you want me in the first place, I will cut you.  Her version is more joyful somehow, more about the cooperation a relationship requires.  “Give me a lift, and I’ll hay your wagon” is mostly a metaphor for sex, but it’s also an idea about how two people can work together to make something good happen.

Since Neil Young wrote the words, the interpretation of the songs could be exactly the same.  But the slower pacing gives Young’s version a more cautious, unhappy feel.  Ronstadt’s delivery and choice of arrangement makes “Love is Rose” softer and more buoyant.  I know part of the reason I like her version better is because I heard it first.  But I also enjoy the carefree tone.  There’s an edge, but you aren’t going to hurt yourself too badly on it.  At least, you won’t as long as you give her a little breathing room, enough to drink, and lots of sunshine.

 

 

Posted in Music, Pop, Rock | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Phife Dawg

Posted by purplemary54 on March 25, 2016

His mother named him Malik.  He named himself Phife Dawg.  I was remiss in not noting his passing here this week, and for that I am sorry.  I was just so stunned that this still-young man, this man who was a year younger than me, had died.

I had also forgotten how truly great A Tribe Called Quest was.  They were a genre-bending Hip-Hop group who refused to buy into the stereotypes that the music industry insisted on imposing on black artists.  But listening to this music for the first time in many, many years, it sounds like it was made today.  Like Wiz Khalifa just stepped up to the mic.  Like some wicked Jazz combo decided to have Mos Def and Talib Kweli front their band.  Like no time has passed.  A Tribe Called Quest not only made some of the best Hip-Hop out there, they made the rest of the really good stuff possible.  They were pioneers in every sense of the word, and Phife Dawg’s influence will be felt for years to come.  Timeless.

 

 

Posted in Music, Rap | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Unbreakable Heart”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 23, 2016

One of the sweetest, saddest songs I’ve ever heard.  It doesn’t hurt that the great Benmont Tench wrote it: heartbreak, indeed.  Everyone has felt this way at one time or another.  Have a tissue handy if you’re prone to crying.

It also doesn’t hurt this song that it’s performed by Country music royalty.  Carlene Carter is the daughter of June Carter Cash and the stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, so it’s safe to say she knows how to deliver a great performance.  When she recorded “Unbreakable Heart” in the early 90s, she was happily dating Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein, and that’s probably how she connected with the other members of the band.  This was post-Nick Lowe and pre-heroin, and arguably her best period artistically and commercially.  (She descended into addiction with Epstein, and it eventually led to both his ouster from the Heartbreakers and his death.)  I’ve kind of lost track of Carter’s career, so I don’t know exactly what she’s up to these days, but I know she still records and tours.

Posted in Country, Music | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Maurice White

Posted by purplemary54 on February 4, 2016

To say that this is all beginning to sound like a broken record is much too apt a comparison.  The music industry has once again been robbed of one of its visionary talents.  Earth, Wind, & Fire co-founder Maurice White has died at 74 as a result of his long fight with Parkinson’s.  It’s like the whole world has just become one long broken record.

If I feel like dancing, Earth, Wind, & Fire is always on the playlist.  They were one of the best and most successful R & B groups ever, and Maurice White was a large part of that success.  He was their leader in every sense of the word, from songwriting to performing to producing.  When his illness prevented him from performing with the group any longer, he continued to guide EWF from the sidelines, making sure that his group never strayed from his vision.  He also produced a number of other artists and had some solo performing success.

What really gets me, besides the loss of another artist I enjoyed and admired, besides the grief of another family that I understand only too well, is the fact that this won’t nearly be the end of our losses as fans and listeners.  All these great and influential artists from the 60s and 70s are getting older, and as Michael Wilbon of ESPN notes, Father Time is undefeated.  We’ll always have the music these people have made.  My beliefs tell me that no one is ever really gone; their existence is simply moved to another plane.  But that doesn’t make any of this feel any better on this plane of existence.  It still hurts.  In this case, the only way to deal with the pain is to keep on dancing.

I think Maurice would like that.

 

Posted in Music, Obituaries, R&B/Soul | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »