Category Archives: Music Musings

I know this is mainly a political blog, but I love to write about music too. This wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t.

Music Musings: President Obama’s Summer Playlist

Even those with the toughest jobs need some regular ways to unwind and escape.  That includes the nation’s best known elected official.

In the midst of what is surely a much needed summer vacation, President Obama has given the people a quick ear into some of his current favorite sounds.  The 2016 Summer Playlist dropped via his @POTUS Twitter account.

Here’s more from Rolling Stone

President Barack Obama has shared his 2016 summer playlist, which boasts a wide array of artists from Jay Z, D’Angelo and Nina Simone to the Beach Boys, Courtney Barnett and Caetano Veloso.

Like last year, Obama organized his tracks into two collections — songs for daytime and nighttime — and both are available to stream on Spotify.

From Wale and Charles Mingus in the Daytime, to Ledisi and THE Janet Jackson in the Nighttime, the President’s Jams are definitely legit.  Peep the full list directly from the White House.

Summer Playlist

So will you be giving the Summer Playlist a spin?  If so, share your thoughts in the comments.

Floetry says it best… all you gotta do is Say Yes.

 

Music Musings: Sia ‘Thrills’ To 1st US Number One

As if this week wasn’t amazing enough for women in America, there’s something of a revolution that occurred this week on the nation’s pop charts.  Singer-songwriter phenom Sia has scored her first Number 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, and she made some important history while doing it.  Here’s more from the source, Gary Trust of Billboard

Sia‘s “Cheap Thrills,” featuring Sean Paul, crowns the Billboard Hot 100 (dated Aug. 6), rising 3-1 to become Sia’s first Hot 100 No. 1 as an artist, while Paul earns his fourth topper and first in more than 10 years. The song unseats Drake‘s “One Dance,” featuring WizKid and Kyla, which led the Hot 100 for 10 weeks, marking both the longest-leading No. 1 of 2016 and of Drake’s career.

[…]

from reader Eric M.:

“Great news regarding Sia: if ‘Cheap Thrills’ goes to No. 1 on Hot 100, she’ll be the first female over 40 to reach the top since Madonna and Cher back in 2000 and 1999. Madonna was 42 when ‘Music’ led for four weeks in 2000, and Cher was 52 when ‘Believe’ reigned for four in 1999.”

As Sia was born Dec. 18, 1975, she’s just past 40 years and seven months of age.

In an industry marked by near-constant turnover due to ageism, this feat is definitely worth celebrating from the Australian-born pop star.  Interestingly enough, the song was originally written for pop’s reigning Super Star Rihanna, but like most of the work on Sia’s album This Is Acting, Cheap Thrills didn’t make the final cut for Rihanna’s 2016 effort.

So much congratulations to the ever incredible Sia. Get your Thrill from the video below.

 

Music Musings: Broadway Stars Unite for Orlando at DNC

As if the contrast between last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland and this week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia weren’t already apparent, the DNC decided to highlight those contrasts with a literal choir of star power.

In a massive, moving tribute to Americans taken by gun violence in Orlando, 40 of Broadway’s biggest stars took over the DNC stage to sing a stirring rendition of the Hal David and Burt Bachrach classic, What the World Needs Now Is Love.

Here’s the scoop on all the stars from Adam Hetrick of Playbill:

Tony Award winners Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lena Hall, Alice Ripley, Ben Vereen, Tyne Daly, and Emmy winner Debra Messing are among the Broadway stars who delivered a moving performance of “What the World Needs Now” July 27 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, PA.

The song concluded with chants of “Love!” “Love!” “Love!” from the starry lineup whose hands were folded into the shapes of hearts.

Also featured were Kristin Bell, Darren Criss, Stephanie J. Block, Adrienne Warren, Len Cariou, Richard Kind, Tom Wopat, Wilson Cruz, Michael Longoria, Rosie Perez, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Nicholas Callaway Foster, Olga Merediz, Michelle Collins, Jon Viktor Corpuz, Sharon Gless, Roz Ryan, Mary Ann Hu, Anika Larsen, Margaret Stallings, Eve Plumb, Montego Glover, Michael Urie, Carmen Cusak, Darius de Haas, Melissa Errico, Janet Metz, as well as Broadway for Orlando creators Van Dean of Broadway Records,Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley, and their daughter, Juli Wesley.

How beautiful it is when the worlds of music, entertainment and politics can join together for a cause greater than the sum of its parts.  Watch the moving video below, and have some tissue at the ready…

Music Musings: Janet Jackson’s Control– 30 Y.O.

Long before Adele or Taylor Swift were household names, All eyes and ears in the pop music world were affixed to the one and only Janet Jackson. Through iconic albums like janet., The Velvet Rope and Rhythm Nation, she broke barriers regarding race, gender, artistic expression, and celebrity involvement in social justice.

However to get to the point of icon, Janet first had to make an impact, and enter the mainstage of pop culture. Thirty years ago today, Jackson forged this path with the release of Control.

Here’s how Brannon Smith of Ebony Magazine celebrated the album back in 2014…

If Beyoncé is “the album that is going to launch a thousand women’s studies papers,” then Janet Jackson’s Control is the album that launched a thousand feminist music careers. Nearly 30 years after its initial release, the groundbreaking album still stands as one of the boldest statements in the history of Black feminist music, and Janet’s storied career remains an often-referenced blueprint for a legion of female performers following in her fearless footsteps.

In August 1985, Janet Jackson left the glamour of her show business upbringing and set out for Minneapolis — the home of former Prince protégés Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. By this time, 19-year-old Janet had starred in three TV shows, been married to and split from an addiction-plagued James DeBarge, and fired an overbearing Joe Jackson as her manager. She was coming into her own as a woman — and she, Jam and Lewis were determined to chronicle that evolution on her third studio album, Control. Unlike the music of her safe, bubble-gummy debut, Janet Jackson, and its follow-up, Dream Street, Control was largely autobiographical — relaying honest, raw stories born out of real-life events.

Though Jackson had recorded two albums before Control (in addition to an already impressive acting career), the collaboration with legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis stood out because it was Janet that co-wrote the songs, and spoke the truth about her life at the time.

30 years on, Control still resonates as the quintessential ‘Janet Jackson’ album. From the sensuous, sultry moans of Funny How Time Flies, irresistible club starters like The Pleasure Principle, the tight vocal harmonies and surprising character voices of Nasty, to the delightful  interlude opening and jazz pop fusions of What Have You Done For Me Lately?, all the elements of how we understand Janet Jackson as an artist can be found on Control. And oh yeah… Don’t ever forget those FINGER SNAPS!!

Basically, with Control, it was clear that Jackson and her collaborators had found the recipe for success, and we as a music-loving public are all the better for it.

 

And in case this post has you wondering ‘What Has Janet Done For You Lately?’, then you need to check out her new album Unbreakable. If you haven’t bought it yet, go get a copy along with a new copy of Control, and play them back to back. You might be surprised at what you hear.  And the Unbreakable World Tour??  Not to be missed!!

During this Black History month, what better way to celebrate with a truly impressive milestone. Thank you Janet Jackson for releasing your masterpiece to the world, 30 years ago today.

Control 30

Music Musings: ‘Unbreakable’ Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is back.

It’s a statement that can still seem more fiction than fact.  Even for someone that finally experienced the star in live format earlier this week via the Unbreakable Tour, I watched in disbelief as Miss Jackson defied conventional wisdom by sailing through her massive string of hits while executing dance moves far better than her younger imitators.  Indeed for those brave enough to go see the pop star this year, the Unbreakable tour is likely to exceed expectations of the most discriminating fans.

That’s the tour, and  today we get to hear what she’s working so hard to promote.  After a summer of rumors and anticipation, Unbreakable has arrived.  I don’t know if I can call this a review, but maybe some informed observations from a good fan?  A ‘first view’?  Well whatever you want to call it, here are my thoughts after spending Day One with Unbreakable.

2015 finds a Janet with ‘lots to talk about’, and most notably going to some places that we didn’t expect from her previous catalog. After a career spent trying to establish her own sound in contrast to others of the surname, finally we see Jackson lean in, even embrace the legendary influence of her brothers.  The album’s title track, Dream Maker/ Euphoria and closer Gon’ B Alright find the songstress  delivering vocal stylings inspired by The Jackson 5.  As Jimmy Jam stated in an interview with the BBC, vocals on the latter may leave listeners wondering if Janet herself is singing all parts on the track. Much to our surprise, everything is her.  Dream Maker/ Euphoria is a soul-tastic fantasy world where sweeping Motown-esque samples  at the opening exuviate into Janet’s sultry vocal over a crucial bass.  It’s a resplendent journey for sure.

Another highlight is BURN IT UP!- an infectious club thumper built on beautiful and mysterious arabic dance music. The culture clash definitely doesn’t seem by accident, as Jackson has already offered a deep appreciation to the traditions of her current home country.  The end result shows that the legendary pop team knows how to get the world moving no matter what hemisphere they’re in.

After a fun club tune, Dammn Baby offers another romp into “current” pop trends– well kind of.  As Jam, Lewis and Jackson are well aware, so much of today’s musical sound is rooted firmly in elements first heard in the 80s— heavy synth over intricate rhythmic and colorful instrumental texture.  As a result, it’s kind of unfair to claim these musical legends as imitators.  But inspired by the sounds of radio today, they recognize that the pendulum has swung “forward” in their favor.  Oh, they’re able to speak the 2015 language much better than several of their “younger” counterparts.  Let’s hope this song gets some love from the radio spotlight.

On Shoulda Known Better, Jackson explores themes of her socially-conscious past.  It’s a conversation between the 23-year old Rhythm Nation superstar and her more experienced self in 2015, realizing that the only way we can hope to achieve a better world is by first coming together and seeing our common humanity.

It’s never the critic that counts
Cause critics only wanna talk
While enlightened minds and open hearts
Together make this world a better place

[…]

I had this great epiphany
And rhythm nation was the dream
I guess next time I’ll know better

Other highlights include the EDM/Minneapolis/ jazz piano collaboration on Night, the quiet storm classic and current RnB chart-topper No Sleeep and a poignant tribute to brother Michael in Broken Hearts Heal.  In the latter, Jackson shares the album’s most deeply personal lyrics, wrapped in a light, breezy aura of faithful optimism. And yes, your ears are not deceiving you– a quote to Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough aerates through the track.

There’s a lot more to discover in this quality body of work.  At this stage in their careers, Jackson, Jam and Lewis have every right to sit back, reminisce and be proud of their historic accomplishments.  But perhaps the greatest beauty of Unbreakable is that it serves as a reminder of how special artistic expression is to the human experience.  As critical as the air we breathe, the need of all people have to communicate, connect, converse and feel never subsides.  A goal that is definitely achieved in this album.

So those are my impressions, but check out what the actual music critics are saying too.  Here’s Complex Music UK, Vulture and The Atlantic to get started.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

Janet

Photo Credit:  YuTsai

 

And BTW…

2015 marks the 33rd year since Janet Jackson became a solo artist. Check out the 16-year old Janet performing her first ever single, the aptly-titled Young Love on Soul Train.

 

UPDATE  October 12th 2015:

Unbreakable is officially a hit!!  Janet Jackson’s new album makes a Number 1 debut on the Billboard charts.  With the impressive seventh album to reach the top, Jackson now earns the historic distinction of holding number 1 albums across 4 decades– the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

As Ms. Jackson might say herself, it’s fait accompli.  Congratulations Janet!!

Janet Jackson2

Music Musings: Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar ‘Bad Blood’

Say whatever you want about the one and only Taylor Swift.  No seriously go ahead, because she’s probably heard it all before.

At the definitive age of 25, the pop star has become a music industry titan to rival that of the very best in record sales, fan armies influence and almost every other metric.  Though she first hit the main stage in the Country genre, Taylor Swift has managed a crossover so successful that it can only be compared to those with last names like Jackson, Carey, or… Swift.

With all these facts out there, I still have to make a confession… I’m not the biggest Taylor Swift fan.  Though I have respect for her songwriting skills, her albums are generally not my kind of music. You’re probably not going to find me screaming “I’m feeling twenty-twooooo” at the concert.

So how you ask does Taylor Swift land a fair-weather fan like me??  By landing epic rap phenom Kendrick Lamar as a feature on the song Bad Blood.   Again, there’s those uncanny song construction skills on full display.  Take a great hook, and combine it with one of the best rappers in music today?  You get summer jam that pleases every audience.

After all the Bad Blood spilled in yesterday’s first GOP Primary debate, the song seems especially appropriate.  So yeah, I’m gonna let this jam on my summer playlist.

Bad Blood

 

 

Music Musings: Tori Kelly For REAL

So much of the contemporary debate in pop music revolves around issues of authenticity.  The industry relies on many of the same sampled, re-sampled and

For all the folks out there that are looking for a genuine, original artist to support, look no further than the incredible Tori Kelly. Even from her very first YouTube videos at age 14 (singing a JAZZ arrangement of Go Tell It On The Mountain!!), it was abundantly clear that Kelly was charting a path all her own to a successful music career.

And yes… she for real did this at the age of 14….

From that raw talent as a young teenager to today, Tori Kelly is one artist that is ready to take the world by storm.  Her debut album Unbreakable Smile is just starting to get noticed.  But if talent and good quality music count for anything, the effort should soon be a worldwide smash on par with the likes of Adele’s 21 or Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience.  Having purchased Unbreakable Smile and listened to it top to bottom, I can say without hesitation that it’s one of best pop albums of the year.  If you have any doubts of this, then take 3 minutes and 28 seconds to hear Kelly’s song ‘Expensive’ (my personal favorite track from the album), and put those doubts out to pasture.

While Kelly excels at big brazen tracks like ‘Expensive’, her gifts are equally apparent in live performance.  The gifted singer, songwriter and guitar player has the uncanny ability to draw audiences to their feet even when performing solo.  Check out this recent performance of her new single ‘Should’ve Been Us’ from ABC’s The View…

It’s clear that Tori Kelly has all the elements to become the next big thing in music.   I for one am looking forward to more great things from this artist.  Let’s all hope that she continues to get the recognition that she deserves.