Duets in Love

Over the past couple of years, couples have been recording duets across the pop music spectrum.

In 2019 Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes recorded “Señorita” and dished up a couple of steamy performances at the MTV Video Music Awards and at the American Music Awards. The two became a couple around the time they recorded the song and remain so.

Halsey and Yungblud covered Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” when they were dating in early 2019. They broke up later that year, but the chemistry in this video is clear. Halsey wrote my favorite song of her’s, “Finally / Beautiful Stranger”, about their relationship. See that video on my Lizzo, Dua and Halsey post from last year.

Finally, and more recently, rapper turned rocker (at least at the moment) Machine Gun Kelly released this video of “Bloody Valentine” featuring his girlfriend, Megan Fox. Travis Barker of Blink-182, co-wrote, produced and played drums on the track, and the song – as well as much of Kelly’s Tickets to My Downfall album, reflect the influence. OK, this isn’t technically a duet – they just fake it – whatever.

Christine and the Queens

2020 was chock full of hit singles by woman artists from Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion to Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, Fiona Apple, Taylor Swift, and the list goes on. But rising to #3 on Rolling Stone’s Songs of the Year, and #1 on Time Magazine’s list, is “People, I’ve Been Sad” by Christine and the Queens. Christine and the Queens, though sometimes simply Chris, is the stage name of French singer, songwriter, producer Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier.

I first saw her perform a couple of years ago, watching one of those Jools Holland shows that runs and re-runs on MTV Live. Here’s the official video of “Tilted”, the song I saw her perform, featuring her signature combination of hypnotic pop music and creative choreography. “Tilted” was the top single from her first studio album, 2014’s Chaleur humaine (Human Warmth).

Here’s a live performance of “Girlfriend” from the 2019 Glastonbury Festival. The song is from her second full-length album, 2018’s Chris. After watching this, you’re gonna want to see her in concert once we can do that sort of thing again.

Finally, here’s the choreography-free video for “People, I’ve Been Sad”. Released in February 2020 it arrived just in time to channel the loneliness of the pandemic year, though clearly written from pain that preceded recent events.

Acoustic Guitar Innovators

With a few guitars sitting on the other side of the room, and decades of watching and listening to acoustic guitar players, I thought I had some notion of the boundaries of how one could play the instrument. I was so wrong.

Topeka, Kanas born Andy McKee incorporates a wide range of tapping and percussive techniques into his work, and check out the slanted scale on the guitar in this video! He’s released a number of albums dating back to 2001’s Nocturne, and he’s the first artist signed to the record label of guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel. In addition to his own records, he’s contributed to albums by Lee Ritenour and Josh Groban, and he toured with Prince. McKee blew up on the internet in 2005 with videos from his third album, Art of Motion, including this song “Drifting”.

Jon Gomm’s career has been very independent, self producing and crowd-funding his albums, playing local venues in England, while also touring the world and playing guitar festivals. In all my years of watching guitar players, until this video I’d never seen anyone play melodies by tuning the strings. If you want to see more, here’s a link to the video that put him on the map, 2011’s “Passionflower”.

This video by 23-year old Russian, Alexandr Misko incorporates the tapping, percussion and tuning effects used by McKee and Gomm, and he throws in an Eminem rap on top. His internet launch began in 2016 with his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.

If you want to explore this vein of acoustic guitar playing further, apparently the godfather of these techniques is the late Michael Hedges, followed by Preston Reed.

To Love Somebody

On Friday, Barry Gibb released Greenfields: The Gibbs Brothers’ Songbook (Vol. 1). Barry is the last surviving Gibb brother of the Bee Gees. On Greenfields he reworks a number of Bee Gees hits in collaboration with a who’s who of country music. A lot to get your head around there, but relax – this post isn’t about any of that.

The Bee Gees first major album, Bee Gees’ 1st, was released in 1967 and included “To Love Somebody”. The song was written by Barry and Robin Gibb, intended to be given to Otis Redding to record. But the Bee Gees released it in mid-1967, and Redding never got a chance to cover it before he died at the end of that year. Over the years, though, an incredibly wide range of artists did cover the song, and what a malleable piece of music it has proven to be. Let’s start by watching the Gibb brothers perform the original, decked out in full 1960s splendor.

In 1969 the song got soulful treatments that Redding never got the chance to provide. Nina Simone and Janis Joplin delivered these interpretations that show just how far the song could be stretched.

Nearly 40 years later, Smashing Pumpkins founder Billy Corgan selected the song for his first solo album, TheFutureEmbrace. The album version features Robert Smith of The Cure on backing vocals, but here’s Corgan singing it by himself and delivering a beautiful, hypnotic performance.

Tony Rice and a Stage Full of Bluegrass Stars

On Christmas Day, bluegrass legend Tony Rice passed away. His career began 50 years ago, and he helped define the progressive end of the genre. Here is Tony on stage in 1988 with a group of young musicians who have become legends in their own rights.

The banjo player on stage is Bela Fleck, who would form the progressive jazz group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones in that same year of 1988. The fellow with the awesome hat is Roy “Future Man” Wooten, playing percussion on the SynthAxeDrumitar. His incredible brother Victor is on bass.

The dobro player on stage is Jerry Douglas, the undisputed master of that instrument. He’s played with artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Ray Charles to Elvis Costello, and is a regular member of Alison Krauss and Union Station. Here’s Jerry interpreting Paul Simon’s “American Tune”.

The fiddle player on stage is Mark O’Connor, who has recorded 45 albums in as many years. His recordings have made the classical, jazz, country and bluegrass charts. Here’s O’Connor playing with the Boston Pops.

And lest we get away without paying enough attention to Tony Rice, here he plays “Shenandoah” after an intro music lesson. Skip to 1:40 if you want to bypass the lesson, but don’t skip the beautiful guitar playing.