Women Vocalists Review – Björk, Rhiannon Giddens and Kandace Springs

Before we start, a couple of notes on last night’s Grammy Awards.  Happy to see Roseanne Cash take home three in the American Roots categories for “The River & The Thread” (see our earlier post), Beck take home two for “Morning Phase” (see our earlier post), and Jack White score one for “Lazaretto”.

But that’s old musical news.

Björk (she of the infamous swan dress) is a unique and esoteric vocalist with an international following, putting out top selling solo albums since 1993.  Her latest, “Vulnicura” (meaning “Cure for Wounds”), was to be released in March to coincide with an exhibit on her career opening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  But the album leaked on the internet in January, so the album dropped early.  Lush with string arrangements, the album is a meditation on her breakup with American artist Matthew Barney.  Spend a few minutes getting into the hypnotic feel of the album’s first track “Stonemilker”.

In a completely different vein, Rhiannon Giddens has been working with uber-producer T Bone Burnett on a few projects, including her first solo album “Tomorrow is My Turn”. The album includes covers of a number of great artists, features great backing musicians, and most of all introduces us to a great new singer. Listen to these covers of Patsy Kline and Joan Baez.

And in another completely different vein, Kandace Springs is a singer and pianist bringing a soul look and style that’s a little bit retro and a whole lot of fun. Check out “Love Got in the Way” from her eponymous debut EP. Then, to tie back to last night’s Grammy’s, listen to her cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” which won him Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

 

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Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nominees – Beyond the Obvious Picks

A few weeks ago, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced the nominees for the Class of 2015, with 16 acts spanning a broad range of styles and eras. The annual announcement is always a great chance to remember acts who may have faded a bit from memory, but were very important in their day.

From the era of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (the same one where Jimi first set his guitar on fire) and Woodstock, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played classic Chicago blues fronted by their singing and harmonica playing namesake. Butterfield was a talented young man from a well-to-do Chicago family. He studied classical flute in high school, was offered a track scholarship to Brown, and studied at the University of Chicago where he met bandmate Elvin Bishop. Fellow Chicago native Mike Bloomfield was another notable member of the band. Here’s a performance from Monterey. That’s Bishop on guitar, and Bloomfield clapping enthusiastically at the end of Butterfield’s soulful singing and harmonica work.

War formed in the 1960’s in L.A. and hit the big time when Eric Burdon, formerly of the Animals, joined the band in 1969. Who can forget their first big hit, “Spill the Wine”. Burdon only stayed with the group for a couple of years, but War kept bringing the funk well into the 1970’s. Enjoy these live versions of “Spill the Wine” and “Slipping into Darkness”.

Bill Withers is still around, though not performing anymore, and he put up a string of hits beginning with 1971’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” and running through 1981’s “Just the Two of Us”. Both songs won Grammy’s for Best R&B Song. Wither’s highest charting single, though, was 1972’s “Use Me”. Here’s a live performance of that tune by Bill, and a truly out-there cover by Mick Jagger from his 1993 solo album “Wandering Spirit”. Lenny Kravitz contributes.

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New Albums from Classic Women Vocalists and a Newcomer – Rosanne Cash, Chrissie Hynde, and Rachel Price

Some famous female vocalists have new music out, and a great new singer has arrived on the scene.

Rosanne Cash, eldest daughter of Johnny and superstar in her own right, released “The River and the Thread” in January.  The album has received its share of good reviews, and the first track is “A Feather’s Not a Bird”.  The album’s producer is Rosanne’s husband John Leventhal, who also co-wrote all the songs and plays lead guitar on this performance. If you like the video below, check out this studio performance of “The Long Way Home” with John backing Rosanne on acoustic guitar.

Perhaps the best Rock & Roll frontwoman ever is Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. Almost 35 years after “Brass in Pocket” launched the band’s career, Chrissie is about to release her first solo album. “Stockholm” is due out in June, and the first single “Dark Sunglasses” has been released. Unfortunately, the video shows us no Chrissie, just a bunch of folks wearing – you guessed it. If you want to see Chrissie front the Pretenders in their heyday, 30 years ago, check out the other video too. The video quality isn’t great, but don’t you wish you’d been there?

Back in October we wrote about Lake Street Dive covering a Jackson Five tune. The band is now out with a new full-length LP “Bad Self Portraits” that is fresh and absolutely delightful from start to finish. The band’s lead singer, Rachel Price, has a great voice and a unique style that propels the band’s range of jazz, soul and R&B tunes. Here is the title track from the new album, and “You Go Down Smooth”.

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2014 Grammy Awards – Mining Gems in the Lesser Known Categories

Last night’s Grammy awards may have delivered a few surprises in the major categories, but our enthusiasm for Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” and its hit song “Get Lucky” were matched by the Recording Academy’s. It was also nice to see a couple of awards go to Dave Grohl for the “Sound City” CD, including one to him and Paul McCartney for the track “Cut Me Some Slack”.

But scrolling way down the nominees and winners list on the Grammy website, you can find some gems that didn’t make the telecast or the mainstream media coverage.

In the Best American Roots Song category, comic genius and banjo player Steve Martin teamed up with Edie Brickell, wife of Paul Simon and former chanteuse of the New Bohemians, to write and perform “Love Has Come For You”.

In the category of Best Instrumental Arrangement, Gordon Goodwin put out a very nice take of the jazz classic “On Green Dolphin Street” performed by his Big Phat Band. Goodwin has won a Grammy before and picked up 13 nominations, and is also a three-time Emmy Award winner for his compositions and arrangements.

Twenty years after the release of Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Cracked Rear View”, the 16th best selling album in U.S. history, frontman Darius Rucker won this year’s Best Country Solo Performance for “Wagon Wheel”.

And finally, Best Traditional R&B Performance went to Gary Clark, Jr. for “Please Come Home”. Though most celebrated for his guitar playing (the solo comes at about 1:35), he shows off a fine falsetto on this tune. To hear Clark at his bluesy, guitar-slinging best (sans falsetto), check out his performance at the White House.

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Singers from Across the Spectrum – St. Lucia and Stacy Barthe

St. Lucia, the stage name of Jean-Philip Grobler, has been getting a lot of exposure recently, performing at Lollapalooza in 2013 and appearing on the late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Grobler grew up in South Africa, singing in the Drakensburg Boys Choir, but now lends his clean vocals to catchy pop electronic tunes laced with harmony vocals from his bandmates.  Here are a couple of live, small studio videos that show off St. Lucia’s unfiltered vocals. Thanks for the recommendation, Eric!

Norwegian music blog Read and Hear recently featured New York singer-songwriter Stacy Barthe. In addition to releasing her own tracks, she’s written songs for Katy Perry, Rihanna, Britney Spears and others. Her voice is certainly as good as anyone she’s been writing for.

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