Monday, November 2, 2009


Jennings has a strong, deep voice, sings with confidence, and makes no apologies for her sound. Best described as pop, there's also a pervading beat behind it all, with electronic chirps sprinkled around. It could all sound pretty hokey, except it doesn't. Her music gives off this vibe that's just...well, cool. Check out the picture. Does this look like someone who totally loves making music or what?!

JenningsWith the unexpected death of her mother in 2001, Jennings was given the opportunity by her father to go through therapy or record an album. "This tragedy rocked me to the core," she says, "...but there is so much beauty in what it allowed me to do. All of my emotions came pouring out of me in the form of melody." Needless to say, I probably wouldn't be writing this if Jennings chose therapy.

Building upon her first two albums and fast forwarding a few years, her most recent recordings are Femtastic and Storybook EP.

Overall, Femtastic has more of an electronic club beat to it. But it isn't any less compelling. From the very first track, the hook is so big that you'll be humming the memorable Falling Higher right after the first listen. If Do Or Die doesn't grab you...either with the beat or with a crushing chord change right after the chorus hits, then check your pulse. Make Believe is what Sade would sound like if she went electronic and drank a cup of coffee -- and that's not a bad thing. The song is a nice change of pace from the rest of the album.

Storybook EP has a mellower feel. Most of the electronics from Femtastic are pared down, but the songs are stronger and, of course, still distinctly Jennings. The songs Doorway and Figure Me Out never seem to resolve themselves musically, maybe I was hoping for that power-pop chord. But after repeated listens, it doesn't matter because Jennings' sound, passion and emotion sound will win you over. I admit I'm a sucker for a good cover, but when a cover is actually better than the original, it says much more about the talent of the artist covering the song than the person who originally wrote the song. Originally written by Rhianna, Jennings treats us to a uniquely beautiful, haunting, and multi-layered experience as she covers Umbrella. Some micro-research: my 11 year old daughter loved it after the first hearing.

But most interesting, when music is a part of your soul, (whether you know it or not) it somehow, someway, manages to bubble up to the surface. The beauty that surfaced from Jennings' tragic loss is our gain.

Jennings - Music You Need to Hear

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Halloween 2009 playlist

Got any favorite Halloween themed songs? In no particular order, my playlist includes:

XTC - Scarecrow People
This song is from Oranges & Lemons, a CD literally dripping with Beatles' influence and containing mountains of hummable songs.

Concrete Blonde - Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)
Can it get any better for Halloween? Once you hear Johnette Napolitano sing, it's a voice you don't forget. The group is best known for the song Joey, but don't overlook Caroline, Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man and many others. Their "Best of" CD is called Recollection. It's worth every penny.

Smithereens - Blood & Roses
There's just something to be said for straightforward rock played well. Formed in 1980 these guys are still going strong today. Their song Girl Like You is an instant classic.

Suzanne Vega - Blood Makes Noise
I love the industrial sound of this song, alongside her smooth voice and that really happy bass line.

Smashing Pumpkins - Bury Me
The best band name for Halloween bar none - not to mention the title works well too. Their debut Gish is incredible - ballads building to crunching guitars and flat out rockers that just demand to be heard. For me, everything else they did after that falls short.

Bishop Allen - Ghosts are Good Company
Rough, acoustic, and a bit quirky. Just a nice way to spend three minutes. One of the cutest songs you'll hear.

Kristin Hersh - Your Ghost
Formerly of Throwing Muses, this haunting song is from her solo album and features a duet with REM's Michael Stipe.

Police - Spirits in the Material World
I first heard them in the early 80's and it was like nothing I'd ever heard before. That's still true today.

Psychedelic Furs - Ghost in You
This song was in a lot of 80's movies that I didn't see, but I always knew it as a song first.

Tegan & Sara - Walking With A Ghost
There's something about the way these two sisters sing and craft pop hooks that just makes this song so listenable.

Bow Wow Wow - I Want Candy
Okay it's a stretch to be sure, but I wanted to include some homage to all the sweets dispensed on Halloween. Anyone else got another suggestion?

Radiohead - Bones
I was never a big Radiohead fan, especially when Creep became popular. A friend said he knew how I felt, but thought I should I hear The Bends anyway. Kinda under the banner of "If you must hear one album by Radiohead make it this one." He was right.

Cowboy Junkies - Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park
From the CD Black Eyed Man, this eerie song was my first exposure to their music. The entire album has a great feel about it.

Genesis - Man on the Corner
Creepy and secretive this song is from the album Abacab -- the last hurrah for Genesis and Phil Collins before they became over the top pop musicians.

There you have it - Halloween 2009. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? What's on your playlist?

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The musical Hair first came out in 1967, the year I was born. Growing up, I'd certainly heard of it, and even have a vague memory of seeing it performed on the sitcom Head of the Class.

But during this summer's vacation I went to see the revival of Hair on Broadway. And while I had an appreciation of it all (the set, the costumes, the band, and the actors) It wasn't until about three days later, I realized I had seen something really great.

cover of Hair soundtrackSo I've been listening to the new soundtrack almost every day. And it's funny - are these best vocals ever? No. But the songs aren't meant to be super-lyrical either. Maybe you have to see the show, but there is so much energy and passion infused into some terrific songs, that the whole soundtrack is just elevated to another level. The chorus is tight and the band rocks. My only complaint is that as songs (as opposed to songs for a musical), some are way too short. And, had I really familiarized myself with the music before seeing the show, who knows, maybe it would've hit me right away.

If you're fortunate to see it on Broadway, it's a visual treat as well. The set and costumes seem to burst with color. The band is also on the stage as well. Far from hokey, the actors go into the audience as well and are literally dancing and singing before you.

My kids ask me to play the title track and want to hear it every time we're in the car. What's funny is that I know they'd like the entire soundtrack, which grew on me remarkably fast, but given the content, I've only shared Aquarius, Manchester England, I Got Life, and, of course, Hair.

Still, nearly every day, one of us sings "Hair, Hair, Hair-Hair-Hair, Hair, Hair Hair!" And my six your old son belts out: "We'll be gaga at the Go-go when they see me in my toga..."

The soundtrack to the revival of Hair - Music You Need To Hear

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sam and Ruby

Opening acts have it tough.

Most everyone in the audience didn't come to the concert to see them. Most opening acts are also relatively new to performing. If you're going to a concert, chances are, you have an expectation in your brain of what the headliner sounds like, and anything else is a bit...well, foreign. It's kinda like working out, reaching for your water bottle, and someone has secretly replaced the water with milk. Not that you hate milk, you just weren't expecting to taste milk at that moment.

The opening act I saw was the folk/soul duo Sam & Ruby and I'll admit at first I thought they were okay, they certainly could sing well together, but the songs didn't really do it for me. Then they began Suitcase Song and it initially struck me as being too whimsical, especially the first verse. Suddenly the lyrics (to me) went beyond "if a suitcase could talk". Whether Sam & Ruby meant this or not, who cares? When the chorus hit, it was as if being struck on the head with a cast-iron skillet. And I got it. Soaring melody, wonderful harmonization, and perfect chord changes. You could tell their music came from a deep place. The arrangements on their debut full-length CD are sparse yet fit seamlessly into the blending of their voices.

It's a testament to Sam & Ruby that their music was able to break through whatever mental block I had going that night. I'm really glad it did. Heaven's My Home made it to the soundtrack of the movie The Secret Life of Bees. The song The Here and the Now, was just devastatingly gorgeous. A song about redemption, starting over, and living for today. This is the song you play when you're through being pissed off at your partner, have had time to calm down, and realize just how stupid you acted the first place. All and all, not bad for the first song Sam & Ruby wrote together! (You can hear all three songs on their MySpace page.)

And in case you're wondering, Sam Brooker is originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin and Ruby Amanfu is from Ghana. They connected in Nashville. Reviews from iTunes and critics are along the lines of "musical soulmates". Take a few minutes and give it a listen -- I think you'll agree.

Sam & Ruby - Music You Need Too Hear

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Perpetuum Jazzile

Forget for a moment that, some members of Perpetuum Jazzile (outside of singing) may not even speak English. Forget the really cool imitation of a rainforest at the beginning of this clip.

Here's a testament to the sheer joy of singing that, to date, has been viewed over 4.6 million times. It's a cover of Toto's Africa And it's every bit as good as the original.

And if you absolutely can't wait for the music, it starts at about 1:49 into the video.

Perpetuum Jazzile - Music You Need to Hear

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Owl City

Owl CityEvery now and then a song comes along that is so catchy and has such great hooks, that it just sucks you in after the first listen and doesn't let go.

Currently, for me, that song is Fireflies by Owl City. (As of this writing the song plays as soon as you get to the web page.)

This is electronic music that has also been described as "computerized pop". There's no band, just Adam Young sitting in front of his computer. Don't write it off until you hear it - my 11 year old was hooked after one listen as well. In fact, I dare you not to like it.

Fireflies had the potential to be the monster hit of the Summer - it's THAT irresistible. Unfortunately, as I type this, it's the last weekend of the Summer. Nevertheless, I suggest cranking it up loud -- in your car, on iPod, at home and ride the wave for nearly four minutes.

Owl City's Fireflies - Music You Need to Hear

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Act of Congress

When Nickel Creek decided to take an indefinite hiatus at the end of their 2007 tour, there was no doubt sadness among fans of acoustic music.

It would be easy to say that a Birmingham, Alabama quartet named Act of Congress is hoping to capitalize on the remains of Nickel Creek's fan base. But if you listen to their music (free downloads here, iTunes, MySpace) and still think that, well, you're just not paying attention.

Act of Congress' first full length CD, "Declaration" is strikingly original -- from beginning to end. Not a bad track? Heck, there's not a wasted note. Period.

There are so many things right about this CD, it's hard to know where to begin. The playing and harmonies are flawless, but more than that, the arrangements and production are balanced perfectly -- they never get in the way of each other. As a result -- pure organic music making for nothing other than the love of music and sharing it with the listener. There's a "feel" to this CD unlike, any I've heard in a long time.

Let me be perfectly clear -- every track on Declaration is a standout.

Still, some thoughts on a few:

-In the Middle (The prefect opening track. Gives you a great idea of what to expect from the rest of the CD.)
-She Knows Her Way Around (Laden with great harmonies, this song gently seeps into your soul.)
-I Disagree (The combination of dobro, harmonies, violin and lyrics make this track a winner.)

If that weren't enough, in concert, AOC also plays covers of Coldplay's Clocks, A-ha's Take on Me and the Beatles Paperback Writer. These versions pay homage to the original, but in typical AOC fashion, go off in an original direction. An EP of cover song is in the works.

Act of Congress - Music You Need To Hear.