A few weeks ago, I called for a moratorium from bad newsand made a concious decision to be positive and not let my cynicsm get the better of me. I consider it a Lenten penance as I really am a member of the Piss & Moan Club. Colette seized upon this opportunity to support me in my quest for “half-full”-ness by submitting a post on “happy” songs.
However, Colette omits THE MOST “happy” song, ever:
Don’t Worry, Be Happy — The Chipmunks
Also, I have to share a little serendipity. Today, as I was preparing this post, I recieved a comment on a post I did a couple of years ago on Marc Broussard and his take on Love & Happiness. Ned Theall, veteran trumpeter and Boogie King extraordinaire left a comment.
That made me VERY happy…
With thanks to Paul McC, Johnny N, Al Green, Aretha & all the musical joy-givers
Since Music Maven so wisely called a moratorium on bad news, it got me thinking: what songs just fill me pleasure every time I hear them? Which ones really get those endorphins going — thanks to their great hooks, upbeat lyrics and joyous performances?
I think we have to cling to whatever gives us joy in times like this. It can’t help to get bummed out — the universe doesn’t offer any reward at all for that. We’re alive, music in the air, love doesn’t cost a penny, and while that ain’t everything it sure is something to be grateful for.
So here are some of my Happy Hall of Fame songs & performances. May they give you a boost, no matter what’s bothering you:
From my childhood on, just a few bars of the Beatles could restore me to good mental health. This song especially, from “Revolver,” performed here by Sir Paul on tour, and just a fab picker-upper:
– Good Day Sunshine — Paul McCartney
This tune has been covered by many, many artists (most notably Jimmy Cliff), but I love it in its original reggae-beat format sung here in the 1970s by the guy who made it a beam of sunshine Top 40 hit, actor-singer Johnny Nash:
– I Can See Clearly Now — Johnny Nash
Whatever your religion, or lack of it, this tune is sanctified. It was a sneaky, underdog hit in the 1970s, from a then-obscure choir in Oakland, CA led by Edwin Hawkins. The rest is gospel history, but the great Hawkins Family of singers is certainly still with us:
– Oh Happy Day — Edwin & Lynette Hawkins and Choir
All right, I know what you might be thinking: shlockmeister Neil Diamond? Well Neil has many facets, and before he was doing a lot of middle-of-the-road, self-indulgent dreck, he was writing some very cool tunes. This for me is his best (written for The Monkees), which he performs here in a recent concert in Glastonbury, England with great verve and a terrific band:
– I’m a Believer — Neil Diamond
This song on the radio can send me into a delirium of delight. Yes, it’s my own true soul guru The Rev. Al Green, before he became a “rev.” In this clip from “Soul Train” he sounds so gooood, and looks so pur-dy. The tune? Of course, “Love and Happiness,” and he’s still singing it:
– Love & Happiness — Al Green
I have a special place in my heart for this little Aretha Franklin novelty, because it not only captures her in fine, fine 1980s form, but also connects me back to my very young youth in the Motor City, when Detroit was the proud auto and soul music center of the universe. It’s changed a lot, but the essence of its past glory is here:
– Freeway of Love — Aretha
A generation away in age, but a spirit that burns true and beautiful, is Corinne Bailey Rae’s great gift of a song with its message: when life gets tough, the tough listen to music. Rae has dropped off the face of the entertainment world since the drug death of her beloved musician husband. May she heal soon, and keep bringing us great music to soothe her soul and ours:
– Put Your Records On – Corinne Bailey Rae
Paul Simon has written a lot of brooding songs, and some upbeat masterpieces. Here’s a Tokyo performance, with a fine band (he always hires the best), on a tune that celebrates crazy youth and growing up In Queens:
– Paul Simon – Me & Julio
Though his first post-Idol CD does little for me (so what else is new), I still adore David Cook. Compare his beautiful voice and assured musicality on last year’s American Idol with the motley crew vying for the title this year and…..well, let’s just say it’s no contest. This song, originally by The Turtles, was fave for me way, way back there in the 60s. I love his sly, ebullient take on it:
– Happy Together – David Cook
Finally, a recent version of a Dire Straits tune that’s a toe-tapping affirmation of humanity, without any pretentious BS. I love that Knopler is still out there, making music and spreading happiness:
Since KD announced a mini-”photo” challenge over at her blog, A Half Hour A Day, regarding flowers in black & white that had a quick turnaround, I figured I’d capture some spring foliage on my woman’s weekend in New Orleans. So, in between good eats and great company, I managed to find the patron plants of the Deep South, Azaleas.
Technically, Azaleas are Rhododendrons, and are mainstay plant material in beds of virtually every Southern homeowner. My father was a Nurseryman for over 45 years and was actually a field grower of Azaleas, so I have special kinship with the “belle of the South”. Ironically, Mobile is actually called the “Azalea City” because of the proliferation and varieties found here. But I digress…
The point of the challenge was to use black & white to show character of the flowers, in particular textures of petals, stamins, and leaves. I’m not sure if I captured it exactly, but I gave it a good shot. The New Orleans azaleas were soft pink, but taking the color out really does draw your eye to different facets of the flower, particularly the veining in the petals.
Truthfully, I have never noticed the “ink stains” on the top petals before and likely wouldn’t have without putting these in black & white. While this isn’t part of the challenge, I think it’s important to show the same picture in color to really get the perspective of how the subject is changed when converted to black & white.
More of my “series” from New Orleans:
And, here are a couple of different varieties that are actually in my yard. This one is red:
This one is purple:
I think I still prefer the soothing that color brings when it comes to flowers, but black & white definitely “pops” texture and depth.
And, just to bring it around full circle, here is the King to lay some New Orleans on ya (in black & white, of course).
While most well-known for When A Man Loves A Woman, Southern soul legend Percy Sledge is a master of delivering smoldering, aching love songs that young lovers have been rubbing bellies to for generations. I grew up on Percy music and he’s one of my all-time favorite artists. The Alabama native was honored by being inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
First, let me say that Taylor Hicks owes me nothing. Nada. Not a thing.
I used to think that he did, but let me say here (clearly), that I was wrong. You see, four years ago when I rabidly followed Taylor on the cheese fest that is American Idol, I was envigorated by a young man who appeared to beat the odds, defy “the man” and strike a blow for the every day music lover. He was a refreshing throwback to good, “old” music that was pure, un-synthesized, and “real”. He was the everyday musical hero who came to save the day.
After AI, I expected Taylor to remain “all about the music” and continue to defy the musical ogres who control content and dole out the uninspiring pablum derived from electronic manipulation. It was evident from Taylor’s first post-AI release, Taylor Hicks, that there was more influence from those writing the checks than any of us would have preferred. Through the whole time, Taylor seemed to be impersonating some character in a play and while fans largely supported the record, it rang hollow on the charts. It seemed that the daring, soulful style and smokin’ harmonica accompniment was largely absent from the record, leaving listeners, including me, wondering just where Taylor Hicks went.
His live tour was very successful and likely garnished Taylor enough dough to break away from J Records (whether mutual or not), start his own label, and take time for the next record that, maybe…just maybe, would more closely represent what fans so desparately want to hear from the soul man. There have been some detours along the way, including the Broadway role of Teen Angel, that I simply did not agree with because it’s not my vision for the dude. But, really…what do I know?
Oddly enough, Grease appears to have been the catalyst that provided some public acceptance and a bit of a springboard for, perhaps, a redemption of “America’s pick”. Even though I still cringe at the notion of Taylor crooning out Beauty School Dropout, I can’t deny that it’s been good for his career. Hey, it’s a mean to an end, I guess. I have said all along, if the music is good, people will listen and all of the other extra-cirricular activities won’t mean a thing.
That brings us to the release of Taylor Hicks’ new CD, The Distance. I’ve been listening to it for a few days along with some other new music that I’ve been recently turned on to. I wanted to give it a few days to simmer before I commented. First, let me quench your curiosity and say that overall, this CD is MUCH better than the first release.
There’s a definite ease on this record that was absent on Taylor Hicks. While that effort was frenetic, disjointed and a bit out of control, The Distance is thoughtful, balanced and comfortable. It is very reminiscient of his pre-Idol work and shows that Taylor seems to be going “back” to his core, which is exactly what most people loved about him in the first place. This should have been his Idol release, had they been smart. The arrogance of greedy people who believe their “formula” for making a record and maximizing its profit never ceases to amaze me, but we continually see these dinosaurs take unique and genuine talent and turn them into something that is the opposite of what actually makes them appealing, and then scratching their head at its failure.
But, I digress…back to the review.
As I previously detailed, the first single, What’s Right is Right, is a simple, pleasing tune with a great video. It’s currently doing well on AC radio and seems to be a happy medium between what’s expected from fans and what’s accepted by the industry.
But what about the rest of the record? Well, I think I get Taylor. He is not just one style or one genre. Like me, he likes a lot of different types and styles of music and I think that’s what he wanted this record to be. Recently, he did a guest DJ spot on “My Turn” on 100.3 (Newport Beach, CA), no doubt as part of his promotion of this release (which I have to say is 200% better than the crack PR team at J Records and The Firm). Whoever is in charge of promotion this time is doing a fabulous job. Anyway, Taylor’s playlist for the hour long DJ stint is very telling.
St. Dominic’s Preview – Van Morrison Gasoline Alley -Rod Stewart How Long – Ace Rainy Night In Georgia – Brook Benton You Belong To Me – Carly Simon Hurricane Water – Citizen Cope Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs Where I’m From (Alabama Frame Of Mind)-Shelby Lynne Life’s Been Good – Joe Walsh Lowdown in Lodi – Freddie King Something So Right – Paul Simon Arc Of A Diver – Steve Winwood Don’t Think Twice – Susan Tedeschi I’m In Love – Wilson Pickett
To hear Taylor’s DJ skillz, click on the following player.
Now, I have to say that this was one of the most redeeming things I’ve heard from Taylor in a while. It validated that the dude still has great music taste and still true to it. Many of the songs on the new CD incorporate “sounds” from Taylor influences like Steve Winwood, Keb ‘Mo, Delbert McClinton, Van Morrison, and The Meters. He signed on a quality producer in Simon Climie, who has produced Eric Clapton and who is an accomplished keyboardist and song writer in his own right. In addition, some of Clapton’s touring band performed on the record, including Doyle Brahmall II and bassist Nathan East and was joined by Paul McCartney’s drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr.
This is a quality record, with quality songs, musicians, and mixing. I like it. I have to say that it’s very entertaining and there are a few really good tracks on it. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Maybe You Should. Written by Taylor and Nashville songwriter Gary Nicholson (who contributes on several songs), it is a great ballad that reminds me of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me. That could be because songwriter Michael Reid co-wrote both of them. While I love Taylor’s raspy blues feel to this song, I could also see Keith Urban doing this song.
Along with Nineteen, Seven Mile Breakdown (co-penned with Hicks by Spoonful James’ guitarist and pre-Idol buddy, Wynn Christian) and the title-track, The Distance, Maybe You Should has serious Country potential, if appopriately brought to Nashville. Even the blues number, Wedding Day Blues is oddly reminiscient of Garth Brooks’ Country anthem, Friends in Low Places.
While there’s certainly some Country influence, this CD is not a one trick twang pony. One of my favorites, Keeping It Real, is influenced by co-author Delbert McClinton’s wily humor along with a great strider piano, New Orleans sound. It’s also the ONLY track on the CD with a harmonica accompniment. A pity, as I really dig the harp.
There’s also plenty of “soul” in the Nick Lowe cover, I Live on a Battlefield, and one of my all-time favorite tunes, Woman’s Gotta Have It, where he is accompanied by AI buddy, Elliott Yamin. Now, Woman’s Gotta Have It is one on my Music Maven “All-Time Favorite” list, but James Taylor’s 1976 version from his In the Pocket CD which is, in my opinion, one of the best albums ever made — but that’s a different subject for a different day. I really love the meshing of voices between Elliott and Taylor and especially Taylor harmonizing background vocal (fulfilling Simon’s ambition for him), but the beginning of JT’s version is more to my liking. Got me to wondering what a combined version would sound like. Hmmmm….
Once Upon a Lover and New Found Freedom are my “throw away” tracks. I didn’t like the Latino sound of West Texas Sky and I don’t care for it on Once Upon a Lover.New Found Freedom is more of an Idol ”coronation” songthat just doesn’t measure up to the other songs on the CD.
The marketing plan of three “special tracks” via different store exclusives are in play for The Distance. Wal-Mart offers the Ray Charles’ cover Hide Nor Hair, Target provides Indiscriminate Act of Kindness, and iTunes has Yes We Can, Can. While I haven’t been able to sample Hide Nor Hair, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness reminds me of Taylor’s much heralded performance of the Ray classic, Georgia. It is indulgent and very non-descript. While I know this won’t be popular with the “Soul Patrol”, Indiscriminate Act of Kindnessis NOT a song that exhibits Taylor Hicks’ talent nor is it a very appealing cut. However, if you’re looking for a theme song about drug addiction and recovery, this is likely as good as it gets.
On the other hand, the iTunes “special”, Yes We Can is a veritable who’s who of funk & boogie. Written by Allen Toussaint and covered by the likes of soul man, Marc Broussard and The Pointer Sisters, Yes We Can pays homage to the soul/zydeco/funk of the Southern Gulf Coast. While Taylor may be considered the “forgotten idol”, the fact that Ivan Neville, Delbert McClinton and Stax legend, Steve Cropper provide back-up, indicates that “real” musicians “get” Taylor. Even Marc Broussard couldn’t pull that off.
Music Maven gives Taylor Hicks’ The Distance 4 of 5 stars. Buy it.