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Music Review

Music Club, Rockferry, and Spirit

Music Review by Rob Diaz-Marino (From GayCalgary® Magazine, August 2008, page 54)
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“Randy Jackson’s Music Club – Volume 1”

We all know Mr. Randy Jackson as the big benevolent judge from American Idol, but before the face was put to the name for the younger generation, he started as a songwriter, then a producer, a manager, and a record executive. His experience in the music industry is what qualified him to be a judge in the first place!

For this album, Jackson called upon all corners of his expertise, painstakingly cultivated the material, handpicked the all-star roster of singers and musicians, produced the tracks and laid down some of his inimitable bass lines. Unfortunately such a variety of artists doesn’t bode well for the consistency of the album…a dawg’s breakfast if you will.

Most worthwhile is the hit single, “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow”, featuring the voice of fellow American Idol judge Paula Abdul. “Paula’s been one of my dearest friends for many years, and we’ve worked on countless projects together,” Jackson points out. “As we’ve sat together on the Idol judging panel, we’ve hinted around about collaborating on some music. Then I found this song and knew it was perfect for Paula; I called her up and said it was time for us to make it happen. She loved the song , and I’m over the moon about having her on the first single on my album.”

In my opinion however, the original version of “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” isn’t as good as some of the later released dance remixes of the song that I’ve heard – I found it to be very frantic, and the background melody seemed only vaguely aware of the lead melody from Paula’s vocals. Perhaps this was the whole point of the song, since you often do see people out on the dance floor without regard to what’s going on around them. Still, it is probably the best song on the CD…which may not be a good thing.

If your musical tastes are anything like mine, you’ll have a hard time finding anything else that you like on this album. “Just Walk on By” has an appealing air of menacing bitchiness that would appeal to some queens. Otherwise, the best I can say is that “What Am I So Afraid Of”, “Who’s Gonna Love You Now”, “Real Love”, and “Willing to Try” stirred up a luke-warm response in me. The worst I can say is “Like A” was a complete and utter turn off, but rap-fans might get a kick out of it.

No disrespect Mr. Jackson, but it just didn’t work for me. Maybe Volume 2 will be better.

“Rockferry” by Duffy

You wouldn’t know it from the dreary black and white cover but this is an absolutely GREAT album! It’s been in my queue of CD reviews for a few months now and I wasn’t too enthused about listening to it until I actually did.

Duffy was born and spent most of her childhood years in the remote north Wales coastal community of Nefyn, where she didn’t have a record collection of her own. The result was an artist who has little outside musical influence. Says former Suede guitarist and record producer Bernard Butler, “It’s hard for cynical music industry types to get their heads around just how far removed she was from our world, geographically and in every other way. What you’ve got as a result is someone who acts and sings completely and unselfconsciously from the heart. That’s a rare and magical thing.”

Surprising to me, the album is classified in the genre of Soul and R&B; I found Duffy’s style bold, haunting and beautiful. The songs are composed completely of classical instruments, and the melodies are probably strong enough to stand on their own without the vocals. That’s not to trivialize the contribution of Duffy’s voice –Dolly Parton meets Hillary Duff - showing an impressive amount of power that, at times, strain the limits of the microphone. Once you hear some of the songs, you’ll realize the black and white cover is an appropriate choice. The reverberation applied to the songs create an aged feeling; the album sounds like something inspired from the 1960’s, and yet Duffy’s pop-friendly voice cuts through it all, injecting new life into an old style.

The album’s theme of lost love is foreshadowed by the heavy and epic first track, “Rockferry”, where Duffy sings about moving away to the entitled town and building her house “with sorrow.” It’s a sharp contrast to the very next song, “Warrick Avenue”, which seems casual and light-hearted even though it describes leaving her partner for the last time.

I like the air of strife in “Stepping Stone”, and “Mercy” blew my mind – I had heard it several times on the radio prior to reviewing this CD and thought, wow, that’s a great song, I wonder who sings it? It probably has the widest appeal of all the tracks, with its cheerful melody somewhat reminiscent of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”.

The phrasing of “Delayed Devotion” is very catchy, and the bittersweet “I’m Scared” might just draw a few tears of sentiment. Finally the album finishes off with the powerful “Distant Dreamer”…nothing to do but play it from the start again!

“Spirit” by Leona Lewis

This album was another case where I was quite familiar with a particular song (from the radio and the TV) and hadn’t made the connection to the artist until I listened to the CD. It’s difficult not to have heard the memorable lyrics, “you cut me open and I keep bleeding, keep keep bleeding love” – love it or hate it, this is Leona Lewis.

Lewis’ powerhouse voice has been compared to Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Céline Dion – Entertainment Weekly warns: “Divas, watch out!”

“Those women are true divas,” the British singer and songwriter Lewis insists. “They’re amazing performers whom I’ve listened to for years. These are the people who’ve inspired me to sing, so it’s flattering that I’m being compared to them. But I have a lot of hard work to do first!”

You can expect a lot of R&B-style ballads on this CD – oh great, new material for drag queens to bore us with! (Just kidding.) But if you like such sentimental stylings, this album will deliver, especially with “Better in Time”, “I Will Be”, “I’m You”, “Angel” and the two bonus tracks, if you get them. “The First Time Ever I Saw your Face” is so slow it’s almost comatose, but if you can sit still for that long, you’ll appreciate its beauty.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for a little more energy there are still a handful of tracks that will be of interest. “Forgive Me” is reminiscent of Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape” (it even features a recognizable sound effect from the song). “Misses Glass” is also pretty upbeat, but the backup melody is a bit weak.

I swear that I’ve heard “Whatever it Takes” somewhere before, but I can’t put my finger on it – really good song though. Finally, the album finishes off with the powerful and poignant “Take a Bow”.

(GC)



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