For about as long as there has been a pop chart and a country chart, well-written songs have found success on both. Whether it is Patsy Cline taking “Walking After Midnight” to number two on the US Country chart and number 12 on the Pop chart in 1957, or it is dueling versions of the same song by different artists (see “I Swear,” “I Can Love You Like That,” “How Do I Live,” “Back at One,” and of course “I Will Always Love You”), a great song is a great song no matter how much twang you sing it with. We probably should have seen an Adele cover coming from Nashville, but I did not expect to see THIS version:
When I saw that David Nail had recorded a version of “Someone Like You” and was releasing it on an EP, I was nervous. David is an amazing singer and is refreshing in the way he avoids a lot of the Country music clichés, but I didn’t know what his intentions were. Turns out that Nail uses the song to warm up before shows and only recorded the above video for acquaintances who wanted to revisit his powerful interpretation. A video lead to a posting on Vevo, which lead to fans demanding a studio version of the song. Fortunately, David’s record company MCA Nashville decided to play along, scheduling the song for an EP called 1979 that will be released on July 17th.
For those of you not familiar with David Nail, please believe me when I say he’s the real deal. He’s been at the music game for over a decade, but scored his first major hit in 2008 with “Red Light,” which went top 10 on the Country chart and even reached the middle region of the Billboard Hot 100. His biggest hit to date came last year with “Let It Rain,” which went to number one and cemented his status as one to watch. I saw him open for Lady Antebellum on their Need You Now tour in 2010, and he quickly won over an audience who primarily had no idea who he was. In fact, he was so good that he made a band on their first headlining tour look downright amateurish. The one thing I remembered about David Nail’s set is that he did not resort to a lot of covers like other acts do (including Lady Antebellum). He owned that audience simply by playing his own music and playing it well. Any success and respect this guy gets is well-deserved.
After a year where much of my attention was diverted in other directions, I still have something to say about the singles that kept infecting my brain throughout 2011. I have been saying for a couple of years that it was a matter of time until dance music returned to the mainstream, and 2011 made that official. This list is very American, and a bit more mainstream pop than I normally go, but that’s just where my head was this year. As always, a few points of clarification:
- Songs had to have been released (or re-released) in 2011
- While I limit artists to one track per year, Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson and Robyn all make a second appearance due to being a featured artist
- Chart position listed is for the Billboard Hot 100 peak position unless otherwise noted
25. What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)/Kelly Clarkson (US #64 to date) – While the record label was promoting “Mr Know It All” prior to the release of Kelly’s Stronger CD, a leak of “What Doesn’t Kill You” hit the Internet, and it was all over with. Bloggers lost their minds, complaining that this should have been the lead single instead of good-but-not-great track “Mr Know It All.” Then again, that “horrible” lead single ended up going Top 10. “What Doesn’t Kill You” should follow its predecessor into the upper reaches of the Hot 100 with a killer hook and a driving beat after the holidays pass as long as her Ron Paul endorsement doesn’t cause her any backlash.
24. We Found Love/Rihanna (US #1) – Rihanna was pumping out singles this year faster than rabbits have babies, but there’s no doubt that “We Found Love” was the best of all those tracks. Pairing her with Calvin Harris originally seemed like a gimmick, but the combo worked better than most would have guessed, and it’s probably not hard to imagine Calvin now having a similar career in the US as David Guetta now has, with superstar guest vocalists coming out of the woodwork to appear on a hit single. Besides, the musical phrase of the year goes to this track for the chorus “we found love in a hopeless place.” Good luck getting the song out of your head.
23. Don’t Kick the Chair/Dia Frampton feat Kid Cudi (Not Charted) – While most people were talking about the judges on The Voice, there was still a singing competition going on with some solid talent competing for the initial season’s title. Dia Frampton released “The Broken Ones” as her official debut single after coming in second on The Voice, but the label teased “Don’t Kick the Chair” prior to the release of Red and I was instantly hooked. The title refers to a phrase Frampton uses to say “stop your complaining,” and I took that to heart. It probably doesn’t hurt that Dia has some experience recording thanks to her sisterly duo Meg and Dia, but Red is a solid album that American Idol probably wishes they could get their winners to record.
22. The Living Proof/Mary J Blige (Not Charted) – One of my favorite Mary J. Blige songs is “Not Gonna Cry,” which appeared on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. That song was just as powerful as a stand-alone song as it was for the moment it represented in the movie. “The Living Proof” did the same thing for 2011′s feel-good movie “The Help,” and showed once again that Mary does subtle just as well as she does over-the-top emotion.
21. Til Death – Wynter Gordon (US Dance #3) – Wynter Gordon was the dance diva rookie of the year with her album With the Music I Die. While you might know her voice from singing the hook on Flo Rida’s “Sugar,” she came into her own in 2011, placing three singles into the US Dance charts top five, including the #2 hit “Til Death.” With the right single and label push, Wynter could be ripe for crossover success, and “Til Death” might be the song to do it.
20. Storm Warning/Hunter Hayes (US #84, Country #15 to date) – He sings, he plays, he writes, he makes a killer cappuccino! Well, I have no proof of the final item, but you can hear all of the other items on his major-label self-titled CD, as well as on his first hit single. Hunter takes the best elements of pop-country music and makes them his own without it sounding calculated or cheesy. As we already noted, Hayes is well on his way to assuming the niche created by the likes of Bryan White and Rascal Flatts.
19. I Got You/Martha Wash (Not Charted) – The producers of American Idol have more often than not provided their champions with some seriously lightweight songs as their debut singles, but more often than not those songs are quickly overshadowed by legitimate hits. If they really want to find a solid song that captures that confetti moment at the end of the season, they couldn’t do much better than Martha Wash’s “I’ve Got You,” which felt like a coronation song to me the first time I heard it. Martha’s still got the pipes, but she found an empowering ballad that helps show a softer side I haven’t heard since her version of “Someone Who Believes In You” from the early 90s.
18. Moves Like Jagger/Maroon 5 feat Christina Aguilera (US #1) – I sat and watched the initial performance of “Moves Like Jagger” on The Voice in June, and I thought it was a joke. The subject matter, the whistle, the outfits…I thought it was a hot mess. Someone must have thought it was stellar, though, because it instantly went to #1 on iTunes. Airplay soon followed, and then once the visual spectacle was removed from the equation, I started to like the song. And then, I began to love the song. It was worming its way into my head, but I really didn’t care. Even Christina’s vamping on the final chorus was enjoyable. Maroon 5 needed a boost after the last few singles flopped, so it’s been good to see them stretch musically and be rewarded for taking a chance.
17. Put Your Hands Up/Kylie Minogue (US Dance #1) – When Aphrodite came out in 2010, I was taken with the album from start to finish, with the exception of “Better Than Today,” which I still dislike to this day. “Put Your Hands Up” was a joyous romp in the middle of the album, but I thought it would remain an album cut. Enter Pete Hammond, who remixed “Hands” to sound like something from Kylie’s SAW days, and the song ended up becoming Kylie’s fifth #1 in a row on the US Dance chart.
16. Heaven/Emeli Sandé (Not Charted) – Does R&B need a new Queen? If so, Emeli Sandé may be the woman to fill the gap. With its “Funky Drummer” beat propelling it along, “Heaven” feels like a throwback to some of the best dance records of the 90s, but with a deeper soul thanks to Sandé’s passionate plea. “Heaven” soared onto the UK charts, along with feature spots on Top 10 records by Professor Green, Wiley and Chipmunk. Emeli’s album Our Version of Events arrives in the UK on February 13, and the US release should be in June.
15. I Wrote the Book/Beth Ditto (Not Charted) – If you had told me in 2010 that Beth Ditto would release a full-fledged house track in 2011, I would have laughed and said “I WISH!” Fortunately for me and all her fans, that wish was granted in the form of “I Wrote the Book,” which appeared on a four-track EP released in early 2011. Proving she doesn’t have to sing pop punk to be fierce, Beth made the dance diva transition with ease. Extra points for the amazing video that paid tribute to Madonna’s “Justify My Love” while still maintaining her own personality. Next thing you know, a Gossip song will be used in a perfume commercial. Oh wait…
14. Never Will Be Mine/Rye Rye feat Robyn (Not Charted) – In a year where one of the biggest rappers was the larger-than-life Nicki Minaj, it was a great counterpoint to hear a rapper with the lyrical skills of Rye Rye get down to the basic task of using rap to tell a story and set a mood. She succeeded in spades with “Never Will Be Mine,” whose chorus was built around Robyn’s “Be Mine.” In fact, Robyn sang the hook and appeared in the video, leading to another round of “Robyn might get a hit in the US” hope. Alas, we found disappointment in a hopeful place, but Rye Rye’s full-length album should drop sometime in 2012.
13. Bright Lights Bigger City/Cee-Lo (Not Charted) – When Cee-Lo became half of Gnarls Barkley, no one ever anticipated that the group would have a hit as major as “Crazy” was, but that turned out to be the only hit the group had off of their two albums. Fast forward five years, and history repeated itself as “Bright Lights Bigger City” failed to capitalize on the protracted success of “F**k You.” Despite performing the song on multiple shows (including his own The Voice), the song never caught on in the US and never made an appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, even after Wiz Khalifa was added on to a remix version. “Bright Lights” became my going out on Friday/Saturday night song, as well as one of my favorite remixes of the year courtesy of the Shapeshifters.
12. Good Life/OneRepublic (US #8) – So here’s a rarity in the music business: an album released in 2009 saw its biggest hit occur in 2011. While artists like Rihanna and Britney Spears turn out new albums before the last record is fully over, OneRepublic slowly but steadily released quality single after quality single. In the US, they dropped “All the Right Moves” in 2009, “Secrets” in 2010, and then “Good Life” in 2011, and the track became the biggest record in four years for the Colorado-based band. While the song itself is an uplifting, midtempo track with a catchy hook, the downside was that it seemed to usher in a rash of whistle-featuring singles.
11. Give Me Everything/Pitbull (US #1) – Over the past few years, Pitbull has been the go-to guy for pop artists looking to add a hip-hop vibe to their single releases, helping out the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias. Even though he’s scored top 10 records on his own, Pitbull decided to follow that model, enlisting Ne-Yo, Nayer and Afrojack for the first #1 pop hit of his career with “Give Me Everything.” While Pit’s flow was on point as always, Ne-Yo’s vocals soared on the chorus, propelling the track on radios around the world and ending up as the most-played song on the radio in the US in 2011.
10. Rumour Has It/Someone Like You/Glee Cast (US #11) – So there were three Adele singles in 2011 that were released, and all were worthy of inclusion. Well, I get to include two of the three thanks to this brilliant mash-up from the third season of Glee. While I’m not a fan of the show, it is hard to deny that their interpretations of current songs are occasionally worthy of hitting the pop charts, and “Rumour Has It/Someone Like You” fits that bill. The way the two songs are woven together just works, and the visual of the performance just heightens the impact of the song. Both Naya Rivera and Amber Riley excel on the track, and the cast picked up their highest charting song since “Loser Like Me” reached number six in March 2011.
9. Don’t You Wanna Stay/Jason Aldean feat Kelly Clarkson (US #31, Country #1) – Every once in a while I get it right, and the first time I saw Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson sing “Don’t You Wanna Stay” together, I knew it would be a hit. A year later, and not only did the song get to #1 on the Country chart, but it also sold over a million copies and reached the Pop Top 40. You would never know that “Don’t You Wanna Stay” was written for a solo singer because Aldean and Clarkson sell it as a duet so convincingly. If Kelly ever decides to give up pop for country music, she will become one of the biggest female singers in the business instantly.
8. Come On/Will Young (Not Charted) – While much of the blogosphere has anointed Will Young’s first single from Echoes for their end-of-year lists, I am much more drawn to single number two, “Come On.” Will’s voice is perfectly suited for heartbreak, and “Come On” puts that emotion on display as he realizes his love is about to leave him. Despite fears that his career might be waning, Echoes went into the UK album chart at #1, proving that real talent can come out of music reality shows.
7. Otis – Jay-Z/Kanye West (US #12) – When Watch the Throne came out in mid-2011, I thought the second single “Otis” would be their best chance at a mainstream hit, but who could have guessed that a slot on the Victoria’s Secret would launch an unlikely track like “Ni**as in Paris” into the Billboard Hot 100 top five? Based on an extended sample of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” I still grin listening to these two master MCs brag on their skills while demonstrating why they can do just that. This is some serious rappers’ delight.
6. Call Your Girlfriend/Robyn (Not Charted) – I continue to be frustrated by the way the US remains shut to Robyn’s music. Not even an opening slot on Katy Perry’s tour or an appearance on Saturday Night Live in December could get this song to chart, although it did surface on the iTunes charts for a hot minute. Robyn needs just one solid break, and then I am positive every single released over the past six years could be released in the States to sell millions of copies and dominate the radio. That would be justice. This final salvo from the Body Talk trilogy was pure pop abandon…being the other woman has never sounded so reasonable.
5. Super Bass/Nicki Minaj (US #3) – If you had asked me mid-year what track of Nicki’s would be on my year-end, it would have been “Moment 4 Life,” with Young Money labelmate Drake along for the ride. However, it would turn out to be Pink Friday bonus track “Super Bass” that rocked my world. Nicki showed in 2011 that you could be pop AND street on the same album, and she did that on her own terms. Like Drake, Nicki cultivates a persona that can’t be fully pinned down, and she ruled the sales and airplay charts as a result. The hook alone was worth the price of admission, but it was her playful rap delivery that sealed the deal.
4. Disco Moment/Bright Light Bright Light (Not Charted) – The slow trudge to 2012 and a full-length Bright Light Bright Light record seemed a little bit closer in 2011, thanks to the single release of “Disco Moment.” In fact, my favorite piece of mail this year was the envelope that contained the autographed single. Rod Thomas’s tale of confronting the end of a relationship conveyed both the angst and the relief of a toxic situation coming to a close. If you’re looking for an heir to the Pet Shop Boys’ place in pop and dance music, allow me to suggest Bright Light Bright Light.
3. Pumped Up Kicks/Foster the People (US #3) – A confession: I didn’t give Foster the People much attention initially because I felt they fit into the hipster group of the moment, but after hearing “Pumped Up Kicks” a couple of times, I quickly changed my mind. The song was worked to Alternative radio in 2010, but 2011 was when the track blew up at pop radio and battled for song of the summer against lesser singles. How a song that sounds happy and perky on the surface but talks about gun violence underneath the surface became a Top Five hit, I have no idea, but I’m not mad about it.
2. Take Care/Drake feat Rihanna (US #9 to date) – I spent much of 2011 waiting for Drake to leak his next track for the world to peruse, and I was rarely disappointed. The problem with hearing samples that you love from an upcoming album is that you are probably going to be disappointed with the remaining tracks not worthy of leaking. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with Take Care, which debuted at #1 on the album chart. Just prior to the release, Drake and Nicki Minaj performed “Make Me Proud” on Saturday Night Live, which the song went Top 10 the next week. In any other situation that song would have made my year-end list, but then Take Care was released, and Drake’s duet with Rihanna on the title cut blew me away. To this day I am amazed that Drake gets away with these downright dance pop tracks and still keeps his street cred, but I hope he keeps doing it. “Take Care” is just a piano and bass thump away from being a House anthem, and all I wanted for Christmas was a fully-realized House remix. Check out Mike Irish’s remix if you want an idea of what I’m talking about, but if anyone knows Frankie Knuckles, please pass on my request.
1. Set Fire to the Rain/Adele (US #7 to date) – In an album full of classics, it was hard to pick just one song to include, but since she technically only released three singles in 2011 (“Someone Like You” and “Rumour Has It” were the other two), I didn’t have to deliberate too hard. Although “Someone” turned into a massive hit and “Rumour” held a couple of radio formats over in between official singles, “Set Fire to the Rain” sounded unique and fresh on the radio when it hit the US airwaves in November. For my money, it’s the most powerful and passionate performance from 21, and deserves to be as big a hit as “Someone Like You.”
Adele became one of the most unexpected success stories of 2009, having upset favorites like Lady Antebellum and the Jonas Brothers for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards. Propelled by her two Grammy wins (she also won Best Female Pop Performance) and her appearance on Saturday Night Live in October 2008, Adele’s debut CD 19 went on to sell over 900,000 copies in the US and close to two million copies worldwide. Because of this success, all eyes were on Adele as she prepared to release her sophomore release 21 in early 2011. Thankfully, she exceeded all of those expectations with a CD that is light years beyond what most 21-year-olds could comprehend, much less produce.
Adele Rocks It Out
Lead single “Rolling In the Deep” kicks in with a driving beat that eggs on Adele’s vocal to a bluesy, soulful sound that wasn’t as prominent on 19. Second track “Rumour Has It” has a 60s influence that matches the best tracks by contemporaries Duffy or Amy Winehouse while still sounding contemporary and relevant. Some of the credit for this goes to producer Ryan Tedder, who brings some of his more unique instrument choices to the track. However, most of the credit goes to Adele’s voice, which can be husky and weathered on a track like “Rumour Has It,” but sharp and clear as a bell on “One and Only.”
Adele Remains True
Ryan Tedder also co-wrote “Turning Tables,” which harkens back to Adele’s first CD 19 in part due to producer Jim Abbiss. Even though “Turning Tables” sounds much like “Chasing Pavements,” the listener can still hear growth and maturity as Adele sings “Next time I’ll be braver/I’ll be my own savior/When the thunder calls for me.” Rather than asking how she should respond, Adele knows herself and how to proceed.
Another song that fits the power ballad model that many of Adele’s fans know and love is “Set Fire to the Rain,” produced by Fraser T. Smith. Much like his earlier work on James Morrison’s “Broken Strings,” Fraser T. Smith takes a song that would simply be a run-of-the-mill ballad in the hands of most producers and creates a smoldering track that seems to burn upon contact with Adele’s precise vocals. The restraint shown by Adele singing “Set Fire to the Rain” up until the end is impressive, considering that vocalists with less skill and ability would vamp every line of the song to compensate.
The Heart of the Matter
While you could break down how Adele has progressed sonically and vocally, it all comes down to the vulnerability and sincerity displayed in her music. The wounds are still fresh as Adele sings “Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you” in the song of the same name, and you know as well as she does that this might be true or this might be a brave face. Even on her cover of The Cure’s “Love Song,” Adele still brings her own context and perspective, giving a more sensitive delivery that is true to who she is.
No matter how you relate to the material, Adele taps into something that few singers ever achieve in their entire career, let alone by the time they reach their early 20s. To release a career-defining album with the class and sophistication of 21 that seems genuine and authentic is a testament to both the artist and the material. The musical world is Adele’s to explore, and those of us who count ourselves as fans will continue to be the winners as she continues to evolve.
As usual, sorry for the lack of posting. For once, I have a good reason for this, and I will update that in the next few days. But until then, here’s someone else who has had an extended absence…
Adele’s second album, entitled 21, will be released January 24th in the UK, February 22nd in the US. Is it February yet?
Adele has released an American version of “Hometown Glory” that currently is only available through VH1.com (WordPress and MTV apparently don’t play well together), but this is actually the third video that I am aware of. Granted, video #1 wasn’t actually official, as it was pulled from the BBC2 show “Sound”, but for many people, this was the first visual they had for Adele (over 4,000,000 views so far).
Video #2 was official, and is a lush performance piece that Adele looks amazing in. I love the parting shot of the mic, but the whole piece has a great impact.
So what is the verdict on the new video? “Lovely” is the first word that comes to mind, and for once, I mean it as a compliment. If there was an award for best cinematography for videos (does MTV even bother with that anymore?), this one should already have it. I don’t really care for the way it ends, but the other 98% of the video is brilliant. Thoughts?
There are some pretty cool things going on here in the non-virtual world, so updates won’t be coming quite as regularly for the next week. Without going into too much detail, there are a couple of cool professional/academic challenges that need to be met, along with a top-secret mission in the personal life that will be accomplished by Sunday night. I’m hoping that I can fill y’all in next week. [BTW, the clock is in tribute to PSB, who are now up for pre-orders for their upcoming CD. It's a good time to be a fan of pop music.]
What I would like to mention really quick is that, while folks were initially talking about Alison Krauss & Robert Plant, Jennifer Hudson, and Sugarland being the recipients of bumps, it looks like Adele really came out the big winner. Krauss & Plant’s current #1 is a given, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Best New Artist pick up this much momentum off of a Grammy win without having significant success prior to the show. After having been blown away by the response that she received off of the Saturday Night Live performance, it looks like the record company did a perfect job of positioning her to peak at just the right time. The challenge at this point is how do you capitalize on this, because I’ve felt all along that “Chasing Pavements” was the only song that really stood a chance on pop radio here in America. Could “Hometown Glory” be a hit? I hope so, but I just don’t know.
It’s time to do the Great Swami predictions for the Grammy Awards, and while I have some clear favorites, this year seems to be just a tad more difficult to predict, due to some bizarre wins over the past few years. I’ll give it a go here, but please let me know what you all think.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Alison Krauss & Robert Plant, Raising Sand (Prediction)
Coldplay, Viva La Vida (Pick)
Ne-Yo, Year Of The Gentleman
Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
Radiohead, In Rainbows
While I gave the Ne-Yo CD a great review this past year, I just feel like he’s in over his head in this category. Lil Wayne pulled a great collection of tracks together, and Radiohead did their thing, but I really think this is going to be between the ubiquitous Coldplay and the critical darlings Krauss & Plant. The Nashville voting block has become much stronger over the past few years, so Raising Sand gets the edge.
BEST NEW ARTIST
The Jonas Brothers
My concerns of Adele and Duffy canceling each other out have faded, as Adele’s popularity peaked at exactly the right time. Everyone else’s efforts really feel like debuts, while Adele’s 19 has the soul of a veteran, and should triumph.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
Adele, “Chasing Pavements”
Coldplay, “Viva La Vida” (Pick)
Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love”
M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (Prediction)
Robert Plant and Alison Kraus, “Please Read The Letter”
Since Record of the Year addresses production, you really have to give credit to Coldplay, who took their usual formula and gave it enough of a tweak to result in a truly uplifting record, but I have a hunch that M.I.A. will be the hipster pick of the night.
SONG OF THE YEAR
“American Boy,” William Adams, Keith Harris, Josh Lopez, Caleb Speir, John Stephens, Estelle Swaray & Kanye West, songwriters
“Chasing Pavements,” Adele Adkins & Eg White, songwriters (Pick)
“I’m Yours,” Jason Mraz, songwriter
“Love Song,” Sara Bareilles, songwriter
“Viva La Vida,” Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion & Chris Martin, songwriters (Prediction)
The hardest category for me to pick, since all of the songs on this list appeared on my Top Songs of 2007 and 2008. From a songwriter’s standpoint, voters will be hard-pressed to vote for Estelle’s seven songwriters. I’m not sure that Adele and Sara have enough clout with their records, so the prediction comes down to Coldplay and Jason Mraz. Edge definitely goes to Coldplay, although Mraz was still on the radio when the voters got their ballots.
And to mix things up a bit… BEST DANCE RECORDING
Daft Punk, “Harder Better Faster Stronger” (Prediction)
Hot Chip, “Ready For The Floor”
Lady Gaga & Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance”
Madonna, “Give It 2 Me” (Pick)
Sam Sparro, “Black & Gold”
With Kanye’s “Stronger” having been everywhere at the end of 2007, I fear that this live version of Daft Punk will get the nomination, but for my money, the true dance song on the list is Madonna. Having said all of this, Sam’s record seemed to be the hip “go-to” record at wildly different concerts throughout the year, so I’m wondering if there might not be an edge in there.
BEST ELECTRONIC/DANCE ALBUM
Brazilian Girls, New York City
Daft Punk, Alive 2007
Cyndi Lauper, Bring Ya To The Brink (Pick)(Prediction)
Kylie Minogue, X
Moby, Last Night
Y’all know I love me some Robyn, and the album is terrific, but Cyndi’s record IS a dance album. Brilliant album, and should grab the Grammy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kylie pick this up, though. Dance seems to be the only category she can win in.
Adele, for all of her success, has had a rough road this past year. One tour was curtailed by illness, and a second one was scrapped due to family drama. “Chasing Pavements”, which is up for Record of the Year at this year’s Grammy Awards, didn’t get as much airplay as it could have, due to an Internet myth that the title referred to gay sex. There really isn’t a convenient time for things to go wrong, is there?
Last Thursday, Denver finally got to check out Adele live in person, and as an added bonus, she brought fellow Brit James Morrison along for the ride. Since I found out about the show through her Facebook group, I didn’t even know about the opening act until a few days before the show. Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed with the billing, considering some of the weak acts I’ve seen recently as opening acts (Jazmine Sullivan, I’m still holding a grudge).
The beauty of the James Morrison set is that most folks kinda knew who he was, but weren’t so fanatic that it got out of hand. My friend Brian momentarily confused him with James Blunt, and I can sadly see where he’s coming from. When James tours the UK in March and April, I’m sure it will be mayhem, but the Denver crowd was enjoying it without being obnoxious. You could tell that he was winning over the non-familiar as the show went on, though.
Musically, the set was terrific, as it was only James on guitar, with another guitar player and a keyboard player. He did a great job of going back and forth between music from “Undiscovered” and “Songs for You, Truths for Me”, and while the audience may not have known a lot of the music, they gave him a much warmer reception than the usual opening act gets. For songs that needed some percussion, he utilized an effects box to loop some vocals and tambourine to great effect.
Honestly, I can’t think of anything that was bad about the set. My friend Brian was hoping that Adele would come out and sing Nelly Furtado’s part on “Broken Strings”, but James actually sang it on his own, with a very decent falsetto to differentiate between the first and second verses. It was odd to me to hear it buried in the middle of the set, knowing how big it is in his homeland currently, but the overall flow of the set was great. Showstopper of the set was “When I Was Little” from the new disc.
The highlight of the opening act for me, though, was actually meeting James Morrison during the intermission. Here’s how different things are between the UK and the US: “Songs for You” was on sale for $10, and by purchasing it, you got to meet James in between sets. Not being one to pass up a photo op or a deal on music, I bought the CD and got my golden ticker (or wristband). He seemed to be in great spirits and enjoying the interaction, and I got momentarily tongue-tied, before telling him that I knew of several friends in the UK that would have loved to have seen him perform acoustically like that. He gave me that “sure…whatever you say” type look, but it didn’t really matter. The show was great, and I already felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth.
Big props to Adele on the intermission, because it was one of the fastest changeovers I’ve ever seen at a concert. Granted, they didn’t have a huge band set-up, but even the smaller bands seem to think there has to be a minimum of 45 minutes in between sets. With this show, Adele was out on stage within a half-hour of Morrison’s set ending. Of note for me was the playing of “Single Ladies” in full with the lights down as the band took the stage. Beyonce suddenly gets to play “hype man” for an Adele show…who knew?
The set started off with “Cold Shoulder”, and it was a stellar start. Her band was tight, and at times they let loose with a seriously funky groove. I’m not sure if it was just a bad mix, or if she intentionally planned this, but at times her vocal just dropped right into the middle of the band, simply being a part of the mix. It worked most of the time, but once or twice the vocals got lost in the power of the drums, but that’s a minor complaint at best.
With only one CD under her belt, Adele had to rely on a few covers. Of course, she played Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”, which hushed the crowd, but she also rolled out soul classics from the likes of Etta James and Sam Cooke. While definitely enjoyable, it was the original stuff that the crowd really got into. “Hometown Glory” had some amazing impact live, “Crazy For You” showed strength in simplicity, and “Best For Last” had the crowd clapping along on the chorus as Adele pounded away on the bass guitar.
With all of the great music, you would think that there would be some downside, but really, there wasn’t. Adele couldn’t have been more sweet, and her banter with the audience came across as extremely genuine. She was all apologies on the first two missed shows, and even braced the audience for a muddy mix with the bass (although it sounded find to me). By the end of the show, I really wanted to just hang out with her. Either she’s got an amazing acting persona, or she really is the girl from school who was always cracking self-effacing jokes.
Highlights for me were “Daydreams”, which was just her and a guitar, and of course “Chasing Pavements”. I felt bad for Adele, because for new acts like her, that should be their shining moment where the whole crowd sings along, but “Chasing” really isn’t a sing-along song, is it? Trust me when I say that there was no disappointment with the set. The audience actually wanted to give her a second encore, but the house lights came up after the first one, and we were off to our cars much too soon for our liking. Don’t get me wrong…it was a full show, and I could have stood through another whole show like that. A show like that doesn’t come around often, so I know I’ll remember this one fondly for quite some time.
Despite my best intentions, I wasn’t able to post this list yesterday, so you get it on January 1st. What better way to welcome 2009 to the world than to show it what it will have to live up to.
1. Adele/19 – I went back and forth between the top 3 for weeks, but in the end, the impact of a new artist releasing a solid, soulful and substantive disc won out. One moment sassy, the next downright depressed, Adele takes you on an emotional rollercoaster throughout “19”. There wasn’t a lyric sung this year that resonated with me more than “should I give up/or should I just keep chasing pavements/even if it leads nowhere”. This is definitely the start of a substantial career.
2. Jason Mraz/We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things – Don’t get me started on this one. If Oprah can have her muses and advisors, then I call dibs on Mr. A-Z. “Live High” became my mantra, “I’m Yours” held multiple meanings through the year, “A Beautiful Mess” hit a little too close to home, and “Details in the Fabric” walked me through my darkest moments.
3. Will Young/Let It Go – I “found” Will this year. It’s not like I didn’t know who he was, but Will Young found a body of songs worthy of his interpretation. The title song moved me like few songs this year, and the rest of this opus didn’t disappoint, either. I may have to admire him from afar for years to come, but it will be worth the effort. Key tracks are “Changes”, “Let It Go”, “Love”, and “Won’t Look Down”.
4. Keane/Perfect Symmetry – Watching Keane grow as a group has been an interesting activity, especially with the way that their music has evolved. While many were more focused on watching lead singer Tom Chapin for some type of stumble after his time in rehab, I was more concerned about the music, and it didn’t disappoint. In addition, “Symmetry” inspired some pretty uniquevideos.
5. Solange/Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams – I’ve seen a lot of slogging of Beyonce this year when Solange’s album is mentioned, and while I have my issues with “I Am…Sasha Fierce”, I won’t play into those negative comments. Solange was in the enviable position of having the money behind her as a new artist to create a record that had musical integrity, and she definitely made the most of it. “Sandcastle Disco” was a revelation, “I Decided” stands as a tribute to those Motown legends that paved the way, and “Cosmic Journey” turned out to be a perfect pairing between Solange and Bilal. Solange, you are now forgiven for your debut record.
6. Kanye West/808s & Heartbreaks – “Graduation” was my #3 CD last year, and it’s very possible that, had this come out earlier, “808s” may have been higher, but I hope that doesn’t detract from my respect for the disc. Kanye decided to take his pain and channel it into his work, and the results are, at times, breathtaking. “Paranoid” is a personal best for him, “Love Lockdown” is sonically stunning, and “Heartless” does a great job of bridging the gap between the current sound of hip-hop, and some new territory that only Kanye can take us to.
7. David Cook/David Cook – This disc was a grower, for me, as I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by it on first listen. But Cookie won me over, and it is now one of my most-played records in my car. As I noted in my review, this is the CD that David was meant to record, and he doesn’t disappoint. It rocks, but with a bit of class that many of the cookie-cutter (no pun intended) rock groups can’t seem to find. Highlights include “Declaration”, “A Daily Anthem”, and “Come Back To Me”.
8. Killers/Day and Age – For me, no release this year was as fraught with expectations as the Killers’ third CD, due to the amazing impact of “Human”. Would they be able to carry it off and deliver a consistent record, or would they have one flash of inspiration, surrounded by mediocre filler? Hopefully, you’ll gather my decision based on its ranking. “The World We Live In”, “Joy Ride”, and “Neon Tiger” all carried the torch. My only complaint about “Day” is the closing track, “Goodnight, Travel Well”, which just seems out of place. Anyone want to wager on Stuart Price coming back for disc #4?
9. Ne-Yo/Year of the Gentleman – I referred to this record as Ne-Yo’s version of Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous”, and I meant that as a high compliment. Not only did Ne-Yo come up with his most cohesive record to date, but he did it with style and diversity. “Year” is not a cookie-cutter of his hit formula; instead, there are multiple styles all working together to show some serious personality. It’s good to know that Mr. Yo wasn’t giving away all of his hits.
10. Keyshia Cole/A Different Me – Wow…the newest CD on the list, and I’m just blown away. Keyshia and her producers definitely stepped up, adding a level of sophisticated to her music that threatens to add credibility to the “next Mary J Blige” title that people have been throwing around for the past few years. Highlights include the trifecta of “Playa Cardz Right”, which features a downright spooky cameo from 2Pac, “Brand New”, and “Trust”, a beautiful duet with Monica.
Now for the rest of the Top 25:
11. Alanis Morissette/Flavors of Entanglement
12. Aimee Mann/@#%&*! Smilers
13. Ferras/Aliens & Rainbows
14. k.d. lang/Watershed
15. Sam Sparro/Sam Sparro
16. Shelby Lynne/Just a Little Lovin’
17. Coldplay/Viva La Vida
18. Lady Antebellum/Lady Antebellum
19. Mark Broussard/Keep Coming Back
20. Michelle Williams/Unexpected
22. The Script/The Script
23. Sheryl Crow/Detours
25. Alphabeat/This Is Alphabeat
And while I don’t include EPs on this list, there were two this year that really rocked my world. Check out my write-up on Raining Jane here, and look for a write-up on Georgia Wonder in the next couple of weeks.
26. Raining Jane/Paper Nest EP
27. Georgia Wonder/Hello Stranger EP