As promised, here is my first batch of CD reviews for your perusal. Trust me when I say that titles will be all over the place. My taste in music runs from pure pop to R&B, hip-hop, country, dance, alternative, and even fringe stuff like bluegrass. No matter where my musical taste goes, though, there always seems to be a pop sensibility to the music I like, so that’s where my pop music definition lies. “If I like it, it must be pop.”
– Amy Grant, “Lead Me On: 20th Anniversary Edition” – Amy’s liberation from her old label Word has so far been an interesting transition to Sparrow. Because of her status (and a smart contract negotiation), all of her masters have followed her to Sparrow, and they are taking advantage of that by re-releasing older material while waiting for new music to be recorded. Back in 2007, Sparrow said that they would be remastering her older music as they re-release it,
but I don’t see any trace of that on this reissue and the booklet says that this was remastered by Bob Ludwig. In addition, there are some cool acoustic and live versions of the music that really helped bridge Amy’s crossover from strictly Christian pop to a more mainstream audience.
The original music definitely withstands the test of time, and is among my all-time favorite albums. While there are very blatant Christian themes floating throughout the record, even folks who aren’t explicitly Christian can find some common themes about finding your way and your place in the world. To a 19-year-old dealing with so many personal struggles at the time of this record’s release, it was a revelation. None of the impact of this record has diminished in my mind over the last 20 years. The live tracks capture that excitement, and you can feel her deep enthusiasm for the then-new material. Makes me wish I’d been able to see her live back then.
What doesn’t work as well, though, are the acoustic recordings. That earnest, longing vibe that Amy imbued every song with in her youth gives way to a more mellow, longing tone, as if she wishes she were back in those days, and some of the impact of the originals is lost. Having said that, they are beautiful recordings, and if I didn’t have the originals to compare them to, I think I would be raving about them. But as a whole, I’m not sure that the extra material is worth the new version without remastered versions of the original to make it worth your while.
Original – A+; New Material – B
– Lady Gaga, “The Fame” – I have friends and acquaintances that have already annointed this record the Album of the Year, but I’m not quite there. As dance/pop records go, this is definitely high quality, but I am just not feeling the magnitude of the praise just yet. Lady G (aka Stefani Germanotta) cites 70s and 80s influences, including David Bowie, and that’s apparent in her music.
My issue is that sometimes when the influence is easy to hear, it’s distracting from artist’s true vision and message, because utilizing someone else’s influence will automatically jade your opinion if you’re familiar with the source material. And herein lies my problem…I can hear the David Bowie, the Madonna, and the new wave influences. A song like “I Like It Rough”, which doesn’t exactly have heavy-duty lyrical content, sounds like a lighter version of something that Terri Nunn would have sung back in the heyday of Berlin’s run on the charts. If you’re going to lean on your influences that heavily, you have to really step up and make it shine even brighter than the original source.
Don’t get me wrong…there are some amazing tracks here. “Just Dance” set the stage for this record’s release perfectly, “Love Game” is nasty pop at its finest (“Let’s have some fun/this beat is sick/I wanna take a ride on your disco stick”), and the shuffling beat of “Again Again” does exactly what other tracks on this album fail to do; bring something new to the table. It’s a great first effort, and I hope she gets a chance to record a second album, but she’s only partway up the mountain so far. [FYI…this is the Canadian release of the CD. From what I’ve read, the US release (due late October) will have at least one different track. Why they are waiting on the release, I have no clue.]
The Fame – B-
– Solange, “Sol-Angel and The Hadley St. Dreams” – Remember what I was saying about bringing something new to the table? Solange gets it. Say what you want to say about the Knowles clan, but they’ve got some impressively impeccable taste in music. Take “Dancing in the Dark” (not The Boss)…Herb Alpert horns, xylophones, and melodies that are reminiscent of the Motown sound, and yet her arrangement and delivery bring it right up to date.
Throughout this CD, you hear a very clear R&B influence, but the directions that Solange takes it are impressive for a 22-year-old woman. That’s not to say someone younger isn’t capable of this, but I think she has paid attention to her influences not only in a stylistic way, but has also noted the FEELING that goes along with those influences. Sometimes her sister has runs in a song for show, but not really for depth. Solange’s delivery matches each and every song, not distracting from the mood or the environment that she’s attempting to set up. There’s no fear on this record, just joy. “I Decided” is one such piece of joy, soaring with melodies reminiscent of Martha and the Vandellas, but with one toe firmly on the 21st century firmament. Current single “Sandcastle Disco” is brilliant in several ways, but probably the most important way to me is that there is nothing else like it on the radio like it, which may mean that it never gets played on the radio. The video debuted at #4 on TRL this week, though, so hopefully that’s a good start.
If I have any qualms about the CD, it’s that some of the songs hit a little too close to Beyonce territory. “Valentine’s Day” sounds like an extra track from the “B-Day” sessions, but you’ve got to cut her a little slack, since she’s actually written songs for Beyonce (“Get Me Bodied” comes to mind). That’s a minor complaint, though. If I was pressed to start picking CDs for my Best Of list this year, “Sol-Angel” would be on that short list.
Sol-Angel – A