Archive | October 2010

I Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin, 1967

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When I bought Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, I made two lists: recordings that sounded interesting that I should check out at some point, and albums that I should actively pursue and pay money for, pronto.  I Never Loved A Man was in the second category.  I didn’t already own this record because I’ve always thought that Aretha was a hit-maker, but not necessarily an artful album-releaser, so I was surprised when Moon listed two of her albums, (along with Amazing Grace, which I’m still in search of for cheap on vinyl) instead of one really good collection that included all of her power ballads and historic gospel tracks. 

So anyway, this has been on my purchase-upon-sight-list for about half a year now, and I found it recently on a Sabbath Monday record shop stroll.  The album artwork is truly one of Aretha’s few beautiful covers, with the Queen of soul herself looking pensive and candid.  As Tom Moon directed, I remembered that this album historically propelled its heroine both into the mainstream, and onto a level shared with the fathers of soul, and listened to it as a beginning.  I pretended to have never heard neither the crisp and lively voice that was about to burst from the speakers, nor what has become The feminist anthem of our time.  I imagined that I knew ‘Respect’ only because Otis Redding recorded it first, and that the last time I heard strong feminine soul music it was through the vocal chords of Jazz’s triple-threat: Billie, Ella, and Sarah – powerful and deep, yes, but a different game entirely.  I placed myself in 1967 as best I could. 
And this record completely.  Blew.  Me.  Away.
She begins with ‘Respect’.  If that by itself doesn’t demand it, I don’t know what does.  She is bold and I can’t take my ears off her, because she means every word, every horn shot, and every pitch inflection.  She takes Otis’s ingenious-to-begin-with track, and gives it a whole new meaning as she represents the other half of the human population, bringing the song into the hearts of generations of people – men and women alike. 
And then, just when you think this woman has established her confidence and strength, she drops the saddest song in the world.  When anyone else sings ‘Drown In My Own Tears’, it’s nothing but melodrama, but I am pretty sure Aretha is channeling Billie Holiday, because I believe every word. 
The remainder of side-1 continues to dig deep into the emotional life of this mesmerizing woman of strength and beauty, while highlighting original tunes of herself and her fellow musicians (such as Soul Serenade which was written by T Sax player, King Curtis).  The title track makes it clear why she was launched onto the billboards, and is not nearly played enough compared to some of Aretha’s other huge singles. 
I never want to skip a single track on this record, but I do start to bounce a little in anticipation of flipping it over.  There is something about the second side of a record – and I say that especially in regards to this one.  Side-2 begins with the three most fun and groovy songs of the album, ‘Dr. Feelgood’, ‘Good Times’, and ‘Do Right Woman – Do Right Man’ (which connects gender-equality and right-relationship perfectly with head-nodding and chair-dancing), and then they are coupled with the desperate, sad, and yet hopeful ‘Save Me’, and Sam Cooke’s track that is strained with urgency: ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.  

I Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You is a true gospel album that speaks, no, sings of both the best and worst of life from the most honest place possible, and ends looking forward with ample faith and confidence.  I feel like I’ve laughed and cried, and am officially ready to start the day.  At 2:30 in the afternoon on a Friday.  

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BJ & Dawn: The Land of Make Believe, 2010

Today marks an historical moment.  This is by far the most recent release I have ever written about.  This past Tuesday BJ Block and Dawn Pemberton’s The Land of Make Believe was released on iTunes, but can also be found on cdbaby.  It’s the work of BJ Block and his friend Dawn Pemberton, who after having many successful shared shows have finally written some music together, and the result is refreshing and uplifting.  Local Vancouverites BJ and Dawn are each incredibly talented musicians, but this is definitely one of those collaborations where the sum is even more than its parts.

The album notes on cdbaby describe The Land of Make Believe as “a children’s record for grown-ups,” and when I read that I laughed out loud.  That is exactly what it is.  BJ’s guitar lines often sound 80’s-Sesame-Street-inspired, and the references to the classic television show get a little less subtle when two tracks, “You Happy?” and “Up and Down” lift direct samples from my favorite Sesame Street guest: Little John John.  The result?  Wisdom from the mouths of babes, and a nostalgic smile on my face.

I’m getting ahead of myself though; those are nearly the last songs on the recording.  “Just Be” beams us straight into a happy “make believe” world, without it feeling too foreign a place.  In fact, a lot of the album has an optimistic take on life in a way that is almost otherworldly, yet Dawn Pemberton’s soulful voice make it thoroughly believable.

When “Unlucky”‘s dirty bass line begins to groove I find myself unexpectedly weighing the ever-debated paradigms of choice vs. circumstance.  “Turn It Around” feels a bit like a continuation of the same thought, but I don’t find it quite as strong.  There are, however, some pretty boss guitar solos.  And I am left wondering whether to call this jazzy soul or soulful jazz.

The next stretch of songs are my favorite, probably because they are all danceable party tracks.  “You Happy?” makes it clear that this is far more than a “children’s album for adults,” but the kind of album that anyone can enjoy.  I am seriously thinking of getting it for my parents, my brother who has three young children, and my teenage nephew who plays guitar.  And I can literally think of nothing else that would be a good gift for all three of those demographics.  Except maybe food.

By the time I’ve thought this thought I realize how perfectly appropriate the name of the next song is: “Everybody’s Party.”  BJ and Dawn just want everyone to have a good time, and I think they’re accomplishing their goals pretty well.  And though the last couple songs have done their job at creating a certain mood for the room, I am quite sure that “Up and Down” makes me want to do the muppet dance (you know, the one with the limp arms?) all on my own.  I can’t help imagine the guitar licks expressing the movement and language of some ridiculous new Jim Henson creature popping up around buildings and from behind trash cans.

The album is rounded out by two slightly more reflective love songs, “Without You” and “Tender,” which do their part in making me crave more from this duo.  BJ and Dawn to answer your question, I am happy too.