When JSaysOnline commemorated the release anniversary of Danity Kane's last album "Welcome to the Dollhouse" (I loved Danity Kane; they were racially diverse & had no lead singer) back in March, former member Shannon Bex was kind enough to do an interview with us to talk about the album, the group and of course, her current endeavors. At the time, she was working on a new country EP, "I'm a Woman," which is now available on ITunes. Here's the music video to her official single, "I'm Out." One of the things I've loved about Bex since following her career is that she has such eclectic musical tastes. The song may be country, but she's giving us "pop life" (shout-out to Prince) with awesome choreography in the video (Bex is a trained dancer, by the way). Hit the comment button and let me know what you think of the song. You can keep up with Shannon at http://www.shannonbex.com/
Rimmel Makeup (2011)
Album review (EP).
Overall: LOVE IT! If you like 80’s music or Prince, you will enjoy this. Great lyrics & production.
It’s been a minute since we’ve last heard from Solange, the unconventional and slightly eccentric R&B singer-songwriter who just so happens to be Beyonce’s younger sister (I’m sure some may dislike the sibling mention, but I’m a Beyonce` fan; I couldn’t resist). Solange took a funky, adorable and creative dive into 60’s soul and added a modern-day twist to 2008’s “Sol-Angel & the Hadley St. Dreams,” and with her new 7-track EP, “True,” she takes us to the 80’s. “True” sounds like the album a talented Prince protégé would release. The production and musicality is delightful and attractive with live instrumentation and rock influences. It’s “groovy,” dare I say it. I just found myself completely immersed in it. This quality is further enhanced by lyrical content. Writing is Solange’s forte. She’s able to take typical song concepts, such as romance, and present them in a unique way by using unusual, but foreseeable metaphors and symbolism without being too abstract (there are only a few murky moments). My only issue with the lyrics is that there was one too many expletives. I suspect Solange has an expanded vocabulary, so I’m not sure why such elementary and tacky language is needed for expression. Vocally, Solange doesn’t have the most versatile or wide range, but her strength is that she knows how to use her voice; she never gets too ambitious and the vocal arrangements are complimentary. For those who appreciate Solange’s throwback approach, but found the 60’s too far back in the vault, “True” will be a better fitting shoe.
by Eddie J., Contributing Writer
Likes: Stubborn, Next Move, I Choose You.
Dislikes: Hey Sexy, Get It Right
Overall: a few elements of musical development, typical lyrical themes. Generally okay, but not extraordinary.
Keyshia Cole’s 5th album “Woman to Woman” treads regularly-traveled territory. It’s supposed to be specifically written for women with relationship troubles, which at this point in Cole’s career (as well as R&B’s rap sheet) is annoyingly redundant. With that in mind, the lyrics can be summed up as “I’m over you, but I love having sex with you…I want love, but love doesn’t want me…oh and I love you.” There is no real need to focus on Cole’s trite songwriting or lack of thematic elements, though. After releasing the same screwed up love-story for 4 other albums, it’s somewhat expected.
Musically, this album exhibits the very thing I hate about the current state of R&B music, while giving me a few glimmers of hope that these vices will soon be challenged by Cole. For example, the first 5 songs all exemplify everything you would expect from Keyshia Cole: forgettable hooks with “soul-filled” vocals and predictable beats, but then the electric piano of “Woman to Woman” comes in with a promising air of more interesting chords. The magic ends there unfortunately once she and featured artist Ashanti begin singing in a non-melodic, forgettable manner. After listening to “Woman,” I was going to make the statement that Keyshia Cole is probably one of the most uncreative artists out, both vocally and musically. Even mediocre talents like Rihanna can give us a gritty “Rated R” every once in a while to shake up the listening base, but Cole for some odd reason likes to stay in the same place. However, she proved me wrong 9 tracks into the album with the climax “Stubborn,” where she webs R&B and hip-hop club with dub step and Euro-pop (there’s even a moment for a good old fashioned “Jersey Shore” fist pump after the bridge). “Next Move” also peaks musical interest with a Broadway-like intro. Hopefully this will be Cole’s bridge into a new world of music that will make her more fascinating, because she pulls it off quite well.
Vocally, my original statement reigns true. For some reason, we only get 2 vocal textures: a low, composed, sometimes raspy tone and a loud, shout-like chest voice, all of which is of course assisted with pitch correction. Cole honestly sings too high in chest voice and it’s somewhat obvious that she won’t be able to pull off most of these songs live. The vocal crest of the album is “I Choose You” (which resembles “Love” from her debut album), containing a loud, shrill, strained chest voice with occasional switches into head voice. The song calls for a high head-voice note (ex. the end of “Speechless” by Beyonce`), but Keyshia refuses to provide it. Throughout the album, her technique is very questionable, and sadly, a male surpasses her range (ex. Elijah Blake in “Wonderland”). On the flip side, she allows the influences of Brandy to shine through her raspy tones. The background vocals are so remotely close to Brandy, you’d think she came in to add a few layers (ex. second verse of “Stubborn”).
Overall, I’d only suggest purchasing this album if you’re a huge Keyshia fan or want a somewhat good depiction of what Cole is about as an artist. Cole has a lot to improve on as a vocalist and songwriter. Hopefully, she’ll learn this in time for the next album.
Likes: Brand New Me, Fire We Make, Not Even a King, One Thing
Overall: Sexy & evocative; some basic lyrics
After the underwhelming and bland “Element of Freedom” and a post-pregnancy hiatus that seemed too long, Alicia Keys comes back a “Girl on Fire”- sort of. Keys’ favorite topics, all-consuming love and personal growth, are sometimes expressed in a cliché` manner and musically, the mostly mid-tempo album fails to really go ablaze. However, Keys’ passionate delivery (albeit occasionally out of her vocal range) united with the mix of tender, sultry (especially “Fire We Make” with Maxwell) and charismatic production make for an enchanting album. Additionally, the singer-songwriter’s ability to easily mesh a variety of genres (ex. jazz, classical & reggae) and influences from various time periods (60’s, 70’s & 90’s) with the contemporary is always stunning and well-appreciated. The most unnecessary facet is the disruptive and detached feature from Nicki Minaj on the title track that can stand on its own. Looking at her entire of body of work, “Girl on Fire” could be considered Keys’ sexiest and most intimate record. Another plus in comparison to previous albums is that there is NO FILLER. One might mark a track or two as their least favorite, but not utterly useless. Comprehensively, there still isn’t much of a break or change from her artistic formula, but in her case, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s a formula that’s pleases on all fronts: creatively salient, heartfelt and appealing to the masses.
Likes: Diamonds, Stay, Nobody’s Business
Dislikes: Phresh Off the Runway, Jump, Pour it Up
Overall: Half trash, half introspection
Ever since Rihanna’s “Rated R” in 2009, I’ve liked her albums less and less. I had utter disdain for the last “Talk That Talk,” which, in my opinion, lacked some of the rudiments that make her music artistically tolerable. That being said, I didn’t expect much from the new “Unapologetic,” but I was pleasantly surprised. After listening to the first few tracks, I was prepared to slam this album as they were the same tawdry, trashy and meaningless tunes we hear more and more from the pop-star. Eventually, however, the record takes a turn half-way through with a stream of semi well-written solemn or dark songs about toxic love and emotional contemplation (with the exception of the lighter and catchy “Nobody’s Business,” which pays a cute homage to Michael Jackson). I describe the lyrics as semi well-written because some of them seem to lack conceptual consistency and are trying too hard to be “deep,” but from Rihanna, I’ll take it (she co-wrote several of the songs). Making too much of an effort to be thoughtful is better than none at all. The southern rap and dance influenced musical production is really scaled back with basic rhythm patterns, so there isn’t much melodically to cling to. Rihanna’s vocals are what they’ve always been; distinctive because of her island accent and thin- making big, held notes hard to listen to (notes on “What Now” are reminiscent of the older “Complicated”). All in all, “Unapologetic” is slightly worth keeping on the IPod.
Likes: Your Body, Blank Page, Best of Me, Empty Words, Light Up the Sky
Dislikes: Red Hot Kind of Love, Let There Be Love
Overall: Interesting production, redundant lyrics, more dance-pop than necessary
I’m frustrated with Christina Aguilera. Her last album “Bionic” was a sad attempt at commerciality and slap-in-the-face to the artistry she’s strived to maintain. The poignant and beautiful half of the album was almost negated by the techno-dance portion, as it was so disconnected from the singer her fans have come to know. In some ways, the new “Lotus” is an enhanced, improved version of “Bionic,” while in others ways it’s more of the same. There’s a lot more techno and effects and less live instrumentation on “Lotus” (shooting for commerciality), which is a maddening downside, but the added blend of rock and R&B keeps it from being typical dance music and sounds more like something Aguilera would record. Vocally, Aguilera is sometimes pleasantly restrained (carefully placing powerful notes as opposed to over-singing), but abrasive in other cases. The sultry, dynamic vocals we heard earlier in her career are absent.
Lyrically, “Lotus” lacks maturity and hints that Aguilera is running out of ideas. There are more than enough songs about sex and telling off haters. We get it Christina; you’re proud of your sexuality and tired of scrutiny. Apparently, the songstress hasn’t gotten the memo that introspective, emotional and inspirational songs are her strong suite and what people love to hear from her. Tracks like “Blank Page” and “Light Up the Sky” are aces and have the potential to resonate more deeply with her audience. The album’s introduction explains why it’s called “Lotus,” as Aguilera speaks of leaving the past behind, saying “goodbye to the scared child inside” and healing from brokenness, but the tracks that follow only somewhat align with that story. I expected an experimental, inventive, meaningful album; consider me disappointed. You can hear an album sampler of the standard edition below.
Likes: Live While We’re Young, Little Things, Over Again, They Don’t Know About Us
Overall: Catchy production, weak lyrics.
One Direction slickly dodges the sophomore jinx on “Take Me Home” with a catchy collection of flirtatious songs bound to make their female, teenage audience giggle and blush. I use the word flirtatious because the lyrics, unlike those from past boy-bands, aren’t overwhelmingly romantic or poetic. They illustrate youthful, surface emotions usually attached to a crush or someone you’re just physically attracted to. Some might find this to be realistic and age-appropriate, as many teenage boys (or guys 1D’s age) are often far from being deeply enamored and seeking commitment in relationships, but from an artistic perspective, the lack of lyrical passion and depth might be viewed as a weakness. What might also be considered a fault is the fact that most of the songs sound the same, although the presence of pop-rock is bracing in age of dance music. Vocally, the group is impressive in spots and sound more mature than anticipated. Is “Take Me Home” a revolutionary work of art? No, far from it. Is it enough to keep One Direction around and on the chart until their next album? Yes. If they want to have some longevity past the flash in the pan, however, they will indeed have to mature and sophisticate their sound. An album sampler is below.
by Eddie J., Contributing Writer
Likes: Cracks in Mr. Perfect, Let Me Love You, Stress Reliever, She Is, My Other Gun
Dislikes: Forever Now, Be the One.
Overall: Commercial, unadventurous lyrics, great production
After his 2010 commercial flub “Libra Scale,” R&B star Ne-Yo steers toward a more commercial and typical direction for his 6th album, R.E.D., as shown by his “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)” single. However, if you’re expecting an album full of similar tracks, you’ll be highly disappointed…or extremely pleased, depending on your taste.
“R.E.D.” starts off with the somewhat morally conscientious “Cracks in Mr. Perfect,” on which talks about how everyone has flaws and he admits fame has affected him more negatively than he lets on. The song’s concept is a theme heard throughout the album, but it’s so thematically and musically different from the succeeding tracks, he even says “Enjoy the album” at the very end, implying that the TRUE album is to follow. As the album continues past the two singles “Lazy Love” and “Let Me Love You,” we begin to delve into an album of mixed signals. Forgettable songs like “Ms. Right” and “Forever Now,” serve as place-holders to make the project full length and are unoriginal in premise and musical composition, while songs like the well-produced “Don’t Make ‘Em Like You” (featuring Wiz Khalifa ) and “Jealous” (a lyrically intriguing, playful, mid-tempo love song that sounds like a fusion of Janet Jackson’s “China Love” and Mario’s “Let Me Love You”), are entertaining and keep the listener interested in the album’s development. Vocally, Ne-Yo does well; not spending much time in his upper register, he allows the middle and lower registers to keep us engaged. The vocal peak of the album is the song “She Is,” where he and Tim McGraw sing a country, yet soulful ballad. McGraw ironically outshines Ne-Yo in the duet, having a nice, raspy, soulful undertone that’s a breath of fresh air.
The album overall is very enjoyable for anyone who would like an eclectic array of R&B and pop music; however, Ne-Yo seems to have gotten so comfortable in his fame that he forgot to include the very element that made him distinctive in the first place: epic songwriting. This album doesn’t progress in terms of lyrical exploration. There are high moments, but in most cases the saving grace lies within the musical production. Shea Taylor, who produced “Mr. Perfect,” “Lazy ” and “Stress Reliever,” shined the most amidst all the producers, while Stargate (“Be The One,”“Forever Now”) was the most underwhelming with recycled usage of arpeggiators, typical sound effects and common-place chord progressions we’ve heard all year on pop radio. With a few gems and fillers in between, Ne-Yo lacked his spark of originality on this album and sacrificed creativity for excessive commerciality. If he could somehow find a balance between “Libra Scale’s” overwhelming creative explorations and “R.E.D.’s” expected commercial appeal, he would be able to give us a phenomenal album, but until that ground-breaking project comes, “R.E.D.” should hold his fan-base and newcomers over.
Rock & Rant: short and sweet bits on music industry related topics.
Until recently, I had only heard of Miguel in passing. I didn’t know any of his songs or even what he looked like. I saw him perform his latest single, “Adorn,” on a talk show and I was immediately intrigued. Listening to his interview, he had an affinity for 70’s R&B and had been compared to Prince (I wasn’t sure if it was because of his eccentricities or music, however). I enjoyed the performance and planned to check out his new album, “Kaleidoscope Dream.” I eagerly listened, expecting the record to be as refreshing as his TV appearance, but I was disappointed to hear tacky lyrics over intoxicating musicality. Miguel was giving me the same mindless, romance-less, childish, over-sexualized banter that other male R&B crooners, like Trey Songz, have been giving me. I’m not sure what killed R&B, but something did. The days where mainstream R&B was memorable, innovative and affecting seem to be gone at moment. Most current R&B albums are generic, basic and unmoving. It’s almost as if they’re built around 1 or 2 commercially-appealing singles and the rest is a wash. They sound like no real effort is put into the production or lyrics, not to mention most of talent is mediocre. Records by the males are all about arrogance and one-night stands and the females sing about cute clothes and broken-hearts. Some argue that the integration of R&B into contemporary pop and hip-hop in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s saturated the sound and the genre lost its way. What do you think?
I was sent some information on Cletus, an independent artist who seeks to meet classic soul with R&B/pop. His latest single & music video, “Left-Side Right” is available on ITunes and despite some of its pitfalls, it’s kind of catchy. Whether you want it stuck in your head or not, it will linger. “Right” is definitely an intriguing marriage of older R&B and today’s synthesized dance music, but the mix isn’t balanced, causing it to sound dated. The vocals are over-processed and yet, there are still a few off-pitch moments. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.
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