A Rose Is Still A Rose

First off, let it be said there is no shortage of Aretha Franklin music out there. I mean, holy crap, there are more than 40 albums on Spotify alone and that’s not counting the singles and compilations. Actually that’s why it took so long for me to post again; I was busy listening to that massive library of Aretha Franklin music.

And she’s still going, by the way. Her most recent album was in 2014, and she still tours and performs.

It was interesting listening to the different styles and recording qualities as I listened backwards through time. Current era Aretha’s voice shows her age just a little bit. If you want an example, listen to her cover album Sings the Great Diva Classics.

00’s and 90’s era Aretha left me a little tickled. It sounds just like the rest of the R&B/soul music of that time that I remember. Recommendation: listen to the songs “Wonderful” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose”

80’s Aretha was par for the course (but don’t be fooled, par on this course is fantastic) though I would note she recorded a jazz album in 1984 that stood out. It’s called Aretha’s Jazz, and it shows off her voice in a beautiful way.

Classic 60’s and 70’s Aretha will probably always be my favorite. Her voice is and always has been incredibly beautiful and strong. There are so many amazing songs from this period, I would recommend all of it. Really, just check it out. If you want specific recommendations, I will include a list of some of my all time Aretha favorites at the end of this post.

When you get back into the early 60’s she was mostly recording Gospel tunes. As with many famous soul and gospel artists, religion was a huge part of her upbringing. Her father was a well known pastor and she had been singing in churches since she was a little girl. There are some excellent tunes there as well, a good collection of which can be found on the album Amazing Grace.

All in all, Aretha Franklin has earned her title as Queen of Soul ten times over. She is extremely talented and skilled. If you like soul music at all, you are probably already quite familiar with much of her music, but I would suggest checking out some of the deeper cuts.

However; if you want to just listen to a good sampling, there are many great compilation albums available that have the best of the best of her music.

Fun fact! She famously stepped in at the Grammys one year for an ill Luciano Pavarotti, singing the famous opera tenor piece “Nessun Dorma” and absolutely nailed it. Here’s a video clip: https://youtu.be/5PONptwUo-Y

She shaped a genre, her music moves people, and her legacy will last for a long time to come.

Happy Listening!

As promised, here is a short list of some of my favorite Aretha tunes:

“Today I Sing the Blues”

“Think” *

“See Saw” *

“I Say a Little Prayer”

“Chain Of Fools” *

“The Weight” *

“Fool On The Hill”

“Respect”

“I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You” *

“(You Made Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”

“A Song For You”

“A Rose Is Still A Rose”

“Wonderful”

“Rock With Me”

“Son of a Preacher Man”

“Love For Sale”

Well, that turned out to be longer than I intended. I starred my top 5, if you want a shorter list. They are all great songs, though. And there are many more! Go check it out!

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St. James Infirmary

So a couple of weeks ago I was searching Spotify for a good version of “St. James Infirmary”, a fun blues song I was introduced to a few years ago. I have heard a few versions of this song by artists such as Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but I was immediately impressed by Allen Toussaint’s version when I stumbled across it. The simple instrumentation combined with the minor key and well-placed subtlety made it a very nice arrangement.

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The only problem here is I had never heard of Allen Toussaint and I knew nothing about him. The solution? Listen to all of his music! And I gotta tell you, he has a lot of it; this guy was making and producing music from the ’50’s up until his death in 2015.

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Not all of his music is jazz. In fact, he has done quite a bit of R&B, Soul, Funk, and Blues. Apparently he has been an extremely influential figure to New Orleans R&B and composed a number of well-known songs such as “Fortune Teller” “Ride Your Pony” “Southern Nights” (this one was featured in the recent movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and the frequently covered “Working In The Coal Mine” He also helped produce hundreds of fantastic songs such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John (one of my favorites for road trips) and the famous “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle.

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I am so glad I know all of this now! This guy has been a major player in 60’s and 70’s funk and R&B music, I can hardly believe I didn’t know him.

Of course, this does not mean I love everything he’s done. There was one particular album I listened to called Mr. Mardi Gras – I Love A Carnival Ball that was truly hard for me to sit through. Almost painful, really. I can’t even tell you exactly what I didn’t like about it, but I think it was probably a combination of musical style and instrumentation. It just sounded cheap to me, and I was glad when it was over.

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We all know I am a sucker for jazz and all of its varied forms. Jazz is at least a little bit present in or was an inspiration for many of today’s genres anyway, and I enjoy those for what they are, but there is still something special to me about listening to a small combo band playing bluesy or jazzy tunes like I would expect to find in some smoky underground bar downtown in a big city in the 50’s. Thus, the albums I enjoyed most on this journey were the ones that reflected style.

So if you are looking for a relaxing jazz album to listen to, check one of these out: The Bright Mississippi and American Tunes. There are some great tracks on those two albums such as “Singin The Blues” “Delores’ Boyfriend” “Viper’s Drag” and “Long, Long Journey”

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If you prefer to stick with R&B and Funk, check out the albums Southern Nights (really good) and Sweet Touch Of Love. As far as recommended tracks, I would have to go with “Last Train” “Victim Of The Darkness” “Sweet Touch Of Love” and “Southern Nights”

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I may have found Allen Toussaint for his jazz albums, but every time I listen to his Soul, R&B, and Funk I love it just a little bit more. He was truly a gifted composer, and I am so glad I got the chance to explore his music like this. After everything I have learned I am almost ashamed I didn’t know who he was, but then I suppose that’s kind of the point of this project, isn’t it?

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Success!

Good Things

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I’m sure most of you have heard the song “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. What you may also know is that the vocals on that song are provided by a man named Aloe Blacc, who also happens to have a great acoustic version of that song on his own album.

That is how I imagine most people have heard of Aloe Blacc, but you may have also heard his other single, “I Need A Dollar.” The first time I heard that song (courtesy of the local high school radio station) I could have sworn it was Bill Withers (of “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean On Me” fame) but the production quality sounded a little too modern and the vocals in the bridge didn’t sound enough like Bill for me to be entirely fooled. The song is definitely comparable to that unique 70’s soul feel. I would say anyone who enjoys classic R&B sounds will love this song. It features some nice horns in the back, a group vocal echo, and sharp hits on the piano chords. I request that you to give it a listen, here’s a video for your convenience:

But Aloe Blacc is more than a call back to old school R&B. He is a seriously talented musician, able to play all sorts of instruments including trumpet, piano, guitar, and cello.

He also has some great dance tracks on his first album from 2006, Shine Through. One of my favorites on that album was something a little different, a track called “Busking” which sounds exactly like (you guessed it) busking, complete with street sounds in the background as he sings about waiting for a bus. It tickled my fancy at least.

Aloe Blacc is a wonderful artist and a testament to his genres. My favorite of his albums is Good Things, which features some fantastic beats and bass, and classic arrangments. His newer album, Lift Your Spirit, has some great tracks as well, including the acoustic version of “Wake Me Up” and some other tracks such as “Chasing” that are really fun to listen to.

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As far as single releases go, he did one with Zedd that was a cover of “Candyman” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that I liked and a song called “Broke” that is fast and fun.

Overall I look forward to new releases from Aloe Blacc in the coming years and am pleased to have his music in my collection. He is a great artist to listen to; a smooth voice and smart songwriter.

Homage/Fallin’

There are so many artists to talk about, so I decided to do a 2-for-1 special in this post. So without further ado, here you go.

Part 1: Alicia Keys

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Objectively, I am completely aware of the fact that Alicia Keys is a truly great musician. She writes and composes very well, and she represents the genres of R&B and Soul excellently. She has a large collection of very soulful music that most of it, for some reason, I just don’t really care about. I actually quite enjoy R&B and Soul music, though I typically go for the older stuff. I think Alicia Keys is a great artist, but her music just doesn’t really reach me. Everyone has their favorite genres, and even though I like this genre quite a bit and can enjoy her music when it is on, Alicia Keys is not an artist I seek out much at all.

Except, that is, her hit singles. These are possibly the exception because I have heard them so many times on the radio and being piped over speakers in various locations, but nonetheless they are great songs and I do really like them. My top 3 are “No One” “If I Ain’t Got You” and of course “Fallin'” I have to say “Girlfriend” is pretty good as well with, in my opinion, a Destiny’s Child kind of vibe. They are all ridiculously fun to listen to (and dance stupidly to if I’m hanging out alone in my apartment).

Here’s a video for “Fallin'” for your enjoyment.

Don’t get me wrong, if you like R&B at all, please go listen to her, she’s really good. I like her stuff, I just don’t listen to it often and wouldn’t bother trying to get a ticket to see her live. Make of that what you will.

 

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Part 2: Alien Ant Farm

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Alien Ant Farm is not my usual cup of tea either. I honestly have no problem with Metal (I believe this particular group is classified as either nu metal or alternative metal) or with Punk Rock (they also have that label) and in fact there are multiple bands in those genres I truly love. I guess I’m just a lot more picky when it comes to some genres.

I’m pretty sure most of you have no idea who Alien Ant Farm are. They are the band who did that alt-metal-punk-rock cover of “Smooth Criminal” that shows up on Alt-Rock stations. You know the one. It’s a pretty good cover; I like when a band covers a song and makes it their own a little bit. If you play it the same way as the original then nine times out of ten I’d rather just listen to the original. Anyway, “Smooth Criminal” is the reason they are on my Spotify.

While I was listening to their other stuff I did in fact find a few that I liked and have since added to my music collection, but other than that I didn’t much care about it one way or the other. A lot of their music is just filler for me, and didn’t leave much of an impression. The ones I liked more tended to be more on the pop rock side of their style as opposed to metal or punk, and most of them are from the album Always and Forever. Specifically, I like “Sidelines” “Movies” “American Pie” (not a cover of the Don McLean song) and “Homage”

That last one is my favorite, it’s pretty much nothing but music references. In fact I counted approximately 24 references. If nothing else, please listen to that song, it’s very fun and really hit home with me. In fact, here’s a link to a lyric video for you:

Well, that’s about it for me today. Two more artists down, hundreds to go. There is still a long musical journey ahead of me, yet I am undaunted! Onward we go!