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Old 12-23-2011, 05:57 AM   #651 (permalink)
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Old 12-23-2011, 08:29 AM   #652 (permalink)
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What do you do when you've broken the world of soul and pop music wide open, had a bunch of hit singles, three of which hit the top five --- one a number one --- and sold over 20 million records? Why, you pay homage to the people who paved the way for your success by covering the great soul classics. This is what Seal did in 2008, with his album simply entitled “Soul”. It did very well, and was well received.

So what do you do after that? Well, do it again of course.

This time, he's picked more soul standards that he recognises as very important steps along the road to the birth and growth of soul music, and this time he's called the album --- well, what else?

Soul 2 --- Seal --- 2011 (Reprise)


Teaming up again with producer superstars Trevor Horn and David Foster, Seal kicks off with a spirited rendition of Rose Royce's classic ballad, “Wishing on a star”. Infusing it with new life, he ups the tempo just very slightly, bringing in strings and piano to flesh out the classic song and make it just a little punchier. Royce's original is still soul heaven, but he does the song proud. Of course, a portion of that praise has to be shared with Horn and Foster, who make this, and all the tracks on the album, pristine and perfect via their shared decades of producing for some of the biggest names in music.

Womack and Womack's “Love TKO” is the next one he tackles, and as people here who read this journal regularly will know, I'm not a huge soul fan, so I must say I don't know this song. For what it is though, he makes a nice George Benson/Luther Vandross job of it: nice gravelly vocal with some great backing. Horn manages to perfectly recreate the seventies soul sound, so you can really close your eyes and imagine Seal singing this on “Top of the Pops” or even “Soul train”. Beautiful strings outro, the perfect ending. Next up is Smokey's “Ooh baby baby”, and you have to wonder before it starts if Seal could possibly measure up to the sweet soulful voice of Smokey Robinson, but close your eyes and it could be him! Seal certainly has a versatile voice, as demonstrated on the different singers he covers on this album. This is pure gold, right down to the motown-style backing --- where are my flares?

Of course, they're all classics on this album, but what can you say about Al Green's “Let's stay together”? Reworked decades later and given new life by Tina Turner --- and essentially restarting her career in the process --- this song is approached a different way by Seal. He doesn't try to imitate Green (who could?), nor does he opt for the easy way out and emulate La Turner, but instead puts his own very unique slant on the song, and thereby grants this classic yet another stab at the charts, which a song like this certainly deserves. Great funky guitar and some solid drumming, though I have no credits for any of the musicians available, and totally out-there horns that just make you want to slow dance.

The hits just keep comin', and next up is Marvin Gaye's “What's going on?” with a truly beautiful and emotional orchestral arrangement that really does give this classic new life. The thing about the way Seal sings is that you can hear it in his voice: these aren't just a set of covers he's singing to sell an album. These are the songs he grew up listening to, these are the artistes he sought to emulate, that he probably studied and hoped one day to be as good as them. This is part of his childhood, his heroes revisited and thanked in the only, and best, way a singer can, by covering the songs that meant so much to him as a kid. More than just an album, for Seal this is an emotional journey, and he takes us with him.

One of my all-time favourite soul classics is given the Seal treatment next, the second by Rose Royce, their tender and bitter ballad “Love don't live here anymore”. Trevor Horn's arrangement is magical: he even recreates the signature drum machine pattern that makes the song. The tempo is, like his treatment of the other RR song, slightly faster than the original, but it doesn't take from the song. Of course, there's nothing like the original, but it's a good cover.

“Back stabbers”, on the other hand, I do not know. I believe it was a top three hit for the O'Jays in 1972, and whether it's meant to or not, Foster here gives it a classical piano intro, then the song gets into its groove, and for hearing it the first time it's not bad. Yeah I know: Philistine. But I already admitted I don't know a huge amount about soul music. So why am I reviewing this album then? Shut up, that's why.

Nevertheless, despite my limited knowledge of the genre, there are a lot of other songs I would have liked to have seen covered here, like “Being with you”, “I'll be there” or even “Ain't no mountain high enough”, but this is Seal's own personal choice, and the songs obviously mean a lot to him. It is a pity though (my own fault, I readily admit) that there are so many songs here that I'm unfamiliar with, which makes it hard to judge whether the cover does them justice or not. The next two fall into that category, firstly the Spinners' “I'll be around”, which has a nice string arrangement accompanying it, and some great backing vocals, while “Love won't let me wait” is a beautiful ballad given a sumptuous orchestral feel by Foster and Horn, as well as co-producer Jochem van der Saag, who also works on the previous two tracks, as well as “Let's stay together”. Gorgeous sax solo adds extra class to this lovely song, then we're into one I (finally!) know, as so I should.

Who doesn't know Bill Withers' uplifting “Lean on me”, a real anthem for the downtrodden, the lonely, the brokenhearted and the desperate, and just those of us who need a helping hand from time to time? It would be hard to emulate or even come close to Withers' powerful and emotional delivery of his song, and Seal really doesn't. He does a good version, but there's a lot missing, and it actually comes across, to me, as the weakest --- of the ones I know and can therefore judge --- of the covers. Which is not to say it's a bad version, just not the best I've heard, and certainly not the best on this album.

And then we're at the closer, rather more quickly than I had expected. Most of the songs, by their very nature, were and are short, most under four minutes. The closer then comes from the Chi-lites, and though it's not my favourite from them, “Have you seen her?” it is I believe their only number one hit single. “Oh girl” closes the album very well, and Seal puts in a triumphant finale performance, giving this song everything he has, and doing the classic proud, as indeed he has done for almost all of the tracks here.

If nothing else, this would be a good introduction to some true soul gems. As it is, Seal manages to not just cover these classics, but imbue them with a new life and open them perhaps to a whole new audience, and maybe make people like me who have more or less ignored or at least stayed on the periphery of soul music rethink that position. There has been some amazing soul music down the decades, and all music owes the artists here, and more soul legends, a great debt of thanks. We should never forget that.

Seal's “Soul 2” goes a long way towards ensuring that never happens.

Hey, look, I have to say it: the man's got soul. Again.

TRACKLISTING

1. Wishing on a star
2. Love TKO
3. Ooh baby baby
4. Let's stay together
5. What's going on
6. Love don't live here anymore
7. Back stabbers
8. I'll be around
9. Love won't let me wait
10. Lean on me
11. Oh girl
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Old 12-23-2011, 02:14 PM   #653 (permalink)
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A Christmas message from Trollheart

I'd just like to thank everyone who has read, commented or looked at my journal over the last eight months, and I hope it's been entertaining. I've done my best to make it the most interesting and certainly the most frequently updated journal on Music Banter: obviously, I failed miserably at the former --- I wouldn't presume to blow in here from nowhere and expect to be as good as people who have been maintaining journals here for years --- but in general I think the latter has been achieved, as I've been anxious to make sure there's at least two updates per day. I've also striven to make the Playlist of Life more than just a collection of reviews, with specific sections and ongoing features, and I hope they've been enjoyed by the majority of you. Next year will hold plenty more, I can promise you.

I've also gone perhaps a little out on a limb by extending my journal to include my four female helpers, collectively known as the NewsFoxes, and with Stacey-Lynn particularly shining on the “Random Track of the Day” slot. If nothing else, it's added a little more interest and variety to the journal, and given me the feeling of working with a team, even if they're not real. Sad? Who said that?

Anyway, if no-one objects to something I can't know it's not working, and so far nobody has, so I'm going to go for the obvious conclusion. Comments, as I never tire of saying, are always welcome and will always be greeted with politeness and consideration, as long as the same courtesy is extended to me. I would like thank you all for pushing the views on this journal, since its inception only back at the end of April, to almost 17,000. That's quite phenomenal, given that some of the journals going here --- many much better than mine --- have much less than that, and only a few have more. I know it's not a competition, but for me this amount of views is an indicator of how many people regularly read my journal, and I'm eternally grateful that you all stop by, and hope it's a worthwhile experience for you.

In closing, let me just wish you a very Happy Christmas: hope you get all the music you wish for this year and we'll see you again in 2012 for more of the same, only hopefully even better.

As we say here in Ireland, Nollaig Shona --- Happy Christmas!
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Old 12-23-2011, 06:12 PM   #654 (permalink)
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Old 12-23-2011, 06:13 PM   #655 (permalink)
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Okay, okay! The worm knows when he's beat! If a Christmas song you want, then a Christmas song you shall have. But let it be one of the better ones...

Happy Christmas to all!
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Old 12-23-2011, 06:18 PM   #656 (permalink)
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Yes, it's Christmas, and yes, it's our last voyage into the Tunnel of Love before the new year begins, and as you might expect, the songs are all Christmas themed. But in my continuing attempts to avoid the easy sell, take the simplest or most expected route, I've chosen not necessarily Christmas songs, but songs that either evoke the Season of Goodwill, have it in their title or even just paint a picture of winter, in some cases. So no carols, no hymns, no hits and definitely no bloody “Last Christmas”! Hope you enjoy this selection anyway.

Opening with a band you would definitely not expect in the Tunnel of Love at any time, though they've had some very decent ballads, here's Kamelot, and a track called “On the coldest winter night”.


This is often a Christmas favourite, but a great song too, from David Essex, and this is “Just another winter's tale”.


This, on the other hand, has pretty much nothing to do with the festive season, though it is in the title and also the lyric. A great song from Steve Earle, it's called “Christmas in Washington”.


An album very soon to be reviewed by me (after Christmas, now), the new one from Kate Bush is called “50 words for snow”, and this is the opening track, a great little number called “Snowflake”.


Another one you probably have never heard, this is Shadow Gallery, from their album “Tyranny”, the closing track in fact, entitled, appropriately enough, “Christmas Day”.


Gerry Rafferty knew how to write a great song, rest his soul. This is from one of his last albums, “North and south”, and it's a great little song called “Winter's come”.


Another man who sadly left us, but was a master songwriter was Dan Fogelberg, and this is his contribution to the Christmas season, something of a favourite, it's “Same old lang syne”.


We'll squeeze in just the one carol, notwithstanding what I said in the intro. This is Josh Groban with his version of “Silent night”.


Great ballad by a-ha, featured recently in our “Taking centre stage” slot, this is a song written by the guitarist Pal Waaktaar for his wife, it's a lovely little song called “Angel in the snow”.


And we'll close with a song that definitely does not evoke the Christmas spirit, but is nevertheless a great little tear-jerker, from the master of the art of songwriting, Tom Waits. This is “Christmas card from a hooker in Minneapolis”.
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Old 12-24-2011, 05:23 AM   #657 (permalink)
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Although Ric Ocasek had flatly stated that the Cars would never reunite, they did, this year, but are of course without their longtime bass player, songwriter and singer Benjamin Orr, who sadly died eleven years ago of cancer. The album was, fittingly, dedicated to him, and in memoriam the remaining Cars decided not to hire a bassist to take his role, but to share the bass duties among Greg Hawkes and producer Jackknife Lee.

Move like this --- The Cars --- 2011 (Hear Music)


So, twenty-four years on from what was to have been their swansong, the excellent “Door to door” (reviewed here a while back), is the magic still there? Perhaps consciously, perhaps not, but in a fitting way the album begins with bass line, soon joined by those bippy keyboards Hawkes is famous for, and which helped define the sound of the band in the seventies and eighties. “Blue tip” was the first single from the album, and it's classic Cars. Boppy with a sense of weirdness about it, Ocasek in fine voice after almost two and a half decades away from the mike, at least with the Cars, and great chunky guitar work from Elliot Easton.

It's a short opening track, and “Too late”, coming next, is a bit more atmospheric, with clangy keys and heartbeat drumming from David Robinson. With a sense of “Just what I needed” in the melody, again it's pure Cars, great backing vocals and rising keyboards, those samply sounds we all like to hear in Cars songs evident again. “Keep on knockin'” is a harder, rockier track, more reminscent of some of Ocasek's solo work, while “Soon” becomes the first ballad, with big heavy organ and nice guitar, a very laidback, relaxed sound, really nice, then “Sad song”, despite its title defies expectations, turning out a boppy, uptempo rocker with great little keyboard fills and bass Orr would have been proud of.

Speaking of Orr, Cars fans will know that he used to share vocal duties with Ocasek, and of course that's him you hear singing on their huge hit “Drive” off “Heartbeat City”, but with the death of his friend Ocasek takes all the vocals himself. Nice that they wanted to keep everything inhouse as a tribute to Orr, but to be honest Ocasek's vocal style can grate at times, and it was always nice to have the “break” that Orr-voiced songs would provide. Without this, it's a little hard but you have to get used to Ric singing every song.

“Free” is another fast rocker with good heavy guitar, and “Drag on forever” is a mid-paced rock smoulderfest, then “Take another look” is another slow ballad, with a nice bassline and some sweet warm synth. The album wraps up with two good rockers, “It's only” and the closer “Hits me”. Good choppy guitar and a very off-the-wall Ocasek vocal.

I have to say, after almost 25 years there are no surprises on this album. It could have been recorded directly after “Door to door”, with the obvious exception that Benjamin Orr's voice would also have graced the album, not to mention his bass. But these guys do not sound like they've been apart for almost a quarter of a century. While nothing staggering, “Move like this” shows a band in great form, comfortable with each other, still writing great songs and able to rock with the best of them. Hopefully it won't be too long before we have their next effort.

TRACKLISTING

1. Blue tip
2. Too late
3. Keep on knocking
4. Soon
5. Sad song
6. Free
7. Drag on forever
8. Take another look
9. It's only
10. Hits me

Suggested further listening: “Heartbeat City”, “Door to door”
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Old 12-24-2011, 05:26 AM   #658 (permalink)
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Oh yeah, right. No prizes for guessing what the theme will be this time, right? Well, actually it's not as straightforward as that. I could have gone for Christmas (easy), Santa (also easy) or even snow or presents (little harder, but still fairly predictable), but I decided instead to pick a theme related to Christmas, but not confined to that season. So as Christmas is one of the times when we all get together and see brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles we haven't seen all year, I thought let's make the theme family. And so I have.

And there's no other song I could really start this off with than this, is there?


Mike Oldfield had a great song out some time ago, with Maggie Reilly on vocals, and this is it. It's called “Family man”.


And Fish sang about “Family business” on his debut solo album, “Vigil in a wilderness of mirrors”.


Without the word family in the title, this is nevertheless a song very much concentrated on the importance of the ties that bind. It's Bruce Springsteen, from the album “Nebraska”, and “Highway Patrolman”.


Of course, we couldn't leave out Cat Stevens' beautiful classic, could we?


From “Father and son” to “Father to son”, this is Phil Collins, from his “... But seriously” album.


Lovely track from Martina McBride, “In my daughter's eyes”.


With a strong anti-war message, this is Dire Straits, title track from their album “Brothers in arms”.


Mostly Autumn sing about the mother of us all, the big one, “Mother Nature”.


And we'll end this, the final feature and the last entry before Christmas, with another classic, this time from the late Harry Chapin. This is “Cat's in the cradle”. See you all after Xmas, and thanks for staying with us!
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Old 12-24-2011, 05:27 AM   #659 (permalink)
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Old 12-26-2011, 07:22 PM   #660 (permalink)
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"Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's back to work I go..."
Welcome back to the Playlist of Life, hope you all had a nice Christmas --- for many of you it's probably still going on! --- but some of us have to get back to work! Still, this is hardly work, is it?

I'm sorry to say that I have to start off the first entry after Christmas on a very sad and tragic note, having just heard the awful news about the passing of the wife of our own Jackhammer. It's obviously a terrible time for such a tragedy --- not that there's ever a good time to lose a loved one, but having it happen so close to a time when everyone is celebrating must be doubly hard, and my heart goes out to you, my friend, and your children.

I hope that in the dark days to come you can find some small ch1nks of light, and I know that for your kids' sake you need to be strong, and that it's often the hardest thing to do when you just want to break down and know you can't, that you don't have that luxury. I don't want to trivialise in any way your hurt and pain, but I would like to dedicate the first video in the post-Christmas journal to you, and your family. I thought long and hard about what would be appropriate, yet still respectful and hopefully show a measure of understanding. I think this song really says it all. Be strong, brother, we're all here for you.

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