Small Break, Be Back Soon!


Hello all! As the title states, I’m taking a brief hiatus while I handle some other odds and ends in my life. I will be back in December with my “Records of 2014″ entry so keep your eyes peeled. I appreciate those that have continued to check in and support The QH Blend. See you sooner than you think.-QH


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

2004-2014 Retrospectives on De La Soul, Vanessa Carlton & Gwen Stefani





Artist: De La Soul

De La Soul, circa 2004

De La Soul, circa 2004


Album: The Grind Date

Label: AOI / Sanctuary Urban / BMG

Released: 10/5/04

Singles: “Shoomp,” “Much More,” “Rock Co.Kane Flow”

Synopsis: One of the most prolific and expressive outfits in hip-hop started the 2000′s ambitiously. Conceived as a three-part album series the “Art Official Intelligence” movement produced two records: Mosaic Thump (2000) and Bionix (2001). The LPs were fraught with commercial and creative turmoil. De La Soul persevered and decided to debunk their longtime label Tommy Boy Records to finalize the third installment in the AOI arc. The title of their album series also ended up becoming the name of  De La Soul’s own indie label.

The Grind Date began as the third entry to AOI, but ended up becoming its own record apart from that trilogy―AOI remains unfinished. Despite that creative question mark De La Soul left hanging with the AOI project, The Grind Date became their strongest effort since their mid-90s stretch. The Grind Date featured only the best production from the likes of J Dilla, MadLib, 9th Wonder, Supa Dave West and Jake One.

Perfectly pitched between acerbic rhymes (“Verbal Clap”) and their most tuneful music (“Much More”) De La Soul had found the bridge between musicality and contemporary acknowledgement. A decade has passed since The Grind Date’s appearance, but if this is De La Soul’s last album to date it’s a good way to wrap their legacy.

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “Shopping Bags (She Got From You)”]

Artist: Vanessa Carlton

Carlton, circa 2004

Carlton, circa 2004


Album: Harmonium

Label: A&M

Released: 11/9/04

Singles: “White Houses”

Synopsis: Carlton had ridden the crest of the post-Lilith Fair singer-songwriter boom with her debut Be Not Nobody (2002). It was easy to assume that her follow-up Harmonium would meet a receptive audience. Unfortunately, Carlton did suffer a “sophomore slump” commercially with the album―creatively the record struck gold.

Richer in its musical presentation (think Kate Bush or Tori Amos), Carlton still maintained lyrical intimacy throughout the record. The jaunty opener “White Houses” recalled Carlton’s own teenage youth, but could mirror anyone’s own “coming of age” experience. Carlton also continued to peer into the notion of love’s complexities with the two highlights of the LP being “San Francisco” and “Afterglow”. A nice compromise between the approachable pop of her debut and her newfound cerebral explorations, Harmonium gained a cult following among Carlton fans. The record influenced her next two records, notably the superb Rabbits on the Run (2011).

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “White Houses”]

Artist: Gwen Stefani

Stefani, circa 2004

Stefani, circa 2004

Album: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.

Label: Interscope

Released: 11/23/04

Singles: “What You Waiting For?,” “Rich Girl,” “Hollaback Girl,” “Cool,” “Luxurious,” “Crash”

Synopsis: It had been a long time coming, but No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani unleashed one of the defining pop records of the decade with her solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Drawing from a wealth of influences―musically and visually―that included Harajuku culture, 1980s pop and hip-hop, Stefani’s album was full of hits and strong non-single material.

The production muscle allowed Stefani’s lyrical ideas to soar: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Tony Kanal (bassist of No Doubt), Dr. Dre, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Andre 3000 (of OutKast). Whether waxing irreverent (“Rich Girl”), wacky (“Bubble Pop Electric”) or just creating something beautiful (“Cool”) Stefani was brilliant throughout the LP. It was the first single pulled from Love. Angel. Music. Baby. that hit hard―“What You Waiting For?” With a clever lyrical nod to the No Doubt b-side “Beauty Contest” (“Born to blossom, bloom to perish!”), Gwen’s awareness of her of solo flight risk was intriguing to hear.

One of the last great American pop records to emerge, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. proved that Stefani could be hip, smart and fashionable and that none of these concepts were mutually exclusive when it came to crafting pop music.

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “What You Waiting For?”]

[Editor’s Note: All three albums are readily in print digitally and physically. Please see the respective official websites for current information: De La Soul / Vanessa Carlton / Gwen Stefani-QH]

Leave a comment

Filed under Alternative, Hip-Hop, Pop, Rock

Lenny Kravitz’s “Strut” Reviewed on Blogcritics

Kravitz, circa 2014

Kravitz, circa 2014

My essay on Lenny Kravitz’s new album Strut is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. Kravitz hits it hard and fast on his 10th album in his third decade of recording. The record is in stores today. Make sure to check it out!

Leave a comment

Filed under R&B, Rock

Lindsey Stirling Wants to #MakeMusicSocial

Stirling in performance

Stirling in performance

Has technology and social media removed the face-to-face component from popular music? Record shops, ever persistent, have become an endangered species in the age of iPods, playlists and Spotify.

With the boundlessness of the Internet, music should cross all barriers. However, most of us are so plugged in to our devices we don’t communicate out loud about music anymore. This “tech-Pandora’s Box” we’ve opened isn’t all doom and gloom though; enter Lindsey Stirling, a product of this age.

Seizing her chance to platform her abilities as a professional violinist and dancer, Stirling used outlets such as Youtube to take her art to the masses. Bypassing the routes many have had to utilize to achieve visibility, Stirling’s intense contemporary fusion style (think Vanessa-Mae) hooked listeners. Her eponymous debut appeared in 2012 and went gold in a fair amount of time.

Stirling continued to hone her skills even after she broke into the mainstream, performing any and everywhere; earlier this year Stirling’s second LP manifested―Shatter Me. The LP arrived in the higher regions of the U.S. Billboard 200 (#2); it’s evidence that Lindsey Stirling’s momentum is gaining quickly.

Shatter Me album cover

Shatter Me album cover

In addition to her career, Stirling has always given back to the arts communities.  A recent example includes Stirling joining the growing roster supporting #MakeMusicSocial. Created by the wireless speaker company UE BOOM, the movement seeks to “make music social and rekindle the love of listening to music out loud”.

Released last month as the third single from Shatter Me, “Master of Tides” is a mesmeric slice of Stirling’s style. The music video―in conjunction with #MakeMusicSocial―was filmed live in Glendale, California at the Americana at Brand Mall.

The “Master of Tides” clip begins like a modern day flashmob performance before transforming into a combination of steampunk, nautical theatrics and classical music. The audiences seen in the video are clearly spellbound by Stirling and Cirque Berzerk’s energy. The dance troupe, choreographed by Suze Q, was masterfully matched to the Stirling composition.

“Master of Tides”

Directed By: Mike Green

Stirling’s thoughts on the “Master of Tides” music video sums up her overall mission as an entertainer: “The reason I’ve always wanted to do a spontaneous performance is because you get to surprise people; you get to make people, hopefully, smile that weren’t expecting this. And I’m looking forward to hopefully, you know, making a memorable night for someone”.

Through #MakeMusicSocial, Stirling takes the next step forward as the bridge between the old and new schools of popular music culture thought. If her commitment to quality remains consistent, Stirling will continue to captivate for years to come.

[Editor’s Note: The link to the UE Boom campaign #MakeMusicSocial is featured above in the essay. Stirling’s records are available in all digital and physical music outlets. For more information on Lindsey Stirling, visit her official website.-QH]

Leave a comment

Filed under Alternative, Pop

Easy Breezy: Hikaru Utada’s “Exodus” Turns 10

"Devil Inside" single cover

“Devil Inside” single cover

“I don’t think it’s the music I’m concerned about. It’s obviously that I look really different and there really aren’t any completely Asian people who are popular singers in the U.S. right now”.

Hikaru Utada (宇多田 ヒカル) made this remark around the unveiling of Exodus, her fourth LP. It was Utada’s attempt at penetrating the Western music marketplace after five years of dominance in the EastExodus was never destined for a charmed existence, but Utada was aware of the cultural uphill battle awaiting her album―she didn’t flinch. Utada, then 21, continued on the progressive track of Exodus’ preceding album, Deep River (2002). Exodus was dense, dark and delicious; the album challenged the conventional pop groupthink prominent at the first half of the 2000′s.

Utada was no shrinking violet and Exodus was an uncompromising work that sought to satisfy her own artistic appetites, but somehow appeal to the fickle American pop populace. A decade removed from its release, Exodus retains its charismatic position in Utada’s discography.

The History

The product of two accomplished musicians, Utada was born in New York City, New York in 1983. As a young girl, Utada jetted between Tokyo and New York City due to her parents work commitments―Utada became bilingual very quickly. Language wouldn’t be the only thing imprinted on Utada, she bathed in the cultures of America and Japan.

It was no surprise that Utada took to music and exhibited childlike prodigy traits. Songwriting her penchant, Utada inked a deal with Toshibi EMI who dropped her first major label record Precious (1996). She worked under the pseudonym “Cubic U,” a play on being the “third power” in the Utada family; the record was sung in English and written by a 13 year-old Utada. The album appeared in America and Japan on 1/28/98 and made no headway.

Undaunted, Utada fine-tuned her skills in arranging and producing. A year later, her real debut First Love (1999) caused a sensation in Japan. From 1999 through 2004, Utada monopolized the Japanese music scene with First Love and its followers Distance (2001), Deep River (2002) and Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 1 (2004)**. Amid her hectic promotional schedule, Utada married her first husband Kazuaki Kiriya (15 years her senior). She also attended Columbia University briefly on a break from recording. In that same span of time, Utada recorded two songs in English for a film (‘Rush Hour 2’) and a video game (“Kingdom Hearts”).

Alternate shot from the Exodus photo shoot

Alternate shot from the Exodus photo shoot

The former, entitled “Blow My Whistle,” had Utada alongside The Neptunes and Foxy Brown; “Blow My Whistle” wouldn’t have been out of place on any of her first three recordings.

The latter, “Simple and Clean,” was a reworking of an established hit single from Deep River, “Hikari” (“Light”). The ethereal appeal of “Simple and Clean” created an immediate cult following, notably in America. Inspired by this, Utada decided again to record an album in English. However, Utada’s soundprint was turning toward something mercurial. Beginning with tentative steps on portions of Deep River, Utada experimented with ethereal wave, dream pop and classical music. All of these things coalesced on “COLORS,” the lone original recording on Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 1 (2004). “COLORS” pointed to a moodier sonic space where the seeds of Exodus were sewn and cultivated.

The Record

Looking past the A&R maneuver to include “input” from Timbaland and his protegee Nate “Danja” Hills on two tracks (“Exodus ’04″ and “Let Me Give You My Love”), Exodus was handled by Utada. There was an occasional contribution from her father Teruzane, working under the guise of “Sking U”.

Voyeurism acted as a central theme to the execution of Exodus. Even when Utada wrote about herself―“You Make Me Want to Be a Man” explored tension in her own marriage at the time―there was a distance. Utada seemed to want to step outside of herself here.

Musically, her previously three LPs dabbled in electronic music whereas Exodus wore its stormy electronic temper on its sleeve. The genre transformed throughout the course of Exodus’ playing time. Utada was tribal (“Devil Inside”), she smacked on arcade bubblegum (“Easy Breezy”) and manicured a post-prog-rock symphonic dirge (“Kremlin Dusk”).

The beats weren’t necessarily unfriendly, the bulk of them passed for clubby chic with a casual listen. But the fashionable surfaces of “Tippy Toe” and “Hotel Lobby” hid gloomier tales of infidelity and prostitution, topics not normally associated with pop. The most approachable song on Exodus was “Easy Breezy”. To the attentive listener, the song contained a tongue-in-cheek poke at American men’s ideas of Asian women (“You’re easy breezy and I’m Japan-easy…”) and one of the better phallic references ever written (“She’s gotta new microphone, she doesn’t need you anymore!”).

For the first time, Eastern flourishes were present in Utada’s output. Was Utada giving English listeners what they expected? Maybe, but in true Utada style there was an “in on what you think of me” air. Exodus poised itself to be the next enthralling chapter of this young woman’s journey.

Hikaru Utada, circa 2004

Hikaru Utada, circa 2004

The Impact

Still signed with Toshibi EMI, Utada inked a deal with Island / Def Jam for Exodus Stateside. Mercury Records handled bringing the album to British ears in 2005.

Exodus debuted in Japan on 9/8/04, 10/5/04 in America and 9/25/05 in England. Four singles were culled from the project over the two year period: “Easy Breezy” (8/3/04), “Devil Inside” (9/14/04), “Exodus ’04″ (6/21/05) and “You Make Me Want to Be a Man” (10/17/05).

While the record landed no hits on the Oricon Single Charts**, a first for Utada, Exodus did become the biggest selling foreign language album in Japan’s history. Exodus found a healthy life on all the Oricon Album Charts: weekly (#1), monthly (#1) and yearly (#6). The album shifted a million units and was awarded gold status; another success story for Utada.

Stateside it was a different, if not unexpected, story. In lieu of a diminutive campaign, Exodus placed at #160 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart; the record ended up selling 55,000 copies. Utada’s statement of being the first Asian singer to really reach out to American listeners had proved correct. She was an untested commodity and even with her clout abroad, the notoriously regimented U.S. radio formats couldn’t find a space for Utada.

With that said, the American clubs took to “Devil Inside”: U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play #1, U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Singles Sales #5, U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Airplay #10. Only two music videos were shot out of the four singles selected from Exodus: “Easy Breezy” and “You Make Me Want to Be a Man”. “You Make Me Want to Be a Man,” the only single to represent Utada in Britain a year later, fed her growing fanbase but didn’t cause a commotion: U.K. #227.

Critically, the album was greeted with positive reception. Andy Kellman of All Music Guide remarked of Exodus:

As the child of Japanese musicians who reside in both New York City and Tokyo, Utada Hikaru was perhaps predestined for a career as a performer informed by multiculturalism. On her first major-label English-language album, Utada delivers a diverse collection of urbane, modern, and, at times, almost avant-garde electronica and dance music.

“Easy Breezy”

Directed By: Jake Nava

Even as Exodus rescinded when Utada went onto her next LP, its effects lingered. The album was second in a three-part evolutionary trip that started with Deep River and ended with Ultra Blue (2006). All three albums had Utada pushing herself as far she could go and created one of the best back-to-back album stretches in popular music. Much of the material from Exodus Utada performed live on the tours Utada United (2006) and Utada: In the Flesh (2010).

Remarking of the record in 2009, Utada said: “Exodus was a very experimental album. I was like a mad scientist working away in an underground laboratory. I had the time of my life but it was a very intense, introverted process”.

Exodus might have been too powerful to make non-familiars comfortable with its sound. It does speak to Utada’s integrity that she would not eschew her music’s momentum to appease anyone. Utada bravely invited the uninitiated into her world, thus making her most introverted recording extroverted by sharing it. Risk is always worth the reward and as Hikaru Utada’s catalogue attests, that can never be a bad thing. Ranking: Classic

[Editor’s Note: **―Oricon Charts are the Japanese equivalent of our own Billboard charts. They split their album charts into three sections as seen in the essay. The Japanese often precede their first name with their last name. Exodus is available through any physical and digital music retailer. For current information on Hikaru Utada, please visit her official site.-QH]


Leave a comment

Filed under Alternative, Pop

I’m Free: Donna Summer’s “Cats Without Claws” Turns 30

Promotional poster for Cats Without Claws

Promotional poster for Cats Without Claws

Ten years had passed since Donna Summer arrived with Lady of the Night (Groovy Records, 1974). In the decade that ensued Summer rarely rested, reshaping popular music with a string of albums and singles that defined a generation.

Later, Summer shifted into the second phase of her recording career with The Wanderer (1980). Her inaugural set for Geffen Records heralded that the “Queen of Disco” was casting off to embrace her pop spirit.

Summer’s third Geffen release Cats Without Claws―and 11th studio album overall―was her first commercial miss. Subsequently, the record fell into obscurity, all but forgotten outside of Summer’s core constituency. Listening to Cats Without Claws 30 years removed from its inception, one can hear the complexity of pop’s most misunderstood voice steady in its exploration of new sonic shores.

The History

When Summer left Casablanca Records, home to the first half of her discography, she took up residency at the newly launched Geffen Records. An industry power player, David Geffen saw the rebranding potential in Donna Summer; she herself proved game for change with The Wanderer. The record secured critical acclaim and modest sales. Importantly, it made Summer one of the few viable black acts in the now alabaster post-disco, pre-Thriller (1982) pop world of the early 1980’s.

What came next were a series of career hiccups for Summer. I’m a Rainbow―the last record Summer cut with principal partners Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte―was shelved by Geffen. The ambitious new wave dancer―later issued in 1996 via Mercury / Polygram Records―didn’t seem sales savvy to the label head. As a result, Summer was paired with modern maestro Quincy Jones for her eponymous effort that appeared in 1982. Donna Summer invoked ire and praise with it being Summer’s debut trek into R&B; it produced the charter “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)”.

"Supernatural Love" single cover

“Supernatural Love” single cover

To add to the pressure, Polygram Records, who now owned the Casablanca Records label, reminded Summer that she contractually still owed them an album. Summer saw this as an opportunity to release a record she’d recently cut with producer Michael Omartian.

A potpourri of rock, synth and soul-pop, She Works Hard for the Money (1983) became the prize record of Summer’s 1980’s stretch; the hit Geffen wanted for himself but, effectively, rejected had come and gone. She Works Hard for the Money was merely the blueprint for what came next, musically, for Donna Summer.

The Record

Summer remained partnered with Michael Omartian for the follow-up to She Works Hard For the Money. Omartian, a former A&R staffer, had become an in-demand producer of the period. Excusing input from Summer’s husband, former Brooklyn Dreams vocalist Bruce Sudano, Omartian commented on he and Summer’s working relationship:

On the last album we began writing together and found that we really enjoyed the procedure. Donna and I would spend about 5 or 6 hours a day workingyou know, she’s (Donna) really gifted with melodies. So we’d put together a tune with drum machines, then put it away. Two weeks later we’d take it all out, review it and select what we wanted.

We decided up front not to clog up the tracks, so we really didn’t cut them with a lot of folks. We used the drummer’s tracks and my keyboards as a basic guide, which left everything wide open and uncluttered. So, from the beginning, you’re not committed to a certain direction. This makes things more flexible and you end up with much less in the way. We also decided not to involve other names in duets and backgrounds, so this album really is a personal statement, very straight-ahead. Besides, everybody’s doing duets and stuff; where does it end?

Cats Without Claws photo shoot contact sheet; shot by Harry Langdon

Cats Without Claws photo shoot contact sheet; shot by Harry Langdon

Cats Without Claws, a focused song cycle about humanity (at its best and worst), was inspired by Summer’s own spiritual travels.

Barring two emotionally driven covers―“There Goes My Baby” (The Drifters) and “Forgive Me” (Reba Rambo)―Cats Without Claws was a Donna Summer original. Looping back around to “There Goes My Baby” and “Forgive Me,” both songs gripped an understated warmth thanks to their sensitively sequenced synthesizers. In particular, “There Goes My Baby” had Summer tease the song’s teen angst into a much more palpable pathos than heard in the original recording by The Drifters.

Mood acted as an integral ingredient on Cats Without Claws; the titular piece, another of Summer’s social commentaries, put the listener into a dangerous cityscape. With its slasher-flick synths, various effects and colorful vocal, Summer captured the disillusionment of urban life. That voracious vocal acting heard on the title track reared its head throughout the rest of the long player. Torchy on “Maybe It’s Over” and cool on the freestyle flash of “Face the Music”―the flipside to “Supernatural Love”―Summer held fast to her chameleonic talent.

As a songwriter, Summer continued to advance as affirmed on the dank voyeurism of “Eyes” and the insistent “Supernatural Love”. The latter, along with “It’s Not the Way,” were 80’s beat-pop candies that melded contemporary dance music with pop melodies. Summer even added her flavor to the “island craze” sweeping popular music at the time with “Suzanna” and “I’m Free”.

The song structures were among her best; Cats Without Claws owned Summer’s finest middle-eight’s recorded. The bruised “Oh Billy Please” exemplified this with the song’s configuration changing without warning to a floorfiller halfway through. It made for exciting listening.

Not since Lady of the Night had Summer been so stylishly pop and succinct. Cats Without Claws promised to get the charts chatting with its contents.

The Impact

Cats Without Claws arrived Stateside on 9/4/84; “There Goes My Baby” preceded the album by several weeks as its lead single. The single became a mild hit―U.S. #21, U.S. R&B #20, U.S. A/C #17―though it was a disappointment after the frenzied reception of “She Works Hard for the Money”.

Single cover to "Eyes"

Single cover to “Eyes”

The year of 1984 saw established talent like Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan and Linda Ronstadt―peers to Summer―present projects that met commercial success; Turner obviously led the charge with her Private Dancer album.

Then there were the new girls on the scene: Pat Benatar, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna. All of these new voices had sprung up in rock, R&B, pop and dance―genres Summer had conquered at different points in the past. Summer’s competition was considerable this time around.

At home, Cats Without Claws made modest headway: U.S. Billboard 200 #40, U.S. Top R&B / Hip-Hop #24. The long player worked itself into the international markets later in the month of September with varying degrees of impact: U.K. #69, Germany #39, Denmark #13, Sweden #10, Norway #15, Netherlands #19.

Summer blazed through a decent promotional trail for the record domestically and abroad; notable American appearances included ‘American Bandstand and ‘Soul Train’. The latter allowed Summer an opportunity to memorably elaborate on the themes of Cats Without Claws with the show’s host, Don Cornelius.

The album failed to find its audience and became Summer’s first recording to not achieve gold certification since her commercial ascendancy in 1975. Critically, the album mostly went over well with critics. Rolling Stone writer Christopher Connelly opined:

Buoyantly tunfeul, admirably restrained and only occasionally silly, Cats Without Claws continues the resurgence of Donna Summer. As on She Works Hard for the Money, producer Michael Omartian displays Summer’s considerable talents to their best advantage.

Producers tend to swathe divas like Summer in yards of backing tracks, but Omartian has wisely used spare settings, with a solid, uncomplicated rhythm section and just the right touch of high tech.

Others weren’t as charmed by Cats Without Claws; Ralph Novak of People Magazine selected the album as a “pan” for their “Picks and Pans” feature:

Prevention of Any More Songs Using the Metaphor “Flame Burn Higher” should be alerted, since that phrase is part of “Supernatural Love,” a Summer-Michael Omartian-Bruce Sudano song on this LP. That sort of unimaginative material is, in fact, all too prevalent. The title song has some possibilities at least, and Summer’s revival of the 1959 Drifters’ classic, “There Goes My Baby,” is fun—though it peters out as if nobody could think of a smart way to end it.

Summer’s voice and lyrics are so much at the service of the rhythmic thrust of these basically dull songs, however, that she has to be in peak form, singing something that is sharp and clever, to make much of an impact. Since Bad Girls she has too often ended up with pedestrian material.

“There Goes My Baby”

Directed By: Ian Leech

Two additional singles were pulled from Cats Without Claws as 1984 wrapped: “Supernatural Love” (U.S. #75, U.S. R&B #51, U.S. Dance #17) and “Eyes”; neither were able to revive the recording. All wasn’t lost as Summer netted a “Best Inspirational Performance” Grammy for “Forgive Me” that year. It was her second win in that Grammy category after she garnered one for “He’s a Rebel” in 1983, an album cut from She Works Hard for the Money.

Summer took everything in stride and emboldened by a decade of more successes than failures, she took respite with her family for the next two years. Summer produced another quality effort for Geffen Records before closing that tenure of her career—All Systems Go (1987). Summer scaled the charts again with her Atlantic Records backed Another Place and Time (1989) LP.

The usually lazy generalization with Summer’s 1980’s output was that she struggled to find her footing post-Casablanca Records. Cats Without Claws, like any of the records she cut from 1980 through 1989, had Summer trying out new sounds on her terms. The music was eclectic, axiomatic proof that Summer had come “out from under shadows” and that pop had worked its “miracle” on her once again. Ranking: Classic

[Editor’s Note: For years, Cats Without Claws was the most expensive out of print recording in Summer’s discography. This album, along with the remainder of Summer’s Geffen and Atlantic records, will finally be reissued on 12/1/14. For information on the reissues and Summer’s continuing legacy, please visit her official Facebook page. Special thanks to the dedicated fan space Donna Tribute for valuable research information. Recast Harry Langdon photograph artwork courtesy  of Travis Müller.-QH]


Filed under Pop

Jody Watley Visits “Paradise” on Her New EP

Cover to Jody Watley's Paradise EP

Cover to Jody Watley’s Paradise EP

She’s back again, though to the initiated Jody Watley never left. The Queen of Cool’s Paradise EP is her return to music since her last ambitious undertaking,  2006 / 2009′s The Makeover.

Watley’s R&B has always been progressive and the arc of Paradise is no different from Watley’s past endeavors―somewhat. This time, Watley exchanges the electronically charged rhythm and blues from her last three records with a classic / contemporary fusion of disco. Understand, this isn’t your little brother’s hipster disco, nor is it just a retroactive Shalamar redux. Paradise melds elements of the aforementioned disco genre from today and yesterday.

Horns announce the lead single “Nightlife”; the song’s beat whacks and whips in a modern way, ensuring her dominance of the dancefloor in 2014. The energy levels don’t dissipate after “Nightlife,” they keep hustling on the multi-layered Los Angeles funk of “Dancer”. It’s here that Watley’s commitment to quality is made clear with her longtime producer (and friend) Rodney Lee co-piloting Paradise. Thanks to Watley, Lee and Co., Paradise maintains its bright exterior with heart from a production standpoint.

Vocally and lyrically Watley still has it with her integrity colored escapism―see the MdCL remix of “Tonight’s the Night”. “Sanctuary” and the CD exclusive cut “Everlasting” steal the spotlight on Paradise though. Both songs capture the slippery sensuality that made “Still a Thrill,” “I Want You” and “Whenever…” classics. Watley’s lowlit tones imbue these calmer tracks with an enthralling presence.

“Nightlife” (Dave Doyle Remix)

Directed By: Ray Easmon, Jody Watley, Steve Willis

The only real sticking point with this project is that there isn’t more. This sonic avenue definitely would have lent itself to an album’s span. While you could never accuse her of being shy on previous platters, this recording finds Watley dancefloor bound like never before. The new EP will assuredly appreciate in value like much in this R&B icon’s versatile discography. Ranking: Semi-Classic

[Editor’s Note: Paradise is available at most digital music outlets; the CD is exclusively sold through Jody Watley’s own online boutique. For details on Paradise, Jody Watley and her current affairs, visit her official site.-QH]



Filed under R&B