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. Paradise is Watley’s most extroverted recording to date. 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]

 

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Kimbra’s Sonic “Madhouse” on “The Golden Echo”

Kimbra's "Golden Echo"

Kimbra’s lost in the music on “The Golden Echo”

What a crime that this New Zealand native’s debut record Vows (2011) received critical acclaim, but went unnoticed commercially in most major music markets.

Kimbra did makes ripples, and land a Grammy win, as a duet guest on The Police inspired “Somebody That I Used to Know” with Gotye in 2013. In that time, Kimbra worked with a variety of artists and gathered her strength for the sequel to Vows.

The Golden Echo announces that Kimbra is going to be one of the bright lights of pop for years to come. Often trippy, The Golden Echo pulls its sound from everywhere―as all good pop should. In fact, for those in the know of Kimbra’s influences, The Golden Echo pitches its tent between Lovesexy (1988) era Prince and Post (1995) era Björk. Both LPs are evoked within The Golden Echo’s surrealistic sonic sprawl.

The alien lead single “90s Music” only references the decade it speaks of in its lyrics; its beeping-booping bump comes from another planet altogether. Kimbra does get straight new jack swing with “Madhouse” though; it’s a delight to see someone actually recreate an era versus just boasting about it. Kimbra’s groove fetish is expanded on with the staccato skipping of “Goldmine,” the disco flush of “Miracle” and the dimly lit R&B of “Rescue Him”. The trio of songs evince Kimbra’s songwriting is continually compelling―when you can hear it.

The sole problem with The Golden Echo is that its rich production often verges on smothering. The majority of the record’s first side obscures Kimbra’s voice and subsequently her words. Whether or not this was her intention isn’t clear. Last year, V V Brown achieved a weird, but wonderful feat―lyrics, voice and production exchanging the spotlight at various intervals on Samson and Delilah (2013). It’s something that not everyone can do and V V Brown’s project polarized her base.

One gets the impression that this isn’t the case with The Golden Echo. Maybe Kimbra just gets carried away, but a great example would be the aural juicy fruit of “Carolina”. The music is succulent, but Kimbra herself seems to be behind the track, not leading it. For a voice as boundless as hers, it’s a shame it doesn’t get to broadcast itself more until Echo’s last half. On the quieter works like “As You Are,” “Love in High Places” and “Nobody But You” Kimbra is the star of her show instead of its guest.

“90s Music”

Directed By: Justin Francis

The Golden Echo is far from a failure, nor is it a transitional bridge-way to her eventual junior recording. It is an artist making her own music and letting its fate rest on each respective listener. Regardless, Kimbra’s growth will generate conversation as all good art should. Rank: Above Average

[Editor's Note: The Golden Echo available in all digital and physical music retailers now. For more information on Kimbra, visit her official website.-QH]

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Countdown: My Week with Beyoncé Featured on Blogcritics

Beyoncé from the "Ghost" video, circa 2013

Beyoncé from the “Ghost” video, circa 2013

My essay on Beyoncé’s entire discography (thus far), is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. I discuss the week I spent listening to this polarizing singer’s music after purchasing her entire output last Sunday afternoon. Make sure to check it out!

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Holiday Break

Kelis getting her holiday on

Kelis getting her holiday on

Hello everyone, I hope this post finds you all enjoying your summer. It has been a crazy year thus far and I’m going to be taking a bit a breather for the rest of July. I will return in August with new content to share, I’ve also written for PopMatters and Blogcritics recently―see my archives for links to those essays. Thanks again to all those reading.

By the way, if you’ve never heard (or seen) the fantastic summer jam “4th of July (Fireworks)” by Kelis, which is where the photo is from, do yourself a favor and click here. Be well. Q.

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Seal’s “Seal II” Turns 20 on Blogcritics

"Prayer for the Dying" single cover

“Prayer for the Dying” single cover

My essay on Seal’s second self-titled LP Seal II (1994), is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. Celebrating its 20th birthday last month, this album is home to Seal’s popular hit “Kiss From a Rose” and other treasures. Make sure to check it out!

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Brandy’s 20th Anniversary Celebrated on Blogcritics

 

20 Years of Brandy Norwood

20 Years of Brandy Norwood

 

My essay on Brandy Norwood’s 20th anniversary in music is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. All six of Norwood’s albums are discussed in detail through three movements. Make sure to check it out!

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Jennifer Lopez Aims for “Tens” on “A.K.A” LP

Lopez in 2014

Lopez “acting like that” on new LP.

Usually satisfying and only occasionally disappointing, a new Jennifer Lopez record is worth cheering for. In this pop drought―over a decade Stateside if you’ve got discerning taste―Lopez is one of the last American pop institutions that represents the genre in its natural splendor.

However, when Lopez left the stale taste of Love? (2011) lingering, it seemed she was concerned with competing versus creating. With her eighth LP A.K.A., Lopez still wants to stand her ground with these new girls and offer a few treats too.

The sound arc of A.K.A. is a cool veneer of urban-pop that Lopez has (mostly) perfected. In fact, the album goes down as smooth as Brave (2007), though nothing here approaches its genius.

There are glimpses into what can only be called “classic Jennifer Lopez,” but Lopez keeps the music contemporary and formatted to her personality. The riding cuts (“A.K.A.,” “Acting Like That”) and the previously mentioned classics (“First Love,” “Troubeaux”) are here; a few ballads fill out the remainder of A.K.A. The latter includes the vintage romance of “Let It Be Me” that orbits the atmosphere of Como Ama una Mujer (2007) and the synthy-soap of “So Good”. Both cuts have Lopez in good voice and demonstrate that with 15 years under her belt, Lopez can give a song her own unique read.

What’s really interesting is hearing Lopez tap into her campier side with A.K.A.; “I Luh Ya Papi” (the erroneous lead single), “Booty” and “Tens” are all delectably tongue-in-cheek―only “Booty” flatlines. If one thought Lopez couldn’t conquer the fluffy entries of “Good Hit” and “Papi” from Love?, the summer street sass of “I Luh Ya Papi” and the flashy “Tens” make a strong case for Lopez just wanting to let her hair down.

Those mentioned songs also can be counted among the nine features that dot A.K.A., depending on the edition purchased. While Nas delivers a dashing verse on the punchy “Troubeaux,” Pitbull’s appearance on “Booty” will make Lopez listeners groan. Majority of these collaborations don’t feel organic and while they don’t obstruct Lopez, she is capable of handling the mass of the material herself.

“First Love”

Directed By: Anthony Mandler

There are unequivocal misses, such as the droning “Worry No More” and “Same Girl” that drain the energy of the record’s better sides. In all, A.K.A.’s bold title only grazes the surface of Lopez’s true versatility, but it presents a more coherent offering than Love? did. One wishes Lopez could settle on a persona and flesh it out sonically, but Lopez supplies some respite from the lesser beings roaming the pop landscape today. Ranking: Average

[Editor's Note: A.K.A. is available digitally & physically in a variety of formats; the album reviewed here was the deluxe version. For current information on Jennifer Lopez, visit her official website.-QH]

 

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