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The QH Blend’s “100 @ 30”: [1 thru 20]

Correct!

Spice Girls (1) / Kylie Minogue (2) / Donna Summer (3) / Brandy (4) / Seal (5)

Spiceworld (Virgin, 1997): My desire to grasp “the groove” combined with curiosities for musical epochs gone by when I encountered this album. Further, my appreciation for character in a voice―not just a voice―stemmed from this LP. Spiceworld also proved that producing good music didn’t guarantee fair appreciation from music critics―popular music politics aren’t always just. The Spice Girls were the reason I picked up a pen to write about music and give voice to artists / fans who didn’t have one. 

Kylie Minogue (deConstruction, 1994): Kylie Minogue made me relearn everything I thought I knew about pop song structure at the time. The “suites” that were fashioned on the album weren’t laborious, instead they formed their own patterns. In regard to the actual texture of the music and Minogue’s voice, it was the right blend of maturity, evolution and exploration that captured me.

The Wanderer (Geffen, 1980) Donna Summer never fit into the traditional slot that black women were meant to stay in―musically speaking or otherwise. I was enamored with The Wanderer, but it would be years before I would hear its influence on other women (Madonna, Kylie Minogue) that I favored too. I’ve often remarked that this record was the first “dance-pop departure” vehicle that set that standard that dance-pop was not the only mode pop operated in. Summer didn’t just create that model, she stamped it with this album.

Human (Epic, 2008): Personally, this album has been an emotional companion for me since its release; in the context of Brandy’s legacy I think it was her most consistent thematically. Human had Brandy putting her own experiences to a sonic backdrop that was timely (production wise), but still had that “Brandy feel” to it. I am not sure that she’ll ever top this record.

Human Being (Warner Brothers, 1998): What a songwriter, but due to him being someone of color he was marginalized on both ends of the music spectrum. It’s a shame, because Seal’s ability to work within a soul framework without losing pop’s melody stood second-to-none. This album was darker and maybe that’s why it received such a cold shoulder at the time. I’ve always loved its stormy appeal.

100-2

Cyndi Lauper (6) / Culture Club (7) / Sophie Ellis-Bextor (8) / Cathy Dennis (9) / Madonna (10)

Hat Full of Stars (Epic, 1993): Hat Full of Stars crossed folk, R&B, dance and alternative; Lauper’s style on this was very New York and it made the record sound big, especially listening as a teenager in the summer of 2002 when I copped it. Her songwriting was never better, you can really hear it on “Who Let in the Rain,” “Feels Like Christmas” and “Someone Like Me”.

Colour By Numbers (Virgin, 1983): An album that always comes immediately to mind as living up to its hype. I loved how sharp the music on this was, but not so slick that it didn’t leave room for Culture Club’s character. “Black Money,” an ultimate tearjerker, I realized I had to “grow into” with life experience to appreciate.

Shoot From the Hip (Polydor, 2003): I like that even when her first record painted Bextor in a corner creatively, she made another album that pushed back against pop being tagged as, you guessed it, dance-pop. There are some floor fillers here, but they don’t sacrifice the arc of this album pulling from other places for its inspiration.

Am I the Kinda Girl? (Polydor, 1996): I remember the first time I heard this album and I was just blown away. The way the 1990’s alternative tunage interacted with 1960’s pop was gorgeous. That something this refreshing wasn’t more broadly known continues to sadden me.

American Life (Warner Brothers, 2003): A lot of people incorrectly pegged American Life as Madonna trying to admonish others when she was examining herself. Musically it was her third in a four part electronic quartet that concluded with Confessions on a Dancefloor (2005). Granted Confessions was warmer at its surface, but American Life won me over as the last great ballad vehicle for Madonna.

100-3

Melanie C (11) / Carly Simon (12) / Tori Amos (13) / ABBA (14) / Kim Wilde (15)

Northern Star (Virgin, 1999): The visceral space Melanie C occupied fascinated me as a teenager. I don’t want to say this was a soundtrack to my angst, but that’s slightly accurate. The longing, the curiosity and how the LP bared its fangs…wow. Its underlying sensitivity spun well on the title piece and “Closer”. They’re just gorgeous recordings.

Playing Possum (Elektra, 1975): Never understood the critical drubbing this got. Even though I enjoyed the two previous Richard Perry produced predecessors, Playing Possum was curvier. Its sex appeal was seductive and comforting;Simon was brainy (and busty) when it came to her wordplay on this set. 

From the Choirgirl Hotel (Atlantic, 1998):  From the Choirgirl Hotel was my introduction to Tori Amos a decade ago. Having had this as an entry point, it set the bar Amos repeatedly met as I began trekking through her albums. I loved how succinct Choirgirl was, its combination of electronic and classical music enthralled.

The Visitors (Polar, 1981): ABBA really outdid themselves with this album. Pop acts are supposed to stay behind the lines of “inoffensive” and “innocuous,” but ABBA went noir with The Visitors. Man, you have everything from the personal to the voyeuristic on this effort and it’s (still) superbly catchy. 

Catch as Catch Can (RAK, 1983): Catch as Catch Can’s charm is somewhat unidentifiable. Just as strong as the two previous RAK era albums that came before it, Catch held glossier grooves and assured vocal performances. It was the ideal cap to that first part of her sound.

100-4

Mandy Moore (16) / Lupe Fiasco (17) / Jody Watley (18) / Dannii Minogue (19) / Prince (20)

 Amanda Leigh (Storefront, 2009): I really loved that this was the summation of Moore’s Coverage (2003) and Wild Hope (2007).  Amanda Leigh placed its affection directly in the pocket of 70’s pop and a keen ear will hear her many influences―notably the Carpenters. Moore as a singer made this album a real treat as she wore a variety of hats depending on the song being handled.

Food & Liquor (Atlantic, 2006): My first hip-hop record. I have to be honest, it was my hormones that drew me to Lupe Fiasco; once his music hit my ears, I was a fan. His usage of samples and how he built his stories around them was beautiful. I had never heard hip-hop sound mournful and emotional―yet, there was this devil may care approach in how the songs were expressed. 

Midnight Lounge (Avitone, 2003): Jody Watley has one of the most progressive bodies of work in R&B. From album-to-album, Watley preserved her persona while refining her sound. When I heard Midnight Lounge, its mix of soul and electronica was effortless; the record was revolutionary for Watley and R&B music.

Neon Nights (London, 2003): Where dance and pop intersected best in the last 15 years; Dannii Minogue’s Neon Nights was the record I danced to when I started (gay) clubbing. Outside of its obvious nostalgia, the LP has held up in the ensuing years―especially when compared to the plastic EDM peddled now. 

Parade (Warner Brothers, 1986): Coming off of Around the World in a Day (1985)―Prince at his most pop―the Minneapolis titan managed to rope back in his black base without sacrificing his roving (genre) eye. This album was free, sexy and practical too. He kept churning out some serious master jams, but this LP remains at the summit of Prince’s output.

[Editor’s Note: Please visit your local record store or online retailer for information on availability.-QH]

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The QH Blend’s Records of 2014

Sample of The QH Blend's 2014 music selections

Sample of The QH Blend’s 2014 music selections

The QH Blend unveils its selections for 2014 via Blogcritics. Please click here to see which albums made the cut and my thoughts on said recordings. See below for individual reviews for albums included in my 2014 list.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Wanderlust / Johnnyswim: Diamonds / Kelis: Food / Kimbra: The Golden Echo / Lenny Kravitz: Strut* / Jennifer Lopez: A.K.A. / Kylie Minogue: Kiss Me Once / Jody Watley: Paradise

[Editor’s Note: *―denotes originally published on Blogcritics.]

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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]

 

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Jody Watley: From ‘Soul Train’ to “Nightlife”

The Music of Jody Watley

The Music of Jody Watley

In her fifth decade as a recording artist, Jody Watley bears no marks of fatigue. The Chicago born (and later) Los Angelino’s intrinsic sense of cool and fashion-forward appeal pushed her from unforgettable ‘Soul Train’ dancer staple to one-third of one of the most beloved / influential R&B groups of its era, Shalamar.

After departing Shalamar in 1983, Watley relocated to the United Kingdom; there she found time to feature on the Bob Geldolf’s star-studded charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Cutting with the pop visionaries The Art of Noise, Watley turned out “Where the Boys Are” and “Girls Night Out” in 1985. Both songs were edgy but didn’t find the larger audience they needed; undaunted Watley set about preparing for her return home with a goal of succeeding solo.

Watley in the 1980's

Watley, circa 1987

Her resulting 1987 eponymous debut, on the MCA label, became a genre-definer and spun off hard hitters: “Looking For a New Love,” “Don’t You Want Me” and “Still a Thrill” to name just three. Watley worked alongside her soon-to-be husband / Minneapolis magus André Cymone; Watley wasn’t just a production puppet. She and Cymone handled the three subsequent LPs that came in the wake of her Grammy award-winning debut.  Getting right into the metallics of New Jack Swing, Watley’s second album Larger Than Life (1989) lived up to its bold title and kept her in step with her peers Janet Jackson, Vanessa Williams and Karyn White.

Watley’s third (Affairs of the Heart, 1991) and fourth (Intimacy, 1993) records saw a sales slide, but Watley’s mingling of neoteric and classic R&B wasn’t far off base from the neo-soul movement that gained traction as the 1990’s wore on. In particular, her single “When a Man Loves a Woman” (from Intimacy) fit right into the returning socially conscious scene in black music. Watley took it a step further on the alternate versions of the song (“When a Man Loves a Man,” “When a Woman Loves a Woman”); there she affirmed her connection to the GLBTQ fans that stretched back to her ‘Soul Train’ days.

After eight years at MCA Records, Watley departed the label. In one of her many career rebirths, she began her own indie-label Avitone Records; the imprint is still active today. Her fifth album Affection (1995) was the fruit of this labor. The title song continued her progressive streak at embracing all walks of life; she remained funky and fierce as ever on album sides “The Ways (Parts 1 & 2)” and “Pride & Joy”.

Watley returned, briefly, to the ranks of a major label (Atlantic) with Affection’s follow-up, Flower (1998). In her own words, Watley summarized how the Atlantic deal caused a slight creative detour for her, “I didn’t want to make another record that felt specifically more R&B at that point. I felt happy and wanted something groovy to reflect where I was, as always. I wanted to make a cutting edge international dance record, with soul and excitement, modern!”

Watley, Circa 2003

Watley, circa 2003

Flower had Watley yet again rework her R&B roots with help from the likes of Malik Pendleton, Rahsaan Patterson and an old friend, Rakim. “Off the Hook” was the U.S. R&B Top 30 hit for the project; its D-Dot Remix had Watley and the aforementioned Rakim reunited for the first time since their groundbreaking partnership on “Friends” from Larger Than Life. Atlantic Records strangely shelved the LP Stateside and released it, sans promotion, in Britain.

Watley became disillusioned but found her muse again in the dance music of 4Hero’s Two Pages (1998) LP. Watley and dance weren’t strangers; her first hits were known for filling floors. Her early work with David Morales on the Intimacy single (and dance hit) “Ecstasy” even pre-dated his remix work with Mariah Carey. Dub, chill out and house were mixed in with her established urban flavors and birthed The Saturday Night Experience Volume 1 (1999), a Japan only release.

Modern, lavish and ambitious the record put her ahead of the curve. Later in 2003, Watley released Midnight Lounge in the United States as a way to bring her American fans up to speed with her fusion work. The album boasted features from Roy Ayers, Junior Vasquez and Masters At Work with Watley at the center of it all. This brave frontier Watley had been mapping influenced old peers (Janet Jackson) and new followers (Amerie) on their albums in the aftermath of Midnight Lounge’s release.

Jody Watley Through the Years

2006 was the year of The Makeover. Partnered with the now-defunct Virgin Megastore chain, The Makeover boasted new material with engaging covers of her own work and other artists that inspired her. Its British repackaging appeared in 2009 with several tracks reworked, removed and added. Since that time Watley has been hard at work on her 10th LP, tentatively and aptly titled Chameleon. Her new single “Nightlife” is a hot number that bears both a vintage and contemporary disco pace. Watley continues to define her artistic destiny unapologetically; it’s something in the reality television era of ‘R&B Divas’ that should be savored.

[Editor’s Note: For current information on Jody Watley, visit her official site. Her current single “Nightlife” is available on iTunes now.-QH]

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