Ella Fitzgerald, Get Happy!: Building a House

In continuing with my alphabet series, I, like most people reciting the alphabet, came to the letter “F.” To be honest, I’m not sure if it is a widespread issue, but I did not have very many artist associated with the letter “F.”

Then came along Ms. Fitzgerald. I remembered I had a few of her vinyls and I ellafitzgerald-gethappyespecially am fond of one entitled “Get Happy.” This was one of those lucky Goodwill finds.

Now I am no expert on Fitzgerald, but from what I can tell she was nothing but highly acclaimed. She sang many “Songbooks” from composers, as well as recording original material. Her label at the point of this record was Verve which was actually created around the production of her albums.

I love a good Jazz record and Fitzgerald is one of the best, but I noticed something new as I listened this time around. I am familiar with many old blues and jazz artists, but I find one of the most influential figures in this musical movement is Lady Day, Billie Holiday. Fitzgerald seems to be an extension of where Holiday left off due to her untimely death.

fite007Jazz and blues music seems to encompass everything from arrangements, to instrumentation, to vocal styles. You can hear a song from this genre sung 100 different ways and every way be as good as the next. Vocals were flexible and nothing is out of bounds.

Fitzgerald continued to innovate and play with jazz and blues music through her vocal phrasing and her legendary scatting ability. One can point back to many of her vocal styles that encompass later pop vocalists. I thought I even sensed some rockabilly tendencies at times. Her vocal stylings were not exclusive to her genre, but universal to the sculpting of future performers.

The album opens with “Somebody Loves Me,” a tune about looking for the one who loves you (and it could be you!). She then goes into a vulnerable subject in “Cheerful, Little Fearful,” explaining the reluctance of hearing “I love you.” This song is especially interesting considering that this could make a great ballad, yet it is offset by a compulsive beat and rather “happy” vocals. Side One ends with “Cool Breeze.” You may have trouble looking up the lyrics to this one, it’s pure scatting.

Side two opens with “Moonlight Become You,” a beautiful ballad of the simplicity of Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie 12love. She does a great version of “You Turned The Tables on Me” and goes straight into a big band interpretation of “Gypsy in My Soul.” The real gem on this side is “Goody Goody.” This song will have you laughing and Fitzgerald’s deliverance has perfect comedic timing. She’s so happy her ex found someone else (goody! goody!), but is also happy when she breaks his heart (goody! goody!).

I fell Fitzgerald’s vocal abilities transcend time. She sounds just as fresh and crisp when compared with modern vocalists. Where Billie Holiday poured a foundation, Ella Fitzgerald built a house. For this music lovers we should be forever grateful, for I’m not sure what later music would have sounded like with out the influence of Fitzgerald and modern jazz music.

Goody! Goody!

Cass Elliot, Cass Elliot: No, It’s Not Mama

We all flee from the nest and create our own lives. Many people strive to find new identities outside of “son” or “daughter,” “cousin” or “niece,” and sometimes even parents have to find themselves outside of “mama” or “dad.”

The difference between all those and “mama” and “dad” is that you choose those titles.

As I was researching Ms. Cass Elliot I found where she was the one who brought upcass-elliot the name of being called a “mama,” which resulted in the 60’s rock folk group, The Mamas and The Papas. Mama Cass, as Elliot is often known as, was a persona she created on stage and in the studio. She was always known as the positive one and was known for her wise cracks.

Once The Mamas and The Papas were over, her recording career had empty nest syndrome. She was no longer part of the group, but the public still knew her as good ol’ Mama Cass. So she stayed in that rhythm. I’m sure she felt her career would decline without this character, even though she wasn’t fond of always being known as Mama Cass.

She wanted to be Cass Elliot.

Cass_Elliot_(album)This happened in 1972 when she released her album Cass Elliot. This was her fourth solo album and her first to not include “mama” in her name. This album shows her departure from what she was known for and what what she wanted to become.

The album opens with the slow tempo “I’ll Be Home.” A ballad that sets a precedent for the rest of the album. It is then followed by Elliot’s  vulnerable rendition of “Baby I’m Yours” and the upbeat “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” These songs showed a deep departure from the style she rode to fame.

Elliott’s voice especially soared on “When Love Doesn’t Work Out.” This song was written by her sister, Leah Kunkel and was one of Elliot’s favorites. Her vocals sore on this ballad. It was as if the lid was finally off the jar and it was time that people heard her vocal chops. Sadly, I think she had also lived this antidote as well. This song is superb.

On side b Elliot covered The Beach Boys “Disney Girls” with Bruce Johnston and Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys backing her. This song can be interpreted in many ways, but I just found myself wanting to be the man that Elliot was channeling. But to be honest I don’t know what qualities he was to possess. Maybe it’s cause I’m a big bingo fan….

It saddens me that Elliot was not able to fully embark on this new musical endeavor. Cass_ElliotThis album was not a hit in its day, but it was the beginning of Cass Elliot, the renowned singer and performer. She later teamed up with a new manager and created a cabaret style act that was highly favored by the critics. When she passed she had just achieved standing ovations for two weeks straight at the London Palladium. Her solo career was about to go places.

In the end, I have to say that I like Cass Elliot, but I don’t think she could ever rid herself of Mama Cass. Mother’s often have a niche for being warm and comforting. That’s what Elliot’s voice dictates. Her voice is encompassing in that respect. It’s that warm blanket or fire on a cold winter night. She was a vocal “mama”

So really Elliot was doing it all backwards. Usually the child is the one that grows up, but in this case mama was coming of age and that was tragically cut short.

Celine Dion, Loved Me Back To Life: A Letter for Celine

Dear Celine,

I have to begin by saying how much I have enjoyed your music throughout the years. There were nights when the winds were so cold that all I had was your beautiful pipes. I was your man and it’s all because you loved me.

But where does my heart beat now?

It’s hard to say. I purchased your latest release (on vinyl), Loved Me Back to Life, and music5f-2-webwas left……alone. I see what you are trying to do with the album, or at least what your producers are trying to do. I’m sure they feel you need to be more commercial so you can add a few more notches to your string of hits.

I just want what is best for you. I have loved you through each album, which has been extremely easy, until now. Where is that soaring note? Where is that demanding tone? Where is that moving spirit?

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some fair songs on this album. I did enjoy your duet with Ne-Yo, “Incredible” and “Water and a Flame,” both on side A. Side B just left me scratching my head, but I did enjoy the Stevie Wonder duet, “Overjoyed.” There are some beautiful ballad type songs on there, but where’s that climatic note that soars for 30 seconds? I couldn’t find it.

Celine-Dion-7-Hollywood-Magazine-celine-dion-33360687-378-500And let’s just be honest, your not R&B, which is where this album seems to hover while teetering on dance pop. Maybe it is not always wise to start taking chances. You’re the vocal queen of pop and are able to sing any song set before you. With that being said, that doesn’t mean you should.

But don’t worry Celine, you will always be my lady. I’ll still buy the next album the first day it comes out and I hope to catch you one day in concert, even if I have to drive all night.

My heart will go on.

Love,

Gabe

Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around: Unexplainable….

This is the most perplexing review I have ever written.

I don’t think Johnny Cash really needs another review, though, considering he has made 80+ albums. There are enough writings about him to fill hundreds of books.

One of those books is his autobiography entitled “Cash: The Autobiography.” I usually do 104473-johnny_cash_617not expect too much from celebrity biographies. It seems they always kindly omit the bad stuff and the times when they were in the wrong. This book is completely different. This was a real man examining himself and giving an explanation for many of his triumphs and tragedies to those that found inspiration through him; his fans.

That’s what brought this album alive to me.

I have owned “American IV: The Man Comes Around” for around a year now. I mainly bought it because I love Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt.” This was ultimately his last hit and last album of new material to be released before his death. The majority of the songs on this album are covers, with a few sprinkles of Cash’s classic writing. The listener is instead forced to focus on the depth of Cash’s voice versus his pomp and circumstance.

So here are the tracks that stuck out the most to me. I narrowed it down to these few tracks, but in reality, each track holds it’s own.

cash__32306_zoom“The Man Comes Around” is the opening track. It begins and ends with Cash reciting Bible verses. I initially thought the song was about him coming back around, but it is about God’s impending judgment upon the world. The song expressed Cash’s contentment with his own life and his willingness to be judged on all his wrongs and rights. This was one of the songs written by Cash.

“Hurt” is the second track off this album that stood out. Everybody knows this song and Cash’s moving rendition of what one would consider a more contemporary song.  His voice lays over the instrumental like sand paper. The chorus sums up his feelings about his previous addictions and actions. He is asking his sweetest friend (June) what had he become. He had built an empire of “dirt” and “everyone left in the end.” This is early 60’s Cash coming back and taking blame for his actions.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the fourth track on the album with backing vocals by Fiona Apple. This song seemed to serve as a thank you to all those who had been his “bridge.” He had hit rock bottom many times and he always seemed to have someone come to his rescue.

“I Hung My Head” is the fifth track and was penned by the legendary Sting. This goes back to Cash’s country and outlaw routes. It also shows his excellent vocal acting ability. He had to have told this story as an out of body experience for he became the protagonist in this rough story song. This son also shows Cash’s excellent story telling ability.

“Danny Boy” is the tenth track off of the album. This is originally an old Irish folk song. Cash created the arrangement on the album. It is the track listed with the least personnel contributing, which is obvious in its stripped down composition. The song always seems very solemn to me and Cash’s rendition doesn’t fall short. This song is always up for interpretation and one could write for days over Cash’s version and what it meant for him.

“Desperado” is the next track off the album. The song is almost autobiographical to Cash. johnny-cash-portrait-650He had to let somebody love him (June) before it was too late (his own self-destruction). This song also featured vocals from Don Henley who also co-wrote the song.

Lastly, I’d like to touch on his closing song “We’ll Meet Again.” This is actually a very pleasant song about saying farewell, but having confidence that you will see “them” again one day. It’s a profound wrap up to an album that had extreme emotional highs and lows.

With the last strum of the guitar, I feel this album is essentially Johnny Cash’s obituary. I know this is not a new idea among the listening community when talking about this album. It’s a non-traditional obituary, though, for instead of listing general accomplishments and family members, he tells of his life through the gravel of his voice. By using other words, we were allowed to hear the pure emotion and the cascading of passion of a man who had lived hard.

In the end, I feel this album is unexplainable. You just need to listen to it and find your own interpretation. This album is a great gift that Cash left all his then current listeners and to those who are just discovering him for the first time. I would suggest that you put on your black lenses and examine this masterpiece through your own life’s accolades and mishaps.

Cher, Dressed to Kill: There Is no “If,” It’s When

I made a mistake last Tuesday. I’m a sucker for concerts, especially of legends. I also like to take my mom to concerts of artists that were from her young days. She can tell me when she used to watch them on the television from first-hand experience! This also serves as a good veil of deception when I just want to go to a concert.

So I got on Stubhub (a terrible, terrible website, don’t go there, you will be out money). I found 2 tickets, cheaply priced for Cher’s current Dressed to Kill Tour. I used to be a Cher fan, but I hadn’t listened to her for a while. I knew my mom and I would enjoy it together. And, did I mention that they were 3rd-row center?

Anyways, I had to have them. I had seen footage of many Cher shows and knew she put on a large production and I mean, come on, she’s Cher! So after finagling money out of this account and that credit card, the tickets were mine.

Saying the concert was spectacular is an understatement. I have always considered Cher the Goddess of Pop and she confirmed my accusations.

The concert began with her most recent dance hit, “Woman’s World.” She came down offphoto (3) a large pedestal adorned with a headdress colored in what I think would be peacock colors. As she descended, she proceeded to take off her outer covering, exposing what a flamboyant Egyptian queen would wear (again in my mind). She was the audience’s Cleopatra and we were willing to do anything under her rule. She then immediately went into Strong Enough.” This song took on a vibe of its own as her dancers came out with gladiator shields showing that this immaculate diva could take you down and that she had the army to do it (and that was minus the gay men).

One of my favorite sequences was when Cher returned back to her musical foundation. She recreated “I Got You Babe” with Sonny projected on a screen directly behind her. They sang the song together as if it were 1965 once again. It was a time to reminisce for even those that weren’t alive during that generation. It was a musical time warp.

photo (2)From there, Cher went into her 3 number 1’s from the early 1970’s, “Gypsys, Tramps, and Thieves,” “Dark Lady,” and “Half Breed.” The stage turned into a traveling Circus troupe with three main rings and dancers to fill them all. Cher, dressed in what only an ostentatious gypsy could pull off, proceeded into her first two songs declaring how all the men would come around and lay their money down (despite calling them tramps during the day) and how that ho of a dark lady stole her man. She then disappeared behind the center ring’s curtain. Seconds later, after what seemed to be a semi Native American pow wow performed by her dancers, she reappeared in one of her signature looks, an Indian headdress with a matching crop top, a flowing loincloth, and that jet black, hip-length, black hair.

She then went into a homage to her most recent movie Burlesque. I am sure this photo (4)was to please her younger fans. She did an awe-inspiring rendition of “You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me.” This was the vocal highlight of the show. As one who has sung and taken lessons, this song is just plain hard. Cher has also been quoted as saying she has never been accepted into the singing group or acting group amidst her qualifications. This song shows that she is a vocal powerhouse; better yet, a vocal mansion.

Then came what  I call the “down low” stage of the concert. She stripped it down for three
of her more acoustic songs “Walking in Memphis,” “Just Like Jesse James,” and “Heart of Stone.” Her vocals were perfection.

photo (6)

Then came what I think any moderate Cher fan was looking forward to. It was time for the leotard. You know that one that barely covers the “bathing suit” areas? You know that one with the thigh-high boots and 100’s of strategically placed rhinestones? Yeah, that one. She proceeded into “I Found Someone” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Everybody in the arena was groveling at her feet and every woman was trying to figure out why they couldn’t pull that outfit off at their age (including the youngsters).

Lastly, she performed her number one smash “Believe.” It was indeed amazing, although I felt it was her encore that solidified her as the goddess she truly is. As the lights went low and the audience yelling, a platform floated from the back of the arena and landed center stage. Once it landed, Cher emerged from the starry darkness. She had on a flowing dress and upon her head was what only a Diva Pop Goddess crown would look like (I didn’t know until then what one looked like). She was then lifted over the whole audience while singing “I Hope You Find It” from her latest album Closer to The Truth.

This was an especially emotional and moving time of the concert. Cher had said this

From Cherworld.com/ Phoenix show

From Cherworld.com/ Phoenix show

was definitely her last tour (with a wink, wink), but I think she may be serious. While she was singing the song, I felt like Cher was expressing contentment. She is accepted by people more important than the Oscar and Grammy elitist. She is accepted by thousands of fans that have adored her for 5 decades. She has finally done what we all hope to do, find it.

In the end, I walked away from the concert completely stunned. How a 67-year-old lady can perform and sing to that degree is astounding. She puts new performers to shame. For the longest time, one of my favorite Cher songs was “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Well, there was no question after the show. It was not “if she could turn back time,” it was when. The concert was about Cher, as a vocal, acting, and pop culture phenomenon without an expiration date.

photo (7)After reflection, I realized the concert sent a different message as well. She proved happiness is immortal, that acceptance is fleeting, and contentment was priceless. Only a performer of her caliber could prove this, and she is the only one that exists.

So, as a seasoned concert fanatic, I feel she best summed it up in her first “Farewell Tour.” She said  to all her younger contemporaries “follow this, you bitches.”

But let’s be honest…they can’t even find her footprint.