ALBUM REVIEW: Beck, Morning Phase – Album of The Year

The Grammys are always exciting for me. I have not always watched the shows in full, but this year I had planned to camp out in front of the TV for its 3+ hour run. I always find it interesting to see if I can pick the winners based off of my knowledge and 80% of the time I am pretty accurate (not to toot my own horn…..).

Although, this year I completely missed Album of The Year. I didn’t find there to be any strong contenders, but I was leaning towards Sam Smith to take the honor. Ed Sheeran always seems to almost make it but will come up short in the end. Beyonce’s record was overproduced and overhyped. I didn’t think lyrically Pharrell would be a strong argument. Don’t get me wrong, I am actually a fan of each nominee, but this is how I see them against each other.

I didn’t even see Beck being a dot on the radar. I will preface this in saying that I had never listened to a Beck album fully and couldn’t name a single tune he sang. I did know he was a very talented musician and writer, but that is where my knowledge ended.

So after work on Tuesday, I had to make a stop at the record store and buy Beck’s Morning Phase.  The album had thrown me into a conundrum and I had to find my way out.

After the first listen I found nothing special about it. During the second listen it was just background noise. It wasn’t until the third listen that it turned to genius.

Beck, as a musician, almost solely won this award. He wrote every song on the album, produced it, and played the majority of instruments. This wasn’t about singing through lyrics, it was about the whole structure of the songs that turned into an album. And like Prince said, albums do matter. They were rewarding a full-fledged, multi-instrumental artist.

This album listens lyrically in a way I can’t exactly explain. I would be curious if Beck himself could. Every song makes since yet every song throws you for a loop. These songs are universal touching topics such as relationship breakup, rebellion to societal norms, and even suicide.

The album is about all those things that aren’t necessarily depressing, but what have adverse effects on us as a growing person. It’s a coming of age album no matter what age you are. After really digging into the lyrics I took away that I needed to focus more on being who I am and forget what others think or say. I need to embrace my individuality. I found this message in songs such as “Heart is a Drum,” “Unforgiven,” “Wave,” “Turn Away,” and “Waking Light.”

I also discovered how love can be like a little trinket that means the world to you, but you don’t know why or even where it came from (“Blackbird Chain”). I discovered that home is where the heart is, but once you leave and declare your independence it’s never the same (“Country Down”). Lastly, I saw where I can wake up in the morning and decide my fate, but it may take a few do-overs (“Morning”).

Beck proved with this album you don’t need fancy production or a god-like image to create a masterpiece in today’s musical realm. It is a breath of fresh air. I applaud the Grammys on this choice. They got it right.

And he didn’t even need a surfboard to get there.




ALBUM REVIEW: Marvin Gaye, Live

We all live our lives in stages. We often don’t realize we are going through these different seasons of life until they end.

That is how I think of Marvin Gaye. He has musical stages that directly coincide with his own trials and triumphs in his life. His musical success starts with songs such as “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” and “Pride and Joy,” but before these, there was “”Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide.”

Never heard of it? Most people haven’t.

Gaye’s early career did not yield success. At this time he had moved out of an abusive home, dropped out of school and had served a stint in the army, a lackluster life at best. Then came the hits. Then came the duet albums with the likes of Tammi Terrell and Kim Weston. Life was good.

Next, came What’s Goin On and Let’s Get it On after the death of Terrell. This took a significant toll on Gaye emotionally, but it didn’t stop Gaye’s success. Listen closely though, the mourning and emotion are in the lyrics and vocals.

By the time 1977 rolled around Gaye had become a household name. He released the live album Live at The London Palladium, adding his name to a list of endless superstars who had performed there. I feel it perfectly sums up his musical career and life perfectly at this stage.

This album finds a confident Gaye. That wasn’t typical of his character. One can read countless accounts of how he was really a shy individual, but it is hardly an argument with this album. He talked very humbly, but he wasn’t overly confident. He didn’t act shy what so ever.

The pre-“Sexual Healing” Marvin is in full force on this album. He jokingly sings “Let’s Get it On” with a rather bashful lady in the audience. He covers all his old 1960’s hits from “You’re a Wonderful One” to “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”

Live is basically built upon three song melodies. The highlights of this album come in Melody Two and Melody Three. In Melody Two he mixes his hits with songs that mirror a “We Are the World” sentiment. He sings his beliefs in songs like “God is Love” and “Save the Children,” while offering his hit “What’s Going On.”

Melody Three is my favorite. This is where Marvin really starts to have fun. He performs many of his duet hits with Florence Lyle. Although these were not the originals, you can tell that Marvin is living in yesterday with every note. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is always a favorite, but to be honest, the whole melody is sensational.

I can’t say enough about Gaye. I have listened to his music for a few years now, yet I still can’t get my mind completely wrapped around his music. Reading articles about him show me the stages that he lived in. He is an entirely different man from “Stubborn’ Kind of Fellow” to “Let’s Get it On” to “Sexual Healing.” He’s barely even recognizable from cover to cover!

Marvin had just begun act 4 when he was shot by his father in 1984. What would act 5 and 6 looked like? One can only imagine the genius he would have produced. His death is one of the biggest tragedies to soul music and music as a whole.

ALBUM REVIEW: Ella Fitzgerald, Sings The Gershwin Songbook

I began thumbing through my records to figure out who I would like to write about. After a thorough examination, I decided to go with the First Lady of Song, Ms. Ella Fitzgerald.

There are quite a few eras in Fitzgerald’s career. She had her time with Chuck Webb until his passing in 1939 where his band was renamed “Ella and Her Famous Orchestra.” Fitzgerald then went on to record for Decca, where she began singing “bebop” and became known for her famous scatting.

It wasn’t until her manager, Norman Granz, created Verve records around Fitzgerald that she broke free from “bebop” and returned to her roots. This is where she began recording her famous “Songbook” records. My personal favorite (that I am lucky to own) is Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Gershwin Songbook.

She sings these songs with such ease. She transitions emotions flawlessly through such songs “(I’ve Got) Beginner’s Luck” to “The Man I Love.” Her fun side comes out on songs like “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” and “Clap Yo’ Hands.” She even gets a little sexy with “Lorelei.”

Fitzgerald makes singing sound easy and from experience, it is not an easy task to adequately sing a song and project emotion in the same breath. As the liner notes on this album states, she got a pair of shaky knees when she entered her first talent contest as a dancer. So instead of dancing she decided to sing. She won 1st place, $25, and the rest is history.

When I listen to Fitzgerald I feel comfortable. Sometimes you would even swear she’s even in the room with you, lightly caressing your ears with her universal vocals.

I purchased my grandparent’s crushed velvet chairs when they moved. They are very comfortable and I can still smell my grandparent’s house on them to this day. In their time they actually took care of things and they look like they are right off the showroom floor.

Fitzgerald is my crushed velvet chairs. Her music may be old, but it will never lose it’s warmth and comfort. Her love is here to stay.