A Journey, The Brush and The Canvas

Life is full of journeys through family and friends, through your career, and through different life experiences. Everyday we wake up to embark on a new excursion, yet we are losing a subtle and contributive art form that has long been a companion through these journeys…the album.

imagesThe music album is being lost in-between gigabytes and a microwave society. In today’s time we want things quick and perfect. We don’t have time to sit and wait. We need it now and if it’s not supplied, we move on. This is clearly seen in the evolution of music and how it is now being produced. No longer do we buy full albums of artists, but instead we purchase the individually well-produced singles. The rest of the album has turned into perceivable waste.

Oddly, this evolution finds its root in the once archaic distribution of music. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, music began to be widely distributed by 10” vinyl records often called 78’s. These 78 RPMs (rounds per minute) often contained one song on each side of the vinyl disc. Although due to movie soundtracks and artists who recorded more than two songs at a time, these discs began to be provided in a book with individual sleeves for each vinyl.They would range from 10-20 pages, essentially creating an “album” of vinyl records.

$_1Artists began to embrace this concept and the 33 RPMs, 12” record was born. It could
now contain anywhere from 8-13 songs or more depending on the manufacturing of the disc. Artists were now given a larger canvas to paint their recordings on. One or two songs per release was not any longer a restriction. As time kept rolling and thousands of albums were being made, a new art form started to appear on these 12” discs, the concept album.

Concept albums began with the great American songbook musicians, including Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. They would record an album with one general theme. Each song was a new stroke of the paintbrush and by the end you had a full picture.

Towards the mid 1960’s into the 1970’s, concept albums took another turn. Instead of creating an over all theme, they began to create a story. Picture a pure audio movie. This is seen distinctively in The Beach Boys Pet Sounds and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band and later in albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.

Similarly, this trend then carried on to the idea of recording concerts live and releasing them on vinyl discs. In this regard, people who were unable to attend a concert of a particular artist were able to experience the sensation and aura of a live performance. Each recording was “one of a kind”, providing listeners with a more candor approach to artists. Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive and Aretha Franklin’s Aretha in Paris are perfect examples of this impression.

digital-music-converter-1Today, this art form is being lost in the array of music distribution and format. This began with the creation of file sharing sites Napster and Limewire. Once those were deemed illegal, the creation of the iTunes store and the purchase of individual tracks on sites like Amazon now provided this service. No longer did you have to buy an album for a particular song. One was not automatically forced to listen to the rest of the artist’s picture, but one could now create their own image of artists by downloading songs fitting their prerogative. This movement has forced record companies and artists to focus all their energies in a select few tracks of an album. These tracks are the singles and the others just become mediocre fillers that barely see the light of day.

Incidentally, this has resulted in the degradation of the album, which has also resulted in the simplification of individual artists. It is not often we find the overall performer who can sing and touch on every kind of song to create any concept.

Now there are still artists and albums that champion this idea, such as Adele’s 21 and Eminem’s Relapse, but these are few and far between. Yet, the music industry is going to continue to follow down the path of dumbed down albums at the price of genius singles.

$T2eC16V,!zEFIfKbzlz-BSYQl55-MQ~~60_12Although artists are beginning to take back this art form with the resurgence of the 12 “,
33 RPM, vinyl record. Nevertheless, the sales of these records are not enough to save the album. In the larger picture, these are appreciated by a few, while the majority are simply satisfied with the iTunes top songs chart or Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” play list.

In the end, the concept album evolved to take listeners on journeys essential to life. Music is the one intangible object that occupies nearly every part of your brain. This gives music the power to channel emotion like no other medium, providing every set of feelings imaginable. This is the essence of what is being lost through an ever-evolving negligent and impatient society. We want quick music to give us a quick high, yet we are robbing artists of their full potential and our own solace in the art of the full, concept album.

Most importantly, we are erasing creativity for the sake of time. We now lose ourselves in data and work, while neglecting how we can take part in art and its many forms. The album and its concepts provide the escape, relaxation, and comfort desperately needed in today’s society. Albums and their concepts provide journeys and escapes that everyone needs, but we just simply don’t have the time. Society no longer gives the artist the brush to paint the full picture. We barely get finger paintings.

She’s a Christmas Woman

Last Tuesday I had the privilege of seeing Melinda Doolittle in concert. I have been waiting years to see her in person. Many of you will remember her from season 6 of American Idol where she was the third runner-up.

doolittle_web_largeNeedless to say, the minute she was voted off, I turned off the TV and went to my room. I have never watched an episode of American Idol since.

So when they announced Melinda was coming to OKC to do her Christmas show I was elated. I have all her recordings and I have been keeping up with her since 2009. I bought tickets the moment they went on sale.

Anybody that has heard Melinda knows how immaculate her voice is. Her voice is as strong as a brick, yet as emotional as your mother on graduation day. She possess the soul of Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Diana Ross combined, topped off with a sprinkle of Melinda’s own sass.

(And of course I’m super proud to call her my fellow Okie. She is a graduate of Tulsa Union High School.)

There wasn’t a single Christmas carol or tune left out of the entire show. She took the audience on a journey from winter wonderlands to the manger of Jesus. Her powerful journey took us through “Winter Wonderland,” “All I Want for Christmas,” “Mary Did You Know?,” amongst many others. I could write over every song she sang, but that would make this post nearly a novel.

Here are my favorites and greatest takeaways from her flawless show:

  1. IMG_1586“God Bless Us Everyone.” This was one of her beginning numbers. This is a song
    she cowrote. She sings of love, joy, and peace for all families and how Christmas is a time where everything is brand new. This song really focused on the family and the renewing spirit of the season. It’s just beautiful.
  2. “Home” from the Wiz. Melinda sings this song like it is meant to be sung, an emotional ballad longing for the love that only home can provide. At the beginning of the song, she treats the lyrics with childlike vulnerability and by the end of the song, she has gained the confidence on where home really is. Her rendition is sure to give you chills. This was one of her first performances on American Idol.
  3. “O Holy Night.” Melinda proclaimed this is one of her favorite Christmas tunes of all time. She took a seat next to the piano and sang this song completely stripped down. Her voice painted the nativity and took you there through both the soft touch of a baby with the strength of the King of Kings.
  4. “Mary Did You Know?” She opened with this song right after intermission. Everybody was quickly right back in the show. She gave this song nearly the same treatment she gave “O Holy Night,” yet this time she was full of confidence and undeniable faith. The moments where she had to lean back from the mic due to the power of her voice, nearly made the walls shake. This song must be recorded.
  5. “All I Want for Christmas”/ Diana Ross smash-up. Melinda told the audience that IMG_1585while everyone wanted to be Mariah Carey during school, she was over in the corner listening to Motown and Diana Ross. She opened this song with her best Mariah Carey impression, which was nearly spot on, and ended the song with lyrics from various Ross and Supremes songs (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Stop, In The Name of Love”). This was pure entertainment and fun.
  6. “I Am Woman” She told us after she had seen Rod Stewart sing “Love Train” at the Rockefeller tree lighting while proclaiming it’s a Christmas train, that she felt she could now sing any song and make it Christmas. Talk about attitude and a full soul, rock, r&b performance! She gave her all in telling everybody that she will give them the shivering fits while she gets grits in the pan. She walked around the whole auditorium as she sang this one. A true performer willing to entertain her audience.
  7. “Drummer Boy.” Now we all know this as a traditional Christmas song, but let’s be honest, what does it mean? Even Melinda can’t figure it out. Well, she decided to do a special version by the reknowned artists Justin Bieber and Busta Rymes. All I have to say is yes, Melinda can rap with the best of them.

These are just a few of the songs that stuck out to me. The show was nearly two hours long with a 20 minute intermission. I didn’t even get a chance to mention her golden gown and glitzy jumper.

One of the greatest aspects of this show was Melinda being Melinda. She shared stories and accolades from her ventures through American Idol to personal stories with her family and friends. Melinda was very expressive of her faith in God and how this is the season to celebrate Jesus’ birth (something we need to see more of). She held nothing back and her pure personality shined through. Her show isn’t staged, it’s lived.

To my delight after the show, Melinda came out to sign autographs and meet her fans. I came with her first album insert in tow ready to prove I’ve been a fan since the beginning. As I walked up to the table for her to sign my items she looks at me and asked “Aren’t you the one that tweets me?”

I almost thought I was about to get security called on me.

IMG_1579 (1)We then proceeded to talk about our tweets and we declared ourselves BFFs. She signed everything for my mom and I and continually thanked us for our support of her throughout her career. My mom and I took a picture with Melinda, then she said get one of her and “her Gabe.” It was a priceless moment for me. She is in my top 5 singers and to be recognized by her meant the world.

I can not clearly verbalize my thoughts on Melinda’s concert. My words do not do the concert complete justice. This was the only concert I have ever attended that I wish had a back button, so I could hear certain songs over again.

What is different about Melinda now compared to her American Idol days is that now Melinda can be completely herself. There was no pomp and circumstance. It was just her and her band. That was all that was needed. The band was extraordinary, and Melinda’s vocals were brilliant. She is one of the greatest vocalist of the 21st century.

If you ever have the chance you MUST see her live. It will renew your faith in music and remind you that there are still real performers out there. Melinda is atop the list.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go tweet my new bestie.