About Gabe Crawford

Christian. Oklahoman. American. Vinyl enthusiast.

Paula Cole, Ballads: Uncanny and Reverent

I listen to a lot of albums across every genre. I have found myself jumping from Peter Gabriel all the way to Beyoncé, while hitting every step along the way, during a days time. Some may say I have musical ADHD, I think I’m just well-rounded.

There are two categories of albums I listen to. “Albums I like” is the largest category. This consists of the albums I hear and binge on a daily basis. These albums generally rustle my feathers and often give me goosebumps. Then there are the albums that make me stop and say, “Whoa, that is what music sounds like.” Those are few and far between.

Courtesy of Paula Cole’s Facebook

Recently though, I have found one that has jolted me to a complete halt. That album isPaula Cole’s Ballads.

I can barely express how excited I am about this album. Once I listened to it on Spotify I immediately went to her website, ordered the vinyl version with signature, checked tour dates, and read countless articles on Cole’s career. I have never evangelized for an album, but I want to tell everybody about this masterpiece.

This is a Jazz album including many of the great standards like “God Bless The Child” and “Skylark.” But, then a wrench is thrown into the collection with such songs as “I Wish (I Knew How it Feels To Be Free)” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” The album consists of 20 songs and was released by Cole independently on her 675 label.

So now it’s a Jazz/Folk/protest album. Also, did I mention it has a hint of Country?

Ok Gabe, breath, regain composure and try to write….too much greatness

The album begins with “God Bless The Child,” the Jazz classic written by Billie Holiday. The only word that can describe the orchestration to this arrangement is “rootsy.” It’s not your typical arrangement of Jazz, yet it completely encompasses everything that is Jazz. This idea stays with the entirety of the album.

Next, Cole goes into the protest song made famous by Nina Simone, “I Wish (I Knew How to Be Free).” Again Cole evokes an emotion that often gets lost in songs, and that is the core meaning. This song has specific historical significance, but she brought the song to me today and made it relevant. While listening to this song I began to question myself on what it would look like to be free.

The song asked a question, like many songs, but I have never wanted to answer so badly.

Courtesy of Rockport Music.

“I Wish” is perfectly coupled with Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” later in the album. “Lonesome” is one of my top 5 of the entire album. The way Cole sing’s a story song is like a movie. The listener sees everything in detail. She talks about the longing for justice that was desperately needed in the 1960’s and needed now. Her voice literally becomes the rag to dry your tears. The movies continue with the songs “Ode To Billy Joe” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.”

Cole gives the uptempo jazz greats a new facade as well with songs like “Never Will I Marry, ” Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “You Hit the Spot.” These songs show Cole’s skilled vocal technique and her accomplished talent as a vocalist. Not to mention her pitch perfect melancholy tones on the great standards like “You’ve Changed” and “Autumn Leaves.”

The greatest feat of this album is how it portrays Jazz music. All of Cole’s vocals are Jazz in style and soul. Jazz doesn’t belong to a certain instrument or vocal method, it belongs to the approach and deliverance of a song. Jazz encapsulates love, heartbreak, and justice in its purest forms.

Cole then adds a second element to this album. Early in this article, I mentioned how the album feels “rootsy,” but I want to go a step further. This album echoes the foundation of music as a whole. It goes down to the very roots that hold music upright today. This album not only covers some of the best songs ever written, it is a tribute to the great musicians that have shaped modern music.

Inherently, I know Cole collaborated, discussed, and had multiple outside influences, but in the end, she was the sole producer of this album. The framework began in her mind, while others added color, yet she filled in the final details. This album is a testament that Paula Cole is a master at the art of music.

The way Paula Cole weaves the themes of heartbreak, injustice, love, happiness, and sorrow seamlessly on one album is incredible. The album is so relevant it’s uncanny, yet so nostalgic it’s reverent.

Don’t wait for your life to be over to hear this one.


Visit Paula Cole’s official Website here. (Buy the vinyl)

Check out her Twitter here.

Check out her Facebook here.

Nina Simone, Baltimore: Still Speechless

Some artists you can’t figure out. These artists are often the ones I skip over when I’m choosing someone to write about. If I can’t emotionally get my mind and heart wrapped around their music and voice, how could I put words to it?

One of these artists is Nina Simone. Her voice is as sharp as a razor blade, as extravagant as a fur coat, yet as innocent and simple as a little girl. It penetrates your being and goes straight for the soul. Listening to her can be a spiritual experience.

From my personal collection

I have many of Simone’s albums and with each album, I find a new gem. Sometimes it could just be the way she stylizes a song differently, other’s it’s her own compositions. On one of my recent vinyl hauls, I found her 1978 album, Baltimore.

This album immediately took me by surprise. Nina Simone was singing reggae? I wasn’t complaining. I liked it. Songs like the title track “Baltimore” and her cover of Hall and Oates “Rich Girl” really show a different tone to her voice. It is different than every one of her previous studio albums and I think it was innovative.

Although, this change was not welcomed by Simone. We all know Simone was a complex lady, but I truly believe she had a beautiful soul. In 1977 famed jazz producer, Creed Taylor, signed Simone to his label CTI. Simone was not one to do what she didn’t want to, yet her comment’s made about this album proves she did just that. The sessions were tense and she eventually recorded the album’s vocals in an hour and a half.

Yet, a master piece was still born.

First, I was immediately hooked to the second song “Everything Must Change.” Simone’s vocals glide over the words of this song like second nature. At this point in her life, both personally and professionally, she had experienced change, while also not experiencing enough change. On this recording, Simone’s melancholy vocals continue to take on different shapes to each listener’s situation years later.

Then there is Simone’s second ballad of the album, “My Father.” The song’s lyrics make a complete circle, but Simone’s vocals fill in all the space between the words. It’s brilliance.

From last.fm

On side B I found Simone’s “melody” of traditional Christian songs intriguing. Through my experience with Simone, she doesn’t often give a higher power credit, but in “Balm of Gilead” and “If You Pray Right,” she does just that. Her voice sounds completely content and joyful in “Balm of Gilead,” which is taken straight from the Holy Bible. “If You Pray Right” takes on a complete gospel spin that really isn’t Simone, but it’s a vocal style that many African-American singers get type cast into. She is the High Priestess of Soul though, so she can preach like no other! It’s nice to hear Simone in these less heavy songs as she brings a new identity to both of them.

When I first heard the album I thought it was an interesting avenue Simone traveled down musically. Then I did the research and found that she was in essence, disgusted with the album, but the listener can’t hear that. She gives 110% to a project she distastes. Why?

Nina Simone both, self-perceived and in reality, lived on the back burner. People knew she was always going to give her all and they took advantage of that. Even this could not mask her genius interpretation of emotion.

I’m just going to have to end here because I simply can’t think of anything else to say. Again, Nina Simone has left me speechless.

Bond Villain: Simply Innovative

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of newer music. I go through phases. I generally listen to older artists. Sometimes I lose all hope in music being released today, then I find some kick ass artist that renews my hope in humanity. That happened.

From Bond Villain’s Instagram.

Last night, I tuned into Bond Villain’s Facebook Live. I recently heard their collaboration with Kimberley Locke on “Dangerous Woman,” and I thought it was legit music made with real talent (I’m also a sucker for anything Kimberley Locke lends her vocals too). Now it was time to give Bond Villain a shot on other material.

The first song they shared was “Dying Star.” This is one of their earlier compositions. In Bond Villain’s explanation, this song is about either a romantic relationship or about a family relationship. The song boils down to someone who is burning their life out. This is someone you love, yet they are toxic in where you are in your life right now.

When this song began I thought an army was marching, but then it transitioned to a simple piano riff that hooks you in. The vocals are the sinker. The song crescendos at the chorus giving way to a sound that was equally as epic, or more, as the beginning. The climax (bridge) of the song goes into a near military march of emotion, lyrically and musically, while ending with a simple piano. The song comes full circle.

Secondly, they shared “Body Like a Knife” This song is a little less heavy on lyrics while staying incredibly creative. This song is a mix of EDM, hip-hop, and pop. This song was made for the stage. It is filled with dramatic elements, including another epic bridge. Again, it’s the vocals that get you.

The next song “Let Me Go” is my personal favorite. This is a relatively new song for Bond Villain. He describes this song as a mix of emotions that are nostalgic, equating them to a place in your childhood. This place once meant something to you, but its meaning has changed. You find loved ones who had an impact on your life, but you now realize you are different now then who you were then.

For me, this song deeply relates to my life. I am upcoming on my one year anniversary of moving to New York from my childhood home of Oklahoma. As I reflect on the last year I have discovered a new person; a person, who I think is more of who I am. I have a lot of situations and people back home that I need to let go and that need to let go of me.

“Let Me Go” comes with another dramatic intro that immediately takes me home through its lyrics. I find myself walking the corridors of where my life once was (minus the cow patties). The chorus is mid-tempo, but the passion is astounding. It’s a precursor to what the song morphs into. The song then takes on a gospel vibe, with Bond Villain being joined by what sounds like choir. Locke lends her voice here to add some diversity in vocals, passion, and soul. This is the goosebump moment.

From Bond Villain’s Instagram

This song is a ballad in nature, yet it stretches the elements. “Let Me Go” moves ballads into a new era. It has the same sentiment of a ballad and the orchestration of the song has many of the same elements. What this song does is combine orchestration and vocals into one unit. You don’t hear a singer, then a piano, some beats, and back ups. You hear one full composition. This song is simply innovative. It’s moving into my favorite rack.

Lastly, Bond Villain shared the video of “Dangerous Woman” with Kimberley Locke. One would initially consider this song a cover of Ariana Grande, but really it’s anything but. Grande is the original singer, but Bond Villain and Locke make it completely new, bringing it a fresh identity through heavy piano and elastic vocals.

Tonight I listened to a lot of music. I always say my musical choices are a little ADD. I can go from one extreme to the other. That is what happened tonight, yet it came from one artist instead of many. This combination doesn’t show a lack of direction from Bond Villian, yet it creates determination. A determination that is willing to push music past it’s proper composition. A determination defined by a placement of a note beyond the staff. An idea that music is anything but restrictive.

Bond Villain is simply innovative.

———

Check out all his new songs here.

Visit Bond Villain’s official site here. (Seriously, buy a shirt)

Follow Bond Villain on Instagram and Twitter @BondVillianBand

Like Bond Villain’s Facebook here.

Kris Kristofferson: A Profound Experience

Last week I wrote about Diana Ross’ nearly perfect show. Although, that was not the only show I saw that weekend. Sunday I had tickets to see Kris Kristofferson as well.

It was sensory overload.

Now it’s easy to see the stark differences in Diana Ross and Kris Kristofferson. I hope this speaks to my diversity or mental instability. I went from turning upside down to hanging with Bobby McGee within 48 hours. That’s quite a stretch.

I received an email from a friend a few weeks ago with a link to Kristofferson’s show at The City Winery in NYC. Now I’m not a Kristofferson expert, but the tickets seemed irresistible. Oddly, I grew up watching A Star is Born, and I knew some of his songs. He reminded me of home, so I decided to buy.

Kristofferson left me speechless. I didn’t know what to say about his show, and I still don’t. The only word that I can find to describe his set is profound. Every note he sang, every lyric he wrote, every look he gave the audience was simply profound.

He sang a staggering 28 songs. These songs ranged from his hits like “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “For The Good Times,” while also touching on some minor musical milestones. From the moment he began to sing I could not take my attention away from the stage.

During his show, he seemed to profess wisdom while singing the same songs he has sung for years. Instead of coming at them from just experience, his demeanor also led to advice. This concert was set in a winery and I felt like it was my grandpa and I having drinks together. Kristofferson wanted to give me advice so that I could have a better tomorrow.

The entire show told a story. It was a concept show. Although, I don’t think Kristofferson meant it in that way at all. Each song was a chapter. Every topic he sang about came to a head at the end of the show with the songs “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “Jesus Was a Capricorn,” and “Why Me.” I believe these 5 songs, some of Kristofferson’s best, describe both the high and low of his life and the topics he struggles with. Life may be tough, but he is just happy to be alive.

It was a simple show. The stage was just adorned with Kristofferson, his guitar, and harmonica. What struck me the most in retrospect is how relevant his songs are today. They have passed over generations and he is still writing. He finds a way to explain timeless truths in a language that will never be antiquated.

Seeing him live is surreal and truly a profound experience.

 

Diana Ross: A Concert Review: It’s Her House

When it comes to defining superstar look no further than Diana Ross. From the elegance of her smile to her ageless vocals, she is the entire package.

Recently, I saw Ms. Ross’ during her mini-residency at New York City Center. Her final night was Saturday. This was my fourth time seeing Ms. Ross in concert and although my pocket-book feels pain, I feel completely blessed.

Ms. Ross started the concert out with her iconic 1980’s anthem “I’m Coming Out.” The energy in the room was magnetic, drawing all eyes to the stage as one began to hear her fragile, yet demanding voice. The atmosphere turned electric when she stepped on stage.

She quickly followed with a near chronological order of some of her biggest hits and fan favorites. She started out with the timeless tunes from her tenure with the Supremes. These songs have lost none of their splendor with Ms. Ross. It’s nearly impossible not to sing along with her with the likes of “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Stop! In The Name of Love.” I don’t think she has aged a day since The Supremes 1962 debut.

It wasn’t soon that Ms. Ross turned to her everlasting solo career with some of her top dance/disco hits, “The Boss,” “Upside Down,” and “Love Hangover.” There are no words for the energy she produced in the room. A few lucky fans were even lucky enough to be chosen by Ms. Ross to come dance alongside her during “Upside Down.”

Although Ms. Ross knows how to throw a party with a song, some of my favorite moments of the concert were when she slowed it down and simply sang. “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going Too)” are always amongst my favorite moments from each show I have seen of hers. For this concert, my favorite moment was when she embarked on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” No one will ever be able to sing a song like Holiday, but Ross also proved that no one can sing a song like her.

Then Ms. Ross began to close the show. This is a process at one of her concerts. It’s hard to come off the high of Ross. She begins with her first solo hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This song immediately had me on my feet. And yes, she can hit all the same notes she could when the song was released.

Then comes her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Again, it’s impossible to sit as she walks the stage in her 5th gown of the evening belting a number everybody relates too. This is her closing number, but there is always room for an encore if the audience properly requests it (I’ve been to shows where she hasn’t returned). She closed the night with another one of her early hits “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”

With each show I see of Ms. Ross’ I have always walked away amazed, not only from her pure musical talent, but the atmosphere she creates for an audience. When the music begins and her smile comes to the stage there is immediately a feeling of acceptance. When Ms. Ross sings she immediately erases your background, race, age, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Her music and presence bring people together. This atmosphere is created through the love she portrays for every fan. It’s seen in the halls of the auditorium and the random dance partners found all over the concert hall.

I had two thoughts as I walked away from this show. First, entertainers just aren’t constructed the same as they once were. Ms. Ross comes from a land where autotune didn’t exist and dancers were not a necessity. She is the fully rounded performer.

My last thought walking away was, “When’s the next show?” I think I could see her a dozen more times and still want to see her again. Not many artists do this for me, and I’m often a tough critic, but it’s not just the music that brings me back. It’s the memories and love that I have wrapped up in her music and celebrity and how she brings this element together amongst everybody in the room. That is what keeps me returning.

Basically, when Ms. Ross enters a room, she makes it her house.

Coldplay: Parachutes; I’m Growing With It

I recently found out a friend is a really big fan of Coldplay, and that may be an understatement. He has seen them approximately 27 times since the beginning of their career.

Again, I am late to the game. I have never given Coldplay a fair listen. It’s not that I don’t like them. In 2011 I did purchase their album Mylo Xyloto and I loved it. I planned on getting into their music more, but then some other artist happened. Which speaks to the mantra of my life; so many artists, so little time!

Since my friend had such a conviction about the greatness of Coldplay, I decided it was time to dive into their catalog. I’m determined not to become distracted again (Well, until the next record sale). So I got on Discogs and purchased their first album from 2000, Parachutes.

On my initial listen I thought Coldplay was boring. It wasn’t anything like the album Mylo Xyloto. The album seemed melancholy and I really didn’t get excited about any of the songs. A few stuck out to me, but nothing I was going to put on repeat. Convinced this must not be one of their best albums, I texted my friend and expressed my feeling of indifference. I asked him if this was a boring album. Maybe there is better things to come? A progression in artistry if you will.

His reply: “It’s one of their best.” Clearly, I was missing something.

I gave it a second listen and read all the lyrics along with the songs. Then I gave it a third listen. Sometimes I find myself hating an album on it’s initial listen, but I fall in love with it on the third and fourth. Yet with Parachutes, I still find myself in the middle.

This album is not my favorite (at the moment), but it has given me a deeper respect for Chris Martin and Coldplay as a whole. I think Martin is a brilliant vocalist and the band writes intuitive lyrics. I do find this album fascinating, because often times the musical tones of the music do not match the lyrics.

As I listen to this album more, I am finding it more appealing and I am beginning to relate to their music. Oddly, I feel it somehow get’s me. The music is alive. Each song is up for interpretation, which gives this album an “I’m here for you” tone.

I may have gone off the deep end here.

My takeaways from this album are “Spies,” Yellow,” “Trouble,” and “Everything’s Not Lost” with “High Speed” coming in very close. These tunes are growing on me more and more, and I’m finding myself liking new songs with every listen.

So really I cannot write much about this album for I cannot figure it out, but I like it. I’m not ready to move on to Coldplay album two because this one has so many facets to it. This speaks to the brilliance of the album. How does an album that is nearly 17 years old speak relevance to listeners today? **Mind Blown**

So I would say that my Coldplay journey is starting out rather interesting. I’m excited about listening to their next albums like I haven’t been for a “new” artist in a long time. Martin’s voice has many layers and together the band makes penetrating melodies. Not to mention the lyrics are like clay and mold to different situations.

Parachutes is going to be on repeat for the next week. Although I feel this album is not going to grow on me, instead I’m going to grow with it.

Let’s Keep Walking

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but it isn’t for a lack of spinning. My life season is beginning to speed up and I have been enjoying music with no strings attached.

I’m also attempting to listen to EVERY vinyl in my collection and it’s taking a while. I’m discovering new jewels while relishing in favorites. I’m listening to my collection by artist.  By not writing about what I am listening too, I am sparing you 50 posts over Judy Garland.

Although, a theme has risen through the music I have been listening to at home and work. I have been gravitating towards songs and artists that I feel empowered through. I’m listening to songs that tell me “I’m worthy.”

I am not necessarily going through a depressed stage of my life, but it isn’t my happiness by no means. I need a pick me up. Here are some of the artists that have inspired me to keep walking lately.

As with all my lists, they are in no particular order.

1. John Legend

I have been a fan of Legend on and off for many years now. Recently I have been intently listening to his latest release, Darkness and Light and his first release, 2013’s Get Lifted. What I love about Get Lifted is its straight honesty and how Legend styles hip hop. Darkness and Light has become special to me as I have become more socially aware. Although I am a white male, when legend sings “There is power in the color of my face” in “I Know Better,” it not only brings awareness to problems our society is still facing, but it also reminds me that we are all unique and contribute to God’s vast world.

2. Beyoncé

Sorry B, couldn’t wait for an official release of Lemonade on vinyl.

Beyoncé strives to provide empowerment for women and African-Americans on her albums, especially with her last two releases Beyoncé and Lemonade, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a universal message. As a by-product of her mission, I have also seen that I can be comfortable in my own skin. I just feel pumped to be me when I hear the likes of “***Flawless” and “Formation.” Again these are songs that speak to me as I have begun to dissect my surrounds and become aware of our society. I am not discrediting this, I just think it’s beautiful that she can speak to anybody in any circumstance through her music’s message.

3. Reba McEntire

Now it is not everyday you see Beyonce and Reba in the same list, but my versatile ear is unpredictable from hour to hour. Reba’s latest album, Sing it Now: Songs of Faith and Hope has spoken to me in a way an album hasn’t in many years. Reba is very special to me (read about that here) and this album has helped me as my faith has been growing lately. There is not a more poignant message then her latest single “Back to God.” This world would be a better place if we just gave it back to the Creator and lived the true message of what it means to be like Christ (I will have a full post on this album soon). For unbelievers, I think the universal concept here is if we only would love each other and lay ourselves down for the goodness of others and the world, we could create a better place one action at a time. Below is my favorite lyrics and Reba’s conviction gives me chills.

“You gotta cry, rain tears of pain

Pound the floor and scream His name

‘Cause we’re still worth saving”

So although taking steps into the hurdles of our days may be burdensome and heavy, we have to realize we all have something to contribute to this world, we are all-powerful, and we need to love each other more. If we could realize these simple truths we would truly give this world back to God, and serve a higher purpose than ourselves. We would serve others.

Basically there is power in all of our faces, we must sing and act on faith and hope, and slay while we do it. This world is worth saving.