Christmas Time With The Judds, A Slow Reflection

The Judds, Christmas Time With The Judds, album

Since I moved to New York last year from Oklahoma, I have made it a Christmas tradition to listen to The Judds 1987 Christmas album, Christmas Time With The Judds (two years going strong!). Now it is good to note that you never have to twist my arm to listen to The Judds. I don’t recall ever meeting a Judds song I didn’t like. Basically, my tradition is to the listen to the Judds every year and listen to this album in December. 

As I listened to Christmas Time With The Judds this year I noticed the same magic they always create that never gets old: their angelic harmonies, undeniably charisma, and their ability to blend while remaining individuals. When these features are placed on Christmas tunes, a whole new perspective on Christmas is seen.

The album opens with “Winter Wonderland.” I immediately noticed the organic feel of this record. The instrumentation sounds natural. It was simple and complete without my head becoming a snow globe from jingle bells flying at me from different directions.

They did the same thing with their version of “Silver Bells,” which just happens to be my favorite version. When I hear “Silver Bells” I think of an upbeat Christmas song that has become background noise to the chaos in Shoprite, but their version created a completely different image in my mind. I saw the normal hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, but it was calm. The word serene comes to mind.

The true standouts in this album for me are the classic Christmas spirituals. They go into almost forgotten classics like “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” while creating their own, “Who is This Babe.”

When I flipped the record to side B, it was compromised of all spirituals and they felt brand new. Each song kept the same organic feel while the emotion intensified. As I listened to Wynonna take lead and Naomi sing her quiet, yet strong vocals, all I could think about was their conviction.

The Judds- Country's Queen Duo

Courtesy of Metro Lyrics

Side B opens with “What Child is This.” Wynonna tells the story Jesus’ birth with immense conviction. Mix that with Naomi’s angelic harmonies, and you can’t deny their belief in the savior. They didn’t need to use vocal acrobatics to prove their point, their honest and reverent performance was enough.

The album closes with “Silent Night.” The Judds strip this song completely back to the basics while adding that same hint of conviction. Yet the best track on the album is “Oh Holy Night.” This song added elements of gospel and country music with classic holiday tradition. I’ve never heard a vocalist pierce the soul of music like Wynonna and this could not have been more evident on this song. During this tune, a faint choir is mixed in with The Judds, really giving this song a hymn like appeal. Then there is just this one note at the end…you just gotta listen…I can’t put words to it.

Christmas is many things to many people, and none of these definitions are wrong. As a Christian myself, it is a celebration of my savior being born, but for others it could simply be love. Sadly, every year I can’t help but notice how Christmas has a faster pace. From shopping and decorations, to the increase focus on material possessions, many forget the true reason for celebration.

In the rush of the Christmas season, Christmas Time With the Judds is a slow reflection of what Christmas is really about, Jesus, the salvation he brings, and love in the world.

 

Check out my in-depth relationship with Wynonna and her music here.

Connect with Wynonna:

St. Vincent: MASSEDUCTION — Complete

It has been awhile since I have written any of my musical musings and it’s not for a lack of words. I have discovered TONS of great music over the past few months. My job went crazy and my life went into an awkward spiral, but now I’m back.

Over the last few months I decided to rejoin Vinyl Me, Please. I was once a member and I don’t particularly remember why I stopped. Through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram reading all my browsing history and spying on my personal life, I received many advertisements for Vinyl Me, Please, and November’s record of the month, St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION, caught my eye.

Vinyl Me, Please Special Edition

Now, who hasn’t heard of St. Vincent? The record stores back home in Oklahoma take pride in her career because she was born in Tulsa, but my research tells me she moved to Texas before she was 5. I’d like to call her an Okie, but I don’t know if she would accept it.

Anyways, MASSEDUCTION quickly took me by surprise. Although I had seen a lot about St. Vincent’s music, this is actually my first foray into her catalog. I already have more of her albums on order.

To be candid, I really love MASSEDUCTION. This album served perfectly as an intro to St. Vincent’s work. I understand her earlier work is different, but this record has served as my gateway drug.

There are many reasons why I love this album, so many that it is hard to pinpoint exact reasons. Each song is like an impressionist painting. St. Vincent lays out what she sees, yet she leaves much to the imagination. Like many impressionist paintings, this album is also full of color as the orchestration ranges from heavy synthesizers to basic piano.

This album explores many themes, especially in relationships and self-discovery, but the reigning motif for me was self-acceptance. St. Vincent asks to be someone’s flawed foundation in “Hang On Me,” while calling BS on this world’s standards with “Pills” and “Los Ageless.” She knows what it’s like to be lonely and how her decisions have impacted her plight in life with “New York,” Fear The Future,” and “Young Lover.”

Curtosy of The Telagraph.

At the end of all these emotions and trials, she is working on accepting herself, because ” “she can’t help what turns her on” in “MASSEDUCTION.” Although this doesn’t result in her over confidence, because she is still completely vulnerable in tracks like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and “Smoking Section.”

For me, MASSEDUCTION is not a musical journey, yet a musical process, set to the tone of purposeful “pop” if you will (Disclaimer: I think being “pop” is one of the most freeing “genres” of music. It is never a diss in my writings). Through this album’s instrumentation one can find influences of rock, dance, jazz, and electronica. This is easily seen from the rapid tempo of “Pills” to the string arrangement of “Dancing With A Ghost.”

One last note, St. Vincent’s vocals are nearly pristine on this album. Ballads, like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” really show off her “classic” vocal talent. She may be considered an indie or alternative artist, but she can sing circles with the best of them.

MASSEDUCTION completely accomplished it’s title, as it has completely seduced me into the world of St. Vincent and, apparently, I’m not alone. I was online today trying to buy tickets for her shows in New York City this weekend and they are completely sold out. Off to StubHub I go!

Check out St. Vincent’s official website here.

Check out St. Vincent’s Twitter: @St_Vincent.

Check out St. Vincent’s Instagram: @St_Vincent.

Check out St. Vincent’s Facebook here.

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.

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.

Cher: The Sonny Side of Cher, A Review

Anybody that knows me or has just steadily kept up with my blog knows that I am unapologetic Cher fan. I have nearly all her albums (at one point I had all, long story), read numerous books on this legend, and I continue to buy concert tickets whenever she performs. Naturally, I would have to write about her for Women’s History Month.

img_3489Tonight, for a little nostalgia, I decided to revisit The Sonny Side of Cher. This album is important to understanding Cher’s career trajectory and how she became the artist she is today. I truly believe she is one of the best, yet underrated, vocalists of our time.

The Sonny Side of Cher opens with Cher’s biggest solo hit to that time “Bang, Bang.” This Sonny penned tune is a tale of two lovers explained as children. I love this composition. I love the exotic feel this song brings. It sounds a bit country at times, it is definitely pop, it takes advantage of 60’s folk, and there is a little Scottish flare for fun. It’s easy to see how this song claimed the number 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Elusive Butterfly” and “The Girl From Ipanema” are among Cher fan’s favorites from this era in her career, but the songs that really take the cake for this album are “Old Man River” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” a Bob Dylan cover.

“Old Man River” comes in at number 1 on this album for me, right behind “Bang Bang.” When I hear Cher sings this song I just picture tears streaming out of some bodies deeply wounded eyes. I literally feel I can reach into this song and drench myself in emotion.

If you have any interest in Cher’s career or the culture of the 60’s, this album is essential. As a bonus, this record is sprinkled with Phil Spector’s fingerprints as Sonny Bono, once Spector’s employee, produces the full album. This is pre “glam” Cher, but post “I Got You Babe” Cher. This small era in her career was a gem in her soon to be legendary status.

Key Tracks: “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” “Elusive Butterfly,” “The Girl From Ipanema”

Deep Cuts: “Old Man River,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Where Do you Go”

 

Dolly Parton: My Top 5

For my celebration of Women’s History Month, I have neglected to write about a legendary country artist. To be honest, it is hard to narrow down the Queens of Country music. There are so many, from Patsy and Loretta to Reba and Tammy.

I’ve touched on many of them throughout the tenure of my blog. I have always wanted to write about Patsy Cline, but I’m still searching for words. So I decided to ask my mom, who knows my music taste better than anyone, on who I should write about next. She promptly reminded me that I had not written over one of the most influential female vocalists that does it all, from writing and producing to singing and performing. For my 5th installment, I bring you my top 5 favorite Dolly Parton songs.

I have been a Dolly Parton fan since the seventh grade. It’s odd that I remember this exact time, but I remember I first became interested in her when I saw her on the Conon O’Brien show. She was promoting her latest album, Little Sparrow. Like so many artists with me, it was all down hill from there. I haven’t stopped listening to her music since and I always check the record racks for more of her vinyl.

1. “A Tender Lie”

This song was originally sung by Restless Heart and was their last number one on the country charts. Parton gives it a tinge of classic country and a full bluegrass makeover. Her voice is so fragile on this song, but we all know the strength she possesses. This song was a perfect choice for her Little Sparrow album and Sugar Hill trilogy.

2. “Here You Come Again”

I love so many aspects of this song, from the opening piano riff to Parton’s sassy and sarcastic vocals. Every time I think somebody is gone and they return, my mind always sings this song. This is classic Dolly at her 70’s best.

3. “Joshua”

Parton has some of the best story telling skills of any musician. She encompasses every theme of country music. She often does this through creative stories, not personal accounts. This is part of her legacy. “Joshua” came out in 1970 and was Parton’s first number one hit.

4. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning”

I discovered this song a few years ago when I lived in Oklahoma. Thanksgiving was coming up and I was feeling really down about my family situation. I grew up in a tight-knit family that just seemed to fall apart for selfish reasons and holidays always brought that to mind. This song was a comfort for me and for a bright future ahead.

5. “He’s Alive”

Throughout my faith journey, I have found many of Parton’s songs to be inspiring (“Raven Dove,” “Hello God”). I adore how she stands up for her faith unabashedly without the judgment of others. She shows the love of Jesus through her spiritual compositions, performances, and actions. The video above is one we all know. It is her legendary performance of “He’s Alive” from the 1989 CMA awards. I get chills every time I hear this song and see this performance.

These are my top five favorite Dolly Parton songs at the moment. It’s safe to note that this is a fluctuating list and it is not comprehensive. I would need a list of 20 songs or more to truly list all my favorite Parton songs and then I’d still miss many!

Dolly Parton is one of country music and America’s greatest treasures. I have yet to see her in concert, but I will make it soon. The fact that she is still creating new music and states that she has 100’s of songs she hasn’t recorded blows me away. She can’t stop making albums; we must not let her!! I will gladly sit and wait for every last note.