ALBUM REVIEW: Happy Birthday Amy Winehouse, Reliving Frank

Today Amy Winehouse would have been 33 years old, had numerous more critically acclaimed albums under her belt, and multiple Grammys to go with them.

Winehouse was before her time, yet she was also a beacon of the past. Her vocals proclaimed a renaissance in modern music while being distinctly reminiscent of legendary vocalists past. I cannot find a word that penetrates to the core of Winehouse’s artistry. She was simply unexplainable and for me, completely intriguing.

fullsizerender-9Although Winehouse is mostly remembered for her album Back to Black, in which she won five Grammy awards, her previous record Frank is just as memorable. This album is one of the best compositions of the 21st century and is a must for every lover of music. It doesn’t belong to any one genre.

This album has a completely different vibe then Back to Black. It again defies all genres, but in a different way. Throughout this album Winehouse’s vocals remind me of a pure jazz singer, but not every song is necessarily jazz or has jazz elements.

The essence of jazz music is that each time you sing a jazz song it can be sung a different way through different stylization and emotion. It’s truly an artist’s genre and is completely freeing to the vocalist. This is where Winehouse’s vocals lie in Frank, completely free.

Frank begins with the song “Stronger Then Me.” Like most of the tunes on this album, this song is co-written by Winehouse. This song mixes R&B, soul, and jazz. Winehouse sing’s over these lyrics with her distinct brass and sarcasm. This song sets the tone for the entire album.

Although Winehouse is distinctively wanting someone stronger than her current boy, she immediately goes from the woman in charge straight into the one down position with “You Sent Me Flying.” This sentiment is quickly forgotten as she sings about her new friend, “Cherry,” who has now taken the place of her boy. I’ve never heard someone explain a guitar so affectionately.

Moving on down side A, we have the song this album is most known for, “F*ck Me Pumps.” The lyrical content of this song is about those women that seem to make clubbing a living while seeming to live shallow lives, when they actually just want to settle down. We all know the ones. This is a hard one not to get caught in your head with its addicting rhythm and piano riff.

Another standout on side A is “Moody’s Mood For Love,” a classic jazz  song that has been covered by many artists. This song really shows how savvy Winehouse is in pure jazz. I can just imagine her singing this in an underground jazz club in NYC. This sound parlays into side B.

fullsizerender-10Side B opens with “Take The Box.” This is one of the prize possessions of this album. “Box” takes a ballad turn, while keeping a consistent R&B beat. The metaphorical lyrics are nearly brilliance and I find them to be some of Winehouse’s finest. This song is easily coupled with “What is It About Men?,” which follows the same vibe, yet with a sensual touch.

As I walk away from this album, I am just as intrigued with Winehouse as I was the first time I heard her voice. What I find truly exquisite is how this record reads like a story-book filled with poetry. You can find a different meaning in each song depending on your emotional and physical surroundings, but each has a distinct setting. The same goes for Winehouse’s vocals. They are a never-ending book. There is always something new and profound to find in her stylings.

So today we celebrate her life and music that will last decades. Her legacy is much like that of Buddy Holly’s, although her career short, her influence in music is permanent. This album was named Frank due to her “frank” telling of the truth and also in tribute to Frank Sinatra, one of her biggest influences. This album and everything that proceeded was bound to be legendary.

Now only time will measure the legacy and footprint that Amy Winehouse has left on music. Happy Birthday to this beautiful songstress. May you rest in peace while taking another seat too soon in that heavenly choir.

ALBUM REVIEW: Steve Lawrence, Winners!

Artist: Steve Lawrence     Album: Winners!

I adore Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. Every album they made as a duo or as solo artists I can spin continuously. There is a carefree, genuine love that comes with their albums made together and their solo vocal chops are equally golden.

Steve LawrenceOne of my favorite albums out of Steve Lawrence’s catalog is his 1962 album Winners! This record contains the number one hit single “Go Away Little Girl,” co-written by a then unknown Carole King.  Bobby Vee originally recorded this song earlier in 1962.

Winners! is an album of cover songs. The idea behind the album was to find previous song “winners” and let Lawrence give them his golden take. Listening to this album one would never guess that Lawrence was covering other’s songs because he makes each song his own.

The album starts with “Cotton Fields,” which was originally recorded by Huddie Ledbetter in 1940. This is a quick audience grabber as Lawrence’s vocals swoon over this folk classic. Later he goes into Connie Francis’ smash hit, “Who’s Sorry Now?” This is one of the high points of the album. He takes this song and turns it completely on its head. His vocals are confident and crisp, and all but resist the stinging tone of an “I told you so.” Lawrence’s vocals have class and debonair wrapped into one.

The second side of this album contains “Go Away Little Girl,” but the treasures on this side are Lawrence’s covers of Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and Jack Jones. I would think it would be a bold move for Lawrence to cover his contemporaries songs, but the orignal artist names don’t even cross your mind when listening to his versions.

Lawrence’s smooth vocals gently caress “All The Way,” while he portrays determination to never give up on the one he loves. His rendition of “Moon River” starts out with the conventional beginning, but he ends it with a big band. Lastly, he covers one of my personal favorites, “Lollipops and Roses.” He again is backed by a big band and he gives this song a less vulnerable feel then the original, portraying faith and confidence in his romantic tactics.

Steve LawrenceBesides the fact that I like this album, it is special to me for other reasons. I sent my album cover with a writing I did over an album Steve and Eydie made to an address I found for Lawrence. It was a shot in the dark, but I wanted to try to get his autograph. It wasn’t much more than a week later he sent it back to me with the inscription

“To Gabe, Thanks for all the wonderful things you said about me and Eydie. All the best to you. Fondly, Steve Lawrence.”

This album holds a special spot on my shelf, for both its recordings and the special inscription Lawrence sent to me. As a vocalist myself I consider him one of my models. As a writer I could not be more thrilled that he actually read my post over him and his late wife Eydie Gormé.

Lawrence is just a class act and his vocal cords are plated in gold.

Key Tracks: “Go Away Little Girl,” “Kansas City,” “It’s Not For Me To Say”

Deep Cuts: “All The Way,” “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Teach Me Tonight”

ALBUM REVIEW: Bobby Rydell, The Great Ones

Before there was tween boy bands, glee clubs, and Justin Bieber there was Bobby Rydell.  To be honest there really isn’t much of a comparison, but that puts him in modern language.

I stumbled upon Rydell on YouTube. I was searching the song “My Coloring Book” and he was the only male version of the song I could find. This is one of my favorite songs and Rydell’s version is often overlooked, but it is one of the best. After this encounter I immediately began searching for his records at all my vinyl stops.

FullSizeRender 7One of my first finds was Bobby Rydell…Salutes The “Great Ones.” Rydell was only 19  years old when he released this album. As the liner notes state, he was already a staple on such TV shows as the Perry Como TV shows and Red Skeleton shows as well as a sought after act at The Copa and The Sahara. Not to mention he had already garnered 4 top ten hits.

This album by Rydell takes an interesting turn in his small yet accomplished catalog. Saluting the greats that came before you is not just honorable, but it is quite daring. He was setting himself up for failure. He was singing songs that only the greats, like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland sang with Broadway standards sprinkled in. How could he compare?

Rydell decided to play by his own rules, translating these songs into a “1961” vibe.

He opens the album with Al Jolson’s “Mammy.” A song that has been adapted in many different compositions. This is essentially a melted down version of “Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody.” He gives this song a boyish charm with a more modest aura.

He then goes into Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic.” There is never another Sinatra, but Rydell again accomplishes this song with ease accompanied by a more rhythmic backing. He concludes side A with the Gypsy anthem “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Taking on Ethel Merman is like teetering off a cliff, but he did it with debonair and classic charm instead of Merman’s usually brashness.

FullSizeRender 6Side B contains some real gems starting with the Steve Allen penned “This Could Be The Start of Something New.” Again, Rydell’s arrangers placed the song at a speeder tempo. Instead of the gentler and special aura that only Ella Fitzgerald could give this song, Rydell gives this tune a remix worthy of American Bandstand or Shindig. The same concept can be found in his renditions of “So Rare” and “There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.”

By the end of the album, Rydell easily wrapped all the ladies around his finger with “The Birth of The Blues.” This song demands answers with its perfectly timed pauses and the way Rydell places the lyrics in a “questionable” phrase. I think there were a few girls fainting at the foot of the stage.

This album is a perfect reflection of what was happening in music culture in 1961. Rockabilly was starting to hit and all the churches were worried about this new “rhythmic” music. The classic pop style of the greats was being placed on the back burner for this new rock and roll experiment.

Rydell attempts to touch both these audiences with this album. His crooning singing style fit in perfectly with the Dean Martins and Jack Jones’ of the time, yet he knew there was something else on the horizon. Although this album may not have been a huge success it is reflection of the development of music and the confusion that both artists and record companies were going through in this transitional time.

This album proposes an idea. It was experimental at the time when experiments were shunned. Rydell’s album not only serves as listening pleasure, but as an artifact of the evolution of modern music. Basically he gave the Great American Songbook and a light, but daring, Rockabilly twist.

ALBUM REVIEW: Nancy Sinatra, These Boots Were Made for Walkin’

For a part time job I work at a department store. It’s a lot of fun and I always enjoy talking to people to make sure their experience is exceptional, but there is one item that always brings one song to mind.

Boots.

The image of Nancy Sinatra dancing in her mini skirt and go-go boots is always a classic.

I’ve loved this song for many years, in fact, it was one of the first songs I downloaded on my iPod video in high school. What an antique!

As I have begun to collect records and delve into artists, I have found that Sinatra, to me, is the epitome of what 1960’s pop looked like. Not to mention, she’s just a pretty lady in general. She may be one of my celebrity crushes and I never count age as a factor

Wink, Wink, Ms. Sinatra.

Recently I have been spinning Sinatra’s classic first album, “Boots.” She has one of the most aggressive, kick-ass voices in the history of recorded music.

When Nancy sings she sounds nonchalant, while also portraying an “Ahhh heck naw” attitude. She always keeps a consistent tone in her voice while still portraying emotion. Her voice has two wavelengths. She can love you tenderly, dream of you, or she she’ll just walk away, or better yet, all over you.

This album was the beginning of the work she did with Lee Hazlewood. Sinatra, to this point, was signed to Reprise Records and was about to be dropped due to unsuccessful singles. Her work with Hazlewood quickly changed that.

The album opens with “As Tears Go By.” This is a sweet heartbreak song that is completely deceiving. Although Sinatra’s vocals are on point it seems that she is just being a bit shy for the opener, but that does not last long. She then quickly jumps into a cover of The Beatles “Day Tripper.” To be honest, I like her version better. Her extra attitude added that missing element.

Side B really shows where Sinatra’s vocals are not for just “pop” play. This side opens with “In My Room.” A huge ballad showing where Sinatra can easily work her way to the pinnacle of a song while bringing it back down. Then there is “Flowers on the Wall.” She apparently has other things to do than worry about a man. Don’t flatter yourself. She has cigarettes to smoke and Captain Kangaroo to watch.

Then there is the defining number, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin” It’s not often that a song can help describe a generation, but that is what Sinatra did. To this day you will find girls wearing just a sweater and boots. People of all ages can tell you where boots were made for walkin.

Sinatra was a trailblazer in the 1960s taking sexy by the horns and going with it. Her “video” for boots shows how this would be controversial for the decade.  She is also pop’s original tough girl, showing the strength of a woman in pop music beyond fluff. She also made a divine fashion statement.

And you know those little Uggs or fluffy boots aren’t going to work. Nancy will take the 5-inch heels to give it a little punch.

When it comes to music and talent, Nancy Sinatra doesn’t walk.

She stomps.