Liza Minnelli, New Feelin’: She’ll Do As She Pleases

For my fourth installment for Women’s History Month, I bring you Liza Minnelli! I was extremely excited to see her Facebook live event this week with Michael Feinstein. You can watch that video here. Ms. Minnelli looked amazing and most importantly, she looked happy!

It was also Ms. Minnelli’s birthday yesterday, Sunday, March 12th. The legend turned 71 years old, but she shows enough energy to compete with any of today’s entertainers. Michael Feinstein also dropped a little teaser on his Facebook that he and Ms. Minnelli are working on shows for 2018, of which I have to say…..

Liza, take your time. We’ll still be here ready for you when YOU are ready.

With all this Minnelli excitement, I decided to revisit one of her albums that has always stood out to me, her 1970 release, New Feelin’. This album took on a new direction for Minnelli and it gave many many American standards a new identity.

This album takes songs like “How Long Has This Been Going On?” “The Man I Love,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” and gives them a pop and soulful twist with a hint of folk stylings. We all know Minnelli can deliver these American classics unlike any other artist, but this album presents them in a completely new way.

Fun Fact: This record was recorded at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The album starts out with a funky, horn-filled version of “Love For Sale” by Cole Porter. She then immediately goes into the classic ballad “Stormy Weather.” This song is filled with heavy piano and gospel inspired background vocals. Then comes one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” This song sounds like something straight out of Motown’s vault if Motown was located in Nashville. Then there is that ending note that just doesn’t stop shining.

Side Two also comes with plenty of new experimental arrangements of these classics. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is mixed with an enthusiastic horn section and sounds Americana in style. Then Ms. Minnelli covers Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child, a song she would sing to near perfection two years later on her award-winning TV concert, Liza With a “Z”. This version adds more backing vocals giving it a doo-wop feeling mixed with gospel stylings.

Lastly, there is Ms. Minnelli’s standard, “Maybe This Time.” This takes on a completely new image. This starts out as pure country. As the song progresses, it begins to take on a blues facade with rhythmic bass, horns, and melancholy backing vocals. Although this song does not have its usually dramatic deliverance, it is still a gem in its own right. This song is about taking that first step to self-fulfillment. Ms. Minnelli delivers this message with the same conviction she always does, but just a little more casual.

This album takes songs that people twice her age at the time were singing. She was known for performing these same selections in her live shows. On New Feelin’, she gave these compositions a twist of her own. Her vocals remained constant, shattering every ceiling, but they still felt right with these different arrangements. Ms. Minnelli just does as she pleases.

Revisiting this record has me pumped for what Ms. Minnelli is planning for her fans, but more importantly, it has me excited for where she is in life. I hope and pray she is truly happy, relaxed, and self-assured that she is loved. In her recent interview with Michael Feinstein, Ms. Minnelli spoke directly to her fans stating, “You are what make me happy. I mean it….and I love you.” You hear celebrities say that all the time. The odd thing is, Ms. Minnelli sounds like she means it. I know she meant it.

So join me in celebrating Ms. Minnelli’s career and whatever she damn well pleases to do.

Unfortunately, this album is not on Spotify, but I did find these on some of her compilations.

Leslie Becker: More Than You Think You’ve Got, A Concert Review

I discovered Leslie Becker‘s music last year. Initially, I became hooked on her hit “Slow Burn” and then “Confidential.” I proceeded to visit her Soundcloud and listen to her wide array of songs from pop and country to musical theater. As an added bonus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had written many of these compositions.

img_0378Although I have listened to her songs many times over, I have never seen her live until last Monday. I thought I had a firm grasp on her as an artist and performer and understood the culture she created through her music. I was wrong.

Becker performed at the W Hotel in Times Square. It was a double-header of sorts, for she was going to do a pop-up show at 7:00 strictly with her pop material and then an acoustic set was to begin at 7:30.

The 7:00 pop show was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Becker’s performance. I was mostly familiar with these tunes (“Slow Burn” and “Confidential”). She did not disappoint as her voice permeated the Living Room at the W. It may have been in a small venue, but she performed like it was Madison Square Garden.

Any music fan would have been completely satisfied with the first set, but the second set was really where Becker pushed her music into a new dimension. She started out with some of her more upbeat country songs, “Boy Toy” and “Marlboro Man.” These were great, but when she went into the country ballad “You Blues” I swear I felt my ears move.

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Photos by Liz Maney

“You Blues” is a beautiful country ballad that you could easily hear classic country stars like The Judds, Vince Gill, or Reba McEntire belting. This song enveloped the true essence of country music and put a lot of the new and “bro” country to shame.

Becker then went into a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” This was an ironic part of the show for Becker works with Joe Vulpis, the producer credited for giving Lady Gaga her start in the music industry. Her vocals commanded the lyrics in such a way I almost forgot Becker wasn’t the original artist! She performed this as a duet with Alex Ortega.

The most touching part of the evening was Becker’s homage to her late mother. She explained how her mom had passed away last year unexpectedly. Although her mother passed, she still gave her one more gift. This gift was the song “Love and Such,” a balladesque song with an iron bite.

She closed out the show with more of her country compositions that were reminiscent of true country music and the foundations of rockabilly. She sang a duet with Catherine Porter entitled, “I Cried.” This song was just another that proves Becker just “gets” music.

That evening she also introduced her new single “More Than All You’ve Got.” This song is dance worthy and has a “clapable” beat, but it also gave me a thought on what seeing Becker live is to music listeners. For to truly grasp the artistry of Becker, you must see her live. Becker radiates on recordings, but she dominates the stage. Recordings and video do not give her justice. I’m not discounting her records, they are fashioned to perfection, but they only show one facade of this performer.

As a music fan, she is more than you think you’ve got.

 

Yesterday is Not Over: The Sound of Melinda Doolittle

As I have dived deeper into the music listening world of vinyl albums, I have found a culture emerge, especially in the realm of vintage vinyl. I have vinyl records ranging from the 1940’s to today, but there is a different quality to some of my more dated albums and artists.

Back in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s performers had a real task on their hands. Their career could not simply evolve around annual albums and recordings. These performers had to prove themselves time and time again in front of audiences. They had one shot to prove who they were, if it was an audience of 5 or broadcast to millions of people across the world. Their performance and raw talent defined their success.

FOX+American+Idol+Finale+Farewell+Season+Arrivals+1CsQg0FYyxRlThese performances did not have rewind, pause, or “do over” opportunities. It was a one shot game. If they missed, the audience in front may walk away, but if they made it, they had audiences for a lifetime.

That is exactly why I am a fan of Melinda Doolittle. Many of you will remember her from American Idol season six where she came in 3rd, yet I remember her for her timeless performances and how she encompasses the vinyl culture.

I recently sat down with Doolittle via Skype for a one on one conversation about her career, performance style, and what the music world means to her. After speaking with her one on one, I can tell you she is an artist of sincerity, skill, and raw talent.

To know Doolittle’s career and to understand her character and ambition, one must first start at American Idol. Ironically, this was a competition based solely on performance. We quickly began discussing different aspects of her season on American Idol, like what was it like to have Diana Ross as a mentor and the audition process. Doolittle told the story of how she went to try out for American Idol with a group of friends, frankly not expecting to get anywhere.

“When my friend talked me into auditioning for Idol, I thought of it like a joke. First of all, I didn’t think I was going to make it. Secondly, that I would make it as far as I did.”

This wasn’t a lack of confidence on Doolittle’s part though, she was simply content in her line of work. She had become a “first call” back up singer in Nashville. Often producers would wait for Doolittle to come into the studio and lay down background vocals for different artists, including Aretha Franklin, Aaron Neville and Michael McDonald.

“I loved singing background and I had the delusion that when the show was over that I would go back to that…It didn’t dawn on me that I was going to have to do the artist thing.”

Many of Doolittle’s performances dominated season six of American Idol. She got rave reviews for many of her performances from the judges, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell. Her first big breakthrough was her rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” after which Jackson said she was the one to beat. Cowell began to call Doolittle his personal favorite. When she was eliminated in the top three Cowell has remarked that she should have won.

Although, Doolittle was actually at ease when she didn’t win the American Idol crown. She said she was content and “not upset at all” when Ryan Seacrest called her name to be eliminated.

a98cdbaa5e964c4c82ab029d7d201700“The fact I made it to 3rd doesn’t sound right in my head and I never expected it, but it forced me to learn I really did have a voice as an artist. It taught me what my voice was.”

American Idol may have taught Doolittle what her voice was, but what she channels in her talents today is remarkable.

After season six, American Idol went on to set up meetings for Doolittle with various labels, most of tem being Christian labels. Doolittle, who is an avid Christian, didn’t want to sign with a Christian label.  Although she is a woman of strong faith and her concerts today are not complete with out a few gospel numbers, she wanted to make a different kind of record.

In the end, Doolittle was happy with the path her career initially took. She was free of a contract and in charge of her own musical fate. Doolittle began to shop around labels and eventually signed with Hi-Fi Records and recorded her debut album Coming Back To You. This was Doolittle’s coming out record for she took 10 steps up to the front mic for a full record. Now she needed backup singers.

“Idol forced me into being an artist, which is great. I feel like God tricked me into actually being an artist.”

Although this gave Doolittle freedom, she was also sceptical. When Doolittle began looking for labels she didn’t know what kind of music she wanted to do. She had already ruled out a Christian record at the moment and she was now ruling out pop, for a very observant reason.

“I feel when I try to sing pop it’s like an elephant stomping on a track. The track is all nice, light, and airy, and then I sing. I have a heavy voice.”

18888-coming-back-to-youSo Coming Back to You resulted in a pure soul album that was reminiscent of Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, and Al Green. Doolittle said that she is just an old school girl and she didn’t know anything different. She made an album that was her style and by her own rules.

Doolittle has gone on to release various recordings that have received praise. Her most recent set of recordings is an extended play titled You’re The Reason in 2013. These tracks find Doolittle experimenting with modern R&B with a dash of pop while keeping in touch with her old-school, soulful roots. With this EP Doolittle co-wrote 3 of the 7 tracks. Writing was some what new for Doolittle and this process became therapeutic.

“When I went into the studio we were supposed to write a fun, up-beat, really great song. They asked me ‘What has been going on in your life?’ These people on Twitter had just reamed me. I posted a picture and they were saying ‘you’re so ugly.’ They were saying the worst things and I was so hurt by it, but I was trying to be strong about it…I needed to find out what my reaction to that is.”

Rolling with the punches was not an option for her and it was time to take a stand in her professional and personal life. Doolittle said she really didn’t find out who she was till about two years ago when this EP was released. This is obvious in the song content and the history behind these recordings.

melindadoolittle-epAlthough Doolittle had recorded with success, she stated that making records was not her favorite aspect of being an artist. So instead of delving deeper into her recordings we began to discuss her favorite way of delivering music: live performance. She was quick to say why she loved singing live.

“If there is not an audience I am bored out of my mind.”

Since American Idol Doolittle has performed around the world. She has performed at such esteemed venues as Carnegie Hall and The White House, amoungst many others. These experiences led Doolittle to look at making music differently then the industry’s generic formula. She decided to define herself through performing, not an album.

“From now on I’m going to let the shows determine the record. A lot of people let the record determine the show.”

Today, Doolittle decides what works with her voice by watching an audience’s reaction. It’s all about what the crowd brings out in her at that moment. The song has to work for both her and the people she is singing for. Then, I was curious what the determining factors assisted Doolittle in making musical choices.

“It’s the give and take with the audience. It doesn’t have to be because of applause. Sometimes I see it in somebody’s eyes, somebody cries when I’m singing or just like, I see joy on people’s faces in the audience….If their joy matches the joy I have singing it, then I found the song that works for both of us.”

Melinda_Doolittle_performs_in_the_East_Room_of_the_White_House

Singing at The White House.

For Doolittle it is completely about the performance of the music in the here and now. Sure, she makes brilliant recordings, but that’s not the only aspect she is focused on when it comes to music. She stated how she didn’t care about the production or how grand the show was, the most important thing to Doolittle is how her music connects with an audience. She likes to see this first-hand, when she has her one chance to prove to the people immediately in front of her that she is a true artist with real talent.

This is a little reminiscent of days past.

“I need people to have an experience when they come to a show. I need it to be an escape, because the world we live in is not fun.”

Number one songs and awards don’t determine Doolittle’s status as a musician, nor does she particularly care about accolades. An artist’s true mission should be the music, the message, and the performance. If the music doesn’t resonate what does it mean? If the performance isn’t an experience, why would you go?

Doolittle isn’t of the old school, she’s of the real school. She can really sing and she can really perform.

She doesn’t take music lightly and she is a master of her song in its rawest environment, a live performance. This is what the singers of yesterday possessed, but that doesn’t mean it is an antiquated idea. This is what I believe is the vinyl culture. The reason I collect vinyl is for its genuine, warm, and pure vocals. Basically, the over all performance.

Vintage vinyl has within its groves some of the best, unaltered voices and performances of some of the greatest artists. It took a certain caliber to make a record and perform when these albums were made. Doolittle is of the vinyl caliber.

Doolittle does not take this feat lightly and she is aware of the torch she is carrying. She explained how it meant the world to her when people compliment her and tell her how she channels the great soul and classic artists.

Cnb2kwmUkAANGVi.jpg-large“I met Percy Sledge before he died. He stopped me backstage at an event we did together. He said ‘You carry our mantle and there aren’t many who will. Please don’t loose that. Please continue to do this. Promise me that you will.’ I was like ‘Oh yes sir'”

As I talked with Doolittle and as I have listened to her music, I have fumed over so many names in my head of who’s mantle she is carrying. I’ve thought Diana Ross, Gloria Gaynor, Judy Garland, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, and many more. The true question is now, how does Doolittle want to be remembered? Who does she look up too.

“I want to be Barbra [Streisand] with a side of Gladys [Knight].”

That, my fellow vinyl collectors, is the essence of a true performer, one that belongs on vinyl. Doolittle reminds me of the legends and performers that have come and gone, but the most important thing Doolittle reminds me is that….

Yesterday is not over.

Check out Doolittle’s latest performance with Scott Bradlee’s Post Modern Jukebox and hear Toxic like you’ve never heard it….

Wrapped in Garland

I love Judy Garland.

There is just something about her voice that completely entrances me every time I hear one of her recordings. She is one of the greatest vocalists and entertainers our world will ever see and in my opinion, she is the best.

Most people know Garland from her career defining role in The Wizard of Oz. She filmed this movie for MGM studios when she was a mere 16. This role catapulted her into super stardom and her signature song “Over The Rainbow,” sung by a kid willing to dream, was cemented in the hearts of every American. She would go on to make countless classics for MGM including Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, and Easter Parade.

Some of my Garland records.

Some of my Garland records.

Although that is not where my fascination with this vocal legend started. I am a fan of her later years in show business, mainly from 1951-1969, the year she died. Throughout these years she was less known for the movies she made, but for her live performances. She did make some amazing films during this period like A Star is Born, but they were few and far between compared to her days at MGM.

When I was in elementary school I watched the Judy Garland Christmas Special on TV, but it wasn’t until my middle school years that my mom bought me the CD Judy At The Palace. I was immediately hooked from her rousing renditions of “Rock a Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” and “Get Happy.” Then there was her encore encore of “Over The Rainbow.” Hook. Line. Sinker. I have collected every Garland vinyl since then.

So I have decided to compile some of my favorite Garland performances and bring them to you here. Some are cliché of most Garland fans, but some are rarities that I hope you will surprisingly enjoy.


“Down With Love”

This is a recent favorite of mine. Her catalog is so large and her recordings seem endless. She did this on her ill-fated variety show. It’s a good “screw you” to all the men that had mistreated her throughout her life, not to mention CBS’ treatment of her during filming.


“When You’re Smiling”

Garland opened her legendary concert at Carnegie Hall with this number in 1961. This live album, Judy At Carnegie Hall, is her most legendary album, which is an ode to the brilliance of her performances. Since there isn’t a video recording of this concert I leave you with this version. She often opened shows with the this joyous number and it shows off her comedic chops.


“By Myself”

Garland’s version of “By Myself” is superb compared to everyone elses’. She feels each note with consistent emotion and the ambition to move forward with life. This is another song she sang from personal experience. Her performance is pure perfection. It is sad that CBS cut this number from one of her shows because they thought it was too dark.


“What Now My Love”

Garland’s vocals nearly blew me out of the window when I first heard her rendition of this classic. She first approaches it with a veil of vulnerability, but ends with a shroud of confidence. The closing note of the song gives me chills.


“As Long as He Needs Me”

This song has been a long time favorite of mine. I have heard it sung by many different ladies and I haven’t found a version I didn’t like yet. There is something different about Garland’s approach though. Her rendition shows a different side of Garland. We’ve seen the bitter and empowered Garland through her song choices. Her raw emotion in this song portrays her desire to be loved and  to not be seen as a commodity. She didn’t want to need someone. She wanted to be needed.


Every time I unearth a new Garland recording, or hell, every time I listen to Garland I am always amazed. There are no words that describe my admiration for this amazing lady and how her vocals penetrate directly to my soul. We all have that one artist and for me it will always be Judy Garland.

These performances are just barely a peek into her extraordinary career. I am so thankful that we have all these performances from her variety show. These performances are some of the last glimpses we have of this legend and sadly they are her last great recorded works.

As I come to a close I would like to remember Judy Garland in this form. I have read books and watched documentaries on Garland’s life and they always focus on her troubles. I think this is unfair. Garland lived a magnificent life doing what she loved to do: entertain. Through her gift she continues to touch thousands of lives and through this gift she paved the way for modern entertainment.

I’m simply wrapped in Garland.

Check out My Other Articles on Garland:

Oscar Got Away

Pristine Till Death