Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady

Janelle Monáe’s sophomore album, The Electric Lady, was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. This followup to her exquisite debut, The ArchAndroid (one of Muruch’s Top Albums of 2010), continues the bizarre, enthralling tale of time travelling android Cindy Mayweather – first introduced in Janelle’s Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) EP. However, you needn’t have heard the previous two albums in Janelle’s mythic trilogy to enjoy The Electric Lady. The music on the album is as interesting, diverse and addictive as we’ve come to expect from Janelle and finds her collaborating with Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange, Miguel and Esperanza Spalding.

I’m not usually a fan of instrumental intros, but Janelle’s anticipation-building “Suite IV Electric Overture” is an exception. The liner notes say it was “inspired by the idea of Ennio Morricone playing cards with Duke Ellington.”

The standout track “Give Em What They Love” is exactly the kind of fun, multi-layered funk duet you want from Janelle Monáe and Prince. The clip on Amazon does not do the song justice, it needs to be played in full on high volume through stereo speakers.

Almost as good is “Q.U.E.E.N.” with Janelle’s quirky, melodic, semi-rap defiance and a guest appearance by Erykah Badu. I first posted the video here last May and you can watch it again below.

The album’s title track has a slightly more traditional R&B dance sound with guest vocals by Solange.

Another major highlight is “Primetime,” a sultry, soulful ballad duet with Miguel. You can watch the brand new video for the track below.

“Dance Apocalyptic” is a fun dance tune, though it’s not nearly as crazy as the title suggests. You can see the video below.

“Look Into My Eyes,” “It’s Code” and “Can’t Live Without Your Love” show off the lovely, gentler side of Janelle’s voice.

Janelle’s ode to “Sally Ride” is quite the fantastic journey, the ultimate futuristic soul song. And Esperanza Spalding’s voice is the perfect match for Janelle’s in the Neo-Soul song “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes.”

Though I can’t say I enjoy listening to the somewhat jarring pseudo-radio interludes interspersed throughout the album, I do love that Janelle still makes actual albums. Her fantasy concepts aside, Janelle obvious wants her fans to play her albums in their entirety and take them as a whole listening experience rather than a collection of singles with some filler.

That kind of artistic attention to detail combined with a gorgeous voice, a flare both for the dramatic as well as the funky and a science fiction churning imagination continue to put Janelle Monáe into a category all her own: Cyber-Soul.

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Janelle Monáe Official Site

Giveaway: Win The Billie Holiday Tribute CD!

Muruch and ROMO*PR are giving away one copy of the new A Tribute To Billie Holiday CD, which features Esperanza Spalding, Shelby Lynne, Babyface and other modern artists covering several Billie Holiday classics. You can read my review of the album by clicking here and the contest details are below…

The Prize:

One winner will receive:
1 A Tribute To Billie Holiday CD

The Rules:

Comment to this entry with the name of your favorite Billie Holiday song or your favorite cover (or both) and your email address. All new comments are moderated to avoid spam (which is why you must include the required text in your comment), so it may take a day for your comment to appear if you haven’t commented on Muruch before.

Note: This contest is open to everyone, but all contestants must enter with a valid email address to qualify. The winner of the contest will also be required to provide me with their full name and postal address for shipping purposes.

The Deadline:

The contest will end on Friday, July 22nd. The winner will be chosen at random and contacted via email.

Go now go! And tell others.

Album Review

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Various Artists: A Tribute To Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday is my favorite singer of all time, any time. So needless to say I was excited to hear the new album, A Tribute To Billie Holiday. Set for release on July 5th, the album will be released via actor Peter Stormare’s (Fargo, Dancer in the Dark) StormVox Records. The tribute features Esperanza Spalding, Shelby Lynne, Babyface and many more contemporary artists covering classics originally made famous by the late, great Lady Day.

Deborah Cox kicks things off with the aptly titled “Fine and Mellow,” which is simultaneous breezy and sultry. Shelby Lynne’s country croon is well suited to the melancholy ballad “You’ve Changed” which follows.

I was not familiar with the names Erin Boheme and Renee Olstead, but will be searching them out after hearing their respective covers of “Them There Eyes” and “Good Morning Heartache.” Both are straightforward but absolutely splendid jazz renderings.

A.J. Croce contributes a nice bluesy piano take on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.”

The Patti Austin, Dave Koz and Luis Conte cover of “Body and Soul” and Rickie Lee Jones’ grating vocal on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” are the weakest songs on the album. Granted, the entire tribute is a little too “adult contemporary” and/or “soft jazz” for my taste, but those two tracks are beyond bland.

Rocco DeLuca’s “Lady Sings The Blues” is solid enough, but would’ve been so much better with stronger dose of Rocco’s signatures blues-rock sound in the arrangement.

Esperanza Spalding shows why she won the Grammy with “I’ll Look Around,” and Frida Payne gives a swaggering “Billie’s Blues” that does Maria Muldaur proud.

Yet it is Babyface’s stunning interpretation of “Strange Fruit” that is by far the stand out track on the album.

Brownstone’s sexy cover of “God Bless The Child” serves at the tribute’s finale.

Actress Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Waiting to Exhale) provides spoken word readings presumably from Billie’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues (neither the press release nor the liner notes say), as an introduction to the album and in between several tracks. This gimmick proves to be more enjoyable in concept than actuality, save for the snippet that precedes “Strange Fruit” in which Billie compared her drug addiction to slavery.

The narration may have fit in better if the tribute had an overall darker tone, but seems out of place among these soft and mellow covers. And that’s really what disappoints me about this entire collection. Bille’s music, much like her life, was full of both great beauty and deep pain. This album adequately captures the beauty, but – aside from Babyface’s rendition of “Strange Fruit” – fails to express the kind of pain and longing that could be heard in any individual note Billie sang.

It’s not that any of the arrangements or artists are bad, on the contrary, it’s a pretty album that will probably please fans of any of the participating singers. It’s just not what I personally view as a true tribute to such an incomparable talent as Billie Holiday.

Esperanza Spalding – I’ll Look Around (mp3 expired)*

*mp3 provided by & posted w/ permission of ROMO*PR on behalf of StormVox Records

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Esperanza Spalding: Esperanza

Esperanza Spalding seems to have it all – a beautiful name, a pretty face, cool hair, and a lovely voice. Not to mention that the twenty-three year old prodigy also plays upright bass, composes music, and can sing in three languages. The songs on her new album Esperanza (Spanish for “hope”) blend jazz, Latin, and classical instrumentation as her angelic voice sings in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Spalding was raised by a hard working single mother in a multi-lingual Portland neighborhood. After seeing Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a four year old Esperanza taught herself violin and joined a community orchestra. By the age of twenty, she had become the youngest member of the Berklee College of Music faculty and recently won the Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship. She has collaborated with several prestigious musicians, including Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock.

“Ponta de Areia” begins in an airy Brazilian pop style before the piano slides the song into a jazzier mood as Esperanza sings in Portuguese, but it’s the Latin percussion at the end of the song that steals the show. “I Know You Know” is more interesting, as Esperanza’s soulful voice dances through the melody in step with the deep tone of her bass.

The sultry softness of the piano ballad “Fall In” is more in the Corinne Bailey Rae or John Legend vein. “I Adore You” seems to join African percussion with Latin rhythms while Esperanza’s seraphic voice plays the role of an additional instrument emitting nonsense syllables (she dislikes the word “scat”). She then transforms the American jazz standard “Body & Soul” into the smooth Spanish “Cuerpo y Alma”.

It’s the tales of a woman scorned “She Got To You” and “Precious” that truly bring out the rich tone of Esperanza’s pipes. I also love the more classic jazz diva style of “Love In Time” as well as the slinky Portuguese finale “Samba Em Preludio” featuring flamenco guitarist Niño Josele.

There’s a breezy coffeehouse atmosphere to the album that may not appeal to those who prefer meatier music, but I personally think Esperanza’s mellow sound is quite pretty.

Esperanza Spalding – Samba Em Preludio (mp3 expired)

Esperanza Spalding Official Site
Esperanza on MySpace

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