Jack White Does It Again

In marked contrast to my last post on Pop Princess Katy Perry, I am shifting over to a musician who has encompassed at one time or another nearly every musical genre other than Pop (and maybe Hip-Hop).  My love affair with the multi-talented and ubiquitous Jack White began years ago when I first saw The White Stripes perform “Seven Nation Army” at the Grammys.  I was riveted, particularly by the ghostly, yet strangely sexy man partially obscured by his wavy jet black locks.  He was electric.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him.  Henceforth began my exploration of The White Stripes.  Before I knew it, I’d ordered every one of their albums up to that point (Elephant still being one of my favorites, alongside Get Behind Me Satan).  I saw The Stripes in concert at the Greek Theater in L.A. in 2005 ~ they were exponentially more electrifying in person and needless to say, my loyalty as a fan was forever sealed.

Wearing many hats, Jack is far from a one-trick pony ~ he is an accomplished musician skilled in various instruments (most notably guitar), a singer/songwriter, and a record producer.   Whether forming other successful bands like The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, producing (and playing on) country stalwart Loretta Lynn’s 2004 album Van Lear Rose or even making the occasional acting cameo in films, there is virtually nothing the man can’t do.  And he is clearly passionate about it all, a quality that absolutely comes through, especially in his live performances.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see him live on multiple occasions ~ with The White Stripes and with the Raconteurs, including special behind-the-scenes access during the shooting of a Raconteurs video thanks to a friend who was a producer on the White Stripes documentary Under Great White Northern Lights.  It was a thrill just to get to watch him at work, in his element, not to mention pretty cool to be in the iconic Capital Records building for the first time ever!

When I learned Jack was touring for his recent (and first ever) solo album release (Blunderbuss), I was of course all over procuring tickets to see him.  I repeatedly hit the “refresh” button on my computer as the seconds counted down to the 10:00am Ticketmaster sale time.  In spite of being right on the dot with the time, I was still only able to find a single ticket available…in the balcony.  It’s one thing to attend a sit-down, mellow concert alone (no problem for me); it’s another thing entirely to attend a show alone you know will be rocking and rolling.  But I didn’t see an alternative when the alternative meant not seeing him.  So, because I love him that much, I purchased that single balcony ticket, resigned to rock out solo.

My backstage pass.

As the concert weekend drew near, I saw that he’d added a second night…and through a series of unforeseen circumstances, I wound up NOT going the night originally intended and instead went the second night with the wife of the friend I mentioned above, who not only had infinitely better seats (which got even better as the night drew on ~ more on that in a moment), but who also had backstage passes.  Funny how things always work out for the best in the end, right?

Further icing on the cake:  In Jack’s current tour, he rotates between an all male band and an all female band.  While I’ve got absolutely nothing against a stage full of men, I have to say it was a treat to get to witness Jack’s performance backed by a cadre of feminine energy and talent.  There’s something fantastic in the contrast between Jack’s rockabilly sound (and look) and six women dolled up in flowing dresses and tresses.  They include a bass player, a pedal steel guitarist, a fiddler, a keyboardist, a back-up singer/tambourinist and a drummer (Carla Azar of Autolux) who (forgive me, Meg) put Meg White to shame!  She was outstanding.  So much so that at times she actually diverted my attention from Jack, which is saying a LOT.  And lucky for Jack, as he was a bit on the hoarse side (hazards of doing back to back shows?), his lovely back-up singer did more than back him up on occasion, at times outright filling in for him, and amazingly, managing to mimic his sound so well there were times I couldn’t tell which of them was singing!  Sure, it was a bummer Jack’s voice wasn’t in top form, but NOTHING detracts from his stage presence and guitar skills.  That’s his true gift ~ a gift that happily keeps on giving. Continue reading

Katy Perry Sugared Me Sweet

Although my Top 40 radio days are long gone, I must admit I find Pop Princess Katy Perry‘s music ~ and persona ~ infectiously irresistible.  So during a recent trip home to visit family, my 10-year-old niece had little problem twisting my arm to take her to see Part Of Me, which documents Perry’s latest world tour, her struggle and subsequent rise to stardom, and elements of her personal life.And I’ve gotta say, I enjoyed every minute of it.  I laughed, I cried, I was moved, I was even inspired.  Perry has traversed quite a path from gospel/Christian singer (she was raised in a strict Pentecostal household by a preacher father and his wife) to the fearlessly daring pop force she is today.  After all, her first hit single was “I Kissed A Girl” (and she liked it).

Perry is the real deal.  She writes her own songs, (which she seems to churn out with remarkable consistency and speed), 13 of which have become hit singles, five off of one record alone (Teenage Dream), tying her with Michael Jackson and becoming the only female in history to do so.  She has a remarkably powerful and beautiful clear voice to boot.  Perry demonstrates a sincere interest in and devotion to her fans (at times forcing herself to personally greet fans backstage in spite of utter exhaustion), and she in turn (deservedly) has masses of devoted fans, as evidenced by the sold-out shows and the adoring comments of the many interviewed throughout the doc.  She is unfailingly loyal, surrounding herself with and employing many of her friends and family from early on in her career to now.  Perry was by no means an overnight success, which makes it all the more gratifying to see her reach the enormous success she has today, particularly in light of her true talent, hard work, drive and never-give-up attitude, not to mention because she appears to be a genuinely good person. Continue reading

Maurice Sendak ~ A Personal Remembrance

It was with great sadness that I awoke on Tuesday morning to the news of Maurice Sendak‘s passing.  The astoundingly talented author and illustrator was a predominant presence in my childhood, to be sure.  I know I am only one of multitudes who have enjoyed his work over the decades his artistry has spanned.  While I know the deserving remembrances of him have been fittingly pervasive over the last few days, I felt compelled to add my own small contribution, in honor of Mr. Sendak and his memory.

As a child, I was familiar with some of his best known children’s literature ~ such as the classic Where The Wild Things Are, with its fantastically creative illustrations that forever changed the way children perceived “monsters”, by having Max, its protagonist, actually engage with the creatures as opposed to merely fearing and hiding from them.  Other popular titles in Sendak’s canon include the often controversial (due to one of the young characters being naked through a portion of the book) In The Night Kitchen and Outside Over There.

But the most memorable and beloved contribution he made to my childhood is perhaps lesser-known than some of the works mentioned above.  In 1975, Sendak collaborated with the gifted and iconic singer-songwriter Carole King on a children’s animated television production called Really Rosie, which was also made into an album.  To be honest, I don’t remember seeing the television show, but the album, and its accompanying Nutshell Library remains one of my most treasured childhood memories.

Continue reading

Tuskegee ~ Lionel Richie Goes Country!?

Lionel Richie - Tuskegee

I never imagined one of my first album reviews would be on Pop/R&B artist Lionel Richie.  He’s been nowhere near my radar since the 1980’s, when I actually regularly listened to ~ and cared about ~ Top 40 radio (you couldn’t tear my walkman headphones out of my ears on Sunday nights during Casey Kasem‘s Top 40 Countdown for anything in my youth!)   Save for the occasional reminder that Lionel is Nicole Richie’s (adoptive) father, I haven’t thought much of him, nor listened to anything of his, in ages.

However, of late, due to the recent release of his new album, Tuskegee, I’ve been hearing and reading quite a bit about the seemingly once again ubiquitous artist.  And I must say I’ve been impressed…by his humor, his groundedness, his sincerity and his willingness to do something different…

…something really different.  Lionel, in a move both bold and refreshing, has gone country…in perhaps the most clever way he could ~ with his very own existing catalogue of hit songs, every one of which he is joined on by one or another of today’s (and in a few cases, yesterday’s) hottest country artists.  He has essentially made an album of covers ~ country revisions of his very own songs…and believe it or not, it works!  Continue reading

Stellar Soundtrack: The Hunger Games – Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Soundtracks have always been one of my favorite ways to capture and retain the mood and memory of a film, as well as to discover new (and old) music.  They are akin to a professional “mix tape”.  And, oh, how I love “mixes”…of course I long ago graduated from mix tapes to mix-CD’s, but I’ve enjoyed countless hours spent compiling assortments of music over the years, in part inspired by my love for soundtracks.  Maybe one of these days, I’ll put together a list of some of my all-time favorite soundtrack albums…I’d love to hear yours, too, so please feel free to share!

T-Bone Burnett

One of the proven “Kings” of film soundtrack production is Grammy and Academy Award winning producer/songwriter T-Bone Burnett.  Here, he has done it once again, gathering a unique mix of musicians, both mainstream and lesser known, all of whom do an exceptional job of capturing the themes and mood of the book (and film) through their songs.  I first listened to this album after reading the book, before seeing the movie, and truly felt like I was reliving the book through the songs ~ via both sound AND lyrics.  In some cases lyrics are taken directly from the pages of the book ~ and they translate in every instance.  Each track has a place here.  Burnett chose his artists wisely…and they certainly delivered.

Very few of the songs on this soundtrack are actually featured in the film.  It is more a compilation of songs “inspired” by The Hunger Games.  There are definitely strains of both Oh Brother Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain in the album’s frequently folksy, Appalachian style, which I wouldn’t necessarily have imagined for this film.  But it works.  Very well indeed.  And there are plenty of non-folksy tracks to satisfy all tastes. Continue reading