Announcing Raysmusings.com!

Posted April 5, 2017 by Ray Linder
Categories: Much ado about nothing

Since February 2008, I have written faithfully on American Idol (and occasionally the other reality singing shows) with insight, snark humor and self-righteous candor. And Adam Lambert. I’ve written a lot about Adam Lambert. And within the blog’s 618 posts, I also wrote occasionally about music in general with album and concert reviews, best of lists and so forth.

With Idol on hiatus, it’s time for me to turn my musings to other matters since my musing mind never goes on hiatus. With decades of music listening behind me and, hopefully, decades of new music listening ahead of me; moments of outrage (music awards shows) and euphoria (typically some new UK artist like Rag ‘n’ Bone Man) needing an outlet; massive changes happening in the music business – and by the business I mean the industry; and the delusional belief that somebody, anybody, actually cares about my feelings about such things, I have created a new blog – Ray’s Musings: Mostly Music Mixed with Miscellaneous Mayhem.

Per the title, it’s primary focus will be on the world of music and by “the world”, I mean “my world.” I’ll insightfully, snarkily humorously and self-righteously opine on old music, new music, live music, my favorite music, other people’s thoughts about music, the business of music – you get the idea.

And by popular demand (i.e. the plethora[1] of imaginary voices I hear in my head), I will miscellaneously muse on the mayhem of my other infatuations, which could include my fascination with the ridiculiciousness[2] of the Bachelor franchise or my continuous consumption of delightful $10-15 bottles of wine.

And I’ll still write a lot about Adam Lambert.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE NEW BLOG!!!! I hope you like it and visit often. To that end, when (not if) you take a look, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the follow button. You’ll also see a follow button on the right side of every article you peruse.

Should Idol return – remember Ryan’s infamous words “Goodbye . . . for now,” Idol Musings will likely be back, too. In the meantime, GO RIGHT NOW to Raysmusings.com!

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[1] I love that word. And yes, the new blog will continue my convention of silly footnotes.

[2] Ree-dik-u-lish-us-nuss. Yes, I made that up.

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Idol Comeback Talks Stalled

Posted April 3, 2017 by Ray Linder
Categories: Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary

Idol’s plans to end its “goodbye – for now” are in jeopardy as its two production companies Freemantle and Core Media can’t agree on whose offer to take for a 2018 re-boot. Reportedly, Fox and NBC have made offers to re-air the show.

Fox wants Idol back because it was still a very popular show when it was canceled. In 2016, Idol tied with The Voice for 12th in the ratings. Fox decided to shutter Idol because of the show’s high costs which were driven in large part by the salaries of Ryan and the judges. Idol’s hiatus would give them a chance to re-boot the show with less costly judges.

NBC’s plans were to replace The Voice with Idol in the fall and combine Idol (fall), The Voice (spring) and America’s Got Talent (summer) into a yearly package of reality shows. This was the offer preferred by Freemantle as they are also the production company for America’s Got Talent. Core Media felt that rolling Idol up into NBC’s package would water down the show’s brand.

So, the re-boot talks are off but just “for now”? Money does have a way of helping people find common ground.

And speaking of goodbye for now, look for an announcement of this blog’s own re-boot coming VERY soon.

Ode to Chuck Berry

Posted March 21, 2017 by Ray Linder
Categories: Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary

Tags:

I didn’t grow up knowing who Chuck Berry was. I grew up on The Beatles. One Christmas I got The Beatles Second Album – the first of many, many albums I would wear out – and Beatles ’65. Two songs from those albums always stuck out: Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music. The driving beat and raucous energy of those two songs were exhilarating. I also grew up on The Beach Boys. One of their most popular singles was the song Surfin’ Safari even though I preferred Shutdown which was on the B-side.

Eventually I’d hear some guy named Chuck Berry singing Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music on the radio. “Wow! Those are the songs from my Beatles albums!”, I said to myself since Facebook hadn’t been invented yet. And when I heard that same Chuck Berry sing Sweet Little Sixteen, I was like, “Whoa! That sounds exactly like Surfin’ Safari!” Too young to care about such things as copyrights, I thought it was clever how The Beach Boys used different words for his song. Much later I would find out that when the song was initially released, Brian Wilson was listed as the sole songwriter even though the song’s publisher was ARC which was the publishing arm of Chuck Berry’s label, Chess Records. Later releases of Surfin’ Safari corrected the “oversight” and cited Berry as the co-writer.

Somewhere along the way, I had that transformative experience everybody has the first time they hear Johnny B. Good. A greatest hits collection would find its way into my ever-growing stacks of wax. I’d even witness him make a comeback in the 70s with his last Top 40 album The London Chuck Berry Sessions. This album had his last two radio hits: the horrific My Ding a Ling – a juvenile song beneath his stature and inexplicably his only #1 song; and a rollicking live version of Rockin’ and Reelin’.

The truth is, I actually grew up on Chuck Berry. Eventually, I’d come to realize that but for a long time, I had no idea. And at some level, we’ve all listened to Chuck Berry without knowing it. Because no matter what rock music we’ve ever listened to, we were in some way listening to Chuck Berry. Go ahead and call Elvis “The King”. But before there was a King, Chuck Berry had already established The Kingdom. The revolution started with Maybelline. The Kingdom was announced with Roll Over Beethoven. And it was universally recognized with Johnny B Good

This kingdom was built on three fundamental principles: a relentlessly driving beat; hot guitar licks; and songs about girls, cars and playfully rebellious fun. Whether you’re listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Beach Boys; Springsteen or Prince; Van Halen, AC/DC or The Black Keys; or pretty much any rock group you can think of, you’re listening to the music of Chuck Berry’s kingdom.

This is the legacy of Chuck Berry – we’ll ALWAYS keep hearing him not merely on Classic Rock or Oldies stations but in any new song embodying the principles of The Kingdom. As John Lennon said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”

But his legacy is his songs, too. If you’re going to learn to play rock music, you will learn to play his songs. And Chuck knew that. As he continued to tour later in life, he stopped touring with a band. Rather, it was the promoter’s job in each city to find musicians to back him that night. In other words, in any city in the country, Chuck could count on there being competent players who knew his music.

One night in Maryland, a young Bruce Springsteen was hired to back Chuck. Typical for Berry, he showed up five minutes before he was scheduled to go on stage. When asked by Bruce what songs he and his band were going to play, Berry simply answered, “We’re gonna play some Chuck Berry songs.”

Some Chuck Berry songs. In the hymnal of rock and roll, there are some Chuck Berry songs. However, his inspiration is in every song in the book.

Rest in peace Chuck Berry and may your V-8 Ford keep motivatin’ over the hill with no particular place to go.

Jax Funny EP – My Musings

Posted February 1, 2017 by Ray Linder
Categories: Reviews

Tags:

jaxTwo years ago, 18 year-old Jax was the most charismatic, captivating and capable Idolist in Idol’s penultimate season, and on her way to a third place finish – a result two places lower than it should have been.

And not long after that, she was an 19 year-old with 12 cancerous tumors on her thyroid.

Now, Jax is a 20 year-old with successful surgery to remove her thyroid behind her and more importantly, a very enjoyable six-song EP Funny that dropped on Friday.

Your friendly neighborhood Muser is here to report that the qualities that made Jax such a compelling Idolist are on full display in Funny with the added advantage of hearing those qualities through original work rather than Idol’s enhanced karaoke.[1] Funny has:

  • Beats: the tropical, EDM-ish Kickin’ & Screamin’
  • Bounce: Sleep Like a Baby which wittily begins with Brahms’ Lullaby
  • Ballads: the inspirational-overcome-your-adversity Stars and the dark L.S.D.
  • Brash: the big, angry kiss-off song Wrong Girl which gets an assist from the surgery which left her already distinctive voice with a slight, yet appealing rasp
  • [couldn’t find an appropriate B word] Funny which mischievously focuses on “f-u” as she spells f-u-n-n-y.

One of the things I always worry about when I hear the Idolists talk about their post-Idol projects – most of which don’t come to fruition in any meaningful way – is their desire to write their own music. While Funny doesn’t break any new ground musically, it does have a radio-friendly credibility. Beyond that, Jax does two things well at this point: she puts her distinctive voice and singing style front and center; and she’s a very clever – yes, funny – lyricist.

I was a Jax fan from her first moments on Idol. She has a style all her own – vocally, personality, fashion and looks. Her fans were able to get Funny to chart in the top ten on iTunes[2]. She should be proud of this debut release. It’s a solid foundation upon which hopefully she can build an increasingly successful career.

And I’m so hoping she’ll play a show somewhere in the D.C. area. If I’m in town, I’ll be there.

P.S. At the risk of taking anything away from Funny, I feel compelled to include this link to her featured vocals on a dance track by Askery that I ABSOLUTELY love: https://soundcloud.com/askerymusic/askery-jax-castle

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[1] Which Jax took some clever shots at in her video ­La-La Land released in January 2016 https://youtu.be/5R4T0Nc4jig

[2] Must have been cool for her to see her name on the same screen as Beyonce and Bruno Mars.

Nick Fradiani and His Label Go Separate Ways

Posted January 24, 2017 by Ray Linder
Categories: Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary

Tags: ,

It’s the real reality of reality singing shows for Idol’s penultimate winner Nick Fradiani who has parted ways with his (and Idol’s) label Big Machine Records. Rather than the usual “mutual” parting – a music business alternative fact – both parties have described the break-up as amicable and necessary.

This is a very different situation than what happens to winners of The Voice aka The Game Show With Singing who frequently get dropped by the show’s label Republic Records before they even release an album. As opposed to Republic, Big Machine’s head Scott Borchetta was an active presence on Idol: mentoring, shaping, critiquing and generally preparing the Idolists for the real competition that happens after the show against people like Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Adele and Big Machine’s own Taylor Swift.

Furthermore, Nick did release an album Hurricane in August 2016. Unfortunately, Hurricane sold a mere 5,000 copies which clearly endangered his future prospects with Big Machine. Nick’s release suffered from two problems. First, he just wasn’t that good which I mused about quite frequently[1]. Rather than requote myself, here’s a review from Newsday:

The problem is what happens after the show is over. Like several winners from “Idol” and “The Voice,” Fradiani needs the infrastructure of a network TV show to help sell the songs from his debut album “Hurricane” (Big Machine) because his voice just isn’t distinctive enough generally to get it done on its own[2].

Second, Big Machine seems to have realized how difficult marketing pop acts is as they have dropped all of the pop artists from their roster except for Taylor Swift to focus on their country acts. A hyper-competitive market and a non-competitive product spells disaster in any industry. 5,000 copies sold by a major label is, frankly, embarrassing.

So now we – and by we, I mean me – wait to see how well Scott and his Big Machine do with the final Idolists Trent Harmon and The Peerless La’Porsha Renae. Trent remains associated with the label as they work on an album for the country market (good luck with that). And the final runner-up The Peerless La’Porsha stays on as part of a Big Machine/Motown joint label project.

AND . . . Jax (see footnote #1) has been spent her post-Idol time persistently building a loyal fan base and public relations, and has an EP coming out on Friday that’s been getting quite a bit of buzz in early reviews.

I’ll be looking to see if any of the three can redeem the promise that the reality shows once held. Stay tuned.

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[1] Not only should Jax have been the winner over Nick and runner-up Clark Beckham, I remain committed to my belief that Scott wanted her to win.

[2] http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/music/hurricane-review-nick-fradiani-s-voice-lacks-distinction-1.12128976

Yet ANOTHER One Bites the Dust

Posted January 18, 2017 by Ray Linder
Categories: Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary, The Voice

Tags:

Sorry, Sawyer Fredericks fans. Your The Voice aka The Game Show with Singing Season Eight (2015) champion has just seen his career go the way of too many of that show’s winners. Last week he told his fans that he and the show’s record label – you know, the one that promises a recording contract to its winners – had “mutually” parted ways.

Let me explain what the frequently used phrase “mutually parted ways”[1] means in the business and by the business, I mean the industry. The label unilaterally decides to no longer support an artist. The artist then mutually agrees it would be wise to leave a label that is no longer going to support them. Both parties play nice in public. Artist starts career from scratch as an independent, i.e. no record deal and highly unlikely to ever get one. In Sawyer’s case, that means also losing the manager you had by virtue of winning the show and having your mother become your new manager.

By now, you should know this is a bad habit for The Voice. Sawyer is the fourth winner who has not released an album in spite of “winning” a recording contract. He did at least put out a 4-song EP, which was better than Jermaine Paul, Josh Kaufman and Craig Wayne Boyd were able to get from winning. And we have yet to hear from Season Ten winner Alisan Porter.

I have been writing about this sham for years[2]. So if you watch The Voice even though the show consistently makes false promises to the viewers and the artists, don’t get attached to your favorite (watch your back ex-Idolist Sundance Head). The Game Show With Singing continues to be hazardous to the career health of its winners.

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[1] Sometimes “amicably” is included along with gushing by the artist about how happy they are to see their career moving forward. The words: “Of course, I’m delusional.” are never used.

[2] Among others: https://idolmusings.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/will-yet-another-voice-winner-bite-the-dust/

My Favorite Music of 2016

Posted December 30, 2016 by Ray Linder
Categories: Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One of the best things ever written about lists was by the legendary New Yorker music critic Ellen Willis. It captures my feeling exactly if not way more eloquently than I ever could:

“The list game is as integral to rock as statistics are to baseball. In fact, it’s not criticism I’ve been taking too seriously all these years but list making. I worry over my criteria. (Do I pick the albums I play most or the ones I admire most?) Then I worry over the imperatives of the list itself, which transcend the merits of particular records. (To be truly satisfying, for instance, a ten-best list should have some sort of aesthetic and historical balance; if it doesn’t, something is wrong with the year’s output of albums or the reviewer’s listening habits, or both. And I hate to make arcane choices of albums that only I and three other critics have heard; sometimes it’s necessary, but it makes the list less elegant.) Before I know it, it’s May, and a ten-best list in May has all the appeal of a baseball game in January.”

#SheNailedIt

With all this aforementioned[1] psychological baggage that I share with the esteemed Ellen Willis, I present my list of favorite LPs and EPs for 2016. It was a year where I really didn’t listen to many new albums. I tended to alternate between my trove of jazz and finding new music on my Discover Weekly playlist provided each Monday by Spotify. Nor did I give much thought to the albums all the real critics are supposed to concern themselves with. Whether ubiquitous or obscure, this is the stuff I liked, hence “favorite” and not best.

Sia This Is Acting An album where a songwriter for hire gets to sing her own songs. Every song except for One Million Bullets was written for and rejected by somebody else: Cheap Thrills, Unstoppable and Reaper[2] (Rihanna); Alive (Adele); Bird Set Free (Rihanna, Adele, and the movie Pitch Perfect 2); Footprints (Beyonce); Elastic Heart (Katy Perry); an unnamed song for Shakira (probably Move Your Body[3]) and it’s believed that Christina Aguilera rejected Summer Rain[4]. Listen to these songs with each of those singers in mind. You can clearly here how perfect they all would have been for each particular artist. Which is why Sia is such a great songwriter. But, dang, she’s a great singer, too.

Rosie Lowe Control The fact that Sir Elton John is a huge fan of this London-based singer should be enough to get your attention. Her sultry combination of 90s R&B meets electro-soul a’la The Weeknd gets mine. Get sucked in by the sensuous Who’s That Girl and then get hooked on the rest.

 

Banks The Altar Dark. Haunting. Mesmerizing. Melancholic. Sensual.

Katy B Honey This is less an album and more of a love letter to London dance clubs. Honey started out as a series of independent projects and turned into a collection of thirteen collaborations with different dance music producers. The result is like a box of mixed chocolates each with something different on the inside but all covered on the outside by Katy B’s sweet voice. That sweetness nearly moves me to tears each time I hear So Far Away.

And Turn the Music Louder (Rumble) featuring My Boy Tinie Tempah is a banging good time, especially in this 60s-themed video.

 

Delain Moonbathers Symphonic metal meets power pop in this Dutch band that features the exquisite Karen Carpenter-like vocals of Charlotte Wessels. Check out the song Suckerpunch. 

 

Lindsey Stirling Brave Enough On her third album, Lindsey expands her fusion of classical, rock and EDM into pop, funk and even country. Her moving and powerful tribute to a dear friend who passed away, Gavi’s Song, will melt your heart.

The Joanna Connor Band Six String Stories Joanna is a Chicago-based guitar virtuoso who does it all from set-your-hair-on-fire slide guitar – you’ll be the one that needs to catch their breath after the opening song It’s A Woman’s Way ­- to R&B, funk, gospel and jazz. Plus she puts me on the guest list at the Chicago blues club Kingston Mines whenever I’m in town. 🙂

Betty Davis The Columbia Years 1968-1969 This historical delight consists of previously unreleased tracks from Miles Davis’ then-wife with bands consisting of Mitch Mitchell (the Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer) and soon-to-be jazz giants Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Hugh Masakela and members of The Crusaders. These are more demo tracks than finished productions and include covers by Cream (Politician) and Creedence Clearwater Revival (Born on the Bayou), along with her own originals. Eventually, she would go on to become a highly influential but commercially little known funk artist. Miles produced these tracks at a time when he was exploring his own jazz/funk/rock ideas that would eventually become the legendary Bitches Brew album.

EPs

While not intending to take away from how special each of the following artists are, these four EPs can be grouped together under the banner of indie/alternative pop: niche pop music artists that do not neatly fit into any of the broad categories of radio-ready sound. Instead, these kind of artists organically find their own fan bases. Each of these young women makes music featuring rich electronic arrangements and emotive, ethereal vocals.

  • Verite´ Living
  • Zealyn Limbic System
  • Kitten Heaven or Somewhere In Between (I should add that this was #17 on Rolling Stone’s Top 20 Pop Albums of 2016 and included in The music that mattered most in 2016 by Canadian Broadcast Company/Radio.)
  • Laura Welsh See Red
  • HanaHana

Alex Newell Power Remember Sylvester from the disco days – the singer with the crazy high falsetto that compelled your body to the dance floor– You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and Dance Disco Heat?[5] He’s been reincarnated into modern dance music as Alex Newell.

 

I hope you find something here that you’ll put in your own music rotation. And be on the lookout for a Part 2 on my year in concerts.

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[1] I love that word. I wonder if Ms. Willis ever used that word. Probably not. And if she tried, an editor would probably have struck it out. My editor likes it, though. 🙂

[2] Sia decided to keep Reaper for herself and took it back from Rihanna.

[3] In a Rolling Stone interview, Sia said she wrote a song that was rejected by Shakira and you’d know it when you heard it, so this is my guess.

[4]  By the way, getting songs rejected is not a big deal. The big name artists get dozens of song submissions from all the best songwriters for their album projects. And Sia says she gets 20-30 requests per week to write songs for other artists.

[5] And if you don’t remember, do not pass go, do not collect $200 until you find them on your Google Machine and listen immediately.