Posted tagged ‘Katy B’

My Favorite Music of 2016

December 30, 2016

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.”


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.


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.


[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.


My Favourite Albums of 2015

December 22, 2015

JPEG image-4CD4A65CB569-1Yes, boys and girls, it’s time for that annual ode to my self-indulgence, self-importance and self-exaltation – My Favorite Albums of 2015. This year’s theme is “U.K. genre busters.” More than ever, my interests went to music that is not easily classified because it blended genres. And that frequently drew me to U.K. artists who are blurring the distinctions of genre far more than their popular U.S. music counterparts. Nine of the albums in my list are by U.K. artists.

In no particular order . . .

Should Have Been on the List for 2014 But I Didn’t Hear Them Until 2015

Gorgon City Sirens A really cool blending of house and synthpop with the smooth beats carried by an assortment of marvelous U.K. singers such as Katy B[1] and Laura Welsh, and the inimitable Jennifer Hudson.

Jungle Jungle Sleek, groove-driven, 70s-style funk from the U.K with a new millennium vibe.

These Should Be Obvious

Adele 25[2]

Adam Lambert The Original High[3]

Only Available in the U.K.

Kwabs Love + War[4] If there is a baritone-voiced angel in the heavenly realms, Kwabs is what it sounds like. As to his style, Kwabs says it’s “ultimately soul . . . taking from the things I love and that I’ve been listening to all my life (Aretha, Ella, Stevie) while having a place in the future.”[5]

Ella Eyre Feline Think classic Motown 50 years later and you get this album.

The Rest of the Best

Leaves’ Eyes King of Kings A concept album whose focal point is the sagas of Norway’s first king Harold. Majestic symphonies; massive metal guitars; soaring, angelic female vocals – when the Norse do folk music, it’s hardly of your Peter, Paul and Mary variety.

Darlene Love Introducing Darlene Love She’s the unaccredited voice of The Crystals’ 1962 hit He’s a Rebel, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and one of the subjects of the documentary Fifty Feet From Stardom. After five decades in the business – and by the business I mean the industry[6] – she has created a spectacular display of African-American vocal music – soul, blues, gospel and an occasional nod to the 60s girl groups. No disrespect to any of the current crop of pop stars – or aging classic rockers even – but it’s improbable that ANY of them will be able to sing like this when they’re 74 years old.

Lianne La Havas Blood Is she Folk? Funk? Rock? Pop? All of the above with a killer voice, too.

Florence + The Machine How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful The one-time quintessential modern baroque pop[7] diva is now the quintessential modern rock/soul diva.

Melanie Martinez Cry Baby It’s like Lorde and Lana Del Rey got together and wrote catchy pop songs about dark, disturbing, deranged, depressing teenage fantasies.

Disclosure Caracal Another superb groove-driven album from the U.K. that draws on house, R&B, and synthpop featuring vocals by superstars such as Sam Smith, Lorde, Miguel and The Weeknd, as well as My Boy Kwabs.

Duran Duran Paper Gods 80s-style synthpop is making a modern comeback, so why shouldn’t there be a fantastic and fun new Duran Duran album?


[1] Her album Little Red was my favourite of 2014.

[2] See my review

[3] See my review

[4] I was in the U.K. in October. After my work was completed, I had one goal: return with two copies of this album – one for me; and one for My Daughter Diandra.


[6] Admit it. You were wondering when I was going to work that in.

[7] Think 60s bands like the Moody Blues; Blood Sweat and Tears; Procul Harum; or The Association.

Little Red – My Favourite Album of 2014

December 30, 2014

Katy_B_-_Little_RedWhat makes a favourite album of any year? While I may needlessly destroy brain cells wrestling with what is “best”, there are a couple of easy criteria for me to determine a favourite. One criterion for “favourite” is what album’s songs randomly gave me the most earworms. Another is The Lord Have Mercy Test. This test is how many times I find myself saying, “Lord Have Mercy!” while listening to an album. The waving of gospel-hands and making of stank faces during this test add bonus points.

The album that met these criteria most often in 2014 was Little Red by London singer and songwriter Kathleen Anne Brien, better known as Katy B. While this album was born in London’s dance clubs, if Bill Hader’s infamous SNL character Stefon were to review this album, he’d say, “This album has everything – dubstep, R&B, funk, house, dance pop and ballads.”

Little Red is a perfect example of what’s happening in the U.K. music scene where the lines between musical genres no longer exist and the music becomes an amalgamation of styles. On this album, sometimes the shift of genres happens between songs but more often than not, the shifts occur seamlessly within the songs themselves. It’s a remarkable work of production not to mention the vocal chops necessary to keep up.

There are no weak points on this album. From the beginning to the end of the deluxe version’s 17 songs, there is a constant I-don’t-ever-want-this-to-stop groove that is occasionally punctuated by high-intensity moments. And those high moments come in a variety of ways. After the dance party gets started with two of my Lord Have Mercy! favorites 5 AM and Aliyah, along comes my favourite on the album, the emotional, full-body goosebumps ballad Crying for No Reason[1]. And then Katy gets us moving again with I Like You and its classic disco/house beat. Other personal highlights are the dark, dubstep-y All My Lovin’; Emotions; the ballad Still; and the deluxe version’s closers Wicked Love and Sky’s the Limit.

It’s rare that beat-driven music made for the dance clubs can move your emotions as well as your body. With Katy B’s amazing vocals set against a backdrop of the latest beats from London’s dance scene, Little Red does just that. Lord Have Mercy!!

Watch the Crying For No Reason video below (and when it’s finished, move your mouse over the link for the 5 AM video and give it a click):


[1] About which one reviewer called it, “The best ballad we’ve heard in ages . . . a stunning breakstep ballad about having a weepy moment for no particular reason . . . it really is one of the best ballads we’ve heard in quite some time. (Robert Copsey,