Monday, February 23, 2009
Motown Records, founded by Berry Gordy in 1959, remains a glorious beacon in American history for help shape the advent of rhythm & blues and soul music into American pop culture. The historical relevance in its role in integrating pop music, being the first record label owned by an African-American and to primarily feature African-American artists who achieved crossover success, speaks volumes of the evolution of R&B music. When Smokey Robinson & the Miracles debuted with their number one R&B hit, "Shop Around," the world couldn't get enough of that Motown magic. And then came the careers of Diana Ross & the Supremes, the Temptations, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Tammi Terrell, the Four Tops, Mary Wells, Jr. Walker & the All-Stars, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Spinners, the Jackson 5, Rick James, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Debarge and Boyz II Men.
To celebrate Motown's 50th anniversary, ArtistDirect.com is giving away a copy of the 10-disc box set Motown: The Complete Motown Number 1's, autographed by Berry Gordy himself! Featuring unforgettable classics from legends like Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and The Jackson 5, this retrospective is all you need for a complete homecoming to Hitsville USA. Now is your chance to win this piece of musical history signed by the father of Motown himself, Berry Gordy! Find out how to enter here!
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Did you really think that we were going to act as if the 51st Annual Grammy Awards never took place without saying a little something about it? Of course you didn't. Our coverage of the biggest annual award show for the last number of years remains one of our early highlights in the year and while a few recent Broadband issues have plagued my computer the last week, we have learned the prophetic quote to be true: "Where there's a will, there's a way." So here goes our report.
The super-long show, containing a run-through of performances from a string of genres, was quite bland on the surface. Not because great talent weren't available for the big day but the STAPLES Center's terrible echo problem, usually suitable for those oh-so-popular Laker games, isn't a good fit for big concert performances. Especially the ones with a big string/horn section and high volumes of heavy-amp guitars and "wamm-bamm" drum work. Well, that's what you got, one performance after the other. There were a few minor exclusions: the acoustic guitar accompanying performance of Sugarland's hit song and 2-time GRAMMY winning "Stay" and one of the evening's unforgettable moments featuring Jennifer Hudson's re-emergence back to the stage with an inspiring, tearful rendition and family dedication of "You Pulled Me Through." The song, with its gospel inflictions and string-laden background, was met with a standing ovation by the crowd. Hudson, whose mother, brother and nephew were killed in October, also won a GRAMMY for R&B Best Album and was announced by Whitney Houston. While her speech prior to the chant of the awards' winner was a bit uncomfortable - even leaving residue of the embattled Bobby Brown era, she looked graceful and as good as ever.
R&B vocal legend Al Green also graced the stage with pop/R&B superstar Justin Timberlake, who was a fill-in for the arrested and absent Chris Brown, and delivered a fitting tribute to the infamous Memphis soul sound. "Let''s Stay Together" was the choice of song - and naturally - Green stole the show. With that incredible energy and those super high notes, you just can't lose with the Reverend. While not aired, the Rev. picked up two wins for R&B Duo/Group (with John Legend on "Stay With Me (By the Sea)" and Traditional R&B Vocal Performance (also another duet with Anthony Hamilton). Both songs are from his highly-acclaimed Blue Note release Lay It Down. Carrie Underwood, the big American Idol superstar, delivered a loud and percussion-driven performance on "Last Name." Not quite country as it is funky, she still delivered an upbeat set that gave the night a little more sizzle. Other nice additions to the show included a touching tribute to the late Levi Stubbs with a Four Tops' medley featuring Jamie Foxx, Ne-Yo, surviving member Duke Fakir and Smokey Robinson, along with special tribute to the rich musical legacy of New Orleans. Robin Thicke graced the stage with Lil Wayne on "Tie My Hands," and the legendary jazz wizard Allen Toussaint delivers a big blast of funky jazz with Terence Blanchard and his Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Probably the worst of the evening's performances, the Jonas Brothers aren't all that horrific as folk would imagine. Goodness, they aren't great singers, but you don't have to always have that great voice in rock/pop sometimes. Image usually does most of the work. But forgetting the lyrics to the Stevie Wonder monster smash "Superstition" with the legend himself playing behind you isn't a good idea. He may be blind, but even he had to laugh at the boys when they stumbled over their lines. And no one still can explain why Kanye West decided to go back to his '80s wardrobe to pull out a very outdated hairstyle and a sparkly jacket that may have been better off in Liberace's closet. The rap segment, featuring Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye and T.I., was all about competition. Each one trying to out beat the other. Rather than spit out some unity of the brotherhood, they took you back to the rap death matches of Brooklyn from hip-hop's early years. Too bad a super pregnant M.I.A. looked as if she was going to drop in one millisecond. And with the Rat Pack imagery and black-and-white cinematography, it looked more ghetto than classy. But I guess that's what make hip-hop records sale anyway...right?
But the evening wasn't all bad news - it was a definite return up the rating scale for CBS for "the biggest night in music." Miley and the Jonas Brothers left empty-handed, Coldplay and Adelle were also big winners, along with a surprising stunner from Robert Plant and Allison Krauss winning Record of the Year. The press were predicting Coldplay to sweep this year's event. Though it was close, most of the big albums and artists walked away with prizes.
In the gospel category, Kirk Franklin won two big awards earlier that evening for Best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album (The Fight of My Life) and his moving ballad "Help Me Believe" in the Best Gospel Song category. Definitely a song I recommended earlier as a single in my 2007 album review. The Blind Boys of Alabama won in the Traditional Gospel Album; knocking out Dorinda Clark-Cole, Deitrick Haddon, first-time nominee Bishop Charles E. Blake's West Angeles COGIC Mass Choir and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. CeCe Winans and Mary Mary also took home trophies.
Biggest snub goes to Raphael Saddiq, who was nominated three times in the R&B categories for his brilliant and well-acclaimed The Way I See It album.
TIME Magazine covered the events' performances and rated each one individually. Some got mighty grades (Justin Timberlake/Al Green got a B+, Coldplay, Hudson, Underwood) and some not so wonderful (Kid Rock, Katy Perry, Paul McCartney). Wow, TIME gets a bit edgy on a Beatle. Ain't that a mystery.
Grammys 2009: The best and worst performances [Belleville News-Democrat]
Grammys 2009: The best and worst performances [Belleville News-Democrat]
GRAMMY Awards [Official Website]