Songstress Delilah: Peaking the Charts and Piquing your Interest

For a country smaller than the state of Florida, England incessantly burgeons with musical talent. A modern “British Invasion” has emerged on this year’s music front, with radio charts offering an English mash-up of thumping bass and the thrum of banjos. From Alex Clare’s experimental drum-and-bass to Ellie Goulding’s indie pop melodies, the eclectic range of British influence has made an influential mark on the contemporary music scene.

Another innovative artist climbing the UK charts is twenty-two year old Delilah; a London-based songstress gaining notable praise with her debut album, “From the Roots Up.” The freshman LP skillfully combines ambient, electro-bass beats with sultry, R&B vocals; successfully achieving a bold range of genre-bending tracks.

Delilah’s first single “Go” samples lyrics from the 1983 Chaka Khan hit, “Ain’t Nobody,” while flawlessly incorporating her own edgy, carnal-driven undertones. The provocative track peaked at #21 on the UK Singles Chart, and amassed heavy radio rotation.

“From the Roots Up” is a candid showcase of Delilah’s lyrical versatility, offering realistic – at times haunting – accounts of love and lust. Physical expression is glorified throughout the album, highlighting her frank and unapologetic approach to sexuality.

Delilah is certainly an artist on the rise, presenting a fresh culmination of innovation and talent, but what’s your opinion? Take a peek at the creative video for her single, “Love You So,” and see if this English artist tickles your fancy….

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Ted Asregadoo’s picks

The days of getting lost in an album have passed me by. This year, I really tried to rekindle that lost listening art of playing entire albums – instead of compiling playlists in iTunes. It hasn’t been easy. I think the ease of digitally downloading albums has dried up the sense of anticipation that used to come with a purchase of a physical copy of an album at a record store. Now, the record store is just part of the millions and billions of distractions that await you on the Internet – much of it for free.

Now, I don’t mean to go on a diatribe against the devaluation of music because of the Internet, but one thing that has occurred because of the sheer plethora of music available with one click of your mouse is a kind of ADD when it comes to listening to music. My colleague both here and at Popdose (that would be Jeff Giles) has written about it more eloquently than I can, but the sentiment is very much the same: because of the volume of music that is available in downloadable form, it’s difficult for me to form a deep connection with an entire album. If we could flash back 20 years, it would have been a different story to feature 10 albums. Nowadays, it’s rare that an entire album can hold my attention.

But, never say never, right?

What you will find here are mostly my favorite songs of 2010, but occasionally you’ll find entire albums. I know, after all that “downloadable music is ruining my attention span” crap, I say that there were some albums that really captured my attention. But like I said, I’ve tried to rekindle the art of listening to entire albums, and while I feel I’m losing that battle, I haven’t entirely lost the war. So, here we go with my top 10 of 2010!

10. Paper or Plastic, “The Honest Man”
Every now and then a link arrives in my inbox that lives up to the hype. Case in point is the New York group, Paper or Plastic, who has a kind of Ben Folds thing going on with “The Honest Man.” The song is an example of some very lovely power pop, and you’ll find yourself humming the chorus after a few listens. The band is giving away their EP Ron Save the King on their website. Get it, if only for “The Honest Man.”

9. Somebody’s Darling, “Lonely”
In my review of this album, I was upfront about my allergy to country music – even if it’s alt-country. But Somebody’s Darling has enough rock-n-roll in them to make the musical waters safe for a guy with my particular affliction. “Lonely” is by far my favorite track on the album, and it’s not difficult to hear why. The song is just one big fireball of energy with a great driving beat and some wailing guitars. But it’s the full-throated vocals from Amber Ferris that takes this song from good to great.


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Bullz-Eye’s Top Ten Music Moments of 2010: Staff Writer Rob Smith’s Picks

In my mind, 2010 will be remembered more for moments of strangeness, oddity, and lessened expectation, than it will be for transcendent music. The throwaway nature of pop has never been more transient or incidental; technology enables us to hear as much as we want and, by the sheer volume of those possibilities, to actively listen as little as we ever have. How else to explain Ke$ha and the Glee cast recordings, much less the continuing nonsense of Black Eyed Peas? Raise your hand if you think Bruno Mars or Rihanna are still going to be churning out hits ten years from now, or that Katy Perry (more about her below) will still be squeezing into latex after she and her pasty Brit hubby have two or three little Russells to contend with, and things start saggin’.

I will remember 2010 for several key moments:

Top 10 Music Moments of 2010

1. The Roots, Being the Roots. Are they the best band on the planet? It’s hard to argue when their versatility is put on display every weeknight, and when they reiterate their overall excellence by turning out two of the best records of the year (How I Got Over and Wake Up, with John Legend).

2. Dio, Chilton Die. We lost metal’s gentle sorcerer (Ronnie James Dio) and Big Star’s genius-in-residence (Alex Chilton) within a few months of one another. May they both rock in peace.


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Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Mike Heyliger’s picks

I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had to struggle with a list of my favorite music in a particular year. Actually, I can, so I should clarify: I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much good music to choose from when paring down my list of favorites for the year. Upon looking at my CD collection (yes, I’m one of those guys), I still see another 10 or 20 albums that could make the list if I listen more carefully. But without the benefit of the free time it would take to check those CDs out, here’s a list of the 20 best albums I’ve heard in 2010.

1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As much as Kanye’s childish tirades infuriate me, I’ll be damned if his music doesn’t always win me over. Fantasy is amazing from just about every facet: musically, lyrically, thematically. I’ll forgive ‘Ye for a million idiotic public statements if he keeps making music like this.

2. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here
One of two albums in my Top 20 recorded by artists re-emerging after a 14-year absence, I’m New Here is a haunting listen. The ravages of time have wreaked havoc on Scott-Heron’s voice, but much like Bob Dylan’s most recent work, age has given the artist’s voice additional resonance.

3. The Black Keys: Brothers
Sometimes the album that breaks a band through to a mainstream audience is indeed their best work. That’s definitely the case with the Black Keys’ Brothers. Bluesy garage-rock with enough hooks to keep guys like me interested, I feel like this is the album Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were aiming for with their Danger Mouse-helmed Attack & Release album. As it turned out, they didn’t (really) need Danger Mouse, anyway, just their bad selves and the ghosts of Muscle Schoals, Alabama.

4. The Roots: How I Got Over
Can someone give these guys a medal for the most consistently awesome act not only in hip-hop, but in music period? I feel like the Roots are incapable of making a bad album even if they tried to. Although I suppose if they replaced Black Thought with Jimmy Fallon…

5. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
“Fuck You” (or “Forget You,” if you’re easily offended) was a gimmick single, sure. However, even gimmick singles can be genius, and what’s more is that the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley frontman was able to back the promise of that song up with an incredible album. I wish he rapped more, but when you can outsing just about every artist in contemporary pop and R&B, I guess you can be excused.


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Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday


RIYL: Rihanna, Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim

Kick off your first album with a track titled “I’m the Best,” and you’re making a hell of an announcement — either you’re more gifted than your peers, or you’ve just got the biggest balls. With Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj displays a bit of both: though it’s admittedly an uneven affair, this album contains some of the best hip-hop/R&B you’re likely to hear in 2010, and while it doesn’t play to Minaj’s otherworldly rapping talent as often as many fans would no doubt prefer, it still makes for an intoxicating, eclectic debut.

minaj

Of course, unlike most new artists, Minaj has the advantage of being a known quantity before her album even reaches shelves; she’s been all over the charts as a guest artist for months, popping up on songs by Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, M.I.A., Drake, Usher, and others – including Kanye West, whose “Monster” features an incendiary Minaj verse that outclasses everyone else on the song, including Jay-Z and Rick Ross. Nothing on Pink Friday comes close to “Monster” – not even “Roman’s Revenge,” her profane, rapid-fire showdown with Eminem – but that isn’t really the point. Minaj has a lot of weapons in her arsenal, and this album is meant to display them all, while aiming directly at Top 40 radio.

What’s somewhat surprising, given her aggressive/aggressively weird image, is just how savvy Minaj’s pop instincts are – and how successfully Pink Friday makes room for them while incorporating plenty of singularly Nicki moments. This is an album that makes heavy use of Buggles and Annie Lennox samples, and features will.i.am, Rihanna, and Natasha Bedingfield cameos – but it takes the fetid roar of “Roman’s Revenge” and “Did It On ‘Em” to tell the whole story, and she brings both halves together in the stunning “Right Thru Me,” which takes breathless verses about reckless love and leads them into a chorus that brilliantly, nakedly asks: “You see right through me / How do you do that shit?”

That kind of duality is hard to distill in a pop song, and with Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj doesn’t always succeed. But her punches connect more often than they miss – and if that’s mostly because she never stops throwing them, well, that only makes it that much harder to stop listening. Her peers had better lock in those guest spots now – a few more albums like this one, and the words “feat. Nicki Minaj” will be a lot more expensive than they are now. (Universal/Cash Money 2010)

Nicki Minaj MySpace page

Rihanna: Loud


RIYL: Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Christina Aguilera

Like any pop princess, Rihanna is only as good as the songs she’s given – which inevitably becomes a problem once sales drop and the label stops paying for top-shelf stuff (just ask Brandy, Monica, etc.) But on the occasion of her fifth album, Loud, she’s shining as brightly as any star in the music business, and the result is a singles-stuffed collection that, while certainly uneven, reestablishes Rihanna as a capable, charismatic vocalist.

As the title indicates, this isn’t exactly an introspective disc; even by the rather limited standards of modern R&B, the lyrics are a noticeable weak point. Fortunately, it usually doesn’t matter; for instance, although it’s redeemed by its earworm chorus and a goofy Drake cameo, “What’s My Name” is about as annoyingly basic as it sounds, while “Cheers (Drink to That)” is an average club anthem enlivened by strong production (including a nifty, unexpected a cappella interlude) and “Only Girl (In the World)” is a stone dumb club banger that perseveres by sheer virtue of insistence. Meanwhile, “S&M” and “Skin” are your average boudoir tracks, set apart only because Rihanna’s one of the better singers working in the genre.

Production and vocal power can’t save everything – power ballad “California King Bed” is a lumpy disaster that sounds like something Diane Warren found stuck to her shoe (“In this California king bed / We’re 10,000 miles apart”), and “Complicated” is the kind of love-to-hate-you number that Rihanna’s done better before (like on, say, “Hate That I Love You”). On the whole, though, the wheat-to-chaff ratio is admirably high; in such a singles-driven genre, it’s rare that you hear an album this light on filler, and given Rihanna’s hectic recording schedule, it’s easy to imagine a radio-worthy track missing single release. The gently stuttering “Fading” is the best kiss-off ballad she’s ever done, while the aggressive, reggae-tinged “Man Down” and the stomping “Man Down” (featuring Nicki Minaj, as required by law) find Rihanna dabbling, ever so slightly, in new directions. None of it feels as heavy as last year’s Rated R, but that’s obviously the point – this is the sound of a talented young singer getting dumb, and doing it in style. (Def Jam 2010)

Rihanna MySpace page

Quincy Jones: Q – Soul Bossa Nostra


RIYL: unexpected collaborations, the R&B Top 40, hitting “shuffle”

He’s more of an elder statesman than a hitmaker these days – his last album came out 15 years ago, and his influence has been on the wane since the ’80s – but the term “living legend” may as well have been coined to describe Quincy Jones, and he proves it all over again with the ridiculous number of superstar guests assembled for Q: Soul Bossa Nostra.

Like anyone who’s ever been successful in the music business, Jones isn’t shy about his own accomplishments, and Bossa Nostra functions essentially as an album-length tribute to himself, with modern hip-hop and R&B artists making cameo appearances on a rundown of Q-affiliated classics like “Strawberry Letter 23″ (featuring Akon), “You Put a Move on My Heart” (a show-stopping Jennifer Hudson), the “Sanford and Son” theme (walking acronym factory T.I. and B.O.B.), and the title track (Ludacris). Generally speaking, it’s all a lot better than it has any right to be; for one thing, Jones has to have a marvelous sense of humor to invite, say, Talib Kweli to turn “Ironside” into a hip-hop showcase, or ask Snoop Dogg to add his verses to “Get the Funk Out of My Face.” More importantly, most of the artists sound like they have genuine affection for the material, and they produce some genuine highlights, including John Legend’s lovely “Tomorrow,” Mary J. Blige and Q-Tip’s “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me,” and the Wyclef-led “Many Rains Ago (Oluwa).”

Like most compilations, Bossa Nostra has the occasional bald spot; for instance, it’s easy to assume that Jones tucked Amy Winehouse’s disastrous take on “It’s My Party” late in the album because he listened to the tapes long enough to wonder why it sounds like Winehouse lost her teeth on the way to the studio, and not a few listeners will blanch at the notion of T-Pain lending his Auto-Tune croon to a new version of “P.Y.T.” But these are minor complaints, given the overall strength of the rest of the record – and how much quibbling is really necessary when you’re talking about an album that concludes with a rap-a-riffic version of the “Sanford and Son” theme song? It won’t light up the charts the way Quincy did with The Dude in 1981 – or even 1989′s Back on the Block – but it’s a helluva lot of fun, and proof that the living legend hasn’t lost his touch. (Interscope/Qwest 2010)

Quincy Jones MySpace page

Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer


RIYL: Gnarls Barkley, Outkast, Al Green

Say what you will about the record industry in 2010 – but given that this was the year Cee Lo Green scored the biggest hit of his solo career with “Fuck You,” things can’t be all bad, can they?

It made bloggers go crazy, scored Cee Lo guest spots on every talk show from Letterman to Colbert (where he rejiggered the chorus into “Fox News”), and offered a welcome stylistic change of pace from just about anything else that’s popular at the moment, but “Fuck You” is still basically a novelty song; to really take advantage of the buzz it generated, Green needed to give listeners an album full of even better songs – and songs that didn’t leave “Fuck You” sticking out like a sore thumb.

Cee_Lo_Green_01

He’s delivered on both counts with The Lady Killer, a swaggering 14-track set that finds the famously restless Green as focused as he’s ever been – both in terms of music and in terms of clear crossover ambition. Like any other neo-soul artist, Cee Lo knows how to craft a retro vibe without settling for a simple homage, but he’s less reverent about the music than most of his peers, and the result here is a loose song suite that’s as proud of its classic soul DNA as it is excited about splicing it into a flashy modern hybrid.

Green worked with a small army of producers on the album, but it doesn’t sound like the work of a committee; in fact, it almost works as a concept album, introducing Green as a Lothario with a “license to kill” in the tongue-in-cheek intro, then following him as he hits the town (“Bright Lights Bigger City”), finds out he’s been jilted (“Fuck You”), and gets his woo on (“Wildflower”) – all while brushing past soul and R&B touchstones from Motown to ’80s synth funk. It’s the kind of album that makes room for everything – production from the Smeezingtons, a Philip Bailey cameo, a cover of Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” – without sounding chaotic or overstuffed. It’s the work of an artist at the top of his game. Though it isn’t as brazenly eclectic as some of his earlier work, longtime fans shouldn’t mistake The Lady Killer‘s comparatively limited scope for evidence that Green is selling out or slowing down; it’s just the logical next step in his inevitable world domination. (Elektra 2010)

Cee Lo Green MySpace page

N.E.R.D.: Nothing


RIYL: Prince, Lady GaGa, Justin Timberlake

As the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo are as responsible as anyone for the sound of popular music over the last decade as anyone else. Starting out as the apprentices of New Jack Swing godfather Teddy Riley, Chad & Pharrell’s minimal synth stabs took a diverse array of artists to the top of the charts: from coke-rap duo Clipse to teenyboppers the Backstreet Boys, Britney & ‘NSync.

As their performing alter egos N.E.R.D., Pharrell and Chad (joined occasionally by rapper Shae Haley) have not been as successful. One moderately successful debut album (In Search Of…) should have led to bigger things, but two subsequent efforts have been average performers commercially and critically. N.E.R.D.’s sound might be a little too eclectic for Top 40 radio – it’s not very easy to put in a box or define. Is it hip-hop? It is soul music? Is it rock?

NERD 3 - SMALL

A year or so ago, as the band prepared to record their fourth album, Nothing, they introduced a fourth member into the group, female singer Rhea. This move was a head-scratcher to many. It seemed as though N.E.R.D. was looking at label mates the Black Eyed Peas as a blueprint to success. Thankfully (because Lord knows we don’t need another version of BEP in this world), Rhea was sacked and N.E.R.D. returned to its original configuration.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the band’s inconsistent output and the Neptunes’ declining commercial fortunes, Nothing is quite a good album. The sound is still as varied as ever: the guys are still equal parts garage-rock and synth-pop, but none of it feels forced. There are a handful of eye-rolling lyrical moments – Pharrell Williams isn’t and will never be the world’s best lyricist – but Nothing offers more bang for your buck than any N.E.R.D./Neptunes/Pharrell album other since their debut.

The album’s opening track, “Party People,” turns out to be a bit of a red herring. The synthed-up club jam (boasting vocals by T.I.) is certainly the most commercial thing they’d ever released. Interestingly, N.E.R.D. pulls off that sound well – at least for the one song. The rest of the album veers from the rocking “Help Me” to the quasi-mystical “Life as a Fish” (which honestly reads like the diary entries of a very, VERY stoned college student). There’s a cool Daft Punk production (“Hypnotize U”), way more saxophone than on the past 15 years of N.E.R.D. albums and Neptunes productions combined, and a refreshingly varied approach to subject matter that includes the inspirational “God Bless Us All” and the politically motivated “It’s in the Air” in addition to the usual ass-shaking anthems (which happen to be MUCH less annoying and even kinda enjoyable in this context).

Nothing won’t reinvent the wheel and it probably won’t be a huge commercial success, either – the Neptunes’ moment (well, more like a decade than a moment) seems to have passed them. However, this is the most vibrant work that Pharrell in particular has been a part of in quite some time. Strangely (and happily for those of us who don’t live and die by radio and the charts) their music appears to be getting more interesting as their star fades. (Interscope 2010)

N.E.R.D. MySpace page

Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys


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