Donna Summer dead at 63

The website TMZ is reporting this morning that Disco Queen Donna Summer has died of cancer, in Florida.

She was 63.

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Imelda May – Mayhem

I don’t normally write about music that’s not from female vocalists in this space.

But.

Glenn Frey’s “After Hours” is worth a listen, and highly recommended.

There. We’re done.

So, as I was saying, the thing about DVRs is that one can time shift not just for hours, but for months. Just recently, I was rolling through some very old (like last August) episodes of Craig Ferguson, and stuck around for the singer at the end of the show.

The singer was Imelda May.


Imelda May – Mayhem (Decca)
Released – October, 2010 (UK),
July, 2011 (US)

Don’t believe in love at first sight? You havent heard Imelda May sing.

For me, it was one of those “What rock have I been hiding under?” moments.  From Dublin, Ms. May has been making records for the past ten years or so. To London in 2003, and her first US tour last year.

First, she has a great band. Dave Priseman on Brass, Husband Darrel Higham on Guitar, Al Gare on Bass and Steve Rushton on Drums provide the perfect frame for this high-speeed, non-stop thrill ride of a performer:

 

This is more than a mashup of blues + country = rockabilly, and it’s much more than the fine tradition of UK blues singers. Ms. May is something else, again. It’s as much about stage presence, attitude, and yes – marketing – as anything else.

The fifties fashions, the style of the website, even the album cover all serve to set the clock back to about 1955, when Elvis and Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison all came screaming out of the Sun Records studio in Nashville.

So come for the title song, but stay for the witty songwriting, too – like “Inside Out,” with great lines like, “I love your wits and all your wobbly bits…”

A voice as sharp as a straight razor, a husband who channels Duane Eddy, and a hell of a story – which goes like this: Ms. May’s father was driving her to a gig after a particularly bad romantic breakup. “Is you heart broken?” he asked. “Yes,” she replied. “Good,” he said. “Now you can sing the blues.”

Yep.  I’m in love.  And that could only add to the drama.

Highest recommendation for this one.

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While we’re in this mood, a quick video from Atlanta’s Bernadette Seacrest and her Provocateurs, who got my blood pumping one morning this week with this video on the Facebook news feed.  Love the line, “I drive a Buick, like God intended | It smokes, but man, it’s fast.”

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Chaise Lounge – Insomnia

Trying to get the decks cleared before the next overseas trip.  Much to write about, and much to load onto the ‘pod for that 14-hour Pacific flight.


Chaise Lounge – Insomnia
(Modern Songbook)

Released – April 2012

This is a unique group of musicians – hell, they had me at the quote from Mr. Barnett – “We wear suits—it’s a stylish damn band.”  From somewhere between Washington (the right coast one) and Baltimore, the sextet describes themselves as fresh out of a 1962 recording studio.  Not just any recording studio, but the famed Capitol Recording Studios.

If you’re going to make the comparison, make it a good one.

Luckily, the band lives up to its hype on this disc of a dozen tunes – nine originals, plus Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Bali Ha’i,” Arlen and Harburg’s “If I Only Had A Brain,” and a version of “Ode to Billie Jo” that matches the band’s Marilyn Older channeling Bobbie Gentry’s voice.  Except imagine Blood, Sweat and Tears as the backing band.

The words and music for the originals come from Charlie Barnett, with a list of 50 credits as a film composer.  He’s able to craft lyrics (“Houdini”) like, “I need a man, not a magician | I’ve got the keys in the ignition.”

But it’s the skill of Ms. Older, whose charm comes from being able to throw off Mr. Barnett’s lyrical punchlines with the charm of a gifted straight man.  Feisty, but familiar, she’s everywoman, with great lines like “The truth is you’ll be bummin’ | cause you’ll never see it comin’ | I’m going to ruin your day.”

And that’s from probably my favorite track on the disc – the bonus track – the unlisted “I’m Going To Ruin Your Day,” which apparently isn’t available as a download, only on the physical CD.

Of it, Mr. Barnett says, “I just loved the idea of writing a waltz, not even a particularly hip jazz waltz, but an old-fashioned lovey-dovey-style waltz, and having it contain a lyric of true spitefulness. In the space at top of the score, to the left—where a composer usually writes something like “andante” or “slowly, with feeling” — I wrote ‘peevish.’”

And Ms. Older plays it beautifully.  Her charm comes from her style, warm and simple, able to handle not just peevish, but also the blues and a romantic ballad with class.  No wonder she was nominated as one of Washington DC’s best jazz vocalists.

Yes, it is.  In addition to Ms. Older, Mr. Barnett on Guitar and piano, Tommy Barrick on Drums, Gary Gregg on sax, clarinet and flute, John Jensen on trombone, and Pete Ostle on bass and tuba.

Class act, this.  Very highly recommended.

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Norah Jones’ new CD is “Little Broken Hearts,” and while her fans will snap it up, all of the tracks started to run together for me after a while.  That said, the apparent radio hit, “Happy Pills,” is the standout of the bunch, and another track, “4 Broken Hearts” is also worthy of a current mix.

Here’s the official “Happy Pills” video.

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Karen Johns and Company – Peach

Karen Johns & Company – Peach
(Ptarmigan Music/Jazz)

Released – January 2012

Not long ago, running an old playlist on the ‘pod, Karen Johns came up.

Ms. Johns is a very talented singer/songwriter who makes her home in suburban Nashville. The song was “Carry Me Away,” an original from her 2008 album, “Star and Season.” I listened with new ears, and liked it even more than I did in 2008…and I liked it a lot back then.

As serendipity seems to go – that same week a copy of Ms. Johns’ newest album, “Peach,” landed on the desk.

The forumla that works for my old top-40 ears is some sort of universal condition, one in which any of us can imagine ourselves, and a good hook – that’s the memorable earworm that sticks with you. It’s harder than it sounds.

Ms. Johns gets this, from the opening track – “Sugarboo” – the title itself is an earworm, evoking a breezy trip in a convertable with one’s sweetie – to the more melancholy “I Speak Woman, You Speak Man.”

Ms. Johns’ talent isn’t limited to the pen, though. None of this would work without her creamy and supple alto, and the “Company,” the backing band – James Johns on guitar, Kevin Sanders on keyboards, Chris Kozak on bass, Michael Glaser on percussion, Jim Hoke on reeds and harmonica (nice touch on “Sentimentale,”) and Ken Watters on trumpet.

Mix in some off the beaten track standards – two in Italian, and one (Nancy Wilson’s “How Glad I Am”) that’s one of my all-time favorites – and well, this one will be in heavy rotation for some time to come.

Very highly recommended.

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