Here are some of the bands and artists who are making news with new releases this week:
Horses by Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers is one of the most interesting young people in music today. She was the subject of a viral video that was uploaded during the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic, and as such, she became well known to thousands of folks without having released an album or performed on a tour. Maggie’s story goes a little like this…as a child, she was a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. As she entered high school, more musical opportunities presented themselves so she became involved in school choirs and theatre productions. But, in addition to that, Rogers used her high school years to learn about music production and sound engineering. As high school ended, Maggie Rogers recorded a series of songs that would end up becoming her debut album in a couple of years. In the meantime, she used those completed songs as her application to New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Needless to say, she was accepted into the programme. One of her professors there was star singer, Pharrell. (You might know Pharrell from the song “Happy”). In any case, in Pharrell’s class, the students there were tasked with writing, arranging, performing and producing an original song. The viral video that swept the Internet was one in which it was Maggie Rogers’ turn to present in class. In the video, she sits beside Pharrell at the front of the class. They conduct a brief interview so that Pharrell can get a sense of where the upcoming song got its roots, and then her song is played. The song is called “Alaska” and was written about an Outward Bound-type leadership camp she attended in Alaska as a teenager. Pharrell is a seasoned professional and yet, when he listened to “Alaska”, he was visibly moved. When it came time for him to critique her work, he was momentarily at a loss for words. When he did speak, he ended up telling Rogers that he had never encountered anyone like her and that she was completely unique as far as her vision of herself and her music was concerned. As for her skills, he compared her to the genius of Stevie Wonder. No one who watches this video feels that he was just blowing smoke with his comments. They all appeared to be genuinely offered. (I encourage you to stop and watch this video before going on. It is a star turn happening in real time and is really something to see. You can watch the video here).
Not long after graduating from The Institute, a bidding war erupted between record labels. But, just to show you how grounded this young lady was, she formed her own label before signing with anyone else. Her condition for signing with a major label was that all of her music had to first come through her own label so that she could control the content and direction of her career. The only role a major label would play was promotion and distribution of her finished product. A bidding war ensued anyway. Her first album was released. It was called Heard it in a Past Life which earned her a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. After the whirlwind ride that came with touring to support her debut songs, Maggie Rogers stepped away from the spotlight and went to divinity school at Harvard. She moved to Maine and lived by the sea. So, while learning about God and exposing herself to the salt air on the east coast, Maggie Rogers came up with the inspiration for new songs that comprise her album called Surrender. The lead single from this album is called “Horses”. This young lady sure can sing! She has a Folk background but “Horses” allows her to stretch her vocal range a bit, giving her a Country-Rock feel. But, what pipes! Wow! “Horses” was written after Rogers witnessed a herd of wild horses in the mountains. In the song, she admires the freedom these horses seem to have and asks a lover/friend if they have the courage to join her in a quest to be just like those horses. Quite the song. Quite the singer.
Between the likes of Maggie Rogers, Phoebe Bridgers, Lorde, Aurora, Arlo Parks and Brandi Carlile, there is as strong a contingent of ultra-talented female artists performing today as there has been in quite a while. I wish that radio programmers would reflect this more in their offerings. As much as I enjoy hearing Fleetwood Mac-era Stevie Nicks, the 1980s Tina Turner and Annie Lennox and the twenty-year-old songs of Katy Perry and P!nk, I would prefer, just as much, to cycle in some of these modern female performers, too. They are the present and they are the future of music. Let’s give them the air time they deserve, as well.
Just in time for the holiday gift-giving season, we have the following three offerings for your consideration:
Prince and the Revolution: Live.
There are many people who go on and on about Bruce Springsteen and what a task master he is and how his penchant for perfection helped to craft some of the most legendary live performances in rock history. The same assessment can easily apply to Minnesota’s own Prince. Like Springsteen, Prince was very much in charge of all aspects of his music; everything from songwriting, to studio production, as well as to concert performance. He was a stickler for details and he demanded complete obedience by everyone involved in the performance of his music. Again, like Springsteen and Rock, Prince was able to create some of the greatest Funk-inspired music of the 1980s. With a string of hits such as “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, “1999”, “Raspberry Beret” and many more, Prince was one of the most prolific musical forces of his time.
Prince and the Revolution: Live captures him at his fiercest and funkiest. After touring for two years in support of the Purple Rain album and movie, Prince was growing restless. He had other musical ideas that he wanted to explore but he was beginning to feel trapped in the past, only being able to play his hits. So, while on a world tour, Prince suddenly announced that the tour was ending and that this particular show in Syracuse, New York at the Carrier Dome, would be their final stop. Because it was to be the last time Prince was to perform the songs that made up the first half of his career, he wanted the show to be one for the ages. So, he arranged for it to be broadcast live across Europe and to be recorded for national distribution in the US and so it was. This concert was first released as a video tape in the late 1980s. It was updated and re-sold as a CD a decade or so later. Finally, it has been digitally remastered, visually and audio-wise, and is being re-released again in 2022. So, if you have never witnessed a musical genius at the height of his powers, you now can. This is two hours of Prince and his band, the Revolution, absolutely ripping it up! If you like Prince even in the slightest, then Prince and the Revolution: Live is a must-have for your collection.
The Elvis Movie Soundtrack
As you may know, director Baz Lurhman released a movie this past summer that walked, bopped and rolled us through the life story of the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. I was very pleased that Lurhman included references to Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton who inspired Elvis and so many other white musicians. In any case, there were 36 songs included throughout the movie. Most of these songs were original Elvis recordings, but many others were mash-ups, or else they were original songs by others such as Thornton or Tharpe. Well, the entire soundtrack is available for download or for purchase as a CD. Today’s music lovers will purchase this collection because of the inclusion of modern singers such as Doja Cat, Diplo, Swae Lee, Kacey Musgraves and Eminem. More seasoned Elvis fans will, no doubt, appreciate the King’s older, original tunes. In either case, Baz Lurhman presents the best of both worlds for Elvis fans. In reply, all I can say to Mr. Lurhman is…come on, say it with me…thank you…thank you very much! 🙂
Amazing by Mary J. Blige ft. DJ Khaled
“Amazing” is the first single off of a new album by Mary J. Blige called Good Morning Gorgeous. This is the first new album of original material from the Godmother of Hip Hop Soul in several years. Just to put this event into some context for you…Mary J. Blige is revered in the Soul and Hip Hop communities. She has dozens of Grammy, Billboard and other awards for her music. Her career has spanned over three decades now and places her firmly in the company of such foundational members of the world of Hip Hop as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Eminem and others of their ilk. As Mary J. Blige has matured in years, she has branched out into the acting world. She has enjoyed much success in roles based upon real people such as Jazz singer Dinah Washington in the movie Aretha, and as Florence Jackson in the historical drama, Mudbound, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Good Morning Gorgeous is a return to her musical roots. It is an album filled with songs that reflect her status as a strong, black, female role model who has earned the respect that comes with such a stellar career. The song “Amazing” features rising star DJ Khaled in a supportive role, but, as the music video clearly shows, the song is all about the feeling of happiness and fulfillment that comes from enjoying success that was earned by staying true to your principles. The song has an excellent throbbing bassline, as one would expect from Mary J. Blige. Just as a personal aside, I find the official video to be visually distracting and prefer the lyrics version. All in all, this is a grand return to form from one of Hip Hop and Soul’s leading ladies. Enjoy.
The link to the official website for Maggie Rogers can be found here.
The link to the official website for Prince can be found here.
The link to the video for the movie Elvis can be found here.
The link to the official website for Mary J. Blige can be found here.
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