Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012: Year In Review

Yes, it's that time of year again. It was a fascinating year in music, where the biggest hits of the year were the most unexpected.

10. Olly Murs f/Chiddy Bang - "Heart Skips A Beat"

Both Olly and Chiddy Bang have come out with music recently that can only be described as a perfect representation of 2012, yet also evocative of an earlier age. One of my most played songs of the year. In a perfect world, this would have been a #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit instead of peaking at #96.



9. Justin Bieber - "Die In Your Arms"

A love letter to the Motown era and the early days of the Jackson 5, with a synthesized piano beat and finger snaps. So smooth and sweet. A perfectly crafted pop song and a homage to the beginning of what became an iconic era. The best song on the latest and greatest CD by Justin Bieber (oh god did I really just write that?)



8. Pink - "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)"

Pink, fascinatingly enough, has been one of the biggest success stories to come out of the late TRL era. She always maintained control of her career and consistently released intelligent, layered, and most importantly mind-numbingly catchy singles. Her latest single is one of her all time best - one that could have been released anytime in the past 10 years or in the next 10 years.



7. Paul McDonald & Nikki Reed - "Now That I've Found You"

A song by a real life husband and wife (and former American Idol Season 10 contestant) that carried me through the most difficult of mornings with its sweet simplicity and muted urgency, about a love that is so full it is as clearly defined in its absence as in its presence. Absolutely stunning and not in a showy way.




6. Cher Lloyd - "Want U Back"

The definition of so-bad-it's-good, I originally heard this one on Sirius XM Hits One about 6 months before it broke through on mainstream radio like Z100 and went on to be a massive hit. It's pretty stunning that a song like this which is so intensely European in make, style, and voice would cross over into the US and make Cher Lloyd a household name amongst the under-30 set. Well, sort of. Anyway, one of the songs I listened to most this year (which will probably continue into next year as well).




5. One Direction - "Live While We're Young"

Anyone who grew up on a steady diet of TRL can more than appreciate the latest (and greatest boy band) to come out of the past decade. One of the most perfect pop songs I've heard since the golden age of pop. A song that would not sound out of place in a car commercial, or any movie set at a beach, evocative of sunscreen and barbeques and falling in love with all the fleeting impermanence of summer. 




4. Alex Clare - "Too Close"

This song was originally brought to my attention by the Internet Explorer commercials sometime in April. And then it stayed in my consciousness for the rest of the year. And deservedly so. As I wrote back then, "there is something layered about the song, something new that I discover and rediscover each time I listen." It's an odd marriage of dubstep with aching lyrical content.

From my original post: "The song pulsates with urgency and explodes into a thudding dubstep breakdown on the chorus.  The lyrics are desperate and sad, about a breakup between two lovers who have over time cooled to friendship. The musicality expresses the nuts and bolts of technology, all blips and synthesizer. But the lyrics are passionate and heartbreakingly honest. "


3. Bruce Springsteen - "American Land"

As I wrote in my Top 10 Songs by Bruce Springsteen post while Hurricane Sandy was raging outside my window, "this is a song not to be missed, simply put." What more can I say? Channeling the hope of the past to make a point about the current landscape. It hits you over the head immediately with the opening beat which is modern and almost militaristic, and then the Irish instruments start up about twenty seconds in. The music swells for almost a full minute before any lyrics start. I can imagine there are two readings for this song: joyful and disillusioned, and I'll choose to read it the way I feel it: joyfully.



2. Shovels and Rope - "Birmingham"

One of the most evocative songs I have ever heard. This sort of storytelling is both rare and earthshattering in its intensity and single-minded motivation. As I wrote in August, "I haven't heard a song this achingly beautiful in years. It's a velvet lined throwback to an era when you could stumble blindly into a bar and have your world changed by two people on stage with a harmonica and a guitar. Songs that tell the story of an entire existence in less than 4 minutes, with all the sweat, blood, and agony of each day wrapped up into the most succinct of lines." It's the kind of song that makes you long for more in your life, to die to find out what your legacy will be and if it will be someday worthy of song.



1. Of Monsters & Men - "Little Talks"

No song even came close to the ingenuity, originality, and overall pure genius of this song that caught my attention as a free song download of the week on iTunes. I wrote about this song on this blog back in the very first week of 2012 and the song continued to capture my imagination, intellect, and heart throughout the entire year. I knew in the sixth day of the year, no song that could exist in the upcoming 12 months could top this one.

As I wrote back on 1/6/2012, "The song describes the push and pull between what we know we need and what we desperately want. Being haunted by the ghost of our memories, always lurking behind us but perpetually out of reach. It evokes an airy beach house in the winter where the open space seems stifling beyond measure, where sunlight spills across the floor in a way that can't fill the space or warm the cold. Where hope exists, in a way you know like you understand life is finite, but can't bring yourself to truly believe in it."



Honorable Mentions:
- Nicki Minaj - "Starships"
- Maroon 5 - "One More Night"
- Justin Bieber - "Boyfriend"
- David Guetta & Nicki Minaj - "Turn Me On"
- Stefano - "I'm On A Roll"
- Rita Ora f. Tinie Tempah - "RIP"
- David Cook - "The Last Song I'll Write For You"
- Chiddy Bang - "Ray Charles"
- The Biters - "So Many Nights"

American Idol Covers Of The Year:
- Skylar Laine - "Stay With Me"
- Elise Testone - "Whole Lotta Love"

Monday, October 29, 2012

For all those believers...Ten More Amazing Bruce Springsteen Songs



After seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time on September 21, 2012 at Giants Stadium, it's official: I believe. A friend of mine recently told me that if you Google "Bruce Springsteen concert religious experience", it will come up with millions of hits. And that's because it truly is. From the gospel singers to the raised hands of the faithful and the overall aura of awe and happiness, I feel like I reached another, deeper level of humanity that night.

And in honor of that amazing night, here - as a follow up to my May 7, 2009 post of the Top 10 Bruce Springsteen songs - are ten additional songs that have touched my soul over the past 3 years.

1. American Land
Wrecking Ball, 2012

This is a song not to be missed, simply put. The reason why this was left as an iTunes only bonus track for Wrecking Ball is a travesty I will never comprehend. I have posted the Glastonbury 2009 live version below as it is a perfect representation of the concert I went to - high-energy and something bigger than the sum of its parts. Multiple people have told me this song reminds me of something you'd hear on the third class dance floor of the Titanic. And why not? The song tells the story of all the dozens of nationalities that came across the waters to find a promised land (a driving motif in Springsteen's music) and built the country from the ground up. Also - I have never been part of a bigger or better dance party than the concert I was at where Bruce closed the concert with this song and it was utterly perfect.



2. The Promised Land
Darkness On The Edge Of Town, 1978

The Bruce song I have undoubtedly listened to the most this summer and fall. The perfect ode to restlessness and wanting so much more than this. This is the sleeper anthem of the Darkness album with those sad guitars and harmonicas adding to the plantitive yet defiant feel of the song. It's about the anguish of growing up and being caught between a boy and a man. Waiting for the drive home from work to just have those precious moments alone with nothing ahead of you but the highway and the radio. Facing the future with blind ambition and desperate hope.

I got the radio on and I'm just killing time
Working all day in my daddy's garage
Driving all night, chasing some mirage
Pretty soon little girl I'm gonna take charge
 

3. Death To My Hometown
Wrecking Ball, 2012

I love the live version I've posted before for two reasons: Tom Morello (amazing) and the unfiltered grit in Bruce's voice. I love the filtered sound effects on the album version and the unabashed grim tone that runs throughout the lyrics. Another one of the Wrecking Ball songs that is infused with a traditional Irish sound. Undoubtedly influenced by the ressession, Bruce expresses the anger here felt by so many in these dark times.



4. Backstreets
Born To Run, 1975

The greatest live performance I have ever heard, of any song, as long as I have been alive is Bruce's live performance of "Backstreets" from Saginaw, Michigan (September 3, 1978) with the "Sad Eyes" interlude. Since I can't find it on YouTube, I am posting the next best thing below which is a live performance from just a few days later.

As Griel Marcus wrote in his October 1, 1985 Rolling Stone review of Born To Run, "The songs, the best of them, are adventures in the dark, incidents of wasted fury. Tales of kids born to run who lose anyway, the songs can, as with "Backstreets," hit so hard and fast that it is almost impossible to sit through them without weeping. And yet the music is exhilarating. You may find yourself shaking your head in wonder, smiling through tears at the beauty of it all."

"Backstreets" is the most singularly perfect ode written to the desperation of a love "so hard and filled with defeat", doomed to end before it even began. The slow burn of falling in love with your best friend despite the circumstances and wondering whether it is worse to have them spurn your advances - or to return them. The fire of passion and the dimming of a flame that burned too bright to last. The inevitable end of a summer fling as the September breeze brings the cold reality of faithlessness and the dance of leaves around feet.



5. From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)
Recorded at the Power Station recording studio, 1979

As someone who was born listening to Motown and the early rock 'n roll classics on cassette tape (the unparalleled Shell gas station Cruisin' Classics cassette tape collection deserves its own blog post, but you can find an amazing one here), this song burns through me in a way I can only describe as innate and inevitable. This song is absolutely insane if you read the lyrics and absolutely awesome. It starts off with one of those Chuck Berry style guitar riffs with a touch of Lynyrd Skynyrd, honky tonk, Motown, and Fats Domino. That would pretty much be the highest compliment I could give a song.

It was late one Friday, he pulled in out of the dark
He was tall and handsome; first she took his order, then she took his heart



6. No Surrender
Born In The USA, 1984

I am pretty sure the first verse of this song describe my entire high school experience. And yet, that is the beauty of it. It's the kind of lyrical quartet that everyone feels speaks directly to them, voices the experience that they lived (or rather, lived through), the indignity of feeling alone in one's self-righteousness. Living through the externally imposed rigidity of the high school structure leaves a sense of futility pounding through your heart beat each day.

I wasn't the first person to find release in the youthful starry-eyed passion of rock 'n roll music and I won't be the last. But it belonged to me in that moment, just as it belonged to everyone who put on a record and believed. Believed in the freedom just around the corner, believed in the lyrics that could save you, the romance that burst through full hearts. "Blood brothers in the stormy night with a vow to defend" - such is the teenage experience, us against the world through the biterness. This song so strongly reminds me of the amazing, tour-de-force novel by Jonathan Tropper - The Book of Joe. Which should be required reading for anyone who loves Springsteen or has a heart.

Well, we bursted out of class

Had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school



7. Point Blank
The River, 1980

This song describes the emptiness of knowing there is nothing left but bitterness. I could see this as a sequel to "Backstreets" - the fallout of a love too intense to last. And as it slips away, it slips into oblivion, to the edge of the abyss - to a place that there is no turning back from. There is something about Roy Bittan's piano playing that sounds so intensely sad in all of Bruce's songs and this one is no exception. There is no hopeful ending here, no solution, just emptiness. It's the sadness of looking back on the life you could have had, knowing what is just out of reach and just close enough for endless torture. It's a night of empty bars with empty faces and empty glasses.

I have to include the below verse in its entirety because it is too exiquisitely beautiful and so epically sad to split:

Once I dreamed we were together again, baby you and me

Back home in those old clubs the way we used to be
We were standin' at the bar it was hard to hear
The band was playin' loud and you were shoutin' somethin' in my ear
You pulled my jacket off and as the drummer counted four
You grabbed my hand and pulled me out on the floor
You just stood there and held me, then you started dancin' slow
And as I pulled you tighter, I swore I'd never let you go
Well I saw you last night down on the avenue
Your face was in the shadows, but I knew that it was you
You were standin' in the doorway out of the rain
You didn't answer when I called out your name
You just turned, and then you looked away
Like just another stranger waitin' to get blown away

   

8. Bobby Jean Born In The USA, 1984  

Much like "No Surrender", it's the universal experience of a high school friendship amongst two outsiders, two people who can find a world of similarities and comfort in liking "the same music, the same bands, the same clothes". Because in high school, that is the currency of life itself and the quickest path to isolation or kinship. But this story ends in a question mark, or perhaps more accurately, an ellipse. I love that this song isn't necessarily about romantic love but the most intense kind of friendship that almost feels that way. The fallout from a friendship that close that just fades away can be more crushing than an outright dramatic ending. And don't we all long for fame and fortune just so a long lost love can hear our voice once again?   Now you hung with me when all the others turned away, turned up their noise
We liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes
We told each other that we were the wildest, the wildest things we'd ever seen
Now I wished you would have told me, I wished I could have talked to you
Just to say goodbye Bobby Jean



9. Human Touch
Human Touch, 1992

In the end what you don't surrender, the world just strips away

I think this song speaks to the realization about the indifference of the world to us individually but the need for connection. There is a hopeful need that resonates through this lyrics. I think the video to this song perfectly fits the image I had in my mind - a misty night, a sepia toned lens, a trolley through the rain. There's something refreshing about the pure honesty of this song - not being too naive to see the ways of the world, but still longing for a connection in the deep of the night.

Fun fact: American Idol judge Randy Jackson plays bass on this song. Who knew?

Yeah, I know I ain't nobody's bargain

But, hell, a little touch up and a little paint...



10. Wrecking Ball
Wrecking Ball, 2012

As someone who shuns change and new technology, I found it endlessly refreshing to find New Jersey's own poet agreed with me on how unnecessary it was to build a new Giants Stadium. The song is so specifically and frankly about the national treasure that was the old Giants Stadium - home of so much spilled beer, epic tailgates, Giants games, and the best concerts you will ever see in your life. I love how Bruce urges us all to "hold tight to your anger and don't fall to your fear" - the best advice I've ever heard for staying strong in the face of adversity.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

4 Year Anniversary


Today is the 4 year anniversary of me starting this blog. I could not have told you on August 14, 2008 where I'd be today and all the ups and downs I've encountered since then.

The most important thing is that rock 'n roll music continues to live and I'm more confident than ever that it always will.

Thank you to everyone who has ever read a post on this blog, commented, liked it on Facebook, read anything I've posted on Twitter. Thank you to my wonderful boyfriend Andrew who has made it his mission to read & comment on everything I've ever written.

And here's to another four years...

Real Rock Never Dies.



And they try to tell us that we don't belong
But that's alright, we're millions strong
You are my people, you are my crowd, this is our music, we love it loud


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Shovels & Rope - "Birmingham": Top Songs of 2012


Last week, iTunes outdid themselves with the free song of the week by featuring "Birmingham" by Shovels & Rope. The first moments of the preview shed light on a song that needed to be heard in its entirety to grasp each complexity, each nuance of the lyric, and the filtered pain in the two voices which blend together so perfectly.

I haven't heard a song this achingly beautiful in years. It's a velvet lined throwback to an era when you could stumble blindly into a bar and have your world changed by two people on stage with a harmonica and a guitar. Songs that tell the story of an entire existence in less than 4 minutes, with all the sweat, blood, and agony of each day wrapped up into the most succinct of lines. 

Rock of Ages, cleave for me
Let me hide myself in Thee
Buried in the sand
Five hundred miles from Birmingham

It's a song for everyone that yearned to bury all of their soul in rock 'n roll music, when it was hard to believe and you fought anyway to stick to your guns. Eyes that saw more in a minute than most in a lifetime and cried for the lack of the epic in the familiar. Willing to do anything to experience transcendence in a drum beat and a six string. Days on a bus and nights on the stage, looking for that one starry-eyed girl in the audience who surrendered willfully and brutally to the music.

Spent five years going from town to town
Waiting on that little girl to come around
Caught in the arms of New York City
To lose that gal seemed terrible pity

The sad harmonica evokes Bruce Springsteen and "The River". There's echoes of Americana, Neil Young, "American Pie", "Wanted Dead Or Alive", and disillusionment filtered through the lens of blind optimism. It's the kind of song that asks to be played on vinyl or in the dark with a cigarette in hand, exhaling into the night.

Pulled her covered wagon off the BQE
Said this'll be the last you'll ever see of me
Well the cowboy laughed said I know it's not true
Cause there's nothing I could do to get loose from you

It's a love song to rock 'n roll and the way musicians are willing to die a little to live through their music.


Check out this band at http://www.shovelsandrope.com/ or on iTunes. Although the song isn't free anymore, it's more than worth your $1.29.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Top 20 Best American Idol Performances - Season 11



20. Philip Philips - "U Got It Bad" (Top 7 Redux)
Original Grade: A-
April 18, 2012 

Seductive and subversive.
"He pushed himself on parts and drew back on other parts - the perfect give-and-take for this performance. The way he dropped his voice on "messed around" expressed the shame and desperation of the lyrics. It definitely felt like an interlude at his concert. With the right material, I think Philip has a great touring career ahead of him."



19. Philip Philips - "Give A Little More" (Top 7)
Original Grade: A-
April 11, 2012

"I was glad to see that Philip looked like he was having FUN FOR ONCE! He brings an angry energy to each song, even when the lyrics don't demand it. I thought he brought a better, sexier tone to the song than the original. One of my favorite performances from Philip, whose consistency is turning into complacency quickly. If Philip wants to follow in the footsteps of Kris, Lee, and Scotty, I think he needs a true Idol Moment that sets him apart from HIMSELF."



18. Hollie Cavanagh - "Son Of A Preacher Man" (Top 7 Redux)
Original Grade: A

April 18, 2012

This was the kind of performance I have been waiting for from Hollie since her sublime cover of "All The Man I Need" back during Whitney Houston week. She seriously looked like she was having a good time. A great vocal and a wonderfully fun performance. Sure to be one of my most played on iTunes.



17. Jessica Sanchez - "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" (Top 4)
Original Grade: A+
May 9, 2012

"HOW ON EARTH DOES SHE SING LIKE THAT? She brought a world-weariness and intensity to this performance that was so unbelievably compelling. This was just insane!! I loved how overcome she was by emotion and I love that she infused that into her performance so believably."



16. Skylar Laine - "The Show Must Go On" (Top 6)
Original Grade: A/A-
April 25, 2012

"Skylar sang with so much passion and conviction. But in the back of my mind, I had Carly Smithson's unbelievable version from Season 7. The second half of the song improved on the first. Skylar has such a big voice and is so fierce. I would love to say that I think she's a lock for the finale, but at this point, I'm not sure what will happen. Regardless, what a tour-de-force performance! One I am sure I will play many times on iTunes."



15. Skylar Laine - "Heard It Through The Grapevine" (Top 7 Redux)
Original Grade: A
April 18, 2012

"If I didn't already think that someday I might go to my first country concert to go see Skylar Laine, this performance solidified it for me. This was such an awesomely fun version of a song I have loved for a lifetime. My only critique on this one was that a few of her words turned more into shouting than singing."


 

14. Philip Philips - "Stand By Me" (Top 2)
Original Grade: A+
May 22, 2012

"I actually said out loud "this will be boring" when Ryan announced Philip's song title. I was stunned by the result. My notes: "This was insanely unbelievable. Oh good God, that was unbelievable." Perfect arrangement and staging. This was by far one of his best performances on the Idol stage. He sounded perfect. I loved the way he took his time with the song and really turned a simple song into a huge moment. I didn't want to like it, but I LOVED IT."



13. Philip Philips - "Volcano" (Top 4)
Original Grade: A/A-
May 9, 2012
"I have loved this song desperately since I first heard it in 2002. The second I heard Philip was going to sing Damien Rice's haunting ode to knowing your love could destroy someone else, I was a bit apprehensive. But I'd have to say this was one of Philip's best performances on the Idol stage, right up there with "Nice And Slow", "Give A Little More", and "U Got It Bad". I loved that they kept the duet style of the song intact with a female vocalist to accompany Philip. I also loved the abrupt ending to the song. Do yourself a favor and go listen to Damien Rice's unbelievable song."



12. Skylar Laine - "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You" (Top 7)
Original Grade: A
April 11, 2012

"Skylar is a truly captivating performer, more than just a singer. I think that's what makes the difference between someone that has a good Idol run and someone that translates their Idol success into a real career. It was a little bizarre that Jimmy Iovine tried to dissuade Skylar from playing her guitar (imagine if they did that to Philip!), so I was glad that she stuck to her guns. She has a great way of interpreting the lyrics and telling a story. While that is a hallmark of country music, not every country performer has that ability (see: Lauren Alaina). Loved the guitar on the track. Overall, a great song choice for Skylar. Since this wasn't a big crossover hit, it's likely that Skylar's version is the one the audience will know and remember."



11. Jessica Sanchez - "The Prayer" (Top 2)
Original Grade: A+
May 22, 2012

"Gorgeous and thoughtful. Jessica made a great song choice in picking her Vegas solo (a song she did not perform on a live show). Seemed fresh in comparison to Philip's choice. It was an achingly beautiful, restrained, yet emotional vocal from Jessica  I loved it and thought she really picked the perfect song for this moment on the show. If any performance could win her the title, it would be this one. I only wish she had been able to close the show with this perfect performance!"



10. Hollie Cavanagh - "Bleeding Love" (Top 5)
Original Grade: A+
May 2, 2012

"Achingly gorgeous and sung with perfection. She took her time with the song and let each word land with resonance. Full disclosure: I absolutely hate this Leona Lewis song. I turn it off everytime it comes on the radio which thankfully is less and less often. But Hollie did the impossible - turned this awful Leona Lewis hit into something with emotion, pitch perfection, and overall beauty."




9. Hollie Cavanagh - "All The Man I Need" (Top 13)
Original Grade: A
March 7, 2012

"This was truly gorgeous. I love her delicate choices with the notes. I have a feeling this is a version of the song I will listen to over and over again and get something new out of it each time. I like it more each time I listen to it. She has a pretty voice but there's something a bit darker in it too."



8. Colton Dixon - "Love The Way You Lie" (Top 7)
Original Grade: A
April 11, 2012

"I was glad to see that Colton covered the original song, with its beautiful and poignant lyrics. This was gorgeous and haunting and cemented Colton as a more consistently original contestant that Philip. I find it a bit disturbing that Jimmy Iovine feels the need to pit contestants against each other (ie: Jessica vs. Hollie last week and Philip vs. Colton this week). The arrangement with just the strings section and the piano was absolutely perfect in the creation of an "Idol Moment" for Colton. It is crazy that the judges gave a standing ovation to Joshua this week but not Colton. Maybe the producers told them that giving 5 standing ovations in one night (2 weeks ago) is overkill."



7. Elise Testone - "Vienna" (Top 10)
Original Grade: A
March 20, 2012

"What an unbelievably gorgeous tone Elise showcases on every note that she sings. I love the breaks in her voice, the grit and the growl, the devastation she can put into a chord. In what has become a bit of a teen pageant more and more with each passing year, it is refreshing to see an adult put a bit of her heart and soul into the music she sings. Also, how on earth could Jimmy Iovine think that "Vienna" is a song that America would not recognize? It's certainly one of Billy Joel's most popular."



6. Joshua Ledet - "When A Man Loves A Woman" (Top 11)
Original Grade: A+
March 14, 2012

"This was so unbelievable I am not sure I have the words for it, but I'll try. I'm not sure I have loved a performance on this season of American Idol so much (with the notable exception of Skylar's phenomenal A+ worthy "Stay With Me" during Top 24 week). The first performance of the night that truly woke me up and had me singing along with all the words. The vocal theatrics were pitch perfect and beyond that, fit emotionally with the song in a way that enhanced the lyrics. I think that is a point worth emphasizing. So often when singers do vocal runs, it is just to show off their voice and has absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics or emotional content of the song. Joshua nailed it tonight in a way that stunned me."



5. Joshua Ledet - "To Love Somebody" (Top 5)
Original Grade: A+
May 2, 2012

"I got closer to my TV as Joshua began this song. I was expecting great things. And I got them. I was expecting a bit more of dramatic instrumentation when Joshua began the first "you don't know what it's like", but I can get over that. Sort of. Joshua inhabited this song so amazingly I forgot about everything else. This was a revelation."


4. Joshua Ledet - "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" (Top 4)
Original Grade: A
May 9, 2012

How did I not give this an A+ originally?

"What a tour-de-force performance. WOW. I love the emotion he threw in here so effortlessly. I loved when he let his voice go deep and then brought it back up. I loved the cry in his voice. I loved the ominous tone to the performance like it was going to go off the rails at any moment. I loved the grit. DUDE! YO! (OK, that's enough quoting Randy Jackson.) I also love that the performance was allowed to be 3 minutes and 10 seconds, when most of them are condensed."



3. Jessica Sanchez - "Steal Away" (Top 4)
Original Grade: A+
May 9, 2012

"Jessica dug deep within herself here and really inhabited this song. I was INSANELY impressed. I've never fully understood judges' criticisms that young contestants can't possibly have the life experience or past relationship experience to really understand/relate to/connect to certain songs. COME ON. Being in high school has got to be the most dramatic, overwrought time of one's life. You fall in love with every drop of blood in your being, your triumphs are mystical, your failures are life-threatening.
The lyrics of this song are all about sneaking out in the middle of the night to see a lover your parents don't approve of. I think the absolute right person to sing this song is a 16 year old! Anyway, back to Jessica's performance: It was gritty. Amazing. Captivating. An absolute must download!"



2. Skylar Laine - "Stay With Me" (Top 25)
Original Grade: A+
February 29, 2012

I don't start blogging about American Idol until the Top 13 or 12 so I missed my chance to write about Skylar's explosive entrance onto the American Idol stage. But here, finally, is my review. Much to my intense dismay, American Idol's official YouTube has taken down their video of this awesome performance so I've embedded a more blurry version of it below. This was an amazingly unorthodox song choice - a 1971 classic rock song by The Faces, a band that included Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Skylar took this song and so effortlessly made it her own, made it a one-hundred percent country song, and delivered it with ferocity and conviction. This was a freaking fun performance.



1. Elise Testone - "Whole Lotta Love" (Top 9)
Original Grade: A+
March 28, 2012

"This performance literally got me off the couch to stand closer to the TV. When I heard Elise was going to sing Led Zeppelin, I was expecting something epic. After all, Haley Reinhart singing "What Is And What Should Never Be" was one of the best moments of Season 10. I can not say enough about the passion and intensity that Elise sang with. She seemed to be having an amazing time and just every ounce of her breathed rock 'n roll music. As a lifetime rock 'n roll believer, I could just feel how genuinely she had this song pound through her veins. I could listen to this over and over again and I suspect I will. I've already listened to it 3 times since I downloaded it approximately 20 minutes ago. I am headed to iTunes right now to see if the studio version of this track is available for download. I am not exaggerating at all when I say this performance made me believe in rock 'n roll again (as if there was ever a moment where I could not)."



Well, that's it for another season of American Idol, my friends. If you're interested, check out my favorite Idol blogger Michael Slezak and his list of the Top 21 Season 11 Idol performances over at TVLine.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

American Idol: Finale Performance Night - May 22, 2012



Finale Performance Night (Top 2) - May 22, 2012
Some quick thoughts on American Idol tonight before I head to bed. Will update more tomorrow with my in-depth commentary!

1. Jessica Sanchez - "I Have Nothing" A-
A very pretty performance from Jessica, who gave this one her all. Jessica is a true powerhouse vocalist and will hopefully have a huge career after this show. Sounds like Beyonce covering Whitney. Unfortunately, Jessica's degree of difficulty in the song that Simon Fuller chose for her was much higher than the one Simon selected for Philip. Does anyone else remember Shannon Magrane's cover of this song during Whitney Houston week? Jessica sang circles around Shannon with this version.

2. Philip Philips - "Stand By Me" A+
I actually said out loud "this will be boring" when Ryan announced Philip's song title. I was stunned by the result. My notes: "This was insanely unbelievable. Oh good God, that was unbelievable." Perfect arrangement and staging. This was by far one of his best performances on the Idol stage. He sounded perfect. I loved the way he took his time with the song and really turned a simple song into a huge moment. I didn't want to like it, but I LOVED IT.


3. Jessica Sanchez - "The Prayer" A+
Gorgeous and thoughtful. Jessica made a great song choice in picking her Vegas solo (a song she did not perform on a live show). Seemed fresh in comparison to Philip's choice. It was an achingly beautiful, restrained, yet emotional vocal from Jessica  I loved it and thought she really picked the perfect song for this moment on the show. If any performance could win her the title, it would be this one. I only wish she had been able to close the show with this perfect performance!


4. Philip Philips - "Movin' Out" B
A retread of his original performance. There was really nothing different I could notice about the two performances. I wished he had performed it slightly differently. I liked how in the beginning of the performance, it was dark with the spotlight just on Philip and I wished he had stuck with the acoustic opening to the performance throughout the entire song. Solid but nothing to write home about - good but not great. Like I said with my original review of this song, there is something slightly subversive about his performance which added another layer of depth to it. Oddly, it's still stuck in my head.

5. Jessica Sanchez - "Change Nothing" C+
An odd song choice for Jessica, both lyrically and musically. The pitch was too low on verses. And the lyrics describe a potentially damaging relationship that the singer's friends and family don't approve of - "Should have shut my mouth and kept it all to myself, 'cause now they've got me feeling like I should have been with somebody else". Certainly a bizarre song for a 16 year old girl to sing as her "original song" and "potential coronation song" on American Idol. I think Jessica did the best she could with the song but it wasn't pleasant to the ear and seemed all wrong in every way for Jessica. A lesser vocalist certainly would have tanked with this song and Jessica managed to pull it off, sort of.

I wouldn't really want to hear it again. I want an inspirational song, dammit! When "No Boundaries" seems good in comparison, you know you have a problem. I still tear up watching Kelly Clarkson win Season 1 on my American Idol DVD - confetti shower, fireworks, and "A Moment Like This". Probably the most singularly perfect American Idol moment ever. "Change Nothing" couldn't even come close to that, let alone decent wining anthems like "This Is My Now".

Some lyrics from "Change Nothing" (which have absolutely nothing inspirational in them):
They say we don't fit together
I could do better
There's always something
They don't know the hell we've been through
Cause when you hold me like you do
That's when I wanna change nothing


6. Philip Philips - "Home" D-
OOF. One of the worst performances on American Idol all season, vocally and musically. I think this song reveals the limitations of his voice. It's certainly not the type of song I would ever listen to. Many online reviewers are commenting that this song sounds a lot like Mumford & Sons. Well, that would make sense as to why I have such a strong negative opinion about this song! I HATE Mumford and Sons. It's just not my type of music in the slightest. I thought the staging was interesting with the drumline coming out during the repetitive "ooooooooh" part of the song. I can't find any lyrics to "Home" online - probably because a good portion of the song doesn't contain lyrics. Just inane "folksy" music. UGH.

Best performance of the night: Philip - "Stand By Me" or Jessica - "The Prayer"
Best overall of the night: Jessica
Best overall of the season (of the final 2): Jessica
WHY ON EARTH DID THEY GO HOME?!: Elise, Skylar, Joshua, Colton

Friday, May 18, 2012

American Idol: Top 3 - May 16, 2012


Top 3 - Contestant's, Judge's, and Jimmy's Picks - May 16, 2012

1. Joshua Ledet - "I'd Rather Go Blind" A-
(originally by Etta James)

I love Joshua's style on this song. The way his voice caressed the words, the old-school style microphone, suit and rose on his lapel. Joshua is by far and away the best performer of the Top 3 and has arguably the strongest voice. This was a pretty good song choice for Joshua from the judges, although it didn't allow him to do anything that we hadn't seen from him at this point. The run at the end was unbelievable!

2. Jessica Sanchez - "My All" B
(originally by Mariah Carey)

The judges saddled Jessica with the most challenging song of the night. While the judges' song choices for both Joshua and Philip were right in their respective comfort zones, Jessica had to tackle the insanely difficult Mariah Carey hit. While she sang beautifully, Jessica always sounded just a bit off as though she was trying to hit each note with perfection. She especially struggled in the later half of the song.

3. Philip Philips - "Beggin'" B+
(originally by the Four Seasons, covered by MadCon)

I think I liked this cover by Philip mainly because I was not familiar with the original version of the song, or MadCon's cover. Extremely catchy song and refrain that's definitely fun to sing along with. I loved the breakdown towards the end of the song. I notice as I'm about to wrap of this review, that the only thing I've mentioned is the song, not Philip's version of it, and maybe that says it all.

4. Joshua Ledet - "Imagine" B+
(originally by John Lennon)

The second I heard Joshua was tackling "Imagine", I immediately though of David Archuleta's seminal performance from Season 7 that has got to be in the Top 25 Idol Performances Of All Time (if not the Top 10). Of course, for me, for you, Joshua's cover could not live up to that, but that's not to say it wasn't pretty good in its own right. There were some beautiful moments here. I loved the way he gave it the perfect amount of restraint and letting go in equal measure.
David Archuleta's 2008 Season 7 cover:

5. Jessica Sanchez - "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" A-/B+
(originally by Aerosmith)

A very gorgeous cover of a song that has a lot of personal meaning to me. I think it blew my mind when Ryan told the audience that Jessica was only 3 when this song was released on the Armageddon soundtrack in 1998. Wow, I feel old now. Moving on. I think while Jessica's cover was beautiful, it lacked a real emotional connection to the song for the majority of the performance.


6. Philip Philips - "Disease" C
(originally by Matchbox 20)

Something about this performance deeply confused me. I literally still do not know what to think of it. I can't decide whether I actually like it, begrudgingly admit it's decent, or absolutely hate it. That's really all I have to say about it. I think I could listen to this a dozen more times and still not be sure.

7. Joshua Ledet - "No More Drama" A-
(originally by Mary J. Blidge)

Full disclosure: I have never liked this song or many of Mary J's later hits. ("I'm Goin' Down" and "Not Gon' Cry", both from the early to mid 90's, are insanely awesome however.)  That said, Joshua brought everything and more that he needed to bring to this song that requires that you get a little crazy. The reaction shot of the rest of the Top 12 contestants rocking out from the audience says it all. Joshua is the ultimate performer and he really brought it home with this performance - both visually and vocally.

8. Jessica Sanchez - "I'll Be There" B-
(originally by Jackson 5)

Jessica really made this her own by distinguishing it from the amazing Mariah Carey live cover. The problem that she faced (and that Mariah did not) was both the original and Mariah's cover feature multiple vocalists singing the different parts. Barring that, Jessica did a pretty good job and showed off the beautiful tone to her voice. The problem is, this is not a performance I will remember in a few weeks. More of a Top 9 performance.

9. Philip Philips - "We've Got Tonight" A-
(originally by Bob Seger)

Did anyone else notice the way Philip's voice slipped into a tone that reminded me of Kermit the Frog (especially in the first minute) of the song? That said, the performance was staged beautifully and subtly - in a season that has thrived on being, as Steven would put it, "over the top" with staging. Philip's singing greatly improved as the song went on. Philip had a real moment here where everything came together - a great song, subtle performance, and excellent staging.

Would love to hear some opinions by anyone reading this on Philip's performance!



Best performance of the night: Joshua - "No More Drama"
Worst performance of the night: Philip - "Disease"

All that said - now that I am writing this blog post a day late and I know who went home (Joshua), it is an absolute travesty. Joshua and Jessica have arguably the best voices in the competition and Joshua has been consistently amazing from week to week. Joshua's amazing performances on the show include "To Love Somebody", "When A Man Loves A Woman", "I Wish", "Runaway Baby", and of course the song he chose as his exit performance: "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World".

AMAZING.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

American Idol: Top 4 - May 9, 2012



Top 4: California Dreamin & Songs You Wish You Wrote - May 9, 2012

1. Philip Philips - "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" C
(originally by CCR)

I love this song so much and this version of "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" did not do the song justice. I suppose it was a competent cover but in a singing competition like this, everyone's looking for more than just competent. Philip was solid but forgettable on this track, which sounded strained at points. It was a boring performance overall and not one I would download. Philip's going to have to do more than this to win American Idol (at least I hope so).

2. Hollie Cavanagh - "Faithfully" B+
(originally by Journey)

A pretty and restrained cover of this gorgeous Journey classic. I wanted to see her a bit more intense at the end and lift her voice even higher than she did. However, the end was lovely. I was a bit puzzled by the fact she said she didn't understand the lyrics at first. I wouldn't call them extremely complicated - don't we all know too well how lovin' a music man ain't always what it's supposed to be? (The blog post I never wrote was going to compare Kid Rock's "Cold and Empty" to Journey's "Faithfully. I better write that eventually!)

3. Joshua Ledet - "You Raise Me Up" B-
(originally by Josh Groban)

Joshua started off this song by really reining it in. Overall, he delivered what I'd call a restrained cover for Joshua's interpretive style. It felt a bit low for his voice in several places which made me wonder why he chose to sing it in that key. There were a few unpleasant moments in an overall snoozy performance and song choice. I've never really liked this cheesy empowerment anthem (which is somewhat shocking, I know) or Josh Groban songs in general. Joshua's performance was good but not great here.

4. Jessica Sanchez - "Steal Away" A+
(originally by Etta James)

Jessica dug deep within herself here and really inhabited this song. I was INSANELY impressed. I've never fully understood judges' criticisms that young contestants can't possibly have the life experience or past relationship experience to really understand/relate to/connect to certain songs. COME ON. Being in high school has got to be the most dramatic, overwrought time of one's life. You fall in love with every drop of blood in your being, your triumphs are mystical, your failures are life-threatening.

The lyrics of this song are all about sneaking out in the middle of the night to see a lover your parents don't approve of. I think the absolute right person to sing this song is a 16 year old! Anyway, back to Jessica's performance: It was gritty. Amazing. Captivating. An absolute must download!

Don't make me start thinking
‘Cause I might change my mind
My folks are sleeping
so please don’t waste no time
I know it's late but please don’t make me wait
So come on steal away
Please let’s steal away


5. Philip Philips - "Volcano" A/A-
(originally by Damien Rice)

I have loved this song desperately since I first heard it in 2002. The second I heard Philip was going to sing Damien Rice's haunting ode to knowing your love could destroy someone else, I was a bit apprehensive. But I'd have to say this was one of Philip's best performances on the Idol stage, right up there with "Nice And Slow", "Give A Little More", and "U Got It Bad". I loved that they kept the duet style of the song intact with a female vocalist to accompany Philip. I also loved the abrupt ending to the song.

Do yourself a favor and go listen to Damien Rice's unbelievable song here (it made my Top 100 Songs of My Life list):


6. Hollie Cavanagh - "Can't Make You Love Me" B
(originally by Bonnie Raitt)

Tender and pretty. Little know fact: Carrie Underwood sang this song in her original American Idol audition. I would have loved Hollie to sing an acoustic guitar rendition of this song and just let all the emotion out in a stripped-down setting. This was a nice song for Hollie but I feel like she needed a bigger moment.

7. Joshua Ledet - "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" A
(originally by James Brown)

What a tour-de-force performance. WOW. I love the emotion he threw in here so effortlessly. I loved when he let his voice go deep and then brought it back up. I loved the cry in his voice. I loved the ominous tone to the performance like it was going to go off the rails at any moment. I loved the grit. DUDE! YO! (OK, that's enough quoting Randy Jackson.) I also love that the performance was allowed to be 3 minutes and 10 seconds, when most of them are condensed.


And because we will not forget, Elise's Top 42 performance of the same song:



8. Jessica Sanchez - "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" A+
(originally by Jennifer Holliday)

HOW ON EARTH DOES SHE SING LIKE THAT? She brought a world-weariness and intensity to this performance that was so unbelievably compelling. This was just insane!! I loved how overcome she was by emotion and I love that she infused that into her performance so believably.

Best of the night: Jessica
Worst of the night: Philip (only because Hollie was B+/B consistent over 2 and he did badly on one song and great on the other)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

American Idol: Top 5 - May 2, 2012


Top 5 - 60's & British Invasion Week - May 2, 2012

1. Hollie Cavanagh - "River Deep, Mountain High" B

I think Hollie could have brought even more energy to this Tina Turner classic than she did. It amazes me how some contestants acknowledge the history and dare-I-say mythology of the show (best example of this during this season would be Colton Dixon, who knew how to play the game) and others who ignore it completely. The quintessential balladeer of last season, Pia Toscano, was shockingly eliminated after her performance of this song. But it just might have been that frightening jumpsuit Gwen Stefani styled her in. Anyway, back to Hollie, this was a competent and a good performance but something about it was missing for me. She sounded good and looked great but I think she lacked the charm of the Pia Toscano and Glee versions that have come out recently.

2. Philip Philips - "The Letter" D+

So much to talk about on this song. The fact that Jennifer Lopez HAS NEVER HEARD this song?!?!  That kills me as someone who grew up on the music of the 50's and 60's. What else killed me? Philip's bizarre version of this beloved song. His cover left the song absolutely unrecognizable. I give him credit for trying to bring something different to the Idol stage, but this did not work. It sounded again like a Dave Matthews Band type arrangement of the song. I would never listen to this again if I could help it.

To get this awful version out of my head, I am posting two vastly superior versions of this song:

American Idol Winner Season 9 - Lee Dewyze - "The Letter" (Live)


And, one of the BEST AMERICAN IDOL PERFORMANCES OF ALL TIME, Season 7 contestants Carly Smithson & Michael Johns. If you never listen to anything I post on this blog, LISTEN TO THIS.


3. Skylar Laine - "Fortunate Son" B

I loved Skylar's energy on this CCR classic rock song. She really rocked it out and made it look easy. The vocal had a few moments of brilliance in the verses, but the chorus wasn't my favorite for me, for you. Absolutely explosive and untamed, she is the consummate performer of Season 11. 

Duet - Joshua & Philip - "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" A-
Philip sounded the best he has sounded all season on the opening verse of this duet. It was wildly cheesy in the best possible way. I knew I shouldn't love this, that the harmonies weren't quite right, that it didn't really work in the way it should - but god help me, I did. I also loved that this song was almost 3 minutes long - giving it the time it deserved. (Most Idol covers are slightly less than 2 minutes to 2 1/2 minutes.)

4. Jessica Sanchez - "Proud Mary" A-

So much energy and just perfectly delivered. I just wish the Idol costume department didn't put all the girls in 5 inch heels, inhibiting their ability to run around the stage and truly command it. I loved the way Jessica started the song, slow and deliberate, and then let it go with the wild second half of the song.

5. Joshua Ledet - "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" A

This was just awesome from start to finish. The choreography, the outfit, the presentation, just everything worked. It evoked the doo-wop style of the 60's with an edge of something slightly more modern. One of my favorite performances of the night. Undoubtedly, Joshua would have been a huge star in the 60's. 

6. Hollie Cavanagh - "Bleeding Love" A+

Achingly gorgeous and sung with perfection. She took her time with the song and let each word land with resonance. Full disclosure: I absolutely hate this Leona Lewis song. I turn it off everytime it comes on the radio which thankfully is less and less often. But Hollie did the impossible - turned this awful Leona Lewis hit into something with emotion, pitch perfection, and overall beauty.

7. Philip Philips - "Time Of The Season" C

In direct contrast to Hollie, Philip took a song by The Zombies I absolutely love and delivered it in a way I could not abide. Philip's voice could not hit the higher notes on the chorus and still sound pleasant. There were a few brilliant moments, especially on the second verse, and brilliant is Philip capitalizing on one of his best moments on the show ("Does your Daddy let you date?" with lyrical content that mirrored that.

Trio - Jessica, Hollie, and Skylar - "Higher And Higher" B+

Overall, a lot of fun and great to see the three girls interact with each other. I loved Skylar's attitude on this and the three singers sounded great together.

8. Skylar Laine - "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" A

The lampposts, couple on the bench, moody fog lighting was perhaps some of the most interesting staging I have ever seen on American Idol. And yet, despite itself, it still kind of worked. Skylar really brought the complete anguish and heartache to this song to embody the lyrics fully. Watching this performance made me see so clearly the career Skylar will undoubtedly go on to have. Singing requires a bit of acting - both in the tone of one's voice and also the expression on one's face (especially through the ever-less-important medium of music videos). And Skylar has that talent in spades.

9. Jessica Sanchez - "You Are So Beautiful" A/A-

Very simple and pretty. She really delivered the song in an emotional way and her voice is almost too perfect at times (is that even possible?). I really don't have much to say about this performance though.

10. Joshua Ledet - "To Love Somebody" A+

I got closer to my TV as Joshua began this song. I was expecting great things. And I got them. I was expecting a bit more of dramatic instrumentation when Joshua began the first "you don't know what it's like", but I can get over that. Sort of. Joshua inhabited this song so amazingly I forgot about everything else. This was a revelation.

But of course, I have to post Clay Aiken's AMAZING Season 2 version of "To Love Somebody" (which garners some high praise from Simon) to close out this blog post:


Best of the night: Joshua
Worst of the night: Philip

Thursday, April 26, 2012

American Idol: Top 6 - April 25, 2012


Top 6 - Queen & Contestant's Choice Week: April 25, 2012


1. Jessica Sanchez - "Bohemian Rhapsody" A/A-
What an unexpected song choice from the girl with arguably the biggest, most traditional "American Idol voice" in the competition. It was gorgeous and nuanced. Really phenomenal overall. I thought she did a great job overall with a song that should never be reduced to 2 minutes. Jennifer Lopez was right when she said that Jessica could have commanded the stage more for such a true rock 'n roll song.




2. Skylar Laine - "The Show Must Go On" A/A-
Skylar sang with so much passion and conviction. But in the back of my mind, I had Carly Smithson's unbelievable version from Season 7. The second half of the song improved on the first. Skylar has such a big voice and is so fierce. I would love to say that I think she's a lock for the finale, but at this point, I'm not sure what will happen. Regardless, what a tour-de-force performance! One I am sure I will play many times on iTunes.

Check out Carly's version here.



3. Joshua Ledet - "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" B
I have never liked this song and I'm pretty sure my love for Tim Urban's gorgeous hair distracted me into giving Tim's Season 9 rendition a better grade than it deserved (a B+ if you're curious). I wasn't much a fan of this version either, which veered into shouting at points. One thing that's consistently wonderful about Joshua is that he's an awesome performer. I loved his use of the old-fashioned, 50's doo-wop style microphone, which earned a lot of bonus points with me. I liked it better on a second listen than I did on the original broadcast.


4. Elise Testone - "I Want It All" A-
This was the moment where I felt like I was at an Elise concert. (No I didn't borrow that phrase from Randy...God help us all.) One thing that Elise always brings to her performance is a sexiness and worldliness that her younger contestant peers can't ever match. This was such a great fit for her voice. Overall, a great job and song choice by Elise with lots of passion and energy.


5. Philip Philips - "Fat Bottomed Girls" C+

Philip sounded out of breath from the start on one of my All-Time Favorite Queen songs. It fell short of the original version or even Mark Salling's (Puck) amazing cover on Glee. It was pretty average for me, for you.There isn't much I can analyze here, except how bizarre it was that Steven Tyler said to Philip, "I love the way you run out of breath". Isn't that considered a bad thing for a singer? Hmmm.


6. Hollie Cavanagh - "Save Me" B-
Hollie's performance didn't really grab me. I never got into it the way I wanted to. An interesting and a bit unorthodox song choice that sounded like it would be a match made in heaven for Hollie's voice in theory at least. Maybe it was that the chorus was so repetitive (always something that bothers me more than your average person). The ending was pretty beautiful though.


7. Jessica Sanchez - "Dance With My Father" A
Jessica's version was breathtakingly beautiful. She brought something special to this song, undoubtedly. I wasn't sure I agreed with her song choice for personal reasons. Her voice was flawless and confident. However, I finally felt true emotion from her as she connected to the song more this week than in any past weeks.


8. Skylar Laine - "Tattoos On This Town" A
Skylar made Jason Aldean's hit song sound like she had written and recorded it herself. She delivered such an impassioned version of this song I believed every single word of it. I loved how she dedicated it to her friends and her hometown. Skylar has quietly and consistently become the one to beat on this competition and perhaps the contestant most likely to go on to a successful post-Idol career.




9. Joshua Ledet - "Ready For Love" A-
I instantly remembered Michael Lynche's Season 9 version of this song - the only other version I've ever heard. I didn't know who the original was by until I looked it up on the Internet. That said, I have never really warmed up to this song. Joshua picked two songs tonight that I never cared for. But I really liked Joshua's rendition. I loved the emotion and overall vocal performance by Joshua. He has such a beautiful voice at times when it is harnessed in the right song. I think Joshua's performance was better than Michael's version.


10. Elise Testone - "Bold As Love" B
What a BOLD move for Elise to pick a song by Jimi Hendrix, let alone one that isn't one of his most 3 or so well-known hits. The degree of difficulty on this song was by far the highest of all the songs performed by the contestants tonight. It required to dip into talk-singing, lots of interesting inflections, tongue-twisting lyrics that are reminiscent of poetry, and an overall 70's vibe.

11. Philip Philips - "The Stone" D
If I never heard this again, that would be great. No melody, no fun, nothing I liked. I thought it was a bizarre choice for Philip to cover a Dave Matthews Band song, considering the incessant (and spot-on) comparisons between him and my least favorite band of all time. I hated the violin component of this song. Pretty boring overall, even though I usually like but don't love Philip.


12. Hollie Cavanagh - "The Climb" B+
My first thought was that Hollie's voice may even be too big for this song. But I have to give her credit for picking an age-appropriate song after past choices like "Son Of A Preacher Man" may have been a bit too old for her thematically. Her voice sounded beautiful here in both the big moments and the dialed back ones. The last note was perfect.


Best of the night: Skylar
Worst of the night: Philip

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Alex Clare - "Too Close": Top Songs of 2012

The song "Too Close" by Alex Clare is only the second song I've heard all year (after "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men) that is an inevitable lock for my Top 10 Songs Of 2012 list.

It's quickly shot up to my Top 25 iTunes Most Played list - phenomenal considering I've only added it 6 days ago. And yet, I haven't gotten burned out on "Too Close" - there is something layered about the song, something new that I discover and rediscover each time I listen.




This song has come out of nowhere to rocket up the iTunes charts and is prominently featured in a new commercial for Windows & Internet Explorer.

I'd say my initial attraction to the song was based on the juxtaposition between music and lyrics. To my chagrin, it's been a long time since I've heard an upbeat, electronic-based song that has thematic material not consumed with drinking and going to the club.

You know I'm not one to break promises  
I don't want to hurt you but I need to breathe  
At the end of it all, you're still my best friend 
But there's something inside that I need to release 

The song pulsates with urgency and explodes into a thudding dubstep breakdown on the chorus.  The lyrics are desperate and sad, about a breakup between two lovers who have over time cooled to friendship. The musicality expresses the nuts and bolts of technology, all blips and synthesizer. But the lyrics are passionate and heartbreakingly honest. 

It is literally like nothing I have ever heard before. 
It is one of the most singularly perfect songs of 2012, undoubtedly.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

American Idol: Top 7 (Part 2) - April 18, 2012


Top 7 (Part II) - Now & Then - April 18, 2012

The most music in a regular American Idol telecast ever! 14 songs in 2 hours. I was highly impressed by Ryan Seacrest's tribute to Dick Clark at the top of the show. Ryan honored someone who had clearly had a huge influence on him both personally and professionally in a succinct and classy manner.

1. Hollie Cavanagh - "Rolling In The Deep" A-

I was worried for Hollie when I heard she had chosen the done-to-death Adele hit. But I loved it despite myself. The acapella intro and more dramatic instrumentation gave it a feel of a fighter in the ring. She had a nice anger (oxymoron?) throughout this and threw in a few different inflections to change it up from the Adele version ever-so-slightly.

2. Colton Dixon - "Bad Romance" A

What a risky song choice which completely paid off for Colton! I could see Colton making music like this after Idol - and he should. There was a touch of the theatricality of Adam Lambert and the rocker edge of James Durbin. Everything about this performance was perfect - from the staging, the all-female backing band dressed in white, the costuming, the arrangement, and the vocal. The thing that stopped me from giving this performance an A+ was the inclusion of the "oh la la roma roma" section which seemed like a silly way to end the performance.

3. Elise Testone - "No One" B

Let's be clear. I have never liked this song since it came out and was a monster hit my senior year of college. Elise's voice sounded so pretty throughout this song and I liked it (of course) better than the original. But I can't love this song in any incarnation. It seemed to me like Elise was trying to pick a happier, bouncier song that she could smile through. The reasons why the judges loved this performance were probably the reasons I didn't like it as much as her other performances.

4. Philip Philips - "U Got It Bad" A-

He pushed himself on parts and drew back on other parts - the perfect give-and-take for this performance. The way he dropped his voice on "messed around" expressed the shame and desperation of the lyrics. It definitely felt like an interlude at his concert. With the right material, I think Philip has a great touring career ahead of him.

5. Jessica Sanchez - "Fallin'" B+

I liked the liberties Jessica took with this song. She really brought a world-weariness to it that I wasn't expecting from her. My biggest issue with Jessica overall is that it always seems like she is imitating Beyonce, from her intonations to her physicality.

6. Skylar Laine - "Born This Way" A-

I loved the country lyrics Skylar infused into this version. This girl has a huge country career ahead of her because she can perform live, has an amazing voice, and can tell a story with the songs she chooses to sing. She has amazing energy. Skylar is beyond ready for primetime. A fun, well-done performance.

7. Joshua Ledet - "I Believe" A

A real love letter to us long time Idol fans. To those who don't know, "I Believe" was Fantasia's Idol single and "winner's song" way back in 2004's Season 3. I didn't want it to end. And I must admit, like I do with almost any Idol coronation song, I got a bit teary-eyed. What a powerhouse vocal. I was beyond impressed.

8. Hollie Cavanagh - "Son Of A Preacher Man" A

This was the kind of performance I have been waiting for from Hollie since her sublime cover of "All The Man I Need" back during Whitney Houston week. She seriously looked like she was having a good time. A great vocal and a wonderfully fun performance. Sure to be one of my most played on iTunes.

9. Colton Dixon - "September" A/A-

I was bizarrely captivated by this performance and I have to say that's a compliment of the highest order. I think the music drowned out his vocals at points, but overall, it was just so spot-on. This was so different and interesting.

10. Elise Testone - "Let's Get It On" A-

For me, the definitive version of "Let's Get It On" will have to be by one of my favorite Idol contestants ever, Matt Giraud. I devoted an entire blog post to his American Idol run back in 2009, the only time I've ever done that for any Idol contestant.

But, back to Elise - who is my favorite Idol contestant this season, ya know, if you couldn't tell by now. This performance dripped with sex appeal in a way that no other Idol contestant has been able to master this season. The growls were perfect. Overall, a great rendition of the song but I probably would have liked it more if Matt's version wasn't in the back of my head.

11. Philip Philips - "In The Midnight Hour" B/B-

One of my favorite 60's soul songs - just a perfect ode to half romance, half lust. I liked that Philip chose to perform without his guitar on this song and got a bit more crazy with it overall. I liked the song overall, but felt it was probably one of Philip's less memorable performances. Pretty average for me.

12. Jessica Sanchez - "Try A Little Tenderness" B-

There was something off about the arrangement from the beginning to my ears. This is the kind of song you need to get a bit ugly with and the arrangement sounded way too bouncy and poppy. This song has a lot of raw soul and bleeding passion in it and I never felt the true grit in Jessica's performance. Everything seemed way too affected and forced.

13. Skylar Laine - "Heard It Through The Grapevine" A

If I didn't already think that someday I might go to my first country concert to go see Skylar Laine, this performance solidified it for me. This was such an awesomely fun version of a song I have loved for a lifetime. My only critique on this one was that a few of her words turned more into shouting than singing.

14. Joshua Ledet - "A Change Is Gonna Come" A/A-

This was a perfect song choice for Joshua who has stuck pretty firmly in a soul/gospel lane with a few uptempo exceptions. So much emotion and flair in this performance. I'd still have to say Joshua's signature performance so far has been "When A Man Loves A Woman". In fact, I think I'm going to go listen to that one again. And you should too.