Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Voice: The Top 5 Performances

The Voice: The Top 5 Performances (Seasons 1-6)

5. Cassadee Pope - "Over You" (Season 3, 2012) 

Cassadee would go on to be the most successful winner so far from The Voice with a platinum single and country chart success. Her cover of the Blake Shelton-penned ode to his brother is not sung perfectly, but her emotion is far beyond expectations for a reality show contestant. The shakiness in her voice in the beginning of the song lends a believable air to the ache and tentative start to the lyrics, the dull ache of losing the security you took for granted and will never find again. Her voice is plaintive towards the end, defiant, soaring, poignant. The second version embedded below 

4. Juliet Simms - "Oh Darling" (Season 2, 2012)

The original Beatles tune is a study in perfect pop songs: it starts tender and sweet, with harmonies and doo-wop backing vocals, a plea from a star-crossed lover outside the window of a teenager in a poodle skirt and silk ribbons in her hair. It grows increasingly desperate in that now-archetypal Paul McCartney howl, with the hint of something unhinged. 

From the first note, Juliet has the kind of voice that walks a fine line between gravelly and nasaly - it's intriguing and infuses the classic song with a palpable edge. She pays tribute to the original, painting different colors in the already-drawn lines. Juliet brings a sense of world-weariness to the song that's different from Paul's teenage dream. It's a scorned lover at the end of a love affair, a woman who's angry both at herself and the man she needs despite herself.

Check out this link for her audition (sadly no YouTube embeddable links).

3. Vicci Martinez - "Afraid To Sleep" (Season 1, 2011)

"Afraid to Sleep" was Vicci's swing-for-the-fences home run original song during the finale of The Voice's first season (previously covered by Dido). Dido's version sounds instantly dated with a 2003 beat and a lilted, clipped, detached, unpleasant tone. The passion of the lyrics simply is not there. Vicci brings to life the regret, fear, and innate sadness lyrics express, with more than a hint of bitterness and anger. Vicci sings with the regret of not appreciating what you have when you had it, blurry nights spent forcing wakefulness, mirages in the corners of your eyes in the darkness. This remains one of the most played songs on my iTunes.

2. Sissaundra Lewis - "Oh Sherrie" (Season 6, 2014)

The opening is a church organ, heavy and triumphant, and it's a perfect metaphor for Sissaundra's voice as she figuratively takes the listener to church. The fact that Sissaundra did not go on to win Season 6 of The Voice is an indescribable travesty. She has a confidence in her voice, assuring Sherrie that love is worth fighting for. She "makes it look easy" despite a high degree of difficulty in Steve Perry's biggest solo hit which went on to inspire the Rock of Ages Broadway play. Her voice is passionate but never descends into theatrics or histrionics. 

1. Vicci Martinez - "Jolene" (Season 1, 2011)

"Jolene" is the kind of song that gets covered in a million ways, but this is the definitive cover of this Dolly Parton song about a plea to the other woman. The live version is even better than the studio version, if you can believe it, but no matter how I search the web, I can't seem to find it. Haunting and achingly gorgeous, a full-bodied voice, and a sad resignation towards the end of the song. The pleas are crystal-clear, precise in their requests, but by the end, Vicci's narrator dissolves into only being able to whisper Jolene's name over and over again,

Watch The Voice on NBC; it's pretty much always on!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Nashville Soundtrack: Best Of Season 2

As ABC's Nashville just concluded its second season a few weeks ago, here's my picks for the best songs of the season.

"Trouble Is" (Episode 3: I Don't Wanna Talk About It Now)

"Trouble Is" could serve as the theme song for one of Nashville's main characters, Juliette Barnes (played by Hayden Panettiere). A song you could easily imagine being sung by Miranda Lambert, with its sly winks to hell-raising and pictures painted of smoky bars, taxi rides to unknown destinations, and one more drink then you'd planned on. By far my favorite song of the season.

Ain't going home till I check a few more sins off of my list
If you're looking for me I'm gonna see, I'm gonna be where trouble is

Trouble is a guy with the guitar in the next bar
Trouble is I don't even have to know his name

"What If I Was Willing" (Episode 3: I Don't Wanna Talk About It Now)

The song that is Will's (Chris Carmack) first hit single when he is signed to a major record label deal. An upbeat, cheery song that calls to mind the first rush of summer love, flowers, and flirtatious winks from the passenger seat. Yet in the context of the show, the song takes on a deeper meaning as Will struggles with his sexual preference in the conservative world of country music. He isn't willing to admit to himself, his girlfriend, and the world at large that he is gay; looking at it through that lens, the song takes on a more poignant and sad tone.

What if you wanted to feel alive, make something of the time you're killing,
What if you wanted somebody to love you right, what if I was willing?
What if you wanted to ride with the windows down?
Bare feet banging on the dash to Dylan,
What if you wanted somebody to love you right, what if I was willing?

"Crazy Tonight" (Episode 13: It's All Wrong But It's All Right)

Scarlett takes on a persona in this song that is wildly different from her true self - an overarching theme in the season when she works with Rayna's former lover and record producer, who encourages her to tap into her most painful, truthful memories to inform her songwriting. He derides this song as fluffy nonsense, full of typical country songwriting tropes. But outside of the context of the show and Scarlett's character, "Crazy Tonight" is a rockabilly midtempo about nights on the town with an edge of menace. It's sung with the slightest promise of a threat and a roll of the eyes which lends it an extra layer of weight.

Well I paid way too much for these jeans
And they look too damn good not to be seen
So if you don't want to play, baby, I'll go meet up with the ladies.
And you know exactly what that means.

"Don't Put Dirt on My Grave Just Yet" (Episode 13: It's All Wrong But It's All Right)

This song became a major theme song over the season and a perfect song for Juliette's character arc. It's a triumphant burst of defiance in times when repentance would be appropriate or expected. The song begins with the sound of a slap to symbolize the proverbial "slap in the face" this song is to Juliette's detractors. The song is about survival, power - and how when you have nothing left, you still have yourself.

I'll give you something to believe
Nothing on me says defeat
No I'll never look back 

So you better think fast 
If you think you can cut me deep

"Can't Say No To You" (Episode 14: Too Far Gone)

A song that was so quickly featured on the show, it didn't get a chance to resonate with me, until I purchased one of the digital exclusive character albums (Juliette Barnes, Season 2) and this song was a clear standout. An absolutely perfect country song somewhere in the middle of the lane between country and rock. So sweet it will give you a toothache and a rare duet between Juliette and Will's characters.

Darling, stars shine whenever you're with me
I melt like the ice in your sweet tea
I'm bulletproof, I just can't say no to you, girl.
I'm loving you without trying
Whatever you got I'm buying
So try me, I ain't no one's fool
I just can't say no to you

"He Ain't Gonna Change" (Episode 17: We've Got Things To Do)

A duet between Rayna (Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) as Juliette tries to seek acceptance back into the country music community. Eventually Juliette learns that no matter what she does, change has to be arrived at gradually, not overnight. An instantly catchy refrain and an all-too-true sentiment.

He ain't gonna change, he ain't gonna change
I love that boy, but he ain't gonna change
He can tell a lie like no other man
And he'll turn it all around on you
If he thinks he can

All music from Nashville Seasons 1 & 2 can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon, or in physical CD format in 4 albums. The show was just renewed for Season 3 and will premiere this fall 2014 on ABC.

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