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Posts Tagged ‘Burt Bacharach’

(Above: There isn’t a scenario which R. Kelly can’t eroticize. Here’s the fantastic “In the Kitchen.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

Plenty of R&B singers are happy to work a couple into a hot lather, and then let them retreat to more intimate surroundings. R. Kelly would be first in line to stand in the doorway and watch.

For nearly 20 years, Kelly’s sexually outrageous songs have been a staple on urban radio. Although mainstream audiences know him best for the saccharine “I Believe I Can Fly,” Saturday’s Sprint Center crowd had no problem singing along to any of his dozens of Top 40 R&B hits.

Kelly’s most recent album is “Love Letter,” an album that found channels Burt Bacharach more than “Letters to Penthouse,” but he had no trouble mixing the upscale new material with the more explicit older tunes.

“They said I shouldn’t mix the classy songs with the sex songs,” Kelly told the crowd, “but sex is classy.”

The 90-minute concert was divided into three acts. While each act was distinct, they also felt unfinished. Kelly and his tight eight-piece band rapidly flitted from song to song, rarely lingering on one number long enough to see it all the way through.

The first part included slow jams such as “Number One Hit,” “Happy People” and a chopped and screwed version of “Thoia Thoing.” During “Strip for You” Kelly encouraged women to take off their clothes for him. A few stray T-shirts flew his way.

After a short video, Kelly re-emerged with some of his best club tracks, working the crowd into a frenzy with “Fiesta,” “I’m a Flirt” and “Ignition (remix).” Kelly let the crowd handle Kelly Price’s part on their duet “Friend of Mine,” which segued into the soul rant “Real Talk.” He returned to the sultry material with “When a Woman Loves” before inviting about three dozen women from the crowd onstage for “Step in the Name of Love.”

The upper level of the Sprint Center was curtained off, but the lower bowl was mostly full. More empty seats emerged the farther one got from the stage, but both the performer and the audience’s consistently high energy made the room seem packed.

Relentlessly shuffling through Kelly’s catalog in incomplete snippets was like spending time with a sex addict with attention deficit disorder. Instead of persistently tossing pebbles at the bedroom window, the jukebox approach was more like running around the house and ringing the doorbell, testing the patio door, rapping on the windows and pulling on the storm cellar door.

Keyshia Cole and Marsha Ambrosius performed 30-minute sets, but the experiences were night and day. Ambrosius, formerly part of the duo Floetry, has the better voice, but her set was poorly paced. A diversion into old school R&B hits masked her talents and wasted set time. Her performance was nearly salvaged by a reading of Floetry’s “Say Yes” and her own “Far Away.” Cole’s set was nonstop energy. The music paused long enough for Cole to call the ladies to their feet where many remained for the rest of her set, which included anthems like “I Should Have Cheated,” “Let It Go” and “Take Me Away.” Let’s hope Ambrosius was taking notes.

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spasc

By Joel Francis

When Elvis Costello picked up an acoustic guitar in the mid-‘80s after two baffling albums full of horns and keyboards, the result was one of the high points in Costello’s already-great discography. Costello teamed with producer T-Bone Burnett for that album, “King of America,” and 23 years later the two are back together for “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane.”

Costello has never quite eclipsed that peak, settling into a pattern of churning out reliable genre exercises in country, jazz, classical and rock and collaborating with Burt Bacharach, the Brodsky Quartet and Allen Toussaint. Burnett, on the other hand, has become the go-to man for Americana/roots recordings, winning a Grammys for his production on Robert Plant and Allisson Krauss’ debut album and the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. The reunion of Costello and Burnett creates an accessible entry point for a public that reaches beyond his usual audience of the core and the curious.

Unfortunately, the magic that sparked “King of America” is absent on “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane.” While Burnett has rounded up an all-star cast of bluegrass musicians, the music feels like a stiff genre exercise. It is almost as if Costello is guesting on his own “Pickin’ On” tribute, or starring in “O Brother Where Art Costello.” Costello’s decision to revisit two songs from his back catalog reinforces this notion. “Complicated Shadows” was a great Johnny Cash-inspired slow-burning rock song in its original incarnation back in 1996. Here, it’s half the length and feels like Costello slapped his old lyrics over a generic bluegrass arrangement.

It neither helps nor hurts the listening experience to know that these songs were culled from an unfinished opera about Hans Christian Anderson, previous albums and leftovers from other projects. With little exception, they are all painted with the same brush and do little to distinguish themselves from the gray wash of an album that is neither offensive nor interesting.

The songs that do stand out are the two co-written by Burnett and Costello. “Sulphur to Sugarcane” is an extended innuendo delivered with a broad poke in the ribs and exaggerated arched eyebrow. It recalls the routines of Dusty and Lefty, the off-color cowboy duo played by Woody Harrelson and John C. Riley in the film “A Prairie Home Companion.”

“The Crooked Line,” however, is a standout in the good way. This next-to-last tune rewards the listener for nearly making it through the album with the harmony vocals of Emmylou Harris. Harris may be the best and most underrated duet singer in music. She consistently works harder on her supporting vocals than most singers invest in their singles. Her voice soars, subtly complimenting the melody, adding a mesmerizing countermelody. Whether on Lyle Lovett’s “Waltz Through the Bottomland” or Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique,” her voice never ceases to inadvertently creep into the spotlight and eventually command full attention.

Drawing on the chemistry she and Costello established in their previous collaboration on his “Delivery Man” album and subsequent tour, Harris doesn’t disappoint on “The Crooked Line.” Like a jazz musician breathing life into a trite pop standard, Harris signing salvages a ho-hum song and arrangement and turns it into something worth repeated listens.

“Secret, Profane and Sugarcane” has been released on Starbuck’s Hear Music label, and it seems a perfect fit for the latte-drinking, NPR-listening caricature scribbled up in political circles. For this audience, Costello’s name means maverick, Burnett’s means quality and the country-folk stylings make it unique, yet comfortable. But fans of Costello, Burnett and bluegrass alike can do much better than this.

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Above: Johnny Cash’s alternate version of “Thunderball.”

By Joel Francis

After nearly 50 years of slugging spies and bedding beauties, the premier of a James Bond movie has become an cultural event. The opening credit sequences of these films are events among themselves. Even though some of the biggest names in rock have performed a Bond theme song, the producers have always treated the number as a throwback to the Broadway and pop numbers of the 1950s.

When Bond made his big screen debut in 1962’s “Dr. No,” Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” variants of “The Twist” and the Four Seasons topped the Billboard charts. The theme song for “Dr. No” was a bizarre calypso arrangement of “Three Blind Mice.” Thankfully, the nursery rhyme is preceded by Monty Norman’s immortal James Bond theme. Norman’s theme was reinterpreted in every Bond film thereafter. It’s still exciting to hear the surf guitar race into the explosion of horns. The song is over-the-top, suspenseful and dangerous, but the swinging drums winkingly confide in the viewer that everything is in good fun.

Bond was back the following year with “From Russia With Love.” This time, producers hired Broadway songsmith Lionel Bart, best known for his work on “Oliver!,” to write an original theme song. Bart’s lyrics, coupled with soundtrack composer John Barry’s music, are the embodiment of the bachelor pad/Playboy image. Singer Matt Monro made his name performing in the nightclubs, caberets and lounges Bond would have haunted offscreen. Their lounge music is the embodiment of the bachelor pad/Playboy image that reeks of wood paneling, shag carpeting, hi-fi stereos and rotating beds. In other words, it’s straight out of Bond’s world.

Three-time Bond songstress Shirley Bassey made her debut with “Goldfinger.” Although the film hit screens during the year of Beatlemania, there is no hint of rock and roll in the title song written by the musical theater team of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Barry’s bombastic horns are matched only by Bassey’s brassy delivery. “Goldfinger” is not only one of the most memorable Bond songs of all time, but it’s also the first memorable Bond song.

Barry and Bricusse didn’t stray far from the template when they approached Tom Jones to sing “Thunderball.” Jones puts his pelvis in the delivery, but the arrangement is essentially “Goldfinger”-redux. While they may have been working with a formula, it’s a strong one – “Thunderball” works nearly as well as “Goldfinger.”

An alternate “Thunderball” song was given to Johnny Cash to perform, but rejeced by the film’s producers. It seems even at the peak of his pills phase, Cash was more man than Bond could handle.

Rock and roll finally appeared in the serpentine guitar lick that opens Nancy Sinatra’s performance of “You Only Live Twice.” Even with the guitar, Sinatra’s sexy vocals rest on a pillow of strings accentuated by a harp. The number was Barry and Bricusse’s third consecutive teaming, and constructed from fragments of 25 separate takes. Bassey must have felt left out, because she covered the song in 2007, following in the footsteps of Coldplay, Bjork and Robbie Williams (who sampled the original for “Millennium”).

 “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is a misfit in the Bond cannon, musically and theatrically. The title sequence is a throwback to the orchestral opening of “Dr. No.” Barry’s instrumental theme is notable for its deep Moog synthesizer notes, chugging rock bass and the soaring trombone melody, later taken over on trumpet. Barry, who scored every Bond film to this point, composed a great alternate to Norman’s original Bond theme. During the mid-’90s electronic craze, the Propellerheads created a 10-minute remix of the song.

Barry teamed with Burt Bacharach’s lyricist Hal David to write the film’s love theme, “All The Time in the World.” Saturated by fingerpicked guitar and a saccharine string section, the song couldn’t be further from jazz, despite the vocals of Louis Armstrong. Satchmo is in full-on “What A Wonderful World” mode. Lesser singers would buckle under the weight of the arrangement, but Armstrong is able to emote the lyrics perfectly, even if someone else is playing the trumpet solo.

As the calendar flipped to the 1970s, Bassey was given her second stint on a Bond theme. “Diamonds Are Forever” is the sexiest Bond theme since Sinatra’s. Barry’s arrangement is full of the soft strings and horn punctuations that viewers had come to expect, but he tosses in an unexpected splash of funk at the halfway point. The wah wah guitar and subtle nod to Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning “Theme from Shaft” could be what drew Kanye West to the song when he sampled it for his 2005 hit “Diamonds of the Sierra Leone.”

Keep reading:

The Music of James Bond: Part Two – The Seventies

The Music of James Bond: Part Three – The ’80s and Beyond

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