Friday, February 25, 2011

Inky Jukebox American Idol Advice

On Your Marks...

Now that we’ve sat through yet another desperately awful faux-suspense elimination round featuring DRAMATIC spotlights and a LONG WALK of joy or shame that has borrowed every cheesy gimmick from every vomit-inducing “selection” show ever thrust upon a sofa-bound public, we have 24 fresh targets to hurl our votes at until summer.

This has been a transformational year for American Idol: the new judging line-up has injected the show with new life. Steven Tyler has been both entertaining and astute. J-Lo has been sincere and technically useful. I am looking forward to seeing how they work as real-time live-TV commentators; it’s a role we’ve seen crash and burn before when there was such promise (Ellen).

Here’s what The Inky Jukebox would like to see the talented contestants do this season, given that they have lived half their lives watching the show and therefore know what the deal is.

* Sing awesome songs. Do not sing the same song every other contestant has always sung. Do your homework or get one of your pals to do it for you. It’s called the internet: use it.

* Do not sing the easiest or most obvious song. I am talking to you, deep-voiced country dude with big ears. We ALL know you can sing Josh Turner songs. We ALL know you sing Josh Turner songs because he, too, has that deep bass voice. (OK, all the country fans do, who are going to be your voting base.) But guess what, Dude: there is life beyond Josh Turner. For a start, there is Trace Adkins. Then again, there are many songs that no-one has ever tackled before with that great big deep voice! So go for them!

* Grab that stage and own it like you have done so far when you do not have a billion people watching you live. The TV magnifies every single drop of hesitation or lack of confidence. Work it like you are in it to win it, y’all.

* Wear good clothes. Please. Girls: this means trash those horrendous poufy mini-skirts and ankle-boot heels. You are not selling your legs. I don’t care how good your legs are. Remember that a simple fitted man’s suit looks classier and sexier than a whole store-full of accessories. Gentlemen: dress up. Act like you are appearing on TV before a billion people, not your high school assembly. Wear actual shoes. Don’t got none? Buy some. Get a haircut.

* Don’t argue with the judges. Accept everything they say with grace. You are auditioning in front of every music executive who is watching at home and whom you will rely on for a career once you get voted off, which you will.

* Stay away from the spray-tan or the tanning salon in general. You look orange on TV.

* Sing soft. You do not have to sing loud: you have a microphone. We can all hear you. Let well-timed silence speak volumes. Do not fill every empty space with extra notes.

* Make songs your own. Twist ‘em up new: be memorable. We all know the originals: we want to hear amazing stuff from you. “Mad World,” anyone?

* Don’t rest on your laurels by thinking you are immune from an early exit. Or from any exit. You have to bring it each and every time as if it’s a lifesaver round.

* Gargle with salt water. Stay healthy. Protect your instrument. Yeah, it’s yucky: do it. Then a spoonful of honey.

Ready. Set. Go. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

F**k It ! I Need a Gram of Something…

Grammys 2011 Redux

As someone who likes music and likes writing about music, I look forward to all music awards shows. Thankfully, in recent years, they have near done away with the hosting segments, and even reduced the actual awards handed out (most of which are presented earlier than the live broadcasts begin) to focus on the two most important things: what the stars are wearing and LIVE MUSIC. I watch to see how my favorite acts perform under pressure on that big live televised stage, and to see what all the fuss about new acts is. I will never forget coming across Sugarland for the first time because they were playing an awards show live: Jennifer Nettles made my jaw drop.

The ACMs and the CMAs are awesome, naturally, but the Granddaddy of music awards shows is the Grammys. I won’t pretend to have a clue how some things win Grammys and other equally worthy things don’t even get nominated: it is inherently opaque and unfair. This means nowt when it comes to marketing, however. Arcade Fire? Who? Why has Joe Bonamassa, the guitar genius who has had seven Number One blues albums never gotten a nod? Inexplicable.

That all being said: he is the Inky Jukebox’s run-down of the 2011 Grammys:

Christina Aguilera, what hast become of thee? Lay off the cake, while you’re at it. Divorce is no excuse! Take a lesson from Jen-Hud: nothing tastes as good as thin feels! Martina McBride: reaching for the power note…among the power note divas (NOT Florence)…not so good. Oversinging’s not your thing, girlfriend. In any case, the message was clear: let’s honor Aretha while we still can. You know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.

Ricky Martin’s pants: WTF? Rein it in girl! We know you shine a light already!

Train. “Soul Sister.” Really? Are you kidding me?

I wonder how funny Madonna thinks Lady Gaga is? Anyone? Anyone? And what way, exactly, was Whitney Houston born? Am still puzzled.

Miranda Lambert, I love you. Regular Inky Jukebox readers will know that I have made it my personal mission to get this girl a stylist worth her salt (or paying actual cash money to), and tonight’s fashion debacle was no exception. Miranda: a girl with some meat on her bones should never ever wear a strapless knee-length shiny bin-liner. More to the point (because that was an easy target, let’s face it): what in the name of all that is sacred was up with the hair????? Center parted dirty blonde fluff? Last time I looked it was not 1973. You are beautiful and are engaged to one of the hottest men in all of music: HIRE SOMEONE. (I’m available.)

Nice to see Eminem back in such fine form. A lean and mean performance and grace on the stage when he won struck just the right note. Am still suffering a brain freeze from picturing him sending Elton John and David Furnish diamond-encrusted cock rings as a wedding present. And now you are too.

A lot of country music blog respondents didn’t understand where Cee-Lo was coming from with the whole Muppet bit. They have clearly never seen Cee-Lo perform before: a pop-culture themed costume is his trademark. To wit: the brilliant Star Wars and Flight Attendant performances of “Crazy.” Gwyneth Paltrow was a surprise: that she appeared at all, never mind that she held her own. The skin-tight black bodysuit was awesome and I want one. The cheesy but understandable replacement of the word-that-shall-not-be-mentioned with “Forget” was…sorta lame-o, but they pulled it off. He was ROBBED of Song of the Year. RUBBED, I tell you!

The extra-long folk section introduced us to two bands who were basically the same band, the lead singer of one of which looked like Caleb Followhill. Just sayin’. Bob Dylan looked lost and bemused at first, but that’s OK because as soon as he opened his mouth, we all were. Growly much ? Gargle dude!

Speaking of which, the KOL boys looked thrilled to stand defunctly next to Miley Cyrus as she introduced somethingorother.

Biggest awkward moment of the night: Keith Urban ad-libbing to a seedy-looking John Mayer that the “Daughters” he just mentioned weren’t literally his daughters. Glad you had finished your performance boys, because it looked like fisticuffs were going to break out. Who knew John Mayer has a Glare of Death? (OK maybe a few people.)

Will someone please swap Mick Jagger’s bowl of Cracklin’ Cocaine Flakes for something a little less metabolically juiced? A man that old having that much energy and being that thin is unnatural. The whole thing was highly indulgent, and lacking in actual lyrics. Sure, it was a Solomon Burke tribute, but why? why? It looked like an excuse for Mick to leap around and clap his hands. It made NARAS look like they were bending over.

Why was Lady Antebellum, one of the night’s leading nominees in the major categories, only allowed to song a short medley of two of their hit songs? No-one else had to. Maybe it was a way of introducing them to a larger audience accustomed to hearing snippets in iTunes before buying a track. On a positive note, Dramamine-soaked Hilary Scott looked superhot with her new bangs. (Miranda: take note.)

When it comes time for the NARAS Chairman to make his speech, I am always reminded of the way in which attractive flight attendants demonstrate the whole safety procedures as the plane taxies down the apron, legally necessary but completely useless and ignored by a plane full of people annoyed that they had to turn off their crackberries and iPods. He always seems to be both pleading with and chiding the folks at home. This year, he had a sidekick which didn’t really help.

Biggest miss of the evening: The Grammys fumbled badly during the Memoriam segment, missing the recent passing of Gary Moore (?????? NARAS. Really?????) and selecting a bit of “My Sharona” to play over the part that included Ronnie James Dio instead of…anything by Ronnie James Dio. <<<FAIL>>>

To be honest, by 11 PM I had had enough. Wrap it up already is about as excited as I could get. I hope Arcade Fire thanked Spike Jonze for the “The Suburbs” video.

In awards you didn’t see:

Fantasia! Iron Maiden! The Black Keys! Ryan Bingham! Run, Forrest, run!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Need You Now?

Lady A (As They Say)
(A little pre-Grammy gabbing)

For some people, Lady Antebellum must represent all that they hate about modern country music: their material is slickly produced mainstream pop with very little to suggest that it has anything at all to do with Nashville. For others, they will represent all that is good about modern country: glossy professionalism by performers who can sing, and who retain an aw-shucks humility about their rocket-ride to fame. What I want to know about anything that sounds this sparkly perfect is how it holds up in real life, when they have to reproduce the songs in front of real audiences, either on a giant stage or crammed onto stools at a radio station. Say what you will about them, they can deliver.

Webisode February 9, 2011

I write this because tomorrow Lady Antebellum’s album Need You Now is up for six Grammys, and who knows—they might actually cause an upset and win something. Then you will want to know who the heck they are. I also write this because the album is pretty good. Is it the best album of the year in any genre? Probably not, no. Is it even the best country album of the year? No. But, assuming some huge sellers missed Grammy eligibility, it is one of the most commercial, and Grammy likes nothing more than appealing to the masses. Or failing that, glomming on to one band to the exclusion of everything else.

Album of the Year
Record of the Year
Song of the Year
Country Song of the Year
Country Album of the Year
Country Performance by a Duo or Group

Thank goodness they don't refer to the category as “Country and Western” as some of my British friends infuriatingly do. There ain’t nothing Western about it; that division happened a long time ago. I don’t think it was still Country and Western when Ray Charles sang about it. And how come Bluegrass gets its own category? I have a theory: it’s to allow them to give Allison Krauss as many gongs as possible before the minerals used to make them run out and we have to start plundering other planets for something else to make our medals with. Not that she doesn’t deserve them all, of course. Well, her and Vince Gill.

The single “Need You Now” won’t win. Cee-Lo’s got that covered with “Fuck You.” But the album has great songs on it: “Our Kind of Love” is catchy pop; “American Honey” is a nice bit of Americana and great to sing loud in your car with the windows down. “Hello World” is a grand-production complete with orchestra, a bit like a Celine Dion vehicle. “Perfect Day” is strictly for your 13 year-old girls. “When You Got A Good Thing” has glorious chord progressions, and is, I think, the best song on the record.

53rd Grammys CBS, 8PM EST
Follow The Inky Jukebox live on Twitter at!/InkyJukebox

This year’s awards recognize records released between October 1, 2009 and August 31, 2010.

The Inky Jukebox picks: 

Best Female Country Vocal Performance: Miranda Lambert "The House That Built Me"
Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Jamey Johnson "Macon"
Best Country Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocals: Zac Brown Band "Free"
Best Country Collaboration With Vocals: Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson "Bad Angel"
Best Country Song: George Strait "The Breath You Take"
Best Country Album: Jamey Johnson The Guitar Song (But they are all good)

Next year, look for Taylor Swift’s Speak Now for Album of the Year.