Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Idol Week 8: The Voice

Will We Still Love Them Tomorrow?

This week NBC launched their version of a singing contest that is a direct challenge to what has been a decade-long thrashing from Fox’s talent show juggernaut. In case anyone misses the point of the gauntlet that has been handily thrown down, it is called The Voice.

The challenge appears to be this: how can you have a singing contest on TV that is not based on looks? How can you have a singing contest in which participants are not judged?

Cee-Lo Green dressed down

The Voice gets around these problems with a complex and devious structure that pits the judges against one another, merely using the “contestants” as weapons in their battle to the death! It’s a three-round process. First, the judges must find eight people to be on their team (this is the “blind” part); then they will coach them to some kind of sing-off; then the audience at home gets to vote on something, but I’m not sure what. Either way, it’s a tasty panel of judges who are supposed to bring something different to the coaching table: Maroon 5’s Adam Levine (Pop EMO types?); Christina Aguilera (divas?); Blake Shelton (country singers?); and Cee-Lo Green (more gloriously fabulous divas?).

Christina wearing considerably less make-up and real hair, back in the day

These four are ensconced in high-back twirly chairs which are turned away from the singers. They have a big button they must hit to turn their chair around to see the singer and bid for a chance to have them on their team. The positioning of the chairs is such that the judges can see one another’s reactions at all times, whether the chairs are faced the same way or not. Hustling for team members is encouraged. Blake Shelton is clearly in his element and will gain enormously from the exposure he’s getting from being on a mainstream prime-time show. He’s the alpha male here and they all know it. I never really noticed how weird Cee-Lo’s body is before, possible because he’s always swathed in some outrageous costume. Tiny arms! Adam Levine comes across like a whiny boy, and his comment about hearing the Rascal Flatts song “Bless The Broken Road” — “I’ve never heard that song, but I'm pretty sure no one could sing it as well as you just did” will not have gone down well with the legion of country fans watching courtesy of the big man. (Uh...Gary Le Vox?)

Christina Aguilera is a yappy mother hen with a giant weave that looks like someone flat-ironed one of Marie Antoinette’s more elaborate coiffures and set it upon her miniature head. Then added a good dose of red lippy to complete the Streetwalker look.

Oh what the heck: I'll let them explain it.

This is a show that looks about as staged as a prime-time show can possibly be, but it is entertaining. Which brings us to last night’s American Idol — where everyone had to sing Carole King songs. Girlfriend wrote a shitload of songs.

Here’s a run-down. Now that we’ve reached the last six contestants, let’s also look at who’s in it to win it.

Jacob appeared wearing a very loud suit because now that Paul has left, who else is going to? There is no way Jacob can win, it’s just a case of when he will be leaving, and The Inky Jukebox predicts: TODAY.

Lauren did NOT overcome her performance fear—the backing singers carried her load. She also did not overcome her wardrobe, which has become as predictable as her delivery: earrings the size of satellite receivers paired with a short skirt dress with boots. She, too, has no chance of winning, and hasn’t really been a contender for a long time now. She’s just too young and inexperienced, despite the alleged power of her voice.

Scotty gave his best performance so far, taking it slow, and at last! holding his microphone in one hand. Did you see how he managed that, though? He has clearly been instructed to keep his other hand on his thigh, and the pressure forced all sorts of hokey twitches and looks to come over his face. Scotty’s a top four guy who can sing; he just needs to show some versatility and lose his bad habits.

James truly IS in it to win it, and might yet. The opening bars to his song were fantastic, and he is confident enough as a performer to push his own envelope each and every time. James has big sticky-out ears. The lighting shows them to great advantage; he does not need the earring as a distraction. Ditch it, James.

Casey has been in it to win it from the get-go, and looks like he works hard at it. He delivered another unique performance that cleverly showed him tinkling the ivories with one hand while singing. I’m not sure if he heard Randy’s parting comment about stopping the growling, but I hope so. Casey: NO MORE Grrrowling or Mmmphs!

Haley is as annoying as ever and also has no chance of winning, and cannot get rid of her bad performance habits either. Every song sounds the same, and is accompanied by identical arm swings and head tosses and much-too-short dresses. Wear some pants.

This was also duets week (when hasn’t it been?) so we got to see the same old pairs team up YET AGAIN. Since the producers are clearly enamored of putting actual lovers together, this made for some awkward teamwork. Casey and Haley’s bit actually worked because he makes her better; each is out to best the other and thus raise the bar. Scotty and Lauren denied that anything is going on, so after a highly suggestive interview, they sat (again!) and sang awkwardly. Heck, these kids are only teenagers; of course they are going to be mortified that their dating life is broadcast to all and sundry!  This left James and Jacob, who obviously were not thrilled, and though they gave it their all, it was a mismatched duo, and really: Jacob Lusk singing about going on a date with a girl?

Here’s an idea: pair different folks up! The Inky Jukebox would liked to have seen Casey and Jacob, Haley and Scotty and Lauren and James, for example.

Better yet — let’s pair them with The Voice’s coaches!

  • Jacob needs Adam to iron out the glorious wailing.

  • Lauren needs Christina to kick her in the ass and show her how to be a child star and loosen the fuck up on stage.

  • Scotty needs Cee-Lo to give him some crazy-ass soul funk.

  • James needs Blake to make the transition from young singing buck to serious heartthrob who can deliver ballads.

  • Casey needs Christina to show him how to tame the growl.

  • Haley needs Blake to calm her down and smack the silly out of her when she goes all pageant on his ass (note we did not say “smack her silly”).

Bottom Three: Jacob, Lauren and Scotty. Going home? Jacob.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Shine A Light, Why Dontcha: Sugarland's Up Tonight

Red, Black, or White? 

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this article is about Sugarland. It isn’t. It is about the relative value of two kinds of videos: the sort that are made in a studio at great cost that are based on a treatment suggesting a storyline, and the kind that simply feature a live performance, recorded in high-def, say, for quality production values. The Inky Jukebox is simply using Sugarland’s latest single, “Tonight” as an example, seeing as their video came out today and provides an excellent point of comparison.

First, the “Official” video:

As you can see, its main visual raison d’être is to show the three incarnations of Jennifer Nettles. (This is a point made amply clear by Sugarland’s facebook poll which asked which dress her fans prefer: red, black or white.) First, we see Red Dress Jennifer sporting her new weave, all glammed up so as to be unrecognizable. Maybe it’s the red lipstick or maybe it’s the reclining on a bench that alienates us. Not sure. In any case, the message seems to be that tonight, this glamorous lady is going on a major date. Not sure what you wear that get-up to (the Oscars?) but hey. Just as soon as you think Sugarland has finally jumped the shark we suddenly get Black Outfit Jennifer (the weave flat-ironed for that edgy look) looking much more like herself — or at least the Jennifer we usually see — on some kind of set actually moving. This goes mercifully further in allowing us to maintain the suspension of disbelief that she is on a film set lip-synching to the track. Then we get White Jennifer, lounging about on a white bed in a white room wearing a white cardigan-thing, with far less make-up on. As far as The Inky Jukebox is concerned, White Jennifer beats Red and Black by a country mile, because she looks natural and not like a wardrobe drone’s idea of a high class prostitute.

Interposed in all of this like layers of frosting are snippets of Kristian Bush playing the guitar somewhere. No-one is paying the remotest bit of attention to these sections, because it’s increasingly becoming ALL ABOUT JENNIFER, but they have to include him, because, well, they are still listed as a duo.

What this bifurcation of the principals does is tell us that Sugarland the band now consists solely of Ms. Nettles, with Mr. Bush taking a far smaller supporting role.  Maybe it’s always really been that way, but a video such as this really brings the point home.

Of course, in concert, this is not the case at all. While Jennifer acts as senior cheerleader at center stage, delivering all the vocal firepower, Kristian has a vital and visually important role by her side; their interaction is well-versed, feels genuine, and appears to be integral to the song. By now, Jennifer Nettles is one of America’s most gifted and professional singers, which has its pros and cons. On the one hand, she can be utterly relied upon to deliver an entertaining and technically perfect performance. On the other, it’s a little TOO perfect, and can come across as rehearsed to the point of theater. The one thing that you can’t fault her on is the incredible range and control of her voice, which Sugarland’s latest songs make a central feature.

The song “Tonight” is the album Incredible Machine’s most obvious example of this. It features those extended notes delivered at full force which nail it to the wall of greatness. Therefore, one would think that any video would play this up. The Red/Black/White version only allows you to think that a machine could have produced such notes, as she’s obviously not singing it in the shot.

Here's an earlier "Official" version of the same song, directed by Kenny Ortega as part of the American Express Unstaged series.

While this does give you a fairly good impression of what Sugarland can do when they play live, it is still not quite right. There's the near-miss opening bars, for a start, and the STAR is not all that she can be. For one thing, there are some nasty red marks on her arm. This is pre-weave Jennifer wearing the sort of outfit she has always favored on stage: tight pants, boots, a sleeveless shirt of some kind — a highly unflattering ensemble. The pants threaten to show more than you care to see and look sweaty; the boots serve to squash her torso; and this particular leather cut-out number is hideous. No wonder they ordered a make-over.

Therefore, The Inky Jukebox suggests that the following recording of Sugarland’s recent ACM’s performance of “Tonight” at Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas is a far more appropriate showcase of her talents (and looks).

Here, there’s no mistaking Jennifer’s skill and showmanship; it is taken straight from their tour set, which also gives you a taste of what a live show from them is like. If a musician can REALLY SING THEIR ASS OFF, then all videos they put out should make this abundantly clear. 

OK, this article is kinda all about Sugarland. And The Inky Jukebox must add that “Shine The Light” is just as awesome a demonstration of Ms. Nettles’ skill from the same album.

Here it is:


Thursday, April 21, 2011

American Idol Week 7

Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire!

Last night, the Idol contestants were allowed to play up each other’s most distinctive feature. On cue (on script?) they all agreed upon traits we are all familiar with. Scotty holds his mic funny! Stefano is a flirt! Lauren talks to much! James shrieks! Jacob’s a diva! Haley is profoundly annoying! Casey’s a funny genius!

What none of them said was the obvious, and what tonight’s show amply demonstrated: Casey’s real outstanding feature is the size of his cajones. If it’s his beard you’re looking at for evidence of his chutzpah, you’re aiming way too high.

Not only does he go with off-genre songs at big moments and play every instrument known to man, but he isn’t afraid to stand up for doing it his way. (TIP: At the earliest opportunity, or the finale--your choice--sing “My Way.”)

Here is what was great about his performance of Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe”: It was unlike anything we’ve seen him do so far, demonstrating his versatility; but he didn’t just sing a different song; he inhabited a different performance. He strutted about the stage flinging the lyrics into the audience as the song demands. It was a loud, brash song. But then, once he had the entire audience – in the theater and at home – in his hands, he shrunk the whole thing down to the two magical inches between his face and Jennifer Lopez’s cheek. The vocal he delivered to her, and her alone, was a beautiful piece of singing and dramatic tension; being able to balance those two is what real showmanship is made of. Leaning in to kiss her was a daring and completely appropriate thing to do: if he was doing this at a concert, that is what he would do.

He has earned the right to be able to break the wall because he is a wrecking ball of talent.

As for the rest:

James might have sung a Muse song, "Uprising" (brilliant choice!!) but stayed true to his roots by channeling Rob Halford’s wardrobe to do it. Say what you will of him, he knows who to copy.

As far as The Inky Jukebox is concerned, everyone else flubbed( but flubbed well).

Scotty wasted a precious opportunity to sing a song that told us nothing new about what he could do at all. In a week in which any genre was up for grabs, he should have opted for something unexpected. After the spoof section about how he holds his mic, he didn’t take the hint and played it up, which only made him look like a clown. Dude can sing, but he’s rowing a very narrow boat.

Haley took on a song that is in current release on a Number One album. I don’t blame her for singing an Adele song, but she growled and gawped her way through it in a red polka dot dress and threw in a pageanty wail at the end that I’m sure would have made Adele cough with horror on her cigarette if she’d been watching. "Rolling in the Deep", indeed. 

Lauren sang a Sara Evans song badly and looks like a 50 year-old woman who has spent too much time at the salon – in the tanning bed and having her streaks did. Oh, and the denim tutu? WTF?

Jacob has audio problems he should not have admitted to on camera; while it was clear to the theater audience that the band struck up the wrong track, causing his to pause and remove his ear monitor, it looked to the TV audience that he was overcome with emotion, and overcame it. That’s a good thing.

Stefano did whatever it is that Stefano does. I can’t recall.

Bottom Three: Lauren, Jacob, Stefano. Going home: Lauren. She looks all done. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

American Idol Week 6

 I Shot The Sheriff! 
(But I didn't shoot my integrity)

It’s a revolution, people! Someone blinked tonight on American Idol, and it wasn’t any of the contestants: it was the professionals, Jimmy Iovine and OK, sure, James made us suck in our breath in a giant, slow-motion “Oooohhhh fuuuuccckkkkk” when he got all up in their faces, and sure, he was dead wrong when he remarked that you can’t know a hit song when it’s heard for the first time at a piano (????), but now we have something truly interesting: the stars of the show (James, Casey, Scotty) ALL rejected the advice and went with their guts: and ALL of them knocked it out of the park by doing so.

Let’s back up a bit and evaluate the “help” they are getting and compare it with The Inky Jukebox’s primo suggestions. Why is our favorite Vulcan up here? Read on to find out why. 

Paul gives the same crazy-ass nitrous oxide tornado of a performance he always has. “Old Time Rock and Roll” is the most repetitive lyric there has ever been. It is not a showcase for your amazing vocal skills. The only thing he’s changing up is the color of his Nudie suit. The man is an enigma.

  • The Inky Jukebox says: Paul is not a mammal; he’s a mollusk; all gooey inside a sparkly shell. It doesn’t matter what he “sings” since his duds do all his talking for him. Ride the wave, dude. New suit every week.

This is NOT Lauren Alaina. It's Miley Cyrus showing how it's done. 

Lauren opts to sing Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” a massive anthem that she is warned HAS to be sung better than the original. Jimmy and Will are confident she’s got it wrapped up. But then Lauren totters out and delivers the most underwhelming version of this song I have ever heard. She stood rooted to the spot (again) and took big breaths when she should have simply risked puking in order to get the note. The actual Miley Cyrus is sitting in a bar somewhere laughing her ass off.

  • The Inky Jukebox says: you’re a blonde country girl on Idol. Watch what Carrie Underwood did and copy her. Specifically, rip off the way she strutted her stuff as if she’d already won all over the stage as if she was a sexybitch matador and the crowd were an arena full of bulls. Stop singing to the camera as if it’s a mirror.

Stefano dresses down and gives his best performance yet: Randy was right on this one. He’s singing like he’s got nothing to lose, which is a good thing. He delivered the passion and physical expression that has been sorely lacking.

  • The Inky Jukebox says: Jeans? Fine. White sneakers with oversize tongues, not so much.

Here is why Scotty should NOT have sung Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’”: 1) it’s slow as molasses; 2) it’s the theme song from an X-rated movie (has anyone voting for him actually seen Midnight Cowboy?); and 3) this is a song that, great as it is, was covered by Spock. (Look up Leonard Nimoy’s version, y’all.) So even though the song Scotty went with was a bit dull, he made a good, wise choice. I would hazard that 100% of his voting audience know and love the movie Pure Country because it’s a required text in Country 101. Aligning himself with the young (hot) George Strait ain’t never gonna hurt him, either.

  • The Inky Jukebox says: we like the chutzpah Scotty has showed in standing up to the judges the last few weeks; it gives him some credibility. BUT Scotty MUST STOP holding the microphone like a cock. The double-handed splayed finger off-to-one-side grip reeks of the kind of olde-time variety-shows of the 1970s that are as dated as wide-collar polyester jumpsuits and bouffant hair. Grip it like a man, Scotty! Would George Strait hold a mic like that? HELL NO.

This was a big week for Casey; with the furor over Pia’s exit and everyone saying the save should not have been used on him, he needed to prove more than ever why it was the RIGHT thing to do. And Oh Boy, he did. His slapdown of the profoundly inane, short-sighted (and possibly malicious) suggestion  from Iovine et al. that he sing Phil Collins's “In The Air Tonight” in favor of his original and clearly passionate choice, Nat King Cole’s classic “Nature Boy” was, as Randy rightly pointed out in his effusive praise, “Pure genius.” Here’s why: Could Casey sing the Phil Collins tune? Sure; he can sing anything. But that would have been capitulating to THE MAN, and Casey’s whole niche is that he won’t compromise his art for THE MAN, even if he finds himself on this ridiculous TV show. By sticking to “Nature Boy,” and doing it his way, all scatty double-bass, he accomplished something truly unique and memorable on this show, brought some untarnished artistic merit to a stage filled with dross (Haley), and created the much-lauded MOMENT. He’s right: Esperanza just won a Grammy. That mention was also genius. In his post-performance comment, he was again shaking, only this time it was in recognition that he has just made himself a big fat career. The whole thing threw gobs of egg on Iovine’s face, so it will be interesting to see how that goes down.

  • The Inky Jukebox says: Keep on keeping on. He gets our vote.

Haley: do not, under any circumstances, “Call Me.” Words are inadequate to describe how abysmal this performance was, but we’ll try. Haley dresses like she’s trying out for the talent show at her high school, thinking that if she wears a mini-dress and thigh-high boots she will give the judges stiffies and they will ignore her amateur-hour hand sweeping (do the regal wave!), hair shaking (even Taylor Swift bangs her head on stage like Angus), and incessant growling (not sexy!). The judges were rightly cool, but none had the guts to point out her bum notes (listen to that first one!) or her appalling "foreign" lyrics. Also, the red lipstick has to go.

  • The Inky Jukebox says: Much as we loathe the idea of Haley “entertaining” us another week, we suggest that instead of pulling out a made-for-karaoke copycat version of whatever song you pick, change it up completely: if you’d only slowed “Call Me” down to a torch song, say, you too could have had a Moment.

Jacob looked completely miserable, didn’t he? We think he will suffer form not having joined his peers and stood up to the Interscope Brass, even if his “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was delivered well. In this week’s scheme of things, mere competence was not enough. He was properly dragged over the coals for his lunatic remarks made last week, which will still come back to haunt him.

  • The Inky Jukebox says: Jenny Craig it, Jacob.

Oh James, you big-eared teddy bear, you. Thank you for making us shout “Give metal a chance” on a night when we also thanked the TV gods for jazz. WTF. James, like Casey and Scotty, is a front-runner because he is true to himself and has the balls to throw all caution to the wind in order to preserve his individuality and dignity in the face of Jimmy Iovine’s disapproving scowl. He tore up the theater with a very smart and timely return to the kind of rock we know he can deliver, and the producers were smart too in looking like they backed his renegade decision by providing him with the awesome Zakk Wylde on guitar. Shredding ensued.

  • The Inky Jukebox says: yes! Bring the metal! But James, do not bring the Sammy Hagar schmaltz. Bring the AC/DC, the Maiden, the Rainbow, the DIO, the Sabbath, the Motorhead.

All in all, a refreshing week. Who’ll go home? In keeping with The Inky Jukebox’s incredibly prescient predictions so far (not) we’ll say:

Bottom Three: Haley, Jacob, Lauren. Going Home? Jacob.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Miranda Lambert's Revolution

Famous In ANY Town: Miranda Lambert

There is no denying that an essential element in a singer’s success is in having a voice that is pleasant to listen to. A sweet tone, coupled with a beguiling regional accent goes a long way when that voice is used like an instrument being played by someone who understands what it can do and how to make it sound its best.

Miranda Lambert owes much to such a voice. It doesn’t hurt that she is capable of honeyed phrasing and a feel for power and softness when called for; neither does it hurt that she is a capable and perceptive songwriter. She has no qualms about saying “My neighbor’s car got stole last night” because that’s how folks speak. She’s cute too. ("Only Prettier.")

Lambert has been tearing up the awards season like hugging trophies was going out of style, and deservedly so. A pity about America is that its music is so fragmented; Lambert shouldn't be a great country singer; she's a great singer, period. 

When she was first being recorded, she was promoted as a sort of blonde Gretchen Wilson, in that she is a no-nonsense country gal who can handle a gun (and a man) and entertain a rowdy bar full of cowboys. But here the comparison ends. Miranda Lambert is her own woman, with her own sound, and it’s gratifying to see her carve out her niche as country’s new bad girl on her own terms.

There are girl singers a-plenty in Nashville, and some of them are pretty blondes, but this one has a pistol tattooed on her arm and the cajones to cut Kid Rock a new one when he made the mistake of messing with her on a duet. (Check out the 4:20 mark when she tells him "I'll shoot you!") “It’s time to get a gun,” she sings on her song of that name, “that’s what I’ve been thinking. / I could afford one / if I did just a little less drinking.” Watch out, fellas!

When Miranda Lambert performs, she either sits or stands there at the mic with her guitar and just sings, or she stomps and twirls around the stage like a maniac, whipping her hair back and forth like a metalhead. Carrie Underwood might also bring the heat, but Miranda makes you feel she could drink you under the table after the show. And steal your boyfriend. Look at how she takes a wrecking ball to Brooks & Dunn’s “Hillbilly Deluxe.”

Not that she needs to; she will be married in a month to Uber-Hottie Blake Shelton (her “fiancey”) who appears to be head-over-heels for her. Thence they will take up the country couple mantle long held by Tim and Faith, and by numerous others before them. It was her suggestion that he record Michael Bublé’s hit “Home,” (she sings backing vocals) which broke him into the big time when his career had floundered after early promise. (There are many versions of them singing this song, but this version is perhaps the sweetest, despite the muffled sound (get a room!!!!!)

The Inky Jukebox was not aware that Lambert had been a finalist on the show Nashville Star, which won her a recording contract; it was her first big hit, “Famous in a Small Town” that caught our attention. It’s a homely song, but she delivers the chorus with a cascade of notes that smacks you with enthusiasm.

The Inky Jukebox would like to confess at this juncture that a large portion of the summer of 2009 was spent pretending to be recording a video of “Dead Flowers” assuming that said video was being recorded through a dashboard-cam. 

We always preferred that song to the more poppy “White Liar” which benefitted from an all-star cast in the video (including Jamey Johnson as preacher). Lambert collaborated with Johnson on Dierks Bentley’s “Bad Angel.”

Being a no-holds-barred kind of commentator, The Inky Jukebox acknowledges that it has been highly critical of Lambert’s buxomness and small-town prom-queen style when it comes to the Red Carpet. This is a girl who has been gifted with extraordinary beauty, and we’d just like to see her not let it go, is all. 

Now that she’s a bona-fide Nashville Star, she needs to stop playing dress-up when it comes to these things, and employ the services of someone who knows from sparkle (and a trainer!). That picture at the top of the article? She's put on a few lbs since then. To make up for this, we have only included gorgeous pictures of her here.


Lambert is currently touring with the fastly up-and-coming Justin Moore, making for a hot ticket. Go see ‘em. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

American Idol Week 5 Result!

Cry, Cry Baby: Pia’s Exit

Is The Inky Jukebox the only sentient being NOT wringing its hands and gnashing its teeth in lament that Pia got sent home? The only surprise of the evening was that her name was called instead of Stefano’s.

So here’s a little reality check.

Sure, Pia could sing; that is, she could hit the right notes and remember the lyrics and whatnot. And sure, she didn’t hurt to look at; she looked the part of what you imagine an American Idol would be.

But Pia was also as dull as mud, could only do one kind of song, showed no imagination or musical creativity, and was insecure; she kept promising the folks at home that next week she’d try harder, do better, show more emotion, break out of the mold, surprise us…and never did.

I suspect that people are shocked she was voted off because of who remains: she went before Haley? Stefano? Paul? This is a popularity contest, NOT a singing contest. And Pia was the sort of girl other girls hate.

The Inky Jukebox does wonder what Casey feels about all of this, however. Clearly the judges would have saved Pia and he must feel like he robbed her of that chance. His stress must be through the roof right now.

The Inky Jukebox likes it when there is a surprise exit on American Idol; it reminds folks that they have to vote to retain their favorites, and heightens the possibility Ryan’s fake-outs.

Will Pia have a future in music after this? The odds are against it. Those contestants who have gone on to remain in the business have done so mainly in two ways: 1) become a country singer; and 2) do Broadway.

Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Bo Bice, Danny Gokey, Bucky Covington, (and to a lesser extent) Josh Gracin, Kristy Lee Cook, and Phil Stacey have all done well in country. Chris Sligh has done very well as a writer for country stars. Kelly Clarkson’s most recent number one hit was singing on a country song.

Clay Aiken, Fantasia, Frenchie, Justin Guarini, Tamyra Gray, Constantine Maroulis, and others have all done well on Broadway.

Chris Daughtry is an exception, but then, he fronts a band. Adam Lambert has cornered the Glamazon market. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

American Idol Week 5

Coming to a Famous Hall Near You…

Since it is clear that all of this year’s finalists can sing (for better or worse), it behooves us to consider other aspects of their worthiness for the hallowed American Idol crown. Therefore, The Inky Jukebox would like you to place yourself 20 years into the future and imagine where each contestant is plying their trade.

Can Jacob’s performance still be considered legitimate if he sang half his song as a duet with a backing singer? His “Man in the Mirror” was gloriously camp, but though he hit his notes, perhaps they weren’t entirely the right ones: it demonstrated no growth except in the jiggle highlighted by the very white whiteness of his all-white suit.

  • Jacob is busting out his hop-and-a-skip at a gay nightclub near you. Or not near you.

Haley took another piece of The Inky Jukebox’s soul when she spat in the face of Janis Joplin’s memory by having burned into our poor retinas the image of a red-lipsticked bouncy-haired Kewpie who imbued her delivery with as much veracity as someone who can smile like a clown on steroids while singing about her heart having been broken can. The Inky Jukebox’s heart is broken that she still has a stage to growl on.

  • Haley can be found strutting her stuff next Friday at the Double-Dippers Karaoke Bar.

Who knew the unwieldy double bass was cool? Casey did, that’s who. In his hands it looks more like a dance partner light on her feet. His rendition of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” proved that he can sing anything and make it sound good. He could have done “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” too but he was clearly persuaded away from it.

  • Casey will see you during his office hours because he is now a Professor of Music with a large and dedicated student fan base.

Contrary to what Steven Tyler said, there was nothing natural about the woman Lauren is yet to become last night. Let’s start with the outfit. (Gwen Stefani WTF.) Check shorts over black tights? Did no-one tell you this makes your ass look ginormous, girl? And the hair? If you dress like a clown…. As for the performance, it seems the competition is swallowing her up. She gets tighter every week, more tentative, more nervous, and less sure of herself. This does not bode well for her eventual exit.

  • Lauren only sings at home to her kids and horses. Sorry y’all.

The Inky Jukebox agreed with James when he said that this week was the perfect time to break out something different, and although his delivery wasn’t that unexpected, the actual weeping he did while singing about his guitar gently weeping was heartfelt. If you listen to the playback of this week’s performances at American Idol’s website (and we mean listen, not watch; just let your ears do the work), you’ll hear a gem. Boy did good.

  • James is on tour opening for a slightly better band who has recently hit it big, but you can catch it at an amphitheater in your town.

Scotty picks Elvis! (shocker!) But “That’s Alright Mama” because he sang it OK. Scotty’s voice was made for radio, as his performances improve without the visuals. Unfortunately, this week did not help Scotty shed his unfortunate habit of hamming it up; he needs to let all that corn go and just sing rather than do impersonations.

  • Scotty is headlining his own show in Branson, Missouri, pride of the Ozarks!

Pia thinks we were all expecting her to sing another ballad. No, Pia: everyone was expecting an up-tempo song because you announced what you were going to do last week. Duh. The strange thing is that her “River Deep, Mountain High” came across just like her ballads do: all eyes-closed, mouth-wide-open. Let’s face it: this is pageant hell, and someone in wardrobe (Gwen Stefani) has it out for these girls because her get-up was just hideous.

  • Caribbean Cruise Lines Princess of the Sea presents Pia Toscano tonight at 9pm.

If you turn the volume off entirely when Stefano  is singing, you cannot tell which week it is. He looks exactly the same delivering any song. If you turn the volume back up (which we recommend against), you will hear someone screaming for something; in this case, the love of a woman. Still, it was mildly amusing to see Stefano willfully ignore the professional advice given to him through what The Inky Jukebox now suspects is sheer ignorance.

  • Stefano will serenade you and your lovely date as you enjoy your tiramisu.

Paul went for broke when he pulled out his Cash – his Johnny Cash, that is. Not sure who is voting for him at this point, but as long as he stays in long enough to outlast Haley, we’re OK with it. His voice is a bit breathy for Folsom Prison, but he seemed to be having fun. (Uh-oh…)

  • Paul is a regular at the Bluebird Café in Nashville. (Still.)

Bottom Three: Haley, Lauren, Paul. Going home: Haley. (Please God)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


21 Ways To Leave Your Lover

She said it grieves me so
To see you in such pain
I wish there was something I could do
To make you smile again” 

— Paul Simon

The other day I had CMT Pure Gold on in the background. It’s a TV channel that just plays music. It’s good — you should check it out sometime. Something came on that immediately made my ears pay attention: a lady singer, whose voice sounded so familiar…yet I couldn’t place her. Which country singer had that husky, intoxicating sound? No idea. When I was compelled to get up and look to see who it was, all became clear: it was Adele, that insanely talented young British singer, whose first record, 19 (her age at the time) brought her to the world’s attention where she rightly belongs. She won 2009’s Best New Artist Grammy.

Here she is singing “Hometown Glory,” a huge hit off that album. She wrote this song when she was 16 years old. You can measure a singer by what they are capable of doing live, on cue, on national television. I remember seeing this and just sitting there with my jaw hanging open.

Why she was being played on a country music channel, I can’t explain except to give them credit for playing whatever is REALLY GOOD. Perhaps this sheds some light on it, however; Adele credit her bus driver with a certain influence:

“He listened to all this amazing country music and we'd rock out late at night, chain smoking and listening to Rascal Flatts…It was really exciting for me because I never grew up around [that music].”

Here is the other reason: look who they paired her with at the Grammies. This clip features two of the best female vocals ANYWHERE. (Gotta love those songwriting ladies who can simply stand and sing their guts out with cool calm confidence).

The song “Someone Like You” has already been a major number one hit in Europe. I’m not sure if she is mainstream enough to really break through in America (backing from CMT notwithstanding), but she has enough critical acclaim behind her to succeed anyway.

Adele specializes in the kind of smoky, old-school R&B torch song blues you used to hear but don’t much nowadays since the invention of autotune and the like, which has provided an outlet for people with a high tolerance for the pitch 11 year-olds use to signal one another across gymnasia to over-tweak young “singers” to the point that the human voice is no longer recognizable (see Britney, Miley; stick a Y at the end and you have it). This is tres amusing since Adele credits The Spice Girls as a major influence. Rick Rubin produced a number of these songs, and from the looks of the interviews she gives, he enjoyed the hell out of it.

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, on the other hand, can not only sing the phone book (now, thankfully a completely redundant exercise; who uses phone books anymore?) but any damn thing she wants to. Her singing seems miraculous when you hear her speaking voice (which for those Inky Jukebox readers who have never really heard one) which is straight-up London, an un-pretentious and un-self-conscious voice which is liberally peppered with as many fucks as the idiom will allow (a lot).

Adele has a distinctive break to her voice in her upper register where all the air goes out of the note, leaving it a ghost of itself. This can be heard perfectly in the opening notes of “Take It All.”

The flighty beauty of her soft notes is equally balanced by the grit that lies beneath her low ones, as if she’s dug down beneath the asphalt to gravel.

This new record, 21 (her age now), showcases her enormous skill not only as a vocalist and songwriter (she co-wrote half the songs on it), but also as a designer; she had a hand in producing one of the best conceived CD booklets The Inky Jukebox has seen in a long time. Apart from the technical credits at the end, all it has are intriguingly candid black and white studio shots. This highlights that an artist is at work. It’s a design theme that carries over to her brand new website. It’s well worth a visit. This is a breakup / recovery album, and the strong emotions sit on its sleeve for all to see.

As on her debut, every song on this record is a winner, and the whole sounds cohesive enough to melt dreamily from one track to another with no rough edges, yet retain each song’s individuality.

I know you’d want to go see her sing live once you’ve heard this record. Sadly, you don’t stand a chance: her entire touring schedule for 2011 is already sold out.

Sure, you can buy this album on iTunes, and there it comes with the obligatory bonus track. But this is something you need to BUY IMMEDIATELY on an actual compact disc, because you want every single ounce of that crisp, genius-miked recording to be uncompromised by digital compression. Or, like Letterman demonstrates below, get it on good old-fashioned vinyl. Listen to it on your best headphones, too. Look out, y’all. Another Grammy’s a-callin’.

Here she is visiting Letterman again earlier this year.

One more thing The Inky Jukebox loves about this gal: she knows how to rock outrageous false lashes like nobody’s business.

The Inky Jukebox dedicates this review to Pablo.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Academy of Country Music Awards 2011

What Happens in Nashville Stays in…Vegas

By all accounts, the producers of last night’s Academy of Country Music Awards, held at the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, were anxious about whether first-time co-host Blake Shelton would overstep the family-friendly mark when it came to his trademark quick-mouth humor. They needn’t have worried; Blake and Reba did a fine job of keeping things bouncing merrily along without the need for the 5-second delay.

What they should have been worried about was the ugly mess that nearly bubbled over when two of the night’s presenters took the stage. Consisting almost entirely of plastic, wax, collagen, chemicals, Botox, pleather and sparkles, Naomi and Wynonna Judd, those two artifacts of an ancient era, looked like the strong lights were going to rend them into their liquid parts at any moment. Naomi’s face has been so remodeled that it resembles something produced by the Play-Doh Mc-Factory (squeeze out your own patties and fries!), and Wynonna’s hair surely once saw life as the tail of a giant My Little Pony.

 One looks at Judd the Elder (born 1946) and wonders how it can be possible that she can look so terribly decrepit compared to, say, Reba (born 1955), who seems to look younger every year. Surely Reba is as stuffed full of science and duct tape as her “red-headed” counterpart, but … wow. Their sisters-in-spirit, Marie Osmond (1959) and Donny Osmond (1957), have also clearly morphed into plastic versions of themselves, who are neither a little bit country or a little bit rock and roll, a line worn so thin it has become its own Photoshop filter, a gloss called “crone” (oft mistaken for “Chrome.”)

Seeing as The Inky Jukebox is clearly on a fashion roll, let’s do a little run-down of the night in body upholstery, shall we?

Taylor Swift may have won a little thing called ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR, but what she really won was our admiration with her perfectly exquisite yellow sparkly Elie Saab dress and poise. Taylor always manages to look good, even when kitted out in 1930’s Dustbowl chic, as she was for her performance of “Mean Girls.”

Miranda Lambert may have won just about everything else, but she makes this list based entirely on her shoes, whose diamante-encrusted magnificence bore her aloft so high we nearly overlooked the horror of the rest of her attire. The white toga thingie she donned for the red carpet showed her boobs in their natural state, as if we were on safari (GET A BRA). The hot pink baby-doll tutu deal she wore for the show was an improvement, but only managed to highlight the acres of girl-flesh that needs to be toned up so that it jiggles less. (Miranda, whom I love, really, did score points for returning to stardom with her hair, however.)

Speaking of winning ladies, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum: where to begin. The Inky Jukebox takes back the kudos it gave for her snazzy bangs, which now just seem to squash her face and emphasize the alarming notion that Girlfriend is headed for the dubious realm of Jenny Craig sponsorship and Celebrity Biggest Loser. The highly tailored black ensemble by George Chakra she was vacuum-pumped into did her NO favors by reminding us that she is bigger than both of her male band mates put together. You could see in too much detail, every single one of her chakras. (And no, Hill; this pose fools no-one that you are cinching your tiny waist.)

Darius Rucker looked snappy in a white suit and mauve shirt on the red carpet, but changed down for his performance which rightly showcased the choir of disabled folks he sang with, proving that Hootie is a genuinely classy guy. And he wears snakeskin boots, y'all. 

Finally, Jennifer Nettles changed out of her sweaty pants, tank top and boots and donned a beautifully flattering black gown, and suave evening wear that set off the shitload of “realistic” hair extensions that took her instantly back to the glory days of a couple or three albums ago, before she was a STAR and started chopping off her locks. It also took years off and gave her back some much-needed glamour. (Grow it out!!)

Is The Inky Jukebox the only entity who cannot understand the appeal of The Band Perry? They’ve had ONE hit, ONE, and are now in The Inky Jukebox’s doghouse for pulling the NEW ARTIST award out of Eric Church’s rightful hands. WTF??? The only explanation must be that Eric Church isn’t really a new artist, having three (count ‘em) hit records already and a well-established and dedicated fan base (who clearly does not vote). But this section is all about superficiality, so instead we will complain about the bedraggled mess this sibling trio presents. They are a bedraggled mess.

When it comes to hair, The Inky Jukebox can’t be the only one that sucks in its breath in anticipation of the full-on assault of Ronnie Dunn’s luxuriant facial pelt. He did not disappoint. The brunette ladies (Sara Evans and Martina McBride) were not served well by the purple lighting which made it look like they had blue Goth-style highlights. It was not Sara’s best night, truth be told (I think she knew it), but hey, she can pull off a size 0 leather pant after having 16 kids, so…well done.

What really shone, though, were the gnashers. Who needs studio lights when all one has to do to turn up the wattage is open one’s mouth? Could anyone else hear the sound of eyeballs shattering whenever Troy and Eddie (Montgomery Gentry) spoke? (They were not the only offenders.)

If Miranda got the footwear right, Karen Fairchild from Little Big Town got it wrong. If you are going to show leg, DO NOT wear bootie heels. They shorten the gams, ladies. Only don these with pants. (Carrie Underwood is a perennial offender.)

We have not yet talked about chapeaux, which, being a Country Music event, cannot go without mention. Jason Aldean wore his trademark burnished straw; Brad paisley wore his trademark white felt; Alan Jackson wore his trademark blonde broad-brim; Eric Church wore his trademark baseball cap; Zac Brown wore his trademark knit cap; and James Taylor also donned a hat.

Now that we’re done dishing the formalwear, let’s turn to the whole point of the night: the live performances. It is worth noting that a full hour of incredible music was delivered before the first award was handed out, which set the tone nicely for what has become Country Music’s Primetime showcase. Although all the individuals put on stellar shows (Sugarland’s “Tonight” was simply incredible, and Keith Urban showed why he is a big star), it was the surprise duets and collaborations which stole the show.

Carrie Underwood was joined spectacularly on stage by a rejuvenated Steven Tyler, who looked thrilled to be performing with an American Idol winner worth her salt; who could not feel their joy as “Undo It” gave way to the opening notes of “Walk This Way”?

Jennifer Nettles and Rhianna’s much-hyped combo provided delicious harmonies.

Brad Paisley kicked off the night with a (not unexpected) visit from the heroes of his new single:

But the Standing O of the night went to the Zac Brown Band singing “Colder Weather” with a nervous and slightly tentative James Taylor (genius pairing!) which would have been enough to bring the house down without the sudden turn into “Sweet Baby James.” Zac Brown knew it was the performance of a lifetime and gave it his full-throated all; it will win them a lot of new fans. )

As for awards: how to choose between the Album of the Year nominations? Hemingway’s Whiskey, Need You Now, Up On The Ridge, You Get What You Give, and The Guitar Song being great records all. The Inky Jukebox would have picked Hemingway’s Whiskey, but we’ll have to leave that for another review.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Joe Bonamassa Live: Pittsburgh, March 2011

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

The Inky Jukebox has been waiting years (years!) for Joe Bonamassa to come to town and from the looks of the sell-out crowd that packed every last nook and cranny of the esteemed and glorious old Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh on March 27, and awful lot of others have been too. To see him play in such an intimate venue is of course a delight, no-one being very far from the stage even in the back rows, but my guess is that he could easily have filled a larger hall, especially having spoken to a multitude of people here in town who could not get tickets, and the folks who drove for many hours to catch him here. Many of them had seen him before, and were not going to pass up an opportunity should he pass within 300 miles of where they live. This is what a loyal following looks like, and he did not disappoint.

The Carnegie Music Hall is one of those places where you feel like you’ve stepped back in time: it’s part of the Museum / Library complex built by industrialist / philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and as such is richly appointed with solid marble, chandeliers, and a great deal of baroque ornamentation. The auditorium itself features old crimson velvet upholstered seats with a floor section above which rise directly vertical two balconies. The front row of the first puts you about 12 yards from the center of the stage. One is reminded that back when this was built, there were no microphones, so that the plays, speeches, and orchestral concerts had to be heard clearly by everyone without the aid of electronics.

The Inky Jukebox was very happily and gratefully included in a meet & greet session before the show with the Man Himself, who came out to shake hands, sign autographs and shoot the breeze dressed in a casual track suit and sneakers. This, of course, is not how he dresses for the performance (for which he donned a typically sharp suit and snappy polished shoes). Bonamassa has a reputation as being one of the music industry’s genuine nice guys, and this was amply demonstrated in that he took his time with everyone he met, played the guitars some people brought before signing them (some had been signed a number of times before), and signed everything I brought, which, considering the armful of CD and DVD booklets I was clutching, was very generous indeed. Everyone got to take a photo. 

The crowd appreciated that Joe had done his homework and gave a history of his performances (complete with attendance stats) going all the way back to a small club called Moondogs nearly a decade ago. His banter prepped the throng for "The Ballad of John Henry" by informing us that its riff had recently been named the tenth best of the last decade in England, a semi-dubious achievement he plays up with good grace, I expect, everywhere. (It is perhaps the best of the decade; this or any other.)

Dust Bowl, Bonamassa's 12th album, released last week, debuted on the US Blues chart at #1 and British album chart at 12; he is much loved there.

"If Heartaches Were Nickels"

In the interviews he’s been doing to promote the Dust Bowl tour, he says he plays 20 songs per night, so The Inky Jukebox’s set list is a little shy. I know there were some up-tempo numbers I forgot to jot down, so with apologies for the omissions (if any reader knows what they are, please let me know!) here it is (not in order):

Slow Train
The Great Flood
Dust Bowl
If Heartaches Were Nickels
Ballad of John Henry
Happier Times
When The Fire Hits the Sea
Woke Up Dreaming
Steal Your Heart Away
Django / Mountain Time
So Many Roads
Sloe Gin
Bird On A Wire
So It’s Like That
You Better Watch Yourself
Just Got Paid

The Inky Jukebox was delighted with the range of material, especially as it featured so many of the classics. The Inky Jukebox’s date was very adamant that he play “Sloe Gin” but that sort of thing isn’t really in doubt. (Would a Bonamassa crowd actually riot if he didn’t play it? Picture the scene….)

"Sloe Gin"

We did hear others on the way up the grand staircase expressing their hopes for certain songs of a more obscure nature, and their dismay that he didn’t get around to delivering his ENTIRE OUVRE on the way back down, but he played for 2.5 hours, so you wonder what gives. The Inky Jukebox’s date, who is more used to metal shows, was stunned to see Joe take this performance on non-stop, providing during the band’s intermission, his acoustic tour-de-force “Woke Up Dreaming” which if you haven’t heard it played live, truly blows you away. It really does sound like at least three guitars are being played at once, when Joe makes bass, rhythm and lead all come out of one.

"Bird On A Wire"

True fans could tell what was coming based on which guitar the tech grabbed next, and it was fun to see a burly dude in the front row of the first balcony nearly rock himself off it during “Mountain Time,” and to be honest, I don’t blame him. I wish I could have done that but I was holding the Zipcam steady (well, as steady as I could). 

"Django / Mountain Time"

It would be easy to say that Joe was preaching to the choir, but apt to note that everyone was there to worship at the shrine. Raucous applause followed each song, and the only reason we weren’t all on our feet the entire time was that A) the seats were so damn comfortable; B) everyone had a great view without having to stand; and C) not a whole lot of folks under the age of 40. Nevertheless, it was welcome to be able to stand when Joe invited us to for the finale, “Just Got Paid,” though it must be said that dancing in 5” heels in the front row of the balcony with only a two-foot balustrade between you and — well, a nasty accident — is not easy. (Although I did manage to drop the Zipcam, sorry.)

"Just Got Paid"

For those who have only seen the DVD of Bonamassa's incredible show at the Royal Albert Hall, it was a treat to hear how he can still bring a huge sound with a mere four-piece band (with his partners-in-crime Carmine Rojas on bass and Rick Melick on keyboards, and joined on this tour by a capable Tal Bergman on drums). The RAH show has become a legend, and for good reason. If you want an introduction to what Bonamassa's all about, it is well worth checking out. (Click on banner below.)

If you have never been to a Bonamassa concert, you will never receive a stronger recommendation that you go. It’s worth every cent to see raw talent such as this at play. Because he sure doesn’t make it seem like work. It takes practice, practice, practice....

"Happier Times"