There’s always something incredibly nostalgic and heartwarming about the classic jazz crooner. For someone like me, who was never alive to experience the golden days of artists like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and the rest of the gang, I can still draw nostalgia from my memories of sitting by the fire in my family home, listening to such tunes from my father’s (and grandmother’s) record collection. Today, the vocal tradition is carried on by notable greats such as Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, but the man who kicked off the modern era of contemporary vocal music surely has to be Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry Connick, Jr. is a man of many talents, or voices, rather. He has just released his latest album, Every Man Should Know, and he takes on the personality of many different characters throughout the record. Granted, all of these characters are the same person – himself – but they represent his person in different situations and stages of life. When talking about the meaning behind the album, Connick says, “I used to be more comfortable writing in a fantasy-style concept, using ideas that intrigued me but didn’t necessarily come from personal experience. It’s one thing to assume the role of a storyteller – it’s quite another when the story is your own. I felt ready to explore some of my personal experiences in some of the songs this time around.”
If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, then you may have noticed that there’s been something missing since its inception: hip hop music. For a site that claims to support all styles equally, this certainly seems like a problem that needs to be addressed. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to it, and today I present to you People Hear What They See, the latest from rapper/producer Oddisee. This is a quintessential hip hop album. It’s an incessant spark that adds to the bonfire of hip hop culture, and it’s a great use of 45 minutes for rap aficionados and novices alike.
Enjoying hip hop music has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I’m going to spin you a bit of a personal story here, but bear with me (I’ll try to keep it short). Don’t get me wrong, I always appreciated the genre, but I’ve never quite been able to get into it. I hold no confusion as to the reason – it’s a direct result of my instrumentally-focused musical foundation. Progressive rock was the first style and subculture to kindle my love for music into a full-blown passion, and that’s about as far away as you can get from hip hop. Thus, it’s in my nature to place less emphasis on the lyrical content of a song, which of course is a defining characteristic of rap music.
“We don’t say swag no more, we say swank.” Defining words, to be sure. These are lyrics from the confident, yet deeply emotional music created by Andwele Gardner, more commonly known by his stage name Dwele. Contemporary R&B has always been known for its tight production and lush vocals, however despite having a very firm grasp of this concept, I was still unequivocally blown away when I listened to Greater Than One for the first time. If you are not comfortable being seduced by a black man with an incredibly hypnotic voice, then you may be in the wrong place. This album is packed full of beautiful vocals, thick chords, and sentimental lyrics. Dwele features a selection of Detroit’s finest R&B artists and producers, including J. Tait, L’Renee, and Black Milk on “Must Be” and Monica Blaire on “Swank” and “PATrick RONald,” and the result is a brilliant portrayal of the city’s rich musical subculture.
Everything that you would expect to hear in an R&B album is present in Greater Than One. The keyboard sounds are to die for; nothing quite replaces that classic Fender Rhodes timbre. There’s something about it that automatically makes every problem in the world seem insignificant. On top of that, any musician who is looking to improve their grasp of musical harmony should make a point to study R&B. The style definitely pulls heavily from the guidebook of jazz harmony, but implements it in a much hipper context. What exactly makes it hip? There are essentially two factors (in my opinion) that contribute to such a transformation: the lyrics and the beats.