« November 2010 | Main | January 2011 »

December 2010

December 30, 2010

New Year's Eve Cork Poppers (Napster Playlist)

New Year's Eve Cork Poppers (Napster Playlist) If you've already got the funny hats and noisemakers, and maybe even a little bubbly, we've got a soundtrack suggestion for your New Year's Eve revels: Napster's "New Year's Eve Cork Poppers" features a host of hot tracks to take your party to midnight and beyond. It features both classic and contemporary jams from artists including Michael Jackson, the Beastie Boys, Pink, Prince, Metro Station, Rihanna, and many more. So click play, crank it up, and ring in 2011. Please enjoy responsibly, but don't stop 'til you get enough.

Bookmark and Share

Best of 2010: Usher, Raymond v. Raymond

Usher, Raymond v. Raymond 2010 was undeniably a great for year for R&B crooner Usher. He's ending the year on high note with his "OMG" tour, which is due in large part to his highly successful Raymond v. Raymond album, released earlier this year. It was one of the best-selling albums of the year, sure, but what makes the album so good is the consistent high quality of the material (a seemingly rare occurrence in today’s music), including the set's hit singles, including "Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)," "Lil Freak," "There Goes My Baby," and of course, "OMG." In order to keep the momentum of the album going, Usher also released an EP later in the year entitled Versus, which included another smash, "DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love." After many years in the business, Usher still manages to show growth with each album, and his latest definitely puts him in a league of his own. Looking forward, Raymond v. Raymond may have been a more fitting title than Usher knew, because at this rate the only artist who'll be able to compete with him is...him.

Bookmark and Share

Billy Taylor, 1921–2010

Billy Taylor, The Billy Taylor Touch Billy Taylor, the jazz pianist, teacher, and radio and television broadcaster, died Tuesday in Manhattan at the age of 89. He was a noted instrumentalist who developed his style alongside the original bebop greats, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie, but it was his later role as jazz educator and evangelist that brought him widspread recognition. In the late 50's, Taylor was the musical director for the NBC show "The Subject is Jazz," and in 1961 he founded the Jazzmobile program. He went on to become the bandleader for the "David Frost Show," and later covered jazz for the CBS "Sunday Morning" show and for National Public Radio. Taylor spoke often of jazz as "America's classical music," and it was his mission to pass on this legacy to future generations. "I think of myself in some ways as an urban griot," he said, "because the griot was someone who was a minstrel; he was a teacher, a healer, kind of a part of the collective memory of the people that he related to and served."

Bookmark and Share

Best of 2010: Americana (Napster Playlist)

Best of 2010: Americana (Napster Playlist) It was another satisfying year for fans of American roots-based sounds, with album after album of good stuff making its way to our ears throughout. There were high-profile releases from Ryan Bingham (his song "The Weary Kind," written with T-Bone Burnett, was featured in Crazy Heart and won the Best Original Song Golden Globe and Oscar before being released on his new album, Junky Star), Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, Allison Moorer, Robert Plant, Court Yard Hounds, Willie Nelson, Rhonda Vincent, Dierks Bentley, and the Avett Brothers, to name a few. Then there were the gems that seemed to receive a whole lot less attention, but kept us listening just the same: Releases from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Deep River, Dr. John and the Lower 911, John Mellencamp, Eilen Jewell, Patty Griffin, Delta Spirit, Sahara Smith, Crooked Still, Audra Mae, and Hans Rotenberry & Brad Jones made our ears smile all year. Napster's "Best of 2010: Americana" playlist pulls together selections from all these artists and more into one jumbo listening experience, and we must say it's possibly the most satisfying since the 2007 edition. If we had to name a single favorite, it would probably have to be the Drive-By Truckers' undeniably excellent The Big To-Do, but then again, there are enough worthy choices this year to make it a really tough call.

Bookmark and Share

December 29, 2010

R&B Legends: Gone But Not Forgotten

Teena Marie As 2010 draws to a close, we're thinking of three giants in R&B and soul music that we lost this year: Teddy Pendergrass, Solomon Burke, and Teena Marie. Pendergrass, who passed away on Jan. 13, was a prolific singer and songwriter who got his start as the lead singer of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes—who went on to have major success with songs like "I Miss You," and "Wake Up Everybody" (both of which were covered or sampled by many artists, including Bobby Womack, John Legend & The Roots, Dondria, Big Boi, and Jay-Z). Pendergrass had even greater success as a solo artist, with hits like "Turn Off the Lights," "Love TKO," "Come on and Go with Me," and my personal favorite, "When Somebody Loves You Back," just to name a few.  Fellow legend Solomon Burke, known as "The King of Rock and Soul," passed on Oct. 10. His contribution to the music world was hard to measure; throughout his long career he released hits including "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," which went on to be covered by The Rolling Stones and The Blues Brothers, among others. Most recently, R&B belter Teena Marie, "Lady Tee" (pictured), passed away on Dec. 26. She began her career as a protégé of late R&B legend Rick James, and went on to have a strong career with hits including "I Need Your Lovin'," "Lovergirl," "Square Biz," and "Ooo La La La" (the latter song was sampled by The Fugees and garnered them a major hit with “Fu-Gee-La”). It's worth taking a moment to remember these great artists, whose influence will live on along with the great records they made. We'll say goodbye, but we won't forget.

Bookmark and Share

John Mellencamp, No Better Than This

John Mellencamp, No Better Than This His early Johnny Cougar persona all but erased by the passage of time and a host of stellar, but sometimes little noticed and underappreciated records, John Mellencamp this year released yet another outstanding Americana album. No Better Than This drifted on to virtual shelves in August and revealed its worn, dusty beauty. Sounding every bit like one of the great T-Bone Burnett's finer production outings (which it is, by the way, even though it was recorded in mono with just one microphone), the album transcends genre and era, its live recordings sounding more vibrant and vital than almost anything else that saw the light of day in 2010. Mellencamp is truly a gifted songwriter, and his work here is an outstanding complement and follow-up to No Better's immediate predecessor, Life Death Love and Freedom, which was also produced by Burnett.

Bookmark and Share

Jan & Dean, Save for a Rainy Day

Jan & Dean, Save for a Rainy Day Mother Nature may not know karate, but lately, she sure has known carazy! (Sorry, James Brown.) Anyway, the inclement weather has been devastating for travelers, blizzards in NY have caused hazardous behavior (and the kind of language you might expect to boot), and snowfall postponed diehard Favre in epic fashion. The northeast is reportedly starting to recover from travel delays, while Vegas now has troubles brewing of its own. Here in Los Angeles, it's just another rainy day—but one of many making it a record-breaking December for precipitation. So this morning I've been listening to Jan & Dean's 1967 classic, Save for a Rainy Day. Featuring the single "Yellow Balloon," it's an ultra-light, upbeat, jangly ode to rain, something you're either wishing away or would welcome in a heartbeat, depening on where you are.

Bookmark and Share

December 28, 2010

Eminem, Katy Perry, Taio Cruz, Enrique Iglesias, More: Napster Favorites: Top Hits of 2010 (playlist)

Napster Favorites: Top Hits of 2010 (playlist) Featured this week is Napster Favorites: Top Hits of 2010, a collection of the biggest songs of the year compiled into one major playlist. Who could forget Eminem's monstrous return on "Love the Way You Lie," featuring Barbadian pop star Rihanna? Or Katy Perry, who released a string of hits in 2010 as well, dominating the charts with several songs from her smash album Teenage Dream, beginning with the single "California Gurls," featuring Snoop Dogg? The UK's Taio Cruz, meanwhile, burst onto the U.S. scene this year with the catchy "Dynamite," while Enrique Iglesias, not to be outdone, hit with "I Like It," featuring Pitbull, which became a huge party anthem. Other featured songs include chart-toppers from Far East Movement, Drake, B.o.B, Lady Antebellum, and many, many more. What were your favorites of 2010?

Bookmark and Share

Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society

Esperanza Spalding. Chamber Music Society "Deep" seems to be a word that suits jazz bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding perfectly. Her musical reach, at all of 25 years, is incredible, and her list of accomplishments is already amazing: She's currently nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy (and is said to be the first jazz musician ever to receive that nod); she's the youngest faculty member at the Berklee College of Music in Boston; she played, at President Obama's request, at his Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo; she has worked with the likes of Prince and Stevie Wonder, not to mention Joe Lovano and McCoy Tyner; and in addition to her Grammy nomination (which is a bit of a misnomer because she's been on the scene for a few years already, but that's how it goes with the "Best New Artist" category), her arrival in the wider public consciousness this year has been witnessed by an appearance on Austin City Limits, a profile in the New Yorker, and notice by none other than Oprah. Spalding's current album, Chamber Music Society, is spellbinding. It's sophisticated jazz, but it never calls attention to itself as such; it just lures you in by being interesting and just plain good. As deep as she is already, it's going to be fun watching and listening to this profound talent for years to come.

Bookmark and Share

Blonde Redhead, Penny Sparkle

Blonde Redhead, Penny Sparkle A friend of mine recently said he actually forgets Blonde Redhead exists in the years between their albums, but then whenever they come out with a new one, it's like falling in love with the band all over again. And it's because of their freshness and innovative approach each time out that I can somewhat relate—they tend to take their time between releases, but it's always been worth the wait. The trio comprising Kazu Makino and twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace first made underground waves with their self-titled debut in '95. Fifteen years later they gave us Penny Sparkle via 4AD. It's a further continuation of their dark, sexy electronic focus, much like that of 2007's 23, especially on track "The Dress." I have to say I miss the gritty, dissonant attack of songs like "Distilled" from '98's In an Expression of the Inexpressible, or the Beatles-influenced workings of 2000's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, now morphed into the stark yet spacey cleaner stylings of "Here Sometimes" and "Black Guitar" from Penny Sparkle. But what's the fun in an artist trying to recreate the same album over and over? With Blonde Redhead, you never know quite what you're in for next—and for a band that's been around for 17 years or so, it's pretty impressive that they're still on an uphill climb, both creatively and critically.

Bookmark and Share