Category Archives: Jazz

John Mayer – Inside Wants Out

John Mayer
Inside Wants Out
September 24, 1999
Mayer Music, LLC
060/100

Inside Wants Out

1. Back to You // 2. No Such Thing // 3. My Stupid Mouth // 4. Neon // 5. Victoria // 6. Love Soon // 7. Comfortable // 8. Neon 12:47 AM // 9. Quiet // 10.  Not Myself

For a guy who appears to rack up controversy whenever he opens his mouth to an interviewer John Mayer sure is quite the gentle, easy-going and some would say boring ‘singer-songwriter’ artist. If his independently 1999 debut EP Inside Wants Out is representative of his work that is.

This ten track EP, that would’ve been labeled an LP, had it been in the exact same form released fifteen years sooner, finds Mayer’s velvetty tenor backed by his own acoustic guitar (and the occasional other instrument, but mostly his guitar). It makes for the perfect autumn coffeehouse music and though a few of its songs were re-recorded for his full length debut Room For Squares it doesn’t exactly sound like a rough draft of that album.

For better or worse (and I am going with worse) there is no Your Body Is a Wonderland here, or anything else that blatantly goes after MOR-radio. Not that there’s anything on this folksy/jazzy pop EP that doesn’t fit on MOR radio, mind you. But nothing on here quite seem quite as intent on dominating that particular radio format as his first big hit was, either. Guess whe know now why Your Body Is a Wonderland became his first big hit.

His debut EP appears to lack impact almost as deliberately as his most talked-about interviews appear to be there to draw piss from the interviewer taking it from him (although whether either of these things are achieved by design or default remains not entirely clear). Which is one of the two pardoxes of the man that listening to these songs gives off. The other is that unlike his interviews his lyrics are mostly clever and do contain some insight and humour. But then again he does eloquently account for his lack of conversational eloquence on My Stupid Mouth, which retrospectively can only be read as a disclaimer, this self-proclaimed Captain Backfire has apparently been having Michael Richards PR nightmares pre-fame even, as well as a Benneton heart and a David Duke cock.

It is too bad that these stories are more interesting than the actual music on Inside Wants Out. A lot of these songs would (and some eventually did) benefit from a more complete instrumentation. Mayer’s music persona simply isn’t interesting enough to work as some sort of self accompanying troubadour, even if he does have the guitar-playing and songwriting chops to justify calling him a musician; this guy needs to be a rock star with a band backing him up in order to work, and soon he would be.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is a far cry fom a horrible way to start, in part thanks to it’s short running time: it’s not around long enough to overstay its welcome, let alone annoy.
It’s only real fault is that it is just not very interesting to listen to, and everyone knows that in Easy Listening music this quality is no death sin. Besides, from here on it would go nowhere but up (well, musically at least.)

Best tracks
No Such Thing
Neon
Comfortable

Recommendations
This is pretty good background music fodder for a playlist put together for reastaurant or a coffee bar containing similarly-minded stuff like Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua. It’s also well fit to read the sunday morning papers to, but that’s about the extent of what situations this is going to work in. Well, besides elevators off course.

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Amy Winehouse – Lioness: the Hidden Treasures

Amy Winehouse

Lioness: the Hidden Treasures

 12-2-2011

Island Records/ Universal Music Group

So what I predicted in my review of Frank happened, although one hardly needed to have a 6th sense to predict the release of this one. When Amy Winehouse died in July this year she hadn’t released anything in over five years. So, ladies and gentlemen, it isn’t very likely that, if she were around still we would have any album by her ready, conveniently enough just in time for the holiday season, unless Island records would have gotten sick of her behaviour and her and dropped her from their roster, in which case a Greatest Hits album would’ve hit the shelves, because she wasn’t actively recording and nobody in their right mind would buy an album assembled from tracks that didn’t make the cuts of Frank or Back to Black if they wouldn’t have known for sure it would be the very last they would ever hear from her.

To be fair, this really isn’t like one of those posthumous 2pac albums in that everything on here, save for one song, was produced by Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, two people who Amy actually worked with during her lifetime, whereas Shakur’s from-the-grave discography was filled with producers and rappers he often had never met or worked with and possibly wouldn’t have recorded with, had he had the opportunity, so that works in Lioness’ favour, actually. There is one guest artist on here who sounds like he’s been edited in after Amy’s passing, which is because he was, but it’s not as tastelessly or blasphemously done as those 2pac-Ja Rule or 2pac-50 Cent joints, because Amy was actually a fan of his.

With that said, three of Lioness’s cuts are inferior alternate versions of Winehouse songs already released and five cuts are covers of standards beaten to death by every singer since the dawn of man. I suppose that the people who compiled this album couldn’t be too picky.

Tough luck bitches, I am.

1. Our Day Will Come

Allegedly this Salaam Remi-helmed, reggae-tinged cover from one of the classics from the great American songbook was recorded for Winehouse’s 2003 debut Frank. That makes sense as this would fit seamlessly on there. The fact that this not only wasn’t the lead single upon its recording but also was left on the cutting room floor speaks volumes, not about this song per se but definitely about the album on which it is featured.

2. Between the Cheats

A lot of the critics went apeshit over this one. Well that’s not completely true but they did universally acclaim this as one of Lioness’s finest moments. It’s pleasant and all when it’s playing but it leaves very little in the form of an impression. What kind of fuckery are we in?

3. Tears Dry [Original Version]

An alternate slowed down, less catchy version of a song which I remember not having much going for it, except catchiness.

4. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow

This was recorded for the score to the 2004 film adaptation of Bridget Jones and was actually released in its intended manner. This cover of a ‘60s Shirelles song doesn’t do much for me. What made Winehouse interesting when she was interesting was how she abused the faux-‘60s productions which Mark Ronson tossed her for telling grimy, depressing, gritty hyper personal tales of her own. When she simply covers originals she comes off, to me at least, as just a competent enough singer, which isn’t a description that fits Amy, it rather applies to X-factor winners.

5. Like Smoke (feat. NaS)

Well, this is certainly something that’s got an air of could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been better. Winehouse was a huge NaS fan (Me and Mr. Jones references him) so at the very least him showing up to pay his respects is appropriate in that it results in something Winehouse would’ve been excited about doing. That is, a record Amy might’ve been into making if she were still around to do so. As is this sounds like a song she intended to record solo but passed out, never to return to the studio, before having the possibility of finishing it. That is off course not the case. Miss Winehouse didn’t record much after Back to Black. Hence she probably didn’t finish this because she was busy smoking crack. I must say that NaS Escobar does a decent job filling the void although it still feels incomplete. Also, this is alright but it’s not real…

6. Valerie [’68 Version]

The only reason I can think of that Mark Ronson didn’t include the originally released Winehouse version of Valerie  off his own Versions album is that that one was already included as a bonus track on some incarnations of Back to Black. Fine, the fans have that album already anyway. That doesn’t excuse the inclusion of this slightly inferior version though.

7. The Girl From Ipamena

Call me a purist but I’m sure the production on this could make both Antônio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto roll over in their graves. Besides, I recall there being a gazillion covers of this anyway. Ah, the redundancy.

8. Half Time

Whereas the low-key production on this is pretty goddamn pleasant. It doesn’t surpass mere pleasantness in its 4 minute span but yeah this one is certainly iPod worthy.

9. Wake Up Alone [Original Version]

The third song that was included in a superior version on Back to Black. Oh well, that they’re scraping the plate this early on is at least an indicator that none of these reheated leftover albums will be released under Winehouse’s name again since they’re out of material already, which is just fine by me, actually.

10. Best Friends, Right?

And we’re back to really, really pleasant. And this one is pretty clever too. This is song could actually have made Frank an even more enjoyable affair. I believe that this one was cut from that album because Back to Black severely lacked this particular witty aspect of Amy’s persona.

11. Body and Soul (Tony Bennett feat. Amy Winehouse)

What I said about Amy doing covers doesn’t apply here because Body and Soul finds her holding her own in duet with Tony Bennett, a guy who has managed to maintain a healthy successful career since 1949 and has the charisma of 20 singers rolled up in one, which takes away any possible criticisms I otherwise might have aimed at Amy singing this song. I must say that Lady GaGa’s duet with Tony was way better but this was pretty decent nonetheless.

12. A Song For You

Whereas this rendition of some standard is more boring than the Michael Bublé version of this song. And people, do not think I hate Michael Bublé, or anything. He’s a fine singer who manages to set the mood just right when you’re in an expensive-ass restaurant, or are reading a book or are doing some other boring crap, and he makes the “What to buy for mother’s day?” question that much easier to answer by releasing his albums. And with Justin Bieber and Drake coming after this cat he is far from Canada’s worst export. Oh, about this song? Meh.

Best tracks

Half Time, Best Friends Right?, Body And Soul

Conclusions

Lioness is both an incoherent mess and boringly repetitive. Covers, duets, outtakes and alternate versions can be interesting when they are packaged with the album they’re supposed to have appeared on, but when presented on their own in the manner they appear here a good album they make not. While it doesn’t really make the music presented to the listener objectively worse I think it is safe to say that Amy herself wouldn’t like this album. Even more than Back to Black, Lioness makes me want to listen to Frank. None of these songs are terrible but it for the most part terribly substandard. Nowhere does this album outdo anything of Amy’s we already heard, which was to be expected, but more problematic for this type of release, nowhere does it shed any new light on Amy, the artist or the person. If anything this album mostly presents her as a rather tame jazz singer in the category of Michael Bublé. Again not that there’s anything wrong with tame jazz singers but even as a non-fanatic I know Amy Winehouse was more than that. I think I am going to listen to Frank and forget all about this album. For a necrophilia piece put together to cash in on the mourning fans of a dead artist this isn’t bad but it still is a necrophilia piece put together to cash in on the mourning fans of a dead artist…

Recommendations

I suppose Amy’s fans will have little choice but to listen to this album for closure. And I can’t stop them, I suppose. Let me just advise anyone considering giving this a spin not to spend money on it. It is a) not worth it and b) not going to help pay for that rehab Amy wasn’t ever going to visit in the first place. The only ones who will cash in on this one is the Universal Music Group, an organisation which is in no way in need of your charity.


Amy Winehouse – Frank

Amy Winehouse

Frank

Island Records/ Universal Music Group

20-10-2003

"Amy. Frank"

If you compare Amy Winehouse’s two studio albums released while she was still alive (I predict the music industry 2pacing the shit out of miss Winehouse’s unreleased material, until every scrap is released in one way or another) you will notice a few differences between the Amy of her 2003 debut Frank and the one of her 2006 sophomore Back in Black. There’s no bee-hive, no tats and a few pounds of body mass more. If you ask me she looks a lot better on Frank’s cover. Intelligent readers will also notice in the two sentences preceding this one that I only got to a superficial comparison. That is correct because I have never heard either album in its entirety before I started writing this review. In fact I never cared much for Amy until she passed away in late July this year and I started a music review site and needed something that would generate a lot of hits. Sounds saddening? Oh well, at least I’m not some Winehouse fanatic ranting about how she was the greatest soul singer of our time. And might as well have been for all I know. Let’s get into it!

*presses play*

1a. Intro

I really don’t dig this intro. Is she mocking the jazz genre here? Is she actually attempting to really make a pretentious album intro? What’s the motherfucking point!? Well, at least it is short.

1b Stronger than Me

Now this leaves little doubt what its intentions are. It’s making a mockery of her effeminate boyfriend. While I really enjoyed Salaam Remi’s jazz-hop infused instrumental and while Amy’s singing is technically proficient, this cannot hold a candle to Lily Allen’s similarly themed Not Big. Still, this is a hell of a lot better than Katy Perry’s Ur So Gay, but that’s not really any sort of accomplishment now, is it? Anyway, this song was a successful single, was nominated for a Ivor Novello award and received tons of critical acclaim. So while I didn’t go bonkers over it I am clearly in the minority here.

2a. You Send Me Flying

This is a pretty good song and it was released as an airplay-only single in the UK. Although it is anything but an original idea to wait half a song before letting the drums kick in it is used to great effect and the hook is some pretty terrific stuff. Well played ma’am. Also, the instrumental sounds nothing like what Remi might’ve given NaS which is a testament to his versatility behind the boards, although it’s not hard to imagine Lauryn Hill & Wyclef over it.

2b. Cherry

Tacked onto the rear end of this track is a hidden track with a rather corny idea behind it. Luckily there is the skip button, ladies and gentlemen.

3. Know You Now

I found this one to be boring as fuck both musically and conceptually. Sorry, That’s all I got.

4. Fuck Me Pumps

Hmmm… Dissing unnamed people for being only famous for their rambunctious social life. Hell, the comment I would make were she still alive is both way too mean to throw onto the interweb this soon after her unfortunate passing, too easy, not completely accurate and musically irrelevant. Anyway I read online other music critics found this to be very witty and entertaining and such but I respectfully disagree. This was released as a single.

5. I Heard Love Is Blind

Whereas this is those things and more to me. Telling a lover that you really weren’t cheating on him when you were fucking someone else because you were thinking about him the whole time. That’s hilarious. The music itself not being half bad also helps matters considerably

6. Moody’s Mood For Love (Leo Ticks)

Apparently this a cover of some sort of jazz-standard. I really enjoyed the jazz-hop with an extremely mild reggae twist-beat of this song, provided by Salaam Remi, and Amy sings sex songs as well as love songs, it seems. The most memorable moment of this track to me is when she sings “You can blow now if you want to. I’m through.” at the very end. I think I’m getting why people think she was special. I can’t think of any female artist that could be so straightforward without making it awkward in one way or another, but here you have it.

7. (There Is No) Greater Love

Short and sweet.

8. In My Bed

Beat-jacking NaS!? Well, it works a lot better than I might have thought it would if someone described this song to me. And she does have the producer of the original song on board. Still, I’d listen to Made You Look before this anytime.

9. Take the Box

So far what separates miss Winehouse from similar artists is her sincerity and no-shit songwriting. While I’m still not as in awe as when I first listened to Lily Allen I am starting to like her. This is kind of bittersweet as I know I haven’t got anything to look forward to from her in the future, except for her sophomore album Back In Black which I’ve never heard in it’s entirety (although technically as of the writing of this sentence I still haven’t heard Frank in it’s entirety either). Anyway, she is winning me over.

10. October Song

Pleasant. Nothing more, nothing less.

11. What Is It About Men?

Something about liking bad boys and Amy’s destructive side. I didn’t really feel this one but then this one is probably more for the ladies than for me.

12. Help Yourself

Upbeat and jazzy from the very first second. Still, can’t say I like to be preached to by this woman who clearly did nothing of the kind she tells the listener to do. Not a musical argument either, I know.

13a. Amy Amy Amy

Another one about bad boys and Amy’s destructive side. Still this one is pretty good. Mostly because it’s funny rather than preachy or (ha!) whiny. Good way to cap off this album.

13b. Outro

Only the first 4 minutes and something of thrack 13’s thirteen minutes consists of the song Amy Amy Amy. After a short instrumental reprise of Stronger than Me we get a hidden song. It’s okay, a lot better than the Jazz Intro of this album but not great. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Amy Winehouse’s Frank.

Oh, wait! There’s another hidden song. This second one is pretty good, upbeat and fun. Although it seems to be about buying alcoholic drinks at the store. Well, at least Amy seems happy and inspired singing about booze. #Bittersweet.

In conclusion:

Because of all the hype surrounding Amy, her black voice in a white person, her erratic public appearances, her promise of leaving a young corpse and her delivering on that promise it’s hard to listen to Frank objectively. Still, this is a genre- and epoch-defining album and while it is far from perfect it is for the most part a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Winehouse has a nice warm singing voice reminiscent of Lauryn Hill and the idea of an English jazz/soul singer collaborating with american hiphop producer Salaam Remi is a fresh one. Also, while Amy doesn’t rap anywhere on this album her lyrical straightforwardness has a hiphop edge to it. Basically this is effortless genre crossing. While there’s consistently enough jazzy hiphop being made there’s little hiphop-infused jazz around as far as I know. This would be the only example I know as a matter of fact and. It is an innovation and a lasting one I hope. Frank bridges a gap. While some songs miss the mark, most songs on here are pretty good and promise a really good follow-up. Whether or not Amy delivered on that promise before she died will be analyzed in due time , right here on Straight from the Crates.

Best songs:

You Send Me Flying, I Heard Love Is Blind, Moody’s Mood For Love (Leo Ticks), There Is No Greater Love, Take the Box, Amy Amy Amy + Outro

Recommendations

If you find this in the discount section of your local record store or fo’ cheap on sites like amazon you should pick this up. This album isn’t half bad. Just don’t expect to hear the new Billie Holiday or some shit like that because you won’t. Best soul singer of our generation? Maybe… But if she were, and I don’t believe she is, that would say as much about the state of the genre as it says about the artist.

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