Category Archives: Alicia Keys

Today’s Top 5: Alicia Keys

 

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When the history of this time is written, what will be said? That it’s when the land made for you and me became the land of us versus them? Or was it when love, like hope before it, won out over doom and gloom? We won’t know until Tuesday, of course, but I can say this without equivocation: I stand with Alicia Keys. I stand with love.

Alicia Keys, of course, released her latest album, Here, this past Friday. It’s a breezy set, at once jazzy, folky and soulful – and utterly addictive. It’s reminiscent, to my ears at least, of Neneh Cherry’s classic Homebrew from the early 1990s, in that it mixes and matches genres, sometimes in the same song, and does so with a deftness that makes it sound effortless (though I’m sure it wasn’t). And, to go hand-in-hand with Here, she also released a cinéma vérité-like short film, The Gospel, on YouTube that’s well worth watching:

About the only negative thing I can say of the album: the two songs she released earlier this year, “In Common” and “Hallelujah,” aren’t included.

Anyway, for today’s Top 5, I’m listing a few of my favorite Alicia Keys tracks, beginning with where it all began…

1) “Fallin’.” To my ears, Alicia’s 2001 debut, Songs in A Minor, is a solid set with glimmers of greatness. All the pieces are in place save one: consistency. That said, when it’s on, such as on this, the first single, it’s magnificent.

2) “If I Ain’t Got You.” The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003), her sophomore set, is a stronger album than predecessor, I think, but again lacks consistency. This song and “You Don’t Know My Name” are classics, though.

3) “No One.” Alicia’s third album, As I Am (2007), is another strong set that, like her first two albums, has some consistency issues – which, I should add, most modern albums do. (I blame the CD and its 80-minute length; back in the day, albums generally clocked in around 40 minutes, which meant only the absolute best songs made the cut.)

4) “Teenage Love Affair.” When I told Diane that I was putting together this list, she said to be sure to include this jewel from As I Am; I was planning to, anyway.

5) “Doesn’t Mean Anything.” My most-played Alicia album is The Element of Freedom (2009), which I’ve been known to play over and over again – in fact, I did just that last week, when I listened to it on my commute to work, while at work and then again on the ride home. And this song? It’s my absolute, all-time Alicia favorite…

6) “Empire State of Mind, Part II” …except for maybe this.

7) “Brand New Me.” Alicia’s fifth studio album, Girl on Fire, is another solid set accented by this song of rebirth.

And that’s that. Peace out.

 

Today’s Top 5: #Remember911

wtc82Every other day of the week, month, year and decade began the same as it did that Tuesday morning. I rolled out of bed, communed with the cat, made and drank coffee, and hopped online for a spell. That meant, at the time, checking my email, reading the latest digests from the Rust List and Lee Shore (Neil Young and CSN email groups), and then scanning the headlines on MSNBC (now NBCNews), CNN and the Philly Inquirer. It’s a routine I still keep, actually, though the email groups have been replaced by Facebook and, some days, Twitter.

Weather-wise, it was a nice late-summer/pre-fall day in the Delaware Valley; by the time I left for work, a few minutes before 9am, it was in the mid-60s. The car radio was tuned to KYW-1060, the all-news radio station; I hadn’t even backed out into the street before learning that a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. It was thought to have been a tragic accident involving a small plane. Minutes later, news broke that another plane had crashed into the south tower.

My main memory of the day: watching the tragedy unfold on a TV in the chief assignment editor’s high-walled cubicle office. It was beyond comprehension. It still is.

For today’s Top 5: #Remember911. The first four videos come from the America: A Tribute to Heroes broadcast, which aired 10 days later. The last comes from U2’s halftime performance at the 2002 Super Bowl.

1) Bruce Springsteen – “My City of Ruins”

2) Alicia Keys – “Someday We’ll All Be Free”

3) Dixie Chicks – “I Believe in Love”

4) Neil Young – “Imagine”

5) U2 – “Where the Streets Have No Name”

And two bonuses (also from America: A Tribute to Heroes)…

6) Mariah Carey – “Hero”

7) Sheryl Crow – “Safe and Sound”

Today’s Top 5: Cover Songs, Part Two

I’ve written before of my affinity for cover songs. There’s just something magical when a singer tackles a contemporary’s tune and/or digs deep into the charts of history to celebrate an influence. It sheds light on him or her, I think, in a way that one’s own work doesn’t.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, of course, cover songs were somewhat de rigueur. Many a Motown LP followed a simple pattern: the artist’s current single(s); versions of their stablemates’ hits; and renditions of Beatles’ songs and other current tunes. Gladys Knight & the Pips’ If I Were Your Woman album, from 1971, includes her renditions of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” for instance, and her Standing Ovation features her sultry take on Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

In today’s world, many an aspiring singer has a YouTube channel loaded with their renditions, many of them very good, of current and classic songs. I’m sidestepping that rabbit hole to focus primarily on artists who’ve released original works, however.

So, without further adieu, here’s today’s Top 5: Cover Songs, Part Two.

1)  Rumer – “Balance of Nature.” This is another tasty treat from the Brit singer-songwriter’s upcoming album, This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook. (It was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick for her 1972 Warner Brothers’ debut, Dionne.)

2) Rylie Bourne – “Fist City.” One of my favorite new artists shows off her roots with this rendition of the feisty Loretta Lynn classic.

3) The MonaLisa Twins – “God Only Knows.” So, above, I mentioned the rabbit hole of YouTube. The MonaLisa Twins, who I discovered courtesy of YouTube’s algorithms, are singing sisters from Austria who moved to Liverpool a few years back – and, man, what voices! This hails from their 2014 MonaLisa Twins Play Beatles & More album.

4) Paul Weller – “What’s Going On.” The “modfather” is joined by Lena Fiagbe for this cover of the timeless Marvin Gaye song.

5) Britta Phillips – “Drive.” A cover of the Cars’ song; a studio version can be found on her recent album, the sublime Luck or Magic.

And a few bonuses…

Elvis Presley – “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Presley expanded his Vegas sets with a plethora of contemporary tunes. This wondrous rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel chestnut comes from the That’s the Way It Is film, which documented his 1970 return to live performance in Las Vegas.

Alicia Keys – “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” Here’s Alicia from the America: A Tribute to Heroes TV special in 2001 performing a stirring rendition of the 1973 Donnie Hathaway classic.

Juliana Hatfield – “It Never Rains in Southern California.” A few years back, Juliana offered to record song requests for one of her PledgeMusic projects – for $1000 a pop, if my memory is correct. That was far and away out of my budget then, and still is now, but hey – someone ponied up the cash. Here’s one of them: a wistful version of the 1972 hit by Albert Hammond.