Remembering the Queen of Soul

Late last night Japan time, the world experienced the passing of a musical legend. Even before I was born, this legend was a staple of American popular music. In the 20th century and 21st century, you always heard one of her songs anywhere you went: on the TV, on the radio, and in the supermarket. She has been and still will be in the hearts of many. This legend is…

Aretha Franklin.

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J-R&B Goddesses SILVA, DOUBLE, and SUGARSOUL Come Together to Celebrate a Glorious Time

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The temps keep on soaring here in Japan, it was 104°F (around 32°C) on Friday! It feels even more horrible with this terrible cold I caught about a week ago. Thank goodness it’s the weekend where I can drink lots of Aquarius (a Japanese sports drink packed with electrolytes), medicine, and sleep under the air conditioner for long periods of time.

While I am laying in bed and trying to fend off this cold, my companion is Spotify. Song after song resonates from my iPhone as I lay down, closing my eyes to ward off the fatigue. When I am conscious, I check out the music sites I follow to see what got released recently. I jump out from bed in excited, ready to find their new song, when I see three names:

SILVA, Double, and Sugarsoul

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ATSUSHI from EXILE Covers a Recent Classic With Sincere Effort

This spring has brought out a handful of new releases as well as different takes on older hits. One such example is ATSUSHI (from EXILE)’s take on Bruno Mars’ debut song “The Way You Are”.

ATSUSHI is one of the current leading vocalists in the megahit boy group EXILE here in Japan. He got his start in 2001 when Hiro, a veteran performer who rose to fame in the early 1990s as a member of ZOO, asked him to join the newly formed group named J Soul Brothers. HIRO’s invitation came after seeing ATSUSHI’s audition on the legendary audition show ASAYAN. J Soul Brothers would later be renamed as EXILE with ATSUSHI penning lyrics for a lot of their hit tunes. Heard of “EXILE PRIDE (Konna Sekai wo Ai Suru Tame)”? “Rising Sun”? How about “Yasashii Hikari”? Yeah, those are a few of the many songs he wrote lyrics for.

The vocalist later went on to release his debut single in 2011, entitled “Itsuka Kitto…”. Being a vocalist AND a songwriter wasn’t enough for ATSUSHI. He also created groups like Deep, first as a member then as the producer. He later formed Red Diamond Dogs, which serves as his backing band whenever he goes on tour. In 2017, he announced that his activities in EXILE would  so he could focus more on international activities

That is where we come full circle with his latest release. Of course, he isn’t the only one in the EXILE tribe to be releasing covers of famous Western hits. GENERATIONS (from Exile Tribe) released a Best-Of album early this year that contained best hits (in two languages: Japanese and English) and covers, which one was the Jackson Sisters’ “I Believe in Miracles”

The covers that were performed by GENERATIONS and ATSUSHI have a similar issue: the lack of energy. I dislike the GENERATIONS’ cover of “I Believe in Miracles” and the reason why is that it sounds so boring. It’s like the main singer didn’t put enough soul. And instead, sounding like he was asleep when recording the song. That is the same for ATSUSHI’s cover of “The Way You Are”. Don’t get me wrong, ATSUSHI is a talented vocalist as well as a musician. But, this cover sounds so lackluster and boring. Like, there is no energy in the vocals, no feelings nor soul.

I appreciate ATSUSHI’s sincere efforts in trying to cover a Bruno Mars’ song. Furthermore, even to go as far to penning the Japanese lyrics himself. There are no snags with his translation of the songs. And, his approach of trying to convey the original message in his native language is pretty sincere. There is also no problem with his musicality or his skills. But, if he had to record this song over again, I would suggest that ATSUSHI put more soul/heart and feelings into the vocals (and more of what makes him, vocals and musicianship). Bring some “oomph” and life to the song while making it your own.

Here is the music video for the original version by Bruno Mars:

An Endearing Tune About a Mom’s Thankfulness

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A Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all the precious and hardworking moms out there! This post is dedicated to all the moms, especially my own mom.

Today’s post is brought to you by Cheryl Pepsii Riley. A New York native, Riley was a nurse while pursuing a side job of singing. She would sing at nightclubs, do community theater, and also be part of of a group called Stargaze during her free time. During this time, Full Force member Bowlegged Lou approached Riley with an offer to produce her singing career with a song called “I Wonder If I Take You Home” in 1984. But, Riley refused the song and Lou eventually gave the song to Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam, which was a huge hit for the group.

Regretting the decision of rejecting the succesful “I Wonder If I Take You Home”, Riley reached out to Lou again in order for him to write another song for her. Eventually, she hit success with one of her first singles, “Thank You For My Child”, in 1988 when it reached #1 on the R&B charts in the US. The song, written by Bowlegged Lou, was a mid-tempo ballad about Lou’s experience with his wife’s complications during her first pregnancy.[1]

Although Riley enjoyed the success of having her song top the charts, she continued her career as a nurse while releasing songs and other material. She released three albums, which the first one reached #18 on the charts, with semi-successful singles. However, she took a break from the musical industry after the release of her third album in 1993.

Riley reemerged in the late 90s and early 00s as an actress in a bunch of Tyler Perry’s plays. She also appeared in various film adaptations of Perry’s productions such as 2011’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family”.

“Thank You For My Child” starts off with a lento tempo. Only a series of triads and skeleton chords are played to support Riley during the first verse. The instrumentation rarely ever expands on those chords with the help of an 808 bass, Roland synthesizer, and electric piano. The instrumentation doesn’t gain memento until the last third of the song when the instruments plays a little bit more of recognizable melody. Although, one of my favorite parts of the song is when the electric piano plays an a sweet chordal progression when the song briefly switches to a minor key during the first verse.

Riley’s vocals is one of the pinnacle points of “Thank You For My Child”. Her voice is smooth yet just the right of powerful needed for this song. It’s a perfect fit for this inspirational ballad as it isn’t overpowering the backing instrumentation. It’s tone is pretty warm in order to help support and convey the song’s meaning in a motherly way. An example of this is found at the ending when Riley sings strong yet tender vocal runs.

The lyrics are another important point. It’s beautifully written as it told from a perspective of a single mother who cherishes and thanks the man above for her precious child. It is such an inspiration to mothers and non-mothers alike as anyone can relate this warm and caring thank you letter. If you have a chance, you should check them out on Genius.com to see how inspiring these lyrics are.

Moms, thank you for all what you do and loving your family unconditionally. You’re the true superheroes.


Credits

[1]  “Cheryl Pepsii Riley – Thanks For My Child.” Genius. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://genius.com/Cheryl-pepsii-riley-thanks-for-my-child-lyrics)

“Wild Women Do” A Natalie Cole Tribute

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It is really sad when a shining star in the music industry dies out, especially a legend like Natalie Cole. I can admit that I have barely listened to anything by her. Maybe because I am not a big fan of the classic jazz type of music that her, her dad, and many others were famous for. I am more of the modern smooth jazz from the 80’s and 90’s.

I discovered a song, called “Wild Women Do”, that she contributed to the blockbuster film Pretty Women while watching the film about a year ago. I recently was able to buy the soundtrack at a local discount store and one the first songs I listened to was Natalie Cole’s. It’s my favorite tune off the soundtrack due to how brash, in a good way, and tough the song’s character is. And, it’s all thanks to how Natalie’s soulful yet aggressive vocal style helps to paint this “tough girl” attitude, something alike to the personality of Julia Roberts’ character in the movie. My favorite line in the whole song is “Well, let me tell you something, little boy” because Cole sings in a cynical style, just like the mannerism of Roberts’ character.

“Wild Women Do” is a perfect blend of R&B, pop, a little soul, and rock with it’s aggressive “I don’t take jack” approach about women who live life on the wild side (or prostitutes). I think I might have to start 2016 off by listening to more of Cole’s works that are like this one. And maybe, someday, I will get to her more profound and earlier works. But right now, I am going to jam to “Wild Women Do” and you should too.

The Shocking Tunes of the Season: Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own”

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What do Donald Trump and Bobby Brown have in common?

No, no! It doesn’t have to do with Trump running for United States President next year. Think waaaaaaaay back, about twenty-six years ago. Still don’t know the answer?

Welllllllllllll…. Ghostbusters, of course!

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“Gasp!”

“On Our Own” was a Babyface and LA Reid produced song, sung by Bobby Brown, that served as the theme for the film Ghostbusters II. Nothing like the original theme song by Ray Parker Jr., “On Our Own” still captures the original theme’s concept of a lively dance beat that features lyrics about a team.

As much as “Ghostbusters” is a loveable classic, I really enjoy listening to “On Our Own” because I am huge sucker for new jack swing, 80s’ R&B, and anything by Babyface. I think what I like best from this song is Babyface’s smooth and sultry backing vocals, Bobby’s “on the edge” rapping skills, and the song’s flow. What else is great is how the producers combined the jolting synthesizers bits from the electronica genre with the bass line that is akin to funk music. Finally,I like the pre-chorus that involves an interesting sub-melody by a classical piano with a guest solo appearance from that funky bass line.

The music video presented a pretty cool concept. It features numerous scenes around New York City that highlights Bobby Brown, the back-up dancers, and various scenes from Ghostbusters II on buildings, billboards, and so on. While the music video does have various celebrities taking notice to the “photo-shopped” videos, it also featuring everyday New Yorkers just strolling by, enamored to the movie clips that are somehow playing on these buildings. Of course, the delightful appearance of Rick Moranis is always a treat!

So if you feel like rapping these lines “So they packed up their group, got a grip, came equipped, grabbed they Proton packs off their back and they split”, check the video below.

Four Colourz – “ABCD”

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Long time, no see! I am sorry for not updating for a week or so. I usually curl up next to the space heater after work on very cold winter nights, unexpectedly falling asleep for long periods of time. Lame, isn’t it? This week’s weather is forecasted to be spring-like here in Japan. Maybe I will be lucky and I wouldn’t have to use a heater.

But enough of the excuses, let’s talk more about music! What do you remember about the late 90s and early 2000s in the music world? Do you remember those influx of girl groups and boy bands from every corner of the world? Ok, ok! Maybe not “every corner of the world”, but it did feel like it! With any kind of band coming from Europe, the UK, US, and Canada, you might of have felt a bit overwhelmed when choosing who to follow. I did! I always had to choose between being a Backstreet Boys fan or a *Nsync fan when discussing who my friends and I loved during lunch in middle school. Luckily, I found a loophole and admitted that I loved the bad boys from the UK, 5ive. ❤

Four Colourz is one of those girl groups.. Formed in late 1999, Four Colourz was a quartet with members Kara, Claire, Tierra and Nraca/R-Ca, They started to record their first album, “FourColourz.com”, in the early part of 2000. To promote this album, they were the opening act for the European leg of P. Diddy’s tour while releasing four singles: “Wait”, “Anything”, “ABCD”, and “Dog Me Out”. The girls found minor success in Europe, especially in their home country of Germany. But it wasn’t enough as the girls disappeared off the music radar a year after their debut. It is currently unknown what the girls are up to now; are they still in the entertainment industry or did they retire to a “normal” life?

Luckily, their music is still roaming around the internet for all to enjoy this talented group. You can hear their beautiful yet sassy voices the best in their second single “ABCD”. Although it’s a typical “pop meets R&B from those days”-type of song,  it really does fit the girls’ voice wonderfully. The magic of this song comes from the solo lines, where each girl gets to show off their unique vocals, and in the chorus parts with the girls blending together to create a unified sound. I honestly can’t choose from Claire’s sultry vocals or Tierra’s sweet ones. But, what makes it more memorable is the beat and the melody; creating a high-energy, get up and bounce jam.

If you liked Destiny’s Child, 3LW/Cheetah Girls, or Mis-Teeq, then Four Colourz is for you! With a pinch of sugar, spice, sass, and everything kinda nice, “ABCD” is an unforgettable jam that might have you arbitrary humming parts of the chorus anywhere.