What Once Was (Album Review) – Lee Dewyze

After winning American Idol’s 9th season, Lee Dewyze struggled to find his sound in a music industry that creates a niche for artists and traps them in it. With his newest offering, What Once Was, Dewyze is going back to basics – literally. This album is a collection of recordings that he had finished prior to his participation in American Idol, between 2006 and 2010.

The album was independently recorded with WuLi records prior to Lee’s participation in American Idol and until recently, the songs were unheard of. But that is no longer the case.

What Once Was isn’t produced by a major label and as such, it is unpolished and organic and rough. This feel clearly translates to song. But it works to a certain extent, giving the album a somewhat refreshing feel.

On “Snaps,” the collection’s opening song, Lee bemuses “come with me and I’ll take away to a place where only flowers and the children play. You’re alone but it feels so right. You can bathe in the sun or dance in the moonlight….” Snaps is also the album’s most interesting and engaging song. The finger snaps in the background help to that effect of it being the catchiest song on this record.

On “Fallen,” Dewyze croons the heartfelt chorus before shaking it up with a rocking sound on “Princess Reprise.

When She Dances” features an exotic, latin feel as Dewyze sings about how infatuated he is by the girl in question.

Overall, What Once Was is a collection of songs that showcase Dewyze as a credible songwriter and performer. Fans of the American Idol will find something in the 9 songs EP for their taste. Overall, however, the EP feels like it’s lacking an extra punch, after a successful start with “Snaps.”

Perhaps that is why Lee had a hard time finding a record label prior to American Idol – the overall feel of the songs is amateurish at some points. However, the sound conveyed through the songs is promising. It will be interesting to see which sound Lee Dewyze adopts for his upcoming full feature album, after being released from his contract with RCA.

Either way, he is a talented young man and this EP sure proves that.

6.5/10

The full track-listing:

1 – Snaps

2 – Never There

3 – Maybe I Might

4 – Fallen

5 – Princess Reprise

6 – When She Dances

7 – Green With Me

8 – Worth Waiting

9 – Bridge Burns

 

Advertisements

Carrie Underwood & Steven Tyler Rocking CMT Crossroads

For those who thought Carrie Underwood didn’t have it in her, she just proved you wrong. Carrie Underwood not only shone next to Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, she also gave him a run for his money. Not only was the CMT Crossroads featuring both stars spectacular, it was also very rocking.

Prior to the show, Steven Tyler had said Carrie Underwood was the reason he joined the American Idol judging panel:

“You were why I took judging for ‘Idol,’ you are exactly why. Not only could you sing good, but you adapted to this…it’s a pit! It’s a deep, dark, ominous pit. And you get out there on-stage at night with that band, that great band you’ve got and you make people feel happy, first and foremost. All the rest, if people knew what we went through to get out on that stage… you have gotten past that and not a lot of people do – they have to get through drugs and alcohol, booze and divorces and even those didn’t make it. You were a natural at it.”

Carrie, in her turn, replied that Tyler was one of her inspirations growing up:

“I remember as a very small child, I could pick your voice out. Even then, you know that it’s different, you know that it’s special and can pick it out from a million other voices. You were definitely part of what gave me that musical, laid-back, in-the-pocket sensibility on albums and stuff like that.”

So without further ado, the videos:

Cryin’:

Dream On/Just a Dream:

Before He Cheats:

Undo It/Walk This Way:

 

 

Stronger (Album Review) – Kelly Clarkson

I’ve been a Kelly Clarkson fan since her Breakaway days. It’s probably her success that introduced me to American Idol – and ultimately my favorite artist Carrie Underwood.

Stronger is Kelly Clarkson’s fifth studio album and the follow up to All I Ever Wanted, which she released in 2009. Two years later, she is on the music scene again: promos, singles on radios and the rest of the shenanigans. But things drastically changed since 2009. Radio is obviously not as receptive anymore even though –  granted – her debut single “Mr. Know It All” was drastically different than the pop jam “My Life Would Suck Without You,” which I prefer.

Does Stronger live up to the hype set up for it by Kelly’s fans, numerous leaks over the course of several months and Kelly herself who stated this is her “strongest” album yet? The answer is a succinct no.

Stronger starts with Mr. Know It All – a song about a guy who thought he knew everything there is to know about the girl but she’s telling him otherwise. As I said in my review of the song, it’s not necessarily a bad song. It’s not what I would have envisioned as a strong debut single and its performance on the charts and iTunes, compared to Kelly’s previous lead single, proves my point so far.

The second song on the album, and the announced second single, is “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)“, the most obvious pop smash on the album. The Nietzsche-“inspired” single has Kelly belting out the chorus at full force: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller, doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone!”

Stronger then delivers one of its better songs with “Dark Side,” a solemn song about a girl professing to the guy and asking him if he could love her even though she had a dark side: “Everybody’s got a dark side. Do you love me? Can you love mine?”

Honestly” is another of the album’s better songs – and one of its highlight ballads. You can feel the anguish on the song as Kelly sings: “Would you face me, make me listen to the truth even it breaks me? You can judge me, love me. If you’re hating me, do it honestly.” It’s a song about regret, about a love lost and you can feel the emotions on it. The transition from delicate to intense vocals on “Honestly” is captivating.

You Love Me” has a 80’s reminiscent beat going for it. It’s Kelly’s reply to a guy who thought she wasn’t good enough for him. “You didn’t let me down. You didn’t tear me apart. You just opened my eyes while breaking my heart. You didn’t do it for me; I’m not as dumb as you think, you just made me cry by claiming that you love me, you love me, you love me.”

Einstein” is a song with an interesting concept and catchy beat. But ultimately, it comes out as a little silly. It’s basically a giant mathematical equation where Kelly is telling the guy that she “may not be Einstein but I know dumb + dumb = you.”

Standing In Front of You” has an ethereal feel to it. It’s a ballad that is not as strong as “Honestly.” I found myself enjoying the melody and the tone of the verses much more than the chorus, which has a very subdued feel to it, making the song definitely skippable.

I Forgive You” is another uptempo. However, unlike the catchy “What Doesn’t Kill You,” I cannot wrap my head around this and it’s not catchy enough for it to stick without me wanting it to. The lyrics are a mess as well. “I forgive you, I forgive me. Now when do I start to feel again? Cause the lights are on but I’m never home. But I’ll be back with a brand new attitude, cause I forgive you.”

The album then proceeds with a “Hello,” a song where the lyrics are quite dark but the melody is a happy uptempo. It’s a song about loneliness – even among people. “Hello, is anybody listening?” Kelly asks. “It’s everyone that’s calling me. Won’t somebody show me that I’m not alone?

On “The War Is Over,” Kelly is facing the guy who doesn’t deserve him telling him that the war between them is over. It’s the perfect song to tell anyone they don’t deserve you. “All I have to say is you don’t deserve me. I’m finally walking away cause you’ll only hurt me,” she sings. “And I won’t let you pull me in because I know you’re gonna win. The war is over, the war is over…”

Let Me Down” is another highlight of the song for me. Sure, it’s a typical pop song. But it’s insanely catchy. It sticks halfway through your first listen of the chorus and stays there. “You’re only gonna let down. When it counts, you countdown,” Kelly fiercely sings. “You’re only gonna me turn me out. As I burn, you burn out. You’re only gonna make me feel so crazy but when I think we can be something, you go ahead and let me down.”

You Can’t Win” is about a girl who can’t win when it comes to men, about how everything she does comes back to bite her. It’s a clever little song with an interesting drum-based beat behind it. The cleverest line? “If you’re straight, why aren’t you married yet? If you’re gay, why aren’t you waving a flag?”

The last song on the album’s standard version is another ballad titled “Breaking Your Own Heart” and it has the crystal clear Kelly vocals with her head voice moments that I love. The problem with this song as an album closer is that it goes nowhere and doesn’t serve as a really strong closer. I prefer the verses to the chorus. “Too many tears, too many falls,” she sings, “it’s easier here behind these walls. But you don’t have to walk in the shadows when life is so hard. Breaking your own heart, taking it too far down the lonely road…”

The Deluxe version of the album has four extra songs, one of which being Kelly’s country duet with Jason Aldean: “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” the best song out of bunch – and not really hers. In fact, the closing song on the deluxe version, “The Sun Will Rise” should have replaced “Breaking Your Own Heart” as the closing song on the regular edition of the album.

It could be that I think Kelly’s talent is too great for her to make such an album but I’m definitely disappointed by “Stronger.” The lyrics are more often than not cliched and the melodies too familiar. It could be that after the Adele invasion of US pop radio, I thought someone with Kelly’s vocal chops would make an album of the level of epicness that is in 21 – one that represents her life as it is. But alas, Stronger falls to the same issue with almost every other pop artist today: making an album that is catchy enough while staying artistically relevant. In Kelly’s case, the album has its shining moments here and there. But on the overall, it falls short from expectations, especially after having such high expectations from an artist that I cannot but respect especially after giving the world songs like the epic “Already Gone,” “Because of You,” etc…

While the marketing strategy has not been all over the place as it was with her previous two albums: she is actively promoting it, going on TV shows, countering the leaks with song uploads to YouTube, etc… I hope this album does well on the charts for Kelly because I truly want to see her succeed. Hopefully for her next album, she’ll have enough room to maneuver around the tight boundaries set by her label and make an album that truly represents her artistically – one that isn’t coloring by numbers to get a radio hit here or a cool video concept there. I also have hope that Texan Kelly Clarkson would fuse more country music in her upcoming albums because that is a genre where she can truly shine, as was obvious on her duet with Jason Aldean.

Should you buy Stronger when it comes out on October 24th? It’s not a bad album per se, but if you’re a casual Kelly Clarkson fan more into her “Already Gone“s than her “Since You Been Gone“s, you will find little solace on “Stronger.” For many, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when you see her cover songs like Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t” and make a great job at it, it’s tough to see such talent wasted on songs like many of the ones on “Stronger,” an album I’ve had for a few days now and don’t find myself interested in listening to in its entirety. Now many people will feel the same – and that is a bad thing.

Songs to download: What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger), Dark Side, Let Me Down, Honestly.

Wildflower (Album Review) – Lauren Alaina

Lauren Alaina’s greatest challenge with her debut album was to deliver something that represented both her young age, appealing to listeners her age, and to which older listeners could also relate.

With the release of her first album, Wildflower, she does just that. Showcasing her young, vibrant personality, she doesn’t shy away from discussing complex themes. Her approach to the love theme is not just fairytales and princes à la Taylor Swift, the soulfulness of her voice adds depth to all her songs.

The album opens up with a highly catchy uptempo and Lauren’s second single “Georgia Peaches,” her ode to her home state’s girls. “Well, our shorts a little shorter,” she sings, “’cause the sun’s a little hotter, sippin’ lemonade while we’re playing in the water. Ain’t nothing sweeter than us Georgia peaches.”

She proceeds with the midtempo “Growing Out Her Wings,” where she sings playfully about growing up in the shade of overprotective parents, without being overly critical about it. In fact, she doesn’t criticize. She sings how they got “her whole life on lockdown, doing time behind her bedroom door… dreaming ’bout the girl she’s gonna be, growing her wings.”

The third song is “Tupelo,” a well written remembrance to a summer road trip with a loved one, all the way down to Tupelo. While Lauren needs a few years to nail the sultriness of the chorus, she will definitely get there. And “Tupelo” remains a very enjoyable song.

The album then proceeds to a a very inspirational ballad called “The Middle” about making the best of the time you have. It is the album’s first track where Lauren Alaina’s emotions shine as she tries to convey the message she’s beginning to learn herself. And she does convey the message at hand, which makes the overall feat even more impressive. “The day you’re born is a start,” she sings, “your last breath is a question mark. The story of your life is in the in between.”

Like My Mother Does” is the album’s first single, released soon after the American Idol finale and it is about a girl being thankful to her mother. It is a highly emotional song that is bound to get anyone smiling, with their mother’s face flashing before their eyes. “When I love, I give it all I’ve got like my mother does. When I’m scared, I bow my head and pray like my mother does. When I’m weak and unpretty, I know I’m beautiful and strong because I see myself like my mother does.”

The album’s title is based on the song “She’s a Wildflower,” an uptempo about a girl that did not fit in, dreading going on with her life because of the taunting, not knowing that “she’s a wildflower, just waitin’ on the winds of change to blow.”

On the uptempo “I’m Not One Of Them,” Lauren Alaina is telling the boy she wants to date that many girls “might fall for what you got but I’m not one of them.”

And then comes one of the album’s true highlights and a song that will leave you mesmerized: “The Locket.” “Back in ’41, you met a brown-eyed boy, who called you pretty,” she sings. “He’d walk every day, couple miles out of his way to hold your hand and keep you company… he gave you his picture in a locket that you wore around your neck. Left it right beside your heart so you would not forget the way it felt when he held your hand.” The song then proceeds, two years later, and the boy left for war, swearing he’d marry the girl and as she cried while he rode away, she clutched the picture in her locket so she wouldn’t forget how he kissed her, how he spent time with her. 60 years later, the girl is struggling to remember. She’s a grandmother now, her granddaughter by her side writing down her memories of the man she spent 60 years with and who left her two month prior. “And it breaks my heart to see you struggle to remember. I’ve been writing your memories down and I stopped by today to read a couple pages. Grandma, you sure look pretty. And you smiled that smile, the one I haven’t seen in a quite a while. And you said to me I want you to keep his picture in the locket that I wore around my neck, the one I left beside my heart so I wouldn’t forget…”

Following up “The Locket” is the album’s second highlight, the Carrie Underwood co-written midtempo: Eighteen Inches,” about a young couple who elopes to California. “Eighteen Inches” delivers the album’s strongest hook in the form of the chorus: “Cause when you’re young and in love, you might do some things that don’t seem all that smart. Cause there ain’t no greater distance than the eighteen inches from your head to your heart.” The song features Carrie Underwood’s preferred narrative style of having three parts to the story in three different verses. And while the song wouldn’t have worked for Carrie’s albums, it sure works for Lauren. She doesn’t romanticize their decision. She doesn’t judge them either, which is surely helped by the lyrics. But Lauren’s delivery helps as well. It is Lauren’s youthful innocence that colors this song.

“Eighteen Inches” is followed up by the uptempo “One of the Boys” where Lauren Alaina lays our her preference: “he ain’t too pretty, he ain’t too sweet. A little rough around the edges, cute and country just like me. One of those t-shirt, blue jean wearin’, riverside Saturday night and Sunday mornin’ church kinda goin’ boys.”

“Funny Thing About Love” is a song co-written by Lauren Alaina. Co-writer Luke Laird and Brett James said how she came to them and wanted to write a song about how complicated love can be for her age: “you used to want me but I didn’t want you. Now I want you but you don’t want me. Why can’t our two hearts just make up their minds and want the same thing at the same time.” What’s interesting about this song is Lauren Alaina’s candid approach to the topic at hand. At one point, she sings: “we were best friends until I kissed you. You know you liked it and I did too. As soon as you admit you’re crazy about me, I’m off and running…” While the first verse is the weakest part of the song, Lauren’s conviction while singing it is enough to deliver this song.

And the album concludes with “Dirt Road Prayer,” a prayer to a girl’s family members: her mother, father, brother, grandfather… There’s an element of vulnerability to this that makes it a highlight. It’s a reach out to those family members to feel close again. It’s a reach out to God so He protect them.

Wildflower” is a very strong album. Debut or no debut. Many country artists, regardless of age, would readily give an arm or a leg to have the caliber of songwriters and artists that worked on Lauren Alaina’s album. Her talent shines through on each track and gives the listener – regardless of age – a highly joyful experience that will fluctuate between getting you emotional to making you smile. The album is safely country-pop. It has a healthy dose of both. Those who watched American Idol will recognize Lauren Alaina’s personality on the album. Those who have not will hear a strong young lady, who knows what she wants and who knows exactly where she wants her career to go. Her songs are rooted in reality. They revolve around friend, family, heartache.

If this is an indication of how Lauren Alaina’s career will unfold, I think country music listeners are in for a treat.

1+1 (Single Review) – Beyonce

After the horrid Run The World, Beyonce has unveiled another song off her upcoming album “4”. The song was performed live on the finale of American Idol in what could be described as an emotional performance where Beyonce gave her all to get across the song titled “1+1”.

Don’t let the urban-styled title fool you. This is not a song about math, nor is it about dancing or anything with street-cred. It’s about love, as simple as that. Beyonce’s vocals, though somewhat harsh (as in too overpowered) at some points of the song, are very good, as she usually is on ballads (Halo, If I Were A Boy, Listen are three impeccable songs that come to mind).

Beyonce starts: I don’t much know much about algebra, but I know 1+1 equals two and it’s me and you. That’s all we got when the world is through… because we got nothing but love. It is an interesting approach to the subject matter, to say the least. She later draws a resemblance with guns as well to get her point across before going into deep calls to “make love to [her]”.

Moreover, the song has basic instrumentation: they’re not very complicated, compared to other songs currently released, which leaves more focus on the lyrics and Beyonce to masterfully deliver the song.

1+1 is a song that is confusing to judge. Why so? because as a song in itself, it holds its own. It does its job of delivering the message clearly (and I do mean that literally, Beyonce’s pronunciation is somewhat impeccable) and it shows a different sound that Beyonce is definitely trying to introduce this era. But does it work as her follow-up single, as revealed by Ryan Seacrest on American Idol, to Run The World? Definitely not.

Beyonce is going way off mainstream with her releases so far and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Adele’s Rolling In The Deep is also not really mainstream and it’s currently the biggest song in the US. So an artist can go on the radio wild-side, so to speak, with good enough material. This is not good enough material. It’s good, but not that good.

And since Beyonce needed a radio-friendly single to help salvage what’s rest of her attempt to have a successful album launch, 1+1 fails at presenting her with a better launch pad for her upcoming work. Moreover, 1+1 does not feel very structured as a song. It’s very hard to see yourself finding this song “catchy” enough, even for a ballad, for you to sing to.

I hope Ryan Seacrest misspoke when he said this is Beyonce’s next single. It’s a good song that should be left where it belongs: as an album cut, on an album that is shaping up to be a huge let-down, both musically and from a marketing perspective, after a great era: I Am Sasha Fierce.

Scotty McCreery Wins American Idol

Scotty McCreery winning American Idol is as surprising as someone finding out China has the world’s biggest population. Yes, it was that predictable.

And even though I voted thirteen times for Lauren Alaina all the way from Lebanon (yes, I outsmarted the American Idol geographical limitation system), it obviously wasn’t enough when you have more than 122 million votes cast for American Idol’s biggest finale, voting-wise, ever!

Both Scotty and Lauren sang with their idols on the finale, Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood, respectively. The finale also featured performances by Steven Tyler, U2, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Tony Bennett (who sang with top 3 Haley Reinhart), Judas Priest (who sang with top 4 James Durbin).

I had said before that Lauren needed to win more than Scotty but it doesn’t matter now. Apparently, they’re in a relationship since they went all kissy-kissy after Scotty won, which means Scotty should help Lauren when she tries to crack the country music scene. Win-win situation apparently.

Lauren Alaina, who was sure Scotty will win, said Carrie Underwood told her, prior to their Before He Cheats performance that “no matter what Lauren, you’re a winner and you’re going to be amazing in the country field.”

Scotty McCreery was loyal to the country genre since day one. He captivated audiences with his audition (my twitter timeline, filled with Country music loyalists was raving about him) and week by week, even when challenged with other genres, he made those songs his own, adding a country twist to them. Is it my cup of tea? sometimes yes, sometimes no. But the majority of those millions that voted like him, apparently.

After winning, and the need to constantly smile for camera snapshots coming in from everywhere, Scotty was asked by Carrie Underwood if his cheeks had started hurting yet. But apparently, he won’t be smiling for long. Why? the poor thing has an exam tomorrow. Talk about something raining on your parade.

Either way, I, for one, was happy with an all country finale since that’s my favorite genre. And whoever won would have been a good addition to the genre. They’re both very young with lots to give. Let’s wish them prosperous careers. Whose career am I more excited for, though? Lauren Alaina.

American Idol 10 – Lauren Alaina & Scotty McCreery

I haven’t followed American Idol closely this season so I decided to sit out becoming a supporter of a candidate as long as possible. However, the finale is getting nearer and I’ve finally chosen the person I choose to support: Lauren Alaina.

With an all country music finale, I honestly couldn’t be happier. Scotty McCreery is a great performer and he has a brilliant twang to his voice. I can see him get far. But Scotty doesn’t need to win to be able to crack the country music scene.

Country music is known to be a mostly male-dominated business. People get too excited when they see two songs by females artists together in the top 10, let alone when a female artist gets a series of number one singles, something which is very natural when a male artist is involved. So Scotty, if he chooses the proper songs, will definitely be successful in the business. He’s already getting radio stations to talk about him. They’re going crazy for McCreery.

Lauren Alaina, however, needs to win if she wants to make it in that business. Sure, you have the exceptions (Kelly Pickler, anyone? though it’s not like she’s smashing records left and right) but with the hype from being the second female country artist to win American Idol, it should be enough to get her first single to do well on radio, giving her enough momentum to launch. If she becomes simply an American Idol runner up, she’d be at a serious disadvantage.

I see both of them having great careers. But in the country music scene, Scotty, at least to me, is a rehash of already present country artists. How many Josh Turners, Kenny Chesneys, Tim McGraws and Jason Aldeans do you want?

Lauren Alaina, however, is different. She has the potential to add something to the genre: another successful female to shuffle the competition. And the fact that no female has won American Idol since its seventh season is a rather daunting fact.

It’s interesting to note, however, that both of them are still very young and have plenty of room to grow. Lauren and Scotty are only 16 years old. Are they ready to enter such a brutal genre at this time? I’m not too sure about that. Let’s just wait and see.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with my favorite Lauren Alaina performances:

And she actually took on a Carrie Underwood song, so extra credit for her!

Scotty and Lauren have also had many great duets together, the best one being this:

At the end of the day, both of them are great and they both deserve to win. It’s simply a matter of preference and I prefer Lauren.