By Gregg Shapiro

 

1977 was the year that one-hit wonder Debby Boone spent ten weeks in the number one spot on the Billboard charts with her syrupy sweet hit single “You Light Up My Life”. It was also the last time that rock, disco and punk could be described as peacefully co-existing Three albums from that transitional year have been reissued in fancy and fantastic expanded box sets to commemorate the 40th anniversary of each.

 

In some ways, with their involvement in the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, the Bee Gees simultaneously celebrated disco while forever changing their own creative history. Prior to SNF, the Bee Gees (Gibb brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice) were an Australian pop trio who owed a considerable debt to the Beatles. This is especially true of the first chapter of their career during the mid-to-late 1960s. For a variety of personal and professional reasons, the Bee Gees were more or less absent from stateside radio until 1975 and the release of Main Course, successfully launching their second, R&B-influenced, chapter with a trio of hits – “Jive Talking”, “Nights on Broadway” and “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)”. The follow-up album, 1976’s Children of the World, was particularly momentous because of the straightforward disco tune “You Should Be Dancing”, which would soon resurface in Saturday Night Fever.

 

If you can’t decide which is more essential, the movie or the soundtrack, the Saturday Night Fever: Super Deluxe (Capitol/UMe) solves that problem for you. Included in the attractively-packaged box set you will find two versions of the soundtrack. The first is the double LP set, restoring the music to its original vinyl setting. The double CD compresses the entire soundtrack onto one disc and includes a second disc of Serban Ghenea mixes of “Stayin’ Alive”, “Night Fever”, “How Deep Is Your Love” and “You Should Be Dancing”.

There is also a Blu-ray disc containing the director’s cut of the film. Directed by John Badham, it was the movie that earned John Travolta his first Oscar nomination, and showed off his dancing skills (as well as his assets in black briefs and tight polyester pants). Considering that disco was born in gay clubs, and continued to thrive there long after various backlashes, including Chicago’s humiliating 1979 “Disco Demolition”, Saturday Night Fever was shockingly homophobic. Producer Robert Stigwood was a gay man, but that didn’t prevent anti-gay remarks, including one aimed at David Bowie, from making its way into the film.

Additional goodies include a movie poster, stills, a “story behind the movie” booklet and a turntable mat with the Saturday Night Fever logo. Mirror balls are sold separately.

 

Like the Bee Gees, Queen was a band that had distinctive periods in its career; from progenitors of British prog and metal to rock operetta and glam and eventually to pure pop, even incorporating elements of dance music. Queen already had substantial hits under its low-slung, jewel-encrusted belt, including “Killer Queen”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Somebody To Love”, when it released News of the World in 1977.

 

 

 

 

 

The robotic monster on the album cover is a perfect illustration of the force Queen would unleash with the album. News of the World: 40thAnniversary Edition (Hollywood Records), features a “new pure analogue cut” of the vinyl LP, three CDs including the 2011 Bob Ludwig Master, an 11-track disc of “Raw Sessions” as well as a 19-track disc of “Bonus Tracks” and the DVD documentary The American Dream. The album opens with the semi-linked tracks “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. Queen probably didn’t realize the way these songs would become ingrained in contemporary culture. “Sheer Heart Attack” (also the name of the band’s 1974 album) came close to capturing the punk spirit of the time. “All Dead, All Dead”, “Spread Your Wings” and “My Melancholy Blues” fit well into Queen’s trademark blend of rock and theater, whereas “Get Down, Make Love” hinted at an experimental side.

 

The handsomely assembled Queen package also includes marvelous ephemera, such as a reproduction of the original Elektra Records press kit (including 8X10 pics), three posters, stickers, an “all-access” laminate and 60-page book. Sadly, the gay Mercury’s untimely passing in 1991 silenced one of the greatest voices and most magnetic personalities that rock music has ever seen or hear.

 

Back in the mid-to-late `70s period in the burgeoning world of punk rock, it was not uncommon for bands to put out albums in close succession. Talking Heads, Blondie, The Clash and Elvis Costello are a few good examples. So are the Ramones, whose debut album was released in 1976, followed soon after by two albums in 1977. Leave Home: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Sire/Rhino), the first of the Ramones’ two 1977 albums, has been reissued in a deluxe limited-edition package. The set includes Ed Stasium’s remastered stereo version and a 40th anniversary mix of the original album on 180-gram vinyl as well as on CD. It includes Ramones standards such as “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment”, “Oh, Oh I Love Her So”, “Glad To See You Go”, “Pinhead”, “I Remember You”, “Swallow My Pride” and “Suzy Is A Headbanger”.  A second disc features the Sundragon Rough Mixes and 14 tracks under the heading of “40th Anniversary Extras”. The third disc boasts a 1977 concert recorded live at CBGB.

Rayvon Owen

 

Photo: Shannon Bray

 

Growing up African-American and gay in a super conservative and religious Southern region, Rayvon Owen struggled with his own identity and liberal views. Ultimately, it was also the driving force that shaped him into an incredible artist and activist who campaigns for LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, and for people to accept and love themselves and others around them.

 

After moving to LA, the death of a close friend struggling to come to terms with their own identity shattered Rayvon and had him contemplating his own true self. Around the same time, he fell in love, and those two events seemed to Rayvon like the universe was trying to tell him something.

 

So, when Rayvon released his first track “Can’t Fight It,” he also chose the occasion to come out as gay in the video. Despite losing some people from his life, he’s said that the outpouring of support he received was overwhelming: “Coming out and accepting myself for who I am was one of the most liberating and life-changing experiences for me.”

 

Today, he’s living his dream making music in LA and hanging out with Demi Lovato, DMC, and mentor Lionel Richie (check out his star-studded Insta!).

 

Rayvon’s new track, “Volume” is another insight into his journey of discovery. It’s a self-empowerment anthem that urges you to embrace who you are, reminding you not to change for anyone. As Rayvon explains, “When I co-wrote “Volume,” I had been going through some difficult times with being accepted by friends, family, the music industry, and yes—even myself. Working with co-writers and producers The Gifted on this song was inspiring, and the writing process was very therapeutic for me. The lyrics morphed into an anthem about self-encouragement and reminded me to stay true to who I was and never be afraid to speak up for what I believe in. I hope this song does the same for you.”

Check out Rayvon Owen’s “Volume” on soundcloud.com/rayvonowen/volume, and follow him @rayvonowen.

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Depending on your generational perspective, the late soul goddess Minnie Riperton is either the mother of actress/singer/SNL alum Maya Rudolph or the singer with the five-octave vocal range best known for the timeless 1975 hit single “Lovin’ You”, co-written by Riperton and her husband Richard Rudolph. You can hear Riperton, who died of cancer in 1979 at 31, paying a “lovin’” homage to her daughter Maya at the end of “Lovin’ You”. The double-disc deluxe edition expanded reissue of Perfect Angel (Capitol/UMe), Riperton’s second album and the one on which “Lovin’ You” can be found, is a long overdue celebration of an artist we lost too soon. Riperton and Rudolph co-wrote seven of the songs on the original album, including the standouts “Reasons”, “The Edge of a Dream”, “It’s So Nice (To See Old Friends) and “Our Lives”. The presence of Stevie Wonder, playing electric piano and harmonica, as well as contributing the title track and “Take A Little Trip”, only served to increase Riperton’s artistic and hip factors. The abundant bonus material includes 11 additional tracks that go a long way in further cementing the album’s legendary status.

 

 

 

No, you’re not hearing things. That’s the Ramones’ cover of “Little Bit O’ Soul” playing in the Fidelity Investments commercial. Yes, we’ve gotten to that point in our culture. Nevertheless, that should not diminish our appreciation of the American punk progenitors, who, in 1977 released two (!) phenomenal albums. Rocket to Russia (Sire/Rhino), the second of the two, has been reissued in a limited edition 40th anniversary deluxe edition, and contains Ramones classics such as “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”, “Rockaway Beach”, “Teenage Lobotomy”, “Cretin Hop”, the queer “We’re A Happy Family” and the band’s distinctive covers of “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Surfin’ Bird”. The reissue consists of engineer/mixer Ed Stasium’s remastered original and tracking mix on disc one, two dozen bonus cuts on disc two and a previously unreleased 1977 live recording from a concert in Glasgow, Scotland, and the original LP on 180-gram vinyl.

 

 

 

 

Would the Ramones have existed without The Who? After all, The Who’s teen/counterculture anthem “My Generation” has been cited by some as one of the first punk rock songs. “My Generation” is one of 86-tracks to be found on the five-disc The Who box set Maximum As & Bs: The Complete Singles (Polydor/UMC). Each of the singles, including “I Can’t Explain”, “Substitute”, “I Can See For Miles”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Join Together”, “Squeeze Box”, “Who Are You”, “You Better You Bet” and “Eminence Front”, is immediately followed by the B-side, many of which are not heard very often. The box set also includes a booklet featuring photos, memorabilia and track-by-track annotation.

 

 

 

 

In the late `60s and early `70s, The Who’s Roger Daltrey probably got a lot of attention from gay fans due to his stunning physique – smooth, pumped up pecs and rippling abs. Years later, sneering bleached-blonde Billy Idol, who started out in the punk band Generation X, gained a reputation for putting his shirtless body on display. Why not? He was in good shape, especially for a punk rock/new wave guy. Idol’s first two albums – his eponymous 1982 debut and 1983’s Rebel Yell (both on Chrysalis/Capitol/UMe) – have been reissued on high-quality vinyl, along with the two-LP hits compilation Idolize Yourself: The Very Best of Billy Idol(Capitol/UMe). Listeners can expect to find songs such as “White Wedding”, “Hot In the City”, “Eyes Without a Face”, “Flesh For Fantasy”, “Dancing With Myself”, “Mony Mony” and “Cradle of Love”, among others, on Idolize Yourself.

 

 

 

 

The story of UK psychedelic/progressive rock band The Moody Blues, which continues to this day, has some fascinating chapters. Early on, The Moody Blues had a hit single with the song “Go Now”, which doesn’t really sound like anything that came after it. In fact, it was the follow-up album 1967’s Days of Future Past (Deram/UMC), newly reissued in a 50th anniversary double-CD set, that set the tone for The Moody Blues’ greatest successes. Of course, when it was first issued 50 years ago, it was something of a peculiarity, because it was recorded with The London Festival Orchestra, conducted by Peter Knight. The album did fairly well on the British charts, as did the single “Nights In White Satin,” but it took another five years for both the album and single to make the impact it did in 1972. The reissue includes the original 1967 stereo mix (available for the first time on CD), along with nine bonus tracks on the first disc. The second CD contains the 1972 stereo mix, four bonus tracks and six mono single mastsers.  Additionally, a DVD features a 5.1 Surround Sound Mix & 96 kHz/24-bit 1967 stereo mix, along with visual content.

 

 

 

If you didn’t get your fill of psychedelic sounds with The Moody Blues reissue, you owe it to yourself to check out The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language (Smog Veil Records) by “Cleveland’s mythical prog rock improvisors” Hy Maya. Members of the short-lived band include Robert Bensick, Albert Dennis, Scott Krauss and Allen Ravenstine. The double CD set includes studio and live recordings dating back to 1972 and 1973.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above-mentioned Smog Veil label has prided itself on its esoteric roster of artists for more than 25 years. Similarly, Blue Thumb Records, in its brief 10 years of existence, introduced listeners to its own impressive line-up of artists, including Sylvester and the Hot Band (featuring the fabulous gay music icon Sylvester in his pre-disco phase), The Pointer Sisters, The Crusaders, Leon Russell, word-jazz innovator Ken Nordine and many others. Originally released in 1995, the 2017 reissue of All Day Thumbsucker Revisited: The History of Blue Thumb Records (Verve/UMe) is as enjoyable for the stunning array talent, such as T. Rex, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Ike & Tina Turner and Love, as it is for being a music history lesson.

 

 

 

 

 

Eighties music legends Tears For Fears is one of those bands that has almost as many hits compilations as it does studio album. To be fair, TFF’s hits, including “Mad World”, “Change”, “Pale Shelter”, “Shout”, Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, “Head Over Heels” and “Sowing The Seeds of Love”, to mention a few, are sensational and deserve to be heard by ears new and old. Rule The World (Mercury/U M e) is a 16-track compilation that includes the aforementioned songs, as well as two brand new songs.

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Leave it to a nice Jewish (bisexual) girl such as Rachael Sage to come up with one of the most delightful holiday recordings of the year. Her five-song EP Joy!  (MPress) opens with a reading of “Joy to the World” that is pure Sage, right down to her distinctive phrasing and vocals. A radio mix of the songs also closes the EP. In between, it’s a festival of lights and light pop. The originals, including the lighthearted “Tchatchkes & Latkes” and the beautiful “Hanukkah In The Village”, are among Sage’s most appealing compositions. The disc’s centerpiece, in which  Sage sings in Yiddish, is the song “Umru Meine”, featuring lyrics by the modernist poet Moyshe-Leyb Halpern.

 

 

 

 

 

The 10th anniversary edition expanded reissue of Josh Groban’s Noel (Reprise), described as “one of the biggest-selling Christmas album of all time”, now boasts six additional songs, including four newly recorded selections. The original 2007 album by the classical crossover superstar played it relatively safe with a few exceptions. A duet with Brian McKnight on “Angels We Have Heard on High” soars. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is made more poignant because of the inclusion of holiday greetings from soldiers and their families. “Thankful”, co-written by Carole Bayer Sager, is the newest of the original disc’s compositions. Of the newly recorded songs, the duet with Tony Bennett on Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, on which Groban is joined by a children’s choir, are especially pleasing.

 

 

 

 

A cappella outfit Pentatonix are the new reigning kings and queens of holiday music, topping the Christmas (records) list for the last three years. The quartet’s platinum-selling 2016 album has been reissued with five new songs and retitled A Pentatonix Christmas Deluxe (RCA). In addition to interesting renditions of “Up On the Housetop”, as well as covers of Kanye West’s “Coldest Winter” and *Nsync’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” from the previous version, the expanded edition includes “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and a duet with Jennifer Hudson on “How Great Thou Art”.

 

 

As career transformations go, Gwen Stefani’s is one for the record books, so to speak. Over the course of about 25 years, Stefani successfully morphed from the belly-baring lead singer of OC ska act No Doubt to full-fledged diva and fashion icon. Continuing the “feels like” theme of her previous studio album, Stefani’s first Christmas album,You Make It Feel Like Christmas (Interscope) combines her interpretation of holiday standards (from “Silent Night” to “Santa Baby”) along with half a dozen new tunes. Thanks to Stefani’s gay co-songwriter Justin Tranter, it’s the new tunes, including “My Gift Is You”, “When I Was A Little Girl”, “Under The Christmas Lights” and “Christmas Eve”, that are the real gift here.

 

 

 

 

The 2017 double-disc edition of Broadway’s Carols for a Cure: Volume 19 (rock-itscience.com) serves a dual purpose. First and foremost, it’s a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (broadwaycares.org). Secondly, the 20 selections give listeners a chance to hear artists from some of Broadway’s hottest tickets – includingHamiltonDear Evan HansenKinky Boots, War PaintGroundhog DayAnastasiaWaitress, to mention a few, perform traditional and new Christmas songs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Christmas, the Latter Days Saints have a leg up, as well as a piano, a cello and a violin, on the competition. Mormon musical acts The Piano Guys and Lindsey Stirling have newly released holiday albums. On “Angels From the Realms of Glory”, the opening number on The Piano Guys’ Christmas Together (Portrait) album, they are joined by fellow LDS members David Archuleta and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra, as well as Peter Hollens. Other guest artists on the album include Placido Domingo (“Silent Night, Holy Night”), The King’s Singers (“O Little One Sweet”) and Lexi Walker (“O Holy Night/Ave Maria”).

 

Fiddler and Dancing With the Stars competitor Stirling bows with her first holiday album Warmer In the Winter(Concord). More than half of the songs are instrumentals in which the plucky Stirling shows off her accomplished string skill on Christmas standards including “Carol of the Bells”, “I Saw Three Ships”, “What Child Is This”, and even Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas”. What separates this disc from the others are the Stirling originals including “Christmas C’Mon” (with vocals by Becky G), the title track (featuring Trombone Shorty) and “Time To Fall In Love” (sung by Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low).

 

 

 

 

 

Elvis Christmas (RCA/Legacy) is the latest in a series of Elvis Presley releases in which “The King”’s songs and recordings are reimagined with his vocals backed up by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Elvis Christmas has everything from “Blue Christmas”, “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me” to “The First Noel”, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful”.

By Gregg Shapiro

By almost anyone’s standard, I Wish You Love: More from The Bodyguard (Arista/Legacy) is an unusual way to commemorate the 25thanniversary of the movie The Bodyguard, as well as its accompanying multi-platinum soundtrack. As film debuts go, Whitney Houston’s paled in comparison with, say, Jennifer Hudson’s. But that didn’t stop the soundtrack from becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time. It didn’t hurt that Houston’s breathtaking cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love” helped lead the way for the soundtrack’s success. The 14 selections on I Wish You Love, all previously unreleased on CD, are meant to supplement the existing The Bodyguard soundtrack. Featured on the album is an alternate mix of “I Will Always Love You,” the “film versions” of “I Have Nothing,” “Run To You,” “Queen of the Night” and more. What makes I Wish You Love especially appealing are the six previously unavailable live recordings from the 1993-95 Bodyguard Tour.

 

 

 

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending a live performance by Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, you will understand why it’s silly for them to release a live album. A live DVD would make more sense considering how much of the SBPJ’s show is also visual (see: Sarah Reich, tap-dancer). Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the group, known for its wonderful re-imaginings of contemporary pop, rock, and hip-hop tunes from releasing the disappointing The New Classics: Recorded Live! (Concord/ Postmodern Jukebox).

 

Madonna is another artist whose live shows have increasingly become more of a spectacle over the years. So, it makes sense that she would release the concert recording Rebel Heart Tour (Eagle Vision/Universal/Maverick) as a DVD/CD set. The CD includes 13 songs, ranging from “Burning Up” and “Holiday” to “Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Unapologetic Bitch” (sense a theme?), whereas the visually captivating concert footage DVD includes all the songs on the CD and almost ten additional selections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might not think that, other than being singer/songwriters, Carole King and Bob Dylan have much in common, but you’d be wrong. Aside from being about a year apart in age, both were nice Jewish kids when they began their careers in the late `50s (King) and early `60s (Dylan). In addition to writing hits for other artists, King and Dylan were also at the forefront of the singer/songwriter movement which reached its peak in the 1970s. As if all of that wasn’t enough, both King and Dylan have recently released live recordings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

King’s Tapestry: Live in Hyde Park (Rockingale/Legacy) is a CD & DVD set that lives up to its title. King performs her classic 1971 album Tapestry in its entirety before a live audience of 65,000. She is joined by her daughter singer/songwriter Louise Goffin on “Where You Lead” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” The remaining songs include early compositions co-written with her late ex-husband Gerry Goffin such as “One Fine Day”, “Go Away Little Girl”, “Locomotion”, “Up On The Roof” and “It Might As Well Rain Until September”, as well as “Jazzman” and a rendition of “I Feel The Earth Move” on which she is joined by the cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

The latest (and 13th) installment in the ongoing Bootleg Series, Trouble No More: 1979-1981 (Columbia/Legacy) follows Dylan’s musical exploits during his brief flirtation with Christianity. The deluxe edition boasts eight CDs containing previously unavailable material dating from `79 to `81. The first two discs present an assortment of live recordings. There are more than 30 rare and unreleased tracks on discs three and four. Discs five through eight are dedicated to concert recordings from Toronto and London, respectively. A DVD simply titled “A Musical Film” features exclusive bonus material. In addition to the extensive liner notes, a 120-page book, “Pressing On,” consists of photographs and more from the period.

These beats will keep you warm

 

Tove Lo – Disco T**s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maroon 5 – What Lovers Do (feat. SZA)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rita Ora – Anywhere

 

 

 

 

 

Masego & FK J – Tadow

 

 

 

 

Jain – Dynabeat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyon Hart – The Sign (Keljet Remix)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magician – Sunlight (feat. Years and Years)

 

 

 

 

BTS – Mic Drop (feat. Desiigner)

 

 

 

 

Blackbear – Anxiety (feat. FRND)

 

 

 

 

Trey Pearson – Love is Love

By Gregg Shapiro

 

By almost anyone’s standard, I Wish You Love: More from The Bodyguard (Arista/Legacy) is an unusual way to commemorate the 25thanniversary of the movie The Bodyguard, as well as its accompanying multi-platinum soundtrack. As film debuts go, Whitney Houston’s paled in comparison with, say, Jennifer Hudson’s. But that didn’t stop the soundtrack from becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time. It didn’t hurt that Houston’s breathtaking cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love” helped lead the way for the soundtrack’s success. The 14 selections on I Wish You Love, all previously unreleased on CD, are meant to supplement the existing The Bodyguard soundtrack. Featured on the album is an alternate mix of “I Will Always Love You,” the “film versions” of “I Have Nothing,” “Run To You,” “Queen of the Night” and more. What makes I Wish You Love especially appealing are the six previously unavailable live recordings from the 1993-95 Bodyguard Tour.

 

 

 

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending a live performance by Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, you will understand why it’s silly for them to release a live album. A live DVD would make more sense considering how much of the SBPJ’s show is also visual (see: Sarah Reich, tap-dancer). Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the group, known for its wonderful re-imaginings of contemporary pop, rock, and hip-hop tunes from releasing the disappointing The New Classics: Recorded Live! (Concord/ Postmodern Jukebox).

 

Madonna is another artist whose live shows have increasingly become more of a spectacle over the years. So, it makes sense that she would release the concert recording Rebel Heart Tour (Eagle Vision/Universal/Maverick) as a DVD/CD set. The CD includes 13 songs, ranging from “Burning Up” and “Holiday” to “Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Unapologetic Bitch” (sense a theme?), whereas the visually captivating concert footage DVD includes all the songs on the CD and almost ten additional selections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might not think that, other than being singer/songwriters, Carole King and Bob Dylan have much in common, but you’d be wrong. Aside from being about a year apart in age, both were nice Jewish kids when they began their careers in the late `50s (King) and early `60s (Dylan). In addition to writing hits for other artists, King and Dylan were also at the forefront of the singer/songwriter movement which reached its peak in the 1970s. As if all of that wasn’t enough, both King and Dylan have recently released live recordings.

 

 

 

 

 

King’s Tapestry: Live in Hyde Park (Rockingale/Legacy) is a CD & DVD set that lives up to its title. King performs her classic 1971 album Tapestry in its entirety before a live audience of 65,000. She is joined by her daughter singer/songwriter Louise Goffin on “Where You Lead” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” The remaining songs include early compositions co-written with her late ex-husband Gerry Goffin such as “One Fine Day”, “Go Away Little Girl”, “Locomotion”, “Up On The Roof” and “It Might As Well Rain Until September”, as well as “Jazzman” and a rendition of “I Feel The Earth Move” on which she is joined by the cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

The latest (and 13th) installment in the ongoing Bootleg Series, Trouble No More: 1979-1981 (Columbia/Legacy) follows Dylan’s musical exploits during his brief flirtation with Christianity. The deluxe edition boasts eight CDs containing previously unavailable material dating from `79 to `81. The first two discs present an assortment of live recordings. There are more than 30 rare and unreleased tracks on discs three and four. Discs five through eight are dedicated to concert recordings from Toronto and London, respectively. A DVD simply titled “A Musical Film” features exclusive bonus material. In addition to the extensive liner notes, a 120-page book, “Pressing On,” consists of photographs and more from the period.

By Gregg Shapiro

 

You no doubt remember diva powerhouse Frenchie Davis from her stints on American Idol and The Voice. But if you’ve been following her career between those shows and since, you know that there’s so much more to her than that. Sure, she can sing like nobody’s business, but she’s also a gifted actress and has been appearing on stage in musicals Rent, Dreamgirls and Ain’t Misbehavin. Davis is also the force behind the one-woman concert event The Frenchie Davis Experience. I spoke with Frenchie about the show and her career in late 2017.

 

Gregg Shapiro: Your new show is called The Frenchie Davis Experience. What can the audience expect to experience when they take their seats, Frenchie?

Frenchie Davis: They can expect to laugh a little and to enjoy some of their favorite soul music songs, as well as some of my favorite Broadway and R&B songs. Every genre; there are even some hip-hop songs that I interpret as ballads. They can expect to have a good time and hear me sing my heart out [laughs].

 

GS: What is involved in the song selection process for a show such as this?

FD: It’s something that evolves naturally over time; my repertoire, in general. It depends on if it’s a venue or city where I’ve performed before. I try to think about songs that the audience will enjoy. I know that the gays come to my shows. I know that people who love soul music and Broadway come to my shows. I try to have a little something for everybody.

 

GS: You said that the audience can expect to laugh. Do you tell any stories in the show?

FD: Sometimes. Sometimes the way that I express myself inadvertently comes out humorously, and that’s part of how I engage with the audience. Usually, I just talk to them and sometimes [laughs] we all end up laughing together. It just happens naturally. I’m not particularly good at trying to be funny [laughs]. I do find that funny moments create themselves when I engage with the audience.

 

GS: As a singer who has participated in talent competition shows such as American Idol and The Voice, what do you think of those avenues as a means to discover talent?

FD: I think that The Voice and American Idol are very entertaining shows. I think they allow artists to share their gift with a broader audience. What happens after you’re on the show is up to you, partially, and sometimes it’s not up to you. I think you still have to figure out a way to create a space for yourself in this world of art and show business. I don’t think that it’s wise to depend on the exposure that you get on either of those shows to do that. The reality is that over the years it’s become more of a vehicle for the artists who host and judge on the show than it has been for artists who are contestants. You see the judges previewing their new music on the show. You see that more often than you see artists who competed on that same show be able to utilize that same level of exposure. I think I saw, during one season of one of the shows, that all of the judges were on the cover of a magazine. I thought it would be nice to see Javier (Colon), that’s who won my season (on The Voice), or any of the others, on the cover of a magazine, see the machine pushing them the way they push the coaches and the judges. I think that’s what the dynamic of these shows has become. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing; it’s just what it is. I think that it’s important that artists who go on those shows to compete have that perspective so that they can get what they can from it. You take the meat and throw away the bone. It’s an amazing opportunity to share your gifts with a broader audience, but who you are and who you evolve into as an artist and performer after that is completely up to you.

 

GS: In addition to TV shows such as American Idol and The Voice, you have also been performing in stage musicals such as Rent, and most recently played Henri in The View UpStairs. What do you enjoy most about theater work?

FD: I think there’s a discipline that being a theater performer forces you to have artistically. There are no do-overs. There’s no auto-tunes. It boils down to whether you can sing the notes, act the part, bring life to the character. In many ways, it’s one of the purest art forms left. It’s one of the few genres actually based on talent. I love to sing, but I also love the idea of using music and singing as the vehicle for telling a story. That is what I love about the theater. I’ll never forget seeing Nell Carter in Ain’t Misbehavin and how that changed me as a plus-sized black woman. Seeing this big, black woman who was so unapologetic about herself. She was sexy and hysterically funny and could sing her ass off. That changed me forever. I remember seeing Rent for the first time and thinking, “I have to be in this show!” That was my Broadway debut [laughs]! I remember my mom saving money so she could take me to the opera. That changed me. I had this love for live performance and for theater that stuck with me. When I got to college, I initially thought I would be an English major and then go to law school. Then I met professor Mike Malone who had been Debbie Allen’s mentor when she (also) studied at Howard University. He convinced me to change my major to theater, and I did.  It changed my life.

 

GS: Were you aware of the tragedy that occurred at The UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans prior to performing in The View UpStairs?

FD: I had heard of the UpStairs fire, but I didn’t know as much about it until I played the role of Henri. One of the stories that stuck with me the most was how after The UpStairs Lounge had been set on fire, there was a straight bar across the street, and the people sat there, and they watched this happen. Someone was overheard saying, “At least it burned their dresses off.” I remember when we had our first table read with our brilliant writer and composer Max Vernon, and there was a dramaturg there, and we learned all of this historical context. We had to take a break because everybody was in tears. It is horrific that this could happen. Up until (the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in) Orlando, it was the biggest massacre in LGBT history. Given all that was happening when Max first wrote the show and all that has happened since it was so important for this story to be told. I’m so honored to have been a part of that show and to have been able to bring Henri to life. I think it was powerful to have this image of this queer black woman being a matriarch and a patriarch to a community of people. Every night it was powerful. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, as an artist, to play that role.

 

GS: This interview is taking place while you are in New York.

FD: I’m doing an artist residency at the Student LGBT Center at NYU. I’m working with a collective of students, a mixture of undergrad and grad students. They are all LGBT. One of my students just came out right before the school year started. I have another student who is transitioning. It’s a program in which we explore the intersection of art and activism and how we navigate as LGBT people who are also artists. How do we use that identity, our art, and our talent as a vehicle and a tool to advocate for good in the world. They are brilliant young people. It’s been an amazing experience to be a part of this stage of their lives. I feel like I’m learning more from them [laughs] than they are learning from me. One of my students is this young Indian girl who just came out. She is creating these beautiful visual art pieces. The students are from all different disciplines in the arts. There are painters, musical theater writers (and others). We’re collectively working together to bring our individual mediums into one artistic presentation that we will be doing at NYU at the end of the school year. I’m excited about that. It’s been challenging and amazing, and I’m inspired by these young people every day.

 

 

You can experience Frenchie and her Frenchie Davis Experience on Dec 6 at the Out Front Theatre.

Tickets: $25 General Admission, $40 VIP Tickets include prime seating and a meet and greet after the show. 800-202-1708, tep.ticketleap.com

By Mik Hyldebrandt

 

Openly gay artist Trey Pearson just released his highly anticipated debut solo pop album Love Is Love. The 7-song album is Trey’s first major work since departing the Christian music scene, and he cites his journey of coming out – from the initial pain to eventual freedom – as the inspiration that lead to the creation of his upcoming album. We caught up with Trey on his album release tour to talk about changing life seasons, faith, and the freedom to truer and more authenic than ever before.

 

The album opens up with the upbeat and optimistic title track “Love is Love” where you describe your (new-found?) understanding of love. How does the song relate to your own story? 

I think this song is celebrating my freedom and excitement I have found in being able to experience the kind of love and intimacy and excitement I had always longed for in my life. It’s definitely a love song, but a love song that is very much celebrating the belief in the LGBTQ community that we all deserve to love and be loved in the most intimate way.

 

Taking the leap from Christian music to being a solo pop artist, how does your new musical expression feel in comparison?

This new music feels like the most intimate, vulnerable thing I have ever done. It feels like sharing my diary with the listener, and being able to tap into a part of myself I never have before. I think coming out was finally letting the valve off something I had suppressed my entire life. I really feel like the flowed over into me creatively as well, as I wrote these songs.

 

The album is overall upbeat, but there are moments of incredible sensitivity and emotionality where you seem to celebrate your newfound identity, but also honestly question facets of being openly gay. The song “Good Grief” seems to capture the essence of your emotional mindset which has you balancing between happiness and pain – is that a right assumption?

“The Good Grie” was kind of my mantra as I was going through the process of coming out to myself and my family. I believe whenever you are going through a seasons change in life, even when it’s the best thing for you, there are things in the previous season of life that you will leave behind, and that need to be grieved to move on. I think that’s true in watching your child graduate, or getting married, or in my case, coming out. This song was allowing myself to experience all of those emotions I felt, even when it’s been the most freeing, peaceful feeling I’ve ever felt in my life.

 

In “Hey Jesus”, you have an open-hearted talk with Jesus, where you look for some answers about being gay. What role does faith play in your life – and has your faith changed after coming out?

My faith is still an important part of my life, although it has changed a lot over the years. When I don’t know anything else, I still like believing in the message of Jesus, to love God, or whatever you want to call the energy that has given us life, and to love your neighbor. Growing up in the Christian faith tradition, I fell in love with Jesus at a young age, and I think it came down to these ideas. We like to complicate it with other things sometimes, but that’s what it is about for me. I don’t know how much my faith has changed since I came out, but my faith was changing a lot for years leading up to coming out. I guess it’s kind of always been changing, and eventually progressing, ever since I was a teenager. I think “Hey Jesus” was more about the feeling I had always had growing up than anything else, and the deepest desire to love and be loved fully, in the most intimate ways.

 

In “Good Grief” you sing about joy through pain and beauty through struggle. In “Good Grief (Part Two)” you sing about love lost and longing – how do the songs connect?

I think they are both about accepting the good and the pain in that changing of seasons. They just both spilled out in different times and ways.

 

Taking a cue from your coming out story that became national news – what advice would you give to someone struggling with their sexuality and coming out like you did?

That even when it’s scary, and even when you know you could lose what feels like everything, nothing can ever replace being your best, truest, and most authentic self.

 

How do you think being openly will shape you as an artist? 

I think it has opened another level of vulnerability, intimacy, and honesty in my lyrics, to a place I wasn’t able to go before. I’m so excited to be able to share that with people, and it has given new life to what I’m creating.

 

What are your future plans? Going on tour? Coming to Atlanta?

Yes. I just performed in Chicago for the first stop of my release shows. I am doing a release party in Columbus this week, and setting up a “Love Is Love” release tour. I hope to come to Atlanta, yes! 🙂

Kendra Erika Releases Intoxicating Song about Forbidden Love

By Steven Boyce

 

Pop singer Kendra Erika and Grammy Award winning producer Damon Sharpe unite once again on “Sublime,” a psychedelically poetic club track about taboo love.  The song has a sensuous vibe-y lounge groove, built around a continuous  tempo and looming ghost voice that harkens back to early 80’s house music.

 

“I’m a big believer that taboo love really helps a person find his or herself,” says Kendra Erika, who wrote the song’s lyrics against a beat produced by Sharpe and Eric Sanicola.  “It may not necessarily be forever love, but experiencing something that is forbidden changes one’s perspective and allows them to establish what it is he or she wants from life.” “Sublime” is being released globally through Dauman Music and Sony Red and is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon. It is also available for streaming through Pandora and Spotify.

 

 

“I was in a relationship where we wanted to test the limits to see how far we could go,” recalls Kendra Erika from her Florida home.  “Being ‘on the run’ was essentially what stimulated the relationship.  It made it us against the world. Nothing and no one else mattered outside of the bond we had created and it was thrilling.

 

“That true feeling of sublime happens when you eliminate all distractions and concentrate only on the person in front of you.  Sure, it may lead to a sweet mistake, but venturing down the road of self-realization will teach you a lot about yourself and your place in the world.”

 

“Sublime” follows “Under My Skin” Kendra’s club single that climbed to #6 on the Billboard Dance Chart this summer.  Where “Under My Skin” was nebulous, describing a vague, although brighter experience, ”Sublime” is more defined, detailing an intimate, under-wraps experience between two lovers.

 

“Damon and I wanted to cleanse the pallet and write something more sensual and subdued for ‘Sublime,’” Erika continues.   “I channeled those experiences from my past when I would go out to the dance floor with the intention to connect with strangers that might end up rocking my world,” she laughs.

 

Kendra Erika is a South Florida native singer/songwriter. Trained in classical and jazz, she draws inspiration from artists like Lana Del Rey, Solange, Ellie Goulding, and London Grammar who strive to make music that is written out of pure sentiment and felt in the bones.  Erika implements bold and poetic messages in her dance club beats; a concept that is new to many clubbers who  often heed a song’s beat but pay less attention to its message.

 

“I aim to get people dancing to an authentic light,” she says. “I want them dancing not just because the beat is telling them to, but because they feel the message of unconditional love and are inspired to dance to their own beat.”

 

“Sublime” is Kendra Erika’s third collaboration with producer Damon Sharpe, who has written and produced for a wide array of pop artists including Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande, Kylie Minogue, Kelly Rowland, Monica, 98 Degrees, Anastacia, and Natalie Cole. “Kendra and I have a chemistry that shines,” explains Sharpe.

 

Dauman Music is planning to release a package of remixes for “Sublime,” from some of the world’s leading producers, to support the record.

 

“Ultimately, I hope ‘Sublime’ makes clubbers reflect on their own experiences and maybe helps lead them down the road of self-realization,” says Kendra Erika.  “True beauty is being fully aware.”

 

To learn more about Kendra Erika, visit Daumanmusic.com and KendraErika.com.

 

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