Tag Archives: American Idol

Hallelujah

The Holy or The Broken (nook book)The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and The Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light (Atria Books, $25.00, 254 pages)

“People keep finding the song in new ways… I’ve had kids talk to me about ‘Hallelujah’ as if they were the only ones who knew it – it’s a cult classic, like the world’s biggest sleeper hit. It’s like joining a club.” Singer Patrick Stump of the band Fall Out Boy

There are some nonfiction books that read like – and were written as, long versions of magazine articles. These tend to be books with lots of filler, in which not so much new information is found. Such is not the case with The Holy or the Broken – while it reads like it might have begun its existence in the form of a possible magazine article, there’s plenty of new and valuable information here, especially for music fans. For the less knowledgeable, this account may lead them to pursue more information about Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley or other musicians named within its pages.

This is the fascinating true story of Cohen’s writing a song included within an album that his record company refused to release. The song would not be discovered and appreciated for 13 years, and – as referenced in the subtitle, it was the late Jeff Buckley’s vibrant cover version that was to make it a worldwide phenomenon. The song is now a staple of televised singing competitions such as American Idol, The Voice and The X Factor.

Author Light details how Cohen’s song – a mixture of joyful and sorrowful sentiments, has benefited from being used as an anthem following tragic events such as 9/11, and via its frequent use on TV and motion picture soundtracks (including Shrek). There’s also the fact that musicians as varied as Bob Dylan, Bono, Sheryl Crowe, Justin Timberlake, Susan Boyle, Rufus Wainright, Lee DeWyze, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond and k.d. lang have either covered it and/or performed it on stage. The song has become an industry onto itself; one publisher calling the song “a brand.”

The one negative about the narrative is that Light, a former editor-in-chief at Spin magazine, incorporates a bit too much of his personal tastes into the telling – becoming, if you will, more rock critic than unbiased historian. Still, there’s ample fascinating stuff to chew on here – one example being that John Lissauer, the producer of Cohen’s initially-unreleased album Various Positions (which contained Cohen’s original version of “Hallelujah”) confesses that, “I felt like I’d ruined (Cohen’s) career.” Far from it!

“When you hear the Jeff Buckley version, it’s so intimate it’s almost like you’re invading his personal space, or you’re listening to something that you weren’t supposed to hear.” Jake Shimaburkuro

“It’s a hymn to being alive. It’s a hymn to love lost. To love. Even the pain of existence…” Jeff Buckley

The Holy or the Broken is well recommended.

Readers or music lovers wishing to learn more may want to read the excellent book Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley by David Browne, and the new biography I’m You’re Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Holy or the Broken is also available as a Nook Book or Kindle Edition download.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Talking Book Revisited

Talking Book, a review of the cover album by Macy Gray (429 Records, $15.99)

It has often been said (and frequently on the TV show American Idol) that Stevie Wonder’s songs seem deceptively simple, yet they are actually complex and difficult to sing.   Thus, it may seem odd that Macy Gary, with her raspy voice and somewhat narrow range, has elected to not only cover a Stevie Wonder song, but an entire album of Stevie Wonder.   Talking Book – the first of her albums that I’ve listened to – is a re-working of Wonder’s classic 1972 release, and Gray covers all 10 of the original tracks in order.

Surprising though it may be, the results show that Gray’s judgment is just fine and she generally adds some energy and unique flavors to Wonder’s sometimes understated original versions.   (In college, I often listened to Talking Book and felt it was filled with great songs.   But his recordings seemed like preliminary, unfinished versions.)

“You Are the Sunshine of My Life” now comes off as nice and breezy and jazzy, with a few Brasil ’66 touches.   It would be the perfect song for a Sunday drive in a top-down convertible in southern California.

With “You and I (We Can Conquer the World),” Gray adds a sense of joy and hopefulness to the romantic tome.   “Blame It on the Sun,” one of Wonder’s almost-lost classics, is now brought back to life.   The sorrow for a love, once here, now gone, lies just on the edge of Macy’s voice.   “Tuesday Heartbreak” sounds like a track from a romantic movie soundtrack (hint, hint).   And the essential song, “Superstition,” is now spooky and moody, but awfully nice.   Gray presents the listener with a seemingly daydreamed version of Stevie Wonder’s simply great original.

“Big Brother” is more upbeat than the original recording.   In a word, it’s sweet.   Three of the songs, “Maybe Your Baby,” “You’ve Got It Bad Girl,” and “Lookin’ for Another Love,” are perhaps too true, too close to the original versions, but with Stevie that’s not such a bad thing.   And Talking Book closes on the bright spot “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).”   Here Wonder’s romantic anthem is presented in an arrangement that makes it sound as if two songs were merged into a medley.   A sense of joyfulness returns with traces of Johnny Nash-style sound (“I Can See Clearly Now”) heard in the background.

As a concept, attempting to recreate (and perhaps improve upon) one of Wonder’s better albums seemed far from promising.   It was, after all, forty years ago that the vinyl album arrived in record stores.   But Macy Gray holds her own and, strangely enough, her world-weary voice presents just the opposite message – that she loves life and the music of Stevie Wonder.

I have the feeling that Stevie Wonder will be quite pleased with this audio valentine; something that may also be true for a number of music purchasers.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Stevie Wonder’s album Talking Book was released on October 28, 1972.   Macy Gray’s cover version was released on October 30, 2012.   A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics Music site:  http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-macy-gray-talking-book/ .

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

You Can’t Drink All Day

You Can’t Drink All Day If You Don’t Start in the Morning by Celia Rivenbark

In the nonfiction book I’m Dying Up Here, author William Knoedelsech writes that in the mid-seventies, there was “more to women’s comedy than vacuum cleaners and visits to the gynecologist.”   So, reading You Can’t Drink All Day If You Don’t Start in the Morning felt like a horrible step back in time.   Celia Rivenbark’s humor deals a lot with the life of a domestic goddess and a whole, whole lot about sex – far too much about it, frankly.   There’s plenty of bad language and bathroom humor to go along with it.   Is the word “menstruation” actually funny?   (The word “vagina” is mentioned too many times to count.)   And then there’s the chapter that deals with American Idol Clay Aiken’s sexuality.   Is this really enlightened humor?   Hardly.

Someone far more charitable than this reviewer said that Rivenbark is “sassy and surprisingly foul mouthed.”   I found her off-putting, and her attitude about life and living is anything but funny.   Perhaps someone on the edge of being suicidal would find something redeeming in You Can’t Drink, but I did not.

If you’ve yearned and burned since the 1960s for the return of Totie Fields, this just might be the book for you.

St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 256 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized