Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys asks the big questions on new song, 'We Are Here': Listen

Singer debuts live version on 'Jimmy Fallon'


Alicia Keys unveiled a new song, “We Are Here,” on Facebook on Monday. The anthem is a socially conscious tune that takes on a laundry list of societal ills and big issues, ranging from the Palestinian/Isreali conflict to violence in Chicago to absentee dads to educational deficits in major cities, and serves as a call to action to do whatever you can to make the world a better place.

“We are here for all of us,” she sings, as she performs the song on keyboards on a New York rooftop. It’s well-meaning and clearly from the heart. Is it one of her catchier tunes? No. However, it’s a statement that she feels passionately about and needed to make.

“I was sitting in a circle of people of all ages and we were asked, ‘Why are you here?’ Why am I here?? This really hit me on a deep level. I realized no one had ever asked me that question before,” Keys said in a statement.

She goes on to add that “I believe in an empowered world community built on the true meaning of equality… I believe our voices should be heard so that our representation reflects our population… I believe in a world where every child born receives a quality education.” Keys states several other beliefs and then calls upon all of us to help “give birth to a kinder and more peaceful world for all children.”

"We Are Here," which she also performed on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" Monday night,  will most likely be on Keys' new album. She's given no release date for the set yet, but told AP,  "What I know for a fact is it's the best music I've ever done in my life." Don't expect an album from her this year since she's working on another production: her second child with husband Swizz Beatz is due in December. She will also appear on a mentor on "The Voice" as part of Pharrell's team. The two paired for the "Spider-Man" tune, "It's On Again,"  and he also worked on her new album.

 

 

Ryan Adams

Album review: Ryan Adam's new self-titled set is a melodic downer

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Singer/songwriter returns after 3-year break

Three years is a normal gap between albums for most artists, but Ryan Adams isn’t most artists. The singer/songwriter is rivaled only by Prince for his copious output. “Ryan Adam,” his first album since 2011’s “Ashes & Fire,” marks a solid, if not spectacular,return.

Adams’ prodigious talent and musical curiosity has allowed him to dabble in several different genres, from rock to metal to country. “Ryan Adams” finds him at the intersection of classic rock and alt country. And if you’re going to going to lean toward classic rock, you might as well lean toward the greats: On album opener, “Gimme Something Good,” the swampy chugging guitar riff recalls The Rolling Stones’  Keith Richards.  “Trouble” has an engaging swagger redolent of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “Am I Safe” essays a John Fogerty-like intro. “My Wrecking Ball” and “I Just Might” both have a touch of early and later-era Springsteen. The references, intentional or not, give “Ryan Adams,” which Adams self-produced, a pleasing air of familiarity, but also keep it from standing out as an album that can go toe-to-toe with some of Adams’ more distinctive fare such as “Heartbreaker,” “Easy Tiger” or “Cold Roses.”

There’s a melancholy to most of the lyrics here, a certain kind of sadness from which there seems no relief. On “Trouble,” he self-consciously notes, “I feel you watch me across the room/the lines on my face like a map of my sins.” On the spare, lonely “My Wrecking Ball” —just as in Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty,” Adams is  surrounded by friends who are similarly lost: “My thoughts inside my head get lost inside the haunted house/everyone I used to know left their dreams by the door.”

By the time he gets to “Shadows,” and its “field of razor wire,” the wheels have come off. The song devolves into distorted chaos as everything falls apart. Adams sounds a bit like The Doors’ Jim Morrison as he pushes pop’s parameters on the weird, off-beat track.

On “Tired of Giving Up,” he laments that he’s tired of giving up so easily, but he doesn’t sound like there’s enough gas left in the tank to keep pushing.

As lyrically downbeat as much of the material is, the melodies, Adams’ vocals, and his great electric guitar work, are consistently engaging, giving “Ryan Adams” a buoyancy, despite the often depressing subject matter. Whether he decided to go the self-titled route because it’s his first album in a few years, he feels the lyrics are revealing, or whether he just couldn’t come up with a catchier title, “Ryan Adams” is a good reminder of what a strong musical force Adams can be, even if this isn’t his best work.

Hank Williams and Tom Hiddleston

Watch 'Thor's' Tom Hiddleston sing Hank Williams' 'Move It On Over'

Shooting for the biopic stars this fall

Tom Hiddleston doesn’t start shooting the Marc Abraham-directed Hank Williams’ biopic, “I Saw The Light,” for a few more weeks, but it looks like he’s already getting into character.  The “Thor” actor showed up at  the Wheatland Music Festival in Michigan this weekend and hopped on stage to deliver  Williams’ classic “Move It On Over.”

He’s got a bit of work to do to capture the tragic singer's pinched vocals, but he’s getting there and the band is solid in the audience-captured video (our favorite part is all the audience chatter in the last 30 seconds…No, you cannot take a picture…) Plus, he has a striking resemblance to Williams.

Music artist biopics have hardly been box office winners lately  (hello, “Jersey Boys” and “Get On Up,” but maybe Hiddleston’s will be different. We have both the Jimi Hendrix biopic (starring Andre 3000) and Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) to go before Hiddleston’s project sees the light.

 

One Direction

One Direction comes back with 'Four' in November, hear new song 'Fireproof'

Download 'Fireproof' for free for 24 hours

Almost exactly a year after releasing its third album, “Midnight Memories,” enduring boy band One Direction returns Nov. 17 with its fourth album, the cleverly titled “Four”  (Are they in cahoots with Maroon 5, who just released “V,” their fifth album? Also, not to be confused with Huey Lewis & The News' "Fore" album)

The British quintet announced the album via YouTube, as well as informed fans about the availability of  24-hour free download of “Fireproof.” Two of the band’s members, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne, co-wrote the new tune with John Ryan, Jamie Scott and Julian Bunetta.

“Fireproof” is a mid-tempo, sweet, wistful tune, which features, per usual, the members trading lines about a love that goes on despite the odds. A drum loop propels it forward, as a nice electric guitar line gives it some heft. It doesn’t have an undeniably catchy chorus or build like “Story of My Life,” but it’s a nice sign as to where the boys are musically now and it sneakily grows on you with repeated listenings.

Boy bands have a built-in shelf life and One Direction continues to make the absolute most of its time in the sun. The band recently finished a wildly successful worldwide stadium tour and its three previous albums have sold more than 46 million copies. “Midnight Memories” was world’s best-selling album in 2013.

There are still plenty of albums to be announced for the fourth quarter— including (though unlikely) potential Adele and U2 releases—but it’s starting to shape up with Taylor Swift on Oct. 27;  Foo Fighters, Nov. 11; One Direction Nov. 17, and Garth Brooks the week after. It's not going to be enough to safe the continuing downward sales spiral (as Katie Hasty wrote about here), but we're probably looking at four weeks where the No. 1 album sells at least 500,000 copies in its opening frame).

"Fireproof" is below the album announcement.

Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande aces The National Anthem: Watch

No flub, no bad notes, just great singing

The Seattle Seahawks weren't the only winner last night. Ariana Grande is having a good week: Her new album, “My Everything,” came in at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with a commanding lead, “Bang Bang,” her collaboration with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj continue to climb up the charts, and she absolutely nailed the National Anthem as the NFL season opener last night when the Green Bay Packers met the Seahawks.

Listen for yourself below. She didn’t goof up the words a la Christina Aguilera at the 2011 Super Bowl or Steven Tyler at a  playoff game. And she was certainly on key, unlike Roseanne Barr.

We recommend her for the gig at the 2015 Super Bowl.

Chris Brown

5 things we learned about Chris Brown from his new Billboard interview

Hey, people, he's only human

Chris Brown is one of those artists that seems to be made of teflon. No matter how many transgressions he commits, his largely female fan base not only continues to support him, but vigorously defends his tarnished honor, radio stations continue to play his music, he continues to get nominated for awards (including Grammys), and sell concert tickets.

After reading his cover story in Billboard, out today, I think I know why. Part of it is his ability to put himself forth— if not as the victim— as someone who these bad things just seem to happen to. He keeps saying he wants to be a better man, but his words don’t seem to lead to better actions for long periods of time. Nor do his words seem to indicate that he fully grasps the depth of some of his misdeeds. Maybe that’s because other than going to jail (not to make that sound like a picnic), there’s not a lot of fall out for his bad behavior. He seems to pick up right where he left off career-wise every time. He comes out with his new album, “X,” on Sept. 16. “Loyal,” the latest single from that effort, peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.  

Here are five things we learned about Brown from Billboard’s cover story:

1. He’s only human. He likes to say that a lot. Three times in the interview, he brings it up. In a Sept. 4 statement to Billboard (as a response to the shootings at the pre-VMA party he hosted and other events since the interview was conducted in mid-August), he didn’t answer the question, he simply said “I can only say that I am only human and I have made mistakes.” When asked what lesson he learned from being in jail (he served 108 days earlier this year for violating his parole), he replied, “Realizing I’m human like everyone else.” Asked to define redemption, he answered, in part, “Know that you’re human.”….

2. If he couldn’t make music or dance, he’d stay in the arts. “I would be somewhere in the industry, but not necessarily around music,” he says. “It would be more like fashion design, or I’d probably be a painter or street artist. I’m eclectic, with different styles of creativity. But painting is one of my biggest passions.”

3. He knows people will never let him forget about beating Rihanna and he’s okay with haters hating because that’s, uh, their problem: “As long as you’re doing something good, people will always bring up old stuff or negative stuff because they don’t want you to surpass a certain level or elevate,” he says. “But as long as you have your head on straight, it shouldn’t matter what people want to say.”

4. Jail was not fun. This was his daily routine: “A guard wakes you up; you eat. You stay in your cell most of the time, basically 24 hours a day,” he says. “Maybe on Mondays you go to the roof inside of a cage and have a phone call. It’s isolation. You have time to focus on what matters, on what to do and what not to do.”

5. And in response to that question we all want to know— how the hell has he kept such a loyal fanbase—he credits God. “My faith in knowing what my purpose is and how I’m trying to find out what my purpose is,” he says. “My fan base speaks volumes [to that]. I never want to say that I know everything or I know what the best song or a hit is. I just put it out there for people to like and love. I make music for myself personally, but I also try to do music that people can relate to, have fun with; evoke as much emotion as possible from my audience and peers. It’s God and just consistency with my talent. Being able to persevere if I get knocked down and always get back up.”

Read more of the interview here.

Will you buy "X" when it comes out?

Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran

Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran take on Tracy Chapman and Snow Patrol: Watch

They both salute car songs. Which one does it better?

Two of England’s hottest male singers turned to covers this week: Sam Smith tackled Tracy Chapman’s classic, “Fast Car,” for BBC Live Lounge, while Ed Sheehan covered his buddies in Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.”

While Smith’s clear, gorgeous tenor would seem perfect for Chapman’s heartbreaking song of escape, it ends up being a not great fit. That’s not because his voice doesn’t sound strong, it’s because he doesn’t imbue the song with any of the heartbreaking emotion from the original.

Sheeran succeeds far better  covering "Chasing Cars."  His tackling the song is nothing new. He's been doing it for at least a few years since he's such good pals with the dudes in Snow Patrol and has written with them and toured with them, but he unveiled a new solo acoustic version for MTV that went online today that's lovely and spare and very romantic.

 

Which do you like better? 

Green Bay Packers

12 greatest sports songs ever: Are you ready for some football?

Your playlist for tonight's NFL opener

Tonight marks the opening night of the 2014 NFL Season, so in celebration, here are the 10 best songs about sports. I tried to make it all football, but there are surprisingly few football-themed hits. And since it’s still baseball season, I decided to throw in a few baseball ones as well. Basketball? Other than “I Believe I Can Fly,” the round ball got left out in the cold since the only other basketball song I could think of was Cheech & Chong’s “Basketball Jones,” which, quite frankly, is in a league of its own. Given that the World Cup just ended, I also threw in a little soccer love.

Though certainly not written about football, Jay Z and Rihanna's "Run This Town" is the new theme song for Thursday Night Football, according to NFL and CBS. The pair's hit, from Jay Z's "The Blueprint 3," will get reworked each week with narration by Don Cheadle.


1. “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” Chicago Bears (1985)
It wasn’t pretty or even remotely good, but the rap by The Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew captured the feeling in Chicago like no other as we watched Da Bears go all the way. I lived in Chicago then and it was an exhilarating, great time to be a sports fan (which, as Chicago fans know, that is not always the case). The song missed hitting Billboard’s Top 40 by one slot, peaking at No. 41.

2. “The Boys of Fall,” Kenny Chesney (2010)
Though Chesney didn’t write this somber salute to high school football, he sang it like he’d lived it and took it all the way to No. 1.

3.“Centerfield,” John Fogerty (1985)
Fogerty’s salute to America’s Game is note perfect and its inclusion in “Bull Durham” only sealed it as the best song ever written in the short canon of songs written about baseball. The song also plays at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play.

4. “The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley (1984)
Only the title refers to baseball, but the song perfectly captures the wistful feelings of the fleeting last days of summer— of youth, really— and glory days on and off the field.

5. “I Believe I Can Fly,” R Kelly (1996)
The song first appeared in “Space Jam,” and is in someways forever linked to Michael Jordan, who soared like no other player. However, for most folks, it’s simply R Kelly’s best, most inspirational track.

6. “All Kinds of Time,” Fountains of Wayne (2003)
The New Jersey boys put themselves in the mind of a QB and what goes through his mind after he takes the snap. His mind slows, he thinks of his family watching on TV and feels like he has all the time in the world to find his open man.  The NFL used the song in commercials in 2005.

7. “Green and Yellow,” Lil Wayne (2011)
The rapper’s salute to his beloved Green Bay Packers manages to dis the Pittsburgh Steelers and several other teams, while promoting Cheez Whiz and Cheeseheads everywhere.

8. “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” Hank Williams Jr. (1984)
Monday Night Football adopted (and adapted) the song as its theme from 1989 to 2011. Are you ready for some football?

9. “Gonna Fly Now,” DeEtta Little and Nelson Pigford (1977)
Bill Conti’s theme from “Rocky” is indelibly linked to Rocky running the steps in Philadelphia forever more and is an ode to the underdog. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song, the tune is short on words, but long on heart.

10.“Eye of The Tiger,” Survivor (1982)
Continuing with everyone's favorite film pugilist, this “Rocky III” smash would have made the list regardless, but now the anthem to working hard and going the distance serves as a tribute to Survivor lead singer, Jimi Jamison, who died last week. Fun fact: Sylvester Stallone asked the band to write an anthem after he was unable to get the rights to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

11. “We Are The Champions/We Will Rock You,” Queen (1977)
Speaking of Queen, the all-time greatest sports anthems not written about sports and among the greatest single A&B sides ever (ask your parents if you’re too young to know what that means). The band wrote “We Are The Champions” to get their fans going in concert, and then “We Will Rock You” was the B-side. It’s impossible to go to any team sporting event and not hear one or the other.

12. "The Cup of Life," Ricky Martin (1998)
The official theme song for the 1998 World Cup was not only a great soccer anthem, the song broke Ricky Martin into the Anglo market with his performance of the track on the 41st annual Grammy Awards. He scored a major goal with his performance, one of the best in Grammy history.

Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks' comeback single, 'People Loving People': Listen

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Here's why you won't see it on the Billboard Hot 100


One day before he kicks off his first US tour in 13 years, Garth Brooks returns with “People Loving People,” the first single from his forthcoming fall album.

The mid-tempo track, written by Busbee, Lee Thomas Miller, and Chris Wallin, couldn’t be further from bro-country. It is a timely reminder that the only thing we need to cure our ills is to simply love each other. At a time when the headlines are dominated by bad news coming out of Ferguson, Mo.; the Middle East and seemingly everywhere we turn, it’s a positive song about inclusiveness that also serves as a gentle commentary on what’s going on around us.  His voice sounds strong as ever and nicely gritty. He’ll show off his range on future songs, we’re sure, as well as come back with some party anthems. He's not coming to come out of the gate with his strongest stuff. This is a bold, courageous move.

“People Loving People” isn’t Brooks’ first socially conscious song: 1992’s “We Shall Be Free,” a tune that he sang at President Obama’s first inaugural concert on the Mall in D.C. in 2009,  is now one of his signature songs, even though it initially stalled at No. 13. It preaches tolerance for gay rights, racial harmony and an end to other issues that divide us.  In 1996, he released “The Change,” an emotional, stately ballad about being the change you want to see in the world. It peaked at No. 19.

Brooks’ last single worked to country radio was “More Than A Memory,” which came out in August 2007 and was featured on a box set. It debuted on the Country Singles chart at No. 1.  A duet with Trisha Yearwood, “The Call,” was released from his November 2013 box set, “Blame It All On My Roots,” but it wasn’t actively pushed to radio. Many Clear Channel stations are playing “People Loving People” on the hour today.

As of now, “People Loving People” isn’t available to stream on YouTube or to purchase, which means it won’t be eligible for Billboard’s Country Songs chart or the Billboard Hot 100-- although that may all change within the next few days. It will qualify for Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.  Hear it here for now.

What do you think?

Adam Levine and Jimmy Fallon

Watch: Adam Levine's great Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson impressions on Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon's Iggy Azalea impression? Not so great

Move over Justin Timberlake, Jimmy Fallon has a new music buddy: Last night on “The Tonight Show,” he and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine debuted a new feature, Wheel of Musical Impressions

Using the “musical impressions generator,” different artists, such as Michael Jackson or Frank Sinatra, came up paired with tunes such as MAGIC!’s “Rude” or the theme to “Sesame Street,” and each had to do an impression. Levine was the clear winner as he hit it out of the ball park with his Sinatra impression. We think his Jackson impression sounded a little more like Stevie Wonder than the King of Pop, but his take on Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder was spot on. As for Fallon’s Iggy Azalea impression,  let’s just say, better luck next time.