<p>Brian Ray</p>

Brian Ray

Interview: Paul McCartney guitarist Brian Ray talks on his fave Macca moment

What does he know about McCartney that you don't?

There are a lot of great jobs out there, but it’s hard to imagine one better than guitarist for Paul McCartney. Just ask Brian Ray, who has held that title since 2002. Most recently, his gig took him to the White House, which he admits was mind-blowing, when McCartney received The Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Performance. In the PBS special, which begins airing tonight (July 28) -- and we review here -- McCartney plays a few tunes, but his band backs up most of the artists paying tribute to Macca, including Stevie Wonder, Dave Grohl, Faith Hill and Elvis Costello.

Ray served as Etta James’ musical director and guitarist for 14 years and has also collaborated with artists such as Peter Frampton, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Cornell and Smokey Robinson.  He releases his second solo album, “This Way Up,” Aug. 3 digitally and Aug. 9 as a physical disc via the Sony-distributed Icon Music Group. 

Hitfix recently talked to Ray, who indulged our McCartney questions. Hear two tracks, “Happy Ending” and “I Found You,” from “This Way Up” here.

What have you learned from Paul McCartney about songwriting?

Paul is one of the, arguably, two best songwriters in rock and roll history. John [Lennon] would be the other one. He’s responsible for music that makes up our DNA and he is an inspiring guy. Not just for this incredible canon of work he’s produced over the years in his solo work and with Wings and with the Beatles, but also just who he is as a guy. That he’s still making records with the same passion and love and thought and caring that he’s always made them with at this point in his career is, to me, inspiring. Just that in itself--that he’s continuing to create.

And then, just on an hourly basis, being around him, you just see that he is music basically. He’ll be walking across the kitchen during rehearsals out in the country with us and he’ll whistle a melody that is beautiful and he might run into the other room and start writing a song. He just lives and breathes music and that, in and of itself, is so inspiring. Even if I don’t end up writing a song that sounds like a Paul McCartney song, and I hope that I don’t do that since w should all be individuals, [there’s an] inspiration that you get from someone whose spirit is so musical.

What did you learn about songwriting  from listening to the Beatles growing up?

Lennon and McCartney wrote songs that were full of promise and surprise and they were vehicles for escape. For a guy like me, whose upbringing wasn’t the best--it wasn’t the worst by any stretch--but all kids want to escape, and the Beatles and so many of the other British Invasion groups, offered an incredible vehicle… You could paint it as you want, you could see in your own life what you wanted these songs to mean and you could drive that escape vehicle right out of your own reality and we all did it together at the same time.

What is your best moment of every night on stage with McCartney?

Oh man, there’s 36 songs and all of them start with so much excitement for me, but I guess when we get to “Band on the Run.” That signals a run up of 15 of the largest songs, the tallest songs, that I’ve ever heard in my life and I’m fortunate enough to get to play that 12-string guitar break that’s all alone in the middle of “Band on the Run” and you feel a shift because we’ve been on stage by then for an hour and a half and we’re up there for two hours and 45 minutes. It’s like the sun comes up right there. It does in the song  with that guitar and then the songs just get taller and taller until you’re just been beat up by Mike Tyson by the end of the night, but in a loving way.

What’s something about Paul that you know that the rest of us don’t?

He is funnier than hell. All of us have seen interviews with Paul by now and we know that he’s cheeky and funny. He’s also very warm and he’s very intuitive. You can feel that he is still curious about others and about this world and about this life like a kid would be and that he’s very childlike in the most positive ways. If it were up to him, he’d be barefoot and hanging out in loose khaki pants and a t-shirt. He likes to have a laugh. I mean, it’s all gotta be funny to him.

What was your best show with McCartney ever?

I’m going to have to say second night in Fenway last summer, 2009. It was just one of those stunning gigs. It’s almost like a ballet; it’s the light, it’s Paul’s mood, Paul’s voice. It’s the way the five of us play together. All of those things come together and then there’s another X factor and that is the crowd--and what you get back from a crowd and the venue. And then a full moon happened to be rising over my shoulder. At one point, Paul looks my way and he does one of those things where he raises his head to like ‘look up there,’ while he’s singing. I look to my left and the moon was coming up. I don’t remember what the song was, but it was just one of those melt your heart moments. But we’ve had so many great moments.

You’ve played with a lot of people. Best non-McCartney gig?

I’d say playing with Etta James at the Montreux Jazz Festival when I was 19 years old. I started playing with Etta when I was right out of high school. We played a fantastic set there and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin was our bass player. Hanging out with Led Zeppelin at the age of 19 wasn’t bad. And then we opened some shows with the Stones with Etta that were remarkable too. I remember Anaheim Stadium for 50,000 people in the daytime with the Stones was pretty remarkable because everyone was already there. They weren’t trickling in. It was packed. I remember a giant beach ball being kicked up on stage and Etta, who’s wonderful on stage, kicked this great big beach ball back into the crowd. It was just one of those magnificent days, you know.

Read Full Post
Paul McCartney performs at the White House for President and Michelle Obama

Paul McCartney performs at the White House for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Review: PBS's 'Paul McCartney: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize'

Who does the Beatle proud? Hint: It's not Jerry Seinfeld

There are a lot of things that make being president seem like a drag. Hosting a salute to Paul McCartney at the White House would not be one of them.

“Paul McCartney: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Performance at the White House” airs Wednesday, July 28 at 8 p.m. on PBS stations nationally.

Thankfully, the show is much catchier than the program’s title—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its faults. The special opens in black and white as we see McCartney running through rehearsals with the artists paying homage to him, most of whom are visibly trying to keep their cool around their hero. McCartney also reveals that he’s never been to the White House before.

We shift to color, just like in “The Wizard of Oz,” when the concert kicks off with McCartney, accompanied by his well-oiled touring band--who back up the other artists as well--slides through “Got to Get You into My Life” (the horns seem to be canned, unfortunately) before taking a seat beside  Obama.

Saluting McCartney—with varying degrees of success—are Stevie Wonder, last year’s Gershwin recipient; Faith Hill,  Jerry Seinfeld, Elvis Costello, the Jonas Bros., Jack White, Dave Grohl, Lang Lang, Emmylou Harris and Herbie Hancock with Corrine Bailey Rae.

The Gershwin Prize celebration is much more intimate and slightly less formal affair than the Kennedy Center Honors.  And unlike that show, where you can usually count on at least one train wreck, the Gershwin Prize performances tend to be just a little too tasteful—not surprising given the hallowed setting and the fact that the performers are so close to Obama they can practically touch his knees. Plus, the rest of the audience has to take their cues from the host, so if the Prez is staying in his seat, no matter how much they may want to shake their tail feather, they stay still.

On the plus side are the artists who take a McCartney song and make it their own:  Wonder runs through a funked-up, loose-limbed “We Can Work it Out.”   Jack White takes the lesser-known “Mother Nature’s Son,” accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and turns it into a Led Zeppelin-like ballad. Similarly, Hancock and Rae deliver a sublime version of “Blackbird” Hancock goes off on a short piano fill that is elegantly beautiful while Rae’s performance is deliciously spare and airy. Costello’s deeply personal interpretation of “Penny Lane,” (his mom grew up close to the real Penny Lane) is a highlight, as is Emmylou Harris’s haunting, stirring “For No One.” While his rendition is fairly faithful, no one has more fun on stage than Dave Grohl on “Band on the Run.”

In the no harm done category are Jonas Bros, the First Daughters’ favorite act, who do a serviceable "Drive My Car.” Joe Jonas goes for pretty much straight vocal imitation, trying to replicate McCartney’s growl on the song. They seem out of place, but no more so than Faith Hill, who delivers a lovely, if slightly bland version of “Long & Winding Road.” 

Seinfeld is nothing short of an embarrassment. He inappropriately takes the “Getting Better” line--the regrettable “I used to be cruel to my woman/I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved”-- and turns it into a bit about marriage, as if he’s still promoting the since-canceled  “The Marriage Ref.”  The only way he wouldn’t have ended up in the cellar among the performers is if someone had come out and performed “”Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” and pulled Michelle Obama up on stage. Also, Wonder and McCartney’s performance on the horrific, clichéd “Ebony & Ivory” is almost a reason to take away the award from the Beatle.

However, McCartney totally redeems himself as he cheekily dedicated “Michelle" to the first lady. “I could be the first guy ever to be punched out by a president,” he jokes. He concludes with “Hey Jude,” turning, as he does whether he’s playing for a small roomful of invited guests such as Nancy Pelosi or for a stadium full of fans, the song into the world’s most enjoyable sing-a-long.

Read Full Post
Gwyneth Paltrow at the world premiere of "Iron Man 2"

Gwyneth Paltrow is going from blogging to blockbuster action to country singing in 2010.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Listen: Gwyneth Paltrow sings title track for new movie 'Country Strong'

How does she compare to Jeff Bridges?

Is Gwyneth Paltrow the next Jeff Bridges? In the upcoming movie “Country Strong,” Paltrow plays a country singer who attempts a comeback after a stint in rehab. Call it “Recovery Heart.”

Tim McGraw plays her husband, so between her on-screen hubby and her real life mate, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Paltrow probably got all the singing tips she could stand. Add that she’s already hit the charts with “Cruisin’,” her duet with Huey Lewis from the movie “Duets” several years back and is it any wonder that little Miss Oscar can really sing?

Read Full Post
<p>Ne-Yo</p>

Ne-Yo

Listen: Ne-Yo's 'Hurt Me' hurts so good

New single from 'Libra Scale' has him working a theme

Ne-Yo’s got it bad for a bad girl and that's not good: “All she wants to do is hurt me, she wants me to feel pain…she’s taken everything but my life and she wants that too,” on “Hurt Me.”

The mid-tempo song opens with an insistent rock beat that it quickly abandons for string fills before returning to them to lead into the second verse, then back into the strings. It’s a hypnotic, if somewhat, formulaic conceit, but what makes the track so memorable is the bridge. Over classic sounding, ‘7os melody lines, Ne-Yo’s voice swoops and soars over fairly mundane, Euro beats. He sounds so great , we’d like to hear him sing this tune a capella. He’s a compelling writer and producer (usually working with Stargate), but Ne-Yo also has a beautiful voice that he knows how to use to great effect. It's always smooth, even when the song takes a nasty turn.

As he deciphers the relationship, Ne-Yo realizes he may have created this beautiful monster. “I didn’t mean to do what I did…,” he sings. “Cold hearted, cold blooded…what have I done to you?”

Like previous single, “Beautiful Monster,” “Hurt Me” is on “Libra Scale,” which comes out Sept. 21. Also, similar to that track, which peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart, “Hurt Me” covers the same lyrical minefield about a woman who has grown hard to love at his hand. It’s too soon to tell if the new album will be as superb as the Grammy-nominated “Year of the Gentleman,” but it looks like it may give it a run for its money.

 

Read Full Post
Soundgarden to play Lollapalooza pre-show Aug. 5 in Chicago
Credit: Don VanCleave

Soundgarden to play Lollapalooza pre-show Aug. 5 in Chicago

Register by July 29 to win chance to buy tickets to theater show

Soundgarden is headlining Lollapalooza Aug. 8 in Chicago, but true fans will want to be at the band’s private show at the intimate Vic Theater on Aug. 5. The theater, which is beautiful, holds around 1000 or so. This will mark the second time Soundgarden has held a special show for its fan club members since reuniting. The first was in April in Seattle under the name Nudedragons.Plus, this way, you won't have to decide between Soundgarden and Arcade Fire on Sunday.

To qualify for ticktets, fans need to sign up for free at Soundgarden World and request a pair of tickets. Entry will end July 29. The winners will be randomly drawn and notified on July 30. Winners must purchase their tickets that same day.

You must be 18 to atted. The show is paperless and will be distributed at will call the day of the show. No single tickets sold (also no cost on the tickets yet) and all sales are final.

Soundgarden is asking only fans who have a realistic chance of going to the show to apply. In a missive to fans they say who should not apply: “For example, if you live in Slovenia and really, really, really want to go,
but there's no frickin' way you're flying all the way to Chicago for the show, don't make it harder for someone who can attend by putting in a request.” Enough said.

Read Full Post
<p>Sugarland</p>

Sugarland

Listen: Will Sugarland's new single 'Stuck Like Glue' stick with fans?

Or will Jennifer Nettles' rapping turn them off?

“Stuck Like Glue” isn’t only the name of Sugarland’s new single, it’s the description of how affixed the tune will be on the radio airwaves. It’s a little bit like the band’s “All I Wanna Do” with its infectious sing-along chorus, yet it takes Sugarland to a different place with its funky rhythms combined with lead singer Jennifer Nettles’ twangy vocals. There’s also the quirky Hawaiian/islandy feel to the beginning (Raise your hand if it reminds you of Train's "Hey Soul Sister").

Lyrically, the song celebrates—sort of—a love that dies and then revives itself again and again. “There you go, pulling my right back in,” she sings. We’re not sure being “stuck like glue” is such a good option here, but Nettles sounds so darn happy about it that she’s convinced us. She even raps in the middle. We're sure that's going to light up the switchboards at radio stations. It's not that she's bad at rapping; she adequate, to put it nicely, but the rap is completely extraneous and makes the song a novelty. 

"Stuck Like Glue," the first single from the duo’s fourth studio album, “The Incredible Machine,” is for sale on iTunes and getting airplay on radio, but the label won’t let us stream it, so if you can’t hear it on your local radio station or don’t want to buy it, below is the embed of Sugarland performing it live on July 24 in Eau Claire, Wis.  We saw Sugarland two weeks ago in Los Angeles. They weren’t performing “Stuck Like Glue” yet, but it was clear from the three new songs Nettles and Kristian Bush played, that they’re trying to push the boundaries of what they do. That’s fine, but the title track, a plodding tune, went over like a lead balloon in concert that night. So much so, that Nettles thanked the audience “for indulging us.” Still, Sugarland’s fans know and love the band’s quirks and detours, and more often than not, are very happy to choose the road less traveled with them. We’ll see if they’re willing to continue on their ambitious journey.

Read Full Post
<p>Katy Perry</p>

Katy Perry

Listen: Katy Perry has a crush in new single 'Teenage Dream'

Is Russell Brand the man of her 'Dream?'

Will it be another “California Gurls?” Or is that only in her dreams? Katy Perry’s new single, “Teenage Dream” is a fun, Kylie Minogue-like dance romp about falling in love. “I finally found you, my missing puzzle piece,” she sings. “This is real, so don’t ever look back.” Could she be singing about anyone other than fiancé Russell Brand and the way he makes her feel?

The thumper, which also is redolent of  Ke$ha's "Tik Tok," starts off dreamy and explodes into a massive beat. It doesn’t have the immediate ear-worm quality of “California Gurls,” which spent several weeks at No. 1, but is more of a grower in that it slowly seeps into your brain. Ultimately,the title track to her Aug. 24 album may have more staying power as it is less of a novelty song and shows off Perry’s vocals more. It’s available exclusively on iTunes, but here’s a version we found on Youtube below after the track listing.

"Teenage Dream" track listing is:

"Teenage Dream"
"Last Friday Night (TGIF)"
"California Gurls" feat. Snoop Dogg
"Firework"
"Peacock"
"Circle The Drain"
"The One that Got Away"
"E.T."
"Who Am I Living For"
"Pearl"
"Hummingbird Heartbeat"
"Not Like the Movies"

Read Full Post
Avenged Sevenfold

Avenged Sevenfold
 

Credit: Avenged Sevenfold

Avenged Sevenfold, Tom Jones and Sky Sailing lead July 27 release slate

Will Avenged Sevenfold finally end Eminem's reign at No. 1?

We’re emerging out of the summer doldrums this week, although we’re still a bit sleepy. However, Avenged Sevenfold is sure to wake everyone up based on sheer volume alone. Plus, they are the first contender with an outside chance of knocking Eminem off the top of the Billboard 200. We don’t know what took her so long, but season two “American Idol” contestant, Kimberly Caldwell finally releases her debut album, plus Tom Jones takes us to church and Owl City shows off his early, acoustic work under the name Sky Sailing.

Avenged Sevenfold, “Nightmare” (Warner Bros.): Metalheads return with their fifth studio album--their first since the death of drummer James Sullicanon,  produced by Mike Elizondo. The title track is already a hit at active rock radio. Will the Uproar tour headliners be the ones to knock Eminem out of the top spot on the Billboard 200? They have the best chance so far.

Read Full Post
<p>Mike Posner</p>

Mike Posner

Listen: Mike Posner's new single, 'Please Don't Go'

Same beat, but different tune from 'Cooler Than Me'

In his breakthrough hit “Cooler Than Me,” Mike Posner is chastising a girl from his alma mater, Duke, because she was so practiced at the art of making him feel like he—and every other male without a letter jacket—was not worthy of her.

In his new single, “Please Don’t Go,” which features the same skiffling beat, he’s changed his tune and is begging a girl to stay. Morning has come and he wants to keep the magical spell cast the night before unbroken.  It’s a sweet song, but at some point, radio is going to scream uncle.

Posner is the latest in a new slew of solo male pop artists—B.o.B., Taio Cruz, Drake (to a lesser extent),  Bruno Mars, Jason DeRulo and Jay Sean—who are all—more or less—filling the airwaves with mid-tempo, synthetic, beat-driven tunes about love. If you listen to them all in a row, you’ll come out of the room screaming for real drums and a soaring guitar riff that will make your ears bleed. Music goes in cycles and for a very long time, pop music was dominated by rap/urban leaning males—it still is, but most of these gentlemen, while still combining the two genres, slide more along the pop than the urban side of the spectrum.

Listen for yourself and tell us what you think.

 

Read Full Post
U2

U2 pulls it out over Eminem to hit No. 1 on HitFix's Music Power Rankings list.

Credit: AP Photo

Music Power Rankings: Who comes out on top - U2, Eminem or Lady GaGa?

They all have a great week, but they aren't the only ones

Even with a bad back, Bono still has more power than the rest of us. He and his Irish band mates in U2 land at the top of Forbes annual Top-Earning Musicians with net earnings of $130 million for July 1-June 31. The only new artist to make the Forbes list is Lady GaGa, but she makes our list this week for a totally different reason that has nothing to do with money or fame, but with humanity.

1. U2: The Irish rockers top Forbes list of top-earning musicians. I believe they’ve found what they’re looking for.

2. Eminem (No. 1): Not only does “Recovery” log its fourth week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, for the first time in his career, Eminem lands back to back No. 1s. After “Not Afraid” went to No. 1 in May, “Love the Way You Lie” goes to No. 1 this week, bumping Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” out of the top spot after six weeks.

3. Rihanna (not ranked): The news is good for Eminem, but it’s great for Rihanna. “Love the Way You Lie” is her seventh No. 1 since she first debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 2005, giving her more No. 1s in that time frame than any other artist. Lady GaGa is plotting as we speak.

Read Full Post