Casey Stratton – Standing at the Edge (Sony)
Fans of American Idolites like Clay Aiken should run, not walk, to their nearest independent record store to buy “Standing on the Edge,” the debut record from Michigan Native Casey Stratton. Everyone else should remain in their seats.
Stratton has a very pretty voice but not much else. His songs are harmless and unobtrusive with lyrics that are cloyingly introspective. “I look inside and I feel so small,” he sings on “Hollow.” There is no reason he can’t become the new darling of Lite FM radio ala Phil Collins or end up on soundtracks for Hollywood love movies.
Stratton, a graduate of Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Academy, has one thing that sets him apart from other young singers who fall in the adult contemporary category. He writes and arranges his own songs, strings and all. It amounts to a pretty package that just might be something precocious teens and their parents can agree on.
Sarah McLachlan – Remixed (Arista)
Though “Remixed” has been out since 2001 in Canada, it has finally been released in the U.S. saving American fans from having to shell out the $25 for an import copy or make a run for the Maple Leaf border.
There’s something about McLachlan’s songs that make them take very well to techno remixes. Though this CD breaks no new ground since “Possession (Rabbit in the Moon Remix)” on 1996’s “Rarities, B-Sides, and Other Stuff,” if you liked what you heard then you’ll still like it now.
The bulk of the songs on this disc are taken from “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” and “Surfacing,” arguably her best two albums in that order. However, we do get one track from “Solace” and a remix of “Silence” from the Delerium album “Karma.” With a little help from DJ’s like BT and DJ Tiesto her acoustic-guitar and piano-driven ballads become sleek dance-floor anthems.
Though some songs don’t quite work (the remix of “Angel” is plodding and gets in the way of the simplicity that was part of the song’s original beauty), “Remixes” is a treat for fans of McLachlan and the DJs that give these older songs some new life.
Missy Elliott – This Is Not A Test (Elektra)
Grammy Award Winner Missy Elliott is back with “This Is Not A Test” and she’s really, really hot.
Elliott has shown consistently that regardless of her gender, she can compete with the best of them. Elliott is not “good for a girl.” She’s good, period.
Constantly stretching the boundaries of the genre, “This Is Not A Test” contains all the experimental sounds and beats of “Under Construction” and then some. “Pass That Dutch,” the record’s first single, has a beat that’ll get your ass shaking before you even realize what’s going on back there. The second single, “I’m Really Hot,” is currently burning up the airwaves.
Elliott is a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind whether she’s criticizing materialism (“Wake Up”) or praising the joy of sexual aides (“Toyz”). Although some of the tracks are duds (on “Don’t Be Cruel” she messes with Salt N Peppa’s “Push It” and it just doesn’t quite work. Leave well enough alone), “This Is Not A Test” deserves all the acclaim it’s been getting.
The Twilight Babies – Middle of Something (self-released)
Detroit Music Award winners The Twilight Babies’ sophomore album “Middle of Something” is a breezey, trip-hop folk journey. They describe themselves as, “Detroit’s one and only rocktronic, chick-hop, dream-pop, folktronic, electro-lounge trio.” They’re probably right.
Hard to pigeonhole but immensely listenable, “Middle Of Something” is a journey through genres, never quite settling on any one sound. There’s a little something for everyone: guitar, electronic beats, and singer Alison Lewis who followers of the Detroit music scene are already familiar with. Her voice is reminiscent of Natalie Merchant and Sophie B. Hawkins, especially on the title track.
Though a worthy effort, “Middle of Something” occasionally lives up to its name a little too well. It often falls into a mid-range intensity that doesn’t ignite or grab listeners. Although this quality makes for good background music, I suspect that The Twilight Babies are capable of more than that.
For more info check out http://www.twilightbabies.com.
Amici Forever – The Opera Band (RCA)
Although they’re marketed as opera with a pop sensibility (kind of like a “hip with the kids” version of the Three Tenors), they’re really adult contemporary music with trained opera singers as vocalists. Although there are a few pop-tweaks here and there, “The Opera Band” really doesn’t succeed in making opera cool again, if that is in fact their goal.
Amici Forever not only go against the grain with their music, they also defy the stereotypes when it comes to what opera singers look like. When most people think of opera singers they might visualize a fat guy with a beard ala Pavarotti or a big woman in a Viking hat. The members of Amici Forever are young, slender, and relatively good looking. And one has the feeling that this is precisely what has gotten them this far.
People who actually like real opera are bound to scoff at Amici Forever while Josh Groban and Charlotte Church fans will eat it up. To each their own.
Diana Ross & The Supremes – The No. 1’s (Motown/UTV Records)
Diana Ross and The Supremes have scored a lot of number one hits during their time together – and apart. This newly released collection spans 18 years of digitally remastered number one hits plus a new remix of “You Keep Me Hanging On” by the Almighty (no, not God. The pop remix team Almighty Associates).
Whether you’re already a die-hard fan or you’re seeking an introduction into their amazing music, “The No. 1’s” is a fine collection. Like all greatest hits compilations, it isn’t perfect. Purists will bemoan the remixing of some of the songs, the completely obsessed who already have all the greatest hits compilations will complain at having to shell out $13 for nothing particularly new, etc. However, for those of us who want a great new CD to throw into our changer, “The No. 1’s” is it.
Kylie Minogue – Body Language (Capitol
Kylie Minogue’s 2002 release “Fever” took dance clubs by storm with her shake-your-ass anthem “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” as well as stand out tracks like “Love At First Sight.” It seemed like the world literally couldn’t get Kylie out of their heads. Resistance was futile and “Fever” took the dance pop world by storm.
Although still a pure dance-pop album, “Body Language” lacks any songs that scream hit single. “Red Blooded Woman” has potential, but it’s no “Out of My Head.”
Many of the tunes on “Body Language” have a very retro feel to them. “Sweet Music” echoes “Thriller” era Michael Jackson and “Secret (Take You Home)” will transport you right back to the world of 80 electro-pop.
Where “Fever” was fun, “Body Language” is sexy. Kylie opts for a more breathless singing style and a more mid tempo rhythm making “Body Language” less about dancing and more about seduction. The electronic pulse that throbs throughout this album is aimed right between your heart and your feet.
Music From ‘Queer Eye For The Straight Guy’ (Capitol)
As they say, “things just keep getting better,” and if you’re a fan of the fab five then perhaps this is true. Does the show really need a soundtrack? Well, no. But for those folks who love the show’s spirit of fun and fabulousness, this collection of tunes embodies it perfectly. There’s nothing ground breaking on this disc, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
The disc includes the show’s theme song by Widelife, “All Things (Just Keep Getting Better),” and music from gay favorites like Junior Senior and Basement Jaxx. Kylie Minogue’s “Slow” gets the remix treatment from Chemical Brothers and Duran Duran’s “Sunrise” gets a make over from Jason Nevins. An album favorite is OK Go’s “You’re So Damn Hot” which is featured frequently on the show.
There are some duds in this collection, but over all it’s a fun mix. Put it in your car stereo and go buy yourself a new wardrobe.