Chris Isaak goes “Beyond The Sun”

It’s absolutely no secret.  Chris Isaak could record an album of Swedish electropop (in Swedish, even) or death metal (in discernible English), and I’d be sure to listen.  And while the talented singer, songwriter and guitarist from Stockton, California doesn’t often dip into cover tunes – recorded versions of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man”, Roy Orbison’s “Only The Lonely”, and Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” only come to mind – he has stepped back into rock and roll archives for his latest album Beyond The Sun.

There’s a little bit of irony here too.  For someone on whom the 50’s and 60’s days of rock and roll embeds its style and attitude, all of Chris Isaak’s own records were released in the compact disc era of music, just as vinyl sales were fading.  But now that vinyl is finding favour again, Beyond The Sun would sound just fine on a 12″ platter.

Beyond The Sun is Chris’ tribute to the Sun Records label, which gave so many early rock and rollers their start, including of course Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis.  The record was also recorded at the Sun studios in Memphis.  Songs from those singers are offered here in Chris’ own style, which sometimes resembles those recordings, and more often does not.  While the record is exceptionally made, it will mainly appeal to Chris Isaak completists as well as fans of the era it represents, which is probably why prominent folk/pop label Vanguard Records signed Chris after he left Reprise/Warner.

While standards like Elvis’ “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” and “It’s Now Or Never”, as well as one of his lesser known and earliest songs, “My Happiness” (once again featuring vocals by Michelle Branch, like on Chris’ last studio album, 2009’s Mr. Lucky), are evocative of Elvis’ style with Chris Isaak flair, and while we get to hear Chris flex his tenor-maybe-baritone range on Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, it’s the more obscure songs that really represent Beyond The Sun well.  

I’m talking particularly about “Miss Pearl” (a live clip is at the bottom of this blog), a rave up from the early 50’s by Jimmy Wages, and the fun “Dixie Fried”, which was recorded by Carl Perkins.  These songs fit snugly into Chris’ repertoire and would sound great in concert.  Aside from these, I blogged about “Live It Up” back in August, when it was issued as a free download.  It’s Chris’ lone original composition in the package and it sizzles next to all of these songs.  

There are no negatives here, but let’s just say that his convincing renditions of Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” or Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” won’t be the songs you remember most about Beyond The Sun.

For the ultra faithful, the deluxe version of Beyond The Sun contains 11 more songs, including Chris’ versions of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” (which I’m sure I’ve heard at one of his concerts), Lewis’ “That Lucky Old Sun”, Elvis’ “My Baby Left Me”, and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Everybody’s In The Mood”, along with another Chris Isaak original ‘Lovely Loretta” (again I think I’ve heard this one at one of his shows).

While I can never get enough of Chris Isaak’s own rocking tunes and pretty, sad, love songs, Beyond The Sun certainly achieves what he wanted and more.  Sam Phillips would be proud.

Published in: on November 1, 2011 at 11:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Tuned-On! Top 30 #363 – October 10/11

October is proving to be a watershed month in 2011 for album releases – yes that’s right album releases!  As many of you know, I’m a singles-going-steady kinda guy, one song will do it for me over an entire album.  So we have no shortage of album releases this month – priorities for me by Darren Hayes, Erasure, Penguin Prison, Chris Isaak, Florence & The Machine (Nov 1), and the already released Adam Cohen – plus Evanescence, Kelly Clarkson, Drake, Coldplay all on deck too… well the iTunes gift cards will be bountiful this year.  So my new personal chart is a transitional one until the floodgates open.  And I’m still waiting for some highly anticipated singles to drop – “Memorize Me” by Rune RK & Databoy and “Can’t Help Myself (Keep Dancing)” by Matt Blue to name two.

So something will likely give at the top of the chart in two weeks, and you can view the full chart using the link under ***BILL’S PERSONAL CHART*** to the right, or you can click right here.  You can hear all of the songs on the chart or watch their videos by clicking on the pics on the chart page.  But for now it continues to be “Wicked Baby” by Ro Danishei and Simon Curtis at the top but virtually neck and neck with Simon’s own “Laser Guns Up” in second place.  Rumour has it that Ro is now signed to Sony BMG – fantastic! – but I’m not sure of details, and I’m sure they will be forthcoming at some point.

“Disco Moment” by Bright Light Bright Light should by all rights join “A New Word To Say” and “Love Part II” as number ones on this chart, but may get shortchanged in the coming weeks, so it jumps to #3 for now.  New York’s Jessica 6 will be starting a small North American club date tour soon, which will then take them to Europe.  “Prisoner Of Love”, their unique splash of disco nightlife pairing with Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons, climbs to #4.  I’m anxiously awaiting the video for this song!

The Top 5 is rounded out by the Fastest Riser on the chart.  “No I.D.” by Frankmusik and Colette Carr are in the running for the top as the song surges 20-5, thanks to relentless touring – now that the Erasure/Frankmusik tour is wrapping up overseas, there will be another tour for both performers along with fellow Cherrytree Records signees LMFAO and Far East Movement, starting very soon!

Songs 6 through 12 are trapped in the middle and some should break loose in two weeks.  “Fix Me”, the stunning ballad by L.A.’s Matthew Kurz and his free download mixtape, holds at #6, while “Bad Dog” by UK singer Neon Hitch (and that’s her real name too!) jumps to #7.  And what would a chart be without Adele?  “Set Fire To The Rain” is her third Top Tenner for me from the 21 album, currently one of my favourite albums of the year along with others such as R∆  by Simon Curtis, Eric Saade’s Saade Volume One, and Do It In The A.M. by Frankmusik.

Contemporary electro pop is all a flutter right now as represented by a delightful next bunch:  Adam Tyler’s “Pull The Trigger” becomes his third Top 10 entry at #9; “My Fizzy Pop” by Kyle Brylin follows “Everything I’m Missing” as his second Top Tenner; Penguin Prison does not look to miss the Top 10, making it five in a row in two weeks with “Fair Warning”; and “Stupid With You” by Eric Saade is simply charming pop at its best.

“Bloodstained Heart” by Darren Hayes can only be purchased in Australia right now, but will be on release worldwide in two weeks when his album Secret Codes And Battleships arrives.  The song continues to rise up to #14.  Florence & The Machine’s “What The Water Gave Me” is holding at #18 while their new album Ceremonials is on deck.  And four more of last week’s debuts make headway.  Will Young’s free download of “The Way I See” climbs to #22, while Swedish pop queen Agnes moves 29-23 with “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”.  Nick Hagelin’s tender R&B ballad “Metaphor” also climbs to #20 and is a free download from his website.  With every week that passes, “Famous” by Audio Playground manages to find more radio stations playing it in Canada – Top 50 on the Billboard Canadian Top 100.  This past week saw the debut of the video of the French version of the song, featuring Randy Raymond.  Watch it below.

I’ve spent the past week blogging and tweeting about Like A Man, the fresh start of a sophomore release by Adam Cohen (son of Leonard), as well as his lovely and intimate show I saw in Toronto this past week.  His beautiful and thoughtful single “What Other Guy” (available as a free download) arrives at #24.  One of Kyle Brylin’s latest releases, the propulsive and somewhat gleefully cynical “Never Love A DJ” joins “My Fizzy Pop” on the chart at #27.  Lastly, on the more raucous side, Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim have been promoting the hell out of last year’s release Sidewalks.  I saw them perform last Fall, and they won me over with their energy and crowd interaction.  “Block After Block”, from Sidewalks, keeps grabbing my attention, and with a spot-on performance on the Jimmy Fallon show this summer, the song arrives on the chart at #25.  If you don’t know about this fun pair, watch the Fallon performance by clicking on the link below, as well as the official video at the top of the blog, and you will be converted.

Summer Popervescence #2 featuring new songs by Chris Isaak, Will Young, Pierre Lewis, Marianas Trench, Evanescence, Adam Tyler… and some newcomers

Chris Isaak “Live It Up”

Sometimes things seem to take forever.  Yet when you look back on the first time you heard a performer, it all seems to have happened in a snapshot.

It’s hard to believe I first heard the music of Chris Isaak in a record store in Paris in 1985.  I was quickly intrigued and bought a French music magazine with him on the cover so that I could find out more about his music.  That same night I saw the video for his first single “Dancin'” on TV.  I didn’t end up buying his debut album Silvertone until I got home – but it’s one of my most favourite albums and “Dancin'” is one of my most favourite songs.  I got the opportunity to interview this singer from Stockton, California, in 1987, more than two years before “Wicked Game” brought him worldwide fame.  Since then, his songs have been featured in countless movies (most noteworthy “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” in “Eyes Wide Shut” in 1999, four years after its original release) and he’s had two TV shows of his own.  He last released a studio record, Mr. Lucky, in 2009 (just before this blog began) and a live album Live At The Fillmore was issued last year.  That completed his days with Reprise/Warner.

While he continues to tour actively, currently in mid-west US and Canada, he has now signed to Vanguard Records (currently home to Matt Nathanson and Shawn Mullins, among others) for his album of classic 50’s and 60’s Sun Records artists cover versions, called Beyond The Sun.  Just the thought of him singing classics like “Ring of Fire”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, and “I Walk The Line” makes my spine tingle, because of his unique way in interpreting a song.  All you need to do is hear his renditions of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” (from 1995) and Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” (from 2006) for proof positive.

I could go on and on and on… But there is a free download to precede the October release of Beyond The Sun.  In a press release, Chris says the following about “Live It Up”:

“When we were doing the record, I kept learning things,” says Chris. “For instance, nothing on those early records has a rock beat—it’s all shuffle and stripper beat. I wrote “Live It Up” to put a rock beat on the record, so that that beat too is represented.”

Download “Live It Up” right here or listen to it at the link below.  Read more about the Beyond The Sun project right here.

Will Young “The Way I See”

Flipping back through the contemporary pop pages, we have a free download by one Will Young, who has been a sensation overseas since his UK Pop Idol win in 2002.  In North America, his 2003 hit “Leave Right Now” was used as an American Idol ‘exit’ song in 2010, prompting overdue interest in the singer.  As a precursor to his album Echoes, a Robbie Williams-ish single called “Jealousy” was issued.  As much as I’ve listened to it several times, that song is not clicking with me.  But then along comes this free download of “The Way I See”, and what do we have here?  A song destined to get Will Young songs into dance clubs worldwide, so I’m waiting anxiously for the remixes.  Download “The Way I See” right here and be prepared to strut your stuff…

Pierre Lewis “Out Of My Mind”

I tipped you off to Pierre’s new single back in June, and this week an impressive video (below) surfaced for the song, due out on release on September 19.  “Out Of My Mind” shows the talented British singer’s range as well as someone who can exert his presence in the always underestimated blue-eyed soul sub-genre.  Actually to me “Out Of My Mind” is more R&B than pop, it would fit contently next to Ne-Yo or Jason Derulo rather than GaGa or Britney.  Pierre has a strong and loyal following of fans but this one could get attention worldwide if handled properly, and it’s from an upcoming EP called Transitions.  As I mentioned, the video is pretty eye-catching, the story moves along nicely in all kinds of attractive colour lighting accentuating various eye candy and the considerable charm of the singer.  And be sure to check out Pierre on Twitter, especially when he can’t sleep 😉

Marianas Trench “Haven’t Had Enough”

It’s already been to #1 on the Canadian iTunes singles chart, which is testament to the domestic popularity of Vancouver-based quartet Marianas Trench.  Though it doesn’t offer up a heck of a lot of new tricks (I really like Matt Webb’s guitar work on this one), “Haven’t Had Enough” gives a trademark to the band’s loud but lyrical party rock sound that just happens to be supported by guys who know their craft and vocal techniques.  I was a big supporter of 2009’s Masterpiece Theatre album so I’m looking forward to #3, called Ever After, this fall.  There’s no video yet, but listen to the song below.

Evanescence “What You Want”

Leaving the sometimes gothic feel of past hits like “My Immortal” behind as well as the soft-turns-to-loud moments that showcased singer Amy Lee’s voice so well on songs like “Call Me When You’re Sober”, “What You Want” is the Arkansas quintet’s first single from their upcoming self-titled album.  It’s big and loud and will hit you square without bowling you over.  Amy Lee will continue to be a force among female vocalists and her voice as a featured artist will benefit any song.  I don’t usually think a lot about radio these days so it’s hard for me to determine if radio will get behind this record based on the band’s past performance.  But in time this could in fact be one of the best records of the year.

Hot New Dance Songs:  The sexy and aggressive “Bad Dog” by British singer Neon Hitch, and Maryland rapper Rye Rye‘s (nee Ryeisha Barrain) memorable high profile duet with Robyn on the retro 90’s “Never Will Be Mine” that was featured on the Jay Leno show a week ago.  Hear both songs below (the version of “Never Will Be Mine” is the Burns remix).

Proud Swedish Moment:  LA’s Adam Tyler recently performed at Stockholm’s pride celebrations in front of over 30,000 people.  We’re now 12 days away from the premiere of his album Shattered Ice, and below is a video of Adam performing a new song “Like A Drug”.  The album looks to be a spicy mix of dance zingers like this as well as some slower tracks (I’m waiting for “Emergency”!).

Grunge-inspired Brits:  Karvel is a new trio from Twickenham, England consisting of singer/guitarist Joe Mallory-Skinner, bassist Ben Soan, and drummer Tom Wood.  Together they seem to be fusing together some unexpected rock styles – take UK groups like Placebo and Kasabian, pass them through Ireland’s The Script, and then into the 90’s rock of Beck and Foo Fighters.  I think some growth still needs to happen here, but their recent acoustic video cover of The Joy Formidable’s “A Heavy Abacus” certainly grabbed my attention (below), as did their work with Grammy-winner Adrian Bushby on “End of the Night”.  Hear them at their heaviest, and grungiest, on “Only The Young” on their Facebook page (from which you can get free downloads with an email subscription).

Tuned-On! Top 300 of the 2000’s, Part 5 (100-51)

Online discoveries and remixes dominate the top 100 of this decade list.  It is like no other list I’ve created before, but it parallels my list of the 1970’s in some ways since I was discovering the UK charts and dance remixes in the latter part of that decade.  But there would have been no way for me to discover, without our current technology and without meeting online friends:

* Dance music available otherwise to club DJ’s such as songs by Casey Stratton, iio, Motorcycle, Axwell, Crystal Waters, Cassius, Armin Van Buuren, Roger Sanchez, and Matt Darey, including remixes of songs by Coldplay and The Fray

* Canadian talent from across the country such as Mitchell Hunter and Jake

* Talent from across the world like Agnes Carlsson, Freemasons, Adele, Duffy, and Newton Faulkner

* Lesser known artists awaiting their breakout, like Tyler Hilton, Evan Taubenfeld, and Dan Black

* Updates on favourites such as David Usher, Darren Hayes, and Chris Isaak

* Monitoring success of new decade favourites like Jason Mraz and Lifehouse

The ‘hits’ are still here too, though much less so than ever.  Discovered the traditional way were songs by 3 Doors Down, Leona Lewis, George Michael (“Amazing”), The Fray (“Over My Head”), and Jordin Sparks/Chris Brown.

So the Top 100 begins with the updated list right here – don’t forget to leave your comments and observations!!

Tuned-On! Best of 2009, Part 1 (50-26)

To me, 2009 was the year that pop music exploded online.  Sure music has been available for many years online, and iTunes legitimized online sale of music downloads near the beginning of the decade.  But never in all these years has music been so close to listeners that they can practically taste it (and maybe that’s next!).

It has recently become a reasonable business strategy to make music available for free as a promotional tool, to attract listeners and fans to various websites and of course to iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, or their local music store to download or buy CD’s.  And is it just me, or is the world even that much closer now?  Never have I been in contact with more people around the world than just through this 40 year old hobby of mine, which I transformed from website and message board to a blog this past Fall.  I’m absolutely loving it.

Music for me in 2009 stayed on the pop-rock-dance tip, with only a handful of modern-alt.rock tunes sustaining my interest.  Literally fantastic singers are now everywhere, waiting to be heard, and I’m so glad I found some of them.  For every enjoyable favourite who returned with new music, such as Chris Isaak, Duncan Sheik, or Pet Shop Boys, there were new stars glimmering like the UK’s LaRoux, Sam Taylor, Florence & The Machine, Gary Go, and Dan Black; Ireland’s The Script; Australia’s Presets and Nelson Clemente; Sweden’s Darin, Mans Zelmerlow, and Agnes Carlsson; Canada’s Colin Munroe and Noah; and the USA’s Evan Taubenfeld, Val Emmich, Matt & Kim, and Keri Hilson.  Dig deep enough online and you’ll find free downloads for Dan Black’s “Symphonies”, Matt & Kim’s “Daylight”, Munroe’s “Will I Stay”, Clemente’s “You Want Me Don’t You (Spekr Freks mix)”, 100 Akres & Roz Bell’s “Pink Cadillac”, and Newton White’s “Breathless” that are all artist-approved.  And online remixes even made it to national radio, witness the frenetic redux of The Fray’s “You Found Me” by Lenny B – a song I didn’t like in its original version instantly became one of my favourites of the year!!

So in this blog filled with lists I will add another list of favourites that will hopefully stand the test of time in some ways.  I’ll start with the first half, from 50-26, the rest will appear tomorrow with additional thoughts about some of the songs.

You can view the full list right here.

Tuned-On! Top 300 of the 2000’s, Part I (300-251)

Yes it’s that time once in every ten years when I get to recap the list of my favourite songs of the decade.  Of course this list is likely to change even as early as next year, but it’s a snapshot of all that I thought was worthwhile in the decade.  In some ways it corresponds to my bi-weekly chart, but there have been some past favourites that I no longer play or hear as much as in the past, and those songs are not on this list.  This list is not exclusive to singles or songs on the radio…  there are many album tracks.

I will eventually post the full list in the sidebar to the right, but for now you’ll have to watch the blog each day this week for the first 200 songs.  The Top 100 will be revealed sometime during the week of December 28.

You can view the first 50 songs right here and of course by the tags you can see some of the artists who are on the list.

Enjoy, and post some comments about your favourite songs on the list!!

Favourites from the Decade Lists, Part 3: The 1990’s

As we approach the end of the first decade of the 2000’s, I’ve decided to add my lists of personal favourites from the 70’s, 80’s  and 90’s in preparation for the end of this decade.

If you look at the list of songs that make up my list of favourites from the 1990’s, it must have been difficult to figure out what I really like the most in terms of music genre.  But one thing’s always for certain:  I love a great well-sung song with a terrific melody.  Beautiful songs by Chris Isaak, Jeff Buckley, Everything But The Girl, Rufus Wainwright, Extreme, and Jann Arden grace the list for this reason.   Rock songs from Live, Nirvana, Collective Soul, Smithereens, New Order, Electronic, and the Matthew Good Band all have their place on this list, and as technology expanded rapidly during the 90’s, so did the ways to make a dance song cut loose.  Thus we see songs by Kristine W., Everything But The Girl, Delerium, and even The KLF with Tammy Wynette in-between the grooves.  As the Internet rose, so did communication world-wide.  I only found out about Faithless’ “God Is A DJ” because an email contact in Sweden was kind enough to send me a compilation CD in exchange for information about Bryan Adams.  Music was still a solid hand-held CD for me… but I began to wonder how I could acquire songs that weren’t released in North America yet for a decent price.  iTunes and downloading were on the horizon as I began listening to streamed music online.

It still dwells inside of me that we lost two of my favourite singers of all time in 1997, one the same age as me, and one younger.  Jeff Buckley’s death was heart-wrenching; his music was only a discovery of mine two years prior, and boy did it grow on me in time, and I sought solace in the many, many online tributes.  And Michael Hutchence, who I saw five or six times in concert with INXS, apparently took his own life.  His vibrant on-stage personality was one-of-a-kind.

With sentimentality out of the way now, I hope you enjoy the list using the link below.

Bill’s 100 Favourite Songs of the 1990’s