Pop Weekend: Cody Belew, Blake Lewis, Mans Zelmerlow, Jerry Reid (featuring P.J. Soles!), and i come in PEZ

Edit:  Here’s a link where you can watch the video:  http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNTIwNDQ0NTky.html

Cody Belew “Purple Rain”

Coming as a Top 10 contestant from TV’s “The Voice”, Arkansas native Cody Belew captured North America’s ears and hearts with his brave cover versions and his genuine personality.  At the time, I said that he was the show’s likeable underdog, and later named him one of my 13 Performers To Watch For ’13.  In advance of his album-in-progress comes another compelling cover, of none other than Prince’s “Purple Rain”.  You know the song as an aching pop/rock ballad about love and, especially sex, with its fierce, climactic guitar work.  Cody’s rendition of “Purple Rain” strips it all away, almost akin to what Sinéad O’Connor did for Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, a lesser known Prince song that became the #1 song of 1990.  Well almost all of it – Cody’s version is a minimal, similarly aching recording that pulls the heartbreak in the lyrics all the way up for the listener to confront.  And with the barren scene in the video, the blurry camera movement, the expressions of the singer, and the absent rock trappings, the emptiness is accompanied by a profound sadness.  Even if “Purple Rain” doesn’t end up on Cody’s album – I suspect it won’t, but it should – this video performance is extremely memorable.  It’s difficult not to be moved by this beautiful interpretation of heartbreak.  Keep your tissue box handy!

Blake Lewis, “Your Touch”

With his latest music, I am so glad that Washington-born American Idol season six contestant Blake Lewis has continued to build on the power of his EDM audience, which took the title track from his 2009 album Heartbreak On Vinyl to #1 on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart in April 2010.  That song also reached #4 on my chart and was in the Top 20 on my year end list of 2009.  Emotion is a powerful thing with the right arrangement, and though it’s laden in synths and effects, the result on “Your Touch” is a big sounding song that reaches out.  And this is probably what drew Microsoft in to use the song to promote Internet Explorer 10 in its commercials.  Though it perhaps takes a few listens to gel, “Your Touch” could crossover to pop radio with its exposure.  Blake’s third album, Portrait Of A Chameleon will be released by Republic Records and is due later this year.  While his last album was released almost four years ago, Blake Lewis has never been away and this new music should not be seen as a comeback but more as coming into its own.

Måns Zelmerlöw, “Broken Parts”

Spring 2013 brings us a new album by 26 year old Swedish sensation Måns Zelmerlow, who charmed us to pieces in 2009’s Melodifestivalen with a star-making performance of “Hope and Glory”, and hosted the show for its 2010 edition.  His subsequent sophomore album MZW was a diverse and warm pop album, and that summer I grew quite attached to the song “Rewind”, which peaked at #4 on my chart.  The new album is called Barcelona Sessions and looks towards a softer but more honed sound than in the past.  “Broken Parts” is a beauty in which the singer’s brilliant voice actually rises above the fragility of the lyrics.  I love a singer that transforms the lyrics and Måns has that power in his voice to do so.  Barcelona Sessions will be well worth the wait.

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Jerry Reid featuring P.J. Soles, “Tell The Night”

Last we heard from Detroit-based singer Jerry Reid, he was jiving with reknown pianist Ben Waters in my favourite song from the delectable 2011 Ballroom Remixed collection called “Out Without Your Boyfriend”, which posted at #3 on my chart.  Since then, some interesting songs appeared and vanished from his website, and it’s taken a while but now we have the supurbly edgy and dubsteppy “Tell The Night” available for purchase on Amazon in advance of an upcoming album.  Jerry’s commanding vocal makes you a believer fast, and it’s augmented by screams from none other than 70’s movie star P.J. Soles, most noted in the rock music world as Riff Randall from “Rock ‘N Roll High School”, but also in roles in big movies such as “Private Benjamin”, “Stripes”, and “Carrie”.  You can hear an excerpt of it on Amazon right here and as soon as I know of a complete version online I will post it.

i come in PEZ, “You’re The One”

i come in PEZ is the recording name for a new Dutch EDM indie performer who not only knows how to make infectious dance music, but has his head and heart in the right places.  It’s really quite a simple record where less is more – there’s a forlorn feel that fuels your emotions, and then it comes forward with a huge, bouncy hook with production by Toby Traxx.  This could do very well in dance clubs that take chances on records like this.  “You’re The One” is available on iTunes and half of its proceeds go to the Dutch Amnesty International Pride Fund.  i come in PEZ also released his eponymous 7 song EP last week containing two versions of the song.

13 Performers To Watch for ’13

One of the most popular blog post’s I’ve written – even these past three years, it still receives many views – is 10 Performers to Watch in 2010.  I revived the format of that post for 2013, as there are too many promising performers who should not go without notice.  My criteria for this list is that the performer is releasing songs either for purchase or free download, and did not just issue one song in 2012.  The performer could be releasing a debut or sophomore album, and may already be signed to a major label.

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BAIYU   exquisite vocalist to soar beyond “The Next”

I was absolutely delighted when New York singer Baiyu was set to appear as a contestant on the CW’s talent contest “The Next”.  She also released a high quality mixtape called Hunter, which contained beautiful ballads, such as the duet with American Idol contestant Paul Kim on “Make Believe” (video below), and sinewy uptempo songs such as the title song.  She didn’t win the New York auditions on “The Next” (to me the show compromised the singer’s style with what they wanted to show on TV) but received exposure to-die-for, and recorded a few other viral cover versions including Melanie Fiona’s “4 AM” and even the Jonas Brothers’ “Paranoid” to tantalize Jonas Brothers fans who got to know her through “The Next” (since Joe Jonas was a judge).  I’m not sure what Baiyu has planned for ’13, but I expect it will be well-planned and chosen, and I can’t wait.  Her gorgeous Beyoncé-like voice at times could put her easily in the big leagues.

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CODY BELEW  our likeable multi-talented underdog from “The Voice”  

Nobody, but nobody, captured my attention on this past season of “The Voice” like Cody Belew.  From his initial performance of “Hard To Handle” (which caused coach Cee-Lo Green to turnaround at the last moment) through compelling renditions of “Jolene”, “Somebody To Love”, the deliberately and massively campy “Crazy In Love” (video below, because it’s just so much fun), and especially George Michael’s “One More Try”, it was easy to root for Cody, who just seized every opportunity to win over both coaches and fans alike.  The transition to nation-wide concerts will be easy, but more critical will be what he records.  All eyes and ears on Cody in ’13!

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BIM   UK duo flaunts their emotions

As I predicted last September, Bim’s EP Lifelines has become one of my favourite and most consistent records of 2012, and their second album is on deck for early ’13.  I stand by my earlier statement that every song within Lifelines – particularly “Lights Out”, current single “Burn” (video below), and “Scream” – is full of intense emotion, powerful vocal interaction, and key lyrical moments that resonate long after the song is over.  Rebecca Rosier and Denmark Davis are a dream team, and I for one can’t get enough.

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GENTLEMEN HALL  Boston collective’s fans are its anchor

After catching the sextet’s appearance at Canadian Music Week in March, I found their EP When We All Disappear growing on me throughout the year, and it is one of my most played records.  The multi-layered instrumentation (including glorious flute) and compelling lead vocals from Cobi Mike and Gavin Merlot made each song from the record a rich experience, especially “All Our Love”, “Blush”  (below), and “Take Me Under”.  Gentlemen Hall has a dedicated following, and quite frankly they could be contently touring every club in North America to appease their fans instead of signing their lives away to a record deal.  But I think the right deal will come along in ’13 for Gentlemen Hall that will take them to the next level for which they clearly are more than ready.

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IN MY COMA  Toronto trio brings out the rocker in you

It’s been on release for more than a year now, but Magnets & Miracles, the debut album by Toronto rockers In My Coma, definitely has durability with its contemporary take on 90’s alt.rock styles through songs like “Believe Me” (video below), “Dreamers”, “Hit Them Down Kid”, and “Losing Sleep”.  Part of the reason for the appeal, which seems to be increasing month-by-month, is the band’s ability to connect with fans and pull out the rockers in them which keeps them coming back to their shows, to the point where they won a contest to open for Sum 41 in Toronto in the Fall.  Keeping this strategy in place, the next logical step is a new record of songs, always tough to do when gigs are what bring fans to the table.  Timing will be everything for In My Coma in ’13 to maintain their momentum – but with their determination they can do it!

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MATTHEW KOMA  major pop voice sounds like no other

Regular readers will know that part of the last quarter of 2012 was spent with me raving about Matthew Koma, his collaboration with Zedd on Billboard’s #1 Dance Club Play chart single of the year “Spectrum”, and his diverse EP Parachute.  Matthew is Major Pop 2012, signed to Cherrytree/Interscope, and his distinct voice sounds like no other – in fact you might think on “Spectrum” and other songs that he is a teen instead of a mid-20-something.  Matthew’s finishing off his upcoming album which is a high priority for me to hear in 2013.  That he is also guy-friend to my fellow Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen is pretty sweet, too.

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MATTHEW KURZ  supurb singer/songwriter has it almost in spades

Matthew Kurz has tantalized me throughout the last two years, first with his free mixtape from last year featuring the gripping and emotional “Fix Me”, and then with a series of originals and cover versions that were posted through You Tube.  Though he hasn’t released much for commercial sale or for free this year, 2012 is pointing in all of the right directions for Matthew with “Moving On” (available on iTunes), but most particularly “One Night (Damn!)” (below), and an absolutely stunning rendition of David Guetta & Sia’s “Titanium”.  While the latter wisely does not attempt to replicate Sia’s higher register, Matthew makes the song his own with its raw urgency.  While I believe he has a songwriting publishing deal, Matthew Kurz’s many talents and music should find a wider audience in ’13.

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LAWSON  UK quartet on the bubble for North America

While the year started off with talented UK foursome Lawson opening in North America for The Wanted, the band was also in the process of recording its debut album for Polydor/Universal UK, Chapman Square.  So once that was done they made a retreat to their native UK to promote singles  “When She Was Mine” (video below), “Standing In The Dark”, and “Taking Over Me”, all significant hits in the UK.  Chapman Square was released… but not in North America.  But upcoming club dates over here should draw out the fans who have become familiar enough with this band that writes its own songs and plays its own instruments to divert their attention from One Direction and The Wanted.  Lawson has the goods and 2013 should be a breakout year for them.

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ANDREAS MOE  can sing anything. writes his own songs too.

2012 has been a whirlwind for Swedish singer/songwriter Andreas Moe.  Dance music fans discovered him as a featured vocalist on songs by Avicii (with whom he performed in Japan!) and John De Sohn (“Long Time” is one of the biggest hits of the year in Sweden).  But Andreas wisely used these successes as a springboard for his own solo work, captured beautifully in his EP Collecting Sunlight, and especially on the title song (animated video below), “My Side Of The Bed”, and his acoustic rendition of “Long Time”.  He even posted a sparkling acoustic performance of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” right after its release.  But Andreas has one of those grounded and diverse voices that can sing anything.  I think greater things are in store for him as both a songwriter and a performer in ’13!

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CARLOS NOBREGA  balancing the pop and EDM worlds and more

Like a few other performers this year, I first discovered Portugal’s Carlos Nóbrega through the essential dance compilation This Beat Is… Poptronik Volume One, where his plaintive pop song “Pitiful” was featured.  With the EDM community embracing the singer as a result of this affiliation, Carlos next released “Turn It Up” in June, and the infectious chorus of this song will lift you up and keep you on a high.  Then he collaborated with producer/DJ Sky Santos for the sultry “I Miss You”, which led in nicely to one of the best (and still somewhat undiscovered) dance party songs of the year, “Music Makes You Lose Control”, a record that reached #1 on my personal chart.  Carlos is another performer who can do it all – sing, write, act, dance, and release all of his songs independently.  The sheer quality of his releases and his determination should make heads turn when his album is released in 2013.

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RIVER TIBER  engaging and unique talent not to be missed

The music of Toronto’s River Tiber has been discussed at length in these posts since the Spring, after I became acquainted with their album From Now On, from which three songs landed on my personal chart, with “Someday” at #1 for six weeks and “Symmetry” reaching #2.  Three concert performances later, and the third one, which I wrote about right here a few weeks ago, speaks for itself.  River Tiber releases its next effort Synapses on January 1, and there will be much more influence in this record by experimental electronica than in From Now On.  It is not to be missed.  Let the additional raves begin.  Watch out 2013!

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STONE WALTERS  honest-to-goodness earthy UK soul

One of the first free downloads I heard to make its way up my personal chart in 2012 was “Home” by Stone Walters.  The song has lyrics rooted in values that anyone can relate to – you know the same ones that you feel at the end of “The Wizard Of Oz”.  Stone has one of those silky smooth voices that could be as easily influenced by classic Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder, as it could by more contemporary singers like Terence Trent D’Arby or Jay Kay of Jamiroquai.  Stone also showed that his boundaries stretch beyond soul with the pop tune “World Keeps Turning” and his softened-down version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”.  While he had a taste of some success a few years back, his more recent songs sound more honest-to-goodness.  Stone Walters deserves another shot as he will easily find an audience that will gravitate to his style and music.


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ZAC POOR  no vocal talent contest required

L.A. based singer/songwriter Zac Poor came to my attention a few years back with an initial release of his own songs such as “She’ll Be Breaking Hearts” and “Silver Screens”, which all attracted some significant buzz… and then it went quiet for a bit.  I think Zac has either a songwriting or record deal that has not yet come to fruition.  But two cover songs he released this past year will surely change that.  The first one is his take on Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper”.  It’s been oft-covered, but never this well, and it totally blows the doors off of the original with a vocal performance that is sheer perfection, and understated production by MdL.  Had it seen proper release, it could have been a hit all on its own!  Next up was an appealing version of Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House”.  All of this bodes very well for something significant to happen for Zac Poor in ’13.

Why Cody Belew Is The Likeable Underdog To Watch On “The Voice”

Each season on The Voice, there’s a singer I truly enjoy and end up buying the songs from iTunes.  In season one it was Beverly McClellan, in season two it was Jamar Rogers, and this season it’s Cody Belew.  What’s different though about Cody, is that he’s a true underdog that the viewing audience seems to adore.

With good reason.  Simply, he is us.  Cody comes from kind of a grass roots kind of life growing up in Arkansas.  He loves soul and country music (though I bet pop/rock too), and has an infectious sense of humour (he believes he was an old black woman in a previous life).  He didn’t have a lot of Facebook or Twitter followers when the show started, unlike several other singers who are no longer on the show.  But what made many people start rooting for Cody was his one-of-a-kind blind audition on The Voice.

With a solid rendition of the Otis Redding-penned “Hard To Handle” (done a la Black Crowes), I was staring at the TV egging on the judges to turn their chair for this guy.  As Cody starts to wrap up his song, he turns his back to the audience, and then Cee-Lo Green turns his chair with seconds to spare.  Cody turns around, and by then we’re all smiling for this guy, as he goes into this stage-shock, and rushes over to his new coach, exclaiming loving profanities, and thereby creating one of the most memorable TV appearances of the year.

Cody is no one-trick pony, his subsequent performances show that he has the goods to continue on successfully in the music business.  He channeled his best Beyoncé for a duet that highlighted his soulfulness on “Telephone”.   His taut performance of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” (which starts at 1:25 in the above clip) was story-telling dazzle.  But more than ever it was his smooth and smart interpretation of George Michael’s “One More Try” that sealed it for me.  And with only one judge behind him at the beginning, he has enough going for him to be in the Top 12.  That’s amazing.

Not to put a damper on this story, but I think this year’s season is the sensational 18 year old Trevin Hunte’s to lose.  There are several powerhouse vocalists in the Top 12, but also three or four that beat out some better performances in the previous rounds.  While the competition might make it unlikely, and I’m not a betting man, just don’t be surprised if we see Cody Belew in the Top 4 at the end.  Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s got a flock of new fans that will be more than happy to gather at his concerts.  So ‘Bam Bam’ and rock on.

Published in: on November 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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