Dig These Discs :: "Sparkle," He Met Her, Jennifer Lopez, Elle Varner, Mad About The Boy 20
Everything old is new again in this month's Dig These Discs. New artists tackle the classic R&B/Motown music soundtrack "Sparkle," Mad About the Boy remakes the best of the '80s and '90s. JLo reminds us that's she's still just Jenny from the block with a best-of compilation. And newcomer Elle Varner channels an old Motown sound in her debut album.
"Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Sparkle" (Assorted)
With R&B back on the rise, the time is ripe for a remake of "Sparkle," the 1976 motion picture about the lives of Sister & the Sisters, a 1960s Motown girl group, set to hit theaters on July 31. The album starts off with a kick with CeeLo Green’s "I’m a Man," a R&B track with a Motown feel, with Green singing, "I’m built to last like a love machine, ’cause I’m a man."
Carmen Ejogo continues the old-school feel by doing her best Diana Ross imitation in "Yes I Do." Ejogo works through many other tracks on the 11-song album. She teams up with Tika Sumpter and Jordin Sparks for "Jump," "Hooked On Your Love," and "Something He Can Feel." In "Jump," she sings, "I ain’t to proud to beg, hope my partner likes to shake a leg," then slow things down for "Hooked," a love song with lots of brass. "What can I do with this feeling? Hooked on your love, sweet love." The flourishes of background harmony give this song an added perk. The gang brings out the full "shooby-doo" in "Something He Can Feel," the 1976 classic composed by Curtis Mayfield. The lyrics of this tune are just as classic: "Living in a world of ghetto life, everyone seems so uptight/ Nothing’s wrong, it’s alright. I like the way we carry on, his love ways send me on and on." It’s easy to see why Aretha Franklin picked this song to cover; En Vogue did the same in 1992, and both versions became number one Billboard R&B hits. Whitney Houston (rest in peace) raises her voice to the lord in "His Eye is On the Sparrow," a gospel tune larded with fanciful organ flourishes. Her voice is angelic, and her legacy lives on. Among her final recordings is the soundtrack’s closer, "Celebrate," with Sparks. The mesh of old-school R&B and dance club styles mesh flawlessly in this tune, making it a perfect, upbeat ending that suits the singers’ voices well.
Sparks does fine on her own, however, with her soaring voice testifying to "One Wing," a "heaven help me" crooner full of passion and angst, with Sparks singing, "Walking around in the dark, trying to find just a little peek of sunshine." The choir chimes in only later after her suitable high-note solo. Can I get an amen?
In "Love Will," Sparks employs the classic spoken-word intro, a message from one woman to another about your man. Just so you know, ladies, he will give you butterflies -- right before he pulls the rug out from under you.
"Dance Again...The Hits" (Jennifer Lopez)
In a move that seems set to remind us that she is still very much Jenny from the block, J.Lo drops her new album, "Dance Again...The Hits," featuring more than a dozen hits spanning from 1999 to 2012, along with two new releases.
She kicks it off by teaming up with the inimitable Pitbull for one of the new singles, "Dance Again," a bouncy club track that features Lopez’s soft, inviting harmonies, while Pitbull drops his chop-shop rap, "Modern day Hugh Hef, playboy to the death, is he really world-wide? Mama let me open your treasure chest."
The second track is an electronic LMFAO-styled hit, "Goin’ In," with her singing, "Tonight feels like the best night of my life." Flo Rida spits out his rapid-fire raps of, "nobody move, nobody get hurt," and other platitudes delivered to fast to track.
Lopez performed this hot new single on the May 10 "American Idol" finale. Completing that team was RedOne, who also worked with the two in "On the Floor," J.Lo’s most successful single to date, with more than three million copies sold. This feat is hard to believe by the end of the album, which takes listeners on a trip down memory lane of the chart-topping J.Lo hits that changed our world and catapulted Lopez to a worldwide fame that led her to insure her ass for $27 million.
Lil Wayne opens the relatively new single, "I’m Into You," from last May, with the lyrics, "I’m strong baby I bring the fire on, sharp shooter you can call me the Zion, I’m not the one easy to get to, but that all changed baby when I met you." Among those hot tracks are, "Love Don’t Cost a Thing," the song that almost made guys believe that even if they were broke, they’d have a chance. A tip: don’t try this trick without an Escalade, and please, keep that girl iced. In "If You Had My Love," J.Lo begs you not to betray her trust, and in "Waiting for Tonight"...well, the title says it all, as J.Lo sings, "It’s even better than I ever though it could be, it’s perfect it’s passion it’s setting me free." Fabolous jumps into the mix to open "Get Right," and we go way back to the beginning with a fresh remix of "Jenny From the Block," with Styles P. & Jadakiss, in which she reminds us of a career path that took her, "From ’In Living Color’ to movie scripts, to On the 6 to J.Lo to this headline clips, I stay grounded as the amounts roll in.. If I’m even on ’Oprah, that’s just me."
Ja Rule brings his deep bass voice to the swinging, "I’m Real," as J.Lo admits that her, "appetite for lovin’ is now my hunger pain."
She rounds out the album with six lesser hits, including "Do It Well" and "Ain’t It Funny," a song about not valuing what you have. She bangs out "Feelin’ So Good," with Big Pun & Fat Joe, and teams up with LL Cool J to remind us that she’s great at slow jams in the goodbye song, "All I Have," singing, "All my pride is all I have." Acoustic guitar ramps up the Spanish-language "Que Hiciste," and Lopez closes the collection with "Let’s Get Loud," her ne plus ultra club anthem. These last three songs are only available via the special deluxe edition, which also contains a bonus DVD featuring J.Lo’s music videos. Lopez recently stepped down from "American Idol" to spend more time with her twins. Before you forget all about how her bootylicious goodness changed the female hip-hop movement, check out this 16-track slice of the Boogie-Down Bronx.
"Mad About the Boy 20" (Various Artists)
Imagine all of your favorite songs from the ’80s and ’90s, gathered up into two CDs, and covered by today’s best dance artists. That’s the essence of "Mad About the Boy 20," a collection of 16 tracks meant to prey on your sense of nostalgia while they get your feet moving. The compilation starts out with an exclusive new mix of Abigail’s, "Could It Be Magic," a long-running mash up of electronica and disco sounds. Angie Gold goes for the jugular with a fresh new remix of Madonna’s "Into the Groove." Speed up the beats and slow down the lyrics, and you’ll have Damina’s cover of that old band camp favorite, "The Timewarp," from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Elena Santana speeds up that ominous Phil Collins hit, "In the Air Tonight." Jacquii Cann makes a bold song even bolder with her cover of Annie Lennox’s hit, "Love is a Stranger," and Norma Lewis follows her lead with her cover of the Eurythmics’, "Sweet Dreams." Kelly Marie marks her mark on the compilation with "Feels Like I’m in Love," a song profiled in the lesbian rom-com, "D.E.B.S." Niki Evans brings gravitas to the already-banging Donna Summer mega-hit, "I Feel Love," which will defy you to keep your feet still. Silvio brings the dance drama to a hilt with "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes," and "Hymn." "Do you like it like that?" is the question Taboo Logik poses in their funky dance track, "Turn Off the Light." Teresa Marie’s "Walk of Life" is a far cry from anything Dire Straits ever envisioned, and Tracey Shield takes weirdness to a new level with her unusual remake of Eric Carmen’s plaintiff tearjerker, "All By Myself." Zoe closes out the compilation with the ever-remade hit, "I Think We’re Alone Now," and Animotion’s "Obsession." Consider this your one-stop shop for the hits of yesterday.
"Crime Novela" (He Met Her)
The new L.A. duo of Rocky Chance and Mowgli Moon drops their first EP, a five-song diversion called "Crime Novela," mostly recorded at Le Dungeon, their hometown recording studio. The pair balances fashion and music in this "retro-electric with a touch of sex" sampler that they describe as "sensational disco with a hint of the glittering darkness of the Hollywood club scene."
They start off right with "Control," a fun and seductive song that showcases Chance and Moon’s vocals, as they sing "My heartbeat’s rising, there’s no disguising you’ve got me under your control." The video, which features the two rolling around a motel bed, sitting in an empty diner next door and then soaking in a magical desert rainstorm, has already garnered a big online presence. Chance sings that he’d like to take her home, in "Take Me Tonight."
There is something about these songs that is both hi-tech and low-fi at the same time, as if your sister and her skinny friend wandered into a studio and laid down some catchy jams, impromptu-style. Chance and Moon look at loyalty in "Believe in Me," a darker song with an electronic pulse. Moon makes good use of the Rihanna stutter in this plodding tune.
The temptations of excess are the stuff of "Run Run," with Moon’s catchy refrain of "until the night gave in, baby." In "Okay," the duo will, "take a walk along the coast tell him that you love him the most but not forever," sings Moon, as she tells of a past filled with photo shoots and debauchery. "You’re leaving, you’re leaving, I can’t believe it," Moon sings.
Before the glitter fades, the two part ways, but eventually find strength in being alone -- even if it’s just for the night. From their music to their website to their flawless looks and locks, He Met Her almost seems to have emerged fully grown from the head of the music industry, like a modern-day Athena. Or Monkees.
"Perfectly Imperfect" (Elle Varner)
Seizing on the old-time R&B style that has kept Adele at the top of the charts, Elle Varner drops her debut album, "Perfectly Imperfect," a collection of 10 songs that profiles her honey-smoked voice. "Your kisses hold me hostage, and I don’t wanna stop it," she croons in her first cut, "Only Wanna Give It To You." The songs gets a hard edge with a rap break from Grammy nominee J. Cole, with the lyrics, "It ain’t a secret that I get around -- true -- but you make me wanna settle down with you." The accompanying video is #1 on BET’s "106 & Park," with more than 3 million online views. An interesting mix of classic slow jam drum licks and country fiddle provides the backdrop for "Refill," in what is an innovative but sometimes discordant pairing. Me and you are gonna need a "Sound Proof Room," Varner sings in her third track, which meshes a Motown feel with electronic flourishes. The song is a good vehicle for Varner’s smoky-throated vocals. "Maybe in another life I could be the girl who walks up to the guy and tells him how she feels inside, but not tonight, no not tonight," Varner slyly croons in "Not Tonight," an R&B track in the style of Mary J. Blige’s emotional tearjerkers. Ditto for "Welcome Home," the requisite song about needing the love of a good man. She channels Adele’s "Chasing Pavements" in her harmonious track, "Leaf." A modern bounce livens up "Oh What A Night," a dance club track with an infectious beat, and lyrics about being too drunk to drive, buying the club a round, and filling up on shots of Patron with a slice of lime until a fried has to call a cab. From Ke$ha to Katy Perry, an anthem to blackout drinking seems to be de riguer among today’s young female singers, and 23-year-old Varner is no exception. Urgent violins open "Stop the Clock," a sad song about a girl with a "joyless smile," walking down a "cold dark street, on a cold dark night," who decides she has finally had enough. She adopts a sense of urgency with "Damn Good Friends," a him-to-her song with the lyrics, "I long for you, it kills me to pretend I’m not in love when I just am." Her last track, and latest single, "So Fly," cataloguing a girl bemoaning her flat chest and thick waist, has become an anthem for teen girls dealing with self-esteem and body image issues. With Varner’s fine, character-laden voice and talent in picking out hits that resonate with today’s style, her debut effort will certainly not be overlooked.