The Right Direction (Music Thoughts: Harry Styles, Harry Styles)

hsalbWho would have thought I would be writing about the Harry Styles solo album that came out last year? I mean, who would even think I would listen to it. Well, people who know me would know I would listen to anything at least once. But really, I swear, I did not really know much about One Direction and it’s oeuvre, so I am surprised as much as anyone else that I love Harry Styles, self-titled album.

It started with YouTube. The video for his song ‘Sign Of The Times’ was ‘suggested‘ to me. Why, I don’t know. Maybe there’s a certain algorithm there that connects it to Broadway videos and late night talk show interviews. But nevertheless, I watched it and was instantly hooked. And yes, in that video (and all the other live video versions of the same song) I was enthralled by this young man. More than realizing how easy on the eyes he is, I was mesmerized by his music. He does not seem to be as cookie-cutter as the rest, and for someone getting off a boy band, he doesn’t seem to be as overly eager to please like everyone else.

So I listened to the album, which had been languishing in my iPod anyway, and realied it is such a moody rock and roll album, with shades of Bowie, Oasis, Van Morrison. and Coldplay in it, among other things. It is slick, and original, and very personal. No wonder young men and women have been falling in love with him – he gives a certain vibe that is erotic and personal, like he is just singing and making music just for you. I love how unique he is – his lyrics sound like it’s coming from a three-dimensional person. I have read that the whole album was supposed to be an arc, and when listening with that in mind, you do realize that there is a sense and purpose for every song in there.

I am hooked, and now a fan of him.

Is It A Video (Music Thoughts: Call me By Your Name Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Call Me By Your NameThe one thing I loved most about ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is its music. I thought it not only enhanced the film, but it seems like it was another character. The music helped build tension, it emphasized how characters are feeling, and in some cases helped advance the story.

Since the movie is set in Northern Italy 1983, we get a glimpse of pop music then. I loved how Giorgio Morroder and Joe Esposito  ‘Lady Lady Lady’ described the emotional turmoil in Elio’s mind as he watched Oliver dance with another girl. I was racking my brain as to why that song sounded so familiar and voila, I googled and found out that it was on the ‘Flashdance’ soundtrack, which of course I used to play back in the day. And I am nowhere near an 80s pop music expert, but I don’t think I recall ever listening to Miss Cha Cha Cha’s ‘Paris Latino,’ and now it’s one of my favorite things.

Then there’s the classical stuff. I cannot stop listening to “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” which id of course from one of my favorite scenes from the movie, when Elio starts showing off to Oliver how he can change arrangements of a piece based on how Liszt would do Bach’s version, among other variants. On the soundtrack, Alessio Bax’s recording of the tune is perfection. I also love all the other ‘modern’ instrumental pieces, like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ‘Germination.’

And really, we also get Sufjan Steven’s three songs, two that were made especially for the film. They are all magnificent, each and every single one of them. They all fit perfectly in each of the scenes, and even Luca Guadigno describes the songs as part of the narration of the film. There’s the urgency of ‘Fultiel Devices’ when Elio starts looking for Oliver after he has professed his love for him. And there’s the swooning, romantic ‘Mystery of Love,’ and I don’t think I will ever listen to ‘Vision of Gideon’ without shedding a tear.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ is rich in sensory artistry – the lush cinematography, the ripeness of the peach, the cracking of the soft-boiled egg. The music, evidenced in this soundtrack, contributes to what makes it unforgettable.

Hark The Herald Piano Plays (Music Thoughts: Christmas Together, The Piano Guys)

christmas-togetherRecently, a friend of mine sent a YouTube video of a song called ‘The Sweetest Gift.’  It’s a song about spending Christmas after you have lost your father. My friend lost his this year, and since he knew I lost mine three years ago, he thought I would appreciate the song. I did, and I was touched by it, for sure. And who wouldn’t be? The song played on all emotions, and pokes on everyone’s vulnerability. Should we fault it for doing that? Or should we celebrate its ability to let us wallow in all our feelings?  Truth be told, I vacillate between the two point of view, but I have to admit listening and feeling the song in a way feels like a tribute, so, really, it’s not a bad thing all around.

The Piano Guys is really a pianist (Jon Schmidt) and a cellist (Steven Sharp) so you kind of think that their title is a bit deceiving.  Honestly, the music is kind of schlock – a variation of Kenny G and something vaguely classical – I mean, they are able to have Placido Domingo sings on a track. Also, the music  borders on religious, and I kind of resent it when I am bitter. But it’s Christmas, and it is definitely something one can listen to with ease, so let the spirit of the season guide you to enjoying it.

Buon Natalie (Music Thoughts: A Little Bit Of Christmas, Natalie Williams)

1511488273_folderNever judge an album by its cover. I thought that Natalie Williams’ Holiday album ‘A Little Bit of Christmas’ was a country album, but as it turns out, it is a jazzy one. Williams is an up and coming jazz singer in the United Kingdom and she has already gotten a bit of acclaim. This album will steer her to get more. Williams has a jazz vibe in her singing, and has a soulful voice that is apparent in these tracks. When I heard her ‘O Holy Night,’ for example, I couldn’t help but pay attention – the high notes did not seem forced. And I actually liked her original songs: ‘What Does Santa Get For Christmas,’ was pretty catchy, and there’s a welcome sauciness in ‘Xmas X My XXX.’  All in all, you don’t get a sense of sameness when you are listening to the album, and for me, that is always very welcome.

Jingle Jan (Music Thoughts: Home For Christmas, Jan Daley)

5115lMSEVOL._SS500I put Jan Daley’s new album ‘Home For Christmas’ on this year’s Christmas playlist and I was with a friend when it played and when he asked me who Jan Daley was, I joked that it was Tom Daley’s mother. Of course, she is not  – Daley is a California based singer, and upon further research, this album is not even from this year. It appears to be a reshuffled, rereleased version of her 2012 album ‘There’s Nothing Like Christmas.’ So clearly, there’s a lot going on here even before the music starts.

When it does, the music passes my test. Daley has an old-school kind of 70’s vibe in her singing, sort of like Maureen McGovern. It’s an old soul, but more baby boomer old than mid-century. And she has great taste in her holiday music, singing a lot of my modern favorites like ‘Grown Up Christmas List,’ and ‘A Christmas Love Song.’ And she even does ‘The Best Gift,’ which is of course Barbra’s ode to Jason.  The anal retentive in me is kind of pissed that I was ‘duped’ into thinking this was a new album, but I can get over this since this is a great listen.

A Champian Christmas (Music Thoughts: Christmas with Champian, Champian Fulton)

3405777daf08613a25ed15ae15fceb37How about a jazzy Christmas album? I’ve got a fine new one this year, by Champian Fulton. I don’t really know who she is, but she sounds pretty damn good. She swings like a chandelier, and the arrangements reflect her ability. I really love her lively takes on these Christmas ditties, especially in tracks like ‘White Christmas,’ and ‘Winter Wonderland.’ She has a very distinct personality, mixing in some Mexican influences in her interpretations, and indeed, even putting a Spanish song, ‘Gracias I Dios’ in the album. What results is really an enchanting Holiday album, brimmed with some enchantment and musicality.

The Boys At Christmas (Music Thoughts: Let It Snow, 98 Degrees; Finally It’s Christmas, Hanson )

You know you are really getting old when you see 90s revival as nostalgia (when, during the 90s, those things already felt like nostalgia) But, as, they say, just go with the flow. This Christmas season, we are getting Holiday albums from two boy bands from the 90s.

98_DegreesWho knew 98 Degrees were still together and singing? But then again, why wouldn’t they? They sound great here, to be honest, with their harmonies still tight, and there’s that 98 degrees personality still intact, which should come as a welcome surprise to their fans. The music is your standard fare, with pop arrangements of well-worn classics. Nick Lachey still sounds robust as ever, and I kind of laugh inside when he sings ‘Little St Nick,’ but that’s just naughty naughty me, I suppose. But can we get a moratorium on people covering Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’? I doubt she meant for that to be a Holiday song when she wrote it. All in all, ‘Let It Snow’ is fun and harmless, and I wouldn’t mind it playing while I wrap presents.

46453426657d853664b6413c07e490948f1df889I never really paid attention to Hanson when they were big, but apparently this is their second Holiday album, and it has been twenty years apart. ‘Finally It’s Christmas,’ if for anything has that distinct pop-rock sound, and their song choices reflect that well. There’s a real maturity to ‘Blue Christmas,’ for example and even an old chestnut like ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ shows a lot of depth. But, their sound just doesn’t cater to my taste, ultimately. This is an authentic group with an authentic sound, though, and I am sure it will their loyal followers and may gain them new ones, too.