Who sang “And I Am Telling You…” the best?

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 4, 2017 by Ain't No Other Tan

Since its debut production in 1981, Dreamgirls has gone on to become one of the most iconic musicals of all time since due to its progressive story about racial division and the music industry of the time, dynamic characters based on real life Motown and soul singers of the eras and of course, its incredible soundtrack. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is the pivotal song that is considered one of the most vocally demanding songs from a musical – in fact, in contemporary music. The grit, range, power, resonance, breath control, stamina and agility as well as emotion to inject into the song and act it out are an extremely rare combination of requirements that a singer must meet in order to pull it off successfully…

And many have tried. Those who play Effie White, needless to say, have to have a BIG voice. A dramatic soprano or mezzo or spinto soprano are probably the voice types best suited to the song due to its intensity, climactic middle and ending and elongated sustained belted notes in the fifth octave at full volume. And let’s not forget this comes after an hour of singing already (for those who performed in the actual musical), with enough voice left to keep going for another hour. However, some with smaller voices have also attempted the difficult challenge, though unless they have a decent enough technique to at least support and hold the big notes easily, they may find it pretty suicidal for their vocal cords.

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Below is a rundown of some of the most prominent performances of the song and my ratings on their vocals to see who is the Queen of all Effie Whites and this song.

Jennifer Holliday (1981)

The original Effie White, Jennifer is a veteran of theatrical performances and she really always gives it her all when she sings this song – even in her later years. However, her voice is very marmite – it’s full of grit and she loves to grunt and growl, which makes her timbre sound ugly and even demonic at times when she constantly switches. So you either love the energy she puts into it or you are cringing badly at how rough she sounds – either way, it’s a marvel she can still pull it off in the same way as she did way back then.

Rating: 2.5/5

Lillias White (1982)

Effie 2.0, Lillias performed in the first US tour of the production. Lillias has a slightly more pleasant voice than Jennifer but her voice is quite light and a bit nasal, which if you didn’t know who she was you’d probably think she was Fantasia Barino. Vocally though, she was quite decent.

Rating: 3/5

Gladys Knight (1985)

Gladys certainly has a beautifully rich, smooth and soulful voice, but has never been considered a powerhouse vocalist so it was quite a surprise to know she had taken on this song. However, ever the consummate musician, she is able to cleverly mould the song to fit her voice for a restrained vocal delivery that retains the emotion and shows that she is in fact a versatile and talented singer.

Rating: 3.5/5

Whitney Houston (1994)

Whitney performed this as part of a medley so unfortunately we never got to hear her full version of the song. She cuts parts of it out – coincidentally the higher parts – but does extremely well in showing off her best assets, which are breath control to sustain the big mid-belts, soulful conviction and maintaining her full and rich tonal quality throughout, without sounding thin, shrill, growly or husky in parts, unlike many of the other singers who’ve sung this. It would have been great to hear her sing this when she a bit younger and her voice wasn’t as tired, as she does chop her phrases up a bit during the verses. On top of that, Whitney displayed her musical creativity with the arrangement and her tasteful addition of runs, which didn’t detract from the song or melody.

Rating: 4/5

Jennifer Hudson (2006)

Jennifer Hudson’s performance is probably considered the gold standard version of this song due to its immense popularity. She always puts 100% into singing it and has sometimes shown that the song is too hard even for her live, usually struggling to hit the high notes on pitch. However, over the years she’s definitely improved and what she nails the best is the sustained notes, holding them incredible ease. Only her shrillness on the top notes at times and enunciation are what often holds her back, though this may simply be due to her southern twang.

Later, both Jennifers performed this as a duet and did really well – of course Holliday still brought her strange facial expressions, grunts and overused “ha” to the table while Hudson didn’t sound great in the upper range but it definitely started off nice and smoothly and they vibed off each other well for a duet that surprisngly, didn’t result in them trying to out-scream one another.

Rating: 4.5/5

Amber Riley (2009 and 2016-2017)

Amber has a much lighter voice than most other women who have done this song, but she a good enough technique to hold her own. She sounds a bit nasal on the top notes but does add a bit of grit when needed, which is a contrast to her normal smoother vocal delivery. Overall, not the biggest fan of her rendition only because she sounds so youthful and girly, but at least she doesn’t sing outside of her ability or force her voice to sound different.

Rating: 3.5/5

Jessica Sanchez (2012)

Jessica gave quite a subdued version of this song on American Idol (particularly at the beginning and end of it). However, she did add quite a few growls when she has such a naturally light voice which didn’t sound too healthy. She later performed it with Jennifer Holliday, which basically resulted in Jessica awkwardly trying to mimic Jennifer’s mannerisms (see below).

Rating: 2/5

Tituss Burgess (2013)

The fact that this man manages to sing this song better than a lot of ladies says it all really. Thanks to his high tenor voice he is able to reach for the higher notes with ease and really gets into the performance as well. Of course, to some his upper range may be very impressive, though to others it might be a bit off-putting as it is not common to hear a male attempting to belt that high, often sounding a bit pushed and unnatural.

Rating: 4/5

Sam Bailey and Nicole Scherzinger (2013)

Unfortunately this rendition was quite jarred. Nicole really stole the limelight from Sam here and outsang her – and Sam had the biggest voice on the show that year. She didn’t do too badly though, but all emotion was lost in what was more like a battle to be heard than a proper duet. Nicole has some very surprisingly impressive chops on her though and really went for those high notes – just at the expense of feeling the song.

Rating: 3/5 (Sam) and 3.5/5 (Nicole)

Melanie Amaro (2014)

Although Melanie was paraded about on the first season of the US X Factor as a Whitney/Mariah wannabe, she really had a great voice to pull of songs only others on the show could dream of. She slayed with this performance in the comfort of her own home, showing why she was won the talent contest in the first place – great phrasing and precision.

Rating: 4.5/5

Cynthia Erivo (2015)

Cynthia is respected musical actress who has performed in The Color Purple but could most definitely get herself a part in Dreamgirls should she so want it, I’m sure. She gave a great rendition of this song in 2015 with very clear and well executed vocals.

Rating: 4/5

Marisha Wallace (2016-2017)

Probably the best of them all that I’ve heard perform this song, Marisha has pretty much everything that is required as mentioned above to do this song justice – her nuances and inflections as well as tonal and dynamic changes throughout the song were on point without a technical flaw or pitch issue in sight (as it were).

Rating: 5/5

Sarah Ikumu (2017)

For a 15 year old girl, this rendition is certainly impressive. Simon correctly says it’s one of the biggest songs in the world, but her confidence is what really makes this performance. Her overall vocal shows great potential – she has good breath control – but she is often off pitch and strained the higher notes, something that for a young voice can be damaging. Also, it sounds like she’s thickening her voice to sound deeper and heavier than normal.

Rating: 2.5/5

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WINNER: Beating off stiff competition from Jennifer Hudson and the legendary Whitney Houston, Marisha Wallace IS the Queen of Effies!

So those are some of the ladies who have put their vocal abilities to the test with this song – some doing very well, others not so much. But there are definitely others I’d love to hear attempt this song as I have faith they’d do great renditions:

Patti Labelle – a true dramatic soprano of pop music with some of the most extraordinary lungs of all time. I have absolutely no doubt Patti would be able to smash this song out of the park – even now – and I’m surprised she’s never performed it before.

Anika Noni Rose – she played Lorrell Robinson in the film version of Dreamgirls and has proved that she is a very capable vocalist with a rich, warm voice and great range and technique. It’d be very interesting to hear her tackle the song.

Beverley Knight – Bev is one hell of a vocalist who could undoubtedly take this song and do it more than justice. I can imagine her leaping up and down the song’s range with complete ease and adding carefully thought out and beautiful runs to it, as well as tasteful growls.

Beyoncé – She may not quite have the breath control to sing the sustained notes or the upper belting register to hit the higher notes but Bey has a very proficient technique and is a clever enough singer to be able to make this song her own, so can I imagine she’d give it her best shot.

Jessie J – Ok, not a huge fan of Jessie’s style and I don’t have faith she’d give a great rendition to be honest, but it would definitely be intriguing to hear her bring her own sound to this.

10 ways Christina Aguilera could have a successful comeback

Posted in Christina Aguilera, Female Vocalists with tags , , , , on April 21, 2017 by Ain't No Other Tan

It was about three years ago when we first got wind of a new Christina Aguilera album due to come out and it’s been about 2 years since I last posted a blog, so I thought it’d be fitting for my first post in a while to be about just that.

Poor Christina hasn’t had the best luck so far this decade when it comes to her music career. She’s made more money and more of a name for herself as a coach on The Voice and most recently, a spokesperson for Oreos, than she has as a singer and even her most successful hits have been collaborations with other artists or vocal features on their songs.

Her last two albums were unfortunately not particularly well-received, did pretty badly on the world charts to say the least (although both outsold Britney’s latest effort…) and she did the bare minimum when it came to promotion… And now, she’s recently been infuriating fans because of her lack of interaction with them and a severe lack of any information regarding new music, which she has been “promising” and dropping small tidbits about for the past THREE years.

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There has been no word on a release date (Christina herself has constantly said “later this year”, “next Spring/Summer” or “soon” for a long time now), no word on what musical direction she is taking with the new sound and hardly any word on who she’s working with, although rumours are rife she has a number of big songwriters and producers on it, including old favourites Linda Perry and DJ Premier and new partnerships such as Da Internz and Elle King.

So, will Xtina ever be as successful as she once was? Can she have a fourth BIG era similar to the ones she had in 2000, 2003 and 2006? The answer is debatable and many might not think so, BUT there are certainly a number of things she can do so she can at least not seem like a lazy bitch who no longer cares…

1) DON’T return to The Voice

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Seriously, the number of times she has returned to the show is ridiculous. And unfortunately her reputation on the show has not always been great. Many people have criticised her for things she’s said to contestants, her “feuds” she’s had with her fellow coaches and the fact that she’s spent more time on the show than she has on her own music. She has also promised a number of times she was leaving the show to focus on her music career, rather than helping others who get nowhere after the show even if they win… Then returned! What she needs to do is to stay away from the TV personality side of her career and focus all her attention on herself and her own thing. Sure, there’s no harm in her returning to perform her new material on it, but The Voice as a project has run its course and needs to be abandoned for good.

2) Work with other producers

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Ok, so we’ve established that Christina is said to be working with quite a few big name producers and songwriters – some of whom she’s worked with before. But more names are needed. She’s spoken of her preference for working with well known producers but not ones who are “on trend” and she’s managed to recruit a lot of such people in the past as well as some lesser known ones for Bionic. However, with these producers she needs to get a creative hold back on her music. On Lotus, she seemed to have less writing and producing credits on the tracks than she did previously and many of the finished songs did not gel or resonate with fans, and it may be because it was quite clear she could have been simply given them and recorded them. Perhaps her full heart and soul was just not in some of the songs for this reason? Others have speculated that since she released the album within 2 years of Bionic, this was “rushed” by Christina’s standards as her previous albums were recorded and released 3-4 years apart.

While I can’t really list many other new songwriters and producers she could work with on this album off the top of my head, it would be great to see/hear her work with previous people again like Tricky Stewart, Claude Kelly, Ester Dean, Rob Lewis, Mark Ronson, Rob Hoffman and Heather Holley (both known for helping Christina launch her career), Glen Ballard and Scott Storch, all of whom lent their creative skills to MANY of her hits of different sounds and genres. Christina herself also needs to get back to writing and producing too, as she’s proven she’s a good lyricist and great with melodies and harmonies as well.

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However, one person she needs to steer clear of is Sia. Now, they made some lovely songs  for Bionic and Burlesque and Sia even co-wrote the disco-themed song Telepathy, but this collaboration has had its time. Christina is credited by most for bringing her to a wider audience when they worked on Bionic together and now Sia is off making her own (awful) music, despite saying she wasn’t going to anymore, them reuniting just doesn’t appeal to me and others.

3) Promote GLOBALLY

Do I need to elaborate? Probably not but I will anyway. Christina promoted her first three albums very heavily, performing and touring across the globe and doing a countless amount of PR for them. When it came to Bionic, she started off well, but then as soon as Not Myself Tonight began to nosedive in popularity and the album started to garner negative reactions, she cut promo short after releasing You Lost Me, which could have potentially been a bigger hit than it was. She cancelled promo in the UK but then announced a tour, which was also cancelled not long after. She cited that she needed to start promoting Burlesque, which she did, but timings were not on her side… Or was it because she knew there was no saving it?

Then when it came to Lotus she was STILL on The Voice again, and beyond a couple of “big” performances, most of her appearances were kept to being on The Voice. Her looks and live vocals gained more attention – and none of it positive either – than the music itself and she very quickly gave zero fucks about promoting the album; the lead single didn’t even get a proper performance except for this mediocre mess.

So this time, she really needs to up her game. Many fans blame her record label for not pushing her out there more, and while they may be right to an extent, Christina herself is also to blame. As I said, sure she can go on The Voice and promote her new stuff but that’s it. I’m sure many shows would love to have her on them to interview her and allow her to perform; she has appeared on most US talk shows since then but none for the reason of promoting any new music. And then she needs to reach out to the world as well. Christina is (or was) very popular in the UK, many parts of Europe, South America and Australia and New Zealand but her abandonment of these territories means she is missing big opportunities to reinstate her one glorious status as a global pop star.

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4) Interact with fans

As well as actually putting herself out there promoting her new shit, Christina also needs to rectify the major backlash she faces from fans who hate that she doesn’t interact with them; just take a look at the comments on her Facebook page and replies to her tweets to see how angry people are that she prefers to pointlessly promote Oreo ads than her music. While granted Christina has never been one to like having a strong online presence, her shying away from the outside world doesn’t do her image any good. Nobody is asking her to suddenly sit down and reply to her fans’ comments like so many other celebrities do but if she kept up and did it every so often, there wouldn’t be so many negative comments for her to face in the first place. And it’s unfortunately quite sad that the last time she “spoke” to fans was through a very short “Q&A” when she “promoted” Lotus and it’s a shame that the only times she has ever posted so much is when she told people to vote for her team on The Voice, shared her looks from the show and most recently, posted a bunch of photos from her birthday party.

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Come on, Chrissie, a little more effort for your fans is all they ask!

5) ECLECTIC is the keyword

One big thing Christina has above her own idols, her peers and those who came after her is that she is eclectic. Her versatility as an artist has transcended a vast number of musical genres and sub-genres, including: pop, R&B, hip hop, Latin, jazz, blues, soul, funk, gospel, rock, electro-pop, dance, power ballads, even reggae and most recently disco and country. The likes of Whitney, Mariah, Céline, Beyoncé, P!nk, Britney, Miley, Demi or Ariana have never, with probably Madonna being the only one who has.

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On Stripped, she touched on a number of those genres in her songs and then on Back To Basics and Bionic she focused on a specific group of genres/sub-genres that made up “concept” albums. Back To Basics was praised for its completely new direction and one no other artist was taking at the time, while Bionic was a big risk for her that didn’t quite take off but was appreciated by some.

Some have pondered whether this next album will be more “urban” (due to Pharrell Williams, DJ Premier and Da Internz being involved), which is a sound Christina has done well before and while she has always maintained that she doesn’t repeat things or sounds, there is no harm in revisiting some of them for an album that showcases what she is capable of music-wise. And knowing how long she takes to release an album these days, she may as well cram as much in one as possible – and dedicate a whole album to Latin/Spanish music as she has also promised.

6) Non-sexualised first single

Let’s look back at the past four lead singles from her previous albums: Dirrty from Stripped may now be a club banger classic, but it was extremely controversial (even in the UK where it was a hit) and flopped on the US chart; Not Myself Tonight from Bionic caused a stir for its sexualisation and of course, alleged “copying” of other artists and only had moderate success; and Your Body from Lotus was yet another song about sex and barely made any impact whatsoever. BUT Ain’t No Other Man from Back To Basics was Christina’s first single to reach platinum status in the US since Genie in a Bottle, charted within the top 10 in more countries than the others, received more critical acclaim than them and won her a Grammy. And that’s without it being a sexual song.

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Moral of the story? Don’t try too hard. Christina attempted to justify her reasoning behind Dirrty, which is all quite understandable, but it was clearly too much for some people and by 2010 it was no longer a shocker, nor original. What Christina needs as a first single is one that really puts her back on the map and it doesn’t even have to necessarily be a club banger. A song with more depth and meaning than sex and partying, clever or interesting lyrics, a memorable melody, good beat, great vocals and of course clever marketing are the main ingredients she needs – she just needs to stay clear of sexualisation (but that does not mean she should eliminate this side of her in other songs on the album) and controversy for the sake of making a statement with her return to the scene.

7) Collab with other artists

Christina has recently worked with A Great Big World, Pitbull and Maroon 5 on massive hit songs and also re-recorded a Lady Gaga song with her. Now, these are big names and the results were well received, but what Christina needs this time is others collaborating with her on HER material and the list of possibilities is quite endless: Ed Sheeran (had as a guest mentor on The Voice), Cher (missed a major opportunity in Burlesque), Celine Dion (she wrote a tribute to Christina for Time magazine), Justin Timberlake (old friends), Missy Elliott (again), Demi Lovato (a big fan), Shakira (a fellow Latina who could help with the promotion of her new Spanish album), Ricky Martin (again, and a similar reason as Shak), Gwen Stefani, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys (again, but this time a proper collaboration) and Jennifer Hudson (has mentioned a number of times she’d love to).

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With any of these very different artists who are each well respected and/or successful in their own way and with the right songs, things could only be good for both, especially with Christina’s “waning” status – even if her name and vocals did help others recently. It would also help cement her aforementioned reputation for versatility since all the above artists come from various musical backgrounds.

8) Take care of her voice

She’s been known for having a beautiful, big voice since 1999 but the change and decline as well as ups and downs have been quite prominent over recent years. Some have noted that she has the natural vocal beauty and talent but lacks discipline when it comes to keeping a consistently healthy vocal technique, although have also commented that she must have some extra special vocal cords, because there has been no damage to her voice akin to Whitney (dramatic deterioration), Mariah (nodules) or Adele (needed surgery). Now, as she nears 40, she needs to take good care of her voice.

Above: decent vocals, even if supposedly lipped

Hopefully the past few years of little performing has meant she has been able to get some good vocal rest and help, but then again, some performances show little improvement, or if they did once, the following time she seemed to take a step back. Old habits may die hard but with good coaching and putting her own knowledge of how to sing properly (which she’s shown a number of times before that she does know and can), she can at least prevent any further decline or lasting damage.

On top of this, her new material needs to be less vocally demanding and stuff that she can pull off live without the need to lip sync or dodge certain parts (Candyman high note or the bridge in Fighter, anyone?) and will not, in the long run – especially when touring – wear her voice out as her last two tours were cut short due to “illness” and Back To Basics was meant to be a great vocal era for her. This also includes reworking old songs that fit her current vocal state and range, again without needing to resort to lipping and dodging, while keeping them recognisable as well as fresh and exciting.

9) EXPLORE her voice

Even with the above advice on taking care of her vocals, Christina can still explore and experiment with her sound as she has done so before. Her current big vocal pluses are a gorgeous, rich lower register and a pretty, agile falsetto, both of which she does not use to their full potential. In recent performances she has shown off what she can do in these areas, but putting them to good use on new material would be amazing. She’s done it with some songs before so she can do it again. These are also two areas of her voice that get a lot of positive reactions, as her belting is often considered very marmite, which is not helped by her tendency to push the notes or go overboard with them. Her lows and falsettos, however should undoubtedly remain strong and in tact.

Above: great, controlled low notes

Above: nice falsetto runs

It’s also really nice to hear Christina restraining herself on songs. A number of popular fan favourites from albums have been songs that require little to no belting, soft and straight singing that isn’t marred by her growls and excessive runs. And in Bionic she pleasantly surprised many by using auto-tune creatively to change up her trademark style.

10) Get a new hair colour

Christina used to be known for changing her hair more often that she changed her shoes, having had some pretty wacky hairstyles and colours in the past. She recently dyed (or used a wig/extensions), her hair red which went down a fiery storm with fans, but it didn’t last long as she soon when back to platinum blonde, which has been her signature shade since about 2006. She has played about with different looks whilst on The Voice but again, these barely lasted a week and didn’t exactly promise anything long lasting. Auburn/red actually really suits Christina and is something we hope she’ll bring back again for a new record because she has always talked about being someone who loves to reinvent herself, but when there’s no new music, reinventing oneself in a big red chair doesn’t speak any volumes. So she really needs to embrace this era style-wise just as she last did (sort of) for Bionic and definitely did for Stripped and Back To Basics.

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So Chrissie, let’s have it! Have you got what it takes to ensure a comeback that puts you back on the radar AND the charts? Who knows, but third time lucky and hopefully 100% effort will be displayed this time. Let me know your thoughts on what Christina needs to do to get back on top!

5 reasons why you shouldn’t sleep on JoJo

Posted in Female Vocalists with tags , on August 21, 2015 by Ain't No Other Tan

JoJo first impressed us all way back when in 2004 when she was just 13 years old with her hit song “Leave (Get Out)” and her first two albums sold pretty well. However, she’s kept herself on the down low since then, having only released two mixtapes and an EP and doing a few gigs here and there in the last few years. She had the potential to be a big star but perhaps didn’t want the celebrity life that comes with fame growing up as a teenager, who knows. But now she’s back (she’s signed with a big label again) to release a third album and has created a bit of hype around it with the release of a “tringle” (three singles at the same time), which you can listen to here.

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Now I’m not going to review them or talk about them as you can make your own mind up about them but I’m sure many big media outlets will get on that. Instead, I’m going to give you all 5 reasons why I feel JoJo is an underrated singer and artist and why, if you don’t know much about her or what she can do, you shouldn’t be sleeping on her.

1) She has an impressive range.

With a vocal range that spans approximately just over 3 octaves, JoJo’s voice easily puts many others to shame: she can support and resonate notes down into the upper 2nd and lower 3rd octave with relative ease – far better than the average female singer can AND do so all the way into the 6th octave using a connected head voice or a nice falsetto. And being a mezzo-soprano, she can even rival some sopranos in the upper register.

Ridiculously comfortable in the lower register and great clarity in the belting range and head voice/falsetto.

Jump to 6:22 onwards for notes above C6 (Soprano C).

2) Her runs are SICK.

Clearly influenced by R&B, soul and gospel singers such as the great Mariah and Whitney, JoJo has learnt to be able to execute some very nice riffs and runs that are fast, agile and musical, such as in the first video below of her sliding between two octaves in a matter of seconds.

3) Her voice has improved ten-fold since she was 13 years old.

When she first started out, JoJo had an impressive voice for such a young girl with little to no training, though she was often a little pitchy or strained on the higher notes. However, she’s clearly taken her voice seriously since then and worked hard to keep her lower register solid (it was already pretty good at a young age) and worked on making her belts fuller and more consistent, as well as improved her head voice, use of runs and overall technique. There is literally no other young singer her age that has come so far in terms of vocal growth, so if you compare her between then and now you’ll surely be really surprised.

See how in the first clips she is awfully flat, thin and strained but since 2010 her execution of the note has gradually improved in technique, pitch and resonance, with the best ones being in the 2013 onwards timeframe. NB: Being a mezzo, F5 is pretty much the limit of her voice type when it comes to consistent belting, so this is pretty good.

Special mention for this song. Her technique is flawless! She sings with a semi-classical placement to resonate and project her voice in the upper registers, her vocal and breath control is lovely as is her smooth vibrato and her runs are agile and complementary to the music. And her head voice is DIVINE. Ariana BLANDe could never.

4) She’s a good songwriter.

In her first two albums JoJo didn’t really have much input into her material, only contributing to one or two songs overall. However, she has shown on her mixtapes that she is in fact a good songwriter and either single-handedly wrote or co-wrote every song that wasn’t a cover on both. And although writing credits for her new singles hasn’t been released, we can expect she did co-write them too. Her songwriting skills from her mixtapes show she has a pretty good theoretical knowledge of music, as well as a creative mind when it comes to harmonies, melodies and lyrics/themes/genres. Check out her mixtapes where all bar one song was written by her in full below:

5) Her covers of other artists’ songs are amazing.

While gigging over the past few years JoJo has covered a number of songs that she loves and it’s interesting to see how eclectic her music taste is and how she strays away from typical artists that most young divas like to cover, like Mariah/Whitney/Celine/Xtina/Beyonce songs. With all her covers she keeps them tasteful so they are not overdone and over-filled with vocal acrobatics, nor are they changed drastically to a point where you have no idea what the song is. Here are a select few of many great covers she’s done:

She first recorded a cover of SWV’s “Weak” on her debut album and has continued to perform it since, sounding even better with age and a more refined voice.

Putting Sam Smith to shame.

Aretha vs. Adele: Rolling in the Deep

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs with tags , , , , on October 8, 2014 by Ain't No Other Tan

Aretha Franklin, a.k.a. the Queen of Soul is back! Her new album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics”, will be out soon and the first single is her cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. Though I’m not quite sure why she’s covering it because I wouldn’t class it as a “diva classic”, especially when it is among songs by true legends such as Etta James, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Barbra Streisand and Dinah Washington. I guess it was mainly for commercial purposes as most of the other songs are quite old or not well known. Anyway, since the audio was released it has garnered mixed reviews from a lot of people. But who did it better and who is better overall?

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Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Adele’s version (even though I find her to be boring and overrated) and of course being the songwriter she does it well and connects with it, but you cannot deny Aretha’s genius musicianship when it comes to recreating other people’s songs. The fact that Adele’s version is still so fresh in people’s minds and was such a big hit, may be part of people’s problem – it’s already been covered so many times, and usually not particularly well or to the same level. Most comments I’ve seen from people on the internet are along the lines of “Adele wins hands down” or that “I love Aretha, but this is Adele’s song” and that “Aretha is just screaming” or “there’s too much auto-tune”. So, which version is better? Can Aretha still sing? Is Adele better than her? Here I’m going to break down my personal thoughts on the two different versions and the two singers so we can better understand the differences between them.

1) Use of auto-tune

Unfortunately, for some reason, there is quite a bit of auto-tune on Aretha’s version, which could have been to give it a more contemporary feel or cleaner sound – to me, I don’t see that as a huge problem. Whether the auto-tune was used for pitch correction however, is another thing. Aretha is rarely that flat, sharp or out of tune, so I highly doubt whoever did the vocal production thought she was off so corrected it – it’s just that it wasn’t done particularly well, and is sadly, all too obvious in parts. I agree with many who say she doesn’t need auto-tune what with being one of the greatest voices of all time and that her using it could diminish her reputation as a vocalist as some would say she can’t sing like she used to… Well, duh. So in terms of the production/mixing of her version, no it wasn’t as brilliant as Adele’s.

2) Emotion/connection to the song

A completely subjective aspect of singing, which does not necessarily relate to how good a singer or a vocal is. Of course, Adele wrote the song so her connection to it would be greater, but not necessarily glaringly obvious since it’s down to opinion. Then you have Aretha, who may not have a connection to the song’s lyrics but being the Queen of Soul and coming from a strong gospel background where they learn to connect with and understand the meaning of songs that they perform, surely you can presume she sat down and studied it enough to want to take it on and not just did it for the sake of it?

3) Musicianship

Both these women are good musicians and both are great songwriters but Aretha’s iconic interpretations of other people’s songs have sometimes overshadowed even her own material as well as the originals themselves (see “Respect”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”) and while I have not heard many of Adele’s live or studio covers, the ones I have heard (“Fool That I Am” and “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” by Etta James, “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan and “Lovesong” by The Cure) have been pleasant to listen to but not exactly overly different, exciting nor musically groundbreaking. Adele may be one of very few true artists and musicians out there today, but Aretha still stands as one of the best of all time.

4) Vocals

First off, it should obviously be noted that they have completely different voices and styles – Aretha is a dramatic mezzo with a naturally larger, more powerful and voluminous voice that can reach low notes with solidity and resonance and also hit higher notes with great power and ease. Adele is a typical lyric mezzo with a smaller voice and a more lachrymose quality to her singing compared to the metallic, sometimes unyielding sound of a dramatic voice. Thus, comparing them can be open to debate. However, check out the videos below of Aretha’s range, use of runs and basically show-stopping vocal moments:

Adele is a good singer, but is she a phenomenal singer? No, I don’t think so. Aretha is and always has been the superior vocalist when you look at skill and technique – when it comes to range (both low and high notes), use of intricate and complex melisma, vocal delivery and lyrical phrasing, power, resonance and overall technique (breath support/control, larynx position, vocal placement), Aretha is better and there is no debate about it. Even at 72, after decades of smoking, ageing and natural wear and tear, her voice is still rather impressive. The clarity and timbre of her voice may have declined and she may be more nasal these days (an easier placement to sing in to hit higher notes), but the rest of it is pretty much there and in tact. Adele on the other hand, is limited in range, technical skill and isn’t the most technically proficient singer – her arsenal is simply the sultry, rich and husky tone in her voice and her delivery, which some may prefer over the more “dramatic” sounding and powerhouse voice of Aretha and that’s fine but to say Aretha can no longer sing or that Adele is an “amazing” singer or better than Aretha? Blasphemous!

5) Live

Aretha recently performed the song live for the first time on Letterman, and I kept saying that we should not judge her based purely on the studio version until she does it live – where there would undoubtedly be NO auto-tune, reverb or lipping. Of course, as mentioned before, Aretha is about three times older than Adele and both have very different voices as well as their voices being in different states, so you can’t expect a fair comparison between the two. However, Aretha certainly does a good job considering her age and way out of prime voice. The beginning is slightly wobbly and not particularly great when she tries to scale between multiple octaves in just one phrase, and yes some of the belts are rather wheezy and nasal, but the power and resonance is still there. As she gets more into it halfway through though, her voice picks up and becomes a bit stronger and she starts to shine when she creatively mixes in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” towards the end and pulls off a classic church-style Aretha performance with quite surprisingly nice and well-executed belts.

Here’s a “nasal version” by Adele who isn’t 100% well here, just to make it a fairer comparison… Hehe:

In conclusion, Aretha’s voice may not be as stable as Adele’s but we shouldn’t disregard Aretha just because she’s so much older now and not as amazing or as practically unparalleled as she once used to be 30-40 or even just 20 years ago. I’m sure Adele still has a lot more to give and she definitely shouldn’t be overlooked as one of today’s great young talent (though I don’t hold high expectations from her on her next album, both lyrically or musically) but the Queen of Soul’s voice and musicality and is not one to ever be underestimated and I for one am definitely interested in hearing how she has recreated other “diva classics” for her new album.

What do you think? Which version do you prefer and do you think Aretha has still got it in her or is Adele the new Queen of Soul?

Hot topic: Is Ariana Grande better than Mariah Carey?

Posted in Female Vocalists, Mariah Carey with tags , , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by Ain't No Other Tan

Ever since Ariana Grande moved away from acting to launch a pop career, when she was posting videos of herself singing and performing covers of songs – namely ones by Mariah Carey – she has been constantly compared to the legendary diva. This peaked (for the first time) when she recorded a version of Carey’s song “Emotions” – one of the hardest pop songs of all time. Now, she did quite well actually – her range on the cover spanned 4 octaves, a few notes short of the original, and she managed to do her best to replicate (yes, “replicate”) the same riffs and runs Mariah did. Since then, Ariana has continued to perform Mariah songs – whom she says is her all-time favourite singer and called her “the best singer on the planet” – and her vocal styling is quite obviously very much influenced by her. So does that make her as good or better than Mariah? Many “Arianators” have called their idol “the next/new Mariah Carey”, say she is better than her as a singer (even when Mariah was at her peak in the 90s) and sang “Emotions” better than Mariah, not to mention all the insults towards Mariah’s age, deteriorated voice, image and perceived personality. Well, here I am going to debunk all those opinions (except the last ones) and will provide facts and evidence to back up my statement that no, Ariana is not – in any way, shape or form – a better singer than Mariah… and that not only includes then, but also now.

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DISCLAIMER: This piece is mainly objective and I am using constructive criticism. I am not a “Lamb” – I like Mariah, think she is definitely one of the greatest singers of all time, but am not a hardcore fan. Nor am I a “hater” of Ariana – she seems nice, has talent and a good voice, I just do not particularly like it or her songs and absolutely detest those who ignorantly think she is anywhere near as good as Mariah, let alone better than her. This is also about a comparison between their voices and abilities, not their successes, music, personalities and not the conditions of their voices/health.

Here are some of the opinions I’ve heard or read by Ariana fans or Mariah haters that show that these people seem to be confused with actual facts based on musical knowledge and vocal pedagogy:

1) Ariana’s version of “Emotions” shows more range and skill than Mariah’s.

Really? Mariah’s range in the song spans from C3 to E7, Ariana’s spans from E3-E7. Mariah’s runs were created by her and perfectly executed – Ariana EMULATES these runs to the best of her ability, but they are NOT as well executed. Also, listen carefully to the two versions – Mariah accesses the whistle register with complete ease, while Ariana does not to the same extent.

It should also be noted that Mariah has performed the song countless times over the past 20+ years, while Ariana has NEVER performed it live at all. Could she do that and do it the same way or better? We’ll see… So far, she has yet to show she can emulate the recording and her use of the whistle register since then has been limited, and well, not particularly good. There is also speculation that studio miracles were responsible for “touching up” Ariana’s version… Of course this has not been proven and I’m unsure myself but there is that to think about until Ariana does perform it live – if she does.

2) Ariana has better control of her voice and better technique.

Now let’s break it down, shall we?

Lower register (below Middle C):

  • Mariah: Resonant, can sustain notes in this area and phrase well (and can go even lower).
  • Ariana: Weak, unsupported, breathy from Middle C and below.

Mid range (Middle C to E5):

  • Mariah: Has power, great resonance, good agility, well-supported.
  • Ariana: Limited power, limited resonance, some agility, sometimes too throaty.

Upper belting range (up to A5):

  • Mariah: Retains power, resonance, agility and fullness of timbre pretty much throughout.
  • Ariana: While she can hit notes here easier, this is only really due to her light, high voice and her nasal placement. But her voice thins out, becomes shrill and more nasal in this area.

Falsetto (breathy in tone and lacks vocal dynamics – more flute-like):

  • Mariah: Uses a lot – well supported, great agility, musical and creative (with runs).
  • Ariana: Uses a lot – good agility, but weak.

NB: Falsetto is not considered a real register and should therefore not be considered particularly impressive if one has strength in this area of the voice, since it is not hard to achieve from a technical aspect for practically anyone.

Head voice (fuller in tone – more bell-like, with a “ring” to it):

  • Mariah: Doesn’t use a lot but has great agility, power and resonance.
  • Ariana: Doesn’t use a lot and lacks power and resonance.

Whistle register:

I’ll get to this part in more depth later.

General points:

  • Mariah: Can manipulate her timbre (rich, husky, smooth, light, girly, etc.), good sense of pitch, great interpretative skills, seamless register switches, proficient technique.
  • Ariana: Little weight or colour to the voice (only has one sound – light, high, shrill), good sense of pitch but poor enunciation, limited musical creativity, nasal placement, though has a relatively healthy technique that does not push her voice beyond its limits.

3) Ariana could “sing circles” around Mariah today.

Firstly, check out this video below comparing both of them at around the same age when they both released the debut and second albums. Is it fair? Is Ariana as good as Mariah was back then? Short answer: no.

Now, while it’s true Mariah’s voice has declined over the years – this is due to nodules ageing the voice and overworking in the first ten years of her career more than anything to do with her technique (overall, it’s not perfect but as close as probably any singer could get) – could Ariana outsing her today? I believe it would be close (particularly in a live setting), BUT:

  • Mariah’s enunciation is still better
  • Mariah can still sustain notes with good vibrato
  • Mariah’s technique is still relatively good and healthy (some rasp in the belts, probably the main area of deterioration)
  • Mariah can still sing well in the whistle register
  • Mariah still has a better lower register
  • Mariah still has greater musicianship, creativity and more complex runs, as shown in her song “Heavenly” (see below)

4) Ariana can sing in the whistle register better.

This is a common one! It seems anyone who can hit high notes these days is immediately compared to Mariah (much to the Elusive Chanteuse’s despair), from Christina to Leona and now Ariana. However, unfortunately, none of them – not even Christina – is better than her at singing in the whistle register and the last two still seem to be in shadows of the moniker “the new/next Mariah”…

Now, Mariah’s use of the whistle register is beyond brilliant – her technique is practically perfect, she has amazing agility, is powerful and resonant and can sing words and phrase in the whistle register. However, there is sometimes a slight breathiness/raspiness due to nodules, though this has nothing to do with her technique or ability to hit them. Check out what she can do with ease and consistency in this register and why she is one of the best of all time at using it:

Ariana, on the other hand, prefers to use falsetto instead (note: it’s unhealthy to push falsetto that high) and has rarely shown she can sing well in the whistle register, though there has been some improvement. Unfortunately, overall she has limited control of it and the notes are usually strained or forced and weak. Check out the video of her below singing “high notes” – but very few of those that are live are actual whistle tones.

And lastly…

5) Mariah looks like she’s in pain when singing – Ariana doesn’t.

This is probably the most laughable comment. Facial expressions do not always correspond to how a person is singing. I also, long ago, initially thought that Mariah looked like she was straining – and this is more obvious in her later years – but as mentioned above, her technique is good and she rarely forces or strains any part of her voice, except again, sometimes in her later years. Yes, these days Mariah does struggle singing harder parts of her bigger songs live but Ariana’s flaws are probably just as prominent. So forget about looking at their faces when they sing and listen to them instead and to be fair, here’s two recent live performances by them for you to see and hear for yourselves:

Ariana: The title of this video “Ariana SLAYS Break Free” is misleading (sorry, couldn’t find another video), because slay she does not. Her voice sounds thin, she is not very audible above the backing track (even if you turn it up louder), her enunciation is still poor, she is breathy (and she’s not moving about that much, if anyone wants to make that excuse) and slightly pitchy.

Mariah: Completely live and undubbed (I think, anyway) – unfortunately a rarity for her these days – this is her singing a song that is relatively similar to Ariana’s in terms of difficulty (i.e. not very). Her enunciation is good, her voice has resonance, power, she’s singing with an open throat, quite good support and technique and her pitch is on point throughout most of it. But is she straining? Does she look pained to you?

So, again, who is the better singer then and more interestingly, who is better now? In studio, Mariah is still better and there is barely a trace of any “studio miracles” or auto-tune. Live, they are both patchy (and pitchy) sometimes and Mariah’s performances are usually lipped (for most of the song or the hardest part) or dubbed over for a better sound quality. But of course, we’re looking at how they sing – which includes the technicalities of singing and the command and control they have over the voices, range and registers – not the state of their voices. Even if the question was “who has the better voice?”, Mariah would still come out on top, for hers is more versatile, interesting and more powerful – even today.

Perhaps this post was informative to many of who you read it and maybe even changed the minds of some of you that were not sure or thought Ariana is better. Or maybe you agree with me? Anyway, thanks for reading it – feel free to leave your comments (I’m seriously interested on who comments and what is said, especially from “Arianators”) and I’ll leave you with this rather hilarious image:

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10 sides of Christina Aguilera

Posted in Christina Aguilera with tags , , , on May 2, 2014 by Ain't No Other Tan

“There are many different sides to Christina Aguilera” , said she herself one time. Of course, she was talking more about her incredible musical versatility as an artist than anything else, but there are actually many different parts of her personality and life that have made her who she is today or that she has been or embodied in the past. Here are my favourites:

10) “Disneytina”

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She never forgets her Disney roots (MMC and the Mulan soundtrack) nor does she tire of going there so often and is constantly being papped or posing there at least a few times every year.

9) “Halloweentina”

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Already always known for her questionable fashion choices, Chris also goes all out for Halloween, with some rather random costumes that she seems to have made up herself, such as erm… Spider Queen?

8) “Marilyntina”

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In mid-2004 she dyed her hair back to its natural blonde colour (well, perhaps bleached is a better term), put on red lippy and began channelling Marilyn Monroe while she geared up for the release and promotion of Back To Basics. And since then hasn’t changed it much at all bar a few red and purple streaks. Will she ever dye her hair a different colour again?

7) “WTFtina”

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After Madonna and Cher and before Gaga and Katy, Christina was making a name for herself with her crazy outfits just as much as she was for her music and from 2000-2003 she had some pretty weird get-ups that she’d go out in and not for what seemed like a “fashion statement” but instead because… well, just because I think. As well as a pink feather dress and a shredded dress that looks a lot like Gaga’s meat dress complete with a wild blonde afro, others include a bra made out of what looks like a scarf, her various Halloween costumes and of course, her Dirrty chaps.

6) “Rifftina”

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Love it or loathe it, Christina’s vocal style – a mixture of Whitney, Mariah and Etta all rolled into one – is one of the most distinctive of all time and while her technique and control may not be on par with the likes of Beyoncé (yawn) and though constantly criticised for “over-singing”, she is arguably still more influential as a vocalist than her fellow peer. What is rather astonishing about Christina’s singing is what seems like her need to try and fit A LOT of riffs and runs into just one phrase, let alone a whole song, which may leave some people questioning her sense of musicality and can be very hit and miss at times, but are certainly always interesting to hear to say the least. She herself has owned up to overdoing it in the past and can also poke fun at her own quirkiness.

5) “Boobtina” and “Asstina”

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Christina has forever been well-known for showing off her assets and being comfortable in her own body, no matter what her size – which seems to fluctuate ALL THE TIME. She controversially but unsurprisingly showed a lot cleavage at Etta James’ funeral and her ass could have easily rivalled Nicki Minaj and her butt implants at one point.

4) “Drunktina”

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She’s been kissin’ all the boys and the girls… Chris is known to love a good drink and a night out – to a point when rumours swirled around the reasons and subsequent behaviour problems – and she was of course infamously taken into a police station one time for being too drunk in a passenger seat while her boyfriend was arrested for DUI.

3) “Shadetina”/”Bitchtina”

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From calling Kelly Osbourne a “sad, poor, angry little child” and throwing darts at a picture of her face to saying she didn’t know if Gaga was a man or a woman, from letting slip about Lip sync-ney’s miming at the VMAs to accusing P!nk of copying her and of course *that* “hug” with Justin Bieber, X has been on one side of many “feuds” with other celebrities, whether they were intentional or not. It’s given her the reputation of a “rude” and “unfriendly” diva but does she care? Nope.

2) “Dirrtytina”

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Madonna has always been at the forefront of mixing sex with her music and artistry but until 2002, no-one else dared to be as brave and overtly sexual as her than Christina – not even Britney. Since her drastic makeover from cutesy, bubblegum teen popstar to “Xtina” (consisting of few and revealing clothes, heavy makeup, dreads and countless body and facial piercings), “Dirrtytina” remains an iconic era in her career, whether it be for good or bad reasons. Nowadays, many others have attempted to follow in her footsteps of being controversially sexy or slutty, including Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna and of course, Miley Cyrus – albeit the latter basically ripping her off.

1) “Blacktina”

Remember when Chrissy was so tangoed and dyed her black then went around on stage speaking with a heavy fake accent? I do. In 2003, while on tour and at the MTV Europe Music Awards, she exuded more swag than some hip-hop rappers did, strutting around the stage, giving face and talking like she sings sometimes – like a southern black woman in what we can only assume was her asserting her independence and reflecting on the supposedly bad attitude she had at the time. Either way, she definitely looked like an almost completely different person to how she was in 2002 and 2004, which was rather bizarre.

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5 reasons why Beverley Knight is awesome

Posted in Female Vocalists with tags , , , , , , , on January 4, 2014 by Ain't No Other Tan

Adele, Amy, Leona, Joss, Duffy… Just a handful of the UK’s most famous neo-soul singers who have all achieved international recognition and success. And while they’re all good in their own way and to an extent, there’s one woman who blows them all out of the water when it comes to a combination of soul, technique, power, range, versatility and musicality – Beverley Knight. Bev hasn’t had a whole lot of mainstream success, even in the UK, but has received critical acclaim by many and while Bev herself may not mind or want it, it is a shame that she doesn’t have it and so many people love these other ladies so much more and believe because they’re so popular, they must be amazing. Well, here are 5 simple reasons as to why I believe Beverley is better (in my opinion but I’m also using facts and provide evidence, in case you still remain delusional) and shouldn’t be as underrated as an artist as she is:

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5) Gurl got SOUL.

Soul, like tone, is subjective – some people believe some singers have it and can connect emotionally to a song, and others could think the same person doesn’t. However, surely you can’t argue that Beverley, who grew up listening to and singing soul music and gospel all her life, doesn’t have soul? She can connect to practically every song she performs, both her own and others.

4) Gurl has RANGE!

People argue that Leona has a huge range and must therefore be better than Beverley, but here’s the truth – both their ranges span about 3 octaves but Bev has a strong, even and well-connected range from bottom to top and throughout all registers (Leona’s lower register is like breathy air whereas Bev’s is solid and well-supported, and she can go lower) and she can belt a lot higher – with consistency and ease (up to Bb5 or B5, taking on a more dramatic timbre) and even though her head voice hasn’t gone above a C#6 from what we’ve heard from her, it’s all pretty impressive.

3) She has practically perfect technique

Very few pop singers have perfect technique, but there are a handful who do have practically perfect techniques – and Bev is one of them. From her low notes to her upper belting and into her head voice her voice is strong, powerful, resonant and healthy. Adele, Amy and Leona have quite good techniques, but they have bad vocal habits and the former two were well-known to have had smoking and/or drug or alcohol addictions, meaning the more they sang while smoking and doing drugs, the more they damaged their voices.

2) She can sing Whitney songs – and sing them brilliantly

She was recently cast in the lead of “The Bodyguard Musical” as Rachel Marron and is the perfect person to sing Whitney Houston songs. She once said she wasn’t worried about singing the songs but more so about the acting – and she doesn’t have anything to worry about due to her amazing voice and her ability to sing them just as well as Whitney did – something hardly anyone can do. While her tone isn’t the same and might not be to everyone’s taste, she is in fact a superior technical vocalist, enabling her to have no trouble whatsoever with these songs.

1) She is a consummate musician

Beverley writes or co-writes 90% of the music she records, with only a handful being covers or written by other people, and she is an accomplished pianist (though doesn’t play it live that often). Check the video above of her performing the song “Gold” that she wrote and playing the piano with flawless vocals – even while clearly tired and slightly out of breath at the beginning when talking. Her technical skills of lyrical phrasing, riffs and runs and interpretative abilities when singing other people’s songs (which she usually injects with a bluesy, soulful or gospel twist – see second video below) is second to none, making her vocal ability and musicianship right up there with Annie Lennox as one of the top two female musical virtuosos in Britain.