Archive for the Music Category

Aretha vs. Adele: Rolling in the Deep

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs with tags , , , , on October 8, 2014 by dirrtyboy88

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?

Vocal Spotlight: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Christina Aguilera

Posted in Christina Aguilera, Songs, Vocal Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on December 18, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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To celebrate both Christina Aguilera’s 33rd birthday and Christmas next week, this Vocal Spotlight focuses on her blues-inspired version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which she recorded for her “My Kind of Christmas” album in 2000. Christina performed this holiday standard – written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin and first introduced by Judy Garland in 1944 – a lot during her time promoting her Christmas album. On the majority of the album she shows off her vocal ability a great deal more than she did on her début and her tone throughout is light and pure and it is very much so on this song, in which we hear her voice span 3 octaves (Eb3-Eb6).

A lot of people criticised Christina for oversinging a lot on this album (or just in general really) but her vocals here are relatively restrained and controlled with minimal unnecessary inflections or runs. In 2000, she performed the song live with R&B singer-songwriter Brian McKnight, which made for a very beautiful and soulful duet between the both (though perhaps vocals are quite a bit more over-the-top than in the recorded version).

Christina also performed the song again just over a decade later in 2011 at Disneyland where her vocals are back to being more restrained and controlled than before (she was reportedly having vocal coach lessons around this time) and singing techniques showed signs of improvement, making it one of her best live vocal performances in recent years.

Whitney’s 50th birthday: her 15 best live performances (cover songs)

Posted in Live Performances, Whitney Houston with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

Today would have been Whitney Houston’s 50th birthday, so to mark this date and to commemorate not only the fact that she was such a flawless and consistent live vocalist and performer but also the number of artists she looked up to and was influenced by, I have compiled 15 of her best cover versions of other people’s songs that she performed live (not ones she recorded and/or re-released, except for “A Song For You”, which she performed long before recording it). Whitney was amazing at taking other people’s songs, paying tribute to them and making the song her own with her own vocal styling that was usually always at least just as good as the original, as she proved many a time in her cover versions that she recorded over the years. I’ve just put them all here alphabetically rather than trying to order them according to how good they are and instead of me going on about each one individually, you can just sit and watch them in awe for yourself.

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A Song For You

Whitney sings her version of this classic song, originally by Leon Russell (1991).

And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going (from “Dreamgirls”)

Whitney sings one of the most vocally challenging songs she’s attempted (1994).

Aretha Franklin medley

Whitney singing a medley of songs popularised by her godmother, Aretha Franklin (1997).

Diana Ross medley

Whitney singing a medley of songs popularised by one of her friends, idols and contemporaries, Diana Ross (1997).

Dionne Warwick medley

Whitney singing a medley of songs popularised by her cousin, Dionne Warwick (1997).

Gonna Be Startin’ Somethin’

Whitney singing one of her favourite Michael Jackson songs (1986).

Home (from “The Wiz”)

Whitney singing this song on her first televised appearance in 1983 (above) and again just over a decade later in 1994 (below) – pay attention to the vast difference, maturity and improvement in her overall voice and style in the two versions.

How Long Has This Been Going On

Whitney sings this jazz standard, written by George Gershwin and popularised by Ella Fitzgerald (1995).

I Am Changing (from “Dreamgirls”)

Whitney singing this vocally demanding song at the age of 21 in 1984 (above) and again in 1986 (below) – take note of the maturity of her voice, the improvement in her technique and her trademark style of playing with the notes and melody that had blossomed within those two years.

I Loves You Porgy/Summertime

Whitney sings these classics popularised by Nina Simone (1997).

Love’s in Need of Love Today

Whitey sings her version of this Stevie Wonder song (1994).

Lover Man

Whitney covers this jazz classic popularised by Billie Holiday (1991).

Never Too Much

Whitney mashes the lyrics to this Luther Vandross classic with the melody to “For the Love of You” by the Isley Brothers (1987).

Sweet Thing

Whitney singing (rehearsals) this Chaka Khan classic (1987/88).

(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

Whitney sings this classic Aretha Franklin song (1994).

Vocal Spotlight: Dreamlover by Mariah Carey (20th anniversary)

Posted in Mariah Carey, Songs, Vocal Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on July 27, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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20 years ago, one of Mariah Carey’s most popular and biggest hits, “Dreamlover” (her 7th No.1 single in the US) was released. It was the first single from her third album, “Music Box”, which went on to sell an estimated 30 million copies worldwide, making it her most successful album to date. “Dreamlover” – which is more “pop” than any of her other singles she had released before, with a bit of soft soul and R&B elements – showcases Mariah’s softer, more carefree and less showy vocals but at the same time still manages to showcase her wide range (over 3 octaves), unique tone and great technique.

The song may not be a huge vocal challenge for Mariah herself, but her soaring, sweeping voice rides along nicely with the instrumentation and is still enough to make you feel in awe of her talent. Mariah is known for adding in the use of her adept whistle register in practically every other song, but on this one she doesn’t overdo it and reins it in tastefully, only doing it at the beginning and along with the hook at the end of the chorus. She performed it many a time live during promotion of the single and album and has done since then, but rarely added in most of the whistles. I tried to find a good live version of the song to post but since some were dubbed over, I instead chose the David Morales Def Club Radio Edit Mix because I really like it. Mariah re-recorded another version of the song and made it more upbeat, funkier and more vocally aggressive for this dance remix, which although has no whistle notes, it does give her the chance to show off her brilliant use of melisma (without going overboard again). It’s a shame she never performed a live version of this song!

Vocal Spotlight: Come As You Are by Beverley Knight

Posted in Female Vocalists, Live Performances, Music, Songs with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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Beverley Knight has always been one of my favourite female vocalists with her amazing voice that could put the likes of Adele and Leona in their seats and a strong gospel-influenced sound and soulful flavour to her music. It’s always baffled me at how she is still so underrated and relatively unknown throughout even the UK, let alone the world, compared to them and others.

Of her many songs that feature elements of pop, gospel, soul, funk, jazz and blues music, 2004’s “Come As You Are” (no, not the Nirvana song) – from the album “Affirmation” – is one of my favourites and is probably her biggest hit to date (it peaked at No.9 in the UK) alongside “Shoulda Woulda Coulda”, “Keep This Fire Burning” and her version of Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart”. This upbeat, rock-tinged soul and funk song, co-written by Robbie Williams’ right-hand man Guy Chambers, is reminiscent of old-school James Brown, with a more modern feel to it that fitted well, commercially speaking. When you listen to the song you can’t help but want to sing, clap and tap your feet along with it, particularly the middle eight, which has gospel shouts that hark back to Knight’s roots, and she really gets into it and gives it her all when she performs it live (see below). “Summer’s begun” the lyrics say, and yes, it really is a brilliant, soulful summer track. However, it’s her vocals that really shine throughout and prove her prowess and talent as one of Britain’s best – I mean, check out the G#5 she belts out with perfect technique, a great tone, as well as clarity, resonance and a lot of power that even Jessie J would be in awe of, for proof of her abilities.

And lastly, check out this amazing remix with a new vocals that she did and hits an effortless A5. Need I say or show you more?

Christina’s Best Live Vocal Performances by year (1999-2013)

Posted in Christina Aguilera, Live Performances with tags , , , on June 19, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

As much as I love Christina Aguilera, as a live performer her vocals are quite inconsistent and there is always a lot of debate about her voice in many of them, whether it be the health of it or the style in which she sings. However, here I have listed the 15 best live vocal performances throughout her career so far from 1999 to 2013 – one for each year, except 2009 when she didn’t perform. Instead I have put a video of her from her MMC days to show how far she’s come. Many of them cemented her as one of this generation’s finest and most talented vocalists with a unique “mixed” style (taking different styles and genres of singing from her various idols and influences and putting them together to create her own style) that has in turn influenced a legion of other young singers after her.

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Please note, there are some performances that I haven’t included in here that some fans might consider to be good (for example her tributes to James Brown at the 2007 Grammys and Etta James at her funeral), because I believe they were emotionally great but not so much technically. I also haven’t included any performances from her mini-concert at the Time 100 Gala (pictured above) since there are still no full-length videos available, even though the short snippets did sound good, but check out my choices below:

1993 – Mickey Mouse Club

“I Have Nothing” on the Mickey Mouse Club show

Since there isn’t a 2009 performance, here’s one from 1993 when she was nearly 13, singing Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing”. It may be in a lower key and has no key change but she still does really well for someone her age – especially a song like this and shows she really had a lot of potential, talent and star power at that age. Poor Britney…

1999 – Self-titled début

“Reflection” on the Donny and Marie Show

Here she was still young and still finding herself as a singer before her first album came out. I believe if “Reflection” had been released as her début single it would have done her more justice and given her more credibility, rather than joining in with the teen-pop hype of the time.

2000 – My Kind of Christmas

“The Christmas Song” live at Christmas in Washington

Christina’s Christmas album was a mixed one – her voice was in fine form and her tone was great and pure, but it featured a lot of over-singing. This version of “The Christmas Song” however, was good and she managed to show off her voice for the President without going too overboard.

2001 – Mi Reflejo

“Pero Me Acuerdo De Ti” and “Falsas Esperanzas” at the Latin Grammy Awards

A lot of Spanish-speaking people believe Christina sings great in Spanish and sometimes better than in English. Her voice was getting better around this time and was a good chance for her to practice singing and dancing together more, which she manages to do well here. There is also some great use of her falsetto too.

2002 – Stripped

“Fever” with the Pussycat Dolls at the Roxy Theatre

Christina can sound really sexy and sultry when singing in a bluesy way using her lower register, as she does here for the song “Fever” with The Pussycat Dolls, and she does well to keep it straight and simple too.

2003 – Stripped

“Come On Over (All I Want Is You)” in London (Stripped Tour)

The test of a true artist is to see if they can take an old song of theirs and re-work it to make it sound fresh and different, which is what she does here with “Come On Over (All I Want Is You)”. She keeps the vocals clean and simple, yet playful, and her tone is beautiful.

2004 – Hiatus

“Walk Away” on Letterman

Soulful and sultry vocals, this performance had everything – perfect tone and control throughout and lots of emotion. Definitely one of her best from this era.

2005 – Hiatus

“A Song For You” on Ellen

This is not long after Christina recovered from strained vocal chords and in the build up to her next album, but her voice sounds stronger and richer than it has done before and when she proved she really excels at singing jazz-type records.

2006 – Back To Basics

“Ain’t No Other Man” at the MTV Movie Awards

Here Christina’s vocals were in top form and was probably her best first performance of a lead single from an album. Right from the first opening note through to the end, she kept the momentum going whilst moving around in heels, which is always something to be in awe of.

2007 – Back To Basics

“Makes Me Wanna Pray” in Adelaide (Back To Basics Tour)

This is when Christina’s voice was at its peak. This tour was very vocally demanding for her, especially this last leg when she was about 3 months pregnant. She really gets into the soulful feeling of this song and shows why she should do more gospel-influenced numbers like this.

2008 – Greatest Hits

“I Loves You Porgy” at the Grammy Nominations concert

A simple yet great vocal performance, Christina really shows off her lower register without showing off her voice too much. Her control is great and tone is smooth and warm, even if it does show that her voice has already begun to deepen a lot.

2009 – Hiatus (no performances)

2010 – Burlesque/Bionic

“Lift Me Up” at the Hope For Haiti telethon

Again, using her lower register where she now seems the most comfortable, this one and only performance of “Lift Me Up” had great control and technique throughout most of it. This era itself was one her weakest vocally, but this performance was beautiful.

2011 – Hiatus

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” at Disney Park Parade

After a spell of performances that were more miss than hit, this is definitely one of her best vocal performances in the past few years. Beautiful tone and great control throughout the entire song and her registers, probably thanks to the vocal training she had been receiving in the months prior to this.

2012 – Lotus

“Beautiful” at the Hurricane Sandy Appeal concert

There have been many performances of “Beautiful” that are worthy of being mentioned, but this one was really good. Again her tone is smooth and she has good control of her voice, as well as evidently showing a real connection to the song when performing it.

2013 – Lotus

“Blank Page” at the People’s Choice Awards

Unfortunately, many of the performances so far throughout the “Lotus” era have been average at best, but “Blank Page” was a gem. Her vocals weren’t perfect all the way through, but it definitely showed that she’s still got it and improvement since her other performances in the months before this one.

Vocal Spotlight: Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over) by Donna Summer

Posted in Female Vocalists, Live Performances, Music, Songs, Vocal Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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Donna Summer was not only the Queen of Disco, but during the 70s she was one of the best vocalists around (in fact, ever, really) – she had a beautiful tone, great technique, and was very versatile too. Disco songs don’t necessarily need singers with big voices but when Donna sang them, she not only cemented the title of the ultimate “Disco Diva” but also managed to bring an element of both sexiness and soulfulness to them that others couldn’t. One of her lesser known songs, but one that proved how great, yet underrated a vocalist she really was is “Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over), which was released along with the bigger hit “I Feel Love”. Even though “I Feel Love”‘s popularity overshadowed this slow jam ballad and was of course amazing too, this song shouldn’t be forgotten about, so here I am to bring your attention to it if you’ve never heard it before.


The lyrics speak of not wanting a relationship to end and Summer asks her lover to, well, as the title suggests, sit down and talk it over. Her vocals are smooth, warm and full of emotion as she croons and pleads with all her heart, soaring effortlessly as she hits each and every note, both high and low, with ease. Vocally it may not be a hard song to sing but to pull it off in the same, soulful yet not “overdone” way Donna did it, is a tough thing to do. She rarely performed it live but below is a video of one time when she did and had the audition watching her in silent awe.