Archive for Whitney Houston

Vocal Spotlight: Come As You Are by Beverley Knight

Posted in Female Vocalists, Live Performances, Music, Songs with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by Ain't No Other Tan

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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?

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Vocal Spotlight: Higher Love by Whitney Houston

Posted in Live Performances, Music, Songs, Vocal Spotlight, Whitney Houston with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2013 by Ain't No Other Tan

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“Higher Love” is probably the most famous song of Steve Winwood’s career; released in 1986, the song was an award-winning hit worldwide. There have been a few covers of the song since, but what many people (including myself, surprisingly) don’t know is that Whitney Houston recorded a version of it for her 1990 album “I’m Your Baby Tonight”. Unfortunately, the song was cut from the final track list but was included as a bonus track on the Japanese version of the album. Why? I have no idea.

Since hearing the song I have come to the conclusion that it is one of her finest vocal performances, especially on an uptempo number.

Her version incorporates the dance-pop genre she was delving into in the early 90s (as heard perfectly clear on the album’s lead single “I’m Your Baby Tonight”) as well as harks back to her gospel roots with a choir singing backing vocals, which is quite fitting for the song’s title and lyrical content. Musically, the song is reminiscent of the gospel-influenced “How Will I Know” but with that definite typical 90s post-disco sound.

A lot of covers Whitney has done in the past (“I Will Always Love You”, “I’m Every Woman” and “Step By Step”, for example) have always at least matched or even surpassed the original and “Higher Love” is no exception. I really like the original of this song by Steve (with accompanying vocals by Chaka Khan), but of course Houston’s crisp, well-delivered vocals, immaculate tone and pure soul speaks (or sings, as the case may be here) to me more; you can feel the spirit of the song taking over her as she gets further into it and is singing along with the gospel choir.

It is quite clear from this song and the album that Whitney was in her vocal prime at this time, before the toll of working too much (and other problems) began during “The Bodyguard” tour as she effortlessly belts notes higher and more consistently than she has done on other records.

Houston also performed the song live on tour around the same time and in the video below, although she wasn’t 100% well (reportedly had a cold), she still puts in 100% effort and sounds great.

Whitney’s Ten Best Ballads

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs, Whitney Houston with tags , , , , on April 22, 2013 by Ain't No Other Tan

For the first thirteen years of her career at least (from 1985 to 1998), Whitney Houston was undeniably a vocal beast, with very few others in the music industry who could rival her when it came to having a combination of her tone, fluidity, technique, power, interpretation and soul – especially when it came to ballads. Here are my ten favourite ballads that she released throughout her career:

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1) I Have Nothing

One of the most popular songs that people attempt on reality TV talent and singing competitions, I have yet to have heard one version of this song that comes close to Whitney’s – even from other great singers. The emotion, the tone, the technique, the vocal climax in the key change, this song is perfection and Whitney’s live performances of it were some of her best.

2) One Moment In Time

I have no words to describe the epicness and flawlessness of this song and her vocal performance. Except that it is the definition of epicness and flawlessness.

3) I Will Always Love You

This song might be a tad standard, but it’s undoubtedly a timeless classic; she had amazing control over her vibrato and caressed every word and note with such emotion and precision, building up from a soft a cappella intro to the bombastic, almost operatic-like belts towards the end.

4) I Believe In You And Me

Originally recorded by The Four Tops, this song was released from “The Preacher’s Wife” and showed Whitney still had it, even if her vocals had already begun to deteriorate. Her vocals on here are still practically flawless and she once again recorded a cover of a song, made it her own and although the original was good, made everyone forget it and focus on her version.

5) When You Believe (with Mariah Carey)

There have been very few duets that have been recorded or released where two of the world’s best singers and biggest divas come together, but this one is arguably one of the best and most anticipated. Whitney’s rich, warm voice against Mariah’s lighter, angelic voice was a great contrast and they really complemented each other well. Even though this marked the start of a steadier decline in her voice, Whitney still had enough power to stand up against Mariah, who at the time was still in her vocal prime.

6) Saving All My Love For You

Her tone back when she recorded and released this was even purer and lighter than it was during her prime – unaffected by the number of reasons why her voice suffered a decline. This was her second single but her first globally successful one, really putting her on the map and getting her voice out there. And the rest as they, is history.

7) Run To You

This song is quite basic in terms of musicality compared to the others, with a simple melody but it allowed Whitney to  take the song, particularly the repetitive chorus, and nurse it, adding her trademark embellishments where necessary, but keeping it clean without overdoing it.

8) I Didn’t Know My Own Strength

Listening to this song is quite bittersweet. On the one hand, she is really feeling every lyric she is singing, but on the other hand, her voice has almost completely worn out – huskier, deeper (now more of a contralto than a mezzo-soprano), tired and more strained. However, this – alongside “I Look To You”, is probably one of her most personal songs that she herself could relate to, even if she didn’t write it herself.

9) I Look To You

Similar to “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”, this song is another track that cemented itself as another classic Whitney ballad to add to her belt. Although her voice has weakened, her resilience to carry on giving it her all – as suggested in the lyrics – is very much apparent.

10) The Greatest Love Of All

A singer’s back catalogue of ballads wouldn’t be anything without an inspirational song that talks about loving oneself and “The Greatest Love Of All” is Whitney’s, and although she didn’t write it, she delivers it genuine conviction. It’s also another cover in which Whitney surpasses the original.

Top Twenty Favourite Female Vocalists (1 to 10)

Posted in Female Vocalists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2013 by Ain't No Other Tan

This list is part one of two of my top twenty favourite female vocalists but does not include British females as I will make a separate list of those another time. The list is based mainly on personal taste and them as singers, rather than as artists (for example, Christina would be higher as an artist) but I do draw on some truths and facts about each singer as well to tell you why I think they rank higher or lower than others – and these opinions and facts are based on tone/timbre, vocal ability, versatility and live performances (as for many singers, they may have a great recording voice, but totally suck live). For each singer I have also provided a video of their best (or one of their best) live performances.

1) Whitney Houston

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Type: Spinto soprano (pre-1993), lyric mezzo? (post-1993)

A vocal beast, period. A mixture of things made Whitney stand out: her luxurious tone which consistent throughout her voice, her great range, her strong mid-range belts and practically unparalleled control, especially when using vibrato. But above all, it was how she delivered songs, particularly live, with so much emotion and added riffs, runs and inflections only when needed, and wherever she did so, still sounded magnificent and executed them great precision, perfect pitch and brilliant phrasing. Even though from the late 1990s onwards, her voice had begun to deteriorate, Whitney’s delivery was still on point (most of the time anyway).

Unfortunately, Whitney wasn’t as perfect as she may have seemed; her belting may have sounded great, but were done so through poor technique – which aided in her vocal decline, amongst other things.

2) Aretha Franklin

Aretha-Franklin

Type: Dramatic mezzo

Whitney’s godmother, Aretha was just as amazing in almost every way and it was from singing in church and Aretha (and her mother Cissy), where Whitney learnt her skills. And Aretha’s skills are pretty much the same as the ones I have listed for Whitney, but her range is wider, she could belt higher and her technique was better; it’s just Whitney’s timbre that I prefer over Aretha’s that pushes her into second place.

3) Mariah Carey

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Type: Lyric coloratura soprano

Out of all twenty singers, Mariah is probably the best when it comes to technical ability (perhaps only bettered in some parts by Céline), having almost no flaws whatsoever, except for some pitch issues in live performances and scratchier upper belts (in recent years anyway). Many singers very rarely reach the same peak as their own idol, but like hers, Minnie Ripperton, Mariah has earned her place alongside her as a true master of the whistle register, even if she does overuse far too much. What is astounding about Mariah is is the way she manipulates her timbre in different registers – deep and husky in the lower register (which is actually more like her natural voice), full and powerful in the middle, and light and airy in the upper registers.

4) Christina Aguilera

Christina-Aguilera

Type: (Light) lyric mezzo

First of all, let’s get Christina’s negatives out of the way – she employs poor techniques to reach many of her higher belts that are beyond her comfortable range and limits, which results in a scratchy and shouty sound and produces pitch issues, and sometimes she does go overboard on the riffs and runs, but when she keeps it clean, straight and reined in and within her comfort zone, she reigns supreme and is definitely more of an emotive singer than a technical one.

Of course, her main strengths are: her unique and gorgeous timbre (which she can also manipulate to sound different in different registers like Mariah) – based on tonal quality alone, this is the main reason why she’s known as ‘the voice of this generation’; great vocal power and range – and although she has proven to be able to hit whistle notes she unfortunately rarely does; and she is extremely versatile, having covered or touched upon countless different genres (although that’s more about her artistry). Also, while like some singers (such as Charice), Christina grew up listening to and emulating her idols, she still managed to develop her own sound and style of singing that the likes of Charice haven’t done.

5) Donna Summer

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Type: Lyric mezzo

The Queen of Disco, Donna Summer was a underrated vocalist but those who were fans of her music would know she had an incredible voice. A great, soulful tone which could sound sultry and sexy and some of her songs and smooth and warm on others, she had excellent technique too that helped keep her voice in good shape even in her later years.

6) Kelly Clarkson

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Type: Full lyric soprano?

Probably one of the best technical singers out there right now and excels in what the type of music she does best – soulful, rocky and country-tinged pop, a sound which reminds me a lot of Anastacia. Except Kelly has a far more pleasant and less gravelly tone.

7) Toni Braxton

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Type: (Low) lyric mezzo

Toni Braxton is one of my favourite traditional R&B divas from the 90s; I love her deep, rich tone, which is hella sexy, heavenly and soulful. Another singer who I am saddened by the fact that she hasn’t made any new music in such a long time.

9) Nicole Scherzinger

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Type: Full lyric soprano

Why people call Nicole ‘Shitsinger’ is beyond me when this lady has a very solid voice with great technique – probably because she has had classical training as an opera singer with incredible power, range and control. To me, she sounds better singing opera, when her slight nasal tone she normally has is absent, as she is unfortunately underrated as a vocalist in the pop industry.

9) Beyoncé

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Type: Coloratura mezzo

Along with Kelly and Nicole, Beyoncé is also one of the best technical singers out there today with really good control over and knowledge of her own voice, and if it weren’t for Christina’s greater power, versatility and nicer tone, Bey would probably beat her to the pole position as ‘the voice of this generation’. However the best parts of her voice are her warm and smooth lower register and clear and bright head voice. Out of all them though, I am personally not a huge fan of her and the hype that surrounds her, but acknowledge her entertainment value at least.

10) Jennifer Hudson

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Type: Spinto soprano?

J-Hud’s power is unmatched by nearly all the ladies in this list, except Patti Labelle, and like Patti is able to belt ridiculously high, even though some notes can sometimes sound shouty or screechy. She has a singing style that is deeply rooted in gospel – and is the genre she excels in the best, which means she sings with an immense amount of soul , and a very strong mid-range that today is probably the closest to that of Whitney Houston in her prime. It’s just a shame she is so highly underrated.