Music Review: Gaby Moreno – Illustrated Songs

Hi all!

Recently I’ve been amazed by the seeming rebirth of a more classic sound – not quite Motown, but something close mixing R&B and soul with modern songwriting. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Duffy and Adele remind me a bit of the soul music greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight. It was an era where you could feel the blues and gospel roots shining through and I think we’re starting to see that style again as new artists are gaining traction on the pop charts.

Gaby Moreno takes the bilingual skills of an artist like J. Lo and puts a bit of a Duffy/Adele spin on them without losing her own originality along the way. She’s capable of smooth ballads in Spanish and hot songs like “Mess a Good Thing.” Her new album, Illustrated Songs, is impossible for me to lump in one category however. It spans multiple genres and would sound just as at home in a French cabaret, a jazz club in New Orleans, or on “Top 40″ radio. Though I compare her to Duffy and Adele, she both is similar and yet not at all similar to both artists.

To add to the confusion, I swear Moreno has one of the most genre-defying voices I’ve heard in a long time. In one song I’m reminded of the new soul movement, in another I’m reminded of Judy Garland, and in yet another I think her songs would seem at home in any Randy Newman-inspired Disney/Pixar movie soundtrack.

Of the dozen songs on the album, “Mess a Good Thing” is by far my favorite. The rocking soul guitar, strings and horn section behind her sultry voice just drive home that this woman has some serious soul. At no time did it feel like the song was out of her control, as can sometimes happen when you sing with such a large band. She knows she’s a good catch and her man won’t be leaving her: “Baby, you won’t be messing a good thing / Hurrying off with the break of day…” But though the lyrics may say he won’t be leaving her, her voice drives the point home hinting that if he does he’ll be in trouble!

But “Garrick” is one of those songs that just can’t leave my brain. The fact that she’s singing in Spanish makes no difference at all. It’s the amazing arrangement of strings, guitars, and clarinet that really makes this one groove. I can’t help but see her singing in front of a big band in some 1920s speakeasy or French cabaret. She’s just at home here as in her sultry soul mode, adding to the mysterious mix of genres she’s comfortable with.

And “Mean Old Circus” makes me think of some Judy Garland movie. The xylophones, circus organs, and her voice merge to provide yet another genre. She dons them as easily as changing hats. Beneath the kid-friendly sound however, there’s a darker purpose to the words – “A revelation …for conversation / A new permission for my religion / A sleeping lion’s lion dream /
In my forsaken evil schemes…” What is she really after here? Escaping to the circus may simply be a cover for more nefarious plans.

Evidently Gaby taught herself to speak better English by singing blues, R&B, and soul classics from artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. “I learned English from blues records. I’d read the lyrics, then go to my dictionary. In school, we studied basic English, but the records made me interested in learning it and singing it.”

Moreno is backed up by a terrific band featuring Sebastian Aymanns (drums), Leslie Lowe (bass) and an ensemble of renowned musicians including Greg Leisz (electric guitar, Mandolin, Lap Steel), Big Band leader Bob Mintzer (bass clarinet), Larry Goldings (celeste, piano), Patrick Warren (piano, keyboards), Mark Goldenberg (guitars) David Piltch (upright bass), Conan O’Brien’s horn section – Mark Pender (trumpet), Jerry Vivino (tenor sax), Richard “La Bamba” Rosenberg (trombone), and Adam Schroeder (baritone sax) – and string, horn and woodwind arrangements by Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Grant Lee Phillips and Amy Correia ). It’s a huge band that reminds me of the big band era of the 1940s but has all the other genres and playing styles at their beck and call as well.

Gaby Moreno seems to be a lady out of time brining classic ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and other styles back to the people. If you’re looking for something to wile away a lazy Sunday, Illustrated Songs should be on your list to pick up. I love it when modern artists seek to rejuvenate the past and can’t wait to see what else lies in store for her. Illustrated Songs will be released on April 5, 2011 with a tour to follow. To learn more check out Gaby’s website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great albums below!

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Behind the Scenes: Born to be Wild

Hi there!

On April 8th, a new documentary hit IMAX theaters in 3D… Born to be Wild 3D shows some amazing people helping orphaned orangutans and elephants return to the wild. The compassion, skill, and dedication needed for such an undertaking is huge.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman and captured in stunning IMAX 3D, I suspect we’ll all be blown away by this one.

They’ve released a new featurette:

Synopsis:

“Born to be Wild 3D” is an inspired story of love, dedication and the remarkable bond between humans and animals. This film documents orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people who rescue and raise them-saving endangered species one life at a time. Stunningly captured in IMAX 3D, “Born to be Wild 3D” is a heartwarming adventure transporting moviegoers into
the lush rainforests of Borneo with world-renowned primatologist Dr. Birute Galdikas, and across the rugged Kenyan savannah with celebrated elephant authority Dame Daphne Sheldrick, as they and their teams rescue, rehabilitate and return these incredible animals back to the wild.

Director David Lickley and writer/producer Drew Fellman have done some great work. I look forward to seeing it on the giant screen!

Don’t miss it when Born to be Wild comes to your IMAX theater!

–Fitz

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Book Review: Zero Day by Mark Russinovich

Hi folks!

There was a time when a computer was just that thing on your desk at work or the giant monstrosity locked away in an air conditioned room in the basement. Now just about everything has a computer inside. Your phone and car are just for starters. What about the airplane you’re flying on? Or the power plant providing electricity to your home? We’re all more dependent on computers than ever before.

So what happens when those computers start to fail randomly for no apparent reason?

Zero Day by Mark Russinovich paints a chilling picture of what might happen if hackers lose interest in stealing credit cards and become more focused on cyberterrorism. First a passenger jet’s controls go dead when the computer goes offline. Then an oil tanker plows into a Japanese port and a nuclear power plant loses control… But that’s just the beginning.

When Jeff Aiken, a computer analyst who used to work for the CIA, starts investigating a failure at a large law firm in New York, he discovers that somehow a virus has corrupted data on the server. Not only is their financial data gone, but all of their litigation data as well. Though they have backups, Jeff does a thorough check to make sure those aren’t infected too and down the rabbit hole he goes. After hours of work, he uncovers a name – Superphreak.

At the same time, Dr. Daryl Haugen at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and part of the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) is investigating other instances of computers shutting off. Critical computers at hospitals failed and caused medication confusion that led to patient deaths. Were they simply isolated incidents or part of a broader attack on US interests?

As Jeff & Daryl’s investigations progress, they find shocking coincidences and connections between the various computer failures in the US. Can the two computer investigators figure out what’s going on and who’s behind it before more people die? Can they figure out what, who and where Superphreak is before it’s too late.

I won’t spoil the plot twists and surprises for you, but I was hooked from beginning to end. It’s hard to believe that this is Russinovich’s first novel.

If his name rings a bell, it might be because you’ve seen it in conjunction with Winternals, a website dedicated to helping system admins manage, diagnose, troubleshoot, and monitor Microsoft Windows environments. It was so influential in Windows circles that Microsoft acquired it in 1996. Russinovich is co-author for several books in the Windows Internals book series, as well as a contributing editor for TechNet Magazine and Windows IT Pro Magazine. He has some serious geek cred.

Zero Day offers a scary scenario for what could happen via cyberterrorism. Hackers are only part of the problem and usually only out for their own best interests or to illuminate issues that need to be fixed. If terrorists can harness hacker knowhow and find ways to take down key systems, we’re going to be in a world of hurt. Russinovich does a great job of shedding some light on the possibility. Hopefully businesses and governments are listening.

He does get a bit deep into “geek speak” at times, describing the inner workings of computers, BIOS, and operating systems and how they relate to one another. If you don’t like the jargon, you can skim it and get the gist of what he’s after, but I found it fascinating to see just how far he goes to detail the potential of this looming threat. It doesn’t quite offer a step-by-step guide to destroying the world with a storm of computer viruses and ‘bots, but damn if it doesn’t come close.

Whether or not you’re a computer geek, Zero Day tells a compelling story with thrills and chills to entertain you. I found it more plausible and fun than Dan Brown‘s Digital Fortress, so I’m hoping that Russinovich gets ideas for further cyber thrillers to educate us while entertaining and scaring us!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great books at Barnes & Noble below!

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