Sunday, December 28, 2008

12 Songs that Made Me Happy in 2008

In no particular order. 12 songs that made me happy in 2008!

(In cases where an official video isn't available, I linked the artist's name to their MySpace page - most of the songs can be heard there.)

1. "I Want to Have Your Babies," Natasha Bedingfield

2. "Say It Again," Marie Digby

3. "Imaginary Girl," The Silver Seas

4. "Say," John Mayer

5. "Ordinary Day," Emilie Mover

6. "Doin' It All For My Baby," Huey Lewis and the News

7. "Got It Good," Jem

8. "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time," Mariah Carey

9. "To Be Surprised," Sondre Lerche

10. "Nothing At All," Madi Diaz

11. "Be OK," Ingrid Michaelson

12. "Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year," Rosie Thomas

Confessionally sing in the new year

Boston singer-songwriter Madi Diaz has a new EP coming out soon called Ten-Gun Salute. It's streaming for free over at Spinner. I have an ear crush on the song "Nothing At All," but they're all good. She has a strong, reedy voice that soars above the simple arrangements beautifully. (You can also check out some of the songs on her MySpace page.)

To get an idea, listen to the EP or watch this acoustic performance from Acoustic Long Island:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The first day of Christmas

Another album streaming over at AOL Music is Straight No Chaser's "Holiday Spirits." I can't help it - I get nostalgic for college a cappella at this time of year!

And Straight No Chaser is a Christmas feel-good story if ever there was one - formed over 10 years ago at Indiana University, the group of 10 guys did what all college a cappella groups do: they sang, they graduated and they moved on with their lives. But in preparing for a reunion last year, one of the members made a video of their college highlights and posted clips on YouTube and their "12 Days of Christmas" quickly became a viral sensation so enormous that even the president of Atlantic Records noticed. He reassembled the 10 original members of the group and gave them a record contract - "Holiday Spirits" is the result.

What sets them apart from the thousands of other a cappella groups around the country? Well first, their talent is enormous. Every single one of them is an outstanding singer and their voices fit together exceptionally well. But I think the real genius is in the arrangements, which show a real creative spark (the aforementioned "12 Days of Christmas" incorporates melodies of several other Christmas carols as well as Toto's "Africa.") They pick likeable songs, arrange them in unique and creative ways, and sing them flawlessly. That, evidently, is the recipe for success.

But to give you an idea, watch the original YouTube sensation:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tidings of comfort and joy

AOL Music is streaming tons of Christmas albums free right now - I'm particularly digging the Hotel Cafe compilation Winter Songs, featuring all female singer-songwriters.

The first track is a duet between two of my faves - Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles. Sara's honey-soul alto on the bottom and Ingrid's sweet soprano on top is nothing short of perfect. Never mind that the song is a little depressing (as are lots of the songs on this cd - apparently female singer-songwriters find the holidays rough.) It's truly gorgeous.

Other standouts include KT Tunstall's unique interpretation of "Sleigh Ride," the laid-back warmth of Colbie Caillat's "Mistletoe," and the truly stunning a cappella rendition of "Silent Night" by Priscilla Ahn (this song was featured in the ER teasers last week.)

And you can listen to it all right now - for free! Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A very famous address

I just Netflixed the Live from Abbey Road 2-disc DVD series and found quite a few little live performance gems. The series, which airs on the BBC, invites musicians both new and classic to come to the fabled studios and lay down live in-studio versions of their songs. Each song is preceded by an interview that is often quite revealing and the musical results are often illuminating.

I discovered to my surprise, for instance, that I love this unabashed pop tune from Natasha Bedingfield:

Not earth-shattering but so happy and likeable!

Sometimes the performances are fairly straightforward (as with Bedingfield,) but every once in a while, a version seems to slip out that surprises even the band itself. The Zutons, for example, seem like a band that has some tensions between them, but they turn out a version of "Valerie" that is nothing short of astonishing.

Other artists appearing on the Best of Season 1 compilation include John Mayer, Amos Lee, Nerina Pallot, Corinne Bailey Rae, Dr. John, Craig David, Dave Matthews, Jamiroquai, Norah Jones and Gnarls Barkley, among others.

I also discovered a passion for a British band called the Kooks:

Check it out.