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Archive for February, 2015

CD review/ Shadows in the Night – Bob Dylan


dylan

Shadows in the Night

Artiste: Bob Dylan

Genre: Evergreens

Label: Sony Music

Rating: ****


BOB Dylan is Bob Dylan. He definitely isn’t Frank Sinatra, and never would have been aspired to be one. So when we heard that he was attempting an album containing songs popularised by the older American hero, our question was: What on earth was he up to?

Thankfully, our fears were laid to rest after a few listens of ‘Shadows In The Night’, Dylan’s 35th studio album. With a voice that’s sounding smokier and mustier as he approaches his mid -70s, and an orchestration that will make you long for candlelights or full-moon nights, low-lit bars or a sky filled with stars, Dylan does his own take on Sinatra. Effortlessly and elegantly, he does it his way.

Strangely, Dylan avoids Sinatra’s anthem ‘My way’, whose words would have been equally suited to describe his own approach to music in particular, and life in general. And if you thought the album title would compulsorily mean a version of the brilliant ‘Strangers in the night’, he skips that one too. Sure enough, he doesn’t even touch done-to-death numbers like ‘Something stupid’, ‘Fly me to the moon’ and ‘Under my skin’.

The 10 songs Dylan chooses to interpret largely belong to an era preceding Dylan’s super success in the 1960s. Yet, only two would fit into the category of tunes that most people would recognise. He gives a completely different spin to the Rodgers-Hammerstein II beauty ‘Some enchanted evening’, charmingly singing the opening lines, “Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then that somehow, you’ll see her again and again.”

The other hit, ‘Autumn leaves’, may come across as one of the album’s weaker moments, but that’s because you would instantly compare it with some outstanding versions done in the past by singers Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone, and the trumpet-saxophone jazz improvisation by Chet Baker and Paul Desmond. For that matter, even Bollywood’s Sapan Chakrabarti didn’t spare the song when he created ‘Tum bhi chalo’ in ‘Zameer’. Still, Dylan makes you hum along, even if in disagreement.

Of the other songs, Dylan gets into form instantly on the opening track ‘I’m a fool to want you’, where he changes the mood from “Time and time again I said I’d leave you, time and time again I went away” to “Take me back, I love you’” to “I can’t get along without you.”

‘The night we called it a day’ brims with romance on the lines, “There was a moon out in space, but a cloud drifted over its face.” On ‘Stay with me’, ‘Why try to change me now?’ and ‘That lucky old sun’, the vocal style is vintage Dylan, at times sounding uncomfortable in comparison to the originals, and yet proving how easily he’s adapted them to match his own style.

On ‘Full moon and empty arms’, a song which jointly names Buddy Kaye, Ted Mossman and famed Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff on writing credits, Dylan sings, “The moon is there for us to share but where are you?”

The next song, “Where are you?” has similar emotions as it goes, “Where are you? Where is my heart? Where is the dream we started? I can’t believe we parted?” And on Irving Berlin’s ‘What’ll I do’, he moans, “When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?” On each tune, a combination of trumpets, trombones, French horns, guitar, pedal steel and minimal percussion lend that special mood and ambience.

Yet, barring some of the unusual song choices, there’s nothing really new about this Dylan venture. It’s definitely not the first time he hasn’t written original material for a new album after his 1962 self-titled debut, as in late 2009, he attempted popular festive favourites in the album ‘Christmas in the Heart’. He’s also not the first person to record an album of Sinatra hits – after the jazz interpretations by the pianist Oscar Peterson and his trio in 1959, we have had attempts by Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton and, Teny Bennett, among others.

Likewise, Dylan is among the many singers to have attempted songs from the Great American Songbook, with the list also including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. And he’s also not the only singer to try out cover versions of popular hits in recent months, as Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox have also done that.

In such a scenario, one may ask what’s new. Well, that’s the beauty of ‘Shadows in the Night’. Dylan sings these songs in such an individualistic manner that they are bound to keep your evenings enchanted.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

Marketing Lady Gaga as a musical brand


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Lady Gaga at the Oscars 2015

LET’S start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. Among other things at the Oscar Awards 2015, Lady Gaga’s rendition of’ The Sound of Music’ medley made headlines worldwide. Both the social media and conventional publications were abuzz with comments and articles on how the pop sensation could actually sing too. For many, it came as the biggest surprise on earth.

Lady Gaga is undoubtedly a very talented artiste, having started at the age of four and been a teenage sensation in theatrical musicals. However, she has largely been known for her antics than for her music. The world discussed her more for her outlandish ‘meat dress’, her egg-shaped costumes and ultra-weird hairdos. She’s also been the product of some extremely creative new age marketing strategies aimed at various categories which lapped things up instantly.

Her performance at the Oscars was not only an eye-opener, but also the smartest thing she’s probably done. Within a 10-minute span, she and the event organisers did nothing but sell pure nostalgia to the ideal target audience, comprising millions of television viewers across the globe, a large chunk of which had never taken Lady Gaga seriously before, and who after her show associated her instantly with emotions they had related to while they were growing up.

If one looks closely, it’s not that Lady Gaga is the only singer in the world who could have given this performance. Yes, she hit the right notes and created a stir, but that’s something that any talented singer would do, including Mumbai’s very own Vivienne Pocha, Samantha Edwards, Dominique Cerejo and Caralisa Monteiro. Most singers begin their lessons with ‘The Sound of Music’, and songs from the movie are ingrained not only among singers but among music lovers too.

An entire generation has grown up on and has mastered these songs, but when Lady Gaga performed them, everyone raved about her singing talents and how hard she worked on voice training. And the trick there clearly lay in how the whole episode was packaged. It wasn’t just an ordinary medley, but the epitome of marketing savvy.

First, extracts of songs from the original movie were shown, getting the audience into a nostalgic mood. This was followed by Lady Gaga’s performance, comprising songs not featured in the visual clip. Her trained voice, flowing gown, tattooed arms, uncharacteristically simple hairstyle and minimal physical movement, as well as the live violins, went perfectly with the ambience, and one didn’t really care if the classic ‘Edelweiss’ didn’t really fit in or match the original. Across the world, the ‘halls’ were alive to the sound of music.

The performance touched a chord, and the singer got a standing ovation. Even as people were clapping, in walked Julie Andrews, the star of the original film, and after a brief interaction, Lady Gaga just vanished. The applause continued, and what would have been an ordinary rendition turned out to be a memorable moment in recent Oscar history.

Within minutes, videos of Gaga’s act went viral on YouTube, and in the hours that followed, the world posted and shared more about her enormous singing talent than about best actor Eddie Redmayne or best film ‘Birdman’. Articles on her ‘surprise performance’ were posted everywhere, while some sections wondered what the hype was all about. This was showbiz at its very best. To pun on a Queen song, don’t be surprised if for a few days, all you hear is Lady-O Gaga.

EVER since she arrived on the scene in 2008 with her album ‘The Fame’, Lady Gaga has been one of the music industry’s most successful marketing stories. While much credit to her success would go to her former manager Troy Carter, with whom she split a couple of years ago, the singer has herself contributed with ideas that have revolutionised the way celebrity brands can be sold.

Initially, her focus was on the teenage and young segment – and she used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remarkably to build her fan base and popularise songs like ‘Just dance’, ‘Poker face’ and ‘Bad romance’. But that was something many people were doing.

Before one could blink, she aimed at the other extreme of the audience, collaborating with veteran singer Tony Bennett, 60 years her senior, first on the song ‘The Lady is a Tramp’, and then on the album ‘Cheek to Cheek’, which has immortal classics like ‘Lush life’, ‘It don’t mean a thing’, ‘Sophisticated lady’ and ‘Nature boy’. The recoding won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance, and her new manager Bobby Campbell became a celebrity too.

By doing this album, she targeted a much older generation, making many grandparents relive their younger days and also relating to their grandchildren’s fascination for Lady Gaga. More than any other pop singer, she charmed two extreme generations, using nothing but simple common sense, and bridged the gap in her own way.

The Lady Gaga success story till her third album ‘Born This Way’, released in 2013, has been covered in Anita Elberse’s thoroughly researched book ‘Blockbusters: Why Big Hits – and Big Bucks – are the Future of the Entertainment Business’. In fact, she is the only case which has been studied twice in the book, which also talks of brands like entertainment houses Warner Brothers, MGM and Marvel Entertainment, superstar Tom Cruise, record label Octone Records, musical acts Radiohead and Jay-Z, online video channels YouTube and Hulu, football club Real Madrid and tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, besides other names in book publishing, television and basketball.

The first case study on ‘Launching and Managing Blockbusters’, talks about Lady Gaga’s rise to fame, her initial album launches, how she targeted the young generation through the social media, her obsession for image-building through shock value and the way she used the live concert medium to build up her fan base.

The book says: “Gaga heavily relied on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread further word of mouth and strengthen her connection with her fans – or her “little monsters”, as she liked to call them. She turned out to be extraordinarily skilled at doing so: by 2011, Gaga was the most popular living person on Facebook and the most followed person on Twitter.

The second case study is used in a chapter on the ‘Future of Blockbuster Strategies’. Special mention is made on how, while releasing her album ‘Born This Way’, she partnered with brands like Beats high-end headphones, Amazon, Belvedere vodka, Best Buy, Guilte Group, Starbucks and Zygna. With most musicians relying on conventional marketing means by tying up with record labels, Gaga collaborated with an unusual mix of brands, to reach out to a wider set of audiences.

The Beats headphone tie-up helped her connect with sound-conscious audiences. While Amazon offered her album ‘Born this Way’ for 99 cents to promote its new cloud-based service, Belvedere promoted its vodka by holding a contest offering tickets to her concert in London. Best Buy bundled the album with the purchase of a phone, and Gulite Group created special Gaga-inspired merchandise including a dress similar to one worn by her. Starbucks promoted her album big-time in their stores, and Zygna, the social gaming giant, created a special game called ‘Gagaville’ based on its very popular ‘Farmville’.

Now, many musicians had done such collaborations in the past. But where Gaga scored was how she used a combination of various consumer segments to attract the larger sum of people who would directly listen to her music. And while she followed these new age marketing tactics, she also stuck to conventional philanthropic practices like contributing to various charities and relief efforts, besides launching the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit organisation that focuses on youth empowerment and issues like self-confidence, well-being, mentoring, anti-bullying and career development.

Unlike Michael Jackson, Madonna or Whitney Houston, who relied primarily on individual image, record sales and live performances, Lady Gaga has been lucky to bloom at the right time in the digital age. She may not really reach the pure artistic status of the three names mentioned above, but as a brand, she has spearheaded a completely new approach. And to her credit, she hasn’t stuck to the same formula, but experimented fearlessly.

If many questioned her talent earlier, and insisted she like many of her contemporaries was more the creation of hype than substance, they slowly changed track after she released ‘Cheek to Cheek’ with their old favourite Tony Bennett. By singing ‘The Sound of Music’ songs at the hugely popular Oscar ceremony, she has seemingly laid all the criticism to rest. Equally important, this being the 50th year since ‘The Sound of Music’ was first released, she and Julie Andrews combined in a manner that would attract today’s youngsters to the legendary film.

The best thing was that she sang songs everyone knew and sang along, and yet made the world believe she was the only person in the universe who could manage it so well. It doesn’t matter whether most of her newfound admirers bother whether her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Who cares, as long as ‘Lady’ portrays her older, mature side, and ‘Gaga’ her young, fun-loving one?

CD review/ Swappnam – Music by Ilaiyaraaja


Ilaiya

Swappnam – Dance, Theatre, Dreams

Music: Ilaiyaraaja

Genre: Classical dance music/ Carnatic/ devotional

Label: Purple note

Price: Rs 150

Rating: *****

ONE of India’s greatest composers ever, Ilaiyaraaja has recently been in the news for providing the music for the Amitabh Bachchan-Dhanush Hindi film ‘Shamitabh’. On a more traditional note, he has also composed ‘Swappnam’, a dance ballet based on a performance by Bharatnatyam exponent Krithika Subrahmanian.

With a heavy Carnatic and devotional base dedicated to Lord Shiva, the 10 tracks take you through various emotions and situations like dreams of the young, adoration, romance, recognition, awakening, realisation, reverence, wisdom, dreams of the old and truth. The presence of talented vocalists like Poornima Satish, Sudha Raghunathan, Abishek Raghuram, Vasudha Ravi, Rajashree Pathak and Bharath Sunder lends variety.

The six-minute-plus ‘Dreams of the Young’ or ‘Aezhisayaai’ is a perfect opener. It begins with an orchestral portion played with a western classical feel and yet including Carnatic overtones, followed by Abhishek Raghuram’s vocal, set to a flute, veena, violin, mridangam and ghatam backdrop. ‘Adoration’, or ‘Kaadhaar Kuzhaiyaada’ is rendered with melodic brilliance in raag Jog by Poornima Satish and Vasudha Ravi. An extract of Adishankara’s Ardhanareeswara Ashtaka, ‘Romance’ or ‘Pradeepta Rathnojwala’ sung by popular Malayalam composer Shareth, Arunmozhi (who is actually Ilaiyaraaja’s flautist who otherwise goes by the name Napoleon) and group has excellent display of percussion.

One of the highlights is the sargam-driven voice symphony ‘Recognition’ or ‘Koovina Poonguyil’, sung by Poornima Satish and group, and beginning with the heavenly sound of birds humming. Sudha Raghunathan, Vasudha Ravi and Sreenivas team up on ‘Realisation’ or ‘Ammaye Appa’, whereas Rajashree Pathak makes apt use of raag Puriya Dhanashri on ‘Reverence’ or ‘Bhajeham’, which has the theme line ‘Bhajeham bhajeham shivoham shivoham’.

Bharath Sunder’s ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Aye Metha Kadinam’, composed by Gopalakrishna Bharathi, makes exquisite use of the veena. Swati Tirunal’s ‘Dreams of the Old’ or ‘Visweswara Darshan’, sung by Rajashree Pathak, Abishek Raghuram, is a melodic anthem rendered with a Hindustani feel in raag Sindhu Bhairavi with the lines ‘Visweswara darshan kar chalo man tum Kashi’.

The album concludes with a 30-second spoken stretch by Ilaiyaraaja on ‘Truth’ or ‘Anbum Shivamum’. It’s an apt ending to one of the best creations by the master-composer.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

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