Thursday, August 31, 2006

Clay For The Ages

Yesterday we got the first change to hear Without You on the radio! What an incredible treat that was. I was almost out the door to do some shopping for dinner when I heard that WSRS in Worcester, MA was playing Clay at 5:45pm. AND THEY STREAM!!!! So naturally, chores had to wait while I listened. And man . . . did that sound wonderful. Plus, the DJ, Tom Holt, gave a terrific plug for the CD Release Parties planned all over the country and Canada. It's fantastic how many fans are gathering to celebrate Clay's new album, A Thousand Different Ways . . . we're up to 83 parties!

So hearing Clay's voice on the radio got me thinking. And that's always dangerous. But I remember a time when I listened to the radio and in addition to great rhythms, tempos, orchestration, lyrics -- there were voices that could truly sing. Great rock bands didn't necessarily mean mediocre singing.

The Who? Roger Daltry? He could sing.

Traffic? Steve Winwood? He could sing.

Queen? Freddy Mercury? He could sing.

Voices I've talked about in previous blogs - like Tim Buckley in Haunting Voices.

Crosby, Stills & Nash - beautiful voices, beautiful singing, beautiful harmonies.

Interesting voices - like Bruce Springsteen, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison.

Smooth voices - like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.

It's rare now when I try to listen to Top 40 stations that I really hear a VOICE I want to hear again. Christina Aguilera's - yes. It's hard for me to find others. The women seem to all sound like over-processed girls and hard to tell apart. The men sound so indistinguishable and ordinary. Hip-hop and rap are not voice-centric. Their appeal is in beats and words.

I've been listening to Clay's voice and wondering . . . just where does it fit? Then it hit me -- maybe I'm looking at Clay with ordinary eyes. And that's my mistake.

I believe that Clay Aiken is an exceptional talent that will take time to mature. It feels like he's a bridge from the past to the future. That he's an entertainer that will bring back the sparkling brilliance of Bobby Darin. I just know he will be a part of the musical landscape for a very long time. My husband listens to him and says Clay uses his voice as others use an instrument. He hears Clay's phrasings, his way of holding a note and doing something unexpected with a rhythm and says "this is Clay's artistry". He thinks Clay will someday involve himself with producing music. I truly believe that we will see Clay explore theater, film and television.

I know that I want so much for Clay's career and I can be very impatient. But, again, I think that's my mistake. Sometimes when someone has so much - I believe it takes longer to nourish it, to stretch it, to explore it. There's nothing fluffy about Clay. He may have achieved instant stardom - but I don't think Clay has yet tapped into all that he can eventually produce. I firmly believe that Clay will garner great respect in the music industry but, again, I believe it's going to take time. Patience is something not well practiced in the Clay Nation. But I'm trying not to hurry things along. I'm trying not to view Clay's career through the eyes of what others are doing. When something is out of the ordinary - sometimes you just have to have faith. When Clay is in his mid-30's - I have no doubt that he will be a musical force to be reckoned with.

I looked back at Clay's lovely rendition of Proud Of Your Boy. His whole being is committed to the character of Aladdin - his face, his body, his voice - HIS EYES. It's an amazing performance and gave me a hint of what he is capable of achieving.

And then he delights me with his charming personality and sings a modern song like Tears Run Dry - and still . . . it's the voice that grabs me.

So . . . for now . . . I'm parking myself in the Wherever You Take Me car . . . strapping myself in . . . and preparing myself for a joyous ride.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

On Cooking, Myopia and Mom's Dieting Myths

I loved Jude’s hilarious story, Life's Most Embarrassing Moments, about the perils of cooking for a date...I guess you could say it inspired me to unload here, too...

I’ll always remember when I knew for sure I was a lousy cook. Also nearsighted.

The suburban ranch house where I grew up had a utility room which contained the washer, dryer, power tools, building supplies and also the food pantry. One day (I was about 13) I decided to bake a birthday cake for my father. Congratulating myself on remembering all the incredients and not burning the cake -- this had been an issue in the past -- I went in to get the confectioner’s sugar for the frosting. I brought the yellow bag back to the kitchen, measured it out, and mixed it up. The first odd thing I noticed was that the batter got very heavy and grainy. But I was in a hurry, so I laboriously plowed my way through it, added some bright blue food coloring, and frosted the cake, putting it in the fridge. The second thing I noticed was that there was a LOT of icing left over. But again, because dinner was starting, I just stashed the bowl, with the spatula still in it, in the fridge.

After dinner, I went in to get out the cake and was disconcerted, to say the least, to find that I could barely lift it. Hauling it over to the kitchen counter, I subsequently discovered that the birthday candles wouldn’t go in it -- nor, I found out, would a knife or anything else. I called everybody in there to look at it. My dad, trying to keep a straight face, asked to see the confectioner’s sugar bag. It was, of course, not confectioner’s sugar at all but Sakrete (powdered cement). After we stopped laughing, my dad took the bowl of excess icing, added a little water, carried it outside and, giggling, started plugging cracks in the sidewalk. For years, until the house was finally torn down (to build a hideous McMansion complete with aluminum siding, lawn jockeys and a golf weathervane), I could see those bright blue specks every time I entered or left the house. And the cake? Well, let’s just say that we had a bright blue doorstop for a long time after.

Lord knows I wanted to learn to cook. But frankly, when you live alone, you aren’t very motivated -- Lean Cuisine is your best friend. Every time I actually tried to make something, I’d make four times too much, end up eating more of it than I should, and throw out the leftover science experiment in the back of the fridge a month later. Or I’d "cook" dinner for friends, they’d gingerly sample it, smile brightly, and ask to see a takeout menu.

Hope springs eternal -- I did once insist on cooking Beef Stroganoff for a date; nobody told me that you aren’t supposed to use ground beef, and unfortunately, the noodles ended up in one large, solid lump at the bottom of the pan. Somewhere that guy is still laughing.

My mom was a reasonably good cook, except when it came to recipes that called for liquor -- she would invariably end up knocking back most of it while she was cooking, so the alcohol would seldom make it into whatever dish she was making. You haven’t lived until you’ve had Beef Burgundy without the burgundy. And it’s tough to flambe something using only water.

She did have some interesting rules about food, though...she claimed that a) if nobody actually sees you eat it, it has no calories (ideal for those who snack in front of the fridge at 3 in the morning), b) if you eat only the broken cookies, the calories leak out the broken end, and c) diet soda and fattening foods cancel each other out. I think she was kidding.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Paying Your Dues

Following Clay's career has me much more tuned into the music industry (Pun intended) I've always been a lover of music but rarely paid any attention to the mechanics of producing an album or the nuances involved in promotion.

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Now that I'm paying closer attention, I've heard the phrase “paying your dues” a lot. For some reason, the performers from American Idol were never seen as having paid their dues at least until they raised the age limit to 28. Then the older contestants had time to actually practice their craft for at least 10 years but never got the break or were good enough to actually make it.

Recently, Kanye West was on the show and was asked about American Idol and he said they pay dues in a different way. He used an example of someone who was discovered in a mall because they had the look, He said he thinks it is harder to make it on AI than in Real Life.

Sometimes the show's publicity downplayed the performers' musical past for better television. Kelly Clarkson was the waitress from Texas, never mind that she had already gone to LA to try to make it as a singer and returned home. She was still plenty young enough to try again. Carrie Underswood was the country bumpkin right off the farm and Fantasia Barrino was the unwed mother. The real truth is that Carrie (who I was ambivalent about but have come to admire) had performed as an opening act for a number of established country groups and had lots of experience in on stage. Fantasia comes from generations of professional musicians.

Clay's backstory always made it seemed like he walked right out of his classroom as a teacher and on to the AI stage. In fact, he sang with a country band, starred in a number of community theater productions and starred in, hosted and produced the Hometown Connection show a number of times a year. He recorded two demo CDs (which now fetch a pretty penny on ebay). And he was only 24 when he tried out, not a bad resume for a guy a semester away from getting his bachelor's degree.

I wonder why Clay and others were sometimes seen as manufactured pop stars simply because they were able to avail themselves of better hair and clothes on the show. Performing in front of tens of millions of people, singing LIVE (what a concept) every week for 16 weeks is like bootcamp. I'd say it is the equivalent of playing a few years in crappy bars and clubs at 1 AM where 5 people see you and only 2 are sober. Aguilera, Timberlake and Spears all came from the Mousketeers and Timberlake was part of a group that was deliberately put together to appeal to young girls. Sorry, JT but N'Sync was a manufactured pop group.

Tell me that there is a more manufactured pop star than either Simpson sister with their manufactured breasts and/or nose. How can Hilary Duff be considered a worthy pop star when I can't recall the last time I saw her actually sing live instead of lip synch. In 2003 when Clay performed at the Jingle Ball concert put on by KISS in Boston, he was second to last. I had to sit through some horrible acts after paying $85 just to see Clay. Hilary Duff came on and did five songs, the first one was the only one that she sang live. An adorable 13 year old was singing away behind me. At the end, I smiled at her and asked her if she enjoyed it. She said “Yes! She was great but that first song wasn't so good.”. I said “that's because she didn't use the record, she sang it live.” (OK, that was mean but I was annoyed.) Clay was sick as a dog that winter but still came out and sang four difficult songs live.

I don't mean to put these other performers down (OK, maybe the Dufflet and Simpsons), I'm just questioning the double standard that has been out there for the last few years. The tide seems to be shifting as evidence by the pretty big names performing on AI this year. And most of the contestants sang better live than the professionals.

Clay will probably take some hits for an album that is 75% covers (thank you Clive the cadaver) even though I'm pretty sure he will make me forget the originals in about 4 minutes. He probably can sing just about anything and sometimes I think that is a blessing and a curse.
But I'll be there at midnight on September 19th to buy my copy of A Thousand Different Ways. And the smile on my face will be anything but manufactured.

PS. If you are interested in attending a CD Release party in your city, visit and find the thread for your region.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Clay Aiken CD News!

Here is a press release with exciting news about Clay Aiken's upcoming CD:

Clay Aiken Releases
New RCA Records Album
A Thousand Different Ways
in Stores on September 19th

Thursday August 3, 10:00 am ET

LOS ANGELES, Calif., August 3 /PRNewswire/ -- The long wait for Clay Aiken fans is over. RCA Records will release the singer's third album, A Thousand Different Ways, on September 19th. The project, Aiken's first outing since 2004, combines 10 cover versions of well-known songs from the '70s, '80s and '90s with four brand-new songs.

The album is a follow-up to Aiken's debut set, Measure of a Man, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and is certified triple-platinum, as well as the platinum-selling Merry Christmas with Love, the best-selling holiday album of the 2004 season.

For Aiken, the new album's title has multiple meanings. "This is an album of love songs," he explains, "but they are about all different kinds of love. Romantic love, Friendship, Unconditional love. There are a thousand different kinds of love; a thousand different ways to tell someone you love them. And, on top of that, since so many of these songs are covers, it's realistic to say that many of them have been or could be sung a thousand different ways."

In fact, Aiken has put his own spin on some of the well-known songs he has recorded for his new album. "These are songs I heard growing up. I loved them then and I still love them today, but we decided to do them a little differently. They have new arrangements and we put our own style on some of them."

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "Here You Come Again," a No. 3 hit for Dolly Parton in 1978, stands out for Aiken. "I've always loved that song," he says. "But for this album, we didn't use a country arrangement. It's a ballad version now. Adam Anders produced the most amazing arrangement and I couldn't wait to sing it."

Aiken credits Chairman CEO BMG U.S., Clive Davis for coming up with the concept for the album. "When we first embarked on making an album, my executive producer Jaymes Foster and I started out with one or two covers, then we had three. We slowly discovered that it's harder these days to come by songs that are as superb as the songs that I grew up on. Based on that, it was Clive's brainchild that we take classic love songs of the last 30 years and pair them with four new songs. He is a man who not only knows music, but really has his finger on the pulse of what listeners want to hear."

Those who have come to expect Aiken to belt out a song won't be disappointed. The album shows off Aiken's vocals in a big way with songs like the Bad English hit "When I See You Smile" and Harry Nilsson's "Without You." But Aiken will surprise fans by singing in a more relaxed style on some tracks than they have heard before, showing a different, sexier side.

Aiken fans will also be glad to know he was personally involved with the selection of every track and that he participated in every aspect of the album. "For the first album, most of the songs were chosen ahead of time. I was less of a participant in the process. The second album was a Christmas album, so we naturally chose songs of the season. This new album has much more of me in it. Right from the beginning, Clive and Jaymes wanted to find songs that were right for me. Jaymes told me, "Stay in your lane, but remember it's okay to swerve a little and see where it takes you.' That's exactly what we did."

The following is a complete track listing for the much-anticipated A Thousand Different Ways, including writer and producer credits:

Originally recorded by: Richard Marx
Written by: Richard Marx / Produced by: John Fields

Originally recorded by: John Waite
Written by: Diane Warren / Produced by: John Fields

Originally recorded by: Badfinger and Then Harry Nilsson
Written by: William Collings, Thomas Evans, Michael Gibbins, Peter Ham,
and J.C. Molland
Produced by: John Fields

Written by: Andreas Carlsson, Samuel Waermo, Mimmi Waermo & Clay Aiken
Produced by: Andreas Carlsson and Samuel Waermo

Originally recorded by: Elton John
Written by: Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Producer by: Per Magnusson & David Kreuger

Originally recorded by: Paul Young
Written by: Daryl Hall
Produced by: Adam Anders

Originally recorded by: Bryan Adams
Written by: Bryan Adams, Michael Kamen & Robert John "Mutt" Lange
Produced by: John Fields

I WANT TO KNOW WHAT LOVE IS - Guest Vocals by Suzie McNeil
Originally recorded by: Foreigner
Written by: Michael Jones
Produced by: Russ Irwin, Marti Frederiksen & Charlton Pettus

Written by: Jon Bon Jovi & Desmond Childs
Produced by: John Fields

Originally recorded by: Celine Dion
Written by: Diane Warren
Produced by: Eman

Originally recorded by: Dolly Parton
Written by: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

EVERYTHING I HAVE - Featuring William Joseph on Piano
Written by: Jeremy Bose
Arranged by: Jeremy Lubbock

Written by: Christian Leuzzi, Aldo Nova & Emanuel Olsson
Produced by: John Fields

Originally recorded by: Mr. Mister
Written by: Richard Page, John Lang & Steve George
Produced by: Eman

Be sure to pre-order the CD on Amazon!

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