Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Don't Box Me In

Remember, the guilty pleasure movie, Dirty Dancing? And this famous scene at the end.

Record labels are famous for trying to find the right corner, the right box for singers. This one is country, this one is rock, this one is a crooner. But there are some singers who can "sing the phone book” as it were and any given box is one box too many. They don’t belong in a box, they belong standing on any box they choose because their vocal ability and interpretive skills allow them to master many genres. Or as J.R.R. Tolkien said
A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.”

But that can be a blessing and a curse if you don’t treat that gift the right way. So far, the albums that Clay Aiken has been required to make per label guidelines were like singing with one vocal chord numbed from ..oh I don’t know, dinosaur claws? But this time, this time they gave him the opportunity to do what he wanted. The result? What we knew he could always do.

Clay Aiken performed four songs from his new album on live television last night (well,four and a half, thanks to a rude cutaway to a commercial) . The songs were a great mix of a lush ballad, a country crossover song, a jazzy love song. But there was one song that showed the Clay that many of his core fandom knows but that those who only know him as ballad boy or AI Clay haven’t a clue. That song is a nifty bit of green eyed soul, written by Kipper, the album’s producer. Kipper has produced for Sting a few times and it showed in this song.

Everything I Don’t Need is everything that I wanted from this album. It’s green eyed soul, it’s growly Clay, it’s got an off-beat funky melody. He couldn’t move around much because the cameras were right in his face but that’s probably good because like too much of a good thing, you need to receive that in small bites.

The first two lines of the song started like this

Get outta my dreams, there’s no room left
Get outta my bed.

I am not quite sure what the next lines were, I may have blacked out from the blood rushing to my……brain.

Amazon.com has longer snippets of each of the album’s tracks here. Jaymes Foster has done an incredible job selecting an eclectic mix. The songs range from the uptempo and shake your thang tunes like Ashes and Falling to Something About Us which Clay describes as the most beautiful love song he’s ever heard. There are cross over potentials in multiple genres. While the album has a definite narrative cohesiveness, the genres are almost sensory overload. He takes you to so many places within the audio sensory map of your brain that even a GPS embedded into your cerebral cortex wouldn’t work. (Especially in Rhode Island, where the streets have no name).

Last night when he performed Everything I Don’t Need, I realized that he’s hit his stride as a singer. As good as we thought he was during AI2 or has great as he was in concert tour after concert tour, this is easily the best thing I’ve ever heard him sing.. next to any live performance of Lover All Alone.

So you think you know Clay? Have you put him in a corner? I bet you never expected THIS.

And just because.. here is Clay singing his own lyrics in Lover All Alone in Asheville, North Carolina. (He really looks so young here!)

An epilogue to our “What if Dinosaurs still roamed the earth?” blog. Seems the dinosaur rider has been put out to pasture with one of those “special assignment” titles. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, with a smaller…box.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you Corabeth. That was wonderful.

Stephanie said...

I completely agree with everything you wrote, especially about "Everything I Don't Need." That was an amazing performance, and I can already tell that will be a song I will play over and over and over. Phew! One of the hottest things I've ever heard the man sing. :)

Anonymous said...

Fantastic review .. fantastic blog .. fantastic new CD!