Thursday, May 28, 2009

ella ella ella

Every time I hear Rihanna's song "Umbrella," I'm reminded of an acoustic cover version I heard a couple of months ago when my wife and I were shopping at Kohl's. I actually liked the acoustic version better. No offense to Rihanna, who now has her own line of umbrellas from Totes. I meant to do a little Google research when I got home and kept forgetting. Until now.

My best guess is that the song we heard over the speakers at Kohl's was by Marié Digby. She has a YouTube channel and pages on Facebook and MySpace. I guess I'm a little late coming to the party, since Marié's cover of "Umbrella" has over 13 million views. My son and I also enjoyed her cover of Linkin Park's "What I've Done." Marié is described as another YouTube sensation, not unlike Julia Nunes, who my wife and I met last month.

In a recent video, Julia mentioned that her Knoxville audiences were "packed with the friendliest people who gave me cake and marshmallow guns and a zombie crocheted version of myself. It was insane!" Last year Julia was the opening act for four shows with Ben Folds. In the middle of those four shows, he went off to play at Bonnaroo. This year Julia will be performing at Bonnaroo and returning to The Square Room in Knoxville just before that. According to her latest video, she needs to choose a local opening act for her June 9th gig and is open to suggestions.

Ben Folds was mentioned in USA Today on Wednesday. The article was about the increase in popularity of a cappella groups on college campuses. He put out an album of his songs that were covered by 14 different student a cappella groups. It's called "Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!" The article also has me wanting to read a book titled "Perfect Pitch: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory" by Mickey Rapkin. I'll start by reading his blog.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

sing in exultation

The piece of music that makes it feel like Christmas for me is the "Christmas Festival Overture" by Leroy Anderson. The composer took several popular Christmas carols and songs and arranged them in a medley. The best parts of it were clearly influenced by Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." My favorite segment is a mashup of "Jingle Bells" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." There's a new BBC recording of Anderson's holiday works that includes the overture. I literally got goosebumps when I heard the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra perform the opus on Saturday night.

The SLSO's home is the beautiful Powell Symphony Hall, a former vaudeville and movie house. Prior to the concert, they projected messages on a screen reminding the audience that photography was prohibited and that ushers would provide cough drops before the show started. Coughing must be prohibited too. I was impressed that at one of the refreshment stands they sold slices of cake and pie, egg nog (spiked and regular) and hot cocoa. Meanwhile on stage, soloist Doug LaBrecque put the broad in Broadway as he sang to the rafters. He thanked his arranger Wayne Barker for working up some nice orchestrations to include the excellent St. Louis Children’s Choirs on "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

All the songs we heard at the concert and the songs we heard on the weekend's long car trip got me thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas music. Relient K's version of "Sleigh Ride" is a favorite this year. I also still enjoy The Blenders singing "The First Noel" and the Brian Setzer Orchestra doing "Angels We Have Heard On High," which is downloadable for free for a limited time on Look up pop perfection and you should get "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey. It is flawless both as a song and as a record. Ask the Grammys if you don’t know the difference between the two.

I've come to realize that "Baby It’s Cold Outside" is really a woman’s song. I don’t like versions in which the female part is a throwaway, for example when Dean Martin sings it with some anonymous chorus girls (sorry, Bean.) I loved the version on the Mark & Brian Christmas album, not because of Barry Manilow but because of the great voice of listener Pamela Holt. Even better is the cover of the song on the "Elf" soundtrack, sung by Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone. When Zooey sings the line "my sister might get suspicious," how can you not think of Bones?

My daughter left a comment on Bean's Christmas Music Everyday blog. He posted a song called "Christmas Eve in Washington" that seems to be disliked by everyone I know. As far as I know, it only gets airplay in D.C. That reminds me. Let me air a gripe about all the radio stations that play only Christmas music for the month prior to the holiday. I've already written about the uneven ratio of sacred to secular songs. Now I want to know why you cut us off cold turkey at 11:59 p.m. on the 25th? When you go back to playing the best mix of yesterday's favorites and today's whatever, I'll be listening to Christmas music for a few more days. I think you should leave some Christmas songs on the playlist through New Year's Eve. Oh and one more thing, when you play an instrumental version of "Sleigh Ride," keep in mind that Leroy Anderson was the composer of the piece. You often make it sound like he played all the instruments on the recording by the Boston Pops or another symphony orchestra.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

putting the band back together

TNT's annual broadcast of "Christmas in Washington" has become part of my holiday tradition. I found myself looking forward to the telecast for a couple of reasons.

Julianne Hough
opened the show. Unfortunately she sounded nervous. When my wife and I saw her sing at the World Grotto accompanied only by a pair of acoustic guitars, she sounded fantastic. In front of First Lady Laura Bush and singing with a full orchestra and a choir full of backup singers Julianne was, how do you say, pitchy. My wife thought that she probably didn't have a good mix in her monitor speakers or earbuds.

My wife had recently heard about a clever version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." At first she thought her friend was trying to tell her about the old parody song, "The Twelve Days After Christmas." Instead it was a medley of different tunes by a group called Straight No Chaser, who appeared on the show tonight. When Robin McGraw read their introduction, I was interested to learn that they sang together in college, went their separate ways and reunited when an old video of theirs went viral on YouTube. They now have a record deal. I put their CD on my Amazon wish list.

In other random Christmas music news, I've been hearing a lot about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra lately. When I happened to see affianced bloggers Rich and Lissa in Gatlinburg recently, they told me that they are going to the upcoming concert at Thompson-Boling Arena. The TSO also came up in a phone conversation with a friend who was traveling in the Northeast and thought that the band was playing in his area too. During the course of our chat, I got to wondering if the Orchestra could make more money during the holidays by being in two places at once. A look at their tour schedule confirmed my suspicions. On the night that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra plays in Knoxville, they will also be in Indianapolis. The night before that they will be in both Nashville and Detroit. After they play here, they will be in Memphis and Grand Rapids on the same night. Obviously they use two groups of musicians. Wikipedia says they hire local string players in each city but it doesn't say how the principals are divided up. No offense to Indianapolis, but I hope that Knoxville gets the better show that night.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

rocka top

If the management for Rockapella had asked me, I might have requested that they schedule their Knoxville concert for any night besides a Tuesday. Last year I wished that I could be in two places at once to see the renowned a capella group when they performed at George Mason University. This year they are coming to the University of Tennessee on the one night of the week that I am always booked.

While I wish that all of you would show up at Patrick Sullivan's this and every Tuesday to see the comedy improv of Einstein Simplified, I know that most of you won't. Perhaps you can go see Rockapella instead. They're so good that I'm kicking myself for not making any progress on bilocation.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

no need to feel down

Carbo-loading for tomorrow morning's Swim for Life is the excuse I'm using for eating fair food tonight. It was media night at the Tennessee Valley Fair. The organizers set up a buffet for all us media moochers. I sampled a few things including a corn dog and part of a funnel cake.

The featured attraction tonight was Village People. While we waited for the concert, my wife and I saw someone who looked exactly like David Keith going in the same stage door from which the singing group would eventually make their entrance. Maybe he wanted to say hi to them. I drew a red circle around him in the photo below:

This week's Metro Pulse has a couple of paragraphs by Jack Neely that perfectly explain what people like me thought when Village People hit the scene. I wasn't the only one who was too young or too naive to see the subtext at the time.
The Village People confused America more successfully than any other band in history. In 1977, some may recall, heterosexual men wore blow-dried hair styles, chartreuse pants suits, heels and jewelry. Old-fashioned institutions like the YMCA, the U.S. Navy, and machismo in general were withering, the rough equivalent of the Temperance League. Then, suddenly, all over TV, here came these guys dressed in unfashionably, boldly masculine costumes, as a cop, an Indian chief, a cowboy, a biker, an infantryman, a construction worker in a hard hat. And they sang, in commanding masculine tones over a driving disco beat, songs extolling the Y and the Navy, the old things our grandparents were always trying to talk us into. And even in the fruity '70s, these men boldly emphasized the necessity of being macho.

Good hippies cringed at what looked like a giant step backward into gender stereotypes. Conservatives rejoiced. Then America slowly realized that most of these guys were gay. What were we to think? We still haven't quite figured it out, even as we stand up to do the Y-M-C-A dance at baseball games.
At the end of tonight's concert, the Veepers (as they call themselves) taught us how to properly do the Y-M-C-A hand motions. To do the M, your hands should be in front of your sternum, pointing down, not atop your head. But I'm getting ahead of myself. "YMCA" was the obvious encore. The group sang their other well-known songs mixed in with a couple of cover songs and a part-medley, part-mashup thing called "Trash Disco." After pretending to end the show with "In the Navy," they came back on stage and said they would take a risk by letting the audience request their final song. Of course everyone screamed for "YMCA."

They had plenty of processing on their microphones but I was still left thinking that the members of Village People are very good singers whose voices blend well together. During their cover of "Iko Iko," it occurred to me that without their costumes and backing tracks, they would be indistinguishable from an experienced and talented a capella group. All they would need is a mouth percussionist.

When I was at Power 106, the station booked Village People to perform at a retro dance party for listeners. I was assigned the task of arranging for some celebrities to attend and appear on stage. The three stars I got were Susan Olsen, Hervé Villechaize and Norman Fell. It was the first time I met Susan. Who knew we would work together several years later?

The Veepers got to L.A. a couple of days before the concert. They came in for an interview on the morning show and had some free time on their hands. Meanwhile the station had a preview screening of a new movie that week. I will always remember that I saw "Jurassic Park" seated directly in front of the world famous Village People. The group will soon head back to California to perform at the L.A. County Fair and to receive their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Meanwhile back in Knoxville, my David Keith sighting was confirmed later tonight in the midway section of the fair. My wife and I were waiting in line for the Giant Wheel when I saw David getting into one of the cars. He gave a thumbs up for my camera:

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Friday, April 04, 2008

onward and upward you must press

The Catholic Charities Annual Dinner Gala took place last night in downtown Knoxville. My wife and I had a great time, mainly because there were so many people there that we knew, including Fr. Ragan Schriver who greeted everyone as they arrived. We said a brief hello in the hotel lobby to Bruce Hartmann. I found out today that Bruce is number 39 on BusinessTN's 2008 Power100 list. Had I known last night, I would have congratulated him. Before dinner we had a nice chat with Fr. Eric Andrews near the cheese tray. All three have been my guests on a public affairs radio show over the past two and a half years.

At seven o'clock the crowd moved into the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Our seats were at table 26. My wife and I both thought we were losing our minds as we looked for our table. Tables 24, 25 and 27 were all lined up in a row as were the rest of the numbered tables. Eventually we found table 26, out of sequence on the far right of the room. The salads and desserts were already in place at each of the tables. The salads were all the same but the desserts alternated between cheesecake and chocolate cake. People all over the room jockeyed for position so they could sit in front of their preferred dessert.

The after-dinner entertainment was by the Smokyland Sound Barbershop Chorus. The singers walked right past our table on the way to their risers. As soon as I saw them, I secretly hoped they would sing "The Roses of Success" from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." While the senior members of the group sang their first couple of songs, two others stood against the wall near our table waiting to go on. My wife and I recognized one of them as Jim, a member of the All Saints choir. The two wore tuxedo shirts and bow ties but not the sequined vests that the others had on. At that same time, someone at our table wanted coffee. A helpful priest jumped up and asked Jim to serve our table. We could read Jim's lips as he explained that he was only there to sing.

Fr. Michael Woods interrupted Fr. Ragan's closing remarks to publicly thank him for all his hard work as director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee. The thanks were delivered roast-style as Fr. Michael teased Fr. Ragan about his vegetarian diet and his casual attire. We learned that Fr. Ragan and several other priests got stranded in Atlanta when their connecting flight to Missouri was canceled. They were supposed to attend the ordination of Bishop Vann Johnston. Speaking of bishops and Knoxville's current lack of one, Fr. Michael jokingly put on a red skullcap during his remarks. When we spoke with him later, he was very relieved to hear that the Vicar General, Monsignor Xavier Mankel had gone home just before the comedy commenced.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

domo arigato

When Rockapella performed at George Mason University in December, I wanted to go but couldn't. My sister did and used the opportunity to buy a Christmas gift for my wife and me. She got us the group's "Live in Japan" CD and had it autographed. I called her today to get some help deciphering the inscriptions.

I had thought that one of the singers had written "L.T.N.J." What could that mean? N.J. is the abbreviation for New Jersey but what about L.T.? Lawrence Taylor? Are they Giants fans? I looked up a list of cities in New Jersey. Perhaps it was an unexplained reference to Liberty Township. My sister said I was way off track. What I thought was a J is actually an S and the message was "Long Time No See." I might have known that if I wasn't too cheap to pay for text messages.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

phone home

"Nightline" had a feature on Paul Potts the other night. He was the winner of "Britain's Got Talent." Potts likes his new found fame but hasn't quit his day job, just in case it all goes away. He is on a leave of absence from Carphone Warehouse. I just saw that store on the series finale of "Extras" when a character loses his showbiz job and goes back to work at Carphone Warehouse.

The same edition of "Nightline" also had a short piece on Josh Groban. Josh talked about how he and David Foster "broke down the rhythm" of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear." My wife liked their arrangement of that song but didn't care for what they did to "Ave Maria." She heard both songs after receiving Groban's top selling Christmas CD "Noel" as as gift. Oprah chose the disc as one of her favorite things, don't you know. If I correctly understand what my wife said, Josh dropped the Latin word "et" in one of the lyrics and then moved the subsequent syllables onto the wrong notes. She also didn't like the way he omitted the second verse and repeated the first instead. Maybe Josh didn't want to ask Mary to pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

We found an unexpected Christmas music treat while flipping around the dial last night. Our PBS HD station was running a Christmas concert by an a capella group called Tonic Sol-fa. They did a great version of "Ay, Ay, Ay It's Christmas," a song which I had previously only heard by Ricky Martin. The Tonic Sol-fa special is worth watching if they repeat it even though they spent a little too much time on filler between some of the songs.

Who knew that "Ay, Ay, Ay It's Christmas" is another one of those songs that people lip sync on YouTube for comedic effect?

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

here they come a-caroling

If it were possible to be in two places at once, one of me would show up at George Mason University on December 8 to see Rockapella in concert. They will do two Christmas shows at the Center for the Arts that day. I received a flyer from my alma mater advertising the shows. The photo on the flyer was the first picture I had seen of the group since Elliott Kerman left. Elliott is the third member to retire in the time that I've been a fan.

The first Rockapella concert I ever saw was one of Sean Altman's last shows with the group. His replacement, Kevin Wright, had already been selected and was watching from the wings to learn everything he could. The most recent Rockapella concert I attended was three and a half years ago in Atlanta. George Baldi had recently replaced Barry Carl as the bass singer.

Sean, Barry and Elliott will reunite next August to sing under the name XRP (ex-Rockapella?) at an event called A Cappellastock in Ogden, Utah. I would love to be there, if only I could be in two places at once.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

like a big pizza pie

A lunar eclipse was visible tonight. I was reminded to look for it after hearing a radio interview with "Mr. Eclipse" himself. My own rushed attempt at a photo of the eclipse turned out terribly.

While looking for an eclipse song other than the obvious one by Bonnie Tyler, I stumbled across an a cappella group called Eclipse.

Back in the days when my friend Bean had a blog, he linked to a great page about one of my favorite record albums from childhood. The "Space Songs" album is loaded with corny tunes about the sun, moon and stars. It includes the original version of "Why Does the Sun Shine," which was famously covered by They Might Be Giants. The album doesn't have an eclipse song though.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

like in the chapel

A "Festifallooza" was going on outside the restaurant where we had lunch yesterday. We were in Northern Virginia celebrating some family birthdays. An a cappella group called dcVocals was just finishing up their performance while we waited for our table. I wish I had heard more of them because their version of "I'm Only Happy When It Rains" was quite good. dcVocals is the first co-ed a cappella group I've ever seen. My family and I have actually been to an a cappella festival at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre where we saw Rockapella, The Blenders, the Knudson Brothers and a bunch of others.

After lunch, we looked at some of the tables and booths at the festival. The petting zoo had a llama that looked just like David Spade's character in some Disney movie.

I spotted a table with freebies from WARW. They were one of the Arrow (All Rock & Roll Oldies) radio stations that eventually evolved into a classic rock format. I saw t-shirts, DVDs and some registration forms and wondered if a major market station used entry blanks to give away t-shirts due to high demand. The guy behind the table told me that he was just using a registration blank to write down some information for a listener. To win a prize on the table, one only had to know the name of any of the deejays on his radio station. This is the exact same question I use when giving away shirts at my remote broadcasts. I couldn't keep from blurting out the name of their morning show and I accidentally won a t-shirt. Later I was kicking myself for not mentioning Cerphe or Weasel instead.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

rock that town

How far would you drive to see one of your favorite bands in concert? An hour? Maybe two? How about three hours? My family and I drove that far when I was given some tickets to see Rockapella perform at Georgia Tech. Atlanta is about 3 hours south of Knoxville while Nashville is about three hours west of here. Concert tours are much more likely to be routed through one of those bigger markets than through KnoxVegas.

Check out the web version of an email sent to "radio professionals" today. It says that Brian Setzer has a new CD and it lets you hear the track "Everybody's Up To Somethin'." Best of all, it says that Brian is bringing the whole orchestra to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for a Christmas concert on December 7. I would love to get some tickets if I can figure out how to get enough sleep and still make it to work the next morning. I need to try because Brian told a Minneapolis newspaper that he will probably retire the BSO after this year's holiday tour.

Mr. Setzer is responsible for some of my favorite radio memories. One morning we packed the whole Brian Setzer Orchestra into the studio, offices and hallways at KROQ for a live performance. I still remember the thrill I got a couple of years later when I first heard the Orchestra's version of "Rock This Town" while they were in the KLOS studio.
I am reminded of the feeling every time I listen to that track on my mp3 player/phone. One year when the NAB convention was in Los Angeles, I went to some downtown hotel to hear Brian play in a suite on the top floor. The lobby was swarming with a hundred or so radio guys when Setzer arrived and headed for the elevator bank. He made me feel like a million bucks when he spotted me in the crowd and shouted, "hey Frank!"

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