May 2005

The following CD’s reviewed are favorite Motown classics from their 60’s and 70’s heyday, Toni Braxton’s greatest hits from the 90’s and 00’s, and #1 smash hits that bring us right into 2005. What’s even more interesting is that all of the aforementioned discs are brand new releases.

The reason I’m revisiting these landmark songs is because they’ve all been remixed, remade and remodeled, and given an updated sound that makes them as fresh and new as Joan Rivers’ facelift. Well, for those who don’t care for Rivers’ “work,” that may be a poor analogy, but these songs have a crisp sound that’s well-suited for 2005.

There’s also Lisa Marie Presley. I reviewed her debut CD, To Whom It May Concern, exactly two years ago. Now with her sophomore release, Now What, I thought it was time to revisit Ms. Presley and get the skinny on the dozen new tracks she’s written and recorded.

Motown Remixed – Various Artists
Motown Records
Release Date: May 24, 2005

In its heyday, Motown’s tag was “The Sound of Young America.” Well, forty-seven years later, these carefully chosen tracks could easily be put on any Top 40 list and give the “stars” of today, a run for their money. This CD offers fifteen extraordinary classics, not at all the typical fare that one might expect. The producers that have remixed these gems aren’t your everyday run-of-the-mill DJ’s either. These guys are experienced and used to working with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, U2, Moby, Ashanti, Outkast and Nelly to name a few. Kicking off the disc is the Jackson 5’s 1969 debut smash “I Want You Back (Z-Trip Remix)” sounding so spectacular with a bump ‘n grind mix that fits the groove and vocal superbly. And the groove doesn’t stop there. Take a ride back to Motown and listen to the stunning array of artists and songs such as Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “I Heard It Through The Grapevine;” Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed & Delivered;” one of The Temptations’ greatest soul single’s “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” which comes in at a staggering eight and a half minutes; The girl group that started it all, The Supremes, get superstar treatment on their underrated 1966 hit “My World Is Empty Without You;” and the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles favorite “Tears Of A Clown” make this CD one of the best compilations that Motown has ever delivered. An absolute highlight is Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” If you thought Gaye’s song and delivery was sexy back in ’73, this remix gives the classic a whole new groove to heat up your mind, body and soul. The finishing touch comes with other not-so-typical tracks that include Rare Earth’s “I Just Want To Celebrate;” the soul scorcher “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by Undisputed Truth; Edwin Starr’s ever-so-timely “War” and a bonus cut, the late Rick James’ R&B smash “Mary Jane.” Four other tracks round out the disc, including another lick from Smokey Robinson, The Jackson Five, The Temptations and Eddie Kendricks with “Quiet Storm,” “ABC” “Just My Imagination” and “Keep On Truckin’,” respectively. “The Sound of Young America” is young again and guaranteed to turn on a whole new generation just the way it did all those years ago. In addition, Motown is issuing Motown Unmixed, featuring the original versions of this compilation the very same day. How do I know? I heard it through the grapevine. Ooh, that was too easy!

Superstars #1 Hits Remixed – Various Artists
Sony/BMG Music Entertainment
Release Date: May 10, 2005

The “Now” series compilations have been so successful, with 19 volumes (so far) all certified platinum and multi-platinum, it was just a matter of time until somebody wised up and delivered a set of #1 songs remixed and remade by some of our favorite DJ’s. This set didn’t skimp on the talent of the artists, so naturally they were handed over to the extraordinary gifted DJ’s and producers to funk up the already fabulous hits. They enlisted the crème of the crop, Junior Vasquez, Hex Hector, Peter Rauhofer, Armand Van Helden, The Scumfrog, Hani, Victor Calderone, Jason Nevins, JXL, DJ Zinc, David Morales and Thunderpuss to oversee this project and to breathe new life into 19 spectacular tracks. The songs range from the 1996 Toni Braxton smash single “Un-Break My Heart” to the most current 2005 hit, Kelly Clarkson’s wild turn as a rock diva on “Since U Been Gone,” take that Pat Benatar! In between, we have # 1 songs by artists such as Maroon 5 with their breakout hit “This Love,” Christina Aguilera’s haunting “Beautiful” funked up by Peter Rauhofer, Victor Calderone takes Beyoncè’s spicy “Naughty Girl” which samples Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” and makes it even spicier. Yes, it’s that HOT! Other current day divas include Alicia Keys’ “Diary,” she is the bomb! Pink’s “Get The Party Started,” Mariah Carey’s fabulous “Dreamlover” masterfully remixed and remade by David Morales, Whitney Houston’s no-nonsense take on “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” with the flame turned up even higher by Thunderpuss, the incomparable Angie Stone gets Hex Hector’s magical touch on “Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” Kelis’ “Milkshake” gets all shook up by DJ Zinc, The Scumfrog makes sure Fantasia shines with his remix of “It’s All Good,” and trust me, it’s better than good, it’s great! Other artists that received the Midas touch are Jennifer Lopez’ first smash “Waiting For Tonight,” Britney Spears’ Bond-like single “Toxic,” Duran Duran gets turned up a notch on their infectious hit “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise,” Sarah McLachlan’s “World On Fire” sizzles, Dido raises her “White Flag” to anthem status, while Monica’s “So Gone,” and Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here” keep your feet moving. This never-before-heard collection is a must for those who crave pop music and for those who don’t want to miss a beat...Literally!

Toni Braxton – Un-Break My Heart: The Remix Collection
LaFace/Legacy Records
Release Date: April 12, 2005

She’s baaaaaaack! 6-time Grammy Award-winner Toni Braxton has one of the most exciting hits package to come along in a decade. The reason being, it’s not your typical greatest hits package. It’s ten of the most instantly recognizable club and radio hits of Braxton’s that have had a makeover so fabulous, the DJ’s deserve the 2005 diva medal of honor. If only the “Fab Five” Queer Eye guys could do to television what these “Fab Six” men have done for music, they might have a longer shelf life. Question: What do Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Peter Rauhofer and Hex Hector have in common with Toni Braxton? Answer: All of them have won Grammy Awards. Along with Junior Vasquez and Joe Claussell, these six remixers have remastered seven songs that have reached the tops of the charts. Three of the songs included have won Grammy’s, 1996’s “Un-Break My Heart” and 2000’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough” are treated to two remixes apiece, as is 2000’s “Spanish Guitar,” and Grammy-winner “You’re Makin’ Me High,” “I Don’t Want To Lose You,” “Hit The Freeway,” and “Maybe” round out the ten tracks that take you on an orgasmic journey. Five of the ten remixed tracks have never been released commercially, and “Maybe” is a previously unreleased remix. This is the definitive collection for Toni Braxton fans and a must for fans of this genre and of these sensational songs. Braxton’s smokin’ vocals and over an hour of bumping and thumping will certainly make you high. If this disc doesn’t keep you grooving, make an appointment
with your doctor and have your pulse checked.

Lisa Marie Presley: Now What
Capitol Records
Release Date: April 5, 2005

Now What, the title to the sophomore release by Lisa Marie Presley proves that her 2003 Gold debut, To Whom It May Concern, was no fluke. The first CD was very personal, and it appears that this follow-up is humming the same tune. This second offering is even sweeter than the first.

From the opening track “I’ll Figure It Out,” it seems Presley has done just that. After several appearances and concert gigs to promote her Top 5 debut two years ago, most interviewers were more interested in Lisa Marie, the daughter of the King and the Princess of the tabloids, than they were in her music. Let’s face it, according to the press, she had some pretty big blue suede shoes to fill, but Lisa kept a smile, a sense of humor and showed the world she wasn’t about to ride on Daddy’s coattails. Although she inherited the rock and roll swagger from her father, she proved that her message was best sent by her poetic lyrics and her infectious melodious hooks. It not only worked, it worked beautifully.
Presley wrote and co-wrote ten of the twelve songs, including five tracks with Linda Perry, who’s responsible for hits by such artists as Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and Pink. At first Lisa was hesitant about the pairing, but after meeting Perry at a party, Presley said “We immediately hit it off. I really liked her. I played her what I had already written, about four songs. We went into the studio and started writing. It was quick and painless and fun. She might have been surprised that I was so adamant about writing all of my own lyrics.” But the collaboration proved to be winning, especially when Perry recruited her friend Pink to listen in on a couple of the sessions. At one point, Lisa was writing a new song and every time she hummed a particular line, Pink hummed along the harmony. When Presley completed writing the song the next day, she asked Pink to join her on the song. The result is “Shine” and shine it does. It’s one of the discs highlights.

Ironically, after writing the material for this CD, Presley decided to go with a song that was written by another artist for the first single. The Don Henley-penned hit “Dirty Laundry” seemed like the perfect expression for Presley. She explains, “It applies to me, but it applies to the general state of affairs, more so now than ever. Reality shows, what’s in the tabloids, it’s all so mind-blowingly sensationalistic. The fact is that our entertainment now is watching the demise of others. I thought there was nothing more appropriate than this song.” Her vibrant rendition of the song only emphasizes her point even further as she hits this one out of the park.

Other highlights on the album include the heartbreaking rock ballad “When You Go,” the highly charged in-your-face “Idiot,” which had my head bopping and my right foot stomping. The highly personal “Raven” written about her mother, Priscilla, that begins with a recording of a three-year-old Lisa Marie trying to sing the hit of the day, “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family, as a message to her father, with Priscilla directing her daughter to “Sing it right!” Lisa says, “I played it for her in the car and she started to cry and I ended up thinking it was emotive enough to include it on the album. I didn’t say anything about her on the last record.”

The last two tracks on the album are simple and stunning. The title track is a moving ballad that’s a raw emotion-packed heartbreaker - and the final track is the Ramones song “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” that Lisa had hoped Joey Ramone would play on. Sadly, the day of the actual recording was also the day Ramone passed away from cancer. It’s a gorgeous tribute to the Ramones, whose music has always been a big influence in Lisa’s life. I think Joey and Johnny would be proud.

Now that the curiosity factor has subsided, pick up a copy of Now What and hear why there’s more of a fuss to be made over the music and not so much about the name. There are a dozen tracks and I’m happy to say a dozen reasons why this CD shines.

© 2005 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.