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ALBUM REVIEW: Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest

"Brave" and Blessed.

“Brave” and Blessed.

33-year-old Sara Bareilles and her career in music exploded with one last-minute “Song” that catapulted her into the national spotlight. She’s successfully maintained her place on the charts for a few years now, even judging on one season of NBC’s The Sing Off. Now, she’s back to doing what she does best – recording her own music and putting it out there. Her fourth album, and third major label release for Epic Records, is The Blessed Unrest, a collection of twelve compositions that shows that Bareilles has indeed been up and at it working on ideas and fleshing them out, and while it doesn’t always work, she’s given us enough to savor until the era eventually draws to a close.

First single “Brave” begins on a bold note with the heavy drums of a fun. song. It was, in fact, co-written with Jack Antonoff of the group. It’s positive, uplifting and it makes a great statement to “say what you wanna say” in the face of peer pressure. That being said, it’s different for her, but it’s a risk that seems to have paid off. She likes straining that voice of hers, huh? Somebody get her a throat lozenge, please. Track two “Chasing The Sun” immediately slows down the pace and wouldn’t sound out-of-place on her last record, embracing the idea that no matter our accomplishments, we’ll always have goals to go after: “You said remember that life is not meant to be wasted/We can always be chasing the sun/So fill up your lungs and just run.” It’s cute and relatable to her audience.

There are a handful of tracks that take on some jazz elements that shine, particularly on the striking ballad “Manhattan”, which gleefully reminds me of her debut era. Like “Sun”, it’s an ode to New York City (the former name-checks Queens) and with a light horn arrangement that matches it perfectly, the pureness of the track could easily be mistaken for a pop standard of the 40’s. It’s gorgeous, one of the best songs she’s ever done. She states, “You can have Manhattan, I know it’s what you want/Bustle and the buildings, the weather in the fall,” and that her significant other can ultimately claim it “’cause I can’t have you.” Ouch. Well, she puts it pretty bluntly, but you have to give her props for the stunning song she’s created. “Little Black Dress” seems to follow that same thread to the next level, a mid-tempo song with the occasional big band feel, which appeals to the narrator’s strength and independence: “I am more than just somebody’s puppet/I can find the cord and then I’ll cut it.” You can sway to it too, perhaps in a dress of your own. It’s some nice work; both the song and the inevitable steps you’ll be twisting and turning to.

Going off of that, simplicity in both the arrangement and lyric is always welcome to me when it comes to a singer-songwriter’s album. It’s not always about the bells and whistles, and that’s proven to me on at least another two songs. The most potential second radio single, in my opinion, is the ballad “1,000 Times”. It’s a grower that could get lost in the pack, but I’m positive the label will shift the tempo with her next release, and this would be my choice. My first impression of it was a Kelly Clarkson and “Already Gone” sort of mood, but after hearing it a few times, I’m hearing shades of Jewel and Sarah McLachlan, and a familiarity of their work could lead it to do well on both Adult and Hot Adult Contemporary radio. “I Choose You” is another of the tracks that gets the job done without being overly cluttered. From the inviting strings to a bouncy beat and a bit of restraint on Bareilles’s part, she relays the words of love: “Tell the world that we finally got it alright… I will become yours and you will become mine.” It’s dripping in sweetness. I’m totally into it.

When experimenting in new territory on several songs, the results are mixed. Of the two spacey sounding tracks, I enjoy “Cassopeia”, which works for me both vocally and with a rhythmic drum beat, but “Satellite Call” falls flat with its echoey and distorted vocals. “Hercules” is another one of those, a Norah Jones sound-alike which is just rather weird. It probably sounded good in the process, but didn’t come out well in the final product. “Eden” is also pretty out there for Bareilles, which marks an adventure into electronic music, and though I don’t find it awkward, it’s so not genuine to her. It’s appreciated that she doesn’t want to stick in her comfort zone, but some of these attempts don’t complete themselves fully.

While The Blessed Unrest is certainly an enjoyable listen, it does have its share of other issues. From hearing “Brave” as both the leadoff single and leading song on the album, I would’ve expected that tone was going to be peppier, and it almost sounds out-of-place hearing the whole thing. It’s a pretty deliberate attempt at a hit and that’s fine, everybody does it, but don’t leave me hanging when it comes to the rest of the album. It’s so ballad heavy. I want energy! The sequencing is also a little off for me. “Manhattan” would have been a killer closing track. I also think “Little Black Dress” could’ve benefitted from being closer to the beginning. Instead, it has its moment, then falls off, then gets back on course and off again, etc. The overall slower vibe attributes to this, but there’s nothing we can do about that. She writes how she writes.

Lastly, I have to approach this release from a promotional perspective. By the time Kaleidoscope Heart was released in September 2010, lead single “King Of Anything” was just outside the top 5 on the Hot AC format. It was also crossing over to CHR. It enabled the album to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200. That isn’t the case this time around, as “Brave” is outside the top ten with a decreased gain in airplay and very little CHR consideration. That’s not say that this won’t bow high, but it will absolutely fall to Jay Z‘s second week for Magna Carta Holy Grail and, frustratingly, perhaps the Kidz Bop Kids. I guess they didn’t have anything better to do.

Things may change for me in a few listens, but I’m not convinced that this is best effort in her catalogue. After all, her unrest may be blessed, but that doesn’t mean I have to make up for her lack of sleep. However, it should appeal to her core audience and their craving for new music, especially on the more well-constructed songs like “I Choose You”, “Little Black Dress” and “Manhattan”. This may be a new Sara Bareilles, but as she sings, we can “hang onto the reverie” that a part of the old her is still in the heart of her latest affair.

Stream The Blessed Unrest on iTunes. / Pre-order The Blessed Unrest on iTunes.

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Entertainers And Equality: Can Radio Love “Love” For All?

Damn right, he supports it.

Damn right, he supports it.

The times, they are a-changin’. Late last week, Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island signed a piece of legislation which allows same-sex marriage in the state beginning in August, making it now the tenth state on a growing list of those that allow it, including the rest of New England, Iowa, New York, Washington and the District of Columbia. There are thousands of people that are thrilled with the decision, but there are always those who take the opposite stance on a hot-button issue like this. Fact is, the number of people who want marriage equality in the U.S. as a whole is verging on 60% at this point, and that number will continue to keep growing as well as the number of states that allow it.

Now, why do I bring this up? Well, there always has to be some musical twist to this. Today, it’s politically-charged songs. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Some are done really well and work directly with the issues, while others fall apart and remain vague and show little connection to the topic. There are several songs being worked as this point that deal with the subject of  same-sex marriage equality, homosexuality and other LGBTQ issues, which entertains a certain audience, but may also irk many depending on a number of factors: religious stance, age, etc. It’s a touchy subject. It’s not discussed in many songs that become singles for that reason alone. Yet, the times are changing, and radio can lead the way in this charge or stand aside and repress these statements. So, can these songs garner airplay in a world of national playlists rather than localized programming? Will entire radio groups prevent these from becoming popular? You be the judge.

MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS featuring MARY LAMBERT, “Same Love”
“Same Love” was originally written last year by Ben Haggerty, a.k.a. Macklemore, in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state, which was passed and enacted last December. Lyrically, the song is pretty blunt, with lines calling out “the right-wing conservatives”, who “think it’s a decision/And you can be cured with some treatment and religion.” He also dedicates a verse to talking about masking ourselves behind technology which encourages bullying: “Have you read the YouTube comments lately?/”Man that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily/We’ve become so numb to what we’re sayin’.” Pretty powerful stuff, but played to the wrong ears and you’re bound to hear some pretty hateful stuff back. “Love” hasn’t officially been serviced to radio here., as “Can’t Hold Us” is still dominating at several formats. However, it has been slowly climbing up the Alternative survey on unsolicited airplay for a little over a month and is hovering just inside the top 30. It’s also been added by four stations at CHR radio: three CBS-owned outlets in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco and the fourth, a Clear Channel station also in Los Angeles. Thus far, only the Boston and San Francisco stations have actually begun spinning it. “Love” has already gone to #1 in Australia and New Zealand, but when it comes to the United States, the opposition to the issue will likely only make this song a mid-charter at best. I should note that you don’t see many midwestern and zero southern markets playing the song thus far. Sales of the song is a whole other beast, which are going to be consistent regardless of whether or not the song becomes a hit. The discussion’s going to continue for months to come, but this is one song that can’t be ignored. The content of it is too bold to just sit there.

SARA BAREILLES, “Brave”
Bareilles is starting off her third album The Blessed Unrest on a positive note with this tune, which employs whoever the song is directed to to “say what you wanna say/And the let the words fall out.” The subject seems to be imprisoned by the society at large (“Bow down to the mighty”) but the singer urges him or her to find “a way out of the cage where you live/Maybe one of these days you can let the light in.” Now, without any prior context, the song just sounds like her appeal to anybody who has a problem to be strong enough to admit something needs to be said. However, as Bareilles states in a video blog, the song was written for a friend who was having trouble coming out. Co-writer Jack Antonoff, one-third of the band of fun., told the Huffington Post that the song is “a civil rights anthem in a time when there are no civil rights anthems and there’s a giant need for [one].” So, if you didn’t know, now you do know. The message hasn’t seemed to affected its run thus far; it sold 76,000 copies digitally in its first week and is just about to enter the top 40 on Hot Adult Contemporary radio, one of her core formats. However, you could make the case that the fact that it’s no longer top 100 on iTunes and only posting moderate radio gains does mean that there is a hesitation to play the song. I honestly don’t know. It’s relatively harmless, but someone’s going to take issue with it. We’ll see what happens.

JILLETTE JOHNSON, “Cameron”
This is probably not going to get a lot of recognition, but Johnson’s song deals with a very interesting topic that isn’t addressed a lot of songs and for that reason alone, I’m hoping it gets picked up in a big way. She begins, “Cameron’s in drag, makes his father mad/Since he was a little boy, he always felt more comfortable in lipstick,” proceeding into the lines that deal with how the little boy is teased and beaten up by “aliens” for being different. This one just tugs at your heartstrings considering how young of a person we’re talking about. Why should he, so innocent, find himself denied for just being his usual self? “Cameron” is the second single from Johnson, who recently opened for Kris Allen on tour. Her first release, “Torpedo”, failed to get any significant airplay when it went for adds on the Hot Adult Contemporary format a few months ago. This, at least, has a little curiosity behind it and is effective in its final product. It goes to radio at the AAA format in two weeks on Wind-Up Records. I would watch this one carefully because if it gets the right placement, it could be huge, and probably stir a lot of family talk at the same time. There are plenty of children out there in Cameron’s position, unfortunately; it may give them a voice when one may be hard to find.

KACEY MUSGRAVES, “Follow Your Arrow”
Now, this one hasn’t been issued as a single and it may not be because this song involves the über-conservative Country radio format. Musgraves is known for speaking her mind when it comes to music, and her honest and in-your-face material probably doesn’t this particular case. However, if you know her stuff, then you know this is an excellent song that also does an excellent job at not being politically correct. As she states, “If you save yourself for marriage, you’re a bore/If you don’t save yourself for a marriage, you’re a whore-ible person.” She also tells her listeners to “make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys/or kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into.” Musgraves appeals to a younger audience, which is where the format is heading, but still, there was a lot of talk over the track at some recent Country radio seminars. Her label ultimately chose “Blowin’ Smoke” as her second single, but there’s always a chance that this could be considered again. An adult audience would probably shudder at the idea of hearing this on the radio and having their children exposed to such content. Others would probably commend her for not being afraid to speak her mind. It still remains a popular album track.

We still have a ways to go when it comes to acceptance and equality in our nation, but we’re making big steps towards progress. This is just another of them. It should be our responsibility to keep an open mind when it comes to these kinds of subjects. Whether we agree or disagree, we should be able to speak our minds without being attacked for feeling a particular way. So, tell me: are you comfortable with hearing these kinds of lyrics on the air? Are you a radio programmer who feels one way or the other when it comes to songs like these? Can you like a song without supporting the big issue behind it? Let me know. Comment below or find on Twitter: @AdamFSoybel.

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SINGLE PREMIERE: Sara Bareilles – “Brave” (+ Lyrics)

My "Brave" face.

My “Brave” face.

Alright, all you Sara Bareilles fans, gather ’round. Her new single is about to premiere, a song called “Brave”. It’s the first single from her forthcoming third full-length studio album, due later this summer. Want a taste?

I’ve heard the full song, and I will say the song is very much different from a lot of her previous material. It’s, well, for lack of a better word, a “brave” choice to put out as the first single. There’s a really good energy about it; it’s extremely upbeat and has a great message to it. The verses are fast-paced (except for the second half of the second verse) and chorus, post chorus and middle 8 are sung at a more normal tempo. It’s rhythmic, it’s fun, it’s catchy. It’s going to be one of those anthem that gets picked up by social groups and I think it would serve a great purpose in some sort of anti-bullying campaign. It’s very, very good. Just don’t expect your usual Sara “I’m gonna write a song to bash my label, rawr” Bareilles leadoff single.

Lyrics should be correct, but if anything needs any correction, let me know. Enjoy!

Listen to “Brave”.

“BRAVE” (3:40)
(PLEASE credit https://popgoesthecharts.wordpress.com when reposting.)

[Verse 1]
You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

[Chorus x2]
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

[Post-Chorus x2]
I just wanna see you (x3)
I wanna see you be brave

[Verse 2]
Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

[Chorus x2]
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

[Middle 8]
Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

[Chorus x2]
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

[Post-Chorus x3]
I just wanna see you (x3)
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you (x3)

(PLEASE credit https://popgoesthecharts.wordpress.com when reposting.)

Stay tuned for updates…

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Just Joshin’: It’s Triple Trouble With These Tracks

Same first name, three different songs. It just so happens that these three singers are releasing new songs at the same time, but you won’t be hearing them all in the same place. Luckily, you can hear them all below. Enjoy this trip into the Wonderful World of Joshuas:

Somewhere I "Belong".

Somewhere I “Belong”.

JOSH KRAJCIK – “Back Where We Belong”
Release Date: at AAA radio now

April is a big month for former contestants from The X Factor. Season 2 winner Tate Stevens will be releasing his self-titled album on April 23. Boy band Emblem3 will be issuing their debut single, “Chloe (You’re The One I Want)”, in a few weeks. Then, there’s Season 1 runner-up artist Josh Krajcik, who you may remember performed on the show back in November. The song he sang, “One Thing She’ll Never Know”, was featured on a digital EP out late last year, and was pushed to Hot AC radio this year to no result. Now, a second single from Blindly, Lonely, Lovely, a song called “Back Where We Belong”, was sent for adds this week to AAA radio. His album is out next week. Whoops. Though the album will likely fail to capture a wide audience besides his core fan base, this track is very much suited to Krajcik’s style. The arrangement is reminiscent of a modern Bruce Springsteen or Steve Winwood album track, and Krajcik lays on a soulful vocal. He’s completely in his element, unlike the more forced “Know”, which was constructed in a more commercial way. This at least has a little bit of edge that we’re used to from the singer who was known for his emotive vocal performances on the show. At this stage of the game, however, it’s probably not going to be the big hit it should be at the format, which is a shame. You’d think his promotional team would get it together, or at least help him a bit. Whatever happens with both the album and the single, at least Krajcik stayed true to himself.

No "Fall" from grace.

No “Fall” from grace.

JOSH GROBAN – “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)”
Release Date: May 13 (U.K.)

From caroling to contemporary, you know this guy can do it all. Groban’s album, All That Echoes, recently opened at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, his first album to pull off the trick and his first since 2007’s Noël to lead the chart. It’s sold over 300,000 copies in the U.S. thus far. The first single from the effort, “Brave” went top ten on AC radio here recently, though it’s fallen back a few spots in the last weeks or so. It sees Groban trying to adopt a more contemporary sound, though it hasn’t crossed over to mainstream radio, so, you won’t be hearing him between Pitbull and Taylor Swift anytime soon. His latest single overseas is a remake of the classic Stevie Wonder song from his 1972 album, Talking Book. It was never released as a commercial single back then, but it’s gotten a lot of coverage, from Art Garfunkel to Michael McDonald and now Josh Groban. While Wonder’s version is always going to remain my favorite, Groban does a nice job of adapting it to his style, with a gospel choir backing him and a stunning set of strings. It’s a lot much at times. The Wonder song was a simple ballad with a funky ending. This just comes off as a little schmaltzy at times, which is an acquired taste, but not one meant to be all over the radio. (It’s the last song on the CD, I get that it needs to end big.) Groban’s never had a top-40 hit in the United Kingdom, so a traditional-sounding effort like “Believe” will never make it that high… unless, of course, someone on a music talent show picks it up. A U.S. radio release has yet to be confirmed.

Come "Together".

Come “Together”.

JOSHUA RADIN – “When We’re Together”
Release Date: at AAA radio now

38-year-old Ohio native Joshua Radin has been putting out music for a number of years now on Mom & Pop Records. You may recall that he dented the Hot AC chart back in 2010 with a remixed version of “I’d Rather Be With You”, which also went to #10 for two weeks on my personal chart. It was originally released in 2008. It also became a huge hit in the United Kingdom, peaking just outside the top ten there. He also garnered some play for “Streetlight” in the U.S. during the same year. His albums have sold decently, and his songs are constantly being placed on television shows and advertisements in addition to his own performances on the small screen. Radin’s latest effort, Wax Wings, is a self-released record, which he purposely did to get his music out faster. It’s eleven tracks in total and “Together”, the first single, was recently sent for adds at the AAA format. It’s a simple little song about being in love and wanting to be in relationship “’cause we’re the best when we’re together.” Radin’s vocal is matched with an organic arrangement, less polished than some of his other singles, but the sound is familiar to his regular listeners. It’s a cute song for a spring wedding. Perhaps it will gain some online attention (as it really should.) It may not be a huge airplay single because of the independent distribution, but I admire him for putting out something in a timely manner without the final product suffering because of it. His album is out in May, so look out for more details on it.

Do you have a favorite of these three singers? Will radio make them a hit or will they be joshing around with them? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter: @AdamFSoybel.

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