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Sound And Vision: Strange Bedfellows — The Best of Music’s Unlikely Collaborations

“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.

On the charts, that is.

In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger—and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards—was probably the one that nobody saw coming.

Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records—even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand—are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Strange Bedfellows — The Best of Music’s Unlikely Collaborations’

Sound And Vision: Justin Timberlake as Elton John and Six Other Wish-List Music Biopics

Every great screen biography of a music superstar needs three key ingredients to really sing: 1) An icon with the greatest story never told. 2) A talented lead actor or actress gunning for an Oscar nomination—singing talent and striking resemblance optional (Angela Bassett didn’t sing a word in What’s Love Got to Do with It, and she looks nothing like the film’s subject, yet she was Tina Turner). 3) Kick-ass songs.


Fantasia Barrino
as gospel great Mahalia Jackson is coming soon. The Elton John Story (aka Rocketman) is reportedly finally in the works (I’d cast Justin Timberlake over mentioned favorite James McAvoy and pray that he can nail a British accent), as is Aretha Franklin’s (with or without Halle Berry, the Queen of Soul’s No. 1 choice), Anne Hathaway as Judy Garland and Sacha Baron Cohen as Freddie Mercury.

Robert Pattinson was announced as a possible Kurt Cobain at one point last year, but it’s hard to imagine that we’d get the true story as long as Courtney Love is around to kill it or put her spin on it. Ryan Gosling has the chops to pull off Cobain, but he’s already in everything and he’s several years older than Cobain was when he committed suicide. Note to aspiring biopic producers: One doesn’t have to cast a “star” as the star. Some biopics (Amadeus, starring Tom Hulce as Mozart; La vie en rose, with Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf) do just fine without huge names.

Now that she’s gone too soon, too, it’s probably only a matter of time before we get Amy Winehouse‘s “untold” story. Note to aspiring biopic producers: Tabloid-era stars are best left alone unless, as with Eminem’s 8 Mile, the focus is on life before they were famous. Otherwise, we’ve already seen the action play out in the pages of Us Weekly and People magazine.

But what about those biopics in various stages of development and non-development? Here are six that I’m dying to see.

1) David Bowie: The star. The spectacle. The songs… Iman. I can’t think of a rock icon whose story is more deserving of the screen treatment. It would be a shoo-in for the Best Costume Design Oscar, and with a star like Jonathan Rhys Meyers (who already played a Bowie-esque figure to perfection in the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine), an actor worthy of the material.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Justin Timberlake as Elton John and Six Other Wish-List Music Biopics’

Your Country’s Right Here: Ashton Shepherd Ready To Debut ‘Where Country Grows’

Fasten your seat belt—All indications are that Ashton Shepherd‘s sophomore album Where Country Grows is going to skyrocket when it’s released July 12.

Just consider that “Look It Up,” the first single from the album, entered the Top 20 soon after it was released. That was followed by tremendous buzz about her EP of the same name. Critics reviewing her new album can’t sing their praises loudly enough.

None other than Rolling Stone lauded Shepherd for having the “the biggest, brassiest singing [voice] on either side of the Mason-Dixon.” The critic went on to praise the album’s “ten smart, soulful songs” and compare her to Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.

That praise might go to the heads of many but not this native of the small town of Coffeesville, Ala. (population 340). Shepherd recently took time out of her jam-packed schedule to talk a bit about her career, her family, the new baby she has on the way and just where she’s headed from here.

OS: This album marks the first time you co-wrote songs. What is your favorite memory about writing with Dean Dillon, Dale Dodson, Bobby Pinson and Troy Jones? Did you dread it?

AS: Me and Bobby wrote a couple of songs with Troy. One of my favorite memories, and this is me telling on myself, is that before going in my husband and I were parked outside [my publishing company]. I was saying I had just found out I had to write with two people and I got so aggravated. I felt so intimidated and I was kind of fussing. I walked in there, though and had the best time! We wrote a ballad that almost went on this record. We’re holding that for another time. And we wrote “Tryin’ To Go To Church” and laughed and laughed. I am a God fearing person and didn’t want to sound like I was preaching or being disrespectful to the Good Lord, but I wanted to say “Lord I’m really trying. I am going to get to you! My goal is to get to you.”

OS: How are you going to celebrate your new album’s release?

AS: Oh, my, I’m going to be really busy that week. Wow, I need to think about that. I’m sure we’ll have a little celebration. To be honest, I’d rather celebrate after this baby is born and I can have some [champagne].

OS: It’s funny to think about your daughter and know she will always know you as famous.

AS: You know, my husband and I have talked about that a lot. We talk about what if we really do someday have a lot of money, wouldn’t it be weird if our little girl or [our son] James never have to eat potted meat sandwiches or something? Part of the grit that builds who you are comes from living that way. We try to keep things realistic around our son. We just try to raise him old school. He knows he’s not going to have a cell phone or Facebook page at age six.

OS: What’s your favorite pre-show ritual?

AS: I really don’t have any. I guess the one I have is to put on some really good old country music and listen to it in the bus. One I like to play is “Jukebox Junkie.” That one is so great for driving down the road! We just try to pick kicking cool songs.

OS: So what has been your craziest fan request?

AS: Oh I had this [teenage] boy come up. I heard him ask security something and I heard them say “She won’t do that,” and I thought, “Oh dear.” He came up and asked if I would kiss him on the cheek. I said “No, my husband might get mad!” I turned it into a bit of a joke but it was pretty gutsy of him to come up and ask!

OS: I hear your son James likes Lynyrd Skynyrd. Who turned him onto them?

AS: Me and my husband! When we got iTunes that was one of the first things we did, download all the Skynyrd classics. My son is a huge Skynyrd fan. He is to the point of randomy asking questions [about the band] when we’re in the car. That’s the music he plays drums to, too. He loves [the song] “Gimme Back My Bullets.”

He knows Conway Twitty and a lot of country, too. He likes country music and he always wants to know who I’m on stage with. When he met Josh Turner he said “I know who you are. I’ve seen you on TV.” He wanted to sound like he knew everything!

OS: What did your son say when he learned you were expecting?

AS: “We are going to have a new little one!” I kept it hidden from the media until we had two or three appointments, but I let him call my parents and some of my family. He is so excited. He can’t wait until [September 15, my due date].”

OS: When you were a kid, what was the first  record you bought?

AS: The first groups of records I ordered ordered were Confederate Railroad and BlackHawk. I like my women on the trashy side!

OS: So many great things are happening for you this year. What do you think is next?

AS: We are really excited about this year. These are all God’s special gifts and…the rest is in his hands.

Find out more about Shepherd’s music, her upcoming concerts and more on her Web site and check out the video for “Look It Up” below.

Sound And Vision: Top 40 Show Tunes — Seven Music Icons Whose Songs Should Rock Broadway

Though I’ll probably never be a huge fan of the Broadway musical, occasionally, they rock. Such has been the case for Great White Way song-and-dance productions based on the music of the Who, Bee Gees, ABBA, Queen, Billy Joel, Dolly Parton, Green Day and Elton John (twice). But poor Paul Simon. He flopped hard—and embarrassingly—with The Capeman in 1998. The moral of this particular west side story? When launching expensive stage musicals, it pays creative and/or commercial dividends for rock and pop stars to fall back on their classics—or in the case of John’s Aida, a classic opera—for inspiration.

And then there’s U2. The normal rules of art and commerce have never applied to Ireland’s greatest musical export. Although Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, with original music and lyrics by U2 frontman Bono and guitarist The Edge, has been dogged by bad buzz, negative reviews (for the staging, if not the music) and behind-the-scenes snafus, it’s been a box-office success since debuting in previews last November, more than six months in advance of its official June 14 opening.

Whether their Spidey show tunes will spin their web for months or years remains to be seen, but it’s hard not to wish that Bono and The Edge had adapted their band’s enduring catalog for a musical instead. If they had to take Manhattan, why not do it using songs we know and love from The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, two of its best and most successful albums, as inspiration rather than a superhero human-arachnid mutation (who’ll be returning to the big screen shortly in the form of The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield)?

Maybe someday. In the meantime, here are some other iconic artists who ought to be waiting in the wings with their own spotlight musical. (Sorry, no Beatles—I’ve heard enough bad covers of the Fab Four’s catalog, including those from the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to last several lifetimes!)

David Bowie: Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been waiting so long for new music from Bowie. Or that my favorite Bowie song inspired the name of this very column. But more likely, it’s all about Space Oddity, a  rock & roll classic which tells a story that conceivably could be stretched out into a two-hour musical format and rounded out with many other Bowie hits. His ’70s output was more or less created to be performed onstage, and his theatrical music and visual lyrics could so easily translate to the rock-opera format. Meanwhile, Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke—parts Bowie played to perfection on record and in concert—are star-making roles if ever there were four of them.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David: “Walk on By.” “Message to Michael.” “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” “I Say a Little Prayer.” “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” Put these Bacharach/David compositions together—adding “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and many more—and what have you got? A Broadway miracle that’ll have more fans singing along than any musical since Mamma Mia!.

Loretta Lynn: It’s a mystery why no one has thought to revive Coal Miner’s Daughter on Broadway. The 1980 film has got the music, the story and the Oscar pedigree. But why stop with Loretta Lynn when you can add the music of Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline and stage Honky Tonk Angels, all about lives and loves in a ten-cent town?

Johnny Cash: No need to revisit Walk the Line just yet. The hero of Ring of Fire (which I always thought would have been a better title for the film since it was co-written by June Carter Cash about her and Johnny, while Cash’s first wife inspired him to write “I Walk the Line”) could be a man in black by another name. Lyrically, the best of Johnny Cash already hits on all the stages of an extraordinary life, from outcast (“A Boy Named Sue,” which was actually written by Shel Silverstein and not Cash) to outlaw (“Folsom Prison Blues”) to would-be saint (“Walk the Line”) to corpse (“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”).

The Eagles: Picture this: Hotel California, featuring the Eagles signature title song plus “Desperado,” “Lying Eyes,” “Take It to the Limit,” “New Kid in Town” and all of those other ’70s country-rock classics. If there’s gonna be a heartache tonight (or any other night), I can’t think of a better musical cure.

Fleetwood Mac: Because the band deserves so much better than Glee‘s very special “Rumours” episode, which, criminally, left out “You Make Lovin’ Fun” and “Gold Dust Woman.”

Eminem: Speaking of outlaws, it’s probably just a matter of time before the ’80s musical outlaw movement known as rap invades Broadway just as it did Middle America in the ’90s. I can’t think of a rapping storyteller whose songs are more deserving of the full-on stage treatment than the guy who brought us “Stan,” “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” and “Love the Way You Lie.” If 8 Mile could win an Oscar, its Tony Award possibilities as a Broadway musical are probably close to endless.

Whose music would you like to experience on Broadway?

Your Country’s Right Here: Joanna Smith Tells Us Why She’s the “Next Big Thing”

Just when you start to yawn over proclamations that various critics have found the “next big thing” in country music, along comes Joanna Smith and shows you—yes—that is clearly true sometimes.

You’ve likely heard Smith’s new single “Georgia Mud” that had its radio debut February 7th, or read critics at Billboard Magazine, Variety and Roughstock proclaim her musical potential.

But we all know that the airwaves are filled with one- or two-hit wonders so we decided to find out if Smith is the real deal. The bottom line—Yep, she has her head on straight, knows her stuff and has the chops. But don’t take our word for it. Check out some of her straight talk in the interview below:

OS: So how does it feel to have all these major music critics single you out as an up-and-coming musical powerhouse?

JS: You know what? It sounds so cliché, but I’m just enjoying the moment. I really don’t have time to celebrate because I’m so busy, but I do want to savor it. This is what I’ve waited for, the opportunity to play music. This business is filled with fleeting moments and I’m just trying to strike while the iron is hot. That means I need to stay as busy as possible. When you love what you do, it makes it fun.

OS: I’ve read that you grew up in Georgia on a pretty steady diet of Reba McEntire, The Judds and Dolly Parton. I think you were so brave to move to Nashville and try to make it big. How did you start?

JS: When I first moved to Nashville, I was too young to get into the honky tonks. I thought writing would be my way in. So I took odd writing jobs and looked for publishing deals. I competed in a talent contest (in 2006) and got to open for Glen Campbell at the Ryman. Then I got a regular gig at Tootsie’s. I started playing down there and it was quite an experience.

OS: The talent contest had to be unnerving.

JS: The talent contest wasn’t quite as bad as signing at the Ryman. I was very new to town, relatively speaking. I had experience performing but to sing at the Ryman—I didn’t feel worthy. I was so nervous, but my mom and dad said it didn’t show. It was such a whirlwind.

OS: How did your parents react to you pulling up stakes, leaving behind a college scholarship and moving to Nashville?

JS: My parents freaked a little bit. My mom more than my dad. My dad was a little calmer because he had his own [musical] dream. I had to leave a scholarship at Auburn University to do this. But I have always known this is what I’ve wanted to do and my parents have been extremely supportive.

OS: Did you know anyone in Nashville when you arrived?

JS: I really didn’t know a soul. I knew one person, Luke Bryan, and at the time he wasn’t as well known as he is now. He is from the same place that I am. When we were younger, he’d come over [to my parents' house] to go fishing with my dad. He thinks of me like a little sister. He was wise about the music business and he wouldn’t let me get in any trouble. He’d be honest when I asked him about opportunities and people, but he let me fend for myself.

Luke let me come over to his publishing company and showed me around, introduced me to people. That’s how I did it—I built my circle and met more and more co-writers and wrote better and better songs and signed a publishing deal.

OS: Tell us about your new single “Georgia Mud.”

JS: I love that song. It is one of those songs that has a very fresh melody and is enjoyable for a singer to perform. I never get tired of singing it. It’s about where I’m from and about lingering love and first loves that are hard to get over. I think everyone can relate to it although it is set in Georgia. It’s written sort of like a mini movie.

When I sat down with the two co-writers to write the song, they wanted to write a song about Georgia. I was sitting there politely trying to figure out the best way to tell them that I couldn’t write another song about Georgia. But then one of them threw out a riff and it went from there. This might be the best Georgia song ever.

OS: Was the song easy or difficult to write?

JS: It was super easy. Sometimes you have to work really hard at them but we didn’t with this. I am very lyrically minded. I love words and love to read and so [when my co-writer] started saying “bare feet hanging off a tire swing,” well, I used to have tire swing in back yard that I loved. It went from there.

OS: Perhaps a good way to wrap up a bit is to compare the first time you played the Ryman to last November when you sang your own song “Getting Married,” and the classic Tammy Wynette tune “Stand By Your Man” at Tootsie’s 50th Anniversary celebration there. Tell us about that.

JS: Things moved so quickly. They had a full red carpet out and flashbulbs going off everywhere. I just figured I’d strike a quick pose and then try to figure out what celebrities are there. I met Kris Kristofferson and Mel Tillis, which was so great.

When your career takes off and you’re just getting started you don’t have a lot of time to prepare (before you go on stage). You get there, get your eyelashes on right and it’s time.

I just figured I was there and I’d savor the moment! I loved it.

Joanna is scheduled to perform with Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood on April 30th at the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, CA.

For more information about that concert, her upcoming album or other news, check her website.

 


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