Ariana Grande has a great voice. It’s a four-octave marvel that the 21-year-old former Nickelodeon star can take from seductive whisper to booming scream in a matter of seconds.
She just hasn’t quite figured out how to harness all of its power yet. Her debut, “Yours Truly,” from last year didn’t quite use enough of it, too often making her sound like a Mariah Carey wannabe from the “Vision of Love” era. Her new album, “My Everything,” pushes Grande much harder in all sorts of directions to generally stronger results.
Luckily, Grande sounds good when she’s a little uneasy. On her smash “Problem,” she sounds on edge next to the hip-hop swagger of Iggy Azalea, making the song seem more energetic. She sounds a little freaked out on “Break Free” with Zedd, singing ahead of the beat on his EDM creation, but that ends up serving the vibe as well.
Sometimes, though, the pushing goes a little too far. On “Break Your Heart Right Back,” Grande sounds lost in the middle of her own song, her vocals drowned out by the unmistakable sound of Nile Rodgers’ guitar from Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” a throbbing bass line, a stack of backing vocals and a clicking rhythm track.
Grande is at her best when she is only nudged from her ballad-loving comfort zone. The gorgeous hip-hop of “Best Mistake,” featuring Big Sean, showcases her wide-ranging voice, without focusing on the upper notes too much. Once she can do this regularly, Grande will be unstoppable.
– Glenn Gamboa,
A Tribute to Motley Crue
[Big Machine/Motley records]
Having lived through the 1980s, mostly as a teenager, I can’t help but find it anathema that a host of top current country hitmakers would be taking on the catalog of Motley Crue.
Motley Crue, after all, was then and still is emblematic of the hard-drinking hair-metal decade, when dudes looked like ladies, and ladies loved ‘em for it. The Motley guys played loud, partied hard and seemed to have sworn full allegiance to heavy, nihilistic rock and all its fringe benefits. You never pictured them partying with Garth Brooks, for example.
These days, however, when all of popular culture is beginning to look and sound like one great big mash-up, all bets are off. So the likes of Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, Big & Rich, Brantley Gilbert and Gretchen Wilson covering tattooed, metallic power-pop tunes penned by a bunch of (barely) reformed drug addicts seems almost natural.
Almost. It’s still pretty strange to hear Rascal Flatts covering “Kickstart My Heart,” and Wilson finding the hidden Lynyrd Skynyrd lurking within “Wild Side,” to say nothing of Lauren Jenkins’ just plain strange interpretation of the formerly evil and menacing metal throw-down “Looks That Kill.”
Oddly enough, it’s the artists who took the most liberties with the original Crue templates who fare best here. Leann Rimes brings a horn-laden sassiness to “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” that sounds far more Nancy Sinatra than it does hair-metal. And the Mavericks – completely unsurprisingly, as this group is quite likely the most adventurous country band of the past 20 years – turn “Dr. Feelgood” into a Latin-tinged rave-up.
One exception to the rule is the version of “Live Wire” by relative newcomers the Cadillac Three - the band that stole the show at this summer’s WYRK Taste of Country. These guys bring an early ZZ Top-informed swampy groove to the table, sacrificing none of the original’s guitar fire, but infusing the tune with a heavy southern rock vibe. It works.
Initial reports suggest that when the numbers come in early next week, this Crue tribute will be haunting the upper reaches of the Billboard Top 10. Which flies in the face of the fact that the collection lacks necessity, or any sense that “it had to happen.” But there you go. These are strange times.
- Jeff Miers
Nicole Cabell, soprano
Craig Terry, piano
Nicole Cabell was featured on Buffalo’s Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series, as one of the Tick up-and-comers. Now, sure enough, she has gone on to good things. This disc of French songs puts a handful of composers – Georges Bizet, Henri Duparc, Franz Liszt and Maurice Ravel – in what for many listeners will be a new light. Cabell should be commended for choosing an enchanting program. Praise should also go to the liner notes, which not only give you texts and translations but readable little introductions telling you what to listen for. Angel Records did this years ago for its Seraphim introduction to German Lieder, and when I was a teenager it opened up a whole new world to me.
Cabell’s set starts with four songs by Bizet that can’t help but make you think of “Carmen.” The song of an Arab girl, in particular, mirrors the famous “Habanera.” We also have Bizet to thank for the beautiful title song. It’s easy to see why Brahms admired Bizet: the music has that kind of Germanic richness. In the Duparc songs – which, as the notes point out, have echoes of Wagner – the simple but ingenious piano accompaniments are a delight.
Cabell’s voice, expressive without being fussy, also wraps itself around several enchanting songs by Liszt, helping to bring out the music’s wit and sensuality. Cabell shines in the famously lovely “Oh! quand je dors.” After all that lyricism, Ravel’s “Sheherazade” and “Cinq melodies populaires grecques” seem abstract and hysterical. But fans of these exotic songs will be happy with how Cabell treats them.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
Les saisons, Six morceaux
Pavel Kolesnikov, piano
This disc of lesser heard piano music by Tchaikovsky cannot help but charm you. “The Seasons” is 45 minutes long, and you don’t often get the chance to hear it complete. (Buffalo will get the rare chance to hear “The Seasons” complete and live on Nov. 23, when pianist Susan Yondt returns to play it on the Friends of Vienna concert series.)
There is one piece for every month; only a few are famous, but it’s all a delight. The music’s demands are mostly interpretative rather than technical. Tchaikovsky meant it as salon music for amateurs.
Kolesnikov takes a clear-eyed approach that emphasizes the changing textures: soft and lyrical in the summer, crisp and invigorating in the colder months. The cooler music, I do not need to point out, will especially resonate with Buffalonians, considering our recent rather Russian winter. In “December,” a Christmas waltz, you can just about taste “The Nutcracker.” The Six Morceaux – which means simply six short pieces – continue the dance feel, with hints of Schumann. You might recognize the gorgeous Nocturne.
– Mary Kunz Goldman