Category Archives: Entertainment

Van Halen Versus Billie Eilish: Who Wins?

So today I saw Van Halen trending on Twitter. My first thoughts drifted to the recent disclosure that guitarist Edward Van Halen has been receiving treatment for throat cancer. Did something serious happen to the second greatest guitarist ever? Has the brilliant creator of numerous classic guitar riffs taken a turn for the worst?

Nope!

All the chatter centered around a single, simple confession. It seems the latest pop sensation doesn’t know who or what Van Halen is. But that’s to be expected, right? I mean, Billie Eilish, the pop singer in question here, is just 17 years old. She was born in 2001. Van Halen hasn’t released a successful album since 1995’s Balance, which sold 3 million copies (physical copies, no downloads back then) in the United States, and another couple million across the rest of the world.

Okay, I sort of get why some older people might be a little miffed that this kid doesn’t know who the once mighty Van Halen is or were. This is a band that has sold over 80 million albums worldwide. They’ve had two albums pass the ten million (Diamond) sales mark in the United States alone. They’ve been at it for 40-odd years. Their tours are legendary. They’ve more than paid their dues. But do these same angry Van Halen fans know who Billie Eilish is? Most have admitted they don’t.

As stated above, Miss Eilish is just 17 years old (though she’ll be 18 this month). She wasn’t even born when the VH machine made legit music and world-conquering tours. That’s excuse enough right there. Yes, she’s a singer and musician. She ought to know more of the history of who and what came before her. But that is not mandatory. It doesn’t disqualify her from being legit herself because she can’t pass a pop-culture trivia quiz.

Billie Eilish is making some seriously good music. She is touring the world in support of her first album. She’s also released an EP. I own every Van Halen album (including the Sammy Hagar stuff).

I also own both Eilish releases.

I am a music fan.

Period.

I cannot wrap my head around the animosity going back and forth on Twitter. Both sides dissing each other. One side accused of being old and out of touch, the other side dismissed as young and ignorant. I couldn’t ever imagine myself dumping on a band like Bill Haley and the Comets simply because they had their success long before I was born. I like the music. I own some of The Comets CD’s. In fact, my collection of nearly a thousand CD’s (and countless downloads) contains music that traverses a wide spectrum. I have music from Django Reinhardt, a French jazz guitarist popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I also have many 1940’s Big Band swing jazz albums. Billie Holiday—the original Billie? I possess lots of her music. I own many titles from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, Grace VanderWaal, Pink, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Tupac, Eminem, and, of course, the aforementioned Van Halen and Billie Eilish.

It’s a collection befitting any true music fan. In my younger days, if it wasn’t metal, it sucked. Then I grew up and my love of music matured. Good musicians always look toward the future with an eye on the past. There aren’t many successful musicians who rise to the top by not knowing the past. But here’s the cool thing: the past is so vast and filled with tons of great music and musicians just waiting to be mined by a new generation. And by that same token, the world today is filled with some incredible new music and talented young musicians. Why would anybody choose to dismiss a band or singer based on age? Music unites, ignorance divides!

For those who may not be familiar with Billie Eilish, have a serious listen:

Are you too young to recall Van Halen’s glory days? Let this seep into your mind:

 

Grace VanderWaal: New Music, New Video, New Tour!

Rating: ★★★★★

Grace VanderWaal is a busy young lady these days. The 15-year-old songstress has recently released her fourth single this year, filmed three new videos, spent part of June opening shows for Florence and the Machine, and has just kicked off her own headlining tour across the United States.

“Waste My Time” is VanderWaal’s latest single. The track is quite a departure from the indie-pop sound cultivated on her debut album, Just the Beginning. The vibe here is more in line with the synth-pop sound that is common with dozens of other singers today. That could be dangerous for a performer looking to stand out from the crowd. But it’s the voice that sets “Waste My Time” apart from everything else on the radio today. VanderWaal, simply put, is a gifted vocalist. Her tone is rich and melodic, easily identifiable within the first word or two, and carries an honesty that cannot be faked. And her lower ranges are just incredible!

If I’m being truthful, this one took a couple of listens to grow on me—though it is now on repeat on my iPod. The change in sound is something I (and other FanderWaals I’ve heard from) didn’t expect. And that’s a good thing. Grace VanderWaal will never be accused of growing predictable or complacent with her music. My two favorite bands (Led Zeppelin and Metallica) never recorded two albums that sounded alike. This is what sparks longevity with music fans. It’s what creates classic songs that generations will continue to appreciate.

The accompanying video for “Waste My Time” is quirky and funny and sweet—much like the singer herself. She wanders through an empty convenience store after stepping out of a late-night rain. The only other person in the store is a lifeless clerk named Miguel. Grace is often the brains behind, not just her music, but also the videos. I’m guessing that’s the case with this one as well.

VanderWaal is not yet a superstar—at least not on the Katy Perry/Taylor Swift/Ariana Grande level. Again, I believe that’s a good thing. She seems to be well-grounded and able to handle the success that has come her way thus far. Time is on her side. Grace VanderWaal hasn’t even hit her stride. Her best music has yet to be created. If you have the opportunity to catch her on the “Ur So Beautiful” tour, I highly recommend you do so.

 

Grace VanderWaal’s Ur So Beautiful Tour Dates

 

August 10 – Lexington, KY @ Railbird Festival
August 11 – Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel
August 13 – Nashville, TN @ Cannery Ballroom
August 14 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
August 16 – Dallas, TX @ The Granada Theater
August 17 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
August 18 – Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
August 21 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Van Buren
August 25 – Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory – Orange County
August 27 – Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre
August 29 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
September 1 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot
September 3 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
September 6 – Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity Theater
September 7 – Chicago, IL @ Park West
September 9 – Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
September 11 – Toronto, ONT @ The Opera House
September 13 – Boston, MA @ Royale Boston
September 14 – New Haven, CT @ College Street Music Hall
September 16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theater of the Living Arts
September 17 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
September 20 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
November 22-24 – San Diego, CA @ Wonderfront Music and Arts Festival

 

 

Eclectic and Intriguing, Grace VanderWaal Returns with New Music!

Rating: ★★★★★

 ec·lec·tic   /əˈklektik/

adjective

  1. deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.

▰▱▰▱▰▱▰▱▰▱▰▱▰▱

Eclectic. It’s a word that distills the very essence of singer/songwriter Grace VanderWaal into a single definition—if that’s even possible. To those who have followed this young lady since her rise from YouTube vid kid to international musical acclaim, she’s simply a breath of fresh air in a world of sound-alike pop pablum.

“Stray,” VanderWaal’s latest single and video, pairs Grace’s raspy vocal with a lush, jangly guitar riff that sends this new music in a direction much different from her previous work. And this is a good thing. It’s a sign of maturity and of a fresh approach—rather than an attempted re-capturing of what has already been accomplished.

Her words are poetic and cautionary, filled with real and raw emotion. An undertow of fear and urgency is detectable just below the surface of her mournful voice. The anxiety of growing into an adult and facing a world of uncertainty is a central theme the singer has discussed in recent interviews.

“’Stray’ is close to me,” she explained. “Not because it’s the re-start of my continuing path, but because it explains the exhilarating fear and freedom of growing up. Growing up feels like a storm you weren’t prepared for. But how do you prepare? By practicing and appreciating you.”

Her lyrics in “Stray” illustrate a fear of losing that one thing that has brought her this far: songwriting.

I gotta write a song

But I wanna feel my words

And I keep getting it all wrong

Think it out, write it out, rip it out

Throw it all to the wall

To be certain, this fear is unfounded. She hasn’t lost a step in the songwriting process. If anything, she’s unveiled a greater prowess in crafting melodies and moods and words within her music.

The video for “Stray” is a gorgeous visual steeped in creamy, earthy tones splashed across a canvas of loneliness, longing, and desperation. The desert setting finds Grace, garbed in a long flowing dress and barefoot, searching for something elusive and undefined—a yearning common to human beings since the beginning of time. Symbolism adds to the rich scenery, with VanderWaal riding a bike through desert scrub while blindfolded, adding to the narrative of, not only the song, but of its creator, and her incredible journey in just under three short years.

Director Blythe Thomas skillfully captures mood and vibe and real feeling with an artistry one would expect from a master filmmaker. Her partnership with Grace routinely produces stark and unforgettable results. If you aren’t familiar with the director’s work, I recommend you visit her website. CLICK HERE

The song itself is a haunting piece of guitar-driven beauty—which is something we don’t normally hear in Grace VanderWaal’s music. It is this driving guitar that adds an indie-rock element throughout the track. It stands in contrast to the “Clearly” single, released last March. And “Stray” would show out as markedly different among the tracks on her brilliant Just the Beginning album. This is what elevates her above the mechanical, formulaic pop singers inhabiting today’s musical landscape.

Grace’s music has soul. It has life. It sounds the way music is meant to sound—alive.

Bold and Empowering, “Clearly” is Grace VanderWaal’s Latest Triumph

Rating: ★★★★★

Grace VanderWaal’s latest single, “Clearly,” is finally available. This re-imagining of Johnny Nash’s classic 1972 hit “I Can See Clearly Now” became a staple in the fourteen-year-old singer/songwriter’s concerts during the second leg of her Just the Beginning tour over the winter.

One listen to VanderWaal’s rendition, and those familiar with Nash’s version can tell this is a completely different song. In fact, only the chorus remains from the original. Speaking of the track, Grace says, “It’s about hope, and having the courage to face the world, which can be pretty tough sometimes.”

VanderWaal’s voice is always her strongest asset, a gorgeous instrument full of all sorts of lush tones and textures. But those who follow her career—FanderWaals, if you will—know her secret weapon lies in her lyrical prowess. “Clearly” is a fantastic example of this power on full display. Her words have meaning. There’s never a stray verse that lacks cohesion with the rest of the song. She doesn’t drop lines into the mix just because they rhyme or sound cool. Grace is a storyteller. She paints vivid pictures with the poetic beauty of a true artist.

The song and accompanying video go hand in hand—this, too, a hallmark of the genius that is Grace VanderWaal. These are her ideas, her visions, her gifts that she has chosen to share with the world.

“Clearly” is catchy and addictive—as is all of Grace’s music. A gentle acoustic guitar opens the track, ambling along on warm currents of air. VanderWaal’s voice sways with the music in a delicate dance, slowly building from soft desperation to soaring determination. Between the lows and highs, there is a point where her vocals reach that sweet spot that gives even the most jaded among us goosebumps.

The video for this song is a visual feast for the eyes. It opens under a blue sky with just a notion of a cloud. Birds can be heard singing in the trees. Jumpcut to Grace, in a darkened room, dressed in gray sweats, strikingly beautiful in an almost fragile sort of way. A hint of tears gives her the weariness of a struggling soul. And just as VanderWaal’s lyrics paint meaning into the music, so, too, does each and every image captured within this story. As she sings the line “Gone are the dark clouds, the dawn has come,” she frantically wipes away her freshly applied makeup. Down the stairs she goes, ever cautious, wearing a flowing white dress with pale pink accents. She wanders through the kitchen, eyeing herself in a mirror, singing, “Take a breath and say a prayer, find the strength in my despair, it’s not gonna take me down.” Soon she is bursting from the darkness into the sunshiny day. Behind her is the house, its windows filled with singers from a gospel choir—an unexpected and touching scene. The camera play has brilliantly captured the sunshine at just the right moment and at just the right angles.

Nothing is wasted with this young lady. There’s no room for cheap gimmicks. She brings a message of optimism, of hope for a better life—for everybody.

Grace explains, “My favorite lyric from the song is ‘I accept all the things that I cannot change’. As much as we try to change ourselves, we will always be the same person deep down. We should embrace what makes us different and love that about ourselves.”

I’ll happily confess to being a FanderWaal; I have been one since her audition on America’s Got Talent two years ago. Grace’s music has had a profound effect on my view of life and the day to day living it requires. I am at a loss to attempt an explanation. I just know that I want to be a better person when I hear her music. Maybe it’s that voice. Or those lyrics. Perhaps it’s her beautiful melodies. I’m guessing it’s a combination of each. And it’s the girl herself. She is proving to me—and to the rest of the world—that kindness remains a beautiful thing.

Michigan Rockers Widetrack Return With A Brand New Album

Rating: ★★★★★

Widetrack is an alterna-prog band based in my home state of Michigan. One description tags them as: “Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling holds a group therapy session with members of Pink Floyd and Soundgarden.” The band has recently completed their third album, entitled Widetrack III. This latest offering is filled with great hooks, catchy jams, and some incredible musical moods and addictive vibes.

Widetrack’s lineup consists of Ron Tippin on drums, vocals, and guitar, Ron’s son Zach Tippin handling bass duties, and Brian Burleson on lead guitar.

Long-time band producer Andy Patalan twisted the knobs once again on this latest effort. Patalan, known for his stellar work with 90’s Detroit alt rockers Sponge, offers a great ear in helping the band capture its incredible sound in the studio.

The album kicks off with an infectious rhythm weaving its way through a track called “Burning the Sun.” Solid all the way around, this tune calls to mind a time when music was fresh and exciting. The lyrics draw the listener into soul-searching mode:

The last run
Before the darkness descends

Seasons cycling
Through one constant frame
Only vices left
To relieve your wait

Demons on your back
Feeding off your faith
Knowing not for certain
If its real or feigned

Feeling all the while
Nothing’s bound to change
Knowing something more
is somewhere

There’s no let-up as the band segues into a mesmerizing number entitled “Zero Hour.” The vocals on this one modulate between pleading and demanding, pulling the listener along for a trippy ride.

“Gift” is the third track on the album. The bassline drives an incredible vibe through the center of the song, painting a mood that feels both new and yet still familiar.

“Unknown” kicks into high gear with a frantic chase going on between drums and guitar. The vocals conjure a dreamy state of mind floating above the fray, watching it all unfold.

A nice Queens of the Stone Age-influenced jam called “The Other” follows. The guitar work on this number is stellar, verging on shredder-mode. There are even elements of classic Pink Floyd sprinkled into moments.

“Loveless” is a haunting melody drenched in flourishes of darkness. The vocals are incredible in their delivery of emotion, anguish, and, in brief moments, they even carry a hint of menace.

Bouncing along on a pulsing rhythm, “Desolate” recalls a time when bands had the talent and the skill to flex their musical muscles without even needing to add words. This instrumental tethers Widetrack to some of the great bands of the past while teaching those coming up today that musicianship should always take precedence over image or attitude.

Tracks like “Ghosts” and “Hindsight” and “Life Force” add their own flavor to the stew that makes up this incredible album. But it’s the song called “Transcend” that is the true standout here. The elements that make up this song mesh so well. It transports the listener to another plateau in some far away universe—the way really good music will do. This is currently my favorite track on Widetrack III.

“Still Here” closes out the set. There’s something subtle going on here, underneath the tone of this track. It’s a tension and a volatility that threatens to snap and take over. But it never loses control. The vocals of Ron Tippin keep the mood on an even keel—even as the music itself works up to an almost manic pace toward the end. This is another excellent track on an album loaded with great music.

Widetrack is a band fueled by many contributing influences. These all coalesce into a sound that is both familiar and uniquely their own. The best songwriters in the world are those who, when crafting their music, are able to interlace differing moods within each song. This is what the Beatles and Rush and Pink Floyd did so well. It is refreshing to know that this skill is very much still in use. You won’t find any computer-generated beats on this album. Neither will you find filler material. For those who appreciate the talents of real musicians playing real instruments, Widetrack has an album just for you.

Free music from WIDETRACK

On FACEBOOK

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Check out WIDETRACK’S cover of the Pink Floyd classic “Welcome to the Machine”

Grace VanderWaal Concert – Cambridge, MA – February 5, 2018

Here’s a pleasant surprise from the FANderWaal News YouTube channel. They were kind enough to share a live video recording of Grace VanderWaal’s Cambridge, MA, show from February 5, 2018. So, I’m sharing the video here, simply because the more I see and hear from this gentle old soul, the more in awe I become! Have a look and a listen.