the Buzz for April 7th, 2009



The Clay Aiken brouhaha which erupted around last week’s record store report led to this blog’s most-viewed week in its nearly one-year history, and I certainly hope all you vehement Claymates liked what you saw and will stick around a spell. And to the handful of posters (jmh123, in particular) at the Finding Clay Aiken fan forum (from which the majority of my site’s hits emanated last week) who questioned why I called Mr. Aiken’s 2006 covers album, A Thousand Different Ways, baffling, and who wondered whether or not I have actually even listened to same, I very much wanted to respond on your site and even signed up for a username and account, but wasn’t approved by your administrators, so I’ll respond here: I called the album “baffling” because a covers record is not exactly the most savvy career move for a young artist who is getting ready to make only his second career album — it’s bad enough when legacy artists like Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow get pigeonholed into it — and, furthermore, the world doesn’t really need remakes of Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” or Paul Young’s “Everytime You Go Away” (which offended Sherry Ann — world’s biggest Paul Young fan, that one — all the way down to the marrow of her bones) or Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” as those songs were indelibly performed the first time around, and Clay’s arrangements of those tunes weren’t markedly different from the originals. (And yes, I’m absolutely aware that the album wasn’t Clay’s idea or concept, so please don’t attack me with that news flash, but why even bother if you’re not going to bring something new to the song you’re covering?!) Nonetheless, I assure you, I have listened to Ways, multiple times, and I found a handful of its tracks — most notably his Pure Moods-esque take on Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” (done as a fascinating collaboration with poet Erin Taylor); his sped-up reworking of Richard Marx’s all-time classic “Right Here Waiting” (although I continue to wish that either Clay or his producer would have had the balls to insist on going for that full-throated high note at the song’s climax instead of playing it safe, since it’s clear that Clay is more than capable of pulling off those vocal acrobatics); or his blistering cover of Foreigner’s landmark “I Want to Know What Love Is” (which I mentioned loving in last week’s post) — to be breathtaking in their sheer audacity and joie, and ultimately, I believe Clay did the very best he could with what was, at its core, a phenomenally bad idea.


But enough of that: with bigger and better fish to fry, I now present to you this week’s records:


Another best-of set of sorts, and this one from one of the most quirky and unique performers in the business, the lovely Miss Cassandra Wilson, who has cherry-picked a handful of older pop favorites that she has “interpreted” on her seven studio albums and has assembled them on Closer to You: The Pop Side. Among the gorgeous chestnuts included here: a cover of The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville” that you gotta hear to believe, as well as a ferocious take on The Band’s classic “The Weight,” a plainly tender reading of Sting’s “Fragile,” and what is perhaps the most deliriously engrossing and emotionally raw take on Cyndi Lauper’s legendary “Time After Time” that I’ve ever heard. (I know, I know, once you’ve heard the incomparable Patti LaBelle sing those extraordinary lyrics, it’s real hard for any other version to hold a candle, but if Wilson’s sultry vibe doesn’t give you a shiver or two, do move your ears a soupcon closer to the speakers.)