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.)

Fresh off the success of his smash last fall with the simply-titled Covers (which, thanks to blowout sales on QVC and a huge promotional push from Starbucks and Hear Music, spent several weeks in the Billboard 200’s top ten), the legendary James Taylor returns with a supplementary EP entitled, just as plainly, Other Covers, which contains a handful of tracks — including Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood” and a gorgeous, gloriously earthy take on Tom Waits’ “Shiver Me Timbers” — that were recorded during the original album’s sessions but didn’t make the cut the first time around.

Because it’s now the en vogue thing to do (and because the record companies figured out a while ago that there do indeed exist dense morons such as myself who will shell out their hard-earned cash for the same album more than once), one of last year’s heroes, that electrifying young’un Jesse McCartney, hits us with Departure Recharged, an expanded reissue of his hit 2008 album, which contains four bonus tracks as well as the new smash version of “How Do You Sleep?,” on which Ludacris has added his vocals. Sadly, no one saw fit to include Jesse’s own take on “Bleeding Love,” the international megahit he co-wrote for Leona Lewis last year, on this re-release, as it would’ve been a sure attention-grabber. (McCartney’s original demo can be found online at any number of portals, and while he’s nowhere near Lewis’ untouchable vocal reach, his reading of the song is far more compelling than you would ever expect.)

This week’s marquee release: Total Pop!, a riveting four-disc box set (three CDs, one DVD) tracing the musical journey traveled by legendary British duo Erasure, who boldly set about making intoxicating dance tunes at a time — the post-disco era, natch — when that genre of music was hideously gauche. Suffice it to say, with landmark songs like “Oh L’amour,” “Chains of Love,” “Always,” their brilliantly cheeky cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” and my eternal favorite “Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day),” Andy Bell and Vince Clarke were absolutely instrumental in bringing that style all the way back, honey, and to celebrate that remarkable achievement, the geniuses at Rhino Records have compiled all of their classics — forty-one tracks spread across two gorgeous compact discs — alongside a handful of rare live recordings to fill out the set. I have but one word for this ridiculously beautiful collection of terrific music: Bravo, gentlemen. (Sorry. That was two words.)

Also noteworthy this week:


  • A Positive Rage, a new live disc from acclaimed indie band
    The Hold Steady.

  • Unstoppable, the sixth studio album from the biggest band in
    country music, Rascal Flatts.

  • Fork in the Road, a new album from legendary troubadour Neil Young.

  • The eagerly-awaited self-titled debut album from Nickel Creek
    founding member Sara Watkins.

  • Back to Tennessee, the latest from Miley’s daddy Billy Ray Cyrus.

  • A true legend’s career receives a worthy chronicle with
    Genius! – The Ultimate Ray Charles Collection

  • Nearly a decade after “I Can Only Imagine” became a crossover smash arrives 10, a best-of set from contemporary Christian mainstays MercyMe.


7 responses to “we are broken but we are moving still
(or: april 7 — a thumbnail sketch)”

  1. the buzz from Kendra:

    I appreciated Clay’s version of Broken Wings too. It was my favorite song on that album.

  2. the buzz from jmh123:

    Here’s my post. “I love this [review quoted here] he picked Clay’s Playlist of his three to praise, out of quite a long list of others released at the same time. Someone at CH [that’s another fan board, Brandon] pointed out the irony of him calling ATDW a “set of baffling covers” and yet singling out two songs from that album in his review. I’ll forgive that, since he loves this album, and he’s obviously heard ADTW since he mentioned IWTKWLI.” (Link to my post: http://findingclayaiken.invisionzone.com/index.php?s=&showtopic=589&view=findpost&p=104110) I also voted for your approval at FCA and you did get it, it just took a day or two. I said, “I’d say yes. He was, I thought, very intelligent and not at all gossipy–just someone who loves music. I could be wrong, but I don’t anticipate a lot of posts–probably just a ‘thanks for the page views and nice comments about my blog.'” Who knew you wanted to pick on me for something I never even said?

  3. the buzz from Sherry Ann:

    I am just baffled that the Finding Clay Aiken Fan Forum has such a thorough screening process. Is there some sort of application you have to fill out before you are worthy to join discussions about the great Clay Aiken? You people are bat-shit crazy!!

  4. the buzz from A.:

    Changing gears from the current discussion, I am looking forward to the Cassandra Wilson CD. I was impressed by her unique take on some of the classics when she sang at the Hollywood Bowl last year; you can check them out on her 2008 CD, Loverly.

  5. the buzz from Martigyrl:

    I’m sorry to say I missed your article last week. Sounds like it was a good one. I, for the first time, found a non Claymate/Claydawg who is on the same wave length with me, about the songs you’ve critiqued above. Namely, ‘Broken Wings’,and ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’. We both use the same words. Breathtaking, and Fascinating.I know in your response, you really have listened to the CD.
    ATDW is, and will always be my favorite CD that Clay has created, and it is due to the fantastic way he sang the same songs you liked, that I hold it dear to my heart.
    Thanks for an open and honest review. Try listening sometime to Broken Wings in the wee hours of the am, while flying down an open road with no other cars. It’s Ethereal.
    I enjoy the CD so much, I haven’t been able to enjoy On My Way Here respectfully.

  6. the buzz from brandon:

    jmh, thanks for your comment. Not that it matters, since I’ve already said my piece (and, no less, on a platform that is much more to my liking) and don’t anticipate further commentary being necessary on this particular matter, but every single time — this morning included — when I’ve tried to log into your forum with my chosen username and password, I get a message that is something to the effect of “you are denied access to this forum.”

    Trust that I do appreciate, very much, the exposure that this blog received last week on account of your interest and the interest of your compadres. And know that my intention was not to pick on you, but simply to clarify a handful of comments that were made last week, in both of our forums.

  7. the buzz from Chip:

    Brandon, honey: Please, please, please make offhanded comments about Aiken every week. Just toss them about randomly — positive, negative or perfectly inscrutable. It’ll be this site’s Easter egg. And instead of chocolate, we’ll get craziness — which is just as tasty, but not nearly as fattening.

    On topic? Oh fine. I love Cassandra Wilson’s covers of familiar pop tunes. “Last Train to Clarksville” got me to buy that CD immediately, and I’ve also loved her versions of “Wichita Lineman” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Not to mention her aching, haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit.” (And no, that’s not an Aiken Easter egg.) (Couldn’t resist!)