Jennifer Hudson “JHUD”

Oscar-winning soul diva Jennifer Hudson has given herself a musical makeover with her new album JHUD. And frankly, it is well overdue.

JHUD

The 33-year old yummy mummy is hanging up the power ballads we’ve heard her do a thousand times before in favour of a vibrant disco and 1970s R&B styles.

But don’t get it twisted, Ms Hudson is not slacking off in the vocal department by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, the upbeat production takes her vocals to new heights and puts her in the same field as iconic artists who have filled dance floors in past decades.

You may have slept on the singles she released in the last 12 months and I don’t blame you (anyone else thought ‘Walk It Out’ sounded painfully dated by Timbaland‘s standards?) but Jennifer comes to life in technicolour on JHUD. The best tracks are indeed the ones saved for the album.

Standout numbers like ‘It’s Your World’ (featuring R. Kelly) sound like something lifted from an old episode of Soul Train. You have Hudson and Kelly engaging in a five minute-long vocal showdown, spurred on by a funky beat and lush strings that would’ve done Earth, Wind and Fire proud. Basically, if they had made a sequel to Dreamgirls following Effie’s journey to solo stardom, this would be the starring performance.

 

You don’t need to check the receipts to know that this is one hell of an expensive album. Top-line hit makers like PharrellTimbaland and The Fugees‘ producer Jerry Duplessis have all checked-in.

The Pharrell-hemmed track, ‘He Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, tops the bill with an Iggy Azalea feature. You’d think they would have rushed this one out as a single by now, considering Iggy’s stock.

Jennifer goes into sassy sex therapist mode here coaching her girlfriends on how to please their men. “Get what you want, get more pleasure. Leave no one, y’all come together. Whisper in his ear, it makes it hotter. Don’t wipe the sweat, it makes it better!’ she sings.

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Album Review: Tinashe “Aquarius”

If you liked FKA Twigs’ elemental approach to making R&B music but secretly wished it was more accessible, then walk this way. Tinashe’s debut album Aquarius delivers that and so much more.

Tinashe Aquarius

The 21-year old American singer/songwriter has been regularly name-checked by urban music tastemakers as one to watch out for ever since her debut single ‘2 On’ hit blogs this year.

The track is like nightclub candy, setting tongues wagging with its crisp beats, ice queen finger snaps and Tinashe’s sultry tones. The overall impression is sexy and daring without being raunchy, if you know what I mean.

 

The rest of Aquarius, however, takes on a more subtle approach. The album dives deep into atmospheric and fluid soundscapes that sound heavily influenced by the likes of Sky Ferreira and Jessie Ware in parts. Dev Hynes (who has produced for the likes of Ferreira and Solange) hems one of the album’s signature cuts: ‘Bet’.

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Amelia Lily ‘California’

We all thought Amelia Lily had an ace in her pocket when she teamed up with Girls Aloud’s hit-makers, Xenomania, for her debut album two years ago.

Amelia Lily California

 

‘You Bring Me Joy’, which peaked at #2 in the UK, was a brilliant yet subtle introduction to the kind of pop artist Amelia could be but she eventually scrapped her album with Xenomania, putting an end to their three-single partnership.

Cue ‘California’, which is essentially Amelia Lily 2.0.

The one-time X Factor contestant, now signed to Warner, reveals a more confident and American radio-friendlier sound. Her musical idols P!nk and Kelly Clarkson sound like reasonable influences here but to be honest, ‘California’ sounds like something Robert “Mutt” Lange would produce for Shania Twain.

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Introducing Kai Lavatai

This may be the most straightforward ad you’ve ever answered: Do you love stylishly-produced synth-pop lit with the neon brightness of the 80s? If your response is ‘yes, take my money’ then allow us to introduce Kai Lavatai.

Kai Lavatai

The American singer, songwriter and producer is still relatively unknown but the EPs and singles he has uploaded on Soundcloud tells us he really ought to be in more people’s music libraries.

Kai’s music takes you through a mix of nu disco, funk and even a bit of chill wave with narratives told by a gay man for lovers of gay men.

Vocally, he sounds like a finely processed blend of Darren Hayes‘ softer tones with Michael Jackson‘s distinct flow.

Here are three tracks of note:

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Ariana Grande “My Everything”

Pop Bambi, Ariana Grande, has officially made the leap from Nickelodeon star to proper contender in the youth music market, all in just the space of 17 months.

ariana grande my everything

My Everything, her second album, is easily one of the most anticipated releases in any teen pop diary this year. Bolstered by the global success of ‘Problem‘ (featuring Iggy Azalea), her first UK chart-topper, My Everything has been hyped up to be the album that will introduce Ariana to a bigger audience.

The 21-year old singer has been tirelessly hailed as the new generation’s Mariah Carey (probably much to the chagrin of the Elusive Chanteuse herself). It’s something of a badge of honour Ariana wears and flashes with pride every time she ad-libs in the whistle register. The comparisons also stick because of Grande’s penchant for cutting slickly-produced saccharine R&B ballads which has, until now, limited her appeal to mainstream music fans on this side of the Atlantic.

She’s a young female pop performer with a naturally-occurring gay male following but unlike Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Britney Spears, Little Miss Grande has yet to give us a proper anthem we can really get behind. You know just the kind we’re talking about: a huge dance track with emotional lyrics and bonafide diva vocals. Well, that all changed when ‘Break Free’ went online.

The new single, featuring German-Russian EDM producer Zedd, is a brazen, club stomper with an emancipatory feel. It’s a straightforward survivor anthem for the brokenhearted and fed-up, much in the spirit of Britney Spears‘ ‘Stronger’, Cher‘s ‘Strong Enough’ and Gloria Gaynor‘s ‘I Will Survive’. Ariana digs her heels in and sings, “This is the part when I say I don’t want it! I’m stronger than I’ve been before. This is the part when I break free, ’cause I can’t resist it no more!”.

 

As enjoyable as it was, ‘Break Free’ sadly isn’t a fair representation of the album’s soundscape. For the most part, Ariana remains quietly devoted to the vanilla R&B balladry set out in her first album. Having said that, there is a convincing coming-of-age confidence and feistiness in My Everything that urges its listeners to stick with it for a bit longer.

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Duke Dumont ‘Won’t Look Back’

The pressure is on for British DJ and producer Duke Dumont. His last two singles have both topped the UK charts, so does ‘Won’t Look Back’ have what it takes to follow their fiery trail? My immediate response is a fervent nod.

Duke Dumont Won't Look Back

‘Won’t Look Back’ sounds exactly like the sum of Duke Dumont’s finest and most precise commercial efforts. The new single plugs itself into the current 90s house pop revival that powered his previous hits.

There are urgent house pianos contrasted by big beastly soul vocals by a feature artist that has yet to be revealed. The singer lets us have it when she sings with searing, gospel-like conviction: “Your love it makes me stronger. No matter what we’re going through, I won’t look back! Won’t look, won’t look back!”.

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#ThrowbackThursday: Emma Bunton “Free Me”

This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the best and most consistent solo Spice Girl album to date: Emma Bunton‘s Free Me.

Emma Bunton Free Me

 

While it’s safe to say none of Ginger, Sporty, Scary, Baby or Posh’s albums will ever alter the course of music history like that of their collective endeavours, there is still something special about Emma’s second album that keeps me coming back.

Free Me arrived just a few sleeps before Valentine’s Day in 2004 but love wasn’t particularly in the air for solo Spice Girls records anymore.

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