INTERVIEW: TALKING SAPPY SONGS WITH ALAN CUMMING

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Alan Cumming isn’t just one of the busiest artists in Hollywood. He’s also one of the most versatile.

Highlights from the past year alone have found the 51-year-old Scotsman co-hosting the Tony Awards, reprising his own Tony Award-winning role as the Emcee in the Broadway revival of Cabaret, garnering his third Emmy and second Golden Globe nominations for his co-starring role on CBS’ The Good Wife, publishing a New York Times bestselling memoir, and touring the country with his latest live musical act, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs. And he’s far from slowing down.

Hitting stores this Friday, Cumming’s second solo album will preserve this critically adored live show. Gearing up for a concert celebration at New York’s Carnegie Hall next week, Cumming chatted with me about his music, books, creative process, what’s in store for The Good Wife, and much more.

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ALEX NAGORSKI: Firstly, what’s your definition of a “sappy song” and how did you curate the track-list for this record?

ALAN CUMMING: I suppose a sappy song for me is a song that gets me emotional. There needs to be a story in it or it needs to have something that I can connect with and that can really make me feel. So that was really why I chose these songs. The year that I was doing Cabaret on Broadway again, my friends and I would play a lot of different music in my dressing room. A lot of the songs I sing on this album and in this concert are songs that I heard for the first time then. Many of the songs are by artists that I never thought I would like or are songs that one could be a little snippy about. But actually, there’s something about them that really resonates with me. All of the songs are songs that I really like, but I also feel that I add something new to them with my interpretations. Otherwise there’s no point in me just singing a nice song. Anyone could do that and there are plenty of people who can do it a lot better than I can.

As a musician, how do you feel you’ve evolved between this album and your previous release, I Bought A Blue Car Today?

I think I’ve found my voice a little bit more. I got better at adjusting songs and I know which songs are more suited to me. Over these years of performing, I’ve grown to understand my musical aptitude a bit better. I think I’ve zoned in on what I’m good at.

One of my personal favorites on the album is “Someone Like The Edge of Firework,” which you had previously released as a standalone single. What inspired you to mash up the songs that make this one up?

Years ago, I was in a club and the DJ played all three of those songs (Adele’s “Someone Like You, Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” and Katy Perry’s “Firework”) consecutively. I remember thinking that they all kind of sounded the same. They’re all the fucking same! I loved the idea of that and I really like all those songs. I realized that just because so much of our culture is repetitive, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just the way it is. And I actually like it! I love the reaction that song gets when I do it. Everybody freaks out, so I of course really enjoy that. And it’s just nice singing all those songs because it does makes you think, “Wow, they are all the same. They’re all the same structure.”

If you had to only sing one song every day for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Oh my God! That’s like Survivor with my album. One song?! That would be horrible! There’s a song that I made up that I sing to my dog when it’s lunch time. I’d probably sing that because it’s fun and would also be useful. As for off the album? Gosh, this is Sophie’s Choice. I don’t know! Maybe “Somewhere Only We Know,” originally by Keane. I’m pretty sure I might do that one.

Next week, you’ll be celebrating the release of the album with a concert at Carnegie Hall, where you’ll be joined by friends like Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, and Ricki Lake. How do you think performing these songs on such a large, iconic stage will be different than performing them in an intimate venue like the Café Carlyle where the album was recorded?

Well, I mean obviously there are some technical differences when it’s a bigger space like that, and you’ve got to bolt up the show a bit. But, you know, I’ve been touring Sappy Songs since the Café Carlyle residency. I’ve mostly been touring on weekends (because of shooting The Good Wife) all over America. And over the holidays, I was actually in Australia doing a concert there too. So I have been at much bigger venues with it already. It was kind of funny going back to the Carlyle to record the album this past December. Suddenly being back there, where it’s like 100 seats, it’s kind of a shock to your system just in terms of the acoustics and the amount of people in the room. But what I realized is that it doesn’t really matter what the number of people or the size of the venue are. It’s actually just about making a connection with people. You can do that in a huge venue and luckily I’m not worried about that. I kind of realized over the last six months doing it in so many different theaters that are so many different sizes that it’s just about me committing and being prepared to be vulnerable and open. That’s what does it, not the size of the venue.

At this concert, will you be exclusively performing music from the new record, or do you plan on adding in some oldies or surprises as well?

There will be a couple of surprises! There will certainly be a few because the show will be divided into two halves. I’ve obviously also got some guests joining me, so I’m going to be singing a little bit of stuff with them as well. So yes, some of my greatest hits will be appearing! Basically, it’ll be Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs but with a couple of little changes here and there.

You’ve already accomplished so much in your career. You’ve acted on screen and on stage. You’ve published a memoir and a novel. You’ve had your own photo exhibition and award-winning fragrance. You even have your own line of kitchen products at Fish’s Eddy, and the list goes on and on. With the release of this new album, what creative itch does making music scratch for you that these other forms of artistic expression don’t?

It’s not really like that for me. I think it’s all the same. Everything I do is all the same. I’m just telling stories and I’m just trying to express myself as a person. I’m an actor and I play other people all the time but a lot of my work is also about me. I put a lot of my personality and my life into the books and this record and into my work. I view myself as a storyteller and I use many different forms to tell those stories. In a way, I think this record is kind of the purest form of that because I’m sharing a lot of stuff and quite intimate things about my own life and my own experiences in it. It’s kind of the perfect fusion to be an actor and tell other people’s stories and then also have an outlet to tell my own stories at the same time. This record and this version of this show includes so much of what I’ve been doing in my work for a long, long time. So it scratches a lot of itches, if you will.

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One of the things that I thought made Not My Father’s Son such a captivating read was how brutally honest and vulnerable you were when describing your journey of discovering your own self-worth. Has the reaction from readers to such a personal story been similar or different than what you imagined it’d be when you were writing it?

The reactions were actually hugely surprising to me. I’m still nervous about it because you’re really putting yourself out there with something like that. I was nervous about how my mom and my brother were going to be affected. But what I didn’t bargain for was the really incredible response from people who said, “Your book has enabled me to deal with things in my family or talk to one of my parents” or “It’s actually inspired me to be honest in telling my story.” I know for sure that you can come out with something and never say, “I think I’ve really inspired a lot of people to do things in their lives that they were otherwise too scared to do.” So that has been truly amazing. I didn’t really envision that but I don’t know how I could have. It’s been really overwhelming in an amazing way and that’s been a really beautiful thing about it.

That’s incredible. You’re also working on a third book at the moment. What can you tell me about that?

Yeah! I’m not quite sure what I’m going to call it yet but it’s a book of stories and photographs I’ve taken over the years. In a way, it’s another memoir-ish type of book, in that it’s all things about my life and stuff that’s happened to me. But this time, it’s done in a way either inspired by a photo or there was a photo taken at the time I’m talking about or that is connected to it in some way. Because of that format, I’m actually getting to tell far more stories. It’s got a lighter tone than my last book. It’s full of little stories and fun montages and photos I’ve taken in New York City, as well as longer stories about certain things. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all comes together. The book will be coming out in September.

I can’t wait to read it! Eli Gold, your character on The Good Wife, recently revealed a major secret to Alicia (Julianna Margulies) that viewers have watched him keep for years. How will the ramifications of this confession continue to play out in the coming episodes and is there anything else you can tease that fans can look forward to in the rest of this season?

Well, she’s obviously hurt. It’s funny because the night that we recorded the album was the same night that that episode aired. I told the audience what happens and even said in the show, “Tomorrow I could be the most hated man in America.” It’s interesting because people were wondering why Eli would tell her that now. What he told her about happened so long ago that maybe people had forgotten about it. So what’s been lovely is that Eli has been getting sympathy from a lot of viewers as well now that he’s finally come clean. I find that really fascinating. In terms of what happens, Alicia’s of course not going to just go back to normal straightaway. It takes a little while. But there will be a rapprochement. They do become friends again. Thank god!

Phew! What attracted you to Florent, the upcoming Showtime dark comedy about New York restaurateur, Florent Morellet, which you’ll be starring in?

I hope I’m going to be starring in it! It’s still kind of in the early, early stages but I’m very hopeful that this is going to be something that is in my future. In a fun way, Florent the man and Florent the restaurant are this kind of gateway to New York over the decades. He opened his restaurant in the 1980’s and the Meatpacking District has changed so radically since then. So has New York actually. His story of being a gay man during that time obviously was a rocky road and with various tragedies and triumphs. He is an incredible force of nature. I don’t know if you’ve ever met him but he’s just a bundle of energy and a kind of supernova. And so I just thought it was really great focusing on how one person and one restaurant could be so important to such a big city. I actually used to go there to eat. When I first moved to New York, I lived in the West Village a couple of blocks away from there, and I would go frequently. It was when the Meatpacking District literally had blood in the streets.

Oh wow. Speaking of New York, is there any chance that we’ll see you on Broadway again any time soon?

I hope so! I don’t have any concrete plans right now but I’m always trying to come back to the theater. I’ve got some things I’m talking about, but it won’t be for a while. Maybe I’ll do something in 2017, but I’ve got too many other plans for this year.

You’ve played so many diverse characters throughout your career. Out of them all, is there one that you think is the most similar to you personally?

I don’t know! I mean, I don’t really play characters who are like me. I think a lot of the bigger characters I’ve played, the more extravagant people, are what people tend to think I’m maybe like. That’s not true. I once did a movie where I played a taxi driver who was a nice, lovely guy, and he kind of sounded and looked like me, but he wasn’t me at all. In a funny way, I suppose Florent might be the closest. He’s someone who came to New York and has a great lust for life and has a real eclectic taste in people and things.

I know you’re an O.B.E. (Office of the British Empire), but if hypothetically, you were running for President in 2016, what would your campaign slogan be?

Holy shit! That’s a good question. It would be, “Shut Up, Stupid People!!” Definitely with two exclamation points.

Thanks so much for chatting, Alan!

Thank you! Nice talking to you.

Originally published on PopBytes

SAM SMITH PREVIEWS ‘IN THE LONELY HOUR’ IN NYC: CONCERT REVIEW

sam-smithSam Smith is the best new artist of 2014.

Yes, it’s only March and Smith has yet to release an album. But that said, there’s a reason that so many fans are heralding the 21-year-old English singer/songwriter as “the male Adele” across the web. For starters, Smith is the recipient of the BBC’s Sound of 2014 poll and the BRIT Critics’ Choice Award, both of which Adele won in 2008 before collecting her first Grammy a year later. And with the support of Adele herself, it looks like Smith might be starting down the same path as the global superstar. Accolades aside, it’s Smith’s larger-than-life talent – from his passionate and soulful vocal delivery to his introspective and vulnerable lyrics – that accounts for the biggest connection between the two artists.

In the UK, Smith got his first taste of success last year when he was the featured vocalist on hits like Disclosure’s “Latch” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La.” Last month, Smith’s debut solo single, “Money On My Mind,” went straight to #1 on the BBC charts – around the same time that Taylor Swift invited him to join her onstage at one of her London shows to perform the song together. And this weekend, Smith dropped jaws (and, let’s be honest, probably some panties) stateside when he performed as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live opposite host Louis C.K last night.

Last Monday, Smith’s mostly sold-out U.S. headlining tour came to New York City’s Webster Hall. Following an exquisite opening set by Dev Hynes (a.k.a Blood Orange), Smith kicked off his show with “Nirvana,” the first of 13 tracks that he would sing. The title track off his first EP (released this past January), “Nirvana” instantly demonstrated that Smith’s massive pipes are far from limited to just his recordings. With a voice so good that it might as well have been made out of truffle butter, Smith effortlessly staked his claim as the future king of contemporary neo-soul.

Throughout the evening, Smith performed various tracks from his upcoming album, In The Lonely Hour (due out on May 26 in the UK and June 17 in the U.S.). But the fact that the fervent crowd was hearing many of these songs for the very first time didn’t stop them from having a fully immersive concert experience.

It was hard to spot a dry eye following “Not In That Way,” Smith’s raw, heart-wrenching tribute to unrequited love. It’s a theme that he admitted will be featured heavily on his album, despite the fact that he’s never actually be in a relationship (no wonder T. Swift tried to sink her fangs in early).

“And I hate to say that I love you when it’s so hard for me, and I hate to say I want you when you make it so clear you don’t want me,” Smith achingly crooned over a melancholy acoustic guitar. “I’d never ask you ‘cause deep down I’m certain I know what you’d say. You’d say, I’m sorry, believe me, I love you, but not in that way.”

Considering his album’s title, it’s no surprise that thus far Smith’s repertoire is full of songs that cut deep. The ballad “Leave Your Lover” found the singer lamenting over the object of his affection loving somebody else, while “I’m Not The Only One” detailed the agonizing feeling of not being able to let someone go despite the reality that you can’t trust their fidelity. As his soaring voice penetrated through the otherwise completely silent venue, his performances of both of these songs left the audience breathless.

But it was far from an entirely somber night. The infectious and upbeat “Restart” perfectly blended Smith’s disco influences with elements of uptempo 90’s R&B, and subsequently left the crowd trading in their tear-stained tissues for dancing shoes. Meanwhile, his cover of The Arctic Monkey’s “Do I Wanna Know” exhibited the singer’s grungier side as he went into full rock star mode, raspy wails and all.

Of course it wasn’t just previously unreleased material that Smith performed. After announcing that the next song would be “Money On My Mind,” there was so much screaming that you’d be shocked to learn that the song is not already a monster smash this side of the Atlantic. He followed immediately with “Lay Me Down,” the phenomenal buzz track he released last year, which he believes is the one that truly changed his life. Smith explained that just over a year ago, he was working at a bar. After that song came out, the rest is already history.

Additional highlights of Smith’s set included a solo rendering of his recent funky snyth-meets-disco collaboration with Nile Rodgers, Disclosure, and Jimmy Napes, “Together,” as well as an audience participation heavy rendition of “La La La.” He brought the pace down again when singing the slow-burning “I’ve Told You Now,” and a stunningly beautiful acoustic version of “Latch,” which highlighted the lyrics’ desperation in ways that the electronic original doesn’t have the room to.

Smith closed out his encore with “Stay With Me,” a track which went on to receive its official radio premiere the following day on BBC Radio 1 (and music video premiere this past Thursday). DJ Zane Lowe described the song as “a classic” before hitting the play button, and ended up spinning the song twice because he loved it so much (“the world needs this record,” he explained). And Lowe was far from mistaken.

An ode to wanting to turn a one night stand into something more meaningful, “Stay With Me” is the official second single from In The Lonely Hour. Smith’s golden voice soulfully builds before it’s joined (but far from overshadowed) by a grand gospel choir. Similarly, the minimal piano melody gradually adds in strings, an organ, and percussion, resulting in a song that gives puts a fresh and contemporary spin on its clear Motown influences.

With only a few months to go before his highly anticipated album finally drops, Sam Smith is continuing to build momentum and fuel the hype with his phenomenal live performances, new song releases, and teases at what’s to come. He’s already garnered international acclaim and begun to build a rabid fan base, and based on what he played at Webster Hall on Monday night, it’s all leading up to what can (and should!) very likely be one of the biggest records of the year.

If you can, grab your tickets to see Smith on the rest of his tour now. Otherwise, you’ll regret it when he’s collecting awards on the Grammy stage and selling out arenas this time next year.

Originally published on PopBytes

CELINE DION SHOWCASES “LOVED ME BACK TO LIFE” AT INTIMATE NYC CONCERT

IMG_1155It’s been six years since pop icon Celine Dion has released an English-language album.

“I had two babies and a French album and a Vegas show! I’ve been busy!” Dion explained to an adoring audience at her concert in New York City on October 29. But with this week’s release of her new album, Loved Me Back To Life (which hit stores yesterday), the French Canadian songstress is more than ready for her comeback.

When it came time to record Loved Me Back To Life, Dion decided to recruit some fresh blood to put a contemporary spin on her signature Lite-FM sound. She turned to songwriters and producers like Sia, Ne-Yo, Babyface, and Tricky Stewart to build a record that was still distinctly Celine – but with a slightly grittier edge than her audience has come to expect from her.

“For 30 years, I’ve had the same recipe, which puts a lot of reverb on my voice. But for this album, I wanted to break from that. There are no effects on my voice. It’s very pure. Very direct,” the singer recently said. “I have nothing to lose. I’m not looking for career attention, for more success, more money. I’m just singing songs I chose because I love them.”

IMG_1162“I’m not trying to reinvent myself,” Dion continued. “I don’t want people to think, ‘This is a brand new Celine,’ but I am at a place in my career where I’m 45, I’m at the peak of my life, and I’ve never felt like this before. I want to have a good time.”

It was that passion and artistic versatility that was on full display during Dion’s concert last week. Sponsored by Pandora, the invite-only show found the five-time Grammy Award winner playing an array of her greatest hits and select new tracks to celebrate the release of her record. And unlike the Colosseum at Caesars Palace – the massive Vegas venue she’s used to – the Edison Ballroom provided a much smaller setting, making it one of the most intimate concerts Dion has performed in years.

Opening with a stunning medley of “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” and “The Power of Love,” Dion instantly had her audience entranced by her trademark vocal runs and often-dramatic delivery. The singer followed with her first English-language hit “Where Does My Heart Beat Now,” and the epic power ballads “Because You Loved Me” and “The Reason,” before breaking into a trio of new songs from Loved Me Back To Life.

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The first of this set was “Water and a Flame,” originally recorded by Adele and Daniel Merriweather (fun fact: Dion’s new album was initially meant to be named after this song, but was retitled after Merriweather publicly criticized Dion for not crediting the song to him during an interview with Katie Couric). A perfect example of the huskier flavor Dion’s voice is currently sampling, “Water And A Flame” is a harrowing lament for a couple that is just too opposite to attract. And Dion’s subdued live performance added layers of rawness and vulnerability to the already heartbreaking song.

Next was the album’s lead single and title track. Co-written by Sia Furler (the mastermind behind Britney Spears’ “Perfume”), “Loved Me Back To Life” is easily the most radio-friendly song on Dion’s new record. Featuring a chilling vocal loop and a dubstep beat drop, the song expertly blends classic Dion with contemporary pop trends to attract both longtime and new fans alike.

The final Loved Me Back To Life song that Dion performed was the Janis Ian cover, “At Seventeen.” An anthem of remembering teenage awkwardness, the song was the weakest of the new offerings, but still managed to pack an emotional punch when the singer wailed about “ugly duckling girls like me.”

Dion wrapped up her set with her cover of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself,” which seemed to have a majority of the audience singing along full volume, the disco-tinged “Love Can Move Mountains,” and the rock-n-rolling “River Deep Mountain High.”

But naturally, Dion saved the best for last. Closing the show with “My Heart Will Go On,” the Academy Award-winning theme to Titanic, the chanteuse managed to breathe new life into a song she’s sung countless times over the past sixteen years. Using just her voice, Dion re-created the song’s iconic instrumental introduction, producing a haunting effect that really utilized the intimacy of the venue. It was truly like watching a master class in perfection.

With the release of Loved Me Back In Life now behind her, Dion has her sights set on preparing for her return to Vegas for a new concert series, which will last from this December through next March. And does Dion plan to see the show of another pop legend kicking off a residency in Sin City next month?

“If Britney wants to give stability to her family, I really can’t think of a better place,” answered Dion. “I’m not a wildcat. I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs, and Las Vegas has been wonderful for me. I wish (Britney) the best there, and I will make time to see her.”

Although she may not be a “wildcat,” Dion certainly is a risk taker. Loved Me Back To Life is far bolder and more interesting than her last English-language record, 2007’s Taking Chances. And if her once-in-a-lifetime concert in New York last week proved anything, it’s that her star power has anything but faded over the years. In fact, it’s still burning as brightly as it ever has.

Welcome back, Celine.

IMG_1866IMG_1153Originally published on PopBytes

EMELI SANDÉ’S ARTIST#TALK WITH ARJAN WRITES!

8432113101_4ea7d2d646_b2012 was a massive year for Emeli Sandé.

At the beginning of the year, the Scottish singer/songwriter released her masterful debut album, Our Version of Events, to soaring critical acclaim. The record, which overtook Adele’s 21 to become the UK’s top selling album of the year, paved the path for Sandé to win the prestigious Critics Choice Award at the BRITs (the British equivalent to the American Grammys). She also was the only artist to perform at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics.

After being embraced so warmly back home and across Europe, Sandé has set her sights on America and is currently in the middle of a headlining tour that brings her unique and cinematic blend of pop, soul and R&B stateside. Taking a night off from her busy performance schedule, Sandé stopped by the Beats by Dr. Dre store in lower Manhattan last Wednesday evening to participate in the latest installment of the music website Arjan Writes’ ARTIST#TALK series.

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Produced along with HP and Windows, Arjan Writes’ ARTIST#TALK series shines the spotlight on a particular artist by combining an in-depth interview with a listening party. During these events, writer Arjan Timmermans sits down with the featured artists and challenges them to unpeel the various layers of their music in an intimate and almost talk-show like setting.

Discussing the early stages of her career, Sandé – who plays the piano, cello, and clarinet – revealed that she wrote her first song, “Tomorrow Will Come Again,” at the age of eight. She described growing up in a household that played the likes of Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin as the catalyst for her artistic impulse to start writing music and thus try to gain “the power to create something out of nothing.”

Despite Sandé’s lifelong love affair with music, there was a time that she had pursued an entirely different route: medical school. While their daughter was studying to become a neurologist, Sandé’s parents sent in a CD of her recordings to a BBC Radio show that sometimes played the music of local, unsigned artists. From there, BBC asked Sandé to participate in a live showcase, where she caught the attention of music producer Naughty Boy. Soon after, Sandé signed with Virgin Records and EMI Records. The rest is history.

Talking about her single, “My Kind of Love,” Sandé revealed to Arjan that the ballad was heavily inspired by her time spent working in a hospital. She explained that when people are sick, there’s nothing left but raw emotion. The songstress talked about how illness shows “people as people,” and that when “the one thing you take for granted, which is your health” is gone, we are grounded in a distinct way that reveals what’s really most important to us. And to Sandé, that deep and true type of caring is her “kind of love.”

It was narratives such as these that prove that Sandé is an artist whose music and the messages it carries are something she truly values. Her poignant storytelling abilities don’t just translate into good songwriting – they also resonate in the way she describes her craft, providing a unique insight into the work and creative process of this multi-talented musician.

When asked about current single “Next To Me,” Sandé gushed that she wrote the song as a tribute to her husband, a man who has loyally stood by her side since she was sixteen.

“When the skies are grey and all the doors closing/And the rising pressure makes it hard to breathe/Well, all I need’s a hand to stop the tears from falling/I will find him, I’ll find him next to me,” Sandé romantically sings on the upbeat track.

While discussing the various other musicians she’s collaborated with over the years, Sandé singled out the rappers who have influenced the way she writes her own lyrics. The rhythmic structure of rap, she noted, forces songwriters to be very precise with their language in order to tell their stories.

“I love rap,” the singer said to the packed room. “You have to be efficient with your words. I learned a lot from them.”

What she’s learned has certainly been paying off. Sandé, who has already opened on tour for Coldplay, has also written music for and/or with the likes of Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Cheryl Cole, Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, and English MCs such as Professor Green, Tinie Tempah, and Chipmunk. Even contemporary legends such as Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé Knowles have expressed interest in working with the singer/songwriter.

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Responding to questions from the audience at the end of the evening, Sandé explained why she goes by her middle name Emeli rather than by her first name, Adele. She said that deciding to go by Emeli helped her develop her artistic identity in a way that separated it from her previous life as a medical student, where she went by her first name. And, of course, there was that other British singer named Adele who was “doing her own thing;” she didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

But a name is not all that Sandé has in common with Adele. With American radio starting to really take to “Next To Me” and a phenomenal performance of the track on Late Night With David Letterman last week, Sandé is positioned to become one of the UK’s next great musical imports. Once she winds up her current tour this spring, her plan is to start working immediately on her sophomore album. This is an artist who has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

Click here to purchase Our Version of Events on iTunes.

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Originally published on PopBytes

JESSIE WARE DAZZLES AT NEW YORK CITY’S BOWERY BALLROOM (CONCERT REVIEW)

“I knew you Americans would get it,” British singer Jessie Ware said over uproarious cheering at the Bowery Ballroom, New York’s intimate concert venue, last Thursday.

Ware, who had just made her American television debut the previous day by performing with The Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, was celebrating the release of her new EP, If You’re Never Gonna Move (available on iTunes). Comprised of select tracks from her Mercury Prize-nominated 2012 overseas premiere album, Devotion, the EP serves as Ware’s official introduction to American audiences.

The last time Ware stepped foot in the Bowery Ballroom, she told the crowd, was in December to see Solange’s headlining show. Like Solange, Ware is part of an exciting musical movement that’s ushering in the resurgence of ‘90s house by blending it with elements of Motown, disco, and traces of contemporary EDM. By doing so, artists such as these two have crafted an innovative musical style that manages to sound as fresh as it is retro.

And their industry peers are starting to really notice. Earlier this month, girl group Destiny’s Child reunited for the release of “Nuclear,” their first original song in seven years. A welcome and surprising throwback to ‘90s R&B, “Nuclear” immediately prompted comparisons to the likes of Jade and Vanessa Williams. And while the lack of Calvin Harris / David Guetta production or a Nicki Minaj guest-verse will likely prevent “Nuclear” from becoming Destiny’s Child’s next “Survivor”-level smash, the song’s release signifies something far more important – and frankly, far more interesting.

By paying homage to the era they began in, Destiny’s Child released a song that not only acknowledges that their fans have grown up too (taking notes, Madonna?), but that also catapults the distinct flavors of ‘90s R&B back into a mainstream spotlight. And lead singer Beyoncé (who had already begun to experiment with resurrecting this classic sound on her phenomenal and underrated 2011 album, 4) clearly has no plans to shift the spotlight anytime soon.

“I’ve been working with Pharrell and Timbaland and Justin Timberlake and Dream. We all started in the ’90s, when R&B was the most important genre, and we all kind of want that back: the feeling that music gave us,” the new mother said in an interview in this month’s GQ about her upcoming fifth studio album.

So what does this mean for Ware? Well, for starters, her influence is beginning to be felt on a very large scale. Plus, the increasing popularity of this nu-soul approach to R&B certainly means that Devotion’s upcoming American release (tentatively slated for April) may generate for the singer what 21 generated for fellow-Brit Adele: massive crossover appeal. And considering that tickets for Ware’s Bowery Ballroom show sold out in thirty minutes even before she officially released an album in the U.S., it’s a safe bet to say that Ware’s is a voice we’ll all be hearing a lot of this year.

Ware’s love for the music that inspired her was on full display during her entire set. In addition to singing Brownstone’s classic “If You Love Me,” Ware mashed up her own hip-hop tinged song “No To Love” with Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” And for a brief moment during her exceptional cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Wouldn’t Do For Love,” she mixed in part of Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” Ware then casually pointed out mid-song that the day before would have been the deceased ‘90s R&B superstar’s birthday. Clearly, she has been doing her homework.

One of the first things that struck me about Ware’s performance is that not only does she sound exactly the same live as she does on her recordings, but also that sometimes she sounds even better. Filling the intimate space of the Bowery Ballroom, Ware’s melancholy and pitch perfect vocals were accompanied by a three-piece band. The second thing that struck me was that Leonardo DiCaprio would have probably been really jealous of how well Ware rocked the exposed midriff look.

Hearing Ware sing live almost suggested that her recordings are too small to fully capture her big voice. The vocal decorations that she added to songs like the lounge-y “Still Love Me,” the deliciously sexy “Night Light,” and album title track “Devotion” showed off just how insanely talented the songstress really is.

What’s more is that Ware is as humble as she is gifted. The amount of adoration pouring out from the audience was undeniable – and for Ware, it was honestly surprising. Upon receiving a bouquet of flowers from a fan near the front of the stage, she teared up and seemed genuinely taken aback. While headlining an American tour for the first time may have sounded like a potentially nerve-wracking experience, Ware couldn’t have received a warmer welcome.

The first of two back-to-back songs that evoke water imagery, Ware’s masterful delivery of the despondent and beautiful “Swan Song” seemed effortless. And before breaking into the next song, “Taking In Water,” she revealed that the ballad (which she wrote for her brother) almost didn’t make it onto the final cut of Devotion. Luckily it did, and the musician called it one of the songs she’s most proud of.

Additional highlights from Ware’s hour-long set included the simple and sizzling synthpop single, “If You’re Never Gonna Move” (recently retitled from “110%” due to legal problems obtaining the clearance of a sample used), album standout “Sweet Talk,” and the official-anthem-of-longing, “Something Inside.”

While the crowd’s applause level was never anything short of feverish, never was it higher than when Ware played “Wildest Moments.” The third single to be released from Devotion, “Wildest Moments” was written after Ware had a fight with a friend and was inspired by the duo’s shaky relationship. And despite having performed the song on Fallon the night before, Ware serenaded her audience with such conviction that it almost sounded like it was the first time she ever sang it.

Wrapping up her set with her brilliant debut single, “Running,” Ware chose to skip an encore, explaining that she “doesn’t believe” in them and that “you all have to go to sleep and go to work tomorrow, so yeah. Last song.” It was moments like these that demonstrated Ware’s honest, charming and warm disposition, making her one of the most grounded artists I’ve seen in a long time.

If all goes according to schedule and Devotion sees its American release this spring, be sure to make it a point to catch Ware’s phenomenal live show. Trust me, it may not be long before the tickets soar out of your price range.

Originally published on PopBytes