Bubbling Under—5/14/11

Jill Scott featuring Anthony Hamilton—”So In Love”

As smooth, funky, and intelligent as this is, its seams show. When you start ticking off the influences as the song plays (“Marvin Gaye. Oh, Al Green. Hey, now it’s Bill Withers.”) you know the artists haven’t pulled off the synthesis they were going after. It also doesn’t help that the song proper ends about halfway through and the rest is just filler. Soulful filler, for sure, but still.

Don Omar—”Taboo”

Don Omar made his reputation as a reggaeton singer, but the sped-up rhythms here are pure Brazil, and the lyrics reference Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Bahia. The result is an interesting hybrid, with Omar’s reggaeton phrasing and intonations generating a pleasant tension with the rhythm. It goes on too long, and if anything there’s too much variety for variety’s sake stuffed into the arrangement, but this is good all the same. Not sure which tradition the accordian comes from, but it fits right in.

AfroJack featuring Eva Simons—”Take Over Control”

Yet another techno pastiche, this time with crudely obvious sexual references (“Plug it in and turn me on”). I was hoping Rihanna’s “S&M” wouldn’t start a trend of songs about women wanting to be sexually dominated, but with this and Jennifer Lopez’s “Papi”, it may already be too late.

Laura Story—”Blessings”

The advantage Christian singer/songwriters have over their secular colleagues is that they tend to be less self-centered—it’s bad form, after all, to flash your ego when you’re singing about God. The disadvantage is that their material, as far as human experience goes, is limited, and they’re often too sentimental and reliant on catch-phrases that only fellow believers understand. This song solidly seizes the advantages and manages to avoid the worst of the disadvantages. It isn’t anything special in terms of arrangement or melody—it’s a standard piano-based ballad—but it isn’t cloying or sticky, either. Far from sentimental, Story even sounds embittered at times—a reference to praying for peace is uttered with a tinge of sarcasm—and her viewpoint is realistic enough for me to believe she’s a much better Christian than most of the people you see on TV on a Sunday morning. I don’t agree with her, but at least she doesn’t make it a chore or an embarrassment to hear her out.

Sara Bareilles—”Uncharted”

I have a fondness for Bareilles’ sarcastic sense of humor, which finds it’s greatest expression in her piano playing—that chunky, carnivalesque sound is a compelling hook all on its own—but I can’t stand the way she overloads and over-arranges her records. This one has so many change-ups that you stop trying to follow her and just hope she comes back to earth someday. In other words, she’s pretentious, pretentious enough that she would probably consider a straightforward pop record to be beneath her. Which is a shame, because she could probably make a great one.