No one wants to be forgotten; everyone wants some sort of legacy, a mark they leave behind as they exit this life for whatever lies beyond.
And for as long as there has been death, there have been monuments — whether austere or understated, abstract or concrete, prominent or tucked away in private — erected by the ones they loved to assure that remembrance, at least for a time.
Some of the best albums and artists were born out of happy accidents owed to varying degrees of early suckage — the perfect note or chord for a song found by missing the one you are aiming for, failed mimicry of an idol bearing something entirely new and great instead.
The Tequila Songbirds have become just as beloved as about any group around these parts. And how could they not?
Featuring a revolving cast of the Sooner State’s most badass female performers, it’s a power hour of some of the best songwriting coming out of central Oklahoma. Sure, they might not technically be family, but they are clearly a band of sisters all the same, bonded by the same brand of whiskey running through their veins.
"Overproduced" is a term thrown around all too indiscreetly nowadays, usually applied when the thing that sticks out about a song or album is how it sounds rather than how it is constructed. Yet some of the most compelling albums ever crafted embodied a certain aesthetic that was just as skillfully and meticulously put together as any Bob Dylan or Miles Davis record — which is to say production is as crucial to our enjoyment of music as much as anything else; it's also the most overlooked.
Indie rock has been in a good place as of late. Not caring about being cool is the new cool, and a couple of dudes on guitar, bass and drums can make catchy, earworm songs without being armed to the gills with computer software and vintage synthesizers.
Boyz II Men, II(1994) I believe this was the first CD
that I bought with my own allowance at Duncan’s local music store. It’s
another really fun, soulful album — vocally, harmonically, musically
outstanding. I remember lying on my bedroom floor and studying the
lyrics, mesmerized for hours. I loved the singles, but my favorites were
the opening track, “Thank You,” and the last track, their gorgeous,
soul-grabbing rendition of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” I was just learning
about harmony at the time, and loved listening to their rich, thick,
Nichole Nordeman, Wide Eyed(1998) This woman will forever be one of the greatest singer/songwriter/pianists on the planet. Her honest lyrics, hauntingly moving chord choices and beautifully pure voice elevate your soul to a new, better place than you were before. It was in high school that I discovered Christian music, and Nichole was a huge reason. I would
Laura Leighe Photo: Travis Clancy
listen to every song, practically without skipping, which you cannot say about many. Nichole was one of the main artists who inspired me to play piano and write songs. I was too busy with cheerleading, show choir and dancing to sit down and practice piano — I’m better by ear — but it was over once I got one of her sheet music books.
OneRepublic, Dreaming Out Loud(2007) Ryan Tedder is one of the most talented vocalists, songwriters, producers and musicians alive. Aside from his own tracks, he’s aided with production and background vocals on countless others’ hits. My then-boyfriend/now-husband, Trent, was interning on the final season of MTV’s TRL when he met them and gave me this record. I was absolutely blown away. The first track is my favorite, “Say (All I Need).” Its opening
ethereal, chopped-up, almost chant-like vocals; Ryan’s prominent,
hip-hop-influenced clap drum loops; and his amazing vocal lines convict
my heart more than almost any Christian album ever did. Amazing.
Photo: Travis Clancy
Mariah Carey, Greatest Hits(2001) These
songs were definitely the soundtrack to my childhood! However, her
voice, the songs and the production were so first-class that when I go
back and listen now, they’re timeless. Carey’s music was so much fun, a
lot of later pop doesn’t measure up. Throughout the album, Mariah’s
voice soars above and below and all over the place — seamlessly,
effortlessly and beautifully. In my book, she and Whitney Houston will
never be beaten vocally. My favorite track, “Fantasy,” uses a sample
from Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” and is an incredible example of an
already infectiously feel-good groove made into a complete masterpiece
of a pop song. In my single, “Find Me,” we sampled “Mr. Sandman” by The
Chordettes, in hopes of doing the same.
Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox(2012) Bruno
Mars is making some of today’s best music. I was living in L.A. when a
lot of what you heard on pop radio was all the same: hip-hop,
often-generic club hits — great to dance to, but not what I always want
to hear in my car. When Bruno hit the airwaves, it was the perfect mix
of the piano pop I had been writing, and I said, “I could make music
like this!” I loved his debut album, but this new one is even better.
I’m a sucker for pretty harmonies, and he’s got ’em. “Locked Out of
Heaven” has such a catchy throwback beat; “When I Was Your Man” is one
of the most soulful, stripped-down piano ballads to make it on the radio
since Billy Joel, and “Treasure” brings back the joy of the Donna
Summer disco days. He’s inspired me to not suppress great music for the
sake of what sells, but instead to package great music in a way that’s
appealing to the masses.