Alice in Chains

alice in chains

Layne Staley — vocals
Jerry Cantrell — guitar
Mike Inez — bass
Sean Kinney — drums
EARLY 1987
Alice in Chains forms in Seattle.

APRIL 1989
After being pursued by several record companies, Alice signs with Columbia, after learning Mitch Miller was no longer head of A&R.

JUNE 1990
Columbia releases the band’s first EP, We Die Young.

AUGUST 1990
Alice in Chains’ debut album, Facelift, is released. “We Die Young” becomes Top 5 metal track.

SEPTEMBER 1990
First U.S. tour date at Marquee Club in Westminster, CA. An overflow crowd of 20 elbows its way in.

OCTOBER 1990
Band sells out New York’s Cat Club for Halloween.

NOVEMBER 1990
Alice tours with Iggy Pop, introduces songs “Dirt” and “Rooster” to audiences, who don’t give a flying f**k.

DECEMBER 1990
Band sells out Moore Theater in Seattle. Concert filmed by acclaimed director Josh Taft, and later becomes Live Facelift, the band’s home video release.

JANUARY 1991
Band nominated for American Music Award for Favorite Heavy Metal Artist. They lose.
Alice films movie debut, playing part of sleazy bar band in Cameron Crowe’s film, Singles. They perform the song “Would?” Oscar buzz begins on the set.
“Man In The Box” is released, and makes an interminable 26- week climb into the Top 20. Video plays on MTV for 16 weeks.

FEBRUARY 1991
Band tours Europe with Megadeth. They’re nominated for a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance. They lose again.

MAY 1991
“Clash Of The Titans” Tour with Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth commences. Band debuts the song “Would?” at Starplex in Dallas — the crowd responds by tearing up the Grassy Knoll.
The famed “Combo-pack,” pairing the Facelift album with the Live Facelift home video, is released. The album charts for the first time, nine months after its release.

AUGUST 1991 through JANUARY 1992
Band tours with Van Halen. Eddie thinks the band needs some wardrobe tips and buys everyone new Doc Martens and plaid shirts (including some for himself).

AUGUST 1991
Alice makes national network television debut on ABC-TV’s “In Concert” Show. They rock.

SEPTEMBER 1991
Jerry Cantrell blows his chance for rock immortality when, while skydiving with Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, his parachute opens, and he lands safely.
Facelift certified gold.

NOVEMBER 1991
Alice in Chains records SAP, their second EP. Album title comes from a dream Sean Kinney has in which, at a press conference, he announces the band’s new album is titled “Sap.” Band decides not to mess with fate.

DECEMBER 1991
Hunting in the woods with his brother, Jerry Cantrell believes November has 31 days – he misses December 1st concert with Van Halen. Columbia buys him a pocket calculator for Christmas.
Alice in Chains voted Best New Band in readers’ polls in RIP Magazine and Guitar For the Practicing Musician.

MARCH 1992
Alice plays congenial hosts to the nation as they take “Entertainment Tonight” on a visual tour of the Seattle music scene – pool halls, rock clubs, and other revered dens of decadence.

APRIL 1992
Recording begins on the new album Dirt, with Dave Jerden and the band co-producing. They record through June.

JUNE 1992
Sean Kinney redecorates his apartment by throwing his coffee table out the window.

AUGUST 1992
“Would?” becomes Alice In Chains’ biggest AOR hit to-date, setting the stage for Dirt.

SEPTEMBER 1992
Dirt is released. Written entirely by the band, Dirt paves a grim descent into a fine and private hell. Clearly, Alice in Chains is on a collision course with some dark destiny.
Layne runs over himself while popping a wheelie with his 4-wheel ATV – breaks his foot but not his spirit. Undaunted, he completes Ozzy Osbourne tour in wheelchair and on crutches, never missing a date.

JANUARY 1993
Band performs at two massive festivals in South America. Mike Starr reaches the top of the mountain, then retires.
Bassist Mike Inez joins, causing music world to engage in “Bewitched”-style debate: who was the better Darren?

FEBRUARY 1993
European headline club tour gets underway. Several European countries dissolve into civil war.

APRIL 1993
Alice returns to U.S. to record songs “A Little Bitter” and “What The Hell Have I” for soundtrack to Last Action Hero. Band predicts film will be top box office champ of all time.

JUNE through AUGUST 1993
Alice heads out on “Lollapalooza ’93,” the tour of the year. Joining them are Fishbone, Primus, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Dinosaur Jr., Arrested Development, and Babes in Toyland. Reportedly, Winger was squeezed out of the line-up.

SEPTEMBER 1993
At the end of Lollapalooza, band members evicted from residence. Layne thought Jerry was gonna pay the rent. Jerry thought Sean would. Sean thought Mike would… Band moves to London Bridge Studio in Seattle – lonely, depressed, bored.
While in studio, over a seven-day period Alice writes, produces and records new 7-song EP inspired by previous effort, SAP. Songs include “Rotten Apple,” “Nutshell,” “I Stay Away,” “No Excuses,” “Whale and Wasp,” “Don’t Follow,” and “Swing On This.”
Band rushes to release EP before Stone Temple Pilots can get their own rumored acoustic EP out.
Band names EP Jar Of Flies, after Jerry’s famous high school science lab experiment: two jars of flies, one with food, the other without. The flies without food ate each other (Jerry’s lifelong career indecision between music and entomology is settled on the spot).

DECEMBER 1993
Power fails at Jerry’s house. He is trapped in home for two days because automatic garage door fails to open. Guitarist nearly starves to death because electric can opener also not working. He writes 20 more songs. Cantrell later rescued by ski patrol.
Dirt certified double-platinum.

JANUARY 1994
SAP certified gold. Jar Of Flies unscrewed.

FEBRUARY 1994
Jar Of Flies debuts at #1 on Billboard album chart, the first and only EP ever to reach #1.

MARCH 1994
The E.P.’s first single, “No Excuses,” reaches #1 on all key album radio airplay charts, setting the record for most spins in one week.

APRIL 1994
The second single, “I Stay Away,” is released. The video of the song features not Alice In Chains but an amazing Claymation simulation.

OCTOBER 1994
Mike Inez plays on Slash’s Snake Pit 5:00 A.M. Somewhere. Finds pace with Slash too slow; returns to warm bosom of Alice in Chains.

NOVEMBER 1994
Layne Staley begins work with Mike McCready, Barrett Martin, and Mysterious Baker on a band initially known as Gacy Gang, but soon becomes Mad Season. Album released in March of 1995. Single “River of Deceit” becomes a Top 5 Alternative hit. Album certified gold in May 1995.

MARCH 1995
Jerry Cantrell records “I¹ve Seen All This World I Care To See” for the Willie Nelson tribute album Twisted Willie.

APRIL 1995
Layne, Jerry, Mike and Sean descend into Bad Animals studio to begin sessions for what will become ALICE IN CHAINS. Toby Wright (Corrosion of Conformity, Slayer) produces.

JULY 1995
Sean Kinney plays with Johnny Cash on “Time of the Preacher” for the Willie Nelson album. For some reason, Cash keeps calling Sean “Sue.”

OCTOBER 1995
“Grind,” the first track from ALICE IN CHAINS, leaks to radio prematurely, causing feeding frenzy of radio programmers nationwide.

OCTOBER 6, 1995
“Grind” delivered to radio via satellite uplink to stem excessive spread of taped copies of song.

OCTOBER 31, 1995
To celebrate Halloween properly, the band releases ALICE IN CHAINS in vinyl edition.

NOVEMBER 7, 1995
ALICE IN CHAINS is released on CD and cassette. A new era of hard pleasures begins.

NOVEMBER 25, 1995
ALICE IN CHAINS debuts at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.

JANUARY 2, 1996
ALICE IN CHAINS certified gold and platinum by the RIAA.

APRIL 10, 1996
Alice In Chains tape a performance for “MTV Unplugged” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Majestic Theater. During the group’s first live appearance since January 7, 1994, Alice In Chains debuts a new song, “Killer Is Me.”

JUNE 28, 1996
Alice In Chains warms up the KISS army in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium on opening night of the KISS reunion tour. Alice goes on to play three more shows on the KISS tour (Louisville, June 30; St. Louis, July 2; Kansas City, July 3).

JULY 30, 1996
Unplugged is released. It turns RIAA platinum a month later.

SEPTEMBER 4, 1996
Alice In Chains is nominated for Best Hard Rock Video at the MTV Music Video Awards. They lose.

MARCH 31, 1997
Jerry Cantrell releases his debut album Boggy Depot. It features Sean Kinney on drums, as well as Mike Inez and Les Claypool on bass.

OCTOBER 1998
Alice In Chains record “Died” and “Get Born Again.”

JUNE 29, 1999
Alice In Chains releases “Nothing Safe – Best Of The Box”

Air

air

More apt to cite stately rock paragons Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson as their inspirations than Derrick May or Aphex Twin, the French duo Air gained inclusion into the late-’90s electronica surge due chiefly to the labels their recordings appeared on, not the actual music they produced. Their sound, a variant of the classic disco sound coaxed into a relaxing prozac vision of the late ’70s, looked back to a variety of phenomena from the period — synthesizer maestros Tomita, Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis, new wave music of the non-spikey variety, and obscure Italian film soundtracks. Despite gaining quick entrance into the dance community (through releases for Source and Mo’ Wax), Air’s 1998 debut album Moon Safari charted a light — well, airy — course along soundscapes composed with melody lines by Moog and Rhodes, not Roland and Yamaha. The presence of several female vocalists, an equipment list whose number of pieces stretched into the dozens and a baroque tuba solo on one track; all of this conspired to make Air more of a happening in the living room than the dancefloor.Though Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel both grew up in Versailles, the two didn’t meet until they began studying at the same college. Dunckel, who had studied at the Conservatoire in Paris, played in an alternative band named Orange. One of Dunckel’s bandmates, Alex Gopher, introduced Godin into the lineup. While Gopher himself departed (later to record for the Solid label), Dunckel and Godin continued on, becoming Air by 1995. During 1996-97, the duo released singles on Britain’s Mo’ Wax (“Modular”) and the domestic Source label (“Casanova 70,” “Le Soleil Est Prés de Moi”). Though Air often evinced the same ’60s Continental charm as Dimitri from Paris — due no doubt to the influence of Serge Gainsbourg — the duo had little in common musically with other acts (Daft Punk), in the wave of French electronica lapping at the shores of Britain and America during 1997. That same year, Air remixed Depeche Mode and Neneh Cherry, and joined French musique concrete popster Jean-Jacques Perrey for a track on the Source compilation Sourcelab 3. Signed to Virgin, Air released their debut album Moon Safari in early 1998. The singles “Sexy Boy” and “Kelly Watch the Stars” became moderate hits in Britain, and earned airplay on MTV. Later that year, Godin and Dunckel mounted an ambitious tour throughout Europe and America, though they had originally decided to forego live appearances. Their early singles were collected in 1999 under the title Premiers Symptomes; the duo’s soundtrack to the Sofia Coppola film The Virgin Suicides followed in early 2000.

A3 – Biography

a3

With an eagerly-awaited new album, La Peste, hitting US retail racks on October 24, the radical UK band A3 (known as “Alabama 3” in the UK) will bring the group’s musical mayhem stateside on a club tour beginning November 1 at the Cotton Club in Atlanta, Georgia (see itinerary following). Best-known to American audiences for “Woke Up This Morning,” which plays under the credits for the highly-acclaimed HBO television series “The Sopranos,” A3 combines a high-tech clubland savvy with a deep-rooted blues sensibility, neo-dada aesthetics, and a post-modern situationist performance agenda.

The group–which revolves around a core of 8 members (but may vary in size from 3 to 20 musicians)–last toured the States in 1997. Since certain members of the group were, at that time, denied entry by US Immigration, the impending tour will mark the first time American audiences will be exposed to the full fire-power of A3. La Peste is the follow-up to 1997’s highly-acclaimed Exile On Coldharbour Lane. The music press–from the underground to the mainstream–has taken a strong interest in A3. “Woke Up This Morning” prompted the following responses: Robert Hilburn, covering “The Sopranos” soundtrack album for the Los Angeles Times (February 27, 2000), said, “If you’re not familiar with the splendid HBO series, this soundtrack will probably be your introduction to A3, a little known British outfit whose ‘Woke Up This Morning’ is the opening theme of the show. It’s a funky mix of country, blues and voodoo magic that summarizes the A3 approach.”; J.D. Considine made this observation in the Baltimore Sun (February 10, 2000), “….who’d have thought that made guys would be hip enough to groove to an edgy, alt-rock track like A3’s gritty ‘Woke Up This Morning’? ….for all its club-music smarts, the song itself is deeply rooted in the blues….”; Chuck Eddy found this to say about the track in the Village Voice (March 14, 2000), “….Back-porch picking, barrelhouse piano, and scratchy vinyl effects; then a stoned but electronically embellished lowlife voice imagining the Trenchcoat Mafia… the guy drawls about your head going ding-dong regretting what you did the night before, and how when you woke up everything you had was gone: She’d taken the bed and the chest of drawers, and the boys blamed you for bringing her home. She’s crafty; she f***ed and ran.

Almost immediately you felt sorry. You didn’t think this would happen again.” The group has been gathering kudos for its live performances. After seeing the group perform at London’s Scala on September 28, 2000, the Evening Standard’s Max Bell wrote, “The Scala rocked to the gospel dramas ‘Too Sick To Pray’ and ‘Mansion On The Hill,’ before the gripping rave and sloppy groove of ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlife’ cut in. Fine tunes aside, there was plenty to look at, whether it was the footage of beastly policeman, or the on-stage security and the bandaged children bearing sub-machine guns…. (A3 is) an incitement to get off your butt.”

Clark Collis, writing in Q, the prestigious UK magazine, gave La Peste a “4 (out of 5)” star review and raved, “…while the lyrical input may depress, the wall-to-wall techno-yeehah-ing of the actual music is so funky that the end product will probably have more people putting on their dancing shoes than taking them off.”

A*Teens

A*Teens

25 years after the victory in the Eurovision Song Contest, ABBA reappears, this time as four young artists performing ABBA’s music. A TEENS is the name of the new band. The debut single “Mamma Mia” will be out the summer of 1999. A TEENS consist of four members in their mid-teens, all from Stockholm. Together they perform modern versions of ABBA songs.

A*TEENS started working on their debut CD in November 1998. Together with the producers they picked out twelve songs for the album and continued working on the project in both Stockholm, Sweden, Oslo, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark. The first single “Mamma Mia” will be in the stores the summer of 1999. The original version of “Mamma Mia”, which by the way is ABBAs original producer Michael B Tretows favourite track with the group, was number one in the European charts in 1975-76. It was also the track that launched ABBAs extremely successful career in England, where it went No. 1 in 1975.

Marie on A*TEENS: -It’s a lot of fun singing and dancing to ABBA songs. To mix contemporary music styles with ABBA’s fantastic material is exciting. We look at A*TEENS as a tribute to ABBA, and hope that Bjrn and Benny, who wrote the songs, will like what we do. The video for “Mamma Mia” was shot on the 27th of March 1999 outside of Stockholm. The video includes some references to ABBA videos, like the classic “looks” and poses (back to back). There is also a parallel story about stiff and somewhat dull people in their 30’s coming to life with the help of ABBA’s music. Asked about the video, Sara says: -It’s exciting. We have never done a video before. We never expected this much work for a 3,5 minute video. But we’re having a lot of fun.

The immediate future will put a lot of demands on the A*TEENS, including many nights doing interviews and TV shows, since all the members go to school during the day. -The record company asked if we would really have time for A*TEENS. But we have been singing and dancing 6-7 nights a week for the last few years. There isn’t much more time than that, Amit laughs.

Tatyana Ali

tatyana ali

Some can sing. Some can dance. Some can act. These days very rarely do you encounter a performer with the depth of talent and experience that lends itself to excelling at all three. Meet MJJ recording artist Tatyana Ali, a young vocalist and performer with a history in the performing arts that belies her tender years.

Tatyana Ali. You may not know the name, but the face is almost certainly familiar. It’s a face we’ve watched grow up before our very eyes on the weekly television comedy “THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR.” In her role as Ashley, the younger sister of the family, we saw her blossom and bloom, growing from exuberant pre-teen to sophisticated young woman over the seasons.

Her resume reads like that of someone who’s spent their entire lifetime honing their craft. Perhaps that’s because she has. “I’ve been performing since I was four,” she smiles. When meeting Tatyana in person, one is surprised how someone so beautiful could be capable of generating a charm and appeal that is so immediately approachable and familiar, so very girl-next-door. She is the product of a Trinidadian East Indian father and a Panamanian mother, yet her essence, both onscreen and in real life, is as warmly all-American as the proverbial apple pie.

Equally all-American is her success story, one rooted in hard work and perseverance through the years. “I did theatre in New York, where I had to sing, dance and act,” she continues. Her early stage experience was primarily dramatic, including “Fences,” August Wilson’s acclaimed Broadway production in which she co-starred with the legendary Billy Dee Williams and understudied with James Earl Jones. She appeared on “Star Search,” at the age of seven, where her vocal talent steered her to victory through two rounds in the singing competition.

By age eleven, Tatyana’s talent had taken her all the way to Hollywood, where she quickly landed a role in the television series “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” The sitcom was a hit throughout its six seasons with Tatyana’s ever-maturing presence a highlight up until the final episode two years ago.

Throughout all her acting success her vocal talent was never forgotten. A storyline on “Fresh Prince” a few seasons back called for her to sing and, since then, audiences have been clamoring for more. “After that episode, I would meet people in the street and they’d ask me ‘When is the album coming out?’ ” remembers Tatyana. “This was before I’d even thought about pursuing a record deal!”

It was friend and co-star Will Smith who convinced Tatyana to continue her singing professionally. Will’s belief in Tatyana’s singing talent was so strong he signed her to his production company, Will Smith Enterprises. When asked why he signed Tatyana, Smith jokes, “Because she is almost as talented as I am.” Under his auspices, Tatyana prepared a demo and eventually signed with MJJ Music. Tatyana’s response to Will’s help is heartfelt. “He really believes in me,” says Tatyana. “It’s nice to have people around you who think highly of you.”

The resulting album Kiss The Sky is a languid journey to the heart and soul of modern R&B, a mellow fusion of up-to-the-minute beats and grooves accompanied by heartfelt ballads. Tatyana’s skills are showcased against tracks by a bevy of hot young writers and producers, including Rodney Jerkins, Shawn Stockman of Boys II Men, Vincent Herbert, and the perennially talented Narada Michael Walden. Tatyana’s thoughts on her album, “It’s R&B/Pop – a really relaxing ‘chill’ album. It’s something I would listen to, even if it wasn’t mine.”

The songs walk the tightrope between girlish flirtation and newly found sophistication, much like the artist herself. “Daydreamin’,” the project’s first single, is produced by “the producer of the moment” Rodney Jerkins. The song features a performance by hot New York rappers Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz. The song is about a young girl in love, experimenting with all the ecstasy that young love can bring. Another likely single contender is “Boy You Knock Me Out,” a jazz and hip-hop influenced dance love song. With “He Loves Me,” Tatyana exudes all the confidence of a woman too secure to ever harbor doubt, all – attitude and cool as ice. While on “If You Only Knew” her voice is one of yearning, unfulfilled passion, served up against a simmering, laid-back beat. The beautiful ballad, “Yesterday,” finds Tatyana in a compelling duet with Chico Debarge. The song written by red hot Kelly Price (Puff Daddy, Mariah Carey) speaks of the demise of a love relationship “Yesterday, we said our last good-byes…”

Each song tells emotional tales of young love, and speaks of the steep highs and deep lows of the journey as felt through that especially intense perspective, where a broken heart can quite literally feel like the end of the world.

Her music resonates loudly, perhaps because of the honesty with which each performance is given. The newness of the recording experience – this being her first album – gives her vocals “a really genuine quality. One that I wouldn?t trade at all,” Tatyana remarks. “It’s extremely honest, because I didn’t know how to do it any other way. (My performance) has a certain naivete’ that I like,” she continues. “Towards the end I became a little bit freer with it, with less holding the producer’s hand and more taking off on my own. When I first started recording the album, (I’d request that) everyone turn off all the lights in my booth so they couldn’t see me. And sometimes I’d have them turn down the light in the control room so I couldn’t see them. One of the first songs I was singing, “Through Life Alone,” is a song about this guy who says he’s your best friend leaving. You’re basically crying in the studio only you?re not doing it for a camera, you’re not doing it for an audience, you’re doing it for a little microphone, and it’s really intimate. When I first started, I didn’t know how to block everyone else out. But I learned, and now the lights are on.”

In the two years since “Fresh Prince” went off the air, Tatyana has not had a moment’s rest. Her life has been jam packed with work on this album, two feature film roles, numerous television roles, graduating high school at the top of her class as well as applying to several top colleges and being accepted to every one of them. Tatyana chose to continue her education at Harvard University, although she temporarily deferred her admission this fall in order to complete the recording of her album.

Even though music is Tatyana’s top priority at the moment, she hasn’t quite given up her acting. She just recently finished shooting her part in the upcoming Columbia-Tri-Star feature Jawbreakers, also starring Scream’s Rose McGowan and Pam Grier, which will be released at the end of the year.

Although Tatyana is best known on television for her role on “Fresh Prince” she has acted in many other episodic television shows, most notably “413 Hope Street,” “Living Single,” and “In the House.” TV movies to her credit are “Fall Into Darkness” and “Foster’s Field Trip.”

The great singers take you there, to the heart of their world, and bring you face-to-face with the depth of their emotions, and your own. Intuitively, this young singer’s performance touches the core of this concept – she feels every word that she sings, and you feel them with her.

With Kiss The Sky her talent soars high enough to do just that. And she does it all with enough soul, enough presence to leave you thinking that this is surely only the beginning.

Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event

Busta Rhymes
Artist: Busta Rhymes
Title: Extinction Level Event
Label: Elektra
Rating: 8.5/10

Busta spreads propaganda like butter and his rhymes are just as smooth.

Calling out to the cities across the nation to rise to his power, “Everybody Rise” is the quintessential gnarling Busta. He is one of the rare artists who can continually use hooks that are made up entirely of screaming out just one word without sounding repetitive. Busta’s blaring of “Rise” rings much like that of his first qualified hit, “Whoo-ha!”

The futuristic sound meets the challenge set forth by Busta’s apocalyptic concept. The title track, “Extinction Level Event”, inundates us with Busta’s ferocious rhymes. “Against All Odds” showcases the futuristic qualities, featuring the Space Invaders sound filler. Busta is a business maven and this track is another chance for the entrepreneur to put forth his product, the Flipmode Squad.

Busta’s knack has always been unlikely rhymes with grit and a comedic element. The intro of (actually appearing at the end of track nine) “Gimme Some More” is a funny little piece of chatter. It’s the lyrics that keep you coming back for more. “Ever since Jimmy crack corn/ rockin’ on ever since the day I was born,” found on the song “Party Is Goin’ On Over Here”, is Busta at his playful best.

“Tear Da Roof Off” is destined to be a nightclub smash. Awesome beats flow behind the recurring “where my crew yo?/ Flipmode hit you off/ ya’ll know what to do okay/ tear da roof off.” Next on the hit list is “Keepin’ It Tight”. Its smooth chorus, “alright ya’ll/ you know we keepin’ it tight ya’ll,” is a rhythmic rapture that lays claim to Busta’s name. “Do The Bus A Bus” is a thumping party, satisfaction guaranteed.

Then there are the duets. The first is with Mystikal. “Iz They Wildin Wit Us & Gettin’ Rowdy Wit Us” is a drag racing flurry. Mystikal’s rap firestorm of verbiage is almost impossible to decipher. It took a few days to even begin to comprehend and still I don’t understand all of it. Lest you think that Busta was left in the cold by Mystikal’s pomp, you will quickly hear that his tongue is as twisted and quick as that of his counterpart.

Then there is Janet. Busta brings Janet Jackson on board for an erotic duet entitled “What’s It Gonna Be?!” Janet has been working hard to exchange her girlish image for a more sensual, sexy one. Busta has broken her mold. You’ll be surprised to hear Janet sing “gonna make your body wet/ gonna make your body scream out ‘yeah’/gonna make your body cream/ make you have wet dreams.” Busta’s fans will love this. If you thought the team of Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mariah Carey was hot, wait until you hear the heat in this lewd exchange.

What better way to celebrate the last year of the millenium than with Black Sabbath? “This Means War!!” features Sabbath’s “Iron Man” as it’s musical backdrop. Although Sir Mix A-lot has previously covered “Iron Man”, Busta took it to another level and decided to bring in the iron man himself, Ozzy Osbourne. This is one bizarre, yet intriguing partnership. Ozzy reformulates his lyrics for the chorus allowing Busta to show his dark side.

With an album released each of the last three years, Busta’s knack for writing hooks puts him at the pinnacle of hip-hop’s elite. This seventy-minute album is outstanding.

+ cc

Clay Aiken

clay aiken

Who can explain why a singer becomes a pop star? Sure, talent and ambition contribute to the rise of many singing sensations, but skill and drive alone do not guarantee a berth at the top of the charts. Ultimately, it is an almost inexplicable reaction between a singer and his or her audience that creates a superstar career, sparking the kind of fanatic devotion that propels a performer into the pop stratosphere.

Such was the explosive reaction when Clay Aiken burst onto the music scene. An unlikely pop star, Aiken has remained steadfast in his desire to remain true to the simple values he learned as a child in Raleigh, North Carolina. I still live in the town where I grew up, he says. I like surrounding myself with people I know and love. It is this authenticity that his millions of fans have responded to, an almost supernatural earnestness that feels unconventional in the cynical world of today.

No slave to fickle trends or fashion fads, the singer has once again listened to his heart and has come up with an album that extols the value of love in all of its myriad forms. The singers third CD, A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS, offers fans 10 cover versions of love songs spanning the last three decades, as well as four brand-new songs that are destined to become Aiken classics in their own right.This album is very different than my first, MEASURE OF A MAN, in that I had a lot more say in how I wanted things to be, says the singer. For the first album, they just gave us the songs, and I sang them. This time, Clive Davis, Jaymes Foster [the albums executive producer] and I came up with the songs together. I also felt more confident in the studio while we were recording. Before, it was all just a bunch of knobs and controls. Now, Im comfortable offering my opinion on how the arrangements and mixes should sound.

Though his fans have come to expect him to knock each song into the heavens with his transcendently powerful voicewhich he does here quite masterfully, particularly on Harry Nillsons Without You, the Bad English hit When I See You Smile (written by Diane Warren), and the Foreigner classic I Want to Know What Love Isthe new album also shows off a more mature Aiken, one who is able to add beautiful vocal nuances to such unexpected choices as Bryan Adamss Everything I Do (I Do It For You), Paul Youngs Everytime You Go Away (written by Daryl Hall), and Dolly Partons Here You Come Again (written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil).

Fans like to hear big songs, says Aiken, Thats what people have come to expect from us. I like big songs as well, but on this album, we also wanted to choose songs that expressed different parts of my voice.

To be sure, Partons peppy Here You Come Again, done on A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS as a ballad, shows off a softer, more vulnerable Aiken. I have always liked that song, he says, but I had never sung it before. Foster promised to come up with an arrangement that would suit Aikens voiceand she did. Its truly my favorite song on the album, says the singer.

With classics like Celine Dions Because You Love Me, Elton Johns Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word, and Richard Marxs Right Here Waiting also rounding out the list of covers, one has to wonder if Aiken felt at all intimidated by competing with the original versions.

I did feel a bit anxious about ‘Because You Loved Me,'” the singer offers, “not only because of Celine, but also because the original was produced by David Foster, one of the greatest producers of all time.David has heard our version, and so has Diane Warren, who wrote the song. They both approve of what weve done, and that makes me happy. (Aikens version of Because You Loved Me was produced by Eman. Other producers on the album include John Fields, Andreas Carlsson & Samuel Waermo, Adam Anders, and Russ Irwin & Charles Pettus.)

If any song made Aiken nervous, it was Adamss Everything I Do (I Do It For You). That gravelly voice is so well-known, says Aiken about Adamss iconic rasp, I didnt know if I could do the song justice. With a lovely, restrained vocaland an arrangement with a lilting Celtic feelAikens version is an undeniable highpoint of the new disc; its one of the most romantic songs the singer has ever sung.

The new songs also give Aiken the opportunity to show off his emotional growth, with each track highlighting a different facet of his personality. Everything I Have (written by Jeremy Bose) brings to mind the poignancy of an Art Garfunkel performance. The songs subtle piano and string arrangement allows Aikens naked voice to express the delicious ache of love. Every woman I have played that for absolutely loves it, says the singer. I have people telling me they want to play it at their wedding. A Thousand Days (written by Christian Leuzzi, Aldo Nova & Emanual Olsson) and These Open Arms (written by Jon Bon Jovi & Desmond Childs) are both classic Aiken, with big dramatic vocals and rousing, take-no-prisoners choruses. The fourth new track Lonely No More has a lighter, more playful pop sensibilityand the song also represents Aikens first songwriting credit (along with writers Andreas Carlson, Samuel Waermo, and Mimmi Waermo.)

Perhaps the most astonishing artistic departure for Aiken was the decision to cover the Mr. Mister hit Broken Wings as an ethereal, New Age-like track. With an otherworldly spoken word vocal by poet Erin Taylor, the song is a spectacular tour-de-force. We didnt know if it would work. We took a chance, and Im so happy with how it came out.

Covering such a varied emotional spectrum, but always staying true to the essence of who Clay Aiken is, A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS is bound to please the millions of fans who loved 2003s MEASURE OF MAN (triple platinum and counting) and 2004s platinum MERRY CHRISTMAS WITH LOVE, the best-selling holiday album of that year. (2004 also saw the release of his inspirational biography, LEARNING TO SING: HEARING THE MUSIC IN YOUR LIFE, which reached ..2 on The New York Times Bestsellers List.)

While the accolades that followed his stunningly close second-place finish on the second season of American Idol have validated him in ways that he never could have dreamed of when he was a teacher working with autistic children back in his home state of North Carolina, it is the charitable work that his musical career has enabled him to do that means more to him than anything else these days.

The singer created the Bubel/Aiken Foundation in 2003, an organization that promotes and funds educational and recreational programs for children with special needs. I worked with Mike Bubel, who has autism, when I was going to school at UNCC, says Aiken. His mother was very instrumental in encouraging me to get into this business. The Foundation remains close to the singers heart at all times. My music career has allowed me to do the same thing I was doing beforework with kids with disabilities, he says. It has given me a big stage to talk about the same things I always cared about. I dont get to be as hands-on with the kids anymore, but I do get to work toward enacting change on a much larger scale.

Also important to Aikens life as a humanitarian is his work as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Since 2005, the singer has been passionately committed to supporting the organizations education programs. Not only has Aiken testified before Congress urging the government to allocate more funds for UNICEFs global work for children, he has also traveled to Indonesia and Uganda to see the devastating conditions affecting millions of the worlds children first-handdisease, malnutrition, kidnapping, and war, chief among them. You just cannot believe how some of these kids are forced to live, says Aiken. Its truly heartbreaking, yet many people dont even know these conditions exist. I am hoping to shed light on some of these problems and so that more resources can be allocated to help make things better.

Aiken meant for the title A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS to express the many different kinds of love in the world. Surely, his charitable work expresses a deep and abiding love for his fellow man, particularly the littlest ones among us. Where did such a driving need to help others come from, one cant help but ask? Typical for Aiken, his answer is devoid of any egotism. Where did the desire to help come from? The need for help! he answers matter-of-factly. You know, my mother has always been someone who urged me to help people in need. Maybe thats it. I dont think its something you can learn. Its just something you do.