Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Celine Dion: Bell Centre Montreal August 1st 2016

It was an honour and privilege to see this show. Celine’s mini tour of the summer of 2016 will be talked about for many years to come. I have to admit I was not thrilled when I first saw the setlist from Belgium and France, my setlist would have been quite different, so many of my favorite songs were missing, and many were rarer album tracks and songs she doesn’t often sing. I would have replaced 10 songs with others, but what I heard totally blew me away. I was excited to see a show of hers mostly in French, because let’s face it her French recordings with a few exceptions totally outclass her English repertoire in soul and artistry. Her Las Vegas show is all very “American” high gloss while this show had emotion, subtlety and class. Without singing a note Celine walked on stage, after reciting a snippet of the poem, "Trois Heure Vinght" behind a hidden screen to a 10 minute ovation. She could barely start the first song and new single “Encore un soir”. The song was written by her long time songwriter and collaborator Jean-Jacques Goldman. She asked him to write her one more song, this time about the passage of time as a tribute to Réne. She stood on stage for 2 hours, no wardrobe change, Celine wanted to spend as much time and sing as many songs she could for her fans. She could barely hold back the tears especially when she sang “Et je taime encore” the applauses stopped her right before the refrain for a good 5 minutes. Her orchestra with a full string section was breathtaking; this is what a real concert should sound like, no theatrics, just fabulous music, and an incredible vocalist, the real original definition of a “Diva”. She premiere a new song which was voted by the public to appear on her new album, written by unknown songwriter Daniel Picard, the song “À la plus haute branche” was stupendous; you could hear a pin drop. Even songs like « Tous les blues sont écrits pour toi » which is not a favorite of mine sounded better than the record and will make me revaluate them. “L'amour existe encore” and “Pour que tu m'aimes encore” was sung with maturité and beautiful vocal restraint. One of the cleverest moments of the night was her new version of “Naziland, ce soir on danse” from Luc Plamondon’s big rock opera Starmania. Céline had asked her producers to figure out a way to incorporate Réne’s favorite TV show and theme song “Law & Order” into a song, when she explained it I thought it was crazy but the result was fabulous. When I heard the first notes of “Dans un autre monde” I couldn’t help but get up and dance, but as I looked around the forum I could see I was only one of 5 in the stands standing up and boogieing, most preferred to sit as it was a ballad heavy list. One of the evenings highlights was the acoustic medley of "Apprends-moi / Tous les secrets / Ne bouge pas and Valse adieu", Celine along with her back up singers and a few musician, did a type of campfire sing along which was as worthy as the full orchestra tracks, the ending with just her and the singers doing "Valse adieu" was incredible, it took me a few minutes to realize it was all accapella. I did get up again when she sang “Love Can Move Mountains” into “River Deep, Mountain High”. She obviously did the huge English hits “Because You Loved Me”, “It's All Coming Back to Me Now” which morphed into “The Power of Love”. I cried when she sang “It's All Coming Back to Me Now”, it reminded me of the last concert of hers I saw in 1996 with my then best friend Chris D. my friend has chosen to no longer be around and it just stirred up emotions. She covered “Purple Rain” and her new recorded version of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On”. As a unique twist to our night, she asked us for a favour at the encore. She had to record “My Heart Will Go On” for an American TV show and asked if we could be part of it. The show briefly stopped as she explained that there would be camera cue’s, she would talk to the American audience in English, then sing the song.  She asked us to light up the stadium with our cell phones, hoping that we had enough power left over; that along with glow sticks they were selling at the kiosque produced an incredible sight. The show ended with her love and peace pledge “S'il suffisait d'aimer”, she then sang an accapella snippet of “Vole” and faded into the background as the lights went down.

I really hope this concert is recorded and is set to appear on CD and DVD, not everybody got the chance to see it live, and some of us want to experience it again.

Merci Celine,

1.    Trois heures vingt (A cappella snippet)
2.    Encore un soir
3.    Je crois toi
4.    Qui peut vivre sans amour ?
5.    Immensité
6.    Et je t'aime encore
7.    Pour que tu m'aimes encore
8.    Terre
9.    À la plus haute branche
10. Ordinaire (Robert Charlebois cover)
11. Because You Loved Me
12. It's All Coming Back to Me Now / The Power of Love
13. Le vol d'un ange
14. L'amour existe encore
15. Apprends-moi / Tous les secrets / Ne bouge pas / Valse adieu
16. Tous les blues sont écrits pour toi
17. Dans un autre monde
18. Naziland, ce soir on danse
19. Purple Rain (Prince cover)
20. Love Can Move Mountains
21. River Deep, Mountain High
22. The Show Must Go On (Queen cover)

23. My Heart Will Go On
24. S'il suffisait d'aimer
25. Vole (A cappella snippet)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Celine et Moi

A family friend once told me "You always knew she would be a huge superstar". Truth be told I never realised how big she would become, I just thought she had a phenomenal voice and I loved her music.

Celine Dion first captured my attention back in 1987. I was working in a department store in Laval on the north shore of Montreal Quebec. Celine and her mom could often be spotted shopping at the store, in those days, while being a Quebec celebrity she was wasn’t the huge paparazzi draw she is now, so it was common to spot her around town.

Celine’s album "Incognito" was stocked in the store and the record would play over the store’s speakers. "Incognito" was the first record of Celine’s I bought and it would start a long love affair with her music and concerts. I knew she previously had a career in Quebec as a "young child" singer, I knew she sang that song "Une Colombe" for the Pope’s visit, but she was never really on my radar. "Incognito" was her first "adult" French album for Sony Records, only 8 songs long, normal for that time era" but every song stood out, no filler in those days. One track that really got my attention was "Jour De Fievre", it was different to the usual ballad type song she would sing, it had a type of gusto and grit in her voice with a dancy edge.

As fate would have it Celine was hired to advertise a commercial jingle for my workplace, does anybody remember "Montreal c’est ma ville mais Simpson c’est mon style"? To premiere the ad all of Simpson’s employees were invited to a special show at the Theatre St Denis in Montreal. I remember waiting in line to get in, while others just kind of sauntered in, I was the first to run up to the front of the stage and got a seat right up front. She only sang 4 songs and premiered the new ad, but my jaw dropped at her voice. I was always cynical and under the impression that most artists got their voices fixed in the studio for their records, that nobody could sound that good but there she was just a few feet in front of me and she blew me away. I remember right after the show I went up to the stage, clutching her vinyl record I brought with me and asking the two guards if I could get an autograph. They oddly responded "Celine est dans sa douche", "Celine is already in the shower", so I left with no autograph but that would not be my last chance.

A few years later Celine premiered on English TV in Canada at the Juno’s singing "Have A Heart" an English translation of her song "Partout Je Te Vois" from her "Incognito" album, her performance was the talk of the show and this would launch her international English career.

In 1990 that song was featured on her first English album "Unison" but another song "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" would be the breakthrough. As a kid growing up I would spend my Sunday mornings listening to Casey Casem’s American Top 40, I wouldn’t leave the house till he got to #1. I knew how hard it was for a Canadian artist to have a top ten hit, let alone an unknown French Canadian. Despite loving "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" I never though she would succeed on her first try, but my jaw would drop again when the song cracked the top 40, then the top ten, all the way up to #4.

Not long after the album Unison was released, I was attending the international car show at the Montreal Olympic Stadium, I was supposed to meet up with some friends, they were late, I was bored but I always had my camera with me, an old SLR with film, no digital in those days. At one point I turned around and was shocked to see Celine at the Chrysler booth signing autographs, she was the spokesperson at the time but I had no idea she would be there. I knew I had to get a shot of her but I was so nervous, so I hesitated, at one point she got up to take a break and as she was walking out I got enough courage and asked if I could take her picture. I wasn’t sure the shot would come out, but to this day, while not being the sharpest picture I ever took it’s one of my favorites. She looks fabulous and glamourous, it’s not the most posed shot either, I snapped it pretty fast, not giving her much time to smile.

I did get her autograph and took another shot of her signing. I finally found my friends, I probably talked their heads off about seeing Celine and getting her picture, but none seemed as trilled as I was.

At this point I was transferred to work in Downtown Montreal for the Hudson’s Bay Department store. I worked as a greater, security guard at the front entrance. I remember one day this lady came up to me asking if I knew where the coat check was. She was wearing sunglasses and a kerchief was covering her hair but I thought there was something familiar about her, it wasn’t seconds later that a bunch of follow employees came up to me to ask what Celine wanted, it figures her biggest fan wouldn’t recognize her, it still makes me laugh to this day.

As her English career started soaring her French Recording career, would take a huge leap forward. Celine’s 1991 album "Dion Chante Plamondon" consisted of songs entirely written by well renowned French lyricist Luc Plamondon (Starmania). That album would make the French community around the world take notice and move her from just a pop singer to a serious interpreter of song. The album covered some of Plamondon’s most famous songs like "Les blues du businessman" and "Un garçon pas comme les autres (Ziggy)" a #2 hit in France, he also wrote 4 new songs for her including’ L’amour existe encore" which remains a huge favorite and considered one of his best.

Celine could have easily faded away as a one hit wonder in the USA, but as she was preparing her sophomore English album, Disney came to her with the opportunity of recording "Beauty & The Beast". If you hadn’t heard of her before, there was no escaping the film and this song. The duet with Peabo Bryson climbed up to #9 on the Billboard charts and in 1993 won them a Grammy award for "Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal"

To launch the new album in Montreal, Celine would appear at another department store, this time Eaton’s for a signing session. I knew this was my chance, I had two 8 x 10 prints done of that fabulous picture I took of her at the car show. Along with my best friend, we waited in line. I not only got her to autograph that fabulous photo I took, but I gave her a copy, and this time I got my picture with Celine.

I doubt Celine still has that picture but I still got mine. Her eponymous album titled "Celine Dion" went on to produce the Billboard Chart #4 single "If You Asked Me To", while songs like "Love Can Move Mountains" was #1 in Canada. Both written by Diane Warren they were not their last hits or collaborations together.

In April of 1993 Celine played 6 nights at the Montreal Forum, I saw her not once but twice. I already had a ticket for the 6th of April, but as I left work downtown on the opening night of her shows I passed by the concert forum. There were scalpers as usual selling tickets, I hate scalpers and as a rule I never buy from them, but it was 5 minutes to show time and they didn’t seem to be able to sell all their tickets, I got a ticket for under the value, I paid $25 for a $35 ticket and for once cheated the scalpers who sell for ridiculous high prices and in those days were actually breaking the law.

From this point there was no stopping Celine. Her next album "The Colour Of My Love" produced her first #1 Billboard Hot 100 Hit, "The Power Of Love". The song was a cover but neither it’s originator Jennifer Rush (who had a #1 in the UK with the song) or others like Laura Branigan or Air Supply could make it in the States. On the 30th of March 1994 I saw one of her 6 concert nights at the Theatre Du Forum.

In French Celine would record the album that would become her opus and benchmark. Simply title D’Eux, a play on words meaning "Two", "Them", "About Them" or "From Them". The album was mostly written by French singer songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, and went on to become the biggest selling album in French history. It’s hard to explain the difference between Celine’s French and English repertoire, but most fans consider her French music of a higher art. Her English albums are usually written and produced with a huge committee of people while albums like D’Eux are more of a concept album, one or 2 people and tightly produced.

The music has less of a standard middle of the road, pop chart appeal, the big epic type ballad with the huge soaring voice in every song is not present. In French they seem to restrain her voice and use it where it is necessary in the song, the lyrics are pure poetry. Listing to it today songs like "Pour que tu m'aimes encore", or my favorite "Destin" are not dated but remain classics. In 1998 Jean Jacques and Celine would repeat this feat with her next French album "S’il Suffisat D’aimer" meaning "If Loving Were Enough", the title track along with others would become classics that she still sings today.

If D’Eux was her French opus, her next album "Falling Into You" would be her English one. The first single, the Diane Warren written tune "Because You Loved" was already #1 on the Billboard Charts. I remember buying the CD, coming home and again my jaw dropping again as I heard "It’s All Coming Back To Me Now" from the first note of the song I was hooked with this fantastic Jim Steinman jem, it’s still my favorite English song of hers. Not only would it become one of her biggest selling albums but it won two Grammy’s including the coveted "Album of the Year Award" beating out Mariah Carey’s fabulous "Daydream" album. In 1996 my best friend and I would see her "Falling Into You" tour at the newly built Molson Center now the Bell Center, for a sold out show.

Many casual fans seem to only remember the next song and she is forever positively or negatively attached to it. Nothing was bigger than Titanic Movie and "My Heat Will Go On". Her album "Let’s Talk About Love" sold over 31 million copies around the world going diamond status in Canada and selling over 10 million in the US. While she hasn’t surpassed these sales with her more recent outputs she still releases fabulous records and plays to sold out shows.

There’s one last thing that I need to say about Celine and the music industry. I’ve noticed over the years that sadly many huge megastars and certain musical genres, are easy targets for backlashes. The "Disco Sucks" era with the BeeGee’s, along with the infamous burning of disco albums at the Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1979 is one prime example, Celine while not as severe, is another example. I get friends and family members going "ick" or "yuck", "Why would you spend your money on her or go to her shows". My boss calls her a freak. Speaking of work, we play music in the store, we are allowed to bring our own CD’s and playlist, but I am forbidden to play Celine. I once made a holiday mix on my Ipod, I just dumped all the Christmas songs together, when by accident one of her songs came on and I was given the dirtiest of looks and told to take it off. We’ve played the gamut at work from jazz, country, rock, Taylor Swift to even Led Zeppelin.

I’ve never understood this phenomenon. I can understand not liking certain music genres or songs, I do too, but why this type of angry distain? Isn’t there enough hate in this world? It seems to be more than just her music, but why? Celine doesn’t do anything crazy or horrible, she isn’t into drugs, or over partying, she hasn’t broken the law or been to jail, yet these clean cut artists are always ridiculed and considered less than their contemporaries. Some people don’t seem to like her personality but I think she is fabulous, always funny, down to earth in interviews although sometimes too truthful, she works hard to put on a great show, she doesn’t seem to be a diva (in the bad sense), and she seems to treat her company of workers very well. Yes her life story is very much public and always out here, but the recent passing of her beloved Rene and that hardship only makes her more human and relatable in my opinion.

I love Celine, I love her music and nobody can take that away from me. Because of life’s circumstances, The "Falling Into You" tour was the last time I saw her in concert, it’s been twenty years. This August we will meet again at the Bell Center in Montreal, a long time waiting.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Top Ten of 2015

I got lazy last year and never got around to writing a review for my top ten albums, maybe I just got tired writing detailed reviews for each album or maybe it wasn’t a very inspiring year for music. I thought it was time to post both my 2014’s and 2015’s top list. It seems fitting putting those two years together in one blog since a few of those albums from Sam Smith, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran crossed over and could be on either list.

Best Albums of 2015

1.“Paper Gods” Duran Duran: The boys are like a very fine wine, they only get better with age. This album is not as cohesive as their predecessor “All You Need Is Now”, but it is one hell of an album, from the opening anthem “Paper Gods” it is superbly recorded and produced. The album is much more modern sounding then anything they done in years, from the vinyl groove of “Pressure Off” produced by legend Nile Rodgers to the best cut “Last Night in the City” which makes you want to never leave the dancefloor. For those wanting the classic “Duran” sound “Face For Today” and the “Save A Prayer like”, “What Are The Chances” fit the bill. The album’s opus “You Killed Me With Silence” with its “Chauffeur” like atmosphere, and odd verses against the chorus is one of their best. One of my favorites “Sunset Garage” is the first time I’ve seen Duran channel the Motown sound and to suburb effect, I could have easily seen the Temptations covering this. “Butterfly Girl” is kind of an odd track but it’s heavily drum sounds give it a bit of “Power Stations” feel. Yes there are a few missteps like “Dancephobia” with Lindsey Lohan, and the album kind of loses steam at the end but it still a very fine wine.

2.“Rebel Heart”—Madonna”: At 19 songs I find the album a bit long, but pruned down to about 12 tracks, it’s her best album since “Ray Of Light. From the singles “Living For Love” to “Ghosttown” which should have been huge hit, this album puts Madonna in ripe form. Best tracks include the autobiographical “Joan Of Arc”, Devil Pray” and the title song, this is the direction Madonna should take, the song “Rebel Heart” is her most heartfelt and endearing ever. “Body Shop” is a cute retro style “True Blue” song that only Madonna can pull off. I’m not a fan of tracks like “Bitch I’m Madonna” "Iconic"or “Holy Water” but then some would argue that those are more like “Madonna” the the rest.

3.  “No Place In Heaven”—Mika: Excellent album from one of the most underrated pop musicians. Best tracks include “Good Guys”,  the hilarious poppy “All She Wants” about a mother longing more for her son and the dancefloor track “Staring At The Sun”. The album has it’s tragic but beautiful storytelling with the Freddy Mercury inspired “Last Party” and the superb title track. If you haven’t checked out Mika please do so.
4. Made In  The AM”-One Direction: Manufactured or not they make good pop records, with every album they seem to grow up just a bit. Lead single “Drag Me Down” written by their songwriting team of Julian Bunetta and Jamie Scott is one of their finest singles. Unfortunately, they chose 2 of the worst tracks to follow up, “Perfect” and “Infinity” are OK but they don’t compare to what follows. “If I could Fly” or “History” could have easily replaced them. All members of the group seem to have their hand in co- writing most of the songs. They channel a retro Fleetwood Mac groove on the fab “What A Feeling” and just as lovely is “I Want To Write You A Song”. Two of my favorites, the totally different “Never Enough” and the Harry Style co-written beatle-esque “Olivia” could have put the group in another league above the typical boy band.

5. “X”--Ed—Sheeran: A funky rhythm and soul album that infuses rock, pop and rap. Ed knows no boundaries; he does everything to perfection from the emotional ballads of “The One”, “Photograph” and “Thinking Out Loud”, to his beautiful falsetto and craftsmanship as a musician.  I prefer Ed when he gets down with the tracks like “Sing” and “Don’t”, it’s hard to believe that a ginger white guy is this funky.

6.“L’orchestre Symphonique De Montréal”—Mika: Team up one of the most underrated pop stars with Montreal’s incredible Symphonic Orchestra and you get one of the most fabulous sounding albums. This project proves just how talented and what a great songwriter Mika is, even odd chosen tracks like francophone “Boum Boum Boum” are perfect.

“Unbreakable”—Janet Jackson: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis return to produce her best album in over two decades”. On the title track they turn Janet’s velvet vocals and sprinkle their magic slow jam groove that moves throughout the record. Janet uncannily channels her brother Michael on the fabulous “The Great Forever”. Favorite tracks include “2 B Loved”, “Shoulda Known Better” and the retro “Jacksons 5/Escapade” “Gon' B Alright”.

8. "1989"--Taylor Swift:
What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said. Like it or not it’s a pop juggernaut. From the solids hits “Blank Space”, “Shake It Off", “Style” and “Wildest Dreams”, producer Max Martin and Swift made a blueprint to the perfect pop album and put the music industry back on it’s feet. The one misstep is the childish nursery rhyme “Bad Blood” whom without Swift's name and billion buck video, in my opinion, would have never hit #1. My favorite is still “I Know Places” co-written with Ryan Tedder.

9. “Get Up”—Bryan Adams:
Produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynn, Bryan puts out another fantastic album. Opener “You Belong To Me” is a rockabilly Traveling Wilburys type record, but the rest of the album is all Adams. The retro sounding rock anthems “Go Down Rockin’” and “That’s Rock And Roll” could have easily followed up “Reckless” back in 1985. “We Did It All” could be up there with some of his biggest hits as well as lead single “Brand New Day”. “Don’t Even Try”, feels like a long lost early Beatles record. In case you want to hear what the some of the song would sound like without Lynn’s production, Adams give you 4 acoustic tracks.

10.“All American Boy”-Steve Grand: One of the biggest Kickstarters campaigns, Steve Grand delivered a great album to his fans and backers. They dubbed him the “gay country singer” but I would place him more in the Bryan Adams area of music. The title track was one of my favorite songs a few years ago and he follows it up with superb tunes like “Stay”, “Say You Love Me”, and “Time”. A bit out of place on this album but my favorite, is the dance anthem “We Are The Night”, maybe he can one day do a full hi NRG album. Looking forward to hearing what Steve does next.

Best Singles of 2015
  1. “Marvin Gaye”--Charlie Puth and Meagan Trainor
  2. “Ghost”—Ella Henderson
  3. “Drag Me Down” One Direction
  4.  “Ghosttown”—Madonna
  5.  “One Call Away”--Charlie Puth
  6. “Living For Love”—Madonna
  7. “Last Night In The City”—Duran Duran featuring Kieza
  8. “Pressure Off” Duran Duran featuring Janelle Monae and Nile Rodgers
  9.  “More Then Silence” Culture Club
  10. “Sugar”—Maroon 5
  11. “Sing” Ed Sheeran
  12. “Uptown Funk”—Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars

Top Albums of 2014

1. "50 St. Catherine's Drive" Robin Gibb
2. “Sweet Talker”Jessie J.
3. “In The Lonely Hour” Sam Smith 
4. “High Hopes” Bruce Springsteen 
5.  “Xscape” Michael Jackson
6. “Kiss Me Once” Kylie Minogue 
7. “Songs Of Innocence” U2
8. “Never Been Better” Olly Murs 
9. “Four” One Direction 
10. “3” Take That  

Top Singles of 2014

  1. Alan Freeman Days--Robin Gibb
  2. Love Never Felt So Good--Michael Jackson
  3. Stay With Me—Sam Smith
  4. Let It Go-Idina Menzel
  5. Take Me To Church—Hozier
  6. Masterpiece—Jessie J.
  7. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)—U2
  8. Night Changes--One Direction
  9. Up-- Olly Murs & Demi Lovato
  10. I’m Not The Only One—Sam Smith
  11. Into The Blue-Kylie Minogue
  12. Wrapped Up-Olly Murs

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