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August 17, 2014

Ron Roecker's Track-by-Track Review of Amy Grant's "In Motion: the Remixes" Out Tuesday, August 19 Might Surprise You


If you were even a little bit alive in the early 1990s, either you had a copy of Amy Grant’s mega pop masterpiece “Heart in Motion” on cassette tape or three of your friends did!  The album was the equivalent of a Katy Perry album today – pure pop perfection!  It sold more than 5 million copies and spawned 5 hit singles: “That’s What Love is For,” “ Every Heartbeat,” “Good for Me,” “I Will Remember You” and her biggest hit to date “Baby, Baby.”

In 1991, if you asked me what the chances were of Amy releasing a dance remix version of “Baby, Baby” in 2014 that would hit #8 on the Billboard Dance Club chart (and climbing), I would have said, “not a snowball’s chance in, well, heck.”  (BTW, “Baby, Baby” is indeed at #8 on the Club Charts at publishing time of this review and has a solid chance of moving into the top 5 this coming week, if not hitting top 3 (23 years after it was originally released!))

SKEPTICAL
I digress… Yes, I am a huge fan of Amy Grant as an artist and as a human being.  However, I am a huge fan of pop remixes and pop remix producers (I probably have 200 different Madonna remixes alone) as well, so I’m always skeptical when an artist decides to do a remix project when he/she hasn’t had much experience with creating club remixes and with the club culture (such as Amy Grant).

About a month ago, I was sent a super secret stream to preview the entire album.  Cut to the chase…skeptics are made to be proven wrong as I haven’t taken it out of heavy rotation in my car, home, office, gym (if I went to the gym), etc.! 

GRANT DID HER RESEARCH
The GRAMMY-winning, multi-platinum producers who participated on the album have created mega, multiplatinum remixes for the likes of Gaga, Madonna, Adele, Britney, Beyonce, Justin, Rihanna, Whitney and Katy.  The producers include Tony Moran, Warren Rigg, Dave Aude, Chris Cox, Ralphi Rosario, Moto Blanco, 7th Heaven, Hex Hector, Guy Scheiman, and Mark Picchiotti.  These are some of the biggest players in EDM and they’re remixing songs by one of my favorite artists of all time Amy Grant?!  The only thing that could be more spectacular than that would be, say, a gaggle of shirtless hunks riding majestic stallions down the middle of a cartoon koi pond baring gifts of nachos and diet coke to yours truly!  HEAVEN.

WHAT GOT REMIXED?
And back to Amy…Kudos to her for not going what may have been the easier route of releasing an album of only commercial hits – the producers dug deep into her vast catalog of songs, finding and remixing tracks from a variety of career stages and albums (but not touching her most recent collection “How Mercy Looks from Here”), including “”Heart in Motion” (Baby, Baby; Every Heartbeat, That’s What Love is For, You’re Not Alone), “Simple Things” (Out in the Open), “Somewhere Down the Road” (Better Than a Hallelujah), “The Collection” (Stay For A While), Unguarded (Find a Way) and “Lead Me On” (Say Once More).   

KEY TO SUCCESS
The thing that is quite evident is that the producers who participated have a great respect for Amy Grant as a musician, songwriter and pioneer and her respect for them is equal to that (notice she credits each song as “featuring (insert producer’s name)” as opposed to simply listing them as the remix producer in the liner notes).

Amy Grant’s “In Motion: the Remixes”
Various Producers
Available August 19, 2014
Track-by-Track Review
By Ron Roecker
August 17, 2014

Track 1: “That’s What Love is For” (featuring Chris Cox who has created huge remixes for Madonna, Celine, Mariah, Whitney, Britney, Deborah Cox)                                                               

If you want to know what this remix project is all about and whether or not Amy and her collaborators were serious, get the album, turn up the volume and push play as “That’s What Love is For” starts off the entire dance party.  As Deborah Cox once told me, you can’t have a great remix without a great original song.  I think Deborah would say “That’s What Love is For” is one of those goodies!  A beautiful song co-written by Amy, it’s her biggest ballad so far, and let me tell you…this is one of the best remixes on the entire album – it will take you gladly or kicking and screaming to the dance floor and you’ll still be dancing even when it’s over – while you congratulate yourself for still knowing all the words.  The credit goes equally to Grant’s song writing power and producer Chris Cox who approaches every remix as a musician and not a producer first.  He’s incredibly talented and musical and turned this ballad into a bona fide club thumper that has all the makings of a massive hit! Since Amy has released both “Baby Baby” and “That's…Love” prior to the album release I am assuming this is going to be the 2nd single. 

Although it’s an incredibly solid choice, I would have picked a different one for 2nd single (read on to find out which!)…

Track 2:  “Stay For A While” (feat Tony Moran and Warren Rigg (these legends have worked with Madonna, Mariah, Celine, Kylie, Ricky Martin, Celine…you name it.)

This track was one of the new singles included on Amy’s first Greatest Hits project “The Collection” when it was released in 1986.  It became a big hit – again, pop perfection here.  Moran and Rigg have produced some of my favorite remixes of all time so I had really high hopes for this track.  The brief acapella intro and the subsequent beats that almost lift you out of your chair are a sure sign that this is going to be a great track all on its own.  It doesn’t disappoint!  Try listening to it and NOT belting out the chorus…all day!

Track 3: “You’re Not Alone” (feat Guy Scheimen who has worked with Rihanna, Lady Gaga, JLo and has single handedly become the fave DJ of gays from club-to-club and coast-to-coast)

THIS IS THE TRACK I WOULD HAVE PICKED FOR THE 2ND SINGLE WITHOUT A DOUBT. The EDM crowd will eat this remix UP thanks to its “I’ve got your back” theme and production that sort of harkens back to the jumping, playful beats of “The Popcorn Song” from the mid-80s.  With Scheimen’s skyrocketing career, this will be of interest to club DJs without a doubt.   Amy ate some Lay’s potato chips before she recorded this, as that’s how she gets that extra raspy edge to her voice when she wants it.  Combine that with very relevant and much-needed affirmation that “you’re never alone” which will resonate like crazy with teens and club goers, and then top it all off with a production that’s probably a little harder and edgier than any of the other tracks and you have a remix that is Madonna-worthy.  Yes, I did.  I just said a new Amy Grant remix is Madonna-worthy. (Oh my Cher, can you imagine if Amy and Madge did a duet???!!  Texting Amy now…)

Track 4: “Every Heartbeat” (feat Moto Blanco who have remixed Adele, Lady Gaga, Janet, Jlo, Cee-Lo, and more) 

If you love the original version of this song (it was the 2nd biggest hit off of “Heart in Motion”), you are going to be absolutely giddy with this dance remix by the British duo.  The remix takes the original and wraps it in a more modern beat while keeping the playfulness in tact and the chorus bubbly -- without ever becoming too cutesy. 
If anyone who hears this doesn’t automatically start singing and dancing all over themselves then those poor souls are dead inside.  ‘Nuff said.

Track 5: “Better than a Hallelujah” (feat Mark Picchiotti who has worked with The Killers, Kylie Minogue and Beyonce to name a few, and has made his mark as a house music and remix producer of Gospel). 

He was very ambitious when he set out to do what he did with this very brooding song.  And he started by adding an entire gospel choir all throughout the song. 

I thought this was a risky choice at first and when I heard what the producer tried to do with it, I had to give him props.  If you know the song (and especially the video), it’s not a song that makes you wanna get up and twerk…it’s very heavy.  But the remix takes us to church and makes it an uplifting, full-on anthem. This is a single that I would have loved Amy to record new vocals on, as her vocals from the heartbreaking original don’t match the through-the-rafters intensity of the new remix.  Laying down new vocals that were really feeling the spirit would have made this the most powerful track on the album.  However, it’s an inventive approach and reworking of one of Amy’s newest classics.  I dare you not to move or sing or raise your arms, children…’cause Amy and Mark are takin’ us to CHURCH with this one.

Track 6: “Find a Way”
And then we come to “Find a Way” – one of Amy’s very first crossover songs that is a fan favorite. It’s also one of my old personal faves and when I saw that Ralphi Rosario (yes, another one of my fave DJs/Remixers) was on the job, I couldn’t wait to be blown away by the new version.   However, it’s my least favorite remix on the album and that lies squarely on the shoulders of Rosario who phoned in his part at best.  Thinly layered, repetitive and uninteresting – he wastes a sing-along chorus that begs to have a huge build up and then fireworks shooting out of it’s end.  I mean, all I keep hearing in my head is a truly inspired dub step treatment of the song and VOILA…you have a “Find a Way” masterpiece.  Unfortunately, didn’t happen on this one..

Track 7: “Baby, Baby” (featuring Dave Aude who has worked with everyone who’s popular today!)

It’s a 23-year-old song that was remixed by one of the hottest DJs in the world and it’s #8 on the current Billboard Dance Club Chart.  So do the math if this is a good one or not!

Track 8: “Say Once More” (feat Hex Hector who has worked with Madonna, Mariah, Celine, Britney, Justin, Pink and more)

A haunting, beautiful love song off Amy’s contemporary Christian masterpiece “Lead Me On” (it is considered one of – if not THE -- Best Contemporary Christian albums of all time).  This is reworked into a modern, beautiful and lyrical ode to unconditional love.  Like Dave Aude and Chris Cox, Hector is a musician who is able to create a new dance landscape for his remixes while holding on to the original’s essence.  This is another catalog track that wasn’t a commercial hit (it was never released as a single) but because of the caliber of producer and the quality of the song, Amy and Hex were able to make a gorgeous new anthem of unconditional love that is as modern as it is touching.

Track 9: “Out in the Open” (remixed by one of today’s hottest producing teams 7th Heaven who has remixed for Demi Lavato, Britney, Katy, OneRepublic, Pink, Lady Gaga, and many others)

This little known song from her album “Simple Things” from the early ‘00s, which should have gotten more attention than it did, isn’t one that any die-hard would have on his/her radar necessarily.  But here it is…It’s my favorite track on the entire album – why? All the creative juices of the various parties involved collide and mesh so well that it truly creates a new masterpiece of a song.  It’s a beautiful, timely song tonally, lyrically, thematically and musically. 

It starts off dramatically with an electronic boom as if it were a drum roll and in comes that sweet alto voice almost acapella:

“They were the sweetest words I’d ever heard
My heart could barely take it in
Like water offered to the lips of a tired and thirsty man
‘cause it’s a tangled web I’ve woven
I don't’ know all the reasons…
But I’m standing here and spinning ‘round
in the fields of freedom
and I’m still alive and reaching out
and I can feel the healing”

The remix production pays homage to the slow-burn-starts-and-big-thumping-finishes of a Donna Summer hit from the 1970s.  It’s incredibly powerful, and I’m sure why Amy put this as the last official track on the album. It’s the “big finish” that truly is a big finish because it’s not gratuitous and it has a depth that is rarely found – and badly needed -- in most dance tracks today.  Well done with this underdog of a brilliant song that became the leader of the remix pack for me. 

Track 10: Bonus “Stay for A While”
Track 11: Bonus Megamix

So??
In Motion: the Remixes was a risky project for Amy Grant.  If it sounded or felt like she was merely trying to capitalize on the popularity of EDM, it would have prevented any new fans from embracing her and it would have alienated a chunk of her otherwise very loyal fan base. 

Luckily for us, Amy Grant – although it might come as a surprise to those who don’t know a lot about her – is a risk-taker.  She always has been, and I do believe it isn’t in her nature to change now.

If none of these songs had ever been recorded or released prior to this album, the collection of the remixed versions in and of itself would be an amazing, relevant, thought-provoking, dance-til-you-hurt effort.  This is the album that will bridge new fans with the old because it celebrates and embraces EDM and its influencers and it celebrates and spotlights the essence of one of the most prolific songwriters of our time. 

In Motion: the Remixes is a winner for artist and fans alike because it starts with a genuine, mutual respect that the producers and Amy have for each other.  Then the producers were able to start at a higher level because of the quality of the songs which upped everyone’s game.  And when I asked Amy why she wasn’t doing press around the album (she begged her manager for the summer off after touring for 2 solid years), she simply said…thanks to these talented musicians and DJs, I want the music to just speak for itself.  (I think she’s ready for a Madonna duet…definitely!) 

What’s next?
With covers in her arsenal which shout “remix me ASAP” such as Big Yellow Taxi, The Things We Do for Love, and It’s Too Late, hits such as I Will Remember You, Lead Me On, House of Love, Lucky One, Next Time I Fall, and catalog tracks such as The Power, Oh How the Years Go By, Children of the World, What About the Love, Curious Thing, Nobody’s Home and more, I can’t imagine “In Motion 2: the Remixes” isn’t already in the works!

Amy Grant’s “In Motion: the Remixes” is available on iTunes Tuesday, August 19.

July 29, 2014

WINDS OF SAMSARA FROM RICKY KEJ & WOUTER KELLERMAN EARNS #1 DEBUT ON BILLBOARD NEW AGE CHART

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 Critics Call 2-Year Collaboration “Epic, a breathtaking effort, groundbreaking”
with Messages of Peace and Positivity and Participation of More than 120
Diverse, Talented Musicians from Five Continents

JULY 29, 2014 (LOS ANGELES) -- Winds of Samsara (www.windsofsamsara.com), the first collaboration between award-winning South African flutist Wouter Kellerman and award-winning Indian Composer/Producer/Artist Ricky Kej debuts at #1 on Billboard Magazine New Age Chart (Aug. 2, 2014). Two years in the making, the boundary-breaking New Age album spotlights the musical, cultural and political connections between India and South Africa from Mahatma Gandhi to Nelson Mandela.  It boasts performances by more than 120 musicians from five continents and pushes the boundaries beyond what the New Age genre has ever produced.  Winds of Samsara is distributed by Listen 2 Africa, a global company founded by GRAMMY®-winning producer and recording industry veteran Dave Love. Artists such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba, Oliver Mtukudzi, Hugh Masekela and other top talent from this musically and culturally rich region of the world are a part of Love’s ongoing commitment to southern Africa. For more on the label: www.listen2.com

 “We wanted to make an album throughout which messages of world peace and positivity rang true from the core of the collaborative process and the authenticity of the talented musicians who transcended borders and cultural barriers. We could not be more proud and humbled at the response the album has received thus far in only its first week of availability.  To have an album debut at #1 is every artist’s dream; to have it be an album that so many people worked so hard on because we all believed the messages were crucial for our world today makes it even sweeter,” said Kellerman and Kej.

About Winds of Samsara
“Making this album has challenged us as artists to push borders aside and have the one common thread truly be the universal language of music.  We’ve recorded: in L.A., Seattle, Melbourne, Johannesburg, Bangalore, Bulgaria, full orchestras on most of the tracks, choirs in Australia, India and the U.S., and we’ve used instruments in unexpected ways such as a Dobra, pedal steel guitar and complete string sections playing in Classical Indian styles.  The album’s messages of world peace and positivity ring true from the core of the collaborative process and the authenticity of the talented musicians who transcended borders and cultural barriers.  What bound us all together was the desire to create music that could help affect positive change in the world, and we hope people are moved by the end result.”  Ricky Kej & Wouter Kellerman

Winds of Samsara debuted in its first week at #1 on Billboard New Age Charts.  Mastering Engineer is 3-time GRAMMY® winner Gavin Lurssen (including 2001 Album of the Year for O, Brother Where Art Thou? and 2008 Album of the Year for Alison Krauss & Robert Plant’s Raising Sand).  A deluxe edition will be available later this year and includes a 5.1 HD Surround Sound mix by GRAMMY®-winner P.A. Deepak (2009 Best Sound Track Album Compilation from Best Picture Oscar® Winner Slumdog Millionaire).

About Wouter Kellerman
Globe-trotting flutist and composer Wouter Kellerman’s album Two Voices won the 2011 South African Music Award (the nation’s equivalent to the Grammy Awards in the United States) for Best Instrumental Album, reinforcing the artist’s standing as one of his home country’s most innovative musicians. Whether writing intricate instrumental compositions or delighting audiences with a magnetic alchemy of warmth and technical mastery, Kellerman finds his inspiration in the spaces between cultures and countries, genres and disciplines. He thrives on experimenting with the shades, textures, and colors that his flute can bring, pushing the instrument into new planes of creativity.
The last few years have seen Kellerman performing in Berlin, Shanghai, New York, Sydney, and beyond, including an appearance in front of 700-million people as part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Ceremony. Amidst such fun, Kellerman simultaneously channeled his musical and life experiences into collaborations with renowned Indian composer and producer Ricky Kej, often working with his partner digitally, from oceans apart, to sculpt the beautiful musical journey of Winds of Samsara.

About Ricky Kej
A true wizard of the keyboard, manuscript page, and recording studio, Kej has earned multiple awards and honors for his composition and production exploits. His projects include creating music for five feature films, twelve albums released by Universal Music, and over two thousand commercials seen by audiences around the world. A student of both Western and Indian classical music, Kej composed original works for the opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup 2012, held in Dhaka, India; the ceremony was telecast to more than 200 countries and widely heralded for its artistry and execution. For such efforts, Kej was declared an “India Rules Artist” by VH1 in 2013.  Kej was nominated for a Cannes Advertising award for his Nike Jingle, and his previous album Shanti Orchestra was nominated for a ZMR Award (New Orleans) and a Hollywood Music and Media Award (LA).

​Combining a keen sense of culture-jumping harmony, melody, and pacing, Kej synthesizes cutting-edge music technology and traditional instruments of both Indian and European origins into his work, both within the new age genre and beyond. He currently runs two state-of-the-art studios in Bangalore, the Raveolution Studios, where much of Winds of Samsara was developed from spark of an idea to finished album.
Kellerman and GRAMMY-nominated pianist Vincent Lyn will be performing at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall on October 4, 2014.  For more information, visit http://www.carnegiehall.com.

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For More Information & Images of Ricky Kej, Wouter Kellerman, and Cover Art
Ron W Roecker
Enfluence Group
310.384.5641

July 22, 2014

I HAVE HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF KNOWING AND WORKING WITH EMILIO AND GLORIA ESTEFAN FOR MORE THAN A DECADE -- THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THIS SHOW IS GOING TO BE AMAZING!



Broadway Direct | Watch | Gloria and Emilio Estefan Introduce On Your Feet

July 17, 2014

WHAT I LEARNED FROM EMMY AND TONY -WINNING LEGEND ELAINE STRITCH BY RON ROECKER



"Elaine Stritch was a name that I had heard here and there for years growing up but if I were asked what she looked like, I would have crumbled.  Then I started hearing about  "Elaine Stritch at Liberty" -- a one-woman tour de force about the tumultuous career and fiery spirit of Broadway legend Elaine Stritch -- as performed by one woman Elaine Stritch.  So, I bought two tickets and took a friend to go see this woman that I sorta recalled.

At the time she was doing "At Liberty" (an incredibly successful run on Broadway then a national tour of it) -- garnering some of the best reviews of her storied career -- she was 77 years old.  The curtain opened and out came this fiery, feisty woman in a silk cream blouse over black stage tights and black dance shoes.  The outfit would have looked age-inappropriate on anyone -- except Elaine Stritch:  She had a great pair of gams for a woman half her age, an energy that could flood a stadium and charisma that hypnotized everyone who happened to just catch a glance at the 77 year old powerhouse.

She was a legend who always acted like one of the ensemble regardless of where her name was billed -- perhaps some of this was out of fear or lack of confidence or an inner-awareness that she wasn't as pretty as everyone else, she couldn't sing as beautiful or technical as everyone else and life just wasn't handed to her as easily as it appeared to be to every one else. But there was one thing that she was better at than any of her contemporaries -- being Elaine Stritch.  And every character she played, every role she ever performed, you always felt like you saw a part of Elaine Stritch -- I don't mean that she couldn't embody a character and her acting was always the same "Jennifer Aniston in Every Movie" acting style -- but that she brought such an honesty to every role that you felt like you were gaining some insight into the character and the character that was playing her.

I want to say that "At Liberty" had no set or props -- I think I'm correct in saying that ...it was Elaine Stricth standing in front of you on the stage -- the place she called home...and when she would move onto a new topic she would pivot and clap toward the back of the backstage -- that's all and you were then transported to a very different place than she had just presented to y ou.

An admitted alcoholic (who still drank one martini every day  -- no more/no less -- at 3 p.m. until she died), one of the most shocking unveilings by Stritch was when she went to an audition with three (maybe 4) martinis under her belt.  She immediately decided she hated the head writer or creator of the show "I could barely see what they looked like."  Playing scene after scene for this audition which was to be the TV Pilot of a new half hour comedy show, she changed almost every line word by word just to spite the head writer/creator under the pretense of being a free spirit/improv-trained actress. Despite being a shoe-in for one of the four ground-breaking roles prior to the audition, Stritch was passed over and Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty would become some of the richest and  most popular super stars in the history of television -- at an age where your choices of roles were usually either the sassy grandma or the crotchety grandma.

Ten years after "At Liberty" Tina Fey cast Stritch as Alec Baldwin's horrendous and hysterical one-line-zinger-throwing mother on "30 Rock" and she stole scene after scene -- even picking up a well-deserved Emmy award along the way!

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Stritch at a fundraiser a couple of years ago...she seemed distracted and a little  confused about what all was going on, which broke my heart to see. I wanted to meet that feisty, fiery character I had been reading about--  the one who could act out a song til you broke down in hysterics and the one who, if you were paying close enough attention, would have been able to give you some insights into who she was or what she was doing -- a quick wink that said, "Keep up, kid, I'm the puppet master on this stage regardless of what any of it might look like."

And right as I got out of my own head and looked back at this feeble, brittle woman whose capacities were being diminished merely by the facts of life, something caught my eye and I looked right into those eyes that seemed more filmy than before but more buoyant as well. "Keep up kid..."

And before I knew it, I was laughing out loud, soaking in this over the top yet subdued performance by someone who had spent way too much time at boring industry events and fundraisers that simply funded the egos of dimwits. I looked right through her and what I hope she heard me saying was that she quite possibly was the coolest damn Broadway legend I would ever have the honor of almost being punked by again.

Stritchy, thanks for showing us how to handle life when it gets really hard especially at our own hand.  Cheers, and here's to the ladies who lunch... aren't they a gas?!"

With respect and admiration,
Ron

July 16, 2014

I LITTLE BIRDY HAS BEEN ROLLING IN THE DEEP AND RUMOR HAS IT HER NEXT ALBUM IS SIGNED, SEALED AND ABOUT TO BE DELIVERED AT A SURPRISE DATE AND TIME TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU!



25 IS COMING...