Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Haley Reinhart Album

OK, congratulations to Scotty McCreery, winner of this year’s American Idol competition, and Lauren Alaina, the sweet young thing who finished in second place. I come to sing the praises of the third-place finisher, a bright jazz-blues-rock singer from Wheeling, Ill., who has the power to make this middle-aged music aficionado download the studio versions of all of her performances at $1.29 a pop.

Haley Reinhart took her time figuring out what she wanted to do with her gifts, with near-disastrous results – she landed in the at-risk Bottom Three no less than four times. But beginning with a memorably sultry performance of (of all things) Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” Reinhart emerged as the most talented and creative of this year’s crop of would-be Idols.

And the professionals took notice. Producer Jimmy Iovine arranged for Reinhart to cover a then-unreleased tune from Lady Gaga’s new album – sure, it was a shameless promotional gimmick for Gaga, but Reinhart is the one who was offered the gig and (despite the disparaging remarks of the Idol judges) she knocked it out of the park. Then the members of Led Zeppelin gave her the right to do one of their songs – after 10 years of telling Idol “no way.” The result, “What Is and What Should Never Be,” was the single best performance by any contestant this season.

There are 13 Reinhart solo tracks available at iTunes. Putting on my record producer’s hat, this is how I arranged them and have been enjoying during the commute:

1. “Yoü and I” - the aforementioned Lady Gaga cut is an infectious power ballad that builds to a crescendo built on the chord structure to the “Hey Jude” coda. Betcha can’t listen to it just once. The judge’s criticism of her song choice was inexplicable, although it had the side benefit of focusing Reinhart’s energy to come back with the searing version of Song #4 later in that show. “Yoü and I” serves as an energetic opening tune for the album. (Video below)

2. “Rolling in the Deep” - In an episode called “21st Century Songs,” Haley went for with the current #1 song in the country. Smart thinking - and an effective and catchy rendition.

3. “What Is And What Should Never Be” - The song begins with a jazzy bluesy vibe and ends with an psychotic hard rock explosion, and Reinhart negotiates those genres seamlessly. The studio track has the added benefit of no awkward pause in the vocals where she tripped on the stage during the live performance - although it also lacks the marvelous guitar licks that her dad, Harry Reinhart, added live. A track that demands to be played very loud.

4. “House of the Rising Sun” - The song requires raw power and aching vulnerability; in other words, it’s right in the middle of Haley Reinhart’s wheelhouse, and she delivers bigtime. After the unexpected and unjustified criticism of her first song that night, she blistered this one in what (until the Led Zep track) was the most memorable moment of the year.

5. “Call Me” - a competently delivered cover of the energetic Blondie anthem. Hey, after the power of the last two songs we need a party tune.

6. “Piece of My Heart” - In the early rounds where she was still searching for her identity, the judges heard her growl and said she could be the next Janis Joplin. Although this proved there was only one Joplin, it also proved Reinhart might be the next best thing. It’s a good performance that suffers only in comparison with the original. The “We Will Rock You” style drum set adds a dimension.

7. “Bennie and the Jets” - the turning point that turned her star power on. Reinhart weaves slinky jazz vocal elements around the clunky Elton John classic and turns it into something smooth and sexy. How did she find that in this song?! “B-B-B-Bennie and the Jetsssss,” indeed.

8. “Beautiful” - This Carole King gem has always been one of my favorites from “Tapestry,” and Reinhart does it justice. “You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart.” Yep!

9. “I (Who Have Nothing)” - Raw power, aching vulnerability - did I mention Reinhart’s wheelhouse?

10. “Blue” - On country week Haley unleashed her yodel and turned this LeeAnn Rimes nugget into something memorable.

11. “You Really Got a Hold On Me” - Motown week brought this rollicking cover of the Smokey Robinson classic.

12. “Earth Song” - The judges criticized her for picking this Michael Jackson tune as the “song that inspired her,” but in its context as part of this Haley Reinhart album, this fits right in as the dramatic penultimate song.

13. “I’m Your Baby Tonight” - And to conclude our 43-minute jaunt, a Whitney Houston hit. Judges over the years have warned these young singers not to attempt songs by the really really big stars, lest they be overshadowed by the memory of the original. There was no such criticism here. And this rendition ends with a quick little jazzy "I'm your baby, baby beee tonight ..." Perfect way to end the set.

And there you have it, folks, a really nice album by one of the best vocalists American Idol has ever unearthed. The folks behind the show told her to try being Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks or Alanis Morrisette - their suggestions showed they didn’t really know who she could be. The ease with which she melded with Tony Bennett on “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” in the final show of the season, and her duet with Casey Abrams on Art Blakey’s “Moanin’,” gave the strongest hint of the heights of Haley Reinhart’s talent. More, please!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Brushing away the cobwebs ...

No, really.

What is happening here is being caused by a force that, up until a few days ago, was entirely beyond the scope of man's imagination.