Molly Johnson & Rebecca Ferguson Take on Billie Holiday

Both Molly Johnson and Rebecca Ferguson know too damn well that no one can phrase like Billie Holiday and no one can touch the dark corner like Lady Day; therefore, they reinterpret Billie’s repertoire with their own approach: lighter and less serious.

Whereas Johnson still shows some traces of Holiday’s timbre and texture in Because of Billie, Ferguson draws no resemblance in Lady Sings the Blues. “Fine And Mellow” for instance, Johnson’s version is swinging a bit faster than Billie’s, but Furguson takes it to the retro soul. Both versions lost the emphatic of “Love is just like the faucet / It turns off and on,” in which defined Billie’s signature style. In contrast, Ferguson’s rendition of “Lady Sings the Blues” is closer to Billie’s than Johnson’s, which is a faster blues-swing cover.

Because of Johnson’s and Furguson’s vocals and choices of arrangement, they have created different vibes of Billie’s classic materials. For a wine-and-dine time with friends and family, Furguson’s album is ideal. For a more intimate time with a lover, Johnson’s album is the perfect mood. For an up close and personal experience, Billie’s albums remain unmatchable.

You’re Not You

An emotional interaction between Kate, an A.L.S. patient played by Hilary Swank, and Bec, Kate’s caretaker played by Emmy Rossum. While Swank’s portrayal of an A.L.S. victim is excruciating and persuasive, Rossum’s depiction of a wild college student is sincere and convincing. Their powerful performances are the key success of the film.

Trọng Khương – Mộng Bình Thường

Under the mentorship of Đàm Vĩnh Hưng, Trọng Khương released his debut, Mộng Bình Thường, covering standards. From the bluesy opening on “Gởi Gió Cho Mây Ngàn Bay” (Đoàn Chuẩn and Từ Linh) to the closing duet with Mr. Đàm on “Chiều Nay Không Có Em” (Ngô Thụy Miên), Trọng Khương doesn’t have much freshness to offer, specially in this overcrowded market of recording old ballads. The exceptions are the bright swinging “Cô Bắc Kỳ Nho Nhỏ” (Phạm Duy) and the Latin-inflected “Chỉ Có Em” (Lam Phương). Both tunes have the light, joyful vibe that suggests the simple dream he alludes to in the title. The album would have worked better if he opted for more strip-down productions.

All Joy and No Fun

Based on research and interviews with parents (and a grandmother), Jennifer Senior’s book explores the effects on modern parenting. From infancy to years in primary schools to adolescence, each chapter chronicles the hardship of raising children. The journey is no fun and could be quite frightening in the teenage years when kids deal with drug, depression, and suicide. And where is the joy in parenting? Senior finds it hard to quantify. If I read this book before having kids, I might not wanted to be a parent. There’s no turning back now.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

On the surface, Kendrick Lamar is a swift, gifted rapper. In “For Free?,” the second track off his newest release, To Pimp a Butterfly, he rhymes like Ella Fitzgerald scatting over the hard-swing jazz arrangement. At the core, he is a sharp, skilled lyricist. Using the pimping metaphor, Lamar turns his dick on America: “You’re bad bitch / I picked cotton that made you rich / Now my dick ain’t free.” From the funkified groove (“Wesley’s Theory”) to the Compton’s big bass (“Hood Politics”) to the Latin-inspired rhythm (“I”), Lamar has crafted an outstanding album rich in sonics and affluent in lyrics. Lamar should get the creds he deserved for this joint.

Ngọc Anh – Cám Ơn Người Tình

Ngọc Anh’s newest release is a predictable, yawn-worthy cover of Lam Phương’s ballads. Like Lệ Quyên, Ngọc Anh brings nothing fresh to the old standards. Even the music productions are dull and lifeless. Listening to Cám Ơn Người Tình makes you want to return to Bạch Yến’s superb interpretation of Lam Phương’s music.

The School of Flow

As I am tuning back into hip-hop, I am impressed with the way young rappers stepping up their flow. They can rhyme slow; they can rhyme fast. They can rhyme inside the beat; they can rhyme ahead of the beat. Their expansive flow made up for their limited lyricism. Here are a few recent albums with crazy flow.

T.I. is the veteran of flow and his recent Paperwork is the proof. The album kicks off with “King,” in which he starts out slow then progresses into speedy delivery. The opener is so hypnotic that you wish the track never ends. Strong contenders include the political “The National Anthem” and the emotional “Light Em Up (RIP Doe B).” As with T.I.’s previous works, Paperwork is distracted with tracks for the radio and the strip clubs.

Without guest appearances, J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive provides an interrupted experience from start to finish. While he goes hard on “Fire Squad” criticizing white artists for stealing their shines, he becomes a softie on “Wet Dreamz” reflecting on his first love. Cole can rhyme and sing his own hooks, but he still needs to improve his storytelling.

Under Pressure is Logic’s debut showcasing his flow. In the last 20 seconds of “Gang Related,” he spits like a machine gun sweeping the street. His cadence is clear and his flow is breathless, but his storyline could be more vivid.

The opening “Dark Sky” off Big Sean’s third studio release, Dark Sky Paradise, show off his flow (frome slow to fast) as well as his tone (tenor to baritone). “Paradise” is laced with profanity: “I always want to fuck that bitch / Thank you God I fucked that bitch.” Damn, where can I find a God like that?

As with most rappers, misogyny seems to be the easiest target. Although I can’t relate to most of its content (drug, sex, gun, and lifestyle), I still enjoy hip-hop for its art. And flow is one of the elements I love.

Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little

A compelling guide explaining the craft of micromessaging. From tweets to taglines, slogans to sound bites, and domain names to brand names, Christopher Johnson teaches and illustrates the important of communication in “the age of the Incredible Shrinking Message.” Microstyle is recommended for anyone who cares about writing on the web.

Bob Dylan – Shadow in the Night

Bob Dylan kicks off his 36th studio release with a worn-out rendition of “I’m a Fool to Want You.” His approach, which relies on raw emotion over technique, is a reminiscent of Billie Holiday’s, but not as rough. In “The Night We Called It a Day,” he proceeds in the Dylan signature style: singing off melody. He then turns the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves” into a slow-burning country rock. Shadow in the Night is an intriguing ballad cover from an old rocker.

A Fighting Chance

I have tremendous respect for Elizabeth Warren ever since she decided to entered the race and beat Scott Brown for the Senate seat in Massachusetts. In her heartfelt, engaging A Fighting Chance, Warren recounts that battle as well as her endless fights against big banks and huge corporations. Her writing is clear and easy to comprehend, even when she explains laws, policies, and big numbers in the banking industry. If she runs for president in the next election, she will definitely get my vote. You simply can’t find a better candidate who fights for the children, women, seniors, poor, and middle class. I hope she will be in for a bigger fighting chance.