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Saturday , September 24 2022

Stars to honor B.B. King – For Sia, a new album ‘acting’ for other stars

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This CD cover image released by RCA shows ‘This is Acting’, the latest release by Sia. (AP)
This CD cover image released by RCA shows ‘This is Acting’, the latest release by Sia. (AP)

LOS ANGELES, Feb 5, (AFP): A diverse trio will perform a tribute to B.B. King, the late king of the blues, at the Grammy Awards, organizers of the music industry’s biggest night said Thursday.

Gary Clark Jr, a rocker with roots in blues guitar, will take part in the performance but will be joined by two figures from country music — Chris Stapleton, a rising star who is nominated for Album of the Year, and Bonnie Raitt.

King, the son of Mississippi sharecroppers who popularized the blues through years of nearly daily concerts and an invariably cordial demeanor, died in May at age 89.

Announcing the latest batch of appearances for the Feb 15 gala, the Recording Academy said that pop celebrity Justin Bieber will perform with Diplo and Skrillex, the electronic duo behind the Canadian star’s latest house-influenced album.

Other newly announced performers include The Hollywood Vampires, a supergroup that features actor Johnny Depp, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and veteran shock rocker Alice Cooper.

The Hollywood Vampires, who released an album last year but have not previously played live on television, largely play covers of classic rock tunes from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Recording Academy previously announced a range of performers including Adele, the British ballad singer whose latest album “25” broke first-week sales records but which came out too late for Grammy contention.

The Grammys will also feature a performance by the cast of “Hamilton,” the Broadway musical that has won wide acclaim for telling the story of a US founding father through hip-hop.

The “Hamilton” cast will play from New York rather than appearing in Los Angeles — only the fourth time the nearly six-decade award ceremony has brought in a performance remotely.

“Hamilton,” whose music was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is in the running for the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, although it was not nominated in rap categories as some award watchers had predicted.

Other performers will include rapper Kendrick Lamar, who leads the night’s nominations, and Lady Gaga, who plans a “multisensory” tribute to late rock legend David Bowie.

For her first album since her breakthrough hit “Chandelier,” Sia is facing off on the charts against superstars Adele and Rihanna. And they are likely familiar with some of the songs — they were written for them.

“This Is Acting,” the seventh album by the Australian singer known both for her distinctively soaring voice and her face-covering black-and-white wig, consists of tunes that she wrote, offered to other artists and, after deals fell through, salvaged.

For Sia, the album is a multidimensional paradox. She is interpreting her own songs, ones that are often highly personal. But they were intended to come from the hearts of others.

The album’s first single, “Alive,” was meant for Adele as part of her blockbuster album “25.”

“Alive” matches the mood of “25,” as Sia — playing the role of Adele — reminisces of her childhood and her survival into adulthood to a tune that opens with richly dark piano chords before a rapid climax.

“I’m still breathing / I’m alive,” sings Sia in one of her strongest performances, her voice gliding from soulful to roaring with a touch of rasp.

Sia, speaking to Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio, said she was surprised that Adele did not want “Alive.”

“I thought this one was such a smash but she just wasn’t feeling it,” Sia told the station, whose host Zane Lowe described the album’s concept as playing “fantasy football with the world’s pop stars.”

Sia similarly appears to channel Beyonce on the more inspirational “Footprints,” a string-backed, mid-tempo pop song that uses subtle spiritual imagery to describe salvation either by a partner or God.

A more conventional pop ballad, “Reaper,” was co-produced by rap star Kanye West.

Sia wrote “Reaper” and the uptempo “Cheap Thrills” for Rihanna, who released her long-awaited “Anti” album on Wednesday. But the R&B superstar, whose new album focuses on inward-looking ballads, rejected them.

Even giddier is “Move Your Body,” a club-style dance track that Sia wrote for Shakira.

The 40-year-old singer, whose real name is Sia Furler, had her start in the jazz scene of Adelaide and remains more at least in the indie world than with pop celebrity. But she has become a major writer for pop stars, notably composing Rihanna’s 2012 worldwide hit “Diamonds.”

Sia, who keeps her face hidden to preserve her anonymity, has struggled with addiction, a battle that figured prominently on her last album, “1000 Forms of Fear,” which came out in 2014. The album’s hit “Chandelier,” an electropop ballad of a party girl’s alcohol-fueled self-destruction, was nominated for Grammys for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

Sia returns to dark territory on the latest album by exploring abusive relationships.

In “House on Fire,” armed with one of the album’s most powerful musical hooks despite a conventional synthesizer arrangement, Sia uses the title as a metaphor for personal chaos.

The world in 2016 faces the ruthless Islamic State group, the mysterious Zika virus and seething political anger. But Elton John is happy, and he wants to share.

On his latest album, “Wonderful Crazy Night,” which comes out on Friday, the pop superstar is irrepressibly upbeat as he reunites with his old backup band and celebrates his life.

And why not. With more than 250 million albums sold, John is one of the most successful musicians in history.

After well-publicized struggles with addiction and eating disorders, the 68-year-old is the proud father of two sons and in 2014 married his longtime partner after Britain legalized gay marriage.

The singer once famous for his flamboyance suggests on the new album that his life has turned a page.

“I’m looking up more than I look down / The view’s a whole lot better a second time around,” sings John, as he observes, “Time is wasted looking back.”

John’s piano guides “Blue Wonderful,” a steady-paced love song likely to appear at many a wedding, and the joy gradually builds as the album progresses.

The Rocket Man rocks out on “Guilty Pleasure” before assuming an inspirational feel on “Tambourine” and “The Open Chord.”

On “The Open Chord,” John delights in family life as he sings of “a new broom sweeping up the sins I no longer play” and clipping “the horns that the devil used to make me wear all day.”

John remains socially conscious — in recent months, he made headlines for challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin on homophobia and also joining the fight against climate change.

But whatever the state of the world, John, as he said in a recent interview, has found “an uplifting tail-end to my life.”

“I have never been happier,” he told Britain’s Press Association.

“I never, ever expected to find fatherhood so joyous. I expected to enjoy it, but not to be so joyous,” he said.

“There hasn’t been one nano-second where I haven’t enjoyed it, except when my children are maybe sick and I worry about them.”

His excited mood clearly influenced “Wonderful Crazy Night,” which is his 33rd studio album.

Also adding to the good mood — John has reunited with his original band including guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson.

Johnstone, who has also played with other stars including Rod Stewart and Meat Loaf, has been instrumental to John’s sound since 1971, although he sat out the last album.

That work, “The Diving Board,” came out in 2013 and was John’s first in more than 30 years in which he did not include any of his regular band members.

The last album was defined by a stripped-down sound as John concentrated on his piano playing, retreating into his own reflections.

“Wonderful Crazy Night,” by contrast, returns to John’s defining style, with a piano that is rooted in the blues but producing quickly memorable pop hooks.

While the sound is a time-tested way to please fans, it is unlikely to surprise many of them. About the only unexpected element on “Wonderful Crazy Night” comes on “Claw Hammer,” which has a touch of Indian instrumentation.

But John is shifting in different ways. One of the world’s highest-grossing performers, particularly through Las Vegas residencies, the singer has said he plans to limit shows to focus on his family.

And the veteran pianist, whose hits include one named “Sad Songs,” said he had to adjust his playing to his recent mood.

The album is “very ‘up’ and it’s hard for me to write ‘up’ songs,” he told BBC Radio 2.

“As a piano player, I usually write miserable songs.”

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