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MARIAH CAREY

MARIAH CAREY
  MARIAH CAREY The Record Industry’s Focus I’m not much of a Mariah Carey fan. I always thought she was more technique over soul, same with Whitney Houston. Then again, in Houston’s case, she had some songs—“The Greatest Love of All,” “I Will Always Love You”—that had so much soul in them that technique couldn’t blow it out. Anyway, a billboard.biz tweet did catch my eye: “How To Solve the Mariah Carey Problem: Former Record... 

SARAH McLACHLAN

SARAH McLACHLAN
TIME TO SHINE Life’s hard knocks stoke the creative fire for Sarah McLachlan By Russell Hall For Sarah McLachlan, life in recent years has been punctuated by loss and change. Her 2010 album, Laws of Illusion, mourned the dissolution of her near decade-long marriage. Since then she’s endured the death of her father, and—less traumatically—ended a 24-year partnership with her management team and record label. “Losing my dad, separating from... 

KORBY LENKER

KORBY LENKER
KORBY LENKER HOMETOWN: Twin Falls, Idaho INFLUENCES: Neil Young, Paul Simon, Doc Watson ALBUM:Korby Lenker, out now WEBSITE: korbylenker.com The son of a mortician and an educator, Americana singer-songwriter Korby Lenker began taking piano lessons at age 8. He spent his teen years as the leader of alt-rock band Clockwork Orange, singing cover tunes in coffee shops around his hometown. “We covered ‘Under the Bridge’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers,”... 

KAYLEE RUTLAND

KAYLEE RUTLAND
KAYLEE RUTLAND HOMETOWN: Dallas, Texas INFLUENCES: Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Sara Evans ALBUM: Kaylee Rutland EP, out now WEBSITE: kayleerutland.com Singer-songwriter Kaylee Rutland’s first gig in front of a live audience happened in an unlikely place—the Dallas Zoo. “Aside from my family, I think there were more animals watching than people,” she says, “but it was a great first experience.” Later appearances at the Hard Rock... 

THE BRIGHT SMOKE

THE BRIGHT SMOKE
THE BRIGHT SMOKE HOMETOWN: Chicago, Ill. INFLUENCES: Junior Kimbrough, the National, Patti Smith ALBUM: Virginia Et Al. EP, out now WEBSITE: thebrightsmoke.bandcamp.com A former classical ballet dancer, the Bright Smoke (née Mia Wilson) abandoned her career plans following a serious injury in training.  So she shifted her interest to music, and credits her parents with encouraging her to explore artistic avenues beyond the barre. “Growing up,... 

TOKYO POLICE CLUB

TOKYO POLICE CLUB
TOKYO POLICE CLUB    A new creative focus raises the bar for the seasoned indie rockers  You can tell a lot about an indie rock band by how they spend the Monday following South by Southwest (SXSW). The young and crazy ones nurse hangovers and search “removing burrito stains” on Google. The annual Austin festival is about excess—lots of showcases fueled by lots of beer and Mexican food—and it’s easy for “buzz groups” to get burned... 

KARMIN

KARMIN
KARMIN After online fame and chart hits, the quirky duo finally releases an album Covers of songs by Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown found Karmin an Internet following and a record deal, and songs like “Brokenhearted” brought chart success, but it has taken the duo three years to produce an album. For the couple behind Karmin—Nick Noonan and Amy Heidemann, both 28—that time was spent developing a personality outside social media. “Everything... 

BOY GEORGE

BOY GEORGE
BOY GEORGE The colorful ’80s icon returns with a new perspective “When you’ve lived a dramatic life, you’ve got a lot to draw from,” Boy George says with a laugh. As the lead singer of Grammy-winning band Culture Club, he’s sold more than 20 million albums powered by megahits like “Karma Chameleon” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” But after dominating radio in the mid-’80s, the band’s red-hot streak cooled as the decade... 

SUZANNE VEGA

SUZANNE VEGA
SUZANNE VEGA The eclectic folkie samples hip-hop and explores her spiritual side In the seven years since Suzanne Vega released Beauty and Crime—her last studio album of original material—she released four collections of her songs in reworked forms as the Close-Up series. For her latest album, Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles, she changed her tack. “The focus of the new album is wider than the Close-Up series,” says Vega. “We... 

KEB’ MO’

KEB’ MO’
KEB’ MO’ Life’s challenges inspire the multi-instrumentalist’s latest set “I’m a control freak,” Grammy-winning blues artist Keb’ Mo’ declares flatly. Indeed, the Nashville-based musician had a hand in every aspect of making his latest album, BLUESAmericana, including playing many of the instruments. But, he confesses, “When I couldn’t make something sound as good as I wanted it to sound—sometimes my touch wasn’t strong... 

NICKEL CREEK

NICKEL CREEK
NICKEL CREEK The bluegrass trio reunites with a new album that defies categories   Grammy-winning Nickel Creek took an indefinite hiatus in 2007 to pursue solo projects. Now the trio—mandolinist Chris Thile, fiddler Sara Watkins and her brother, guitarist Sean Watkins—has returned with a new album, A Dotted Line, which coincides with their 25th anniversary. Featuring eight originals and two covers—Sam Phillips’ “Where Is Love Now” and... 

JAKE E LEE

JAKE E LEE
JAKE E. LEE The ace guitarist gets back in the hard rock game with a melodic new set  Veteran guitarist Jake E. Lee hadn’t recorded an album of original music since his acclaimed solo A Fine Pink Mist in 1996. Like a proverbial metal Moses, the ex-Ozzy Osbourne axeman wandered in a self-imposed musical exile. “I outlived my shelf life as far as being cool,” says Lee, 56. “The only calls I got were from bands that loved Ozzy and wanted his... 

KAISER CHIEFS

KAISER CHIEFS
KAISER CHIEFS                         With a new lineup, the British rockers set out to get an Education     It would have been easy for Kaiser Chiefs to simply call it quits. Following the departure of drummer and primary songwriter Nick Hodgson in late 2012, the remaining four members had doubts about carrying on—before deciding to prove to their fans, and to themselves, that they were capable of continuing. The result is Education,... 

DOLLY PARTON

DOLLY PARTON
DOLLY PARTON A country treasure showcases her many colors on her latest album Dolly Parton wears many impressive hats: singer, actress, producer, musician, author, entrepreneur, philanthropist. But first and foremost, the Tennessee native is a songwriter, penning more than 3,000 compositions, including smash hits “I Will Always Love You,” “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” “I love writing songs—I always have,” she says. “Telling stories... 

JONNY LANG

JONNY LANG
JONNY LANG A former guitar prodigy shows he’s all grown up with a sharp new set By Jeff Tamarkin At 33, Jonny Lang has been recognized as a master guitarist and vocalist for nearly two decades. A teen prodigy with a 40-year-old voice when he cut his debut album Smokin’ in 1995, he’s grown up in the public eye—and so has his music. In his early years Lang made his mark playing and singing blues-rock. He was so gifted he was taken under the... 

GLEN BALLARD

GLEN BALLARD
GLEN BALLARD The acclaimed producer favors artistic relationships over one-hit flings By Michael Gallant Glen Ballard’s resume is stuffed with big names. He’s collaborated with everyone from Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Alanis Morissette to Dave Matthews, Annie Lennox and Christina Aguilera. His production and songwriting chops have earned him six Grammy Awards, worldwide sales of more than 150 million records, and a reputation as one of... 

BEE GEES

BEE GEES
“Jive Talkin’” BEE GEES Thank the public works department of Biscayne Bay, Fla. One of their bridges—the Julia Tuttle Causeway—inspired the song that redefined the Bee Gees’ career and became the first of their disco-era No. 1 hits. Barry Gibb recalled that he and brothers Robin and Maurice were working on the Main Course album. “We were trying to make a comeback. It was 1975—and we were sort of out of vogue at that time,” said... 

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard
PHOTOGRAPHER NORMAN SEEFF CHOSE “A FUNKY little hotel” in downtown L.A. to shoot this session for Merle Haggard’s 1981 album Big City. “With wry humor, Merle said, ‘This is what you learn in jail’ as he peeled the apple in one cut,” recalls Seeff. “He didn’t try to hide his past.” As the session progressed, a different facet of the country legend emerged. “He had a kind of duality,” explains Seeff. “One part was rough and... 

HEARTBREAK HOTEL

HEARTBREAK HOTEL
“Heartbreak Hotel” ELVIS PRESLEY  A suicide note was the unlikely inspiration behind the song that became Elvis’ first No. 1 hit and million-selling single. Steel guitarist and session musician Tommy Durden read a newspaper article about a man who had killed himself, leaving behind a note with the haunting words: “I walk a lonely street.” Durden brought the article to his friend and co-writer Mae Boren Axton. A 41-year-old high school... 

ISAAC HAYES

ISAAC HAYES
ISAAC HAYES HAD JUST WRAPPED A CONCERT WHEN photographer Norman Seeff shot this session for the soul legend’s 1977 album, New Horizon. “We rented a beautiful studio in San Francisco,” recalls Seeff, “and didn’t begin shooting until 1 a.m. I told him, ‘I’m concerned; you must be exhausted.’ He said, ‘No, no, I’m fine.’” Hayes sang for Seeff and his team. “Everyone was transfixed,” says Seeff. “There was an energy in the... 

Crying

Crying
“Crying”   ROY ORBISON  Roy Orbison’s ultimate aria of love and loss had its roots in a real-life episode. “I was dating this girl and we broke up,” the singer recalled. “Two or three years later, I went to the barber shop to get a haircut and looked across the street, and there was the girl I had split up with. I wanted to go over and say, ‘Let’s forget about what happened and carry on.’ But I was very stubborn. So I got in... 

THE BAND

THE BAND
NORMAN SEEFF HAD RECENTLY MOVED TO NEW YORK from South Africa—with dreams of becoming a photographer—when he shot this session for the Band’s 1970 album, Stage Fright. “I bought six rolls of film, borrowed a car and a strobe, and set out for Big Pink—their house in Woodstock,” he recalls. “But I got lost and arrived more than two hours late. The guys were furious.” Seeff tried to make the best of the situation. “I rearranged the... 

AMERICAN PIE

AMERICAN PIE
“American Pie”   DON MCLEAN When Don McLean wrote “American Pie” in 1971, he was thinking far beyond the usual scope of a pop song. “I was conscious of the fact that I was trying to create a rock ’n’ roll dream sequence,” said McLean. “But it was way more than rock ’n’ roll. It was about an America that was coming apart at the seams. I was trying to create this song that connected with parts of America that mattered to me,... 

CHICAGO

CHICAGO
THE FACES OF CHICAGO WERE UNKNOWN TO MANY when photographer Norman Seeff shot this L.A. session for the band’s 1978 album, Hot Streets. “All their previous covers featured graphic renditions of their logo,” he says. “No one ever saw the band.” When a “mob of guys” arrived at his studio, Seeff feared he had his work cut out for him. “When you have a large group—and a square album cover—one challenge is how to squeeze everyone in,”... 

ROBIN THICKE

ROBIN THICKE
SMOOTH BLEND Robin Thicke scores by blurring the lines between pop, soul and hip-hop By Russell Hall Although many artists become more serious with age, Robin Thicke sees himself on a reverse course—shedding youthful intensity in favor of a more freewheeling aesthetic. “I started out with very lofty ambitions,” says the 37-year-old. “The guys I admire got more serious as they got older. John Lennon went from ‘Help!’ to ‘Working Class... 

ALUS

ALUS
ALUS HOMETOWN: Montville, N.J. INFLUENCES: Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin ALBUM: Alustrious EP, out now WEBSITE: facebook.com/alusmovement Born and raised in New Jersey, Alus comes by her musical talent honestly. Her grandmother, a Juilliard graduate, was once a renowned musician in the Violinaires, a group of violinists that regularly performed with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack. Meanwhile, her father... 

JENNA TORRES

JENNA TORRES
JENNA TORRES HOMETOWN: New York City INFLUENCES: Sheryl Crow, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen ALBUM: A Woman’s Touch, out now WEBSITE: jennatorres.com To some, singer-songwriter Jenna Torres is a study in contrasts, but she doesn’t see it that way. “I guess being a New York City girl and a country music artist might seem like a contradiction,” she says, “but to me the big city is the heartland. Every day I’m surrounded by 8 million stories... 

J RAND

J RAND
J RAND HOMETOWN: Delray Beach, Fla. INFLUENCES: Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway ALBUM: As-yet-untitled LP, due out 2014 WEBSITE: jrandmusic.com As a teenager, J Rand groomed himself for the spotlight by singing Michael Jackson songs at a local karaoke bar in his hometown. “When I was a kid I was always fascinated by entertainers,” he says. While pursuing a solo career, he performed with various local cover bands. In 2010, Rand signed with... 

SKATERS

SKATERS
SKATERS After paying dues separately, the punkers find overnight success together Band bios are notoriously filled with bunk, but Michael Ian Cummings’ story checks out. Ask the singer and guitarist where in New York City he and his fellow Skaters tended bar, and he’ll list a string of watering holes where young rockers actually congregate, swill Pabst, and tell stories that might inspire an album of crackling indie-punk jams, as the group’s... 

SHARON JONES

SHARON JONES
SHARON JONES Not even cancer can stop this funk-soul powerhouse   “I thought I was going to die,” Sharon Jones declares bluntly. The  57-year-old soul dynamo was diagnosed with bile duct cancer just weeks before the release of Give the People What They Want, her new album with longtime backing band the Dap-Kings. Everything was put on hold as Jones, who was still mourning the loss of her mother from cancer, underwent a seven-hour surgery and... 

NENEH CHERRY

NENEH CHERRY
NENEH CHERRY Musical inspiration has been a long time coming for the ’80s hit-maker   It’s been 25 years since Neneh Cherry’s megahit “Buffalo Stance” from her debut Raw Like Sushi invaded U.S. airwaves, and nearly 18 since she released her last solo album. But the Swedish singer-songwriter is back with a new album, Blank Project. “I’ve been saying I’d do it for 17 years, but it became, ‘I need to do this now,’” she says.... 

A GREAT BIG WORLD

A GREAT BIG WORLD
A GREAT BIG WORLD A great big hit propels the melodic pop duo to the top of the charts Piano-pop duo A Great Big World’s debut album, Is There Anybody Out There?, includes two versions of their recent haunting smash, “Say Something.” Christina Aguilera, who fell for the song when she heard it on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, asked the duo—Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino—if she could record the tune with them for The Voice. No surprise,... 

LOS LONELY BOYS

LOS LONELY BOYS
LOS LONELY BOYS A new songwriting process leads to fresh inspiration for the Texican trio JoJo Garza’s got a good excuse for not hearing his phone ring. As often happens when he has tour downtime with brothers Henry and Ringo Garza, he takes the opportunity to jam. That is, after all, how Los Lonely Boys’ eighth studio album Revelation first poked its head into the world. “Songs are born on the road—they just come,” JoJo says. “We’ve... 

LEA MICHELE

LEA MICHELE
LEA MICHELE Glee fans’ favorite leading lady tries on a new role: pop star     For more than four years, millions of Americans watched Lea Michele belt out a broad range of hits on TV’s Glee. On her debut solo album, Louder, she shifts effortlessly between luxurious ballads and uptempo numbers that showcase her vocal and songwriting talent. The Emmy-nominated actress and singer tapped a stable of hit collaborators including Christina Perri,... 

DIERKS BENTLEY

DIERKS BENTLEY
DIERKS BENTLEY Life throws the country star a heart-tugging batch of inspiration  Dierks Bentley’s new album, Riser, reflects the emotional roller coaster he endured beginning with his father’s death two years ago and concluding with the recent birth of his first son. “That definitely changed my perspective,” says Bentley. “A lot of the heavier material on Riser wouldn’t have come about without those things happening.” Bentley, 38,... 

THE FRAY

THE FRAY
THE FRAY The piano-pop rockers regroup and set out in new musical directions  After a disappointing commercial reception for the Fray’s third album, 2012’s Scars and Stories, the Denver foursome found themselves wondering—after 10 years and three records—if they wanted to carry on. “Those are the defeats that make you do the math and figure out whether this is something you really want to do,” says singer and pianist Isaac Slade. After... 

NEON TREES

NEON TREES
NEON TREES Time off to recharge leads to a new perspective and a colorful album    Success can exact a price. It’s something alt rockers Neon Trees learned after scoring with their 2010 debut album Habits, powered by their breakout single “Animal,” and their follow-up two years later, Picture Show, which included their first Top 10 hit, “Everybody Talks.” Hitting it big brought unexpected demands for touring and promotion, and pressures... 

DAVID CROSBY

DAVID CROSBY
DAVID CROSBY He helped create two iconic bands, but his latest set is a family affair By Jeff Tamarkin There’s always been plenty of harmony in David Crosby’s famed voice and songwriting. His life, on the other hand, not so much. He’s endured battles with drug abuse, brushes with the law, and a long line of health scares—the latest in February when he underwent an emergency heart procedure. In the ’80s, Crosby spent time in prison on drug... 

DESMOND CHILD

DESMOND CHILD
DESMOND CHILD For the renowned studio master, everything begins with the lyric By Michael Gallant For Desmond Child, music comes down to honesty. “What makes something desirable has a worthwhile element—and in the case of music, it has to have truth. When that element isn’t there, people don’t pay attention.” For more than three decades, the world has been paying close attention to the innovative songwriter-producer, who helped create and... 

GARY BURTON

GARY BURTON
GARY BURTON The jazz legend continues to innovate with a host of new projects By Jeff Tamarkin Gary Burton could easily rest on his laurels, secure in the knowledge that he’s made his mark as one of the greatest vibraphonists in jazz history. At 71, he has more than five decades of innovation and a pile of awards behind him, including seven Grammys, most for his stunning collaborations with keyboardist Chick Corea. But Burton is an ever-restless... 

DESMOND CHILD

DESMOND CHILD
DESMOND CHILD For the renowned studio master, everything begins with the lyric By Michael Gallant For Desmond Child, music comes down to honesty. “What makes something desirable has a worthwhile element—and in the case of music, it has to have truth. When that element isn’t there, people don’t pay attention.” For more than three decades, the world has been paying close attention to the innovative songwriter-producer, who helped create and... 

DARNAA

DARNAA
DARNAA HOMETOWN: Sacramento, Calif. INFLUENCES: Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, Destiny’s Child ALBUM: Album due out 2014 WEBSITE: darnaamusic.com As one of nine siblings, Darnaa was determined to stand up and be heard. “I grew up singing a lot to princesses in cartoons like The Little Mermaid,” she says. “In our neighborhood there was a rock, and I’d get on the rock and pretend I was her.” Inspired by Lauryn Hill’s performance in Sister... 

IRINA

IRINA
IRINA HOMETOWN: Moscow, Russia INFLUENCES: influences: Abba, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand ALBUM: Album due out 2014 WEBSITE: irinaglobal.com “I was always involved in theater when I was in school,” says Irina, who was born and raised in Moscow. “I was singing in the choir as a mezzo-soprano when I was 6.” Later, Irina earned degrees in psychology and economics—but she eventually returned to her first love. She began writing songs... 

YONAS MICHAEL

YONAS MICHAEL
YONAS MICHAEL HOMETOWN: Seattle, Wash. INFLUENCES: Michael Jackson, the Roots, Wu-Tang Clan ALBUM: The Black Swan Theory, out 2014 WEBSITE: yonasmichael.com Enamored of his grandmother’s extensive vinyl collection, Yonas Michael spent his early years practicing Michael Jackson’s signature dance moves. When he was a teenager, Michael’s family moved to the L.A. suburbs and he immersed himself in the world of hip-hop. After performing in talent... 

DAUGHTRY

DAUGHTRY
DAUGHTRY    The former Idol rocker picks up the pace on his latest set  When the band’s namesake and frontman Chris Daughtry set out to write his fourth album, Baptized, he wasn’t expecting it to come together so quickly. “I started in January with the idea of writing these songs, doing the demos, and maybe getting the record out by the end of 2014,” says Daughtry, 33. “Which would have meant we’d be in the studio right now, still... 

GAVIN DEGRAW

GAVIN DEGRAW
GAVIN DEGRAW The platinum pop-rocker learns to enjoy the art of collaboration    Since his million-selling debut album, Chariot—which spawned three hits, “I Don’t Want to Be,” “Follow Through,” and the title track—Gavin DeGraw has served up a steady balance of radio-friendly hits with darker, more introspective material. On his new album, Make a Move, he steps even further outside his comfort zone, with a diverse collection of songs... 

SLEEPER AGENT

SLEEPER AGENT
SLEEPER AGENT Their second effort showcases broader themes and a bigger band  To beat the sophomore slump, the first step for Sleeper Agent was to retreat. “In the summer of 2012, we spent a week in a cabin in the mountains of Kentucky and recorded,” says guitarist Tony Smith. “We cut ourselves off like Thoreau—no internet, no cellphones. We cooked dinner every night and just had a great time. Actual recording in the studio started in November,... 

LINDI ORTEGA

LINDI ORTEGA
LINDI ORTEGA A move to Music City results in a burst of creative energy  What a difference a move can make—just ask singer-songwriter Lindi Ortega. “When I was living in Toronto, I’d come off tour, get into my onesie, watch reruns and eat Cheerios,” says the Canadian native. “Now, living in Nashville, I come home, see what people are up to, and that kicks my butt into being more productive and less complacent musically.” That late 2011... 

JAMES BLUNT

JAMES BLUNT
JAMES BLUNT A mega-selling artist recaptures his past to move forward “What I’m about is not trying to write songs that get played on the radio or become hit singles,” says James Blunt, “because that would be a hollow inspiration for making music. A desperately hollow inspiration.” To most who know his music or his name, Blunt is the pop star who sold around 20 million records over the past decade, powered by the megahit “You’re Beautiful.” More... 

WILLIE NELSON

WILLIE NELSON
WILLIE NELSON The projects keep coming for the Red Headed Stranger      Willie Nelson knows how to throw a party. He marked his 80th birthday last April with the release of two albums: Let’s Face the Music and Dance, covering material from the Great American Songbook and gypsy jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt, and To All the Girls, a collection of duets with female artists. Over the course of his career, Nelson has recorded more than 60 studio... 
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