Producer Spotlight

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Artist Spotlight: Gretchen Elise

I got an email recently about this artist - Gretchen Elise out of Philadelphia, a singer-songwriter whose music had me captivated from the start, note I was in the kitchen cooking at the time and ended up having it playing through out the house lol. Flirting with reggae, soul, hip hop and dance music while grounded in her jazz-based passionate, fluid voice, her songs tell compelling stories guided by undivided attention to a good groove. Her music delivers exactly what listeners crave: good music. See below for more of what's going on with Gretchin Elise

Time & Space (BMI / 2010), sophomore release of Philly singer-songwriter Gretchen Elise, opens with a smooth neo-soul intro and jumps to a rolicking call-and-response party track with caribbean and old-school hip hop flavor, horn riffs by Camden’s UCC Royal Brass Band, and a tongue-in-cheek story about a racial issue at Boston’s Caribbean Carnival. Gretchen’ s Brazilian jazz-flavored vocal melodies, craftful vocal harmonies, and unexpected collaborations tell compelling stories guided by undivided attention to a good groove.

Gretchen’s fruitful collaboration with producer/engineer Paul Atkinson on all 11 album tracks further expands the catchy songwriting style of her first, more jazz-based CD Are You Ready (BMI/2004) into realms informed by European-flavored electronica and deep, soulful house. Eclectic, yet accessible production by Paul Atkinson (Aurum Recording) on Time & Space is grounded by Philadelphia jazz bassist Jonathan Michel, soul-jazz keyboardist Anam Owili-Eger and multi-instrumentalist Clay Sears, and the Camden urban soul brass ensemble Unity Community Center’s Royal Brass Band, along with Boston-based musicians and guest artists Walnut (hip hop poet) and Lady Lee (reggae singer).

Gretchen Elise on Time & Space songs

1. Work Hard--(Jazz-Neo-Soul) I wrote this in grad school. I was supposed to be writing a paper on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I kept writing lines to this neo-soul song with multiple harmonies that was about all the people that work hard to create change in society. I realized through this process that my mind had fundamentally changed over the last years. I used to be an analytical thinker. Now I process things better through song, through music.

2. What’s Wrong with this Picture (Jazz-Funk/Soca) is a call-and-reponse old school hip hop story song actually borrowed the groove from Jurassic Five’s “Concrete and Clay”. I added a Caribbean soca vibe to the verse. This is a funny song about a serious issue--getting special valet service from some cops when a couple other (white) friends and I were looking for a bus stop after Caribbean Carnival in Boston. The hook -- “What’s wrong with this picture?” “Somethin ain’t right!” became kind of an anthem in the conscious hip hop & R&B scene there. The audience always takes on these parts eagerly. This recording has an amazing horn section, Camden’s UCC Royal Brass--soon after I moved back to Philly I heard these guys (& girls), aged 11 to 34 and became fixated on collaborating with them on this tune. They also add their voices to the party vibe of the hook.

3. Time & Space I (Blues-Breakbeat)- This came out of a drum jam with a few friends on a riverbank one afternoon. It’s a slow breakbeat groove, kind of trippy, with lots of space for vocal effects. “Time & Space/ Human race/ We’ve got to face/ Long way to go” -- this is about how I feel about us as humans. But we better have fun while we’re getting ourselves down the long road to a better place.

4. Don’t Fit (Jazz/pop)-- I wrote this song after a bad job interview. It’s about being misjudged and how it’s comfortable--makes you feel like your jacket “don’t fit.” This is maybe the jazziest tune on the cd, catchy and compact.

5. One + One (Nu-jazz)-- This is kind of an ambient, minor key, atmospheric track with interesting vocal layers and a pretty clear hook: One plus one is two/Two plus two is four/But if you don’t got one/They won’t let you in the door. Walnut adds some lyrical perspective to this topic in hip hop poetic style.

6. Wonderland (Brazilian jazz/eclectic)- This is a song about just falling in love. Very clear 1970’s brazilian jazz vibe with some funk backbeat to the samba bridge, nice. Paul Atkinson (producer) got into the Wonderland theme and tripped out the bridge section with some Indian zitar & effects like a good Alice on shrooms.

7. Pickin Up - (Neo-Soul)This is about picking myself up after a big disappointment. This is a bluesy, neo soul vibe song with great 3- part gospel-inspired vocal harmonies that switch from front to back, so the tune is very alive.

8. Time & Space II (Jazz-Deep House)- this is the deep soulful house version of the Time and Space jam, that emerged with a bunch of house heads jammin’ with some drums on a riverbank in Cambridge, MA. This tune will get any ol’ heads dancin and some new ones up too. Fantastic horn riffs from UCC Royal Brass Band and tenor sax from Nasir Dickerson.

9. Finally- (Soul/pop) This hook is borrowed from CC peniston’s 80’s dance hit, but in this fun, dramatic tune it’s kind of ironic. This is a true story of when I met someone I was very excited about and on the first date I discovered he was, oops, married. This track features a great rap section from boston-based hip hop poet Walnut. The tune is like 80’s dance pop meets Calypso.

10. Love Souldier (Roots Reggae/Jazz) --This is a roots reggae inspired song, blessed also by Lady Lee, reggae singer and selectress from Barbados and Boston, MA. It’s really about the love, true love of a good man, but if you listen close it’s also a peace anthem. Case in point-- Lady Lee references Garnett Silk’s “Onward Christian Soldiers” in her lyrics.

11. Blue Light (Nu-Jazz)-- this was a jazz melody I wrote in the snow in Vermont, inspired by nature. In production with Paul Atkinson its character evolved, it’s got a lot of ambient European dance groove in it, kind of a Bjork-ish from the city vibe, and some sound art rounding it out.

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