A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts. This week: Lynne Arriale, Thicke, Stagga Lee, and Hot Hot Heat.
A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
THE PIANIST: Lynne Arriale, a classically trained pianist with a master's degree in composition, turned her attention to jazz in her mid-20s. She formed a jazz trio and, over the last decade, has earned growing critical acclaim.
The trio relies heavily on improvisation, while Arriale's classical background provides a sophisticated sense of melody that allows her work to reach both aficionados and the more casual jazz listener. On its latest album, "Arise," the group includes four originals and continues to interpret a wide range of material, including covers of the Guess Who's "American Woman" and Bill Withers' soul classic "Lean On Me."
"Our original material and choice of covers allow us the opportunity to reach a wide audience," Arriale recently told Billboard. "Music should give people a sense of hope and comfort, and when the tunes are already familiar with people, we can then take them on a little journey through our improvisations."
Arriale's trio has already incorporated selections from the Beatles, Thelonious Monk, and Leonard Bernstein into its repertoire. "It doesn't matter who wrote the tune," Arriale says. "It's about the quality of the writing."
While "Arise" is the trio's seventh studio effort, it's the first for independent Motema Music, and the first to crack Billboard's Top Jazz Albums chart, where it debuted last week at No. 17. Growing media attention, including a positive mention in The New Yorker last year, has made Arriale one of the more talked-about artists in the jazz community. The critical acclaim helped her 2002 effort "Inspiration" (TCB) reach jazz radio, which has eagerly embraced her latest effort.
Arriale and her trio will be touring for much of the summer, hitting festivals and clubs in the U.S. and abroad, with updates posted on her Web site.
NO GROWING PAINS: Thicke, whose full name is Robin Thicke, has worked for years as a producer and songwriter for such acts as Marc Anthony, Brian McKnight, and Christina Aguilera. But on "A Beautiful World," he gives the public its first taste of pure Thicke.
The album, the first released under Andre Harrell and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds' Interscope Records imprint NuAmerica, was originally slated for release last November under the name "Cherry Blue Skies." It was delayed until early April to give the artist time to add two more tracks -- "She's Gangsta" and what became the title cut.
Thicke's growing exposure is due, in part, to a Sprite commercial, which features the artist performing and actors talking about the song. "A Beautiful World" made a strong impression last week on the Billboard charts, checking in at No. 152 on The Billboard 200 and at No. 4 on the Heatseekers tally.
Thicke's amalgam of rock, pop, R&B, and hip-hop has earned him favorable comparisons to Jamiroquai and Remy Shand, but the musician -- son of "Growing Pains" actor Alan Thicke -- describes his writing process as organic. "I had no idea what I was doing while I was doing it. I just made decisions based on what sounds good and feels good," he told Billboard recently. "If something started with a rock-guitar sound and it was a good riff, I would just keep going with it. If it was a hip-hop drum beat, I'd work with it."
THIS AIN'T THE BLUES: With an adopted name ripped from the blues standard "Stagger Lee," the tale of an American outlaw immortalized by Lloyd Price, New York-bred rapper Stagga Lee (real name: Eric Newman) is bound to attract attention. His first single, "Roll With M.V.P," provides further evidence that Stagga Lee knows his music history. The club-ready cut steals its hook from a sample of "Lovin' You" from soul artist Minnie Riperton. It's no mistake that producer Robert Clivilles has worked with R&B singers James Brown, Luther Vandross, and Whitney Houston.
Radio has responded to the old-school track, with such West Coast cities as San Francisco and San Diego instantly taking to the East Coast rhymer. After the video was picked up by BET, where it has been in the top-40 for the past few weeks, Stagga Lee started getting national play. Last week, the cut pierced Billboard's Hot 100 at No. 94. The track also reached a new peak position on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart with a three-slot increase to No. 74.
The rapper has signed with ArtistDirect, which is taking its time in breaking Stagga Lee. A full-length album is planned for release by the end of the summer, with no official date yet announced. In the meantime, Stagga Lee will play a number of smaller-market radio dates meant to fuel word-of-mouth, with confirmed gigs May 20 in Pittsburgh, May 27 in Fort Myers, Fla., and June 8 in Harrisburg, Pa. A May 15 show in San Jose, Calif., with the ubiquitous 50 Cent, should do plenty to broaden Stagga Lee's audience.
HOT IN HERE: Vancouver, British Columbia-based foursome Hot Hot Heat released its debut full-length, "Make Up the Breakdown," last October on renowned indie Sub Pop. Some glowing underground press, and a little help from MTV2, has brought the group a national audience. Last week, Hot Hot Heat made its debut on Billboard's Heatseekers chart at No. 34.
Hot Hot Heat's energetic brand of synthed-out pop aligns it in spirit with the recent wave of lo-fi garage rockers, but its manic, danceable sound sets the band apart. At times, "Make Up the Breakdown" sounds like an angular, post-punk Shudder to Think or the Dismemberment Plan, yet the group also exhibits the melodic prowess of such new wave artists as the Cure, Elvis Costello, and XTC.
"Make Up the Breakdown" first crept onto Billboard's Top Independent Albums chart in early February, reaching a peak at No. 26 last week. But future Hot Hot Heat releases likely won't qualify for that chart, as the group recently inked a deal with Warner Bros. Records. The major label has embarked on a gradual "relaunch" of the album, which will get more copies in stores and simultaneously step up the promotion of the band. The quartet is touring Europe through late May.