Preview and buy the album here.
They say the measure of a good song is that, no matter how it was recorded, no matter how much production went into it or how many overdubs went on it, it can sound just as great with one voice and one instrument. Skylar Grey proves that in spades with her new iTunes Sessions release.
If you’ve heard her “debut” album Don’t Look Down (and you absolutely should –it’s killer and you can read a review here), you probably think along the lines of it just being another churned-out corporate product. There are heaps of production on that recording and too many co-writing credits that usually spell trouble. But underneath you can hear that one lone voice, aching in the night somewhere in a bleak inner city and accompanied by a singular guitar. In Grey’s case, these days it is more often a piano.
Take a listen to her cover of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want.” This is Skylar Grey’s roots when she went by her first two names Holly Brook (her last name being Hafermann), growing up in the most unlikely of places: Mazomanie, Wisconsin. And she nails it – gorgeously. She was schooled on Joni Mitchell and began singing at the age of three, going on to play in a folk combo with her mother called Generations. She’s been through a lot of living since then and a lot of hell.
If you think Grey is just another mediocre pop singer propped up by industry money and shadowy music industrialists, these nine performance will prove you wrong and you simply would not grasp the tenacity with which this woman has lived her life. But we don’t want to digress too far from the music so you can read more about her here.
The crown jewel in Skylar Grey’s talents is that she is able to flutter from blatant pop to haunted confessionals to torch songs and this is the mark of a great vocalist. “White Suburban” closes out the Don’t Look Down album and here it is rendered in even darker tones, conveying the longing memory of that first love and how “the first won’t happen twice.”
iTunes Sessions features a version of “Room for Happiness” a track by electronic artist Kaskade with Grey on vocals (watch the video here). Contrasting the two versions reveals the golden nugget of individuality that churns beneath the surface of hard beats and heavy synths, Grey giving it a soft, intense rendering with just acoustic guitars.
The same is true for “Love the Way You Lie,” the smash hit by Eminem (featuring Rhianna) that Grey co-wrote and which catapulted her into the big-leagues (Eminem makes an appearance on Don’t Look Down and was the executive producer).
The remainder of iTunes Sessions covers tracks from the Don’t Look Down album. The haunting and bitter “Back from the Dead,” the irrepressible independence of “Wear Me Out,” and the life-affirming declaration of “Sunshine” are every bit as powerful as the album versions. “C’mon Let Me Ride” is still a pop-song parody although few actually get the joke.
One has to remember just how young Grey is – still in her twenties. Don’t Look Down was Skylar Grey’s debut but not Holly Brook Hafermann’s. The depth of experience that lies beneath these songs is staggering and recording iTunes Sessions was a brilliant move to bring her personality to the fore.