In the run up to Easter, I’ve been celebrating all things chocolate! Today, I’m going to be celebrating those artists whose voices have frankly rich, chocolatey tones. In all three cases, I’ve chosen videos from NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts, a video series of live concerts. It’ll take some time to listen to all three, so settle back, chocolate in hand and enjoy!
First up a singer we saw twice last year and who we’re scheduled to see again in Milan this November. He’s long been a favourite of mine and I’ve finally managed to turn my beloved onto Gregory Porter.
Next up is Alicia Keys who we’ll be seeing soon again in concert, this time in Monaco. This Tiny Desk performance was recorded in 2020. I think she has an aura that radiates compassion and kindness. This spirit is the key to Keys’ songwriting, which is rooted in introspection and mindfulness. She kicks off the set with an uncanny ode to combat the darkness of these times in America: “Show Me Love,” a single she released in 2019. No one could have predicted then how much her lyrics and musical healing would be crucial during this emotionally fraught time of unprecedented political and racial unrest.
The stand-out moment during her concert is the premiere of “Gramercy Park”, a song from her self-titled album, Alicia. It’s one of those timeless songs that transcends radio formats and genres, with lyrics that address how utter selflessness and worrying about making everyone happy but yourself can throw your own centre askew. The song’s spiritual refrain is sure to be a sing-along moment for the rest of Keys’s career.
She wraps up the set with later singles “Underdog” and “Fallin’.” The world, now more than ever, needs love, reflection and accountability – a mantra that’s woven into every fibre of Alicia Keys’s being and every lyric of her songs.
My third and final artist is Lenny Kravitz recorded during the early days of the pandemic from his island home in the Bahamas. It’s done in the same spirit as the earlier concerts — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space. After wrapping up an evocative rendition of “Thinking of You,” a touching song he penned in 1998 about his late mother, Lenny Kravitz imparts what’s really weighing on him during this historic time:
In the midst of all that’s transpiring on our planet right now, it’s a blessed time for introspection, more importantly action. … What side of history are you standing on?
He’s joined by his longtime collaborator, co-writer and guitarist Craig Ross, and young mentee Yianni Giannakopoulos, who collectively blend rich layers of rhythmic guitar. “What Did I Do With My Life?” seems like a response to the questions posed in the chorus of “Thinking of You”; the refrain alludes to living up to what his mother wanted him to be. And it’s only fitting that he ended with “We Can Get It All Together,” a message about the power of unity.