August 17, 2014

Ron Roecker's Track-by-Track Review of Amy Grant's "In Motion: the Remixes" Out Tuesday, August 19 Might Surprise You

If you were even a little bit alive in the early 1990s, either you had a copy of Amy Grant’s mega pop masterpiece “Heart in Motion” on cassette tape or three of your friends did!  The album was the equivalent of a Katy Perry album today – pure pop perfection!  It sold more than 5 million copies and spawned 5 hit singles: “That’s What Love is For,” “ Every Heartbeat,” “Good for Me,” “I Will Remember You” and her biggest hit to date “Baby, Baby.”

In 1991, if you asked me what the chances were of Amy releasing a dance remix version of “Baby, Baby” in 2014 that would hit #8 on the Billboard Dance Club chart (and climbing), I would have said, “not a snowball’s chance in, well, heck.”  (BTW, “Baby, Baby” is indeed at #8 on the Club Charts at publishing time of this review and has a solid chance of moving into the top 5 this coming week, if not hitting top 3 (23 years after it was originally released!))

I digress… Yes, I am a huge fan of Amy Grant as an artist and as a human being.  However, I am a huge fan of pop remixes and pop remix producers (I probably have 200 different Madonna remixes alone) as well, so I’m always skeptical when an artist decides to do a remix project when he/she hasn’t had much experience with creating club remixes and with the club culture (such as Amy Grant).

About a month ago, I was sent a super secret stream to preview the entire album.  Cut to the chase…skeptics are made to be proven wrong as I haven’t taken it out of heavy rotation in my car, home, office, gym (if I went to the gym), etc.! 

The GRAMMY-winning, multi-platinum producers who participated on the album have created mega, multiplatinum remixes for the likes of Gaga, Madonna, Adele, Britney, Beyonce, Justin, Rihanna, Whitney and Katy.  The producers include Tony Moran, Warren Rigg, Dave Aude, Chris Cox, Ralphi Rosario, Moto Blanco, 7th Heaven, Hex Hector, Guy Scheiman, and Mark Picchiotti.  These are some of the biggest players in EDM and they’re remixing songs by one of my favorite artists of all time Amy Grant?!  The only thing that could be more spectacular than that would be, say, a gaggle of shirtless hunks riding majestic stallions down the middle of a cartoon koi pond baring gifts of nachos and diet coke to yours truly!  HEAVEN.

And back to Amy…Kudos to her for not going what may have been the easier route of releasing an album of only commercial hits – the producers dug deep into her vast catalog of songs, finding and remixing tracks from a variety of career stages and albums (but not touching her most recent collection “How Mercy Looks from Here”), including “”Heart in Motion” (Baby, Baby; Every Heartbeat, That’s What Love is For, You’re Not Alone), “Simple Things” (Out in the Open), “Somewhere Down the Road” (Better Than a Hallelujah), “The Collection” (Stay For A While), Unguarded (Find a Way) and “Lead Me On” (Say Once More).   

The thing that is quite evident is that the producers who participated have a great respect for Amy Grant as a musician, songwriter and pioneer and her respect for them is equal to that (notice she credits each song as “featuring (insert producer’s name)” as opposed to simply listing them as the remix producer in the liner notes).

Amy Grant’s “In Motion: the Remixes”
Various Producers
Available August 19, 2014
Track-by-Track Review
By Ron Roecker
August 17, 2014

Track 1: “That’s What Love is For” (featuring Chris Cox who has created huge remixes for Madonna, Celine, Mariah, Whitney, Britney, Deborah Cox)                                                               

If you want to know what this remix project is all about and whether or not Amy and her collaborators were serious, get the album, turn up the volume and push play as “That’s What Love is For” starts off the entire dance party.  As Deborah Cox once told me, you can’t have a great remix without a great original song.  I think Deborah would say “That’s What Love is For” is one of those goodies!  A beautiful song co-written by Amy, it’s her biggest ballad so far, and let me tell you…this is one of the best remixes on the entire album – it will take you gladly or kicking and screaming to the dance floor and you’ll still be dancing even when it’s over – while you congratulate yourself for still knowing all the words.  The credit goes equally to Grant’s song writing power and producer Chris Cox who approaches every remix as a musician and not a producer first.  He’s incredibly talented and musical and turned this ballad into a bona fide club thumper that has all the makings of a massive hit! Since Amy has released both “Baby Baby” and “That's…Love” prior to the album release I am assuming this is going to be the 2nd single. 

Although it’s an incredibly solid choice, I would have picked a different one for 2nd single (read on to find out which!)…

Track 2:  “Stay For A While” (feat Tony Moran and Warren Rigg (these legends have worked with Madonna, Mariah, Celine, Kylie, Ricky Martin, Celine…you name it.)

This track was one of the new singles included on Amy’s first Greatest Hits project “The Collection” when it was released in 1986.  It became a big hit – again, pop perfection here.  Moran and Rigg have produced some of my favorite remixes of all time so I had really high hopes for this track.  The brief acapella intro and the subsequent beats that almost lift you out of your chair are a sure sign that this is going to be a great track all on its own.  It doesn’t disappoint!  Try listening to it and NOT belting out the chorus…all day!

Track 3: “You’re Not Alone” (feat Guy Scheimen who has worked with Rihanna, Lady Gaga, JLo and has single handedly become the fave DJ of gays from club-to-club and coast-to-coast)

THIS IS THE TRACK I WOULD HAVE PICKED FOR THE 2ND SINGLE WITHOUT A DOUBT. The EDM crowd will eat this remix UP thanks to its “I’ve got your back” theme and production that sort of harkens back to the jumping, playful beats of “The Popcorn Song” from the mid-80s.  With Scheimen’s skyrocketing career, this will be of interest to club DJs without a doubt.   Amy ate some Lay’s potato chips before she recorded this, as that’s how she gets that extra raspy edge to her voice when she wants it.  Combine that with very relevant and much-needed affirmation that “you’re never alone” which will resonate like crazy with teens and club goers, and then top it all off with a production that’s probably a little harder and edgier than any of the other tracks and you have a remix that is Madonna-worthy.  Yes, I did.  I just said a new Amy Grant remix is Madonna-worthy. (Oh my Cher, can you imagine if Amy and Madge did a duet???!!  Texting Amy now…)

Track 4: “Every Heartbeat” (feat Moto Blanco who have remixed Adele, Lady Gaga, Janet, Jlo, Cee-Lo, and more) 

If you love the original version of this song (it was the 2nd biggest hit off of “Heart in Motion”), you are going to be absolutely giddy with this dance remix by the British duo.  The remix takes the original and wraps it in a more modern beat while keeping the playfulness in tact and the chorus bubbly -- without ever becoming too cutesy. 
If anyone who hears this doesn’t automatically start singing and dancing all over themselves then those poor souls are dead inside.  ‘Nuff said.

Track 5: “Better than a Hallelujah” (feat Mark Picchiotti who has worked with The Killers, Kylie Minogue and Beyonce to name a few, and has made his mark as a house music and remix producer of Gospel). 

He was very ambitious when he set out to do what he did with this very brooding song.  And he started by adding an entire gospel choir all throughout the song. 

I thought this was a risky choice at first and when I heard what the producer tried to do with it, I had to give him props.  If you know the song (and especially the video), it’s not a song that makes you wanna get up and twerk…it’s very heavy.  But the remix takes us to church and makes it an uplifting, full-on anthem. This is a single that I would have loved Amy to record new vocals on, as her vocals from the heartbreaking original don’t match the through-the-rafters intensity of the new remix.  Laying down new vocals that were really feeling the spirit would have made this the most powerful track on the album.  However, it’s an inventive approach and reworking of one of Amy’s newest classics.  I dare you not to move or sing or raise your arms, children…’cause Amy and Mark are takin’ us to CHURCH with this one.

Track 6: “Find a Way”
And then we come to “Find a Way” – one of Amy’s very first crossover songs that is a fan favorite. It’s also one of my old personal faves and when I saw that Ralphi Rosario (yes, another one of my fave DJs/Remixers) was on the job, I couldn’t wait to be blown away by the new version.   However, it’s my least favorite remix on the album and that lies squarely on the shoulders of Rosario who phoned in his part at best.  Thinly layered, repetitive and uninteresting – he wastes a sing-along chorus that begs to have a huge build up and then fireworks shooting out of it’s end.  I mean, all I keep hearing in my head is a truly inspired dub step treatment of the song and VOILA…you have a “Find a Way” masterpiece.  Unfortunately, didn’t happen on this one..

Track 7: “Baby, Baby” (featuring Dave Aude who has worked with everyone who’s popular today!)

It’s a 23-year-old song that was remixed by one of the hottest DJs in the world and it’s #8 on the current Billboard Dance Club Chart.  So do the math if this is a good one or not!

Track 8: “Say Once More” (feat Hex Hector who has worked with Madonna, Mariah, Celine, Britney, Justin, Pink and more)

A haunting, beautiful love song off Amy’s contemporary Christian masterpiece “Lead Me On” (it is considered one of – if not THE -- Best Contemporary Christian albums of all time).  This is reworked into a modern, beautiful and lyrical ode to unconditional love.  Like Dave Aude and Chris Cox, Hector is a musician who is able to create a new dance landscape for his remixes while holding on to the original’s essence.  This is another catalog track that wasn’t a commercial hit (it was never released as a single) but because of the caliber of producer and the quality of the song, Amy and Hex were able to make a gorgeous new anthem of unconditional love that is as modern as it is touching.

Track 9: “Out in the Open” (remixed by one of today’s hottest producing teams 7th Heaven who has remixed for Demi Lavato, Britney, Katy, OneRepublic, Pink, Lady Gaga, and many others)

This little known song from her album “Simple Things” from the early ‘00s, which should have gotten more attention than it did, isn’t one that any die-hard would have on his/her radar necessarily.  But here it is…It’s my favorite track on the entire album – why? All the creative juices of the various parties involved collide and mesh so well that it truly creates a new masterpiece of a song.  It’s a beautiful, timely song tonally, lyrically, thematically and musically. 

It starts off dramatically with an electronic boom as if it were a drum roll and in comes that sweet alto voice almost acapella:

“They were the sweetest words I’d ever heard
My heart could barely take it in
Like water offered to the lips of a tired and thirsty man
‘cause it’s a tangled web I’ve woven
I don't’ know all the reasons…
But I’m standing here and spinning ‘round
in the fields of freedom
and I’m still alive and reaching out
and I can feel the healing”

The remix production pays homage to the slow-burn-starts-and-big-thumping-finishes of a Donna Summer hit from the 1970s.  It’s incredibly powerful, and I’m sure why Amy put this as the last official track on the album. It’s the “big finish” that truly is a big finish because it’s not gratuitous and it has a depth that is rarely found – and badly needed -- in most dance tracks today.  Well done with this underdog of a brilliant song that became the leader of the remix pack for me. 

Track 10: Bonus “Stay for A While”
Track 11: Bonus Megamix

In Motion: the Remixes was a risky project for Amy Grant.  If it sounded or felt like she was merely trying to capitalize on the popularity of EDM, it would have prevented any new fans from embracing her and it would have alienated a chunk of her otherwise very loyal fan base. 

Luckily for us, Amy Grant – although it might come as a surprise to those who don’t know a lot about her – is a risk-taker.  She always has been, and I do believe it isn’t in her nature to change now.

If none of these songs had ever been recorded or released prior to this album, the collection of the remixed versions in and of itself would be an amazing, relevant, thought-provoking, dance-til-you-hurt effort.  This is the album that will bridge new fans with the old because it celebrates and embraces EDM and its influencers and it celebrates and spotlights the essence of one of the most prolific songwriters of our time. 

In Motion: the Remixes is a winner for artist and fans alike because it starts with a genuine, mutual respect that the producers and Amy have for each other.  Then the producers were able to start at a higher level because of the quality of the songs which upped everyone’s game.  And when I asked Amy why she wasn’t doing press around the album (she begged her manager for the summer off after touring for 2 solid years), she simply said…thanks to these talented musicians and DJs, I want the music to just speak for itself.  (I think she’s ready for a Madonna duet…definitely!) 

What’s next?
With covers in her arsenal which shout “remix me ASAP” such as Big Yellow Taxi, The Things We Do for Love, and It’s Too Late, hits such as I Will Remember You, Lead Me On, House of Love, Lucky One, Next Time I Fall, and catalog tracks such as The Power, Oh How the Years Go By, Children of the World, What About the Love, Curious Thing, Nobody’s Home and more, I can’t imagine “In Motion 2: the Remixes” isn’t already in the works!

Amy Grant’s “In Motion: the Remixes” is available on iTunes Tuesday, August 19.