Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Belated Valentine: Sade Returns

There is something to be said for an artist who can take off TEN years from making an album and still be relevant.  It seems many of my favorite artists do this.  They keep me entertained for several years on their scant portfolio of music, almost creating a greater appreciation for their art.  And then one day, a new work comes out and you find that all that you loved once about that musician has returned in glorious, gleaming aural beauty.  Yes, the artist formerly known as Helen Folasade Adu is one such artist.  Sade has returned, as fresh as ever.

I confess a certain crush on her beauty.  Born in Nigeria and raised in Britain, Adu makes 50 look like the new 30.  My wife was born in Ethiopia and raised in Italy.  There is an undeniable intrigue about a woman whose playground has been the world.  They carry themselves differently, they age differently and mature with the same velvety sensibilities as fine wine.  

Granted, many people pigeon-hole Sade as one of those VH-1 performers who wind up in the dreaded "Adult Contemporary" category.  And with Sting, they'd be right.   The video for the new single, "Soldier of Love" is contemporary and shows maturity(even if a little Janet Jackson-esque), but I'd hardly call her washed up or ready for an exorcism on "Behind the Music". 

Sade's voice is one of the most recognizable on the airwaves.  It is sultry, educated, firm and lilting all at once.  On "Soldier of Love", the latest release and single, the first words are sung after a commanding new wave tango beat and trumpet call- and you ask yourself, "Is this Sade?"  Yes.  Her voice has matured and sounds to have dropped an octave, that is until she begins a refrain about losing the use of her heart, but still being alive.  "I'm at the borderline of my faith. I'm at the hinterland of my devotion."  This is Sade's "Frozen" period.  

Just like Madonna, Sade and her long time producer Mike Pela, have found the proper polish for her bronze voice with lovely instrumental couplings.  "Morning Bird" has the very familiar feel to the "Love Deluxe" years, but with the addition of undoctored solo piano, it's an amazingly fresh sound.  Sade shows the healthy range of her voice in between haunting cello, piano and a barely audible arabesque tambourine beat.  This type of empty-room, musica triste sound is what can be found on another of my favorite artists' newish releases "Antidepressant" (2006) by Lloyd Cole.

"Be That Easy" is a lush, lazy waltz with reverberating psycho-billy guitars and snare brushes that could easily be a Julie Cruise tune written for a David Lynch film were it not for the warm layered harmonies.  Instead of scaring the shit out of you, it makes you want to pull up a big heavy quilt and watch the snow fall as you drift off for a monster nap.

As the album progresses, it doesn't seem possible the sounds could get more lush, but they do.  "In Another Time" sees the first appearance of the trademark saxophone we all associate with the Smooth Operator.  Heartbeat-type down tempo beats are another signature of many Sade tracks.  "Skin" lopes along with the same kind of retro-soul beat of an even more chill version of "Sexual Healing" from Marvin Gaye, as she simultaneously references "Michael- back in the day".   If you're thinking this is the perfect Sunday Album, you would be dead on.  There is so much to like on this release that when you consider how long it's been since her last release, it makes you a little giddy and a little sad all at once.  A mere 10 tracks and just over 41 minutes, less is definitely more.  

With lyrics that reference the moon, birds, love warriors and lost chances, flames and a safe hiding place for your broken heart ("The Safest Place"), "Soldier of Love", as with all six previous releases, reaches for the inner heart strings of anyone who has ever loved the music Helen Sade Adu makes for the world to enjoy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It'Snow Joke!

I like snow.  Really.  I think it's fun, and I love the buzz it generates.  I especially love cooking for people when it snows.  When you're a kid, you can't wait for school to be called off and get out and romp around.  As an adult, you can't wait for WORK to be called off, so you can- well, you get the idea.  But, there's a certain amount of anxiety that develops when your job is chef and it snows in biblical proportions (not that there was ever a blizzard in Israel, but...nevermind). 

You see, 90% of you are thinking about work on Wednesday, school and any events going on.  You might even be concerned about Thursday since this mess is supposed to carry over.  But, while all this snow business is going on, we chefs are wringing our hands and cracking our knuckles over some details that we have only minimal control over.  What am I babbling about?  This weekend.  Are you there yet?  No?  Valentines' weekend and President's day weekend?  "Ooooohh- THAT!"  Yeah-that.  

Many people think that Mother's Day or some of the other biggies hold title to "The Busiest Restaurant Day of the Year", but you would be wrong.  Saint Valentine's Day and restaurants are intimately and perversely intertwined.  And, if you must know, when the 7-year cycle rolls around placing February 14th on a Sunday, that's not ONE, not TWO, but THREE opportunities to capitalize on famished lovers and canoodling couples.  "But, " you say, "it's supposed to be a beautiful weekend?  What's the deal?"  

Well, here's a little inside look at some things you might not think about.  
In order for a restaurant to promote a big weekend, it needs to settle on a menu well in advance that it can hoist up the flag pole.  It needs to get the word out.  Ads are placed, emails sent, literature printed.  Then, food needs to be ordered.  Now in a market of perishable goods, some items can be ordered in advance, some cannot.  We are not necessarily in command of, no matter how technologically advanced our society, the days which purveyors deliver and the availability of product (especially fresh) when it snows.  (Interesting aside:  fresh fish and seafood ALWAYS gets bumped on continental flights for two priorities:  fresh flowers and dead bodies.  True story.  Apparently, despite the TRILLION dollar world-wide industry of food service, the burial business trumps all.)  So, if you're following, we have an in-progress secondary blizzard falling in the middle of the week, an impending monumental and crucial restaurant weekend on tap, and the threat of power loss, mass-cancellations, and nowhere to park.  Pass the Tums.

Yes- it can be a little slice of hell if you're not in control of your wits.  As an owner, I remember following the weather in winter like a bookie follows the ponies.  When I lived at the shore, it was the same:  rain, or even worse, hurricanes, can trash your anticipated revenue, and most often, on misguided meteorological reports.  I remember one Labor Day weekend in Cape May, I went online to see the forecast.  It was- how shall we say- too "glass half empty".  So I wrote a forecast that was "glass half full", printed it up and directed the front desk clerks to read this, "the latest forecast" to nervous travelers.  

So, this wasn't really so much about venting a neurosis as much as just offering a little insider info on what it takes to pull off a successful (i.e. profitable) restaurant venture in a lousy economy with nefarious competition and increasing operating costs.  Most logical human beings, upon being presented with all this information, along with overhead costs, skyrocketing utilities, high-turnover and low profit margin, would ask- WHY??  Well, nobody said we were logical.

But, when the dining room fills up and guests stare eye-to-eye at each other and order the chef's specials and a luscious bottle of wine while enjoying the music, lighting and atmosphere of a full, humming restaurant, somehow, just somehow- it makes it all worth it. 


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