What makes a good producer? As I see it, there are three types of producers all bringing their own unique talents to a project:
• Technician – Acting more as an engineer, the Technician understands how to capture great sounds. The Technician is a technological wizard who has an innate understanding of instruments and amps that’s as thick as Sears catalog. Think: Steve Albini.
• Maestro – A composer and arranger, the Maestro doesn’t just read music but also understands it so intricately that he can turn any melody and bridge any verse so seamlessly that it’s impossible to imagine how it could have gone any other way. Think: Phil Spector or Brian Wilson.
• Life Coach – This character has a bizarre and natural sense of what’s Right and Wrong in music. He may not have the technical knowledge or natural ability to play music, but he instinctively understands how to create an atmosphere and draw out the best in an artist. Think: Rick Rubin.
While widely different in their approaches to music, each of these production styles, when successful, share two things: Good Taste and Style. Both of which Mark Ronson has for miles and miles.
Mark Ronson is a man of style and impeccable taste. Proof of that is his decision to employ Brooklyn’s the Dap Kings to back up Amy Winehouse on half the tracks of her breakout album, Back to Black. Arguably the hottest band cashing checks today, the Dap Kings lend an air of authenticity and soul to any artist they back and that is hard to come by in the gunslinger world of studio musicianship. And maybe their ability is in the fact that they aren’t your usual guns for hire but a working band in their own right. They also sport fantastic suits, which has to help them remain in character and pump out the tightest rhythms since the Funk Brothers ruled the radio.
The opening track of Version is a case study in cool with a funky instrumental featuring the Daptone Horns. Picture yourself in a mid-60s spy thriller racing around Europe in an Aston Martin and this is the soundtrack to the opening credits. Cue the foxy girls.
Like any Man of Style worth his weight in good cologne, Mark Ronson likes to surround himself with interesting women. Both Lilly Allen and Amy Winehouse make appearances on Version, the former with a bouncy jig with her signature attitude and spunk giving a ne’er-do-well suitor the business. “Oh My God” kicks with a sing along chorus and more of those killer horns. The latter, Ms. Winehouse, checks in with a period-perfect piece of late-60s soul-pop that should find its way to house parties all winter long. Both “Oh My God” and “Valerie” are Ronson doing what he does best.
There’s a great blog I recently discovered dedicated to cover songs–good and bad. Version gives a taste of both with the dancey and slightly annoying cover of the Smiths’ “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” by Daniel Merriweather that segues into a refrain of “You Keep Me Hanging On” by the Supremes that either infuriates Morrissey to the point of murder or fills him with jealousy for not having thought of it first.
Another head scratcher is ex-Take That front man and confirmed bachelor Robbie Williams’ take on the classic Madchester rave-up, “The Only One I know” by the Charlatans. Initially, I was annoyed by the mere inclusion of Williams, even though I am thoroughly entertained by his antics. Then I was confused by his performance of the song that seemed willfully devoid of emotion. Imagine a robot version of what is already a song lacking in dynamics. After two listens, I loved it. I can’t explain it.
Version is a goldmine for party mixes, which is something Ronson has been doing for a few years now. DJs have known that his mixes get asses shaking, now the suburbs are about to find out. If your neighbor’s tri-level is rocking, don’t come knocking. You evidently weren’t cool enough to make the cut for his semi-annual basement blow-out.
Previously: The Brutal Story of Amy Winehouse.