Welcome to the September 2014 “back to school” issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

In celebration of Gospel Music Heritage Month, we’re announcing the release of video footage related to our 2011 conference “Why We Sing: Indianapolis Gospel Music in Church, Community, and Industry.” We’re also featuring reviews of recent gospel albums from Brent Jones, Bryan Andrew Wilson, Nancy Jackson Johnson, and Andrea McClurkin-Mellini, plus the gospel-jazz of tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. Other jazz releases include the new double CD-DVD set Ahmad Jamal Live at the Olympia and Dr. John’s tribute to Louis Armstrong Ske-Dat-De-Dat…The Spirit of Satch.

Hip hop releases include BusDriver’s Perfect Hair, the new Souls of Mischief album, and two projects that combine hip hop with classical music—Amp Live’s Headphone Concerto and Ensemble Mik Nawooj’s A Hip Hop Orchestra. Other classical releases include the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Hallowed Ground (ft. Maya Angelou) and Canadian piano prodigy Daniel Clarke Bouchard’s debut Scènes d’enfants, in addition to Billy Porter’s Back on Broadway.

Our world music feature is Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ Libation, currently part of a fund and awareness-raising campaign about the spread of Ebola. R&B releases include Full Force’s star-studded With Love from our Friends, Shaliek’s Blood Sweat Tears, Leela James’ Fall for You, plus a new blues album from Eddie Cotton, Jr. Wrapping up this issue is our list of August 2014 releases of note.

View review September 3rd, 2014

In celebration of Gospel Music Heritage Month, and as a tribute to Al “The Bishop” Hobbs, the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture is offering online access to interviews and panel discussions videotaped as part of the conference “Why We Sing: Indianapolis Gospel Music in Church, Community, and Industry,” which took place on the IU Bloomington campus in November 2011.  To access the collection via the IU Avalon Media System, go to: http://bit.ly/1qnZicL.  More information about the conference, one-on-one interviews, and participant bios can be found after the jump.

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View review September 3rd, 2014

Brent Jones

Title: Joy Comin

Artist: Brent Jones

Label: Echo Park JDI

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 12, 2014

 

In the early 1990s, the gospel music world was introduced to an up and coming contemporary group performing as Brent Jones & the T.P. [Total Praise] Mobb. However, it wasn’t until a decade later that Jones and his group would become highly sought after gospel trendsetters with chart topping songs like “Good Times” and “Midnight,” featuring Coco of the female R&B group SWV.  Originally based in Los Angeles, in the mid-2000s Jones relocated to serve as a minister of music for prominent churches like Ebenezer AME in Maryland. This move led to the disbanding of the T.P. Mobb—the group that had breathed life into his compositions. Fortunately, after a brief hiatus from the recording industry, Jones has returned with the release of his latest project Joy Comin, featuring the voices of the Orange County Gospel Choir.

In many ways, this project is reflective of Jones’ writing style which combines influences of hip hop and R&B with the powerful messages and harmonies of contemporary gospel music. The title track “Joy Comin” is a simple upbeat choir song that easily inspires listeners to dance. Interestingly, dance and celebration are common themes as this album includes both a “church mix” and a “club remix” of the song, “I Can Dance.” Jones describes the church mix as a worship song that is Sunday morning friendly. Indeed, the simple melody and lyrics are rather infectious as the driving jazz and funk inspired accompaniment is the perfect musical environment for spontaneous movement.  Unexpectedly, the “club mix” is a techno infused version of the song that retains the message, “All Night, I can dance with Jesus.” Following is the concept video for the “church mix”:

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Beyond inciting joy, Jones also offers moments of reflection and meditation with songs like “I Promise” and “The Mansion Song.” The former is a slow tempo song in which he recounts the despairing struggles that he faced over the past three years and the hope that he found through his faith. The latter illustrates the negative effects of privileging fortune and fame above a meaningful relationship with God. Led by Shaunna Daniels, “The Mansion Song” begins as a sympathetic ballad as the soloist describes the emptiness and loneliness of her glamorous life. However, during the vamp, it transforms to a heart wrenching statement of surrender as the soloist and choir declare, “I give up everything, I’d rather have Jesus.”

While Joy Comin is primarily contemporary, a few selections showcase Jones’ appreciation for traditional gospel themes and sounds. For example, his adaptation of the hymn “Is Your All on the Altar” features the iconic rhythmic triple meter (described by the late Dr. Horace Boyer as the “gospel waltz”), while the full bodied choral sound is replaced with a smaller ensemble reminiscent of the Roberta Martin Singers of yesteryear. Conversely, the song “He Rose” is an up-tempo, heavy hitting piece. But, it includes a chorus that depicts the Resurrection story in a colorful style similar to traditional African American preachers.  In this way, Jones displays a level of versatility in his stylistic approach as well as the kinds of messages that he conveys to his listeners. At a time when some listeners and practitioners question the future of gospel choral music, Jones and the Orange County Gospel Choir present choirs the world over with some exciting new songs for worship through Joy Comin.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review September 3rd, 2014

Bryan Andrew Wilson - The One Percent

Title: The One Percent

Artist: Bryan Andrew Wilson

Label: EchoPark JDI

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 17, 2014

 

 

While many gospel fans may remember young Byran Andrew Wilson’s soaring vocals on the dynamic recording of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” by the Mississippi Children’s Choir, twenty years later he has shed his childhood sound, pursued higher education and work in ministry, and cultivated his own artistic style as an adult. Wilson’s latest project The One Percent is a collection of mostly newly composed songs showcasing contemporary styles with some “old school” flair. The album’s title indicates the collection’s primary theme which Wilson illuminates in the liner notes: “It’s time for us to go out and find that lost one percent…I hope that all of these songs will encourage and empower us as we all start searching for that lost one percent even if that search starts within ourselves.”

The project’s first single, “Turning Away,” is making waves as a worship song which talks about overcoming one’s mistakes through drawing closer to God. With a thoughtful piano accompaniment and a simple melody, this powerful meditation encourages listeners to “turn away” from people and objects that distract from a spiritually satisfying life.

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In a different light, selections like “Victory,” “Conqueror,” and “Faithful God” suggest that a success in life is directly tied to a relationship with God, with musical settings that feature contemporary, yet “funky” beats with full-bodied horn and bass accompaniment.  Throughout the album, Wilson is a commanding vocal presence as he employs colorful “runs” alongside gospel growls and rhythmic sermonizing to emphasize his personal conviction and passion.

Several songs on the album, such as “I’m Yours” and “Pick Me,” indicate an appreciation for mid-20th century pop and soul as they make use of “old school” rhythmic handclaps and instrumental arrangements. Of particular interest is Wilson’s cover of the song “Stand By Me,” which initially pays homage to Ben E. King’s popular version with prominent bass line and reverent delivery. However, during the chorus, the song quickly shifts to a Caribbean (possibly Soca) inspired beat with backing vocals echoing “stand by me.”  Overall, One Percent is an encouraging and fun musical experience that will render listeners eager to hear more from this familiar, yet rising gospel artist.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review September 3rd, 2014

NJJ

Title: The Heart of Nancey Jackson Johnson

Artist: Nancey Jackson Johnson

Label: Camdon Music, LLC

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 24, 2014

 

As far as Nancey Jackson Johnson is concerned, her foray into the gospel music industry is not just a move to satisfy the desire of producing religious and worship-oriented songs, but a passionate response to a divine call. Her most recent album, The Heart of Nancey Jackson Johnson, is simply an outpouring of the heart. It is a human heart—in this case, that of Nancey— speaking to the ‘heart’ of God. And this has its foundation in Nancey’s personal experiences of God’s wondrous and sometimes miraculous interventions in the whole course of her life right from the cradle.

The core and the key to understanding the message of the album can be gleaned from “I’m Free,” the album’s first single. About this track Nancey declares “I’ve been set free from fear, from low esteem, from rejection, from people and their opinions of me. So I’m not ashamed to give God everything. I’m not ashamed to break it down like David did. I’m radical because I am redeemed.” The same air of total freedom as well as an absorption with God and thankful contemplation of his marvels shines out clearly in the other eleven tracks: “You Are High,” “What a Privilege,” “I Matter,” “God’s Word,” “I Am Not Defeated,” “Nothing Take My Song,” “Garment of Praise,” “Call On the Name,” “Gift of Praise,” the “Worship Medley: I Rest In You,” and the stand-out track “A Little Longer”:

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A characteristic trait of The Heart of Nancey Jackson Johnson is that the spiritual experience of God has overarching consequence in the immediate physical day to day life of the believer. The album resonates with the quest of the Black person for freedom from every form of enslavement, whether spiritual or temporal, and the affirmation of his or her full human identity as is succinctly decipherable in the track “I Matter.”

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review September 3rd, 2014

Andrea

Title: Higher

Artist: Andrea McClurkin-Mellini

Label: Camdon Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 10, 2014

 

Andrea McClurkin-Mellini’s recent solo debut album, Higher, is all about praise. The first track says it all: “I will Lift Up Name (Higher).” However, the epicenter of the entire production is the track “God Can,” in which Andrea expresses her “core belief in the promise of personal and spiritual renewal.” This promise has its origin in God, who is always faithful to his word. This is clearly expressed in the track “Always on Time.” Therefore, God is deserving of all praise and exaltation of his everlasting goodness as can be discerned from the theme of the tracks “Song of Praise” and “He is Good.”

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In Higher, Andrea seeks further to project God’s personal and loving intervention in her life spent as “a pastor’s wife, mother, church elder, and singer-songwriter.” Her songs “No Love Like Yours” and “Your Love” are meditations on God’s love. Precisely because God is a self-giving essential love, Andrea can, with total abandon to the one she had accepted as Lord and Redeemer, say in the fifth track, “Have Your Way.” Her way of living as well as the entire gamut of her activity is now entirely for God as seen in the number “Only For You.”

Another interesting dimension of the album is the ‘gospelization’ of previously existing pieces already in the public domain. This is one of the glories of the gospel music genre, that is, the capacity of picking well-known everyday songs and infusing into them an exceptional freshness and spiritual force that is born of deep experience of faith. In this way, pieces that previously sounded commonplace suddenly emerge with great unction and capacity to move the human spirit in a powerful way. This is exactly what Andrea gives her audience on the final tracks, “Are You Washed in the Blood” and “The First Noel.”

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review September 3rd, 2014

JamesBrandonLewis

Title: Divine Travels

Artist: James Brandon Lewis

Label: Okeh/Sony Music Entertainment

Release date: 2014

 

 

The title Divine Travels immediately brings to mind a medieval treatise “The Journey of the Mind into God.” The sound itself evokes the image of the uncanny, the mysterious. It is a journey “down fresh and unexpected pathways” and you keep on experiencing the unpredictability of the “holy spirit of a gospel service [melded] with the fiery expression of free jazz” by which James Brandon Lewis, a master jazz graduate of California Institute of Arts, explores new idioms of musical expressionism. Lewis’ jazzy sound is built on the foundation of an ever evolving saxophone improvisation with the support of uncommon bass guitar skill of William Parker as well as the dexterity of Gerald Cleaver on the drums.

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The first track “Divine” is a lyric engagement with improvisation at various level of musical modality and finds its complement in the last track, “Travels,” in which the journey into the unknown finds its fulfilment in quasi-oriental rhythm. In the track “Desensitized,” there is an almost aggressive contrapuntal discourse between the saxophone and the bass guitar. This mien of counterpoint returns again in the sixth track, “A Gathering of Souls” with Cleaver’s drumbeats coming out with some vivacity and relief of sound. There is also the rhythmically swingy track, “Tradition,” followed by the number “Wading Child in the Motherless Water,” that brings together melodic ideas from such well-known spirituals as “Wade in the Waters” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” while creating a new piece from them.

The eighth track “Enclosed,” is a saxophone improvisation with the expressive bowing and plucking skills of the guitarist placed in the background while the track “No Wooden Nickels,” is a concert of African drum beat in combination with “modal jazz and gospel.” The fourth and ninth tracks: “The Preacher’s Baptist Beat” and “Organized Minorities” (still fundamentally built on the saxophone improvisation), have recitation of poems performed by Thomas Sayers Ellis, who created these poetic pieces. In the final analysis however, three things stand out clearly from the innovative creative composition of Lewis: spirituality, musicality and emotional communication.

Reviewed By Jude Orakwe

View review September 3rd, 2014

Dr. John

Title: Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

Artist: Dr. John

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2014

 

What happens when the spirit of a legendary New Orleans’ jazz trumpet player issues the directive “take my music and do it your way” to one of NOLA’s most beloved living musicians (in a dream, no less)? Such is the premise for Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, Dr. John’s reinterpretation of Louis Armstrong standards, a tour-de-force that runs the gamut of the city’s myriad R&B, blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll traditions. Dr. John’s astonishing knowledge of these genres, as well as his trademark vocals and piano, are on display throughout the album, where he’s joined by a stellar line-up of special guests.

Highlights abound on every track. The deeply funky six minute version of “Mack the Knife” features a rap interlude by Mike Ladd bookended by the scatting trumpet of Terence Blanchard, and this is followed by a Latin reading of “Tight Like This” with Arturo Sandoval taking over on trumpet and Cuban rapper Telmary Diaz on vocals. “Dippermouth Blues” introduces James “12” Andrews (aka “Satchmo of the Ghetto” and older brother of Trombone Shorty), who helps to put a Treme twist on this smokin’ rendition of a song first recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (with Armstrong on trumpet). Reigning blues queen Shemekia Copeland makes an appearance on “Sweet Hunk O’Trash,” her sassy voice a perfect foil to the gritty growl of Dr. John as they trade a bit of trash talk.

On the more traditional side, the Dr. John duet with Bonnie Raitt, “I’ve Got the World on a String,” swings on the foundation of the rhythm section featuring Ivan Neville and Bobby Floyd on the B3, Derwin “Big D.” Perkins on guitar, Donald Ramsey on bass, and Herlin Riley on drums. On the historic “Gut Bucket Blues,” one of the earliest fusions of jazz and blues recorded by Armstrong in 1925, Nicolas Payton picks up the trumpet and improvises over a horn section led by trombonist Sarah Morrow, the album’s arranger/bandleader/co-producer. Anthony Hamilton gives a contemporary reading to “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” that effortlessly combines elements of jazz with contemporary R&B. Ledisi and The McCrary Sisters take us to church on “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” which is followed by The Blind Boys of Alabama backing Dr. John on “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.” The album concludes with “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You),” the Dirty Dozen Brass Band lending their chops to an arrangement by Brian Quezerque (son of the legendary Wardell Quezergue), nicely wrapping up this cornucopia of Crescent City musicians and traditions.

Ske-Dat-De-Dat receives 5 stars for its remarkably inventive arrangements, stellar back-up band, trumpets galore, and guest vocalists carefully selected to enhance and not detract from Dr. John’s vision. When Satch looked down from the heavens, he definitely chose the right man for the job—and thankfully Dr. John heard the clarion call from on high.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 3rd, 2014

Jamal

Title: Live at the Olympia, June 27, 2012

Artist: Ahmad Jamal featuring Yusef Lateef

Label: Jazz Village

Formats: 2CD + DVD set, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2014

 

This set from the legendary jazzmen Ahmad Jamal and Yusef Lateef proves that these veteran musicians have ideas that are as fresh as any they have ever had.  Live at the Olympia is available as a 2 CD and DVD set, with the first disc featuring a set by Jamal at the piano with his quartet, featuring Reginald Veal on double bass, Herlin Riley on drums, and Manolo Badrena on percussion.  Lateef joins this quartet on the second disc, adding his own distinctive brand of woodwind playing and singing to the trio’s eclectic sound. Following is the album trailer:

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The first disc is perhaps the more consistent of the two, with Jamal and his trio locking into a set of familiar tune formulas.  Jamal performs three of his own compositions—“Autumn Rain,” “I Remember Italy,” and “Morning Mist”—along with several standards.  While Jamal’s original tunes are certainly interesting and competently executed, the disc’s most memorable cuts are the group’s creative renderings of jazz standards: a somewhat fragmented Latin feel on “Blue Moon,” a driving, in-the-pocket rendition of “Invitation” that allows Jamal and company to stretch out, and a stop-and-start rendering of “Laura.”  As would be expected from an artist of Jamal’s caliber, the playing on these cuts is excellent; Jamal presents his signature bursts of Monk-tinged dissonance, and continually trades musical cues with his bandmates, all the while maintaining a lyrical sensibility and technical precision (as is evident in the rhythm section’s lock-step groove on “Invitation” or Jamal’s blistering right hand runs during “Blue Moon”).  A performer known more for his renderings than his compositions, it is no wonder that much of the strongest playing on this side occurs when the band reimagines tunes written by other composers.

The best moments on the second disc occur when the late saxophonist, flautist, and vocalist Lateef pushes Jamal’s group out of their musical comfort zone, as he does on his mostly free-form composition “Exatogi,” seamlessly transitioning to his somewhat more conventional “Masara,” although this cut is complete with dissonant flute yelps. Lateef further pulls the group into a gospel-tinged hard bop idiom, contributing vocals on “Trouble in Mind” and “Brother Hold Your Light.”    He does not appear, however, on the album’s last two tracks: a reprise of “Blue Moon” and Jamal’s signature 1963 hit, “Poinciana.” Had Lateef been more prominent on this set, it may have felt like he had an actual presence in the band (particularly since his name is included in the album’s title), rather than serving simply as an excellent and challenging guest performer.

Although the listener may desire more of Lateef’s challenging presence, this is still a strong record.  In a contemporary jazz scene replete with consistent releases by perennial favorites playing in their long-maintained signature styles, Live at the Olympia showcases two veteran performers who were still at the top of their games.  The group’s reinterpretations of the standards that they play in this concert will have collegiate jazz combos everywhere scrambling to find the grooves that this band was able to lock into, while their originals provide a study in advanced jazz composition, even if they do not lend any additions to the standard repertoire.  This is a solid release by accomplished jazz masters.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review September 3rd, 2014

Bus Driver
Title: Perfect Hair

Artist: Busdriver

Label: Big Dada

Formats: 2-LP, CD, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2014

 

Listening to a Busdriver album in a post-Kendrick Lamar, post-Young Thug world suddenly makes the notoriously difficult emcee much more digestible.  Not that we haven’t had time to get used to him: he’s been rapping since 1987.  While he has built his machine gun style from his Project Blowed, and pushed his leaping, Eric Dolphyesque sing-song flows into to the realm of art-punkers Dog Faced Hermans or Frank Zappa, he’s been admirably capable of reigning this technical prowess into compelling music.  Perfect Hair is his 8th solo album, and a more focused effort to convey his otherwise hard-to-stomach interpretations of hip-hop (and occasionally R&B).

That doesn’t mean that ‘driver is any less interesting.  Those who have developed a taste for Regan Farqhuar’s convoluted word labyrinths will still find plenty to sift through, especially with guests Aesop Rock and Danny Brown on board for “Ego Death”:

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In the meantime, the prominence of fellow Los Angeles creative forces like Brainfeeder has been undeniable in the development of the overall sound of Perfect Hair.  Picking up where his previous LP Beaus$Eros left off, the soundscapes ‘driver, Jeremiah Jay, Great Dane, Mono/Poly, and other producers conjure up are full of lush synth pads, worlds away from the dusty jazz breaks or classical motifs found throughout his discography.  Although Busdriver seems like less of an anomaly in today’s ever-expanding rap landscape, Perfect Hair will still prove difficult for the casual listener.

Reviewed by Will Chase

 

View review September 3rd, 2014

Souls of Mischief

Title: There Is Only Now

Artist: Souls of Mischief

Label: Linear Labs

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2014

 

Souls of Mischief are a legend in the hip-hop world, consisting of emcees A-Plus, Opio, Phesto, and Tajai. Six years since their last full-length album was released, There Is Only Now stays true to their ‘90s Oakland roots while weaving an intricate story occurring in the present day. They are joined by an all-star cast, including producer Adrian Younge, narrator Ali Shaheed Muhammad (best known as a member of A Tribe Called Quest), and guests such as Busta Rhymes and Snoop Dogg. “Cast” is definitely the right word for this album, which requires undivided attention in order to understand the story of a near-fatal shooting and the spiral of events that follow the accident.

The storytelling nature of Souls of Mischief is reminiscent of old school DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and modern day Childish Gambino or Kendrick Lamar. Though a few melodies are interwoven, the focus remains on the rapping rather than any catchy choruses. This emphasizes the narrative, which brings up tough topics ranging from mindless violence to drug abuse. Like any good story, there is pain and loss, villains and romance, and a thought-provoking ending.

The title track, “There Is Only Now,” features Snoop Dogg and is the romantic core of the story, speaking of a young couple overcoming adversity and being so focused on each other that they only see the present. Though lyrics such as “It takes for something that no one can sever/and I’ll do anything to see that we always together” may come off as cheesy, in an album full of trials and pain, such as in “Time Stopped” and “Panic Struck,” this song is refreshingly positive and sincere:

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Though 19 tracks, each is fairly short, and there are often spoken interludes which make the album flow nicely. If you’re looking for a catchy song or two, this album isn’t for you. The story is complex, and taken out of context the tracks don’t have the same meaning or coherence. That being said, listening all the way through displays the genius of Souls of Mischief and Adrian Younge. The detailed lyrics create a fascinating tale that you won’t want to stop listening to, more akin to long-form poetry, with reoccurring motifs such as the black truck. There Is Only Now is a refreshing album heralding back to the style of 1990’s storytelling hip-hop, though as the title suggests, it doesn’t aim to glorify the past but looks forward to a new future.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review September 3rd, 2014

amplive

Title: Headphone Concerto

Artist: Amp Live

Label: Plug Research

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: August 5, 2014

 

DJ Amp Live has once again come out with a mind-blowing album. Headphone Concerto takes the listener on a journey through classical, hip-hop, electronic mixes, and an array of featured artists including Saint Timbre, Planet Asia, Ill Esha, and Dirty Cello—truly making this 14 track compilation a masterful, three-part experience that will “unlock your sense” and cause you to “adjust your thought frequencies accordingly.”

A modern twist on a classical concerto, the album consists of three distinct movements, showcasing Amp’s facility on custom made music machines, including his one of a kind MPC guitar.  On the intro, “No. 1 in D Minor, Op.1: Amore,” he puts the listener into a free state of mind by throwing all kinds of sounds into the mix like a soft child-like piano paired with electronic static and strings, hinting at how diverse the rest of the album will be.

Some of the more unique tracks include “Flight in G Minor (ft. Dirty Cello),” a mainly instrumental tune that highlights the sounds of breaking glass, perhaps symbolizing that orchestra and dub-step barriers are being shattered. With few words, the listener can truly appreciate the creative collaboration of cello and DJ sound effects, piano and dropped beats. Likewise, “Remembrance” gives way to a heavy build up with a drop that is headlined by beautiful violins, an unexpected but audibly intriguing lead into the song. A fast paced beat coinciding with steady strings makes “Remembrance” a song to remember. “Penny Nickel Dime (ft. Anya and Prof)” is a track that perfects what telling a story through music is. Opening with an underground jazz sound, artist Anya sings about how people see and value money, “the dollar sign.” Prof flows in after the chorus, in turn delivering his lyrics. Between the two artists and an almost theatrical, stage sound, one can almost imagine that they are watching a show rather than listening to streaming music through their headphones. Here’s the official video:

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DJ Amp Live is a master of making his listeners feel all kinds of ways and in these next few songs, he succeeds in inspiring and soothing. Strong horns, angelic cooing, and powerful lyrics such as “L-O-V-E/that’s the key to it all/big, small, one answer/we will yell this anthem/bring what it draws and kills all cancers,” are at the heart of “Last Wall (ft. The Grouch & Eligh).” This song rivets the listener and instills a feeling of triumph, action, and the need to rise up, which is even more apparent on “IHeartHipHop (ft. Planet Asia, Opio, Mike G, and Gif).” Featuring a hard beat with hard messages such as “I’m drawn to the flame/like a rebel to the revolution,” and multiple audio clips being mashed together and warped to create a back and forth sound in the listener’s headphones, this song is ideal for rebellious inspiration. Towards the middle of the 7:33 track, Amp Live introduces soulful hip-hop that can be compared to early Bronx styles, but continuing to keep a celestial sound from both computer and strings in the background, choosing to end the track with strings on solo and static.

Perhaps staying true to some mainstream influence, tracks “Are We Dancing (ft. Ill Esha)” and “100,000 Watts” represent quality clubbing music with a house feel. Not as striking as some of the other songs, but nonetheless a nice change up from the overwhelming new sounds.

For more soothing sounds from this album, “Signs (ft. Eric Rachmany)” and “Run Back (ft. Saint Timbre)” are the go-to’s. Rachmany’s light voice flowing with the sultry strings and spins on the board make for a very catchy track. “Run Back” is even more hypnotizing. A metronomic pulse lulls the listener into a tranquil state with the help of the angelic voice of Saint Timbre. It ends with a conversation about “1993” sound, a perfect transition into the final song of the first set.

Overall, Amp Live’s Headphone Concerto is a dynamic entry in the 2014 music scene. To better the musical experience, listen to the songs in order and don’t forget to “unlock your senses.”

Reviewed by Briana Stewart

View review September 3rd, 2014

Hip-Hop Orchestra

Title: A Hip-Hop Orchestra

Artist: Ensemble Mik Nawooj

Label:  Golden Fetus

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 26, 2014

 

Korean born, Oakland-based musician JooWan Kim is the latest composer to attempt a fusion of classical compositional techniques with hip-hop. Holding degrees from the Berklee College of Music and San Francisco Conservatory of Music (MM in composition), Kim’s goal is to employ “hybridization” to create an innovative musical language, noting that similar juxtapositions have shaped radical changes in music history since Debussy. Though classically trained, he doesn’t consider himself a classical musician, citing J. Dilla and Dr. Dre as “major, major influences, especially Dre’s older stuff – The Chronic, N.W.A., even The Chronic 2001 – there were a lot of things going on in there; you could just feel the vibe of it.”

On A Hip-Hop Orchestra, Kim strives to make genre-blurring music that has universal appeal with his Ensemble Mik Nawooj (his name spelled backwards). The ten-piece chamber orchestra combines flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (played by Kim) with deep funk drums, a heavy contrabass, a lyric soprano, and two notable MCs—Do D.A.T. and Sandman.

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From the opening track it’s evident that Kim’s approach yields complex yet accessible results, truly integrating the two genres. “First Song” intersperses rapid fire lyrics with a rather minimalistic orchestration that employs extended piano interludes. On the hard hitting “We Will Conquer” the MCs take center stage, resulting in an orchestrated hip hop track that’s quite cinematic in scope.  “Hope Springs Eternal” pits eternal optimism against impossible situations in yin-yang fashion—ethereal chamber music alternating with furious tempos, the lyricists performing at break neck speed. One of the best tracks is “Morning Light,” an intricate yet occasionally bombastic composition referencing a multitude of styles, with soprano Lauren Woody given prominence in the instrumental sections. The album closes with a cover of the Wu-Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M., which is given an orchestral treatment that’s extremely effective.

We’ll definitely be hearing more of Kim’s music. He’s been commissioned by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to re-imagine six classic hip-hop tracks, three from the Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers and three from Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle.  With any luck, he’ll also find time to focus on original compositions, not just high profile covers.  In either case, I look forward to his future endeavors.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 3rd, 2014

HallowedGround

Title: Hallowed Ground

Artists: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Louis Langrée, cond.; Maya Angelou, narrator; Nathan Wyatt, baritone.

Label: Fanfare Cincinnati/dist. by Naxos

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2014

 

Hallowed Ground, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording under Music Director Louis Langrée, features three works from his inaugural concerts that were “inspired by sacred spaces, from the battlefield to incredible vistas to beautiful community gathering points.” But that’s only one of the thematic connections between the music.

As the nation celebrated the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in November 2013, the CSO commemorated the occasion with a performance of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, a work premiered by the Orchestra in 1942.  In fact, Hallowed Ground draws its title from a passage in the Gettysburg Address, which is among the speeches quoted in the text of Lincoln Portrait.  Adding her distinctive voice to the performance is legendary author/poet/activist Maya Angelou, who serves as narrator.  During her pre-concert conversation, Angelou stated “You can’t be African-American and not have some particular close relationship with Abraham Lincoln. It’s amazing that we have lived through racism, sexism and ageism—all stupidity.” She also spoke about how deeply moved she was during the dress rehearsal while reading the Gettysburg Address section: “When I heard the orchestra, they lifted me out of myself, and I was suddenly on that battlefield, seeing the bodies…”[1]  Her emotions come across clearly in this live recording, which no doubt will be added to the list of seminal readings of the work, especially since it was one Angelou’s last public performances before to her death. Hallowed ground indeed.

Following is the world premiere of Mountain by Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang, commissioned by the CSO and recorded live on March 22, 2014. Lang was asked to commemorate the legacy of a great American and chose Copland due to his connection with the Orchestra (the CSO also commissioned and premiered Fanfare for the Common Man in 1942). Lang notes that Copland “used music to discover what being American meant,” while others used Copland’s music to express the “way we think of the relationship between our land and our selves.” Hence the title Mountain, which reflects the nature motif, yet also invokes the eternal.  Lang achieves a cinematic quality, opening with thunderous chords followed by a measure of silence. This pattern repeats in minimalist fashion throughout, the silence gradually filled with sonorous long tones echoing through the winds, becoming increasingly complex as the piece concludes.

The final work on the disc, Pleasure Ground by Nico Muhly, is yet another world premiere with deep connections to American history. A portrait in three continuous movements, the programmatic work depicts the life of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and features baritone Nathan Wyatt. As with the previous work, the performance was recorded in March 2014 as part of the MusicNOW Festival.

Through his study of Oldstead’s formal and private writings, Muhly discovered the landscape architect was “a melancholic deeply affected by his time in the Civil War” as well as “his private anguish about how his work had been mangled and abused.” The challenge was to reflect the transitions in Olmstead’s life through music, drawing upon his writings for the vocal text. But Pleasure Ground is also a play on words, referencing “a recurring bass line that gives structure and melodic content” to the work, often in a rather subversive manner.

As the first movement begins, the orchestral passages encapsulate the eager optimism of youth, at first irrepressibly energetic, then turning more contemplative when the baritone enters, singing about “sensitivity to the beautiful.” As the tension builds the music turns somewhat darker, with Olmstead encountering his initial struggle to “direct nature.” Text from Olmstead’s letters written during the Civil War are set to music in the haunting second movement, which uses a cycle of 12 chords to punctuate tragic moments.  The final movement finds Olmstead at the peak of his career, reflecting upon his achievements, such as his “attempt to develop open wooded or parklike scenary.” But problems inevitably ensue—nature begins to overrun his designs, illustrated through Muhly’s dense scoring for celeste, glockenspiel, harp, and a small gamelan. The work concludes with Wyatt repeating, “If man is not to live by bread alone, what is better worth doing well than the planting of trees?” Muhly’s expressive writing is extremely accessible, and the work is given an expert reading by Wyatt and the CSO. I expect Pleasure Ground will be programmed by other orchestras, particularly in cities such as New York and Chicago where Olmstead’s iconic parks define the urban landscape.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss


[1] Cincinnati.com, May 28, 2014.

View review September 3rd, 2014

Clarke Bouchard

Title:  Scènes D’Enfants

Artist: Daniel Clarke Bouchard

Label: ATMA Classique

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 2013

 

Canadian wunderkind Daniel Clarke Bouchard, who recently turned 14, has already garnered his share of prestigious awards and media attention (he recently displayed his showmanship on the Ellen DeGeneres Show). His debut album, released last fall, is appropriately titled Scènes D’Enfants.  Bouchard selected the majority of the album’s 12 tracks from the standard classical piano repertoire, focusing on those works or movements that represent “the childhood spirit.” As one might guess, selections from Schumann’s Kinderszenen op. 15 are included, as well as “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” from Debussy’s Children’s Corner:

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Opening with Mozart’s Fantasia for 2 Pianos on the Variations “Ah vous dirai-je, maman” (aka “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”), Canadian pianist/composer Oliver Jones joins Bouchard on this lighthearted duet that sets the tone for the album. Jones, also renowned as a jazz pianist, takes significant liberties, venturing off into a jazz improv midway through the work that interjects a delightfully contemporary twist. At the age of nine, Bouchard participated in Jones’ master classes at the Orford Arts Centre, where they first shared a piano onstage. Jones became one of Bouchard’s mentors, so it’s fitting that he was invited to participate on this project. The two come together again on the closing track, this time a jazzy rendition of La Grande valse Fofolle by the late Montreal composer Claude Léveillée.  On the remaining tracks, Bouchard tackles Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capricio op. 14 (selected because the composer wrote it at the age of 15); Beethoven’s Rondo & Capricio en sol majeur op. 129 (aka “Rage Over a Lost Penny”) which he first heard performed by another idol, Evgeny Kissin; and additional works by Schubert, Haydn, and Mozart.

Bouchard currently studies piano at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montreal, and is starting to venture into jazz. With his gregarious personality and prodigious talent, I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. This album would be an excellent choice to share with budding pianists.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 3rd, 2014

Billy Porter

Title: Billy’s Back on Broadway

Artist: Billy Porter

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 15, 2014

 

Currently starring in the smash Broadway hit Kinky Boots, Billy Porter somehow managed to find time to record a new album. Taking a cue from Sammy Davis, Jr.’s 1965 release Sammy’s Back on Broadway, Porter similarly reinvents ten Broadway classics. And as one might expect from this award winning singer, composer, playwright, actor and director, Porter’s approach is transformative, to say the least. Among his secret weapons are arranger/producer Rob Mounsey—who’s written for Madonna, Aretha, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder and Idina Menzel, among others—and James Sampliner of Legally Blonde fame. Sampliner worked on Porter’s last album, At the Corner of Broadway + Soul (2005), arranging a mix of Broadway tunes and original compositions, as well as gospel songs by Kirk Franklin and Smokie Norful. All of those styles can be found in abundance on Billy’s Back on Broadway, which focuses on songs of inspiration, empowerment and hope.

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Opening with “But the World Goes ‘Round” made famous by Liza Minnelli in the film New York, New York, Porter takes a fairly conservative approach. Neither a Sinatra style crooner nor a brash belter, he swaggers through the song, using many different vocal inflections and nuances to leave his imprint. “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (Sondheim-Styne), “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Merrill-Styne), and “On the Street Where You Live” (Lerner-Loewe) follow in the same vein. None of these were particular favorites, though the session musicians are fantastic.

Happily, things really start popping on the second half of the album as Porter begins to transform these standards in earnest through a mélange of distinctly African American styles. For example, the too-oft heard “I’ve Gotta Be Me” cranks up the energy midway using a contemporary gospel arrangement that concludes with a finger-snapping, improvisatory a capella coda. From this point forward it’s abundantly clear that Porter started out as a church singer.

Kinky Boots is represented through the Cyndi Lauper composed ballad “I’m Not My Father’s Son.” This is followed by an urban contemporary version of “Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy,” a duet with Cyndi Lauper that holds its own against the iconic Barbra Streisand/Judy Garland rendition and is no doubt performed as a tribute to Streisand, who Porter idolized in his youth. Porter really takes us to church on Loesser’s “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” beginning with a spiritual organ intro by Jerome O. Kirkland, Jr. (Porter’s cousin), then morphing into an uptempo R&B/contemporary gospel song that’s barely recognizable, but highly entertaining and original. The album concludes with Porter and Sampliner’s arrangement of “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls, once again utilizing an abundance of Booker T-style organ riffs.

Though the album is a little slow to get started, at least in terms of the “reinvention” of standards, when Billy takes over the Broadway, everything’s indeed coming up roses!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 3rd, 2014

Libation

Title: Libation

Artist: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

Label: Cumbancha (BMI)

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 18, 2014

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ Libation is a signature album in so many ways. Not only does it commemorate the tenth anniversary of a famous Sierra Leonean band that emerged from the devastation and debris of civil war, but also celebrates a group of African musicians dedicating their performance to the healing and restoration of their fellow human beings—both at a collective and individual level. As one of the band’s guitarists, Jahson Gbasay Bull, puts it: “Music can heal the trauma of man. Music can control the stress in man. […] If you lose hope, don’t lose hope. Music can cure you.”

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The commitment of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars to advocacy for the holistic welfare of others, especially the less fortunate, is particularly conspicuous in their recent launching of “a fund and awareness-raising campaign about the deadly spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone and other West African nations.” According to a recent press release, “the band has begun making speeches about their campaign and collecting donations to We Own TV during each of their shows and will continue to do so until Ebola has stopped spreading” (they will be touring in the US and Canada until the end of September).

Libation is about life with all its hues and varieties as well as positive and negative challenges. This can be deciphered from the iconic mélange of various music and rhythmic styles ranging from highlife, maringa and palm wine to baskeda and gumbe, the last two being, respectively, Sierra Leone’s equivalent of reggae and soukous. Similarly, the non-accidentally varied song themes include African identity, nationalism and critique of political leadership as evident in tracks like “”Rich But Poor,” “Manjalagi” and “Min Do Sin Tay.” There is also emphasis on romantic and married love together with all the contingencies and disappointments that go with such human affairs, as found in “Can’s Make Me Lonely,” “Ghana Baby,” “Maria,” and “Treat You Right.” Finally, songs like “Its So Sorry,” “Money No Do,” “Gbaenyama” and “No Feel Bad-O” border on moral and even spiritual advice that serve to project deeper values of African culture.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review September 3rd, 2014

Full Force

Title: With Love From Our Friends

Artist: Full Force

Label: Legacy

Formats: CD, CD Deluxe Ed., MP3

Release date: August 26, 2014

Inspired by Quincy Jones’ Back on the Block, the legendary R&B group and producers Full Force are back and celebrating thirty years in the music industry with their new release With Love From Our Friends. After a slew of albums, hit singles, and even a few movies, Full Force commemorates their industry success via a fifteen track all-star collection of both original music and new renditions of a few of their well-known hits. With nearly thirty guest appearances, the talents of their many celebrated “friends” are showcased throughout. This project is also a dedication to member Paul Anthony, who was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma in 2006, but thankfully is now in remission. Both the album and upcoming tour will help raise awareness about cancer through Paul Anthony’s Live Life Give Live Cancer Champion Initiative.

With Love is a collection of music with a wide range of styles and genres. The energetic opener, “I Feel Good, I Look Good, I’m God Good” featuring Faith Evans, Sheila E., and The God Good Choir & Children, is only one of the gospel/inspirational songs on the album. CeCe Peniston (from “Finally” fame) puts her touch on the dance track “A Night That We Will Never Forget,” while the all-female anthem “Thank You for Leaving Me” features a spoken introduction by Vivica A. Fox and the masterful vocals of Meli’sa Morgan and Cheryl Pepsii. A spoken word intro also precedes the all-male performance of “Do U Believe In Heaven?” featuring Blaire Underwood, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Omari Hardwick, Big Daddy Kane, and saxophonist Najee. Tevin Campbell and Naturi Naughton (3LW) join forces on the mid-tempo love song “Let It Flow.”

 

Along with this new music, Full Force takes time to reminisce by including a few of their hits. On the album’s first single, actress and songstress Tisha Campbell-Martin brilliantly covers Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s “All Cried Out.” To cover their most successful hit, “All I Have To Give” (originally recorded by the Backstreet Boys), Full Force brings together an all-star male cast of vocalists including “Lil G of Silk, Slim of 112, Steve Russell of Troop and RL (formerly of Next). Also included is a new rendition of their hit “Roxanne Roxanne” entitled “Roxanne Roxanne (The New Chapter)” featuring Roxanne Shanté, Lou$tar, and UTFO. In addition, the deluxe version offers remixes of “Let It Go” featuring Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, “All Cried Out” featuring Tisha Campbell-Martin, and “I Feel Good, I Look Good, I’m God Good,” featuring Faith Evans, Sheila E. and the God Good Choir & Children.

Overall, With Love From Our Friends offers a multitude of talent and is a tremendous collection that any Full Force fan will appreciate.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review September 3rd, 2014

Shaliek

Title: Blood Sweat Tears

Artist: Shaliek

Label: Pendulum

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 27, 2014

 

After countless performances throughout New York City, Shaliek Rivers was signed to Universal Records in 2005. Following a disappointing unravelling of that original deal, Shaliek embarked instead upon a career as a songwriter, discarding for the moment his dreams of being a solo recording artist. Now, nine years later, armed with a new relationship with Pendulum Records and years of experience in the music industry, he has finally released his debut— a 12-track album full of songs about love and relationships.

Blood Sweat Tears is mostly ballads and mid-tempo songs largely written by Shaliek himself (he contributes to all but four of the tracks). It is these slower paced songs that are the most intriguing. For example, the album’s first single and opener “The Past” is a catchy, piano driven, melodic emotional plea for his lover to leave his mistakes in the past:

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The second single, “Ain’t Supposed to Cry,” is a mid-tempo struggle between maintaining his manhood and doing all he can to fix his relationship. But even beyond the singles are more beautifully composed songs that tell of the difficulties of relationships including “I’ll Give It Up,” “Like I Was Never Here,” and a personal favorite, “That’s How Beautiful You Are.”

There are also a few up tempo tracks dispersed throughout the album. The first, “Better Woman,” is a mandate for the better treatment of women: “Oh we gotta be/better at making her feel she can be/a better woman/Oh/Instead of breaking her down/We gotta build her up now/She’ll be/a better woman.” “Feel It” borrows from Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” sampling the song in the introduction and during the fade out, and borrowing the chorus’ melody but changing the words to “And I know you can feel it to.” “So Tired” hits the climax in terms of the energy on this album and is a declaration that Shaliek no longer wants to be alone: “So tired of being alone, baby, let’s get married/So tired of being alone just wanna make you happy.”

Blood Sweat Tears is a solid R&B album by an artist who has finally been a given a chance to live his dream.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review September 3rd, 2014

Leela

Title: Fall For You

Artist:  Leela James

Label: J&T Records/BMG/RED Dist.

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 8, 2014

 

Newly crowned “R&B Diva” Leela James made a name for herself covering songs by famous soul singers, but her fifth album, Fall For You, features ten original songs about love and relationships. Though her gritty soul vocals are still much in evidence, James strikes a more urban contemporary flair this time around, thanks to assistance from a talented group of co-writers and collaborators including Tim “Tha Arkitec” Kelley (Tim & Bob), Shannon Sanders and Drew Ramsey (John Legend, India.Arie), Joe Ryan III (Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild), and Rex Rideout and Francci Richards (Fergie). As executive producer, James maintained control of the project, but wanted to work with others “that are musicians first and foremost, producers who know how to produce vocals and who want to see a song from beginning to end.”

Opening with the powerful “Who’s Gonna Love You More,” James takes aim at the legions of fans who enjoy her retro styled ballads, but updates the sound with synths and strong beats. Following is the album’s first single, “Say That,” a sexy love duet with Anthony Hamilton that’s definitely one of the highlights:

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Other great tracks include the funky slow jam “Do Me Right,” the extremely seductive “So Good” which perfectly blends the classic with the contemporary through electronic effects and drum samples, and the title track “Fall For You,” a tender ballad with simple piano accompaniment. The album closes with another duet, “Save Me,” this time featuring co-writer Joe Ryan, who introduces vocoder effects, hip-hop beats, and synth tracks to produce a radio friendly track.

Fall for You effectively bridges the gap between James’ retro soul vocal style and urban contemporary R&B, offering an edgier hip-hop influenced sound while never wavering from her unique vision and artistry.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 3rd, 2014

Eddie Cotton Jr.

Title:  Here I Come

Artist: Eddie Cotton Jr.

Label: DeChamp; dist. via CD Baby

Format: CD

Release date: January 21, 2014

 

Electric blues guitarist Eddie Cotton Jr. hails from Mississippi, where he grew up playing gospel in his father’s church but found time for a little B.B. King on the side. After studying music theory at Jackson State University, Cotton heeded the call of the Lord, taking over his father’s ministry. But secular music still plays a significant role in Cotton’s life–he’s released two previous blues projects, and has held the title “best blues artist” in his hometown of Jackson, Miss.

Here I Come, released on Grady Champion’s DeChamp label, melds classic electric blues with funky, sanctified soul on ten original songs, all sung by Cotton who’s accompanied by Sam Brady on organ, Myron Bennett on bass, Samuel Scott Jr. on drums and percussion, and various harmonica players. Opening with the title track, Cotton demonstrates his guitar prowess as well as his sinuous voice, preaching “sometimes it seems that trouble gets the best of me / but if I keep you by my side I have a victory / here I come, you better have some.”

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Champion joins Cotton on “Leave Love Alone,” riffing on harmonica over the chorus “when love gets a-hold of you, ain’t nothing you can do.” This theme continues on “No Love Back” with Cotton injecting a bit of testifying over some downhome southern soul, proclaiming “if you give love long enough, then you’ll see / love will come, with no love that’s guaranteed.” Other highlights include the soulful message song “Friend to the End” that channels a bit of Marvin Gaye, the uptempo “Get Your Own” propelled by a funky bass line, and “My Boo” about a sexy temptress who “don’t drink no gin but about to make me sin.”

The album concludes with the blues shuffle “Berry So Black,” a song that follows the tradition of double entendres with the lyrics “those berries on the vine they’re so sweet and ripe / Oh that’s just what I want, I like that type.” Cotton once again enlists Champion to provide the harmonica licks as they engage in an extended call and response on the closing refrain, “Well I keep coming back to those berries so black.”

Here I Come will be appreciated by modern electric blues fans who enjoy a chunk of funk in the bass, a whole lotta soul in the vocals, and a splash of sacred with the profane.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 3rd, 2014

Following are additional albums released during August 2014—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country            

Charley Pride: Country Charley Pride/Pride of Country Music (reissue) (Music City)
Ella Jenkins: More Multicultural Children’s Songs (Smithsonian Folkways)
Louisiana Red: The Sky Is Crying (Wolf)
Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson: For Pops (Tribute to Muddy Waters) (Severn)
Various: Bluesin’ by the Bayou: Rough ‘N’ Tough (Ace)
Various: Super Rare Electric Blues ’60s Era (Rockbeat)

Classical                    

Recondita Armonia Ensemble: Johannes Schenck–Tyd en Konst-Oeffeningen, Op. 2 (Brilliant)

Dance/Electronica/Techno              

Rick Wilhite: Vibes 2  (Rush Hour)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM              

Adia: Behind Enemy Lines (Xist/Malaco)
B. Chase Williams & Shabach: Live Again (Dream Gospel)
Earnest Pugh: Just Worship (P-Mann Music)
Georgette Johnson & Deliverance: Come By Here (New Vision)
Inspirations: God’s Word Will Stand (Horizon)
Kevin Levar: Destiny-Live at the Dream Center (One Sound Ent.)
Smokie Norful: Forever Yours (Motown Gospel)
Soul’d Out Quartet: Great Life (Horizon)
Swoope: Sinema (Collision)
Tasha Page-Lockhart: Here Right Now (RCA Inspiration/FYS)
Various: Holy Hip Hop, Vol. 18 (Holy Hip Hop)
Youthful Praise: I See Victory (Light/eOne)

Jazz                

Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra: Pulsion (Ubiquity)
Al Jarreau: My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke (Concord)
Bobby Broom: My Shining Hour (Origin)
Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp: Darkseid Recital (Aum Fidelity)
Eldridge Holmes: Now That I’ve Lost You: Allen Toussaint Sessions (Fuel 2000)
Gerald Albright: Slam Dunk (Concord)
Herbie Hancock: The Warner Bros. Years, 1969-1972 (Rhino)
Orrin Evans: Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions)
Rodney Whitaker: When We Find Ourselves Alone  (Mack Avenue)
Trio 3:  Wiring (Intakt)

R&B, Soul                 

5 Royales: Complete Apollo Recordings (History of Soul)
Angela Johnson: Naturally Me (Nia)
Eric Benét: The Other One Revisited by the Afropeans (SPV)
Eric Roberson: The Box (Liaison)
Kem: Promise To Love (Motown/Universal)
Professor Longhair: Let’s Go to New Orleans-The Sansu Sessions (Fuel 2000)
Sheila Brody: Mississippi EP  (download) (SPITdigital)
Smokey Robinson: Smokey & Friends (Verve)
Tank: Stronger (Atlantic)
Traci Braxton: Crash & Burn  (eOne)
Various: Deesu Records Story: New Orleans, LA (Fuel 2000)
Y’Akoto: Moody Blues (Warner Music Int.)

Funk, Rock               

Benjamin Booker: Benjamin Booker (ATO)
Chuck Brown & the Chuck Brown Band: Beautiful Life (Raw Venture)
Liam Bailey: Definitely NOW  (Flying Buddha)
Mirel Wagner: When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day (Sub Pop)
Various: Ultimate New Orleans Brass Second Line Funk! (Mardi Gras)
Vintage Trouble: Swing House Acoustic Sessions (digital) (McGhee Ent.)

Rap, Hip Hop                       

Beeda Weeda: Too $hort Presents Bass Rock Babies (digital) (RBC)
Big Hud: O.Y.B.A. (mixtape) (RBC)
Bizzy Crook: No Hard Feelings (digital) (Good Luck Forever)
Cam’ron: 1st of the Month, Vol. 2 (digital) (Killa Ent.)
Ca$h Out: Let’s Get It  (eOne)
Ces Cru: Codename Ego Stripper (Strange Music)
Chay$e: Purple Love (digital) (Four Years Later)
Dilated Peoples:  Directors of Photography ( Rhymesayers)
DJ Mustard: 10 Summers (digital) (Roc Nation)
Donwill & Dash Speaks: Don Speaks (digital) (Working Creative)
FKA Twigs: LP1 (Young Turks)
G-Unit: The Beauty of Independence (digital) (G-Unit)
J Dilla: The King of Beats’ Ma Dukes Collector’s Edition Box Set (J Dilla)
Kid Vishis: Timing is Everything (Gracie)
Mick Jenkins: The Water[s] (digital)   (Cinematic Music Group)
Mike Stud: Closer (WEA)
Paranoid Castle: Welcome to Success (Fake Four Inc.)
Pep Love: Dolla Daily ( Ineffable)
Pooh Man: Kaos Theory (Infinite Kaos/Rapbay)
Raf Almighty: G.T.F.O.M.Y. (Effiscienz)
Sam Scarfo: 5 Million Stories (digital) (Infamous)
Slaine: The King of Everything Else  (Suburban Noize)
Souls of Mischief: There Is Only Now (Get on Down/Linear Labs)
Statik Selektah: What Goes Around (Duck Down Music)
Twista: Dark Horse (Get Money Gang)
Ty Dolla $ign: Sign Language (Mixtape)
Underachievers: Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium (RPM)
Various: XL Recordings- Pay Close Attention (Box set) (XL)
Wara from the NBHD: Kidnapped (digital) (Playin Four Keeps)
Wiz Khalifa: Blacc Hollywood (Rostrum/Atlantic)
X Dubble-00 & Philthy Rich: MPR (Money, Power, Respect) (Empire)

Reggae, Dancehall          

Bunji Garlin: Differentology  (RCA)
Bunny Striker Lee: I Am the Gorgon Soundtrack (Kingston Sounds)
Perfect Giddimani: Better Off Dread (Jah Youth Prod)
SOJA: Amid the Noise and Haste (ATO)

World, Latin             

Daniel Pena: Eleven (Big Label)
Laura Mvula: Laura Mvula with Metropole Orkest (Laura Mvula Music)
Leticia Rodriguez Garza: Sagüita  Al  Bate EP (CD Baby)
L’Orchestre Sidi Uassa De Kayes (self-titled) ( Kindred Spirits)
Ngozi Family: Day of Judgement (reissue) (Now Again)
Somi: Lago Music Salon (Okeh)
Walshy Fire & Fully Focus: Africa is the Future (Mixtape)

View review September 2nd, 2014

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