Welcome to the August 2014 “summer rocks” issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

As a tie-in to the annual AfroPunk Festival, we’re featuring a number of recent rock-oriented releases from bands across the continent including Neuroplasticity by Cold Specks (Montreal) and Comet, Come To Me by Meshell Ndegeocello (both will be featured at AfroPunk 2014) as well as The Darknuss by Rebellum (NYC), The Cost of Living by the Revelations (Brooklyn), Live Free & Love by Gedeon Luke and the People (Memphis), Faithful Brave & Honest by the Honorable South (New Orleans), Experiments in Time by Willis Earl Beal (Chicago), and Devil May Care by Magic Mouth (Portland, OR).

Under the category of folk and gospel is Ruthie Foster’s Promise of a Brand New Day (produced by Ndegeocello) and Beverly Crawford’s Thank You For All You’ve Done. Hip hop releases include Indiana native Freddie Gibbs’ collab with Madlib on Piñata, and SoCal artist Pigeon John’s Encino Man. Our world music feature is the compilation Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia.

Wrapping up this month’s issue is the compilation of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles’ Complete Atlantic Sides Plus,  the first CD reissues of two albums by the disco funk band Chanson, and our listing of July releases of note.

View review August 4th, 2014

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Title: The Darknuss

Artist: Rebellum

Label: TruGroid / dist. via Bandcamp

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc.)

Release date: July 16, 2014

 

 

Whenever the collective of New York musicians known as Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber releases a new album, there is ample reason to celebrate. This time around we’re introduced to their “avant funk & roll splinter cell” Rebellum, performing “grown & sexy avant-agit pop bursting with warped soul harmonies, freedom-swing horn play, maggot-brained guitar implosions & arkestral loopadelics” that channel “the spirits of Sun Ra, Ron Hardy, Eddie Hazel, Gary Numan & The Emotions!” If this brings to mind wildly funky genre-defying musical experimentations, you’d be 100% correct.

Produced by Burnt Sugar co-founders Greg Tate and Jared Michael Nickerson along with Luqman Brown (FunkFace, Dope Sagittarius), the album features vocalists Mikel Banks and Shelley Nicole, drummer Hiroyuki “Matsu” Matsuura, guitarist Ben Tyree, with Nickerson on bass, plus a horn section comprised of ‘Moist’ Paula Henderson (Mois­tur­izer) on bari sax, V. Jeffery Smith (The Fam­ily Stand) on tenor sax, Lewis ‘Flip’ Barnes on trumpet, and Leon Gruenbaum on keyboards, plus a bevy of special guests.

”Young Fraknenstank” finds Nickerson and guest guitarist Vernon Reid (Living Colour) steering a path through Greg Tate’s distorted beats and loops, while “There is a God (The Singularity)” is a gravity defying echo chamber of vocals layered over electronics and snippets of instrumental improvisation. On “Rockstar Amnesiac” vocalists Kim Hill and Shelley Nicole clearly relish their roles, with the catty call and response “who could ever forget you were a rock star? / never ever never ever forget.” “Somebody to Love You” is a more straightforward jazz trio featuring soulful interplay between songstress Abby Dobson, pianist Courtney Bryan, and saxophonist Micah Gaugh (the song is then deconstructed on the “beats version” track with Tate taking over the accompaniment). Trending even more toward the avant garde is “Start Thinking Like an Afreakun” with vocalist Meah Pace, and “Heart Seed” featuring guitarist Ronny Drayton dueling it out with saxophonist V. Jeffery Smith. Meah Pace returns on the brief but satisfying deep funk track “Lawd Knows You Do,” with Courtney Bryan riffing on the B3 and Ben Tyree tearing it up on lead guitar. Another outstanding track is “Ten Times Left” featuring the spoken poetry of Mikel Banks, coalescing at the conclusion with the bluesy chorus “ten times more making sweet love to you / so this mean old world don’t stop the record too soon.”

A cosmic collision of genres and trippy electronic effects, The Darknuss hits like a bolt of lightning that will both shock and awe. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 4th, 2014

Gedeon Luke and the People - Live Free & Love

Title: Live Free & Love

Artist: Gedeon Luke and the People

Label:  Monocentric Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 24, 2014

 

 

Gedeon Luke and the People have been touring heavily this summer to promote their debut album Live Free & Love. As the title suggests, Luke’s music is a throwback to that great era of ‘60s soul. Not surprising since he grew up in Soulsville USA, immersed in his father’s collection of vintage Stax and Malaco vinyl, soaking up the sounds of artists like Otis Redding and Al Green. After surviving plenty of hardships and hard times on the mean streets of Memphis, Luke is determined to “embrace the joys and pains in life by expressing them through music,” while bringing a little peace and love back to the world.

Divided into two parts, the album opens with five original songs (co-written by Luke and Marc Swersky) expressing the “Live Free” theme, kicking off with the ebullient “Lend Me Your Sunshine” that adeptly blends rock harmonies with soul-drenched vocals.  After getting down on the supremely funky “Standing on Top of the World” (definitely one of the best tracks), the group changes pace with the more pop-oriented “Hey (That’s What I Say),” complete with sing-a-long “Hey hey hey” and “Na na, na-na na-na” backing vocals. This section closes with the title track, an excellent showcase for Luke’s soaring falsetto over the band’s formidable funk grooves:

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On the second half, both the band and tempos are scaled back while Luke focuses on the “Love” side of the equation. “The Healing” features a sparse acoustic accompaniment, giving way to “Electric Playground” that harkens back to mid-70s soul and R&B. The slow ballad “Hurting Kind” is quite effective, but in my opinion the pop-styled back-up vocals break up the tension, lessening the emotional punch. The contemplative “Gray” has more of a Curtis Mayfield vibe, while “Soul Child” wouldn’t be out of place in a ‘70s movie soundtrack. The album concludes with “I’ll Be Your Friend,” a bit of a throwback to the Motown era. In fact, all of the songs on the album have familiar sounding riffs, with plenty of references (even in the titles) to Northern and Southern soul, plus a dash of the Beatles and Sly & the Family Stone.

The backing band, dubbed “The People,” includes Jack Daley on bass, Joe Daley on drums, Anthony Alamonte on percussion, Steven Salcedo on sax, Erik Rudic on guitar, David Farrell Melton on keys, plus vocalists Ayo Awosika and Evvie McKinney. But the tracks are also chock-full of guests, including James Poyser (The Roots) on keys, Karl Denson on sax and flute, and Bobby Sparks Jr. (Kirk Franklin band) laying down the gospel on the Hammond B3.

Luke is a superb frontman for the group, a seasoned performer who cut his teeth on American Idol at the age of 17 (he made the top 20 in Season 5 under the name Gedeon McKinney), but now exhibits a fully mature voice and style.  With Live Free & Love, Gedeon Luke and the People have earned a well-deserved spot at the forefront of contemporary rock ‘n’ soul bands. The group is planning an official release party for the newly pressed physical copies on August15th at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, NJ.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 4th, 2014

Meshell Ndegeocello - Comet, Come to Me

Title: Comet, Come to Me

Artist: Meshell Ndegeocello  

Label: Naive

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  June 3, 2014

 

 

 

Meshell Ndegeocello’s eleventh album, Comet, Come to Me, is an inspiring collection of artistic and musical expression that feels boundless, but difficult to categorize. Instead, while her sonic explorations reference genres—reggae and possibly rock—they are not actually genre specific. These sound spun creations span thirteen tracks of songs about pain, love, decisions, and life. The majority offer sparse instrumental foundations compiled of musical patterns, of which Ndegeocello’s vocal melodies form an integral part.  Her artistic choices have created, at the very least, a stimulating listening experience.

While the album begins with a recognizable tune—an arrangement of Whodini’s “Friends”—the most thrilling contributions to this collection are the original works. Ndegeocello seems to have been heavily influenced by reggae during production. Tracks like “Forget My Name” and “Modern Time” borrow the rhythmic foundation of reggae music, but Ndegeocello manipulates that rhythm with her powerful spinning of lyrics and melody. “Comet, Come To Me,” the album’s namesake, may be an even more powerful reference to the genre:

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Among these tracks are songs that totally disrupt any attempts to categorize, such as “Good Day Bad” with its sensation of rolling hills and introspective lyrics, “Choices” featuring an ethereal, atmospheric musical accompaniment, and “Conviction” which feels almost like a Prince song.

Overall, Comet, Come to Me is intriguing to the ear and a thrilling and necessary listen.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review August 4th, 2014

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Title: Neuroplasticity

Artist: Cold Specks

Label: Mute

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: August 25, 2014

 

 

Cold Specks, led by Canadian-born vocalist Al Spx, is scheduled to release their sophomore album Neuroplasticity during the 2014 Afropunk Fest in Brooklyn, where they will be one of the featured performers. Spx is known for her Southern soul styled rock that’s tinged with gothic undertones, and the first track of Neuroplasticity is no exception. “A Broken Memory” sounds eerily mysterious and contains elements of a gospel hymn, while at the same time featuring the jazzy trumpet of Ambrose Akinmusire in the background. The sound is unusual, but the style is innovative and appealing.

The following track, “Bodies at Bay,” is a bit more upbeat and folksy, and Spx is almost reminiscent of a young Stevie Nicks with her soulful yet powerful vocals accompanied by a steady rhythm. The melancholy tone of the chords isn’t necessarily unhappy, but it’s easy to detect a somber note to the lyrics and melody. “A Quiet Chill” is more rhythmic, and the lyrics take a turn for the positive as Spx croons “I remain unshakable” with increasing force as the guitar and vocals louden simultaneously during the outro.

In “Exit Plan,” Spx takes the opportunity to showcase her natural vocal talent, as the background fades and her smooth, melodic voice takes the stage. The chorus of this song is delightfully deep and haunting, providing a creative juxtaposition with the soft harmony of the verse. Spk has a varied vocal range, moving with ease from higher-pitched rock anthems to lower ballads, sometimes sounding a bit like Adele due to her ability to hit those low notes.

“Absisto” is the first single released from the album, and it’s instantly obvious why this song was chosen. The melody is the sort to remain stuck in a mental loop for hours, and there are gothic overtones mixed with a ‘70s rock vibe, down to the blaring electric guitar:

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“A Formal Invitation” utilizes those melancholy notes that seem to be this album’s trademark. Cold Specks has been described as falling into the “doom soul” genre, and the supporting evidence could be this song. The use of wind instruments on selected tracks also introduces an element of jazz, with Akinmusire featured throughout. Spk’s deep, unique voice is absolutely perfect when paired with this album’s retro guitar style, and the darker, old-world sound sets this album apart from the rest.

Reviewed by Sophie Harris

View review August 4th, 2014

magicmouth

Title: Devil May Care EP

Artist: Magic Mouth

Label: Fast Weapon / dist. via Bandcamp

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3, Flac, etc.)

Release date: September 20, 2013

 

 

The Portland, Oregon based “post phunk” band Magic Mouth formed in 2011 and has released several EPs, the most recent titled Devil May Care.  Fronted by vocalist/performance artist Chanticleer Trü, other band members include guitarist Peter Condra, drummer Ana Briseño, and bassist Brendan Scott. Playing an infectious mix of indie rock/alt soul, the band has been steadily gaining notoriety and appears to be on the cusp of widespread national exposure with recent features on NPR and Huffington Post. If a rumored full-length debut album inspired by the work of James Baldwin actually materializes later this year, you’ll likely be hearing much more about this band.

Magic Mouth’s four song EP is extremely well-crafted, with every song a strong contender for best track. Opening with “Swampy Seconds,” a “militant protest about being who you are,” they start the party rocking hard and never let up.  One of the highlights is “Disco Song,” which opens with four-part vocal harmonies that segue into driving guitar and chunking bass lines, the overall effect somewhere between Chic and the Black Keys.  The other highlight, if one must choose, would be “Motherlode” which showcases the full range of Chanticleer’s retro-styled soulful vocals. The ballad was recently released as the band’s first professionally produced music video single:

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Closing with “Speak Softly After Dark,” dedicated to one of their favorite artists, Nina Simone, they again pick up the tempo in a funky, high energy, guitar driven frenzy that leaves one longing to see their live show. The band is touring the U.S. in August and September, with stops in Salt Lake City, Denver, St. Louis, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Asheville, and Austin. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of those cities, check them out.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 4th, 2014

The-Revelations-The-Cost-of-Living

Title: The Cost of Living

Artist: The Revelations

Label: Decision/Sony RED

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  April 21, 2014

 

 

Brooklyn’s The Revelations burst onto the scene in 2008 with their EP Deep Soul, followed shortly thereafter by their first full-length album, The Bleeding Edge (2009).  On their latest effort, Rell Gaddis has replaced Tre Williams as lead vocalist, after having served as a member of the writing team since the group’s inception.  Rell was the first male R&B singer on the Roc-a-Fella label and was also featured on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, while The Revelations have backed artists ranging from the Wu-Tang Clan (Chamber Music, 2009) to Lee “Scratch” Perry. In addition to Rell, current members of the band include Wes Mingus on guitar, Gintas Janusonis on drums, and Ben Zwerin on bass.

The Cost of Living continues the band’s focus on a post-modern fusion of bluesy rock and soul. Opening with “Mama,” one of five original songs on the album, Rell establishes his presence, providing a soulful edge to the steady rock beat. “Higher” demonstrates his smooth R&B groove, “It’s Okay” is more indie rock oriented, while “Money Makes the World Go ‘Round” gets down with the funk. On “The Game of Love,” the band successfully fuses multiple genres, while giving the horn section (credited as The Royal Horns) the spotlight.

Taking on a few covers, the band lends a funkier vibe to Los Lobos’s “This Time,” and updates the Isley Brothers’ 1967 Northern soul classic “Why When Love Is Gone”:

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Closing the album is a more foreboding, harder rocking rendition of  Gladys Knight & the Pips’ 1974 hit single “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” which is one of the highlights with its extended guitar solo concluding in a flurry of wah-wah effects.

Compared to other contemporary rock fusion bands fronted by soul singers, The Revelations’ music falls more firmly within the rock spectrum. The Cost of Living is a solid effort, offering many enjoyable tracks that have broad appeal.

Review by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 4th, 2014

Honorable-South-Faithful-Brave-Honest-Album

Title: Faithful Brave & Honest

Artist: The Honorable South

Label: Dist. via Bandcamp

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: May 2, 2014

 

 

Electric rock ‘n’ roll group The Honorable South released their second album, Faithful Brave & Honest, in May. The New Orleans-based band has been praised by critics for music that represents everything about New Orleans as a city— it’s gritty, addictive, and can’t be imitated. Following is the video for the title track, shot outside the 111-year-old Police Jail and Patrol Station on St. Phillip Street:

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Honorable South’s 2009 EP Dirty In the Light was full of electronic overtones, while their 2012 full-length debut I Love My Tribe was more of a rock-rap effort. Faithful Brave & Honest falls right in between the two. The song “Love Me or Leave Me Alone,” featuring the late Soulja Slim, is a perfect example. The combination of a rock rhythm underpinning R&B styled vocals and instrumentals is incredibly interesting—capturing the best of both genres. They demonstrate their more electronic side in “Overdue,” a song with techno overtones and an 808 beat. The smooth melody meshes well with the slightly edited sound of the instrumentals. Lead vocalist Charm Taylor explained that this album captured deeper themes than past efforts, and the soulful nature of this song is an excellent example.  Faithful Brave & Honest is also a bit more experimental; they don’t leave out the 808’s and pounding rhythms, they just pair them with electric guitar and a rock ’n’ roll vibe this time.

“Bye Bye” has a light, catchy melody and electric pop sound with some elements of a soul/R&B song, like the exotic, complex guitar riffs. “Champagne” begins on a note that’s clearly pure rock, adding some variety to the mix. The electric guitar and powerful, in-your-face vocals are reminiscent of mid-90s rock, right down to the anthem-like chorus. “Saint Charles Parish” is a slower, more melodic tune, and the direction of the song seems more exploratory than direct. Taylor’s beautiful voice is really showcased in this song—you can hear a bit of her southern accent coming through, which adds to the effect.

It’s particularly interesting to listen to a band that is equally skillful in producing rock and rap, because each song sounds fantastic in a different way and gives the album versatility.  “Bass on the Pavement” deftly melds both genres, adding some trumpet instrumentals and clapping, along with a strong rap rhythm (and obviously some heavy bass). “Shadows” begins as a rap, slowly fading into a contemplative number punctuated by a pulsating drum and vocal interludes. The last song of the album, “Hide and Go Seek,” has a completely infectious beat that’s perfect for dancing. It’s easy to understand why The Honorable South has been in high demand at festivals throughout the country: they make anything sound good, and despite their wide range, each song sounds like the band’s best number yet.

Reviewed by Sophie Harris

View review August 4th, 2014

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Title:  Real Experiments in Time

Artist:  Willis Earl Beal

Label: CD Baby

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 8, 2014

 

 

 

Defiantly non-commercial, Real Experiments in Time is Willis Earl Beal’s first release since parting company with XL, the label that issued his highly original and occasionally brilliant debut album, Nobody Knows, last fall. Freed from label constraints and the stress of touring, Beal’s cathartic follow-up offers meditative songs that “hover around a sonic center,” designed to flow around listeners in atmospheric layers. As Beal relates, “I realized that nothing much happened in life. It seems like a lot of things were happening, but really, nothing was happening.” Taking this philosophy to heart, the album unfolds slowly as if waking from a dream, only the dream state continues, consciousness is elusive. And indeed this approach works for the melodious first half of the album, drawing the listener into Beal’s world where “time has and simultaneously has not passed.” With titles such as “Questions,” “Monotony” and “Waste It Away,” Beal’s soulful voice is a perfect match for his existential lyrics, a truth seeker reaching for the light. The album culminates with “Traveling Eyes,” perhaps a bit closer to what one might label a song, employing a wider vocal range and acoustic guitar softly plucked in a repetitive, minimalistic pattern.

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The final tracks gradually decay into an experimentation in soundscapes that fail to inspire. Concluding with “Now Is Gone,” the album ends as it began, with lo-fi tape hisses and phasing evocative of Beal’s time-shifting theme.

As with Nobody Knows, Beal’s artistic vision shines through at times, but is just as often obscured. By eschewing outside producers he’s gained control over the product, but one can’t help but question the decision. Nevertheless, Real Experiments in Time is definitely worth a listen if you’re in the mood for other-worldly, trancelike melodies and introspective verses that draw equally from Philip Glass, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan (all cited as influences).

As a post script, fans will be interested to know that Willis Earl Beal has the lead role in the forthcoming Tim Sutton film Memphis, scheduled for release in September. Watch a video here.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 4th, 2014

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Title: Promise of a Brand New Day

Artist: Ruthie Foster

Label: Blue Corn Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2014

 

 

Though Ruthie Foster has received many accolades over the past decade as a blues singer, on her latest release, Promise of a Brand New Day, she draws a bit more from the folk-rock style popularized in the ‘60s, including a commitment to socially conscious message songs. But this is no sentimental journey of covers. Producer Meshell Ndegeocello, who plays bass on the album, encouraged Foster to stretch her composition skills, resulting in seven new songs delivered in a wide range of styles.  Ndegeocello was also given free reign regarding the selection of accompanying musicians, adding her regular guitarist Chris Bruce to the lineup along with keyboardist Jebin Bruni, drummer Ivan Edwards, and backing vocalist Nayanna Holley. The result is a fairly sparse but cohesive instrumental mix that never overpowers.

On the opening track, “Singing the Blues,” Foster takes an autobiographical approach by recounting her recent songwriting experience “trying to find a new home / trying to write a new song / trying to find a rhythm that will help me get through it.” The following track, “Let Me Know,” is one of the highlights of the album.  Featuring special guest guitarist and fellow Austin, Texas native Doyle Bramhall II (Eric Clapton), Foster showcases a church-honed voice that reflects her early influence from “the sisters in the amen corner” at her grandmother’s house of worship. Foster’s gospel roots resurface to great effect on her cover of the Staple Singers’ classic “The Ghetto,” where she croons a soulful prayer in the lower register, then unleashes with Mahalia-style intensity on the high notes.  Another cover, the civil-rights protest song “Second Coming” penned by the late Alabama blues guitarist Willie King, is reinterpreted as a handclapping, guitar strumming folk song that’s no less riveting than King’s hard-driving version.

One of the most effective of Foster’s original songs is the a capella title track “Brand New Day.” Sung in the rhythmic call and response style of an early work song, she offers encouragement to the downtrodden in the chorus “‘cause love heals / and love lives / and time will rebuild a brand new day.”  But the pièce de résistance is undoubtedly “It Might Not Be Right.” Co-written with legendary Stax songwriter William Bell, the song gives a “musical nod to the late soul-stirrer O.V. Wright” while addressing a more contemporary topic— gay marriage—in the lyrics “it might not be right for the world, but it’s all right with this girl.”  Closing the album is “New,” written by and featuring another special guest, Toshi Reagon. This gorgeous, contemplative song accompanied by acoustic guitar continues the life-affirming theme of the album.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 4th, 2014

Beverly Crawford - Thank You for All You’ve Done

Title: Thank You for All You’ve Done

Artist: Beverly Crawford

Label: EchoPark JDI

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 19, 2014

 

 

For almost two decades, award winning gospel music artist Beverly Crawford has kept the sounds of traditional gospel music in the ears of listeners with hits like “Just as Soon (I’ll Be Shouting)”(1998) and “He’s Done Enough” (2007). Her high energy and vocal dexterity have consistently made for exciting and even emotional listening experiences that are sure to enliven anyone.

On her latest release, Thank You for All You’ve Done, Crawford continues to offer a straightforward message with a traditional musical setting. As her seventh album, this project pays homage to the past while celebrating her future and family.  It opens with the single “Sweeping Through the City,” a song popularized by iconic female gospel group the Caravans. With a quick tempo, catchy rhythmic exchanges and an invigorating call and response, this song easily inspires believers to “shout” about their hopeful future arrival in heaven.

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Thank You also features a rerecording of Crawford’s first hit, “Jesus, Precious King” (1995), which she performs with just as much power as the original recording.  Likewise, the supporting choir delivers the vigorous backing necessary to effectively match Crawford’s conviction while the live audience is audibly elated and overcome with emotion by the end of the selection. The title track, “Thank You for All You’ve Done,” is a contemplative meditation of gratefulness celebrating Crawford’s successes in her musical career, family, and ministry.

The album closes with musical contributions from both of Crawford’s children. Her daughter Latrina leads the song “Hero,” which she penned in honor of her recently departed grandfather, while her son Todd Jr. offers a thoughtful and sensitive guitar performance on “I Need You Now.” Overall, Thank You is a beautiful tribute to Crawford’s gospel career as she continues to uplift listeners through song.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review August 4th, 2014

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Title: Piñata

Artist: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Label: Madlib Invazion

Formats: CD, 2-LP, Cassette, MP3

Release date: March 18, 2014

 

 

Madlib and MF Doom (aka Madvillain) released their now-classic Madvillainy almost exactly ten years prior to Piñata‘s release date.  It is tempting to examine this collaborative effort between Madlib and his new cohort—Gary, Indiana native Freddie Gibbs—through this lens, and it is easy to draw up a few comparisons.  Whereas Madvillain relished in comic book villain menace, Gibbs drives the album’s narrative with his street-wise, Tupac-inspired thug poetry.

Piñata is the latest development in Gibbs’ lyrical M.O. as gangsta-turned-rapper, spinning street tales of broken family life, drug dealing and betrayal, how he overcame those obstacles (or didn’t), as well as the lighter side of life (“High,” “Harold’s,” “Shame”).  Vocally, Gibbs is incredibly hard-hitting, and despite Madlib’s soulful productions, the emcee’s incessant attacks on the beats usurp their laidback aesthetic making Madlib’s signature interludes quite welcome throughout the album.  The skits are tailored to fit the Gangsta Gibbs persona: instead of the sci-fi B movie clips found on Madvillainy, Pinata‘s segues are comprised of drug dealer oriented dialogue from blaxploitation flicks, or rambling trash talk from Gibbs (“Robes”) and Big Time Watts (“Watts”).

Like Tupac, it’s Freddie Gibbs’ introspection and awareness that make him stand out as a lyricist.  With lines like “Maybe you’s a stank ho, maybe that’s a bit mean/maybe you grew up and I’m still livin’ like I’m sixteen,” “Deeper” exemplifies the dual realities Gibbs has experienced throughout his life: his girlfriend leaves him when he was in prison, but seeks his support now that he’s moved on as a successful musician:

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The album was recorded over a period of 3 years, allowing Gibbs to reflect on the many aspects of his life like his favorite fried chicken spot (“Harold’s”), family life (“Broken”), relocation to L.A. (“Lakers”), and falling out with Young Jeezy (“Real”).  As always, Madlib’s eclectic, dust-covered samples are total earworms, and provide the perfect canvas for developing a concept for each song.  And while the guest list is long and star-studded, Freddie Gibbs is never outshined, standing ground alongside legends like Scarface and Raekwon as well as acclaimed contemporaries Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, and Ab-Soul, among others.  In short, this is probably the closest thing we’ll see to a Madvillainy 2: what we get with Piñata is a cohesive, no-frills rap record by two independently minded visionaries.

Reviewed by Will Chase

View review August 4th, 2014

encino manTitle: Encino Man

Artist: Pigeon John

Label: MRI

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 29, 2014

 

 

Over the course of sixteen years and six albums, Pigeon John has not only cemented himself within the SoCal underground hip hop scene, but has emerged as one of its leading artists. Addressing subjects spanning personal struggles as well as larger issues, PJ has been able to balance serious topics with enough humor to stay fresh and entertaining. Encino Man, his newest release (remember the comedy film by that name?), is an example of an artist adopting a more pop-centric approach while still recognizing and celebrating their roots.

Starting with the hit single “The Bomb” off of 2010’s Dragon Slayer, Pigeon John has enjoyed increased notoriety through songs featured in TV shows and commercials. Encino Man builds upon this popularity rather than taking advantage of it. Reminiscent of early hip hop updated with new flavors and energy, PJ provides a quantity of dorky lines and humor that prevent the rapper-singer from taking himself too seriously. Encino Man may be Pigeon John’s most accessible album yet, and easily one of the best.

Following is the official video for “Champagne on My Shoes”:

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Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review August 4th, 2014

Peru Maravilloso Vintage Latin, Tropical & Cumbia

Title: Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical & Cumbia

Artist: Various

Label: Tiger’s Milk

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc.), LP (double-gatefold + MP3 download)

Release dates: November 12, 2013

 

 

Riding the retro waves of South American surf rockers, Duncan Ballantyne, Martin Morales and Andres Tapia have gifted us with a thoughtful compilation of Latin and Tropical music from a bygone era.  Meticulously curated, Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin Tropical and Cumbia is a superb collection of the psychedelic sounds, pentatonic melodies, wah-wah pedals, Farfisa organs and Moog synthesizers of the chicha genre.

Chicha has been on the rise internationally and in its native homeland since the Barbès Records 2007 release of Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru, a compilation featuring fifteen handpicked rare treasures from one of Peru’s most innovative musical periods.  Also known as Peruvian cumbia, chicha gained momentum in the 1960s during its early incubation period.  This fusion genre may be described a subgenre of Colombian cumbia that combined elements of Andean and rock music.  Chicha takes the feel of cumbia, champions the musical cannibalism of Brazilian tropicalia, all while adding components of traditional highland huayño (from the Peruvian Andes), criollo (classic Peruvian folk music) and the rhythms, texts and instrumentation of the Afro-Peruvian community.

The selections on Peru Maravilloso do not fit neatly within one musical genre.  Even the obligatory inclusion of the traditional folk song “Toro Mata” went through a refreshing transformation arranged as an orchestral-jazz instrumental.  Cuban musical influences are everywhere in this album—most obvious is the son montono “Pirana” by Pedro Miguel y sus Maracaibos and “La Gallina” by Feliz Martinez y su Chavales.  Most appreciated were the soulful “Sueño de amor” by Zulu and Lucho Neves’ “Mambo de Machaguay,” synthesizing the quintessential Peruvian huayño rhythm with jazz piano licks.

This is a special album for collectors and will appeal to those that find themselves in harmony with artists like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Os Mutantes.  All of the tracks included have been specifically re-mastered from the original 7-in. and 12-in. formats and have never been re-issued since their original release in Peru.  If you are a frequent face at the Latin Alternative Music Conference and appreciate the commingling of indigenous and urban music traits, then this album is an essential purchase.

Reviewed by Madelyn Shackelford Washington

View review August 4th, 2014

Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles - The Complete Atlantic Sides Plus

Title: The Complete Atlantic Sides Plus

Artist: Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles

Label: Real Gone Music

Format: 2-CD set

Release date: April 1, 2014

 

 

Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles (Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash, and Cindy Birdsong), best known as the precursor to the powerhouse group Labelle, were not as successful as they may have hoped at the time, but still have much to offer fans of R&B girl groups. Fifty years after the group was signed to Atlantic Records, The Complete Atlantic Sides Plus pulls together all of their recordings during their five year stint at Atlantic. The 2-CD set includes a total of 40 tracks of both covers and original music, arranged chronologically, documenting the history and sound of Patti Labelle while also uncovering the superb talents of her group mates.

This comprehensive collection chronicles the group’s involvement with Atlantic, beginning with A&R executives’ first encounters with their talents, up until their last recording session in 1969. Disc one begins with five live recordings from the group’s July 1964 performance at Philly’s Uptown Theater, including songs released during the group’s time at Newtown Records and Cameo-Parkway: a cover of “Danny Boy,” the group’s first charted hit (released on Newtown the year before), “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song), and a thrilling performance of “That’s How Heartaches Are Made” with Hendryx singing lead (she was also a member of the subsequent group Labelle).

From this moment forward, the set documents the Atlantic studio sessions, starting with their first session in 1965 which unveiled songs such as “You Forget How to Love,” “Groovy Kind of Love” and “Patti’s Prayer,” as well as covers of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and Al Hibbler’s “Unchained Melody.” These 1965 recording sessions culminated in the group’s debut album Over the Rainbow, included in its entirety on this set (follow this link to see them perform the title track on the TV show The Beat).

The Complete Atlantic Sides Plus continues with sessions from 1967 to 1969 that culminated in The Dreamer LP plus five additional singles. However, in addition to highlighting those previously issued tracks, this anthology also brings to light some of the previously unissued tracks from those sessions—songs like “He’s My Man,” “Wonderful,” “How Can You Throw Your Love Away,” “(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the Days,” “Forget It” and “Never Forgive Me” (all recorded in 1968) and “When Joe Touches Me,” recorded during their last session in October of 1969.

Overall, this anthology offers a chance for a group that only achieved modest success during its Atlantic tenure to be heard again and appreciated for its talents.  Patti LaBelle fans and music lovers with an appreciation for the sound of 1960s girl groups will likely enjoy this collection. Included in the liners notes are many archival photos and label images as well as an essay by noted author and soul music expert David Nathan, who also produced this set.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review August 4th, 2014

chanson

Title: Chanson

Artist: Chanson

Label: Funky Town Grooves

Format: CD (expanded ed.)

Release date: May 19, 2014

 

 

 

together we stand

Title: Together We Stand

Artist: Chanson

Label: Funky Town Grooves

Format: CD (expanded ed.)

Release date: May 19, 2014

 

 

Emerging during the peak of the disco era, Chanson was a band comprised of studio musicians led by bassist James Jamerson Jr. (son of electric bass pioneer and “Funk Brother” James Jamerson) and guitarist David Williams—a pairing that led to frequent comparisons with Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.  Jamerson, who literally grew up in the Motown studios, hooked up with Williams in the early ‘70s when they were playing in the Temptations’ road band. Another longtime collaborator, Benjamin F. Wright Jr., was brought in as the arranger and producer for Chanson’s albums. Wright had been responsible for hiring Williams and Jamerson to back the Temptations, and had originally met Williams back in the day when both were affiliated with the Dells. Due to their deep industry connections, they were able to attract a stellar line-up for the recording sessions—most notably, guitarist Al McKay and the “Phenix horns” from Earth, Wind & Fire: trumpeters Rahmlee Michael Davis and Michael Harris, saxophonist Donald Myrick, and trombonist Louis Satterfield. Joining them were George Bohanon and Oscar Brashear (from the funk band Karma), and Steve Porcaro, David Paich, and Jeff Porcaro (from Toto). Drummer Harvey Mason was added on the second album.

Chanson’s self-titled debut was released in 1978 on Ariola Records and immediately scored a hit with “Don’t Hold Back,” a disco-funk song that reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100:

YouTube Preview Image

Other tracks on the debut album—“Did You Ever,” “I Love You More,” and “All the Time You Need”— merged Detroit soul with the slicker groove of EW&F and the funk-rock of Toto. Their follow-up album, Together We Stand (referring to the teamwork of Jamerson and Williams), was most notable for the track “Rock Don’t Stop,” as well as “Sing All Night,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and “Make It Happen.”

Regrettably, Chanson only released these two albums before “disco demolition day” effectively killed the dance genre, and neither have ever been released on CD.  Funky Town Groove’s reissues include all of the original tracks re-mastered from the master tapes, plus bonus tracks drawn from the 7” singles, with liner notes by Alex Henderson.

After Chanson disbanded, Jamerson and Williams achieved great success as session and backing musicians, performing variously with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, among others (Jamerson even accompanied Luciano Pavarotti for a performance of “Pagliacci Disco Style”).

If you’re of a certain age, these albums will likely bring back many fond memories!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 4th, 2014

 

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

Blues, Folk

B.B. King: Life of Riley DVD (MVD)
Bukka White & Skip James: Live at the Cafe au Go Go 1965 (Rockbeat)
Don Flemons: Prospect Hill (Music Maker)
Lucky Peterson: I’m Back Again (Blues Boulevard)
Preston Shannon: Dust My Broom (Continental)
Smoky Babe: Way Back in the Country Blues: The Lost Dr. Oster Recordings (Arhoolie)
Various: Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972 (Wounded Bird)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM

Bethany Devine: Daily Confessions (Miralex)
Bishop’s Choir: Be Steadfast (Ducosh Music)
Canton Jones: God City USA (CAJO)
Charles Butler & Trinity: Better (eOne)
Jason Wright & the Master’s Touch: Songs of Declaration (Dream)
KB: 1OO EP (Reach)
Kierra “KiKi” Sheard: Graceland (Motown Gospel)
Mr. Del: Hope Dealer 2 (digital)  (DMG)
Phanatik:  Art of Battle Rap (Cross Movement)
Shekinah Glory Ministry Redux (Kingdom)

Jazz

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Offense of the Drum (Motema)
Atlantic Family: Live at Montreux (1st CD reissue) (Wounded Bird)
Audra McDonald: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill (P.S. Classics)
Azar Lawrence: The Seeker (Sunnyside)
Cyrus Chestnut: Midnight Melodies (Smoke Sessions)
Dual Drive: Memphis Project (Icehouse)
Freda Payne: Come Back to Me Love (Mack Avenue)
Henri-Pierre Noel: One More Step (reissue) (Wah Wah 45s)
Henry Butler & Steven Bernstein: Viper’s Drag (Blue Note)
John Coltrane: Sideman – Trane’s Blue Note Sessions (Blue Note)
Ragan Whiteside: Quantum Drive (Randis Music)
Sean Jones: im.pro.vise = never before seen (Mack Avenue)
Tatham Mensah Lord & Ranks (self-titled) (2000Black)
Toni Lincoln (self-titled) (Nu-Wrinkle)
Various: Jazz Meets Africa (box set) (Not Now)

Rock

Pinnick Gales Pridgen: PGP 2 (Magna Carta)

R&B, Soul

9th Creation: Bubble Gum (reissue) (Solaris)
Blue Magic: Welcome Back (reissue) (Funky Town Grooves)
Bobby Marchan: There Is Something on Your Mind: Greatest Hits (Varese Sarabande)
Bobby Patterson: I Got More Soul (Omnivore)
Ca$hflow: Ca$hflow (reissue) (Funky Town Grooves)
Carl Douglas: Crazy Feeling (reissue) (Acid Jazz)
Contours & Dennis Edwards: Just a Little Misunderstanding: Rare & Unissued Motown 1965-68 (Kent)
Dee Dee Warwick: The Complete Atco Recordings (Real Gone)
Dicky Oliver: Dicky Oliver (reissue) (Schema)
Dorothy Moore: Misty Blue (expanded ed.) (BBR)
Eloise Laws: Eloise (expanded ed.)  (Funky Town Grooves)
George Tandy Jr.: The Foundation (Universal Republic)
James Brown: Get On Up – James Brown Story Soundtrack (Ume)
Jimmy James & Vagabonds: Now is the Time (CD + DVD) (Secret)
Kellylee Evans: I Remember When (Motema)
L.C. Cooke: Complete SAR Recordings (Abkco)
Leela James: Fall for You (J&T/BMG)
Lenis Guess: The Story of Lenis Guess (Tramp)
Love Dominique: Love Dominique (Love Sounds)
Marsha Ambrosius: Friends & Lovers (RCA)
Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens: Cold World (Daptone)
New York Community Choir: Make Every Day Count (expanded ed.) (Real Gone)
Paul Laurence: Haven’t You Heard (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Stacy Lattisaw: Take Me All The Way (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Tease: Tease (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Trey Songz: Trigga (Atlantic)
Various: Rhythm & Blues Chronology 1: 1940-41 (Rhythm & Blues)
Various: Rhythm & Blues Chronology 2: 1942-44 (Rhythm & Blues)
Vic Pitts & the Cheaters: The Lost Tapes (Secret Stash)

Rap, Hip Hop

7even Thirty: Problem (Mello Music Group)
Air Dubai: Be Calm (Hopeless )
Akrobatik: Built to Last (Bandcamp)
Blacastan & Stu Bangas: Watson & Holmes (Brutal Music)
Common: Nobody’s Smiling (Def Jam)
Cormega: Mega Philosophy (Slimstyle)
Damu the Fudgemunk: Public Assembly (Redefinition)
Fluent: Supreme Victory (digital) (Diamond Media)
Georgia Anne Muldrow: Ms One (SomeOthaShip)
Has-Lo & Castle: Live Like You’re Dead (digital) (Mello Music Group)
Illa Ghee: Social Graffiti (Imor Ent.)
Josh Baze: Colour Blind (+180 Records)
Lil Keke: Money Don’t Sleep (CD + DVD) (Swisha House)
MarQ Spekt & Blockhead: JustPlayWitIt (HipNott)
Onyx: #Turndafucup (Cleopatra)
Planet Asia and Tzarizm: Via Satellite (Doxside Music)
Quietus Khan: F.O.C.U.S. (Select O Hits)
Quietus Khan & Hustler E: Intelligence & Intimidation (Select O Hits)
Reks & Hazardis Soundz: Eyes Watching God (Brick)
Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)
Sir Michael Rocks: Banco (digital) (6 Cell Phones)

Reggae, Dancehall

Maxi Priest: Easy to Love (VP)
Sir Coxsone: Sir Coxsone in the Dance (Soul Jazz)
Various: Gussie Presenting the Right Tracks (VP)
Various: Reggae Loves Africa (VP)
Vybz Kartel: Reggae Love Songs (VP)

World

Baba Sissoko: Tchiwara (digital) (Good Fellas)
Benyoro: Benyoro  (CD Baby)
Boulpik: Konpa Lakay (Lusafrica)
Fela Kuti: Finding Fela – Soundtrack (Knitting Factory)
Mamadou Diabate & Percussion Mania: Masaba Kan (Jazzhaus)
Noura Mint Seymali: Tzenni (Glitterbeat)
Sia Tolno: African Woman (Lusafrica)
Slim Ali & the Hodi Boys: 70s Soul! (ARC Music)

View review August 4th, 2014

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