Welcome to the March 2015 edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring the new Lead Belly box set from Smithsonian Folkways, as well as Rhiannon Giddens’ debut album Tomorrow Is My Turn.  Since March is Women’s History Month, we’re also reviving our Women of the World series with new releases from Cameroon-born singer Ntjam Rosie, Côte d’Ivoire-born singer Dobet Gnahoré, and the French-Cuban duo Ibeyi.

Gospel music releases include Brian Courtney Wilson’s Worth Fighting For, the Mighty Clouds of Joy’s Down Memory Lane Chapter 2, and The Consolers Collection 1952-1962 dedicated to Miami gospel singers Sullivan and Iona Pugh.  New R&B releases include Swamp Dogg’s The White Man Made Me Do It, Estelle’s True Romance, and soul veteran Bettye Lavette’s Worthy. Other featured albums include Warning Shot from Chicago blues band Mississippi Heat, Sweet Freaks from the UK funk band Brand New Heavies, and #OPRAH (Ordinary People Recording American History) from Chicago hip-hop artist MC Epic.

Wrapping up this issue are reviews of two new books, Brian Coleman’s Check the Technique Vol. 2 and Opal Louis Nation’s Sensational Nightingales; an extended DVD edition of James Brown Live at Boston Garden, April 5, 1968; the double CD reissue Apollo Saturday Night/Saturday Night at the Uptown; and our list of February 2015 Black music releases of note.

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View review March 3rd, 2015

LeadBelly

Title: Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection

Artist: Lead Belly

Label: Smithsonian Folkways

Formats: 5-CD box set, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2015

 

Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter is one of the most celebrated blues and folk musicians in American history. While his life has been the stuff of legend and conjecture, his songwriting and musicianship inspired his contemporaries as well as future folk, blues, and rock musicians. While several compilation albums of his most popular tunes have been released since his death, in commemoration of what would have been his 125th year, Smithsonian Folkways has produced the first major box set spanning Lead Belly’s entire career. This musical collection features 108 (16 previously unreleased) tracks spread across 5 CDs all housed in a 140-page large-format book that includes a detailed biography, notes about each song, and historic images of Lead Belly, newspaper articles,  his correspondences and other artifacts. Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection was co-produced by Grammy Award winning Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place and the executive director of the GRAMMY Museum, Robert Santelli.

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Lead Belly was born in 1888 to sharecropping parents in northwestern Louisiana. He was exposed to music frequently both in church and from his two musician uncles who supported his musical talent. He began learning accordion and guitar at an early age, eventually leaving his father’s home in pursuit of a career in music in places like Shreveport, LA and Dallas, TX. Prior to traveling with blues guitarist Blind Lemon Johnson in 1912, Lead Belly fell in love with the 12-string guitar that would become a key element of his signature sound. Unafraid of physical confrontation, he was sentenced to prison twice for two separate murders. However, while there he participated in hard physical labor and continued to collect, compose, and perform folksongs, blues, spirituals, and work songs. During his second stint he was introduced to John Lomax and his son, Alan Lomax (of the Library of Congress), who had come to the prison to record African American folk songs.  They helped to secure his second pardon and facilitated his relocation to New York.

Lead Belly would go on to make several recordings for the Library of Congress as well as independently owned record labels like RCA, Asch Records, and Columbia. He developed professional and personal relationships with blues and folk artists like Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Cisco Houston, and Woody Guthrie. Despite appearing weekly on the WNYC program Folk Songs of America in the 1940s and touring nationally and internationally, Lead Belly did not gain great celebrity or recognition prior to his death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1949. Memorial albums and covers of Lead Belly’s songs by his friends (particularly Pete Seeger and the Weavers) would push his music into the public ear and bring him the exposure that he sought as an artist.

Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection opens with two introductory essays that provide historical context and biographical information of his life. The first, penned by Santelli, is decidedly more personal as he recalls his experiences researching and uncovering the complex details that shaped this artist’s music. The second, a 30 page essay by Place, interweaves the author’s prose with the voices of key personalities like  Lead Belly’s niece, Tiny Robinson, his friend Fred Ramsay, and label owner Moses Asch to construct a nuanced retelling of his life by offering not only generic facts, but also probing the deeper elements of his character that influenced his decisions, relationships, and artistry. The music featured in this collection showcases the range of songs that he collected as well as his versatility as a musician. The CDs are arranged more or less thematically, rather than strictly chronologically. They feature recordings from a variety of sources including the Library of Congress, commercial recordings, and private recording sessions. Fidelity across the recordings is generally good; however, occasional tracks have the static and crackle that can be expected from recordings captured during this time period (Pete Reiniger served as the audio restoration and mastering engineer).

The first disc serves as brief musical biography and features Lead Belly’s iconic tunes that have been covered by numerous artists over the years.  It opens with what some consider his most popular song, “Irene (Goodnight Irene),” which became the opening and closing theme song for his radio appearances.  The Weavers’ cover of this song in 1950 would reach no. 1 on the pop charts and sold over 2 million copies. Accompanying himself on guitar, Lead Belly’s performance is assertive yet plaintive as he delivers the lyrics unhurriedly sliding from one phrase to the next. This CD also features songs that were particularly illustrative of his past as a farmer, party musician, and prison worker. For instance, “Sukey Jump” and “You Can’t Lose Me, Cholly” were popular dances performed at social events, while “On A Monday” and “Old Riley” were Southern prison songs with lyrics that recount lore about prison life.  Perhaps the most personal are songs that Lead Belly wrote to encourage two state governors to pardon his prison sentences: “Governor O.K. Allen” (Louisiana) and “Governor Pat Neff” (Texas).

The second CD is just as eclectic as the first, highlighting popular but perhaps lesser known tunes. Rhythmic children’s play songs are scattered throughout, including “Almost Day” and the popular dance play song “Sally Walker.” Work and travel are intersecting concepts in several songs presented here as heard in the ox driving song “Whoa, Back, Buck,” and “Linin’ Track” which was sung by workers to synchronize their tempo while lining the rails on a railroad track. Similarly, songs like “Haul Away Joe” and “Old Man” lyrically depict the sights and sounds of labor on riverboats. While these are performed out of context, Lead Belly imbues his performance with the rhythmic, communal, and call and response components that rendered these songs both powerful and functional. This disc is rounded out with spirituals and gospel songs, including “We Shall Walk Through the Valley,” “Meeting at the Building,” and “Ain’t You Glad (The Blood Done Signed My Name)” that Lead Belly encountered at his parent’s church and through his travels. Conversely, disc three primarily features the blues, opening with the heart felt “Good Morning Blues” performed with Sonny Terry on harmonica. Several songs address social and political topics indicated in their titles such as “T.B. [Tuberculosis] Blues,” “Jim Crow Blues,” “Red Cross Store Blues,” and “National Defense Blues.” These songs were composed by several writers surrounding the World Wars and reflect the attitudes and concerns of African Americans facing threats domestically as well as internationally.

The fourth CD offers a glimpse into Lead Belly as a radio personality and a live performer. Two full 15 minute broadcast recordings are included here, providing listeners with a glimpse into the mood and organization of his show, as well as his colorful, yet straightforward explanations of the songs. The first, recorded in March 1941, is a solo broadcast in which he performs work, party, and children’s play songs. The second, recorded on February 1941, features the Oleander Quartet and focuses exclusively on blues (several songs included here are also represented on other CDs in the collection). Disc four is rounded out with presentations from other radio appearances, including Lead Belly’s feature with gospel singer Anne Graham on a program called “America Tells Its Stories.” The fifth CD of this set features selections from what are now considered Lead Belly’s “Final Sessions,” which were all recorded in the home of Frederic Ramsey around 1948. These showcase a level of intimacy that is not captured in his Library of Congress and radio sessions, as he performs while talking, laughing, and singing with those in the room. The selections featured here range from a cappella field hollers like “Yes, I Was Standing in the Bottom” and “Ain’t Going Down to the Well No More” to popular songs like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” (Bessie Smith) and “It’s Tight Like That” (Tampa Red and Georgia Tom).

Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection is a “must have” for American folk and roots music lovers as it accomplishes so many things at once. Place and Santelli use Lead Belly’s dynamic story and music to give listeners a history lesson about American music and specifically African American music in the early 20th century. The background information provided for almost every song in the collection highlight the ways in which Lead Belly (like many musicians) moved through many contexts—creating, borrowing, and sharing music which represented his aesthetic sensibilities. Perhaps the most engaging aspect of this collection is its imaginative interweaving of text, images, and music in this celebration of Lead Belly’s life and work. Lead Belly serves as a portable exhibit that has something to offer to both dedicated enthusiasts and unfamiliar listeners. With a selected discography and bibliography, listeners are also given tools to further explore the musical legacy of this national treasure.

Editor’s note: the recent Smithsonian documentary, Legend of Lead Belly, is currently available on YouTube.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review March 3rd, 2015

RhiannonGiddens

Title: Tomorrow is My Turn

Artist: Rhiannon Giddens

Label: Nonesuch

Release date: Feb 10, 2015

Formats: CD, LP, MP3 (also on Spotify)

 

Tomorrow is My Turn, the first full-length solo album from Rhiannon Giddens, perhaps best known as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, showcases the folk singer doing what she does best—providing stirring interpretations of others’ songs.  This project, produced by T-Bone Burnett, showcases Giddens’ voice in rich arrangements of material from a variety of sources, including traditional folk melodies, classic country hits, and one original song.

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Perhaps the most potent feature of this album is its arrangements, carefully crafted by Giddens and Burnett.  Many of the songs included here are likely familiar to roots music listeners, but Giddens’ interpretations cast them in a new light, challenging listeners with fresh approaches to well-known songs.  Her interpretation of the traditional “Black is the Color” is a prime example of this—beginning with just her voice and vocal percussionist Adam Matta on beatbox, the arrangement gradually builds, adding upright bass, piano, and harmonica, providing a groove that is influenced by the folk song’s roots in the oral tradition but that simultaneously has a feel pleasing to fans of pop music.  Giddens also incorporates more conventional approaches to her interpretations, paying tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s guitar-driven gospel style on “Up Above My Head,” featuring a stomping rhythm and Tharpe-influenced electric guitar.

In addition to pulling consciously from roots music, Giddens also pays homage to popular musical icons of yesteryear, including a stirring rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind,” an R&B influenced treatment of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” complete with a growling sax section and 6/8 feel, and a cover of Odetta’s “Waterboy” in which the band’s hushed intensity is matched by Giddens’ belting vocals.  The album’s title track, a translation of a Charles Aznavour song, continues this stylistic mélange, featuring a lilting, almost soundtrack-esque feel that would not be out of place in a film montage.  Giddens finishes the album with her own original composition, “Angel City,” which fits well with the other classic material that she has chosen on this album, with introspective lyrics situated in a bed of beautiful strings and acoustic guitars.

Fans of Giddens’ previous projects no doubt have high expectations for the songstress’ debut solo offering, and they will not be disappointed by Tomorrow is My Turn. In terms of sheer listening pleasure, this album deserves repeated spins for Giddens’ careful vocal treatment of each of these songs alone.  If one adds the delicately structured arrangements that pervade this album to the mix, it is nearly impossible to not discover something new upon each listen.

Reviewed by Matt Alley

View review March 3rd, 2015

NtjamRosie

Title: The One

Artist: Ntjam Rosie

Label: Gentle Daze

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 17, 2015

 

 

Cameroon-born singer Ntjam Rosie, who has lived in Holland since she was 9 years old, is poised to return to the international stage to promote her fourth album, The One. Taking complete creative control, she wrote the majority of the songs, served as producer, and released the project on her own label. The result is a tour de force that marks a welcome return to her soul and jazz roots, with fewer of the pop elements explored on her previous release.

The brief string intro “Metata’a (The Beginning)” opens the album with a classical styling that carries over into the contemplative “A Nye’e Fo’o Ma (He Loves Me So),” with vocals overlaying an acoustic guitar and string accompaniment. Following is the title track, sung in English, which blends a neo-soul sensibility with electronic effects in a love song that also serves as affirmation of her religious convictions:

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Rosie wrote the songs for the album shortly after her wedding last January, which obviously influenced “Forever Love,” a celebration of her vows and the “real deal kinda love” between two people. Dutch-based Afro-European MC Pink Oculus joins Rosie on “Always on the Run,” injecting spoken elements over shimmering keyboards and a pounding drum rhythm. Switching to French on “Akiba (Thank You),” Rosie brings more of a jazzy world music vibe to the song, accompanied by prominent percussion grounding a chamber group of winds and strings.

One of the album’s highlights is “Covenant,” featuring the legendary Gambian kora player Lamin Kuyateh. Another is “Dear to Me,” which draws upon Rosie’s gospel roots in the intro, then shifts into soul-jazz territory with layered vocal harmonies and prominent electric guitar. The character shifts yet again on the atmospheric “Pas de Tours,” interlaced with flute solos and riffs by Ronald Snijders, while “I’m Loved” features a languid yet intriguing interplay between jazz trumpeter Eric Vloeimans, pianist Alexander Van Popta and Rosie. The album closes with “Love to be Here,” another jazz oriented track utilizing intricate scatting vocal harmonies that give way to an improvisational midsection featuring piano and drum.

The One is a complex album that weaves together elements of jazz, neo-soul, R&B, gospel and world music in a manner that’s impossible to characterize, but greatly appealing—and the superb musicianship is the icing on the cake.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 3rd, 2015

Ibeyi

Title: Ibeyi

Artist: Ibeyi

Label: XL Recordings

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 17, 2015

 

The French/Cuban twins Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz make up the band Ibeyi, which is the Yoruba word for twin. The 20 year-old sisters’ self-titled debut album, released on XL Recordings, is one of few albums produced by the head of XL Recordings himself, Richard Russell, and is a masterful mix of culture and music.

Despite growing up in France, Ibeyi sing in both English and Yoruba, and often use Afro-Caribbean instrumentation. Their interest in Yoruba culture, language, and music reflects the heritage of their late Cuban father and acclaimed percussionist, Anga Diaz. Though both sisters sing, on most songs Lisa-Kainde takes the lead vocals and plays piano, while Naomi plays the cajón and batá. However, what really makes this duo special is the joining of their voices to create ethereal harmonies.

Many of the tracks on Ibeyi are influenced not only musically by Yoruba culture, but also draw from religious traditions, particularly Santeria. They mention multiple orishas, or Yoruba spirits, such as Oya, Aggayu, Oshun, Shango and Yemaya. This is most clearly heard in the first and last tracks, “Eleggua (Intro)” and “Ibeyi (Outro).”

Like many songs on the album, “Ghosts” finds a beautiful balance between modern soul music, world music, and something other-worldly. The simplicity of the music, mainly cajon and piano, with occasional verbal sounds and hand claps, enhances the vocals of the sisters. It is their voices that demand attention, whether it is the grit of Lisa-Kainde’s soul singing or their flawless harmonies. About two minutes in, the repeated lyrics “Without love, we ain’t nothing” sung only by Lisa-Kainde with the piano, mark a change in mood, as Ibeyi switches from singing somberly about the past to singing joyfully in Yoruba. In the video, they change from being very serious to having big smiles on their faces as they end the song:

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With a much slower start, “Behind the Curtain” begins softly, as a ballad about losing a love with only piano and vocals. Their questioning lyrics try to comfort as well, as they sing “Baby, just have no fear. I am here.” Much like in “Ghosts,” percussion enters three minutes into the song, joining Ibeyi’s harmonies as they sing in Yoruba while the piano plays softly in the background, cyclically bringing the song to a conclusive end.

With a heavy beat and a previously unheard bass, “Stranger/Lover” has a more complex production than most of the other tracks, merging soul music with electronic music and replacing the usual vulnerability of the vocals with strength and boldness. It is an example of the diversity of Ibeyi and their potential to tap into many different genres while retaining their unique style.

“Mama Says,” an emotionally moving track about a woman who has lost her love, is obviously very personal for the sisters, who lost their father when they were only 11 years old. The music video draws on this emotion, featuring only Ibeyi and their mother with a simple theme of darkness versus light. This sentiment carries over to “Yanira,” written to honor the twins’ deceased older sister. While relying more heavily on percussion, including the batá and hand claps, Ibeyi’s characteristic strong harmonies are still present and vocals remain in the forefront, leaving all other instruments as merely accompaniments and accents.

Ibeyi use their connections to family and past experiences, whether despairing loss or their Yoruba heritage, to create beautiful music. They have a unique style that draws the listener in and captivates with deep emotion and interesting arrangements. Ibeyi is an exciting collision of traditional and modern cultures that showcases the incredible talent of Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz. It also bursts with potential: with such a strong debut album from such young artists, one can only imagine where Ibeyi will go next.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 3rd, 2015

Gnahore

Title: Na Drê

Artist: Dobet Gnahoré

Label: Contrejour

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 13, 2015 (U.S.)

 

 

A native of Côte d’Ivoire, Dobet Gnahoré embraced music at an early age, courtesy of her father, master percussionist Boni Gnahoré, who trained her in multiple art forms and no doubt influenced her compelling style and stage presence. In her youth, Dobet toured Africa extensively with her father as a singer, dancer, and actor in the Abidjan-based troupe Ki-Yi Mbock – but fled to Marseille, France in 1999 after a military coup led to civil unrest and then war.

After 15 years in Europe, Dobet’s music has transformed into a fusion of Western and African elements, enabling her to garner fans worldwide. Though she’s toured the U.S. on several occasions (most recently in January 2015), she likely first came to the attention of American audiences in 2010 after winning a Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance with India.Arie for the song “Pearls” (from the Testimony, Vol 2: Love and Politics album). Like India.Arie, Dobet often takes a feminist stance, writing socially conscious lyrics about the unity of women and women as a uniting force, as well as issues affecting women: giving life, losing life, forbidden love, forced marriage, hope, and the importance of family.

Dobet composed the songs for her fourth album, Na Drê, over a four year period while touring worldwide with her band. A true pan-African effort, the album is sung in various languages of her homeland and the diaspora: Bété, Dida, Lingala, Malinké, Haitian Creole, French and English. Band members include her husband Colin Laroche de Féline on guitar, Clive Govinden on bass, and Boris Tchango on drums, with numerous assisting French and African musicians including Boni Ngahoré.

After a brief introductory praise song celebrating Allah, God, Buddha, and Lago, Dobet gets to the heart of the album on the title track “Na Drê.” Translated as “My Heart,” she sings (in Bété): “I am so sensitive, I am aware of danger / But I follow him on track, I see you and you fascinate me / O look for you, I follow you, I seek you, but why?”

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Following is “Awili,” a song about friendship which incorporates a lilting Congolese styled rumba, and Dobet demonstrates her facility on mbira in the short interlude “Gbaza.” On “Baara” (or “Work”), she encourages Africans “Let’s be ready to build a strong and solid nation / Don’t stand around doing nothing, cultivate, protect our paradise” over a piano and percussion accompaniment. One of the more overtly Western styled songs is the uptempo “Zina,” with a cheerfulness that belies the lyrics centered on abuse:  “You take advantage of her softness, she’s the target of your rage.” An album highlight is the penultimate track, “J’ai peur” (“I’m Afraid”), with Dobet lamenting the current state of her country, “People die, people cry in my Africa,” concluding with excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech. Dobet closes with “Botondi,” a song of thanks featuring a horn section grounded by Ivorian world music and jazz fusion drummer Paco Sery, who also picks up the bass and guitar, and even raps in English, building to a powerful finale.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 3rd, 2015

Epic

Title: #OPRAH: Ordinary People Recording American History

Artist: Epic

Label: Self-released

Format: MP3

Release date: November 6, 2014

 

 

Hip-hop has been intertwined with politics and social movements from the beginning, with the most famous example being “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash. From its roots in the projects of New York City in the 1970s, hip-hop quickly became a way for African Americans to express frustration as well as political and personal struggles.

Richard Wallace, better known as MC Epic, is bringing back political hip-hop with a vengeance. A Chicago native, Epic is also a member of the hip-hop group BBU, whose 2012 mixtape bell hooks was named the top Chicago indie album of the year. On his first solo album, #OPRAH: Ordinary People Recording American History, Epic has kept all the fire and political commentary of BBU while infusing powerful samples from both movies and music  to tell his own personal story.

#OPRAH is “dedicated to the suffering,” and Epic himself calls his sound “Afro Human Emo Trap.” The lyrics tackle subjects from Tuskegee to the death of Epic’s father to the shootings of Treyvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner. To Epic, the title shows the importance of regular people recording history in this digital age, especially when information and events are kept out of mass media. He says in an interview with MusicVox that “These things ain’t gonna show up in mass media, they ain’t gonna show up in production. These things have to be told through each other.”

The first track, “Intro Classic,” samples “Exp” by Jimi Hendrix, followed by Epic proclaiming “It feels good to be Black.” Soulful vocals and organ play behind Epic’s powerful rap, which focuses on the largest theme of the album: racial injustice. The music is dramatic and bold, serving as a grand overture to the album, introducing the tracks as a whole story rather than a random collection of songs.

“Family Tree” is the standout track, with clever lyrics that reference dozens of leaders from the social-political historical struggles of African Americans, as well as various influential hip-hop artists. Epic intertwines these histories seamlessly.  Fast-paced beats accompany the sample of “Eleanor Rigby” as Epic raps “I was an 80’s baby / everything was chopped and screwed. / Tupac was a prophet before they gave him juice. / A tree was a tree until they gave that shit a noose. / I guess it’s all strange fruit / that’s my sister Billie Holiday.”

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Though it’s easy to focus on the conscious and clever lyrics, the production of #OPRAH is also impressive. Sound bites from The Color Purple are featured at the beginning or end of many of the songs, furthering the theme of racial injustice. For instance, “DoDatAt” ends with The Color Purple scene where the protagonist Sofia repeatedly says “Hell no” when her daughter is asked if she would like to work as a maid.

Though the lyrics are politically charged, they are not controversial for controversy’s sake. Instead, they are a manifestation of Epic’s processing and response to “the continued violence to Black Bodies by Police around the world.” While calling for a public response, Epic is also dealing with a personal question of his own: “How does something like that happen to another human being?”

In “Gadaffi,” Epic discusses these issues on a national and local level, rapping “I’ll die for Trayvon / enlist and play calm” before the chorus, which sings “It’s Chicago, the home of crooked cops, bus stops, and slave masters Daley.” The song “Oprah” has a similar theme and message, but its chorus is more hopeful, and repeats the acronym of the album: “Ordinary people recording American history, we makin’ symphonies.” Both tracks play with the ideas of personal and public, in the same way as the album title does, referring both to ordinary people, and Oprah, one of the most famous celebrities today.

The last song of the album, “Letter To My Father,” is the most personal. The heavy beat is accompanied by strings, which carry the song along and add depth. Over this, Epic raps about his father, who died a few years ago in jail after serving time for over 20 years. Epic uses what his father taught him to discuss systematic racial injustice and personal freedom. The lyrics are connected to a realization he had about his father’s attitude, which was that “a man literally behind prison walls was completely free. If he can be free back there, I refuse to live in bondage out here.”

This last track summarizes the message of the whole album, which is that in order to rid the world of racial injustice, ordinary people must step up and fight for equality. Epic’s father passed on the idea of both a personal and public fight for freedom to his son, and now Epic is passing it on to the world with #OPRAH, an album that goes beyond impressive hip-hop music to make sure everyone who listens considers the systematic injustices faced by African Americans, as well each person’s role in creating and recording that history.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 3rd, 2015

Swamp
Title: The White Man Made Me Do It

Artist: Swamp Dogg

Label: Alive Naturalsound

Format: 2 CD set

Release date: January 13, 2015

 

 

Southern soul veteran Jerry Williams, Jr. adopted the “Swamp Dogg” persona for his 1970 release Total Destruction to Your Mind, and soon thereafter developed a cult following fueled by subsequent albums coveted as much for their outrageous art work as their musical content. Now, 45 years and 30 albums later, he views his latest release, The White Man Made Me Do It, as the true successor to his 1970 cult classic, delivering an updated narrative on “politics, war, race and the abiding mysteries of love and sex” in his own inimitable, irreverently funky style. Whereas in the 1970s his participation in Jane Fonda’s antiwar comedy revue FTA (F**k the Army) earned him a spot on President Richard Nixon’s Enemies List, now he’s writing songs about the first Black president.

On the title track Williams traces the history of African Americans, contrasting jobs performed during enslavement (hence the title) to the major inventors and innovators of the last 100 years, giving shout-outs to Dr. Percy Julian, Marion Anderson, Madame CJ Walker, Bessie Coleman, Oprah Winfrey and President Obama along the way. Social commentary is also prominent on the bluesy “Prejudice Is Alive and Well,” with a power house horn section backing Williams as he sings: “Prejudice is alive and well, and those who want it can go to hell / All over the world you know it exists, but in the U.S. it has a special twist . . . The rich gets richer, even pay less taxes / Who suffers the most? You got it – Our asses!”  Other tracks offer similar but less overtly political fare, ranging from Williams’ Sly Stone tribute “Can Anybody Tell Me Where Sly Is?” and the hard rocking “Lying, Lying, Lying Woman” to covers of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” and the Clovers’ “Your Cash Ain’t Nothing But Trash.”

Included in the package is a bonus CD featuring Williams’ work as a producer on tracks sung by Irma Thomas, Charlie Whitehead, Doris Duke, Z.Z. Hill, Lightnin’ Slim, Wolfmoon and Sandra Phillips. The disc is rounded out by three of Williams’ most iconic songs: “F**k the Bomb, Stop the Drugs,” “Synthetic World,” and “My Life Ain’t Nothing But a Blues Song.” Williams is still dishing up helpings of raunchy humor, but by peppering the lyrics with Black Power themes and socially conscious messages, the end result is far from stale. And thanks to Alive Naturalsound, many of his early albums are once again available.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 3rd, 2015

BrianCourtney

Title: Worth Fighting For

Artist: Brian Courtney Wilson

Label: Motown Gospel

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 6, 2015

 

 

Brian Courtney Wilson is a fairly recent addition to the gospel music industry, making his notable debut in 2009 with the project Just Love which earned him two Dove Award Nominations. Just a few years later, he garnered a Stellar Award performing with the all-male group United Tenors* and has now released his third solo album, Worth Fighting For, under the Motown Gospel label.  Recorded live at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, this album features songs primarily written by Wilson in collaboration with the project’s producer, Aaron Lindsey. The album’s title is indicative of its theme which grew out of Wilson’s personal resolve that despite what he recognizes as commonplace cynicism toward authority and organized religions, the church (and subsequently love and hope) is “still worth fighting for and preserving.”

Worth Fighting For explores the intimate and complex relationships between individuals and a supreme God. This live recording opens with selections designed for corporate worship, like the up tempo, guitar and percussion driven “Stand My Ground” which is a self-encouraging prayer in which the singer boldly declares, “I’ve decided not to give way to the fear/ I’ve discovered that your presence means my help is near.” This selection is followed by a song based on the popular Biblical scripture Ps. 118:24 titled “This is the Day.” Written to inspire celebration and audience participation, this song is repetitive with simple lyrics and call and response between Wilson and his backing singers. The accompaniment is energetic and full-bodied, while the catchy melody rings through, inviting listeners to sing along.

The songs that comprise the middle of this 11 track album provide a glimpse into the heart and emotion of this project. The title track “Worth Fighting For” is perhaps the most moving song of the album as it offers a transparent discussion of Wilson’s struggles with insecurity and the ways in which his faith was a catalyst for spiritual and personal growth. This song begins with Wilson’s solo voice and pared down accompaniment – primarily keyboard and drums – as he talks to God stating, “You met me, deep in my despair/ To show me you would never leave me there.” As the song progresses, additional instrumentation and background voices add to the texture of the song emphasizing the refrain, “Eyes haven’t seen/ ears haven’t heard/ all You have planned for me/ And nothing can separate me from Your love/ when there’s so much more/ still worth fighting for.”  The song gradually crescendos to a climax as Wilson recounts his hopes, dreams, and relationships that (with God’s help) he will fight to preserve.

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The acoustic guitar driven song “Mindful” is also an intimate prayer to God, but instead of an emphatic declaration of belief, this selection is a calm offering of gratitude and love. The sweet refrain, “I didn’t know you were all I needed until you were all I had…” expresses his dependence on God who has served as a sustaining force throughout his life.

In a change of pace, “It Will Be Alright” is a fun, mid-tempo tune that relies heavily on the rhythm section to create musical interest. This song includes emphatic musical “breaks,” allowing Wilson space to improvise lyrics and sermonize to listeners, encouraging them remain faithful despite difficult circumstances. Similarly, “Hope Saved My Life” suggests that hope is the primary ingredient needed for success in life. It blends gospel elements and funk inspired electric bass with the clean, upbeat delivery of inspirational music crafted for the musical theater stage.

Worth Fighting For showcases all of the elements that make Wilson a refreshing voice in contemporary gospel music. Beyond the sincerity of his lyrics, his thoughtful and sensitive delivery makes him an engaging performer. Even while singing highly emotional or energetic songs, Wilson allows the lyrics and the melody to shine brilliantly. For these reasons, Worth Fighting For is a thoughtful and artful project that is well worth a listen. Additionally, contemporary gospel music fans will be delighted to learn that the deluxe version of this album features three bonus tracks—two medleys of Wilson’s previously released music as well as an old school R&B inspired song, “Greatest Love,” featuring Stellar and Grammy Award winning vocalist Tina Campbell of the Mary Mary duo.

*United Tenors is comprised of Wilson, Dave Hollister, Eric Roberson, and founder Fred Hammond – all of whom have had successful independent careers as R&B or Gospel artists.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review March 3rd, 2015

MightyCloudsOJoy

Title: Down Memory Lane, Chapter 2

Artist: Mighty Clouds of Joy

Label: MCG Records

Formats: CD+DVD set

Release date: November 4, 2014

 

 

An aspect of gospel music that may possibly elude a casual listener—especially if he or she is from outside the circle of Black American culture—is the fact that gospel performance is simply “Just Having Chu’ch!” as Chester Baldwin puts it. Listening to the sounds of Joe Ligon and the Mighty Clouds of Joy on Down Memory Lane Chapter 2, and watching the congregants participating in the DVD version, one indeed has the immediate impression that the entire production is a church service.

According to Jason Ankeny (allmusic.com), the gospel quartet Mighty Clouds of Joy was formed in Los Angeles during the mid-’50s by schoolmates Joe Ligon and Johnny Martin, and since then they’ve “carried the torch for the traditional quartet vocal style throughout an era dominated by solo acts and choirs. Pioneering a distinctively funky sound which over time gained grudging acceptance even among purists,” the ensemble “pushed spiritual music in new and unexpected directions, even scoring a major disco hit.” Just like Chapter 1 of the Mighty Clouds of Joy’s production titled All That I Am (2013), the present double album includes both CD & DVD formats and was produced in worship context inside the church edifice of the Covenant Ministries International in Decatur, Georgia.

The songs are grouped in three major categories on both the CD and DVD, but their sequences are different.  On the CD, the ten song “Medley” comes first before the “Grace Medley,” with “God Can” and “Exaltation of Praise” serving as intermezzos. The DVD, however, opens with “Exaltation of Praise” which serves as an overture, while the “Medley” closes the disc. In the perpetually swinging Medley, one gets a feeling of what Barry Liesch describes as “free flowing praise” in which “songs are often stitched together into a medley by improvisational playing and modulation to create a sense of seamlessness, of one song flowing into the next.” The slow mien of “God Can,” which implies a worship song, contrasts with the upbeat disco-like rhythm of “Exaltation of Praise.” The CD closes with three variations of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” composed by John Newton in 1779 to herald his spiritual conversion (track 3 on the DVD).

One could rightly guess that the fame of the Mighty Clouds is traceable to the fiery posture of Ligon’s preaching and vocal renditions “inspired by the radio broadcasts of Reverend C.L. Franklin.” This energetic approach has “became a trademark of Mighty Clouds of Joy’s records.” Says Ligon himself, “We wanted to go back to our roots in the ’60s, singing songs we were known for before the contemporary music came in.” Down Memory Lane Chapter 2 is about appropriately positing or collocating a traditional genre in a contemporary context.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review March 3rd, 2015

MississippiHeat

Title: Warning Shot

Artist: Mississippi Heat

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: September 16, 2014

 

Though the band’s name might imply blues from deep in the Delta, Mississippi Heat is a Chicago-based outfit led by master harmonica player Pierre Lacocque, who was raised in Brussels and first encountered African American music on the radio. When he was 16, his family relocated to Chicago where Lacocque soon became enraptured with the city’s storied blues tradition. Though his life initially took a different path, he eventually returned to his true passion—playing the blues harp—and formed Mississippi Heat in 1991. Since then, the band has gained recognition for keeping traditional blues alive, playing music that’s  “steeped in Chicago’s golden sounds of the 1950s,” drawing inspiration from the likes of “Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, all the great harp players… Big and Little Walter.”

For their latest venture on Delmark Records, Mississippi Heat offers 14 original tracks by various members of the group plus 2 covers, including Hank William’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart” performed as a swing-boogie with harmonica solo, and a soulful, fuzzed out version of Ruth Brown’s “I Don’t Know,” convincingly sung by Inetta Visor. Inetta also shines on the Calypso-tinged rhumba “Come to Mama” which references Big Walter Horton’s “La Cucaracha,” and on the rollicking title track that also features guitarist Carl Weathersby:

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One of the albums highlights is “Yeah Now Baby,” a perfect combination of Delta blues and modern sensibilities, driven relentlessly by Kenny Smith on drums and Lacocque’s harp, while Michael Dotson’s moaning vocalizations bring it down home. Another is “Recession Blues.” Though the title might call to mind the mournful style of a 1930s acoustic blues lament, instead the track is an upbeat juggernaut displaying the talents of Ruben Alvarez on percussion and Sax Gordon on saxophones, along with plenty of rocking guitar and harmonica licks.  Closing with “Working Man,” Visor and Lacocque provide an effective call and response between vocals and harp, punctuated by Neal O’Hara on keys, Giles Corey and Michael Dotson on guitars, and Brian Quinn on bass.

Warning Shot provides a fresh sound, drawing from traditional blues tropes but with significant twists and turns along the way. By incorporating vintage electric sounds, Latin beats, honking R&B saxophones, and jolts of rock ‘n’ roll, Mississippi Heat achieves an inspiring blend of the old and the new, keeping listeners satisfied with stellar musicianship and arrangements that will have appeal far beyond the traditional blues audience.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 3rd, 2015

BrandNewHeavies

Title: Sweet Freaks

Artist: Brand New Heavies

Label: Eagle Rock / EAR Music

Formats: CD, MP3 (also on Spotify)

Release date: November 24, 2014

 

 

Conceived thirty years ago, London’s acid jazz pioneers the Brand New Heavies show they are still relevant with their recent release Sweet Freaks. Vocalist Dawn Joseph, who replaced N’Dea Davenport in 2013, joins original members Jan Kincaid (drums, percussion, vocals, keyboard), Simon Bartholomew (guitar), and Andrew Levy (bass) on this trip through a funky, disco-tinged landscape charged with precision horns, suave strings and chucking bass lines.

Most of the tracks on the album are originals, including the opening track “Sweet Freeek” which establishes the dance groove that continues throughout. Another highlight is the cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” the focus of the official video album trailer:

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Those of a certain age will appreciate “’95 Tonight,” with the band rallying around the final chorus “Party’s startin’ in the garden come on / Getting ready to rocksteady it’s on / Ain’t it something got us jumping right on / Play that song and make like ’95 tonight.”  Songs to brighten the spirits during this exceptionally long and cold winter include “We Live for the Summer” and the scorching “You Are on Fire,” which simmers over a mid-tempo groove. The album closes with an arrangement of En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go,” a song that showcases Dawn Joseph’s vocal talents and proves she’s a valuable new addition to the group.

With Sweet Freaks, the Brand New Heavies provide an updated soundtrack for getting your groove on which will appeal to fans of funk and disco alike.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 3rd, 2015

BettyeLaVette

Title: Worthy

Artist: Bettye LaVette

Label: Cherry Red

Formats: CD, MP3, Special Ed. CD + DVD

Release date: January 27, 2015

 

 

Bettye LaVette’s recording career began in 1962 when, at the tender age of 16, she scored her first Top Ten R&B hit with “My Man—He’s a Lovin’ Man.” Since her career’s exciting start she has amassed a tremendous track record, including several albums as well as many appearances on compilation albums and on Broadway. Her latest release on the British label Cherry Red is an eleven-track album that showcases her still flourishing voice and thrilling vocal interpretations.

Worthy is an album of covers, highlighting great songs by artists/writers such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Beth Nielsen Chapman, and the Rolling Stones. While LaVette sings material that has been already recorded, packaged and presented to the world, she doesn’t cease to add her own original spin to already brilliant performances. But these covers are not just blasts from the past. The songs pulled for this album represent an array of eras, including songs from as recent as 2014 and as early as the 1960s.

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While LaVette doesn’t hold back with her interpretation and striking vocals, there are a few performances of note. The album’s opening track, “Unbelievable,” was originally released by Bob Dylan in 1990. In LaVette’s cover, she complicates the rhythmic foundation of the song. On “Bless Us All,” originally released by Mickey Newbury in 1977, LaVette maintains the emotional, and maybe even haunting quality of the original, slowing the pace and highlighting the drum parts.  She offers a totally different interpretation of the Lennon/McCartney song “Wait,” released by the Beatles in the 1965. Instead of the Beatles’ original upbeat, highly percussive arrangement, LaVette slows the song down to a ballad-like pace, taking time with each and every lyric.

Worthy is a wonderful collection of well-written songs coupled with Betty LaVette’s soulful vocal interpretations.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review March 3rd, 2015

Estelle

Title: True Romance

Artist: Estelle

Label: Established 1980/BMG

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 17, 2015

 

Estelle officially hit the scene in the UK in 2004 with her debut album The 18th Day. Four years later, after signing with John Legend’s Homeschool label, she released her first studio album (and first U.S. release) Shine. The will.i.am produced lead single “American Boy,” featuring Kanye West, skyrocketed, landing in the top 10 in approximately a dozen countries. Following her second studio album, All of Me, she announced the start of her new label, New London Records, in partnership with BMG, and took creative control of her third full-length album.

True Romance, much like Estelle’s previous releases, is influenced by experiences in relationships. Though All of Me focused squarely on the perils of heartbreak, True Romance comments on the complexities of romance in songs like “Fight For It” and “Silly Girls.” On the inspirational ballad “Conqueror,” she encourages listeners to never give up:

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Estelle embraces her power as a woman and an artist on “Make Her Say (Beat It Up),” choosing to exemplify the provocative edge she showcases in her live performances. The album closes with “All That Matters,” where she finally attains “true romance” and all that matters is the love between two people.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review March 3rd, 2015

CheckTheTechnique

Title: Check the Technique, Volume 2: More Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies

Author: Brian Coleman

Publisher: Good Road

Format: Softcover book, 544 pages

Release date: October 14, 2014

 

 

The third volume of acclaimed music journalist Brian Coleman’s Check the Technique / Rakim Told Me series is yet another excellent collection of interviews, photographs, and in-depth analysis. The series takes an approach that Coleman refers to as “Invisible Liner Notes – retracing the story of an album step by step, in collaboration with the artists themselves.” Check the Technique, Volume 2 covers a wide variety of hip-hop albums, from as early as 1981 to 1997. Each of the 25 chapters discusses an album in length, using information from interviews with over 80 artists, DJs, producers, and industry insiders.

This volume includes “behind-the scenes histories” from albums such as DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, Ice Cube’s AkeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, and Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s Are Black Star. Interviews come from a range of artists, including 3rd Bass, Mantronix, Raekwon, Dr. Octagon, The Coup, and Kool G Rap. Coleman goes beyond summarizing the album as a whole to discuss and dissect over 300 unique hip-hop songs.

One of the most impressive aspects of this volume are the images included. As well as album covers for each of the albums, there are photos of handwritten lyrics, cassette tapes, and floppy discs that were used in the process of creating the albums, and even some images of the artists recording in the studios.

As the title suggests, this is a book that any hip-hop junkie will want. Coleman brings to life and creates a concrete record of these legendary works that remain very important parts of hip-hop history. Educators will also find this book to be an extremely informative supplement for courses on hip hop, literature, popular music, and the music industry (as illustrated in the following lecture at USC featuring Coleman, Oliver Wang, Josh Kun, and other panelists):

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Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 3rd, 2015

Nightingales

Title: Sensational Nightingales: The Story of Joseph “Jo Jo” Wallace and the Early Days of the Sensational Nightingales

Author: Opal Louis Nations

Publisher: Scat Trax

Format: Book (soft cover,146 pages)

Release date: November 7, 2014

 

Radio host and gospel music collector Opal Louise Nations has worked with traditional gospel music for decades, researching and producing material for reissues on labels like AVI, Ace, and Jasmine. His work has put him in contact with a number of seasoned gospel artists whose music helped shaped the sound of African American protestant worship in the early and mid-20th century. Recognizing the significance of his experiences, Nations has authored his first book length text, Sensational Nightingales: The Story of Joseph “Jo Jo” Wallace and the Early Days of the Sensational Nightingales.

Written in a conversational tone, the book is easily accessible to most readers. In the space of 10 short chapters, Nations offers a brief history of Black gospel quartet singing in Philadelphia as well as an overview of the creation and rise of the Sensational Nightingales as a highly sought after ensemble. He primarily focuses on the multiple performers and personnel that made up the different versions of the group from its inception in 1949 to its later years in the 1980s. Beyond “Jo Jo” Wallace, he gives significant attention to lead singer Rev. Julius “June” Cheeks, later group member Charles Johnson, and manager Barney L. Parks. Nations weaves the personal recollections of Wallace and other quartet artists throughout his narrative, using their insights to illuminate interpersonal dynamics among performers as well as their individual connections to gospel music.  He also makes careful effort to highlight the group’s recordings on labels like Decca and Peacock as a solo act and in collaboration with other major gospel performers.

Clear documentation of interviews and secondary sources are scarce, rendering this text more of a casual oral history than an academic venture. However, Nations provides a useful annotated discography of the Nightingale’s recordings from 1959 to 1982 as well as listings of Cheeks’ and Johnson’s projects recorded without the Nightingales. He also includes a brief bibliography of resources (magazine and newspaper articles as well as book length biographies) that have additional information about the group.  Sensational Nightingales features 40 pages of photos that include promotional materials, candid group shots, and images of Wallace’s family and childhood. The text closes with highlights of the groups career from 1983-2013.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

Editor’s note: The Opal Louise Nations Collection is housed at the Archives of African American Music and Culture and currently includes over 300 articles on various subjects related to gospel music.

View review March 3rd, 2015

ConsolersCollectiom

Title: The Consolers Collection, 1952-62

Artist: The Consolers

Label: Acrobat

Format: 2-CD set

Release date: January 13, 2015

 

 

The core of the Consolers was a married couple that dedicated 41 years to fostering the gospel in its traditional mode: Sullivan Pugh (1925-2011), who served as the guitarist, and his wife Iola (d. 1994), who was the vocalist. Their repertoire, often based on spirituals, was influenced by the music of the Holiness Church (Sullivan was a lifelong member of the First Born Church of the Living God in Miami). The present double CD collection is a gathering by Acrobat Music – call it a harvest – of “all the singles issued by the Consolers from their first recordings as the Miami Soul Stirrers (and briefly as The Spiritual Consolers) in 1952 through 1962, plus the tracks from their first album in 1961 which were not otherwise released as singles.”

The ample liner notes provided by Frederic Adrian give insight into the evolution of the recording activities of the Consolers. Apart from their early trio configuration as the Miami Souls Stirrers, the Consolers are well known for having recorded with various labels—Glory, DeLuxe, Nashboro, Savoy/Malaco—as well as for their appearance at the 1972 Newport Jazz Festival. But the vast majority of the tracks on The Consolers Collection were originally recorded with Nashboro, a venture that turned out to be very successful because of the good rapport that was in place between the recording company and the Black-targeted radio station, WLAC.

Most of the songs on The Consolers Collection feature only the guitar, and at most hand-claps and occasionally the piano, as the accompaniment. Sullivan’s guitar style features “extended passages on a single string and uses legato, double stops, and endings incorporating artificial harmonics” together with “percussive, rhythmic chords to accent the back beat.” Yet the quest for sober accompaniment does not diminish the powerful and robust timbre of the voice in the various tracks of the album.

Within the collection, there is the famous “Fix Me Jesus” which, while it usually has a gentle movement as arranged spiritual, nevertheless is characterized here by a “tempo furioso.” The ensuing track “Wade in the Water” is also a well-known lyric in the African American religious music scene, although the version here has a different musical setting than the more popular tune. Similarly, “Nobody Knows” is a musical rearrangement of the famous spiritual of same title. On the other hand, the Consolers also focus a great deal on family life. This is clearly demonstrated with such beautiful tunes as “Every Christian Mother” and “How Long Has It Been Since You’ve Been Home.” The tenderly if romantically moving “Give Me My Flowers” seems to celebrate the life partnership of the Pughs, what with Sullivan’s presentation of a bouquet to Lola at its performance in 1956! Another highlight is the energy driven and faith-filled song “Never Could Have Made It” which comes in two parts (CD2, Track 4 and Track 5).

The Consolers Collection can be critically viewed as an instrument of immortalizing the duo of Sullivan and Iola Pugh, who stand as icons of undiluted traditional gospel performance which, even in the present era of contemporization, is still in demand by lovers of the “old stuff.” As Eli “Paperboy” Reed writes in the liner notes, “the music of The Consolers has the immediate ability to give… warm feeling inside.” If the emphasis in traditional gospel is on touching the soul of listeners, the Consolers certainly succeed.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review March 3rd, 2015

JBrown

Title: James Brown: Live At Boston Garden

Publisher: Shout Factory/WGHB

Format: DVD

Release date: December 9, 2014

 

 

Originally reviewed as part of the I Got The Feelin’: James Brown in the ‘60s 3-DVD set, James Brown: Live at Boston Garden has been newly released as an extended edition. The famous concert took place on April 5, 1968, the day following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Though the concert was nearly canceled, the Boston public television station WGBH broadcast the concert live to the city.

The extended edition restores missing footage of the concert, including performances that have not been seen for decades. Most notably, this edition features performances by Bobby Byrd and Marva Whitney that were previously unreleased, including a duet of “You’ve Got to Change Your Mind” by Bobby Byrd and James Brown. There are also newly restored speeches by James Brown and Boston City Councilmember Tom Atkins. These added features make it the most complete version of this famous concert to be released thus far.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 3rd, 2015

SaturdayNight

Title: Apollo Saturday Night/Saturday Night At The Uptown

Artist: Various

Label: Real Gone Music

Format: CD

Release date: February 3, 2015

 

At a time when Atlantic Records was beginning to be seen as the “country’s premier R&B label,” it recorded some of its leading soul acts in 1964 at two major venues on the “Chitlin’ Circuit”: the Apollo Theater in New York and The Uptown in Philadelphia.  These recordings were packaged and released as Apollo Saturday Night and Saturday Night At the Uptown. Though these albums have been reissued on CD before, Real Gone Music is offering  both these classic soul albums on a single disc.

Apollo Saturday Night features artists such as Ben E. King, Otis Redding, the Coasters, and the Falcons. Saturday Night At the Uptown has an equally impressive lineup, with the Drifters, Wilson Pickett, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, and the Carltons. This edition also includes detailed liner notes by Clive Richardson, a UK author, R&B historian, and Solar Radio broadcaster. This compilation gives the listener a chance to experience and join in the excitement of the mid-60’s soul music scene.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 3rd, 2015

Following are additional albums released during February 2015—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Beat Flippa: I Got the Blues Vol. 1 (Ross Music Group)
Bernard Allison Group: In the Mix (Jazzhaus)
Bobby Bland: Live & Righteous (Rockbeat)
Carl Marshall: Love Brings Me Back to You (Music Access Inc.)
CeDell Davis: Last Man Standing (Sunyata Records)
Donnie Ray: She’s My Honeybee (Ecko)
Fred McDowell: Live 1971 (Rockbeat)
Lead Belly & Woody Guthrie: WNYC Radio New York 12th December 1940 (Keyhole)
Little Freddie King: Messin’ Around Tha Living Room (MadeWright Records)
Smokin Joe Kubek & Bnois King: Fat Man’s Shine Parlor (Blind Pig)
Sonny Terry & Brownie Mcghee: Blowin the Fuses: From Studio to Stage (Airline)
Vance Kelly: Live At Kingston Mines (Wolf)

Funk, Rock, Pop
Benjamin Booker: Live at Third Man Records (Third Man)
Death Grips: The Powers That B (CMG/Harvest/Third World)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
Ben Tankard: Full Tank (Ben Jamin)
Crystal Aikin: All I Need  (RCA Inspiration)
Dee-1: 3′s Up EP (RCA Inspiration)
Dewayne Woods: Life Lessons (Soul Therapy)
Dorinda Clark-Cole: Living It (Entertainment One)
Kenny Lewis & One Voice: Way of Escape (Twenty Two Recs)
Pops Staples: Don’t Lose This (Anti)
Various: Wow Gospel 2015 (RCA Inspiration)
Virtue  Testimony: ReLoaded (Mixed Bag Music)

Jazz
Ben Wolfe: The Whisperer (Posi-Tone)
Bunk Johnson: Rare & Unissued Masters Vol. 1, 1943-1945 (American Music Rec.)
Charles McPherson: The Journey (Capri Records)
Don Pullen: Live Again at Montreux (Blue Note)
Ernestine Anderson: Ernestine Anderson Swings The Penthouse (Highnote)
Fresh Cut Orchestra: From The Vine (Ropeadope Records)
Pascal Boker: Guitar Balafonics (Pascal Boker)
Paul Jackson Trio: Groove or Die (Whirlwind)
Ramsey Lewis : Sun Goddess (Funky Town Grooves)
Robert E. Person: Love Devine (REP Music)
Russell Malone: Love Looks Good on You (Highnote)
Tim Warfield Quintet: Spherical – Dedicated To Thelonious Sphere Monk  (Criss Cross)
Wolff & Clark Expedition: Expedition 2 (Random Act)

R&B, Soul
Ashford & Simpson: Solid (Cherry Red)
Blessing Offor: Roots (Sojourn)
Brothers: Don’t Stop Now (Funky Town Grooves)
Carmen Rodgers: Stargazer (NIA)
Ernie K-Doe: You Got to Love Me – The Greatest Hits Collection (Airline)
Fifth Harmony: Reflection (Epic)
George Jackson and Dan Greer: At Goldwax (Kent)
Jimmy Holiday: Spread Your Love – Complete Minit Singles 1966-70 (Kent)
Keith Sweat: Harlem Romance, The Love Collection (Elektra)
Lee Moses: Time And Place (Essential Media Group)
Lydia Rene: Vintage Heart EP
Manhattans: That’s How Much I Love You (Funky Town Grooves)
Manhattans: Theres No Me Without You (Funky Town Grooves)
Mel Waiters: True Love (Music Access Inc.)
Naturally 7: Hidden In Plain Sight (Hidden Beach)
Peppermint Harris: Bad Bad Whiskey: The Jewel Records Sessions (Airline)
Richard “Groove” Holmes: In the Groove (Not Now)
Robins: West Coast Doo Wop 1949-1961 (Jasmine)
Sam Cooke: Songwriter
Sam Dees: It’s Over – 70s Songwriter Demos & Masters (Kent)
Sir Jonathon Burton: New Swing Soul (Music Access Inc)
Tease: Tease (Funky Town Grooves)
THEESatisfaction: EarthEE (Sub Pop Records)
Thelma Houston: Any Way You Like It (Soulmusic Records)
Timothy Bloom: The Deluxe Edition (Beyond The Sky Music)
Various: Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles: 1972-1975 (Stax)
Vijay Iyer: Break Stuff (ECM Records)

Rap, Hip Hop
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (Lex)
Malik B. & Mr. Green: Unpredictable (Enemy Soil)
Big Sean: Dark Sky Paradise  (Def Jam)
ChillxWill: “Almighty” (Ill Adrenaline)
Chris Brown & Tyga: Fan of a Fan: The Album (RCA)
Demrick & Cali Cleve: Losing Focus (Battle Axe)
Drew Dave: SynthBASED (Mello Music Group)
EarthGang: Shallow Graves For Toys (Spillage Village)
Fashawn: Ecology (Mass Appeal)
J Dawg & Lil C: Connected & Respected, Vol. 1 (Oarfin)
Kid Ink: Full Speed (88 Classic/RCA Records)
Mega Ran & Storyville: Soul Veggies (Brick)
Nickodemus: Wonderworld: 10 Years of Painting Outside the Lines (Wonderwheel)
Public Enemy: D.O.P.E.: The Definition Of Public Enemy (Eastlink Productions)
Schoolly D: Saturday Night the Album (Funky Town Grooves)
Sisqó: Last Dragon (Massenburg Media)
Slim Thug: Hogg Life: The Beginning (Empire)
Smoke Dza: Hustler’s Catalog (ihiphop)
Solomon Childs: The King Kong Of New York (ChamberMusik)
Starlito: Black Sheep Don’t Grin (Empire)
Teeflii: Starr (Epic)
U-God: Keynote Speaker (Switchblade)
Union Blak: Street English (Effiscienz)
Various: Hip Hop Story: Complete (DVD) (MDV)
Z-Ro: Melting the Crown (Rap-A-Lot)

Reggae, Dancehall, Calypso
Alaine : Ten of Hearts (1thirty1 Records)
Bob Marley & The Wailers: Easy Skanking in Boston ’78 (Island/Def Jam)
Bunny Lion: Red (Fantasy Memory)
Scientist: The Dub Album They Didn’t Want You To Hear (Jah Life)
Sly & Robbie and Spicy Chocolate: Reggae Power (VP)
The Banyans: For Better Days (Khanti Records)
Wisin & Yandel: Lo Mejor De (Machete Music)
Yabby You: Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You (Shanachie)
Ziggy Marley: Fly Rasta / In Concert Deluxe Pack Live (Tuff Gong Worldwide)

Spoken Word, Comedy
James Earl Jones: Black Omnibus DVD (eOne)
Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic DVD (Magnolia)

Classical
Eliesha Nelson: Permutations (Sono Luminus)

World, Latin
Boubacar Traoré: Mbalimaou (LusAfrica/Harmonia Mundi)
Tego Calderón: El Que Sabe, Sabe (Jiggri Records/ Venemusic)
Teta: Blue Tsapiky (Buda Musique)
Various: Rough Guide To African Rare Groove, Vol. 1 (World Music Network)

View review March 1st, 2015

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