Welcome to the October 2014 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

Our features this month include the new Calypso Craze box set from Bear Family plus three projects based on Afrofuturism and Sun Ra: Lese Majesty by Shabazz Palaces, The Last Transmission by the Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles, and the compilation In the Orbit of Ra by Sun Ra and his Arkestra.

Other new releases include Beautiful Lifea tribute album to “Godfather of Go Go” Chuck Brownplus UK soul/rock singer Liam Bailey’s debut Definitely NOW, Jhené Aiko’s Souled Out, and Zion-I’s The Masters of Ceremony EP. New gospel releases include Smokie Norful’s Forever Yours, Kierra Sheard’s Graceland, and Anamoly by Christian rap artist Lecrae.

World music releases include Somi’s The Lagos Music Salon, the Toure-Raichel Collective’s The Paris Session, the Mali/NYC collective Benyoro’s self titled debut, and the compilation Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych in Peru’s Radical Decade. Other reissues and compilations include Sweet Inspirations: The Complete Atlantic Singles Plus, the box set Soul of Designer Records featuring rare gospel singles from the Memphis-based label, Linda Martell’s Color Me Country (the first country album by a female African American recording artist), the Sony/Legacy reissues of Jimi Hendrix’s posthumous albums Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge, plus the first CD reissues of The New York Community Choir’s debut and several albums by Michael Henderson.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of September 2014 releases of note.

View review October 1st, 2014

calypso

Title: Calypso Craze, 1956-57 and Beyond

Artists: Various; produced by Ray Funk and Michael Eldridge

Label: Bear Family

Format: Box set (6 CDs, 1 DVD, 175 page hardcover book)

Release date: September 9, 2014

A true labor of love for Trinidadian music scholars Ray Funk and Michael Eldridge, Calypso Craze tells the remarkable story leading up to the year in American pop music history when calypso briefly eclipsed the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. By 1957, every major pop star had jumped on the bandwagon.  Not only did calypso pervade the airwaves, television and movie theaters—as Funk and Eldridge reveal through their lavishly illustrated book—but also emanated from nightclubs, dance floors, student unions and glee clubs, and was featured extensively in the press. Not to mention the “merch” galore, including clothing lines, straw hats, tropical accessories and décor. In what the authors/producers call “the strangest tale in modern popular music,” they trace the “slow rise, heady prominence, and precipitous fall” of calypso over the course of 6 CDs and 1 DVD.

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The opening chapter, “Calypso Comes to American” (Disc 1), features 30 tracks spanning a period of 23 years. An obvious starting point was Hubert ‘The Lion’ Charles’s 1934 release, “Ugly Women,” since it marks the first recording in New York by a Trinidadian calypso singer and reflects the growing influence of American pop and swing music on the genre. Other early songs demonstrate the shift away from local topics to global events, such as Atilla’s “Roosevelt in Trinidad” (1937), Caresser’s “Edward the VIII” (1937), and Lord Invader’s “Jackie Robinson” (1947). Soon the U.S.-based ex-pats adapted their styles to appeal to American audiences, including the Duke of Iron (“Calypso Invasion” and “Prisoner Arise”) and Sir Lancelot (“Scandal in the Family,” “Century of the Common Man” and “Old Lady With a Rolling Pin). Much of the remainder of the disc focuses on early covers of calypso songs by the Andrew Sisters (“Rum and Coca Cola”), Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, Stan Kenton, and Nat King Cole.

Of course no project of this scope could ignore Harry Belafonte, whose 1947 album Calypso became the first million-selling LP and lit a match to the craze with the hit song “Day-O.” Thus the entirety of Disc 2 is devoted to “The Reluctant King of Calypso.” The 27 tracks include Belafonte’s most popular hits based on traditional West Indian music such as “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” “Brown Skin Girl” and “Man Piaba,” as well as a cover of the perpetually popular “Hold Him Joe.” As the commercialization of the music became a bit too crass, Belafonte tried to distance himself from the calypso craze, but he did appear in the movie Island in the Sun and released several more calypso albums over the next decade, all represented here through select tracks.

At the height of the craze, the authors note “there were hundreds of nightclub singers around the country performing calypso (or something they called calypso, anyway), and during a frenzied six months or so, many of those singers were emboldened to make records.” Which brings us to Disc 3, “Calypso is Everywhere.” Focusing on the appropriation of calypso by musicians in various genres, we hear the music filtered through the lens of pop (Rosemary Clooney), rhythm and blues (Amos Milburn), country (Hank Snow), folk (Stan Wilson), jazz (Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Hazel Scott), and rock ‘n’ roll (e.g., Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock”), among others. Though some were mere novelties penned by Brill Building songwriters, other songs made a more lasting impact, such as Norman Luboff’s “Yellow Bird” that’s been performed by countless steel bands, mento and reggae artists over the decades

Discs 4 provides an overview of calypso music in movies (including Calypso Heat Wave with Maya Angelou), television (I Love Lucy), and on Broadway (the short-lived Caribbean Carnival, the House of Flowers with Geoffrey Holder, and Jamaica with Lena Horne). Moving “Across the Pond,” Disc 5 details the craze in England, fueled by the flood of immigrants from Trinidad, Jamaica, and other West Indies colonies. Noteworthy musicians in this chapter include Edmundo Ross, Edric Connor, Lord Kitchener, Roaring Lion, Lord Beginner, and Young Kitchener, whose songs touched upon themes ranging from the Royal family to diasporic anti-colonial solidarity and independence.  Moving even further afield, Disc 6 traces the global expansion of the genre throughout the Caribbean, south to Venezuela, north to Canada, and farther across the pond to Europe and, to a lesser extent, Asia.

Accompanying the box set is a DVD featuring “the rarest of the three films to emerge from the Calypso Craze—Calypso Joe (1957)—featuring the late Herb Jeffries as a singer-bandleader, and Angie Dickinson and Edward Kemmer as the romantic leads, with appearances by Lord Iron and  Lord Flea. Rounding out the disc are four obscure shorts, two of which are “soundies” starring the famous Trinidadian dancers Beryl and Frieda McBurnie.

As the authors note, the country’s infatuation with calypso came to an abrupt conclusion by the summer of 1957, leaving many additional albums and movie projects incomplete. After living vicariously in a topical paradise full of lilting rhythms and light hearted songs, the populace came crashing back to reality. Now, 57 years later, we can relive the Calypso Craze through the significant efforts of Ray Funk, Michael Eldridge, and Bear Family Records.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2014

heliocentrics

Title: The Last Transmission

Artist: The Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles

Label: NowAgain

Formats: CD, MP3, Limited Ed. LP

Release Date: October 7, 2014

 

The Last Transmission is a spaced-out collaboration between funk-jazz band The Heliocentrics and Renaissance man Melvin Van Peebles. The Heliocentrics, a group capable of playing a diverse range of styles, often tending towards experimental jazz, provide what may best be described as the soundtrack for the interstellar odyssey that Van Peebles crafts throughout the course of this concept album.  The author, poet, musician, and filmmaker Van Peebles—who is perhaps best known for writing, producing, directing, and starring in the 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song—provides the album’s poetry, narrative, and narrates the album’s interstellar storyline, invoking ESP and space travel in a narrative thread that, while disjointed, serves as the album’s focal point.

Drawing heavily from the spacey jazz experiments of Sun Ra & His Arkestra (a group that also often invoked space travel), The Heliocentrics and Van Peebles create a science fiction jazz concept album. Van Peeble’s cinematic space odyssey is the glue that holds the record together, as the listener follows a traveler through his cosmic journey in the stars and his own mind, and as the album’s protagonist undergoes a profound transformation throughout the course of the record.  The Heliocentrics provide an adept score for this odyssey, crafting deep grooves with sporadic electronic bursts of synthesizers amidst their staple acoustic drum set and bass.  While many have claimed to be influenced by Sun Ra’s 1960s space-jazz, this record arguably is one of the closest releases in the spirit of Ra, fusing current sounds in contemporary jazz (funky hip-hop style breakbeats pervade this release—listen to “The Dance” for a deliberate exploration of several), electronic music (with synthesizers used to effective dramatic ends as in “Chapter 3: Searching for Signs of life”), and firmly cemented grooves as in “Chapter 2: Big Bang Transmission.” As Sun Ra updated the predominant jazz sounds of his day with his spacey clothing, stories, and performance persona, so do Van Peebles and the Heliocentrics carry on this tradition through their cinematic story of a space traveler discovering new rules of chemistry in far-off world.

Ultimately, The Last Transmission feels less like an album than it does like a film without images; this is an outcome that is not surprising in light of Melvin Van Peebles’s earlier career in cinema. Ever the innovative artists, Van Peebles and the Heliocentrics utilize this album to explore a fascinating storytelling form.  From Van Peeble’s stream-of-consciousness story line to the Heliocentrics’ masterful soundtrack, The Last Transmission will be a pleasure for both fans of spaced-out jazz fusion as well as DJs who dig record crates for breakbeats full of ambiance.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review October 1st, 2014

sunra

Title: In the Orbit of Ra

Artist: Sun Ra and His Arkestra

Label: Strut Records

Format: 2-CD, 2-LP, MP3

Release Date: September 22, 2014

 

In honor of the 100th anniversary of avant-garde jazz man Sun Ra’s arrival on planet Earth, longtime member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, Marshall Allen (who has led the Arkestra since Sun Ra’s death in 1993), has compiled highlights from Ra’s illustrious career. This collection is an essential release that may serve as an introduction to the large body of recordings that features Sun Ra and his Arkestra’s landmark work.  Sun Ra is likely still one of the most controversial and misunderstood figures in modern jazz, even 21 years after his death.  Unfortunately the work of Sun Ra is too often presented as a strange one-off that could have only happened in the particular climate of the 1960s jazz world or as a footnote in jazz history textbooks.  In fact, Sun Ra and the various incarnations of his group over the years were collectives of creative and innovative musicians who were capable of an incredible stylistic range.

Allen’s selections for this 2-disc set (all fully restored from the original master takes) showcase this band’s versatility and serve as a testament to Sun Ra’s genius.  Capturing material from various phases in Ra’s career, this set includes numbers from his early big band style on tracks such as “The Lady With the Golden Stockings (A.K.A. ‘The Golden Lady’).”  The listener is able to track shifts in Ra’s style as the ever-revolving roster of personnel moved through the band—“Plutonian Nights” (see video below) is the stuff of 1960s noir cinema soundtracks, and “Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus” showcases the group’s ability to still swing hard while transitioning into a more experimental approach.  The sing-songy “Have You Heard the Latest News From Neptune” solidifies the marriage of spacey sounds and themes that this group is most famous for, and “Ancient Aleotheopia” showcases Ra’s prodigious ability as an arranger for a large band.

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This collection is essential listening for any fans of avant-garde jazz, and might perhaps be the best way for the uninitiated to discover Sun Ra’s revolutionary approach to jazz composition and improvisation.  It paints a fuller portrait of the artist than he is usually afforded, containing selections that showcase Ra’s composition, arrangement, keyboard playing, and particular brand of intergalactic weirdness.  This collection is an excellent primer for those new to the orbit of Ra.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review October 1st, 2014

shabazz

Title: Lese Majesty

Artist: Shabazz Palaces

Label: Sub Pop

Formats: CD, 2LP, MP3

Release date: July 29, 2014

 

Despite the forward-looking modernity implied by the term, Afrofuturism has one foot strongly rooted in the past.  Sun Ra is often cited as the prototypical Afrofuturist, taking the mysticism of ancient Egypt into the outer spaceways through pro-black ideology, imagery, dance, and most importantly, music.  Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces, emcee Ishmael Butler and producer Tendai Maraire, present what Afrofuturism means in modern hip hop with their second album for Sub Pop, Lese Majesty.

Their video for “#CAKE” illustrates this perfectly, and one must ask if this is a reflection on a self-indulgent hashtag, or is the song really called “pound cake”?

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Despite the space-age production and seemingly abstract lyrics, Lese Majesty reveals that it never really strays far from hip hop’s lineage through repeated listens.  Ishmael Butler was a member of the seminal trio Digable Planets, who explored Afrocentric themes and mixed samples with live instruments during their brief two album run (particularly on their swan song Blowout Comb) in the early 1990s.  These themes and production aesthetics stayed with Butler into the formation of Shabazz Palaces, particularly molding his vocals as a sonic texture just as much as an outlet for poetry.

Lese Majesty is arranged into 7 suites (although the double LP track listing implies an 8th untitled suite), each of which really showcase Maraire’s chops as a producer. The following tracks appear during the first suite, and perhaps harken most back to their debut LP Black Up:

“Forerunner Foray”

“They Come in Gold”

Each suite explores both new lyrical and production ideas that, upon careful listening, quickly become familiar.  Atmospheric synths have been part of rap since the days of Grandmaster Flash; Afrika Bambaataa was creating alien vocal sounds, and both of those were inspired by the likes of George Clinton and Sun Ra.  With Lese Majesty, Shabazz Palaces are carrying on tradition while challenging the sovereign state of rap.

Reviewed by Will Chase

View review October 1st, 2014

chuckbrown

Title: Beautiful Life

Artist: Chuck Brown & the Chuck Brown Band

Label: Raw Venture

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2014

 

Chuck Brown and the Chuck Brown Band’s latest release, Beautiful Life, is a star studded family affair, and serves as a fitting send off to an amazing career.  Known affectionately as the Godfather, Chuck Brown pioneered go-go music, a subgenre of funk that has been pumping life in to the Washington, D.C. area for over forty years.  His fame in the D.C. area cannot be overstated; after his death in 2012, thousands of fans packed the D.C. Convention Center to celebrate his life and legacy.

This album is short, clocking in at only 36 minutes.  Brown is featured on five of the nine tracks, but his spirit is felt throughout.  Vocally, Brown is at his best on the cover of Edwin Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day,” featuring D.C.’s own Y’anna Crowley and the Howard University Gospel Choir.

The highlight of this album is its many features.  From Doug E. Fresh reminiscing on Brown’s ability to move crowds to Sugar Bear’s verse in “Pop That Trunk,” this album celebrates the Chocolate City.  It evokes Brown’s positivity and the party vibes of go-go music.  Other features include a verse from Wale on “Beautiful Life” and Raheem Devaughn on “Best of Me,” both of whom hail from the D.C. area.  Perhaps the most important feature on the album is that of Brown’s daughter, KK Brown.  Rapping on both “Pop That Trunk” and “Still Crankin,’” KK has taken up the torch of her father’s legacy and is determined to keep go-go music going strong.

Following is the video for “Beautiful Life,” which shows Brown interacting with the people of D.C.—one of the things he was famous for—as well as many D.C. landmarks:

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The last track on the album, a cover of Lou Rawls classic, “Another Love Like Mine,” is hauntingly fitting.  Not only did Brown pioneer go-go music, he also supported young musicians and advocated for the genre for the remainder of his career.  D.C. will truly never find another love like that of the Godfather.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review October 1st, 2014

LiamBailey

Title: Definitely Now

Artist: Liam Bailey

Label: Flying Buddha/Sony

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2014

 

Liam Bailey, an up-and-coming soul/rock duo singer from Nottingham, England, hits the ground running with his debut, Definitely Now. The 16 track album can be easily separated into two distinct styles, old-time rock and soulful singer/songwriter ballads, an interesting mix that’s even more interesting when paired with Bailey’s smooth voice.

The opening track, “On My Mind,” explodes through the speakers, almost catching the listener off guard with a hard rock sound brought to life by deep bass that would fit perfectly at a motorcycle-filled saloon on Route 66. Bailey’s voice is like liquid gold flowing over sharp metallic sound, a riveting opener to the album. “Breaking” and “Fool Boy” continue the “tough-sound” trend, but “Black Moon” introduces a new type of melody. Soft rock reminiscent of the two-man band, Black Keys, is all over this track; a perfect song to sit back and truly chill out to.

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Two songs begin the stylistic shift from cutting guitar to soft strings: “Autumn Leave” and “Sooo…? Maybe Love.” “Autumn Leave” is a slowed down track with a trippy, psychedelic guitar echo in the background, but true to Bailey’s distinctive sound, there is a light jazz feel incorporated as well. If this track could come to life, it would be never ending, dripping honey, thick and melting. The latter song is quick to wake the listener from this lethargic feeling by showcasing a more old school sound, channeling legends such as Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana towards the end of the song. Hypnotizing vocals intertwined with electric guitar are the highlights of this memorable track.

The majority of the remaining tracks points toward the gentler side of Bailey’s style, starting with “Battle Hymn of Central London,” an acoustic led song with artful lyrics such as, “Be my Jesus and save me tonight.” Bailey has a knack for manipulating his music so that the listener can almost see the picture he is painting with the notes—in this case, the rural English countryside of his hometown drawn by a guitar’s vibrating strings. Instead of a picture, “So, Down Cold” ignites warm feelings and can be described as slow dance perfection. His voice and instrumentals make the listener want to sway and pull close even though the lyrics describe a frigid relationship. “Crazy Situation,” one of the most popular tracks, invites new instruments such as the violin and burst of trumpets. “It’s a crazy situation when you love someone…I’ll give you reason to be there”—soulful lyrics sung by a smooth voice makes this song a number one hit for love-struck listeners all around. Likewise, “Summer Rain” is another top track, bringing a sweet, innocent sound to the otherwise serious sounding album; it’s like listening to sunshine through your headphones, it’s such a feel good track.

“Catch the wind and sail with ease / Nobody knows your name / Nobody knows your name / Nobody plays your game / Nobody plays your game.” This snippet of lyrics from “Sail With Ease” illustrates the most moving song on the album with its inspiring lyrics, superb singing, and low violin timbre paired with a steady drum. “Stun Me” is yet another distinctive track. This song has it all—the beautiful adoring lyrics and mix of sounds, varying from a light guitar to spurts of high key piano, all of which invoke a calm feeling in the listener. The perfect Sunday stroll song.

Definitely Now can be enjoyed by the most classic rock lover as well as a sensitive, coffeehouse listener. Bailey excels more in the singer/songwriter aspect of his music. In my opinion, those songs are more unique while his rock-influenced tracks tend to sound the same. Also, the softer style flatters his voice and suits him better. Overall, Definitely Now is a wonderful debut album from the truly talented singer and guitarist Liam Bailey.

Reviewed by Briana Stewart

View review October 1st, 2014

souledout

Title: Souled Out

Artist: Jhené Aiko

Label: ARTium/Def Jam

Formats: CD (Clean & Deluxe ed.), LP, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2014

 

After fourteen years of “wading,” Jhené Aiko (Efuru Chilombo) has finally Souled Out. Starting her career at the age of fourteen on Epic Records during the pandemonium associated with B2K, Immature, and her then relatively unknown older sisters, Mila J and Miyoko of the female girl group, Gyrl, Aiko has long since been a veteran of the music game. The year 2003 gave wings to her first major hit, “No L. O.V.E.” (a slight re-interpretation of “Warning” by the late Notorious B.I.G.),  as well as a few guest appearances on B2K’s video collection and discography.

Then, nothing but silence on sound waves, as Aiko decided to opt out of her contract and return to school.

Fast-forward to 2007. Jhené Aiko has a daughter and matures exponentially in her sound and outlook.  When told to “sell” herself as an artist, she creates her first mixtape in 2011, sailing soul(s), which achieved success with songs such as “Stranger” and “My Mine” about previous relationships, and “You vs. Them” about her struggles in balancing personal relationships with fame.  Her wordplay set her apart from other new starlets breaking into the industry and landed her on tracks with upcoming artists such as TDE’s Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul (“Growing Apart (To Get Closer)”, “Fantasy”, and “Terrorist Threats” respectively), and Drake’s “From Time,” from his most recent release Nothing Was The Same.

After being signed by producer No I.D. (VP of A&R at Def Jam) to his Artium Records imprint,  she opted to release her first EP, Sail Out, continuing with the running theme of setting her soul to sail.  The seven-track offering, led by the singles “3:16AM” and “Bed Peace” featuring Childish Gambino (who also featured her on “Pink Toes” on his album Because the Internet), gave praise to Aiko’s fluttery vocal patterns, cupped with her free-style compositions and ethereal production, solidifying her stature as a bona fide lyricist.

Released amongst great anticipation after fourteen years of sailing her soul amongst critics and naysayers, Aiko doesn’t disappoint with Souled Out.  Not only a culmination of years of struggle and maintaining honesty in her content, this concept album ends three years of starting a journey that details a “path” complete with trials that ultimately ends in positive enlightenment for the female protagonist.

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View review October 1st, 2014

smokienorful

Title: Forever Yours

Artist: Smokie Norful

Label: Motown Gospel

Formats: CD, MP3

Releasedate: August 5, 2014

 

Artist and Pastor, Smokie Norful, is one of the most distinctive and versatile voices in present-day gospel music with the dexterity to perform both contemporary and traditional styles with sensitivity and conviction. His latest project, Forever Yours (released after a five year hiatus from recording), is a particularly special treat. This collection of songs is an extended love letter that simultaneously expresses love and gratitude to God while offering encouragement to listeners (Norful discusses these goals in the album’s EPK).

The opening track “Mighty God” is an uptempo contemporary praise song that marries synthesized instrumentation, rhythmic handclaps, and enthusiastic call and response with lyrics proclaiming that no one is greater than God. Gospel ballads featuring soaring vocals have been a definitive element of Norful’s career and the album’s first single, “No Greater Love,” continues this tradition. With a “throwback sound” slightly reminiscent of 90s R&B, this song includes a simple lyrical testimony accompanied by keyboard and progressively introduces strings, a full band and background vocalists:

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Conversely, the title track, “Forever Yours,” is a ballad with more contemporary styling. In this instance, the keyboard plays simple chords but is accompanied by electronically manipulated sounds and drums creating a musical environment that is both mysterious and contemplative. This song is the ultimate declaration of love as Norful speaks to God saying, “Forever yours, with all my heart, every single part… mind, body, and soul – You’re all I’m living for.”

Forever Yours also presents some fresh takes on familiar sounds as heard in the “soul”ful song “I’ve Got What You Need,” which recalls the musical genius of Marvin Gaye. With a classic blend of uptempo syncopated strings alongside a funky rhythmic bass line and driving backbeat, this song is easily reminiscent of “Mercy Mercy Me.” Interestingly, while Gaye’s song is largely a lament to the humankind’s mistreatment of the earth, Norful presents an optimistic solution to our human (and spiritual) concerns suggesting that God is a comforter, healer, and ultimate problem-solver. Similarly, “Nothing is Impossible” encourages listeners by affirming that anything can be achieved through faith in God. With a sound blending reggae and contemporary R&B, this simple song will leave you humming the refrain long after the track has ended.

Thoughtful lyrics and well-written melodies with Norful’s powerful and discerning delivery make Forever Yours well worth a listen. Although it would be overly simplistic to suggest that it is a “feel good” album, it definitely left me in a place of joyful reflection and I’m positive that it will do the same for you.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review October 1st, 2014

graceland

Title: Graceland

Artist: Kierra Sheard

Label: Motown Gospel

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 22, 2014

 

While she is a third generation member of one of gospel music’s most well-known families,* Kierra Sheard has established a career that is distinctively her own. Having served as a judge on the latest season of BET’s gospel competition, Sunday Best, she is at the forefront of gospel music, often positioning herself as a prominent voice to and for young Christians. Her latest project, Graceland (produced by her brother J. Drew Sheard II), is a highly contemporary album that she describes as both “urban” and “relevant” to a broad range of listeners. Interestingly, this collection of songs is a bit eclectic featuring tracks that make use of hip hop inspired musical elements and auto-tune alongside highly impassioned ballads, all with the message that through faith in God we can overcome any obstacle.

Throughout this album it is clear that the Sheards work to blend the “old” with the “new.” For example, Graceland features interludes made from samples of the gospel songs “There is a Balm in Gilead” and “He’ll Turn Your Scars into Stars,” made popular by the Clark Sisters in the 1980s. These re-mixed versions use current hip hop style beats, musical looping, and the addition of Kierra’s voice. Similarly, selections such as “Go,” “2nd Win,” and “Moving Forward,” use contemporary R&B, pop and hip hop musical settings with familiar lyrical themes that explicitly aim to inspire listeners to believe that they can achieve their dreams in the face of adversity.

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Sheard has also written and selected a few pieces that are more conceptual and metaphorical than current, popular gospel songs. For instance, the song “Kill the Dragon” uses the common fairytale trope of heroes slaying dragons to save the damsel in distress to reimagine the biblical story that serves a foundation to Christian beliefs. In this dramatic retelling, Christ as the hero sacrifices his life to save humankind (girl in need of rescue) by battling the dragon (evil forces). Similarly, “No Graceland” is an introspective piece in which she discusses her apprehension of being separated from God and living in a space that she describes as “no grace” land. At the outset, understated electric guitar and keyboard establish a slow, somber tone for this piece; however, after the initial phrase, the mood shifts with the addition of a driving bass drum beat and a background chorus thus morphing the song from quiet contemplation to a bold declaration of faith in God and His divine grace. Lastly, one of the standout selections of this album is the ballad “Flaws,” by songwriting icon Diane Warren. Like many of Warren’s songs, “Flaws” expresses the beautiful redemptive power of love (in this case God’s love).

Graceland is definitely geared toward listeners who enjoy the sounds of contemporary popular musics. However, even those who prefer old school, Sunday morning approaches to gospel music can appreciate the sincerity Sheard’s messages.

[*Kierra Sheard is the granddaughter of gospel music pioneer Dr. Mattie Moss Clark and the daughter of Karen Clark Sheard – who is a member of the four-sister group, the Clarks Sisters, who are considered contemporary gospel music icons.]

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review October 1st, 2014

lecrae

Title: Anomaly

Artist: Lecrae

Label: Reach Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2014

 

A true story of someone rising from the bottom to the top, Lecrae turned to violence, drugs, and alcohol in his youth until a conference changed his viewpoint and he converted to Christianity in 1999. Five years later, he teamed up with Ben Washer to co-found the label Reach Records and release his first album. Lecrae has been breaking records for a decade now, taking Christian rap to a new level both musically and within pop culture. In the span of six years, he released the first Christian hip-hop album to reach number one on the Billboard Gospel chart with 2008’s Rebel, won the 2013 Best Gospel Album Grammy for Gravity, and his most recent album Anomaly debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.

Lecrae’s lyrics and style have changed dramatically over the years, and Anomaly is no exception. Following the trend set since the 2012 release of Church Clothes, a mixtape produced with world-famous Don Cannon (who has produced tracks for artists such as 50 Cent and 2 Chainz), Anomaly is full of heavy bass, layered hip-hop beats, fast rapping, and catchy choruses. This is no normal gospel album, but a legitimate hip-hop album, with a sound comparable to many rappers of today while having deep lyrics that challenge stereotypes.

Lecrae never misses an opportunity during the album to explain what anomaly means (which he explains in this video). The opening track “Outsiders” talks about not fitting in, and the struggle he faces as he identifies with two genres, Christian and hip-hop, that often conflict in their messages and lyrical content. This is echoed in the album’s main single, “Nuthin,” which calls out hip-hop artists whose lyrics don’t have sustenance. The song is certainly an anomaly, with its heavy, strong beat, compelling hook, and conscious lyrics.

Though Lecrae is consistent with his Christian message in many songs, some tracks off Anomaly are entirely secular, such as “All I Need Is You.” This aligns with his goal to be a rapper who’s Christian rather than a Christian rapper, as he stated earlier this year. The song has a captivating chorus reminiscent of early 2000’s hip-hop love songs. It focuses entirely on his relationship with his wife and his dependence on her, and the music video even features snippets of their wedding video:

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Beyond love, Lecrae is not afraid to talk about controversial issues, and discusses everything from abortion to immigration in Anomaly. In “Welcome to America,” he raps from the point of view of three different people, investigating how they see the United States. On a more personal level, Lecrae talks about a college abortion and child molestation in “Good, Bad, Ugly,” which he told Hip-Hop Wired helps get his past off his chest. “Dirty Water” is reminiscent of Jay-Z’s “Oceans” in its imagery and symbolism, though Lecrae goes beyond the legacy of slavery to people’s self-generated stereotypes and hypocrisy, as he raps “Now we extreme, buying fancy things like gold chains / just pretty shackles, we still enslaved.”

Other standout tracks on the album include “Say I Won’t” and “Runners.” “Say I Won’t” features Andy Mineo and has a distinctive sound, as new Reach Records producer Gawvi partners a heavy, repetitive bass drop with playful sound effects, from the sound of scratching records to a xylophone-esque section that starts off the song and comes back in the chorus. This track also surreptitiously samples a number of famous African American songs, from “Funky President” by James Brown to “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot.

“Runners” talks about the issue of cheating in a relationship, but is most impressive because of its beat that matches the title perfectly, which makes you feel as if you are riding the treadmill mentioned at the beginning of the song. The song is also intermittent with speaking parts, often featuring multiple characters, which is found in a multitude of the songs on Anomaly, including “Welcome to America” and “Fear.” Voiceovers in between and during tracks is a trend in hip-hop that has recently been featured in the albums of artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Souls of Mischief.

“Anomaly” truly takes the influence of soul and funk genres to a whole new level. Unlike anything else on the album, it features a horn section, soulful female singing, and a voiceover that harkens back to the days of Isaac Hayes.

Though most tracks are original in both music and lyrics, some tracks sound very similar to artists tobyMac and Kirk Franklin. “Broken” and “Messengers,” though including some typical Lecrae-style rap, have choruses that sound like mainstream contemporary Christian music. However, this just goes to show that Lecrae reaches multiple genres and Anomaly truly has something for everyone. It proves that this album lives up to its name: Lecrae is truly challenging stereotypes in both the Christian and hip-hop musical genres and cultures. He shows the complexity of one’s identity, and the extent to which music can be used as a medium to define and express oneself outside the confines of society.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review October 1st, 2014

somi

Title: The Lagos Music Salon

Artist: Somi

Label: OKeh Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 5, 2014

 

Born in the United States to Ugandan and Rwandan immigrants, Somi has a diverse background that is reflected in her music. After the death of her father and release of her 2009 debut album If the Rain Comes First, she moved to Lagos, hoping to reconnect with her African heritage. In testing her music on Nigerian artists by “producing intimate salons at art galleries,” the concept for her latest album, The Lagos Music Salon, was born.

The result is a mixture of African and American culture and style, a jazz and soul album akin to Esperanza Spalding’s Esperanza. The album is co-produced by Cobhams Asuquo, a musician from Lagos, and New York’s Keith Witty. Though the band is mainly from New York, it also includes Nigerian-American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. The combination of African style with Somi’s smooth singing and modern jazz produces an excellent fusion album that flows from one scene to the next.

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The album is punctuated by intermittent audio clips of her stay in Lagos, including her interaction with an immigration officer at the Lagos airport, cries of protest from Occupy Nigeria, and the story of a skilled monkey. These are just a few examples of the depth in Somi’s album, as she discusses issues effecting Lagos and areas nearby.

“Two Dollar Day,” for instance, tells the story of a woman who can’t get home because she doesn’t make enough money. The elegance of Somi’s storytelling is evident in this song and many others, and her vocals are an outpouring of loss and heartbreak, yet her style brings out the beauty in pain. This can be seen in “Last Song:”

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One of the most dynamic and affecting tracks on the album is “When Rivers Cry,” featuring conscious rapper Common. This track proves the amazing musical and lyrical talent of Somi. It starts with a chorus of school children singing followed by a frenzy of strings, all building up to Somi’s soulful expression of the harms of pollution. Though her vocals are warm, the sorrow is evident in her voice as she speaks of dust choking the sky and rivers crying as the Earth is polluted. Her lyrics are pure poetry, and Common’s rap seamlessly blends hip-hop into jazz, adding a sense of urgency to the message.

The Lagos Music Salon is a beautiful fusion of cultures and musical styles. There is no denying the power of Somi’s voice and her messages that cross continents. She sings from her heart about important issues that effect people from all over the globe, and this lyrical depth is reflected in the music that builds and falls effortlessly to create a moving, unforgettable album.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review October 1st, 2014

RaichelCollective

Title: The Paris Session

Artist: The Touré-Raichel Collective

Label: Cumbancha

Format: CD

Release date: September 30, 2014

 

When Israeli keyboardist Idan Raichel and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré met in the Berlin airport in 2008, there was an instant connection. With no intention of creating an album, Raichel invited Touré to Israel to play, where they gathered some musicians to jam and improvise in a small Tel Aviv studio. Their palpable musical chemistry led them to take on the name The Touré-Raichel Collective and the recording of their jam session became their widely successful and praised 2012 debut album, The Tel Aviv Session. Two years later, they are back with The Paris Session, which was recorded during a three day period in France.

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The Paris Session is truly music without borders. Beyond Raichel and Touré, it features artists from all over the world, including Senegalese bassist Daby Touré, Israeli trumpeter Niv Toar, and Malian singer Sekouba Diabate. Despite the multiple geographic locations these musicians herald from, the result is pure joy to listen to. The album is dynamic and complex, featuring many tempos and instruments, but flowing effortlessly from one track to the next. In the style of the last The Touré-Raichel collaboration, it was created without planning, often solely by improvisation rather than strict composition and songwriting. Both easy and intriguing to listen to, this album doesn’t seem to grow old no matter how many times one listens.

The Paris Sessions opens with energy and light in “From End to End,” and in true improvisation style, the instruments join one by one. Steady percussion and strings begin this rhythmic track, followed by the trumpet and piano, which weave in and out during the song, taking turns being featured in the style of a jazz solo. “Tidhar” keeps this energy going, but the guitar is emphasized as well as the piano, and truly dazzles in the second half of the track.

“Hodu” features beautiful harmonies, combining tenor and bass tones to focus on the vocals, which are warm and inviting. Switching between singers creates a conversation that is echoed by Raichel’s piano and Touré’s guitar. Even though the guitar is in the background, Touré’s talent shines in this track where his quick plucking almost mimics percussion in the way it creates a beat and moves the song

A more emotional track, “Diaraby” was originally written and performed by Touré’s father, Ali Farka Touré, the famous Malian guitarist who passed away in 2006. Not only is Vieux Farka Touré connected to the song through his father, Raichel cites Ali Farka Touré as a major source of personal inspiration. “Diaraby” is particularly special to Raichel, who listened to the original every day for six to seven years. This passion and sentiment is clearly reflected in the rendition. It is simple and somber, featuring Raichel on piano and Touré on vocals. Touré’s voice is positively dynamic, and relays an intense range of emotions.

The last track on the album, “Philipa,” truly brings together Touré’s guitar and Raichel’s piano at their best. They intertwine naturally, molding many distinct musical layers into one cohesive sound. The singing and tone reflect the emotional depth of the last half of the album, and its beauty leaves the listener only wanting more.

The Paris Session speaks of two countries that are very different politically and religiously, but Touré sees their collaboration as a way to break that stereotypical view. It wasn’t created out of a need to cross a divide or create a political statement, but maybe that is why they pull it off so well. The seamless blend of these two very unique musical cultures, in Touré’s words, “shows the point where there are no real differences between us.”

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review October 1st, 2014

Benyoro

Title: Benyoro

Artist: Benyoro

Label: Benyoro Music; dist. via CD Baby

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 8, 2014

 

Benyoro is a veritable meeting place or point—which is what the Bamana word ‘Benyoro’ signifies—of Mandé music from Mali and American audiences in New York, where the six man ensemble took shape. Benyoro, the ensemble’s self-titled debut album, is a mélange of music with varied styles that are characterized above all by their brightness, buoyancy and inspiration. The whole ensemble is founded on the deep appreciation of “the music of Malian jelis (praise musicians),” together with “a [fervent] desire to modernize it.”

Benyoro is an album with ten upbeat and dance-provoking tracks. All the traditional song tracks—“Kaira” (track 2), “Kulanjan” (track 3), “Haidara Sirifo” (track 5), “Subaromaloya” (track 7), “Toubaka” (track 8), “”Famadenke” (track 9), “Sackodugu” (track 10)—were arranged by members of the Benyoro ensemble. However, there are additional compositions—“An Sera,” “Ségou Breakdown” and “Boulkassoumbougou”—by Sam Dickey, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music and an ethnomusicologist, who is the convener/leader of the ensemble. According to Dickey, “our philosophy is to walk a line between the traditional and the modern,” as demonstrated in the following video for “Haidara Sirifo”:

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A most interesting aspect of Benyoro is the ubiquitous instrumental dialogue that sees the string instruments (with the kora being very conspicuous) on the one hand, and the percussions (especially the drums) on the other, engaging in the most intricate and titillating, ongoing and unending contrapuntal ‘interlocution.’ The ensemble’s website puts it this way: “the addition of Idrissa Koné on taman (talking drum) and Luke Quaranta on djembe gives [the] rhythm section an unstoppable momentum while kora (West African harp) player Yacouba Sissoko and lead guitarist Sam Dickey alternate between elegant accompaniments and blistering solos.”

The instruments are literally speaking and responding to each other such that when the voices of the vocalists Bébé Camara and Tapani Sissoko enter on tracks such as “Camara” and “Sissoko,” one (especially someone who loves the music without understanding the message in Bamana) gets the instinctive feeling and impression that they are explaining to the listener what the instruments have spoken!

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review October 1st, 2014

PeruBravo

Title: Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych in Peru’s Radical Decade

Artist: Various

Label: Tiger’s Milk Records

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: October 7, 2014

 

Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych in Peru’s Radical Decade tells the story of Peru in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Though there was considerable political instability, culture had not yet been suppressed by the military dictatorship that followed the 1975 coup.  The city of Lima was full of young people who were influenced by the music of the United States and Great Britain, spawning groups such as The Mad’s (who recorded at the Rolling Stones’ Bermondsey studio), Los Belkings and Thee Image. Compilers Martin Morales, Duncan Ballantyne (ex-Soundway) & Andrés Tapia del Rio (Repsychled Records) have selected fifteen tracks featuring both “alternative heroes” and “unheralded short-lived groups.” Though most of these tracks feature original songs, three are covers, including “Sookie Sookie” by Steppenwolf and “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix.

Funk is the genre that stands out on this album, and the musicians steal the spotlight in nearly every song, with psychedelic bass, vibrant horns, and unique percussion overshadowing unimpressive lyrics and vocals. The sound is comparable to that of music in the United States during that same era, and even the originals mirror the alternative rock and funk of bands such as Funkadelic and The Eagles. Though some songs are in Spanish, such as (at least in the shouts) the standout “Checan” by Black Sugar, many have English lyrics. Most are sung in a rough, rock tone, though a smoother voice is heard in the first track “Laghonia”:

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The cover of “Sookie Sookie,” which is done by Los Texao, is brighter than the original, and is one of the most engaging tracks on the album. The funky bass takes the spotlight, and the song moves along at a quicker pace than the original. It evokes a strong urge to get up and dance, and shows the influence and power of funk music.

Though at times the percussion is reminiscent of traditional Latin beats, this is no merengue or cumbia album. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is indicative of that genre in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Instead, we’re allowed to experience music representing a movement on the edge, rebellious, and in many ways reflective of the same counter-culture movement that was occurring in the United States.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review October 1st, 2014

zionI

Title: Masters of Ceremony

Artist: Zion I

Label: Self-released

Format: Digital

Release Date: January 14, 2014

 

Masters of Ceremony is the first of a trio of EPs from Bay Area duo Zion I (the second installment, Libations, was released on April 22, 2014).  The stated purpose of these records is to “fortify the cultural aspects of Hip Hop.”  The MC serves to “energize, invigorate, and guide the listener to a higher state of mind, whether that be reflection, relaxation or enlightenment.”  Over five songs, MC Zumbi and producer AmpLive flip some typical thematic tropes such as the club song in the title track:

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Similarly, Zumbi also continues to make multiple drug trade references while reinforcing his position as a positive lyricist: “spit that dope without no kilo” on “Masters of Ceremony” and more blatantly, “This year I’m coming dope boy fresh, but I am not a dopeboy,” on “Fresh.”  Fourteen years into their career, Zion I continue to make music relatable to those looking for conscious lyrics and diverse beats.  In a short 15 minutes, Amp Live coherently serves up slabs of boom bap, dubstep wobble, and Neptunes-style minimalism.  Look out for the next installments of this trilogy soon.

Reviewed by Will Chase

View review October 1st, 2014

SweetInspirations

Title: The Complete Atlantic Singles Plus

Artist: The Sweet Inspirations

Label: Rhino/Real Gone Music

Format: 2CD set

Release date: June 3, 2014

 

The Sweet Inspirations, who sang behind many a soul hit for Atlantic Records, and later backed Elvis Presley, trace their roots to the talented Dionne Warwick/Drinkard family clan.  Warwick and her sister, Dee Dee, started out as backup singers.  When Dionne moved on to a solo career, her aunt Emily “Sissy” Houston (mother of Whitney Houston) joined the group.  When Dee Dee left for a solo career, Myrna Smith replaced her.  The same year, 1965, the Sweet Inspirations lineup heard on these tracks gelled: Sissy Houston, Sylvia Shamwell (sister of Stax singer Judy Clay – “Private Number”), Myrna Smith and Estelle Brown.  The group was signed to its own Atlantic contract in 1967.

These two CDs cover the Atlantic singles A and B sides plus other tracks from the group’s four Atlantic LPs. Detailed liner notes by compilation producer David Nathan, along with detailed discographical data, are included in the booklet.  Sound quality is varied, it sounds like some tracks are dubs from scratchy 45’s, but they could have been poorly recorded.

Tight harmonies, perfect timing and soulful singing were the group’s trademarks.  They managed to avoid sounding too slick, but they never missed their marks.  The southern-style soulfulness combined with the precision associated with years of New York City session work added up to a unique sound.

As for the songs in this compilation, they are mostly funky and interesting, but the group relied too much on cover tunes early on. No matter how good they sound, did they really need to record their versions of songs like “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and “Do Right Woman – Do Right Man”? The impetus for those songs likely came from Atlantic A&R personnel, hoping to catch more lightening from the label’s current hits.

In any case, the group hit their stride with tunes written for them and by them.  They also thrived from the variety of settings:  some recordings were made at Atlantic’s New York studio, others at Fame Studio and Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama, and still others with producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Sigma Sound Studio in Philadelphia.  In each setting, The Sweet Inspirations put their unique stamp on the music, and the backing musicians seem to play their best behind this group. The women leave room in the songs for instrumental riffs and hooks, and the studio ace players take advantage. The net result is a bunch of ear-catching recordings.

Cissy Houston left the group to pursue a solo career in early 1970, but the original Sweet Inspirations made one more recording session together, at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio on June 22 of that year.  All of the output from that session, including three previously unreleased tunes, is included on CD2. Of the unreleased material, most interesting is an extended medley of covers: “Little Green Apples,” “Something” and “Think.” The tunes don’t seem a natural medley mix, but the Sweet Inspirations and the Muscle Shoals Studio house band make it work.

The Sweet Inspirations concentrated on harmonies and group singing. They were unlike modern female soul singers in that they didn’t indulge in vocal calisthenics, kept vibratos within reason, and clearly enunciated their words. These characteristics, combined with the superb musicianship behind them, make this reissue a pleasure to own.

Cissy Houston and Myrna Smith talk about the group and performing with Elvis Presley in this video:

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Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review October 1st, 2014

soulofdesigner

Title: The Soul of Designer Records

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Big Legal Mess

Format: 4 CD box set

Release date: September 2014

 

“Telling it as it is,” is a phrase that has become somewhat of an African-American modus loquendi that does not become trite even with frequent usage. One sees encapsulated in this short statement the energetic spirit that animates Black gospel song performance of every epoch. Listening to the medley of 101 tracks assembled from a virtual army of gospel singers in the 4 CD set, The Soul of Designer Records, one begins to understand that gospel music was never meant to merely entertain the listener, but is geared to piercing his or her heart with the overwhelming force of the scriptural message. As the press release puts it, “If passion and fervor were electricity, the performances on The Soul of Designer Records could put the glow in every neon sign in the city on the Mississippi River where they were recorded.”

The compilation draws from 400-500 gospel singles produced by Style Wooten and Roland Janes on the independent Memphis-based Designer label between 1967 and 1977, with the artists drawn from several regions, but especially Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas. In the present compilation, one can hear the voices of “gospel singers, groups, quartets, and choirs from the late 1960s through the 1970s” as well as a plethora of styles of gospel with varied influences from different musical genres like “classic Memphis rockabilly, garage rock and blues.” Accompanying the album is Michael Hurtt’s “entertaining, informative liner notes” detailing the approach of Wooten and Janes to their business of recording, along with selected images and biographies of The Soul of Designer Records artists. Nevertheless, the full discographical information about the re-issued singles is conspicuously absent.

In a note on the Big Mess Legal website, one reads “none of this—the variety, the quality and durability of the material, the consistently impressive level of talent—was calculated.” But that bespeaks the quality of spiritual unpredictability that characterizes genuine religious music! And so The Soul of Designer Records rolls on from one piece to another, churning out the Biblical or Bible oriented message in a wide variety of musical styles and with different manner of “vocal utterances.” Among so many voices, one hears the Canton Spirituals with their fiery rendition of “When the World’s On Fire,” and the Gospel Songbirds thank-filled performance “I Thank You Jesus.” There is also the Jubilee Hummingbirds “I Won’t Cry Again,” and Genessee Gospel Travelers scathingly reproaching “Don’t Blame It on the Children.”  Finally, one also hears “the unbridled [but rare] sound of pure faith welling up in the varied voices of such largely obscure performers as Elizabeth King, who wails like Aretha on “Testify for Jesus,” and Rev. Leon Hammer, who howls like Blind Willie Johnson on “He Won’t Deny Me!””

The Soul of Designer Records is a grand musical collection. However, it is a collection with a difference, namely, it seeks to give voice to so many singers, musicians and musical ensembles that some people may be inclined to regard as less important from the perspective of popularity but whose musical contribution nevertheless remains a valuable contribution to the gamut of the Black religious music repertoire.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review October 1st, 2014

colormecountry

Title: Color Me Country

Artist: Linda Martell

Label: Plantation/Real Gone Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 3, 2014

 

In August of 1969, Linda Martell (born Thelma Bynem) made history when she became the first African-American woman to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. However, she didn’t begin her career singing country music. Instead, she made her recording debut as a member of the group The Anglos in 1962 with R&B songs “A Little Tear (Was Falling From My Eyes)” and “The Things I Do For You.” The group also recorded for Vee-Jay records and Vee-Jay’s subsidiary Tollie Records. When the group disbanded, Martell continued solo as an R&B artist until a single performance thrust her into the world of country music.

After Martell was asked to sing a country song at the Charleston Air Force Base, she was discovered by Nashville agent Duke Rayner, who then worked to secure demos and eventually a deal with Plantation Records. In 1969, she released her first single, the top-25 hit “Color Him Father,” and in 1970 made appearances on Hee Haw and The Bill Anderson Show. That same year she released her second single, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” which also landed in the Country & Western Top 40, followed by her one and only album Color Me Country on Plantation Records. This album has finally been re-released in its entirety by Real Gone Music, with liner notes by Bill Dahl.

Color Me Country is a body of work that makes it clear that Linda Martell was a talent that needed to be heard. This collection includes her first single, “Color Him Father,” a dynamic cover of The Winstons’ original song about accepting your stepfather. Martell’s immense vocal ability is undeniable on tracks like “San Francisco Is a Lonely Town,” and “Then I’ll Be Over You.” And on tracks like “Bad Case of the Blues,” “The Wedding Cake,” and “There Never Was a Time,” she is masterfully rooted in the country& western vocal and musical styling.

This re-release of Color Me Country gives further credence to Linda Martell’s importance in country music and the talent she offered as a country music artist.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review October 1st, 2014

cryoflove

Title: The Cry of Love

Artist: Jimi Hendrix

Label: Experience Hendrix/Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 16, 2014

 

rainbowbridge

Title: Rainbow Bridge

Artist: Jimi Hendrix

Label: Experience Hendrix/Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 16, 2014

 

It’s been a big month for Jimi Hendrix fans, with the release of the biopic Jimi Hendrix: All Is By My Side, which focuses on the year Hendrix (played by Outkast’s André Benjamin) released his first album. Now CD reissues of his first and second posthumous studio releases are also available via Experience Hendrix, LLC in conjunction with Legacy Recordings.

Though neither album contains previously un-heard songs, they do contain major hits of Hendrix. The Cry of Love was a major success when it was originally released in 1971, reaching number three in the United States and number two in the U.K. It includes hits such as “Angel,” “Freedom,” and “Ezy Ryder.” The album also includes appearances from quite a few guest musicians, including Steve Winwood and Buzzy Linhart.

Rainbow Bridge is an original motion picture soundtrack, though Hendrix himself had no role in creating the film. Also released in 1971, this album is fairly short, about 40 minutes, but is full of Hendrix’s typical rock energy and electric guitar skill. One of the most unique tracks is Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” a pure instrumental, jamming rock ‘n’ roll version.

After Hendrix’s death in September 1970, his manager, Michael Jeffrey, decided to shelve the planned double studio album titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun*, instead using partially completed tracks in the compilation of these two posthumous albums. Both have been remastered by audio engineer Bernie Grundman from the original analog masters. Though the quality of the recordings is not particularly impressive, there is no denying the historical value of these albums by rock legend Jimi Hendrix. He is known as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, and through these recent releases both on screen and CD, he will live on through a new generation.

[*NOTE: The tracks on these CDs have been “reassembled,” reissued and remastered on several occasions, including Legacy’s 2010 CD/DVD set, First Rays of the New Rising Sun. However, this is the first time Rainbow Bridge has been released on CD, and The Cry of Love was last released on CD since 1992.]

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review October 1st, 2014

NYCC

Title: The New York Community Choir

Artist: The New York Community Choir

Label: Funkytowngrooves

Format: CD

Release date:  July 16, 2013

 

Dr. Mellonee Burnim, an expert in African American religious music, has stated that gospel music performance is characterized by “intensity, fullness, and the sense that tremendous energy is being expelled.” One has only to listen to the self-titled debut album, The New York Community Choir, to understand the import of this assertion. Gospel is essentially a music genre that not only moves with great physical energy but further unleashes a “spiritual dynamite of power.”

Originally released on vinyl in 1977 by RCA, The New York Community Choir has finally been reissued on CD by Funkytowngrooves. This expanded edition, remastered from the original master tapes, features three bonus tracks including the rare, previously unreleased song “Easy To Be Hard.”

With the exception of the esoteric and apocalyptic sound of the third track, “Changed,” and the solemn choral worship tune “Draw Now Closer,” all of tracks exude great energy couched as they are in upbeat soul and disco style of the times. The influence of soul is most conspicuous on “Tell It All,” “Express Yourself” and “Reborn,” while the tracks “Nothing Can Separate Me,” “Since You Came Into My Life,” and “Have a Good Time” exhibit a conspicuous disco flavor. The final track, “Easy To Be Hard,” has the unmistakable feel of 1970s funk. Additional bonus tracks include the extended dance remixes of “Express Yourself” and “Have a Good Time.”

The “upbeatness” of most of the tracks is to be seen and interpreted from the perspective of the Black aesthetics according to which the delivery of Christian message through the gospel genre is always done with intensity. This intensity serves to accentuate the urgency and veracity of the message that must be delivered with every amount of conviction, which the NYCC certainly accomplishes. For example, listening to the choir singing “Tell it… tell it… tell it all” one gets a sense of immediate pressing necessity of referring every problem one may be going through to Jesus. The same conviction is apparent in the energetic rendition of the sonically roof-piercing track, “Nothing Can Separate Me.”

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review October 1st, 2014

Michael Henderson had a notable career as a bass player before launching his solo career.  The Mississippi native moved to Detroit as a teenager where he was discovered by Stevie Wonder, who asked Henderson to join his 1969-70 tour.  Shortly thereafter he came to the attention of Miles Davis, who reportedly “stole” the musician from Wonder. Henderson’s bass became an essential ingredient during Davis’s jazz fusion era, and was prominently featured on the albums A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970), Live-Evil (1971), On the Corner (1972), Agharta and Pangaea (1975). His career took another turn in 1975, when Philadelphia drummer Norman Connors chose Henderson to sing on the ballad “Valentine Love,” a duet with Jean Carn that became a quiet storm classic. Their relationship continued on Connor’s 1976 album, You Are My Starship, with Henderson writing and performing the title track, effectively launching his career as a singer/songwriter.

Henderson went on to release seven solo albums for Buddah between 1976-1983, five of which were recently reissued in expanded editions (each featuring 7” single bonus tracks) by the London-based label Funky Town Grooves, with liner notes by Alex Henderson.

Solid

Title: Solid

Label: Funky Town Grooves

Format: CD (expanded ed.)

Release date: 1976

 

 

In 1976 Henderson released his first solo effort, appropriately titled Solid.  Produced, written and arranged by the artist, the album featured his signature soulful ballads and slow jams. Tracks include a solo version of the oft-sampled “Valentine Love,” the Marvin Gaye-inspired “Stay With Me This Summer,” the weightier “Trust Me Like a Man,” the hit song “Be My Girl” (also recorded that same year by the Dramatics), the funky “Make Me Feel Better,” and the jazz-fusion instrumental “Time.”

 

Goin' Places

Title: Goin’ Places

Label: Funky Town Grooves

Format: CD (expanded ed.)

Release date: 1977

 

 

Henderson’s sophomore album placed in the top 20 on both the R&B and jazz charts, the latter due in part to the presence of Herbie Hancock on keyboards. On the R&B side, there’s the funky “Whip It” and the hot single “I Can’t Help It,” while jazz influences come to the fore in the torchy ballad “I’ll Be Understanding” and Henderson’s duet with Roberta Flack “At the Concert.” Another highlight is “Let Me Love You,” co-written with Ray Parker, Jr., who also sits in on guitar.

 

Do It All

Title: Do It All

Label: Funky Town Grooves

Format: CD (expanded ed.)

Release date: 1979

 

 

Recorded in the two hotbeds of northern soul—Detroit and Philadelphia—Henderson’s self-produced fourth album continued to elevate his status as a romantic lead singer known for slow jams.  Quiet storm stand-outs include “In the Summertime,” “Wait Until the Rain,” and the Berry Gordy-Tyron Carlo penned song “To Be Loved.” As with previous releases, Henderson doesn’t allow his funkier side to go dormant, adding the gritty “Playing on the Real Thing,” the disco-soul inspired “Riding,” and the rock-tinged title track.

 

Wide Receiver

Title: Wide Receiver

Label: Funky Town Grooves

Format: CD (expanded ed.)

Release date: 1980

 

 

One of Henderson’s most successful albums, Wide Receiver featured a stellar backing band that included Detroit musicians Sylvester Rivers on acoustic piano, Ray Parker, Jr. on guitar, and Ollie E. Brown on drums. The title track (penned by Henderson and Randall Jacobs) was a break-out hit, and the P-funk inspired “Prove It” also did well on the charts. Other highlights include the grooving “Make Me Feel Like” and soulful “I Don’t Need Nobody Else,” both gaining traction on the dance floors.

 

Fickle

Title: Fickle

Label: Funky Town Grooves

Format: CD (expanded ed.)

Release date: 1983

 

 

Henderson’s final album for Buddah was Fickle, released in 1983 during a period when R&B was transformed into urban contemporary music characterized by synths, sequencers and drum machines. This required Henderson to bring in outside producers and songwriters, including Kashif associate Paul Lawrence Jones III, who co-wrote the Prince-inspired title track (clocking in at 6:52) as well as “You Shouldn’t Have to Work at All.” Unfortunately, the album never caught on with Henderson’s quiet storm and funk fan base. Regardless, it was a solid effort that also managed to keep the new technology firmly in check, without succumbing to the overuse of synths and electronic effects that often hamper albums from this era.

Henderson’s other two albums for Buddah, In the Night Time (1978) and Slingshot (1981), have also been reissued, the latter by Funky Town Grooves in 2011. The multifaceted career of Michael Henderson is definitely worthy of further exploration—especially if you only know him as a member of Miles’ band, or as a Motown bassist, or as a quiet storm balladeer, or as someone whose songs and bass riffs have been extensively sampled in hip hop.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2014

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

Blues, Folk, Country             

Charley Pride: Christmas In My Home Town (Music City Records/MVD)
Gary Clark Jr.: Live (2 CD set) (Warner Bros.)
Grady Champion: Bootleg Whiskey (Malaco)
Mississippi Heat: Warning Shot  (Delmark)
Otis Clay: Walk a Mile (Oarfin)
T-Bone Walker: Ultimate Collection 1929-57 (Ace)
Various: Louisiana Swamp Blues (JSP)
Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920′s: 2015 Calendar (+CD)
Various: We Are the Music Makers! (Music Maker Foundation)

Dance/Electronica/Techno                

Adrian Thaws: Tricky (False Idols/!k7)
Electric Youth: Innerworld (Secretly Canadian)
Red Snapper: Hyena (Lo Recordings)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM

Sallie and Cora Martin: Just A Little Talk With Jesus (Gospel Friend)
3 Winan Brothers: Foreign Land (eOne)
Alabama Gurlz: Gurlz Live (4 Winds)
David Hammond & Chosen Disciples: Live in Columbus, GA (4 Winds)
Deric J Lewis & The Church Choir: Live (EPM Music Group)
Dietrick Haddon: Best of RCA (RCA)
Doc McKenzie & The Hi-Lites: Yet Faithful (Ophir Entertainment/MVD)
Lecrae: Anomaly (Reach Records)
Michelle Williams: Journey To Freedom (Light/eOne)
Nathan Best: Center of My Life  (A Higher Calling)
Paul Porter: F.R.E.E. (Motown Gospel)
The Walls Group: Fast Forward  (RCA Inspiration/FYS)
Various: The Revelation Records Story (City Hall Records)
Zie’l (Dream Gospel)

Jazz                

Afro Bop Alliance: Angel Eyes (Zoho)
Ahmad Jamal & Jusef Lateef: Live at the Olympia – June 27, 2012 (Jazz Village)
Ali Jackson: Amalgamations (Sunnyside Communications)
Billy Childs: Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (Sony Masterworks)
Bud Powell: I Know That You Know on Stage (reissue) (Fuel 2000)
Carmen Lundy: Soul to Soul (Afrasia Productions)
Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (Resonance)
Chick Corea: Trilogy (Stretch Records/Concord Jazz)
Conrad Herwig:  The Latin Side of Joe Henderson (Half Note)
Dee Daniels: Intimate Conversations (Origin Records)
Donald Byrd: The Definitive Classic Blue Note Collection [Box Set] (Enlightentment)
Eric Reed: Groovewise (Smoke Sessions)
Frank Lacy: Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE)
Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (Highnote)
Illinois Jacquet Big Band: Live In Burghausen 1996 (Squatty Roo)
Jane Bunnett: Maqueque (Justin Time)
Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (CMG)
John Coltrane: Offering: Live At Temple University (Resonance)
Kandace Springs: Kandace Springs EP (SRP Music Group)
Kenny Werner: Coalition (Half Note)
Kim Waters: Silver Soul (Red River Ent.)
Mack Avenue Superband: Live from the Detroit Jazz Festival 2013 (Mack Ave.)
Matthew Shipp: I’ve Been to Many Places (Thirsty Ear)
Otis Brown III: The Thought of You (Blue Note)
Ranee Lee: What’s Going On (Justin Time)
Rodney Green Quartet: Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE)
Shailah Edmonds: Moonlight Magic 9 (Shailah Edmonds)
Slim Gaillard: Extrovert Spirit of Slim Gaillard 1945-58 (Avid Jazz)
Stanley Clarke Band: Up (Mack Avenue)
Urban Renewal Project: Local Legend (Lombardy)
Spiritual Jazz Vol. 5: Esoteric, Modal And Deep Jazz (Jazzman)
Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records)
Wadada Leo Smith: Red Hill (Rarenoise)

R&B, Soul                  

Barbara Lynn: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (Real Gone)
Barry White: 5 Classic Albums (Mercury)
Calvin Richardson: I Am Calvin (BMG/Primary Wave)
Chris Brown: X (RCA)
Esther Phillips: Alone Again, Naturally (Real Gone)
Faith Hope & Charity: Life Goes On (Real Gone)
Gladys Knight: Where My Heart Belongs (Shadow Mountain)
JC: The Renaissance (Ecko)
Jennifer Hudson: JHUD (RCA)
Jon Lucien: Believe in Me: The Essential Selection     (Red River)
Luke James: Luke James (Mercury)
Mapei: Hey Hey (Downtown)
Michael Henderson: Take Me I’m Yours: The Essential Collection (Red River)
Myles Sanko: Forever Dreaming (Legere Recordings)
Naturally 7: Hidden In Plain Sight (Hidden Beach)
Norman Connors: Starship: The Essential Collection (Red River)
Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company (Concord)
Ronnie Dyson: Phase 2/Brand New Day (Real Gone)
Sinkane: Mean Love (DFA)
Sly Stone: I’m Just Like You-Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-1970
Steve Arrington: Way Out  (Tummy Touch)
Such: Trial and Error (Arc Sai Publishing)
Uvee Hayes: In the Mood (Mission Park)
Catch Action: The Sophisticated Boogie Funk Of Sheridan House Records (Ubiquity)
Various: Motown Christmas (Motown)
Various: A Shot In The Dark: Nashville Jumps, 1945-1955 (Bear Family)
Willie Hutch: In Tune (Real Gone)
Willie Hutch: Midnight Dancer (Real Gone)
Take Me To The River Soundtrack (Stax)

Funk, Rock                

Slash: World on Fire (Universal)
California King: Sankofa
Lenny Kravitz: Strut (Kobalt)
P.O.D.: The Acoustic Album (Pledge Music)
Prince: Art Official Age (NPG/Warner Bros.)
Prince/3RDEYEGIRL: PLECTRUMELECTRUM (NPG/Warner Bros.)

Rap, Hip Hop            

Diamond D: The Diam Piece (Dymond Mine Records)
Yo Gotti & Young Jeezy: Face Card (Wired Up)
Big L: Harlem’s Finest vols. 1&2 (Corleone Entertainment)
Big L: The Archives (1996-2000) (Corleone Entertainment)
Bishop Nehru & MF Doom: NehruvianDOOM (Lex)
Black Opera: The Great Year (Mello Music Group)
Busdriver: Perfect Hair (Big Dada)
Damu the Fudgemunk & Flex Mathews: Live From Wonka Beats (Redefinition Records)
Diabolic: Fightin’ Words (Warhorse)
Edo.G: After All These Years (5th & Union)
Fredro Starr: Made in the Streets (Goon MuSick)
Freeway & The Jacka: Highway Robbery (Golden Mean)
Gang Starr: Daily Operation (LP reissue) (Virgin)
Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (Stone’s Throw)
Jeezy: Seen It All (Def Jam)
Joell Ortiz: House Slippers (Penalty)
Kankick: Traditional Heritage (LP) (Someothaship Connect)
K-Def & 45 King: Back to the Beat (Redefinition)
Kevin Gates: I Don’t Know What to Call It (Four Glocks Ent.)
Killjoy Club: Reindeer Games (Psychopathic)
Lil Boosie & Kevin Gates: Louisiana Generals (Four Glocks Ent.)
Lil C: H-Town Cronic 10 (Oarfin)
Lil’ KeKe: Screwed Up Click 4 Life (Venom)
Louie V Gutta: New Legend (DatPiff.com)
Meek Mill: Dreams Worth More Than Money (Atlantic/Q Records)
Method Man: Tical (20th Anniversary Ed.)  (Def Jam)
Milo: A Tooth Paste Suburb (Hellfyre Club)
Nas: Original Album Classics (Legacy)
Nicki Minaj: Anaconda (Four Glocks Ent.)
Octave Minds: Octave Minds (Boysnoize)
Oji & The Ascension Team: Speak ‘n Tones (Fahrenheit)
Opio & Equipto: Red (XX)
Philthy Rich: N.E.R.N.L. 3 (RBC)
Plies: Coast 2 Coast 251 (Oarfin)
Ray West & OC: Ray’s Café (Fat Beats)
Rich Homie Quan: We Been Had Hitz (Lrg Ent)
Saigon  GSNT3: The Troubled Times (Squid Ink Squad)
Slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark: Slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark (Delicious Vinyl)
Snootie Wild: Go Mode EP (Epic/CMG)
Supa Dave West: Beat Boxing (Redefinition)
T.I. & Killer Mike: About the Money (Four Glocks Ent.)
Various: Road Kill Vol. 4 (Hit+Run)
Yung Gleesh: Cleansides Finest 3 (Yung Gleesh)
Z-Ro and Lil C:Big Bucks & Styrofoam Cups 2 (Oarfin)
Def Jam 30th Anniversary: Greatest Hits [6 LP] (Def Jam)
Sa-Roc Nebuchadnezzar (Empire)

Reggae, Dancehall, Calypso             

10 Ft Ganja Plant: 10 Deadly Shots Vol. III (Roir)
Duane Stephenson: Dangerously Roots: Journey from August Town (VP)
Excelsiors: Control This (BBE)
Gregory Isaacs: Roxy Theater 1982 (Cleopatra)
Jah Vinci: Ghetto Born  (Grillaras Production)
King Jammy: More Jammy’s From the Roots (VP)
Radio Riddler: Purple Reggae (Easy Star)
Rebel Souljahz: Soul Jahz for Life (Blind Man Sound)
Screwdriver: African Music (Upstairs Music)
Taj Weekes & Adowa: Love Herb & Reggae (Jatta)
Willi Williams: Unification: From Channel One to King Tubby’s (Shanachie)

World, Latin              

Vaudou Game: Apiafo (Hot Casa)
Aurelio: Lándini  (Real World)
Les Ambassadeurs: Motel de Bamako (Sterns Africa)
Niasony: Afroplastique (Membran)
Orlando Julius & The Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro (Strut)
Sergio Mendes: Magic (Okeh)
Various: Zambush Vol. 2: Zambian Hits from the 60s and 70s (Sharp Wood Records)
William Onyeabor: What (Luaka Bop)
Cecilia Noel: Havana Rocks (Compass Records)

View review October 1st, 2014

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