Welcome to the December 2018 Issue

Welcome to the December 2018 Holiday Edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

In keeping with the season, we’re starting off with our list of the Best New Holiday Albums, featuring releases from PJ Morton, Cece Winans, John Legend, Aloe Blacc, After 7, and Motown Gospel artists.

Special editions and box sets include Stax ’68: A Memphis Story (5 CDs), The Jimi Hendrix Experience’ Electric Ladyland 50th Anniversary Deluxe Reissue (2 CDs + Bluray), John Tefteller’s 2019 Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, vol. 16 (calendar + CD), Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris (3 CDs + DVD) and companion DVD The Early Films. Other sets reviewed in brief include The Chic Organization 1977-1979 (5 CDs), The Staple Singers’ For What It’s Worth, Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968 (3 CDs), Art Ensemble of Chicago/Associated Ensembles (21 CDs), Complete Cuban Jam Sessions (5 CDs), and Al Green’s The Hi Records Singles Collection (3 CDs).

For the vinyl lover on your list, there’s Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label (2 LPs), gospel singer Theotis Taylor’s long lost debut album Something Within Me, the first ever reissue of It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music on Motown’s Black Forum imprint, plus Maxwell’s Embrya 20th Anniversary Edition, and Jermaine Dupree Presents So So Def 25. Other new releases include The Garner Poems from Ohio group Mourning [A] Blkstar, Broken Politics from the eclectic Neneh Cherry, and two jazz albums— Flight by James Francies, and Lebroba from the trio Andrew Cyrille/Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Frisell.

If you’re looking for books to gift, we’re featuring three volumes of photography—Bruce W. Talamon’s Soul R&B Funk Photographs 1972-1982, Vikki Tobak’s Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop, and Meredith Ochs’ Aretha: The Queen of Soul―A Life in Photographs. Or, if you prefer an inspirational autobiography, Tina Turner’s My Love Story.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of November 2018 Black Music Releases of Note.

New Holiday Albums: The Best of 2018

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without good music to really get you in the spirit! We’re featuring brief reviews of our favorite new holiday releases from PJ Morton, John Legend, Cece Winans, Aloe Blacc, Motown Gospel, and After 7. Our specially curated Black Grooves Christmas Spotify playlist features our favorite songs from these artists and more, providing the perfect soundtrack as you get together with friends and family to celebrate the holidays. Continue reading

Stax Records’ Year of Crisis and Grit

 

Title: Stax ’68 – A Memphis Story
Artist: Various
Label: Stax/Craft Recordings
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

1968 was a year that tested Stax Records, the wellspring of Memphis Soul, to its soul. The label emerged victorious, but the story of its three-pronged existential crisis and how the company and its key personnel responded is an epic chapter in music-industry history. Continue reading

The Full-On Electric Ladyland Experience

 

Title: Electric Ladyland 50th Anniversary Deluxe Reissue
Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Label: Legacy
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

Perhaps demonstrating, emphatically, that rock music is long in the teeth, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of several historic albums. At the top of the list is Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, a muddy, blues-infused psychedelic mashup originally released on 2 vinyl platters. Sony’s Legacy label celebrates the half-century with a deluxe 3-CD/1-BluRay set also released in a 6-LP/1-BluRay edition. Continue reading

Dust-to-Digital Releases Voices of Mississippi & Early Films of William Ferris


Title: Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
Format: Box set (book, 3 CDs, DVD)
Release date: June 1, 2018

Title: The Early Films of William Ferris, 1968-1975
Format: DVD
Release date: November 2, 2018

 

Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris is an important addition to the documentation of Southern folklife, culture, and history. The box set includes a CD of blues field recordings, another CD of gospel field recordings, a disc of interviews and oral histories, a DVD with seven short documentary films (1972-1980), and a 120-page hardcover book edited by Ferris that includes transcriptions and annotations for all of the film and album recordings.  A recently released companion DVD, The Early Films of William Ferris, 1968-1975, features rare footage of B.B. King and James “Son” Thomas. Both were produced by Dust-to-Digital in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, which holds the William R. Ferris Collection. Continue reading

Various Artists – 23 Classic Blues Songs from the 1920’s, Vol. 16

 

Title: 23 Classic Blues Songs from the 1920’s, Vol. 16
Artist: Various
Label: Blues Images
Format: CD + Calendar
Release date: September 25, 2018

 

The 16th annual Blues Images calendar and CD reproduces classic, rare, and recently rediscovered artwork and recordings of pre and post-war blues songs from blues masters such as Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie, Leola B. Wilson, William Harris, Papa George Lightfoot, and others. While a copy of Papa George Lightfoot’s debut disc on Sultan Records (“Winding Ball Mama” / “Snake Hipping Daddy”) has been rumored to exist for decades, it recently surfaced and came to the attention of John Tefteller and his Blues Images team. The disc has been remastered and is included on this compilation along with other rare tracks such as William Harris’ “I’m a Roamin’ Gambler” / “I Was Born in the Country—Raised In The Town.” Continue reading

Mourning [A] Blkstar – The Garner Poems

 

Title: The Garner Poems
Artist: Mourning [A] Blkstar
Label: Electric Cowbell
Formats: Limited ed. CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 26, 2018

 

Ohio band Mourning [A] Blkstar is a “multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora.” They define the sound of their sophomore album, The Garner Poems, as “Afro futurist soul music, balancing hip hop production techniques with lo fi experimentation to create a sonic suite that eulogizes victims of police brutality.” These eulogies, or poems, serve as both a force of light and a schematic for hope, survival and independence.  Continue reading

Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, and Bill Frisell – Lebroba

 

Title: Lebroba
Artists: Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, and Bill Frisell
Label: ECM
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: November 2, 2018

 

November brought a new collaboration from three of the all-time greatest avant-garde jazz musicians: Andrew Cyrille (drums), Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet) and Bill Frisell (guitar). The trio’s album, Lebroba, takes its title from a contraction of the three musicians’ birthplaces: Leland (Mississippi), Brooklyn, and Baltimore. This is certainly a fitting title for a record featuring a fusion of three musicians’ unmistakable styles. It’s also fitting that the album was released on the ECM label, which has long been a flagship of progressive jazz and which has issued landmark recordings featuring each member of this trio.  Continue reading

James Francies – Flight

 

Title: Flight
Artist: James Francies
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

Though only 23-years-old, pianist and composer James Francies has been very active on the music scene, performing with prominent jazz artists like Stefon Harris, Pat Metheny, and Eric Harland, as well as hip-hop and R&B artists Common, Lauryn Hill, The Roots, and Bilal, among others. His new 11 track Blue Note debut album, Flight, provides an array of orchestrations drawing on elements of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and electronic-sounding qualities. With a supportive cast of first-rate musicians—saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Mike Moreno, vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassist Burniss Travis II, drummers Jeremy Dutton and Mike Mitchell, and vocalists YEBBA, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and Chris Turner—Francies takes the listener on a musical journey filled with vibrant grooves intermixed with lush harmonic textures. Continue reading

Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics

 

Title: Broken Politics
Artist: Neneh Cherry
Label: Smalltown Supersound
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: October 19, 2018

 

It’s hard to believe it was thirty years ago that Neneh Cherry burst onto the scene with the international hit single “Buffalo Stance” from her debut album, Raw Like Sushi, (1988).  Garnering lots of MTV and BET love, Cherry was perhaps on her way to becoming huge, but as the ‘90s rolled in, Cherry did an exit stage left. After releasing Homebrew (1992) and Man (1996), she went UG—as in underground. Cherry’s whereabouts became a topic of interest for her fans. It takes a great deal of confidence and know-thy-self to just up and walk away from the commercial trappings of the game. But Cherry comes across as one who was never impressed by that. Continue reading

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label

 

Title: Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label
Artist: Various
Label: Numero Group
Formats: CD, 2-LP, Digital
Release date: March 23, 2018

 

This exploration of Cleveland’s Saru label, released earlier this year, is another fine addition to Numero’s Eccentric Soul series featuring lost gems from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Due to its fascinating connections to Ohio funk, the Saru compilation is also one of our favorites. Label owner Chuck Brown set up a management team that included Bobby Massey, one of the original members of the O’Jays, and Calvin Simon, an original member of the Parliaments with George Clinton, and later the Parliament-Funkadelic collective. These two influential staff members assembled talent for the backing bands and also produced and performed on many of the sessions. Continue reading

Theotis Taylor – Something Within Me

 

Title: Something Within Me
Artist: Theotis Taylor
Label: Big Legal Mess
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: June 29, 2018

 

Gospel singer and pianist Theotis Taylor was born in 1920 in Fitzgerald, Georgia and grew up singing in the local Baptist church where his father was a deacon. In 1946 he joined the Georgia Harmoniers but went solo five years later, performing in churches throughout the South and cutting several singles for the Pitch label out of Savannah (he’s featured on the 2010 compilation, The Pitch/Gusman Records Story).  In 1977, a representative of the American Folklife Center visited Taylor at his home in Fitzgerald to record a short interview for the South-Central Georgia Folklife Project, which also features an impromptu performance. Taylor was still in fine voice at this time, and it was just two years later that he recorded tracks for a debut album. Apparently, the project that was never commercially released and the master tapes were recently given to the Music Maker Relief Foundation and remastered for this album.  Continue reading

Imamu Amiri Baraka – It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music

 

Title: It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music
Artist: Imamu Amiri Baraka
Label: Motown/UMe
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: November 16, 2018

 

At the beginning of the Black Power Era, Motown Records joined other labels in producing politically oriented albums that addressed issues of critical concern to Black America (e.g., see our previous review of the book, Listen Whitey). Motown established a subsidiary label for this project in 1970, and released a total of eight albums and one single on their new Black Forum label. The rarest of these Black Forum albums—virtually unavailable for the past 46 years—is Amiri Baraka’s It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music, released in 1972. In a surprise move with little fanfare, the album has now been reissued on vinyl. Continue reading

Maxwell – Embrya 20th Anniversary Reissue

 

Title: Embrya 20th Anniversary Reissue
Artist: Maxwell
Label: Sony Music
Formats: 2-LP
Release Date: September 28, 2018

 

Maxwell’s sophomore album, Embrya, was released in 1988 at the peak of the neo-soul movement and changed the course of the singer’s career. The seductive ballads and slow grooves of tracks such as “Matrimony: Maybe You” resonated with his female fan base, who propelled the album to #2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart and earned Maxwell a Grammy Award nomination for best R&B album. Continue reading

Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25

 

Title: Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25
Artist: Various
Label: Certified Classics
Formats: LP, Digital
Release Date: October 19, 2018

 

Released in honor of So So Def’s 25th anniversary, So So Def 25 pays tribute to the pioneering Atlanta-based label with a collection of its hip-hop and R&B hits. Curated by So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri, the compilation has been released on a 12” vinyl collector’s edition by Sony Music’s Certified Classics. Featured artists include Jay-Z, Bow Wow, Ghost Town DJ, Aaliyah, and many more. Scattered amongst the So So Def classics are rarer tracks like Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married (Kanye West Remix)”—one of Kanye’s early verses—as well as an explicit version of “Da B Side” by Da Brat with an alternative verse by The Notorious B.I.G. Additional playlists celebrating the anniversary can be found on So So Def’s website. Continue reading

Chic – The Chic Organization 1977-1979

 

Title: The Chic Organization 1977-1979
Artist: Chic
Label: Atlantic/Rhino
Formats: 5-CD, 6-LP box set
Release date: November 23, 2018

 

There’s no better way to experience the late ‘70s disco era than this new box set celebrating the music of Chic and its co-founders, Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards. Included are the group’s first three albums—Chic (1978), C’est Chic (1978) and Risqué (1978)—plus Sister Sledge’s iconic album We Are Family (1979), the first project Rodgers and Edwards wrote and produced for another artist. The final disc in the set features singles, including the 7” and 12” releases of Chic’s chart topping hits such as “Le Freak,” which was recently added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, and “Good Times,” one of the most-sampled songs in music history (used in Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.”) All tracks have been newly remastered from the original Atlantic stereo tapes by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios. The accompanying booklets includes essays by Toure and Paul Morley; however, the vinyl edition features more extensive liner notes. Continue reading

Staple Singers – For What It’s Worth: Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968

 

Title: For What It’s Worth: Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968
Artist: Staple Singers
Label: Cherry Red
Formats: 3-CD box set
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

Given the immense popularity and historical importance of the Staple Singers, it’s hard to believe that some of their albums have not been reissued on CD. This new box set from the UK label Cherry Red offers the first-ever retrospective of the Staple Singers’ recordings for Epic. The six albums released by Epic between 1964-1968, featured in their entirety on this set, include Amen (1965), Freedom Highway (1965), and Why (1966), plus the CD debuts of Pray On (1967), For What It’s Worth (1967), and the always timely What The World Needs Now Is Love (1968). Continue reading

The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles

 

Title: The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles
Label: ECM
Format: 21-CD box set
Release date: November 30, 2018

 

The Art Ensemble of Chicago has a storied place in the history of jazz and avant-garde music. An offshoot of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the AEC formed in 1969 and is now on the cusp its 50th anniversary. In celebration of that milestone, ECM Records has assembled this limited edition 21-CD box set showcasing all of the albums they released with these “standard bearers of Great Black Music.” Continue reading

Complete Cuban Jam Sessions

 

Title: Complete Cuban Jam Sessions
Artist: Various
Label: Craft
Formats: 5-CD set, 5-LP set
Release date: November 16, 2018

 

Panart, one of the first and most successful independent record labels in Cuba, embarked upon a project in 1956 to commission and record a series of descarga, or improvised jam sessions incorporating jazz and popular forms of Cuban music. Over the next decade, the label released several volumes of these descarga under the generic title, Cuban Jam Sessions. The series sold over a million copies, becoming the first commercially successful descarga recordings and inspiring many other projects over the ensuing decades. Now, all of the descarga sessions released by Panart from 1956-1965 have been remastered and packaged together for the first time in Craft’s definitive 5-disc box set, The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions. The set was co-produced by Cuban music specialist and Panart label historian Judy Cantor-Navas, who also wrote the liner notes for the well-illustrated accompanying booklet. Continue reading

Al Green – The Hi Records Singles Collection

 

Title: The Hi Records Singles Collection
Artist: Al Green
Label: Fat Possum
Format: 3-CD set
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

In 1969, budding soul singer Al Green met Memphis record producer Willie Mitchell, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mitchell signed Green to his Hi Records label, and over the next decade he released a dozen albums, half of which topped the charts. Continue reading

Book – Soul R&B Funk Photographs, 1972-1982

 

Title: Soul R&B Funk Photographs, 1972-1982
Author: Bruce W. Talamon
Publisher: Taschen
Format: Hardcover, 375 pages
Release date: October 2018

 

The coffee table book of the year for soul and funk music fans is without a doubt this oversize, hardcover volume featuring the early photographs of Bruce W. Talamon. Those who are familiar with SOUL newspaper will recognize some of these images. Started in L.A. in 1968 by Ken Jones and Regina Jones, SOUL was the first black-owned paper dedicated to R&B, soul and funk musicians. Talamon was hired in 1972 by Regina, who gave the young photographer his first steady gig, and before long he was shooting for national publications. From 1972-1982, Talamon captured R&B royalty in stunning detail—working up a sweat in concert, dancing on the stage of Soul Train, striking a pose during formal photo shoots, and enjoying quieter moments backstage and on the road. Continue reading

Book – Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop

 

Title: Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop Author: Vikki Tobak
Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Random House
Format: Book (Hardcover, Kindle)
Release date: October 16, 2018

 

What could be better than a visual history of hip hop, told not only through the lenses of the photographers who shot these images, but through their personal accounts as well. What’s most unusual is the presentation of these images in the form of contact sheets, rather than prints. According to author Vikki Tobak, her goal was to reveal the photographer’s creative process and techniques, rather than assemble the curated “money shots” we typically see in print.  Continue reading

Book – Aretha: The Queen of Soul―A Life in Photographs

 

Title: Aretha: The Queen of Soul―A Life in Photographs
Author: Meredith Ochs
Publisher: Sterling
Format: Book (hardcover (144 pages), Kindle)
Release date: December 11, 2018

 

In one of the first posthumous books on Aretha Franklin, radio personality and author Meredith Ochs “explores the diva’s life, from her formative years growing up in Detroit, to her singing and recording career from the 1950s until her untimely death in 2018, to her numerous honors, awards, and causes, including her advocacy for civil rights and the arts.” Though Aretha fans will likely find nothing new in this biography, Ochs writes with an engaging style and covers all of the high points of Franklin’s career. But the main selling points of this volume are the photos. With over 85 illustrations, more than half of the pages are filled with glorious images of Aretha, making this a fine commemorative volume for libraries and for those seeking a brief introduction to the Queen of Soul. Continue reading

Book – Tina Turner: My Love Story

 

Title: My Love Story
Author: Tina Turner
Publisher: Atria Books
Format: Book (hardcover, paperback, kindle, audiobook)
Release date: October 16, 2018

 

Though Tina Turner published the autobiography I, Tina: My Life Story in 1986, she had a whole lot more living to do! In My Love Story, Turner discusses her “whole second life;” that is, the 42 post-Ike years “filled with adventures, accomplishments, and love beyond my wildest dreams.” But these years have also had a darker side, including the loss of her son, and her own recent life-and-death health challenges. Turner’s positive outlook shines through on each page of her inspirational story, reflecting her Buddhist faith as well as the unfailing support of her second husband, Erwin Bach. “Good came out of bad. Joy came out of pain.” A good read for the holiday season. Continue reading