Welcome to the July 2016 edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

We’re kicking off this month’s issue with a tribute to the late, great Bernie Worrell who released his final album Retrospectives this year.  Also featured is the self-titled debut by the new rock supergroup Project N-Fidelikah, with Fishbone’s Angelo Moore.

July brings a number of soul releases, including Charles Bradley’s Changes, the newest self-titled release by Bloomington’s own Durand Jones and the Indications, and two compilations of Chicago soul—Blessed: The Emotions Anthology 1969-1985 and the Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul: Sitting in the Park, a tribute to the Chicago deejay Bob Abrahamian who specialized in collecting and playing Chicago Sweet Soul. Another compilation, 4th Coming’s Strange Things, is a funky record that earns its title with off-the-wall experimentation.

Under jazz there’s the new release, Planetary Prince, from Cameron Graves (a member of the groundbreaking West Coast Get Down collective). Our hip hop release of the month is The Rebellion Sessions, an instrumental collaboration between rapper/producer Black Milk and Washington, D.C. group Nat Turner.

In world music, we’re featuring Musique de Nuit—a cello/kora collaboration between Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal, as well as the Afrobeat compilation Rich Medina Presents Jump ‘N’ Funk

Wrapping up this month’s issue is our list of June 2016 Releases of Note.

View review July 1st, 2016

bernie worrell_retrospectives

Title: Retrospectives

Artist: Bernie Worrell

Label: PurpleWOO Productions

Format: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: January 20, 2016

 

 

Keyboardist Bernie Worrell passed away on June 24, and his final album, Retrospectives, is a reminder of the legendary musician’s claim to fame as an ever-fresh and funky player.  As keyboardist for groups like Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins’s Rubber Band, Talking Heads and the countless other projects that Worrell has participated in over the course of his storied career, he developed a unique and ever-innovative style of playing and composing. In addition to acoustic pianos, Hammond B3s, Clavichords, MOOGs and Melodicas, Worrell is reported to have been the second musician to acquire an RMI (Stevie Wonder being the first to get the Rocky Mountain Instruments Electric Piano). It is doubtless true, however, that his alternatingly spacey and funky sounds set the tone for keyboardists who would employ these instruments from the 1970s through the present.

On Retrospectives, Worrell uses a variety of keyboard instruments to create rich musical tapestries—the record features only Worrell and two drummers, Donald Sturge and Anthony McKenzie II, but Worrell’s multitracked use of his veritable arsenal of keys lends the record a  feel that is nearly orchestral at times.  Even at his advanced age, Worrell’s playing was still sharp when recording these tracks—his funky Clavinet rhythms interweave with melodic synthesizers and richly textured organ sounds on “Joyful Process” (even quoting “Jesus Loves Me” on the tune’s introduction).  Ever true to form, Worrell takes listeners “out there” on Retrospectives, too, bringing in the signature phased-out synth lines that were a trademark of his work in P-Funk’s catalog, taking it far out over steady piano-based grooves.  Most of the record continues in this fashion, an ever-evolving collection of musical textures, grooves, and melodies.  This is music to be slowly and gradually absorbed, preferably through a pair of high-quality headphones—my tinnitus acted up a bit on a few songs simply due to the incredible pitch range that Worrell employed on several tracks. This record makes it clear that Worrell didn’t lose his ability to be sonically and musically challenging with age.

While we may have lost a legend this month, Worrell’s musical legacy, as reflected on Retrospectives, is a rich and diverse one. This album is a wonderful way to cap off a truly remarkable career.


Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review July 1st, 2016

project_nfidelikah

Title: Project N-Fidelikah

Artist: Project N-Fidelikah

Label: Rat Pak Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 27, 2016

 

 

Is it possible to create a supergroup full of lesser-known musical personalities?  Not every musician is a Beatle or Bob Dylan, and not all supergroups, therefore, can have the kind of surefire star power that The Traveling Wilburys did.  However, the perennial problem with supergroups is that, inevitably, dominant personalities usually win out and the group’s sound ends up getting compromised in the process.  Project N-Fidelikah, however, doesn’t have the typical “too many cooks” supergroup problem, in part because it doesn’t have a typical supergroup lineup, drawing musicians from the category of “bands you’ve heard of but don’t know their catalog too well.”  Project N-Fidelikah features vocalist, organist and saxophonist Angelo Moore, aka Dr. Madd Vibe (Fishbone), guitarist George Lynch (Dokken, The Lynch Mob), bassist Pancho Tomaselli (War), and studio drummer Chris Moore. The group’s lineup reads like an ESP guitar ad (Lynch and Tomaselli are both endorsers, and the story is that they met through the guitar company), but plays with the scrappiness of a garage band. N-Fidelikah’s sound draws heavily from the eclectic rock of Fishbone and their contemporaries in the late-’80s/early-’90s LA rock scene,while clearly incorporating other members’ musical personalities. The confluence of these influences makes Project N-Fidelikah eclectic, humorous, and generally off-the-wall.

Check out the group’s first single, “Landslide Salvation”:

Perhaps prophesying the 2016 return of fellow LA rockers’ The Red Hot Chili Peppers and the transformation of Rage Against the Machine’s core group into Prophets of Rage, Project N-Fidelikah is about more than indulging the nostalgia market for the funky rock of a particular time and place. Digging deep into funk influences, Chris Moore and Tomaselli set up monster grooves throughout the record.  Perhaps surprisingly for a hair metal superstar, Lynch uses these grooves as a canvas for articulate (even downright economical) guitar work, at times digging deep into the groove with distorted power chords and at other times drawing upon his ’80s chops to provide a burst of energy and color that compliments a given song’s groove rather than overriding it.  Dr. Madd Vibe’s lyrics and sax top off the gradual layering, tackling political issues (“Anchor Babies”), race (“I Wanna Be White (But I Can’t)”), and the abuses that the music industry inflicts upon artists (“Exposure Fi’Pay”).  Even the group’s jammiest (and perhaps most interesting) track, “Deprivation of Independence,” is a meditation upon mass surveillance, while its slow-burn groove is equally useful as a vehicle for lick trading, punctuated by tasty guitar solos from Lynch and sax lines from Angelo Moore.

All-in-all, Project N-Fidelikah is a strong effort by the funkiest supergroup you’ve never heard of.  The album is lyrically and musically challenging, while full of enough tasty grooves and licks to keep listeners coming back for more, even after they’ve absorbed the record’s striking social critique.

 

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review July 1st, 2016

Cameron-Graves-Planetary-Prince

Title: Planetary Prince

Artist: Cameron Graves

Label: Sterling Silver Productions

Format: CD

Release date: June 10, 2016

 

 

Perhaps best known for their participation on Kamasi Washington’s monumental LP The Epic (released in May 2015), the West Coast Get Down collective of jazz musicians returns on pianist Cameron Graves’s latest project, Planetary Prince. Led by Graves and featuring Washington, Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, trombonist Ryan Porter, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr, and non-West Coast Get Down musicians trumpeter Philip Dizack and bassist Hadrien Feraud, Planetary Prince makes a strong argument for West Coast players being on the cutting edge of progressive jazz.

Recorded in a marathon 11-hour session (with a second volume coming later this year), the compositions on Planetary Prince feel like jazz odysseys in miniature. The record’s shortest cut clocks in at 8 minutes, while the three remaining tracks are each longer than 10—not the length of most of Bitches Brew, but not small potatoes either.  These tracks give the musicians plenty of time to stretch out, exploring the cosmic themes implicit in the album’s title, with tunes derived from The Urantia book, a volume of esoteric religious philosophy.

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Graves and company are obviously well-versed in a number of musical styles, from the modern Coltrane-influenced jazz that permeates this record, to fusion (Graves’s other gig is with the pioneering bassist Stanley Clarke’s band), to classical music (he’s done soundtrack work too), to hip hop (as evidenced by Washington and Thundercat’s work with Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg), to heavy metal (including Graves’s participation in Jada Pinkett Smith’s nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom).  While it is difficult to see how each of these influences come to bear on this record at any individual moment, it is possible to hear the group’s fearless virtuosity as a consequence of being so well-versed—if you’re good at everything, it’s hard to find anything off limits.

The titular first track features a tight drum groove punctuated by Bruner’s in-the-pocket fills underneath Graves’s blistering piano solo, with the band momentarily becoming a tight jazz-rock trio before Washington enters with a solo that evolves from sparse to space-filling, playing with time like other players might play with changes.  “Andromeda” manipulates musical atmospheres—combining minimal accompaniment with soaring melodies, the tune derives much of its interest from its shifting textures and flowing melodies. “Isle of Love,” propelled by a lilting piano ostinato over which the band’s improvised and composed melodies swirl, indicates Graves’s prowess as a composer/arranger, and “Adam & Eve” is downright cinematic, growing from concert piano flourishes to double (sometimes triple) timed bebop lines over a half-time groove worthy of the heaviest metal.

Overall, Planetary Prince is a strong release by a leader and supporting cast of players who are pushing jazz into a thoroughly modern, inescapably hip direction.  This group’s blend of cosmic themes, hip compositions, monster playing, and intricate textures makes for what will assuredly be some of the year’s best jazz.

 

 

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

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View review July 1st, 2016

Black Milk and Nat Turner_The Rebellion Sessions

Title: The Rebellion Sessions

Artist: Black Milk & Nat Turner

Label: Computer Ugly

Format: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 20, 2016

 

 

Perhaps the best word to describe The Rebellion Sessions, the new collaboration from Detroit producer/rapper Black Milk and D.C. area band Nat Turner, is “vibey.”  Like much of J Dilla’s solo output, the 10 brief instrumental tracks on  The Rebellion Sessions create a sonic space for listeners to immerse themselves in.  While there isn’t much to make any one of these tracks especially memorable in the way of melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic development, the grooves on this record provide a solid and nondescript soundtrack.  This music ultimately will become what an individual listener makes of it, and is ripe and ready for sampling.  It’s hard to say what to call the sounds on this release—perhaps jazz, hip hop, or something in between—but it is the stuff that breakbeats are made of.

Ultimately, what will draw most listeners to this music is the quality production, spearheaded by Black Milk.  Featuring strong grooves, detailed textures, and tasteful sampling and electronic effects, The Rebellion Sessions provides chill vibes for days.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review July 1st, 2016

durand jones the indications

Title: Durand Jones & The Indications

Artist: Durand Jones & The Indications

Label: Colemine / dist. Fat Beats

Formats: CD, Cassette, LP*, Digital

Release date: July 1, 2016

 

 

Nothing gives us greater pleasure than to plug the debut album of a hometown group. Durand Jones & The Indications coalesced around a common love of gritty Southern soul and Delta blues by students at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. The four core members of the band—Aaron Frazer (drums, vocals), Blake Rhein (guitars), Kyle Houpt (bass), and Justin Hubler (organ, electric piano)—are all graduates of the JSOM Recording Arts Department and performed together in the promising blues-rock band, Charlie Patton’s War.  Durand Jones—classical saxophone player by day, soul shouter by night—earned a master’s degree in music while also playing with the award winning Kenari Quartet. The NOLA-born musician was raised in his father’s hometown of Hillaryville, LA (population 750), where he sang traditional gospel in the choir at the local Baptist church, studied classical music, and played sax in his high school jazz band, receiving the Louis Armstrong Award.

These multi-talented forces collided a couple of years ago, when Rhein and Jones both had gigs with the legendary IU Soul Revue (founded, incidentally, by Dr. Portia K. Maultsby, who later went on to found the Archives of African American Music and Culture, home of Black Grooves). Rhein approached Jones and convinced him to front Charlie Patton’s War for a basement show, and a new version of the band was born—later christened Durand Jones & The Indications—which also includes members of the Soul Revue horn section (how fantastic that college students are still taught to be soulful!).

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On their self-titled album of original songs, released on Ohio’s Colemine label, the band opens with one of their strongest tracks, “Make a Change.” This is old-school stuff in the very best sense—funky and hard driving, with organ riffs and raw vocals channeling soul singers several generations removed. Frazer lays down a steady groove on “Smile,” which gives the horn section a workout. This is followed by the slow burner “Can’t Keep My Cool,” a strong track that lets Jones stretch his vocal and emotional range. Things just keep getting better on “Groovy Babe,” a song guaranteed to shake up the dance floor, with Frazer given a chance to shine with a drum solo, while Jones shouts to the rafters. “Giving Up” is a classic break-up song with a sound straight out of the Stax studio—one can even imagine that Booker T (another IU alum) is sitting in on the B3. On “Is It Any Wonder,” Frazer takes over on vocals, injecting a softer, more tender timbre, enhanced with a bit of reverb. Jones comes back in full force on “Now I’m Gone,” a tour de force of heartache and disappointment that might unleash a few tears. The album closes with “Tuck ‘N’ Roll,” a rocking instrumental that showcases the band, in particular Justin Hubler on organ.

One can’t help but make a comparison to other soul singer fronted bands, like Charles Bradley (also reviewed in this issue). Let’s hope Durand Jones & The Indications are able to continue and achieve that level of success, now that members have graduated and scattered to different parts of the country (Frazer is now gigging in Brooklyn, and Rhein is employed by Numero Record Group in Chicago). We might be in luck, since a tour is apparently in the works, and Jones is already writing songs for a follow-up album, which might also find him “channelling his inner King Curtis” on sax. Meanwhile, locals might find Jones sitting in with his other regular groups, including the Jefferson Street Parade Band, Black Acid Orchestra, and the Liberation Music Collective.

*The limited edition blue vinyl sold out prior to the release date, but you’ll be able to cop a black vinyl edition in the near future.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2016

charles bradley changes

Title: Changes

Artist: Charles Bradley

Label: Dunham Records

Format: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: April 1, 2016

 

 

Charles Bradley’s late-in-life rise from holder of odd jobs and obscure James Brown impersonator to retro-soul music star is now complete, and his third album on Daptone’s Dunham imprint adds an exclamation point.  Like other Daptone artists, Bradley is not doing something very new and different, but he’s picking up older strains of soul and R&B music not heard out of other modern performers, and putting his own twists on them.  He’s been compared to Otis Redding, and of course to his professed idol, James Brown, but he brings enough new mannerisms and styling to the table to be a unique, compelling voice. In all of this, he’s similar to his Daptone label-mate, Sharon Jones.

 

 

On this new album, Bradley offers an array of soul stylings, from the hard-funk of “Ain’t It A Sin,” to the Stax-like vibe on “Crazy For Your Love,” to a 70’s feel on “Change For The World,” to the title track, a cover of Black Sabbath’s 1972 heavy metal ballad. Wait, what? Charles Bradley covers a tune originally sung by Ozzy Osbourne? Yes, and he pulls it off with aplomb, mainly because the song is, at its heart, a soul ballad. Bradley’s version replaces the campy Mellotron parts with horns, to great effect. And of course Bradley sings with much more soul than the Oz-man.

Net-net, this is a very satisfying if nostalgic-sounding album. The backing musicians, mainly Daptone’s Menahan Street Band, stay right with Bradley, with extra kudos for the horn playing and arranging.

Bradley is now 67-years-old. He is among the last of the working soul singers who at least saw the original titans of the genre in concert at their prime. His rise from obscurity following his discovery by Daptone head Gabe Roth is documented in the film “Soul of America.” May his hard-earned music career continue for a long time.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review July 1st, 2016

eccentric soul_sitting in the park

Title: Eccentric Soul: Sitting in the Park

Artist: Various

Label: Numero

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: June 17, 2016

 

From 2002-2014, listeners to Chicago’s WHPK could tune in once a week and hear songs from some of the most obscure and neglected corners of the region’s soul music legacy, courtesy of an eccentric and obsessed fan and record collector, Bob Abrahamian. Not only did Abrahamian spin singles from his collection of about 35,000 platters, he also regularly interviewed the artists who performed a style of vocal-harmony music known as Chicago Sweet Soul.  Unfortunately, Abrahamian’s obsessive personality and declining mental health got the best of him, and he committed suicide in 2014.

In this anthology, Numero Records drew on Abrahamian’s record collection to produce a tribute both to the man and the music he so passionately championed.  The physical media (LP and CD) releases contain an outstanding booklet, with a detailed biographical essay by Numero’s Rob Sevier and brief biographies of the performers, along with transcript excerpts from Abrahamian’s interviews.  Sevier and Abrahamian’s sister, Jenny, picked the 16 tunes in this collection (12 selections on the LP version).

The music and audio quality vary, but overall the playing and singing range from competent to excellent.  On one hand, it’s clear why some of these artists ended up confined to minor radio play and short turns in Chicago area jukeboxes, but then again, it’s surprising how many competent to excellent soul singers and musicians were working in a single geographic area in the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. The disc-to-digital transfers, by Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering, are generally quite good, and the mastering engineers did not overuse digital restoration tools.

Abrahamian concentrated his collecting on something specific yet large-scale—acquiring all recordings by what he described as Chicagoland vocal-harmony soul groups. Judging by the size of his collection at the time of his death, it turned out to be a larger task than one would expect, or that he likely anticipated.

Stylistically, this music would be in line with 1970s mellow soul, not particularly funky and also not on the fringes of disco. It’s similar to the vocal-group output by more-mainstream artists of the time recording for Motown, Philadelphia International and Atlantic. There is an emphasis on the bass line, and strings are often used to augment the vocal harmonies.

Interestingly, Abrahamian’s radio show and interviews survive online, easily heard by any fan of Chicago Sweet Soul music (sittinginthepark.com). His legacy of loving, respecting and publicizing long-ago songs by obscure Chicagoland artists outlives him.

As is the case with most Numero anthologies, if you’re willing to tolerate a range of musical talent and performing competence, you will likely find some new favorites, and the informative booklet will teach you about the music of a place and time, and in this case the personal musical quest of an obsessive collector.

 

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

 

 

 

View review July 1st, 2016

rich medina jump funk

Title: Rich Medina Presents Jump “N” Funk

Artist : Various Artists

Label: BBE

Format: CD, LP

Release Date: May 27, 2016

 

 

It would be unfair to fault readers who are unfamiliar with Afrobeat. It’s not commercial music and unless you’re a regular NPR listener, the genre might have escaped your notice. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who saw the musical Fela! –if you were, then you know this music is heavy on horns and bass. If you weren’t, then this CD provides a condensed Afrobeat education. It’s a genre pioneered in the late ’60s by Fela Kuti. Nicknamed “The Black President,” Kuti was to Nigeria what Bob Marley was to Jamaica. Kuti was not afraid to take the Nigerian government to task for corruption and lying to the people, using his music to get social and political messages across. On this two disc set, DJ Rich Medina presents Jump N Funk, a collage of Afrobeat music, titled after the parties Rich Medina helped create and where he still regularly spins Afrobeat classics. These parties never really took off in Medina’s hometown of Philadelphia, but in New York, London, and Miami there is no parking on the dancefloor.

I found it odd that Fela’s son Femi is nowhere to be found on this CD, but Fela’s youngest son, Seun, was featured on two tracks. Disc two opens with the Antibalas, who are one of the biggest Afrobeat acts going today, not counting members of the Kuti family. They open disc two with a live version of “World War IV” at Jazz Café in London, with the lead singer taking the Clinton administration and other world leaders to task. This disc also includes a remake of 1972’s “Soul Moukusa,” a track that early B-boys would use as the soundtrack for popping and locking, while hip hop DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa would cut it up in New York City parks. This remake stays true to the original. Disc one has another remake, Timmy Thomas’s 1973 cut, “Everbody Wants to Live Together,” covered by River Ocean on this set. This sentiment clearly maintains its value in the turbulent times that 2016 has brought.

Back to Seun Kuti. On “Don’t Give That Shit To Me” he says, “Don’t bullshit Africa”—a confrontational stance that shouldn’t put newbies off too much. Even though it is immanently danceable, this is angry political music at heart. Rich Medina appears on two tracks: on disc one’s “Too Much” with Martin Luther & Madlouna, and with Antibalas on “Ja Joosh.”  If ever commercial radio programmers wanted to expose this music to a wider fan base in the US, this radio-friendly cut would be the track to get behind.

Afrobeat isn’t for everyone, but if you like a message in your music, I highly urge you to give Rich Medina Presents Jump ‘N’ Funk a try.

Reviewed By Eddie Bowman

 

View review July 1st, 2016

sissoko and segal_musique de nuit

Title: Musique De Nuit

Artist: Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal

Label: Six Degrees

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 11, 2015

 

 

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal’s brilliant Musique De Nuit is the meeting and melding of two minds and musical instruments into singular musical beauty.

The title Musique De Nuit translates to either “Music For Night” or “Music Of Night.” Since the advent of 20th century pop culture, night is no longer understood by most in the US as the stuff of poetry or time for quiet contemplation. Very few Americans still “howl at the moon,” much less contemplate its magnificence. Night is now the time for Dionysian living or for staying home to rest, perhaps watching television. Maybe night is thought of differently in France and Mali, or perhaps these two musicians both believe that night should be lived differently—this album is much less about lavish living than it is about restraint and contemplation. This is music for an Apollonian night, full of work and ardor a listener would imagine working towards a grand goal. Overall, the tempos of these songs are very slow, especially “Musique de Nuit,” recalling the kind of cello playing that listeners may associate with symphonic music. We also hear the kora in all of its splendor; Sissoko’s masterful Kora playing will certainly remind listeners of the beauty to be found in acoustic music.

This is the duo’s second release, following their first entitled Chamber Music (2011). As was the case on the duo’s debut, Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal are musicians of two different races and cultures: Sissoko is a black Malian man and Segal is a white French man. Segal is a conservatory bassist and cellist and Sissoko came to playing the kora as most young griot musicians do, through his well-known griot father Djelimady Sissoko, beginning his profession at a very young age.  As a griot, Ballaké Sissoko plays music that is much closer to European troubadour music than it is to classical, baroque, or any music that one imagines that a conservatory-trained cellist would be most accustomed to. Though Segal might be familiar with troubadour music, he is certainly not a troubadour.

Musique De Nuit’s most impressive track is the awesome composition “Super Etoile,” which is highly rhythmic and features amazing cello lines. “Balazando” has a phenomenal beginning and, like “Super Etoile,” its strength lies in the beauty of the composition, even though the playing of both musicians is also superb. It sometimes sounds like one is listening to more than two musicians, in part because of Sissoko’s Kora playing. How can one man playing one stringed instrument make so many sounds? The album’s opening track “Niandou” will feel the most familiar to fans of traditional Malian music, building from a quiet introduction into intricate polyrhythm. “Prelude”also amazes.

It might be useful to think of this album as representing the founding of a new musical genre, or perhaps as an etude into new music. The first jazz musicians, for example, did the same: creoles and Blacks picked up instruments and played what eventually became categorized as a new genre. There is a wideness and heaviness to the cello’s sound that is so unlike the svelte tones of the Kora; how it is that these two musicians melded the two instruments without something else—for example, a drum—is the real question. What’s worse is that one could easily imagine that these two musicians could have continued their careers without one even having met the other. That they pulled this off is the stuff of musical history: the troubadour music of traditional Malian civic life meets the cello of European art music and produces pure musical beauty. Thus, these are sounds to feel and to object to, reject, or plunge one’s self into. The final option is the best choice, and one can only hope that this duo inspires other cello and Kora players do the same.

 

Reviewed by Adolf Alzuphar

View review July 1st, 2016

the emotions_blessed_the emotions anthology

Title: Blessed: The Emotions Anthology 1969-1985

Artist: The Emotions

Label: BBR/dist. Cherry Red

Format: 2-CD set

Release date: May 6, 2016

 

One of the most successful sister groups of the era, the Emotions parlayed the talents of Sheila, Wanda, and Jeanette Hutchinson with top producers and songwriters to create many indelible hits throughout the ‘70s.  For this two-disc compilation, forty classic tracks were selected from the group’s Stax/Volt, Columbia, Motown and Red Label catalog by producer Wayne A. Dickson. The set is packaged with a 24-page booklet featuring the essay “In a Beautiful Way: The Blessed Journey of the Emotions” by Christian John Wikane, which draws from recent interviews with Wanda Hutchinson Vaughn and the late Maurice White.

The Emotions’ story begins in Chicago, with an upbringing firmly rooted in the church where they joined their father Joe in the gospel group known as the Hutchinson Sunbeams. The sisters would cut their first single in 1964 for the Vee Jay-distributed Tollie label, followed by several more efforts, before Pervis Staples encouraged them to focus on the soulful side of R&B and move to Stax Records. There they were paired with Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and the rest, as they say, is history. This anthology begins with the Emotions’ first Volt single, “So I Can Love You,” which propelled them onto the charts in 1969 and became the title of their first album.

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The majority of the material on Blessed: The Emotions Anthology was drawn from studio albums issued by the Emotions between 1976 and 1985, including the Charles Stepney produced Flowers (1976), and four albums produced by Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White: Rejoice (1977), which topped the R&B charts and included the hit single “Best of My Love” and “Blessed;” Sunbeam (1978), which features an all-star backing band; Come Into Our World (1979), and New Affair (1981). Several tracks are also included from Sincerely (1984), released on Chicago’s independent Red Label Records, and the set concludes with a single track from the Emotions’ final studio album for Motown, If Only I Knew (1985). Along the way there are a few B-sides and single versions of songs from these albums, including the disco classic “Boogie Wonderland” they performed with Earth, Wind & Fire.

This is a fine compilation, drawing attention not only to the soulful sisters from Chi-Town, but also to many great producers, especially Maurice White.  Though it would be nice if some of the Emotions’ early singles had been included, this two-disc set appears to be the best compilation released thus far, especially due to the exemplary liner notes and complete discographical details.  Highly Recommended.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

View review July 1st, 2016

4th coming_strange things

 

Title: Strange Things, 1970-1974

Artist: 4th Coming

Label: Now-Again

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 23, 2015

 

Billed as the “long lost 4th Coming album,” the tracks on Strange Things were compiled from eight obscure (and some extremely rare) 7” singles the group cut between 1970-1974. Led by two progressive Black musicians from Los Angeles—Henry “Hank” Porter and Jechonias “Jack” Williams—the 4th Coming recorded at Al Firth’s Artist Recording Studio in Hollywood, picking up studio musicians (including members of the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band) as necessary to realize their arrangements. Production assistance was provided by Yusuf Rahman, who played with both Horace Silver and Charles Wright. Rahman basically took the song ideas generated by Williams, then wrote proper arrangements and assisted with overdubs.

The varied and highly creative songs produced through these efforts offer a cornucopia of Sly Stone era funk, fuzz guitars, synths, and gritty soul. Highlights include “Don’t Let Him Take Away Your Man,” the shape-shifting, cowbell heavy (and still relevant) “Waterloo at Watergate,” the funk heavy title track “Strange Things,” and the jazzy but detour filled “Cruising Central Ave.” There are other surprises along the way, such as the countrified “Oh Love” and “Take Time,” the former a bit folksy and the latter plenty gritty.

In the extensive liner notes, producer Eothen Alapatt chronicles the saga of 4th Coming, along with a detailed history of the Artist Record Studio and Firth’s Alpha label. Regrettably, all of the group’s master tapes were lost, along with all personal photos and mementos, so the booklet is only illustrated with images of the 45s.

The 4th Coming may have been a group on the fringes, and one that never quite gelled—but listening to their music nearly fifty years later, I think that’s to our benefit. Indeed, Strange Things offers the kind of strange trip that can only be found in La La Land.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

View review July 1st, 2016

Following are additional albums released during June 2016—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Buddy Guy: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge 1979 (Rockbeat)
James Blood Ulmer: Free Lancing (reissue) (Wounded Bird)
Nappy Brown: Down In The Alley – The Complete Singles As & Bs 1954-1962  (Jasmine)
Omar Coleman: Live (Delmark)
Various: Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection (Alligator)
Various: Mississippi Juke Joint Blues – 9th September, 1941 (RHYTHM & BLUES)

Classical
André Watts: The Complete Columbia Album Collection (Box set) (Sony Classical)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Corey Henry: Lapeitah  (Louisiana Red Hot)
Fantastic Negrito: Last Days of Oakland  (Blackball Universe)
Fitz and The Tantrums: S/T (Elektra/WEA)
Funky Knuckles: New Birth (GroundUp)
Grace Jones: Warm Leatherette: Deluxe Edition (Island)
Laura Mvula: The Dreaming Room (RCA)
Leapling: Suspended Animation (Exploding in Sound)
Melody Angel: In This America (digital) (One Melody)
Michael Franti & Spearhead: SoulRocker (Concord)
Seven Davis, Jr.: Future Society (R2)
Unlocking the Truth: Chaos

Gospel, Gospel Rap
Charles Butler & Trinity:  Make It (eOne)
Denise Josiah: Songs for the Heart (digital) (joDah, LLC)
Deon Kipping: Something To Talk About (RCA Inspiration)
Half Mile Home: Don’t Judge Me
Shirley Caesar: Fill This House (eOne)
Various: Motown Gospel Presents 1 Mic 1 Take (Motown Gospel)
Various: Motown Gospel Presents 1 Mic 1 Take (Motown Gospel)
William Murphy: Demonstrate (CD + DVD) (RCA Inspiration)

Jazz
Allen Toussaint: American Tunes (Nonesuch)
Bennie Moten: The Bennie Moten Collection, 1923-32 (Fabulous)
Branford Marsalis Quartet: Upward Spiral (Marsalis Music/Okeh)
Crusaders: Live – New Orleans 1977 (Hi Hat)
Etienne Charles: San Jose Suite (Culture Shock Music)
Houston Person & Ron Carter: Chemistry (High Note)
Incognito: In Search of Better Days (Shanachie)
Ivo Perelman – Matthew Shipp:  Soul
Jeff Parker: Breed (International Anthem)
Kandace Springs: Soul Eyes (Blue Note)
Kenny Garrett: Do Your Dance! (Mack Ave.)
Kim Waters: Rhythm and Romance (Shanchie)
Marquis Hill: The Way We Play (Concord)
Michael Blum Quartet: Chasin’ Oscar: A Tribute to Oscar Peterson
Pedrito Martinez Group: Habana Dreams (Motema Music)
Tyshawn Sorey: The Inner Spectrum of Variables  (PI Recordings)
Warren Wolf: Convergence (Mack Ave.)

R&B, Soul
Andre Williams: I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City. (Bloodshot)
Chrisette Michele: Milestone (Rich Hipster)
Electric Flag: Live 1968 at the Carousel Ballroom (Rockbeat)
Fantasia: The Definition of… (RCA)
Harleighblu: Futurespective EP (Tru Thoughts)
Johnny Otis Show: Cuttin’ Up (Wounded Bird)
Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne: Jumpin’ & Boppin’ (Stony Plain)
Marvin Gaye:  Volume Three: 1971-1981 (Box set) (Motown)
Pheeyownah: zero9zero9 EP (Labrador)
Rebbie Jackson: Centipede (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Sabrina Starke: Sabrina Starke (Zip)
The Pheels: likeWise EP (digital) (Above All Else)
Various: Eccentric Soul: Sitting in the Park (Numero)
William Bell: This Is Where I Live (Stax)
Xenia Rubinos: Black Terry Cat (Anti)

Rap, Hip Hop
Apathy: Handshakes With Snakes (Dirty Version)
Birdman: Ms. Gladys
Chazmere: Chazmere
Chinx: Legends Never Die (eOne)
Craig G: I Rap and I Go Home (digital) (Soulspazm)
D.O.C.: Nobody Can Do It Better (expanded ed.) (Real Gone)
Demrick: Collect Call (digital) (10 Strip Inc.)
DJ Shadow: The Mountain Will Fall (Mass Appeal)
Flowdan: Horror Show Style (Tru Thoughts)
Key Nyata: Dad of the Year (digital) (Goodrich & Gold)
Larry June: Larry EP (Warner Bros.)
Lessondary: Ahead of Schedule (HiPNOTT)
Mekanix: Under the Hood (Zoo Ent)
Mezonic: Inspire 2 – Redemption of The Ghettos Worldwide (Mezonic)
Mindless Behavior: #OfficialMBmusic  (Conjunction)
Oddisee: Alwasta EP (Mello Music)
Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Got a Mind to Give Up Living, Live 1966 (Real Gone)
Pawz One: F.U.C.K. (Below System)
Quelle Chris: Lullabies For The Broken Brain (LP) (Mello Music)
Rapper Shane: Too Busy To Be This Broke EP
Rome Fortune: Jerome Raheem Fortune (Fool’s Gold)
Soulja Boy: Better Late Than Never (SODMG)
Tha Don: Arrival of Tha Don (Music Access Inc.)
The Game: Streets of Compton (eOne)
Ugly Heroes: Everything In between (Mello Music)
Various: Trill Family Compilation (Trill Ent)
Vic Mensa: There’s Alot Going On (digital) (Roc Nation/Def Jam)
Wiz Khalifa & Juicy J: T.G.O.D Mafia: Rude Awakening (digital)
YG: Still Brazy (Def Jam)
Young Chop: King Chop (digital) (ChopSquad.inc)

 Reggae, Dancehall
Horace Andy / Winston Jarrett / The Wailers: The Kingston Rock (reissue) (Dubstore)
Alborosie: Freedom & Fyah (VP)
Bunny Lee & Friends: Tape Rolling (Pressure Sounds)
Flowering Inferno: 1000 Watts (Tru Thoughts)
Sly & Robbie: Dub Sessions 1978-1985 (Jamaican Recordings)
The Aggrovators: Dubbing At King Tubby’s (VP)

World
Hailu Mergia and Dahlak Band: Wede Harer Guzo (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno: 1000 Watts (Tru Thoughts)
Siama Matuzungidi: Rivers: From The Congo To The Mississippi
Sunburst: Ave Africa, The Complete Recordings 1973-1976  (Strut)
Various: Tanbou Toujou Lou (Ostinato)

View review July 1st, 2016

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