In keeping with the season, we’re starting off with our list of the Best New Holiday Albums, featuring releases from Keb’ Mo’, Ne-Yo, Wynton Marsalis & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, The McCrary Sisters, Elijah Blake, Jonathan Butler, and Mariah Carey.
That special time of year has come around again, filling everyone with holiday cheer. But nothing has the ability to spread Christmas spirit quite like music does. Following are brief reviews of what we believe to be the best holiday albums so far this year, featuring releases from Keb’ Mo’, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, The McCrary Sisters, Elijah Blake, Jonathan Butler, and Mariah Carey. We hope these selections provide the perfect soundtrack for everyone’s holiday season.Continue reading →
From the first glance at the photograph on the 2020 calendar and booklet of the accompanying CD, our staff at the AAAMC was taken in by Blues Images’ 17th volume of classic blues songs and art. In the photograph, a youthful B.B. King stands at a WDIA station microphone in front of a wall advertisement for 51 Beer. With extensive black radio materials in the AAAMC’s special collections, we couldn’t help but get excited about this connection to our collections and our online exhibit about the Golden Age of Black Radio (including some great content focusing on WDIA).Continue reading →
In the summer of 1969, Jimi Hendrix broke away from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and formed a new trio with bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. The album that was spawned from this black power trio was Band of Gypsys, which featured six songs from the concerts at the Fillmore East on January 1, 1970. As an album much revered by Hendrix fans, as well as one of the best live albums in rock and roll history, Band of Gypsys has certainly received its share of accolades. Songs for Groovy Children supplements this classic live album by including over two dozen previously unreleased tracks and all four of the Band of Gypsys’ performances from the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969 and New Year’s Day 1970.Continue reading →
I could open this review with a clinical statement: This set presents virtually all of Nat Cole’s earliest recordings prior to his long association with Capitol Records, a relationship that provided the foundation to establish his wide recognition as one of the most important vocalists in the tradition of the Great American Songbook. Yet, I prefer a more emotionally connected view: Hittin’ the Ramp presents Nat King Cole’s earliest recordings, showing how he discovered, step by step, a pathway that permitted his remarkable talents to be heard and loved by a worldwide audience. Both views are correct, but only the second reflects the challenges a talented African American artist faced in building a reputation and, with it, the economic base necessary to support a sustainable full time career during the WWII era.Continue reading →
Produced by Earwig Music Company’s Michael Robert Frank, Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection is hands down one of the best box sets of the year. The beautifully produced hard cover book includes four CDs inserted into the front and back covers, while the lavishly illustrated inner pages tell the story of the Chicago based independent record company owned by Narvel Eatmon, a colorful character better known on the South Side as “Cadillac Baby.” Frank began this labor of love in 2006 when he purchased the entire catalog and archive of the Bea & Baby label, with the goal of sharing Cadillac Baby’s musical legacy with the rest of the world. The result is this comprehensive anthology which includes all released and unreleased tracks (with a couple of exceptions), ranging from urban and country blues, gospel, doo-wop, soul, and comedy, to rap. Along the way, Cadillac narrates his own story through six spoken word tracks interspersed throughout the collection. Other “expert witnesses” from Chicago include Jim O’Neal (Living Blues magazine), Bill Dahl, and Robert M. Marovich (Journal of Gospel Music), who all contributed to the informative liner notes.Continue reading →
For those of you who aren’t from the Midwest, “Naptown” is a nickname created by local jazz musicians back in the day to describe the sometimes sleepy city of Indianapolis. Bringing some old Naptown soul and funk to light, the new anthology LAMP Records: It Glowed Like the Sun: The Story of Naptown’s Motown offers an overview of the city’s fabled record label, little known outside of hardcore soul collectors. Now, current and former Indianapolis natives can reminisce while the rest of the world can finally hear the soulful sounds that sprung from Naptown during the years 1969-1972. The liner notes for this release, researched and written over a twenty year span by Eothen Alapatt, Jeff Kollath, Jason Yoder and Kyle Long, read like a book as these four experts uncover the history of the LAMP label and Naptown’s music scene.Continue reading →
Title: 10 Years / 6 Discs
Artist: The Fred Hersch Trio
Label: Palmetto Records
Formats: 6-CD Box Set, Digital
Release date: October 18, 2019
Palmetto’s new box set celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the acclaimed Fred Hersch Trio, featuring renowned jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch with bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson. Though Hersch’s originals are prominent throughout this set, tracks also feature a deep exploration of compositions by jazz luminaries such as Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, and Jaki Byard. The set includes all five albums released by the label: Whirl (2010), the two-disc Alive at the Vanguard (2012), Floating (2014), Sunday Night at the Vanguard (2016), and Live in Europe (2018). Additionally, an accompanying booklet features liner notes written by Hersch and a forward by award-winning author and jazz historian Ted Gioia. On the whole, 10 Years / 6 Discs is an enjoyable set for jazz lovers, and a great introduction to listeners unfamiliar with Hersch’s artistry.Continue reading →
Reggae fans will appreciate the new limited edition box set, Down in Jamaica: 40 Years of VP Records, which “tells the story of a continually owned and operated family business at the heart of the global growth of reggae, dancehall, and Caribbean music.” Founded by Vincent and Patricia Chin, VP Records was started as Randy’s Record Mart, a record store in Kingston, Jamaica, and over the years grew into the world’s largest reggae music company. This 94-track anthology focuses on singles released by the esteemed label and its more obscure sublabels, offering many rare gems that have long been out of print. In addition to well-known musicians on the VP roster who are still active such as Barrington Levy, Yellowman, Shaggy, and Beenie Man, there are many tracks from earlier artists such as “Gi Mi Di Weed” by Jigsy King, “Lots of Signs” by Tenor Saw, and “Roots Natty Congo” by Johnny Clarke. This bountiful package includes a 24-page booklet that tells the history of the label, as well as four 7-inch singles, four 12-inch singles, and four CDs. If you want an overview of reggae and dancehall music from the 1980s to present, this is an excellent place to begin, but act fast because only 2000 copies have been published.Continue reading →
Title: 1999 Super Deluxe Edition
Label: Warner Bros.
Formats: 5CD or 10LP + DVD box set
Release date: November 29, 2019
This new box set is the latest release from the Prince Estate and Warner Brothers. On the plus side, there’s the first remastered edition of Prince’s 1982 breakthrough album, 1999, in addition to a CD of remastered promo mixes and B-sides, plus a CD/DVD of a previously unreleased live concert performance in Detroit on November 30, 1982 (which allegedly will not be released separately). Somewhat more controversial are the two additional CDs of tracks culled from the vast vault at Paisley Park. While some hardcore fans will welcome this glimpse into the inner workings of Prince’s compositional process, others may consider it a travesty that the estate is releasing material that the artist would have keep private.
Mary J. Blige has gathered 16 hits and rare remixes from the ’90s in HERstory Vol. 1. Highlights include two tracks with Notorious B.I.G – “Real Love” (Hip Hop Mix) and “What’s the 411” (also ft. K-Ci) – and remixes of “Real Love,” “Reminisce” and “Love No Limit” from her 1992 debut album, What’s the 411?. A relatively short but sweet holiday offering that “tells the story of Blige as she first established herself as a tour de force of ‘90s R&B.”
Yet another repacking of Jackson’s This Is It, the movie that captured MJ’s final concert rehearsals before his death, this limited edition box is for serious fans who don’t mind spending nearly $500. Only 1000 numbered copies will be pressed, adding to the collectible market of the product. The box includes a 60-page hardcover coffee table book, 4-LP translucent blue vinyl of the soundtrack, 3D enhanced Blu-ray disc of the film never released as a standalone version, and one of the actual lenticular concert tickets for the July 24, 2009.
In celebration of the 70th anniversary of Prestige Records, Craft has released a new 6 LP box geared towards jazz fans and vinyl collectors. The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions includes, in chronological order, the quintet’s 1955-56 sessions with Rudy Van Gelder that resulted in five classic albums: The New Miles Davis Quintet (their 1956 debut), Cookin’ (1957), Relaxin’ (1958),Workin’ (1959), and Steamin’ (1961). Though the six disc vinyl set was originally released in 2006, this new box ups the ante with a bonus disc featuring with audio from radio and TV appearances by the group, including a 1955 guest spot on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, plus a 20-page hardcover book with new liner notes by jazz historian Bob Blumenthal.
Anyone familiar with the history of Memphis music and Stax Records will be interested in this new memoir from keyboard wizard Booker T. Jones, who led the Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In Time is Tight, Jones riffs on his six decades in the music business, taking us from his formative years in Memphis through his matriculation at Indiana University in the spring of 1962. Any IU alum will especially enjoy his memories of trombone studies under Buddy Baker, playing David Baker’s charts in the jazz band alongside Randy Brecker and Jamey Aebersold, performing with the Marching Hundred, meeting his first wife at Teter Quad cafeteria, living on his advance royalty payment from “Green Onions,” and his appreciation for the music of Bloomington’s most famous native son, Hoagy Carmichael.Continue reading →
It’s been nearly thirty years since Robert Pruter released his ground breaking book, Chicago Soul, which examined the emergence of soul music in the Windy City and its key players. Now another Chicago author, Aaron Cohen, takes the story one step further with Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power. Based on interviews with more than 100 people and a multitude of books and articles, Cohen strikes the perfect balance between a well-researched, scholarly perspective and an extremely engaging journalistic history. His primary goal is to weave the story of Chicago’s diverse music scene with the social and political changes happening in the city from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. In the words of Jerry “Iceman” Butler, former lead singer of the Impressions and Cook County Commissioner, “music and politics kind of walk hand in hand down Michigan Avenue.” Other key musicians in this story include Curtis Mayfield, Baby Huey, Minnie Ripperton and Rotary Connection, Maurice White, the Chi-Lites, and Syl Johnson, among many others, who often eschewed commercial concerns in favor of socially conscious lyrics, liberation, and solidarity.Continue reading →
Title: The Beautiful Ones
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook
Release date: October 29, 2019
While not the complete autobiography we hoped for, or that Prince intended to release (“it has to be the biggest music book of all time”), The Beautiful Ones is still a significant first person account of the artist’s life. Who, but Prince, might ponder a few days before his death, “We need to find a word for what funk is.” As editor and collaborator Dan Peipenbring states in the introduction, “Unpacking these ideas is part of what made [Prince] want to write a book in the first place.” At a time when he had turned more introspective and was processing his past, Prince sought an “improvisational partner” who understood that “music holds things together.” Dan became the keeper of the Prince “handbook” and worked diligently with the artist to create a memoir that defied conventions in the same manner as his music. But just as their ideas were starting to gel in the spring of 2016, the fateful news came from Paisley Park: Prince was dead.Continue reading →
From musician Billy Vera comes Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story, an account of the years and the music of independent music label Specialty Records under the ownership of Art Rupe. Founded in the mid-1940s, Specialty Records produced music – some hits, some not – by Sam Cooke, Percy Mayfield, Lloyd Price, Little Richard, and many, many others. From gospel and R&B to doo wop and rock and roll, Specialty rolled out albums for over forty years until its sale to Fantasy Records in 1990.Continue reading →
The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs, featuring music of composer Margaret Bonds, is a much needed album that will play an important role in bringing Bonds the wider recognition she deserves. A number of renowned artists, stretching from the present day back to Bonds’ lifetime, have recorded Bonds’ shorter compositions including her art songs and spiritual settings, as well as her sole published piece for solo piano, “Troubled Water.” But this performance by The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra—with soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford, tenor Noah Stewart, and conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather—iis the world-premiere recording of not only The Ballad of the Brown King, but of any large-scale composition by Bonds, as most remain unpublished, much less professionally recorded.
Coinciding with the 2019-20 season’s acclaimed opening production of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and the exhibition Black Voices at the Met, the Metropolitan Opera offers a third blockbuster with Black Voices Rise: African American Artists at the Met. This compilation of performances by Black artists from 1955 to 1985 celebrates the talent and “overdue arrival” of these history-making singers. The album opens with a performance by Marian Anderson, who broke the Met’s color barrier with her debut in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera in 1955. Other featured performers include celebrated stars Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Kathleen Battle, George Shirley, and Jessye Norman, among others. Black Voices Rise also includes rare excerpts from the Met’s 1985 company-premiere of Porgy and Bess starring Simon Estes and Roberta Alexander. The extensive liner notes by Dr. Maurice Wheeler include a brief history of African American performers at the Metropolitan Opera and the struggle for racial equality, as well as biographies of the singers included in the compilation. All recordings were restored and remastered from the original analog tapes, allowing these voices to triumph yet again.Continue reading →
This year celebrates the 50th anniversary of James Brown’s homecoming concert in Augusta, Georgia’s Bell Auditorium on October 1, 1969. Live at Home with His Bad Self captures this historic performance by the legendary Soul Brother No. 1 and the James Brown Orchestra with occasional dialogue by Brown and emcee Maceo Parker. Intended to “attract notoriety” to his hometown, Brown “decided to record this local concert and commemorate it with a live album” for release during the Christmas season of 1969. Unfortunately, the two-disc album was shelved for various reasons. While some selections were issued on previous compilations, Live at Home with His Bad Self finally includes the concert in its entirety from start to finish, just in time for the 2019 holiday season.Continue reading →
Jazz drummer Jerome Jennings highlights his compositional skills on his latest release, Solidarity, marking his second album as a leader. This groundbreaking project focuses on the experiences of African American women, who he explains have “traditionally been the conscience of the country.” In his view, “solidarity means…being present, not walking away. Being an ally, in a very overt way. ‘I got you. I hear you. I’m with you.’” Jennings turns this laser sharp focus on injustices faced by women from all walks of life, as well as those who have made a significant difference through various movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Civil Rights, and more. Joining him on this quest is his core unit—Josh Evens (trumpet), Stacy Dillard (tenor and soprano sax), Andrae Murchinson (trombone), Zaccai Curtis (piano), and Christian McBride (bass) —along with a number of special guests.Continue reading →
Artist: London Afrobeat Collective
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Label: London Afrobeat Productions
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Following their popular 2015 release Food Chain that earned them glowing reviews and widespread radio support, London Afrobeat Collective has released their newest album, Humans. The collective is formed of nine members who hail from England, Congo, Italy, France, Argentina, and New Zealand, and their music reflects the varied cultural backgrounds of their members. LAC is known for their eclectic sound that draws on funk, jazz, rock, and dub paired with socially conscious lyricism and their latest project is no departure from this.Continue reading →
Need a gift for new parents? Do you know what new parents really need? If your answer is more sleep, we’ve got you covered. What could be more slumber inducing than Lullaby Renditions of Snoop Dogg, which trades beats and rhymes for the soothing sounds of glockenspiel. This is rap music made baby-friendly and kids music that’s adult-friendly. While parents groove to “Sensual Seduction” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” they can hope junior will be blissfully sleeping in the crib. And yes, “Gin and Juice” is also included as a nightcap. From the company that previously released lullaby renditions of Prince, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Bob Marley, this latest addition to the catalog is sure to please.Continue reading →