Welcome to the April 2014 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.  We’re celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month with reviews of What It Is! by Chicago’s Kahil El’Zabar Quartet and Akuma by the New York based artist known as Sly5thAve. We’re also reviving our Women of the World series, this time featuring albums by international artists who also draw from jazz including: If You Knew Her by British singer Zara McFarlane, Nigerian-American singer-songwriter Offiong Bassey’s self-titled debut, Eve from Benin-born Angelique Kidjo, So Much Love by British soul-jazz singer Douyé, Meet Me from Guadeloupe’s Tricia Evy, and This Is Neo-Ragtime from Canadian artist Dessy Di Lauro.

Blues releases include John the Conqueror’s The Good Life and Muddy Waters’ Complete Aristocrat & Chess Singles, 1947-1962. Under contemporary R&B, there’s Noel Gourdin’s City Heart, Southern Soul, while fans of ‘70s soul will enjoy Bettye Swann’s The Complete Atlantic Recordings. Our gospel feature this month is the new Bobby Jones project Rejoice With Me!

Hip hop is represented by Houston’s legendary Screwed Up Click’s long overdue album The Takeover, Detroit’s Clear Soul Forces Gold PP7’s, and This Is Part Time from South Carolina producer/emcee Amiri.

Caribbean releases include Concrete World by reggae artist Mighty Mystic, the first CD reissue of Good Life by Jamaican vocal group the Heptones, the Errol Bellot compilation Youthman: The Lost Album, and the compilation Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini-Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978. Also featured are two compilations of African music: Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight to Ghana and The Rough Guide to The Best African Music You’ve Never Heard.

Wrapping up this issue is our compilation of March Releases of Note.

View review April 2nd, 2014

akuma_440x440

Title: Akuma

Artist: Sly5thAve

Label: Truth Revolution Records

Formats: CD, digital album (with options for mp3, FLAC, and more)

Release date: February 11, 2014

 

 

Akuma, the new release from saxophonist Sly5thAve (also known as Sylvester Onyejiaka), is a fascinating debut by a challenging contemporary jazz artist.  Accompanied by a documentary film chronicling Sly5thAve’s journey from New York to Nigeria in order to explore familial tradition, this record incorporates sounds of the African diaspora while remaining firmly rooted in the contemporary New York jazz scene.  While many of the tune titles suggest strong African musical influences, Sly5thAve and company tend to play firmly in the post-bop idiom, incorporating West African instruments, but not placing them in the sonic foreground.

This is not a criticism in itself, however.  The musicians featured on this album are excellent soloists and Sly5thAve’s compositions serve as effective vehicles for their improvisations.  In fact, for a group led by a Prince sideman, this album is surprisingly heady:  there is little funk influence to be found on Akuma, and the album’s compositions are remarkably reserved for a musician with a resume like Sly5thAve’s.  Much of the album feels like an exercise in intellectual post-bop composition—there is a 3 movement “Suite for Ogbuefi” (perhaps a reference to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, although it is difficult to say for sure) and tracks entitled “Basslude,” “Prelude”, and “Bach” that are characterized by their almost classical sensibilities.  Sly5thAve is a consummate composer and arranger, and these tracks tend to live up to the high art aspirations of their titles. What the album gains in coherence through these carefully crafted numbers, it tends to lack in spontaneity; the overall reserved solos played by the band further lends to this album’s feeling like a well-rehearsed multi-movement composition, rather than one dependent upon adventurous jazz improvisation or a West African sensibility.

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For an album with song titles and liner notes that seem to place as much emphasis upon African imagery as Akuma, the West African musical elements included on this record feel a bit like an afterthought—a talking drum here and a djembe there—rather than serving as a pervasive unifying thematic thread.  The African influence is most pervasive in the two movement “Abuja” suite—arguably the album’s strong point—which begins with a percussion/drum duet and moves into the song’s main groove that consists of a relaxed rhythmic flow, with horns and guitars playing in intricate counterpoint.  The contrasting sections of “Abuja” present a glimpse of the band’s versatility that seems to be largely missing from other portions of this album, with a neatly composed melody contrasting a melodic figure that feels as though it would fall apart if the band didn’t save it in the nick-of-time.  The “Abuja” suite also provides the musicians their best opportunity to solo, with guitarist Hajime Yoshida building from a minimal few note texture into an articulate improvisational flurry over interlocking polyrhythmic grooves played by drummer Ross Pederson and percussionist Keita Ogawa.  This is followed by a funky, expressive, and discordant trading session between Sly5thAve and trumpet player Jay Jennings, allowing the tune (and album) to build to a belated but satisfying climax.

While its sound is perhaps not as African-influenced as the record’s album jacket promotional materials suggest, Akuma is an outstanding debut release and is evidence of Sly5thAve’s prodigious skill as a composer and arranger.  His compositions are interesting, even if this contemporary jazz medium could allow his crack band, which includes many outstanding New York session players, to open up more than they do.  While it may be useful to read this album’s characteristic control and deliberation as an attempt to avoid being typecast as a “Prince sideman solo album,” it is intriguing to consider what may happen if Sly5thAve decides to cut a little bit looser on future records, as the final movement of Akuma suggests that he may.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review April 2nd, 2014

The Kahil El’Zabar Quartet - What It Is!

Title: What It Is!

Artist: The Kahil El’Zabar Quartet

Label: Delmark Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 26, 2013

 

 

Gloriously profound interdisciplinary artist Kahil El’Zabar combines his gifts as a percussionist, bandleader, arranger and composer with mature musical mentorship to three Generation Next players delivered from Chicago’s renowned Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM ) on the Delmark release, What It Is!  Recorded during the last weekend of September in 2012, this hour long album presents listeners with a playful energy and steady musical awareness that embodies the AACM’s credo of “Great Black Music, Ancient to Future.”

Pushing the boundaries the of the progressive soul jazz envelope, What It Is! sounds as contemporary as it does historic, synthesizing sonic elements from E-Funk to Avant Garde Jazz.

Each of the seven songs on this album debut of the six-year old band exemplifies El’Zabar’s ability to support and direct his three protégés.  Featuring his individual voice on the album’s title track, “What It Is!”, Kahil on African earth drum provides a sweet foundation for the quartet’s minimalist arrangement—one that effectively frames his testimony about the challenges of daily life.  Providing a surprising texture to affect the extraordinary solo stylings of bassist Junius Paul, one can hear a vocal panting akin to the frequently sampled pant heard in George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” in the rendition of John Coltrane’s “Central Park West.”  Listeners will also be delighted by the lovely “From the Heart,” featuring El’Zabar on the kalimba, the plucked idiophone of West and South African origins.

Tenor saxophonist Kevin Nabors shimmers with intensity and the versatile Justin Dillard on piano, Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes lend What It Is! its soulful vibe.  As they traverse through modal post-bop, abstractions of free jazz, or ‘70s R&B/Soul, this quartet’s efforts are bold and grounded in the spirit of progression.  Laying the groundwork for future eclectic endeavors, What It Is! will certainly confirm your faith in the leadership of El’Zabar and leave you longing for the coming cultural productions of his protégés.

Reviewed by Madelyn Shackelford Washington

View review April 2nd, 2014

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Title: If You Knew Her

Artist: Zara McFarlane

Label: Brownswood Recordings

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 28, 2014

 

 

British soul-jazz singer Zara McFarlane blends multiple influences on her sophomore release, If You Knew Her. Filled with her lyrically conscious original songs reminiscent of the spiritual jazz of the ‘70s, the album allows McFarlane to explore “emotive stories of beauty, passion, love, vulnerability, empathy, boldness, directness and sensuality.”  The songs were “inspired by the many vibrant, amazing charismatic black women” in her life, and celebrate “the strength of women, from the alpha female to the housewife.”  From the poignant “Open Heart” accompanied by bass and hang, to the ruminating “You’ll Get Me in Trouble,” to the ethereal “Love,” McFarlane capitalizes on the sparse arrangements, achieving a chamber music ambiance with her vocals fully integrated into the fabric of the ensemble.

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In addition to McFarlane’s original compositions, there are two surprising covers: the widely acclaimed jazz reworking of Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves” released in 2012, and the Nora Dean cult classic “Angie La La,” featuring the multi-talented Leron Thomas on vocals and trumpet.  This rising star of UK jazz is sure to garner plenty of North America fans with her new album.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 2nd, 2014

offiong bassey

Title: Offiong Bassey

Artist: Offiong Bassey

Label: Moonlit Media

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 4, 2014

 

 

Nigerian-American singer-songwriter Offiong Bassey recently released her self-titled debut album, never expecting to immediately garner attention from mainstream media. But when her hometown newspaper The Boston Globe picked up her story, she found her concerts selling out and her music climbing the charts. Obviously her songs of inspiration, social commentary, and empowerment had struck a chord.

Bassey’s music is a melting pot of genres and languages. Alternately singing or rapping in English, her native Efik or Nigerian Pidgin English, she draws from Nigerian Ekombi, R&B, jazz, gospel, funk, soul and hip hop to carve her own niche in the world music pantheon.  Her first single off the album, “Edidem,” was inspired by traditional Efik prayer passed down by her grandmother, and the video is a multi-generational celebration of family and diasporic traditions:

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Not all of Bassey’s songs draw so strongly on African influences. The opening track “Legitimate Child” is a rousing Afro-Caribbean jazz workout, while “Mistaking Chivalry for Chauvinism” inserts a calypso beat over which Bassey speaks the verse in a duet with the rapper Vessel. Other highlights include “Conclusion,” a rhythmically complex ‘70s style jazz-funk fusion, and “Chasing after the Wind” which lays neo-soul vocals over a cacophony of Nigerian drumming. For those not as adventurous, there are a couple of standard ballads including “It Might Be Hard,” another standout neo-soul track accompanied primarily by keyboard and flute.  Overall, a very strong debut that introduces Bassey’s song writing skills, fluid vocals, and unique global fusion.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 2nd, 2014

Angelique-Kidjo-Eve

Title: Eve

Artist: Angelique Kidjo

Label: 429 Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  January 28, 2014

 

 

Angelique Kidjo, the Benin-born singer-songwriter who has become an international sensation and advocate for female empowerment, has dedicated her latest album “to the women of Africa, to their resilience & their beauty.”  On Eve, Kidjo hopes to “offer a perspective on Africa that is different from the miserable one so many people seem to accept as fact,” such as the “negative perceptions about women,” and instead “showcase the positivity they bring to their villages, cities, culture and the world.”

What makes this project unique is the use of traditional choirs of African women as backup singers. Kidjo traveled across Benin with a Roland B26 6-track recorder to capture ten different choirs, teaching each group one of her songs and then weaving their voices into the mix during production.  These traditional chants ground the album, lending a degree of authenticity that’s juxtaposed with a host of assisting American superstars, including guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend and master funk organist Bernie Worrell on the Kenyan song “M’Baamba,” legendary New Orlean’s pianist Dr. John on “Kulumbu,” the Kronos Quartet (on “Ebile”), plus an appearance by the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra on the folk-influenced track “Awalole.” Recorded primarily in New York under producer Patrick Dillett, the album also features top session musicians including guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Christian McBride, Senegalese percussionist Magatte Sow, and a host of supporting musicians.

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Though sung in a variety of Beninese languages (Fon, Yoruba, Goun, and Mina) as well as Ewe and occasionally English, Kidjo’s style of Afropop is immediately accessible and infectious. Each song touches on different aspects of the experience of womanhood in Africa, from sisterhood to forced marriages to affirmations of life that bring joy and laughter. Therein lies the secret of Kidjo’s success—a melding of global pop that’s able to retain the voices and intimate, shared experiences of women in villages throughout Africa and, despite language differences, connect to audiences far removed from her continent.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 2nd, 2014

Douye-so-much-love

Title: So Much Love

Artist: Douyé

Label: Groove Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 11, 2014

 

 

Nigerian vocalist Douyé may have been raised in Lagos, but the sounds of American artists such as Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington permeated her household. After moving to Los Angeles to hone her skills at the Musicians’ Institute in Hollywood, she developed an affinity for ‘90s era R&B. That would explain the slant towards adult contemporary music with smooth jazz overtones and just a pinch of the motherland on her sophomore release, So Much Love. All of the songs were co-written by Douyé and British songwriter Terry Shaddick, with whom she’s been working since her 2007 debut album Journey. Fellow Nigerian Dapo Torimiro lends a hand on several of the songs, in addition to guitarist/ producer Chris Sholar and jazz keyboardist/ producer Philippe Saisse. The result is a mellow compilation of tracks featuring excellent production and songwriting skills, topped off by Douyé’s fluid vocals that generally don’t stray far from adult contemporary, neo-soul territory as demonstrated on the opening track “Til Morning Comes”:

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The brightest moments on the album are those that diverge from Douyé’s standard fare, and these occur just often enough to make one sit up and take notice. The title track, “So Much Love,” was written as a tribute to the late Nigerian Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti and arranged by bassist Babá Ken Okulolo, who performed with both Fela and Sunny Ade. Augmented by a funky horn and rhythm section led by Okulolo, the song allows the band to shine while Douyé riffs on the words “so much love.” The album takes a surprising twist on “Dance With You.” Opening with a flamenco guitar solo by Craig Bell and featuring legendary Peruvian guitarist Ramón Stagnaro on lead/rhythm acoustic solos, Douyé creates a visualization of a steamy Andalusian night with a new lover. On “Loved by Love,” she teams up with JR Hutson (son of the Impressions’ Leroy Hutson), who produced, arranged, and performed the instrumentals, creating a Caribbean vibe. The gently lilting reggae rhythms under Douyé’s smoldering vocals combine for an incredibly seductive track. Anyone looking for sophisticated soul with plenty of romance will enjoy So Much Love.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 2nd, 2014

tricia evy

Title: Meet Me

Artist: Tricia Evy

Label: Plus Loin Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  January 28, 2014 (U.S.)

 

 

If you have a yearning for French café jazz, then look no further than the sophomore release from chanteuse Tricia Evy. A native of Guadeloupe, a Caribbean island in the Lesser Antilles, Evy was influenced early on by Patrick Saint-Éloi, one of the Paris-based Antilles musicians who formed the band Kassav, best known for popularizing a blend of zouk and compass music known as zouk love, characterized by slow, sensuous rhythms. After moving to France in 2006, Evy discovered jazz and studied the repertoire of singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, and Mel Tormé, in addition to the elegant songs of French singer/poet George Brassens. On Meet Me, she blends all of these influences into an enchanting album full of ballads, jazz standards, and original compositions sung variously in French, English, Creole and Portuguese.

After listening to a recording of saxophonist Ike Quebec, Evy was inspired to set words to his music, resulting in the opening track “Nous Deux,” composed with Kenny Burrell. The languid, sultry character of the song sets the mood for the album and is repeated in the following track, “Modinha,” by the famous Brazilian composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius Moraes:

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Other stand out tracks include “Blow Me Away,” a piece first performed by the Rémi Meurice Sextet which Evy transformed into a swinging arrangement that allows pianist David Fackeure to shine, and the lilting creole song “Lanmou A” about “love that hides until you are ready to find it,” accompanied by the Guadeloupean gwo ka (big drum). Evy closes with “Agua de Beber,” a bossa nova by Jobim & Moraes that showcases her range and flexibility while also highlighting the excellent musicianship of her combo.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 2nd, 2014

dessy

Title: This Is Neo-Ragtime

Artist: Dessy Di Lauro

Label: CrazyglueMusic

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 5, 2013

 

 

So what, you may ask, is ”Feathered Frohawk Futurisitic Art Deco Harlem Renaissance Hep Music?”  That’s the self-described concept for the music of Dessy Di Lauro and partner Ric’key Pageot that blends jazz elements from the “speak easy era” with contemporary R&B and hip hop, which are all showcased on their first full-length project This Is Neo-Ragtime.

Di Lauro, a native of Montreal whose interracial heritage includes Cuban, Brazilian, and Italian roots, grew up singing classic jazz and gospel music. Pageot, a Montreal native of Haitian descent, studied classical piano and received a degree in jazz performance from McGill University. Though they may not be household names, this multi-talented couple is steeped in show business. Both toured with the Cirque Du Soleil show Delirium, Di Lauro as a featured vocalist and Pageot as musical director—the youngest ever to serve in that capacity for Cirque. After Di Lauro released her 2004 debut EP A Study of a Woman’s Soul, produced by Pageot, the couple relocated to Los Angeles and immediately found success. Pageot has toured with Madonna since 2009, while Di Lauro has performed with the likes of Patti Labelle and the Neville Brothers.

Last year, Di Lauro and Pageot finally found time to complete their new album. This Is Neo-Ragtime opens with the raucous interlude “Hep Rag” followed by “Mysterious,” which blends ragtime rhythms with sassy, scatting vocals. The quick time “Jump ‘n’ Jivin’” is a bit of New Orleans mingled with the Cotton Club, showcasing Pageot’s keyboard and arranging skills with the added bonus of Marcus Miller on tenor sax and clarinet:

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The album’s first single, “Why U Raggin?”, is another tour de force, melding a touch of hip hop with punchy horn arrangements performed by The Regiment Horns. “Lost in the Jungle” presents a masterful juxtaposition of styles, almost as though several records from different eras are spinning at different times. While the remainder of the album leans a bit more towards contemporary R&B, the songs are no less enjoyable. The album certainly deserves greater recognition, and if you’re in L.A. you might wish to check out Di Lauro’s live show, the Neo-Ragtime Jamboree.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 2nd, 2014

city heart

Title: City Heart, Southern Soul

Artist: Noel Gourdin

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 18, 2014

 

 

City Heart, Southern Soul is the third album from R&B artist Noel Gourdin. His two previous releases, After My Time (2008) and Fresh: The Definition (2011), produced the chart-placing singles “The River” and “Beautiful.”  After relationships with Epic Records and E1 Music, his third album has been released by Shanachie with a title that reflects his upbringing—a life split between Massachusetts and Mississippi—and presents a body of work that does not stray from his trademark—uplifting women.

While Gourdin has always written some of the music on his albums, this is the first of his three releases to feature Gourdin’s songwriting throughout the album’s entirety. City Heart, Southern Soul also features writing collaborations with Marcellus A. Dawson (producer for Urban Mystic, Jaheim, Syleena Johnson, and Stacie Orrico), who co-wrote six of the ten songs.

There are numerous highlights on the album including “Foxxy,” a smooth and soulful, mid-tempo celebration of companionship.  “Heaven Knows,” the albums lead single, is another mid-tempo love song with a steady piano pulse, featuring a simple declaration: “Only heaven knows/how much I love you.” “Patience” is a musical journey back to the Motown era with its swinging rhythm and smooth vocals. “Can’t Wait” offers a surprising feature in the duet with Philadelphia native Avery Sunshine, another soulful singer/songwriter, and a pianist with a strong gospel foundation, who has been making a name for herself since her debut release in 2010 (her new album is scheduled for release by Shanachie in May). The two together are a force.

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City Heart, Southern Soul has already seen a celebratory level of success and is currently in the top ten on the UK Soul Chart, while “Heaven Knows” is at number 26 on the Billboard Adult R&B Charts. Overall, this is a solid R&B album worth checking out.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review April 2nd, 2014

bobby jones

Title: Rejoice with Me!

Artist: Bobby Jones

Label: Caroline

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  March 25, 2014

 

 

Gospel music icon Dr. Bobby Jones has performed, promoted, and championed gospel music for over four decades. Perhaps his most visible platform is his weekly television program Bobby Jones Gospelthe longest continually running series on cable television. On his most recent project Rejoice with Me!, Jones celebrates traditional and contemporary gospel choir music via a collection of songs about the importance faith and praising God.

Much like his television show, Rejoice focuses less on Jones as an artist and more on the Nashville Super Choir (which he founded) and special guests. The album opens with the single, “Rejoice with Me!” featuring celebrated R&B singer, Faith Evans. With intricate, syncopated instrumentation, energetic lyrical repetitions and a rich choral sound, the song epitomizes what we love about gospel choir performance.

Another notable selection is the peaceful worship song “Praise the Lord,” which showcases Jones as a song leader in collaboration with the distinctive voice of Ann Nesby. This selection includes the most prominent feature of Jones’ voice as he not only sings, but also speaks to his listeners, encouraging them to praise God and receive His blessings. Rejoice also includes brief interludes of solo performances of the hymns “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” and “No Not One,” which offers a contemplative hint at the gospel hymn tradition. The beauty of this album lies in its simplicity. While gospel music is ever expanding in its sounds, styles, and performance, Rejoice represents familiar, straightforward gospel choral music that is easily translatable to a diversity of worship settings.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review April 2nd, 2014

john the conqueror

Title: The Good Life

Artist: John The Conqueror

Label: Alive Naturalsound Records

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: February 25, 2014

 

 

The signature growling guitars and low lonesome drawl of John The Conqueror are back in full force with their second album, The Good Life. The Mississippi to Philly transplant Pierre Moore and his three-piece blues-rock outfit stomp out eleven tales of the rambling lifestyle—drinkin’, sinning, lovin’ and general bluesy behavior. Moore and his band are, in truth, somewhat of an anomaly. In the contemporary blues scene, a young black artist playing the blues is unfortunately a noteworthy development. In recent years, the black community has largely ignored the contemporary blues scene, and it’s truly great to see artists like Moore and his blues-rock contemporary Gary Clark Jr. taking traditional forms of North Mississippi blues and pushing it forward into more modern iterations.

Building on the strong impression left by their self-titled debut, John The Conqueror provides a steady stream of heartfelt tunes that don’t hesitate to rock hard. It’s music made for beer-soaked floors packed with sweating crowds and middle-of-nowhere dives that have that couch in the corner with gross stains on it. The album is rowdy enough to move a crowded barroom, but at times introspective enough to provide an intriguing listen alone by your speakers. Riff driven song structures and juke joint drums both serve as a vehicle for Moore’s fuzzed-out, soulful vocals. This recipe is no aberration for the barbeque soaked sounds of Alive Records, a label home to many big names in the outsider blues community, including Left Lane Cruiser, Lee Bains and Buffalo Killers. (Alive is also the home of The Black Keys debut album, The Big Come Up.)

Sonically, the album does get a bit stagnant; there is no discernable change in guitar tone, drum sound, vocal processing or overall tone color in the entire album. And while consistency can breed an instantly recognizable brand, when it comes to the simplistic structures of heavy blues, a little variance can go a long way to refreshing a listener’s palette. For this reason, the album’s highlights come when Moore and his crew throw a couple curveballs. On “John Doe,” a minor key and spacious slow burn give Moore the space to drive his emotions home with his signature grit. By opening up the arrangement, when the staccato organ enters with crashing guitars, it hits that much harder and the effect is fresh again. The moody “Daddy’s Little Girl” employs a similar technique, but its magic lies in the sincerity of Moore’s painful howl. Here he drops the cocksure bravado and reminds us that this is an album rooted in the depths of the blues. The guitar is nastier, and the vocal performance in the final minute makes the whole album worth it. This is a glimpse of humanity and remorse that makes the blues so compelling, despite its humble nature. It’s a brief glimpse of what happens when the life of the party goes home to an empty bed, alone with his thoughts, fears and regrets. As John The Conqueror move forward, that balance of swagger to vulnerability is a flash of songwriting maturation that will only grow stronger with future albums.

Releases like The Good Life elicit the headache-inducing argument of what qualifies as a “blues album.” Where does the blues end and rock and roll begin? The purists wring hands and clutch 78s clinging to traditional styles and closely guarding the genre. The progressive types see a slow gradient where boundaries are blurred and electric shredders sit shoulder to shoulder with country pickers. But perhaps it’s an exercise in futility to apply labels to artists like Moore. Black Country? Blues? Deep Blues? Rock ‘n’ Roll? “The Good Life” is American music done with passion and care, drawing plenty from the past and gleaning just as much from the present. Whatever you call it, just make sure you have the windows down and stereo cranked. Deep fried and defiant, John The Conqueror demands you turn up and listen loud.

Reviewed by Aaron Frazer

View review April 2nd, 2014

Muddy Waters - The Complete Aristocrat & Chess Singles A's & B's, 1947-62

Title: The Complete Aristocrat & Chess Singles A’s & B’s, 1947-62

Artist: Muddy Waters

Label: Acrobat Music

Catalog No.: ACQCD7072

Formats: 4-CD set, MP3

Release date: April 15, 2014

 

Muddy Waters’ role in the evolution of blues music cannot be over-stated.  His seminal influence is distilled and chronicled in these four CDs, which include all of his singles (78′s and 45′s) released by the Chess brothers’ companies from 1947 through 1962.  Though audio quality varies, this set is worth the low price if you don’t already own copies of these songs.

Born McKinley Morganfield, Muddy Waters learned to play blues from Son House, and his music was directly descended from Charley (Charlie) Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson (another Son House student).  In his early sides, for Leonard Chess’s Aristocrat Records, Waters played an electrified version of the sparse country blues he learned on the Mississippi Delta. Often accompanied only by an acoustic bass, played slap-style, Waters’ strong voice and confident slide guitar are the featured sounds.  His lyrics are variations of the same rural blues themes he took north to Chicago.  His first song to gain traction, “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” was the A-side of his second Aristocrat single, released in 1948. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” parts 1 and 2, released in 1949, is also in the minimalist, electrified-country style.

In 1950, harmonica ace Little Walter Jacobs joined Waters’ recording band, adding a gritty and sometimes manic element to Muddy’s evolving and more urbanized sound.  With Little Walter, Waters’ guitar amp was louder and the men sometimes cut back and forth with talk-vocals.  The instrumental hit “Evan’s Shuffle (Ebony Boogie),” recorded in October 1950, pointed where blues music was headed in Chicago.  The tempo was faster, the playing was fiercer, and Walter’s harmonica solo was in a whole different range than older-style blues.

Another key sideman was guitarist Jimmy Rogers, who first recorded with Waters in 1952.  At the same time Rogers joined the Chess sessions, drums became a permanent fixture, and the style now commonly called electric blues was born.  This was a far cry from Robert Johnson (or Son House, or Muddy Waters) bottle-necking an acoustic guitar at a Delta house party.  This was loud, fast and intense, city blues for city people, tunes that leapt out of jukebox speakers and drowned out barroom chatter.  Add in songs written by the slyly sophisticated Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters got on the path he followed more or less for the rest of his career. Classics like “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I’m Ready” and “Mannish Boy” were recorded in this mid-50’s period.

But wait, this only covers the first half of the collection.  There is much more to enjoy, because those Willie Dixon tunes are almost all classics, still covered by blues bands big and small all over the world, every day.  This is the blues canon, pure and simple, influencing all blues, rock, soul and other related music from those long-ago sessions forward.  The classic “You Shook Me” is near the end of this chronological (by release number) collection.

Alas, these CDs do not offer the best sound quality. You get what you pay for, because they are priced far below recent deluxe box sets from Chess’s current owner, Universal Music (for instance the lavish Howlin’ Wolf box set I reviewed last year). This material is out of copyright in the UK, where Acrobat Music is based. So the producers could gather up CD rips, old records and other sources to cobble together their compilation. At least that’s what it sounds like they did. Levels vary, digital processing artifacts abound, groove distortion from old 45′s and 78′s is clearly audible at times. But, as testament to the power of his music, Muddy Waters shines through.  It’s easy to listen beyond the audio issues and let the music do its work.  And again, at this price, it’s hard to expect much else.

To the producers’ credit, there’s a decent booklet essay (perhaps taking harsher than necessary hindsight swipes at the Chess brothers) and a discography of sorts, cribbed from “The Complete Muddy Waters Discography” by Phil Wright and Fred Rathwell.

As bargain-priced not-by-the-owner compilations go, this one is definitely a winner.  Hopefully, it will inspire UMG to go back to their vaults and put out the complete Muddy Waters Chess catalog with shiny new remastering and better documentation. In any case, fans of the electric blues will get hours of enjoyment from these four CDs, and have some extra beer money left in their pocket.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review April 2nd, 2014

the take over

Title: The Takeover

Artist: Screwed Up Click

Label: Straight Profit Records

Formats: CD, MP33

Release date: March 25, 2014

 

 

The Takeover is the extremely long-awaited album from Houston’s legendary Screwed Up Click. Originally scheduled for release in 2005, the album was met with a series of delays. Finally released through local Straight Profit Records, The Takeover is the prolific Screwed Up Click’s first official studio album.

For those who are unfamiliar, The Screwed Up Click is the collective of rap artists and associates that formed around the late DJ Screw (1971-2000), the originator of the screwed and chopped DJ/production style. Since the early 1990s, the crew has released several small group and solo records along with appearing on the countless DJ Screw mixtapes. Members and fans, however, have long clamored for the crew to collaborate on a studio album of new material. The Takeover is just that.

Before its release, The Takeover had become Houston’s version of Detox. Promotions for the album began to surface in mid-2000s as the city’s rap scene was enjoying unprecedented national attention. A picture of a promo van featuring an image of the album cover along with the words “coming Summer 2005” circulated around the internet, furthering the buzz for the release. In the proceeding years, the idea of The Takeover was kept alive through interviews, message board chatter, and tweets. A series of unfulfilled release dates eventually tempered excitement as fans questioned whether the album would ever see the light of day. The official release of “Keeping it Gangsta,” the albums lead single, in late 2013 helped renew enthusiasm. Straight Profit Records, known for releasing several SUC related albums in 1990s and 2000s, finally dropped the album on March 25, 2014.

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While there are countless members of the Screwed Up Click, the album is centered around a core group: Big Pokey, Trae, Z-Ro, Mike D, Lil O, Mr. 3-2, Lil’ Keke, H.A.W.K., and Chris Ward. Members E.S.G., Clay Doe, Macc Grace, Lil Flip, and Botany Boyz’ Will Lean also provide verses. Houston soul artist Billy Cook and UGK’s Bun B make notable contributions as well.

The album finds the Screwed up Click at their vocal finest. The myriad of styles mesh perfectly, bringing the magic of the Screwtape to this studio recording. The highlights are too numerous to name. On “Keeping It Gangsta” Mr. 3-2, Mike D and a Guerilla Maab-ish Z-Ro and Trae eviscerate a mid-tempo beat. “I Don’t Feel Ya“ is probably the most polished song on the album and features Lil O, H.A.W.K. and Bun B spitting Texas-bred battle raps over Mr. Lee’s southern-fried beat. Mike D, E.S.G, Mr. 3-2, Lil O, and Z-Ro shine on the closing posse cut “The Takeover.”

H.A.W.K.’s “SUC Soldiers” is the most special moment of album. Prior to his untimely death in 2006, H.A.W.K., known as the 5 Star General of the Click, filled the void left by DJ Screw, becoming the glue that held the sometimes-splintered crew together. H.A.W.K pulls no punches as he cements membership and charges them with carrying the Screw legacy forward. “S.U.C. Soldiers” is a point of re-dedication, a reminder of the past, statement of the present, and suggestions for the future of the Screwed Up Click.

Because it was recorded nearly a decade ago, the album naturally sounds dated at times. This may be a turn-off for some listeners, but fans of the Screwed Up Click should see this as a plus. The Takeover is a snapshot of the Screwed Up Click post-DJ Screw and prior to the untimely deaths of original members H.A.W.K and Big Moe. We will never see this assemblage again. For this reason alone, The Takeover is a must buy for Screw-heads and those interested into Screw culture.

Reviewed by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review April 2nd, 2014

clear-soul-forces-gold-pp7s

Title: Gold PP7s

Artist: Clear Soul Forces

Label: Fatbeats

Formats: CD, 2-LP, MP3

Release date: September 17, 2013

 

 

Detroit has never been known as an environment to foster optimism.  As Clear Soul Forces emcee/producer Ilajide puts it during a an episode of Red Bull Music’s Sound and Vision, “even the green has a shade of gray to it.”  But the way this Motor City quartet raps, it is clear they have found refuge and inspiration in their music.  Gold PP7s is their third full-length project, and first release on the Fatbeats label.

The Gold PP7 was the secret one-shot kill weapon on the James Bond Nintendo 64 blockbuster Goldeneye.  It is also the modus operandi of E-Fav, Ilajide, Noveliss, and L.A.Z. for attacking each track with every rapid-fire bar they can muster.  Album opener “Continue” flexes lyrical prowess through a series of video game-inspired metaphors:

Throwing the mic like a boomerang, you can’t hang, you just dust in the cartridge
Blowing you the cartilage carnage with the Symbian artist shit

Arcade themes continue throughout the LP referencing Street Fighter, cheat codes, Mortal Kombat, Zelda, expansion packs, Halo, and of course, Goldeneye.  The effect is a lessened ability to relate at a personal level that’s present in their previous work, but instead they accomplish a greater sense of grandeur and Wu-Tang Clan-like mysticism, allowing for exploration of broader philosophical themes and cunning braggadocio.

Clear Soul Forces are neither in-depth storytellers nor simple punchline rappers, but through every sixteen traded among these four we get glimpses into struggles of life in Detroit, imaginative critiques on pop culture and society, and wordplay for the sake of poetry.  Hooks are understated, and keeping up with four dudes who love to rap as much as they do can be exhausting, but careful, repeat listens are greatly rewarded.  E-Fav, Ilajide, Noveliss, and L.A.Z. trade bars with such ease that it takes a bit of orientation to figure out whose voice belongs to whom.   Gold PP7s‘ second single, “Ain’t Playin,” offers a solid introduction to each member’s distinctive voice:

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Production-wise, Ilajide falls in line with the fine Detroit lineage injecting 11 of the 15 tracks with the loose bounce of the late J Dilla and more than some of Black Milk’s synth futurism.  Perhaps the most socially aware song, “War Drum,” militantly underlines warnings against ignorance perpetuated by the mass media, corrupt religious leaders, and crooked politicians with loops from Fela Kuti’s “Water No Get Enemy.”  L.A.Z.’s killer concluding verse is almost usurped by an epilogue skit featuring a bottle-popping Arnold Scharzenegger that is significant in that it aptly encapsulates their world view on hip hop.

Gold PP7s is an admirable label-backed debut from these Detroit natives.  It is clear the city is not about to crush their spirits any time soon, and if they can keep each other this inspired, we can expect more great things to come.

Reviewed by Will Chase

View review April 2nd, 2014

amiri

Title: This is Part Time

Artist: Amiri

Label: Hipnott

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 25, 2014

 

 

Now that hip-hop is over 40 years old, it seems to be the genre with the most vocal retro-grouches lamenting on how the present state of the music fails to meet the standards that once were.  As with all genres of music, it is equally important to preserve tradition as it is to evolve from it, and South Carolina producer/emcee Amiri is firmly in the camp of sticking to hip-hop’s roots.  He seems to have maintained the approach he has had since he started making music in the mid-90s in collaboration with a smattering of underground acts, notably including A Tribe Called Quest.  ”Still,” the lead cut from This Is Part Time, quickly sets the tone for the album:

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Today, plenty of emcees also infer rap is not their main hustle, as Amiri does with the title of his third solo LP.  It seems at this point, clocking a nine-to-five is taking its toll on him. He boasts plenty about the demand for his production skills, which don’t stray far from a single jazz-flavored break underneath programmed MPC beats.  Amiri approaches the mic with a desert-dry conversational flow that brings to mind the Gang Starr lyricist Guru, but with a more nasally timbre.  Amiri keeps the wordplay simple and literal, drawing some necessary attention to the violence and materialism that is all too readily accepted in some of today’s music.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to offer any appealing alternatives other than continuing to go unnoticed by a mainstream audience.  Instead, we get professions for a love for Starbucks, a word-for-word account of meeting the late J Dilla, and an artist continually bemoaning his lack of recognition in hip-hop.

Despite claims about maintaining positivity over a perceived bleak hip-hop landscape, it doesn’t seem like Amiri is actually having fun until the end of the album with “Understood.”  The sped up synth-saturated loops from The System’s “Don’t Disturb This Groove” create an uplifting atmosphere for Amiri to flex a little bit without sounding too weighed down.  On the whole, the album succeeds in its pacing with cleverly titled instrumental breaks interspersing proper songs, and no cut lingers long enough to over stay its welcome.  This Is Part Time is an exercise in classicism that will find a divided audience between fans stuck on “Golden Age” forms of hip-hop and those with a broader view of what the genre has to offer.

Reviewed by Will Chase

View review April 2nd, 2014

Bettye Swann - The Complete Atlantic Recordings

Title: The Complete Atlantic Recordings

Artist: Bettye Swann

Label: Real Gone Music

Format: CD

Release date: January 7, 2014

 

 

Today, soul singer Bettye Swann is probably best remembered for Joss Stone’s cover of Swann’s first (and highest-charting) Atlantic single, “Victim of a Foolish Heart,” or, possibly, for being confused with Brenda Holloway by one of the characters in George Pelecanos’ crime novel The Night Gardener.  But with the release of Real Gone’s The Complete Atlantic Recordings, this gifted if obscure singer is now remarkably well represented on CD.   In 2001, Kent Soul reissued Swann’s earliest recordings, made for Money Records between 1965-67, and Honest Jon’s Records reissued her 1968-70 Capitol sides three years later.  With the addition of the new compilation, featuring Swann’s last recordings made between 1972-76 for Atlantic, virtually her entire catalog is now available.

Swann’s story is deftly told in Charles Waring’s liner notes.  After some initial chart success, she bounced from the Money label to Capitol—where she recorded for the first time in the “country-soul” vein being popularized by Ray Charles, Esther Phillips, and Solomon Burke—before landing with Atlantic, whose top-notch production values and deep stock of tunes seemed to augur great things for the nimble-voiced singer.

The music here is indeed uniformly fine, with top-notch, if occasionally overdone, production values and professional musicianship.  But relatively few of the songs were true stand outs, something Atlantic seemed to realize as well since they released only seven singles and no full-length albums during her tenure with them.  These 14 sides, along with both sides of her sole Big Tree Records single (which Atlantic distributed), two tracks previously released only on CD compilations, and five unreleased masters, are all gathered here in this welcome 23-track compilation.

Atlantic was unsure how to promote Swann.  While she had an expressive and even luxurious voice, she was not an over-the-top emoter and she did not display any flashy virtuosity.  Like Capitol, Atlantic tried her in a number of settings: standard soul backings with punchy horns (such as “The Jealous Kind,” a terrific previously unreleased song with a relaxed, understated vocal), country-soul remakes of songs by Tammy Wynette (“Till I Get It Right,” another of the best tracks here) and Merle Haggard (“Today I Started Loving You Again“), funkier numbers with string backings in a Philly soul vein (a somewhat plodding “The Boy Next Door” and its flip, the much superior “Kiss My Love Goodbye,” both from her fourth Atlantic single), and even a reggae-tinged track (the excellent “Doin’ For the One I Love”).  None of these efforts garnered the big hit she needed to take her career to the next level.  After her Atlantic contract ran out, Swann left the music business and essentially disappeared until reporter Jarret Keene in 2005 tracked her down living near Las Vegas.

While not every “rediscovered” soul singer has a late second-act starring career à la Bettye LaVette or Lee Fields, Bettye Swann’s music deserves to be heard.  The Atlantic music machine was nothing if not relentlessly professional, and there are enough gems in this collection to make this reissue of enduring interest to soul fans looking to explore the byways of American soul singing in the 1970s.

Reviewed by Terry Simpkins

View review April 2nd, 2014

Heptones Good Life cover

Title: Good Life

Artist: The Heptones

Format: CD, MP3, LP

Label: VP Records

Release date: March 3, 2014

 

 

The Heptones will forever be in the pantheon of legendary Jamaican vocal groups. With a busy and very prolific career in the 1960s through the ‘70s, 1979’s Good Life would be the group’s eleventh album, although the second without original member Leroy Sibbles, who had earlier left to begin a successful career as a solo artist. With Naggo Morris taking over for Sibbles, there’s a noticeable shift in comfort. The group doesn’t sound as tight as with Sibbles, although “Can’t Hide From Jah” and “Natural Mystic” allude to a start of adapting to the changes. While not necessarily a reggae classic by any means, Good Life still brings a selection of strong tracks and reggae history from the beloved Heptones. Thanks to VP Records, the album is finally available on CD.

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Errol Bellot

Title: Youthman: The Lost Album

Artist: Errol Bellot

Formats: CD, LP

Label: Reggae Archive Records

Release date: July 22, 2013

 

 

The gritty, raw talent on Youthman: The Lost Album highlights the missed opportunity for a truly gifted musician to shine as a result of inept record company practices. With his music spread over a host of singles across several labels, the heavy roots reggae musician was unable to gain a strong foothold on the British reggae scene. Working with the likes of Jah Bunny and Ras Elroy, songs such as “The Wicked Them” and “Jah Guide Over Me” makes you wonder how such songs never received much airplay in their time. Packed with all sorts of goodies, like additional dub versions and disco mixes, Youthman: The Lost Album is an underground reggae classic that is finally receiving it’s due.

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mighty mystic

Title: Concrete World

Artist: Mighty Mystic

Format: CD, MP3

Label: VPAL Music

Release Date: January 28, 2014

 

 

The Jamaican-born, but Massachusetts-raised Mighty Mystic has been making waves in the reggae charts, and for good reasons. With the hit single “Cali Green” making its way onto an upcoming VP Records release and Concrete World debuting at #6 on the Billboard Reggae Chart, the world is beginning to take notice. Speeding up the tempo a bit and adding in some tinges of rock and electronic influences, coupled with the all-important vocal talents, Mighty Mystic has created a contemporary reggae hit in Concrete World.

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In addition to “Cali Green,” notable tracks include the title track as well as “Mr. Big Man.” While reggae has a great deal of dedication to the past, Mighty Mystic has proven that reggae is still alive and well in the new millennium, and continues to be an important form of musical expression.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review April 2nd, 2014

haiti direct

Title: Haiti Direct

Artist: Various

Label: Strut

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 28, 2014

 

 

The musical atmosphere of Haiti is a veritable hodge-podge of  genres, influenced in part by the limitless possibilities of human creativity, but also through the realm of dictatorial politics. The layers of colonization, providing a mix of Spanish and African musical roots, are reworked through contemporary musics such as rock, jazz or pop music from France and other countries. The control of access to music was also a huge influence, especially in the second half of the 20th century, as the infamous Haitian dictator François Duvalier sewed seeds of an “authentic” Haitian culture through the folkloric “vodou jazz.” The global diaspora of music that found its way to this island within the Caribbean, while at times heavily politicized for nationalist purposes, nonetheless provided an outpouring of immense talent from several groups. The greatest period of creativity?, a time spanning almost two decades during the 1960s and 1970s, signifies a time of rich musical discovery, interpretation and reinterpretation by Haitian musicians. Although kept for the most part within the island itself, Strut has collected a fine assortment of tracks showcasing the Golden Age of Haitian music with their two-disc release Haiti Direct.

The beauty of Haiti Direct lies in the idea of familiar variety. This isn’t meant to say that the songs are instantly recognizable to an American audience. Rather, each track flows neatly and seamlessly into one another while at the same time highlighting the different influences and genres that have been incorporated into the country. One of the most common musical traits is the usage of merengue from nearby Dominican Republic. Spread extensively throughout the early 1950s by the radio station La Voz Dominicana based in Trujillo, merengue quickly became the music “of the people.” But while this may lead to the belief that merengue is solely a Dominican creation, Haitians would be heavily inclined to disagree. While the Dominican Republic regards merengue  as their national music, Haitians defiantly regard it as strictly Haitian. But this is for another time.

The Ibo Combo kick off the album with “Ti Garçon,” a mini jazz band tinged with local flavors of African rhythms and merengue. The punch of the brass section energizes while percussion provides strong and steady support with a helping of rhythmic variety. From there we hear tinges of surf rock and psychedelic influences through Les Loup Noirs’ “Pile Ou Face.” The intro feels like the start of a Ventures or Surfaris riff, and the decision to have a madman of an organist at the forefront was clearly a brilliant stroke.

As the album continues, the tapestry that unfolds to showcase the variety of musical influences is remarkable. On one song, you may hear a host of Afro-Latin influences combined with jazz; on another, a more rock-oriented sound from the United States or even a traditional folk song celebrating Lent. Strut  obviously devoted a heaping amount of love and devotion to the compilation of Haiti Direct, trying to cover as much as possible in such a varied and astounding two decades of music. For those wanting to discover the artistic beauty of an island that has endured centuries of pain and suffering, as well as individuals with an appreciation for Haitian music who want to find even more, this release is a perfect fit.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review April 2nd, 2014

AFROBEAT2_cover_quadrat_130518

Title: Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight to Ghana 1974-1983

Artist: Various

Label: Analog Africa

Formats: CD, LP

Release Date: September 17, 2013

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VariousArtists_TheRoughGuideToThe

Title: The Rough Guide to The Best African Music You’ve Never Heard

Artist: Various

Label: Rough Guides/World Music Network

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date: February 11, 2014

 

 

Like the continent, the African musical landscape is wide, deep, vast and ever-changing.  These well-executed compilations offer two very different snapshots, musical postcards of places and times, one from 30-40 years ago and one of recent times.  Their focuses are different, as is the music contained on each CD.

Analog Africa is an on-going project of British DJ Samy Ben Redjeb. During numerous trips to Africa, he has unearthed dozens of obscure but compelling singles and LPs by sometimes forgotten African artists, mostly from the 1970s and early ‘80s.  His compilations’ booklets feature interviews with surviving performers, travelogues of his “musical archaeology” investigations, and contemporary photographs. He also makes it a point to get signed releases and pay royalties to artists he can locate, often gaining interesting first-hand accounts of the songs’ creation and recording.

The focus of Afrobeat Airways 2 is the funky urban music scene in Ghana from the early ‘70s through the early ‘80s. Influenced by American and Nigerian artists, the Ghana take on funk tends to feature horns and prominent guitar solos, backed by a hybrid American/African beat (heavy drums like American funk, but augmented by African percussion instruments and beats).  Some singing is in English, some in French, some in native tongues.  If you like “Super Bad”-era James Brown and early ‘70s Fela Kuti, this music will be right in your sweet spot. In most cases, Redjeb was able to track down decent-condition vinyl, and Atlanta-based mastering engineer Michael Graves did a good job getting a relatively uniform audio quality.

An interesting side-note to the “Afrobeat Airways 2” booklet is Redjeb’s interview with photographer Sam Pobee, whose father S.K. owned Modern Photo Works in Accra, and was involved in the Ghana music scene as part owner of the Tip Toe Club, next to his photo business. Most of the photos in the book were taken by S.K. Pobee, and Redjeb credits Sam Pobee for letting him look through hundreds of photos and negatives, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of the Accra music scene in the years before military curfews killed off nightclubs and all-night revelry. Lucky for 21st century listeners, Redjeb’s archaeology continues.

The Rough Guide folks, compilers of all sorts of music from all sorts of places, describe their latest Africa-focused CD as “a grassroots approach to the music of the moment emanating from Africa and its Diasporas … a true snap-shot of African music today, taken straight from the source.”  The album makes good on that description, including 14 cuts of varying styles and origins.

There is a distinctly North African/Arabic feel to the CD, but a few of the cuts more closely reference the funkier central and western African music perhaps more familiar to American ears. The recordings range from minimal-mic’d live performances to elaborate electronically-enhanced studio productions. One interesting element is the range of different percussion instruments from the various countries. No lyrics are in English, adding to the exotic flavor of the whole affair.

The Rough guide compilation includes a bonus disc, “Junk Funk” by Sotha Sounds. This appears to be a live recording of a jam session or small-venue performance. It is not as strong, musically, as the compilation CD, but it makes for interesting listening.  Overall, the Rough Guide compilation is more suited to an adventurous listener, because it has only a few references here and there to mainstream Western music. However, the exploration is rewarded with some sonic treats: interesting instrumentation, unique beats and engaging song structures. Better liner notes would help ease the language and culture barriers.

These two compilations, perhaps combined with a James Brown anthology, a few Fela Kuti tunes, some Stax and some Motown would make a heck of a randomized iPod playlist, or the backdrop to a great dance party.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review April 2nd, 2014

Blues

Eric Bibb: Me to You (Dm)

Sleepy John Estes: Live In Japan ’74 With Hammie Nixon   (Delmark)

The Chief Blues Story (Not Now)

Daby Touré, Skip McDonald: Call My Name (Real World)

 

Gospel

Donnie Mcclurkin: Duets (RCA Inspiration)

Charley Pride: The Gospel Collection (Real Gone)

Nicole C. Mullen: Crown Him (E1)

Wow Gospel (Provident Music Group)

Jovonta Patton & DFY: I Am… A Winner (Push Muzik)

Reverend Robert Wilkins: Prodigal Son (Bear Family)

Bobby Jones: Rejoice With Me(Echopark JDI)

Dr. Larry D. Reid & the Breakthrough Singers: Work Me Over (LDREnterprises)

K.B.: 100 (Reach)

Shonlock: A Night to Remember       (Arrow)

The Williams Singers: Letting It All Out (Deznell Music Group)

Erica Campbell: Help (E1)

Darnell Davis: Moving Forward (RCA Inspiration)

 

Jazz

Kris Bowers : Heroes + Misfits (Concord)

Ambrose Akinmusire: Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note (Universal))

Cecile Verny Quartet: Fear & Faith (1-2-3-4 GO)

Jazzbonez: Watch It! (Summit)

Paul Taylor: Tenacity (E1)

Eric Revis Quartet: In Memory of Things Yet Seen (Clean Feed)

Somi: The Lagos Music Salon (Okeh)

Miles Davis: Miles at the Fillmore 1970: Bootleg Series 3 (Legacy)

Eric Reed: Adventurous Monk (Savant)

Chicago Underground Duo: Locus (Northern Spy)

Tyrone Birkett & Emancipation: Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land (Araminta Music )

Carmen Souza: Live at Lagny Jazz Festival (1-2-3-4 GO)

Eddie Gale: Ghetto Music (remastered, reissue) (AIS)

Regina Carter: Southern Comfort (SONY MASTERWORKS)

 

Pop/Rock

Lena Horne: Lena on the Blue Side (Sepia)

The London Souls: Here Come The Girls (Caroline Records)

 

R&B

Irma Thomas: Full Time Woman — The Lost Cotillion Album (Real Gone)

Professor Longhair: The Last Mardi Gras (Real Gone)

David Ruffin: My Whole World Ended/Feelin’ Good (Real Gone)

David Ruffin: David Ruffin/Me ‘N Rock ‘N Roll Are Here to Stay (Real Gone)

Marilyn McCoo: Solid Gold (Expanded Edition) (Real Gone)

Ashanti: Braveheart (E1)

Ledisi: The Truth (Verve)

Aloe Blacc: Lift Your Spirit (Interscope)

You Talk Too Much: The Ric & Ron Story Volume 1 (Ace)

Sneakin’ Around – The London Records R&B Story 1948-51 (Dimple)

Mary Love: Lay This Burden Down – The Very Best Of Mary Love (Kent)

Marv Johnson: You Got What It Takes – The Marv Johnson Story 1958-1961 (Jasmine)

One In A Million: The Songs Of Sam Dees (Kent)

Cody ChesnuTT: Landing on A Hundred: B-Sides and Remixes (Vibration Vineyard)

Rogiérs: The Shedding (Fibby Music Group, LLC)

Live at La Me Studio: The Texas R&B Show Band Sessions (Art Greenhaw/Select-O)

Floacist: Rise of the Phoenix Mermaid (Shanachie)

Creative Source: Creative Source (Solaris Records)

Will Downing: Euphoria (Liaison)

Beyonce: Beyonce (Columbia)

D’Angelo: Live at the Jazz Cafe London (Virgin US)

S.O.S. Band: Tabu Anthology (Demon Music Group)

The Tymes: Tymes Up (Soulmusic Records)

Lenny Williams: Spark of Love (Soulmusic Records)

Eartha Kitt: The RCA Recordings 1953-1958 (Not Now Music Ltd)

Locksmith: Unlock the Funk (Expansion)

 

Rap

Black Milk: Glitches in the Break EP (Computer Ugly)

Pharrell Williams: GIRL (Columbia)

Cowboy Troy: King of Clubs (Warner Music Nashville)

Awkword: World View (Sub-City Productions)

Freddie Gibbs & DJ Fresh: The Tonight Show (Empire Dist.)

A$AP Mob: L.O.R.D. (RCA)

Toddy Tee: Compton Forever (Thump Records)

Rick Ross: Mastermind (Island/Def Jam)

Major Lazer: Apocalypse Soon (Secretly Canadian)

Paranom & Purpose: Life Outside The Frame (Ill Adrenaline Records)

Young Money: Rise of an Empire (Universal Republic)

Kevin Gates: By Any Means (Bread Winners Association/Atlantic)

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata (Madlib Invazion)

Eddie Projex & Zar the Dip: Undadogs (C-Note -City Hall-)

J-Diggs: Soul of a Gangsta (Thizz Nation/Thizz or Die)

Meyhem Lauren: Self-Induced Illness (Chambermusik/Traffic)

D-Lo: Keep It on the D-Lo (Empire Distribution)

Rock It . . .Don’t Stop It! : Rap from Brooklyn, Boston and beyond 1979-83 (BBE)

Too $hort: Weird Science (MalLabel Music)

Young Money: Rise of an Empire (Universal Republic)

Sage the Gemini : Remember Me (Universal Republic)

YG: My Krazy Life (Def Jam)

Mac Mall: Macnifacence & Malliciousness (Young Black Brotha Records)

Young Liifez: Young Liifez (Sac Music Group)

Retro & LIQ: From The Laptop To The Blacktop (Sac Music Group)

Cyne: All My Angles Are Right (Hometapes)

Disiz: Transe Lucide

Booba: Futur 2.0

Christ Like Keese: Reborn (Young Entertainment)

Lil’ Keke: Slab Life (1 Stop)

Lil C: H-Town Chronic 8 (Oarfin)

Slim Thug: Boss Life (Empire Distribution)

Trae: Deep in the Heart of Texas 2 (Oarfin)

X: The Houston Museum of Natural Science (Potholes Music)

King Sandman: Rebellion (CD Baby)

Wayne Cz: Stronger Than Eva!! (WayneCZMuzik)

Ghetts: Rebel With a Cause (Disrupt)

 

Reggae

Ranking Dread: Girls Fiesta (Hot Milk)

Heptones: Good Life (V.P.)

Living Heart, Vol. 1: Xterminator 25th Anniversary Edition (XTM.Nation)

Derrick Morgan: Shake A Leg (Secret Records)

Brown, Dennis & Superstar Friends: Reggae Legends-Dennis Brown (VP Records)

Gregory Isaacs: Vol. 2-Reggae Legends-Gregory Isaacs (VP Records)

Augustus Pablo: Meets Lee Perry & Wailers Band-Rare Dub (Jamaican Recordings)

Cornel Campbell: Gorgon Dubwise (Jamaican Recordings)

Bunny Lee: Agro Sounds 101 Orange Street (Kingston Sounds/Forced Exposure)

 

Rock

Lesedi Lo-Fi: Street Faces (self-release)

kxm (with Dug Pinnick): kxm (Rat Pak Records)

Tackhead: For the Love of Money (Dude Records)

Little Axe (Skip McDonald): Bought for a Dollar Sold for a Dime (Real World)

Black Stars of Rock & Roll (Documents)

The London Souls: Here Come the Girls

 

Spoken Word

Drake: X-Posed: The Interview (Chrome Dreams)

 

World

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80: Long Way to the Beginning (Highline Ballroom)

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars: Libation (Cumbancha)

Malawi Mouse Boys: Dirt is Good (IRL Recordings UK)

Jump Blues Jamaica Way: Jamaican Sound System Classics 1945-1960 (Fantastic Voyage Music)

Gary US Bonds: Twist Up Calypso (Hallmark)

Erik Aliana: Just My Land (Buda Musique)

Dobet Gnahoré: Na Dre (Contre-Jour)

Alsarah & The Nubatones: Silt (Wonderwheel/ Giant Step)

Tiécoro Sissoko: Keme Borama (Kanaga System Krush)

Bibi Tanga: Now (Jazz Village)

Octopizzo: Chocolate City (Octopizzo Holdings)

View review April 2nd, 2014

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