Welcome to the January 2020 Issue

Welcome to the January 2020 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

For our annual “winter blues” observance we’re highlighting seven blues-based albums released over the past six months: Bobby Rush’s Sitting on Top of the Blues, the Milwaukee-based Altered Five Blues Band’s Ten Thousand Watts, blues harpist Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues tribute album Roots & Branches: Songs of Little Walter, Mississippi bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes’ Cypress Grove, Chicago blues singer/guitarist Vince Agwada’s Light of Day, field recordings of the late Delta blues musician Jessie Mae Hemphill on Run Get My Shotgun, and the anthology 50 Years of Como MS Blues.

Classical releases include soprano Katherine Jolly’s Preach Sister Preach featuring the works of three young American composers, and the Washington, DC based ensemble The String Queens with their self-titled debut EP. Jazz releases include two tribute albums: saxophonists Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, Gary Bartz on Bird at 100 celebrating the centennial of Charlie Bird Parker, and trumpeter Kenyatta Beasley’s Frank Foster Songbook celebrating the late saxophonist and composer.

Other new releases include Nashville-based singer-songwriter Devon Gilfillian’s debut album Black Hole Rainbow, New Orleans-based brass/jazz/hip hop band The Soul Rebels’ Poetry in Motion, Sly Stone’s early doo-wop recordings on the compilation The Viscaynes & Friends, and the soundtrack album to the new documentary 16 Bars featuring performances by inmates mentored by hip hop artist Speech Thomas of Arrested Development. Wrapping up this issue is our list of December 2019 Black Music Releases of Note.

Katherine Jolly – Preach Sister Preach

 

Title: Preach Sister Preach
Artist: Katherine Jolly
Label: Navona
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 9, 2019

 

American soprano Katherine Jolly has graced many opera stages over the course of her budding career.  After winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finale in 2006, she went on to perform with the New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Florida Grand Opera, among others. In concert repertoire, Jolly has taken the route of many lyric sopranos, specializing in the repertoire of Bach, Handel and Mozart. On her debut recording Preach Sister Preach, however, she selected three contemporary works by young American composers. The project was undertaken while Jolly was on the voice faculty at the IU Jacobs School of Music (JSOM), and was recorded on the stage of Auer Hall in 2018 and early 2019 by audio engineer D. James Tagg, who is also on the JSOM faculty. Continue reading

The String Queens Self-Titled Debut

 

Title: The String Queens
Artist: The String Queens
Label: Self-released
Format: Digital
Release date: November 25, 2019

 

Renowned for their genre spanning repertoire, the Washington, D.C. based trio The String Queens have been changing the ways audiences engage with classical music. The three women—Kendall Isadore (violin), Dawn Johnson (viola), and Élise Cuffy (cello)—are “school teachers by day and concert performers by night” who have a strong commitment to artistic integrity and music education. Though they might not yet be a household name, you have likely heard TSQ backing artists such as Solange, Janelle Monae, and Jennifer Hudson, as well as Aloe Blacc on his recent video of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” filmed on the grounds of Monticello. The trio has also been featured on concert stages around the world, including Carnegie Hall, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Royal Festival Hall, and Shanghai Grand Theatre. Continue reading

Devon Gilfillian – Black Hole Rainbow

 

Title: Black Hole Rainbow
Artist: Devon Gilfillian
Label: Capitol
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: January 10, 2020

 

A Philly-born musician who was weaned on his father’s vintage soul records, Devon Gilfillian is now a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and bandleader who is currently making waves on the touring circuit. Recently signed to Capitol Records, Gilfillian kicks off the New Year with the release of his debut album, Black Hole Rainbow. With inspirations from the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan, Devon has created his own distillation of the soul sound, forming a collection of incredibly powerful and stirring tracks. Produced by Grammy award winner Shawn Everett, the album dissects the multiple levels of love and its effects on all parties involved. “The theme of the record is pulling yourself out of a dark place and learning how to love yourself, and getting back up and learning from your mistakes,” Gilfillian says. “It’s about falling in love, falling out of love, and then learning how to love yourself; picking yourself up and really figuring out what matters in your life, and to never stop hustling.” The tracks were recorded with a wide variety of gear, including vintage equipment and analog boards, resulting in an album with a daring collision of eras, styles, and genres. Continue reading

The Soul Rebels – Poetry in Motion

 

Title: Poetry in Motion
Artist: The Soul Rebels
Label: Rebelution Music Group/Artistry Music/ Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 25, 2019

 

New Orleans based ensemble The Soul Rebels was formed in the early ‘90s by drum majors from HBCUs such as Southern, Grambling, and Texas Southern University. Percussionists Derrick Moss and Lumar LeBlanc, who first met as members of Harold Dejan’s Young Olympia Brass Band, decided they wanted to play the rap music they were hearing on the radio while also respecting the long tradition of the New Orleans brass bands and marching bands they had played in growing up. Now an eight member brass/jazz/hip hop powerhouse, The Soul Rebels include LeBlanc (snare drum) and Moss (bass drum), in addition to Marcus Hubbard (trumpet), Erion Williams (saxophone), Paul Robertson (trombone), Julian Gosin (trumpet and MC), Manuel Perkins Jr. (sousaphone) and Corey Peyton (trombone and MC). For their latest album, Poetry in Motion, The Soul Rebels started with the premise “no genre is off limits for us,” and concluded with twelve tracks that sound contemporary and hip. Their New Orleans rhythms and Black college band attitude combined with rap lyrics and rhymes will make you move your feet and get out of your seat. Continue reading

Various Artists – 16 Bars (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 

Title: 16 Bars (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Artist: Various
Label: Lightyear Ent.
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 8, 2019

 

Two time Grammy award winner and hip hop artist Speech Thomas and his band Arrested Development have spent the past few decades touring the world, seeking out opportunities to address social and racial justice issues. Since the release of their triple platinum debut album, 3 Years, 5 Month & 2 Days in the Life of (1993), they have created many different projects and facilitated opportunities for various communities. The documentary 16 Bars, currently screening on the film festival circuit, is the fruition of one of the most ground breaking projects they have released yet. The film follows the journey of Thomas and his band members as they work with inmates at the Richmond City Jail to produce written and recorded narratives about the complex issues of the criminal justice system, including the social and economic effects it has on the families these men were taken away from. In the words of Speech Thomas, “these men are behind bars… but their voices have to be heard.” Continue reading

Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson & Gary Bartz – Bird at 100

 

Title: Bird at 100
Artists: Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, Gary Bartz
Label: Smoke Sessions
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: November 29, 2019

 

Saxophone legends Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, and Gary Bartz present a tribute to Charlie Parker with their new release Bird at 100, which marks the 100 year anniversary of Charlie Parker’s birthday. Described as an “alto saxophone summit,” the album is a homage to the musical legacy left by Parker and contains a compilation of Parker’s tunes, popular standards, and new compositions. Recorded live over three days in late August and early September 2019 at the Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in New York City, the rhythm section features members of Herring’s regular quartet: David Kikoski (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Carl Allen (drums). Continue reading

Kenyatta Beasley Septet – Frank Foster Songbook

 

Title: Frank Foster Songbook
Artist: Kenyatta Beasley Septet
Label: Art Vs Transit
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 9, 2019

 

Trumpeter and composer Kenyatta Beasley’s tribute album, Frank Foster Songbook, celebrates his late mentor, the noted tenor and soprano saxophonist, composer and arranger Frank Benjamin Foster III. Recorded live over the course of two evenings at Brooklyn’s Jazz 966 club in 2013, this two-disc album captures the dynamic musical interactions between Beasley and his ensemble with guest appearances by Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Mark Whitfield (guitar), Carla Cook (vocals), and Eric Wyatt (tenor saxophone). Beasley includes eleven songs covering a wide range of Foster’s original compositions. Continue reading

Bobby Rush – Sitting on Top of the Blues

 

Title: Sitting on Top of the Blues
Artist: Bobby Rush
Label: Deep Rush/dist. Thirty Tigers
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 16, 2019

 

An octogenarian and elder statesman of the blues, Bobby Rush shows no signs of slowing down. The self-professed “king of the chitlin’ circuit” is currently riding high from his cameo in the acclaimed film, Dolemite Is My Name, where he performed his original song “I Ain’t Studdin’ Ya,” as well as the release of his latest studio album, Sitting on Top of the Blues.  The album’s title aptly describes Rush’s position as a “bluesman who’s sitting on the top of my game, proud of what I do and proud of who I am.” The eleven tracks, all penned by Rush, also speak to his talents as a master storyteller as he regales us with songs about “how I came up and who did I love.” Continue reading

Altered Five Blues Band – Ten Thousand Watts

 

Title: Ten Thousand Watts
Artist: Altered Five Blues Band
Label: Blind Pig
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 6, 2019

 

Milwaukee’s Altered Five Blues Band, led by vocalist Ted Taylor, has been garnering legions of fans since the quintet formed in 2002. On their fifth studio album, Ten Thousand Watts, they generate their own brand of high voltage blues rock across twelve original tracks. The A5’s cohesiveness is immediately evident, a testimony to the band’s seventeen years as a unit and appearances at blues festivals worldwide. In addition to Taylor, band members include guitarist Jeff Schroedl, bassist Mark Solveson, keyboardist Raymond Tevich, and drummer Alan Arber, who joined in 2017. Continue reading

Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues – Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter

 

Title: Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter
Artist: Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues
Label: Alligator
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 5, 2019

 

One of the greatest blues harmonica players alive today, the three-time Blues Music Award winner Billy Branch carries on the Chicago blues harp tradition he learned first-hand from legends such as Junior Wells, James Cotton and Willie Dixon. Following up on his 2014 release, Blues Shock, Branch’s latest project reimagines 15 songs written or made famous by another Chicago harp legend, the late great Little Walter Jacobs. Branch is joined by his longtime band, The Sons of Blues, featuring pianist Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi, guitarist Giles Corey, bassist Marvin Little, and drummer Andrew “Blaze” Thomas. Their goal for this project was to go beyond a mere tribute recording, fusing their own contemporary mix of funk, rhythm and blues, and soul into each and every track. Continue reading

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes – Cypress Grove

 

Title: Cypress Grove
Artist: Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
Label: Easy Eye Sound
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 18, 2019

 

Mississippi bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes literally grew up in a southern juke joint. His mother and father established the historic Blue Front Café in 1948 in the town of Betonia—ground zero for the minor-tuned, acoustic country blues style made famous by Jack Owens and his predecessor, Skip James. Now a prominent stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail, the Blue Front Café has been run for the past 47 years by Holmes, who can still be heard nearly every weekend singing and playing his acoustic or hollowbody electric guitar. As possibly the last living musician who was weaned on the Bentonia blues style, Holmes aims to keep the tradition alive on his latest album, Cypress Grove. Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the project captures classics performed in forward looking renditions that stay true to their roots while bringing a spontaneity into the mix. Backing Holmes is an all-star cast of musicians including Auerbach and Marcus King on guitars, Eric Deaton on bass, and Sam Bacco on drums and percussion. Continue reading

Vince Agwada – Light of Day

 

Title: Light of Day
Artist: Vince Agwada
Label: Rocketnoodle Music/dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 15, 2019

 

Blues singer/guitarist Vince Agwada got his start in music playing in bars like the historic Checkerboard Lounge on the South Side of Chicago, backing artists such as Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, Otis Rush and John Primer. After spending over two decades on the road, touring with the likes of Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, and Son Seals, he decided to take some time off for his own projects. Agwada’s self-produced debut album, “Eyes of the City,” was released in 2008, followed by Basic Blue in 2011. Now, after an eight year hiatus, Agwada has returned with a new album, Light of Day, featuring 16 original songs spanning the genres of jazz, rock, funk and blues. Continue reading

Jessie Mae Hemphill – Run Get My Shotgun

 

Title: Run Get My Shotgun
Artist: Jessie Mae Hemphill
Label: Big Legal Mess
Format: CD, Vinyl, Digital
Release Date: December 6, 2019

 

Jessie Mae Hemphill (1923-2006) comes from a long line of legendary Mississippi blues musicians. Her great grandfather Dock Hemphill was a renowned fiddle player from Choctaw County and her grandfather Sid Hemphill was a fiddle player and bandleader who recorded for Alan Lomax and George Mitchell. Jessie Mae was a talented singer, songwriter, guitarist, and drummer whose first recordings were made with blues researcher George Mitchell and ethnomusicologist David Evans in the 1960s and ‘70s. This new release by Big Legal Mess, Run Get My Shotgun, is a collection of field recordings by the late musician from New Year’s Eve 1989, a few years prior to her retirement. Continue reading

Various Artists – 50 Years of Como MS Blues

 

Title: 50 Years of Como Ms Blues (Greatest Blues Songs, Vol. 1)
Artist: Various
Label: Wolf
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 25, 2019

 

The hill country around Como, Mississippi produced several significant country blues artists. Less than an hour south of Memphis, the relatively isolated region also gave birth to a unique blues style that was distinct from the more popular Delta blues tradition. This new compilation from Wolf Records includes both well-known and lesser-known artists from Como, including Fred McDowell, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Eli Green, Ranie Burnette and Othar Turner—all born between 1901-1923. R.L. Boyce, the last living bluesman in Como and Othar Turner’s nephew, represents the younger generation. Continue reading

Viscaynes, Sylvester Stewart – The Viscaynes & Friends

 

Title: The Viscaynes & Friends
Artist: Viscaynes, Sylvester Stewart (aka Sly Stone)
Label: ORG Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: December 6, 2019

 

The Viscaynes & Friends from ORG Music is essentially a reissue of the tracks featured on the long out of print vinyl compilation, Spaced Out Sly, released in 1977. As many Sly Stone fans are likely aware, the young Sylvester Stewart cut his first singles in 1961-1962, both under his own name and with the Viscaynes, a multi-racial teenage doo-wop group formed by students at Vellejo High School in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. As Rickey Vincent relates in the liner notes, Sly was initially approached by classmates in the Viscaynes to assist with vocal harmonies, and they were so impressed with the multi-talented musician that they persuaded him to join their group. By that time, Sly had been performing gospel music for well over a decade and had also played guitar for other doo-wop and jazz groups. By 1961, the 18-year-old was a seasoned professional who led the Viscaynes to success with the single, “Yellow Moon,” which incidentally is backed by a band featuring saxophonist Jerry Martini, who would later join Sly and the Family Stone. Continue reading