AAAMC Launches Black Grooves

Indiana University’s Archives of African American Music and Culture announced a new online music initiative today, furthering its mission of black arts education and promotion. Black Grooves, launched on June 1 to kick off  Black Music Month 2006, is a new website that provides information on new releases and reissues in gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, rhythm & blues, hip hop and other popular genres, as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists. An accompanying free newsletter will be available to subscribers and also distributed to various music-related email distribution lists.

“This is yet another way the AAAMC is reaching out not only to the scholarly community, but to the public at large,” says Archives Director Dr. Portia Maultsby. “A site like Black Grooves provides African American music labels with a focal point for promotion while providing the public with the critical insights of our reviewers.”

Black Grooves’ target audience includes students as well as scholars, collectors, librarians, and anyone else seeking information on the latest black music releases. The site features reviews of especially noteworthy discs (CDs, DVDs, 12-in., etc.) with special attention given to historical reissues and releases by small independent and foreign labels that aren’t often covered in the mainstream media.

“While there are a number of music review sites devoted to specific genres, our approach is much more comprehensive, covering all black music and artists” according to Brenda Nelson-Strauss, the AAAMC’s Head of Collections and editor of Black Grooves. “As a librarian and collector, I am constantly searching for new releases and reissues of black popular and gospel music, and much of this is released on very small, hard-to-find labels with limited distribution. Through the website and compilation of a monthly newsletter, we hope others will benefit from our extensive research, and that the ultimate result will be greater representation of black music in the classroom and library.”

Recording labels can include their new releases in Black Grooves by emailing, faxing or mailing press releases and purchasing information to the AAAMC.  Promotional copies of discs are requested for full-length reviews. These recordings will also be added to the Archives of African American Music and Culture (, a permanent collection of photographs, scores, videos, oral histories and recordings dedicated to the research and preservation of Black culture. 

For more information, or to send press releases and promos, contact Brenda Nelson-Strauss, Black Grooves editor, at:

Phone: 812-855-8547;
Fax:  812-856-0333
Mailing address:

Archives of African American Music and Culture
Indiana University
Smith Research Center, Suite 180-181
2805 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47408-8547

Slum Village

artists_slumvillage_stcover[1].jpgTitle: Slum Village
Artist: Slum Village
Label: Barak Records
Catalog No.: BRK 30007
Date: 2005

Maybe what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger. After dealing with personnel issues and record company shenanigans, Detroit’s Slum Village makes a powerful comeback on this recent release. Apparently looking to make a fresh start, the group has simply titled the album Slum Village, and the disc has the raw energy of a debut. Although “Giant” lyrically settles a few old scores, MCs T-3 and Elzhi sound defiant, not world weary: “I guess we didn’t need ‘em / Thanks for the freedom / An’ every time we see ‘em / We let the middle finger greet ‘em.” The production work on Slum Village is consistently strong, whether the group is sampling the Isley Brothers, progressive love children King Crimson or ripping with a live studio band, Roots-style. Slum Village manages to make radio-friendly hip hop without resorting to painting by the numbers. The CD is accompanied by a bonus DVD (editor’s note: this CD contains explicit lyrics).

Posted by Mack Hagood.  


New Born

B0009HBPC6.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_[1].jpgTitle: New Born
Artist: Calvin Newborn
Label: Yellow Dog Records
Catalog No.: YDR 1157
Date: 2005
The story of seventy-year-old guitarist Calvin Newborn is steeped in Memphis legend—B.B. King helped him pick out his first guitar and his friend Elvis copped his stage moves. On New Born, he gives us a take on Jazz that’s Memphis all the way—recorded June 19 and 21, 2004, at Sam Phillips Studio and released on local Yellow Dog Records, this collection of mostly original compositions is full of bluesy elegance. A straight-ahead track like “Spirit Trane/Omnifarious” conjures up John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, while “After Hours Blues” is straight Beale Street, but both exhibit the soulful sophistication of Newborn’s playing and the tight grooves of his octet. The disc sounds like a classic and looks like a classic, featuring excellent artwork and informative liner notes by Andria Lisle on the life of this underappreciated artist.

Posted by Mack Hagood

Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge

B000EOTVZM.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V55083655_[1].jpgTitle: Timeless:  Live at the Velvet Lounge
Artist: Fred Anderson
Label: Delmark
Catalog No.: DVD 1568 ; DE-568 (CD)
Date: 2006

Free improvisation may be one of the most difficult types of music to adequately capture on record. It seems to rely more heavily upon the intangible energies that emerge between performers and their audience, energies that don’t often cross the mediated divide between stage and Ipod. Though I had listened to greats such as Ornette Coleman on CD and attended shows by lesser players at lesser venues, I didn’t truly understand the power and beauty of free jazz until I visited the friendly confines of Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge.  Recently closed—though hopefully soon to reopen in a new location—this legendary Southside venue hosted numerous improvisers and served as a focal point for Chicago jazz.

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Blues Brunch at the Mart

B000EOTVR0.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V54732223_[1].jpgTitle: Blues Brunch at the Mart
Artist: Michael Coleman and the Delmark All-Stars
Label: Delmark Records
Catalog No.: DE-785
Date: 2006

Every June, during the Chicago Blues Festival, the Jazz Record Mart hosts a Blues Brunch, an incredible chance to fill your belly with breakfast, your shopping bag with CDs and your ears with the best live blues that Delmark has to offer. If you happened not to be there last year, Delmark got the festivities on tape—nine of its best artists, backed by Michael Coleman and his band. One of the standouts of the set is Coleman himself. The mercury-fingered guitarist mixes jazzy chord work, flurries of notes and dramatic changes in dynamics to spin a haunting version of “The Sky is Crying.” Other performers include Lurrie Bell, Steve Frund, Willie Kent, Tail Dragger, Zora Young, Little Arthur Duncan, Aaron Moore and Shirley Johnson. This is a relaxed concert with good performances and plenty of between-song banter. It may not be an essential blues purchase, but it sure is a lot of fun.

Posted by Mack Hagood

Broadcasting the Blues

B000E40PQQ.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_[1].jpgTitle: Broadcasting the Blues
Author/Compiler: Paul Oliver
Label/Catalog No.: Document Records DOCD-32-20-10
Publisher: Routledge (Book)
Date: 2005, 2006

A 1960 picture of Muddy Waters, Pat Hare and Jimmy Cotton performing in the studio of Chicago’s WOPA appears on the covers of the CD compilation and companion book Broadcasting the Blues: Black Blues in the Segregation Era. Also in the studio that day was the collection’s creator, Paul Oliver, one of the earliest and best writers on the blues. The 191 page book (published separately by Routledge) is a collection of radio scripts Oliver wrote for the BBC that examines the roots and development of the form. History, heroic figures of African American folk music, meanings of song texts and discourses around the blues are all addressed in an erudite but conversational style. The three discs present musical examples and interviews that Oliver played on those radio programs. Broadcasting the Blues functions both as an introduction to early blues and a source of insight into the music’s many roles in the pre-integration United States.

Posted by Mack Hagood

Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label

B000DN5VPI.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_[1].jpgTitle: Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label
Artists: Various Artists
Label: Numero
Catalog No.: N007
Date: 2006

There’s a certain type of music fan who seems to be part detective, willing to dig through second-hand stores and spend hours on eBay searching for obscure vinyl. They spend a lot of time and money, occasionally finding a should-have-been hit that never was. The rest of us can heave a sigh of relief for the small reissue labels that have cropped up in the past decade or so, labels that do the leg work so we don’t have to.

Such a label is the Chicago based Numero Group. Their latest release, Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label, compiles a CD’s worth of 45 rpm soul obscurities from Miami and tells the story of the small label that produced them. Smartly packaged and annotated by Ken Shipley, Rob Sevier & Tom Lunt, this collection of 60’s and 70’s singles features booming bass, choppy electric guitar and skittering drums that—we are told—found their roots in the Florida A&M marching band. The more obvious influences seem to be the soul music of places like Philadelphia and New Orleans. Deep City had a hot house band and a slightly rough-around-the-edges production style, but seems to have lacked the songwriting or lead vocal star power of some bigger labels of its era. However, this is an enjoyable disc and a fascinating look into a lesser-known hotbed of soul.

Posted by Mack Hagood

Mary Lou Williams – Mary Lou’s Mass

SFW40815[1].jpgTitle: Mary Lou’s Mass

Artist: Mary Lou Williams

Label: Smithsonian Folkways

Catalog No.: SFW CD 40815

Release Date: 2005

Mary Lou’s Mass, Smithsonian Folkways’ recent reissue of the jazz composer and pianist’s 1970 Music for Peace, shares a unique musical and spiritual odyssey with new generations of listeners—the story contained in its 32-page booklet (with liner notes by Rev. Peter O’Brien, S.J. and Tammy L. Kernodle) is as striking as the music contained on the CD.

In the 1950s, Mary Lou Williams abruptly left her Paris-based jazz career and returned to New York. Personally troubled and surrounded by the social upheavals and inequalities of the civil rights era, Williams found solace in the Catholic Church and began aiding fellow African American jazz musicians, creating a foundation for performers with addictions. Focused on transforming her own life and the lives of others, she resisted persistent requests for her return to music.

Then came an event that would change both the Catholic mass and William’s musical career forever—the Second Vatican Council implemented reforms in Catholic services to make them more accessible to parishioners. Mary Lou Williams’ career as a composer of liturgical music was born, and she eventually received a papal commission to compose the 1969 Mass for Peace. The music was multi-faceted, drawing from jazz, funk, rock, pop and western classical music; the lyrics brought the Black experience and themes of liberation into the Catholic mass. Williams released a recording of the mass as Music for Peace on her own recording label. This reissue gives us a window onto the crises and creativity that abounded in the civil rights and Vietnam War eras. Editor’s Note: This if the fourth Mary Lou Williams album produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in conjunction with the Mary Lou Williams Foundation. Previous releases include Mary Lou Williams Presents Black Christ of the Andes (2004); Zodiac Suite (1995); and Zoning (1995). All are highly recommended for libraries as well as jazz fans.

Posted by Mack Hagood


Boogie Uproar: Texas Blues and R&B 1947-1957

B000CDRHZQ.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]1.jpgTitle: Boogie Uproar: Texas Blues and R&B 1947-1957
Artists: Various
Label: JSP Records
Catalog No.: JSP7758
Date: 2006

The most important musician evoked on JSP’s Boogie Uproar: Texas Blues and R&B 1947-1957 doesn’t play a lick on it. It’s impossible to represent Texas blues without including its progenitor, T-Bone Walker, and the period covered by this 4 CD box set is the era when Walker was releasing his most powerful sides–yet the man is missing from the track list. Instead, this interesting collection presents 103 tunes by Walker’s contemporaries, electric guitarists who started out imitating him, then spent years trying to get out from under his shadow. The most famous artist on Boogie Uproar is Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. The Brown I ran into in New Orleans in the late ‘90s was a pistol-packing almost-octogenarian who did things his way, playing country fiddle and jazz guitar in the same show. It’s fascinating, then, to hear him in his early years, playing the swinging, horn-powered sound of Walker, trying to find his swagger and making his own mark on cuts like the instrumental title track. The other performers include Zuzu Bollin, Nelson Carson, Goree Carter, R.B. Thibadeaux and Lester Williams. Some distinguish themselves more than others, and a lot of the material compiled sounds fairly similar. However, the liner notes do a good job of providing an historical snapshot of this seminal blues era–this a solid choice to add some Texas to your blues collection.

Posted by Mack Hagood


Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar

100 years jazz.jpgTitle:                 Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar
Performer:        Various Artists
Label:               Legacy
Cat. #:              C4K86462
Genre:              Jazz
Release date:    September 2005

A paint-by-numbers collection of jazz guitar would probably begin with Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. It is a testament to the sprawling comprehensiveness of Legacy’s new Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar that Reinhardt and Christian don’t appear until tracks 14 and 20, respectively. This is a four-disc set featuring the work of an astounding 75 different guitarists. Of course, all these cuts don’t add up to much if (1) the sets don’t flow or (2) the selections aren’t truly representative of the period—a century is an awful long time, after all.

As for the first requirement, Progressions comes through in flying colors—there’s nothing stodgy about this compilation. Disc one, for example, is pure pleasure to listen to, mainly because of the way the producers (who include contemporary jazz guitarist John Scofield) have mixed things up. While the expected pops up, as in Johnny St. Cyr and Lonnie Johnson playing with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, disc one also surprises us with the inclusion of genres such as Hawaiian slide and western swing.

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Old Time Southern Black String Band Music

9045.jpgTitle: Old Time Southern Black String Band Music
Artists: Butch Cage and Willie B. Thomas
Label: Arhoolie 
Catalog No.: CD 9045
Date: 2006

Butch Cage and Willie B. Thomas were the sons of sharecroppers in Zachary, Louisiana and known by locals as a hot fiddle and guitar combo in the 1950s. Towards the end of that decade, LSU folklorist Harry Oster approached the men to make some recordings—by 1960, they were playing the Newport Folk Festival. The music of Cage and Thomas is hard to categorize—despite the region and instrumentation, there is not as much of the Cajun or Zydeco sound as one might expect. Oster called Cage “a great representative of the now virtually extinct 19th century fiddle tradition.”

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Nina Simone – Forever Young, Gifted and Black ; Silk & Soul ; Nina Simone Sings the Blues

674413cvr[1].jpgTitles: Forever Young, Gifted and Black ; Silk & Soul ; Nina Simone Sings the Blues

Artist: Nina Simone

Label: Legacy

Catalog No.: 82876 74413 2 ; 82876 73335 2 ; 82876 73334 2

Release Date: January 2006

Legacy/Sony BMG has recently reissued Nina Simone’s first two RCA releases, Silk & Soul and Nina Simone Sings the Blues, while compiling a new disc entitled Forever Young, Gifted and Black. With their bonus tracks, liner notes and live material, these digitally remastered CDs will appeal to newcomers and old fans alike.

Few artists have brought so many influences together while maintaining such a distinctive persona. Contemporary performers often release monochromatic albums, as if afraid to undermine their “serious artist” status by writing anything funny or lighthearted. Lyrically, Simone’s albums leap from drama to humor to pathos like a well-written play—like life itself. She moves between musical styles with equal ease. On Silk & Soul, for example, she covers Burt Bacharach, employs elaborate, classically influenced arrangements, and sings an Aretha Franklin tune. Tying it all together is her unorthodox, one of a kind voice—strange, beautiful and uncommonly emotive.

Legacy is doing the artist and her fans justice with these reissues. I hope they make it all the way through her RCA catalogue. I can’t wait for It is Finished to get this treatment—her last album for RCA, which features her amazing version of “Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” has been available only on import for at least a decade.

Reviewed by Mack Hagood