Archive for May, 2007

Sly & The Family Stone 40th Anniversary

Sony/Legacy is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Sly’s signing to Epic Records and the band’s first release by reissuing all of the Sly & The Family Stone CDs in limited edition digipaks replete with numerous bonus tracks. All seven titles will eventually be released in a limited-edition box set. The three latest releases capture the band at the pinnacle of their career.

stand!.jpgStand!, released in 1969, was Sly & the Family Stone’s 4th and arguably greatest album. In addition to the title track, the CD includes the mega hits “Everyday People” (which reached #1 on the pop/R&B charts), “Sing a Simple Song” and “I Want to Take You Higher,” as well as the edgy and provocative “Don’t Call Me a Nigger, Whitey.” Bonus tracks include the mono single versions of “Stand!” and “I Want to Take You Higher,” as well as the previously unreleased “Soul Clappin’ II,” “My Brain (Zig-Zag)” and single version of “You Can Make It If You Try.” The well-illustrated booklet includes lyrics to all songs and liner notes by Barney Hoskyns.

riot.jpgThere’s a Riot Goin’ On, the band’s 5th album originally issued in 1971, is much more cynical and psychedelic, at least in the sense that the band and numerous guest artists occupying Sly’s rented Hollywood mansion were quite literally stoned for days on end. Tracks include the #1 single “Family Affair” and several additional hits such as (You Caught Me) Smilin’”and “Runnin’ Away.” Bonus tracks include three previously unreleased instrumentals as well as the mono single version of “Runnin’ Away.” Liner notes by Joel Selvin summarize the album as “a masterpiece of dark, simmering grooves and visions from the other side.” Ah yes, the ’70s . . .

fresh.jpgTwo years later the band released their 6th album, Fresh, which as the title implies was a brighter, more focused and much more pop-oriented effort (ah yes, the mid-’70s . . .). Just check out the cover of the album and you’ll know what I mean. Tracks include “If You Want Me To Stay,” “Frisky,” and “If It Were Left Up to Me” which all reached the R&B charts. Bonus tracks include alternate, unreleased mixes of “Let Me Have It All,” “Frisky,” “Skin I’m In,” “Keep On Dancin’,” and “Babies Makin’ Babies.” The booklet features an essay by Toure, “What’s the Difference Between Funk and Soul?” as well as complete song lyrics (which are unfortunately lacking fromthe booklet accompanying There’s A Riot Goin’ On).

Sony/Legacy should be applauded for these fabulous reissues!

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review May 11th, 2007

Loose Grooves: Funkin’ Live in England 1980

war.jpgTitle: Loose Grooves: Funkin’ Live in England 1980
Artist: War
Label: MVD Visual
Catalog No: B000MV209G
Date: 2007

As a child of the seventies I remember the funky grooves of War streaming out of my transistor radio as I cruised up and down my block on my bike looking for something to do. The DVD Loose Grooves: Funkin’ Live in England 1980 reminded me of those long hot summer days and nights.

The foundation of War began in 1962 when Howard Scott and Harold Brown formed the group the Creators. By 1968 the band had grown and changed their name to Nightshift. War was the brainchild of producer Jerry Goldstein and Eric Burdon (former lead singer of the British band The Animals), who came up with the concept of using a predominantly black funk group as a back-up band for Burdon after seeing Nightshift perform in a L.A. club. Burdon was so impressed with the band that he jumped up on stage and jammed the night away. Within a week the newly formed band “War” was in the studio. In 1969 they recorded their first album, Eric Burdon Declares “WAR,” which included the instant hit “Spill the Wine.” In 1971, shortly after the release of their second album The Black-Man’s Burdon, Burdon left the group in the middle of a European tour. War pulled it together and finished the tour without their lead singer, then went on to crank out hit after hit—releasing of total of 28 albums.

The Loose Grooves footage comes from the post-Burdon era and was filmed during a 1980 UK promotional tour for the album The Music Band 2. It features classic hits, such as a spicy version of “Spill the Wine” that seamlessly moves into the soulful “All Day Music,” highlighting War’s candid improvisational ability. Another notable pairing featuring Lee Oskar’s distinct harmonica playing is the iconic car culture classic “Low Rider” with the outlaw epic “Cisco Kid.” The show concludes with a smoking “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” a song that signifies the themes of brotherhood and harmony that are prevalent throughout War’s catalogue.

Loose Grooves is 57 minutes of rock, R&B, jazz, funk, and Latin fusion that showcases the cohesion of War’s live performance. This is a must see for any War fan.

Posted by Heather O’Sullivan

View review May 11th, 2007

King

king.jpgTitle: King
Artist: T.I.
Label: Altantic/WEA Records
Catalog No.: 075678380020
Date: 2006

Like Atlanta rappers Cee-Lo and Ludacris, T.I., the self proclaimed “King of the South,” also uses his southern upbringing to influence his work. King, T.I.’s fourth release, is a grittier account of southern life and the “Trap,” a reference to Atlanta’s inner city neighborhood of Bankhead. “I’m Straight,” “Bankhead,” and “Ride Wit Me” reflect T.I.’s homage to Bankhead and his background of drug dealing and street hustling. His referral to survival on the street as hustling and the “Trap” are signifiers of T.I.’s reality-based lyrical content and style. “I’m Straight,” his song about returning to hustling if his rap career fizzles out, declares “A lot of glamour and glit’s, but shawty I don’t need that/My beginnin’ was a humble one, a hustler I’m a son of one/Taught me how to number run, I went from that to number one.” In the chorus, T.I. emphasizes his promise, stating “Hey you can keep the game and the fame, the haters and the lames/Just gimme some cocaine and some wood I can slang/And I’m straaaiiiggghhhttt… hey shawty, I’m straaaiiiggghhhttt.”

Outside of a southern slur and accent, the unique signifier of these three rap artists (Ludacris, Cee-Lo, and T.I.) is their ability to reflect the complexity of southern living, especially in Atlanta. Cee-Lo presents the imagery and importance of the church in surviving the growing pains of the southern inner city. Ludacris takes the more commercial route, emphasizing the popular culture of strip clubs and materialistic possibility in Atlanta. T.I. has the grittiest album, with references to southern inner city culture and “trap,” and embraces his upbringing as a critical hinge in both his identity and lyrical content. The complex depiction of southern living is distinct from northern or Midwest rappers because of the markers of southern culture reflected in each rapper’s work. Their albums reflect the southern reality of each artist and there is no denial in their pride of being from what Cee-Lo refers to as the “filthy, nasty, dirty south.”

Posted by Regina N. Barnett

View review May 11th, 2007

Release Therapy

release.jpgTitle: Release Therapy
Artist: Ludacris
Label: Def Jam
Catalog No.: 602517029163
Date: 2006

The recent surge of southern representation in hip hop has both demanded and maintained the interest of the hip hop world. Three of the most notable southern rappers are Atlanta’s Thomas “Cee-Lo” Callaway, Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges, and Clifford “T.I.” Harris, who began their respective rap careers with regional distinction in Georgia. Cee-Lo was a member of the legendary Atlanta-based rap group Goodie Mob, who in 1995 achieved critical success with their debut album Soul Food. He released his first solo album, Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections, in 2002. His most recent compilation, Closet Freak: the Best of Cee-Lo Green the Soul Machine, was reviewed in the Feb. 2007 issue of Black Grooves. Ludacris, originally known as DJ “Chris Luva Luva” at Atlanta radio V103, released his first album Back for the First Time in 2000. T.I. released I’m Serious, his freshman debut, in 2001. The three rappers have frequently collaborated with each other; for example, both Ludacris and T.I. have held guest spots on Cee-Lo albums, Ludacris rapping on “Childsplay” and T.I. on “The One.” As their popularity seeped out of southern listeners’ ears into a wider populace, they presented a distinct depiction of their southern background. With the commonality of Atlanta as a base camp, they offered their own interpretations of reality in the “Dirty South,” each pulling from life experiences and popular culture unique to the southern region of the United States.

Ludacris’ Release Therapy is his fifth album and draws from the popular culture and social concerns of Atlanta. The second single released from the album, “Runaway Love” featuring R&B vocalist Mary J. Blige, discusses rape, teenage pregnancy, and death amongst young girls. Each stanza is a vignette that offers a stark description of life about an underage girl including “Little Lisa,” a nine-year-old molested by her mother’s boyfriend, “Little Nicole,” a ten-year- old abused by her alcoholic stepfather who loses her sole friend due to a random gunshot, and “Little Erica,” an eleven-year-old who become pregnant by a sixteen-year-old. Each story is both uncomfortable to listen to and to imagine, but this is Ludacris’ attempt to draw attention to the hardships of being a young girl in contemporary society. Each story also reflects the statistics in Georgia, the state with the highest teenage pregnancy rate and one of the highest homicide rates in the country. “Grew Up a Screw Up” is a rags to riches story that is Ludacris’ semi-autobiographical account of growing up poor in Atlanta’s inner city. He commends himself, rapping “From broke as a joke to rich as a bitch/I bought a plane and a boat and six other whips, no MARTA.” The distinct reference to MARTA, Atlanta’s public transportation system, and to being impoverished reflects Ludacris’ background and history as a native of the inner city. “Girls Gone Wild” and “Money Maker” reflect on the notorious strip club culture of Atlanta. (Continued in next post)

Posted by Regina N. Barnett

View review May 11th, 2007

The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster

ruthie.jpgTitle: The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster
Artist: Ruthie Foster
Label: Blue Corn Music
Catalog No.: BCM 0602
Date: 2007

Since her 1997 debut, Ruthie Foster has been creating her own brand of acoustic soul. After roaming the country making music, Ruthie has returned to her Texas roots to create her latest project, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster. Now don’t mistake the title of the CD for arrogance—its in reference to a track on the CD featuring the famous poem “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou that has been set to music by Foster.

The music of Ruthie Foster is the type of sound that’s hard to neatly classify. The listener can hear the voice of the church, the jook joint, blues clubs, and nature all ebbing and flowing throughout her songs. The somewhat cliché term “acoustic soul” comes to mind because the live guitar and drum set are so prominent in her work. But in spite of the organic instrumentation, the strongest feature of Foster’s sound is her own voice. At her best, she is a singer with a strong and robust voice that is reminiscent of Big Mama Thornton, Mahalia Jackson, Yolanda Adams, and Bernice Johnson Reagon.

The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster is a collection of eleven songs that lyrically seem to serve as an introspective on life. Titles like “Cuz I’m Here,” “I Don’t Know What to Do with My Heart” and “Fruits of My Labor” all deal with deeply personal parts of self. Ruthie’s band, made up of a Wurlitzer electric piano, guitar, piano, bass, drums, percussion, and Hammond B3 organ provide a steady undercurrent of support for her strong vocal delivery.

The best songs on The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster are in the beginning, where she does not attempt to downplay her voice. “Cuz I’m Here” epitomizes a great vocal solo, with an uplifting message and a great backing band. “People Grinnin’ in You Face” starts out a capella and develops much like that moment in church when a church lady starts singing her favorite hymn and the congregation joins in with foot-stomping, hand clapping, and harmony. Unfortunately, her delivery and instrumentation hit a slump after track eight from which the album never really recovers. Perhaps even more unfortunate is that “Phenomenal Woman” is included in that slump. The words of course are beautiful, but Foster’s laid back delivery undermines the strength and energy of Maya Angelou’s poetry.

Ultimately, the triumph of The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster is that she presents an uncommonly beautiful vocal performance, great song writing, and simple instrumentation. Those are all ingredients that music lovers can never get enough of.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review May 11th, 2007

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

ill sleep.jpgTitle: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
Artist: El-P
Label: Definitive Jux
Catalog No.: 137
Date: 2007

El-P (El-Producto) is a native of Brooklyn, New York. His father is a jazz pianist and El-P began dabbling in music as an adolescent. In 1992 he co-founded Company Flow with DJ Mr. Len and MC Bigg Juss. Company Flow’s first full length release, Funcrusher Plus (1997), helped give birth to the contemporary underground movement and is a landmark experimental album. After the dissolution of Company Flow, El-P started Definitive Jux Records, home to underground stars Mr. Lif, Aesop Rock, Cage, and Murs, among others. His debut album, Fantastic Damage (2003), received much critical acclaim and garnered El-P some mainstream notoriety.

El-P’s music offers little insight into his identity. The closest he has come to introspection was a single line on Fantastic Damage’s “Tuned Mass Damper,” which reads, “My name is El-P, I produce and I rap too.” I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is no different as El-P uses 13 tracks to paint America as a hopeless, morally bankrupt, hell-bound plain of land. Unlike Brother Ali and Evidence, lyrics take a backseat to musical accompaniment in El-P’s music. Booming drums, frantic keys, intergalactic samples and distortion capture the listener’s attention and overshadow El-P’s at times unintelligible abstract lyrics.

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead has an interesting array of guest artists, including two members of progressive rock staple Mars Volta and industrial rock legend Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. It also contains an even mix of black and white guest rappers, including Cage (white), Murs (black), Aesop Rock (Jewish), and Slug (bi-racial). Because of this eclectic grouping, El-P establishes a very complex musical identity in place of expressions of a personal nature. It appears that in the minds of the listener, El-P desires to be defined by his music and therefore offers little insight into who he is as a person. Like Evidence, El-P uses hip hop music as an overarching identity, not only for himself, but also for those who appear on his record.

Brother Ali’s The Undisputed Truth, Evidence’s The Weatherman LP, and El-P’s Fantastic Damage are three excellent new releases by white underground rap stars. Being released at a time when rappers such as Paul Wall and Eminem and VH1’s The White Rappers Show pull white rappers toward rap’s center, these artist produce music with an underground mentality that eschews the image driven nature of mainstream music and places artistic integrity in the spotlight. While very different in nature, each release asks the listener to disconnect themselves from pre-established notions of racial or ethnic identity and allow the music to be the sole focus of the listening experience.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review May 11th, 2007

Weatherman LP

weatherman.jpgTitle: The Weatherman LP
Artist: Evidence
Label: ABB
Catalog No.: 1089
Date: 2007

Although much less lyrically virtuosic, Evidence, like Brother Ali, is a white MC with a strong underground following. Evidence first rose to prominence as a member of Dilated Peoples, an underground juggernaut consisting of fellow members Rakaa Iriscience and DJ Babu. In 1998, Dilated Peoples released the classic underground single, “Work the Angles,” establishing a buzz that led to their debut album, The Platform (2000). Their 2004 album, Neighborhood Watch, brought their biggest amount of mainstream success due to the Kanye West assisted single “This Way.”

Unlike his previous work with Dilated Peoples, Evidence’s The Weatherman LP is a very personal album. This is likely due to the recent loss of his mother and the subsequent depression stemming from it. “Mr. Slow Flow” is a response to those who criticize Evidence for his overwhelmingly slow, almost mechanical flow. Its an expression of confidence in his artistry and reflects the overall tone of the album. On “Letyourselfgo,” Evidence discusses the negative outcomes of being consumed by work and expresses his recent personal rebirth. “Chase the Coulds Away” finds him musing over newfound joy after many years of unhappiness. The album’s final song, “I Still Love You,” is dedicated to his late mother; produced and performed by Evidence, it is the most personal song on the CD.

“Born in LA” and “A Moment in Time” are the two songs on the album that establish Evidence’s personal and artistic identity. On “Born in LA” he raps,

Raised in Santa Monica til’ the divorce
six years old
I couldn’t see what was coming of course
the plan
Mom bounced on Old Man
then we moved to the Venice sand
A young youth seen gangs first hand
fake address for school
two educations
rich friends then back to my land.

In this quotation, Evidence presents the dual nature of his identity. The divorce of his parents and his subsequent move from affluent Santa Monica to a working class area of Venice established a binary identity that is evident in his music. Identity is further explored on “A Moment in Time” in which Evidence and Planet Asia present diametrically opposed stories about life in Los Angeles. Evidence opens the song by reminiscing on an innocent childhood, mentioning Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Little League baseball while constructing his middle class existence. Planet Asia muses on an adolescence dominated by delinquency, violence, and drugs. Evidence’s background is a-typical of a hip hop artist and, on “A Moment in Time,” this becomes more apparent when contrasting his verse with Planet Asia’s. Although Evidence and Planet Asia have very different identities, the hip hop song is where their two worlds come together and exist in a state of equilibrium. In some ways, the music itself is an overarching identity, as it is for fellow white rapper, El-P. (Continued in the next post)

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review May 11th, 2007

Undisputed Truth

brother ali.jpgTitle: Undisputed Truth
Artist: Brother Ali
Label: Rhymesayers
Catalog No.: RSE0080-2
Date: 2007

White rappers have been enigmas in new school hip hop ever since the Beastie Boys debuted in 1986. Recently, the immense success of white rapper Eminem opened both the mainstream and underground doors for white rappers. Unlike their predecessors in other forms of black music, white rappers typically must confront identity issues as outsiders in a black dominated world.

The history of whites in rap music is relatively unremarkable, but has a few noteworthy moments. The first white rap release was new wave/punk group Blondie’s 1981 song, “Rapture,” which became the first rap song to reach the top of the pop charts. In 1986, punk-turned-rap group the Beastie Boys issued License to Ill, which became the largest selling rap album of its time. Vanilla Ice’s To the Extreme album knocked MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em off the top of the chart. In late 1999, Eminem, the protégé of hip hop super-producer Dr. Dre, released his debut album, The Slim Shady LP, to much critical and commercial acclaim. This was the beginning of a very successful career that has included a string of hit albums, a successful movie, and Grammy and Oscar awards.

Underground hip hop, especially in recent years, has been fertile ground for white rappers. Freed from the marketing influences of the major labels who place a premium on commercial viability, white rappers can often achieve relative success in the underground scene where talent trumps image. Three notable white rap albums have been released so far in 2007: Brother Ali’s The Undisputed Truth, Evidence’s The Weatherman LP, and El-P’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. While having many similarities, the differences between these three albums allows for further exploration of white influence and identity in the black dominated world of hip hop music.

Hailing from Minneapolis, Brother Ali participated in breaking, graffiti, and rapping as a child. His debut album, Shadows on the Sun (2003), was released by Rhymesayers Entertainment, the Minnesota-based label that is home to biracial underground legend Slug, among others. Shadows on the Sun received much critical acclaim and, in the minds of many, stands as one of the finest hip hop albums of this decade. His follow-up EP, Champion (2004), furthered Ali’s fame among underground hip hop fans.

In his music Brother Ali balances introspection and storytelling, allowing the listener to attempt an understanding of who he is. Brother Ali is a white albino and, while he addresses this in songs such as “Forest Whitiker” from Shadows on the Sun, he prefers not to discuss race, feeling that it is a barrier not only musically, but socially as well. Furthermore, he is a Muslim and frequently infuses his music with spiritual references. Like all humans, Brother Ali is a complex individual, and the introspective nature of his music naturally reflects the complexity of the human spirit.

The Undisputed Truth expresses a period of great change in Brother Ali’s life. Between his 2003 debut album and the release of this record, Ali has gotten a divorce, been through a custody battle over his young son, and had instances of homelessness. Ali, however, turns these trials into triumphs through the album, which consists of a handful of battle tracks but is primarily composed of very pointed conceptual songs.

“Walking Away” and “Here” are two very somber tracks that address the dissolution of Ali’s marriage. Like Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear (1978), Ali not only speaks to his audience, but also to his former wife, in a very therapeutic manner. “Faheem” is a conversation with his son in which Ali teaches him life lessons, discusses issues with his mother, and expresses his love for the young boy. The aforementioned songs lead up to “Ear to Ear,” the albums final track and a celebration of overcoming the issues previously addressed on the album.

“Daylight” is dedicated to those who criticize not only his music, but how he lives his life. He discusses everything from the contradictions between his religion and his behavior to his complicated racial identity. The most intriguing lines of the song are:

They ask me if I’m black or white, I’m neither
race is a made up thing, I don’t believe in it
my genes tie me to those that despise me
made a livin’ killin’ the ones that inspire me
I ain’t just talkin’ ‘bout singin’ and dancing
I was taught life and manhood by black men
So I’m a product of that understandin’
So a part of me feels that I am them
Does that make me a liar, maybe
But I don’t want the white folks who praise me
To think they can claim me

In this quotation, Ali expresses the ideology that is both part of his everyday social experience as well as his music. The racial ambiguity caused by his albinism forces him to deal with race in ways that are not required of other white rappers. Questions about his race are frequently brought up in interviews and “Daylight” is Ali’s attempt to put these issues to rest. Although not believing in the concept of race, due to life experiences he identifies more closely with Blacks than with his actual white heritage. Ali acknowledges this quasi-contradiction, and in a hip hop world now affected by racial politics, he establishes his racial identity in order to prevent misrepresentation of his music and selfhood. (Continued in the next post)

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review May 11th, 2007

Full Circle

fullcircle.jpgTitle: Full Circle
Artist: Helen Baylor
Label: MCG
Catalog No.: 7272203
Date: 2006

If Ann Nesby’s contribution to the gospel milieu is primarily traditional gospel and Patti LaBelle’s sound is a mix of older and contemporary gospel, then Helen Baylor’s most recent project, Full Circle, could be classified as smooth contemporary gospel. Although the album’s sound and texture could easily fit into the playlist of a smooth jazz or contemporary adult R&B station, the gospel message of the album is clear and apparent throughout its twelve tracks.

Full Circle is a collection of gospel ballads that creates a sacred space. On tracks like “Oasis,” “I Miss My Time with You” and “Just Worship,” the listener eavesdrops on Baylor’s intimate conversations with God over smooth jazz-tinged piano and saxophone. The airy instrumentals are nicely complemented by Baylor’s rich alto vocals. Full Circle not only exhibits Baylor’s vocal ability but her songwriting and composition talents as well. Four tracks on the project were completely written by Baylor. Other songs were written by Christian music greats such as Larnelle Harris, who has won five Grammy Awards during his career. While the album is seamless and cohesive, its studio sound seems a little too sanitized for gospel music.

These three albums (Full Circle, In the Spirit, and The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle) all represent the fluidity that exists within African American vocal performance tradition. They further exemplify the flexibility of the black sacred music continuum and encourage listeners to reconsider their expectations of what gospel music is, who creates it, and how it should sound. In the current gospel music environment, the involvement of Kanye West and CeCe Winans is not viewed as oppositional, but neither have the roots in the gospel-blues of Thomas A. Dorsey been forgotten. The works of Patti LaBelle, Ann Nesby and Helen Baylor demonstrate the expanding nature of the sacred music tradition within African American music.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review May 11th, 2007

In the Spirit

ann nesby.jpgTitle: In the Spirit
Artist: Ann Nesby
Label: Shanachie
Catalog No.: SH 5759
Date: 2006

While The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle features collaborations with both sacred and secular artists and is primarily comprised of newly composed songs, Ann Nesby’s In the Spirit takes a different approach and exclusively contains black sacred standards as well as previously recorded and released black secular songs. Nesby is known for her work in the 1990s with the 30-member gospel choir Sounds of Blackness. Since then she has released a R&B album and has contributed to several gospel music recordings. The daughter of a Protestant pastor, Nesby maintains that In the Spirit is a tribute to her unwavering faith in Jesus Christ.

In the Spirit includes the gospel standards “Jesus Paid it All,” Pass Me Not,” and “I Can Go to God in Prayer.” The peak of the album is Nesby’s version of contemporary gospel artist Donald Lawrence’s song, “If I Can’t Say a Word.” Her traditional gospel vocal delivery matched with a well-written and arranged song by Lawrence creates a listening experience that captures the emotive essence of gospel music. Other tracks include Nesby’s rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Heaven is a Zillion Light Years Away” and Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands,” which provide a religious context. What unites the songs on this album is Nesby’s consistent stylistic delivery. Furthermore, Nesby relies on the backing vocals of her daughter, Jamecia Bennett (mother of American Idol star Paris Bennett), and Latrice Pace-Speights (of the famed gospel group The Anointed Pace Sisters) to support her vocal delivery throughout the album. That consistency enables the listener to follow her as she traverses gospel mainstays and popular music songs. (Continued in next post)

Posted by fredara mareva

View review May 11th, 2007

Gospel According to Patti LaBelle

labelle.jpgTitle: The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle
Artist: Patti LaBelle
Label: Bungalo
Catalog No.: 970109
Date: 2006

Many music scholars and writers have noted the hybridization of secular and sacred notions in African American music. The literature on Thomas A. Dorsey’s sanctified blues and Ray Charles’ secularized gospel sound attests to the fact that religious and worldly music are not discrete domains within facets of black music culture. Helen Baylor’s Full Circle, Ann Nesby’s In the Spirit, and Patti LaBelle’s The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle demonstrate that not only are their musical aesthetics interchangeable, but the vocalists and musicians in African American musical traditions are free to vacillate between the sounds of the church and the sounds of the world.

There are several important commonalities that these women share. All three began their singing apprenticeships in the church, then crossed-over and recorded secular music, and at some point returned to recording gospel music. Despite these important similarities there are some notable differences between their recordings. Patti LaBelle’s The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle is an African American religious music sampler that contrasts diverse sacred styles, including traditional gospel, hip hop tinged gospel, and contemporary Christian music. The variety of musical styles on the album is matched by the broad artistic range of the guests artists. Each of the eleven tracks features either a gospel choir or soloist, including Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary, J. Moss, Tye Tribbett, the Soul Seekers and secular artists such as country singer Wynonna Judd and hip hop artists Kanye West and Consequence.

Although the songs are individually moving and artistic, collectively there is little cohesion. The result is a disjointed amalgam of religious songs that seem to come from various points in LaBelle’s life but are missing an overarching theme. There are several possible reasons for this: LaBelle’s and/or the record label’s desire to work with various artists who cannot easily be grouped under a single stylistic aegis; LaBelle’s desire to include her rendition of certain gospel standards such as “Walk Around Heaven” and her own “You Are my Friend;” or an approach to the compilation that viewed each song as a stand-alone entity. Despite this weakness, LaBelle’s passion for her message does break through. Her vocal prowess on “Walking Away,” which features CeCe Winans, sounds like an intimately spiritual confessional and is certainly one of the highlights of the album. (Continued in next post)

Posted by fredara mareva

View review May 11th, 2007

Welcome to the May Issue

This month we’re featuring several multiple-part posts exploring the topics of Atlanta rap (with Ludacris and T.I.), underground white rap (with Brother Ali, Evidence, and El-P), and female gospel artists who have traversed both the secular and sacred traditions (Patti LaBelle, Ann Nesby, and Helen Baylor). We’re also highlighting a new album by acoustic soul artist Ruthie Foster, who hails from Texas. Wrapping up this issue are some ’70s flashbacks–a new DVD featuring a live concert by War, and Sony/Legacy’s 40th anniversary celebration of Sly & the Family Stone in the form of limited edition bonus-packed reissues of their best albums.

View review May 11th, 2007

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