Archive for July, 2007
Title: Black Chiney Presents Drumline Riddim’ Timeline Riddim’
Label: Black Chiney
Catalog No: TEG 2434
Truly a dancehall thing, Black Chiney’s newest joint Drumline Riddim’ Timeline Riddim’ is a powerhouse of tight beats, heavy hitting bass and the verbal styling of some of today’s top Jamaican dancehall artists. Black Chiney is a DJ/selector collective comprised of four Jamaicans of Afro-Chinese decent, based out of Miami, FL. Their humble roots began when original members Supa Dups and Bobby Chin met in the Tampa based crew Poison Dart in the late nineties. After leaving Poison Dart the duo began to collaborate and in 1999 released their first mix tape/re-mix entitled Black Chiney 1- Enter the Dragon.
Mix tapes are a collection of songs, usually of copyrighted material taken from other sources, compiled thematically to represent the compiler. DJ’s make mix tapes as promotional tools to showcase their talent and as back-ups for when other equipment is unavailable. Mix tapes are intended for private use but are routinely released underground, often without the original artist’s permission. Black Chiney released several mix tapes underground, initially hiding their identity, before going public in 2001. As a result of the success of their mix tapes and live performances, Black Chiney won at the Fully Loaded sound clash in Jamaica in 2002. After touring internationally for a year the pair decided to expand their lineup adding Willy Chin and Walshy Killa.
In 2004, Black Chiney produced their first riddim’ CD, The Kopa Riddim’. Riddim is a term used to define a basic rhythm pattern consisting of drums with a prominent bass line that are used as the basic instrumental tracks for reggae, lovers rock, ragamuffin, dub and dancehall. What sets Black Chiney’s riddim apart is their fusion of dancehall with hip hop. Once shunned by the Jamaican recording industry, Black Chiney has become a highly sought after production crew collaborating with Elephant Man, Vybz Kartel, Capleton, Nina Sky and Akon. In 2006, Black Chiney released their second riddim production entitled Higher Octane and in 2007 the third, Drumline Riddim’ Timeline Riddim.‘
Drumline Riddim’ Timeline Riddim‘ is a percussive assault based around a drum line sampled from the motion picture infused with heavy Miami bass. The CD contains both Drumline and Timeline basic riddim tracks as well as 19 other tracks built upon the Drumline/Timeline riddim with various artists such as Movado, T.O.K., Elephant Man, Mr. Vegas and Vybz Kartel. Each track gives the listener not only an introduction to top and upcoming dancehall artists but also an idea of what can be done with a riddim track. What is truly remarkable about Black Chiney is that they have demonstrated how riddim production can be a lucrative and legitimate way to showcase their amazing skills as selectors.
Posted by Heather O’Sullivan
July 24th, 2007
Title: Kidney Stew is Fine
Artist: Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson
Catalog No.: DD-631
Date: 1969, 2007
Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s Kidney Stew is Fine, originally recorded in France for the Black & Blue label in 1969, comes to us in a reissue from Chicago’s fine Delmark Records. A good thing, too, because Vinson played an appealing blend of be-bop and blues, with a hint of early R&B. Kidney Stew is Fine shows Vinson’s considerable talents as a singer and saxophonist in fine form.
Eddie Vinson first made his mark in the 1940s and 50s, fading into obscurity in the early 60s but staging a successful comeback by decade’s end. His 1969 release Wee Baby Blues, along with a European tour that same year, changed his fortunes, and during the final twenty years of his life he toured North America and Europe to consistent acclaim.
Vinson’s singing combined a gruff, bluesy baritone with a smooth, pop style reminiscent of Billy Eckstine. Vinson freely mixed these two sounds in many of his songs, even in a single phrase, where his raucous blues voice would give way to a legato, almost sentimental croon, laden with vibrato. Such eclecticism marks his singing on many tracks of this disc; “Please Send Me Someone to Love” is almost completely in the pop style, quietly and calmly closing the album.
The band is superb, supporting Vinson’s voice and saxophone appropriately. T-Bone Walker was a star in his own right, and his playing measures up to its usual standards, although here he wisely steps back to give Vinson the spotlight. Likewise, the rhythm section, with Jay McShann, Roland Lobligeois, and Paul Gunther on piano, bass, and drums, respectively, grooves hard but quietly so, rightly keeping the listener’s focus on Vinson and the songs themselves. Kidney Stew is Fine captures these musicians at a perfect moment in their careers, when they knew enough to play with relaxed assuredness, but were still hungry enough to play with conviction.
The tracks are appropriately eclectic for a man of Vinson’s abilities. “Wait a Minute Baby” slides along with a lively shuffle groove, one equally appropriate for jazz or blues. The title track mixes a gritty sax riff, full of blue notes, with a jaunty boogie-woogie over the major pentatonic scale—the effect is a nice mix of minor and major sounds. “Old Maid Blues” takes a similar approach, and adds Vinson’s solo alto sax, here with as many licks out of be-bop than blues. “Old Maid Blues” thus represents the entire disc quite well: lively, technically solid, and stylistically diverse. Kidney Stew is Fine is a welcome addition to the American catalog and a fine addition to any blues lover’s collection—or jazz or R&B collection, for that matter.
Posted by Jonathan Yaeger
July 24th, 2007
Artist: Howard Tate
Label: Shout Factory
Catalog No.: DK 10045
Howard Tate is “singing again after thirty years,” his official website proclaims. Well, that was nearly six years ago, when Tate performed a comeback show at New York’s Village Underground. Since then, he has released new material, toured North America and Europe, participated in various collaborations with younger, more widely known artists, and worked toward reestablishing himself as one of the last great soul singers from the 1960s still performing.
Tate left the music business in the 1970s and endured some hard times in the 1980s, causing his star to fade, if not vanish altogether; he is rarely included in the standard pop and soul music references. This is a shame, because Tate’s recordings from the ‘60s bristle with the energy and musicianship of that era’s great soul music. His singing and attitude rank with the best of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.
So how is Howard Tate Live? The singing itself is excellent. His voice certainly lacks its former youthfulness, but his thirty-year absence has evidently helped it escape the heavy toll that decades of R&B singing can exact. His spunky performance and charmisa are straight vintage soul, especially in the epic “I Learned It All the Hard Way.” Unfortunately, most the newer songs, as is so often the case in comeback albums, are noticeably weaker than the old hits. As for the band, while several performances—especially “Part-Time Love” and “Look at Granny Run Run”—recall the tight grooves and refreshingly sparse arrangements of Booker T and the MG’s, much of the album presents the laid-back, stale quality of R&B reunion tours, with little of the force that drove the original recordings. Tate himself is not to blame; perhaps the musicians had an off-night or were “phoning it in” for a European audience. Nonetheless, die-hard fans won’t care, nor should they. Howard Tate Live presents Tate at the top of his game, as one of the last living links from a classic era in African American music.
Posted by Jonathan Yaeger
July 24th, 2007
Title: Hip Hop Lives
Artists: KRS-One & Marley Marl
Catalog No: KOC-CD-4105
KRS-One and Marley Marl are two of the most legendary names in hip hop. From his early days with Boogie Down Productions, to his solo albums, to his continual promotion of hip hop, KRS-One has been producing “edutainment” for nearly 20 years. Producer Marley Marl was the back bone of the legendary Juice Crew, a group of MCs that included hip hop heavyweights Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan, and Kool G. Rap. He was also a prolific producer outside of the Juice Crew with his most famous work being LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out (1990). In the late 1980s, KRS’s Boogie Down Productions and Marley Marl’s Juice Crew were engaged in one of hip hop’s most legendary “beefs.” The battle never left wax and was eventually squashed, but it did prevent collaborations between two of the golden age’s bests artists. Although nearly 20 years late, KRS-One and Marly Marl’s Hip Hop Lives (2007) attempts to fill that void.
This album is not bad by any means, but it is very, very bland. For the most part, Marley Marl proves that he is still a solid producer. “Rising to the Top,” “Kill A Rapper,” and “All Skool” are top notch beats that any of today’s popular New York rappers would sound good over. KRS-One’s delivery and lyrics are not great, but definitely solid. Contrary to popular opinion, his skill is still very sound. The downfall of this release comes down to KRS’s absolutely redundant subject matter and Marley and KRS’s poor chemistry. KRS-One dedicates this album to educating the listener on hip hop history. Although very noble and necessary, after the first handful of songs on the album, his point is already made. KRS’s stale subject matter makes this album a very boring listen.
Furthermore, aside from the banging “Rising to the Top,” KRS-One’s vocals and Marley Marl’s beats do not mesh well at all. They belonged to two opposing crews in the late 1980s and based on the sound of this release, it seems as though they should have remained musically separated. Hip Hop Lives would have been better if it was a Big Daddy Kane and Marley Marl collaboration as they have previously established a high level of chemistry.
While Hip Hop Lives is mediocre at best, it is only a small misstep in both artists’ careers. Without the contributions of KRS-One and Marley Marl, hip hop music may have gone in an entirely different direction. Although this release falls short, they should be commended for both releasing a mainstream album in a very youth-oriented genre and addressing two of the biggest problems of hip hop today: a lack of knowledge of its history and the supreme dominance of market forces.
Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins
Editor’s note: Our thoughts and best wishes go out to both artists, who have recently experienced personal tragedies. KRS-One lost his 23-year-old son, Randy Hubbard Parker, earlier this month. Marley Marl (44) is currently recovering from a heart attack suffered on June 5, 2007.
July 24th, 2007
Title: Third Coast
Author: Roni Sarig
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Since the birth of hip hop in the South Bronx in the late ’70s and its subsequent spread to the West Coast in the ’80s, much of what has been written about hip hop has focused on the music from these two coasts. The result is that regional hip hop styles and variations have been virtually ignored. Third Coast: OutKast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing by Roni Sarig is a long overdue book that details the rise and later dominance of Southern hip hop music. As a native Floridian and fan of hip hop music, it was great to read a substantive treatment of the history and contributions of Miami bass music and other Southern hip hop genres such as crunk and snap. Sarig has done his homework and tells the story of how artists like 8Ball & MJG, the Geto Boys, Nappy Roots, Mystikal, Pharrell Williams, Uncle Luke, OutKast, and many other rappers and producers became iconic figures on the hip hop landscape.
As the reader might expect, most of the book’s pages are dedicated to the development of hip hop music in the city of Atlanta and there are two reasons for this: (1) Atlanta has been the largest and longest running engine of Southern hip hop music; and (2) Sarig is a the former music editor for the Atlanta-based alternative newspaper, Creative Loafing. But Third Coast is also comprehensive in its coverage of hip hop in other southern cities and regions such as Memphis, Houston, New Orleans, Virginia Beach, and the rural South. Although Sarig’s journalistic background causes Third Coast to sometimes get too caught up in obscure facts and anecdotes about hip hop history, the book is an invaluable addition to any collection of literature on hip hop music.
Fans of Southern hip hop will enjoy seeing their favorite artists finally receiving some of the scholarly and literary attention that they truly deserve. What’s more, with the addition of Third Coast, both fans and scholars will benefit from a more complete history of the genre. Finally, Third Coast’s contribution of important hip hop texts proves that “the South got something to say.”
Posted by fedara mareva
July 24th, 2007
Title: Betty Davis
Artist: Betty Mabry Davis
Label: Light in the Attic
Catalog No.: LITA 026
Date: 1973, 2007
Title: They Say I’m Different
Artist: Betty Mabry Davis
Label: Light in the Attic
Catalog No.: LITA 027
Date: 1974, 2007
There’s been a huge resurgence of interest in funk-rock-soul diva Betty Davis over the past year, fueled in part by Seattle’s niche reissue company, Light in the Attic, and their release of her two iconic albums from the early ’70s, which have been sampled by the likes of Ice Cube, Talib Kweli and Ludacris. Suddenly, articles and reviews are springing up everywhere. Davis recently graced the cover of Wax Poetics (the featured article, “Liberated Sister” by John Ballon, is a must read for any fan and the photos will knock you out) and Seattle Weekly managed to track down the reclusive singer for a personal interview.
Born Betty Mabry in 1944, she literally burst onto the scene in the 1960s. After recording one song which failed to chart, she started writing for other musicians, including the Chambers Brothers and later, the Commodores. Meanwhile, she became a major trendsetter and fashionista, working as a top model and then opening her own cutting-edge nightclub, The Cellar, in New York City. But by all accounts, it was her marriage to jazz icon Miles Davis which provided the necessary catalyst for her music career.
According to legend (and John Ballon’s article), Miles had caught Betty’s eye during a performance at a local jazz club in 1967. She later showed up unannounced at his door wearing a see-through butterfly dress and handed him her card saying only, “I’m a musician and I think you might want to get together with me.” Then, after noticing Cicely Tyson in the background, added, “And when you throw that b**** out, I’ll be back” (in all fairness to Ms. Davis I must point out that she has disputed this account). To make a long story short, the two not only got together, but were married for one brief year (1968-1969). During this period Betty is said to have had a tremendous influence on Miles, introducing him to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, and personally inspiring his landmark fusion album Bitches Brew (a name suggested by Betty to replace Miles’ original working title, “Witches Brew”). Miles repaid the favor by agreeing to produce an album for Betty and enlisting the help of Wayne Shorter, drummer Tony Williams, and bassist Billy Cox, but after recording only a few tracks, the project was scrapped for reasons that are still not entirely clear. Yet this did not have a negative impact on her career; in fact, the opposite may have been true.
Known as “young, wild, and raunchy” (in Miles’ words), or more elegantly stated by Ballon as “a potent mixture of beauty, music and sex,” Betty was a true free spirit, fiercely determined to chart her own musical course. After the break-up with Miles, she was linked with many other musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Hugh Masekela, Eric Clapton, Robert Palmer, and Michael Carabello of Santana. A gifted songwriter, she continued to pen songs for herself and others, but her personal relationships with jazz & rock’s elite no doubt opened other doors, and proved particularly useful when it came time to gather session musicians for her first album.
Betty headed out to San Francisco in 1972, where Carabello introduced her to Sly Stone’s rhythm section. Funk bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico were tapped for Betty Davis, along with guitarists Neal Schon (Santana) and Doug Rodrigues (Mandrill), and organist Hershall Kennedy (Graham Central Station). Back-up vocalists included Sylvester, the Pointer Sisters, Patryce Banks (Graham Central Station), and Kathi McDonald (Insane Asylum), among others. As if that weren’t enough, the horn section featured Tower of Power regulars Greg Adams, Mic Gillette, and Skip Mesquite. The result was a unique combination of heavy funk grooves underlying Davis’ gritty, piercing vocals. The standout track on the album, said to be “the classic bad girl anthem and one of the funkiest recordings ever made,” was “Anti Love Song,” penned by Davis and possibly directed at Miles (“No I don’t want to love you / ‘Cause I know how you are / Sure you say you’re right on and you’re righteous / But with me I know you’d be right off / ‘Cause you know I could possess your body / You know I could make you crawl / And just as hard as I’d fall for you, boy / You know you’d fall for me harder / That’s why I don’t want to love you”).
Davis’ 1974 follow-up album, They Say I’m Different, was basically a reprise of the first, and does not demonstrate any significant musical growth. In fact, Davis’ vocals (she was by no means a “singer’s singer”) can grate after awhile. But once again she gathered a stellar line-up of musicians, including ex-Hendrix guitarist Buddy Miles, and consequently this album really smokes. It also came to personify Davis’ bad girl image. Two songs, in particular, would eventually have a very negative impact on her career. The sadomasochistic “He Was a Big Freak,” about Hendrix, was banned from airplay (“I used to beat him with a turquoise chain / When I was a woman, I pleased him / When I was his mistress, Ooooh / When I was his flower, Ooooh”). “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up” created an even bigger furor for its overtly sexual lyrics (“I said if I’m in luck I just might get picked up / I said I’m dishin’, trickin’ you can call it what you want / I said wriggling my fanny / I want you dancin, doin it, doin it / This is my night out”). So what’s all the fuss about, you might ask. Yes, this is pretty tame stuff by today’s standards, but in 1974 the song was actually blacklisted by the NAACP!
Davis was eventually ostracized by mainstream Black America for pushing the envelope too far—her Afro was too big, her attitude even bigger, her clothes too skimpy, her sexuality too much on display, her music definitely not suitable for prime time. But her live performances remained a huge draw—her aggressive on-stage persona was equalled only by the likes of Rick James, Sly Stone and Mick Jagger. Certainly no female performers of the era even came close. According to Carlos Santana (as quoted from the liner notes), “She was the first Madonna, but Madonna is more like Marie Osmond compared to Betty Davis. Betty was a real ferocious Black Panther woman. You couldn’t tame Betty Davis.”
Light in the Attic must be applauded for these fine reissues. Mastered from the original session tapes, each CD includes several bonus tracks with previously unreleased material. The 30+ page booklets feature extensive liner notes by Oliver Wang with dozens of vintage photos. Credit must also be given to John Ballon, who managed to track Davis down in Pittsburgh by sifting through tax records (many had thought she was dead), and then convinced her to sign off on these reissues. You’ve got to check this stuff out- both the reissues and Ballon’s article in Wax Poetics. What a blast from the past!
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
July 24th, 2007
Title: Blues de Musicien
Artist: Pine Leaf Boys
Catalog No.: CD 533
The Pine Leaf Boys, a quintet of young musicians from Louisiana, have recorded a fun and energetic second album in Blues de Musicien. The disc is full of variety, containing a nice mix of Cajun, Creole, and zydeco music, from boogies to waltzes, with older songs and new ones written by the band members. The Pine Leaf Boys have done their homework—indeed, most have attended college, majoring in Louisiana-friendly topics like French and Anthropology. The Boys have effectively completed apprenticeships in the music of la Louisiane, even, in the Texan fiddler’s case, recording Cajun radio programs upon family visits to the Pelican State.
Yet there’s nothing old or stodgy about these performances. The group’s love and knowledge of this music is natural and easy, such that the performances feel neither contrived nor excessively pious, common problems when younger musicians aim to revive or maintain older styles. The group understands that Cajun and zydeco are meant for dancing and partying first, scholarly appreciation second, and the disc nicely captures this attitude; one especially wishes to hear “Pine Leaf Boogie” and “Zydeco Gris-Gris” performed live. The Boys are skilled singers and players, especially the rhythm section of Blake Miller and Drew Simon, although guitarist Jon Bertrand could stand to work on his soloing. The overall sonic production sounds fresh and contemporary, yet still appropriate to the primarily acoustic instruments and style.
So what’s a review of a disc like this doing on a website called Black Grooves? The crude answer is that Cedric Watson, the group’s fiddler and best singer, is himself African American. But more relevant and interesting is that much of the music on this disc is drawn from the Creole music of Louisiana, that of the local black culture, which was itself influenced by the Cajun music that arrived in Louisiana by way of Nova Scotia and northwestern France. This influence found its way into music and language; the track “Ma Petite Femme” is sung in what the liner notes describe as the “almost-extinct ‘couri-vini’ which is regional and mostly associated with Blacks.”
At its best, Blues de Musicien reflects the gloriously blurred color line in much of Louisianan musical culture. The standout is this regard is “Quand Rita est arrivé,” an uptempo a cappella, revival-meeting style “juré,” full of clapping and off-kilter ensemble singing. The Rita in question is Hurricane Rita, which affected the Boys’ hometowns in western Louisiana far more than the more notorious Katrina. “Quand Rita est arrivé” is an original song, written by Bertrand, and it is the album’s best, capturing the sadness and struggle of Louisiana since the devastating summer of 2005, yet still full of the energy and resolute fun that has made the state justly famous worldwide. The song presents the Pine Leaf Boys at their best: properly aware and respectful of their black and white musical forebears, while still eager to develop and build upon those traditions for contemporary times. One hopes that the Pine Leaf Boys, in the future, will continue to strike this perfect balance between the old and the new, all while letting the bon temps rouler.
Posted by Jonathan Yaeger
July 24th, 2007
Title: Afro Samurai: The Soundtrack
Catalog No: KOC-CD-4188
Afro Samurai is a violent Japanese anime series featuring the voice of actor Samuel L. Jackson in the lead role. Premiered on Spike TV in Jan. 2007 (and soon to be released on DVD), the musical score for the series was prepared by Wu-Tang Clan super producer/rapper/composer RZA and was recently released by Koch Records. Over the course of 25 tracks, Afro Samurai: The Sountrack provides a healthy mix of hip hop, funk, and soul and further adds to the RZA’s already rich legacy.
RZA is most well-known as the brains behind the legendary group Wu-Tang Clan. Since 1992, RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan have released numerous hip hop classics including their first two group albums—Enter the Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers (1992) and Wu-Tang Forever (1997)—plus the solo albums GZA/Genius Liquid Swords (1995), Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995), Old Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Thirty Version, and Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man (1996); all produced by the RZA. Furthermore, RZA has produced well-received musical scores for a number of movies including Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2, and Blade: Trinity.
Afro Samurai: The Soundtrack is a very experimental album that contains a number of soul and funk pieces; two genres that RZA has not previously mastered. The overt hip hop pieces on the album are, unsurprisingly, very strong. “Certified Samurai” is a banger that features Talib Kweli and Free Murda dropping hot verses over an old school drum pattern and a vocal sample provided by Suga Bang. On “Jus a Lil Dude” A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip sounds rejuvenated over RZA’s triumphant horn part. On “Cameo Afro,” Big Daddy Kane and GZA prove that 40 is the new 20 as the two old school Brooklyn MCs trade verses over RZA’s brilliant beat.
Aside from the hip hop pieces, the two best songs on the album are the back to back Stone Mecca/RZA soul collaborations “Oh” and “The Walk.” Although the ordering of these songs somewhat corrupts the albums nearly flawless sequence, the outstanding quality of the tracks are unquestionable. Stone Mecca’s strong and unique voice meshes well with RZA’s neo-soul meets boom-bap sound. Also, the brief funk/soul instrumentals are adequate segues between the full-length tracks.
Afro Samurai: The Soundtrack is definitely one of RZA’s finest releases. Although he is very much a hip hop veteran, the successful experimentation on this album proves that he is ever-growing as an artist. If the forthcoming Wu-Tang releases are nearly as good as this, then the group will once again reign over the hip hop nation.
Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins
July 24th, 2007
Title: The 30 Year Legacy of Tyscot Records
Label: Tyscot Records
Catalog No.: TYS-984156-9 (DVD)
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Tyscot Records, the nation’s oldest African American owned and operated gospel label, the company has bundled some of its most memorable gospel performance footage into a DVD. 30th Year Anniversary: The 30 Year Legacy of Tyscot Records features footage of various gospel greats, including the Anointed Pace Sisters, Albertina Walker, John P. Kee performing hits such as “We Walk By Faith,” and the Rance Allen Group (featuring Kirk Franklin) singing “Something About That Name.”
In addition to the great performance footage, this DVD compilation also includes interviews with Dr. Leonard S. Scott about the founding and growth of the Indianapolis-based label. The viewer hears firsthand from Dr. Scott and son, Bryant S. Scott, what it was like to be a pioneering force in the gospel music industry and how they succeeded against many odds. The combination of the music and the story behind the music gives the viewer a greater understanding of the significant role that Tyscot has played in the gospel music industry, and how the label has managed to retain such a strong presence, especially during the last 20 years.
Overall, 30th Year Anniversary: The 30 Year Legacy of Tyscot Records presents a snapshot of gospel music history and performance that visually captures many of the great moments in contemporary gospel.
Posted by fredara mareva
July 24th, 2007
Title: The Gospel Discography, 1943-1970
Authors: Cedric Hayes & Bob Laughton
Publisher: Eyeball Productions
Date: 2007 rev. ed.
Bob McGrath of Eyeball Productions has just released an updated and revised edition of Hayes & Laughton’s landmark Gospel Discography, 1943-1970. During the fourteen years since that edition was published, a wealth of new information and detail has been uncovered, resulting in this substantially expanded 658 page incarnation. The listings are arranged alphabetically by artist and chronologically by session and matrix number. Also included are indexes for artists, song titles, 45 & 78 rpm discs, LPs and CD issues. Check out these sample pages and you’ll see what an amazing and essential resource this is for any collector, scholar, or performer of gospel music.
This massive volume follows the same format as The Blues Discography, 1943-1970 by Les Fancourt and Bob McGrath that was released last year and received the 2007 Association for Recorded Sound Collection’s award for Best Research in Recorded Blues, Rhythm and Blues or Soul Music.
And last but not least, while you’re visiting the Eyeball website, also check out the 4 volume 2nd ed. of The R&B Indies published back in 2000 (also the recipient of an ARSC Award). This massive labelography of over 11,300 imprints features four decades of blues, gospel, R&B, zydeco, soul and funk released by “renegade” companies, ranging from hole-in-the-wall operations to such powerhouses as Atlantic, King, Chess, Mercury and Motown. The listings begin with the early post-war jump combos and continue through the blues craze of the forties and fifties, vocal groups of the sixties, through soul and funk of the seventies and eighties, overall providing a complete accounting of everything marketed under the R&B umbrella.
I must confess that all of the above information was culled from the Eyeball website. We’re hoping that the budget will allow for the purchase of at least a couple of these essential volumes in the near future. Librarians take note- these books should be on your reference shelves!
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
July 24th, 2007
Title: Music of the Old South
Artists: Polk Miller & the Old South Quartette
Label: Flaherty Recordings
Cat. No.: F-2006-1
Date: Dec. 2006
In the June 2007 issue of Black Grooves we provided an overview of Lost Sounds: Black and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1918, the companion CD to the book of the same title by Tim Brooks. Anyone interested in the early recorded history of African American performers will also want to check out Music of the Old South, the story of Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette, privately issued by Ken Flaherty, Jr. Polk Miller is prominently featured in Lost Sounds (chapter 15) and between Brooks’ account and that of noted ethnomusicologist Doug Seroff, who provided the liner notes for Music of the Old South, a complete and utterly fascinating story emerges.
Born in Virginia in August of 1844, Polk Miller was a white southerner. While growing up he was exposed to various elements of African American culture and developed a keen interest in the music emanating from the slave cabins on his father’s large plantation. He learned to play the fiddle and banjo by imitating black musicians, while also absorbing the local slave songs, stories, and dialect. After serving in the Confederate Army and operating a successful pharmacy business, he decided to devote his remaining years to performing. Miller’s shows, advertised variously as “Old Times in the South” and “The Old Virginia Plantation Negro,” featured banjo tunes, dialect stories and lectures presented in a fairly serious manner devoid of the blackface and comedic ridicule common to minstrel shows. He became a major hit with white audiences in both the North and the South, and was lauded by none other than Mark Twain. After touring as a solo act during the 1890s, he decided the show would benefit from the addition of “authentic negro singers.” Miller thus formed The Old South Quartette, comprised of various Virginia fieldhands selected through auditions.
In 1909 a series of seven wax cylinders were recorded for the Edison company featuring Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette, with Miller also providing banjo and guitar accompaniment. The greatest curiosity amongst these recordings is certainly “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” otherwise known as the confederate national anthem, rendered here with a black vocal quartet chiming in on the chorus. Also included are: a “Laughing Song;” the spirituals “Jerusalem Mournin’ [sic] (otherwise known as “I’ll Be Ready When de Great Day Comes”],” “Rise and Shine” (sung by Miller), and “What a Time” (the earliest recorded version of this popular work which features a call and response chorus); “The Watermelon Party” (a “coon song” apparently written by the quartette’s tenor, James L. Stamper); and “Old Time Religion.” According to Brooks, “[these] recordings were extraordinary on many levels. Polk Miller was sixty-five years old at the time and one of the few Civil War veterans ever to record commercially. He was probably the only person from the Civil War era who had first-hand knowledge of black music of that era and committed it to record. And, he sang with a black quartet at a time when integrated sessions were highly unusual.”
In 1911 Polk Miller stopped performing; he died two years later. The Old South Quartette apparently disbanded; however a group by that name made several recordings for the QRS label in 1928 and it is generally believed to have included at least one or two members from Miller’s quartette (he had used as many as 20 different musicians over the years). Music of the Old South includes these recordings as well. Of particular interest are the following tracks: “Oh What He’s Done for Me” (a jubilee song with banjo acc.); “No Hiding Place Down Here” (with call and response chorus); “Tobias and Keechungus” (a mock religious service, similar to later recordings titled “Bohunkus and Josephus”); “Pussy Cat Rag” (a novelty song first recorded in 1914); and “When de Corn Pone’s Hot,” based on the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem and possibly the only recording of the song.
While on the one hand Miller promoted black music, enjoyed performing with black musicians, and was generally both respectful and protective of “his negros,” his shows were simultaneously promoting the “good old days” of the Old South and the “ever faithful, ever true, contented and happy old Virginia plantation negro.” As summed up in the intro, “the story of Polk Miller and the men of the Old South Quartette is a quintessential example of the American experience;” i.e., complex and not easily compartmentalized. Of course this is a very brief summary of the Polk Miller story. I would highly recommend Music of the Old South to anyone who teaches African American history, U.S./Southern history, roots music, ethnomusicology or folklore. The plethora of issues raised by Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette would no doubt make for some provocative class discussions.
This is Ken Flaherty’s first CD release (in his day job he’s an engineer for DuPont Engineering Polymers in Detroit), but he has been collecting and researching early sound recordings for over 20 years. According to Flaherty, “I learned of these recordings over 15 years ago and was just amazed that they even existed. There have been sporadic publications regarding Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette over the years. In addition, the Edison cylinders were reissued but with very poor sound quality. My objective was to update the documented history of Polk Miller with high quality transfers of the Edison cylinders and QRS/Broadway 78s in one readable package.”
Flaherty’s devotion to the subject is evident throughout. The extremely handsome and exceptionally well-illustrated 25 p. booklet reproduces many images from the Polk Miller scrapbooks (now at the Valentine Historical Museum in Richmond, VA). The liner notes consist of an article by Doug Seroff, “The Enigma of Polk Miller,” originally published in 78 Quarterly. The booklet alone is a captivating read, and I spent a couple of hours just devouring the content before popping the CD in for a listen. Though the packaging may create some shelving difficulties for libraries (the CD is affixed to the back cover of a 9” x 9” softcover booklet), I certainly can’t fault Flaherty’s decision to ditch the standard jewel case and impossibly small text fonts commonly used for liner notes these days.
If you wish to learn more about Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette, visit Flaherty’s website. Seroff’s son, Paul, also has a terrific and extremely detailed article on his blog, Tofuhut, with additional information about the recordings. You can listen to samples of Polk Miller cylinders on the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project website at the University of California, Santa Barbara Library.
Finally, for all of you dog lovers, I can’t resist adding a fascinating bit of trivia. In his spare time, Polk Miller wrote a popular treatise on dog ailments and his Polk Miller Drug Company marketed various canine medicines under the Sargeant’s brand (named after Miller’s pet dog), which in 1965 pioneered the flea collar. Who knew . . . .
And last but not least, Doug Seroff has just co-authored a new book with Lynn Abbott, Ragged but Right: Black Traveling Shows, “Coon Songs,” and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, available from the University of Mississippi Press. I definitely need to get my hands on a copy a.s.a.p.
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
July 24th, 2007
This month we’re featuring two new books that belong on everyone’s shelves—the Gospel Discography 1943-1970 from Eyeball Productions, and Third Coast by Roni Sarig, the first in-depth examination of southern hip hop. The 30th anniversary celebration of Tyscot Records continues with a new DVD that chronicles the history of the label through interviews and some great performance footage. There are several fabulous reissues, including the complete recordings of Polk Miller & the Old South Quartette, the iconic 1973 & 1974 albums by funk diva Betty Davis, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s masterpiece Kidney Stew is Fine, featuring T-Bone Walker. We’re also taking a look at two of Koch’s latest hip hop offerings—the RZA’s soundtrack to Afro Samurai and Hip Hop Lives, the first collaboration between KRS-One and Marley Marl. Our reggae contributor takes a look at Black Chiney’s latest riddim’ CD, while providing an overview of this Jamaican dancehall style. And last but not least, we’re highlighting new recordings by soul legend Howard Tate and the Pine Leaf Boys, a Louisiana-based quintet.
SAVE THE DATE: On August 1, PBS Great Performances will be commemorating the 50th anniversary and rebirth of America’s preeminent soul music label with Respect Yourself: the Stax Records Story. This new documentary includes never-before-seen home movies by Stax artists; outtakes of footage from the legendary 1972 WattStax concert; lost performances by Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, and Isaac Hayes; and interviews with Isaac Hayes, Mavis Staples, Carla Thomas, Sam Moore, Booker T. Jones, members of the MGs, Al Bell, and Stax founder and co-owner Jim Stewart. Details can be found on the PBS website. The companion website is set to launch Wednesday, July 25.
July 24th, 2007
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