Archive for January, 2008

Welcome to the January Issue

This month we’re featuring a wrap-up of 2007 that we’re calling “the best of the rest.” Our reviewers have compiled lists of their favorite 2007 releases that we were not able to include in previous issues of Black Grooves. Categories include Box Sets, Previously Unreleased CDs, Notable Reissues, DVDs, Classical music, Gospel, Hip Hop, Jazz, Funk/Rock, R&B/Soul, and World music. This is by no means an exhaustive list–we’ll still be picking up some 2007 releases in future issues of Black Grooves, and we might still feature full reviews of some of these CDs if we can get our hands on a copy. Feel free to contact us with your own list of nominees.

View review January 11th, 2008

CD Box Sets

atlantic_soul.jpgAtlantic Soul (1959-1975) 4 CDs (Rhino Handmade)
Atlantic Blues (1949-1970) 4 CDs (Rhino Handmade)
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Atlantic Records, Rhino Handmade has issued the first two releases in a trio of limited edition sets (to be followed by Atlantic Vocal Groups: 1951-1963 in 2008). Atlantic Soul spotlights 82 lesser-known and rarely heard tracks from Atlantic’s vaults, while Atlantic Blues features 80 tracks featuring virtually every style of blues imaginable.

ike_and_tina_turner_story.jpgThe Ike & Tina Turner Story 1960-1975 3 CDs (Time Life/WEA)
A fitting tribute to Ike Turner, who passed away last month, this compilation is the best anthology released thus far, guided by producers Bas Hartong, Colin Escott, and Tom Vickers. The first two CDs feature all of Ike & Tina’s greatest hits as well as some lesser known tracks, while the third CD is a reissue of the album In Person, recorded live in 1969. A fine review by Christian John Wikane, along with great video clips, has been posted at Pop Matters.

lady_day.jpgLady Day: The Master Takes and Singles – Billie Holiday, 4 CDs (Legacy)
For those that didn’t shell out the money for Legacy’s 10 CD box set Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia back in 2001, this new 4 CD compilation offers a reasonably priced and easily digestible alternative. The set features 80 tracks, arranged chronologically from 1935-1942, with newly remastered sound.

city_of_dreams.jpgCity of Dreams: A Collection of New Orleans Music 4 CDs (Rounder)
Any fan of New Orleans music will be interested in this new 4 CD overview of the Rounder Records catalog, covering everything from brass bands, r&b and Mardi Gras Indians to jazz and funk. Featured musicians include Irma Thomas, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Rebirth Brass Band, Art Neville, George Porter Jr. (Meters), Ruth Brown, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and many lesser known artists. You might want to pick this set up before your Mardi Gras party, and order up a King cake while you’re at it.

vee_jay.jpgVee-Jay: The Definitive Collection. 4 CDs (Shout! Factory)
Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records, formed in 1953 by Gary, Indiana natives Vivian Carter and James Bracken, was the most successful black-owned independent record label of its time, and served as a model for Motown. This fabulous set includes 85 tracks recorded between 1953-1966, and provides a representative sample of the label’s 13 year history–from blues and R&B to doo wop, jazz, and gospel. The set opens with tracks by Jimmy Reed and the Spaniels, concludes with Little Richard, and in between features Jerry Butler, John Lee Hooker, Hank Ballard, the Staple Singers, the Dells, the Swan Silvertones, Gene Chandler, Gladys Knight, and many, many more. Wow!

complete_on_the_corner_sessions.jpgThe Complete on the Corner Sessions – Miles Davis, 6 CDs (Sony Legacy)
This is the final deluxe box set in Legacy’s Miles Davis Series (seven other sets compiled from Davis’s Columbia studio sessions have already been released). Included here are twelve previously unissued tracks, recorded between 1972 and 1975, for On the Corner, Big Fun, and Get Up With It. The set is accompanied by a 120-page booklet with liner notes and essays by Bob Belden, Tom Terrell, and Paul Buckmaster.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 11th, 2008

Previously Unreleased CDs

deeper_still.jpgDeeper Still – Rick James (Stone City Records)
Funk icon Rick James passed away in 2004, and his final studio sessions, recorded during the last two years of his life, have only recently been released. A bit mellower in nature than the albums recorded during James’ peak years, Deeper Still is a blend of funk, latin, rock, jazz and pop that is still plenty hot. An essential CD for any fan of the King of Funk.

by_way_of_the_drum.jpgBy Way of the Drum – Funkadelic (Hip-O Select)
Funkadelic’s “trippy unknown gem from the late 1980s” was recently discovered in the Universal vaults after 20 years. The title song was issued as a 12-inch single, but the remainder of the album was shelved, and even George Clinton thought it had been lost forever. Now you can hear the album in all its “psychedelic rock and body-shaking drum-machine beat” glory. Featured are vocalists Gary Shider, Donnie Sterling and Mallia Franklin; keyboardist/ programmers David “Chong” Spradley, Loic Gambas and Amp Fiddler; and some great guitar solos by DeWayne “Blackbird” McKnight and Eddie Hazel.

aretha_rare_and_unreleased.jpgRare and Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of SoulAretha Franklin, 2 CDs (Rhino)
This two-CD compilation features 35 rare and previously unreleased tracks documenting Aretha’s first six years with Atlantic Records (1967-1973), plus her 1966 demos of “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and “Dr. Feelgood.” Also included are her covers of the Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill,” Etta James’ “At Last,” and Nat King Cole’s “Love Letters,” as well as a live duet with Ray Charles and many, many more gems.

oh_me_oh_my.jpgOh Me Oh My: Aretha Live In Philly, 1972 – Aretha Franklin (Rhino Handmade)
Can you ever get enough Aretha? This previously unreleased live recording, recently discovered in the Atlantic Record vaults by David Nathan, comes from her 1972 appearance at the annual convention for the National Association of Television & Radio Announcers (NATRA), an organization for black broadcasters. The nearly hour-long set includes many of her hit songs, some never before released in live versions.

cornell_1964.jpgCornell 1964 – Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy, 2 CDs (Blue Note)
A newly-discovered live concert recording featuring 130 minutes of music from the band pulled together for the 1964 European tour: pianist Jaki Byard, alto saxophonist/flutist Eric Dolphy, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, trumpeter Johnny Coles, and drummer Dannie Richmond. Though most of the works have been previously released on studio albums, this live version is superior in many ways, and also represents Dolphy’s final recording (he passed away 12 weeks after this concert).

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 11th, 2008

Notable Reissues

two_sevens_clash.jpgTwo Sevens Clash – Culture (Shanachie)
Culture celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of their debut album, Two Sevens Clash, by re-issuing this quintessential roots reggae album. The title was based on a prediction by Marcus Garvey that apocalyptic chaos would ensue when the sevens met, 7/7/77. Despite the fear surrounding the dreaded date, this album is filled with such optimism and deep spirituality that thirty years later it is still one of the most heralded roots reggae albums of all time. This 30th anniversary edition has been remastered and includes five bonus tracks.

here_my_dear.jpgHere, My Dear – Expanded Edition – Marvin Gaye (Hip-O Select)
In Our Lifetime?: Expanded Love Man Edition – Marvin Gaye (Hip-O Select)in_our_lifetime.jpg
Two classic Marvin Gaye albums have recently been reissued in limited edition, 2 CD expanded versions by the folks at Hip-O. In Our Liftime? was Gaye’s final album for Motown, and this newly remastered disc has been plumped up with previously unreleased alternate takes. The second disc includes the recently uncovered “Love Man” sessions, conceived of by Gaye as a party record but never released. Here, My Dear, an album originally released in December 1978, was not a big seller at the time, but has been rediscovered by the younger generation of soul singers and hip hop artists. The new compilation not only includes the remastered original album, but a second disc titled Hear, My Dear, which features all of the album’s tracks newly mixed in old-school style by artists and producers including Salaam Remi (Amy Winehouse, Nas), Prince Paul (De La Soul), and Easy Mo Bee (Tupac, Alicia Keys).

they_call_us_wild.jpgThey Call Us Wild – Wild Magnolias (Sunnyside Ryko Distribution)
A great reissue featuring two classic LPs by the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tribe known as the Wild Magnolias, featuring Willie Tee on keyboards and Snooks Eaglin on guitar. Their 1974 debut album, Wild Magnolias, was the first major label deal for a Mardi Gras Indian tribe. They Call Us Wild was released the following year in Europe, but was not distributed in the U.S. Both are included on this reissue, along with previously unreleased bonus tracks and an embedded Acrobat PDF file that contains 68 pages documenting the history of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tribes along with detailed liner notes and illustrations. A fabulous piece of history from the Big Easy.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss and Heather O’Sullivan

View review January 11th, 2008


atlantic_records.jpgAtlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built (Rhino/Wea)
This is one of the “must have” documentarys of the year, celebrating Atlantic’s 60th anniversary and commemorating the remarkable career of the label’s founder, Ahmet Ertegun, who passed away in 2006. The DVD features rare clips, interviews and music performances by various Atlantic recording artists. Originally aired as part of the PBS American Masters series.

stax_volt_revue.jpgStax/Volt Revue Live In Norway 1967 (Stax)
Another “must have” for any soul fan, this 75 min. DVD captures the April 7, 1967 Stax/Volt tour revue concert in Oslo, Norway, featuring a line-up of all the great Stax artists: Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, The Mar-Keys and the legendary Booker T. & The MGs. Recently restored from the original master tapes, the DVD is augmented by 20 minutes of recently discovered performances that were lost in the vaults for 40 years.

dreams_to_remember.jpgDreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding (Stax)
The first full-length DVD devoted to the career of Otis Redding, one of the greatest soul singer of all time, released on the 40th anniversary of his death. The DVD features 16 complete performances filmed throughout America and Europe; rare television interviews from 1966-1967; and 40 minutes of contemporary interviews conducted by Stax historian Rob Bowman.

jazz_icons_v2.jpgJazz Icons, Vol. 2. 8 DVDs (Jazz Icons)
This second box set in the Jazz IconsTM series features concerts filmed in Europe between 1958 and 1966 by seven of the greatest jazz artists of the 20th century: John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Wes Montgomery, Dexter Gordon, and Charles Mingus (3 concerts each); Duke Ellington (his earliest concert on film); and Dave Brubeck (2 concerts). The DVDs are also sold separately, though the deluxe box set includes a bonus disc with additional rare, never-before-seen performances.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 11th, 2008


sing_to_the_sun.jpgSing to the Sun – Alvin Singleton (Albany TROY902)
Albany released a new CD last February devoted to Alvin Singleton, a former Composer-in-Residence with both the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Featured are five of his chamber works, including the title track sung by Spivey Hall Children’s Choir, along with works for solo flute (performed by Sara Vargas-Barritt), clarinet quartet, clarinet and piano (with David Shifrin and Anne-Marie McDermott) and vibraphone and piano.

hailstork_symphonies.jpgSymphonies Nos. 2 & 3 Adolphus Hailstork (Naxos)
Adolphus Hailstork, Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, has composed numerous works for chorus, solo voice, various chamber ensembles, band, and orchestra, as well an opera. Hailstork’s Second Symphony (commissioned and premiered by the Detroit Symphony in 1999) and his recently composed Third Symphony are performed here by the Grand Rapids Symphony under the direction of David Lockington.

surprise.jpgSurprise Measha Brueggergosman (Deutsche Grammophon)
A wonderful selection of cabaret songs by William Bolcom, Arnold Schoenberg and Erik Satie, artfully sung by the dynamic Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman. These are the world-premiere recordings of Bolcom’s newly orchestrated songs.

singers_to_remember.jpgSingers to Remember: Oratorio and Lieder – Marion Anderson (Dutton/Vocalion, UK)
This new release out of the UK focuses on Marion Anderson’s lesser known performances of German oratorios and lieder, from recordings originally issued between 1946 and 1955. Includes selections from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion, Weihnachtsoratorium, and Cantata No. 112; excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, Elijah and Paulus; as well as various Schubert lieder.

coleridge_taylor.jpgColeridge-Taylor: Piano Quintet; Clarinet Quintet – Nash Ensemble (Hyperion, UK)
An essential recording that actually includes three works by the 19th century British Anglo-African composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: the Piano Quintet in G minor Op.1, composed in 1893; the Clarinet Quintet in F sharp minor Op.10, composed in 1896; and also the Ballade in C minor for violin and piano Op.73, composed in (1907). To the best of my knowledge, no other recordings of the quintets are currently available.

orchestral_works.jpgOrchestral Works – Ulysses Kay (Albany TROY961)
The first major release devoted to Ulysses Kay, one of America‘s leading black composers, who passed away in 1995. Included is The Quiet One, one of the first major film scores by a Black composer; Three Pieces After Blake for Soprano and Orchestra, performed by Janet Hopkins with the Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, Kevin Scott, conductor; and Aulos for Flute and Chamber Orchestra, featuring flutist Melanie Valencia.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 11th, 2008

Top Ten Gospel Releases in 2007

well_never_turn_back.jpg1. We’ll Never Turn Back – Mavis Staples (Anti-)
Mavis dresses in purple, telling it like it is, and like it should be. The most meaningful and relevant project of 2007, regardless of genre, as Mavis shows us how perfectly the civil rights anthems of the 1960s fit today’s times. This is the album she was destined to record.


2. V2 – J Moss (Zomba)
The son of the late Bill Moss and part of the popular PAJAM producing team, J Moss pulls out all the stops on his new project. It’s an adrenaline rush of powerfully fun, eye-opening, and exhilarating artistry. If you only have room on your iPod for one gospel album this year, this is it.


alone_but_not_alone.jpg3. Alone But Not Alone – Marvin Winans (Pure Springs Gospel)
Winans Family statesman Marvin has a voice that melts in your mouth. The CD contains his hit, “Just Don’t Wanna Know,” a song about redemption from personal pain that ought to be one of the year’s best singles, period.


cherch.jpg4. Cherch – BeBe Winans (TMG)
BeBe takes us back to church, or “cherch,” the way it used to be celebrated, as he sings one classic gospel song after another while dragging gospel celebrities to the microphone to do the same. Two CDs of pure gospel satisfaction.


5. Soulful Sounds – Donald and Geraldine Gay (The Sirens)
These two legends play and sing gospel the way the pioneers intended, in part because the Gay Family was gospel when gospel wasn’t cool. Donald sounds for all the world like the sacred counterpart of blues shouter James Rushing, while Geraldine’s barrelhouse piano artistry channels the craftsmanship of Dorsey. Righteous and riveting!

joyous_salvation.jpg6. Joyous Salvation – Joann Rosario (Verity)
Chicago native Rosario packs her project with a cornucopia of bright, bouncy beats to back up her lovely and engaging vocals. It’s a CD that will lead people to holy dancing in the aisles, and then up to the altar.


i_never_lost_my_praise.jpg7. I Never Lost My Praise – Tramaine Hawkins (Gospocentric)
Tramaine demonstrates she has every ounce of energy and passion that drove her performances with Walter Hawkins in the 1970s and 1980s. The title track alone is worth the purchase price.


we_praise_you.jpg8. We Praise You – The McClurkin Project (Gospocentric)
It’s ladies night on this CD as Donnie McClurkin turns the spotlight on his equally talented sisters and original member Carol Carter. Their powerful singing proves that the McClurkin bench is plenty deep.


change.jpg9. Change – the Disciples (Priesthood Rec. Co.)
The quartet formerly known as the Singing Disciples melds traditional and urban sounds with lyrics that dispense the kind of mother wit that has been the staple of quartet singing for decades. The CD’s pacing is lightning-quick, with nary a moment of silence between tracks, giving the listener nothing but earfuls of joy.

wow_gospel_2007.jpg10. WOW Gospel 2007 – Various Artists (Zomba)
The perennial “year’s greatest hits” collection is a must-purchase for the expert and novice alike. This year’s edition includes hits by superstars such as Donald Lawrence, Karen Clark Sheard, Mary Mary, Yolanda Adams, and Vanessa Bell Armstrong. A pleasant surprise is the presence of one track by jazz piano icon Ramsey Lewis with the Tommies’ excellent songwriter Darius Brooks.

Posted by Bob Marovich

View review January 11th, 2008

Hip Hop

waiting_to_inhale.jpgWaiting to Inhale – Devin the Dude (Rap-A-Lot)
Houston underground hero Devin the Dude offers more of his laid back rhyming and crooning on this impressive release. Featuring hip hop heavyweights Andre 3000, Snoop Dogg, and Lil Wayne, this album is much more accessible than his previous efforts but does not stray too far away from his signature sound. Waiting to Exhale is one of the best releases of 2007 and another good addition to Devin’s catalogue.

below_the_heavens.jpgBelow the Heavens – Blu & Exile (Sound In Color)
Rookie West coast MC Blu collaborates with underground producer Exile on this stellar album. Exile’s soulful soundscape offers the perfect backdrop for Blu’s personal rhymes about young adult life. Although a relatively young MC, Blu sounds like a seasoned veteran. Below the Heavens is a flawless releases and one of the best debuts in recent history.

ugk.jpgUnderground Kingz – U.G.K. (Jive)
Underground Kingz is the 5th studio album from Texas legends U.G.K. (Underground Kingz). MC/Producer Pimp C and MC Bun B present outstanding “country rap tunes” over the course of two discs. Thanks to the quality music and major collaborations, this proved to be U.G.K.’s mainstream breakthrough. Unfortunately, tragedy struck the group on December 4th, 2007 when Pimp C was found dead in his Hollywood hotel room. U.G.K. has created a vast amount of timeless music throughout their 20 year career. Although Pimp C and possibly U.G.K. as a group is gone, their legacy is undying. R.I.P. Pimp C.

offering.jpgThe Offering – Killah Priest (Good Hands)
Wu-Tang producer Killah Priest takes us on a journey though his various “chambers” on The Offering, his 6th solo album. Boasting excellent mcing, good production, and a guest appearance from Nas, The Offering is must-listen.

Popular Demand – Black Milk (Fat Beats)
Popular Demand is the second full length album from Detroit Producer/MC Black Milk. Black Milk’s top notch beat-making and good MCing are on constant display on this album. With Popular Demand, Black Milk shows the world that his is an artist to look out for over the next few years.

West Coast Vaccine: The Cure – Turf Talk (Sick Wid It)
Cousin of West Coast veteran E-40, Turf Talk combines hyphy with traditional bay area gangsta styles to produce his unique brand of west coast rap. West Coast Vaccine: The Cure is his third album and one of the best West Coast albums of 2007.

None Shall Pass – Aesop Rock (Def Jux)
New York abstract rapper Aesop Rock brought more heat on None Shall Pass. The full-length follow-up to his disappointing Bazooka Tooth (2003), None Shall Pass reclaimed Aesop’s spot at the top of rap’s underground.

Once Upon a Time in America – Young Bleed (West Coast Mafia)
Baton Rouge native Young Bleed’s Once Upon a Time in America is a mix of gangsta tales and social commentary over a southern funk sound. This release continues Young Bleeds streak of quality albums.

jesus_price_supastar.jpgJesus Price Supastar – Sean Price (Duck Down)
Sean Price continues his witty style of hardcore rap on Jesus Price Superstar. Aided by a traditional New York boom-bap sound, Jesus Price Superstar is a very entertaining album.

graduation1.jpgGraduation – Kanye West (Rock – A – Fella)
Graduation is the third album from hip hop superstar Kanye West. With Graduation, West defeated fellow rapper 50 Cent in their sales battle and continued his reign as one of the king’s of rap.


Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review January 11th, 2008


river.jpgRiver: The Joni LettersHerbie Hancock (Verve)
Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, who played backup on some of Joni Mitchell’s albums in the 1970s (Mingus, Hejira), combine forces with bassist Dave Holland, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and vocalists Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae and Tina Turner to reinterpret some of Joni’s classic songs. Though for many the name Joni Mitchell evokes folk and pop music, the album remains firmly rooted in jazz and was conceived as a tribute to Mitchell’s more avant-garde side.

in_my_element.jpgIn My Element – Robert Glasper (Blue Note)
The latest release from the young Houston jazz pianist Robert Glasper, performing with the rest of his trio-bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid. Glasper weaves elements of hip hop into the mix, referencing J Dilla on “JDillalude” and combining Herbie Hancock with Radiohead in the medley “Maiden Voyage/Everything In Its Place.” An interesting album that charts new territory yet never strays too far from the mainstream.

a_tale_of_gods_will.jpgA Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) – Terence Blanchard (Blue Note)
New Orleans jazz musician and trumpeter Terence Blanchard was tapped to compose the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s recent documentary, When the Levees Broke. This Grammy nominated album is a compilation of music from the soundtrack, featuring a string orchestra combined with Blanchard’s jazz quintet.

red_earth.jpgRed Earth: A Malian Journey – Dee Dee Bridgewater (Emarcy)
A great African/jazz fusion album featuring Memphis born vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who traveled to Mali along with pianist Edsel Gomez and bassist Ira Coleman where they combined forces with various African musicians. The results are a unique combination of traditional jazz vocals backed by Malian rhythms on songs ranging from Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Afro Blue” to Nina Simone’s “Four Women.”

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 11th, 2008


florida_funk.jpgFlorida Funk: Funk 45’s from the Alligator State (Now-Again/Stonesthrow)
This is the third compilation of regional funk from the Now-Again/Stonesthrow label. This mix of tight grooves, nasty bass lines and smoking horn sections are a great example of the finest funk that the Sunshine State produced in the late sixties and early seventies.

amnesty.jpgFree-Your-Mind: The 700 West Sessions – Amnesty (Now-Again/Stonesthrow)
Yet another gem from Now-Again/Stonesthrow, this rare find was dug up while researching the Indianapolis funk scene. Free-Your-Mind is a remarkable example of the progressive funk style reminiscent of early Funkadelic with a very heavy psychedelic drone.

war_stories.jpgWar Stories – Lonnie Jordan (Fantasy Records)
This new album from founding member of the legendary group War is Lonnie Jordan’s first solo recording since 1978, and it is, as he describes, the first chapter in his “musical autobiography.” All the instruments were recorded live to tape with no samples and very few overdubs, so the grooves are fresh and shimmering. Check out Jordan’s spacey cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun.”

bad_blood_in_the_city.jpgBad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions – James Blood Ulmer (Hyena)
Ulmer’s most recent collaboration with producer and Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid (who also plays guitar on this recording) and the smokin’ Memphis Blood Blues Band. The whole album is built around a song cycle detailing the fallout from Hurrican Katrina. Ranging from deceptively light-hearted sarcasm to undisguised rage and pensive reflection, this album shows what 21st-century stories blues can tell.

planet_earth.jpgPlanet Earth – Prince (Artist)
Getting back to the guitar distinguishes this album from Prince’s many previous eclectic blends of pop from R&B to rock and beyond. Both smooth and heavy, soul-drenched and spectacular.


Posted by Heather O’Sullivan and Anthony Guest-Scott

View review January 11th, 2008


The year 2007 was a great year for female R&B singers. Newcomer Chrisette Michele introduced herself to the world with her debut solo album I Am while seasoned R&B songstresses Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott released their latest projects. On a completely different note, T-Pain released his much anticipated sophomore album Epiphany.

I AM – Chrisette Michele (Def Jam)
If some people lament the demise of the “real singers” in current R&B music, Chrisette Michele’s debut album I Am should put them at ease. With thoughtful lyrics pinned by Chrisette herself, classic arrangements done by Babyface and John Legend, and production by Will.I.Am, her album has a well-rounded feel that is both cohesive and diverse. The album is basically an assortment of love songs, but I Am is not limited to the standard love song. “Your Joy” reflects and celebrates the bond between a father and a daughter, while “Best of Me” describes the importance of healthy self-esteem, and “Mr. Radio” is a thank you letter to the love songs that DJ’s play on the radio. In the end, the Chrisette’s vocal delivery, which is steeped in years of jazz and gospel performance, is what makes the album compelling and worth listening to…repeatedly.

growing_pains.jpgGrowing Pains – Mary J. Blige (Geffen)
Mary J. Blige has had an enormously successful career since her 1992 debut What’s the 411? This track record has not changed with the release of her latest album Growing Pains. Propelled by dance anthems like “Just Fine” and “Work That” Growing Pains reached #1 on the Billboard Charts and has sold over a million copies. Known for working with some of the most successful producers and songwriters in the business, this album includes the work of super producers Jazze Pha, Bryan Michael Cox, Ne-Yo, Dre & Vidal, and the Neptunes. The result of all their effort is MJB at her best and a complete album that has a song (mainly for women) in every stage of life.

the_real_thing.jpgThe Real Thing: Words and Sounds Volume 3Jill Scott (Hidden Beach)
The Real Thing is Jill Scott’s third studio album since her debut in 2000. Over that time she has made a name for herself as one of the most soulful and talented young R&B singers around. Her current album finds her in a different place emotionally and her personal struggles are evident in the sometimes aggressive and sometimes plaintive tone of this album. However, in true Jill Scott fashion, she’s upfront about her life and shares her story through her music. Songs like “Wanna Be Loved” is an honest look into her hopes for love and “Hate on Me” is a verbal assault on her critics, while “Celibacy Blues” is a soulful blues tune about her sexual struggles. Despite however she may be feeling these days, Jill’s vocal delivery and vocal creativity remains as high as it ever was. If you’re a longtime Jill Scott fan you’ll enjoy witnessing this current look into her life and if you haven’t experienced her music yet, The Real Thing is a good place to start.

epiphany.jpgEpiphany – T-Pain (Jive Records)
The year 2007 could be known as “The Year of T-Pain” between the release of his own solo album Epiphany and his appearance on top 10 singles such as Kanye West’s “Good Life,” Plies’ “Shawty,” Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss” and DJ Khaled’s “I’m So Hood.” Yet despite the threat of over exposure, Epiphany has sold almost a million copies and has spawned two Billboard Top 5 singles. Those top 5 singles, “Bartender” and “Buy You a Drink” made T-Pain’s music ubiquitous on radio stations all over the country. Of course T Pain doesn’t have the vocal chops of other R&B greats, but his music is fun, creative, and danceable. Epiphany is the music that’s made to soothe the R&B pop music itch.

100days_100nights.jpg100 Days, 100 NightsSharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (Daptone Records)
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights, was one of the great break-out albums of the year. The third release for Ms. Jones and the dynamic Dap-Kings, the finger popping and toe tapping 100 Days, 100 Nights is a prime example of the sixties Soul revival that is taking root right now. With more contribution and arrangement from the Dap-Kings, this album is a stellar return to the roots of rhythm and blues.

Posted by Fredara Hadley and Heather O’Sullivan

View review January 11th, 2008

World Music

security.jpgSecurity – Antibalas (Anti)
The new Antibalas release, Security, is the Brooklyn-based group’s fourth album. Modeled after Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, Antibalas continues to carry the torch for Afrobeat into the 21st century. Security pairs Antibalas with indie producer John McEntire (Tortise, Stereolab, and Tom Ze) and is the twelve piece group’s strongest effort to date. The tracks are politically oriented and extremely danceable.

cult_cargo.jpgCult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay (Numero)
The second offering in Numero’s Cult Cargo series, this 16-song compilation explores the panAmerican funk experience, offering “a deep overview of Funky Nassau’s redheaded sister city, Freeport, GBI.” Recorded between 1968-1976 for Frank Penn’s GBI studio, the various tracks are described as “a fruity blend of rake and scrape, bush, junkanoo, calypso, reggae, and of course, goombay, with a twist of American soul.”

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss and Heather O’Sullivan

View review January 11th, 2008

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