Archive for February, 2008

More Beautiful Ballads

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beautiful_ballads.jpg
Columbia/Legacy continues their Beautiful Ballads series with the February 2008 release of several CD compilations designed to serve as Valentine’s Day gifts, complete with gift tagsbeautiful_ballads2.jpg affixed to the jewel case. Each disc is a compilation of classic R&B or jazz ballads that have been digitally remastered. A brief description of each follows:

Beautiful Ballads & Love Songs by Billie Holiday features a number of classics recorded between 1935-1947 including “The Very Thought of You,” “The Man I Love,” “All of Me,” “More Than You Know,” “Summertime,” and “Body and Soul.” About half of the fifteen tracks are accompanied by Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra, with the other half accompanied by Holiday’s own orchestra.

Beautiful Ballads & Love Songs by Aretha Franklin features a wide variety of material recorded between 1964-2003 for Arista and Sony BMG. The majority of the selections were drawn from the 1980s albums produced by Luther Vandross and Narada Michael Walden: Get It Right (“I Got Your Love,” “Every Girl Wants My Guy,” “Giving In”), Who’s Zoomin’ Who? (“Freeway of Love,” “Until You Say You Love Me”), Jump To It (“It’s Just Your Love,” “This Is For Real”), and A Rose Is Still A Rose (“Love Pang,” “Never Leave You Again,” and the title track). Highlights of the compilation include the duet with James Brown, “Gimme Your Love,” and two early jazz ballads, “Unforgettable” (from the 1964 tribute to Dinah Washington album) and an absolutely fabulous rendition of “Misty,” recorded in 1965.

Beautiful Ballads & Love Songs by Miles Davis is for those who prefer straight up jazz instrumentals with a heavy dose of Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers & Hart. The majority of the selections were produced by Teo Macero, George Avakian, and Cal Lampley and recorded for Columbia between 1956-1965, with the exception of “Time After Time” from 1985. Highlights include “My Funny Valentine,” “Stella By Starlight,” “I Loves You Porgy” and “Bess You Is My Woman” (from Porgy and Bess), “Blue in Green” (from Kind of Blue), and “I Thought About You” (from Someday My Prince Will Come).

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 7th, 2008

The King Live at Avo Session Basel

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Title: The King Live at Avo Session Basel

Artist: Solomon Burke

Label: MVD Visual

Catalog No.: MVDV4608

Date: 2007

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Solomon Burke seems to have built a forty-year career on almost getting the attention he deserves. His fame with Atlantic in the 1960s was overshadowed by the phenomenal pop success of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. While he has steadily recorded albums throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, it wasn’t until 2002′s Don’t Give Up On Me, which included songs written by devoted fans Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello and others, that Burke’s name garnered much attention.

Burke’s new concert film The King Live at AVO SESSION Basel offers a glimpse of the power of Burke, and a spirited testament to his passion that fuels that power, but also reminds us that somehow this larger than life man sometimes gets overlooked. Filmed for European television in the Swiss city of Basel, the concert sets a PBS-type tone with its polite crowd of middle-aged concert-goers seated cabaret style in a large theatre lit for television. Except for organ player Rudy Copeland, the band assembled is unremarkable. Dressed in tuxedos, they remind the viewer of a suburban wedding before the dancing has started. Their opening instrumental, “Back At the Chicken Shack,” fails to arouse any sense of excitement in the crowd or via television. It isn’t until midway through another extended instrumental riff, called “the greeting song,” that we hear Burke, offstage, announce his presence. Yet, as he begs the audience, “Are you ready?” he is met with no visible excitement. Nothing so far has seemed to indicate that Burke still has it.

When Burke does arrive onstage, cloaked in a red velvet cape, sporting a black fedora, sunglasses, his son helping his 500 pound frame onstage, the energy is still forced. These days Burke only performs sitting down in a majestic gold chair center stage, book-ended with vases containing dozens of long stem red roses. His first song from his thrown, “Down In The Valley,” is lackluster and still feels forced, although it is obvious soon enough that though he may not rock like he used to, his voice has lost nothing over the years. In fact, it has gained not only weight and depth, but commitment and even, if it is possible, more power.

When he launches into “Diamond In Your Mind,” the Tom Waits tune from Don’t Give Up On Me, we start to see glimpses of the power within. His deep baritone dominates the sound of each song and for the next hour he burns though old and new, including medleys by his more recognizable cohorts, including one Otis/Aretha/Ben E. King set of “Dock of the Bay/Fa Fa Fa/ Spanish Harlem/ Stand By Me.” Still the crowd is more preoccupied with the roses he’s tossing out than with the music. Burke doesn’t seem to mind, always looking like a King who’s enjoying his own party. Burke is equally comfortable with the songs he’s recorded in the past few years as he is with Marvin Gaye covers, and his own hits “Cry To Me” and “Proud Mary” show the commitment Burke has to the music, whether or not anyone is paying attention.

The 75 minute concert concludes in a prolonged version of Burke’s best known song “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” made famous by the Rolling Stones and given a third life by The Blues Brothers film. After much prodding Burke gets the audience on-stage, surrounding himself with dancers and singers, and at one point gives the mic to an audience member as Burke moves among those dancing, eventually disappearing behind his fans, his band, and his music.

The DVD extras offer no insight to the music, musician, or concert but consist entirely of tourist information about the city of Basel and promotional material for the AVO SESSION series. Those who wish to know more about the man described as “one of the greatest living exponents of classic soul” will have to wait for the new DVD Everybody Needs Somebody. Scheduled for a U.S. release next month, the documentary promises to provide “the definitive fully-authorized story of Solomon Burke.”

Posted by Thomas Grant Richardson

View review February 7th, 2008

Stereo Spirit

daby_toure.jpgTitle: Stereo Spirit
Artist: Daby Touré
Label: Real World
Catalog No.: CDRW146
Date: 2007

Stereo Spirit is Daby Touré’s second solo release, following his debut Diam (2004). On this latest recording, Touré acts as producer and one-man-band, singing nearly all solo and backing vocals and playing multiple tracks of guitar as wells as bass, drums, percussion, and even Nord Lead (a virtual analog synth). Nominated for Best Newcomer in the BBC Awards for World Music in 2006, Touré hails from Mauritania originally, moving to Paris in 1998 at the age of 18 where he began his musical pursuits in earnest.

Touré has been widely characterized as an up-and-comer on the world music scene, and Stereo Spirit fits snugly into the glove of that marketing category. Most of the songs are between 3 and 4 minutes long and their melodies and harmonies clearly convey the corpus of Touré’s self-professed Western pop influences, which include The Police, Dire Straights, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson. In fact, the tunes themselves would fit almost as snugly into a different mold – Contemporary Acoustic Music – if it wasn’t for Touré’s intricately woven pan-African guitar fingerpicking style as well as the inclusion of multiple selections with non-English lyrics. These are, nevertheless, essentially pop tunes -original compositions by an individual who cannot be summarized by a simple appeal to his Mauritanian birthplace. In both Diam and Stereo Spirit, Touré appears to be striving to go beyond the confines of interest in his earlier work with the ensemble Touré Touré, which centered on its “roots,” “African,” and “dance band” aspects.

Stereo Spirit opens with the darkly beautiful groove “Kebaluso,” a surprisingly laid-back opener for the album. It features Touré’s crystal-clear acoustic guitars and mellifluous glides from expressive mid-range to soaring falsettos that soak all of the tunes on this recording. Each tune is accompanied by a short descriptive passage in the liner notes as to what it is about (Touré hopes to communicate such messages in ways that go beyond language barriers, and largely succeeds). “Setal” is, in my opinion, the standout composition on Stereo Spirit, with its rhythmically driving verses and gorgeous, bittersweet and impossible-to-forget choruses. Other highlights of the 12 tracks on the recording include the pensive “Kiyé,” with its steady 5-beat groove; the reggae-inflected “Bibou,” the meditative “Banta,” and the Roxanne-like “Yakaare.” All of these tunes have a similar style and feel, and some are quite repetitive. This effect may in part be due to the highly compressed slick production on Stereo Spirit, which occasionally verges on wringing some of the dynamic life out of Touré’s compositions (especially for fans of a more live and raw production style).

Touré is an adept performer and composer who is just beginning to find his own expressive voice. Stereo Spirit is a solid world music release for die-hard fans of the world music/global pop genre and fans of contemporary acoustic music. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a representative sampler of “Mauritanian” music, though one will find it interwoven here among these tunes.

For further information:

Touré Touré’s Laddé
Debut album from Daby Touré’s first well-known musical project – a collaboration with his cousin Omar Touré.

National Geographic World Music
More about the nation of Mauritania and its important artists.

World Music: The Basics
Richard Nidel’s highly consolidated, but informed, survey of many of the industry’s most popular styles, including the music of Mauritania.

Posted by Anthony Guest-Scott

View review February 7th, 2008

Ramblin’ on My Mind

ramblin_on_my_mind1.jpgTitle: Ramblin’ on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
Editor: David Evans
Publisher: University of Illinois Press (Urbana and Chicago)
Date: 2008

 

 

Ramblin’ on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues, is the second installment in the University of Illinois Press’s new African American Music in Global Perspective series, co-edited by Portia K. Maultsby and Mellonee V. Burnim in affiliation with the Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University. The first installment, published in 2007 and co-edited by Eileen M. Hayes and Linda F. Williams, was titled Black Women and Music: More than the Blues. This latest addition to the series is edited by eminent blues scholar and artist David Evans. Evans has been researching and performing the blues for nearly 50 years, and is thus well-positioned to analytically unite new perspectives on the genre and frame them in relation to older treatments.

Evans writes that “the purpose of the present collection of essays is to offer new perspective on the blues by exploring previously neglected aspects, reinterpreting familiar material, conducting broad and more scientific surveys, and exploring specific blues performances in great depth and detail” (3). In accomplishing this purpose, Evans expanded upon the four essays in this collection that were originally published in the journal American Music by drawing upon an international and interdisciplinary range of contributions. As Evans describes, “these essays are by well-established blues writers, distinguished scholars in other fields of music, and several newly emerging writers. The authors represent the diversity of backgrounds that have contributed to blues scholarship over the years: folklorists, musicologists, anthropologists, musicians, fans, and collectors. Three of them are based outside of the United States, reflecting the internationalization of blues music and blues research in recent decades. The author’s approaches to the blues include fieldwork and other direct encounters, analysis of recordings, and research in the printed literature. Each of the essays is the product of careful and wide-ranging scholarship, not a brainstorm dashed off quickly. All can serve as models for future study both of the blues and other types of music” (3).

Ramblin’ on My Mind opens with Gerhard Kubik’s essay “Bourdon, Blue Notes, and Pentatonism in the Blues: An Africanist Perspective.” This essay draws upon Kubik’s field experience in seventeen African countries and more than forty years of research on African music to trace the origins of an African-derived basis for “blue notes” and the blues scale. It is followed by Lynn Abbott’s and Doug Seroff’s “‘They Cert’ly Sound Good to Me’: Sheet Music, Southern Vaudeville, and the Commercial Ascendancy of the Blues,” which explores the uncharted territory of blues in the black vaudeville theater circuit and demonstrates that blues was a cultural movement prior to 1920 and not just the creation of a handful of creative individuals. Elliot S. Hurwitt’s “Abbe Niles, Blues Advocate,” investigates the early efforts of Niles, a close friend of W.C. Handy’s, to interpret and explain this music to a particularly wide audience. In “The Hands of Blues Guitarists,” Andrew M. Cohen uses the technique of right hand thumb for time-keeping and melodic figures as a measure by which to critically examine long-held, primarily impressionistic, assumptions about regional blues styles. Evans himself offers an essay, as well: “From Bumble Bee Slim to Black Boy Shine: Nicknames of Blues Singers,” in which he uses a large sample of over three thousand blues artists to trace the meanings of their names to roots in broader African American culture (as opposed to the characteristics and experiences of individual artists). Luigi Monge’s “Preachin’ the Blues: A Textual Linguistic Analysis of Son House’s ‘Dry Spell Blues” is a penetrating study of this classic recording, revealing its true character as a sort of “blues prayer” and highlighting the sacred and secular that come together in House’s music. James Bennighof’s “Some Ramblings on Robert Johnson’s Mind: Critical Analysis and Aesthetic Value in Delta Blues” uses a blues-centered frame of analysis to explore the intricacies of Johnson’s “Rambling on My Mind.” In “‘Guess These People Wonder What I’m Singing’: Quotation and Reference in Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘St. Louis Blues,’” Katharine Cartwright shines light on Fitzgerald’s wide array of musical influences that emerge through her performance of this well-known tune. Bob Groom’s “Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: A Decade of Disillusion in Black Blues and Gospel Song” examines another important but neglected period of blues history: the decade following World War II. Ramblin’ concludes with John Minton’s “Houston Creoles and Zydeco: The Emergence of an African American Urban Popular Style,” in which he traces the origins of the genre to the Creole communities in the cities of Texas before its later surge in popularity and identification as a “Louisiana music.”

Overall, this volume asks the question, “When we want to figure out what the blues is all about, what have we forgotten?” The answers provided here by Evans and others suggest that, after sixty years of accumulated wisdom, there is still much out there we need to understand about the blues.

For Further Information:

Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues
Evans’ expansive introduction to the social history of blues from the Delta

Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton
CD box set of influential bluesman Charley Patton, for which Evans wrote the liner notes that earned him a GrammyTM in 2003

Africa and the Blues
This book lays the foundation for Gerhard Kubik’s essay in Ramblin’.

Posted by Anthony Guest-Scott

View review February 7th, 2008

Junior Wells: Live at Nightstage

live_at_nightstage.jpgTitle: Junior Wells: Live at Nightstage
Artists: Junior Wells with special guest Buddy Guy
Format: DVD, NTSC
Label: Image Entertainment
Catalog No.: ID3630JXDVD
Date: 2007

“Do you really want to hear some blues that you don’t hear much about anymore? Well, watch this shit!”

Buddy Guy coaxes the audience to go along with him and Junior Wells way down deep, and way back to the rawest roots of urban blues in a tribute to Muddy Waters. The tune begins with silence – the room is dead. And you suddenly realize that Guy is plucking out barely audible chordal accompaniment on his guitar, anticipating Wells’ murderously bittersweet harmonica bends and subtle lines. They slink along together as the rest of the band comes in to offer support. Wells’ voice emerges quietly, but right from the beginning it seems to traverse the full range of a blues voice, as if multiple bluesmen were all being channeled at once – we get soft and sweetly melancholy, gut-wrenching scoops, growls, shouts and all the rest you can imagine. As Wells gets louder, Guy ripples along just beneath with a crazy string of electric guitar vibrato-laden bends. The two continue throughout to act as three voices in a contemplative conversation – Guys’ guitar, and both Wells’ versatile voice and stunning ultra treble-range harmonica licks. But it’s not all reverie – there is a good bit of revelry, too, and classic showmanship (especially from Guy) as the two joke back and forth, alternately breaking the mood and bringing it back when they’re ready.

In Junior Wells: Live at Nightstage, part of Image Entertainment’s “Blues Legends” series, producer and director John McDermott has captured a rich, 71 – minute moment in the long-time collaboration of two of contemporary blues’ most talented performers. Wells, born as Amos Blakemore, grew up in the heart of the Memphis blues scene. He earned his first claim to fame in 1952 when Wells replaced Little Walter in Muddy Waters’ band. Buddy Guy got the attention of many more mainstream artists during his early stint as a session guitarist at Chess, and his friendship with Wells began in 1958 during his tenure at the 708 club. Thought the two toured together regularly for 30 years, most of their June 15, 1986 performance at Nightstage in Cambridge, MA had never been previously released before this DVD.

Live at Nightstage is a raw presentation of a raw musical form. There is no post-processing of the sound from the stage, and the video quality is rather poor by today’s standards – but remember, this was 1986. The backing band kicks off the show with the rolling groove of (but unfortunately we are not told anywhere who these people are). Guy creeps onto stage for a straight-up slinky guitar solo in “Crazy About You” and his frenetic bursts of distorted lead guitar wander in and outside of the musical lines on “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” You sometimes find yourself wondering if he’ll ever get back – but he does, of course. Wells comes in with crystal harmonica arpeggios and a rumbling, growling vocal on “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” The two are together for the remainder of the disk, which includes “Tribute to Muddy Waters,” “Trouble No More,” Little Walter’s “Juke,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “My Younger Days,” “Got My Mojo Workin’.” They finish the Nightstage performance off with a tribute to James Brown on “Super Bad,” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Special features include the additional performances of “Little By Little,” and “Better Than I Love Myself” (which, for some reason, are separated out from the rest of Live at Nightstage) and Don Wilcock’s backstage interview with Wells and Guy from March 11, 1989 at The Channel in Boston. McDermott’s 6 pages of liner notes also lays out the history of the Guy and Wells story.

I think whenever two great artists collaborate, especially for years at a time, and their work is presented with as little tampering is possible, it is worth a listen. As McDermott describes, Wells and Guy parted ways shortly after this performance; subsequently, Junior continued to tour and record until his death in January 1998 and Guy went on to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Nevertheless, in Live At Nightstage we have the vibrant mark of a moment, and through it the confluence of two monumental talents lingers on.

For further information:

Blues in the Mississippi Night
A reissue of Alan Lomax’s historic 1947 recording of performances by Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, and Sonny Boy Williamson (a major influence on Junior Wells) as well as their 3-way conversation about the origin of the blues and recollections of racial injustices in the pre-civil rights South

Hoodoo Man Blues
Wells’ landmark 1965 album featuring Buddy Guy on guitar

Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues
Donald Wilcock’s biography of Buddy Guy

Posted by Anthony Guest-Scott

View review February 7th, 2008

Roots & Grooves

roots_and_grooves.jpgTitle: Roots & Grooves
Artist: Maceo Parker
Label: Heads Up International
Catalog No.: CD 2912
Date: February 12, 2008

 

Legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker (James Brown, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins) offers a double dose of funk and R&B with this two-disc CD set – Roots & Grooves – scheduled for release by Heads Up International on February 12, 2008. The first disc features Parker’s tribute to the roots of the musical genre he helped to establish – funk. Namely, Parker honors one of his most inspirational heroes, the late Ray Charles. Accompanied by the powerful and fresh arrangements of one of the hardest swinging ensembles in all of Europe – the WDR big band from Cologne, Germany conducted by Michael Abene – Parker breathes new life into a selection of Ray Charles’ classic tunes including: “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “What’D I Say,” and five others. In addition to his fiery saxophone syncopation, Parker brilliantly conjures the spirit of Ray Charles with his soulful and sensitive vocal performances on several tracks. Overall, this disc is a notable addition to the string of Ray Charles tribute albums to appear in recent years, and is a tastefully groovy hybrid of soul, funk, and big band jazz.

With the help of two funk gurus, Dennis Chambers (Parliament-Funkadelic alum, and one of the most amazing drummers on the planet) and Rodney “Skeet” Curtis (bassist formerly with P-Funk and currently with Maceo’s own group for more than a decade), Parker and the WDR band move “Back to Funk” on the second disc. These incredible musicians do not disappoint as the rhythm section lays down tight and tasteful grooves for the lively arrangements of Parker originals such as “Uptown Up,” “Off the Hook,” “Advanced Funk,” and several others. Listeners are also treated to a seventeen-minute rendition of the James Brown classic “Pass the Peas,” complete with a blazing drum solo, Hammond B3 solo (Frank Chasternier), and others in addition to Parker’s own virtuosic lead performance.

In all, this collection makes a conceptually coherent statement by paying tribute to those R&B pioneers (namely Ray Charles) who were at the root of the funky grooves of James Brown and subsequent artists, such as Parker himself. Recorded live, this CD captures the dynamic energy of this group’s best performances during their 2007 tour. Although noted for his work with smaller funk bands, Parker takes full advantage of his rare collaboration with a big band, creating soulful solos, riffs, and vocals that reveal the depth of his rhythmic and melodic talents.

Posted by Paul Schauert

View review February 7th, 2008

Billy Taylor & Gerry Mulligan Live at MCG

taylor_mulligan_live_mcg.jpgTitle: Billy Taylor & Gerry Mulligan Live at MCG
Artist: Billy Taylor and Gerry Mulligan
Label: Manchester Craftmen’s Guild
Catalog No: CD 2852
Date: 2007

 

Cool, classic swing flows from two of the great jazz masters of all time on this recent release. Although recorded live in 1993 at the Manchester Craftmen’s Guild (MCG) in Pittsburgh, this gem has only recently been made available to a wider listening audience. Notably, this CD represents a significant event in jazz history, beautifully capturing the sound of these two lifelong friends playing together on a recording for the first time. Mulligan and Taylor, along with bandmates Carl Allen and Chip Jackson, playfully move through jazz standards like “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Darn that Dream,” and “All he Things You Are,” in addition to offering fresh renditions their own compositions “Line for Lyons” (Mulligan) and “Capricious,” (Taylor) which have each become classics in their own right. The interplay between Taylor and Mulligan is evident throughout, showcasing both their maturity as musicians, and seemingly telepathic sonic bond.

This recording has been released to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the Grand Opening of the MCG Music Hall. Taylor himself played at the opening in 1987, and has periodically presented programs at MCG over the past two decades. Moreover, Dr. Billy Taylor has been a driving force in jazz for more than sixty years. After getting his start with Ben Webster’s quartet, he served as the house pianist for the famed Birdland jazz club in New York City. Since the 1950s, Taylor has led his own trio, while continuing to perform with a host of notable jazz artists. He is also highly regarded as an educator, receiving his Master’s and Doctorate in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst before becoming the Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. Later, he hosted a number of award winning radio programs and served as the arts correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning. Taylor also serves as the Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and has been appointed to the National Council of the Arts. He has been the recipient of a host of accolades including: two Peabody awards, an Emmy, a Grammy, a National Medal of Arts, the Tiffany Award, a Lifetime achievement award from DownBeat Magazine, and the election to the Hall of Fame for the International Association for Jazz Education.

On this recording, Gerry Mulligan showcases his trademark cool baritone sax sound along with his musical sensibilities as a composer and arranger – all of which have significantly contributed to the development of jazz since the 1940s. Namely, after arranging for Tommy Tucker’s band and Eliot Lawrence, Mulligan gained notoriety by arranging/composing several of the tracks on Miles Davis’ landmark recording Birth of the Cool, which revolutionized jazz by ushering in the cool sound. Moreover, Mulligan has toured with jazz giant Duke Ellington, and renowned pianist Dave Brubeck in addition to leading his own ensembles. He has received a number of prestigious honors such as: a Grammy, the induction into the American Jazz Hall of Fame, the Lionel Hampton School of Music’s Hall of Fame, and the DownBeat Hall of Fame. Like Taylor, in his later years Mulligan focused on jazz education before passing away in January of 1996.

Overall, this recording captures two refined jazz masters creating sophisticated and refreshing musical gestures that will delight fans of classic jazz while satisfying those hungry for innovative inspiration.

Posted by Paul Schauert

View review February 7th, 2008

When Rhythm Was King

when_rhythm_was_king.jpgTitle: When Rhythm Was King
Artists: Various
Label: Rounder Records
Catalog No.: CDHBEA 330/01161783027
Date: 2007

 

Once again Rounder Records has released a collection of quintessential cuts from the vaults of Heartbeat/Studio One. Studio One, Jamaica’s first black-owned recording studio, opened its doors in 1963 at 13 Brentford Road in Kingston. Owner and pioneering reggae producer Clement Seymour “Sir Coxsone” Dodd recognized the need for locally produced music to supply his sound system operation and capitalize on the new interest in a distinctly Jamaican sound. By the mid ‘50s Dodd’s Downbeat Sound System had become one of the top sound systems on the island, branching out into a mobile franchise. Originally selectors relied on imported records to delight the crowds at the dancehall. Buying trips to the U.S. gave selectors the ability to stay on top of the latest sounds that were being broadcasted via radio into Jamaican homes. In the early 60s, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, sound system owners bankrolled recording studios in order to capitalize on the growing interest in Jamaican Ska, giving life to the Jamaican recording industry. For over forty years Studio One has been one of Jamaica’s most influential and prolific recording labels, discovering some of reggae’s biggest talents in Dodd’s weekly Sunday auditions. The Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, The Wailing Wailers, Burning Spear, Horace Andy, Dennis Brown, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Prince Buster are among the list of artists and producers that got their start at Studio One.

When Rhythm Was King is a compilation of crucial riddims, deep bass lines and the silky smooth sounds of Jamaica’s premier reggae vocalists. The tracks on this compilation feature songs that are the rhythmic foundation for countless versions of classic reggae and Dancehall hits. The track “Mad Mad” by Anton Ellis has inspired over 200 versions and has become a Dancehall standard. This CD is loaded with alternate and extended mixes including Bob Andy’s “Unchained” and Dennis Brown’s “Created by the Father.” “Back Out With It,” by the Wailing Souls, features a very young Marley, Tosh and Bunny Wailer.

When Rhythm Was King contains 18 original singles, re-mastered from the Studio One vault. For vinyl lovers, the album is also available in a 2-disc LP format that includes the extended bonus tracks of “Take a Ride/Automatic” by Al Campbell and Lone Ranger and the Wailing Souls’ “Back Out With It.”

Since 1983 Heartbeat has partnered with Dodd in re-releasing some of Jamaica’s most influential music. Sadly, Dodd passed away suddenly of a heart attack in 2004 while in the studio, four days after Brentford road was renamed Studio One Boulevard. The Studio One catalog has been the cornerstone of Heartbeat Records with over fifty authorized re-issues, with many more to come in the future. In October of 2007, Clement Seymour “Sir Coxsone” Dodd was awarded the highest honor in Jamaica’s Order of Distinction for his legacy in the Jamaican Recording industry.

Posted by Heather O’Sullivan

View review February 7th, 2008

Welcome to the City

welcome_to_the_city.jpgTitle: Welcome to the City
Artist: City of Refuge Sanctuary Choir
Label: Tyscot
Catalog No.: TYSD-984149-2
Date: 2007

 

One night in June, almost two hundred musicians assembled at the Gardena, California, City of Refuge Church boasting some twenty thousand members as Bishop Noel Jones and The City of Refuge Sanctuary Choir performed live for the recording of the choir’s debut album Welcome to the City. The CD debuted at number one on the Billboard Gospel Charts, the first #1 album debut in the 31 year history of Tyscot Records, and was nominated for four Stellar Awards.

Welcome to the City contains fifteen tracks of uplifting worship music that spans a number of musical styles. Infused with gospel, R&B, jazz, reggae, and country elements, the backing band drives the ensemble with rhythmically punctuating accompaniments. The live production quality of the album is superb, clearly balancing the complex and dense orchestrations. The various lead singers continually urge the congregation to join in singing and clapping and the resulting energy is also captured-a challenging aspect of live music engineering and production.

The lead single, “Not About Us,” contains a memorable and funky vamp by the backing band and easy-to-follow responses by the choir. In fact, the entire piece is structured as a call and response. While the choir is impressive, it is the creative musicality of the backing band that this selection showcases. A rock-oriented guitar solo during the bridge and outro adds energy to the conclusion of this piece. After a number of songs that range from more ballad-oriented to traditional gospel choir stylings, track twelve, “Holdin’ On,” scoots into the lineup with a quick country shuffle. The bass steadily pounces through the track as the guitars add a certain rockabilly swing. The choruses shift in and out of this style with more funk-oriented stylings. The track includes an exciting conclusion of instrumental solos and a tambourine showcase that fades out, signaling a party-environment that the CD length could not contain. The final track, “Alright (Hey, Hey, Hey)” is performed in a reggae style with a number of horns playing harmonies and solos, one guitar playing upstrokes on beats two and four, and the other guitar using a wah-wah effect. This inspiring track-urging all listeners to hold on when all hope is gone-concludes an album full of uplifting, positive, and encouraging sentiments.

The lyrical content of Welcome to the City remains similar from start to finish. This is appropriate as the album, in essence, represents one particular worship experience for this community. It is this rich worship experience, encompassing all the people that were there – performers and congregation alike – that is vibrantly captured here.

Posted by Mike Lee

View review February 7th, 2008

On the Right Road Now

on_the_right_road_now.jpgTitle: On the Right Road Now
Artist: Paschall Brothers
Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Catalog No.: SFW CD 40176
Date: 2007

 

From 1920s Southside Chicago – when you could catch groups of young men standing on the corners under street lamps singing in four part harmony – to the little ramshackle church nestled deep in the backwoods of Clinton, Louisiana, where, in 2008, you will still find deacons of the church before the congregation leading them in song…these are just a few of the images, from past to present, that come to mind as you listen to the Paschall Brothers, a vocal gospel quartet based in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

As bearers of a long standing tradition of harmonizing singers, the Paschall Brothers were established in the Tidewater region of Virginia by the Rev. Frank Paschall Sr., an accomplished quartet singer in his own right. He passed the torch to his five sons in 1981, and today the quartet is comprised of Rev. Tarrence Paschall Sr., Tarrence Paschall Jr., Frank Paschall Jr., Renard Freeman Sr., and Renard Freeman Jr. At first glance they may seem no different from any other vocal gospel quartet on the market today. However, what sets them apart from other groups is their performance practice. Unlike other quartets who may have a bevy of instruments for accompaniment, the Paschall Brothers are without a doubt committed to the a cappella style of singing.

The group attributes their greatest musical influence to their founder, the Rev. Frank Paschall Sr., who died in 1999. Other major musical influences include the Temptations, the Swan Silvertones, Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers, and the Street Corner Symphony (the Persuasions). Listening to the Paschall Brothers sing songs such as “Ease My Troublin’ Mind,” “Rugged Cross,” and “Church Folk,” you are able to witness their ability to weave the threads of tradition into a resilient aural garment.

On the Right Road Now is accompanied by in-depth liner notes. Joyce Marie Jackson begins by providing a detailed account of the history surrounding the formation of vocal quartets and their development, including the long heritage of Tidewater quartets. Also included is Jon Lohman’s recounting of his personal experiences with the Paschall Brothers (as former director of the Virginia Folklife Program and as producer of their first CD, Songs for Our Father). Jackson and Lohman conclude by joining forces for the “Track Notes” section, which lays out a detailed analysis of each track on the recording and the stories behind them.

If you enjoy traditional, foot-stomping gospel music from the little shack with the deacons, or if you just enjoy the smooth sultry sounds of male vocal quartets under the street lamp – “shooop….. ooh… lala…,” – you will thoroughly enjoy the Paschall Brothers latest contribution.

Posted by Terence La Nier II

Editor’s note: On the Right Road Now is part of the Smithsonian Folkways African American Legacy series, co-produced with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

View review February 7th, 2008

Black History Month

With so many activities going on around the country during Black History Month it is impossible to try to cover even a fraction, but we thought it would be worthwhile to mention at least a few notable events.

2008conference-intruder.jpgThe Center for Black Music Research in Chicago is hosting a Conference on Black Music Research from Feb. 14-17 at the Palmer House Hilton. Among the many interesting sessions are “New Orleans Collections-The Lost and Saved,” “The Spoken Word in Black Music Cultures: From Griots to MCs” (a multi-media lecture performance), and “From Talking Drums and “Heebie Jeebies” to Rap and the Art Song.” Portia K. Maultsby, Director of the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture (host of Black Grooves), will be presenting a paper on “Stax Records and the “Memphis Sound”: Exploring the Concept of Black Diaspora in Popular Music.” Special events associated with the conference include “Sweet Thunder: The Billy Strayhorn Story” (a performance by the Black Music Repertory Ensemble), a banquet featuring William R. Ferris as the keynote speaker, and a Sunday morning gospel brunch at the House of Blues.

The Pan African Film & Arts Festival takes place in Los Angeles from February 7-18, 2008. Many interesting films and documentaries will be screened during the course of this event. One which caught my eye and is extremely appropriate for tootie.jpgMardi Gras season is Tootie’s Last Suit (directed by Lisa Katzman), described as “an exploration of the complex relationships, rituals, history, and music of New Orleans’ vibrant Mardi Gras Indian culture while telling the story of Allison “Tootie” Montana, former Chief of Yellow Pocahontas Hunters and known as the “Chief of Chiefs.” With any luck, Tootie’s Last Suit will be available on DVD before next year’s Mardi Gras celebration.

Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is focusing on the legendary Memphis record label Stax during the month of February in honor of Black musicians’ place in American music history. According to curator Howard Kramer, “There are many roots of pop music and rock and roll, but if you were to pick only one, without which the music wouldn’t exist, it would have to be the contributions of Black musicians. The Rock Hall tribute to Stax will include a screening of “Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story” on February 11. Stax owner Al Bell will also be interviewed before a live audience on February 20 as part of the series “From Songwriters to Soundmen: The People Behind the Hits.”

jamesbrown.jpgOn cable television, the VH1 Channel is premiering Say It Loud! on Monday, February 18 through Friday, February 22 at 9 p.m. Say It Loud! is a 5-part documentary that traces the evolution of black music and how it influenced and shaped aspects of America’s social and political history. Each episode will delve into a different genre of music, including gospel, jazz and rock and roll and will feature artists of that genre including Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Al Green. A new episode will premiere each night throughout the week.

PBS will be premiering An Evening with Quincy Jones, a one-hour interview taped in Washington, DC that offers a rare look into the life of the music mogul. Gwen Ifill interviews and hosts the star-studded evening, featuring live performances by Lesley Gore, BeBe Winans, James Ingram, Bobby McFerrin and Herbie Hancock. Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, (dir. by Byron Hurt) which originally aired on PBS in 2006, will also be repeated this month (watch your local listings for dates/times). You can now purchase the original, unedited version on DVD and view the trailer here.

View review February 7th, 2008

Welcome to the February Issue

There is a lot to celebrate this month. First, we’ve provided a brief list of Black History Month events that focus on music, including conferences, exhibitions, television specials, and a new film about Mardi Gras Indians. Next, in honor of National Quartet Month, we’re featuring the new Paschall Brothers album from Smithsonian Folkways. Since the Jamaican government has also declared February as Reggae Month, we’ve included a new collection issued by Rounder of quintessential cuts from the vaults of Studio One, Jamaica’s first black-owned recording studio. For Valentine’s Day, we’ve summarized three new titles issued by Columbia/Legacy as part of their Beautiful Ballads series. Also featured in this issue are new CD releases by jazz artists Billy Taylor and Gerry Mulligan, Afro-pop acoustic guitarist Daby Touré, funk master Maceo Parker, and The City of Refuge Choir; as well as DVDs featuring live performances of southern soul singer Solomon Burke and Chicago blues artists Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. Concluding this issue is a review of Ramblin’ on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues, the second installment in the University of Illinois Press’ new African American Music in Global Perspective series.

View review February 7th, 2008

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