Archive for November, 2008

Get Onboard

Title: Get Onboard
Artist: Eric Bibb
Label: Telarc
Catalog No.: CD-83675
Release date: March 11, 2008

Although he is frequently classified as a blues singer/songwriter, Eric Bibb draws most heavily from the music of black churches on his latest release, Get Onboard. Whereas only one of its songs is cast in a standard twelve-bar blues form, the album is permeated by the sounds of gospel and of spirituals. Many of the songs’ lyrics are of religious or spiritual themes, although the music on Get Onboard ranges in character from the boldly defiant to the quirky and humorous.

To my ears, Get Onboard seems uneven; a certain flatness or lack of energy characterizes several of its songs, making them unable to sustain repeated hearings. This flatness is most apparent on the album’s heavier tracksespecially its opener, “Spirit I Am.” Replete with several backing vocalists, this song aspires to convey the impression of a congregation en masse as it repeatedly intones the phrase, “I live for the Spirit I am.” But the voices blend a little too smoothly for my taste; greater distinction among the backing vocalists would have been more powerful. Additionally, Bibb’s delivery of the song’s verses is not sufficiently emotional.

Bibb shines more on songs depicting humility and supplication, as well as on the album’s more humorous numbers. “If Our Hearts Ain’t In It” (which features Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar) describes feelings of religious ambivalence: one can go through the motions of religion“Go to church seven days a week / Read the Bible three hours a day”without actually experiencing any religious fervor of one’s own“If our hearts ain’t in it / Ain’t nothing much is gonna change.” Bibb’s voice sounds weak and wavering in this song, fitting the mood of its lyrics; the wandering quality of the harmonies also helps the ambivalence.

“Conversation,” a duet with Ruthie Foster, is cute. The only twelve-bar blues song on the album, it offers a humorous musical setting of a conversation between a couple who don’t spend enough time together:

You’re workin’ all the time
What about you an’ me?
Your’re workin’ all the time
Honey, what about you an’ me?
Aw, baby, baby, baby,
I just miss your company.

The somewhat jaunty and unpredictable musical accompaniment lends a touch of irony to the ostensible love duet.

Despite its occasional winners, Get Onboard suffers greatly from the aforementioned lack of zeal, and I cannot give it my fullest recommendation. I would, nevertheless, like to note how well produced the album is; many of its songs feature large instrumental ensembles, but their sound is never homogenized and the individual instruments can be heard distinctly.

Posted by John Reef

Promotional video showing the making of Get Onboard, courtesy of Telarc:

View review November 7th, 2008

Family Prayer

Title: Family Prayer
Artist: The Murrills
Label: Verity
Catalog No.: 82876-87205-2
Release Date: 2008

Donald Lawrence is an incredible producer, as illustrated by Verity’s new release Donald Lawrence Introduces: The Murrills, Family Prayer. The front and back covers of this CD present timely visuals of the six-member Murrill family (5 brothers and 1 sister), showing a unique bond solidified by blood and spirit. The 17 tracks of their debut recording take the listener on an aural journey that captures the reflections of the Murrills, which highlight the social and spiritual dimensions of their lives that serve as a foundation for negotiating, developing and maintaining their familial union. The tracks also bridge the musical gap between the traditional rural worshiper and the contemporary urban gospel ensemble. In addition, the production of this project is in true Lawrence fashion-clear, clean, creative and conscious.

The opening track, “One Mo’ Time” is the Murrills’ reinterpretation of a traditional congregational song, establishing the family as an unbreakable chain. By combining a southern style harmonica with the Murrills’ warm and rounded vocals, triadic harmonies, and the sound effect of a gramophone record, this song creates the feel of a country home permeated with the supernatural gift of love. “Better” flips the script by incorporating a groove palette from the ‘70s funk era. While the musical foundation of this track is centered in the past, the lyrics project the listener into the future: “What’s to come is better than what’s been.” These lyrics also foretell the nature of this project, as the Murrills venture through various groove, harmonic, melodic and thematic shifts.

Executive producers Donald Lawrence and James “Jazzy” Jordan, along with other esteemed producers on this project-including Percy Bady, JP Morton and Tommy Simms-create exceptional instrumental foundations that allow the Murrills to illustrate their eclectic artistic sensibilities. For instance, “Friend of Mine,” produced by Donald Lawrence and Loren McGee, samples Eddie Kendricks’ 1976 single “He’s a Friend.” Roger and Darwin Murrill’s lead vocals on this track frame the struggles and triumphs of their family in a southern soul singing style, which expands the songs’ performance parameters over at least two musical decades (soul and funk).

“How I Feel About You,” written and produced by Percy Bady, is an urban-style ballad consisting of a soulful ostinato guitar lick and a rhythmic sequence layered with handclaps and percussion. These elements create a musical base for the song’s descriptive lyrics and the Murrills’ smooth background and lead vocals that are reminiscent of the singing style of Anthony Hamilton (a contemporary urban R&B/soul singer). “I Declare War,” produced by Tommy Simms, best illustrates the diverse creative tendencies of the Murrills. This track, written by Dwayne Murrill, sounds like someone completed an extensive study of Prince (the secular artist that can’t be nailed down to a stylistic label). Andre Murrill’s lead vocals, his siblings’ background vocals, and the tribal groove and extended harmonic and melodic textures are all derivatives of Prince’s performance style.

While the first two-thirds of this album focus on relationships within the family and their collective and individual connections to God, the final third highlights notions of endurance through both a male and female lens. For instance, “Survive” is Arnetta Murrill’s narrative for the sisters, which asserts that strong faith in God results in a Christian woman’s reality of hope. “Good Days, Bad Days” puts forth a “good” man’s perception of a relationship. In addition, “Can You Stand The Rain?” is a remake of New Edition’s 1989 signature ballad that pulls the man and woman of God together as they ponder the issue of long term suffering.

All of these tracks present superb artistic representations of the social and spiritual dimensions of the Murrills’ lives. However, if you rewind or fast forward to “Family (There’s A Healing),” you will experience a succinct manifestation of this project’s primary focus. That is, the significance of the collective family adhering to God’s powerful ability to mend broken relationships that have plagued the sacred blood unit. Lawrence exemplifies a deep understanding of this resolution by inserting a PDF file of the sheet music for this ballad. The Murrills’ demonstrate their awareness of the value of this song through impeccable word painting, phrasing, tonality and spirit that will pull the heart strings of anyone searching for a religious and musical cure for the seemingly ruined family. In essence, Donald Lawrence and the Murrills’ call for everyone to sing, either by rote or transcription, a new song that ushers in a supernatural healing-The Spirit of God!

Posted by Tyron Cooper

View review November 7th, 2008


Title: Esperanza
Artist: Esperanza Spalding
Label: Heads Up
Catalog No.: HUCD 3140
Release date: May 20, 2008

Esperanza Spalding is a talented 24 year-old bassist-vocalist on the fast track to fame. With a background of baccalaureate studies at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, the distinction of becoming the youngest person ever to hold a teaching position at the same university, and her second CD release entitled Esperanza, Spalding is attracting excitement on the international level. Beyond her prodigious talent, including bass and vocal scat chops that cannot go unnoticed, Esperanza demonstrates the bassist/singer’s youth on a number of levels.

Esperanza covers a lot of territory: songs performed in English, Spanish, and Portuguese; musical genres or elements thereof derived from jazz, R&B, and Brazilian popular music; and, of course, Spalding’s contrapuntal use of bass and voice. She performs vocally at her best on two Brazilian songs-a newly arranged rendition of Milton Nascimentos’ “Ponta de Areia,” and “Samba em Preludio” by Baden Powell, on which a sensitive Spanish guitar performance by Niño Josele helps to bring out the singer’s more relaxed and sensuous qualities. The sole jazz standard, a medium tempo rendition of “Body and Soul,” is sung in Spanish and contrasts a bass ostinato section with a “straight ahead” (conventional driving-rhythm, small-combo) jazz style and Spalding’s scat singing. It’s not clear why these stylistic choices were made, other than to demonstrate that Spalding and group indeed have the technical skill to pull it off, if not contribute anything special.

The majority of the repertoire comprises Spalding’s compositions. These reflect popular R&B stylesthink Alicia Keys with a touch of jazzand unfortunately this is not Spalding’s strength. In general, jazz vocal nuance is missing and Spalding’s bass playingher strongest talent (at least at this early point of her career)perhaps could have been highlighted more.

A clear display of talent and youth, Esperanza leaves one hoping that the music industry and the public’s hype will not interfere with the time and focus necessary for Spalding to develop naturally and achieve her full potential. That just may be something worth waiting for.

Here is the promotional video for the album (courtesy of Telarc):

Posted by Karen Faye Taborn

View review November 7th, 2008

The Way I See It

Title: The Way I See It
Artist: Raphael Saadiq
Label: Columbia Records
Catalog No.: 88697 08585 2
Release date: September 16, 2008

A new Black Star Line sails forth from Columbia records, and his name is Raphael Saadiq. The former Tony! Toni! Toné! member re-emerges on his appropriately named The Way I See It as the ultimate African American singer with a self-conscious sense of sonic history. His vintage swagger on the album cover gives a visual preview of a man who has done his homework on every major soul artist in America’s musical history. Most remarkably, despite his ability to conjure everyone from Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, Raphael Saadiq still sounds like Raphael Saadiq.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a staff of string arrangers every bit as historically conscious as he is and a drummer who grooves like Stubblefield. Beyond his ability to balance influence and integrity, the production of this record provides ultimate added value. Every cut sounds calculated, like it came directly out of an old-school hit factory like Atlantic, Motown, or Phillies Records. Perfectly placed drum set lead-ins precede handclaps deep in the pocket of a serious groove, bluesy piano riffs punctuate bass lines straight out of the Temptations’ playbook, and the strings give well-placed intermittent swells over the subtle backdrop of tasty percussion tracks. With the exception of an ill-advised Jay-Z remix bonus track, the entire record flows like a compilation of soul hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Obligatory rap-remix aside, the other guests on this record supplement Saadiq’s soul savvy in style. Joss Stone completes his Smokey Robinson and the Miracles act as they trade verses on “Just One Kiss.” CJ Hilton leads a disco verse into a catchy chorus on “Never Give You Up.” Just when you think this record can’t get any better, Saadiq pushes the second verse into a short but well-placed Stevie Wonder harmonica solo. He follows up with a final highlighta slow, beautiful cut called “Sometimes.” Blending melodies and vocal influences from the Sam Cooke classics “You Send Me” and “A Change is Gonna Come,” he pays homage to the late great singer with lyrics that speak volumes about the African American experience.

In the wake of some fantastic British R&B imitators, Raphael Saadiq reminds the world that Soul with a capital “S” lives in Black America. Consistent with offerings from fellow Soulquarians, this record combines the spirit of Soul history with the best technology available to contemporary producers. The result is a record that tips the hat to his musical ancestors without sounding contrived. If any of the tunes on this disc do half as well in the charts as they ought to, it will remind the listening public that there’s a whole new generation of African American artists they’ll still be listening to in fifty years.

Posted by Peter J. Hoesing

View review November 7th, 2008

Paper Trail

Title: Paper Trail
Artist: T.I.
Label: Grand Hustle/Atlantic
Catalog No.: 512267-2
Release date: September 30, 2008

T.I. was arrested in October 2007 on federal gun charges, and after posting a three-million dollar bond, was ordered to remain on home detention. Always prolific and eager for attention, he released Youtube statements to his fans from home, kept up with his charity work, and began writing Paper Trail in earnest. The title is literal, as well, reflecting a creative process shaped by pensive isolation. In an interview with Rolling Stone, T.I. explained that, like his first album I’m Serious (2001), he was writing Paper Trail‘s lyrics on paper, by hand.

None of this is insinuating that the new record is in any significant way a departure from the bold, swaggering Southern style that the Atlanta-based rapper has solidified over the past several years. On “Ready for Whatever,” he briefly mentions his plight, and reassures listeners that he’s not going anywhere: “I had straps in my ride/Gotta go to prison/You waitin’ for me to die/You gonna be waitin’ for a minute.” Culminating with his platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated album King (2006), T.I. staked a claim for himself as being on par with the current pantheon of rap superstars. This is evidenced by Paper Trail‘s closing track, “Swagga Like Us,” which features verses by Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West. West also produced the track, which samples rapper M.I.A.’s hit “Paper Planes” in the hook.

Where T.I.’s last record, T.I. vs TIP (2007)-split into two halves demarcating the rapper’s split personality-was scatterbrained egocentrism, Paper Trail marks a return to straightforward party rap. The opening track on the DJ Toomp-produced “56 Bars” signals as much, with T.I. suggesting that “They been waitin’ on this shit since ‘What You Know,’ huh?,” a backward glance to the Toomp-produced smash single from King. Few singles released this year have been as successful as “Whatever You Like.” The synthesizer-laden R&B-styled singalong has made three separate trips to the Number One spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart since its release on September 6.

More than anything, Paper Trail is a pop record, already well on its way to platinum status and featuring guest appearances from some of popular music’s most bankable performers. Rihanna lends a digitally-altered R&B yodel to “Live Your Life,” Usher contributes the hook to “My Life Your Entertainment,” which addresses the “price of fame,” and bonus tracks feature Justin Timberlake and John Legend. T.I. may be suffering through some significant self-inflicted troubles right now, but like a good performer, he’s able to integrate his non-musical personality into his art on Paper Trail. His self-reflexivity in relation to his peers is perhaps best expressed on “Swagga Like Us”: “You go see Weezy for the wordplay, Jeezy for the birdplay, Kan-yeezy for diversity and me for controversy.”

Posted by Eric Harvey

“Whatever You Like” music video, courtesy of

View review November 7th, 2008

The Humdinger

Title: The Humdinger
Artist: Nappy Roots
Label: Nappy Roots Entertainment Group
Catalog No.: 80001
Release date: August 5, 2008

Nappy Roots is back, with their first major release since 2003′s Wooden Leather. After leaving Atlantic Records in 2004, they have been recording on their own label, Nappy Roots Entertainment Group, a fact addressed in the track “Beads and Braids.” In addition, the group shrank from a sextet to a quintet when R. Prophet jumped ship to pursue a solo career. While Nappy Roots has released various smaller-scale projects in the last five years, such as Innterstate Music in 2007 and Cookout Muzik earlier in 2008, The Humdinger is their third major album and has been eagerly anticipated by their fans.

Nappy Roots, comprised of members Skinny DeVille, B. Stille, Ron Clutch, Big V, and Fish Scales, all hail from Bowling Green, Kentucky, with the exception of Fish Scales, who calls Milledgeville, Georgia, home. The tracks about their hometown and down-south experiences are among the strongest on the album. “Small Town” is a sweet, nostalgic track that will trigger homesickness for any listener who grew up in a small town and remembers that the “mechanic is the sheriff is the judge with the gavel,” while “On My Way to GA” is faster-paced and grittier, but a similar sense of nostalgia bubbles just below the surface.

The star track on the album, however, is “Pole Position” (featuring Slick and Rose). It is a light, crackling homage to strippers and ladies of the pole, complete with an infectious chorus and lightning-fast rhymes delivered by each member of the group. Funny, charming, and utterly irresistible, “Pole Position” delivers. Skip the spoken dialogue before and after the track because it detracts from the immature glee present in the song itself.

Unfortunately, the majority of The Humdinger doesn’t bring much new to the table. “Who Got It???,” “Fresh,” “Flex,” “Swerve and Lean,” and “Tinted Up” (featuring Groove Chambers) are decent tracks, but little marks them as distinctive products of Nappy Roots. “No Static” (featuring Greg Nice), with its repeated spoken riffs, scratches, electric piano backing, and undulating vocal flow, is a pastiche of an old-school chorus (“no static, no static, got an automatic, too much of anything makes you an addict”) alternated with 2008 verses (“one shot might get me crunk, not to mention Shorty rolling like fifty blunts”). The lyrical, harmonically complex chorus of “Kalifornia Dreamin’” (featuring Slick and Rose) is a refreshing reprieve from the overall lack of cohesive melodies in the rest of the album.

“Good Day” is a bizarre hybrid of a children’s chorus, upbeat piano accompaniment, and darkly optimistic lyrics (“My grill looks mean, but I swear I’m straight, and the hood showing love so I’m a-okay”). While the chorus will stick in your head all day, ultimately, the track sounds a little too much like Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” wrapped in The Black Eyed Peas’ and Justin Timberlake’s “Where is the Love?” The “Voter Remix” of “Good Day” is available on Nappy Roots’ MySpace page, and the revised lyrics, such as “Let’s bring the soldiers home to see their children play,” are much more consistent with the other aural elements of the track.

While the members of Nappy Roots acknowledge their own roots in the South and pay homage to these feelings in a number of the tracks on the album, most of the songs are disappointingly unoriginal. The Humdinger will not disappoint Nappy Roots’ devoted fans, but most of it sounds like something you’ve heard before.

Posted by Amanda Sewell

Music video of “Good Day,” courtesy of Nappy Roots Entertainment Group:

View review November 7th, 2008

Rare Child

Title: Rare Child
Artist: Danielia Cotton
Label: Adrenaline
Catalog No.: ADM-101041
Release Date: May 20, 2008

Danielia Cotton came onto the rock scene in 2005 with her debut album Small White Town. Her recent sophomore effort, Rare Child, continues her signature blues rock sound, deepened by a more experienced voice. Cotton has often discussed her childhood growing up black and fatherless in a predominantly white New Jersey town. While she sang gospel at her family’s church as a child and teenager, the music she most commonly heard, and ultimately identified with, was rock. These experiences formed the core expression of Small White Town, and continue to inform Rare Child. In the opening cut, “Make U Move,” Cotton sings “I’m a little black girl who’ll rock your world,” and much of the album lives up to that promise.

Cotton’s musical style combines her soul-and blues-inflected vocals with classic rock instrumentation and harmonies, for a sound that suggests Janis Joplin fronting the Black Crowes. A touch of country twang in the guitar parts adds a southern rock element, particularly in the slower songs “Didn’t U,” “Running,” and “Let It Ride.” While several of the faster tracks (“Make U Move,” “Testify,” “Rare Child”) convey a sense of rock and roll bravado, “Didn’t U” and “Running” address heartbreak and different stages of post-breakup grief with confessional honesty. “Let It Ride” reflects the viewpoint of a more experienced musician, wearily describing life on the road and the desire to end the journey and return home. Following is a clip from a live performance of “Testify- Devil in Disguise”:

Danielia Cotton’s music revives the black roots of rock by playing up its blues and soul origins while also turning to some of its predominantly white styles, a combination that stays true to her own upbringing. Her style sounds like rock music from the 1970s, while also sounding distinctly modern. Cotton’s bluesy wail is never quite as raw or powerful as Joplin’s, but it nevertheless gives voice to her own experiences in a fresh and authentic way.

Editor’s note: In keeping with the political theme of the November ’08 issue, here is a link to Cotton’s official Obama campaign add for

Posted by Ann Schaffer

View review November 7th, 2008

Dear Science

Title: Dear Science
Artist: TV on the Radio
Label: DGC/Interscope Records
Catalog No.: B0011882-02
Release date: September 23, 2008

The members of TV on the Radio don’t care much for generic conventions and it suits them. Looking back on when he first joined the group, vocalist and guitarist Kyp Malone described TVOTR’s early sound as “an open mic/karaoke night gone awry.” Since the release of OK Calculator, Malone, Tunde Adebimpe, David Andrew Sitek, Jaleel Bunton, and Gerard Smith have maintained the band’s creative energy, but focused and streamlined some of the chaos into works of sonic performance art. Formed in New York City in 2001, the band has already released several well received albums. Return to Cookie Mountain (2006) was ranked the fourth best album of the year by Rolling Stone and it earned the band Spin‘s 2006 title for Artist of the Year.

Dear Science continues TVOTR’s tradition of intense multi-tracking and aural sculpting. “Halfway Home” begins with what could almost be a remix of “I Wanna Be Sedated.” Instead of offering up mainstream punk, however, the song morphs into something more reminiscent of ragas than Ramones. The opening chord on the synthesizer becomes a sustained drone, supporting both Adebimpe’s lilted out lyrics and a polyrhythmic percussion track. The drone shifts slightly to frame the chorus around two minutes into the song, but it only breaks at the very end when the synthesizer finally surrenders chordal control to a growling bass. If this first track on Dear Science doesn’t establish the band’s ability to break boundaries and challenge categorization, nothing else will. Although many of the other songs do range from punk to funk, there’s almost always a liberal mix of sonic play from the horns and synthesizers to keep things off-kilter and interesting.

More unique than the band’s sound, however, are its lyrics. The very first line of the album quickly establishes the band’s ability to play with language and imagery in a way that goes far beyond that of standard pop fare. “The lazy way they turned your head / Into a rest stop for the dead / And did it all in gold and blue and grey” isn’t exactly Keats or Whitman, but it does deliver up a certain poetic sensibility. Even when inscrutable or downright dreadful (Cod liver dollar signs? Lonely little love dog / that no one knows the name of?), the lyrics seem somehow appropriate for a band flirting with the boarders of punka genre that strives to never take itself too seriously.

Other songs on the album carry a deeper meaning, although it’s often easy to lose it amidst the lush layering of sound. “Crying,” for instance, presents a despairing commentary about modern society, including sorrow over the manipulation of our feelings by the media, the violence stemming from class repression, and the devastation of warfare. The song expresses an almost suicidal desire to finish the cycle of destruction and rebuild:

Time to take the wheel and the road
From the masters
Take this car
Drive it straight into the wall
Build it back up from the floor
And stop our cryin’

If “Crying” makes veiled references to the Iraq War, “Red Dress” is more overt in its criticism, particularly the enlistment of African Americans. It’s not the war, however, but individuals who complacently accept new forms of slavery who become the primary targets in this song. TVOTR derides those who answer the crack of the whip and the call of “Hey Slave.” They twist the beginning of James Brown’s “say it loud, say it loudI’m black and I’m proud” into “shout it loud, shout it lame,” bitterly illuminating the hollowness of these words if those embracing them tamely accept modern forms of racial repression and inequality. Although “days of white robes have come and gone” could refer to the end of peaceful times, it also functions as a wake-up call that white supremacy still exists, regardless of the changes to its outer guise.

Dancing Choose” is equally bitter, but it tackles the phoniness of American material culture and blatantly refers to those buying into it as mannequins and posed action figures who have traded their freedom and a sense of purpose for cash and glamour. True, many of the other songs on the album treat break-ups and love and loneliness, but even these tend to break the norm. “Lover’s Day,” for instance mixes more standard sultry fare with unforgettable lines like “I hunger for you like a cannibal” and “swear to God it’ll get so hot it’ll melt our faces off.” With its playful wording, this song seems more like a parody of a love song than one to be taken seriously in its own right.

DGC/Interscope has also released a deluxe edition of Dear Sciene, which includes remixes of “Dancing Choose” and “Crying” plus “Make Long All Night Long” and “Heroic Dose” as additional bonus tracks. For the true music connoisseur, the album is also available on vinyl from various online retailers and comes with a free download of the entire album in mp3 format. It’s hard to imagine that someone insisting on the sonic quality of vinyl would actually tolerate the lossey digital sound of an mp3. Perhaps this idea is aimed at investors who want to keep their LP shrink-wrapped and in mint condition, in which case the free download would allow them to have their disc and hear it too. Since the download coupon is located inside the shrink wrap, this doesn’t exactly work out. In any case, the rich complexity and sculpted sound of Dear Science makes vinyl an attractive alternative as opposed to a mere novelty.

All and all, TV on the Radio has turned out a strong album. If the band members can maintain the level of quirkiness and creativity that went into this latest project, then their star is definitely on the rise.

Posted by Ronda L. Sewald

View review November 7th, 2008

More Dirty Laundry

Title: More Dirty Laundry: The Soul of Black Country
Artists: Various
Label: Trikont (Germany)
Catalog No.: US-0333
Release date: 2008

More Dirty Laundry: The Soul of Black Country is the second in a pair of discs dedicated to an expansive and inclusive look at black contributions to country music, and the breadth of music that falls into the realm of County Soul is enough, I hope, to fill more compilations in the future.

The artists included on the disc are not exactly names one might consider when thinking of black country musicians. Of course, if it were limited to the standard black country artists, there would hardly be enough material for two compilations. Charlie Pride, DeFord Bailey (the Grand Old Opry’s first black star), and Ray Charles, with his genre shattering Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, are nowhere to be found on either disc. This is by design, since those artists are well documented elsewhere. Dirty Laundry (released in 2004) and its sequel, More Dirty Laundry (2008), provide “a collection of black approaches to country music” which is both a more inclusive and a more accurate representation of African American contributions. Because the institutionalization of country music essentially cut black musicians out of the picture, black artists have had to find different ways to approach the genre.

Listening to these compilations becomes a game of rethinking what country music is. Can you hear the country in Ruth Brown’s rhythm and blues version of the country standard “Tennessee Waltz”? Can you hear a Merle Haggard type twang in the voice of Stoney Edwards on “Honky Tonk Heaven”? Or conversely, can you hear the “soul,” (which is to say “blackness”) in the honky-tonk piano and pedal steel of Vicki Vann’s “You Must Think My Heart Has Swinging Doors”?

More Dirty Laundry gets to the heart of what one associates with country music. And who’s doing the associating. If country is limited to pedal steels, honky-tonk piano, and southern twang, Country Soul keeps all those elements, but also adds horns, gospel stylings, back-up singers, and soulful singing by artists like Solomon Burke and Bobby Womack that would make Hank Williams blush.

But country music isn’t just limited to the instrumentation and sonic textures, but is as much wrapped up in the history, the heartbreaks, and stories of the songs. Arthur Alexander’s “Everyday I Have To Cry,” and O.B. McClinton’s “If Loving You Is Wrong” ring the same sad tones often associated with the lily white country music from George Jones to Garth Brooks. O.C. Smith’s “The Son of Hickory Holler Tramp” is as compelling a story of country roots as Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” again, with a different approach. Take a story of pride in humble Southern beginnings and a deep devotion to family, swap the twangy telecaster and banjo of Loretta Lynn’s version for Smith’s driving bass guitar and blaring horn section, and you have two musical approaches to the same material.

Both Dirty Laundry and More Dirty Laundry make fantastic listening experiences. They cull from a wide and deep tradition that has been hidden in the cracks of other genres. Many of the artists represented here are famous in their own right (Ike and Tina Turner, Solomon Burke, James Brown), just not as country music stars. Fantastic liner notes by Jonathan Fischer provide an outline of the history of black participation and influence on the trajectory of country music as well as detailing each performer’s individual connection to country music, often through writing and producing credits for white stars.

These records may not be what you expect, and because of that, they make us realize how narrow our expectations have become.

Posted by Thomas Grant Richardson

View review November 7th, 2008

Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics

Title: Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics
Format: DVD
Label: Screen Edge/MVD Visual
Catalog No.: EDGE52D
Date: 2008

When considering significant figures in Black politics, we must remember the contributions of Marcus Garvey and his efforts to unify Africans and African descendants throughout the world. Born August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, Garvey was a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and Black Nationalist, as well as a great orator with the ability to reach across existing class and social boundaries. His organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), sought to advance the Pan-African philosophy by uniting Africans worldwide with the purpose of bettering industrial, commercial, educational, social and political conditions. Garveyism put race first, followed by self-reliance and nationhood as the way to bring about this unification. His motto of “One God, One Aim, One Destiny” has stood as a testament to his legacy. Many movements have adopted the creed of Garvey including the Rastafarian movement, whose members see Garvey as a profit who predicted the coming of a Black King in Africa. In 1938, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie was crowned emperor of Ethiopia signaling to the Rasta that the time for Africa’s redemption was at hand.

Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics is a documentary about the life and impact of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. Directed by Howard Johnson, the film offers commentary by historians, family and friends including activist Mariamne Samad, UNIA members Roy Carson and Ruth Prescott, and commentators Vivian Durham, Beverly Hamilton, Prof. Rupert Lewis, Prof David Garrow and Sam Clayton. The film begins with a brief segment about Garvey’s upbringing in Jamaica, citing that his early interest in reading came from his fathers’ and uncles’ extensive libraries. After the historical groundwork has been laid, the film follows Garvey as he journey’s through Central and South America, Europe and the United States. This period of Garvey’s life was instrumental because he was able to see that the Black man’s condition outside of Jamaica were even worse than at home. Noted activist and Garveyite Mariamne Samad points out that there had been others before Garvey who had championed the Black cause, but the problem was that Blacks were “fractionalized” due to location. She also cites Garvey as being dangerous because he addressed Black people as one race. Vivian Duram believes that most did not understand Garveys’ message and cites the dichotomy of race and skin tone as being one of the reasons that Garvey strove to uplift Black self-image.

Garvey came to New York in August of 1916 during WW1. Samad calls him a savior; Roy Carson calls him a redeemer. Samad explains, “When Garvey came to the US Blacks were essentially leaderless, other than the church . . . he found a strange group of people who were black people trying to be white. Garvey showed the Black American that they have a history dating back to Egypt, that their ancestors were Kings and Queens long before the white man crawled out of his cave in Europe.” Beverly Hamilton believes that Garvey’s contribution “first and foremost has been in the psychological arena,” and feels that “what Garvey objected to was that Black people seemed to accept their lot and conditions. Garvey believed that black people were like Rip van Winkle, asleep for a long time, and he was going to awaken them to a higher state of consciousness.” Prof. Rupert Lewis discusses the divide amongst black leaders-those who felt there was a need to return to Africa because there was no place for the Black man in the Americas, and those who felt that Africa was too primitive and savage, and instead promoted integration into American society. Lewis claims that Garvey was trying to find a balance between the two, but remained certain that Africa was central to Black dignity, self-respect, and self-determination. Samad asserts that at the time of Garvey’s arrival, the Mulatto was in charge of the Black society. She fingers W.E.B. Du Bois as one of the lighter skinned mulattos whom Garvey battled with bitterly, and believes he caused a lot of trouble for Garvey and was responsible for fractionalizing the African American population. She also speaks of petty jealousies-the Caribbean blacks didn’t think a black man could be a leader, while American blacks didn’t like an outsider.

A visionary who was well ahead of his times, Garvey was considered dangerous by the U.S. government, as evidenced by the full scale FBI investigation launched by J. Edger Hoover. Prof. David Garrow believes the underlying reason for the investigation was to find a way to deport Garvey, citing the murder accusation in the Esau Ramus case. Eventually, the investigation came to focus on mail fraud associated with his shipping company, the Black Star Line (the means of distribution for Garvey’s Negro Factories Corporation). In 1925, Garvey was charged with filing a false tax return and sent to Tombs Prison in Atlanta where he stayed for two and half years, after which he returned to Jamaica. Roy Carson describes how Garvey rebuilt his organization in Jamaica with great vigor and captured the hearts and minds of Jamaicans. In the end, after attempts to be elected to office failed due to the class system created by the plantation society, Garvey left for England in 1935. He died in 1940 after suffering two strokes and was buried in London. After Jamaican independence was established in 1962, Garvey’s body was returned to the island. The Right Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey was honored as Jamaica’s first national hero in 1964.

Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics offers an interesting perspective of the impact and life of Garvey. Originally shot in 1985, the documentary centers on Garvey the man, rather than on his many accomplishments. The film is loaded with a wealth of visual images, while the soundtrack features a special performance by the legendary Mystic Revelation of Rastafari band.

Posted by Heather O’Sullivan

View review November 7th, 2008

The Third World

Title: The Third World
Artist: Immortal Technique
Label: Viper Records
Catalog No.: VR-CD-08
Release date: June 24, 2008

Harlem bred MC Immortal Technique is one of the most revolutionary voices in hip hop. While initially hitting the scene with Revolutionary Vol. 1 (2001), it was 2003′s Revolutionary Vol. 2 that put him on the underground map. His vicious and militant rhymes about the life of the oppressed captured an audience seeking an edgier form of socially conscious rap. After the release of Revolutionary Vol. 2, Technique virtually dropped off the scene, minus a couple of singles. The Third World is Immortal Technique’s official return to the hip hop world and precursor to his upcoming full length, Revolutionary Vol. 3.

The Third World is a mixtape album, mixed by former Shady Records member DJ Green Lantern. Aside from Green Lantern, production duties are handled by high profile underground producers like Buckwild, Scram Jones, and Bronze Nazareth, as well as up and comers including Southpaw Young Elite, Sick Jacken, and Metaphysics. This diverse group of beatsmiths provides Immortal Technique with a variety of sounds that he not only adapts to but commands.

There are many standout tracks on the album. “Lick Shots” is a banging battle track featuring West Coast lyricist Crooked I and Chino XL. On “Harlem Rensaissance,” Tech uses a simple, but effective backing track to talk about gentrification in his native Harlem. “Parole” finds Immortal Technique breaking down the prison industrial complex over an extremely hard Green Lantern beat. Wu affiliate Bronze Nazareth offers one of his typical heaters on “Payback” which Immortal Technique, Diabolic, and a rejuvenated Ras Kass completely rip apart. “Reverse Pimpology,” produced by Metaphysics, is a commercial track that is surprisingly effective and enjoyable. Following is a promotional video for the album:

The 3rd World Announcement

Immortal Technique has produced an extremely thought provoking, but also very entertaining album. He seems to have responded to those who labeled his earlier work as too dense and inaccessible. His employment of new styles and sounds is pleasantly surprising and makes him more of complete artist. The production work of Green Lantern, Southpaw, Buckwild and others is consistently dope and compliments Immortal Technique perfectly. This is a great release and makes Immortal Technique one to look out for in the future.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review November 7th, 2008

Welcome to the November Issue

Welcome to the November “Yes We Can!” issue of Black Grooves. In honor of the historic election, we’re featuring several politically themed items, ranging from a recent documentary about Marcus Garvey that’s accompanied by a phenomenal reggae soundtrack, to the overtly revolutionary rap of Peruvian-born MC Immortal Technique. Other hip hop offerings include new releases by Kentucky’s Nappy Roots and Atlanta rapper T.I. Though it might sound like an expose on shady politics, the compilation More Dirty Laundry actually explores “the soul of Black country music.” Two new offerings in our ongoing exploration of black rock include Danielia Cotton’s Rare Child and TV on the Radio’s Dear Science. Wrapping up this issue are recent releases by blues guitarist Eric Bibb, The Murrill Family of gospel singers, jazz vocalist/bass player Esperanza Spalding, and neo-soul singer Rafael Saadiq.

Note: Since we “borrowed” the Trib’s front page, it seems only fair to give them a plug in return. You can buy a copy of the “Obama Wins!” issue here.

View review November 7th, 2008

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