Archive for April, 2009

Welcome to the April 2009 Issue

Welcome to the April 2009 issue of Black Grooves.  This month, in our ongoing series on black rock, we’re featuring  Living Colour’s new  DVD/CD The Paris Concert, recorded in July 2007. We’re also reviewing two wonderful new gospel releases:  I Got Two Wings, a book and companion CD about “the two-winged preacher and electric guitar evangelist Elder Utah Smith” by Lynn Abbott, and the new Israel Houghton CD The Power of One.  Other reviews include  hip hop icon Grandmaster Flash’s first release in twenty years, The Bridge: Concept of a Culture;  political rap artist Paris’s recent release Acid Reflex; and the Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, by English lit professor Adam Bradley (which, by the way, references both Grandmaster Flash and Paris).  Wrapping up this issue is Heavy D’s latest project, the reggae oriented Vibes; India.Arie’s Testimony Vol. 2; the new compilation Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways; and a reissue of the live 1963 Atco recording Apollo Saturday Night.  Last but not least, see our plug for 2009 Record Store Day, to be held April 18.

View review April 9th, 2009

The Paris Concert

Title: The Paris Concert (DVD)
Artist: Living Colour
Label: Inakustik
Catalog No.: INAK 6474 DVD
Release date: 26 September 2008

Title: The Paris Concert (CD)
Artist: Living Colour
Label: Inakustik
Catalog No.: INAK 9093 CD
Release date: 1 January 2009

Since their formation in 1983, Living Colour has been reclaiming the right to rock for black artists everywhere. Even before the release of their 1988 debut album, Vivid, the band members were actively involved in the Black Rock Coalition, a non-profit organization founded by journalist Greg Tate, producer Konda Mason, and Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid as a means of supporting and sponsoring black rock artists.

Consisting of Reid, Will Calhoun (drums), Corey Glover (vocals), and Doug Wimbish (bass)-the latter of whom replaced Muzz Skillings in 1992-Living Color has successfully overcome a number of obstacles faced by black rock artists seeking to break into the commercial music industry. The very release of Vivid by Epic Records was one such success. The album quickly hit number 6 on the Billboard 200. Soon after, MTV picked up “Cult of Personality,” which was awarded both MTV’s Best New Artist Award and a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1989. More than twenty years later, “Cult of Personality” remains immensely popular and has recently featured in the game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, so now you too can enjoy Living Colour’s experience of having to play a really great song over, and over, and over again.

Following a relatively brief five-year break-up, the band reunited in 2000 and has been actively touring in the US and Europe since 2001. In addition to compilations and remixes, the band released a new album, Collideøscope through Sanctuary in 2003 and a number of live recordings from some of their recent concerts including Instant Live: Avalon (2004) and On Stage @ World Café Live (2005).

The band’s most recent live releases are a CD and DVD of The Paris Concert, which were recorded at the New Morning club in Paris in July 2007. Living Colour is somewhat outside the standard fare for New Morning, which has a reputation as one of the best Parisian jazz clubs. Regardless, the DVD is clear evidence that the band was well-received by an enthusiastic, if somewhat laidback, audience. The New Morning Vision film crew clearly knows this venue inside and out and the shooting is fantastic. Particularly worth looking for are extreme close-ups of Reid’s solo in “Funny Vibe,” Wimbush’s use of slide guitar techniques right before the band launches into “Memories Can’t Wait,” and Calhoun’s extend drum solo.

Based on a quick comparison, the audio from the CD and DVD are more or less the same, so you could probably get away with buying one or the other. Obviously the DVD offers visuals and the CD is more portable, but other than that the only difference seems to be the amount of normalization on the CD. The main result is that the CD is louder throughout, but not to the point that it destroys the balance or the dynamic range of the individual tracks. Neither item offers additional bonus features or tracks, so it really comes down to whether you prefer an audio recording, a video recording, or both.

The set list for the Paris Concert contains a mix of standards including “Glamour Boys,” “Ignorance is Bliss,” “Funny Vibe,” “Type,” “Middle Man,” “Memories Can’t Wait,” and of course, “Cult of Personality.” “Sacred Ground” also features in the set. It first manifests as a brief jazz piece reminiscent of the 1970’s bee-bop sound of Sun Ra & His Astro Infinity Arkestra, before sinking into a more typical funk metal rendition.

The remainder of the set features “Flying,” “Nova,” and “Song without Sin” from Collideøscope, as well as covers of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic.” Particularly unique to this show is the song “Either Way,” a new piece written and sung by Wimbush. The real showstopper, however, is definitely the stellar six-and-a-half minute drum solo by Calhoun. If you’re into percussion, the chance to watch Calhoun’s incredible performance alone makes the DVD worth the purchase price.

Although the members of Living Colour have reached a point in their careers where they could coast on their reputations alone, they’re still working hard to give their fans a great show. Whether they’re churning out “Cult of Personality” for the ten-thousandth time or debuting new material, the group interaction is tight and the solos demonstrate a level of artistry that extends well beyond the typical offerings of most rock bands. The Paris Concert is definitely worth adding to any rock music collection.

Posted by Ronda L. Sewald

Editor’s Note: This review is part of our ongoing examination of black rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. Visit the conference website at:

Living Colour – “Go Away” from The Paris Concert

View review April 9th, 2009

The Power of One

Title: The Power of One

Artist: Israel Houghton

Label: Integrity

Catalog No.: 88697 42584 2

Release Date: March 24, 2009

Israel Houghton’s new solo CD for Integrity, “The Power Of One,” transcends musical, cultural and industry boundaries.  Simply put, it is an artistic expression highlighting a bold worshiper who has further complicated-in a good and effective way-sacred/secular fluidity.  Stylistically, I hear Stevie Wonder, OutKast, Bob Marley, Sly Stone, Sting, Prince, James Taylor, ’80s soft rock, Sunday morning Hammond B-3, the Black preacher tunin’up, Phil Collins, Roger and Zapp, shout vamp, Joe Ligon, and young Israel Houghton Jr. singing praises (literally)-the future leader of New Breed.

How does Israel Bring all of these styles together?  What is the link that binds them?  How are all of these elements along with others associated with secular music practices synthesized into a cohesive representation of worship that resonates within and, more importantly, outside of the church walls?  The answer can be heard from the beginning to the end of this CD project.  That is, I hear the heart and mind of a worshiper who is skillful at bridging the gap between church and world for the sole purpose of enlarging the kingdom of Heaven through a unique diverse sound.

The Power Of One starts off with Israel Houghton Jr. introducing himself signifying not only the beginning of the CD, but also the future passing of the worship torch from father to son.  It is a scriptural move, as he is being trained up in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6). After his voice is heard, an intro referencing Stevie Wonder’s “Living For the City” proceeds into “Everywhere I Go,” which is a remake that was originally recorded on Joel Olsteen’s “Free To Worship” project in 2007.  The arrangement of this rendition is much more elaborate than Olsteen’s version.  It is reharmonized, both vocally and instrumentally, and the groove is rhythmically funkier and more coherent than its predecessor.  Speaking of funky-there is nothing in the current gospel music industry that illustrates this notion more than “Saved by Grace.” After a few minutes into this track, funk and church merge forging a gritty, hard core, “chUchin’!” exhibition of exuberant praise! The infectious guitar riffs, the bass and drum rhythmic drive, the Prince motif in the synthesizer part, the tight triadic harmony and punchy unison background vocal lines, Houghton’s command of traditional and contemporary Black gospel lead vocals–complete with appropriate runs and “the squall”-and the hard quartet style vamp on the “One” with the organ sustaining the tonic in the upper range all serve up a lecture/demonstration of kingdom artistic execution at the optimal level.

Out of thirteen tracks, there are only two ballads on this project, “Moving Forward” and “Every Prayer.”  “Moving Forward” presents lyrical content about a worshiper’s resolve to follow Christ Jesus, as He has made all things new.  It is a declarative statement not only lyrically, but also musically, as the instruments and vocals become radical-more rhythmic movement and the incorporation of higher registers-signifying intensity and progression into a future of redemption. Israel was clever not to leave the worshiper hanging as a result of an abrupt ending.  He allowed the organ to taper off the song creating a few more seconds to either gather one’s self or continue into the next praise and worship experience-“I Receive,” a medium tempo ballad expressing one’s acceptance of God’s love.  “I Receive” is framed in a style that harkens back to Phil Collins’ 1981 hit, “In the Air Tonight.”  While the drum part in “I Receive” is different from Collins’ tune, the tonality of the drum and warm keyboard harmonic pad reflects the mood of the 80’s song.  Nevertheless, the lyrics and Houghton’s vocals in “I Receive” are potent enough to move the listener into the zone of worship.  The most precious moment in this song, if you believe in inheritance, is when Israel Houghton Jr. is heard at the ending singing-in tune-“Where would I be if not for Your grace.”  Of course, after this the praise begins with “Saved By Grace,” which is discussed above.

“Every Prayer, featuring Mary Mary, is a very powerful ballad that presents a narrative of deep belief in God’s close proximity to us and His ability to hear and resolve all of our spiritual and social issues.  The vocal execution in this song presents Houghton and Mary Mary’s ability to be simplistic, patient, highly expressive, melodic and confident-all of the things required for timeless music.

There is something on this CD project for a diverse and eclectic listening audience.  For those who like Sly Stone, “U R Loved” is for you.  If you are into reggae, “Surely Goodness” will have you praisin’ wit yo hands up!  If you wanna rock hard check out “You Found Me.”  The title track, “The Power of One,” is an appropriate socio-political statement, which challenges individual believers to take responsibility for  “making a difference” in the resolution of collective world issues such as disease and poverty.  This track represents a central theme and goal that permeates the entire project-to move beyond traditional church, socio-cultural and musical parameters in order to assert a message of deliverance, healing and power for all through One.  If my perception of such theme and goal is correct, Israel Houghton’s The Power of One has successfully accomplished the task at hand.  Put succinctly, you will love it.

Here is some exclusive behind the scenes footage from the mastering session for Israel Houghton’s The Power Of One, courtesy of Integrity Music:

Posted by Tyron Cooper

View review April 9th, 2009

I Got Two Wings

Title: I Got Two Wings: Incidents and Anecdotes of the Two-Winged Preacher and Electric Guitar Evangelist Elder Utah Smith

Author: Lynn Abbott

Format: Book (softcover) with CD insert

Publisher: CaseQuarter

Date: 2009

Author and historian Lynn Abbott has stitched together an entertaining narrative about Elder Utah Smith, an all but forgotten Pentecostal preacher, showman, musician and proselytizer whose dynamic style often included comic repartée, and whose loud electric guitar was a feature of his services from the 1930s (when amplified guitars were first marketed) to his death in 1965.

Smith’s ecclesiastical career in the Church of God in Christ began in 1925. He developed his trademark song which converted the old spiritual “I Want Two Wings” into a more assertive “I Got Two Wings.”  And it was not a metaphor–old photos show him with large, imposing white wings attached to his shoulders next to a guitar strap.

Utah Smith’s career path took him from New England to New Orleans. He was preaching near New York City in 1941 when some white jazz fans and New York Tribune music critic (and composer) Virgil Thomson “discovered” him and arranged for him to perform as part of a Sunday afternoon concert series at the Museum of Modern Art. Though Thomson liked what he heard,  the book includes embarrassingly unsympathetic newspaper reviews. I won’t call them racist, but they do reveal how ill-prepared Manhattan culture brokers were for passionate Pentecostal worship and its uncompromisingly emotional music.

By 1944, Smith was in New Orleans, where he constructed a warehouse-sized Two Wing Temple in 1945.  His charismatic preaching, singing and playing dominated his well-publicized services, and there was a steady stream of visiting evangelists and gospel music stars, including Rosetta Tharpe, Brother Joe May, the Fairfield Four and Ernestine Washington. Smith, a star himself, traveled to revivals throughout the Southwest.

It’s a great story, and Lynn Abbott’s well-paced narrative is built on a solid foundation of research and interviews.  An attached CD includes several 1940s-50s performances of “I Got Two Wings” (notable, says Abbott, for their “spontaneous combustibility”) and more vintage recordings to illustrate other historical points.

Posted by Dick Spottswood (Host of The Dick Spottswood Show on WAMU)

View review April 9th, 2009

The Bridge

Title: The Bridge

Artist: Grandmaster Flash

Label: Strut

Catalog No.: STRUT 039 CD

Release date: March 3, 2009

On March 3rd 2009, Joseph Saddler (a.k.a. Grandmaster Flash) excited scholars, students, and lovers of hip-hop across the globe by coming out of hibernation with his first studio album in 20 years. Entitled The Bridge: Concept of a Culture, the CD is an interesting, yet predictable, album featuring the likes of Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Q-Tip, Princess Superstar and DJ Kool.  It also features a few rappers from across the ponds, giving it an international feel and melding together worldwide appreciation of a good beat. One of the most important pioneers of hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five were the first rap/hip-hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, and Flash had a biography written for him by David Ritz in 2008 entitled The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats

Born January 1, 1958 in Bridgetown, Barbados, Flash was the first person to mix two records without losing the beat, introduce the infamous record scratch, and create an album consisting entirely of samples. With a musical family, including a father who owned countless records to peruse, Flash’s skills began culminating at an early age and his later contributions to the genre have earned him an exquisite reputation.

Though his last album, On the Strength (1988), was commercially unsuccessful, he remains renowned and respected for his well-known track, “The Message” (from his debut album) and other work with the Furious Five. It’s not surprising then that rappers of super-star status were pleased to bestow their talent on the new record. But despite the names, the old-school-esque beats, and the countless props to the world of hip-hop, this album was a bit of a disappointment. The Bridge attempts to fuse old-school with the past 10 years of digitalism and the emergence of electronic sounding rap, but oftentimes comes off predictable and shallow. He keeps it clean (even Snoop stays away from mentioning the ganj), but it gets tiresome to hear about the surface-level pursuit of women track after track. In fact, with the exception of the international tribute, ‘We Speak Hip-Hop’, the album is politically irrelevant and makes almost no social statements. Furthermore, despite being a symbol of sample profundity, Flash’s new album contains not a single one.

Yes, the album is somewhat generic, but it is full of head bopping and catchy tunes like the opening song “Shine All Day,” which features the cool and relaxed raps of Q-Tip, as well as lesser known Jumz and Kel Spencer. The recurring trill of an electronic flute provides a hook while an auto-tuned voice supplies chorus response.

The next track on the album proved to be the best one. Featuring Sweden’s Afasi, Spain’s Kase-O, Japan’s Macchio, Senegal’s Abass, and our own KRS-One, “We Speak Hip-Hop” reminds us that the genre Flash helped to create is now a worldwide phenomenon. “Stand by my culture proud, singing the praises loud-we speak hip-hop.” Sadly, the CD doesn’t come with a translation of the lyrics (a mix between their native tongues, slang, and even a few detectable English words), but the point comes through clearly. Horns introduce the song, and when the beat comes in, it speaks a language everyone can understand.

The rest of the songs on The Bridge are weaker, filled with annoyingly persistent electronic blips (“Bounce Back” especially). When the beat comes in on “Swagger,” it shows promise, but Lynn Carter’s chorus is just plain boring and awkward, not to mention that ‘swagger’ has been over-done thanks to M.I.A. and Jay-Z, T.I., Lil Wayne, and Kanye. The tracks move quickly nonetheless, and “Tribute to the Breakdancer” feels a bit more real as Flash “name-drops” some crews and brings in a jumpy nostalgia for a time in which he was definitely the main man. “Grown and Sexy” and “When I Get There” both follow with the same chorus and subject structure, dropping such pure lyrical genius as Hedonis da Amazon’s verse “When good girls love a guy, good girls sin.” And apparently drop the towel off their naked body. Twice.

Yet, despite my negative opinion of some of the songs, Grandmaster Flash’s indelible status as a musical icon precedes me and I want to give him the respect he deserves.  Though Flash has now transitioned to the digital domain, he is still responsible for the natural beats of old school hip-hop and is one of the primary reasons the genre is taken seriously as an art form today.

Following is a promotional video courtesy of Strut Records:

Posted by Rachel Weidner

View review April 9th, 2009

Testimony: Vol. 2

Title: Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics

Artist: India.Arie

Label: Universal Republic Records/UMG

Catalog No.:  B0012572-02

Release Date: February 10, 2009

Following 2006’s Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, India.Arie’s new release continues her musical exploration of life, ethics, and philosophy.  Where Vol. 1 emerged out of personal heartbreak and introspection, Vol. 2 finds Arie in a more extroverted frame of mind, examining her own place in the world and her relationships with others (seen through romance, poverty, oppression, and religion.)   Arie’s neo-soul vibe has a more urban, electrified edge on this album, with more touches of blues, funk, and Latin rhythms, as well as the acoustic piano and gospel-tinged vocals that figured prominently on Vol. 1. A diverse range of guest artists, including reggae star Gramps Morgan, Côte d’Ivoirian singer Dobet Gnahoré, and Turkish pop queen Sezen Aksu, adds a breadth of musical influences from other styles and cultures.

As with Arie’s last release, Vol. 2 is punctuated with a short song motif, “Grains,” that occurs multiple times throughout the album as intro, outro, and interludes, organizing the album’s structure and providing a unifying idea through repetition and variation.  A prayer of gratitude and connection to the rest of humanity, it encapsulates Arie’s major theme for this album: “I’m grateful that you created me from the same grains, from the same thing / I’m grateful you never cease to amaze me, the way you love me.”  In a liner notes letter to her listeners, Arie writes about her history, the lessons learned through her career, and what she’s trying to say with Vol. 2. “I am a songwriter who writes about love,” she says; “The bottom line is these are my opinions about different things going on in the world and where I fit into all of it.”

Writing about love comes easy to Arie, and the first quarter of Vol. 2 most clearly displays her skills about love songs.  “Therapy”, featuring soaring backup vocals by Gramps Morgan, is the catchiest song on the album, building on the metaphor of love as a healing force.  The soul groove of “Chocolate High” (with Philly soul singer Musiq Soulchild) echoes old-school soul ballads, but its extended chocoholic imagery unfortunately strays over the line from sexy to just cheesy.  Love doesn’t always end happily, of course, so “The Long Goodbye” paints a picture of an imminent breakup viewed with sadness, sensuality, and the wisdom of experience.

Arie’s approach to politics takes several forms on this album.  Most obviously “political” are the two songs directly confronting poverty and oppression.  In the Latin-tinged “Ghetto”, Arie rails against the continued existence of ghetto conditions in the first and third worlds:  “the ghetto might as well be another country / the barrio might as well be another country / when you look around, you live in another country too.”

“Pearls”, originally by Sade, addresses the oppression of poor women in Africa; Arie’s cover features a mellow Afrobeat accompaniment rather than Sade’s static string accompaniment, as well as Dobet Gnahoré’s vocals, both of which add a musical evocation of Africa.  “The Cure,” a structural and thematic counterpart to “Therapy,” promotes love (romantic, but more importantly, spiritual) as the solution to most of the world’s problems, with Sezen Aksu’s backing vocals in Turkish suggesting a call to prayer and spiritual transcendence.  In this song, Arie also sings a defense of her overwhelmingly positive philosophy:  “It may seem that I’m looking at the world through rose-colored glasses / I believe that it’s so simple that sometimes it looks complicated / God’s love is like the sunshine / it’s there whether or not we recognize it / the most powerful energy in the universe, and all we have to do is use it.”  In this, she sums up both the holistic understanding of self, world, and spirit that she’s reached personally, and to which this album testifies.

Posted by Ann Shaffer

View review April 9th, 2009


Title: Vibes

Artist: Heavy D

Label: Stride/Fontana

Catalog No.: FED005

Release Date: Dec 16, 2008

It’s been over eight years since the “Overweight Lover” released an album and it has been worth the weight (pun intended). Silky smooth singer/songwriter and astute businessman Dwight Myers, a.k.a. Heavy D, has re-launched his music career with the reggae album Vibes. Yes, that’s right, reggae! After all, he was born in Jamaica before coming to the U.S. at a young age, and claims “if you go back and follow my career, you’ll see that I’ve always had reggae influences.”

Myers became a household name in the late eighties with his group Heavy D & the Boyz, producing a slew of chart topping singles and gold records. The group was a crossover phenomenon with a style that appealed to both R&B and rap fans. During the nineties, Heavy D continued to pump out the hits while jockeying a record label executive position at Uptown Records. The nineties also saw him transition comfortably to stage and screen, appearing in a number of television programs as well as the Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence movie Life (1999) and the Oscar nominated Cider House Rules (1999). Myers acting career has continued  over the past ten years, landing him supporting roles on Boston Public (2000-2003), The Tracy Morgan Show (2003-2004) and the Fox television series Bones (2005).

Vibes is an appropriate title for Heavy D’s newest album because the groove never quits. Deep, heavy bass lines, crystal clear one drop riddims, and dub sensibility accentuates his smooth R&B vocal delivery. The ten track CD features appearances by reggae/dancehall icons Barrington Levy and Sizzla, as well as the masterminds behind the scene, producers/mixers Tony Dofat and Warren Campbell. Themes range from love and women, exemplified by the hit single “Long Distance Girlfriend,” to the self-searching lyrical gem “Chasing Windmills.”

Even though he admits that his rhyming skills have diminished considerably, Heavy D’s style fits nicely into the ‘Lovers Rock’ groove. Heavy D’s intention in making a reggae album goes well beyond record sales, he simply wants the music to get more recognition in the U.S.  He is currently in the process of becoming a board member for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and intends to use the position to broaden America’s perspective on the genre. Vibes is just the album to make that crossover.

Posted by  Heather O’Sullivan

View review April 9th, 2009

Apollo Saturday Night

Title: Apollo Saturday Night

Artists: Various

Label: Collectors’ Choice Music

Catalog No.:  CCM-998

Release Date: March 10, 2009

As entertainment, one show at the Apollo is about the equivalent of an entire evening of TV watching, a dozen hours of radio, plus four double features at the movies all rolled into one — Bob Altschuler, from the original LP liner notes.

There have been a number of ‘Live at the Apollo’ albums reissued in recent years, but most focus on concerts by a single artist, such as James Brown.  The beauty of Apollo Saturday Night is the variety of talent captured onstage in a single performance from November 16, 1963.  The artists were drawn primarily from the stable of Atlantic and Stax Records (Atlantic had a distribution arrangement with Stax at the time)—Ben E. King, The Coasters, Doris Troy, Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, and The Falcons—and backed by the King Curtis Orchestra. The album captures an important period in African American music, when elements of rhythm and blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll were frequently intermingled, and the pop-soul of Motown and southern soul of Stax were just on the verge of breaking loose and taking over the charts.  The concert also illustrates the performance practices and reception of the artists when playing to an almost exclusively African American audience.

The master-of-ceremonies, King Coleman, kicks off the show which opens with the Falcons performing their 1962 chart topping Wilson Pickett penned hit “I Found a Love,” followed by “Alabama Bound.” Apparently Pickett had already left the group by the time this concert was recorded (according to the liner notes), and the lead is sung by the Falcon’s founder, Eddie Floyd (the Falcons disbanded shortly after this concert, and the name was taken over by the Fabulous Playboys).

Next up is a young Otis Redding, one of the big headliners of the night, who draws screams from the ladies in the audience over his renditions of “These Arms of Mine” and “Pain in My Heart,” his first two major hits released just months prior to the concert.

Redding is followed by Doris Troy, best known for “Just One Look” which debuted that summer, but for some reason is passed over in favor of a rousing rendition of “Say Yeah” and an up-tempo jazz version of “Misty.” The venerable Rufus Thomas performs his signature song, “Walking the Dog,” which had just charted at #5 a month prior to the concert.   The Coasters, whose popularity had peaked in the late ‘50s with their seminal early rock ‘n roll hits “Young Blood” and “Poison Ivy” (which had recently been covered by the Beatles (1962) and the Rolling Stones (1963), respectively), contribute “Speedo’s Back in Town” and “T’Ain’t Nothin’ to Me,” which would be released the following year on their last charting single.

The other big headliner of the night was Ben E. King, who kicks off his set with the lesser known “Groovin'” (from the 1962 album Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers), followed by “Don’t Play that Song, ” which hit #2 on the charts the previous year.  And of course he closes with his iconic #1 hit from 1961, “Stand By Me.” The concert concludes with a rousing group performance of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say,” which must have brought down the house, but unfortunately the recording fades out before the applause.

The original Apollo Saturday Night LP was released by Atco (a subsidiary of Atlantic)  in 1964 and didn’t garner much attention, and a previously released budget label CD is no longer available. Thanks to Collector’s Choice, this remastered edition once again allows us to witness the excitement of a Saturday night at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 9th, 2009

Classic Protest Songs

Title: Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

Artists:  Various

Label: Smithsonian Folkways

Catalog No.: SFW 40197

Release Date: 2009

War, social injustice, personal plaints, and calls for action have long fueled musical creation and performance—Liner Notes.

Folkways Records, founded by Moses Asch in 1948, emerged on the heels of the social protests of the 1930s and 1940s.  In fact, Asch created something of a haven for left-leaning musicians, both black and white, such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Josh White, who became staples of the famous folk music label.  For this compilation, Jeff Place and Mark Gustafson (Smithsonian Folkways’ staff) selected 22 tracks from the Folkways’ vault, as well as from other labels more recently acquired by Smithsonian Folkways, including Monitor and Paragon (the latter was founded in 1970 to document the music of political movements worldwide).  An effort was made to represent a broad spectrum of the struggles for economic and social justice, from anti-war protests to civil rights anthems to songs used by union organizers and the labor movement. Place and Gustafson also sought to demonstrate that protest songs did not originate with the folk music revival, thus a number of pre-1950 tracks were included.

African American artists are well represented on this compilation.  The disc opens with the “Freedom Now Chant,” sung by participants during a Civil Rights era mass-meeting in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and collected by noted scholar Bernice Johnson Reagon. One of the most famous African American folk singers, Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly, is represented by a 1930 recording of “Bourgeois Blues,” inspired by the time (presumably one of many) that he was denied a room in a Washington, D.C. hotel.

Big Bill Broonzy, perhaps equally famous as one of the seminal pre-WWII blues artists, contributes “Black, Brown, and White,” a song so controversial in the U.S. that he ended up recording it in Europe.  For those who aren’t familiar with the song, the refrain is “If you was white, you’re alright / if you’re brown, stick around / but if you’re black, oh brother, get back, get back, get back.”

An even more controversial song, “Strange Fruit,” is provided by Brother John Sellers, a blues and gospel singer who moved to Chicago during the Great Migration. His 1961 arrangement with flute, guitar, and drum accompaniment offers an interesting contrast to the classic Billie Holiday version, though I find that the flute distracts from the haunting lyrics.

One of the gems on the set is a previously unreleased 1946 recording by Champion Jack Dupree, “I’m Going To Write the Governor of Georgia,” referencing the racism he continued to confront upon his return to the U.S. after WWII, and implying that he was treated little better than he had been during his two years as a Japanese P.O.W.  Obviously the song made little difference, for Dupree fled to Europe in the 1950s and didn’t return until shortly before his death in the early ‘90s.

Classic Protest Songs comes with a well-illustrated, well-annotated 29 p. booklet which includes a bibliography and discography of suggested reading/listening.  If you don’t have the original Folkways/Paredon/Monitor recordings, this compilation will make a fine addition to your collection.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 9th, 2009

Acid Reflex

Title: Acid Reflex

Artist: Paris

Label: Guerrilla Funk

Catalog No: GFNK01-2

Release Date: October 28, 2008

With his revolutionary Black Power lyrics and a fiery delivery, rapper Paris was a major player on the hip hop scene in the early part of the 1990s. Hailing from Oakland, California, he debuted in 1990 with the single “The Devil Made Me Do It” and album of the same name. His impact was felt immediately, as his video for the single was banned by MTV. His second album, Sleeping With the Enemy, was released to rave reviews on his own Scarface Records label after he was dropped from Tommy Boy. Paris retired from rap after his fourth album, Unleashed (1998), and became a stock broker. After accumulating enough wealth to produce his own records and have complete artistic control, he returned to rap with Sonic Jihad (2006). With Acid Reflex, Paris attempts to drop knowledge on a new crop of hip hop listeners.

Over the course of 16 tracks, Paris touches on numerous heavy topics including racism, religion, war, and economics. “Don’t Stop the Movement” is a righteous battle track and an excellent way to open the album (© 2008 Guerrilla Funk Recordings and Filmworks, LLC):

“The Trap” is a down-tempo testament on the ills of Black America that includes a very well-placed vocal sample.  On “Acid Reflex,” Paris offers his positions on some of the more polarizing issues in America over a fiery, but funky beat. Chuck D stops by to drop a hot verse on “Winter in America.” “The Hustle” is a stinging indictment of religious institutions. The true highlights of this album are Paris’s lyrics and flow, which are consistently strong.

The album’s production is not bad at all, it just gets a bit repetitive and stale at some points. Luckily, Paris’s performances are so good that you tend to overlook the beats. Acid Reflex is a very solid release and a breath of fresh air in this generally superficial hip hop landscape. Paris drops a lot of knowledge on Acid Reflex. The question is whether or not the hip hop community is ready for it.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review April 9th, 2009

Book of Rhymes

Title: Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop

Author:  Adam Bradley

Publisher: BasicCavitas

ISBN: 9780465003471

Date: 2009

The voice of hip-hop is ringing in America, a timbre of universal discontentment that passionately depicts an often-ignored American existence. After years of evolutionary progress, it is an art form appreciated not only as a powerful social force, but also as a creative outlet with incredible musical integrity and poetic genius.

In the recently released Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop, Adam Bradley explores the lyrical mastery of rappers and the awesomely turbulent ride rap lyrics take. Split into two parts, the book discusses rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay (part one) and style, storytelling, and signifying (part two). Often quoting his favorite rappers and including examples of poetic devices used, his points are as enlightening as they are entertaining. With a Ph.D. in English from Harvard, Bradley discusses everything from East/West coast tension to the impact of Bob Dylan on rhymes and rhythm. From controversial ghostwriting to the pioneering scratches of Grandmaster Flash, the book hits all the right places for hip-hop fans and poetry lovers alike.

Posted by Rachel Weidner

View review April 9th, 2009

Record Store Day

There is something irreplaceable about the indie stores – it’s getting that left field recommendation, seeing that stray 7” I’ve been searching for, that chance to actually talk to someone that shares your passion for music, and be immersed in the culture you love. If it wasn’t for my local record store, I would never have discovered so much great music. My record collection holds as many memories for me as a photo album, and I will never part with my thousands of CDs and LPs not matter how much of a pain in the ass they are to store and move. Viva La Indie!! –Adam Starr (Sr. Director of Marketing, Universal Music)

Indie record stores are my cathedrals; the places where I worship.–Dennis

If you care at all about music and art? If you want to know what is happening culturally? RUN, don’t walk to your local, real RECORD STORE and absorb the heart and soul and the vibe of a community. The music scene of any town will revolve around the RECORD STORE as the center of the universe. Go find some treasures!–Jon Berger

If these quotes speak directly to you, you’ll want to check out the official Record Store Day website. This is the one day each year that all of the independently owned record stores across the nation come together with artists to celebrate the art of music.   Participating stores will be hosting special performances and events, plus they will be giving away lots of cool stuff, including exclusive releases especially for Record Store Day.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to score Ben Harper’s 10″ “Shimmer and Shine”/”Spanish Red Wine,” or Booker T’s 7″ “Warped Sister/Reunion Time.”

Support your local record stores- pick up some Black Grooves on April 18!

View review April 9th, 2009

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