This month we’re starting off with new holiday albums from Joe, Take 6, and Barbara Hendricks; a couple of “soulful” compilations including The Complete James Brown Christmas; Buddhist chants from Tina Turner; and the annual Classic Blues calendar/CD. Next up we’re featuring 8 box sets/deluxe editions that should make perfect gifts for your music loving friends: Michael Jackson’s complete videos/short films; early New Orleans jazz; Allerton & Alton – the first multi-racial bluegrass duo; electric blues guitarist Freddie King; two new Jimi Hendrix releases; The Chic Organization Vol. 1; Dinah Washington – The Fabulous Miss D; and a great vintage gospel compilation featuring the “Mighty Hurricane” Rev. Johnny L. Jones. For hip hop fans we have reviews of hot new releases from Kanye West, Cee-Lo Green, Bun B, and Reflection Eternal (aka Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek), plus the 867 page Anthology of Rap from Yale University Press. Also featured is the new album from contemporary gospel artist Tye Tribbet, the New Black Repertory Ensemble’s Recorded Music of the African Diaspora (works by Olly Wilson and Mary D. Watkins), and the book Sacred Steel by Robert L. Stone. Wrapping up this issue are three selections for the children on your shopping list: Buckwheat Zydeco’s Bayou Boogie, Daptone’s reissue of an inspiring single from the youthful hip hop group 3 Titans, and the new children’s book JIMI: Sounds Like A Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, by Gary Golio.
It’s not a holiday without a whole lotta soul, and this eclectic new compilation from Charly certainly delivers. Selections include such classics as Chuck Berry’s “Merry Christmas, Baby,” The Drifters “White Christmas,” The Cadillacs’ version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Jerry Butler’s “ Oh, Holy Night” and “Silent Night,” plus a dash of gospel-soul with the Caravans’ “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and the Staple Singers’ “Born In Bethlehem.” If you don’t already have some of these Christmas classics in your collection, this CD should be considered an essential ingredient that will surely spice up holiday parties.
I was prepared not to like this album, thinking it would be the usual holiday knock-off, but was pleasantly surprised by the tasteful jazzy arrangements and restrained vocals. The R&B crooner known simply as Joe (aka Joe Lewis Thomas) has produced a number of top ten charting albums over the past decade, but this appears to be his first holiday CD. Actually, the majority of the selections were released last year on the 6 track EP Make Sure You’re Home for Christmas which received limited distribution. Now repackaged as Home is the Essence of Christmas, four new songs have been tacked on to complete the disc, including the newly composed “Christmas in New York” (by Joshua Thompson), “Christmas Time Is Here,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and the closing instrumental “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with a sax taking over the solo. Also included are two original songs by Joe, “It Ain’t Christmas” and “Make Sure You’re Home,” which are straight ahead R&B arrangements. If you’re looking to set a romantic atmosphere for the holiday, this CD delivers.
It’s hard to believe that the a capella group Take 6 has been making music for 25 years and is still going strong. Founded in the 1980s by classmates from Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, Take 6 has made an indelible mark in music. Performing in several genres including gospel, jazz, rhythm & blues and doo-wop, it appears there is no style Take 6 can’t handle, including the holiday music featured in their latest project. “The primary objective in the making of the album was to create a sense of familiarity,” says group member Claude McKnight III; I must concur. This project is very accessible, while harmonic arrangements from the identifiable Take 6 make this a new standard for Christmas/Holiday music. Some of the songs covered are “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “Jingle Bells.” My personal favorite, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” is a playful Dr. Seuss inspired tune that will humor both young and old. Though cliché, audiences of all ages will enjoy this heartwarming collection of Christmas favorites. I can already smell the chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Barbara Hendricks, the American-born soprano who is now a citizen of Sweden, just released her second holiday album, Shout for Joy: Spiritual Christmas, on her own Arte Verum label (EMI released Barbara Hendricks Sings ChristmasFavourites in 1995). On standards such as “Joy to the World,” “Stille Nacht,” and “Ave Maria” she is accompanied variously by the Drottningholm Quartet and the Drottningholm Barockensemble. Other featured musicians include guitarist Mats Bergstöm, organist Björn Gäfvert, and Harald Pettersson, who specializes in Swedish folk instruments and provides interesting accompaniments to “What Child Is This?,” “Coventry Carol,” and “Sussex Carol.” Hendricks also performs a selection of spirituals including “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow,” “Shout for Joy,” and “Oh Jerusalem.” Overall, Shout for Joy contains an eclectic blend of classical and traditional holiday music.
The folks at Hip-O Select have released a 2-CD set marking the first time that all three of JB’s original Christmas albums— Christmas Songs (1966), A Soulful Christmas (1968) and Hey America (1970) —have been available together in their entirety on CD. Selections include cult faves such as “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” “Santa Claus Is Definitely Here To Stay,” and “Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer).” Also included are rare bonus singles such as “It’s Christmas Time,” “You Know It,” and a sing-along version of “Hey America,” all featured in stereo for the first time.
Only the late, great James Brown could combine the joy and pathos of the season in this soulful manner, while still offering plenty of hope, wisdom and inspiration. Though this set doesn’t appear to be a limited addition, Hip-O Select compilations often sell out quickly so consider yourself forewarned.
This holiday season Tina Turner has presented us with a spiritual offering. Raised in the Baptist faith, Turner was first introduced to Buddhism in the early 1970s. Three years later she converted and has since become one of the most high-profile practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, a Japanese branch of the religion which focuses on building a better and more peaceful world. Her new album, Beyond, “explores the oneness of religions through music with Buddhist and Christian prayers.”
Collaborating with Turner on the album are Dechen Shak-Dagsay (a native of Tibet and daughter of the spiritual leader Dagsay Rinpoche), who composed the music for the Buddhist prayers, and Regula Curti, who contributed original compositions for Christian prayers. Readings and chants are provided by Turner, who leaves the singing to her two collaborators.
In the official press release, Turner provides a fuller description of the project. “I’m very happy to be a part of the BEYONDProject that was initiated by Regula Curti and Dechen Shak-Dagsay, both amazing singers, individuals and philanthropists from two different cultures—Christian and Tibetan. This project has taken on a life of its own and has expanded and attracted other artists of various faiths who will be involved with us in subsequent albums as this continues to grow. As a collaborator I’d like to make very clear that the Project is not about me or Tina Turner the rock star. It’s about being part of and supporting a movement for the awareness and acceptance of different religions and spiritual paths to awaken the truth of ultimate oneness within us all. This is a movement that goes beyond the three of us and has already been embraced by many people, including the Dalai Lama, the Abbott Martin Werlen Osb, and Deepak Chopra. The BEYOND Project is an invitation to open up a space where it is possible to include each individual to contribute to this vision. We are all the same, looking to find our way back to the source.”
In addition to the timely spiritual messages, the beautiful, meditative songs and music provide a welcome respite from the stress of everyday life and will surely help listeners achieve inner peace. Furthermore, all artist proceeds from the recording will go towards supporting their own non-profit organizations that focus on the welfare of children: The Dewa Che Foundation, The Seeschau Foundation and The Tina Foundation.
Following is the official promo video (courtesy of New Earth Records):
I always anxiously await John Tefteller’s annual Classic Blues calendar, and for 2011 I’m happy to say that he’s in no danger of exhausting his amazing supply of vintage advertisements and artwork. Since 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, what could be more appropriate for the cover than Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Rabbit Foot Blues.” The accompanying CD includes the songs that are featured in the January to December artwork: Sissy Man Blues (Kokomo Arnold); Pea Vine Blues (Charley Patton); Billy Lyons And Stack O’Lee (Furry Lewis); Rabbit Foot Blues (Blind Lemon Jefferson); Labor Blues (Tom Dickson); Dentist Chair Blues (Hattie McDaniel & Charlie Jackson); Cherry Ball Blues (Skip James); Hey! Lawdy Mama – The France Blues (Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve Reed: The Down Home Boys); I’ll Be Gone, Long Gone (Mississippi Sheiks); Black Cat Hoot Owl Blues (Ma Rainey); Ko Ko Mo Blues (Jabo Williams); Will The Coffin Be Your Santa Claus? (Rev. J. M. Gates); plus 6 more bonus tracks.
Let’s hope this rabbit foot brings luck for the New Year- we’ve had enough blues already! The calendar is available at select music and book stores, from Blues Images, or Amazon.
The King of Pop’s legacy lives on in Michael Jackson’s Vision, a comprehensive collection of Michael Jackson produced short films that span his entire solo career. Breaker of the MTV color barrier as recently as 1983, the collection reminds audiences that Jackson’s musical genius was paired with an equal genius for the screen; Michael Jackson turned “music video” into art. The deluxe box set consists of 3 DVDs packed with over 40 videos boasting newly restored color and remastered audio. Films from such renowned directors as Spike Lee, John Landis, John Singleton and Martin Scorsese are included, plus 10 never-before-seen short films, the highlight of which is the video for the R. Kelly song “One More Chance.” Reflecting Jackson’s passion for music and its visual complement, this beautifully packaged box set features hundreds of vivid photographs and a mesmerizing holograph cover, where tiny MJs demonstrate quintessential moments in the star’s career. This is a terrific collectible for film lovers and Michael Jackson fans alike.
The known number of African Americans playing country music prior to Charley Pride’s emergence in the mid 1960s is small. Most famous would be harpist Deford Bailey, founding member of the Grand Ole Opry, then maybe the Louis Armstrong-backed Jimmie Rodgers sessions, and there were of course several integrated string bands recording in the 1920s. But how many were vocalists? And how many were sharing a microphone while singing close harmony brother-style duets with a white man?
German reissue specialists Bear Family Records presents us with at least one: Allerton and Alton, known as the Cumberland Ridge Runners, performed in the Portland, ME area in the late 1940s and early 1950s until the Korean War called them both men into duty. Though no formal recordings were ever made for any label, several radio shows, demos, and home recordings were preserved and Bear Family has now released them to the public for the first time ever. In typical Bear Family style, the CD is nearly 80 minutes long and the booklet and liner notes are well written and lavishly illustrated. The story of how these men met, the nonchalant way in which they addressed the race issue, and how the segregated army forever changed their lives is a fascinating snapshot of mid-century American culture, the roots of bluegrass music, the devastating effects of war, and the power of music to transcend racial stereotypes and prejudices.
Consisting of three 15-minute radio programs, complete with introductions and banter between songs, the CD features the two Al’s carrying on the country music brother duet tradition (i.e. the Monroe Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, Bailes Brothers, etc.) while hamming up their put-on southern accents. The radio announcer introduces their style of music as “hillbilly and folk music with mandolin and guitar.” Allerton himself calls their music “old-time picking and singing.” Liner notes author Hank Davis describes their style as “mountain music,” or “the roots of bluegrass.” However it is worded, the listener is treated to close harmony duet singing, blistering mandolin solos at break-neck speed, and Charlie Monroe-styled guitar runs on the acoustic guitar. Though the CD may garner much attention as the first issued recordings of country music’s first interracial duo, or even possibly as a prime example of 1940s and ‘50s hillbilly music from the Northeast, the music is flat-out entertaining for all country music fans and a special treat for anybody who enjoyed listening to the old-fashioned barn dance radio shows popular on WSM, WWVA, WLS, and the like.
Following is the promotional video:
The liner notes benefit from extensive interviews with Al Hawkes (Allerton), who preserved the photos and recordings, as well as the family of Alton Meyers. Hawkes went on to found Event Records (recording a legacy of Northeast bluegrass, rockabilly, and country music) and has been acknowledged by several organizations as a pioneer in the bluegrass genre. This CD brings long-awaited attention to the early bluegrass contributions of Alton Meyers and adds yet another chapter to Hawkes’ legacy. Highly recommended!