Archive for June, 2010

Folk and World Music – Jan.-April 2010

Title:  L’Esprit Creole

Artist:  Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole

Label:  Valcour

Release date:  January  2010

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Louisiana Creole musician Cedric Watson has been making a name for himself by reviving and reinterpreting old Creole fiddling styles and songs, which he sings in a Cajun-French/Créole patois.  Previously a member of the Pine Leaf Boys, Watson and his band, Bijou Creole, take their latest album in some new directions, shaking things up with inflections of soul, blues, zydeco, and even a hint of Caribbean and reggae rhythms.

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Title: Nha Sentimento

Artist: Cesaria Evora

Label: LUSAFRICA

Release date: January 12, 2010
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Performing compositions from some of Cape Verde’s best songwriters, Evora  is accompanied variously by  guitar, violin, soprano saxophone and the kanun (Arabic zither), in an album that showcases the diversity of  Cape Verdean music.

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Title:  Sweet Sweet Jamaica

Artist: Gilzene & Blue Light Mento

Label: World Village

Release date:  January 12, 2010
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The debut recording of Jamaica’s Blue Light Mento Band showcases their mastery of the mento genre through fifteen songs, one of which features “Toots” Hibbert (Toots & the Maytals) on harmonica in a reinterpretation of his reggae hit “Sweet and Dandy.”

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Title:  Vision of a Psychedelic Africa

Artist: African Head Charge

Label:   On-U Sound

Release date:  February 9, 2010

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The dub-funk-psychedelia group’s latest release, arguably their best album of the last decade, finds leader Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah accompanied by a bevy of guests including Living Colour bassist Doug Wimbish, guitarist Skip “Little Axe” McDonald, and drummer Keith LeBlanc (all members of the band Tackhead).

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Title:  Rising Sun

Artist:  Souljazz Orchestra

Label:   Strut

Release date:  February 16, 2010

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Canada’s Souljazz Orchestra has released it’s first all-acoustic afro-jazz album, which is a feast for the ears.  The complex arrangements, utilizing as many as thirty different instruments, draw from jazz, soul, funk, Afro-beat, and Latin music, while channeling Fela, Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, and Ethio-jazz  great Mulatu Astatke.

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Title:  Rise & Shine

Artist:  Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

Label:  Cumbancha

Release date:  March 23, 2010

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Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, originally formed  in West African refugee camps, have released a sophomore album recorded both in their hometown of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and in New Orleans, where they picked up guest artists Trombone Shorty, Bonerama and Washboard Chaz.  The musicians deftly move between styles ranging from roots reggae to African soukous.

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Title:  Oyo

Artist: Angélique Kidjo

Label:  Razor & Tie Music

Release date:  April 6, 2010

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On her latest project, “Africa’s premier diva” embraces the music of her native Benin as well as soul and R&B, with distinctive interpretations of songs made famous by James Brown, Otis Redding, Santana, and Miriam Makeba.  Guests include Bono, John Legend, Roy Hargrove and Dianne Reeves.

View review June 1st, 2010

Gospel Releases Jan.-March 2010


Title:  Good God! Born Again Funk

Label: Numero

Release date: January 26, 2010

Once again Numero’s crate diggers have unearthed a wonderful array of rare tracks, this time focusing on the funkier side of gospel.

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Title:  At The Revival

Artist: The Mighty Clouds of Joy

Label: EMI Gospel

Release date:  January 26, 2010

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The pioneering gospel quartet branches out on their latest album, something of a 50th anniversary tribute. Produced by R&B singer Raphael Saadiq, the group offers a mix of traditional and contemporary gospel, while lead singer Joe Ligon (the only remaining original member) demonstrates that his fiery vocals can still burn up the pews.

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Title: Lions & Liars

Artist: Sho Baraka

Label: Reach Records

Release date:  March 30, 2010

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The gospel hip hop artist’s sophomore album is more experimental and hard hitting than his debut, tackling themes of racial identity, sex, violence, and the drug culture, while integrating musical styles ranging from gospel to rock and soul.

View review June 1st, 2010

Hip Hop Releases Jan.-March 2010


Title:  Heligoland

Artist:  Massive Attack

Label: Virgin

Release Date:  February 9, 2010
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The British band featuring 3D, Daddy G, Mushroom and Tricky, combine soul, jazz and hip-hop
to produce their infectious trip-hop sound.

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Title: Prenuptial Agreement

Artist: J-Stalin

Label: SMC Recordings

Release date: January 12, 2010
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The Bay Area rapper’s latest album features 22 tracks that run the gamut
from street tracks to slow jams, with beats provided by an impressive lineup of guests.

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Title: Return of Wu and Friends

Artist:  Wu-Tang Clan

Label: Gold Dust Media

Release date: February 16, 2010
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A collection of various Wu-Tang Clan songs and six unreleased Wu-Tang remixes,
all produced by Mathematics.

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Title: Make It Quake

Artist: Deep Thinkers

Label: LA Hill Records

Release date: February 9, 2010
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The K.C. duo consisting of MC The Brother of Moses and producer/beat-maker Leonard Dstroy have unleashed their talent on their 4th full-length album, which ranges from “scratch-heavy bangers” to  “laid-back and jazzy” tracks.

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Title: Unholy Terror

Artist:  Army of the Pharaohs

Label: Dcide Records

Release date: Feb. 16, 2010

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Known as one of indie hip hop’s supergroups,  The Army of the Pharaohs crew’s latest release features verses from Vinnie Paz (Jedi Mind Tricks), Outerspace, Apathy, Doap Nixon, King Syze, Des Devious, Reef The Lost Cauze, and Celph Titled, among others.

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Title: Battle of the Sexes

Artist:  Ludacris

Label: DTP

Release date: March 9, 2010

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Ludacris decides to tackle the many differences between men & women on his latest album, and is joined by all-star guests including Ne-Yo, Flo Rida, Ciara, Trey Songz, Lil’ Kim, Eve, Trina, and Plies.

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Title: Yes

Artist:  K-OS

Label: Last Gang Records

Release date:  Feb. 23, 2010

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The third album from the Canadian singer and rapper  K-OS, a genre defying blend of rap and R&B, was recently released in the U.S. to wide acclaim.

View review June 1st, 2010

R&B Releases Jan.-March 2010


Title:  Ollusion

Artist:  Omarion

Label:  EMI

Release date: Jan. 12, 2010

Omarion’s third studio album ventures into hip hop territory with guest appearances by Gucci Mane and Fabolous.

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Title:  The Sea

Artist:  Corinne Bailey Rae

Label:  Capitol Records

Release date:  January 2010

The British diva’s sophomore release, recorded after the death of saxophonist husband Jason Rae, offers a soulful mix of jazz, rock, and pop inflected ballads and songs that reflect upon life’s joys and sorrows.

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Title:  I’m New Here

Artist:  Gil Scott-Heron

Label:  XL Recording

Release date:  Feb. 9, 2010

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The “founding father” of rap’s first album in 13 years is a powerful, if brief (30 minutes), mix of spoken word and bluesy tracks that will certainly not disappointed his legions of fans.

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Title:  Another Round

Artist:  Jaheim

Label:  Atlantic

Release date:  Feb. 9, 2010
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The fourth album by neo-soul singer Jaheim Hoagland cements his place among up and coming R&B singers, demonstrating once again that comparisons to Luther Vandross are very apt.

View review June 1st, 2010

Blues Releases Jan. – March 2010


Title:  My Old Friend the Blues

Artist:  Percy Sledge

Label:  Blues Boulevard

Release date:  Jan. 12, 2010

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Best known for his iconic 1966 soul single “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Sledge’s new blues album was “designed to mimic the soulful, laid-back vibe of Norala Studios in Alabama, where he cut most of his early sides.”

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Title:  Brian Young

Artist:  Brian Young

Label:  Tate Music Group

Release date:  Jan. 12, 2010
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A self-taught guitarist, vocalist and songwritter from East St. Louis, Young offers up his own brand of electric blues, heavily influenced by B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix.

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Title:  Baby Please Set a Date

Artist:  Elmore James, Jr.

Label:  Wolf Records

Release date:  Jan. 12, 2010

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Slide guitar master and winner of the 2009 Living Blues Awards, Elmore James Jr.’s new release is described as “traditional with a modern touch” and features Jake Dawson on guitar with Ed Williams on sax.

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Title: Gotta Walk with Da King

Artist: Little Freddie King

Label: MadeWright Records

Release date: Feb. 16, 2010

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Recorded at a blues festival in Santa Fe, this new release by the New Orleans’ blues elder offers up live versions of many songs featured on his previous albums. As noted in the press release, his guitar playing and singing are “unmistakably rooted in his native Mississippi Delta soil.”

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Title:  Bare Knuckle

Artist:  Guitar Shorty

Label:  Alligator

Release date:  March 2, 2010

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The legendary guitarist/vocalist, credited with influencing both Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy, proves he is still going strong at 70 with yet another solid, hard-driving electric blues album.

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View review June 1st, 2010

Another Lifetime

Title: Another Lifetime

Artist: Cindy Blackman

Label: Four Quarters Entertainment

Catalog No.: FQT-CD-1820

Release date: March 10, 2010

Cindy Blackman is a drummer’s drummer. She plays exciting, busy fills and solos without getting in the way. She plays with Lenny Kravitz, but her self-professed first love is jazz, so she’s equally comfortable in multiple genres. She matches versatility with great taste and impeccable timing. She hits hard enough to get a truly satisfying sound, but she still manages all of the finesse and versatility that her touring schedule requires. She also has great style and cool hair.

On this, her latest solo record, Blackman pays tribute to her friend and one-time mentor, the late, great Tony Williams. She clearly has too much respect for Williams as an innovator and too much personal integrity to clone his music, though she does cop his intricate cymbal work and signature polyrhythms convincingly when she needs to. Another Lifetime is about a new generation of musicians who, though they cut their teeth with the first generation of jazz-rock greats, have their own inter-genre paths to forge. Blackman says it best: “Celebrating Tony is not just one day or one album, but it’s a way of living, a way of being creative, spontaneous, thoughtful and diligent in pushing the envelope.” Whether considering Williams’s groundbreaking group, Lifetime, or Blackman’s collaborators, it is difficult to argue with unbridled virtuosity.

This record listens like a one-hour set at a jazz club. The “house band,” featuring Doug Carn on organ, Benny Rietveld on bass, and Mike Stern on guitar, plays the first few tunes before inviting some heavy-hitting guests to sit in. The group begins with the first of three versions of Carla Bley’s “Vashkar,” a classic track from Lifetime’s first record, Emergency! Each version gets progressively further out, where two things become exceedingly clear: these musicians are completely comfortable moving in and out of the changes and they communicate extremely well. This core group really gets a chance to stretch out on “Where” and “Beyond Games,” both of which also appeared on Emergency! Mike Stern is no substitute for John McLaughlin, but then again, he’s not trying to be. He makes his own statements here in his own voice, an excellent compliment to Blackman’s drumming and Doug Carn’s tasty organ work. The result is a face-melting trio of tunes that pay homage to Williams and Lifetime, a perfect opening to this tribute album.

The next couple of cuts provide a smooth transition to introducing guests to this project. Carlton Holmes’s synthesizer contributes significantly to the segue. These tunes reiterate an already well-established statement from the first part of the record: these musicians are breathing new life into the jazz-rock trends developed during the forty years since Tony Williams left Miles Davis to form Lifetime. On “Love Song,” Blackman puts saxophonist Joe Lovano in one of his strongest playing environments. Their duo does not just draw attention to Lovano’s fascinating harmonic mind, it also gives listeners space to consider drumming as a kind of rhythmic harmony, to appreciate the drumset in all of its complex voices.

The last three tracks reign in the chaos of much of the rest of the record. If Blackman’s singing on “There Comes a Time” is unremarkable, it does not detract from Finn O’Lochlainn’s searing guitar sound, and the drum break at the end of the track is absolutely killing! “And Heaven Welcomed a King” and “Wildlife” feature these epic, rock-like anthems to end a jazz-rock record appropriately. Nothing could be more fitting than one-time Tony Williams sideman Vernon Reid’s brilliant guitar work on the closer, “Wildlife.” He amps up a theme reminiscent of Lifetime or Mahivishnu Orchestra.

Blackman’s group leaves the impression that if I did hear this set in a club somewhere, I would leave full of wonder and possibility. I would know that the future of jazz-rock is in good hands. She has found virtuosic voices for an impressive tribute to Tony Williams and Lifetime. She has done so with humility. Blackman is definitely a drummer’s drummer, but she and her band leave everyone wanting more.

Personnel: Cindy Blackman: drums, vocals; Doug Carn: organ; Benny Rietveld: bass; Mike Stern: guitar; Carlton Holmes: synthesizer (tracks 5, 10); Fionn O’Lochlainn: guitar (tracks 5, 10); Joe Lovano: tenor sax (track 8); Vernon Reid: guitar (track 11); Patrice Rushen: Fender Rhodes, synthesizer (track 11); Davis Santos: bass (11).

Reviewed by Peter J. Hoesing

View review June 1st, 2010

Black Dynamite

Title: Black Dyanmite, Original Score to the Motion Picture

Arist: Adrian Younge

Label: Wax Poetics Records

Catalog No.: WPR007

Format: CD,  MP3  (booklet)

Release Date: October 20, 2009

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Black Dynamite the movie is a reverential parody of 1970’s Blaxploitation cinema, complete with huge afros, bad attitudes, ridiculous fight scenes and plenty of soul music.  That’s where Adrian Younge comes in.  Along with editing the film, Younge composed and performed the original score.  He did all this while keeping his day job as a professor at the American College of Law in Anaheim, CA.

Younge’s years as a club DJ and music aficionado were brought to bear in creating the Black Dynamite score.  It is an accurate re-creation of ‘70s funk and soul, down to period instruments like a Rhodes electric piano, Hammond organ and electric sitar.  Younge is a multi-instrumentalist, often playing sax, flute, keyboards, bass and drums.  He sometimes enlisted other musicians to play guitars and sing, but he also laid down guitar and vocal tracks here and there. (The video about the making of the “Black Dynamite” score is hilarious).

Although Black Dynamite is a spoof movie, aimed at amusing audiences, Younge took the soundtrack creation process very seriously.  In the booklet for the CD version of this album, he wrote:  “As a composer, my goal was to stimulate emotion; as a musician, I studied the instrumentation of superlative vintage soul; as a recording engineer, I utilized golden-era recording techniques to denote the nostalgic sound of early cinema funk.”

With that sort of approach, it’s legitimate to worry about overly serious “academic” music.  Thankfully, Younge avoided that dead-end and produced a rollicking good listen.  He delivers the funk and understands the soul.  It’s not quite up to par with the best of the genre (think Isaac Hayes’ soundtrack to Shaft), but it sounds and feels like a genuine article.  Plus, the title cut features hilariously nasty lyrics, in fitting with the film.

There’s nothing new to the sounds Younge created, but he didn’t want new, he wanted to revisit what in his mind were the classic motifs and sounds of Blaxploitation soundtrack music. He succeeded at that, and as a whole his score doesn’t sound like a bunch of disconnected samples.  It works as a listening experience, not needing the context of the film to be enjoyed.

The best cuts are the ones with extended lyrics and vocals.  LaVan Davis, who sings the title song and the super-bad “Cleaning Up the Streets,” is a good singer—he could hold his own in Stax or King studios.  Toni Scruggs, who handles most of the female leads, is an excellent singer for this kind of music.

Net-net, this is a better than average film soundtrack album. There are some filler instrumentals, and not all of the complete tunes with vocals work well, but it’s a fun album and my bet is that it gets heavily sampled and spun in the club-DJ world.  Younge’s careful study of the musical genre paid off, and he clearly understands it on a level deeper than academic analysis. It would be fascinating for him to apply these methods and aesthetics to a modern R&B artist—the results could be something truly new and different.

Adrian Younge and The Black Dynamite Sound Orchestra are currently touring around the country. Check out their recently released video for “Shot Me in the Heart,” featuring Loren Oden on vocals (produced by Wax Poetics):

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The movie Black Dynamite was recently released on DVD—following is the official trailer:

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Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review June 1st, 2010

Suite 420

Title: Suite 420

Artist: Devin the Dude

Label: E1 Entertainment

Catalog No.: E1E-CD-2043

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: April 20, 2010

Often referred to as ‘your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,’ Devin the Dude brings down to earth humor and subtle seriousness to the rap table without having achieved any major mainstream success. Despite working with such powerhouses as Scarface, Nas, Dr. Dre, and De La Soul, Devin Copeland remains a relatively unknown name in the popularized rap circuit. Now, twelve years after the release of his first album, The Dude (1998 on Rap-A-Lot), Copeland delivers his sixth studio record. Entitled Suite 420 and released by E1 Entertainment, the album proves to be a hilarious ode to the wonders of marijuana.

The album begins with a comical skit imitating various weed smokers of the world and moves flawlessly into the first track, “We Get High”, featuring the Odd Squad. “Still Comin’” is one of my favorites, utilizing Eastern inspired synthesizers and revealing Copeland’s intention to continue playing the rap game regardless of his degree of monetary success—according to him he’s “best rated, still wreck the show even though I get faded.”

Following is the official video for “What I Be On” (© Koch Records):

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Similarly on “Pick My Brain,” Copeland laments producers and deadlines in the hip hop game, relying on the powers of marijuana to keep him creative. His spacey, long-winded timbre still reverberates on “That Aint Cool,” an incredibly funny track in which he accuses his girls-on-the-side of trying to get him in trouble with his steady woman. It’s hard not to laugh when Devin’s temptations become so strong at “one dollar Mondays” at the club (a deal most rappers don’t have to jump at) that he has to chat at his genitals directly, reminding them that he has a woman at home and should remain faithful.

Correspondingly, the overtly sexual track “I Can’t Handle It” (track 9) brilliantly features an Isley Brothers interpolation sampling the song “Let Me Down Easy,” a refreshing change of pace in a time when direct sampling is so scarce. His chill and even sexy vocal tone captivates listeners, while his signature relaxed lines don’t stop at the end of phrases, keeping conversation with the listeners without pause. On track 12 this laid back style is brilliantly contrasted with the fast antics of rappers Wood and Quad, offering words of wisdom about ignoring negative people and doing what’s in one’s heart, no matter what people say. With a characteristically southern rap backbeat, the track is certainly reminiscent of days spent on the Houston-based label Rap-A-Lot Records.

Continuing in the weed anthem genre that has become representative of Devin the Dude, “All You Need” is a side-splittingly funny yet pseudo-somber warning about the hazards of heavy drugs as he relays stories of friends and musicians who have fallen prey to narcotics, describing people who cry for no reason and end up walking down the street naked.

All in all, the album is incredibly effective; with intoxicating beats and hilarious dialogue, the entire project mimics the effects of marijuana while remaining a legitimate work of art and an underground accomplishment. With six albums now in rotation, an appropriately named Coughee Brothaz label, and devoted and powerful fans, Devin the Dude can now hardly be overlooked in rap culture.

Reviewed by Rachel Weidner

View review June 1st, 2010

Feed My Soul

Title: Feed My Soul

Artist: The Holmes Brothers

Label: Alligator

Catalog No.: ALCD 4933

Format: CD

Release Date: March 2, 2010

The Holmes Brothers‘ music is hard to classify. Put this new CD into your iTunes library and it gets classified as blues.  Guitarist/vocalist Wendell Holmes says they play “American roots music” in a promotional video made by Alligator Records.  Even more than their other albums, this latest from the New York City-based band defies categorization.  There are soul tunes, blues tunes, gospel tunes and some country-western flavors; there are cover tunes and originals.  What results is a very enjoyable musical gumbo, with less edge but more soul than some of the band’s previous albums.

The Holmes Brothers―brothers Wendell and Sherman Holmes plus drummer Popsy Dixon―have been playing together since the 1970s, but didn’t make their first album (In the Spirit on Rounder) until 1989.  Since then, they’ve put out a steady stream of recordings and toured tirelessly.  All of that ground to a halt in 2008, when Wendell Holmes was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Wendell Holmes’ successful battle with cancer is central to this album.  The time off the road led to more original tunes than any previous Holmes Brothers album.  Plus, the new songs resonate with reflections and lessons drawn from the cancer experience.  In all, Wendell Holmes wrote or co-wrote 7 of the album’s 14 tunes, and Sherman Holmes wrote two others.  The band also covers a tune by the Beatles, “I’ll Be Back.”  And they present the recording debut of “Something Is Missing” by John Ellison, who wrote the soul classic “Some Kind of Wonderful.”

The following is a behind the scenes look at the Holmes Brothers regarding the making of Feed My Soul.

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This album has a quiet intensity to it. It sounds comfortable, relaxed and natural.  Singer/songwriter Joan Osborne did a fine job producing it and singing backup on some cuts.  The recording, at Long View Farm Studios in Massachusetts, was well-done, adding to the laid-back feeling.  For example, Wendell Holmes’ guitar solos are generally panned right, not placed in your face in the center, and are somewhat back in the mix. In other words, the solos are in balance with the band and sounding like if the whole band is together in front of you, playing together.  It sounds and feels like a Holmes Brothers live performance, which is not to be missed.

The vocal harmonies are also a highlight of the album, as on all Holmes Brothers recordings.  These guys are older and maybe a little less edgy, but they still make beautiful harmonies and still have strong pipes.

The whole album flows very nicely, but there are stand-out cuts:  “Fair Weather Friend”; “Living Well Is the Best Revenge”; a cover of “Pledging My Love” by Don Robey and Ferdinand Washington; the cover of the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back”; and the title track.  Here’s hoping the Holmes Brothers remain healthy and vital and turn out some more recordings!

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review June 1st, 2010

Nothing On You

Title: Nothin’ on You

Artist: B.o.B. feat. Bruno Mars

Label: Atlantic Record

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 27, 2010

Two years ago XXL magazine “enrolled” a group of up-and-coming rappers in the Freshman Class of 2009, based on their lyrical ability and current buzz in the music blogosphere. These ten students of the craft have since tried to live up to the title. Some became honor roll students (Kid Cudi, Wale), while others were sentenced to academic probation (Ace Hood, Charles Hamilton). One of those ten was a 19-year-old Atlanta native by the name of B.o.B, aka Bobby Ray Simmons. His grade had yet to be determined. Luckily, on April 27 his final class project, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, was released to the world and now we can judge the results.

The schizophrenic, André-sounding, Lupe look-a-like actually dropped his highly-anticipated album a month early (the original release date was May 25). The hard work definitely paid off as both singles reached the top ten, and the album debuted at No. 1.  B.o.B’s perfect combination of ill lyrics and pop brilliance gained him a load of fans and makes for a great album, even if one may argue its hip hop authenticity. Despite this fact, his pure musicianship (he’s also listed as an executive producer) allows him to compile not just good pop songs, or good hip hop songs, but great music. Period.

We get a mix of both personalities on his debut.  Bobby Ray is the guitar-strumming neo-rock star who merges pop with hip hop stylings. His melodic offerings cover numerous subjects. He contemplates his career with the album’s first track “Don’t Let Me Fall.” He switches gears and produces strong love songs with the infectious hit single “Nothin’ on You” and “Lovelier Than You.” The amazing “Airplanes” soars with the help of Paramore’s Hayley Williams on vocals; Eminem joins on the remix. He trades bars with Lupe on the uptempo “Past My Shades” and gets socially-conscious on “The Kids” with the ArchAndroid herself, Janelle Monae.

Following is the “Nothin’ on You” official video:

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B.o.B is his ATL-ien persona, with passionate rhymes and beats. While the B.o.B tracks are few, they deliver strongly. “Bet I” goes ham with the addition of T.I.’s verse. And “5th Dimension” lifts Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” for an exceptional experience for the ladies.

All in all, B.o.B scores an ‘A’ for The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Each song offers something special. From the writing, to the production, this “non-hip-hop” hip hop album is one of the year’s best.

Reviewed by Lorin Williams

View review June 1st, 2010

Duke Ellington’s Queenie Pie

Title: Duke Ellington’s Queenie Pie

Artists: Carmen Bradford, Robert DeSimone, Butler Opera Center, UT Jazz Orchestra, Huston-Tillitson University Concert Choir

Label: Longhorn Music

Catalog No.:  LHM 2010003

Formats: CD

Release Date: March 30, 2010

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When Duke Ellington initially announced his Black, Brown and Beige in 1938, he stated that it was going to be an opera. However, when the work was finally heard at Carnegie Hall in January 1943, it had metamorphosed into “a tone parallel to the history of the Negro in America”―a purely instrumental work. This turned out to be only the first salvo in a long string of ambitious works; Queenie Pie is about the last, a collaboration with librettist Betty McGettigan that occupied the Duke from 1967 until his death in 1974; and it is, at last, an opera.

Based loosely on the character of Madame C. J. Walker, Queenie Pie is a champion beautician whose reign is threatened by a young upstart, Café Olay, who gets involved in a torrid affair with the main contest judge, Holt Faye. It becomes considerably less of a contest when Olay kills Faye, and Queenie Pie decamps to a mysterious island to retrieve a magic formula for “everlasting anythingness.” McGettigan has since served as Queenie Pie’s principal advocate, aiding productions in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. in 1986, Brooklyn in 1993 and the Oakland Opera in 2008. This 2009 production of Queenie Pie was given by the Butler Opera Center at the Butler School of Music, University of Texas at Austin under the direction of Robert DeSimone, starring Carmen Bradford in the title role.

Bradford, a former singer for the Count Basie Orchestra and collaborator with George Benson, is definitely one the best things about the Longhorn Music album; she throws herself into the role with abandon and exudes charm and confidence. John Mills, who made the orchestrations, does come up with a score that sounds Ellingtonian in a general way though it does not focus on strong instrumental voices in the manner of Ellington’s own band; instrumental solos are not well mixed in the recording and do not stand out. The chorus is the weakest element in Queenie Pie; they are not particularly well drilled and were dubbed in after the fact. Even if this were a seamless recording and an absolutely true representation of Ellington’s intentions―which McGettingan asserts it is, in the latter case―then Queenie Pie wouldn’t have been as successful a show as was Sophisticated Ladies, a musical based on Ellington’s work cobbled together by others. The plot fails to reach a meaningful conclusion, and one wonders what changes might have gone into Queenie Pie had the Duke lived long enough to get it past the lyrics and lead sheet stage. Nevertheless, Queenie Pie does close a major recording gap in the output of the Duke, and while it pales in comparison to Ellington’s other “last work,” The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse, it fits into his late output and easily merits recording.

Reviewed by Uncle Dave Lewis

View review June 1st, 2010

New Creation Live

Title: New Creation Live

Artist: Rafeal Ross

Label:  R2 Music

Formats: MP3, CD

Release Date: January 10, 2010

With a vocal sound that is uniquely his, Rafeal Ross situates himself comfortably within the realm of contemporary gospel. From start to finish, New Creation Live rings of heartfelt praise and intimate worship. Thick with reprises which are reminiscent of Sunday morning praise and worship service, listeners can readily observe Ross’s passion for ministry through his music. By utilizing his background of classical technique in vocal performance at George Mason University, as well as an early dedication to music ministry, Ross delivers a product which is both aurally pleasing and spiritually inspiring. Ross tastefully shows off his range with high notes that ring of sincere praise.

In listening to the album, it is apparent that Ross values sonic equilibrium. The background vocals, supplied by singers from the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church Mass Choir, are well balanced within and across each section (soprano, alto, tenor). The supporting vocalists definitely have their work cut out for them,  and rise to the challenge in every selection, utilizing precise diction without sacrificing dynamics. There is a pleasant compromise between the vocals and instrumentalists; neither is incredibly overbearing to the point of hindering the listener from enjoying either component.

While Ross uses some traditional lines found throughout gospel songs in order to relay his message, he does it in a way that is unexpected, limiting the predictability of his music. This is valuable, as it allows the listener to connect to his music and appreciate his musical interpretation of the various scriptures woven into his lyrics.

The project opens in a salutation of praise with “Praise Awaits.” New Creation Live provides music which inspires praise and invokes worship. In the way of praise, Ross exalts the “Lion of Judah,” by exclaiming that He is worthy to be praised.  The single for the album, “I’m Free,” is a declaration of the liberty found in living for Christ.

In the way of worship, the album’s namesake song, “New Creation,” further speaks to being restored to Christ. This song is a commentary upon the total transformation that occurs when one’s entire being is dedicated (or rededicated) to God. It captures the essence of encountering a life-augmenting relationship; in being “arrested by [His] love,” there is a change that began on the first day Jesus’ name is spoken, which yields the ultimate result of being made into a new creation! The dynamics found in “None Like You” are especially moving, and reflect the dynamic nature of the relationship with Christ that is available upon accepting salvation.

Praise team leaders and choir directors alike—adult or youth—will find several songs suitable for setting the environment for focused, high energy ministry events.

Follow this link to hear selections from New Creation Live. http://www.myspace.com/rossrafeal

Reviewed by Melody Barham

View review June 1st, 2010

Shake For Me

Title:  Shake For Me

Artist:  The Manish Boys

Label:  Delta Groove Music

Catalog No.: DGPCD137

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: March 16, 2010

Delta Groove Music has recently released its fifth studio album by The Mannish Boys. Shortly after Randy Chortkoff founded the label in 2004, he pulled together a group of musicians for the purpose of reviving some of the lesser-known blues hits of the past. Although the main band members have shifted some since their last album (Jimi Botts has replaced Richared Ines on drums and Willie J. Campbell has replaced Tom Leavy and Ronnie James Weber on electric and upright bass), the core group has remained the same. Long-time members Finis Tasby (vocals), Kirk Fletcher (guitar), Frank Goldwasser (guitar/vocals), and Chortkoff himself (lead/harmonica) are joined once again by vocalist Bobby Jones, pianist Fred Kaplan, and wind player David “Woody” Woodford along with approximately a dozen guest artists.

Perhaps because of its huge pool of guest artists, the band covers a range of sounds and genres over the course of this sixteen-track release. Although they offer up plenty of lowdown blues numbers with a California twist, they mix in some rock ’n’ roll and big band style numbers as well. For instance, the album opens with “Too Tired”–a number that combines Chuck Berry style riffs by guitarist Nick Curran with a big band sound multi-tracked by David “Woody” Woodruff and Lee Thornburg. Another example is a medley of Bo Diddley’s “Mona” and Johnny Otis’ “Willie and the Hand Jive.” The group does a great job of capturing the Bo Diddley beat throughout both tunes, albeit at a faster clip and with a more elaborate guitar line than Diddley’s version.

Other highlights on the album include “Educated Ways,” which stands out for its interesting mix of blues piano and vocals over a slide guitar line by Frank Goldwasser and a bari sax rhythm line by Woodford. The timbre combination alone is enough to make this song worth a second listen. “Half Ain’t Been Told” features a duet by Jones and pianist Rob Rio. Rio’s performance is fairly faithful to the Otis Spann version, although Jones signing style is harsher than Spann’s mellow laidback delivery, giving the song more of an edge.

“Bullet” is a blues instrumental featuring solos by Kirk Fletcher, Nick Curran, Fred Kaplan, and Jimi Bott.  Although one can’t find fault with Fletcher’s performance, Curran’s livelier style and quick rock ’n’ roll riffs steal the show.  Curran’s past performances have run the gamut from rockabilly with Ronnie Dawson, punk with Deguello, and rock ‘n’ roll with his own band, The Lowlifes.

For harmonica lovers, there are a number of fine solos, including performances by Chortkoff, Rod Piazza, Lynwood Slim, Mitch Kashmar, and “Big” Pete van der Pluijm. Van der Pluijm is currently big on the Dutch blues circuit and is sometimes hailed as one of the Netherland’s best kept secrets. In addition to the harmonica, he’s perfectly capable of belting out Lester Butler’s “Way Down South.”

All in all, the Mannish Boys have stuck true to their mission of performing “some of the greatest music from the blues canon without lapsing into clichés and dead-horse beating.” I suspect for diehard blues fans some of the numbers will be a bit too close to earlier versions to warrant repeated listening. For more casual blues listeners, however, Shake for Me promises to make a great addition to your collection.

Reviewed by Ronda L. Sewald

View review June 1st, 2010

ArchAndroid


Title: ArchAndroid

Artist: Janelle Monae

Label: Bad Boy/Atlantic

Catalog No.: 512256-2

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 18, 2010

Imagine, if you will, a world where music is dead. Artistry is a dying art as quality has been compromised by quantity. Substance is executed by the Industry: a tyrannical authority that suffocates musical individuality with mass production of pre-packaged pop stars and multiple mixtapes. It’s replaced the concept album with catalogues of filler and two months-long singles. Society has grown dependent on this instantaneous gratification, demanding whatever is supplied, good or not; and, once the high has been met, it only fiends for more.

Suddenly, a foreign object appears in the midst of the Sasha Fierces and black Barbies. The being is of the past and future, here to relieve the present of its dormant state of artistic expression. It goes by one name and one name only: The ArchAndroid.

The ArchAndroid is Janelle Monae’s debut album, sprinting off from her 2008 EP Metropolis: the Chase Suite. Monae welcomes us to a not-so-foreign ideology where cultural expression, individuality, and ultimately love is punishable with extermination. She manifests this movement in the protagonist Cindi Mayweather, a futuristic android sent to save those silenced. Her adventure is played out in an 18-track opus that would rival Avatar if sounds could be transformed into visuals.

Monae defines her reach for any genre-framing category as she pulls multitudes of influences from James Brown to Jimi Hendrix to OutKast (Big Boi) to John Lennon. The album splits itself into two: Suite II and III of Monae’s saga—a continuation of Metropolis: the Chase Suite. The journey hits instantly with “Dance or Die,” a frantic freestyle of jarring social warnings between her and NiggyTardust himself (aka slam poet and artist Saul Williams). Listeners continue their descent into Metropolis as we finally meet Cindi’s forbidden love on “Sir Greendown,” a beautiful hello to the human she has grown attached to.

The conflict ensues as one of two singles, the triumphant rock battle cry “Cold War” echoes into play, followed by the funky lead single “Tightrope” featuring Big Boi. This James Brown-inspired song with the hip hop mentality and yesterday’s soul is a rebuttal to life’s haters. Monae’s staccato delivery is perfect as she spits “I step on alligators/and little rattlesnakers/but I’m a different flavor/something like a terminator.”

Following is the official video for “Tightrope”:

YouTube Preview Image

Monae’s eclectic sound continues with the afro-punk monster “Come Alive” and the Woodstock hippie-induced “Mushrooms & Roses.”  She then ventures to overseas pop and electro rock with Of Montreal on the 80s-inspired “Make the Bus,” and channels Devo and that song from “Revenge of the Nerds” with the galactic “Wondaland.”

The albums most heralded moments are perhaps the final two songs. On “Say You’ll Go,” Monae, or Cindi, pushes her agenda one last time: “Love is not a fantasy/a haiku written in Japanese/a word too often used but not believed.” She beautifully echoes the opportunities that lie before us if we choose to fight for and with love. And in the climatic eight-minute close, the majestic “BabopbyeYa,” with signature big band sound and glorious mystery, plays out as her swan song to Sir Greendown.  Monae belts the end of their love affair with a song that could be the title track to a James Bond film.

The ArchAndroid is one of the best surprises this year; and one of the most impressive debuts from a female artist since, dare we say, Lauryn Hill. Monae’s unabridged deliverance of both unique style and substance has produced a concept album which can only be enjoyed in its entirety, uninterrupted. Every component―lyrics, production and vocals―is perfectly executed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Monae earns a Best New Artist Grammy nod, if the album sells well.

And even if not, the goal of supplying an album with the intent of expressing oneself mentally, socially and emotionally, is by far the greater feat. With The ArchAndroid a star is born, one who challenges the mediocrity plaguing the Industry today.

Reviewed by Lorin Williams

View review June 1st, 2010

Woodbox Beats & Balladry

Title:  Woodbox Beats & Balladry

Artist:  DBR (Daniel Bernard Roumain)

Label:  Thirsty Ear

Catalog No.:  THI 57193.2

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release Date:  March 30, 2010

Haitian-American violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (aka DBR) has made a name for himself as a genre-bending innovator blending classical music and hip hop, a concert violinist, and art music composer who has performed on American Idol with Lady GaGa.   His newest release, Woodbox Beats & Balladry upholds this reputation, but its contents, and DBR’s talent, deserve to be unpacked and explored beyond the simple classical-meets-hip-hop moniker. Technology plays a significant role on this album, not only with the turntables and samples, but through the use of computer composition, synth programming, and the custom 4-, 5-, and 6-string electro-acoustic violins that DBR plays.  His academic musical training—he earned a doctorate in composition studying with William Bolcom, and is on the composition faculty of Vanderbilt University—is evident throughout the forms and techniques employed throughout the album.

Compositionally, DBR borrows from the meticulous craftsmanship of the Second Viennese School and from minimalist composers such as Philip Glass as much as from the sampling and beat-building methods of hip hop and techno. His six-part Sonata for Violin and Turntable, co-composed with turntablist Elan Vytal, marries one of the oldest genres in the instrumental repertoire with new technologies and popular sounds.  He notes on his website that every track on the album is fully notated, though he employs several different types of notation (numerical, graphic, and traditional) in his writing.  The violin remains the dominant part of the musical texture throughout, and DBR employs a variety of extended performance techniques and effects pedals in addition to digital processing; the result is always virtuosic, but it channels sources as diverse as Romantic violin virtuosi, breakneck bebop soloists, and rock guitar shredders.

Only four parts of the Sonata for Violin and Turntable are included here, and they’re interspersed out of numerical order among the other tracks, so it’s hard to get a sense of the Sonata as a whole, or whether it’s even one multi-movement piece or several different pieces.  Nevertheless, DBR utilizes the possibilities of both tools for their technological, textural, and melodic abilities:  Part 1 opens with a slow, sparse solo violin intro with an improvisational quality; Part 2 features more rhythmic manipulations of recorded samples, plus delicate moments of sound collage reminiscent of Varèse; Part 4 lays down R&B-influenced instrumental samples under the wailing violin with all the drama of an operatic aria; and Part 6 intertwines a jazz-tinged violin line with fuzzed electric guitar.

The other tracks on the album explore a range of other influences.  The opener “Spaceships Over Haiti” nods to DBR’s heritage while letting him shred like an electric guitarist over a backing rock band.  “Simone” offers a wordless ballad, with all the stillness and sparse textures of modal jazz.  “Armstrong,” on the other hand, channels bebop’s frenetic energy through a heavy metal filter and funk samples.   The mid-tempo jazz riffs of “Moonshine” are punctuated by a recurring Middle Eastern rhythmic motif, while the final track “Our Country” reinterprets “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” as a musical meditation.

Here’s the official trailer for the album (courtesy of Thirsty Ear Recordings), in which DBR discusses his background and approach to the album:

YouTube Preview Image

Not all of DBR’s fusion is entirely successful—at times, the aggression and noise levels overwhelm the very masterful construction of these pieces.  But his gift lies in understanding the full musical possibilities of all of his instruments, turntables and drum machines included, and DBR has a composer’s ingenuity for making them work together in innovative and expressive ways, rather than simply relying on mixing contrasting stereotypical gestures from different genres.  Woodbox Beats and Balladry offers exciting and finely crafted musical ideas, whether you’re listening for the compositional process, the virtuosic performances, or the infusion of hip hop style.

Reviewed by Ann Shafer

View review June 1st, 2010

♫ Welcome to the June 2010 Issue! ♫

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter designated June as Black Music Month. Thirty-one years later, we proudly join in the celebration of one of America’s most underappreciated, yet infinitely precious offspring.

For our Black Music Month issue we deemed it especially appropriate to include the work of artists that shed light on the foundations upon which contemporary music stand, including Feed My Soul by The Holmes Brothers, Shake For Me by the Mannish Boys, and Duke Ellington’s Queenie Pie.  Virtuoso drummer Cindy Blackman’s Another Lifetime honors the creative legacy left behind by Tony Williams’ album Lifetime. Haitian-American violinist/composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (aka DBR) offers a new genre-bending album, Woodbox Beats & Balladry. Adrian Younge’s original score to the Blaxploitation parody Black Dynamite, recently released on CD, is an accurate re-creation of ‘70s funk and soul.  Other new releases featured this month include Janelle Monae’s ArchAndroid,  B.o.B.’s The Adventures of Bobby Ray, Devin the Dude’s Suite 420, and gospel artist Rafeal Ross’s New Creation Live. Last but not least, we’re including brief descriptions of many more new releases from the first quarter of the year that caught our attention.

View review June 3rd, 2010

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