Archive for September, 2010

More New Releases – Artists to Watch

Title: Sounds Like a Riot

Artist: Game Rebellion

Label: Molotov Music

Format:  MP3, CD

Release date: January 18, 2010

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The Brooklyn based rap-rock band Game Rebellion has been burning up both coasts since 2006 with their high-energy shows and regular appearances on the Afro-punk circuit.  Led by MC Netic and backed by a quartet featuring Yohimbe (lead guitar, vocals), Ahmed (bass), Emi (keys, vocals), and Aaron (percussion),  their influences range from Prince, Jimi Hendrix, the Isley Brothers, and Bad Brains to Megadeath and Guns & Rose.  Sounds Like Riot, their first project to feature all original songs (their previous EP Searching for Rick Rubin was a mixtape), may not be able to match the frenzy of live shows, but its sure to enlarge the fan base.

Following is the video for the single “Blind” from Sounds Like a Riot:

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Editor’s note: Netic  was one of the participants in the AAAMC’s 2009 conference, Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music. To learn more about Netic’s one-on-one interview for the conference or about other materials in the collection, contact our staff.

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Title:  Rebirth – Darkness

Artist: Untitled

Format:  MP3 (“pick your own price” download)

Release date: 2010

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Chicago’s Untitled is an experimental band that merges hip hop, rock, reggae, funk, Latin and soul with a positive message while pushing the boundaries of sound.  The collective―featuring 3 MCs/vocalists backed by keys, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion―conceived of their sophomore album  Rebirth-Darkness 2 Light as a two-part thematic series. The first half, Darkness, is now available (no release date has been given for Light) and features alternating tracks that glide from instrumentals to rap.  Standout tracks include “Revolution” featuring Benny Ramos, Jr., “Under the Influence” ft. Moral One, and “Gain the World.”  Untitled’s debut album, Wake Up, is also currently available as an MP3 download.

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Title: Suspended Animation

Artist: Esham

Label: Aknu Media

Format: CD, MP3

Release date:  August 3, 2010

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Detroit cult artist Esham is often cited as the creator of acid rap – described as a style which combines hard rock guitar samples, hip hop beats and unique narratives that are often bizarre and dark. This “darkness” is more than evident on Esham’s underground albums, including his controversial 1993 masterpiece KKKill the Fetus.  His latest release, Suspended Animation, is political in nature, with tracks such as “Closed Doors” about the hidden agendas of mega corporations, “SSMD” (Stop Selling Me Drugs) about overdoses of prescription drugs (ala Michael Jackson), and “Poultry,” which he describes as a “tastefully done” expose about the horrors of the commercial poultry  industry.

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Title: The Boxer

Artist: Kele Okereke

Label: Glassnote

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: June 22, 2010

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The Boxer is the solo debut album by Kele Okereke, better known as lead singer/guitarist for the British rock band Bloc Party, which is currently on hiatus.  Featuring original songs by Kele, the album is an engaging mix of raw pop, rock, R&B, and electronica that is heavy on the dance beats as a result of his recent forays into deejaying.  This month he’ll be touring the U.S. in support of the album, but promises to also cover a few Bloc Party songs.

Following is the official video from his single “Tenderoni” (definitely not as insipid as it sounds):

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Title: The Black Hood

Artist: Tomeka Williams

Label:  Rhyme Cartel

Format:  MP3

Release date:  January 19, 2010

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Southern-born but raised in Tacoma, Washington, Tomeka Williams grew up listening to her father’s funk and soul and her mother’s gospel music, so it should be no surprise that Williams’ style leans more towards soul-inspired rock.   Discovered by Sir-Mix-a-Lot, she performed on several of his albums and accompanied him on tour while they worked to perfect her sound.  Her debut album, on which Mix served as executive producer, has been hailed as “the kind of R&B record that defies convention,” featuring “lots of distorted guitars and nontraditional drum patches,” not to mention some great original songs such as “Ho,” “What She Gave,” and the title track “Black Hood.”

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Title:  Strangers in Masks

Artist: Tecla

Format:  MP3 (free download)

Release date: April 2010

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Tecla Esposito, a NYC native born to Haitian and Italian parents, began her musical career as a classically trained pianist.  More recently she has turned to writing, producing, and performing her own version of  electronic/punk/rock/hip hop music.  According to her website,  the synth-heavy Strangers In Masks has been described as “SWV on acid”, “the rocktronica black Cinderella”, and “Buddy Holly meets Pagliacci.” Though some tracks are annoyingly repetitive, others show promise, such as “When I Was a Sinner,” “Life of Luxury,” and “Technology.”

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 1st, 2010

Forever Changes


Title: Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love

Author: John Einarson

Publisher: Jawbone Press

Formats:  Paperbook (336 pages), Kindle ed.

Publication date: May 15, 2010

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There has been a resurgence of interest in the groundbreaking multi-racial West Coast psychedelic band Love, whose seminal third album Forever Changes, released in 1967 during the Summer of Love, is widely regarded as a rock masterpiece.  In recent years Rhino has released remastered editions of Love’s first three albums (including Love and Da Capo), along with several compilations, making their output widely accessible.  It seems fitting, then, that noted rock biographer John Einarson chose the late Arthur Lee, Love’s founder, as the subject of his next book.  The following text is from the product description:

Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love tells the life story of an incredible contemporary musical talent who died tragically of leukemia. Fronting the first ever fully integrated rock band, Lee emerged from the nascent LA folk-rock scene on the Sunset Strip in 1965 with the band Love to become the prince of the Strip. Love’s first three albums were groundbreaking, combining elements of folk-rock, garage-punk, jazz, blues, flamenco, and classical music. Through exclusive interviews with those closest to Lee, Forever Changes paints a portrait of this intriguing, remarkable cult figure. The book also includes Lee’s own voice throughout, drawn from his personal writings, letting both dedicated fans and newcomers discover this singular artist like never before.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 1st, 2010

Slash

Title: Slash

Artist: Slash

Label: Roadrunner Records/Universal

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: April 6, 2010

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Former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash recently released his self-titled solo debut which is front loaded with superstar vocalists who collaborated on the album―Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Kid Rock, Lemmy Kilmister, Fergie, Sen Dog (Cypress Hill), M Shadow (Avenged Sevenfold), Adam Levine (Maroon 5), and Dave Grohl, among others.  The genre crossing project features a different vocalist on every track but skews more towards old school rock—though Fergie’s “Beautiful Dangerous,” one of the stand-out tracks—adds relevance. Of course it goes without saying, there is plenty of shredding throughout, as well as some nice acoustic tracks.

Following is the official album trailer:

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Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 1st, 2010

The Ghetto Blaster EP

Title: The Ghetto Blaster EP

Artist: Street Sweeper Social Club

Label: Street Sweeper Social Club Inc.

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: August 10, 2010

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Streetsweeper Social Club is a collaboration between Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello and MC Boots Riley from the highly political Bay Area rap group the Coup. Formed in 2006, the band released its first self-titled album in 2009 to generally positive reviews. The Ghetto Blaster EP is their follow up, released through the group’s own Street Sweeper Social Club Inc.

This seven track EP contains four original songs and three covers. The album opens up with the title track, a solid yet unremarkable song that sounds like a leftover from Rage Against the Machine’s last full length album.  “Everythang,” previously released by the Coup, is a hot track that features Riley’s laid back musings over Morello’s funky riffs. In a similar tone is “The New F**k You,” which finds Morello lending simple but effective support to Riley’s manifesto on the plight of contemporary society. “Scars” is a more mellow track highlighted by Morello’s percussive guitar performance which both isolates and accentuates Riley’s vocals.  The only missteps are their covers of MIA’s “Paper Planes” and LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” which seem out of place and only make you crave the originals.

The Ghetto Blaster EP is a worthwhile follow up to the group’s debut. Boots Riley’s vocals are entertaining and informative as usual while Tom Morello’s production is formulaic yet fitting. Only seven songs long, The Ghetto Blaster EP leaves listeners thirsty for more Street Sweeper Social Club material as well as future releases from The Coup and Rage Against the Machine.

Reviewed By Langston Collin Wilkins

View review September 1st, 2010

Eyes & Nines

Title: Eyes & Nines

Artist: Trash Talk

Label: Trash Talk Collective

Formats: CD, MP3

Catalog no.: TTC007

Release Date: June 21, 2010

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Trash Talk is a four piece hardcore band formed in Sacramento, California in 2005. Released through their own Trash Talk Collective record label, Eyes & Nines is the group’s third studio album. Throughout Eyes & Nines vocalist Lee Spielman, drummer Sam Bosson, bassist Spencer Pollard, and guitarist Garret Stephenson present a soundscape that is dark, aggressive, and abstract, but always accessible and engaging.

The album opens with “Vultures,” which clocks in at a power packed 58 seconds, giving the listeners a taste of what is to come. “Vultures” is followed by “Flesh & Blood,” arguably the album’s strongest track. The song’s elaborate lyrics allow Spielman to present the depths of his captivating and inciting vocals.  The anarchic “Explode” is another great song that features dynamic work by Bosson and Stephenson. Breaking up the hardcore formula and closing out the first half of the album is the sludgy, metal detour, “Hash Wednesday.”

While the second half of the album picks up with the redundant and unremarkable “Envy” it is immediately followed by the solid “Rabbit Holes.” After the all too brief “I Do” is “Trudge,” which has a punishing but pleasurable energy. Closing out the album are the metal-tinged “On a Fix” and “Eyes & Nines,” the album’s most accessible song.

Though a studio recording, Trash Talk’s Eyes & Nines has a certain live, under-produced quality that adds to its appeal. The album lasts only 17 minutes, but it is fraught with so much energy and emotion that listeners are left exhausted at its conclusion.  Eyes & Nines is an excellent album and a must have for any hardcore fan.

Reviewed by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review September 1st, 2010

Revolution in the Head


Title: Revolution in the Head: Rage Against the Machine and the Art of Protest

Format: DVD (Color, NTSC, all regions)

Label:  Sexy Intellectual

Catalog No.: SIDVD552

Release date: 2010

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Formed in Los Angeles in 1991, Rage Against the Machine is known as much for their political leanings as their fiery mix of rap and hard rock. Led by vocalist Zach de la Rocha and guitarist Tom Morello, the band has used their music to spread awareness about a variety of domestic and international issues.  Revolution in the Head: Rage Against the Machine and the Art of Protest is an engaging documentary that discusses the rap-rock band’s rise to fame and political nature.

The film naturally offers significant background information on the band, including its formation, their recordings, and their 2000 breakup. The filmmakers delve deep into the personal histories of leaders de la Rocha and Morello, being especially attentive to the influences on and the growth of their respective political ideologies. Most provocative is the discussion of the history of American protest music and the band’s relationship to the legacy left by artists such as Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Public Enemy.  The featured commentators do an excellent job of showing how Rage Against the Machine is a contemporary participant in this long and rich revolutionary continuum.

While the film does a great job of situating the band within the larger field of protest in folk/rock music, it fails to acknowledge the history of resistance among African American musicians save for hip hop and Bob Marley. This is a grave misstep considering the influence of artists such as Leadbelly, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and others . Furthermore, though the featured journalists and scholars offer informative commentary, the lack of the band’s voice makes the story somewhat incomplete. Considering that the band’s political ideology was developed based on the personal ones of Zach De LaRocha and Tom Morrello, it would have been worthwhile to include footage of them discussing their ideas.

Following is the trailer for the documentary:

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Revolution in the Head: Rage Against the Machine and the Art of Protest is a solid look into one of the most revolutionary bands of the last 25 years.  After a seven year hiatus, the band is now back together, continuing their artistic battle with injustice. This DVD is recommended for fans of Rage Against the Machine or anyone interested in the relationship between music and politics.

Reviewed By Langston Collin Wilkins

View review September 1st, 2010

Wingless Angels, Vol. 1&2


Title: Wingless Angels, Vol. 1&2

Artists: Justin Hinds, Keith Richards, Wingless Angels

Label: Mindless Records

Formats: CD; Deluxe Ed. CD/DVD

Release date: September 23, 2010

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When the venerable Jamaican recording artist Justin Hinds died in 2005 it marked the end of one of the longest careers in Jamaican popular music. Musically Hinds migrated from ska through rocksteady to reggae, which he embraced in the 1970s as he continued to have great commercial success in Jamaica and the U.K. despite (like most reggae stars not named Marley) having little recognition in the U.S.  In fact his fabled one-take recording of “Carry Go Bring Come” (1963) is sometimes credited with sparking the ska style. Recording for Duke Reid at Treasure Isle records from 1964 to 1966, Hinds released seventy singles and was the label’s most successful act. Later Hinds recorded for other producers including Jack Ruby who produced Burning Spear’s seminal works Marcus Garvey and Garvey’s Ghost.

Toward the end of his life, Hinds and a community of Rastafarians near his hometown of Steer Town were playing and singing in the Nyabinghi tradition, which eschews most instruments other than sacred hand drums while centering thematically on praise and appreciation of Jah Rastafari. Hinds invited his friend, Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, a longtime Jamaican music enthusiast, to play along with the group, even allowing, after serious contemplation and consideration, the playing of non-percussion instruments like guitars and harmonica. Recording these sessions yielded a sixteen-song recording released in 1997 as Wingless Angels. The sessions, undertaken in Richards’ Ocho Rios living room and later in a recording studio, featured Hinds, Locksley Whitlock, Maureen Fremantle, Warrin Williamson and Milton Beckerd with producer Brian Jobson on bass, Lee Jaffe on harmonica, Steve Jordan, Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer on vocals, Lili Haydn on electric violin, and Richards on guitar, bass and vocals, along with the fishermen, divers, friends, neighbors, and relatives of Hinds who formed the core of the aggregation.

Now Mindless Records has rereleased Wingless Angels in a two-disc compilation that features the original release plus a second disc featuring eleven more recordings from those 1995 sessions, the last recordings of Hinds’ career. The music is unlike mainstream reggae, certainly unlike the sweetened reggae that Island Records distributed in the U.S. and Europe as label chief Chris Blackwell broke reggae worldwide. The sound is highly reminiscent of important Jamaican musical documents like Count Ossie’s Mystic Revelation of Rastafari’s magnum opus Grounation. The performances are centered on the drums and chants with other instrumentation added sparingly and dramatically. Most of the vocals are shared, but one can definitely hear Hines’ plaintive voice at the center of the mix. Highlights include “Shady Tree” and “Oh What a Joy,” both probably a little too subtle for mainstream play, but dreamy masterpieces of contemplation and yearning rendered with undisguised commitment to the music and the higher power of Rastafari. Both are treats for the discerning listener, as are the other eight songs on the newly-released disc two. Songs like “Zion Bell,” “So Sweet,” and “Oh What a Joy” are expressive and joyful in a meditative setting that is very moving. “Come Down Wicked Man,” “Beautiful River,” and “Inviting You” reference the spiritual choices one makes in life from a Rasta point of view, and “Band of Angels” meditates on the social and inspirational value of soulful music.

In addition to the recordings (with extensive liner notes), Mindless Records is offering a “limited deluxe edition” that features pertinent drawings by Richards plus a DVD of interviews with Richards and video footage of the recording sessions for Wingless Angels. A limited number of the deluxe edition issue will be autographed by Richards.

The set lists:

Disc: 1

1. I Write My Name/ Good Morning; 2. No Dark There; 3. Key Man; 4. On Mount Zion I; 5. Morning Train; 6. Roll Jordan Roll; 7. Rasta Army; 8. We Shall Overcome; 9. Come in My Little Ones; 10. Four & Twenty; 11. Rivers of Babylon; 12. Ring Out Mt. Zion Bells; 13. Bright Soul Listen; 14. Enjoy Yourself; 15. Love, Love, Love; 16. Keyman a Cappella.

Disc: 2

1. Inviting You (intro); 2. Shady Tree; 3. Come Down Wicked Man; 4. Zion Bells 5. So Sweet; 6. No Dark Day; 7. Oh What A Joy; 8. Rasta Army; 9. Beautiful River; 10. Band of Angels; 11. Inviting You (outro).

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review September 1st, 2010

Zol!

Title: Zol!

Artist: BLK JKS

Label: Secretly Canadian

Formats:  CD, MP3 (with digital booklet)

Catalog No.: SC217

Release date:  June 8, 2010

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On their second EP, BLK JKS (pronounced Black Jacks) still prove to be the most enigmatic quartet South Africa has to offer. At this rate, they might just be the strangest commodity in Black Rock. Somehow this does not detract from their incredibly addictive appeal. Plenty of people agreed on that note, especially following Fader magazine’s March 2008 release of “Umzabalazo” with an Esau Mwamwaya b-side. Following subtler hype, that single accompanied a flashy spread to kickstart the JKS’ two-year publicity surf up to a performance at the World Cup Celebration Concert in June:

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That’s right, the drummer is holding all that rhythm down on the kit and singing.

Bloomington indie label Secretly Canadian won’t regret picking up a band that South African majors had a hard time marketing. Listening to a single is one thing, but BLK JKS are all over the place. An EP lets out the “two-faced dragon” that they sing about on the opening cut, “Lietys.” One minute they joke about impossible stage requests like some kind of hair band in a Christopher Guest film. The next they’re floating between five languages in some hypnotizing chorus under poignant falsetto screams. Their strength lies in the way they wear, sing and shout all of this as a codified emblem of the African continent’s diversity and potential.

The whole record is like this. The title track opens sounding like ‘80s South African pop, but quickly gets a glint of metal. The seven-minute marathon “Paradise” oscillates between programmatic prog-rock and eerily out of place bossa nova. The common thread? “Open your eyes, ‘cause that’s where the truth resides.” This is a call to action for Africans in the Continent and Diaspora. It is slightly angry, but in the same satisfying way as a face-melting guitar solo.

After their road to the World Cup, it’s difficult to say whether BLK JKS are destined for post-flash obscurity or even larger stages. Zol! brings hope that this band will not flicker out after soccer fans have flown home. On the other hand, what could better motivate the JKS to release their next fix of schizophonic South African un-kwaito dub metal?

Reviewed by Peter J. Hoesing

View review September 1st, 2010

Miracles & Demons


Title: Miracles & Demons

Artist: Eddie Turner

Label: NorthernBlues Music

Catalog No.: NBM0057

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: July 13, 2010

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If Jimi Hendrix were alive today, what sort of music would he be making?  While it’s a stretch to call anyone “heir” to Hendrix, his and Eddie Turner’s muses seem to travel on the same winds.  Turner’s new album, his third, brings together blues, Afro-Cuban and rock elements into a guitar-heavy stew that could be served and enjoyed in Hendrix’s kitchen.

This is not to say that Turner is a copycat.  His sound is thoroughly modern, and it’s a disservice to pigeonhole him as a “bluesman.”  His music is wider than one genre, although his guitar playing is definitely blues-based.  The big move beyond the limiting concept of “bluesman” is in Turner’s songwriting and chord structures. His songs can be heavy (“Ride a Painted Pony,” “Booty Bumpin’”) or dreamy (“Say,” “Miracles and Demons,” parts 1 and 2) or jazzy (“In The Morning”) or funky (“Monkey See, Monkey Do,” “Miss Carrie”), or just plain bluesy (“I’m A Good Man,” “Blues Fall Down Like Rain”).

Turner is also at home applying various effects to his guitar, including wah-wah, chorus, tremolo and of course the layers of distortion and overdrive you’d expect from electric blues music. But his playing doesn’t seem overly heavy, he is quick and precise and knows how to vary up his solos.  Overall, he is confident and somewhat flashy, but never stereotypical. A guitar-slinger in the best sense.

So who is this guy?  Eddie Turner was born in Cuba and raised in Chicago, picking up musical influences from both places.  His music career started in the mid-70′s, playing with future Grammy winner Tracy Nelson.  He also spent time in the Colorado bands Zephyr and the Legendary 4-nikators; in those party-bar bands, he was known as an able Hendrix imitator. Then he spent several years playing with “trance-blues” pioneer Otis Taylor.  Turner’s first solo CD, “Rise”, was released in 2005, followed by “The Turner Diaries” in 2007.  In short, he traveled many musical roads to end up at “Miracles & Demons.”

Following is a clip of Eddie Turner performing the title track to his first album “Rise” live in Vienna:

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The only negative mark against this album is the super-compressed mastering job.  Why must an indie-blues label succumb to the “make it louder, louder, louder” ethic that is destroying sound quality today? This music would be all the more exciting if it had some room to breath and let the dynamics stretch out. But it does sound just as loud as a heavy metal album over earbuds in a subway train, if that’s a plus.

Surprisingly, Turner’s two previous CD’s for NorthernBlues have only sold 1540 and 1114 units, respectively (according to NorthernBlues).  That’s a damn shame.  Hopefully this fine new effort will be Turner’s breakthrough release.  While this is a distant relative of the traditional notion of “blues,” it is a compelling collection of interesting songs that are played by a musical expert.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review September 1st, 2010

Suspicious Package


Title: Suspicious Package

Artist: Earl Greyhound

Label: Hawk Race Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 13, 2010

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Because of Earl Greyhound’s clearly defined mission of keeping their music as authentic and nebulous as possible, capturing a description of their overall sound in writing is a challenge to say the least.  With Ricc Sheridan stepping in to fill the shoes of former percussionist Chris Bear, the trio has just released Suspicious Package, an album that offers up a mix of psychedelic rock, grunge, and dark pop infused with a plethora of other music styles and carefully wrought poetry.

In an AAAMC interview with Thomas on November 1, 2009, Thomas explained her reasons for resisting efforts to pigeonhole the band’s music:

The minute we start to put these boundaries on music, it negates some part of what that music is, and I’m just really interested in as limitless an expression as possible and keeping my eyes on that kind of limitlessness so that it is like anything could happen, like we’re on a blank canvas, like I’m just one point of consciousness moving out into this great unknown, and what is going to happen?

Due to Earl Greyhound’s higher artistic goals, you may not walk away humming your favorite song or reciting your favorite lyrics after the first play, but the CD grows progressively more interesting with repeated listening.

The first two tracks, “The Eyes of Cassandra” parts I and II, give a good sense of the band’s musical versatility.  The opening chords on synthesizer are vaguely reminiscent of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies (albeit slightly funkier) while Thomas’ vocals bring in a somber, ethereal quality akin to that of the haunting theme song from Pan’s Labyrinth—definitely an atypical beginning for an album pitched as a “blistering rock inferno.”  In part II, the band flips the musical aesthetic on its head, shifting to a Brazilian beat with psychedelic rock vocals over a grunge rock bass line.  The rest of the CD has plenty of hard rock, but there’s always an interesting surprise thrown in the mix whether it’s the Brazilian Afoxé rhythm played on agogo bells during the instrumental break in “Oye Vaya” or the “Thriller” style narration at the beginning of “Ghost and the Witness.”

As an added bonus, Thomas is an excellent song writer.  Although her lyrics are often a bit cryptic (not surprising from someone who revels in the writing of Carlos Castaneda and the teachings of Yaqui shamanist Don Juan Matus), she comes down to earth on the final three tracks.  All three pieces are slower songs predominantly featuring vocals over acoustic instruments with light synths and percussion, allowing Thomas’ poetic skills and ability to capture more complicated human emotions to shine through.

“Shotgun” music video, courtesy of Earl Greyhound:

If you’re tired of the standard rock dross on the radio, definitely give Suspicious Package a try.  It’s sure to broaden your musical horizons.

Reviewed by Ronda L. Sewald

Editor’s note: Kamara Thomas was one of the participants in the AAAMC’s 2009 conference, Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music. To learn more about Thomas one-on-one interview for the conference or about other materials in the collection, contact our staff.

View review September 1st, 2010

The British Rock Songbook

Title: Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

Artist: Bettye Lavette

Label: Anti

Format:  CD, MP3

Catalog No.: 87029

Release Date: June 25, 2010

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Back in the ’60s and ’70s, the British rock music scene was built around interpreting, copying and sometimes stealing songs from black American artists.  The Beatles were heavily influenced by Chuck Berry, Little Richard and the Motown sound.  The Rolling Stones named their group after a Muddy Waters song and made it a goal (eventually achieved) to record in the famous Chess studio in Chicago.  The Who covered James Brown and other soul pioneers.  Not to mention the Animals, Kinks and then later bands like Led Zeppelin and the Jeff Beck Group.

Now, soul diva Bettye Lavette has turned the tables.  Her new album is made up entirely of songs written by white British rockers, from the Beatles and Who to Pink Floyd and Elton John.  The title is apt, because these are new interpretations of familiar tunes, songs that have had heavy FM radio rotation for decades.  It is a bold move to take these well-worn songs and try to make them sound new, bolder still across a divide of continents and cultures.  For the most part, Lavette hits her mark and prompts a listener to re-think and re-imagine these familiar tunes.

The album evolved out of Lavette’s December 2008 performance at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to the Who’s Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.  She burned down the house by transforming the rock anthem “Love Reign O’er Me” into a soul ballad.  That performance is included as a bonus track on this CD. The buzz from that performance led Lavette and co-producers Rob Mathes and Michael Stevens to concoct a whole album of British rock classics, interpreted by Lavette and arranged for soul band, horns and strings by Mathes.  Following is the trailer for the album (courtesy of Anti Records):

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The result is mostly a very good affair with weak spots. Basically, the better the original material, the better Lavette delivers it her way. Because she often slows down the tempo, songs that were originally slow can drag and originally faster songs lay into a lazy soul beat, for better or worse.  The Beatles “The Word” is turned into a soul burner.  Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” is re-arranged and remade to emphasize the song’s longing and sense of loss.  The Rolling Stones’ “Salt of the Earth” receives updated lyrics referencing HIV and modern politics.

Most surprising is the transformation of “Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad,” originally by Derek and the Dominos.  Written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the song is about Clapton’s heart-ripping pursuit of his best friend’s wife, Patty Harrison (wife of George Harrison).  The original song is faster-paced than most Dominos tunes, but it’s still a downer due to the subject matter and Clapton’s tortured delivery.  In Lavette’s hands, it’s an up-tempo funk jaunt, complete with hammered bass and horn fills. It works very well because of Lavette’s world-weary voice and the superb playing behind her.  Some material, however,  like Led Zeppelin’s “All of My Love,” the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and the Moody Blues’ “Knights In White Satin,” just doesn’t work too well as slow-tempo soul songs.  The lyrics sound stilted and the music drags.

The album was well-recorded and Doug Sax did a fantastic mastering job, so it stands up to repeated listening and won’t wear out your ears. For the most part, these are very interesting new versions of familiar songs, all of them interpretations rather than covers and, in the best cases, new transformations.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review September 1st, 2010

Becoming Jimi Hendrix

Title:  Becoming Jimi Hendrix

Authors: Steven Roby & Brad Schreiber

Format: Paperback (304 p.)

Publisher:  Da Capo Press

ISBN: 978-0-306-81910-0

Publication date:  August 31, 2010

Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, The Untold Story of a Musical Genius is the latest offering from Steven Roby, former publisher of Straight Ahead: The International Jimi Hendrix Magazine and author of Black Gold: The Lost Archives of Jimi Hendrix (2002).  With numerous biographies now in print, including those penned by band members, producers and former girlfriends, is there anything left to say?

Roby and Schreiber’s book begins with a brief intro summarizing Hendrix’s formative years in Seattle, but the bulk deals exclusively with the period from June 1961, when Jimi begins his Army basic training at Fort Ord, through September 1966, when he steps off a Pan Am flight at London’s Heathrow airport with Chas Chandler.  Though a short Epilogue summarizes the suspicious circumstances surrounding Hendrix’s death in 1970, and some post-1966 tidbits are scattered throughout the narrative, the book ends rather abruptly just before his career soars into the stratosphere.  If you’re not a Hendrix acolyte, this will likely leave you on the edge of your seat in which case it might be a good idea to have another bio at hand, such as Electric Gypsy by Henry Shapiro (1990) or Roomful of Mirrors by Charles R. Cross (2005). 

What the authors do accomplish in Becoming Jimi Hendrix is to flesh out Jimi’s early career playing R&B and perfecting his showmanship on the Chitlin’ Circuit.  Invariably penniless, pawning his guitar every other day, and relying on friends (especially his multitude of lady friends) for food and shelter, Hendrix eschews any degree of security in order to focus all of his energies on playing, learning, experimenting, and ultimately creating a new soundscape that became known as psychedelic rock.  Details are provided about early performances, including an April 14, 1962 talent show at George’s Bar in Indianapolis where Hendrix and Billy Cox lose out to The Presidents (the house band).   Through new interviews with friends, the authors are able to provide first person accounts of Hendrix’ work with Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, the Isley Brothers, Sam and Dave, Hank Ballard’s Midnighters, Curtis Knight, and King Curtis, among others.  The final chapter, covering the summer of 1966, finds Hendrix playing in Greenwich Village clubs where “Jimmy Hendrix became Jimi Hendrix,” both influenced by and influencing the burgeoning hipster scene―one that was predominantly white. Though Hendrix’s predilection for reverb and distortion was already costing him R&B gigs, his formative period in the Village led to further alienation from black audiences and musicians.

One of the most valuable sections of the book is the “Chronology of Tours and Events, 1962-1966,” which provides a quick reference to all of Jimi’s R&B performances including bands, dates, venues, and personnel, along with influential events such as attending his first Bob Dylan concert. Though Electric Gypsy includes a much more extensive “Life Chronology,” Roby and Schreiber have undertaken extensive research to document specific locations and other details not found elsewhere.

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Overall, Becoming Jimi Hendrix is a valuable addition to the Hendrix oeuvre.  If you want to know more about Jimi’s formative years and influences, and how a struggling R&B musician became the most influential rock guitarist of all time, then you’ll want to check out this book.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 1st, 2010

The World Ends


Title: The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia In 1970s Nigeria

Artist: Various

Label:  Soundway Records

Formats:  CD, LP (Triple Gatefold)

Catalog No.: SNDWCD23

Release date: July 20, 2010

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At a time when African American musicians had established sonic connectivity and located a usable past on the African continent, it seems odd to consider that Nigeria needed its own postcolonial Afro-centric awakening. The Soundway Records website calls this collection a musical chapter forgotten during Nigeria’s civil war in the late 1960s. Not to minimize the Biafran conflict, but these recordings might just as well have been overshadowed by Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s return from the U.S. and subsequent formation of Africa ‘70. Soundway’s release of this 2-CD set revises that history. This treasure trove showcases bands that an often Fela-dominated discourse tends to neglect.

The World Ends operates on the premise that these musicians saw the end of an era in Nigerian artistry and politics. As the country rebuilt, the influx of American R&B, distorted guitars and a new beat literally put Highlife bands out of business. The shift resulted in musical expressions of political imperatives as radical and urgent as the American Black Power movement.

Listening to this collection, it’s not hard to imagine that some of the new bands of the day had common ground with American R&B and Soul Revue bands. Was it any stranger for Nigerians to cover Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett than for Midwestern white kids to play Sam & Dave? Danie Ian of Wrinkar Experience (Disc 1, Track 4) says it best: “If you were a pop group and you didn’t play James Brown, you were not serious.” Just as American bands did, these groups took influences from the tunes they covered to develop their own sounds. Highlights in this idiom include The Mebusas’ “Mr. Bull Dog,” The Lawrence Amavi Group’s “Money That’s What I Want,” and Chuck Barrister and the Voices of Darkness singing “Be Kind, Be Foolish, Be Happy.” These groups bridge a fascinating cultural space between their two most significant late 1960s American influences: Soul and Psychedelic Rock.

Other tracks have different analogues in the Americas. The Lijadu Sisters track, “Life’s Gone Down Low,” has shades of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. Babatunde Olatunji had done amazing work with American jazz and pop musicians just a few years before some of these musicians worked in Nigeria. Yem Efe, Tony Grey, and The Thermometers do something similar with Nigerian rock here, bringing the village onto the stage and into the studio.

There’s a roughness to these tracks that only enhances their original vinyl charm. When the lead singer of The Mebusas counts off the transition from break down to guitar solo, it’s well, not exactly like the Godfather of Soul would have done it. As he says just before the count-off, “that’s the way we do it in Africa.” Close enough for funk horn lines and the occasional clunkiness of pidgin soul don’t detract from irresistible grooves. Listeners from the uninitiated to the connoisseur will appreciate what this double-disc set remembers about trajectories of Black Atlantic musical exchange.

Reviewed by Peter J. Hoesing

View review September 1st, 2010

Black Bottom

Title: Black Bottom

Artist: Tamar-kali

Label: OyaWarrior Records

Format: CD; MP3

Release Date: July 12, 2010

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New York-based Black rocker Tamar-kali has released her first full-length album, following two EPs (2005’s Geechee Goddess Hardcore Warrior Soul and 2009’s Pearl maxi-single.)  As one of the featured artists in James Spooner’s documentary Afro-Punk and a guest artist and headlining performer at the AAAMC’s Black Rock conference last fall, Tamar-kali stands out as a voice of Black female experience in the heavily white- and male-dominated world of punk rock, proving that she can both maintain a unique sound and rock as hard as anyone else out there.  Though she cut her teeth performing with bands such as Funkface, her solo career draws on a diverse range of cultural inspiration, from innovative female performers like Grace Jones and PJ Harvey, to the rich diasporic culture of South Carolina’s Gullah islands (where Tamar-kali spent her childhood summers), to the expressive heritage of Egyptian bellydance.  As a solo performer, she fronts several of her own groups, including the rock group 5 Piece, the acoustic string sextet Psychochamber Ensemble, and Pseudoacoustic, which merges the other two groups together.

All of those threads come together on Black Bottom, an album that traces a journey of narrative empowerment through themes of race, sexuality, body image, power, and revolution.  Tamar-kali’s rich and soulful voice wouldn’t sound out of place singing gospel or spirituals, and she uses her tremendous range and power to passionate effect with the hard rock instrumentation and punk rebelliousness of the album.  Her rock group is particularly guitar-heavy, which often gives the songs a heavier, more metal feel, but the energy and the rebellious themes keep the punk aesthetic consistent; meanwhile, the incorporation of the string sextet adds a richness of texture and timbre that, combined with her voice, adds more melodic presence than is typical for punk or metal.

The opening track “Pearl” explores the experiences of a young woman living on her own in a large city for the first time, grappling with self-identity, ethics, and love; over a crashing waves of drums and siren-like thrash guitars, Tamar-kali wails “What is honor, what is sincerity? / Sometimes the city really gets me down / can’t see my way through it all.”  (An acoustic version of this song with string accompaniment by the Psychochamber Ensemble is included as a hidden track at the end of the album, which offers a more introspective and contrapuntal take on the song’s narrative.)  “Run Home” is probably the most purely punk track on the album, with a spare but noisy drum and guitar accompaniment, and politically-tinged poetry about race and alienation that’s more shouted than sung.  The metal instrumental “Necromancer” takes a detour to showcase the 5 Piece musicians in an all-out electric guitar fest.  “Warrior Bones” reaches the culmination of the album’s narrative of empowered revolution in a frustrated battle cry reminiscent of Grace Jones:

Do you remember what it’s like

to feel rain on your face that didn’t burn you,

drinking cold spring water that was clean and clear,

reasons why you do what you do outside of money;

Do you remember when there’s blood in your eye

and you can’t stop crying?

These warrior bones ache for revolution

but the people ain’t ready

These pathetic souls yearn for revelation

but there’s no message, just silence.

Following is a clip of Tamar-kali performing “Warrior Bones” at the 2008 Afro-Punk Festival:

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After the promise of her earlier EPs, Tamar-kali shows that she can craft a full-length album full of incisive commentary, rich musical textures, punk energy, and yes, soul.  Black Bottom grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until you too are ready for the revolution.

Editor’s note: Tamar-kali  was one of the participants in the AAAMC’s 2009 conference, Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music. To learn more about Tamar-kali’s one-on-one interview for the conference or about other materials in the collection, contact our staff.

Reviewed by Ann Shaffer

View review September 1st, 2010

Sly Stone in the Studio

Title: Listen to the Voices:  Sly Stone in the studio, 1965-70

Artist:  Sly Stone

Label: Ace

Format:  CD

Release date:  April 20, 2010

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This Listen to the Voices collection from Ace Records is the second effort by Alec Palao to present Sly Stone as a master of the recording studio environment.  The first, released in 1994 and titled Precious Stone:  In the Studio with Sly Stone, 1963-1965, naturally covers that time period and corresponds with Stone’s early, formative employment at Tempo Productions in San Francisco.  Taken in tandem, the two CDs pull together a variety of recording projects that occupied Stone’s time, imagination, and career outside his more immediate association, and ultimate popularity, with The Family Stone.  While the focus here is on the Listen to the Voices CD, many of the broad observations apply to both works, and in fact they are best appreciated together.

More to the point, Palao’s Sly Stone retrospectives may work best not simply as a pair of CDs, but rather as concise reference guides in the context of a much larger and more comprehensive album collection.  Much of the keen insight Palao offers will only be meaningful with a full complement of master takes, hit singles, obscure covers, and forgotten dance novelties against which to compare these studio cuts.  For this reason, there are at least two ways to approach Listen to the Voices:  Sly Stone in the Studio – 1965-1970. The first is to appreciate the depth and flexibility of Stone’s musical imagination as he worked professionally with a wide range of recording artists, and to simply enjoy the consistently great music that resulted from the collaborations.  There is no denying the deep groove of Little Sister’s “Stanga,” the emotional clarity in The Beau Brummels’ “Are You Sure,” or the bizarre amusement of the Small Fries’ “French Fries.”  It doesn’t require focused musical scholarship to recognize that Stone had the ability to produce music that would satisfy his own musical goals as well as those of his peers.  At the level of providing terrific music, and giving some unifying credit to Stone as the creative force guiding its production, Listen to the Voices is a success and should be recommended to anyone who is a fan of Sly Stone, R&B music, pop radio hits, or the late 1960s in general.

The second way to approach Listen to the Voices is to treat it as a unifying document of Stone’s musical and professional capacities.  Palao is correct to describe Stone’s virtuosity in the studio, using the whole recording environment as his instrument, and this collection of tracks proves that Stone could make his skills fit the needs of many different kinds of music, encompassing instrumentals, electronic sounds, thick funk tracks, catchy pop hooks, etc.  Furthermore, the inclusion of multiple renditions of songs on the CD – e.g. “For Real” and “Life & Death in G & A” – either at different stages of development or by different artists altogether, effectively demonstrates Stone’s ability to creatively re-imagine his material without sacrificing any underlying character.  For the listener who is genuinely intrigued by Stone’s presence and abilities in the studio, such tracks are really fun to hear and Palao’s concept is easily illustrated.

Unfortunately, Palao also makes liberal comparisons to dozens of recordings that are not included on the disc, so any meaningful evaluations are frustratingly unavailable to anyone who doesn’t own, say, the original records by Billy Preston, Abaco Dream, or any of the numerous other artists who are identified in the liner notes as significant points of reference in defining Stone’s musical development.

It is in this second context – as a useful resource for shedding light on lesser-known studio recordings – that I would suggest caution for anyone who is not already quite knowledgeable about Sly Stone’s career as well as the broader musical trends of the era.  Clearly, Alec Palao addresses the same caution on the first page of his notes when he assumes “a certain familiarity on the part of the reader,” but this assumption seems to give license to a disjointed narrative describing an equally disjointed sequencing of the CD tracks.  Perhaps the organization of the liner notes and musical selections is a deliberate way of making the collection as kaleidoscopic as Palao’s impression of Sly’s creativity in the studio.  If not, there doesn’t seem to be much advantage to scattering the track sequence without regard to chronology, style, or artists.  I, for one, would find it more interesting and illuminating to hear the tracks by Freddie & The Stone Souls grouped together in order to appreciate a cohesion and development of their sound.  Or, if organized chronologically, perhaps one could pick up on the introduction of the Rhythm Ace drum machine Stone increasingly used in his home studio, or the new prominence of electric instruments.  Instead, the potential to hear trends, identify styles, and draw critical comparisons is hampered by the disorienting ordering of the tracks.

Make no mistake, this is a valuable album, and with some effort one is able to gain further appreciation for Sly Stone’s remarkable creative development and professional skills in a recording studio, and I believe this is Alec Palao’s fundamental motivation.  For audiences who are intimately familiar with Sly Stone’s music and possess extensive album collections, Listen to the Voices could be the capstone that joins countless disparate characters and storylines.  For those who are not so deeply entrenched, yet are intrigued by the concept and purpose of collecting such a range of studio efforts, the CD and accompanying liner notes may be the source of some frustration, as it really only offers the proverbial tip of a much more complex iceberg of historical circumstances and musical comparisons, and virtually demands the purchase of dozens more albums to fully realize its worth.  It certainly sends a strong invitation to explore Alec Palao’s scholarship further, in the hopes that he clarifies more than a few of the stories he obscures here.

Finally, for those who are content to measure the worth of the album based simply on the music it contains, this is a homerun swing that collapses a terrific range of very entertaining, timelessly fresh, and satisfyingly different sounds into a single disc.  Given Sly Stone’s genius in the recording studio, the final musical rewards are not surprising.

Reviewed by Rich Walter

View review September 1st, 2010

Welcome to the September Issue

Welcome to the September 2010 “Back to School” issue of Black Grooves.  Given that nearly a year has passed since the AAAMC hosted the conference “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” we thought it would be a great time to update our rock discography.  Included in this issue are recent releases ranging from straight-ahead rock to blues-rock, rap-rock, funk-rock, soul-rock, acid rap, Afro-punk, hardcore, African rock, reggae-rock and everything in between.  Featured artists include Sly Stone, Tamar-kali, Bettye LaVette, Earl Greyhound, BLK JKS, Trash Talk, Rage Against the Machine, Esham, Slash, Eddie Turner, Game Rebellion, Wingless Angels, and the Street Sweeper Social Club.  We’re also taking look at a few new releases by up and coming bands, plus new books on Jimi Hendrix and Arthur Lee, founder of the seminal West Coast band Love.

We’re also celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Black Rock Coalition.  To get on their weekly email list which highlights upcoming performances and album releases, send an email to BRCMembersInfo [AT] gmail.com.

Finally, we’d like to give a shout out to Rob Fields’ website BoldasLove – another great source for learning more about Black rock music.

View review September 1st, 2010

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