Archive for November, 2010

G.U.R.U.


Title: G.U.R.U. (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal)

Artist: Group Home

Label: Babygrande Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Catalog no.: IHI-CD-29

Release: September 28, 2010

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G.U.R.U. (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) is a tribute CD to the late Keith “Guru” Elam who passed in April from cancer.  MC Guru, founder and former member of  the hip hop duo Gang Starr, mentored Group Home members Lil’ Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker. Featured on Gang Starr’s “Hard to Earn”, Group Home became members of the east coast rapper’s collective – Gang Starr Foundation.  This project is Group Home’s third CD and features: Guru, Jeru the Damaja, Lord Jamar, and a host of Group Home luminaries.  Following is the video for the title track:

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Posted by Celeste Â-Re

View review November 1st, 2010

I Heard the Voice


Title: I Heard the Voice (African American Church Music Series)

Artist: James Abbington, conductor

Label:  GIA Publications

Format: CD (sheet music also available)

Release date:  March 2010

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As the commemorative recording of his 10th (and final) year as Co-Director of Music for the Hampton University Ministers, Choir Directors’ and Organists’ Guild Workshop, conductor James Abbington presents a sampling of recent compositions from GIA Publications.  I Heard the Voice provides a pleasant fusion of styles found within the African American church, ranging from traditional hymns and choir music to anthems and contemporary gospel selections.

The album also showcases the versatility of the contributing arrangers.  Joseph Joubert, Michael McElroy, Robert Wooten Sr., and the late Glenn Edward Burleigh (just to name a few) compel listeners into eager anticipation by allowing various genres to engage in intricate, intentional conversation (for example, layering classical instrumentation with hymns colored with gospel vocals).  Joubert’s powerful arrangement of “Jesus Lay Yo’ Head in the Winda’” is representative of the album; soloist Brandie Sutton renders a moving, ringing summons to Jesus to “hear some sinner pray,” then is joined by the choir on the medley “Come By Here, My Lord,” spangling her classical cry with melismas characteristic of the gospel tradition.

Recorded live at the Israel Baptist Church in Baltimore, Abbington leads a choir composed of twenty-four alumni of Morgan State University and Oakwood University Choirs. Denominations which comprise the African American Church have historically been typified by the music used within the service; this work serves to highlight at least one commonality: the (almost overwhelming) capability of the music to inspire, encourage, and bless the audience.

Reviewed by Melody Barham

View review November 1st, 2010

Silver Pony


Title: Silver Pony

Artist: Cassandra Wilson

Label: Blue Note Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November, 9 2010

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Cassandra Wilson’s much anticipated new album, Silver Pony, features blues/jazz/pop standards; original material written with ensemble – Marvin Sewell (guitar), Jonathan Batiste (piano), Reginald Veal (bass), Herlin Riley (drums) and Lekan Babalola (percussion); and a duet with John Legend. Touted as a hybrid live/studio recording, Silver Pony is remarkably sterile, offering a muted glimpse of the two time Grammy Award-winning vocalist. “A Day in the Life of a Fool,” “Silver Moon,” “Silver Pony,” and “Pony Blues” are noteworthy exceptions.

“Silver Moon,” featuring guest saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, is reminiscent of Ms. Wilson’s 1991 Live recording and conveys her warm, responsive, brilliantly honeyed contralto.  Guitarist Marvin Sewell and pianist Jonathan Batiste are consistent highlights throughout the title track, with Sewell delivering a virtuoso introduction on the Father of Delta Blues (Charley Patton) standard, “Pony Blues.”  Batiste and Sewell also compliment Wilson on the Cuban bolero-tinged “A Day in the Life of a Fool,” written by Brazilian composer Luiz Bonfá for the classic film “Black Orpheus.”   Wilson’s duet with John Legend on the closing track, “Watch the Sunrise,” will undoubtedly broaden her pop fan base, as will her inclusion on Prince’s upcoming “Welcome 2 America” tour in December.  Wilson will also be promoting the release of this CD this fall, beginning with a record release party scheduled for mid-November at the Blue Note in NYC, with additional concerts to follow.

Reviewed by Celeste Â-Re

View review November 1st, 2010

I Am the Instrument


Title: I Am the Instrument

Artist: Harold Rayford

Label: Tyscot Records

Catalog No.: TYS-984187-2

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: August 3, 2010

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On I Am the Instrument, Pastor Harold Rayford offers original selections, such as “Ummm” and “Every Night My Father Prays,” as well his own interpretation of recent releases like Israel and New Breed’s “Alpha and Omega” and Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would Have Made It.” The album features several guests artists, including guitarist (and IU grad student) Tyron Cooper on “How Great is Our God.” An enthusiast of smooth jazz and gospel music will find in this album a happy medium.

Reviewed by Melody Barham

View review November 1st, 2010

Black Bach


Title:  Black Bach

Artist:  Lamont Dozier

Label:  Righteous/Dist. by Cherry Red

Catalog No.:  Psalm 2340

Release date:  June 14, 2010

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The title of this CD says it all!  Lamont Dozier, of the legendary Motown Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team, began his career in the late 1950s as an R&B singer.  After the H-D-H team left Motown in 1967, Dozier tried to resurrect his singing career and signed with ABC Records in Los Angeles.  Black Bach was his second album for ABC, released in 1974 on vinyl and now available for the first time on CD.  As one might expect, most of the songs were penned by Dozier, some in collaboration with McKinley Jackson.  Arranging duties fell to Detroit “Funk Brother” Paul Riser and the Los Angeles based arranger Gene Page, who added lush orchestrations to several of the tracks.  Highlights include “Put out the Fire,” “Prelude” (written by Jackson), and “I Wanna Be With You.”   Though most of the album sounds fairly dated, particularly the tracks with “Hollywood strings,” it does represent an important phase in Dozier’s career.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 1st, 2010

Better Days


Title: Better Days

Artist: Jonathan Nelson

Label: Integrity Music

Formats: MP3, CD

Catalog No.: 88697 73580 2

Release Date: September 14, 2010

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One cannot listen to any single song on Better Days without succumbing to the weight of the anointing upon Jonathan Nelson and Purpose’s ministry. From the Caribbean lilt of “Cry Holy” and the old school church influence on “Another Way” to the majestic congregational praise on “Smile,” the whole CD shines with messages of hope and encouragement through Jesus Christ. “These are faith declarations. Faith is the engine you use to speak things over your life. These are songs of faith, hope, and empowerment,” says Nelson (as quoted on the official press release). Aptly named, Better Days meets the listener where s/he is, revives and quickens the spirit, and delivers a message peace and hope in Christ to the soul. Using praise and worship as the vehicle, Nelson and Purpose take their audience on a spiritually augmenting excursion, reminding them that “Better Days” are inevitable; all you have to do is hold on to your praise!

Following is the official video for the album single, “Expect the Great:”

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Reviewed by Melody Barham

View review November 1st, 2010

Wake Up!


Title: Wake Up!

Artist: John Legend and the Roots

Format: MP3, CD

Label: Good Music/Columbia

Catalog No.: 88697 37082 2

Release Date: September 21, 2010

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Grammy award-winning artist John Legend is a fine songwriter, musician, and producer. Through his philanthropy he has raised awareness of many social issues, such as poverty, hunger, Hurricane Katrina, as well as advocated for the education of underserved and marginalized communities. His latest CD, Wake Up, addresses many of these topics.  Following is the official music video for the title track:

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Legend should be admired for his talent and charity. When you have been nursed on classic soul music, however, it is difficult to wean yourself away from this genre and be open to a cover album that pays homage to the titans of soul music like Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye, and Donny Hathaway. It seems almost sacrilegious and thus I listened to Legend’s new project with considerable trepidation. Although I admire many of Legend’s qualities, I don’t rank him as a great vocalist. He can certainly sing and carry a tune, but there is something unique missing from his vocal delivery. I have yet to hear this uniqueness in any of his work or, for that matter, in the work of many younger, male rhythm and blues/soul singers.

Legend’s collaboration with the hip hop band The Roots, however, makes Wake Up a very special compilation of cover songs worthy of attentive listening. I believe this new project is relevant, rousing and revelatory. Relevant, because the messages tackled by Legend and The Roots are still significant. For example, take their title track, which is a cover of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “Wake Up Everybody.” Written by the duo McFadden and Whitehead in the 1970s, the lyrics still offer listeners a reason to “wake up” and be conscious of the realities of war, poverty, education, healthcare reform, and spirituality. Rousing, because Legend and The Roots are true artists who perform with live instrumentation. Their musical expertise and talent cannot be denied or ignored. Revelatory, because of their unique ability to meld genres like hip hop, reggae, and rock in ways that result in a very soulful project.

Much of today’s music lacks musicality and lyricallity. Wake Up provides listeners with substantive material that not only entertains, but also educates and informs.  In the following video Legend and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson discuss their interpretation of “Compared to What,” the 1960s protest song by Gene McDaniels:

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Other songs worthy of mention are Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy” and Donny Hathaway’s “Little Ghetto Boy.” Bill Wither’s “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” is especially poignant because the lyrics tell of a man who is desperately trying to understand his role in a war he doesn’t understand—a very timely message. Special guest artists include vocalist Melanie Fiona, rappers Common and CL Smooth, and spoken word artist Malik Yusef.  John Legend may very well be living up to his last name as he and The Roots honor past legends through their talent, musical acumen, and—most importantly—heart and soul.

Reviewed by June Evans

View review November 1st, 2010

Reef Records Documents Colombian Music

Title:  Bulla!

Artist: Emilsen Pacheco

Label:  Reef Records (Colombia)

Format:  CD

Release date: 2009

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Title:  Island Groove: Caribbean Roots, Vol. 1

Artist:  Various

Label: Reef Records

Format:  CD

Release date: 2009

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Don’t be fooled by the fact that these albums were recorded in the field.  Both Bulla!: Emilsen Pacheco + Tradición bullerenguera de San Juan de Urabá and Island Groove: Caribbean Roots, Vol. 1 were indeed recorded around Colombia in a portable studio by the team at Reef Records, but the recordings are crisp and clear without many of the distracting sonic features that this reviewer often associates with field recordings.  Using the portable studio allows the Reef Records team to record some amazing performers both from the mainland of Colombia and Providencia, an island department of Colombia where an English Creole is still spoken.

Aside from being wonderful sonic experiences, both recordings have copious liner notes.  The notes for Bulla! for example, document the social history and current state of the bullerengue, a coastal danced-song genre that has African roots, both through published academic sources and through ethnographic work and interviews with performers.  In addition, the notes devote attention to the life and musical work of Emilsen Pacheco, the primary performer on the album.  Following is his performance of “Virgen de Guadalupe” from Bulla!:

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Similarly, the Island Groove: Caribbean Roots liner notes give an overview of music and dance in Providencia as well as short bios on each performer featured on the album. Following is the official video for one of the tracks on the album, “Scratch Me Back,” performed by Trujillo Hawkins & El Polvorete:

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Since these albums pair excellent sonic quality, great performers, and copious notes they are ideal for use in courses on music in the Black Atlantic, or Latin American and Caribbean culture, but only if the instructor has strong Spanish-language skills, since the notes for both albums are in Spanish.  Taken together, the recordings, notes, photographs, and video included on the albums create an important piece of documentation for genres, locales, and performers that have received fairly scant scholarly attention.  This reviewer is not the only one who sees the value of these recordings: as of this writing Bulla! has been nominated for Best Folklore CD in the 2010 Shock Magazine Awards, an awards series recognizing achievement among independent recording artists in Colombia.  Best of luck to the Reef Records crew; here’s to hoping they continue documenting and recording artists of such high caliber in and around Colombia.

Editor’s Note: REEF Records is an independent label established in 2008 in Bogotá with a mission to document and distribute traditional Colombian music. The principal researcher, Juan Sebastián Rojas, is currently a graduate student in the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Those interested in purchasing the recordings can email reefrecords@gmail.com.

Reviewed by David Lewis

View review November 1st, 2010

My Worship Experience

Title: Bishop Leonard Scott Presents My Worship Experience

Artists: Various

Label: Tyscot

Formats: 2 CD set, MP3

Release date: September 14, 2010

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Bishop Leonard Scott, in collaboration with his son Pastor Bryant Scott, gathered a group of prominent gospel artists for the project My Worship Experience. Recorded live in Indianapolis, this two CD set features a range of sacred musical styles accompanied by spoken interludes. Featured artists include Joann Rosario-Condrey, Damita Haddon, Deitrick Haddon, Lucinda Moore, Lamar Campbell and many more. My Worship Experience not only sonically explores the various expressions of worship, but through commentary from religious leaders such as Pastor Bryant Scott, Pastor Ta’sha Scott, and Pastor A. Thomas Hill, the listener is introduced to the different concepts of Christian worship from multiple perspectives.

“The Heaven’s Declare Thy Glory” featuring Darrel Harris is a simple yet truly engaging piece. With few words and modest vocal harmonies, the song still manages to relay powerful emotions through dynamic and textural movement and change in the music. In a different light, Lucinda Moore renders one of the most impressive performances in concert singing “The Joy of the Lord.” She utilizes the depth and versatility of her voice to deliver a message of empowerment in God.

The first disc in this set features more music than spoken words while the second disc is filled with commentary of pastors and artists including Bishop Scott. While I would argue that several of the songs on this disc are not as engaging as the selections on the first disc, the interludes of spoken words do provide interesting testimonies and philosophies on concepts of worship. For example, artists Ernest and Ericka Jackson recount a powerful testimony of their journey from abject poverty to a life of ministry, while other speakers, such as Pastor A. Thomas Hill, reflect on the biblical stories like “the woman at the well.”

The format of juxtaposing songs and testimonies provides a multifaceted account of the different dimensions of worship. Not only is the listener taught how to worship, but he or she is also given several explanations as to why worship is an important lifestyle attribute. For these reasons, My Worship Experience is both a soul stirring and thought provoking project that can inspire spiritual engagement and self-reflection.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review November 1st, 2010

The Leric Story


Title: Jimmy Dawkins Presents The Leric Story

Artists: Various

Label: Delmark

Catalog No.:  DE 808

Format: CD

Release Date: June 22, 2010

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Chicago-based guitarist Jimmy Dawkins briefly ran a record label in the 1980s, Leric Records.  The on-rush of the compact disc and the move away from 45 singles as a main release medium for blues doomed Leric, but now Delmark Records has resurrected some gems from Dawkins’ vault.

Through a series of 45-RPM singles releases, Dawkins brought the world the recording debuts of current Chicago stalwarts Tail Dragger, Nora Jean Bruso and Vance “Guitar” Kelly.  Those artists are collected here, as well as interesting work by the late Little Johnny Christian, the late Queen Sylvia Embry and the late Robert “Big Mojo” Elem. And if that’s not enough, there’s a surprise at the end of the disc:  both sides of a rare gospel single by Sister Margo and Healing Center Choir (as Delmark’s press sheet notes, “Gospel on Delmark? Hell, yeah!!!”).

Overall, this disc has the typical marks of indy blues releases—the playing is rough at times, sometimes not everyone is in tune, some of the lyrics are silly, etc. But the sum total is very entertaining and there are plenty of golden moments where everyone is punching above their weight. The glue that holds this album together is superb guitar playing, a good bit  of it from former label-owner Dawkins.  He plays lead guitar on the cuts by Queen Sylvia Embry and Nora Jean Bruso (who went by Nora Jean Wallace in the 1980′s), and Big Mojo Elam.  Vance Kelly is all over this album, too, on cuts by Little Johnny Christian and his own tunes.  Also backing Christian on lead guitar, on other tunes, are Michael Coleman and Vernon “Chico” Banks.

The Little Johnny Christian sides are smoldering onslaughts of guitars and vocals. This man was due more recognition than he got in his lifetime. The same can be said for Queen Sylvia Embry and Big Mojo Elam.  Jimmy Dawkins was a great talent scout for his label, and most of the music from these three artists collected on this CD is of consistent and outstanding quality.

Vance Kelly’s headliner tunes range from the outstanding “Why You Hurt Me So Bad” to a throw-away instrumental, “The Jam,” which probably should have been left on the cutting room floor. However, samplers may disagree because it’s chockfull of various cheesy 1980′s synth and guitar effects.

Tail Dragger (James Yancey Jones) is featured in his first recordings here, made in September 1982.  Although he models himself so close to Howlin’ Wolf to be called a “tribute artist” or “wannabe,” the man can sing the part.  On these tunes, he’s backed by Chess legend Lafayette Leake on piano and there’s some tasty harp work by the late Eddie “Jewtown” Burks.

Nora Jean, last name Wallace in those days, was a bit raw in her November 1982 recording debut, but her soulfulness and understanding of the words she was singing was already evident. Dawkins’ outstanding guitar work adds needed polish, and the results stand up well.

The two cuts by Queen Sylvia and the one Big Mojo song are really special, perfectly executed and good examples of deep urban blues.  Jimmy Dawkins puts on a guitar effects spectacle behind Queen Sylvia, but her voice stands up to it just fine.  The Sister Margo cuts, “My God Is Real” and “Peace Be Still”, sound and feel completely different from the rest of the disc. Joyce Margo, who goes by Sister Margo and Lady Margo, brings a rich, soulful voice to this material. The second song holds up better musically, but both are played competently. The choir behind Margo on “Peace Be Still” is mixed too low, they are clearing singing well behind her.

Delmark once again does the blues fan a favor by bringing out a mainstream-priced collection of hard to find music (some of these original singles are extremely rare and pricey if you can even find them).  The blues scene that Jimmy Dawkins captured was one in transit. The blues still had a bit of country feel to them, although they were completely electrified.  There’s very little use of the synthesizers and faux-horns common on urban blues records today, but Jimmy Dawkins, for one, was not the least bit shy about throwing in guitar effects like phasing and flanging.  An interesting contrast is heard in Queen Sylvia and Nora Jean Wallace. One was older and more firmly rooted in the earlier Chicago blues, the other was young and starting out and clearly listening to newer music and thinking about how the electric blues fits into it.  Also interesting are the two gospel sides, this is electric, soul-dipped gospel but it is played in an older fashion not heard often today.

Aside from being a bit of a time capsule, this album is fun to listen to and some of these songs are likely to make frequent rotation in your iPod.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review November 1st, 2010

Polymath


Title:  Polymath

Artist: cap D

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: All Natural Inc.

Catalog No.: AN-057

Release date: October 25, 2010

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Chicago’s cap D is a Renaissance man of sorts, spreading his talents in the divergent fields of music, law, and publishing. He started his music career as part of the group All Natural along with DJ Tone-B. All Natural released three albums, including the critically acclaimed No Additives, No Preservatives (2002). Cap D has also released two well received solo albums, Writer’s Block and Insomnia. Outside of hip hop, he has spent time as an associate editor at Third World Press and is currently working as a sports attorney. His latest album, PolyMath, was released on his own All Natural, Inc. label and is a mix of social commentary and battle raps over raw beats.

The album opens with a bang as “King of the Mountain” finds cap D and Rhymesayer Brother Ali ripping apart an Illmind beat. The album really picks up with the NO ID produced “Crush” on which cap D spits mellow, yet aggressive battle rhymes. It only gets better with the menacing “Chicago Five-O,” a self-produced critique of the Chicago police force. On “Life is a Hustle,” the criminally underappreciated Tragedy Khadafi spits his usual street poetry alongside cap over a soulful S.C. produced beat. The content gets more focused on “Addiction,” on which the artist intelligently articulates the perils of drugs. “Watch Your Step” features another beautifully constructed Illmind beat and cap D uses it to caution listeners about the streets of his hometown.

At times the production and cap D’s vocals get a bit redundant. This does, however, take little away from the overall quality of the album. Polymath is a solid release, chock full of thought provoking, yet entertaining material. With Polymath, cap D has added to his already rich legacy within the field of underground hip hop.

Reviewed by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review November 1st, 2010

Introduction


Title: Introduction

Artist: WITCH

Label: QDK Media; Dist. by Forced Exposure

Formats:  CD, LP

Release date: October 26, 2010

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Zam-rock is not your typical rock & roll sub-genre, and WITCH is not your standard rock & roll fare. The Zambian psychedelic-rock band WITCH—an acronym for “We Intend To Cause Havoc”—is a fringe group, geographically, musically, and politically speaking. Hailing from the colonialist-blighted regions of Southern Africa during the ’70s, WITCH brings a rock & roll iconoclasm to African rhythms while giving a distinctly sub-Saharan flavor to psychedelic rock. The nine-track collection Introduction (originally released in 1973) reflects the band’s penchant for American and British popular music while illustrating their original stylistic sensibilities, whereby influence is recast into idiosyncrasy.

Swampy organ vamps and acid guitar riffs are draped over a tight-fisted drumbeat and tambourine rattles to display a vintage line of sixties garage rarities. The album’s title track “Introduction” is just that, a showcase of the band’s constituent parts wherein band members take turns soloing over a catchy pop melody. “Feeling High,” with its soft-pedaled tones and sedate tempo unwinds like a mobile toy. And “Like a Chicken,” which turns the iconic yard-bird into a metaphysical conceit, treats heartache with an absurd humor and a youthfully irreverent rock & roll dance motif. However unfamiliar at first, WITCH’s Zam-rock and its stand-out sound on Introduction is not too soon or too easily forgotten.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review November 1st, 2010

Junior Wells Live in Boston


Title: Live In Boston 1966

Artist: Junior Wells & The Aces

Label: Delmark

Catalog No.: DE 809

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: September 28, 2010

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Talk about a time capsule, this album is a snapshot of a bygone time, place and blues playing style.  Recorded in somewhat low-fidelity stereo in September 1966, this CD gives us a complete set by vocal/harmonica ace Junior Wells (Amos Blakemore) backed up by The Aces (brothers Louis and Dave Myers on guitar and bass and “Professor” Fred Below on drums).  The music, sound and overall atmosphere are straight out of mid-’60s urban America.

By the mid-’60s, Junior Wells and The Aces had more than a decade of experience playing live blues.  The Aces had backed up harmonica legend Little Walter in his early years, and Wells had already recorded some superb work with guitarist Buddy Guy; in fact, his famous album Hoodoo Man was released less than a year before this concert.

In Boston for a series of live dates, Wells and The Aces were in top form.  The best part of this CD, like most live shows, is the middle, when everyone is warmed up and in a groove.  Wells and Louis Myers trade blistering solos, anchored by a rock-solid beat from Dave Myers and Fred Below. You can almost feel the club heat up and get clouded with cigarette smoke, patrons go quiet as the music gets more and more intense.

The peak of all this is the sixth cut on the CD, “Junior’s Whoop,” which starts out somewhat like Walter’s “Mellow Down Easy” but quickly explodes into an up-tempo original, peaking in a long and perfect solo by Louis Myers.  Wells also blows the walls down, firmly dispelling negative notions about his harp-playing ability.  Behind all of this, Below—a veteran of countless legendary Chess recording sessions and live dates with Walter, Muddy Waters and others—keeps everyone locked in perfect beat and Dave Myers provides a nimble, fluid foundation. As Wells says elsewhere, “You gotta have a hole in your soul” not to tap feet or snap fingers to this music!

Other highlights include “Messin’ With The Kid,” where Below shines, the guitar-heavy “Hideaway,” and a blistering finale of “Got My Mojo Workin’.”  But there’s not a dull moment on this CD, it must have been so much fun to be at that club (not named anywhere in the CD’s printed materials) on that fall night 44 years ago.  Wells’ banter with the audience is also fun, a lot of good-natured ribbing going back and forth.  His “fattening frogs for snakes” story is not to be missed.

Finally, special mention for Wells’ vocals. He brings the blues feel with a soulful lilt, and it’s a perfect match to the heavy-swinging sound of the backing band. These guys are heavy without being leaden, bluesy without being dull.  Almost always in this hour-long set, they hit all their marks in perfect sync.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review November 1st, 2010

Blessed & Cursed

Title: Blessed & Cursed (Film)

Actors: Deitrick Haddon, Drew Sidora

Director: Joel Kapity

Format: DVD (NTSC, Widescreen)

Studio:  Tyscot/Dreams on Screen

Release date:  July 27, 2010

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Title: Blessed & Cursed (Soundtrack)
Artist: Deitrick Haddon, Voices of Unity
Label:  Tyscot
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date:  June 29, 2010
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The film Blessed & Cursed, released in the summer of 2010, was written by Deitrick Haddon and directed by Joel Kapity. Filmed in Detroit, Blessed was produced by Haddon’s company Manhaddon Entertainment and the production company Dreams on Screen in association with Indianapolis-based Tyscot Film & Entertainment. Major and lesser roles feature prominent gospel industry figures including Karen Clark Sheard, Kierra “Kiki” Sheard, Bobby Jones, and Jorel Quinn of the male group 21:03. Although this project represents the first venture into film for most parties involved (including Tyscot), Blessed has laid a foundation which can be built upon in future productions.

Blessed is a modern-day retelling of the Old Testament story (found in I Samuel 18) of the tumultuous relationship between Israel’s King Saul and future king, David.  The main character, Dwight Hawkins (played by Haddon), is a talented vocalist and a pastor’s son who dreams of singing and building worship music ministry. When the leader of a prominent church, Bishop Wright, “discovers” Dwight and invites him to become the minister of music at his church, Dwight believes that he is finally on the road to fulfilling his destiny. However, after Dwight gains national recognition, the Bishop begins to feel threatened and turns against him. Despite the Bishop’s ill treatment, Dwight has developed friendships with the Bishop’s son and niece who play important roles in helping him after he is removed from his position at the church. Through a series of trials and victories, Dwight is finally able to rebuild and realize his dream of music and ministry.  Following is the official movie trailer:

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Blessed is an inspirational film that clearly articulates themes that can resonate with any person. It espouses the message that every person has a greater purpose or destiny that is possible to obtain through hard work and perseverance. Blessed also emphasizes the importance of maintaining one’s faith and hope when aspiring to reach a goal. Characterizations also provide another source of strength in the film. The main characters are multidimensional in their development as they express a range of emotions and clearly demonstrate the capability to change. No character is painted as inherently evil or good, but rather they exercise the right to choose their actions and enact change. As a debut film for most of the actors and actress, Blessed generally features some decent performances. While there were some moments in which lines were poorly delivered or actions exaggerated, overall, the acting was pretty good for a cast of mostly nonprofessional actors and actresses.

The major critiques that I have for this film largely concern the plot development.  While the major themes are quite explicit, there are some significant details that are only suggested or completely ignored that should be further explored to enhance the story. Dwight’s development as a musician and the creation of the group with which he works is not given any real contextualization. This leads to a shallow representation of the work that is presumably necessary for one to become an effective performer.  Furthermore, other than the main character Dwight, little background information is given for prominent characters outside of their involvement with the church.

Blessed is a family friendly motion picture which aspires to articulate messages of faith and perseverance. While it does not represent a perfect debut production, the messages and music make the film worth viewing.

Prior to the release of Blessed and Cursed the Movie, Tyscot Records released the motion picture’s soundtrack by Deitrick Haddon and the Voices of Unity, which spans several genres from contemporary gospel music to holy hip hop. As such, Blessed offers a sampling of the multiple forms of expression that are encompassed in gospel music. Artists such as Haddon’s wife Damita, the group Rock Nation, and former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams are featured on different songs and contribute to the multiplicity of musical styles this project embodies.

While some of the songs are especially poignant, few of these selections relate directly to the content and themes of the film. This is not to say that they are any less valid in their musicality or content, but rather that they reflect the music of church services rather than the series of events and emotions that are played out on screen.

One of the most emotionally charged pieces on this soundtrack is “Don’t Leave Me” performed by Haddon. It begins with a contemplative, a capella melodic refrain which returns in the chorus. The song then shifts into a contemporary musical setting as electronic synthesizers establish a relaxed tempo and the accompaniment, similar to that heard in contemporary R&B music, is introduced.  Following is the official music video (courtesy of Tyscot):

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Similarly, the song “Breath Away” featuring Damita Haddon, also utilizes R&B tropes with a slow relaxed tempo, simple melody and text focusing on love. These pieces are examples of the manner in which modern, urban song styles have been utilized in creating sacred music. They also reflect the mood and setting of the film which focuses on young urban life and interaction.

“Anything Is Possible” is one of the most unique songs on this album because it utilizes elements of gospel music coupled with rock influences to relay a positive message. The song features up and coming duo Rock Nation whose music is influenced by rock, funk, and soul. These influences are clearly articulated in this selection as the electric guitar is foregrounded in the instrumentation. This blending of genres and influences does not overshadow the ultimate goal of this piece in that this song promotes the message of hope and perseverance despite adversity.

The Blessed and Cursed soundtrack offers an array of contemporary innovations in gospel music. The diversity of styles and messages on this album is sure to offer something that all types of gospel music listeners can appreciate.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review November 1st, 2010

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: New Book & CDs


Title: Revelation

Label: Megawave Records

Format: CD, MP3

Catalog No.: MEGW 0342

Release date: August 10, 2010

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Title: Sound System Scratch (Lee Perry’s dub plate mixes 1973 to 1979)

Label: Pressure Sounds

Format: CD

Catalog No.:  PSCD68

Release date: August 31, 2010

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Title: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: Kiss Me Neck : The Scratch Story in Words, Pictures and Records

Author: Jeremy Collingwood

Publisher: Cherry Red Books

ISBN: 9781901447965

Release date: August 2010*

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Seventy-four-year-old Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry hasn’t slowed down much. Since 2007 eight albums of new material have been issued under his name and re-packagings of his back catalog continue to appear, too, with the contents of many compilations overlapping each other even when the competing compilations emanate from the same record company. An important difference between the material released lately and that of the past is that now Scratch gets paid for most of his work after years of being relentlessly bootlegged and ripped off by various and sundry music industry participants. Two 2010 releases are of particular interest.

Revelation is a collection of new songs and finds Scratch sounding more involved than he has with some recent releases on which his voicings occasionally seemed perfunctory or poorly edited. Over the years a lot of marginal performances by Scratch have been marketed, and many fans eschew certain works or whole periods of his career. But with Revelation Scratch comes close to the beyond-reggae electronic world music highlights of his Time Boom X de Devil Dead (1987; re-issued in 1994 and 2001 with extra tracks). Keith Richards and George Clinton appear on one song each, Clinton sharing vocals and composing credit with Perry on Scary Politicians, a dubbed-up skank with self-explanatory lyrics; and Richards contributes a signature guitar part to “Books of Moses.” But the highlight of the album, both lyrically and sonically, is a jazz-tinged disquisition on the late Michael Jackson titled “Freaky Michael.” The smoky sax part (played by Tim Hill) snakes in and out of the mix as Scratch’s vocals chide Jackson for apparently turning his back on his black heritage. The tone is gentle, if pointed, and the music evokes memories of earlier horn-infused Scratch collaborations with the likes of Tommy McCook and Vin Gordon. The set list is:

1. Revelation, Revolution, and Evolution
2. Used to Drive a Tractor in Negrille
3. Firepower
4. Holy Angels
5. Scary Politicians
6. Let There Be Light
7. Books of Moses
8. Money Come and Money go
9. Psalm
10. Run for Cover
11. Freaky Michael
12. Weatherman
13. An Eye For an Eye

Whereas Revelation benefits from the crystal clear sounds of modern digital music production capabilities, Sound System Scratch arguably benefits from the crude, jerry-rigged equipment on which it was recorded. The songs here are dub plate selections that Scratch cut at the Black Ark, his legendary home studio that he built himself in the early 1970s. To say these recordings are bass-heavy is to grossly understate the situation. Dub plates were aluminum discs with a thin coat of vinyl on which the music was cut. They were not intended to be played more than a few dozen times and the recording quality quickly degraded, so the fact that these cuts survived is something of a blessing. They were intended to be played outdoors, and they were intended to be heard—or felt—at great distances, the better to draw a crowd to a sound system show. As usual with ’70s-era Scratch productions, precise personnel assignments are not available in the discographical information, but the notes indicate all of the bass parts were played by Boris Gardiner or Robbie Shakespeare, two of the very best reggae bassists.

The mixes are rough and robust: percussion parts proliferate and disappear, echo and distortion fade in and out, and occasional snippets of other instruments drop in and out of the mix. Found sounds compete with ghostly voices in a complex dub stew that creates an amazing soundscape attained without anything like a digital sampler. This is Scratch at the height of his powers, and one of the finest examples of the full-blown swampy Black Ark sound, but with even more bass than usual! Highlights include an Augustus Pablo melodica workout titled “Lama Lava Mix One;”  “The Rightful Organiser,” an even more heavily dubbed version of one of Scratch’s signature songs, “Dub Organiser;” “Roots Train Number Two;” and “Locks in the Dublight” and “Moonlight Version,” two heavily dubbed versions of “Dreadlocks in Moonlight.”  “Zeal of the Lord” and “Dub of the Lord” are smoky paeans to Jah, and “Groovy Dub” and “Living Dub” recast Keith Rowe’s “Groovy Situation” into moody sonic voyages. The set list is:

1. Dread Dub Plate – Lee Perry
2. Lama Lava Mix One – Augustus Pablo & The Upsetters
3. Groove Dubber – The Upsetters
4. Groove Rider – The Upsetters
5. Jucky Skank – The Upsetters
6. Chim Cherie – The Upsetters
7. The Rightful Organiser – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
8. Stagger – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
9. Big Neck Cut – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
10. Zeal Of The Lord – The Upsetters
11. Dub Of The Lord – The Upsetters
12. Returning Wax – The Upsetters
13. Bush Dub Corntrash – Winston Wright & The Upsetters
14. From Dub Four – Clive Hylton & The Upsetters
15. Roots Train Number Two – Junior Murvin & The Upsetters
16. Locks In The Dublight – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
17. Moonlight Version – The Upsetters
18. Dub History – Carlton Jackson & The Upsetters
19. Living Dub – Keith Rowe & The Upsetters

The “content and sleevenotes” for Sound System Scratch are by Jeremy Collingwood who is also the author of the forthcoming bio-disco-bibliography of Scratch, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry : Kiss Me Neck : the Scratch Story in Words, Pictures and Records. Collingwood is one of the few reggae writers on a par in Scratchology with David Katz (author of the Scratch bio, People Funny Boy), and his insight into the intricacies of the Jamaican music scene provide excellent and vital information about Scratch and his career. As to just who Scratch is, Collingwood writes: “Perry is one of the few reggae stars that continue to have an interest shown in him from the mainstream. He fits into the musical-genius-gone-to-madness-and-back paradigm so beloved of the media {snip} Conversely, in Jamaica Lee Perry is no star of the music business; he’s just one of many producers who had hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 2005, when a UK radio show went to JA to interview people about Perry, there was surprise that the journalist was making a program about Lee Perry. After all, Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee—’The Hit Maker’—was more successful in both mainstream and sound system terms, Bob Marley was a bigger star and King Tubby is often critically more acclaimed. But, uniquely, Perry had an unrivaled period of innovation and creativity that seems to have spoken to and inspired people of many countries, classes and colours around the world.” [p. [11]] The book presents the most comprehensive compilation of Perry’s output to date, but as Collingwood observes, “no list can ever keep pace with the escalating number of records with purported Lee Perry/Upsetter connections,” [p. 247] what with all the bootlegs and bogus collections that have flooded the market, especially on eBay.

The book itself, like dubplate mixes, is a little rough in places and the illustrations are in black and white only. But the number of original record labels, handbills, and esoterica from Scratch’s career displayed here are a treasure trove for the Scratch or reggae enthusiast. The sprawling discography section of the book is divided among Jamaican singles 1963-2009, Albums 1969-2000 (which actually covers vinyl and CD album releases through 2008), UK singles 1963-1983, UK & European discos 1977-1981, US & Canadian singles 1969-1979, US discos 1976-1987, plus a very helpful users guide. As far as being comprehensive, Collingwood even presents a listing of and identifying attributes for the many Scratch recordings released in Jamaica on vinyl with blank labels. His insightful commentary and flair for detail make Collingwood’s work a natural acquisition for library collections with an interest in reggae and individual reggae fans alike.

*Note: Amazon currently lists an April 2011 pub date; however, the book was briefly available in September 2010 (when I purchased my copy) and copies are still available on the Amazon UK site.  Presumably the book will be released again in the US next spring, with the same ISBN. The publishing process of books about Jamaican music, like Jamaican music releases, seems to hew to the spirit of the Jamaican expression “soon come.”

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review November 1st, 2010

You Are Not Alone


Title: You Are Not Alone

Artist: Mavis Staples

Label: Anti

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: September 14, 2010

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Let’s cut right to the chase:  this is a great album, one of the best albums of this young century.  Mavis Staples and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy pulled deep from the gospel and rock wells and came up with a wave of fresh music that is an uncluttered, perfectly executed masterpiece.  So buy this disc, or read on if you need more convincing.

Most people who follow this website probably have some familiarity with Mavis Staples, most likely through her work in the 1960s with the Staples Singers, led by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples.  Mavis’s deep baritone is frequently featured on the Staples’ many albums, and in fact was often heard at Barack Obama campaign rallies in 2008 when the Staples’ hit “I’ll Take You There” blared over the loudspeakers.  She had made solo albums, some better than others, since the 1970s.  In recent years, she revived her solo career, indeed she self-financed the production of her 2004 Alligator album Have a Little Faith.

According to a lengthy NY Times article published in September, Wilco’s Tweedy had admired the Staples’ body of work since his days selling used records in southern Illinois, and Mavis Staples had admired Wilco from a distance since the mid-2000s.  The two were Chicago residents, but in different musical orbits.  They decided to join forces in 2009, and recorded this album in Wilco’s loft space last winter.

A key early decision sealed the deal for a great album: rather than use Wilco or other indy-rock musicians, Mavis Staples’ touring band provides the musical foundation.  The integration between Staples, guitarist/vocalist Rick Holmstrom, bassist/vocalist Jeff Turmes, drummer Stephen Hodges and background vocalist Donny Gerrard cannot be overstated.  Like all great gospel, soul and blues outfits, this band operates as one solid music-making organism.  Mavis’s voice is the featured instrument on this album, but the band and especially the backing vocals strengthen and expand it. Her band puts her in a comfort zone where she can bring deep soul and spirituality without drama or inappropriate flare. In short, they suit her and she suits them. There are also tasteful guest appearances by Tweedy, Wilco’s keyboardist Patrick Sansone and keyboardist/vibes player Mark Greenberg and some background vocals by Kelly Hogan (often heard collaborating with Neko Case), Nora O’Connor and Richard Parenti.

And what music there is on this album!  There are three Pops Staples gospel numbers, “You Don’t Knock,” “Downward Road” and the smoldering closer “I’m On My Way To Heaven Anyway;” Rev. Gary Davis’s “I Belong to the Band;” the traditional hymns “Creep Along, Moses,” “Wonderful Savior” and “In Christ There Is No East and West” (arranged by Tweedy); and Alex Bradford Jr.’s “Too Close to Heaven.” Then there are the cover tunes: “Losing You” by Randy Newman, “Last Train” by Allen Toussaint, “We’re Gonna Make It” by Little Milton, and a simmering version of John Fogerty’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone” that emphasizes the songs feelings of unsettled searching.  And there are two Jeff Tweedy originals, the title cut plus “Only the Lord Knows,” both of which fit the album and the Mavis Staples style perfectly. Following is a clip of Staples and  Tweedy performing “You’re Not Alone”:

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Listening to this album is an uplifting experience, and not just because of the wonderful spiritual music throughout.  It is refreshing and life-affirming to hear great musicians deliver the goods like this, and even more so because this is a cross-generational, cross-genre, cross-town effort, different people from different backgrounds getting together and making a great gumbo.  Nothing sounds forced or phony, it’s like this album was just patiently waiting to be made.  May it enjoy much success.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review November 1st, 2010

Earth Amplified


Title: Earth Amplified

Artists: Seasunz and J. Bless

Label: self-released

Formats: CD (limited ed.), MP3

Release Date: 2010

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The Green Movement has made a major push within the United States over the last several years as many communities have begun to turn their collective attentions toward issues affecting the environment. Oakland, CA based group Seasunz + J.Bless are at the forefront of pushing Green concerns within the hip hop community. MC Seasunz and producer/MC J-bless dropped their debut LP, Solar Stereo, in 2007.  Earth Amplified is their follow up and was produced in conjunction with multi-instrumentalist Golden Hornz.  Ten percent of the proceeds from this project go to the Green Job Training Fund at the Oakland Green Youth Arts and Media Center.

Over the course of thirteen tracks, Seasunz, J.Bless and guests provide poetic commentary on a plethora of social issues, giving particular attention to the environment. The highlights are too numerous to name. The album opens up with the funky, “Justice” which features an infectious horn part and cool background vocals from Chi. “Hungry Money” finds Seasunz, J. Bless, and Zumbi of Zion I politicking on the downfalls of American capitalism. Seasunz shines on the stic.man (of dead prez) assisted “Global Warning” as he raps “So what the problem with that/you’re just a corporate exec who extract that/ oil from the boils of the backs of Nigerians/ gimme that.” Following is the official “Global Warning” video, featuring images of climate change activism by photographer Robert van Waarden:

YouTube Preview Image

While both Seasunz and J.Bless verbally lace “Waterworld,” the true highlight of the song is the well executed water-drip sample. Stic.man steals the show on “Food Fight” when he spits, “What’s beef? Beef is when you’re starvin’ or famine/nothing won’t grow and the land stays barren/pollution in the river, mercury in the salmon/What sense does it make to be at war with the planet?” Other notables include the Killah Priest assited “Nitewriters,” and “Not the Same Thing” on which Seasunz flexes his double-time skills. Aside from the underwhelming   “Any Day Now” and the unnecessary “Defend Her,” this album is flawless.

Earth Amplified by Seasunz + J.Bless is the essence of edutainment. The duo seamlessly meshes highly articulate socio-political commentary with quality hip hop aesthetics in a fashion that will capture the attention of a variety of rap audiences. Hopefully, Earth Amplified will serve as a catalyst for a stronger relationship between the hip hop community and the Green movement.

Editor’s Note: The Earth Amplified album and the video “Global Warning” were recently featured  in a panel and exhibit sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture as part of Indiana University’s fall Themester 2010 focus on Sustainability. Related videos on our top 10 list included: Biz Markie’s “Earth Day Remix;” Tem Blessed’s “Now Is the Time;” Reflection Eternal’s “Ballad of the Black Gold;“  Dr. Octagon’s “Trees;“  Doo Dat’s  “The Dream Reborn: My President Is Green;” Arrested Development’s “Greener;” Shamarr Allen, Dee-1, Paul Sanchez, and Bennie Pete’s “Sorry Ain’t Enough No More(about the BP oil spill); and last but not least, Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.”  You might want to roll these out for Earth Day 2011.

Reviewed by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review November 1st, 2010

Welcome to the November Issue

Our special feature of the month is Seasunz + J.Bless’s Earth Amplified, part of the growing body of hip hop dedicated to the Green Movement (see our list of favorite videos at the end of the review). Other hip hop selections include Chicago underground rapper cap D’s Polymath, Group Home’s tribute to Guru, and John Legend and the Root’s Wake Up!.  There are many notable new gospel releases, and this month we’ve selected projects by Mavis Staples, Deitrick Haddon, Jonathan Nelson, Harold Rayford, Bishop Leonard Scott, and James Abbington. Two new blues reissues are also profiled—Jimmy Dawkins Presents The Leric Story and Junior Wells & The Aces: Live In Boston 1966—along with reissues of Lamont Dozier’s Black Bach and the 1973 debut of the Zambian psych-rock band Witch. Wrapping up this issue is Cassandra Wilson’s Silver Pony, Lee “Scratch” Perry CDs and a new biography, and Colombian traditional music from Reef Records.

View review November 1st, 2010

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