Archive for January, 2011

The Sellout


Title:  The Sellout

Artist:  Macy Gray

Label: Concord

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: June 21, 2010

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Frankly, it’s depressing—an album that relays the trials of a relationship that precariously balances between break up and shallow physical attraction—her relationship with men or with the music business? If one assumes that the title, The Sellout is meant to be ironic, tracks like “Kissed It” (“ I was gonna leave you ‘til you kissed it”) leave you confused. On the title track, a pop tune with little to offer musically, Ms. Gray states happily, “I’m selling out to the pay/To the show/This is my gimmick/And I wanna win it/I’m selling out, I won’t fight you no more.”  This isn’t the sort of thing I want to hear from a woman whose musical originality could have put a unique twist on 2010 radio killers.

Besides weak lyrics and the overdone pop style of the album, the artists Gray pairs up with so outshine her vocally that it makes her sound untalented instead of original. The tracks with big names (such as “Real Love” with Bobby Brown and “Kissed It” with Matt Sorum of Velvet Revolver), are in my opinion, the worst tracks on the album. If this was her attempt to “sell out,”  she has failed miserably and merely compromised her beautifully distinctive character.

Reviewed by Rachel Weidner

View review January 6th, 2011

Relentless

Title:  Relentless

Artist:  Eric Gales

Label: Blues Bureau International

Format: CD

Release date:  July 27, 2010

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A Memphis native with blues  running through his DNA (his grandfather occasionally jammed with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf), Eric Gales was something of a child prodigy on the guitar, along with his brothers Eugene and Manuel (a.k.a. Little Jimmy King). Though he has released multiple albums since 1991, occasionally with his siblings, he has failed to garner wider name recognition, despite (or perhaps because of) frequent comparisons to Jimi Hendrix.

Gales’ albums tend to alternate between blues and psychedelic rock (his 2007 release was titled  Psychedelic Underground), and his latest offering, Relentless, continues this trajectory.  Opening with a straight-up electric blues song, “Bad Lawbreaker,” the tracks then swing on a pendulum between blues, blues-rock and hard rock, the latter defined by songs such as “The Spice” and “On the Wings on Rock and Roll.”

All of the music is original, with co-writing credits going to Gales and Mike Varney, the founder of Schrapnel Records, who has also produced black rock guitarists Doug Pinnick and Doug Howe. Varney’s Blues Bureau, a subsidiary of Schrapnel, is dedicated to releasing the best of the blues-rock guitarists, which places Gales at the top of the heap.  Overall, Relentless is one of Gales’ best efforts, showing off his incredible guitar chops, though his retro style makes him sound more like a 60-year-old veteran  than someone born in 1975.

Following is an interview/performance clip of the Gales Brothers Band in Ardent Studios in Memphis, recorded when Gales was only 15.  The clip was given to Gales by Khari from Public Enemy, who claims to have started playing because of the Eric Gales Band:

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Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 6th, 2011

No Regrets


Title: No Regrets

Artist: Elisabeth Withers

Label: E1 Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 14, 2010

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Tony Award nominee Elisabeth Withers returns with her sophomore solo album, No Regrets.   Celebrated for her role as Shug Avery in Oprah’s production of the Color Purple (by Alice Walker) on Broadway, Withers explores themes of love, hope, and perseverance. The first single, “No Regrets,” discusses the heartache and recovery of love lost. One of the most engaging and uplifting songs of this project is the heartfelt “Dream,” which admonishes the listener to dream fearlessly even in the midst of non-supporters. Additionally, the smooth R&B track, “Because I Love,” is a sweet love song with an “old school” vibe. Overall, this project is an uplifting listening experience that will encourage the listener to hope, think, and smile.  Following is the official album trailer from Koch:

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Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review January 6th, 2011

Best Hip Hop Reissues of 2010


Title: Criminal Minded

Artist: Boogie Down Productions

Label: B-Boy Records/Traffic

Format: CD Box Set

Release date: Sept. 28, 2010

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Easily one of the most influential albums in hip hop history, Criminal Minded returned in 2010 with a load of extra features. This deluxe reissue includes 3 CDs worth of music, a 44 page booklet (an excerpt from Brian Coleman’s book Check The Technique) and a poster. For those who have never heard Criminal Minded, the background provided in the liner notes is a great introduction to the album, which can now be enjoyed in fully remastered form. Those already familiar with the album will be pleasantly surprised by the bonus material found on the second two discs and Coleman’s insights.  Following is the official reissue trailer from Traffic:

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Title:  Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous

Artist: Big L

Label: Sony/Traffic

Format: Double LP

Release date: June 22, 2010

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Big L’s Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous stands as the only album released during the late emcee’s lifetime, and perfectly captures the talent of one of hip hop’s finest. Now available in a double LP set, both the genius of D.I.T.C crew’s production and lyricism can be appreciated to the fullest. Stand out tracks are “Put It On,” “Da Graveyard” (featuring a young Jay-Z) and “MVP.”

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Title:  Mecca and The Soul Brother

Artist: Pete Rock and CL Smooth

Label: Traffic

Format: CD Box Set

Release date: September 14, 2010

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You can’t call yourself a true hip hop fan unless you’ve experienced Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s song “T.R.O.Y.,” the lead single from their 1992 album Mecca And The Soul Brother.  The song is one of many greats featured on this hip hop classic which has been reissued by Traffic in the same format as Criminal Minded (3 CDs, booklet and poster). Pete Rock’s flawless production revolutionized the genre’s sound, and this album is a perfect example of why he is considered one of the all-time greats.  Following is the official reissue trailer from Traffic:

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Title:  Uptown Saturday Night

Artist: Camp Lo

Label: Traffic

Format: Double LP

Release date: March 23, 2010

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Easily one of the most overlooked albums of the past 15 years, Uptown Saturday Night brought a new style to rap in the late 90s, just as the genre was becoming over-commercialized by the likes of Puff Daddy.  On tracks like “Coolie High,” “Luchini” and “Sparkle,” Ski’s amazing production shines while complemented by the unique rhymes of Geechie Suede and Sonny Cheba. For a true hip hop fan this album is a must have.

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Title:  Street Level

Artist: The Beatnuts

Label: Sony/Traffic

Format: Double LP

Release date: November 19, 2010

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The Beatnuts are widely known for their later hits “Off The Books” and “Watch Out Now.”  However their early work, especially Street Level, is often forgotten. Their sample-heavy sound draws from a wide variety of jazz, funk and soul and shows us why they are one of the greatest production teams of all-time. Standout tracks on this double LP are “Hit Me With That…” and “Props Over Here.”  Following is the official reissue trailer from Traffic:

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Title:  Sittin’ On Chrome

Artist: Masta Ace

Label: Sony/Traffic

Format: LP

Release date: May 18, 2010

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The second Masta Ace Incorporated album, originally released in 1996, is an innovative blend of traditional East Coast styles with West Coast funk and southern bass. This unique arrangement of sounds with Masta Ace’s lyricism is sure to please a wide variety of classic hip hop fans. Those who are already familiar with Ace know just how well he shares his world through his numerous concept albums.

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Title:  In Control, Volume 1

Artist: Marley Marl

Label: Sony/Traffic

Format: LP, CD

Release date: August 4, 2010

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In the late 1980s, Marley Marl’s Juice Crew was at the forefront of hip hop. With Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap and MC Shan dominating the charts, Marley Marl decided to launch the next wave of emcees onto the scene. On In Control Volume 1, emcees like Tradegy, Masta Ace and Craig G were showcased over some of the period’s best production. The album’s standout track, “The Symphony” is one of hip hop’s most legendary posse cuts and can be heard here in its full brilliance.

Reviewed by Alex Goulet

View review January 6th, 2011

Concrete Jungle

Title: Concrete Jungle

Artist: Nneka

Label: Decon

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: February 2010

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Rising artist Nneka, a  Nigerian-German hip hop/soul singer-songwriter, is definitely one to watch. Her politically charged songs frequently serve to expose the ills of government corruption and environmental exploitation which are destroying communities in her birthplace of Warri, Oil City, in Nigeria’s Delta region.

Concrete Jungle is actually a compilation of tracks from earlier albums released in Europe.  Nneka is able to move deftly between song styles, frequently alternating  between hip hop and soul, while other tracks reflect the influence of Afrobeat and reggae. As a result, the album remains very fresh and original from beginning to end, and easily rises above the majority of music released in 2010. Following is the official video for “Heartbeat,” released on her 2008 album No Longer At Ease as well as on Concrete Jungle (a “Heartbeat” remix EP was also released in October) :

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Now that Nneka is finally receiving wide international exposure, let’s hope that she is able to release lots of new material in 2011. And more touring in the U.S.!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 6th, 2011

There’s Gonna Be a Meeting

Title: There’s Gonna Be a Meeting

Artist: Evelyn Turrentine-Agee

Label:  Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  September 28, 2010

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Stellar Award winner Evelyn Turrentine-Agee has returned with the release of There’s Gonna Be a Meeting.  Debuting in 2000 with the album God Did It, Turrentine-Agee is making her imprint on the gospel music world through continuing the tradition of quartet-styled singing from a female perspective. The album features songs such as “Work it Out” and “Meeting” which utilize traditional gospel quartet harmony and performance style. Other selections, such as “So Good,” explore contemporary dimensions.

There’s Gonna Be a Meeting presents several songs that center on messages of hope in God as well as the promise of a joy and happiness that will be found in heaven “Bye and Bye.” One of the most memorable tracks is Turrentine-Agee’s rendition of the James Cleveland song “He’s Using Me.” Her direction to the musicians to “give me that old key,” which opens the song, sets the stage for this exploration into the blues influenced traditional gospel music that rose to fame and popularity in the mid-twentieth century.  While surrounded by developments in contemporary gospel music, the “Queen of Quartet” Turrentine-Agee continues to present traditional gospel music in a manner that is relevant and engaging to listeners today.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review January 6th, 2011

Rev. Gary Davis

Title: Rev. Gary Davis: At Home & Church (1962-1967)

Artist: Rev. Gary Davis

Label: Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop

Format: 3 CD set

Release date: March 16, 2010

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During the early 1960s, Rev. Gary Davis released several great country blues and gospel albums, crossing the sacred-secular boundaries on Harlem Street Singer and Say No to the Devil.  Around this same time, Stefan Grossman began taking lessons from Davis, traveling up to the Bronx, sometimes with his Tandberg tape recorder in hand along with his guitar.  Over the next seven years, while continuing his apprenticeship with the blues master, Grossman recorded Davis both at home and at his storefront church.  Now these rare recordings have been remastered and issued on a 3 CD set, with liner notes by Grossman.

The first two discs were recorded in Davis’s home and feature a wide range of styles, from folk and country blues to rags, gospel and tin pan alley songs, with his wife Annie adding her voice on occasion. Davis tells a few stories which help to clarify the roots of certain songs, and performs on a variety of instruments, including six-string guitar, five-string banjo—played in both clawhammer and frailing styles—and harmonica.  Titles include “Sally, Where’d You Get Your Liquor From,”  “Babylon Is Falling,” “Sun Is Going Down,” and Italian Rag,” just to name a few.   The third, and most historically valuable disc, was recorded in church and features a portion of the Reverend’s sermon and accompanying music, ranging from “Amazing Grace” to “Steal Away” and “Lord, I Feel Just Like Goin’ On.”  His interaction with parishioners adds further authenticity to the experience.

Grossman has made a valuable contribution to blues and gospel scholarship, not only by releasing this material, but by having the foresight to record it in the first place, and by preserving it over the course of the last forty years.  The Rev. Gary Davis: At Home & Church is definitely worth adding to your collection.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 6th, 2011

Smiley Lewis Rocks

Title: Smiley Lewis Rocks

Artist:  Smiley Lewis

Label: Bear Family

Format:  CD

Release date:  March 23, 2010

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Smiley Lewis is known more for the famous covers of his songs (“I Hear You Knockin’” by Gale Storm, “Blue Monday” by Fats Domino, and “One Night” by Elvis Presley, to name a few) than he is for his own rocking versions. But even though the big hit always seemed to elude Lewis, this collection proves conclusively that he could rock just as hard as the rest of them. Though Bear Family has previously issued a four CD box set on Lewis’ career (Shame, Shame, Shame), this collection pulls together the 36 most rockin’ sides cut for Imperial Records between 1950-1958.

For those unfamiliar with the original versions of the hits, Lewis was a big man with a big voice; a New Orleans blues singer with a voice reminiscent of Big Joe Turner. This is upbeat, swinging jump blues at its best with blaring horns and the best of New Orleans session men (even including label mate Fats Domino on at least one session), and as the title suggests, it rocks. The CD is given the Bear Family treatment: extensive liner notes, discography, lots of photos, superior audio quality. If anyone has even a passing interest in jump blues, the roots of rock and roll, or New Orleans R&B, as well as a limited budget, one can do no finer than this single disc compilation.

Reviewed by Nathan D. Gibson

View review January 6th, 2011

Airtight’s Revenge


Title: Airtight’s Revenge

Artist: Bilal

Label: Plug Research

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 14, 2010

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Bilal Oliver, of star-ridden Soulquarians fame, is back and better than ever in his first official album in nine years. Dense with hip hop, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll influences, Airtight’s Revenge is a rhythmic collaboration of dub sound and rapt lyrics addressing everything from romance to apocalyptic conspiracy. Fans have been anticipating this album since what was supposed to be his second release was shelved by record companies in 2005, resulting in an internet album that was very well received by critics and fans alike. Picking up on the success of that bootleg, he has crafted Airtight’s Revenge to satisfy the intellectual needs of his audience. The songs go by like a light breeze, but heavy guitar licks and bizarre rhythms deliberately accentuate the thought-provoking words. Receiving acclaim from the likes of Erykah Badu and Common (Bilal’s friends and co-musicians), this album fulfills the promise hinted at in Bilal’s debut, assuring audiences that he’s still got it.

Following is the official video to “Robots” from Airtight’s Revenge, directed by Mikael Colombu and released on Election Day (November 2, 2010).  The video is Bilal’s attempt to open everyone’s eyes to the truth: “that people are becoming more like robots through the use of manipulative propaganda by corporate media.”

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Reviewed by Rachel Weidner

View review January 6th, 2011

Rare Genius

Title: Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters

Artist: Ray Charles

Label: Concord

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: October 25, 2010

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In honor of the 80th birthday of Ray Charles, Concord Records recently released Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters, a compilation culled from four decades worth of demos and other previously unreleased material.  Though only 40 minutes in length, the CD is loaded with treasures ranging from soul to country, pop and gospel.  And Concord didn’t skimp on the packaging either, contracting the noted soul and R&B authority Bill Dahl to pen the liner notes.

The disc opens with “Love’s Gonna Bite You Back” from March 1980, featuring what Dahl refers to as “a Charles vocal that’s a signature mixture of sandpaper grit and heavenly goodness.”  Other standout tracks include “I’m Gonna Keep on Singin’” (featuring the Raelettes), a bluesy cover of the country classic “A Little Bitty Tear,” and a jazzy arrangement of “Wheel of Fortune.”  The undisputed highlight of the album is Charles’ duet with another music legend, Johnny Cash, on Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me, Lord?”—one of the biggest country/gospel crossover songs ever written. Recorded in 1981, for some unknown reason the duet was never released and was only recently discovered in the Sony vaults.

It should be noted that many of the selected tracks existed only as stripped down versions, which had to be re-engineered and overdubbed.  Concord organized a team of top-notch musicians to provide the sweetening: guitarists Keb’ Mo’ and George Doering; organist Bobby Sparks; trumpeter Gray Grant; trombonist Alan Kaplan; bassists Trey Henry and Chuck Berghofer; drummers Gregg Field and Ray Brinker; and background vocalist Eric Benet. This should not in any way be considered a remuddling of classic songs, as is so often the case with posthumous tweaking.   The musicians stayed true to the original versions, thus beathing new life into these treasures from the vault. All in all, a fitting tribute that will please both soul and country music fans.

Editor’s note:  Ray Charles’ scholars should note that the Archives of African American Music, home of Black Grooves, houses the Michael Lydon Collection, which includes all of the interviews Lydon recorded while writing Charles’ biography.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 6th, 2011

“2010 Best of the Rest” R&B and Hip Hop


Title: Still Standing

Artist: Monica

Label: J Records

Formats: CD, Mp3

Release date: March 23, 2010

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The 90s R&B and pop icon released her best work since 2003’s After the Storm. With production from Bryan Michael Cox and go-to single maker Missy Elliott, Monica’s Still Standing is a solid album of pure R&B. Great moments include the #1 hit “Everything to Me” and the equally pleasant ballad “Love All Over Me.”  The album is a testament to Monica’s newfound mindset as a woman and veteran of the R&B industry.

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Title:  Another Round

Artist:  Jaheim

Label: Atlantic

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 9, 2010

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Hands down, this is Jaheim’s best album to date. With Another Round, the R&B crooner trades his cornrolls for a fade, transitioning his former youthful sound to a more mature, grown folks theme.  The entire album is a homage to songs of love and happiness of the past. Standouts include the single “Finding My Way Back,” “Till It Happens to You,” and the future wedding classic “In My Hands.” R&B lovers will definitely enjoy this album.

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Title: All I Want Is You

Artist:  Miguel

Label:  Jive

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 30, 2010

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Newcomer Miguel breathes a fresh sound into a struggling R&B field where many of the male artists sound alike. His crafty songwriting and soothing vocals set him apart. Fans were hypnotized with the album’s title track which featured Roc Nation’s J. Cole.  Other standouts are the danceable “Pay Me,” the sensual “Teach Me” and heartfelt “Hard Way.”

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Title: Love Me Back

Artist: Jazmine Sullivan

Label: J Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  November 30, 2010

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The Philly songstress, whose debut garnered her Lauryn Hill comparisons, returns with a solid effort and dodges a sophomore slump. With the push of the Grammy-nominated single “Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles),” produced by Missy Elliott, Sullivan shares less heartache and more love songs the second time around. While the entire album is pleasant, the standout track is the soulfully inspirational “Redemption” which highlights Sullivan as a vocalist, songwriter and rapper.

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Title: Second Chance

Artist: El Debarge

Label:  Geffen

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: November 30, 2010

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The falsetto crooner has been on a high ever since his comeback appearance at the BET Awards. This album is as if El never left. A definite romancer, his voice lays on the love with songs like “Close to You” and “Serenading.” One of the best moments is his opening duet “Lay With You,” with the wonderfully underrated Faith Evans.  Second Chance deserves multiple listens.

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Title: Trunk Muzik: 0-60

Artist: YelaWolf

Label: Interscope Records

Formats: CD, Mp3

Release date:  November 22, 2010

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Don’t confuse this southern boy with your average white boy rapper. And don’t try to compare him to Eminem nor Asher Roth. Yela’s EP is a great example of his fast wordplay which is tinged with the slightest influence of OutKast. His voice captivates your attention whether he’s lamenting on the trials of a meth pusher on “Billy Crystal” or party hopping with Gucci Mane on “I Just Wanna Party.” But he shines brightest on the half-crazy “Pop the Trunk,” which had to be one of the creepiest videos of the year. In a good way.

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Reviewed by Lorin Williams

View review January 6th, 2011

The Barfly Theory

Title: The Barfly Theory

Artist: Sonnyboy

Label: ArtSoul Entertainment

Format: MP3

Release date:  October 1, 2010

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Shel Riser, a.k.a. Sonnyboy the “Urban Misfit Artist,” was born deep in Louisiana where he learned about the blues from uncle Sonny Green. Later moving to Milwaukee, he starting playing guitar and keyboards in Baptist churches, branching out into both gospel and R&B. But his transformation wasn’t complete until he moved to the “Paisley” music scene in Minneapolis, where he immersed himself in funk, reggae and hip hop. What does this add up to? One of the most refreshing projects of 2010.

The Barfly Theory follows several previous albums that Sonnyboy released on his own label, ArtSoul Entertainment, including 2007′s Psycho-Delic-Ghetto-Vibe. Refusing to be categorized under one of the more traditional black music genres, he’s come up with his own Rock ‘N’ Soul category, but this doesn’t take into account the ultra-funky nature of his sound. And I do mean ultra-funky; he’s worked with members of the Parliament Funkadelic family, which speaks volumes about where he’s coming from. His music influences include Sly & the Family Stone, the Isley Brothers (he’s covered “Fight the Power” in his live shows), Jamiroquai, Cee-Lo, and, of course, Prince—and his live shows have been described as “high energy Fish Bone meets James Brown.”

This alternative soul, funk ‘n’ roll extravaganza kicks off with the title track, where Sonnyboy’s signature retro soul weaves in and out of looped sound samples. This is followed by the  amazingly funky “Who’s Loving You,” and a cover of the Culture Club’s “Time (Clock of the Heart).”  However, not all of the tracks on The Barfly Theory work equally well. Shel is not a crooner, so he’s at his best on the uptempo numbers where his edgy vocals really add to the mix, such as the extremely danceable “Make You Go Crazy” and “Good Love.”

One of the stand-out tracks is the politically oriented “Strange People,” elevated by Shel’s beat poet lyrics: Old man hold your head and cry / another politician with a goddamn lie / how we supposed to live if we can never fly / and give to me some how to keep you high / Strange people say they want to rule the world/ Strange people sitting on their asses girl / Strange people say they want to rule the world . . .

Following is the video for “Who’s Been Loving You”:

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Sonnyboy will be touring the West Coast in March, and Brooklyn’s funk master DJ Spinna is already planning a remix of the album.  Sounds like the band is about to really fly.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 6th, 2011

Let’s Come Together

Title: Let’s Come Together

Artist:  Kevin Levar & One Sound

Label: Habakkuk Music

Formats: CD/DVD Deluxe Ed.

Release date: Oct 25, 2010

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With the original release of the album Let’s Come Together in 2008, Kevin Levar & One Sound introduced the world of Christian music to their musically diverse style and to their desire for unification of Christians across denominations and race. The two disc deluxe edition includes two bonus songs as well as behind the scenes DVD footage. Mainly written and produced by Levar, this album draws musical influences from throughout the Americas as gospel and praise and worship songs are infused with rhythmic elements and speech accents reminiscent of Latin and Caribbean cultures. For instance, the energetic praise and worship song “Hiding Place” utilizes Jamaican vernacular speech patterns in a portion of the song. Similarly, the highly syncopated, danceable selection “My Everything” showcases salsa influences in the rhythm, the use of horns and language as some portions of the song are rendered in Spanish.

Amidst the many musical influences present on the album, this Washington D.C. native does not neglect to acknowledge his black gospel roots with selections such as “I’ll Say Yes” that reinterpret popular songs from the gospel music canon. One high point of this album is the single “A Heart that Forgives” that articulates the challenges and necessities of overcoming hurt and hate with love. Through poignant lyrics and a simple yet effective melody, this song speaks to the album’s theme of love and unity while also attesting to the potential depth and expressiveness that is to be uncovered in Kevin Levar.

Following is the official music video for “A Heart That Forgives,” released as part of LeVar’s Forgive and Live Campaign:

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Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review January 6th, 2011

The Gates BBQ Suite

Title:  The Gates BBQ Suite

Artists: Bobby Watson & the UMKC Concert Jazz Orchestra

Label:  released by Bobby Watson

Format:  CD

Release date:  September 21, 2010

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For most of us, the mere mention of Kansas City conjures up visions of two things: live jazz and barbeque joints. Preferably together. On multiple nights. Obviously, native son Bobby Watson agrees. “Smoking meat remains near and dear to me,” he recalls, “either a beef sandwich or short end!”    And Watson, a former member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, knows how to serve up some smoking jazz as well.

The Gates BBQ Suite is a new project composed and directed by Watson that pays tribute to the world renowned Gates’ Barbeque in Kansas City. Performed by the UMKC Concert Jazz Orchestra, with Watson featured on sax, the songs that comprise the suite all feature mouth watering titles that are directly related to the culinary experience at Gates. “May I Help You” attempts to recreate the friendly, relaxed manner of the staff; “Beef on a Bun” features a classic tenor sax battle; while “Heavy on the Sauce” turns loose a trumpet, trombone and sax trio to add a dash of distinctive flavor. You get the idea. Perhaps the most distinctive track on the CD is “The President’s Tray,” which “opens in grand style with a processional played by an African troupe,”  followed by a presidential fanfare and, in honor of President Barack Obama, the introduction by the trombones of a “Yes We Can!” theme.

This is a delightful album featuring extremely tight playing and a romp through various sub-genres, from blues-tinged jazz to Afro-jazz with some avant-garde, funk, and Barry White thrown into the sauce.  If you can’t get to KC for some barbeque and live jazz, this is a great substitute.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 6th, 2011

Flutronix

Title: FLūTR°NIX

Artist: Flutronix

Label: Flutronix Music

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: October 2010

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The New York flute duo, Flutronix, has been infiltrating NYC-area clubs and concert halls for the past few years, making a name for themselves with 21st-century indie chamber music “rooted in influences as diverse as Steve Reich, Radiohead, Terry Riley and Aphex Twin.” The petite powerhouse is comprised of Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull, who have extensive experience in classical music performance as well as multimedia collaborations.

Loggins-Hull earned her BM in flute performance at the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music, and a MA in composition from NYU, studying under Joan la Barbara. Her primary focus has been on electro-acoustic musical styles, production and film scoring, which she has utilized in a number of cross-disciplinary projects.  Joachim received her degree in flute performance from Juilliard under the mentorship of Carol Wincenc, studied experimental music at NYU, and completed a MA in media and sound studies at The New School.  In addition to her many awards as a classical flutist, Joachim also works with the performing arts collective Ditch Productions.

Flutronix, their debut album, is a masterful collage of electronic and acoustic music, woven into multi-faceted textures that combine the instruments and digital effects in a very accessible, contemporary manner. The opening track, “Crazy,” is a composition by Joachim that features  contrapuntal flutes over an electronic bass line and drum machine, with intermittent hip hop sensibilities:

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Joachim also composed two of my favorite compositions on the album—“Wander” and “Aware” —for flute, voice and electronics. “Wander” opens with Joachim’s pop-styled vocals. The melody is taken over by the flute, then subverted by a punchy electronic bass, concluding with a peaceful resolution between the three.  On “Aware,” a disembodied voice loops over tribal drumming, while the flute enters with the melodic line. Of the compositions by Loggins-Hull, the highlights are “Pray,” which features an improvisational virtuosic flute line over an atmospheric minimalist undercurrent, and “Stacked,” arranged for two flutes and loop pedal, creating the effect of a contrapuntal flute choir.

Flutronix was self-produced by Joachim and Loggins-Hull, with assistance from noted mastering engineer and cellist Steven Berson.  The album is very highly recommended, and belongs in every university music library. The duo also offers printed music for several works, and is currently sponsoring a competition for young composers (under 30) working with electronic components—the deadline for submissions is March 1, 2011.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 6th, 2011

Welcome to the January 2011 Issue

This month is our annual “best of the rest” issue. Our reviewers have selected 25 projects released in 2010 that we weren’t able to cover in previous issues. Look for more in the coming months, since many of the year’s most notable albums were released just before the holidays.  One of our main features this month is the debut album by the cutting edge flute duo Flutronix.  Other highlights include a look at classic hip hop reissues, new hip hop and R&B, KC jazz, gospel, more black rock, and a dash of blues.  Artists include Ray Charles, Rev. Gary Davis, Bobby Watson, Kevin LeVar, Sonnyboy, Monica, Jaheim, Miguel, Jazmine Sullivan, El Debarge, Yelawolf, Bilal, Smiley Lewis, Eveyn Turrentine-Agee, Nneka, Eliabeth Withers, Eric Gales, Boogie Down Productions, Big L, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Camp Lo, The Beatnuts, Masta Ace, Marley Marl, and Macy Gray.   A very long issue, but well worth scrolling down to the very end. Happy New Year!

View review January 6th, 2011

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