Yahzarah, born Dana Nicole Williams in 1980, grew up in Washington, DC and began singing in her church choir at the age of seven. As a high school student she entered the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and after graduation received a full scholarship to North Carolina Central University’s jazz program. Eventually her musical talents led to a gig as a backup singer for famed neo soul diva, Erykah Badu. In 2001 Yahzarah released her solo debut album, Hear Me, on the Keo label, which produced the notable singles “Feel Me,” “Love is You,” and “Natural.”
Since the release of her first album, Yahzarah has called several labels home. She is currently signed to The Foreign Exchange, home of Nicolay and Phonte, who produced her latest effort, The Ballad of Purple St. James. The album’s eclectic music provides a wonderful setting for listeners to experience Yahzarah’s high- pitched soprano voice. With a new wave bounce setting the stage for the lead single, “Why Dontcha Call Me No More,” to infusions of jazz on the track “Shadow,” Yahzarah not only covers a broad range of styles, but also reflects the music of artists that have influenced her, including Erykah Badu, Prince, and Stevie Wonder.
Following is the official music video for “Why Dontcha Call Me No More,” the first single from the album:
The Ballad of Purple St. James reflects a number of emotions when dealing with matters of the heart, but Yahzarah portrays it in such an eccentric and diverse way that many if not all will enjoy this album!
The latest installment in the Gotta Have Gospel series features some of the biggest names in the gospel music industry today. From contemporary songs such as Kirk Franklin’s “Jesus” and Mary Mary’s “Get Up,” to more traditional selections like Tamela Mann’s “The Master Plan,” this compilation contains a range of styles that is likely to resonate with most listeners.
One highlight of the album is Vickie Winans’ popular arrangement of “How I Got Over.” Winans has effectively managed to rejuvenate a traditional hit that has been recorded by many great artists, including Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin.
Jonathan Nelson’s “Expect the Great” is also a noteworthy up-tempo selection that is both energetic and uplifting. The tracks of the album flow seamlessly from one to the next like a well-organized radio program, creating a continuous listening experience. The accompanying DVD features several videos of songs that were not featured on the album, as well as some insightful “behind the music” interviews with a few of the contributing artists. With these great features and musical selections, Gotta Have Gospel 8 is sure to be an excellent addition to any music collection.
Black Sheep is a legacy. Born from the Native Tongues crew, Dres and Mista Lawnge formed Black Sheep almost 20 years ago, stepping into the New York rap scene with intelligent, honest, and positive rhymes. The release of From the Black Pool of Genius was a pivotal point in the group’s career, because Dres is running solo on this record. Don’t be mistaken, both emcees are forces to be reckoned with, but Dres puts his skills in the spotlight and delivers genius in every verse.
The record drifts beautifully from tracks full of jazz piano and minimal drums to straight up bangers. Lyrically, the record is a masterpiece full of personal narratives, clever metaphors, social commentary, and a straight forward honesty that makes one feel personally connected to the humble emcee. Dres has several different individuals contributing beats to the album, which adds a nice diversity to the tracks. There are also some excellent guests on the record from Q-Tip to Rosie Perez. Yes, I said it, Rosie Perez on “Muy Bueno” providing the hook on the chorus.
Following is the official video for one of the singles off the album, “Forever LuvLee”:
Painting pictures with lyrics is where Dres shines, and this sets him in an entirely different ballpark from most emcees. From the Black Pool of Genius is a masterful work from beginning to end.
The Terrorist Advocate is the debut album from Bugsy Da God. Hailing from Jersey, Bugsy was recently signed to P.R. Terrorist’s (Don Pachino) label, Napalm Recordings. The title of the album may incite assumptions concerning Bugsy’s political position, but it’s actually representative of Bugsy’s work with P.R. Terrorist, who is featured on six tracks. With a plethora of producers, some unknown and some very well known (e.g., Bronze Nazareth), the album is reflective of the grimy raw beats characteristic of pure East Coast (New York) hip hop.
Lyrically, the album sounds like it’s coming from an emcee that has crates of records under his belt, so I was surprised to find that this was his debut album. The richness and intensity of his raw rhyme structures is reflective of the violence and social dissent prominent in tough neighborhoods of Jersey and New York. Cold dark lyrics delivering narratives of crime, guns, loss of life, auto-tune disses, and pure chaos are the driving force behind this formidable record.
Following is a preview of The Terrorist Advocate:
The production on The Terrorist Advocate perfectly complements Bugsy’s delivery and lyrical content. Musically, the album is a solid East Coast hip hop record front to back. Samples from Fight Club, Shawshank Redemption, and War of the Worlds introduce, conclude, and relevantly frame many of the tracks. “Gritty drums carrying chopped samples of strings, old organs, piano, and re-pitched vocals in a backpack full of guns,” summarizes the production quite well.
A pure East Coast delivery from Bugsy Da God, The Terrorist Advocate is not an album to pass on.
Local hip hop is thriving and Indiana should be proud of the many independent rappers and DJs that grace the shows springing up regularly in our communities. Among some of the more prominent of these local acts, and long-time veterans of the Indianapolis stage, are Mic Sol and A.C.E. O.N.E. who recently released their first full-length album together, The Light. Chock full of timeless funk and R&B samples, the songs are catchy and energetic, featuring squeaky-clean production and lyrics ranging from political to poetic to pompous. Complimenting the timbre of one another’s vocal style perfectly, Mic Sol provides a higher, more energetic pulse while A.C.E. O.N.E. contributes more unique lyrics and a beautiful low drawl in his vocal patterns.
In the world of laptop hip hop and streams, posts, and downloads, it can be difficult to avoid becoming stale or boring, but Mic Sol and A.C.E. O.N.E. avoid internet blandness, focusing on live shows and the performance of live hip hop. The album’s beats are perfect for a crowd of drinkers or general partiers, seemingly capable of looping forever without losing energy or getting boring, which importantly allows for improvisation and concentration on audience participation. While this album probably will not ‘save’ hip hop, the two artists adhere to the soul of hip hop—of what live performance should be, and unfortunately rarely is. In the true spirit of DIY music, this rap duo is a local commodity that true hip hop fans can enjoy and support—don’t miss out!
At the mark of the new millennium, the R&B world went retro with the arrival of neo-soul. Many artists classified under this genre provided a more organic approach to their music’s composition. Earthy soulful sounds partnered with messages of love and social consciousness hit the mainstream. It was here we first witnessed the talents of UK’s Marsha Ambrosius as part of the hip hop/R&B duo Floetry. Unfortunately, neo-soul became relegated to the depths of underground music and Floetry called it quits soon after. Since then, Ambrosius has kept busy writing and producing for other artists including Jamie Foxx and the late Michael Jackson. Finally she’s prepared her solo debut, the intimate Late Nights & Early Mornings.
Ambrosius wastes no time getting straight to business as her album title insinuates, romancing listeners with the sensual “With You,” a slow grind pleasantry which is followed by the Prince-inspired title track. Marsha then switches it up with the tongue-in-cheek first single “I Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player).” What could be accosted as the female “F— You,” the bitter piece insults an old flame’s new girl, who Marsha claims “don’t know the difference between a touchdown or a lay-up.”
The rest of the album is laced with wonderfully performed tracks, from the reflective Lauryn Hill-penned “Lose Myself” to the soulful throwback sound of “I Want You to Stay.” Marsha shows her range on the heartbreaking “Tears,” and her versatility as she re-imagines Portishead’s 1994 hit “Sour Times.”
The stand out track is the rapturously celebrated single “Far Away.” The emotional ballad spawned critical and commercial acclaim mainly because of its heavy subject matter. The song and music video brought awareness to the growing problem of suicide as a result of bullying, specifically targeting the homosexual community.
Late Nights & Early Mornings is an incredibly well-crafted R&B album. At a time when many artists are detouring to pop antics and stage presence to sell records, Ambrosius reminds us what pure talent can produce.
The music world is abuzz on the wake of Adele’s sophomore album 21. The UK soul singer picks up where 19 concluded, recording the entire project during her 21st year. The album bases its heart & soul in Adele’s own relationships and experiences with love. She’s composed an awesomely complete blue-eyed soul album with her signature ballads and new, swinging up-tempo sound. Whether the calming sounds of a sole piano, or the rush of church-like claps and a organ, her vocals are strong, emotive & convey a tale of love found, fought for, and sadly loss.
If you didn’t know by now, 21 is receiving rave reviews for its opening song and the first single, “Rolling In The Deep.” Adele rocks out to a disco-church infused tremor, echoing hurt and revenge toward failed love. In disbelief she emotes how “we could have had it all.” This new upbeat frontier is continued in the equally enjoyable “Rumour Has It.” Amidst frantic claps and Motown-esque ad-libs, she teases and tortures her lover with a rousing game of who’s zooming who. Both earn massive replay points.
Adele resumes her usual territory of excellently-written love songs: “Turning Tables” hurts with the truth of lies in love’s clothing, while “Don’t You Remember” longs for a renewed love affair in a unique country presentation. She’s determined to save love on “He Won’t Go,” confessing “I’m willing to take the risk.” And on the rock-steady groove “I’ll Be Waiting,” which sounds like a Dave Matthews Band hit from the ‘90s, she effortlessly twists her own peculiar sexiness in her surrendering to a lover.
She closes the album with “Someone Like You.” Similar to a letter you send an old lover who’s prospered years later, she wishes “nothing but the best” for his new life and wife. Words reassure her conscious but listeners know there’s a hint of “what if” in the song’s long goodbye.
A definite buy, 21 is an incredible album from the two-time Grammy winner. Hopefully it will earn her more.
The unlikely pairing of soulful producer 9th Wonder and Mississippian rapper David Banner produces a solidly powerful album in the 10-track Death of a Popstar. With homage to ‘90s boom bap hip hop, Banner channels his southern drawl to spit consciously strong lyrics to Wonder’s classic reworking of samples.
Standout tracks include the first single “Slow Down” and second single “Be With You,” featuring Ludacris and Marsha Ambrosius. Banner finds great chemistry with Anthony Hamilton on “Stuttering,” and even 9th joins in on the emceeing with a verse on the super cool “Silly,” featuring Erykah Badu.
Banner is at his best dissecting social issues. He targets violence against youth on “Something’s Wrong,” and closes the album with the open-ended questioning of “Strange.” The growth of Banner as a lyricist and artist is strong in Death of a Popstar, and Wonder strengthens the presentation with his signature hip hop sound.
When it was announced that Lupe Fiasco would be dropping his third album, Lasers, fans and hip hop heads alike were stoked. Lupe promised an unprecedented experience, teasing our minds with the “LASERS Manifesto,” a creed denouncing the monotony of mainstream group thought.
A few years or so passed and Lasers had yet to even release a single. Meanwhile, rumors of label red taping, an upstart protest outside of Atlantic Records, and a great non-single single (“I’m Beamin’”) all led up to a date: March 8th, 2011. An official single (“The Show Goes On”) was selected, and the fan anticipation began.
Then the album leaked one week premature. And all hell broke loose.
Immediate reactions were harsh, to say the least. The album possessed too much of a pop sound, and Lupe had traded artful lyricism for dumb downed, uninspiring verses. Detractors hailed it as his worst effort yet.
While all of the above very well may be true, the album itself is a well-produced collection of thought-provoking songs. One has to view it as a non-traditional hip hop record; an 808’s & Heartbreak if you will.
Lasers is uncharacteristically personal compared to his previous works (Food & Liquor, The Cool) as Fiasco trades social commentary for his own personal artistic struggles. “Letting Go” is the anthem of a martyr who worries if the battle he’s up against is worth the fight anymore. This self-evaluation continues on “Till I Get There,” as he admits faults under fame’s strains. “Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways)” delves into the inner pain and depression suffered during the making of this album, which Lupe has only recently revealed.
Lupe is at his best when constructing anthems for the people. “The Show Goes On” is a robust dose of positivity to motivate those looking for a way out, while “State Run Radio” targets the unsafe gatekeeping of messages that blind us on a daily basis.
The outright stand-outs are the most provocative songs on the album. Lupe gets politically incorrect on “Words I Never Said,” calling out Bush, Limbaugh and Obama in the first verse. The second is “All Black Everything,” which imagines a world where the 400 years of black oppression never existed. Malcolm X dies of old age and King delivers the eulogy. These two prove that remnants of the Lupe many are used to hearing is still present.
While the album is definitely a far cry from his previous releases, it is still worth a purchase. And it is paying off. “The Show Goes On” has already been certified gold and Lasers will enter the Billboard charts at the #1 spot.
Lasers is available in stores as well as digitally.
Since their inception in 1988, the Mississippi Mass Choir (MMC) has been a major force in the gospel music world, setting a standard for soul stirring choral music. Founded by the late Frank Williams, this Stellar Award winning and Grammy nominated choir has recorded several albums whose songs have been included in the standard repertoire of gospel choirs around the country. Their latest project, … Then Sings My Soul, offers the world another inspiring body of music from this exceptional choir.
This two disc set features an array of selections ranging from songs that were previously recorded by other groups and artists, to original pieces composed by long time veterans of the choir, such as David R. Curry Jr. The single “God Made Me” has been gaining popularity and aims to empower individuals to believe that they are “conquerors” who “won’t be stopped” because of a divine connection to an all-powerful creator. Similarly, “I Can Make It,” written by choir members Rev. Benjamin Cone Jr. and Benjamin Cone III, encourages the listeners to persevere through hardships. Alongside the simple, repeated lyrics, Rev. Cone offers the illustrations of determination through sharing personal and biblical stories.
Continuing with a trend that the MMC established early in their recording career, this album includes songs that could be considered part of the “canon” of African American church music. “I Love to Praise Him,” penned by influential gospel personality and former MMC member Rev. Milton Biggham and led by veteran choir member Mosie “Mama” Burks, truly invokes memories of Sunday morning worship service with congregational style call and response. ThenSings also includes “Lord, You’re the Landlord,” a traditional gospel song that declares that God is capable of fixing any problem.
In a change of pace, MMC has re-recorded “God Gets the Glory,” which they originally released in 1991. The choir is joined by the First Baptist Jackson Church Sanctuary Choir and Orchestra. Despite the additional voices and twenty year difference, this selection remains true to the original recording with emotional intensity and musical intricacy.
…Then Sings My Soul is indicative that the MMC is continuing its legacy of creating uplifting choral music. In an age when smaller ensembles seem to be preferable, the MMC are a testament that gospel choral music is still relevant and thriving.
Tammi Terrell is best known for her chart topping duets with Motown headliner, Marvin Gaye. With her tragic death from brain cancer at the age of 24, her career was regrettably short-lived and her body of solo work is limited to a few early recordings. Since much of her success was gained from recordings with Gaye, very little has been said about Terrell’s abilities as a solo artist, until now. Come On and See Me: The Complete SoloCollection fills that gap by compiling all of her pre-Motown recordings and her only solo album, along with rare, unreleased Motown tracks and live recordings.
There is one other Tammi Terrell solo compilation, The Essential Collection, released in 2001 by Spectrum Music. While The Essential Collection also includes her solo album, as well as other unreleased tracks and her popular duet with Marvin Gaye, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” there are only 18 tracks on a single disc. Come On and See Me goes far beyond this, presenting a total of 50 tracks on two discs.
Come On begins with Tammi Terrell’s very first recordings, released under the name Tammy Montgomery. After being signed to Scepter Records just shy of her fifteenth birthday, Tammy Montgomery recorded “If You See Bill,” followed by “It’s Mine.” The following twelve songs on Disc 1, which have appeared on several different recordings, reveal the beginnings of Tammi Terrell’s music career, including her work with James Brown and his Revue in the early 1960s.
The collection continues by showcasing the solo work she completed after signing with Motown Records, starting with her one and only LP, Irresistible. Released in 1969, the tracks were actually recorded between 1965-1968, just before complications from a brain tumor ended her career, eventually leading to her death in 1970. Directly following are two of her non-LP singles: “Baby Don’tcha Worry” and “There Are Things.”
While Terrell recorded other songs with Motown, there has never been an extensive representation of that work in one compilation Come On rectifies this with its inclusion of recordings that were released on other Motown collections, as well as recordings that were previously unreleased (Disc 1, tracks 10-14; Disc 2, tracks 16-23). Also, many of these tracks (Disc 2, 7-15) are now being released in stereo for the first time. The collection ends with a five-song set recorded live in 1966 for a “Motown Monday” performance at the Roostertail in Detroit— the only release of live recordings by Tammi Terrell.
Overall, Come On and See Me does exactly what its title implies. While it includes one unreleased duet with Jimmy Radcliffe, the focus is largely on Tammi Terrell’s solo work, giving listeners a taste of what she could have accomplished if her life had not been cut short just as she was beginning to garner success as a solo artist. The nicely packaged set also features extensive liner notes by Daphne Brooks, Professor of English & African American Studies at Princeton University, illustrated with many historic photographs.
Brandon O. Bailey’s debut album, Memphis Grooves, offers a pleasant surprise and demonstrates the artist’s significant talent for the blues. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, this young harmonica master creates every sound with his mouth, hands and feet. His astonishing skills—which involve simultaneously playing his harmonica while beat-boxing and producing rhythms with his stomping foot, shaker, and looping pedal—entertain the listener throughout the album.
Bailey first drew people’s attentions when he participated in the 2009 Orpheum Star Search competition in Memphis at the age of 16. He won the competition with his performance of “Whammer Jammer,” which is introduced as one of masterpieces on this album:
Although still a teenager, Bailey has already performed at places such as B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis and the Jefferson Awards in Washington D. C.
Bailey’s greatest influence is Son of Dave, the famous creator of the postmodern harp-boxing style, which employs blues riffs intertwined with beat-box rhythms. Producer Adam Gussow states in his liner notes, “Brandon is equal parts historian and innovator.” He reflects the traditional blues forms in the depth of his harmonica sounds, while at the same time adds new flavors. For example, “Nine Below” and “Bye Bye Bird” are blues classics from Sonny Boy Williamson’s repertoire which Bailey successfully transforms into a modern blues idiom.
The varieties of songs on Memphis Grooves make it difficult to categorize the entire album as blues. But it may be Bailey’s intention to reveal the continuity of African American musical elements by ignoring the boundaries imposed by a single genre. His attempts to incorporate signature pieces by African American musicians from different genres interestingly function as a means to create a unique flow. Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” with Bailey’s smooth and deep vocals lets us feel the rural atmosphere of a blues groove. His harp-boxing interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” makes this famous song original again. Likewise, Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road, Jack” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” are not merely covers of these famous songs, but showcase Bailey’s ability to reinterpret and transform them into his own style of blues.
Brandon O. Bailey is a great presenter of the modern blues harp, and Memphis Grooves is layered with his groundbreaking ideas. It is truly an evolution of the blues by a teen musical master whose future will no doubt be an exciting one full of interesting productions.
Smithsonian Folkways has honored the world of jazz once again, rigorously compiling one of the most comprehensive collections of music and literature on the purest American art form. The collection comes to us after seven years in the making. Compiled by jazz experts, the intent was to satisfy the demand of aficionados and interested listeners, but also “To serve as an empowering tool for educators and students, and provide a panoramic overview of jazz as well as a solid jumping off point for further explorations of this inspiring musical culture.” This wonderful new compilation is the designated successor to the original 1973 milestone, Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz.
The collection covers over a century of jazz music, from its roots in ragtime and New Orleans culture, to Miles’ and Coltrane’s inventive eras, to Medeski, Martin, & Wood’s experimental wondrous compositions. Disc space is allocated to all the greats and gives much deserved credit to some lesser known artists, such as Sun Ra, Shorty Rogers, Lucky Thompson, and Frankie Trumbauer. The 111 tracks (nearly eight hours of music) chronologically document ragtime, New Orleans, swing, bebop, hard bop, cool, modal, free, fusion, Latin and many more.
The 200 page book is full essays, track annotations, and historical photos. According to the press release, “The Scott Joplin notes include disquisition on ragtime form,” and the “five separate essays tracing the evolution of Miles Davis from bebop to fusion are a revelation in themselves.” The book and packaging are outstandingly put together. Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology is a necessity for any jazz lover out there, or for anyone with a simple interest in the art form who is looking for a nice place to start learning, listening, and tapping that foot!
Jazz trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire’s When the Heart Emerges Glistening demonstrates the 28-year-old’s musical maturity as a composer and performer in its careful balance of youthful energy and seasoned reflection. Akinmusire is joined by Walter Smith III on tenor saxophone, Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Justin Brown on drums.
The first track on the album, “Confession To My Unborn Daughter,” is representative of the range of styles that Akinmusire weaves into his compositions. The first forty seconds of the track belong to Akinmusire’s trumpet alone as he explores varied musical thoughts without any hint of self-consciousness. Gradually the fragments begin to take shape and the musical line builds momentum. The trumpet then pulls back to a more pensive tone and draws a few spacious chords from the piano before a cymbal crash dramatically pulls the group together and drives the music forward. A gripping melodic exchange between Akinmusire and Smith showcases the composer’s skill in crafting sensitive and beautiful melodies. Akinmusire does not lose himself in sentiment, however; as he and Smith trade solos, the melody morphs into a different creature entirely, one characterized by raw, frantic energy. The remainder of the track alternates between reflective duets and screaming solo lines as the quintet converses with and pushes against each other, finally fading out with rolled reminders of the first chords we heard from the piano at the beginning of the track. Jason Moran’s production work should also be recognized on this track. Listeners will want to spend some time with headphones on to follow Akinmusire and Smith as they chase each other from channel to channel and Akinmusire’s scales climb and fall from ear to ear.
The listener is again rewarded by Akinmusire’s skill as a melodist in the seventh track, “Regret (No More).” The mournful vocal quality of Akinmusire’s trumpet floats over Clayton’s gently rippling piano in hauntingly expressive lines. In the next brief track, “Ayneh (Cora)” we hear more of the breadth that Akinmusire brings to the album. The trumpeter trades his horn for a celeste this time, and again collaborates with Clayton on piano. Ten of the twelve tracks on this album are original compositions by Akinmusire (track two, “Jaya” is written by bassist Raghavan, and track eleven is the standard “What’s New” by Bob Haggart and Johnny Burke). As an album, they display the many dimensions of Akinmusire’s skill as a musician.
Akinmusire is not a player who isolates himself in the studio, however. In track nine, “My Name is Oscar,” he exercises his storytelling ability and affirms his connection to his native Oakland, California, in a musical response to the police shooting of a young African American, Oscar Grant, in the early hours of the new year in 2009. Although it was inspired by tragic violence, the piece does not show any sense of anger. Instead, Akinmusire’s spoken text fragments, most notably the repetition of the title phrase, assert the dead man’s humanity. Here again Akinmusire and producer Moran have made a striking recording decision; subtle distortion and added reverb give the trumpeter’s voice an unsettling quality, particularly toward the end of the track, while Justin Brown’s drums are the sole accompaniment.
Listeners will find in When the Heart Emerges Glistening a sound that is at once fresh and familiar, a music that is rooted in but not constrained by jazz tradition. Akinmusire and his collaborators display a remarkable depth of musicianship that affirms the continued vitality of jazz writing and playing.
Back in the early 1960s, before he was a dangerous Hollywood recluse and before he was a convicted murderer, Phil Spector was a super-ambitious up and coming music producer who was obsessive about a good tune and wanted his music backed by a “wall of sound”―thick layers of percussion and rhythm instruments awash in echo―with his singers soaring above in tightly constructed melodies and lyrical mini-dramas. He produced numerous iconic sides in the “girl-group” era, just before the British Invasion, and had further hits in the mid and late ‘60s, and then produced hit albums for former Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon, among other artists. Indeed, when the Ramones were honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in February, Markie Ramone cited the Phil Spector-produced End of the Century as their best-selling album and thanked Spector.
The music included on these four CD’s is a bridge, between R&B and pop, between black singers and white musicians, between New York songs and studios and Hollywood musicians and studios and between the late ‘50s Doo-Wop era and the early British Invasion. The Darlene Love disc is the most R&B oriented, expected given Love’s soulful voice and rhythmic sense. But Love sings on some of the biggest hits on the Crystals’ disc, which is the most pop-oriented, so she can be seen as a bridge within a bridge.
The liner notes give a bracing view of Spector, tales of his bullying and obsessions in and out of the studio, details about how he misled and misused the original Crystals, and the evolving “Wall of Sound” heard most clearly on the Ronettes disc and the compilation, shows how what was once sharp and big degenerated into a muddy haze. This whole scene was dynamic and volatile and it couldn’t last a long time. Everything was moving too quickly. But when you consider how many charted hits are on these four discs, it’s clear that Spector and his artists grabbed their prize, over and over again.
The most iconic “Wall of Sound” sides were cut at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, with the famous “Wrecking Crew” cadre of studio musicians molding the layers of Spector’s musical visions. But many of the songs by the real Crystals (as opposed to Darlene Love and the Wrecking Crew released under the Crystals name) were recorded at Mira Sound in New York City, site of other famous Girl-Group sessions for other labels and producers. There was plenty of magic in that studio, too.
Here’s the real-deal Crystals lip-syncing “Da Doo Ron Ron”:
There’s a lot of overlap between the compilation disc and the artist-specific discs. There is also overlap between the Darlene Love and Crystals discs, since Love and the Wrecking Crew acted as the “Crystals” for hits like “He’s A Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” So the non-completist might be happy with the compilation and an artist-specific disc. Fans of female rock and roll singing will do best with the Darlene Love and Ronettes discs, which have no overlap. The distinctive, never-miss voices in Spector’s arsenal were Darlene Love and Ronnie Bennett, later Ronnie Spector.
Darlene Love is a versatile singer who had fame before and after her days working with Phil Spector. She was just inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In the Spector universe, she was the Swiss Army Knife, leading “Crystals” sides, and Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans’ version of “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others Hearts”, and her own hits like “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Going To Marry” and “A Fine, Fine Boy.” Her sound turned more soulful as her career progressed. She returned to work with Spector at a combative session in 1974 that produced a single, “Lord, If You’re A Woman,” but also resulted in Love walking out of the studio after Spector bullied her, “trying to impress” (her words) John Lennon, Cher and some other celebrities in the control room with him.
Ronnie Spector has one of the unique voices in popular music. Her slow-mo vibrato and big tone make her stand out from the first lyric. The Ronettes were Ronnie, her older sister Estelle, and their cousin Nedra Talley, from Spanish Harlem. Lenny Kaye’s excellent liner notes describe the group this way: “There was no way you could miss them. Teased hair piled high, Cleopatra eyes, skirts hiked up to here, exotique half-breed features that seemed to fall beyond the boundaries of race.” Their music was just as much an American amalgamation, more toward rock and pop than Darlene Love’s R&B leaning, but very soulful and beat-propelled. In the studio with Spector, the Ronettes became the main road along which the “Wall of Sound” traveled. The early hits are tight and punchy, and the sound gets bigger and then muddier as the years pass. The later songs sound either dreamy and ethereal, or like they were sung from inside a deep well, depending on your tolerance for massive amounts of echo. Even in that soup, Ronnie’s voice cuts through.
Following is a 1965 clip of the Ronettes singing “Me and My Baby”:
Finally, the Wall of Sound anthology is a good way to taste all of this without going for the king-sized portion. Along with plenty of tunes from the Darlene Love, Ronettes and Crystals sets, the anthology contains other hits produced by Spector, the biggest of which is “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers. The set ends with a massive, muddy and proud “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner.
While reviewing all of these at once, I was struck by how familiar this music is, to anyone who has listened to rock and roll radio since the 1960s. Just when these tunes get consigned to “oldies” stations, one or another pops up on some playlist and all of a sudden the sound of big hair and little skirts is back in the speakers. The remastering is uniformly good for these CDs, and some of these songs now sound better than they did on their original 45 rpm singles. The music survives and thrives.
This month we’re featuring four newly remastered compilations from Sony Legacy that highlight Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, with a focus on the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Darlene Love. Also featured are two new jazz releases—the wonderfully packaged box set Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology from Folkways, and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s When the Heart Emerges Glistening from Blue Note—plus blues from the young Memphis harmonica phenom Brandon Bailey. Giving a nod to British soul, our reviewer’s weigh in on albums by Marsha Ambrosius and Adele, and from our side of the pond, projects from DC native Yahzarah and a compilation devoted to Tammi Terrell’s solo work. Wrapping up this issue are hip hop albums from David Banner, Lupe Fiasco, Black Sheep, Bugsy Da God, and Indianapolis natives Mic Sol & Ace One, plus gospel from the Mississippi Mass Choir and the 8th volume of the Gotta Have Gospel series.