Archive for May, 2011

Street Corner Harmony

Title: Street Corner Harmony

Director: Abraham Santiago

Format: DVD

Release Date: August 2010

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Based on the commentary and personal memories of a wide array of accomplished acappella musicians, Street Corner Harmony tells the story of doo-wop on the street corners of Philadelphia, Jersey City, and New York City in the 1950s and ‘60s. The film features modern-day footage of the cities so loved by the former street musicians, allowing viewers to explore the back alleys of the East Coast that became “concert halls” for these burgeoning adolescent musicians. The endearing men who tell their stories are still passionately involved in the performance of acappella music—and they’ve still got it! The music is great and the stories recall the nostalgia of teenagers in the 1950s and their drive to make an impact on their neighborhoods.

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The question of race was deliberately unimportant when these young men of all creeds and colors were seen on the same corner, enjoying a cathartic and rejuvenating afternoon of acappella performance. This color-blind fervor for acappella is what makes their story even more universally appealing and important, focusing on groups like The Persuasions, Five Jades, Chessmen, and many more.  Former members of The Concepts (an early ‘60s acappella group that recorded on the same label as the more prominent Persuasions) and the producer, director, and writer of the film, Abraham J. Santiago, beautifully bridge the gap between doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll in this valuable account of acappella street corner harmony.

Reviewed by Rachel Weidner

View review May 2nd, 2011

Gospel Unrap

Title: Gospel Unrap

Publisher: Godly Inspired Productions

Format:  2-disc DVD (135 min., 16.9 Widescreen)

Release date:  2010

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Gospel Unrap is a documentary that explores the gospel rap scene in the South Louisiana area. Directed and produced by Armondo F., this film features extensive interview footage of several local gospel rap artist including Big A, Love N Pain, Prizm, Lady of Virtue (L.O.V.), LA Will, and Doc Kno. Over the course of Gospel Unrap the audience is given an intimate portrait into the lives of these artists as they recount their experiences of merging a Christian message with rap music. Through their interviews these artists address the challenges that gospel rappers face, opposition and acceptance from the church community, and their musical inspirations.

Beyond the interviews, the film also includes live performance footage of each of these artists, and brief clips of locally shot music videos (also produced by Armondo F.) which showcase not only the music that these artists create, but also the communities in which they live and work. Gospel Unrap also features interview footage from individuals involved in other aspects of the industry including a local gospel music deejay as well as a religious newspaper columnist.

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The one major drawback of this production is the occasional narration. The narrator does provide some contextual and historical information about gospel rap and the artists; however, the narration is at times more of a distraction to the unfolding story due to the poor audio quality of these brief segments. Fortunately, the audio for the majority of the film is clear and does not suffer from the same issues.

Gospel rap has steadily grown in popularity since its emergence in the late 1980s. This film gives voice to one community of artists as they attempt to positively impact the world through their music.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review May 2nd, 2011

Goodness and Mercy


Title: Goodness and Mercy

Artists: Jennifer Holliday and Rev. Raphael G. Warnock

Label: Euphonic Records; distribution by New Day Christian Distribution (Nashville)

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 19, 2011

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Grammy Award winner and original Dream Girl Jennifer Holliday has teamed up with her pastor, Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, to “bring you ‘Good News’ by way of sermon and song.” With growing notoriety as an “activist-pastor,” Warnock is currently presiding at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, well-known as the “spiritual home” of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This new sacred music project features Warnock’s spoken word or sermonettes as a basis for songs and vocalizations written and performed by Holliday. For example, the title track “Goodness and Mercy” begins with spoken words by Warnock who states, “God is in charge.” His words are accompanied with underlying instrumental music which is soon joined by Holliday’s voice singing his words as he quotes Psalm 23. The album also features three interpretations of Warnock’s inspiring sermonette “Get Up!, Get Dressed!, Get Going!” which encourages the listener to be ready for any opportunity that may arise.

In a true effort to offer ‘Good News’ to the audience, the album includes scriptural references for each of the Warnock’s sermonettes. Holliday performs a moving rendition of the popular hymn “His Eye is On the Sparrow” that serves to introduce the only extended sermon featured on the project, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

Holliday discusses the concept of the project and performs “The Lord is My Shepherd” and other selections with Warnock on the following video:

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Overall, the album will hold more appeal for those interested in Warnock’s sermons, since the music plays more of a supporting role.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review May 2nd, 2011

Heroes in the Healing of the Nation

Title: Heroes in the Healing of the Nation

Artist: Zion I and The Grouch

Label: HBD Label Group

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: March 22, 2011

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Touting tight beats and politically conscious lyrics, Oakland hip-hop team Zion I and The Grouch hit fans with yet another heroic release, Heroes in the Healing of the Nation. Appropriately named following their critically successful 2006 album, Heroes in the City of Dope, the trio now takes righteous raps to a national level.  With backing beats and samples brought to us by Amp Live (one half of Zion I) and empowered lyrics from the hearts of Zumbi and The Grouch, the album is as sincere as it is underwhelming.

The intro, “Invitation” is solid; Brother Ali’s rousing oratory both intrigued and excited me to the point where I was actively looking forward to the next track and genuinely wanted to hear what these guys have to say. “Leader”, which directly follows, was not a disappointment. Though slightly too repetitive for my taste (“I’m a leader/I don’t want to be a follower” is straightforward enough—why keep saying it?), the lyrics are liberating and the chorus of children singing “I pledge allegiance to myself” is very effective. Guest artist Freeway really shines on “Victorious People” and Jacob Hemphill ‘s reggae-inspired vocals define the vibe on “It’s Going Down.”

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Nonetheless, the themes get old, the lyrics are clever but not particularly intelligent, and the album flirts with boring each time I give it another listen. Especially exciting to me was “I Used To Be a Vegan”, which promised to make fun of going green at a time when doing so is beginning to feel like selling out. However, the lyrics fell short of witty and no greater universal points are made. Beat-wise the album only blatantly dissatisfies on the tracks “Drop it on the 1” with its obnoxious air horns and on the musically out of place title track, “Healing of the Nation” with its poorly executed N.E.R.D. rip-off guitar riffs.

Despite the negative aspects of the album though, this team of West coasters won my heart. “Like A G” is a great closer, bringing the album full circle with the Spanish lyrics of Panama rapper Los Rakas and an upbeat piano loop. Overall, Zion I and The Grouch’s earnestness evades criticism and their hard work is really paying off as they tour the United States, including parts of Hawaii. They are worth looking into and this will certainly not be the last we hear from them.

Reviewed by Rachel Weidner

View review May 2nd, 2011

The Family Sign

Title:  The Family Sign

Artist:  Atmosphere

Label:  Rhymesayers Entertainment

Catalog No.: B004NTVM1A

Format: LP. CD, MP3

Release date:  April 2011

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The Family Sign is the sixth full length studio album from Minneapolis based hip hop group, Atmosphere. The official follow-up to 2008’s critically acclaimed When Life Give You Lemons, The Family Sign is the first album that features guitarist Nate Collins and keyboardist Erik Anderson as official members alongside MC Slug and producer Ant.

The Family Sign is a concept album that details the complex nature of familial relationships. Over the course of fourteen songs, Slug touches on the subjects of love, loss, fatherhood, and abuse in his usual sentimental, but engaging tone. Ant and the instrumentalists stray little from the sharp, minimalist sound established on When Life Gives You Lemons. Highlights include the amusing lead single “She’s Enough,” the poignant “Your Name Here,” the chillingly beautiful “Last to Say,” and the too-brief “My Notes.”

Following is the official video for “She’s Enough” (courtesy of Rhymesayers Entertainment):

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On The Family Sign, Slug is in rare form (save for his attempts at harmonizing). His accompaniment, however, is a tad underwhelming. While Lemons was grounded in minimalism, production on The Family Sign feels too sparse. It lacks energy and virtuosity making the overall album sound monotonous.

Overall, Atmosphere’s The Family Sign is a thought provoking and emotional album that delves into the depths of human relations. While far from the best in their catalogue, it is another sign of the groups’ growth. At this point in Atmosphere’s career, most hip hop groups are reaching over-the-hill status. The Family Sign proves that Atmosphere indeed has a future and it’s pretty bright.

Reviewed by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review May 2nd, 2011

The Mission Field


Title: The Mission Field

Artist: Blessid Union of Souls

Label: Red General

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: March 1, 2011

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Blessid Union of Souls is an American rock band from Cincinnati founded by two good friends, Jeff Pence (guitarist) and Eliot Sloan (vocalist), with the help of their producer Emosia.  Since the early 1990s, these Midwesterners have been merging pop, rock and soul into their own special blend of “rural soul” (a term coined by Sloan). Their immeasurable efforts have resulted in six albums and numerous awards, including the chart topping single “I Believe,” a trio of top ten hits, gold records, and the double platinum soundtrack for Pokémon: The First Movie.

Their most recent release, The Mission Field, is notable for its deliberate shift into Contemporary Christian territory.  Elliot Sloan, who took over the band fully in 2006 when Pence headed off for a different project, describes the concept: “This whole new album came to me as an awakening. I had always sung about wanting to live right, and here we are all set with these uplifting songs.” The transition from rock to acoustic Christian pop music is subtle, especially since the band’s previous efforts already possessed a spiritual tone.

Following is the new video for their single, “The Only Song”:

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Sloan interlaces his African American influences into these carefully written and co-authored songs. As lead vocalist, his commanding soulful delivery, remarkable projection and charismatic sound is quite recognizable and unforgettable.  The piano, drum and guitar work, interspersed with the socially conscious lyrics of each song, provides a very rich sound and quality listening experience. Mission Field, the group’s seventh album, has proven its uniqueness. The entire album will help you feel the depth of God’s love, most especially in the songs “ Come Undone” (track 9) and  “Pray for you” (track 10), while still rocking the house.

Reviewed by Nana Amoah

View review May 2nd, 2011

Treme

Title: Treme: Music From the HBO Original Series, Season 1

Artists: Various

Label: Geffen Records

Catalog No.: B001-4910-02

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: October 26, 2010

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Music is central to HBO’s New Orleans-based series Treme, now in its second season.  The series is named for the NOLA neighborhood where some histories say jazz music was born, and several characters in the drama are musicians by trade or avocation.  So it’s natural to release a soundtrack album after the show’s first season won critical praise and garnered enough viewers to gain renewal for a second year.

Soundtracks are typical of TV series today, and music-centric shows are common on the old networks and cable stations.  But the producers of Treme went above and beyond, and created a document that can stand with the classic “sounds of New Orleans” collections of yore.  Their recordings document a new, post-Katrina New Orleans, battered but proud, slowly mending.

Using the big-budget sound equipment at their disposal, the Treme crew recorded many local musicians in their element, and sprinkled in guest appearances by NOLA stars like Dr. John (Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, Jr), Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews).  There are also older recordings by Louis Prima, Lil Queenie & The Percolators, and the series’ title song, “The Treme Song,” by John Boutte, which dates from 1999.

The new on-location recordings really stand out.  “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” as performed by the Rebirth Brass Band was recorded in March 2009 on the streets of NOLA’s Ninth Ward.  Trombone Shorty and his brother James Andrews performed a version of “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” on March 4, 2010 at Louis Armstrong International Airport; their grandfather, Jessie Hill, wrote the song.  The New Orleans Jazz Vipers were captured live at the Spotted Cat club performing “I Hope You’re Coming Back to New Orleans.” All of these recordings were used in parts of the series, but here they are presented completely as recorded and with some professional mastering spicing up the already excellent sound quality.

Following is the official HBO trailer “Treme Musical Performances” (most but not all appear on the CD):

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As a document of New Orleans music, this album stands with the great Atlantic recordings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and with the Smithsonian Folkways anthology reviewed previously in Black Grooves.  Like the Smithsonian anthology, this is a snapshot of New Orleans, taken through the lens of the TV series producers, and focusing on the music and city recovering and coping with the loss inflicted by Katrina. But, by adding the older material, the album is also showing the seamless continuation of the NOLA musical traditions. The level of musicianship, especially in the street and club location recordings, is spot-on, with the very rare bum note just adding to the spontaneity.  The recording quality is also top notch, kudos to producer Blake Leyh, and mastering engineer Greg Calbi.

I recommend the CD version because the booklet is well written and includes short biographies of all the musicians, plus recording details.  There’s also an essay by NOLA-based music journalist Larry Blumenfeld, “Treme and the Abstract Truth,” good reading while enjoying the music.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review May 2nd, 2011

With Humility

Title:  With Humility

Artist: Twinkie Clark

Label:  Larry Clark Gospel LLC

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: March 29, 2011

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After several years hiatus, gospel legend Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark of the pioneering Clark Sisters has returned with the release of a new solo project. Produced in conjunction with her nephew, Larry Clark, With Humility offers new musical material while also paying homage to individuals who have been influential to the gospel music community.

Twinkie and Larry Clark have taken many of the familiar sounds of gospel and contemporary Christian music and given them new energy. For example, the selection “Awesome God” reinterprets Rich Mullen’s popular worship song through the addition of newly written verses and the rearrangement of harmonies in the background vocals.

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Clark also performs a moving solo rendition of Thomas Dorsey’s most famous composition “Precious Lord.” In a more contemporary piece,  “Did Not Have to Do It,” she performs alongside gospel rap artist RIME to an up-tempo groove.

Several elements make this a special and personal album for Clark. One of the best features of With Humility is the inclusion of Clark’s virtuosic organ playing on the track “Shout [A Touch of B-3].”  Clark also performs the jazz-influenced song “The Righteous” with her nephews The Clark Brothers, whose harmonization is reminiscent of male singing groups such as Men of Standard.  Lastly, Clark honors her late parents, Elbert and Mattie Moss Clark. Through singing songs for which each of them was known, she revives the memory of these two highly influential and respected individuals in gospel music and the Church of God in Christ.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review May 2nd, 2011

Authenticity


Title:  Authenticity

Artist:  The Foreign Exchange

Label:  The Foreign Exchange Music

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  October 12, 2010

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Editor’s note: The Foreign Exchange Authenticity tour kicks off this month, and includes a performance in Indianapolis on May 6.  Check out the full tour schedule.

On their new album, Authenticity, The Foreign Exchange offer more of their unique blend of R & B and hip hop. Consisting of singer/rapper Phonte and producer, Nicolay, The Foreign Exchange first hit the scene with their heavily lauded 2004 album Connected. Their follow up, Leave It All Behind (2008), achieved even more acclaim, earning them a Grammy nomination in 2009. Similar to their prior releases, Authenticity features several guests from within their musical camp, including Darien Brockington,Yahzarah, and Zo!.

Authenticity is an extension of the musical standard established on Leave It All Behind. While Nicolay sets a funky, but ethereal backdrop, Phonte soulfully muses over the fluidity of love. Highlights include the vacillating opener, “The Last Fall,” the smooth single “Maybe She’ll Dream of Me,” and the beautiful closer “This City Ain’t the Same Without You.” Although the subject matter is limited, Phonte and Nicolay’s superior artistry ensure that the music never gets repetitive or boring.

Following is the official music video for “Maybe She’ll Dream of Me.”

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Authenticity is 38 minutes of raw soul-hop at its finest. Nicolay and Phonte’s music is both mentally and physically stimulating, creating a dynamic musical experience. With Authenticity, the Foreign Exchange has solidified their place at the top of contemporary rhythm and blues by digging deep into the unexplored depths of the genre.

Reviewed by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review May 2nd, 2011

Robert Pritchard, Pianist

Title: Robert Pritchard, Pianist

Artist:  Robert Starling Pritchard

Label:  Smithsonian Folkways Special Series

Formats:  CD, MP3

Catalog No.:  SFS60002

Release date: March 29, 2011

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Smithsonian Folkways has recently remastered and reissued this little gem of an album, originally released as an LP by Spoken Arts, Inc. in 1962.  The performer, Robert Pritchard, was one of the first successful African American concert pianists in the United States. He also toured in the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa, including a stint as artist-in-residence for the Liberian government.  His extensive training with pianists at Julliard, Mannes, and Manhattan schools of music is evident: his rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in C minor is swift, precise, and engaging, and his performance of Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses and three of Chopin’s etudes are technically strong, lyrical, and compelling.

Pritchard’s gifts as a pianist, however, are matched by his drive to foster cross-cultural musical exchange and understanding.  Aside from his work in Liberia, Pritchard helped found the PanAmerican PanAfrican Association whose goal, according to their website, is to “promote, encourage and foster better understanding and good will among and between peoples of the United States, the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Middle East through the interchange of ideas and persons.”  Pritchard fostered just this sort of interchange, advocating for musical works from Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly by Pan-American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, whose “Le Banjo” from his Fantasie Grotesque is included on this album.  Pritchard’s interpretation of “Le Banjo” is bright and technically solid, though it lacks some of the whimsy and humor that the piece seems to demand.  Finally, Pritchard’s recording of his own composition, “’Ti Jacques’ Suite sur Melodie Folklorique d’Haiti” provides listeners the opportunity to hear a composer play his own work, influenced by the music he experienced during his travels in the Caribbean.

While the underlying performances are excellent, even this newly remastered version presents some auditory problems for the discriminating listener.  While background hiss has been greatly minimized and there are no jarring audio problems, some of the subtlety of Pritchard’s touch, phrasing, and coloring seem to have been lost, likely due to problems with the original recording.  Aside from this minor problem, this disc is highly recommended, both as a musical experience and a cultural document of a great African American artist.

Reviewed by David Lewis

View review May 2nd, 2011

Nine Types of Light

Title:  Nine Types of Light

Artist:  TV on the Radio

Label:  Interscope Records

Catalog No.: B0015457

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  April 12, 2011

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Nine Types of Light is the fifth album from Brooklyn based art rock band TV On the Radio. Coming off the heals of their critically acclaimed Dear Science, Nine Types of Light seeks to expand the group’s audience while maintaining the level of artistry that catapulted them to stardom. Like their prior releases, Nine Types of Light was produced by band member David Andrew Sitek. It is also the last TV On the Radio album to feature bassist Gerard Smith, who died shortly after its release.

Nine Types of Light has a more mature vibe than its predecessor, with love and intimacy being its central themes. The production is mellow, but engaging and at certain times mesmerizing.  A good example of this is the first single, “Will Do.”

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Tracks like “You,” the opener “Second Song,” and “Keep Your Heart” follow a similar sonic pattern. The tempo gets turned down on the beautifully smooth “Killer Crane” and the ode to lost love, “Forgotten.” Night Types of Light isn’t all melodrama, however. “No Future Shock” is a Prince inspired apocalyptal jam. The band brings out the grimy funk on “New Cannonball Blues.” The album’s closer, “Caffeinated Consciousness” is a throwback, blues-rock banger.

On Nine Types of Light, TV On the Radio is able to wrap a diversity of styles in a cohesive package. While not quite reaching the creative heights of Dear Science, the album accomplishes the ever-difficult task of meshing artistry with accessibility. Its variety, which can be defined as genius, allows Nine Types of Light to be enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences.

Reviewed by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review May 2nd, 2011

Party Store

Title:  Party Store

Artist: The Dirtbombs

Label: In the Red

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 1, 2011

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Mick Collins’ Detroit garage-rock band, The Dirtbombs, has taken the bold step of doing a second album of all cover songs.  Party Store is the band’s fifth album, and might be interpreted as a sequel to Ultraglide In Black, their innovative and energetic cover album of classic soul and funk tunes released in 2001. This time around, Party Store takes an even more unexpected turn, with the Dirtbombs covering classic Detroit techno songs.

Seeing as how the techno music genre emerged from Detroit in the mid-1980s, it’s not too surprising that the native Dirtbombs would be techno aficionados. Their knowledge of the music’s roots is obvious in the album’s song selection. The nine tracks cover the essentials of Detroit techno, including songs by the African American pioneers of the genre―Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Carl Craig, and Kevin Saunders, among others.

The band does a good job of translating the drum machines and a lot of the synthesizer sounds synonymous with techno to their usual drum-set, bass and guitar line-up. Stand out tracks include their interpretation of Cybotron’s 1982 hit “Cosmic Cars” and A Number Of Name’s “Sharevari.”

Following is Scion Audio Visual’s animated video for the Dirtbomb’s cover of “Sharevari”:

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The Dirtbombs manage to keep their unique grimy garage-rock sound, both in recording technique and performance quality, while respectfully paying homage to their unlikely heroes. Nevertheless, in my opinion Party Store still doesn’t manage to outshine the energy and creativity of their last cover album, Ultraglide In Black, nor for that matter, any of their previous albums. On the plus side, this release does manage to carry the double function of sounding like both an authentic Dirtbombs album and an unusual introduction to the ancestry of techno music for uninitiated listeners.

I commend the Dirtbombs for this bold effort.  One can only wonder, if they continue on this maverick conceptual cover album trajectory, what’s in store for future releases.

Reviewed by Sebastian Ramirez

View review May 2nd, 2011

Bo Diddley’s Beach Party

Title: Bo Diddley’s Beach Party

Artist: Bo Diddley

Label: Hip-O Select

Catalog No.: B0015214-02 (originally issued as Checker LP-2988)

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: March 8, 2011

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On July 5th and 6th, 1963, “an audience of more than two thousand Bo Diddley admirers” assembled at the Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, SC, and Chess Records was there with microphones and tape recorder.  The results are documented in this brief but explosive CD.  In short, Bo and his band tore up the place.  The primitive (and somewhat distorted) recordings capture a hyperactive energy and enthusiasm that Bo Diddley’s superb studio hits couldn’t fit into the grooves.

The Hip-O Select reissue includes original album artwork, original song sequence and original liner notes, plus a new essay by Chris Morris.  According to Morris, a recorded-live R&B LP was a rarity in 1963, but Chess Records had taken note of the success in 1962 of James Brown’s The Apollo Theatre Presents – In Person! The James Brown Show and “Little” Stevie Wonder’s The 12 Year Old Genius, recorded live at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. So Chess’s Max Cooperstein and Marshall Chess decided to bottle up a Bo Diddley performance on a 12” platter.

The July gigs, in front of white audiences in segregation-era South Carolina, were reportedly not without controversy.  Nadine Cohodas, in her book about Chess, Spinning Blues Into Gold, wrote that one of the shows was cut short after Diddley sideman Jerome Green waded into the crowd shaking his maracas, and a group of white girls started dancing around him. But enough showtime occurred for the Chess gang to pull out of Myrtle Beach with a live album in the can.

And it’s quite a live album at that!  Bo Diddley covers his hits “Hey Bo-Diddley,” “Gunslinger,” “I’m All Right,” “Crackin’ Up” (called “What’s Buggin’ You” on this album) and “Road Runner.” He also covers Chuck Berry’s “Memphis,” does a guitar-pyrotechnic sendup of “Up On Old Smokey” and his adaption of “Mr. Custer,” a 1961 hit for Larry Verne.

The following clip of “Road Runner” from a 1965 TV show hints at the excitement of his live performances from this era:

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One can envision a lot of sweaty dancing and gyrating and a roof-raising noise level, all the makings of a superb early ‘60s beach party. It’s good to have this album back in print. The 2007 CD reissue The Definitive Collection contains all the major hits and a few other studio recordings. The pair of CD’s should provide ample evidence of why Bo Diddley was so influential on so many rock and blues artists.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review May 2nd, 2011

Tha Funk Capital of the World

Title: Tha Funk Capital of the World

Artist: Bootsy Collins

Label: Mascot Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: April 26, 2011

 

 

There is no doubt that Bootsy Collins’ soul pedigree is solid.  From James Brown to George Clinton to his various solo and guest-star turns, Collins has been laying down ground-breaking bass lines and creating infectious dance grooves for over 40 years.  He’s also a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer.

So at this stage of his career, Collins could sit back and have fun and mail in a new album. Not the case here!  Collins and his impressive array of guests sweat it out and deliver 16 tracks of hard-funk energy.  Even when he’s got rappers doing the vocals, Collins keeps the music more toward ‘70’s P-Funk than post-millennium hip hop.  He also manages to throw some social messages in without turning preachy.

Following is the official “funk is not a bad word!” promo video:

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Bootsy gathered quite a guest list for this funk party.  Songs are sung, spoken or rapped by hip-hoppers Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Chuck D, Rev. Al Sharpton, Princeton professor Cornel West, actor Samuel L. Jackson, and a recorded interview with the long-dead Jimi Hendrix.  Musician guests include Sheila E., Bela Fleck, George Clinton and Bobby Womack. For all that guest-stardom, the album holds together and flows well—it’s a cohesive unit.  Bootsy’s basslines, occasional vocals and party-master sensibilities serve as the glue. Also there constantly is Bernie Worrell on keyboards.

One of the strongest cuts on the album is a surprising and heartfelt tribute to James Brown by Rev. Al Sharpton, “JB – Still the Man.” Then there’s the social-justice talk from Cornel West and Samuel L. Jackson.  It’s hard to argue with their messages—stay out of trouble, get an education and don’t glorify ignorance—and their delivery is much less preachy than this sentence reads.

Behind the guests, Bootsy and his fellow musicians keep a hard funk groove tinged with psychedelic elements and modern loops and beats. His bass playing runs the gamut from percussive and clean to heavy distorted double-toned grind. There are also heavy metal flavors added here and there, and Dan Monti, who has worked with recent vintages of Guns N Roses and Metallica, did part of the engineering.

The album has a bittersweet soul, as Bootsy mourns his late P-Funk All-Stars band-mate, the guitarist Garry Shider.  Also appearing on this album is Bootsy’s late brother, Catfish Collins. Bootsy discusses the album, JB, Catfish and more, in this recent interview from WNYC’s Soundcheck Studio:

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If you like ‘70’s era James Brown and any era P-Funk, you’ll find something to like on this album.  Bootsy and his friends provide a solid 16 cuts, with lots of danceable fun and some sharp messages to boot.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review May 2nd, 2011

Ray Charles Live in Concert

Title: Live in Concert

Artist: Ray  Charles

Label:  Concord

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: April 5, 2011

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Concord’s new Ray Charles: Live in Concert is a magnficent CD, a jumping disc with all the songs from the original chartbusting 1964 LP, plus, thanks to digital technology, five well-chosen bonus tracks. For funky blues and jazzy jazz, for a singer in glorious voice and a big band in its prime, and for belly laughs and broken hearts, you just can’t beat this album.

In the fall of 1964, Ray Charles reigned as a pop music superstar. He’d scored with enormous hits three of the past four years: “Georgia on My Mind” in ’60, “Hit the Road, Jack” in ’61, and biggest of all, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” in ’62. The money was pouring in. He bought land in LA to build his own offices and studio, and he bought his own plane to fly himself and his eighteen-piece band to increasingly classy gigs.

Like his gig Sunday September 20 at the Shrine, a 6000-seat barn of a place in LA that also hosted circuses, basketball games, and the Academy Awards. Someone in Ray’s organization—the liner notes say it was manager Joe Adams, but I suspect Ray himself–decided to record the show; maybe he could get an album out of it as popular as ‘59’s Ray Charles in Person. Sid Feller, then Ray’s producer at ABC-Paramount, flew out from New York, and Adams booked LA’s premier recording engineer, Wally Heider, to set up the mikes and get it all on tape. Ray Charles: Live in Concert is the dynamic result.

After fanfare opening, the band jumps into a Basie-esque “Swing a Little Taste,” Ray taking six wild piano choruses for himself, then they slip into a mellow “One Mint Julep” that gets the crowd singing along. Next up, Ray’s breakthrough ’55 hit, “I Got A Woman,” which he introduces with a flip few bars of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.”

That night Ray called “Georgia” off at what the band called, “Ray’s death tempo,” a beat so slow and laid back that, as baritone saxist Leroy Cooper told me, “There was no way to count to keep your place. If you counted, you’d always end up ahead of him, which he hated! To catch Ray’s feeling you had to watch him, not take your eys off him, his left foot, his shoulders, his hands.” Somehow the band’s restraint builds an agonizing tension that builds to a climax, then bursts.

From there the hits just keep rolling: “You Don’t Know Me,” “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “Busted.” Listening, I thought again and again: what other pop musician ever sang, played piano, and led his own big band, knowing the arangements down to the last sixteenth note? Nobody else but Ray comes to  mind. Great as they were, Frank Sinatra never played an instrument, and Duke Ellington and Count Basie never sang. Ray was and remains unique in the totality of his musicianship.

The audience, predictably, goes nuts at the “What’d I Say” finale, followed by a raucous “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Earlier in the show Ray had, more subtly, held the crowd in the palm of his hand with his voice, piano, and hushed rhythm section on a six-minute version of “Makin Whoopee” that he added to his act as a droll comment on a current paternity suit:

I don’t make much money,
About five thousand per
And some judge who thinks he’s funny
Says I gotta give six to her!

As much as any live album I know, Ray Charles: Live in Concert takes you there. Heider’s superb recording gets Ray and the band’s every note, and it gets the running commentary from the audience, the cheers, shouts, and laughter that keep the musical excitement building. I’m one of the lucky ones who saw Ray Charles live many times over many years, and I feel I can remember each and every one. If you haven’t been so lucky, get Ray Charles: Live in Concert and you’ll taste a big gob of what you’re missing.

Reviewed by Michael Lydon

Editor’s Note: Michael Lydon is the author of the biography Ray Charles: Man and Music; his collection of interviews is housed at the Archives of African American Music and Culture, home of Black Grooves.

View review May 2nd, 2011

Welcome to the May 2011 issue

This month we’re featuring three newly remastered releases:  Concord’s reissue of the 1964 chartbusting LP Ray Charles Live in Concert; Hip-O Select’s reissue of the 1963 Chess classic Bo Diddley’s Beach Party, recorded live at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Smithsonian Folkways’ reissue of a 1962 recording by Robert Pritchard, one of the first successful African American concert pianists. New rock and funk releases include Nine Types of Light from TV on the Radio, The Mission Field from  Cincinnati’s Blessid Union of Souls, Tha Funk Capitol Of The World from Bootsy Collins, and Party Store from The Dirtbombs, which is an homage to the African American pioneers of Detroit techno.  Two independent DVD documentaries are reviewed: Street Corner Harmony about doo-wop on the street corners of Philadelphia, Jersey City, and New York City in the 1950s and ‘60s; and Gospel Unrap about the gospel rap scene in southern Louisiana.  Wrapping up this issue are gospel releases from Twinkie Clark and original Dream Girl Jennifer Holliday, and hip hop projects from The Foreign Exchange, Atmosphere, and Zion I & Grouch.

View review May 2nd, 2011

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