Archive for October, 2011

Goblin

Title: Goblin

Artist: Tyler, the Creator

Label: XL

Catalog Number: XLCD529

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 10, 2011

 

The Los Angeles hip hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (a.k.a. Odd Future) speaks to contemporary disenchanted, disengaged youth in the same way N.W.A. did twenty years ago. Controversial lyrics speak to both Black youth who directly relate to the anger and experience of the collective’s members, as well as White youth who sense the danger and relate (or at least want to relate) to the outsider status espoused in the lyrics. OFWGKTA’s breakout member Tyler, the Creator’s first non-self-released album, Goblin, is a shining example of the crossover appeal that exists around aggressive, violent hip hop and how the internet has allowed that crossover to grow exponentially faster and with less of an industry vetting process.

Following is the official video for the single “Yonkers”:

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OFWGKTA rapidly gained popularity over the last few years by posting their mix tapes on hip hop message boards, where they were picked up by the internet hype machine. By the time Goblin was released in May of 2011, Tyler was already “internet famous.” OFWGKTA concerts have been selling out in major cities within hours, and websites from Pitchforkmedia.com to personal Tumblr pages have devoted multiple entries to OFWGKTA’s fresh, rough-hewn sound.

Goblin is unique in the realm of controversial yet popular hip hop, however, because it bleeds admitted vulnerability from every track. Tyler is not a gangster, he is a nineteen-year-old who talks a big game and then gets upset when people take him at his word. He uses an imagined conversation with his therapist, Dr. TC, as a framing device throughout the album (as he did on previous self-releases), beginning on the eponymous first track which opens with a deep, distorted male voice saying:

You wouldn’t do that Tyler, kill yourself or anyone, you don’t even have the balls to begin with. What you need is me, someone to talk to. Now, it’s been a while since our last session, so tell me what’s been going on.

Tyler then responds, with his first words on Goblin:

I’m not a fucking role model.

While some have accused Tyler and the other members of OFWGKTA of being whiney, or have rightfully called them out on their use of homophobic language and graphic descriptions of violence against women, this music is important and challenging because of its rough and sometimes disturbing content. Listening to Goblin is like reading the notes an angry high-school student writes in the back of the class while ignoring the lecture and re-imagining himself as an Alan Moore style outsider superhero. There is a reoccurring theme throughout Goblin of Tyler’s dismay that people listen to his lyrics and take offense, not because he doesn’t know he says offensive things, but because he is surprised that people are actually listening (even though he obviously wants them to). This petulant “have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too” attitude is summed up in the track “Radicals”:

Random Disclaimer
Hey don’t do anything that I say in this song, O.K?
It’s fucking fiction.
If anything happens, don’t fucking blame me, White America.

How much you like this album will probably depend on how much you remember about being a rebellious teen who both hated authority figures and wanted all of their attention in paradoxically equal amounts. Many listeners may be past that stage in their life, or perhaps never experienced rebellion, but Goblin exists as a fixed tribute to teenage confusion. As Tyler, the Creator grows older he may come to be as embarrassed by this album as others are embarrassed by their teenage experiments with hair-dye or piercings, but Goblin marks an important turning point in popular culture’s exposure to unfiltered teenage angst. With the rise of the internet, youth talk directly to youth, allowing new musical bonds of disenchantment to form internationally and without the guiding hand of music industry adulthood.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review October 3rd, 2011

Le Freak


Title:  Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny

Author:  Nile Rodgers

Publisher:  Spiegel & Grau

Formats:  Hardcover, eBook

Release date:  October 18, 2011

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The autobiography of famed musician/songwriter/producer Nile Rodgers’ is not only compelling, but skillfully written. I guess that should not come as a surprise.  Rodgers has been interviewed countless times and is a consummate and engaging story teller—no doubt this facilitated the flow of stories from his pen.  His determination and perseverance, his upbeat outlook on life, and his genius shine through on every page.

Born to a young teenage mother, Rodgers spent his formative years bouncing back and forth between New York and Los Angeles.  One of his biggest influences was his Jewish stepfather, Bobby Glanzrock, who Rodgers describes as “a black man in a white man’s body . . . a beatnik Ph.D.” who idolized black avant-garde jazz musicians and whose “observations had angles and perspectives that would make Miles Davis contemplate his own sense of cool.” Unfortunately Bobby was also an addict, and eventually his mother Beverly succumbed to the same fate, hence Niles extremely unstable upbringing where “nodding junkies” were the norm.  But the family also bonded through a love of literature, art and music which provided the intellectual stimulation on which young Nile thrived.

Throughout the book, drugs supply the steady backbeat to the story.  As a teenager in L.A., Rodgers develops a habit of sniffing glue, drops acid with Timothy Leary, and later, when money is flowing freely, blows through several mountains of cocaine.  There are the usual tales of rock star exploits and excesses, such as the period when Rodgers holds court every night from a stall in the women’s restroom at Studio 54, but these are told with a great deal of reflection and humor, not braggadocio.

The real interest, of course, lies in the music. By 1970, at the age of eighteen, Rodgers is back in New York playing in a jazz-blues-rock fusion band call New World Rising, while also studying jazz guitar with Ted Dunbar and Billy Taylor, and classical guitar with Julio Prol.  He played gigs around Greenwich Village (including a jam session with Jimi Hendrix), learned how to play R&B during a stint in the house band at the Apollo Theater, and later perfected his funky “chunking” style of guitar playing on the Chitlin’ Circuit. It was during one of these Chitlin’ gigs that he met bassist Bernard Edwards, his long-time collaborator.

Nile and Bernard soon found themselves in the middle of an exploding New York club scene, where “sex, drugs and disco” became the new battle cry. A brief stint in London and exposure to Bryan Ferry’s group Roxy Music led Rodgers to develop a new concept for a band he describes as “sophistofunk rock.”   After being rebuffed by several label execs who were not ready to accept a black funk-rock band, Rodgers and Edwards reworked the master plan, resulting in Chic, whose sound was “jazz-inflected groovy soul” with Euro-influenced melodies and lyrics. Their first song “Everybody Dance,” constructed of a series of different instrumental sections highlighted with “breakdowns,” became an overnight sensation, quickly followed by another megahit “Dance, Dance, Dance.”

‘Nard and Nile went on to become disco’s version of Lennon and McCartney, and in the ensuing chapters Rodgers lays out the songwriting formula that led to their success, beginning with the DHM or “Deep Hidden Meaning” of each song. Their careers skyrocketed, only to come crashing down overnight following the Disco Sucks campaign that culminated in Chicago on July 12, 1979, with Disco Demolition Night led by white deejay Steve Dahl. Shortly thereafter the Sugarhill Gang exploded onto the scene with “Rapper’s Delight,” based on a sample of Chic’s “Good Times,” which proved that disco was alive and well, albeit within an entirely new urban Black art form.

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The latter half of the book, or “Second Wind,” is an account of Rodgers producing credits, ranging from Sister Sledge’s “We are Family” to Diana Ross’ comeback album Diana to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” to David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, which allowed Rodgers to “play by different rules that applied only to white rockers”—that is, he was freed from the confining boundaries of R&B that applied to most black musicians within the record industry.  And, of course, a good many pages are devoted to one of his most famous liaisons, as Madonna’s producer for Like a Virgin, the biggest record of his career.

Now 59, Nile Rodgers is still very active as a producer and musician. He is currently working on a musical Double Time, performs with a new Chic line-up, and blogs about his current struggle with cancer.  But if there is one thing to be learned from this book, it’s that Nile knows how to overcome obstacles. He vows to “keep on pushing In the Short Term,” and we’ll be right there with him, hoping for many more “Good Times” and great music.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 3rd, 2011

Live Forever

Title: Live Forever: September 23, 1980 : Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Artist: Bob Marley and the Wailers

Label:  Tuff Gong

Formats: 2-CD or 3-CD set or 2 CD + 3LP super deluxe ed.

Release date: February 21, 2011

 

This recording of the last concert Bob Marley before his untimely death in May of 1981 features one of the larger editions of the Wailers band, with seven instrumentalists plus the I-Threes (Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Rita Marley), all in fine form, in a very tight performance captured, for the most part, in an excellent sounding mix. The concert followed the diagnosis that Marley’s cancerous toe was not responding to treatment. He had collapsed during a jog in New York City a few days before, and directly after the show Marley departed for more cancer treatment which unfortunately proved to be unsuccessful.

The performance shows no sign of flagging energy, effort, or commitment on the part of Marley as he exuberantly performs familiar anthems from throughout his career. The band is tight as can be, an aggregation of the best reggae musicians of the time playing familiar material with spirited dedication. The sound reproduction is excellent, but unfortunately the soundboard tape from which this recording originates ran out before the end of the encore, so “Work” and the long form (6:38) version of “Get Up Stand Up” are derived from a secondary source and therefore presented in noticeably reduced sound quality.

The third disc in the deluxe 3-CD edition of the set does not contain any live recordings, but does carry five somewhat rare studio recordings plus an enhanced video interview with the Marley family that must be accessed via computer, either PC or Mac. The version of “Punky Reggae Party” on disc 3 is the version that was originally released as a 12-inch vinyl single and appears to be the Tuff Gong/Island mix rather than the Black Art label mix that was released in Jamaica. It features no Wailers other than Bob and was produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, with British reggae band Aswad and members of Third World playing and singing backup vocals at a Marley-Perry reunion and rapprochement in London in 1977. The versions of “I Know a Place, Who Colt the Game” and “Keep On Moving” presented here were also produced by Scratch in 1978. People Funny Boy, David Katz’ biography of Scratch, provides an odd story about the master tapes of Marley’s version of “Who Colt the Game” being stolen from Scratch during a mysterious break-in at his Kingston home, but the notes to this recording shed no further light on where or when the tapes resurfaced. The version of “Smile Jamaica” included here is apparently the one recorded at Harry J’s studio with the Zap Pow horn section, not the version produced by Perry.

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As a live performance, this collection is one of the best in reggae as well as a fitting farewell to Bob Marley, still the world’s most famous reggae musician thirty years after his death. Marley’s brooding version of “War/No More Trouble” (with lyrics taken from a speech to the League of Nations by Haile Selassie) and a haunting performance of “Redemption Song” are special highlights.

Singers and musicians on the album include:

Bob Marley, vocals, guitar; Carlton Barrett, drums; Aston Family Man Barrett, bass; Junior Marvin, lead guitar; Al Anderson, lead guitar; Alvin Seeco Patterson, percussion; Earl Wya Lindo, keyboards; Tyrone Downie, keyboards; and the I Threes (Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Rita Marley), background vocals.

Disc one includes:

Greetings, Natural Mystic, Positive Vibration, Burnin’ [and] Lootin’, Them Belly Full, The Heathen, Running Away, Crazy Baldhead, War/No More Trouble, Zimbabwe, Zion Train, No Woman No Cry.

Disc two includes:

Jamming, Exodus, Redemption Song, Coming In From the Cold, Could You Be Loved, Is This Love, Work, Get Up Stand Up.

Disc three includes:

I Know a Place, Punky Reggae Party (Jamaican 12″ version), Smile Jamaica, Who Colt the Game, Keep On Moving, and a Marley Family Interview (Enhanced Video)

 

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review October 3rd, 2011

We’re New Here

Title: We’re New Here

Artists: Gil-Scott Heron & Jamie XX

Label: XL Recordings/Young Turks

Catalog Number: CD 4982

Formats: CD, Digital Download, LP

Release Date: February 22nd, 2011

 

Gil-Scott Heron was a revered legend of social commentary, music, and literature.  A man who has been called the forefather of hip hop music, though when asked about this, he humbly and comedically responded, “I don’t know if I can take the blame for it.”  A man who notably provided a soundtrack for a generation of African Americans frustrated with their social environment.  Outspoken and un-abashed, Heron was a poet, or as he preferred to be called, a “Bluesologist.”  Heron released his comeback album I’m New Here through UK-based XL Recordings in February 2010.  Regrettably, he passed away a little over a year later, but not before Jamie XX of the band The XX put out We’re New Here, an album of remixes from I’m New Here.

The remixes provide a more contemporary and electronic backdrop for Heron’s blend of spoken word and soulful melodies.  “My Cloud” is a beautiful example of the more soulful song style of Heron, harkening back to the sound of a 1970’s reverb soaked Rhodes piano, with electronic drums providing a pulse reminiscent of a heart beat.  The majority of the backing soundscape is based in electronic music and DJ-ing, such as the 808 break beats and swelling ambient pads on “The Crutch,” where Heron’s words stream through as the drums cut in.

“NY Is Killing Me” is a high point of the album for me. The song shifts through the bustling and blurring lines of the city, instilling a certain amount of social pressure through sound, with Heron’s vocals periodically reiterating the pain of city life.  Following is the official video (courtesy of YoungTurksRecords):

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The entirety of the album acts as a tribute to Heron, his final work in the realm of music, a fitting reminder that there are still heros in the world.

 

Reviewed by Jason Cyrus Rubino

 

View review October 3rd, 2011

Bluephoria

Title: Bleuphoria

Artist: Rahsaan Patterson

Label: Artistry Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 19, 2011

 

A boy who got his start in a kids’ talent show has grown up to be a great musician with infinite creativity.  Many reviewers have claimed that in Rahsaan Patterson’s performances they can hear the voices of great musicians such as Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson, and I certainly agree with them.  But Patterson says, “you know that influence and inspiration come from any and everything. … I can’t do what they do. I do what I do, influenced by them and what they taught me. … I don’t get bothered by those comparisons at all because they taught me what I do.”  Patterson’s Bleuphoria proves his belief in himself, and the music that flows from this album stimulates our senses.

The first single , “Easier Said Than Done,” brings funky and electric grooves along with Patterson’s beautiful vocalization.  “Mountain Top” is a pleasant surprise with a sacred vibe, featuring Tata Bega, Andrae Crouch and his choir.  His smooth falsettos nicely fill our ears in the ballads “Miss You” and “Goodbye,” letting us reminisce about the memories of beloved ones.  Patterson wrote these songs by himself in his room, at first afraid but believing in “what he does.”  His long-time friends and producers, Keith Crouch and Jamey Jaz, lent support as did other fellow musicians, including Lalah Hathaway, who contributes to the second single “6AM. ” Every song resonates with special meanings.

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Patterson’s choice of Bleuphoria as a title for this album shows his opinion that “blue” goes with love, referencing not to the coldness of that color but “the depth of it.” “Like the sea and the sky—it appears blue but the deeper you go the darker it gets.  So like the deeper you get into someone, sometimes the darker it gets in terms of the levels of love that exist,” Patterson explains.  He adds, “Euphoria that comes from love, the feelings and the joy and the infinite possibilities.”  Yes, Patterson will touch us with the color of Bleuphoria.  Every song in this album exhibits his accumulated experiences and his gift.  It’s as though he can’t wait to let his creativity flow.

 

Review by Yukari Shinagawa

View review October 3rd, 2011

Me and the Man in the Moon

Title:  Me and the Man in the Moon

Artist:  Layton & Johnstone

Label: Vocalion LTD

Format:  CD

Catalog No.: CDEA 6188

Release date:  July 12, 2011

J. Turner Layton (1894-1978), a composer, pianist and vocalist, is perhaps best known for his early work with lyricist Henry Creamer. The African American songwriting and vaudeville duo churned out a number of popular songs in the early 20th century, including the hits “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” and “After You’ve Gone” (more of their songs can be heard via the Library of Congress National Jukebox).  They also released a few of their own recordings on the Black Swan and Paramount labels.

After Layton and Creamer parted company in 1923, Layton teamed with Clarence Nathaniel ‘Tandy’ Johnstone and they both relocated to London, where they performed together until 1935 (Layton remained in London until his death).[1] After receiving wide acclaim in Elsie Janis’s musical revue, the dapper duo became regulars at the Café de Paris, one of London’s “high class” cabarets.  By the late 1920s they were under contract to both BBC radio and Columbia Records, which increased their fame exponentially (at one time they were reported to be among the highest paid entertainers in Europe).

In the recording studio, Layton’s acclaim as an excellent sight-reader led to a great deal of session work, and the duo was frequently called upon to record newly published songs.  All of the tracks on this compilation feature works penned by other composers, recorded by Layton & Johnstone between 1929 and 1934, with three additional tracks from 1937 and 1946 featuring Layton’s solo recordings.  Many of the songs are drawn from film and stage, including “I’ll See You Again” from Noël Coward’s operetta Bitter Sweet, “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” from the 1929 film Gold Diggers of Broadway, “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me” from the 1930 film The Big Pond, and “It Might As Well Be Spring” from State Fair.  Other tracks feature some of the most popular songs of the era, such as an early version (1933) of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazy Bones,” and Irving Berlin’s “Say It Isn’t So.”

In terms of performance style, the Layton & Johnstone duets seldom achieve the verve of the stage and screen versions. Johnstone’s deep baritone is better suited to the concert hall—his renditions are rather stiff and rarely swing. For example, his version of “Love in Bloom” from 1934 is certainly no match for the Bing Crosby hit released that same year. Layton actually possessed a lighter, more agile voice as demonstrated on “Was It Rain?” (from the film Hit Parade of 1937) and several additional tracks. It’s easy to see why he remained a popular performer long after Johnstone returned to New York.

As an historical document, this compilation brings to light more examples of the London output of this famous duo (the CD reissues Getting Sentimental Over You (1999) and Bye-Bye Blackbird (2002) on the ASV Living Era label include additional tracks, but are out of print). Apparently many of the recordings they made in London between 1924-1925 have not been located, but will hopefully be unearthed through the efforts of the Black Europe Project.  Me and the Man in the Moon features liner notes by Barry McCanna which trace the song origins, and the back tray card includes catalog and matrix numbers as well as session dates.  The re-mastering was done by Michael J. Dutton at Vocalion Ltd.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss


[1] The early recordings of Layton, Creamer, and Johnstone are discussed in detail in Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919, by Tim Brooks (University of Illinois Press, 2004)

View review October 3rd, 2011

Pieces of Me

Title: Pieces of Me

Artist: Ledisi

Label: Verve Music Group (UMI Recordings)

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 14, 2011

 

A two-time Grammy-nominated R&B singer, Ledisi is what many would call “a breath of fresh air” in the music industry. She is a true artist at heart, who voices her feelings, experiences, and lessons through her music. One of the more sophisticated R&B talents out there, she brings an alternative, free-spirited flare to the contemporary music scene. Since her beginnings in 1995, Ledisi has been on an upward slope toward artistic growth and musical acclaim.

With her impressive vocal range and sassy vibrato, Ledisi has once again graced the top of the Billboard charts. Her most recent album, Pieces of Me, shows all her different “facets”—sensual, strong, flirtatious, and fun-loving. Ledisi is quite the eclectic artist, making each song unique with its own flavor and style.  For instance, “Shine” has a slight reggae/island rhythm with a jazzy vocal deliverance, while the song “BGYT” (Be Good to Yourself) is a throwback to‘50s style rhythm and blues. Though each song is different, the rhythms and beats on the majority of them are backed by strong percussion. Vibrant vocal runs, from high falsettos to low sultry slurs, and dynamic harmonies are found throughout the album, illustrating that Ledisi makes no attempt to inhibit her vocal ability. Her wide vocal range is quite impressive in the way that she holds all of the notes and intervals together.

Following is the video of the title track (courtesy of The Verve Music Group):

This album shows that Ledisi is more than what is on the outside. She makes it known that she has a lot to offer both emotionally, socially, and vocally. Listeners will get a real kick out of this album. If contemporary R&B and Neo-Soul is your forte, then Pieces of Me will definitely tickle your fancy.

Reviewed by Mr. DeVol Tyson II  (follow him on twitter: @il_virtuoso)

View review October 3rd, 2011

Underground Overstood

Title: Underground Overstood

Artists: Various

Label: Alchemetric

Formats: CD/DVD, Digital Download

Release Date: August 16th, 2011

 

Alchemetric is more well known as an entertainment and clothing company than a record label.  Hailing from the Bay Area, Alchemtric defines their company as a “Lifestyle” brand heavily rooted in hip hop culture, and the philosophy of unity amongst like minded intelligent thinkers and artists.  Stemming from their close relations to a multitude of musicians, Alchemtric gathered some of the greatest to contribute tracks to this compilation that has been three years in the making.  The digipack contains a DVD as well as an audio CD.

The DVD is comprised of footage from live shows, and in between each performance is a short interview with some of the artists from the album.  Kool G Rap takes the stage at the Lion’s Den in NYC, the beat for “The Symphony” drops, and nostalgia sets in while the audience finishes verses as the beat cuts.  Breez Evahflowin’ tells an incredibly thought provoking narrative with his performance of “Dreams,” with a Randy Newman sample that drills in a connection betweem Breez and his audience’s shared perceptions of society.  C Rayz Walz speaks candidly about what his life could/would have been without hip hop, “I would have continued to rob to survive, and I’m not talking about white America, I am talking about corporate America.”

The audio CD itself breaths with an East Coast feel that spans the demographics of hip hop.  With old school underground legends like Kool G Rap and Cee Knowledge (AKA Doodlebug from Digable Planets), to contemporary emcees like Immortal Technique, Skribe, C Rayz Walz, Akir, R.E.K.S., and Agent 23, Underground Overstood is a buffet of heavy hitters that will leave you hungry for seconds or thirds.

Take a gander at this clip from the DVD with Immortal Technique performing at the Lions Den, NYC (courtesy of Alchemetric):

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Reviewed by Jason Cyrus Rubino

View review October 3rd, 2011

Unbelievable!

Title: Unbelievable!

Artist: Keke Wyatt

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 14, 2011

 

Keke Wyatt is back, as a strong singer and even stronger woman on her new album Unbelievable! Wyatt, who became famous as a teenager singing R&B duets with Avant, more recently experienced personal struggles with domestic violence.  This new album signals a fresh start, now that she has overcome the unhappiness.  “Experience is a good teacher,” she sings in “Love Under New Management,” which is a cover of Miki Howard’s 1989 hit.  This message speaks of Wyatt’s new determination as a singer―she honestly expresses her feelings for listeners who have waited anxiously for her come-back.

Wyatt’s powerful vocals propel her new motto towards life.  “Enough,” for example, pushes troubled women who have struggled with domestic issues, telling them “Don’t be blinded by love/ Cause enough is enough/ Heard a million stories/ Enough is enough/ You got to let him go/ There is no reason to love/ Can’t let him take control.”  This song is convincing because it draws from personal experience, and her strong voice makes listeners believe that they will be able to stand up and overcome the difficult times.  “Mirror” features two other talented vocalists, Kelly Price and Tweet, narrating a story of brokenhearted women, while Wyatt again represents women with struggles, urging them to speak up.

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Wyatt covers several other hit songs, including Cherelle and Alexander O’Neal’s “Saturday Love,” featuring Ruben Studdard.  Her version of Eric Clapton’s moving tune, “Tears in Heaven,” is performed with her smooth vocalization.  Though it is a very sad song, she somehow manages to gives us hope.

Wyatt closes the album with an a cappella version of the well-known gospel song “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” which expresses her spirituality and signals a return to her church music roots. She says, “I don’t know why God chose me, why He made me Keke Wyatt.  I really don’t know why. But I gotta give Him thanks. Because I am the only Keke Wyatt.” The spiritual aspects of the song make a fitting conclusion to her come-back album.  I am sure that music will provide Wyatt with many more opportunities for honest self-expression, and her strong voice will never wither away.

 

Review by Yukari Shinagawa

View review October 3rd, 2011

Big Joe Turner and Little Richard “Rocks”

Bear Family has released two more compilations as part of its ongoing “Rocks” series (previously reviewed releases in this series include Smiley Lewis, Shirley & Lee, and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers). These new CDs provide overviews of the recorded output of classic “blues shouter” Big Joe Turner and the legendary proto-rocker Little Richard. Both come with the usual Bear Family attributes of sterling sound reproduction, as well as fine biographical essays by Bill Dahl that are chock full of historical images.   There are now 44 releases in Bear Family’s Rocks and Rockin’ Rollin’ series, alphabetically running from Pat Boone to Rusty York. These CDs are highly recommended for libraries and universities, especially those with rock history classes.

Title: Rocks

Artist: Big Joe Turner

Label: Bear Family Records

Catalog No.: BCD 17215 AR

Release date:  March 29, 2011

Starting out as a singing bartender in Kansas City in the 1930s, Big Joe Turner has as much right as anyone else to be named the founder of rock and roll, having created and recorded hard rocking R&B songs going back to 1938. Songs like “Well All Right” and “Honey Hush” are every bit as legitimate as Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” and Roy Brown/Wynonie Harris’ “Good Rocking Tonight” insofar as deserving the designation of the first rock and roll song. The arrangements here range from duets with pianist Pete Johnson to performances with backing bands of various sizes featuring instrumental contributions from stars like Fats Domino, Herb Hardesty, Dave Bartholomew, Elmore James, Johnny Jones, and King Curtis. Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun even turns up as a backing vocalist (along with Jerry Wexler) on “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” one of several Big Joe hits that crossed over to the pop charts (never mind that Bill Haley’s watered-down version outsold Turner’s original). The collection covers Turner’s output through 1958′s “Jump for Joy,” which was his “last jaunt onto the R&B charts, peaking at #15.” Turner continued recording for several more years, though with diminishing chart success. A great addition to any collection, this is a fine introduction to an R&B legend’s storied career.

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Producers of the various tracks include Herb Abramson, Dave Bartholomew, Ahmet Ertegun, Solomon Kahal, Joe Turner, Jerry Wexler ; the reissue producer was Trevor Crasser. The booklet also includes an extensive discography by Leslie Fancourt, Bob McGraw, Tony Biggs, and Bill Dahl.

The compilation includes 27 tracks recorded between 1939 and 1957:

Jump for Joy, Well All Right, Flip Flop and Fly, Love Roller Coaster, Honey Hush, I Need a Girl, Lipstick Powder and Paint, TV Mama, Hide and Seek, Adam Bit the Apple, My Gal’s a Jockey, Feelin’ Happy, Jumpin’ Tonight, Shake Rattle and Roll, Boogie Woogie Country Girl, Teen Age Letter, Corrine Corrina, Midnight Cannonball, Bump Miss Susie, Crawdad Hole, Morning Noon and Night, Rock a While, Oke-She-Moke-She-Pop, The Chicken and the Hawk, Roll ‘em Pete, Rebecca, Around the Clock Blues Part 1, Around the Clock Blues Part 2.

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

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Title: Rocks

Artist: Little Richard

Label: Bear Family Records

Catalog No.: BCD 17138 AR

Release date:  September 20, 2011

 

Little Richard hardly needs an introduction, having left such an indelible mark on rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and gospel music. As Dahl states in the liner notes, “Little Richard was the ultimate embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll, dangerous and a tad exotic and utterly without constraint. No wonder conservative Caucasian parents, secure until then in the bland, Your Hit Parade-dominated sounds of the Eisenhower era, were scared out of their wits.”

Though many reissues and compilations are available, this is likely the most definitive single CD you’re apt to find. The tracks are primarily drawn from Richard’s early RCA Victor, Peacock, and Specialty sessions, and include all of his major hits. Rounding out the disc, however, are several lesser known singles, including a cover of Fats Domino’s “I’m in Love Again” on the Little Star label, credited to the World Famous Upsetters and recorded circa 1961-62 following Richard’s first hiatus from secular music. The most recent track on the disc was taken from a 1970 Reprise session at the Record Plant in L.A. which culminated in “Dew Drop Inn,” a “blistering tribute to the legendary New Orleans club” where Little Richard had performed an impromptu version of “Tutti-Frutti” for producer Bumps Blackwell in 1955. As they say, the rest is history.

Producers of the various tracks include Steve Sholes, Johnny Otis, Bumps Blackwell, Art Rupe, Richard Penniman (aka Little Richard), H.B. Barnum, Don Weiss, and Norman ‘Hurricane’ Smith; the reissue producer was Bill Millar. The booklet includes an extensive chronological discography of the recordings on the CD by Rick Coleman. Also, Bill Dahl’s notes draw from an interview he conducted with Charles Connor, Little Richard’s Original Drummer (and one-time brother-in-law), whose collection is housed at the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

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The compilation includes 31 tracks recorded between 1951 and 1970:

Tutti Frutti, Ready Teddy, Slippin’ And Slidin’, Long Tall Sally, Baby, Miss Ann, True Fine Mama, By The Light of the Silvery Moon, Kansas City, Rip It Up, She’s Got It, Lucille, Heeby-Jeebies, Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey, Get Rich Quick, I’ll Never Let You Go (Boo Hoo Hoo Hoo), Little Richard’s Boogie, All Around The World, I Got It, Jenny, Jenny, Good Golly Miss Molly, Baby Face, The Girl Can’t Help It,  Ooh! My Soul, Keep A Knockin’, She Knows How To Rock (Rock Me), Bama Lama Bama Loo, I’m In Love Again, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Dew Drop Inn, Get Down With It.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 5th, 2011

Three New Stax Remasters

The following three albums are the latest in Concord Music Group’s “Stax Remasters” reissue series.  They spotlight a career revival for Rufus Thomas; the last major hit for Stax Records by Shirley Brown; and a late-1960′s expansion of the Stax talent pool with Detroit’s The Dramatics.

 

Title: Do The Funky Chicken

Artist: Rufus Thomas

Label: Stax/Concord Music Group

Catalog No.: STX33178-02

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release Date: September 13, 2011

 

In 1968, Stax terminated its distribution agreement with Atlantic Records, but Atlantic retained ownership of the 1962-1967 back catalog. To make up for this loss, Stax vice president Al Bell undertook a feverish recording and release schedule, culminating in a TV special called “Getting It All Together.”  Part of the plan was a new album by the company’s first hit-maker, Rufus Thomas.  But the planned album, May I Have Your Ticket Please?, was never released.  Thomas had felt slighted by Stax management for years, but he channeled his frustration into a new album with a new band and a new producer.  The resulting Do The Funky Chicken, spawned two charting singles and put the 53-year-old Thomas back into the Stax A-list.  Concord’s reissue of this LP also contains the material recorded for the stillborn album, some of which was released as singles (only one charted).  The Do The Funky Chicken sessions allowed Thomas to stretch his songs out for the LP format, and he assembled a great backup band with his son Marvell and Isaac Hayes on keyboards and the 1969 lineup of the Bar-Kays providing the rhythm. It’s a polished, heavy flavor of funk, spiced with Thomas’s humorous and sometimes lecherous lyrics.  The earlier material features Booker T. & The MG’s backing Thomas, like in his first early ‘60s heyday. Later singles were made outside of Memphis but Thomas and producer Tom Nixon make sure they are vintage Stax toe-tapping funky.

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Title: Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get

Artist: The Dramatics

Label: Stax/Concord Music Group

Catalog No.: STX33176-02

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release Date: September 13, 2011

The Dramatics present (pardon the pun) a dramatic contrast to Rufus Thomas.  As part of the rebuilding of Stax’s catalog, Bell decided to tap producers and musicians from outside of Memphis.  Detroit producer Don Davis traveled to Memphis in 1967 to work with Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor.  A connection was established, and in 1969 Davis brought Stax a hit album by Detroit’s Dramatics.  Davis had worked with the Dramatics earlier, but no hits resulted and he released them from their contract. The group then worked with Detroit producer and songwriter Tony Hester, crafting a sound that’s a cross between late-60s Motown and Stax’s Memphis neighbor Hi Records. There were tight vocal harmonies and switched-off leads backed by fuzz guitars and big string arrangements.  This was not the usual “grits and grind” Stax sound.  Davis was impressed enough with the new direction of the Dramatics to sign them to Stax, and was smart enough to stay out of the way and let Hester run the recording sessions. The resulting album, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, contained three appearances on the Billboard charts out of 8 songs. Also included on this reissue CD is the group’s second album, A Dramatic Experience, and two bonus tracks not issued in the 1970s but appearing on previous Stax reissue CDs.  The second album is very much a mainstream early ‘70s soul album, not as beat-oriented and funky as the usual Stax fare.  The lyrics can be heavy, with two songs warning about the “devil” of drug addiction (both tunes penned by Hester, who struggled with drug abuse during this time). Interestingly, this music sounds familiar in the context of modern R&B.  In fact, the group’s biggest hit, the title cut on their first album, is all about “keeping it real,” very much a “trending” topic today.

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Title: Woman To Woman

Artist: Shirley Brown

Label: Stax/Concord Music Group

Catalog No.: STX33177-02

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release Date: September 13, 2011

 

 

Shirley Brown was Stax’s last hit-maker, scoring an R&B chart-topper with the title track on Woman To Woman in November, 1974.  By December, 1975, Stax Records was bankrupt and its operations shut down.  Brown’s album was also Stax coming full circle because label founder Jim Stewart co-produced it, along with long-time house drummer Al Jackson Jr. (the original beat of Booker T. & The MG’s and the foundation of many Stax hits).  Jackson also provided the beat for the album, while MG Duck Dunn played bass. A final connection back to earlier good times at Stax was the fact that Brown was brought to the label’s attention by bluesman and Stax hit-maker Albert King, who discovered Brown as a teenage talent-show winner and brought her on the road as his opening act. A decade later, Stax was ready to sign her to record a solo album. Woman To Woman sounds contemporary to the mid-70s, but there’s no missing the Stax tradition, updated and evolved for the dawn of disco.  Brown’s vocals are similar to Aretha Franklin but unique enough to set her apart.  In the liner notes, she characterizes the comparison this way: “Some people feel that the similarity between Shirley Brown and Aretha Franklin is like the Isaac Hayes/Barry White situation … I guess we have the same gospel background.”  Her point: same background, same vocal range, different styling and different material. Brown is more at home with long spoken raps in her songs, in fact the hit title track was ground-breaking in those days for the long spoken mini-soap opera before the singing starts.  Brown was on the forefront of the soaring/lilting soul singing style still very much in vogue today; this style is the stereotypical staple of singing-contest TV shows. Depending on your taste, this makes her either a pioneer of the contemporary R&B scene or the first car down a bad road. Also included on the CD, for the first time on a U.S. reissue, are demo tapes Brown made for Stax in the mid-60s when she was a teenager, singing uncannily close covers of the Franklin hits “Ain’t No Way,” “Respect,” and “Rock Steady.”

As with the previous three Stax Remasters CD’s (including Booker T’s McLemore Avenue), these albums were transferred in high resolution from the original tapes by mastering engineer Joe Tarantino. The sound quality is an improvement vs. earlier reissues and, to his credit, Tarantino avoided the sin of over-compression and over-use of digital equalization and hiss reduction.  What we hear in these new CDs is probably closer to what was played in the Stax control room than any previous release.  Icing on the cake is the original album artwork and excellent booklet notes—The Dramatics and Rufus Thomas CDs featuring essays by Stax historian Rob Bowman, while noted music critics Lee Hildebrand and Gail Mitchell provided the notes for Shirley Brown.  Here’s hoping Concord Music Group keeps this reissue series going for a long time, and here’s wishing they partner with Warner Music Group to reissue the Atlantic-era Stax material in equally nice packaging and sound quality.

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review October 5th, 2011

Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters

Title: Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters

Artist: Candi Staton

Label: Kent

Catalog No.: CDKEN2 353

Format: 2 CD set

Release date: June 7, 2011

Many gospel fans know Candi Staton from her early work with the Jewell Gospel Trio or her gospel albums in the 1980s and 1990s.  If you lived through the disco era, you might remember her disco hit “Young Hearts Run Free,” covered by Kym Mazelle for the mid-1990s film adaptation of Romeo + Juliet.  But this 2 CD set shows her prowess as a soul singer.  Introduced to execs at the new Muscle Shoals-based Fame record label by her then-husband, Clarence Carter, Staton recorded many of Fame’s first singles, including her hit cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” included in this collection.

With 48 tracks, including 22 on CD for the first time and 12 previously unreleased, there’s a lot of great material here, and the accompany booklet includes an extensive essay by Dean Rudland.   This reviewer was particularly taken with Staton’s early hit “I’d Rather Be an Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than a Young Man’s Fool),” which made it to #9 on the R&B charts when it was released in the late ‘60s.  The lyrics are smart, the arrangement is funky, and the song is almost campy by today’s standards:

The man I’ve got
The fire is almost gone
He can’t heat up nobody’s house
He got just enough to keep me warm
I’d rather be an old man’s sweetheart
Than to be a young man’s fool

Of particular interest are Staton’s many covers, all of which are strong and distinctive.  She does a heart-rending version of Waylon Jennings’ “We Had It All,” a commanding cover of Elvis Presley’s hit “In The Ghetto,” and a sultry, insistent cover of “Jolene,” a hit for Dolly Parton.

Here’s a clip of Staton performing both “In The Ghetto” and “Old Man’s Sweetheart” in 2006:

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Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters would be a great addition to the collections of Staton fans and fans of Southern soul.  The set would also make a great gift for any recently-jilted friends, since Staton’s music often explores the seedy underbelly of love and relationships with songs like “I Gave a Little and Lost a Lot” and “You Don’t Love Me No More.”  Jilted or not, the soulful arrangements and Staton’s delightfully raspy voice are sure to lift your spirits.

 

Reviewed by David Lewis

View review October 5th, 2011

Only Believe…


Title: Only Believe… Unissued and Rare Nashville Vocal Group Recordings

Artists: The Prisonaires, with the Marigolds and Solotones

Label: Bear Family

Catalog Number: BCD 16893

Format: CD digipack with booklet

Release date: May 10, 2011

 

The new Bear Family release, Only Believe… tells part of the endlessly fascinating story of the Prisonaires, a vocal R&B group founded in the early 1940s at the Nashville State Penitentiary in Tennessee. While it was not uncommon at the time for groups of prisoners to form causal singing ensembles to pass away their sentences, the Prisonaires were an exceptional case who, through a series of chance events, became Southern celebrities. They had both the right mix of talent, with lead tenor Johnny Bragg providing new original songs, and the right timing, with a new prison leadership focused on rehabilitation and community involvement. They were signed to Sun Records and released recordings on Excello as well, all the while remaining prisoners of the State of Tennessee.

While there have been previous compilations that anthologize the Prisonaires’ Sun and Excello releases, Only Believe… features previously unreleased concert recordings and alternative tracks that provide unique historical insight into various aspects of the group’s career. For example, at the time these recordings were made, around the early 1960s, the prison had begun to receive negative press for wasting money by allowing the Prisonaires to travel and record. The prison warden saw an opportunity to change public opinion and make money by developing a program to sell indulgences—personalized songs and recordings from the Prisonaires for wealthy sponsors. This album draws from one such rare record and is primarily a concert of the Prisonaires performing for a wealthy donor. There are introductions to songs by the Prisonaires, thanking the warden and asking for the well-wishes of the sponsor. The spiel is clearly scripted and rehearsed but serves as a useful historical framing device. Also included are six alternative versions of songs recorded for Sun Records by the Prisonaires, plus eleven tracks by the Solotones and the Marigolds (later prison groups led by Johnny Bragg).

The sacred and secular songs on Only Believe… are well performed by the groups but will probably be of only causal interest to all but the most devoted Prisonaires fan. The album is still worthwhile, however, for the historical value of the previously unheard concert, as well as the account of the recording career of this one-of-a-kind group in the meticulous booklet written by Martin Hawkins.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

Editor’s Note: Bear Family released the Prisonaires early recordings in the 1994 compilation Just Walkin’ in the Rain), and is planning one additional CD, World of Make Believe, which will contain all the rare and unissued recordings by Johnny Bragg as a solo vocalist. For more on the Prisonaires, see also Jay Warner’s 2001 biography Just Walkin’ in the Rain: The True Story of the Prisonaires: the Convict Pioneers of R & B and Rock & Roll.

View review October 5th, 2011

The Road From Memphis

Title: The Road From Memphis

Artist: Booker T. Jones

Label: Anti Records

Catalog No.: 87101-2

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 10, 2011

 

This road was taking me to my future … To Indiana, a new life to study music and establish my reputation as a maverick.—Booker T. Jones

Musical legends, actual and imagined, take note: Booker T. Jones has shown the way to sound fresh and relevant nearly a half-century after his first hit.  Jones, known widely as Booker T. of  MG’s fame (whose first hit, “Green Onions” charted in 1962), has teamed with younger players and a young production team with a hot hand to put out an album that is distinctly his, in a modern and forward-looking groove.  Any long-time fan will recognize the playing and smile, but a kid whose parents weren’t born when “Green Onions” was new will also get a kick out of this album. It’s not a nostalgic return to tired old ground even though it celebrates Jones’ hometown and the songs with lyrics dig deep into his past in their references. This is an album by a legend not ready to rest on his laurels, still sounding young and saying new things.

Following is the official promo video for the album (courtesy of Anti Records):

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As is the custom these days, there are guest appearances. Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket sings on the third song, “Progress”; Matt Berninger and Sharon Jones duet on “Representing Memphis,” and Lou Reed sing-talks through the closer, “The Bronx.”  Jones takes his own turn on vocals on “Down In Memphis,” throwing out a stew of place-names and people names that long-time residents will recognize. The rest of the songs are funky instrumentals, mostly fast and always well-played.

The newness on this album comes from Jones’ interaction with the backing band, Philadelphia’s The Roots. Drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson co-produced the album with Jones and Rob Schnapf.  Another element of modernity is the recording, by Daptone Records founder Gabe Roth.  Working at MSR Studios in New York, Roth crafted a sound that combines the Stax-like sonic elements familiar to Jones’ music, with the punchy, busy rhythm of The Roots. There are pieces of sonic glitter on the tunes, a percussion instrument panned hard right here, a neat little guitar hook panned hard left there. The beats are somewhere between funk and hip hop. There’s the old-school heavy beat and Hammond B-3 sound, but there are new rhythms and a modern clarity of detail. One more note about the sound: it’s not compressed to death, so there is dynamic space for the beat to be huge. The pickup on Jones’ B-3 is also outstanding, highlighting his use of percussive attacks and carefully manipulated vibrato to make the lead lines “sing” above the rhythm.

Author Robert Gordon summarizes the vibe on the album very well in his liner notes: “There’s a timelessness to these tunes, but also a startlingly contemporary feel. The Roots are pulling something from Booker, but Booker’s also sending The Roots somewhere they’ve not gone.”  Jones’ B-3 playing has rarely sounded better. His chops are all there and he weaves his lines in and around the framework provided by The Roots, often sounding as much like a vocal as a keyboard lead.  The vocal tracks are good, but the instrumental tracks are where everyone shines. “The Hive” and “Everything Is Everything” most ably demonstrate Gordon’s point.

On the following video Jones performs Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything” with The Roots (courtesy of Anti Records):

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Jones wrote his own notes for the album, titled “Hwy 51, The Road From Memphis.” The central theme is driving out of Memphis in 1963, headed for his second semester at Indiana University’s prestigious School of Music. “This road was taking me to my future … To Indiana, a new life to study music and establish my reputation as a maverick.”  At that time, Jones had just found success with “Green Onions,” and could have played studio sessions and live gigs 24 hours a day, but he chose to finish college. “I was less than popular among my contemporaries for this decision,” Jones notes, but he returned to Memphis “every weekend, every summer, every holiday” to play sessions and write hits that “were paying for my schooling at Indiana.” Jones has traveled many roads since then, and this new album proves he’s still up for an adventure.

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review October 5th, 2011

Welcome to the October 2011 Issue

This month we’re featuring the recent album by Indiana University alum Booker T. Jones, as well as three new reissues from the Stax Remasters series including albums by the Dramatics, Shirley Brown, and Rufus Thomas (the latter backed by Booker T & the MGs). To get in the October spirit we’ve selected the hip hop release Goblin by Tyler the Creator, as well as Le Freak, the forthcoming Nile Rodgers autobiography.  Three new Bear Family compilations are covered—Big Joe Turner Rocks and Little Richard Rocks from the ongoing series, plus recordings of the vocal group The Prisonaires. Other compilations include Candi Staton: Evidence, The Complete Fame Records Masters, early recordings of the duo Layton & Johnstone: Me and the Man in the Moon, and the hip hop anthology Underground Overstood.  New R&B releases include Ledisi’s Pieces of Me,  Keke Wyatt’s Unbelievable!, and Rahsaan Patterson’s Bleuphoria.  Wrapping up this issue is Jamie xx’s remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s final album, We’re New Here, and Bob Marley and the Wailers’ final concert Live Forever: September 23, 1980 : Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, Pa.

View review October 5th, 2011

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