Archive for February, 2012

Weekend at Burnie’s

Title: Weekend At Burnie’s

Artist: Curren$y

Label: Jet Life Recordings/Warner

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 28th, 2011



Weekend At Burnie’s marks the sixth commercial solo release for New Orleans’ native Curren$y. Originally signed with Lil Wayne’s Young Money label in 2004, the deal fell through when Curren$y decided to take his music in his own direction and follow his own vision. Since then, he has been releasing quality music at an alarming rate, including several solo studio albums and mixtapes within the past three years.

Curren$y is one of the most lyrically talented rap artists to come out of the South in a long time. On the album, he gets help from Trademark and Young Roddy, two artists from his own Jet Life Recording label who are also New Orleans natives. “This is the Life” is the standout track for sure. Opening with a catchy piano riff and drum sample, Curren$y laces clever rhymes over the beats for three verses, painting a picture of his penthouse views, traveling the world, and the beautiful women he comes across while doing so.

Following is the official video for “This is the Life”:

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Weekend At Burnie’s is almost entirely the work of the production team Monsta Beatz, with the exception of the single “#JetsGo,” by little-known L.A.-based producer Rahki. The Monsta Beatz production is undeniably smooth and is perfect for Curren$y’s more complex lyricism and style. Though he’s known for his ability to rhyme on just about any type of beat, he tends to prefer beats with soulful brass and string samples. While often labeled as a “weed rapper,” similar to his friend Wiz Khalifa, this new release proves that Curren$y is much more than that. His ear for catchy and smooth beats and his versatile rap flow make Weekend at Burnie’s a must listen for fans of underground hip-hop.


Reviewed by Aaron Robinson

View review February 1st, 2012

Can’t Sit Down


Title: Can’t Sit Down

Artist: C. J. Chenier

Label: World Village

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: September 13, 2011



An album’s never been more aptly named. Here, C. J. Chenier (the son of zydeco king Clifton Chenier, the first Grammy Award-winning musician in the genre) blends R&B, soul, and funk with a healthy dose of what his family does best. Foot stompin’ and fun lovin’, Can’t Sit Down, with the exception of a few somber tracks, is straight party music “recorded in one kick-butt session,” as the liner notes explain, “because [they] wanted this to feel like we were at the club having a party with you.”

“Can’t Sit Down,” the album’s opening track, is by far the most characteristic  of zydeco, featuring Chenier’s strong accordion and a washboard solo. Here, the traditional is fun and zealous. Mid-album, things get spicy with “Hot Tamale Baby,” leaning more on funk and soul traditions than zydeco. In addition to his own and his father’s work, Chenier tackles cover songs, too, including Tom Waits’ “Clap Hands,” John Lee Hooker’s “Dusty Road,” the Richard Jones classic “Trouble in Mind,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “We Gotta Have Peace,” with a keen ability to make even the most poignant song dance-friendly.  “We Gotta Have Peace” embraces Mayfield’s funky sensibilities and maintains Chenier’s spirited tone, closing the album on a high note.

Embodying its genre’s heart and soul, Can’t Sit Down, while not always the strictest and most traditional zydeco album, should be embraced as an instant classic nonetheless.

Review by Hannah Davis

View review February 1st, 2012

What’s New in New Orleans

Title: Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 1

Artist: Dr. Michael White

Label: Basin Street Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 21, 2011



Acclaimed Dixieland jazz clarinetist Dr. Michael White is back once again, bringing together a host of influences for his new album Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 1. The majority of these songs are covers, with a good amount not being New Orleans jazz standards but rather drawing upon a whole spectrum of genres. The most peculiar, and perhaps most entertaining, is White’s rendition of “One Love” by Bob Marley. What’s even more odd is how good it sounds mixed with Dixieland instruments. In addition to this reggae-New Orleans jazz montage, White adopts African influences and instruments on some medley’s of his own creation, while others employ traditional African and Haitian folk songs as well as African American spirituals.  But like “One Love,” each of these tracks are mixed with the characteristic New Orleans flavor. Finally, although we never really left, Dr. Michael White brings us all back to New Orleans with Paul Simon’s “Take Me to the Mardi Gras.”


Title: A Love Letter to New Orleans

Artist: Irvin Mayfield

Label: Basin Street Records

Formats: CD, MP3, or Book+CD

Release Date: April 26, 2011



A Love Letter to New Orleans is just that—Irvin Mayfield’s expression of his love of the city through his music—in a compilation drawn from previous albums.  Mayfield tackles several genres in Love Letter, which begins with “Mo’ Better Blues.”  The jazz heritage of New Orleans is apparent in “Romeo and Juliet” as well as “Fatimah,” while the Latin quarter is represented by “Latin Tinge II” and “El Negro.” The traditional, religious side of the city is given its due on “I’ll Fly Away.” Going way back, Mayfield additionally pays tribute to the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes on “Old Time Indians Meeting of the Chiefs,” which features Big Chief Bo Dollis Sr. (of Wild Magnolias fame).  

Love Letter brings together many like-minded New Orleans musicians, from Los Hombres Calientes (Mayfield’s band) to Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews to Wynton Marsalis and Kermit Ruffins, who has been prominently featured on HBO’s Treme.  But along with the love that Mayfield has for New Orleans there is an acknowledgement of the darker, racist-fueled past on “Lynch Mob.”  With the Dillard University Choir’s repetition of the phrase “String ‘em up,” the “Lynch Mob” interlude is an eerie, disturbing look into what the South once was.  Rather than ending on this note, Mayfield offers a positive look into the future as Love Letter ends with the optimistic “Mardi Gras Second Line” featuring NOLA favorites Los Hombres Calientes, Trombone Shorty, Ruffins, the Rebirth Brass Band and John Boutté.  In addition to this fantastic stand-alone album, Irvin Mayfield also offers a special hardcover book/CD package which includes a “richly illustrated collection of essays and photographs [that] give life and meaning to each song on the accompanying CD.”


Title: For True

Artist: Trombone Shorty

Label: Verve Forecast

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date:  September 13, 2011



Rounding out this overview of New Orleans-based musicians is trombonist Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews’ new release For True.  Although it would be simple enough to state how much more contemporary For True sounds as compared to the previous two albums, the guest list says it all: Jeff Beck, Warren Hayes, Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz and Ledisi.  Emphasizing rock and funk, For True is the kind of album that makes you dance—whether you were expecting to or not—starting with the first song “Buckjump.” Bringing together swinging horns and heavy bass, “Buckjump” definitely brings in the funk. The title track “For True” feels like a combo of Latin and surf rock, with trumpet at the forefront while the guitar pulls off a few surf-inspired runs with plenty of treble and tremolo-picking.  However, don’t think for a second that Trombone Shorty has forgotten his New Orleans roots.  “Lagniappe Part 1” is a mix between funk, with a grooving bass sax, and a Dixieland march.  Continuing the funk rock sound through the rest of the album on songs like “Dumaine St.” and “Roses,” Shorty closes out For True in the same manner as his previous albums, with an ode to New Orleans.  This final track, the second part of “Lagniappe,” kicks off with a marching snare and brings together a host of horns before finally fading out.


Reviewed by Ian Hallagan


View review February 1st, 2012

Brazilian Beat


Title: Brazilian Beat

Artists: Various

Label: Putumayo World Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 31, 2012



Introduction into the diverse Brazilian music scene began early for me. I still remember going to my grandfather’s house to listen to Stan Getz, João Gilberto, and Antonio Carlos Jobim over dinner, or having my father pop in CDs by Os Mutantes or Jorge Ben while driving. Never fully appreciating the access to this form of music unfamiliar to many, it has become something I truly cherish. Putumayo now looks to do the same thing on Brazilian Beat, albeit with a more contemporary lineup, but nonetheless an extremely talented one.

Brazilian Beat is a mix of new and old. While keeping close to samba and bossa nova roots, many of the artists throw in outside influences such as electronic instrumentation or rock, and the result is nothing short of astounding. Still preserving that laid-back, relaxing but still danceable music, songs such as BungaLove’s “Minha Loucura” or Brazuka Fina’s “Samba Ti, Samba Eu” utilize electronic beats that keep Brazilian music as the foundation while expanding beyond musical commonalities in the genre. Brazilian Groove Band’s rendition of the classic “Bananeira” sounds much funkier than the original, with a grooving baritone sax playing the melody as a wah-wah-infused guitar keeps rhythm.

Additionally, it seems that the longer one listens to Brazilian Beat the more experimental the bands become, as Tita Lima’s “A Canto do Samba” demonstrates. With guitar once again playing samba rhythms through a wah-wah pedal, various rhythmic electronic bleeps are sent through the layer of music and fit surprisingly well. The final song on the album, Marcello’s “Anel de Saturno,” has a slightly contemporary R&B feel to it, although remaining in the samba rhythm. Electronic handclaps help keep the beat, blending together with both live and electronic instrumentation to create something that could only be concocted in Brazil.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan




View review February 1st, 2012

Ayah Ye! Moving Train

Title: Ayah Ye! Moving Train

Artist: KG Omulo

Label: KG Omulo

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 10, 2012




K.G. Omulo’s debut solo album Ayah Ye! Moving Train fuses Afrofunk with American soul and Jamaican reggae to create a familiar yet worldly sound. To say that Fela Kuti has had a great influence on the Kenyan-born Florida-based Omulo would be an understatement. Songs such as “Quality Women” and “Ready to Love” contain funky horn riffs that were so characteristic of Fela, as well as a mix of African drumming and singing in both English and Swahili:

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Soul also runs deep, as heard in “No Means No,” as the organ, so important in the development of soul, rips through the Afrofunk foundation and brings a raw ferocity to the song. “Stop Me Now” which utilizes strings, reflects the influence of the Motown sound. Additionally, Omulo sings in a characteristic soul style, often holding out syllables and using vibrato. Although not as constant as the former two genres, Omulo nonetheless incorporates elements of reggae on the album, such as the use of extensive echo and delay in vocal production in “Walkway,” along with horns and organ on the upbeat in “It’s A Relief.”

Lyrically, K.G. Omulo delivers a socially-conscious album set to a lively tune. “Quality Women” not only celebrates the achievements of all women across the world, but also emphasizes that every woman is beautiful and that all should dance in their honor. “Walkway” takes a less positive stance, instead criticizing cowardice in the face of inequality as well as those who turn a blind eye to such injustices. “No Means No” is extremely literal, directly pointing out that governments from “Washington to Niobe to Pakistan” are all the same, favoring the work of lobbyists over the common individual’s struggle.

After continual listens, Ayah Ye! still sounds as fresh as the day that I first put it into my laptop. High energy horns on almost every song are the glue that holds the album together; it’s what gives the album its strength. Although taking somewhat calmer roads on “Stop Me Now” and “Walkway,” Omulo still possesses plenty of raw energy. This is one album that I can safely say would be absolutely amazing if performed live.  His upcoming tour (dates TBA) was funded completely by fans through donations to Kickstarter.  The only problem left remaining, then, is bringing Omulo to town!

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review February 1st, 2012

From Jamaica to St. Croix

Title: The Ruler: 1972-1990

Artist:  Gregory Isaacs

Label:  VP Records / Roc-A-Fella

Formats: 2-CD + DVD set; LP

Release date:  October 24, 2011



Title:  Kings Bell

Artist:  Midnite

Label:  101 Distribution

Formats: CD; MP3

Release date:  December 13, 2011




These two recent reggae releases point to different eras of reggae’s history as a genre: the classic reggae sound made iconic with the success of Bob Marley in the 1970s and the dancehall-influenced sound that began to take over in the 1990s.

The two-CD retrospective of Gregory Isaacs’s career, The Ruler, pays appropriate tribute to the man who many thought was going to be the “new” Bob Marley following Marley’s early demise.  Isaacs, known as “Cool Ruler” or “Lonely Lover,” never achieved that level of fame, though he attained international success before his untimely death due to lung cancer in 1989.  While the production values and instrumentation change drastically over the course of time, the constant on this compilation is Isaacs’s voice.  Milo Miles, writing for the New York Times, once claimed Isaacs had “the most exquisite voice in reggae” and it is well-showcased here.  Even in Isaacs’s early recordings, with wavering, occasionally out-of-tune instrumentals that make contemporary ears used to digital editing and Autotune cringe, his silky, clear baritone is a delight.  This compilation hits all the high points, including “My Only Lover” (1972), his first international hit “Love is Overdue” (1974), his work with legendary producers Sly & Robbie in the late ’70s and early ‘80s, and “Night Nurse” (1982), arguably Isaacs’s most enduring hit.  For Gregory Isaacs fans who may own most of the material already, there is a bonus DVD of Isaacs performing live in 1984.  The liner notes, with an essay on Isaacs’s career and commentary on each track, round out the album.  While devoted Isaacs fans might not get that much out of the material here, Bob Marley devotees or others who are just discovering “classic” reggae will be delighted, as well as anyone teaching classes on reggae or Jamaican music in general.

Following is the promotional video featuring Isaacs performing in Brixton (from the DVD):

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St. Croix-based Midnite are one of those bands that are so prolific you wonder who, besides the artist, keeps up with their releases.  Their most recent album of new material, Kings Bell, was their fifth release of 2011 and they’ve already released their first album of 2012.  Despite the almost frenetic release schedule, Kings Bell is full of well-produced, weighty tracks that are, like much of their previous work, decidedly message-focused.  Vocalist Vaughn Benjamin’s raspy voice almost oozes roots reggae vibes and his staccato, hammer-like delivery brings to mind Caribbean vocalists more familiar to U.S. audiences like Sizzla and Shaggy.  While the kind of delivery and the earnestness and devotion to social commentary that runs through Midnite’s music makes some tracks feel pedantic and repetitive, when it works, it works beautifully.  The most solid track on the album, “Mongst I&I,” encourages us to “keep good relations” because we’re all one under Jah while also discussing geopolitical problems.  The track does all of this all with a relaxed reggae backbeat and a melody that allows the peculiar raspiness and hoarseness of Benjamin’s voice to shine.

Following is the official music video for “Mongst I&I”:

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These albums by Gregory Isaacs and Midnite offer glimpses into different points of reggae history and while both, particularly Kings Bell, have weak spots, they are certainly worth owning if you’re a reggae fan.

Reviewed by David Lewis

View review February 1st, 2012

Two new Lee Scratch Perry releases

Artist: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Title: The Upsetter : The Life and Music of Lee Scratch Perry / a film by Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough

Formats:  DVD (90 min.), Collector’s ed. DVD (120 min.); streaming online video or digital download

Release date: January 24, 2012




Seventy-five year-old reggae, dub, and world music pioneer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is limned in this wide-ranging documentary narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro. Jamaican actor Carl Bradshaw, in a grainy black and white clip, introduces the film by saying “I’d like you to meet a genius,” and in the footage that follows viewers are treated to testimony to that genius in the form of interviews, vintage footage of Jamaican political and music history, and Perry’s home movies. The home movies are of recent and not so recent vintage alike, and while the older ones, shot mostly at Perry’s Cardiff Crescent compound in Kingston, Jamaica, contain frequent references to Perry’s historical relevance, the newer footage of Scratch, wife Mireille, and their children skiing and playing in the Swiss snow provide something of an unexpected glimpse into the Upsetter’s apparently blissful current family life.

Domestic existence was not always so pleasant for Perry. His longtime partner Pauline Morrison left him around the time of the demise of his Black Ark studio, apparently taking tapes that later surfaced as commercial recording releases unsanctioned by Perry. His upset at her leaving plus the increasing social and political turmoil in Jamaica as the island’s two political parties engaged in street war by proxy eventually caused Perry to leave Jamaica for good.

Perry’s concurrent deep resentment at and frustration with the way he was treated by Island Records and its president Chris Blackwell is also mentioned, but curiously Blackwell is barely mentioned. Perhaps Perry is avoiding the renewal of old feuds, but given his fifty often contentious years in the music business, it would take several documentaries to adequately cover every aspect of his mercurial life and career. This nicely produced feature makes, at the very least, an excellent start and qualifies as a vital reference on Perry, reggae, dub, the history of world music, and the pre-history of hip-hop. For reggae collections, this is a must-have item―especially the Collector’s Edition, which includes a poster and over 30 minutes of bonus/deleted scenes.

Following is a brief trailer for the film:

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Artist: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Title: The Return of Pipecock Jackxon

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Label:  Honest Jon’s Records (London)

Catalog No.:  HJRCD109

Release date: November 8, 2011


This is the last album of material Perry recorded at his legendary Black Ark studio in Kingston before he destroyed the facility (again) and moved from Jamaica for good. It’s also one of the last of Perry’s works to be made widely available in CD format, although some songs from the album have appeared in one form or another (re-recorded, re-worked, as unfinished mixes, etc.) on other CD releases.

According to the liner notes by David Katz, author of the Perry bio People Funny Boy (Payback Press, 2000; revised edition, Omnibus, 2006), the album was recorded at a particularly bleak point in Perry’s life in the late 1970s. “After a string of masterpieces—War ina Babylon with Max Romeo, Police & Thieves with Junior Murvin, Super Ape—by late 1978 Perry’s working relationship with Island was in the doldrums. The label refused to issue his album Roast Fish Collie Weed and Cornbread; likewise Return of the Super Ape, even–despite signed contracts–the monumental Heart of the Congos.” His wife had left him for Danny Clarke of the Meditations, his distribution deal with Island Records had evaporated, and he felt that he was being used by grafters ranging from local street people to the Kingston police. Perry was also at odds with the dreads who made up part of the Black Ark community of singers, musicians, and hangers-on. “A Rastafarian sub-sect known as the Niyabinghi Theocracy had begun using the Black Ark compound as its headquarters: Perry was briefly employed as Music Minister, to aid psychic attacks on the Pope and the Jamaican government, before a doctrinal falling out.”

The music on The Return of Pipecock Jackxon sounds disjointed in places and unfinished in other places, but in the context of Perry’s incredible and often-pirated recorded output, this is hardly unique. This new CD version offers a much cleaner mix with some subtle differences like the jangly guitar part in “Bed Jammin” being clearer and more prominent in the mix. The instrumental performances throughout are very loose as well as uncredited since there are no discographical details provided, but there are inspiring performances on many cuts and a good bit of Perry’s madcap ruminating between and within the selections.  “The Return of Pipecock Jackxon is a true milestone–not simply the sonic index of Perry’s psychic unraveling, on the cusp of the dramatic metamorphosis that turned him into the being we know him as today, but more gloriously the final work to emerge from the Black Ark before its permanent destruction.” (All quotes from David Katz’ liner notes).

The set list includes: Bed jamming; Untitled rhythm; Give thanx to Jah; Easy knocking; Who killed the chicken; Babylon cookie jar a crumble; and Some have fe hallah.

Reviewed by Mike Tribby


View review February 1st, 2012

Love After War

Title: Love After War

Artist:  Robin Thicke

Label:  Geffen Records

Formats:  CD, 2-CD deluxe ed., MP3

Release date:  December 6, 2011



In a time where amoré is lacking in the R&B industry, Robin Thicke’s fifth LP provides the love with all the bells and whistles. His follow-up to the hip hop heavy Sex Therapy is a soulful return to 1960s-esque instrumentation and heartfelt ballads. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for a return to love and knowledge in rhythm and blues.

Thicke opens the album with the progressive “An Angel on Each Arm,” which sounds like a lost Motown demo. In the same soulful vein he sings “I’m a beast, hear me roar/fingernails on the floor” on “I’m An Animal.” He soon switches topics to illustrate two powerful message songs. “Never Give Up” soars on the wings of a live orchestra, building with each measure, which he rightly follows with the motivational anthem “The New Generation.” Given our country’s recent social ails, Robin pours out a message of positivity for the world.

Thicke switches to what he does best, romance, on the lovingly sung “Love After War.” Injected with a jazzy two-step rhythm, he begs to make up after the rupture of a relationship. The love continues on the only track with a feature as Thicke reunites with “Shooter” comrade Lil’ Wayne. After reassuring his partner that he is hers and hers alone, he details his “Mission.”

“Boring” finds Thicke dismissing all the things he could be doing―yachting with Bey & Jay, hitting up the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show―and focuses on spending time with the woman in his life, praising her with “glory hallelujah.” And the honest “I Don’t Know How it Feels to Be U” sounds like a letter a husband writes his wife on their anniversary.

Love After War is love personified―a man singing of the love he has for his wife, which she strongly reciprocates. Yes, rhythm and blues is here, and it’s oozing from Robin Thicke’s pores.

Reviewed by Lorin T. Williams

View review February 1st, 2012


Title: Twenty

Artist: Boyz II Men

Label: MSM Music Group

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 25, 2011



Indeed, Twenty is a great way to celebrate Boyz II Men’s 20th anniversary of their phenomenal music career.  During the past few years, this talented vocal group has recorded several cover albums such as Throwback (2004), Motown: A Journey Though Hitsville, USA (2007), and Love (2009), demonstrating their beautiful interpretations of beloved songs from various music genres.  But surely many of their fans have been waiting for another original album, and Boyz II Men has crafted the perfect response to fan’s expectations.

On Twenty, the group presents 12 new songs plus 9 reinterpretations of Boyz II Men classics such as “Motownphilly,” “End of the Road,” and “I’ll Make Love to You,” which show the group’s growth over 20 years. It was unfortunate that the bass, Michael McCary, couldn’t join this project (the current group includes Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and Nathan Morris), but the album does not suffer; in fact, the reinterpretations are better than ever.

As for new songs, the first single “One Up For Love” urges us to think about what we can do to make the world better.  Their second single, “More Than You’ll Ever Know,” features Charlie Wilson, a R&B singer, songwriter, and the former lead vocalist for the Gap Band.  As you can hear in the following video, Boyz II Men’s and Wilson’s talents blend well, especially in the second verse where Wilson takes a solo with the group’s signature harmony, while the adlibs between Wanya and Wilson at the conclusion of the song are amazing.  These vocalizations instantly classify this brand new song as one of the group’s masterpieces.

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With support from producers such as Teddy Riley, Tim & Bob, and Babyface, Boyz II Men has come back indeed.  It’s time for us to be completely absorbed by their sweet harmonies again.

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review February 1st, 2012

Motions of Love


Title:  Motions of Love

Artist:  Maysa

Label: Shanachie

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: November 8, 2011


Maysa’s Motions of Love album is unique in that it strays from mainstream music, showcasing a modern twist on disco and soft jazz aesthetics. Her mezzo-alto voice blends well with the neo-soul feel of the songs, while the instrumentals do a superb job of connecting with the sassy and fluid vocals and contributing to the soft jazz mood.

Most of Maysa’s songs address the positive aspects of being in love; more specifically, how love makes her feel. On the other hand, she also expresses the downs of love, such as how love can be abused. One of the standout tracks is “Have Sweet Dreams,” a tribute to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, written by Stevie Wonder and Kimberly Brewer, and featuring Stevie on harmonica:

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Maysa’s eclecticism is again revealed on the track “Hold On,” which infuses a Caribbean flow into the jazz beat. It is also on this particular song that she expresses her faith in God.  Lastly, she uses her vocals to bring life to her music. Like many artists, Maysa has her own unique sound, blend, and feel that makes her stand out in the music realm.

Reviewed by DeVol Tyson II

View review February 1st, 2012

Love Has No Recession


Title: Love Has No Recession

Artist: Kindred the Family Soul

Label: Shanachie

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  July 26, 2011


Love Has No Recession by Kindred and the Family Soul is an album like no other. Spoken word, toasting, vocal harmonies, and instrumentals all combine to make a sensual and socially-conscious project. Released in July of 2011, this album fuses old school R&B and soul rhythms with contemporary hip hop and jazz funk styles. Not only do the songs entertain, they reveal real issues in today’s black communities. For instance, “We All Will Know” discusses themes ranging from ghetto lifestyle and racial tensions to familial dysfunction and poverty. Although the song expresses hardship, the group still manages to incorporate God and spirituality into their music.

Following is one of the more romantic songs on the album, “You Got Love,” featuring Snoop Dogg:

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Toasting (an African American art form in which the emcee speaks over the given rhythm) plays a large role in various songs, more specifically on the “Above Water” tracks (parts 1-3). The messages—delivered by a suave, slow tempo voice—usually reflect the “conscious onlooker.” Also, the many featured soloists—including Raheem DeVaughn, Bilal, Rich Medina, and Chuck Brown—are given precedence over instruments and background harmonies.

Kindred and the Family Soul have brought something new to the music scene by weaving social issues into an album mainly based on love and sensual themes. One of a kind, Love Has No Recession is a great choice for the laid-back, yet conscious listener.

Reviewed by DeVol Tyson II


View review February 1st, 2012

Cry Love

Title:  Cry Love

Artist:  Maya Azucena

Label: Half Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 13, 2011



Indie soul singer Maya Azucena’s third album, Cry Love, is an “anthem for justice”—a natural progression for an artist who has devoted a significant amount of energy to charitable causes, including the co-founding of the maternal health awareness initiative (a tie-in to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals).  Other details of the singer’s background are a bit more difficult to find—the Brooklyn resident emerged on the scene in 2003 with her debut album Maya Who?, her music has been heard on episodes of The Wire and 30 Rock, and she appeared as a guest on Stephen Marley’s Grammy Award winning reggae album Mind Control.

Following is the official music video for the title track, “Cry Love”:

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On her new album, Azucena weaves back and forth between multiple genres, drawing liberally from soul, hip hop, jazz, reggae, and rock.  The 11 tracks were all co-written by Azucena, with the exception of her cover of the Donny Hathaway classic, “Little Ghetto Boy,” which features a duet with Chris Rob over a string arrangement by Steve Wallace. Other standout tracks include “The Half” featuring guitarist extraordinaire Vernon Reid, “My Back’s Not Up Against the Wall” with reggae legend  iNi Kamoze, the powerful retro soul ballad “Shine” which brings the horn section to the fore, and the empowerment song “Warriors.”

After sharing the stage with a multitude of legendary artists, touring throughout North America and Europe, and guest appearances on many albums, it’s time for Maya Azucena to gain a broader audience. Cry Love is a great showcase for her formidable vocal skills and eclectic influences, and might just be the vehicle that will take her to the next level.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2012

The Love Album


Title: The Love Album

Artist: Kim Burrell

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 17, 2011


Kim Burrell, who hails from Houston, was born to a pastor/musician father and an evangelist/singer mother of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). She began her first solo singing at age one, covering Andrea Crouch’s “Halleluiah Praise.”  Burrell, who sings with a church choir, has such an influential voice and expertise with “jazz gospel” that she has been nicknamed the “Ella Fitzgerald” of her generation. Now twenty years into her gospel music career, Burrell has overwhelmed fans with her distinct and captivating voice, which has propelled her to great success. A Grammy Award nominee and Stellar Award winner, she has five albums to her credit: Try Me Again (1995), Everlasting Life (1998); Live in Concert (2001); No Ways Tired (2009); and her latest release, The Love Album.

Burrell’s love for ministerial work (she founded and is pastor of the Liberty Fellowship Church) and music has had much influence on the compositional structure and presentation of her songs on The Love Album. As one of the best female voices out there, Burrell has put her vocal talents to great use on tracks featuring beautifully written lyrics with a careful blend of instruments (strings, keyboards, horns) and, indeed, igniting background vocals.

For Burrell and her colleagues, the instruments play vital roles in each of the ten tracks they composed. Furthermore, Burrell sings with the warm heat of conviction, caressing her audience like a warm blanket, just like the way a Mom cuddles her baby when putting her or him in bed. Also, she makes sure her audience is secure and safe in the bosom of the Almighty God, in whom she totally believes. Stand out tracks include “Jesus is a Love Song” and “Sweeter” (featured in the following official music video):

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As for jazz lovers, they should thoroughly enjoy the jazzy swing of The Love Album, while newcomers to Kim Burrell will find much to appreciate.

Reviewed by Nana Amoah (AAADS/African Studies Program, Indiana University)

View review February 1st, 2012

Farewell to Etta James

Title: The Dreamer

Artist:  Etta James

Label: Verve Forecast

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  November 8, 2011


The Dreamer is Etta James’ swan-song, the final release of her decades-spanning career. It is clear that the only thing that could stop her powerful presence from creating fresh material was death, and her January 20th, 2011 passing marks the end of an era.

Like most of her more recent recordings this album is a family affair, with her sons Donto and Sametto on drums and bass respectively, and also doing production work. The family matriarch shines through, however, with her characteristic dramatic effects, throaty voice and long-loved bluesy delivery that comes with both a wink and a heavy, heavy sigh. The Dreamer is comprised entirely of cover songs, all laid down in a similar groovy yet soulful manner. The first track, “Groove Me,” is a cover of the 1970 King Floyd hit and sets the subdued funky tone for the rest of the album. Over a strong bass Etta utters a memorable moan before launching into the song, sounding just as good (if a little more controlled) as she did fifty years ago.

There are a couple of clunkers, most noticeably the R&B rendition of Guns N Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” which isn’t necessarily bad, just a puzzling choice. Those few missteps are forgettable, however, in the overall scheme of the record. The Dreamer serves as a fitting last hoorah for James, whose musical strength never seemed to waiver or age.

Editor’s note: The 4-CD set Heart & Soul featured in the December issue of Black Grooves offers a wonderful retrospective of James’ recording career.

Review by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2012

Maxwell Street Blues

Title: Maxwell Street Blues (documentary)

Label: Facets Video

Formats: DVD (56 min., NTCS); stream via Amazon Instant Video

Release date: October 25, 2011




Fans of the blues are in for treat with the re-release of Maxwell Street Blues (1981) on DVD.  The documentary film takes its viewers on a walking tour of Chicago’s famous Maxwell Street market in the late 1970s where, among the merchants selling a variety of goods, there are street corner musicians, young and old, playing their instruments and singing to express the sweet sounds of the blues while still trying to make a living. Interspersed among the musical segments are tidbits of commentary that add a sense of history by explaining what is happening presently compared to what happened in the past.

Included in the re-release package are bonus features such as an 11 minute interview with blues historian Justin O’Brien about Maxwell Street, a photo gallery that chronicles the musicians of Maxwell Street photographed by Paul Procaccio, and a 1:30 minute slide show illustrating how the original Maxwell Street video was re-mastered and the quality enhanced.  Additionally, a new booklet has been added to the package that includes an introduction to Maxwell Street Blues, biographies of the musicians of Maxwell Street, and a historical timeline of the happenings on Maxwell Street.  For history buffs this is a one of a kind look at a street where a who’s who among Chicago blues singers mingled and played among the shoppers. For those who have not seen the original film, this is a must see!

Reviewed by Clayton McConnell

Editor’s note: readers might also be interested in And This Is Free: The Life and Times of Chicago’s Legendary Maxwell St. (1964), re-released on DVD in 2008 by Shanachie.


View review February 1st, 2012


Title:  Ifetayo

Artist:  Black Truth Rhythm Band

Label:  Soundway Records

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  December 6, 2011



Soundway Records, a label that is invested in re-releasing vintage music from the Global South, has found a gem in this 1976 album that, at the time, made very little impact.  The Black Truth Rhythm Band, an Afro-centric Trinidadian group, was formed in 1971 but made only one recording before disbanding, though Oluko Imo―the band leader who plays multiple instruments here―went on to record with Fela Kuti.  The band formed and released Ifetayo in the midst of the Black Power Movement in Trinidad and, along with performers like Lancelot Layne and Cheryl Byron, responded to the African-centered vibe of the movement in their music, making liberal use of African-style drumming and instruments like the mbira.  The album is not simply an African fusion album, though; the band skillfully weaves music from many traditions through a soul and funk-tinged set of tracks.  The title track, “Ifetayo,” is deliciously funky and falls into a drum and flute break that sounds decidedly West African.  “Kilimanjaro” ends with an up-tempo Latin American guitar break.  The band also incorporates steelpan, the national instrument of Trinidad, as an integral part of the group (not simply a flourish to pander to tourists) in “Save D Musician” and “Umbala.”  Further emphasizing their Trinidadian roots, “Aspire” is a decidedly funked-up calypso beat, and “Save D Musician” has a calypso-like shuffle and lyrics that address social issues, like any good calypso song.

Following is the official promo video featuring the track “Save D Musician”:

YouTube Preview Image

Since this album is a re-issue, listeners have to be invested in the early 1970s sound, but if you are, it’s a strong album that deserved much more attention than it received initially.  The album also pre-figured a number of developments in Trinidadian music, including the African-influenced music of rapso artists like Brother Resistance and 3canal, and the current Trinidad-based world fusion band Terrenaisance.   Ifetayo is currently available from Soundway in three formats: an MP3 download and CD,  both of which contain a bonus track, or, for purists, an LP with a 7” disc containing the bonus track.

Reviewed by David Lewis

View review February 1st, 2012

Soundtrack for a Revolution

Title: Soundtrack for a Revolution

Artists:  Various

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Entertainment One

Release date: February 14, 2012



Soundtrack for a Revolution, a musical documentary released on DVD in the fall of 2010, combined new performances of freedom songs with “riveting archival footage and interviews with civil rights foot soldiers and leaders, including Congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Julian Bond, and Ambassador Andrew Young.”  Now, just in time for Black History Month, a soundtrack album has been released.

Soundtrack for a Revolution (the CD) takes freedom songs from the Civil Rights Movement and brings them into to 21st century through performances by contemporary artists including John Legend, The Roots, TV on the Radio, Angie Stone and Mary Mary. The Blind Boys of Alabama are also featured as accompanying singers, representing support from the old guard. The song selection is equally as classic—many have become synonymous in the American psyche with the struggle for equal rights such as “Eyes on the Prize,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and of course “We Shall Over Come.” While the production is somewhat hokey at points, there are some real gems. The Roots and TV on the Radio offer a performance of “Turn Me Around” that captures the feel of a group gathered together for a higher purpose, while John Legend channels his pastor father in a rousing yet simple version of “Woke Up This AM,” sung solo with piano.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2012

Original Sound of Cumbia & Porro

Title: Original Sounds of Cumbia: The History of Colombian Cumbia and Porro as told by the Phonograph, 1948-79

Artists: Various

Label:  Soundway Records

Formats:  2-CD set, 3-LP set, MP3

Release date:  December 5, 2011


Five years of cultural immersion, painstaking research and intensive record collecting by Will ‘Quantic’ Holland have resulted in this fantastic collection, described in the press release as “Soundway’s definitive guide to the origins of Colombian cumbia and porro.” The two-disc set traces the genre from its Afro-Colombian origins on the Caribbean coast through its evolution into the nation’s favorite music.

The compilation documents what is referred to as “The Golden Age” of cumbia, the mid-20th century period when cumbia was transformed by a new generation from a folk genre performed with only percussion and vocals to a popular music genre featuring elements of mambo, big band and porro brass band music. The creativity, vitality and innovation of these recordings is evident even without a thorough knowledge of Colombian music. Some of the songs, like “Amor del Magdalena,” have a definite big band feel, often coming from a lead, melodic clarinet line, but the challenging percussive lines still mark the music as something very unique. The percussion-heavy roots of the genre can be felt strongly in other tracks, like “La Vaca y el Caporal,” where the brass instruments often feel like the accompaniment.

Creativity is richly sewn throughout all the selections, even in the production techniques. My favorite example of this is “Nubia en la Playa,” which features a reoccurring field-sample of a coastal tide coming in, providing a quite literal feel of being en la playa. Over all, this record is a must for fans and scholars of Colombian music and is highly recommended for new initiates who love to dance to classic cumbia.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry


View review February 1st, 2012

Bones for Tinder

Title: Bones for Tinder

Artist: Justin Robinson & the Mary Annettes

Label: Five Head Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 17, 2012



Good albums are easy to review. Picking out positive qualities and delving out a little praise isn’t really that difficult. But when an album is great, things get tough, and there’s something about Bones for Tinder that makes it especially challenging to review. Accredit this to what you will—the eclectic mish-mashing of genres, the group’s collective abilities—but that something is remarkable.

Here, the oft-ignored tradition of African American old-time music wanders in a new direction. Lead by Justin Robinson (formerly of the heavily praised Carolina Chocolate Drops), the Mary Annettes (comprised of North Carolina musicians Elizabeth Marshall, Kyra Moore, Sally Mullikin, and Josh Stohl) take what’s already familiar to fans of the Drops and filter it through their own tastes. For a band whose members credit Erykah Badu, Loretta Lynn, and “ossified remains of mammals” for inspiration, the process yields something we haven’t heard a whole lot of.  Bones is unabashedly rooted in traditional music, but those aforementioned influences come out loud and clear.

The album’s opening track, “Neptune,” along with the later appearing “Bright Diamonds,” “Thank You Mr. Wright” and “Nemesis or Me,” stick to the relative basics. Here, Robinson and his cohorts adopt a kind of singer-songwriter mentality, applying their old-time roots to a format that embraces atypical instrumentation and song structure, often backing Robinson’s vocals with a loosely-formed string trio, hand claps, percussive banjo and autoharp. Later, “Ships and Verses” and the haunting “Kissin’ and Cussin’” (which previously appeared on the Chocolate Drops’ Geniune Negro Jig) rely on—here comes the Erykah Badu influence—spoken word and rap traditions as much as folk and old-time. “The Phil Spectors” and “Gypsy Death and You,” tinged with subtle electric guitar and surprisingly contemporary drums, are a strong end to the album.

Following is a live performance of “Devil’s Teeth,” recorded August 2011 at the Cat’s Cradle in
Carrboro, NC:

YouTube Preview Image

That’s not to say, though, that there was ever really a weak point. Where Robinson and the Mary Annettes could have gone wrong, they went very, very right. Bones for Tinder is spot-on, an inspired and well-wrought album that appeals to fans of the Chocolate Drops’ brand of old-time without being an old-time album. It’s simultaneously of the moment and incredibly traditional, not trying too hard to be on either end of the spectrum. In the easy, unforced kind of way that can only be created by someone who really knows what they’re doing, Bones for Tinder is an extremely likable album, and for that alone (whether you can put your finger on what else makes it so good or not), it deserves some praise.

Reviewed by Hannah Davis

View review February 1st, 2012

Golden Gate Groove

Title: Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia Live 1973

Artists: Various

Label: Sony Legacy

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 31, 2012



Golden Gate Groove documents a unique and legendary moment in history— a CBS Records Convention at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel on July 27, 1973. That evening, 1500 music industry mavens listened to the “Sound of Philadephia” via artists signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. Shelved in the vault for decades, the tapes from that concert were recently discovered and mastered for this CD. The sound quality is so crisp and clear it is, to use the cliché, like you are at the convention yourself.

The concert, hosted by the late, great Soul Train founder Don Cornelius, featured all four of the label’s acts that had recently crossed over to the pop charts with songs written by P.I.R.’s founders. The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul and the Three Degrees all give impressive performances of their hits, backed by the 35 member M.F.S.B. studio orchestra (including Huff on piano and Thom Bell on organ).  Joe Tarsia, the famous Sigma Sound Studios engineer, was flown in and he taped the show from a recording truck positioned on the street outside the hotel, which explains the excellent sound.

There are quite a few great moments to highlight on this recording. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes give a perfect heartfelt performance of their hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” while the Three Degrees bring an immeasurably sassy rendition of “Dirty Ol’ Man” which they direct at all the major label suit-wearers in the audience. Even Billy Paul’s performance of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” which is definitely rougher around the edges than the other performances, is still powerful, simply through the force of his phrasing and delivery. The O’Jays closed the P.I.R. showcase with “a rousing rendition of “Love Train” that brought down the house, and brought the trio back for an encore as normally refined CBS personnel were standing on furniture and banging dinnerware . . . 1000 people developing a love train from the ballroom out into the hotel”—quoted from the outstanding liner notes by Ashley Kahn.

Kahn also places the event in context by illuminating the marketing aspects of the industry in the early ‘70s, particularly through interviews with Harry Coombs, a promotions man for CBS and P.I.R.  In November 1971, CBS created a fledgling “Special Markets” department (headed by Logan Westbrooks) to focus on R&B (i.e., Black) product. By the conclusion of 1973, in part due to the success of P.I.R., Columbia/CBS was well on its way to becoming the hottest R&B label in the industry.  The concert documented in Golden Gate Groove was a promotional tool to get CBS sales teams behind the product—a venture that was wildly successful, leading to the formation of black music divisions at other labels.

For listeners who are nostalgic for the Philadelphia sound of the 1970s, Golden Gate Groove takes us right back to the glory days; for listeners who are just being introduced to P.I.R., this album presents the artists at their best.  And for those who are interested in the history of the music industry, this concert offers an insider’s peak at the heady days of soul music marketing and promotional events.

Editor’s note: the AAAMC holds several collections documenting the growth of black music divisions within major labels, including the Logan Westbrooks Collection.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2012

Welcome to the February 2012 issue

Our selections this month are centered around four main themes:  Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, Reggae Month, and Carnival.

Starting off with Black history, our featured CD is Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia Live in SF 1973, an historic concert emceed by the late, great Don Cornelius. This is followed by an overview of Etta James’ final album, a DVD release about the history of Chicago’s famous Maxwell Street, the debut from Justin Robinson & the Mary Annettes celebrating old-time music, a compilation documenting the Original Sound of Cumbia & Porro: As Told by the Phonograph 1948-79, a reissue of music from the Afro-centric Trinidadian group Black Truth Rhythm Band, and  Soundtrack for a Revolution from the documentary by the same title.

Love is celebrated in a number of projects: Kim Burrell’s The Love Album, Maya Azucena’s Cry Love, Kindred the Family Soul’s Love Has No Recession, Maysa’s Motions of Love, Robin Thicke’s Love After War, and Boyz II Men’s 20 which features the romantic tracks “One Up For Love” and “More Than You’ll Ever Know.”

February is also reggae month in Jamaica, and following that theme we’re featuring new releases from Lee “Scratch” Perry, Gregory Isaacs, St. Croix’s The Midniters, and Kenyan-American newcomer KG Omulo who weaves reggae into his debut album Ayah Ye! Moving Train.

Last but not least, our celebration of Carnival, Mardi Gras, and Louisiana in general includes Putumayo’s new compilation Brazilian Beat, Trombone Shorty’s For True, Irvin Mayfield’s Love Letter to New Orleans, clarinetist Dr. Michael White’s Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, NOLA native Curren$y’s Weekend At Burnie’s, and C.J. Chenier’s zydeco fusion album Can’t Sit Down.

View review February 1st, 2012

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