Archive for June, 2012

The Book of David

Title: The Book of David

Artist: DJ Quik

Label: Mad Science

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 19th, 2011

 

 

The Book of David is the 8th and most recent studio release of veteran MC DJ Quik. Drawing from many influences throughout the 1980s, 1990s and beyond, Quik focuses heavily on instrumentation, implementing bass lines reminiscent of the P-Funk style.

DJ Quik will undoubtedly have you on your feet and dancing to his catchy funk track “Do Today,” featuring Jon B. and BlaKKazz K.K.  The lyrics are cleverly coupled with the ’80’s sounding funky bass line. A point of emphasis with Quik’s new album was avoiding reproducing just another plain rap album. Quik made this point through “Do Today,” which gives the listener the throwback sounds of the ‘80s but with a futuristic and funky twist.

Moving back to his gangsta rap roots on the very next track, DJ Quik disses his sister over a hard beat in “Ghetto Rendezvous.”  In a succinctly delivered line Quik opens up by spitting “You probably mad cuz you can’t eat off me no mo.”  With this quick shot, he sets the tone for the rest of the song, calling out his sister for wronging him in the past.

Towards the end of the album Quik has no trouble slowing it down and paying homage to the R&B sounds of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in “Time Stands Still.” This slow jam features Dwele singing a smooth chorus with Quik spitting over the slow beat. The rhymes are delivered smoothly, perfectly complimenting the instrumentation.

In the following video, Quik describes the process and art behind the production of The Book of David:

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Overall, DJ Quik has outdone himself on this masterpiece, demonstrating his superb ability to master a diverse set of genres and ranges of sounds and undoubtedly accomplishing his goal of not producing just another plain rap album. The instrumentation of each track coupled with the perfect delivery of lyrics makes The Book of David an album for the ages.

Reviewed by Brandon Chaffee

View review June 1st, 2012

Black Cocaine

Title: Black Cocaine

Artist: Mobb Deep

Label: Red General Catalog

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 21, 2011

 

 

Black Cocaine, a five song EP, is Mobb Deep’s first record following Prodigy’s incarceration, and comes as preparation for a future album from one of the East Coast’s most prolific and foundational hardcore rap duos. As an EP, its quick, aggressive pace harkens back to Mobb Deep’s glory days on Infamous (1995) and reminds listeners why the group is still creating music in the second decade of the 21st century, and why they still want you to hear what they have to say. Listeners will find the lyrics harsh, yet coming from familiar territory for Havoc and Prodigy.

Black Cocaine,” the title track, recounts the trials of a black man from the projects who sells drugs as a way to make ends meet, a man who “has a heart, but no conscience.” The lyrics are cold and set against a backdrop of minimalistic drums and shimmering keyboard, with occasional yelps from a chimpanzee as a reminder that the world of the drug trade in the inner city is seen as the enemy by the culture, but is often the only way to survive, making those working in it feel trapped and hopeless.

The fourth track, “Get It Forever (feat. Nas),” will be instantly appreciated by long-time fans of Mobb Deep for its tight verses from frequent collaborator and friend Nas. The song works as a cold tale of revenge and territorial violence—again, narratives that are familiar but still relevant and welcome, especially after the long absence of Mobb from the music scene and the gradual disappearance of a strong presence of hardcore rap from the East Coast. Covering gun violence, drug abuse, turfs, and more, the song hits on all the themes necessary for a musical depiction of life on the streets.

Following is the official video for another track from the EP, “Dead Man’s Shoes”:

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This EP won’t change the way any listener thinks of Mobb Deep—it’s a tight album with hooks that sometimes fall flat (“Dead Man’s Shoes”) and sometimes immerse you into the world of the lyrics (“Black Cocaine”), to be sure. But more importantly, the themes of the songs reflect what’s been known of the duo of Havoc and Prodigy all along—they represent some of the hardest views of the streets, and whether their approach is familiar to you or not will largely determine how this album will be appreciated. Some may view it as a triumphant announcement of the duo’s return to glory; others, a simplistic and overly-violent approach to problems of inner city life.

 

Reviewed by Tyler Thompson

View review June 1st, 2012

awE naturalE

Title: awE naturalE

Artist: THEESatisfaction

Label: Sub Pop

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Released: March 27, 2012

 

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. . . funk-psychedelic feminista sci-fi epics with the warmth and depth of Black Jazz and Sunday morning soul, frosted with icy raps—artist’s website.

Everything that is great about the Seattle duo THEESatisfaction is summarized in their debut music video for the song “QueenS— hip young Black women having a great time together and laying down smooth vocals over modern and experimental, yet undeniably funky beats:

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THEESatisfaction is Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White’s brain, or perhaps more accurately, lovechild. With a sound like female Sun-Ras for the 21st century, awE naturalE is an album a lot of people have been waiting for. Don’t mistake this for tokenism, however. This project is not notable just because a pair of Queer Women of Color is making experimental, political music. It is notable because it is a fantastic debut album.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review June 1st, 2012

Father Creeper

Title: Father Creeper

Artist: Spoek Mathambo

Label: Sub Pop

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 13, 2012

 

 

South African DJ/rapper Spoek Mathambo’s Afro-futurist sophomore album, Father Creeper, is both challenging and imminently danceable. Though at times reminiscent of TV on the Radio, there are unique aural oddities on each track that take Mathambo’s beats to new places. Songs like “Dog to Bone” feel like they traverse 3 or 4 songs within the boundaries of one track, all while retaining incredible sonic cohesion. Mathambo’s sound, which he has referred to as Township Tech, represents ways in which musicians around the world, M.I.A most relevantly in this case, have been bringing politics to the dance floor, with lyrics that most accurately reflect what it is to be young and aware in a neo-colonial landscape. On Father Creeper, describing the issues facing people in Mathambo’s South African community is of equal importance to deploying creative and diverse beats to clubs across the globe.

Following is the official trailer for the album:

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Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

 

View review June 1st, 2012

Disc-Overy

Title: Disc-Overy

Artist: Tinie Tempah

Label: Parlophone

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 17, 2011 (U.S.)

 

 

“Are you really big enough? I traded friends for fans, cement for sand, raise your hand, the Wonderman.” – Tinie Tempah in “Wonderman

The sleekly dressed UK rapper known as Tinie Tempah is making waves in the music industry with the release of his debut album Disc-Overy, which features collaborations with renowned artists such as Kelly Rowland, Ellie Goulding, Eric Turner and Swedish House Mafia. Needless to say, these are some huge names which raise huge expectations, and Tempah does not fail to deliver.

With the release of Tempah’s hit single “Written in the Stars,” he has found himself catapulted into the mainstream spotlight here in the United States. Featuring vocals and a catchy hook from Eric Turner, “Written in the Stars” is a mixture of pop, rock and rap coupled with some powerfully delivered lyrics from Tempah himself. The song speaks of his early years of life when he felt as if he were irrelevant. Tempah uses the song to tell the story of his rise from irrelevancy and poverty to stardom and living lavishly. Following is the official music video:

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Tempah’s unique UK style is a refreshing change of pace from the monotonous material featured in the typical U.S. mainstream release. The London-born rapper never fails to powerfully deliver his lyrics when needed, yet knows when to change pace and adapt styles. Tempah also has not failed to stay grounded; another welcome change of pace from rap artists here in the States. The message that Tempah offers through this album is one of inspiration and humbleness.

Tinie Tempah manages to sneak in some very catchy dance beats coupled with futuristic sounds on many of his other tracks. “Miami 2 Ibiza” is a collaboration between world renowned Swedish House Mafia DJs and Tempah himself. This track is undoubtedly one of the more upbeat songs on the album and is clearly geared towards the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) crowd.

Overall, Disc-Overy was a pleasant surprise and undoubtedly follows in the tradition of many previous and current crossover UK acts. Tinie Tempah will likely find continued success not only in this country, but throughout the rest of the world.

Reviewed by Brandon Chaffee

View review June 1st, 2012

Homeboy Sandman

Title: Subject: Matter

Artist: Homeboy Sandman

Label: Stones Throw Records

Formats:  LP (6-track EP), MP3

Release date: January 24, 2012

 

 

Homeboy Sandman is a Queens-based rapper whose lyrical prowess should have, if all was fair in this world, made him a household name in more than just backpack circles.  Sadly the world of musical success is mostly defined by commerce, not creativity. Moreover, the world of hip hop success is often defined by “authentic” hardness, and not by lyrical depth and complexity.

The major complaint raised about Sandman’s flow is simply that it’s never really hard. In this context hard doesn’t mean “hard-hitting,” which it can be (for instance on the track “Canned Goods”), or “hard to grasp at first listen,” which it can be due to Sandman’s love of labyrinthine linguistic play. To be hard is to be authentic and to be hard is to be real. And, in the contemporary hip hop narrative, to be hard and real is to rap within a certain constrained set of categories with a timbre that reflects the propagated perspective of the streets as a mythical breeding ground for dangerously attractive (to a wide-ranging consumer audience), violent men. Homeboy Sandman pokes fun at this hardness on tracks like “Mean Mug” off 2010′s The Good Sun, but he is still judged by that standard, with hard-headed critics claiming his flow is weak because of a plague of corniness.

I take pains to explain this situation because, without context, it seems somewhat incomprehensible that an EP like Subject: Matter isn’t blowing up like crazy. This is Sandman’s first release on Stone’s Throw (his new industry home) and is a harbinger of great things to come on his next full length, due out this summer.  Each of the EP’s six songs is fantastic as a stand-alone, but they are also well sequenced with a flow rarely heard in the MP3 generation. Following is the first official video release from the album for the track “Miracle”:

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The two standout tracks are the aforementioned “Canned Goods” and “Unforgettable,” which begins with the hilarious and embarrassingly poignant, “This is about, for everybody, who once had a girl that physical was stellar, but otherwise was problematic, but was physically so stellar.”  The song then goes on to a biographically self-effacing yet bold pining for the aforementioned problematic girl while describing Sandman’s unsuccessful attempts to fill the void left behind her stellar physicality.

“Canned Goods” uses the titular material to explore reactions to poverty and natural disaster, relating how these events and charitable feelings (too often short-lived) can bring communities together. The song takes us from Sandman’s childhood days, where he is sent by his mother to collect canned goods for a donation bin she set up in the community, to a charity concert organized by a friend after the Tsunami where people paid in canned goods, to the contemporary hoarding of canned goods by those anticipating the apocalypse. It is an excellently executed framing device for the song, which is so expertly and smoothly performed it almost brings to mind “spoken word” rather than “hip hop.” I would caution against that label, however, and ask the listener to examine what it really means: Sandman’s flow is so good it can make you forget you are listening to music, or at least the music most commercial entities want you to think of as “rap.”

 

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

 

View review June 1st, 2012

Be Good

Title: Be Good

Artist: Gregory Porter

Label: Motema Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 14, 2012

 

 

Gregory Porter, the jazz vocalist who exploded onto the international jazz scene in 2010 with his debut album Water, returns two years later with a characteristically mature, understated collection of songs on Be Good. His voice—smooth and confident, intense in its reservation—is fitted with an outstanding backing band consisting of drums, piano, bass, and a small horn ensemble.

Most of the songs on Be Good are mid-tempo ballads. In less capable hands, the at times noticeably repetitive arrangements could altogether distract from the message of the singer, but the sincerity of Porter’s voice brings an immediacy to the situations evoked by his lyrics. For example, in “Real Good Hands” he tries to find the words to comfort the man and woman who are soon to be his in-laws, assuring them that their daughter will be safe, healthy, and happy with him. Subtly unfolding itself as a love ballad, the song presents Porter and his lover as strong partners for each other despite the worries of her parents and, we come to gather, the pressures of the world.

Mother’s Song,” in contrast, is a straightforward ballad to mothers who have looked out for their children in the face of all hardships. While the verses maintain a walking pace similar to the rest of the album, the chorus bursts forth into double time as Porter’s voice grows stronger, recounting all the ways in which his mother has selflessly cared for him throughout his life. The mood is ultimately cheery, despite the feeling that Porter may have missed his target audience (“Listen, gather round children, children of a mother”) by a few decades.

Following is the official video for the title track “Be Good (Lion’s Song):

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Ultimately, this is what the listener begins to notice as the album progresses. Most of the songs, if played in the background, could hardly be called inferior “everyday” music.  But if it’s meant as an exercise of personal exploration, the album falls short of delivering, in spite of its star’s obvious talent. What is needed is more variety, more ascensions to points of pure emotional release, where not just the lyrics, but the musicians, and the singer himself, wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Reviewed by Tyler Thompson

 

 

Title: Be Good

Artist: Gregory Porter

Label: Motema Music

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: February 14, 2012

 

Gregory Porter, the jazz vocalist who exploded onto the international jazz scene in 2010 with his debut album Water, returns two years later with a characteristically mature, understated collection of songs on Be Good. His voice—smooth and confident, intense in its reservation—is fitted with an outstanding backing band consisting of drums, piano, bass, and a small horn ensemble.

 

Most of the songs on Be Good are mid-tempo ballads. In less capable hands, the at times noticeably repetitive arrangements could altogether distract from the message of the singer, but the sincerity of Porter’s voice brings an immediacy to the situations evoked by his lyrics. For example, in “Real Good Hands” he tries to find the words to comfort the man and woman who are soon to be his in-laws, assuring them that their daughter will be safe, healthy, and happy with him. Subtly unfolding itself as a love ballad, the song presents Porter and his lover as strong partners for each other despite the worries of her parents and, we come to gather, the pressures of the world.

 

“Mother’s Song,” in contrast, is a straightforward ballad to mothers who have looked out for their children in the face of all hardships. While the verses maintain a walking pace similar to the rest of the album, the chorus bursts forth into double time as Porter’s voice grows stronger, recounting all the ways in which his mother has selflessly cared for him throughout his life. The mood is ultimately cheery, despite the feeling that Porter may have missed his target audience (“Listen, gather round children, children of a mother”) by a few decades.

 

Following is the official video for the title track “Be Good (Lion’s Song):

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HvpIgHBSdo

 

 

Ultimately, this is what the listener begins to notice as the album progresses. Most of the songs, if played in the background, could hardly be called inferior “everyday” music. But if it’s meant as an exercise of personal exploration, the album falls short of delivering, in spite of its star’s obvious talent. What is needed is more variety, more ascensions to points of pure emotional release, where not just the lyrics, but the musicians, and the singer himself, wear their hearts on their sleeves.

 

Reviewed by Tyler Thompson

View review June 1st, 2012

Mixed Sugar

Title: Mixed Sugar: The Complete Works, 1970-1987

Artist: Regional Garland

Label: Now-Again Records

Formats: CD, 2-LP set

Release date: March 27, 2012

 

 

Mixed Sugar represents a musical biography of little known Michigan-based musician Regional Garland. The accompanying booklet traces Garland’s career as a Flint, Michigan impresario and showcases recordings made with his band, Mixed Sugar. This album is definitely for fans of the obscure, as most of these songs were previously unavailable and it is fairly likely that most of them are unknown to listeners—except perhaps for P. Diddy fans, who will note that the Hunts Determination Band’s instrumental version of Garland’s “I Need Love” was sampled on Diddy’s 2006 track “Make It Hard.”

There are some creative standouts on this compilation, such as “Fifteen Ain’t Young No More” with its classic generation gap pop sensibilities, and the smooth soul ballad “I’m Sad We’ve Broken Up.” Overall, however, the album flows from one track to the next ambiguously with few tracks that demand attention. Collectors of deep cuts and those who wish to maintain an encyclopedic knowledge of regional soul and funk releases throughout the U.S. should definitely check this out since it sheds light on a particular era in Michigan music. Additionally, the well researched and documented booklet by Ronnie Reese and Egon (a.k.a. Eothen Alapatt) provides a crash course on what music making was like outside of the major markets and labels in the 1970s.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review June 1st, 2012

The Best of Perception & Today Records

Title: The Best of Perception & Today Records

Artists: Various

Label: BBE

Formats:  2-CD set, 2-LP set, WAV download

Release Date: April 17, 2012

 

 

The Best of Perception & Today Records sounds exactly what you imagine the soundtrack to the lives of hip, Black, Manhattanites in the 1970s would sound like.  Perception Productions, a New York based record label that existed from the late 1960s to 1974, was founded by Terry Phillips and Boo Frazier. Though their label had a short run, it produced some fantastic recordings from some big names ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to Astrud Gilberto, along with many more hidden gems from lesser known artists.

The scope covered by this Perception Productions compilation is quite eclectic.  With fun Latin-influenced soul tracks like Joe Thomas’s “Chitlins & Cuchifritos,” funky jazz instrumentals from Bartel such as the descriptively titled “Boogie,” Jackson Five-lite pop songs from The Eight Minutes and enlightened, Afro-centric poetry set over funky grooves by Wanda Robinson, there seems to be no popular Black music genre that Perception Productions didn’t release at least one recording of.

This collection accomplishes what all great anthologies set out to do: for those of us who have not dedicated our lives to scouring basements and record shops for the most obscure finds, it does the work for us.  It’s not necessarily that these tracks are extremely rare, or impossible to find on Youtube, but The Best of Perception & Today Records is a worthwhile collection for anyone who likes the sounds of 1970s Black New York but either wasn’t there to buy the records when they came out or doesn’t have the time to research and discover these amazing tracks for themselves.

CD1 Tracklist: Dizzy Gillespie – Matrix; The Eight Minutes – I Can’t Get No Higher; Adam Wade & Johnny Pate – Brother; JJ Barnes – You Owe It To Yourself; Debbie Taylor – Too Sad To Tell; Joe Thomas – Chitlins & Cuchifritos; The Fatback Band – Njia (Nija) Walk; Bartel – Naturally Good; Madhouse – Get Some Of This; Astrud Gilberto – Gingele; The Albert – One Life; Bobby Rydell – Honey Buns; Black Ivory – You And I; The Eight Minutes – Take My Love Don’t Set Me Free; Wanda Robinson – Instant Replay.

CD 2 Tracklist: Fatback Brother Bill Curtis – Dance Girl; Bartel – Boogie; Dizzy Gillespie – Alligator; Black Ivory – I Keep Asking You Questions; Julius Brockington – Rock Steady; Tyrone Washington – Submission; Joe Thomas – Every Brother Ain’t A Brother; Bartel – You’ve Just Been Bitten; Black Ivory – Surrender; The Eight Minutes – Find The One Who Loves You;  Astrud Gilberto – Take It Easy My Brother Charlie; James Moody – Heritage Hum; J. J. Barnes – Wishful Thinking; The Eight Minutes – Looking For A Brand New Game; Wanda Robinson – A Possibility (Back Home).

 

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review June 1st, 2012

Meditation

 

Title: Meditation

Artist: Nazarenes

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: I Grade

Release Date: May 29, 2012

 

 

 

Coming from a family that worked for Emperor Haile Selassie I, the roots of Rastafari run deep for the Nazarenes. Formed in 1996, the Nazarenes consist of Noah and Medhane Tewolde.  The two brothers might be viewed as a living symbol of the diaspora and globalization of roots reggae, for although born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, they now reside in Sweden and work with a producer (Laurent ‘Tippy I’ Alfred) from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Meditation, their third album and the first on I Grade Records, seeks to musically express the global issues of suffering and persecution in a form that all can understand.

What is immediately apparent is that the Nazarenes aren’t your average, everyday roots reggae band. The opening title track hits with rich layers of deep bass, trebly guitar and smooth horns. The musicianship is superb, evoking memories of the golden era of roots reggae in the 1970s. The vocals only accentuate the song, as the mix of Ethiopic Ge’ez and English have an authentic, genuine sound. This is what roots reggae is truly about: having a deep connection between what you say and what you mean, and the Nazarenes could not be a better example. As we continue through Meditation there is no cessation of what has been laid out in the first few minutes. Possibly the most surprising of all the songs was “On My Way.” At the beginning the strings definitely feel off, and the grizzly vocalization doesn’t help either. However, in a complete turn of events the rest of the band enters, perfectly blending strings with a talented horn section. And while the semi-growling in the song wouldn’t usually fit with roots reggae, somehow the Nazarenes are able to make it work.

Following is the video for “Food + Dub Food,” the first single off of Meditation:

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I have nothing but good things to say about Meditations. There’s no instrumentation that feels as if it’s too weak or unnecessary, and vocals compliment perfectly. The content of these 14 tracks are the same tried and true Rastafarian messages.  This is not a negative at all, for these messages of persecution and injustice are easily translatable wherever one may reside in the world. The Nazarenes have composed another great album that can be added to the list of greatest roots reggae albums in the 21st century and beyond.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review June 1st, 2012

The Bright Lights EP

Title:  The Bright Lights EP

Artist: Gary Clark, Jr.

Label:  Warner Bros.

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: September 6, 2011

 

 

He consolidates Hendrix, Stevie Ray, ’90′s grunge, hip hop, soul and R&B into a cool mix that makes your jaw drop—San Antonio Current

Austin’s Gary Clark Jr. plays a fuzzy kind of blues, and the world is beginning to take notice.  Bright Lights opens with the title track, featuring a thick, fuzzy guitar tone dripping with reverb.  Another guitar rips through with laid-back drums, and then disappears as the band grooves under Clark’s dark, growling vocal. Clark’s sound lies somewhere between the White Stripes and the Black Keys’ grungy, garage band-like approach to the blues, but he stays more true to his roots. The sound is still blues; Clarke just brings it into the 21st century.

Following is the official trailer for the EP:

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The second track, “Don’t Owe You A Thing,” is straight up Texas blues with a fast tempo. The last half of the EP includes two live tracks. These are more lucid sounding ballads featuring just Clark and his guitar. “Times Are Changing” has echoes of artists like John Legend and John Mayer with its coffee shop feel and jazzy guitar under Clark’s swooning R&B vocal. The final track, “When My Train Rolls In,” is a dark 8-minute blues ballad.

Clark’s unique sound leads the listener to believe what he declares on the title track, “You gonna know my name by the end of the night,” and sets the stage for what should be a promising full length album.

Reviewed by Adam Levin

View review June 1st, 2012

B.B. King Live at Royal Albert Hall 2011


Title: B.B. King, Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2011

Artists: B.B. King, Slash, Mick Hucknall, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Ronnie Wood

Label: Shout! Factory

Formats: DVD, Blu-Ray, CD, MP3

Release date: March 20, 2012

 

 

The lights were shining and so was B.B. King in his silver jacket as he took center stage at London’s Royal Albert Hall on June 28, 2011. The performance was filmed and recently released on both DVD and CD (this review pertains to the DVD).

The “King of the Blues” makes the performance special from the start—as he slowly walks to his waiting chair, the 7-piece band plays an up-tempo number while King gets the crowd all worked, throwing out guitar picks and demonstrating his big personality. In his good humored way, he chats throughout the night with the audience, his band, and a host of distinctive guests. This true showman keeps the bluesy pace moving smoothly, from his iconic storytelling to playing classic blues on his famous Gibson guitar “Lucille,” to the solos of his guests and back again to his tales of lost and found loves.

The show gets going with King soulfully playing guitar and singing jazzy renditions of “I Need You So,”  “Key To The Highway,” and “All Over Again.” With humor he gives a history of an oldie but goodie, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” which he then plays with a nice swing. The way he pauses for storytelling is reminiscent of a preacher in front of a gospel choir, and as the master that he is, it all flows so well with the piano riffs.

Following is the official trailer for the DVD:

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King later plays along with blues musician Susan Tedeschi and her husband, guitarist Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band, on “All Over Again,” “Rock Me Baby, ” and “You Are My Sunshine.”  He is so interactive with them, encouraging Trucks to “slide” on his guitar solos and playfully trading vocal melodies with Tedeschi. The pace never lets up—the senior musician carries the tempo and shines alongside Ronnie Woods of the Rolling Stones, guitarist Slash (formerly with Guns N’ Roses) and singer Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. They pack a punch on the award winning song “The Thrill is Gone” and “Guess Who.” The show also raises the bar on the old time classic “When the Saints Go Marching In,” getting the audience up on their feet and swaying to the collaborative effort of the musicians. The musical guests give an impressive interpretation of this standard and pay homage to King, who is by far one of the most influential living icons in the blues world. The show was exciting, the master made it work magically and the audience left satisfied, knowing they witnessed a piece of blues history.

Reviewed by Ike Machover

View review June 1st, 2012

Encyclopedia of Black Radio in the U.S.

Title: Encyclopedia of Black Radio in the United States, 1921-1955

Author: Ryan Ellett

Publisher: McFarland (order line: 800-253-2187)

Format:  Hardcover book (208 p.), Ebook ed.

ISBN: 978-0-7864-6315-2

Release date: Spring 2012

 

 

Ryan Ellett, the founding editor of Old Radio Times (the official publication of the Old Time Radio Researchers), has performed a valuable service to scholars and fans of black-oriented radio through the compilation of this concise encyclopedia. As he points out in the Preface, “radio records from the industry’s first decade are sketchy and rare” due to the fact that  black programs were rarely sponsored, were typically broadcast by small local stations, and little documentation exists outside of newspaper advertisements. Though interest in this topic has increased greatly over the last decade, leading to several outstanding histories such as William Barlow’s Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio (1999), reliable information on the early years of black radio has been difficult to find.

The encyclopedia begins with the debut of the Amos ‘n’ Andy program in 1928 and concludes in the mid-1950s, even though Ellett states that the “golden era” of dramatic radio stretched until 1962 (no rationale is given for his arbitrary cut-off date of 1955).  Content includes the more prominent news programs, variety shows and dramas featuring African American journalists, actors and musicians, as well as popular radio series based on African American themes and content such as Amos ‘n’ Andy and Beulah.

The main entries are arranged alphabetically, program titles interspersed with personal names.  Short profiles of actors, musicians, journalists, and the most prominent disc jockeys of the era (Al Benson, Jack Cooper, Eddie Honesty, Hal Jackson, and Nat D. Williams) are included. Though all entries cite sources at the end, regrettably there is no mention of which programs, if any, are extant. Appendices and indexes include a “Station List” (call numbers and location/market), a chronological list of “Debuts and Notable Events,” and “Episode Guides to Two Early Series”—The Negro Achievement Hour (1928-1930) and The Negro Art Group Hour (1928-1930)—compiled from newspaper descriptions. The Bibliography lists books as well as a smattering of articles, dissertations, archival sources, magazines, newspapers, and websites.

While the brevity (158 pages of main entries) makes for an edition that’s accessible and easy to use, unfortunately the cost ($95 hardcover, $50 ebook) makes it unaffordable for the casual researcher.  Serious scholars will still wish to consult the massive two-volume Swingin’ on the Ether Waves: A Chronological History of African Americans in Radio and Television Programming, 1925-1955 by Henry T. Sampson (2005). And those interested in the development of rhythm and blues radio, post-1950 deejays, and black-owned stations will also need to consult sources with a more contemporary focus (for example, there is no mention of B.B. King’s radio programs on WDIA in the late 1940s).

Those wishing to further explore black radio are invited to check out the Archives of African American Music and Culture which holds several black radio collections, and has included selected images in a new online exhibit of black radio photographs.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 1st, 2012

Black Radio

Title: Black Radio

Artist: Robert Glasper Experiment

Label: Blue Note/EMI

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 28, 2012

 

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“The music is going to die if you don’t tap into something that people today can relate to”—Robert Glasper

 

Jazz pianist Robert Glasper’s fourth album, Black Radio, is a notable departure from his previous works. Glasper’s new approach, which combines the styles of jazz, R&B, rock, neo-soul and hip hop, is an effort to re-imagine what might (or “should”) be played on black radio stations. In doing so, Glasper seeks to set a standard or at least start a discussion about “standards” in music today (or more precisely, African American music). He addresses these feelings at the end of the song “Gonna Be Alright” (featuring Ledisi), where he and others have a discussion about how the bar for music has disappeared and popular music has become “whack.” One person in the discussion suggests that the lack of standards happened because people “don’t really think much anymore,” and the fault lies with the people in charge of the music (radio and TV producers, record company execs, etc.) having an  “anything goes” mindset. He ends the song by saying, “The best thing you can do for people is just be honest, we got to do something, man.”

In an effort to create such a heavy experiment, Glasper features a wide range of guest artists including Erykah Badu, Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), Lupe Fiasco, Lalah Hathaway, Chrisette Michele, Musiq Soulchild, and many more who add to his musical genius. These artists fit the project well—their differing backgrounds bring to the project a variety of musical styles, contributing to the authentic sound that Glasper is trying to achieve, devoid of artificial boundaries.

One of the most popular songs from the album is “Always Shine,” featuring Lupe Fiasco and Bilal, which fuses hip hop with jazz.  Another stand out track is the cover to the old Cuban jazz standard “Afro Blue” featuring Erykah Badu, who brings in the neo-soul feeling that she’s known for on her own recordings.

Following is the official trailer for the album:

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Overall, Glasper’s album is innovative in its attempt to get back to a place and time when there was a standard for music on the radio and in all other forms of media. If there’s actually such a standard in music today, Glasper has certainly set the bar high with Black Radio.

Reviewed by Bobby E. Davis, Jr.

 

 

View review June 1st, 2012

The Winley Recordings 1957-62

Title: The Winley Recordings 1957-62

Artist: The Clovers

Label: Phase One

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: March 26, 2012

 

 

This is a strange compilation that seems to be one producer’s way to reissue a bunch of old doo-wop singles.  Luckily, the music is quite good so the listening is easy.  Despite the title, only 8 of the 18 songs are actual Winley Records singles recorded by the 1961 incarnation of The Clovers. Two more sides are from a split-off of the Clovers called the Fabulous Clovers, which remained with Winley after the rest of the band signed with Atlantic in 1962. Four more sides are from “Charlie White of the Clovers” even though White had left the group in 1954. And then the last 4 sides are unrelated doo-wop songs “previously available on 45 only,” as described in the CD’s very brief liner notes.

Sorting out the history of The Clovers and Winley Records takes about as long as playing this CD. Better to let the music do the talking and spend some time surfing Google. The short version of the Clovers story: the band was formed in Washington DC in 1951 and was one of the earliest doo-wop groups. Their best-known hit is probably “Love Potion #9,” covered several times in the 60’s by rock groups, but they had other songs that placed high in the Billboard charts.

By the time they recorded for Winley Records (owned by the brother of long-time Clovers member Harold Winley), they had undergone many personnel changes and the doo-wop era was fading.  None of these tunes moved far on the charts or got much radio play.  But that doesn’t mean they are bad tunes. It’s a pity that “One More Time,” the B-side of “Stop Pretending” didn’t get heard by more 60’s rock bands, it’s ripe for a cover. Same goes for the A side of their second Winley single, “It’s All In the Game.”

The last four songs on the CD are two sides each by the New Souls and Early Knight & George Kelly.  They are nice entertaining rarities, but they don’t display chart-topping potential so one can understand why they faded into obscurity.

The transfers from 45RPM singles mostly sound quite good, with some records in rougher condition than others.  Winley Records stayed in business up into the hip hop era, and was the first label to record Afrika Bambaataa.  There is still a band called The Clovers, with a website and claiming regular bookings in the Washington, DC area.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review June 1st, 2012

Acousmatic Sorcery

Title: Acousmatic Sorcery

Artist: Willis Earl Beal

Label: Hot Charity/XL Recordings

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 3, 2012

 

 

Willis Earl Beal has a received a lot of press, marketing him as a Black Daniel Johnston, an outsider musician, a naïve primitive artist. Most of the articles that have surfaced recently have focused fairly heavily on these characterizations, but I’d prefer to just focus on some facts. (1) Beal is a 27-year-old musician from Chicago who recorded a rough-hewn collection of demos that were released in April on the album, Acousmatic Sorcery. (2) It’s a very promising release.

Acousmatic Sorcery is a truly lo-fi record, as illustrated by a handwritten note on the back of the album packaging that says “Disclaimer: This record was recorded on bad equipment. I like it this way. I hope you do too.” I wouldn’t recommend this album to anyone who isn’t already a fan of lo-fi, experimental or “outsider” music, as it is rarely accessible.

If you are already down for music that is usually prefaced by that sort of warning, however, there are some real gems here. Beal has a manner of synthesizing country blues, field hollers, rapping and general lo-fi weirdness in tracks like “Swing on Low” and the especially entrancing “Take Me Away” that I can’t say I’ve ever heard before, and I’m excited to hear more of. Moreover, the lo-fi weirdo narrative is one that isn’t often proscribed to Black artists in the world of indie-music criticism, so there is something very intriguing in watching and hearing it play out. Beal also offers some songs that are less experimental and more simply lovely. Both “Evening’s Kiss” and “Monotony” have the lullaby sweetness of Nick Drake.

Following is a video of “Evening’s Kiss,” one of the more mainstream songs from the  album, from a live performance on Later with Jools Holland (April 20, 2012):

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Hopefully Beal will survive his current status as a curiosity of sorts and be able to continue his art in a way that is fulfilling to him and that grants us further access to his diversely creative mind.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

Editor’s note: Beal will be touring Europe this summer but will be making appearances at various festivals in the U.S. including NYC’s Central Park Summerstage (June 7), Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival (July 13-15), and Brooklyn’s Weeksville Heritage Center (July 21).

View review June 1st, 2012

One

Title: One

Artist: Take 6

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 26, 2012

 

Formed at Oakwood College in Alabama in 1980, Take 6 has stood at the forefront of mainstream a cappella quartets for many years, attracting both national and international fans.  Yet this new album proves that they still have more room to grow as a gospel-jazz performing group.  The current members are Alvin Chea, Joey Kibble, Mark Kibble, Claude V. McKnight III, David Thomas and Khristian Dentley, who recently joined the group after the departure of Cedric Dent, a long-time member and co-producer.  Fortunately, the change in membership throughout the group’s history has never affected its signature harmonies or gospel/jazz fusion style.

One is filled with new arrangements of traditional spirituals and gospel standards, and members give generously of their musical talents.  David Thomas explains in an interview that the group intended to produce this new album in a similar manner to their first CD, which consisted of old spirituals performed with Take 6 style, and they certainly succeed.  One begins with “Down Here I’ve Done My Best,” a great opening number with smooth, yet rhythmical vocals.  The transition between “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “In My Heart” is likewise very smooth with a similar rhythmic structure, creating a mini medley.  Bass singer Alvin Chea gives a deep, warm solo performance on “Farther Along.”

The title track “One” summarizes their philosophy towards life, riding on jazzy harmonies.  David Thomas explains the concept of ONE: “Basically, there are a lot of things in this world that take many different things and many different ingredients to make something work.  But, as far as salvation is concerned, it only took one Jesus. … [Take 6] are six different guys, six different opinions, but when you put us all together, it comes out as one.  And that’s really because of ‘The One.’”  Their belief is also expressed in the song’s lyrics:

It only took one cross with three nails
One man
Three days to satisfy the ransom for my soul

The music video for the title track is also a special “one” with appearances by Stevie Wonder and Brian McKnight, representing “one” big family within the circle of music.  Wonder also contributes vocally on “Can’t Imagine Love Without You,” an original composition featured on his album A Time to Love (2005).  Wonder’s vocals and harmonica flow comfortably among Take 6’s well-established harmonic background.

Following is the official music video for “One”:

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Throughout the album, Take 6’s vocal skills keep surprising us with their jazzy interpretations of spirituals and gospel songs.  They will continue representing a cappella music, and their efforts will no doubt be appreciated by legions of listeners.  Surely “it only takes [this] one” album for anybody to become a big fan of Take 6!

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review June 1st, 2012

King Noah

Title: King Noah

Artist: Wordsmith

Label: Nu Revolution

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 19, 2012

 

 

Wordsmith isn’t your average, everyday rapper. With a college-level business education, he has an understanding of the inner workings of the music industry. Building on this experience, he has been able to establish licensing deals with entertainment companies like Nintendo and CBS while establishing his own label. However, one should not understate the lyrical ability that got him there. First gaining recognition with Chubb Rock on Bridging the Gap, Wordsmith has continued to gain critical acclaim throughout the hip hop community for his creative wordplay and uncommon content, which is evident on his latest album.

King Noah, first and foremost, is an album dedicated solely to the birth of Wordsmith’s new son, Kingston Noah Parker. The content, rather than describing Wordsmith’s feelings about his son, instead outlines a set of ideals and attitudes to pursue in life. These range from respecting women and learning forgiveness, to becoming more worldly by exploring and understanding cultural differences.  Although created for his son, obviously these are essential lessons for any person, young or old. But how does this album hold up both lyrically and musically?

The notion of a father’s album for his son may be regarded as overly sentimental by some, but King Noah is a strong and creative project. Wordsmith has already received rewards for his ability to weave a story through his lyrics, and it doesn’t stop on King Noah. Throughout the album he doesn’t simply tell his son to follow the rules he lays out—every song begins with a quick speech explaining why he should follow these ideals and attitudes. Then Wordsmith expands upon them as the song begins. There is, however, a negative side to these intro speeches as they tend to break up the flow between songs, leaving the album feeling somewhat choppy throughout. But this is the only downside to this unique album. Musically, the samples work very well, especially on the song “Generation X,” while other songs draw from contemporary R&B and gospel stylings.

Following is the video for the first single from the album, “Music for the Masses”:

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Ideally, King Noah provides a strong blueprint for the life of a newborn child. Wordsmith is extremely sincere in expressing his ideals, and obviously believes strongly in what he says. It is hard, then, to consider King Noah as simply another hip hop album. Instead, the fatherly lessons that surface in each track provide something that both adults and children can effectively enjoy. And with its release scheduled to coincide with Father’s Day, King Noah can serve as an important reminder of just how important a father can be in our lives.

Fans of Wordsmith should also check out the Prelude to the King mixtape that was released in preparation for King Noah.

 

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review June 1st, 2012

I Win


Title: I Win

Artist: Marvin Sapp

Label:  Verity

Formats: DVD (95 min.), CD, CD deluxe ed. (with bonus DVD), CD limited ed. (2 bonus tracks), MP3

Release date:  April 3, 2012

 

 

The all-male gospel vocal group Commissioned launched the careers of several great performers, including powerhouse recording artist Marvin Sapp. He became a solo artist in 1996 but has steadily grown in popularity, achieving crossover success with his 2007 release of “Never Would Made It” on the album Thirsty. His latest album I Win is the first project that he has recorded since the untimely passing of his wife MaLinda in 2010.  I Win is more than a declaration of impending victory; rather, it is also an inspiring testimony of struggle, loss, and survival.

The album opens with an energetic up-tempo song “Teach My Hands to War” that declares that “praise is the weapon” by which believers will realize victory over the negative situations in their lives. This selection establishes the tenor for this project, indicating that success in surmounting hardship is ultimately possible because of a relationship with God. Sapp continues this sentiment in the title track “I Win” that encourages listeners to believe that they are “overcomers” who can conquer anything. This song serves as a positive affirmation that despite life’s challenges “I shall win.”

The notion of surviving adversity is most intensely expressed in the meditative ballad, “My Testimony,” co-written by Sapp and acclaimed songwriter/producer Aaron Lindsey.  Unlike the previous selections, this song vividly articulates the emotional struggle that often accompanies personal hardship. The lyrics state, “I experienced loss at major cost…” and “so if you see me cry it’s just a sign that I’m still alive.” Fortunately, he tempers this somber reality by acknowledging that “despite the storm and rain/ heartache and pain/ I’m still alive declaring I made through/ I didn’t lose…” The beauty and power of “My Testimony” is the way in which Sapp is able to transform a serious subject like personal loss into a point of celebration.  As the backing ensemble repeats the lyrics “so glad I made it, I made it through” Sapp showcases his impeccable ability to connect with his audience and draw them into this musical and spiritual moment. He sings improvised words inviting listeners to reflect on their own trials and triumphs. Through their vocalizations and handclaps the audience showcases agreement with Sapp and joins him in worship.

Following is the official video for “My Testimony”:

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Sapp rounds out this project with a collection of songs that range from newly composed contemporary gospel to popular hymns. For instance, the praise song “Glory” describes the grandeur of God and His presence here on earth as evident in all of nature (like the mountain, valleys, and wind). In a different light, the worship song “Deeper” addresses the need to develop a more personal relationship with God. “The Hymn Medley” features an impromptu selection of songs that are standards in many African American churches across the United States including “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and Andraé Crouch’s 1970s classics “Bless the Lord,” “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” and “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power.” This trip down musical memory lane transforms this concert into a full-fledged church service with Sapp acting as much in his pastoral capacity as his role as a performer leading listeners in worship.

I Win is a gospel album that moves beyond expected musical conventions to offer an intimate portrait of pain, sacrifice, and success. Drawing on his own experiences, Sapp encourages listeners to have faith and persevere through their toughest of circumstances. Throughout this album, it is evident that he is singing with a genuine conviction. It is that element, that ability to not only sing well, but to truly connect with others, that has made him one of the most popular gospel artists in the past decade.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review June 1st, 2012

Here’s Little Richard

Title: Here’s Little Richard

Artist: Little Richard (a.k.a. Richard Penniman)

Label: Specialty Records/Concord Music Group

Catalog no.: SPC-33300

Format: CD (enhanced; includes poster)

Release date: April 17, 2012

 

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This deluxe-packaged CD is a reissue of Specialty LP 100, which collected Little Richard’s breakthrough singles of 1955-56 onto a single disc.  The CD also includes two demo recordings made in Macon, Georgia, in February 1955, and a 9-minute interview with Specialty Records founder Art Rupe, focusing on Little Richard’s dealings with the label.  In addition, there are two Quicktime videos of screen test performances of “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally.”

By the time Little Richard recorded these sides, between September 1955 and November 1956, he was an established and experienced regional performer, based in Macon, Georgia.  He had started out performing on street corners as a child, then in traveling medicine shows as a teen.  He had recorded for RCA and Peacock Records in the early ‘50s, but had not enjoyed chart success or long-term commitments from those companies.

In February 1955, Richard made the demo recordings included on this CD and mailed them to Rupe.  They were ignored at first, according to Lee Hildebrand’s excellent liner notes.  Richard continued to write and telephone Rupe and Specialty producer Bumps Blackwell until they listened to the demo. According to Hildebrand, Rupe and Blackwell “weren’t overwhelmed by what they heard, but Rupe was impressed enough to dispatch Blackwell to New Orleans to record Richard with some of the same studio musicians who had played on (Lloyd Price’s hit) ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ three-and-a-half years earlier.”  That first session netted “Tutti Frutti” and all of sudden the folks at Specialty Records had a hit on their hands.

Although Little Richard had chart success and definitely raised his profile with these recordings, the songs’ biggest impact came later.  Elvis Presley covered “Tutti Frutti,” “Ready Teddy,” and “Rip It Up.”  The Beatles covered “Long Tall Sally.” And “Slippin’ and Slidin’” was covered by Wanda Jackson and later by Otis Redding, among others.

Some listeners may be accustomed to the famous covers of these tunes, and Little Richard’s originals may be a surprise (or shock). The raw intensity leaps out of the speakers, thanks to the excellent remastering by Joe Tarantino.  As over-the-top as the Beatles’ “Long Tall Sally” was, Richard’s was more so, more compact and focused in its delivery.  That’s the case with every fast tune on this album.  Richard and the band were hitting on all cylinders, pedal to the metal.  Richard used his relatively high-pitched voice to great effect, confidently hitting whatever lyric, scream or guttural exclamation he attempted.

Following is a video of a UK 78-rpm pressing of “Tutti Frutti” played on a Decca phonograph—this may be exactly how the Beatles discovered Little Richard!

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In October 1957, still enjoying radio play and chart success with his ground-breaking music, Little Richard quit show business and took up religion.  He has gone back and forth many times since then.  He never again enjoyed the music business success of the 25 months with Specialty Records.

The majority of the songs on this album were recorded in New Orleans by Cosimo Matassa and they are the most energetic and best sounding on the CD.  As in the case of their excellent Stax Remasters and Orin Keepnews Edition jazz reissues, Concord has put together a fantastic package of good sound, good liner notes and interesting bonus content. This CD serves as both fabulous entertainment and a nice piece of music history.

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

View review June 1st, 2012

Welcome to the June 2012 Issue

Welcome to the June issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring the newly re-mastered, expanded and enhanced edition of Little Richard’s 1957 classic album Here’s Little Richard plus three more compilations: The Best of Perception & Today Records; The Clovers: The Winley Recordings 1957-62; and Mixed Sugar: The Complete Works, 1970-1987, which includes the funk, soul, and disco catalog of Flint, Michigan producer, singer/songwriter Regional Garland.

New gospel releases include Marvin Sapp’s inspirational DVD/CD I Win and Take 6’s One, featuring the a cappella gospel-jazz quartet’s own unique arrangements of traditional spirituals and gospel standards.  New blues releases include B.B. King’s DVD/CD Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2011 and newcomer Gary Clark, Jr.’s The Bright Lights EP.

Under the broad category of world music are two new CDs: Meditations by the Nazarenes, an Ethiopian-born Swedish-based roots reggae group, as well as South African rapper Spoek Mathambo’s Afro-futurist sophomore album Father Creeper. Other rap albums include Mobb Deep’s Black Cocaine EP, DJ Quik’s The Book of David, Seattle duo THEESatisfaction’s awE naturalE, UK rapper Tinie Tempah’s Disc-Overy, Homeboy Sandman’s Subject-Matter, and Wordsmith’s Father’s Day themed project King Noah.

Other reviews this month include Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio, the new Encyclopedia of Black Radio in the United States, 1921-1955,  jazz vocalist Gregory Porter’s Be Good, and Acousmatic Sorcery by Chicago-based lo-fi “outsider” artist Willis Earl Beal.


View review June 1st, 2012

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