Archive for July, 2012

Time Will Reveal

Title: Time Will Reveal: The Complete Motown Albums

Artist: DeBarge

Label: Hip-O Select

Formats: 3-CD set, MP3

Release date: September 20, 2011

 

 

By the late 1970s and heading into the 1980s, Motown’s successes of earlier years had reached a sharp decline. With Holland-Dozier-Holland leaving in 1967, followed by many of Motown’s original artists, there was an internal crisis as the record company tried to stay afloat amidst  changing musical tastes. By the 1980s, Motown had become a shadow of its former self. However, the company generated some success in the adult contemporary market, mainly through the songs of DeBarge. From 1981–1985, the sibling quintet garnered several hits for Motown, namely “Time Will Reveal” and “Rhythm of the Night.”

Following is the music video for “Rhythm of the Night”:

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DeBarge produced four solid albums, three of which went gold, before leaving Motown in 1987 and disbanding not long thereafter.  Hip-O Select has now re-released all four of the group’s Motown albums—The Debarges (1981), All This Love (1982), In a Special Way (1983) and Rhythm of the Night (1985)—on the limited edition set Time Will Reveal.  The third disc “Remixes & Rarities” is a compilation of various instrumental mixes and deep cuts that any longtime fan or someone being introduced to the group for the first time would enjoy. Finally, the glossy accompanying booklet details the history of DeBarge, combined with images of the original album covers, preserving the history of this successful ‘80s Motown group.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review July 2nd, 2012

Betty Wright: The Movie

Title: Betty Wright: The Movie

Artists: Betty Wright & The Roots

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: S-Curve Records

Release date: November 15, 2011

 

 

Betty Wright’s newest release, Betty Wright: The Movie, seeks to tell the tale of a woman who has been in the music business since the late 1960s. In addition to The Roots, a host of talent joins Wright on the album. Well-established rappers Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne are featured on “Real Woman” and “Grapes On a Vine,” respectively, while British R&B sensation Joss Stone accompanies Wright on “Whisper In the Wind.”

Nostalgia opens Betty Wright: The Movie.  “Old Songs” reflects on the classics of yesteryear, while also giving some constructive criticism to contemporary music, stating, “I must admit / your beats got fatter / but add subject matter / on subjects that matter.” From here on out, the album begins going in reverse. Songs like “Real Woman” and “Surrender” mix contemporary elements with classic ‘70s soul. The guitar work, using modern licks and quick riffs, blends with the subtle piano in the background. It’s a nice creation, as the classic soulful grooves get a facelift for today’s music scene.

As with every movie that’s focused on an artist’s musical career, there are bound to be some hiccups. These hit about midway through the album, as the ‘80s and ‘90s begin to make themselves noticed. There are remnants of the early ‘90s R&B vibe on some of the songs, creating an overall sense of funny cheesiness rather than real sentimentality. “Tonight Again” is the main culprit, as the synthesizer blends electric horns and bells to create an adult contemporary romantic setting. The chorus, a repetition of, “Light up a candle / we got business to handle / it feels like / tonight again” only acts to echo the electric vibes. “Look Around (Be a Man)” still has that same synthesizer, although this time the song is more hit than miss.

As we get into the last major section of Betty Wright’s musical journey, the old soul makes its presence known. Featuring a comparatively stripped-down but still powerful rhythm section, Betty Wright continues to shine. “So Long, So Wrong” chimes in with bells and keyboard, as Wright’s voice smoothly incorporates the rest of the band. “You and Me Leroy” continues to build on the previous song, keeping the “less is more” formula and ending the album on a strong note.

As the credits roll on Betty Wright: The Movie, there is no denial that Wright has a storied history after several decades in the music business. From the early soul, to the synthetic R&B, to the fusion of old and contemporary, Wright continues to incorporate new musical influences in creative ways. And although there may be some tracks that are weaker than others, it is hard to deny that Wright’s newest release has a plethora of hits that more than make up for any of the weaker songs on the album.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

 

View review July 2nd, 2012

Out of the Basement, Out of the Box

Title: Out of the Basement, Out of the Box (Double-EP)

Artist: Cole Williams

Label: ThatsMyWorldwide LLC

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc.)

Release Date: May 8, 2012

 

Brooklyn-based Cole Williams brings an array of differing styles and influences to the forefront on her newest double-EP, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box. This release features both old and new material over two discs. The first EP, Out of the Basement Part 1, includes material released by Williams in 2011, while the second EP, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box is comprised of Williams’ most recent works. Incorporating the aspects of her diverse neighborhood, Williams brings together elements of reggae, soul, rock, and hip hop that are complimented beautifully by her vocal talents.

What I first noticed upon listening to both EPs is that each has a distinctive sound, possibly reflecting the fact that she works with two bands:  That’sMyCole (soul/reggae/ska/rock) and People’s Champs (an afro beat/rock/soul hybrid). Of the two EPs, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box has a much heavier reggae orientation, while  Out of the Basement, Part 1 is more aligned with neo-soul and rock throughout, as is evident in the songs “Little Me,” “Why,” and “Selfish.”

Overall, the first EP is a very impressive work. Featuring an old-school soul vibe, Out of the Basement, Part 1 opens with the strongest track, “Little Me.” Everything seems to click in this song: Williams is strong throughout, especially on the chorus, while the band exhibits just as much energy.  But it doesn’t end there. “Selfish” is a classic soul tribute, from the vocals and the lyrical content right down to the drums and bass, and how great it sounds. “Part 1” and “Good Thing” follow suit, and although the drumming style in the latter track is less soulful, it is nonetheless effective. The only real downside is the mixing of the guitar parts,  which should have been given more emphasis in songs such as “I Ain’t Sweet On Him” and “Part 1.”

Following is the official video for “Little Me”:

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Taking a new spin on elements from the first disc, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box features a much heavier bass while still preserving a soulful core. Bringing her Jamaican roots to the fore on “The Box” and “88,” the soulful singing style is still present but now features syncopated bass lines and off-beat guitar. Unlike the previous EP, none of the songs necessarily stand out from the rest, though they’re all done well. Williams doesn’t seem as emotionally involved as she should be, preferring instead a more laidback style of singing. There is also a greater utilization of electronic samples, which for the most part is effective. The only oddity is the last track, “Save Me.” Near the middle of the song the volume drops, then rises again in what sounds like a dubstep bass drop. Although this doesn’t kill the song for me, it nonetheless is an unusual and disconcerting addition. However, other than this small criticism, the double EP is an excellent start to Cole William’s musical career.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review July 2nd, 2012

Candy McKenzie

Title: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry presents Candy McKenzie

Artist: Candy McKenzie

Label: Trojan

Format:  CD

Release date: April 3, 2012

 

 

In 1977 Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry experienced a bit of rare sales chart success when his recording of Susan Cadogan singing “Hurt So Good” scaled the UK pop charts. Trojan quickly released Perry’s Cadogan album (Susan Cadogan) to capitalize on the single’s popularity. Around this time, Perry also recorded an album by Candy McKenzie, a member of Full Experience along with Aura Lewis and Pamela Reed, who had also recorded for Perry. McKenzie’s set was never released, though a few songs trickled out including a dubbed-up version of “Long Enough” (aka “Walking in the Sun”) that surfaced on Pressure Sound’s recent Return of Sound System Scratch collection. Now Trojan has finally released a full album’s worth of McKenzie’s work with Perry.

If Super Eight is Scratch at his most ethereal, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry presents Candy McKenzie is Scratch at his most restrained, as he attempted to duplicate the more mainstream appeal of Cadogan’s hit. Had the distribution deal with Island and Blackwell not gone by the boards around this time, this album might have been one of Perry’s most commercially successful efforts. McKenzie sings in a rich, soulful voice and Perry keeps the production effects to a minimum on this release. Call it reggae meets Motown. In any case, the album languished until this release. The backing musicians are pretty much the same aggregation of the Upsetters that appear on Super Eight, and again their playing is exemplary. Something of a stylistic departure for Perry, this album presents another side of the prolific producer’s oeuvre.

The set list includes:  Disco Fits ; Someone to Love Me ; Breakfast in Bed ; Walking in the Sun ; Jah Knows ; Ice Cream ; Sky at Night ; Keep Him Strong ; Tell Me a Lie ; When the Big Day.

 

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review July 2nd, 2012

Super Eight

Title: Super Eight

Artist: George Faith; produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

Label: Trojan

Format:  CD

Release date: April 3, 2012

 

 

In 1977 Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s career was at its apex—artistically if not commercially. Between 1976 and 1977 he had released War in a Babylon with Max Romeo, Scratch the Super Ape (aka Super Ape), Party Time (with the Heptones), Police and Thieves (with Junior Murvin), and Heart of the Congos (with the Congos). All would eventually be acknowledged as classic roots reggae and dub works. But Island Records wasn’t promoting the releases to Scratch’s satisfaction and in fact Island president Chris Blackwell had declined to distribute Heart of the Congos and a few other releases at all, though they paid Scratch for fulfilling his contractual obligation and allowed Perry to pursue other distribution venues. But without Island’s worldwide reach, sales were minimal and the albums hard to find in many markets, especially in the U.S.   Blackwell later said that he had failed to appreciate Perry’s work from this time, but defended his decision as a good business judgment. Perry, and other Jamaican artists signed to Island at the time, suspected that Blackwell was pulling back on his efforts on their behalf to clear the marketplace for Bob Marley. Blackwell’s defense was that Marley was already reaching a wider market than the others and Island was doing the fiscally sensible thing by directing their promotional efforts to Marley.

One title Island refused to distribute was Super Eight, a collection of love songs and ballads reworked for reggae crooner George Faith. Released in Jamaica on the Black Art label and elsewhere on the Black Swan label as To Be a Lover, this collection went unreleased on CD until 2003’s Hip-O select limited edition. The To Be a Lover version had a different playlist and slightly different song titles from the original, but now Trojan has released a remastered CD of the original package.

Faith’s vocals float in and out of the mix throughout the album, and Perry utilizes the full range of studio tricks and techniques available at his homemade studio, the Black Ark. Perry himself (along with Skully) contributes layer after layer of percussion tracks, playing sticks, hand drums and who knows what else, while the main instrumental track bubbles along in a smoky, swampy mix that is the epitome of his signature Black Ark output. The studio mixing board is truly the lead instrument here, with Perry utilizing phasers, echo, and delay throughout. Oddly for roots reggae, discographical notes are fairly comprehensive on this album. Reggae stalwarts including Ernest Ranglin (lead guitar), Sly Dunbar (drums), “Deadly” Hedley Bennett (horns), Glen Da Costa (horns), and Boris Gardiner (bass) are featured, as are the Diamonds and the Meditations who provide backing vocals.

Gardiner’s stellar performance demonstrates why he deserves recognition, along with Robbie Shakespeare and Aston “Family Man” Barrett, as the best bass players in reggae, a music where the bass guitar is the customary lead instrument. Perry mixes their performances in his inimitable Black Ark style, boiling the mix down to an audio stew both languid and forceful. The totality of the instrument tracks are often melded together so completely that the only identifiable individual instrument is Gardiner’s booming bass, which the new digital mix emphasizes to the fullest. The overall sound was probably only attainable at the Black Ark, where Perry’s jerry-rigged equipment and his odd practices—like rubbing baby oil into the mixing board and blowing ganja smoke into the tapes as they turned—contribute to a dreamy quality that helps to transform, for instance, the Paul Anka chestnut “Diana” into a psychedelic reggae tour de force.

The set list includes: I’ve Got the Groove ; Opportunity ; Turn Back the Hands of Time ; Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got (aka There’s a Train) ; In the Midnight Hour/Ya-Ya (medley) ; I Forgot To Be Your Lover (aka To Be a Lover) ; Diana ; So Fine.

 

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

 

View review July 2nd, 2012

Letters From Birmingham

Title: Letters From Birmingham

Artist: Ruben Studdard

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  March 13, 2012

 

 

Known by fans as the “velvet teddy bear,” 2003 American Idol winner Ruben Studdard has returned after a brief hiatus with his fifth project, Letters From Birmingham. Released not long after the dissolution of his marriage, this album explores a range emotions as expressed in a relationship, from the gritty to the sentimental. Its features four spoken word interludes or “letter” excerpts that follow the relationship from the courtship to breakup. While these brief tracks add to the thematic material of the album, it’s the music that truly tells the story. Studdard is in his element with old school R&B (particularly ‘80s and ‘90s) influenced songs that allow him to recall the vocal prowess that made him an idol.

Among his most inspired pieces is his cover of the Bobby Brown hit “Rock Wit’cha,” featuring up and coming artist K Michelle. In this smooth slow jam Studdard embraces the soulful vocal play of iconic R&B performer Luther Vandross, as he attempts to woo a prospective lover. His impressive ability to convey a gentle, yet intense emotion gives me hope that the R&B crooner breed may not be fully extinct. In a different setting, Studdard pairs up with the distinct voice of Chrisette Michele for the dance-worthy uptempo song “Do it Right.” Exploring the apprehension of a couple experiencing new love, this song adds variety to this album by allowing Studdard to showcase a vocal dexterity that is not as prominent in his ballads.

Letters From Birmingham also features more eclectic pieces like a cover of “Pure Imagination” as performed by Gene Wilder in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Interestingly enough, updated with a contemporary mid-tempo beat, this song is both thematically and musically fitting for this album. Studdard’s laidback approach renders this piece a convincing love song with sensual undertones. Conversely, there are also moments in which the musical components and Studdard’s performance are stellar, but the lyrical content is not as engaging. For instance, in the song “Wear Me,” Studdard suggests that he wants to be his lover’s clothing and jewelry because he desires to be as close to her as possible. While I would gladly “two step” to this soulful dance selection all night long, the metaphor itself does not move me.

The final song on this album, “June 28th (I’m Single),” is a product of personal expression that appears to be a closing statement about Studdard’s current position. Here, he offers an honest reflection on the premature ending of his marriage and his hope to find love elsewhere. Unsubtly, he declares that he will miss his ex-partner, but he is currently single and embracing the next phase of his life.

Following is the official video:

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Letters From Birmingham offers an array of variations on the theme of love and heartache with a few gems of musical excellence and creativity. Those flashes of greatness leave me in eager anticipation of what will hopefully be an exciting new phase in Studdard’s career.

 

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review July 2nd, 2012

Coastal Grooves

Title: Coastal Grooves

Artist:  Blood Orange

Label:  Domino

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  August 8, 2011

 

 

Blood Orange, the latest musical project from creative Renaissance man Dev Hynes, formerly known as Lightspeed Champion and as a member of eccentric rock group Test Icicles, meets any and all expectations one might have of this seasoned performer. Coastal Grooves is an expertly orchestrated electro-pop album that is somewhat reminiscent of a synth-ier Strokes. This imminently danceable collection of cosmopolitan pop songs sounds like the music you hear in the background of a “hip club scene” in a movie about young people in New York and is perfect for any occasion where you’d like to dance around and still feel cool doing it.

Following is the official video for “Sutphin Boulevard”:

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Check out other videos from the album including “I’m Sorry We Lied,” “Champagne Coast,” and the album’s opening track “Forget It.”

 

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review July 2nd, 2012

Beaus $ Eros

Album: Beaus $ Eros

Artist: Busdriver

Label:  Fake Four Inc.

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: February 21, 2012

 

 

There is a certain type of artist who has the creative gift of being able to meld their insecurity and self-loathing with their intellect, wit and sense of humor to create works that are at the same time introspective and upbeat, personal and experimental, emotional and also distanced. Busdriver (a.k.a. Regan Farquhar) stands at the head of that pack of artists with Beaus $ Eros, a strikingly catchy, beautiful hip hop album that explores the Dadaist workings of Busdriver’s mind as he deals with the political climate, failing relationships and the instability of a musical lifestyle on songs such as “NoBlacksNoJewsNoAsians” and “Swandive into a Drinking Glass.”

Following is the video for another track from the album, “Kiss Me Back to Life”:

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The confusingly constructed lyrics, with their occasional bursts of pure poignancy (“I’m more than a boyfriend/ I’m a mistake you can learn from”) are perfectly miss-matched with the clunky, noisy beats provided by Belgian producer, Loden. The heterogeneous nature of Loden’s intricate production makes the overall sound of this album impossible to articulate, but in spite of that, there is an energetic cohesion that makes it fairly addictive. Hip hop is one of the last bastions of experimentation in popular music, and Beaus $ Eros is a fantastic addition to the weird-rap canon.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review July 2nd, 2012

Attractive Sin

Title: Attractive Sin

Artist: Del the Funky Homosapien and Parallel Thought

Label: Parallel Thought Ltd.

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date: June 19, 2012

 

 

If you like getting lost of the labyrinthine trains of thought Del the Funky Homosapien easily spits out in his well known, funky, relaxed Yay-Area style, Attractive Sin will undoubtedly please you. Though certainly not the best release in Del’s illustrious career, it is still engaging and enjoyable, featuring hook-less freestyles over the horn-heavy, hard-hitting East Coast beats of New Jersey producers Parallel Thought.

Thematically, Del continues to establish his role as a West Coast hip hop elder statesman with rhymes that are nostalgic for days past and that call out perceived foolishness in the current generation of rappers. What separates Del from other aging rappers who might smell of “You kids get off my lawn!” old fogeyness, is that he goes back not just to his early days of rapping, as in the song “Ownership,” but even further back to the history of rhythm and beat in Black American life as seen in this verse off “Charlie Brown”:

Live as Hell,
Hell is live in front of a studio audience
Nationally syndicated,
Penetrating every boobtube, Youtube
With the voodoo straight from Congo Square
(Back in slavery you could play them bongos there)
Talking drums, go ahead call it dumb
And just bragging, but I’ve got a way of zig-zaggin’.

It’s almost as if Del is meta-admonishing young bloods in the hip hop game, not just from his vantage point as a long-time player but from an ancestral knowledge of whose beats are sick and whose flow is tight. While that is certainly a tall order to fill, if anyone has the verbal chops to do it, it’s Del the Funky Homosapien.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

 

View review July 2nd, 2012

Re-Energized

Title: Re-Energized

Artist: Tem Blessed & The Blest Energy Band

Label: Temblessed/CDbaby

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 24, 2012

 

 

Tem Blessed (a.k.a. Temistocles Duarte Ferreria) is aiming for a movement. Beyond the music, beyond the music videos, Blessed and the Blest Energy Band seek “to pollinate peace, loVe and justice” across not just across the United States but the entire earth. This global call for action does need a rationale, however, and on Re-Energized Blessed outlines the major issues facing the world and offers strategies for individuals with a desire to help change things for the better.

Much of Re-Energized aims to advance a positive message wherever one may reside. A staunch pacifist, Blessed advocates for the “make love not war” mentality on “Shine,” while at the same time he criticizes the government and media for promoting violence on songs like “Wipe the Tears” and “The Struggle.” The promotion of knowledge and the eradication of racism get their due on “Generation: Now Is the Time” and “Samurai Black,” respectively. From these examples, it is obvious that Tem Blessed is tackling as many issues as can possibly fit on one CD.

Following is the video for “Generation: Now Is the Time,” a song addressing climate change that was composed for Earth Day*:

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The messages that Tem Blessed lays out are transmitted through several different forms of expression. Music appears be his primary form, specifically his socially conscious rap lyrics, but the UMass graduate also seeks to get his points across through talks and community events. Whatever path he may follow, I wish Blessed the best of luck and continued success.

 

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

*Editor’s note: In 2010 the Archives of African American Music and Culture featured Tem Blessed’s “Generation: Now is the Time” in the exhibit and panel discussion “Fear of a Bleak Planet: Rapping About Race, Poverty and the Environment.” For a playlist of related Green Movement songs and videos contact AAAMC@indiana.edu.

View review July 2nd, 2012

The Bariba Sound 1970-1976

Title: The Bariba Sound 1970-1976

Artist: Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou

Label: Analog Africa (dist. Forced Exposure)

Catalog No.: AACD 071CD

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: March 13, 2012

 

In a thoroughly and beautifully packaged CD album, Analog Africa brings us a band from a distant corner of the world and a somewhat distant past.  Although certainly “world music” in that it is not from or of Europe or America, this band’s catchy licks and contagious beats make the exotic music accessible and downright enjoyable on tracks such as “Wegne’Nda M’Banda.”

According to the superb album booklet, in the early and mid-70s, in northern Benin, the Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou was unrivaled. They ruled the dances, won national band competitions and gained enough following to be recorded and their music distributed throughout Africa and into Europe.

The band’s story is a story of the gradual modernization of post-colonial Africa.  Founder Moussa Mama (1947-2007) was the son of a musical pioneer, Alpha Sekou Mama.  The elder Mama came from a long line of blacksmiths and goldsmiths, and left his home in Parakou, in the Borgou department of Benin to work in Accra, Ghana. He returned home a few years later with Highlife music, according to an interview with his son in the album booklet.  The elder Mama then started a local band and began teaching his son and other youngsters what was then modern music.  Other African musicians traveled to Parakou and joined the elder Mama, and brought with them new electronic amplified instruments. Moussa Mama literally grew up in African popular music of the 1960s, and formed his own bands starting in his teenage years, focusing on electric guitar and later electric organ.

By 1970, his band had coalesced into the Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou. Their sound was an early version of what became known as Afro-funk—driving rhythms, sharp beats and frequent smatterings of guitar and organ runs.  Like many contemporaries, Mama preferred a distorted organ sound resembling a Farfisa more than a Hammond B3.  Guitar runs by Mama and his rhythm guitarist Menou Roch were often fluid and lyrical, with the other guitar sticking to percussive chords.  Also in the band was Bori Borro, described as “West Benin’s foremost drummer,” and certainly an able rhythm-driver.

The next story in the genesis of this album was how an obscure but highly creative band from the northern part of a remote country ended up turning out a string of records in the 1970s.  By 1969, the younger Mama’s band ended up as the house group at a bar in Niger’s capital, Niamey.  There, they caught the attention of the owner of Albarika Store, then a music store diversifying into record production.  An EP by Orchestra Super Borgou was the label’s first release in 1970. The Albarika Store label went on to be a force in 1970′s Afro-funk.

Meanwhile, a Parakou, Benin entrepreneur named El-Hadj Mama Adam (1947-1999) started the region’s first record label, Discadam, in 1972.  The first band he recorded was Orchestra Super Borgou.  All of the cuts on this CD are from the Albarika Store and Discadam sessions (Adam issued records under several labels as his company grew, and his later sessions were recorded in stereo).

With all of that background, a reader who made it this far is probably curious about the music.  First of all, there are no English lyrics—everything is sung in either Bariba or Dendi languages.  However, the booklet contains English translations of the lyrics.  This music is so infectiously funky and the playing so tight and skilled that, lyrics be damned, it’s universally appealing. The album tells a very interesting story, and the music bears repeated listening. Recording quality is also surprisingly good when one considers the time and place.

Here’s hoping Analog Africa releases more treasures from this region of the world, sometimes called “the Islamic Funk Belt.”

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

View review July 2nd, 2012

KonKoma

Title: KonKoma

Artist: KonKoma

Label: Soundway

Catalog no.:  SNDW044

Formats: CD, 2-LP, Digital (MP3 or FLAC)

Release date:  June 25, 2012

 

KonKoma is a new band formed in the collision of Ghanaian musicians with the London Afro-beat scene.  The brainchild of British saxophonist Max Grunhard and producer Ben Lamdin, the band features two stars of the 1970′s Ghanaian music scene, guitarist Alfred ‘Kari’ Bannerman and keyboardist Emmanuel Rentzos.  The sound is a modern take on classic Afro-funk, combining electronic beats with real percussion, layered vocals and lyrics in both English and African languages.  There is a surprising range of tempi and instrumentations, making for a very impressive debut.

Along with Grunhard, Bannerman and Rentzos, Konkoma consists of Reginald ‘Jojo’ Yates on vocals, mbira, sepriwa and percussion, Nii Tagoe on vocals and percussion, Jose Joyette on drums, Derrick McIntyre on bass guitar, Scott Baylis on trumpet, and Ben Hadwen on baritone saxophone and flute.  Bannerman and Rentzos also share vocals on various songs.  The band recorded in England and its live debut took place June 1 at The Rich Mix in London, according to Soundway’s website.

KonKoma’s album presents an interesting stew of references and influences. There’s plenty of Ghanaian funk circa 1972, some highlife melodies, and plenty of American-style funk ala George Clinton, plus a dash of James Brown. The multiple horns and overlapping drums make for a dense sound, but the production holds to good clarity and crisp sound.

Following is the official promo video for the album:

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The second song, “Sibashaya Woza,” is reminiscent of “Remain In Light” era Talking Heads, but with African lyrics. It’s very hard to sit still when that song is cranked up.  The fifth track, “Kpanlogo,” is in a similar vein. Contrasting references and feelings—James Brown mashed-up with Fela Kuti—dominate tunes like the opener, “Lie Lie” and “Accra Jump.” Things slow down toward the end of the album. The next-to-last track, “Senture,” features a beautiful guitar melody and a mellower style of singing, while the album’s closer, “Jojo’s Song,” is a quiet, acoustic ballad.  If the rest of the album puts listeners in a grooving club, the last song brings them out onto a quiet street as the city sleeps.

This is a very impressive debut album, marked by creative composition, good variety of material, tight and interesting production, and a compelling style of music.  May this band thrive.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

View review July 2nd, 2012

Musical Threads: Expressions of a People

Title: Musical Threads: Expressions of a People

Performers: Tyron Cooper & Marietta Simpson

Format:  DVD (53 min.)

Released by: WFYI Productions

Release date: 2011

 

 

Musical Threads: Expressions of a People is a tidily produced DVD offering a view into the wide world of African American musical expression, via the performing styles of guitarist/vocalist Tyron Cooper and vocalist Marietta Simpson. Cooper and Simpson are a dynamite pairing; they are both fantastic musicians, with Cooper’s intensely technical and yet always comfortable fingerpicking and Simpson’s classically-honed vocals that still reach the earthy heart of vernacular sound. Both are well informed about music within African American culture, from a mixture of lived and professional experience. Cooper, who is completing a PhD in Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, is also an active session musician and educator who formerly directed the IU Soul Revue and founded Camp S.O.U.L., a pre-college music program. Simpson, a seasoned opera singer and recitalist, is a voice professor at the IU Jacobs School of Music.

The DVD is set up in a very casual, accessible and yet professional arrangement. After an introductory section on the performers and the project, Cooper and Simpson give an explanation of each piece as it relates to them personally as African Americans and as it is contextualized within the broader scope of African American musical culture. The performances are, to use Cooper’s term, quite homey. It sounds as if you’ve just walked into an intimate jam session between these two great musicians. The arrangements written and chosen for this production have a perfect balance of polish and humanity, perhaps best illustrated in Simpson’s a cappela arrangement of “Lord How Come Me Here,” which has the technical control of a trained opera singer’s voice, but the emotion of someone channeling generations of untrained voices who beautifully and powerfully translated their suffering into song.

Another really winning aspect of this DVD is the original compositions that Cooper and Simpson wrote for these performances. While their arrangements of well known songs by Charles Tindley, Johnny Green and others  are all quite smooth and engaging, the original compositions, like the jazzy, slightly Latin influenced “Lies” feel most effective in capturing the points made by Simpson and Cooper throughout the video. The original songs written by these two African American musicians illustrate the syncretic fluidity of genre and sound that are so integral to the image Cooper and Simpson present of the expressivity of African American music.

The program originally aired on WFYI, the PBS affiliate in Indianapolis, and was recently nominated for an Emmy Award (click here to view the trailer).

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review July 2nd, 2012

Worship Soul

Title: Worship Soul

Artist: Anita Wilson

Label: EMI Gospel

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: April 3, 2012

 

 

Anita Wilson has performed as a backing singer behind many notable gospel musicians including Marvin Sapp, Hezekiah Walker, and Vanessa Bell Armstrong.  But perhaps her most well-known effort was “Happy Being Me,” a track on Donald Lawrence’s hit album The Law of Confession Part 1 (2009) that really showcased her voice.  Lawrence claims that it’s the tone of Wilson’s voice that attracts people and is perfect for musical worship.

Growing up in East St. Louis, Illinois, as the daughter of a pastor, Wilson was influenced by great gospel musicians such as Vanessa Bell Armstrong, the Winans family, and the Clark Sisters in addition to secular artists such as Brandy, Aretha Franklin, and Lalah Hathaway.  It should come as no surprise, then, that both Wilson and her producer for this album, Rick Robinson, agreed to attempt to break the mold of what constitutes “normal” worship songs in the church setting and make this an album filled with songs with the flavor of soul music. By doing so, Wilson seeks a “new normal” where her music becomes “creative enough and unique enough to be able to go into different settings.”  “It may not be in church settings, but it carries the message of Christ and the message of God and it carries His love,” Wilson says in an interview.  Therefore, as she explains, the title for her first solo project, Worship Soul, is “a marriage of the two sides” of Anita Wilson—worshiper and soul singer—reflecting her desire to create worship through soul music.

Wilson sings, “I can’t find the words to describe you/ It will take a million years to explain the way I feel,” in the first single from this album, “Speechless,” which is a perfect description of  her honest appreciation towards the Lord. Following is the official music video:

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Accompanied by an acoustic guitar, “Shower the People” is a spiritual cover of the James Taylor song, and Wilson treats listeners to a similar vibe with her performance of “Happy Being Me.”  She brings James Cleveland’s “Jesus Will” to life with more beats and involves the congregation as they praise the Lord together.  “It’s Done” and “All About You” are songs which the congregation surely can’t resist clapping hands and dancing along with the praising. Ballads such as “Perfect Love Song” and “More of You” showcase Wilson’s warm and deep tone well, while songs like “He Shows Out” and “Keep On Praising,” backed by a powerful horn section, teach us to believe that the Lord takes care of us.

Worship Soul is indeed a good song collection for souls which desire perfect music for worship.

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review July 2nd, 2012

Plays Nat King Cole En Español

Title: Plays Nat King Cole En Español

Artist: David Murray Cuban Ensemble

Label: Motema Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 11, 2011

 

 

There is an old Mexican proverb which translates along the lines of “Do not be afraid of the chili pepper, even though it certainly is red.” And while the intended moral lesson of the phrase more often baffles than benefits, its basic meaning is decidedly useful in understanding and appreciating Latin jazz. Regrettably, the genre of Latin jazz has a rather unfortunate and contradictory reputation for being either too stodgy for pedestrian tastes or too boisterous for the likes of lofty jazz intellectuals (a prejudice that spawned last year’s disastrous decision to eliminate the genre as a Grammy category). However, like all stereotypes, these cursory judgments of Latin jazz overgeneralize a music which is equally accessible and sophisticated enough to satisfy any musical preference. Just as we were warned to not be intimidated by the chili pepper despite its obvious explosive color and flavor, so too must we endeavor to embrace Latin jazz in all of its fiery glory and begin to celebrate rather than criticize the spice that lends this music its distinctive flare.

David Murray’s latest musical venture makes for an excellent introductory chili pepper, one that is not so spicy as to scare yet not too mild as to bore. Displaying his usual ingenuity, Murray has taken on the intriguing task of refurbishing the recordings Nat King Cole made in Spanish and Portuguese. In David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Español we find a re-Latinized version of Cole’s Americanized interpretation of Latino classics. Given such a convoluted formula, the ultimate effect is surprisingly enjoyable and fresh. Murray, with the help of an extraordinarily talented Cuban jazz ensemble, is able to revitalize the Latin energy found in the original compositions that are noticeably missing from Cole’s more tame and polished versions. Yet Murray stays true to Cole’s unmistakable crooner style—channeling Cole’s intrinsic warmth and light swing through his own tenor saxophone. In addition, Murray’s simple licks resemble Cole and his penchant for clean and spare melodic phrases. Murray also takes inspiration from the great Cole in his lush symphonic orchestration, albeit a lot less syrupy than Cole’s own arrangements. In this way, Murray embodies the voice of Nat King Cole on his horn while broadening the musical scope to accommodate contemporary improvisation.

From the very first track, entitled “El Bodeguero,” the album captures the Latino essence of the material while simultaneously providing approachability to listeners with its playfully swinging cha-cha rhythm. Murray’s most remarkable solo in the entire album can also be found in the opening tune; one cannot help but be impressed by Murray’s remarkable mastery of his horn as he weaves in and out of the melody with a sort of nonchalant joy. His brief trips to the altissimo register (strategically few in number so as to enthuse rather than irritate) are simply splendid to behold.

In “El Choclo” listeners are treated to the raspy and vivid vocals of famed Argentine, Daniel Melingo. His voice in conjunction with the sinuous sound of the bandoneón (an Argentine accordion) played by Juanjo Mosalini conjures forth the exquisite sound of authentic tango, effectively transporting the listener straight to the luscious landscape of Argentina. Murray, on tenor saxophone, adds another layer of tension with his impulsive capers amidst the brooding dialogue between singer and bandoneón.

Following is a performance of “Black Nat”(track 6), recorded live at Le Poisson Rouge in New York in January 2012 (courtesy of NPR):

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Exhibiting tight synchronization, intricate rhythms, wildly progressive harmonies, and exuberant improvisation, Plays Nat King Cole En Español is certainly Latin jazz at its very finest. Furthermore, the album features a confluence of South and Central American-based musical traditions, offering a legitimate and fulfilling ethnic experience. For Latin jazz newcomers and enthusiasts alike, this album will certainly make for a subtly spicy addition to any music collection.

Reviewed by Catherine Fonseca

View review July 2nd, 2012

Graceland

Title: Graceland: 25th Anniversary Edition

Artist: Paul Simon

Label: Sony Legacy

Formats:  Collector’s Edition box set (3 CDs + DVD + books), Anniversary Edition (CD + DVD)

Release date:  June 5, 2012

 

 

It is amazing to think that when Paul Simon set out for South Africa in 1985 with producer Roy Halee that he didn’t have any songs in his notebook. Inspired initially by a cassette tape of Soweto street music passed along to him by another singer/songwriter, he made a bold decision to record rhythm tracks with local musicians.  Add in the political tension and subsequent controversy resulting from Simon’s decision to travel to South Africa in apparent violation of cultural sanctions meant to punish the nation’s leaders for their racist apartheid policy, and his decision seems even more daring.

Working closely with a group of South African musicians who otherwise would likely have continued to perform in relative obscurity, as well as Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour,  Louisiana zydeco musicians, and Los Lobos, Simon created the classic, Grammy winning record Graceland.  It was a successful amalgam of African pop with several American musical forms, and contributed to creating a musical category—at least in the United States—known as world music. It also introduced us to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, among others.

Graceland: 25th Anniversary Edition not only tells the story well, through two DVDs (the documentary film Under African Skies with extended bonus interviews and a 1987 concert filmed in Zimbabwe), an 80-page book, and a reproduction of Simon’s handwritten lyrics pad, but it also strangely serves as a testament to how much our world has changed.

Economic and cultural sanctions against South Africa that had been encouraged since the 1950s and passed by the United Nations in 1980 were largely unused as a tactic to elicit change internationally. Today, sanctions are more commonly employed in places such as Syria, Iran and North Korea. It is interesting to reflect whether someone could embark on a similar project today that would have had the same kind of impact on society and global politics that Simon’s project had. While others, including Steven Van Zandt and Artists Against Apartheid, had tried to raise awareness through the Sun City album, Simon introduced us to the people living and creating beauty within a national nightmare.

Taking in the 25th anniversary box set, which also includes a remastered version of the original record and a CD of demos, is like opening a time capsule. Nelson Mandela was still in prison and white political leaders were grasping to retain power. There is a scene on the DVD that shows a political poster supporting strongman Robert Mugabe, which today seems a contradiction.

With the exception of the book and lyrics notepad, most everything in the 25th anniversary special edition of Graceland has been released before. The original album was re-released as a special version in 2004 and the music and beats punch out the speakers. Songs such as “Graceland,” “Homeless” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” remain as vibrant today as when they were originally heard.

The second disc has five demos or early versions of Graceland material. While three of the songs—“Homeless,” “Diamonds On The Soles Of her Shoes” and “All Around The World”—have been released before, demos of “Crazy Love” and “You Can Call Me Al” are new and provide a glimpse into Paul Simon’s creative process (which you can follow through the lyrics pad that’s included).  The second CD also includes a nine and half minute track, “The Story of Graceland,” in which Simon reflects on the making of the album.  Some critics of Simon will find that he does not evade the questions about why he chose to travel to South Africa without the support of the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid advocates.

The highlight of the set is Under African Skies, a documentary made by Joe Berlinger, director of the unflinching films Paradise Lost, Brother’s Keeper and Crude. It presents an effective history lesson about the political climate, not only through Simon’s eyes, but from the perspective of Dali Tambo, ANC member and founder of Artists Against Apartheid.

Following is the official trailer for Under African Skies:

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We also get to come full circle as the film follows Simon back to South Africa in 2011, where he reunited with the musicians he performed with on Graceland. Thankfully, it is a very different place but the message of the music still resonates.

Reviewed by George Vlahakis II

View review July 2nd, 2012

Twenty Dozen

Title: Twenty Dozen

Artist: Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Label: Savoy Jazz

Catalog No.: SVY17891

Format: CD

Release Date: May 1, 2012

 

To mark their 35th anniversary, New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band has released their first new album in over 5 years and their first new original music since 1999.  Time has not slowed the DDBB—this album cooks like past efforts. They are still the funkiest second line on the block, and have smartly avoided the trend toward hip hop that has diluted the music of Trombone Shorty and others.

There’s no need for serious discussion, this is a fun album that will ignite a party if played at sufficient volume. Hit play, mix your favorite drink and enjoy the summer (click here for the official video trailer).

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review July 2nd, 2012

America America

Title: America America

Artist:  BeBe Winans

Label:  Razor & Tie

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:   June 26, 2012

 

 

Just in time for 4th of July celebrations, gospel singer BeBe Winans has released an album of patriotic songs.  Selections include “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “God Bless America” and three original songs, “America America,” “We’re the United States of America,” and the closing track and highlight of the album, “Ultimate Sacrifice.”   These are not gospel renditions, but contemporary arrangements designed for the broadest appeal.  If nothing else, they offer alternatives to other, somewhat stale renditions of these songs and will make for good airplay this week and throughout the election season.

Following is the official music video for “America America”:

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Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 2nd, 2012

Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours

Title: Satchmo at the National Press Club: Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours

Artists: Louis Armstrong, Tyree Glenn & Tommy Gwaltney

Label: Smithsonian Folkways Special Series

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 24, 2012

 

Arguably the most influential jazz musician in history and certainly one of the music’s founding fathers, the world shall be forever indebted to the musical genius of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Indeed, the circumstances which induced young Armstrong to first pick up the cornet in the unlikely setting of New Orleans slums was nothing short of divine providence— surely a boon from the powers that be bestowed upon the underserving ears of us mere mortals. And as if his immeasurable contributions to the genre weren’t enough, Louis continues to thrill and entertain us even beyond the grave, as demonstrated in the recently released recording of the jazz icon’s 1971 performance at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.

Entitled Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours, the album’s name not only makes reference to the phrase to which Armstrong playfully signed letters, but also to the culinary trappings which accompany the tracks. Thirty-seven recipes on Creole and Cajun cuisine—ranging from cocktails to jambalaya— may be found in the album’s liner notes, many of which are said to be personal, favorites of the jazz legend (follow this link for a downloadable copy). Just in time for July 4th picnics and barbeques, these recipes along with their musical counterparts offer a patriotic way to appreciate the diverse nature of American culture. What better way to celebrate our country’s independence than to listen to a music born and bred in American soil while feasting on the type of food unique to this great country?

While the delectable dishes outlined in the aforementioned recipes could certainly satiate a hungry stomach, the album’s music also serves to satisfy the body’s more refined appetites. Savory melodies, ripe rhythms, mouth-watering solos, gooey ballads, zesty vocals, scrumptious harmonies, all topped with a bit of gourmet swing will feed any listener’s famished soul. The first half of the recording features Louis Armstrong both on vocals and trumpet while only Armstrong’s long-time band mates, Tyree Glen and Tommy Gwaltney, appear in the latter half of the album. Armstrong had been struggling with illness and was instructed by his doctor to sing for only ten minutes and abstain entirely from his trumpet playing for the concert at the National Press Club. However, Armstrong could not help but entertain to his fullest capacity and ended up performing for over twenty-five minutes; singing, playing, and scatting to his heart’s content. The performance, recorded five months prior to his death, captures Armstrong’s very last trumpet performance and serves as a testament to his unwavering love for jazz.

Of notable mention is the never before recorded track, “Boy From New Orleans,” Armstrong’s endearing and playful musical autobiography, set to the quintessential New Orleans tune: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  The CD also features such Armstrong classics as “Hello Dolly” and “Mack the Knife” sung in that unmistakable voice made of gravel and grit. And while the second half of the recording is sadly Louis-less, the impressive efforts of Tyree Glen (on trombone) and Tommy Gwaltney (on vibes and clarinet) serve as a spectacular tribute to their absent friend and fellow musician. In fact, the shining star of the entire album is trombonist Tyree Glen’s recording of the Duke Ellington standard, “Mood Indigo.” The track shows the astounding prowess cultivated by Glen with his gentle crooning and gorgeous phrasing, made all the more impressive by the fact that it is produced through his entirely unsubtle horn.

Unlike the album’s illustrious namesake, Satchmo at the National Press Club: Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours is a treasure not to be missed!

Reviewed by Catherine Fonseca

 

View review July 2nd, 2012

Welcome to the July 2012 Issue

Welcome to the July 2012 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring albums to spice up your Fourth of July celebrations, from Satchmo at the National Press Club: Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours (complete with recipes) to BeBe Winans’ patriotic offering America America to the party igniting Twenty Dozen by NOLA’s Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Among the reissues covered this month are Paul Simon’s Graceland 25th Anniversary box set, Time Will Reveal: The Complete Motown Albums of Debarge, and two Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry produced albums—Super Eight by George Faith and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry presents Candy McKenzie.

Other jazz and world music offerings include David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Español, the compilation The Bariba Sound 1970-1976 by Benin’s Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou, and the self-titled debut album Konkoma from the London-based Afro-funk band.

Hip hop releases range from the environmentally conscious rap of Tem Blessed & The Blest Energy Band on Re-Energized to Del The Funky Homosapien & Parallel Thought’s old-school Attractive Sin to the witty and humorous Beaus$Eros by the hyper-literate L.A. rapper known as Busdriver.

Wrapping up this issue is the electro-pop album Coastal Grooves by Blood Orange (the artist formerly known as Lightspeed Champion), Ruben Studdard’s relationship testimony Letters From Birmingham, Anita Wilson’s soul-gospel fusion Worship Soul, Betty Wright’s partnership with The Roots on Betty Wright: The Movie, emerging Brooklyn soul/reggae/rock artist Cole Williams’ double EP Out of the Basement, Out of the Box, and the DVD Musical Threads: Expressions of a People featuring Indiana University’s Tyron Cooper and Marietta Simpson.

 

View review July 2nd, 2012

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