Archive for August, 2012

Old Soul

Title: Old Soul

Artist: Clarence Milton Bekker

Label: Concord/Playing for Change

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: February 28, 2012

 

 

CB Milton is back, but as Clarence Milton Bekker this time. His new album demonstrates his new image, personality, and musical style. Besides changing his name, the Suriname-born musician has turned his life around after falling victim to drug abuse while living in Amsterdam. He first achieved success in Europe in the 1990s as a Dutch house singer/DJ and should also achieve success in America with the release of his new album, “Old Soul.”  Throughout this album his style is reminiscent of Otis Redding while he pays tribute to the great soul artists of the past.

Following is the trailer for the album:

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Backed variously by a trio of female singers and a powerful horn section, Bekker engages in a call and response that harkens back to the golden days of Stax in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with lyrics about relationships, tough times, and making change for the future. Covers include William Bell’s “Any Other Way” and “Everybody Loves a Winner,” the Alan Toussaint penned “Yes, We Can Can,” Marvin Gaye’s “One More Heartache,” Irma Thomas’s “I Wish Someone Would Care,” Bill Withers “Who Is He And What Is He To You,” the Otis Redding classic “Try a Little Tenderness,” Al Green’s “Tomorrow’s Dream,” and concluding with Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming.” There are also two original songs on the album: Bekker’s “Shine on Me” and bass player Reggie McBride’s “Can’t Help But Love You.”

The album is a joint venture between the Concord Music Group and Playing for Change, “a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music.”  Bekker is currently on a worldwide tour with the Playing for Change Band in support of the Foundation’s music education programs.

 

Reviewed by Seth Biggerstaff

 

Editor’s note:  Mark your calendars – the 2nd annual Playing for Change day is scheduled for 22 September 2012 “with a shared intention of doing something positive for the world and supporting music education for kids everywhere.” Learn how to Play for Change at www.PFCday.org.

View review August 1st, 2012

This Is How I Feel

Title: This Is How I Feel

Artist: Tank

Label: Atlantic

Formats: CD (standard, clean or deluxe ed.), MP3

Release Date:  May 8, 2012

 

 

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“I’m so underrated”—Tank

The sexually romantic (or as Tank refers to himself) “Rajon Rhondo of R&B” released his fifth album in May titled This Is How I Feel. Tank, as always, delivers an album that not only includes the sexual side of R&B, but also focuses on the romantic and emotional side. He shows this style off in songs like “Better Than Me,” a piano and string ballad that congratulates his ex on finding a man that “treats you better than me” and gives her everything that she’s always wanted.  Another song that shows off his sentimental lyric style is “Lost It All,” about losing a good woman; nothing else mattered to him anymore because he lost everything when he lost her. On the other hand, Tank takes a more sensual approach with songs like “Don’t Give Up” and “Nowhere” (featuring Busta Rhymes), which have more sexually explicit lyrics along with lush arrangements.

Following is the official music video for another emotionally-charged track, “Next Breath”:

Tank’s focus for the album was to write songs that conveyed how he was feeling in the moment, according to an interview posted on YouKnowIGotSoul.com. Tank excels as an artist, lyricist, musician and producer, and combines all of these skills on the album. These talents have allowed him to rise to the top of the R&B charts and with this new album he shows off exactly why he’s there.

This Is How I Feel is truly another great hit album from the artist who also gave us Now or Never (2010) and Sex, Love & Pain (2007). As was the case with his previous albums, Tank leaves the listener wanting to hear more of the undying, yet sometimes underrated, sensual and romantic sound that is Tank.

Reviewed by Bobby E. Davis, Jr.

 

View review August 1st, 2012

Live In Memphis

Title: Live in Memphis

Artist: Vincent Tharpe and Kenosis

Label: One Voice Media

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 24, 2011

 

 

I’ll bless the Lord at all, all times
And His praises shall be in my, in my mouth continuously
With my hands, I’ll lift Him
With my feet, I’ll bless Him
With my voice, I’ll praise Him
With everything in my, I’ll thank Him
Thank you Lord for all He’s done for me

Referring to well-known parts of Psalm 34 from the Bible (above), Vincent Tharpe and Kenosis (VTK) put worship messages in the contemporary gospel song “Thank You Lord,” the single from their debut album, Live in Memphis. The high-energy song, which has earned many positive reviews for this new gospel group, features beats that you can’t help but clapping hands and dancing along with:

 

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VTK was formed from the Craigmont High School Gospel Choir in Memphis, where Vincent Tharpe served as choir director. In January 2009 the group signed to One Voice Management, which provided VTK with opportunities to bring their musical worship to a wider audience. Since then, they have performed at the 2009 Pre-Dove Awards Showcase in Nashville, during the 2012 Stellar Award weekend at the Yes Lord Radio anniversary party, and on BET’s Bobby Jones Gospel program.  They have also been featured on the same stage with well-known gospel musicians such as Trinitee 5:7, Bishop Leonard Scott, Kierra Sheard, Kurt Carr and the Kurt Carr Singers, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and many more.

On the opening track of Live in Memphis, “Faith” tells us that having faith gives us the power to make it through the hard times in life.  “Jesus the Great” is a praise and worship song that flows with beautiful melodies.  Slower worship songs like “Teach Me,” “You Are God” and “He Will” showcase the vocal talents of the group, as their harmonies move us to a place of calm and deep worship. Over rhythmic finger-snapping, Tharpe and the choir smoothly sing “Close to You” as if they are having a close conversation with Jesus in the same room.  “Mighty God” and “Be Alright” are dancing worship tunes with funky beats, while “He Keeps Blessing” fuses very fast rhythms and crisp vocals with a traditional gospel music flavor.

Live in Memphis provides a variety of music for worship, and with their powerful vocal abilities Vincent Tharpe and Kenosis should have many opportunities in the future to reach new audiences.

 

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review August 1st, 2012

On the Right Road Now

Title:  On the Right Road Now

Artists:  Tammy Edwards & The Edwards Sisters

Label: Malaco / 4 Winds

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  March 27, 2012 (© 2011)

 

 

Tammy Edwards & The Edwards Sisters have delivered a solid treat of an album with On the Right Road Now, their first release with Malaco Records.

On the Right Road Now is a religious album about (mostly) secular life.  The lyrics are light.  Largely missing from the album is any reference to the life, ministry or work of Jesus, or any traditional anthemic praise.   In their stead is a world of unpaid bills, meddlesome coworkers, advice “that don’t you get bent out of shape,” and the hope for a blessing in their home of Greenville, North Carolina.  The modest family-portrait-sitting images that make up the CD liner notes capture the everyday backdrop of the music.

The centerpiece of the record is the delightful revisiting of the Ward Singers’ “Let Us All Go Back” (aka The Old Landmark), a number recorded by Edwards in the ‘80s.  The fuzzy guitar hook (G·/·G·D·F·G·Bfl  … G·/·G·D·F·G·C!) at the second verse should be made a permanent addition to this classic.  The backing band is tight and with a good sense of humor.   (What is that goofy thing introducing “He’s So Wonderful?”  A xylophone?  Whatever it is, I like it.)  Torrey Pugh’s contributions on “Can’t Do Wrong and Get Away” highlight a strong ensemble.

The album is not a masterpiece.  “He’s Getting Ready to Turn It Around” is a weak track in which the distortion guitar, so effective on “Let Us All Go Back,” is mostly in the way.  Nonetheless, this is a fine record I will continue to revisit in the future.

Also worth your time is finding some live performances on Youtube.  Sisters MOVE.  Following is the promotional video for “Let Us All Go Back”:

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Reviewed by Ross Martinie Eiler

View review August 1st, 2012

The 6th

Title: The 6th

Artist: Flame

Label: Clear Sight Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 6, 2012

 

 

Christian rapper and record label owner Marcus Gray or “Flame” graces our ears once again with his sixth album appropriately titled The 6th. While this title reflects his continued musical success, it also indicates the thematic premise of this project by referencing the biblically cited point of man’s origin, the sixth day (see Genesis 1). Flame considers this project a “study of anthropology that takes a look at mankind from many different angles.” In this regard, he addresses issues like the identity and purpose of humans while continually concluding that love, peace, and one’s life objectives are inextricably linked to God.

The story of Adam and Eve are front and center with two songs, “The 6th Day” featuring Chris Lee, and “The Great Deception” both broaching the subject of creation. In the former, Flame rhymes over a pop inspired beat, discussing humans as being made in the divine image of God for the purpose of “praising [His] holy name.” The latter presents a darker, sobering depiction of what is known as the “fall of man” in which Adam and Eve eat a forbidden fruit and are subsequently punished by God. In this selection, Flame offers flashes of brilliance as he transforms this historical account into a relevant commentary on the ways in which Satan works to deceive humans into succumbing to temptation and sin.

Throughout the album Flame remains rather direct in his discussion of human’s need for God despite what appears to be their manmade successes. For instance, the selection “Trap Money” featuring Thi’sl and label mate Young Noah, suggests a dismal outcome for individuals who have amassed “good money” from selling illegal drugs. The temporary financial success will ultimately be useless in matters of the soul.  Similarly, in the song “Man” Flame considers great human achievements, such as sending a man to the moon and the building of the Great Wall of China, to be earthly blessings that will garner no benefit after death.

The 6th is characterized by extensive exploration of the good and evil aspects of human existence. To balance the hopelessness that he suggests was spawned by “the fall,” Flame provides positive solutions. In the song “Scripture Alone” he offers a rather pointed argument supporting the authenticity and credibility of the bible. He provides well-crafted rhymes inviting listeners to read and believe the words written in this text as part of a key to living a better life. Lastly, the final selection sums up Flame’s underlying message throughout this project. Featuring Christian rock band DecembeRadio, “Let Go” states that true life, love, and acceptance can only be found in Christ. Following is the official video:

 

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The 6th is an enjoyable project full of substance and food for thought. While there were a few moments in which the lyrics lacked ingenuity, overall Flame’s work satiated my appetite for solid beats, nice rhymes, and meaningful content.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

 

View review August 1st, 2012

Revival


Title: Revival

Artist: The Fairfield Four

Label: Spring Fed Records

Catalog No.: SFR-109

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 19, 2012

 

In the days of 78-rpm records and old-time radio, a cappella gospel music was big in the black Bible Belt.  One of the biggest groups was the Fairfield Four, with a nationally-syndicated radio show out of WLAC, Nashville.  The group’s roots date to the 1920s and there was still an active iteration of the group in recent years.  Gospel music evolved from the 1950s forward into favoring instruments, choirs and solo singers.  The older quartet style languished for a period, but slowly came back into fashion in the 1980s, according to Doug Seroff’s excellent booklet notes.

The music on this CD was recorded in 1989 (originally released only in cassette format) and captures a quartet of 70-something men who were riding the “old-time gospel revival” wave of that time.  None of these men were in the original 1920s lineup, but the Rev. Sam McCrary had been in the group from the 1930s through 1950s.

These recordings capture the Fairfield Four reaching back to its roots, singing in a style basically unchanged from the early 20th century.  A few years later, the group would sign with Warner Bros., appear with numerous music-business stars and find fame far beyond the deep south, including in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  Rev. McCrary died in 1991, and the rest of this group had passed by 2005.  So this CD is a nice time capsule, a high fidelity version of a music style deeply rooted in the southern black culture and enjoyed for generations.

The good news is, the Good News never sounded better!  Age in no way diminished the quartets’ voices. The lineup is Rev. McCrary, Isaac “Dickie” Freeman, Wilson “Lit” Waters and James Hill.  Producer/engineer James Nixon and co-producer Wayne Hill (James Hill’s son) had the good sense to put mics in the right places and stand back and let these men sing. The quartet is clearly handling its own balances and dynamics, and the recording is detailed without being too intimate.

As far as the music, what’s not to like?  From the opener, “Hallelujah,” often used to open Fairfield Four concerts, to the closer, the very old spiritual “Roll Jordan Roll,” there are no duds among the 14 cuts.  The mixed-tempo version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is a highlight, as is “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around,” which features high-wire vocal gymnastics by Rev. McCrary.  For fans of the bass register, it’s hard to beat Isaac Freeman’s deep-down lead on “Walk This Road To Glory.”

If a role of gospel music is to focus one’s senses and sensibilities to the glories and beauties of being alive, then the Fairfield Four accomplished their mission with aplomb with that 1989 recording session.  Their beautiful and powerful work can now be enjoyed by a new generation of fans via a modern medium.

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review August 1st, 2012

Old Times There…

Title: Old Times There . . .

Artist: South Memphis String Band

Label: Memphis International

Catalog No.: DOT 0227

Formats: CD, LP

Release Date: May 8, 2012

 

This is the second album from “roots collective” or “roots super-group” South Memphis String Band.  Original members Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tri-State Coalition), Alvin Youngblood Hart (Muscle Theory) and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars) are joined by Justin Showah (Knockdown South, Hill Country Records).  The album mines the deep traditions of blues and “hill music,” but also proudly delves into the corny and politically-incorrect dustbins of novelty and medicine-show songs from the times before rural electrification.

Those who get offended by corn-pone and somewhat racist humor of yore, avoid this album. Those who can take it in the spirit it’s intended will enjoy the skill of the band’s playing and will probably enjoy hearing faithful reproductions, in relatively high fidelity, of tunes resurrected from obscure and scratchy old 78-rpm records.

Here’s the band covering Charley Patton’s “Some Of These Days,” one of the tracks on the album:

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Far from a serious-minded “curation” of these old songs, the South Memphis String Band’s approach is to wade in and have fun, with all seriousness focused on pitch-perfect and rock-solid playing and singing.  According to the record company’s website, “The album was recorded traditionally using four old-fashioned ribbon microphones and as quickly as possible in deference to the organic/natural approach that one observer called ‘the pure sound of fingers, strings, wood and throats.’”  That’s a fancy way of saying, these guys delivered the music together, self-balanced, and probably in complete takes. Just like in the olden days when these songs were being recorded new.

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review August 1st, 2012

Two New P-Funk Reissues

Title: Quazar

Artist: Quazar

Format: CD

Label: BBR Records

Release Date: June 12, 2012

 

 

After leaving the P-Funk collective in 1977, lead singer/guitarist Glen Goins looked to create his own funk super group through Quazar, a band originally formed by his brother Kevin. Any chance for success for this ten-piece group was unfortunately wiped out as soon as it began, as Glen passed away shortly before the album’s release in 1978, and Quazar disbanded not long after.

At last, BBR has re-released the album on CD. This digitally remastered part of P-Funk history includes all of the original material as well as three additional singles released by the group. Some may recognize “Funk ‘N’ Roll (Dancin’ In The Funkshine),” the band’s greatest hit, which reached #11 on the R&B charts. “Funk With a Big Foot,” the first track of the album, preserves the comical and often spacey mood from the P-Funk sound (they are named Quazar for a reason). Much of the rest of the album hits just as hard, and keeps a lively and energetic groove throughout.

It’s understandable that Quazar would never be the same after Glen Goins’ passing. He had a vocal and musical creativity that keeps you simultaneously laughing and dancing throughout the album, forgetting your worries; that is, until the album ends.

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Title: All the Woo In the World

Artist: Bernie Worrell

Formats: CD, LP

Label: Get On Down Records

Release Date: September 27, 2011

 

 

Another notable reissue from the P-Funk collective comes from founding member and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, with his woonderful (get it?) 1978 debut All the Woo In the World. Not only is Worrell known for his work with George Clinton, but also for his contributions to the Talking Heads, whom he worked with practically from their creation until their eventual split in 1992. With this in mind, one can imagine the talent that Worrell possesses.

Compared to fellow bandmate Glen Goins (who also performs on this album, along with most of the P-Funk gang), Worrell often prefers a more pop-oriented, practically romantic form of funk, well-suited for slow, close dancing. However, this is in no way a downside to the album; rather, it’s a nice break from the typically hard-hitting funk. In fact, the only real indication of a P-Funk sound comes from “Much Thrust,” the most intense track on the album, along with the 12 minute tour de force “Insurance Man for the Funk.” “Hold On” also shines, creating a spacey, jazzy atmosphere that perfectly encapsulates the rest of the album. Whether for a funk specialist or someone who’s exploring the boundaries outside of the main funk albums, All The Woo In The World will be sure to delight.

Those unfamiliar with Worrell and his synthesized “woo” should check out the documentary Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth. Following is the trailer:

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Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review August 1st, 2012

Two New Stax Remasters

Title: I’ll Play The Blues For You

Artist: Albert King

Label: Stax/Concord Music Group

Catalog No.: STX-33716

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 22, 2012

 

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Title: Green Onions

Artist: Booker T. & The M.G.’s

Label: Stax/Concord Music Group

Catalog No.: STX-33960

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 24, 2012

 

These newly-reissued albums are nos. 7 and 8 in the excellent Stax Remasters series from Concord Music Group.  The company is highlighting what it considers the best of the Stax Records masters under its ownership.  Keep in mind that many of the very finest Stax albums are owned by Warner Music Group via its Atlantic Records subsidiary.  However, as in the case of the previous Stax Remasters reviewed here, these albums are no slouches, indeed they are fabulous.

Starting in chronological order, “Green Onions” was a breakthrough single and album for Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Stax Records and Memphis soul music in general.  The title track, recently added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, was a runaway hit in the summer of 1962, peaking at #1 on the R&B chart and #3 on the pop chart.  It crossed music-genre and social barriers, proving as popular in southern black bars as in college dorm rooms in New England.

From the success of that one song sprang a long and successful run for keyboardist Booker T. Jones (the recent recipient of an honorary doctorate from IU, his alma mater), guitarist Steve Cropper, drummer Al Jackson Jr. and bassist Lewis Steinberg (replaced by the late Donald “Duck” Dunn in 1964).  The M.G.’s became the Stax house band, playing on, producing and even engineering many of the label’s major hits through the 1960s.

Better yet, there’s more to “Green Onions” than the title track.  Even a casual listen to this CD will prompt many moments of recognition: “I’ve heard that song before.”  The 12 monophonic instrumentals that comprised the original LP have served at various times as stand-alone radio hits, background music for commercials, tunes covered well or badly by local bar bands and even lead-in music for sponsorship announcements on the old “Howard Stern Show” FM radio program (music cue … Stern: “Robin, what is this? Dial-A-Mattress? Ah yes …” followed by a rambling semi-endorsement of the product, usually running the entire length of the music cut in the background).

The disc’s two bonus tracks are far from the usual filler. They are hard and fast live versions of “Green Onions” and “Can’t Sit Down,” recorded in Los Angeles in 1964, with Duck Dunn playing bass with a heavier hand than Steinberg.  Saxman Packy Axton (son of Stax co-owner Astelle Axton and founding member of the Mar-Keys) is featured on the last track.  Throw in excellent booklet notes by Stax historian Rob Bowman, and superb sound restoration by Joe Tarantino, and the end result is a highly recommended example of a value-added reissue.

Following is a live 1960s TV performance of “Green Onions,” very much like the bonus track:

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The Albert King album was less monumental in its day (1972).  As Bill Dahl’s booklet notes point out, the LP got to #140 on the pop chart and the title track (split into a two-part, two-sided single) peaked at #31 on the R&B chart.  Other songs on the album also charted, but none near the top.

After several smoking, heavy blues albums for Stax, Albert King begins this album by showing off his ballad side.  Using the Stax band that backed up Isaac Hayes, King shares the sonic space with horns, rhythm and keyboards.  This works OK, but the album’s best moments are its harder ones, when King digs in and harnesses his intense, raw emotions.  In the end, his guitar, Lucy, is what got him to the dance and she can’t be denied.

Indeed, things start to cook by the 5th track, “I’ll Be Doggone.”  With a dubbed in “live audience,” the hard funk bass line is a more natural bed on which King can lay his guitar licks.  This is followed by the album’s slow-burner, “Answer To the Laundromat Blues,” on which the old Albert King of “Crosscut Saw” fame emerges (the very politically-incorrect lyrics may be ignored or not, depending on your perspective). Then comes a true Albert King classic, “Don’t Burn Down the Bridge (‘Cause You Might Wanna Come Back Across).”  This trio of cuts makes the CD worth owning, but there’s more.

As in the case of the Booker T. disc, Concord Music Group has chosen to include compelling and worthwhile extra tracks at the end of this disc.  There are superb (and harder-rocking) alternate versions of the title cut and “Don’t Burn Down the Bridge,” plus two cuts recorded at the same time: “I Need A Love” and the sizzling studio jam “Albert’s Stomp.”

The intensity and fully-formed nature of the CD’s second half begs the question, would King have enjoyed more chart success in 1972 if he had left the slower tunes on the cutting room floor? On the one hand, a master musician such as Albert King should be afforded the time and space to express his full musical spectrum, but there’s also the question of expertise.  Can a harder-edged bluesman really succeed as a soul crooner?  With this CD, the listener gets both sides of Albert King, and they can form their own conclusions.

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review August 1st, 2012

June 2009

Title:  June 2009

Artist: Toro y Moi (a.k.a Chaz Bundick)

Label:  Carpark Records

Formats: 5-disc box set (7” vinyl), CD, MP3

Release date : April 24th, 2012

 

 

June 2009 is a collection of Toro y Moi’s earliest post-college, self-exploratory recordings. These songs bring to mind Ariel Pink and others from the California lo-fi scene but with finer tuned pop sensibilities—a subtle distinction that serves as a harbinger for the finely crafted music Bundick released on his first full length, Causers of This (2010), and follow-up  album Underneath the Pine (2011). Although these are bedroom recordings, Bundick never sounds like he’s hiding behind lo-fi production. Regardless of experimentation, he keeps his signature groove—the kind of “1974 good vibe top forty” baseline that separates his music from that which is popular solely for its fuzz and compels fans to ignore the gnawing feeling that there isn’t much below the surface.

There are many influences that rise to the top of these tracks, more so than on Toro y Moi’s finished albums. For example, the song “Dead Poonton” calls to mind The Easybeats and Pinkerton-era Weezer, but it’s never pastiche. Also included on the compilation is the original version of “Talamak;” a later version appeared on Causers of This and was used for his second music video:

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What’s really great about June 2009 is the sense of Bundick’s aesthetic in utero. Fans of Toro y Moi can enjoy this record as the sound of what was to come, but even casual or first time listeners can get many good listens out of these early recordings.

 

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Lira


Title: Rise Again

Artist: Lira

Label: Sony Music Africa

Format:  MP3

Release date:  June 26, 2012

 

 

 

“On this album, I didn’t want to be restrained in what sounds we included on the album so there is some funk, ragga, urban, traditional African sounds, and, of course, plenty of soul.”

South African superstar, model, and fashionista Lira (a.k.a. Lerato Molapo), dubbed the Afro-Soul Queen, is yet another international artist hoping to break into the U.S. market with her carefully crafted urban Afropop-soul.  Her first major label album Feel Good (2006) was released by Sony Music Africa, followed by Soul In Mind, named Album of the Year at the 2009 South African Music Awards. Last summer her 5-track The Lira EP was released in the U.S., while Lira simultaneously toured selected cities including New York.  After garnering positive reviews, Sony Africa finally issued her first full-length American debut album.

Rise Again is actually a 14-track compilation drawn from Lira’s most recent albums, Live In Concert: A Celebration (2009) and Return To Love (2011), neither of which are currently available in the U.S.  Most of the songs are a fairly generic mix of pop and soul, but several stand out, such as “Call Me” with its reggae rhythms.  “Phakade” and “Ixesha” are the only tracks sung in her native language; while the former follows a pop formula, “Ixesha” is more satisfying with its bossa-nova flair and lively compliment of percussion and horns.  My favorite track is “Rise Again,” which incorporates a Spanish-style acoustic guitar:

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Overall, the compilation provides a good introduction to Lira, and while the music may have broad appeal, particularly in the adult contemporary market, the majority of the tracks fail to inspire.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Imani Uzuri

Title: The Gypsy Diaries

Artist: Imani Uzuri

Label:  Her Holy Water Music

Format: MP3

Release date:  June 5, 2012

 

 

Imani Uzuri has performed with artists as varied as John Legend, Talib Kweli, Sly & Robbie, The Roots, and Bill Laswell. The North Carolina singer/songwriter has also traversed the world, soaking up melodies from Eastern Europe, Brazil, Ethiopia, Morocco, and Asia, and allowing them to coalesce with her own rural traditions.  The result of these cross-pollinations is a uniquely personal style of roots music presented on her sophomore album The Gypsy Diaries.

A significant departure from her 2008 release, Her Holy Water: A Black Girl’s Rock Opera, which as the title suggests was more rock than roots, Uzuri has hit on a winning formula with her new album―one that is sure to propel her career forward.  Based on the theme of travel, including worldwide journeys as well as internal explorations of self, Gypsy Diaries is lyrical yet moody. According to Uzuri, the songs reflect the joy of new experiences and connecting with people, but also the accompanying loneliness and angst.

An acoustically driven album, Uzuri is accompanied variously by cello, violin, sitar, guitar, flute, and a variety of percussion in a mix that is rhythmic yet fluid. Her vocal stylings range from what might be called a Middle Eastern influenced R&B on “Soul Still Sings” (a bittersweet tribute to her grandmother) to the jazzy lilt of “I Sing the Blues” to “Raga For My Lovers,” accompanied by Kaoru Watanabe on Japanese Shinobue flute.

Following is a live performance of “Beautiful,” the album’s opening track, featuring Stef Vanes on acoustic guitar (the album version features Christian Ver Halen on guitar):

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Anyone with an affinity for acoustic folk and world music is sure to enjoy The Gypsy Diaries.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Emeli Sandé

Title: Our Version of Events

Artist: Emeli Sandé

Label: Capitol

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  June 5, 2012

 

 

One of the latest soul singers to break out of the UK is Scotland’s Emeli Sandé, who is currently topping the UK charts with her debut album Our Version of Events.  The former neuroscience student initially came to the attention of top producers for her songwriting ability―she’s penned songs for Tinie Tempah and Leona Lewis, and more recently has been working with Alicia Keys.  Citing Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill as major influences, Sandé strives to write music that has meaning and is not “throw-away pop.”  Her tendency toward socially conscious lyrics also reflects her outsider status, growing up as the only mixed race student at the rural Scottish school where her Zambian father was hired as a teacher.

Though it breaks no new ground, Our Version of Events is a finely crafted neo-soul/pop album and a solid debut for Sandé.  Her vocals and songwriting abilities are allowed to shine on several tracks that are refreshingly simple such as “Breaking the Law,” a stripped down ballad accompanied by acoustic guitar, “Hope” (co-written and produced by Alicia Keys), and “Follow Me,” backed by piano with strings. No surprise, however, that her biggest singles off the album are the uptempo, dance-oriented songs “Heaven,” “Daddy” (featuring British producer Naughty Boy), and her break-out hit “Next To Me:”

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Sandé has been touring the U.S. this summer, opening for Coldplay in selected cities. No doubt we’ll be hearing more from her in the future.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Ayo

Title: Billie-Eve

Artist: Ayo

Label: Polydor

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  March 20, 2012

 

 

Ayo (a.k.a. Joy O. Ogunmakin), a German-born singer-songwriter-guitarist with Nigerian-Romanian roots, achieved wide acclaim in Europe with her 2006 debut Joyful and sophomore album Gravity At Last (2008).  Now based in New York, she is well-positioned to make a bigger splash in the U.S. market with her most recent effort Billie-Eve, named after her young daughter (a play on the word “believe”).  The album is comprised almost entirely of Ayo’s original compositions, which she puts forth in a rotating mix of folk, rock and neo-soul that’s occasionally tinged with reggae.  The standout tracks on the album are the rock-oriented songs that unleash the talents of Craig Ross (guitarist for Lenny Kravitz) and bassist Gail-Ann Dorsey, including the infectious “I Wanna Dance”:

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Of the slower ballads, “Who Are They,” featuring the virtuoso cello of Dave Eggar, and “It Hurts,” accompanied by guitarist Mattieu Chedid, are both exceptional. The final track, “Believe,” is a too-short collaboration between Ayo and poet-singer extraordinaire Saul Williams. On a lighter note, the bonus track “I Want You Back” finds Ayo playfully channeling Michael Jackson.

This album is highly recommended, with excellent production and a wide range of compelling songs backed by A-list musicians.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Sandra Nkaké

Title: Nothing for Granted

Artist: Sandra Nkaké

Label: Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  March 20, 2012

 

 

Sandra Nkaké is a singer-songwriter-composer with roots in Cameroon as well as Paris, where she studied English at the Sorbonne before embarking on a duo-career as an actress and singer. Though she cites Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits as influences, her debut album Mansaadi, released in 2008, has a unique jazz funk vibe evoking the smoky cafes of Paris with a dash of Edith Piaf, Cameroonian pop, and Ennio Morricone.  Over the last three years she has performed throughout France, Central Africa, Mexico and Brazil, but is largely unknown in the U.S.

Nkaké’s new album, Nothing for Granted, draws much less upon jazz, striving instead for a moody, experimental, cinematic quality―a soundtrack woven from worldly pop and old school soul.  The highly original compositions by Nkaké and her collaborator, flutist Jî Drû, make a unique personal statement, with lyrics that are often hard hitting calls for political action, no doubt influenced by the strife in her homeland.  For example, on “Rock It Better” she sings “we stand tall for the right of our land, we fight hard, money and suits won’t control our minds for too long,” while the futuristic ballad “Mankind” has a darker message: “the wind is blowing hard today, dust  everywhere / kingdom is going astray, the sun is hot / off the truth we are the nights, gather your troops / white and black horses are coming, to wipe away a world . . .” followed by a refrain urging people to “riot in the name of freedom, riot against oppression, riot in the name of democracy, riot against brutality.”  On “Skeletone” she sings about being a black woman in Paris, while the meditative “No More Trouble” speaks to overcoming adversity and “reaching for stars.”

Following are selections compiled from her live album tour:

 

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Nothing for Granted is a completely engrossing album that defies genre boundaries and it will definitely be added to my summer playlist.  At present the tracks can be streamed for free from Nkaké’s website.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Angélique Kidjo

Title: Spirit Rising

Artist: Angélique Kidjo

Label: Razor & Tie

Formats:  CD, MP3, DVD (PBS)

Release date:  February 21, 2012

 

 

Designated “Africa’s premier diva” by Time magazine, Beninoise singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo has released a string of internationally acclaimed albums that draw upon traditional African music as well as jazz and other genres representing the African diaspora―in her words, “music without boundaries.” At the same time, she has lent her talent and energy to a host of organizations promoting peace, conservation, and the empowerment of women.

In 2011, twenty years after she embarked on her solo career, Boston’s WGBH celebrated the occasion with the live concert “Spirit Rising: Angéélique Kidjo and Friends” featuring long time collaborator Branford Marsalis, Josh Groban, Dianne Reeves, and Ezra Koenig (of Vampire Weekend).  The rhythm section includes Thierry Vaton on piano, Christian McBride on bass, Dominic James and Marvin Sewell on guitars, Daniel Freedman on drums, and Magatte Sow on percussion, accompanied variously by a trio of horn players from Berklee College, the Kuumba Singers of Harvard, the Borremeo String Quartet and, in the DVD edition, dancers from the Broadway show Fela!.

The concept behind the concert was to feature songs culled from different stages of Kidjo’s career, while also paying homage to her African roots.  Tracks include “Batonga” from her 1991 breakthrough album Logozo, “Tumba” and “Afirika” from the Brazilian influenced Black Ivory Soul (2002), and “N’Yin Wan Nou We” from her Latin album Oyaya! (2004). Much of the remainder of the set is drawn from her most recent album, Õÿö (2010), including the highlife tune “Kelele,” a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” featuring Diane Reeves, and a rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” featuring Marsalis. Additional tracks include Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a Kidjo arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero,” Vampire Weekend’s “I Think UR a Contra,” and “Pearls” sung in a duet with Groban.

Following is the official trailer for the DVD:

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Spirit Rising is Kidjo’s first live album, and fans will enjoy these new renditions of her best loved songs. The concert first aired over PBS in March 2012 and is now available on DVD, which features five songs not included on the CD version, as well as a back-stage interview with Kidjo.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Nabiha

Title: More Cracks

Artist: Nabiha

Label: Discowax/Sony

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  Feb. 20, 2012 (U.S.)

 

 

Danish-born songstress Nabiha Bensouda offers non-stop ultra high energy dance music throughout the majority of her sophomore album More Cracks. Though most of the synth-heavy tracks border on the generic, it is without a doubt perfect music to kickstart a summer party. “Deep Sleep,” her break-out hit in Europe, is indicative of the songs on the album, with infectious hooks, an exuberant delivery, and a driving beat that dares anyone to remain still.  If you’re in the mood for a less frenetic pace, “Boomerang” and “Midnight Blues” are stand-out tracks, featuring Nabiha’s soulful side.

Following is the official video for “Trouble,” a track from the album with broader appeal that should please fans of both rock and Euro-pop music:

 

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Nabiha’s following is still largely based in Denmark, though she performed a few concerts in the U.S. earlier this year and is being heavily promoted by Elle magazine, among others.  It will be interesting to see what she has planned for her next album, allegedly due out at the end of 2012.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Goapele

Title: Break of Dawn

Artist: Goapele

Label:  Skyblaze/Decon

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  October 24, 2011

 

Bay-area neo-soul artist and activist Goapele Mohlabane grew up listening to classic soul as well as the Miriam Makeba records owned by her father, a South African political exile. Her Oakland upbringing also immersed her in the cutting edge urban hip hop scene, leading to collaborations with Aceyalone, E-40, Hieroglyphics (on “Soweto”) and other West Coast MCs.  Break of Dawn is her third studio album, released on Skyblaze Recordings, a label she owns with her DJ brother, Namane Mohlabane.

Goapele describes her new effort as “a little more aggressive,” evidenced by an increasing reliance upon drum sequencing, the occasional use of Autotune, and beats supplied by local producer Bedrock, among others.  While this may increase her appeal to a younger generation of fans, neo-soul purists may well find the electronic elements a bit jarring. The more successful of these tracks is the sensual “Play,” while “Milk and Honey” is overpowered by rather annoying synths. Still, there are many soulful tracks that stand out, especially the more retro “Tears on My Pillow”:

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Overall, the vocally gifted, mesmerizing songstress holds great promise. Though the new direction explored on Break of Dawn does not always succeed, her neo-soul songs are right on target.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Maimouna Youssef

Title: The Blooming

Artist: Maimouna Youssef

Label: (dist. via Bandcamp)

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  September 20, 2011

 

 

Baltimore native Maimouna Youssef grew up singing the traditional Native American songs passed down by her grandmother, who was born in 1922 to a Mississippi Choctaw sharecropping family. Youssef went on to form a jazz/hip-hop/funk band with her cousin while also staying true to her roots through her Afro-Native American group Three Generationz.  More recently she has performed with a wide range of international artists including Erykah Badu, Zap Mama, and Talib Kweli. She also garnered significant acclaim for her lead vocals on The Roots’ “Don’t Feel Right,” which received a Grammy nomination and cemented a spot for her on The Roots world tour.

The Blooming represents Youssef’s first full length album, which is largely comprised of original songs showcasing her varied musical and cultural influences. She demonstrates her emcee chops on the title track “The Blooming” (with contributions from Zap Mama), while hip hop also permeates “You Ain’t Hard” (featuring Raheem Devaughan) and the Latin-influenced “O Encontro No Brasil.”  The remaining tracks segue between genres, from the bluesy rock of “Black Magic Woman” to the reggae rhythms of “When Music Breathes” to the soulful “Gypsy Woman,” and to the Native American influenced “The Knowing,” which features her mother, Walks on Water (a member of Three Generationz).

Following is the official music video for one of the more mainstream R&B tracks on the album,“I Got a Man” :

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Clearly Maimouna Youssef is comfortable singing in any style, be it jazz, hip hop, R&B, neo-soul or world music, and The Blooming aptly demonstrates her superb vocals, songwriting talents, and versatility. In order to fully appreciate the album, however, listeners must be prepared for frequent transitions between genres.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

View review August 1st, 2012

Marley

Title: Marley

Format: DVD/Blu-Ray (145 min.)

Label: Magnolia Home Entertainment

Release date: August 7, 2012

 

 

 

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Title: Marley: The Original Soundtrack

Artist:  Bob Marley & the Wailers

Formats:  2-CD or 3-LP set, MP3

Label: Island Def Jam/Tuff Gong

Release date:  April 17, 2012

There may be numerous books, articles, and documentaries detailing the life of Bob Marley, but Kevin MacDonald has directed something so unique that previous attempts at portraying the reggae superstar pale in comparison. For it is in Marley that one gains a much more personal understanding of Bob not only as a musician, but rather as a man.

With the beautiful panoramic images of the Jamaican countryside and more specifically of St. Ann, Marley’s birthplace, the stage is set for the story of Bob’s humble beginnings. With a white father and black mother, the mixed-race Marley was practically ostracized from the rest of society. Interviews with early friend Bunny Wailer, along with Marley’s mother and other family members, help to detail what he experienced, and how through music he was able to overcome this racial stigma.

As Marley continues, interviews with an exhaustive list of individuals ranging from family to fellow musicians and producers provide an all-encompassing look at the man behind the music. This is where the documentary strays from previous attempts—Bob’s life is not told simply through narration, but is instead explained by those who were closest to him, offering many new insights. Various musicians make appearances, including the reclusive Lee “Scratch” Perry, who surprisingly stays on topic for much of the time spent onscreen. Also included are fellow band members Aston Barrett, the back-up vocals of the I-Threes, and Junior Marvin, among others.  Interesting facts about Bob are unearthed—his love of soccer and cricket, his attention to physical fitness—all of which added to his personality. In recollections about his attitude as a father, his children from wife Rita humorously recall him racing as fast as he could against his own kids, refusing to let up even the tiniest bit. It is these insights into the life of Bob Marley that the documentary achieves so well, allowing viewers to form a very close understanding of him, beyond just the music.

Following is the official trailer for Marley:

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Plenty of footage is devoted to Marley as a serious musician, and to the message of peace, love and equality that he spread throughout the world with his music. The accompanying soundtrack aptly mixes the Wailers’ music and philosophy as the documentary progresses through Marley’s life. (The soundtrack album, available on CD and vinyl, includes a mix of studio and live performances spanning Bob’s entire career, from an aspiring solo artist in the early 1960s to his reformation of the Wailers in the mid-1970s to his final performances in the late 1970s). There is a very interesting point in the documentary in which Bob’s half-brother and half-sister give a listen to “Corner Stone,” a song that describes the feelings of rejection by Marley’s white father. Needless to say, it’s truly something special. From his attempt at ending political violence between the JLP and PNP to celebrating African independence in places like Zimbabwe, peace, love and equality was always his focal point. Black unity across the entire diaspora is emphasized just as much in the documentary. For example, through interviews we learn of the sadness that Marley felt when playing concerts to a mostly white crowd. The time that Bob dedicated and sacrificed to this cause unfortunately ends too soon. In 1981 Marley passes—he was only 36.

As the film ends with clips of Jamaicans mourning Marley’s death and the credits roll, there is a very touching series of vignettes showing that Marley’s message of peace, love and equality continues to be a driving force throughout the world, thus achieving his greatest wish. From Zimbabwe to Jamaica to India to Ethiopia to the UK to the USA to India to Brazil to Japan and everywhere in-between, murals and images of Bob Marley are still extremely important to people, over 30 years after his death. This is the greatest message of the documentary—Marley’s music has indeed created an interconnectedness that will carry well into the future.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review August 1st, 2012

Nominations for the National Recording Registry

Each year since 2002, the National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB) and members of the public have nominated recordings to the National Recording Registry.  Recordings selected for the Registry are those that are culturally, historically or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.  The Library of Congress then identifies and preserves the best existing versions of each selected recording in the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia.

Black Grooves readers are encouraged to make nominations for the 2012 Registry via the online submission form on the NRPB website.  Recordings of all types—commercial releases, field recordings, radio broadcasts, spoken word, sound effects—are all eligible provided there is an extant copy and the recording is at least ten years old.  Categories include Broadway, Cajun/Zydeco, classical, comedy, folk, ethnic, gospel, jazz, pop, R&B, blues, rap, speeches, news, and just about anything else that has been put to wax. Please remember to submit a brief justification of the recording’s significance along with your nominations.

In 2011 there were 25 new entries on the National Recording Registry including the American Folklife Center’s collection of oral histories “Voices from the Days of Slavery” (1932-1941),  “Let’s Go Out to the Programs” (1953) by the legendary gospel quartet Dixie Hummingbirds,  Bo Diddley’s rocking first singles “Bo Diddley” and “I’m a Man” (1955),  Booker T. & the M.G.’s hit soul instrumental “Green Onions” (1962), the album  Forever Changes (1967) by the integrated psychedelic L.A. rock band Love, the ultimate P-funk Afro-futurist concept album Mothership Connection (1975) by Parliament, Donna Summer’s electronic dance hit “I Feel Love” (1977), the Sugarhill Gang’s seminal “Rapper’s Delight” (1979),  and Prince and the Revolution’s black rock musical soundtrack Purple Rain (1984).

The full registry includes 350 entries listed in chronological order edning in “Dear Mama” by Tupac Shakur (1995).

The U.S. Presidential election might be several months away, but you can “vote” for your favorite recordings today!

View review August 1st, 2012

Welcome to the August 2012 Issue

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

This month we’re featuring nine albums released over the past nine months by “Women of the World”—artists who draw upon a variety of world influences to create a unique sound: Maimouna Youssef, Goapele, Nabiha, Angélique Kidjo, Ayo, Sandra Nkaké, Emeli Sandé, Imani Uzuri, and Lira.

Also reviewed is the new DVD/CD soundtrack for Marley, the documentary of the life of Bob Marley directed by Kevin MacDonald, plus the latest album from Toro Y Moi (a.k.a. Chazwick Bundick), who will be performing at the 2012 Afropunk Fest (the line-up includes other performers recently featured in Black GroovesJanelle Monae, Straight Line Stitch, Cerebal Ballzy, and Das Racist).

Reissues covered this month include the first CD releases of two albums from members of the P-Funk collective: Quazar by Quazar (with Glen Goins), and Bernie Worell’s All the Woo in the World; two new releases in Concord’s Stax Remasters series: Albert King’s I’ll Play the Blues For You and Booker T & the M.G.’s Green Onions; and the first CD release of the Fairfield Four’s 1989 album Revival.

Other gospel releases this month include albums by Vincent Tharpe and Kenosis, Tammy Edwards & The Edwards Sisters, and the gospel rap artist Flame.

Wrapping up this issue is the South Memphis String Band’s Old Times There . . ., Tank’s latest R&B album This is How I Feel, and Clarence Bekker’s comeback album Old Soul.

View review August 1st, 2012

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