Archive for October, 2012

Welcome to the October 2012 Issue

Welcome to the October 2012 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture. This month we’re celebrating the publication of our 1000th review!  Those who follow the Archives of African American Music and Culture on Facebook will be notified of weekly contests throughout October and will have a chance to win free CDs.

Our artist of the month is Etta James, featured in two new retrospective compilations—Live at Montreux 1975-1993 and The Complete Private Blues, Rock, Soul—as well as the Leela James’ tribute album Loving You More . . . in the Spirit of Etta James. Other compilations from Sony Legacy include the Michael Jackson Bad 25 anniversary edition 4-disc box set, the 16-CD box set The Columbia Masters by Earth, Wind & Fire, and the 2-CD set The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal, 1969-1973.

Classical music featured this month includes the Broadway cast album The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble’s release of orchestral works by Florence B. Price.  Under religious music is the new release Gravity by the chart topping gospel rap artist LeCrae, the live performance CD Jesus at the Center by Israel & New Breed, and an introduction to the sibling vocal group The Wardlaw Brothers on God’s Been There.

Blues releases include the country blues album Buffalo Junction by Boo Hanks and Dom Flemons (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops), the contemporary talking blues album And for the Dark Road Ahead by Samuel James, and a fun look back at the ‘80s via the newly released DVD Muddy Waters & Rolling Stones Live at Checkerboard Lounge 1981.

World music albums include the new reggae release Mecoustic by Tarrus Riley, a collection of popular second-wave ska songs by the Phoenix City Allstars titled 2 Tone Gone Ska, Puerto Rican bombas performed by Hijos de Agüeybaná on Agua del Sol, the compilation of tropical Colombian music Ondatrópica, and the sophomore release Bouger le Monde from the world renowned Congolese band Staff Benda Bilili.

Wrapping up this issue is Heaven’s Computer by Afrofuturist hip hop artist 7evenThirty, and in a nod to October’s Halloween theme, The Devil’s Music EP by the Gothic soul hardcore group blkVampires.

View review October 1st, 2012

Leela James – Loving You More…In the Spirit of Etta James

Title: Loving You More…In the Spirit of Etta James

Artist: Leela James

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 31, 2012


Since her 2005 debut album A Change is Gonna Come, named after Sam Cooke’s swan song, Leela James has been making R&B that harkens back to the golden era of 60s soul. Her music is so indebted to classic soul that early in her career she assumed the stage name Leela James in homage to the late, great Matriarch of R&B, Etta James, to whom Leela has been compared since her childhood singing days. But Leela would likely not have upstaged Beyoncé for the Etta James role in the feature film Cadillac Records, for she is not a good impersonator, nor does she aspire to be. Her adoration for Etta inspires her without compromising her original sound or innovative spirit. In her latest release, Loving You More: In the Spirit of Etta James, Leela proves that and shows just how a tribute album should be done by offering much more than a tribute album.

In the opening track “Soul Will Never Die,” Leela dedicates the album to Etta intoning “your soul will never die,” a promise Leela works to uphold throughout the 11-track album by breathing new life into her songs with a fresh sounding mix of hip hop, soul, gospel, and pop. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to tell whether these are covers or originals, and that applies even to Etta’s well trod classics such as “Something’s Got a Hold On Me.” In Leela’s version, the propulsive beat and catchy melody has the energy to lure droves to the dance floor:

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“It Hurts Me So Much” samples the percussive piano lick from Dr. Dre’s “Still Dre” (originally taken from Grant Green’s “Maybe Tomorrow”), and gives an edgy sound to heartache. Leela’s cover of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” a sexy R&B slow jam recorded as a duet with male vocalist Shannon Sanders, is almost unrecognizable. Her sped-up version of Etta’s “Damn Your Eyes,” featuring funky keyboard runs and a drum machine, sounds like a Prince B-side. “Sunday Kind of Love” is a spare ethereal soundscape that captures the song’s romantic pining in a whole new way. And “At Last” is a swingy little number with the neo-soul sophistication of CeeLo Green or Theophilus London.

While Leela proves her chops and earns comparisons to the soul greats new and old, here and gone, Leela James sounds most of all like herself, and that is refreshingly hard to describe.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review October 1st, 2012

Etta James – Etta James: Live at Montreux 1993

Title: Etta James: Live at Montreux 1993

Artist: Etta James

Label: Eagle Vision

Format: DVD, Blu-Ray, CD

Release date: August 28, 2012



In Eagle Vision’s new retrospective on Etta James’ Montreux performances, two facts remain true over the course of her career: Etta was as wild a dresser as ever graced the stage and her spark never waned, though her voice noticeably lost some of its suppleness and range.

But why pay money to see an artist who is well past their prime, which arguably Etta was by 1993? It is thrilling and for some even imperative to see the great musical legends in the flesh before they exit the Big Stage. Diehard or not, it is also interesting to see how Etta reinterpreted her classic material, given the downside of having a prolonged career—the physical limitations that come with age and the monotony of singing the same songs year after year. Etta dealt with these problems like she would any of the no-good men she sings about, with attitude and a dirty sense of humor, both of which increasingly make their way into her stage persona.

Showboating across the stage in a gold lame robe in her 1993 appearance, Etta sings “Rather Go Blind” not with the tenderness and desperation of youth, but with a husky knowingness that emphasizes the song’s triumphant resignation over its heartbreak. Remembering the phantom touch of her old flame, she’s no longer “thinkin’ of [his] kiss and warm embrace.” She’s thinking about the part of him that is best left to suggestion, which she does very emphatically. The DVD also includes her ’75 version of the song, in which Etta hits on the perfect mix of sensual and sexy, mournful and authoritative:

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Etta’s 1993 backing band does her a great disservice by ambushing her voice with overly slick, aggressive blues-rock instrumentation. But lucky for us, the DVD includes a sizeable portion of Etta’s ’75 performance whose lineup demonstrates the raw power of good stage chemistry. The churchy organist, the brass section, and funky guitar player work together to showcase the vibrancy of Etta’s inimitable voice, and achieve the sound of Stax Record’s classic soul. In fact, the horn section’s melodic flares punctuate Etta’s improvised vocals with such potency that Etta herself looks delighted if not a bit surprised that she’s finally found somebody that can keep up with her.

The music from her Montreaux performances is also available on CD.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review October 1st, 2012

Etta James – Etta James: The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock’N’Soul Albums Collection

Title: Etta James: The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock’N’Soul Albums Collection

Artist: Etta James

Label: Legacy

Format: 7-CD box set

Release date: August 28, 2012



Sony Legacy’s most recent Etta James box set features 7-discs worth of the artist’s late-career recordings (1997-2004) for Private Music, a label known for its roster of New Age musicians like Yanni and Suzanne Ciani. While there is little New Agey about Miss Peaches, Private Music captures a new age in Etta’s recording career, her blues-rock era. The discs Let’s Roll, Blues to the Bone, Burnin’ Down the House, and Matriarch of the Blues leave little room for doubt: Etta was a tour de force until the very end.

In this collection there isn’t much in the way of classic rhythm and blues, with which Etta is so closely associated she’s been hailed as the Matriarch of R&B. She stays away from her old material for the most part, and instead lends her voice to blues and jazz covers and newly penned tunes. The new songs are somewhat forgettable in comparison to her early work but some of the covers see Etta expanding her repertoire and experimenting with her voice and style in refreshing new ways—the best of which is heard  on her cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” and the Rogers and Hart classic “My Funny Valentine.”

This collection will primarily appeal to the camp of Etta diehards collecting her every crumb as well as to contemporary ears completely unfamiliar with her previous output.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review October 1st, 2012

Lecrae – Gravity

Title: Gravity

Artist: Lecrae

Label: Reach Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 4, 2012



Although certainly not the founding father of Christian hip hop, Lecrae Moore has become the genre’s most recognizable voice. Lecrae’s combination of Christian faith and hard-hitting rhymes has won critical acclaim in the music industry and attention from media outlets such as BET and TIME magazine. Further enhancing his reputation is the fact that his seventh and latest album, Gravity, grabbed the #1 rap album position (#3 overall) on the Billboard 200 chart within days of its release. By all signs, Lecrae is achieving the improbable: breaking out of the stigmatizing “Christian rapper” mold to achieve crossover success.

Equally improbable for an album that hit #1 on iTunes on its release day, Gravity was inspired by the fatalistic Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, according to Lecrae’s recent Christian Post interview. Marked by a sober and repeated emphasis on fallen human nature and the world’s hollow promises, the project coheres around the theme of being weighed down by sin and futility. In addition to this unifying concept, as noted in other reviews, Gravity showcases Lecrae’s artistic maturity both in production qualities exceeding those of past albums and in collaborations with secular rappers and producers—a risky choice in Christian rap circles.

Compared to some of Lecrae’s grittier, street-oriented hit singles like “Jesus Muzik” and “Go Hard,” Gravity is pop-inflected, thus continuing in the vein of his last two commercial releases (Rehab and Overdose). The project uses less hairy theological language—a sign of his intent to reach a broader audience. Even as they narrate typical human struggles in a relatable fashion, however, most tracks still articulate foundational Christian concepts such as sin and Christ’s atonement. Like Lecrae’s other projects, the album contains features by other rappers, primarily Reach Records labelmates who affirm his theological stance.

Following is the official music video for “Lord Have Mercy” featuring Tedashii:

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A fascinating divergence from these voices is the track “Mayday,” wherein secular rapper Big K.R.I.T. outlines his frustration with religious hypocrisy (“Ridin’ clean, bendin’ corners, hopin’ I might find my savior/on the curb, I rarely go to church/False prophets rockin’ Prada so I rarely feel the Word”). In a response verse, Lecrae acknowledges the critique in the voice of an honest churchgoer (“When I hear K.R.I.T. confessin’ I respect him,/’cause most of us be lying like our lives don’t need perfectin’”). This creative dialogue moves the song beyond the tired formula, common in Christian and mainstream rap, of celebrity features queued up haphazardly in a rhetorically non-unified track.

The song’s multitextured beat was produced by DJ Khalil, another notable collaborator from mainstream hip hop; it exemplifies the album’s overall excellent production values. Khalil joins producers Heat Academy and The Watchmen in creating tracks that draw on a broad sonic range: classical violin, minor-key “Gothic” polyphony, reggae, and moody piano ballads. Those searching this album solely for banging street anthems or clever punchlines will be disappointed, but careful listening rewards the hearer as the project’s thematic unity is juxtaposed artfully with a plurality of musical styles.

Reviewed by Carrie Allen Tipton

View review October 1st, 2012

Israel & New Breed – Jesus at the Center

Title: Jesus at the Center

Artist: Israel & New Breed

Label: Integrity Media

Formats: CD, MP3, DVD

Release date: August 14, 2012


Delivering its message of praise and worship to fans for over 12 years, Israel & New Breed sounds as good as ever on the group’s new live album, Jesus at the Center. Since the release of their last album nearly 5 years ago, band leader Israel Houghton has released solo works, many of which have won several awards including a Grammy. This double album, which includes 17 live-performance songs and 3 studio singles, will fulfill the expectations of long-term fans while attracting new audiences. It channels the atmosphere of the concert at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, where Houghton is a worship leader, and captures all the highlights of their inspirational performances. Houghton states in the liner notes, “We purposely wanted to emphasize being a resource to the church worldwide. . .  There is literally something for everyone to connect to.”  This album does indeed provide music for the cross-cultural audience of churchgoers worldwide.

Disc 1 presents the first half of the concert, during which Israel & New Breed amp the audience with up-beat songs. The concert begins with each member of New Breed singing parts of “Jesus at the Center” while Israel reads from Colossians 1:15-20. They kick off the music ministry with “Jesus the Same,” which exemplifies their sound with powerful beats and horns. Their simple and highly melodic songs invite audience members to participate in the spiritual experience of the music. The group moves to another powerful tune, “Rez Power,” and further elevates the audience’s excitement.  “No Turning Back” has grooves that make you want to dance; “Te Amo,” (meaning “I love you” in Spanish) will make you dance even more; and “More Than Enough” will surely keep you dancing.

The live version of “Jesus at the Center” becomes a bridge between the first and second half of the concert. The audience joins in on the music-making, singing “Jesus at the center of it all. From the beginning to the end, it will always be, it’s always been you Jesus. Nothing else matters. Nothing in this world will do. Jesus, You’re the center. Everything revolves around You. Jesus, You. The center of it all.”

Disc 2 contains the second half of the concert and features mostly ballads. Both the live and studio version of “It’s Not Over (When God Is in It)” will give you goose bumps with its touching message of empowerment, and will help ease worried minds with its lyrics of encouragement: “It’s not over. It’s not finished. It’s not ending. It’s only the beginning. When God is in it, all things are new.” The following clip from the concert demonstrates the power of their musical performance:

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This last half of the concert also contains several medleys, “Hosanna/ Moving Forward/ Where Else Can I Go,” “You Have Me/ You Hold My World,” and “To Make You Feel My Love/ Name of Love” (on which Houghton’s teenage daughter, Mariah, is featured). “To Make” is a wonderful rendition of a little-known Bob Dylan song, followed by “Name of Love” whose sound really captures the church’s serenity. Israel and his daughter’s smooth voices blend together and transform this song about romantic love into one about spiritual love.

Jesus at the Center will surely make you smile and sing and feel thankful for the many talents of Israel & New Breed.

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review October 1st, 2012

Earth, Wind & Fire – The Columbia Masters

Title: The Columbia Masters

Artist: Earth, Wind & Fire

Label: Legacy

Format: 16-CD box set

Release date: June 12, 2012



By scheduling this set for summer release, Legacy got the jump on the many box sets and special editions slated for release prior to the holiday season. Rather than a compilation of best tracks or rarities, The Columbia Masters consists of remastered editions of 15 classic Earth, Wind & Fire albums in their entirety, enclosed in mini-LP replica sleeves with the original album art.  Rarities are not entirely left out of the package. The 16-track bonus disc Constellations: The Universe of EW&F features several singles as well as alternate takes, instrumental mixes, and other previously unreleased tracks, including two from a 1980 live performance in Rio de Janeiro. The accompanying 40-page illustrated booklet provides all track listings and credits, along with illuminating (albeit brief) commentary about each disc by Maurice White.

The albums in the set follow the trajectory of EWF’s success as one of the funkiest and most versatile bands on the planet, as well as their decline in popularity in the post-disco ‘80s. Included is Last Days and Time (1972), featuring the band’s new lineup built around Maurice and Verdine White with lead singer Philip Bailey; Head to the Sky (1973), an affirmation of White’s goal to uplift humanity; Open Our Eyes (1974), notable for the introduction of Charles Stepney as arranger/producer; That’s the Way of the World (1975), the group’s breakout album that produced two megahits—the title track and  “Shining Star;”  Gratitude (1976), a combination of live concert and studio recordings; Spirit (1976), reflecting White’s spiritual consciousness and study of Egyptology; All ‘N All (1977), an eclectic mixture of soul, funk, and Latin pop, with contributions by Brazilian guitarist Milton Nascimento and super tight horn arrangements by Tom Tom 84; The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 (1978), a collection of the group’s top singles including a cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life;”  I Am (1979), featuring the Emotions on the disco hit “Boogie Wonderland” as well as the David Foster ballad “After the Love Has Gone;” Faces (1980), a solid double-album highlighting the bands signature horn and string arrangements; Raise! (1981), most notable for the opening track “Let’s Groove;” Powerlight (1983), featuring Trinidadian musician Robert Greenridge’s steel drums on the tracks “Spread Your Love” and “Side By Side;” Electric Universe (1983), which introduced (not very successfully) synths and drum machines into the EWF mix; the reunion/message album Touch the World (1987), which followed the band’s four-year studio hiatus; and Heritage (1990), an appeal to the hip hop generation featuring M.C. Hammer, which concluded EWF’s relationship with Columbia.

For those who didn’t pick up the 2004 remastered editions of EWF’s Columbia albums, this box set is a real bargain. Not only is it a fine tribute to the ground breaking band that managed to bridge the gap between the musical tastes of black and white America, but it also highlights the incredible songwriting and arranging skills of the incomparable Maurice White.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2012

Taj Mahal – Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal, 1969-1973

Title: Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal, 1969-1973

Artist: Taj Mahal

Label: Legacy

Formats: 2-CD or 2-LP set, MP3

Release date: August 21, 2012



Veteran blues musician Taj Mahal (a.k.a. Henry Saint Clair Fredericks) may have celebrated his 70th birthday this past spring, but he is still actively performing and touring the globe, sharing his unique mélange of blues fused with funk, rock, reggae, gospel, folk, and world music genres.  Lest anyone forget Mahal’s significance and his influence on the current generation of traditional blues revivalists and those pushing the boundaries of the genre, Sony Legacy’s new two-disc set serves as a reminder.

 The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 draws from recordings and performances from the first five years of the artist’s solo career, immediately following his 1968 self-titled debut for Columbia. Disc one focuses on unreleased studio recordings, some with Mahal’s band The Dixie Flyers, others such as the rollicking “Sweet Mama Janisse” accentuated by a full complement of tubas and horns. The final three tracks—“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “Shady Grove,” and “Butter”—were recorded in New Orleans with participation from Hosal Wright on electric guitar, Eric Ajaye on bass, and production by the great Allen Toussaint.

Disc two is drawn from a live concert recorded on April 18, 1970, at London’s Royal Albert Hall.  Capturing Mahal at his peak, the set is half traditional blues: Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Checkin’ Up On My Baby,” an arrangement of “Runnin By the Riverside,” and a 10-minute jam on “Oh Susanna.”  These are interspersed with original compositions by Mahal and others, including “Bacon Fat” by J. Robbie Robertson/Garth Hudson.  Band members include Jesse Ed Davis on electric guitar, John Simon on piano, Bill Rich on bass, and James Karstein on drums.  All are given ample opportunity to shine in extended solos.

The discs are accompanied by a 15 page illustrated booklet with liner notes by Miles Mellough. Though some compilations dredge the bottom of the vault, this is not one of them. Hidden Treasures should delight any Taj Mahal fan, while leaving us to speculate about other potential gems hiding in Sony’s vault from Mahal’s final three years on Columbia.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2012

Michael Jackson – Bad 25

Title:  Bad 25

Artist: Michael Jackson

Label:  Legacy

Format:  3CD + DVD box set

Release date:  September 18, 2012



Three years ago Sony Legacy released a limited edition CD/DVD to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Thriller.  Now Legacy has upped the ante with Bad 25, a 4 disc deluxe edition celebrating the silver anniversary of MJ’s 1987 follow up album. Included in the box set is a remastered edition of Bad, a disc of previously unreleased Bad demos recorded in Michael’s personal studio at Hayvenhurst, the DVD Live at Wembly July 16, 1988, and a CD from the same live performance, culled from the multi-track audio recorded by the sound truck.  Accompanying the discs are two illustrated booklets featuring full-color tour and session photos, a double-sided poster, and a Bad 25 decal.

For many, the biggest draw of the set will be the DVD (also sold separately). Though a video of live performances from the Dangerous tour was issued in 2005, no live footage from the record breaking 14-month-long BAD tour has been officially released until now. The concert at London’s Wembley Stadium took place almost one year into the tour, and by this time MJ and the band are a super tight, extremely well choreographed ensemble, yet they still display plenty of spontaneity. Music director/keyboard player Greg Phillinganes is especially fun to watch, as is lead guitarist Jennifer Batten, bass player Don Boyette, and a tight-skirted, permed Sheryl Crow in her breakout gig as one of MJ’s backup singers. Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana also make a brief cameo appearance at beginning of the concert. The DVD was sourced from Jackson’s personal copy of the performance as shown on the JumboTrons during the concert, which apparently were archived on S-VHS tapes.  Consequently, the picture is far from HD quality, but the camera work is exceptionally well done with plenty of close-ups of MJ, who displays a level of physical and emotional intensity that few singers can equal.

Any Michael Jackson fan will likely want to own this set, and the younger generation who came of age during MJ’s final years should take this opportunity to experience the performer when he was truly on top of the world.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2012

New Black Music Repertory Ensemble – Florence B. Price: Concerto in One Movement & Symphony in E Minor

Title: Florence B. Price: Concerto in One Movement & Symphony in E Minor

Artists: New Black Music Repertory Ensemble (Leslie B. Dunner, conductor); Karen Walwyn, Piano

Label: Albany Records

Catalog No.:  Troy 1295

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: December 1, 2011



Although you wouldn’t know it from the scarce recordings of the works of Florence B. Price (1888–1953), she stood alongside William Grant Still, Hall Johnson, and William Dawson in an elite group of African American composers active early in the twentieth century. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered her Symphony in E Minor in 1933; she won major compositional prizes; she was proudly cited by the Black press and favorably reviewed by the Chicago Tribune; and her arranged spirituals were sung by Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson. Although southern-born, Price studied at the New England Conservatory and moved to Chicago in 1927 to teach and write. Like other composers impelled by what Samuel Floyd identified as a broad “Negro Renaissance” ethos that flourished in Harlem and Chicago, Price produced nationalistic works that melded Western classical composition techniques with Black musical idioms.

Price’s relatively conservative neoromanticism marks these pieces, with their lush orchestral textures, standard forms, lyrical melodies, and tonal harmonies shot through with rich chromaticism. Their real innovativeness hinges on the incorporation of Black musical traditions: for instance, both pieces draw on the antebellum folk dance tradition of “pattin’ juba.” Additionally, while neither work quotes a spiritual or uses the 12-bar blues, a mournfulness sometimes associated with those genres permeates the symphony’s second movement and the concerto’s middle section (although in one movement, the piece contains three discrete sections that map onto the standard three-movement concerto form).

Also quite neoromantic is the virtuosity of the Concerto’s piano part, which the composer played at its 1934 debut and which is ably and clearly performed here by Karen Walwyn. With Rachmaninoff-like keyboard figuration and textures, the piece announces its aesthetic intentions immediately with a minor, blues-inflected descending motif voiced in call-and-response between brass and winds. The lyrical middle section and dancing final section give a cinematic quality to the 18-minute work as it traverses multiple moods. The current album represents the piece’s first recording, a labor of imagination and research. As Horace J. Maxile, Jr., explains in his liner notes, no copies of the orchestral part of the Concerto are extant. What is heard here is a reconstruction of the instrumentation by composer Trevor Weston, drawn from Price’s manuscript sources.

The tale of lost or overlooked works has marked Price’s legacy; many of her compositions, including the two on this album, were never published. Although the Symphony in E Minor marked the first time a major orchestra played music by a Black female composer, the current album is only the second recording of the work. This is unfortunate, since the symphony’s second movement is the high point of both the piece and the album. Built around a lyrical, chorale-like tune in the brass that alternates with other musical episodes, the movement concludes with chimes and a soaring tutti that reinforce its sacred sensibilities. The Center for Black Music Research in Chicago, the force behind this album, is to be thanked for re-introducing Price’s music with this high-quality recording and its detailed liner notes containing biographical data and stylistic descriptions.

Reviewed by Carrie Allen Tipton

View review October 1st, 2012

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

Title: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

Artists: Various (Broadway Cast)

Label: P.S. Classics

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date: May 22, 2012



Don’t let the title fool you—this is not exactly the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. This cast recording of Diane Paulus’s Broadway adaptation of the Gershwins’ great American opera is at times familiar and foreign to devotees of the original, but should definitely be praised for successfully realizing Paulus’s goal of “introduc[ing] the work to the next generation of theatergoers.” By replacing large parts of the recitatives with spoken dialogue, adding completely new scenes with the assistance of Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, and re-writing parts of the score (aided by Diedre L. Murray), Paulus managed to produce a more accessible and less problematic version of this canonized work.

The politics of the production can be put aside fairly easily, however, due to the fantastic performances from everyone involved. The bar is set high from the first sung notes, when Nikki Renée Daniels lilts out “Summertime” as Clara, with a strong warmth that is illustrative of this production’s attempts to integrate African American performance practice. What this production does most effectively, though, is not the musical re-writing, but rather the fleshing out of the characters.  David Alan Grier’s Sporting Life is more than a stock villain, he is a fully realized hustler, and Audra McDonald’s Bess is much more than just a sympathetic addict.

Following is the official Broadway trailer:

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It shouldn’t be said that Porgy and Bess was improved by fleshing out characters and making some stylistic shifts, but this Broadway version of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess serves as an engaging and more contemporary counterpart that will undoubtedly provide pleasure to new listeners and many old diehards.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review October 1st, 2012

Boo Hanks with Dom Flemons – Buffalo Junction

Title: Buffalo Junction

Artist: Boo Hanks with Dom Flemons

Label: Music Maker

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 26, 2012



Piedmont guitar-slinger Boo Hanks is a regional Black stringband veteran; Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops is a Black stringband revivalist. The two musicians join forces in Buffalo Junction to powerful effect, making an intergenerational album that gives perspective and dynamism to this oft-overlooked genre.

Buffalo Junction is aptly titled, and not just because it is the name of Hank’s hometown in Virginia. It speaks to the highly regional character of the Piedmont blues that, on the one hand, makes Hanks’ style so distinctive and, on the other, has made the octogenarian virtually unknown to those beyond Buffalo Junction’s hills. Until recently, that is.

When Flemons, today’s premiere torchbearer of Black stringband music, heard about Hanks from the Music Maker foundation (an organization that promotes the work of traditional American roots musicians), he paid him a visit with a field recorder in tow. This album is a document of their productive first meeting. With Hanks doing his signature Piedmont picking and Flemons backing him on harmonica, jug, and bones, Buffalo Junction sounds both casual and momentous, like the natural result of two long overdue collaborators.

The album includes twelve traditional country blues songs that the two musicians recorded while waxing acoustic in Hanks’ trailer home, lending the album a sound as spontaneous and rough-hewn as any first encounter. The foot-stomper “Drinking Wine, Spodie Odie” features Hanks and Flemons getting down in high Saturday-night fashion. But given both men’s firmly established devotion to the music, there is a reverence and timelessness that hangs over these live recordings. “My Captain Gone on Before” is a song that pays tribute to a loved one long gone, and is a reflection on life’s many beginnings and ends. Hanks closes the song and album with words of farewell, “soon my troubled days will be over.”

Following is a promotional video for Hanks and Flemons’ ongoing tour:

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Hanks and Flemons have a musical kinship that goes beyond shared tastes. Both men have been striving for the same thing throughout their careers: a way to secure the continuity of this Black musical tradition. In Buffalo Junction, they accomplish it, if only for the length of the album.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review October 1st, 2012

Samuel James – And for the Dark Road Ahead

Title:  And for the Dark Road Ahead

Artist:  Samuel James

Label:  NorthernBlues Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 18, 2012



As soon as the opening bars drifted from the speakers, I suspected And for the Dark Road Ahead would offer a unique listening experience, and by the closing bars I was thoroughly convinced.  Calling the album atypical is an understatement, for Samuel James’s style harkens back to the pre-war acoustic blues era when storytelling often took a backseat to vocal prowess.  Indeed, James has resurrected the art of the talking blues, albeit in a highly individual, conversational manner.  The fact that he never actually breaks into song is explained in one of his blog posts: “I can play the guitar better than almost anybody, but sing worse than almost everybody.”  So he carries forth in a gravelly, world-weary speaking voice that belies his age (he just turned thirty).

The Portland, Maine based musician is well known on the Northeastern blues circuit, and I’m pleased to have discovered him through this CD, which is actually the third in his trilogy of albums on the NorthernBlues label.  Equally at home on guitar, dobro, piano, harmonica and banjo, James is something of a one-man band, eliciting sounds  in a variety of ways―picking, strumming, sliding, slapping, and thumping his way through each track. His highly literate and witty songs are as original as his style, ranging from existential ponderings on “Camus” to explorations of relationships in “Another Backyard Burial.”

Following is the official music video for the third track on the album, “Nineteen,” which displays his deft fingerpicking style:

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Like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Samuel James is a master at reinventing and reinvigorating styles and techniques from a bygone era.  I sincerely hope that in the near future his tours and recordings bring him to the attention of a wider audience.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2012

Muddy Waters / The Rolling Stones – Checkerboard Lounge: Live Chicago 1981

Title: Checkerboard Lounge: Live Chicago 1981

Artist: Muddy Waters/The Rolling Stones

Label: Eagle Vision

Format: DVD

Release date: July 10, 2012



Throughout their career, the Rolling Stones have been upstaged again and again, and usually to comic effect. Keith Richards describes following James Brown for the live tapping of the TAMI show in 1964 as the band’s worst career mistake. The band refused to release footage from their televised 1968 concert The Rolling Stones Circus, feeling themselves outshone by The Who. Keith Richards and Chuck Berry famously butted heads on stage at the taping of the 1986 Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll concert. And had they not been so drunk, their 1981 improvised performance with Muddy Waters at Chicago’s legendary Checkerboard Lounge, would have given the Rolling Stones pause to reflect on their ability to share the spotlight with Mr. Mighty Mississippi. But the performance was not a total train wreck. The Rolling Stones (playing the part of the Rolling Stones) simply strut on, almost obliviously, through their defeat.

In Eagle Vision’s new release of the concert footage, the Rolling Stones, who named themselves after Muddy Water’s 1950 classic “Rollin’ Stone,” prove themselves ever the prodigal son to the father of Chicago blues, and if one has their eye steadily trained on Muddy Waters, the Rolling Stones, in all their coked-out glitz, offer a good foil to Muddy, tempered, tasteful, and expertly commanding. The epitome of blues machismo.

After Muddy Waters takes the stage—*It’s start time!*—he greets the crowd but has a momentarily lapse of memory and keens the floor to remind himself what city he’s in, evidence of a demanding touring schedule and the dizziness of life on the road. But when the words South Side Chicago finally catch up to him, a look of relief passes over his face. If only in memory, this place is home.

He breaks into “You Don’t Have to Go,” and immediately establishes his credentials, treating the loose sinews of a mid-tempo blues shuffle with the sturdiness of his voice and lynchpin guitar licks. “Country Boy,” in which Muddy showcases his electric-slide fingering, alone is worth the price of admission. Like bacon fat sizzling on a skillet, clanging machinery, a wailing baby, an enamored woman, Muddy’s electric guitar rings the blood out of every note, and stands in huge contrast to the dry guitar pyrotechnics of his backing band’s lead guitarist. Muddy’s wild facial ticks and expressions during his guitar solos add to the sense that Muddy is performing an act of sorcery over his stringed plank of wood.

In “Baby Please Don’t Go,” Muddy shows beyond a shadow of a doubt where rock’n’roll came from, and like a historical re-enactment of the British Invasion, the Rolling Stones’ entourage bust in on the scene in full party mode, model girlfriends in tow. Muddy invites them to the stage but tells them, with only the most congenial hint of irony, not to rush their drinking rituals.

As the Rolling Stones become Muddy’s stage band, Richards and Wood fall right into Muddy’s languorous groove. But Jagger, obviously not used to sharing the limelight, looks like a ventriloquist dummy next to Waters, smiling too much and too often and trying too hard and at the same time not enough to impress. On the foot heels of The Blues Brothers feature film, Mick Jagger, dressed in a polyester soccer jersey, reminds us what happened to the blues in the ’80s: gross parody.

But the Stones also muddy the waters in a good way. Richards’ licks on “Mannish Boy” reveal him to be a true acolyte of Muddy’s electric church, and the Rolling Stones certainly add presence to “Champagne and Reefer,” a slow-cooked jam on the pleasures of excess, featuring a hilarious freestyle from Jagger and powerhouse vocals from Muddy that prove that he is for all time the man, spelled M-A-N.

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Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review October 1st, 2012

Tarrus Riley – Mecoustic

Title: Mecoustic

Artist: Tarrus Riley

Label: Soulbeats

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012 (U.S.)


Tarrus Riley is a second generation reggae star. His father, Jimmy Riley, had a string of reggae hits in the 1970s, working for a variety of Jamaican producers including Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Duke Reid, and Bunny Lee before becoming an accomplished producer in his own right. Whereas Jimmy Riley recorded in ska and rocksteady along with reggae, Tarrus’s recordings are generally in the roots tradition of Bob Marley or Dennis Brown with most of the lyrics centering on appreciation of Jah and living a spiritual life, or the social conditions that continue to bedevil the sufferers in the Rasta community in Jamaica and elsewhere.

Tarrus Riley’s new album Mecoustic features slow, heartfelt songs with excellent production values that provide a very clean overall sound with full-range audio response that emphasizes the top end as well as the bass, which is not always the case in reggae. This provides clarity to Riley’s soaring vocals and emphasizes the tasteful orchestration in the production. The focus is on lyrical songs of devotion with soulful backup vocals and appropriately spare arrangements. This is about as far as one can get from dancehall or dub while staying in the reggae idiom, so rather than a party scorcher, this is a set for contemplation and appreciation of Jah and his love.

Highlights include Tarrus’s duet with Jimmy Riley on “Black Mother Pray,” “Marcus Garvey” (not the Burning Spear song, but another fitting tribute to the prophet of Rastafari), and a duet with the sultry and expressive Cherry Natural on “System Set.”

Following is a live television performance of “System Set” (sans Cherry Natural):

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A timeless collection and likely a crowd pleaser, Mecoustic should add to Tarrus Riley’s string of chart toppers.

The complete set list: Larger Than Life (4:36); Black Mother Pray (ft. Jimmy Riley) (4:46); She’s Royal (4:13); Devil’s Appetite (4:10); If It’s Jah Will (3:57); Marcus Garvey (5:24); Eye Sight (4:36); Paradise (5:07); Pick Up the Pieces (6:11);  One Two Order (4:00); System Set (ft. Cherry Natural) (4:56); Africa Awaits (5:51); Other Half (3:43); Eye Sight (Bonus Track, 0:42); Whispers (5:42).

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review October 1st, 2012

Phoenix City All-Stars – 2 Tone Gone Ska

Title: 2 Tone Gone Ska

Artist: Phoenix City All-Stars

Label: Phoenix City Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 11, 2012




2 Tone Gone Ska presents a collection of popular second-wave ska songs from the legendary 2 Tone Records label filtered through a first-wave context. In other words, it’s as if the Specials and Madness were based in Kingston during the 1960s. This mood is effectively captured by the Phoenix City All-Stars, who rework these British hits into a classic Jamaican musical form.

Comprised mainly of instrumentals, 2 Tone Gone Ska is a return to a time when ska helped usher in Jamaican independence in 1962. Starting off with the Madness hit “One Step Beyond,” an entire horn section now takes over for the sole sax lead in the original. The song, and for the most part, the album as a whole provides a much heavier sound than the originals. With a prominent swinging bass, less trebly keyboards, and a fuller horn section, these songs have been completely overhauled. Through the layer of instrumental tracks, two songs emerge that contain impressive vocals by the famous Jamaican singer Dave Barker of Dave & Ansel Collins fame.  Although now 63, Barker sounds just as talented as he did on Double Barrel with his renditions of “Tears of a Clown” and “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down.”

Following is the album trailer:

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With a host of skilled musicians and seasoned vocalists on board to lend their talents, 2 Tone Gone Ska is an album that can easily be listened to on repeat for several days. With each listen the songs get increasingly stuck in your head, as I found myself whistling “Ghost Town” on more than one occasion. However, the album’s eight tracks measure up to being only a little over 25 minutes, which perhaps necessitates its being on repeat. This is a little disheartening, since there is so much good material that could have made its way onto this compilation. What about a cover of “Night Boat To Cairo?” Or a classic ska rendition of “Do the Rocksteady?” Whatever the reason, it is hard to deny that 2 Tone Gone Ska makes up for the short runtime with a talented group of musicians who have a great understanding of ska and are able to make unique interpretations of these classic second-wave ska hits.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review October 1st, 2012

Staff Benda Bilili – Bouger Le Monde!


Title: Bouger Le Monde!

Artist: Staff Benda Bilili

Label: Crammed Discs

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 3, 2012

Staff Benda Bilili, the Congolese band comprised of four elder paraplegic guitarists backed by a youthful rhythm section of former street children, captured the attention of the world following the release of their 2009 debut Très Très Fort and the feature film Benda Bilili!, which documented the group’s struggles and triumphs. After touring non-stop for the past three years, the members of the band stayed put in Kinshasa long enough to cut a new album, Bouger le monde!  Roughly translated to “move the world,” the title reflects their dual desire to shake up the dance floor and, more importantly, change the world, especially their own corner of it in the war ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Bouger, the band showcases their new, more sophisticated sound developed over the course of hundreds of live shows and benefitting from the addition of three new members and a larger complement of vocalists (singing variously in Congolese and French). Highlights include the reggae oriented “Sopeka” which is punctuated with some great guitar licks, the high octane “Bilanga” with its furiously fast drumming, and “Mutu Esaslaka (The Brains Are OK) ” which emphasizes the call and response and vocal harmonies of the chorus.

Following is the official trailer for the album featuring the song “Osali Mabe”:

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Staff Benda Bilili will be touring the U.S. this fall in support of the album, with October dates announced for venues along the East and West coasts. If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the cities they’ll be visiting, you can experience their uplifting live show and “move the world.”

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2012

Ondatropica – Tropical Colombian music

Title: Ondatropica

Artist: Ondatropica

Label: Soundway Records

Formats: CD, 3xLP, MP3

Release date: July 27, 2012

Conceived by Mario Galeano (of Frente Cumbiero, Colombia) and Will Holland (of Quantic, UK), sponsored by the British Council, and released by the British label Soundway Records, Ondatrópica is probably the most important album in Colombian music to come out in 2012. This project is a carefully selected gathering of “Golden Era” tropical Colombian music legends and the finest “fresh bloods” of contemporary Colombian music. Recorded and mixed in the mythical Discos Fuentes studios using live and analog recording techniques, Ondatrópica establishes a generational bridge that binds musical genres, arrangements, and performers from two very different eras.

Clearly inspired by the classic sound of tropical Colombian music from the latter half of the 20th century, Galeano’s and Holland’s compositions reframe popular musics from that era into a new hybrid sound. Rhythms like porro and different kinds of cumbia, descarga, bomba, ska, Afrobeat, guaracha vallenata, boogaloo, hard rock, and hip hop, among other genres, are blended together by an all-star ballroom orchestra, who put the energy and warmth of live-recorded sound at the forefront.

Featured on the album are many of the biggest names in Colombian tropical music from the 1950s through the 1980s, like Michi Sarmiento, Fruko, Markitos Mikolta, Aníbal Velásquez, Alfredito Linares (Peru) and Pedro “Ramayá” Beltrán, who join top contemporary musicians such as Eblis Álvarez, El Chongo, Nidia Góngora, El Profe, Pedro Ojeda, Marco Fajardo, and Esteban Copete. They define anew the relevance of this musical tradition by showing the common threads that link the present day generation to musicians who started recording sixty years ago.

This nineteen-track album opens with “Tiene sabor, tiene sazón” (“It has taste, it has spice”), a kind of Colombian Afrobeat-rumba, driven by a twelve-piece ensemble which includes multi-layered vocals, percussion, bass, a brass section, two electric guitars and a Wurlitzer piano.  “I ron man” (track 3), a cumbia rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Iron man,” is one of the most interesting songs. “Ron” is the Spanish word for rum and the chorus repeats “El ron se acabó!” (“The rum is over!”) as a kind of fatalistic celebration of the party spirit that this music inspires. “Rap-maya” (track 15) is a masterful cumbia/hip hop duet of traditional caña de millo flute and beat boxing, performed by Pedro “Ramayá” Beltrán and El Chongo.

Following is the official video for track 4, “Suena” (“It Sounds”), with a guest performance from French/Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux:

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Ondatrópica was recorded in January 2012, using quarter-track open reel tapes at Discos Fuentes studio in Medellin, under the supervision of Mario Rincón, master engineer and developer of the Fuentes sound. During the production process, only minimal overdubs were used in order to maintain the fidelity of a live recording, the primary method used in the early days of the Colombian recording industry. For live recording to sound professional, though, top-notch musicians are required since every mistake requires starting the recording process all over. But excellent performers are what this record has plenty of. Here is the “making of” album trailer:

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The album comes in a lively and colorful case with a 30-page booklet, which includes plenty of photographs, as well as bios of 24 of the 42 musicians that participated in this production. Ondatrópica represents a whole new chapter of Colombian music, not only by reminding us of the mastery of old-school music innovators, but also taking it further into a modern Caribbean/global sound. It is an opportunity for younger generations to recognize and understand that Colombian and Caribbean cultural heritage is not a thing of the past, but is alive, vibrant, and in permanent renovation. This is a must-have for Latin American music fans.


Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas

View review October 1st, 2012

Hijos de Agüeybaná – Agua del Sol

Title: Agua del Sol

Artist: Hijos de Agüeybaná

Label: Tumi Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012



Bomba is one of the most internationally renowned of Puerto Rican traditional musics and dances. It is a style highly influenced by the African diaspora in the Caribbean, and typically consists of a multitude of hand-drums, shakers, call and response vocals, and dancers. This music is the specialty of Hijos de Agüeybaná, an experienced Puerto Rican band whose first release, Agua del Sol, is a collection of bombas composed by its musical director, Otoquí Reyes.

Most of the tracks on the album portray a traditional sonority with chants and percussion. Some others, though, employ a wider range of instruments and arrangements. For example, the opening track “Saludo al Sol” (“Greetings to the Sun”) uses plenty of synthesized sounds, while the title track, “Agua del Sol” (“Water of the Sun”), features a classical salsa orchestration with guest vocals by the legendary sonero Andy Montañez (El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico).

In the following video the group offers a brief bomba demonstration:

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Agua del Sol
 is published by Tumi Music and comes with a 16-page booklet, which includes a short historical overview of traditional bomba and plena music, as well as lyrics for the songs. In general, the album is a good manifestation of how newer generations assimilate and represent traditional musics: by paying homage to the ancestral sonorities where they emerged while also experimenting and blazing new musical paths.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas

View review October 1st, 2012

7even Thirty – Heaven’s Computer

Title: Heaven’s Computer

Artist: 7evenThirty

Label: Mello Music Group

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012


Delivering raps that are as fiery as they are cryptic, that meld high-concept and sci-fi camp to grand cinematic effect, 7evenThirty has landed!  Dropping in hip hop’s proverbial cornfields—Jackson, Mississippi, born and based—7evenThirty’s debut album Heaven’s Computer leaves mysterious but undeniable proof of the dirty South’s strange life forms.

Space Gangsta, Angel of Death, Harbinger of Doom, Outerspace Freak are just some of the honorifics 7evenThirty boasts as he spins the social alienation and violence so often versified in gangsta rap into pop culture kitsch. But his post-apocalyptic futurism is not the source of social commentary as much as artistic bravado. In Heaven’s Computer, 7evenThirty tries to avenge a hostile world with his furious flow, with his visionary beats.

With Del the Funky Homosapien and Afrikaa Bambataa well before him, and Sun Ra and Parliament well before that, 7evenThirty’s space-freak act is hardly novel. He even makes the “Mothership” connection in “Getup!!!”  What does seem fairly distinct about 7evenThirty’s music, however, is his experimental take on the Southern rap line, earning him more than a few comparisons to Outkast. The arena-rock flavored murder ballad “Earth Gurl,” one of the album’s best, does have the sinister party stylings of Andre 3000/Big Boi, and that ain’t no small feat for a debut album.

He samples and fuses different styles of music—‘80s rock and r&b, chief among them—to produce gritty, sharp-toothed hip hop topped with a fluorescent halo of synthesizers and laser beams of hair-metal guitar. In fact, “Twenty Twelve” sounds like the music from Grand Theft Auto, subbing vehicular madness for space-age capers.

7evenThirty fuses unlike elements to achieve an even sound, one that has been as thoughtfully constructed as the space-themed concept album as a whole. According to 7evenThirty’s cosmology, as explained to us by Alfie, 7evenThirty’s cyborg sidekick, space invading aliens have been beaming martial warnings to Earth in the form of radio frequencies. Hip Hop is their native tongue, 7evenThirty is their representative.

7evenThirty’s elaborate storytelling has earned the album cinematic comparisons: “Blade Runner Meets Back to the Future” reads his press kit. But for its grittiness and dark humor, Heaven’s Computer plays out more like John Sayles sci-fi comedy Brother From Another Planet, in which Brother, the Black alien who crashlands in Harlem, is so jarringly different that the Harlemites mistake him for a backward Southerner. One character says, “I’d rather be a cockroach on a baseboard up here than the Emperor of Mississippi.” Proudly boasting “I’m from the South” throughout the album, 7evenThirty embraces his Mississippi roots to cultivate his alien persona and transmit his stratospheric brand of dirty South hip hop.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd


View review October 1st, 2012

The Wardlaw Brothers – God’s Been There

Title: God’s Been There

Artist: The Wardlaw Brothers

Label: TWB Records

Format: CD

Release date: May 2012



The Wardlaw Brothers (TWB), a new gospel group consisting of five brothers from Vidalia, Georgia, bring a new R&B sound to the gospel music scene. Their style is reminiscent of such notable vocal groups as Boyz II Men and Take 6, both named by TWB as important musical influences. But certainly the Wardlaws have their own original sound, one which can only be created by brothers who grew up singing together in a household with a shared sense of faith.

The brothers—Carl Anthony “Tony,” Martin Luther “Lute,” “Jamie” Cornelius, Carl III “Carlo,” and Rodney Allen “Baby Boy”—are the sons of Rev. Carl Waldlaw, Jr., who showed them the importance of the ministry and daily worship in their lives. They’ve chosen music worship as a way to express their belief in God, and now it’s time for us to recount their musical journey in the gospel music industry.

God’s Been There is full of TWB’s wonderful harmonies and spiritual stories that convey to listeners the depth of their Christian belief. For this album, the group hired Grammy Award­–winning producer Cedric Thompson and Dove Award–winning producer Antonio Neal, who shared production duties with Martin Luther Wardlaw, the group’s lead vocalist.

The opening song, “Get Ready,” calls attention to the beginning of musical worship. With its a cappella jazz/gospel flavor, “Thank You” showcases TWB’s talents for vocal arrangements. The first single, “Somewhere Listening,” is a spiritual ballad that tells the story of a person preparing for the Lord’s return:

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While “Somewhere Listening” reflects the urban contemporary side of TWB, songs such as “Right Now Lord” showcase their skillful presentation of the traditional gospel quartet style with its energetic handclapping and complex harmonies. “Welcome Home Soldier” samples President Obama’s voice announcing “Welcome home” to the troops, and is sung as a special tribute to military servicemen and women who have risked their lives for their country, including many of the brothers’ own family members.

The title track, “God’s Been There,” starts off with the brothers singing in unison, giving sweet depth to the lyrics “I know I’ll make it through, because in all of the things I’ve been through, God’s been there.” The gradual addition of more harmonic layers until the song’s conclusion provides us with an affirmation of God’s support and strength to face  life’s difficult times.

God’s Been There provides diverse genre appeal for worship, and proves what TWB can do through music ministry. With their immense musical talents, they certainly get their message across.


Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review October 1st, 2012

Black Goth Band Releases Devil’s Music EP

Title: The Devil’s Music

Artist: blkVampires

Label: Dist. via CD Baby

Format: MP3

Release date: 2012



If you could put Rick James in a mosh pit this album would be the soundtrack.—quote from press release.

Anyone in need of a Halloween party soundtrack should look no further than blkVampires, a hard alternative Gothic soul band described variously as Marilyn Manson meets Maxwell, Pantera meets Al Green, and the Earth, Wind & Fire of Goth.   The group, known for its campy costumes and macabre themes, has been active on the New York scene since its founding in 2009 by lead singer Forrest Thinner, formerly known as P-Fluid and one of the founding members of 24-7 Spyz.   Additional members of blkVampires include Ray Anderson on bass, Ramsey Jones on drums, Randy Blu Smith and Tom Martin on guitars, and Teague Clements on keys.  The band’s recently released EP, The Devil’s Music, features 5 tracks ranging from the guitar-driven hardcore songs “Ventriloquist” and “Cryogenics” to the psychedelic goth soul of “Daydreamer” and “Blkenstein.”

Following is a clip of the blkVampires performing at The Shrine in Harlem last fall:

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Not content to limit himself to music, Forrest Thinner also just released his new work of fiction, The HarlequinX, which should also be of interest to Goth fans.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2012

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