Archive for March, 2013

Meshell Ndegeocello – Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone

Title: Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone

Artist: Meshell Ndegeocello

Label: Naïve

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 16, 2012

 

 

In the wake of the ongoing controversy surrounding the unauthorized Nina Simone biopic starting Zoe Saldana, Meshell Ndegeocello’s new covers album Pour Une Âme Souveraine, translated as “for a sovereign soul,” provides an unarguably honorable and engaging tribute to the amazing songstress.

Ndegeocello has said that she recorded this album in the hopes of reviving interest in Simone, and possibly of introducing new audiences to Simone’s songbook.  As with any great collection of covers, Pour Une Âme Souveraine reimagines classic songs while still keeping them within the realms of familiarity. Among the featured guests are Toshi Reagon on “Real Real” and “House Of The Rising Sun,” Lizz Wright on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and Cody Chesnutt on “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”

Following is the official album trailer:

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Ndegeocello’s version of “Feelin’ Good” is a great example of the delicate balance at play here.  Her delivery is smooth, soft and resigned, in direct contrast to Simone’s powerful, triumphant sound. By simply adding a wispy, gentle lift to “I” in the iconic line “Sun in the sky, you know how I feel,” Ndegeocello adds an entirely new interpretative element, without changing the text at all. Pour Une Âme Souveraine is, when viewed in its entirety, a love song in honor of Nina Simone and there are certainly few artists in Black music history that deserve this honor more.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review March 1st, 2013

Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio – Across the Imaginary Divide

Title: Across the Imaginary Divide

Artist: Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Rounder

Release: June 5, 2012

 

Over his extensive career, virtuoso banjo player Bela Fleck has taken an instrument best known for bluegrass music and innovated so many ways. A protégé of Tony Trishka, he was a member of New Grass Revival and co-founded the Flecktones with bassist Victor Wooten.  He has recorded classical material with long-time friend Edgar Meyer, and shared the 2002 Grammy for Best Classical Crossover album with John Williams and Joshua Bell for Perpetual Motion. He also has jammed with musicians from Mali and India.

Among Fleck’s musical influences are Charlie Parker and Chick Corea, with whom he recorded and toured in 2007.  So it should be no surprise that his musical marriage with similarly acclaimed jazz pianist Marcus Roberts on Across the Imaginary Divide is nothing short of phenomenal. Also featured on the album is bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis.

Writing in the New York Times, Nate Chinen asserted that their “seemingly effortless rapport has a lot to do with both musicians’ adaptability.” In other people’s hands, the pairing of a banjo and a jazz trio otherwise might appear quaint. Across the Imaginary Divide works because Fleck has a keen ear for the rhythm and never overplays into the tempo. Likewise, Roberts and his trio’s melodic progressions provide a natural counterbalance.

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As a result of a chance meeting at the Savannah Music Festival in 2009, Roberts’s trio and Fleck performed in the festival’s closing jam session. They returned to the festival together in 2011 and recorded the album, which Fleck and Roberts co-produced.  Across the Imaginary Divide is neither a traditional jazz album or too reminiscent of anything done by the Flecktones.  Fleck told Downbeat magazine, “Marcus has encouraged me to go ahead and play whenever I want, including during his solos, and that’s great because I can usually find a role for myself if I start playing. But if I lay out all the time, I’ll never figure out what works.”

But throughout, they do find themselves in sync on rhythm and time, which leads to an enjoyable listen on each of the album’s dozen tracks. The only question left is, “where was the imaginary divide.”

Reviewed by George J. Vlahakis II

View review March 1st, 2013

Buddy Guy – Live At Legends

Title: Live At Legends

Artist: Buddy Guy

Label: RCA

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: December 18, 2012

 

 

For many years, the month of January has meant a return home from the road for Buddy Guy, and fans long for his annual 12-night stint at his Chicago nightclub, Legends. The roster of A-list sidemen at many of those gigs over the years often served to sweeten the pot for those who were fortunate enough to procure tickets to the often sold-out shows.

When the release of new recordings from Legends was announced, we hoped for a sense of the intimacy that attracts people from all over the world for those annual shows and the best of those performances. Sadly, these eight tracks from January 29 and 30 performances in 2010 seem little more than a money grab. One is left to ask, “Were they rushing to put out some new material in light of Guy’s being recognized with the Kennedy Center Honors late last year?”

More than half of the live performances are covers of other people’s blues standards and Guy’s playing sometimes lacks focus, as evidenced by the abrupt ending on Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” which features a clumsy merger with Bobby Rush’s “Chicken Heads.”  Yes, we realize that Guy likes to pay homage, but isn’t he also a legend?

This isn’t to say that Buddy Guy: Live at Legends isn’t without its merits. Guy is at his best when he performs his own material—“Skin Deep,” the title track on his new CD at the time, and his classic, “Damn Right I Got the Blues.” But we want more Buddy and fewer covers that every other band in Chicago plays nightly.  His musical catalog is so deep that it’s unnecessary for Guy to play covers of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Cream’s “Strange Brew” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.” Surely, the producers have culled much more from a dozen performances that year.

Ironically, several of the best tracks on the disc aren’t even live. “Live at Legends” features three “bonus” studio recordings, which benefit from guitarist David Grissom—a Texan who has performed with Joe Ely, the Allman Brothers and John Mayall, and was a member of John Mellencamp’s band in the early 1990s. Together, Guy and Grisson shred “Polka Dot Love,” and present a stronger argument for downloading select tracks, rather than buying the entire CD.

Reviewed by George J. Vlahakis II

View review March 1st, 2013

Dwele – Greater Than One

Title: Greater Than One

Artists: Dwele

Label: Entertainment One Music

Formats: CD, Mp3

Release date: August 28, 2012

 

 

Since his debut in the early 2000s, Detroit singer Dwele has consistently built his career as a musician by writing and composing great music that tells a vivid story.  Dwele maintains his trend of telling the perfect story about love desired and attained with his latest album Greater Than One, released last August.  With songs like “Takes22Tango” and “What You Gotta Do” (with Raheem DeVaughn), the album makes for a good spring soundtrack. Dwele’s vocals and brass breakdowns will make you want to dance with friends at a block party or at a beer garden.

The songs also have an intimate feel and sound as if written as conversations or confessions. Dwele balances the role of songwriter and screenwriter well with interludes like in “Obey” and “This Love,” an up-tempo song in which the singer confesses to his partner that he wants to be exclusive. Additional songs like “Must Be” and “PATrick RONald” show us that Dwele is still an urban artist inspired by his hometown of Detroit and its hip hop culture.  With these songs and their interludes, Dwele shows that he has a sense of humor and adds a personal touch to the album with conversations that, if not based on personal experiences, nevertheless do a fine job of capturing the dialogue of people Dwele calls “’80s babies.”

Greater Than One boasts sophisticated production while still maintaining Dwele’s signature vocals and raw musicality, which successfully build upon his desire to continually grow as an artist.  For instance, the vocal layers on “Going Leaving” are flawless, and the song’s signature trumpet melodies and that of “Swank” help fuse Dwele’s jazz and hip-hop influences.

Dwele’s album is great for repeated listens. Even though he announces “this was the last song…” on the final track “Frankly My Dear (I’m Bennett I Ain’t Innit),” the album ends too soon and demands another listen.

Reviewed by Landon Jones

View review March 1st, 2013

José James – No Beginning, No End

Title: No Beginning, No End

Artist: José James

Label: Blue Note Records

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: January 22, 2013

 

New York City-based vocalist José James has released his independently produced record, No Beginning No End, on Blue Note Records. After gaining recognition as a new-generation jazz singer since his debut album, The Dreamer (2008), James says that he doesn’t want to be considered a jazz singer anymore; instead, he regards jazz as something which freed him “as an artist to just write without any boundaries.” Songs from this album flow seamlessly with boundary-less musical expression.

James independently produced and recorded this album. “I feel like this is my first album as an artist… nothing but myself and my relationship and history with my music” says James.  A great team of collaborators— bassist Pino Palladino, pianist/composer Robert Glasper, and R&B singer/songwriter/guitarist Emily King who is featured in a sweet love song, “Heaven on the Ground,”— help James achieve an original sound.

The first single, “Trouble,” features a catchy, pop bass line, which James came up with and recorded on his phone while riding the subway. On it, he sings about a troubled man who wishes someone would listen to him tell of his life’s struggles. The warm instrumentation on “Come To My Door” perfectly complements James’s voice, giving the song mass appeal.

With African-flavored percussion and hand-clapping, “Sword + Gun” features French-Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra, who adds a unique sound to the album. “Do You Feel” reveals the influence of ’60s soul singers like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles on James’s singing. James concludes the album with “Tomorrow,” a beautiful ballad that features a piano and a string quartet, whose simple textures truly make this album boundary-less.

The following video, which contain live performances of “It’s All Over Your Body,” “Sword + Gun,” “Trouble,” and “Come to My Door,” showcases James’s dynamite vocals and highlights the album’s many great tracks.

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No Beginning No End is a collection of polished smoothness. Smooth vocals. Smooth lyrics. Smooth horn and bass lines….  Though his music is hard to categorize, Jose James makes undeniably smooth music.

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review March 1st, 2013

Miss Lily’s Family Style Vol. 1

Title: Miss Lily’s Family Style Vol. 1

Artist: Various Artists

Label: VP Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 22, 2013

 

On a street in downtown Manhattan lies Miss Lily’s, a Caribbean-themed diner host to several traditional West Indian dishes from jerk chicken to oxtail and curried goat. And just next to this diner is the artistic section: Miss Lily’s Variety. Carrying all types of Jamaican vinyl, from the bare essentials to those hard-to-find collectibles, Variety provides several other artistic creations and a rotating program of West Indian-themed exhibitions. But although Miss Lily’s has expanded beyond that of a diner, one thing is still more important above all else: family. Bringing together all people, regardless of nationality or ethnicity is the key to Miss Lily’s success; Jamaican icons like Jimmy Cliff and Beenie Man have made appearances at what has been described as a “Jamaican Embassy” in Manhattan. This same concept of family is key to the business’s first release via VP Records, Miss Lily’s Family Style Vol.1. By compiling a selection of songs that you might hear echoing throughout the diner and store, Miss Lily’s hopes to bring its own sense of family, albeit an audio version, to everyone across the globe.

Each track, featuring contemporary reggae and dancehall tunes, blends effectively to create a lively and energetic album. Big names abound on Family Style, with an eclectic mix of both relatively new and seasoned acts. Buju Banton and Wayne Wonder’s “Bonafide Love,” Gyptian’s “Hold You (Hold Yuh),” and, my personal favorite, Gappy Ranks’ “Pumpkin Belly” brings the homey and inviting mood right through your speakers. The fifteen tracks featured on Family Style all aim to create a sense of a larger family, and the sentiments are echoed to greatest effect. But that’s not all. For those wanting even more from Miss Lily’s, included is a mega mix of tunes by DJ Max Glazer, guaranteeing that if the food is as good as the music, then Miss Lily’s should be your first stop in Manhattan.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review March 1st, 2013

Barrington Levy – Sweet Reggae Music

Title: Sweet Reggae Music

Artist: Barrington Levy

Label: VP Records

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date: December 18, 2012

 

 

Barrington Levy has a storied career that began in the late 1970s.  Throughout the 1980s, while the transition from reggae to dancehall spelled the end for some Jamaican artists, Levy met the challenge with hit after hit. Working with the likes of the Roots Radics and with support from famous producers such as King Jammy and Scientist, Barrington Levy was one of the best known performers not only in Jamaica but throughout the reggae universe. Taking it upon themselves to showcase the best period in Levy’s career, VP Records has released a two-disc compilation, entitled Sweet Reggae Music, of the various hits released over a five-year period, beginning in 1979 when Levy was only 15.  Sweet Reggae Music is a fantastic compilation that an artist like Barrington Levy truly deserves.

The 40 songs compiled on Sweet Reggae Music are all hits, beginning with Levy’s early introduction into the global scene. “Don’t Fuss Nor Fight,” off of 1979’s seminal Englishman, cemented a career in the UK that would only increase in popularity with the abundance of chart toppers released throughout the 1980s. Other notable tracks include “Shaolin Temple,” “Sister Carol,” and “A Yah We Dah.” And this is only the first disc. Disc two continues much in the same vein as the first, cramming in a fantastic mix of hits. “The Winner,” “Mini Bus,” and the dancehall favorite “Under Mi Sensi” help bring Sweet Reggae Music to its end. It was a hard choice to simply pick out the favorites on each disc; there is absolutely no time wasted with weaker tracks or fluffing the album with unnecessary remixes. Each song is Barrington Levy at his greatest, and VP Records has done a great service in accumulating so many strong tunes. If there’s one compilation for those interested in delving deeper into reggae and dancehall, or simply those wanting to find a comprehensive collection of Barrington Levy’s greatest hits, then Sweet Reggae Music is the go-to set.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review March 1st, 2013

The Lions – This Generation

Title: This Generation

Artist: The Lions

Label: Stones Throw

Formats: CD, MP3, LP, 45-rpm Box Set

Release date: February 26, 2013

 

Drawn from various groups throughout the Los Angeles area, the 17 musicians that comprise the reggae soul band The Lions have one goal in mind: to create their own classic soul reggae album. With influences ranging from the Upsetters to the Roots Radics, The Lions want a signature reggae sound that’s full of accidental moments of brilliance, whether it’s an interesting mistake by a band member or the blowing of fuses mid-recording. With This Generation, The Lions indeed pull off a great combination of soulful, moving reggae tunes.

The album starts off interestingly enough with “Bird on a Wire,” which transitions from a country folk-infused guitar riff into a reverb and echo-filled reggae jam with the amazing vocals of Malik “The Freq” Moore (The Bullets). This is followed by the title track, as Moore now trades vocals with Master of Ceremonies Black Shakespeare, the energetic “toaster” of the group.  With great contributions from all members of the band, especially that of the horn section and organist Dan Hastie, “This Generation” is a compelling single and video:

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It’s a good indication when you have difficulty selecting the best tracks on an album, and for This Generation nothing is closer to the truth. “New Girl” brings back an old rocksteady groove led by James “#1” King on alto saxophone, while the melancholic “Padre Ichiro” encapsulates a lost relationship with the lyrics “Padre Ichiro told me something my eyes start to see / She loves the marijuana more than she loves me.” But while it’s not possible to discuss every song in great detail, The Lions do, in fact, have very fews faults, if any. Full of classic sounds remade in new and exciting ways, This Generation is definitely one of the top reggae albums to look for this year.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Note: For those wanting more from The Lions, Stones Throw will be releasing a 45 box set including the entire album as well as four original “dub versions” only available in this format. You can order the collection here.

View review March 1st, 2013

Arnaldo Antunes, Edgard Scandurra, Toumani Diabaté – A Curva Da Cintura

Title: Curva Da Cintura

Artist: Arnaldo Antunes, Edgard Scandurra, Toumani Diabaté

Label: Mais Um Discos

Formats: CD, MP3.

Release date: September 19, 2012

 

 

A Curva Da Cintura is an incredible reunion of Malian and Brazilian music legends, which, released under the London-based Brazilian label Mais Um Discos, brings together a soulful and unique amalgamation of sounds considered to belong to the Black Atlantic. Renowned Malian kora prodigy Toumani Diabaté (kora is a 21-strings West African harp), Brazilians guitar master Edgar Scandurra, and famous poet/singer-songwriter Arnaldo Antunes got together in Mali to record this album inspired by their original reunion to perform at the Back2Black music festival in Rio de Janeiro in 2010. The result of this back and forth between Brazil and Mali is outstanding, which is not surprising given the careers of these three musicians.

Two-times Grammy winner Toumani Diabaté has brought the kora to global awareness, turning it into a persistent instrument in world music ensembles. His legacy descends from 71 family generations of kora performance and storytelling. Arnaldo Antunes (vocals and guitar) is an internationally renowned artist with more than three decades of experience in singing, songwriting, painting, literature, dance and audiovisuals. He was also the leader of Titas, a top-notch Brazilian rock band from the 1980s. Edgard Scandurra is a guitarist, singer, composer, and founding member of the Brazilian rock group Ira! Both Antunes and Scandurra have been included in the list of “100 Greatest Brazilian Artists” by Rolling Stone Brazil.

The music in this CD is not easy to classify. Even though there have been many collaborations between West African griots—native singer-songwriters and storytellers—and rock and blues musicians from the Americas, this particular tint of Brazilian rock, which has its own history and aural identity, makes the album a unique musical piece. The Brazilian team wrote most of the compositions, while Diabaté contributed the musicians: His son Sidiki plays kora on several tracks, Fode Lassana Diabaté on balafon (West-African xylophone), and Zoumana Tereta on violin.

Despite the absence of a drumset on the album, some songs have a classic Brazilian rock sound, like the opening tune “Cê Não Vai Me Acompanhar” (“You will not follow me”), which includes Portuguese lyrics, acoustic guitars, and a counterpoint between electric guitar and kora. Other songs tend to weigh more balance on the mutual musical influences of the artists, like the title track “A Curva da Cintura” (“A waist curve”), which features balafon, djembe, and the three lute players interpreting a scale that could belong to either a griot’s sung narration, a Delta blues, or a Rolling Stones song. Track 11, “Neblina de Areia” (“Sand fog”), is a beautiful instrumental in which several layers of stringed instruments take us on a tour through the deepest realms of fusion, where the Atlantic Ocean becomes just a tiny gap that music bridges, putting hundreds of years of interrelations and history at the highlight.

Following is a video of Diabaté’s song “Kaira” (track 4) and an explanation by its creator:

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A Curva Da Cintura portrays a very interesting bridge between two countries that have had more in common that is usually told in official history books and in nationalist discourses. Diabaté’s Malian heritage in addition to his world music experience summed up with Antunes’s and Scandurra’s taste for MPB (“Musica Popular Brasileira”) and Brazilian rock makes this combination a bomb cocktail.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas E.

View review March 1st, 2013

Stew & The Negro Problem – Making It

Title: Making It

Artist: Stew & The Negro Problem

Label: Tight Natural Production

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: January 24, 2012

 

 

Stew (founder of the band The Negro Problem) and Heidi Rodewald, songwriting duo of the Tony winning play-turned-Spike Lee film Passing Strange, have come together again on Making It. While the title might suggest showbiz success, it’s actually an exploration of their personal relationship, in the same manner that Passing Strange was a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story. The former couple broke up in the midst of performing Passing Strange, leading to a very intense and uncomfortable time. It is this relationship, and the post-relationship woes that fuel the songs on the album.

Much of Making It opts for the mellow side of the musical spectrum. “Pretend,” “Love Is a Cult,” and “Tomorrow Gone” are chilled-out and extremely personal narratives. Stew and Heidi often trade off on the vocals, and the mixes and transitions are very well executed.  For many listeners, the emotions pushed through the music and lyrics will be very relatable, conjuring memories of similar experiences and emotions. For Making It, the ability to connect with listeners is the album’s greatest triumph, and serves as a return-to-force for Stew & The Negro Problem.

The group is currently working on a song cycle project focusing on different cities, beginning with Chicago. Let’s hope this new project soon comes to CD or DVD.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review March 1st, 2013

Lonnie Holley – Just Before Music

Title: Just Before Music

Artist: Lonnie Holley

Label: Dust-to-Digital

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 6, 2012

 

 

Lonnie Holley is the sort of artist figure who would seem easy to dismiss as “outsider,” someone people only listen to because they like to be thought of as on-the-edge.  Born the seventh of twenty-seven children in 1950s Birmingham, Alabama, Holley spent the first 29 years of his life struggling; he began working outside the home at the age of five. Since 1979, however, Holley has dedicated his life to creating improvisatory art, be it visual, performance or sound. He is a sculptor, a sketcher, a painter, a photographer and much more.

Just Before Music features his first studio recordings, and is an interesting project in and of itself, in that Holley’s improvisatory style is such that nothing is ever static. Lyrics, melodies, narratives―everything is up for constant revision and reinvention. The crystallized nature of recorded sound is a strange place for this sort of sound art to inhabit, but fans of new music should be grateful to Dust-to-Digital because Holley’s music and art are a rare treat.

It is hard to solidify in words what is so enticing about Holley’s music. There is a real beauty in his unpasteurized expressivity. This is music created because the musician needed to create it, without thought to what sells or what’s in vogue.  “A’ is for All, ‘R’ is for Rendered, ‘T’ is for truth…from an internal place I call ‘myself,” sings Holley soulfully on “All Rendered Truth” while the underlying keyboards provide an ethereal accompaniment, like a reduction of a minimalist piece:

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There are so many layers of beauty to be explored here, that all one can really say is, take some time and invest yourself in Holley’s world. The album comes with a 20 page booklet that features lyric transcriptions and artwork by Holley, providing further insight into his visionary creative mind.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review March 1st, 2013

Twin Shadow – Confess

Title:  Confess

Artist: Twin Shadow

Label:  4AD

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  July 10, 2012

 

 

It is a difficult yet ever-present challenge for musicians to cite their musical influences without sounding redundant or like a pastiche. George Lewis Jr., who performs under the stage name Twin Shadow, is clearly a deeply indebted fan of 1980s new wave and R&B. While there are clear shades of Morrissey in his vocals and Depeche Mode in the synthesizers, chalking Twin Shadow up as just another retro ‘80s guy would be a mistake.

Dominican-born and Florida-raised, Lewis was lumped with the chillwave genre that emerged from bedroom producers in the mid 2000s, but his music has moved away from those fuzzy, layered sounds to a more pure pop flavor. With his laidback, sensual vocals at the forefront and his classically good looks, Lewis seems destined for stardom, but he has a broader artistic vision. He has written a futuristic motorcycle fantasy novel called Night of the Silver Sun and two of the videos from songs off Confess, “Five Seconds” and “Patient” will filmed to form a video saga based on the novel’s plot.

Following is the official video for “Patient”:

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These sort of big creative ideas, in combination with his musical talents, definitely foreshadow a career filled with innovative works.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review March 1st, 2013

Andre Cymone – Livin’ in the New Wave

Title: Livin’ In The New Wave

Artist: Andre Cymone

Label: Funkytown Grooves

Format: CD

Release date: February 21, 2012

 

 

The early ’80s replaced George Orwell’s drab futurism with visions of the New Wave: sci-fi florescence as told by analog synthesizers and drum machines. Andre Cymone, childhood friend of Prince and longtime collaborator of His Purple Majesty, combined the industrial rhythms of Kraftwerk and P-Funk’s space grooves to help forge the sound of Minneapolis electrofunk, as heard on his 1982 release Livin’ in the New Wave. Bassplayer in Prince’s touring band, pre-Revolution, Cymone adds his signature digi-slap low end to robot harmonies and synth solos that sound like explosive binary code, to create neon fantasies of the future.

The title track kicks off the album with a dance-floor bang, foisting up New Wave’s Dayglo torch: “We’ve just begun, the time has come to start anew.” “Kelly’s Eyes,” a love song reminiscent of a wedding line dance, that venerable ’80s institution,­­­­­­­­­ ­­­­­­­­and “All I Need Is You,” a doo wop song doused with laser-beam streams of synth, prove Cymone’s uncanny vocal resemblance to Prince. While he retains all of Prince’s bedroom breathiness and soaring falsetto, his voice and approach is decidedly less feline, a gauzier coo. In the slow R&B groove of “Baby Don’t Go,” Cymone’s delivers low-lit, dry-ice visions of a first love discovered in the awkward embrace of a slow dance.

“Voice on the Radio” leaves behind the funky basslines for more straight-ahead rock, layering a poppy Moog melody over a driving guitar beat for Ric Ocasek-style (The Cars) ear candy.

Cutting edge at the time, Cymone’s forays into tech-textured pop music resonates well with today’s ’80s retro runoff genres like chillwave, glo-fi, and indie electropop. For a vintage brand of pop earnestness and techno-futurism, check out Cymone’s upbeat vision of life in the new wave.

Livin’ in the New Wave has been reissued by Funkytown Grooves, a UK label that specializes in soul, funk, jazz, and disco reissues, including Cymone’s 1983 release Survivin’ in the 80’s and his 1985 release AC.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review March 1st, 2013

Bad Brains – Into the Future

Title: Into The Future

Artist: Bad Brains

Label: Megaforce

Formats: CD, LP, Mp3

Release date: November 30, 2012

 

Bad Brains has the misfortune of being a band whose place in history was crystallized and immortalized about 30 years ago, as rough and tumble break-through Black artists in the D.C. hardcore scene. Bad Brains the historical object, however, has never stopped Bad Brains the band from performing and recording with an ever changing line-up.

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Into the Future is the group’s seventh release and, while definitely nowhere near a reclamation of former glories, is probably their best album in at least the last ten years. Famed, crazed frontman H.R. is back in the lead with his stream of consciousness yelping, growling and shouting. The band’s foray into reggae tinged metal has been scaled back and glimpses of their original hardcore style can be felt throughout. Bad Brains completists will want to purchase this album, and perhaps people interested in the idea of Bad Brains who were not intrigued by the abrasive, non-stop sound of their 2003 release “Banned in D.C.” Hardcore purists, however, should probably keep pretending the last 30 years didn’t happen.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review March 1st, 2013

Puffy Areolas – 1982: Dishonorable Discharge

Title:1982: Dishonorable Discharge

Artist: Puffy Areolas

Label: Hozac Records

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: August 7, 2012

 

Puffy Areolas featuring veteran rocker Lamont “Bim” Thomas (former drummer for garage-punk outfit The Bassholes, and punkrockers This Moment in Black History) torchbears the Midwest tradition of feral children traipsing in industrial wasteland proto-punk, established by the Stooges, MC5, and Pere Ubu. Puffy’s full length 1982: Dishonorable Discharge (Hozac Records), sounds every bit as crude and abrasive as the band’s branding: oozing with blistering and bloodletting noise.

Interspersed with 2-minute punk burners and 7-minute psychedelic freakouts, 1982 is a well-paced platter of tunes that will fry your marbles right. The title track tears open the albums seams with ear-piercing feedback, soon followed by high-speed guitar bashing. Tides of fuzz churn over greasy slicks of wah on “Not Tonight” and “Dark Places (Guyana Pt. 2),” classic Funhouse remnants set against Midwest decay, while “Funk Your Head Up” doses screeching guitars over an ass-gravity groove. “By the Hand” is a circuit-bent arcade of hell-bop, and “$200 (Dishonorable Discharge)” is a pipeline sucking and spewing unfiltered rock’n’roll raunch: sludgy bass and noxious guitars clanging to the Bim’s motoric rhythms and morocco rattles.

1982 has come and gone, and has left only deathly silence in its place.

Following is a video of their live 2012 performance at Bloomington venue Magnetic South:

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Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review March 1st, 2013

Women Who Rock: Joan Armatrading – Starlight

Title: Starlight

Artist: Joan Armatrading

Label: 429 Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 26, 2013

 

 

British singer-songwriter/guitarist Joan Armatrading, born on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts in 1950, has had an illustrious career spanning 40 decades and 18 studio albums. Her latest release is the third in a series exploring different genres that began with the Grammy nominated Into the Blues (2007) and the hard rock oriented This Charming Life (2010). On Starlight, Armatrading delves into the realm of jazz while still maintaining her signature folk rock sound.

As with her two previous albums, Armatrading assumes complete control of the project, composing all of the material and laying down every vocal and instrumental track, including electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and keyboards as well as drum programming, synth horn and strings (the latter thankfully in small measure). The opening track “Single Life” sets the tone, its intricate polymetric structure a good foil for the yin and yang of the lyrics that weigh the freedom of living alone against the inherent loneliness. “Close to Me” begins as a simple 4/4 jazz-pop ballad over a walking bass, then switches things up on the bridge, becoming more improvisational. “Tell Me” is a much more complex, free flowing jazz exploration, the keyboard and bass accompaniment punctuated by occasional electric guitar riffs.

Other stand out tracks include “The Way I Think of You” and “Summer Kisses,” both introspective songs employing a sparse accompaniment featuring effortless keyboard stylings backed by acoustic bass.  Armatrading’s voice is as rich an agile as ever, and the more you listen to this album, the more you’ll appreciate the subtle complexity of the songwriting and arrangements. Too bad she is not backed by a live rhythm section, as the drum programming is sometimes annoying.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 1st, 2013

Women Who Rock: Nona Hendryx – Mutatis Mutandis

Title: Mutatis Mutandis

Artist: Nona Hendryx

Label: Righteous Babe

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  July 31, 2012

 

 

Many will no doubt remember Nona Hendryx’s days as a member of Labelle (of “Lady Marmalade” fame).  But while Patti Labelle’s solo career remained firmly within soul and R&B, Hendryx retained the group’s glam, morphing into a leather clad rock goddess.  Her self-titled 1977 album stunned fans and critics alike. At the time, Black rock musicians, particularly female artists, were not considered marketable by the labels and it’s a miracle the album was even released. Happily, 36 years later, Hendryx is still rocking.

Mutatis Mutandis (Latin for “necessary changes”), released prior to the 2012 elections, served as a vehicle for Hendryx to exorcise her “sense of frustration and powerlessness as the Tea Party leaders and followers spewed their racist, sexist, right-wing political views, religious ideology and blatant bigotry.” So it should be no surprise that she lays it bare on the opening track “Tea Party,” singing “The T stands for Trouble party/the Me party/the Hell No party.”

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Hendryx then jams through a couple of love-themed tracks, the uptempo “Temple of Heaven” and the slow groove “Let’s Give Love a Try,” before returning to a string of hard-hitting hard-rocking socio-political songs. “Oil on the Water” is an expose on environmental degradation resulting from excess desire and greed.  On “Black Boys” she sings “Black boys in tight blue jeans/America’s nightmare or an American dream?” warning “don’t be blinded by the bling.” This is followed by the anti-war anthem “When Love Goes to War,” a collaboration with the great Jean Beauvoir (Plasmatics, Little Steven, Crown of Thorns) who co-wrote the song and contributed the bass tracks and keyboard programming.

The amusing “Ballad of Rush Limbaugh” about the talk radio host “speading his disease over the airwaves” should definitely receive wider airplay. “Black on Black” is Black Power style anthem, falling somewhere between Curtis Mayfield and the pop sensibilities of Michael Jackson. “Strange Fruit,” sung over a dense fabric of fuzzed out guitar, synth horns, moans, and excerpts from MLK speeches, is about as far removed from the iconic Billie Holiday version as one can imagine but quite effective.  “Mad as Hell, Pt. 1” is an appropriate finale, an “I can’t take it anymore” theme with the rich getting richer while the poor keep getting screwed.

Hendryx is backed by a number of heavy hitters including Ronny Drayton on guitar, Warren McRae on bass, and drummer/producer Trevor Gale driving the rhythm section on most of the tracks.  Don’t let the political themes deter you. For some good ole funky guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll with a contemporary message, you can’t go wrong with Mutatis Mutandis. I just wish I had obtained a copy prior to the elections.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 1st, 2013

Women Who Rock: Jack Davey – Lo-f! D’Lux

Title:Lo-f! D’Lux

Artist: Jack Davey (a.k.a. Jck Dvy)

Label: illav8r

Formats: MP3, ezine (25-page digital booklet/liner notes)

Release date: December 11, 2012

 

 

Jack Davey’s Lo-f! D’Lux promo arrived as a nesting doll of xeroxed paper, bound with tape and rubber bands—a DIY package meant to visually represent Davey’s lo-fi backlash to the music industry’s well-oiled machine. Citing Bessie Smith, the Stooges, and Howlin’ Wolf as influences, Jack Davey, previously of the hip hop duo J*DaVeY, showcases her newly acquired guitar chops on the 13-track double EP full of stripped down alternative rock. An interesting departure from the artist’s earlier work, Lo-f! D’Lux proves Davey’s shape-shifting artistry.

The opening track “Tinted Windows” finds Davey spitting rhymes over a bed of guitar distortion, facilely transitioning between her lower growl and a crystalline head voice. While she sticks pretty faithfully to a guitar-drums bare-bones formula, the vocal effects Davey uses occasionally give the songs an over-processed feel, sounding more pop than perhaps intended. She is at her best on the songs “Like That,” “Shit Gets Deep,” and “Get Up!,” no-holds-barred rockers sung in a snotty sing-speak voice.

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On “In the Wind,” Jack delivers a grinding heavy metal song in the spirit of Black Sabbath before that genre got sullied with soul-less guitar-wanking solos. Taking on and re-envisioning metal’s dark-lord persona, she barks “big black bitch” with increasing ferocity before the songs cuts out in squeals of guitar feedback. On Lo-fi!, Davey proves she can be tough without being technical; heavy without being hi-fi; rocking without being anybody else.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review March 1st, 2013

Laina Dawes – What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal

Title: What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal

Author: Laina Dawes

Publisher: Bazillion Points

Formats: Paperback (224 p.), eBook

Release date: December 10, 2012

 

 

In What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, Laina Dawes gives a personal account and survey of what it’s like to participate as a Black woman in predominately white rock’n’roll scenes: metal, hardcore, and punk. Despite living in what she calls the postracial society of Barack Obama, with more than hint of irony, Dawes describes the racial barriers and segregationist practices that still exist today within rock, music that derives from Black R&B and celebrates nonconformity, but which caters almost exclusively to white male audiences.

Dawes picks up where James Spooner’s film Afro-Punk: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger Experience and Kandia Crazy Horse’s book Rip it Up: the Black Experience in Rock ‘n’ Roll leave off, focusing specifically on Black female identities within metal, a subculture that celebrates male machismo and white pride and yet has many musical and thematic qualities that appeal to her as a Black woman. Dawes explains the music’s emotional resonance with her once-teenage self: “The lure in listening to metal is to feel free, to escape from reality, even just for the length of a four-minute song.” She also relates her feelings of isolation at metal concerts and her unfortunate treatment by other metal fans that question her credibility and resent her tastes, sometimes violently, because of her sex and skin color. And in relating her struggle to find her place within underground rock as a member of a truly underground population, Dawes discovers others Black females who know all too well the “only one syndrome”—a shared experience involving a shared interest that provides a sense of community where none existed before.

Rock ‘n’ roll is a music defined by rebellion, if nothing else. Quoting Lester Bangs, Dawes describes punk as “a bunch of people finally freed by the collapse of all values to reinvent themselves, to make art statements of their whole lives.” This book, honoring that tradition, is about the struggle of women and African Americans and especially African American women who push back against rock’s restricted access, to play and listen to music and to dress and define themselves as they damn well please.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

Editor’s note:  Both James Spooner and Kandia Crazy Horse participated in the AAAMC’s 2009 conference, Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music. In addition, the AAAMC holds the James Spooner Collection, which includes footage and other materials related to his films Afro-Punk and White Lies, Black Sheep.

View review March 1st, 2013

Como Mamas – Get an Understanding

Title: Get an Understanding

Artist: Como Mamas

Label: Daptone Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: February 5, 2013

 

The other day while searching for something non-music related, I discovered the Como Mamas. And when I heard them, I was like, “YES! Someone is taking this dying, old school Black Baptist gospel music, and singing, recording, and introducing it to new audiences.” This is the essence of fieldwork and folklore, discovering anew old music. But the case of the Como Mamas struck a personal chord with me because this rural a cappella gospel is the sound of my childhood. It is the music that my grandmother and her prayer band sang at the side of countless sickbeds. It is the sound the older ladies at St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Riviera Beach, Florida, sang every time the doors of the church opened. I know this music. As a child I had little patience or interest in this old time singing because I wanted to hear contemporary gospel from The Winans, John P. Kee, and Hezekiah Walker. Now, as a thirty-something-year-old woman, I long to hear songs like “Old Landmark” and “I Know It Was the Blood.”

I watched the Como Mamas promo video and excitedly posted it on Facebook and Twitter with the caption:

The older I get, the more I long for the gospel music of my grandmas, mama, and elders. It’s getting really hard to hear these old sounds in new churches. You gotta fall through an old country church to hear stuff like lined hymns (or any hymns at all).

I just found out about the Como Sisters and I am TOO crunk about their album on Daptone Records.

The whole thing is just voices, harmony, and spirit. Pure Awesomeness.

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The Como Mamas—Angela Taylor, Della Daniels, and Ester Mae Smith— have been singing in church all their lives in Como, Mississippi. They recorded their new Daptone Records release, Get an Understanding, in Mt. Moriah Church in Como. In an era of megachurches, where sound systems rival top-notch concert venues, The Como Mamas are as quaint as gospel music gets. Their album is not full of new material, but rather church standards with which most Baptists are familiar. This is why their sound is so refreshing. What’s more, The Como Mamas’ album is a reminder that although this music is rapidly disappearing, it is still a living part of the liturgy of many older rural congregations.

But how did the Como Mamas of Como, Mississippi, come to be on Daptone Records in Brooklyn, New York? According to Daptone Records’ website, Michael Reilly of Daptone was following the work of famed folklorist Alan Lomax and ended up in Panola County, Mississippi. There, he encountered Mt. Moriah Church, and several talented singers in the area. The result was Daptone Records 2008 release Como Now, which featured the Como Mamas, The John Edwards Singers, Brother and Sister Walker, Irene Stevenson, and others. Lomax himself recorded in Panola County in the 1940s. Lomax’s Mississippi recordings, some of which were greatly assisted by Fisk University scholars John W. Work, Lewis Wade Jones, and Samuel C. Adams, Jr., are invaluable to what we know about the Delta blues tradition. For better or worse, they shaped the idea of “authentic” Black music from that era into the present.

I’ve listened to the Como Mamas’ Get an Understanding twice, and appreciate that the singers are intimately familiar with the songs. They correctly sing them on and just under the pitch. They are imperfectly harmonic, and they soulfully sing with the colorful heterophony I miss. All the songs are performed a cappella, which makes sense given that many small churches historically did not have piano or organ accompaniment. But something vital is missing: There are no foot stomps or hand claps. This may sound like a small production omission, but the absence of at least body percussion pulled me out of Mt. Moriah and into a recording studio. I have never heard people sing “Ninety Nine and a Half Won’t Do” and not clap or pat their feet to it. Muted and muffled foot pats on “Hold Me Jesus” struggle to reach the listener’s ear.

Granted, not all older African American sacred traditions have percussive elements. Lined hymns do not, but often people interject clapping to punctuate climatic moments of the “lining.” I tweeted The Como Mamas label, Daptone Records, and asked if there was a reason for the omission, because it is hard for me to imagine that it was the Como Mamas’ idea.

The absence of extemporaneous percussion gives this recording a feeling of restraint that quells the spirit that this music is meant to inspire. That withstanding, the trio of voices— Ester Mae Smith, Angela Taylor, and Della Daniels—blend like a family that has been singing together all their lives. Smith sings lead on most of the tracks with an alto voice that completely fills a room, while Taylor supports her from below and Daniels from above. The Como Mamas sing spirited recordings of beautiful music that most people have never heard. For that reason alone, people should listen to these songs and let the gospel sounds carry the listener to his or her own “understanding” of the music.

Reviewed by Fredara Mareva Hadley

View review March 1st, 2013

Jimi Hendrix – People, Hell and Angels

Title:People, Hell and Angels

Artist: Jimi Hendrix

Label: Legacy

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 5, 2013

 

 

With song material written after the Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded, People, Hell and Angels reveals Hendrix in search of new musical directions, as reinforced by the wanderlust of its song titles: “Earth Blues,” “Somewhere,” “Hear My Train A Comin’,” “Crash Landing,’” and “Hey Gypsy Boy.” On the album’s 12 previously unreleased tracks, the late Jimi teams with ace musical collaborators Buddy Miles and Billy Cox (soon to become Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies), Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, and jazz saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood to further push the blues into astral fields. The album’s liner notes extensively detail Hendrix’s recording sessions and give a glimpse into his final years while struggling to recreate himself amidst—and perhaps because of—the people, hell and angels surrounding him.

The album’s many cuts are extended musical jams, heavy on guitar improvisation and light on instrumental arrangement, and thusly capture Jimi on the cutting room floor concocting a new sound from salvaged and strange parts. “Let Me Move You,” the album’s standout track, features Jimi and jazz saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood dueling for solo supremacy, together creating a electrical storm of sound over a bed of mellow organ vamps. “Mojo Man” recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, the soul hive of the South, with eccentric New Orleans pianist James Booker, shows Hendrix returning to his Chitlin’ Circuit roots (he first cut his teeth touring the South as Little Richard’s guitarist) with some gritty and greasy licks.

This album leaves us wondering what Hendrix, who would have turned 70 this year, would sound like if he were still alive. Since we’ll never know, we’ll just have to take what we can get.

Here is a video sneak preview for People, Hell and Angels:

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Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review March 1st, 2013

Cooler than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philadelphia Soul

Title: Cooler than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philadelphia Soul

Artists: Various

Label: Jamie Records

Formats: Box set (6 CDs, 6 45s, book)

Release date: January 1, 2013

 

 

Philadelphia’s Arctic Records, founded in 1964, discovered Philly’s soul well before those two words connoted the silky ’70s sound of Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International. Philadelphia-based Jamie Records’ has excavated the vaults of Arctic label owner Jimmy Bishop to release a new and long overdue box set of Arctic Records’ ’60s-era singles.

This collection (plus its 48-page book written by music writer Bill Dahl!) must have the Brits (often heralded as American music’s official historians) scratching their heads wondering how they missed Bishop’s goldmine. The box set’s diverse-yet-consistently-good mix of dance-floor rockers, girl group pop, gospel shakedowns, and soul serenades, some once-upon-a-time hits, some rarities, makes this one hell of a Northern Soul compilation. This collection, however, was not curated or sequenced as such. Cooler than Ice, which consists of Artic’s entire catalog in chronological order, just sounds that way, and that’s to Arctic’s great credit.

The top 3 reasons to check out Cooler than Ice are songwriting ingénue turned Arctic’s reigning queen, Barbara Mason (“Yes, I’m Ready”), local hitmakers The Volcanos (“Storm Warning”), and the young vocalist and upcoming songwriter Kenny Gamble (“The Jokes On You”) of Gamble and Huff fame, three artists whose work is spread out over the box set’s  6 CDs and 6 45s amidst other almost-classics and lost gems.

Here are some others reasons:

“How Can I Win Your Love,” a song that demonstrates that rock’n’roll and R&B were once one and the same, by the hilariously named band Light Lunch & the Freeloaders

“Turn on Your Lovelight” an overdriven garage rock song by Kenny Rossi that features crooner vocals alongside a fuzzed out string section

Move This Thing” a gospel rocker that that has all the fervor, nuances, and sexual energy of its vocalist, Mary De Loach, who concurrently released “Beer Bottle Boogie” and “I Got What My Daddy Likes” under a different name

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Arctic Records rewrites the chapter on Philly soul, reminding listeners that the city had grooves as deep as those laid down in Detroit, Memphis, and New Orleans in soul’s golden era.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review March 1st, 2013

Welcome to the March 2013 Issue

Welcome to the March 2013 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture. As we eagerly await the transition from winter to spring, we pair up cool ’60s soul from the box set Cooler Than Ice: Arctic Records & the Rise of Philly Soul with the fiery guitar licks of People, Hell and Angels—a new collection of previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix tracks—and a dose of Delta gospel from the Como Mamas’ Get an Understanding.

Jimi Hendrix, who would be 70 years old this year if not for his untimely death in 1970, upheld the tradition of Black rock ‘n’ roll and sent it in new directions. This month we celebrate the ever-expanding genre of Black Rock. We review What Are You Doing Here: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal by journalist Laina Dawes, whose reading we supplement with a playlist of Black women rockers that includes Lo Fi Deluxe by Jack Davey, Mutatis Mutandis by Nona Hendryx, and Starlight by Joan Armatrading.

We further probe the wide spectrum of Black rock with reviews of 1982: Dishonorable Discharge by Midwest proto-punkers the Puffy Areolas, Into the Future by DC hardcore band Bad Brains; a reissue of Livin’ in the New Wave by ’80s electro-funk bassist Andre Cymone, and Confess, the latest from retro New Waver Twin Shadows; as well as Just Before Music from the minimalist avant-folk musician Lonnie Holley, Making It by pop-rock band Stew & The Negro Problem, and Curva Da Cintura, a new Afro-Brazilian fusion rock release.

We dive into reggae and dig up This Generation, a new release from the Lions, as well as the newly unearthed sounds of Barrington Levy’s Sweet Reggae Music 1979-84 and Miss Lilys Family Style Vol. 1.

Jazz is represented by vocalist Jose James’ No Beginning No End, and Dwele’s Greater Than One delivers our monthly soul fix.

And last but not least, we check out the latest adventures in sound from Buddy Guy, Béla Fleck with the Marcus Roberts Trio, and Meshell Ndegeocello, whose new album of Nina Simone covers reminds us that the music of the late, great songstress (who would’ve turned 80 last month) are as present and relevant now as they ever were.

View review March 1st, 2013

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