Archive for May, 2013

A$AP Rocky – Long. Live. A$AP.

Title: Long.Live.A$AP.

Artist: A$AP Rocky

Label: RCA

Formats: CD (12 track ed., 16 track deluxe ed., and clean ed.), LP, MP3

Release date: January 11, 2013

 

 

A$AP Rocky, also known as Dat PMF, Lord Flacko, or Rocky, is Harlem’s hottest  up and coming rapper.  After releasing his Live. Love. A$AP. mixtape in 2011, there was much hype about the new rapper and his unique way of laying verses.  Though Rocky’s much talked about debut album was put on hold due to clearing samples, this  masterpiece was finally released on January 11, 2013, and was well worth the wait.

Long.Live.A$AP has a fresh, new style that is unlike any album before it.  Featuring rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake, ScHoolboy Q and 2 Chainz— all extremely popular  in the game right now— Rocky takes the album to the next level by also including artists from other genres like Florence (of Florence and the Machine), Santigold, and Skrillex. This gives the album an edge that most other rap albums lack.

Though A$AP Rocky has often been criticized for his seemingly meaningless lyrics and still has some improving to do, he proves his ability to hang with lyricist of the year Kendrick Lamar on “1Train.”  This track is a very unique combination of seven pronounced rappers, including Rocky, Big K.R.I.T., Kendrick Lamar, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Joey Bada$$, and Action Bronson, who each drop their own, distinctive verse.  Unlike anything mainstream, the track holds no chorus, only a consistent beat, which almost makes it sound like a freestyle or rap battle. The rap game could use more tracks such as this that showcase each rapper’s individual talent.  Other notable tracks include “Wild for the Night” which is a perfect party song, “Goldie” which demonstrates Rocky’s distinctive voice and amazing beats, and “Fashion Killa” about one of Rocky’s favorite things besides music: fashion.  These songs all create an extremely different listening experience.

Following is the official music video for “Wild for the Night,” filmed in the Dominican Republic and featuring Skrillex & Birdy Nam Nam:

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Rocky’s biggest weakness on Long.Live.A$AP is the single, “F**kin’ Problems.”  Rather than displaying Rocky’s unique talents, this song takes on a more mainstream pop/hip hop sound that’s devoid of the many aspects that make him a successful rapper.  Rocky’s biggest strength on the album is the diversity of each song; no song sounds like any other.  He has chill songs such as “Phoenix,” straight up raps such as “Suddenly,” party anthems such as “Wild for the Night,” and even songs with a softer aesthetic that feature a female vocalist as heard on “I Come Apart.”  As a whole, this album is one of the best of the recent rap releases. A$AP Rocky might just become the rap game’s newest MVP as he proves himself with his innovative, next level album Long.Live.A$AP.

Reviewed by Melissa Egert

 

View review May 1st, 2013

P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here

Title: We Don’t Even Live Here

Artist: P.O.S

Label: Rhymesayers Ent./Doomtree

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 22,2012

 

 

Growing up in a hardcore punk rock scene, it is quite hard to believe that P.O.S is now putting out energy-filled experimental rap albums, but that is exactly what he is doing. The 31-year-old Minneapolis native has been dabbling with hip hop ever since his high school days of rapping in the school’s hallways with friends. With a long history of playing instruments and singing for hardcore punk bands, P.O.S decided to start making his own beats for his hip hop CDs, and has since dropped four albums incorporating a mixture of his self-produced songs along with some Doomtree productions. After P.O.S released his 2006 album Audition, he gained a national fan base with some help from Rhymesayers Entertainment, who signed him the previous year.

The powerful new album, We Don’t Even Live Here, shows just how many musical genres P.O.S can cover in one single project. Kicking off the album with the upbeat single “Bumper,” P.O.S mixes various electronic instruments with an extremely “raw” sounding drum beat, giving it a live band sound. Demonstrating his experiments with electronic music, the song “Get Down” features some heavy dubstep and electronica influences over a typical hip hop beat.  The album’s top single “F*** Your Stuff” provides a more mainstream hip hop sound, with an artificial sounding drum beat, along with various synthetic instruments that he passionately raps over.  Lyrically, the song boasts of the P.O.S dictum of anti-materialism.

Following is the official music video for the title track “Weird Friends (We Don’t Even Live Here)”:

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P.O.S included a wide variety of features on We Don’t Even Live Here. From Justin Vernon of popular indie folk group Bon Iver, to Issac Gale of the experimental electronic music group Marijuana Deathsquads, P.O.S shows he can rap over just about any style of music he wants.  This high quality studio album is sure to capture an assortment of people’s musical wants as P.O.S continues to throw his passionate vocals over a plethora of beats, always keeping listeners from knowing what to expect next.

For those music fanatics who want a physical copy of the album, there is a very good reason to do so this time. The CD version is packaged in an attractive full color 52-page, saddle stitched, comic-zine book which includes the lyrics. The vinyl packaging boasts a double sided 12” picture-disc, an 8-panel 24” x 24” fold out, full-color poster with lyrics, and a free mp3 download card.

Reviewed by Michael Hilton

 

View review May 1st, 2013

The-Dream – Terius Nash: 1977

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Title: Terius Nash: 1977

Artist:  The-Dream

Label: Def Jam

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: December 18, 2012

 

I’m generally not a fan of music initially released to the masses for free being re-released with a price tag, and 1977 is no exception to that rule. Unlike most artists who release a mixtape that’s better than the album that follows it, Nash’s project seems like it was meant to build up buzz as he prepped a bigger project. Unfortunately that bigger project has been constantly delayed and we are left with 1977.

When 1977 was initially released in 2011 as a free download, I slept on the opportunity to download it.  I was introduced to the album one night via a friend’s iPod on our way to a party and songs like “Long Gone” and “Wedding Crasher” stood out while we drove.  These songs as well as the title track “1977,” which alludes to his divorce, gave us a more personal artist, hence the initial release of this project under his real name Terius Nash. Unfortunately the personal nature of the album can easily be lost with tracks like “Real,” “Rolex” and “AK47.”  Here My Dear this album is not, but who knows, maybe in time.

Following is the video for “Wake Me When It’s Over,” another track that speaks to a broken relationship:

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Reviewed by Landon Jones

 

View review May 1st, 2013

The Weeknd – Trilogy

Title: Trilogy

Artist: The Weeknd

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Universal Republic Records

Release Date: November 13, 2012

 

 

During a decade that has experienced a plethora of R&B artists coming from the shadows, the rise of Canadian-born Abel Tesfaye is one that many people have been drawn to. Twenty-three year-old Tesfaye, whose stage name is The Weeknd, had been nearly impossible to find until March of 2011 when he released an album titled House of Balloons that sparked the interest of all R&B and hip hop enthusiasts alike. After all of the buzz that House of Balloons generated, Tesfaye dazed R&B fans with yet another album five months later titled Thursday. Just when everyone thought this R&B come up was finished, Tesfaye released Echoes of Silence in December of 2011.

After his success with House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence, Tesfaye  revealed to the public that these three independently released albums were to be re-mastered and  combined along with three new tracks to form Trilogy. With manipulated samples from Aaliyah (her “Rock the Boat” is used on “What You Need”) and Beach House (“Gila” sampled on “Loft Music,” and “Master of None” on “The Party & the After Party”), it is hard to designate a specific genre for such an eclectic artist, but his soulful delivery and dramatic tenor timbre tend to evoke thoughts of Michael Jackson in his prime.

Beginning this journey into the (hopefully fictional) life of Tesfaye, Trilogy opens with the album House of Balloons, emphasizing that “you’ll wanna be high for this” (“High for This”). His journey is tainted from the beginning and only goes downhill from there. With heavy bass lines and synthesizers throughout every track, House of Balloons brings upbeat, party-type songs front and center.  But every song is also laced with sexual and drug undertones, which brings to light a type of alternative R&B that not many are used to (and some may find uncomfortable). The party doesn’t stop there, though; Thursday brings with it tracks that are slightly more mellow. Drake is featured in “The Zone,” a song accentuating the state of euphoria that Tesfaye is in, rapping over the track:

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Thursday comes to a close with the bonus track, “Valerie,” a deep song expressing Tesfaye’s infatuation with a young lady. Thursday seems to be the anomaly of the three combined albums; it’s a slight run-on of House of Balloons, except the tempo of most songs is  exceedingly slow. This may cause the listener to grow disinterested, especially those hearing this type of music for the first time.

Tesfaye’s vocal abilities are demonstrated magnificently in the opening song of Echoes of Silence, “D.D.” This rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” may be one of the more relatable songs to all listeners. Tesfaye’s Canadian background becomes more evident in the following song “Montreal.” In this track he laments a broken relationship, then switches to French for the background vocals that bring this broken-romance song to a close. As Echoes of Silence concludes, it is apparent that Tesfaye’s trip has also come to an end. The final track of Trilogy, “Till Dawn (Here Comes the Sun),” carries this wild ride into the morning where he finds himself with an indecisive woman. Echoes of Silence ultimately conveys the mutilation that Tesfaye has faced throughout this seemingly never-ending trip from House of Balloons to Thursday, and the independence he knows he is capable of manifesting when such romantic destruction is encountered.

Although it may be tough to listen to Trilogy in a single sitting, listening to each segment individually takes away from the overall scenario that Tesfaye was trying to illustrate. From the airy falsettos to the powerful choruses, Trilogy is a new breed of R&B that has intrigued many. The only thing that Tesfaye may have trouble with is following such a strong debut.  He has already announced that his sophomore album will be titled Kiss Land, and hip hop and R&B enthusiasts everywhere are eager to see what The Weeknd has to offer in the next few years.

Reviewed by Cameron Martinez

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Regina Troupe – Lover 4 Life

Title: Lover 4 Life

Artist: Regina Troupe

Label: Cowhead Music

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 1, 2012

 

 

Growing up, Regina Troupe’s musical talents were developed in church, as her father was a Baptist minister. Her church background contributes to the soulful sound of her music while her lyrics speak of romance and social relationships; Troupe sings with a voice full of emotion. Her passion for music led to an opportunity to sing background vocals for Michael Franks. Since then, Troupe has collaborated with numerous national recording artists, including Celine Dion and Keisha Cole. She also composed several songs for Peabo Bryson’s Grammy nominated album Unconditonal Love.

With the release of her first album, Lover 4 Life, Troupe fulfills her devotion to her musical career while showcasing her soul/R&B vocal abilities.The album covers topics many listeners can relate to, such as loving oneself, finding and losing love, missing a loved one, and letting loose on the weekend with friends.

Lover 4 Life begins with the upbeat “Got 2 Love Me First,” in which Troupe speaks of self-respect and being independent. In “Lover 4 Life,” Regina relates a heartfelt story of finding true love and never letting it go. The CD concludes with a slow, passionate tribute to a lost loved one entitled, “I Miss You.”

All in all, Lover 4 Life is an album that honestly reveals the emotions that come with experiencing the hardships and triumphs of living that everyone can relate to and enjoy.

Reviewed by Emily Scheidt

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Aabaraki – The Emancipation, Part One

Title: The Emancipation, Part One

Artist: Aabaraki

Label: distributed via CD Baby

Format:  CD, MP3

Release date: April 30, 2012

 

 

 

I might not have discovered the Brooklyn-based “stutter funk” group Aabaraki if not for the eye-catching album cover art of their EP, The Emancipation, Part One.  The band describes their sound as “reducing the music to its bare essentials, deconstructing each facet, till it is but a dull and throbbing shell of its former self.”  In this manner they’re attempting to pay homage to the founders of funk, while also modernizing the genre.

The four member group is comprised of guitarist Brian Forbes (who has toured with hip-hop rock band The Nillaz), keyboardist/vocalist Akie Lee Bermiss (who has opened for George Clinton), noted jazz drummer Aaron Steele (who has toured Europe opening for Jamiroquai), and bassist Ari Folman-Cohen, who also comes from a jazz-heavy background. Together they wrote and produced the five tracks on this EP, bringing in a handful of guests to augment tracks with horns, organ, and percussion.

The most fully developed and enjoyable song on the album is the title track “The Emancipation (Pt. 1 & 2),” with a solid alt-rock vibe that transitions midway to a fuzzed-out psychedelic mode that leaves listeners longing to see a live performance. This is followed by another high-energy club track, “DanceShee,” in a more pop-oriented vein with EDM overtones. The album closes with a fabulous cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” with Bermiss’s soulful vocals grounded by a Hammond B3 and Hendrix-style guitar interludes that will transport you to another era.

Aabaraki currently plays gigs around New York City and Brooklyn, but let’s hope they expand their fan base and venture outside of the Northeast corridor in the near future.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review May 1st, 2013

Otis Taylor – My World is Gone

Title: My World Is Gone

Artist: Otis Taylor

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Telarc

Release date: February 12, 2013

 

 

 

As a young man, Otis Taylor mastered the banjo, harmonica and guitar; he also performed with guitar virtuoso Tommy Bolin (as T&O Short Line) and once jammed with Jimi Hendrix. This initiation birthed Taylor into the music world, and from 1974-1976 he played with the rock band Zephyr. After taking a long hiatus in 1977, he bounced back in the 1990s, releasing a steady stream of blues albums that featured “unflinching tales about racism, struggle and heritage.”   Taylor asserts, “… music can help people communicate and break down barriers, and start to really see each other for who they are.”

This philosophy is taken to heart on his latest release, My World is Gone, collaboration with Mato Nanji, singer-guitarist for the Native American blues-rock group Indigenous. The album’s title references a statement made by Nanji about his people, the Nakota Nation, which inspired songs such as “Never Been to the Reservation” and “Sand Creek Massacre Mourning” that are commentaries on the vanishing Native American way of life. “I’ve learnt that if you write about things that are important, people will listen,” remarks Taylor, and these strong words are reflected in the songs that he composed for the album. Tales of struggle, freedom, desire, conflict and of course love are the sizzling themes characterized by the sterling guitar sounds (acoustic six-string) and fantastic voice of Taylor. Also featured is Anne Harris on fiddle and Shawn Starski and Nanji on guitar.

Following is the official music video for the song “Blue Rain in Africa,” which features both Nanji and Harris:

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Impeccable rhythms and haunting melodies make My World is Gone one of the best blues albums of the past year. It’s a different sound, and definitely a must have.

Reviewed by Nana Amoah

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Bongos Ikwue and Double X – Wulu Wulu

Title: Wulu Wulu

Artist: Bongos Ikwue and Double X

Formats: MP3

Label: BIK Recordings

Release date: January 27, 2013

 

 

Born in 1942 in Otukpo, located in the east-central Nigeria state of Benue, Bongos Ikwue’s life was filled with events of simple country living. From an early age, he was attracted to all types of music: traditional music and folk tales of the Idoma people; a wide array of American styles including gospel, country, blues, jazz and R&B; and Cuban and other Caribbean styles. Ikwue formed Bongos & The Groovies in 1967, which rapidly became a popular performing and recording ensemble that featured an original, highly personal style of Nigerian pop. A recording contract with EMI led to numerous hits such as “Lagos,” “Tell My Girl,” “You Can’t Hurry the Sunrise” and “Otachikpopo,” as well as eleven bestselling albums. One of his most well-known songs, “Cock Crow at Dawn,” became the theme song of a popular Nigerian soap opera that ran into the 1990s.

On his latest album, WULU WULU—his first release outside Nigeria, every song has a different twist. The lyrics range from romantic themes to meditations on the conditions in Nigeria, with backing provided by his new band Double X. Bongos has been called the “African Bill Withers—an intimate, earthly singer-writer who delivers home truths with soulful, unpretentious vocals.” This style is displayed prominently in the song “Ouno,” recounting an incident in which a girl sent by her mother to gather firewood is bitten by a snake and dies. The understated commentary on “Ochombolo” postulates that Africans should not accept foreign aid but instead should strive for self-reliance. The lyrics are interspersed with highly skilled drumming, trumpet and guitar solos that could cause a worm to twirl, which is a good feeling. “Inale” is the theme song to the film produced by his daughter Keke Bongos, which won an award for Best Soundtrack at the 2011 African Movie Academy Awards. “How Long” and “Mustapha and Christopha” are my favorite songs, with their groovy background drums and acoustic guitars, though the latter is more serious in nature, addressing religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians.

Following is the promotional video for the album:

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WULU WULU is an excellent compendium, fulfilling the needs of longtime fans, while serving as a matchless introduction to the art of this smooth-tongued man, who though less known in the U.S., is an important voice in Nigerian music. From the re-makes of older songs to the new material, the album is very compelling. Consider this essential listening, and it’s pretty damn good for dancing too. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Nana Amoah

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Angel D’Cuba – Heritage

Title: Heritage

Artist: Angel D’Cuba

Label: self-released

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 17, 2012

 

 

Chicago-based Cuban musician Angel D’Cuba (Angel Luis Badell), a singer and multi-instrumentalist as well as former member of the renowned Cuban band Mezcla, presents his first solo production, Heritage. This independent release features plenty of Chicago’s musical talents, such as drummer and percussionist Jean-Christopher Leroy, trumpet player Victor García, and sax player Steve Eisen. The whole album brings together a broad variety of rhythms, which reflect Angel’s experiences in Cuba and the United States: from Cuban and Caribbean rhythms, including timba, mozambique, cumbia, songo, guaracha,and even reggaeton, to that of African US-American music styles such as soul, funk, and jazz. The eleven tracks on the CD display mature arrangements that cleverly intertwine different sonorities in what seems to be an attempt to cover as many different sound fields as possible. Angels sings in many different styles in this album, demonstrating his experience and long musical career. Signature Cuban sounds, however, are deeply present in Angel’s voice, the electric bass lines, and the horn arrangements, most of which have the unique flavor of timba’s orchestral sound. Impeccable recording and post-production, a tight full-fledged band, original compositions, and arrangements full of flavor and spice, are the hallmarks of this album.

Here is a link where you can hear snippets of the whole production. Enjoy!

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Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas E.

 

View review May 1st, 2013

The Mighty Diamonds – Planet Earth / Planet Mars Dub

Title: Planet Earth / Planet Mars Dub

Artist: The Mighty Diamonds

Format: CD

Label: Hot Milk (dist. By Cherry Red)

Release date: May 7, 2013

 

 

There are few groups that have been together for as long as The Mighty Diamonds. Formed in 1969 in the Trenchtown area of Kingston, Jamaica, the group has played to countless audiences over the world throughout their 40+ years of performing. The amount of material they have released over the years is just as impressive, practically equal in number to the years they’ve been together. But with such an extensive catalogue, the albums will eventually be lost to time if no reissues are forthcoming. But leave it to the minds over at Hot Milk, who have given the proper treatment to two rare Mighty Diamonds releases that have finally been put onto CD. Coming off last year’s release of Keith Hudson’s Torch of Freedom, Hot Milk’s latest project is a double album release of the vocally smooth and instrumentally sound Planet Earth and its dub accompaniment Planet Mars Dub.

Hot Milk has opted for the intertwined version of both albums, with the dub version following immediately after the original reggae version. It’s refreshing to listen to this method, since hearing the reggae version seamlessly flow into the instrumental dub version leaves an appreciation of not only the vocal talents of the Mighty Diamonds trio, but also the instrumental virtuosity of the Icebreakers. Dub versions echo the same laid-back style of the Mighty Diamonds, though with a more barebones approach to the reworking of the songs using reverb, echo, and delay as the main driving forces for each mix. And suffice to say, this preference was a great choice as it allows the album to flow from song to song at a perfect pace. But not enough can be said of the Mighty Diamonds, whose vocals throughout both albums show them at the height of their career in the late 1970s. “Let The Answer” is indicative of the whole album: tight vocalization, beautiful lyrics, and strong musical accompaniment.

The remastering work of Hot Milk is absolutely flawless, giving nothing but love and devotion to a release that had unexpectedly been lost for so long. Additionally, liner notes provided by reggae expert John Masouri give a concise overview of the long and brilliant history of The Mighty Diamonds, and an in-depth look at the album itself. Hot Milk continues to release great material, and this reviewer waits for whatever grand ideas Hot Milk has in store for us for the rest of this year.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Mint Condition – Music @ the Speed of Life

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Title: Music @ the Speed of Life

Artist: Mint Condition

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 11, 2012

 

Whenever someone says out loud “there are no bands consisting of black people,” I immediately point them in the direction of Mint Condition as an example of a black band.  To give you a quick history lesson, Mint Condition is part of the “Minneapolis Sound” which began in the 1970s with artists like Prince, Morris Day and The Time. In fact, it was two members of The Time—Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis—who discovered Mint Condition.  You’ll recognize the “Minneapolis Sound” because it generally contains a live band playing real instruments that sound like perfection.  Excuse me if I’m biased, but I love Mint Condition—they’re the first band that I can say I’ve grown up with.  When I create a playlist to listen to during the day I add Mint Condition; when I need a smooth playlist to play for my evening drive, I add Mint Condition; and when I’m trying to impress a date, I play Mint Condition.  If you’ve never listened to the album Definition of a Band (1996) or any other Mint Condition releases beyond their singles, Music @ the Speed of Life is a good album to start with.

Mint Condition presents a consistent album to their listeners; they’ve been able to build upon their signature sound and that deserves to be appreciated. The single “Believe in Us” is reminiscent of “Pretty Brown Eyes,” with the kicking percussion, brass, and a keyboard solo that cannot be ignored.  It’s hard not to listen to this song when it comes on the radio because it boasts a familiarity that many believe to be a “new” sound in R&B with artist like The Weeknd, Miguel, and Frank Ocean. Once again, for those musical aficionados, “Believe in Us” is proof that Mint Condition deserves their recognition as quality music makers:

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Stokley Williams’s voice is fresh as ever on tracks like “What I Gotta Do” and the band is also strong on this track from beginning to end, concluding with a lingering guitar riff and xylophone. “Girl of My Life” is my favorite track because it boasts DJ Jazzy Jeff on turntables and begins to tease a phenomenal mashup of keyboard, a brass section, and a drum solo by Williams. The song is about searching for a woman who offers depth and meaning to a relationship. “Never Hurt Again” is an epic proclamation of love featuring Bobby Ross Avila (also featured on “Believe in Us”) that courts a ballad over a rock inspired melody.

Music @ the Speed of Life is worth the listen, whether you need good background noise at your wine and cheese party, for a relaxing drive after a long day, or for quality time with your partner. Check out this new album and I guarantee that you’ll want to spend some time listening to earlier Mint Condition works.

Reviewed by Landon Jones

 

 

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Jackson 5 – Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series

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Title: Jackson Five: The Completed Animated Series BD/Combo [Blu-ray]

Artist: Jackson 5

Formats: 2 disc set, DVD or Blu-Ray (506 min.)

Label: Classic Media

Release date: January 15, 2013

 

 

To offer some background, I enjoy collecting Jackson 5 memorabilia, so when it was announced that the complete animated series would be released on DVD, I knew my days of watching episodes of this cartoon on Youtube were over.  When it was released in stores I rushed over to Target to purchase a copy, assuming there would be one available for me.  You would think a DVD collection like this would be the last item to sell out in a Target on the north side of Indianapolis, but it had! I was in possession of the last copy available that evening, and a portion of my childhood was restored that night.  Anyone who was a Jackson Family fan growing up in the ‘90s may have come across reruns of this cartoon on VH-1. Catching these episodes (if you woke up early enough) on a weekend morning was a treat because they featured five black boys going on adventures and randomly performing songs with lyrics that are easier to remember than to forget.

Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series is the perfect time capsule for those of us not alive when the cartoon series original aired in the early 1970s.  Whereas conversations today are about global warming and drones in the Middle East, Jackson 5ive documents a time when people debated the preservation of our forests and young men drafted into the military (e.g., Pinestock U.S.A. and Drafted).  The first five (no pun intended) episodes did a fine job of including all of the brothers in the storylines equally; however, across all 23 episodes more favor Michael as the main character and place his brothers in supporting roles, especially in fantasy themed episodes inspired by Cinderella (Cinderjackson), Alice in Wonderland (Michael in Wonderland) and The Wizard of Oz (The Wizard of Soul).  Unfortunately, the episodes become redundant over time with cheesy villains who are driven by greed (ironic considering this show was created to further capitalize on the Jackson family), as well as lazy plots that benefitted largely from the hipness of the brothers in strong contrast to the more conservative nature of the adults portrayed in the cartoons.

Following is a trailer for the DVD:

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To their credit, directors Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, along with Motown, did their best to appeal to the masses by giving fans a cartoon show about one of the biggest bands post-Beatlemania.  The animation is not top notch and it doesn’t take long to discover this is a problem with the series; it should also be noted that the Jackson 5 did not provide the voices of their animated counterparts.  Whether or not you enjoy the cartoons, stay for the musical interludes featuring 46 songs from the albums Diana Ross Presents the Jackson Five, ABC, Third Album, and Michael’s solo albums Got to Be There and Ben. If you have a parent or relative who grew up with the cartoon series, this DVD is the perfect piece of nostalgia that can be shared with them, because the Jackson 5 and their music are timeless. For many of us, these were the first songs we learned to sing by heart.

Reviewed by Landon Jones

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Eddie Holland – It Moves Me: The Complete Recordings 1958-1964

Title:  It Moves Me: The Complete Recordings 1958-1964

Artist:  Eddie Holland

Label:  Ace

Format: CD

Release date:  February 7, 2012

 

 

Before the legendary songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland defined the Motown sound in the 1960s, Eddie Holland was a successful recording artist. In fact, he began his career as a demo singer for Berry Gordy before the Motown label was even established.  According to Eddie, his job was to emulate Jackie Wilson’s vocal style in order to ensure that the songs Gordy penned for Wilson would be executed in the manner intended.  Before long, Eddie was recording singles under his own name for Mercury and the obscure Kudo label, and when Gordy founded Tamla in 1959, Holland was one of the first artists featured on the new label. The lifestyle of a singer, however, did not suit, and Eddie decided to emulate his younger brother Brian and learn the songwriting craft instead.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Eddie might not have achieved Jackie Wilson’s level of success, but he did have a fabulous voice, and many of his songs deserve much greater recognition.  Now, thanks to Ace Records, Motown fans can hear all of Eddie Holland’s recorded output on the 2-CD compilation It Moves Me, including 15 singles, one LP, and a disc full of previously unreleased material from the Motown vaults.

Highlights from Holland’s published recordings include the early 1958 single  “Shock”  penned by Berry and Robert Gordy (erroneously attributed to “Briant” Holland on the label), the lush “You Deserve What You Got” which appears to be the first song for which Eddie received a writing credit (alongside Brian Holland and William Stevenson),  “Last Night I Had a Vision” recorded at an outside session, the slightly wacky “If Cleopatra Took a Chance,” “What About Me” from his self-titled LP, the rocking “Baby Shake” (his first fast dance number), “I’m On the Outside Looking In,” and my personal favorite, “Brenda” (I love the way he croons my name!).

The second disc of rare and unissued tracks includes 26 songs ranging from the 1958 demo “Action Speaks Louder Than Words” that was picked up by Bobby Darin, the home demo tape of Gordy’s never released “Rain and Thunder” backed by the Rayber Voices, “Day Dreamer” (previously only circulated on underground tapes), two versions of “Twin Brother” from a 1962 previously unreleased acetate and a subsequent studio session, the Whitfield-Holland song “Happy Go Lucky,” and the previously unreleased and unmixed 1963 H-D-H song “Pretty Little Angel Face.”

It Moves Me is accompanied by a 28-page booklet full of color images, complete discographical details, and liner notes by Keith Hughes which incorporate excerpts from his recent interviews with Eddie Holland. This is truly a must have set for any Motown fan, especially since Eddie’s only LP has never been reissued on CD.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review May 1st, 2013

Al Green – Let’s Stay Together: The Broadcast Archives

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Title: Lets Stay Together: The Broadcast Archives

Artist: Al Green

Director: Stan Lathan

Label: XXL Media

Format: DVD (region 0; 4.3, full frame (1.33:1); Dolby Digital, 60 min.)

Release date: January 15, 2013

 

To my surprise, The Broadcast Archives’ Al Green – Let’s Stay Together comes from the PBS program SOUL! which aired in the late ‘60s to early ‘70s.  Hosted by Ellis Haizlip, this episode begins with Haizlip interviewing Al Green, who surprises everyone by telling the audience that he is only 25-years-old.  He also speaks about growing up singing with his brothers in a gospel group, and throughout his performance the influence gospel music had on his life is evident; an influence that would continue in the years to come.  After the interview Al begins his performance, pulling songs from the albums Al Green Gets Next to You, Let’s Stay Together, I’m Still in Love With You, and Call Me.

The great thing about Green’s performance is the way he talks to the audience throughout, while breaking into falsetto riffs as an interlude during and between songs.  For instance, on “Look What You’ve Done for Me,” he takes time to talk about a woman who gives him the “running” in his feet and “clapping” in his hands. Green is testifying at this point, breaking into brief holy ghost struts, grasping at the heavens for something or someone.  His performances are passionate and electrifying—Green is a man that knows how to perform and, more importantly, sing.  When the musical introduction to “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” begins, the lights dim, the band elegantly elevates, and the crowd lets out subtle cheers and shouts of approval.  Midway through the song he asks, “Is there somebody in New York who can mend a broken heart?”  I was so lost in the performance (it’s my personal favorite) that I actually looked around my empty living room a little disappointed that I was the only one who could testify at that moment.

This is a genuine performance by Al Green as noted by the audience’s reaction to him as well as my own.  As I played back “Still in Love With You” I was amazed by the rawness of his performance.  His voice is a little dry on “You Ought to Be With Me” as he tries to hit high notes and he recognizes this struggle, letting the audience know that it came from a cold he received while in my hometown of Chicago.

Here’s the trailer:

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My only issue with this DVD is that it does not document the source (the television show SOUL!) or year of this performance; nor does it offer credits to the director Stan Lathan, the producers, or the band on the DVD cover.  I still recommend it for anyone who has a copy of this performance on bootleg and would like to view it with better sound and video quality.

The next time you see me at a karaoke bar, just know I will be trying my damndest to mimic Al Green’s performances and adlibs while singing “Can’t Get Next to You.”

Reviewed by Landon Jones

 

View review May 1st, 2013

“Classic” Stax/Volt – Real and Faux

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Title: Born Under a Bad Sign

Artist: Albert King

Label: Stax/Concord Music Group

Catalog No.: STX-34334-02

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 5, 2013

 

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Title: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding

Artist: Otis Redding

Label: Stax/Concord Music Group

Catalog No.: STX-34164-02

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: March 5, 2013

 

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat:  both of these CDs are jam-packed with real-deal finger-popping genuine vintage Memphis soul.  Aside from an aesthetic beef about the included “bonus tracks” on the Albert King reissue, this music is nearly flawless.

So please indulge some nitpicking about two differing ideas on reissuing classic material.  The Albert King album, part of Concord’s ongoing “Stax Remasters” series, is a new analog-to-digital transfer and release of the same cover art and 11 tracks, in original sequence, as the 1967 LP.  Unlike Concord’s previous (2002) reissue, this CD includes 5 bonus tracks, basically run-throughs, rejected takes and other cast-offs. They are OK if you’re interested in hearing how the Stax crew sounded when they weren’t hitting a master take, but are not in any way musically superior to the takes chosen for the original LP.

Also new in the Albert King CD is a booklet essay by Bill Dahl, with some catchy prose and detailed information on the songs and recording sessions.  After Dahl’s essay, the booklet includes Michael Point’s 2002 booklet essay and Deanie Parker’s 1967 LP cover notes (which are the most pithy and fun of the three, capturing the zeitgeist of the album in a few dozen words).

Like most R&B, soul and blues LPs of the 1960s, this album was made up of hit singles, b-sides and a few other tunes not deemed single-worthy. But Albert King wasn’t turning out throw-away material, so all 11 songs are strong and producers Jim Stewart and Al Bell made great choices about the sequencing.  All of that combined to make a classic album, reissued for the third time on CD (early-era reissue by Fantasy Group, 2002 Concord reissue, and now this new Stax Remasters version).  Joe Tarantino’s remastering on this CD seems to be more midrange-heavy and somewhat “louder” than George Horn’s 2002 transfer.  Each version has its better and worse moments, depending on the song. There’s a more uniform sound quality to the new CD, so it sounds more like an album than the collection of singles and songs from four different sessions that it actually is.

The Otis Redding album is something different, a strange animal born of modern nostalgia. This album never existed in the Otis Redding catalog, until now.  It is the creation of compilation producer David Gorman.  The “scuffed” LP cover art?  Fake.  The back cover notes by “Marty Hackman, WDHG Detroit”?  Completely made up.

Here’s Gorman’s rationale, from a Concord press release: “Given how nobody delivered a gut-wrenching sad song like Otis, I always felt he should have made an album you could put on late at night and settle into with a glass of something strong. The mood and the subject of every song is the same— Otis, heartbroken, and begging for love. I tried to find the saddest most potently heartbreaking songs he ever sang, with no regard for chart position or notoriety.  There are a few hits on the album, but they’re there because they fit the mood, not because we wanted to include the hits.”

One of the hits included on the Otis Redding album is the classic “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now).” Here is Otis’s famous performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival, 1967:

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OK, so this is a viable concept for a compilation, but why the cheesy faux-LP packaging? Again from the Concord press release: “the packaging … was intentionally designed by Gorman to look as if Redding actually did put this album out at the height of his career.  The typography, color palette, and layout are all meant to adhere to the Stax/Volt LP designs of the time. This extends to the liner notes, which are written in the present tense and credited to a fictitious DJ so that they read as if they were written while Redding was alive at his peak.”

All of this is the opposite of the coveted “authentic” moniker. It seems a dumb way to package what’s a very good collection of Redding recordings.  In this case, Tarantino’s remastering definitely shines in comparison to previous Rhino/Atlantic and Fantasy Group reissues of these songs.  The song selection and sequencing would have made for a good LP back in the day. Except it didn’t, and Concord shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Sho Baraka – Talented Xth

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Title: Talented Xth

Artist: Sho Baraka

Label: Lions and Liars

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

Release date: January 15, 2013

 

 

Rapper Sho Baraka’s latest album defies hip hop taxonomy, resisting neat compartmentalization into either “conscious” rap or “holy hip hop” categories. Baraka hovers at the intersection of the “Christian rapper” vs. “rapper who is a Christian” lexical debate, a controversy that intensified after he departed Reach Records—a powerhouse Christian rap label—in 2011 to form the Lions and Liars label. According to interviews, Baraka sought more artistic freedom to rap in a less overtly Christian fashion, hoping to explore a wider range of themes and thereby impact a broader demographic with the gospel message. His label’s first offering, released on Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s birthday, refracts a sophisticated critique of social injustice, economic suffering, and political corruption through the dual lens of Afrocentric ideology and the Christian gospel message of redemption.

The project’s Afrocentric stance distinguishes it from the output of other Christian rappers. Through reading the work of Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois in recent years, Baraka developed a deeper understanding of the historic and current experience of African Americans in the United States. Baraka came to view Du Bois’s “talented tenth” model of Black social uplift as an inherently Biblical concept, and this album is his artistic rumination on this belief. With minimal liner notes included in the compact disc, Baraka’s commentary on the project through social and other media enables a richer interpretation of the album. Additionally, Baraka has released at least one short film, featuring himself and other actors, as a companion to the album (it expands on the narrative of marital discord recounted in the song “Cliff and Claire”):

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Starting with its title (named for W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1903 essay of the same name), the project mines the wells of Black creative, political, and philosophical culture. The cover’s iconography, a prominent “X,” evokes the legacy of Malcolm X, heralding the project as “edgier” than most Christian rap. Some tracks, such as “Mahalia” and “Jim Crow,” are named after seminal persons and eras in the history of African Americans. The first few tracks on the album are spun from the sounds of the Black church; for example, “Bethesda” samples a choir singing the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” and “Get Happy [Intermission]” is built on the organ-driven “shout music” common in C.O.G.I.C. church services. Lyrics are saturated with references to key events and figures in the struggle for Black equality in the United States, and everyone from Chris Rock to Paul Robeson to Nat Turner gets namechecked along the way.

Highlights of the album include lyrical wordplay that inflects or frames Christian concepts with elements of the Black experience, such as in “Bethesda,” when Baraka raps “To talk to God they told me to climb a mountain/I’m thirsty for His revelation—where’s the colored fountain?” A wide range of topics are covered, from marital love in “Mrs.,” to sartorial elegance in “Denzel,” to corporate greed in “Madoff.” Baraka and producers Blue, Ali, and Swoope (among others) draw on a diverse palette of Black music-making; in addition to the soundscape of the historic Black church, tracks weave in rural blues moans (“Jim Crow”) and Stax-like horn samples (“Madoff”). Given the lyrical depth, conceptual sophistication, trenchant social critiques, historical awareness, and musical richness of this album, Talented Xth represents a striking achievement in contemporary hip hop.

Reviewed by Carrie Allen Tipton

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons to Die

Twelve-Reasons-To-Die-Ghostface-Killah

Title: Twelve Reasons to Die

Artist: Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge

Label: Soul Temple

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 16, 2013

 

Hip hop bard Ghostface Killah and composer extraordinaire Adrian Younge team up on Twelve Reasons to Die, an epic Spaghetti western-gangster drama put to grooves. Mixing exquisite orchestration with mean-street beats, the 12-track concept album is a blood-splattered saga of betrayal and outlaw justice.

With album art that combines ’70s horse-opera gore with a silent-movie monster chic, Twelve Reasons to Die plays out like a radio drama with a swirl of sound effects and a storytelling arc that ushers unrelentingly to Death’s door.

Adrian Younge, coming off the heels of his lauded soundtrack to the neo-blaxploitation Black Dynamite and a recent collaboration with Philly soulsters the Delfonics, brings his cinematic imagination and lush sound palette to the Ironman’s furious flow. Tickled ivories and thrumming harps, twangy tremolo guitars and operatic choruses are exacted with as much menacing relish as our lead man’s reign of terror. With the addition of keyboards and iron-horse rhythms, Ghostface and Younge give the wide sonic landscapes of Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks a gritty urban face, with tightly packed, high-contrast orchestrations.

And like a cityscape, the album is full of sharp, shadowy corners. “Enemies All Around” and “An Unexpected Call (The Setup)” are intricately layered, plodding songs that see the Killah’s circle of enemies closing in, immediately followed by “The Rise of the Ghostface Killah,” part military-march, part funeral dirge. “The Sure Shot” is the album’s coup de gras, a song that perfectly calibrates Ghostface’s flow with a masterful shape-shifting tempo and a salvo of beats: “Murder murder, kill, kill, kill/ When the gas starts to pump, I put the spark to the grill. Murder murder, kill, kill, kill/ Watch the body count rise as the ’face gets real.”

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Ghostface and Younge tell the tale of a ruthless vigilante with musical marksmanship equal to that of the masked man they conjure in their bloody, sun-baked reverie. They make their reasons known, and they’re numbered Tracks 1 through 12.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review May 1st, 2013

Welcome to the May 2013 Issue

Welcome to the May 2013 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture. This May Day we celebrate the school semester wrapping up with sizzlin’ new rap releases including 12 Reasons to Die, the Spaghetti gangster-western album from sharp-shooting duo Ghostface Killah & Adrian Young, as well as LongLiveA$AP from mix master A$AP Rocky, We Don’t Even Live Here from underground hip hop artist P.O.S., and Talented 10th from gospel rapper Sho Baraka.

We also get mellow with new and golden-age soul and R&B, including newly remastered collections from Stax artists Otis Redding and Albert King, the live concert DVD Al Green: Let’s Stay Together, DVDs of Motown’s Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series as well as a compilation featuring its star songwriter Eddie Holland: It Moves Me, Complete Recordings 1958-1964. Contemporary R&B releases include Music at the Speed of Life by Mint Condition, Lover 4 Life by Regina Troupe, Trilogy by The Weeknd, and Terius Nash 1977 by The Dream.

We also cruise along to music from other shores including Wulu Wulu by Nigerian pop artists Bongos Ikwue and Double X, Heritage by Cuban artist Angel D-Cuba, and Planet Earth & Planet Mars Dub, from reggae veterans the Mighty Diamonds.

And last but certainly not least, My World is Gone, a collaboration between blues guitarist Otis Taylor and Native American blues-rocker Mato Nanji, and The Emancipation, Part One by genre-bending rock collective Aabaraki, round out this month’s review playlist.

View review May 1st, 2013

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