Archive for July, 2013

Welcome to the July 2013 Issue

Welcome to the July 2013 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

Our feature this month is the documentary The Librarian and the Banjo (now available on DVD), about Dena Epstein’s groundbreaking archival research on the African origins of the banjo.

Next up are a handful of new jazz releases, including bass player Charnett Moffett’s solo album The Bridge, Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun’s Life In This World, Omar Sosa’s Miles Davis tribute Eggun: The Afri-lectric Experience, vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant’s debut album WomanChild, supergroup BWB’s Michael Jackson tribute Human Nature, and the Erroll Garner documentary No One Can Hear You Read.

Under gospel, soul and R&B we’re featuring the compilations Overdose of the Holy Ghost: The Sound of Gospel Through the Disco & Boogie Eras and The Best of Merry Clayton, as well as new albums from Omar, Sheléa, and Maysa.

Rock and hip hop releases include Kanye West’s Yeezus, Public Enemy’s Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamps, Bad Rabbits’ American Love, and Bloc Party’s Four.

Last but not least is Corey Harris’s celebration of True Blues, a new Destiny’s Child Video Anthology, and our summary of June 2013 black music releases of note.

View review July 1st, 2013

The Librarian and the Banjo


Title: The Librarian and the Banjo

Artists: feat. Dena Epstein, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bill Ferris, Bela Fleck, Guthrie Ramsey, et. al.

Producer/Director:  Jim Carrier

Label: Jim Carrier Films

Format: DVD (56 min. plus 40 min. of bonus material)

Release date: 2013


Documenting librarian Dena Epstein’s groundbreaking archival research on the African origins of the banjo, this film frames the instrument’s diasporic journey as a quintessentially American story. Additionally, the film recounts the personal and social dimensions of Epstein’s unusual identity as a Caucasian wife and mother in the 1950s and ’60s doing controversial research on Black music-making. A fascinating subtheme tracks how the digital era has utterly transformed the pace, mode, and style of humanities research. These interweaving stories are told through dramatic reenactments of epochal moments from Epstein’s decades-long endeavor; voiceovers of actors reading from primary sources; close-up shots of primary sources; interviews with contemporary scholars, banjo performers, librarians, curators, and Epstein herself; and banjo performance footage. The film rightfully presents Epstein’s resulting book, the 1977 Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War, as a watershed in African American music historiography that was responsible for shattering damaging and inaccurate myths.

The Librarian and the Banjo successfully summarizes the woefully incorrect vision of the banjo dominant in the American popular imagination prior to Epstein’s work, then shows how her research filtered beyond the scholarly community into the consciousness and praxis of banjo performers—a relative rarity in humanities scholarship. Multiple interviewees attest to how Epstein’s 1977 book tangibly impacted the beliefs and practices of North American banjo players and historians by “de-whitening” prevalent banjo mythology. Further emphasizing the film’s focus on both scholarship and performance, the documentary includes plentiful banjo performance footage, particularly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group of young African Americans from North Carolina who have attracted media attention (along with a Grammy award) for their recapitulations of old-time string band material.

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The film accomplishes a great deal in its runtime of just under an hour, and its weaknesses are few. The most serious, from a scholarly viewpoint, is the absence of a broader contextualization of Epstein’s work within African American studies: there is no real mention of the debate over African retentions in Black American culture that had raged among anthropologists for decades before Epstein’s work was published. This omission has the unfortunate effect of implying that Epstein’s research was the first to assert and demonstrate that African Americans forged a unique culture built on African roots, when in reality Melville Herskovits vigorously argued for this perspective several decades earlier in his seminal book The Myth of the Negro Past (1941). The film’s language and terminology is pitched at the average viewer, and no particular knowledge of music or the disciplines of musicology and ethnomusicology is necessary to enjoy a compelling and intelligently-told story of how one scholar managed, through decades of persistence and some serendipity, to upend popular mythology surrounding an iconic American instrument.

Reviewed by Carrie Allen Tipton

View review July 1st, 2013

Charnett Moffett – The Bridge: Solo Bass Works

Charnett Moffett - The Bridge

Title: The Bridge: Solo Bass Works

Artist: Charnett Moffett

Label: Motéma

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 9, 2013



The Bridge is the first solo bass release by renowned bassist Charnett Moffet who has appeared on over 200 recordings with numerous jazz music icons including Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Melody Gardot, Art Blakey, and Tony Williams. Moffet’s overarching concept for this solo album stems from the desire to express who he is as an artist and carry on the tradition of the greats who preceded him by constructing his own standard of solo bass excellence.

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The album opens with Moffett’s rendition of “Caravan”, and all-bass cover of The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” showcasing his uncanny ability to transform standard classics into a fresh new take on the upright bass. Other album highlights include the pairing of the early 19th century African American spiritual “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” with Adele’s  “Rolling in the Deep.” The selections on The Bridge are carefully chosen, and clearly demonstrate Moffet’s exceptional abilities as a solo performer and as a composer. The Bridge takes solo upright bass performance to an easily accessible new level, one that leaves both seasoned bass players and general music lovers completely satisfied.

Reviewed by Patrick Brown

View review July 1st, 2013

Will Calhoun – Life in This World

will calhoun

Title: Life in This World

Artist: Will Calhoun

Label: Motéma Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 14, 2013



Living Colour’s Will Calhoun was not weaned on rock ‘n’ roll. The talented drummer grew up listening to his father’s bebop records and later attended the Berklee School of Music to study jazz. Shortly thereafter he meant Vernon Reid, and the rest as they say is history. After musical explorations that have taken him from the hard rock landscape of Living Colour to the heavy grooves of Jungle Funk to the underground hip hop of Mos Def, interspersed with extensive studies in Africa, Calhoun has returned to the post-bop jazz of his previous solo efforts.

On his new album, Life in This World, Calhoun expresses the sonic world of his experiences: the jazz and world music that influences and inspires him. Blazing his way through a range of covers, he reinterprets Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale,” Tony Williams’s “Spectrum,” Wayne Shorter’s “Etcetera” (featuring veteran bassist Ron Carter), Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” which he flips from 4/4 to 6/8, and Coltrane’s “Naima,” where he adds Brazilian beats on cajon and water drum. But there’s plenty of new material as well. Labelmate Charnett Moffett (whose new CD is also featured in this issue) penned the opening track and apparent Calhoun tribute “Brother Will.” “Afrique Kan’e,” arranged with guest Brehima “Benego” Diakate, is their interpretation of a traditional Mali tune featuring Diakate on the six-stringed kamele ngoni. And Calhoun contributes several of his own compositions, including “Abu Bakr II,” “Dorita,” and“Love’s Parody.”

According to the liner notes by Columbia University Professor C. Daniel Dawson, all of the tracks on the album were first takes and, as producer, Calhoun made sure the drums and bass (performed variously by Carter, Moffett, Doug Wimbish, Alioune Wade, and John Benitez) are center stage, not “locked in a closet.” Make no mistake, this is a drummers album, set to showcase “how magical a beautifully tuned set of drums can sound when impeccably recorded.” And magical it is! Kudos to Will Calhoun along with Ron Saint Germain (who mixed the album) and the rest of the band (Marc Cary and Cheick Tidiane Seck on keyboards, Donald Harrison on sax, and Wallace Roney on trumpet).

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Omar Sosa – Eggūn: the Afri-Lectric Experience

Omar Sosa - Eggūn The Afri-Lectric Experience

Title:Eggūn: the Afri-Lectric Experience

Artist: Omar Sosa

Label: Otá Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 12, 2013



Honoring those that have walked before and after him, Afro Cuban pianist Omar Sosa pays homage to Miles Davis’s legacy with Eggūn: the Afri-Lectric Experience.  Commissioned in 2009 by the Barcelona Jazz Festival to produce a tribute to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue for its 50th anniversary, listeners will notice that Sosa’s role in Eggūn is more of a pianistic spiritual facilitator than that of piano soloist. Sosa’s eleven-piece pan-global ensemble captures the emotion and vibes of Kind of Blue while weaving transatlantic flavors like the Moroccan bendir and trompeta china with expressive elements of electronic music.

The three percussionists Pedro Martinez, John Santos and Gustavo Ovalles and drummer Marque Gilmore are key in creating the sonic structures necessary in transforming the tone of each piece while maintaining a continuous spiritual accompaniment in Eggūn. Most interesting, in this tribute, are the six interludes which feature the ensemble of sacred batá drums necessary in any Santeria invocation: the Okónkolo, Iyá, Itótele.

In West African and in Cuban Afro-syncretic religions, existence is not limited to one’s physical life on earth. The eggun-gun are spirits of ancestors and some are the spiritual guides assigned to a person at birth.  Sosa’s Eggūn celebrates the spirit and freedom of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue using a plethora of musical devices (both acoustic and electric) and spoken word from the African diaspora.

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Above all a profoundly spiritual man, Omar Sosa’s Eggūn highlights himself as a humble messenger of his ancestors.  The musical talents of Sosa are a gift and a vessel carrying a message from the spiritual world to this one.  This offering of fifteen tracks provides his jazz ancestors with the attention necessary to maintain active communication and pass along the spiritual wisdom gained from Davis’ colossal work.  By connecting with his ancestors (his eggūn) Sosa has affirmed the continuum from the distant past towards the distant future in hopes that those that walk after him will call upon his musical legacy after he becomes eggūn one day.

Reviewed by Madelyn Shackelford Washington

View review July 1st, 2013

Cécile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild


Title:  WomanChild

Artist: Cécile McLorin Salvant

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  May 28, 2013



Winner of the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, Cécile McLorin Salvant’s debut album WomanChild firmly establishes the 23-year-old singer as a formidable talent and rising star. Born in Miami to a French mother and Haitian father, she studied classical and baroque vocal music in France as well as jazz. By the time Salvant returned home, she had also engaged in a study of early jazz and blues vocal traditions which not only facilitated the development of her unique personal style, but informed her selections for this album.

On WomanChild, Salvant presents songs “that are little known, or have been recorded very few times” and goes on to explain “while these songs aren’t recognized as standards, many should be because they are so beautifully crafted.”  Not all of the tracks fall under this category, but she has certainly reached deep into the archives of recorded sound to retrieve some gems.

Salvant claims to have studied the entire recorded legacy of Bessie Smith, so it’s fitting that she opens with “St. Louis Gal,” accompanied by the acoustic guitar of James Chirillo, and also includes “Baby Have Pity On Me” recorded by Smith in 1930.  On “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was,” Salvant’s timbre and vocal stylings fall somewhere between the grittiness of Billie Holliday and suaveness of Sarah Vaughan, who both recorded the song:

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Collectors of early African American recordings will be interested to hear Salvant’s fantastic arrangement of Bert Williams’s trademark song “Nobody,” which shifts back and forth between smooth ballad and blusey honky tonk.  “You Bring Out the Savage in Me,” made famous by 1930s trumpeter Valaida Snow, is a song Salvant claims she had to sing because the racist lyrics were “so completely absurd and outrageous.” Other period pieces include the folk ballad “John Henry,” Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” “There’s A Lull In My Life” (which I like even better than Ella Fitzgerald’s version), and an entirely original rendition of “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”

Salvant is equally comfortable on the contemporary songs. The title track is a tour de force that also allows pianist Aaron Diehl to shine in a prominent solo. “Le Front Caché sur Tes Genoux,” based on a poem by the Haitian poet Ida Faubert, is a waltz-swing arrangement in the style of a sultry French cabaret song, while the brief but haunting “Deep Dark Blue” that closes the album showcases Salvant’s ability to change moods through shifting timbres and pitches. She may consider still herself a WomanChild, but Salvant’s maturity, technique, and knowledge of the literature are astonishing!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Erroll Garner – No One Can Hear You Read

errol garner

Title: No One Can Hear You Read

Artist: Erroll Garner

Producer/Director: Atticus Brady

Label: First Run Features

Format: DVD (B&W, Color, NTSC, Widescreen, 52 minutes)

Release date: April 9, 2013


Errol Garner: No One Can Hear You Read gives deeper insight into the famed “Misty” performer/composer, surveying his beginnings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the highlights of his 40-year career as a jazz pianist. Overall, the documentary focuses largely on his unique style of playing, his stage antics and joyful personality—there are endearing stories of his lengthy, orchestral introductions on stage and his rise to success—but only delves briefly into his personal life.

The documentary interweaves archival footage and recordings with the stories of family members—his sister Ruth Garner Moore provides insight into his youth—as well as musicians and friends including Woody Allen, Ahmad Jamal, Dick Hyman, George Avakian, and Ernest McCarty just to name a few.

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One of the highlights is the moment his sister provides the back-story for his most famous composition, “Misty.” She explains that during an event that Garner thought would surely end his life, the melody for “Misty” came to him. After surviving, he immediately went to the studio to record the song that would go on to become a classic not just with avid jazz fans, but also touching those with only brief encounters with the genre.

The title “No One Can Hear You Read” is an Erroll Garner quote in response to those who questioned his lack of formal musical training. One could assume—and a few interviewees in this documentary do—that his detachment from written music was one of the driving forces behind his character as a pianist, the thrill of his performances, and his genius as a jazz composer.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review July 1st, 2013

BWB – Human Nature


Title:  Human Nature

Artist: BWB

Label: Heads Up International

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 18, 2013



Human Nature, a “reimagining of eleven selections made famous by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson,” marks the second album by supergroup BWB, composed of trumpeter/flugelhornist Rick Braun (an Eastman School of Music alum), Memphis-born tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and Louisiana born, Kansas City raised guitarist Norman Brown. All are frequently labeled as smooth jazz musicians, and though the first couple of tracks begin in something of a smooth groove, as the album progresses their superb musicianship and complex improvisations quickly transcend this categorization. As Whalum points out, they are hardly the first jazz musicians to interpret and elevate popular music—Miles Davis, for one, included “Human Nature” on one of his pop-oriented albums (You’re Under Arrest, 1985) and it remained in his repertoire. They talk more about their approach in the album trailer:

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The trio selected their favorite MJ songs for this project, ranging from his early hits with the Jackson 5 through the blockbuster albums Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. Though some might favor the more straight ahead tracks where the original melody is always discernible, such as “I’ll Be There,” “Billie Jean” and the title track (sung by Sheléa in a voice that could be an MJ sample), I prefer those which are more freely interpreted such as “Beat It,” the bluesy rendition of “Whose Loving You,” the funkified  “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and the slow jam version of “I Can’t Help It.”  All allow ample opportunities for Braun, Whalum and Brown to demonstrate their mastery with outstanding support from the rhythm section: keyboardist John Stoddart, bassist Brayton Lacey, drummer Khari Parker, percussionist Lenny Castro, and organist Ralph Lofton.   BWB will be on tour this summer performing at various jazz festivals across the country, from Norfolk to Newport Beach, so if you’re intrigued by the album you might have an opportunity to catch them live.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Various – Overdose of the Holy Ghost: The Sound of Gospel Through the Disco and Boogie Eras


Title: Overdose of the Holy Ghost: The Sound of Gospel Through the Disco and Boogie Eras

Artists: Various

Label: Z Records (UK)

Release date: April 4, 2013

Formats: CD, 2-LP set, MP3



Overdose of the Holy Ghost, a new compilation curated by David Hill, is the kind of obscure mix of funk and disco music Z Records has rightfully becoming known for— music you never knew you really needed until now.

Over the years, gospel music has sonically shifted to align with the in-sounds of popular music, and this compilation covers the amazing period where disco and funk beats were topped with spiritual lyrics. The title track, performed by the Clark Sisters, is perhaps the best example of this on the album (and certainly the best title).  Beginning with a brief spoken bit about how dope smokers should transition to getting their daily high from Jesus, this song expertly quotes traditional gospel cadences and harmonies before bringing it back down with a funky beat. The choral breakdowns and the incongruously modern context of an O.D. metaphor seems like something people would claim to like “ironically,” but it’s a genuinely expertly arranged and performed song. The lead singer riffs on her experience getting caught up in the spirit while the background singers add funk with their rhythmic, spoken repetition “The Holy Ghost Ho-Ho-ly Ghost.”

The combination of what people might traditionally consider “gospel music” with a funky bass line, smooth synths and disco vocals makes this album interesting thematically and completely addictive as ear candy.  As the Shirley Caesar song “Message to the People” (track 21) implies, if music is your spiritual outreach you must give the people what they want to hear. Overdose of the Holy Ghost transports you to a time when people were dancing at the disco on Saturday night and singing at church on Sunday morning.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review July 1st, 2013

Merry Clayton – The Best of Merry Clayton


Title: The Best of Merry Clayton

Artist:  Merry Clayton

Label: Ode Records/Legacy

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 25, 2013



If you’re lucky, 20 Feet From Stardom, the new documentary about “the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century,” has already hit a theater in your city (the general release date was June 14).  If so, you may already be familiar with the story of Merry Clayton, a veteran backup singer whose amazing career is profiled in the film, along with Darlene Love, Táta Vega, and Judith Hill, to name a few. Clayton has lent a supporting role to rock gods (Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker), soul godfathers (Ray Charles, Billy Preston), blues kings (B.B. King, Taj Mahal) and divas (Carol King, Etta James), but along the way has also released a few albums of her own. This Best of compilation, timed to coincide with 20 Feet From Stardom, is a selection of her tracks drawn primarily from her three albums on the Ode (Lou Adler’s) label.

Clayton first catapulted into the spotlight as the soulful descant over a wailing Mick Jagger on the Stone’s iconic 1969 hit “Gimme Shelter.” That success led to her 1970 debut album, also titled Gimme Shelter, where she revisited the song as a solo vehicle. That’s one of the many highlights of this compilation, along with the title track from her 1975 album “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow,” a stunning rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” her cover of the Door’s “Tell All the People,” and a knock out version of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” arranged by the great Gene Page. Her voice, as big as Aretha’s, is a ferocious mix of gospel-tinged rock ‘n’ soul that few can match, especially in this age of Autotune.  How wonderful that the spotlight is shining on her again, drawing attention to her contributions on hundreds of albums as she celebrates 50 decades in the music business (her first single was recorded in 1962 when she was 14).

Here’s a recent interview with Clayton from the Seattle International Film Festival:

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Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Omar – The Man


Title: The Man

Artist:  Omar

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  June 18, 2013



London-born neo-soul singer Omar Lye-Fook may not be a household name in the U.S., but in his home country he’s known as the “Godfather of UK Soul.” On his new album The Man, he offers 13 original songs that prove his moniker was well-earned as he slices across multiple genres from R&B, soul, funk, jazz, and Brazilian-tinged music, keeping the album fresh from beginning to end.  What sets Omar apart is his originality combined with excellent musicianship. By the age of five he was learning the drums from his studio musician father, and went on to study other percussion instruments as well as piano, trumpet and bass, eventually matriculating at the Guildhall School of Music.  All of these skills are put to good use, as he contributes not only the vocals, but switches between multiple instruments in addition to composing, arranging, programming, mixing and producing.

Following is the official video for the title track:

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The Man is Omar’s first release since the stellar Sing (If You Want It) from 2006, which featured the likes of Stevie Wonder, Common, Estelle, and Angie Stone. This time around he brings in a new mix of guests. Caron Wheeler of Soul II Soul contributes vocals on the romantically styled “Treat You,” which is followed by the funk driven “F*ck War, Make Love,” complete with a tight horn section. Germany’s Hidden Jazz Quartett provides the accompaniment on “High Heels,” a meter-shifting funk tune with a free jazz mid-section punctuated by Stephan Abel’s sax solo.  Omar’s brother, Grammy award winning Scratch Professor (a.k.a. Roland Lye-Fook), mans the turntables on the soulful Curtis Mayfield-esque message song “Bully,” scratching over a complex samba rhythm.  But Omar saves the best for the bass guitarists. The legendary Pino Palladina assists with a reworking of Omar’s first hit song “There’s Nothing Like This,” transformed into a grooving jam featuring Spanish guitar, while Stuart Zender of Jamiroquai performs on the closing track “Ordinary Day.” Omar’s proves he’s also got the chops, weaving intricate bass lines throughout “I Love Being With You.” Omar is The Man —no doubt about it!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Sheléa – Love Fell On Me

Sheléa - Love Fell On Me

Title: Love Fell On Me

Artist: Sheléa

Label: Breath of Life/ CEN/RED Distribution

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 18, 2013 (CD)



Multitalented singer-songwriter-pianist Sheléa Frazier got her start in the industry working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis at their Flyte Tyme production company as an in-house songwriter and vocalist, and more recently garnered national attention for an appearance with Stevie Wonder at the White House as part of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize concert in honor of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Her debut album, Love Fell On Me, takes its title from her seductive jazz ballad that was featured as the theme for the movie Jumping the Broom (2011) and has since become a wedding favorite. Of course that song (featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica) is included on the album, along with her R&B remix version, plus 12 more original songs.

In addition to the title track, another highlight is the duet with Brian McKnight on “Can’t Play It Cool,” a sexy romantic ballad with a jazz feel, thanks to the trumpet riffs from Chuck Findley. Most of the tracks follow in this vein, what Sheléa refers to as “feel good songs,” many of them accentuated with strings such as “City of Angels” co-written with Siedah Garrett, the relationship song “Independence Day,” and the soft romantic ballad “I Fell In” featuring the acoustic guitar of Michael Ripoll (musical director for Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds). The only exception is the contemporary uptempo dance number “Have I Ever Told You,” co-written with Narada Michael Walden. Following is the official video for the ballad “Seeing You,” which is representative of the style and mood of the album:

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Overall this is an exceptional showcase of Frazier’s vocal and songwriting skills, and though I would have liked to hear a few more of the jazz arrangements she’s also know for, Love Fell On Me definitely succeeds at tugging the heartstrings.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Maysa – Blue Velvet Soul


Title: Blue Velvet Soul

Artist: Maysa

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 18, 2013



Soul singer Maysa Leak has just released her 10th solo album Blue Velvet Soul, a savory cornucopia of soulful, contemporary R&B. Formerly the lead singer with the British jazz-funk group Incognito, Maysa performs three songs by Incognito’s founder Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, who joins her in the romantic duet “Good Morning Sunrise” and provides the background vocals for the dance tracks “Put It On Me” and “Nothing But You.”

Much of the production is overseen by Chris “Big Dog” Davis, who also contributed to several of Maysa’s most recent albums. Davis co–wrote six of the songs on Blue Velvet Soul, including “Sophisticated Lover” featuring Maysa as a French chantreuse, the tender ballad “When You Touch Me,” and the uptempo “When Your Soul Answers,” one of the standout tracks that channels contemporary jazz and gospel. Other highlights include “What Can I Do,” a flirty funky song penned by longtime friend Kim Brewer, the Lorenzo Johnson retro soul number “I Care” featuring Hammond riffs and a horn section that could have been pulled right out of the Stax charts, and the Mike City produced “This Much” which closes with Maysa flexing her vocal jazz chops.

Following is the album trailer:

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There is little to criticize about this album, with the possible exception of the synth heavy production on many of the tracks.  Although the electronics lend a very contemporary dance feel, those of us who are old school and don’t have a great appreciation for EDM will likely gravitate towards the instrumental tracks.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Kanye West – Yeezus


Title: Yeezus

Artist: Kanye West

Label: Def Jam

Format: CD, MP3

Released: June 18, 2013



The sixth studio album from hip-hop recording artist and producer Kanye West completely abandons the boom bap of traditional hip-hop to push us right out of the comfort zone into a fascinatingly dark world of abrasive minimalist beats, grinding low-fi synths, primal samples and an intense vocal delivery. Yeezus is West’s most intense album to date as he trades in the smooth melodic and soulful production found on his earlier records (a la The College Dropout) for a dizzying free-fall of sonic experimentation more reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails than any hip-hop album to date.  Working with an impressive array of contributing artists and producers including Daft Punk, Kid Cudi, legendary producer Rick Rubin, Frank Ocean, Odd Future, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and many more, making this album the evil antithesis of Cruel Summer, the compilation of Kanye’s GOOD Music artists released in fall of 2012.

Yeezus consists of 10 songs arranged as an entire avant-garde collection, moving quickly from track to track in an intentionally glitchy, enjoyably off-putting flow only made possible by the considerable amount of artistic input that went into its creation. It’s resulted in a savage original production, easily making Yeezus one of the best-produced albums this year.

Be wary, Yeezus lacks appeal to those easily offended, as West intentionally raises some brows by featuring God on the track “I Am God,” and boasting track names like “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves.” Yet, West is able to surmise the feel of the entire album perfectly as he raps “Soon as they like you, make ‘em unlike you” on “I Am God.”  West has always been embraced by the public by being as blunt as possible and this album is no exception—Yeezus is Kanye completely unfiltered in declaring his legend with his regular swagger.

Love or hate Kanye for the honest egoist he is, Yeezus is packed with highlights from West and his roster of artists and producers. “New Slaves” deals with the control of materialism over him and other modern hip-hop celebrities, and how consumerism has become a staple of our culture. West delivers a catchy vocal delivery atop a simple driving synth beat that hits like a figurative train until juxtaposed by the outro where Frank Ocean’s beautiful falsetto creates a fresh breath of relief over a groovy low-fi sample from Hungarian rock band Omega in a remarkably heartfelt ending.

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“I’m In It” is the overtly sexual club-banger track you’d be expecting, featuring an alien-like performance from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) saturated with reverb to create an ethereal groove effect as Kanye slams quick one-liners in stark contrast, complete with a reggae-style trap breakdown and primal scream samples that seem to be meticulously placed for just the right horrifying effect. The same vocal manipulation shines on “Hold My Liquor” where the Auto-Tune from 808’s and Heartbreak is gnarled to the point of an intentional distortion in a masterfully artistic way to complement Chief Keef’s verses and Vernon’s stunning, fluid harmonizations over a very Ratatat influenced beat in haunting beauty.

Throughout the album, West delivers quick tragic humor as he tries to drunkenly talk himself out of the headspace of heartbreak by building his own ego back up. The album contains many of these moments of humility, where West breaks himself down to his most basic insecurities and the roots of his own self-destruction. At times on the album, he’s literally screaming out in desperate angst as he reveals perhaps some of his most explicit and personal subject matters.

If you enter Yeezus expecting any semblance to West’s past works, you’ll come away disappointed. Where Yeezus truly shines is in its approach to changing the traditional hip-hop formula over which West openly reveals the voice of his deepest vulnerabilities underneath his brash exterior in a bold record that is surely to turn heads.

Reviewed by Patrick Brown

View review July 1st, 2013

Public Enemy – Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp


Title: Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp

Artist: Public Enemy

Label: Eastlink / Enemy Records Earth

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: July 13, 2012



Since 1989, Public Enemy has made it clear they have a problem with the social injustices surrounding the minority voice and the revolutionaries that have been vilified by the media. Paying homage to PE’s well known “Fight the Power,” Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp is the eleventh studio release from hip-hop legends Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and DJ Lord. Continuing their aggressive production courtesy of the Bomb Squad and maintaining militant political themes, the album shows that despite the changing times, Public Enemy remains more relevant than ever and has successfully adapted, voicing their opinions about contemporary issues.

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Most of My Heroes feels like the little brother of Fear of a Black Planet, maintaining the same confrontational tones in the traditional PE formula. MC Chuck D sounds as strong as ever, delivering constantly powerful one-track vocals showcasing his real talent as a hip-hop icon in a world of rappers recording with an orgy of overdubs protecting them. Returning to past themes of inequality, PE slams modern issues like the Tea Party, racial injustice, and the current music industry while voicing support for the unheard minority in the Occupy Wall Street movement, bringing with them their matured collective experiences from the late ‘80s-early ‘90s and applying them in modern context. Uniting with other politically active artists such as Brother Ali and Bumpy Knuckles, Most of My Heroes delivers a powerful message in the resurrected hip-hop style that put Public Enemy on the map.

The album positively bumps from track to track and is brimming with some of the best modern scratching since Terminator X was an active producer in Public Enemy. Carefully not over-produced, Most of My Heroes is able to maintain the feel of a retro Public Enemy record without sacrificing sound clarity, resulting in what might very well become another classic brought to you by NYC’s own.

Reviewed by Patrick Brown

View review July 1st, 2013

Bad Rabbits – American Love


Title: American Love

Artist: Bad Rabbits

Label: Bad Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Released: May 14, 2013



Following the explosive release of their EP Stick Up Kids in 2009, Bad Rabbits debuted their sophomore album American Love this May. Working with famed producers Teddy Riley and B. Lewis, Bad Rabbits continue to show off their brand of progressive R&B/neo-funk that combines the members’ many influences ranging from Michael Jackson and Prince to P-Funk and Earth, Wind & Fire. Using this blend of rock and groove, they’ve been able to share the stage with a diverse roster of performers including the Deftones, Wu Tang Clan, and Slick Rick.

“Record labels were never sure what to call us. Was it ‘rock band with soul’? ‘Hip-hop with rock’? No one knew how to describe us. That’s fine,” Bad Rabbits drummer Masser says. “We don’t need a name.”

American Love is 10 animated tracks jam-packed with thick basslines, hard-hitting synths, funky upbeat guitars and a memorable contemporary R&B style vocal performance from Rabbit’s frontman Fredua Boakye to keep your summer soundtrack brimming with soul.  Capturing the energy of their live performances, the band grooves through the album from start to finish.

It’s difficult to name specific album highlights, but “Dirty” and “Doin’ It” offer a hilarious intensely-sexualized funk/soul performance reminiscent of Parliament and George Clinton’s distinct style, complete with the signature slap and pop basslines with accompanying space synth. The second single, “Can’t Fool Me,” provides a satisfying taste of Boakye’s expressive falsetto and is overall a quite impressive track:

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You could find an album high point in every one of these ten tracks, since the Bad Rabbits’ style combines so many different influences. I predict you’ll be hard-pressed not to fall in love to American Love this summer.

Tracklist:  1.We Can Roll — 2. Can’t Fool Me — 3. Dance Moves — 4. Get Up and Go — 5. Take It Off — 6. Dirty — 7. Fall In Love — 8. Doin’ It — 9. Sayonara — 10. Royal Flush.

Reviewed by Patrick Brown

View review July 1st, 2013

Bloc Party – Four


Title: Four

Artist: Bloc Party

Label: Frenchkiss

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: August 20, 2012



Four, the fourth album by the original four members of the British post-rock band Bloc Party, was a surprising release. Not surprising because of wild sonic experimentation or shocking cover art, but because of swirling rumors that the group’s charismatic frontman Kele Okereke was going to be replaced and the group might disband completely. While Four doesn’t bring anything new to the Bloc Party table (for that check out Okereke’s solo dance album The Boxer or bassist Gordon Moakes’ group Young Legionnaire), the band framed this album as a rejection of the overly produced, Pro Tools elaborated records that have become the norm. Instead, they sought to make an album that, while not a live concert record, captured the sound of four people performing together in a room.

The album is full of smart, stripped down rock tracks that won’t necessarily win any converts but would definitely appeal to fans of Bloc Party’s earlier releases.  Expertly crafted songs like “So He Begins To Lie” show off the benefits of bands that have worked together long enough to become truly comfortable with their own sound.  Okereke’s vocals are as engaging and strong as always and do their part to carry the album, as showcased in the video for the single “Octopus”:

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The stand-out track on the album is “V.A.L.I.S.,” with its infectious pop chorus that belies the darker lyrical content that reflects the insecurities of young men not sure they’re growing up quite yet. The seemingly eminent breakup of Bloc Party may be a sign of the group’s urge to grow up, but if this album proves anything, it’s that not all growth periods have an awkward stage.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

Editor’s note: Bloc Party just announced the release of a new EP Nextwave Sessions slated for August 12, after which the band plans to go on hiatus.

View review July 1st, 2013

Various – True Blues

true blues

Title: True Blues

Artists:  Various

Label: Telarc

Formats: CD, MP3, DVD (coming soon)

Release date: May 28, 2013



Recorded live at various venues throughout the country, True Blues is a 13-song CD that “explores and celebrates the genre and follows its rich history from the Mississippi Delta of the early 1900s to the present day.” Producers Daniel J. Patinkin and Corey Harris assembled five top blues musicians to join Harris on the project, including Taj Mahal, Shemekia Copeland, Guy Davis, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Phil Wiggins, who are all equally dedicated to keeping the blues tradition alive.

The end result is a satisfying overview that’s weighted more heavily towards classics such as Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ On My Mind”— the opening and closing tracks—performed by the group with reverence. Harris presents fine acoustic renditions of Sleepy John Estes’s “Everybody Ought To Make a Change” and Blind Blake’s “C.C. Pill Blues,” while Davis’s picks are “Saturday Blues,” originally recorded in 1928 by Ishman Bracey, and “That’s No Way To Get Along” (a.k.a. “The Prodigal Son”) from a 1929 recording by Robert Wilkins.  Hart, known more for his blues rock stylings, takes on Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Children Have a Hard Time” and “Gallows Pole,” a traditional song popularized by Leadbelly.  Wiggins (of Cephas & Wiggins) and Taj Mahal each perform two of their own songs, while Shemekia Copeland offers “Bring Your Fine Self Home” composed by her father, the late Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland. A companion documentary will be released on DVD later this summer, and it appears the group will reassemble for several tour dates in the fall.

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Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Destiny’s Child – Destiny’s Child Video Anthology

Destiny’s Child - Destiny’s Child Video Anthology

Title: Destiny’s Child Video Anthology

Artist: Destiny’s Child

Label: Music World/Legacy

Formats: DVD (NTSC, 62 minutes)

Release date: June 4, 2013



Destiny’s Child Video Anthology is the first full collection of short music films from R&B group Destiny’s Child. The DVD chronologically highlights the career making music and videos that have made Destiny’s Child a stellar R&B group. Included are 16 music videos featuring several of their Billboard Top 10 hits, plus videos for two well-known remixes: “No, No, No Part II” and “Bootylicious Part II.”

Here’s the full track list: No, No, No, Part I — No, No, No, Part II (featuring Wyclef Jean) — Bills, Bills, Bills — Bug A Boo — Say My Name — Jumpin’ Jumpin’ – Survivor — Independent Woman, Pt 1 – Bootylicious — Bootylicious (featuring Missy Elliott) (Re-Mix Version) – Emotion — Lose My Breath — Soldier (featuring T.I. and Lil Wayne) – Girl — Stand Up For Love (2005 World Children’s Day Anthem) — Cater 2 U.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review July 1st, 2013

June 2013 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released in June 2013 that are on our hot list — some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Eugene Hideaway Bridges: Roots & Vines (Armadillo Music)
Lurie Bell: Blues In My Soul (Delmark)
Jewel/Paula Blues Story (Fuel)
Soul of John Black: Sunshine State of Mind (Yellow Dog)
Pat Thomas: Beef Steak Blues (Wolf)

Richard Pryor: No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert (Box set) (Shout! Factory)

Hezekiah Walker: Azusa: The Next Generation (RCA Inspiration)
Isaac Carree: Reset (Door 6)
Mr. Dell: Faith Walka (Dedicated Music Grp.) (Gospel Rap)

Clarence Penn: Play-Penn (Criss Cross)
Dave Koz and Friends: Summer Horns (Concord)
David Murray Infinity Quartet: Be My Monster Love (Motema)
George Lewis: The Best Of George Lewis, 1943-1964 (GHB Music)
Kim Waters: My Loves (Red River Ent.)
Marc Carey: For the Love of Abbey (Motema)
Mary Stallings: But Beautiful (HighNote)
Orrin Evans: It Was Beauty (Criss Cross)
Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO: Occupy the World    (TUM)
Wooden Joe Nicholas: Rare & Unissued Masters, 1945-1949 (American Music)
Andy Bey: The World According to Andy Bey (High Note)

Booker T. Jones: Sound the Alarm (Concord/Fantasy/Stax)
Chrisette Michele: Better (Motown)
Dan Greer: Beale Street Soul Man: The Sounds Of Memphis Sessions (Kent)
India.Arie: Songversation (Motown)
J.P. Robinson: What Can I Tell Her (compilation) (Soulscape)
James Brown: Best of Live at the Apollo 50th Anniversary (Polydor)
John Ellison: Up From Funk (reissue) (Jamie/Guyden)
Kelly Rowland: Talk a Good Game (Motown/Republic)
Lonnie Lester: The Story of Lonnie Lester (Tramp)
Marvin Gaye: A Stubborn Kind of Fellow: From the Beginning, 1957-1962 (Jasmine)
Mavis Staples: One True Vine (Anti)
Motown the Musical Cast Recording (Universal)
Raw Spitt: Raw Spitt (reissue) (Alive Naturalsound)
Rhonda Clark: Between Friends (reissue) (Tabu/ Demon)
Ted Taylor: Make Up for Lost Time, Rare & Unissued Ronn Recordings (Fuel)
Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 12A: 1972 (Motown)
Romark Records: Kent Harris’ Soul Sides (Kent)
Good For Nothin’: The Vogue Records Story, 1956-1962 (One Day Music)
Under the Influence 3: A Collection of Rare Soul (Z. Records)
Global Noize: Sly Reimagined (Zoho Music)
Sylvester: Mighty Real: Greatest Dance Hits (Fantasy)
Thundercat: Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)

Rap/Hip Hop:
J. Cole: Born Sinner (Roc Nation / Columbia)
Del The Funky Homosapien: No Need for Alarm (reissue) (Traffic Ent.)
Junclassic: BLVD Backdrop (HiPNOTT)
Kool G Rap & DJ Polo: Street Stories: The Best Of G Rap & Polo (Traffic Ent.)
London Posse Gangster Chronicles: The Definitive Collection (Tru Thoughts)
Prodigy & Alchemist: Albert Einstein (Infamous)
Quasimoto (aka Madlib): Yessir Whatever (Stones Throw)
Wale: Gifted (Atlantic)
Wrekonize: The War Within (Strange Music)
Yo Dot: Sherman Park Memoirs (download) (Umbrella Music Group)
Young Fathers: Tape Two (Anticon)
White Mandingos: The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me (Fat Beats)

Cornel Campbell: New Scroll (Zion High Productions)
Jimmy Cliff: The KCRW Session (Sunpower/Ume)
Lee Perry: At Wirl Records (Kingston Sounds)
Morgan Heritage: Here Come the Kings (VP)
The History of Blue Beat: The Birth of Ska, The A & B Sides (Not Now Music)

Carl Craig: Masterpiece (Ministry of Sound)

Chris Berry: King of Me (Kanaga System Krush)
Concha Buika: La Noche Mas Larga (Warner Music Latina)
Femi Kuti: No Place For My Dream (Knitting Factory)
Gasandji: Gasandji (Plus Loin Music)
Novalima: Karimba Diabolic Remixes (Wonderwheel)
Daora: Underground Sounds of Urban Brasil (Mais Um Discos)
Carmen Souza: Kachupada (Galileo Music Communication)
Natalie Cole: Natalie Cole En Espanol (Verve/Universal)

View review July 1st, 2013

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