Archive for August, 2013

Welcome to the August 2013 Issue

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

As a tie-in to the upcoming Afropunk Fest, we’re devoting the bulk of this issue to the many facets of rock music performed by Black artists. We began exploring related socio-political issues in 2009 as part of our conference “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music.” The following video features interview clips with conference participants, including James Spooner, whose Afro-Punk film spawned a movement:

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First we’re featuring new albums by Women Who Rock (and rock bands fronted by female singers) including Black Traffic by Skunk Anansie, Behold, A Pale Horse by Ebony Bones, She by Alice Smith, I Love My Tribe by The Honorable South, Crawl by Jenn Cristy, Earth Hero by Kamara Thomas & the Ghost Gamblers, and The Endangered’s self-titled debut.

Next up are Recent Afropunk and Rock Releases including Pinnick Gales Pridgen from the power trio Dug Pinnick, Eric Gales, and Thomas Pridgen, followed by Dug Pinnick’s solo effort Naked, Blood Sugar X’s The Dead Dumb Happy Life, Vols. 1 & 2, the Mother’s Finest DVD Live at Rockpalast 1978 & 2003, Danko Jones’ Rock and Roll is Black and Blue, Light Asylum’s self-titled debut, and P.O.D.’s Murdered Love.

We’re also featuring new projects from veteran musicians including Sound the Alarm by Booker T. Jones, Border-Free by Chucho Valdes & The Afro-Cuban Messengers, Vocal Sides by the recently departed jazz singer Carline Ray, and Rhythm Blues by Buddy Guy.  From the Delmark label there’s Blues In My Soul by Lurrie Bell, Live at A Space by the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, Stop Lyin’ by Tail Dragger, and Sunny Road by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup.

R&B and hip hop releases include A Sunshine State of Mind by The Soul of John Black, Doubleback by Joe, Yessir Whatever by Quasimoto, and Lower by Indianapolis artist Rusty Redenbacher.

Closing out this issue is our summary of July releases of note.

View review August 1st, 2013

Women Who Rock


Title: Black Traffic

Artist: Skunk Anansie

Label: 100%

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 2012



One of the most well-known Afro-punk Brit bands, Skunk Anansie is fronted by Skin, arguably the most instantly recognizable and talented female vocalist on the UK ‘clit-rock’ scene. After a strong start and considerable chart success, the band disbanded in 2001 and members released various solo projects. Reforming again in 2009, Skunk Anansie recently unleashed their 5th studio album Black Traffic on their own label. As with previous albums, the group doesn’t shy away from personal songs addressing racism and social issues, such as “This Is Not a Game” and “Sticky Fingers in Your Honey.” Most of the tracks, however, are about relationships and traverse the territory between heavy metal (“I Can’t Spit You Out” featuring the Parisian band Shaka Ponk) and indie rock with pop overtones (“Our Summer Kills the Sun”). Overall, the album is notable for its superb musicianship and stylistic variety, from the string accompaniment on the introspective “I Hope You Get To Meet Your Hero” to the guitar-driven angst of “Satisfied?,”  “Sad Sad Sad”  and “I Believed in You”:

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The album concludes with “Diving Down,” one of the most radio-friendly tracks and the perfect vehicle for Skin’s agile, emotive voice.

Anyone interested in women in rock should also check out Laina Dawes’ What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal) with an introduction by Skin, who discusses the difficulties of being a “black female, shaven-headed singer fronting a rock band” and trying to steer clear of the hypersexualized roles prominent in the music industry.



Title: Behold, a Pale Horse

Artist: Ebony Bones

Label: 1984 Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  August 5, 2013



Ebony Bones, the British singer-songwriter-producer-actress, released her debut album Bone of My Bones to critical acclaim back in 2009, and is finally following up with her sophomore effort Behold, A Pale Horse. Melding EDM, world music, and a little bit of Bollywood, the theatrically coiffed and garbed Lady GaGa of Brit punk creates an edgy album that still manages to be fun and accessible. The title track sets the stage for what’s to come, layering polyphonic chants with strings and percussion performed by the Symphony Orchestra of India. The rest of the album is divided into Part I, Born in Flames, and the more ominous Part II, When the Battle’s Lost & Won.  The New London Children’s Choir contributes to an exuberant cover of The Smiths’ “What Difference Does It Make,” while Ebony’s histrionics are asserted in the menacing “Morphine for the Masses” and “Lazarus.” The album closes with the bonus track “W.A.R.R.I.O.R.” (from her debut album), which begins innocuously enough with rhythmic handclapping before veering off into a guitar thrashing wild ride that will have everyone shakin’ it on the dance floor.



Title: She

Artist: Alice Smith

Label: Thirty Tigers/Rainwater

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 19, 2013



We’re been waiting seven long years for the follow-up to Alice Smith’s auspicious 2006 debut album For Lovers, Dreamers & Me.  Though signed to Epic in 2007, her new material languished as the industry downsized. Now free of label constraints, she’s finally able to release her sophomore effort on her own terms and She doesn’t disappoint.  An early member of the Black Rock Coalition and the New York Afro-Punk scene, Smith has mellowed somewhat, her music less hard-edged, now more of a folksy indie-soul. Across the 11 tracks of predominantly original songs, she reflects on life’s stages, expressing a fierce independence.  Opening with the a cappella “Cabaret Prelude,” she sets the tone for the album, segueing into the upbeat “Cabaret” featuring The Roots’ James Poyser on keys and harpsichord. Other notable tracks include “Ocean” with its reggae vibe in the chorus, the alt-country “Loyalty” featuring Harlan Silverman on keys and guitar, the love song “The One” which showcases Smith’s vocal range and pure tone, and a cover of Cee-Lo Green’s “Fool For You,” a track that really rocks:

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The album closes with the title track, an affirmation of Smith’s efforts to remain true to her vision throughout trials and travails of the music business.



Title: The Endangered

Artist: The Endangered

Label: Dist. via CDbaby

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 22, 2012



Maiya Sykes fronts the up and coming L.A. indie soul/rock band The Endangered, which also includes guitarist Nick Block, drummer Gene Coye, and bassist Frank Abraham. With the goal of creating and performing “endangered” vintage soul and R&B that’s “slowly being edged out of the popular music lexicon,” the group has been playing to acclaim on the West Coast.  Their self-titled EP, released last year, includes five original songs that fall more under the jazz-tinged R&B/rock umbrella. Included is the band’s first single, “Calling on You,” as well as “Dollars” which addresses the musicians’ financial woes and will no doubt strike a familiar chord with many.



honorable south

Title: I Love My Tribe

Artist: The Honorable South

Label: Dist. via

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

Release date: January 2012



The Honorable South is a “foot stomping + hand clapping + truth telling Electric Soul, RocknRoll” group from New Orleans fronted by Ms. Charm Taylor. I Love My Tribe is their first full-length and they’re working on a new album scheduled for release later this year. Other band members include guitarist Matthew Rosenbeck, percussionist Jamal Batiste, bassist Charles Lumar II, and producer/guitarist, Danny Kartel—all introduced on their recent video. Falling more within the punk spectrum on songs such as “Big Chief,” Taylor displays a somewhat softer rock/R&B side on the lilting “Gong A.D,” but the band gets down and dirty again on the sassy “Beast”:

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An excellent debut, and we look forward to hearing more of the Honorable South’s Dirty South rock ‘n’ roll soul.



Title: Earth Hero

Artist: Kamara Thomas & the Ghost Gamblers

Label: Hawk Race Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  February 14, 2013



We had the pleasure of hosting singer-songwriter Kamara Thomas back in 2009 as part of our Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music conference.  Thomas was the bass player and one of the founding members of the hard rock trio Earl Greyhound, who released Soft Targets in 2006 and the follow-up Suspicious Package in 2010. Her new band, the Ghost Gamblers, features husband Gordon Hartin on pedal steel, Gabriel Berezin and Jeff Malinowski on vocals, bass and electric guitar, John Durgee on drums, with Amal Bouhabib assisting on vocals. Describing themselves as “cosmic Americana” (strongly influenced by Hartin’s Texas roots and Thomas’s early exposure to country music), their songs display Thomas’s softer folk rock stylings exemplified on the tracks That’s No Way to Treat Your Sweet Guitar,” “Red Wing,” and “You Wreck Me”:

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Earth Hero is an excellent choice if your tastes run to a richly nostalgic, countrified blend of acoustic rock.



Title: Crawl

Artist:  Jenn Cristy

Label:  self-released

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  May 15, 2012



A singer-songwriter based in Bloomington, Indiana, Jenn Cristy is known for her old-school  style rock ‘n’ roll soul. The classically trained pianist briefly studied music at Indiana University before devoting her energies to swimming, making it as far as the Olympic trials. But music didn’t stay in the background for long. Cristy’s singing career was jumpstarted when Bloomington’s resident rock star, John Mellencamp, heard her rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a sporting event and invited her to audition for his band. She got the gig and toured with Mellencamp from 2001-2002―contributing vocals as well as flute, piano, percussion, organ, and violin―then started her own band in 2003. Crawl is Cristy’s fourth album and shows her maturation from singing covers to performing her own material. Her biggest hit off the record, “Wish Me Well,” became an overnight YouTube sensation. Other standout tracks include “Who in the World” with a female backing chorus; the piano solo “Falling in Love,” and “Nevermind.”

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2013

Recent Afropunk and Rock Releases

As a tie-in with the annual Afropunk Fest held in Brooklyn at the end of August, we’re highlighting selected releases from the past year that fall within the general category of rock, including albums from bands that are closely identified with the Afropunk movement.



Title: Pinnick Gales Pridgen

Artist: Dug Pinnick, Eric Gales, Thomas Pridgen

Label: Magna Carta

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  February 12, 2013



All hail the return of the black power trio!  This supergroup includes dUg Pinnick, frontman and bass guitarist for the progressive metal band King’s X, blues rock guitarist Eric Gales, and drummer Thomas Pridgen, formerly with The Mars Volta and currently a member of the Memorials. This heavy metal love fest, produced by guitar specialist Mike Varney, culminates in 13 tracks that are a testament to the virtuosic powers of these three seasoned musicians. Highlights include their cover of the Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” and the original songs “Hang On, Big Brother,” and “Collateral Damage”:

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To quote Gales, “this is just some slammin stuff.”



Title: Naked

Artist: Dug Pinnick

Label: Rockarmy

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  May 7, 2013



dUg Pinnick’s creative juices are spilling over. Three months after the release of Pinnick Gales Pridgen, he completed his sixth solo album, Naked, while also teaming up with Robbi Robb in the experimental art rock band Third Ear Experience to record Peacock Black.  Naked features 11 original songs written, performed, mixed and produced by Pinnick at his own dUgtone Studio in L.A.  The album’s title references the lyrics of “Courage” (track 4): “Naked I was born, I’m naked all the time, easily deceived, with stars in my eyes, it’s a real short adventure, and we waste a lot of time, felt like I’m just getting started, at the end of the line.” The rest of the songs are in a similar existential vein, the thoughts of a musician who’s been around for a minute (Pinnick will be 63 next month), examining his past and pondering his future. One of the highlights is “Ain’t That the Truth,” featuring a guest appearance from Tracey ‘Spacey T’ Singleton (Sound Barrier, Fishbone) on lead guitar. My favorite tracks, however, are not the hard rocking lightspeed jams, but the slower, introspective songs such as the hallucinogenic dirge “The Point” that’s awash in spacey reverb, the ominous “Take Me Away From You” about electronic surveillance, and “That Great Big Thing”:

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blood sugar x

Title: The Dead Dumb Happy Life Vols. 1&2

Artist: Blood Sugar X

Label: Blackball Universe

Formats: MP3

Release date: June 2012



Oakland’s Xavier Dphrepaulezz, who previously released albums under the names Xavier and Chocolate Butterfly and also fronts the Afropunk band Blood Sugar X, was raised by his Somalian diplomat father and American mother in a strict Muslim household where pop culture was forbidden. Undergoing something of a religious conversion as a teenager after hearing the Funkadelic song “(not just) Knee Deep,” he made up for lost time by immersing himself in R&B, funk and hip hop. Signed by Jimmy Iovine to Interscope Records, Xavier soon discovered his genre-defying music didn’t fit the label’s marketing plan for the black audience. Their loss is our gain.

Now the president of his own label, Blackball Universe, Xavier has unleashed a brilliant new Blood Sugar X album, The Dead Dumb Happy Life, Vols. 1 & 2—something of a “day in the life,” Oakland style.  The album’s 18 tracks are all over the map, and that’s what makes it so utterly fascinating. For example, “Innocence” begins with a mash-up of fuzz guitars and distorted vocals, segues into a free form flamenco riff, then explodes into punk anarchy. “Sleeping Disorder” is a roller coaster ride of introspective lows and guitar shredding highs, while the PSA “Use a F**cking Condom” is Chuck Berry style rock ‘n’ roll with contemporary twist, and “Pray” offers a calming interlude of neo-soul.  Other highlights include “Honey Child” which is vintage Hendrix soul rock, the highly addictive “Everybody Smokes Weed in Oakland” metal rap anthem, and the psychedelic rap rock masterpiece “Freaky Tales” that also manages to slip in a bit of vintage blues:

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This is Blood Sugar X’s first album since their 2004 debut Crack Smack Sugar Sh*t Pop, and their first time together again since a 2007 hiatus. Let’s hope the Dead Dumb Happy Life spawns more volumes of Xavier’s insane punk rock metal rap soul funk.



Title: Live At Rockpalast

Artist: Mother’s Finest

Label: MIG

Formats: CD + DVD

Release date: May 8, 2012



Atlanta’s funky metal band Mother’s Finest has been on the scene since 1972.  Formed by vocalists Joyce Kennedy and Glenn Murdock, the band summed up their frustration with the segregated music industry on “Niggizz Can’t Sing Rock’n Roll” from their debut project, then issued a scathing critique on the dearth of African American support for rock on the 1992 album Black Radio Won’t Play This Record. Despite these obstacles the band rocked on, and the new double disc set Live at Rockpalast 1978 & 2003 captures them during two performances, 25 years apart, on Germany’s premiere rock music television show.

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Title: Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue

Artist: Danko Jones

Label: Red General

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 9, 2012



The Toronto hard rock trio Danko Jones, founded in 1996, is named after its lead singer/guitarist, who looks a bit like Skin’s male doppelganger. Though hugely popular in Europe, the group is far less well-known in the States and receives limited support from fans in Canada. Their 6th studio album, Rock and Roll is Black and Blue, features new drummer Atom Willard (Rocket from the Crypt, Angels & Airwaves) along with long-time bassist John Calabrese. On this album the group strived for a more melodic sound without forsaking their alt heavy metal roots.  Highlights include “When I Believed in God” which begins with a gospel sermon then explodes into punk blasphemy, and the more radio friendly “Just a Beautiful Day”:

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A documentary about the band, Bring on the Mountain, was released in 2012 on a 2-disc DVD set that also includes the band’s music videos. And if you want to know even more about the group, check out Too Much Trouble: A Very Oral History of Danko Jones by Toronto writer

Stuart Berman (ECW Press, October 2012). The book explores the bands’ Canadian garage-punk underground roots—as well as Danko’s roots as a non-white, hard rock Kiss-loving teenage outsider—and weaves together the band’s history through interviews with many luminaries from Jello Bifra to actor Elijah Wood.  For those who wish to experience the band’s raw-powered live show in person, Danko Jones will be touring thoughout the U.S. in August and September 2013, including stops in Indianapolis and Chicago.


light asylum

Title: Light Asylum

Artist: Light Asylum

Label: Mexican Summer

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 1, 2012



Like many African American vocalists, Shannon Funchess grew up singing gospel music in church, but a move away from the deep South to the land of grunge rock indelibly altered her course. By the time she landed in New York in 2001, she had earned enough street cred on the punk scene to perform with TV on the Radio and the Canadian group !!!.  Hooking up with house music and underground EBM fanatic Bruno Coviello, they formed the Afropunk, dark wave duo Light Asylum to “put the glam and the style back in the underground.” Their recently released self-titled debut album features unapologetically synth heavy dance music, from the tribal rhythms of “Shallow Tears” to the thrashing neo-Goth of “At Will” to the futuristic “End of Days.” Following is the official video for the single “Heart of Dust”:

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If you appreciate cutting edge, uncompromising electronica from artists intent on forging their own non-commercial path, then check out Light Asylum.



Title: Murdered Love

Artist: P.O.D.

Label: Razor & Tie

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  July 9, 2012



San Diego’s P.O.D. (aka Payable on Death) was formed in 1992 by vocalist Sonny Sandoval, guitarist Marcos Curiel, bassist Traa Daniels (who counts Larry Graham and Stanley Clark as early influences), and drummer Wuv Bernardo. Known for their mix of hip-hop, reggae, and hardcore punk with subtle Christian themes, the band has produced several very successful albums over the past 20 years. Though they took a hiatus in 2008 after releasing When Angels and Serpents Dance, the original band is back together again for their eighth studio album, produced by Howard Benson.  Murdered Love features a diverse range of original songs that reflect the band’s maturity, with guest appearances from Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog on the playful “West Coast Rock Steady” and Jamey Jasta on the opening track “Eyez.”  Other tracks worth checking out include the reggae influenced “Panic & Run,” the funky “Bad Boy” with its pop hooks in the chorus, and the more straight ahead rock songs “Lost in Forever,” which contemplates the afterlife, and the ballad “Beautiful.” Following is the official video for the title track, a great example of the band’s hybrid metal-rap sound:

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Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2013

Booker T. Jones – Sound The Alarm


Title: Sound The Alarm

Artist: Booker T. Jones

Label: Concord/Stax

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 25, 2013



Our favorite Indiana University alum, Dr. Booker T. Jones (his honorary doctorate was conferred last year), recently released his 10th solo album since his glory days leading the Stax house band Booker T & the MGs.  On Sound the Alarm, Booker T accompanies a wide range of artists, juxtaposing his signature Hammond B3 sound with contemporary soul and R&B. With a “Green Onions” riff here and a “Shaft” riff there, the Memphis sound seeps into the mix. Whether or not this will satisfy his legions of fans, or introduce a younger generation to his music, remains to be seen.

It makes perfect sense that the title track features DJ/singer Meyer Hawthorne, whose own work was influenced by ‘60s and ‘70s soul. Backed by a chorus of soul sisters, Hawthorne channels the Stax sound, layered over beats that create a mixtape atmosphere. One of the best vocal tracks is “All Over the Place” featuring up and coming New Orleans-born neo-soul singer Luke James, who is currently prepping his debut album and will also be starring in the filmed version of Black Nativity this November.  Another standout track, “Broken Heart,” features British blue-eyed soul singer Jay James, whose voice is a bit reminiscent of Cee-lo Green, with Raphael Saadiq sitting in on guitar. Both of these songs were produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis in collaboration with brothers Bobby Ross Avila and Issiah “IZ” Avila, who co-wrote eight songs on the album and also serve as the rhythm section on most of the tracks.

Those who prefer unadulterated Booker T on the B3 will rejoice in the two instrumental party-oriented tracks “Fun” and “Feel Good.” Other guests include Anthony Hamilton on “Gently,” guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. on the instrumental “Austin City Blues,” British singer/rapper Estelle on the club-oriented “Can’t Wait,” Poncho Sanchez and Sheila E. on the Latin jazz instrumental “66 Impala,” L.A. blues-rock band Vintage Trouble whose lead singer Ty Taylor nails “Your Love Is No Love,” and Kori Withers (Bill Wither’s daughter) on “Watch You Sleeping.”  The album closes with “Father Son Blues,” a duet between Booker and his talented guitarist son Ted Jones.

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Though only a few of the tracks will be added to my playlist, it’s great to see Booker T give a lift to a new generation of artists, who in turn expand his musical palette.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2013

Buddy Guy – Rhythm & Blues

buddyguyTitle: Rhythm & Blues

Artist: Buddy Guy

Label: RCA/ Silvertone

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date:  July 30, 2013



Six-time Grammy Award winner Buddy Guy, whose 2010 album Living Proof garnered his most recent statuette, has released another sure winner with the two-disc Rhythm & Blues, released on Guy’s 77th birthday.  While some senior members of the blues fraternity might rest on their laurels, this album finds Guy still in his prime and burning up new material, his raging guitar unabated.

The first disc Rhythm, dedicated to the rhythm and blues end of the spectrum, kicks off with “Best in Town,” a tribute to Chicago and “Hoochie Coochie man” Muddy Waters.  Following is “Justifyin’” performed in a style that harkens back to the Woodstock era, with back-up vocals provided by Memphis singer Wendy Moten. Junior Well’s 1960 hit “Messin’ with the Kid,” one of the only covers on the album, is a song that Wells and Guy often performed together prior to Wells’ passing. This time around none other than Kid Rock is brought in to play the role, a fun twist that makes one hope for a video version of the performance.  The other guest spots on this disc are given to Keith Urban in the countrified “One Day Away” (a bit of an anomaly), and Beth Hart in a duet with Guy on “What You Gonna Do About Me,” featuring the Muscle Shoals Horns.  Both “Devil’s Daughter” and especially “Whiskey Ghost” have a cinematic quality, with a slower groove, B3 riffs, and haunting distortions. The disc closes with a very brief instrumental filler demonstrating “Rhythm Inner Groove.”

The second disc Blues pays homage to the fierce electric-style forged in Guy’s hometown, the subject of the smoking opening track “Meet Me in Chicago” with background vocals provided by the McCrary sisters (daughters of the Fairfield Four’s Rev. Sam McCrary).  Seguing into more traditional territory, “Too Damn Bad” provides ample space for Guy to show off his virtuosic guitar licks. On “Evil Twin,” Aerosmith members Joe Perry and Brad Whitford join David Grissom on guitars, while frontman Steven Tyler takes over the vocals midway as Guy’s evil half, resulting in a tour de force blues rock jam fest that’s forgivably self-indulgent.   The disc continues through more original tunes penned by Tom Hambridge (Guy’s drummer and producer), bringing in the Muscle Shoals Horns once again on “All That Makes Me Happy Is the Blues,” pulling out the B3 stops on “My Mama Loved Me,” and featuring up and coming singer-guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. on “Blues Don’t Care.”  Another notable track, “I Came Up Hard,” references Guy’s rural Southern roots with lyrics about juke joints, share cropper’s shacks, and two-string diddley bows. The set closes with a rollicking reworking of “Poison Ivy” (the Mel London version featured on several of Guy’s compilations).

Buddy Guy’s come a mighty long way since his first diddley bow, and his legions of fans will rejoice that he’s sharing his birthday celebration via this fabulous two-disc set.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2013

The Soul of John Black – A Sunshine State of Mind

SJBsummer6Title: A Sunshine State of Mind

Artist: The Soul of John Black

Label: Yellow Dog

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  June 4, 2013



If you want the perfect summertime “mood brightening” album, look no further than A Sunshine State of Mind from the soul-roots outfit The Soul of John Black, fronted by former Fishbone guitarist/keyboardist  John A. Bigham, a Chicago native who’s obviously relishing the sunnier clime of his adopted hometown, Los Angeles.  This latest project is largely a solo effort, with Bigham (aka John Black) taking over the vocals as well as the bulk of the instrumental tracks. Songs range from the lighthearted ode to “Too Much Tequila,” to the bluesy “Lemonade” referencing the ubiquitous southern Cali lemon trees, to the wistfully romantic “Summertime Thang”:

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Stand out tracks include the retro rocker “Johnny Bear (Give It To Me)” which serves as a showcase for Bigham’s guitar shredding, the nostalgic  Lenny Kravitz tribute “Lenny Love Cha Cha,” the soulful anthem “Higher Power,” and the rootsy “Magic Woman” which opens the album.  While there’s nothing particularly innovative about the music, the album’s infectious, upbeat nature will keep that summertime groove alive as the days inevitably grow shorter.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2013

Chucho Valdés & the Afro-Cuban Messengers – Border-Free


Title: Border-Free

Artist: Chucho Valdés & the Afro-Cuban Messengers

Label: Jazz Village/Comanche Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 9, 2013



Redefining the lines of Afro-Cuban secular and sacred music, Dionisio de Jesús Valdés Rodríguez has gifted the music world with his most recent album, Border-Free.  More commonly known as Chucho Valdés, this Afro-Cuban jazz giant’s bold production fuses elements of flamenco, Gnawa music of Morocco and classical music and arrives less than one year after the passing of his father, mentor, and master pianist Bebo Valdés.

Deeply rooted in the tradition of fundamental practice, Chucho, with his Afro–Cuban Messengers—who all equally match his level of technical ability, intensity and natural musicality—insinuate the importance of an introspective approach to music production.  Border-Free is an homage to significant players in Chucho’s life and upon listening to the 8 tracks that comprise the album, one can sense his great deal of pride in the ability to tell stories exemplifying the multifaceted nature of Afro Cuban identity.  Three tracks are family tributes: “Caridad Amaro” is dedicated to Chucho’s grandmother; “Pilar” composed for his mother, includes a quotation of J.S.Bach’s “Prelude in D Minor,” with hints of Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green;” and “Bebo” was recorded both in Havana and in Málaga, Spain where Chucho relocated to be close to his ailing father.  His composition “Afro-Comanche” serves as a call to action for students to examine the history surrounding events occurring in the 18th century that were integral in the mixing of Africans and Amerindians in Cuba.

Without a doubt, the most exciting features of the album are Valdes’ virtuosic improvisations.  Innovation will always remain the hallmark of the Valdes family of master pianists, but Chucho’s improvisations in Border-Free experiment with more esoteric means in the jazz idiom.  Free meter and extended rhythmic ostinatos interlaced with installations of clave, ebb and flow to fit with any meter with out losing the essence of the groove.  An astonishingly skillful grand master of piano, Chucho’s pristine, lightning fast runs and arpeggios titillate his listeners with each repetition. I can liken it to being hit in the face over and over with buckets of cool water on a hot day.  Only listening to Valdés’ polyrhythmic improvisations in Border-Free is like being happily greeted by musical masses of ecstatic sonic wondrousness flowing forth from his fingertips.

Border-Free is Valdés’ second release featuring the Afro-Cuban Messengers, a group of phenomenal Cuban musicians: Reynaldo Melián Alvarez (trumpet), Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé (batá drums and lead vocals), Rodney Barreto Yllarza (drums and vocals), Yaroldy Abreu Robles (percussion and vocals), and most appreciated for his improvisational ability is double bassist Angel Gastón Joya Perellada. From the Marsalis family of jazz, Branford Marsalis provides priceless support on three tracks, which, according to Chucho, have given color and strength to the new material.

The following video is from Valdes’ Comanche music detailing the making of Border Free:

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Reviewed by Madelyn Shackelford Washington

View review August 1st, 2013

Delmark 60th Anniversary Releases

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Delmark has gone on a spree of new releases as well as a host of reissues. Following is a brief overview of five of their recent jazz and blues CDs.

lurrie bell

Title: Blues In My Soul

Artist: Lurrie Bell

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 25, 2013



The optimistic lyricism and one-of-a-kind guitar technique has allowed Lurrie Bell to enjoy a continuous history of success. With over 50 recordings under his belt and numerous music awards, Bell continues to delight audiences worldwide. The famous Delmark musician’s newest release, Blues In My Soul, has him returning to the front of the band for the first time since 1999’s Blues Had a Baby. The album continues on the success that has made Bell a star, with tracks such as “”She’s A Good ‘Un” and “If It’s Too Late” showing an emotional and extensive dedication to the blues.


Title: Live At ‘A Space’ 1975

Artist: Roscoe Mitchell Quartet

Label: Delmark/Sackville

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 25, 2013



Roscoe Mitchell’s role goes beyond that of a performing musician. Deeply involved with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Mitchell has had a profound impact on the musical literature of the post-Coltrane jazz period, and continues to impress audiences with his musical talents. For those wanting to experience that same live feeling outside of the concert hall, Delmark has reissued Live at “A Space,” recorded October 1975 in Toronto, Canada. The new release comes with four previously unissued tracks, serving as a new and enjoyable experience to both dedicated fans as well as newcomers to the genius of Roscoe Mitchell.

tail dragger

Title: Stop Lyin’

Artist: Tail Dragger

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 30, 2013



Tail Dragger has been in the blues business for decades—one of the few artists who represent a bridge between the older generation of blues musicians from the 1960s and the younger post-1980s performers.  Working closely with Howlin’ Wolf for 20 years, Tail Dragger got much of his start, as well as his name, from the blues legend and possesses that same gravelly voice.  Once thought lost to the ages, the earliest recordings of Tail Dragger were recently found in his home and are now available for the first time. Recorded on September 29, 1982, these nine previously unreleased  songs  feature Johnny B. Moore and Jesse Lee Williams on guitar, Eddie ‘Jewtown’ Burks on harmonica, Willie Kent on bass, and Larry Taylor on  drums. These important recordings showcase the evolution the blues had undergone in Chicago, from the traditional to the fresh, incorporating new styles and techniques. Strong tracks include “Where Did You Go” and “Don’t Trust Yo Woman.”


Title: Sunny Road

Artist: Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 26, 2013



Speaking of the older generation of blues performers and lost recordings, Sunny Road, another Delmark CD released earlier this year, has Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup performing in a session recently unearthed by the record label. Originally recorded November 10, 1969 in Chicago, the session features a unique addition to Crudup’s usual performance—his guitar is amped through a rotating Leslie speaker. The whirling and wobbly sound creates a mix reminiscent of a church organ with guitar. Easily another great addition to the Crudup catalogue, tracks include “Trying To Take Me For a Ride” and possibly the strongest track on the album, “All I Got Is Gone.”


Title: Delta Bound

Artist: Mississippi Heat

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 28, 2012


The group Mississippi Heat has enjoyed over 20 years playing to audiences, and now has another reason to celebrate: Delta Bound marks their 10th release (their fourth with the Delmark label). Mixing the Chicago blues stylings of artists like Kenny Smith and Billy Flynn with the Cajun zydeco of famous accordion player Chubby Carrier, the interesting combination of musicians has kept this group fresh and continuously popular. Songs like “Padlock Blues” and “Mr. Mistreater” show a bounty of technique and raw power, demonstrating the reasons behind the group’s continuing success.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review August 1st, 2013

Joe – Doubleback – Evolution of R&B


Title: Doubleback–Evolution of R&B

Artist: Joe

Label: Massenburg Media

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 2, 2013



The title of the latest album from R&B powerhouse Joe Thomas reflects his desire to double back to an era “when music was heard with live horns, live strings, and live drums, to a time when soul music was very stylish and elegant.”  Another goal is to tell memorable stories, and on this outing Joe invites listeners to follow him on a search for true love.  That pretty much sums up Doubleback, an album offering soulful R&B that flows from track to track, focusing on the development of relationships—the search, the mis-steps, the pressures, the emotions, and the ultimate satisfaction of finding the right woman.  Ultimately, there’s not much variation from Joe’s signature smooth soul delivery, but “I’d Rather Have a Love” with its opening monologue, the Fantasia duet “Love and Sex,” and “1 to 1 Ratio” featuring a short interlude from Too Short provide some diversity.

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As for live instrumentation, the up tempo opening track “Something For You” stands out for its punchy horn arrangements, while seductive strings and rock guitar riffs (both performed by Derek ‘DOA’ Allen) contribute to the title track, which brings the album to a satisfying close.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2013

Rusty Redenbacher – Lower


Title: Lower

Artist: Rusty Redenbacher

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Daddy Real Entertainment

Release date: December 12, 2012



Indianapolis’s Rusty Redenbacher has been making waves on the Midwest hip hop scene since the late 1990s with the rap-rock-reggae band The Mudkids.  And with this steady popularity comes Redenbacher’s ability to continually reinvent. Moving beyond a strictly hip hop-oriented sound on his latest solo effort Lower, he goes in new directions ranging from heavy electrification to a laidback form of R&B. From the outer space effects of “Falling to Earth” to the distorted electronics of “My Game, My Time,” Redenbacher is able to flow between genres and make them all seamlessly connect. This ability to expand beyond one genre while taking influences from others is Redenbacher’s main charm, along with his brilliant verbal delivery and dedication to the medium. Here’s his first single from the album, a cover of David Bowie’s “Golden Years”:

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For those wanting to check out one of Indy’s best artists, there is no better place to start than with the versatile Rusty Redenbacher and his various side projects.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review August 1st, 2013

Quasimoto – Yessir Whatever

quasimoto-yessir-whatever-album-coverTitle: Yessir Whatever

Artist: Quasimoto

Label: Stones Throw

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 18, 2013



The newest release from producer Madlib’s high-pitched, alien alter-ego rapper is rather more of a reissue, compiling tracks off of past mixtapes and out-of-print vinyl that ultimately culminates into Yessir Whatever. While feeling disjointed at times, as well as suffering from a few less-than-stellar tracks, Yessir Whatever nonetheless provides solid material for Quasimoto fans and the alternative hip-hop scene in general.

Although brought together from different sources, the tracks, for the most part, flow into one another quite well. Yessir Whatever starts off with strong, dark beats that are coupled with a solid presentation by Quasimoto, as “Broad Factor” flows nicely into the equally grooving “Seasons Change.” The problem with the flow is mainly that of spacing between tracks—unfortunately, many cutoff much too early, leaving the songs to end abruptly and surprisingly. This not only creates a disjointed feeling between songs, but overall the album feels much shorter than it should be. Criticisms aside, however, most of the tracks are still done in Quasimoto’s signature style—odd beats, weird and humorous lyricism sprinkled here and there about the alien’s love of weed, and an overall steady flow. Along with the aforementioned tracks, “Catchin’ the Vibe” has a classic hip hop feel, while “Sparkdala” is the quintessential laidback weed track that’s the rule in every Quasimoto album.

While not as classic as previous albums, Yessir Whatever still has a lot to offer—further adventures of the weed-smoking alien Quasimoto, a strong collection of tracks, plenty of humor and the amazing beats of Madlib make for an album worth checking out. However, for those just getting into the funky alien, The Unseen (2000) is the first route to take. And for those avid listeners of Quasimoto and Madlib in general, Yessir Whatever has enough tracks to keep one entertained.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review August 1st, 2013

Carline Ray – Vocal Sides


Title: Vocal Sides

Artist: Carline Ray

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Carlcat Records

Release date: June 4, 2013



The jazz community lost a key member this month when vocalist Carline Ray passed away July 18th at the age of 88.  A talented jazz musician, Ray enjoyed an extensive decades-long musical career, most recently performing on her daughter Catherine Russell’s 2012 album Strictly Romancin.  Ray’s one and only solo effort Vocal Sides, released a little over a month before her passing, is a well-woven tapestry of tracks that summarize Ray’s career, from “Somewhere” to “Lucille.” Catherine Russell, who produced the album, also performs in two duets with her late mother,  “Hold On” and “Land Beyond the River,” which have a wonderful mother-daughter connection. Although Carline Ray may have unfortunately left this Earth, one can still appreciate her vocal talents and influences through the years which culminate in this album.


Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review August 1st, 2013

July Releases of Note

Post Title: July 2013 Releases of Note

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


The Chicago Blues Box – The MCM Records Story [Box set] (Storyville)
Let Live: Blackest Beautiful (Epitaph)
R.L. Boyce: Ain’t The Man’s Alright (Sutro Park)
The Drifters: Rock (Bear Family)
Doctor Ross: Juke Box Boogie – The Sun Years, Plus (Bear Family)
Lightnin’ Hopkins : Acoustic Years 1959-1960 (4-CD set) (JSP)


Barrett Sisters: The Sweet Sisters of Zion: Delois Barrett Campbell & The Barrett Sisters (Do It All Productions)
Trin-I-Tee 5:7: Hits [2CD set] (10 SPOT)
Jewel Records Gospel Story (Varese Records)
Earnest Pugh: Evolution Project: Live in Nassau Bahamas (Central South)
James Fortune: James Fortune Presents Kingdom Music Vol. 1 (E1)
Derrick Wright & Driven: Live At The Highline (Derrick Wright Music)
Sean Tillery & Changed: The Live Experience (SoulTowne Music Group)
Holy Hip Hop 16 (Holy Hip Hop)


Ahmed Abdul-Malik with Ray Nance and Seldon Powell: Spellbound (reissue) (Real Gone Music)
George Braith: Musart (reissue) (Real Gone Music)
Stan Hunter & Sunny Fortune: Trip on the Strip (reissue) (Real Gone Music)
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: Fly (1-2-3-4-GO!)
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: That’s it! (Legacy)
Harold Mabern: Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE)
Oliver Jones: Just For My Lady (Justin Time)
Gino Sitson: Listen (Vocal Deliria II) (Buda Musique)
George Duke: DreamWeaver (Heads Up)
Willie Jones III Sextet : Plays The Max Roach Songbook (WJ3 Records)
John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet: Flight For Four (1st CD reissue) (International Phonograph, Inc.)
Robert Randolph and the Family Band: Lickety Split (Blue Note / Universal)
Panama Francis & The Savoy Sultans: Live At Liberty State Park 1993 (Squatty Roo Records)
Anthony Joseph & The Spasm Band: Live in Bremen (Heavenly Sweetness (FR))
Personal Life: Morning Light (Expansion (UK))
Etienne Charles: Creole Soul (MRI)
Ella Fitzgerald: Best of the BBC Vaults CD + DVD (Verve)
Cannonball Adderley & Milt Jackson: Things Are Getting Better [Original recording remastered] (Fantasy)
Wes Montgomery: So Much Guitar! [Original recording remastered] (Fantasy)
Earl Klugh: Hand Picked (Heads Up)


Myron & E with Soul Investigators: Broadway (Stone’s Throw)
King Curtis: Do Your Thing (reissue) (Wounded Bird Records)
Bigg Robb: Think Bigg (Music Access)
Bobby Womack: Everything’s Gonna Be Alright: Singles 67-76 (Snapper UK)
John Ellison: Up From Funk (Jamie/Guyden)
Jahah: Nostalgia Black
Solomon Burke: Live at Montreux 2006 (Eagle Rock)
Thundercat: Apocalypse (Brainfeeder/RedEye Dist.)
Donell Jones: Forever (E-1)
Chic Organisation: Up All Night (compilation) (Warner Bros UK)
Vesta: Seven (posthomous album) (Bronx Bridge Entertainment, Inc.)
James Govan: Wanted: The Fame Recordings (Kent UK)
Candice Glover: Music Speaks (Interscope)
Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups, Vols. 1-8 (Cam Park)
Cliff Beach: Who The Funk Is Cliff Beach? (EP) (Indie)
Varetta Dillard: Mercy Mr Percy (compilation) (Ais)
Mayer Hawthorne: Where Does This Door Go [2 CD][Deluxe] (Universal Republic)
Lou Ragland & Hot Chocolate: Live (DVD) (Capture)
Otis Redding: Complete Stax / Volt Singles  (Shout Factory)
The Sound Stage 7 Soul Story (Varese Records)
Cherrelle: The Woman I Am (expanded edition) (Tabu/1-2-3-4-GO!)
This Old Soul of Mine: Soul Chronology 2, 1951-54 (Redeye)
Lonely Avenue: Soul From New York 1955-62 (Redeye)
Let’s Soul Dance: Black Dance Crazes 1957-62 (Redeye)
Boobie Knight And the Universal Lady: Earth Creature (reissue) (Bethlehem Japan)
Ronald Isley: This Song Is for (E-1)
Dumpstaphunk: Dirty Word (Louisiana Red Hot)
Chante Moore: Moore is More (Shanachie)
Dionne Warwick: The Complete Warner Bros. Singles (Real Gone)
Dionne Warwick: We Need To Go Back – The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters (Real Gone)


Rap/Hip Hop:

Slum Village: The Evolution (Ne’Astra Music Group)
Joey Bada$$: Summer Knights (mixtape – download)
Daz & W: West Coast Gangsta Sh*t (DPG Online / Dub C Online)
Gucci Mane: Trap House III (101 Distribution)
Juicy J: Stay Trippy (Columbia)
Nemo Achida: Midnight Magic
No Malice: Hear Ye Him
REKS: Revolution Cocktail (REKS)
Young Boo: The Laundromat
Young Scooter: Juughou$e
D Boys: Hold Yo Money (Tic Ent.)
Jay-Z Magna: Carta Holy Grail (Roc Nation / Universal)
Freddie Gibbs: ESGN (Evil Seeds Grow Naturally) (ESGN)
Ciara: Ciara (Epic)
Greenhouse (Illogic & Blueprint): Bend But Don’t Break (Weightless)
Rich Quick: Sad Songz (Ben Frank Recordings)
Skee-lo: Fresh Ideas (MRI)
Ka: The Night’s Gambit (Iron Works)
Chaotik Stylz: The Subliminal Substance (Brick Records)
Ace Hood: Trials & Tribulations (Universal Republic)
Chris Brown: X
Pusha T: My Name Is My Name
Hieroglyphics: The Kitchen (Hieroglyphics Imperium)
J. Stalin And The Worlds Freshest: Miracle & Nightmare On 10th Street (2-CD set) (Livewire)
Apollo Brown and Ghostface Killah: Twelve Reasons To Die: The Brown Tape (remix) (Soul Temple)
Mysterme and DJ 20/20: Let Me Explain (reissue remastered) (Comatose Recordingz)
Young Star Gang: YSG (Black Market Records)
Kevin Gates: Stranger Than Fiction (download only)
Pony Bwoy : Pony Bwoy  (Totally Gross National Product)
John Robinson & Kyo Itachi: Path of the Master (Shinigamie/Modulor)
Kool Keith & Big Sche Eastwood: Magnetic Pimp Force Field  (Modulor)
Chamillionaire: Reignfall EP
Rich Gang: Rich Gang: Flashy Lifestyle
U-God: Keynote Speaker
Tech N9ne: Something Else (Strange Music)
Crooked I: Apex Predator (Empire Distribution)
Cory Mo: Take It Or Leave It
Pastor Troy: Streets Need You (Madd Society Records)
Jacka & Dubble-Oo: Futuristic Mob (Empire Distribution)
Varrio Blues [3 CD compilation] (Hi Power Ent.)



Joe Gibbs: Ladies at Joe Gibbs (V.P. Records)
Sly & Robbie: Stepper Takes a Taxi (TAXI)
Story Of Blue Beat: The Best in Ska Vol. 1-3 (Secret Records)
Congo Natty: Jungle Revolution (Big Dada)
Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers: Nothing Can Stop Us (Strut)
Wailing Souls: Fire House Rock (V.P.)
Wailing Souls: Inchpinchers (V.P.)
Michael Franti & Spearhead: All People (Capitol)
Alpha Blondy: Mistic Power (Vp Records)
Putomayo Presents World Reggae (Putomayo)

Osunlade: Man With No Past Originating the Future (Defected)
Juan Atkins: Borderland (Tresor)
Cola & Jimmu (aka Nicole Willis and Jimi Tenor): Enigmatic (Herakles Records)


Danny Michel & Garifuna Collective: Ayó (Cumbancha)
Garifuna Collective: Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me (Cumbancha)
Zydeco Flames: Fire Dance (Globe Records)
S.E. Rogie: The Sounds Of S.E. Rogie Vol. 1 (Limited Edition Vinyl) (Mississippi-MRP Records)
Muzart: Muzart (Expansion (UK))
Saoco: Bomba Plena & The Roots of Salsa in Puerto Rico (Vampi Soul)
Samba Touré : Albala (Glitterbeat)
L’Orchestre National De Mauritanie: L’Orchestre National De Mauritanie (Sahelsounds)
Maracatu New York: Baque do Brooklyn (Nation Beat)
Jazz P: In My Heart EP (Kongoloti)
JeConte & the Mali Allstars: Mali Blues (Soul Now Records)
Brazuca! Samba Rock & Brazilian Groove from the Golden Years, 1966-1978 (Kindred Spirits)

View review August 1st, 2013

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