Welcome to the September 2013 Issue

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

Our featured artist this month is Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca, who will be appearing at the Lotus World Music & Arts Festival later this month, and whose album Yo was just released in the U.S. by Concord Jazz. Additionally, we’re paying tribute to the late great keyboardist George Duke with a review of his final album DreamWeaver.

We’re also focusing on a new crop of CDs by soul revivalists. Two years ago we compared Charles Bradley and Lee Fields, summed up as “two older guys with plenty of gas left in the tank” enjoying career rebirths by fronting neo-soul bands.  This time around Bradley’s going head-to-head with another ‘60s soul veteran, Charles Walker, plus a younger crop of neo-soul bands including JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Latasha Lee & the BlackTies, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Myron & E with the Soul Investigators.

Other R&B/Soul releases include the new Sly & the Family Stone box set Higher!, Chante Moore’s new album Moore Is More, Ronald Isley’s This Song Is For You, the Dionne Warwick compilation We Need to Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters, and Numero Groups latest installment in its Eccentric Soul series, this time covering The Dynamic Label from San Antonio, Texas.

Gospel music releases include Tye Tribbett’s Greater Than and Kurt Carr’s Bless This House. We’re also featuring country music singer Adrianna Freeman’s debut recording (with a nod to the new book Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music).

Rounding out this issue is Kaani from the Niger band Tal National, one installment in the ongoing series The History of Blue Beat: The Birth of Ska, and a reissue of Linval Thompson & The Revolutionaries’ lost 1979 masterpiece Boss Man’s Dub.

Roberto Fonseca – Yo


Title: Yo

Artist: Roberto Fonseca

Label: Concord Jazz

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: August 27, 2013 (U.S.)



Dedicated to innovation in the jazz idiom even in his cover art, Cuban born pianist Roberto Fonseca reminds us that, “for musicians it is important to take many risks in many ways”. Growth is a necessary component of self-actualization and one cannot grow without taking on challenge. Recorded in Paris in one week, Fonseca’s Yo exemplifies a musician venturing beyond the margins of jazz by fusing Afro-acoustic instrumentation with shades of electronic music and spoken word.

In each of his albums, Fonseca seems to be in a state of experimental reformation.  This latest record takes his audience on yet another departure from his roles alongside Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo and in the Buena Vista Social Club. Yo inspires us to seek inspiration in humanity and assert our connections to others through self-reflection.  Like any thorough Caribbeanist with Cuban roots, Fonseca’s fascination with African antecedents continues to serve him well. In this new album, Fonseca and his Cuban counterparts combine their traditional Afro Cuban jazz rhythm section (percussionist Joel Hierrezuelo, drummer Ramsés Rodríguez and double bassist Felipe Cabrera) with superior talents from the African continent.  Malian female vocal star Fatoumata Diawara is stunning on the track “Bibisa.”  Installations of Sekou Kouyate on kora, Baba Sissoko (percussion), bassist Etienne M’Bappe, and guitarist Munir Hossni provide veteran poise on the album as Fonseca leads his ensemble in musical curiosity and energy.  Not to be overlooked is the appearance of the great Senegalese vocalist Assane Mboup as lead in “Quien Soy Yo.”  In this piece the use of the Brazilian cavaquinho is playful and the vocal timbre and harmonies wax Cuban rumba and Uruguayan murga.  One could interpret the mix of these elements as a bridge, linking musical elements from the Americas to Africa.

Fonseca’s minimalist take on improvisation is refreshing and a welcome change from the usual note-heavy montunos that we are accustomed to hearing from Afro-Cuban piano players.  His background in percussion compliments the harmonic breadth of the piano and his gift for being able to develop elegant melodies from a single rhythmic and harmonic cell is quite fascinating.

Roberto Fonseca is an eclectic, multicultural pianist and this listener is still stumped as to how to categorize his music: Afro-Pop? Latin Jazz? Acid-Afro-Cuban Jazz? Fonseca’s style is one that has never been easy to describe, but in this new album one gets sense that he is fearless in his search to express inner emotion using the vast endowments of his diverse musical universe.

For more on Roberto Fonseca’s Yo take a look at this one minute interview by Montuno Producciones y Eventos:

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Fonseca is touring the U.S. this fall and will be making an appearance at the Lotus World Music & Arts Festival in Bloomington, Indiana.

Reviewed by Madelyn Shackelford Washington



George Duke – DreamWeaver


Title: DreamWeaver

Artist: George Duke

Label:  Heads Up

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 16, 2013



George Duke, who passed away last month after a long battle with lymphocytic leukemia, is a member of that select group of instantly recognizable synthesizer soloists, one which also includes the likes of Chick Corea, Jan Hammer, and Joe Zawinul.  Like those other musicians, he was eclectic almost to a fault, with enough musical ability and curiosity to be able to play straight-ahead jazz with Cannonball Adderley, complex bizarro-rock with Frank Zappa, funk-fusion with Stanley Clarke, and R&B with Michael Jackson, to mention just a few stops from Duke’s long and storied career.

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DreamWeaver, Duke’s final album, serves as a retrospective for many of his enormous talents.  The disc remains true to Duke’s well-known eclecticism, and, unsurprisingly, not everything works equally well.  For me, the highlights are the instrumental tracks.  The opening “Stones of Orion” has an updated Cannonball Adderley soul-jazz groove and a tasty bass solo from Stanley Clarke.  “Ashtray” is a funky morsel of ear candy with a drum sound big enough to drive a Mack truck through, while “Burnt Sausage Jam” is exactly that, a long musical romp propelled by a group of master musicians at the top of their game, including Philly stalwarts Christian McBride on bass and the under-appreciated (and also recently deceased) guitarist, Jef Lee Johnson.  Drummer John Roberts’ intricate hi-hat work on this latter track is a joy to hear.

The vocal tracks are more problematic.  The production and playing, as one would expect, are fine, but Duke simply is not a compelling lyricist.  The best of these tunes are “You Never Know,” Duke’s heartfelt tribute to his late wife, and “Ball and Chain,” a collaboration with Teena Marie and one of her final recordings. This track also features a fabulous synth solo that will leave you wondering who the uncredited guitarist is.  Other cuts are simply generic R&B—well-played, but to no real lasting effect. “Missing You” is a slow ballad rife with lyric clichés (“let our love flow like a river running free and let it fly like a bird in the sky”) and too-easy rhymes (“like a lion let’s let it roar, and like an eagle let’s let it soar”). “Change The World,” the disc’s weakest track, cribs a page from the “We Are the World,” anthem-by-numbers playbook.

The last track on the disc, “Happy Trails,” is perhaps the most poignant and surprising.  It’s a truly touching reinterpretation of the old Roy Rogers/Dale Evans country tune, with more creative synthesizer work and another welcome appearance by guitarist Johnson.  To hear Duke sing, “If you ever get lonely for me, girl, put that CD on/I’m gonna sing you your favorite song” is a reminder of just how much the music world lost with his passing, and how fortunate we are indeed to have his extensive recorded legacy to return to.

Reviewed by Terry Simpkins


Charles Bradley – Victim of Love


Title: Victim of Love

Artist: Charles Bradley

Label:  Dunham / Daptone

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  April 2, 2013



Charles Bradley, Daptone’s “screaming eagle of soul,” continues to impress with his latest album, Victim of Love.  We first covered Bradley back in 2011 upon the release of No Time For Dreaming, and indeed the now-64-year-old former James Brown impersonator has been maintaining a fast-paced schedule that likely leaves little time for sleeping, either. In addition to his new album, Bradley is featured in the documentary Soul of America (now available for on-demand streaming on Amazon and Netflix), and he will be touring Europe and North America throughout the remainder of 2013.

Backed once again by Brooklyn’s Menahan Street Band (the house band for Dunham Studio), Bradley burns through a set list of eleven songs dripping with nostalgia, the majority co-written with members of the band.  The album kicks off with “Strictly Reserved For You” and, though rather repetitive, Bradley’s raspy crooning over the back-up singers’ Motownesque harmonies sets the proper mood:

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Following is the uptempo “You Put the Flame On It” featuring a punchy horn arrangement, the slow burner “Let Love Stand a Chance” with Bradley showing off his best JB “It’s A Man’s World” style vocals, and the more introspective title track backed by acoustic guitar. One of the best tracks, “Love Bug Blues,” harkens straight back to the Blaxploitation era. The band is given an opportunity to get down on the equally cinematic, reverb heavy instrumental “Dusty Blue,” then turns up the psychedelic effects and B3 on “Confusion,” and brings in the funk on “Hurricane.”

While not all of the songwriting and arrangements rate an A+, there are certainly more hits than misses, and this soul brother deserves his time in the spotlight.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Charles Walker & The Dynamites – Love Is Only Everything


Title: Love Is Only Everything

Artist: Charles Walker & The Dynamites

Label: Gemco

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 30, 2013



Charles Walker is yet another old-school soul singer who was recently rediscovered and given a second chance at stardom. Walker, who began his career in the ‘60s group Little Charles and the Sidewinders, performed at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame as part of the celebrated 2004-05 exhibit “Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm and Blues 1945-1970,” where he was noticed by guitarist/producer/arranger Leo Black (aka Bill Elder). Not long after, Black invited Walker to front his group The Dynamites and they released their debut album Kaboom! in 2007 followed by Burn It Down in 2009. Now they’re back with their most soulful album yet, Love Is Only Everything.

Whereas Charles Bradley’s gravelly timbre reeks of smoky juke joints, Charles Walker maintains a surprising agile voice that can still soar into the upper register. And instead of a band of New York hipsters, Nashville’s Dynamites are well-schooled in southern soul. Add Leo Black’s inventive songs and arrangements, and you’ve got a stellar combination. The songs draw heavily from ‘60s soul and pop, but still sound remarkably fresh as demonstrated in the first video single “Still Can’t Get You Out Of My Heart”:

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The album opens with the uptempo, hard driving “So Much More To Do,” which might well be Walker’s theme song, followed by the slow burner “Wakie, Wakie,” accentuated by a tight horn section and Black’s guitar.  “I Just Want to Know” is an all-out funk fest, with lively syncopations, Tyrone Dickerson’s B3 riffs, and growling horns in the chorus. One of the album’s highlights is the ballad “Yours and Mine,” a duet with Detroit soul veteran Bettye LaVette, who has also enjoyed a 21st century comeback. LaVette and Walker shared the stage at the Harlem club Small’s Paradise back in the ‘60s, and they clearly revel in this reunion. On the title track, “Love Is Only Everything,” Walker and the band demonstrate their synergy, a perfect blend of soul funk grooves. Other songs include the duet with Lucy Woodward “Keep Close,” the retro “Serendipity” which showcases Walker’s falsetto, and the closing track “Please Open the Door,” a cover of the Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams/Larry Harrison song that Walker recorded in 1968 with the Sidewinders. Amazing that 45 years later, Walker sounds better than ever!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound – Howl


Title: Howl

Artist: JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound

Label: Bloodshot

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 21, 2013



Chicago’s preeminent post-punk soul band, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, are riding the waves of two highly successful releases—their 2009 debut Beat of Our Own Drum and Want More, released in 2011. Keeping pace with a release every two years, the band’s new album is right on schedule, delivering more of their signature guitar-driven rockin’ soul.

On Howl, the band explores love and relationships which, as the title suggests, leaves plenty of room for tortured soul that dials up the beat generation hipster quotient. And they really bring it—not just in Brooks’ vocals, but lyrically and sonically as well, forging a more aggressive contemporary sound that sets them apart from mere revivalists. Much of the showmanship that’s delighted audiences also comes through on the songs, especially on the title track, which begs for a venue large enough to contain the sonic force of the final “howl.”

Brooks expresses a newlywed’s jealousy and angst over churchy organ riffs in “Married For a Week,” then ventures into falsetto territory on “Rouse Yourself” and “Security.” On “Ordinary,” Billy Bungeroth’s anxiety-ridden guitar shredding punctuates the vocal—acted out in the official video by “air guitar” champion Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard, with Traeveon Howard posing as a young Brooks:

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Other highlights include the slow burner “River” that’s a baptism in the waters of gospel blues, and the closing track “These Things,” a song of redemption that arises from heavenly strings, then reaches into the deepest level of the soul. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Latasha Lee & the BlackTies


Title: Latasha Lee & the BlackTies

Artist:  Latasha Lee & the BlackTies

Label: Self-released

Formats: CD-R, MP3

Release date:  April 23, 2013



Texas native Latasha Lee started out in the male dominated world of hip hop after receiving encouragement from Salih and Tomar Williams, the highly successful producers behind Austin’s Carnival Beats.  Seeking to carve her own niche, Salih helped Lee craft a new soulful sound which took her to the top 50 spot on X-Factor in 2012. Now sporting a tongue-in-cheek updo, Lee fronts the up and coming vintage soul band The BlackTies. Tracks from their self-titled debut album were premiered at SXSW, and they’ve slowly been gaining national attention, but certainly deserve much more.

Inspired by Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight, Lee effectively channels the style of early Motown girl groups on the songs “Pledging My Love,” “Crazy,” and “So Blind,” then ramps up a more contemporary groove on “Win Her Heart,” the lilting “Walk Away,” and my personal favorite,“Watch Me Now”:

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Definitely a band to watch, Latasha Lee & the BlackTies will appeal to fans of gritty Southern-fried soul with an attitude.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Fitz and the Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream


Title: More Than Just A Dream

Artist: Fitz and the Tantrums

Label: Elektra

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 7, 2013



Though Fitz and the Tantrums initially gained attention as a vintage soul band with their 2010 debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces, their latest release, More Than Just A Dream, is a throwback to the ‘80s new wave of Duran Duran. The club-oriented synth heavy production is especially evident in the opening track and first single, “Out Of My League,” featuring lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick and band member Noelle Scaggs:

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Scaggs and Fitzpatrick bring some of the soul back on tracks such as 6am and “House On Fire,” but it’s not enough to save the album from a few too many clichéd pop hooks and EDM percussion grooves. The band likely puts on a fabulous live show, but outside of the club/party scene it misses the mark.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Myron & E with the Soul Investigators – Broadway


Title: Broadway

Artist: Myron & E with the Soul Investigators

Label: Stones Throw

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: July 2, 2013



Myron Glasper, a former back-up singer for Blackalicious, and Newark-born deejay Eric “E da Boss” Cooke were members of Northern Cali’s hip hop scene who “bonded over a love of classic soul music.” While on tour in Finland a few years ago, Cooke chanced upon a jam session with members of The Soul Investigators (the neo-soul backing band for Nicole Willis). One thing led to another, and before long Cooke and Glasper were teaming up to write songs and lay down vocals on Soul Investigators tracks. Thus began a transnational collaboration that has come to fruition in their debut album Broadway.

What sets the album apart from other vintage soul revivalists is the decidedly laid-back northern soul vocal stylings—Myron & E never break a sweat, never plumb the depths of their emotions. It took a couple of listens to fully appreciate the hip hop/sampling aesthetic that creeps into the mix, lending a deliciously atmospheric, almost psychedelic vibe by layering off-kilter harmonies over the instrumental tracks. This is especially evident on the opening track “Turn Back,” something of a left turn before the album settles into a more soulful, mid-tempo groove on “If I Gave You My Love”: YouTube Preview Image

Other highlights include the uptempo “Cold Game” that cries out for some Cholly Atkins choreography, “Do It Do It Disco” with its prominent bass line, and the reverb heavy “Back N Forth.”  Vocally, Glasper and Cooke are hardly the second coming of Marvin Gaye, but that’s not the focal point of the album—it’s all in the mix.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss


Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label


Title: Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label

Artist: Various

Label: Numero Group

Formats: CD, 2-LP set, MP3

Release date: March 12, 2013



Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label, a recent offering in Numero Group’s invaluable Eccentric Soul series, chronicles the trajectory of a tiny San Antonio, Texas-based record label and its owner, Abe Epstein.  Epstein was a local real-estate mogul and self-described recording addict who founded nine Teaxs-based labels in the sixties and early seventies, all of which struggled, largely unsuccessfully, to make waves on the national music scene.

Dynamic 101 was a thoroughly inauspicious beginning, credited to Little Jr. Jesse and The Tear Drops and, along with the group’s other cut presented here, entirely forgettable.  But things improved greatly with the release of “I Gotta Know’” sung by The Tonettes, a quartet of high-school girls from Lubbock.  This chunky groover, along with the medium-tempo “My Heart Can Feel the Pain,” reveals a surprisingly accomplished vocal group with an adept lead singer and sweet background harmonies.

Dynamic’s best and most well-known act was The Commands, a polished and talented vocal quartet hailing primarily from nearby Randolph Air Force Base.  Their 1966 single, consisting of “No Time For You” (pilfered from another local group) and “Hey It’s Love,” drew widespread airplay across Texas, and gave Dynamic its first hits.  “No Time For You” was covered by The O’Jays shortly after release, prompting Epstein to bring The Commands back into the studio for “Don’t Be Afraid To Love Me” and “Must Be Alright,” the latter an especially energetic cut featuring the lead tenor of composer Dan Henderson.  Two years later, the group also recorded Dynamic’s last single, with “I’ve Got Love For My Baby” the standout that led to their signing with RCA Victor, only to see the group disband soon after.

The Webs, a Galvaston-based band with the soaring, Sam Cooke-influenced lead singer Willie Cooper, also features prominently in this overview of Dynamic history.  Their first releases on the label were actually reissues of earlier recordings for Whiz Records, and they are the best of a so-so lot.  Two later cuts, recorded specifically for Dynamic, are serviceable enough but, like the earlier ones, suffer from some extremely sour horns.

Four tracks are devoted to Doc & Sal, yet another group with its origins in the Air Force.  This time the principals—singers Richard “Doc” Davilla, a San Antonio native, and Salvatore “Sal” Sabino—were seamen aboard the USS Saratoga, then stationed in the Mediterranean.  After their stint in the service, they teamed up to record “Laughing To Keep From Crying,” with Epstein the engineer on the date.  He signed them to Dynamic, where they cut two singles with the Royal Jesters as backing band and a member of the San Antonio Symphony to add some string sweetening.  While the recordings fared well locally, none of them caught on nationally, and that was pretty much it for Doc & Sal.

The disc is rounded out with one track by Bobby Blackmon, a showy guitarist who’s wildman image graces the cover of this reissue, and who ups the funk quotient considerably with “She’s Gotta Have Soul.”  Blackmon managed a brief career as a sideman, backing Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, among others, before leaving the music business for a career in the pharmaceutical industry.  After retiring from his day job, he resurfaced in the early 2000s as bluesman “Beautiful” Bobby Blackmon.

Like other Eccentric Soul releases, this is a fine survey of a niche territory during the formative years of soul music, when labels across the country were looking to jump on the bandwagon and, just maybe, catch lightening in a bottle with a national hit.  Also consistent with previous Eccentric Soul entries, the accompanying notes are informative and thorough, marred only by a somewhat scattershot organization and some frequently elliptical writing.  But despite these minor flaws, soul music aficionados will surely want to snap up this incredibly rare music, and we can all look forward to Numero’s promised continuation of their survey of Abe Epstein’s enormous legacy of Texas pop music.

Reviewed by Terry Simpkins

Chanté Moore – Moore is More


Title: Moore Is More

Artist: Chanté Moore

Label: Shanachie Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 30, 2013



Between 2013 and her release Love the Woman in 2008, a lot has changed for Grammy-nominated R&B artist Chanté Moore. The soul chanteuse has not only become a solidified reality show star on TVOne’s R&B Divas LA, but also ended her nine year marriage to soul crooner Kenny Lattimore, both of which Moore uses as motivation for her sixth solo studio album, Moore is More. Released in July of 2013, the introspective offering encompasses emotions ranging from liberation and joy to unapologetic candidness, all of which Moore reassures are quite deliberate.  On Moore is More, the singer makes no qualms in highlighting her signature whistle register on a number of tracks that could be described as a gumbo of genres seasoned in soul. With production headed by Antwanne Frost, Kwamé, and Chris Davis, her voice shines effortlessly on tracks such as “Talking In My Sleep” (below) and the gospel-influenced “Jesus, I Want You.”  Guest appearances on the album are limited to the renowned Chicago emcee Da Brat on the dance-pop friendly “On And On,” which only enhances Moore’s showcase of talent.

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On the other hand, lyrical depth suffers to the point of simplicity in lieu of vocal ability, especially on tracks such as “Baby I Can Touch Your Body” and “Don’t Make Me Laugh.”  In addition, the Kwamé-produced “Doctor, Doctor” also seems misplaced in an effort to fit the current trend in urban music saturating the radio waves. However, Moore makes sure to end on a high note with a stunning rendition of the jazz standard “Cry Me a River” (originally by Arthur Hamilton). Although quite different from albums such as Precious (1992), This Moment is Mine (1999), or the duet album with then-husband Lattimore Things That Lovers Do (2003) that made Moore a respected singer of her generation, fans of Chanté’s previous efforts will not be disappointed with Moore is More, as it shows her vocal prowess has only appreciated with time.

Reviewed by Floyd D. Hobson III

Sly and the Family Stone – Higher!


Title: Higher!

Artist: Sly and the Family Stone

Label: Legacy

Formats: 4-CD box set, 5-CD Amazon exclusive edition, 8-LP +1 CD box, MP3

Release date:  August 27, 2013


Six years ago Legacy celebrated the 40th anniversary of Sly’s signing to Epic Records by finally reissuing digitally remastered and expanded editions of Sly & The Family Stone’s seven albums (also issued together in The Collection box set). Two years later they released The Woodstock Experience featuring the band’s full festival performance. Now they’ve combed the vault for yet another set which should please fans.

Thankfully, the 77 tracks on Higher! don’t entirely duplicate these previous sets. Though the band’s classic hits from each album are included in stereo, the remainder of the set is filled with mono single mixes, live recordings from the band’s performances at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, and studio outtakes and instrumentals including 17 previously unreleased tracks (with 6 more included on the Amazon exclusive set). Fans will also be happy to note that “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Everybody is a Star,” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” which were omitted from The Collection, are included as well.

Among the most interesting tracks are the gems from Sly’s pre-Family Stone period, including his 1964 singles on the Autumn Records label—“I Just Learned How to Swim,” “Scat Swim,” and “Buttermilk (part one),” featuring Sly on vocals, organ, guitar and bass. After Sly left Autumn he formed the Family Stone and the band recorded their first studio demo, “I Ain’t Go Nobody (For Real)” and the flip side “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” which are also included (both were previously issued on Loadstone and later by Ace Records).  The experimental studio outtakes scattered throughout the set are equally fascinating and much more revelatory than the usual alternate takes, shedding light on the creative process. Sly and the band dabble in jazz, gospel, R&B, funk, rock and country while experimenting with different backing tracks.

One of the best features of the set is the 104-page 10×10 book with an introduction by Sly biographer Jeff Kaliss and hundreds of fabulous full-color photos. The extensive track by track details by Edwin and Arno Konings feature quotes from various musicians along with images of the original labels and a band timeline (some of which is apparently excerpted from their forthcoming biography of the band). This book alone makes the set a worthwhile purchase.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Tye Tribbett – Greater Than

tye tribbett

Title: Greater Than

Artist: Tye Tribbett

Label: EMI Gospel

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 6, 2013



To call Tye Tribbett’s Greater Than a “live” recording seems like an understatement. As with each of his projects (such as Victory Live! and Stand Out), this album opens with a bang and is an energy-filled ride to the end. Tribbett’s heavy hitting approach with occasional lightening speed (yet danceable) tempos and unpredictable transitions continues to please his rather youthful fan base as his latest hit single, “If He Did it Before…Same God” holds steady in the top 10 on Billboard’s Gospel chart. The hip hop and rock influenced song is a “testimony” to God’s ability to resolve negative situations much like He has done in the past.

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As the primary writer, arranger, and producer Tribbett works to infuse this album with a message that he considers a personal revelation—God is “GREATER than anything.” Tribbett aims to address real human emotions like pain, fear, loneliness, and stress, but his ultimate goal is to emphasize that God is stronger than any issue. Each of the selections on this project elaborate on this same basic message, though the musical settings in which they appear are quite varied. For instance, the opening track, “Nobody” is a melodically simple, call and response styled song that manages to merge African American congregational worship music with a type of lively chant-cheering often heard from participants at major sporting events. The rhythm section (particularly drum kit) and horns are the driving forces of this selection, providing an infectious groove. Conversely, the album’s title track represents a more thoughtful approach to exploring God’s greatness. Instead of the short, punctuating phrases of “Nobody,” “Greater Than” is much calmer with more elaborate text. Lyrical piano accompaniment during the verses of the song establish a more reverent, worshipful tone allowing listeners space to absorb the message “if our God is for us… nothing in this world could ever win…” These are just a few of the many sounds that Tribbett utilizes to share what he considers his God-given message on Greater Than.

Few gospel artists have risen to the level of notoriety of Stellar Award winning Tye Tribbett, and perhaps there is just cause. As his career evolves, he still manages to take simple messages, infuse them infectious beats, and deliver them in a straightforward manner.  While this album is a testament to that well-honed ability, I look forward to his next project being even Greater Than this.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

Kurt Carr & The Kurt Carr Singers – Bless This House

Kurt Carr

Title: Bless This House

Artist: Kurt Carr & The Kurt Carr Singers

Label: Verity

Formats: 2-CDs, MP3

Release date: January 22, 2013



“There is a sound…resounding in the atmosphere…” declare Kurt Carr and his namesake group on their latest album, Bless this House. Indeed, over his two decade career, Carr has branded his very own sound characterized by soaring vocals, “down home” traditional gospel interludes and intense harmonies. Bless showcases this award winning* formula while offering a few surprises along the way, such as a brief appearance from alto powerhouse Kathy Taylor. Over the space of two discs a wide range of gospel styles are featured, with the first CD presenting primarily “conventional” gospel choir performance, while the second showcases a more eclectic collection of songs.

Mixing “live” and studio recordings, Bless is organized much like a contemporary African American worship service with its church-specific messages and audience interaction. It opens with a powerful call to worship titled “Psalm 150” offered by praise and worship trailblazer Dr. Judith McAllister.  The title song “Bless this House” is a thoughtful prayer to God requesting health, wealth, and most importantly the blessing of His presence. Beginning with a simple, melodic unison, the song gradually unfolds into a bold appeal for blessings with vibrant harmonies. Particularly noteworthy is the worshipful selection concluding the first CD titled “There is a Sound,” which poetically considers the mystery and power of God through comparing his presence to the irresistible, permeating nature of music.  This piece showcases all of the elements of Carr’s music that his supporters have come to love since the breakout hit, “For Every Mountain.” Beyond its well-crafted lyrics, “There is a Sound” features dramatic rhythmic, harmonic, and dynamic shifts as if each new sound helps to express a different aspect of God. Following is a live performance of “I’ve Seen Him Do It,” also featured on the first CD:

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The second CD of Bless serves as a reflection on the relationship between human and deity. Songs like “I’ve Got So Much” and “Touched by the Fountain of Grace” offer intimate testimonies of the ways in which God not only offers protection to believers, but also equips them to succeed in any situation. The upbeat, inspirational styled song “It’s a Good Day” encourages listeners to focus on the positive elements in their lives because “every day you wake up on the other side of the grave, that’s a good day.” The album’s concluding tracks are the benediction to this musical worship service. Through affirming “hallelujah, I am blessed,” the song “Amen” restates the major themes that are woven throughout the album: God is all-powerful, yet abundantly generous.

In many ways, Bless This House is both something new, and much of the same. Carr offers fresh words of praise and inspiration while exploring new musical settings. However, listeners are still treated to the same superb singing and musicality that characterizes each of his projects.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

*Among his many accomplishments, Carr recently received the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Stellar Awards – an honor reserved for gospel music’s most seminal figures.

Tal National – Kaani


Title: Kaani

Artist: Tal National

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Fat Cat Records

Release date:  September 9, 2013



While one of the poorest areas in the world, Niger is nonetheless rich in its outpouring of musics.  From afrobeat and highlife to kora melodies and Tuareg rock, Niger has contributed heavily to the music of Africa and the rest of the globe. This is where Tal National—a talented mix of individuals that have rocked the music scene of Niger—comes in. Through extensive touring and determined self-promotion, the group’s hard work has culminated in their first international release Kaani.  Created within the confines of an old, rundown studio, the sound seems almost unbelievable. Kicking off with the title track “Kaani,” the group’s polyrhythmic precision is immediately apparent. What lies within this album easily shows how the extremely talented Tal National has won international praise.  Their “Trad-Moderne” blend of original compositions and modern interpretations of African folk songs, performed in styles ranging from guitar-driven West African rock to dance grooves fueled by talking drums, are musically tight and engaging.  Kaani is an appropriate global introduction to Niger’s most popular group, who will be touring North America this fall in support of the album.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Linval Thompson & The Revolutionaries – Boss Man’s Dub


Title: Boss Man’s Dub

Artist: Linval Thompson & The Revolutionaries

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Hot Milk (dist. via Cherry Red)

Release date: August 6, 2013



The late 1970s were a critical and extremely creative time for the development of dub music. The Revolutionaries, comprised of the amazing talents of Sly Dunbar, bassist Lloyd Parks (later augmented by Robbie Shakespeare ) and Tommy McCook, among others, helped to churn out some of the most unforgettable dub tunes of that era, and of dub music in general.  Likewise, Linval Thompson, after teaming up with renowned producer Bunny Lee, began to establish himself as an extremely talented musician as well as producer. Thus, the combination of an adept studio band with an equally gifted producer was a match made in heaven. However, as often happens, essential recordings disappear or are lost to the passage of time. Boss Man’s Dub, released at the height of dub excellence in 1979, was one such album, resulting in its incredible rarity.  But after decades without a proper reissue, Hot Milk has brought this old classic back into the spotlight. Now this remarkable album that collects dub versions from the likes of Freddy McKay, Michael Black, and Anthony Johnson as well as Thompson himself, can once again be enjoyed to the fullest.

It’s a cover of a Delfonics’ tune that first introduces the listener to Boss Man’s Dub. Thompson’s dub version of the classic “La La (Means I Love You)” is warped and formed in a way that preserves the solid horn section, as Thompson’s vocals come together with guitar right before the bass hits and takes over. As Thompson continues with scattered vocals and the temporary chorus, keys are dispersed throughout along with the twang of guitar. Continuing along, Freddy McKay (of “Picture On The Wall” fame) gets a dub interpretation on the rare track “Gonna Be Sorry,” with lazy horns maintaining a solid groove that periodically combines with guitar, while bass and drums keep the slow yet energetic track moving forward. Rounding out the original tracklist is none other than Anthony Johnson, riding the Declaration of Rights riddim on “Africa.” Though drums oddly dominate the intro, the bass brings in that ever-familiar line while guitar and keys compliment where necessary to create a tight, but unfortunately short track.

Boss Man’s Dub is an album well overdue for a reissue. The delightful dub rendition of “La La (Means I Love You)” and the somewhat melancholy horns on “Gonna Be Sorry Dub” make these two tracks alone worth a definite listen. The remastering of the album is phenomenal, with subtle sounds that further showcase the extraordinary sonic layers that dub versions are capable of. And for those wanting even more, this release features two equally-compelling bonus tracks: Sammy Dread’s dub version of “Morning Love” as well as the famous Cornell Campbell performing “Wherever You Need Me.” Boss Man’s Dub is another solid album released by the folks at Hot Milk, who are among those leading the way in amazing reissues of once-lost albums.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

The History of Blue Beat: The Birth of Ska, BB76-BB100, The A & B Sides

blue beat
Title: The History of Blue Beat: The Birth of Ska, BB76-BB100- The A & B Sides

Artists: Various

Format: 3-CD Set

Label: Not Now Music

Release date: June 25, 2013


The music that helped to welcome Jamaica’s independence from Great Britain in 1962, known as ska, was heralded as the first uniquely Jamaican music to come out of the country. Indeed, the walking bass line and emphasis on playing the upbeat which characterized the music eventually paved the way for subsequent genres including rocksteady and reggae. However, ska was not an overnight creation. Before the optimistic tones of independence, Jamaica fell in love with American rhythm and blues, brought to the island via Jamaican seasonal workers.   Finding this dance music extremely infectious, local acts began incorporating elements into their performances. And for Jamaicans leaving their country to find work in places such as the United Kingdom, the demand for the music of their homeland grew significantly. This demand ultimately culminated in the formation of the English record label Blue Beat, which became famous for releasing some of the earliest Jamaican R&B and proto-ska tunes.

Over the past few years, the importance of Blue Beat has been recognized by the various labels compiling and re-releasing material from the Blue Beat catalog. Not Now Music is one such label, releasing a slew of singles with the goal to ultimately make available all A & B sides—an essential task for Jamaican musical history. The third set in their series, The History of Blue Beat: The Birth of Ska BB76-BB100 contains all A & B sides from the 76th to the 100th Blue Beat singles.

Through these songs, some of the earliest hints at what would eventually become ska emerge. Piano and guitar will periodically play strictly on the upbeat. In fact, some of the fathers of ska are featured on this compilation: Derrick Morgan, Alton Ellis, and even Prince Buster indirectly through Busters Group. Early Blue Beat songs alluding to the ska format include Derrick Morgan and Yvonne’s “Meekly Wait,” where the guitar rides out the entire song playing solely on the upbeat. But just as one is introduced to this new form, the accompanying B side “Day In Day Out” returns to an American-style R&B ballad. What is probably the most unique and interesting song on this compilation, however, concerns the Winston & Roy track “Babylon Gone,” featuring Count Ossie. This song is one of the earliest musical mentions of the Rastafarian “Babylon” and includes African drums in a Niyabinghi style which, as Rastafari became more prevalent in the Jamaican music scene, was evermore incorporated into popular reggae songs. The B side, “First Gone,” is even crazier— the rhythm and blues side of things is even more pronounced, yet the African drumming continues throughout.

While this set only covers a very small part of the Blue Beat catalog, it’s enough to convince this listener that the influence Blue Beat had on later Jamaican genres was both crucial and undeniable. Additionally, through the release of these compilations, there is indeed a clearer picture of the birth of ska. The  Blue Beat  singles showcase a turning point away from a Jamaican copy of rhythm and blues to the  creation of the first truly unique form of Jamaican music .

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Ronald Isley – This Song Is For You


Title: This Song Is For You

Artist: Ronald Isley

Label: E1 Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 16, 2013



Ronald Isley rarely disappoints. Those in the younger generation know him best for his collaborations with R. Kelly, not to mention the character “Mr. Biggs.” The same mellow and ever so gently staccato vocals he brought to those collaborations and Isley Brothers hits such as “For the Love of You” and “Between the Sheets”—among many, many others—he also brings to his most recent release, This Song Is For You. Following is the first video single, “Dinner and a Movie”:

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Much like a lot of Isley’s contemporary work, this album features collaborations with younger artists. Both Trey Songz and Kem lend their pens and vocals to the album—Trey Songz on “Lay You Down” and Kem on “My Favorite Thing.”

Among the highlights on This Song is “Another Night,” where he references the well-known Isley Brothers’ song “Between the Sheets”—a song, I must add, that has been sampled by many other artists, most famously by the Notorious B.I.G. in “Big Poppa,” who kept all of the character of the original song intact. This may actually direct your attention back to the original rather than Ronald Isley’s current interpretation.  He also resurrects “Mr. Biggs” on “He Won’t Ever Love You.” The album closes with “Make Love To Your Soul,” a song reminiscent of the Isley Brothers’ “Voyage to Atlantis.”

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

Dionne Warwick – We Need to Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters


Title: We Need To Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters

Artist: Dionne Warwick

Label: Real Gone Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 30, 2013



When her dependable writing team, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, decided to end their songwriting partnership, Dionne Warwick was still fairly new at Warner Bros. Records. After Bacharach and David parted ways, Warwick was unable to achieve the same level of success she garnered with them. She did, however, work with quite a few well-known and successful producers and songwriters during this time.

We Need to Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters highlights music from those collaborative efforts that have not been previously heard. These include two songs—“Too Far Out of Reach” and “It Hurts Me So” — written and produced by Motown’s own Holland-Dozier-Holland and recorded during sessions for her album Just Being Myself (1973). Warwick also collaborated with Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson to produce the title track to this collection, “We Need to Go Back,” as well as “Someone Else Gets the Prize.”

Warwick did reunite with Bacharach in 1974, producing three of the songs included here: “And Then You Know What He Did,” “Plastic City,” and the Neil Simon collaboration “And Then He Walked Right Through the Door.” Other collaborations in this compilation include Warwick’s work with Thom Bell, Jerry Ragovoy, Tony Camillo, Randy Edelman, Joe Porter, Barry Gibb, Steve Barri and Michael Omartian.

We Need to Go Back allows Dionne Warwick fans and admirers a chance to experience these collaborations for the very first time.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

Adrianna Freeman: Either You Do Or You Don’t

Title: Either You Do Or You Don’t

Artist: Adrianna Freeman

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Musik and Film

Release date: 2012


The number of African American singers who’ve broken into country music is minimal, and black female country singers are practically unheard of.  Though Linda Martell was the first black woman to sing at the Opry and released Color Me Country back in 1969, forty years later you can still count on one hand the number of black women who’ve received any significant recognition in the genre.* Fast forward to 2013, and a new country singer is trying to break down these barriers.

Adrianna Freeman, a native of Tallahassee, Florida, is the daughter of a sharecropper who, like many African Americans of his generation, grew up listening to country music. Adrianna took her father’s dream to become a country singer and made it her own. She first gained notoriety playing in small bars across Nashville, where she now resides.  After getting the attention of Teddy Gentry (of the super-group Alabama) and finding herself the subject of rave reviews for her track on his “Teddy Gentry’s Best New Nashville” compilation album, Freeman was able to secure Gentry to produce her debut, Either You Do Or You Don’t. The album has been well-received around the globe, gaining airplay on radio stations from the United Kingdom to Australia, and for good reason. Freeman’s winsome voice may just take her down the road to country stardom. Some of the strongest tracks on the album include “Leavin’”, “Think of You,” and “There’s Gonna Be a Rainbow.”

Adrianna’s single, “Just a Girl,” was recently selected as the official theme song of the National Network for Youth (NN4Y), an organization that helps homeless and runaway youth:

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This track will appear on her new EP scheduled for release in early 2014.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

*For more history check out the new book Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music (Duke University Press, July 2013), an excellent compendium edited by country music scholar Diane Pecknold that “examines how country music became “white,” how that fictive racialization has been maintained, and how African American artists and fans have used country music to elaborate their own identities.” NPR has a review of the book here.


August 2013 Releases of Note

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


Alabama Red: Ghetto Blues (Wolf)
AlunaGeorge:  Body Music (Vagrant)
Black Joe Lewis: Electric Slave (Vagrant)
Blind Lemon Jefferson: Rough Guide (World Music Network)
Blind Willie Johnson: Rough Guide (World Music Network)
Bo Diddley: The Singles Collection ( Not Now Music)
Masters of Memphis Blues (4 CD set, JSP)
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: The Singles Collection (Not Now Music)
Toronzo Cannon: John the Conquer Root (Delmark  )
Valerie June: Pushin’ Against A Stone (Concord)

Marlissa Hudson: Lust (self-released)

Ashmont Hill: The Maze (Axiom)
Bishop Neal Roberson & Macedonia Mass Choir: Keep Holding On (Broken Chains)
Brooklyn Allstars: Live in Richmond, VA (4 Winds)
Curtis Dean & Tribe of Judah: 2 Chronicles 7:14 (self-released)
Darrell Luster: A Mighty Big God (4 Winds)
Denita Gibbs:  Without You (Audiostate 55 Entertainment  )
Dexter Walker & Zion Movement: Greater Than Before (E1)
Fantastic Violinaires:  Live in Richmond, VA (4 Winds)
Golden Wings Quartet: Live in Richmond, VA (4 Winds)
Larry McCullough & CG: The Morning (Emtro)
Lemmie Battles: Testify (Ashro / E1)
Mandisa: Overcomer   (Sparrow/Universal)
Mighty Aires: Can’t Give Up Now (self-released)
Sheena Lee: Destiny (self-released)
Soulfruit: Art of Distinction (Soulfruit)

Christian McBride Trio: Out Here (Mack Avenue)
Creole Joe Band: Creole Joe Band (PRA)
Cyrus Chestnut: Soul Brother Cool (WJ3)
Derrick Hodge: Live Today (Blue Note)
Harold O’Neal: Man on the Street (Bluroc)
Jacques Lesure: When She Smiles (WJ3)
John Coltrane: Afro Blue Impressions (expanded ed.) (Concord)
Lebron: Shades (Cutmore)
Pieces of a Dream: In the Moment (Shanachie)
Sam Sanders:  Mirror, Mirror  (180 Proof / Fat Beat)
Theo Parrish: Black Jazz Signature (Snow Dog Records)
Warren Wolf: Wolfgang (Mack Avenue)

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages: Dig Thy Savage Soul  (Bloodshot)
Beating the Petrillo Ban: The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions (Ace)
Charles Bradley: Soul of America (DVD) (Daptone)
Don-E: Little Star (Dome)
Eddie Horan: I’m Gonna Speak Out (HDM)
Etta James: Original Album Classics (box set) (Sony/Legacy)
Foxy R&B: Richard Stamz Chicago Blues (Ace)
Gloria Gaynor: Park Avenue Sound (1st CD reissue) (Big Break)
Justine Skye: Everyday Living EP (download only) (Atlantic)
K. Michelle: Rebellious Soul  (Atlantic)
Marques Houston: Famous (Shanachie)
Process & the Doo Rags: Too Sharp (expanded ed.) (Razor & Tie)
South Side of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Omnivore Recordings (Universal)
Terrace Martin: 3chordfold (Akai Music)
TGT (Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank): Three Kings (Atlantic)
Will Preston: #reacquainted (West King Entertainment)

Rap/Hip Hop:
August Alsina: Downtown Life Under the Gun EP (Island)
A$AP Ferd: Trap Lord (RCA)
Big Sean: Hall of Fame (Def Jam)
Canibus: Almighty 2nd Coming (RBC)
Daz & WC: Westcoast Gangsta Shit (Dogg Pound)
Db Tha General: No CB4 (Empire Distribution)
Dice Raw: Jimmy’s Back (Raw Life)
Dizzy Wright: The Golden Age (mixtape, download only)
Earl Sweatshirt: Doris (Columbia)
Everlast: The Life Acoustic (Martyr/Long Branch)
Goodie Mob: Age Against The Machine (Alliance Entertainment)
Hi Power Entertainment Presents South Side Love (3 CD set)
Jered Sanders: While You Were Waiting EP (download only, DJBooth)
JJ Doom: Keys To The Kuffs (Extended Anniversary Dx. Edition) (Lex)
Juicy J: Stay Trippy (Taylor Gang)
King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (True Panther Sounds)
Krizz Kaliko: Son of Sam (Strange Music)
Maxwell Benson: Dawn of a New Day (Maxwell Benson Ent.)
Maybach Music Group: Self Made Vol. 3 (Maybach)
Miss Lady Pinks: Trust No Man (High Power Entertainment)
No Malice: Hear Ye Him (download only, Re-up Gang)
Oh No: Oh No vs. Now Again Two (Now Again)
Rapsody: She Got Game (free mixtape at Dattpiff.com)
Ras G: Back on the Planet (Brainfeeder)
Rich Quick: Sad Songz EP (Ben Frank Recordings)
Shaheed & DJ Supreme: Knowledge, Rhythm & Understanding (Communicating Vessels)
Stevie Stone: 2 Birds 1 Stone (Strange Music)
Vado:  Hated  (Crime Set)
Young Merger: Live from Chiraq (Merger Music)
YSG: Young Star Gang (Black Market)

Errol Bellot: Youthman, the Lost Album (Reggae Archive)
Keyser Soze: The Remedy (Megalith)
Mighty Diamonds: Pass the Knowledge (Reggae Anthology series,  VP)
Rockpalast: Reggae Legends Vol. 1 (DVD)  (Made in Germany MUSI)
Vybz Kartel: Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, Incarcerated But Not Silenced (Whirlwind/VP)

Ellen Oléria: Ellen Oléria (Universal Brazil)
Esso Trinidad Steel Band (reissue) (Minky)
Mario Adnet: Um Olhar Sobre Villa-Lobos (Boranda Music/CD Baby)
Mumuzinho: Ao Vivo (Facil Brazil)