Archive for November, 2014

Welcome to the November 2014 issue of Black Grooves

Welcome to the November 2014 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring the first release of the 1973 “lost” album Black Beauty by the Los Angeles rock band Love, plus four significant compilations: I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70 featuring singles from Sly Stone’s record label; the Best of Revelation Records 1959-1962 featuring rare gospel music from the Harlem-based label; Just a Little Talk with Jesus featuring Sallie and Cora Martin’s gospel music recordings from 1940-1952; and The Complete SAR Records Recordings by L.C. Cooke, the younger brother of SAR Records founder Sam Cooke.

World and folk music releases include Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen’s Film of Life, West African band Vaudou Game’s funky debut album Apiafo, Australian indigenous vocalist Emma Donovan and the PutBacks’ debut album Dawn, Leyla McCalla’s Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, and two episodes of Rocker TV featuring reggae artists Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs released on DVD.

Jazz releases include Save Your Love For Me: Cynthia Felton Sings the Nancy Wilson Classics, trombonist Jason Jackson’s Inspiration, and a Delmark reissue of Don Pullen’s 1975 solo piano album retitled Richard’s Tune. New gospel releases include I See Victory by J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise, Destiny by Kevin LeVar & One Sound, and Center of My Life by Nathan Best. Under the umbrella of R&B/Soul/Blues we’re featuring Strong as Glass by Goapele, Forever Dreaming by UK artist Myles Sanko, The One by former Isley Brothers member Chris Jasper, and Originals by Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review.

Wrapping up this issue is our listing of October 2014 releases of note, including new holiday albums.

View review November 3rd, 2014

Love – Black Beauty


Title: Black Beauty

Artist: Love

Label: High Moon

Formats: CD, LP

Release date:  November 11, 2014


After 40 years in the vaults, Love’s 1973 album Black Beauty was officially released last year on vinyl by High Moon Records.  Even better, they’ve now released a beautifully packaged deluxe CD edition bound with a 62 page booklet offering many archival photos and extremely enlightening liner notes by Ben Edmonds, plus recollections from Diane Lee, actor Max “The Mack” Julien, journalist Steven Rosen, and musicians John Sterling, Joe Blocker, Melvan Whittington, and Matt Devine.

Love was a groundbreaking integrated rock band formed by Arthur Lee in Los Angeles in 1965. The band’s self-titled debut album was released in 1966, a full year before Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone burst onto the scene with their own albums, together carving out a space for black rock musicians in the midst of the British invasion. From this fertile delta of guitar driven rock and hippiedom, Love went on to release several more albums, including Forever Changes in 1967, regarded as a masterpiece of early psychedelic rock.

Black Beauty has been designated “the missing chapter in the book of Love,” recorded in 1973 for the obscure Buffalo label which went bankrupt before the album was released. Though the master tapes were never found, the album was recently reconstructed through acetate test pressings. These sessions featured a new lineup (the original group had disbanded), with Lee selecting “cats who can play funky and rock.” Fitting the bill were bassist Robert Rozelle and guitarist Melvan Whittington (both former members of Little Richard’s band), and drummer Joe Blocker who started touring at age 15 with Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Their backgrounds meshed perfectly with that of Memphis-born Arthur Lee, and thus Love morphed into an all-black band that played funk-inflected rock with Black Power era themes.

Not surprisingly, the album’s opening track “Young & Able (Good & Evil)” incorporates one of the band’s favorite Malcolm X quotes about prosperity: “Just because we’re at the table does not mean we’re diners.” In Lee’s lyrics, the phrase becomes “I’m young and able / don’t want to set the table,” sung over crashing guitar chords. “Midnight Sun,” a song scavenged from an aborted 1971 session for Columbia, is the track most obviously reminiscent of Hendrix and psychedelic-era Love. On the achingly beautiful, self-reflective “Can’t Find It,” Lee’s emotional struggles come to the fore as he sings “everytime I cry my heart out / everytime I play the fool / there’s got to be something in this lonely world for me / but I can’t find it / I can’t find it.”

One of the most interesting tracks is “Walk Right In,” a cover of a song first recorded by Gus Cannon in 1929 over which Lee juxtaposes lyrics from an earlier Love song, “Always See Your Face.” The only other song on the album not penned by Lee is “Skid,” contributed by road manager Riley Racer with lyrics by poet Angela Rackley. Again, the style harkens back to the late ‘60s, with plenty of reverb and Whittington’s guitar punctuating the chorus with an “agitated” chord structure. Certainly the most incongruous track is “Beep Beep,” a lilting Caribbean influenced song falling somewhere between calypso and reggae, with Carl McKnight on steel drums and Lee doubling the guitar part on harpsichord. Another throwback is “Stay Away,” written by Lee in 1965 and notable for its “wah-wah bursts of lead guitar.” Closing the album is “Product of the Times,” pulled from a 1970 live recording with different band members and possibly added as a last minute filler.

But there’s plenty more! This deluxe edition offers many notable bonus tracks, beginning with Lee’s folksy title song from the film Thomasine & Bushrod, written by and starring Max Julien (the rest of the film was scored by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson). Next up are excerpts from a 1974 interview with Steven Rosen, recorded one year after the Black Beauty sessions.  Lee talks about his early influences and bands, as well as his work with Jimi Hendrix, including a “lost album” they recorded together in London, and Hendrix’s appearance on the 1964 Arthur Lee penned/produced single “My Diary.”  Also included are three songs recorded live at the Electric Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland in 1974 with the Black Beauty lineup plus John Sterling on guitar. Though not the best audio quality, the tracks were added in order to capture the energy of Love’s live show during this period. The final bonus track, “L.A. Blues,” was recorded in 1996, with a re-integrated backing band known as Ventilator.

And so this chapter in Arthur Lee’s history comes to an end. According to Joe Blocker, after Hendrix’s death, “from a commercial point of view, there were never any more successful black rock bands.” Lee had “slipped in before the door was shut,” but ultimately wasn’t able to sustain the brief fame that came with Forever Changes. In a 2003 interview prior to Lee’s death (he succumbed to leukemia in 2006), he stated: “The only thing that really bothers me is that I have yet to be recognized by my own people. What Martin Luther King was talking about, what he said he might not live to see happen? I was already living it, man. But because I chose to play rock ‘n’ roll, I’m invisible to black people.”  With the release of Black Beauty, the growing popularity and recognition of other recordings by Love and Arthur Lee, and the rise of the Afro-Punk movement, perhaps he will finally get his wish.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 3rd, 2014

Sly Stone – I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-1970


Title: I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-1970

Artist: Sly Stone/Various Artists

Label: Light in the Attic Records

Formats: CD, LP

Release date: September 30, 2014


One of the most iconic contrasts between two albums by a group in popular music may be the seemingly huge stylistic gulf between Sly and The Family Stone’s ebullient 1969 album Stand! and the darker themes and starker textures of their 1971 release There’s a Riot Goin’ On. This new compilation, I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-1970, featuring bandleader Sly Stone’s work with other artists during these interim years released on his Stone Flower label, sheds some light onto his artistic development between these two albums as well as insight into the guidance that he provided others in his role as a composer and producer.

Fans of Sly and the Family Stone listening to this set of recordings may be surprised to find many songs that are perhaps most familiar to them from The Family Stone catalog.  A standout may be Sly’s demo version of “Just Like a Baby,” a bare bones arrangement of the song, complete with stark and repetitive programmed drum machines and a stripped-down texture that makes the song feel eerie at times.  Also included here are demo and full band recordings of “Somebody’s Watching You” (which appeared on Stand!) by Little Sister, a female vocal group (and sometimes backup vocalists for The Family Stone) led by Stone’s real-life little sister Vet Stewart.  What is particularly interesting about the numbers on this album that were recorded by the Family Stone and other artists is their adaptability—each cut in this collection features different arrangements of some of the group’s most influential and recognizable songs with different, often less flashy arrangements than appeared on Family Stone recordings.

“You’re the One,” another Little Sister number, is presented in both a demo and full band versions, featuring Sly’s minimalist arrangement and gospel-funk production.  Interestingly, much of the music on this collection feels like embryonic versions of Family Stone material, such as 6IX’s “I’m Just Like You” (again present in both drum-machine driven demo and full-band versions), which has many of the earmarks of the former group’s style, complete with Hammond organ, wah-wah guitar, and harmonica.  Joe Hick’s “Life and Death in G & A” contains what almost seem to be ominous pleas to “feel good,” foreshadowing the darker shades of There’s a Riot Going On, and the bleaker tone that characterizes the latter Family Stone release.  Perhaps in part due to his small stable of artists, or perhaps due to the degree of control that Sly maintained throughout the recording process, many of these recordings sound much more like Sly and the Family Stone records than groups distinct from Sly’s main ensemble; this may be read as a testament to the pervasiveness of Stone’s uncompromising artistic vision.

The amount of context that is provided in this set also sheds light onto the process and nature of the recordings included.  The multiple versions of several songs and an accompanying 27-page booklet full of insightful liner notes, including essays written about this period and an interview with Sly himself about his work during these years, provide a wealth of information for fans interested in exploring the process behind the creation of this particularly interesting material.  For any diehard Sly Stone fan, this is an excellent set that allows the listener to hear his musical transformation between Stand! and There’s a Riot Goin’ On.  While much of this material consists of demo recordings that are rough around the edges at times, the raw power of the ideas present in these songs will keep listeners returning again and again.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review November 3rd, 2014

Best of Revelation Records, 1959-1962


Title: Best of Revelation Records, 1959-1962

Artist: Various artists

Label: NarroWay / dist. City Hall Records

Format: CD

Release date: September 16, 2014


Best of Revelation Records,1959-1962 is certainly one of the best compilations of late 1950s and early 1960s gospel music released this year! Featuring 27 tracks, the music was selected from 27 singles released by different “gospel quartets, groups, soloists, and choirs.” Regarding the genesis of the present album, gospel historian Bob Marovich reveals that “over the course of three years, Revelation produced dozens of fine singles and a couple of albums,” which “provided struggling independent gospel singers and groups the aural business card they needed to garner radio airplay and more bookings.”

Revelation Records, whose producer was John Bowden, was originally founded in Harlem by Bobby Robinson, who also “founded a number of New York-based R&B record labels including Whirling Disc, Fury, Enjoy, and Red Robin.” The present Revelation singles compilation, re-mastered from the original vinyl by Per Notini (who also wrote the liner notes and runs the Gospel Friend label with Jonas Bernholm), is an effort to give voice to the many gospel musicians and ensembles that, otherwise, would remain unheard and unknown.

Of course “various artists” implies variety and variation of sounds and styles. And so, a listener encounters the sobriety coupled with confidence of “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” (track 10), performed by Dr. Coleman and her Gospel Singers, and can’t fail to be touched by the inciting and commanding tone of the ensuing number, “Pick Up Your Bed” by the Twilight Gospel Singers. There is also “the hard-charging quartet energy of the Echoes of Glory on “Journeying On” (track 9), the trained vocalizing of Christine Clark on “Sinner Like Me” (track 7), and the spirited singing of Bishop William O’Neal’s Christian Tabernacle Choir on their trademark song “Down by the Riverside” (track 15).”

Going further, Marovich notes the imitation of Johnnie Taylor by the Sensational Canarians’ Quartet’s rendition of “Place Called Heaven” (track 25). Similarly, the bass intro of the Gospel Harmanaires on Alex Bradford’s “Too Close” (track 18) reminds the listener of the irreplaceable role of the ‘Russian bass’ solo in the evolution of contemporary Christian a capella ensembles. Newark’s Holy Wonders’ upbeat rendition of “I’ve Got a Home” (track 1) sets the tone of the whole album along the path of evangelical intensity and eschatological urgency characteristic of gospel music. With the exception of Christine Clark, the Twilight Gospel Singers and the Christian Tabernacle Choir, all other named singers and ensembles are more or less ‘relatively unknown’ to us at present, some releasing just one 45rpm record before fading into history.

Nevertheless, Best of Revelation Records 1959-1962 presents a monumental material history that serves as point of departure for the adequate historical understanding of African-American religious music during the Civil Rights Movement era (1954–68), which coincided with “the heyday of the Golden Age of Gospel.”

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review November 3rd, 2014

Sallie and Cora Martin – Just a Little Talk with Jesus


Title: Just a Little Talk with Jesus

Artist: Sallie and Cora Martin

Label: Gospel Friend

Format: CD

Release date: September 16, 2014


Sallie Martin and Cora, her adopted daughter, are well known names in the history of African American gospel music. Whereas Thomas Dorsey, with whom Sallie partnered in the management of the former’s “nascent music publishing enterprise,” is regarded as the father of gospel music, Sallie Martin is with justification equally addressed as the mother of gospel. The album, Just a Little Talk with Jesus, is a collection of gospel music recordings spanning 1940 to 1952 in which Sallie and Cora (and others) are featured as singers and soloists with different gospel choirs. Extensive liner notes are provided by historian Bob Marovich, founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Gospel Music (formerly the Black Gospel Blog). According to Marovich, this is the first commercially available compilation to feature most of Sallie’s earliest recordings, including many rare tracks remastered from the original vinyl discs.

Just a Little Talk with Jesus presents the listening audience with traditional gospel music rendered with the traditional aesthetics of vocal “timbres emanating from the chest rather than the head” (Burnim 2006) and accompanied with the piano or the organ. Traditional in every sense of the word! And Sallie herself was naturally inclined to strict preservation and maintenance of “authenticity in gospel singing and performance,” what with “her distaste for choreographed gospel performance!” Nor could she understand how some artists could afford to sing both secular music and the gospel.

In the twenty five tracks, one hears a proclamation geared to leading one to intimacy with Jesus and this depth of relationship is felt as one listens to familiar tunes like “I’m Going to Move on Up a Little Higher” (ca. 1949), made famous by Mahalia Jackson’s rendition in the 1950s. Jackson confessed that it was this song that brought her back from despair and placed her on a solid rock ‘Jesus.’ There is also the energetic rhythm of “Have a Little Talk with Jesus” (featuring Prof. J. Earl Hines & His Goodwill Singers) in which the piercing solo of the soprano creates an artistic imagery of an immediately desired ecstasy. “Get Away Jordan” (Sallie Martin Singers) is another well-known song that has been released in different versions by various gospel singers and evokes the memory of the spiritual “Roll Jordan Roll,” while the penultimate track, “It’s a Long, Long Way,” showcases the Sallie Martin Singers with Brother Joe May.

As already indicated, the unique feature of this compilation is its highlighting of the soloist role and virtuosity of Sallie and Cora. In “Didn’t It Rain,” one hears Cora sustaining notes as “she weaves wordless melodic motifs while the choir supports her with hypnotic, encouraging chants.” Nor would one fail to be moved at the appreciation from the audience (also recorded) as Sallie renders “below-the-stave bass notes” in “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” a number that creates an instinctive feeling of one walking spiritually with Jesus side by side. In summary, one would say that Just a Little Talk with Jesus about articulating the distinguishing elements of the gospel as a quintessential religious music of African Americans.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review November 3rd, 2014

L.C. Cooke – The Complete SAR Records Recordings


Title: The Complete SAR Records Recordings

Artist: L.C. Cooke

Label: ABKCO

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 29, 2014


In January of 1964, L.C. Cooke was preparing his solo debut album on SAR Records. He had been a member of the doo-wop group, Johnny Keyes and the Magnificents, and had  released a few singles. L.C. also happened to be the younger brother of SAR Records founder and firmly established recording artist, Sam Cooke. His debut album, however, would never be released—in 1964, that is. After the album was delayed, his beloved brother was killed in a motel in December of that same year, further casting this body of work into the darkness—until now. The Complete SAR Records Recordings is that debut album, with eight additional tracks, released fifty years later. Liner notes are provided by Sam Cooke biographer and noted writer Peter Guralnick, and contain a complete list of session musicians (Eddie Kendrix, Earl Palmer, Billy Preston, Harold Battiste, and Bobby Womack, among others).

The first ten tracks of this collection represent the album that was slated to be released in 1964. While all of these songs have been previously released as singles, they have never been released together, as was intended, in album format. All ten were produced by the late, great Sam Cooke, and superbly capture what is great about L.C. Cooke, his talent, and his artistry. These tracks include “Put Me Down Easy,” the upbeat “Take Me For What I Am,” and the smooth “Sufferin’” and “Teach Me.”

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The additional eight tracks in this compilation give even greater insight into L.C. Cooke’s ability and his career. Among them are four more tracks produced by Sam Cooke, including the previously unreleased “The Love,” “Miss Sally,” and “Gonna Have a Good Time,” as well as the single version of “Put Me Down Easy” and a brief clip of “session chatter” from a recording session for “Gonna Have A Good Time.” Also included are three previously released singles: “If I Could Only Hear” (October 1959), “I’m Falling” (May 1959), and “Do You Wanna Dance (Yea Man)” released in March 1965.

Overall, this collection highlights the talents of L.C. Cooke and introduces many of us to an artist we knew little about.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review November 3rd, 2014

Tony Allen – Film of Life


Title: Film of Life

Artist: Tony Allen

Label: Jazz Village

Formats: LP, CD, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2014


Tony Allen’s Film of Life showcases the influential 70-year old Afrobeat drummer still in prime form.  This album, composed and performed by Allen and a rotating roster of crack musicians and produced by the French trio The Jazzbastards, has any number of fresh sounds for listeners as the band explores a variety of musical styles, from funky Afrobeat to Philly soul.  This marks yet another solid release from an established artist in the process of renewing his career and artistic vision with the Jazz Village label, an imprint that has released several high-quality albums from veteran musicians in 2014.

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With Allen─a student of bebop, funk, Afrobeat, and other musical sounds of the African Diaspora (and longtime member of Feta Kuli’s band)─on the drum set, this record is full of infectious grooves throughout; when it seems as though the pocket can get no deeper, Allen and company find innovative ways to dig a bit further into a song’s polyrhythmic structure.  Eclectic as always, Allen and his band traipse through a number of musical styles throughout the course of this album, providing a nuanced treatment of each particular number and unlocking each song’s full potential.  A dramatic horn section on “Moving On” punctuates straight-ahead Afrobeat grooves, while a hypnotic bass ostinato underscores the tastefully layered arrangement of “Boat Journey.” “Ire Omo” hearkens to the days when James Brown was arguably the single most important force in the music of the African Diaspora, combining the driving dual-guitar, horn riff approach of the JBs with multipart harmony group vocals. Allen even dabbles in styles less in line with his signature Afrobeat-jazz-funk blend, collaborating with former Blur and Gorillaz singer Damon Albarn, who contributes a melodica solo on “Tiger’s Skip” and lead vocal and piano on the Philly soul-meets-My Morning Jacket number “Go Back.”

Film of Life contains some of the same conceptual and politically conscious material that defines much of Allen’s prior work; however, he delivers these conceptual threads through the means of dance-friendly party grooves. This is in contrast to releases such as Black Voices (1999), an album that experiments heavily with electronic music, or Home Cooking (2002), which might best be described as a rap-meets-roots endeavor, both of which seem to let the musical material be defined by the concepts.  Film of Life channels both Allen’s interest in experimental textures (with synthesizers and computer-generated effects appearing prominently throughout the record) and his interest in a Diasporic musical conversation into a well-rounded set of concise, danceable, and effective grooves, largely letting the music do most of the talking.

This song-driven approach pervades the record.  Even though Allen, the bandleader, is a drummer, there are no extended solos; as no particular sense of lyrical conceptualism drives this album, neither does virtuosity.  Rather, Allen and company let the music happen, finding grooves and exploring them in deep and challenging ways.  This simultaneously sophisticated and funky record is not to be missed by any fan of Allen’s prior work, any musician who wants to deepen their understanding of where “the pocket” really is, or any listener who likes to get out on the dance floor.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review November 3rd, 2014

Vaudou Game – Apiafo


Title: Apiafo

Artist: Vaudou Game

Label: Hot Casa/Forced Exposure

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: September 22, 2014


Vaudou Game is the newest band of Peter Solo, a singer and composer born in Togo, West Africa, which is the birthplace of the Guin tribe and a major center for Voodoo culture. Vaudou Game merges these cultural traditions of the Guin with funk music to create an undeniably unique sound on their debut album Apiafo.

As the only African member of Vaudou Game, Solo taught the other five members of the band Mina, the native language of the Guin people, as well as the traditions of Voodoo culture. Intrigued by the spirituality and the challenge presented to them as musicians, they all perform and even speak in Mina.

Though in Voodoo practices there is only a capella singing, Peter and the band codified the two major musical scales found in the songs of these Voodoo rituals so they could be played on modern instruments. They also try to imitate the harmonies of the original traditions in both their vocals and instrumentation. Their exclusive use of vintage instruments also emphasizes their dedication in staying true to the nature of the traditions and customs they explore in Apiafo.

All the songs on Apiafo reflect not only African traditions, but American musical traditions as well. The vibe of the album is undeniably funk, with a sound harkening to the ‘70s soul era. The standout track, “Pas Contente,” has a funky bass line and groovy electric guitar. Solo’s shouts throughout the track are reminiscent of artists such as James Brown and Edwin Starr. The track also features Solo’s uncle, Roger Damawuzan, who was a major player in bringing soul music to Togo in the 1970s with his hit “Wait for Me.” The video for “Pas Contente” is intriguing, featuring a multitude of people offering sacrifices to an idol in a field. This is a visual representation of the Voodoo theme from Togo present throughout the album, though Solo and his uncle remain the only Africans seen in the video:

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A slower ballad, “Ata Calling,” is an invocation to a supreme divinity. The more sacred nature of this subject is shown through the song’s slower tone and drawn out vocals. Though the lyrics and the harmony can be appreciated, the music itself does sound like a typical ‘60s or ‘70s ballad, with the unchanging cymbal pattern maintaining a steady emphasis on every second beat.

“Think Positive” is a very accurate title, as the track has an uplifting feel in both music and vocals. It brings light and originality to the last segment of Apiafo. The call and response of Solo and the band is catchy and true to the African roots of the album, and the musical changes between the verses and the chorus are refreshing. The brass interludes in this track stand out, adding a bit of a jazzy flavor to the mostly funk song.

Though Vaudou Game has a distinctive and enjoyable sound, it does not stray from a formulaic approach of funk music with Mina lyrics. It will be interesting to see how Vaudou Game develops in the future, and if their music will continue to incorporate the two different cultures and explore the traditions of Togo and its people through funk music.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

Emma Donovan & the PutBacks – Dawn


Title: Dawn

Artist: Emma Donovan & the PutBacks

Label: Hope Street

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: November 11, 2014


Indigenous vocalist Emma Donovan grew up singing country music with her family in New South Wales, Australia, but she always related more to the “blackfulla music” (i.e., American blues, soul and R&B) in her father’s record collection. This connection to the music is the same feeling she found when she sang with the Melbourne-based rhythm combo the PutBacks for the first time, saying, “It felt like family and most of all I felt like I could write in an honest and straight out way.”

That honesty is reflected in Emma Donovan & the PutBacks’ debut album, Dawn, in which Donovan sings about her personal life, including “domestic and emotional violence, hardship and depression.” This rawness is reflected in the live aspect of Dawn, which was recorded in one room on eight channels of analog tape. This doesn’t detract from the quality of the album, though, which has a very full sound. It draws from multiple different genres, such as country, funk, and rock, but at the heart of Dawn is Donovan’s warm, deep voice, which is full of soul.

The album starts off on a funky note with “Black Woman,” which definitely draws from 1970s era soul and funk, with the prominent wah-wah electric guitar. This is also the case in Dawn’s first single, “Daddy,” whose funk vibe is paired with percussion that sounds Latin in many of its rhythms. The electric guitar weaves in and out, bringing with it a burst of passion that goes hand and hand with Donovan’s passionate lyrics. Her vocals are full of emotion and soul, sounding both rebellious and mysterious as she sings “Ain’t no use tryin’ to set me free, I can see what you’re hiding from me.”

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On the standout final track, “Over Under Way,” the band ushers in a whole different vibe that’s more reflective and sounds akin to R&B rather than funk.  Starting out with just bongos, bass guitar, and vocal, the intro continues for almost two minutes before electric guitar, drum set, and background vocals join in. This gradual way of building up the song reflects its message, about taking time and waiting for a true love no matter what it takes, and truly allows Donovan’s beautiful vocals to shine. The same chill, R&B tone is also heard on the tracks “Dawn” and the very gentle, soulful “Come Back to Me.”

Dawn is a great album to listen to, not only because of the clear talent in Donovan’s vocals and the PutBacks’ instrumentals, but because no two songs sound the same. While still cohesive, each track stands out, adding interest to the album and leaving the listener wanting more.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

Layla McCalla – Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes


Title: Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes

Artist: Layla McCalla

Label: Music Maker Foundation

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 4, 2014


Leyla McCalla’s debut album, Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, is an ambitious setting of Langston Hughes’s poetry to old-time and blues arrangements.  Released in February and funded via Kickstarter, this collection of songs speaks to multiple diasporas within the Black Atlantic.  McCalla has been inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes since her youth, and also deeply moved by her own Haitian heritage.  In addition to the Langston Hughes poems set to music, this album also contains several traditional Haitian songs arranged and sung in Haitian Creole by McCalla, such as “Mesi Bondye.”

McCalla wears many hats on Vari-Colored Songs, playing banjo, cello, guitar, and providing vocals.  She showcases her arrangement and composition skills as well. Several tracks also feature members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, with whom McCalla previously toured and recorded.  Hubby Jenkins plays bones on “Latibonit,” and Rhiannon Giddens contributes vocals and shaker on several songs, including “Rose Marie” and “Manman Mwen.”

The strength of this album lies in the textural transparency of its arrangements combined with McCalla’s clear vocals, which allow the words of Langston Hughes to shine through.  Be it the sorrowful “Song for a Dark Girl” or the contemplative “Heart of Gold,” McCalla’s treatments of Hughes’s poems are remarkable.  The Haitian songs are similarly arranged, featuring a layering of banjo, steel pedal, and vocals.  The liner notes include translations and, when applicable, histories of some songs, such as “Kamèn S W Fè?,” which is based on an arrangement by Ago Fixè recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax.

Although this album is subtitled “A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” it is much more.  Simple yet complex, Leyla McCalla’s combination of old-time, blues, and Haitian folk music makes for an impressive debut.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review November 3rd, 2014

Cynthia Felton – Save Your Love For Me


Title: Save Your Love For Me

Artist: Cynthia Felton

Label: Felton Ent.

Formats: CD

Release date: October 21, 2014

Los Angeles based vocalist Cynthia Felton, who holds a PhD in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California, burst onto the scene four years ago with a tribute album to Duke Ellington, followed by Afro Blue: The Music of Oscar Brown, Jr. and Freedom Jazz Dance in 2012. This time around she’s paying tribute to one of her favorite singers, Nancy Wilson, “an elegant stylist of jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and pop” whose music is perfectly suited for Felton.  With a supple, four-octave range and a shimmering high register unusual in a jazz singer, Felton is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Save Your Love For Me: Cynthia Felton Sings the Nancy Wilson Classics includes 10 songs culled from five of Wilson’s albums recorded in the 1960s, five of which are drawn from the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderly album. Felton chooses to open, however, with the short a capella intro “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” demonstrating her passion for studying the heritage of African American music as well as her R&B influenced vocal stylings. It’s a teaser to be sure, leaving us wanting far more than the allotted 35 seconds. From there she delves into Cannonball Adderly’s “The Old Country,” but in Felton’s arrangement the saxophone solos are given over to trumpeter Wallace Roney and guitarist Ronald Muldrow. Next up is the Mercer/Kern song “Dearly Beloved,” featuring Felton scatting along with Cyrus Chestnut on piano, while bassist Robert Hurst takes center stage in the midsection with an extended solo.

An equal number of ballads are interspersed throughout the album, including the sensuous title track where Felton is joined by Patrice Rushen on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. This A-list backing combo returns on one of Wilson’s signature storytelling ballads, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which rolls off Felton’s tongue like molasses as she injects darker timbres to reveal the pathos of a woman who discovers her man with another lover.  Harold Arlen’s “A Sleepin’ Bee” begins as a languid improvisation over the vibes of Ndugu Chancler, before settling in to a nice mid-tempo groove. Another delightful ballad, “Only the Young,” is notable for the trumpet riffs deftly interwoven by Nolan Shaheed.

Among the album’s highlights (though it’s tremendously difficult to place any one song above another) is Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues,” which showcases Fenton’s vocal agility as well as her ability to convincingly merge jazz, R&B and blues.  Another vocal tour-de-force is “(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over,” with Wilson stretching the notes for maximum effect in tandem with tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts. The album closes with “I Wish You Love,” which starts out with a luscious intro accompanied by the acoustic guitar of Ronald Muldrow, then settles into an up-tempo bossa nova anchored by Munyoungo Jackson on percussion.

Though covering a legendary singer like Nancy Wilson would be a mistake for many singers, Cynthia Felton is right on the money, imprinting her own unique style through her arrangements that contemporize these classic tunes in a very sophisticated manner. Make room in your music collection for this rising star!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 3rd, 2014

Jason Jackson – Inspiration


Title: Inspiration

Artist: Jason Jackson

Label: Jack & Hill Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2014


New York City trombonist Jason Jackson is not afraid to take risks, or take his time. Inspiration, his first album in thirteen years, was recorded over a period of ten years and in three different studios from Hollywood to New York. The album is well worth the wait. Jackson’s trombone skills are impressive, which is not surprising considering he traveled the world touring with Ray Charles for two years, and has been the lead trombonist in the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band for a decade now. His composition and recording skills are also displayed on the album, with beautiful melodies and catchy rhythms that feel fresh and uplifting.

The opening track, “Brazilian Bop,” was inspired by Jackson’s travels in Brazil with Ray Charles, which is shown through its Latin percussion. The samba beat is emphasized by shakers throughout the song, and the saxophone solo by Don Oatts is smooth, as he effortlessly flies through many notes. The trombone solos by Jason Jackson and Slide Hampton are just as melodious, tranquil yet executed perfectly.

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Tracks such as “Salute to Mandela” and “El Husero” also include lively Latin rhythms. “Salute to Mandela,” composed by Daniel Jackson, starts with a trumpet fanfare and strings that sound like they should be announcing the arrival of a king from a far off land. Winds and percussion then enter the song, with Greg Gisbert’s bright trumpet soaring over an Afro-Cuban Latin pulse. “El Husero,” which means “the bull” in Spanish, is much slower and melancholy, with Jason Jackson’s trombone muted in the beginning. The song is dark and solemn, but beautiful nonetheless.

Jackson certainly has a variety of inspirations he draws from in the album. “Wake Up Election 2000” is about the outcome of the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. It has a lackadaisical vibe to it, with a standard swing beat, which reflects Jackson’s feeling that people were not “really awake and seeing what was going on” during the election. However, this full orchestra piece ends on a built-up, dramatic note, almost like an ominous cliff hanger.

The final track, “My Friend Sam,” was written by Jackson in remembrance of his best friend in high school, Sam Karam, who died in 2001 from multiple sclerosis. Sam’s father, Eddie Karam, wrote the arrangement of Jackson’s composition. The song is not a mourning track, but a celebration, with an upbeat piano intro by Michael Melvoin and the orchestra in full swing style.

Jackson’s undeniable talent on trombone is showcased in “Spring is Here” and “Tenderly,” both very slow and gentle songs accompanied by splendid strings and woodwinds. His solos in both songs are infused with soul and meaning, and are flawless in technique.

Inspiration is a delightful listen, and it’s a pity that Jason Jackson hasn’t stepped out from the background more often. Through arranging, soloing, and composing, Jackson has made it clear through Inspiration that he is a master of jazz.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

Don Pullen – Richard’s Tune


Title: Richard’s Tune

Artist: Don Pullen

Label: Delmark

Format: CD

Release date: August 19, 2014


This disc, originally released by Sackville in 1975 as Solo Piano Album and now reissued by Delmark, was not only Don Pullen‘s first solo piano album, but also the first album of any kind released under his leadership.  By the time of this recording, Pullen had been on the scene for over 10 years, recording briefly with ESP-Disk avant-gardist Giuseppe Logan in 1964 and then, in a typically huge stylistic shift, serving as accompanist to a variety of R&B singers.  Pullen joined Charles Mingus’ band in 1972, contributing strongly to the great bassist’s acclaimed Changes One and Changes Two albums and fitting in beautifully with Mingus’ mélange of social-consciousness, gospel, swing, and freer styles.

All of these influences are on display in this wonderful debut.  The opening “Richard’s Tune,” dedicated to Muhal Richard Abrams, combines a hummable melody with fleet stride- and bop-inflected elements before shifting into wild, dissonant tone clusters and percussive attacks.  “Big Alice,” one of Pullen’s best known compositions, is a funky, bluesy tune that Mingus had added to his band’s book and also recorded during the Mingus Moves sessions in 1973, although that version remained unreleased until Rhino’s CD reissue of Mingus’ album.  “Suite (Sweet) Malcolm,” Pullen’s tribute to Malcolm X, opens with bell-like intervals tolling in the treble register, and unfolds a haunting, lovingly harmonized melody before opening out into some extended spicy, free playing.  “Song Played Backwards,” as the title implies, is the freest track on the disc, featuring dense, dissonant chords played over various shifting rhythmic patterns.  The bonus tracks include “Kadji,” a majestic theme played over a two-chord vamp and somewhat reminiscent of “Big Alice” (which perhaps explains its omission from the album’s original release) and an alternate, slightly faster take of “Big Alice.”

Stuart Broomer, in liner notes dating from the 2000 Sackville CD reissue, describes the 1974-era Mingus band with Pullen as “…perpetually pitched at the edges of R&B and chaos,” an apt description of this music as well.  Taken as a whole, this solo recital shows the reach of Pullen’s far-ranging, creative, and musically mature mind.  It’s good to have this music back in circulation again, especially with the addition of the two bonus tracks.

Reviewed by Terry Simpkins

View review November 3rd, 2014

J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise – I See Victory


Title: I See Victory

Artist: J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise

Label: Entertainment One

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 27, 2014


With the release of their 7th project, I See Victory, the Stellar award nominated J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise continue a trend of creating music that is uplifting, accessible, and energizing. Unlike their previous work, the theme for this album was selected long before any of the material was written.  Hairston explains, “Years ago, I heard a message Bishop Joby Brady (Potter’s House North of Dallas, TX) preached and it was just saying you have to see what you want before you can go after it. I see myself with the victory over everything so I’m going after it and I believe I can have it because I can see it and all of the songs revolve around that theme.” I See Victory includes several special guests like VaShawn Mitchell, Donnie McClurkin, and Karen Clark Sheard who help this dynamic group articulate their message that all things are possible with God.

The first single, “It Pushed Me,” is a laidback mid-tempo song that explains how difficult circumstances can lead to personal transformation and triumphant success. It begins in a light-hearted unison stating, “God gave me a vision of where I would be, but he didn’t show me what I’d go through on the journey.” During the chorus, the song progresses to three part harmony emphasizing how life’s problems “pushed me into my destiny.” The second single from the project, “Bless Me,” features the distinctive leading voice of Pastor Donnie McClurkin. It is a simple prayer evocative of the reverent hymn “Lord, I Hear of Showers of Blessings” (1860) as they both offer the humble plea, “Even me, Lord bless me.” By the end of the song, modulations, chord inversions, and increased volume indicate growing enthusiasm as the singers celebrate God’s blessings.

While the primary theme of this album is “victory,” I suggest that the album’s secondary theme focuses on the “greatness” of God. Indeed, through most of the selections included on I See Victory, Hairston is stating that victory is possible because of God’s greatness. Just perusing the song titles – “You’re Mighty,” “You Are Worthy,” “You Are Great,” “Awe of You” – offers a glimpse into the tone of this project. Several of these songs creatively use pre-existing musical and lyrical material to offer contemporary interpretations of age old messages. For instance, “You Are Great” directly quotes the popular hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” Featuring the misty and colorful voice of Deon Kipping, “You Are Great” is bold and triumphant with a pulsating lead guitar and emphatic drums that establish a driving rhythm while syncopated horns accent the piece.

I See Victory closes with a bang, rounded off by two more traditional styled numbers. “Good to Me” is a slower tempo song expressing gratitude to God while “The Blood Still Works” is a high energy piece inspired by African American Pentecostal church styled praise songs that remind listeners that Jesus has power to intervene in any situation. On this album, J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise offer straightforward, inspiring messages through a variety of songs that will surely rock the (church) house and the airwaves.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review November 3rd, 2014

Kevin LeVar and One Sound – Destiny! Live at the Dream Center and More


Title: Destiny! Live at the Dream Center and More

Artist: Kevin LeVar and One Sound

Label: One Sound Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 12, 2014


LeVar’s new album, Destiny! Live at the Dream Center and More, is basically a medley of religious genres featuring “songs of faith, hope and love that span a wide range of musical styles that include praise and worship, contemporary, old school R&B, light rock, big band, blues and country music.” This is verifiable in many tracks of the album like the upbeat and energetic “Trust You,” in the swing rhythm of “Get Out the Boat,” as well as in the bluesy and waltz-like “Jesus Blues.” The song “I Wanna Be Close,” principally accompanied by piano, feels like a call to contemplation with the next track, “Close (Reprise),” serving as a follow-up musical commentary. The contemplative mood of these songs overflows into the next two numbers, “All We Need is a Word” and “Still, Such an Awesome God,” that are basically worship tracks. The number “Spoken Word” is an ecstatic verbal exhortation that leads to the songs “Whatever It Takes,” “Are You Ready?,” “Best Days,” and “Ready Set Go.” These tracks serve as ‘musical incitement’ to the listener to move from worship to engage actively in the service of God that involves doing his will and following his guidance at all cost.

In an interview with Donnie McClurkin Radio Show, LeVar states that the first (and the signature) track of the album, “Your Destiny,” was a product of a divine inspiration—an answer to a prayer for perseverance in his quest of a life of righteousness in line with the Word of God. But it also serves as the generative track from which other already mentioned pieces of the album ensue, as it were setting “the stage for the remaining songs on the CD” in which one finds “a rare combination of worship, anointing and musical genius.” The last track, “Born to Be Great,” serves as a climax to LeVar’s call to persevere, precisely because perseverance necessarily leads to greatness.

Another pivotal masterpiece of Destiny is the cool jazzy track “A Heart That Forgives,” which was released on LeVar’s first album Let’s Come Together:

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This song was performed at the White House in 2011 to launch LeVar’s Forgive and Live campaign “which seeks to inspire millions acts of forgiveness,” and has since become a breakthrough hit.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review November 3rd, 2014

Nathan Best – Center of My Life


Title: Center of My Life

Artist: Nathan Best

Label: Higher Calling / Megawave

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2014


It is an established fact that in African and African derived cultures, many life decisions and life activities of the present moment are based on vivid reminiscence of the past. In his first solo contemporary gospel album, Center of My Life, Grammy-award winning vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nathan Best (The O’Jays, Fairfield Four) comes forward with the musical fruits of his reflection on “some lessons that I thought would make me bitter, but instead it made me better, thanks to my relationship with God.” And so one hears him singing about his past life on the fifth track “God Forgave Me:” ‘I have done some things I am not proud… God forgave me for it and He gave me another chance.’ The same theme of regret for the past echoes from the tracks: “You’re So Good To Me” and “Where Would I Be.”

Indeed, Nathan sees his past as a kind of Pharaonic bondage from which God liberated him as is evident from the prime track, “Pharaoh,” that interweaves modern pop sound with a dramatic recitation of the story of the interlocution between Moses and God on the one hand, and Moses and Pharaoh on the other. The divine liberation from the hopelessness of bondage prompts songs of gratitude which becomes the focus of the track, “Thank You.” At a point this piece assumes the mien of gentle rap.

Nate titles the second track of his album “Nathan’s Symphony,” a veritable compact jazz ‘sinfonia’ with conspicuous piano feel leading to the album’s signature piece, “Center of My Life,” equally structured along the lines of jazz but standing mainly as a worship song. Surprisingly and without any alert, the fourth track, “Our Love Song,” shifts the emphasis from divine worship to romantic love. It was a special dedication to Nate’s beloved life partner “Sherry, my soul mate and best friend.” This is probably his way of connecting divine love to human love, the former operating powerfully in the latter within the context of marriage.

Center of My Life concludes with three pieces dedicated to spiritual and moral advice. “He’s Always There” is a call to look on and call upon the friend who is always there, Jesus. The track “Talking About My Jesus,” with its piano only accompaniment, is an admonition to turn from human beings back to Jesus who puts the straying on the right track. It is only in this way one can enjoy the blessing which God has in store for his children, as seen in the swinging final track, “God Has a Blessing,” featuring the St. Matthew’s Church Choir.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review November 3rd, 2014

Goapele – Strong as Glass


Title: Strong as Glass

Artist: Goapele

Label: BMG

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 21, 2014


American soul and R&B singer-songwriter Goapele has just released her fourth studio album, Strong as Glass, and it is shattering the music scene with fresh hip-hop songs and slow jams. The 10-track CD, though short, is packed with hits that you can easily put on replay.

The first track and album namesake, “Strong as Glass,” is a powerful and meaningful intro for the album, a sure hit with women all across the board. The song has a noticeable build-up of sound that adds strength, so by the end there’s a full belt of instruments and vocals, making a stellar opening. Goapele knows how to keep her listeners entertained and does so by following up with “Hey Boy,” which is an instant pop hit in my opinion. She simultaneously intertwines old time groove with classic instrumentals, topped off with the fresh addition of veteran rapper Snoop Dogg. Her smooth voice adds the perfect attitude to this fun, sexy, catchy song:

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Goapele continues this trend with “Insanity,” which opens with a classic R&B intro but digresses into relatable, honest relationship based lyrics that attract women of all ages. This track will want to make you close your eyes, sway, put a beat-snapping hand up in the air, and say, “Girl, I feel you!”

“Perfect” features more creative lyrics, such as “Too many souls have died/pretending that we’re alright. Wish I could seep into your veins/take the pain away/be your great escape.” The music is simple, but Goapele really shows off her vocal range that blends so well with a unique remix beat in the background. On her next track, “What in the World,” the sophisticated diva introduces her first slow jam of the album, showing even more depth to her beautiful voice. This song will surely bring forth raw emotions from deep in your soul and is the gem of the album. Likewise, “Some Call It Love” takes a break from rough R&B beats and features more of a gospel sound. The listener can tell this is an emotional song for the singer and that transmits well through the flow of music.

“Last Days” is one of the more calming songs on Strong as Glass, with a minor psychedelic rhythm that corresponds well with the drawn out notes from Goapele. The final song, “Truth Is,” is a solemn end to the album, though it picks up at the hook and continues into the chorus. Again, Goapele is so honest with her words singing: “Truth is/I don’t really know about trust/but I know that I’m jaded/my patience is fading. And I don’t really know about us/ but I hope we can braid it/ and make it.” The song has such simple lyrics with just enough cleverness to make them interesting. “Truth Is” fades out for the last minute or so to silence, making you wish there was another song that would burst into your headphones.

Strong As Glass is another successful album from the classy, soulful singer Goapele. Fans and newcomers to her music should be very excited for what she comes up with next.

Reviewed by Briana Stewart

View review November 3rd, 2014

Myles Sanko – Forever Dreaming


Title: Forever Dreaming

Artist: Myles Sanko

Label: Légère Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: September 16, 2014


English singer and songwriter Myles Sanko creates soul music with a jazzy feel, starting with his debut EP Born in Black & White, which was released last year. His latest album, Forever Dreaming, is just as masterful and inspiring as his first release. Sanko’s soulful voice is reminiscent of artists such as Jamie Cullum and Aloe Blacc, and he infuses hope and passion into every song. This positive album truly lifts the listener’s spirit through heartfelt lyrics accompanying jazzy soul music.

The title and first track, “Forever Dreaming,” is a spirited and upbeat song that acts as an anthem for the album. The bright brass of saxophone, trumpet, and trombone emphasize the joy of lyrics such as “Circumstances are nothing new / my dreams can come true.” The song is undoubtedly sentimental, but jazz elements make it feel catchy rather than cheesy.

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“Light in My Hand” is an effortless track, with a chill vibe that echoes that repeated phrase “Surely I don’t mind the rain falling on my window pane.” This relaxed feel is an extended crescendo, building to the end of the track when Sanko’s voice changes from laid-back to passionate, filled with grit and soulful exclamations. This truly brings a whole new level of soul to Forever Dreaming.

Another upbeat number, “To My Surprise,” has a fast paced beat that carries the song along as Sanko sings about the joy of finding love after heartbreak. The highlight of this track is the jazz flute, an element that was popularized in soul-jazz music by Bobbi Humphrey.

Though the music is still upbeat, “Save My Soul” has a different kind of feel with its desperate lyrics. Infusing elements of rock and jazz with an electric guitar part and more flute, it’s one of the stand out tracks on the album. The complexity of the transitions, styles, and lyrics emphasize the depth of Sanko’s talent beyond happy and optimistic songs.

Sanko’s message that “it’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting” is emphasized through the optimism and upbeat feel of Forever Dreaming. With a voice that is both smooth and gritty, relaxed and passionate, Myles Sanko is a soul artist worth keeping an eye on.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

Chris Jasper – The One


Title: The One

Artist: Chris Jasper

Label: Gold City

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 19, 2014


Chris Jasper has enjoyed nothing less than an extensive career, boasting 10 solo albums, 12 albums as a member of the Isley Brothers, and 3 with the short-lived group Isley-Jasper-Isley. A renowned keyboardist, writer, producer and classically trained musician, Jasper’s talents were instrumental in the success of the Isley Brothers as he was the primary writer and producer from 1973-1983. He continued in this vital role in the group Isley-Jasper-Isley. Since stepping out on his own in 1987, Chris Jasper has recorded 10 albums, including his most recent release, The One, which continues a lengthy recording career that is likely nowhere near an end.

Jasper’s solo career is a balanced dialogue between his R&B roots from his time with the Isley Brothers and his forays into gospel. The first of his solo albums, Superbad generated a #1 debut single in the album’s title track, but it was this third album, Praise the Eternal released in 1992, that presented a shift in his musical output. From that point forward he began regularly recording gospel albums. As a result, of his ten solo albums, half are gospel albums.

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On The One, Jasper shifts back to his R&B roots with an album that’s a mix of love and inspirational songs.  Tracks such as “The One,” “Still in Love,” “Kiss Me,” and “Your Love” explore the many vital characteristics of sustained loving relationships.  But he sparks a fire with more up tempo tracks, including as “Rock the Foundation” and “Man Up.” Jasper’s more inspirational tracks include a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and a hopeful song proclaiming that there will be peace on earth, entitled “Peaceful Again.”  This album is not without religious and gospel influences; for example, the track “Right Now” proclaims humanity’s need for God.

Overall, The One remains steadily within the lane Chris Jasper has paved for himself since his solo debut, mixing R&B with inspirational messages.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review November 3rd, 2014

Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review – Originals


Title: Originals

Artist: Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review

Label: Shift Independent

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: December 3, 2013


Gary, Indiana born blues artist Quinn DeVeaux formed the Blue Beat Review after he moved to California’s Bay Area in search of authentic, down-to-earth music. A profound lover of rock ‘n’ roll and the Rolling Stones, DeVeaux also developed an appreciation for the blues when searching for the origins of rock music. This diverse background and passion for multiple genres  led Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review to develop their own style that they call “blue beat,” featured on their 2011 debut album Under Covers. Their second release, Originals, is a “rollicking set of upbeat tunes” and unique music that combines genres such as Delta blues, folk music, rock, and swing.

“Left This Town” clearly displays this mixing of genres, with a 1950s rhythmic section paired with 1930s style swing piano and brass. It has the feel of Southern blues with lyrics lamenting the troubles of living in an impersonal city. According to DeVeaux, the song is about an earlier period when he lived in Los Angeles, a city in which he felt estranged, and missed the friendliness of the Midwestern and Southern regions of the United States.

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“Raindrops” has a tropical vibe and features the harmonious female background singers Ahsati Tyehimba-Ford and Latriece Love, whose sound is like a mix of Supremes-style vocals with “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. The melancholy lyrics are much sadder than anything else on the album, once again displaying DeVeaux’s penchant for experimenting with different styles.

The rocking “Kids on Fire” is backed by a bluesey piano part, creating a unique and catchy song. Though the verses are sung solely by DeVeaux, the chorus is backed by the whole group, with the repetitive phrase “Oh, you know the kid’s on fire” functioning as a call and response throughout the song. Weaving a somewhat ridiculous story about a kid’s adventures in Oakland, which includes meeting the Pope, this track is extremely fun both lyrically and musically.

Originals offers catchy music with a homey, rustic feel, showcasing the fun, upbeat side of Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review, who take a multitude of old styles and turn them into something new.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

Rocker TV: Dennis Brown Live and Gregory Isaacs Live


Title: Dennis Brown Live

Artist: Dennis Brown

Label: MVD Visual

Format: DVD (60 min.)

Release date: July 14, 2014



Title: Gregory Isaacs Live

Artist: Gregory Isaacs

Label: MVD Visual

Format: DVD (60 min.)

Release date: November 4, 2014


Two episodes of the legendary television show “Rockers,” which was broadcast from New York City for over 25 years starting in the 1970s, have recently been released on DVD. The show was the first reggae music television series and helped introduce reggae to millions of music fans. Directed and hosted by Earl “The Roots Man” Chin, one of the most famous reggae deejays in the United States, “Rockers” featured interviews and performances by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Shaggy, and many other reggae artists.

The first episode released on DVD, Dennis Brown Live, features a 1999 performance of Brown on Spice Island in Grenada. Brown first became known as a reggae musician in Jamaica in the late 1960s, when he was only eleven years old. Later, Bob Marley said that Brown was one of his favorite artists, even naming him the “Crown Prince of Reggae.” This live performance features hit songs of Brown’s such as “Here I Come” and “Revolution.”

Gregory Isaacs Live includes interview as well as performance portions. Isaacs started out as a member of the Jamaican vocal trio The Concords, but after they broke up in 1970 he launched his own label, African Museum. He rose to popularity in the late 1970s in Jamaica and was nicknamed the “Cool Ruler” for his crooning vocal style, which he said was influenced by singers such as Sam Cooke and Percy Sledge. In Gregory Isaacs Live, Earl Chin speaks with Isaacs about his success, passion for people, and his preference for using live instruments to create music. The whole episode was shot in 2001 at Isaac’s African Museum studio in Kingston, Jamaica. Isaacs also performs his version of “House of the Rising Sun” and a special rendition of “The Border” with his son Kevin.

“Rockers” has also seen a revival through the recently released website, Rockers TV Media, which they call “the ultimate reggae website.” Here you can find clips from other episodes of the show, as well as links to new reggae music. There’s no news as to whether or not more episodes will be released on DVD, but these two programs certainly provide access to an important part of reggae’s history, especially its rise in popularity in the United States.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

October 2014 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during October 2014—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country     

Clifton Chenier, Rod Bernard: Boogie in Black & White (reissue) (Jin)
Bessie Jones: Get in Union – Recordings by Alan Lomax, 1959-1966 (Tompkins Square)
Billy Boy Arnold: The Blues Soul of (Stony Plain)
Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls: Soul Brothers (Catfood)
Various: We’re Sisters Under the Skin: Female Blues & Boogie Woogie, 1944-49 (Document)
Whosoever South: Come On In (Pit Bull Productions)


Cooly G: Wait ‘Til Night  (Hyperdub)
Kele: Trick (Lilac)
Munk: Chanson 3000 (Gomma)
Seshen: Unravel EP (Tru Thoughts)

Funk, Rock    

Danielia Cotton: The Real Book (Cottontown)
Eric Gales: Good for Sumthin’ (Cleopatra)
Sammy Hagar with Vic Johnson: Lite Roast (Mailboat)
The Bots: Pink Palms (Fader)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM

Antonio Neal: Welcome Home EP (digital) (Madison Line)
Apostle Rosilyn Copeland & One Voice: Living Daddy’s Dream (Lowrush Music)
Dorothy Norwood: An Incredible Journey (Echo Park JDI)
Jekalyn Carr: It’s Gonna Happen (Malaco)
Je’kob:  This Side of the Sky (Save the City)
L. Spenser Smith: Unstoppable (SmithWorx/eOne)
Slim & the Supreme Angels: It Ain’t What You Think (reissue) (New Direction)
Trip Lee: Rise (Reach)


Anthony Hamilton: Home for the Holidays (RCA)
Blind Boys of Alabama & Taj Mahal: Talkin’ Christmas! (Sony Masterworks)
Darius Rucker: Home for the Holidays (Capitol)
Earth, Wind & Fire: Holiday (Legacy)
Marie-Josee Lord: Amazing Grace (ATMA Classique)
Maysa: A Very Maysa Christmas (Shanachie)
Various: Gotta Have Gospel! Christmas O Holy Night (RCA Inspiration)
Various: It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue (Mack Ave.)


Ahmad Jamal: Complete Collection: 1951-1959 (box set)
Billy Strayhorn:  Out of the Shadows (box set) (Storyville )
Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude – Live in Concert at Grace Cathedral (Okeh)
Bud Powell: Live at the Blue Note Café, Paris 1961 (ESP)
Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (Ingrooves)
Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk – The Lost Files (Origin)
David Virelles: Mboko (ECM)
Houston Person:  The Melody Lingers On (Highnote)
Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet: The 21st Century Trad Band (Basin Street)
Joey Sommerville: Overnight Sensation (Jay Vox)
Miles Davis Quintet: All of You: The Last Tour, 1960 (box set) (Acrobat)

R&B, Soul  

Charles Earland & Oddysey: The Great Pyramid (1st CD reissue) (Solaris)
Shaun Escoffery: In the Red Room (Dome)
Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics (RCA)
Barbara Lynn: Here Is Barbara Lynn (reissue) (Light in the Attic)
Blind Ricky Mccants: Let’s Get the Party Started (Aviara)
Boyz II Men: Collide (BMG)
D. Edwards: Love Is (10th & Clay)
Dave Hollister: Chicago Winds…The Saga Continues (eOne)
Dionne Warwick: Feels So Good (10 Spot)
Foster Sylvers:  Foster Sylvers (1st CD reissue) (Fever Dream)
Four Tops: On Top (CD deluxe vinyl replica) (LMLR)
Four Tops: Reach Out (CD vinyl replica) (LMLR)
Jagged Edge: Je Heartbreak Too  (So So Def/Hard Case)
James Brown: It’s a Man’s Man’s World (CD vinyl replica)  (LMLR)
Joe Tex: Snapshot (Hickory)
J-Wonn: I Got This Record (Music Access Inc.)
Keyshia Cole: Point of No Return (Interscope)
Lil’ Mo: The Scarlet Letter (Astra/Penalty Ent.)
Macy Gray: The Way (Kobalt/Happy Mel Boopy)
Moniquea: Yes No Maybe (Mofunk)
New Orleans Suspects: Ouroboros (Louisiana Red Hot)
Partynextdoor: Partynextdoor Two (WEA)
Shanaz Dorsett: Mother Tongue EP (digital)
Shuggie Otis: Live In Williamsburg (Cleopatra)
Sinkane: Mean Love (DFA)
Syleena Johnson: Chapter 6: Couples Therapy (Blakbyrd Ent.)
Tinashe: Aquarius (RCA)
Traci Braxton: Crash & Burn (eOne)
Various: The Original Sound of New Orleans Soul, 1960-76 (Soul Jazz)
Various: Ain’t It the Truth – The Ric & Ron Story, Vol. 2 (Ace)
Various: One-derful! (Secret Stash)

Rap, Hip Hop  

Army of the Pharaohs: Heavy Lies the Crown (Enemy Soil)
Big K.R.I.T.: 4eva N A Day (Green Streets Ent.)
Bishop Nehru & MF Doom: NehruvianDOOM (Lex)
Boaz: Intuition (Rostrum)
Cozz: Cozz & Effect (digital) (Interscope)
Diamond District: March on Washington (Mello Music Group)
DJ Quik: Midnight Life (Mad Science)
El-P and Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
Flying Lotus: You’re Dead (Warp)
Frayser Boy: Not No Moe (Phixious)
Logic: Under Pressure (Def Jam)
Meek Mill: Coast 2 Coast 206 (Oarfin)
Pastor Troy: Welcome to the Rap Game  (Madd Society)
Plies: Coast 2 Coast 251 (Oarfin)
Stalley: Ohio (Atlantic)
T.I.: Paperwork (Columbia)
The Game: Blood Moon – Year of the Wolf (eOne)

Reggae, Dancehall, Calypso      

Ali Campbell: Silhouette – The Legendary Voice of UB40 (Cooking Vinyl)
Dub Dynasty: Thundering Mantis
Etana: I Rise (VP)
Groundation: A Miracle (Groundation)
Radio Riddler: Purple Rain (MITA)

Spoken Word, Comedy

Prince: Sound and Vision (CD/DVD)
Wyatt Cenac: Brooklyn (Other Music)

World, Latin     

Acholi: Machon Lapwong (IRL)
Batida: Dois (Soundway)
Claude Teta: Blue Tsapiky (Buda Musique)
Hailu Mergia & The Walias: Tche Belew  (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
Julian Bahula: The Spirit of Malombo (Strut)
Pierre Kwender: Le Dernier Empereur (Bantou)
Various: Spirit of Malombo (Strut)
Wasis Diop: Sequences (Imports)

View review November 3rd, 2014

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