Archive for April, 2015

Welcome to the April 2015 Issue

Welcome to the April 2015 edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring two Billie Holiday tribute albums celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth on April 7, 1915: José James’ Yesterday I Had the Blues: Music of Billie Holiday and Cassandra Wilson’s Coming Forth By Day. Other new releases include the AJ Ghent Band Live at Terminal West; Jukestone Paradise by Brooklyn’s Pimps of Joytime; Consultation with Tubby by the Jefferson Street Parade Band; and Last Man Standing by Delta blues veteran CeDell Davis.

New gospel music releases include Erica Campbell’s Help 2.0, Robert E. Person’s Love Divine, and Any Given Sunday by Pastor Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago. New hip hop releases include Earthee by THEESatisfaction and Never Left by Sadat X. World music releases include the self-titled debut album from South Africa’s Bala Brothers; Eternamente Manzanero by Arturo Sandoval & Jorge Calandrelli and Sagüita Al Bate by Leticia Rodriguez Garza.

Reissue compilations covered this month include two releases from Chicago’s Numero Group: Ultra High Frequencies: The Chicago Party and Universal Togetherness Band; the new “official” Experience Hendrix release of Curtis Knight & The Squires’ You Can’t Use My Name; Chuck Berry’s Complete Chess Singles, 1955-61 from Acrobat; Lightnin’ Slim’s I’m a Rolling Stone: Singles 1954-1962 from Jasmine; and Johnny Mathis’ Life Is a Song Worth Singing: The Complete Thom Bell Sessions from Real Gone Music.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of March 2015 black music releases of note.

View review April 1st, 2015

José James – Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday


Title: Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday

Artist: José James

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 31, 2015


In the liner notes for his latest release, Yesterday I Had the Blues, José James describes his first encounter with the music of Billie Holiday in very personal terms, noting that he looked up to her as one of his first musical icons, studied her recordings with great attention to detail, and that his study of her music “not only taught me how to sing jazz, it taught me to better relate to the world.”  Holiday is inarguably one of the most significant vocalists the genre has seen and many artists have recorded her songs, each with the best intentions of doing Lady Day’s legacy justice. However, James’s release in celebration of the anniversary of the jazz icon’s 100th birthday may be both the most personal and among the best of these attempts to date.

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James delivers a carefully chosen set of Holiday’s signature numbers, totaling 9 songs, ranging from tunes stamped most emphatically with her presence, such as “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit” to standards that were arguably perfected by Lady Day, like “Body and Soul” and “I Thought About You.” One key feature that James’s record has that so many renditions of Holiday’s numbers lack is his keen awareness of Holiday’s emotional depth and stylistic variety.  His “Strange Fruit” is as mournful as the subject matter, feeling like a funeral march, while “Fine and Mellow” is sly, with a playful “my love is like a faucet, it turns off and on”.  James reconciles the heavy import of much of Holiday’s music with the playfulness of her other songs, capturing the music that Holiday performed as a blues singer in the most complex sense–dealing with life’s pain and sorrow while also acknowledging that it is possible for music to feel really good.

James is assisted in this effort by a crack team–Yesterday I Had the Blues is produced by Blue Note president Don Was, and features a quartet of contemporary jazz staples, with Jason Moran on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Eric Harland on drums.  The classic quartet format, however, is not encumbered by conventional expectations of what should happen with a vocalist-led small band. James leaves soloists room to stretch out, as Moran does on “I Thought About You,” while still giving the songs plenty of room to breathe and not sacrificing their interpretation.  The band pulls off a double-timed, yet seemingly still subdued “What the Moonlight Can Do,” a soulful, Rhodes-driven version of “God Bless the Child,” and a vocal-overdubbed and body percussion-filled version of “Strange Fruit” further stretching Lady Day’s music idiomatically and conceptually without sacrificing the tone of the songs.

The most defining feature of James and company’s treatment of Holiday’s music is their faithfulness to the spirit of the songs.  As listeners may expect from a hip-hop/jazz fusion artist like James, the band stretches these songs to their limit, while still capturing both the sadness of some of these numbers, the soulful blues of others, and the playfulness of more.  Yesterday I Had the Blues is an excellent effort from James in what is a more traditional format and repertoire from his usual recordings.  However, Holiday’s music fits James’s style well and James’s interpretations merely feel like a fresh paintjob on the well-built house of Holiday’s legacy.

Reviewed by Matt Alley

View review April 1st, 2015

Cassandra Wilson – Coming Forth by Day


Title: Coming Forth by Day

Artist: Cassandra Wilson

Label: Legacy

Format: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 7, 2015


On the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of jazz’s most seminal voices and song interpreters, Billie Holiday, it is no wonder that prominent jazz labels, which have found that jazz fans often trade in nostalgia, are releasing tribute albums full of Lady Day’s signature songs.  Cassandra Wilson is one of the well-known vocalists who is contributing to this celebration, offering up an album full of Holiday’s signature tunes in an adventurous format, one that ultimately contains both hits and misses.

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The album’s liner notes set the scene as a smoky bar at the end of a dark alley, where the bartender knows one’s name and favorite drink, and where there is a jazz singer crooning the classics, providing a lyrical image to match this album’s tone. Wilson plays the part of the club’s singer, channeling the sadness which the liner notes argue was a key element of Holiday’s own vocal style.  Wilson plays this part convincingly, delivering a subdued “You Go to My Head” over a string section that recalls Philly soul, a dirge-like performance of “The Way You Look Tonight,” and even an original number, “Last Song,” inspired by Holiday’s inability to sing the funeral of longtime friend Lester Young.  Also included is an appropriately haunting version of “Strange Fruit” and a heartbreaking recording of “Good Morning Heartache.”

One striking feature of the band accompanying Wilson is that it sounds more like a jazz band would sound on the surreal TV series Twin Peaks than a group that one would likely encounter in a jazz club, let alone a group performing a set of jazz standards like the ones included on this record.  This is likely due to the presence of several well-known gothic rock veterans who appear on Wilson’s production team for this record.  The project is co-helmed by longtime Nick Cave producer Nick Launay, and features T Bone Burnett and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner on guitar. Wilson has engaged in stylistic experiments like this before and sounds comfortable with the  presence of these rock musicians leaving a strong imprint on these numbers.  This lends the project the atmospheric melancholy described in the liner notes, with swirling steel guitars on the jazz standard “All of Me,” and a slowed down tempo and dark orchestration on “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” a number that is typically rendered as an up-tempo swing.

While few serious jazz listeners would argue that there isn’t a sort of melancholy in Lady Day’s own singing, one may reasonably wonder if this isn’t a fairly one-dimensional treatment of Holiday’s music based upon some rather vague preconceived notions about the legendary singer.  While Billie Holiday certainly sang the blues and could arguably capture depths of sadness that few singers in any genre have ever been able to reach, there was also irrepressible joy to be found in much of her music (for skeptics, give Holiday’s recordings with Young or Ben Webster a spin).  Wilson and company treat Holiday’s music with a great deal of admiration and respect, certainly, but this document ultimately lends the feeling that the musicians involved may have sacrificed a deeper understanding and more thorough treatment of Holiday’s music in favor of an approach that at times may best be described as “atmospheric.” With that said, Wilson and company certainly take a novel and at times satisfying approach to Holiday’s music on Coming Forth By Day, which is worth a listen despite its unevenness at times.

Reviewed by Matt Alley

View review April 1st, 2015

AJ Ghent Band – Live at Terminal West


Title: Live at Terminal West

Artist: AJ Ghent Band

Label: Blue Corn Music

Format: CD + DVD

Release date: April 7, 2015


Those familiar with the sacred steel tradition will appreciate the remarkable lineage of AJ. Ghent. His grandfather, Henry Nelson, and great uncle, Willie Eason, popularized the lap and pedal steel guitar style in Pentecostal worship services in Florida in the early 1900s, and his father Aubrey Ghent, Sr. plays steel guitar with the Slide Brothers. Now 28-year-old Aubrey Ghent, Jr. is blazing his own trail, leaving no doubt as to his extensive talents. Playing a custom eight-string lap steel/Telecaster hybrid “turned on its side and strapped on like a futuristic-looking guitar-shaped rocket ship,” his goal is to take the steel guitar sound learned at his father’s knee to the next level.

After moving to Atlanta, Ghent performed with Col. Bruce Hampton before forming his own group which has toured with Zac Brown, opened for Robert Cray, and played alongside Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers. Featuring Ghent on slide guitar and lead vocals, the band also includes his wife MarLa and sister Tiffany Ghent Belle on backing vocals, with Seth Watters on bass, Gary Paulo on saxophone/guitar, and Will Groth on drums. Their debut album, Live at Terminal West, offers 11 tracks of original material written and arranged by Ghent. The result is a high velocity jam that’s a blend of old-school R&B, funk and contemporary bluesy rock with a twang of country.

Opening with “Call Me,” the band sets a steady groove punctuated by Ghent’s explosive steel riffs. The tempo kicks up a notch for “Dancin’,” a rockabilly song with a dash of Martha & the Vandellas. The three guitarists are perfectly synched on “Mercy,” another song that blends Southern rock and soul:

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Other highlights include the slow burner “It Ain’t Easy” which opens with an extended steel solo, the retro rocker “Crash” prominently featuring the ladies in the soulful chorus section, and the tour-de-force extended jam “Keep on Working.” The album closes with “Tina the Superfreak,” a heavy funk tribute that gets the crowd moving and grooving with cranked up fuzz guitars, slipping and sliding to an explosive finish.

The CD is packaged with a DVD of the entire concert, filmed and recorded on October 2, 2014, at Terminal West in the King Plow Arts Center in Atlanta, GA.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2015

Bala Brothers – Bala Brothers


Title: Bala Brothers

Artist: Bala Brothers

Label: Warner Classics

Formats: CD, DVD, Blu-Ray

Release dates: March 3, 2015 (CD); March 24 (DVD)


A scriptural verse says that “it is a trifle in the eyes of the Lord, in a moment, suddenly to make the poor rich.” This wise saying typifies the life trajectory of the Bala Brothers: Zwai, Loyiso, and Phelo. They were poor, marginalized and unprivileged. Nevertheless, according to the liner notes provided by Andrew Ousley, “the three gifted South African brothers [having been] lifted out of poverty through their sheer musical talent… promise to become one of the most exciting new vocal trios to take the world stage.” As recounted by the most senior of the Balas, Zwai, the road to their attainment of greatness started with his winning a national singing competition, a victory that would have merited him automatic admission to the famous Drakensberg Boys Choir School. But the admission was not easy to come by in the face of the apartheid institution in South Africa. However, through the help and support of his music teacher, Bunny Ashley-Botha, he was able to overcome the racial barrier of apartheid. Ipso facto, he became the first ever Black member of the previously all-White Boys School.

At present, “the Bala Brothers are household name in south Africa . . . thrilling audiences with their fusion of operatically-trained voices, rich harmonies and traditional South African melodies and rhythms” as Andrew Ousley indicates. Archbishop Desmond Tutu acclaims: “The Bala brothers are part of the good South African story. They have made it against great odds. Boy, can they sing! Wow!”  The present self-titled album, dedicated to Bunny Ashley-Botha and released in both CD/DVD formats, is a collection of songs filmed and recorded live at a performance offered by the Balas in conjunction with the Drakensberg Boys Choir at the Lyric Theater, Gold Reef City, South Africa on 24th and 25th of October, 2014. Indeed, the fantastic trio is scheduled to storm North America with their sweet melodies during their concert tour of the United States in May 2015.

The repertoire on the Bala Brothers is drawn from varied sources, and some of the pieces have unique messages. For example, the opening track “Circle of Life” is taken from the Disney musical The Lion King, composed by Elton John and Tim Rice. Needless to say, the story about the triumph of justice over tyranny in the animal kingdom could be a veiled allusion to the successful dismantling of the apartheid structure in South Africa. The same theme of resistance is metaphorically invoked in “Something Inside So Strong” an anti-apartheid anthem that was originally composed by Labi Siffre as a protest song for the Israeli occupation of Palestine:

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The dance-prone track “Under African Skies” evokes the visit of the original composer Paul Simon, a controversial visit that was nevertheless was ultimately geared towards racial reconciliation and the breakdown of racial barriers. On the gentle moving choir-like “Masibuyelane,” a Xhosa love song written by Zwai and Loyiso, as well as “Girl Without Name,” Loyiso accompanies himself on the piano with the orchestra in the background. Other tracks include “Weeping” (Dan Heymann), “Going Home” and  “Meguru” (traditional, arr. Michael Whalen), “He Lives In You” (Lebohang Morake, Jay Rifkin, Mark Mancina), “Ndize” (Mavo Solomon, Zwai Bala), “The Crossing” (Johnny Clegg), “And So It Goes” (Billy Joel), and “Pata Pata” (Jerry Ragovoy, Miriam Makeba). The DVD also includes two bonus tracks: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Rogers & Hammerstein) and “Maria” (Bernstein/Sondheim).

The crucial hermeneutic to understanding the Balas is not mainly in the compositional originality of the songs they perform. The present album does not pretend in any way to emphasize such originality. The key to interpreting the project is located in their attempt to dress these songs with a unique vocality and musical sonority, allowing them to deliver new messages with a fresh spiritual and emotional impact.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review April 1st, 2015

Pimps of Joytime – Jukestone Paradise


Title: Jukestone Paradise

Artist: Pimps of Joytime

Label: Write Home

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 21, 2015


Can any band moniker more perfectly describe the sonic ecstasy oozing from its collective consciousness than Pimps of Joytime? This Brooklyn-based quintet has been hitting it hard since 2007, gradually rising up the food chain to play major festivals such as Bonnaroo.  Plucking musical influences from a buffet of rock, blues, soul, NOLA second line and EDM with second helpings of funk, the band’s sound really solidifies on their third studio album, Jukestone Paradise. According to Pimps’ mastermind Brian J (vocals, guitar, bass, keys and programming), the album reflects his conception of “what a weird, spaced out futurist Juke Joint might be like and the music you would find there.” So climb into the mothership and prepare to embark on a funktastic musical odyssey. Following is the album trailer:

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Jukestone opens with “Red Golden,” which veers between bluesy and psychedelic rock. The song is propelled by the dynamic duo of Mayteana Morales and Cole Williamsx, the band’s female percussionists/vocalists. “Dance Cardia,” which features an appearance by Rubblebucket’s Alex Toth, is underpinned by a guitar riff that channels Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”  Dipping deeper into the funk well on “Heart Is Wild,” percussionist Chauncey Yearwood joins Pimps’ drummer John Staten and bass player David Bailis to create an irresistible dance groove. Ivan Neville (Dumpstaphunk) makes a guest appearance on “Sky,” a song with an old school vibe that seems to include sly references to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

One of the highlights of the album is “Jump,” an incredible tour de force of frenetic guitar picking that effectively combines blues and funk with electronic effects. The album closes with two crowd favorites: “Dank Janky” about “a mythical vagabond who’s got magical funk powers,” and the grooving anthem “Freedom Dancer” that channels the ‘70s but with a contemporary edge as it veers across a universe of musical influences that will leave your head spinning and your body shaking.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2015

Jefferson Street Parade Band – Consultation with Tubby


Title: Consultation with Tubby

Artist: Jefferson Street Parade Band

Label: Self-released

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 13, 2015


The idea behind the Jefferson Street Parade Band started in the winter of 2008, several months after Ben Fowler finished his studies in jazz drumming at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He’d been  touring with a few rock bands, but felt tired of smoky bars and predictable music, and he particularly  missed the horns he had always played with in jazz quintets.  He decided to reach out to horn players and other musicians he knew and proposed the idea of starting a band that could march in the streets and perform. The Jefferson Street Parade Band started officially playing in the spring of 2009, and though the members have shifted and changed over time (at most there have been 16 players), they have continued to create music with Fowler as their leader.

The Jefferson Street Parade Band released their first album, Juntos, in April 2012, which featured a multitude of different styles intertwined—from Latin cumbias to West African rhythms. Their latest album, Consultation with Tubby, is no different. Fowler, who describes himself as “a rock and roll kid from Indiana with a jazz education,” says that while some bands immerse themselves in a certain culture’s music, the Jefferson Street Parade Band takes a different approach and “amalgamates it all.” Consultation with Tubby does just that, drawing from many genres and featuring both covers and original songs.

The opening track, “Party Time Excellent,” has a very fitting title: the energy never seems to die down as the band blasts you with funky horns, an electrifying guitar solo by Zach Frasier, and a soulful saxophone feature by Peter Hanson. That’s not even mentioning the solid foundation from the drumline or the soulful piano (played on a melodica in the live performance below). Somehow these many parts work together seamlessly, making a musically complex piece seem effortless and fun, as seen in the live version on WTIU below:

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“Canto de Xangô” is a Brazilian song originally written by Baden Powell. Arranged by Jefferson Street Parade Band bass player Matt Romy, it’s transformed into a very smooth piece that transports the listener to a salsa club. Though the percussion gives the song its distinctly Latin beat, the multitude of horns are also given a chance to shine when the drumline occasionally drops out.

Different pieces are composed or arranged by various band members. “Chalk” was written by trumpet player Aaron Comforty. It is one of the more laid back tracks on the album, with an effortless flow enhanced by the beautiful saxophone solo by Durand Jones.

Another favorite on the album is the title track, “Consultation with Tubby,” which was written by Fowler, who found inspiration from King Tubby, the godfather of dub reggae. As the wah-ing bass combines with bright horns and unrelenting percussion, the song is undeniably catchy. The instruments start to fade out and create dissonance around two minutes into the track, but even in the chaos the music remains tight, proof of the talent behind these musicians. Everyone then joins in a powerful chorus that concludes the song.

Consultation with Tubby showcases the talent of the Jefferson Street Parade Band, merging many genres together while creating a unique and cohesive sound that is undeniably their own. Though their roster has changed during their six years as a band, there are no signs that they are slowing down. In fact, in many ways it seems like these skilled musicians are just getting started.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review April 1st, 2015

Cedell Davis – Last Man Standing


Title: Last Man Standing

Artist: Cedell Davis

Label: Sunyata

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2015



At 88 years of age, Cedell Davis has still got it. Over his many decades as a blues journeyman, he’s seen his career fluctuate—from regional success in his early years, to obscurity through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s—and finally reinvigorated with the rise of the Fat Possum roster of North Mississippi heavy-hitters. After polio rendered his hands inflexible at the age of 10, Cedell developed an unorthodox method of playing slide guitar using a butter knife clenched between gnarled fingers, creating a raw style that captivated fans and critics alike. With Cedell’s unmistakable guitar technique it’s easy to forget his vocal chops, which take center stage on his latest release, Last Man Standing, on Sunyata Records.

Following a stroke and approaching 90-years-old, Cedell can no longer play guitar. Instead, we find Cedell providing vocals, leaving all instrumental work in the hands of much younger musicians, led by Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Jimbo Mathus. Mathus and his cohorts put together a hard hitting 16 tracks of rugged blues recorded live in Water Valley, MS. The holistic live approach means that these tracks bare their imperfections proudly, capturing the spirit of the juke joints and house parties in which these songs were born. Unfortunately it also exposes some of the heavy handedness in the group’s playing. The band feels clunky at times, with drumming that sounds more Led Zeppelin than Leadbelly. When the intensity is dialed back a bit, however, the crew settles into a more organic groove and uncover a fresh but familiar home for Cedell’s weathered growl.

On “Teenie Weenie Bit,” a slinky samba is accented with organ stabs as Cedell wails—the head nod is instantaneous. “Turn Your Light On,” another highlight, throttles forward with a sense of urgency and a sense of swagger that would make Dan Auerbach drool. Perhaps the most interesting additions to Cedell’s catalog are his “story-songs.” These short autobiographical interludes are accompanied by sparse instrumental musings, wandering along as Cedell tells of his origins in Mississippi. He speaks of living with Washboard Pete and Doctor Ross The Harmonica Boss and listening to the powerful sounds of Charley Patton on a wind up gramophone. He recounts humorously his experiences with Sonny Boy Williamson, depicting him as a bit of a grifter, a “natural born thief” known to steal people’s money after they went to sleep.

These are brief glimpses into a life that has seen some of the greatest contributors to American music. They recall so many Library of Congress sessions where the artist’s tales are just as valuable as any notes played. Cedell Davis is one of the last of a legendary generation of bluesmen and Last Man Standing provides another fun chapter in a fantastic career that deep blues fans are sure to enjoy.

Reviewed by Aaron Frazier

View review April 1st, 2015

Robert E. Person – Love Divine


Title: Love Divine

Artist: Robert E. Person

Label: REP Music

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3, MP3 320, and FLAC)

Release date: February 3, 2015


Listening to Robert Person’s recent jazz gospel album, Love Divine, one may have the feeling of swimming in a river of crazily joyful and mysteriously enchanting out-of-the-world experience of divine love. The new release creates a sensation of “an intense feeling of deep affection and personal attachment.” Robert Person was musically gifted but he further developed his talent at Morehouse College as well as the University of the District of Columbia. He was recently elected for a 2015 “Wammie Award” for Gospel/Inspirational Vocalist of the Year, coming on the heels of his 2014 DVM Christian Music Award as the artist of the year.

Person’s present 12-track album, deriving from several song-writers, is a follow-up to his release of the single “Testify,” composed by Ayesha Daniels and arranged by Person and jazz pianist Allyn Johnson. This single is the opening track of Love Divine and has been described as “an immaculate celebratory musical expression of the gratitude of God’s Love Divine.”

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The next two songs speak of Love: the dance oriented “I Really Love You” and “Love Divine.” On the latter Person’s employment of the vocalese technique sounds melismatic, being as it were, a veritable “open-mouth,” “wild,” “wordless” contemplation of the immensity of the Love Divine. The relentlessly esoteric “Come Sunday,” featuring a jazzy pianistic improvisation by Allyn Johnson, is followed by the quiet and sonorous, semi-recitative musical meditation of the tracks “Healed” and “Somewhere.”

In the swinging “Take a Love Song” and gently march-like “Just Because,” one encounters a cache of intensely harmonic sound that fills the listener with an aura of the uncanny, so characteristic of jazz, evoking the incomprehensible depth of Divine Love which these tracks celebrate. Particularly in “Take a Love Song,” there is the return of the wordless melisma of the “Love Devine” track together with a form of chord progression that reminds one of the musical mysticism of the 19th century Austrian composer, Anton Bruckner. In “For Me,” it seems like the artist is saying: It’s time to dance out the love of God. But after dance comes a meditation on the heavily piano-accompanied “A Word of Grace.” The meditation extends in the guise of quasi-recitative on “God Has a Plan” before the emergence of an upbeat chorus in the later part of the track. The last track, “Because of You,” tells the story of Robert Person’s past. It is an energetic retrospection on the past for which the musician give thanks, acknowledging that all graces and good things of his life is attributable to God whom he addresses in the second person: “I’m here because of you.”

Perhaps it would be good to end with Sarah Hearn’s characterization of the new album: “The Love Divine CD release was Person at his best, offering a smooth, engaging musical encounter that felt like a dear friend lovingly dropping by with uplifting tunes of hope and joy carried on the wings of soothing, luxurious vocals.” Certainly, Love Divine is jazz gospel at its best!

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review April 1st, 2015

Erica Campbell – Help 2.0


Title: Help 2.0

Artist: Erica Campbell

Label: Entertainment One

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: March 31, 2015


Erica Campbell of powerhouse gospel duo Mary Mary (also comprised of her sister Tina Campbell), established herself as a solo artist in 2014 with the release of her debut project Help. That project has now garnered numerous awards including a Grammy for Best Gospel Album, a Dove Award and several Stellar Awards at this year’s showcase including CD of the Year and Albertina Walker Female Vocalist of the Year. Help featured hit singles like “A Little More Jesus” and the title song “Help,” featuring Christian rap artist Lecrae, which both spent some time atop the Billboard Gospel charts. Feeling that she had “more to say” musically, Campbell has released a re-issue of her first album titled Help 2.0.

This project features remixes of most of the songs from the first album with new collaborations. Of particular note are songs like “More Than a Lover Remix,” which features a funky dance inspired accompaniment and the upbeat electronic vocal manipulations of Mr. Talkbox.  Similarly, the track “Nobody Else (Thriller Mix)” sonically harkens to the pop dance music of the 1980s. “A Little More Jesus” receives an update via the new vocal contributions of Fantasia and Lisa Knowles.Campbell also includes two songs, “Looking Like” and “Help,” as they were originally released since she considered them too good to “touch.” However, topping off the album are two new selections making waves on television (via Campbell’s We tv reality show Mary Mary) and social media.  The single “More Love,” written by Campbell and her husband/producer, Warryn Campbell was inspired by recent social unrest and protests sparked by the untimely deaths of African American men in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York. Through their song, the Campbells sought to emphasize the importance and power love because they believe that it “truly does change things.”

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Her second new piece, “I Luh God,” is garnering attention for its blending of a hip hop “trap beat” with a Christian message. While Campbell is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of gospel music (i.e. “God in Me,” “Shackles,” etc.), here she not only sings, but can be heard rapping about why she loves God over a contemporary (and some would say secular) track. Nevertheless, I find the entire project—including “I Luh God”—to be musically stimulating and lyrically proactive. The remixes and song additions make Help 2.0 well worth a listen and in some instances, may even outshine the original releases.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review April 1st, 2015

Pastor Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago – Any Given Sunday


Title: Any Given Sunday

Artist: Pastor Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago

Label: Capitol Christian Music Group

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: March 17, 2015


On the heels of the celebrated 2012 release The Best of Both Worlds, five-time Stellar Award winning artists Pastor Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago (of the historic Chicago church Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church) have released their second project Any Given Sunday.  Mostly composed by Jenkins, this new project showcases his tried and true formula of simple melodies and straightforward lyrics perfect for Sunday morning church service. Jenkins characterizes Any Given Sunday as a celebration of the live worship experience that also captures the diverse repertoire that can be heard at Fellowship during any of their several services.

The album opens with “I’m Blessed,” which pays homage to Fellowship Missionary’s founding pastor, Rev. Dr. Clay Evans. The mid-tempo traditional gospel song was initially recorded and popularized by Evans on his 2003 album Still in the Mix, in which he provides a sermonette (backed by a choir) encouraging listeners to practice gratitude rather than complain.  Evans returns here with vocalists Shawn Hodo and John P. Kee to offer similar sentiments while urging congregants to always remember the “gift-Giver” [God] and not simply the gifts that He offers. Another traditional gospel song featured here is the up-tempo praise number “Do it for Me,” led by the energetic powerhouse Beverly Crawford. Undergirded with a prominent handclapping, foot-patting rhythm accentuation, the song speaks directly to God petitioning Him for assistance in life’s difficult circumstances.

Any Given Sunday includes several contemplative, yet emotive worship songs such as “Just to Know Him” and “Hide Me from the Rain” that express a desire to have a divine and spiritual experience. The first piece includes two reprises featuring the distinctive voices of Byron Cage and Jonathan McReynolds. With a gentle, yet assertive delivery, Fellowship begins the song echoing Jenkins in unison as he describes attributes of God such as “redeemer,” “savior,” and “provider.” As the choir moves to the climax of the piece, they swell into the chorus declaring in three-part harmony, “Just to know Him, Just to know him, Jesus Christ the Son of the living God.”  This chorus provides ample space for expert vocalist Byron Cage to melodically improvise and even segue into the popular Gloria Gather tune, “There is Something about that Name” (1970). The second piece, “Hide Me from the Rain,” has equally modest lyrics with an easily memorable melody. However, it features more complex instrumentation with layers of strings, percussion instruments, keyboards, guitar, and synthesized sounds. Led by Jenkins, the song expresses an emotional urgency as crescendos to an excited plea, “Come on Jesus, Come on Jesus…”, wherein they request God’s divine protection.

The current standout track of this album is the single “#War” which sits at #7 on the Billboard Gospel Song chart. Composed by Jenkins and Rodney East, this selection combines down home “country” gospel rhythmic and harmonic style with contemporary electronic sound production. The song is introduced with a snippet of a live sermon in which Jenkins preaches to his congregation, urging them to “fight back” when evil forces attempt to attack or distract them. He describes “#War” as “an anthem of determination, of spiritual resolve… when life gets tough, we’ve got to get tougher.” The song opens with a basic drum track, jaunty trombone, and tambourine which set the stage for Jenkins’ singing-speech style in which he testifies, “I got joy in my soul, God is in control / I got Satan on my trail, but I’m singing all is well / He’s attacking every day, but I’m watching while I pray / No matter the attack, I won’t turn back / This means war!”  This catchy, repetitive selection easily invites communal participation as the refrain “This means war!” frequently returns rallying believers to both sing along and persevere through faith in God.

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Any Given Sunday is a comfortable blend of traditional and contemporary gospel music that is creative, yet familiar.  It is a musical snapshot into worship at a local church while reaching beyond that space to touch the ears and hearts of listeners all over the nation and even the world. Moreover, this album is perfect for individuals and groups who are interested in learning new, simple yet substantive gospel music for worship or educational purposes.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review April 1st, 2015

THEESatisfaction – EarthEE


Title: EarthEE

Artist: THEESatisfaction

Label: Sub Pop

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: February 24, 2015


THEESatisfaction expand their Erykah Badu-inspired ideas about R&B and hip-hop with their second album, EarthEE.  Unlike the current crop of artists unafraid to more closely blend the two genres (Dej Loaf, Ty Dolla $ign, Rich Homie Quan, et al), Stasia “Stas” Irons and Catherine “Cat” Harris-White maintain their roles of rapper and singer, respectively, and clearly demarcate these two forms of expression.  They further eschew hooks in favor of impressionistic melodies that serve as texture rather than the music’s driving force, and which fade from memory as the songs end.

A notable exception is “Recognition,” one of EarthEE‘s more engaging, hypnotic tracks, which effortlessly interweaves a grandiose half-time beat with African polyrhythm.  The repetitive, almost chanted lyrics yield a successful exercise in minimalism.

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It’s hard to talk about THEESatisfaction without mentioning their Afro-futurist compatriots Shabazz Palaces.  Ishmael Butler appears on two of EarthEE‘s 13 tracks, and Tendai Maraire contributes production as well.  The duo’s growth since working on Shabazz Palaces’ 2011 LP, Black Up, is apparent: song forms are extended, and the atmosphere is more celestial than their 2012 debut AwE NaturalE, which favored more typical jazz and funk influences.

While repeated listens are rewarded, EarthEE ultimately suffers from its ephemeral stream of consciousness nature, and lack of distinctive hooks or melodies.  What makes THEESatisfaction interesting is a strong command of rhythm and texture, and their slew of self-released EPs and mixtapes on BandCamp in addition to their two full-lengths are proof of the duo’s restless exploration and potential to grow as artists.

Reviewed by Will Chase

View review April 1st, 2015

Sadat X – Never Left


Title: Never Left

Artist: Sadat X

Label: Loyalty Digital Corp

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: January 20, 2015


Before diving into Sadat X‘s latest solo release, I had the pleasure of catching Brand Nubian perform at the Howard Theater in DC.  Sadat X, Grand Puba, and Lord Jamar delivered enthusiasm and vigor seen among few artists 20-plus years into their careers.  That enthusiasm for rapping is also readily apparent on Never Left.

Much of the album is an homage to New York, illustrated by recollections of crossing paths with NYC hip hop royalty (Biggies, Jay-Z, Nas), and rhyming “finagle” with “bagel” on the opening cut, “We In New York”:

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The other central theme of Never Left, also illustrated by the aforementioned interludes, is the introspection born of a long career. “What Up Kid” repurposes the opening phrase from Nas’ “One Love” to impart words of wisdom to the youth, which comes across as more overbearing father than wise uncle. But any lyrical shortcomings can be forgiven by the kind of energy put forth on “On Fire,” featuring a verse from fellow NYC vet Cormega and Lanelle Tyler:

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With the exception of “Put It On Me,” which experiments with a reggae beat, the production on Never Left is lush, modern boom bap right in Sadat’s comfort zone. And that’s what makes Never Left work: Sadat X has been around long enough to know what his fans want, and he delivers on that without compromising for the sake of novelty. But most importantly, it is clear he still loves what he does.

Reviewed by Will Chase

View review April 1st, 2015

Arturo Sandoval/Jorge Calandrelli – Eternamente Manzanero


Title: Eternamente Manzanero

Artist: Arturo Sandoval/Jorge Calandrelli

Label: Perseverance

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 7, 2014


What do you get when you fuse three of the most prolific musicians, arrangers and composers of today’s pop-jazz commercial recording industry? An embarrassment of riches that would make any red-blooded Americanist glow with pride, Eternamente Manzanero pleasantly synthesizes the quality, style and sounds of an outstanding team of professionals in this New World production.

Recorded in Tarzana, California, the slow and romantic bolero genre anchors this album. All songs featured were pulled from Mexican native Armando Manzanero’s compositions spanning over a fifty year period. Winner of the 2014 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the music world owes much of the popularization of the bolero filin—a Cuban style that enhanced the traditional bolero with jazzier chords and vocal intepretations—to Manzanero, the premier Mexican composer of romantic music of the post-war era.

Ten time Grammy Award-winning Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is most popularly known for his virtuosic improvisational ability and his flawless execution of musical acrobatics in the upper tessitura. Presenting his listeners with a reserved approach in Eternamente Manzanero, Sandoval continues to redefine his musical reputation. On this release, his role as principal vocalist is a surprising stretch and his interpretation of Armando’s carefully chosen repertoire is delightful. Most impressive is Arturo’s crooning ability and subtle trumpet adornment in “Voy a Apagar la Luz,” all transformed by the scrumptious string arrangements of Argentine composer, orchestrator, arranger and co-producer of the album Jorge Calandrelli. Projecting longing and loss in “Te Extraño,” pointed musical influence from the southern cone is heard through the use of the accordion. And for those that can’t get enough of the pop-jazz sound, “No Se Tu” is a definite must-listen.

Eternamente Manzanero can be described as a contemporary Latin-jazz album that unifies the vast experience and musical curiosity of three music giants of Latin America. A recommended purchase for lovers of jazz-pop fusion and fans of Manzanero, Sandoval, and Calandrelli.

Reviewed by Madelyn Shackelford Washington

View review April 1st, 2015

Leticia Rodriguez Garza – Sagüita Al Bate


Title: Sagüita Al Bate

Artist: Leticia Rodriguez Garza

Label: CD Baby

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: August 16, 2014


Leticia Rodriguez grew up in Austin, Texas surround by Mexican musicians. Her aunt, Eva Garza, was one of the first internationally recorded bilingual artists to crossover in the United States. Eva recorded over two hundred songs for various labels and starred in more than 20 films during the 1940s and 1950s. She served as the primary influence for Leticia Rodriguez’s latest EP, Sagüita Al Bate, to the point where Leticia decided to add “Garza” on to her performance name.

Leticia Rodriguez Garza’s songs have a variety of Latin and Afro-Caribbean influences, but have the strongest roots in Mexican, Cuban, and Argentinian music. In addition to being a singer, Leticia is a dancer and choreographer, as well as the producer, writer, and director of the one-woman show she calls Canciones for Generations. The show is also inspired by her aunt, Eva Garza, and eventually led Leticia to create her first album La Americana, which is her tribute to some of Eva’s most influential and popular tracks.

Sagüita Al Bate has one new song along with three previously released tracks from La Americana. The new song, “Sagüita Al Bate,” was her aunt’s greatest hit and helped Eva cross over to audiences in the United States. Leticia describes it is a traditional Cuban folk song that became popular in the 1950s. Leticia and her band perform it as a combination of cumbia and salsa. The song features trumpet and tenor and baritone saxophones, which add an exciting energy. Leticia fearlessly shows the variety of her vocals in this track, adding in different exclamations, tones, and dynamics throughout:

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“Milonga Sentimental” and “La Cumbancha” were both originally slow and dramatic songs, meant for dancing the tango and the waltz, respectively. Leticia puts her Cuban-Mexican spin on them, and lightens them up with new horns and rhythm patterns. “Milonga Sentimental” includes syncopated piano fills and accordion played by Carlos Alvarez. On “La Cumbancha,” Leticia is joined by singer Lisa Morales, and together they create beautiful harmonies and accompany Al Gomez on the trumpet and Grammy nominated guitarist Joe Reyes.

Leticia ends the EP with “Incertidumbre,” a passionate ballad in the style of a traditional bolero. She decided not to change the song from its original version, as she loved the arrangement that Eva Garza’s daughter, Rosa Maria Bojalil, had uncovered.

On Sagüita Al Bate, Leticia Rodriguez Garza shows not only her talent as a vocalist and arranger, but emphasizes the importance and beauty of bringing music from the past into present, through both preservation and reinterpretation.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review April 1st, 2015

Ultra High Frequencies – The Chicago Party


Title: Ultra High Frequencies: The Chicago Party

Artist: Various

Label: Numero Group

Formats: CD+DVD, 2-LP+DVD, Digital (FLAC, MP3)

Release date: March 3, 2015

For 23 weeks in 1982 the dance television show The Chicago Party was broadcast live from CopHerBox II, a nightclub on the South Side of Chicago. This vibrant dance show, filmed in the unadulterated nightclub scene, featured dancing nightclub patrons and local artists whose lip-synching performances promoted their music to the viewing audience. But The Chicago Party was more than just a dance show. In addition to the common characteristics of the dance shows of the time, The Chicago Party was more of a variety show including comedy sketches, contortionists, dance troupes, and even fashion shows during its broadcast. Numero Group introduces and, for some, possibly re-introduces The Chicago Party to its consumers with its release Ultra High Frequencies: The Chicago Party.

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Ultra High Frequencies: The Chicago Party includes a CD, DVD and extensive liner notes researched and compiled by Jon Kirby and Rob Sevier. The 16-track CD is a compilation of songs (five previously unreleased) from some of the local performers that graced the stage at The Chicago Party. These include Magnum Force’s “Girl You’re Too Cool” (1982), Donnell Pittman’s “Burning Up” (1982), Closencounter’s “Let Yourself Go” (1981), and the Universal Togetherness Band’s “Pull Up” (1981). Also included is the theme song for the TV show, “The Chicago Party Theme,” composed by Jesus Wayne.

The DVD (100 min.) offers a close look into The Chicago Party, including one full episode, video clips of eight performances by local artists that were included in the broadcasts, as well as an approximately 18-minute documentary. The documentary is particularly insightful as it provides an overview the dance show, from beginning to end, and is narrated by one of the founders, Willie Woods. In addition to the documentary, the collection includes extensive liner notes that survey the history of the show and offer biographies for all of the artists included in the CD compilation.

Overall, Ultra High Frequencies: The Chicago Party introduces this unique television program to a much wider audience than it had in 1982, shedding light on a show few would have known about without this collection.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review April 1st, 2015

Universal Togetherness Band – Universal Togetherness Band


Title: Universal Togetherness Band

Artist: Universal Togetherness Band

Label: Numero Group

Formats: CD, LP, Digital (FLAC, MP3)

Release date: January 20, 2015


The self-titled Universal Togetherness Band brings together for the first time eight tracks by the local Chicago group. Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Andre Gibson, officially formed UTB in 1978 while enrolled in Chicago’s Columbia College’s audio engineering program, headed by Malcolm Chisholm. Soon thereafter, Antoinette Rose Stern, who became the group’s manager, facilitated a recording session with Audio Technics. In the spring of 1979, UTB auditioned to be the talent for recording majors in an audio production class. Going back and forth between Universal Recording and Zenith/dB studios, UTB produced countless hours of original material without having to pay for studio time.

The material from these sessions, which took place between 1979-1982, however, was never released. The band did perform live dozens of times, but most of those performances are only documented in flyers and some photos. There was even conversation with Mercury Records that, unfortunately, never materialized into a record deal. The one live performance that has been documented was a lip-synched performance on The Chicago Party television show, but not long afterward the group began to disintegrate.

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The soul, disco, jazz, and new wave fusion that Gibson explored over the course of his musical training permeates these eight tracks. Songs like “Real Thrill” and the Paul Hanover/Andre Gibson collaboration “Ain’t Gonna Cry” drive full steam ahead, their instrumental arrangements never letting go of the listener’s ear. Others, like the piano pulsing “My Sentiment” and “I Want You,” relax their tempos in line with the romantic sentiments the lyrics require.

The Universal Togetherness Band compilation offers a unique look into a local Chicago group whose superb musical offerings were unfortunately never before unleashed beyond the Illinois borders. The superb liner notes, written by Jon Kirby, add to the story with archival photos and extensive information about the recording sessions. With this collection, the indisputable skill and talents of the Universal Togetherness Band can now be widely experienced, as they should have been 35 years ago.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review April 1st, 2015

Curtis Knight & The Squires – You Can’t Use My Name: The RSVP/PPX Sessions


Title: You Can’t Use My Name: The RSVP/PPX Sessions

Artist: Curtis Knight & The Squires

Label: Experience Hendrix/Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 23, 2015

Jimi Hendrix fans have long been acquainted with his 1965-1967 sessions with Curtis Knight & The Squires, which highlight his work as a rhythm and blues guitarist prior to his deification as the god of psychedelic rock. While it’s true that “more than 100 albums have been crafted from approximately forty studio recordings and consumer grade stage recordings by the group,” as the liner notes point out, many of these were “low fidelity variations, remixes, and edited versions.” In truth, Hendrix’s role on these recordings is more accurately described as sideman, though he did write several of the songs and instrumentals. Since he was in contractual litigation at the time these recordings were made, he insisted that his name not be attached to any of the Curtis Knight releases. That did not, however, prevent later compilations from being marketed as Hendrix albums to unsuspecting fans—most notably the two compilations released by Capitol: Get That Feeling (1967) and Flashing (1968).

Legacy’s new release, You Can’t Use My Name, is a partnership with Experience Hendrix, which finally acquired all of the Hendrix/Knight PPX masters in 2003 and is now presenting the music in its original context, newly mixed and mastered by Eddie Kramer. The album opens with “How Would You Feel,” which Knight described as the first black rock protest song. Also included is the previously unreleased 1966 recording of “Station Break” and the full length version of “Knock Yourself Out [Flying On Instruments],” both written by Hendrix (with Jerry Simon, owner of RSVP Records), plus “No Such Animal,” an instrumental written by Hendrix. On the 1967 recording of “Gloomy Monday” (written by Knight), you can hear a brief conversation where Hendrix specifically tells producer Ed Chalpin and Curtis Knight not to use his name. This particular take is previously unreleased, and “showcases Hendrix’s actual contribution to the song” prior to the guitar and electric sitar overdubs added to the commercial release.

You Can’t Use My Name is a good place to start for those who want to hear Hendrix’s earlier work as a backing musician, but with the caveat that the sound from the PPX studio is less than stellar, and the 1967 material is “largely unstructured jam efforts.” But perhaps the best take away is the 24-page illustrated booklet with an essay by Hendrix biographer John McDermott that explains the relationship between Knight and Hendrix, the recordings for PPX, and the years of legal litigation.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2015

Chuck Berry – The Complete Chess Singles As & Bs 1955-61


Title: The Complete Chess Singles As & Bs 1955-61

Artist: Chuck Berry

Label: Acrobat Music

Formats: 2CD, MP3

Release Date: March 10, 2015


From his first Chess Records release, Chuck Berry tore up the R&B charts. “Maybelline,” released in July 1955, hit #1 on the charts.  Over the next 6 years, Chess issued 25 singles by Berry, and many of them charted, four hitting #1 among R&B hits.

UK-based Acrobat Music has compiled the Chess singles in chronological order, A side then B side. The sound quality varies, but none are unlistenable. The discount price (about $14 for 50 tunes) excuses the cheap-looking package and middling sound quality. The booklet, spared of any fancy layout and with only a handful of stock photos, includes detailed discography info, and a music-centered biographical essay by Paul Watts. Overall, a fine value for rock music fans wanting to fill out the “founding fathers” section in their collection.

Those who know Chuck Berry’s music are probably very familiar with the A sides, so one way to enjoy this set is to load only the B sides into a playlist. There are some surprises. For instance, some of the songs favored by British Invasion rockers like “Too Much Monkey Business” (covered by the Yardbirds and others), “Reelin’ and Rockin'” (Rolling Stones), “Around and Around” (Rolling Stones) and “Memphis Tennessee” (covered by the Rolling Stones in their first demo session) were all B-sides.

Also surprising is the range of styles that Berry was comfortable tackling. Songs like “Havana Moon,” “Hey Pedro” and “Lajuanda” have a Latin flavor and beat whereas “Wee Wee Hours,” “The Downbound Train” and others are blues songs that would work well for Chess stablemates Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. There are also instrumentals, featuring Berry’s ground-breaking guitar playing as well as several outstanding piano runs by Lafayette Leake.

By taking blues structures and motifs, speeding them up and mixing in R&B, Latin and other influences, Chuck Berry helped invent what came to be called rock music.  This 2CD set offers a listen to the genre under construction, by one of its prime architects.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review April 1st, 2015

Lightnin’ Slim – I’m a Rolling Stone: Louisiana Swamp Blues


Title: I’m a Rolling Stone – Louisiana Swamp Blues

Artist: Lightnin’ Slim

Label: Jasmine

Format: 2 CD set

Release date: January 9, 2015

If you want a taste of the music played in Southern juke joints in the 1950s, this is a great place to start. Jasmine Records’ new Lightnin’ Slim Centenary Edition, I’m a Rolling Stone: Louisiana Swamp Blues, collects all of “The Singles As & Bs 1954-1962” in a two CD set that throws a spotlight on the 45s released primarily for the juke box market before Slim was “rediscovered” by blues fans.

Lightnin’ Slim, aka Otis Hicks, was born in St. Louis, MO in 1913 but spent most of his life in Louisiana, moving to Baton Rouge in 1946 where he remained until his death in 1974. Working in a fertilizer factory by day, his evenings were spent gigging in various blues clubs where he earned the moniker Lightnin’ Slim due to his affinity with another blues legend, Lightnin’ Hopkins. In 1954 Slim cut his first single, “Rock Me Mama (tr. 1) with the mournful “Bad Luck” (tr. 2) on the flip side, for Jay Miller’s Feature label, but also released some 45s on Johnny Vincent’s Ace label in Jackson, Mississippi, and recorded one session for Chess in Chicago. In 1958 he ditched the factory job to become a full time musician, touring with his band and releasing additional singles on the Excello label, which became synonymous with the Baton Rouge swamp blues sound.

As noted by liner notes author Bob Fisher, the 44 sides featured on this set not only define the swamp blues subgenre but also highlight one of Slim’s catch phrases, “Play your harmonica, son.” Harmonica solos on the set are performed by Schoolboy Cleve (on the Feature and Ace sides), with Lazy Lester on most of the other tracks. Though these recordings have been featured on other compilations, according to Fisher “this is the first time [Lightnin’ Slim’s] singles have been compiled A side and B side in one package and provide a unique opportunity to hear the progression of his music in chronological order just as the tracks would have appeared on jukeboxes and radio stations across Louisiana.”

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2015

Johnny Mathis – Life Is a Song Worth Singing: The Complete Thom Bell Sessions


Title: Life Is a Song Worth Singing: The Complete Thom Bell Sessions

Artist: Johnny Mathis

Label: Real Gone Music

Format: CD

Release date: March 10, 2015


The six-decades-long career of pop crooner Johnny Mathis, who will turn 80 later this year, has been celebrated in a spate of reissues lately, including this new 2-CD set from Real Gone Music. Life Is a Song Worth Singing pulls together the albums he recorded for Columbia under producer-songwriter-arranger-conductor Thom Bell, architect of the Philly soul sound. They include I’m Coming Home (1973) and Mathis Is. . . (1977); both are featured in their entirety, with numerous bonus tracks.

Unlike many of Mathis’ previous albums where he covered popular songs, I’m Coming Home presented new, original works composed primarily by Bell and Linda Creed. His highest charting single from this album, “Life Is a Song Worth Singing,” employs lush orchestrations and one will readily note the cinematic references: a bit of Ennio Morricone in the intro and a large dash of (somewhat homogenized) Shaft. The two covers on the album include “I’m Stone In Love With You” and “Stop Look and Listen to Your Heart,” both previously released in iconic performances by the Stylistics.

The second album, Mathis Is. . ., released here for the first time on CD, primarily features songs penned by Thom in partnership with his nephew, Leroy Bell. Recorded in Seattle and L.A.,  the session musicians included “Philly vets and West Coast pros, boasting Bob Babbitt, Tony Bell, Gary Coleman, Jack Faith, Bobbye Hall, Don Renaldo, Lee Ritenour, Andrew Smith and the uncredited Bobby Eli.” The ballad “Loving You-Losing You” is one of the highlights, though the soulful Phyllis Hyman version released the same year is typically regarded as the definitive version. Bonus tracks on Disc Two include “five more silky Mathis renditions of Bell classics recorded between 1972 and 2008, including “Betcha by Golly Wow” and “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” thus rounding out the Mathis-Bell collaboration.

According to the liner notes by Joe Marchese, these sessions were an attempt by Mathis to reach younger R&B listeners, rather than the predominantly white audience that flocked to his live performances. But though Mathis had very effectively crossed over into pop, it’s evident when listening to these sanitized performances why the reserve crossover was just a pipe dream for the singer, who was nearly 40-years-old at the time. In an era dominated by Black Power, Blaxploitation soundtracks, and searing soul, his chart success was mostly relegated to the Easy Listening category. Still, one must not discount Mathis, who remains one of the most successful recording artists of the 20th century.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review April 1st, 2015

March Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during March 2015—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Blind Boy Fuller: Rough Guide To Blind Boy Fuller (World Music Network)
Buster Brown: I’m Going But I’ll Be Back 1959-1962 (Jasmine)
Corey Harris: Live from Turtle Island (Blues Boulevard)
Darius Rucker: Southern Style (Capitol Nashville)
Earl King & Roomfull of Blues: New Orleans Party Classic (Rockbeat)
J.B. Hutto: Bluesmaster – The Lost Tapes (JSP)
Jackie Payne: I Saw The Blues (Blue Dot)
Leo ‘Bud’ Welch: I Don’t Prefer No Blues (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum)
Muddy Waters: Chess Singles Collection (Not Now)
Otis Taylor: Hey Joe Opus Red Meat (In-Akustik)
Slim Harpo: I’m A King Bee 1957-1961 (Jasmine)
T-Bone Walker: Get These Blues Off Me – As & Bs 1950-1955 (Jasmine)
Various: We’re Sisters Under the Skin-Female Blues & Boogie Woogie 1944-49 (Document)
Various: I’m Pretty Good at It-Country Blues Guitar (Document)
Various: Rough Guide To Unsung Heroes Of Country Blues (World Music Network)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Screamin Jay Hawkins & The Fuzztones : Live 1985 (Cleopatra)
Benjamin Clementine: At Least For Now (Behind Records/Barclay)
Death Grips: The Powers That B (CMG/Harvest/Third World)
O.T. Genasis: CoCo: The Global Remixes (Atlantic)
The Coasters: Magical Favorites (Stardust Records)
Twin Shadow: Eclipse (Warner)
Various: D.C. Go-Go – Sonic Funk from the Chocolate City (Perpetual)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
21:03: Outsiders (PMG)
Chris Cobbins: August Season (Save the City)
Damien Sneed: Broken To Minister (LeChateau Earl)
Derrick McDuffey: Release The Sound (DMKS Music)
Eshon Burgundy: The Fear of God (Humble Beast)
Fairfield Four: Still Rockin’ My Soul (Fairfield Four Records)
J. Shep: Potential 2 Purpose (Dream Gospel)
Jor’Dan Armstrong: 52 Weeks of Summer (Good Guys Music)
Json: No Filter (Lamp Mode)
Kenny Lewis & One Voice: Way of Escape (eOne)
Kirk Whalum: “Gospel According to Jazz Chapter IV” (Rendezvous)
Marvin Sapp: You Shall Live (RCA Inspiration)
Mccrary Sisters: Let’s Go (MCC)
Mike Real: Mind of Hollis (Clear Sight Music)
Sean C Johnson: Circa 1993 (Fresh Fruits Ent.)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Eight Classic Albums (Real Time)
Theory Hazit: The Fall Of Light (Soulspazm Inc.)
First Cathedral Mass Choir: Gospel Music Extravaganza, Vol. 1 (World Class Gospel)
Various: Stellar Awards 30th Anniversary Collection  (Habakkuk Music)

Courtney Pine: Song (The Ballad Book) (Destin-E)
Albert Tootie Heath: Philadelphia Beat (Sunnyside)
Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection (Legacy)
Candido: Afro Cuban Jazz Sound of Candido (Not Now)
Fats Waller: The Amazing Fats Waller – Then You’ll Remember Me (Solo Art)
Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (ECM)
James Lloyd: Here We Go (Shanachie)
John Coltrane Quintet: So Many Things: European Tour 1961 (Acrobat)
Kevin Eubanks & Stanley Jordan: Duets (Mack Ave.)
Les McCann: Invitation To Openness (expanded ed.) (Omnivore)
Marc Cary: Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2 (Motema Music)
Marcus Miller: Afrodeezia (Blue Note)
Omar Sosa: ilé (Ota)
Ornette Coleman: Beauty Is A Rare Thing (Atlantic)
Rebecca Ferguson: Lady Sings the Blues (Capitol)
Steve Cromity: All My Tomorrows (Cromcake Records)
Steve Turre: Spirit Man (Smoke Sessions)
Uptown Jazz Quartet: Vocal Madness (HouseKat)
Various: Spiritual Jazz Vol. 6 (Jazzman)

R&B, Soul
Big Popp G: I Believe (Pyramid City)
Bigg Robb: Showtime (Music Access Inc.)
Case: Heaven’s Door (eOne Music)
Fats Domino: Blues Biography (InGrooves)
George Benson: Ultimate Collection (Rhino)
Hank Ballard: Let’s Go Again! – Singles Collection 1960-1962 (Jasmine)
Jagged Edge: Greatest Hits (Cleopatra)
James Brown: I’m Real (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Jeff Bradshaw: Home: One Special Night At The Kimmel Center (Shanachie)
Jodeci: The Past, The Present, The Future (Epic)
Johnny Adams: I Won’t Cry: Complete Ric & Ron Singles 1959-1964 (Ace)
Jonathan Butler: Surrender
Kenya: My Own Skin (Expansion)
King Curtis: Soul Twist: The Best of the Early Sixties (Airline)
Lil Jimmie: She Was Twerking (Music Access Inc)
Main Ingrediant: L.T.D./Black Seeds (Real Gone)
My Midnight Heart: Break EP ; Drown EP (digital)
Notations: Still Here, 1967 – 1973 (Numero)
PJ: Walking Around Pools EP (digital)
Rayven Justice: I Have A Dream (Empire Dist.)
Roy Brown: Payday Jump: The 1949-51 Sessions (Ace)
Sons of Serendip: Sons of Serendip (NIA)
Stephanie Pickett: Greatest Hits (Music Access Inc)
Tyrone Davis: Lets Be Closer Together (expanded edition) (Funky Town Grooves)
Various: Los Angeles Soul: Kent-Modern’s Black Music Legacy (Kent)
Various: Ultra-High Frequencies: The Chicago Party (Numero)
Various: Blaxploitation—6 Classic Funk Soundtracks (UMC)
Various: Empire – Original Soundtrack from Season 1 (Columbia)
Various: All in mind – The Wand Records Story (One Day)
Various: Loose the Funk: Rarities From the Jewel/Paula Vaults (Airline)
Various: Fire/Fury Records Story – Doo Wop Collection (Airline)
Various: The One-derful! Collection: The M-Pac! Label (Secret Stash)
Will Downing: Chocolate Drops (WDP)

Rap, Hip Hop
Big Shug: Triple Ogzus (Brick)
Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce)
Lil C: H-Town Chronic, Vol. 12 (Oarfin)
Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (Prospect Park)
Berner: 20 Lights (Bern One Ent.)
Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin (Ihiphop Dist.)
Chief Keef : Feed the Streets (Black Market)
Da Mafia 6ix: Watch What U Wish . . . (101 Dist.)
Da ‘Unda ‘Dogg: In With The Old Out With The New (Pushin Dope Productions)
Diamond District: March On Washington Redux (Mello Music)
DJ Clent: Last Bus to Lake Park (Duck N Cover)
Freddie Gibbs: Pronto EP (ESGN)
Ghostpoet: Shedding Skin (Play It Again Sam)
G-Unit: The Beast Is G-Unit EP (G-Unit)
J-Diggs & Jacka: Mobb Nation (Thizz Nation/Romp’t Out)
J-Live: His Own Self (Mortier Music)
Juicy J: Coast 2 Coast 250 (Ontrack Ent.)
Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Interscope)
Ludacris: Ludaversal (Def Jam)
Malik B And Mr. Green: Unpredictable (Enemy Soil)
Mark Battles & Dizzy Wright: Lost in Reality (Empire Dist.)
Mooch Da Player: The Ghetto Storyboard (Fo’ Way Entertainment)
Nengo Flow: Los Reyes Del Rap (Real G 4 Life)
Pooca Leroy: Mobb Sauce (Music Access Inc)
Priceless Da Roc: Forever California (Empire Dist.)
Project Pat: Mista Don’t Play 2: Everythangs Money (eOne Music)
Rapper Big Pooh: Words Paint Pictures (Mello Music Group)
Rorschack & T.O.N.E-z: Handcuffs (MalLabel)
Skizzy Mars: Red Balloom Project (Artist Partner Group)
Substantial & The Other Guys: The Past EP (HiPNOTT)
Swave Sevah: Son of a One Armed Man (Creative Juices)
The Regiment & Sinitus Tempo: S.O.U.L. (Sound of Us Living) (HiPNOTT)
Various: Mello Music Group Persona (Mello Music)
Various: Lowrider Freedom 2015 (Thump)
Wale: The Album About Nothing (Atlantic Urban)
Webbie: Money Good (Empire Dist.)

Reggae, Dancehall, Calypso
Black Symbol: Black Symbol (Reggae Archive Records)
Blues Busters: The Wonder and Glory of the Blues Busters (Sunrise)
Capital Letters: Wolverhampton (Sugar Shack Records)
Carlene Davis: Dripping Blood (V.P.)
Jimmy Riley: Live It to Know It (Pressure Sounds)
Micah Shemiaiah: Original Dread (Descendant Music)
Rocky Duwani: Branches of the Same Tree  (Cumbancha)
Toian: Retrospect EP (Class One Music)
Various: Ska From the Vaults of Wirl Records (Kingston Sounds)
Various: It’s Jamaica Jump Blues Time: Jamaican Sound System (Fantastic Voyage)

World, Latin
Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band: Juguya (Sublime Frequencies)
Angelique Kidjo: Sings (429 Records)
Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
BKO Quintet: Bamako Today – BKO On Air (Buda Musique)
Carlou D: A New Day (World Village)
Rebel Tumbao:Rebel Tumbao (Sacred Rhythm Music)
Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile (Transgressive)
Studio One Jump Up:Birth of a Sound: Jump-Up Jamaican R&B, Jazz & Early Ska (Soul Jazz)
Various: Next Stop Soweto 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-disco & Mbaqanga 1975-1985 (Strut)
Various: Highlife on the Move (Soundway)
Xavier Rudd & The United Nations: Nanna (Nettwerk)

View review April 1st, 2015

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