Archive for March, 2017

Welcome to the March 2017 Issue

March 2017 Black Grooves small op2
Welcome to the March 2017 edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

We’re celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring two new albums by women who address racial oppression and resilience: Rhiannon Giddens’ Freedom Highway and Measha Brueggergosman’s Songs of Freedom. We’re also featuring Valerie June’s atmospheric new album The Order of Timeblues singer Thornetta Davis’ Honest Woman, and gospel legend CeCe Winans’ Let Them Fall In Love.

New reissues and compilations include When Colors Come Together…The Legacy of Harry Belafonte which celebrates the artist’s 90th birthday, and Now-Again’s re-release of Mark III’s Marvin Whoremonger. World music releases include the new deluxe edition of Strictly Roots by the reggae family group Morgan Heritage, and Build Music from Sierra Leone natives Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang.

Other new releases include Thundercat’s eclectic album Drunk and Funk Box from the Atlanta-based group The Maxx.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of February 2016 Releases of Note.

View review March 6th, 2017

Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway

Rhiannon Giddens
Title: Freedom Highway

Artist: Rhiannon Giddens

Label: Nonesuch Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: February 24, 2017

 

Rhiannon Giddens maintains a heightened level of excellence as a musician and activist songwriter throughout Freedom Highway, her second full album since Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015). Co-produced by Dirk Powell, Giddens presents nine original songs and three reimagined arrangements of civil-rights era and traditional music featuring guest performances by Bhi Bhiman, Lalenja Harrington and Leyla McCalla.

Giddens opens the album with “At the Purchaser’s Option,” sung in the first person about a woman facing the physical, mental, and spiritual magnitude of enslavement:

The album creatively and poetically addresses historical and contemporary forms of racial oppression in the United States. In “Julie,” Giddens sings a fearful ballad about the imminent separation between a maid and her white mistress by Union soldiers. The story reveals complex emotions as the maid reminds the mistress of how she sold away the maid’s children in order to produce the money the mistress re-gifts to her. The slow and sweet duet “Baby Boy” is a both somber lullaby and loving tribute to mothers who raise and protect the future “saviors” and leaders of mankind:

Baby Boy, young man, beloved
Don’t you weep, I will watch over you, I will stand by you
You will be, You will be, a savior
But until then
Go to sleep

From the darker themes of the electrically blue “Come Love Come,” to the funky precision of “The Love We Almost Had,” Giddens exhibits her eclectic and perfectionist talent down to the fine detail as a vocalist, banjo player, and bandleader. In “Better Get It Right the First Time,” she sings a soulful chorus of multi-harmonies as her band mate, Justin Harrington, performs a rap verse enhancing the traditional American roots music style. “Hey Bébé” differs significantly midway during the album, drawing on Cajun rhythmic and instrumental patterns.

“Birmingham Sunday” may perhaps be the most emotionally compelling song on the album. Originally written by Richard Fariña and performed by Joan Baez on a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, Giddens suitably infuses the ballad of the Birmingham bombing of 1963 with a gospel style. She concludes with an instrumental banjo and bones duet on “Following the North Star” that leads into “Freedom Highway,” a soulful celebration of the fight for civil rights reminiscent of Aretha Franklin’s 1968 “Think.”

Rhiannon Giddens’ expertly produced Freedom Highway traverses the historical roots of racial unrest in the United States. Her work possesses an unwavering determination as she strives for accuracy connecting musical traditions with related contemporary genres to illustrate the deeply embedded patterns of racial oppression and resilience.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review March 1st, 2017

Measha Brueggergosman – Songs of Freedom

Measha
Title: Songs of Freedom

Artist: Measha Brueggergosman

Label: Outside Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 13, 2017

 

Canadian opera singer Measha Brueggergosman is known for the versatility of both her voice and her career. As a classically trained soprano, she performs both operatic roles as well as those of a concert artist. Her latest project, Songs of Freedom, is a collection of spirituals that corresponds with Brueggergosman’s discovery of her family’s history in Canada.  The album is much more than just a collection of spirituals, however—it is also part of a larger documentary project including a film, a 4-part TV series, mobile app and interactive website with narratives from both Brueggergosman and the owner of Chalet Studio, in which some of the spirituals were recorded. The documentary explores how she came to know these spirituals, and to learn about herself and her family history in the process.

The website for the Songs of Freedom project provides a number of complementary elements to the album. In addition to performance videos showing Brueggergosman and her collaborators, there are also essays written by Brueggergosman, the musicians with whom she worked, and scholars of African American music.  These essays help to frame the project and provide a foundation on the importance of spirituals to the black musical tradition.  Also featured on this website is a 360 degree performance video of Brueggergosman recording “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” one of the spirituals featured on the album. The 360 scope of the video provides an intimate portrait of how she explored these spirituals and eventually made them her own.

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Musically, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is definitely one of the highlights of the album, along with other slow tempo spirituals such as “I Surrender All.” These two especially allow Brueggergosman’s voice time to fill in spaces, rather than to be rushed.  In this exploration of spirituals, she joins the company of other black operatic singers such as Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle.  Within the documentary series and the accompanying album, Measha Brueggergosman is doing important work to uncover her family’s history and also elevate the status of spirituals as repertoire.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review March 1st, 2017

Valerie June – The Order of Time

Valerie June

Title: The Order of Time

Artist: Valerie June

Label: Concord Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: March 10, 2017

 

“Long Lovely Road” opens Valerie June’s atmospheric new album, The Order of Time, with a calming melody beckoning the listener to sing along with the chorus. Based out of Brooklyn, June collaborated with producer Matt Marinelli to create this second full album following her 2014 release, Pushin’ Against a Stone. On “Love Once Made,” June’s distinctive voice stands out as it beautifully breaks into her upper register on the chorus. The energy carries straight into “Shake Down,” an exciting call and response electric blues song supported by back-up vocals from June’s father and brothers:

The soothing drone of “If And” and the sustained ambient tones of “The Front Door” inspire a hopeful meditative response to the hard times everyone will inevitably encounter in life. “Man Done Wrong” draws on the lyrical repetition tradition found in blues music with a very minimalistic instrumental section and a prominent beat. “Astral Plane,” perhaps the most iconic song on this album, contemplates a spiritual purpose within the greater cosmic theme:

Dancing on the astral plane
In holy water cleansing rain
Floating through the stratosphere
Blind, but yet you see so clear

June remains front and center throughout this album, though she collaborated with keyboardist Pete Remm and vocalist Norah Jones. The deep electric guitar reverb introducing the orchestra of strings in “Just In Time,” the only song produced by Richard Swift, refocuses attention on the timely unity of humanity. Partnered well with “Two Hearts,” June sweetly blends her voice on “With You” with a fingerpicking guitar pattern, building into a more instrumentally complex arrangement. The album concludes with “Slip Slide on By” and “Got Soul,” two party songs with a brass band, soulful keys, and the potential to continue playing on repeat!

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review March 1st, 2017

Thornetta Davis – Honest Woman

Thornetta Davis
Title: Honest Woman

Artist: Thornetta Davis

Label: Self-released

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 23, 2016

 

Crowned the “Queen of Detroit Blues” in 2015, Thornetta Davis is a blues singer and songwriter with a big voice and a passion for all things blues, rock, and soul. Though she’s worked with labels like Sub Pop in the past, her latest release Honest Woman is a self-released project full of passion.

Honest Woman starts rather untraditionally, with Felicia Davis singing her sister’s praises like a spoken word poem over back porch Delta blues: “When my sister sings the blues, she moves her hips swaying to the beat / Snapping her fingers and stomping her feet.” She compares her sister to Bessie Smith and Sippie Wallace, two of the most famous black blues singers from the 1920s. This celebration of black women in music and the blues reverberates throughout the entire album, as Thornetta Davis draws inspiration from artists such as Denise LaSalle, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, and Big Mama Thornton.

The theme of honoring women is echoed on the second track, “I Gotta Sang the Blues,” which is a powerful duet with harmonica virtuoso Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbids. The songs talks about singing the blues not to get rich or famous, but rather to persevere when “living the blues gets too rough.” At the end of the song, Davis evokes the names of more famous blues women, singing on the outro,

I ain’t gon’ stop singin’ the blues
Big Mama Thorton sang the blues
Koko Taylor sang the blues
Etta James sang the blues.

On “Sister Friends Indeed,” Davis celebrates the female friendships in her own life. The bluesy Americana track is an ode to sisterhood, discussing how all the women who have supported her throughout life are her sisters, whether they share blood or not:

The rest of Honest Woman doesn’t celebrate blues women as explicitly, but it cements Davis as a part of that history. Her smooth voices oscillates between a number of styles. She sings contemporary upbeat rock blues on songs like “That Don’t Appease Me” and “I Need A Whole Lotta Lovin to Satisfy Me,” followed by effortless soul on the heartbreak ballad “(Am I Just A) Shadow,” and sexy R&B vocals on “Can We Do It Again.”

Davis’ mixture of black music genres stands out particularly on “Set Me Free,” a modern funk and blues spiritual featuring the Larry McCray Band. Though it may be easy to view the raunchy aspects of blues as the opposite of gospel, Davis’ plea for the Lord to come down and set her free pairs perfectly with the blues singer’s themes of struggles and the pain of working.

The final song on the album, “Feels Like Religion,” is another gospel song which celebrates Davis finding happiness and confidence in herself. The song even has a call and response section as Davis sings, “I wanna dance! (dance) Shout! (shout) Show you what it’s all about!” The steady beat of the drum set completely shifts after this call and response as the music transforms into foot-stomping, hand-clapping gospel that completely takes the listener to church. This celebratory, thankful song encapsulates what Honest Woman is all about—an album full of joy and gratitude for the black blues women who influenced Davis’ music, her sisters, her God, and herself, the “Queen of Detroit Blues.”

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 1st, 2017

CeCe Winans – Let Them Fall in Love

Cece winans
Title: Let Them Fall in Love

Artist: CeCe Winans

Label: Pure Springs Gospel

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 3, 2017

 

There is no denying that CeCe Winans is one of the most successful female gospel artists ever, with 10 Grammys, 20 Dove Awards, and 7 Stellar Awards. She’s been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, sold over 5 million albums in the United States, and guest starred on multiple TV shows. After taking a break from the studio, this powerful gospel artist is back for her first album in almost a decade, Let Them Fall in Love, which was produced by her son Alvin Love III.

Recorded in Nashville and New York City, the project was mixed by Dae Bennett (Tony Bennet, Amy Winehouse) and Jimmy Douglass (Pharrell Williams). These talented collaborators worked to bring Alvin and CeCe’s vision to life: an album that bridged generations of Christians, based on past traditions yet applicable to the present.

Much of the album has a distinct Motown feel. From the opening track “He’s Never Failed Me Yet” (CeCe’s personal testimony to faith) to “Hey Devil!” (a rebuking duet with the Clark Sisters), the swelling, orchestral sounds of the Nashville String Machine and the vocal harmonies echo the heyday of Motown and pop music of the 1960s.

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Despite the prevalence of the pop vocal harmony sound, a couple of songs on the album have a true gospel feel. “Dancing In the Spirit” featuring Hezekiah Walker and his Love Fellowship Choir is a jubilant celebration of faith that physically moves everyone in the church.

Winans’ incredible vocal talent is heard most clearly on the other predominantly gospel song, “Marvelous.” The simplicity of Winans’ voice with organ and piano is moving, and builds a powerful crescendo as a gospel chorus softly enters with background vocals, eventually growing in volume until they completely fill the space. By the end, it is no wonder why Winans describes the track as a “musical embodiment of the black church.”

Songs like “Lowly,” about pride and humility aimed at young men, and the slow, somber track “Never Have to Be Alone” about turning away from God only to find that he still remains, have a more contemporary Christian music feel. These songs are representative of the album’s goal to engage younger listeners.

Whether or not Let Them Fall in Love truly succeeds at bridging a generation gap, Winans always wows with her powerful vocals and truly soars on the gospel-style songs.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 1st, 2017

Thundercat – Drunk

Thundercat
Title: Drunk

Artist: Thundercat

Label: Brainfeeder

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: February 24, 2017

 

This month sees a new release from the eclectic bass virtuoso Stephen Bruner, known by his stage name, Thundercat.  Bruner has performed with artists across a variety of genres, and is perhaps best known for his collaboration with rapper Kendrick Lamar on the latter’s 2015 masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly.  Thundercat has an ear for a variety of musical styles, and his wide-ranging musical approach is readily apparent on Drunk.

This 23-track album feels like a series of musical vignettes—only one of these cracks the 4-minute mark and the vast majority of them are shorter than 3 minutes long. However, this brevity allows each composition to be a highly detailed miniature, with carefully layered sounds and carefully composed tunes being the album’s highlight.  Each track leaves the listener craving more without feeling complete, almost as though each song were a brief study in compositional technique.  If Thundercat’s resume is full of versatility, so is his dossier of compositions.  This album is heavy on guest appearances, with Thundercat working with everyone from yacht-rockers Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins (“Show You the Way”), to socially-conscious rapper Kendrick Lamar (“Walk on By,” which can be heard below), to massive pop star and musical chameleon Pharrell Williams (“The Turn Down”).  On these “feat” tracks, Thundercat and company craft arrangements that bring out the best of his collaborators’ musical ideas while simultaneously pushing these otherwise well-established artists towards Thundercat’s own neo-soul jazz fusion.

The material on this album ranges from virtuosic (“Uh Uh”) to just plain weird, incorporating sung meows (“A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)”) and lyrics about playing Mortal Kombat when relegated to friend status by a potential romantic partner (“Friend Zone”) into his musically and technically sophisticated music.  This approach begs comparison to the bizarre combination of humor and virtuosity that was the hallmark of artists like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. While it is easy to imagine that listeners who are here for the marquee collaborations may be put off by the more technically involved or thematically strange music, these equal parts of Thundercat’s approach to composing and playing fit comfortably side-by-side.  This is the kind of record that will challenge listeners by pushing them out of their musical comfort zones by an artist who is comfortable across a wide variety of musical idioms.

Drunk is nothing if not ambitious, but ambitious records are usually a bit uneven.  It is hard to find a single unifying thread that runs throughout the album, but that ultimately doesn’t prove detrimental to the project as a whole. Drunk isn’t a novel, but a visit to a musical theme park, where listeners are encouraged to take a spin on each of the rides.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review March 1st, 2017

Harry Belafonte – When Colors Come Together… The Legacy of Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte
Title: When Colors Come Together… The Legacy of Harry Belafonte

Artist: Harry Belafonte

Label: Legacy Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

With a career spanning over 60 years, Harry Belafonte is perhaps most famous for bringing Caribbean music into American pop culture. His 1956 breakout LP Calypso became the first album ever to sell more than a million copies, solidifying his spot in pop culture and music history.

Now, Legacy Recordings is celebrating his 90th birthday with the newly released compilation When Colors Come Together…The Legacy of Harry Belafonte. Belafonte himself chose the track list for the album, which includes one new recording alongside many classic and well-known Harry Belafonte songs. His son, David Belafonte, produced the album and wrote the liner notes. He appears with Harry discussing the album below:

A year after Calypso was released, Belafonte appeared in the film Island in the Sun, which explored racial tensions and interracial romance. A re-interpretation of a song from the film, “When Colors Come Together (Our Island In the Sun),” is the first track on the album and is sung by a children’s choir. The song is full of joy and optimism as the chorus of kids sing “Dark skin, light skin, brown eyes, blue / It’s what inside that should matter to you” while upbeat bongos resound behind their voices. In his liner notes, David Belafonte states that they reinterpreted the song “[using] the voices and performances of children to make the case that there is no human gene for racism; that what has been learned must be unlearned if the world is to ever truly know peace.”

Belafonte’s famous recording of the Jamaican folk song “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” also makes an appearance, as well as the buoyant dance song “Jump the Line.” Other classic Belafonte songs on the compilation include “Jamaica Farewell” and “Try to Remember.”

At a time when racial tensions continue to reign and protests rise up around the country, another folk song recorded by Belafonte, “All My Trials,” rings especially poignant. Used during social movements and protests in the 1950s and 1960s, the song is a testament to Belafonte’s activism during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as his friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Belafonte has continued this passionate call for social justice throughout his career, advocating for causes such as the anti-apartheid movement and USA for Africa. He also served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is currently the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues. His social justice organization Sankofa.org has been involved with a number of important causes, most recently participating in a “Justice for Flint” benefit concert and working with Usher on his “Chains” music video and racial justice campaign.

When Colors Come Together…The Legacy of Harry Belafonte is a celebration of everything that Belafonte has accomplished in his wide-ranging career and life. Though prominently featuring the Calypso music that he became so well known for, the album also honors his career and legacy of social justice work through song choice and the re-recording of “When Colors Come Together (Our Island In the Sun).” It is clear that both Harry and David Belafonte are still passionate about addressing issues of racial prejudice and violence, and this compilation shows they are determined to continue embedding Harry Belafonte’s legacy in a whole new generation.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 1st, 2017

Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang – Build Music

Janka Nabay
Title: Build Music

Artist: Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang

Label: Luaka Bop

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: March 24, 2017

 

Janka Nabay rose to stardom in his native Sierra Leone during the 1990s for remixing and modernizing Bubu music (traditional music of the Temne people in Sierra Leone). Caught amid the decades-long war there, Nabay immigrated to the United States in 2003. After years of working side jobs and trying to make a life as an artist, in 2010 he crossed paths with filmmaker and scholar Wills Glasspiegel, who had recorded bubu horns. Together, they put together a touring band that eventually recorded and released their debut album En Yah Sah in 2012.

Three years later, Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang are returning with their sophomore album Build Music. This project reflects the many cultures and contradictions in Nabay’s life. He sings in Sierra Leone’s lingua franca, Krio, as well as his native tribal language Temne, English, and even bits of Arabic. Using traditional recordings and his band’s instrumentals as well as overdubs, loops, and electronic drumbeats, the result is a diversified sound that overturns the notion of static traditions while trying to remain true to the flavor and integrity of bubu music.

Bubu music is most identifiable by West African bamboo horns that the Temne people use in traditional bubu processions in rural areas of Sierra Leone during Ramadan. In the past, Nabay has mimicked the sounds of these horns on Casios. While he does use these keyboard imitations on Build Music, he also directly samples recordings of the horns that Glasspiegel recorded on a 2014 trip to Sierra Leone and includes them on the songs “Angbolieh” and “Santa Monica.”

Build Music’s title reflects the process behind the album, which was slow and intentional. Included are reimagined versions of songs Nabay recorded in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, like “Sabanoh” and “Angbolieh,” as well as tracks such as “Bubu Dub” featuring new vocals sung over original Sierra Leonean rhythms recorded by Nabay’s collaborators.

The diversity present in music styles and languages on the album is also reflected in choice of song topics and themes, which draw upon Nabay’s experiences in Sierra Leone and current incidents related to life as an immigrant in the United States. For example, “Santa Monica” is based on a tense encounter Nabay had with a police officer. These varied themes are a part of his philosophy–namely, that multiple, contradicting realities always coexist. Build Music is an example of this dichotomy, drawing from Nabay’s diverse life experiences yet keeping bubu music at the heart of it all.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review March 1st, 2017

Morgan Heritage – Strictly Roots

Morgan Heritage
Title: Strictly Roots

Artist: Morgan Heritage

Label : CTBC

Formats : 2-CD deluxe edition, MP3

Release date: December 9, 2016

 

Family acts in music have always been huge: The Osmonds, Sylvers, Five Stairsteps, Isleys, Carpenters, and of course The Jackson 5/The Jacksons—who recently marked their 50th anniversary. Morgan Heritage is a family act and I’m willing to bet that you’ve never heard of the group. MH is Jamaica’s answer to the J5. Made up a five siblings, their father is reggae singer Denroy Morgan, who had a big hit in 1981 with the single “I’ll Do Anything.”

First released in 2015, Strictly Roots is the band’s 10th studio album and the first on their own label CTBC, which stands for Cool To Be Conscious (they recorded for the label VP during much of their success, but felt it was time to move on). After winning a Grammy Award in the Best Reggae Album category in 2016, the group decided to release a 2-CD deluxe edition, which celebrates the album’s success with previously unreleased tracks and remixes.

The original album (Disc 1) was comprised of twelve tracks in which Morgan Heritage takes the listener through peaks and valleys. In the song “So Amazing,” Morgan Heritage steps away from traditional roots and goes for a more top 40 sound. “So Amazing” could easily be played on a CW series:

In reggae, one always pay homage to Jah and Morgan Heritage sticks with tradition. In “Child of Jah” (feat. Chronixx) they explain the part Jah plays in reggae music and rastas to those who don’t know. On “Light It Up,” featuring Jo Messa Marley, they chant “this is reggae music.” Can’t do reggae without a Marley. After all, Robert Nesta Marley is the godfather of reggae. “Rise and Fall,” which discusses the cycle of life, has the typical drum & bass sound you hear in reggae.

“Celebrate Life” may be Morgan Heritage’s best track on this album. Again, Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” had to play a major part. “Celebrate the life you love / Celebrate the life you live,” Peetah Morgan & Grampson sing on lead vocals. If the group wanted to get crossover appeal, this would be the track to do it.

Disc 2 includes 3 additional versions of “Light It Up,” plus the pop-oriented “Come Fly” featuring the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly and the more traditional “Lion Order,” among others.

Morgan Heritage has won respect from the reggae community worldwide. Now that they are independent on CTBC, I expect them to take some risks and open it up. After all, they’re royalty. One Love.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review March 1st, 2017

Mark III – Marvin Whoremonger

Marvin Whoremonger
Title: Marvin Whoremonger

Artist: Mark III

Label: Now Again

Formats: CD, LP

Release date: November 18, 2016

 

For the uninitiated, Now Again Records is an imprint that specializes in unearthing rare and obscure soul and funk recordings.  Each re-release is accompanied by detailed liner notes.  The notes really speak to one of the great things about Now Again—they do not just unearth the music, but also the stories behind them.  The story behind Mark III’s Marvin Whoremonger is simultaneously as interesting and disjointed as is the music on the album.

The story told in the 26 page illustrated booklet primarily follows the lives of Marvin Neroes, who serves as the vocalist on Marvin Whoremonger, and the producer of the album Charles Lober Abu “Cholly” Williams. Neroes led a rough life and came across Williams in Las Vegas while in his early twenties. Williams, who reportedly had a fondness for “left of center” projects, linked Neroes up with brothers Richard and Michael Thompson (guitar and drums respectively) and Clifford Johnson (bass), who were still in their teens. Williams’ vision for these musicians was to create a concept album; the result, while light on cohesiveness, presents a unique (if somewhat half baked) project.

Marvin Whoremonger is a surprisingly synth heavy (Williams brought in a keyboard player and horn section for some tracks) album that shows the youthful exuberance of the players and the almost stream of consciousness lyrics of Neroes. The bulk of the album feels like a soundtrack to film that never was, recalling some of the jammy, looseness of Earth, Wind & Fire on the soundtrack to Melvin Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.  The best of these “concept” tracks for my money is “Pusher Man” and “Funky Heaven,” which both boast standout use of synth from the unnamed keyboardist along with great guitar and bass work.

Oddly enough, the album completely switches gears on the tracks “Going to the Top” and “The Party’s Over,” which Williams allowed the band to oversee. It is on these two tracks, however, that I personally really see the potential for what this band may have accomplished had they been given time to grow as a unit. These tracks are straightforward, uptight and funky, and stick out on the album like sore thumbs in the most positive way imaginable.

My hat goes off to Now Again for continuing to bring albums like Marvin Whoremonger to light, as well as highlighting the intriguing stories of the folks who made them. While this album may not be my favorite among Now Again’s releases, it was still interesting to listen to and learn the story behind its creation.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

View review March 1st, 2017

The Maxx – Funk Box

The Maxx
Title: Funk Box

Artist: The Maxx

Label: Cadabra Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 6, 2016

 

The Maxx’s six song Funk Box is a short and sweet testament to a band who really has “they thang together.”  Formed in Atlanta in 1980, the core members of the band— Rod Whittaker, Leroy “Roc” Lovelace and Steven Rollins—have spent decades playing together and learning from each other and it shows throughout this EP.  Joined by Dwight Smith (drums), Andre Bernard (trombone/keyboards/vocals), Menes Ray (trumpet/vocals) and vocalist Rainy Middleton, the band packaged their all into this album with cuts that make clear why they are in high demand as a performing band.

Funk Box begins with the high energy track “Emergency” which features Middleton’s sultry vocals front and center as well as The Maxx’s strong horn section, with an excellent muted trumpet solo near the end by Ray (see the live performance of the song below).  Next up is “I Can’t Deny” with its heavyweight bassline. The effects make it a bit hard to tell if this was a bass guitar or synth, but either way it was “sho nuff funkay.” These two tracks together really serve as a 1-2 punch to get the party started, with the horns really strutting their stuff on both.

The next two tracks, “I Know” and “Rock With You,” have the feel of a “modern jook joint.” That is, not the the type of jook joints one may have seen in The Color Purple, but more like the joints from the legions and union halls in the ’80s that were packed with folks dancing to the latter day hits of artists like Denise LaSalle and Clarence Carter.  “Rock With You” has the added attraction of a male vocalist that takes the song up a notch near the end.

“Meant To Be” is a soulful track that would make Ann Peebles and the Hi Rhythm Section proud. “Love’s Gonna Get You,” which closes out the EP, must be great performed live with its interplay between the band, Middleton and male vocalist John Bigham (aka The Soul of John Black, who did most of the writing and production).

All in all, Funk Box is a great advertisement for The Maxx as a live band. Their brand of danceable funk is surely a crowd pleaser.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

View review March 1st, 2017

February 2017 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during February 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk Country
Eddie Bo, Chris Barber: The 1991 Sea-Saint Sessions (Last Music Co.)
Hayes McMullan: Everyday Seem Like Murder Here (LITA)

Classical, Spoken Word, Soundtrack
Grace Bumbry: The Art Of Grace Bumbry (Deutsche Grammophon   )
Jordi Savall: the Routes of Slavery (Alia Vox)
Leontyne Price: Puccini: Tosca (Decca)
Steve Brown: Live at the Atlanta Comedy Theater (ATL Comedy Theater)
Various: The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh OST (Real Gone Music)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears: Backlash (Ingrooves)
Chameleon: Chameleon (expanded ed.) (BBR)
Dawn Richard: Redemption (expanded ed.) (Local Action / Our Dawn Ent.)
Della Reese: Special Delivery (Sepia)
Just Robyn: Mustard Seed (Joziewood)
Pazant Brothers: Skunk Juice: Dirty Funk From the Big Apple (BGP)
Sinkane: Life & Livin’ It (City Slang)
Thievery Corporation: The Temple of I & I (ESL Music)

Gospel, Christian Rap
AnG White: I Am AnG White (C Bazz Ent.)
Anthony Evans: Back to Life (Sherman James Productions)
Antonia Wilson: The Sower and the Seed (Tight Tunes Inc)
Ayiesha Woods: The Runway Project (Original Peace Music Group)
Meachum L. Clarke & True Purpose: The Victory Experience
Minister Antonio Coney & The Voices of Fire: I Been Born Again (Deltone)
Mos Stef: Christian Hip Hop 101 (Victorious Life)
Speez: Let Me Introduce Myself (I’M DOIN’ JESUS)
Tramaine: Clear (Divine Light Media)

Jazz
Albert Ayler Quartet: The Hilversum Sessions (Modern Silence)
Cameron Graves: Planetary Prince (Mack Avenue)
Carmen Lundy: Code Noir (Afrasia Productions)
Chris McClenney: Portrait in Two EP
Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (ECM)
Curtis Brothers Quartet: Syzygy (Truth Revolution Records)
David Weiss & Point of Departure: Wake Up Call (Raopeadope)
Elijah Rock: Gershwin For My Soul
Harriet Tubman: Araminta (Sunnyside Communications )
Heads of State: Four in One (Smoke Sessions)
Kayla Waters: Apogee (Trippin N Rhythm)
Mike Longo Trio: Only Time Will Tell (Consolidated Artists Prod)
Nicholas Payton: Afro-Caribbean Mixtape (Paytone-Ropeadope)
Ransom Moreland Jr: Restoration
The Baylor Project: The Journey (Be A Light)
Tiger Trio (with Nicole Miller): Unleased (Rogueart)
Xixel Langa: Inside Me (Modigi)

R&B, Soul
Andy Suzuki & The Method: The Glass Hour (digital)
Aretha Franklin: Aretha (2 CD deluxe ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Brenton Wood: The Very Best Of (Concord)
Charlie Wilson: In It To Win It (RCA)
Chocolate Milk: Chocolate Milk (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Chocolate Milk: We’re All in This Together/Milky Way (Funky Town Grooves)
D.J. Rogers: Love, Music & Life (Funky Town Grooves)
Delegation: Promise of Love: Limited (Clinck )
Divine Brown: Crazy Love Amplified EP
Eddie Kendricks: Something More (Funky Town Grooves)
Emanny: Black Heart (digital)
Gladys Knight & the Pips: 2nd Anniversary (Funky Town Grooves)
Gladys Knight & the Pips: I Feel a Song (Funky Town Grooves)
Gladys Knight & the Pips: The One and Only (Funky Town Grooves)
Jermaine Jackson: Don’t Take It Personal (Funky Town Grooves)
Jermaine Jackson: Precious Moments (Funky Town Grooves)
Jesse Boykins III x Two Fresh: TOKiMONSTA’s Young Art Sound
Jessica Manning: What If I Run
José James: Love in a Time of Madness (Blue Note)
Moonglows: Complete Singles As & Bs 1953-62 (Acrobat)
Oleta Adams: Third Set
Phil Perry: Breathless (Shanachie)
Roy Roberts: Roy Roberts Experience (Perfect Toy)
Sampha: Process (Young Turks)
Sergio Sylvestre: S/T (Sony )
Sir: Her Too EP (digital) (TDE)
Starpoint: Restless/Sensational (reissue) (Cherry Red)
SYD: Fin (Columbia)
Tef Poe: Black Julian (Footklan Music Group)
Tymes: Turning Point (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)

Rap
A$AP Mob: Cozy Tapes Vol. 1: Friends
Big Sean: I Decided (G.O.O.D. Music)
Black Moon: Enta Da Stage: The Complete Edition (box set) (Fat Beats)
Ces Cru: Catastrophic Event Specialists (Strange Music)
Christopher Martin: Big Deal (VP)
Dej Loaf and Jacquees: F*ck A Friend Zone (digital)
Denmark Vessey: Martin Lucid Dream ( Street Corner Music)
Fat Joe & Remy Ma: Plata O Plomo (RNG)
Funky DL: Marauding At Midnight: A Tribute To The Sounds of A Tribe Called Quest (Washington Classics)
Future: S/t
Ill Bill: Septagram (Uncle Howie)
Joe Young: Invincible Armour ( YoungLife Music Group)
Karriem Riggins: Headnob Suite (Stone’s Throw)
K-DEF: In the Moment (vinyl) (Redefinition)
Kent Jones: The Luh Tape (digital)
Kirk Knight: Black Noise (digital)
LiKWUiD & 2 Hungry Bros.: Fay Grim ( HiPNOTT)
Lil Reese: Better Days (digital) (RBC)
Lupe Fiasco: DROGAS Light ( 1st & 15th Productions)
Neek The Exotic: The Neek The Exotic Experience ( Still On The Hustle Music)
Nines: One Foot Out (digital) (XL)
Nobigdyl: Canopy (digital) (indie tribe)
Olivier St. Louis: Ever Since the Fall ( Jakarta)
Par-City: The Young, Dope & Gifted II (Par-City)
Paul Nice: Ultimate Block Party Breaks Volumes 3 (Super Break)
Quelle Chris: Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often (Mello Music Group)
Reek Daddy: Fiery Hot Rocks
Shield Enforcers: Crash Course ( ChamberMusik)
“Starlito and Don Trip:”  karate in the Garage (digital)
Steven Malcolm: S/T (digital) (4 AGAINST 5)
Urban Legend Blakboy: Koais Atrd (Mathutie)
Various: New Gen (XL)
Westside Gunn: Riots On Fashion Avenue (Effiscienz)
Young Dolph: Gelato (Paper Route Empire )

Reggae, Dancehall
Lyricson: Revolution Time Again (Undisputed)
Nafrythm: Ocean (RCM)
Neville Staple: Return of Judge Roughneck (Cleopatra)
Samu: My Soul (Maxizamus)
Skatalits: Foundation Ska ( Studio One)

World
Aurelio: Darandi (Real World)
Black Market Brass: Cheat & Start a Fight (Secret Stash)
Flavia Coelho: Sonho Real (PIASL)
Joe King Kologbo: Sugar Daddy (vinyl) (Strut)
Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita: Transparent Water (Ota)
Saddysa: African Modern Spirituals
Tinariwen: Elwan (Anti/Epitaph)

View review March 1st, 2017

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