Artist: Moonlight Benjamin
Label: Ma Case
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 30, 2018
For the past twelve years, Moonlight Benjamin has been successfully carving out a space for herself within the music world as the priestess of voodoo blues rock and roll. Her fourth album, Siltane, has only secured her claim to this title. The latest project features Benjamin on lead vocals, Matthis Pascaud on bass and guitar, Marck-Richard Mirand on bass, Clude Saturne on percussion, and Bertrand Noël on drums. Together, they create a soundscape that is suggestive of “an Afro-energized Black Keys meets Dr. John.”Continue reading →
Title: The Bookends
Artist: Eric Gales
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 8, 2019
Virtuoso blues-rock guitarist Eric Gales may not be a household name, but he’s been described by his peers as one of the best guitar players in the world. A former child prodigy, Gales was signed to a record label at the age of 16 and has since recorded 15 solo albums. Along the way he’s recorded with many other artists, and also performs alongside bassist Dug Pinnick (King’s X) and drummer Thomas Pridgen (Mars Volta) in the formidable black rock power trio Pinnick Gales Pridgen. Gales’ new release, The Bookends, may be his greatest accomplishment to date. While blues and rock may represent the bookends, the project also embodies “everything in between” from pop, jazz, and funk to gospel.Continue reading →
Title: Global Griot
Artist: Eric Bibb
Label: Stony Plain
Formats: 2-CD set, Digital
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Grammy nominated blues and folk musician Eric Bibb’s latest project, Global Griot, was inspired by his engagement with the West African tradition of storytelling through music—an engagement that began at least fifteen years prior when he met and recorded with Malian musician Habib Koité. In the introduction of the liner notes for his new album Bibb writes, “Dear friends, my ongoing reunion with West Africa is a life-changing blessing. Collaborating with and befriending musicians from legendary griot families has been a long awaited homecoming—like a healing singing river washing over my soul. It’s an honor and a great pleasure to introduce you to my fellow global griots with this gathering of tribes.”Continue reading →
Title: All My Money Gone
Artist: Snooky Pryor
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 1, 2018
All My Money Gone is the latest addition to the late Snooky Pryor’s catalog. Released by Wolf Records, this album features previously unreleased studio and live material that was recorded in Austria in October 1979. Also included are unreleased songs that Snooky recorded at other sessions such as “Work With Me, Annie,” “Boogie Twist,” “Blue Bird Blues,” and “Telephone Blues”—titled “I’m Gonna Call Up My Baby” on this compilation. In short, this album contains tracks that will be familiar to Snooky fans, but all of the sessions and live performances themselves will be new to the listener.Continue reading →
Title: Black Maria
Artist: Willie J. Laws Jr.
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 10, 2018
Self-described as “The Prophet of Funky Texas Blues,” guitarist Willie J. Laws offers an eclectic fusion of the blues with sounds native to the Gulf Coast region, including Zydeco, R&B, a twang of country, a little Tex-Mex Tejano/Conjunto, and a dollop of funk. Honed over 25 years of performing with his own band, as well as the Tejano band Los Texmaniacs, Laws’ playing style is American roots music at its best. On his latest album, Black Maria, Laws (on rhythm/lead guitar and vocals) is joined by his longtime band members—Bruce Mattson (keyboards/organ), Osi Brathwaite (drums), and Malcolm Stuckey (bass)—who helped pen the ten original tracks on this recording.Continue reading →
Veteran blues musician Kenny Wayne might have been raised as a preacher’s kid, but when he found himself “turning from the Lord’s work to the Devil’s music,” the “Blues Boss” was born. Well-known for his flamboyant zoot suits, boogie-woogie piano playing, and affinity for the classic jump blues of Amos Milburn and Louis Jordan, Wayne strives to keep all of these styles alive. As the septuagenarian states, “That’s classic stuff. And I’m at that classic age, so it all works out.” On his 10th release, Inspired by the Blues, Wayne and his band are joined by several special guests, including legendary Chicago harmonica player Billy Branch, guitarist Duke Robillard, and B.B. King’s long-time bassist Russell Jackson.Continue reading →
Artist: Henry Townsend
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 14, 2018
Hailed as one of the last of the original St. Louis pre-war blues musicians, the late Henry “Mule” Townsend was equally skilled on piano and guitar. His distinctive string snapping style drew heavily upon his Mississippi Delta roots as well as the ragtime and jump blues of his adopted city of St. Louis. Townsend, who began his recording career in 1929 for Columbia Records, holds the distinction of the only blues artist to have recorded during every decade from the 1920s to the 2000s. He accompanied many of the great blues musicians over the years, including Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Nighthawk. In 1980, the Nighthawk Records label out of St. Louis wanted to honor Townsend with an album worthy of his “unique genius,” and “thus secure for him the recognition that an artist of his stature and historical importance deserves.” The result was the “improvised” solo album, Mule, which highlights Townsend’s vocal and keyboard skills. Assisting musicians include another country blues legend, Yank Rachell, on mandolin and guitar, as well as guitarist Norman Merritt and Henry’s son, Vernell Townsend, who adds vocals on several songs.Continue reading →
Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris is an important addition to the documentation of Southern folklife, culture, and history. The box set includes a CD of blues field recordings, another CD of gospel field recordings, a disc of interviews and oral histories, a DVD with seven short documentary films (1972-1980), and a 120-page hardcover book edited by Ferris that includes transcriptions and annotations for all of the film and album recordings. A recently released companion DVD, The Early Films of William Ferris, 1968-1975, features rare footage of B.B. King and James “Son” Thomas. Both were produced by Dust-to-Digital in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, which holds the William R. Ferris Collection. Continue reading →
The 16th annual Blues Images calendar and CD reproduces classic, rare, and recently rediscovered artwork and recordings of pre and post-war blues songs from blues masters such as Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie, Leola B. Wilson, William Harris, Papa George Lightfoot, and others. While a copy of Papa George Lightfoot’s debut disc on Sultan Records (“Winding Ball Mama” / “Snake Hipping Daddy”) has been rumored to exist for decades, it recently surfaced and came to the attention of John Tefteller and his Blues Images team. The disc has been remastered and is included on this compilation along with other rare tracks such as William Harris’ “I’m a Roamin’ Gambler” / “I Was Born in the Country—Raised In The Town.”Continue reading →
Cedric Burnside is keeping the northern Mississippi hill country blues alive, a tradition he was literally born into and raised up to perform. Young Cedric frequently played alongside his grandfather, the great blues guitarist R.L. Burnside, and his father, drummer Calvin Jackson, as well as other family members, often combining three generations of talent in one band. Cedric’s uncle, bass player Garry Burnside, also contributed to the Cedric Burnside Project, the group featured on his Grammy nominated 2015 release, Descendants of Hill Country. Though he’s only 40-years-old, Cedric no doubt feels like an old soul and culture bearer, hence the title of his latest album, Benton County Relic. His music, however, is anything but archaic. Continue reading →
Title: The Difference Between Me & You
Artist: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: September 7, 2018
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears—a blues group formed in Austin, Texas in 2007—has released their newest album, The Difference Between Me & You. Recorded in their hometown with Grammy Award winning producer Stuart Sikes, the album was created with a “hands on style of production with open creative interaction between the entire band,” according to Lewis. The experimental style of the group is rooted in Lewis’s youthful discovery of his love for the blues, which he learned to play on guitar while working at a pawn shop. From these unlikely origins, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears have created an introspective blues record that asks tough questions of its listeners.Continue reading →
Title: Exit 16
Artist: Roosevelt Collier
Label: Ground Up
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: March 9, 2018
Roosevelt “The Dr.” Collier, who currently performs as a member of the Snarky Puppy spin-off band Bokanté, released his solo debut album Exit 16 earlier this year. Raised in the House of God Church in Perrine, Florida, Collier represents the younger generation of “sacred steel” guitarists. A master on both pedal and lap steel guitars, he also performs with his uncles and cousins as the Lee Boys, one of the foremost sacred steel ensembles., and in his spare time graces the stage with the likes of the Allman Brothers and Los Lobos. Continue reading →
Title: Mo Jodi
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: August 31, 2018
Delgres, the Paris-based blues trio, links the history of the French Caribbean to the musical style of New Orleans in their debut album, Mo Jodi. Meaning “Die Today” in Creole, the album’s name is inspired by the sacrifice of Louis Delgrés, the band’s namesake, who died fighting against the reinstatement of slavery in Guadeloupe. Founder and leader of Delgres, Pascal Danaë, traces his roots back to Guadeloupe where his great-great-grandmother was a slave. Mo Jodi was born of the group’s love of jazz and blues and Danaë’s connection to both his ancestral homeland and New Orleans, where many Guadeloupians sought refuge during the early 1800s.Continue reading →
Since her Outskirts of Love release, “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland has been striving for a deeper representation of Americana blues. With her newest offering, she has done just that. Combining elements of rock, soul and country, America’s Child is Copeland’s most diverse and compelling work yet. Continue reading →
Midnight Train is a live recording of blues and “piano boogie woogie” musician Errol Dixon’s performance at Vienna’s popular jazz club, Jazzland, in 1973. The album features a few of Dixon’s originals such as “Pretty Baby,” “Foot Stompin’ Boogie,” “I’ve Got the Blues,” and perhaps his most popular tune, “Midnight Train.” Dixon also plays a number of standards: Aaron Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City,” B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender,” and Ma Rainey’s “See, See Rider.”Continue reading →
Sixty-five years is a mighty long time in the record industry, especially from the label end. In this modern era of digital this, digital that, for a independent label to sustain longevity, let alone a financial profit, is a testament of passion. Bob Koester has that and more. In 1953, Koester founded Delmark Records in St. Louis, but later migrated to Chicago, to perhaps give Chess Records a run for their money. Jazz artists such as Donald Byrd and Bud Powell recorded for Delmark, but it would be blues where the label would make its bones.Continue reading →
Illinois-based Archeophone Records, a company specializing in acoustic-era reissues, has a long history of uncovering and releasing fascinating recordings from bygone eras.[i] In 2007 they received a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album for the 2-CD set, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1891-1922, a companion to the groundbreaking book of the same title by noted discographer and recording industry historian Tim Brooks. One of the musicians listed in the book was Charles A. Asbury (born ca. 1956, d.1903). Though referred to variously in the 1890s as “the popular colored banjoist” and performer of songs in the “negro style,” at least one reviewer mentioned Asbury as the only white member of an African American troupe. This conflicting evidence led Brooks to assume Asbury had been “misidentified as Black.” New research, however, reveals a more complex and fascinating story—while the discovery of extant copies of Ashbury’s earliest recordings likewise expands our knowledge of early banjo traditions.
In a diligent search through archival records that would impress any genealogist, Archeophone’s Richard Martin slowly unraveled the story of Charles A. Asbury with assistance from Asbury’s heirs. Born in Florida and raised in Augusta, Georgia during the Reconstruction era by his adoptive “mulatto” parents, Asbury joined a prominent traveling theater troupe, performing the role of Sambo in one of the many minstrel adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (apparently the George L. Aiken version). From there he can be traced to an all-black ensemble featuring his first wife, Annie Asbury, plugged as “the great shout singer.” In the liner notes, authors Richard Martin and Ted Olsen surmise that Asbury may have learned the banjo, or at least studied the technique of Horace Weston, “the internationally famous African American banjo virtuoso,” who was one of the biggest stars in Annie’s troupe. Whatever the case may be, Asbury toured with various Black jubilee ensembles throughout the South, further honing both his banjo and singing skills, and growing his reputation as an artist.
Now, for the recorded evidence. From 1891-1897, Asbury’s songs with banjo accompaniment were captured on wax by the New Jersey Phonograph Company in Newark—likely the oldest extant recordings of this genre by an African American artist. These wax cylinders are extremely rare, and thus far the only Asbury recordings known to survive are those featured on 4 Banjo Songs (he recorded many more). “Haul the Woodpile Down” was first made available via University of California Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Audio Archive website. The other three cylinder tracks are publicly available for the very first time on this set. Most of these songs—the popular “Haul the Woodpile Down,” “Never Done Anything Since” and “A New Coon in Town”—bear the hallmarks of the minstrel banjo tradition and early “coon songs,” while the fourth and earliest, “Keep in de Middle ob de Road” (1891), is a seldom recorded semi-religious jubilee hymn. What sets these apart from other minstrel tunes is Asbury’s “remarkably fluid, rhythmically complex” five-string banjo technique. With the assistance of experts in online banjo discussion groups, Martin was able to learn more about Asbury’s unique “stroke style” of playing, which is detailed at length in the liner notes. Because the stroke style was seldom used or recorded after 1900, these four Asbury cylinders are historically significant, documenting a 19th century performance practice that sheds further light on the African American banjo tradition.
The cylinder transfers were carried out by John Levin, developer of the CPS1 Cylinder Playback Machine. Now used by a number of institutions, the machine yields astonishing results, rendering Asbury’s performances in the best possible sonic resolution, with additional restoration from Martin. The accompanying 16 page illustrated booklet provides further insight on Asbury’s life and music, with notes on each track plus endnotes and technical notes. Lyrics are printed on the sleeve of the 7-inch 45-rpm disc. 4 Banjo Songs is a first-rate package, well-worth the $16.99 list price for this significant piece of musical history. Please note: the limited run of 1000 copies will likely disappear quickly.
Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, is set to open on August 10th. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix, the work has already received positive reviews. Composer and jazz musician Terence Blanchard’s soundtrack for the film has yet to be released, but his previous film compositions can give an idea of what the score might sound like.
Released in late 2017, Terence Blanchard: Music for Film spans his film work from the 1992 Malcolm X to 2015’s Chi-Raq, performed here by the Brussels Philharmonic under the direction of Dirk Brossé as part of the Film Fest Gent’s series of film composer spotlights. Like the upcoming BlacKkKlansman, many of Blanchard’s works presented on this album, including music from Malcolm X, 25th Hour, and When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, have been in collaboration with director Spike Lee. The collaboration has proven fruitful for Blanchard, who has said that Lee always encourages him to write music that could be successful on its own.
Though each film presented has its own unique sound, the tracks are connected by a strong presence of trumpet, calling back to Blanchard’s own career as a jazz trumpeter. Many also make use of jazz idioms, most notably the two tracks from When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006). Although he calls New Orleans home and this film is a documentary describing the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Blanchard intentionally stays away from traditional New Orleans jazz. Instead, he explains that he wanted to create a more universal sound to appeal to a wider audience and the musical themes he created do just that, blending jazz with incredibly emotive melodies depicting the tragedy and despair of the city’s residents. The “Levees” track is particularly successful, combining a soulful trumpet line with descending, dissonant string patterns.
Another film directed by Spike Lee, 25th Hour, received much critical acclaim; Blanchard’s score was nominated for several awards, including the 2003 World Soundtrack Award and Golden Globes. Telling the story of a drug dealer’s last 24 hours of freedom before he is sent to jail, the music is haunting and memorable. Heavier on strings, particularly solo cello, than many of his other films, it features twisting musical themes above persistent ostinato patterns. Still, it is not without Blanchard’s signature jazz inflections, as the third track on the album, “Playground,” embraces a traditional lounge-style piano along with the lusher string sound and solos present in the other selections.
Some selections, such as the suite from Inside Man (2006) and the opening title music of Miracle at St. Anna (2008), lean less on Blanchard’s jazz background and instead seem to be reminiscent of earlier film music styles like the compositions of James Horner. Tracks on this album from both films make use of a more militaristic style, emphasizing repetitive snare drum lines underneath epic brass and string melodies.
Two comedies, Bamboozled (2000) and She Hate Me (2004), showcase other sides of Blanchard’s work. The former’s biting satire and pointed social commentary are offset by a more somber, restrained musical theme. In contrast, the selections from She Hate Me are a bit less serious, incorporating several jazz styles including references to bebop, fusion, and cool jazz.
Blanchard’s skill in composing for a wide range of genres shines through the tracks presented in this album. His masterful usages of thematic material, blending of styles, and jazz inflections make this an incredibly rewarding listen. Blanchard’s score for BlacKkKlansman is sure to deliver the same exciting interplay of styles.
City Soul, harmonica player and vocalist Russ Green’s debut album, pays tribute to the Windy City and the many musicians who have shaped its signature sound. Born and raised on the west side of Chicago, Green didn’t realize his musical aspirations until adulthood. After purchasing a harmonica in an attempt to recreate the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Green was mentored by two of Chicago’s legendary harmonica players, Sugar Blue and Billy Branch, and his blues career took off from there.
City Soul is composed of 10 tracks co-produced by Green and Sam Clayton that feature musicians from around Chicago. The bluesy opening track, “First Thing Smokin’” is inspired by the sounds of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Other tracks, like “Lint In My Pocket,” are more funk-inspired, while Green’s duo with guitarist Vince Agwada is reminiscent of modern blues rock. “The Edge,” a nod to Green’s fascination with Jimi Hendrix, includes a swirling psychedelic harmonica intro that precedes a funky rock track.
Although City Soul is his debut album, Russ Green is already an accomplished blues musician, having been featured on the renowned Chicago Blues Harmonica Project and having performed at numerous blues festivals across the country. This is just the beginning of the Chicago native’s journey as a blues harmonica player.
Classic Reggae can never truly fall under into “out of sight, out of mind” category, but just in case we need a refresher, Omnivore Records has reissued one of the best offerings, Jonestown. Originally released by Nighthawk Records, Jonestown is the work of prolific reggae artists Winston Jarrett and Eggar Gordon (Baby Gee). Obtaining their start in 1965 from locally famous Kingston vocalist Alton Ellis, Winston and Gordon released multiple recordings, were featured on Coxsone Studio One’s many artistic endeavors, and recorded for other producers such as Duke Reid, Lee Perry and Joe Gibbs.
Jarrett’s transition to Nighthawk Records began in 1983 upon meeting the label’s producer Leroy Jody Pierson, who was working on a mix of Justin Hinds’ Travel With Love album. Together with Gordon, who was still performing in the area, Jarrett recorded Jonestown. After nearly 30 years, the album is being reissued along with new liner notes from Pierson and featuring previously unseen photos. Each song is a testament to the combined talents emanating from Jarrett and Gordon, with songs such as the smooth “Hold On To This Feeling” and the regional shout-out “Jonestown” testifying to the unique collaborative relationship dedicated to their quality art.
True legends never disappear, but rather they remain imbedded in our hearts forever. With its lyrical methodology and its definitive rhythmic soundscape, Jonestown lovingly reignites our passion for the reggae genre while simultaneously redistributing the sunshine and peace Jarrett and Gordon’s artistic oneness originally bestowed upon us.
Following are additional albums released during July 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country
Arthur Big Boy Crudup: If I Get Lucky (4 CD set) (JSP)
Benny Turner: Journey (Nola Blue)
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio: Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here (Alligator)
Errol Dixon: Midnight Train (Wolf)
Eugene Hideaway Bridges: Live In Tallahassee (Armadillo)
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear: The Radio Winners (Glassnote)
Trudy Lynn: Blues Keep Knockin’ (Connor Ray Music)
SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical – Original Cast (Republic)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Con Brio: Explorer (Transistor Sound/Fat Beats)
Ill Doots: S/T (Ropedope)
Jean Beauvoir: Rock Masterpieces Vol. 1 (Aor Heaven)
Lotic: Power (Tri Angle)
No Kind of Rider: Savage Coast
Gospel, Christian Bishop Noel Jones & City of Refuge Sanctuary Choir: Run to the Altar (Tyscot)
Dr. Carmela Nanton: A Touch (Carmel Ministries)
Koryn Hawthorne: Unstoppable (RCA Inspiration)
Minister Marion Hall: His Grace (VPAL Music)
Shana Wilson Williams: Everlasting (Intersound)
Vincent Tharpe & Kenosis: Super Excited (digital)
Will Mcmillan: My Story (eOne)
Jazz Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band: West Side Story Reimagined (Jazz Heads)
David Garfield: Jammin’ Outside the Box
Dexter Gordon Quartet: Tokyo 1975 (Elemental Music)
Ernest Dawkins & New Horizons Ensemble: Chicago Now – Thirty Years of Great Black Music, Vol. 2 (Silkheart)
Erroll Garner: Nightconcert (Mack Ave.)
Jamar Jones: Fatherless Child (GPE)
Jim Stephens: Songs of Healing: Philasippiola Soul (1997-2017) (Ropedope)
Kaidi Tatham: It’s A World Before You (First Word)
Reginald Chapman: Prototype (Fresh Selects)
Rob Dixon Trio: Coast To Crossroads
Roy Campbell & Pyramid: Communion (digital)
Shaun Martin: Focus (Ropeadope)
Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra: Get It How You Live (Ropeadope)
Various: Prince in Jazz: A Jazz Tribute to Prince (Wagram)
Woody Shaw: Tokyo 1981 (Elemental Music)
R&B, Soul Appleby: Happiness (Haight Brand)
Cyril Neville: Endangered Species, Complete Recordings (World Order)
Jade Novah: All Blue (Empire)
Jaden Smith: SYRE (Digital) (Roc Nation/Republic)
James Brown: Mutha’s Nature (1st CD release) (LMLR)
Johnny Rain: Idol Blue (digital) (Odd Dream Republic)
Jr Jones: Nova (Black Musa)
Kiana Ledé: Selfless EP (Digital) (Republic)
Kizzy Crawford: Progression (Freestyle)
Meli’sa Morgan: Love Demands
The Internet: Hive Mind (Columbia)
Rap, Hip Hop BrvndonP: Better Late Than Never (RPSMG)
B.o.B.: Naga (digital) (No Genre)
Blackgrits: Paradox 88 (digital)
Blackway: Good.Bad.Faded EP (digital) (Republic)
Buddy: Harlan & Alondra (digital) (RCA)
Busdriver: Electricity is on our Side (digital)
Cardi B: Her Life Her Story (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Chief Keef: Mansion Musick (RBC)
Citro: No Cap (PlayMakaz Music Group)
Curren$y & Harry Fraud: Marina (Next)
Demrick: Came a Long Way (digital) (DEM)
Drake: Scorpion (Cash Money)
Drank Sanatra: Controlled Substance (digital) (Otherside Ent.)
Dyme-A-Duzin: Crown Fried (digital)
Eric B. & Rakim: Complete Collection (Hip-O)
Future: Beastmode (mixtape)
J. Diggs: #90Dayhousearrestproject (Rompt Out)
Kanye West: Ye (Def Jam)
King Magnetic: Back in the Trap (King Mag Music)
KR: In Due Time (Empire)
Kyle: Light of Mine (Atlantic)
Lil KeKe: SlfMade II (digital) (SoSouth)
Logic: Passion (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Marlowe: Marlowe (Mello Music Group)
Migos: Evolution (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Nav: Reckless (XO/Republic)
Nick Grant: Dreamin’ Out Loud (digital) (Epic)
Obuxum: H.E.R. (Urbnet)
Pawz One & Robin Da Landlord: Sell Me a Dream (Below System)
Philthy Rich: N.E.R.N.L. 4 (Empire)
Planet Asia: Mansa Musa (X-Ray)
Playboi Carti: Die Lit (digital) (Interscope)
Pusha T: Daytona (digital) (Def Jam)
Rae Sremmurd: SR3MM (digital) (Interscope)
Randy-B: Me, Myself and $ (Smeat)
Royce 5’9″: Book of Ryan (eOne)
Saweetie: High Maintenance (Warner Bros.)
Stalley: Tell the Truth Shame the Devil, Vol 3 (Blue Collar Gang)
Styles P (The LOX): G-Host (The Phantom Ent.)
Suspect: Still Loading (digital) (Rinse)
Tee Grizzley: Activated (digital) (300 Ent.)
Tobe Nwigwe: The Originals (digital)
Trap Gang Zone: Follow The Gang (digital) (Revenge Music)
Trick Daddy: Dunk Ride Or Duck Down (X-Ray)
Typical Div: S/T (Middle of Made)
Various: Oscillations (Strange Neighbor)
Wiz Khalifa: Rolling Papers 2 (digital) (Atlantic)
Wood & Yungman: Carlito’s Way Screwed (GT Digital)
World’s Fair: New Lows (digital) (Fool’s Gold)
YFN Lucci: Ray Ray from Summerhill (Think It’s A Game)
Zaytoven: Trapholizay (digital) (UMG)
Reggae Kabaka Pyramid: Kontraband (Bebble Rock)
Kingly T: Got It All (digital)
Leon & The Peoples: Love Is A Beautiful Thing (Spectra Music Group)
Linval Thompson: Dub Landing Vols. 1 & 2 (Greensleeves)
Mad Professor: Electro Dubclubbing (Ariwa Sounds)
Santigold: I Don’t Want, Gold Fire Sessions (digital) (Downtown)
Tetrack: Let’s Get Started (Greensleeves)
U-Roy: Talking Roots (Ariwa Sounds)
Ziggy Marley: Rebellion Rises (Tuff Gong)
International, Latin Bryant Myers: La Oscuridad (eOne)
Kamal Keila: Muslims & Christians (Habibi Funk)
Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul (Strut)
Okonkolo: Cantos (Big Crown)
Te’Amir: Abyssinia EP (Tru Thoughts)
Immediately upon hearing his mesmerizing riffs, this blues novice could tell I was in the presence of a legend. The Blues is Alive and Well, the latest release from multiple Grammy and award winner Buddy Guy, demonstrates that this icon is throwing us what could arguably be his most skilled offering yet. In recognition of his many contributions to the genre, The Americana Music Association is awarding Guy a Lifetime Achievement Award on September 12th in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, complimenting his 2015 Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and his more than 50 years as a blues innovator, musician and mentor. To say that Buddy Guy has a long history with the blues does not do him justice—according to numerous musicians, Buddy Guy IS the blues, period.
Guy opens the 15-track album with “A Few Good Years,” a haunting, rambling slide number showcasing his trademark growl and lyrically addressing the desire to do what he does best for just a little while longer: “A few good years/is all I need right now.” “Guilty as Charged” testifies exactly as you would expect—an uptempo confessional sermonizing not only the singer’s introspectiveness but also Guy’s legendary steel-driving artistry. “Whiskey for Sale” is a call-and-response between the vocals and Guy’s guitar as they negotiate their trade, and the invigorating work song rhythm on “Ooh Daddy” remains with you long past the last chord drop.
Collaborators weigh in on Guy’s blues mission, as well, including several British musicians profoundly influenced by the genre. Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards contribute to the ‘killing floor’ offering “You Did the Crime” and the warm and fuzzy “Cognac,” respectively, as does another rock guitarist, Jeff Beck. Being that the Rolling Stones began as a band called “The Blues Boys” and they’ve paid homage to Guy in the past, the participation of Jagger and Richards comes as no surprise. “Blue No More” introduces guitarist James Bay, a worthy up-and-coming blues man in his own right.
Taking down the tempo a notch Louisiana blues style, “When My Day Comes” mesmerizes with its plodding tempo and dark undertones about what is yet to materialize. “Bad Day,” a dark but electric musing, warns of how even the best person can reach their wit’s end sometimes. But in the end, Guy’s line, “You can call me old-fashioned/but I still know how to have my fun” on the track “Old Fashioned” sums up this album—and indeed, his entire career.
Guy sounds every bit as vital and youthful on this album as he did on his early collaborations with the late Junior Wells, and it’s inspiring to hear a veteran artist laying down the blues with such continual precision time and again. Both timeless and cutting edge, The Blues is Alive and Well proves that when it comes to Buddy Guy and the blues, 81 is certainly the new 21—no bones about it.
Released before Father’s Day—that special time in June set aside for men we call dad, father or pops—the Bell household’s man of honor is Carey Bell. The late blues harpist moved to Chicago the decade after Little Walter and Chess legend Muddy Waters, and went on to play with both as well as many other Chicago blues legends. What better way to pay homage to dad, especially a man the stature of Carey, then with a new album by Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty titled Tribute To Carrey Bell. Paying the tribute is Carey’s son Lurrie (vocals, guitar) and the other siblings—Tyson (bass), Steve (harmonica), and James (drums, vocals). And wait, Charlie Musselwhite and Billy Branch get in on the fun too. Delmark Records picked up Carey for his 1969 debut, Carey Bell’s Blues Harp, so it’s fitting they releasing this special project.
The blues is and always will be about storytelling. The first track, “Gone To Main Street,” is all about that “All Yeah” feeling. When you listen closely, you may hear references to The Doors’ “Road House Blues”—I kid you not. “I Got To Go” switches it up, and by that I mean the tempo. “So Hard To Leave You Alone” is a slow tune and again, a great story being told. “You’re my midnight dream, my all day stint,” Lurrie Bell spills his guts and you feel it. It’s the blues baby! Billy Branch takes over on “Carey Bell Was a Friend of Mine,” explaining his love for this man, both on and off the stage.
I never heard of Carey Bell before this, but Tribute To Carey Bell made me a fan. Though he left us well over ten years ago, his memory will live as long as the Bell family dynasty has something to say.
Delta blues guitarist Little Freddie King has been a fixture on the New Orleans scene for decades, performing regularly at the NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival as well as clubs in “the lowest bowels of the mighty Ninth Ward.” Though not as well-known as the other guitar slinging Freddie King from Texas, “Little Freddie” is still the real deal—a Mississippi-born bluesman who learned to play guitar on his daddy’s knee, claims Lightnin’ Hopkins as a cousin, and once toured Europe with Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker.
In 1971, Harmonica Williams and Little Freddie King released Rock N Roll Blues on the obscure Ahura Mazda label. As one might guess, this limited pressing didn’t provide King with much exposure beyond his adopted hometown, and it’s difficult to find a copy these days. Over two decades later, the local Orleans Records label released two of King’s first solo projects, Swamp Boogie in 1997 and Sing Sang Sung in 2000.
Fried Rice & Chicken is a compilation featuring the best tracks from King’s two contrasting albums for Orleans. The first half, recorded in the studio from 1994-1995, features backing by Earl “Pass the Hatchet” Stanley and Robert Wilson on electric bass, Jason Sipher on upright bass, Kerry Brown and Bradley Wisham on drums, with Crazy Rick Allen on Wurlitzer electric piano and organ. While not exactly polished, the tracks are at least a half step up from King’s raw club performances. Notable tracks include the opening song “Cleos Back,” which some might recognize from the Tom Hanks movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and “Mean Little Woman” featured in the HBO series Treme. Yes, Little Freddie has been getting some good exposure since these songs were initially released.
The second half of the album was recorded live at the Dream Palace, a club on Frenchman Street in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans. You might say this is the real Little Freddie King, offering up the raw gut bucket blues of Southern juke joints. On these tracks King is accompanied by his regular band at the time: Wacko Wade Wright on drums, Anthony Anderson on electric bass, and Bobby Lewis DiTullio on harmonica. Highlights include the title track “Sing Sang Sung,” a great instrumental showcasing King and DiTullio, and “Bad Chicken” featuring “squawking” guitar licks.
Though there are a number of different Freddie King compilations, Fried Rice & Chicken encapsulates the best of his Orleans Records output.
Blues powerhouses Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite return with a new musical collaboration, No Mercy In This Land. Their first album, 2012’s Get Up!, spurred, at least in my mind at the time, comparisons to other blues and jazz artists such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. I now realize that while some comparisons are productive, sometimes artists come together to produce the most amazingly creative offerings. Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite are the perfect example of just that.
“When I Go,” the opening track, sets the mood for what to expect on this new album. The song begins with humming! You know what I mean—1930s/1940s, take-me-to-the-river-and-baptize me-in-blues humming. Then, the mesmerizing strumming of a guitar takes over. “I’ll take you when I go,” replies Harper. Talk about musical blues call and response.
After that moving scene, picture a jukebox in some honky-tonk bar, with patrons who perhaps had one too many, lip synching to the next track, “The Bottle Wins Again.” On “Trust You to Dig My Grave” I can practically hear Muddy Waters weighing in on the action from the Beyond—Harper and Musselwhite really do justice on this one. “Bad Habits” is an up tempo, clap-along jam. Musselwhite and Harper are never quite specific what kind of bad habits they are referring to. You listen. You be the judge of that one.
No Mercy In This Land is excellent work from Harper, and once again, he has found a great compadre in Musselwhite. For this album, and this iconic blues duo, there literally is no comparison.
Robust talent runs generationally, especially when you’re the offspring of blues icon Taj Mahal and dancer/artist Inshirah Mahal, as proven with Deva Mahal’s debut album, Run Deep. Forging her own sound as part blues, part indie-rock and all soul, Mahal gives her listeners one of the edgiest, most emotionally drawn voices in the industry today.
The first track, “Can’t Call it Love,” opens with a riveting guitar riff and empowering lyrics: I’m feeling new like an old-school instrumental / I’m getting in the mood / And feeling sentimental, which can be taken as both commentary on one’s new found infatuation and Mahal’s coming into her own. The entire album features innovative instrumentality and Mahal’s varied vocalization styles. For example, the closing track, “Take a Giant Step,” showcases her sultry pop sound as she reinterprets this standard by Carole King and Gerry Goffin (a song her father has also recorded).
The focal track of the album, both vocally and visually, is the offering “Snakes.” Mahal’s vocals jump right off the album from the first moment she begins singing, but the visualizations of the video are pure genius—black and white coloring, shadow dancing and the animation of a swamp monster, said to have been inspired by her favorite childhood “girl power” book, Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer.
Mahal has definitely come out from under her parent’s shadow with this artistic debut. From the first note to the last few strains, this artist’s soulful and funky melodies will have you running deep into the magical world of Deva Mahal, breathlessly awaiting her next move.
In 2003, an all-star cast of traditional and contemporary gospel singers performed songs written by Bob Dylan on Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. The Grammy-nominated compilation album included 11 tracks written by Dylan during his “born again” period from 1979 to 1981, in which he produced Christian music. Three years later, the companion documentary DVD of the same name was released by Burning Rose Video, which is currently out-of-print. Thankfully, MVD has stepped into the void and reissued the video.
The DVD documents the making of the Gotta Serve Somebody album, including interviews with performers such as Regina McCrary, Terry Young, and Mona Lisa Young. Also featured is performance footage of 9 of the 11 tracks that originally appeared on the CD, such as the namesake “Gotta Serve Somebody” by Shirley Caesar, “I Believe In You” by Dottie Peoples, and “Saved” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy, as well as bonus tracks from Arlethia Lindsay, Great Day Chorale, and Bob Dylan himself. The Gotta Serve Somebody DVD premieres 1980 footage of Dylan performing “When He Returns,” the first documented performance released from his “born again” era. The DVD certainly lives up to the fame of its companion album, winning the Gold Medal for Excellence Audience Choice for Best Music Documentary at Park City Film Music Festival.
Following are additional albums released during April 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country B.B. King: Many Faces of (3 CDs) (Music Brokers)
Bernard Allison: Born With the Blues (Ruf)
Eric & Ulrika Bibb: Pray Sing Love (Dixiefrog)
Leo Bud Welch: Late Blossom Blues (DVD) (Let’s Make This Happen)
Little Freddy King: Fried Rice & Chicken (Orleans)
Little Willie Littlefield: Best of the Rest, 1948-1959 (Jasmine)
Peppermint Harris: Very Best of (Jasmine)
Sonny Boy Williamson II: Complete Trumpet, Ace & Checker Singles: 1951-62 (Acrobat)
Various: Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938-1942 (Hi Horse)
Walter Wolfman Washington: My Future Is My Past (Anti/Epitaph)
Classical Carlos Simon: My Ancestor’s Gift (Navona)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Benin City: Last Night (Moshi Moshi)
Eku Fantasy: EF1 EP (digital)
Niki J Crawford: The Second Truth (Country Girl Ent.)
Shuggie Otis: Inter-Fusion (Cleopatra)
SONI withanEYE: Rebel (Touch Ent)
Soulive: Cinematics Vol. 1 EP (Soulive Music Inc.)
The Return of the Band of Gypsys: San Francisco “84 (Air Cuts)
Twin Shadow: Caer (Reprise)
Various: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert OST (Sony Masterworks)
Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM Amante Lacey: Original Songs & Stories, Vol. 1 (Intersound)
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: I Am Reminded (Provident Music Group)
Fresh Start Worship: S/T (digital)
Kelontae Gavin: The Higher Experience (Tyscot)
Maranda Curtis: Open Heaven – The Maranda Experience (Fair Trade/Columbia)
Stephen Ivey: The Journey: Evolution of a Worshipper (digital)
Jazz Allan Harris: The Genius of Eddie Jefferson (Resilience Music Alliance)
Bosq: Love & Resistance (Ubiquity)
Cha Wa: Spyboy (Upt Music)
Darry Yokley ‘s Sound Reformation: Pictures at an African Exhibition (Truth Revolution)
Deborah J. Carter: Scuse Me (Sam Sam Music)
Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag (Basin Street)
Edward Simon (& Imani Winds): Sorrows and Triumphs (Sunnyside)
Elvin Jones Jazz Machine: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1981 (Jazzline)
Logan Richardson: Blues People (Ropeadope)
Louis Armstrong: Pops Is Tops: The Verve Studio Albums (4 CDs) (Verve)
Madeline Bell & The Swingmates: Have You Met Miss Bell? (Sam Sam Music)
Marjorie Barnes: Once You’ve Been In Love (Sam Sam Music)
Mark Gross Quartet: Plus Strings (digital)
Ryan Porter (West Coast Get Down): The Optimist (World Galaxy/Alpha)
Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse)
Terrance Blanchard: Live (Blue Note)
Various: Very Best of Dixieland New Orleans (Musical Concepts)
Woody Shaw Quintet: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1982 (Jazzline)
R&B, Soul Barry White: Complete 20th Century Records Singles 1973-1979 (Mercury)
Bridget Kelly: Reality Bites (The Initiative Group, Inc)
Eartha Kitt: The Singles Collection: 1952-1962 (Acrobat)
Eric Bellinger: Eazy Call (Empire)
Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (Bad Boy)
Kali Uchis: Isolation (Virgin EMI)
Khari Wendell McClelland: Freedom Singer (Afterlife Music)
RĀI: Love’s on the Way (digital)
Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics: State of all Things (Soulphonics)
Shirley Davis & The SilverBacks: Wishes & Wants (Tucxone)
Tejai Moore: Write My Wrongs (Moore Music)
Tinashe: Joyride (RCA)
Watch the Duck: Delayed Adulthood (Interscope)
Weeknd: My Dear Melancholy (Republic)
XamVolo: A Damn Fine Spectacle EP (Decca)
YellowStraps: Blame EP (Majestic Casual)
Rap, Hip Hop 88GLAM: 88GLAM Reloaded (XO)
Akua Naru: The Blackest Joy (The Urban Era)
Blu & Notzz: Gods In The Spirit, Titans In The Flesh (Coalmine)
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (digital) (Atlantic/KSR)
Currensy: Air Feshna EP (digital)
Defari: Rare Poise (Fat Beats Dist)
Del the Funky Homosapien + Amp Live: Gate 13 (I.O.T.)
Denmark Vessey: Sun Go Nova (Mello Music Group)
Dillyn Troy: Tru Story (Twenty Two Music)
Carnage: Battered Bruised & Bloody (digital)
Dr. Octagon: Moosebumps: An Exploration into Modern Day Horripilation (Bulk Recordings/Caroline)
E-40 & B-Legit: Connected And Respected (Heavy On The Grind Ent)
Famous Dex: Dex Meets Dexter (300 Ent.)
Flatbush Zombies: Vacation in Hell (The Glorious Dead)
Iman Shumpert: Substance Abuse (digital)
Cole: KOD (Roc Nation/Interscope)
Jamie Hancock: Sincerely, Me (Sofa Boys Ent.)
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris: Everything’s Fine (Mello Music Group)
Jim Jones: Wasted Talent (Empire/Vamplife)
Khary: Captain (digital) (Kousteau)
Rich The Kid: The World is Yours (Interscope)
Royce Ripken: Home Run Ripken (digital) (Beatbayngrz & Nockwoofrz)
Saba: Care for Me (digital)
Smoke Dza: Not For Sale (Babygrande)
Snoop Dogg: 220 (Doggystyle)
T-Nyce: Blood of a Slave Heart of a King, Vol. 3 (85 Concept)
Tony Njoku: H.P.A.C (Silent Kid)
Westside Gunn & Mr. Green: Flygod Is Good…All The Time (Nature Sounds)
Young Thug: Hear No Evil EP (digital) (300 Ent.)
YoungBoy Never Broke Again: Until Death Call My Name (digital)
Reggae Christafari: Original Love (Lion of Zion)
Gladiators: Serious Thing (Omnivore)
Gladiators: Symbol of Reality (Omnivore)
Mellow Mood: Large (La Tempesta Dub)
Sting & Shaggy: 44/876 (A&M/Interscope)
Various: Hold On To Your Roots (Larger Than Life)
Afrikän Protoköl: Beyond the Grid (Abozamé)
Ayunne Sule: We Have One Destiny (Makkum)
Djénéba & Fousco: Kayeba Khasso (Lusafrica)
Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara (Mr. Bongo)
Line’zo: Dusk Vybz (Royal Face)
Novelist: Novelist Guy (Mmmyeh Records)
Tank Delafoisse: Based on a True Story… (Music Is Life Ent.)
This month’s top picks include a new recording of Florence Price’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 performed by Er-Gene Kahng, and “American Songster” Dom Flemons’ collaboration with Smithsonian Folkways on an exploration of the music of Black Cowboys.
April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), with April 30th designated as International Jazz Appreciation Day. Jazz and social justice is the contextual lens for JAM this year, showcasing the progressive ways jazz continues to play a transformative role with respect to the civil rights of individuals from multiple facets of society. The jazz collaborations of both Wynton Marsalis Septet’s United We Sing and Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette‘s After The Fall demonstrate the excellence that prevails when groups work collectively towards a common goal. Don’t Play with Love released by the John L. Nelson Project showcases the formidable talents of Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, both of whom fostered positive inspiration in others through their artistic legacies. Perseverance plays a central role in Sy Smith’s Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete and saxophonist Lekecia Benjamin’s Rise Up, as both albums urge continuance despite the cost. Young Street by bassist Reggie Young rounds out this category with a blend of jazz and funk.
Black cowboys may not be the first thing that comes to mind when the Wild West is mentioned, but they were prevalent and left an undeniable impact on the development of the American West. Following the end of the Civil War in the late 1860s, thousands of newly-freed African Americans moved westward to start new lives. Some chose the grueling and often dangerous path of becoming a cowboy, an occupation in which work ethic mattered more than skin color. These pioneers worked long, hard days alongside Mexican vaqueros, Native Americans, and white cowboys and often turned to song for comfort on the trails.
The newly released Black Cowboys featuring co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons (aka “The American Songster”), places these often forgotten pioneers of the Old West in the spotlight. Produced by Flemons and Dan Sheehy for Smithsonian Folkways as part of its African American Legacy series, the album pays tribute to the music, poetry, and complex history of these cowboys. The accompanying 40 page booklet includes essays by Flemons (on the cowboy’s music) and Jim Griffith (on the history of Black cowboys), as well as detailed notes on each track complemented by many archival photographs.
In addition to Flemons, who performs on all tracks (vocals, 6-string guitar, resonator guitar, 4-string banjo, cow “rhythm” bones), backing musicians include Alvin “Youngblood” Hart (12-string guitar), Jimbo Mathus (mandolin, kazoo, harmonica), Stu Cole (upright bass), Brian Farrow (fiddle, upright bass, vocals), Dante Pope (cow “rhythm” bones, vocals, snare drum), and Dan Sheehy (guitarrón). Together, these musicians create a rich instrumental background for the lyrics.
Many of the songs on Black Cowboys are traditional tunes arranged and performed by Flemons, such as “John Henry y los vaqueros,” which highlights instruments with roots in African American minstrel shows like the fiddle and cow “rhythm” bones. Another track arranged by Flemons, “Black Woman,” is a field holler collected in the 1930s that has themes of ranching and leaving behind loved ones. Although it isn’t a traditional cowboy song, the song honors the thousands of African American women who helped develop the West.
From Southwestern cowboy poems like Gail Gardner’s 1917 “Tyin’ Knots in the Devil’s Tail” to Jack Thorp’s traditional cowboy tune “Little Joe the Wrangler,” the album also includes songs written by actual cowboys in the early 20th century, offering a rare look into the post-Civil War cowboy’s life.
Other tracks were newly composed by Flemons to pay homage to notable historical figures. For example, “Steel Pony Blues” is about Deadwood Dick, sometimes called “the greatest Black cowboy in the Old West,” who later became a Pullman porter, while “One Dollar Bill” is a tribute to legendary rodeo rider Bill Pickett who invented the sport of bulldogging. “He’s a Lone Ranger” recalls the life of Bass Reeves, the first African American U.S. Marshall.
In the words of professor and author Mike Searles (quoted in the liner notes), “many people see the West as the birthplace of America . . . if they understand that African Americans were cowboys, even Native Americans were cowboys, Mexicans were cowboys, it really opens the door for us to think about America as a multiethnic, multiracial place.” Black Cowboys creates a sonic portrait of a more diverse American West, expanding our knowledge through its varied collection of songs and poems by and about African American cowboys.