Posts filed under 'Popular, Rock, and Misc.'

Ayron Jones – Audio Paint Job

Avron Jones
Title: Audio Paint Job

Artist: Ayron Jones

Label: Sunyata

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

 

When Seattle power rock trio Ayron Jones and The Way burst onto the scene in 2013 with their Sir Mix-a-Lot produced debut album The Dream, the band was suddenly propelled from playing Northwest dive bars to opening for B.B. King, Robert Cray, Run-DMC and Living Colour. Now, four years later, Jones has new personnel in his band as well as a new producer— ethnomusicologist and drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Walking Papers).  His sophomore album, Audio Paint Job, is more of a solo project, with Jones credited as singer/songwriter across the 14 tracks mixed by Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden). As for The Way, current band members Ehssan Karimi (drums) and Bob Lovelace (bass) are featured prominently but not exclusively, while former members—bassist DeAndre Enrico and metal drummer Kai Van De Pitte—also make an appearance. Barrett Martin adds percussion to the majority of the tracks, with occasional forays on the Wurlitzer, vibraphone, piano and backing vocals.

On Jones’s latest project, the Hendrix-inspired guitarist draws upon other iconic elements of the Seattle music scene past and present, including grunge and punk, seasoned with a heavy dose of soul and a pinch of hip hop.  As for the album title, Jones explains: “Audio Paint Job . . . has multiple meanings for me. It’s a story about my mental and spiritual transformation through music.” Overcoming obstacles is a constant theme throughout, as Jones’s songs chronicle his personal struggles: life in the spotlight, a divorce, and the loss of a family member from drug and alcohol addiction.

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The album kicks off with the powerful rock ballad “Take Me Away,” which successfully incorporates a surprisingly diverse sonic palette. Opening with the percussive sound of a typewriter “performed” by Barrett Martin like a modern day Ernie Pyle, the song progresses through a guitar duel between Jones and Lovelace, scratching by DJ Indica Jones, and a lush string arrangement courtesy of Andrew Joslyn. On the edgy ballad “It’s Over When It’s Over,” Jones switches to a 12-string acoustic guitar accompanied by vibes and strings, reinforcing the melancholy mood.

An obvious favorite, the band’s theme song “Boys From the Pudget Sound” features original members Van De Pitte and Enrico. This ode to Jones’s hometown perfectly encapsulates the Seattle vibe, as he disses transplants to the city: “you say you love stormy weather, but child you can’t stand the rain.” The hard rocking track showcases Jones’s guitar chops, while soaring “opera vocals” by Johnathan Wright and percussion by Barrett Martin add to the texture.

B Anthony Nelson (People Zoo Art Works) offered to produce the video for the album’s first single, “Love is the Answer,” which Jones wrote as a message song for turbulent times: “A reminder that while we all experience and perceive different things in our daily lives, we are made of the earth, that’s made of the sun, that’s made of our galaxy, that’s made of the universe. We are the universes. If we want to see a change in our lives, or in the lives of others we must become and project what we wish to see in our world. Love is The Answer” (Paste, 2017).

Additional highlights include the powerful protest song “Stand Up (Take Your Power Back)” and “Lay Your Body Down,” the latter featuring extended guitar solos with psychedelic effects. The album concludes with the slow burner “Yesterday,” which harkens back to ‘60s soul with Joe Doria taking us to church on the B3.

Though already well-known on the West Coast, Ayron Jones will no doubt increase his fan base with his latest album. Audio Paint Job explores a wide range of styles, delivering a sound that’s steeped in the past yet acutely attuned to the present, both musically and thematically. Black rock returns to Seattle!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2017

Ronald Bruner, Jr. – Triumph

Ronald Bruner Jr Triumph
Title: Triumph

Artist: Ronald Bruner, Jr.

Label: World Galaxy / Alpha Pup Records

Formats: LP, MP3

Release date: March 3, 2017

 

 

Drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr. is a musician who readers may have heard, but haven’t necessarily “heard of.”  A member of L.A.’s groundbreaking cohort of jazz fusion musicians, the West Coast Get Down, he is the brother of bassist Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) and former keyboardist for The Internet, Jameel Bruner, both of whom worked with Ronald on his new release. While his brothers may be more well-known, Ronald’s playing is a staple of Thundercat’s groundbreaking recordings, and his debut album, Triumph, indicates that his solo output will be strong in its own right.

As one would expect from the commercial success of members of the West Coast Get Down, the music on Ronald Bruner, Jr.’s new album is simultaneously pop-oriented and musically virtuosic.  This is perhaps jazz-fusion in its truest sense, drawing elements from R&B, hip hop and contemporary jazz into a musically interesting setting that is still heavy on radio-friendly grooves.

Recorded during the sessions that spawned fellow West Coast Get Down member Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, Triumph is an album that showcases two kinds of musicianship, often on  the same track. One of these kinds of musicianship finds its expression in pop-oriented R&B and the second allows the stellar musicians in Bruner’s band to showcase their chops.  Songs like “True Story” and “She’ll Never Change” are straight-ahead neo-soul tracks, and aside from the drum break that opens the former and the more active than usual playing on the latter, they could easily be mistaken for new cuts from mainstream R&B artists. Other numbers, like “Geome Deome” and “Open the Gate,” continue in the jazz fusion idiom outlined by virtuosic jazzers. These cuts (the former features the late, great George Duke on keys) hearken to the Al Di Meola Return to Forever days, with distorted guitar wailing over a bed of electric piano and start-and-stop drum grooves that are half Questlove, half Lenny White (who gets a shoutout on the album’s final song).

A stylistic chameleon, Bruner moves between styles within songs, morphing from locking in on the club jam “To You” to putting the trap set in the trap beat “For You” on the same track.  This is followed by the album closer “Chick’s Web,” a virtuosic jazz fusion track with a title that alludes to the great big band leader while blazing new trails for fusion drumming. This cut ends with a collection of shoutouts to everyone from family members to West Coast Get Down musicians (in some cases these are one in the same) to heavy-hitter jazz musicians that Bruner has been influenced by and worked with, including Stanley Clarke and Kenny Garrett.

Drummers need to hear this record because Bruner excels at pretty much any idiom a jazz fusion, funk, or R&B drummer might want to play. Bruner’s strength is in his diversity—Triumph is a jazz album that a pop fan can enjoy and an R&B record that has enough musical interest to keep a jazz head coming back for more. However, Triumph doesn’t fall into the “too diverse to be cohesive” trap that many similarly chameleonic albums do. This is a testament to how much Ronald Bruner, Jr. has to say as a musician and how well-refined his style is. This aptly titled LP is indeed a victory for Bruner and his band.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Benjamin Booker – Witness

Benjamin Booker Witness
Title: Witness

Artist: Benjamin Booker

Label: ATO Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

 

Benjamin Booker’s appreciation for the historical social movements that helped shape the rock, gospel, and blues genres manifests in Witness, his second full album release following his self-titled debut in 2014. He calls attention to the modern day Black Lives Matter movement in his songwriting, connecting its relevance to the Civil Rights Movement.

Booker contemplates the possibility of death in his opening track “Right On,” an energetic soul rock song that feels like it could be played at an old-fashioned dance hall but with a heavier modern sound. Dramatically dropping in energy without losing its steady groove, “Motivation” juxtaposes the previous song, allowing listeners to focus their attention on reflections of a young Black man reasoning with his quotidian anxieties. From the sensuous aesthetic of “The Slow Drag Under” to the vintage blues pop of “Overtime,” Booker’s unmistakable vocal rasp takes center stage in a screaming whisper.

Perhaps the most meaningful feature that takes place on this album is Booker’s collaboration with the Civil Rights Movement’s musical icon Mavis Staples, who leads the gospel chorus on “Witness.” Booker wrote an artist statement about his attempt to escape the perpetual racism and violence he experienced at home and his process of writing this song during his retreat to Mexico:

I spent days in silence and eventually began to write again. I was almost entirely cut off from my home. Free from the news. Free from politics. Free from friends. What I felt was the temporary peace that can comes from looking away… It wasn’t until Trayvon Martin, a murder that took place about a hundred miles from where I went to college, and the subsequent increase in attention to black hate crimes over the next few years that I began to feel something else. Fear. Real fear. It was like every time I turned on the TV, there I was. DEAD ON THE NEWS… I knew then that there was no escape and I would have to confront the problem. This song, “Witness,” came out of this experience and the desire to do more than just watch.

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Opening with an intertwining of orchestral strings reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Booker’s performance of “Believe” may be one of the more memorable tracks on this album. It plays as a gentle and hopeful rise out of his darker experiences and fears. His lyrics promote optimism in the face of opposition: “I’ve got dreams I can touch, I’d give them everything to keep from going under.”

Witness represents a continuation of the fight for racial equality in the United States and will surely be an important contribution to the music history of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review August 1st, 2017

The Isley Brothers and Santana – The Power of Peace

Isley Brothers Sanatana The Power of Peace
Title: The Power of Peace

Artist: The Isley Brothers and Santana

Label: Sony Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: July 28, 2017

 

The Power of Peace blends the signature styles of powerhouse performers Carlos Santana and brothers Ron and Ernie Isley into a beautiful tribute to several influential artists whose musical styles range from funk to soul and jazz. Centered on the themes of peace and love, this project is sure to excite listeners as iconic songs are infused with new flavor.

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The album opens with a bang featuring a cover of the Chamber Brothers’ song “Are You Ready.” Layered percussion and drums performed by Santana and his wife Cindy Blackman Santana alongside an intoxicating electric guitar (also by Santana) create a funky and fun soundscape and prepares the listener for a stimulating musical experience. The band maintains this momentum throughout the next two tracks, Swamp Dogg’s “Total Destruction of the Mind” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” on which Santana performs riveting electric guitar accompaniment and solos.

The middle of the album changes pace with a group of softer, slower pieces extolling the beauty of romantic love. Cindy Santana sings her sensual new song “I Remember” with playful background support by Ron Isley. Similarly, Isley and his expert use of falsetto is utterly captivating on the ensemble’s cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman.” The male R&B “quartet” sound that shaped the original version is largely absent as the band employs a classic smooth groove, slower tempo and mixed background voices to transform this song into a mesmerizing, seductive ode to unrequited love. Santana and Isley also shine while performing Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon’s frequently covered hit “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” Santana’s energizing guitar riffs and Isley’s vocal dexterity (including growls, moans, etc.) make this a standout track on the album.

The Power of Peace concludes with songs about social justice and harmony such as Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)” and Dionne Warwick and Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Need Now is Love Sweet Love.” Isley sensitively delivers these musical messages while supported by Santana’s earnest and beautifully crafted instrumental accompaniment.

While the musical pairing of The Isley Brothers and Carlos Santana would seem unexpected, this project is the realization of a dream. Santana, who has numerous accolades as an artist, now desires to chart new waters and create music with his longtime favorite musicians including the “incomparable” voice of Ron Isley. Listeners will certainly be glad that some dreams do come true as they are inspired, surprised, and entertained by the fresh music of The Power of Peace.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Body Count – Bloodlust

Blodlust
Album: Bloodlust

Artist:  Body Count

Label: Century Media

Release date: March 31, 2017

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

 

 

Anytime Ice-T is involved with an album, you can bet it’s going to make musical headlines. Bloodlust, the newest offering from the metal band Body Count, definitely does that and then some. The first single, “No Lives Matter,” generated attention for the title alone after its pre-album release on February 17th, but combined with front man Ice-T’s reputation for political music, the song literally explodes in all directions at once. Will Putney, the producer for the band’s 2014 release Manslaughter, returns to assist with this project. Commenting on the album title, Ice T explains, “Bloodlust is part of the human makeup…but we know there are consequences.” Never ones to shy away from presenting what they feel are facts, Ice-T and Body Count have been offering their commentary on modern society via the platform of heavy metal since the early 1990s.

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Much like their previous works, Body Count provides its fan base with a solid dose of the rock sound, complete with driving beats comprised of thick bass, percussion cadences and vigorous vocals. Each track offers unique juxtaposing surprises—from the abrupt silences within “Black Hoodie” to Ice-T’s explanation for the album at the front of “Raining In Blood/Postmortem 2017.” If you recognize sounds reminiscent of the ‘80s band Slayer, then you know your metal. The single “All Love is Lost” features Max Cavalera, a Brazilian singer and songwriter who has worked with Tom Araya of Slasher on past Soulfly collections. Dave Mustaine, thrash metalist currently leading Megadeath in addition to claiming status as original lead guitarist for Metallica, lends his seriously sick talents to the first song, “Civil War.” Rounding out the featured spots is Lamb of God’s D. Randall Blythe, adding a hardcore punk backdrop to Bloodlust’s “Walk With Me.”

Is Bloodlust an album that should be part of everyone’s collection? It depends on one’s musical taste, but it should be on everyone’s radar due to its social commentary. Pushing past the hype, the dark sounds and the seemingly endless abyss of emotion reveals a gritty, unflinching stare into the world we all know exists; one few of us are brave enough to address in such a public manner. Offering no real solutions but a few explanations of why it is what it is, Ice T and his band accomplish what they do best—forcing us to confront the monster from under the bed, in the hope we can all better understand exactly how to defeat it.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Brownout – Over the Covers

Brownout Over the Covers
Title: Over the Covers

Artist: Brownout

Label: Fat Beats

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

 

Over five years have passed since Brownout’s last official release of original music, Oozy (2012). Those familiar with the band likely remember the widespread acclaim during this period for the Brown Sabbath project, featuring Brownout’s own Latin funk twist on Black Sabbath covers. Collaborations with fellow Austin, TX musical comrades such as Black Angels vocalist Alex Maas and Ghostland Observatory vocalist Aaron Behrens resulted in two Brown Sabbath albums and multiple tours over the last four years.

While touring behind the Brown Sabbath project and moonlighting as alter ego Grammy Award-winning Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma, Brownout recorded their new four-song EP Over the Covers everywhere from the Bay Area to central Texas. The songs on Over the Covers—inspired by African funk (“You Don’t Have to Fall”), ‘60s and ‘70s rock, and New Jack Swing (“Things You Say”)—are at once psychedelic and funky, embracing the experience of Brown Sabbath but melding it with the band’s hallmark sounds.

Brownout’s body of work preceding Brown Sabbath contained some of the best funk and rock to come out of Austin over the last decade, so it’s great to see them back in writing mode and focused on their own material. Over the Covers represents a shift in the band’s approach, pairing their instrumental arrangement acumen with a new lyrical direction.

Alex Marrero joins the band as lead singer and lyricist for this release.  Says Marrero, “For me it was all about the process of collaboration and starting to fit into Brownout as an actual new member vs. being the front man for Brown Sabbath. Part of that was tackling the songwriting. If there is an underlying theme in all of these songs it would be symptoms of the human condition, which anyone can relate to.”

Reviewed by William Vanden Dries

View review August 1st, 2017

Delorean – Chris Rivers

Delorean Chris Rivers
Album: Delorean

Artist:  Chris Rivers

Label: That’s Hip Hop Music

Release Date: July 14, 2017

Format: CD, MP3

 

 

For fans of a certain 80s/90s movie series, the mere mention of a DeLorean speeds up the pulse. But for all its album cover throw-back and the artist’s well-known connection to Big Pun, Delorean proves that Chris River’s music is anything but a backward glance. Well-known in hip hop’s inner circle, Rivers has toured the country with world-renowned Def Jam artist Jadakiss, headlined a European tour, and opened up for Cypress Hill, Immortal Technique, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane. From the beginning of his career in 2012, Rivers made it obvious he was out to slay all mikes with a take-no-prisoners mentality that earned him the title of Cypher King. His career accolades and successes include performing in the 2015 NBA All Star Sprite Cypher, winning the Best Freestyle of 2016 by Team Backpack, and participating in the 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher, which was later featured as a Jam of the Week on BET JAMS.

The album features a 21-track set of River’s lyrical spinnings that challenge the listener through detailed alliteration, assonance and allegory. The title track, “Delorean,” features Bronx artist Whispers, up-and-coming in the hip hop world himself. This song sets the tone for the album, as listeners are in for a ride as they experience life through the lens of deep musings and futuristic measuring. Infused between Rivers’ offerings are three unique “Time Zones”—quick bursts of thought from Rivers, Whispers and Oswin Benjamin that smell of impromptu slams and smoky stages. “Fear of my Crown” speaks to the past and hopes for the future in ways relatable to everyone, and the last track, “Brightness”, serves as a conscious reminder to value the self, not the trappings of Self. A lyrical dragon who breathes fire with his vocal artillery and technically efficient vernacular, Chris Rivers demonstrates that in the world of hip hop, he is truly on track to be King.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review August 1st, 2017

Summer of ’96 – Splendid Things Gone Awry

Splendid Things
Title: Splendid Things Gone Awry

Artist: Summer of ’96

Label: Unsociable Music/RED

Format: MP3

Release date: July 21, 2017

 

 

In case you’re still searching for the perfect summer soundtrack, look no further than this new project from Atlanta based singer/songwriter Lonnee Stevens (aka Alonzo Stevenson) and Philadelphia-based composer/producer Antman Wonder, collectively performing as the Summer of ’96. Their group name references the watershed year for hip hop that produced landmark albums by Nas, The Fugees, OutKast, The Roots, 2Pac, and A Tribe Called Quest, among others.

Hearkening back to the golden era of hip hop, the duo use live instrumentation to weave a seductive blend of jazz, soul and rap to create a contemporary soundscape. Stressing that no samples were used in the making of this album, Antman created the original compositions which were then revised and expanded upon by Stevens. Standout tracks include the provocative “Not a Rich Man” featuring Royce 5’9, the harmonically complex “Mahogony Blue” featuring vocals by Lonnee and Teedra Moses, the multi-layered “All That Jazz,” and the cinematic “Wondersong” that’s awash with flute and strings.

Bowing out with the title track featuring Bill Kahler on sax, Antman and Stevens provide a satisfying conclusion to Splendid Things Gone Awry by showcasing their multitude of musical influences.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Various – Sly and Robbie Present Taxi Gang in Disco Mix Style 1978-1987

Sly and Robbie
Title: Sly & Robbie Present Taxi Gang In Disco Mix Style 1978-1987

Artist: Various

Label: Cree/Bear Family

Formats: CD, LP

Release date: March 10, 2017

 

Sly & Robbie Present Taxi Gang In Disco Mix Style 1978-1987 is a relatively short compilation chronicling the late ‘70s and ‘80s work of the most famous “riddim” section in reggae music.  Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s work as producers was very influential in helping to create the sounds that Jamaican music would be known for during this period.  Both Sly & Robbie got their start as sessions musicians (as a drummer and bass player, respectively) before moving over to the production side of things.

The rhythm Sly and Robbie became known for featured electronic drums and vocal effects and would become commonplace in reggae under their influence.  This also went on to influence the practice of “toasting” (chanting and shouting out folks over a beat), which in turn would be one of the building blocks on which rap music is based.

With this disappointingly brief eight track compilation (but still a full 58:16), Cree Records highlights cover versions of American soul and disco hits covered by Jamaican artists, produced by Sly & Robbie. Included are covers of songs made famous by Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, The Impressions and others. Both the CD and LP offer great liner notes by reggae expert Noel Hawks that set the scene for Sly & Robbie coming together and creating their unique production style.

The compilation begins with Tinga Stewart’s cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” (more famously covered by Brook Benton). With Sly & Robbie’s help, Stewart’s version takes what in Benton’s hands was a melancholy song of lament and turns it into a fun, danceable romp. Despite the bit of cognitive dissonance in the song, it is quite enjoyable nonetheless.

The lone female vocalist (really wish there were more) on the compilation is Marcia Griffiths of the I-Threes (backing vocalists for Bob Marley along with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt), who covers Little Willie John’s “Fever.” Sly and Robbie’s sonic accompaniment is as sparse as the original, highlighting Griffiths’ vocals (if you enjoy this, definitely check out Griffith’s Play Me Sweet and Nice).

Two Marvin Gaye covers appear here with great results. Let’s be real for a second—nobody’s going to touch Gaye’s vocals on the original version. However, accepting this fact allows you to enjoy these covers for what they are, and both truly highlight Sly and Robbie’s production work.  “Sexual Healing” adds additional rhythm to the original’s yearning groove, creating a vibe that is uniquely Jamaican. “Inner City Blues” crackles with the same urgency as Gaye’s original and sports a great reggae-fying of the bassline.

Overall, the sound quality on the compilation is fantastic as it sounds like all of the selections have been digitally remastered.  Each one is presented in its full length form, including extended jams perfect for dancing and/or “toasting,” creating the vibe of a warm night in a dancehall.  If you are a Sly & Robbie aficionado or you want an introduction to the influential production duo, this compilation communicates why Sly & Robbie have been so influential around the world.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Billy Ocean – Here You Are: The Music of My Life

Billy Ocean

Album: Here You Are: The Music of My Life

Artist:  Billy Ocean

Label: Legacy Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 21, 2017

 

 

Riding on the success of the 2016 European 2-disc compilation, Here You Are: The Best of Billy Ocean, Legacy Recordings has just issued a stateside version of Billy Ocean’s self-reflective collection, Here You Are: The Music of My Life. Featuring 10 new performances and 5 long-standing favorites, Ocean provides an audio window through which listeners can view his musical inspirations during his 45+ years as a Grammy award winning R&B artist. Ocean’s current 15-track release coincides with his first set of US tour dates in over 20 years—as one of the featured headliners on the 2017 Replay America Festival.

The title track of the album, “Here You Are,” written by Billy Ocean and Barry Eastmond, is a testament to the various musical influences that have stirred Ocean’s creativity over the decades. The song is captivating—a steady, rhythmical rocking ballad back-dropped against the classic sound of Ocean’s signature croon—and is sure to become a strong staple for his fans. True to the album’s subtitle, Ocean provides covers of the music that has most affected his development as an artist followed by five of his biggest chart-toppers. The iconic “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and Mike Pinder’s “A Simple Game” resonate with, as Ocean states, “everyone waiting for a change…every generation transcending the barriers of colour,” such as himself, who have “lost the concept of life as a spiritual thing, like who we are, what we are, and what we were meant to be.” Bob Marley’s influence is noted as well, through covers of his single “Judge Not” and the well-known “No Woman, No Cry” recorded by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Ocean’s rendition of “It Was a Very Good Year,” written by Ervin Drake, is easily the most resonant song on the album. As he lulls, “But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of my years, and I think of my life like vintage wine,” one can’t help but toast Ocean’s own impact upon the music industry through his mega-hits that conclude the disc: “Caribbean Queen 9 (No More Love on the Run),” “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going,” “ Suddenly,” and “There Will be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry).”

It was—and is—a very good career for Billy Ocean. Here You Are: The Music of my Life bestows proof of just that.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

 

 

 

 

View review August 1st, 2017

Phil Perry – Breathless

Phil Perry Breathless
Album: Breathless

Artist:  Phil Perry

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

 

Phil Perry is back with his latest album Breathless, a ten-track CD of R&B and smooth jazz. Joined on the album by his producer and pianist Chris Davis, Perry has this to say about the musical partnership: “Chris and I respect the music the same way we respect each other. It’s a unique and rare thing and it’s easy because we speak the same language.”  It’s obvious that Davis and Perry trust one another and have something special going, and the album reflects their successful combination. Phil Perry, you see, is a voice one must listen to—a dynamic singer with the uncanny ability to make you a believer with a single note. I would put Perry in the Will Downing category, flying under the radar to where the solid R&B fans are, but Perry’s true music listeners know the real deal when they hear it.

Perry includes his own covers of three songs previously performed by other artists, which are “Love In Need Of Love” by Stevie Wonder, “Is It You” by Lee Rittenour and “One Less Bell To Answer” by the Fifth Dimension. He takes a different approach on the Stevie Wonder classic by slowing the pace down—way down. On “Is It You,” Perry stays with Rittenhour’s original sound, and on the Fifth Dimension classic he adds a fresh perspective by singing it from a male point of view. “Do Whatcha Gotta Do,” written by Chris Davis, is a cute piece. It showcases the combined talents of both artists, giving fans a true dose of the magic that is Perry’s rich smooth tenor.

Providing the soundtracks for over four generations of fans, Phil Perry has done it once again. In a class by itself, Breathless is smooth, and Phil Perry’s vocals will leave you feeling just that.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review August 1st, 2017

Chuck Berry – Chuck

Chuck Barry
Title: Chuck

Artist: Chuck Berry

Label: Dualtone Music

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: June 9, 2017

 

Chuck Berry is, without question, the Father of Rock and Roll, and perhaps the most influential guitarist of the 20th century.  After 40 years without a new release, he announced his new album, Chuck, on his 90th birthday.  Unfortunately, he passed in March of 2017 before he could see the project come to fruition.  Clocking in at a short 34 minutes, the album nevertheless packs a punch.  The first pair of songs, “Wonderful Woman” and “Big Boys,” are arguably the best.  They’re rock and roll to the core, and Berry shows from the start that he’s still got it.  This energy is steady throughout the album, even on slower tracks like “You Go to My Head” and “Eyes of Man.”

Chuck is a family affair, featuring his children Charles Berry Jr. and Ingrid Berry as part of his backing band.  His grandson, Chuck Berry III, is also featured as a guest on “Lady B. Goode,” which is a sequel to the 1958 hit “Johnny B. Goode.” Compared to the original, this version is a bit slower, but no less fun.  Perhaps the most tender track on the album is the bluesy father-daughter duet “Darlin,” the video for which was released in time for Father’s Day:

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Also featured on the album are guitarists Gary Clark Jr. (“Wonderful Woman”), Tom Morello, and Nathaniel Rateliff (“Big Boys”).  These guest appearances are a testament to the influence that Berry has had not only on rock and roll, but on popular music more broadly.  With his musicianship, signature guitar riffs, and his stance, Berry has influenced countless musicians.  On this final album, Berry cements his legacy as musician, storyteller, and one of the greatest to ever do it.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review July 7th, 2017

The New Respects – Here Comes Trouble

New Respects
Title: Here Comes Trouble

Artist: The New Respects

Label: Credential

Formats: LP, MP3

Release date: May 5, 2017

 
 

“Fresh.”  That’s the first word that comes to mind when describing The New Respects and their debut EP Here Comes Trouble.  Their sound is crisp and clean, while simultaneously soulful and rock infused.  The group is a family unit from Tennessee with twin sisters Zandy and Alexis Fitzgerald on guitar and bass respectively, brother Darius on drums and cousin Jasmine Mullen (daughter of gospel singer Nicole C. Mullen) on vocals.  On their 5 song EP the band gives a glimpse at what they are all about with a strong showing on the musical front as well as the topics their songs cover.

 

The EP begins with the track “Money,” which serves as an excellent album opener and plays with the impact of wealth.  The band sounds particularly tight here and Mullen’s vocals are quite impressive.  On “Frightening Lightning” the rhythm section really shines, making the rocked out track still sound quite danceable.  “Come As You Are” serves as the EP’s lone ballad and sounds vaguely reminiscent of something you might hear from the Alabama Shakes or The Black Keys.  The theme for the track centers around inclusion in a way that makes a point without seeming overtly political.  “Trouble” wraps up the EP with lyrics that question if the straight and narrow is the right path, “I’ve tried livin life right, don’t know if I wanna do it anymore / ‘cause I’ve lived a pretty good life / but trouble keeps on knocking at my door.”  Mullen’s soulful voice authentically sells this as a thought she is actually pondering, so it is not just a song about youthful angst.

Here Comes Trouble is a fantastic debut from a band I am sure we will be hearing more from in the coming years, which is a very, very good thing.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

 

View review June 2nd, 2017

Bobby Saint – Unholy

Bobby Saint
Title: Unholy

Artist: Bobby Saint

Label: Shoot to Kill Music

Format: MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

 

Born in Barbados where he’s still known as Hal Linton, the producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist relocated to the U.S. over ten years ago and rebranded himself as Bobby Saint. The young artist is finally starting to rise to the top. In addition to collabs with electronic duo Penthouse Penthouse on the hit song “69 Camaro,” he also scored with a guest appearance on the single “Black Bamboo” by With You and provided music for the Lego movie, among other productions.

Saint explains that his new solo release, Unholy,is about freedom, growth, spirituality, views of self, city nights and love. It’s about keeping the fires lit, raising consciousness, while bowing down to the greats: Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye. This is me going forward with only love and the funk in my heart.” The five track EP delivers a broad range of music. “Big Shoes” is a sexy, soulful ballad that showcases Saints powerful vocals and extensive range. The sultriness continues on “Sexy,” which is sure to be a summer of ’17 anthem, while the title track is a ‘60s throwback power guitar trio that will send chills down your spine.

With this short but extremely satisfying EP, Saint leaves us wanting more – much more.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 2nd, 2017

Garland Jeffreys – 14 Steps to Harlem

Garland
Title: 14 Steps to Harlem

Artist: Garland Jeffreys

Label: Luna Park

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 18, 2017

 

 

“I’m a dreamer, and I wanna tell the world about my dreams” sings Garland Jeffreys on his fifteenth album, 14 Steps to Harlem. It’s unfair to say that Garland Jeffreys is enjoying a late career boost, as in a sense he never went away, releasing in every decade since the 1960s while still taking enough of a break to raise a family. Partly crowdfunded and released on his own label, Luna Park, 14 Steps to Harlem is an exceptionally strong outing, connecting with the varied touchstones of style and genre that he employs but never in a way that can be called scattered or diffuse. Here, one finds Jeffreys exploring elements of straight up pop, grungy rock, up-tempo blues, reggae, blue-eyed soul, hip-hop beats – what have you – and any one of these tracks might be shot through with country-styled lap steel, a sound he clearly loves. Jeffreys is not comfortable with genre being the boss, and he likes to live in different musical apartments. However, the overall effect of 14 Steps to Harlem is one of cohesion; the warmth of Jeffreys’ personality and the cogent spark of inspired enthusiasm behind each of these twelve selections is what pull them together.

One space in which Garland Jeffreys lived was in a dorm room at Syracuse University with the young Lou Reed. Reed’s impact and spirit is keenly felt in Jeffreys’ energetic cover of “I’m Waiting for the Man” which he’s been performing for some time; I caught it during a live show he did in Northern Kentucky in November 2014 and it was a mighty intense experience which comes through here. Lou’s vestige also turns up a little in the title track, with its simple progression, laconic narration and the panoramic view taken of its subject, treated with love, not derision. Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson contributes electric violin to the album’s closing track, the classically styled “Luna Park Love Theme.” This is arguably 14 Steps to Harlem’s most touching moment; for most of this disc you cannot tell that this is a singer in his seventies, but Jeffreys sings this one softly and allows the innocence which carries the album up to that point to give way to experience in its last moments.

Garland Jeffreys’ positive messages of peace and friendship are life-affirming and refreshing to hear in a climate and time such as this one we’re all in. Although I was not too sold on “Reggae on Broadway,” which seemed a mildly amusing parody – produced by Dennis Bovell, nonetheless, and therefore fully legit – 14 Steps to Harlem is a delight to behold for even the weariest of ears.

Reviewed by David N. “Uncle Dave” Lewis

View review June 2nd, 2017

Nicole Mitchell – Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds

Nicole Mitchell
Title: Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds

Artist: Nicole Mitchell

Label: FPE

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 5, 2017

 

Flutist Nicole Mitchell leads her Black Earth Ensemble in the Afrofuturist inspired album Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds. Commissioned by Chicago’s Museum of Modern Contemporary Art (MCA) as part of their 2015 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), this concert recording puts on full display the outstanding musicality and artistry of Mitchell and the members of the ensemble.

Based on the black speculative novella of the same name penned by Mitchell, Mandorla Awakening presents in sonic form the story of what happens when two citizens of the futuristic World Union venture beyond its borders and establish contact with the peoples of Mandorla, a society with different social values than their own. The theme of the novella and the album is inspired by anthropologist Riane Eisler’s influential book The Chalice and the Blade, in which she argues that societies arranged by cooperative of hierarchical governing models have been in competition with one another for centuries. Mitchell is not so much concerned with establishing a narrative of which society represents right or wrong, but rather proposes what societies in an oppositional duality can learn from each other if they can move beyond their differences and find commonalities.

The project relies on the originality of Mitchell’s score and the creativity of the musicians to present the work’s narrative. Unique to this project is the inclusion of Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi and Tatsu Aoki on bass, shamisen, and taiko. The infusion of Umezaki’s and Aoki’s playing provided moments of intriguing sonic textures both individually and in combination with other members of the Black Earth Ensemble that I found particularly enjoyable with a notable example happening in the opening of “Sub-mission.”

Joining the group for this project is Chicago-based spoken word artist and performer avery r. young, who animates Mitchell’s lyrics through his dynamic vocal inflections on three of the last four tracks. The lyrics in particular bring together the suite’s theme of competing approaches to life learning from one another. The string players, Tomeka Reid and Renée Baker, both standout soloists in their own right, provide colour and ethereal tones that enhance the works’ futuristic narrative and soundscape.

Other standout moments from the Black Earth Ensemble include JoVia Armstrong’s imaginative percussion playing in “Listening Embrace” and Alex Wing’s psychedelic infused guitar sounds on “TimeWrap.” Of course, one must call attention to the rich tone and fluidity of Mitchell’s playing that appears throughout the album. The penultimate track, “Mandorla Awakening” (which rightfully receives a handful of applause from the live audience), puts on full display everyone’s musical skill in a tightly woven ensemble setting.

Overall, this recording presents an accessible sonic entryway into the diverse musical world of the AACM and provides ample material for the listener to think through, both musically and intellectually.

Reviewed by Brian Lefresne

View review May 2nd, 2017

Curtis Knight featuring Jimi Hendrix – Live at George’s Club 20

Curtis Knight
Title: Live at George’s Club 20

Artist: Curtis Knight featuring Jimi Hendrix

Label: Dagger

Format: CD, LP

Release date: April 21, 2017

 

Just in time for Record Store Day on April 21st, Dagger Records has released Curtis Knight featuring Jimi Hendrix – Live At George’s Club 20.  This compilation includes tracks that up to this point have mostly been available as bootlegs for the Jimi Hendrix completist. Dagger’s official release features fully remastered audio and a 10 page liner note booklet with rare photos and insight into Hendrix’s career during this period.

Live At George’s Club 20 includes tracks recorded in 1965 and 1966, which find Hendrix in his rhythm and blues era, then known as Jimmy James—a member of Curtis Knight’s pre-Squire’s band the Lovelites. The songs included here are primarily covers including Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.”

Many of the tracks feature Jimi on vocals as well guitar, and it easy to hear hints of the artist he would become just a few years later. Still in his early twenties, Hendrix’s chops were as impressive as you might expect for one of America’s greatest guitar heroes. On “Driving South” he flexes his guitar skills in fantastic fashion as Knight shouts out the names of cities. It’s not hard to imagine a smoky club of dancers responding ecstatically to the storm the band (including bassist Ace Hall, drummer Ditto Edwards, and saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood) had brewed up. Hendrix even includes the playing guitar with his teeth routine that would wow the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival just a few years later. Many of the recordings also showcase Hendrix’s humor and showmanship as well. For example, “I’m a Man” features Hendrix’s playful singing and lyric swapping during a rendition of the Muddy Waters standard.

While Live At George’s Club 20 is a collection for Hendrix completists, it is still a worthwhile listen for anyone who is interested in deconstructing the notion that Jimi Hendrix “came out of nowhere.”  It was places like Club 20 where he honed his chops on his way to super stardom and this compilation is a great listen.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

View review April 4th, 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

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

BLXPLTN – New York Fascist Week

BLXPLTN-300x300
Title: New York Fascist Week

Artist: BLXPLTN

Label: Wolfshield

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: October 31, 2016

 

 

 New York Fascist Week is the much-anticipated sophomore record from Austin’s BLXPLTN (pronounced Blaxploitation). The band has not shied away from speaking loudly and supporting justice for the oppressed, and they continue to take on state violence in its various forms. “Blood on the Sand” and “Gun Range” take the murder of civilians by police head-on, the latter describing the feeling of living in a neighborhood targeted by policing as “living in a gun range.”  “Auf Wiedersehen” could be seen as another commentary on our current police state, or as a warning of the continuing spread, acceptance, and consequences of ubiquitous surveillance and authoritarianism with the lyrics: “Where you going there, sonny? / Respect my authority / Funerals everywhere I go, Tell your children not to leave their homes.”  Following is the newly released video for the opening track, “Blood on the Sand”:

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Each song on New York Fascist Week offers powerful comments on events past, present, and future, with BLXPLTN’s electro-punk, industrial, and rock arrangements perfectly complementing their lyrics. The album is available with two different covers: the limited edition version with artwork by Hiram Melendez (shown above), or the Donald Trump cover with art by Pathetic Pixels (below):

Trump cover

 

 

 

 

 

Reviewed by William Vanden Dries

View review February 1st, 2017

Zeal & Ardor – Devil Is Fine

Zeal & Ardor
Title: Devil Is Fine

Artist: Zeal & Ardor

Label: MVKA

Formats: CD, LP, Limited ed. picture disc, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

Swiss-American artist Manuel Gagneux (a.k.a. Zeal & Ardor) has already garnered considerable buzz for his forthcoming release, Devil is Finea daring hybrid of black metal interspersed with Delta blues, spirituals, jazz, ring shouts, hip-hop beats, soul and gospel. By fusing elements from the entire spectrum of black music, Gagneux has created a deeply personal album—a black history soundtrack that also touches upon his own “diabolical” political and religious beliefs.

Gagneux’s soundscape imagines an alternate universe: “It’s like walking through slave-era America and seeing a chain gang in the woods practicing Satanic rituals. Imagine if slaves in America had rejected Christianity and embraced Satanism instead, if instead of being forced to accept the ‘will of God,’ they had chosen defiance and rebellion and the power of Satan. That’s the world in which the album is rooted.” And his black metal pseudonym, Zeal & Ardor, is a subversive attempt to draw unwitting listeners into this universe through a “vaguely Christian sounding name.” The concept is further reinforced by the cover art featuring Robert Smalls, the Civil War-era slave who freed himself and his crew by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, and then continued to push boundaries as a black politician in South Carolina.

For the title track, Gagneux drew inspiration from historic recordings collected by Alan Lomax and his father John Lomax for the Library of Congress, particularly work songs and the chants of prison chain gangs which he believes capture the same defiance as black metal towards Christianity. The video for the single “Devil Is Fine,” directed by award winning Swiss filmmaker Samuel Morris, capitalizes on these elements, resulting in a dark and disturbing visual straight from the Antebellum South, akin to a more satanic version of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained:

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Another standout track, “Come on Down,” similarly begins with acoustic blues and the call and response “I can’t see no devil in the fields – come on down,” then traverses through distorted soul and black metal electronica before looping back to the blues. “Children’s Summons” begins innocently with a music box melody, then devolves into a satanical call to “summon the children, for tonight He rises…” Taking a difference approach, “What Is a Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?” features a sotto voce chant over a jazzy acoustic bass and drums. The album concludes with the final “Sacriligium,” one of three primarily instrumental tracks that reinforce the sermonic quality of the album.

While Devil is Fine may not be embraced by all black metal enthusiasts, its diverse palette and sinister subject matter will likely draw new fans, especially those rebelling against right-wing extremists and religious fundamentalism.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2017

Johnny Popcorn – Totem Pole

popcorn
Title: Totem Pole

Artist: Johnny Popcorn

Label: Mad Dragon Music Group/dist. Bandcamp

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3, FLAC)

Release date: September 30, 2016

 

Johnny Popcorn? Yes that is the name of this group and I love it. Hailing from Philadelphia, the five member band features vocals from Hezekiah (Davis) and Jani Coral, with Lloyd Alexander on guitar, Freshie on bass, and Clayton Crothers on drums. They’ve opened for a who’s who in the neo soul/progressive soul scene: Kindred, Oddisee, Robert Glasper, Ledisi, RJD2, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Bilal. JP’s ten track sophomore album, Totem Pole, is rock—yes, rock! Now before some of you start frowning your face, it’s not hard rock. It’s not Bad Brains, and there are no Vernon Reid guitar solo riffs. However, Totem Pole offers a welcome fusion of sound and if you free your mind, you may enjoy it.

“Go Go Go” is perhaps the most up tempo of all the tracks. It opens with, believe it or not, acoustic guitar that recalls George Michael’s “Faith.” The catchy chorus has Hezekiah and the group chanting and clapping, “go, go, go – you got to get up and go, go, go” as they encourage folks to chase their dreams.

Coming Home” is another good track thanks to drummer Chuck Treece, who is a local legend in Philly. Hezekiah is once again featured on vocals, and listening to this track you might think Lenny Kravitz could have recorded it. “What a Day” is a step out of rock and into funk. The opening bass is a sure fire winner and will get heads nodding up and down.

Johnny Popcorn’s Totem Pole is certainly different. Where so many acts want to copycat each other, this band stands out! The only question remains, will they or can they find an audience? Judging by who JP has collaborated with, I’d say yes. Totem Pole is a promising follow-up to their debut album, The Crow, and I’m already waiting to see what direction they will pull the audience on their next release.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review January 3rd, 2017

2016 Holiday Music Overview

Another December brings another batch of holiday albums from artists across a variety of genres.  Though there are fewer new releases this year, we’ve compiled a short list of the most interesting projects featuring new arrangements of classics as well as original songs composed for the season.

kenny-lattimore
Title: A Kenny Lattimore Christmas

Artist: Kenny Lattimore

Label: Motown Gospel

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 21, 2016

 

Kenny Lattimore seamlessly merges contemporary R&B with contemporary Christian music on A Kenny Lattimore Christmas. Original songs such as “Real Love This Christmas” and “Everybody Love Somebody” are full of energy and hip hop beats, with lyrics about the importance of community and faith. Lattimore includes many classic Christmas songs on the album, such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” and a grand, symphonic arrangement of “O Holy Night.” He also adds worship songs such as “I Cry Holy” and the gospel-chorus backed “We Want to See You.” Overall, it is a marvelous holiday album for any gospel music fan looking for something that combines tradition and innovation.

 

andra-day
Title: Merry Christmas from Andra Day

Artist: Andra Day

Label: Warner Bros.

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 18, 2016

 

On the five track EP Merry Christmas from Andra Day, the jazz/R&B chanteuse breathes new life into holiday classics with her highly distinctive, instantly recognizable voice. Opening with the Stevie Wonder duet “Someday at Christmas,” the two singers present an upbeat, optimistic song that immediately captures the season’s spirit with themes of peace and harmony:

Day then segues into a swinging arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” followed by a sumptuous rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” Guitarist Chris Payton contributes to “Carol of the Bells,” providing an acoustic accompaniment to Day’s supremely soulful arrangement that renders this chestnut nearly unrecognizable, in the best possible way. Closing with “The First Noel,” Day takes a more straight forward approach, using a simple arrangement with keyboard, but adding enough modulations and embellishments to keep things interesting.

 

leslie-odom-jr
Title: Simply Christmas

Artist: Leslie Odom, Jr.

Label: S-Curve Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 11, 2016

 

While Hamilton star Leslie Odom, Jr. has quickly risen to fame this year as the rapping Aaron Burr, his classically trained Broadway voice stays steady and velvety smooth on his first holiday album Simply Christmas. Odom does not stray from the typical Christmas repertoire, except for adding a version of Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Winter Song.” Otherwise, with tracks ranging from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to “The First Noel,” this is a traditional Christmas album full of easy listening holiday cheer.

 

bob-baldwin
Title: The Gift of Christmas

Artist: Bob Baldwin

Label: Red River Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 28, 2016

 

Great for any contemporary jazz enthusiast on your Christmas list, pianist and composer Bob Baldwin’s The Gift of Christmas adds his spin to holiday classics such as “This Christmas” and “Greensleeves/What Child Is This?” Baldwin combines tradition with modern styles on tracks such as “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful / Celebrate the Son Remix,” which mixes electronic beats, vocals from gospel artist Corvina Nielsen, and a soulful keyboard solo. Nielsen also guest stars on “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “We Three Kings / Yonder Star Remix,” with her soaring, soulful vocals adding a unique dimension to the album. Ending on the beautifully calm and melancholy track “December 25th,” Baldwin returns to a more traditional smooth jazz sound. On The Gift of Christmas, Baldwin constantly challenges our expectations of what Christmas songs should sound like through surprising arrangements and delightful collaborations.

 

r-kelly
Title: 12 Nights of Christmas

Artist: R. Kelly

Label: RCA

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 21, 2016

 

If you like non-traditional Christmas songs, R. Kelly’s 12 Nights of Christmas is perfect for you. Kelly combines his signature R&B vocals and sensual lyrics with lush orchestral arrangements on holiday themed songs such as “Snowman,” “Flyin’ On My Sleigh,” and “Mrs. Santa Claus.” Though some of these tracks may be borderline “not safe for work,” there are also more innocuous songs such as “My Wish for Christmas” and “Home for Christmas”—his modern day twist on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”:

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big-freedia
Title: A Very Big Freedia Christmazzz

Artist: Big Freedia

Label: Queen Diva Music

Formats: MP3

Release date: December 9, 2016

 

If you’re looking for something naughty but nice for your holiday party, look no further than this 5 track EP from the bounce queen of New Orleans. A Very Big Freedia Christmazzz offers some very unique takes on holiday classics such as “Rudy the Big Booty Reindeer” who knows how to twerk, and “Jingle Bell Rock” which will get you on your feet to “shake the night away.” Freedia’s “Twas the Night” is a hip hop version of the classic Christmas story with a NOLA twist:

Twas the night before Friday and all through the club,
They were drinking and smoking and tearing it up,
It was a cold night but the place was lit,
It was packed wall to wall no room to sit . . .
Chorus: All I want for Christmas is the beat, beat
All I want for Christmas is the beat, beat

Original tracks include the highly infectious “So Frosty” that’s sure to heat up the dance floor, and “Santa is a Gay Man” sung to the tune of “Mr. Sandman” (definitely not safe for work).

Reviewed by Anna Polovick and Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review December 1st, 2016

Timothy Bloom – The Beginning

timothy-bloom
Title: The Beginning

Artist: Timothy Bloom

Label: Beyond the Sky Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 23, 2016

 

Timothy Bloom’s latest project, The Beginning, is the first in a trilogy of albums called “The Life.”   Bloom is perhaps best known for his 2011 hit with V. Bozeman, “Til the End of Time,” a stunning ballad that introduced him as a force in R&B.  More than just a gifted singer, though, Bloom is also an accomplished songwriter and producer as well, having written for artists such as Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, and Smokey Robinson.

Musically, the EP doesn’t fit into just one category, with Bloom’s capable voice traversing across genres and decades. The opener, “Work It Out,” sounds like a ’70s R&B hit.  Immediately following is “Adam and Eve,” which hearkens back to the pace and style of Prince.  After that, “Me and Myself” swings into jazz.  Even within this assortment of musical styles, Bloom stays true to his gospel roots, particularly on “Howl at the Moon.” He grew up listening to and singing gospel music in the South, and it shows.  Although the EP clocks in at 23 minutes, Bloom features a lot of collaborators.  Perhaps the best comes not from a vocalist but the French harmonica player, Frederic Yonnet.  They pair up on “Sweet Angel,” with Yonnet featured throughout.

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Overall, The Beginning is a solid EP, and listeners can look forward to not only this project but the two EPs to follow.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review November 1st, 2016

Pigeon John – Good Sinner

pigeon-john

Title: Good Sinner

Artist: Pigeon John

Label: Dine Alone Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 23, 2016

 

Pigeon John honed his musical skills by performing during open mic nights at the Good Life Café in his home state of California. Even though he’s experienced much success, he’s kept this DIY approach and indie aesthetic central to his music. In fact, this new CD was crowdfunded through the website Pledge. Good Sinner is Pigeon John’s seventh album and features many genres, from his characteristic indie rock songs to covers of the Beastie Boys.

The first single, “That’s What I Like,” is a catchy song about chasing a hard-to-get lover. It features hand claps, hearty brass, and an undeniably pop chorus singing “Na na na, hey.” “Stick Up” is a similarly upbeat, pop song that sounds akin to Pigeon John’s most popular hits such as “The Bomb.”

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Pigeon John emphasizes his indie rock side on songs such as “Rebel Rebel,” which is driven by heavy yet simple beats on the drum set and features a catchy whistling section that is sure to be stuck in your head for days. This edgy vibe continues on “Gravity,” a foot-tapping song with an electric, urgent chorus featuring synthesizer.

Though he stays true to his own style, Pigeon John also explores the intersection of indie rock with other genres. He raps on “Shake It Down,” an extremely funky track featuring shouts and jingling bells in the background. His love for this mix of rock and hip hop can also be heard in his mellow cover of the Beastie Boys “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).”

Taking the exploration of genres even further, Pigeon John’s vocals in “Take Off” lay somewhere between melodic country twang and a slow rap that discusses fights, visiting penthouses, and taking off in a beautiful car. The way the vocals are manipulated in “Knock Out” is Beach Boys-esque, with fuzzy harmonies throughout the track. Growing up in California, it seems very likely that Pigeon John was inspired by Beach Boy era love songs, as he sings, “My pretty knockout, you drive me batty like Hollywood.”

Good Sinner explores love and rebellion through a number of genres, though Pigeon John still finds himself most comfortable situated between indie rock and pop. The album is upbeat, and more often than not seems focused on making fun, catchy music. With the varying styles and appealing nature of pop choruses and beats, anyone who listens to Good Sinner will inevitably find themselves humming a chorus hours later.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 1st, 2016

Unlocking the Truth – Chaos

unlocking-the-truth
Title: Chaos

Artist: Unlocking the Truth

Label: self-release

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 17, 2016

 

Over the past few years the punk band Unlocking the Truth has gone from YouTube sensations to performing at major festivals and landing a nearly unprecedented recording contract with Sony (later rejected), all while just entering their teens.  While a knee jerk reaction might be to dismiss them as a “kiddie act,” their first official release, Chaos, aims to dispel all those doubts and for the most part succeeds.

unlockingthetruth-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jarad Dawkins (drums) and Malcolm Brickhouse (guitar/vocals) have been friends since early childhood and have been playing together since middle school.  Alec Atkins (bass) joined the band during the period in which they made quite a bit of noise on YouTube, once the word got out about their impromptu shows in Times Square.  Chaos is the first foray into what the fellas have been cooking up since they made the jump to the Vans Warped Tour and Coachella.

The album is very well-produced with a sound that feels tailor made for radio airplay.  Each track feels crafted as a potential single, which though understandable—given how music is consumed in 2016—takes away from a cohesive whole.  However, if you can look past this issue and take Chaos as a first step on a career that will hopefully include a respectable artistic growth arc, what they’ve produced is a very respectable start.  Unlocking the Truth’s sound is decidedly steeped in the Nu-Metal tradition of bands like Slipknot and System Of A Down.  And while these might be big shoes to fill, Chaos hints that the teenage power trio may be mentioned in the same breath as these bands down the line.

Of particular note is the level of the playing the band has mastered.  Tracks like “Monster”, “A Tide” and “Other Side” really do a great job in showcasing how well the group plays together and gives glimpses of what may come as they continues to mature.  Thematically the album leans heavily on imagery about outsiders (perhaps due to being three young African-American males participating in a genre that is dominated by bands that do not look them); relationships (usually difficult or outright bad ones, which begs the question how much of these songs sprang from personal experience?); and general human connections (which serves as a bookend to the outsiders theme, as the band embraces a new community built around freedom to be one’s self).

The album’s lead single, “Take Control,” utilizes these themes in its music video and in the lyrics which speak to taking control of your own destiny.  It will very interesting to hear Brickhouse’s voice as it matures—he is clearly coming into his own vocally, which is best heard on “Escape.”  This track also features some great drum work by Dawkins and bass work by Atkins.

All in all, Chaos feels like a preview of great things to come.  It is my hope that Unlocking the Truth beats the odds of becoming pigeonholed as a novelty act and continues honing their craft both live and in the studio.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

View review November 1st, 2016

Jimi Hendrix – Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69

Jimi
Title: Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69

Artist: Jimi Hendrix

Label: Sony/Legacy

Formats: CD, SACD, LP, Digital

Release date: September 30, 2016

 

For Jimi Hendrix, 1969 was a critical year of transition. With his British-American band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, he rode a 2-year explosion of popularity that culminated in the fall 1968 release of the 2LP set Electric Ladyland. After that, a combination of road weariness, musical restlessness and personnel squabbles led to the breakup of the Experience. By the time of the Woodstock festival, August 1969, Hendrix was playing with Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox, an old friend from the Army and co-traveler on the early 1960’s Chitlin Circuit. The Woodstock band also included extra percussion and Larry Lee on rhythm guitar. Although the Woodstock performance was memorable—think of the electrified psychedelic performance of the National Anthem in the Woodstock movie)—the band was assembled just for that event.

By late fall 1969, Hendrix was rehearsing with Cox on bass and soul/blues multi-instrumentalist Buddy Miles on drums. The group, which Hendrix called Band of Gypsys, debuted in public at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969. This new album is the first official release of the unedited first set, an audio record of Jimi Hendrix bringing forth something very new, at some risk to his career and popularity.

The concert is long known and yet not well-known. There were four sets that night. All previous releases have been edited together out of pieces of the four, with only some bits from the first set. The original LP, released in 1970, was mostly comprised of the later overnight sets. The multi-CD deluxe reissue pieced together a running order similar to the middle sets, with tunes picked from all four. The running order and vibe of these previous issues isn’t quite what the audience heard, although as stand-alone albums, the original LP—which reached #5 and stayed 61 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 chart—is especially powerful.

Band of Gypsys has been somewhat controversial with critics and hardcore Hendrix fans. Miles’ drumming is heavy and somewhat leaden compared to Mitchell, and the Gypsys was firmly set in blues and hard-funk music, whereas the Experience was more freeform and trippy-psychedelic. Also, Buddy Miles was a showman, and some critics and listeners at the time just couldn’t cotton to his sometimes heavy-handed vocal riffing; the feeling was that he was upstaging the star, Hendrix. In retrospect, Miles’ style fits the music that Hendrix and band wanted to put out, and the point was that it wasn’t a “new Experience,” it was a different direction for Hendrix and his music.

The first New Year’s Eve set was almost all new material, no nuggets from the Experience hit parade except a decent but not stellar rendition of “Hear My Train a Comin’,” a song Hendrix played live numerous times with the Experience. More Experience songs were sprinkled into the later sets, and showed up on the multi-CD reissue compilation. In this unedited release of the first set, we hear the band having some timing and rhythm issues, probably opening night jitters. Several long blues jams keep things in order.

Indeed, blues are the order of the evening. Hendrix used this band as a vehicle to dive fully into the blues music always at the core of his rock hits. His band mates are up to the task, all seasoned by years of playing in R&B revues. Miles definitely prefers a heavier and busier drum style than a classic blues stickman like Chess’s Fred Below. He worked closer to Stax’s Al Jackson Jr.’s backing of Albert King, which was contemporary to these recordings. With mostly rock-steady bass backing by Cox, Hendrix stretches out and explores the ranges of both his guitar and his voice. Particularly on “Bleeding Heart,” near the end of the set, slow blues is rendered with full tension and power, the heavier style of Cox and Miles deployed to perfection.

The album’s title track, “Machine Gun,” presented here in an unedited form (previous releases were edited together from all four sets’ versions) is a smoldering anti-war anthem as powerful in today’s world as the turbulent late 1960s. “Izabella,” based around a fictional soldier’s letters to his girlfriend from Vietnam, is also of the time, although the rendition in this set is somewhat sloppy and tentative.

The set closes with an up-tempo rock colossus, “Burning Desire.” Here, at the end of the set, we hear Hendrix let loose in a rocking manner more familiar to the Experience fan. Miles even displays some Mitch Mitchell-like fleetness at times, which is probably unfair to note since Band of Gypsys was resolutely not aiming to be Experience-like.

Sony says no other complete sets from the New Year’s Eve at the Fillmore East concerts will be released, likely because so much from the later sets is already out there. It’s also worth noting that this will be the first Sony release of Hendrix material in SACD and high-resolution digital downloads. This is surprising, since Sony has in recent years released a large trove of remastered Hendrix recordings, likely transferred and remastered in higher than CD resolution. For whatever reason, these studio and live recordings have been issued only on CD, lossy downloads and in some cases vinyl. This new release was mixed from the original 8-track tapes by long-time Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, and mastered by Bernie Grundman.

After the New Year’s Eve sets, the Band of Gypsys played one more live set, a song-and-a-half misadventure at the January 28, 1970 Winter Festival for Peace. Hendrix walked off the stage, his manager fired Miles on the spot, and that was it for Band of Gypsys. Hendrix died from drug-related asphyxia on September 18, 1970; he was 27 years old.

Hendrix’s short-lived Band of Gypsys phase has always received mixed reviews. An informative listening session would compare this new release of the first New Year’s Eve set with Hendrix’s “American unveiling” at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival, and the August 1969 Woodstock performance. One might also listen to one of Hendrix’s 1968 Winterland shows to trace the arc of his brief career as a rock and blues superstar. His playing, singing and songwriting evolved greatly in that short time, and the Band of Gypsys’ New Year’s Eve performance was an important part of the journey.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review September 1st, 2016

Fantastic Negrito – The Last Days of Oakland

last days of oakland

Title: The Last Days of Oakland

Artist: Fantastic Negrito

Label: Blackball Universe

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: June 3, 2016

 

 

Perhaps best known as the 2015 winner of NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest for his song “Lost in a Crowd,” Oakland-based Fantastic Negrito releases an album that is steeped in the blues and simultaneously strikingly contemporary.  Xavier Dphrepaulezz, who uses “Fantastic Negrito” as his stage name, has had a career rocked with the ups and downs of the entertainment industry—rising to, and falling from, a disastrous brush with stardom in the 1990s, undergoing a crippling hand injury after a car accident, and settling down for awhile. The stage persona of Fantastic Negrito represents a return to the entertainment business, on his own terms this time around.

And what a return—The Last Days of Oakland is an album with sprawling ambitions that delivers.  One more in a year of highly personal releases that document broader societal problems, Fantastic Negrito’s songs deal with class and poverty (“Working Poor,” “Hump Through the Winter”), race, and redemption (“Nothing Without You”).  The record is also diverse sonically, but it’s useful to compare the combination of blues sound and punk spirit that animates The Last Days of Oakland with the blues punk of groups like the White Stripes. In fact, Negrito takes a number of cues from Jack White, from vintage blues guitar playing to minimalistic 4-on-the-floor arrangements—“Rant Rushmore” could easily have appeared on Icky Thump, although Negrito draws a bit more gospel into the mix than White would have. Comparisons to earlier alt-rockers are not remiss either.  Fantastic Negrito’s version of the traditional song “In the Pines” (recorded by everyone and his brother, but perhaps made most famous by Leadbelly), channels Kurt Cobain’s rendition of the song as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged, keeping Cobain’s raw emotionalism, but fleshing out the orchestration with a full band, electric guitars, and keyboards.

On The Last Days of Oakland, we hear a musician who has clearly paid his dues.  Fantastic Negrito knows his sound and has found his voice as a singer, songwriter and guitarist.  This is a definitive performance from a rocker with a few bones to pick.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review August 1st, 2016

Various Artists – Sissle and Blake Sing Shuffle Along

shuffle along

Title: Sissle and Blake Sing Shuffle Along

Artist: Various

Label: Harbinger

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: April 29, 2016

 

 

Many of you have no doubt heard about the current Broadway “revival” of the landmark 1921 musical Shuffle Along, choreographed by Savion Glover and starring Audra McDonald (who will be replaced by Rhiannon Giddens starting July 26), with Joshua Henry and Brandon Victor Dixon portraying the famous songwriting team of Sissle & Blake. Subtitled “Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,” the show is actually more of a re-imagining than a revival, incorporating many of the original’s famous songs but not following the original book.

This new CD from Harbinger Records, Sissle and Blake Sing Shuffle Along, was released at the end of April to coincide with the opening of the Broadway show, and features “recordings Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle made for Blake’s EBM record label, as well as a newly discovered set of extremely rare acetates of demo recordings by Sissle and Blake for a proposed Shuffle Along of 1950 Broadway show.” Songs are arranged in the original order of the 1921 musical, performed primarily by Sissle (vocals) and accompanied by Blake (piano). But just to be clear, though there are many different cast recordings of Shuffle Along, what’s featured on this CD are the songs as sung by the original composers, recorded decades later.

Indianapolis-born Noble Sissle (1889-1974) and Baltimore native Eubie Blake (1887-1983)—two of the most famous early African-American composers, vaudeville stars and recording artists—began their careers during the ragtime era. Joining Lt. James Reese Europe’s famous 369th U.S. Infantry “Hell Fighters” Band during WWI, they helped to promote an appreciation of Black popular music throughout the U.S. and Europe, especially the new genre known as “jazz.” After the war they experienced a number of successes, but none so great as their landmark musical Shuffle Along. Based on a comedy routine by their vaudeville colleagues Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, who wrote the book, the musical opened in New York in 1921 with Blake leading the orchestra from the keyboard. Though not the first Black show on Broadway (Bob Cole’s minstrelsy themed A Trip to Coontown and Will Marion Cook’s more progressive Clorindy both debuted in 1898), Shuffle Along became one of the most successful Broadway musicals of the era, drawing audiences with its swinging jazz melodies and “hot rhythms.”

The 24-page booklet accompanying the CD provides an excellent history of Shuffle Along by Richard Carlin and producer Ken Bloom, excerpted from their forthcoming biography of Eubie Blake. But given the level of detail on the composers and the history of the musical, it’s somewhat incomprehensible that only scant information is provided about the actual recordings featured in this compilation.

The earliest tracks are drawn from Shuffle Along of 1950 demos that have never been released. Thanks to the generosity of record collector Peter Shambarger, who discovered these discs twenty years ago, we can now hear the songs in excellent sound (though regrettably the piano is somewhat buried in the background). Most importantly, though, we can hear Sissle’s commentary, updated for the era. For example, on “Bandana Days” he references beboppers, and in “If You’ve Never Been Vamped by a Brownskin” he interjects some comedy in the midst of Blake’s solo. Blake’s masterful rendition of the “Shuffle Along Medley (Entr’actre)” is drawn from an uncredited QFS piano roll (presumably one of those he recorded for QRS in May, 1973). The remaining twelve tracks are culled from LPs issued by Eubie Blake Music, a label founded by the musician in 1971.  The “Shuffle Along Medley” and “Love Will Find a Way” (from this 1971 LP?) are performed by Ivan Harold Browning, who sang first tenor in The Four Harmony Kings (a quartet featured in the 1921 Broadway cast of Shuffle Along), before assuming one of the leads in the show. Original cast member Gertrude Saunders also reprises her most famous song, “Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home” (she recorded this for Okeh in 1921). Ruth Williams joins Sissle on the show’s most enduring hit song, “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” The set concludes with “Fourth of July in Jimtown,” a comedic routine performed by the show’s creators, Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles (presumably from the 1923 Okeh recording).

None of these recordings have been released on CD before, and will certainly provide those interested in early African American musicals, and Sissle and Blake in particular, with additional source material for study. The other great news is that Harbinger (a division of The Musical Theater Project) plans to reissue all of the Eubie Blake Music recordings, as well as the complete demo of Shuffle Along of 1950, in the near future. Let’s hope that liner notes for these planned reissues properly credit the sources.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 1st, 2016

Santigold – 99 Cents

santigold_99cents

Title: 99 Cents

Artist: Santigold

Label: Atlantic

Formats: Cassette, CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: February 26, 2016

 

 

Santigold is mostly known as a fashion forward artist with a singular pop sound. Songs like “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Creator” from her two albums Santigold and Master of My Make-Believe have resonated their way into a remarkable place in contemporary American cultural history. Now a 39-year-old woman, her most recent release, 99c, is an album that not only expresses her singular musical control but also her maturity. She has produced her own take on pop that never sounds forced.

99 Cents begins extremely well with “Can’t Get Enough,” a terrific song that sounds like an elegant take on the pop music of the 1950’s:

 

 

The song “Banshee” is another notable track, though it sounds like her older releases. This indicates one of the issues with this album—sometimes it feels like her sound has not progressed and that we’re listening to songs from her older albums. Despite feeling unoriginal, “Banshee” is a good time. “Before the Fire” resonates like great American songs do: it is both weighty and light, and is probably the most interesting of the album’s 12 tracks.

“Outside the War” is another great song that combines rock and pop well. In it, we hear an understanding of the amount of space for lyrical experimentation that this blend can afford a musician being put to great use. “Run the Races” stings.

In an interview with Complex magazine, Santigold said “I set out to make a pop record that incorporates all the things Santigold records always incorporate, which is elements of African music, punk rock, hip-hop and everything that I would want to put into a song but still under the umbrella of a pop song where there’s a chorus you can sing along with. I like when pop is still good music, that’s what I like.” The long history of human artistry is a history of artists attempting artistic freedom: the ability to produce art that expresses “true selves.” There are still debates about the painting Mona Lisa and who it really depicts: either the wife of the man who commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci or a courtesan, suggesting that Da Vinci may have pushed against what he was “supposed” to do in favor of following his own muse. Something similar has happened in music, with pop musicians attempting personal “freedom” through artistic expression, despite the potential constraints that come with record labels and sales figures. Santigold’s effort puts her at the avant-garde of those who genuinely love pop and strive to produce their own take on it.

There’s a notable amount of very serious, almost political, playfulness in Santigold’s album that only she does in the pop music realm. Pop culture is a culture of play and most pop musicians take this to an extreme. But Santigold seems to want to take its playfulness in another direction, drawing her lyrical and musical style much closer to rock.

Santigold’s 99 Cents is a notable album. She combines rock and pop better than any of her peers do, pushing the boundaries of pop music beyond the limits set by radio and the musical performance circuit and into the realm of sincerity and actual personality.

Reviewed by Adolf Alzuphar

View review May 2nd, 2016

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