The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra – Black Manhattan, Volume 3

Black Manhattan
Title:  Black Manhattan, Volume 3

Artist:  The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra

Label:  New World Records

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: November 10, 2017

 

 

Rick Benjamin, founder/conductor of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, recently gifted us with Volume 3 of his series, Black Manhattan (Volume 2 was previously reviewed in Black Grooves). The title derives from James Weldon Johnson’s 1930 book about New York’s black music and theatre communities from the 1890s to 1920s, profiling “an amazing group of achievers . . . whose work profoundly transformed the cultural life of this nation.” Benjamin has made it his mission to bring to light previously unrecorded works by these composers using authentic scores. With the release of the third volume, we can now experience “60 works by 32 outstanding African-American composers, spanning the seminal years of the 1870s to the early 1920s . . . [closing] this gap in America’s cultural memory.”

Volume 3 continues the exploration of prominent Clef Club composers and their works, including founding member Alphonso Johns (“Ianthia March” written in 1902 for an African American bicycle club), Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake (“Love Will Find a Way” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry” from Shuffle Along), Clarence Cameron White (“Chant” from The Bandana Sketches and the spiritual setting of “I’m Goin’ Home” from Cabin Memories), Scott Joplin (“Wall Street Rag” written two years after his move to Manhattan), Frederick M. Bryan (“The Dancing Deacon” premiered by the Clef Club Orchestra in 1915), Will H. Dixon (“Delicioso: Tango Aristocratico”), J. Leubrie Hill (the newly discovered Overture to his celebrated musical My Friend From Kentucky), and J. Turner Layton (“After You’ve Gone” and “Dear Old Southland” orchestrated by Will H. Vodery). The set also sheds light on the works of lesser known African American composers, as well as works by prominent songwriters not featured in earlier volumes.

The disc opens with the “Pork and Beans Rag” (1913) by Philadelphia native Ch. Luckeyth “Luckey” Roberts. Known as one of the founders of Harlem stride piano, Roberts was also a talented theater composer and orchestra conductor who took over as the “leading purveyor of high society music” following the death of James Reese Europe. This aggressive yet charming Eastern-style rag, which he later orchestrated, was among his first published piano compositions, as well as the first piece taught to his piano student – none other than a young George Gershwin. Two additional works by Roberts are also included: “Jewel of the Big Blue Nile” written for the 1919 stage production Baby Blues and sung here by noted soprano Janai Brugger, and a later orchestration of “The Tremolo Trot” (1914), notable for its infusion of classical music elements. Tragically, though Roberts remained a very prominent fixture in Harlem until his death in 1968, little of his vast output survives.

Another Philadelphia-born pianist-songwriter, Q. Roscoe Snowden, is known primarily for a pair of 1923 recordings on the OKeh label. Benjamin has uncovered another instrumental, “The Slow Drag Blues,” published by W.C. Handy in 1919 and later orchestrated by a young William Grant Still. Though the success of this rendition is largely due to Still’s compositional technique, Snowden’s work is still a significant fusion of a 19th century African American social dance with blues, ragtime and jazz.

Baritone Edward Pleasant is featured on James Bland’s enduring 1879 minstrel song “Oh! Dem Golden Slippers,” a parody of the spiritual “Golden Slippers” popularized by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Bland was born in Queens and, like his highly educated parents, attended university before gravitating to African American minstrel troupes. He was one of the first black composers to be published and achieved wide acclaim at home and abroad, yet never moved beyond the minstrel genre.  By comparison, Benjamin refers to Black Manhattanite Sidney Perrin as “a key transitional figure between minstrelsy and vaudeville,” who likely composed hundreds of songs over his forty-year career. Regrettably, the majority of his 50 surviving works were published between 1897-1910 and only document his early years. Benjamin opted for Perrin’s 1904 cakewalk “Well Raise the Roof To-Night (Whoop ‘Er Up Boys),” the title indicating the celebratory nature of the composition performed with aplomb by the PRO.

Cincinnati’s Gussie L. Davis was one of the most successful African American songwriters of his era, but has not previously been featured. After relocating to New York in the 1890s he achieved considerable success composing musical revues, but died suddenly of heart failure in the midst of his first touring production. Chosen for this set is Davis’s most successful ballad, “In the Baggage Coach Ahead,” which sold over a million copies of sheet music. The Victorian-era parlor song is performed convincingly by tenor Chauncey Packer, accompanied by Benjamin on piano. Packer is featured again on the 1905 hit song “Just One Word of Consolation” by Tom Lemonier, another founding member of the Clef Club. This lovely ballad was originally featured in the black musical comedy Rufus Rastus and later become part of the standard repertoire for early 20th century American tenors. As Benjamin points out in the liner notes, many of these singers likely assumed the composer was French, just as many had assumed Gussie Davis was a white woman.

Brooklyn-born, Howard University educated pianist-composer Clarence G. Wilson burst onto the scene as conductor of the Smart Set, one of the last major black touring companies. Yet, after serving in WWI under Will H. Vodery in the 807th Pioneer Infantry Band, he returned to Harlem and all but disappeared. Benjamin uncovered one of Wilson’s early works, “The Zoo-Step,” composed in 1916 as a dance number for his anti-war musical How Newton Prepared. A stellar example of the music of the era, the PRO performance encapsulates what Benjamin describes as “raucous, hilarious, virtuosic, stylistically [representing] the unique territory between the circus, Dixieland jazz, and the Folies Bergère.”

Another historically interesting work is “Royal Garden Blues,” composed in 1919 by Clarence Williams and Spencer Williams. Taking its title from a well-known black café in Chicago, the song was immortalized by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1921. Benjamin discovered the original 1919 orchestration by African American band leader Dave Peyton, which notates every improvised slide and “hot solo.” Again, the PRO gives a fine performance, bringing life to an arrangement clearly intended for those uninitiated in jazz.

Volume 3 concludes with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” composed by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson and performed by sopranos Janai Brugger and Andrea Jones, tenor Chauncey Packer and baritone Edward Pleasant, accompanied by the PRO. According to Benjamin, this rendition is the world premier recording of the original 1900 score. The vocal harmonies are similar to the earliest recorded version by the Manhattan Harmony Four (1923), but the PRO’s rendition brings full glory to the Johnson brother’s masterful composition which became the national anthem of the African-American community.

As with previous volumes, the CD is accompanied by a 48-page booklet with meticulously researched biographies of the composers, several previously unknown to me. Once again, Rick Benjamin and The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra offer a carefully curated project celebrating the many composers of Black Manhattan, shedding light on lesser known composers and works, and advancing the study of American music of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz

Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz

 

Title: Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz

Artist: Various

Label: ACT

Formats: CD

Release date: December 8, 2017

Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz is a collection of Jimi Hendrix songs performed by various artists from Germany’s ACT label. Hendrix, who would have turned 75 in November shortly before this album was released, remains one of the most influential musicians of all time. His influence on electric guitarists is universally recognized, and the rare guitarist who is unaware of Hendrix has undoubtedly studied the playing of others who were influenced by him. Appropriately, this album features an obligatory guitar presence; however, it also demonstrates that Hendrix’s influence spans beyond his chosen instrument.

The opening track is a solo piano performance of “Angel” by Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, which demonstrates Hendrix’s talent as a composer. Although music history focuses on Hendrix’s influence upon the electric guitar, his songs are able to transcend genre and instrumentation. This track, along with the album as a whole, proves that Hendrix tunes are perfect vehicles for jazz improvisation and experimentation.

Highlighting the strength of Hendrix’s songs—and their ability to remain stylistically ambiguous—are two versions of “Little Wing.” A jazz trio, featuring what is arguably the best playing on the recording by Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala, performs the first version. Rantala plays over the original chord changes during his solo, but he weaves intricate jazz lines over them to create a harmonic palette that should interest any jazz fan. The other version of “Little Wing” is closer to the original in terms of instrumentation. French guitarist Nguyên Lê delivers a remarkable performance in which he channels Hendrix’s technique, while simultaneously sounding a bit like fusion guitar icon Allan Holdsworth.

Lê is featured again on “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be),” along with American musician Terri Lyne Carrington on drums and vocals. As the first female artist to win a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Carrington’s presence on this compilation is fitting in that she parallels the innovative, groundbreaking spirit of Hendrix. This cover of “1983,” which is one of the most sonically experimental tunes ever recorded by Hendrix, is one of the standout tracks on this album. The musicians capture the essence of the original, yet they do it uniquely in a jazz fusion setting.

Though all of the tracks have something different to offer, there are aspects of a few songs that warrant mention. First, no other tracks are as captivating as the versions of “Voodoo Chile” and “Are You Experienced.” The former’s rendition by a jazz big band is refreshing, and the horn arrangements serve as another example of the versatility of Hendrix’s music. Similarly, “Are You Experienced” stands out for its cinematic arrangement performed by a symphony orchestra. Additionally, Marc Ribot’s reverb-laden guitar on “Drifting” is simply mesmerizing, and this song is accentuated by the presence of South Korean jazz vocalist Youn Sun Nah, who sings beautifully.

Despite the album’s title, Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz is neither a straight-ahead jazz record nor does it contain typical cover versions of Hendrix songs. However, the potential listener should be assured that these tunes bridge the gap between the two styles well. Nguyên Lê provides quality guitar playing on four of the album’s tracks. He has enough stylistic similarity to Hendrix that he should appeal to those not yet indoctrinated into jazz. On the other hand, the presence of some monster jazz players should appeal to jazz aficionados. In particular, there are some phenomenal drummers on this album—Danny Gottlieb (Pat Metheny Group, Mahavishnu Orchestra), Peter Erskine (Weather Report, Yellowjackets), and the aforementioned Terri Lyne Carrington, who has played with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Herbie Hancock.

Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz has certainly been produced in the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, who is quoted in the liner notes: “When I die, I want people to play my music, go wild and freak out and do anything they want to do.” His wishes have indeed come to fruition with this compilation of his music.

Reviewed by Joel Roberts

 

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas – The World of Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart
Artist: Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas

Title: The World of Captain Beefheart

Label: Knitting Factory

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: November 10, 2017

 

 

If there are artists worthy enough for a Captain Beefheart tribute collaboration, it is the artistic duo of Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas. The pair first beefed it up in 2013 with The Metropole Orchestra at Amsterdam’s Paradiso during an event produced by Dutch journalist and radio presenter Co de Kloet. Four years and multiple hours of creativity later, The World of Captain Beefheart makes its way towards a triplicate fan base for all three musicians—Don Van Vliet, Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx.

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Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, first grabbed the public’s attention with his cover of Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy,” capitulating his gritty blues style to an interview on American Bandstand in 1966 and an appearance on ABC’s “Where the Action Is”.  Soon after, Captain Beefheart and the “Magic Band”—whose members differed throughout the years but most notably of musicians Gary Lucas, Jeff Cotton, Bruce Fowler and Victor Hayden—released their first album, Safe as Milk, in 1967.

While many envisioned him as the next blues frontman, Van Vliet had other ideas. His strong interest in experimental, avant-garde sounds—fostered alongside his longtime friend Frank Zappa—would lead him to worldwide notoriety as one of the most singular voices and uncompromising composers in popular music, a trail-blazing maverick who single-handedly changed the face of popular music as we know it. His music combined Delta blues, free-jazz, and proto-punk rock with surrealist imagery, ecological obsession, and ironic humor.

During his 30+ year career, Van Vliet explored musical and lyrical territory never before charted in the confines of a traditional electric band line-up. His was a unique and unforgettable sound which proved highly influential on the first wave of punk and new-wave pioneers including John “Rotten” Lydon, Joe Strummer of the Clash , and Talking Heads’ David Byrne, as well as seminal artists such as David Lynch, Laurie Anderson, Ed Ruscha, Julian Schnabel, and Matt Groening. Captain Beefheart/Van Vliet retired from the music scene in 1982 to concentrate on his painting career before passing away from complications of MS in 2010.

Gary Lucas first made his mark as a visionary guitar player on the final last two Beefheart albums, Doc at the Radar Station (1980) and Ice Cream for Crow (1982). A world-renowned instrumentalist and Grammy-nominated songwriter and composer, Lucas has released over 30 acclaimed albums in a variety of genres. Gary also collaborated most significantly with the late Jeff Buckley, co-writing “Grace” and “Mojo Pin”, the first two songs on Jeff’s 2-million selling “Grace” album.

Nona Hendryx is a longtime fierce admirer of Don Van Vliet’s music, and possesses the huge voice and the commanding stage presence necessary to do full justice to repertoire that originally featured Beefheart’s unforgettable multi-octave voice. Although she’s best known as a funk/soul great thanks to her long tenure with international hitmakers Labelle (as well as the group’s antecedent, Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles) in addition to her own excellent R&B solo outings, she is no stranger to experimental rock territory, having been featured as guest vocalist with cutting-edge ensembles including the Talking Heads, Bill Laswell’s Material, and Jerry Harrison’s Casual Gods.

The World of Captain Beefheart is an album that truly speaks for itself. “Sun Zoom Spark” opens the tribute, proving that in the Beefheart world, Hendryx has vocals worthy of the Captain’s raspy legacy. Other classics such as “When It Blows Its Stacks” and a moving rendition of “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains” cement the pair’s project worthiness. Ably supporting Lucas and Hendryx are expert practitioners of Beefheartian music: bass player Jesse Krakow and drummer Richard Dworkin. Both are veterans of Fast ‘N Bulbous, Lucas’ free-jazz instrumental outfit that specializes in repertoire from the Van Vliet canon. Completing the lineup is keyboardist Jordan Shapiro, who has played with Lucas in his long-running avant-rock crew, Gods and Monsters.

A visionary and lyricist with unrelenting perseverance, artist Don Van Vliet is deserving of every expertly offered chordal riff Lucas and Hendryx have to give us. Through their dedication and respect to his craft, Captain Beefheart will live on in the hearts and souls of his fans forever, both long-standing and contemporary alike.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

 

 

 

Sly5thAve – The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre

Sly5thAve
Title: The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre

Artist: Sly5thAve

Label: Tru Thoughts

Release date: Nov 17, 2017

Formats: CD, Digital, LP

 

Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II — the Austin, Texas-born arranger, multi-instrumentalist and producer who goes by the moniker Sly5thAve — returns with an orchestral tribute to the prolific DJ, producer, rapper, and mogul Dr. Dre.  Culled from a live set compiled for a charity event titled “Cali-Love,” Sly5thAve’s arrangements, which were praised by Dr. Dre himself at the concert, pay tribute to Dre’s brilliance in the producer’s chair while presenting new and interesting ideas in a set of well-worn but still funky grooves.

On The Invisible Man, Sly5thAve uses Dre’s compositions as vehicles for his own interpretations and improvisations, treating gangsta rap as jazz arrangers of yesteryear treated Tin Pan Alley songs.  Sly5thAve’s jazz-inflected approach to musical borrowing is heightened by Dr. Dre’s own extensive sampling of 70s P-Funk in his original music, creating layers of intertextuality for hip hop heads and jazz cats alike while retaining (at moments heightening) the cinematic qualities of the source material. Dre’s compositions have always told vivid and imaginative stories. The Invisible Man tells similar stories, with instrumental arrangements in place of most of these songs’ most memorable lyrics, to the effect of making the album feel like the really good remake of a slightly better original movie.

This album is loaded with riffs on Dre’s signature G-Funk style, with Sly5thAve and company developing tracks like “Let Me Ride,” “California Love,” and “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a G Thang” into compelling vehicles for improvisation and orchestration.  Some of the album’s most interesting moments, however, come from the band’s interpretation of tracks less associated with Dre’s signature early 90s funk-based sound and more with the tracks he built for his later proteges, like the stellar readings of Dre-produced early Eminem tracks, including “Forgot about Dre,” “Guilty Conscience,” and “My Name Is.” While their lush string sections and intricate horn arrangements definitely sound different than the original versions of these numbers, these versions are so infectiously true to their musical spirit that listeners will be tempted to dust off their memory of the classic verses that appear on these songs to rap along, starting with “Y’all know me, still the same O.G.…”

Overall, Sly5thAve stays very close to both the spirit and letter of his source material, often giving his crack band opportunities to improvise over his dramatic orchestral readings of this catalog in the same way that Dre gave Snoop Doggy Dogg room to stretch out over the original versions of these songs on The Chronic.  Sure, The Invisible Man is no replacement for the original cuts, but it’s a great way to get away with playing G-Funk at a dinner party.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

December 2017 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country
Doctor Ross: Memphis Breakdown (ORG Music)
Robert Finley: Goin’ Platinum! (Easy Eye Sound)
Vance Kelly: How Can I Miss You If You Don’t Leave (Wolf)
Various: Memphis Blues Festival 1975 (Klondike)
Various: Chicago Blues All Stars 1970 (Klondike)

Comedy, Spoken Word
Nephew Tommy: Won’t He Do It (TNT)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Bartees & The Strange Fruit: Magic Boy (Pineapple)
Danielia Cotton: The Mystery of Me (Cottontown)
Dk Aakmael: Take It Back (Scissor & Thread)
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: Book of Sound (Honest Jon’s)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Alma Brown and A One Gospel Singers: Thank You Jesus

Jazz
Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Zardi’s (Verve)
Incognito: Another Page of Incognito (P-Vine)
Irreversible Entanglements: S/T (International Anthem )
Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble: Drum Dance to the Motherland (reissue) (Forced Exposure)
Melvin Sparks: I’m Funky Now (Westbound UK)
Tony Tixier: Life of Sensitive Creatures (Whirlwind)

R&B, Soul
Bettye Swann:  The Money Masters (Kent)
Bobbi Ruffin: Chapter Five (digital)
Dionne Warwick: Odds & Ends – Scepter Rarities (Real Gone Music)
K. Michelle: Kimberly – People I Used To Know (Atlantic)
Kashif: Essential Kashif – Arista Years  (Legacy)
Lee Moore: A Gram of Boogie: Story of Moore, Score & L&M Records (Past Due)
Minnie Riperton: Perfect Angel (Deluxe Ed.) (Capitol)
Next: Too Close EP (Arista/Legacy)
Otis Redding: Definitive Studio Album Collection (7 LP box) (Atlantic)
Ruby Camille: R C 1   (Moore-Caldwell Plus)
Sugaray Rayford: The World That We Live In (Transistor Sound)
Tamar-kali: Mudbound OST (Milan)
Various: Soul on Fire: Detroit Soul Story 1957-1977 (Cherry Red)
Vedo: From Now On (New WAV)

Rap, Hip Hop
A Cat Called Fritz: Vertical Iris (HHV.De)
Allan Kingdom: Lines (LP) (Omerta Inc.)
Big Sean/Metro Boomin: Double or Nothing (G.O.O.D Music)
Boosie Badazz: BooPac  (Atlantic)
Boulevards: Hurt Town USA (Don’t Funk With Me)
Chief Keef: Dedication (digital) (RBC)
Cobra íl Vero: Ecdysis (NS3T Ent)
Euroz: Two Birds One Stone (digital)
Fes Taylor: Hood Famous (Chambermusik)
Futuristic: Blessings (We’re The Future )
G. Perico: 2 Tha Left (So Way Out)
G-Eazy: When It’s Dark Out (RCA)
Jeezy: Pressure (Def Jam)
Juicy J: Rubba Band Business (Columbia)
Kidz In The Hall: Free Nights & Weekends (digital)
Kipp Stone: Dirty Face Angel (L.I.F.E. Art & Content Co.)
KXNG Crooked: Good vs. Evil II: The Red Empire (Empire)
Marty Baller: Baller Nation (LP) (Omerta Inc.)
Miguel: War & Leisure (RCA)
Mike Lowery: Before It’s Too Late (Music Junkies)
N.E.R.D: No One Ever Really Dies (Columbia)
Nyron: Appreciation Day (digital)
Pell: Girasoul (Payday)
Quaz: In My Mind (Odic)
Red Storm Chicago: Redemption (digital)
Saba: Bucket List Project (LP) (Omerta Inc.)
Snug: 70812 Where It All Started (Money Gang)
Supa Bwe: Finally Dead (Empire)
TheKidGeeQ: TheKidFrOmElmStreet (FlyOverEverything)
Too $hort: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Trizz: Ashes N Dust (Below System)
Visioneers: Dirty Old Hip Hop (reissue) (Tru Thoughts)
Whispers: Whismonoxide (That’s Hip Hop)
WizKid: Sounds From the Other Side  (Sony Music Canada)
Z-Ro: Codeine  (1 Deep Ent.)

Reggae, Dancehall
Ethiopian & His All Stars: Return of Jack Sparrow (Omnivore)
Randy Valentine: New Narrative (Royal Order Music)
Various: Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture (SoulJazz)

World, Latin
Fela Kuti: Box Set #4: Curated by Erykah Badu (Knitting Factory)
Hamad Kalkaba: Hamad Kalkaba & Golden Sounds 1974-75 (Analog Africa)
The Secret: The New Africa – TNA (Secret Records Music Group)
Various: Beating Heart – South Africa (Beating Heart Music)

Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard

Little Richard

Title: Here’s Little Richard

Artist: Little Richard

Label: Craft Recordings

Formats: 2-CD Deluxe Edition

Release date: November 3, 2017

 

 

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Little Richard’s debut album, Here’s Little Richard, Craft Recordings has released a newly-expanded version of the iconic album. This 2-disc anniversary edition includes the original 12 tracks released in 1957 on the Specialty label, as well as previously unreleased alternate takes for all but one of the songs.

The high energy track “Tutti Frutti,” which was added to the National Recording Registry in 2010, kicks off the album just like in the 1957 version. The bonus tracks are also presented in the same sequence as the original album, making up a second disc of 22 demos, alternate versions, and unreleased takes. While some of the alternate takes on disc 2 sound similar to their original counterparts, others, like “Rip It Up” include commentary from Little Richard himself and are significantly different from the tracks that ultimately ended up on the 1957 release.

Here’s Little Richard offers an intimate glimpse into the development of the songs that helped Richard Penniman become one of the artists “who put the soul in rock and roll.” Little Richard, who will be celebrating his 85th birthday on December 5, has left an undeniable impact on rock ‘n’ roll and this 60th anniversary edition is a testament to his fame and significant contributions to music.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Whitney Houston – I Wish You Love: More From The Bodyguard

Whitney Houston

Title: I Wish You Love: More From The Bodyguard

Artist: Whitney Houston

Label: Legacy Recordings

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: November 17, 2017

 

In honor of the 25th anniversary of The Bodyguard, the film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, Legacy Recordings has released I Wish You Love: More From The Bodyguard. The compilation, released in cooperation with The Estate of Whitney E. Houston, brings together a variety of live and studio recordings, many of which are previously unreleased or unavailable.

Included in this collection are live recordings from Houston’s The Bodyguard World Tour (1993-1995), as well as alternate versions of tracks from The Bodyguard film. Highlights include the never-before-heard a capella version of “Jesus Loves Me” and a live recording of the rarely-performed “Run To You” from The Bodyguard World Tour. The iconic Houston hit song “I Will Always Love You,” one of the best-selling singles of all time, is represented in two versions: one from the original film soundtrack, and an extended rendition performed live on tour.

I Wish You Love: More From The Bodyguard not only celebrates the 25th anniversary of the film, but is also a fitting commemoration of Houston, who recorded the soundtrack at the pinnacle of her career. There’s a good reason The Bodyguard is the top-selling soundtrack album of all-time, and it’s apparent every time Ms. Houston stands in front of the mic. That voice! Though sadly she is no longer with us, this compilation album is a testament to the success of The Bodyguard and Whitney Houston’s lasting legacy, both on screen and on stage.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

 

Micki Free – Tattoo Burn-Redux

Micki Free
Title: Tattoo Burn-Redux

Artist: Micki Free

Label: Mysterium Blues

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 12, 2017

 

 

Those of a certain generation will likely remember Micki Free as lead guitarist for Shalamar, the group created by Soul Train’s Dick Griffey and Don Cornelius. Free’s decade long tenure with Shalamar began in the ‘80s during what one might call his Prince phase, and included the hit songs “Dancing in the Sheets” from Footloose and “Don’t Get Stopped In Beverly Hills” from Beverly Hills Cop. After Shalamar, Free joined Jean Beauvoir’s heavy metal band Crown of Thorns, along with Tony Thompson of Chic and bassist Michael Paige. He later formed his own band, Micki Free Electric Blues Experience, and also released a number of solo projects. Though he’s perhaps best known for his collaboration with many African American artists, Free is actually of Native American descent, and in recent years has developed a Native Music Rocks program.

Tattoo Burn-Redux is a remixed and expanded version of his 2012 release, Tattoo Burn. The album is a showcase for the many talents of Micki Free, who composed, arranged, produced and sings lead on the 10 original tracks and one cover, while also performing on lead, slide, and rhythm guitars. He’s accompanied by an A-list rhythm section led by Cindy Blackman-Santana and David “Hawk” Lopez (Crown of Thorns) on drums, with Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), Jack Dailey (Lenny Kravitz), Kenny Gradney (Little Feat), David Santos (and occasionally Free) sharing bass duties.

The album settles into a funky groove on the new opening track “God Is On the Phone,” with Free sharing lead vocals with another Shalamar alum, Howard Hewett. “Greens & Barbeque” shifts towards blues-rock, allowing plenty of room for guitar solos in a song dedicated to Free’s mother and her glorious cooking. “Six Feet Down in the Blues” and the slow burner “Mojo Black Coffee” are notably anchored by Hammond organ master Mark “Muggy-Doo” Leach (Buddy Miles Express) and Brother Paul Brown on keys.

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One of the highlights of the disc is the rock guitar anthem “There’s a Hole in the Heart of the Blues,” which allows the entire cast to strut their stuff. Other new tracks include the only cover on the album, the Jimi Hendrix tribute “Hey Baby (The New Rising Sun),” and the seasonal ballad “Sometimes in Winter” backed by a female vocal trio. Last but not least, Free offers the hard rocking “Five Minutes Till Christmas” which should definitely be added to your holiday playlist.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

More Box Sets – Wilson Pickett, Dinah Washington, Various Artists

Wilson Pickett
Title: Complete Atlantic Albums Collection

Artist: Wilson Pickett

Label: Rhino

Format: 10-CD Box Set, MP3

Release date: December 1, 2017

 

 

This new box set from Rhino UK appears to be a fairly straightforward reissue of Wilson Pickett’s albums for Atlantic, drawing primarily upon versions remastered in 2007. The albums include: In the Midnight Hour (1965), The Exciting Wilson Pickett (1966), The Wicked Pickett (1967), The Sound of Wilson Pickett (1967), I’m In Love (1968), The Midnight Mover (1968), Hey Jude (1969), Right On (1970), Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia (1970), and Don’t Knock My Love (1971).  A nice set if you don’t already own any of Pickett’s albums, but there is no bonus material to entice fans and collectors.

 

Dinah Washington
Title: Divine Miss Dinah Washington

Artist: Dinah Washington

Label: Verve

Formats: 5-CD Box set, 5-LP Box set

Release date: December 15, 2017

 

Verve is releasing a 5-disc set, available on both CD and vinyl, of classic Dinah Washington albums from the 1950s.  Though Washington could sing in many styles, including blues, R&B, gospel and pop, the focus here is primarily on her vocal jazz repertoire recorded for the EmArcy label. This is another straightforward reissue project, most likely attractive to those who wish to own pristine 180 gm. vinyl copies of these albums. Among the five discs are two arranged by Quincy Jones—For Those In Love (1955) and The Swingin’ Miss D—and two featuring American songbook standards—After Hours With Miss D (1954) and Dinah Jams (1954). The final album, What a Diff’rence a Day Makes (1959) released by Mercury, was arranged by Indiana native Belford Hendricks in a pop-oriented rhythm and blues style.

 

peace_love_and_fishing_cover
Title: Blue Note Review Vol. One – Peace, Love & Fishing

Artist: Various

Label: Blue Note

Formats: 5-CD Box set, 5-LP Box set

Release date: December 15, 2017

 

Curated by Blue Note president Don Was, the limited edition Blue Note Review Peace, Love & Fishing is the inaugural offering of a bi-annual “luxury subscription box set” designed to appeal to jazz collectors with deep pockets.  Volume One includes a double LP containing new and unreleased recordings by the likes of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Gregory Porter, Kandace Springs, Terence Blanchard, and Derrick Hodge—plus a vinyl reissue of the previously out-of-print 1963 Step Lightly album by trumpeter Blue Mitchell. Also included are items that can be shared with other members of the family: artist lithographs, a silk scarf, turntable mat, and the self-published Notables jazz zine. Only registered subscription members are eligible to receive the set; each volume of Blue Note Review costs $200, including shipping to the US or Canada.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band

Florida Soul

Title: Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band

Author: John Capouya

Publisher: University Press of Florida

Formats: Hardcover (408 pages), Kindle

Release date: September 26, 2017

 

 

Though the state of Florida doesn’t immediately come to mind as a hotbed of soul music, journalist John Capouya attempts to correct this oversight with his new book Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band. Using his “antennae for passionate vocals and funky sounds with Florida origins,” he delves into the period from 1945-1980, when Florida produced “some of the most electric, emotive soul music this country has ever heard.” Capouya attributes this flourishing scene in part to the fact that Florida, along with Texas, was the “densest and richest segment of the chitlin’ circuit,” bringing all of the major African American artists through the state.

Each of the 20 chapters is dedicated to a particular artist or producer, some famous and others lesser known, but all contributing an interesting story: Ray Charles (“the catalyst of the entire soul explosion came from Greenville, FL”); Sam Moore (“from Miami’s Overtown neighborhood”); sax players Ernie Calhoun and Noble “Thin Man” Watts; Lavell Kamma and the 100 Hour Counts (“one of Florida’s longest-running soul groups”), the singing duo James & Bobby Purify (one chapter each); vocalists Helen Smith, Frankie Gearing, Jackie Moore, and Timmy Thomas (his 1972 anthem “Why Can’t We Live Together” is sampled in Drake’s “Hotline Bling); Latimore (who first recorded for Henry Stone), Wayne Cochran (“the white James Brown”); white soul singer Linda Lyndell; producer Papa Don Schroeder, and of course KC and the Sunshine Band. Other chapters are dedicated to the state’s most famous label owners—Henry Stone and T.K. Productions (which rightly receives two chapters) and Willie Clarke and Deep City Records—plus a chapter explaining how “The Twist Came from Tampa.” Along the way many other artists are mentioned, along with other Florida labels such as Jayville, Tener, Marlin, Leo, Alston, D & B, Glades, and Bound Sound.

Florida Soul is an engaging and informative read, placing an emphasis on the stories behind the singers and the songs gleaned from historical research as well as interviews with surviving musicians, singers, producers, deejays, and other industry personnel. The book is an important resource on a music scene that’s never been fully documented within a single volume, adding greatly to our understanding of American music and, in particular, the soul, R&B, disco and funk grooves emanating from the Sunshine State in waves the spread across the nation.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

New Books About Black Recording Artists

Following are brief descriptions of recently published books that are certain to please fans of funk, soul, jazz, hip hop and reggae music.
Al Green

Title: Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green

Author: Jimmy McDonough

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Formats: Hardcover (432 pages), Kindle, Audiobook

Release date: August 29, 2017

 

Though Al Green collaborated with Davin Seay on an “autobiography” in 2000, most fans were unsatisfied with the result, which was famously short on details due to Green’s reluctance to actually sit for interviews and tell his own story. Now Jimmy McDonough has attempted a more definitive biography, likewise working from previously published interviews with Green and secondary sources, in addition to new in-depth interviews with many colleagues and associates. The result is Soul Survivor, which chronicles the many sides of Al Green, from his days as a soul singer to his transition to Reverend Al Green and the many facets of his character that fall in between and outside of these boundaries. Not all of it is pretty, but Soul Survivor is likely as close as we’ll ever get to understanding the man behind the music and the pulpit.

Otis Redding
Title: Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life

Author: Jonathan Gould

Publisher: Crown Archetype (May 16, 2017)

Formats: Hardcover (544 pages), Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Release date: May 16, 2017

 

Seven short years – that was the entire length of the career of one of the giants of soul music, Otis Redding, from the first single he cut as a teenager in 1960 to his untimely death at the age of 26 in December 1967. Now, on the 50th anniversary of Redding’s death, Jonathan Gould finally offers a biography that’s a fitting tribute to the architect of Southern soul music. Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, however, is so much more than one man’s story, as Gould digs into the social fabric of the era, exposing the racial tensions and realities of faced by black musicians of his generation. Impeccably researched, respectfully written, and highly recommended!     

Prince & the Purple Rain Studios
Title: Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions, 1983-1984

Author: Duane Tudahl

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Formats: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Release date: November 15, 2017

 

Described as “the definitive chronicle of Prince’s creative brilliance during 1983 and 1984,” author Duane Tudahl’s 552 page volume is a must have for any serious Prince fan. Delving into the brief but intense period that produced Purple Rain, Tudahl expounds on Prince’s professional as well as his personal life. But this is not a tell-all, biopic-type treatment. Rather, the focus is on Prince’s studio sessions and includes copious details on recording studios, which songs were tracked at each, session personnel, producers, engineers, and the stories behind the sessions. Also included are details regarding Prince’s work with The Time, Vanity 6, and the Revolution, including his frenetic schedule of rehearsals, tours, and filming. Tudahl has been covering Prince for over 20 years, and is able to draw upon interviews he conducted with a wide range of Prince’s associates, adding to the authoritative nature of his reporting. This is the first book in the series; Tudahl is already planning the second volume, which will cover 1985-1986.

Prince
Title: Prince: A Private View

Author: Afshin Shahidi

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Formats: Hardcover (256 pages), Kindle

Release date: October 24, 2017

 

We can’t include just one Prince-related book when there are so many to choose from. If you’re more interested in a visual representation of the artist than a chronology of his early recording sessions, then check out Prince: A Private View. Featuring many never-before-seen photos by Afshin Shahidi, Prince’s primary photographer, this collection captures both the glamour and mystique of the artist. Though the text takes a backseat to the vivid portraits, Shahidi does provide some context to the photos in the form of short stories. It should be noted, however, that this isn’t a “coffee table” book, but a standard-size volume.

The Jacksons Legacy
Title:  The Jacksons: Legacy

Author: The Jacksons with Fred Bronson

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

Formats: Hardcover (320 pages), Kindle

Release date: October 24, 2017

 

Even if we’re weren’t based in Indiana, we’d still have to jump on The Jacksons: Legacy documenting the state’s most famous musical family. Plugged as “the first official book on the Royal Family of Pop,” the Jacksons collaborated with well-known music industry writer Fred Bronson, who was allowed access to the family archives and conducted interviews over a two week period. Though it’s highly unlikely that any new information was uncovered in that extremely brief period of time, we’re at least promised some previously unpublished photographs, including documentation of official merchandise and other ephemera. The book coincides with The Jackson’s 50th anniversary, which may be reason enough for fans to pick up a copy.

Gucci Mane
Title: The Autobiography of Gucci Mane

Author: Gucci Mane & Neil Martinez-Belkin

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Formats: Hardcover (286 pages), Kindle

Release Date: September 19, 2017

 

 

There’s nothing like a comeback story to warm our hearts, especially at Christmastime. Through honest, unflinching reflectiveness, Gucci Mane has given us just that—a down-and-out but not done-and-out narrative of his journey so far. Mane tells his story in his own words, covering his early years as Radric Delantic Davis to his star-studded fame as Gucci Mane, trap pioneer and mentor to a subsequent generation of artists and producers: Migos, Young Thug, Nicki Minaj, and Zaytoven, to name a few. Detailing how choices to be part of the drug dealing world continuously dealt him one-step-forward, two-steps-back in the music world, Mane also confronts his dark past and explains how his time in lockup became his most positive life-altering experience. It is one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of music, and it is one you won’t want to miss.

Chuck D Hip Hop History
Title: Chuck D Presents This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History

Author: Chuck D, Shepard Faiey (Foreword)

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

Format: Hardcover (673 pages), Kindle

Release Date: October 10, 2017

 

Chuck D.’s dedication to hip hop’s fan base has been solid since the start of his Public Enemy days, and with this release he continues to gift us in the form of vital information about rap and hip hop’s history. Based on his long-running show on Rapstation.com, D’s comprehensive collection of pivotal moments and influential songs in the genre’s recorded history is a first in the hip hop scholarship world. Included in this chronological collection are songs such as Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’” to Kendrik Lamar’s ground-breaking verse on “Control”, and all hits in-between. Incorporated into the tome are key events in hip hop history, from Grandmaster Flash’s first scratch through Tupac’s holographic appearance at Coachella, interwoven with 100+ portraits of various hip hop artists. This work is a worthy addition to any hip hop lover’s collection, and for those that study or work in the genre, it is a necessity worth owning.

Queen of Bebop
Title: Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan

Author: Elaine M. Hayes

Publisher: Ecco

Formats: Hardcover (432 pages), Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Release date: July 2017

 

One of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time, Sarah Vaughan has been the subject of previous books, but the only full length biography of note was Leslie Gourse’s Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan, published nearly 25 fives ago. Now jazz historian Elaine M. Hayes offers a more definitive treatment in Queen of Bebop, which digs deeper into her life not only as a performer, but as a black woman facing the challenges of race and gender within the music industry and beyond. A must read for anyone interested in jazz and popular in the latter half of the 20th century, African American music and musicians, or music in general.

Bob Marley
Title: So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley

Author: Roger Steffens

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Formats: Hardcover, Kindle

Release date: July, 2017

 

So Much Things to Say is a must have for any serious Bob Marley fan. Drawing on testimonies by friends, relatives and musical associates, author and archivist Roger Steffens—the leading authority on Bob Marley—tells the story of the reggae legend, from his younger days in Kingston to his professional years. As the title implies, this book includes a great deal of information regarding the life of Marley, including the violent confrontation with Lee “Scratch” Perry, his performance for freedom fighters in Zimbabwe, details on Marley’s final months, controversies surrounding Marley’s death, and many more first-hand accounts of his life. So Much Things to Say will serve as a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in the history of reggae music and Marley’s incredible influence upon the genre and global culture.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss, Amy Aiyegbusi and Jamaal Baptiste

 

November 2017 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country, Zydeco
Etta James: Chicago Blues Festival 1985 (Air Cuts)
John Lee Hooker: Black Night Is Falling: Live at the Rising Sun (Justin Time)
Lil’ Nathan & The Zydeco Big Timers: Unpause (Cha Cha)
Little Axe: London Blues (Echo Beach)
Lucky Peterson: Tribute to Jimmy Smith (Jazz Village)
Various: Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938-1942 (Hi Horse)
Various: Hard Core Harp (Electro-Fi)
Various: Rough Guide to Holy Blues (World Music Network)
Various: Rough Guide to Ragtime Blues (World Music Network)

Classical, Broadway, Soundtracks, Holiday
Julius Eastman: The Zürich Concert   (New World)
Kevin John Edusei; Münchner Symphoniker: Schubert  Symphonies 4 & 7  (Solo Musica)
Kevin Kelley : A Soulful Christmas   (K2Music)
Kirk Smith: Joyful Noise – EP (Powerhouse)
Terence Blanchard; Brussels Philharmonic: Music for Film   (Silva Screen)
Paragon Ragtime Orchestra: Black Manhattan, Vol. 3 (New World )
Valerie Boyd:  A Gift for You (Shekinah International)
Various: Chasing Trane Documentary (DVD, Soundtrack)   (Ume)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Amp Fiddler: Amp Dog Knights (Mahogani Music)
Bad Brains: Finding Joseph I Documentary (DVD)  (MVD Visual)
Cameron Bethany: You Make Me Nervous (Unapologetic)
Kxngs: Air Sign EP (Tru Thoughts)
Malka Family: Le Retour Du Kif (Saint Paul Force)
Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas: World of Captain Beefheart (Knitting Factory )
Shamir: Revelations (Father/Daughter )
The Liza Colby Sound: Draw EP (Oh Baby)
Timothy McNealy: Funky Movement (Now Again)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Aha Gazelle: Trilliam 3 (Reach)
Beverly Crawford: Essential Beverly Crawford, Vol. 2 (JDI)
Derek Minor:   High Above EP (Empire)
Fedel:  Brave 2
Gods Own Radikalz: 20dozen The Call (Hawk -Eye Ent.)
Isabel Davis: The Call (eOne)
Javon Inman: Agape Eros (Liberty Music)
Joe Mettle: God of Miracles (Reverb Studios)
Judah Band: For My Good EP (Light)
N.E.M.G.: The Freeze
The Standard: Eight “New Beginning” (Band Geek Music Group)
The Walls Group: The Other Side (RCA Inspiration)

Jazz
Illinois Jacquet: Jacquet Files, Vol. 1 (Live At Village Vanguard 1986) (Squatty Roo)
Blaque Dynamite: Killing Bugs (Ropeadope)
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band: Body & Shadow (Blue Note)
Dwight Trible: Inspirations (Gondwana)
Eric Valentine & Velvet Groove: Velvet Groove (Matcha Ent.)
Houston Person: Rain or Shine (HighNote)
Lyman Woodard Organization: Saturday Night Special (reissue)     (BBE)
Rahsaan Barber: The Music in the Night (Jazz Music City)
Ron Miles: I Am a Man (Yellowbird)
Sandra Nkaké: Tangerine Moon Wishes (Jazz Village)
Seal: Standards (Universal)
Sly5thAve: Invisible Man: Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre (Tru Thoughts)
Vincent Herring: Hard Times (Smoke Sessions)

R&B, Soul
Aretha Franklin: A Brand New Me (Rhino)
Barry Antoine: Eclipse (Shabar Music Ent.)
Beatchild & The Slakadeliqs: The Only Difference   (BBE)
Davion Farris: With Pleasure
Diana Ross: Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection (Motown)
Elijah Blake: Audiology (Steel Wool / Empire)
Frank McComb: Soulmate: Another Love Story (Prodigee)
Karina Pasian: Interlude
Keaira LaShae: Purple Crowns (3707 Ent.)
Kristan Omor: From Then
Lalah Hathaway: Honestly (Hathaway Ent.)
Martha High: Tribute To My Soul Sisters (Record Kicks)
Maurice Moore: The Amber Room (Empire)
Maxayn: Reloaded: Complete Recordings 1972-1974 (Soul Music)
Phyllis Hyman: Deliver the Love: The Anthology (Soul Music)
Prince Charlez: Evolution EP (Republic)
Project Mama Earth: Mama Earth (Provogue)
Ruby Turner: Livin a Life of Love: Jive Anthology 1986-1991 (Soul Music)
Run N’ Fly: S/T (MRI)
Sharon Jones:  Soul of a Woman (Daptone)
Paxton:  In the Key of Love (Prodigee)
Syleena Johnson: Rebirth of Soul (Shanachie)

Rap, Hip Hop
Mr. Lif & Brass Menazeri: Resilient   (Waxsimile)
Williesco & Yikey Mikey: Yeamonyikezzzz (Triple R Muzik Group)
Amy True: Eleven (True Music)
BeatzByNEFF: Blackness (Bbent / Starcreations)
Big Cakes: No Excuses (Origarmy)
Black Squad: Bad Boy Files (mixtape)
Blacka Da Don: A Part of My Story (MusicThatMatters)
Cam’Ron: The Program (Killa Ent.)
Chris Brown:   Heartbreak on a Full Moon (RCA)
Cyhi The Prynce: No Dope On Sundays (Red Music/Sony)
Da Deputy: Bear Your Soul
Dee-1: Slingshot David (Essential Sound)
Droop-E: Trillionaire Thoughts (Sick Wid It)
Duckworth: XTRA UUGLY (mixtape)
Fabolous & Jadakiss: Friday On Elm Street (Def Jam)
Futuristic: What More Could You Ask for? (OnlyFuturistic, LLC)
Hopsin: No Shame (300 Entertainment)
J Hawk: Mood (LSR)
Jaden Smith: Syre
James Lavell:   StereoType
Jovan Mackenzy: Crooked 10
Keak Da Sneak: Withdrawal (Empire)
Kiddo Marv: Kingz in Denial Don’t Overcome
Lil Uzi Vert: Luv is Rage 2 (Atlantic)
Louis Cato: Starting Now (Ropeadope)
Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs: Gems From the Equinox (Soul Assasins)
Milo: Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! (Ruby Yacht)
Moka Blast: The Blast Testament (Fly Guy)
Oddisee & Good Compny: Beneath the Surface (Live) (Mello Music Group)
Pete Rock: Lost Sessions (VinDig)
Pharcyde: Bizarre Ride II (25th Anniv. Ed.) (Craft)
Philthy Rich: Sem God (Empire)
PnB Rock: Catch These Vibes (Atlantic)
Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe  (Rough Trade )
Reek I’van: Book of Tabias (London Boy Ent)
Rexx Life Raj: Father Figure 2: Flourish (Empire)
Rsxgld: S/T (Fat Beats)
ShaqIsDope: S/T (2UP WorldWide)
Shredders: Dangerous Jumps Explicit (Doomtree)
Skeme: Second Notice EP (eOne)
Skooly: BAcCWArdFeELiNgS (TRU)
Spitta:  Let Me Eat Too (N.W.A.)
Stalley: Tell the Truth: Shame the Devil (Blue Collar Gang)
Swissivory: Real Dreams 2 (Rough Trade)
T-Pain: Oblivion (RCA)
Thenewfaceofsound: LiveInDaFresh (Marvelous Phenomenon)
The Problem: Selfish (Empire)
Third Root: Libertad (Third Root Music)
Too $hort: Hella Disrespectful: Bay Area Mixtape (Dangerous Music)
Wiz Khalifa: Laugh Now, Fly Later (Taylor Gang/Atlantic)

Reggae, Dancehall
Blackstones: Insight (1st CD reissue) (Burning Sounds)
Dub Syndicate: Misplaced Masters (On-U Sound)
Horace Andy: Good Vibes (VP)
Ken Boothe: Inna de Yard (Chapter Two)
Various: Havana Meets Kingston (VP)
Various: Strictly the Best Vol. 56 (VP)

World, Latin
Lulendo: Mwinda (Buda Musique)
Monoswezi: A Je (Riverboat)
Various: Original Sound of Burkina Faso (Mr Bongo)
Various: Don’t Sleep: Omutibo From Rural Kenya    (City Hall/Mississippi)
World’s Experience Orchestra: Beginning of a New Birth (Now Again)

Various artists – Feel Good! 40 Years of Life Changing Music

Feel good!
Title: Feel Good! 40 Years of Life Changing Music

Artist: Various

Label: Tyscot

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 29, 2016

 

We’re a little late to the party, but we can’t pass up an opportunity to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Tyscot Records, the nation’s oldest African American owned and operated gospel music label. Founded in 1976 by Dr. Leonard Scott and L. Craig Tyson in Indianapolis, Indiana, the label has grown into a multi-media company that produces films as well as recordings. Yet Tyscot remains a family run operation, guided by Dr. Scott as CEO, with son Bryant S. Scott continuing the legacy as President/COO. Now entering its fifth decade, the label is an industry powerhouse whose artists garnered 19 Stellar Gospel Awards nominations in 2017.

Tyscot was originally established to record the Christ Church Apostolic Radio Choir, led by Bishop James Tyson (Craig’s father). The choir’s first hit single, “Feel Good!,” is the opening track of this anniversary compilation in a contemporary version re-recorded by Dr. Scott. The remaining 14 tracks feature songs by artists whose careers were launched by Tyscot, starting with “Hold On” (1981) by The Pentecostal Ambassadors, a popular male vocal trio from Indianapolis. Following is the smooth, ballad style “Say You Believe” (1986) performed by Deliverance and co-written by none other than Indianapolis native Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, who at the time was a member of the R&B group The Deele.

YouTube Preview Image

 

Other early Tyscot releases featured on this set include the classic “Jesus Is Real” by John P. Kee & the New Life Community Choir, “Holy One” featuring Kirk Franklin with the Trinity Temple Full Gospel Mass Choir, and the P.A.W. National Mass Choir’s “How Majestic,” a fantastic arrangement based on Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Sequenced in chronological order, the set concludes with contemporary gospel artists, including break-out stars Anthony Brown & group therAPy (“Do It Again”) and Casey J (“Better”) who have been topping the charts this year.

Feel Good! 40 Years of Life Changing Music showcases the talents of local and national gospel artists and cements the legacy of Tyscot Records. The company is stronger than ever, and positioned to remain an industry powerhouse in its fifth decade.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Antibalas – Where The Gods Are In Peace

Antibalas
Artist: Antibalas

Label: Daptone

Title: Where The Gods Are In Peace

Release Date: September 15, 2017

Format: CD, Vinyl, Mp3

 

 

Raise your hand up high if you know & are into the Brooklyn band, Antibalas. Not bad, not bad—I see a few hands and a fist or two. Now, for those who aren’t hip, let me explain exactly who Antibalas is. The group formed in 1998 with Martin Perna at the front. The word antibalas is Spanish for “bulletproof”, which lends credence to their long-lasting career in the afrobeat world—19 years and still going strong. Antibalas plays afrobeat music, paying homage to the king of afrobeat himself, Fela Kuti. Listen very carefully—you may hear Eddie Palmeri piano stylings and personally, I think I hear another echoes of another band hailing from Brooklyn, Mandrill.

Where The Gods Are In Peace could be considered a head scratcher because it’s so short. It showcases only five tracks, but in reality, it feels like ten, perhaps fifteen. To only have five tracks and still packing a serious blow is true testament to what this band is all about. Take the track “Goldrush”. It opens up with early 1970’s rock FM and fast as you can FELA, BAM! The mood shifts into afrobeat, advanced version. Brilliant! They have you thinking one thing, but accomplish another.

Antibalas is very well-schooled in pulling off feats such as this.  “Tombstone”, believe it or not, is the third, fourth and fifth track–a 3-part finale that will blow your mind. Zap Mama, the beauty from Belgium, lends her vocals on all three tracks. What can one say? Makes you wish more acts took risks like Antibalas, but they would be asking too much. Antibalas is one of a kind, folks.

Where The Gods Are In Peace. Enjoy it for what it is—an amazingly powerful punch in just a five step gig. Next time, I expect to see more hands raised when asked, “Who knows about Antibalas?” Don’t disappoint me.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

Trouble in The Streets – Electro Tribe

trouble in the streets
Title: Electro Tribe

Artist: Trouble in The Streets

Label: Orb Recording

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: October 6, 2017

 

 

Austin, Texas based Trouble in The Streets’ debut album is like nothing you’ve heard before; in fact, they feel that their music is so unique that they’ve given it its own name—Electro Tribe. This signature sound is a mixture of electronic music, hip-hop, rock, and R&B with an international twist. The band pulls inspiration for their unique sound from acts like Rage Against the Machine, Beats Antique, and Hiatus Kaiyote as well as their own diverse musical backgrounds.

Though it may sound complicated, Trouble in The Streets is able to blend all of these sounds and styles into four cohesive and high-energy tracks on their EP, Electro Tribe. The first track, “Pyramid Scheme,” featuring Grammy Award winning guitarist Beto Martinez, includes retro-synth chord progressions, hard-hitting bass and drum arrangements, and Nnedi Agbaroji’s mesmerizing vocals.

From the passionate “Never Doubt the Worm” to the hopeful and emotional “Sop Me Up Like a Biscuit,” each track on the album is distinct yet still retains the band’s signature electro sound that will leave you wanting more from this up-and-coming trio.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

 

Lloyd Price – This Is Rock and Roll

Lloyd Price
Title: This Is Rock and Roll

Artist: Lloyd Price

Label: Double L Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: September 22, 2017

 

 

Lloyd Price’s career may have launched way back in 1952 with the famous single “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” but his newest release proves that his career is far from over. This Is Rock and Roll, Price’s first album in over a decade, includes a combination of newly penned original tracks, like the bluesy “I’m Getting Over You,” as well as a collection of covers.

The title track exemplifies the album’s balance between originals and covers, combining Jimmy Reed’s “Peepin’ & Hidin’” with Price’s celebratory call-and-response “This is rock and roll.” This song is significant to the album as a whole, as it was recorded in the New York City club where, three years ago, Price decided he still had much to offer fans and conceived this album.

For his slowed-down cover of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famer turns the song into a ballad sung from a man’s point of view. Regardless of whether it’s an original or a cover, each track on This Is Rock and Roll contains the unique Lloyd Price essence that has been captivating listeners for over 60 years.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

October 2017 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country

Darius Rucker: When Was the Last Time  (Capitol Records Nashville)
Du-Rites:  Greasy Listening  (Redefinition)
James Armstrong: Blues Been Good to Me (Catfood)
John Lee Hooker:  King of the Boogie  (Craft)
Kim Wilson: Blues and Boogie, Vol. 1 (Severn)
Mighty Mo Rodgers & Baba Sissoko: Griot Blues (One Root Music )
Nico Wayne Toussaint: Plays James Cotton (Dixiefrog)
Original Blues Brothers Band: Last Shade of Blue Before Black (Severn)
Supersonic Blues Machine: Californisoul (Provogue)
Various: Stax Country (Stax/Concord)

Classical, Broadway, Soundtracks
Pretty Yende:  Dreams (Sony)

Holiday
Fantasia:  Christmas After Midnight  (Concord)
Leslie Odom Jr.:  Simply Christmas  (S-Curve)
Various: Cool Blue Christmas: Mr. Santa’s Boogie (Contrast)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Ayo: S/T  (Believe Direct Limited )
Benjamin Clementine: I Tell A Fly (Virgin)
Bootsy Collins:  World Wide Funk (Mascot)
Crowd Company:  Sun and Stone (VLM)
Ikebe Shakedown: The Way Home (Colemine)
Jimi Hendrix Experience: American Landing Live at Monterey (DVD) (Legacy)
Kele Okereke: Fatherland  (BMG)
Nubiyan Twist: S/T  (  Wormfood )
Phonk Beta: Symplex 3 (digital) (Fahrenheit)
Rock Candy Funk Party: The Groove Cubed  (J&R Adventures)
The Clubs: Funk on the Floor (digital)
Various: Funkadelic Reworked By Detroiters (Ace)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Ada: Future Now (FreeNation)
Angella Christie: Intimate Conversations (ACSM)
Chad Brawley:  WeWorship Project (digital) (CKBMusik)
Coliér McNair: Intimacy (COGEO Ent. Group)
Deanna Ransom:  The Real Me EP
Earnest Pugh:  Survive  (Black Smoke)
Felton Hodges & The Annointed Voices: Fix It   (Ecko)
Lisa Knowles-Smith & The Brown Singers: Evolution-The Legacy (EvoWorld)
Mission: All of You None of Me (RPSMG)
Optimist & Fresh Yardey: The Mission, Vol. 1 (digital)
Parxx:  Uncharted (RLVNC Music Group)
Tasha Page-Lockhart: The Beautiful Project  (RCA Inspiration)
The Porter’s Gate: Worksongs (Fuel Music)
Troy Sneed: Taking It Back  (Tyscot)
Tye Tribbett: The Bloody Win (Motown Gospel)
Visionz Of Destiny: The Works
Williams Brothers: Timeless  (Blackberry)

Jazz
Céline Rudolph & Lionel Loueke:  Obsessions
Chantae Cann: Sol Empowered (Ropeadope)
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah:Emancipation Procrastination  (Ropeadope)
Cornell Thigpen: History (Hitman)
Ezra Collective: Juan Pablo: The Philosopher  (Enter The Jungle)
Joey Alexander:  JOEY.MONK.LIVE! (Motema)
Johnny O’Neal: In the Moment (Smoke Sessions)
Sherman Irby: Cerulean Canvas  (Black Warrior)
Sonny Emory: Love Is the Greatest (Universal )
Various:You Need This: Introduction to Black Saint & Soul Note (1975-1985) (BBE)
Virginia Ayers Dawson: Standards of Love  (Ayerplay Music)
Wadada Leo Smith:  Najwa  (TUM)
Wadada Leo Smith:  Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk  (TUM)
Wally Badarou:  Unnamed Trilogy, Vol. 1 (Diskotopia )
Wayne Ellington: Sings ‘Unforgettable (digital)

R&B, Soul
112: Q Mike Slim Daron  (eOne)
Bigg Robb: Born 2 Do This  (Music Access Inc.)
Bobby Byrd: Help For My Brother – Pre-Funk Singles 1963-68 (BGP/Ace)
Boyz II Men:  Under the Streetlight  (Sony Masterworks)
Brik.Liam:  The Ascension (digital) (Cre8Daily)
Chante’ Moore: Rise Of The Phoenix  (CM7)
Charlotte Dos Santos: Cleo (Fresh Selects)
Chuck Jackson: Big NY Soul – Wand Records 1961-66 (Kent/Ace)
Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear (Anti/Epitaph)
Demetria McKinney: Officially Yours (eOne)
Detroit Emeralds: I Think Of You-Westbound Singles 1969-75 (Westbound /Ace)
Deva Mahal: S/T (Motéma Music)
Devvon Terrell:  Weird Nights (digital)
dvsn: Morning After (Warner Bros.)
Eartha Kitt: I Want To Be Evil – The Wicked Eartha Kitt (Jasmine)
Eric Roberson: Fire (Blue Erro Soul)
Jackie Shane: Any Other Way (Numero)
Jamila Woods: Heavn  (Jagjaguwar)
Kelela: Take Me Apart (Warp)
Kenny Latimore: Vulnerable (Sincere Soul)
Keyshia Cole:  11:11 Reset (Epic)
Leroy Hutson: Anthology 1972-1984 (Acid Jazz )
Lyrica Anderson: Adia (Empire)
Marcus Randolph & My Peeples Peeple: Transplant (American Showplace Music)
Mic Lowry: Mood (Island)
Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland (DVD) (Lionsgate)
Mpho Sebina:  Neo (digital)
Nicole Willis & UMO Jazz Orchestra:  My Name Is Nicole Willis (Persephone)
PP Arnold: The Turning Tide  (Kundalini Music)
Rationale: S/T (Warner Bros.)
Rhyon: Pretty Girl (Empire)
Saràyah: Feel the Vibe (Basin Street)
Tom Tripp: Red EP (Prime Sound)
Vivian Green:  VGVI  (Make Noise)

Rap, Hip Hop
Juice Aleem: Voodu Starchild (Gamma Proforma)
Aaron Alexander: Memento Mori  (Ignant Art)
Belly: Mumble Rap (Republic)
Big K.R.I.T.:  4eva Is A Mighty Long Time (BMG)
Blood Before Pride: Mimesis, Catharsis and Imitation of Art in Life (Fatbeats)
Blu & Exile: In The Beginning: Before The Heavens (Fat Beats)
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Outlawz: Thug Brothers 3 (Real Talk Ent)
Chief Keef & Fredo Santana: Turbo Bandana mixtape
Cunninlynguists: Rose Azura Nijano (A Piece of Strange Music)
Da Flyy Hooligan: S.C.U.M.  (Lux Ent.)
Dame D.O.L.L.A.: Confirmed (digital) (Front Page Music)
Earthgang: Robots (digital) (Spillage Village)
Edo.G: FreEDOm (5th & Union)
Future & Young Thug: Super Slimey (mixtape) (Epic)
GhostWryter:  27 Darvin (digital) (Never Basic Assoc.)
Gospel of Rufus: Alternate Path (Alternate Path Music Group)
Hex One:  Words Worth a Thousand Pictures ( Mic-Theory)
Hustle Gang: We Want Smoke (Roc Nation/Grand Hustle)
IDK: Iwasverybad (Commission Music/BMG)
J. Stalin: Gas Nation 2 (Livewire)
Krayzie Bone: E.1999: The LeathaFace Project (Real Talk Ent.)
Krept & Konan:  7 Days & 7 Nights (mixtapes)
Lil Pump: Lil Pump (digital) (Warner Bros.)
Masta Killa: Loyalty Is Royalty ( Nature Sounds)
Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs: Gems from the Equinox (Soul Assassins)
Moneybagg Yo: Federal 3X  (Interscope)
Playboi Carti:  S/T (Interscope)
Rob Stone: Don’t Wait For It (Grove Town)
Sivion: Dark Side of the Cocoon (Illect)
Snoop Dogg: Make America Crip Again (Empire)
Stalley: Another Level (mixtape)
Swissivory: Real Dreams 2 (NoHook!/Rough Trade)
Tech N9ne Collabos: Strange Reign (Strange Music)
TeeCee 4800: Realness Over Millions 2 (digital)
Trippie Redd: A Love Letter to You 2 (mixtape)
Ty Dolla $ign: Beach House 3 (Atlantic)
Vandalyzm: Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (Blue Collar Initiative)
Waka Flocka Flame: Flockavelli 2
Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues (36 Chambers ALC /eOne)
Yo Gotti: I Still Am (Epic)
Young Dolph: Thinking Out Loud (digital) (Paper Route Empire)
Young Dro: Da’ Real Atlanta (Real Talk Ent)
Young RJ: Blaq Royalty (Ne’Astra Music/Slum Village)
Young Spray: Invisible Tears (RTM)

Reggae, Dancehall
Emeterians: The Magic Touch (VP)
Frightnrs: More to Say Versions (Daptone)
Jamaiel Shabaka: Land of the Rising Sun ( Roots Vibration )
Lee Perry & The Upsetters: Trojan Albums Collection, 1971-73 (Trojan)
Prodigal Son: Pure Gold  (Main Street)

World, Latin
Adriano Trindade & Los Quemados: Balançando o Jazz (Loop Publishing)
Da Cruz: Eco do Futuro  (Boom Jah)
Diron Animal: Alone  (Soundway)
Eduardo Sandoval: Caminos Abiertos (Egrem)
Elida Almeida: Kebrada (Lusafrica)
Emo Kid:  Gqomtera EP  (Gqom Oh! )
KOKOKO!: Tongos’a EP (ICI)
Leila Gobi: 2017 (Clermont Music )
Miles From Kinshasa: Limbo (Quality Time)
Orchestre Les Mangelepa:  Last Band Standing (Strut)
Professor Rhythm: Bafana Bafana (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
Thandeka: Thandanani Ma Afrika (Chocs Pro Sound)
Various: Jukebox Mambo Vol. 3 (Jazzman )

 

Wyclef Jean – Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee

The Rise and Fall of Carnival III
Title: Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee

Artist: Wyclef Jean

Label: Legacy

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

Wyclef Jean released his Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, highlighting the 20th anniversary of his album The Carnival, and the 10th anniversary of Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Like the other albums in the Carnival series, the third installment incorporates music from different parts of the world, offering an outstanding conglomerate of music for the listener. According to Jean, this multi-cultural “genre-bending album is outside the box . . . It’s a celebration of what I love about music: discovery, diversity and artistry for art’s sake.

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The first thing that stands out is Jean’s inspirational words, reminding us that “we shall overcome our struggles someday.” His motivational lyrics and usage of biblical references (e.g. Zion, Golden Gates, and Psalm 23) resonate with the listener as symbols of hope, while inspiring them to pursue their goals. Another aspect of this album is Jean’s blending of polyrhythms (“Fela Kuti”), reggae (“Turn Me Good”), Afro-Cuban (“Trapicabana”), hip hop and popular music, creating a multi-cultural experience. Finally, the skillfulness and musicality displayed by each guest artist (including Jazzy Amra, T-Baby, STIX, and Emeli Sandé) adds another layer to the brilliance of this album.

Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee sustains the legacy of Wyclef Jean’s first Carnival album, spreading the message of community, hope, and love while showing the diversity of the world stage through the art within a music compilation.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Ghostpoet – Dark Days + Canapés

Ghostpoet

Title: Dark Days + Canapés

Artist: Ghostpoet

Label: Play It Again Sam

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: August 18, 2017

 

 

Ghostpoet (aka Obaro Ejimiwe) is a British vocalist and musician known for his beat-driven arrangements and meaningful lyrics, and his newest album lives up to this reputation. Dark Days + Canapés features a more alt-rock, guitar-driven sound that accompanies the artist’s most noteworthy songwriting to date.

Ghostpoet is not one to shy away from exploring tough subjects. The opening track, “Immigrant Boogie,” is a first-person account of the struggles of immigration, an all-too pertinent subject in 2017. Ghostpoet himself said that while this song is “partly intended to ask those who have questioned the arrival of refugees in recent times what they would do in the same situation,” it also aims to show that no human is truly in control of their future. The dystopian-themed video is the perfect companion to the thought-provoking content of this track:

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In addition to his head-on confrontation of important social and cultural issues, the serendipitous approach Ghostpoet took to arranging the music on this album is also noteworthy. For “Freakshow,” the laughter of a gospel choir brought in to sing on a different track was used to add to the manic nature of the song. On another track, “Blind as a Bat…,” string players were encouraged to improvise so the resulting song would be less structured, much like the protagonist’s mind.

The thought put into each track on Dark Days + Canapés shines through, and this gripping album is definitely worthy of a listen, especially in the current social and political climate.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Chris Thomas King – Hotel Voodoo

Chris Thomas King
Title: Hotel Voodoo

Artist: Chris Thomas King

Label: 21st Century Blues/dist. Virtual Label

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: September 14, 2017

 

 

Guitarist Chris Thomas King’s career has taken a long and winding road from Louisiana to Europe and back again. In 1979, when he was just 17, King was hailed by folklorists as “the last major folk blues discovery of the 20th Century.” He later ditched this style along with the whole notion of authenticity in the blues, embracing instead “hip hop modernity and digital aesthetics.” The backlash from (primarily white) blues audiences compelled him to move to Europe in 1993. Ironically, when he returned several years later, King was once again cast as an “authentic” Delta blues guitarist—this time on the silver screen―as “Tommy Johnson” in the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), as Blind Willie Johnson in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues (2003), and as Lowell Fulson in the Ray Charles biopic Ray (2004).

These days King assumes total artistic control over his projects which are released on his 21st Century Blues label.  Hotel Voodoo, his first new studio album in five years, features his touring band members Jeff Mills (drums) and Danny Infante (bass guitar), along with a few additional New Orleans musicians. The bulk of the album, however, is a showcase for the multitalented King, who performs all vocals along with the majority of instruments including electric and acoustic guitars, accordion, harmonica, mandolin, banjo, bass, and piano.

With the popularity of vinyl on the rise, King conceived this album as two suites, covering side A and B of a LP, rather than the strictly linear CD sequence. Side A is the “Baron Samedi Suite,” referencing the Loa spirit (aka lord of the crossroads) in Voodoo religion, while Side B is the “Jelly Roll Suite,” linking New Orleans’ jazz and blues traditions. The styles of the nine original songs and one cover are as varied as the titles of the suites suggest.

As his alter ego Baron Samedi (wearing black top hat and tuxedo), King is the consummate blues-rocker. Opening with “American Man (In the Key of Free),” he sings about the American dream in this upbeat, retro-styled song with overdubbed background vocals adding just a touch of contemporary club vibe. Digging deeper into the Samedi theme on “Voodoo Child (On Hell’s Highway),” he whips out his Fender Stratocaster and adds enough reverb and electrifying solos to appease the spirits.  “Friday Night Bleu” and “Have You Seen My Princess?” are straight ahead blues tracks, showcasing King’s prowess as an electric blues guitarist and his ability to single handedly cover all instruments and drum programming.

As side “A” side comes to a close with “Rock and Roll Conjurer,” King’s transformation into the dark lord of the underworld is complete. This sinister track is one of the highlights of the album (think Prince’s “Darling Nikki” but with a voodoo theme and dash of harmonica). Referencing the mythical “house of the rising sun,” CTK then sings, “Baby you don’t delay / the voodoo party it won’t wait / Yeah, you know me, Chris Thomas King / I rule the streets of New Orleans / Yeah, you’ll spend the night with me / I’ll conjure your rock and roll fantasy.”

Flipping over to the piano suite “B” side, CTK conjures an entirely different atmosphere, recreating the feel of an acoustic set in a traditional NOLA jazz club. The first two tracks pay homage to the clarinet, an “essential solo instrument in New Orleans blues” 100 years ago. Owen Callahan is the featured clarinetist on the opening track, “Les Bleus Was Born in Louisiana,” while Gregory Agid takes over on “White Folks Call It Jazz,” with Nathan Lambertson on upright bass (yes, there is a not-so-subliminal message here about the true roots of the blues). The heartfelt “Tabby’s on the Bayou” is about nights at Tabby’s Blues Box, his dad’s “ramshackle juke joint, before it was razed by the city of Baton Rouge in 1999.” CTK swaps his guitar for an upright piano, with shuffling second-line rhythms adding to the ambiance.

After enjoying all of these original songs, the acoustic cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You” is somewhat incongruous (CTK previously recorded “Rolling in the Deep” in a more compelling blues rock arrangement).  Likewise, the closing track “Rainbow Lullaby” is a nice folksy tune with harmonica, mandolin, and banjo, but doesn’t reinforce the “Jelly Roll Suite” concept.

Hotel Voodoo allows Chris Thomas King to display his formidable talents and wide-ranging musical interests. The album’s overarching theme is King’s love of Louisiana, and the blues and jazz conjured from the juke joints of the bayous and streets of New Orleans.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage

Prophets of Rage
Title: Prophets of Rage

Artist: Prophets of Rage

Label: Fantasy

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

Rap-rock supergroup Prophets of Rage—featuring Chuck D (vocals) and DJ Lord (turntables) of Public Enemy, Tom Morello (guitar), Tim “Timmy C” Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (beats) of Rage Against The Machine, and B-Real (vocals) of Cypress Hill—coalesced in 2016 around the title of the famous Public Enemy song that opens with the line, “I got a right to be hostile, man, my people are being persecuted!” During their initial “Make America Rage Again Tour,” the group staged protest performances leading up to the U.S. Presidential election. Post-election, they’ve ramped up their tours as they take their “message to the mosh pit,” countering neo-fascist rhetoric that seems to escalate on a daily basis with their own brand of anti-establishment “rage politik” music.

The 12 tracks on the group’s full-length self-titled album represent a true collaboration, written and recorded during an intensive two week studio session. All are equally powerful, exuding caustic, socially conscious lyrics on topics ranging from economic inequality and homelessness (“Living on the 110”) to the legalization of marijuana (“Legalize Me”) to the perils of government drone surveillance (“Take Me Higher”). Other songs are intended to incite protest against ongoing political, religious, and racial injustices. As Morello proclaimed, this is “the soundtrack for the resistance in 2017.”

The most recently released single, “Hail to the Chief,” is a strong indictment of President Donald Trump, but focuses more specifically on Vice President Mike Pence as the greater evil, whose Indiana politics are linked with those of Jeff Session’s Alabama. In the video Pence is cast as Trump’s puppet master as well as his heir apparent, while Chuck D spits, “All hail to the chief who came in the name of a thief to cease peace.”

Another compelling track is “Unf*ck the World” (the video is directed by Michael Moore). In a recent interview with Uproxx, Chuck D spoke about the song’s message: “Tom [Morello] coined a statement, ‘The world won’t fix itself.’ Things don’t fix itself, you gotta make it happen. If you want to see this change, you got to get up and orchestrate that happening. . .”  This message is communicated clearly in the song’s chorus:  “No hatred / F*ck racists / Blank faces / Time’s changin’/ One nation / Unification / The vibration / Unf*ck the World!”

Melding two genres—rap and heavy metal—that collide in a swirling vortex of rebellion and resistance, Prophets of Rage bring their protest music to the masses. At a time when even peaceful protests face unrelenting attacks from the Oval Office’s Twitter feed, Prophets of Rage may yet convince everyone to “Give a damn, evil can’t stand yeah, when the people take a stand” (—Unf*ck the World).

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Michael Jackson – SCREAM

Michael Jackson SCREAM

Title: SCREAM

Artist: Michael Jackson

Label: Epic/Legacy Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 29, 2017

 

 

Michael Jackson fans rejoice— SCREAM, a collection of the pop icon’s 13 most electrifying tracks, is being released by Epic/Legacy Records in collaboration with The Estate of Michael Jackson. The album includes classic hits like “Thriller” and “Dirty Diana” as well as the bonus track, “Blood on the Dance Floor X Dangerous.” Created by acclaimed remixer The White Panda, the bonus track is a high-energy mashup of five of The King of Pop’s songs: “Blood on the Dance Floor,” “Dangerous,” “This Place Hotel,” “Leave Me Alone,” and “Is It Scary.”

In addition to CD format, SCREAM will be available as a glow-in-the-dark two-disc vinyl edition with collectible poster in honor of MJ’s affection for the Halloween season. If just listening to this album isn’t enough, there are also Official Michael Jackson SCREAM Album Celebrations being held this fall in six major cities around the world (Paris, London, Sydney, Berlin, Los Angeles, and Tokyo). The celebrations will include screenings of MJ’s seven short films, including the rarely-seen Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, and an after party. For those that can’t make it to one of the album celebrations, SCREAM offers a collection of Michael’s hits that are sure to get you ready for the Halloween season.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Black Kids – Rookie

Rookie
Title: Rookie

Artist: Black Kids

Label: Black Kids Records via CD Baby

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

The Jacksonville, Florida-based indie band Black Kids is back after an almost decade-long hiatus with their second studio album and it does not disappoint. Rookie combines an upbeat tempo, ‘80s-style atmospherics, and earnest lyrics to create songs that are undeniably catchy. The title track showcases this combination through its infectious mix of playful rhythms and reflective lyrics that make you want to sing along. This isn’t the only track that’s worthy of dancing to—each track delivers a unique sound that’s just as lively as the last.

The album starts off strong with the opening track, “Iffy,” that will have you spelling I-F-F-Y all day long. Don’t be fooled by the upbeat sound though—like most of the songs on Rookie, the lyrics of “Iffy” deal with serious topics (unrequited love, in this case) which are masked by a catchy beat and a mesmerizing chorus sung by siblings Reggie and Ali Youngblood.

The next track, “In A Song,” is the album’s first video single and is just as colorful and frenetic as the lyrics:

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Whether you’re a longtime fan who’s been awaiting this album or someone who’s just hearing about Black Kids for the first time, Rookie deserves a listen.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Living Colour – Shade

Shade

 

Title: Shade

Artist: Living Colour

Label: MRI

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 8, 2017

 

After almost thirty years in the industry, Living Colour has proven time and again they are a force to be reckoned with in rock music. Since the band’s inception they’ve been an amalgamation of varied influences—funk, blues, hard rock, soul, jazz and metal—in the best possible way. Shade furthers demonstrates their musical prowess. It’s been eight years since the well-received The Chair in the Doorway album and Living Colour wastes no time reestablishing themselves.

“Freedom of Expression” sets the album off lovely with the band flexing their well- honed chemistry and skills. Vernon Reid’s main guitar riff is catchy and menacing. Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun handle the rhythm duties, with a thumping bassline and funking drumming respectively. Lastly, Corey Glover’s vocals sound as powerful and impassioned as ever.

Issues of social justice have long been a touch point in songs by Living Colour and “Freedom of Expression” is no different. Glover sings, “The news you use has been falsified / til you use my fear against me every side / won’t let you choose for me pick a side / no left, no right, no middle, no divide.” Furthermore, on “Blak Out” the band plays with the concept of double consciousness that is salient to the lives of most Black people in America. When Corey Glover sings “Sometimes they misunderstand / Don’t know who I really am” you might call it signifying as many Black listeners know the struggle not to “blackout” all too well.

On “Preachin Blues” the band’s blues influence is on full display as they rip through Robert Johnson’s classic, adding a decidedly electrified funk flavor to the mix. Reid showcases why his name should come up in any serious discussion about rock guitarists with scorching solos on this track as well as on “Program,” which speaks on the ills of a reality TV centric existence.

Hard to say enough about how well the band channels all of their influences from song to song on the album. On “Come On” you can hear the drum and bass influence on Will Calhoun’s drumming patterns, on “Pattern In Time” the feel is very Funkadelic (George Clinton himself drops by to add background vocals to “Two Sides” later on the album), and they do a full-on rock infused cover of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “I Shot Ya” while never feeling like they are stepping outside of their wheelhouse. On the latter they use the track to shine a spotlight on events like Michael Brown’s death, giving a decidedly more political spin to Biggie Smalls’ lyrics.

Unfortunately (for this reviewer) the album is missing the band’s great cover of The Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel” (aka Heartbreak Hotel) that was included on the Who Shot Ya mixtape released by the band earlier this year.  However, we do get a great cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” with spoken word poetry by Umar Bin Hassan sprinkled throughout.

Living Colour has seen a resurgence in mainstream popularity over the past few years as popular WWE wrestler CM Punk has used their signature song “Cult of Personality” as his theme music. On Shade, Living Colour has crafted songs that are just as catchy and powerful as “Cult” without sacrificing any of their artistic integrity by seeking a hit single. Shade is simultaneously accessible and uncompromising, which can be said about the lion’s share of the band’s work.

At times it’s hard to know how much you’ve missed something until you’ve had the chance to feel it again. Shade serves as a frank reminder that Living Colour is still one of the best bands doing it.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

Garrett Shider – Hand Me Down Diapers

Garrett Shider
Title: Hand Me Down Diapers

Artist: Garrett Shider

Label: Everland Music Group

Formats: CD, MP3, Vinyl

Release date: July 10, 2017

 

 

The Mothership has returned to feed “funk-starved” earthlings, bringing as its main course second-generation P-funker Garret Shider, aka Starchild, Jr.  Garret, son of former Parliament-Funkadalic’s “Diaper Man” Garry Shider, serves up his own recipe of the much-needed groove, proving with this debut album that he has come into his own as an adult artist. First and second generation Clintons show up to the meal as members of Shider’s team, with George, son Tracey “Trey Lewd” Lewis and grandson Tracey “Tra’zae” Clinton providing a healthy dose of those bass/rock/horn booms indicative of the unique P-funk sound.

The set begins with “Sugar Rush,” a not-so-subtle sultry ode to all the sweetness that special person holds in our life. Shider then gets cooking with the next offering, “Bop Gun 17,” a song holding strong echoes of classic P-funk backdropped against Shider’s funky old-school falsetto. Starchild Jr.’s dose of political consciousness spills out in the form of “Hard Pill,” as Shider intonates, “When the doctor prescribes his pill it’s the side effects that’s gonna keep you ill, so go ahead and get your glass of water.” The courses just keep on coming from the center section of the funk banquet, as “Jamnastics” to “Stuck in the Middle” reinforce the concept that Shider and his bandmates have plenty of simmering soulfulness.

But it’s the final dish in the form of the title track that fully encapsulates the servings of both Shider’s. “Hand Me Down Diapers” acts as Garret’s personal tribute to his father, tracing the Shider legacy from its beginnings to current day. The song ends with a poignant guitar solo by Jr. as background to an interview conducted with the late Garry Shider, in which he explains the point of his diaper and references an upcoming album.

Showcasing P-funk’s multiple generations at their best, Hand Me Down Diapers is both a testament to Garry Shider’s legacy and a presentation of Garrett Shider’s own artistic individuality, all while holding true to the main ingredients of 1970s funk.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

Big Boi – Boomiverse

Boomiverse
Title: Boomiverse

Artist: Big Boi

Label: Epic

Formats: CD, MP3, Vinyl

Release date: June 16, 2017

 

 

Big Boi, best known as part of the duo Outkast, is proving he is an exploding star in the rap universe with his third release, Boomiverse. This 12 track offering from one of Atlanta’s established legends is possibly his finest yet, and judging from the heavy hitters featured, hip hop’s finest seem to agree. Blending funk sounds, pop influences and distinctive southern hip hop, Big shows how his progressive edge with diverse stylings has morphed into what he self-describes as his symbolistic “graduation record.”

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“Kill Jill” features Big along fellow Atlantians Killer Mike and Jeezy weaving their distinctively unique methods into a friendly rap battle for rhythm and rhyme bragging rights. A nostalgic reference to Andre 3000’s 1995 Source Award speech—“The South’s got something to say”—can be found within Big’s drop, reminding all of Outkast’s declaration for things to come. With the next track, “Mic Jack,” the mood changes to upbeat, dance-floor catchy that screams club vibe. But just when you get used to Levine’s smooth vocals posed against Big’s clean, deep verses, the tone returns to its slab roots with “In the South.

Having proved his multiplicity in just three songs, the remainder of Boomiverse functions as a collection of Big’s favorite goodtime rap. Snoop weighs in with classic Dogg style on “Get Wit It,” and electro-inspired Jake Troth produces the album’s deep house vibe, “Chocolate.” Boomiverse delivers exactly what one would expect from this innovative, Southern rap legend, proving once again that the South still has plenty to say about the miscellany of hip hop for years to come.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

August Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country
Altered Five Blues Band : Charmed & Dangerous (Blind Pig)
Big Joe Turner : San Francisco 1977 (Rockbeat)
Dan Zanes and Friends: Lead Belly, Baby! (Smithsonian Folkways)
Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer: Hundred Years From Today (Out of the Past)

Classical, Broadway
McGill McHale Trio: Portraits – Works for Flute, Clarinet & Piano (Cedille)
Various: The View Upstairs (Original Cast Recording) (Broadway Records)

Comedy, Spoken Word
Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From Hood to Hollywood! (Comedy Dynamics)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Fifth Harmony:  S/T (Syco Music/Epic)
Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapés (Play It Again Sam)
Peter Ngqibs: Let Me Go (Ananm Ent.)
Ronettes: The Colpix Years, 1961-1963 (Cornbread)
Van Hunt: Popular (digital) (Blue Note)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
Brinson: Thornz (GodChaserz Ent.)
Chevelle Franklyn: Set Time (N.O.W.)
Clark Sisters: You Brought the Sunshine, Sound of Gospel 1976-1981 (Kent)
Cobbs Leonard, Tasha:  Heart. Passion. Pursuit. (Motown Gospel)
Deitrick Haddon & Hill City Worship Camp: S/T (eOne)
Jared Robinson & Resurrection Worship: The Repentance
Jimmy Hicks & ACOJ: Waterway (Blacksmoke Music)
Judy Bailey: Between You and Me
Melvin Williams: Where I Started From (New Day)
Poetic Lace: King of the City (digital)
Reconcile: Streets Don’t Love You (mixtape)
Terrence Cotton: Live in Atlanta (Puretonez Productions)
The Blind Boys Of Alabama: Almost Home (BBOA Records)
TNED: Geneuslife (Royal Oath Ent)
Travis Greene: Crossover: Live From Music City (RCA Inspiration)

Jazz
Andrew McCormack, ESKA: Graviton (Jazz Village)
Brenda Nicole Moorer:  Brand New Heart (CD Baby)
Darren Barrett: dB-ish
Eclectik Percussions Orchestra:  Traces De Vie – Traces Of Life (Passin’ Thru)
Harold Mabern : To Love and Be Loved (Smoke Sessions)
Jamire Williams: Effectual (Carlos Nino & Friend)
John Vanore : Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (Acoustical Concepts)
Kris Johnson Group & Lulu Fall: The Unpaved Road (Artist Centric Music)
Najee:  Poetry in Motion (Shanachie)
New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (Zaki Publishing)
Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (PI)
Ulysses Owens, Jr. :Falling Forward (Spice of Life )
Various: Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power (Soul Jazz)
Dial & Oatts: Rediscovered Ellington

R&B, Soul
Brian McKnight : Genesis (Independent Label Services, Inc.)
D’Angelo: Brown Sugar (expanded ed.) (Virgin/Ume)
Decosta Boyce: Electrick Soul (Vintedge)
Joshua Ledet: S/T (digital) (SoNo Recording Group)
Kim Tibbs: Kim (Expansion)
R.LUM.R  : Afterimage (PRMD)
The Steoples: From the Otherside (Stones Throw)
Thelma Houston: Summer Nights
Undisputed Truth : Nothing But The Truth (Kent)
V.Lace: What Love Does
Various: Soul of the 70s (Box set) (Time-Life)
Wilson Pickett:  Sings Bobby Womack (Kent)

Rap, Hip Hop
A$AP Ferg: Still Striving  (RCA)
Akua Naru: Miner’s Canary (vinyl reissue) (Urban Era)
Andy Mineo & Wordsplayed : Magic & Bird  (Reach)
Apollo Brown & Planet Asia: Anchovies (Mello Music Group)
Berner & Young Dolph:  Tracking Numbers (Bern One Ent)
Chip: League of My Own II  (Cash Motto)
Chris $pencer: Blessed (Perpetual Rebel)
Ea$y Money: Flyer Lansky (EA$Y MONEY)
Grieves: Running Wild (Rhymesayers)
Gunplay: The Fix Tape ( X-Ray)
Illa J: Home (Jakarta)
Japhia Life: Welcome to Heartsville (Arms Out)
Joseph Chilliams: Henry Church (mixtape)
Lil B: Black Ken (BasedWorld)
MadeinTYO: True’s World (Commission)
Mozzy: 1 Up Top Ahk (Mozzy/Empire)
Pawz One: Pick Your Poison (Below System/Dope Shit)
Perceptionists (Mr. Lif & Akrobatik): Resolution (Mello Music)
Sean Price: Imperius Rex (Duck Down Music)
Slim Thug, Killa Kyleon:  Havin Thangs 2K17 (SoSouth)
Tattoo Money : Untitled EP
Too $hort: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Wordsworth & Sam Brown: Our World Today (Fat Beats)

Reggae, Dancehall
Alborosie: Freedom in Dub (Greensleeves)
Barry Brown: Step It Up Youthman (Radiation Roots)
IamStylezMusic: Back to My Roots (Blaze Ent)
New Kingston:  A Kingston Story: Come From Far (Easy Star)
Rico Rodriguez & Friends: Unreleased Early Recordings (Dubstore)
Roy Panton & Yvonne Harrison: Studio Recordings 1961-70 (Liquidator)
Shurwayne Winchester: Shurwayne (VPAL Music)
Spacewave: Space Dub (Megawave)
Tanya Asaki: Simply Me (Treasure Chest Prod.)
U-Roy:  Dread in Babylon (Get On Down)

World
Bro. Valentino:  Stay Up Zimbabwe (Limited ed.) (Analog Africa)
Jay-U Experience: Enough is Enough (Soundways)
Sibusile Xaba: Open Letter To Adoniah (Mushroom Half Hour)
Various: Afrobeats Hot Hits: New Urban Dance Grooves from Africa (Shanachie)
Black Boy: Sa E Nan Bouda’w
Various: Sweet as Broken Dates – Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa

 

 

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

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

 

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