Posts filed under 'Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Funk'

Deva Mahal – Run Deep

mahal

 

Title: Run Deep

Artist: Deva Mahal

Label: Motéma Music 

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: March 23, 2018

 

Robust talent runs generationally, especially when you’re the offspring of blues icon Taj Mahal and dancer/artist Inshirah Mahal, as proven with Deva Mahal’s debut album, Run Deep. Forging her own sound as part blues, part indie-rock and all soul, Mahal gives her listeners one of the edgiest, most emotionally drawn voices in the industry today.

The first track, “Can’t Call it Love,” opens with a riveting guitar riff and empowering lyrics: I’m feeling new like an old-school instrumental / I’m getting in the mood / And feeling sentimental, which can be taken as both commentary on one’s new found infatuation and Mahal’s coming into her own. The entire album features innovative instrumentality and Mahal’s varied vocalization styles. For example, the closing track, “Take a Giant Step,” showcases her sultry pop sound as she reinterprets this standard by Carole King and Gerry Goffin (a song her father has also recorded).

The focal track of the album, both vocally and visually, is the offering “Snakes.” Mahal’s vocals jump right off the album from the first moment she begins singing, but the visualizations of the video are pure genius—black and white coloring, shadow dancing and the animation of a swamp monster, said to have been inspired by her favorite childhood “girl power” book, Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer.

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Mahal has definitely come out from under her parent’s shadow with this artistic debut. From the first note to the last few strains, this artist’s soulful and funky melodies will have you running deep into the magical world of Deva Mahal, breathlessly awaiting her next move.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review May 1st, 2018

Starchild & the New Romantic – Language

starchild

 

Title: Language

Artist: Starchild & the New Romantic

Label: Motor Mouth Media

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: February 23, 2018

 

After years of providing artists such as Solange and Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) with quality choreography and guitar riffs, Bryndon Cook has stepped out on his own under the moniker Starchild & the New Romantic with his debut album, Language. This 14-track offering takes its listeners on a ‘90s-inspired groove cruise, guided by what he calls is his self-made motto, “my sensitivity is my strength.”

Hailing from Maryland, Cook has always been a student of black music’s rich lineages that intersect with pop. Challenging binaries of old/new, religious/secular, and black/white, his music is both bold and mercurial, defining perspective and identity while calling for action. The title track weaves out of the speakers and around the mind with Cook crooning the language of lost chances and second glances. The short and tender single, “Hangin’ On,” echoes early-80s Prince in both instrumental sound and its resulting mood:  Fell asleep last night / Thinking about you. Saw you in my sleep, chased you till morning came. My mama said “follow your dreams” / Well I guess you were my warning / Now I’ve let myself go / Hope you’re still holdin’ on.

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Other tracks, such as “Black Diamond,” “Doubts” and “Boys Choir” speak to the root of the record itself—a mystical contemplation of the boyhood community to which Cook finally feels he is ready to bare his soul. Lyrical and emotional, poignant with just a smidge of regret, Language writes on the heart all that Cook was, is and will always be—a star in his own right, romanticizing his way into the minds of all who pause to listen.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review May 1st, 2018

Bumpus – Way Down Deep

Bumpus
Title: Way Down Deep

Artist: Bumpus

Label: Bumpus

Release Date: March 21, 2018

Formats: Digital

 

 

Veteran Chicago soul band Bumpus returned in a big way this March, with its first release since 2007.  The band was a funk tour de force in the 2000s, but faced some personnel changes in the early 2010s that sidelined new recording projects.  The group still has performed locally over the past few years, and the band’s new lineup and infectious live energy is effectively captured on its Way Down Deep EP.

 

 

Bumpus is perhaps most well-known for its killer, high-energy live show, with one of the region’s funkiest rhythm sections and a horn line to match.  However, Way Down Deep showcases the band’s vocalists, James Johnston, Ava Fain and Tina Howell, whose layered, soulful voices drive the 6-song set. The band’s bread and butter is tightly knit guitar-driven funk tunes like the self-assured “Step Sure or Step Aside,” a challenge to “suckas” that is propelled by an active bass groove and soulful Hammond organ.  The EP’s highlight is the 2-part “Way Down Deep.” Part 1 is a solid lovin’ song infused with horn hits and funky drumming, but the song’s bridge gradually morphs into the spaced-out P-Funk territory that characterizes Part 2, with phased out vocals and instruments as well as an extended What’s Going On – style saxophone solo over gradually fading backing vocals.

It is a great benefit to Chicago’s music scene that Bumpus is back and bumpin’. Hopefully, Way Down Deep will usher in another decade of solid grooves and soulful songwriting.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review May 1st, 2018

Playing For Change – Listen to the Music

playing for change

 

Title: Listen to the Music

Artist: Playing For Change

Label: Motéma Music

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: April 20, 2018

 

Playing For Change, the multimedia company best known for their “Songs Around the World” online video series that has over 500 million views, has released their fourth album Listen to the Music. Featuring a selection of global artists performing tracks in their home countries, the project took almost three years to complete.

The album’s first single, “Skin Deep” performed by blues legend Buddy Guy and over 50 accompanying musicians from around the U.S., speaks on race issues and violence in America stating, “underneath we’re all the same.”

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Another track, “Africa Mokili Mobimba” performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and TP OK Jazz Band, is a famous Congolese song that serves as an anthem to connect and unify Africa. One of the final songs on the album, “Congo to the Mississippi,” exemplifies this theme of unification through music; the song started in a village in the Congo and added musicians from Jamaica, Japan, and Italy before wrapping up with a harmonica solo played by New Orleans street musician Grandpa Elliott.

Each track on Listen to the Music is completely unique in its combination of talented musicians and vocalists.  The related video series document many of these collaborations, including “All Along the Watchtower” (with Cyril and Ivan Neville), “Everlasting Love” (with Vasti Jackson and Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi), and “Bring It on Home to Me” (featuring the late Roger Ridley).

The album, while bringing together the contributing 210 musicians from 25 different countries, also aims to unify today’s often divided societies. According to the co-founder of Playing For Change, Mark Johnson, “In a world with so many divisions, we need to create connections. Musical collaboration is the best way to make that happen.” In addition, 100% of profits from the album with be donated to the Playing For Change Foundation. This non-profit educational organization has opened 15 music-focused schools for underprivileged children in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina and Thailand.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

View review May 1st, 2018

Introduction to Sister Sledge

sister sledge
Title: Introduction to Sister Sledge

Artist: Sister Sledge

Label: Atlantic

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date:  March 2, 2018

 

 

When one thinks of the great family acts, what names just pop in your head? The J5 / Jacksons naturally. The Osmonds perhaps? The Wilson Brothers? The Gap Band? Which set right. The most slept on family act hands down are the Isley Brothers. But the one name that constantly gets overlooked is Sister Sledge. The four ladies from Philly–North Philly to be exact–perhaps never had the same commercial appeal as the others mentioned, but if you check their history, you just might want to rethink where you rank them. SS even played the concert in Zaire with James Brown, the night before Ali v. Forman, and the group also had huge following in Japan.

Kathy, Joanie (R.I.P.), Debbie & Kim. That’s how I remembered their names, in that order. Forty years ago, SS released their He’s the Greatest Dancer album and became hotter than a firecracker. Hooking up with members of Chic—Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards & drummer Tony Thompson, who were hot as well with “Le Freak”—SS jumped on the disco train and rode it to the end of the line.

Introduction to Sister Sledge is a ten track “best of” collection. Yes, “We Are Family” is included–don’t panic. When some think of SS, they only think of this song. After the Pirates of Pittsburgh adopted “We Are Family” as their theme in 1979 and won the world series, the song put SS even more on the map.

The compilation takes us back to early SS and you can tell, just by listening to Kathy Sledge’s voice. The track “Mama Never Told Me” is bubblegum pop, but cute. I mean, it could have been performed by J5 or the Five Stairsteps (another family act). “Shibby Doo, Shibby Doo, bop bop.”

“Lost In Music,” produced by Niles Rodgers, sounds like Chic. Heck, for so many years I thought it was Chic since it has that distinctive Chic sound. “All American Girls” tries to recapture the sound of the previous LP and singles. I never knew if SS was referring to themselves as all American girls.

“He’s the Greatest Dancer” hands down is a top five disco track. You know a song is big when the Muppets had include it on their first TV special.  Nile Rodgers is on guitar, Bernard Edwards on bass, and Tony Thompson on drums. “Halston, Gucci, Eaucci, that man is dressed to kill!”

Introduction to Sister Sledge offers the best of SS. You get the big hits plus the ones that you never knew or just plain forgot about. One thing—don’t forget—when you list great family acts, make sure Sister Sledge isn’t forgotten.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

 

 

 

View review May 1st, 2018

April 2018 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during April 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
B.B. King: Many Faces of (3 CDs) (Music Brokers)
Bernard Allison: Born With the Blues (Ruf)
Eric & Ulrika Bibb: Pray Sing Love (Dixiefrog)
Leo Bud Welch: Late Blossom Blues (DVD) (Let’s Make This Happen)
Little Freddy King: Fried Rice & Chicken (Orleans)
Little Willie Littlefield: Best of the Rest, 1948-1959 (Jasmine)
Peppermint Harris: Very Best of (Jasmine)
Sonny Boy Williamson II: Complete Trumpet, Ace & Checker Singles: 1951-62 (Acrobat)
Various: Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938-1942 (Hi Horse)
Walter Wolfman Washington: My Future Is My Past (Anti/Epitaph)

Classical
Carlos Simon: My Ancestor’s Gift (Navona)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Benin City: Last Night (Moshi Moshi)
Eku Fantasy: EF1 EP (digital)
Niki J Crawford: The Second Truth (Country Girl Ent.)
Shuggie Otis: Inter-Fusion (Cleopatra)
SONI withanEYE: Rebel (Touch Ent)
Soulive: Cinematics Vol. 1 EP (Soulive Music Inc.)
The Return of the Band of Gypsys: San Francisco “84 (Air Cuts)
Twin Shadow: Caer (Reprise)
Various: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert OST (Sony Masterworks)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Amante Lacey: Original Songs & Stories, Vol. 1 (Intersound)
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: I Am Reminded (Provident Music Group)
Fresh Start Worship: S/T (digital)
Kelontae Gavin: The Higher Experience (Tyscot)
Maranda Curtis: Open Heaven – The Maranda Experience (Fair Trade/Columbia)
Stephen Ivey: The Journey: Evolution of a Worshipper (digital)

Jazz
Allan Harris: The Genius of Eddie Jefferson (Resilience Music Alliance)
Bosq: Love & Resistance (Ubiquity)
Cha Wa: Spyboy (Upt Music)
Darry Yokley ‘s Sound Reformation: Pictures at an African Exhibition (Truth Revolution)
Deborah J. Carter: Scuse Me (Sam Sam Music)
Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag (Basin Street)
Edward Simon (& Imani Winds): Sorrows and Triumphs (Sunnyside)
Elvin Jones Jazz Machine: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1981 (Jazzline)
Logan Richardson: Blues People (Ropeadope)
Louis Armstrong: Pops Is Tops: The Verve Studio Albums (4 CDs) (Verve)
Madeline Bell & The Swingmates: Have You Met Miss Bell? (Sam Sam Music)
Marjorie Barnes: Once You’ve Been In Love (Sam Sam Music)
Mark Gross Quartet: Plus Strings (digital)
Ryan Porter (West Coast Get Down): The Optimist (World Galaxy/Alpha)
Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse)
Terrance Blanchard: Live (Blue Note)
Various: Very Best of Dixieland New Orleans (Musical Concepts)
Woody Shaw Quintet: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1982 (Jazzline)

R&B, Soul
Barry White: Complete 20th Century Records Singles 1973-1979 (Mercury)
Bridget Kelly: Reality Bites (The Initiative Group, Inc)
Eartha Kitt: The Singles Collection: 1952-1962 (Acrobat)
Eric Bellinger: Eazy Call (Empire)
Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (Bad Boy)
Kali Uchis: Isolation (Virgin EMI)
Khari Wendell McClelland: Freedom Singer (Afterlife Music)
RĀI: Love’s on the Way (digital)
Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics: State of all Things (Soulphonics)
Shirley Davis & The SilverBacks: Wishes & Wants (Tucxone)
Tejai Moore: Write My Wrongs (Moore Music)
Tinashe: Joyride (RCA)
Watch the Duck: Delayed Adulthood (Interscope)
Weeknd: My Dear Melancholy (Republic)
XamVolo: A Damn Fine Spectacle EP (Decca)
YellowStraps: Blame EP (Majestic Casual)

Rap, Hip Hop
88GLAM: 88GLAM Reloaded (XO)
Akua Naru: The Blackest Joy (The Urban Era)
Blu & Notzz: Gods In The Spirit, Titans In The Flesh (Coalmine)
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (digital) (Atlantic/KSR)
Currensy: Air Feshna EP (digital)
Defari: Rare Poise (Fat Beats Dist)
Del the Funky Homosapien + Amp Live: Gate 13 (I.O.T.)
Denmark Vessey: Sun Go Nova (Mello Music Group)
Dillyn Troy: Tru Story (Twenty Two Music)
Carnage: Battered Bruised & Bloody (digital)
Dr. Octagon: Moosebumps: An Exploration into Modern Day Horripilation (Bulk Recordings/Caroline)
E-40 & B-Legit: Connected And Respected (Heavy On The Grind Ent)
Famous Dex: Dex Meets Dexter (300 Ent.)
Flatbush Zombies: Vacation in Hell (The Glorious Dead)
Iman Shumpert: Substance Abuse (digital)
Cole: KOD (Roc Nation/Interscope)
Jamie Hancock: Sincerely, Me (Sofa Boys Ent.)
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris: Everything’s Fine (Mello Music Group)
Jim Jones: Wasted Talent (Empire/Vamplife)
Khary: Captain (digital) (Kousteau)
Rich The Kid: The World is Yours (Interscope)
Royce Ripken: Home Run Ripken (digital) (Beatbayngrz & Nockwoofrz)
Saba: Care for Me (digital)
Smoke Dza: Not For Sale (Babygrande)
Snoop Dogg: 220 (Doggystyle)
T-Nyce: Blood of a Slave Heart of a King, Vol. 3 (85 Concept)
Tony Njoku: H.P.A.C (Silent Kid)
Westside Gunn & Mr. Green: Flygod Is Good…All The Time (Nature Sounds)
Young Thug: Hear No Evil EP (digital) (300 Ent.)
YoungBoy Never Broke Again: Until Death Call My Name (digital)

Reggae
Christafari: Original Love (Lion of Zion)
Gladiators: Serious Thing (Omnivore)
Gladiators: Symbol of Reality (Omnivore)
Mellow Mood: Large (La Tempesta Dub)
Sting & Shaggy: 44/876 (A&M/Interscope)
Various: Hold On To Your Roots (Larger Than Life)

International, Latin
Afrikän Protoköl: Beyond the Grid (Abozamé)
Ayunne Sule: We Have One Destiny (Makkum)
Djénéba & Fousco: Kayeba Khasso (Lusafrica)
Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara (Mr. Bongo)
Line’zo: Dusk Vybz (Royal Face)
Novelist: Novelist Guy (Mmmyeh Records)
Tank Delafoisse: Based on a True Story… (Music Is Life Ent.)

View review May 1st, 2018

Welcome to the April 2018 Issue of Black Grooves

April 2018_small Mailchimp
Welcome to the April 2018 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month’s top picks include a new recording of Florence Price’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 performed by Er-Gene Kahng, and “American Songster” Dom Flemons’ collaboration with Smithsonian Folkways on an exploration of the music of Black Cowboys.

 

April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), with April 30th designated as International Jazz Appreciation Day. Jazz and social justice is the contextual lens for JAM this year, showcasing the progressive ways jazz continues to play a transformative role with respect to the civil rights of individuals from multiple facets of society. The jazz collaborations of both Wynton Marsalis Septet’s United We Sing and Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette‘s After The Fall demonstrate the excellence that prevails when groups work collectively towards a common goal. Don’t Play with Love released by the John L. Nelson Project showcases the formidable talents of Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, both of whom fostered positive inspiration in others through their artistic legacies. Perseverance plays a central role in Sy Smith’s Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete and saxophonist Lekecia Benjamin’s Rise Up, as both albums urge continuance despite the cost. Young Street by bassist Reggie Young rounds out this category with a blend of jazz and funk.

Other featured releases also contain a harmonious blending of genres. The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down and AJ Ghent’s The Neo Blues Project combine blues and rock. Stax Singles Vol. 4 – Rarities & The Best of the Rest is a collection of the label’s more obscure soul, rock, country, and gospel sides, while the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio’s Close But No Cigar pays tribute to the legendary Stax studio band. Memphis Rent Party is a survey of regional music that serves as the soundtrack for Robert Gordon’s sixth book of the same title.

Additional releases include Mud Morganfield’s latest blues album They Call Me Mud, London rocker L.A. Salami’s sophomore album The City of Bootmakers, and a live gospel album, The Gospel Truth Live, by the late Marie Knight. Wrapping up this issue is a new book by ethnomusicologist Sandra Jean Graham, Spirituals and the Birth of the Black Entertainment Industry, and our compilation of March Releases of Note.

 

View review April 2nd, 2018

Lakecia Benjamin – Rise Up

Lakecia Benjamin
Title: Rise Up

Artist: Lakecia Benjamin

Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: March 23, 2018

 

 

Growing up in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, Lakecia Benjamin moved away from home at the young age of 14 to attend La Guardia High School of Music & Art, where she got her start playing jazz. Since then, Benjamin has become one of the most sought after saxophonists in the music industry, playing with jazz giants like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman as well as arranging and leading the horn sections of superstars like Macy Gray, Alicia Keys, and even Stevie Wonder. Now, as she releases her third album, Rise Up featuring  her group Soul Squad, Benjamin reminds us once again of her prowess as a songwriter and band leader.

Benjamin uses this album to send a message about moving through life’s many challenges, opening with the funky title track “March On,” which begins with a quote from Les Brown: “You can either live your dreams or live your fears.” This song features a fun and motivational rap from Benjamin as well as a powerful vocal from jazz singer China Moses. “March On” speaks towards the idea of moving through the obstacles life puts in your way, with the lyric: “We March On to find victory / We March On to find the peace we seek / We March On to reclaim our being / We March On! We March On! We March On!”

“Take Back” is another truly spectacular track. Though entirely instrumental, this jazz fusion tune is meant to convey a story of taking back control over your life and reclaiming your destiny. With its driving rock groove and catchy and rhythmic horn riff you can’t help but move with the music.

Rise Up includes other phenomenal new original songs from Benjamin, including “Cornbread,” “Survivor” and “On The One.” It’s such a fun album that it’s sure to appeal to a wide range of jazz and soul fans alike.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

View review April 2nd, 2018

Sy Smith – Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete

sy

Title: Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete

Artist: Sy Smith

Label: Psyko

Formats: CD (via Bandcamp), Digital

Release date: February 16, 2018

 

 

Long hailed as the hardest working artist in underground soul, Sy Smith’s fifth album, Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete, proves once again she is a force to be reckoned with in both the underground and outer-ground music scene. This release is the first album completely written and produced by this multitalented musician, featuring her slick synth bass playing and lithe piano keying along with her incomparable soprano voice and signature vocal arrangements.

Smith’s voice shines through on this album, as she employs various techniques that she is known for and some she seems to honor straight out of 1990s R&B. The title song, “Sometimes a Rose will Grow in Concrete,” teases us with a small sample of her amazing whistle register, bringing it out at the end of the song as a parting gift. Lyrically, this song speaks to the current time, as its inclusion of lyrics such as “Sometimes we get no answers but still the questions will remain…sometimes a rose will grow in concrete, sometimes a caged bird will sing” reflects an activist tone regarding American society. Carrying a strong pen, Smith reveals victories won and battles still being fought as she provides a powerful, if haunting, ode to people who come through the harshest of trials and still bloom as beautifully as roses.

Smith’s continuing penchant for go-go is present in this album with the song, “Now and Later.” The funk-inspired beat interspersed with a cool rhythm-and-blues sound reflects back to Smith’s genesis in DC with her former go-go band “In Tyme.”  “Camelot,” one of the smoothest contemporary R&B ballads, reinvigorates that 1990s Janet Jackson-esque sound, complete with multiple background vocals, string instrumentals and long-winded notes held and released over and again in differing registers.

Providing us with never-ending, smooth stylings that both echo yesterday’s R&B and set the standards for contemporary soul, Sy Smith’s Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete proves that Smith herself is that enduring rose whose presence grows sweeter and stronger with each new release.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review April 2nd, 2018

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – Close But No Cigar

organ trio
Title: Close But No Cigar

Artist: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Label: Colemine

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: March 2, 2018

 

 

Early March brought a strong debut album by Seattle’s Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, featuring guitarist Jimmy James, drummer David McGraw, and of course Lamarr on B-3. This group performs standard organ trio fare, and has obviously honed its own approach by careful listening to masters of the format.

There are two sides to the organ trio format, one represented by bebop-heavy shredders like Joey Defrancesco and another more gospel-inflected soulful camp, influenced by players like Jimmy McGriff. Lamarr’s group decidedly falls into the latter, a detail that would be noticeable from a passing glance at Close But No Cigar’s tracklist. Tunes include “Little Booker T” and “Memphis,” both reminiscent of the legendary soul organist Booker T Jones’s work for the Stax label, as well as “Al Greenery,” a number that approximates the gospel sound of the titular Rev. Green. Here’s a studio performance of the title track:

Lamarr and company are very good at imitating the grooves of famous musicians, but the group has more than imitative works up its collective sleeves. Each tune on this record is drenched in hot buttered soul, as culinary-themed groovers like “Between the Mayo and the Mustard” and “Raymond Brings the Greens” would suggest. These tracks are riff-based organ jams that feature not only Lamarr’s skillful mastery of the percussive qualities of his instrument, but also skillful manipulation of two chord vamps by James and McGraw and some downright delicious soloing by James (including what sounds like a quote from David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” on the latter).

Organ trios are all about timbre, combining three instruments with myriad layers of overtones, and this group features great tones all around.  It’s impossible to beat the rich sound of Lamarr’s B3 contrasting James’s biting guitar tone over McGraw’s colorful palate on the drum kit. No player appears to aim for virtuosic soloing. Rather, the group simmers its grooves, entering and exiting smoothly—the solos end but the jams go on.

The record concludes with a retro-soul rendition of Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on By” that sounds like it could have been recorded by the legendary Stax studio band itself.  All in all, the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio doesn’t make any radical changes to the organ trio format, but Close But No Cigar is a worthy entry in this always listenable genre.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review April 2nd, 2018

Stax Singles Vol. 4: Rarities & The Best of the Rest

stax

 

Title: Stax Singles Vol. 4 – Rarities & The Best of the Rest

Artist: Various

Label: Stax/Craft Recordings

Formats: 6-CD set, Digital

Release date: February 9, 2018

 

From the early days of the CD era, there has been a constant stream of reissues from the legendary Stax/Volt catalog. Three volumes (28 CDs total) of The Complete Stax/Volt Singles plus artist-specific box sets, plus a pile of compilation CDs and box sets. Not to mention the many individual album reissues, which often included extra singles and other tracks not on the original LPs. What is left in the vaults to compile into this new 6-CD box, issued in conjunction with Concord Music Group’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of Stax’s founding?

It turns out, not 6 discs worth of compelling music, but there are many interesting obscure gems lurking among a bunch of tunes that were forgotten for a reason. The set is also padded with familiar material such as Booker T. & The M.G.’s cuts already issued on the artists’ own box set, and slightly edited single versions of Big Star hits.

The set has a scattershot focus, which actually works to its benefit by offering interesting music to several audiences. Discs 1-3 are B sides of singles included in the first three massive “Complete Singles” boxes (which, it turns out, contain mostly A sides and not “complete” singles by the definition of both sides of a record). Compiled by Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records and co-producer of the first three sets, these discs probably contain the fewest of what the casual listener might consider dull duds. For the deep-diver, some of the sides are obscure enough to be sourced from dubs of scratchy old 45’s, meaning the master tapes are missing.

To Concord’s credit, they offer a detailed listing of the set’s contents, so consumers can decide for themselves if there is enough interesting material to justify the purchase price. If the music compels you, the physical product is recommended because the 76-page booklet provides much detail and context, plus some nice artist photos from the old Stax promotional files.

Which brings us to the other half of the box. Discs 4-6 cover Stax’s attempts to diversify its catalog from its southern-soul target market. The material is mined from sub-labels: Enterprise (pop and country), Hip (pop and rock), Ardent (rock), and the gospel imprints Chalice and The Gospel Truth. The booklet offers very detailed information about these labels, which will be of interest to the deep-divers and completists. In general, these efforts were not financially successful for Stax, but some of the music (particularly the Ardent albums released by Big Star) turned out to be widely influential and critically acclaimed.

Stax’s pop and country releases were obviously a mixed bag. If the “best” is collected here, there was a lot of dreck in the catalog. The rock offerings are more interesting, including the more rock-ish and psychedelic pop songs. The Memphis music scene of the 1960s and ‘70s had a unique take on rock, with both soul flavorings and a “garage” feel. It’s exciting and doesn’t sound manufactured. Likewise with the best of Stax’s pop productions—they don’t sound as plastic and disposable as much of the competing material that was churned out of NYC, L.A. and Detroit.

The best of the back three discs is #6, covering the gospel labels. In general, the arrangements and performances hue toward Stax’s soul sound and feel, of great benefit to Sunday’s music. The gospel passion is turned up a notch in the caldron of backbeat soul, creating great impact. It might have been a better idea to peel off this material into a separate Stax gospel compilation.

For the hardcore Stax fans, and for listeners deeply into American soul music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, there will be enough material in this set, plus the booklet text, to justify its place in your collection. For others, the appeal will depend on your curiosity and willingness to wade through a wide variety of artists, styles and genres.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review April 2nd, 2018

Bootsy Collins – World Wide Funk

bootsy

 

Title: World Wide Funk

Artist: Bootsy Collins

Label: Mascot Records

Release date: October 27, 2017

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

 

Last October the world was blessed with the latest project by legendary funk bassist, vocalist, and composer Bootsy Collins. World Wide Funk contains all of the elements Collins is most known for as an artist: funky grooves, excellent playing, and a whimsical sense of humor (evidenced by the assertion on the introductory track that Bootsy was born “a long, long time ago…deep below the Ohio river—before anyone ever heard of Ohio”).

It is difficult to overstate the impact that Collins has had on generations of musicians through his work as a bassist with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, as well as on his own prolific solo recordings. The sheer variety and skill of his collaborators on World Wide Funk hints at the otherwise inestimable breadth of his influence.  Nearly every track on the record features a guest artist, from the shredding styles of the KFC chicken container-donning guitarist Buckethead (“Worldwide Funk” and “Illusions”) to golden-era hip hoppers Doug E. Fresh and Big Daddy Kane (“Worldwide Funk” and “Hot Saucer,” respectively) to young gun bassist Alissia Benveniste (“Bass-Rigged System” and “Thera-P”). There are also features by musicians who may be considered “usual suspects” on a collaboration-based album by a musician of Collins’s stature, such as bassists Victor Wooten and Stanley Clarke (“Bass-Rigged-System”) and guitarist Eric Gales and drummer Dennis Chambers (“Come Back Bootsy”).

As one would expect from the Star Child, the M.O. of World Wide Funk is “One Nation Under a Groove”—grooves are now, as they have always been, the meat and potatoes of Collins’s style. Whether offering virtuoso musicians opportunities to stretch out as on “Come Back Bootsy” and “Bass-Rigged System,” or providing a steady groove to rap or party over as on “Pusherman” and “Ladies Nite,” rhythm is the name of the game. Even the more sentimental songs like the ‘90s R&B-Tinged “Heaven Yes” and the Jimi Hendrix-inspired, synth-based “Salute to Bernie”—a tribute to Collins’s late bandmate Bernie Worrell (who is featured on the track)—groove hard. While guest artists occasionally veer into social themes (as on “Pusherman” and “Illusions”), they do so over immensely danceable tracks without the navel-gazing and preaching to the choir that is often the currency of social commentary in pop music.  Overall, however, World Wide Funk imagines a reality in which every listener is part of one big party at which some of the sharpest musicians of the day (and in some instances, of all time) are having a jam session.

Generations of bassists have tried to emulate Bootsy Collins’s style, chops, and taste, and this album is essential listening for musicians who want to learn how to really groove. It’s also great party music. It is no accident that Collins’s bass lines are the most sampled in all of hip hop and dance music, and this album certainly provides a new batch of infectious riffs to bump. Bootsy has been the funkiest bassist around since the ‘60s and he still is. Creating lines that range from funky slapping to deep-in-the-pocket grooves, it is doubtless that Bootsy will continue to find new listeners who have an appreciation for rhythm and low end. Bootsy Collins’s classic albums still sound fresh today, and World Wide Funk is destined to join them in the future.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review March 2nd, 2018

Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism

meshell

 

Title: Ventriloquism

Artist: Meshell Ndegeocello

Label: Naive Pop

Formats: CD, LP, digital

Release date: March 16, 2018

 

Meshell Ndegeocello has produced widely divergent albums over the course of her career, each offering captivating sonic explorations. This is also true of her new release, Ventriloquism, a collection of cover songs completely reworked to reflect Ndegeocello’s incomparable eclecticism and fluid movement across genres. She explains:

“Early on in my career, I was told to make the same kind of album again and again, and when I didn’t do that, I lost support. There isn’t much diversity within genres, which are ghettoizing themselves, and I liked the idea of turning hits I loved into something even just a little less familiar or formulaic. It was an opportunity to pay a new kind of tribute.”

Joining her on this exploration are several longtime musical partners and colleagues: guitarist Chris Bruce, drummer Abraham Rounds, and keyboardist Jebin Bruni. The project was engineered by S. Husky Huskolds, and mixed and mastered by Pete Min.

As with her Pour Une Âme Souveraine (2012), dedicated to Nina Simone, Ndegeocello’s new album features songs by musicians who have inspired her over the years, with a particular bent toward 1980s classics. Opening with Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s 1985 dance hit, “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” Ndegeocello follows the general style of the original, but softens the vocals, blurs the beats, and augments the electronic effects resulting in a spacey, otherworldy interpretation. Al B. Sure’s “Nite and Day” is slowed down to a dreamy, sensuous ballad that fades out on a distorted guitar riff. On her cover of TLC’s signature song, “Waterfalls,” she uses instrumental fills instead of attempting to replace the rapped verse by Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. Likewise, in her newly released video for the song, she takes a more metaphorical slant to the subject matter of people tragically affected by drugs and HIV, instead of the more explicit approach in the award-winning TLC video.

Ndegeocello’s gorgeous cover of Prince’s “Sometimes it Snows in April” was the first single off the album. Released via Rolling Stone on January 12, she explained in the accompanying article, “I’ve made so much because of [Prince]. I still can’t believe he’s not on the planet and this was as close to closure as I’d get.” Emotionally laden with throaty vocals, whispered reminiscences and off-kilter harmonies, Ndegeocello’s tribute is arguably the most poignant cover version of the song to date. As she shifts into the final couplet, “all good things they say never last, and love is love until it’s past,” sung over stripped down instrumentals, it’s as though we’re hearing a voice from beyond mourning a life tragically cut short. Farewell, Prince.

On George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog,” Ndegeocello tones down the funk and the theatrics, placing more emphasis on the instrumentals through overlapping, layered guitars. Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun)” leaves Quiet Storm territory, taking on a darker, more foreboding character with distorted bass, cello and electronic effects. This gloomy soundscape is broken by the Force MDs “Tender Love,” which is given a lighter, folksier treatment with harmonica fills and strummed guitars.

Taking on another iconic female vocalist, Ndegeocello’s rendition of Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” works extremely well as a slow ballad backed by guitars and piano, and the tempo is a much better fit for the melancholy yet wistful lyrics. The album closes with Sade’s “Smooth Operator.” Stripped of its Latin rhythms and turned on its side, the song takes on a percussive, bottom heavy electronica sound, with virtuosic dueling bass and guitar replacing the sax solo on the original.

On Ventriloquism, Ndegeocello unleashes her extraordinary creativity, reimagining classic songs of the ‘80s and ‘90s in new and unexpected ways. In doing so, she also demonstrates her independence from an industry that too often tries to pigeonhole black artists and black music.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 2nd, 2018

Orgōne – Undercover Mixtape

orgone

 

Title: Undercover Mixtape

Artist: Orgōne

Label: Colemine

Formats: CD, cassette, limited ed. green vinyl, digital

Release date: February 2, 2018

 

One of Southern California’s premiere funk and soul outfits, Orgōne has been spreading its cosmic energy throughout the universe for nearly two decades. Fronted by vocalist Adryon de León, who plugs the soul into the ensemble, Orgōne is known for its unique mélange of gritty old school ‘60s and ‘70s music infused with contemporary influences drawn from the multicultural milieu of L.A. These influences were perfectly expressed on their last album, Beyond the Sun (2015). While recording new tracks in the studio, the band hit upon the idea of producing a cover album dedicated to a few of the artists “who paved the road for us.” The result is Undercover Mixtape, offering 13 classics paying homage to artists from Stax and Motown, as well as legendary jazz, funk and rock musicians.

The album opens with an outstanding rendition of the jazz-funk instrumental “The Black Five,” originally released by Roy Ayers Ubiquity in 1974. The Orgōne crew swaps the string section and Ayers signature vibes for layered keyboards and guitar, providing an updated sound. Switching over to guitar-driven hard rock on “Cynthy-Ruth,” the band is led by Tarin Ector (The Solutionagenics), whose gritty vocals are well-suited for this track from the 1970 debut album by Detroit’s Black Merda.

Adryon de León is brave enough to tackle “Think,” Aretha Franklin’s iconic 1968 feminist anthem, and absolutely nails it with fantastic backing from the band. She also shines on several other soul-drenched tracks: Betty Wright’s “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker” which also showcases the horn section; the Gladys Knight tearjerker “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye);” and Gwen McCrae’s “All This Love That I’m Givin’.” Guest vocalist Kelly Finnigan is featured on “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” adhering closely to the Otis Redding version of the song.

If you want funk and nothing but the funk, you won’t be disappointed with the remaining tracks on the album. The band seriously grooves on two back-to-back instrumentals, deftly channeling Booker T’s organ licks on “Melting Pot,” then getting down on an extended version of Cameo’s “It’s Serious.” The Meters, clearly one of the Orgōne’s favorite groups, are covered on “It Ain’t No Use,’ once again featuring the amazing Adryon de León, and “Looka Py Py,” on which the band navigates the complex polyrhythms and deep bass grooves with precision. Last but certainly not least, are two tracks from the funkiest funk band on the planet. Parliament’s 1971 classic, “The Breakdown,” features Mixmaster Wolf, who normally fronts the eight piece L.A. funk band Breakestra. The album closes with another P-funk classic, “Cosmic Slop,” with Tarin Ector once again taking over the helm on this haunting tale about urban poverty that still resonates today.

Undercover Mixtape offers an edifying excursion through soul and funk classics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, performed by a band steeped in the grooves and vocalists capable of covering the era’s most iconic singers. This might be Orgōne’s side project, but they deserve a victory lap for keeping the funk funky and the soul soulful in the 21st century.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 2nd, 2018

Maceo Parker – Life on Planet Groove Revisited

Maeco Parker
Title: Life on Planet Groove Revisited

Artist: Maceo Parker

Label: Minor Music

Format: 2-CD + DVD limited edition box set

Release date: February 14, 2018

 

 

“Gather round, space cadets and funkateers.” So begins the liner notes for Maceo Parker’s seminal 1992 live album and funk opus, Life on Planet Groove.  In honor of the 25th anniversary of the album, Minor Music has released Life on Planet Groove Revisited, which also coincides with Parker’s 75th birthday. This limited edition set includes a new analog to digital transfer of the original album, a second bonus disc, and the DVD Maceo Blow Your Horn.

As everyone likely knows, Maceo Parker was a key member of James Brown’s band in the 1960s, blasting out funky sax solos whenever JB shouted, “Maceo! Blow your horn!” Parker famously walked out on Brown in 1970 with other members of the band, who were replaced by a youthful Cincinnati led group by Bootsy and Catfish Collins. Like Bootsy, Maceo would later join up with George Clinton and contribute to various P-funk projects. Though Parker would return to Brown’s band for a few years, he struck out on his own in 1990. Soon thereafter, he wound up at a club called the Stadtgarten in Cologne, Germany, where Life on Planet Groove was recorded. His backing musicians for this performance included Fred Wesley (trombone, vocals), Pee Wee Ellis (tenor saxophone, flute, vocals), Rodney Jones (guitar), Larry Goldings (organ), and Kenwood Dennard (drums). Special guests included Vincent Henry (bass and occasional alto-sax), Prince protégé Candy Dulfer (alto), and Kym Mazelle (vocalist).

The bonus disc was drawn from the same set of dates at the Stadtgarten. The four tracks include extended versions of the Fred Wesley original “For the Elders,” Lionel Hampton’s “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie,” band member Pee Wee Ellis’s “Chicken,” a cover of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”

Also included is the DVD Maceo Blow Your Horn, featuring newly released footage filmed by Markus Gruber during recording sessions for Parker’s album Roots Revisited, which topped the jazz charts in 1990.  Most of the footage was meant for promotional purposes only and is black and white, but the sound is decent. The camera follows band members as they jam in rehearsal and lay down tracks at studios in New York (November 1989) and Cologne (1990). These clips are interspersed with interviews where Parker discusses the creative process along with anecdotes about James Brown, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Ray Charles, among others. Along the way there’s some odd filler footage of airplane wings and cityscapes. Just to be clear, this is not a documentary in the manner of My First Name Is Maceo, but rather bits and pieces of footage strung together with title cards. Regardless, the film is certainly of historical interest and any fan of Maceo Parker and his band will be grateful for its inclusion.

Life on Planet Groove Revisited is a fine tribute to the great Maceo Parker on his 75th birthday.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 2nd, 2018

Crowd Company – Stone & Sky

Crowd

Title: Stone & Sky

Artist: Crowd Company

Label: Vintage League Music

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: October 20, 2017

 

 

Crowd Company, the UK based 8-piece funk and soul band, spent two years touring Europe to support their debut album, Now or Never. Now the band is back with their second release, Stone & Sky. The new album expands on their trademark vintage sound by adding a modern edge that makes listeners want to sing and dance along.

The 13-track Stone & Sky was mainly recorded live in the studio, giving each track a spontaneity and raw energy that makes you feel like you’re at one of Crowd Company’s vibrant and engaging live performances. The lead single, “Saw You Yesterday,” has a catchy chorus with a soul funk vibe straight from the 1960s. Other tracks, like “Soar,” prominently feature the distinct vocals and perfectly blended harmonies of the band’s three singers—Jo Marshall, Esther Dee and Rob Fleming—while also allowing space for some great solos from the horn section. In contrast, the melancholy ballad “Can’t Get Enough” is infused with organ, bringing a more soulful and emotional vibe to the fore.

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Crowd Company has successfully transferred the energy of their live performances into the tracks on Stone & Sky. If just listening to their infectious choruses and beautiful harmonies isn’t enough, the band will be making their North American tour debut in 2018 and will be performing at the New Orleans Jazz Fest this spring.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

View review March 2nd, 2018

Robert Glasper Experiment – Live

glasper

Title: Live

Artist: Robert Glasper Experiment

Label: Eagle Vision

Formats: DVD, digital download and Streaming

Release date: March 16, 2018

 

 

The smooth sound of the quartet known as the Robert Glasper Experiment is completely unparalleled. On their new DVD, Robert Glasper Experiment: Live, the group invites fans who may not have had the opportunity to experience one of their performances, to get a taste of a live show.

Members of the group featured in these performances include: Casey Benjamin on saxophone and vocoder, Derrick Hodge on bass, Mark Colenberg on drums, and group leader Robert Glasper on piano. From his start playing keyboards in church back in Houston, Texas, Glasper has become one of the biggest names in the music industry. Over the course of his professional career, Glasper has served as music director for major artists including Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and many others. He has personally been nominated for Grammy awards six times, winning three, and was also awarded an Emmy in 2017 for his work on the Netflix documentary 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay.

With footage compiled over the past five years from various concerts across the globe, Live features many prominent guests, including singers performing iconic covers as well as original compositions. For example, here’s an excerpt from the video featuring Algebra Blessett performing “Calls” at The Troubadour in West Hollywood:

Live opens with “All Matter,” written by Bilal Oliver, who performs the song during a guest appearance with the Robert Glasper Experiment at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, with additional backing by the Metropole Orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza. The lush R&B and jazz harmonies work together with the full orchestra accompaniment to create something truly magical. We also get to hear amazing solos from Glasper on piano and Benjamin on the soprano sax. The footage from the Netherlands is joined by other performances from prestigious venues and events such as the Shanghai Jazz Festival in China, Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, NY, and the Troubadour in West Hollywood, CA. Additional guest artists include  Lalah Hathaway on “Cherish The Day,” Wayne Brady on “Freestyle Rap / Anytime,” and B-Slade (aka Tonéx) on “Ah Yeah.”

Robert Glasper Experiment: Live brings the concert experience right to your home—the second best thing to actually attending one of their concerts.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

 

View review March 2nd, 2018

LaVice & Co. – Two Sisters From Bagdad

Two Sisters
Title: Two Sisters From Bagdad

Artist: LaVice & Co.

Label: Jazzman

Formats: CD, LP, digital

Release date: January 19, 2018

 

 

Detroit native LaVice Hendricks studied acting after a stint in the US Navy, but soon turned to his primary passion: writing plays and screenplays. In 1969, he began his own theater company based at Detroit’s Bethel A.M.E. Church. Four years later he moved on to larger productions, culminating in his first musical, “Two Sisters from Bagdad.” His younger sister, Rhodia McAdoo, a church singer and pianist, composed the score, while brother-in-law Ernest J. Garrison added the lyrics and arrangements. As one might expect from a play that gestated in a church, the plot revolves around love, sin, heaven and hell. While the play ran for just two weeks in August 1973, Hendricks did press a soundtrack album in extremely limited quantities. Years later, it became known primarily amongst record collectors who coveted one of handful of known copies.

Thanks to Jazzman Records, the long lost album has been reissued for the first time. As a stand alone soundtrack it has its drawbacks, namely a raw performance obviously recorded with minimal takes in a rough mix, but one might say the musicians make up for it with their enthusiasm. Though its difficult to follow the story line, the music combines a raw gospel vocal style with jazz-based instrumental accompaniment. Things pick up with the ethereal “Fantasy,” featuring a male soloists and female backing chorus over a flute ostinato and sax riffs. One of the highlights is the funky “Thoughs Were The Days,” presumably featuring Garrison as the “Agent of Hell” in a swaggering song heavily influenced by the Blaxploitation films of the era. Another is “Satan Baby,” sung by a female vocalist over a driving bass line accented by bongos and sax. Of course the devil can’t win in this story, so the final song, “Yes I Do,” is a sunny gospel-pop number with an angelic chorus. Closing out the album is the title track, another funky instrumental but with a rather repetitive theme.

Two Sisters from Bagdad is a quirky, homegrown production that’s certainly more of a novelty. However, since the soundtrack appears to be the only aural documentation of LaVice Hendricks’s musical, it does offer a glimpse into the output of this little known playwright from Detroit.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review March 2nd, 2018

February 2018 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during February 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Memphis Minnie: Volume 1: The 1930’s [4CD] (Real Gone)
Bernard Allison: Let It Go (Ruf)
Hypnotic Wheels (w/Cedric Burnside): Muddy Gurdy Mississippi Project (Vizz Tone)
Johnny Tucker: Seven Day Blues (High John)
Leyla McCalla: The Capitalist Blues (Jazz Village)
Luther Lackey: Contender (Cds Records)
Reverend Shawn Amos: Breaks It Down (Put Together Music)
Sam Kelly’s Station House: No Barricades (Roxbro)
Sunny War: With The Sun (ORG Music/Pledge Music)

Classical
Florence Price, Er-Gene Kahng: Violin Concertos (Albany)
Marie-Josée Lord: Femmes (ATMA Classique)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Buttshakers: Sweet Rewards (Underdog Records)
Beatchild & The Slakadeliqs: Heavy Rockin’ Steady (BBE)
Flyer Learning: Flyer Learning (digital)
Kay-Gees: Keep on Bumpin & Masterplan; Find a Friend; Kilowatt (Robinsongs)
Marenikae: Ajebutter (The Zuchia Nexus)
Mark Grusane: Real Sound of Mark Grusane (BBE)
Soulive: Cinematics Vol. 1 (digital) (Soulive Music)
Tony MacAlpine: Death of Roses (Sundog Records)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Beverly Crawford: Essential Beverly Crawford – Vol. 2 (JDI)
Elevation Worship: Elevation Collective (digital) (Elevation Worship)
Enyo: Glorified (GospelNaija)
God’s Own Radicals: Under Construction (GospelNaija)
Jekalyn Carr: One Nation Under God (Lunjeal)
Restine Jackson: No Fear (Dream)

Jazz
Caesar Frazier: Instinct (Doodlin)
Charles Mingus: Live At Montreux 1975 (Eagle Rock)
David K. Mathews: The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1 (Effendi)
David Murray & Saul Williams: Blues for Memo (Motema)
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Cheek To Cheek : The Complete Duet Recordings [4 CD] (Verve)
Lin Rountree: Stronger Still (Trippin n’ Rhythm)
Marion Meadows: Soul City (Shanachie)
Matthew Shipp: Sonic Fiction (ESP)
Oscar Peterson Trio: Oscar Plays (Box Set) (Verve)
Raphaël Imbert: Music is my Hope (Jazz Village)
Roscoe Mitchell: Ride the Wind (Nessa)
Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (60th Anniv. Deluxe Edition) (Craft)
Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties (NNA Tapes)
Various: We Out Here (Brownswood)
Victor Gould: Earthlings (Criss Cross)
Walter Smith III: Twio (CD Baby)

R&B, Soul
Jonathan Butler: Sarah Sarah – The Anthology (Soul Music)
Bettye Lavette, Carol Fran: Bluesoul Belles: The Complete Calla, Port & Roulette Recordings (Music on CD)
DD’s brothers: From the Day Till the Dawn (Soul Brother)
George Jackson: Leavin’ Your Homework Undone: In the Studio 1968-71 (Kent)
Ink Spots: Best of the Singles 1936-1953 (Real Gone)
Otis Blackwell: The Songs & Recordings Of Otis Blackwell 1952-62 (Acrobat)
Spencer Wiggins: The Goldwax Years (Kent)
Starchild & The New Romantic: Language (Ghostly International)
Sy Smith: Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete (Psyko)
Tatiana Ladymay Mayfield: The Next Chapter (digital) (Ladymay Music)
The Agency: Philosophies (digital) (Philosophies)
Various: The 24-Carat Black Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth (vinyl reissue) (Craft)

Rap, Hip Hop
Negash Ali: The Ascension
ABBA Zulu: Problematic Vol. 1 (digital) (Utmost Musik)
Abz Tha Kid: Thoughtz…From a Park Bench (digital)
Alchemist: Paris L.a. Bruxelles Instrumentals (vinyl) (ALC)
Ash Kidd: Cruise (digital) (Caroline Int)
Audio Push: Cloud 909 (digital) (Good Vibe Tribe)
Black Milk: Fever (Mass Appeal)
Cozz: Effected (digital) (Interscope)
Demo Taped: Momentary EP (digital) (300 Entertainment)
DePaul: Damage Already Done (Twenty Two Music)
Digable Planets: Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (25th Anniv. Ed.) (Light in the Attic)
DJ Smoke: Dolla Bill: The Ty Dolla Sign Mixtape (JWS Records)
East Man: Red White & Zero (Planet Mu)
G Herbo: Humble Beast Deluxe Edition (Machine Ent. Group/Orchard)
Keezy off 38th: Trials & Tribulations (digital) (.38th Muzyk)
Khago: Walk a Mile (Streaminn Hub)
Kodak Black: Heart Break Kodak (digital) (Atlantic)
LARS: Last American Rock Stars (Majik Ninja)
Mark Battles: Vasi World (digital) (Fly America)
Nipsey Hussle: Victory Lap (Atlantic)
O.C.: A New Dawn (Ditc)
Onyx: Black Rock (X-Ray)
Ralo LaFlare: Diary of the Streets 3 (digital) (Famerica)
Rockstar JT: Streets Signed Me the Mixtape
Shirt: Pure Beauty (Third Man)
Skipper: Prezidential (digital) (Empire)
Skyzoo: In Celebration of Us (Empire)
Stalley: Tell The Truth Shame The Devil (Vol. 1) EP
Tenacity & D.R.U.G.S. Beats: Discussions (digital) (SoulSpazm)
Tony Colliseum: Legacy (digital) (BeatRocka Music)
Too Short: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Various: Black Panther: The Album (Interscope)
Various: Death Row Chronicles OST (eOne)
Yukmouth: JJ Based on a Vill Story Three (Smoke-A-Lot Records)

Reggae, Dancehall
Bobby Digital: X-tra Wicked – Reggae Anthology (VP)
Bobby Digital: Serious Times (VP)
Etana: Live in London (Freemind Music)
Freddie McGregor: Bobby Bobylon Deluxe Edition (Studio One)
Justin Hinds & the Dominoes: From Jamaica With Reggae (Treasure Isle)
Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus: None a Jah Jah Children (VP)
Various: Roots Reggae Party (Warner)

World, Latin
Afrika Mamas: Iphupho – A Cappella from South Africa (Arc Music)
Boubacar Traore: Dounia Tabolo (Lusafrica)
Elida Almeida: Kebrada (Lusafrica)
Ernesto Chahoud presents Taitu: Soul-fuelled Stompers from 1960s – 1970s Ethiopia (BBE)
Femi Kuti: One People One World (Knitting Factory)
Lucibela: Laço Umbilical (Lusafrica)
Nene Brown: Raízes por Outras Óticas (Time Forte)
Tal National: Tantabara (FatCat)
Various: Levanta Poeira (Jazz & Milk)
Various: Putumayo Kids Presents Kid’s African Party (Putumayo)
Various: Putumayo Presents African Café (Putumayo)

View review March 1st, 2018

Welcome to the February 2018 issue of Black Grooves

February 2018_small 4
Welcome to the February 2018 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

February is Black History Month, and our feature projects spotlight both classic and up-and-coming artists, demonstrating regional, temporal and categorical diversity within Black music as a whole.

 

Leading the group are our tried-and-true artists: Ella Fitzgerald with Ella at Zardi’s, Aretha Franklin with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra collaboration titled A Brand New Me, Bethlehem Record’s release of their Nina Simone singles, Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Sessions, Wes Montgomery’s In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording and an All-Star Tribute to the King of the Slide Guitar Elmore James on Strange Angels: In Flight With Elmore JamesThe Ru-Jac Records Story’s 4 volume set traces the history of Baltimore’s R&B scene through spotlights on various area artists, and renowned percussionist Shiela E. once again demonstrates her multifaceted vocal and visionary talents with Iconic: Message 4 America.

Newer artists showcase their talents as well. No stranger to the field, the Ebony Hillbillies enter the scene once again with their latest release, 5 Miles From Town. Delta Deep’s East Coast Live spins a soulful blues/rock sound and Project Mama Earth’s self-titled debut Project Mama Earth pulls listeners expertly into the realm of world music activism. Jason Marsalis and the 21st Century Trad Band weigh in with their original compositions based on jazz standards and 80s popular music with Melody Reimagined: book 1, while saxophonist David Murray and poet Saul Williams’ collaboration on Blues for Memo offers a contemplative tribute to socially conscious issues and figures throughout modern history.

Valentine’s Day hits its mark in the form of Eric Valentine and the Velvet Groove’s smooth offering Velvet Groove, R&B artist Calvin Richardson is sure to put you in a loving mood with his newest release All Or Nothing, and Jamison Ross’s All For One focuses on family and neighborly affection.

Wrapping up this issue is Chi-town’s rap son Open Mike Eagle with Brick Body Kids Still Daydream and our compilation of January 2018 Releases of Note.

 

View review February 2nd, 2018

Aretha Franklin with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – A Brand New Me

Aretha Franklin

Title: A Brand New Me

Artist: Aretha Franklin with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Label: Atlantic Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: November 10, 2017

 

Decades after the release of some of her most iconic hits, Aretha Franklin’s soulful songs have been re-imagined in Atlantic Records’ A Brand New Me. The newly-released album preserves Aretha’s uniquely emotional vocals and pairs them with the rich backing of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Steve Sidwell and Robin Smith), to create a fresh take on the Queen of Soul’s classic hits.

As shown in the “making of” mini documentary for the album, the producers of A Brand New Me were careful to show respect for the original songs and tastefully enhance them with the orchestral arrangements:

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The album, which includes timeless songs like “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” retains the soul, groove, and gospel power that Franklin is so well-known for. The new arrangements provide a lush background for the tracks without overpowering Aretha’s vocals or losing the original essence of the songs.

A Brand New Me is a fusion of gritty, church-infused Detroit soul with the sweet symphonic sound of Philadelphia, a combination that does the Queen of Soul justice and highlights her incredible vocal talent.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

 

View review February 2nd, 2018

History of Baltimore R&B Explored on The Ru-Jac Records Story

Within the rather crowded field of reissue labels, some are truly dedicated to producing well-curated, expertly remastered, authoritatively annotated and handsomely packaged sets that bring to light long out-of-print recordings. One of these labels is Omnivore Recordings, a relative newcomer whose projects been featured on our pages before. Founded in Los Angeles in 2010 by four industry veterans, the group is led by former Rhino executive and producer Cheryl Pawelski, who has a long track record producing and supervising reissues and box sets. True to the company’s name, Omnivore has been avidly releasing projects across multiple music genres. One of their latest acquisitions is the master catalog of Ru-Jac Records.

Though soul music fans in the Washington, D.C. corridor are likely familiar with Baltimore’s Ru-Jac label, it is not so well known outside the region. Founded in 1963 by local promoter Rufus Mitchell and investor Jack Bennett, Ru-Jac was a singles-only label, releasing music from regional soul/R&B artists until 1980. Omnivore has already spun off a couple of albums featuring the label’s biggest artists—Winfield Parker (Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker at Ru-Jac) and the duo Gene & Eddie on True Enough (previously reviewed in Black Grooves). Now Omnivore is offering The Ru-Jac Records Story: a four volume compilation produced by Pawelski and Baltimore soul historian Kevin Coombe, with additional assistance from Ru-Jac’s Winfield Parker. All selections have been meticulously restored by Michael Graves from original master tapes or, where masters were missing, from the cleanest copies of 45s available. Previously unreleased material discovered on session tapes and lacquer discs is also included. Following are brief reviews of each volume produced by this fantastic team.

 

Ru-Jac vol. 1
Title: Something Got a Hold on Me: The Ru-Jac Records Story Volume 1, 1963-1964

Artist: Various

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: January 19, 2018

 

As the story of Ru-Jac Records unfolds, Rufus Mitchell owns a tailoring/dry cleaning establishment, but also enjoys a more entertaining pastime hustling gigs as a concert promoter. Spurred by the success of his younger brother, jazz trumpeter Richard “Blue” Mitchell, Rufus sees opportunity in the growing number of area musicians seeking publishers and record labels. After establishing Ace Booking & Promotions, he starts booking Washington, D.C. area talent, and soon he’s also handling regional distribution and arranging radio airplay for artists signed to the local Start label. Shortly thereafter, Mitchell is motivated to build his own record label, and starts churning out the singles.

Volume 1 opens with the smoking hot instrumental “Fatback,” an unissued, undated take by the Lamont Esquires, one of the early bands signed to Ace. Nine additional previously unissued tracks are also featured on Volume 1, including two by unidentified groups (the title track convincingly sung by a male vocalist and the rhythm and blues instrumental “Trash Can”); five by lesser known artists (the best of these are Flattop Bobby & The Soul Twisters’ “Cross Track” and Jeanne Dee’s “Every Day I Have the Blues); plus two from Baltimore’s more established artists—Winfield Parker (“One of These Mornings”) and the Jolly Jax trio (“Joe”). Other highlights on this disc include the slow ballads “I Love You So” by Jessie Crawford and the Kay Keys Band, and “When I’m Alone” by Winfield Parker. The vocal styles of Brenda Jones are nicely revealed through the jazzy “That’s All You Have to Do” and the teen-oriented “Let’s Go Back to School,” an R&B dance song written by Baltimore icon Ethel Ennis. Ru-Jac’s sole gospel single by the Fruitful Harmonizers features the songs “Take Care of Me” and “My Father Watches Over Me.” Last but not least, there’s Marie Allen backed by The Teardrops Band on the gritty rock and roll song “Crying Won’t Help You,” plus Little Sonny Daye and The Shyndells Band (featuring a great guitarist) performing “I’m Through With You.”

 

Ru-Jac vol. 2
Title: Get Right: The Ru-Jac Records Story Volume 2, 1964-1966

Artist: Various

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: January 19, 2018

 

Volume 2 of the Ru-Jac Records story opens with four more tracks from Brenda Jones, including the single “It Must Be Love” as well as the unissued backing track for that song. Winfield Parker returns with an unissued demo of “I Love You Just the Same,” followed by a more fleshed out, uptempo version of the same accompanied by The Shyndells Band.

A side story explored in this volume is Mitchell’s relationship with talent agent Lillian Claiborne, who operated another important regional label, DC Records. Around 1965, Ru-Jac began pressing singles for some of Claiborne’s artists. Singles by two of her groups are included here. The Mask Man & the Cap-Tans “Love Can Do Wonders” calls to mind several of today’s retro soul groups, while “Chicken Wings” is a hard bopping dance number grounded by the Hammond B3. “Come On Over” by the Neltones is a scorching soul ballad, while the flip side “C’est La Vie” is more light hearted with tight vocal harmonies by the back-up singers.

Organist “Butch” Randolph, Jr. (who later backed Stanley Turrentine) can be heard in Butch Cornell’s Trio. These jazzier sides feature Cornell on the Hammond B3 in “Goose Pimples,” which gained popularity on local radio station WWIN. Two versions are included here, and it’s the unissued alternate take that captures attention with its complex textures and prominent organ.

Shirley Grant of The Soul Sisters & Brother (guitarist Clarence Grant) released just one single for Ru-Jac of gospel-inflected soul: “What More? (Can Anyone Wait)” and “You Don’t Really Care.” The latter showcases Clarence’s guitar perhaps a bit too much, as it sometimes distracts from the vocals.

Arthur Lee Conley, who migrated to Baltimore from rural Georgia as a teenager, was one of the most successful singer-songwriters on the Ru-Jac roster due to his relationship with Otis Redding, who mentored the young singer. To make a long story short, after Redding tried to sign Conley to his own label, there was a falling out with Ru-Jac. Now, decades later, two of Conley’s unissued demos have been unearthed. “Whole Lotta Woman” (not the 1958 rockabilly version) and “Hiding Out in the Blue Shadows” are interesting selections (especially the former) that add to Conley’s story.

Also included are two jazzier tracks by Bobby Sax & His Housekeepers: the uptempo sax workout “Get Right,” and “Soul at Last,” a slow burner with a trumpet solo very reminiscent of Etta James’ signature song “At Last.” The set concludes with two outstanding tracks by Harold Holt, including the scorching soul ballad “I’m a Stranger.”

 

Ru-Jac vol. 3
Title: Finally Together: The Ru-Jac Records Story Volume 3, 1966-1967

Artist: Various

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: February 2, 2018

 

As Volume 3 opens, Rufus Mitchell’s other commitments begin to interfere with the label, slowing the stream of releases to a trickle. These 1966 sides include the more sophisticated vocal stylings of Baltimore’s Rita Doryse, including an unissued version of “Born To Be Loved” that harkens back to an earlier ‘60s R&B sound, plus the jazzy, uptempo “Goodie Goodie.” As business picks up again in 1967, a promising single is released by Kitty Lane, who started her career as the Ace/Ru-Jac office manager and later sang back-up for Otis Redding. Lane’s “It’s Love I Need” has a delightful finger-snapping hard-grooving intro, while “Sweetheart” showcases her soulful side. She switches styles again on “The Feeling Is Gone,” a bluesy unissued take with a standout guitarist—this track should have seen the light of day.

Leon Gibson, a soul shouter from Georgia, spent nearly a decade in Charm City exploring different ventures.  He cut one single for Ru-Jac with “Do The Roller,” an uptempo dance tune that mimics James Brown’s “The Popcorn” but with a lot more cowbell. The duo Gene & Eddie might not be equivalent to Stax artists Sam & Dave, but their slow ballad, “I Would Cry,” is persuasively sung and complimented by an excellent horn section. Sir Joe, aka songwriter/arranger Joe Quarterman, is featured on “Nobody Beats My Love,” which features terrific trumpet playing throughout (possibly by Joe?).

Winfield Parker returns with three previously unreleased tracks, including two fairly rough demos, and the standout single “Sweet Little Girl” backed by The Shyndells Band. We’re given a further glimpse of The Shyndells’ talents on two unissued instrumentals, including the blazing fast dance track “Lightning (Part 1).” Other unissued tracks with unidentified singers are included, the best of which is “Searching”—a rocking, gospel-infused song by a female soul singer that really blows. The disc concludes with the sole single by The Caressors, a vocal harmony group about which little is known, and the unremarkable sides don’t inspire further research.

 

Ru-Jac vol. 4
Title: Changes: The Ru-Jac Records Story Volume 4, 1967-1980

Artist: Various

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: February 2, 2018

 

Volume 4 encompasses a decade roiled by social, economic and political change. On the musical side, there is change as well: rhythm and blues gets a whole lot funkier. But this doesn’t happen overnight. As the set opens in the late ‘60s, the Winfield Parker and Gene & Eddie tracks include just a few James Brown-style grunts, while Sir Joe’s “Every Day (I’ll Be Needing You)” features a funkier backing band, and the Fred Martin Revue brings a little more heat and a lot of B3 to “I Know It’s Going To Happen” (1970) and “Contagious.” The latter is an instrumental bearing a Booker T influence with a dash of rock guitar.

The rock influences continue on “Changes Part 1” by the band Saturday, which also drips with Southern soul, and on “Sugar” by Fred Martin Jr. which retains an R&B horn section. More changes are brought by the Dynamic Corvettes, who offer a very funky pair of sides. “Keep Off the Grass” has a B3 groove and Curtis Mayfield vibe while “It’s A Trap” has a definite Blacksploitation influence (“no one can escape from the man”).

The song “Days May Come, Days May Go” is covered by two artists: a smooth R&B rendition by Francine Long and a funkier instrumental track by Utopian Concept. This volume closes with a pair of singles featuring gritty soul singer Willie Mason with the Fred Martin Revue, and the jazzier vocalist Johnny Dotson.


 

Anyone interested in the regional music scene surrounding Baltimore, Maryland, will enjoy The Ru-Jac Records Story four volume set. At times the music may be a bit raw and under-produced; however, these 45 sides a provide a marvelous overview of unheralded as well as better known artists from the Charm City.  Consequently, they should be relished for their local flavor, right alongside those Maryland crab cakes.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

 

 

 

View review February 2nd, 2018

Shiela E. – Iconic: Message 4 America

Shiela E
Title: Iconic: Message 4 America

Artist: Sheila E.

Label: Stiletto Flats

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 1, 2017

 

 

Sheila E.’s Iconic: Message 4 America offers a musical palette of iconic songs, primarily from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Though the album dropped in September, the self-released project didn’t garner as much attention as it deserved, so we’re happy to give it a shout out during Black History Month.

Described as a musical movement for turbulent times, Sheila conceived of the album as “a call for us to rise up and stand for something that is greater than our self-interest.” Instead of creating new music, she chose to reinvent “some of the greatest protest and revolution songs . . . to fit current times.” Assisting her in this endeavor are members of her band plus a bevy of exemplary guests. Of course, Sheila Escovedo herself is a renowned drummer and percussionist perhaps best known for her work with Prince, but she’s also an amazing vocalist as she proves on each and every track.

The album opens with “Funky National Anthem,” a powerful medley drawing upon multiple texts beginning with Sheila’s spoken intro from the Declaration of Independence. After a brief (and yes, very funky) version of the National Anthem, the final three minutes draw upon some of the most famous and inspiring speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. On this track, Sheila issues a “call for our leaders to rise up and work for the betterment of men and women, no matter the race, color, or creed.”

The first celebrity guest enters on the Beatles’ “Come Together,” with Ringo Starr taking over the drum kit. Once again, a rousing spoken intro kicks off the arrangement (as in the Primal Scream version): “This is a beautiful day / we are unified / we are of one accord / today we are together / when we are together we got power!” Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People” also features original band members: Freddie Stone on lead vocal and guitar, and Lynn Mabry on tambourine.

An album of this nature can’t be complete without representation from Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. On Gayes’ “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” Sheila deftly incorporates elements of “Trouble Man,” with Eddie M. (former Prince saxophonist) on lead vocals. “Pusherman,” the Mayfield classic from the Superfly soundtrack is sung by Sheila, who adds “You took Prince, Pusherman.”  You know she won’t finish this album without a Prince tribute. Anthony Antoine was selected to sing the combined “America – Free,” yet another amazing and provocative track.

Israel Houghton takes over on Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America,” with Greg Phillinganes on organ and Dino Saldo on harmonica. Really, it doesn’t get any better than this. Oh wait! Another highlight is the James Brown Medley.  Bootsy Collins joins Sheila for this funk fest that joins together half a dozen of JB’s Black Power era anthems, beginning with “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing” and concluding with “Super Bad.” And there’s more P-funk. George Clinton sits in for “One Nation Under a Groove,” which segues into “Mothership Connection.”

These are just some of the treats in store on Sheila’s masterful Iconic: Message 4 America, featuring some of the top musicians in the business performing amazing arrangements of iconic songs. I believe Sheila E. has also achieved her other goals: “To bring awareness, to spark conversation, to allow healing, to restore hope, to express love, to find peace, and to unite through music.”

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 2nd, 2018

Project Mama Earth

Project Mama Earth
Title: Project Mama Earth

Artist: Project Mama Earth

Label: Provogue

Formats: CD, Vinyl, streaming

Date: November 10th, 2017

 

 

In June of 2017, five world renowned musicians came together to embark on a bold new project with no songs and no plan, but by the end of ten days they had completed a masterpiece. Both the group and their debut EP bear the name Project Mama Earth. Band members include Nitin Sawhney on guitar, Jonathan Joseph on drums, Étienne M’Bappé on bass, Jonathan Shorten on Keys, and the executive producer and lead singer, Joss Stone.

According to Stone, the idea for the project was brought to her by drummer Jonathan Joseph, who wanted to create a project based around the African bikutsi rhythms from Cameroon. In his words, “…let’s all come together and make some music with this rhythm in it.”

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Joseph and Stone have performed together since 2003 when he was drafted to accompany the young British singer on her debut album, The Soul Sessions. As they began working together to assemble their team, the choices seemed obvious. Joseph enlisted his longtime friend, Cameroonian multi-instrumentalist Étienne M’Bappé, who has played with acts spanning from John McLaughlin to Robert Ford. His heritage, rooted in rhythms, was a style they wished to tap into. That, and M’Bappé’s his shear musicality made him an obvious choice.

Next they contacted Jonathan Shorten., who produced much of Stone’s music, as well as some of the biggest hits for multi-platinum selling artist Gabrielle and other British artists.  Last but not least was guitarist Nitin Sawhney. Described as a one man musical tidal wave, he’s collaborated with musical legends like Paul McCartney and Sting, as well as the London Symphony Orchestra. These musicians all came together at Joss Stone’s home studio in Devon, England where their ten day adventure began.

Project Mama Earth contains six songs and five interludes, all centered around nature and the bikutsi rhythm. The first song on the album, “Mama Earth,” begins smoothly, prominently displaying the driving bikutsi groove as Joss Stone enters with her trade mark R&B sound and a nature inspired lyric. Stone explains that she wanted to keep her creative process separate from the four instrumentalists:  “I didn’t have any input in the music because I didn’t want to affect it— or it’d all come out hip-hop and R&B.” So when the instrumentalists finished, they would bring the song to Stone, and with the help of her mother, they wrote the lyrics and melodies.

Stone seems to stick to the theme of personifying the earth throughout the album. In an interview with Billboard magazine, she explained that her lyrics where inspired by what Mother Nature might say to her to her inhabitants if she could speak. This is especially apparent in the fourth song on the album, “What Would She Say,” as Stone speaks from the stand point of the earth, with the the lyric:

Do you think I would cry if I run out of gold?
I’d blink more than an eye if I get that old.
Well maybe you think I forget how to cleanse my soul.
As if humans could change or slow down
Only the arrogant truly know
I suppose I could just shake them off and let them go.

It’s so amazing that Project Mama Earth was competed within such a short period of time. One can only hope this musical team of Jonathan Joseph, Étienne M’Bappé, Jonathan Shorten, Nitin Sawhney, and Joss Stone will come together again to grace us with their art.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

 

 

View review February 2nd, 2018

Nina Simone – Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles

Nina Simone
Title: Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles

Artist: Nina Simone

Label: Bethlehem Records

Formats: CD, Mp3, Vinyl

Release Date: February 9, 2018

 

 

Nina Simone was wooing audiences with her sultry vocals and captivating stage presence well before her first mainstream hit flooded the market. Her 1958 debut album, cut in one day at Belton Studios in midtown Manhattan, earned her the eventual moniker, “High Priestess of Soul”, which is all the more amazing considering Simone was a mere 25 years old. By 1959, she was a household name in the jazz world with her cover, “Porgy (I Loves You, Porgy)”, released by Bethlehem Records. As the song climbed the charts, Simone moved on to the larger and financially stronger Colpix Records, but not before cutting some of the smoothest tracks of her long career. After her departure, Bethlehem released those six additional tracks, and to commemorate the 60th anniversary of these recordings, BMG/Bethlehem has compiled these singles together as Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles.

This 14-track CD version follows the chronology of Simone’s Bethlehem recordings, starting with the first A-side “Porgy (I Loves You, Porgy)” and ending with the last A-side, My Baby Just Cares for Me”. The collection also contains an alternative take of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” as well as seven single-only tracks that previously have only been available on the original 45s. The LP version, pressed in standard black and limited edition blue vinyl, holds 12 tracks plus a bonus 7” replica of Simone’s first single backed with “Love Me or Leave Me.”

The Bethlehem Sessions displays a young Nina Simone confidently putting her distinctive stamp on the set of jazz numbers and Broadway tunes. Although this was her first album, Simone had contract stipulations asserting her right of musical direction, and she chose songs she was familiar with from her club years. In the collection, she is either performing solo on piano or backed by bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Al “Tootie” Heath, both of whom went on to lengthy careers. Bonuses nestled in the liner notes are new interviews with Heath and an Ashley Kahn narrative regarding the recording of “Little Girl Blue”.

2018 not only marks the 60th anniversary of the Bethlehem Sessions, but it will also see Simone’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, slated for April 14. Simone, who would have turned 85 on February 21st, has never left the public’s eye since her passing in 2003. She recorded numerous albums on diverse labels from 1959-1974, and in the 30 years following her recording period she performed live to multiple global audiences.  Just as Simone traveled the world, she also traveled down many musical roads. Mood Indigo captures Nina Simone at an incandescent moment—when her sound held both a complexity of style and a purity of youth that is now preserved for ages to come.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review February 2nd, 2018

Eric Valentine & Velvet Groove – Velvet Groove

Velvet Groove
Title: Velvet Groove

Artist: Eric Valentine & Velvet Groove

Label: Matcha Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 14, 2018

 

 

This Valentine’s Day the acclaimed contemporary jazz drummer Eric Valentine will be releasing his newest album, Velvet Groove, a collection of urban contemporary jazz he describes as “music you can feel…a sound full of different moods and textures.” Joining him on this project is an all-star cast of musicians including saxophonists Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot, trumpet player Rick Braun, plus Adam Hawley and Darrell Crooks on guitar, Brian Simpson and Allyn Johnson on piano, and many other guests. The multi-talented Valentine also contributes vocals, keyboards, and bass.

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The 13-track album offers ten full songs and three reprises that are filled with vibrant melodies and deft rhythms. Some tracks, like “E. Love” and “Back in the Day,” also include soulful vocals sung by B. Valentine, Eric’s wife. The only song on the album not written or co-written by Valentine himself is a fresh take on Stevie Wonder’s “Joy Inside My Tears.” This track was given a more celebratory feel while still including members of Wonder’s horn section in the arrangement.

To Valentine and the other contributors to the album, Velvet Groove is more than its hypnotic harmonies and smooth jazz instrumentals—it’s a movement “to make people feel love, joy and happiness, using musical gifts to inspire and uplift.”

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

 

View review February 2nd, 2018

Calvin Richardson – All Or Nothing

Calvin Richardson

Title: All Or Nothing

Artist: Calvin Richardson

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 29, 2017

 

 

Calvin Richardson, aka “The Soul Prince,” grew up in North Carolina, honing his vocals on the local gospel circuit where he first met his longtime friends K-Ci & Jo Jo of Jodeci.  In the early ‘90s, Richardson’s urban contemporary vocal group Undacava was briefly signed to Tommy Boy Records during Monica Lynch’s tenure as president. He paid his dues in the game working with acts like Angie Stone, Raphael Saadiq and Charlie Wilson. In 2009, Richardson was chosen to record a tribute album to Bobby Womack, Facts of Life: The Soul of Bobby Womack, which was nominated for a Grammy. On a personal note, my ears took notice. If one is asked to pay homage to “the street poet” Mr. Womack, then you must be the real deal, right? Stay tuned for my answer.

Richardson’s new album, All or Nothing, is radio friendly. The title track opens things up with a bouncy flow and ‘80’s vibe: “I want you girl, I like your body.” Not exactly R. Kelly, and that’s a good thing. Joseph Pigee on keyboards is an added bonus. On “Treat Her Right,” Richardson digs deep and channels his inner Bobby Womack. He opens with a spoken intro directed to the audience, just as Womack did on so many of his songs: “Fellas, if you have a good woman, treat her right.” You can’t tell me Richardson didn’t have Womack in mind. Make her feel special. Ladies will love this tune.

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Now my answer. Is Richardson the real deal? I’ll play it safe and say he is very talented. It’s unfortunate he’s still flying under the radar.

All or Nothing is quality work from Richardson, who brings back the old school R&B vibe with his passionate vocals and songs that show just how you go about romancing the ladies.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

 

View review February 2nd, 2018

January 2018 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during January 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Robert Nighthawk: The Collection, 1937-52 (Acrobat)
Various Artists: Classic Delta and Deep South Blues from Smithsonian Folkways (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)
Various Artists: Rough Guide to Holy Blues (World Music Network)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Tony Macalpine: Death of Roses (Sundog)
Jeffrey Gaines: Allright (Omnivore)
The Brit Funk Association: Full Circle (Jazzman)
Noah Airé: I Shine Brightest in the Dark Mixtape (Noah Airé)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Todd Dulaney: Your Great Name (Urban Inspirational)
Various Artists: Wow Gospel 2018 (RCA Inspiration)

Jazz
Dr. Lonnie Smith: All In My Mind (Blue Note)
Herbie Hancock: The Broadcast Collection 1973-1983 (Forced Exposure)
Clovis Nicolas with Kenny Washington: Freedom Suite Ensuite (Sunnyside)
Booker Irvin: The Good Book: The Early Years 1960-62 (Acrobat)
Marion Meadows: Soul City (Shanachie)
Sun Ra: Of Abstract Dreams (Strut)
Dan Block: Block Party (Miles High)
Wayne Escoffery: Vortex (Sunnyside)
Mariea Antoinette: Overture (Masaii/Infinity Records)
The Bad Plus: Never Stop II (Legbreaker)

R&B, Soul
Shareef Keyes & the Groove: Cooking Something (Shareef Keyes & the Groove)
Dionne Warwick: Odds & Ends–Scepter Records Rarities (Real Gone)
Main Ingredient: Brotherly Love: RCA Anthology (Soul Music)
Carla Thomas: The Memphis Princess – Early Recordings 1960-1962 (Jasmine)
Diana Ross: Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection (Motown)
LaVice & Co.: Two Sisters From Bagdad (Reissue) (Jazzman)
Various Artists: Stax Singles, V4: Rarities & Best Of The Rest (Craft)
Justine Skye: Ultaviolet (Republic)
Sugar Pie DeSanto: In the Basement: The Chess Recordings (Geffen/Universal)
David Craig: The Time Is Now (RCA)
Mark Grusane: The Real Sound (BBE)
Omar: Love in Beats Deluxe Edition (Freestyle)
Birthday Boy & Trish: Joseph EP (Bastard Jazz)

Rap, Hip Hop
One Week Notice: One Week Notice (Beatstars)
CupcakKe: Ephorize (CupcakKe)
Maxo Kream: Punken (TSO/Kream Clicc)
Future: HNDRXX (Epic)
Lil Uzi Vert: Luv is Rage 2 (Atlantic)
Lil’ Keke: Don’t Mess wit Texas (Jam Down Records)
Big K.R.I.T.: 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time (Multi Alumni/BMG Rights)
DePaul: Damage Already Done (Twenty Two Music)
Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom (Jamla/Roc Nation)
Planet Asia: The Golden Buddha (Brick)
Evidence: Weather or Not (Rhymesayers)
Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls (300 Entertainment)
Migos: Culture II (Capitol)

Reggae, Dancehall
The Beat: Live in London (Plastic Head)
Desmond Dekker: Israelites Live In London (Secret)
Damian Marley: Stony Hill (Republic)
Dennis Brown: Stick By Me (Abraham)
Various Artists: Merritone Rock Steady 3: Bang Bang Rock Steady 1966-1968 (Dub Store)
Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus: None A Jah Jah Children (Reggaeville)
Sly & Robbie Meet Dubmatix: Overdubbed (Echo Beach)

World, Latin
Quantic & Nidia Góngora: E Ye Ye (Tru Thoughts)
Various Artists: Soul Jazz Records Presents Brasil (Soul Jazz)
Laraaji: Vision Songs  (Numero)
Brenda Navarrete: Mi Mundo (Alma)

View review February 2nd, 2018

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

 

View review January 4th, 2018

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

 

 

 

 

 

View review January 4th, 2018

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