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

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

 

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

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)

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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.”

YouTube Preview Image

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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)

Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz

Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz

 

Title: Hendrix in the Spirit of Jazz

Artist: Various

Label: ACT

Formats: CD

Release date: December 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Joel Roberts

 

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas – The World of Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart
Artist: Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas

Title: The World of Captain Beefheart

Label: Knitting Factory

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: November 10, 2017

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Daniels and The Kings with Freddi Gowdy – Blues with Horns, Vol. 1

Blues with Horns
Title: Blues with Horns, Vol. 1

Artist: Chris Daniels and The Kings with Freddi Gowdy

Label: Moon Voyage

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

Freddi Gowdy was a founding member (with Henchi Graves) of the ‘60s soul duo Freddi/Henchi and the Soulsetters, memorialized in the 2010 compilation Crown Princes of Funk: The Last Set. In the ‘70s, Freddi/Henchi relocated to Colorado where they became known as “the hottest funk-machine west of the Mississippi,” opening for major touring artists including James Brown and Tina Turner. After Graves passed in 2009, Gowdy hooked up with another well-known Colorado group, Chris Daniels and The Kings. The title of their second collaboration begs the question, “what could be better than blues with horns?

Blues with Horns, Vol. 1 showcases Chris Daniels love of classic horn bands from the 1950s-1970s. The ten horn-driven tracks led by Gowdy’s soulful vocals offer the perfect cure for your winter blues. The album gets off to a rousing start with the ode to “Sweet Memphis” featuring Sonny Landreth on slide-guitar and Subdudes keyboardist John Magnie:

This segues into “Fried Food/Hard Liquor,” a celebration of down home blues, juke joints and “greasy lips barbeque.” The song is punctuated by harmonica and guitar riffs, which along with the horn section, often depart from anticipated harmonic progressions. Gowdy’s “Get Up Off the Funk” is an obvious tribute to James Brown, offering a workout for the horns with tasty riffs from sax player Jim Waddell.

There are also a number of covers on the album. Highlights among these include Bobby Blue Bland’s “Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me),” a fun and funky rendition of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Baby’s In Love With the Radio” that tosses out some contemporary references to Spotify and Rhapsody, and a harmonica-infused version of Buddy Miles’ funk-rock classic, “Them Changes.” The project concludes with “Rain Check,” another original by Daniels, who takes over the vocals on this acoustic, ragtime influenced song that reflects on surviving cancer and living life to the fullest (Daniels and Gowdy have both battled cancer in the past).

Blues with Horns, Vol. 1 admirably serves the band’s mission of keeping the New Orleans-Memphis horn-band-blues tradition alive.  As Daniels states in the liner note, “this music came from black culture and countless inspirations . . . we only scratched the surface” in this volume. As an added bonus, the CD comes in a pop-up book style limited-edition packaging by famed artist Greg Carr. As Gowdy sings in “Baby’s In Love With the Radio,” give me more of that funk, rock and blues music! Let’s hope volume two is already in the works.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

Johnny Rawls – Waiting For the Train

Johhny Rawls
Title: Waiting For the Train

Artist: Johnny Rawls

Label: Catfood

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

Mississippi-born Johnny Rawls has a long history in the industry, from serving as band director for soul singer O.V. Wright, to backing artists such as Z.Z. Hill and Joe Tex. The singer-songwriter and guitarist released his first solo project in 1985, and in 2014 was recognized by Living Blues magazine as “Male Blues Artist of the Year.” Rawls, however, is not a traditional blues musician. His southern roots are often more firmly planted in soul, with branches extending into the blues. Such is the case with his latest project, Waiting For the Train. This is Rawl’s seventh in a string of highly successful albums on the Catfood label. He’s accompanied by his long time band, The Rays, featuring label owner Bob Trenchard on bass. Trenchard also co-wrote the album’s six original songs with Rawls, which are interspersed with four fine covers.

Opening with “Rain Keep Falling (“Til I’m Free),” the tone is set with a tight horn section and rocking guitar solo from Johnny McGhee, while Rawl’s gravelly voice expresses a fearlessness about facing the future. This segues into “Las Vegas,” a song about high rollin’ and risk taking that many who have visited Sin City can surely relate to, but there’s also a more serious message about faith, hope and change. These themes emerge again in “Blackjack Was a Gambler,” a story song about “Jack and Sally” that seems to combine elements of “Mustang Sally,” “Stagger Lee” and “Jack & Diane.”

One of the highlights of the album is the title track, “Waiting for the Train,” a contemplative ballad featuring interesting chord changes and an excellent guitar solo. The train as a transport to heaven is a common theme in gospel music, and this is obviously Rawls’ intent as he sings in the voice of a man contemplating the afterlife, “Get on board and don’t look back . . . I’ve got to be ready, when it comes for me, I’ve got to be ready to be set free.”

Rounding out the album is the funky dance number “California Shake” that’s infused with a ‘70s vibe, and four cover songs including Wilson Pickett’s “I’m in Love,” Syl Johnson’s “We Did It,” Tyrone Davis’s “Turning Point,” and a nice rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” Rawls closes with another original, “Stay With Me,” a poignant love song to a partner in life’s journey.

Waiting For the Train is a solid effort by soul-blues artist Johnny Rawls, offering songs that are especially relevant to those of a certain age who have faced many obstacles but still find the strength to push forward towards the promised land.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

James Armstrong – Blues Been Good to Me

James Armstrong
Title: Blues Been Good to Me

Artist: James Armstrong

Label: Catfood

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: October 20, 2017

 

 

Blues singer-songwriter and guitarist James Armstrong grew up in southern California during an era when Jimi Hendrix reigned supreme. This spurred his fascination with rock and roll, but he also developed an interest in country music and slide guitar, which he later mastered. But that’s not all. Armstrong’s mother was a blues singer and his father played jazz guitar, providing him with more than a passing familiarity of these genres. Apparently the maternal influence won out, because Armstrong hit the blues circuit at a young age and never looked back. Until now.

Blues Been Good to Me, Armstrong’s third release for the Catfood label, is the output of a musician reflecting upon his life and times. He hooked up with another blues veteran and label mate, Johnny Rawls, to co-produce the project. Band members include rhythm guitarist Johnny McGhee (a founding member of L.T.D.), drummer Andrew Blaze Thomas, and keyboardist Matt Murdick, with Darryl Wright on bass. The album opens with the title track, an autobiographical song that chugs along over a B3 courtesy of Brother John Kattke, a Chicago blues musician perhaps better known as a guitarist.

The opening bars of “Second Time Around” will be instantly recognizable to the Boomer generation as the “Secret Agent Man” theme song. By the time the backup singers chime in on the chorus, we’re certainly convinced that love is indeed better on the rebound. Another sweet spot is the slow grooving “Early Grave,” a song about a man so tormented by a woman that he worries about dying young, joining the likes of Elvis, Robert Johnson, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and O.V. Wright.

All of Armstrong’s original songs are outstanding. There’s the funky groove of “Old Man in the Morning (Young Man at Night),” the melancholy ballad “Change in the Weather” with its tasty guitar solos, and “Sleeping With a Stranger,” an excellent showcase of Armstong’s songwriting and musicianship. Last but not least, there are the covers: Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” gets a countrified arrangement, while Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” is anchored by a honkytonk style piano and rousing horn section.

James Armstrong draws upon his multiple musical influences, infusing Blues Been Good to Me with a level of sophistication above and beyond the typical blues project. This is my first introduction to his music, and I will be looking forward to future releases.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Martha High – Tribute To My Soul Sisters

Martha High
Title: Tribute To My Soul Sisters

Artist: Martha High

Label: Record Kicks

Formats: CD, LP

Release date: November 17, 2017

 

When the holidays come around, one often thinks of James Brown. Why? He died the day after Christmas, and across the world, JB fans celebrate his legacy and discography. JB will live forever and so will his cohorts, who had the honor of touring and playing next to “Soul Brother # 1.” Bobby Byrd , Marva Whitney, Lynn Collins all are in soul heaven, but Bootsy Collins is still going strong. Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley & Pee Wee Ellis still tour. Vicki Anderson is still with us, and Martha High likewise is still with us and touring. Martha who? Yes, even for some who are JB diehards, that name is not clicking like the other names mentioned. Trust me, the real ones know her name and if you don’t, read on.

Martha High was born Martha Harvin and grew up in Washington, DC. For thirty years, she performed backup vocals for JB. Then, in 2000, she left JB and hooked up with Maceo Parker.  Her new album, Tribute To My Soul Sisters, backed by Japan’s premiere funk group, Osaka Monaurail, is just that and more.

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On the opening track “Think (About It),” you hear perhaps two of the most famous lines in hip hop: “Use what ya got, to get what ya want” and “It takes two to make a thing go right.” Cool C’s “The Glamorous Life” and Rob Base’s “It Takes Two” sampled those lines respectively, but it was Lyn Collins who first shouted those lines in 1971. Martha High has chops and on her version of the song she pays homage to Collins.

“This Is My Story” was originally done by The Jewels, the group High joined in the ‘60s just before they were hired to tour with JB. High’s vocals come across as praise and possess a “what a time we had” kind of vibe. “I Cried,” a track originally done by Tammi Terrell, was a eyebrow raiser. Terrell had no connection to JB, but nevertheless, High pulls it off and makes you want to seek out the original. Marva Whitney and Vicki Anderson also get their due from High.

Martha High would have fit right in on the Academy Award documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. Makes you wonder why she never became bigger in the game. The same can be said for all of the female vocalists who performed with JB.

Tribute To My Soul Sisters not only acknowledges former JB vocalists Lyn Collins, Marva, Vicki, and Tammi, but is a fine tribute to Martha High, who is still going strong and sounding great. Better late than never.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

C West – Hide and Seek

C West
Title: Hide and Seek

Artist: C West

Label: Tyscot

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 27, 2017

 

 

C West has potential to take the gospel world by storm with his debut album, Hide and Seek. The 20-year-old singer and guitarist incorporates a very contemporary R&B sound in his faith-based inspirational songs directed towards millennials. According to West, the album’s title references how we tend to hide from ourselves and from God, instead of seeking our true purpose.

While studying at Villa Maria College in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, West competed in a singing contest sponsored by the well-known gospel producer Marquis Boone, who launched the careers of the chart topping Tyscot artists Briana Babineaux and Casey J. West went on to win the competition taking first prize, a recording contract with Tyscot Records. Now, with help from Boone, who is also his new manager, West is looking to push the envelope and merge mainstream styles with a spiritual message.

C West released multiple singles prior to dropping this album, including the ballad “Breaks Your Heart,” which he describes as starting out as a prayer written on a sticky note. Following was his first hit song, “Focus,” which quickly became one of the most frequently played songs on gospel radio. This also happens to be West’s favorite song because it sends a message about the benefits of staying focused: “The end will be worth it.”

Other tracks such as “Who I Am” and “Unusual Love” speak to finding yourself and your way through the world as young man or woman of God. As C West’s debut album, Hide and Seek signals the start of promising career and another win for Tyscot Records.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

Bobby Byrd – Help For My Brothers, The Pre-Funk Singles 1963-1968

Bobby Byrd

Title: Help For My Brothers – The Pre Funk Singles 1963-1968

Artist: Bobby Byrd

Label: BGP

Format: CD

Release date: October 6, 2017

 

 

Bobby Byrd, hands down, is the perhaps the greatest sideman in the history of music. Now I may get killed with the “what about Mick/Keith, Bono/Edge, Chuck D/Flavor Flav” comments, all of which are valid points (though Chuck & Flav may be the best comparison in my opinion). But if the name Bobby Byrd isn’t jumping right at you, allow me to take this time to bring you up to speed.

Who else could go on a stage and hold their own with “the hardest working man in show business,” “Soul Brother # 1,” “The Godfather of Soul,” “Mr. Dynamite”? Ok, by now I think you know who I’m referring to. Yes, Bobby Byrd was James Brown’s right hand man for 20 years, one of the original Famous Flames, which explains my earlier comparison. Think “Sex Machine.” James said, “Get Up” and Bobby Byrd had the comeback, “Get on up.” In fact, James calls Bobby Byrd’s name to “take ’em to the bridge.” But before the “Sex Machine” era, and apart from the Famous Flames, Byrd released his own recordings. As all hip hop historians know, Eric B & Rakim sampled Byrd’s “I Know You Got Soul” (1971), and there are many others that used Byrd samples, including Jay-Z. But let’s go back a little further.

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This new CD compilation, Help For My Brothers: The Pre Funk Singles 1963-68, begins with the earliest singles released by Byrd on the Federal, Smash, and King labels. All were produced by James Brown, who also shared co-writing credits on many of the songs. To hear Bobby Byrd sing and be the front man might seem strange, but his voice is actually good. No screaming over lyrics. One of the earliest tracks, “I’m Just a Nobody,” has that 60’s vibe and the tempo is what was the norm during that period, a slow groove. Also included is his first solo hit, “Baby, Baby, Baby” with Anna King from 1964, as well as “We Are in Love” from 1965, an even bigger success.  Byrd takes a gamble with “Write Me A Letter,” perhaps the best track on the CD. His vocal presentation is not what one expects: rockabilly. Yes, rockabilly!

Bobby Byrd didn’t have James Brown’s stage showmanship, but his voice perhaps was a little better. Help For My Brothers, the first-ever compilation of Byrd’s earliest, lesser known singles, shows the evolution of his solo work. Byrd was more than JB’s sideman, and for that we will be forever grateful.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

December 2017 Releases of Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac Hayes – The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976

Isaac Hayes

Title: The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976

Artist: Isaac Hayes

Label: Craft Recordings

Format: 4-CD box set

Release date: September 22, 2017

 

 

The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976 is a four-CD set documenting the multi-faceted musical career of the legendary Isaac Hayes, who would have turned 75 this year. Even in a city that has spawned many influential musicians, Hayes stands out as one of the most important artists to emerge from Memphis. As one of the most identifiable figures in soul music, his significance spans far beyond the city he called home. Hayes’s talents allowed him to fill a wide range of roles in the music business—session musician, songwriter, producer, and, of course, performer.

This four-disc set, produced by Joe McEwan, provides many splendid examples of the multiple aspects of Hayes’s musicianship. Arranged in “chapters,” each disc highlights a different facet of Hayes’s career. Disc One consists of songs for which he was the writer or producer. Most of these songs were performed by Stax Records legends such as Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, and Booker T & the MGs. The Sam & Dave tracks alone will open the eyes of many listeners who are completely unaware that Hayes co-wrote the hit songs “I Thank You” “Hold On! I’m a Comin’,” and “Soul Man,” arguably the epitomic example of a Stax song. Disc One opens with “Sassy,” an instrumental blues groove released by Floyd Newman; the song was Hayes’s first co-write credit for Stax, and also features Hayes on organ. This disc is full of great songs and effectively serves as a “best of” Stax. However, two of the most surprising tracks featured here came out on another great Memphis label—Hi Records. The surprise here, though, is not the label; rather it is the fact that they were recorded by Charlie Rich. It is likely that only the most knowledgeable Hayes fans are aware that he wrote songs for the country music singer.

Disc Two features singles released by Isaac Hayes on the Volt and Enterprise labels, tracing his transition from writer/producer to soul singer/performer. These include the Shaft theme song, which for many people is the definitive Isaac Hayes recording. However, this disc also showcases many relatively unknown gems such as his cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” One of the standout tracks is an instrumental blues titled “Blue Groove” released by Sir Isaac and the Do-Dads. The extent to which Hayes was a good blues player and arranger is overlooked, and this track serves as an example of these skills. Another standout track, “Rolling Down a Mountainside” recorded live at Wattstax, also demonstrates just how good Hayes was as a producer and arranger. The disc concludes with two radio spots that capture an important moment in the marketing of black albums, as legendary deejay Jack “The Rapper” Gibson plugs tracks from The Isaac Hayes Movement album that exceeded normal airplay length.

Disc Three, Cover Man, features Hayes’ performing songs that were written by other people. These cover songs include an outstanding version of T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday.” Hayes’s cover of this blues standard is appropriate because although written by Walker, it was popularized in 1961 by Memphis musician Bobby “Blue” Bland. Another fitting track is a medley of “Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Rock Me Baby,” a blues standard popularized by B. B. King. This medley features Hayes alone on piano and vocals, serving as a vehicle to present Hayes in his purest form to the listener. Rounding out this disc are several previously unreleased tracks recorded live at the 1972 Operation PUSH Black Expo in Chicago.

The final CD, Jam Master, consists of only seven tracks, some backed by the Bar-Kays and/or the Movement. As the title suggests, however, most of these tracks feature extended jams, representing the lushest arrangements and productions on the four-disc set. Two of these tracks, including the previously unreleased “Black Militant’s Place,” were recorded for Shaft so any fans of that soundtrack will love this disc. The previously unreleased instrumental version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers is a highlight and arguably one of the most interesting pieces of the entire collection. Wah-wah guitar, strings, and driving repetitive bass lines are just a few of the devices that are characteristic of the grooves for these jams.

Collectively, this compilation of Isaac Hayes’s music will be welcome to any fan of Stax Records. However, the variety of music on this four-CD set makes it pleasing and palatable to just about anyone, and could very well convert uninitiated listeners into an ardent fans of soul music and Isaac Hayes. In addition, students of arranging or music technology and production would be doing themselves a tremendous disservice by not giving this set in-depth study. It should also be noted that the 60-page hardcover booklet features an essay by author Robert Gordon as well as interviews with artists and some great photographs from the Stax Records heyday, making this a must-have addition to the collection of any budding musicologist with an interest in American music. The final added bonus is a 7-inch vinyl replica of Hayes’s first release on the Youngstown label, featuring the singles “C.C. Rider” and “Laura, We’re On Our Last Go-Round.”

The Spirit of Memphis should be considered one of the best box sets to be released in years, and it is about time that the contributions of Isaac Hayes are beginning to be recognized through a compilation of this nature.

Reviewed by Joel Roberts

John Lee Hooker – King of the Boogie

John Lee Hooker

Title: King of the Boogie

Artist: John Lee Hooker

Label: Craft Recordings/Concord Bicycle Music

Format: 5-CD Box Set

Release Date: September 29, 2017

 

Turning 100 calls for a celebration regardless of who you are, and in the case of musician John Lee Hooker, only a “Go Big or Go Home” mentality will suffice. In honor of this boogie master’s centennial, Craft Recordings has released a career spanning, retrospective 5 CD box set honoring this guitar-driven, legendary artist. King of the Boogie features not only Hooker’s iconic hits, but also rarities, live recordings and several previously unreleased tracks. Housed within a 56-page hardcover book, the collection includes a wide selection of photos, taken throughout the musician’s life, plus new liner notes by writer and John Lee Hooker historian Jas Obrecht, as well as by the artist’s longtime manager and friend, Mike Kappus.

The collection is part of a year-long celebration and commemoration to Hooker and as a complement to his musical recordings, the GRAMMY Museum® in conjunction with the John Lee Hooker estate is exhibiting Hooker’s performance outfits, guitars, photos, and awards in his home state of Cleveland, Mississippi through February 2018. At that point the exhibit travels west to the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE.

John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) was born 100 years ago, near Clarksdale, Mississippi to a sharecropping family. Throughout the years, there has been some academic debate about his original birth year. However, The Hooker family maintains 1917 as the de facto date. Says daughter Zakiya Hooker, “As we all know there was no great push for accuracy back then in that portion of the community. But we just stick to what my father told us, which was what he was told by his mother.”

As a young man, Hooker worked his way up north to Detroit to pursue his passion of music. By 1948, the artist had a hit on his hands with one of his earliest recordings, “Boogie Chillun‘.” From there, Hooker would record over 100 albums throughout the course of his six-decade-long career, building a diverse collection of fans along the way—from folk musicians and beatniks, to the stars of the British Invasion. The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana are among those who cite Hooker as a major influence.

Mike Kappus recalls in his liner notes, “Everyone who knew John Lee Hooker loved him and felt privileged to be in his presence. While he influenced generations of musicians with his incomparable style, that impact on musicians stepped up to yet another level once they got to know and, universally, love him.” In his later years, as Hooker found himself in one of the busiest, most productive eras of his career, the bluesman was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Blues Hall of Fame and Memphis Music Hall of Fame; was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and took home four GRAMMY® Awards, plus a coveted Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

The album is organized chronologically, showcasing Hooker’s influential recording career from start to finish. Disc one begins with his first release, “Boogie Chillen.” The remainder of the disc provides Hooker’s classics the way he was first known—as sole commandeer of pulsing rhythms on the electric guitar. Disc two and three offer stunning recordings of previously unreleased sessions—“Unfriendly Woman” and “Meat Shakes on her Bones”—as well as the more widely-known “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and “Homework.”

Disc four is a completely live tribute section, featuring Hooker’s performances at various Newport Folk Festivals, the American Blues Festival in Hamburg, Germany, Café Au Go-Go in New York and California’s Soledad Prison. The final disc of the collection features Hooker’s collaborations with other musicians such as “Little” Eddie Kirkland, The Groundhogs, Canned Heat, Santana, George Thorogood, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Robert Gray, Warren Haynes, Jimmie Vaughn, Los Lobos, Eric Clapton and B.B. King.

Timeless and classic, cutting-edge and influential—all describe John Lee Hooker’s storied life and career as the undisputed boogie ruler. Whether solo and unplugged or accompanied and wired up, Hooker’s guitar and vocals prove that in the world of the Delta and blues, no one else but Hooker can wear the Crown.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

Johnny Mathis – The Voice of Romance-Columbia Original Album Collection

Johnny MathisTitle: The Voice of Romance- Columbia Original Album Collection

Artist: Johnny Mathis

Label: Legacy

Format: 68-CD Box Set

Release date:  December 8, 2017

 

Sony Legacy has released a number of Johnny Mathis compilations over the past decade, including The Complete Global Albums Collection in 2014 and The Singles for his 80th birthday the following year. But if you’re interested in a complete career retrospective with plenty of tempting bonus material and you have a large budget, look no further than this year’s mega box set, The Voice of Romance: The Columbia Original Album Collection. Weighing in at 68 CDs and currently listed for $428, this set features 62 of the singer’s albums, including 25 albums that have never been released on CD in the U.S.

Also included are 40 previously unreleased songs and two never-before-heard LPs: the unreleased I Love My Lady recorded in 1981 with Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, and The Island, a 1989 collaboration with Sergio Mendes. Mathis, who has been recording for Columbia since his self-titled 1956 debut, assisted with the curation of The Voice of Romance, which concludes with his most recent album, Johnny Mathis Sings the Great New American Songbook.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Various – Jesus Rocked the Jukebox: Small Group Black Gospel (1951-1965)

Jesus Rocked the Jukebox
Title: Jesus Rocked the Jukebox: Small Group Black Gospel (1951-1965)

Artist: Various

Label: Craft

Formats: 2-CD, 3-LP gatefold, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

Over the decades, black gospel music has had a profound influence on popular music, a fact that remains as relevant today as in the 1950s. But the reverse is also true. Jesus Rocked the Jukebox, a new compilation from Craft (Concord’s reissue label), explores the blurring of boundaries between genres by focusing on the seminal period from 1951-1965. During this era many gospel artists began crossing over into secular music, unleashing their improvisational gospel-inflected vocals in a manner that demanded the creation of a new genre: soul. At the same time, other gospel singers who remained firmly rooted in the church didn’t hesitate to liven up their music with harmonic and rhythmic elements drawn from jazz, blues, R&B, and early rock ‘n’ roll. This reciprocal relationship between black sacred and secular music is illustrated throughout Jesus Rocked the Jukebox, primarily through the recordings of well-known gospel quartets. Gospel historian Robert Marovich explores this synergy in greater detail in the accompanying booklet.

One of the first things a listener will notice is the sequencing of the tracks. Compilers Fred Jasper and Mason Williams dispensed with the more typical chronological order in favor of overall effect. Thus the opening track actually begins at the end of the era. After all, how could you not begin this set with “People Don’t Sing Like They Used To Sing.” Cut in 1965 by The Original Blind Boys, the song might be considered traditional in today’s terms, but the rocking piano and guitar accompaniment clearly signal a departure from earlier gospel quartet styles.

Over the course of the 40-track compilation there are many similar examples, some drawn from the likes of the Staple Singers and Soul Stirrers, while others were plucked from lesser known recordings. For example, the Silver Quintette from Gary, Indiana is featured on the rocking 1956 Vee-Jay track “Father Don’t Leave” featuring Joe Henderson on bass, while a 1963 version of “Heavenly Father” by Brooklyn’s Patterson Singers is styled after a ‘60s girl-group ballad. The Highway QC’s “God Has Promised,” featuring Johnny Taylor on lead, mimics the urban harmony groups of the era. Several tracks are devoted to the famous Swan Silvertones, including “How I Got Over” from 1954 featuring Claude Jeter—one of the great gospel tenors whose falsetto clearly influenced many later soul and pop singers.

As Marovich states in the liner notes, “Every perspiration-drenched performance by a soul singer, every shouting improvisation from a rock-and-roll vocalist, every melismatic run delivered by contestants on a TV singing competition, evokes the exuberance of black preachers, church singers and church musicians in the throes of the spirit.” Jesus Rocked the Jukebox unearths the gospel roots of American popular music, exposing countless gems in all of their splendor to be explored and appreciated by modern audiences.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Various – 24 Classic Blues Songs from the 1920’s, Vol. 15

2018_Blues_Calendar_front_page_largest
Title: 24 Classic Blues Songs from the 1920’s, Vol. 15

Artist: Various

Label: Blues Images

Format: CD + Calendar

Release date: September 25, 2017

 

Has 2017 given you the “bougie” blues? Add these twenty-four classic blues songs from the ‘20s to your collection to help ease the pain.

The 15th annual calendar and CD release from Blues Images brings another well-selected set of remastered pre-war blues music to new generations through a combination of vintage and modern playback technologies. The songs are paired with the artwork circulated to promote the original commodities, reproduced as a 2018 wall calendar.

This year’s CD includes two recently discovered songs by Jab Jones and The Memphis Jug Band: “My Love Is Cold” and ”Poor Jab Blues.” There are also fresh remastered versions of Tommy Johnson’s recording, “Slidin’ Delta”/”I Wonder To Myself” (Paramount 12975) as well as Johnnie (Geechie) Temple’s “Evil Devil Blues”/”Jacksonville Blues” (Vocalion 02987) taken from newly discovered, cleaner copies of the original 78-rpm discs.

War, wage work, food scarcity—a century ago blues artists were writing and singing about the problems we still face in the world today. Someday perhaps we’ll liberate ourselves from the economic system that connects us to these voices from nearly a century ago. As we keep pushing, we have their words and music to remind us that liberation is fraught with peril, and there’s no better way to communicate this struggle than through the blues.

Reviewed by William Vanden Dries

Cheryl Fortune – Simply Cheryl

Cheryl Fortune
Title: Simply Cheryl

Artist: Cheryl Fortune

Label: Tyscot

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 13, 2017

 

 

Well known in the gospel community for her cutting-edge songwriting and heartfelt vocals, Houston native Cheryl Fortune inspires and amazes with her debut album, Simply Cheryl for Tyscot Records. Prior to the launch of her solo career, Cheryl served as a vocal arranger and background vocalist with Grammy nominated artist James Fortune & FIYA in addition to co-penning several of the group’s hit songs, which have graced the top ten on Billboard gospel charts. Along with her work with FIYA, she has served as songwriter and guest vocalist on projects associated with numerous other national gospel artists such as Kirk Franklin, Shirley Caesar, Isaac Carree and Bishop T.D. Jakes. Clearly a veteran in her own right, it was simply a matter of time before she would grace us with this solo offering.

Simply Cheryl is anchored by the hit single “Fighters,” a song inspired by a Mother’s Day card from the singer’s 13 year-old daughter affirming Fortune’s kindness, love, strength and resilience (i.e. fight) during specific challenging moments of the artist’s life. “Fighters” links Fortune, a domestic violence survivor, in affirmation with listeners who have also experienced similar life circumstances:  “We’re fighters never gonna give up… I’ll take your hand and you’ll take mine, we’ll conquer this think they call life…” Couched in a hard-hitting drum line instrumentation created by producer Lucius B. Hoskins, “Fighters” also reflects broader social impact, as an adopted theme song of encouragement for people recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.  However, in the words of Fortune during a recent interview, this project is not “victim music.”  Rather, the album’s songs are sacred expressions of triumph created and shared by one who has persevered in spite of life-changing obstacles.

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Other notable tracks such as “4 A Night” and “Figure It Out” (both produced by Terence Vaughn), like the entire project, are rooted in ‘80s and ‘90s R&B music traditions. While listeners will surely recognize definitive rhythmic grooves, guitar melodic lines, synth bass lines and horn stabs, harmonic progressions, and talk boxes, among other textures linked with R&B sensations such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat and Mint Condition to name a few iconic artists, the gospel message of encouragement, hope and resilience remains at the forefront of the album.

Simply Cheryl is a spectacular album that will leave you eagerly waiting to see what else Cheryl Fortune has in store. For those seeking to experience a powerful inspirational message saturated in timeless grooves, Simply Cheryl is for you!

Reviewed by Jared Griffin and Tyron Cooper

Dee Dee Bridgewater – Memphis, Yes I’m Ready

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Title: Memphis, Yes I’m Ready

Artist: Dee Dee Bridgewater

Label: Okeh

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: September 15, 2017

 

 

Dee Dee Bridgewater, a jazz singer in the same vein as Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Abby Lincoln, has done it all. She has even appeared on Broadway, earning the respect of peers and critics in a career that has spanned decades. It takes confidence and knowledge of self when an artist decides to step out of their comfort zone, which Bridgewater does on her new release, Memphis, Yes I’m Ready. The 13 track album features Bridgewater singing covers of blues, R&B and gospel classics from the ‘60s with backing by the album’s co-producer, Kirk Whalum, and the Stax Academy Choir.

 

 

Bridgewater was born in Memphis, so this project was a homecoming, to say the least—or in the words of the great Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home.” That she does. Now for the highlights. If you listen very close to “I Can’t Get Next To You,” you’ll hear Bridgewater paying homage to the Al Green version of the song, not the Temptations. Green after all brought the Memphis sound into the ‘70s and Bridgewater is a Memphis gal, so why not. The horns and vocal delivery are downright scary in their precision and intensity.

When Bridgewater says “Yeah, this is for the King,” it’s not the “King” some of you may be thinking of, but rather B.B. King. His signature track, “The Thrill Is Gone,” gets the female perspective from Bridgewater as she sings, “You will be sorry someday.” Clap your hands and tap that foot. Now, speaking of another “King,” Bridgewater covers two of Elvis Presley’s classics. First up is “Don’t Be Cruel.” Who needs the Jordanaires on backing vocals when you can strip this song to its core and make it sound completely new?  “Hound Dog,” as most everyone knows, was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton, but Elvis had the bigger hit. Bridgewater again steers away from original and makes it a storytelling tune, one that I can now understand.

You can’t go home without taking one for the church, right? Bridgewater closes the album with Thomas Dorsey’s “(Take My Hand) Precious Lord.” This is a song that can bring tears to the eyes, especially since one usually hears it at home-going ceremonies. Testify, Sister Dee Dee!

Memphis, Yes I’m Ready is Bridgewater’s homecoming 101. You better be ready!

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

 

 

Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard

Little Richard

Title: Here’s Little Richard

Artist: Little Richard

Label: Craft Recordings

Formats: 2-CD Deluxe Edition

Release date: November 3, 2017

 

 

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

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

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

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick