Artist: Macy Gray
Label: Artistry Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 21, 2018
Macy Gray recently gifted us with her tenth studio album, Ruby. Unlike her previous release, Stripped—an album that included a number of covers and a remake of her hit song “I Try”—Ruby features twelve new original tracks from Gray. When asked by Rolling Stone to describe the general soundscape or style of the album, Gray explained: “Sonically, it is beautiful. It has all sorts of [fusions]. There are a lot of live instruments. We mixed it with samples… But, it is very different. At the same time, it is excellent ear candy. . .very pop…[but] gritty and grimy and dirty. [The record] will be super R&B. You know, with my stuff, there is always a jazz element. That is what I grew up on. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it. I love it.” Continue reading →
Artist: Candi Staton
Label: Beracah/Thirty Tiger
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: August 24, 2018
With the recent death of the “queen of soul” Aretha Franklin, soul music links to the legendary town and famed studio, Muscle Shoals, perhaps now fall on the shoulders of one Candi Staton. The Alabama native, best known for her remake of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and “Young Hearts Run Free” (1976) is still going hard at age 78. Her latest release, Unstoppable, marks Staton’s 30th album and gives us ten tracks of what Staton does well. Continue reading →
Title: Free Me
Artist: J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Burundian-born J.P. Bimeni is no stranger to tragedy; a descendent of the Burundian royal family, he was forced to flee his native country at age 15 during the 1993 civil war. After surviving the mass murder of his classmates, a gun shot in the chest, and poisoning by doctors, Bimeni was miraculously able to escape to the UK as a refugee. Despite the horrific events that he lived as a teenager, Bimeni has channeled his experiences with life and loss into his debut album Free Me. Continue reading →
October is always a good month to remember Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1929-2000), best known for over-the-top, voodoo-inspired performances of his underground hit, “I Put a Spell on You.” That song and more can be found on the two-disc compilation, Are YOU one of Jay’s Kids? – The Complete Bizarre Sessions, 1990-1994. Continue reading →
We’ve covered a number of artists over the past decide whose careers were revived later in life, including the late, great Charles Bradley. A similar artist who recently entered our radar is soul singer Ural Thomas, a Louisiana-born preacher’s son who opened for the likes of James Brown, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder back in the day. Continue reading →
Water Seed, a New Orleans-based group under the leadership of drummer Lou Hill, drew attention with their May 2017 debut album, We Are Stars, which reached the Billboard Top 20. Three months later, on August 19, 2017, their high-energy and brilliant performance at the Blue Nile in New Orleans was recorded and has now been released as the band’s first live album, Say Yeah!!.
Water Seed’s success has lead them to perform on prominent stages such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Apollo Theater, and a three-month residency in Russia. Their compositions blend funk, R&B, fusion, and soul genres into an amalgam of sound and groove that reflect not only the musical mission of the group, but also the musical environment that is New Orleans.
Say Yeah!! includes songs from their debut album, including the fan favorites “Open Sesame,” “Work It Out,” “Brand New Day,” and “Funktimus Prime.” Now, while each track is musically exhilarating and dynamic, the highlight of this live set is the impeccable musicianship and artistic acumen of the entire ensemble (Lou Hill, J Sharp, Cinese Love, Shaleyah and Berkley). The vocal harmonies are blended perfectly, the brass lines are clean and precise, and the grooves in the rhythm section are flawlessly executed. In addition to the superb performance, listeners are treated to the call-and-response interactions between the band and audience members, which according to Hill inspired the title Say Yeah!!.
Besides the soulful and foot-stomping grooves, this album captures the spontaneity and pure artistic expressions of a well-rehearsed ensemble. Say Yeah!! is truly a magnificent demonstration of maturity and musicality.
The Suffers are a multi-faceted, musically diverse group hailing from the Gulf Coast, and just in case there’s any doubt, the first track, “Intro (A Headnod to Houston)” sets us on the right path. Their musical style, however, is less straight-forward. Soul? Jazz? Neo-blues? Retro R&B? The group, comprised of eight highly-talented individuals from multiple artistic backgrounds, can be classed as all of these and more. As lead vocalist Kam Franklin states, “We make music for all people.” Houston marks the album in more ways than one, as area rappers Paul Wall and Bun B. cameo on more than one track, and many songs express love for the city and its inhabitants. The Suffers exploded onto the scene in 2015 and 2016 with their EP Make Some Room and their self-titled debut album, and their newest offering, Everything Here, is a fitting follow-up.
The short album introduction leads into the first full-length track, “I Think I Love You.” The song has a rocking rhythm that quickly captures your mind, encouraging you to sit back, relax and let the music take control. The melody line is simple and repetitive, and exactly what you didn’t know you needed, with the beautiful lullabying of Franklin’s crooning settling your soul. Bun B’s cameo in “Bernard’s Interlude (feat. Bun B.) has a mellow, Barry White-esque tone, furthering the mood of relaxation and contemplation. Further down the list, “You Only Call” shines a spotlight on the sporadic moments every relationship—familial, personal or otherwise—can suffer in its quest to work out. “Sure to Remain” completes relational upsides as well, dealing us another round of sweet melody nestled down in a funky, electro-piano and percussion feather bed.
In keeping with their inclusive promise, the group also offers up-tempo melodies. The title-track, “Everything Here,” is a sweet-spot mixture of all the group has to give, including Franklin’s disclosure that “Everything here, everything here/ reminds me of you.” The track “All I Want To Do” showcases Franklin’s expert songwriting abilities in the band’s jazz instrumentals and her own melodic virtuosity. “Do Whatever” cements the Suffers as message deliverers of rounded choice and acceptance, while the closing track, “Won’t Be Here Tomorrow,” urges us to appreciate the now, as things can change at the blink of an eye and the drop of an instrument.
Everything Here’s bold statements about life, love and home in tandem with their interdisciplinary musical style do indeed uphold the album’s declaration. The Suffers have everything in our musical world to offer to all in their artistic world willing to listen.
Old meets new in Chanti Darling’s debut album, RNB Vol. 1, as the Portland, Oregon based trio seamlessly blends the traditional sounds of disco, funk, and R&B with modern house music to create a sound that captivates listeners. While Chanti Darling may come off as a band that simply produces songs best-suited for the dancefloor, the group’s underlying goal is to bring back the sounds of ‘80s R&B that they were raised on. According to frontman and performance artist Chanticleer Trü, “RNB ain’t no joke,” and that attitude shows in their 10-track album.
Though Chanti Darling is passionate about reviving ‘80s R&B, they still capture the energy of electronic music and also feature contemporary messages in their lyrics. “Casual,” the second track on the album featuring fellow Portland native and hip-hop artist The Last Artful, Dodgr, speaks on the complicated dynamics of new relationships. Trü’s smooth vocals are layered on top of an entrancing electronic melody, a recurring theme for the rest of the tracks on the album.
If there’s one thing to be said about Chanti Darling, it’s that they are creating a sound all their own, and listeners are loving it. Voted Portland’s “Best New Band” by Willamette Week, the group is getting noticed for their blend of electronic beats and old school R&B vocals.
Following are additional albums released during July 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country
Arthur Big Boy Crudup: If I Get Lucky (4 CD set) (JSP)
Benny Turner: Journey (Nola Blue)
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio: Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here (Alligator)
Errol Dixon: Midnight Train (Wolf)
Eugene Hideaway Bridges: Live In Tallahassee (Armadillo)
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear: The Radio Winners (Glassnote)
Trudy Lynn: Blues Keep Knockin’ (Connor Ray Music)
SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical – Original Cast (Republic)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Con Brio: Explorer (Transistor Sound/Fat Beats)
Ill Doots: S/T (Ropedope)
Jean Beauvoir: Rock Masterpieces Vol. 1 (Aor Heaven)
Lotic: Power (Tri Angle)
No Kind of Rider: Savage Coast
Gospel, Christian Bishop Noel Jones & City of Refuge Sanctuary Choir: Run to the Altar (Tyscot)
Dr. Carmela Nanton: A Touch (Carmel Ministries)
Koryn Hawthorne: Unstoppable (RCA Inspiration)
Minister Marion Hall: His Grace (VPAL Music)
Shana Wilson Williams: Everlasting (Intersound)
Vincent Tharpe & Kenosis: Super Excited (digital)
Will Mcmillan: My Story (eOne)
Jazz Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band: West Side Story Reimagined (Jazz Heads)
David Garfield: Jammin’ Outside the Box
Dexter Gordon Quartet: Tokyo 1975 (Elemental Music)
Ernest Dawkins & New Horizons Ensemble: Chicago Now – Thirty Years of Great Black Music, Vol. 2 (Silkheart)
Erroll Garner: Nightconcert (Mack Ave.)
Jamar Jones: Fatherless Child (GPE)
Jim Stephens: Songs of Healing: Philasippiola Soul (1997-2017) (Ropedope)
Kaidi Tatham: It’s A World Before You (First Word)
Reginald Chapman: Prototype (Fresh Selects)
Rob Dixon Trio: Coast To Crossroads
Roy Campbell & Pyramid: Communion (digital)
Shaun Martin: Focus (Ropeadope)
Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra: Get It How You Live (Ropeadope)
Various: Prince in Jazz: A Jazz Tribute to Prince (Wagram)
Woody Shaw: Tokyo 1981 (Elemental Music)
R&B, Soul Appleby: Happiness (Haight Brand)
Cyril Neville: Endangered Species, Complete Recordings (World Order)
Jade Novah: All Blue (Empire)
Jaden Smith: SYRE (Digital) (Roc Nation/Republic)
James Brown: Mutha’s Nature (1st CD release) (LMLR)
Johnny Rain: Idol Blue (digital) (Odd Dream Republic)
Jr Jones: Nova (Black Musa)
Kiana Ledé: Selfless EP (Digital) (Republic)
Kizzy Crawford: Progression (Freestyle)
Meli’sa Morgan: Love Demands
The Internet: Hive Mind (Columbia)
Rap, Hip Hop BrvndonP: Better Late Than Never (RPSMG)
B.o.B.: Naga (digital) (No Genre)
Blackgrits: Paradox 88 (digital)
Blackway: Good.Bad.Faded EP (digital) (Republic)
Buddy: Harlan & Alondra (digital) (RCA)
Busdriver: Electricity is on our Side (digital)
Cardi B: Her Life Her Story (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Chief Keef: Mansion Musick (RBC)
Citro: No Cap (PlayMakaz Music Group)
Curren$y & Harry Fraud: Marina (Next)
Demrick: Came a Long Way (digital) (DEM)
Drake: Scorpion (Cash Money)
Drank Sanatra: Controlled Substance (digital) (Otherside Ent.)
Dyme-A-Duzin: Crown Fried (digital)
Eric B. & Rakim: Complete Collection (Hip-O)
Future: Beastmode (mixtape)
J. Diggs: #90Dayhousearrestproject (Rompt Out)
Kanye West: Ye (Def Jam)
King Magnetic: Back in the Trap (King Mag Music)
KR: In Due Time (Empire)
Kyle: Light of Mine (Atlantic)
Lil KeKe: SlfMade II (digital) (SoSouth)
Logic: Passion (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Marlowe: Marlowe (Mello Music Group)
Migos: Evolution (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Nav: Reckless (XO/Republic)
Nick Grant: Dreamin’ Out Loud (digital) (Epic)
Obuxum: H.E.R. (Urbnet)
Pawz One & Robin Da Landlord: Sell Me a Dream (Below System)
Philthy Rich: N.E.R.N.L. 4 (Empire)
Planet Asia: Mansa Musa (X-Ray)
Playboi Carti: Die Lit (digital) (Interscope)
Pusha T: Daytona (digital) (Def Jam)
Rae Sremmurd: SR3MM (digital) (Interscope)
Randy-B: Me, Myself and $ (Smeat)
Royce 5’9″: Book of Ryan (eOne)
Saweetie: High Maintenance (Warner Bros.)
Stalley: Tell the Truth Shame the Devil, Vol 3 (Blue Collar Gang)
Styles P (The LOX): G-Host (The Phantom Ent.)
Suspect: Still Loading (digital) (Rinse)
Tee Grizzley: Activated (digital) (300 Ent.)
Tobe Nwigwe: The Originals (digital)
Trap Gang Zone: Follow The Gang (digital) (Revenge Music)
Trick Daddy: Dunk Ride Or Duck Down (X-Ray)
Typical Div: S/T (Middle of Made)
Various: Oscillations (Strange Neighbor)
Wiz Khalifa: Rolling Papers 2 (digital) (Atlantic)
Wood & Yungman: Carlito’s Way Screwed (GT Digital)
World’s Fair: New Lows (digital) (Fool’s Gold)
YFN Lucci: Ray Ray from Summerhill (Think It’s A Game)
Zaytoven: Trapholizay (digital) (UMG)
Reggae Kabaka Pyramid: Kontraband (Bebble Rock)
Kingly T: Got It All (digital)
Leon & The Peoples: Love Is A Beautiful Thing (Spectra Music Group)
Linval Thompson: Dub Landing Vols. 1 & 2 (Greensleeves)
Mad Professor: Electro Dubclubbing (Ariwa Sounds)
Santigold: I Don’t Want, Gold Fire Sessions (digital) (Downtown)
Tetrack: Let’s Get Started (Greensleeves)
U-Roy: Talking Roots (Ariwa Sounds)
Ziggy Marley: Rebellion Rises (Tuff Gong)
International, Latin Bryant Myers: La Oscuridad (eOne)
Kamal Keila: Muslims & Christians (Habibi Funk)
Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul (Strut)
Okonkolo: Cantos (Big Crown)
Te’Amir: Abyssinia EP (Tru Thoughts)
The Times, They are a ’Changin’. This phrase, with all its historic relevancy, has once again become the most accurate description of contemporary times all over the globe. Therefore, it stands as no surprise a 60’s soul legend such as Bette Lavette would release a cover album focusing on ironic political artist Bob Dylan. Things Have Changed is a fitting tribute to some of Dylan’s most prolific movement songs in addition to showcasing other soul rock classics, with Lavette weaving in her own gritty stylings and adding a contemporary layer to the timeless classics.
The title track, Things Have Changed, serves as a warning for those who feel overwhelmed and anxious about their world: “Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose/People are crazy and times are strange/I’m locked in tight/I’m out of range/I used to care, but things have changed. “Political World”, with its echoing of past conflicts and shouts of current trajectories, features Keith Richards, who layers his talents behind Lavette.
Additional tracks pay homage to some of Dylan’s more introspective musings, with selections such as “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Mama, You’ve been on My Mind.” But it’s on “Emotionally Yours” that Lavette’s ability to tug at the heartstrings becomes most evident. Through a combination of Dylan’s lyrics and her own amazingly soulful abilities, Lavette gives her listeners a thought-provoking look into the mind of a tortured soul yearning for that one last chance: “Come baby, find me, come baby, remind me of where I once begun/Come baby, show me, show me you know me, tell me you’re the one/I could be learning, you could be yearning to see behind closed door/But I will always be emotionally yours.”
Things Have Changed offers us the best of both worlds—Bob Dylan’s ageless classics and Bettye Lavette’s endless soul stylings—proving to us that even though time marches on, some things remain eternal and relevant, no matter what.
One of the architects of rock and roll, Fats Domino is also remembered as one of New Orleans’ greatest musicians, which is quite an honor in a city that produced so many legends. Now the venerable Bear Family label honors Fats, who died last year, with this compilation featuring 32 ballads culled from his 1955-1962 Imperial Records sides. Most were either produced, co-written/arranged, and/or performed (on trumpet) by the great Dave Bartholomew and recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s studio.
Instead of the red-hot sound of the Crescent City’s rhythm and rocking blues scene, The Ballads of Fats Domino highlights many of his lesser known gems. As noted author/historian Bill Dahl states in the liner notes, “Fats without his trademark rocking rhythms [was] every bit as effective and lovable as when the big beat was scalding behind him.” And that’s the truth!
This “blusier, atmospheric side” of Fats is certainly apparent on classics like “Blueberry Hill,” which opens the set, and a pair string drenched sides, “Walking to New Orleans” and “Three Nights a Week,” both R&B hits despite Domino’s opinion that “people don’t like me with too many violins.” The hardships of life on the road spurred more than a few ‘homesick’ ballads that are great examples of Fats’ signature story songs: “I Miss You So” (1961); a 1962 remake of “Goin’ Home” (the original side was released a decade prior); and the earliest song on the set, “Helping Hand (A Long Way From Home)” from 1955.
This is just a small taste of what’s in store on The Ballads of Fats Domino, produced with the typical high standards we’ve come to expect from Bear Family, including illustrated liner notes and a complete session discography.
One of the most sought-after songwriters in the business, Priscilla Renea now offers her own solo project, Coloured. Growing up in Vero Beach, Florida, music has always been a mainstay in Renea’s life. As explained in an interview with Rolling Stone, her mother and grandmother loved to sing and her father played the trumpet. After writing her first song at the age of eight, Renea’s mother gave her a note book to write in and eventually she received a guitar from her father and taught herself to play. By the age of 16, Renea became a YouTube sensation, setting her on a path to become one of today’s greatest writers with songs you know and love such as “Timber,” by Kesha and Pit Bull, Charlie Puth’s “River”, and “California King Bed” performed by Rhianna. With Renea’s own album Coloured, we get to truly hear her voice as she tells her own story.
Renea describes her new album as, “a big gumbo of everything that’s happening in my life,” and explains it was created when she spent a few months in Nashville in 2016 with her friend and colleague Brett James. While in Nashville, she attended a performance of the Grand Ole Opry, discovering there were only two photos of black artists on display backstage—Chuck Berry and Darius Rucker. Taking this as a challenge, Renea was inspired to create Coloured, a very unique album with a style all its own she calls “country soul,” seamlessly combining a classic Nashville sound with R&B and hip hop in a manner she describes as “unapologetically black.”
Coloured begins with the song, “Family Tree.” Opening up with a guitar progression that is just so stereotypically country it sounds like you could be listening to a Dolly Parton album, Renea enters and quickly shows her versatility as vocalist. Though she maintains a country “twang” throughout, it doesn’t take long for her to knock you back with her robustly gritty voice, showcasing vocal prowess and control reminiscent of powerhouses like Etta James.
Throughout the remainder of the album you can hear other spectacular tracks like, “Gentle Hands,” a fun upbeat song with a driving trap beat, followed by the gorgeous track, “Heavenly,” where Renea plays more to her R&B sensibility. She actually brings these songs together in one storytelling music video:
With songs like “You Shaped Box,” “If I Ever Loved You,” and “Different Color,” Renea incorporates a reggae feel, blurring the line between genres as she tells stories of love, not only love of family or a significant other, but love of oneself.
Having made such a name for herself as a songwriter, Priscilla Renea is clearly just gearing up to shock the world with her own vocal talents, and Coloured is only the beginning.
The name Lamont Dozier, if heard, perhaps would bring little or no reaction to the general public. But, if one plays or hums many major tunes released by 1960s and 70s Motown artists, know that Dozier was part of the composers team behind these successful groups. Now you his name.
Lamont Dozier, along with the Holland Brothers, wrote the great tunes at Motown—Smokey, The Four Tops, The Temptations and yes, even The Supremes—all owe their success to these gentleman. Dozier, besides being one of the greatest songwriters ever, is a smooth singer and accomplished piano player. In the late 60’s, he left Motown and, along with the Holland Brothers, formed the label Hot Wax. After that, Dozier started recording solo material. His classic tunes in the 70’s included hits such as, “Going Back To My Roots” and “Why Can’t We Be Lovers”. In the 80’s, Dozier teamed up with Phil Collins on the hit, “Two Hearts.”
Now, Dozier is back with a new release titled, Reimagination. This album is a collection of twelve tracks previously written for other artists while at Motown, but Dozier performs them in a way that will make you forget the original. Joining him for this collaboration is Graham Nash, Lee Ann Womack, Todd Rundgren, just to name a few in on the festivities.
On the second track, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Dozier reworks the former classic with Gregory Porter. First, the song is done in acapella , then the song moves into a gospel offering—hand clapping, feet stomping, take it to the river sounds. Dozier uses the same approach on, “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. One of the most underrated singers at Motown was Kim Weston. Her classic, “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While), gets a fresh, new makeover in the form of accoustic blues featuring Marc Cohen. Now that’s quite a Weston tribute.
Martha & The Vandellas has the honor of having two of their classics included on Reimagination. “Love Is Like A Heatwave” and “In My Lonely Room”. “In My Lonely Room” happens to be, in my opinion, Dozier’s favorite track. He fools you in the beginning, starting the song by singing, “Love Is Here”, which is the opening of a Supremes track, but goes quickly into “In My Lonely Room”. WOW! The words after all these years really hit you in the feels.
Who but Dozier knows these tunes best? After all, he wrote them, so he can and does perform them the way he sees fit. Reimagination is pure gold, Motown fan or not. Thanks Lamont!
May saw a semi-surprise release of a new album from George Clinton’s legendary Parliament, the group’s first in 38 years. The expansive, 23-song Medicaid Fraud Dogg clocks in at an hour and forty-six minutes, and every second is imminently listenable.
While the group keeps groove at the center of its music, this ain’t your parents’ Parliament. This iteration of Parliament is not staffed by the regulars that longtime listeners might expect, such as Bootsy Collins and the late Bernie Worrell (though Fred Wesley does make an appearance on trombone on “Type Two”), but by a group of young gun musicians that prominently features Clinton’s grandson, vocalist Tracey “Tra’zae” Lewis-Clinton. This line-up does not hamper the group’s groove, but it does change it.
Medicaid Fraud Dogg contains some classic P-Funk grooves on tracks like on “69” and “Insurance Man,” but much of the album is far more influenced by contemporary hip hop. In fact, it seems like this album reflects Clinton’s listening to artists who previously listened to him. “Backwoods” is a trap-inflected song that listeners would probably be more likely to hear at a club in Atlanta than on an intergalactic voyage. “Loodie Poo Da Pimp” shows Clinton’s influence filtered through Snoop Dogg, then Kendrick Lamar, then back to Clinton. The album’s best moments embrace not having to sound like Parliament but choosing to sound like Parliament. “I’m Gon Make You Sick of Me” is an old-school deep-in-the-groove Parliament track, featuring Scarface (as ‘Dr. Feelgood’) rapping, while “Antisocial Media” is a deconstructive interlude that flirts with free jazz musical textures to express postmodern angst. Both songs feature classic elements of the P-funk playbook filtered through the past 30 years.
Will Medicaid Fraud Dogg satisfy listeners who long to collect every deep cut from Parliament’s 1970s heyday? Probably not—but the album would likely be pretty boring if it were simply a regurgitation of the group’s classics. Rather, it represents a reinvention of George Clinton, an artist who is learning from those he influenced and creating some great new sounds while doing it. This album succeeds precisely because of Parliament’s flexibility and the malleability of the group’s format—Medicaid Fraud Dogg demonstrates that it is possible to teach an old Dogg (in this case, the group of musicians bearing the name Parliament) new tricks.
Shirley Davis’ path to becoming lead vocalist of Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks has been anything but ordinary—from working at London’s Wembley Arena as a young teen to becoming one of the top soul and funk vocalists in Australia to singing on a cruise ship. Her musical journey continued after a chance encounter at a Sharon Jones concert in 2014; Davis was invited by Alberto “Tuco” Peces and Genesis Candela from Tucxone Records to come to Madrid and record an album. Davis was introduced to the Silverbacks in the studio and the connection between them was immediate.
Two years after releasing their acclaimed debut album, Black Rose, that put them on the modern soul and funk map, Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks are back with Wishes & Wants. The 9-track album includes everything from emotional ballads like “Treat Me Better” to more upbeat, funky tracks like “Kisses,” but each song has in common the strong soul that Shirley Davis always delivers. And while Davis’ soulful voice is always mesmerizing, the Silverbacks deserve recognition for their ability to match the power and energy conveyed by their lead singer. The band’s musical skill is highlighted in tracks such as “Nightlife,” in which the funky groove laid down by the organ, horns, guitar, and drums beautifully pairs with the vocals. Following is the official video single for the equally funky title track:
While their first album may have hinted that Shirley Davis and the Silverbacks deserve a spot among the contemporary soul and funk greats, Wishes & Wants proves that they deserve to stay. And according to Shirley Davis, this isn’t the last you’ll see of her: “This is what I believe I will do for the rest of my life. I am meant to be the soul diva of Europe.”
Robust talent runs generationally, especially when you’re the offspring of blues icon Taj Mahal and dancer/artist Inshirah Mahal, as proven with Deva Mahal’s debut album, Run Deep. Forging her own sound as part blues, part indie-rock and all soul, Mahal gives her listeners one of the edgiest, most emotionally drawn voices in the industry today.
The first track, “Can’t Call it Love,” opens with a riveting guitar riff and empowering lyrics: I’m feeling new like an old-school instrumental / I’m getting in the mood / And feeling sentimental, which can be taken as both commentary on one’s new found infatuation and Mahal’s coming into her own. The entire album features innovative instrumentality and Mahal’s varied vocalization styles. For example, the closing track, “Take a Giant Step,” showcases her sultry pop sound as she reinterprets this standard by Carole King and Gerry Goffin (a song her father has also recorded).
The focal track of the album, both vocally and visually, is the offering “Snakes.” Mahal’s vocals jump right off the album from the first moment she begins singing, but the visualizations of the video are pure genius—black and white coloring, shadow dancing and the animation of a swamp monster, said to have been inspired by her favorite childhood “girl power” book, Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer.
Mahal has definitely come out from under her parent’s shadow with this artistic debut. From the first note to the last few strains, this artist’s soulful and funky melodies will have you running deep into the magical world of Deva Mahal, breathlessly awaiting her next move.
After years of providing artists such as Solange and Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) with quality choreography and guitar riffs, Bryndon Cook has stepped out on his own under the moniker Starchild & the New Romantic with his debut album, Language. This 14-track offering takes its listeners on a ‘90s-inspired groove cruise, guided by what he calls is his self-made motto, “my sensitivity is my strength.”
Hailing from Maryland, Cook has always been a student of black music’s rich lineages that intersect with pop. Challenging binaries of old/new, religious/secular, and black/white, his music is both bold and mercurial, defining perspective and identity while calling for action. The title track weaves out of the speakers and around the mind with Cook crooning the language of lost chances and second glances. The short and tender single, “Hangin’ On,” echoes early-80s Prince in both instrumental sound and its resulting mood: Fell asleep last night / Thinking about you. Saw you in my sleep, chased you till morning came. My mama said “follow your dreams” / Well I guess you were my warning / Now I’ve let myself go / Hope you’re still holdin’ on.
Other tracks, such as “Black Diamond,” “Doubts” and “Boys Choir” speak to the root of the record itself—a mystical contemplation of the boyhood community to which Cook finally feels he is ready to bare his soul. Lyrical and emotional, poignant with just a smidge of regret, Language writes on the heart all that Cook was, is and will always be—a star in his own right, romanticizing his way into the minds of all who pause to listen.
Veteran Chicago soul band Bumpus returned in a big way this March, with its first release since 2007. The band was a funk tour de force in the 2000s, but faced some personnel changes in the early 2010s that sidelined new recording projects. The group still has performed locally over the past few years, and the band’s new lineup and infectious live energy is effectively captured on its Way Down Deep EP.
Bumpus is perhaps most well-known for its killer, high-energy live show, with one of the region’s funkiest rhythm sections and a horn line to match. However, Way Down Deep showcases the band’s vocalists, James Johnston, Ava Fain and Tina Howell, whose layered, soulful voices drive the 6-song set. The band’s bread and butter is tightly knit guitar-driven funk tunes like the self-assured “Step Sure or Step Aside,” a challenge to “suckas” that is propelled by an active bass groove and soulful Hammond organ. The EP’s highlight is the 2-part “Way Down Deep.” Part 1 is a solid lovin’ song infused with horn hits and funky drumming, but the song’s bridge gradually morphs into the spaced-out P-Funk territory that characterizes Part 2, with phased out vocals and instruments as well as an extended What’s Going On – style saxophone solo over gradually fading backing vocals.
It is a great benefit to Chicago’s music scene that Bumpus is back and bumpin’. Hopefully, Way Down Deep will usher in another decade of solid grooves and soulful songwriting.
Playing For Change, the multimedia company best known for their “Songs Around the World” online video series that has over 500 million views, has released their fourth album Listen to the Music. Featuring a selection of global artists performing tracks in their home countries, the project took almost three years to complete.
The album’s first single, “Skin Deep” performed by blues legend Buddy Guy and over 50 accompanying musicians from around the U.S., speaks on race issues and violence in America stating, “underneath we’re all the same.”
Another track, “Africa Mokili Mobimba” performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and TP OK Jazz Band, is a famous Congolese song that serves as an anthem to connect and unify Africa. One of the final songs on the album, “Congo to the Mississippi,” exemplifies this theme of unification through music; the song started in a village in the Congo and added musicians from Jamaica, Japan, and Italy before wrapping up with a harmonica solo played by New Orleans street musician Grandpa Elliott.
Each track on Listen to the Music is completely unique in its combination of talented musicians and vocalists. The related video series document many of these collaborations, including “All Along the Watchtower” (with Cyril and Ivan Neville), “Everlasting Love” (with Vasti Jackson and Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi), and “Bring It on Home to Me” (featuring the late Roger Ridley).
The album, while bringing together the contributing 210 musicians from 25 different countries, also aims to unify today’s often divided societies. According to the co-founder of Playing For Change, Mark Johnson, “In a world with so many divisions, we need to create connections. Musical collaboration is the best way to make that happen.” In addition, 100% of profits from the album with be donated to the Playing For Change Foundation. This non-profit educational organization has opened 15 music-focused schools for underprivileged children in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina and Thailand.
When one thinks of the great family acts, what names just pop in your head? The J5 / Jacksons naturally. The Osmonds perhaps? The Wilson Brothers? The Gap Band? Which set right. The most slept on family act hands down are the Isley Brothers. But the one name that constantly gets overlooked is Sister Sledge. The four ladies from Philly–North Philly to be exact–perhaps never had the same commercial appeal as the others mentioned, but if you check their history, you just might want to rethink where you rank them. SS even played the concert in Zaire with James Brown, the night before Ali v. Forman, and the group also had huge following in Japan.
Kathy, Joanie (R.I.P.), Debbie & Kim. That’s how I remembered their names, in that order. Forty years ago, SS released their He’s the Greatest Dancer album and became hotter than a firecracker. Hooking up with members of Chic—Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards & drummer Tony Thompson, who were hot as well with “Le Freak”—SS jumped on the disco train and rode it to the end of the line.
Introduction to Sister Sledge is a ten track “best of” collection. Yes, “We Are Family” is included–don’t panic. When some think of SS, they only think of this song. After the Pirates of Pittsburgh adopted “We Are Family” as their theme in 1979 and won the world series, the song put SS even more on the map.
The compilation takes us back to early SS and you can tell, just by listening to Kathy Sledge’s voice. The track “Mama Never Told Me” is bubblegum pop, but cute. I mean, it could have been performed by J5 or the Five Stairsteps (another family act). “Shibby Doo, Shibby Doo, bop bop.”
“Lost In Music,” produced by Niles Rodgers, sounds like Chic. Heck, for so many years I thought it was Chic since it has that distinctive Chic sound. “All American Girls” tries to recapture the sound of the previous LP and singles. I never knew if SS was referring to themselves as all American girls.
“He’s the Greatest Dancer” hands down is a top five disco track. You know a song is big when the Muppets had include it on their first TV special. Nile Rodgers is on guitar, Bernard Edwards on bass, and Tony Thompson on drums. “Halston, Gucci, Eaucci, that man is dressed to kill!”
Introduction to Sister Sledge offers the best of SS. You get the big hits plus the ones that you never knew or just plain forgot about. One thing—don’t forget—when you list great family acts, make sure Sister Sledge isn’t forgotten.
Following are additional albums released during April 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country B.B. King: Many Faces of (3 CDs) (Music Brokers)
Bernard Allison: Born With the Blues (Ruf)
Eric & Ulrika Bibb: Pray Sing Love (Dixiefrog)
Leo Bud Welch: Late Blossom Blues (DVD) (Let’s Make This Happen)
Little Freddy King: Fried Rice & Chicken (Orleans)
Little Willie Littlefield: Best of the Rest, 1948-1959 (Jasmine)
Peppermint Harris: Very Best of (Jasmine)
Sonny Boy Williamson II: Complete Trumpet, Ace & Checker Singles: 1951-62 (Acrobat)
Various: Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938-1942 (Hi Horse)
Walter Wolfman Washington: My Future Is My Past (Anti/Epitaph)
Classical Carlos Simon: My Ancestor’s Gift (Navona)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Benin City: Last Night (Moshi Moshi)
Eku Fantasy: EF1 EP (digital)
Niki J Crawford: The Second Truth (Country Girl Ent.)
Shuggie Otis: Inter-Fusion (Cleopatra)
SONI withanEYE: Rebel (Touch Ent)
Soulive: Cinematics Vol. 1 EP (Soulive Music Inc.)
The Return of the Band of Gypsys: San Francisco “84 (Air Cuts)
Twin Shadow: Caer (Reprise)
Various: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert OST (Sony Masterworks)
Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM Amante Lacey: Original Songs & Stories, Vol. 1 (Intersound)
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: I Am Reminded (Provident Music Group)
Fresh Start Worship: S/T (digital)
Kelontae Gavin: The Higher Experience (Tyscot)
Maranda Curtis: Open Heaven – The Maranda Experience (Fair Trade/Columbia)
Stephen Ivey: The Journey: Evolution of a Worshipper (digital)
Jazz Allan Harris: The Genius of Eddie Jefferson (Resilience Music Alliance)
Bosq: Love & Resistance (Ubiquity)
Cha Wa: Spyboy (Upt Music)
Darry Yokley ‘s Sound Reformation: Pictures at an African Exhibition (Truth Revolution)
Deborah J. Carter: Scuse Me (Sam Sam Music)
Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag (Basin Street)
Edward Simon (& Imani Winds): Sorrows and Triumphs (Sunnyside)
Elvin Jones Jazz Machine: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1981 (Jazzline)
Logan Richardson: Blues People (Ropeadope)
Louis Armstrong: Pops Is Tops: The Verve Studio Albums (4 CDs) (Verve)
Madeline Bell & The Swingmates: Have You Met Miss Bell? (Sam Sam Music)
Marjorie Barnes: Once You’ve Been In Love (Sam Sam Music)
Mark Gross Quartet: Plus Strings (digital)
Ryan Porter (West Coast Get Down): The Optimist (World Galaxy/Alpha)
Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse)
Terrance Blanchard: Live (Blue Note)
Various: Very Best of Dixieland New Orleans (Musical Concepts)
Woody Shaw Quintet: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1982 (Jazzline)
R&B, Soul Barry White: Complete 20th Century Records Singles 1973-1979 (Mercury)
Bridget Kelly: Reality Bites (The Initiative Group, Inc)
Eartha Kitt: The Singles Collection: 1952-1962 (Acrobat)
Eric Bellinger: Eazy Call (Empire)
Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (Bad Boy)
Kali Uchis: Isolation (Virgin EMI)
Khari Wendell McClelland: Freedom Singer (Afterlife Music)
RĀI: Love’s on the Way (digital)
Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics: State of all Things (Soulphonics)
Shirley Davis & The SilverBacks: Wishes & Wants (Tucxone)
Tejai Moore: Write My Wrongs (Moore Music)
Tinashe: Joyride (RCA)
Watch the Duck: Delayed Adulthood (Interscope)
Weeknd: My Dear Melancholy (Republic)
XamVolo: A Damn Fine Spectacle EP (Decca)
YellowStraps: Blame EP (Majestic Casual)
Rap, Hip Hop 88GLAM: 88GLAM Reloaded (XO)
Akua Naru: The Blackest Joy (The Urban Era)
Blu & Notzz: Gods In The Spirit, Titans In The Flesh (Coalmine)
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (digital) (Atlantic/KSR)
Currensy: Air Feshna EP (digital)
Defari: Rare Poise (Fat Beats Dist)
Del the Funky Homosapien + Amp Live: Gate 13 (I.O.T.)
Denmark Vessey: Sun Go Nova (Mello Music Group)
Dillyn Troy: Tru Story (Twenty Two Music)
Carnage: Battered Bruised & Bloody (digital)
Dr. Octagon: Moosebumps: An Exploration into Modern Day Horripilation (Bulk Recordings/Caroline)
E-40 & B-Legit: Connected And Respected (Heavy On The Grind Ent)
Famous Dex: Dex Meets Dexter (300 Ent.)
Flatbush Zombies: Vacation in Hell (The Glorious Dead)
Iman Shumpert: Substance Abuse (digital)
Cole: KOD (Roc Nation/Interscope)
Jamie Hancock: Sincerely, Me (Sofa Boys Ent.)
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris: Everything’s Fine (Mello Music Group)
Jim Jones: Wasted Talent (Empire/Vamplife)
Khary: Captain (digital) (Kousteau)
Rich The Kid: The World is Yours (Interscope)
Royce Ripken: Home Run Ripken (digital) (Beatbayngrz & Nockwoofrz)
Saba: Care for Me (digital)
Smoke Dza: Not For Sale (Babygrande)
Snoop Dogg: 220 (Doggystyle)
T-Nyce: Blood of a Slave Heart of a King, Vol. 3 (85 Concept)
Tony Njoku: H.P.A.C (Silent Kid)
Westside Gunn & Mr. Green: Flygod Is Good…All The Time (Nature Sounds)
Young Thug: Hear No Evil EP (digital) (300 Ent.)
YoungBoy Never Broke Again: Until Death Call My Name (digital)
Reggae Christafari: Original Love (Lion of Zion)
Gladiators: Serious Thing (Omnivore)
Gladiators: Symbol of Reality (Omnivore)
Mellow Mood: Large (La Tempesta Dub)
Sting & Shaggy: 44/876 (A&M/Interscope)
Various: Hold On To Your Roots (Larger Than Life)
Afrikän Protoköl: Beyond the Grid (Abozamé)
Ayunne Sule: We Have One Destiny (Makkum)
Djénéba & Fousco: Kayeba Khasso (Lusafrica)
Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara (Mr. Bongo)
Line’zo: Dusk Vybz (Royal Face)
Novelist: Novelist Guy (Mmmyeh Records)
Tank Delafoisse: Based on a True Story… (Music Is Life Ent.)
This month’s top picks include a new recording of Florence Price’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 performed by Er-Gene Kahng, and “American Songster” Dom Flemons’ collaboration with Smithsonian Folkways on an exploration of the music of Black Cowboys.
April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), with April 30th designated as International Jazz Appreciation Day. Jazz and social justice is the contextual lens for JAM this year, showcasing the progressive ways jazz continues to play a transformative role with respect to the civil rights of individuals from multiple facets of society. The jazz collaborations of both Wynton Marsalis Septet’s United We Sing and Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette‘s After The Fall demonstrate the excellence that prevails when groups work collectively towards a common goal. Don’t Play with Love released by the John L. Nelson Project showcases the formidable talents of Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, both of whom fostered positive inspiration in others through their artistic legacies. Perseverance plays a central role in Sy Smith’s Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete and saxophonist Lekecia Benjamin’s Rise Up, as both albums urge continuance despite the cost. Young Street by bassist Reggie Young rounds out this category with a blend of jazz and funk.
Growing up in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, Lakecia Benjamin moved away from home at the young age of 14 to attend La Guardia High School of Music & Art, where she got her start playing jazz. Since then, Benjamin has become one of the most sought after saxophonists in the music industry, playing with jazz giants like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman as well as arranging and leading the horn sections of superstars like Macy Gray, Alicia Keys, and even Stevie Wonder. Now, as she releases her third album, Rise Up featuring her group Soul Squad, Benjamin reminds us once again of her prowess as a songwriter and band leader.
Benjamin uses this album to send a message about moving through life’s many challenges, opening with the funky title track “March On,” which begins with a quote from Les Brown: “You can either live your dreams or live your fears.” This song features a fun and motivational rap from Benjamin as well as a powerful vocal from jazz singer China Moses. “March On” speaks towards the idea of moving through the obstacles life puts in your way, with the lyric: “We March On to find victory / We March On to find the peace we seek / We March On to reclaim our being / We March On! We March On! We March On!”
“Take Back” is another truly spectacular track. Though entirely instrumental, this jazz fusion tune is meant to convey a story of taking back control over your life and reclaiming your destiny. With its driving rock groove and catchy and rhythmic horn riff you can’t help but move with the music.
Rise Up includes other phenomenal new original songs from Benjamin, including “Cornbread,” “Survivor” and “On The One.” It’s such a fun album that it’s sure to appeal to a wide range of jazz and soul fans alike.
Long hailed as the hardest working artist in underground soul, Sy Smith’s fifth album, Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete, proves once again she is a force to be reckoned with in both the underground and outer-ground music scene. This release is the first album completely written and produced by this multitalented musician, featuring her slick synth bass playing and lithe piano keying along with her incomparable soprano voice and signature vocal arrangements.
Smith’s voice shines through on this album, as she employs various techniques that she is known for and some she seems to honor straight out of 1990s R&B. The title song, “Sometimes a Rose will Grow in Concrete,” teases us with a small sample of her amazing whistle register, bringing it out at the end of the song as a parting gift. Lyrically, this song speaks to the current time, as its inclusion of lyrics such as “Sometimes we get no answers but still the questions will remain…sometimes a rose will grow in concrete, sometimes a caged bird will sing” reflects an activist tone regarding American society. Carrying a strong pen, Smith reveals victories won and battles still being fought as she provides a powerful, if haunting, ode to people who come through the harshest of trials and still bloom as beautifully as roses.
Smith’s continuing penchant for go-go is present in this album with the song, “Now and Later.” The funk-inspired beat interspersed with a cool rhythm-and-blues sound reflects back to Smith’s genesis in DC with her former go-go band “In Tyme.” “Camelot,” one of the smoothest contemporary R&B ballads, reinvigorates that 1990s Janet Jackson-esque sound, complete with multiple background vocals, string instrumentals and long-winded notes held and released over and again in differing registers.
Providing us with never-ending, smooth stylings that both echo yesterday’s R&B and set the standards for contemporary soul, Sy Smith’s Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete proves that Smith herself is that enduring rose whose presence grows sweeter and stronger with each new release.
Early March brought a strong debut album by Seattle’s Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, featuring guitarist Jimmy James, drummer David McGraw, and of course Lamarr on B-3. This group performs standard organ trio fare, and has obviously honed its own approach by careful listening to masters of the format.
There are two sides to the organ trio format, one represented by bebop-heavy shredders like Joey Defrancesco and another more gospel-inflected soulful camp, influenced by players like Jimmy McGriff. Lamarr’s group decidedly falls into the latter, a detail that would be noticeable from a passing glance at Close But No Cigar’s tracklist. Tunes include “Little Booker T” and “Memphis,” both reminiscent of the legendary soul organist Booker T Jones’s work for the Stax label, as well as “Al Greenery,” a number that approximates the gospel sound of the titular Rev. Green. Here’s a studio performance of the title track:
Lamarr and company are very good at imitating the grooves of famous musicians, but the group has more than imitative works up its collective sleeves. Each tune on this record is drenched in hot buttered soul, as culinary-themed groovers like “Between the Mayo and the Mustard” and “Raymond Brings the Greens” would suggest. These tracks are riff-based organ jams that feature not only Lamarr’s skillful mastery of the percussive qualities of his instrument, but also skillful manipulation of two chord vamps by James and McGraw and some downright delicious soloing by James (including what sounds like a quote from David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” on the latter).
Organ trios are all about timbre, combining three instruments with myriad layers of overtones, and this group features great tones all around. It’s impossible to beat the rich sound of Lamarr’s B3 contrasting James’s biting guitar tone over McGraw’s colorful palate on the drum kit. No player appears to aim for virtuosic soloing. Rather, the group simmers its grooves, entering and exiting smoothly—the solos end but the jams go on.
The record concludes with a retro-soul rendition of Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on By” that sounds like it could have been recorded by the legendary Stax studio band itself. All in all, the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio doesn’t make any radical changes to the organ trio format, but Close But No Cigar is a worthy entry in this always listenable genre.
Title: Stax Singles Vol. 4 – Rarities & The Best of the Rest
Label: Stax/Craft Recordings
Formats: 6-CD set, Digital
Release date: February 9, 2018
From the early days of the CD era, there has been a constant stream of reissues from the legendary Stax/Volt catalog. Three volumes (28 CDs total) of The Complete Stax/Volt Singles plus artist-specific box sets, plus a pile of compilation CDs and box sets. Not to mention the many individual album reissues, which often included extra singles and other tracks not on the original LPs. What is left in the vaults to compile into this new 6-CD box, issued in conjunction with Concord Music Group’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of Stax’s founding?
It turns out, not 6 discs worth of compelling music, but there are many interesting obscure gems lurking among a bunch of tunes that were forgotten for a reason. The set is also padded with familiar material such as Booker T. & The M.G.’s cuts already issued on the artists’ own box set, and slightly edited single versions of Big Star hits.
The set has a scattershot focus, which actually works to its benefit by offering interesting music to several audiences. Discs 1-3 are B sides of singles included in the first three massive “Complete Singles” boxes (which, it turns out, contain mostly A sides and not “complete” singles by the definition of both sides of a record). Compiled by Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records and co-producer of the first three sets, these discs probably contain the fewest of what the casual listener might consider dull duds. For the deep-diver, some of the sides are obscure enough to be sourced from dubs of scratchy old 45’s, meaning the master tapes are missing.
To Concord’s credit, they offer a detailed listing of the set’s contents, so consumers can decide for themselves if there is enough interesting material to justify the purchase price. If the music compels you, the physical product is recommended because the 76-page booklet provides much detail and context, plus some nice artist photos from the old Stax promotional files.
Which brings us to the other half of the box. Discs 4-6 cover Stax’s attempts to diversify its catalog from its southern-soul target market. The material is mined from sub-labels: Enterprise (pop and country), Hip (pop and rock), Ardent (rock), and the gospel imprints Chalice and The Gospel Truth. The booklet offers very detailed information about these labels, which will be of interest to the deep-divers and completists. In general, these efforts were not financially successful for Stax, but some of the music (particularly the Ardent albums released by Big Star) turned out to be widely influential and critically acclaimed.
Stax’s pop and country releases were obviously a mixed bag. If the “best” is collected here, there was a lot of dreck in the catalog. The rock offerings are more interesting, including the more rock-ish and psychedelic pop songs. The Memphis music scene of the 1960s and ‘70s had a unique take on rock, with both soul flavorings and a “garage” feel. It’s exciting and doesn’t sound manufactured. Likewise with the best of Stax’s pop productions—they don’t sound as plastic and disposable as much of the competing material that was churned out of NYC, L.A. and Detroit.
The best of the back three discs is #6, covering the gospel labels. In general, the arrangements and performances hue toward Stax’s soul sound and feel, of great benefit to Sunday’s music. The gospel passion is turned up a notch in the caldron of backbeat soul, creating great impact. It might have been a better idea to peel off this material into a separate Stax gospel compilation.
For the hardcore Stax fans, and for listeners deeply into American soul music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, there will be enough material in this set, plus the booklet text, to justify its place in your collection. For others, the appeal will depend on your curiosity and willingness to wade through a wide variety of artists, styles and genres.
Last October the world was blessed with the latest project by legendary funk bassist, vocalist, and composer Bootsy Collins. World Wide Funk contains all of the elements Collins is most known for as an artist: funky grooves, excellent playing, and a whimsical sense of humor (evidenced by the assertion on the introductory track that Bootsy was born “a long, long time ago…deep below the Ohio river—before anyone ever heard of Ohio”).
It is difficult to overstate the impact that Collins has had on generations of musicians through his work as a bassist with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, as well as on his own prolific solo recordings. The sheer variety and skill of his collaborators on World Wide Funk hints at the otherwise inestimable breadth of his influence. Nearly every track on the record features a guest artist, from the shredding styles of the KFC chicken container-donning guitarist Buckethead (“Worldwide Funk” and “Illusions”) to golden-era hip hoppers Doug E. Fresh and Big Daddy Kane (“Worldwide Funk” and “Hot Saucer,” respectively) to young gun bassist Alissia Benveniste (“Bass-Rigged System” and “Thera-P”). There are also features by musicians who may be considered “usual suspects” on a collaboration-based album by a musician of Collins’s stature, such as bassists Victor Wooten and Stanley Clarke (“Bass-Rigged-System”) and guitarist Eric Gales and drummer Dennis Chambers (“Come Back Bootsy”).
As one would expect from the Star Child, the M.O. of World Wide Funk is “One Nation Under a Groove”—grooves are now, as they have always been, the meat and potatoes of Collins’s style. Whether offering virtuoso musicians opportunities to stretch out as on “Come Back Bootsy” and “Bass-Rigged System,” or providing a steady groove to rap or party over as on “Pusherman” and “Ladies Nite,” rhythm is the name of the game. Even the more sentimental songs like the ‘90s R&B-Tinged “Heaven Yes” and the Jimi Hendrix-inspired, synth-based “Salute to Bernie”—a tribute to Collins’s late bandmate Bernie Worrell (who is featured on the track)—groove hard. While guest artists occasionally veer into social themes (as on “Pusherman” and “Illusions”), they do so over immensely danceable tracks without the navel-gazing and preaching to the choir that is often the currency of social commentary in pop music. Overall, however, World Wide Funk imagines a reality in which every listener is part of one big party at which some of the sharpest musicians of the day (and in some instances, of all time) are having a jam session.
Generations of bassists have tried to emulate Bootsy Collins’s style, chops, and taste, and this album is essential listening for musicians who want to learn how to really groove. It’s also great party music. It is no accident that Collins’s bass lines are the most sampled in all of hip hop and dance music, and this album certainly provides a new batch of infectious riffs to bump. Bootsy has been the funkiest bassist around since the ‘60s and he still is. Creating lines that range from funky slapping to deep-in-the-pocket grooves, it is doubtless that Bootsy will continue to find new listeners who have an appreciation for rhythm and low end. Bootsy Collins’s classic albums still sound fresh today, and World Wide Funk is destined to join them in the future.
Meshell Ndegeocello has produced widely divergent albums over the course of her career, each offering captivating sonic explorations. This is also true of her new release, Ventriloquism, a collection of cover songs completely reworked to reflect Ndegeocello’s incomparable eclecticism and fluid movement across genres. She explains:
“Early on in my career, I was told to make the same kind of album again and again, and when I didn’t do that, I lost support. There isn’t much diversity within genres, which are ghettoizing themselves, and I liked the idea of turning hits I loved into something even just a little less familiar or formulaic. It was an opportunity to pay a new kind of tribute.”
Joining her on this exploration are several longtime musical partners and colleagues: guitarist Chris Bruce, drummer Abraham Rounds, and keyboardist Jebin Bruni. The project was engineered by S. Husky Huskolds, and mixed and mastered by Pete Min.
As with her Pour Une Âme Souveraine (2012), dedicated to Nina Simone, Ndegeocello’s new album features songs by musicians who have inspired her over the years, with a particular bent toward 1980s classics. Opening with Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s 1985 dance hit, “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” Ndegeocello follows the general style of the original, but softens the vocals, blurs the beats, and augments the electronic effects resulting in a spacey, otherworldy interpretation. Al B. Sure’s “Nite and Day” is slowed down to a dreamy, sensuous ballad that fades out on a distorted guitar riff. On her cover of TLC’s signature song, “Waterfalls,” she uses instrumental fills instead of attempting to replace the rapped verse by Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. Likewise, in her newly released video for the song, she takes a more metaphorical slant to the subject matter of people tragically affected by drugs and HIV, instead of the more explicit approach in the award-winning TLC video.
Ndegeocello’s gorgeous cover of Prince’s “Sometimes it Snows in April” was the first single off the album. Released via Rolling Stone on January 12, she explained in the accompanying article, “I’ve made so much because of [Prince]. I still can’t believe he’s not on the planet and this was as close to closure as I’d get.” Emotionally laden with throaty vocals, whispered reminiscences and off-kilter harmonies, Ndegeocello’s tribute is arguably the most poignant cover version of the song to date. As she shifts into the final couplet, “all good things they say never last, and love is love until it’s past,” sung over stripped down instrumentals, it’s as though we’re hearing a voice from beyond mourning a life tragically cut short. Farewell, Prince.
On George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog,” Ndegeocello tones down the funk and the theatrics, placing more emphasis on the instrumentals through overlapping, layered guitars. Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun)” leaves Quiet Storm territory, taking on a darker, more foreboding character with distorted bass, cello and electronic effects. This gloomy soundscape is broken by the Force MDs “Tender Love,” which is given a lighter, folksier treatment with harmonica fills and strummed guitars.
Taking on another iconic female vocalist, Ndegeocello’s rendition of Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” works extremely well as a slow ballad backed by guitars and piano, and the tempo is a much better fit for the melancholy yet wistful lyrics. The album closes with Sade’s “Smooth Operator.” Stripped of its Latin rhythms and turned on its side, the song takes on a percussive, bottom heavy electronica sound, with virtuosic dueling bass and guitar replacing the sax solo on the original.
On Ventriloquism, Ndegeocello unleashes her extraordinary creativity, reimagining classic songs of the ‘80s and ‘90s in new and unexpected ways. In doing so, she also demonstrates her independence from an industry that too often tries to pigeonhole black artists and black music.
Formats: CD, cassette, limited ed. green vinyl, digital
Release date: February 2, 2018
One of Southern California’s premiere funk and soul outfits, Orgōne has been spreading its cosmic energy throughout the universe for nearly two decades. Fronted by vocalist Adryon de León, who plugs the soul into the ensemble, Orgōne is known for its unique mélange of gritty old school ‘60s and ‘70s music infused with contemporary influences drawn from the multicultural milieu of L.A. These influences were perfectly expressed on their last album, Beyond the Sun (2015). While recording new tracks in the studio, the band hit upon the idea of producing a cover album dedicated to a few of the artists “who paved the road for us.” The result is Undercover Mixtape, offering 13 classics paying homage to artists from Stax and Motown, as well as legendary jazz, funk and rock musicians.
The album opens with an outstanding rendition of the jazz-funk instrumental “The Black Five,” originally released by Roy Ayers Ubiquity in 1974. The Orgōne crew swaps the string section and Ayers signature vibes for layered keyboards and guitar, providing an updated sound. Switching over to guitar-driven hard rock on “Cynthy-Ruth,” the band is led by Tarin Ector (The Solutionagenics), whose gritty vocals are well-suited for this track from the 1970 debut album by Detroit’s Black Merda.
Adryon de León is brave enough to tackle “Think,” Aretha Franklin’s iconic 1968 feminist anthem, and absolutely nails it with fantastic backing from the band. She also shines on several other soul-drenched tracks: Betty Wright’s “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker” which also showcases the horn section; the Gladys Knight tearjerker “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye);” and Gwen McCrae’s “All This Love That I’m Givin’.” Guest vocalist Kelly Finnigan is featured on “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” adhering closely to the Otis Redding version of the song.
If you want funk and nothing but the funk, you won’t be disappointed with the remaining tracks on the album. The band seriously grooves on two back-to-back instrumentals, deftly channeling Booker T’s organ licks on “Melting Pot,” then getting down on an extended version of Cameo’s “It’s Serious.” The Meters, clearly one of the Orgōne’s favorite groups, are covered on “It Ain’t No Use,’ once again featuring the amazing Adryon de León, and “Looka Py Py,” on which the band navigates the complex polyrhythms and deep bass grooves with precision. Last but certainly not least, are two tracks from the funkiest funk band on the planet. Parliament’s 1971 classic, “The Breakdown,” features Mixmaster Wolf, who normally fronts the eight piece L.A. funk band Breakestra. The album closes with another P-funk classic, “Cosmic Slop,” with Tarin Ector once again taking over the helm on this haunting tale about urban poverty that still resonates today.
Undercover Mixtape offers an edifying excursion through soul and funk classics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, performed by a band steeped in the grooves and vocalists capable of covering the era’s most iconic singers. This might be Orgōne’s side project, but they deserve a victory lap for keeping the funk funky and the soul soulful in the 21st century.
“Gather round, space cadets and funkateers.” So begins the liner notes for Maceo Parker’s seminal 1992 live album and funk opus, Life on Planet Groove. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the album, Minor Music has released Life on Planet Groove Revisited, which also coincides with Parker’s 75th birthday. This limited edition set includes a new analog to digital transfer of the original album, a second bonus disc, and the DVD MaceoBlow Your Horn.
As everyone likely knows, Maceo Parker was a key member of James Brown’s band in the 1960s, blasting out funky sax solos whenever JB shouted, “Maceo! Blow your horn!” Parker famously walked out on Brown in 1970 with other members of the band, who were replaced by a youthful Cincinnati led group by Bootsy and Catfish Collins. Like Bootsy, Maceo would later join up with George Clinton and contribute to various P-funk projects. Though Parker would return to Brown’s band for a few years, he struck out on his own in 1990. Soon thereafter, he wound up at a club called the Stadtgarten in Cologne, Germany, where Life on Planet Groove was recorded. His backing musicians for this performance included Fred Wesley (trombone, vocals), Pee Wee Ellis (tenor saxophone, flute, vocals), Rodney Jones (guitar), Larry Goldings (organ), and Kenwood Dennard (drums). Special guests included Vincent Henry (bass and occasional alto-sax), Prince protégé Candy Dulfer (alto), and Kym Mazelle (vocalist).
The bonus disc was drawn from the same set of dates at the Stadtgarten. The four tracks include extended versions of the Fred Wesley original “For the Elders,” Lionel Hampton’s “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie,” band member Pee Wee Ellis’s “Chicken,” a cover of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”
Also included is the DVD Maceo Blow Your Horn, featuring newly released footage filmed by Markus Gruber during recording sessions for Parker’s album Roots Revisited, which topped the jazz charts in 1990. Most of the footage was meant for promotional purposes only and is black and white, but the sound is decent. The camera follows band members as they jam in rehearsal and lay down tracks at studios in New York (November 1989) and Cologne (1990). These clips are interspersed with interviews where Parker discusses the creative process along with anecdotes about James Brown, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Ray Charles, among others. Along the way there’s some odd filler footage of airplane wings and cityscapes. Just to be clear, this is not a documentary in the manner of My First Name Is Maceo, but rather bits and pieces of footage strung together with title cards. Regardless, the film is certainly of historical interest and any fan of Maceo Parker and his band will be grateful for its inclusion.
Life on Planet Groove Revisited is a fine tribute to the great Maceo Parker on his 75th birthday.