Jean Beauvoir is a legend in the world of black rock and Afro-punk artists. Born in Chicago to Haitian-American parents, he started his musical career in a fairly typical manner, learning drums and bass as a kid, and honing his vocals singing doo-wop. But his career took a dramatic left turn when he moved to New York during the punk rock explosion and crossed paths with Rod Swenson and Wendy O. Williams.Continue reading →
Seminal jazz releases this month include Kamasi Washington’s two-disc Heaven and Earthand Dr. Michael White’s Tricentennial Rag honoring New Orlean’s 300th birthday. Yet another tribute album is Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty’s Tribute to Carey Bell, featuring the four accomplished sons of the legendary Chicago blues harpist.
Also featured is gospel singer Javen’s latest album, Grace; the collaboration connecting Sengalese kora master Diali Cissokho and North Carolina band Kaira Ba on Routes; Lamont Dozier’s Reimagination of tracks previously written for other artists; and the Little Freddie King compilation Fried Rice & Chicken featuring his best tracks from the Orlean’s label. Wrapping up this issue is our list of June 2018 Releases of Note in all genres.
When Seattle power rock trio Ayron Jones and The Way burst onto the scene in 2013 with their Sir Mix-a-Lot produced debut album The Dream, the band was suddenly propelled from playing Northwest dive bars to opening for B.B. King, Robert Cray, Run-DMC and Living Colour. Now, four years later, Jones has new personnel in his band as well as a new producer— ethnomusicologist and drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Walking Papers). His sophomore album, Audio Paint Job, is more of a solo project, with Jones credited as singer/songwriter across the 14 tracks mixed by Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden). As for The Way, current band members Ehssan Karimi (drums) and Bob Lovelace (bass) are featured prominently but not exclusively, while former members—bassist DeAndre Enrico and metal drummer Kai Van De Pitte—also make an appearance. Barrett Martin adds percussion to the majority of the tracks, with occasional forays on the Wurlitzer, vibraphone, piano and backing vocals.
On Jones’s latest project, the Hendrix-inspired guitarist draws upon other iconic elements of the Seattle music scene past and present, including grunge and punk, seasoned with a heavy dose of soul and a pinch of hip hop. As for the album title, Jones explains: “Audio Paint Job . . . has multiple meanings for me. It’s a story about my mental and spiritual transformation through music.” Overcoming obstacles is a constant theme throughout, as Jones’s songs chronicle his personal struggles: life in the spotlight, a divorce, and the loss of a family member from drug and alcohol addiction.
The album kicks off with the powerful rock ballad “Take Me Away,” which successfully incorporates a surprisingly diverse sonic palette. Opening with the percussive sound of a typewriter “performed” by Barrett Martin like a modern day Ernie Pyle, the song progresses through a guitar duel between Jones and Lovelace, scratching by DJ Indica Jones, and a lush string arrangement courtesy of Andrew Joslyn. On the edgy ballad “It’s Over When It’s Over,” Jones switches to a 12-string acoustic guitar accompanied by vibes and strings, reinforcing the melancholy mood.
An obvious favorite, the band’s theme song “Boys From the Pudget Sound” features original members Van De Pitte and Enrico. This ode to Jones’s hometown perfectly encapsulates the Seattle vibe, as he disses transplants to the city: “you say you love stormy weather, but child you can’t stand the rain.” The hard rocking track showcases Jones’s guitar chops, while soaring “opera vocals” by Johnathan Wright and percussion by Barrett Martin add to the texture.
B Anthony Nelson (People Zoo Art Works) offered to produce the video for the album’s first single, “Love is the Answer,” which Jones wrote as a message song for turbulent times: “A reminder that while we all experience and perceive different things in our daily lives, we are made of the earth, that’s made of the sun, that’s made of our galaxy, that’s made of the universe. We are the universes. If we want to see a change in our lives, or in the lives of others we must become and project what we wish to see in our world. Love is The Answer” (Paste, 2017).
Additional highlights include the powerful protest song “Stand Up (Take Your Power Back)” and “Lay Your Body Down,” the latter featuring extended guitar solos with psychedelic effects. The album concludes with the slow burner “Yesterday,” which harkens back to ‘60s soul with Joe Doria taking us to church on the B3.
Though already well-known on the West Coast, Ayron Jones will no doubt increase his fan base with his latest album. Audio Paint Job explores a wide range of styles, delivering a sound that’s steeped in the past yet acutely attuned to the present, both musically and thematically. Black rock returns to Seattle!
New York Fascist Week is the much-anticipated sophomore record from Austin’s BLXPLTN (pronounced Blaxploitation). The band has not shied away from speaking loudly and supporting justice for the oppressed, and they continue to take on state violence in its various forms. “Blood on the Sand” and “Gun Range” take the murder of civilians by police head-on, the latter describing the feeling of living in a neighborhood targeted by policing as “living in a gun range.” “Auf Wiedersehen” could be seen as another commentary on our current police state, or as a warning of the continuing spread, acceptance, and consequences of ubiquitous surveillance and authoritarianism with the lyrics: “Where you going there, sonny? / Respect my authority / Funerals everywhere I go, Tell your children not to leave their homes.” Following is the newly released video for the opening track, “Blood on the Sand”:
Each song on New York Fascist Week offers powerful comments on events past, present, and future, with BLXPLTN’s electro-punk, industrial, and rock arrangements perfectly complementing their lyrics. The album is available with two different covers: the limited edition version with artwork by Hiram Melendez (shown above), or the Donald Trump cover with art by Pathetic Pixels (below):
Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, The Untold Story of a Musical Genius is the latest offering from Steven Roby, former publisher of Straight Ahead: The International Jimi Hendrix Magazine and author ofBlack Gold: The Lost Archives of Jimi Hendrix (2002). With numerous biographies now in print, including those penned by band members, producers and former girlfriends, is there anything left to say?
Roby and Schreiber’s book begins with a brief intro summarizing Hendrix’s formative years in Seattle, but the bulk deals exclusively with the period from June 1961, when Jimi begins his Army basic training at Fort Ord, through September 1966, when he steps off a Pan Am flight at London’s Heathrow airport with Chas Chandler. Though a short Epilogue summarizes the suspicious circumstances surrounding Hendrix’s death in 1970, and some post-1966 tidbits are scattered throughout the narrative, the book ends rather abruptly just before his career soars into the stratosphere. If you’re not a Hendrix acolyte, this will likely leave you on the edge of your seat in which case it might be a good idea to have another bio at hand, such as Electric Gypsy by Henry Shapiro (1990) or Roomful of Mirrors by Charles R. Cross (2005).
What the authors do accomplish in Becoming Jimi Hendrix is to flesh out Jimi’s early career playing R&B and perfecting his showmanship on the Chitlin’ Circuit. Invariably penniless, pawning his guitar every other day, and relying on friends (especially his multitude of lady friends) for food and shelter, Hendrix eschews any degree of security in order to focus all of his energies on playing, learning, experimenting, and ultimately creating a new soundscape that became known as psychedelic rock. Details are provided about early performances, including an April 14, 1962 talent show at George’s Bar in Indianapolis where Hendrix and Billy Cox lose out to The Presidents (the house band). Through new interviews with friends, the authors are able to provide first person accounts of Hendrix’ work with Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, the Isley Brothers, Sam and Dave, Hank Ballard’s Midnighters, Curtis Knight, and King Curtis, among others. The final chapter, covering the summer of 1966, finds Hendrix playing in Greenwich Village clubs where “Jimmy Hendrix became Jimi Hendrix,” both influenced by and influencing the burgeoning hipster scene―one that was predominantly white. Though Hendrix’s predilection for reverb and distortion was already costing him R&B gigs, his formative period in the Village led to further alienation from black audiences and musicians.
One of the most valuable sections of the book is the “Chronology of Tours and Events, 1962-1966,” which provides a quick reference to all of Jimi’s R&B performances including bands, dates, venues, and personnel, along with influential events such as attending his first Bob Dylan concert. Though Electric Gypsy includes a much more extensive “Life Chronology,” Roby and Schreiber have undertaken extensive research to document specific locations and other details not found elsewhere.
Overall, Becoming Jimi Hendrix is a valuable addition to the Hendrix oeuvre. If you want to know more about Jimi’s formative years and influences, and how a struggling R&B musician became the most influential rock guitarist of all time, then you’ll want to check out this book.
Format: DVD, NTSC (85 min.); also available as View-on-Demand
Catalog No.: 83629 68138
Release Date: November 26, 2008
Black musicians have held a very peculiar position in rock ‘n’ roll music even though the genre is rooted in the African American musical continuum. Outside of the grand successes of Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard and a few others, black rock-n-rollers have been categorically marginalized in a genre that their culture helped create. Raymond Gayle’s Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker (2008) details the historic struggles of black rock musicians as they navigate the intersections of music, industry, and race. Part history and part conversation, Electric Purgatory includes commentary from a number of notable black musicians including Angelo Moore of Fishbone, Doug Pinnick of Kings X, and Cody Chesnutt.
The film’s first half is a history of African American participation in rock ‘n’ roll. Featuring archival footage and supporting commentary, this section explores the ways in which artists such as Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Rick James and others have occupied both foundational and marginal spaces within rock music. Particularly intriguing were the discussions of Little Richard’s influence and Spacey T’s (Fishbone) comments about late P-Funk guitarist Eddie Hazel, who is often left out of the pantheon of guitar heroes. The second half focuses on the relationship between black rock musicians and a music industry that has often limited their opportunities for advancement. The almost heartbreaking sentiments from Angelo Moore within this section are by far the film’s most captivating moments.
The only complaints one could make about this film is that a lacks background information on featured artists and there is not enough discussion of the reception of black rock by black audiences. Outside of those minor issues, Electric Purgatory covers a lot of ground in roughly seventy minutes. Gayle does an excellent job of balancing the rich history of black rock music with discussion of the issues that have plagued it since the beginning. Therefore, the film never seems overly romantic or too dispirited. If one is looking for a thorough examination of what it means to be a black rock musician, Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker is definitely the way to go.
Since early 2007, Rob Fields has been championing the existence and worth of Black rock at his blog, Bold as Love. No stranger to the Black rock scene, Fields was the PR director for the Black Rock Coalition in the early 1990s, and later managed alternative Black musicians such as Josh Roseman, Graham Haynes, and Remileku. He has described Black rock as “an invitation to break the frame of things we take for granted-what we listen to out of course, avenues through which we can express ourselves, even notions of what it means to be authentically black.” With his marketing background, Fields is profoundly interested in how to attract an audience, particularly a Black audience, for Black rock music, and how Black rock music can positively influence Black culture. In Bold as Love, he explores these ideas through thoughtful essays, as well as posting responses (both positive and negative) to pop cultural occurrences related to Black rock, and interviewing prominent figures in Black rock on his podcast BoldasRadio. He also promotes Black rock-related events and performances through the blog’s related event series, BoldasLIVE.
Fields has just released a new compilation, Boldaslove.us Presents: Fire In The Dark, which he describes as “songs from the new Black imagination.” Featured are 17 tracks from some of the hottest black rock artists on the scene today. Highlights include “Ocean” by Tamar-kali, “Freedom is Over” by Sophia Ramos, “The Ballad of Fletcher Reede” by The Smyrk, “Never Goin’ Home Again” by Honeychild Coleman, and “Blak Girls” by Shelley Nicole’s Blakbushe. Many thanks to Rob for making this compilation available to black rock fans free of charge!
Living Colour has just released its fifth CD project, The Chair in the Doorway, which highlights a plethora of musical styles that the band has mastered over the last three decades. This New York-based band, formed in 1983 by guitarist Vernon Reid, garnished industry attention in 1988 with their hit “Cult of Personality” from their debut album, Vivid. Since then, Living Colour has experienced a broad range of interest as a result of national and international touring, subsequent CD releases and their association with the Black Rock Coalition, a national organization devoted to complete creative freedom of Black artists, of which Vernon Reid was one of its founders.
The eleven tracks on The Chair in the Doorway highlight why Living Colour continues to be in demand by musicians and music lovers who defy the notion of artistic boundaries. While the lyrical content seems dark upon first listen, it is couched in a spectrum of expressions that warrants attention. For instance, “DecaDance” presents the story of moral decay as one climbs the ladder of success governed by a never-ending desire for more. This track has a typical rock sound, with power chords holding down the harmonic and rhythmic drive while a screaming guitar solo paints the image of corrosion amidst shallow abundance. “Method” creates a two-fold picture, seen from the perspective of one coming down from a drug high, as well as from one who evaluates the reality of social forces that conjure up chaos, yet also exist as an organic, rational, and expected dimension of life itself. The track flows like a hypnotic merry-go-round both lyrically and instrumentally, with its evasive yet committed rhythmic and melodic loops.
Following is a clip of Living Colour performing “DecaDance” at Leverkusen Jazztage Nov. 3, 2008:
“Bless Those” is a straightforward bluesy funk that plays on sacred/secular fluidity both in lyrical and musical structures. The climactic phrase “those that can go either way” in the hook positions “Bless Those” (or those blessed) within the parameters of human experience, wherein a constant identity struggle occurs. The hybrid structure of funk, blues, and rock in this track exemplifies such conflict and, ultimately, its resolution in musical terms. While “Bless Those” highlights the two-sided coin of human existence, the track also represents the totality of The Chair in the Doorway: at any given time, most, if not all, of us become manifestations of obstacles and entry points into the societal hierarchy that produces haves and have-nots, as well as the emotional baggage that comes with every status level. This project may not be for those on the edge, as it might push them over. It is, however, for those who recognize the inconsistencies, tribulations, and triumphs that are germane to life itself, and who wish to have a musical soundtrack that spells it all out.
If the music world is like a wheel, then Jean Beauvoir would be a good candidate for its hub, due to the number of artists he has collaborated with. Beauvoir began playing drums as a child and switched to bass when he was a teenager. At the age of 13 he became musical director for Gary “U.S.” Bonds, a rock ‘n’ roll singer known for his early ‘60s hit songs “New Orleans” and “Quarter to Three.” Bonds would later collaborate with Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, while Van Zandt went on to establish a close working relationship with Beauvoir.
Following his stint with Bonds, Beauvoir briefly joined the famed doo-wop group The Flamingos as lead singer, then moved on to New York—all before turning 16. In 1980 he joined The Plasmatics, serving as the punk group’s bass and keyboard player until 1984. The Plasmatics were well known for the outrageous stage antics of lead singer Wendy O. Williams which included the destruction of guitars with chainsaws, blowing up speakers, and smashing television sets with sledgehammers. It was also during this time that Beauvoir began sporting his trademark blond Mohawk.
Beauvoir went on to join Steven Van Zandt’s group, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, but left after two albums to start his solo career. He scored a minor hit with “Feel the Heat” after it was used as the theme for the Sylvester Stallone film Cobra, and produced a couple of albums that were moderately successful in the United States, but overall Beauvoir has achieved greater success overseas. Over the years he has been involved with many other artists, including the Pretenders, the Ramones, the Who, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Nona Hendryx, and Tina Turner, among others, and also released one album (The Awakening Vol. 1, 1989) with his short lived heavy metal band Voodoo X.
Beauvoir’s current musical project is a multi-racial rock band called Crown of Thorns, formed around 1996. Faith appears to be their 10th album, and the first to be released in the U.S. on Steven Van Zandt’s new label Lost Cathedral. Following is a brief promo video:
Firmly rooted in the rock of the ’70s and ‘80s, the album’s guitar runs are reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, and others whose playing style was bleached of the blues. The mellotrons and synthesizers sound dated on a few tracks. For example, when the mellotron plays the strings, they tend to sound very schmaltzy and can make one a little self-conscious about the music. Also, Beauvoir’s voice works best when the guitar is a little distorted, otherwise the energy goes completely out of the song. Though the first three songs run together somewhat, the fourth track, “The One,” is a nice change of pace and contains an interesting piano figure as well as a great guitar sound. “Rock Ready” features chugging, metallic guitars and drumming with a deep pocket, with a sound more akin to Living Colour than Led Zeppelin. The cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” however, falls a little flat.
Though Faith fails to say anything new and interesting musically, the band definitely plays very well. Perhaps listening to the Crown of Thorns’ earlier records, along with Beauvoir’s solo efforts, would better serve someone interested in Beauvoir’s career. He certainly deserves to be better known in the States, and to stand alongside other influential black rockers. Maybe the new collaboration with Steven Van Zandt will help this come to pass.
Following is another brief clip from a live performance in NYC in June 2009, featuring the song “Living in the Shadows” from Faith:
We’re happy to promote this new autobiography by pioneering radio deejay Herb Kent “the Cool Gent,” a.k.a. the Black Dick Clark. Beginning his career in 1944 at the age of sixteen, Kent was a fixture on Chicago radio for several decades, most notably on WVON-AM, the most powerful black station in the country. Though perhaps better known for spinning older R&B records on his “dusty” shows, he is also legendary for creating the first “Punk Out” show on black radio in the early ‘80s. As Kent tells it,
“I remember being at a club , and they were playing “Whip It” by Devo. The black teens there were just jumping up and down and going nuts over it. I said, “Hmmm, let me play that on the show.” I did, and it turned out to be one of my hottest shows. So I started playing a lot of white New Wave and rock artists- Pat Benatar, the B-52’s, Depeche Mode, the Vapors, the Tubes – and there was the black group, the BusBoys.” On the air I called this Punk Out music, and, man, it was as hot as any show I’ve ever had anywhere.”
Regrettably, the Punk Out show is only mentioned in passing, but no doubt it was extremely influential in terms of exposing Kent’s African American audience to the punk rock scene, and may have even inspired some young musicians to play rock.
Overall, the book presents a fine overview of Kent’s career as well as the history of black radio and the music industry, told in a manner one would expect from the Cool Gent. There is even a forward from Da Mayor himself, Richard M. Daley, citing Kents many accolades, from the “Mayor of Bronzeville” to his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame (the first African American deejay to receive this honor). Kent’s story makes for a good read and, since its one of the few books chronicling black radio, should certainly be considered by both university and public libraries.
Sly & the Family Stone was one of the first fully integrated funk/rock/R&B groups—with black, white, male and female band members playing an equal role. Kaliss’ book makes for enjoyable reading and highlights a number of areas of Sly’s career that I was not previously aware of, such as his time spent hosting a radio show (if anyone has airchecks, please drop me a line!). Originally published last year, there is already a revised second edition of I Want to Take You Higher. According to the author, the new edition updates the story in “A Year in the Life” format, following Sly and various band members, among others, from the time of the last interview for the first edition (February 2008) up to the most recent interview with Sly this past February. In addition, several mistakes in the main part of the text have been corrected. If you haven’t already picked up a copy of the original, I highly recommend adding this new paperback edition to your book list.
Whether you’re into rock, rap, punk, or crunk, Whole Wheat Bread is definitely a band to keep an eye on. Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, and defining their playing style as “Dirty South Punk Rock,” Whole Wheat Bread formed in 2003 and released its first album, Minority Rules in 2005. The trio’s current manifestation consists of Aaron Abraham on lead vocals, guitar, and bass; Joseph Largen on vocals and percussion; and Will Fraizer on vocals and bass. Fraizer played with WWB for less than a year before recording Heart of Hoodlums, but the group is already perfectly in sync and gives a tighter performance than most bands that have played together for years. Although not listed among the primary performers, Travis Huff, producer, mixer, and engineer for the album, has also created some nice arrangements and synth tracks for “Bombs Away,” “Stuck in da Dark,” “Staying True,” and “Girlfriend Like This.”
Possibly due to the constant change in bass players since 2006, WWB’s three albums sound considerably different from one another. Whereas their album Minority Rules had more of an off-the-cuff, fast-and-furious, classic punk feel, Punk Life experimented with the heavier sounds of crunk and hip-hop. Compared to these earlier works, Hearts of Hoodlums demonstrates an amazing amount of stylistic versatility. Dirty south, crunk, punk, and hip-hop are definitely in there, but the band has added metal, alternative rock, and reggae to the mix.
The overall theme of Heart of Hoodlums also varies from WWB’s first two albums. Although there are still a number of in-your-face songs about challenging the authorities and shaking up the social order, Hoodlums delves more into self-reflection. A number of songs, like “Every Man for Himself” and “Stuck in da Dark” (featuring a guest performance by rap artist MURS) sing about feeling lost, trapped, confused, and seeking a sense of direction. The lyrics aren’t heavy enough to weigh the album down, but they definitely can take on a more contemplative tone than the more standard punk and crunk fare from WWB’s previous albums.
“Bombs Away” is currently receiving the most attention from the online community and has over 2.5 million hits through WWB’s MySpace page and over 7,000 plays of the music video on YouTube. Musically, “Bombs Away” draws from both rock and rap. The style of the verses is vaguely reminiscent of Eminem while the choruses, featuring guest vocalist Mike McColgan of Street Dogs, sound more like Metallica or Korn. The lyrics also shift between rap and rock, mixing reference to street violence (“don’t pop a cop”) with war references like “the shrapnel falls like stars and washes away who we are,” the latter of which sound much more like something you’d expect from a metal band. The music video also contains war references and shows scenes of the band running through fields wearing army camouflage and touting military riffles. For the most part, however, the action takes place in the “Duval County Veteran’s Hospital,” which look like part of the set for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In the video, Abraham daydreams about WWB staging a military coup against the all-white staff, which has just strapped him into a straight jacket and sedated him. Given WWB’s struggles against the music industry’s tendency to pigeonhole black performers as rap and R&B artists, a story about black rockers resisting institutionalization by white authorities seems appropriate.
Another song with a strong online following is “Throw Yo Sets Up,” which welds a sort of happy crunk beat with lyrics about gang warfare. The song also incorporates elements of reggae and Jamaican Patois in homage to Abraham’s Caribbean heritage. “Girlfriend Like This,” which for some reason reminds me of a Smash Mouth song mixed up with an alma matter, is another popular track and tells about falling for that special girl and the joys of uninhibited sex. Although part of my brain keeps telling me that I really should find “Girlfriend” offensive because of the lyrics, the other half seems to mock it by continually getting this extremely catchy tune stuck in my head.
There are several other solid songs on the album that haven’t attracted quite as much attention. If you’re into more classic punk, “I Can’t Think” is a definite mosh pit starter. Be forewarned, however, that it shifts to crunk toward the end. Although WWB tells off listeners who think this is a hip-hop song, the lyrics and musical style of the crunk section may be too close to gangsta rap for many people. Whether you’ll hear it as a novel twist or as an unwelcome intrusion on an otherwise fantastic punk piece depends completely on your tastes.
A number of songs on the album, while still punk, lean a bit more towards alternative rock. “Lower Class Man” in particular has some crazy and irreverent lyrics lambasting the middle class. If you’re into groups like the Dropkick Murphys, you’ll probably take an instant liking to this one. “Every Man for Himself,” “Ode 2 Father,” and “Catch 22” use a similar musical approach, but the lyrics are lower key, even borderline somber. Even more alternative is “Staying True,” a sentimental song about friendship that opens with soulful acoustic guitar and piano before abruptly shifting to a faster paced rock sound. Although the use of this formula isn’t particularly unique to the current rock scene and the song would sound completely at home on a Green Day album, it’s flawlessly executed and demonstrates the WWB’s versatility.
According to Rob Fields, author of the Bold as Love blog on Black Rock, WWB also offers a great live show and treats its audiences to a mix of top-notch punk and playful humor. After watching the band perform a nearly flawless set at the SXSW09 music festival in Austin, Stone from The Couch Sessions blog has predicted that WWB may just be the next Black Rock band to break through to the mainstream.
WWB is definitely a band that plays what it wants, when it wants, and genre boundaries aren’t going to stop it. My only borderline negative comment about the CD is that it’s slightly cannibalistic. Every song is extremely well-done, but most of them tend to remind you of songs by other bands. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. If you’re really into a particular type of music, it’s always nice to have more of the same played by a great band, and WWB is definitely that. Now that they’ve found their winning combination, it would be fabulous if the group pushed the envelope just a bit more.
Despite this minor issue, Hearts of Hoodlums is a fantastic CD and WWB is currently touring hard to get their name out. If the trio can win over the fickle hearts and pocketbooks of music industry execs, Stone’s prediction may be prophetic.
Posted by Ronda L. Sewald
Editor’s Note: This review is part of our ongoing examination of black rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. Visit the conference website.
Since their formation in 1983, Living Colour has been reclaiming the right to rock for black artists everywhere. Even before the release of their 1988 debut album, Vivid, the band members were actively involved in the Black Rock Coalition, a non-profit organization founded by journalist Greg Tate, producer Konda Mason, and Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid as a means of supporting and sponsoring black rock artists.
Consisting of Reid, Will Calhoun (drums), Corey Glover (vocals), and Doug Wimbish (bass)-the latter of whom replaced Muzz Skillings in 1992-Living Color has successfully overcome a number of obstacles faced by black rock artists seeking to break into the commercial music industry. The very release of Vivid by Epic Records was one such success. The album quickly hit number 6 on the Billboard 200. Soon after, MTV picked up “Cult of Personality,” which was awarded both MTV’s Best New Artist Award and a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1989. More than twenty years later, “Cult of Personality” remains immensely popular and has recently featured in the game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, so now you too can enjoy Living Colour’s experience of having to play a really great song over, and over, and over again.
Following a relatively brief five-year break-up, the band reunited in 2000 and has been actively touring in the US and Europe since 2001. In addition to compilations and remixes, the band released a new album, Collideøscope through Sanctuary in 2003 and a number of live recordings from some of their recent concerts including Instant Live: Avalon (2004) and On Stage @ World Café Live (2005).
The band’s most recent live releases are a CD and DVD of The Paris Concert, which were recorded at the New Morning club in Paris in July 2007. Living Colour is somewhat outside the standard fare for New Morning, which has a reputation as one of the best Parisian jazz clubs. Regardless, the DVD is clear evidence that the band was well-received by an enthusiastic, if somewhat laidback, audience. The New Morning Vision film crew clearly knows this venue inside and out and the shooting is fantastic. Particularly worth looking for are extreme close-ups of Reid’s solo in “Funny Vibe,” Wimbush’s use of slide guitar techniques right before the band launches into “Memories Can’t Wait,” and Calhoun’s extend drum solo.
Based on a quick comparison, the audio from the CD and DVD are more or less the same, so you could probably get away with buying one or the other. Obviously the DVD offers visuals and the CD is more portable, but other than that the only difference seems to be the amount of normalization on the CD. The main result is that the CD is louder throughout, but not to the point that it destroys the balance or the dynamic range of the individual tracks. Neither item offers additional bonus features or tracks, so it really comes down to whether you prefer an audio recording, a video recording, or both.
The set list for the Paris Concert contains a mix of standards including “Glamour Boys,” “Ignorance is Bliss,” “Funny Vibe,” “Type,” “Middle Man,” “Memories Can’t Wait,” and of course, “Cult of Personality.” “Sacred Ground” also features in the set. It first manifests as a brief jazz piece reminiscent of the 1970’s bee-bop sound of Sun Ra & His Astro Infinity Arkestra, before sinking into a more typical funk metal rendition.
The remainder of the set features “Flying,” “Nova,” and “Song without Sin” from Collideøscope, as well as covers of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic.” Particularly unique to this show is the song “Either Way,” a new piece written and sung by Wimbush. The real showstopper, however, is definitely the stellar six-and-a-half minute drum solo by Calhoun. If you’re into percussion, the chance to watch Calhoun’s incredible performance alone makes the DVD worth the purchase price.
Although the members of Living Colour have reached a point in their careers where they could coast on their reputations alone, they’re still working hard to give their fans a great show. Whether they’re churning out “Cult of Personality” for the ten-thousandth time or debuting new material, the group interaction is tight and the solos demonstrate a level of artistry that extends well beyond the typical offerings of most rock bands. The Paris Concert is definitely worth adding to any rock music collection.
Posted by Ronda L. Sewald
Editor’s Note:This review is part of our ongoing examination of black rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. Visit the conference website at: http://www.indiana.edu/~aaamc/br/brconf_2009.html
Artist: Ice-T/Body Count
Label: Charly; distributed by MVD Format: DVD (2 discs, 192 min.)
Catalog no.: MVDV4807D2
Release date: October 28, 2008
Just when we thought Ice-T was forever relegated to corny and overly ghetto-ized Fin Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit, Charly Records takes us back to the roots of ‘the original gangster of rap’ with a live concert DVD filmed in Montreux, Switzerland on July 10, 1995. An added bonus is a second disc featuring almost two hours of additional footage of Ice-T in concert and in the studio with Body Count.
Born February 16, 1958, Tracy Lauren Marrow (Ice-T) was no stranger to worldly woes, even at a young age. His parents both died when he was still a boy, tragedies that brought him from East coast New Jersey to West coast L.A. to live with an aunt. Grief stricken and now living in South Central Los Angeles, Ice found it difficult to cope with the death of his parents and cruel persecution for “yellow skin.” He ultimately affiliated with gang life to escape these tribulations and identify with a family. Though he admits he was never a “hardcore” Crip, he was highly influenced by this brief and powerful association with the gang, explaining in an article from The Source (April 1996) that “I was the one who would go into the party and it’d be a perfectly cool one, and I’d just be wanting to knock over people’s aquariums and be out in front shooting. I just wanted to be known.”
Soon enough, Ice-T’s dream became reality, and at the height of his musical success (after the controversial “Cop Killer” and “OG” singles, and a Grammy Award for a collaborative track with Ray Charles), fate brought him to the ‘95 Montreux Jazz Festival. On stage Ice boasts the rewards of being professional in a rapidly growing musical market, amusedly awakening memories of hip hop glory days complete with Fila jackets and original high-tops. He reminds us that at a time just before the deaths of Biggie and 2Pac, kids from the block still dreamed big and were happily ignorant of the dangerous lifestyle and loss of integrity in marketed street subculture. Much of his message is directed to kids still struggling in impoverished communities, and while his songs are entertainment first, Ice has always been an advocate of human rights, spreading an uplifting message to those in need.
The concert opens with a highly energized crowd, a spewing bottle of champagne, and a free-style from Ice-T that sounds like he may have spit it before. He introduces himself and fellow performers by asserting that the show “…is different than Onyx and Public Enemy… Ice -T’s show is smooth.” The songs move quickly from one to another, ensuring vitality both on stage and off. In “I’m Your Pusher” (based on and sampling Curtis Mayfield’s hit “Pusherman”), Ice argues against drug/thug life by advocating music as an alternative—”you wanna get high? Let the record play.” By the time Ice, DJ Easy-E, and back-up rappers Shawny Shawn and Shawny Mac get to “I Ain’t New Ta This,” the performers are beginning to vibe really well with the audience; Ice even breaks into a genuine smile when the crowd answers back his rhymes, acknowledging his act and fans. A couple tracks later, he solidifies his bond with the audience even further, requesting fans to join him on stage to try their hand at free-style. Proud of himself for his benevolence to common man, he proclaims “virtual reality-one minute you’re watching the show, the next minute you’re in the show!” Surprisingly, there is some real talent on stage and as the foreign kids rap with heavy accents and in different languages, Ice-T nods his head in approval. He then invites ladies onto the stage for a dance-off to the 69 Boyz “Tootsie Roll” track. Very classy. Here’s a brief promotional clip:
The bonus DVD is a bit more sporadic, beginning with an entirely separate Body Count concert at the 2005 Smoke Out Festival in San Bernardino, California during the band’s revival tour, with a line-up that includes Ice T, Ernie-C (Lead Guitar), D-Roc (Rhythm Guitar), Vincent Price (Bass) and O T (Drums). Filmed in hi-def with stereo and 5.1 surround sound that places you in the midst of the 60,000 screaming fans, the DVD captures a blazing performance of the band’s greatest hits, including “There Goes the Neighborhood,” “Cop Killer” and “KKK B***h” (this concert was previously released by Eaglevision as The Smoke Out Festival Presents Body Count) . Other bonus materials include an Ice-T and Body Count studio video shoot (date unknown), and the making of the “Relationships” video featuring Ice’s wife, Coco (Nicole Austin). Though this part of the DVD was less coherent and less entertaining, the fusion of hip hop and metal elements is quite a feat to behold as black musicians assault the eardrums of an almost all white audience while Ice-T raps, though barely audibly, above the noise.
Formed in L.A. in 1990, Body Count was Ice-T’s side project—a band combining elements of hip-hop and heavy metal, with hard raps from Ice-T mixed over hard riffs reminiscent of Slayer. Body Count melds dichotomies of black and white music, paralleling Ice’s personality perfectly. Everything about him is in contrasting balance—”a collage of paradoxes: the booty-crazed pimp-daddy who’s stood by the same woman for 10 years, the high-rollin’ hustla who spins moralistic tales of the ‘hood, the gangbanger who tries to increase the peace, the Black militant who comes off color blind, the gangsta rapper who plays to white kids in a heavy metal band…” (The Source, April 1996). With the addition of the Body Count bonus disc, viewers are able to gain an appreciation for the many sides of Ice-T.
Overall, Live in Concert, Montreux1995 hits all the right bases, combining hip hop’s triumph in popular culture with Ice’s personal victory as a rapper and performer. The contagious energy on and off stage draws viewers out of their living rooms and into the alternate dimensions of 1995, where in the words of Ice himself, we sit back thinking, “yea, that’s some fly sh** right there.”
Posted by Rachel Weidner
Editor’s Note:This review is part of our ongoing examination of black rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus.
Title: Super Sol Nova, Volume 1
Artist: The Family Stand
Label: Go Entertainment / Rounder Europe
Catalog No.: Go 70323
Release date: January 2008
After a nine-year hiatus following the 1998 publication of The Family Stand’s last album, Connected, Sandra St. Victor, Peter Lord, and V. Jeffrey Smith reunited to record and release Super Sol Nova, Volume 1. The release of the album and the group’s recent concert tour is a reaction, at least in part, to the false arrest of Donovan Drayton, son of Family Stand guitarist Ronny Drayton, by the NYPD in November 2007 for premeditated murder and robbery. According to The Family Stand website, the group members are trying to fight Donovan’s indictment for second degree murder by “bonding together to secure legal funds for this long and tedious process via concerts and outreach to the community” (a benefit concert with Nona Hendryx is planned for October). Although Donovan’s story doesn’t seem to play a role in the album itself, it is serving as the inspiration for the group’s continued activity.
Super Sol Nova is a mixed bag in terms of sound and quality. Many of the songs draw upon the rock aesthetics established by earlier songs like “In the Midst of Revolution” and “Plantation Radio” from Moon in Scorpiorather than from the mellower jazz and R&B sounds that characterized Connected and Chain. These tend to be the stronger pieces on the album and I’ll touch on several of them in a moment.
A number of the other songs on the album range from sweet, if somewhat banal, love ballads to sonic experiments gone awry. “009,” for instance, opens with a spoken spoof by Viki Wickham of the typical enemy agent monologue you would expect in a James Bond film. The song itself imitates the 007 soundtracks intermixed with rap solos. The style shifts are so frequent and jarring that the work continually feels like it’s on the verge of a train wreck. Another song that seems to have just passed the brink of disaster is “I Thought I Had,” a break-up song backed by a happy sounding string section with oddly placed attacks on a tympani and bell set. “Slipped,” another break-up song consisting primarily of voice and acoustic guitar, has an equally random bell part that is out of synch with the rest of the music. Maybe this is the band’s way of sonically representing relationships gone sour, but it feels more like bad multi-tracking.
Fortunately, there are twelve other tracks on Super Sol Nova. The album’s title track mixes rock and soul with hip hop style vocals and a solo by Milk D. The lyrics make an attack on corporatized rappers as fakers and posers. Milk D. suggests that “more than a few MC’s need neck slaps” and claims that “every other motherfucking word is fuck” when they rap because of their lack of mic skills and their inability to deliver on stage. In place of the boring sounds cranked out by the music industry, The Family Stand offers to feed the hungry hearts and minds of the masses with the explosion of their super sol nova.
“Super Sol Nova” transitions purposefully and seamlessly into “Everything Works Out,” but quickly drops the harder rock elements in favor of a looped sitar track and tabla-esque percussion, giving the song an Indian flavor. The theme of the lyrics also shifts, switching from accusations of selling out to corporate puppeteers to reveling in the peace and love of discovering the God inside of you and being “who you wanna be.”
Other songs on the album are blatantly political. “In the Name of What?” is a scathing critique of the actions and policies of the Bush administration, particularly the lies about finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the betrayal of CIA agent Valerie Plume by Karl Rove, and the government’s failure to provide aid to the victims of Katrina. Drawing on a musical style reminiscent of WAR, The Family Stand mixes in news clips and the sounds of gunfire and explosions throughout the song.
“Divided We Stand”-an obvious inversion of “united we stand, divided we fall”-is a bluesy criticism of Americans’ failure to overcome the divisions caused by party politics and religion. “Dangerous,” although not political per se, compares a new lover to the dangers of the Iraq war including snipers and landmines. And if that’s not irreverent enough for you, you’ll probably find the line “It’s like a terrorist is roaming in my heart” deeply satisfying.
Other songs worth checking out on the album include “Getting Happy,” a song about new found love delivered as a duet between Sandra and Lord that mixes R&B with a looped viola line; “Highway,” a slow rock ballad about recovering from bad choices; “Blazin'” a big band style instrumental piece featuring Smith on soprano sax; “The Break Down,” an all around solid rock song featuring Corey Glover on background vocals and Mike Ciro and Clifford “Moonie” Pusey on guitar; and “Innizout,” a meld of brooding bass-driven rock with strings that warns of the danger of losing yourself while trying to climb the social ladder.
In case you’re curious about the “Volume One” in the title, there is no “Volume Two.” The Family Stand explains on their website that this album is the first step of “the next journey. . . The Family Stand reborn letting loose it’s creative gases and sonic molecules so that it may form another and even more powerful creative life force to shine its vibrations throughout the universe.”
Although there is currently another project in the works, the tentative title is Definition as opposed to Super Sol Nova, Volume 2, and it will focus exclusively on “one” genre that band calls “Rock/Soul.”
The in-depth interviews combined with thirteen staged performances should delight any fan of opera and Jesse Norman. According to other sites, the “staged performances” are actually lip-synched for this production, a sample of which can be found here.
Africa Unite. (Palm Pictures, Feb. 2008)
Finally available on DVD, Africa Unite is a concert documentary filmed in 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 60th anniversary celebration of the birth of Bob Marley. Featuring performances by three generations of the Marley family, the film is also sprinkled with archival footage and interviews.
The latest release in the Jazz Icon series, this box set includes 8 DVDs featuring Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Nina Simone and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The source of the footage is European television programs that aired between 1958 and 1975. The DVDs are also sold separately.
Enjoy two star-studded tribute concerts, one filmed in Seattle and the other in San Diego, celebrating the legendary Black rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Featured artists include blues guitarists Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin, along with Robert Randolph, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, and many others. Billy Cox and the recently deceased Mitch Mitchell, of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, also contribute to the mix.
Danielia Cotton came onto the rock scene in 2005 with her debut album Small White Town. Her recent sophomore effort, Rare Child, continues her signature blues rock sound, deepened by a more experienced voice. Cotton has often discussed her childhood growing up black and fatherless in a predominantly white New Jersey town. While she sang gospel at her family’s church as a child and teenager, the music she most commonly heard, and ultimately identified with, was rock. These experiences formed the core expression of Small White Town, and continue to inform Rare Child. In the opening cut, “Make U Move,” Cotton sings “I’m a little black girl who’ll rock your world,” and much of the album lives up to that promise.
Cotton’s musical style combines her soul-and blues-inflected vocals with classic rock instrumentation and harmonies, for a sound that suggests Janis Joplin fronting the Black Crowes. A touch of country twang in the guitar parts adds a southern rock element, particularly in the slower songs “Didn’t U,” “Running,” and “Let It Ride.” While several of the faster tracks (“Make U Move,” “Testify,” “Rare Child”) convey a sense of rock and roll bravado, “Didn’t U” and “Running” address heartbreak and different stages of post-breakup grief with confessional honesty. “Let It Ride” reflects the viewpoint of a more experienced musician, wearily describing life on the road and the desire to end the journey and return home. Following is a clip from a live performance of “Testify- Devil in Disguise”:
Danielia Cotton’s music revives the black roots of rock by playing up its blues and soul origins while also turning to some of its predominantly white styles, a combination that stays true to her own upbringing. Her style sounds like rock music from the 1970s, while also sounding distinctly modern. Cotton’s bluesy wail is never quite as raw or powerful as Joplin’s, but it nevertheless gives voice to her own experiences in a fresh and authentic way.
Editor’s note: In keeping with the political theme of the November ’08 issue, here is a link to Cotton’s official Obama campaign add for MoveOn.org:
Title: It Is Time for a Love Revolution
Artist: Lenny Kravitz
Label: Virgin Records
Catalog No.: 724386378620
Lenny is back! Well, perhaps he never entirely went away, but this is his first album in almost four years. His latest effort (his eighth album of new material) offers up his usual dose of poetic lyrics, distinctive vocal delivery, and incredible guitar solos. Overall, he has now sold over thirty million albums worldwide and by anyone’s standards is a superstar. The world needs more artists like Kravitz, who appears to be comfortable with his sound and his place in the music realm.
It Is Time for a Love Revolution is a collection of vintage-sounding Lenny Kravitz songs (view the promo video here). There are singles like “I’ll be Waiting” and “A Long and Sad Goodbye” that fit the mold of the forlorn and hyper-emotional rock ballads that Kravitz has become known for. In general, however, the tone of the album is definitely more downtempo and lacks the harder edge songs like “Are You Gonna Go My Way” (1993) found on his earlier releases. But the album is not all high and dry. Also featured are more upbeat and rhythmic tracks like “Dancin’ with Me.” So depending on which Lenny you prefer, you will either be completely satisfied or slightly bored with the sound of the album.
True to form, Kravitz did most of the work on this album. In addition to serving as executive producer, he wrote and arranged all of the songs. As if that were not enough, he also played electric guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards on most of the tracks. On the positive side that may be a good thing because Love Revolution captures all of the various sides of Lenny’s musicianship. However, his insistence on recording as a one man band also leads to a somewhat formulaic sound that can make you wonder if you’ve been listening to the same song over and over again.
For a Lenny Kravitz fan, It’s Time for a Love Revolution will do nothing to turn you away. If you’re someone who has heard of Kravitz but you’ve never really given him a listen, then this CD is a solid introduction his unique style. While the album may not sound revolutionary, It’s Time for a Love Revolution is a testament to Kravitz’s twenty year track record of creating good music, time and time again.
Editor’s note: It’s Time for a Love Revolution is also available in a deluxe edition that includes a DVD with a documentary about Kravitz and the making of the album.
Artist: Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
Catalog No.: 09463 93385 28
Ben Harper has proven to be a talented musician over and over again. He has appeared in concert with such legends as Willie Nelson and Eric Clapton, recorded stellar albums (especially noteworthy is Live From Mars from 2001), and he has brought the lap steel guitar and Dobro into the modern rock scene without losing track of the heritage that comes with them. His band, The Innocent Criminals, specializes in establishing groove. Whether it is a country blues train beat or a hard rocking Led Zeppelin cover, this band remains tight, inventive, and always rises to the occasion. On this new album another talent of Harper’s brings the band and the man together-songwriting-which is the key element on Lifeline and it is strong. Harper’s influences are easily seen in this album, all the way from Berry Gordy to Tom Petty. Through predominantly acoustic arrangements and honest vocals, these songs speak loud and clear.
The album starts off with the mid tempo, straight ahead rock tune “Fight Outta You,” featuring a hook so well-constructed that it is reminiscent of a 1970s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers single. Perhaps the hook, mixed with an actual message in the lyrics, makes the nostalgia ring true. Track two, “In the Colors,” echoes Bill Withers’ gospel infused soul sound while a two and four guitar chunk shows Harper’s Motown influence.
The next two tracks are filled with piano and gospel influences. They differ in that “Fool for a Lonesome Train” has folk elements while “Needed You Tonight” vacillates between the overdrive and harmonic surprises of a hard rock band and a 12/8 soulful groove. The heavy acoustic strumming and piano fills on the fifth track recall another ’70s icon, Cat Stevens, while the wispy vocals, airy harmonies, and textural guitar solo on “Having Wings” definitely create some imagery.
The album continues with more Bill Withers-laced soul on “Say You Will.” Particularly nice on this track is the use of Conga drums. “Younger than Today” sounds as though Harper may have been listening to street musicians from the UK or even U2 or Coldplay. The truth in the singing keeps it within the general feel of the album. “Put it on Me”is the one mostly electric song on the album and features a funky ’70s groove – not as deep as Sly Stone or Rufus, but something more like the Doobie Brothers. On this track the listener also gets to hear Harper play his lap steel like the late Duane Allman, with blues inflections and a heavy, vibrant tone (in concert this is a specialty of his). “Heart of Matters” is a mostly straight-ahead rocker with a shuffle feel.
The truest beauty of the album comes on the last two tracks. “Paris Sunrise #7”is an acoustic instrumental that features a free time modal foray, similar to the opening of an Indian raga. This piece is performed with a slide on Harper’s Dobro and sounds much like another slide player, Derek Trucks. When the piece concludes it bleeds into the title track, “Lifeline.” This closing track is a simple, upbeat waltz that features Harper’s emotionally raw vocals expressing his heartfelt lyrics. For this listener these last two tracks were the highlight of the album.
Lifeline is available in three versions. When purchasing the standard CD the eleven tracks mentioned above are what you get. The two disc deluxe enhanced edition includes a DVD with live versions of all of the songs on the album. At iTunes the album comes with four bonus tracks: live versions of “Lifeline,” “Fool for a Lonesome Train,” and “Needed You Tonight.” The other bonus track is an extended medley of “Paris Sunrise #7” and “Lifeline.” Anyone that enjoys honest and pure songwriting with tight grooves from real instruments will enjoy Lifeline.