From the arrival of the first slave ships in Jamestown, VA in 1619 to the present, Africans in the diaspora have retained the common African belief that life, religion and music are one. Jazz bassist Avery Sharpe’s new project, 400: An African American MusicalPortrait, embodies the very essence of this concept. Sharpe pays homage to the continent of Africa and to African diasporic ancestors as he commemorates the 400 years since Africans were brought to America.Continue reading →
Title: Good Time
Artist: Ranky Tanky
Label: Resilience Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 12, 2019
Ranky Tanky‘s Good Time is a beautiful project that honors the Gullah culture while also celebrating African and African American culture and music. Their music represents the African concept of music, life and religion as a unified entity. Because of this “oneness,” many of Ranky Tanky’s songs such as “Freedom” and “Stand By Me” are intertwined with social and political messages, conveying issues in contemporary Black life while also using religious overtones. These sacred overtones are heard throughout the song “Good Time,” which “takes you straight to church” as they say in the vernacular. Ranky Tanky also revisit the storytelling folk tradition of their Gullah heritage to convey the messages found in each song.Continue reading →
Pieces of a Man (POAM) is a collective of musicians living in Manchester, England comprised of Pils (Illya Gosling) on keyboards/sax, Mark Parkinson on guitar, Tim Curry on bass, Aden Peets on drums and beats, with lead singer/synth player To!u A¡ay and on talkbox/vocoder and David “DK” Klien on live effects. This is no typical band! Their music can be described as cross-genre, inspired by the likes of Ron Kenoly, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Israel Houghton. POAM also draws from more modern soul influencers such as D’Angelo, Dwele and Jill Scott “to create immersive, textured soundscapes built with hip-hop, funk and R&B.”Continue reading →
Title: Long Live Love
Artist: Kirk Franklin
Label: Fo Yo Soul/RCA Inspiration
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 31, 2019
Kirk Franklin, aka “your uncle, your nephew and your brotha,” released his 12th album Long Live Love, moving gospel music another step forward with its “radical messages.” In many ways, Franklin’s new project mirrors the contemporary sound of his earlier releases such as The Nu Nation Project (1998), the soundtrack to Kingdom Come (2001), and Hero (2005). Songs like “Strong God,” a response to the current state of the world and the need for change, continue Franklin’s inclination to address social issues and is one of the album’s highlights. He also offers uncanny inspiration through tracks such as “Favor/Grace” and “Spiritual,” encouraging listeners to continue living despite what they may have done in their past and sending the message that no matter how you’ve gone astray, “You’re the reason why God made grace.” The lead single, “Love Theory,” perhaps best sums up Franklin’s concept for the album: “one of the weapons to defeat fear is love.” As he shouts at the beginning of the track, “make your next chapter your best chapter!”Continue reading →
Title: We Get By
Artist: Mavis Staples
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 24, 2019
Living legend and vocal powerhouse Mavis Staples’ twelfth studio album, We Get By, features eleven tracks written and produced by Ben Harper. Harper was able to capture the voice and the spirit of Staples by creating pieces that speak to who she is now and has always been—an advocate for change and for humanity.Continue reading →
Title: Legacy! Legacy!
Artist: Jamila Woods
Formats: CD, LP, Cassette, Digital
Release date: May 10, 2019
Chicago native and Brown University graduate Jamila Woods has released yet another impactful album that both celebrates Black culture and humanity. Legacy! Legacy! “highlights legendary artists of color, spanning disciplines, genres, and decades—[including] Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Frida Kahlo, Eartha Kitt, Miles Davis, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.” Woods honors each of these artist as ancestors, giving praise to them for being examples of how to unapologetically navigate life as a person of color. She also uses their lives and works as a way to discuss black life with an emphasis on Black feminism, Black identity, Black relationships, Black Rage, self-love and other sociopolitical issues found in Black communities.Continue reading →
Title: The Last Word
Artist: The O’Jays
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 19, 2019
The O’Jays are back with their new project, The Last Word, and it’s like they never left. Fans once again can experience the classic Philadelphia soul sound of Eddie Levert Sr., Walter Williams Sr. and Eric Nolan Grant (who joined the group in 1995), whose smooth, rich harmonies are backed by elaborate arrangements and lush strings. The new release is the O’Jays’ first studio album in 15 years and regrettably is said to be their final album. Grammy nominated producers Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini and R&B legend Betty Wright assisted with the production.Continue reading →
Title: American Love Call
Artist: Durand Jones & the Indications
Label: Dead Oceans/Colemine
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 1st, 2019
America’s new favorite soul band, Durand Jones & the Indications, have released yet another electrifying album packed full of love ballads, message songs and that live studio band sound that has listeners wanting to dust off their old record players. The group’s sophomore album, American Love Call, has gained much success since its release in March. Rolling Stone magazine wrote, “While the messages on American Love Call can be more pointed, the sound is more honeyed.” This “honeyed” sound is the doo wop vocals on ballads such as “Court of Love,” featuring drummer Aaron Frazer’s fine falsetto, and the smooth rhythm and blues vocal harmonies on “What I Know About You.” The group’s grittier soulful side is demonstrated by Jones on the ‘60s inspired message song, “Morning in America.”Continue reading →
Title: The Tommies Reunion
Artist: The Tommies Reunion
Label: 7 Legend/Journey/Tyscot
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 22, 2019
The Tommies Reunion has a rich history rooted in the fabric of gospel music. The original Thompson Community Singers were formed in 1948 in Chicago by legendary gospel musician Rev. Milton Brunson. Named after Brunson’s pastor Rev. Eugene Thompson, they began recording for Vee-Jay records in 1963 at the same time that the Beatles released their first American LP on the historic black-owned label. They later went on to record for HOB/Scepter Records and Nashboro/Creed Records before joining Word Records (Myrrh/Rejoice) in 1982. Throughout the decades, this ensemble under the direction of Brunson brought the world songs like “I’m Available to You,” “I’ve Tried Him and I Know Him,” “Safe in His Arms” and “I Really Love You Lord,” to name just a few. After Brunson’s death in 1997, the choir continued to perform and record under the direction of his wife, Joanne Brunson, until 2000 with their Word Records release Real.Continue reading →
Title: This Song is For You
Artist: Earl Bynum
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 5, 2018
Earl Bynum’s third solo album, This Song Is For You, is full of great choir and congregational songs featuring the many different textures of modern gospel music. Different from his previous album Open My Heart (2009), Bynum decided to step back from the live stage and do a full studio recorded album. Bynum says of the sessions, “It was different for me … I’m a live concert type of performer… it helped take me out of the choir backdrop and let me live in a new space.”Continue reading →
Title: The Gathering
Artist: Casey J
Label: Tyscot/Integrity Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 25, 2019
Casey J’s music goes beyond the four walls of the church into the mainstream for all to hear and experience the power of Christ through music. Her new album, The Gathering, recorded live in Nashville, is a mixture of gospel, contemporary Christian, country and pop music with broad appeal, which led to a debut at number 11 on the Billboard Top Christian & Gospel Albums Sales chart. The album’s first single, “If God,” is based on Romans 8:31—“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” —then segues into her rendition of the hymn, “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.”Continue reading →
Zapp & Roger, an important funk band that emerged from Dayton, Ohio in 1977, brought the world hits like “More Bounce to the Ounce,” “Computer Love,” “Do Wa Ditty,” “So Ruff So Tuff” and a couple decades more of electrifying funk. The Zapp sound was iconic for the use of moog bass and synthesizers that provided multiple timbres, textures, patterns and hits; deep bass drum and hard hitting claps with just enough reverb to shake a stadium and keep the party going; and the unforgettable and legendary use of the talk box. The late funkateer Roger Troutmen, lead vocalist of Zapp & Roger, used a custom-made talk box—the Electro Harmonix “Golden Throat,” as well as a Moog “Minimoog” and, later in his career, a Yamaha DX100 FM synthesizer. Roger said, “Every time I would use the voice box, people would be dancing, until I use it and people would look up, and it seemed to [be] hypnotizing them in a way.” This funk all-star group consisted of Lester Troutman, Sr. (drums), Terry “Zapp” Troutman (talkbox, keyboards, bass), Bart Thomas (talkbox, vocals, keyboards, bass), Dale DeGroat (musical direction, keyboards, vocals), Thomas Troutman (keyboards, vocals), Riccardo Bray (guitar) and Anthony Arrington (sax).Continue reading →
Brent Jones has created yet another amazing album with Open Your Mouth and Say Something, his second release on JDI Records and a great follow-up to Joy Comin’ (2014). This live project was produced by Professor James Roberson (president of JDI), Brent Jones, and the incredible maestro Eddie Brown (music director, keyboards). Musicians include Michel Bereal (organ), A.J. Brown (bass), Ryan Adams (drums), Kamil Rustam (electric guitar), Erick Walls (acoustic guitar), George Dum (percussion, mixing and mastering, editing) and Donald Hayes (arranger, live horns and strings). Jones, who is known for performing with his vocal group T.P. Mobb on albums such as Ultimate Weekend (2007,Tyscot) and Beautiful (2002, EMI), recorded his new project at the Victorious Life Church in Waco, Texas with the Waco Community Choir. The use of a full choir distinguishes Jones’ JDI releases from his earlier albums, as does the live production element, which allows people to feel like they are participants within the performance, instead of just listeners.Continue reading →
Title: Jesus Love Legacy
Artist: Bishop Leonard Scott
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 31, 2018
Recording artist and founder of Tyscot Records, Bishop Leonard Scott releases yet another powerful project that features a captivating worship experience through praise and worship songs and hymns. Collaborating closely with producer Phillip Feaster (Synergy Music Group) and singer/songwriter Tiff Joy, this trio wrote songs that allowed Jesus Love Legacy to soar to number eight on the Billboard top gospel album sales chart. Continue reading →
Title: Gone Fishin’
Artist: Judah Band
Label: Light Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 17, 2018
Judah Band, a collective of singers from Indianapolis, IN, has done it again with their new release, Gone Fishin’, which quickly rose to #2 on the Nielsen and #6 on the Billboard gospel album charts. This is the group’s second full-length, following their 2015 release The Return of Glory. The gospel community in Indianapolis is currently thriving, and Judah Band acts as one of the leaders of this movement, bringing the Indianapolis sound to the airways! Other notable local groups include Demetrius West & Authority and Maurice Yancey & One Accord. Continue reading →
Diana Purim was destined from birth to become an artist, touring with Chick Corea’s Original Return to Forever in the belly of her mother, renowned Brazilian jazz singer Flora Purim. Her interest in other styles of black popular music began when she first saw break dancing and heard hip hop music.Continue reading →
Before Sugar Hill Gang released “Rappers Delight” in 1979, marking the first hip hop record in history, there was The Last Poets. The Harlem-based group performed politically charged poetry over a musical backing of bebop, funk, and demonstrative solo percussion. Along with other famous poets such as Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets laid the “ground work” of the hip hop genre. They branded their art as “Jazzoerty,” a combination of music and spoken word that worked together simultaneously.
The Last Poets were and are a highly politically engaged group. “The Original Last Poets” were formed May 19, 1968 in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. They chose May 19th as a way to commemorate the assassination of Malcolm X, three years prior. Because their personal ideology was more in line with Malcolm X’s approach to civil rights, May 19 would became both their founding date and a political statement that continues to drive their music and spoken word art.
Understand What Black Is marks the 50th anniversary of The Last Poets and is the first project they have released in 20 years. The reggae driven album, courtesy of Brit producers Nostalgia 77 and Prince Fatty and percussionist Baba Donn Babatunde, is fused with messages that pertain to the state of black people in America, both in the past and as it relates to the present. Group members Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan celebrate blackness while also providing political, philosophical, and religious perspectives on issues with being black in America and within the diaspora. “Understand What Black is….the breath you breathe….the sweat from your brow…Black is love…Black is humanity…the source from which all things come.” These are words from the title track, setting the tone for what is to come.
“Rain of Terror” is one of the most politically charged poems on the album, where Abiodun Oyewole accuses America of being a terrorist—“being mean and nasty to those who treated him kind.” He goes on to talk about the violent nature of America and its treatment of black people and the outside world. “Though shall not kill…that’s not a part of the American dream, because to kill is a thrill they love to show on the TV screen.” This line in the poem harkens to the ways in which black people have been abused on live television during the evening news almost as if it were a normal and acceptable mode of television performance. It is not unlike America to use the death of black bodies as entertainment. This was a form of entertainment in communities in the rural South during the early 1900’s, where white Americans would bring their families to picnic like settings to watch the hanging and public shaming of Negro bodies. Oyewole’s critique on America is that at its root, the country is violent. During a time when fingers are often being pointed toward Islamic countries as being politically, economically and socially corrupt, The Last Poets beg the question, “Is America not guilty of being these things for the last 400 years until the present day?”
“How many Bullets” is a poem that speaks to the ways in which black people have endured despite the violence they have encountered in America and within the diaspora. “Took my drum, broke my hands, yanked my roots up right out of the land and rattled my soul with Jesus.” This track represents the resilience of black people in the face of trauma. Despite being stripped of their religion, their home land, their drums, and their ancestral tongue, black people both retained self and created new identity. Oyewole speaks to both the idea of retention and creation through his discussion about death, viewed through an African rooted lense, where life and death are fluid and not separated. “They shot Malcolm and all they did was multiply his power…they show King and black folks got stronger by the hour.” He also questions the use of religion, particularly Christianity, viewing it as a tool to keep black people in line both during and post- slavery.
“Is there anything not sacred anymore…freedom, justice, honesty…All being devoured by Western imitations of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is drowning out the tears of deception.” On “We Must Be Sacred,” Umar Bin Hassan speaks to the ways in which our world is shifting and changing into an evil place where love and tenderness are becoming taboo topics instead of practice. He claims that we love the product but we don’t care about the person who has created the work, nor do we listen and/or interrogate the things they say. He questions if we are too far gone to be able to elicit real change. He does not, however, claim defeat. “The phoenix will come from the flames this time, there will be no ashes to ashes. Love must be there when the Dust clears.” People must try to begin to love one another again and practice tenderness. However time is not a power so tender that “we could wipe this savage onslaught from our minds.”
The Last Poets conclude their album with the “The Music.” Oyewole celebrates the black creators of music with the line, “I am the music, the sound of life all round.” He furthers his Afro-centric ideology with the line, “I gave the world song,” which connects all things in life, including music, to Africa’s historical past. “I come from mother Africa where music is how we speak… the drum is my heart beat.” He then goes on to praise African American musical influences, which permeate around the globe. However, as Hassan asks in “We Must Be Sacred,” are people engaging the music and the culture or just buying into the product at face value, not caring about the creators?
Brooklyn native Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson is one of the leading voices in contemporary gospel quartet music today. The 3x Stellar Award winner and Billboard top 20 chart topper began singing at a young age with father, Phil Johnson, who was the founder of the group, The Spiritual Voices.
Johnson earned the nickname “Wonderboy” as a child due to his amazing melismatic approach to singing along with his distinctive vocal timbre. Johnson has also helped to transform the gospel quartet genre through the use of modern gospel music production sounds and techniques, while maintaining the integrity of traditional gospel quartet music, due to his incredible production crew.
On Johnson’s 13th album, Keep Pushin’, the artist goes well beyond his gospel roots to feature various styles of music. The title track and single, “Keep Pushin”, is a highly inspirational piece with an upbeat funk groove that encourages people to have faith in God and keep moving despite the obstacles that life often presents. Reminiscent of the famous Impressions’ message song “Keep On Pushing” that became a part of the fabric of the Civil Rights Movement, Johnson’s song reveals that people are still dealing with political, social, economical and, one might add, spiritual issues. As Johnson encourages in the music video, one can strive to transcend these issues by facing their problems and not giving up on themselves, others or God.
On the gospel ballad, “God’s Gonna Do It,” Johnson reassures listeners that with faith and patience “God will come through” and perform the unbelievable and impossible task set before them. Johnson projects this same message through his homage to R&B artist Morris Day and the Minneapolis sound, using Day’s popular song “The Bird” as the foundation of “God Is Able.” The background vocalists sing “Hallelujah” during the vamp, as featured on the original song during the chorus section (omitting the word “Squawk,” of course). Johnson went back in time to 1984, utilizing the same synthesizer keyboard sounds accompanied by a “4 on the floor” driving groove. This high energy dance song encourages people to give God praise while they are waiting for their miracle.
Each song on the album features a message of hope, faith and belief in the promises of God through the versatile approach of Johnson’s modern gospel quartet sound. One may hear the traditional gospel and quartet sound, R&B, funk or soul. Each song is governed by the idea that no matter what comes your way, you can make it, with faith, determination, and praise. Johnson end’s his album appropriately with the song “Do You Know How Blessed You Are,” reminding listeners that it is simply a blessing to be alive.