Marietta Simpson – Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land

 

Title: Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land
Artist: Marietta Simpson
Label: Art Salad Productions/Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release: February 12, 2019

 

Indiana University professors Tyron Cooper and mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson have produced a fresh take on the Negro spiritual, the earliest form of Black religious music created by enslaved Black folk during the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange, an11-track concept CD produced by Cooper, marks Simpson’s first solo project. The title “Crooked Stick” is derived from the expression to “hit a straight lick with a crooked stick,” which is the act of accomplishing a major feat using meager resources. This adage parallels the plight of African people who were, as Simpson states in her liner notes, “ripped from their native land, sold, beaten, plucked from families, and often treated worse than animals.” Despite such dire circumstances, these captives created new sacred songs, which also housed “clever strategies and hidden messages for survival… The Negro spiritual is therefore a tangible representation of what it means to ‘hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.’ That is, slaves transformed the misery of their daily plantation life (i.e. crooked stick) into something beautiful and creative that would sustain the songs and souls of Black folk for generations to come (i.e. straight lick).” Continue reading

Jeanne Lee with Ran Blake – The Newest Sound You Never Heard

 

Title: The Newest Sound You Never Heard
Artist: Jeanne Lee with Ran Blake
Label: A-Side (dist. CD Baby)
Formats: 2-CD set, Digital
Release date: January 25, 2019

 

In 1962, African American singer Jeanne Lee (1939-2000) and pianist Ran Blake set the jazz world on its ear with their landmark debut album, The Newest Sound Around. The duo’s unorthodox interpretations were a result of their wide-ranging influences including film noir, the avant-garde, free jazz, blues, spirituals, gospel, and more. The two continued to collaborate throughout much of the ‘60s, including European tours in 1966 and 1967.  During one of those tours, Lee met German jazz musician Gunter Hampel, whom she later married.  From that point forward, most of Lee’s work was based overseas, hence she is not as well-known in the U.S. as she should be. That may well change with the release of The Newest Sound You Never Heard, compiled from recordings captured during the 1966 and 1967 European tours by Belgian radio and television station VRT. The previously unreleased tracks on this two-disc set nearly double the amount of available recordings from this unique duo. Continue reading

Willie J. Laws Jr. – Black Maria

 

Title: Black Maria
Artist: Willie J. Laws Jr.
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 10, 2018

 

Self-described as “The Prophet of Funky Texas Blues,” guitarist Willie J. Laws offers an eclectic fusion of the blues with sounds native to the Gulf Coast region, including Zydeco, R&B, a twang of country, a little Tex-Mex Tejano/Conjunto, and a dollop of funk. Honed over 25 years of performing with his own band, as well as the Tejano band Los Texmaniacs, Laws’ playing style is American roots music at its best. On his latest album, Black Maria, Laws (on rhythm/lead guitar and vocals) is joined by his longtime band members—Bruce Mattson (keyboards/organ), Osi Brathwaite (drums), and Malcolm Stuckey (bass)—who helped pen the ten original tracks on this recording. Continue reading

Alicia Hall Moran – Here Today

 

Title: Here Today
Artist: Alicia Hall Moran
Label: dist. by CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 21, 2017

 

Multifaceted mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran, who recently starred in the national tour of the Tony Award-winning production of Porgy and Bess, has embarked on a variety of significant projects over the past few years. Her critically acclaimed staged concert work, Black Wall Street, follows a path from Oklahoma and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 to New York’s Wall Street—which not coincidentally traces her own family’s journey.  Continue reading