New Holiday Albums: The Best of 2018

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without good music to really get you in the spirit! We’re featuring brief reviews of our favorite new holiday releases from PJ Morton, John Legend, Cece Winans, Aloe Blacc, Motown Gospel, and After 7. Our specially curated Black Grooves Christmas Spotify playlist features our favorite songs from these artists and more, providing the perfect soundtrack as you get together with friends and family to celebrate the holidays. Continue reading

Stax Records’ Year of Crisis and Grit

 

Title: Stax ’68 – A Memphis Story
Artist: Various
Label: Stax/Craft Recordings
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

1968 was a year that tested Stax Records, the wellspring of Memphis Soul, to its soul. The label emerged victorious, but the story of its three-pronged existential crisis and how the company and its key personnel responded is an epic chapter in music-industry history. Continue reading

The Full-On Electric Ladyland Experience

 

Title: Electric Ladyland 50th Anniversary Deluxe Reissue
Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Label: Legacy
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

Perhaps demonstrating, emphatically, that rock music is long in the teeth, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of several historic albums. At the top of the list is Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, a muddy, blues-infused psychedelic mashup originally released on 2 vinyl platters. Sony’s Legacy label celebrates the half-century with a deluxe 3-CD/1-BluRay set also released in a 6-LP/1-BluRay edition. Continue reading

Mourning [A] Blkstar – The Garner Poems

 

Title: The Garner Poems
Artist: Mourning [A] Blkstar
Label: Electric Cowbell
Formats: Limited ed. CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 26, 2018

 

Ohio band Mourning [A] Blkstar is a “multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora.” They define the sound of their sophomore album, The Garner Poems, as “Afro futurist soul music, balancing hip hop production techniques with lo fi experimentation to create a sonic suite that eulogizes victims of police brutality.” These eulogies, or poems, serve as both a force of light and a schematic for hope, survival and independence.  Continue reading

Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, and Bill Frisell – Lebroba

 

Title: Lebroba
Artists: Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, and Bill Frisell
Label: ECM
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: November 2, 2018

 

November brought a new collaboration from three of the all-time greatest avant-garde jazz musicians: Andrew Cyrille (drums), Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet) and Bill Frisell (guitar). The trio’s album, Lebroba, takes its title from a contraction of the three musicians’ birthplaces: Leland (Mississippi), Brooklyn, and Baltimore. This is certainly a fitting title for a record featuring a fusion of three musicians’ unmistakable styles. It’s also fitting that the album was released on the ECM label, which has long been a flagship of progressive jazz and which has issued landmark recordings featuring each member of this trio.  Continue reading

James Francies – Flight

 

Title: Flight
Artist: James Francies
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

Though only 23-years-old, pianist and composer James Francies has been very active on the music scene, performing with prominent jazz artists like Stefon Harris, Pat Metheny, and Eric Harland, as well as hip-hop and R&B artists Common, Lauryn Hill, The Roots, and Bilal, among others. His new 11 track Blue Note debut album, Flight, provides an array of orchestrations drawing on elements of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and electronic-sounding qualities. With a supportive cast of first-rate musicians—saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Mike Moreno, vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassist Burniss Travis II, drummers Jeremy Dutton and Mike Mitchell, and vocalists YEBBA, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and Chris Turner—Francies takes the listener on a musical journey filled with vibrant grooves intermixed with lush harmonic textures. Continue reading

Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics

 

Title: Broken Politics
Artist: Neneh Cherry
Label: Smalltown Supersound
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: October 19, 2018

 

It’s hard to believe it was thirty years ago that Neneh Cherry burst onto the scene with the international hit single “Buffalo Stance” from her debut album, Raw Like Sushi, (1988).  Garnering lots of MTV and BET love, Cherry was perhaps on her way to becoming huge, but as the ‘90s rolled in, Cherry did an exit stage left. After releasing Homebrew (1992) and Man (1996), she went UG—as in underground. Cherry’s whereabouts became a topic of interest for her fans. It takes a great deal of confidence and know-thy-self to just up and walk away from the commercial trappings of the game. But Cherry comes across as one who was never impressed by that. Continue reading

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label

 

Title: Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label
Artist: Various
Label: Numero Group
Formats: CD, 2-LP, Digital
Release date: March 23, 2018

 

This exploration of Cleveland’s Saru label, released earlier this year, is another fine addition to Numero’s Eccentric Soul series featuring lost gems from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Due to its fascinating connections to Ohio funk, the Saru compilation is also one of our favorites. Label owner Chuck Brown set up a management team that included Bobby Massey, one of the original members of the O’Jays, and Calvin Simon, an original member of the Parliaments with George Clinton, and later the Parliament-Funkadelic collective. These two influential staff members assembled talent for the backing bands and also produced and performed on many of the sessions. Continue reading

Chic – The Chic Organization 1977-1979

 

Title: The Chic Organization 1977-1979
Artist: Chic
Label: Atlantic/Rhino
Formats: 5-CD, 6-LP box set
Release date: November 23, 2018

 

There’s no better way to experience the late ‘70s disco era than this new box set celebrating the music of Chic and its co-founders, Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards. Included are the group’s first three albums—Chic (1978), C’est Chic (1978) and Risqué (1978)—plus Sister Sledge’s iconic album We Are Family (1979), the first project Rodgers and Edwards wrote and produced for another artist. The final disc in the set features singles, including the 7” and 12” releases of Chic’s chart topping hits such as “Le Freak,” which was recently added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, and “Good Times,” one of the most-sampled songs in music history (used in Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.”) All tracks have been newly remastered from the original Atlantic stereo tapes by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios. The accompanying booklets includes essays by Toure and Paul Morley; however, the vinyl edition features more extensive liner notes. Continue reading

Staple Singers – For What It’s Worth: Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968

 

Title: For What It’s Worth: Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968
Artist: Staple Singers
Label: Cherry Red
Formats: 3-CD box set
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

Given the immense popularity and historical importance of the Staple Singers, it’s hard to believe that some of their albums have not been reissued on CD. This new box set from the UK label Cherry Red offers the first-ever retrospective of the Staple Singers’ recordings for Epic. The six albums released by Epic between 1964-1968, featured in their entirety on this set, include Amen (1965), Freedom Highway (1965), and Why (1966), plus the CD debuts of Pray On (1967), For What It’s Worth (1967), and the always timely What The World Needs Now Is Love (1968). Continue reading

The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles

 

Title: The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles
Label: ECM
Format: 21-CD box set
Release date: November 30, 2018

 

The Art Ensemble of Chicago has a storied place in the history of jazz and avant-garde music. An offshoot of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the AEC formed in 1969 and is now on the cusp its 50th anniversary. In celebration of that milestone, ECM Records has assembled this limited edition 21-CD box set showcasing all of the albums they released with these “standard bearers of Great Black Music.” Continue reading

Complete Cuban Jam Sessions

 

Title: Complete Cuban Jam Sessions
Artist: Various
Label: Craft
Formats: 5-CD set, 5-LP set
Release date: November 16, 2018

 

Panart, one of the first and most successful independent record labels in Cuba, embarked upon a project in 1956 to commission and record a series of descarga, or improvised jam sessions incorporating jazz and popular forms of Cuban music. Over the next decade, the label released several volumes of these descarga under the generic title, Cuban Jam Sessions. The series sold over a million copies, becoming the first commercially successful descarga recordings and inspiring many other projects over the ensuing decades. Now, all of the descarga sessions released by Panart from 1956-1965 have been remastered and packaged together for the first time in Craft’s definitive 5-disc box set, The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions. The set was co-produced by Cuban music specialist and Panart label historian Judy Cantor-Navas, who also wrote the liner notes for the well-illustrated accompanying booklet. Continue reading

Al Green – The Hi Records Singles Collection

 

Title: The Hi Records Singles Collection
Artist: Al Green
Label: Fat Possum
Format: 3-CD set
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

In 1969, budding soul singer Al Green met Memphis record producer Willie Mitchell, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mitchell signed Green to his Hi Records label, and over the next decade he released a dozen albums, half of which topped the charts. Continue reading

Ambrose Akinmusire – Origami Harvest

 

Title: Origami Harvest
Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: October 12, 2018

 

World renowned trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire recently released his fourth album with Blue Note, Origami Harvest. Originally a project commissioned for curators Judd Greenstein (Manhattan’s Ecstatic Music Festival) and Kate Nordstrum (St. Paul’s Liquid Music Series), Akinmusire was asked, “What’s the craziest idea you have?” Responding to the curators request, he presented a “project about extremes (masculine/feminine, high/low art, passivity/aggression, free improvisation/controlled calculation, American ghettos/American affluence, hip hop/classical), putting things that are seemingly opposite right next to each other.” Continue reading

Christian McBride – New Jawn

 

Title: Christian McBride’s New Jawn
Artist: Christian McBride
Label: Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, MP3, LP
Release date: October 26, 2018

 

Just one year after his Grammy Award winning album Bringin’ It, Christian McBride returns with his newest project, Christian McBride’s New Jawn. The album features his chordless quartet—formed during McBride’s annual two-week residency at the Village Vanguard in December 2015—which includes trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, drummer Nasheet Waits, and McBride on bass. Continue reading

Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings

 

Title: Universal Beings
Artist: Makaya McCraven
Label: International Anthem
Formats: CD, LP. Digital
Release date: October 25, 2018

 

Jazz drummer Makaya McCraven could not possibly have predicted that the release date of his new album, Universal Beings, would coincide with a week of domestic terrorist acts fueled by racism, anti-semitism, and anti-immigration hysteria. Though his album’s “all-encompassing message of unity, peace & power” would be welcome at any time, it is particularly transformative at this moment as a reminder of our shared humanity and the need to bridge cultural divides. Continue reading

Zapp – Zapp VII Roger and Friends

 

Title: Zapp VII Roger and Friends
Artist: Zapp
Label: Leopard
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 26, 2018

 

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

Charles Bradley – Black Velvet

 

Title: Black Velvet
Artist: Charles Bradley
Label: Daptone/Dunham
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

Black Velvet, Charles Bradley’s posthumous fourth album, is meant to be a celebration of the life and work of the late soul singer. The “Screaming Eagle of Soul” would have turned 70 on November 5, and the album’s release date was timed to commemorate his birthday. Continue reading

Blood Orange – Negro Swan

 

Title: Negro Swan
Artist: Blood Orange
Label: Domino
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 24, 2018

 

Negro Swan, British singer-songwriter Devonté Hynes’ fourth studio album under the moniker Blood Orange, follows Hynes’ stream of consciousness as he explores blackness, gender and sexuality, mental illness, and queerness. In a press release for Domino Records, Hynes said his newest album “is an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color.  A reach back into childhood and modern traumas, and the things we do to get through it all.” Continue reading

Cedric Burnside – Benton County Relic

 

Title: Benton County Relic
Artist: Cedric Burnside
Label: Single Lock
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date:  September 14, 2018

 

Cedric Burnside is keeping the northern Mississippi hill country blues alive, a tradition he was literally born into and raised up to perform. Young Cedric frequently played alongside his grandfather, the great blues guitarist R.L. Burnside, and his father, drummer Calvin Jackson, as well as other family members, often combining three generations of talent in one band. Cedric’s uncle, bass player Garry Burnside, also contributed to the Cedric Burnside Project, the group featured on his Grammy nominated 2015 release, Descendants of Hill Country. Though he’s only 40-years-old, Cedric no doubt feels like an old soul and culture bearer, hence the title of his latest album, Benton County Relic. His music, however, is anything but archaic.   Continue reading

Soweto Gospel Choir – Freedom

 

Title: Freedom
Artist: Soweto Gospel Choir
Label: Shanachie
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: September 14, 2018

 

Described as “meticulous and unstoppable… spirited and secular” by the New York Times, the Soweto Gospel Choir is back with their sixth Shanachie Entertainment album, Freedom. Fittingly, this collection of freedom songs from the Grammy Award and Emmy winning group marks the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, a figure who signified love, peace, and strength and who has been an inspiration to the choir. Continue reading

Brent Jones – Open Your Mouth and Say Something

 

Title: Open Your Mouth and Say Something
Artist: Brent Jones
Label: JDI
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 14, 2018

 

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

ILL DOOTS – Ill Doots

 

Title: Ill Doots
Artist: ILL DOOTS
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: July 27, 2018

 

Over the summer, the Philadelphia hip hop collective ILL DOOTS released their self-titled album, Ill Doots. The ensemble—a group of artists, educators, and activists based in Philadelphia—is inspired by Minneapolis funk, classic rock, hip hop, neo soul, and “everything in between.” Since their early formation in 2009 at a dorm room jam session, the collective has released several albums, toured the U.S., and become a fixture on the Philly concert scene. Apart from their musical endeavors, ILL DOOTS has a community outreach program called the I Love Learning initiative that provides free workshops in schools, after school programs, churches, and community venues in Philadelphia. Continue reading

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – The Difference Between Me & You

 

Title: The Difference Between Me & You
Artist: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
Label: self-released
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: September 7, 2018

 

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears—a blues group formed in Austin, Texas in 2007—has released their newest album, The Difference Between Me & You. Recorded in their hometown with Grammy Award winning producer Stuart Sikes, the album was created with a “hands on style of production with open creative interaction between the entire band,” according to Lewis. The experimental style of the group is rooted in Lewis’s youthful discovery of his love for the blues, which he learned to play on guitar while working at a pawn shop. From these unlikely origins, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears have created an introspective blues record that asks tough questions of its listeners. Continue reading

Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band – Siri Ba Kele

 

Title: Siri Ba Kele
Artist: Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band
Label: Sublime Frequencies
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 2, 2018

 

Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band’s sophomore album, Siri Ba Kele, features the Bukinabe funk sound and the fusion of the mandingue guitar style by the band’s guitarist, Issouf Diabate. Band leader Mamadou Sanou sings with a “riveting growl” while also playing his main instrument, the doso n’goni, which is in the chordophone/ harp family and akin to the kora. The Burkina Faso based group is quoted as featuring the “searing sounds of Sahelian compositions of complex funk and cosmic guitar explosion.” The album follows the success of the band’s 2015 Afrobeat-driven project, Juguya.

Reviewed by Bobby Davis