Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness

 

Title: Hello Happiness
Artist: Chaka Khan
Label: Island
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 15, 2019

 

Chaka Khan’s new album, Hello Happiness, is a short, seven-track release that is somewhat of a departure from her previous work. Many listeners will associate Khan with her classic hits such as “I’m Every Woman,” which would lead them to expect a strong vocal showing. However, one might find this newest release more barren of Khan’s vocal prowess than anticipated. But before a decision is made to not give this album a chance, understand that the lessened presence of Khan is more attributed to a difference in production than a diminishing of her abilities. Chaka Khan’s powerful voice is used to complement contemporary production practices that are at times ambient in nature. Continue reading

Casey J – The Gathering

 

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

Yugen Blakrok – Anima Mysterium

 

Title: Anima Mysterium
Artist: Yugen Blakrok
Label: I.O.T.
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 1, 2019

 

South Africa’s Yugen Blakrok, with her smoky voice and mesmerizing lyricism, is a fresh force to be reckoned with in the hip hop stratosphere. With the release of her debut album she captured the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment, who succinctly wove her uniqueness into “Opps” on the Black Panther soundtrack alongside Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar. With her sophomore album Anima Mysterium, Blakrok continues to deliver mind-blowing rhymes infused with fortitude and finesse—a literal mix of sci-fi soundscapes and meditative melodies. Continue reading

Beldina – Black & Blond

 

Title: Black & Blond
Artist: Beldina
Label: Self-released
Formats: Digital
Release date: February 8, 2019

 

Born in Stockholm with ancestral ties to Kenya, Scandinavian R&B artist Beldina Malaika pays homage to her heritage through her autobiographical album title, Black & Blond. An aspiring artist from an early age, Beldina was accepted to one of Sweden’s most prestigious performing arts schools at age 10. Soon after, she was releasing her own music and performing with some of Sweden’s top acts in the country’s most iconic venues. Her work with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams and Childish Gambino further enhanced her legendary status, and with the release of her newest EP, Beldina is emerging as a free, independent artist. Continue reading

Rocky Dawuni- Beats of Zion

 

Title: Beats of Zion
Artist: Rocky Dawuni
Label: Six Degrees Distribution
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 8, 2019

 

Named one of CNN’s Top 10 Global Stars from Africa and a GRAMMY nominee for “Best Reggae Album” in 2016, Ghanaian artist Rocky Dawuni is the real deal. Rocky is more than a musician, however; his eloquence and passion for activism have led to his designation as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Africa and a global spokesperson on various causes. It is the experiences he gained while traveling as an ambassador that have helped shape his highly anticipated seventh studio album, Beats of Zion. Continue reading

Wadada Leo Smith – Rosa Parks: Pure Love

 

Title: Rosa Parks: Pure Love
Artist: Wadada Leo Smith
Label: TUM
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 15, 2019

 

Wadada Leo Smith—trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser—is an acclaimed creative artist known for his music and his writings. His musical style, which he denotes as “Creative Music,” is inspired by social and political issues from the past and present that broadly affect the world we live in. One large work after another has been pouring out of Smith over the last decade, often with a social, political or environmental agenda attached, such as America’s National Parks and Ten Freedom Summers. Continue reading

Mark Lomax, II – 400: An Afrikan Epic

 

Title: 400: An Afrikan Epic
Artist: Mark Lomax, II
Label: self-released
Formats: Digital
Release Date: January 23, 2019

 

As we start a new year and look forward to the months ahead, it’s important to look back and reflect on the past. Although not a positive milestone, 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade. Drummer, composer, and educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II used this anniversary as inspiration for 400: An Afrikan Epic, his magnificent 12 album cycle that tells the story of Black America. Continue reading

Marcus Strickland Twi-Life – People of the Sun

 

Title: People of the Sun
Artist: Marcus Strickland Twi-Life
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

How do you describe an album that crosses musical boundaries and provides socially conscious lyrics, all while sonically tracing the African Diaspora from the past to present as a way to express one’s identity? Words like ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘innovative’ come to mind, but perhaps ‘thought-provoking’ best captures the mission of saxophonist Marcus Strickland’s latest release, People of the Sun. Continue reading

Vivian Sessoms – LIFE

 

Title: LIFE
Artist: Vivian Sessoms
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: November 2, 2018

 

It’s difficult to know exactly where to start when talking about an artist with a resume as expansive and impressive as vocalist Vivian Sessoms. She has earned respect and acclaim throughout the music industry, working with iconic artists such as Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, and Chaka Khan, as well as Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakomoto. Now, with the help of producer Chris Parks, Sessoms presents her first full-length album in over ten years with LIFE. Continue reading

Rachel Barton Pine – Blues Dialogues

 

Title: Blues Dialogues
Artist: Rachel Barton Pine
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

In 1997, violinist Rachel Barton Pine presented her landmark album, Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th & 19th Centuries, on the Cedille Records label. Released 21 years later, Blues Dialogues is the most recent culmination of Pine’s ongoing research into music by Black composers. Going beyond the confines of Western classical music, her new project features twelve works that draw upon the African American experience and more specifically, blues idioms, which the violinist claims is her “second-favorite genre of music.” This is certainly a fitting sentiment for a Chicago native, especially one who has polished her blues chops by jamming with two local legends—Son Seals and Sugar Blue. Continue reading

Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell – Sisters in Song

 

Title: Sisters in Song
Artists: Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 21, 2018

 

Sisters in Song represents the first collaboration between world-renowned American sopranos Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell. The pair met nearly two decades ago in the Chautauqua Institution’s Summer Voice Program where they became fast friends, colleagues, and—for lack of a better phrase—sisters in song. As both Cabell and Cambridge are in-demand sopranos, their paths have continued to cross in their professional and personal lives. In the liner notes for the album, the two write that they “both had the desire to create an album together that allowed us to show our various musical sides and voices in harmony.” Continue reading

The Gospel According to Malaco: Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel Music

 

Title: The Gospel According to Malaco: Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel Music
Artist: Various
Label: Malaco Music Group
Formats: 8 CD box set, Digital
Release date: February 28, 2019

 

Founded by Tommy Couch and Mitchell Malouf in 1968, the Malaco Music Group of Jackson, Mississippi has been “making black music for black people” for 50 years.  World renown for their many iconic Southern soul and rhythm and blues releases and one of the last truly independent labels, Malaco has been called “The Last Soul Company.” However, Malaco has also amassed the largest black gospel catalog in the world. The company began releasing gospel records in the 1970s, but their purchase of the Savoy, Apollo, and Atlanta International labels extended the catalog back to the 1940s. This places Malaco in the perfect position for their ambitious 50th anniversary project, The Gospel According to Malaco: Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel Music. The eight disc anthology covers the history of gospel from the post-WWII-era to the present, through 100 recordings by gospel music’s greatest artists, quartets and choirs. Continue reading

Joshua’s Troop – Another Chance

 

Title: Another Chance
Artist: Joshua’s Troop
Label: New Haven
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 23, 2018

 

One of the most amazing things about gospel music is how uniquely it is communicated, depending on the generation.  Joshua’s Troop, fortunately, has the opportunity to speak to this generation of gospel listeners through their high energy and high praise music. Infusing contemporary hip-hop and spoken word elements with familiar gospel sensibilities, Another Chance brings Joshua’s Troop’s message of redemption to today’s youth. Produced and co-written by legendary gospel talent Percy Gray, Jr. (New Direction, Chicago Mass Choir), “Another Chance is electrifyingly eclectic—featuring songs of encouragement, evangelism, repentance, testimony, worship, and even a rousing a cappella piece.” Continue reading

The 1865 – Don’t Tread On We

 

Title: Don’t Tread On We
Artist: The 1865
Label: Mass Appeal
Formats: Vinyl, Digital
Release Date: January 25, 2019

 

On April 9th, 1865 the United States Civil War came to an end. Now, over 150 years later, these events have inspired an all-black punk rock band known as The 1865. Describing themselves as “Bad Brains meets Foo Fighters in a black woman’s hair salon for a cup of tea,” the Brooklyn-based band is in a class all their own. With the release of their debut album, Don’t Tread on We, The 1865 explore life in America following the Civil War—a land living in the shadows of the fallen Confederacy. Continue reading

Etienne Charles – Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1

 

Title: Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1
Artist: Etienne Charles
Label: Culture Shock Music
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: March 22, 2019

 

T’is the season for Carnival! Anyone familiar with the carnival season knows that the beginning of the year starts with many festive celebrations on Caribbean islands. Of course, one cannot talk about Caribbean carnival without mentioning Trinidad and Tobago. Known for its festive and colorful displays, Trinidad and Tobago carnival is where the community comes together to celebrate its cultural heritage in the present. Native Trinidadian jazz trumpeter, composer, and arranger, Etienne Charles offers his newest release, Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1, as a homage to this long-lasting tradition. Although, Charles’ previous albums—Culture Shock (2006), Kaiso (2011), and Folklore (2009), among others—also draw on elements of Trinidadian music, his new project explores the very heart of Carnival, with compositions grounded in aural soundscapes recorded in local communities by Charles and his team. Continue reading

Moonlight Benjamin – Siltane

 

Title: Siltane
Artist: Moonlight Benjamin
Label: Ma Case
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 30, 2018

 

For the past twelve years, Moonlight Benjamin has been successfully carving out a space for herself within the music world as the priestess of voodoo blues rock and roll. Her fourth album, Siltane, has only secured her claim to this title. The latest project features Benjamin on lead vocals, Matthis Pascaud on bass and guitar, Marck-Richard Mirand on bass, Clude Saturne on percussion, and Bertrand Noël on drums. Together, they create a soundscape that is suggestive of “an Afro-energized Black Keys meets Dr. John.” Continue reading

Eric Gales – The Bookends

 

Title: The Bookends
Artist: Eric Gales
Label: Provogue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 8, 2019

 

Virtuoso blues-rock guitarist Eric Gales may not be a household name, but he’s been described by his peers as one of the best guitar players in the world. A former child prodigy, Gales was signed to a record label at the age of 16 and has since recorded 15 solo albums. Along the way he’s recorded with many other artists, and also performs alongside bassist Dug Pinnick (King’s X) and drummer Thomas Pridgen (Mars Volta) in the formidable black rock power trio Pinnick Gales Pridgen. Gales’ new release, The Bookends, may be his greatest accomplishment to date. While blues and rock may represent the bookends, the project also embodies “everything in between” from pop, jazz, and funk to gospel. Continue reading

Mykele Deville – Maintain

 

Title: Maintain
Artist: Mykele Deville
Label: No Trend
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: February 22, 2019

 

Chicago is a hot bed for contemporary hip hop activism—Noname with her proactive lyrics, Chance the Rapper’s dedication to the area’s public school system. Alongside these two, poet, educator, actor and rapper Mykele Deville has entered the Chi-town scene. Dedicated to critiquing and fighting structures of oppression through self-reflection and self-critique, Deville’s new album, Maintain, is a motivational collection dedicated to the complexity of Black life. Straight out of the city’s West Side, Deville spent a year and a half writing seven songs he felt encapsulated not only the absurdity of the political moment we find ourselves in and the triumphs/failings of the Black American experiment, but also the resiliency it takes to exist and self-examine within those confines. Continue reading

Ice Cube – Everythangs Corrupt

 

Title: Everythangs Corrupt
Artist: Ice Cube
Label: Lench Mob/Interscope
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: December 7, 2018

 

O’Shea Jackson, aka Ice Cube, has been around forever and that is not a figure of speech. Depending on your age and generation, you know the name from some form of entertainment. For many, Cube came to our attention with the group NWA. After he departed NWA, he went solo and released what some believe to be his best work, the album AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. I will get back to that later. He also helped launch careers for Yo Yo and Da Lynch Mob. Cube then went Hollywood, where Boyz In The Hood and the classic Barbershop films introduced him to another audience. Cube has even ventured into sports with his 3-on-3 basketball league. With the release of the biopic Straight Outta Compton a few years ago and his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it appears all has come full circle for the man who once referred to himself as “the Nigga you love to hate.” Continue reading

Mr. Del – Black

 

Title: Black
Artist: Mr. Del
Label: Dedicated Music Group
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 28, 2018

 

Del Lawrence, aka “Mr. Del,” has come a long way in the hip hop world since his early days with Three 6 Mafia. His religious conversion in 2000 after his first album marked his turn towards Christian/gospel rap, and since that point Mr. Del has devoted his resources primarily to assisting others in need. He is the pastor of Memphis-based City of Refuge Church through which he has created a global podcast and lecture circuit outreach program in order to spread the word of God. Dedicated Music Group (DMG) is his self-founded label company, allowing Del to develop new talent and produce multiple hard-hitting albums each year. Continue reading

Salif Keita – Un Autre Blanc

 

Title: Un Autre Blanc
Artist: Salif Keita
Label: Naïve/Believe
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 1, 2019

 

Hailed as the ‘Songbird’ and ‘Golden Voice of Africa,’ Malian singer Salif Keita has been sharing his art with the world for 50 years—performing with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Vernon Reid, and Esperanza Spalding. His journey, however, has not been easy. Born with albinism, Keita was banished from his village at an early age due to superstitions surrounding his skin color. Finding kindred spirits among the griots, he quickly rose to prominence as a musician, but was forced to flee the country during the civil unrest of the 1970s and eventually settled in Paris. Now, Salif Keita concludes his illustrious recording career with his 14th studio album, Un Autre Blanc (Another White). Continue reading

Pennal Johnson – Pickup Groove

 

Title: Pickup Groove
Artist: Pennal Johnson
Label: Hitman
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 7, 2018

It’s beautiful when you discover a new artist. Pennal “PJ” Johnson—a bass player, writer, and entrepreneur from Chicago—has actually been on the scene for a while now. In addition to a couple of holiday projects, he has released two well-regarded albums: Cissy Strut (2016) and Conversations: Live in Chicago (2016). Johnson’s talent has backed up artists such as Kurt Carr, Abraham Laboriel and the late Andraé Crouch, yielding respect from jazz and gospel audiences alike. Pickup Groove is Johnson’s latest CD, which includes studio versions of several tracks featured on Conversations. Again, if you are new to the artist, you’ll immediately hear why the bassist’s work is praised. Continue reading

Eric Bibb – Global Griot

 

Title: Global Griot
Artist: Eric Bibb
Label: Stony Plain
Formats: 2-CD set, Digital
Release Date: October 26, 2018

 

Grammy nominated blues and folk musician Eric Bibb’s latest project, Global Griot, was inspired by his engagement with the West African tradition of storytelling through music—an engagement that began at least fifteen years prior when he met and recorded with Malian musician Habib Koité. In the introduction of the liner notes for his new album Bibb writes, “Dear friends, my ongoing reunion with West Africa is a life-changing blessing. Collaborating with and befriending musicians from legendary griot families has been a long awaited homecoming—like a healing singing river washing over my soul. It’s an honor and a great pleasure to introduce you to my fellow global griots with this gathering of tribes.” Continue reading

Snooky Pryor – All My Money Gone

 

Title: All My Money Gone
Artist: Snooky Pryor
Label: Wolf
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 1, 2018

 

All My Money Gone is the latest addition to the late Snooky Pryor’s catalog. Released by Wolf Records, this album features previously unreleased studio and live material that was recorded in Austria in October 1979. Also included are unreleased songs that Snooky recorded at other sessions such as “Work With Me, Annie,” “Boogie Twist,” “Blue Bird Blues,” and “Telephone Blues”—titled “I’m Gonna Call Up My Baby” on this compilation. In short, this album contains tracks that will be familiar to Snooky fans, but all of the sessions and live performances themselves will be new to the listener. 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