For his 25th album, jazz pianist-keyboardist Bob Baldwin turned to the iconic songbook of the Beatles. Bob Baldwin Presents Abbey Road and the Beatles is an album that celebrates the legendary group while highlighting Baldwin’s quintessential urban-jazz sound. Inspired by his childhood spent listening to the Beatles on pop radio, Baldwin said, “I wanted to interject my own reharmonized view of the Beatles’ music while keeping the original melodies pure.”Continue reading →
Title: Live at Little Gem Saloon
Label: Basin Street Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: November 23, 2018
Started in 1998, New Orleans-based record label Basin Street Records has released Live at Little Gem Saloon to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Recorded at the historic French Quarter saloon on May 5, 2017, the nine-track album includes performances from an all-star lineup of local artists. Featured performers include vibraphone master Jason Marsalis who offers two originals, “Bourbon Street Ain’t Mardi Gras” and “At the House, In Da Pocket.” Clarinetist and jazz historian Dr. Michael White improvises on a swinging rendition of “Summertime” and his original “Give It Up (Gypsy Second Line),” trumpeters Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield join forces on a couple of standards, and pianist/vocalist Davell Crawford brings the project to a rousing close with a bluesy rendition of Luther Dixon’s “Big Boss Man” and his original medley “Don’t Ever Be Blue/Ode to Louisiana.” Live at Little Gem Saloon captures an evening of new music and standards by jazz musicians in honor of Basin Street Records’ two decade long commitment to representing New Orleans-based jazz, blues, funk, and R&B artists.Continue reading →
Blues singer and slide guitarist Johnny Shines had quite the career; his accomplishments include touring with Robert Johnson, recording for Columbia, Vanguard, and Chess Records, as well as playing with blues legends like Little Walter and Willie Dixon. Following his success in the 1930s and ‘40s, however, Shines experienced a series of commercial failures before stepping away from music. A few years later, at a show in Chicago, he was “rediscovered” and began actively touring and recording music again. It was at the peak of Shines rediscovery that The Blues Came Falling Down – Live 1973 was captured.Continue reading →
The newest release from acclaimed vocalist, composer, and arranger Alicia Olatuja celebrates noted female composers in a collection of reinterpretations entitled Intuition: Songs from the Minds of Women. Olatuja, who showcased her vocal talent for millions during the second inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama, picked songs for Intuition that encompass a wide variety of themes, genres, and perspectives in an effort to celebrate the diversity of women’s musical expression.Continue reading →
Title: Jungle Run
Artist: Nubiyan Twist
Label: Strut Records
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: February 15, 2019
The 12-piece collective Nubiyan Twist, named after frontwoman Nubiya Brandon, just released their newest studio album, Jungle Run. Formed in 2015 at Leeds College of Music and influenced by the diverse music scene in Leeds, Nubiyan Twist and their unique sound can only be described as versatile, fluid, and all-around captivating.Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
Maxwell’s sophomore album, Embrya, was released in 1988 at the peak of the neo-soul movement and changed the course of the singer’s career. The seductive ballads and slow grooves of tracks such as “Matrimony: Maybe You” resonated with his female fan base, who propelled the album to #2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart and earned Maxwell a Grammy Award nomination for best R&B album.Continue reading →
Released in honor of So So Def’s 25th anniversary, So So Def 25 pays tribute to the pioneering Atlanta-based label with a collection of its hip-hop and R&B hits. Curated by So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri, the compilation has been released on a 12” vinyl collector’s edition by Sony Music’s Certified Classics. Featured artists include Jay-Z, Bow Wow, Ghost Town DJ, Aaliyah, and many more. Scattered amongst the So So Def classics are rarer tracks like Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married (Kanye West Remix)”—one of Kanye’s early verses—as well as an explicit version of “Da B Side” by Da Brat with an alternative verse by The Notorious B.I.G. Additional playlists celebrating the anniversary can be found on So So Def’s website.Continue reading →
Songs from Chicago, performed by one of America’s leading baritones, Thomas Hampson, is a collection of art songs from composers associated with mid-twentieth century Chicago. Though five composers are featured in this project (including Ernst Bacon and Louis Campbell-Tipton), of particular interest to our readers are the works by African American composers Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, as well as John Alden Carpenter—all of whom draw upon the poems of Langston Hughes.Continue reading →
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 →
Title: The Difference Between Me & You
Artist: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
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 →
Title: Free Me
Artist: J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Burundian-born J.P. Bimeni is no stranger to tragedy; a descendent of the Burundian royal family, he was forced to flee his native country at age 15 during the 1993 civil war. After surviving the mass murder of his classmates, a gun shot in the chest, and poisoning by doctors, Bimeni was miraculously able to escape to the UK as a refugee. Despite the horrific events that he lived as a teenager, Bimeni has channeled his experiences with life and loss into his debut album Free Me. Continue reading →
Title: Big Brothers
Artist: Winston McAnuff & Fixi
Label: Chapter Two
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: September 21, 2018
Inspired by a night of song at a New Year’s Eve party at an immigration camp in Calais, Winston McAnuff and Fixi’s newest album Big Brothers is a testament to human connectedness. Although this album is only the second from Jamaican reggae singer Winston McAnuff (formerly known as Electric Dread) and French accordionist Fixi, the unlikely pair have been making music together since 2005. Their latest project, which features two generations of Inna De Yard vocalists, is a commentary on contemporary society and the power of friendship and love. Continue reading →
Title: Mo Jodi
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: August 31, 2018
Delgres, the Paris-based blues trio, links the history of the French Caribbean to the musical style of New Orleans in their debut album, Mo Jodi. Meaning “Die Today” in Creole, the album’s name is inspired by the sacrifice of Louis Delgrés, the band’s namesake, who died fighting against the reinstatement of slavery in Guadeloupe. Founder and leader of Delgres, Pascal Danaë, traces his roots back to Guadeloupe where his great-great-grandmother was a slave. Mo Jodi was born of the group’s love of jazz and blues and Danaë’s connection to both his ancestral homeland and New Orleans, where many Guadeloupians sought refuge during the early 1800s.Continue reading →
Sean Ardoin may come from a long line of accordion-playing Creole musicians (including Amédé Ardoin and Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin), but he certainly isn’t one to be put in a box when it comes to his music. Ardoin’s newest album, Kreole Rock and Soul, is named after the genre that he created in an attempt to revamp the music of his ancestors. While the album pays tribute to Ardoin’s Creole roots, it also incorporates the styles of contemporary pop and classic rock.Continue reading →
Old meets new in Chanti Darling’s debut album, RNB Vol. 1, as the Portland, Oregon based trio seamlessly blends the traditional sounds of disco, funk, and R&B with modern house music to create a sound that captivates listeners. While Chanti Darling may come off as a band that simply produces songs best-suited for the dancefloor, the group’s underlying goal is to bring back the sounds of ‘80s R&B that they were raised on. According to frontman and performance artist Chanticleer Trü, “RNB ain’t no joke,” and that attitude shows in their 10-track album.
Though Chanti Darling is passionate about reviving ‘80s R&B, they still capture the energy of electronic music and also feature contemporary messages in their lyrics. “Casual,” the second track on the album featuring fellow Portland native and hip-hop artist The Last Artful, Dodgr, speaks on the complicated dynamics of new relationships. Trü’s smooth vocals are layered on top of an entrancing electronic melody, a recurring theme for the rest of the tracks on the album.
If there’s one thing to be said about Chanti Darling, it’s that they are creating a sound all their own, and listeners are loving it. Voted Portland’s “Best New Band” by Willamette Week, the group is getting noticed for their blend of electronic beats and old school R&B vocals.
City Soul, harmonica player and vocalist Russ Green’s debut album, pays tribute to the Windy City and the many musicians who have shaped its signature sound. Born and raised on the west side of Chicago, Green didn’t realize his musical aspirations until adulthood. After purchasing a harmonica in an attempt to recreate the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Green was mentored by two of Chicago’s legendary harmonica players, Sugar Blue and Billy Branch, and his blues career took off from there.
City Soul is composed of 10 tracks co-produced by Green and Sam Clayton that feature musicians from around Chicago. The bluesy opening track, “First Thing Smokin’” is inspired by the sounds of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Other tracks, like “Lint In My Pocket,” are more funk-inspired, while Green’s duo with guitarist Vince Agwada is reminiscent of modern blues rock. “The Edge,” a nod to Green’s fascination with Jimi Hendrix, includes a swirling psychedelic harmonica intro that precedes a funky rock track.
Although City Soul is his debut album, Russ Green is already an accomplished blues musician, having been featured on the renowned Chicago Blues Harmonica Project and having performed at numerous blues festivals across the country. This is just the beginning of the Chicago native’s journey as a blues harmonica player.
Canadian singer-songwriter AHI (pronounced “eye”) offers a refreshingly earnest commentary on life, love, and the concept of home on his sophomore album, In Our Time. His first album, We Made It Through The Wreckage, was independently released in 2017, and despite a lack of promotion, the album resonated with listeners and began receiving recognition across Canada due to AHI’s gritty, soulful vocals and commitment to honest, simplistic music.
The opening track on his newest album, “Breakin’ Ground,” is an uplifting introduction, telling of AHI’s journey to becoming an artist and musician. Lyrics like “I’ve been told I’m worthless so much that it gave me purpose” are honest and real, and are complemented by AHI’s raspy and raw-sounding vocals over an upbeat melody. “Made It Home,” the following track, presents the second chapter of AHI’s personal story. In the song, the father of three explores the concepts of family and home in a way that simultaneously expresses vulnerability and strength.
The other songs on the album, from the energetic “Five Butterflies” to the more emotional and softer “Just Pray,” highlight AHI’s ability to blend folk, soul, rock influences with his personal experiences and feelings in a way that makes his music poignant and engaging for anyone and everyone.
On In Our Time, AHI manages to use his mesmerizing vocals and catchy melodies to create a personalized yet relatable collection of folk rock tracks based on his own experiences of life, love, and family.
Ginkgoa, the swing-inspired electronic music duo, was created when native New Yorker and vocalist Nicolle Rochelle ran into producer Antoine Chatenet in a Paris club. Chatenet’s experience with French electronic music paired seamlessly with Nicolle’s love for swing dance music, resulting in the creation of a high-energy genre that the duo calls “Future Swing.” Their latest EP, One Time, amps up their signature sound with more emphasis on the electronic and trap influences that their audience can’t get enough of.
One Time is an edgy, party-starting EP composed of five tracks that the duo composed, wrote, and produced themselves. Songs such as the gritty “Don’t Give a Damn” were created in a hotel room during Ginkgoa’s Chinese tour through what can best be described as trial-and-error, then debuted at their next show. According to Nicolle, “we make adjustments based on our concerts and what we feel the audience may want more of, then the creative juices start flowing.” On “Boy Bounce,” their first official video single for the album, the duo demonstrates their unique blend of jazz, rap, and feminist electro pop music combined with swing and bounce dance moves:
It is no surprise that Ginkgoa’s music is a hit with the crowds. From Chatenet’s infectious beats and perfectly-timed drops to Nicolle’s unique swing-style vocals, Ginkgoa has developed a distinct sound that is driven by their audience. Ginkgoa’s upcoming US Summer tour, if it’s anything like their previous performances, is sure to be a high-energy experience that you won’t want to miss.
Shirley Davis’ path to becoming lead vocalist of Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks has been anything but ordinary—from working at London’s Wembley Arena as a young teen to becoming one of the top soul and funk vocalists in Australia to singing on a cruise ship. Her musical journey continued after a chance encounter at a Sharon Jones concert in 2014; Davis was invited by Alberto “Tuco” Peces and Genesis Candela from Tucxone Records to come to Madrid and record an album. Davis was introduced to the Silverbacks in the studio and the connection between them was immediate.
Two years after releasing their acclaimed debut album, Black Rose, that put them on the modern soul and funk map, Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks are back with Wishes & Wants. The 9-track album includes everything from emotional ballads like “Treat Me Better” to more upbeat, funky tracks like “Kisses,” but each song has in common the strong soul that Shirley Davis always delivers. And while Davis’ soulful voice is always mesmerizing, the Silverbacks deserve recognition for their ability to match the power and energy conveyed by their lead singer. The band’s musical skill is highlighted in tracks such as “Nightlife,” in which the funky groove laid down by the organ, horns, guitar, and drums beautifully pairs with the vocals. Following is the official video single for the equally funky title track:
While their first album may have hinted that Shirley Davis and the Silverbacks deserve a spot among the contemporary soul and funk greats, Wishes & Wants proves that they deserve to stay. And according to Shirley Davis, this isn’t the last you’ll see of her: “This is what I believe I will do for the rest of my life. I am meant to be the soul diva of Europe.”
Playing For Change, the multimedia company best known for their “Songs Around the World” online video series that has over 500 million views, has released their fourth album Listen to the Music. Featuring a selection of global artists performing tracks in their home countries, the project took almost three years to complete.
The album’s first single, “Skin Deep” performed by blues legend Buddy Guy and over 50 accompanying musicians from around the U.S., speaks on race issues and violence in America stating, “underneath we’re all the same.”
Another track, “Africa Mokili Mobimba” performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and TP OK Jazz Band, is a famous Congolese song that serves as an anthem to connect and unify Africa. One of the final songs on the album, “Congo to the Mississippi,” exemplifies this theme of unification through music; the song started in a village in the Congo and added musicians from Jamaica, Japan, and Italy before wrapping up with a harmonica solo played by New Orleans street musician Grandpa Elliott.
Each track on Listen to the Music is completely unique in its combination of talented musicians and vocalists. The related video series document many of these collaborations, including “All Along the Watchtower” (with Cyril and Ivan Neville), “Everlasting Love” (with Vasti Jackson and Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi), and “Bring It on Home to Me” (featuring the late Roger Ridley).
The album, while bringing together the contributing 210 musicians from 25 different countries, also aims to unify today’s often divided societies. According to the co-founder of Playing For Change, Mark Johnson, “In a world with so many divisions, we need to create connections. Musical collaboration is the best way to make that happen.” In addition, 100% of profits from the album with be donated to the Playing For Change Foundation. This non-profit educational organization has opened 15 music-focused schools for underprivileged children in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina and Thailand.
Hailing from South Africa, the seven-piece band BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) has released their newest album Emakhosini, an EP featuring three tracks that capture the sound of ancestral, indigenous musical traditions while also including contemporary and controversial commentary on modern Africa.
Each of the three songs, though all very different, contain the essence of ‘Africangungungu,’ the name BCUC has given to their ‘afropsychedelic’ music. The tracks are best described as vibrant—each is buzzing with the distinct energy that BCUC brings to all of their music and performances. A mix of traditional indigenous South African music with funk, hip-hop, and punk-rock influences, BCUC’s music is nothing short of unique. As vocalist Kgomotso Mokone declared, “We bring fun and emo-indigenous Afro psychedelic fire from the hood.”
The album also tackles the issues of modern Africa head-on, including commentary on the harsh realities of uneducated workers. One song from a previous self-produced EP expressed views about a national idol and was so controversial that it was ultimately removed from the album. Despite this and other criticism regarding the group’s refusal to identify with a single social or political movement, BCUC sticks to their philosophy of creating “music for the people by the people with the people.” This philosophy is expressed in the video for the final track, “Nobody Knows (the Trouble I’ve Seen), filmed in Soweto:
Although Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness faces criticism for their stances, their commitment to representing the voiceless, speaking on important social and political issues, and exposing audiences to indigenous music is admirable. Emakhosini perfectly represents and lives up to the rebellious, lively spirit of the group.
In 2003, an all-star cast of traditional and contemporary gospel singers performed songs written by Bob Dylan on Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. The Grammy-nominated compilation album included 11 tracks written by Dylan during his “born again” period from 1979 to 1981, in which he produced Christian music. Three years later, the companion documentary DVD of the same name was released by Burning Rose Video, which is currently out-of-print. Thankfully, MVD has stepped into the void and reissued the video.
The DVD documents the making of the Gotta Serve Somebody album, including interviews with performers such as Regina McCrary, Terry Young, and Mona Lisa Young. Also featured is performance footage of 9 of the 11 tracks that originally appeared on the CD, such as the namesake “Gotta Serve Somebody” by Shirley Caesar, “I Believe In You” by Dottie Peoples, and “Saved” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy, as well as bonus tracks from Arlethia Lindsay, Great Day Chorale, and Bob Dylan himself. The Gotta Serve Somebody DVD premieres 1980 footage of Dylan performing “When He Returns,” the first documented performance released from his “born again” era. The DVD certainly lives up to the fame of its companion album, winning the Gold Medal for Excellence Audience Choice for Best Music Documentary at Park City Film Music Festival.
Black cowboys may not be the first thing that comes to mind when the Wild West is mentioned, but they were prevalent and left an undeniable impact on the development of the American West. Following the end of the Civil War in the late 1860s, thousands of newly-freed African Americans moved westward to start new lives. Some chose the grueling and often dangerous path of becoming a cowboy, an occupation in which work ethic mattered more than skin color. These pioneers worked long, hard days alongside Mexican vaqueros, Native Americans, and white cowboys and often turned to song for comfort on the trails.
The newly released Black Cowboys featuring co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons (aka “The American Songster”), places these often forgotten pioneers of the Old West in the spotlight. Produced by Flemons and Dan Sheehy for Smithsonian Folkways as part of its African American Legacy series, the album pays tribute to the music, poetry, and complex history of these cowboys. The accompanying 40 page booklet includes essays by Flemons (on the cowboy’s music) and Jim Griffith (on the history of Black cowboys), as well as detailed notes on each track complemented by many archival photographs.
In addition to Flemons, who performs on all tracks (vocals, 6-string guitar, resonator guitar, 4-string banjo, cow “rhythm” bones), backing musicians include Alvin “Youngblood” Hart (12-string guitar), Jimbo Mathus (mandolin, kazoo, harmonica), Stu Cole (upright bass), Brian Farrow (fiddle, upright bass, vocals), Dante Pope (cow “rhythm” bones, vocals, snare drum), and Dan Sheehy (guitarrón). Together, these musicians create a rich instrumental background for the lyrics.
Many of the songs on Black Cowboys are traditional tunes arranged and performed by Flemons, such as “John Henry y los vaqueros,” which highlights instruments with roots in African American minstrel shows like the fiddle and cow “rhythm” bones. Another track arranged by Flemons, “Black Woman,” is a field holler collected in the 1930s that has themes of ranching and leaving behind loved ones. Although it isn’t a traditional cowboy song, the song honors the thousands of African American women who helped develop the West.
From Southwestern cowboy poems like Gail Gardner’s 1917 “Tyin’ Knots in the Devil’s Tail” to Jack Thorp’s traditional cowboy tune “Little Joe the Wrangler,” the album also includes songs written by actual cowboys in the early 20th century, offering a rare look into the post-Civil War cowboy’s life.
Other tracks were newly composed by Flemons to pay homage to notable historical figures. For example, “Steel Pony Blues” is about Deadwood Dick, sometimes called “the greatest Black cowboy in the Old West,” who later became a Pullman porter, while “One Dollar Bill” is a tribute to legendary rodeo rider Bill Pickett who invented the sport of bulldogging. “He’s a Lone Ranger” recalls the life of Bass Reeves, the first African American U.S. Marshall.
In the words of professor and author Mike Searles (quoted in the liner notes), “many people see the West as the birthplace of America . . . if they understand that African Americans were cowboys, even Native Americans were cowboys, Mexicans were cowboys, it really opens the door for us to think about America as a multiethnic, multiracial place.” Black Cowboys creates a sonic portrait of a more diverse American West, expanding our knowledge through its varied collection of songs and poems by and about African American cowboys.