Jamison Ross – All For One

All For One Ross
Title: All For One

Artist: Jamison Ross

Label: Concord Jazz

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 26, 2018

 

 

All For One is the second album by Jamison Ross—winnner of the 2012 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Drum Competition. A Florida native, currently residing in New Orleans, Ross describes this album as the “second chapter of me revealing myself as a man who loves as a father, husband, friend and brother an as an artist who brings that love to other people while receiving love from my audience.”

Ross’ message of love is heard on his compositions dedicated to his wife and daughter—“Unspoken,” “Call Me,” and “Away”—as well as his songs that focus on love and unity in our society. Members of the band include pianist Chris Pattishall, guitarist Rick Lollar, bassist Barry Stephenson, and Cory Irvin on Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes.

The album begins with a joyous rendition of “A Mellow Good Time,” a song written by Allen Toussaint, made famous by Lee Dorsey. The lyrics invite listeners to join the party and “have a good time” as the rhythm section create a party-like feeling with their groovy bass-line, foot-stomping drum rhythms, lush harmonies on the piano and organ, coupled with rhythm guitar. This song will certainly make you get up and dance. On “Safe in Arms of Love”—an original up tempo bossa nova by Ross, Lollar and Joshua Starkman—Ross calls on us to “hold on to love as a solution during this time of confusion.” Similarly, the title track, “All For One” by Wilson Turbinton, displays Ross’ soulful vocal-styling as he express the sentiments of love and unity. While the members of the ensemble offer a supportive role on this album, their contributions do not go unnoticed. Their flawless execution and articulations are not only a sign of professionalism, but also a sign a maturity.

Hands down an inspirational and moving album, All For One is soulful, tasteful, and most certainly refreshing.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

 

Isaac Hayes – The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976

Isaac Hayes

Title: The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976

Artist: Isaac Hayes

Label: Craft Recordings

Format: 4-CD box set

Release date: September 22, 2017

 

 

The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976 is a four-CD set documenting the multi-faceted musical career of the legendary Isaac Hayes, who would have turned 75 this year. Even in a city that has spawned many influential musicians, Hayes stands out as one of the most important artists to emerge from Memphis. As one of the most identifiable figures in soul music, his significance spans far beyond the city he called home. Hayes’s talents allowed him to fill a wide range of roles in the music business—session musician, songwriter, producer, and, of course, performer.

This four-disc set, produced by Joe McEwan, provides many splendid examples of the multiple aspects of Hayes’s musicianship. Arranged in “chapters,” each disc highlights a different facet of Hayes’s career. Disc One consists of songs for which he was the writer or producer. Most of these songs were performed by Stax Records legends such as Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, and Booker T & the MGs. The Sam & Dave tracks alone will open the eyes of many listeners who are completely unaware that Hayes co-wrote the hit songs “I Thank You” “Hold On! I’m a Comin’,” and “Soul Man,” arguably the epitomic example of a Stax song. Disc One opens with “Sassy,” an instrumental blues groove released by Floyd Newman; the song was Hayes’s first co-write credit for Stax, and also features Hayes on organ. This disc is full of great songs and effectively serves as a “best of” Stax. However, two of the most surprising tracks featured here came out on another great Memphis label—Hi Records. The surprise here, though, is not the label; rather it is the fact that they were recorded by Charlie Rich. It is likely that only the most knowledgeable Hayes fans are aware that he wrote songs for the country music singer.

Disc Two features singles released by Isaac Hayes on the Volt and Enterprise labels, tracing his transition from writer/producer to soul singer/performer. These include the Shaft theme song, which for many people is the definitive Isaac Hayes recording. However, this disc also showcases many relatively unknown gems such as his cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” One of the standout tracks is an instrumental blues titled “Blue Groove” released by Sir Isaac and the Do-Dads. The extent to which Hayes was a good blues player and arranger is overlooked, and this track serves as an example of these skills. Another standout track, “Rolling Down a Mountainside” recorded live at Wattstax, also demonstrates just how good Hayes was as a producer and arranger. The disc concludes with two radio spots that capture an important moment in the marketing of black albums, as legendary deejay Jack “The Rapper” Gibson plugs tracks from The Isaac Hayes Movement album that exceeded normal airplay length.

Disc Three, Cover Man, features Hayes’ performing songs that were written by other people. These cover songs include an outstanding version of T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday.” Hayes’s cover of this blues standard is appropriate because although written by Walker, it was popularized in 1961 by Memphis musician Bobby “Blue” Bland. Another fitting track is a medley of “Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Rock Me Baby,” a blues standard popularized by B. B. King. This medley features Hayes alone on piano and vocals, serving as a vehicle to present Hayes in his purest form to the listener. Rounding out this disc are several previously unreleased tracks recorded live at the 1972 Operation PUSH Black Expo in Chicago.

The final CD, Jam Master, consists of only seven tracks, some backed by the Bar-Kays and/or the Movement. As the title suggests, however, most of these tracks feature extended jams, representing the lushest arrangements and productions on the four-disc set. Two of these tracks, including the previously unreleased “Black Militant’s Place,” were recorded for Shaft so any fans of that soundtrack will love this disc. The previously unreleased instrumental version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers is a highlight and arguably one of the most interesting pieces of the entire collection. Wah-wah guitar, strings, and driving repetitive bass lines are just a few of the devices that are characteristic of the grooves for these jams.

Collectively, this compilation of Isaac Hayes’s music will be welcome to any fan of Stax Records. However, the variety of music on this four-CD set makes it pleasing and palatable to just about anyone, and could very well convert uninitiated listeners into an ardent fans of soul music and Isaac Hayes. In addition, students of arranging or music technology and production would be doing themselves a tremendous disservice by not giving this set in-depth study. It should also be noted that the 60-page hardcover booklet features an essay by author Robert Gordon as well as interviews with artists and some great photographs from the Stax Records heyday, making this a must-have addition to the collection of any budding musicologist with an interest in American music. The final added bonus is a 7-inch vinyl replica of Hayes’s first release on the Youngstown label, featuring the singles “C.C. Rider” and “Laura, We’re On Our Last Go-Round.”

The Spirit of Memphis should be considered one of the best box sets to be released in years, and it is about time that the contributions of Isaac Hayes are beginning to be recognized through a compilation of this nature.

Reviewed by Joel Roberts

Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard

Little Richard

Title: Here’s Little Richard

Artist: Little Richard

Label: Craft Recordings

Formats: 2-CD Deluxe Edition

Release date: November 3, 2017

 

 

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Little Richard’s debut album, Here’s Little Richard, Craft Recordings has released a newly-expanded version of the iconic album. This 2-disc anniversary edition includes the original 12 tracks released in 1957 on the Specialty label, as well as previously unreleased alternate takes for all but one of the songs.

The high energy track “Tutti Frutti,” which was added to the National Recording Registry in 2010, kicks off the album just like in the 1957 version. The bonus tracks are also presented in the same sequence as the original album, making up a second disc of 22 demos, alternate versions, and unreleased takes. While some of the alternate takes on disc 2 sound similar to their original counterparts, others, like “Rip It Up” include commentary from Little Richard himself and are significantly different from the tracks that ultimately ended up on the 1957 release.

Here’s Little Richard offers an intimate glimpse into the development of the songs that helped Richard Penniman become one of the artists “who put the soul in rock and roll.” Little Richard, who will be celebrating his 85th birthday on December 5, has left an undeniable impact on rock ‘n’ roll and this 60th anniversary edition is a testament to his fame and significant contributions to music.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Stax 60th Anniversary Releases

Stax

Just in time for Black Music Month, Concord Music Group announces its Stax Records 60th Anniversary celebration.  The year long celebration will include new hits compiliations as well as remastered vinyl offerings and brand new box sets with rare deep cuts from the Stax catalog.  Great tracks from artists like Isaac Hayes, Johnnie Taylor, The Staple Singer, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & The MGs and of course Otis Redding will be revisited during the year.

For those of us who are well steeped in the most popular output of the record label, Stax 60th also promises some surprises: a re-release of the soundtrack to Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song which features music by Earth, Wind & Fire in their pre-That’s The Way Of the World orientation; a box set spanning Isaac Hayes’ catalog from 1962-1976; and a new fourth volume of their acclaimed Complete Stax Singles box sets. This new box set will include lots of music from Stax’s subsidiary labels like Volt, Enterprise, Hip, Chalice and others.  While much of this music is being kept alive and well in Memphis at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Stax Music Academy, it’s a great time to make sure the whole world remembers what made the music from Stax Records so special. We’ll be reviewing these new releases in the near future.

Levon Williams

Stokley – Introducing Stokley

Stokley
Title: Introducing Stokley

Artist: Stokley

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 23, 2017

 

 

Introducing Stokley by Stokley Williams is an interesting record, and I mean that in most complimentary way possible.  Williams, well known to R&B fans for the past twenty plus years as the lead singer of the band Mint Condition, steps out on Introducing Stokley to chart his own course. It would have been very easy for Williams to tread the tried and true path of Mint Condition (who are one of the best bands to come out of the 1990s along with Tony! Toni! Toné!), but instead Williams brings forth an offering which is simultaneously approachable and eclectic.

The album’s opener and lead single “Level” finds Williams embracing a modern R&B feel with hip-hop leanings.  The track is rhythmic and bangs with hard 808 drums that compliment Williams’ always excellent singing surprisingly well.

On “Think of U” Stokley’s voice, which sounds somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, is on full display. Williams has always been a strong vocalist and he doesn’t hold back on his solo debut. “Art In Motion” serves as kind of a bridge between electronic and acoustic music, with an appearance by Robert Glasper on keyboards.  The song’s breakdown is especially interesting as all the elements mix together.

“Victoria” is probably the most “experimental” track on the album, playing into Williams’ flair for drama as a man pleading for a woman’s presence.  The musical backing for the song includes elements of jazz, R&B and African influences, all held together by Stokley’s vocals which he enjoys playing around with throughout the track. “U&I” is a duet with Estelle which works very well as a modern adaptation of the great male/female duos like Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack or Jerry Butler & Thelma Houston.  “Forecast” sees Williams’ incorporating an ever so slight hard rock element as he laments the difficult outlook on a not-so-good relationship.  The album’s closer, “Wheels Up,” is an uplifting (pun intended) track about not letting others rain on your parade.  Williams, who is also a talented percussionist, lends some steel drum to this track.

With Introducing Stokley, the artist achieves the difficult task of engaging fans of his work with Mint Condition while making this solo effort truly his own.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

 

Lizz Wright – Freedom & Surrender

Lizz Wright

Title: Freedom & Surrender

Artist: Lizz Wright

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 4, 2015

 

 

Lizz Wright’s newest album, Freedom & Surrender, is an eclectic collection of love songs. Pulling from jazz, rock, Americana, and blues, the album is a sexy, sleek, and mystical listening experience, but one grounded in quotidian honesty. It is also an album of firsts: Wright’s debut release on the Concord label and her first collaboration with producer Larry Klein, whose production résumé includes Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux, and Tracy Chapman.

Originally intended to be an album of cover songs, Freedom & Surrender transitioned into a disc of original music written by Wright, Klein, David Batteau, J.D. Souther, Toshi Reagon, and Maia Sharp. “The New Game”—a catchy blues-rock tune co-written by Wright, Klein, and Batteau—demonstrates how productive the singer’s collaborative penchant can be. Another highlight is the dance track “Lean In”:

YouTube Preview Image

Despite the numerous collaborations, Wright’s deep, sensuous voice remains the centerpiece of the album. The singer is immensely talented and sounds wise beyond her thirty-five years. Wright has been celebrated within the jazz industry since the early 2000s, achieving a rare combination of critical and commercial acclaim. Freedom & Surrender builds on this admirable body of work, resulting in Wright’s most accomplished release-to-date.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Danielle Nicole – Wolf Den

Danielle

Title: Wolf Den

Artist: Danielle Nicole

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2015

 
 

Sometimes, a change of scenery can do wonders for a project. Take Danielle Nicole’s newest release, Wolf Den, for example. The singer is a proud St. Louis native, but for this album she traveled south to New Orleans. Teaming up with veteran producer and guitarist, Anders Osbourne, and enlisting some of the best session musicians in the city’s blues, roots, and funk scenes, Wolf Den achieves a swampy New Orleans-sound without losing Nicole’s preferred aesthetic of the “groove blues.” Her songs are both seedy and seductive. The album’s title track evokes a bar where sin runs amok and its clients are up to no-good, but, somehow, it still it remains irresistible.

Equally irresistible is Nicole’s musicality. The artist has proven herself as both a singer and bass player—she won the Blues Foundation’s 2014 Blues Music Award for Best Instrumentalist on Bass—and now, with Wolf Den, has also proved that her artistic turns can lead to fruitful new terrain.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach