Chanti Darling – RNB Vol. 1

chanti

 

Title: RNB Vol. 1

Artist: Chanti Darling

Label: Tender Loving Empire

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: August 3, 2018

 

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.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Various – Sly and Robbie Present Taxi Gang in Disco Mix Style 1978-1987

Sly and Robbie
Title: Sly & Robbie Present Taxi Gang In Disco Mix Style 1978-1987

Artist: Various

Label: Cree/Bear Family

Formats: CD, LP

Release date: March 10, 2017

 

Sly & Robbie Present Taxi Gang In Disco Mix Style 1978-1987 is a relatively short compilation chronicling the late ‘70s and ‘80s work of the most famous “riddim” section in reggae music.  Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s work as producers was very influential in helping to create the sounds that Jamaican music would be known for during this period.  Both Sly & Robbie got their start as sessions musicians (as a drummer and bass player, respectively) before moving over to the production side of things.

The rhythm Sly and Robbie became known for featured electronic drums and vocal effects and would become commonplace in reggae under their influence.  This also went on to influence the practice of “toasting” (chanting and shouting out folks over a beat), which in turn would be one of the building blocks on which rap music is based.

With this disappointingly brief eight track compilation (but still a full 58:16), Cree Records highlights cover versions of American soul and disco hits covered by Jamaican artists, produced by Sly & Robbie. Included are covers of songs made famous by Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, The Impressions and others. Both the CD and LP offer great liner notes by reggae expert Noel Hawks that set the scene for Sly & Robbie coming together and creating their unique production style.

The compilation begins with Tinga Stewart’s cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” (more famously covered by Brook Benton). With Sly & Robbie’s help, Stewart’s version takes what in Benton’s hands was a melancholy song of lament and turns it into a fun, danceable romp. Despite the bit of cognitive dissonance in the song, it is quite enjoyable nonetheless.

The lone female vocalist (really wish there were more) on the compilation is Marcia Griffiths of the I-Threes (backing vocalists for Bob Marley along with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt), who covers Little Willie John’s “Fever.” Sly and Robbie’s sonic accompaniment is as sparse as the original, highlighting Griffiths’ vocals (if you enjoy this, definitely check out Griffith’s Play Me Sweet and Nice).

Two Marvin Gaye covers appear here with great results. Let’s be real for a second—nobody’s going to touch Gaye’s vocals on the original version. However, accepting this fact allows you to enjoy these covers for what they are, and both truly highlight Sly and Robbie’s production work.  “Sexual Healing” adds additional rhythm to the original’s yearning groove, creating a vibe that is uniquely Jamaican. “Inner City Blues” crackles with the same urgency as Gaye’s original and sports a great reggae-fying of the bassline.

Overall, the sound quality on the compilation is fantastic as it sounds like all of the selections have been digitally remastered.  Each one is presented in its full length form, including extended jams perfect for dancing and/or “toasting,” creating the vibe of a warm night in a dancehall.  If you are a Sly & Robbie aficionado or you want an introduction to the influential production duo, this compilation communicates why Sly & Robbie have been so influential around the world.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

 

Evelyn “Champagne” King – The Complete RCA Hits and More

evelyn-king
Title: The Complete RCA Hits and More

Artist: Evelyn “Champagne” King

Label: Real Gone Music

Format: 2-CD set

Release date: October 7, 2016

 

 

There is a great story about how Evelyn King was discovered. Up and coming producer T. Life heard King’s voice one night, while she was cleaning the offices of Philadelphia International Records. She was singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which impressed T. Life enough that he offered to coach the teenager. Evelyn King should have been a bigger star after the 1977 hit single “Shame” put her on the map. Now, I might be saying that because I happened to reside in Philadelphia, but nonetheless I’ve felt that way for years.

Real Gone Music’s two disc set, The Complete RCA Hits and More, contains all the hits plus songs that received very little attention. All the tracks on this set are 12” mixes or extended versions, so you feel like you are in a club and the DJ is giving you a new version you never heard before. All these tracks were remastered for this set by Maria Triana at Battery Studios in New York.

There are many highlights these two discs, such as “Dancin’, Dancin’, Dancin’,” written by none other than Teddy Pendergrass. Released before “Shame,” it is very disco-y but shows that King had vocal talent. “Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine In,” a remake of the Fifth Dimension classic, is pretty good, with King showing another side of her talent. “I Don’t Know If It’s Right” was released immediately after “Shame” and was also popular in clubs. In this song, King is singing about whether or not she wants to lose her virginity; the opening saxophone has always been a winner and here you get the extra bonus of an extended version. As the ‘80s were ushered in, King released “I’m In Love.” This time she is not worried about losing her innocence, and perhaps it’s her last hurrah:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLL0PdFIU0o

I mentioned “Shame,” which is the very first track on this set. When it was released in 1977, King was all over—American Bandstand, Soul Train, you name it. Today, “Shame” can still get people on the dance floor. The long version is included in this set, so enjoy.

Evelyn “Champagne” King was billed a dance artist. After the success of “Shame,” no wonder. I personally would have loved to hear more of her ballads or duets, but this is still a great set. Again, Evelyn King should have been a much bigger star.

The Complete RCA Hits and More also includes extensive liner notes with photos and album art from the RCA Vault. The liner notes are written by soul expert David Nathan and feature exclusive quotes from Evelyn “Champagne” King herself. This album is the first comprehensive domestic collection of King’s work, making this set a must-have for any fan of disco music.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

The Real Sound of Chicago


Title: The Real Sound of Chicago: Underground Disco from the Windy City

Artist:  Various

Format:  CD, LP, MP3

Label:  BBE Records

Release date:  January 5, 2010


There is some irony in reviewing an album of disco from the Chicago area. This music, so often associated with New York, had its proverbial death in 1979 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park during a radio station’s “Disco Demolition” promotion. In spite of this event, The Real Sound of Chicago compilation is testament to the inability of a single act to destroy a cultural phenomenon; particularly one as pervasive as disco.

To create this album, Mike Grusane and Mike Cole, the owners of Mr. Peabody’s Records in Chicago, dug through their decades-old record collections to find the most representative, unique, and rare artifacts of Chicago’s dance music from 1976-1983. The result is a 23 track album that covers a wide territory from the funky to the soulful, to the gimmicky (“B.T. Boogie Terrestrial”) to the insightful (“School Days”). Following is the promotional video (courtesy of Mike Grusane):

For many, it may be initially difficult to understand what makes The Real Sound of Chicago different from the disco that emanated from other cities. Simply stated, the majority of the tracks on this compilation run a thin line between up-tempo R&B and the common disco sound of the period. A primary reason for this stems from the lack of major label backing, which helped develop the high-production East Coast sounds of the Salsoul Orchestra, The Village People, and K.C. & The Sunshine Band. Instead, the Chicago artists were often represented by small labels attempting to hop onto the disco bandwagon, resulting in a lack of strings and an emphasis on keyboard and percussion instruments. As a result, disco returns to its more soulful roots but with a funky twist, achieved by adding synthesizers to the mix for both the emulation of strings and organs.

All told, while the album succeeds in presenting the unique sound that draws strong lines between disco and Chicago house music, it falls short in certain respects. Firstly, the transfer quality of many of the tracks is, at times, poor. Particularly in the case of Carmen Amez’s “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again (Like I Fell In Love With You),” the high end of the track consistently distorts. While this is the case, it must be noted that the low budgets of these labels would result in the use of poor quality vinyl, which would produce albums that, with any extensive playing, would cause distortions of this type. In light of this, The Real Sound succeeds in presenting these tracks to a larger audience, who would have never heard them otherwise. Furthermore, it is also worth mentioning that The Moore Brothers’ “Bass Come Back” only existed in acetate form, making it a worthwhile gem in this set.

Secondly, a compilation of this sort demands extensive liner notes. Though I received this album as an MP3 download, I’ve discovered from other reviewers that the CD and LP versions also suffer from a lack of liner notes. While they are available on-line, I find this a poor substitute for readily available notes inserted in the packaging or as a file.

In spite of its sonic and packaging shortcomings, the tracks on The Real Sound of Chicago are generally excellent. As stated by the owners of Mr. Peabody’s Records, they have attempted to assemble a collection of above-average quality tracks that represent Chicago, and to that extent, they have succeeded. The tracks cover a wide range that will appeal to many tastes while still maintaining a cohesive sound and solid musical package. This compilation would best be suited for those who are curious about the gap between the “death” of disco and the birth of house, or those who simply want to hear some fun, uplifting disco tracks.

Reviewed by Gary Powell

I’m Rick James: the Definitive DVD


Title: I’m Rick James!: The Definitive DVD

Artist: Rick James

Label: Hip-O

Format: DVD (135 min.); all regions; NTSC.

Catalog No.: B0012655-09

Date: 2009

Rick James was a “bad boy,” an anti-hero who rebelled against societal norms by singing of the wonders of marijuana (“Mary Jane”), sex (“Give It To Me Baby”), and of “Super freaks.” This so called Definitive DVD can’t touch what the real Rick James represented live and in concert, it doesn’t even come close. Culled from various TV appearances on shows such as Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, Soul Alive, Dinah, and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, most of the “performances” are lip-synced, with James merely mouthing the words of the song while giving a subdued and controlled performance where he never lets his hair down and never breaks a sweat. Everyone knows Rick James wore his hair plaited with beads and braids, and when he preformed he sweated like someone poured a bucket of water on him.

James came to Motown in 1978 and released his first monster album Come Get It!, which had two mega hits including my all time favorite “You and I” and “Mary Jane,” which was a prelude to the formation of the Mary Jane Girls Band. James broke many cultural taboos by flaunting his extravagant lifestyle. As an icon of drug use and eroticism, he went further than anyone had ever gone before. A womanizer who by his own admission bedded “thousands” of women, James was also a heavy crack cocaine user who, by some reports, spent $7000 a month for five years on drugs. He made a living rebelling against the establishment by touting sex, drug, funk and roll. On I’m Rick James, however, it seems like society and TV not only tamed the notorious musician, but dammed near defunked the mighty self-proclaimed “king of punk funk.” In fact, during his performance of “Love Gun” on the Dinah show in 1979, Dinah introduces James as a “very nice guy.”

Still, if you are a true Rick James fan you will want to add this DVD to your collection for two reasons. The first reason is, of course, the music, because it’s all good; the second is for the visual images of a long gone creative music master. But again, I must say buyer beware because this not the “definitive” DVD and in most of the performances James is just going through the motions. There is no real fire or power in the delivery as you would expect from his soulful, funky live performances.

Some of the best performances, though I hesitate to call them that, are “You and I,” “Mary-Go- Round,” and “Fool on the Street,” all with thumping bass lines, hypnotic rhythmic grooves and funky percussive horn lines. Other good songs that either address or express his rebellious nature are “Give It To Me Baby” (which has a nice rock guitar solo), “She Blew My Mind (69 Times),” “Fire It Up,” and of course the ubiquitous “Super Freak,” which everyone knows MC Hammer covered as “U Can’t Touch This,” the biggest hit in the rapper’s short-lived career.

There are a few special treats in the “Bonus performances” section of the DVD. Once again, these are not live performances but Motown promotional videos, which give a deeper insight into the man and the song. Of special note is another renditon of “Standing on the Top,” this time performed with all seven of the Temptations, as well as additional performances of “You and I” and “Super Freak.”

Another one of my favorite songs performed on I’m Rick James is the autobiographical “Glow,” where James is in a dialog with his woman who talks about his drug and alcohol use and abuse. The woman says she can’t watch him throw his life away and self destruct. And he says “I don’t need anybody, I’m Rick James and I don’t need anybody,” all the while dinking from a fifth of Jack Daniels. Then he staggers out on the stage and falls flat on his face. The very same way he fell flat on his face in life. Art imitates life, and in 1993 James was sent to Folsom Prison until 1996, and on August 6, 2004, he died of a heart attack at the age of 56, although the autopsy report stated that he had Xanax, Valium, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Vicodin, Digoxin, Chlopheniramine, methamphetamine and cocaine in his system.

In the performance of the song “Big Time” Rick James sings, “I was born to funk and roll in the big time,” and he did for awhile. Therefore I still await the “definitive” collection of his work.

Reviewed by Clark D. Whitlow

Destiny and Triumph

Title: Destiny (expanded edition)
Artist: The Jacksons
Label: Sony Legacy
Catalog No.: 886973086926
Release date: January 27, 2009

Title: Triumph (expanded edition)
Artist: The Jacksons
Label: Sony Legacy
Catalog No.: 886973355824
Release date: January 27, 2009

The Jackson 5 were Motown’s last hurrah, a boy band to rival the Monkees but with the wholesome family ties of the Partridge Family.  They also grew up on record, and their popularity in the mid-to-late-seventies mirrored that of Motown, their flagging label.  A few scattered hits and lack of creative direction led the group’s manager and father Joe to split for CBS in 1976, fetching the group a record contract and short-lived variety program on the television network.  The band’s first two albums for CBS, Destiny (1978) and Triumph (1980, as “The Jacksons”), re-established the group’s chart success and spawned two incredibly successful world tours.  Epic/Legacy have remastered and rereleased both albums, hoping to capitalize on the incredible success of their reissues of Michael’s solo albums, Off the Wall and Thriller.

The Jacksons’ narrative is of course all their own, but there are many familiar elements.  For Destiny, the brothers expressed their strong desire to write and produce their own material for the first time.  While the results can’t compare with their pop heyday and the songwriting consortium of Motown, Destiny is a slick, densely produced but still light collection of timely pop songs. The album draws from Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s lush, string-laden Philly Soul aesthetic as well as Earth, Wind & Fire’s take on funk music, with the inclusion of a few schmaltzy ballads (“You Push Me Away,” “Bless His Soul”).

The centerpiece of Destiny is its second and most successful single, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).”  An eight minute club cut (whittled to four minutes for radio) penned by Michael and Randy, “Shake” proved that the group could, on its own, tap into the still-ascendant disco marketthe track reached number seven on the American pop chart.  “Blame it on the Boogie” is equally lithe and arguably just as catchy, but stalled in the mid-fifties on Billboard.  The title cut and third single, however, is Destiny‘s most ambitious moment, opening with a lone acoustic guitar before segueing into one of Michael’s more world-weary lyrics, capped by an ever-so-brief refrain that could have been pulled from a Doobie Brothers or Christopher Cross track.  Destiny is a disco record through and through, and a reasonably successful one, but tracks like this make it clear that the group had designs well outside of the dance floor.

Between Destiny and Triumph, the Jacksons, especially Michael, lived up to the grandiose titles of their records.  The Destiny tour was a worldwide success, launching the Jacksons back into the popular imagination.  Michael, however, had been tapped for a starring role in The Wiz, producer Quincy Jones’ all-black remake of The Wizard of Oz starring Michael’s former advocate Diana Ross as Dorothy.  Michael and Quincy’s relationship blossomed, leading to their collaboration on Off the Wall, which cemented Michael’s reputation as a solo star.  “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” (written by Heatwave’s Rod Temperton, who would later collaborate with Jones and Jackson on Thriller) were better songs than anything on Triumph, and stand as two of the best moments from the disco era.  Much of this was due to Jones’ wrangling of some of the best studio hands of the time, including Temperton, Jeff Porcaro, Larry Carlton, George Duke, and Greg Philligaines. Michael took the opportunity to work on his dance moves and visual style for Wall‘s music videos as well, a notion that would pay off rather well a few years later.

Though Michael was clearly on a star bound trajectory in 1980, he was still devoted (and contractually-bound) to recording and touring with his brothers.  Triumph moved away from disco toward the realm of stadium-sized electronic pop, topping Destiny‘s sales and reaching platinum status.  The lead track, “Can You Feel It,” with shared lead vocals by Jackie and Michael, reflected the group’s stratospheric ambition and self-regard. The video (released the same year MTV launched, and three years before the network committed to playing black music videos) positioned the group, quite literally, as emerging from prehistoric cosmic forces and standing larger than life.  “Feel It” stalled in the ’70s on the pop charts (though it charted much higher in Europe). The first single, “Lovely One,” essentially a retread of the horn-and-string-laden, groove-based Destiny singles, reached no.12.

Though it didn’t succeed as a single to the extent of “Lovely One”, the Michael-penned “This Place Hotel” (changed from “Heartbreak Hotel” to avoid a lawsuit) signaled his clear separation from the group, as well as his obvious admiration for another former teen idol who moved toward making “adult” music, Paul McCartney (whom Jackson met during Off the Wall). “This Place Hotel” was in many ways a precursor to Thriller‘s “Billie Jean”: a narrative of being “done wrong” by a mysterious woman.  The lyrics suggest as much: “We came to this place, where the vicious dwell / And found that wicked women run this strange hotel.”  After Triumph, Michael would reconnect with Jones, McCartney and others to record 1982’s Thriller.  Though the Jacksons would reform for the 1984 LP Victory, Michael’s moonwalk during the 1983 “Motown 25” special, coupled with a few groundbreaking music videos of his own, meant that the longstanding star of the Jackson family had finally broken off on his own.

These new “expanded editions” do much to clean up the poor digital mastering from the original CD pressings of the albums, but they do not contain much else in the way of essential bonus material.  The five extra tracks include four remixes from the same era by noted DJ and producer John Luongo, and the liner notesby critic Ernest Hardyspeak in very romantic language about the impact of the Jacksons on pop culture, pop music, and African American art in general.

Posted by Eric Harvey