Water Seed – Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile

Water Seed

Title: Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile

Artist: Water Seed

Label: Water Seed Music Group

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 22, 2018

 

Water Seed, a New Orleans-based group under the leadership of drummer Lou Hill, drew attention with their May 2017 debut album, We Are Stars, which reached the Billboard Top 20. Three months later, on August 19, 2017, their high-energy and brilliant performance at the Blue Nile in New Orleans was recorded and has now been released as the band’s first live album, Say Yeah!!.

Water Seed’s success has lead them to perform on prominent stages such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Apollo Theater, and a three-month residency in Russia. Their compositions blend funk, R&B, fusion, and soul genres into an amalgam of sound and groove that reflect not only the musical mission of the group, but also the musical environment that is New Orleans.

Say Yeah!! includes songs from their debut album, including the fan favorites “Open Sesame,” “Work It Out,” “Brand New Day,” and “Funktimus Prime.”  Now, while each track is musically exhilarating and dynamic, the highlight of this live set is the impeccable musicianship and artistic acumen of the entire ensemble (Lou Hill, J Sharp, Cinese Love, Shaleyah and Berkley). The vocal harmonies are blended perfectly, the brass lines are clean and precise, and the grooves in the rhythm section are flawlessly executed. In addition to the superb performance, listeners are treated to the call-and-response interactions between the band and audience members, which according to Hill inspired the title Say Yeah!!.

Besides the soulful and foot-stomping grooves, this album captures the spontaneity and pure artistic expressions of a well-rehearsed ensemble. Say Yeah!! is truly a magnificent demonstration of maturity and musicality.

Review by Jamaal Baptiste

Jonestown – Winston Jarrett and The Righteous Flames

Jonestown

Title: Jonestown

Artist: Winston Jarrett and The Righteous Flames

Label: Omnivore

Format: CD, Digital

Release Date: August 3, 2018

 

Classic Reggae can never truly fall under into “out of sight, out of mind” category, but just in case we need a refresher, Omnivore Records has reissued one of the best offerings, Jonestown. Originally released by Nighthawk Records, Jonestown is the work of prolific reggae artists Winston Jarrett and Eggar Gordon (Baby Gee). Obtaining their start in 1965 from locally famous Kingston vocalist Alton Ellis, Winston and Gordon released multiple recordings, were featured on Coxsone Studio One’s many artistic endeavors, and recorded for other producers such as Duke Reid, Lee Perry and Joe Gibbs.

Jarrett’s transition to Nighthawk Records began in 1983 upon meeting the label’s producer Leroy Jody Pierson, who was working on a mix of Justin Hinds’ Travel With Love album. Together with Gordon, who was still performing in the area, Jarrett recorded Jonestown. After nearly 30 years, the album is being reissued along with new liner notes from Pierson and featuring previously unseen photos. Each song is a testament to the combined talents emanating from Jarrett and Gordon, with songs such as the smooth “Hold On To This Feeling” and the regional shout-out “Jonestown” testifying to the unique collaborative relationship dedicated to their quality art.

True legends never disappear, but rather they remain imbedded in our hearts forever. With its lyrical methodology and its definitive rhythmic soundscape, Jonestown lovingly reignites our passion for the reggae genre while simultaneously redistributing the sunshine and peace Jarrett and Gordon’s artistic oneness originally bestowed upon us.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

Erroll Garner – Nightconcert

Garner
Title: Nightconcert 

Artist: Erroll Garner

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: July 13, 2018

 

 

Although it has been just over 40 years since his death, legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s music vibrantly lives on thanks to the record labels who have championed his work. First, Sony Legacy released The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015 as well as Ready Take One the following year, both of which received major award consideration. Now the people behind Mack Avenue Records have continued efforts to keep Garner’s memory alive with their new release,

Nightconcert. The title is drawn from Garner’s midnight concert in November 1964 at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, captured live with an audience of 2000 highly enthusiastic and enraptured people of all ages. This concert recording displays Garner at the height of his career, with eight unique arrangements of classic standards as well as a newly discovered original!

Erroll Garner, was born June 25th, 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be best remembered for his composition, “Misty,” which has become a treasured classic for jazz lovers and standard repertoire for every jazz musician to this very day. Beginning his study of the piano at age three, Garner took lessons from a family friend but he was primarily self-taught and remained an “ear-player” his entire life, never learning to read music. By age 11 his career was well on its way as he played piano on Allegheny riverboats and at 14 he began playing with well-known saxophonist Leroy Brown. Garner went on to enjoy a successful career working with other greats like bassist Slam Stewart and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” sessions. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Nightconcert is an instant classic piano trio album as Garner displays his incomparable style and virtuosity. Opening with the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When,” Garner chooses to begin this and many other songs with elaborate piano introductions, often with the intent of throwing off the audience so they don’t know what song is coming. He seems to have a tendency to play a hemiola in these intros by maintaining a triple meter in the left hand while playing in a duple meter in the right. He makes this especially prevalent later in the album with the song “Night and Day” as he carries this idea from the introduction throughout the rest of the tune. This is indicative of Garner’s overall style—his right hand typically lays back behind the beat as his left hand drives steadily along—often used as a powerful function to begin and end his slick phrases. As the concert continues, Garner jumps between his up-tempo tunes and lush ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Over The Rainbow,” where he enraptures listeners with his thick and unique chord voicing.

Garner’s playing is unlike any others and simply hearing his live performance on Nightconcert is a truly unique experience—from his iconic groans that can be heard on every record, to his astounding skill and mastery over the piano. Great thanks must be extended to those at Mack Avenue Records for releasing yet another historical recording that keeps Garner’s body of work alive for a new generation.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

Love Unlimited Orchestra – 20th Century Singles (1973-1979)

Love Unlimited Orchestra
Title: 20th Century Singles (1973- 1979)

Artist: Love Unlimited Orchestra

Label: Mercury/20th Century

Formats: CD, LP

Release Date: June 15, 2018

 

 

There’s something about luscious string instruments that bring out the best that music has to offer. Know thy history. When the Drifters shifted from Clyde McPhatter to Ben E. King, they ushered in a new sound with string instruments. The Sound of Philadelphia was also string heavy with the help of the Salsoul Orchestra. When Barry White made his debut, some thought, “Who is this Isaac Hayes sound alike?” Ah, not so fast to judge.  Radio jocks used to refer to White as ‘the maestro.’ What’s a maestro? A master in art. A composer, conductor or music teacher.

Barry White was indeed all that and beyond. After he unveiled his female trio, Love Unlimited, he was the brains behind a forty piece orchestra called, what else, the Love Unlimited Orchestra. Besides backing up White and his trio, other famous artists got their breaks from LUO including Kenny G, Lee Ritenour, Wah Wah Watson, and Ray Parker Jr.

Now, 20th Century Records has just released a two disc “best of” compilation from LUO, spanning the years 1973 to 1979.

Disc one opens up with “Love’s Theme.” Why not! It was their biggest hit and put them on the map. Barry White’s fingers are all over just about every single. “Rhapsody in White” starts off like “Love’s Theme” but then fools you—it’s way more upbeat. “Barry’s Theme,” named after guess who, is LUO paying homage to the maestro. White appears vocally on “Baby Blues,” giving us that often imitated delivery.

Disc two gets into disco. “Brazilian Love Song” makes one want to do the hustle. Speaking of Isaac Hayes, LUO also covers the “Theme from Shaft,” but their version is a little more up tempo, and Barry White has no cameo like Hayes on the original.

Love Unlimited Orchestra’s 20th Century Singles (1973 -1979) is for the lover. It’s close your eyes and relax music. However you choose to listen, it’s great to see LUO’s work get more attention.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

 

Dug Pinnick – Tribute to Jimi: Often Imitated by Never Duplicated

Dug Pinnick

Title: Tribute to Jimi: Often Imitated but Never Duplicated

Artist: Dug Pinnick

Label: Rat Pak

Formats: CD, LP, Cassette, Digital

Release date: May 18, 2018

 

Dug Pinnick’s Tribute to Jimi: Often Imitated but Never Duplicated is a fitting homage to the guitar great, in part because Pinnick is an ideal musician for pulling off a project such as this. Having spent decades as the bassist and singer for King’s X, which just might be the most underrated power trio in rock and roll history, he is the perfect candidate to record tunes by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which is arguably rock and roll’s preeminent trio. Also, upon hearing Pinnick’s vocals on these tracks, the listener is hard-pressed to think of a more fitting vocalist to sing these songs. The bulk of the guitar duties are handled by Tracey “Spacey T” Singleton from the groundbreaking metal group Sound Barrier, one of the first African American heavy metal bands. While this tribute to Jimi is not a note-for-note replication of Hendrix material, it is also not a reinvention. The eight tracks bear tremendous amounts of similarity to the originals. However, there is a general freshness to this recording that results from the presence of stylistically indoctrinated musicians who are willing to occasionally color just outside the lines.

The sonic similarity to the originals is not surprising since this recording was made with that intention. Pinnick stated that they had wanted “to recreate the analog recording process as closely to the original recordings as possible.” With this in mind, they used as many of the same types of equipment used by Hendrix and company as was feasible. The result is a modern recording that maintains a vintage feel. While the playing on the album has had the influence of fifty more years of musical evolution, the actual guitar tones maintain the characteristics of the late ‘60s. “If 6 Was 9” serves as a perfect example of this. Although there are variations in note choice from the original, the guitar sounds as if it was recorded using the exact same rig that Hendrix used back in 1967.

Song selection for a tribute album can always be tricky. When dealing with the catalog of an artist such as Jimi Hendrix, who had so many great songs, the difficulty in selecting eight tracks is compounded. Nevertheless, Pinnick did a great job in narrowing down the scope of the project by sticking with songs from the three studio albums released during Hendrix’s lifetime—Are You Experienced (1967), Axis: Bold as Love (1967), and Electric Ladyland (1968). Tracks include psychedelic standards such as “Are You Experienced” and “Purple Haze,” songs in the pop vein such as “Fire” and “Crosstown Traffic,” and iconic Hendrix tracks such as “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Of course, “All Along the Watchtower” is also present. It is perhaps ironic—or even fitting—that a cover of a cover would be present on this album. Nevertheless, any Hendrix project would be incomplete without “All Along the Watchtower,” which along with Aretha Franklin’s version of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” stands out as one of the greatest cover songs of all time.

“Are You Experienced” is the first track, and the impeccable backwards guitar sets the bar high for the remainder of the album regarding attention to detail in capturing the spirit of the originals. This attention to detail is evident throughout the album, and “Crosstown Traffic” continues this sentiment by including the kazoo part from the original. Other standout tracks include “Purple Haze,” driven by Pinnick’s signature 12-string bass sound. Also, though covered many times, Pinnick’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” serves as one of the more authentic covers of the Hendrix classic. Worth mentioning too is “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” which closes the album in a blistering fashion.

As a testament to his phenomenal output with King’s X, Pinnick will always attract that band’s loyal fans. Ideally, others will also find this recording and discover what diehard King’s X fans have known for years—that Dug Pinnick is one of the great rock and roll talents. Tribute to Jimi is one of the best tributes to Hendrix ever released, and it is obvious that the musicians had fun making this album. The final product is a recording that builds upon the experimental spirit of Hendrix while still maintaining a stylistic affinity to the original recordings. As should generally be the case with performances of Hendrix songs, the guitar playing on this album is scorching, and Pinnick’s powerful voice adds a new dimension to these classics. It is truly hard to envision this album disappointing any rock and roll fan.

Reviewed by Joel Roberts

 

 

 

 

Fantastic Negrito – Please Don’t Be Dead

Fantastic Negrito

Title: Please Don’t Be Dead

Artist: Fantastic Negrito

Label: Cooking Vinyl

Format: Digital, LP, CD

Release Date: June 15, 2018

 

Oakland native Xavier Dphrepaulezz, professionally known as Fantastic Negrito, is an award winning musical artist and story teller. Coming back from a decade long hiatus, Negrito returned to the music industry in 2016 with more fire and flare then before, releasing The Last Days of Oakland which won him his first Grammy Award. More recently, Negrito was featured on an episode of the popular Fox television series, Empire.

Negrito’s latest release, Please Don’t Be Dead, is a rock-soul album that presents issues, warnings and solutions that have everything to do with American society and the people that live within it. Negrito wants people to “stay woke” by being aware that what is happening currently in our nation is not a normal occurrence. The album cover art, a real-life photo of Negrito coming out of a three week coma caused by a previous car accident, represents his efforts to leave dark times in the past. By choosing to move forward and leaving behind hatred, blame, disrespect and hopelessness, Negrito stands with his community to embrace love, unity, empathy and compassion.

Regarding the title track, Negrito said “Please Don’t Be Dead” tells the story of a man standing over something he cares about that is wounded. He’s looking around, and he’s saying: “Do Something.”

YouTube Preview Image

“Plastic Hamburgers” is a call to the listener to break down the walls that keep people separated from one another in American society, harkening to issues of racism, classism, sexism, poor government policy and regulation. The chorus, “Let’s break out these chains, let’s burn it down,” suggests that we are slaves to the American hegemonic machine, referred to as a “bomb with a winning hand.” Negrito suggests we can overcome this domination if we stop buying into the idealistic pressures of American society.

“Bad Guys” continues with this narrative, suggesting that dominions create the evil, charging us to fear it while swearing to protect us from it. According to Negrito, a “bad guy” is a figure, thing or idea that we can point to as the blame for all the problems we create. He goes on to suggest we should look in the mirror before we start blaming others for the issues we create due to the consequences of our choices.

“A Letter to Fear and Transgender Biscuits” is the silver lining of the album. Despite the horrible things happening in America, Negrito claims, “We can carry on.” In doing so, however, we don’t have to accept the current issues as the norm. Negrito offers his solution to the problem by standing with his friends and his community who have agreed that, “Hope will never die!” The song encourages everyone to keep fighting against the present violent norms by pressing back against it with love as a community: “All the people with love in your heart, get unified, get organized….. Unity.” By unifying and organizing, standing against the issues that are being pressed upon us to be accepted as the norm, we can elicit change. That is the history of the positive paradigm shifts in our nation’s past.

“The Suits That Won’t Come Off” is a song that encourages perspective empathy. As Negrito sings, “How do you sleep at night when you have stolen from me,” he is asking his audience to stand in the shoes of those in other circumstances in order to gain compassion. How different could this world be if people respected those who are unlike them? Negrito ends his album with the funk and gospel influenced, “Bull Shit Anthem.” The chorus of the song sums up what Negrito wants us to do with all the issues presented on the album. Along with love, standing with the community, showing empathy and having compassion, we need to “Take that bullshit, turn it into good shit!”

Please Don’t Be Dead is a fitting wake-up call from an artist who reclaimed his consciousness both physically and artistically, and is now striving for others to follow his example. It’s a request we all should heed, as Negrito instructs, before it’s too late.

Reviewed by Bobby Davis

Buddy Guy – The Blues is Alive and Well

Buddy Guy

 

Title: The Blues is Alive and Well

Artist: Buddy Guy

Label: Silvertone/RCA

Format: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: June 15, 2018

 

Immediately upon hearing his mesmerizing riffs, this blues novice could tell I was in the presence of a legend. The Blues is Alive and Well, the latest release from multiple Grammy and award winner Buddy Guy, demonstrates that this icon is throwing us what could arguably be his most skilled offering yet. In recognition of his many contributions to the genre, The Americana Music Association is awarding Guy a Lifetime Achievement Award on September 12th in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, complimenting his 2015 Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and his more than 50 years as a blues innovator, musician and mentor. To say that Buddy Guy has a long history with the blues does not do him justice—according to numerous musicians, Buddy Guy IS the blues, period.

Guy opens the 15-track album with “A Few Good Years,” a haunting, rambling slide number showcasing his trademark growl and lyrically addressing the desire to do what he does best for just a little while longer: “A few good years/is all I need right now.” “Guilty as Charged” testifies exactly as you would expect—an uptempo confessional sermonizing not only the singer’s introspectiveness but also Guy’s legendary steel-driving artistry. “Whiskey for Sale” is a call-and-response between the vocals and Guy’s guitar as they negotiate their trade, and the invigorating work song rhythm on “Ooh Daddy” remains with you long past the last chord drop.

Collaborators weigh in on Guy’s blues mission, as well, including several British musicians profoundly influenced by the genre. Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards contribute to the ‘killing floor’ offering “You Did the Crime” and the warm and fuzzy “Cognac,” respectively, as does another rock guitarist, Jeff Beck. Being that the Rolling Stones began as a band called “The Blues Boys” and they’ve paid homage to Guy in the past, the participation of Jagger and Richards comes as no surprise. “Blue No More” introduces guitarist James Bay, a worthy up-and-coming blues man in his own right.

Taking down the tempo a notch Louisiana blues style, “When My Day Comes” mesmerizes with its plodding tempo and dark undertones about what is yet to materialize. “Bad Day,” a dark but electric musing, warns of how even the best person can reach their wit’s end sometimes. But in the end, Guy’s line, “You can call me old-fashioned/but I still know how to have my fun” on the track “Old Fashioned” sums up this album—and indeed, his entire career.

Guy sounds every bit as vital and youthful on this album as he did on his early collaborations with the late Junior Wells, and it’s inspiring to hear a veteran artist laying down the blues with such continual precision time and again. Both timeless and cutting edge, The Blues is Alive and Well proves that when it comes to Buddy Guy and the blues, 81 is certainly the new 21—no bones about it.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

Bettye Lavette – Things Have Changed

Bette Lavette
Title: Things Have Changed

Artist: Bettye Lavette

Label: Verve

Formats: CD, Digital, Vinyl

Release date: March 30, 2018

 

 

The Times, They are a ’Changin’. This phrase, with all its historic relevancy, has once again become the most accurate description of contemporary times all over the globe. Therefore, it stands as no surprise a 60’s soul legend such as Bette Lavette would release a cover album focusing on ironic political artist Bob Dylan. Things Have Changed is a fitting tribute to some of Dylan’s most prolific movement songs in addition to showcasing other soul rock classics, with Lavette weaving in her own gritty stylings and adding a contemporary layer to the timeless classics.

The title track, Things Have Changed, serves as a warning for those who feel overwhelmed and anxious about their world: “Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose/People are crazy and times are strange/I’m locked in tight/I’m out of range/I used to care, but things have changed. “Political World”, with its echoing of past conflicts and shouts of current trajectories, features Keith Richards, who layers his talents behind Lavette.

YouTube Preview Image

Additional tracks pay homage to some of Dylan’s more introspective musings, with selections such as “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Mama, You’ve been on My Mind.” But it’s on “Emotionally Yours” that Lavette’s ability to tug at the heartstrings becomes most evident. Through a combination of Dylan’s lyrics and her own amazingly soulful abilities, Lavette gives her listeners a thought-provoking look into the mind of a tortured soul yearning for that one last chance: “Come baby, find me, come baby, remind me of where I once begun/Come baby, show me, show me you know me, tell me you’re the one/I could be learning, you could be yearning to see behind closed door/But I will always be emotionally yours.”

Things Have Changed offers us the best of both worlds—Bob Dylan’s ageless classics and Bettye Lavette’s endless soul stylings—proving to us that even though time marches on, some things remain eternal and relevant, no matter what.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

Shuggie Otis – Inter-Fusion

Shuggie Otis
Title: Inter-Fusion

Artist: Shuggie Otis

Label: Cleopatra

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: April 20, 2018

 

 

Known best for his soulful songwriting and tender serenades as heard on hits such as “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Inspiration Information,” Shuggie Otis, “heir to Hendrix,” has long been held as one of the most innovative guitarists to ever pick up the 6-strings. A prodigy from early age, Otis regularly performed on stage and in the studio alongside his legendary father, bluesman Johnny Otis. Shuggie’s latest project, an adventurous new fusion rock project called Inter-fusion, showcases just how mind-blowing he is on the pearly frets of his gorgeous maroon Gibson SG.

The album consists of mostly instrumental tracks that groove and weave, taking unexpected turns in surprising directions, but all anchored by one of the finest rhythm sections imaginable. Drummer Carmine Appice (of Vanilla Fudge/Beck, Bogert & Appice) and bass player Tony Franklin (of The Firm/Roy Harper) both layer their expertise beyond Otis. In addition, keyboardist Kyle Hamood (of L.A. rockers Them Guns) steps in as both a musician and producer, delivering outright superlative performances from each artist involved.

The opening track, “Aphelion,” is a sweetly smooth shot of melancholy that goes down without a hitch. “Woman,” an uptempo beat complete with intricate melodies and layered percussion, begs to be played over and again, and “Clear Power” is a clean, crisp polyrhythmic groove that satisfies the aural need for virtuosity.

Uniting some of the best rock fusion artists on one recording, Inter-fusion reminds us that when it comes to Shuggie Otis, some of the most eclectic, quality art and artists have been right beside us all along.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

Serpentwithfeet – Soil

Soil

Title: Soil

Artist: Serpentwithfeet

Label: Tri-Angle/Secretly Canadian

Format: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: June 8, 2018

 

 

At first glance, you might not peg Josiah Wise as a classically trainer singer. Before transforming himself into the performance artist known as serpentwithfeet, the Baltimore-born musician spent his formative years singing gospel music in his mother’s Pentecostal church. While Wise later studied jazz as well as opera, he was also enamored ‘90s R&B—especially Brandy. Synthesizing all of these influences in his first full-length album, Soil, Wise draws connections to the sustenance of life and love, while simultaneously rebelling against today’s “symmetry and sterile soundscapes.”

Collaborating with producer Clams Casino and experimental electronic musician Katie Gately, Wise has created unique sound collages that are operatic in their own way. Casino, known for his ‘cloud rap’ productions and tracks for the likes of ASAP Rocky & Lil B (“Be Somebody”), The Weeknd, and Kelela, brings hip hop beats with a spacey, freeform style. Gately, who sculpted the sound on nearly half of the tracks on Soil, is known for constructing pieces from multiple layers and samples. Together, they offer a work that enhances Wise’s melismatic singing style with avant garde electronics and multi-layered, hyperprocessed vocals. By also eschewing standard melodies and notions of song construction, the result is more akin to freestyle.

Opening with Wise’s seductive vocals over synth clarinet arpeggios, “Whisper” is one of the album’s most compelling tracks, and perhaps the closest in form to an R&B single. Written by Gately, the song shows off Wise’s vocal range and technique, with extensive overdubbing to create a choral effect. This is one of the many songs on the album touching upon the “shame around two black men dating and loving on each other” as Wise—who is openly gay—sings, “If you whisper, only I will hear you.” “Wrong Tree” seems to expand upon this theme. As the gospel organ and hand claps evoke the conservatism of the church, the song turns more menacing with the lyrics, “The fruit I couldn’t wait to eat / suddenly began to bleed / then I heard them shouting / He climbin’ up the wrong tree.” Both Gately and Casino contributed to “Mourning Song,” the orchestral backing adding weight to the poignant lament, “I want to make a pageant of my grief.”

YouTube Preview Image

 

Another highlight of the album is “Cherubim,” produced by Gately and the Boston-based electronic producer known as mmph. More overtly homeoerotic, the official video underscores the dramatic elements of Wise’s performance art, while the music is a seamless combination of classical, R&B, and gospel influences with rock overtones. Clams Casino’s footprint is all over “Seedless,” with its laborious beat, electronic effects and elastic rhythms, while Wise flows between song and chant. The album comes full circle with the final track, “Bless Ur Heart,” a tender, upbeat love song expressing optimism: “What was once a whisper will become a deep rumbling sound / I’ll keep a tender heart.”

Soil is a mesmerizing project full of lush harmonies and heartfelt lyrics that pushes the envelop through the electronic production, as well as the thematic material.  Undefinable, and undeniably unique, the album’s deep roots extend into many facets of the Black music spectrum.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

AHI – In Our Time

In Our Time

Title: In Our Time

Artist: AHI

Label: Thirty Tigers

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: July 13, 2018

 

 

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.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

 

Priscilla Renea – Coloured

Renea
Title: Coloured

Artist: Priscilla Renea

Label: Thirty Tigers

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: June 22, 2018

 

 

One of the most sought-after songwriters in the business, Priscilla Renea now offers her own solo project, Coloured. Growing up in Vero Beach, Florida, music has always been a mainstay in Renea’s life. As explained in an interview with Rolling Stone, her mother and grandmother loved to sing and her father played the trumpet. After writing her first song at the age of eight, Renea’s mother gave her a note book to write in and eventually she received a guitar from her father and taught herself to play. By the age of 16, Renea became a YouTube sensation, setting her on a path to become one of today’s greatest writers with songs you know and love such as “Timber,” by Kesha and Pit Bull, Charlie Puth’s “River”, and “California King Bed” performed by Rhianna. With Renea’s own album Coloured, we get to truly hear her voice as she tells her own story.

Renea describes her new album as, “a big gumbo of everything that’s happening in my life,” and explains it was created when she spent a few months in Nashville in 2016 with her friend and colleague Brett James. While in Nashville, she attended a performance of the Grand Ole Opry, discovering there were only two photos of black artists on display backstage—Chuck Berry and Darius Rucker. Taking this as a challenge, Renea was inspired to create Coloured, a very unique album with a style all its own she calls “country soul,” seamlessly combining a classic Nashville sound with R&B and hip hop in a manner she describes as “unapologetically black.”

Coloured begins with the song, “Family Tree.” Opening up with a guitar progression that is just so stereotypically country it sounds like you could be listening to a Dolly Parton album, Renea enters and quickly shows her versatility as vocalist. Though she maintains a country “twang” throughout, it doesn’t take long for her to knock you back with her robustly gritty voice, showcasing vocal prowess and control reminiscent of powerhouses like Etta James.

Throughout the remainder of the album you can hear other spectacular tracks like, “Gentle Hands,” a fun upbeat song with a driving trap beat, followed by the gorgeous track, “Heavenly,” where Renea plays more to her R&B sensibility. She actually brings these songs together in one storytelling music video:

YouTube Preview Image

 

With songs like “You Shaped Box,” “If I Ever Loved You,” and “Different Color,” Renea incorporates a reggae feel, blurring the line between genres as she tells stories of love, not only love of family or a significant other, but love of oneself.

Having made such a name for herself as a songwriter, Priscilla Renea is clearly just gearing up to shock the world with her own vocal talents, and Coloured is only the beginning.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

Dr. Michael White – Tricentennial Rag

Dr. Michael White

Title: Tricentennial Rag

Artist: Dr. Michael White

Label: Basin Street

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 29, 2018

 

 

This year the city of New Orleans is celebrating its 300th anniversary (1718-2018) and acclaimed clarinetist, Dr. Michael White, set out to commemorate the occasion by paying tribute to the city’s most important original musical contribution. Of course we’re talking about jazz. Birthed from the rhythms of Congo Square and gestated in the French Quarter over 100 years ago, the genre is an indelible part of the African American experience in NOLA and beyond.

New Orleans born and bred, White has been immersed in the city’s music scene for decades and holds numerous distinctions, including Heritage Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and recipient of the Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalists Association of America. Not only is he a virtuoso on his instrument, but White is also a composer of note as well as a historian and educator who has long been championing NOLA’s jazz heritage.

On Tricentennial Rag, White offers ten original compositions, many inspired by early jazz musicians and traditional styles, but with a contemporary twist. Paying homage to the street where Jelly Roll Morton spent his childhood, “Frenchmen Street Strut” opens the album. There’s a wonderful interplay on this track between White, Shaye Cohn on cornet, and David L. Harris on trombone, while Detroit A. Brooks’s banjo solo is a further connection to the African roots of jazz. White takes over on “Blues on the Bayou,” a showcase for clarinet that he performs with aplomb, stretching out the blue notes. The mid-tempo title track is a modern take on ragtime, full of interesting modulations and solo turns with hints of R&B-styled melismas. Kicking off with a snare solo signaling the start of Carnival, “On Mardi Gras Day” is song celebrating Mardi Gras Indians and the Zulu parade with vocals by Gregory Stafford (who doubles on trumpet).

“I Saw Jesus Standing in the Water” might seem like a departure—the song connects to themes from the black church but musically doesn’t stray far from traditionl jazz. Other highlights include the clarinet moans of “Loneliness” and the bluesy tribute to “Sassy Creole Woman.” The album closes with the only non-original song—a fantastic rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that’s performed in a wholly original manner with the band changing tempos and swapping solos—this time with Seva Venet on banjo. I must also give a shoutout to Steve Pistorius, the pianist for all but one track, who is given ample opportunities to showcase his virtuosity.

Who better to celebrate NOLA as the cradle of jazz than Dr. Michael White, one of the leading authorities of the traditional New Orleans style. He proves this again and again on Tricentennial Rag, keeping the music fresh and tasty with delicious licks and righteous rags that take NOLA’s jazz traditions into the 21st century.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Javen – Grace

javen
Title: Grace

Artist: Javen

Label: Tyscot

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: June 22, 2018

 

Born and raised in Hollywood, Florida, Javen P. Campbell is the 12th child in a family of 13. His career in the music industry began in 1999 after he was signed with Crowne Records. Since then, Javen has made a name for himself in many facets of the Christian music and entertainment industry—as a vocalist, songwriter, and actor. He is also a well-known television personality, hosting Now Living on the Christian network TBN and The Gospel Music Experience alongside Tye Tribbet. Recently Javen released his 6th album, Grace, with contributions from current gospel icons like Tye Tribbet, Tim Bowman Jr., and Johnny Rez.

Featuring eight songs written by Javen over the years, as well as an arrangement of the classic hymn “Amazing Grace,” Grace is beautifully produced from start to finish. The album combines harmonic, instrumental, and rhythmic aspects of Christian pop and classic gospel as well as new production techniques and rhythms from music of the African diaspora such as dancehall and hip hop.

YouTube Preview Image

 

Javen opens the album explaining his understanding of the word grace, and how the term speaks to his faith. Stating he has come to understand grace as “God’s love, power, and strength,” he explains one must trust in these things to truly have access to God’s power and favor: “Grace is not something you do/but something you receive.” Immediately following this powerful introduction is the gorgeous title track duet, “Grace”, featuring Margaret Bell. This compelling song showcases a classic modern gospel sound accompanied by magnificent backing vocals as the absolutely awe-inspiring voice of Margaret Bell takes total command of the song. An acoustic version of this song in Spanish by artist Johnny Rez, closes the album, as well, providing an artful compliment to not only Bell but the entire collection of worship tunes.

Javen is a spectacular artist and vocalist with such a warm and smooth tone remnant of artists like Smokie Norful and Sam Cooke, but from time to time he is a slightly outshined, vocally, by the artists he features. This is especially apparent in his duets, such as “Grace” with Margaret Bell, and “You Lift Me Up” with Christina Bell. However, this takes nothing away from the album—if anything it shines a light on the brilliance of Javen as a songwriter. Another stand-out track is the song “Fresh Oil,” originally released on Javen’s 2013 album, Worship In the Now, and re-recorded as a duet with Na’sha Watkins for Grace. “Fresh Oil” is an absolutely stunning song just perfect for the smooth stylings and timbre of both Javen and Watkins as they offer their prayer lyrics: “Fresh Oil from Heaven cleanse my heart/Holy Spirit I call, from you I don’t want to part”. This song is extremely soothing while maintaining the capacity to bring you to tears.

Grace is a wonderful and eclectic album with a perfect marriage of songs and artists. It is an offering that will touch and uplift your soul, leaving you feeling renewed and blessed.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba – Routes

Routes

 

Title: Routes

Artist: Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba

Label: Twelve Eight

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 29, 2018

 

Building a bridge across the Atlantic, Routes is a collaboration between Sengalese kora master Diali Keba Cissokho and his band Kaira Ba that links North Carolina to M’bour, Senegal—where the tracks were recorded in a rattan-paneled hotel room overlooking the ocean. Cissokho, who was born into a family of griots and can trace his musical linage back to 16th century Mali, relocated to North Carolina after marrying an American student of Sengalese music. There, he connected with a quartet of local musicians including drummer Austin McCall, percussionist Will Ridenour (who also plays djembe), Berklee-trained jazz guitarist John Westmoreland, and bassist Jonathan Henderson—an ethnomusicologist well versed in jazz and afro-diasporic styles. Working together to create a musical language that combined elements of these multiple traditions, the group transformed into Kaira Ba.

One of the unique aspects of Routes is the wide range of contributing artists from both nations who lent their talents to this project. As the tracks were laid down in Senegal, Cissokho invited numerous friends and relatives to contribute to the mix, including a group of drummers who set up in the courtyard. Once the band returned home, they overdubbed instrumental and vocal tracks using a variety of well-known local musicians. Their goal, to “tell the story of these two places Diali has called home,” has certainly been realized through this expanded musical palate and community spirit, while the aural soundscapes of each location also enter the mix.

Opening with the familiar Carolina summer sound of cicadas, “Alla L’a Ke” is a traditional kora song dedicated to Cissokho’s late father, which the group transforms through the addition of a string quartet featuring violinist Jennifer Curtis, among others. Up next is “Badima” with a catchy Afro-rock groove laid over Chuckey Robinson’s organ and a fast and furious percussive conclusion.  Salsa, which is extremely popular in West African, is the basis for the track “Salsa Xalel,” blended here with the national dance mbalax using local percussion and balafon. The tie-in to the American South comes by way of the track’s funky horn section and gospel singers Shana Tucker and Tamisha Waden, who join Cissokho on vocals as they ponder what kind of world are we leaving for our children:

YouTube Preview Image

Yet another interesting sound collage can be found in “Saya,” a poignant song about grasping the reality of death. Opening with a kora solo by Cissokho, the focus shifts mid-section to Eric Heywood’s pedal steel guitar, blending perfectly with kora, guitar and bass. John Westmoreland takes the lead on “Story Song,” which he composed in the Mali style known as desert blues, with Cissokho providing the narration in English about the band’s seven-year collaboration: “these people I’m playing music with / we’re not the same culture / we’re not the same religion/ but out heart is the same…you can’t play music like this if your heart is not beautiful.”

The album closes with “Night In M’Bour,” featuring a collage of sounds recorded during an evening in Cissokho’s home town, including a traditional sabar drum ensemble and fula flute solo, then concluding with the night crickets of M’Bour—a bookend to the opening soundscapes of North Carolina.

Routes is the perfect showcase for Kaira Ba’s unique fusion of Senegalese and American musical traditions, as well as a demonstration of cross-cultural collaboration and mutual respect between band members who welcomed an immigrant to their community.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Little Freddie King – Fried Rice & Chicken

Little Freddy King
Title: Fried Rice & Chicken

Artist: Little Freddie King

Label: Orleans

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: April 6, 2018

 

 

Delta blues guitarist Little Freddie King has been a fixture on the New Orleans scene for decades, performing regularly at the NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival as well as clubs in “the lowest bowels of the mighty Ninth Ward.” Though not as well-known as the other guitar slinging Freddie King from Texas, “Little Freddie” is still the real deal—a Mississippi-born bluesman who learned to play guitar on his daddy’s knee, claims Lightnin’ Hopkins as a cousin, and once toured Europe with Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker.

In 1971, Harmonica Williams and Little Freddie King released Rock N Roll Blues on the obscure Ahura Mazda label. As one might guess, this limited pressing didn’t provide King with much exposure beyond his adopted hometown, and it’s difficult to find a copy these days. Over two decades later, the local Orleans Records label released two of King’s first solo projects, Swamp Boogie in 1997 and Sing Sang Sung in 2000.

Fried Rice & Chicken is a compilation featuring the best tracks from King’s two contrasting albums for Orleans. The first half, recorded in the studio from 1994-1995, features backing by Earl “Pass the Hatchet” Stanley and Robert Wilson on electric bass, Jason Sipher on upright bass, Kerry Brown and Bradley Wisham on drums, with Crazy Rick Allen on Wurlitzer electric piano and organ. While not exactly polished, the tracks are at least a half step up from King’s raw club performances. Notable tracks include the opening song “Cleos Back,” which some might recognize from the Tom Hanks movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and “Mean Little Woman” featured in the HBO series Treme. Yes, Little Freddie has been getting some good exposure since these songs were initially released.

The second half of the album was recorded live at the Dream Palace, a club on Frenchman Street in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans. You might say this is the real Little Freddie King, offering up the raw gut bucket blues of Southern juke joints. On these tracks King is accompanied by his regular band at the time: Wacko Wade Wright on drums, Anthony Anderson on electric bass, and Bobby Lewis DiTullio on harmonica. Highlights include the title track “Sing Sang Sung,” a great instrumental showcasing King and DiTullio, and “Bad Chicken” featuring “squawking” guitar licks.

Though there are a number of different Freddie King compilations, Fried Rice & Chicken encapsulates the best of his Orleans Records output.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Lamont Dozier – Reimagination

Reimagination Dozier
Title: Reimagination

Artist: Lamont Dozier

Label: Goldenlane Records

Format: CD

Release Date: June 6, 2018

 

 

The name Lamont Dozier, if heard, perhaps would bring little or no reaction to the general public. But, if one plays or hums many major tunes released by 1960s and 70s Motown artists, know that Dozier was part of the composers team behind these successful groups. Now you his name.

Lamont Dozier, along with the Holland Brothers, wrote the great tunes at Motown—Smokey, The Four Tops, The Temptations and yes, even The Supremes—all owe their success to these gentleman. Dozier, besides being one of the greatest songwriters ever, is a smooth singer and accomplished piano player. In the late 60’s, he left Motown and, along with the Holland Brothers, formed the label Hot Wax. After that, Dozier started recording solo material. His  classic tunes in the 70’s included hits such as, “Going Back To My Roots” and “Why Can’t We Be Lovers”. In the 80’s, Dozier teamed up with Phil Collins on the hit, “Two Hearts.”

Now, Dozier is back with a new release titled, Reimagination. This album is a collection of twelve tracks previously written for other artists while at Motown, but Dozier performs them in a way that will make you forget the original. Joining him for this collaboration is Graham Nash, Lee Ann Womack, Todd Rundgren, just to name a few in on the festivities.

YouTube Preview Image

 

On the second track, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Dozier reworks the former classic with Gregory Porter. First, the song is done in acapella , then the song moves into a gospel offering—hand clapping, feet stomping, take it to the river sounds. Dozier uses the same approach on, “Reach Out I’ll Be There”.  One of the most underrated singers at Motown was Kim Weston. Her classic, “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While), gets a fresh, new makeover in the form of accoustic blues featuring Marc Cohen. Now that’s quite a Weston tribute.

Martha & The Vandellas has the honor of having two of their classics included on Reimagination. “Love Is Like A Heatwave” and “In My Lonely Room”.  “In My Lonely Room” happens to be, in my opinion, Dozier’s favorite track. He fools you in the beginning, starting the song by singing, “Love Is Here”, which is the opening of a Supremes track, but goes quickly into “In My Lonely Room”. WOW! The words after all these years really hit you in the feels.

Who but Dozier knows these tunes best? After all, he wrote them, so he can and does perform them the way he sees fit. Reimagination is pure gold, Motown fan or not. Thanks Lamont!

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

Zig Zag Power Trio – Woodstock Sessions Volume 9

Zig Zag Power Trio
Title: Woodstock Sessions Volume 9

Artist: Zig Zag Power Trio (Vernon Reid, Will Calhoun, Melvin Gibbs)

Label: Woodstock Sessions

Formats: CD, Vinyl, Digital

Release date: March 16, 2018

 

Zig Zag Power Trio’s Woodstock Sessions Volume 9 is a difficult album to classify stylistically. It is also rather startling if the personnel are merely taken at face value. Vernon Reid and Will Calhoun from Living Colour join bassist Melvin Gibbs, who might be most frequently associated with the Rollins Band. Thus, a listener who is only casually familiar with these musicians might expect the trio to be a hard rock band, if not a metal band. Granted, there is evidence of these stylistic expressions, and there are power trio rock influences from artists such as Jimi Hendrix. However, Zig Zag Power Trio also possess more eclectic influences. This is a jazz fusion record as much as it is anything else, a fact that is not surprising given that Gibbs and Reid played together in free-jazz drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society decades ago.

There will be guitarists who discover this recording due to Reid’s presence, and they will hear references to many of his influences—Jimi Hendrix; Bill Frisell, who collaborated with Reid on Smash & Scatteration in 1984; and David Torn, just to name a few. More than on any other recording, Reid’s ability to draw from a palette of influence consisting of hints of many players is supremely evident. Frankly, there are stellar individual performances by all three band members, but much of the virtuosity on this album lies in how the members interact with one another. Interaction is, of course, one of the attractive qualities in listening to any group of excellent musicians, but this recording serves as an impeccable example of interplay.

The cover of Junior Kimbrough’s “I Love Ya Baby” is the sole straight-ahead rock song on the album, and it is reminiscent of blues-rock jams à la Johnny Winter or Jimi Hendrix. However, Zig Zag Power Trio definitely puts their own stamp on the genre. “Professor Bebey,” which was previously released by Reid on his 2006 recording, Other True Self, is a departure from every other tune on the album with its African highlife feel. These two tracks are two of the most fun songs on the album. The remainder of the tunes are largely avant-garde in nature, so these two tracks are also the most accessible. However, this should not be interpreted as a negative review of the rest of the recording.

The cover of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” is amazing. Not only is it a testament to the haunting quality of the original, but Reid and company put on a clinic in how to communicate musically with other band members. At times, Calhoun’s drumming is reminiscent of legend Billy Cobham, and Melvin Gibbs manages to tear the bass apart subtly, if not sneakily. “Lonely Woman” is an almost nine-and-a-half minute masterclass for any musician, and something new will be heard with each listen. ZZPT’s interpretation of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s “Eastern Voices Western Dreams” is another standout. The ambience is simply beautiful, and Reid and Gibbs play extremely well together—evidence of the fact that they were both playing this tune in Jackson’s band circa 1980. “Woodstock” and “David Bowie” are also songs of interest due to the atmospheric textures produced by heavily processed guitar sounds.

Woodstock Sessions Volume 9 is full of abundant surprises, with each of the members turning in career performances throughout. Combined with excellent musicianship, the sheer number of stylistic influences offers a little something for everyone. Having said that, fans of music that lies somewhere between progressive rock and jazz fusion (e.g. David Torn or Robert Fripp) will be very pleased. Considering the presence of tunes by Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, and Ronald Shannon Jackson, it is also fair to say that fans of avant-garde jazz in general should consider giving this group a thorough listen. So far, the Zig Zag Power Trio and their debut album are flying under the radar, but that should soon change. Let’s hope there’s another project in the works.

Reviewed by Joel Roberts

 

 

Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids – An Angel Fell

Idris

 

Title: An Angel Fell

Artist: Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids

Label: Strut

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: May 11, 2018

 

Idris Ackamoor and his jazz ensemble The Pyramids began performing together in the 1970s when they were students at Antioch College under the mentorship of renowned pianist Cecil Taylor. After releasing several widely acclaimed “space-age” or “spiritual” jazz albums, the group disbanded in 1977.  When a new generation of music lovers discovered The Pyramids recordings and began clamoring for more, Ackamoor decided to reconstitute the group in 2012. An Angel Fell is the third release from this new ensemble, led by Ackamoor on alto, tenor sax and keytar, with Sandra Poindexter on violin and sharing lead vocals with Ackamoor. Other group members (at least on this album) include David Molina on guitar, Skyler Stover on double bass, Bradie Speller on congas, and Johann Polzer on drums.

Explaining the choice of album title and overall theme, Ackamoor said “I wanted to use folklore, fantasy and drama as a warning bell. The songs explore global themes that are important to me and to us all: the rise of catastrophic climate change and our lack of concern for our planet, loss of innocence and separation… but positive themes too, the healing power of music, collective action and the simple beauty of nature.”

The album opens with “Tinoge,” which seems to be a reinterpretation of The Pyramids’ previously released single, “Tinoge Ya Ta’a Ba,” the latter recorded in Ghana with Kologo artist Guy One. “Tinoge” is a compelling track that features the same driving rhythm and percussion, with guitars replacing kologo and an extended free jazz sax solo replacing the vocals. Next up, the title track “An Angel Fell” capitalizes on the “cosmic jazz” theme, with distorted vocals punctuated by spacey, electronic riffs. The Sun Ra tribute, “The Land of Ra,” follows in a similar vein, as distorted call and response vocals segue into a steady Afrobeat groove over which Ackamoor seductively blows his horn. Suddenly, their celestial universe is disrupted by what might be described as a magnetic storm (i.e., all hell breaks loose), but as the piece progresses and harmonies resolve, equilibrium returns.

Two message songs are included on the album. The first and most emotional is “Soliloquy For Michael Brown.” Ackamoor’s sax literally screams in anguish over an underlying conga rhythm. As anguish turn to grief, the bass riffs on a melody reminiscent of the spiritual “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jerico,” then intertwines with violin and guitar as the track draws to a close—but there’s no closure.  “Message to My People” is a warning about climate change and global warming, with Ackamoor sounding the alarm on the alto sax and the group responding as if their life is imperiled. “All I wanted was a chance, to live my life like anyone” chants the chorus, but the raucous conclusion leaves little doubt the world has come to an end.

Concluding with the uplifting song “Sunset,” the Pyramids provide a glimmer of hope and “a prayer to save our world.” The struggle is still very much present, with Ackamoor’s sax sounding another warning as the chorus sings, “The sunset is on the way.” End of the world or just the close of another evening, you decide.

An Angel Fell is a brilliant and intense album, with wild bursts of sound. The socially conscious project takes the concept of spiritual jazz to the next level, but in a manner that is still very approachable.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down

Rev Shawn Amos
Title: The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down

Artist: The Reverend Shawn Amos

Label: Put Together

Format: CD, Digital

Release date: February 16, 2018

 

 

The Reverend Shawn Amos is back at it again, preaching his brand of blues on his latest, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down. His sophomore album, The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You, showed us that the Rev had our best interests at heart, and this trend of his continues on his latest offering. Son of Wally Amos, the first African American talent agent for William Morris in addition to being the creator of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies, Reverend Shawn Amos has been an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church, an A&R Executive at Rhino Entertainment and vice president of A&R at Shout! Factory.  He discovered blues while attending NYU film school, spending his summers tracing down the southern places in Peter Guralnick’s Feel Like Going Home trilogy from which Amos drew his initial blues inspiration.

The nine-song set includes five original songs, two inspired covers, and a three track “Freedom Suite” that rolls out like a Sunday Passion play. Amos was obviously inspired by the tremendous turmoil and social unrest around the world today in his songwriting, yet digging deeper into the lyrics reveals clues of admitted recent hardships in his home life. The result is an album that strikes a delicate balance between capturing personal challenges while capitalizing on the zeitgeist of this critical time in history.

 

The album opens with the early morning confessional “Moved,” followed by the first of his new freedom songs, “2017.”  This classic soul groove in the style of Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis. Amos is joined by Al Green’s backing band, the HI Rhythm Section, along with a string arrangement from Chris Anderson and vocals from the Masqueraders. The cornerstone lyric is a simple mandate: “hate and fear ain’t no vaccine, we’ve got to think about what our children’s eyes have seen in the year 2017.” The next song, “Hold Hands” is an Amos-led congregational plea for peace that features Hammond B3 from Peter Adams.

The Freedom Suite officially begins with track 5, which is an a cappella reading of Uncle Tom’s prayer. This pays homage to the Freedom Singers founder Cordell Hull Reagon, who first recorded the powerful civil rights song in the early 1960s. Amos then offers another side of his pulpit in “Does My Life Matter,” an expansion on Booker T. Washington’s words and intent. The fiery funk of “(We’ve Got To) Come Together” functions as an energetic admonishment, and the closing track, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” serves as a final alter call for the album and its audience.

The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, as an album of timely songs, not only furthers Amos’ mission statement, but also stands as a landmark artistic achievement for his career as a bluesman of purpose.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

Mud Morganfield – They Call Me Mud

Mud Morgenfield
Title: They Call Me Mud

Artist: Mud Morganfield

Label: Severn Records

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: March 9, 2018

 

 

They Call Me Mud, the newest release from Mud Morganfield, is one of those albums on which a musician seems to truly come into his own. While the legacy of his father, Muddy Waters, shouldn’t—and very possibly can’t—be extracted from Morganfield’s blues MO, this album showcases his own unique style. Morganfield, after all, came of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when music had already evolved from his father’s era of jazz and blues into a world where R&B, soul and Motown ruled. Combine his bass experience with Chicago bands of those eras to his already existing blues foundation and you have Morganfield’s own style at work.

A well-established case of Chicago area musicians add some downhome blues touches to Morganfield’s recording, including Billy Flynn on guitar, Studebaker John on harmonica and backing vocals, Sumito Ariyo Ariyoshi on piano, E.G. McDaniel on bass and Melvin “Pookie Stix” Carlisle on drums. Special guests include Billy Branch on harmonica, Mike Wheeler on guitar and Mud’s daughter Lashunda Williams as a vocalist. There’s a horn section featured on several tunes, and Mud himself plays bass on three tracks.

 

The signature song, “They Call Me Mud,” is one of those songs that really allow the musicians to show what they love to do best, and in Morganfield’s case, that is his vocalized growl which commands immediate attention throughout. “Who’s Fooling Who?” features Studebacker John on harp and Mike Wheeler on guitar going toe-to-toe. Morganfield also pays tribute to his father on the slide guitar blues “Howlin’ Wolf” and the shuffle “Can’t Get No Grindin’,” where all artists take a solo turn at the wheel. Morganfield and his daughter Lashunda provide a moving duet on “Who Loves You,” a song where Morganfield’s R&B inspiration grooves right in. The final selection, “Mud’s Groove,” is a jazzy instrumental enhanced by Bill Branch’s talents on harp, and is a perfect finale.

“I think it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done yet” proclaims Morganfield. “I feel that with the variety of material I have on here, people will get a chance to hear the other sides of my music.” The collection completely lives up to Morganfield’s claim. Regardless of whether you are an R&B, jazz, soul or blues fan, They Call Me Mud has something special and unforgettable for everyone.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

The Rolling Stones – On Air

The Rolling Stones

Title: On Air

Artist: The Rolling Stones

Label: Abkco/Polydor/BBC

Formats: CD, LP, digital

Release date: December 1, 2017

 

 

Like most British Invasion bands, The Rolling Stones started out covering American music. In the Stones case, there was an immediate affinity for blues, particularly the electric variety from Chicago’s African American musicians. Indeed, the band took its name from a Muddy Waters song. The band also gravitated to the rock ‘n roll artists from Chicago’s Chess Records, particularly Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.

Unlike most of their peers, the Stones never veered too far from their roots. They completely absorbed the loose style and ironic lyrics of their Chicago influences, and never stopped including cover versions of African American blues, soul and early rock songs on their albums. In fact, their most recent studio album, Blue and Lonesome, is a tribute and return to their blues roots.

Back at the time when the British Invasion bands were forming, the BBC presented hours of live popular music on both radio and TV. Bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Zombies and others were able to play in front of a national audience, a hugely expanded stage from the small clubs where they honed their craft. On Air collects the Stones’ BBC performances from 1963-65, with a bonus of restored sound and a nice booklet essay by Richard Havers.

By the time they took to the airwaves, even in 1963, less than a year after forming, the Stones were a tight ensemble. The original band—Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman—had a coherent and shared musical vision and were at ease playing together. They weren’t yet capable of the musical fury needed for some of the songs they were covering, but they tried hard.

The Stones were at their best covering Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, able to use the faster pace of true rock ‘n roll to their advantage. On the slower bluesier material, and also, curiously, on their original tunes, these performances aren’t up to the polish and energy of contemporary studio album tracks. That could be due to the tight schedule and lack of rehearsal time for BBC productions. In any case, the highlights are their covers of Berry’s “Around and Around” and “Carol,” which became staples in the Stones’ live repertoire through the ‘70s and ‘80s; plus Diddley’s “Cops and Robbers,” “Crackin’ Up” and “Mona.” Among the originals, a highlight is the last track on the album, the instrumental “2120 South Michigan Avenue.” The song title pays homage to Chess Records’ studio address. Early highlights in the Stones’ long and storied career were recording sessions at Chess Studio, in 1964 and 65.

Some of this music was previously released as part of a BBC-produced radio documentary, “The Rolling Stones Story.” A red-vinyl promotional LP contained “Cops and Robbers,” “Memphis Tennessee,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Fannie Mae.” The sound quality on that LP was not anywhere as good as this new 2-CD set.

The CD credits “demixing” engineer James Clarke, who also worked sonic miracles with the Beatles’ live performance recordings for Ron Howard’s “Eight Days A Week” documentary and the CD reissue of their Hollywood Bowl concerts. The Abbey Road engineers were able to “demix” (isolate each instrument, clean up the noise around it and put it on a separate digital track), then remix some of these original-mono recordings into stereo. The resulting sound is clear, but there is a “skeletal” feeling to it, like the band has been separated too much, losing some of the energy and cohesion. I would have preferred new mono mixes, with each instrument and vocal “scrubbed” of noise and distortion. The power and synergy of a clean mono mix is unbeatable, especially with this material.

On Air is a must for a Stones fan, because it shows the band outside of the studio in its earliest form, young and hungry and building toward bigger things. For a fan of British Invasion music, the Stones offer a master class in how it’s done. The album also documents some of the Stones’ earliest covers of Black music, which underpinned the transformation of their sound during the 1960s.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Editor’s Note: We’re featuring this album as part of our ongoing exploration of the Black roots of rock ‘n roll, an initiative begun in 2009 with the conference “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music.”  For further reading we recommend Maureen Mahon’s book, Right to Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race (Duke University Press, 2004).

Los Rumberos De La Bahia – Mabagwe: A Tribute to “Los Mayores”

Magawe
Title: Mabagwe: A Tribute to “Los Mayores

Artist: Los Rumberos De La Bahia

Label: Eguin Eje Records

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: November 10, 2017

 

Mabagwe is a collaborative album between Cuban native José Luis Gómez (vocalist), Michael Spiro (percussionist and associate professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music), and Jesus Díaz (producer, percussionist, vocalist)—performing as Los Rumberos De La Bahia. Featuring high-spirited songs in the rumba tradition, the album displays superb performances by many featured musicians—Rogelio Ernesto Gatell Coto (vocalist), Ivan Camblor (tres guitar), Colin Douglas (percussion), Jesus Gonzalez (quinto), Jason McGuire (acoustic guitar), Beatriz Godinez Muñiz (vocalist), Fito Reinoso (vocalist), Genesie Reinoso (vocals), and Randel Villalongo (quinto)—and highlights the socio-cultural aspect of the Cuban music-making process.

As the title indicates, Mabagwe (“Remembrance” in Yoruba) honors the legacies and memories of legendary Cuban rumberos and culture bearers of Cuban folkloric music—Regino Jimenez Saez (“Omi Saide”), Esteband Vega Bacallao (“Cha-Cha”), Gregorio Hernández, Juan de Dios Ramos, Francisco Hernández Mora, Gregorio Díaz, Jesus Alfonso, Julito Collazo, Francisco Aguabella, and Pedro Aballí.

The album opens with “Siempre Viviran,” an arrangement dedicated to the legacy of the group’s mentors, featuring call-and-response dialogues coupled with toque to the orisha spirit Olokun, guaguancó rhythms, and the bata toque for the Egun (spirits of departed ancestors). Later on, “Potpourri De Boleros” treats the listener to a beautiful medley of popular boleros—“Sabor a Mi,” “Muchas Veces,” and “Y Tu Que Has Hecho”—supported by a light and sophisticated rumba.

Publicist Ron Kadish writes, “Rumba can be played anywhere—at the kitchen table, on some buckets in the patio, on a desktop—whenever and wherever rumberos decide to start playing clave and sing about what’s going on their lives.” Mabagwe is most definitely an encapsulation of this rumba tradition, capturing an image of the San Francisco community of rumberos—Cubans and Americans—as they channel the spirits of  “Los Mayores,” or elder Cuban rumberos.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Eric Valentine & Velvet Groove – Velvet Groove

Velvet Groove
Title: Velvet Groove

Artist: Eric Valentine & Velvet Groove

Label: Matcha Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 14, 2018

 

 

This Valentine’s Day the acclaimed contemporary jazz drummer Eric Valentine will be releasing his newest album, Velvet Groove, a collection of urban contemporary jazz he describes as “music you can feel…a sound full of different moods and textures.” Joining him on this project is an all-star cast of musicians including saxophonists Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot, trumpet player Rick Braun, plus Adam Hawley and Darrell Crooks on guitar, Brian Simpson and Allyn Johnson on piano, and many other guests. The multi-talented Valentine also contributes vocals, keyboards, and bass.

YouTube Preview Image

 

The 13-track album offers ten full songs and three reprises that are filled with vibrant melodies and deft rhythms. Some tracks, like “E. Love” and “Back in the Day,” also include soulful vocals sung by B. Valentine, Eric’s wife. The only song on the album not written or co-written by Valentine himself is a fresh take on Stevie Wonder’s “Joy Inside My Tears.” This track was given a more celebratory feel while still including members of Wonder’s horn section in the arrangement.

To Valentine and the other contributors to the album, Velvet Groove is more than its hypnotic harmonies and smooth jazz instrumentals—it’s a movement “to make people feel love, joy and happiness, using musical gifts to inspire and uplift.”

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick