Christmas just isn’t Christmas without good music to really get you in the spirit! We’re featuring brief reviews of our favorite new holiday releases from PJ Morton, John Legend, Cece Winans, Aloe Blacc, Motown Gospel, and After 7. Our specially curated Black Grooves Christmas Spotify playlist features our favorite songs from these artists and more, providing the perfect soundtrack as you get together with friends and family to celebrate the holidays. Continue reading
Title: Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25
Label: Certified Classics
Formats: LP, Digital
Release Date: October 19, 2018
Released in honor of So So Def’s 25th anniversary, So So Def 25 pays tribute to the pioneering Atlanta-based label with a collection of its hip-hop and R&B hits. Curated by So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri, the compilation has been released on a 12” vinyl collector’s edition by Sony Music’s Certified Classics. Featured artists include Jay-Z, Bow Wow, Ghost Town DJ, Aaliyah, and many more. Scattered amongst the So So Def classics are rarer tracks like Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married (Kanye West Remix)”—one of Kanye’s early verses—as well as an explicit version of “Da B Side” by Da Brat with an alternative verse by The Notorious B.I.G. Additional playlists celebrating the anniversary can be found on So So Def’s website. Continue reading
The coffee table book of the year for soul and funk music fans is without a doubt this oversize, hardcover volume featuring the early photographs of Bruce W. Talamon. Those who are familiar with SOUL newspaper will recognize some of these images. Started in L.A. in 1968 by Ken Jones and Regina Jones, SOUL was the first black-owned paper dedicated to R&B, soul and funk musicians. Talamon was hired in 1972 by Regina, who gave the young photographer his first steady gig, and before long he was shooting for national publications. From 1972-1982, Talamon captured R&B royalty in stunning detail—working up a sweat in concert, dancing on the stage of Soul Train, striking a pose during formal photo shoots, and enjoying quieter moments backstage and on the road. Continue reading
Welcome to the November 2018 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.
This month we’re featuring three new jazz releases including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest, drummer Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, and the eponymous debut album from Christian McBride’s New Jawn.
In honor of Bill Withers’ 80th birthday, two artists have released tributes to the legendary singer-songwriter: José James’ Lean On Me and Anthony David’s Hello Like Before: The Songs of Bill Withers. The late soul singer Charles Bradley is remembered on the posthumous release Black Velvet, while the late Ohio funk musician Roger Troutman is honored on Zapp VII Roger & Friends.
Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and composer Louis Rosen offer their new project Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs, while baritone Thomas Hampson’s Songs From Chicago features works by composers Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, and John Alden Carpenter—all based on poems by Langston Hughes. Gospel music releases include Brent Jones’ Open Your Mouth and Say Something and the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom.
Alternative rock and blues projects include Blood Orange’s Negro Swan, Black Joe Lewis’ The Difference Between Me and You, and Cedric Burnside’s Benton County Relic. Rap albums include Masta Ace & Marco Polo’s A Breukelen Story, and the self-titled release from Ill Doots that blends funk, jazz and hip hop. Wrapping up this issue is the Burkina Faso group Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band’s Siri Ba Kele and our list of October Black Music Releases of Note.
Title: Hello Like Before – The Songs of Bill Withers
Artist: Anthony David
Formats: CD, Digital Release
Date: September 21, 2018
God bless you, Anthony David. Not only are you paying tribute to perhaps my favorite male artist of all time, Bill Withers, but you titled the project Hello Like Before, my favorite Withers song hands down—and that, my friend, is saying something. When one artist pays tribute to another, especially a legendary artist, it can either go one of two ways. But Anthony David delivers in a huge way! When the Savannah, Georgia native emerged on the scene in 2004 with his album Three Chords & the Truth, some compared him to Bill Withers and guess what? They were spot on. Like Withers, David ain’t flashy, just straight forward. Continue reading
Jazz releases include mezzo soprano Alicia Hall Moran’s genre blending classical/jazz project Here Today, Judith Lorick’s Second Time Around with the Eric Reed Trio, drummer Tosin Aribisala’s Áfríkà Rising, and two Grant Green compilations from Resonance Records—Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s and Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes 1969-1970.
For this month’s gospel music selections were looking in our own backyard with releases from two Indianapolis-based artists—Judah Band’s sophomore album Gone Fishin’ and Tyscot Records’ own Bishop Leonard Scott’s praise and worship album Jesus Love Legacy. R&B/soul releases include Unstoppable by Candi Staton and Free Me from Burundian soul singer J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts.
Albums with a Caribbean tie include legendary reggae group Black Uhuru’s new release As the World Turns, the collaboration of reggae musician Winston McAnuff and French accordionist Fixi on Big Brothers, French-Guadeloupian trio Delgres’ debut album Mo Jodi, Snarky Puppy spin-off group Bokanté with the Metropole Orkest on What Heat (featuring Guadeloupian vocalist Malika Tirolien), plus Bokanté member and lap/pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier’s ‘dirty funk’ solo debut Exit 16.
Wrapping up this issue is the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins compilation, Are YOU one of Jay’s Kids? – The Complete Bizzare Sessions 1990-1994, and our list of September 2018 Black Music Releases of Note.
Artist: Macy Gray
Label: Artistry Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 21, 2018
Macy Gray recently gifted us with her tenth studio album, Ruby. Unlike her previous release, Stripped—an album that included a number of covers and a remake of her hit song “I Try”—Ruby features twelve new original tracks from Gray. When asked by Rolling Stone to describe the general soundscape or style of the album, Gray explained: “Sonically, it is beautiful. It has all sorts of [fusions]. There are a lot of live instruments. We mixed it with samples… But, it is very different. At the same time, it is excellent ear candy. . .very pop…[but] gritty and grimy and dirty. [The record] will be super R&B. You know, with my stuff, there is always a jazz element. That is what I grew up on. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it. I love it.” Continue reading
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
Title: Everything Here
Artist: The Suffers
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: July 13, 2018
The Suffers are a multi-faceted, musically diverse group hailing from the Gulf Coast, and just in case there’s any doubt, the first track, “Intro (A Headnod to Houston)” sets us on the right path. Their musical style, however, is less straight-forward. Soul? Jazz? Neo-blues? Retro R&B? The group, comprised of eight highly-talented individuals from multiple artistic backgrounds, can be classed as all of these and more. As lead vocalist Kam Franklin states, “We make music for all people.” Houston marks the album in more ways than one, as area rappers Paul Wall and Bun B. cameo on more than one track, and many songs express love for the city and its inhabitants. The Suffers exploded onto the scene in 2015 and 2016 with their EP Make Some Room and their self-titled debut album, and their newest offering, Everything Here, is a fitting follow-up.
The short album introduction leads into the first full-length track, “I Think I Love You.” The song has a rocking rhythm that quickly captures your mind, encouraging you to sit back, relax and let the music take control. The melody line is simple and repetitive, and exactly what you didn’t know you needed, with the beautiful lullabying of Franklin’s crooning settling your soul. Bun B’s cameo in “Bernard’s Interlude (feat. Bun B.) has a mellow, Barry White-esque tone, furthering the mood of relaxation and contemplation. Further down the list, “You Only Call” shines a spotlight on the sporadic moments every relationship—familial, personal or otherwise—can suffer in its quest to work out. “Sure to Remain” completes relational upsides as well, dealing us another round of sweet melody nestled down in a funky, electro-piano and percussion feather bed.
In keeping with their inclusive promise, the group also offers up-tempo melodies. The title-track, “Everything Here,” is a sweet-spot mixture of all the group has to give, including Franklin’s disclosure that “Everything here, everything here/ reminds me of you.” The track “All I Want To Do” showcases Franklin’s expert songwriting abilities in the band’s jazz instrumentals and her own melodic virtuosity. “Do Whatever” cements the Suffers as message deliverers of rounded choice and acceptance, while the closing track, “Won’t Be Here Tomorrow,” urges us to appreciate the now, as things can change at the blink of an eye and the drop of an instrument.
Everything Here’s bold statements about life, love and home in tandem with their interdisciplinary musical style do indeed uphold the album’s declaration. The Suffers have everything in our musical world to offer to all in their artistic world willing to listen.
Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi
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
Welcome to the July 2018 Summer Rocks issue of Black Grooves. This month we’re looking at the many permutations of Black rock, from the psychedelic riffs on Dug Pinnick’s Tribute To Jimi (Often Imitated But Never Duplicated); to the socially conscious songs of Fantastic Negrito on Please Don’t Be Dead and Bettye Lavette’s Bob Dylan tribute Things Have Changed; to the British blues rock collaboration on Buddy Guy’s The Blues Is Alive and Well; to the multi-faceted fusions of the Stanley Clarke Band’s The Message, Shuggie Otis’s Inter-Fusion, and Serpentwithfeet’s Soil; to the folk rock of AHI’s In Our Time and the countrified soul of Priscilla Renea’s Coloured; to the black metal of Zeal and Ardor’s Stranger Fruit; and last but not least, the foundational rock and roll on The Ballads of Fats Domino.
Seminal jazz releases this month include Kamasi Washington’s two-disc Heaven and Earth and Dr. Michael White’s Tricentennial Rag honoring New Orlean’s 300th birthday. Yet another tribute album is Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty’s Tribute to Carey Bell, featuring the four accomplished sons of the legendary Chicago blues harpist.
Also featured is gospel singer Javen’s latest album, Grace; the collaboration connecting Sengalese kora master Diali Cissokho and North Carolina band Kaira Ba on Routes; Lamont Dozier’s Reimagination of tracks previously written for other artists; and the Little Freddie King compilation Fried Rice & Chicken featuring his best tracks from the Orlean’s label. Wrapping up this issue is our list of June 2018 Releases of Note in all genres.
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.”
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
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
Artist: Robert Glasper Experiment
Label: Eagle Vision
Formats: DVD, digital download and Streaming
Release date: March 16, 2018
The smooth sound of the quartet known as the Robert Glasper Experiment is completely unparalleled. On their new DVD, Robert Glasper Experiment: Live, the group invites fans who may not have had the opportunity to experience one of their performances, to get a taste of a live show.
Members of the group featured in these performances include: Casey Benjamin on saxophone and vocoder, Derrick Hodge on bass, Mark Colenberg on drums, and group leader Robert Glasper on piano. From his start playing keyboards in church back in Houston, Texas, Glasper has become one of the biggest names in the music industry. Over the course of his professional career, Glasper has served as music director for major artists including Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and many others. He has personally been nominated for Grammy awards six times, winning three, and was also awarded an Emmy in 2017 for his work on the Netflix documentary 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay.
With footage compiled over the past five years from various concerts across the globe, Live features many prominent guests, including singers performing iconic covers as well as original compositions. For example, here’s an excerpt from the video featuring Algebra Blessett performing “Calls” at The Troubadour in West Hollywood:
Live opens with “All Matter,” written by Bilal Oliver, who performs the song during a guest appearance with the Robert Glasper Experiment at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, with additional backing by the Metropole Orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza. The lush R&B and jazz harmonies work together with the full orchestra accompaniment to create something truly magical. We also get to hear amazing solos from Glasper on piano and Benjamin on the soprano sax. The footage from the Netherlands is joined by other performances from prestigious venues and events such as the Shanghai Jazz Festival in China, Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, NY, and the Troubadour in West Hollywood, CA. Additional guest artists include Lalah Hathaway on “Cherish The Day,” Wayne Brady on “Freestyle Rap / Anytime,” and B-Slade (aka Tonéx) on “Ah Yeah.”
Robert Glasper Experiment: Live brings the concert experience right to your home—the second best thing to actually attending one of their concerts.
Reviewed by Jared Griffin
Title: All Or Nothing
Artist: Calvin Richardson
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: September 29, 2017
Calvin Richardson, aka “The Soul Prince,” grew up in North Carolina, honing his vocals on the local gospel circuit where he first met his longtime friends K-Ci & Jo Jo of Jodeci. In the early ‘90s, Richardson’s urban contemporary vocal group Undacava was briefly signed to Tommy Boy Records during Monica Lynch’s tenure as president. He paid his dues in the game working with acts like Angie Stone, Raphael Saadiq and Charlie Wilson. In 2009, Richardson was chosen to record a tribute album to Bobby Womack, Facts of Life: The Soul of Bobby Womack, which was nominated for a Grammy. On a personal note, my ears took notice. If one is asked to pay homage to “the street poet” Mr. Womack, then you must be the real deal, right? Stay tuned for my answer.
Richardson’s new album, All or Nothing, is radio friendly. The title track opens things up with a bouncy flow and ‘80’s vibe: “I want you girl, I like your body.” Not exactly R. Kelly, and that’s a good thing. Joseph Pigee on keyboards is an added bonus. On “Treat Her Right,” Richardson digs deep and channels his inner Bobby Womack. He opens with a spoken intro directed to the audience, just as Womack did on so many of his songs: “Fellas, if you have a good woman, treat her right.” You can’t tell me Richardson didn’t have Womack in mind. Make her feel special. Ladies will love this tune.
Now my answer. Is Richardson the real deal? I’ll play it safe and say he is very talented. It’s unfortunate he’s still flying under the radar.
All or Nothing is quality work from Richardson, who brings back the old school R&B vibe with his passionate vocals and songs that show just how you go about romancing the ladies.
Reviewed by Eddie Bowman
Artist: Bobby Byrd
Release date: October 6, 2017
Bobby Byrd, hands down, is the perhaps the greatest sideman in the history of music. Now I may get killed with the “what about Mick/Keith, Bono/Edge, Chuck D/Flavor Flav” comments, all of which are valid points (though Chuck & Flav may be the best comparison in my opinion). But if the name Bobby Byrd isn’t jumping right at you, allow me to take this time to bring you up to speed.
Who else could go on a stage and hold their own with “the hardest working man in show business,” “Soul Brother # 1,” “The Godfather of Soul,” “Mr. Dynamite”? Ok, by now I think you know who I’m referring to. Yes, Bobby Byrd was James Brown’s right hand man for 20 years, one of the original Famous Flames, which explains my earlier comparison. Think “Sex Machine.” James said, “Get Up” and Bobby Byrd had the comeback, “Get on up.” In fact, James calls Bobby Byrd’s name to “take ’em to the bridge.” But before the “Sex Machine” era, and apart from the Famous Flames, Byrd released his own recordings. As all hip hop historians know, Eric B & Rakim sampled Byrd’s “I Know You Got Soul” (1971), and there are many others that used Byrd samples, including Jay-Z. But let’s go back a little further.
This new CD compilation, Help For My Brothers: The Pre Funk Singles 1963-68, begins with the earliest singles released by Byrd on the Federal, Smash, and King labels. All were produced by James Brown, who also shared co-writing credits on many of the songs. To hear Bobby Byrd sing and be the front man might seem strange, but his voice is actually good. No screaming over lyrics. One of the earliest tracks, “I’m Just a Nobody,” has that 60’s vibe and the tempo is what was the norm during that period, a slow groove. Also included is his first solo hit, “Baby, Baby, Baby” with Anna King from 1964, as well as “We Are in Love” from 1965, an even bigger success. Byrd takes a gamble with “Write Me A Letter,” perhaps the best track on the CD. His vocal presentation is not what one expects: rockabilly. Yes, rockabilly!
Bobby Byrd didn’t have James Brown’s stage showmanship, but his voice perhaps was a little better. Help For My Brothers, the first-ever compilation of Byrd’s earliest, lesser known singles, shows the evolution of his solo work. Byrd was more than JB’s sideman, and for that we will be forever grateful.
Reviewed by Eddie Bowman
Artist: Isaac Hayes
Label: Craft Recordings
Format: 4-CD box set
Release date: September 22, 2017
The Spirit of Memphis 1962-1976 is a four-CD set documenting the multi-faceted musical career of the legendary Isaac Hayes, who would have turned 75 this year. Even in a city that has spawned many influential musicians, Hayes stands out as one of the most important artists to emerge from Memphis. As one of the most identifiable figures in soul music, his significance spans far beyond the city he called home. Hayes’s talents allowed him to fill a wide range of roles in the music business—session musician, songwriter, producer, and, of course, performer.
This four-disc set, produced by Joe McEwan, provides many splendid examples of the multiple aspects of Hayes’s musicianship. Arranged in “chapters,” each disc highlights a different facet of Hayes’s career. Disc One consists of songs for which he was the writer or producer. Most of these songs were performed by Stax Records legends such as Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, and Booker T & the MGs. The Sam & Dave tracks alone will open the eyes of many listeners who are completely unaware that Hayes co-wrote the hit songs “I Thank You” “Hold On! I’m a Comin’,” and “Soul Man,” arguably the epitomic example of a Stax song. Disc One opens with “Sassy,” an instrumental blues groove released by Floyd Newman; the song was Hayes’s first co-write credit for Stax, and also features Hayes on organ. This disc is full of great songs and effectively serves as a “best of” Stax. However, two of the most surprising tracks featured here came out on another great Memphis label—Hi Records. The surprise here, though, is not the label; rather it is the fact that they were recorded by Charlie Rich. It is likely that only the most knowledgeable Hayes fans are aware that he wrote songs for the country music singer.
Disc Two features singles released by Isaac Hayes on the Volt and Enterprise labels, tracing his transition from writer/producer to soul singer/performer. These include the Shaft theme song, which for many people is the definitive Isaac Hayes recording. However, this disc also showcases many relatively unknown gems such as his cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” One of the standout tracks is an instrumental blues titled “Blue Groove” released by Sir Isaac and the Do-Dads. The extent to which Hayes was a good blues player and arranger is overlooked, and this track serves as an example of these skills. Another standout track, “Rolling Down a Mountainside” recorded live at Wattstax, also demonstrates just how good Hayes was as a producer and arranger. The disc concludes with two radio spots that capture an important moment in the marketing of black albums, as legendary deejay Jack “The Rapper” Gibson plugs tracks from The Isaac Hayes Movement album that exceeded normal airplay length.
Disc Three, Cover Man, features Hayes’ performing songs that were written by other people. These cover songs include an outstanding version of T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday.” Hayes’s cover of this blues standard is appropriate because although written by Walker, it was popularized in 1961 by Memphis musician Bobby “Blue” Bland. Another fitting track is a medley of “Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Rock Me Baby,” a blues standard popularized by B. B. King. This medley features Hayes alone on piano and vocals, serving as a vehicle to present Hayes in his purest form to the listener. Rounding out this disc are several previously unreleased tracks recorded live at the 1972 Operation PUSH Black Expo in Chicago.
The final CD, Jam Master, consists of only seven tracks, some backed by the Bar-Kays and/or the Movement. As the title suggests, however, most of these tracks feature extended jams, representing the lushest arrangements and productions on the four-disc set. Two of these tracks, including the previously unreleased “Black Militant’s Place,” were recorded for Shaft so any fans of that soundtrack will love this disc. The previously unreleased instrumental version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers is a highlight and arguably one of the most interesting pieces of the entire collection. Wah-wah guitar, strings, and driving repetitive bass lines are just a few of the devices that are characteristic of the grooves for these jams.
Collectively, this compilation of Isaac Hayes’s music will be welcome to any fan of Stax Records. However, the variety of music on this four-CD set makes it pleasing and palatable to just about anyone, and could very well convert uninitiated listeners into an ardent fans of soul music and Isaac Hayes. In addition, students of arranging or music technology and production would be doing themselves a tremendous disservice by not giving this set in-depth study. It should also be noted that the 60-page hardcover booklet features an essay by author Robert Gordon as well as interviews with artists and some great photographs from the Stax Records heyday, making this a must-have addition to the collection of any budding musicologist with an interest in American music. The final added bonus is a 7-inch vinyl replica of Hayes’s first release on the Youngstown label, featuring the singles “C.C. Rider” and “Laura, We’re On Our Last Go-Round.”
The Spirit of Memphis should be considered one of the best box sets to be released in years, and it is about time that the contributions of Isaac Hayes are beginning to be recognized through a compilation of this nature.
Reviewed by Joel Roberts
Artist: Johnny Mathis
Format: 68-CD Box Set
Release date: December 8, 2017
Sony Legacy has released a number of Johnny Mathis compilations over the past decade, including The Complete Global Albums Collection in 2014 and The Singles for his 80th birthday the following year. But if you’re interested in a complete career retrospective with plenty of tempting bonus material and you have a large budget, look no further than this year’s mega box set, The Voice of Romance: The Columbia Original Album Collection. Weighing in at 68 CDs and currently listed for $428, this set features 62 of the singer’s albums, including 25 albums that have never been released on CD in the U.S.
Also included are 40 previously unreleased songs and two never-before-heard LPs: the unreleased I Love My Lady recorded in 1981 with Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, and The Island, a 1989 collaboration with Sergio Mendes. Mathis, who has been recording for Columbia since his self-titled 1956 debut, assisted with the curation of The Voice of Romance, which concludes with his most recent album, Johnny Mathis Sings the Great New American Songbook.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Formats: 2-CD, 3-LP gatefold, MP3
Release date: September 15, 2017
Over the decades, black gospel music has had a profound influence on popular music, a fact that remains as relevant today as in the 1950s. But the reverse is also true. Jesus Rocked the Jukebox, a new compilation from Craft (Concord’s reissue label), explores the blurring of boundaries between genres by focusing on the seminal period from 1951-1965. During this era many gospel artists began crossing over into secular music, unleashing their improvisational gospel-inflected vocals in a manner that demanded the creation of a new genre: soul. At the same time, other gospel singers who remained firmly rooted in the church didn’t hesitate to liven up their music with harmonic and rhythmic elements drawn from jazz, blues, R&B, and early rock ‘n’ roll. This reciprocal relationship between black sacred and secular music is illustrated throughout Jesus Rocked the Jukebox, primarily through the recordings of well-known gospel quartets. Gospel historian Robert Marovich explores this synergy in greater detail in the accompanying booklet.
One of the first things a listener will notice is the sequencing of the tracks. Compilers Fred Jasper and Mason Williams dispensed with the more typical chronological order in favor of overall effect. Thus the opening track actually begins at the end of the era. After all, how could you not begin this set with “People Don’t Sing Like They Used To Sing.” Cut in 1965 by The Original Blind Boys, the song might be considered traditional in today’s terms, but the rocking piano and guitar accompaniment clearly signal a departure from earlier gospel quartet styles.
Over the course of the 40-track compilation there are many similar examples, some drawn from the likes of the Staple Singers and Soul Stirrers, while others were plucked from lesser known recordings. For example, the Silver Quintette from Gary, Indiana is featured on the rocking 1956 Vee-Jay track “Father Don’t Leave” featuring Joe Henderson on bass, while a 1963 version of “Heavenly Father” by Brooklyn’s Patterson Singers is styled after a ‘60s girl-group ballad. The Highway QC’s “God Has Promised,” featuring Johnny Taylor on lead, mimics the urban harmony groups of the era. Several tracks are devoted to the famous Swan Silvertones, including “How I Got Over” from 1954 featuring Claude Jeter—one of the great gospel tenors whose falsetto clearly influenced many later soul and pop singers.
As Marovich states in the liner notes, “Every perspiration-drenched performance by a soul singer, every shouting improvisation from a rock-and-roll vocalist, every melismatic run delivered by contestants on a TV singing competition, evokes the exuberance of black preachers, church singers and church musicians in the throes of the spirit.” Jesus Rocked the Jukebox unearths the gospel roots of American popular music, exposing countless gems in all of their splendor to be explored and appreciated by modern audiences.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Title: Simply Cheryl
Artist: Cheryl Fortune
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: October 13, 2017
Well known in the gospel community for her cutting-edge songwriting and heartfelt vocals, Houston native Cheryl Fortune inspires and amazes with her debut album, Simply Cheryl for Tyscot Records. Prior to the launch of her solo career, Cheryl served as a vocal arranger and background vocalist with Grammy nominated artist James Fortune & FIYA in addition to co-penning several of the group’s hit songs, which have graced the top ten on Billboard gospel charts. Along with her work with FIYA, she has served as songwriter and guest vocalist on projects associated with numerous other national gospel artists such as Kirk Franklin, Shirley Caesar, Isaac Carree and Bishop T.D. Jakes. Clearly a veteran in her own right, it was simply a matter of time before she would grace us with this solo offering.
Simply Cheryl is anchored by the hit single “Fighters,” a song inspired by a Mother’s Day card from the singer’s 13 year-old daughter affirming Fortune’s kindness, love, strength and resilience (i.e. fight) during specific challenging moments of the artist’s life. “Fighters” links Fortune, a domestic violence survivor, in affirmation with listeners who have also experienced similar life circumstances: “We’re fighters never gonna give up… I’ll take your hand and you’ll take mine, we’ll conquer this think they call life…” Couched in a hard-hitting drum line instrumentation created by producer Lucius B. Hoskins, “Fighters” also reflects broader social impact, as an adopted theme song of encouragement for people recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. However, in the words of Fortune during a recent interview, this project is not “victim music.” Rather, the album’s songs are sacred expressions of triumph created and shared by one who has persevered in spite of life-changing obstacles.
Other notable tracks such as “4 A Night” and “Figure It Out” (both produced by Terence Vaughn), like the entire project, are rooted in ‘80s and ‘90s R&B music traditions. While listeners will surely recognize definitive rhythmic grooves, guitar melodic lines, synth bass lines and horn stabs, harmonic progressions, and talk boxes, among other textures linked with R&B sensations such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat and Mint Condition to name a few iconic artists, the gospel message of encouragement, hope and resilience remains at the forefront of the album.
Simply Cheryl is a spectacular album that will leave you eagerly waiting to see what else Cheryl Fortune has in store. For those seeking to experience a powerful inspirational message saturated in timeless grooves, Simply Cheryl is for you!
Reviewed by Jared Griffin and Tyron Cooper
Title: Memphis, Yes I’m Ready
Artist: Dee Dee Bridgewater
Formats: CD, LP, MP3
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Dee Dee Bridgewater, a jazz singer in the same vein as Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Abby Lincoln, has done it all. She has even appeared on Broadway, earning the respect of peers and critics in a career that has spanned decades. It takes confidence and knowledge of self when an artist decides to step out of their comfort zone, which Bridgewater does on her new release, Memphis, Yes I’m Ready. The 13 track album features Bridgewater singing covers of blues, R&B and gospel classics from the ‘60s with backing by the album’s co-producer, Kirk Whalum, and the Stax Academy Choir.
Bridgewater was born in Memphis, so this project was a homecoming, to say the least—or in the words of the great Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home.” That she does. Now for the highlights. If you listen very close to “I Can’t Get Next To You,” you’ll hear Bridgewater paying homage to the Al Green version of the song, not the Temptations. Green after all brought the Memphis sound into the ‘70s and Bridgewater is a Memphis gal, so why not. The horns and vocal delivery are downright scary in their precision and intensity.
When Bridgewater says “Yeah, this is for the King,” it’s not the “King” some of you may be thinking of, but rather B.B. King. His signature track, “The Thrill Is Gone,” gets the female perspective from Bridgewater as she sings, “You will be sorry someday.” Clap your hands and tap that foot. Now, speaking of another “King,” Bridgewater covers two of Elvis Presley’s classics. First up is “Don’t Be Cruel.” Who needs the Jordanaires on backing vocals when you can strip this song to its core and make it sound completely new? “Hound Dog,” as most everyone knows, was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton, but Elvis had the bigger hit. Bridgewater again steers away from original and makes it a storytelling tune, one that I can now understand.
You can’t go home without taking one for the church, right? Bridgewater closes the album with Thomas Dorsey’s “(Take My Hand) Precious Lord.” This is a song that can bring tears to the eyes, especially since one usually hears it at home-going ceremonies. Testify, Sister Dee Dee!
Memphis, Yes I’m Ready is Bridgewater’s homecoming 101. You better be ready!
Reviewed by Eddie Bowman
Artist: Whitney Houston
Label: Legacy Recordings
Formats: CD, LP, MP3
Release Date: November 17, 2017
In honor of the 25th anniversary of The Bodyguard, the film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, Legacy Recordings has released I Wish You Love: More From The Bodyguard. The compilation, released in cooperation with The Estate of Whitney E. Houston, brings together a variety of live and studio recordings, many of which are previously unreleased or unavailable.
Included in this collection are live recordings from Houston’s The Bodyguard World Tour (1993-1995), as well as alternate versions of tracks from The Bodyguard film. Highlights include the never-before-heard a capella version of “Jesus Loves Me” and a live recording of the rarely-performed “Run To You” from The Bodyguard World Tour. The iconic Houston hit song “I Will Always Love You,” one of the best-selling singles of all time, is represented in two versions: one from the original film soundtrack, and an extended rendition performed live on tour.
I Wish You Love: More From The Bodyguard not only celebrates the 25th anniversary of the film, but is also a fitting commemoration of Houston, who recorded the soundtrack at the pinnacle of her career. There’s a good reason The Bodyguard is the top-selling soundtrack album of all-time, and it’s apparent every time Ms. Houston stands in front of the mic. That voice! Though sadly she is no longer with us, this compilation album is a testament to the success of The Bodyguard and Whitney Houston’s lasting legacy, both on screen and on stage.
Reviewed by Chloe McCormick
Artist: Wilson Pickett
Format: 10-CD Box Set, MP3
Release date: December 1, 2017
This new box set from Rhino UK appears to be a fairly straightforward reissue of Wilson Pickett’s albums for Atlantic, drawing primarily upon versions remastered in 2007. The albums include: In the Midnight Hour (1965), The Exciting Wilson Pickett (1966), The Wicked Pickett (1967), The Sound of Wilson Pickett (1967), I’m In Love (1968), The Midnight Mover (1968), Hey Jude (1969), Right On (1970), Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia (1970), and Don’t Knock My Love (1971). A nice set if you don’t already own any of Pickett’s albums, but there is no bonus material to entice fans and collectors.
Title: Divine Miss Dinah Washington
Artist: Dinah Washington
Formats: 5-CD Box set, 5-LP Box set
Release date: December 15, 2017
Verve is releasing a 5-disc set, available on both CD and vinyl, of classic Dinah Washington albums from the 1950s. Though Washington could sing in many styles, including blues, R&B, gospel and pop, the focus here is primarily on her vocal jazz repertoire recorded for the EmArcy label. This is another straightforward reissue project, most likely attractive to those who wish to own pristine 180 gm. vinyl copies of these albums. Among the five discs are two arranged by Quincy Jones—For Those In Love (1955) and The Swingin’ Miss D—and two featuring American songbook standards—After Hours With Miss D (1954) and Dinah Jams (1954). The final album, What a Diff’rence a Day Makes (1959) released by Mercury, was arranged by Indiana native Belford Hendricks in a pop-oriented rhythm and blues style.
Label: Blue Note
Formats: 5-CD Box set, 5-LP Box set
Release date: December 15, 2017
Curated by Blue Note president Don Was, the limited edition Blue Note Review Peace, Love & Fishing is the inaugural offering of a bi-annual “luxury subscription box set” designed to appeal to jazz collectors with deep pockets. Volume One includes a double LP containing new and unreleased recordings by the likes of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Gregory Porter, Kandace Springs, Terence Blanchard, and Derrick Hodge—plus a vinyl reissue of the previously out-of-print 1963 Step Lightly album by trumpeter Blue Mitchell. Also included are items that can be shared with other members of the family: artist lithographs, a silk scarf, turntable mat, and the self-published Notables jazz zine. Only registered subscription members are eligible to receive the set; each volume of Blue Note Review costs $200, including shipping to the US or Canada.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Author: John Capouya
Publisher: University Press of Florida
Formats: Hardcover (408 pages), Kindle
Release date: September 26, 2017
Though the state of Florida doesn’t immediately come to mind as a hotbed of soul music, journalist John Capouya attempts to correct this oversight with his new book Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band. Using his “antennae for passionate vocals and funky sounds with Florida origins,” he delves into the period from 1945-1980, when Florida produced “some of the most electric, emotive soul music this country has ever heard.” Capouya attributes this flourishing scene in part to the fact that Florida, along with Texas, was the “densest and richest segment of the chitlin’ circuit,” bringing all of the major African American artists through the state.
Each of the 20 chapters is dedicated to a particular artist or producer, some famous and others lesser known, but all contributing an interesting story: Ray Charles (“the catalyst of the entire soul explosion came from Greenville, FL”); Sam Moore (“from Miami’s Overtown neighborhood”); sax players Ernie Calhoun and Noble “Thin Man” Watts; Lavell Kamma and the 100 Hour Counts (“one of Florida’s longest-running soul groups”), the singing duo James & Bobby Purify (one chapter each); vocalists Helen Smith, Frankie Gearing, Jackie Moore, and Timmy Thomas (his 1972 anthem “Why Can’t We Live Together” is sampled in Drake’s “Hotline Bling); Latimore (who first recorded for Henry Stone), Wayne Cochran (“the white James Brown”); white soul singer Linda Lyndell; producer Papa Don Schroeder, and of course KC and the Sunshine Band. Other chapters are dedicated to the state’s most famous label owners—Henry Stone and T.K. Productions (which rightly receives two chapters) and Willie Clarke and Deep City Records—plus a chapter explaining how “The Twist Came from Tampa.” Along the way many other artists are mentioned, along with other Florida labels such as Jayville, Tener, Marlin, Leo, Alston, D & B, Glades, and Bound Sound.
Florida Soul is an engaging and informative read, placing an emphasis on the stories behind the singers and the songs gleaned from historical research as well as interviews with surviving musicians, singers, producers, deejays, and other industry personnel. The book is an important resource on a music scene that’s never been fully documented within a single volume, adding greatly to our understanding of American music and, in particular, the soul, R&B, disco and funk grooves emanating from the Sunshine State in waves the spread across the nation.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Title: Electro Tribe
Artist: Trouble in The Streets
Label: Orb Recording
Formats: CD, MP3
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Austin, Texas based Trouble in The Streets’ debut album is like nothing you’ve heard before; in fact, they feel that their music is so unique that they’ve given it its own name—Electro Tribe. This signature sound is a mixture of electronic music, hip-hop, rock, and R&B with an international twist. The band pulls inspiration for their unique sound from acts like Rage Against the Machine, Beats Antique, and Hiatus Kaiyote as well as their own diverse musical backgrounds.
Though it may sound complicated, Trouble in The Streets is able to blend all of these sounds and styles into four cohesive and high-energy tracks on their EP, Electro Tribe. The first track, “Pyramid Scheme,” featuring Grammy Award winning guitarist Beto Martinez, includes retro-synth chord progressions, hard-hitting bass and drum arrangements, and Nnedi Agbaroji’s mesmerizing vocals.
From the passionate “Never Doubt the Worm” to the hopeful and emotional “Sop Me Up Like a Biscuit,” each track on the album is distinct yet still retains the band’s signature electro sound that will leave you wanting more from this up-and-coming trio.
Reviewed by Chloe McCormick