More Box Sets – Wilson Pickett, Dinah Washington, Various Artists

Wilson Pickett
Title: Complete Atlantic Albums Collection

Artist: Wilson Pickett

Label: Rhino

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.

 

Dinah Washington
Title: Divine Miss Dinah Washington

Artist: Dinah Washington

Label: Verve

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.

 

peace_love_and_fishing_cover
Title: Blue Note Review Vol. One – Peace, Love & Fishing

Artist: Various

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

 

 

Trouble in The Streets – Electro Tribe

trouble in the streets
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

 

Lloyd Price – This Is Rock and Roll

Lloyd Price
Title: This Is Rock and Roll

Artist: Lloyd Price

Label: Double L Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: September 22, 2017

 

 

Lloyd Price’s career may have launched way back in 1952 with the famous single “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” but his newest release proves that his career is far from over. This Is Rock and Roll, Price’s first album in over a decade, includes a combination of newly penned original tracks, like the bluesy “I’m Getting Over You,” as well as a collection of covers.

The title track exemplifies the album’s balance between originals and covers, combining Jimmy Reed’s “Peepin’ & Hidin’” with Price’s celebratory call-and-response “This is rock and roll.” This song is significant to the album as a whole, as it was recorded in the New York City club where, three years ago, Price decided he still had much to offer fans and conceived this album.

For his slowed-down cover of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famer turns the song into a ballad sung from a man’s point of view. Regardless of whether it’s an original or a cover, each track on This Is Rock and Roll contains the unique Lloyd Price essence that has been captivating listeners for over 60 years.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage

Prophets of Rage
Title: Prophets of Rage

Artist: Prophets of Rage

Label: Fantasy

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

Rap-rock supergroup Prophets of Rage—featuring Chuck D (vocals) and DJ Lord (turntables) of Public Enemy, Tom Morello (guitar), Tim “Timmy C” Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (beats) of Rage Against The Machine, and B-Real (vocals) of Cypress Hill—coalesced in 2016 around the title of the famous Public Enemy song that opens with the line, “I got a right to be hostile, man, my people are being persecuted!” During their initial “Make America Rage Again Tour,” the group staged protest performances leading up to the U.S. Presidential election. Post-election, they’ve ramped up their tours as they take their “message to the mosh pit,” countering neo-fascist rhetoric that seems to escalate on a daily basis with their own brand of anti-establishment “rage politik” music.

The 12 tracks on the group’s full-length self-titled album represent a true collaboration, written and recorded during an intensive two week studio session. All are equally powerful, exuding caustic, socially conscious lyrics on topics ranging from economic inequality and homelessness (“Living on the 110”) to the legalization of marijuana (“Legalize Me”) to the perils of government drone surveillance (“Take Me Higher”). Other songs are intended to incite protest against ongoing political, religious, and racial injustices. As Morello proclaimed, this is “the soundtrack for the resistance in 2017.”

The most recently released single, “Hail to the Chief,” is a strong indictment of President Donald Trump, but focuses more specifically on Vice President Mike Pence as the greater evil, whose Indiana politics are linked with those of Jeff Session’s Alabama. In the video Pence is cast as Trump’s puppet master as well as his heir apparent, while Chuck D spits, “All hail to the chief who came in the name of a thief to cease peace.”

Another compelling track is “Unf*ck the World” (the video is directed by Michael Moore). In a recent interview with Uproxx, Chuck D spoke about the song’s message: “Tom [Morello] coined a statement, ‘The world won’t fix itself.’ Things don’t fix itself, you gotta make it happen. If you want to see this change, you got to get up and orchestrate that happening. . .”  This message is communicated clearly in the song’s chorus:  “No hatred / F*ck racists / Blank faces / Time’s changin’/ One nation / Unification / The vibration / Unf*ck the World!”

Melding two genres—rap and heavy metal—that collide in a swirling vortex of rebellion and resistance, Prophets of Rage bring their protest music to the masses. At a time when even peaceful protests face unrelenting attacks from the Oval Office’s Twitter feed, Prophets of Rage may yet convince everyone to “Give a damn, evil can’t stand yeah, when the people take a stand” (—Unf*ck the World).

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Michael Jackson – SCREAM

Michael Jackson SCREAM

Title: SCREAM

Artist: Michael Jackson

Label: Epic/Legacy Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 29, 2017

 

 

Michael Jackson fans rejoice— SCREAM, a collection of the pop icon’s 13 most electrifying tracks, is being released by Epic/Legacy Records in collaboration with The Estate of Michael Jackson. The album includes classic hits like “Thriller” and “Dirty Diana” as well as the bonus track, “Blood on the Dance Floor X Dangerous.” Created by acclaimed remixer The White Panda, the bonus track is a high-energy mashup of five of The King of Pop’s songs: “Blood on the Dance Floor,” “Dangerous,” “This Place Hotel,” “Leave Me Alone,” and “Is It Scary.”

In addition to CD format, SCREAM will be available as a glow-in-the-dark two-disc vinyl edition with collectible poster in honor of MJ’s affection for the Halloween season. If just listening to this album isn’t enough, there are also Official Michael Jackson SCREAM Album Celebrations being held this fall in six major cities around the world (Paris, London, Sydney, Berlin, Los Angeles, and Tokyo). The celebrations will include screenings of MJ’s seven short films, including the rarely-seen Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, and an after party. For those that can’t make it to one of the album celebrations, SCREAM offers a collection of Michael’s hits that are sure to get you ready for the Halloween season.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Black Kids – Rookie

Rookie
Title: Rookie

Artist: Black Kids

Label: Black Kids Records via CD Baby

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

The Jacksonville, Florida-based indie band Black Kids is back after an almost decade-long hiatus with their second studio album and it does not disappoint. Rookie combines an upbeat tempo, ‘80s-style atmospherics, and earnest lyrics to create songs that are undeniably catchy. The title track showcases this combination through its infectious mix of playful rhythms and reflective lyrics that make you want to sing along. This isn’t the only track that’s worthy of dancing to—each track delivers a unique sound that’s just as lively as the last.

The album starts off strong with the opening track, “Iffy,” that will have you spelling I-F-F-Y all day long. Don’t be fooled by the upbeat sound though—like most of the songs on Rookie, the lyrics of “Iffy” deal with serious topics (unrequited love, in this case) which are masked by a catchy beat and a mesmerizing chorus sung by siblings Reggie and Ali Youngblood.

The next track, “In A Song,” is the album’s first video single and is just as colorful and frenetic as the lyrics:

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Whether you’re a longtime fan who’s been awaiting this album or someone who’s just hearing about Black Kids for the first time, Rookie deserves a listen.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Body Count – Bloodlust

Blodlust
Album: Bloodlust

Artist:  Body Count

Label: Century Media

Release date: March 31, 2017

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

 

 

Anytime Ice-T is involved with an album, you can bet it’s going to make musical headlines. Bloodlust, the newest offering from the metal band Body Count, definitely does that and then some. The first single, “No Lives Matter,” generated attention for the title alone after its pre-album release on February 17th, but combined with front man Ice-T’s reputation for political music, the song literally explodes in all directions at once. Will Putney, the producer for the band’s 2014 release Manslaughter, returns to assist with this project. Commenting on the album title, Ice T explains, “Bloodlust is part of the human makeup…but we know there are consequences.” Never ones to shy away from presenting what they feel are facts, Ice-T and Body Count have been offering their commentary on modern society via the platform of heavy metal since the early 1990s.

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Much like their previous works, Body Count provides its fan base with a solid dose of the rock sound, complete with driving beats comprised of thick bass, percussion cadences and vigorous vocals. Each track offers unique juxtaposing surprises—from the abrupt silences within “Black Hoodie” to Ice-T’s explanation for the album at the front of “Raining In Blood/Postmortem 2017.” If you recognize sounds reminiscent of the ‘80s band Slayer, then you know your metal. The single “All Love is Lost” features Max Cavalera, a Brazilian singer and songwriter who has worked with Tom Araya of Slasher on past Soulfly collections. Dave Mustaine, thrash metalist currently leading Megadeath in addition to claiming status as original lead guitarist for Metallica, lends his seriously sick talents to the first song, “Civil War.” Rounding out the featured spots is Lamb of God’s D. Randall Blythe, adding a hardcore punk backdrop to Bloodlust’s “Walk With Me.”

Is Bloodlust an album that should be part of everyone’s collection? It depends on one’s musical taste, but it should be on everyone’s radar due to its social commentary. Pushing past the hype, the dark sounds and the seemingly endless abyss of emotion reveals a gritty, unflinching stare into the world we all know exists; one few of us are brave enough to address in such a public manner. Offering no real solutions but a few explanations of why it is what it is, Ice T and his band accomplish what they do best—forcing us to confront the monster from under the bed, in the hope we can all better understand exactly how to defeat it.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

Brownout – Over the Covers

Brownout Over the Covers
Title: Over the Covers

Artist: Brownout

Label: Fat Beats

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

 

Over five years have passed since Brownout’s last official release of original music, Oozy (2012). Those familiar with the band likely remember the widespread acclaim during this period for the Brown Sabbath project, featuring Brownout’s own Latin funk twist on Black Sabbath covers. Collaborations with fellow Austin, TX musical comrades such as Black Angels vocalist Alex Maas and Ghostland Observatory vocalist Aaron Behrens resulted in two Brown Sabbath albums and multiple tours over the last four years.

While touring behind the Brown Sabbath project and moonlighting as alter ego Grammy Award-winning Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma, Brownout recorded their new four-song EP Over the Covers everywhere from the Bay Area to central Texas. The songs on Over the Covers—inspired by African funk (“You Don’t Have to Fall”), ‘60s and ‘70s rock, and New Jack Swing (“Things You Say”)—are at once psychedelic and funky, embracing the experience of Brown Sabbath but melding it with the band’s hallmark sounds.

Brownout’s body of work preceding Brown Sabbath contained some of the best funk and rock to come out of Austin over the last decade, so it’s great to see them back in writing mode and focused on their own material. Over the Covers represents a shift in the band’s approach, pairing their instrumental arrangement acumen with a new lyrical direction.

Alex Marrero joins the band as lead singer and lyricist for this release.  Says Marrero, “For me it was all about the process of collaboration and starting to fit into Brownout as an actual new member vs. being the front man for Brown Sabbath. Part of that was tackling the songwriting. If there is an underlying theme in all of these songs it would be symptoms of the human condition, which anyone can relate to.”

Reviewed by William Vanden Dries

Chuck Berry – Chuck

Chuck Barry
Title: Chuck

Artist: Chuck Berry

Label: Dualtone Music

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: June 9, 2017

 

Chuck Berry is, without question, the Father of Rock and Roll, and perhaps the most influential guitarist of the 20th century.  After 40 years without a new release, he announced his new album, Chuck, on his 90th birthday.  Unfortunately, he passed in March of 2017 before he could see the project come to fruition.  Clocking in at a short 34 minutes, the album nevertheless packs a punch.  The first pair of songs, “Wonderful Woman” and “Big Boys,” are arguably the best.  They’re rock and roll to the core, and Berry shows from the start that he’s still got it.  This energy is steady throughout the album, even on slower tracks like “You Go to My Head” and “Eyes of Man.”

Chuck is a family affair, featuring his children Charles Berry Jr. and Ingrid Berry as part of his backing band.  His grandson, Chuck Berry III, is also featured as a guest on “Lady B. Goode,” which is a sequel to the 1958 hit “Johnny B. Goode.” Compared to the original, this version is a bit slower, but no less fun.  Perhaps the most tender track on the album is the bluesy father-daughter duet “Darlin,” the video for which was released in time for Father’s Day:

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Also featured on the album are guitarists Gary Clark Jr. (“Wonderful Woman”), Tom Morello, and Nathaniel Rateliff (“Big Boys”).  These guest appearances are a testament to the influence that Berry has had not only on rock and roll, but on popular music more broadly.  With his musicianship, signature guitar riffs, and his stance, Berry has influenced countless musicians.  On this final album, Berry cements his legacy as musician, storyteller, and one of the greatest to ever do it.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

Tamikrest – Kidal

Tamikrest
Title: Kidal

Artist: Tamikrest

Label: Glitterbeat Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 17, 2017

 

Kidal is a city in Northern Mali, on the southwestern edge of the Sahara. In this city in the desert, the Tuareg people live. Though nomads, the Tuareg briefly had a home after rising up and declaring the intendent state of Azawad in 2012, but less than a year later al-Qaeda swept in, then the French military. In this city torn by fights between governments and corporations, the rock band Tamikrest began in 2009. Now on their fifth album, Kidal, named after that city where it all began, the group still sings about the suffering and resistance of the Tuareg people with music powered by an insistent groove, snaking bass lines, and melodies blending influences of Sahel Africa, the Maghreb, and the West.

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Tamikrest wrote the majority of Kidal while in the desert, making sure they depicted and remembered the struggles of their people accurately. As in all of life, they witnessed both joy and pain, and the songs draw from these various emotions. Some tracks, such as “Wainan Adobat,” “War Toyed,” and “War Tila Eridaran” are more energetic and rock oriented, with driving percussion by the drumset and interweaving electric guitars that favor restraint and control over face-shredding solos.

Many of the other songs are contemplative ballads. “Atwitas” is slow and intentional, with lead singer Ousmane Ag Mossa’s vocals about as deep and low as they get. With a faster tempo but entirely made up of acoustic guitars, vocals, and a soft, eerie background noise, “Tanakra” is the rawest song on the album, full of sorrow and foreboding. The final track, “Adad Osan Itibat,” has a much happier feel, with background percussion made up of soft clicks and snaps. Ag Mossa’s vocals are in a much higher register, and the accompanying acoustic guitar is plucked in a melodious, hopeful pattern with only occasional chords thrown in.

Tamikrest often talks about struggle, war, and the threats by companies and governments to the desert and the Taureg people, yet it is on this optimistic note that they end Kidal, hoping to bring change through defiance, resistance, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Curtis Knight featuring Jimi Hendrix – Live at George’s Club 20

Curtis Knight
Title: Live at George’s Club 20

Artist: Curtis Knight featuring Jimi Hendrix

Label: Dagger

Format: CD, LP

Release date: April 21, 2017

 

Just in time for Record Store Day on April 21st, Dagger Records has released Curtis Knight featuring Jimi Hendrix – Live At George’s Club 20.  This compilation includes tracks that up to this point have mostly been available as bootlegs for the Jimi Hendrix completist. Dagger’s official release features fully remastered audio and a 10 page liner note booklet with rare photos and insight into Hendrix’s career during this period.

Live At George’s Club 20 includes tracks recorded in 1965 and 1966, which find Hendrix in his rhythm and blues era, then known as Jimmy James—a member of Curtis Knight’s pre-Squire’s band the Lovelites. The songs included here are primarily covers including Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.”

Many of the tracks feature Jimi on vocals as well guitar, and it easy to hear hints of the artist he would become just a few years later. Still in his early twenties, Hendrix’s chops were as impressive as you might expect for one of America’s greatest guitar heroes. On “Driving South” he flexes his guitar skills in fantastic fashion as Knight shouts out the names of cities. It’s not hard to imagine a smoky club of dancers responding ecstatically to the storm the band (including bassist Ace Hall, drummer Ditto Edwards, and saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood) had brewed up. Hendrix even includes the playing guitar with his teeth routine that would wow the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival just a few years later. Many of the recordings also showcase Hendrix’s humor and showmanship as well. For example, “I’m a Man” features Hendrix’s playful singing and lyric swapping during a rendition of the Muddy Waters standard.

While Live At George’s Club 20 is a collection for Hendrix completists, it is still a worthwhile listen for anyone who is interested in deconstructing the notion that Jimi Hendrix “came out of nowhere.”  It was places like Club 20 where he honed his chops on his way to super stardom and this compilation is a great listen.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

Valerie June – The Order of Time

Valerie June

Title: The Order of Time

Artist: Valerie June

Label: Concord Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: March 10, 2017

 

“Long Lovely Road” opens Valerie June’s atmospheric new album, The Order of Time, with a calming melody beckoning the listener to sing along with the chorus. Based out of Brooklyn, June collaborated with producer Matt Marinelli to create this second full album following her 2014 release, Pushin’ Against a Stone. On “Love Once Made,” June’s distinctive voice stands out as it beautifully breaks into her upper register on the chorus. The energy carries straight into “Shake Down,” an exciting call and response electric blues song supported by back-up vocals from June’s father and brothers:

The soothing drone of “If And” and the sustained ambient tones of “The Front Door” inspire a hopeful meditative response to the hard times everyone will inevitably encounter in life. “Man Done Wrong” draws on the lyrical repetition tradition found in blues music with a very minimalistic instrumental section and a prominent beat. “Astral Plane,” perhaps the most iconic song on this album, contemplates a spiritual purpose within the greater cosmic theme:

Dancing on the astral plane
In holy water cleansing rain
Floating through the stratosphere
Blind, but yet you see so clear

June remains front and center throughout this album, though she collaborated with keyboardist Pete Remm and vocalist Norah Jones. The deep electric guitar reverb introducing the orchestra of strings in “Just In Time,” the only song produced by Richard Swift, refocuses attention on the timely unity of humanity. Partnered well with “Two Hearts,” June sweetly blends her voice on “With You” with a fingerpicking guitar pattern, building into a more instrumentally complex arrangement. The album concludes with “Slip Slide on By” and “Got Soul,” two party songs with a brass band, soulful keys, and the potential to continue playing on repeat!

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Melissa Etheridge – Memphis Rock and Soul

melissa-ethridge
Title: Memphis Rock and Soul

Artist: Melissa Etheridge

Label: Stax

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 7, 2016

 

I love Stax Records. When I see that distinctive logo, you know, the one with the finger snapping, I never hide my love. To quote the great singer Rufus Thomas, “Motown was cute, but Stax was souuul.” So when I heard that Melissa Etheridge was releasing a tribute album on the legendary label, two thoughts ran through my mind: (1) Shock and (2) No way (now if it was Bonnie Raitt, those two thoughts would have never entered my mind). Etheridge did what any true artist should do when you want recreate the magic and aura of Stax—she recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, where some of the original songs on Memphis Rock and Soul were recorded. Al Green, Ann Peebles, and believe it or not Bruno Mars have all recorded there over the years.

On “Respect Yourself” Etheridge tries not to outdo Mavis Staples, which is smart. The opening guitar on this remake is similar to the Staple Singers’ version. On the Johnny Taylor cover “Who’s Making Love,” Etheridge slows the pace way down and changes the words to “Who’s Making Love To Your Sweet Lady.” If you know the original, it is much faster and has the kicking guitar along with Taylor’s soulful delivery on “Who’s Making Love To Your Ol Lady.”

Of course if you are going to cover Stax, you have to include Sam & Dave. Etheridge plays both Sam & Dave on the vocals to “Hold On, I’m Coming” and yes, I personally wanted to hear the horns just like original, and my wish was granted.

Stax’ biggest act, no question, was Otis Redding, who is covered on two tracks. The first, “I’ve Been Loving You,” is very underrated. Etheridge stays true to the original—no words changing here—and her vocal delivery is perfect. The second, “I’ve Got Dreams,” is again nothing fancy, with Etheridge showing respect for the original.

No doubt, it must have been a dream for Melissa Etheridge to record this album and pay respect to perhaps the greatest American record label ever.

Eddie Bowman

Fantastic Negrito – The Last Days of Oakland

last days of oakland

Title: The Last Days of Oakland

Artist: Fantastic Negrito

Label: Blackball Universe

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: June 3, 2016

 

 

Perhaps best known as the 2015 winner of NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest for his song “Lost in a Crowd,” Oakland-based Fantastic Negrito releases an album that is steeped in the blues and simultaneously strikingly contemporary.  Xavier Dphrepaulezz, who uses “Fantastic Negrito” as his stage name, has had a career rocked with the ups and downs of the entertainment industry—rising to, and falling from, a disastrous brush with stardom in the 1990s, undergoing a crippling hand injury after a car accident, and settling down for awhile. The stage persona of Fantastic Negrito represents a return to the entertainment business, on his own terms this time around.

And what a return—The Last Days of Oakland is an album with sprawling ambitions that delivers.  One more in a year of highly personal releases that document broader societal problems, Fantastic Negrito’s songs deal with class and poverty (“Working Poor,” “Hump Through the Winter”), race, and redemption (“Nothing Without You”).  The record is also diverse sonically, but it’s useful to compare the combination of blues sound and punk spirit that animates The Last Days of Oakland with the blues punk of groups like the White Stripes. In fact, Negrito takes a number of cues from Jack White, from vintage blues guitar playing to minimalistic 4-on-the-floor arrangements—“Rant Rushmore” could easily have appeared on Icky Thump, although Negrito draws a bit more gospel into the mix than White would have. Comparisons to earlier alt-rockers are not remiss either.  Fantastic Negrito’s version of the traditional song “In the Pines” (recorded by everyone and his brother, but perhaps made most famous by Leadbelly), channels Kurt Cobain’s rendition of the song as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged, keeping Cobain’s raw emotionalism, but fleshing out the orchestration with a full band, electric guitars, and keyboards.

On The Last Days of Oakland, we hear a musician who has clearly paid his dues.  Fantastic Negrito knows his sound and has found his voice as a singer, songwriter and guitarist.  This is a definitive performance from a rocker with a few bones to pick.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Project N-Fidelikah

project_nfidelikah

Title: Project N-Fidelikah

Artist: Project N-Fidelikah

Label: Rat Pak Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 27, 2016

 

 

Is it possible to create a supergroup full of lesser-known musical personalities?  Not every musician is a Beatle or Bob Dylan, and not all supergroups, therefore, can have the kind of surefire star power that The Traveling Wilburys did.  However, the perennial problem with supergroups is that, inevitably, dominant personalities usually win out and the group’s sound ends up getting compromised in the process.  Project N-Fidelikah, however, doesn’t have the typical “too many cooks” supergroup problem, in part because it doesn’t have a typical supergroup lineup, drawing musicians from the category of “bands you’ve heard of but don’t know their catalog too well.”  Project N-Fidelikah features vocalist, organist and saxophonist Angelo Moore, aka Dr. Madd Vibe (Fishbone), guitarist George Lynch (Dokken, The Lynch Mob), bassist Pancho Tomaselli (War), and studio drummer Chris Moore. The group’s lineup reads like an ESP guitar ad (Lynch and Tomaselli are both endorsers, and the story is that they met through the guitar company), but plays with the scrappiness of a garage band. N-Fidelikah’s sound draws heavily from the eclectic rock of Fishbone and their contemporaries in the late-’80s/early-’90s LA rock scene,while clearly incorporating other members’ musical personalities. The confluence of these influences makes Project N-Fidelikah eclectic, humorous, and generally off-the-wall.

Check out the group’s first single, “Landslide Salvation”:

Perhaps prophesying the 2016 return of fellow LA rockers’ The Red Hot Chili Peppers and the transformation of Rage Against the Machine’s core group into Prophets of Rage, Project N-Fidelikah is about more than indulging the nostalgia market for the funky rock of a particular time and place. Digging deep into funk influences, Chris Moore and Tomaselli set up monster grooves throughout the record.  Perhaps surprisingly for a hair metal superstar, Lynch uses these grooves as a canvas for articulate (even downright economical) guitar work, at times digging deep into the groove with distorted power chords and at other times drawing upon his ’80s chops to provide a burst of energy and color that compliments a given song’s groove rather than overriding it.  Dr. Madd Vibe’s lyrics and sax top off the gradual layering, tackling political issues (“Anchor Babies”), race (“I Wanna Be White (But I Can’t)”), and the abuses that the music industry inflicts upon artists (“Exposure Fi’Pay”).  Even the group’s jammiest (and perhaps most interesting) track, “Deprivation of Independence,” is a meditation upon mass surveillance, while its slow-burn groove is equally useful as a vehicle for lick trading, punctuated by tasty guitar solos from Lynch and sax lines from Angelo Moore.

All-in-all, Project N-Fidelikah is a strong effort by the funkiest supergroup you’ve never heard of.  The album is lyrically and musically challenging, while full of enough tasty grooves and licks to keep listeners coming back for more, even after they’ve absorbed the record’s striking social critique.

 

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

illPHONiCS – Gone with the Trends

illphonics gone with the trends

Title: “Gone with the Trends”

Artist: illPHONiCS

Label: The Record Machine

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 1, 2016

 

 

St. Louis-based hip hop act illPHONiCS draws from a variety of musical influences, including rock, funk, and soul in its genre-bending blend of rap music with a live backing band.  In the vein of fellow musical polymaths The Roots, it might be possible to describe the group’s effective musical fusion in the words of Fallout Morris, the group’s MC: “musicality bliss from beginning to finish.” In my opinion, live bands may provide some of the most fertile territory for the ever-diversifying future of rap music, as many top name acts such as Kendrick Lamar are blending a live approach with electronic sounds and sampling. illPHONiCS are certainly on the cutting edge of this movement.

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illPHONiCS’s core group looks (and often sounds) more like a rock band than a rap group.  Morris is joined by Keith Moore a.k.a. William Gray on keyboards, Kevin Koehler on guitar, Simon “Spank” Chervitz on bass, and Chaz “CB” Brew on drums, organ, and vocals.  illPHONiCS is a group full of musical shapeshifters who play the funky “Liquid Spaceships” as convincingly as they play the ’90s alt-rock tinged (think Radiohead’s heavier moments) “Sweet Missouri (’miz(a)rē).”

The band’s music is propelled by Morris’s lyrics. The group’s MC eschews commercial rap cliches in favor of nuanced storytelling that smacks of rap’s poetic underground, as in “96 to 99,” a love letter to the classic rap groups that ruled the airwaves during that era.  ilPHONiCS also jump on current events (a trend that has been popular with artists in 2015 and 2016) on “The Brown Frequency,” a cut about Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri that followed.  Unlike many other artists who treat this subject from a distance, alluding to social unrest indirectly or expressing some kind of vague solidarity, illPHONiCS speak to the subject with a more authoritative voice.  Not only is the group from the St. Louis area, but the lyrics to “The Brown Frequency” demonstrate specificity both of cause and of remedy that are unfortunately lacking from many other so-called “protest” records in 2016. The group takes a more introspective turn on “Gone with the Trends,” an anthem about personal authenticity.  However, illPHONiCS aren’t above including more standard fare such as “Love’s Not Far,” a number about unrequited love, and the smooth-funk party anthem, “Everything (Jammin For You).”

The diversity on Gone with the Trends” is matched only by the band’s tight musicianship and Fallout Morris’s silky-smooth rhymes.  Alternative hip hop fans will definitely want to give this release a few spins.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution

esperanza spalding emilys devolution

Title: Emily’s D+Evolution

Artist: Esperanza Spalding

Label: Concord

Format: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 4, 2016

 

 

 

Multiple Grammy-winner bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding has demonstrated a David Bowie-esque knack for reinvention over the course of her past 4 albums as a leader.  2010’s excellent Chamber Music Society showcased Spalding’s knack for tight, delicately crafted acoustic arrangements, while 2012’s Radio Music Society demonstrated her aptitude for a more pop-infused sensibility as well. Versatility has characterized her work as a side musician, too. She has appeared on recordings with artists as diverse as Mike Stern and M. Ward.

Spalding has managed yet another feat of re-invention on Emily’s D+Evolution.  Taking her middle name as the album’s moniker, she explores yet another side of her broad musical influences, this time using the power-rock trio as the vehicle an exploration of another genre, necessitating an approach to her instrument that fans haven’t heard yet.  Swapping the her Afro for braids and her upright for a fretless bass guitar and drawing more musically from Jimi Hendrix than Jim Hall, Spalding, guitarist Matthew Stevens, and drummer Karriem Riggins put forward a soulful brand of rock on this release, falling somewhere between Black Messiah and Axis: Bold as Love.

The hardest-rocking cut on Emily’s D+Evolution is the album’s lead single “Good Lava,” which combines the dissonant rock of Nirvana’s In Utero period with monster riffs that would make Jimmy Page proud.  Layered atop these guitars and drums are multitracked vocal harmonies demonstrating Spalding ability not only as a rocker, but as an arranger, too.  This minimalistic trio allows room for Spalding to showcase her wizardry on the bass guitar, too.  The counterpoint between her voice and instrument on “Judas” will make any instrumentalist wonder how she can simultaneously deliver her rhythmic, Joni Mitchell- esque sung rap with her slick and serpentine Jaco Pastorius bass-funk.  The classic period Mitchell comparison also resonates on “Earth to Heaven” and “Ebony and Ivory” (which is not a cover of the Paul McCartney/ Michael Jackson collab of the same name). For Spalding, songwriting rules the day, and the three virtuoso instrumentalists in her band support the subtle and challenging songs that Spalding has crafted, laying back when they need to but also digging in when called for, as Stevens does with a great guitar solo on “One.”

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Ever the poster child of flipping the script, Spalding’s newest release is a haven of cultural intertextuality.  “Farewell Dolly,” is a spaced out rethinking of “Hello Dolly” that barely (if at all) references the original.  As its title would imply, “Farewell Dolly” is bleak, both sonically and lyrically, with Spalding’s impressionistic lyrics accompanied only by her spaced-out, chorus-laden bass guitar.  “Funk the Fear” is a prog-rock odyssey through winding spiritual and social territory, and “I Want it Now” is a bizarro cover of Veruca Salt’s number (the bratty girl who won a Golden Ticket, not the Chicago alt-rock band) from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Spalding and company have truly outdone themselves this time–the only things on this record that smack of the jazz styles that have been the bassist’s calling card is the complex harmonic and melodic languages the band uses.  Other than that, Emily’s D+Evolution rocks, allowing the group to explore uncharted musical and conceptual territory.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Sam Butler – Raise Your Hands!

sam butler_raise your hands

Title: Raise Your Hands!

Artist: Sam Butler

Label: Severn Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 16, 2015

 

White rock musicians drawing inspiration from black gospel music is a common story. Less common are black gospel musicians recording sacred songs written by white rock musicians.

Producer Brian Brinkerhoff thought of the latter when he contacted guitarist and singer Sam Butler about doing an album together. Butler—known for his work with the Blind Boys of Alabama and Clarence Fountain—liked the proposal. The two hired a talented trio of musicians—pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier, drummer Marco Giovino, and bassist Viktor Krauss—and selected songs by U2, Eric Clapton, and Van Morrison, to name a few, to record. Over three days—which Brinkerhoff called a “musical worship service”—Raise Your Hands! was born.

Musically, the album moves between blues-rock grooves and songs of reflective contemplation. Tom Waits’ “Gospel Train” is a swampy invocation to join the Lord’s ride and evade the Devil’s foolishness. “Heaven’s Wall” has a similar heaviness, laid over an extended vamp. On the other hand, “Sanctuary” is a reverb-soaked ballad, with an earthy, Americana sound. Between these two poles, Butler’s dynamic voice, passionate interpretation, and praise for the Lord are the album’s common threads.

While Butler is the centerpiece of Raise Your Hands!, pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier is the star. Collier was raised in the House of God Congregation—known for producing many talented pedal steel musicians. Collier’s solos on “Magnificent” and “Lead Me Father” are bold, soaring statements, while his sensitive accompaniment on the album’s slower songs is ever-tasteful. Drummer Marco Giovino, too, shines on Curtis Mayfield’s “Wherever You Leadth” and Victor Krauss is consistent throughout the release.

Raise Your Hands! is an album that blurs musical lines. Sacred and secular, rock and gospel, bandleader and band member are productively eschewed, in service of the Lord and His gift of good music.

 

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

White Lies for Dark Times

Title: White Lies for Dark Times

Artist: Ben Harper and Relentless7

Label: Virgin

Format: CD

Catalog Number: 5099 2 64786 2 3

Release Date: May 5, 2009


With a title like White Lies for Dark Times, I have to admit I was expecting this to be an overtly political album, hopefully containing some hard-hitting tell-it-like-it-is commentary on race relations, poverty, class, and the economy. You won’t find any of that here. What you will find is a gritty, passionate, and eminently solid blues-rock album that chooses its battles but never pulls its punches. The “dark times” here aren’t the external forces of politics, but the inner struggles of the heart and soul, both internally and within intimate relationships.

Leaving his usual backing band, the Innocent Criminals, Ben Harper has teamed up with the Austin-based trio Relentless7 for this recording. Together, they create an unabashed rock album, but one that wears it heritage of blues, soul, and funk on its sleeve. The effect is something that would sound at home in a southern roadhouse, a Chicago blues club, or an outdoor rock festival. At times, Harper and Relentless7 seem to be channeling the spirit of Jimi Hendrix (or at least Lenny Kravitz), but they never come off as blindly imitative or derivative. Harder-hitting songs such as “Number with No Name,” “Lay There & Hate Me,” and “Why Must You Always Dress in Black” explode with wailing guitars, churning bass, and thumping drums. The album’s slow acoustic ballads, notably the understated “Skin Thin” and the softly hopeful closing track “Faithfully Remain,” are remarkably tender and delicate, while still grounded in the rock texture. The mid-tempo “Up to You Now” has the roughness of the faster tracks, but the lead guitar and Harper’s soul-laced tenor wail (somehow reminiscent here of Curtis Mayfield) both ring out sharply over the drums and bass like neon lights flashing in the dark. Following is the official video for the single “Shimmer and Shine” from the album:

Most of the songs take a bitter and wearied look at faded relationships and personal despair. In “Up to You Now,” Harper sings “You wrote a list / with all of your demands / and you nailed it to both of my hands.” He expands on the theme of an entrapping, soured relationship in “Lay There & Hate Me”:

You gave me an eight-page letter
Front and back
Written in your favorite colors
Blood and black
Choose your words so careful
As you’d choose your own grave stone
Lay there and hate me
Better than being alone

Harper has a way with lyrics, however, and a sense of black humor that forces its way out even in such dark times. “Why Must You Always Dress in Black” opens with the quip “You may be a cheap date / but my therapy’s expensive as hell,” while “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)” finds Harper musing, “I’m not sure what worries me more / the fact that I’m talking to a wall / or that the wall keeps answering me.”

Lyrically, this is pretty bleak stuff, and if the lyrics were the driving force of this album, I don’t know that I could make it through the whole thing more than twice. But as deft and cathartic as the lyrics are, it’s the driving rock and roll energy of the music that carries the work and gives it a sense of exuberance in the face of its dark topical themes. Harper and Relentless7 have put together an album that sounds cohesive and classic from the first listen, without any filler or loss of momentum, and the overall effect is powerful. If these are white lies, don’t bother giving me the truth.

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Reviewed by Ann Shaffer

The Woodstock Experience


Title: Sly & The Family Stone: The Woodstock Experience

Artist: Sly & the Family Stone

Label: Epic/Legacy

Format: 2 CD set

Catalog No.: 88697 48241 2

Date: 2009

Woodstock Music and Art Fair, three days of peace and music . . . three days that changed the history of rock and roll. August marks the 40th anniversary of an event that symbolizes a generation of youths whose voice, actions, and culture was paramount in a socio-cultural revolution that was shaping America. Just when we thought that the proverbial Woodstock cow had been milked, a smattering of new releases are cropping up, including Sly & the Family Stone’s full festival performance. The original motion picture soundtrack that was released in 1970 only gave audiences a compilation of the artists featured at Woodstock, and in the case of Sly was limited to a three song medley that was by far one of the highlights of the soundtrack. The new release, The Woodstock Experience, is a two CD set featuring the full nine song set paired with the studio album Stand! At first glance I wondered why the studio album was paired with the Woodstock set, but after quick investigation I realized that Sly’s invitation to Woodstock generated from the success of Stand! (including the number one hit “Everyday People”), released the previous May. Scheduled for a three a.m. Sunday morning time slot, Sly & the Family Stone took the stage at Woodstock and delivered a powerhouse of gospel, soul, and funk that brought rock and roll church to nearly half a million concert goers.

Formed in 1966 by combining Sly’s and his brother Freddie’s bands, Sly & the Family Stone broke barriers and brought many innovations to popular music. Sly Stone’s time as a disc jockey at San Francisco’s R&B station KSOL and as a producer at Autumn records gave him an idea of what it would take to break through successfully in both the music market and industry. The group broke both racial and gender barriers as they soared their way up the charts. They were not the first integrated group on the block by far, but they achieved crossover success like no other groups before. The Family Stone also featured women in lead roles playing instruments other than vocals. Stylistically the group brought a mixture of gospel, early funk, soul, and rock to the table along with an outlandish fashion sense. Lyrically, they sung of peace, love and understanding which was crucial during this period of socio-political upheaval in America. Sonically, the group utilized the technology of the times with heavy fuzz, distortion, and Wah-wah.

Vocal arrangements for The Family Stone were unique and revolutionary; the group had four lead singers who traded various bars of each verse and a horn section that provided a backdrop for the vocals. And then there was bassist Larry Graham, who brought new tonality to the bass guitar with what he called “thumpin’ and pluckin’” (now known as the slapping technique). He also used a doubled bass technique, where he would send the bass signal through two separate amps, giving it a fuller sound and blowing the doors off the bottom end. A good example of this technique can be found during the bass breaks in “Dance to the Music;” Graham is running clean bass through one amp and a distorted bass through another. By 1969 the group was at the peak of their career and their performance at Woodstock would endear them in the hearts and minds of those who attended.

The new release is spectacular; it’s almost a crime that it has been kept under wraps for 40 years. The sheer energy in the performance translates through the recording, which was captured masterfully by famed engineer Eddie Kramer on location and also mixed by Kramer for the new release. Pairing the Woodstock set with the album Stand! was ingenious not only because Rolling Stone rates it as # 118 of the top 500 albums of all times, but because in comparing them side by side you really get a feel for just how incredible the group was live. The CD features six previously unreleased tracks including the adrenaline-charged renditions of “M’Lady,” “Everyday People,” “You Can Make It If You Try,” and “Sing a Simple Song.” “Sly’s set was high energy and infectious,” remembers Woodstock co-producer Michael Lang. “They were the most colorfully dressed act on the bill and they came dressed to party. Sly and the Family Stone were definitely the act that most of the other bands on the bill were focused on seeing.”

This compilation is part of Sony Legacy’s Woodstock Experience series, which includes five of the biggest performances at Woodstock: Sly & the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winters, and Santana. Each two-CD set consists of a classic 1969 studio album from the featured artist along with their full festival performance. All are packaged in eco-friendly sleeves that replicate the original studio album cover and include a 16 X 20 inch double-sided fold-out color commemorative poster. Woodstock was an electrifying moment in the latter half of the 20th century. We are blessed that the event organizers had enough foresight to document it as well as they did, and its anyone’s guess what will come out of the woodwork for the 50th anniversary.

Reviewed by Heather O’Sullivan

LotusFlower3

Title: LotusFlow3r

Artist: Prince

Label: NPG

Catalog No.: 09549

Release date: March 2009

Prince Rogers Nelson is a multitalented musician who plays a variety of instruments and has written hundreds, if not thousands of songs. He has won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the first year he was eligible. Rolling Stone ranked Prince #28 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. He has had a very long and illustrious career and therefore is no stranger to danger. Therefore, with his bona fides well-established, the focus of this review will be his latest release, LotusFlow3R.

Like all Prince Fans, I was very excited to hear that Prince had a new 3-disc CD coming out. I thought, it’s about time for some new dew from his Purple Majesty. Sadly, the songs and music on LotusFlow3R are very disappointing and not what I expected at all. I started with great anticipation but I was left confused and wondering with great frustration. First of all let me say I am a big Prince fan, have been for years. With that bias admitted, let me review the new album as objectively as I can. LotusFlow3R is a three disc set, with two discs dedicated to Prince and one disc called “Elixir” by a Rihanna-type artist named Bria Valentine. This review will not discuss the latter.

Prince has always played many different styles and genres of music, from rock to funk and blues to R&B, which demonstrates his musical genius. Of the two discs by Prince, “LotusFlow3R” has twelve tracks all played in the “rock” genre. When I say rock genre I mean soft rock, hard rock, punk rock, head banging rock and of course rock and roll. Prince is rocking the block on this CD; however, it doesn’t sound like a block party. In fact, it sounds like some neighborhood kids rocking out in their dad’s garage. That’s right folks, this sounds just like kid-rock and I don’t mean the artist.

The first track, “From the Lotus,” sounds like Prince is waking up out of a deep sleep after listening to some inspirational relaxing music before getting ready to play. And though it is an instrumental piece, with lead electric guitar played throughout, it has no punch, no kick; it’s just noise and not a joyous noise either. The second track, “Boom,” musically pays homage to the master, Jimi Hendrix, but is lyrically naïve. The third track is a cover song. Prince has done covers of other artist songs before, such as 1995’s “Emancipation,” but honestly there is very little to cover in this remake of “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and Shondells except for the repetitive line “Wild thing / I think you move me / but I want to know for sure / You move me” that he took from the Troggs’ hit song. It doesn’t take much genius to sample a great hook and then exploit it on a cover.

Prince always felt that he was a slave to Warner Bros. and sought his emancipation “from the chains that bind me” in a 1993 legal battle (he often appeared in public with the word “slave” written on his cheek). This somewhat explains track five, “Colonized Mind,” a social commentary on the revolution against the master race who, according to the lyrics, are “genetically disposed to rule the world / down low a future full of isolated boys and girls.” Such is the flavor of the LotusFlow3R disc.

The second disc is called “MPLSsound” and if that’s true then it must be the “early” MPLSsound. As opposed to the rock oriented Lotus disc, this is a return to Prince’s hip hop and funk flavor that we all used to savor. However, I am sorry to disappoint you because there is not one “jam” on this collection. What is a jam? “Ole’ skool” definition of jam is grooves that can make you move, a beat that makes you tap your feet, a sound that is down that will make you snap your finger if you can’t clap your hands. I am sorry to report there is not one jam in the entire collection. Great Prince jams of the past include “1999,” “Head,” “When Doves Cry,” “Sign O the Times,” etc. There is not one track that moves me or grooves me, sorry.

MPLSsound begins with “(There Will Never B) Another Like Me,” which is pure hip hop flavor with the same bragging rights as all the other rappers. Then there is the track “Chocolate Box,” with Prince singing as this sweet thing. “Dance 4 Me” is reminiscent of the group Cameo, while the track “Ol’ Skool Company” sounds just like George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadeli version of “Star Child and the Mothership Connection.” I know Prince is a musical genius, but what is the genius of sounding like someone else, and where are the jams?

I am sorry, Prince fans, but this LotusFlow3R is not the real deal. It sounds like a very young, immature Prince searching for his sound and looking for his identity. This can’t be the latest mix of music composed by an artist over 50. Prince released Crystal Ball in 1998 (a 5-CD collection of unreleased material) and in 1999 released The Vault Old Friends 4 Sale. This material also sounds as if came from the vault, perhaps more of the previously unreleased material that Prince has had stashed away for years. It sounds like retro vibes rather than something from NPD the “New Power Generation.” It does not sound as if this is the latest and the greatest body of work from the creative mind of a fifty year old music genius. Wake up Prince, we want the funk!

Reviewed by Clark D. Whitlow

Editor’s Note: This review is part of our ongoing examination of rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. Visit the conference website.

I’m Rick James: the Definitive DVD


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

Artist: Rick James

Label: Hip-O

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

Catalog No.: B0012655-09

Date: 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Clark D. Whitlow

Notable Reissues

Let the Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Hip-O Select, April 2008)

The producers of this CD combed through the Motown archives in order to come up with a two CD set of 47 previously unreleased takes. As is typical with compilations of this type, the alternate takes reveal elements of the creative and production process through altered verses and extended versions. If you’re only interested in hearing the final versions, this CD set is not for you.

Gladys Knight & the Pips: Claudine/Pipe Dreams. (Shout! June 2008)

Shout Factory has assembled on one compact disc two rare 1970s movie soundtracks featuring Gladys Knight & The Pips.  Claudine, released in 1974, was a film starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones, with music composed by Curtis Mayfield (this was two years after his much celebrated Superfly score).  The soundtrack includes the chart-topping single “On And On,” as well as the more poignant “Welfare Man.”  Pipe Dreams, released in 1976, actually featured Gladys Knight in the starring role. The film was not commercially successful and Knight’s acting career went no further. The soundtrack includes one hit single, “So Sad The Song,” though contemporary audiences may be more interested in “Alaska Pipeline.”

Bo Diddley.  Road Runner: The Chess Masters, 1959-1960. (Hip-O Select, June 2008)

This is the second installment of Hip-O Select’s tribute to Bo Diddley, who passed away earlier this year (the first installment, I’m A Man: The Chess Masters 1955-1958, was released in 2007).  The two CD set features 52 tracks in all, including 23 previously unreleased songs and alternate takes encompassing both his Chess studio recordings and various home recordings. Liner notes were provided by George R. White, Diddley’s biographer. This is great stuff and absolutely essential for anyone interested in the black roots of rock ‘n’ roll.

Yvonne Fair.  The Bitch is Black (Reel Music, June 2008)

The late Yvonne Fair performed with the James Brown Revue in the early 1960s and simultaneously released several singles which never took off, even though they were produced by Brown. She then took a stab at Motown, pairing up with Marvin Gaye, but success did not arrive until  Norman Whitfield produced several of her singles in 1974, which led up to her one and only album. The Bitch is Black, released in 1975, features some great “in your face” funky R&B from a little known performer. The accompanying booklet features photos and a biographical essay by A. Scott Galloway.

Joe Tex.  Get Way Back: The 1950s Recordings (Ace, August 2008)

Joe Tex (1933-1982) was Texas-born soul singer who rose to fame in the mid-1960s, but this compilation traces the beginnings of his career. The 27 tracks that he recorded for the King and the American Ace label, some released on CD for the first time, include elements of rock ‘n’ roll as well as New Orleans R&B. The accompanying booklet offers biographical information and previously unpublished photographs.

R&B, Soul, Funk and Rock

Tom Morello.  The Fabled City (Red Ink, September 2008)

Morello, best known as a heavy metal guitarist and former member of Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine, now has another claim to fame as the “other half-Kenyan Harvard graduate from Illinois.” His latest solo album also reflects another side, which is decidedly folksy, but with a definite political edge. Morello is no stranger to politics- his father was Kenya’s first black delegate to the United Nations and his parents met during Kenya’s struggle for independance. Here, in his alter ego as Nightwatchman, he tackles a number of issues ranging from post-Katrina New Orleans to war.  His distinctive songwriting along with his acoustic vocal-guitar arrangements have already led many to brand him as something of a modern day Dylan.

Richie Havens.  Nobody Left to Crown (Verve Forecast, March 2008)

Noted ’60s folk singer Richie Havens recently released his first studio album in four years, singing covers of Pete Townshend (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”), Peter, Paul & Mary (“The Great Mandala-The Wheel of Life”) and Jackson Browne (“Lives in the Balance”).  The majority of the album, however, features new material composed largely by Havens, including the title track which lambasts political leaders and “Fates,” his ode against capitalism.

Estelle. Shine (Atlantic, April 2008)

British R&B songstress Estelle has hit it big with her sophomore release, which has garnered significant attention including placement on many “Best of 2008” lists.  Kanye West, John Legend, and Cee-lo make guest appearances, ensuring success on this side of the pond, while Wyclef Jean and Will.i.am lend a hand on production. A major selling point is the album’s diversity. By incorporating elements of dance-hall, hip hop, R&B, soul and ska, every track offers up something distinctly new and fresh.

Conya Doss.  Still (Conya Doss Songs,April 2008)

Neo-soul singer/songwriter Conya Doss is a native of Cleveland who has been developing a considerable following, especially in Europe, since her debut album was released in 2002. Despite this fact, she still doesn’t have the backing of a major label and continues to self-release her projects, while earning a living as a teacher in the Cleveland public schools. Still features 14 tracks with a predominant focus on love and relationships that never become overly sentimental, and she keeps up the pace by alternating between up-tempo numbers and ballads.

Hil St. Soul.  Black Rose (Shanachie, April 2008)

Hil St. Soul is a duo featuring Zambian-born, London-raised neo-soul singer/songwriter Hilary Mwelwa and Victor Redwood Sawyerr, an instrumentalist and producer, who also shares songwriting credits. Like Doss, Hil St. Soul’s music largely appeals to the over-30 crowd and thus has been ignored by the major labels. Case in point, the song “Sweetest Days” reminisces about the time when “There was no Nintendo or computer games but a natural interaction with your friends.”  But if you fall into this demographic and enjoy original soul with a dose of jazz, R&B, funk, and hip hop, you might want to check out this album.

Raheem DeVaughn.  Love Behind the Melody (Jive, January 2008)

There are any number of young R&B singers we could have added to the list, but we have to give credit to Raheem Devaughn for keeping the soul alive, and keeping it fresh with healthy doses of hip hop. In an effort not to be constrained or classified, Devaughn claims to be a “R&B-hippie-neosoul-rock star.” His music almost achieves this level of diversity.  He frequently references classic R&B, such as when “Friday (Shut the Club Down)” playfully evolves into “My Girl,” and “Butterflies” is somewhat reminiscent of British-invasion era rock. What most impresses, besides his incredible vocal technique, is his ability to reach a wide audience without selling out.

The Blues Roots of the Rolling Stones

Title: The Blues Roots of the Rolling Stones
Artists: Various Artists
Label: Snapper Music
Catalog No.: SBLUECD047
Release date: March 10, 2008

“We got heavily into the blues – Chicago blues particularly because every major, modern blues artist was coming out of Chicago. . . we weren’t writing our own songs then. We were just playing mostly blues & rock ‘n roll-Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters stuff.” – Keith Richards

“We used to watch Chuck Berry films over and over and over to see how he would play certain licks. Keith [Richards] and I would go to the cinema like 6 or 9 times just to see the Chuck Berry section. . . to see how he put his hands on the guitar, and how he played this part and this solo.” – Mick Jagger

The Blues Roots of the Rolling Stones is Michael Hendon’s valiant effort to bring together the most formative blues and rock influences on the members of this seminal rock band onto a single disk for Snapper Music’s Complete Blues series. Included among them are, of course, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, and Bo Diddley, but also Buddy Holly, Slim Harpo, B.B. King, Blind Boy Fuller, Robert Johnson, Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell, and Robert Wilkins.

Far from a smattering of well-known singles from these (mostly) heavily-compiled artists, Hendon’s liner notes make clear that the songs selected for this compilation were chosen carefully. Throughout, Hendon expends great effort to explicitly connect each song to the Stones and thus support the reason for its inclusion – usually either because the Stones frequently performed and/or recorded the song or because it is emblematic of the sound of a particular artist that was an important influence on the band.

Appropriately enough, the disk opens with Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone” and closes with another of his classics – “I Want to be Loved” (a version of which appeared as the B side of the Stones’ first single). The songs of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley formed over half of the Stones’ early set lists, and Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” was also featured on their third album (The Rolling Stones, Now!, 1965). Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” was featured on the Stones’ first album (England’s Newest Hit Makers, 1964) as was Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do.” In addition to this more urban-centered blues/rock spread, I especially like the attention paid on this compilation to the Delta/country blues influence on the Stones’ sound. One of the highlights in that regard is Robert Wilkins’ crackling 1928 recording “Rolling Stone – Part 1.”

Though Stones enthusiasts will undoubtedly notice omissions on The Blues Roots of the Rolling Stones, I think it is a perfect starting point for those who wish to trace the British blues explosion of the early 1960s back to the sounds that inspired it.

Posted by Anthony Guest-Scott