The Suffers – Everything Here

suffers

 

Title: Everything Here

Artist: The Suffers

Label: Shanachie

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.

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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

Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson – Keep Pushin’

wonderboy

 

Title: Keep Pushin’

Artist: Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: April 27, 2018

 

Brooklyn native Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson is one of the leading voices in contemporary gospel quartet music today. The 3x Stellar Award winner and Billboard top 20 chart topper began singing at a young age with father, Phil Johnson, who was the founder of the group, The Spiritual Voices.

Johnson earned the nickname “Wonderboy” as a child due to his amazing melismatic approach to singing along with his distinctive vocal timbre. Johnson has also helped to transform the gospel quartet genre through the use of modern gospel music production sounds and techniques, while maintaining the integrity of traditional gospel quartet music, due to his incredible production crew.

On Johnson’s 13th album, Keep Pushin’, the artist goes well beyond his gospel roots to feature various styles of music. The title track and single, “Keep Pushin”, is a highly inspirational piece with an upbeat funk groove that encourages people to have faith in God and keep moving despite the obstacles that life often presents. Reminiscent of the famous Impressions’ message song “Keep On Pushing” that became a part of the fabric of the Civil Rights Movement, Johnson’s song reveals that people are still dealing with political, social, economical and, one might add, spiritual issues. As Johnson encourages in the music video, one can strive to transcend these issues by facing their problems and not giving up on themselves, others or God.

On the gospel ballad, “God’s Gonna Do It,” Johnson reassures listeners that with faith and patience “God will come through” and perform the unbelievable and impossible task set before them. Johnson projects this same message through his homage to R&B artist Morris Day and the Minneapolis sound, using Day’s popular song “The Bird” as the foundation of “God Is Able.” The background vocalists sing “Hallelujah” during the vamp, as featured on the original song during the chorus section (omitting the word “Squawk,” of course). Johnson went back in time to 1984, utilizing the same synthesizer keyboard sounds accompanied by a “4 on the floor” driving groove. This high energy dance song encourages people to give God praise while they are waiting for their miracle.

Each song on the album features a message of hope, faith and belief in the promises of God through the versatile approach of Johnson’s modern gospel quartet sound.  One may hear the traditional gospel and quartet sound, R&B, funk or soul. Each song is governed by the idea that no matter what comes your way, you can make it, with faith, determination, and praise. Johnson end’s his album appropriately with the song “Do You Know How Blessed You Are,” reminding listeners that it is simply a blessing to be alive.

Reviewed by Bobby E. Davis Jr.

Calvin Richardson – All Or Nothing

Calvin Richardson

Title: All Or Nothing

Artist: Calvin Richardson

Label: Shanachie

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.

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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

 

Soul Understated – Songs in the Key of Grease

Songs in the Key of Grease
Title: Songs in the Key of Grease

Artist: Soul Understated

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 30, 2017

 

 

I want to make it clear, I like EPs. I adore listening to the genesis of what may become a success.  Soul Understated, a group from New York, may well blossom into something and I hope I can say, “Told you so.”  Based on the strength of their new EP, I do believe they have a bright future. Ok, now that I’ve caught your attention, who are Soul Understated?

Mavis “Swan” Poole and Jeremy “Beans” Clemons form the core of the group. Poole has performed background vocals with Prince and Lauryn Hill, among others, while Clemons, a drummer, has played with Gregory Porter, Burning Spear, and Jen Holiday. Other guests include Marc Cary (Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln’s bands) on piano and keyboards and Mighty Moe Hagans of the Chuck Brown band on percussion.

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Is the title of their EP, Songs in the Key of Grease, a homage to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life? Maybe. After all, Wonder was in full glory when he released that classic album. Songs in the Key of Grease, however, is a contemporary blend of soul and neo soul with jazzy grooves and funk.

Mavis Poole’s vocals sound similar to Erykah Badu, but on the track “1 Monkey,” Poole’s vocals go where Badu’s have never been. That’s not a knock on Badu, but high praise to Poole. Go Girl! “Junkie” tells the compelling story of someone who has a very difficult time getting their life back on track. The line, “We don’t want your kind here,” displays society’s contempt for a person on the path of self-destruction. On “So What,” Clemons’ drumming and the hand claps is straight up jazzy, ‘90s era soul. This is perhaps the best of the six tracks on the EP.

One negative about EPs is that they are just too short. This is certainly the case with Songs in the Key of Grease.  I hope we hear more from Soul Understated, and I’m certain once you hear their album, you will agree.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

Phil Perry – Breathless

Phil Perry Breathless
Album: Breathless

Artist:  Phil Perry

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

 

Phil Perry is back with his latest album Breathless, a ten-track CD of R&B and smooth jazz. Joined on the album by his producer and pianist Chris Davis, Perry has this to say about the musical partnership: “Chris and I respect the music the same way we respect each other. It’s a unique and rare thing and it’s easy because we speak the same language.”  It’s obvious that Davis and Perry trust one another and have something special going, and the album reflects their successful combination. Phil Perry, you see, is a voice one must listen to—a dynamic singer with the uncanny ability to make you a believer with a single note. I would put Perry in the Will Downing category, flying under the radar to where the solid R&B fans are, but Perry’s true music listeners know the real deal when they hear it.

Perry includes his own covers of three songs previously performed by other artists, which are “Love In Need Of Love” by Stevie Wonder, “Is It You” by Lee Rittenour and “One Less Bell To Answer” by the Fifth Dimension. He takes a different approach on the Stevie Wonder classic by slowing the pace down—way down. On “Is It You,” Perry stays with Rittenhour’s original sound, and on the Fifth Dimension classic he adds a fresh perspective by singing it from a male point of view. “Do Whatcha Gotta Do,” written by Chris Davis, is a cute piece. It showcases the combined talents of both artists, giving fans a true dose of the magic that is Perry’s rich smooth tenor.

Providing the soundtracks for over four generations of fans, Phil Perry has done it once again. In a class by itself, Breathless is smooth, and Phil Perry’s vocals will leave you feeling just that.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

Pieces of a Dream – Just Funkin’ Around

Pieces of a Dream
Title: Just Funkin’ Around

Artist: Pieces Of A Dream

Label: Shanachie

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: May 26,  2017

 

 

It’s been over forty years since Pieces of a Dream formed in Philly back in 1976—boy does time have a way of getting away from you when the musical quality is so sweet. Back in the day, the iconic jazz group included bassist Cedric Napoleon, drummer Curtis Harmon and keyboardist James Lloyd. While making their bones on the local jazz scene, Grover Washington Jr.–the ‘godfather’ of smooth jazz—took the three lads under his wing and taught them well.

Washington was a huge 76ers fan during the Moses Malone and Dr J. heyday, and at times would play his rendition of the national anthem on his sax. In 1983, the 76ers won the NBA championship. Moses Malone predicted a ‘fo,fo,fo ‘sweep, but instead, the team lost one game and it became the legendary ‘fo, five, fo’. Pieces of A Dream capitalized on 76ers mania and recorded a song titled, “Fo, Five, Fo”, which came to be known as their most successful single. “Mount Airy Groove” from the LP Imagine This another single was a staple at block parties that DJs would cut out to ample crowds. Now, it’s 2017 and POD is still on scene as a modern-day jazz duo due to Cedric Napoleon’s departure in 2001. Their new cd, Just Funkin’ Around, is POAD doing what they do best.

The collection is a ten track smooth-jazz-fan delight. The majority of the album blows out vintage POAD sound we all know and love, but the cut, “A New Day” is a change of pace for Pieces of a Dream that even I didn’t see coming. Nothing like a novel track to shake things up, and the group does it well. Perhaps Tony Watson Jr. on sax is the reason why? Watson also wrote the track “Manhattan”, which closes out the cd.

Pieces of a Dream isn’t trying to go hip on this CD. The artists know their lane and have no problem staying in it. After forty successful years in the game, who can argue their obviously skilled logic?

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

Mahalia Jackson – Moving On Up a Little Higher

mahalia-jackson
Title: Moving On Up a Little Higher

Artist: Mahalia Jackson

Label: Shanachie/Spirit Feel

Formats: CD

Release date: September 30, 2016

 

Billed as the “ultimate collection,” this new compilation from Shanachie is indeed a must have for all gospel music enthusiasts. Featuring 22 previously unleased songs recorded between 1946-1957, Moving On Up a Little Higher was produced by well-known gospel historian Anthony Heilbut, who was also responsible for last year’s Marion Williams compilation, Packin’ Up.

A tireless researcher, Heilbut scoured archives across the country to locate the gems included on this disc. Nine of the selections were recorded in 1957 during Mahalia’s first appearance at Newport Jazz Festival, where she was accompanied by both Mildred Falls on piano and Dickie Mitchell on organ.[1] Heilbut notes that Mahalia followed her chief rival, Marion Williams (Clara Ward Singers), who also performed at the festival, perhaps inspiring Mahalia to greater heights. Whether or not there’s any truth to this assumption, the inclusion of other gospel singers at the festival likely helped Mahalia channel the Holy Spirit in this very secular setting. Though she had already recorded some of these songs, her renditions at Newport are often much more intense than her studio recordings for Apollo, and later Columbia.

The disc opens with Mahalia explaining to the Newport audience, “You know, I’m really a church singer – I may have this rock ‘n’ roll, but I’ve got to feel this thing – I got to get it to be a part of me, you know? Hallelujah!” Then she tears into “Keep Your Hand on the Plow,” rocking and shouting to the heavens. This is followed by a swinging version of “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well” and the Mahalia standard “Troubles of the World,” a slow burner starting on a low moan that sends chills up the spine. Next is Roberta Martin’s arrangement of “Didn’t It Rain,” which Jackson “builds to a shouting explosion.” This leads into Thomas A. Dorsey’s “I’m Gonna Live the Life I Sing About In My Song,” and the obvious crowd favorite, “In the Upper Room,” which Jackson recorded for Apollo in 1952. Here she only includes the chorus, but still manages to brings down the house.

The Newport set closes with several more crowd favorites: a shouting rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” the Rev. W. Herbert Brewster’s “Move On Up a Little Higher,” and “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” which includes some impromptu testifying.

The next batch of recordings were sourced from The William Russell Jazz Collection housed at The Historic New Orleans Collection. This fabulous treasure trove of rare material includes two tracks recorded in 1951 during a folk music concert at Chicago’s Wendell Phillips High School. Mahalia sang six songs at this concert, but only two are included here: Alex Bradford’s “Savior More Than Life To Me” (never commercially recorded by Jackson), and “I’m Glad Salvation Is Free.” The latter was one of her biggest hits, and on this performance she ad libs verses not included on her 1950 Apollo recording.

Four months later, Jackson was the featured guest at a symposium held in 1951 at the Music Inn in Lennox, MA. Two more tracks come from this performance: “He’s Pleading in Glory For Me” composed by her good friend Robert Anderson, and “Have a Little Talk With Jesus”—a gospel standard by the noted Baptist preacher/composer Cleavant Derricks, Sr.

Now, for the crème de la crème. In 1955, William Russell also recorded rehearsals in Mahalia’s Chicago home, and I understand these have only recently been digitized and made available to scholars. A haunting, a cappella performance of “Dark Was the Night and Cold the Ground”—the same song first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927—is included on track 2 (the disc is not sequenced chronologically).  Jackson similarly lines out “Before This Time Another Year” and “When The Roll Will Be Called In Heaven,” as well as “Father I Stretch My Hand to Thee,” which is preceded by her memories of Mount Moriah Baptist Church in her hometown of New Orleans. Even more enticing, there’s Mahalia accompanied by the great Thomas A. Dorsey on “Peace! It’s Wonderful” which segues rather abruptly into “Coming Back Home to Live With Jesus.” Though brief, this remarkable track captures a rare pairing of the “Father” and the “Queen” of gospel music.

The last gem from the William Russell Collection dates from a 1956 CBS Sunday morning television broadcast, featuring Mahalia on “There’s Been a Great Change In Me,” described as an old shout song rearranged by Doris Akers with Jackson singing in a higher range than usual.

The final tracks of the disc are also extremely significant, since they document Mahalia performing gospel music in sacred settings. “Beams of Heaven” was restored from a one-of-a-kind lacquer disc aircheck of a 1946 Bronx, New York church radio broadcast. Even better, the compilation closes with Jackson singing Rev. W. Herbert Brewster’s “Getting Happy In Chicago,” sourced from a 1948 aircheck of a live broadcast from Chicago’s Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church. In 1945 the church’s founder, Rev. Louis Boddie, began to broadcast Sunday services over radio station WAAF, which aired coast to coast. Thankfully, a number of these broadcasts from 1948 were recorded on wire reels by Melville Herskovits and later deposited and preserved at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music.

Heilbut, who also wrote the liner notes, begins his essay with 8 compelling reasons why Moving On Up a Little Higher should be considered the definitive Mahalia compilation. Needless to say, we can find 22 reasons why any gospel enthusiast will want this CD, since each track is a treasure.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

[1] Jackson’s appearance at Newport the following year was released by Columbia as “Mahalia Jackson Live at Newport 1958.”

Angie Stone – Dream

Angie Stone


Title: Dream

Artist: Angie Stone

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 6, 2015
 

For the writing and recording of her newest album, Dream, veteran R&B vocalist Angie Stone found herself in an unfamiliar place: she was single.  With no love to call her own, the recording finds Stone inspired by what it would be like to love, lust, and correct the mistakes of her previous relationships.  Thus, one can imagine why Dream is an appropriate title for the release.

On the album, Stone collaborated with Walter Millsap III, a producer who has worked with Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Timbaland.  Millsap is clearly inspired by classic R&B and soul, as the album, at times, nods to Stevie Wonder and Motown in its compositions.  Stone admits that her favorite track is “Magnet,” which rhetorically questions why the singer always ends up with the wrong type of man.  “Two Bad Habits” is a playful R&B tune that explores Stone’s two worst behaviors: drinking too much wine and a particular romantic interest.

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One of the stand out tracks is “Begin Again,” a duet with R&B singer Dave Hollister.  The song opens with an irresistible groove that finds the singers wishing to rekindle a relationship that went sour.  “Dollar Bill” is a single woman’s anthem, detailing the excitement of preparing for a night on the town for a group of women “not looking for Mr. Right, right now.”

Stone’s artistic contributions to R&B have been significant throughout the 1990s and 2000s.   Dream continues down this successful artistic path, showing that Stone is not only a survivor in the music industry, but also in the game of love.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach