The 16th annual Blues Images calendar and CD reproduces classic, rare, and recently rediscovered artwork and recordings of pre and post-war blues songs from blues masters such as Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie, Leola B. Wilson, William Harris, Papa George Lightfoot, and others. While a copy of Papa George Lightfoot’s debut disc on Sultan Records (“Winding Ball Mama” / “Snake Hipping Daddy”) has been rumored to exist for decades, it recently surfaced and came to the attention of John Tefteller and his Blues Images team. The disc has been remastered and is included on this compilation along with other rare tracks such as William Harris’ “I’m a Roamin’ Gambler” / “I Was Born in the Country—Raised In The Town.”Continue reading →
Cedric Burnside is keeping the northern Mississippi hill country blues alive, a tradition he was literally born into and raised up to perform. Young Cedric frequently played alongside his grandfather, the great blues guitarist R.L. Burnside, and his father, drummer Calvin Jackson, as well as other family members, often combining three generations of talent in one band. Cedric’s uncle, bass player Garry Burnside, also contributed to the Cedric Burnside Project, the group featured on his Grammy nominated 2015 release, Descendants of Hill Country. Though he’s only 40-years-old, Cedric no doubt feels like an old soul and culture bearer, hence the title of his latest album, Benton County Relic. His music, however, is anything but archaic. Continue reading →
Title: The Difference Between Me & You
Artist: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: September 7, 2018
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears—a blues group formed in Austin, Texas in 2007—has released their newest album, The Difference Between Me & You. Recorded in their hometown with Grammy Award winning producer Stuart Sikes, the album was created with a “hands on style of production with open creative interaction between the entire band,” according to Lewis. The experimental style of the group is rooted in Lewis’s youthful discovery of his love for the blues, which he learned to play on guitar while working at a pawn shop. From these unlikely origins, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears have created an introspective blues record that asks tough questions of its listeners.Continue reading →
Title: Exit 16
Artist: Roosevelt Collier
Label: Ground Up
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: March 9, 2018
Roosevelt “The Dr.” Collier, who currently performs as a member of the Snarky Puppy spin-off band Bokanté, released his solo debut album Exit 16 earlier this year. Raised in the House of God Church in Perrine, Florida, Collier represents the younger generation of “sacred steel” guitarists. A master on both pedal and lap steel guitars, he also performs with his uncles and cousins as the Lee Boys, one of the foremost sacred steel ensembles., and in his spare time graces the stage with the likes of the Allman Brothers and Los Lobos. Continue reading →
Title: Mo Jodi
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: August 31, 2018
Delgres, the Paris-based blues trio, links the history of the French Caribbean to the musical style of New Orleans in their debut album, Mo Jodi. Meaning “Die Today” in Creole, the album’s name is inspired by the sacrifice of Louis Delgrés, the band’s namesake, who died fighting against the reinstatement of slavery in Guadeloupe. Founder and leader of Delgres, Pascal Danaë, traces his roots back to Guadeloupe where his great-great-grandmother was a slave. Mo Jodi was born of the group’s love of jazz and blues and Danaë’s connection to both his ancestral homeland and New Orleans, where many Guadeloupians sought refuge during the early 1800s.Continue reading →
Since her Outskirts of Love release, “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland has been striving for a deeper representation of Americana blues. With her newest offering, she has done just that. Combining elements of rock, soul and country, America’s Child is Copeland’s most diverse and compelling work yet. Continue reading →
Midnight Train is a live recording of blues and “piano boogie woogie” musician Errol Dixon’s performance at Vienna’s popular jazz club, Jazzland, in 1973. The album features a few of Dixon’s originals such as “Pretty Baby,” “Foot Stompin’ Boogie,” “I’ve Got the Blues,” and perhaps his most popular tune, “Midnight Train.” Dixon also plays a number of standards: Aaron Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City,” B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender,” and Ma Rainey’s “See, See Rider.”Continue reading →
Sixty-five years is a mighty long time in the record industry, especially from the label end. In this modern era of digital this, digital that, for a independent label to sustain longevity, let alone a financial profit, is a testament of passion. Bob Koester has that and more. In 1953, Koester founded Delmark Records in St. Louis, but later migrated to Chicago, to perhaps give Chess Records a run for their money. Jazz artists such as Donald Byrd and Bud Powell recorded for Delmark, but it would be blues where the label would make its bones.Continue reading →
Illinois-based Archeophone Records, a company specializing in acoustic-era reissues, has a long history of uncovering and releasing fascinating recordings from bygone eras.[i] In 2007 they received a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album for the 2-CD set, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1891-1922, a companion to the groundbreaking book of the same title by noted discographer and recording industry historian Tim Brooks. One of the musicians listed in the book was Charles A. Asbury (born ca. 1956, d.1903). Though referred to variously in the 1890s as “the popular colored banjoist” and performer of songs in the “negro style,” at least one reviewer mentioned Asbury as the only white member of an African American troupe. This conflicting evidence led Brooks to assume Asbury had been “misidentified as Black.” New research, however, reveals a more complex and fascinating story—while the discovery of extant copies of Ashbury’s earliest recordings likewise expands our knowledge of early banjo traditions.
In a diligent search through archival records that would impress any genealogist, Archeophone’s Richard Martin slowly unraveled the story of Charles A. Asbury with assistance from Asbury’s heirs. Born in Florida and raised in Augusta, Georgia during the Reconstruction era by his adoptive “mulatto” parents, Asbury joined a prominent traveling theater troupe, performing the role of Sambo in one of the many minstrel adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (apparently the George L. Aiken version). From there he can be traced to an all-black ensemble featuring his first wife, Annie Asbury, plugged as “the great shout singer.” In the liner notes, authors Richard Martin and Ted Olsen surmise that Asbury may have learned the banjo, or at least studied the technique of Horace Weston, “the internationally famous African American banjo virtuoso,” who was one of the biggest stars in Annie’s troupe. Whatever the case may be, Asbury toured with various Black jubilee ensembles throughout the South, further honing both his banjo and singing skills, and growing his reputation as an artist.
Now, for the recorded evidence. From 1891-1897, Asbury’s songs with banjo accompaniment were captured on wax by the New Jersey Phonograph Company in Newark—likely the oldest extant recordings of this genre by an African American artist. These wax cylinders are extremely rare, and thus far the only Asbury recordings known to survive are those featured on 4 Banjo Songs (he recorded many more). “Haul the Woodpile Down” was first made available via University of California Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Audio Archive website. The other three cylinder tracks are publicly available for the very first time on this set. Most of these songs—the popular “Haul the Woodpile Down,” “Never Done Anything Since” and “A New Coon in Town”—bear the hallmarks of the minstrel banjo tradition and early “coon songs,” while the fourth and earliest, “Keep in de Middle ob de Road” (1891), is a seldom recorded semi-religious jubilee hymn. What sets these apart from other minstrel tunes is Asbury’s “remarkably fluid, rhythmically complex” five-string banjo technique. With the assistance of experts in online banjo discussion groups, Martin was able to learn more about Asbury’s unique “stroke style” of playing, which is detailed at length in the liner notes. Because the stroke style was seldom used or recorded after 1900, these four Asbury cylinders are historically significant, documenting a 19th century performance practice that sheds further light on the African American banjo tradition.
The cylinder transfers were carried out by John Levin, developer of the CPS1 Cylinder Playback Machine. Now used by a number of institutions, the machine yields astonishing results, rendering Asbury’s performances in the best possible sonic resolution, with additional restoration from Martin. The accompanying 16 page illustrated booklet provides further insight on Asbury’s life and music, with notes on each track plus endnotes and technical notes. Lyrics are printed on the sleeve of the 7-inch 45-rpm disc. 4 Banjo Songs is a first-rate package, well-worth the $16.99 list price for this significant piece of musical history. Please note: the limited run of 1000 copies will likely disappear quickly.
Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, is set to open on August 10th. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix, the work has already received positive reviews. Composer and jazz musician Terence Blanchard’s soundtrack for the film has yet to be released, but his previous film compositions can give an idea of what the score might sound like.
Released in late 2017, Terence Blanchard: Music for Film spans his film work from the 1992 Malcolm X to 2015’s Chi-Raq, performed here by the Brussels Philharmonic under the direction of Dirk Brossé as part of the Film Fest Gent’s series of film composer spotlights. Like the upcoming BlacKkKlansman, many of Blanchard’s works presented on this album, including music from Malcolm X, 25th Hour, and When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, have been in collaboration with director Spike Lee. The collaboration has proven fruitful for Blanchard, who has said that Lee always encourages him to write music that could be successful on its own.
Though each film presented has its own unique sound, the tracks are connected by a strong presence of trumpet, calling back to Blanchard’s own career as a jazz trumpeter. Many also make use of jazz idioms, most notably the two tracks from When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006). Although he calls New Orleans home and this film is a documentary describing the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Blanchard intentionally stays away from traditional New Orleans jazz. Instead, he explains that he wanted to create a more universal sound to appeal to a wider audience and the musical themes he created do just that, blending jazz with incredibly emotive melodies depicting the tragedy and despair of the city’s residents. The “Levees” track is particularly successful, combining a soulful trumpet line with descending, dissonant string patterns.
Another film directed by Spike Lee, 25th Hour, received much critical acclaim; Blanchard’s score was nominated for several awards, including the 2003 World Soundtrack Award and Golden Globes. Telling the story of a drug dealer’s last 24 hours of freedom before he is sent to jail, the music is haunting and memorable. Heavier on strings, particularly solo cello, than many of his other films, it features twisting musical themes above persistent ostinato patterns. Still, it is not without Blanchard’s signature jazz inflections, as the third track on the album, “Playground,” embraces a traditional lounge-style piano along with the lusher string sound and solos present in the other selections.
Some selections, such as the suite from Inside Man (2006) and the opening title music of Miracle at St. Anna (2008), lean less on Blanchard’s jazz background and instead seem to be reminiscent of earlier film music styles like the compositions of James Horner. Tracks on this album from both films make use of a more militaristic style, emphasizing repetitive snare drum lines underneath epic brass and string melodies.
Two comedies, Bamboozled (2000) and She Hate Me (2004), showcase other sides of Blanchard’s work. The former’s biting satire and pointed social commentary are offset by a more somber, restrained musical theme. In contrast, the selections from She Hate Me are a bit less serious, incorporating several jazz styles including references to bebop, fusion, and cool jazz.
Blanchard’s skill in composing for a wide range of genres shines through the tracks presented in this album. His masterful usages of thematic material, blending of styles, and jazz inflections make this an incredibly rewarding listen. Blanchard’s score for BlacKkKlansman is sure to deliver the same exciting interplay of styles.
City Soul, harmonica player and vocalist Russ Green’s debut album, pays tribute to the Windy City and the many musicians who have shaped its signature sound. Born and raised on the west side of Chicago, Green didn’t realize his musical aspirations until adulthood. After purchasing a harmonica in an attempt to recreate the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Green was mentored by two of Chicago’s legendary harmonica players, Sugar Blue and Billy Branch, and his blues career took off from there.
City Soul is composed of 10 tracks co-produced by Green and Sam Clayton that feature musicians from around Chicago. The bluesy opening track, “First Thing Smokin’” is inspired by the sounds of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Other tracks, like “Lint In My Pocket,” are more funk-inspired, while Green’s duo with guitarist Vince Agwada is reminiscent of modern blues rock. “The Edge,” a nod to Green’s fascination with Jimi Hendrix, includes a swirling psychedelic harmonica intro that precedes a funky rock track.
Although City Soul is his debut album, Russ Green is already an accomplished blues musician, having been featured on the renowned Chicago Blues Harmonica Project and having performed at numerous blues festivals across the country. This is just the beginning of the Chicago native’s journey as a blues harmonica player.
Classic Reggae can never truly fall under into “out of sight, out of mind” category, but just in case we need a refresher, Omnivore Records has reissued one of the best offerings, Jonestown. Originally released by Nighthawk Records, Jonestown is the work of prolific reggae artists Winston Jarrett and Eggar Gordon (Baby Gee). Obtaining their start in 1965 from locally famous Kingston vocalist Alton Ellis, Winston and Gordon released multiple recordings, were featured on Coxsone Studio One’s many artistic endeavors, and recorded for other producers such as Duke Reid, Lee Perry and Joe Gibbs.
Jarrett’s transition to Nighthawk Records began in 1983 upon meeting the label’s producer Leroy Jody Pierson, who was working on a mix of Justin Hinds’ Travel With Love album. Together with Gordon, who was still performing in the area, Jarrett recorded Jonestown. After nearly 30 years, the album is being reissued along with new liner notes from Pierson and featuring previously unseen photos. Each song is a testament to the combined talents emanating from Jarrett and Gordon, with songs such as the smooth “Hold On To This Feeling” and the regional shout-out “Jonestown” testifying to the unique collaborative relationship dedicated to their quality art.
True legends never disappear, but rather they remain imbedded in our hearts forever. With its lyrical methodology and its definitive rhythmic soundscape, Jonestown lovingly reignites our passion for the reggae genre while simultaneously redistributing the sunshine and peace Jarrett and Gordon’s artistic oneness originally bestowed upon us.
Following are additional albums released during July 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country
Arthur Big Boy Crudup: If I Get Lucky (4 CD set) (JSP)
Benny Turner: Journey (Nola Blue)
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio: Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here (Alligator)
Errol Dixon: Midnight Train (Wolf)
Eugene Hideaway Bridges: Live In Tallahassee (Armadillo)
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear: The Radio Winners (Glassnote)
Trudy Lynn: Blues Keep Knockin’ (Connor Ray Music)
SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical – Original Cast (Republic)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Con Brio: Explorer (Transistor Sound/Fat Beats)
Ill Doots: S/T (Ropedope)
Jean Beauvoir: Rock Masterpieces Vol. 1 (Aor Heaven)
Lotic: Power (Tri Angle)
No Kind of Rider: Savage Coast
Gospel, Christian Bishop Noel Jones & City of Refuge Sanctuary Choir: Run to the Altar (Tyscot)
Dr. Carmela Nanton: A Touch (Carmel Ministries)
Koryn Hawthorne: Unstoppable (RCA Inspiration)
Minister Marion Hall: His Grace (VPAL Music)
Shana Wilson Williams: Everlasting (Intersound)
Vincent Tharpe & Kenosis: Super Excited (digital)
Will Mcmillan: My Story (eOne)
Jazz Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band: West Side Story Reimagined (Jazz Heads)
David Garfield: Jammin’ Outside the Box
Dexter Gordon Quartet: Tokyo 1975 (Elemental Music)
Ernest Dawkins & New Horizons Ensemble: Chicago Now – Thirty Years of Great Black Music, Vol. 2 (Silkheart)
Erroll Garner: Nightconcert (Mack Ave.)
Jamar Jones: Fatherless Child (GPE)
Jim Stephens: Songs of Healing: Philasippiola Soul (1997-2017) (Ropedope)
Kaidi Tatham: It’s A World Before You (First Word)
Reginald Chapman: Prototype (Fresh Selects)
Rob Dixon Trio: Coast To Crossroads
Roy Campbell & Pyramid: Communion (digital)
Shaun Martin: Focus (Ropeadope)
Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra: Get It How You Live (Ropeadope)
Various: Prince in Jazz: A Jazz Tribute to Prince (Wagram)
Woody Shaw: Tokyo 1981 (Elemental Music)
R&B, Soul Appleby: Happiness (Haight Brand)
Cyril Neville: Endangered Species, Complete Recordings (World Order)
Jade Novah: All Blue (Empire)
Jaden Smith: SYRE (Digital) (Roc Nation/Republic)
James Brown: Mutha’s Nature (1st CD release) (LMLR)
Johnny Rain: Idol Blue (digital) (Odd Dream Republic)
Jr Jones: Nova (Black Musa)
Kiana Ledé: Selfless EP (Digital) (Republic)
Kizzy Crawford: Progression (Freestyle)
Meli’sa Morgan: Love Demands
The Internet: Hive Mind (Columbia)
Rap, Hip Hop BrvndonP: Better Late Than Never (RPSMG)
B.o.B.: Naga (digital) (No Genre)
Blackgrits: Paradox 88 (digital)
Blackway: Good.Bad.Faded EP (digital) (Republic)
Buddy: Harlan & Alondra (digital) (RCA)
Busdriver: Electricity is on our Side (digital)
Cardi B: Her Life Her Story (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Chief Keef: Mansion Musick (RBC)
Citro: No Cap (PlayMakaz Music Group)
Curren$y & Harry Fraud: Marina (Next)
Demrick: Came a Long Way (digital) (DEM)
Drake: Scorpion (Cash Money)
Drank Sanatra: Controlled Substance (digital) (Otherside Ent.)
Dyme-A-Duzin: Crown Fried (digital)
Eric B. & Rakim: Complete Collection (Hip-O)
Future: Beastmode (mixtape)
J. Diggs: #90Dayhousearrestproject (Rompt Out)
Kanye West: Ye (Def Jam)
King Magnetic: Back in the Trap (King Mag Music)
KR: In Due Time (Empire)
Kyle: Light of Mine (Atlantic)
Lil KeKe: SlfMade II (digital) (SoSouth)
Logic: Passion (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Marlowe: Marlowe (Mello Music Group)
Migos: Evolution (DVD) (Intrinem Films)
Nav: Reckless (XO/Republic)
Nick Grant: Dreamin’ Out Loud (digital) (Epic)
Obuxum: H.E.R. (Urbnet)
Pawz One & Robin Da Landlord: Sell Me a Dream (Below System)
Philthy Rich: N.E.R.N.L. 4 (Empire)
Planet Asia: Mansa Musa (X-Ray)
Playboi Carti: Die Lit (digital) (Interscope)
Pusha T: Daytona (digital) (Def Jam)
Rae Sremmurd: SR3MM (digital) (Interscope)
Randy-B: Me, Myself and $ (Smeat)
Royce 5’9″: Book of Ryan (eOne)
Saweetie: High Maintenance (Warner Bros.)
Stalley: Tell the Truth Shame the Devil, Vol 3 (Blue Collar Gang)
Styles P (The LOX): G-Host (The Phantom Ent.)
Suspect: Still Loading (digital) (Rinse)
Tee Grizzley: Activated (digital) (300 Ent.)
Tobe Nwigwe: The Originals (digital)
Trap Gang Zone: Follow The Gang (digital) (Revenge Music)
Trick Daddy: Dunk Ride Or Duck Down (X-Ray)
Typical Div: S/T (Middle of Made)
Various: Oscillations (Strange Neighbor)
Wiz Khalifa: Rolling Papers 2 (digital) (Atlantic)
Wood & Yungman: Carlito’s Way Screwed (GT Digital)
World’s Fair: New Lows (digital) (Fool’s Gold)
YFN Lucci: Ray Ray from Summerhill (Think It’s A Game)
Zaytoven: Trapholizay (digital) (UMG)
Reggae Kabaka Pyramid: Kontraband (Bebble Rock)
Kingly T: Got It All (digital)
Leon & The Peoples: Love Is A Beautiful Thing (Spectra Music Group)
Linval Thompson: Dub Landing Vols. 1 & 2 (Greensleeves)
Mad Professor: Electro Dubclubbing (Ariwa Sounds)
Santigold: I Don’t Want, Gold Fire Sessions (digital) (Downtown)
Tetrack: Let’s Get Started (Greensleeves)
U-Roy: Talking Roots (Ariwa Sounds)
Ziggy Marley: Rebellion Rises (Tuff Gong)
International, Latin Bryant Myers: La Oscuridad (eOne)
Kamal Keila: Muslims & Christians (Habibi Funk)
Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul (Strut)
Okonkolo: Cantos (Big Crown)
Te’Amir: Abyssinia EP (Tru Thoughts)
Immediately upon hearing his mesmerizing riffs, this blues novice could tell I was in the presence of a legend. The Blues is Alive and Well, the latest release from multiple Grammy and award winner Buddy Guy, demonstrates that this icon is throwing us what could arguably be his most skilled offering yet. In recognition of his many contributions to the genre, The Americana Music Association is awarding Guy a Lifetime Achievement Award on September 12th in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, complimenting his 2015 Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and his more than 50 years as a blues innovator, musician and mentor. To say that Buddy Guy has a long history with the blues does not do him justice—according to numerous musicians, Buddy Guy IS the blues, period.
Guy opens the 15-track album with “A Few Good Years,” a haunting, rambling slide number showcasing his trademark growl and lyrically addressing the desire to do what he does best for just a little while longer: “A few good years/is all I need right now.” “Guilty as Charged” testifies exactly as you would expect—an uptempo confessional sermonizing not only the singer’s introspectiveness but also Guy’s legendary steel-driving artistry. “Whiskey for Sale” is a call-and-response between the vocals and Guy’s guitar as they negotiate their trade, and the invigorating work song rhythm on “Ooh Daddy” remains with you long past the last chord drop.
Collaborators weigh in on Guy’s blues mission, as well, including several British musicians profoundly influenced by the genre. Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards contribute to the ‘killing floor’ offering “You Did the Crime” and the warm and fuzzy “Cognac,” respectively, as does another rock guitarist, Jeff Beck. Being that the Rolling Stones began as a band called “The Blues Boys” and they’ve paid homage to Guy in the past, the participation of Jagger and Richards comes as no surprise. “Blue No More” introduces guitarist James Bay, a worthy up-and-coming blues man in his own right.
Taking down the tempo a notch Louisiana blues style, “When My Day Comes” mesmerizes with its plodding tempo and dark undertones about what is yet to materialize. “Bad Day,” a dark but electric musing, warns of how even the best person can reach their wit’s end sometimes. But in the end, Guy’s line, “You can call me old-fashioned/but I still know how to have my fun” on the track “Old Fashioned” sums up this album—and indeed, his entire career.
Guy sounds every bit as vital and youthful on this album as he did on his early collaborations with the late Junior Wells, and it’s inspiring to hear a veteran artist laying down the blues with such continual precision time and again. Both timeless and cutting edge, The Blues is Alive and Well proves that when it comes to Buddy Guy and the blues, 81 is certainly the new 21—no bones about it.
Released before Father’s Day—that special time in June set aside for men we call dad, father or pops—the Bell household’s man of honor is Carey Bell. The late blues harpist moved to Chicago the decade after Little Walter and Chess legend Muddy Waters, and went on to play with both as well as many other Chicago blues legends. What better way to pay homage to dad, especially a man the stature of Carey, then with a new album by Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty titled Tribute To Carrey Bell. Paying the tribute is Carey’s son Lurrie (vocals, guitar) and the other siblings—Tyson (bass), Steve (harmonica), and James (drums, vocals). And wait, Charlie Musselwhite and Billy Branch get in on the fun too. Delmark Records picked up Carey for his 1969 debut, Carey Bell’s Blues Harp, so it’s fitting they releasing this special project.
The blues is and always will be about storytelling. The first track, “Gone To Main Street,” is all about that “All Yeah” feeling. When you listen closely, you may hear references to The Doors’ “Road House Blues”—I kid you not. “I Got To Go” switches it up, and by that I mean the tempo. “So Hard To Leave You Alone” is a slow tune and again, a great story being told. “You’re my midnight dream, my all day stint,” Lurrie Bell spills his guts and you feel it. It’s the blues baby! Billy Branch takes over on “Carey Bell Was a Friend of Mine,” explaining his love for this man, both on and off the stage.
I never heard of Carey Bell before this, but Tribute To Carey Bell made me a fan. Though he left us well over ten years ago, his memory will live as long as the Bell family dynasty has something to say.
Delta blues guitarist Little Freddie King has been a fixture on the New Orleans scene for decades, performing regularly at the NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival as well as clubs in “the lowest bowels of the mighty Ninth Ward.” Though not as well-known as the other guitar slinging Freddie King from Texas, “Little Freddie” is still the real deal—a Mississippi-born bluesman who learned to play guitar on his daddy’s knee, claims Lightnin’ Hopkins as a cousin, and once toured Europe with Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker.
In 1971, Harmonica Williams and Little Freddie King released Rock N Roll Blues on the obscure Ahura Mazda label. As one might guess, this limited pressing didn’t provide King with much exposure beyond his adopted hometown, and it’s difficult to find a copy these days. Over two decades later, the local Orleans Records label released two of King’s first solo projects, Swamp Boogie in 1997 and Sing Sang Sung in 2000.
Fried Rice & Chicken is a compilation featuring the best tracks from King’s two contrasting albums for Orleans. The first half, recorded in the studio from 1994-1995, features backing by Earl “Pass the Hatchet” Stanley and Robert Wilson on electric bass, Jason Sipher on upright bass, Kerry Brown and Bradley Wisham on drums, with Crazy Rick Allen on Wurlitzer electric piano and organ. While not exactly polished, the tracks are at least a half step up from King’s raw club performances. Notable tracks include the opening song “Cleos Back,” which some might recognize from the Tom Hanks movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and “Mean Little Woman” featured in the HBO series Treme. Yes, Little Freddie has been getting some good exposure since these songs were initially released.
The second half of the album was recorded live at the Dream Palace, a club on Frenchman Street in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans. You might say this is the real Little Freddie King, offering up the raw gut bucket blues of Southern juke joints. On these tracks King is accompanied by his regular band at the time: Wacko Wade Wright on drums, Anthony Anderson on electric bass, and Bobby Lewis DiTullio on harmonica. Highlights include the title track “Sing Sang Sung,” a great instrumental showcasing King and DiTullio, and “Bad Chicken” featuring “squawking” guitar licks.
Though there are a number of different Freddie King compilations, Fried Rice & Chicken encapsulates the best of his Orleans Records output.
Blues powerhouses Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite return with a new musical collaboration, No Mercy In This Land. Their first album, 2012’s Get Up!, spurred, at least in my mind at the time, comparisons to other blues and jazz artists such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. I now realize that while some comparisons are productive, sometimes artists come together to produce the most amazingly creative offerings. Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite are the perfect example of just that.
“When I Go,” the opening track, sets the mood for what to expect on this new album. The song begins with humming! You know what I mean—1930s/1940s, take-me-to-the-river-and-baptize me-in-blues humming. Then, the mesmerizing strumming of a guitar takes over. “I’ll take you when I go,” replies Harper. Talk about musical blues call and response.
After that moving scene, picture a jukebox in some honky-tonk bar, with patrons who perhaps had one too many, lip synching to the next track, “The Bottle Wins Again.” On “Trust You to Dig My Grave” I can practically hear Muddy Waters weighing in on the action from the Beyond—Harper and Musselwhite really do justice on this one. “Bad Habits” is an up tempo, clap-along jam. Musselwhite and Harper are never quite specific what kind of bad habits they are referring to. You listen. You be the judge of that one.
No Mercy In This Land is excellent work from Harper, and once again, he has found a great compadre in Musselwhite. For this album, and this iconic blues duo, there literally is no comparison.
Robust talent runs generationally, especially when you’re the offspring of blues icon Taj Mahal and dancer/artist Inshirah Mahal, as proven with Deva Mahal’s debut album, Run Deep. Forging her own sound as part blues, part indie-rock and all soul, Mahal gives her listeners one of the edgiest, most emotionally drawn voices in the industry today.
The first track, “Can’t Call it Love,” opens with a riveting guitar riff and empowering lyrics: I’m feeling new like an old-school instrumental / I’m getting in the mood / And feeling sentimental, which can be taken as both commentary on one’s new found infatuation and Mahal’s coming into her own. The entire album features innovative instrumentality and Mahal’s varied vocalization styles. For example, the closing track, “Take a Giant Step,” showcases her sultry pop sound as she reinterprets this standard by Carole King and Gerry Goffin (a song her father has also recorded).
The focal track of the album, both vocally and visually, is the offering “Snakes.” Mahal’s vocals jump right off the album from the first moment she begins singing, but the visualizations of the video are pure genius—black and white coloring, shadow dancing and the animation of a swamp monster, said to have been inspired by her favorite childhood “girl power” book, Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer.
Mahal has definitely come out from under her parent’s shadow with this artistic debut. From the first note to the last few strains, this artist’s soulful and funky melodies will have you running deep into the magical world of Deva Mahal, breathlessly awaiting her next move.
In 2003, an all-star cast of traditional and contemporary gospel singers performed songs written by Bob Dylan on Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. The Grammy-nominated compilation album included 11 tracks written by Dylan during his “born again” period from 1979 to 1981, in which he produced Christian music. Three years later, the companion documentary DVD of the same name was released by Burning Rose Video, which is currently out-of-print. Thankfully, MVD has stepped into the void and reissued the video.
The DVD documents the making of the Gotta Serve Somebody album, including interviews with performers such as Regina McCrary, Terry Young, and Mona Lisa Young. Also featured is performance footage of 9 of the 11 tracks that originally appeared on the CD, such as the namesake “Gotta Serve Somebody” by Shirley Caesar, “I Believe In You” by Dottie Peoples, and “Saved” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy, as well as bonus tracks from Arlethia Lindsay, Great Day Chorale, and Bob Dylan himself. The Gotta Serve Somebody DVD premieres 1980 footage of Dylan performing “When He Returns,” the first documented performance released from his “born again” era. The DVD certainly lives up to the fame of its companion album, winning the Gold Medal for Excellence Audience Choice for Best Music Documentary at Park City Film Music Festival.
Following are additional albums released during April 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country B.B. King: Many Faces of (3 CDs) (Music Brokers)
Bernard Allison: Born With the Blues (Ruf)
Eric & Ulrika Bibb: Pray Sing Love (Dixiefrog)
Leo Bud Welch: Late Blossom Blues (DVD) (Let’s Make This Happen)
Little Freddy King: Fried Rice & Chicken (Orleans)
Little Willie Littlefield: Best of the Rest, 1948-1959 (Jasmine)
Peppermint Harris: Very Best of (Jasmine)
Sonny Boy Williamson II: Complete Trumpet, Ace & Checker Singles: 1951-62 (Acrobat)
Various: Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938-1942 (Hi Horse)
Walter Wolfman Washington: My Future Is My Past (Anti/Epitaph)
Classical Carlos Simon: My Ancestor’s Gift (Navona)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Benin City: Last Night (Moshi Moshi)
Eku Fantasy: EF1 EP (digital)
Niki J Crawford: The Second Truth (Country Girl Ent.)
Shuggie Otis: Inter-Fusion (Cleopatra)
SONI withanEYE: Rebel (Touch Ent)
Soulive: Cinematics Vol. 1 EP (Soulive Music Inc.)
The Return of the Band of Gypsys: San Francisco “84 (Air Cuts)
Twin Shadow: Caer (Reprise)
Various: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert OST (Sony Masterworks)
Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM Amante Lacey: Original Songs & Stories, Vol. 1 (Intersound)
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: I Am Reminded (Provident Music Group)
Fresh Start Worship: S/T (digital)
Kelontae Gavin: The Higher Experience (Tyscot)
Maranda Curtis: Open Heaven – The Maranda Experience (Fair Trade/Columbia)
Stephen Ivey: The Journey: Evolution of a Worshipper (digital)
Jazz Allan Harris: The Genius of Eddie Jefferson (Resilience Music Alliance)
Bosq: Love & Resistance (Ubiquity)
Cha Wa: Spyboy (Upt Music)
Darry Yokley ‘s Sound Reformation: Pictures at an African Exhibition (Truth Revolution)
Deborah J. Carter: Scuse Me (Sam Sam Music)
Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag (Basin Street)
Edward Simon (& Imani Winds): Sorrows and Triumphs (Sunnyside)
Elvin Jones Jazz Machine: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1981 (Jazzline)
Logan Richardson: Blues People (Ropeadope)
Louis Armstrong: Pops Is Tops: The Verve Studio Albums (4 CDs) (Verve)
Madeline Bell & The Swingmates: Have You Met Miss Bell? (Sam Sam Music)
Marjorie Barnes: Once You’ve Been In Love (Sam Sam Music)
Mark Gross Quartet: Plus Strings (digital)
Ryan Porter (West Coast Get Down): The Optimist (World Galaxy/Alpha)
Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse)
Terrance Blanchard: Live (Blue Note)
Various: Very Best of Dixieland New Orleans (Musical Concepts)
Woody Shaw Quintet: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1982 (Jazzline)
R&B, Soul Barry White: Complete 20th Century Records Singles 1973-1979 (Mercury)
Bridget Kelly: Reality Bites (The Initiative Group, Inc)
Eartha Kitt: The Singles Collection: 1952-1962 (Acrobat)
Eric Bellinger: Eazy Call (Empire)
Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (Bad Boy)
Kali Uchis: Isolation (Virgin EMI)
Khari Wendell McClelland: Freedom Singer (Afterlife Music)
RĀI: Love’s on the Way (digital)
Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics: State of all Things (Soulphonics)
Shirley Davis & The SilverBacks: Wishes & Wants (Tucxone)
Tejai Moore: Write My Wrongs (Moore Music)
Tinashe: Joyride (RCA)
Watch the Duck: Delayed Adulthood (Interscope)
Weeknd: My Dear Melancholy (Republic)
XamVolo: A Damn Fine Spectacle EP (Decca)
YellowStraps: Blame EP (Majestic Casual)
Rap, Hip Hop 88GLAM: 88GLAM Reloaded (XO)
Akua Naru: The Blackest Joy (The Urban Era)
Blu & Notzz: Gods In The Spirit, Titans In The Flesh (Coalmine)
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (digital) (Atlantic/KSR)
Currensy: Air Feshna EP (digital)
Defari: Rare Poise (Fat Beats Dist)
Del the Funky Homosapien + Amp Live: Gate 13 (I.O.T.)
Denmark Vessey: Sun Go Nova (Mello Music Group)
Dillyn Troy: Tru Story (Twenty Two Music)
Carnage: Battered Bruised & Bloody (digital)
Dr. Octagon: Moosebumps: An Exploration into Modern Day Horripilation (Bulk Recordings/Caroline)
E-40 & B-Legit: Connected And Respected (Heavy On The Grind Ent)
Famous Dex: Dex Meets Dexter (300 Ent.)
Flatbush Zombies: Vacation in Hell (The Glorious Dead)
Iman Shumpert: Substance Abuse (digital)
Cole: KOD (Roc Nation/Interscope)
Jamie Hancock: Sincerely, Me (Sofa Boys Ent.)
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris: Everything’s Fine (Mello Music Group)
Jim Jones: Wasted Talent (Empire/Vamplife)
Khary: Captain (digital) (Kousteau)
Rich The Kid: The World is Yours (Interscope)
Royce Ripken: Home Run Ripken (digital) (Beatbayngrz & Nockwoofrz)
Saba: Care for Me (digital)
Smoke Dza: Not For Sale (Babygrande)
Snoop Dogg: 220 (Doggystyle)
T-Nyce: Blood of a Slave Heart of a King, Vol. 3 (85 Concept)
Tony Njoku: H.P.A.C (Silent Kid)
Westside Gunn & Mr. Green: Flygod Is Good…All The Time (Nature Sounds)
Young Thug: Hear No Evil EP (digital) (300 Ent.)
YoungBoy Never Broke Again: Until Death Call My Name (digital)
Reggae Christafari: Original Love (Lion of Zion)
Gladiators: Serious Thing (Omnivore)
Gladiators: Symbol of Reality (Omnivore)
Mellow Mood: Large (La Tempesta Dub)
Sting & Shaggy: 44/876 (A&M/Interscope)
Various: Hold On To Your Roots (Larger Than Life)
Afrikän Protoköl: Beyond the Grid (Abozamé)
Ayunne Sule: We Have One Destiny (Makkum)
Djénéba & Fousco: Kayeba Khasso (Lusafrica)
Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara (Mr. Bongo)
Line’zo: Dusk Vybz (Royal Face)
Novelist: Novelist Guy (Mmmyeh Records)
Tank Delafoisse: Based on a True Story… (Music Is Life Ent.)
This month’s top picks include a new recording of Florence Price’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 performed by Er-Gene Kahng, and “American Songster” Dom Flemons’ collaboration with Smithsonian Folkways on an exploration of the music of Black Cowboys.
April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), with April 30th designated as International Jazz Appreciation Day. Jazz and social justice is the contextual lens for JAM this year, showcasing the progressive ways jazz continues to play a transformative role with respect to the civil rights of individuals from multiple facets of society. The jazz collaborations of both Wynton Marsalis Septet’s United We Sing and Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette‘s After The Fall demonstrate the excellence that prevails when groups work collectively towards a common goal. Don’t Play with Love released by the John L. Nelson Project showcases the formidable talents of Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, both of whom fostered positive inspiration in others through their artistic legacies. Perseverance plays a central role in Sy Smith’s Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete and saxophonist Lekecia Benjamin’s Rise Up, as both albums urge continuance despite the cost. Young Street by bassist Reggie Young rounds out this category with a blend of jazz and funk.
Black cowboys may not be the first thing that comes to mind when the Wild West is mentioned, but they were prevalent and left an undeniable impact on the development of the American West. Following the end of the Civil War in the late 1860s, thousands of newly-freed African Americans moved westward to start new lives. Some chose the grueling and often dangerous path of becoming a cowboy, an occupation in which work ethic mattered more than skin color. These pioneers worked long, hard days alongside Mexican vaqueros, Native Americans, and white cowboys and often turned to song for comfort on the trails.
The newly released Black Cowboys featuring co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons (aka “The American Songster”), places these often forgotten pioneers of the Old West in the spotlight. Produced by Flemons and Dan Sheehy for Smithsonian Folkways as part of its African American Legacy series, the album pays tribute to the music, poetry, and complex history of these cowboys. The accompanying 40 page booklet includes essays by Flemons (on the cowboy’s music) and Jim Griffith (on the history of Black cowboys), as well as detailed notes on each track complemented by many archival photographs.
In addition to Flemons, who performs on all tracks (vocals, 6-string guitar, resonator guitar, 4-string banjo, cow “rhythm” bones), backing musicians include Alvin “Youngblood” Hart (12-string guitar), Jimbo Mathus (mandolin, kazoo, harmonica), Stu Cole (upright bass), Brian Farrow (fiddle, upright bass, vocals), Dante Pope (cow “rhythm” bones, vocals, snare drum), and Dan Sheehy (guitarrón). Together, these musicians create a rich instrumental background for the lyrics.
Many of the songs on Black Cowboys are traditional tunes arranged and performed by Flemons, such as “John Henry y los vaqueros,” which highlights instruments with roots in African American minstrel shows like the fiddle and cow “rhythm” bones. Another track arranged by Flemons, “Black Woman,” is a field holler collected in the 1930s that has themes of ranching and leaving behind loved ones. Although it isn’t a traditional cowboy song, the song honors the thousands of African American women who helped develop the West.
From Southwestern cowboy poems like Gail Gardner’s 1917 “Tyin’ Knots in the Devil’s Tail” to Jack Thorp’s traditional cowboy tune “Little Joe the Wrangler,” the album also includes songs written by actual cowboys in the early 20th century, offering a rare look into the post-Civil War cowboy’s life.
Other tracks were newly composed by Flemons to pay homage to notable historical figures. For example, “Steel Pony Blues” is about Deadwood Dick, sometimes called “the greatest Black cowboy in the Old West,” who later became a Pullman porter, while “One Dollar Bill” is a tribute to legendary rodeo rider Bill Pickett who invented the sport of bulldogging. “He’s a Lone Ranger” recalls the life of Bass Reeves, the first African American U.S. Marshall.
In the words of professor and author Mike Searles (quoted in the liner notes), “many people see the West as the birthplace of America . . . if they understand that African Americans were cowboys, even Native Americans were cowboys, Mexicans were cowboys, it really opens the door for us to think about America as a multiethnic, multiracial place.” Black Cowboys creates a sonic portrait of a more diverse American West, expanding our knowledge through its varied collection of songs and poems by and about African American cowboys.
The Reverend Shawn Amos is back at it again, preaching his brand of blues on his latest, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down. His sophomore album, The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You, showed us that the Rev had our best interests at heart, and this trend of his continues on his latest offering. Son of Wally Amos, the first African American talent agent for William Morris in addition to being the creator of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies, Reverend Shawn Amos has been an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church, an A&R Executive at Rhino Entertainment and vice president of A&R at Shout! Factory. He discovered blues while attending NYU film school, spending his summers tracing down the southern places in Peter Guralnick’s Feel Like Going Home trilogy from which Amos drew his initial blues inspiration.
The nine-song set includes five original songs, two inspired covers, and a three track “Freedom Suite” that rolls out like a Sunday Passion play. Amos was obviously inspired by the tremendous turmoil and social unrest around the world today in his songwriting, yet digging deeper into the lyrics reveals clues of admitted recent hardships in his home life. The result is an album that strikes a delicate balance between capturing personal challenges while capitalizing on the zeitgeist of this critical time in history.
The album opens with the early morning confessional “Moved,” followed by the first of his new freedom songs, “2017.” This classic soul groove in the style of Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis. Amos is joined by Al Green’s backing band, the HI Rhythm Section, along with a string arrangement from Chris Anderson and vocals from the Masqueraders. The cornerstone lyric is a simple mandate: “hate and fear ain’t no vaccine, we’ve got to think about what our children’s eyes have seen in the year 2017.” The next song, “Hold Hands” is an Amos-led congregational plea for peace that features Hammond B3 from Peter Adams.
The Freedom Suite officially begins with track 5, which is an a cappella reading of Uncle Tom’s prayer. This pays homage to the Freedom Singers founder Cordell Hull Reagon, who first recorded the powerful civil rights song in the early 1960s. Amos then offers another side of his pulpit in “Does My Life Matter,” an expansion on Booker T. Washington’s words and intent. The fiery funk of “(We’ve Got To) Come Together” functions as an energetic admonishment, and the closing track, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” serves as a final alter call for the album and its audience.
The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, as an album of timely songs, not only furthers Amos’ mission statement, but also stands as a landmark artistic achievement for his career as a bluesman of purpose.
AJ Ghent, hailing from Fort Pierce, Florida, has music literally running through his veins. His great uncle, Willie Eason, is the creator of the “sacred steel” tradition—a style of pedal-steel guitar playing that’s unique to certain African American Pentecostal churches—and his grandfather, Henry Nelson, is the founder of the “sacred steel” rhythmic guitar style. With role models like these, it’s no wonder Ghent wore out his father’s sacred steel CDs by the age of twelve. After high school, he and his wife, singer MarLa, packed up and moved to Atlanta, Georgia where soon after Ghent began a mentorship under the legendary Colonel Bruce Hampton, one of the original founders of Atlanta’s Hampton Grease Band. Gaining experience with Hampton’s band set the stage for Ghent’s subsequent career moves, including being “true to himself” as Hampton advised.
Ghent’s newest release, The Neo Blues Project, is a study in just that. The entire album is something different altogether—a musical fusion of blues, steel guitar, and rock that takes art and skill to master. But that’s something that Ghent has spent his whole life perfecting, along with his custom built 8-string lap steel hybrids. The offering weighs in at just six tracks, but don’t let its size fool you. This album packs a solid punch right where it’s necessary to keep the music in your head long after the last chord fades.
On his rock anthem “Power,” Ghent offers a track to fuel a revolution: “I’m gonna wait it out, ‘til my change comes / and I’m gonna pray, it won’t be long / ‘cause I’ve been tempted and I’ve been tried / and I’m a soldier ‘til I die / so you can bring it on, all your pain / you know why? ‘cause it’s a revolution comin’”
Combining his own style with elements of rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz, Ghent part-wails and part-steels his way through each song. “Long List Friend,” co-written with his wife, is a blues ballad all of us can relate to in our search for “The One.”
But if you are celebrating the letting go of a former love, check out the final track, “Gonna Rock.” Its meaning and intent are completely celebratory, to say the least. “Wash Ya Hair” is a fun, catchy tune that really brings all of Ghent’s diverse talents of vocalization and guitar-playing to the forefront: “Shake ‘em off, wash your hair, let it shine, Everywhere.”
Ghent’s compact project completes its mission. The Neo Blues Project entertains the senses, introduces us to the full range of Ghent’s talents, and gives us a foot-tapping, air-slamming trip into the world of blues rock in legendary style. If this is Ghent being true to himself, I personally can’t wait for anything this talented artist has to offer us.
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.
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.
Memphis is a city known for its barbecue, rich musical heritage, and pride in being one-of-a-kind. This unique Memphis spirit is captured by twelve distinctly different tracks on Memphis Rent Party. The collection serves as a soundtrack for Grammy-winner Robert Gordon’s sixth book of the same title, Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music’s Hometown.
From a punk rock cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Johnny Too Bad” to a bluesy collaboration between Luther Dickinson and Sharde Thomas, the album includes a wide variety of tracks that embrace the individuality of the Memphis music scene. Half of the tracks are drawn from unreleased material and the rest are a mix of covers and originals. Included are songs from barrelhouse piano player Mose Vinson, rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, and the rockabilly-punk band Tav Falco’s The Panther Burns.
From modern day covers to a 1960s recording by pre-war blues musician Furry Lewis, Memphis Rent Party is a truly varied compilation. Robert Gordon’s book was published by Bloomsbury on March 6, 2018 and is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Memphis’ entertainment scene—just be sure to listen along to the soundtrack as you read.
Formats: 2-CD set, LP (1 disc, 14 tracks), digital
Release date: February 23, 2018
In continuation of our focus on one of the industry’s greatest blues/jazz singers, Nina Simone’s The Colpix Singles showcases her pre-civil rights activist era releases. Simone’s professional career began in 1958 at a mere age of 25 with Bethlehem Records, but after the initial success of her hit “Porgy ( I Loves You Porgy), she moved on Columbia Picture’s recording company, Colpix Records. Simone’s forthcoming induction into the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has now spurred Warner Music into releasing a collection of the 7” singles Simone cut for Colpix. Remastered in mono, seven of the tracks are available in their original edits for the first time since the 1960s.
In this 27 track, two-disc offering, one can easily hear how her previous musical experiences fostered both her voice and performance maturity, as the songs recorded with Colpix reflect smoother, more controlled renditions of a diversified pool of well-known ballads. The first single from Disc 1, “Chilly Winds Don’t Blow,” was written by Hecky Krasnow, who was best known for Columbia’s novelty scores of “Frosty the Snowman” and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.”
Live recordings made at The Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan in September, 1959 include “The Other Woman” and “It Might as Well be Spring,” which originally appeared on her Colpix debut album, The Amazing Nina Simone. The Archives of African American Music and Culture provided Warner Music with a rare copy of Simone’s “If Only For Tonight” and “Under The Lowest” (Colpix 156) for inclusion on this disc. Simone also showcases her blues prowess on the release “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” and the B-side “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair,” which would become one of her signature songs.
Disc 2 includes a hauntingly whimsical rendition of “Cotton Eyed Joe,” complete with Simone’s piano stylings running in the background. Soon after, she croons of lost respectability and newfound reliance on “You Can have Him.” From the opening strains, Simone’s powerful alto flows from the speakers, meandering its way into the ears and hearts of its listeners via its audial and lyrical flows.
Two more offerings, “Work Song” and “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” echo Simone’s early years in Atlantic City bars, pounding the ivories and belting out fast tempo blues. Her original tune, “Blackbird,” closes out the collection, showing her growing artistic maturity while revealing a glimpse of her future in social justice.
Simone would eventually compose and perform two of the most influential anthems of the Civil Rights Era, “Mississippi Goddam” and “Young, Gifted and Black.” That Simone participated in the Civil Rights Movement is an understatement. Nina Simone, from her formative years in Atlanta’s music scene to her eventual position as an outspoken social activist for Black rights, is one of the most influential activists and gifted artists of all time. Many thanks to The Colpix Singles compilers Nigel Reeve and Dean Rudland, and assistant Florence Joelle Halfon, for releasing this wonderfully remastered set. Simone’s listening audience will certainly reap the benefits.
While on tour promoting music from his album, The Last Southern Gentleman (2014), Delfeayo Marsalis’ recorded his first ever live album, Kalamazoo: An Evening with Delfeayo Marsalis. As a collection of mostly jazz standards, mixed with Marsalis’s originals, the album presents unrehearsed, yet polished renditions of these tunes. Kalamazoo captures the creative process and spontaneity of Marsalis’s quartet—Ellis Marsalis (pianist and Delfeayo’s father), Reginald Veal (bass), and Ralph Peterson (drums)—on stage, and presents a collective sound that is pleasing to the listener.
The album begins with a soulful rendition of “Tin Roof Blues,” a slow blues that take us back to the juke joint. The use of blue notes, scooping, and sliding in the ensemble’s performance imitates the vocal timbres and sounds that govern the blues traditions. During his solo, Marsalis also uses vibrato and growls as way of recreating the groans and moans of early blues singers.
Mid-album we hear Ellis Marsalis’s trio on “If I Were a Bell,” featuring Veal and Peterson. Although improvised in the moment, Ellis does not miss a beat as he weaves together melodic and harmonic ideas with syncopated rhythms in his outstanding piano solo. Aside from Ellis’s masterly performance, Veal contributes a flawless bowed bass solo in the style of Slam Stewart, while Peterson adds a vibrant drum solo when trading off with Marsalis.
A delightful moment on this concert is Delfeayo’s performance with Western Michigan University students—Christian O’Neill (vocalist) and Madison George (drums)—on “Blue Kalamazoo.” Marsalis invites them on stage for an impromptu blues performance, and engages in a call-and-response dialogue with O’Neill as they exchange improvised lines and short melodic riffs.
Kalamazoo offers a sonic glimpse into Marsalis’s musical capabilities as a performer and bandleader, while displaying the expressive, dynamic, and virtuosic abilities of each ensemble member. The album is a great example of what happens when jazz musicians get together on the bandstand.
Following are additional albums released during February 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country Memphis Minnie: Volume 1: The 1930’s [4CD] (Real Gone)
Bernard Allison: Let It Go (Ruf)
Hypnotic Wheels (w/Cedric Burnside): Muddy Gurdy Mississippi Project (Vizz Tone)
Johnny Tucker: Seven Day Blues (High John)
Leyla McCalla: The Capitalist Blues (Jazz Village)
Luther Lackey: Contender (Cds Records)
Reverend Shawn Amos: Breaks It Down (Put Together Music)
Sam Kelly’s Station House: No Barricades (Roxbro)
Sunny War: With The Sun (ORG Music/Pledge Music)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic Buttshakers: Sweet Rewards (Underdog Records)
Beatchild & The Slakadeliqs: Heavy Rockin’ Steady (BBE)
Flyer Learning: Flyer Learning (digital)
Kay-Gees: Keep on Bumpin & Masterplan; Find a Friend; Kilowatt (Robinsongs)
Marenikae: Ajebutter (The Zuchia Nexus)
Mark Grusane: Real Sound of Mark Grusane (BBE)
Soulive: Cinematics Vol. 1 (digital) (Soulive Music)
Tony MacAlpine: Death of Roses (Sundog Records)
Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM Beverly Crawford: Essential Beverly Crawford – Vol. 2 (JDI)
Elevation Worship: Elevation Collective (digital) (Elevation Worship)
Enyo: Glorified (GospelNaija)
God’s Own Radicals: Under Construction (GospelNaija)
Jekalyn Carr: One Nation Under God (Lunjeal)
Restine Jackson: No Fear (Dream)
Jazz Caesar Frazier: Instinct (Doodlin)
Charles Mingus: Live At Montreux 1975 (Eagle Rock)
David K. Mathews: The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1 (Effendi)
David Murray & Saul Williams: Blues for Memo (Motema)
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Cheek To Cheek : The Complete Duet Recordings [4 CD] (Verve)
Lin Rountree: Stronger Still (Trippin n’ Rhythm)
Marion Meadows: Soul City (Shanachie)
Matthew Shipp: Sonic Fiction (ESP)
Oscar Peterson Trio: Oscar Plays (Box Set) (Verve)
Raphaël Imbert: Music is my Hope (Jazz Village)
Roscoe Mitchell: Ride the Wind (Nessa)
Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (60th Anniv. Deluxe Edition) (Craft)
Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties (NNA Tapes)
Various: We Out Here (Brownswood)
Victor Gould: Earthlings (Criss Cross)
Walter Smith III: Twio (CD Baby)
R&B, Soul Jonathan Butler: Sarah Sarah – The Anthology (Soul Music)
Bettye Lavette, Carol Fran: Bluesoul Belles: The Complete Calla, Port & Roulette Recordings (Music on CD)
DD’s brothers: From the Day Till the Dawn (Soul Brother)
George Jackson: Leavin’ Your Homework Undone: In the Studio 1968-71 (Kent)
Ink Spots: Best of the Singles 1936-1953 (Real Gone)
Otis Blackwell: The Songs & Recordings Of Otis Blackwell 1952-62 (Acrobat)
Spencer Wiggins: The Goldwax Years (Kent)
Starchild & The New Romantic: Language (Ghostly International)
Sy Smith: Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete (Psyko)
Tatiana Ladymay Mayfield: The Next Chapter (digital) (Ladymay Music)
The Agency: Philosophies (digital) (Philosophies)
Various: The 24-Carat Black Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth (vinyl reissue) (Craft)
Rap, Hip Hop Negash Ali: The Ascension
ABBA Zulu: Problematic Vol. 1 (digital) (Utmost Musik)
Abz Tha Kid: Thoughtz…From a Park Bench (digital)
Alchemist: Paris L.a. Bruxelles Instrumentals (vinyl) (ALC)
Ash Kidd: Cruise (digital) (Caroline Int)
Audio Push: Cloud 909 (digital) (Good Vibe Tribe)
Black Milk: Fever (Mass Appeal)
Cozz: Effected (digital) (Interscope)
Demo Taped: Momentary EP (digital) (300 Entertainment)
DePaul: Damage Already Done (Twenty Two Music)
Digable Planets: Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (25th Anniv. Ed.) (Light in the Attic)
DJ Smoke: Dolla Bill: The Ty Dolla Sign Mixtape (JWS Records)
East Man: Red White & Zero (Planet Mu)
G Herbo: Humble Beast Deluxe Edition (Machine Ent. Group/Orchard)
Keezy off 38th: Trials & Tribulations (digital) (.38th Muzyk)
Khago: Walk a Mile (Streaminn Hub)
Kodak Black: Heart Break Kodak (digital) (Atlantic)
LARS: Last American Rock Stars (Majik Ninja)
Mark Battles: Vasi World (digital) (Fly America)
Nipsey Hussle: Victory Lap (Atlantic)
O.C.: A New Dawn (Ditc)
Onyx: Black Rock (X-Ray)
Ralo LaFlare: Diary of the Streets 3 (digital) (Famerica)
Rockstar JT: Streets Signed Me the Mixtape
Shirt: Pure Beauty (Third Man)
Skipper: Prezidential (digital) (Empire)
Skyzoo: In Celebration of Us (Empire)
Stalley: Tell The Truth Shame The Devil (Vol. 1) EP
Tenacity & D.R.U.G.S. Beats: Discussions (digital) (SoulSpazm)
Tony Colliseum: Legacy (digital) (BeatRocka Music)
Too Short: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Various: Black Panther: The Album (Interscope)
Various: Death Row Chronicles OST (eOne)
Yukmouth: JJ Based on a Vill Story Three (Smoke-A-Lot Records)
Reggae, Dancehall Bobby Digital: X-tra Wicked – Reggae Anthology (VP)
Bobby Digital: Serious Times (VP)
Etana: Live in London (Freemind Music)
Freddie McGregor: Bobby Bobylon Deluxe Edition (Studio One)
Justin Hinds & the Dominoes: From Jamaica With Reggae (Treasure Isle)
Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus: None a Jah Jah Children (VP)
Various: Roots Reggae Party (Warner)
World, Latin Afrika Mamas: Iphupho – A Cappella from South Africa (Arc Music)
Boubacar Traore: Dounia Tabolo (Lusafrica)
Elida Almeida: Kebrada (Lusafrica)
Ernesto Chahoud presents Taitu: Soul-fuelled Stompers from 1960s – 1970s Ethiopia (BBE)
Femi Kuti: One People One World (Knitting Factory)
Lucibela: Laço Umbilical (Lusafrica)
Nene Brown: Raízes por Outras Óticas (Time Forte)
Tal National: Tantabara (FatCat)
Various: Levanta Poeira (Jazz & Milk)
Various: Putumayo Kids Presents Kid’s African Party (Putumayo)
Various: Putumayo Presents African Café (Putumayo)
Newer artists showcase their talents as well. No stranger to the field, the Ebony Hillbillies enter the scene once again with their latest release, 5 Miles From Town. Delta Deep’s East Coast Livespins a soulful blues/rock sound and Project Mama Earth’s self-titled debut Project Mama Earthpulls listeners expertly into the realm of world music activism. Jason Marsalis and the 21st Century Trad Band weigh in with their original compositions based on jazz standards and 80s popular music with Melody Reimagined: book 1, while saxophonist David Murray and poet Saul Williams’ collaboration on Blues for Memo offers a contemplative tribute to socially conscious issues and figures throughout modern history.
Valentine’s Day hits its mark in the form of Eric Valentine and the Velvet Groove’s smooth offering Velvet Groove, R&B artist Calvin Richardson is sure to put you in a loving mood with his newest release All Or Nothing, and Jamison Ross’s All For One focuses on family and neighborly affection.