The Cleveland, Ohio-based funk and soul collective Mourning [A] BLKstar is a “multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora.” Boldly confronting themes of racism, oppression, and injustice, the group’s albums reflect the reality of living in a world that is all too frequently hostile to people of color. Their previous release, The Garner Poems(2018), was a eulogy to Eric Garner and the many other victims of police brutality past and present. M[A]B’s new double album, The Cycle, is yet another epic and thought-provoking addition to the group’s catalog. Set as an 18 movement song cycle featuring vocalists James Longs, Kyle Kidd and LaToya Kent, the group envisions the work as “a humble addition to the long legacy of James Baldwin’s adage of the artist as witness.”
Two-time GRAMMY® Award-nominated R&B singer Kehlani has released her long-awaited sophomore album, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. The former America’s Got Talent star’s debut album, SweetSexySavage, was inspired by TLC’s CrazySexyCool, providing fun, rhythmic, and exuberant sounds Kehlani’s best known for putting out. Kehlani’s new album is much more pared down, expressing slow and sensual narratives, as much indebted to SZA as it is SWV. For this project, Kehlani collaborated with a multitude of guest artists, from the likes of Tory Lanez, Jhené Aiko, Lucky Daye, James Blake, and Masego, all of which do an exceptional job helping to convey her R&B eclecticism—as well as contributions from producers Boi-1da, Andrew “Pop” Wansel, G. Ry, and many more.
Title: Grae Artist: Moses Sumney Label: Jagjaguwar Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: May 15, 2020
Singer-songwriter and producer Moses Sumney has dropped his second studio album, Grae, a generous double album released in two parts covering 20 tracks. Back in 2017, Sumney’s previous groundbreaking, genre-less album Aromanticism was well-received, but saw the musician widely labelled as an R&B artist – much to his dismay. He recently said in an interview: “People always look to define you to understand you, but my identity is this kind of patchwork. It’s not something that can be – or that I want to be – defined.” And now with his second project, Sumney places a great emphasis on this message and his artistic vision.
Title: Satirifunk Artist: Junko Beat Label: Drumparade Format: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: June 5, 2020
Trance-inducing, cutting-edge, and improvisational: all are terms that have been used to describe the newest release from the New Orleans progressive funk outfit Junko Beat. On their sophomore album, Satirifunk, the group presents an innovative musical fusion of New Orleans funk and West African tribal jazz with electronic and Latin-Caribbean influences. The result is a powerful, rhythm-heavy sound that truly captivates the listener.
After 50 strong years of music making, Tower of Power is back with their 30th album, Step Up. Known for their wall of sound horn-driven funk, the multi-instrumentalist ensemble has been performing and creating music since the late 1960s under the direction of bandleader and tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo. A Detroit native, Castillo moved to Oakland, CA where he met baritone sax player Stephen “Doc” Kupka, and they formed a band that would soon become known as Tower of Power. After famous concert promoter Bill Graham heard the group perform at the Fillmore in 1970, he signed them to his label and their debut album, East Bay Grease, was releasedthat same year.
Title: It Is What It Is Artist: Thundercat Label: Brainfeeder Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: April 3, 2020
Electric bassist and singer/songwriter Thundercat, aka Stephen Lee Bruner, has released his fourth studio album, It Is What It Is. Executively produced by Bruner and Flying Lotus, the project features collaborations from artists such as Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Ty Dolla $ign, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole, and comedian/rapper Zack Fox. The new album is the follow-up to Thundercat’s ambitious Drunk (2017), which cemented his genre-defying reputation and provided an evolutional framework for It Is What It Is, which continues the versatile artist’s experimentation with sound and compositional technique.
Title: No Beginning No End 2 Artist: José James Label: Rainbow Blonde Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 6, 2020
José James’ No Beginning No End 2, a sequel to his 2013 Blue Note debut album, resurrects the eclecticism audiences first fell in love with. Back then, the singer-songwriter was transitioning from Verve Records to Blue Note, and the new release finds James shifting to his own Rainbow Blonde label. ”There’s this beautiful cycle that’s happening again,” James explains. “This essence of it is what I wanted to get back — the idea of courage, freedom, real quality music that’s made without boundaries but still had a cohesive quality. That’s what I did on the first (No Beginning No End), and this one feels the same way.” With No Beginning No End 2, James pays homage to a multitude of musicians who inspired him.
Title: The Anthology Artist: Omar Label: Freestyle Format: CD, Digital Release date: January 31, 2020
London-born neo-soul singer Omar Lye-Fook MBE, known as the “Godfather of UK Soul,” has now been recording for 35 years. A musical prodigy, by the age of five he was learning to play the drums from his studio musician father and went on to study other percussion instruments as well as piano, trumpet and bass guitar, eventually matriculating at the Guildhall School of Music. Omar’s debut single, “Mr. Postman,” was released on his father’s Kongo label in 1985, and his debut album, There’s Nothing Like This, followed in 1990. From that point forward Omar’s career took off, and before long he was recognized not only as a uniquely talented singer and multi-instrumentalist fluent in multiple genres, but also as a composer, arranger, and producer. All of Omar’s talents are showcased on his new two-disc set, TheAnthology, which includes hits from the past three decades along with a few lesser known and previously unreleased tracks.
Title: Woman Artist: Syleena Johnson Label: eOne Music Formats: Digital Release Date: January 31, 2020
Johnson’s new album, Woman, is
a timely, soulful ode to womanhood as well as a call to action wrapped in deep
reflection. Opening with “Woman (intro),” Johnson positions this brief spoken
introduction as a centering track that grounds listeners in the journey of
empowerment they are about to embark on. Additionally, she guides us through
each track with lyrics that illuminate the common threads of strength,
resilience, and healing that tie women together.
Title: Between Two Worlds Artist: Lulu Fall Label: Ropeadope Format: CD, Digital Release Date: November 8, 2019
Lulu Fall isn’t your typical jazz vocalist – she’s a formally trained singer with a hand in musical theatre productions as well as more traditional musical projects. Her identity as the child of Sengalese and Cameroonian parents – and the resulting inner turmoil of not being American enough for her American peers and not African enough for her African family – is evident in her newest album, Between Two Worlds.
Released just in time for Mardi Gras, this new box set
celebrates the kings of New Orleans funk, otherwise known as The Meters. Featuring guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist
George Porter, Jr., keyboardist/vocalist Art Neville, and drummer Joseph
“Zigaboo” Modeliste, The Meters combined street rhythms with second line vibe
and fatback drums to create their own unique, laidback style. Compared to James
Brown’s hard driving, frenetic performances, The Meters just let the good times
roll through the Big Easy accompanied by a funky backbeat. Produced by SoulMusic’s
David Nathan, Gettin’ Funkier All The Time takes listeners on a journey
through The Meter’s eight studio albums recorded between 1968-1977, their non-album
singles and bonus tracks issued on previous
compilations, plus a few surprises thrown in like beads along the parade route.
In other words, this set has it all.
Not feeling the love this Valentine’s Day? Are you experiencing a relationship that has gone sour? Let the sisters set you free! You’re Not Gonna Hurt Me was compiled “to empower women to kiss off those men that don’t treat them with the utmost respect they deserve.” Featuring 15 classic soul tracks “performed by powerful women with powerful voices delivering a powerful message,” this album “serves as a scathing anti-Valentine’s Day card.” Included are songs such as ‘You’re the Dog (I Do the Barking Myself)” by Irma Thomas, “Lot More of Me Leaving (Less of Me Coming Home)” by Ruth Brown, and “Divorce Decree” by Doris Duke, plus gems by lesser known artists like “I’m Moving On” by Chyvonne Scott and “Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over)” by Ruby Andrews. All tracks have been newly re-mastered for this release.
Title: Black Hole Rainbow
Artist: Devon Gilfillian
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: January 10, 2020
A Philly-born musician who was weaned on his father’s vintage soul records, Devon Gilfillian is now a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and bandleader who is currently making waves on the touring circuit. Recently signed to Capitol Records, Gilfillian kicks off the New Year with the release of his debut album, Black Hole Rainbow. With inspirations from the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan, Devon has created his own distillation of the soul sound, forming a collection of incredibly powerful and stirring tracks. Produced by Grammy award winner Shawn Everett, the album dissects the multiple levels of love and its effects on all parties involved. “The theme of the record is pulling yourself out of a dark place and learning how to love yourself, and getting back up and learning from your mistakes,” Gilfillian says. “It’s about falling in love, falling out of love, and then learning how to love yourself; picking yourself up and really figuring out what matters in your life, and to never stop hustling.” The tracks were recorded with a wide variety of gear, including vintage equipment and analog boards, resulting in an album with a daring collision of eras, styles, and genres.Continue reading →
Title: The Viscaynes & Friends
Artist: Viscaynes, Sylvester Stewart (aka Sly Stone)
Label: ORG Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: December 6, 2019
The Viscaynes & Friends from ORG Music is essentially a reissue of the tracks featured on the long out of print vinyl compilation, Spaced Out Sly, released in 1977. As many Sly Stone fans are likely aware, the young Sylvester Stewart cut his first singles in 1961-1962, both under his own name and with the Viscaynes, a multi-racial teenage doo-wop group formed by students at Vellejo High School in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. As Rickey Vincent relates in the liner notes, Sly was initially approached by classmates in the Viscaynes to assist with vocal harmonies, and they were so impressed with the multi-talented musician that they persuaded him to join their group. By that time, Sly had been performing gospel music for well over a decade and had also played guitar for other doo-wop and jazz groups. By 1961, the 18-year-old was a seasoned professional who led the Viscaynes to success with the single, “Yellow Moon,” which incidentally is backed by a band featuring saxophonist Jerry Martini, who would later join Sly and the Family Stone.Continue reading →
Produced by Earwig Music Company’s Michael Robert Frank, Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection is hands down one of the best box sets of the year. The beautifully produced hard cover book includes four CDs inserted into the front and back covers, while the lavishly illustrated inner pages tell the story of the Chicago based independent record company owned by Narvel Eatmon, a colorful character better known on the South Side as “Cadillac Baby.” Frank began this labor of love in 2006 when he purchased the entire catalog and archive of the Bea & Baby label, with the goal of sharing Cadillac Baby’s musical legacy with the rest of the world. The result is this comprehensive anthology which includes all released and unreleased tracks (with a couple of exceptions), ranging from urban and country blues, gospel, doo-wop, soul, and comedy, to rap. Along the way, Cadillac narrates his own story through six spoken word tracks interspersed throughout the collection. Other “expert witnesses” from Chicago include Jim O’Neal (Living Blues magazine), Bill Dahl, and Robert M. Marovich (Journal of Gospel Music), who all contributed to the informative liner notes.Continue reading →
For those of you who aren’t from the Midwest, “Naptown” is a nickname created by local jazz musicians back in the day to describe the sometimes sleepy city of Indianapolis. Bringing some old Naptown soul and funk to light, the new anthology LAMP Records: It Glowed Like the Sun: The Story of Naptown’s Motown offers an overview of the city’s fabled record label, little known outside of hardcore soul collectors. Now, current and former Indianapolis natives can reminisce while the rest of the world can finally hear the soulful sounds that sprung from Naptown during the years 1969-1972. The liner notes for this release, researched and written over a twenty year span by Eothen Alapatt, Jeff Kollath, Jason Yoder and Kyle Long, read like a book as these four experts uncover the history of the LAMP label and Naptown’s music scene.Continue reading →
Title: 1999 Super Deluxe Edition
Label: Warner Bros.
Formats: 5CD or 10LP + DVD box set
Release date: November 29, 2019
This new box set is the latest release from the Prince Estate and Warner Brothers. On the plus side, there’s the first remastered edition of Prince’s 1982 breakthrough album, 1999, in addition to a CD of remastered promo mixes and B-sides, plus a CD/DVD of a previously unreleased live concert performance in Detroit on November 30, 1982 (which allegedly will not be released separately). Somewhat more controversial are the two additional CDs of tracks culled from the vast vault at Paisley Park. While some hardcore fans will welcome this glimpse into the inner workings of Prince’s compositional process, others may consider it a travesty that the estate is releasing material that the artist would have keep private.
Mary J. Blige has gathered 16 hits and rare remixes from the ’90s in HERstory Vol. 1. Highlights include two tracks with Notorious B.I.G – “Real Love” (Hip Hop Mix) and “What’s the 411” (also ft. K-Ci) – and remixes of “Real Love,” “Reminisce” and “Love No Limit” from her 1992 debut album, What’s the 411?. A relatively short but sweet holiday offering that “tells the story of Blige as she first established herself as a tour de force of ‘90s R&B.”
Anyone familiar with the history of Memphis music and Stax Records will be interested in this new memoir from keyboard wizard Booker T. Jones, who led the Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In Time is Tight, Jones riffs on his six decades in the music business, taking us from his formative years in Memphis through his matriculation at Indiana University in the spring of 1962. Any IU alum will especially enjoy his memories of trombone studies under Buddy Baker, playing David Baker’s charts in the jazz band alongside Randy Brecker and Jamey Aebersold, performing with the Marching Hundred, meeting his first wife at Teter Quad cafeteria, living on his advance royalty payment from “Green Onions,” and his appreciation for the music of Bloomington’s most famous native son, Hoagy Carmichael.Continue reading →
It’s been nearly thirty years since Robert Pruter released his ground breaking book, Chicago Soul, which examined the emergence of soul music in the Windy City and its key players. Now another Chicago author, Aaron Cohen, takes the story one step further with Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power. Based on interviews with more than 100 people and a multitude of books and articles, Cohen strikes the perfect balance between a well-researched, scholarly perspective and an extremely engaging journalistic history. His primary goal is to weave the story of Chicago’s diverse music scene with the social and political changes happening in the city from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. In the words of Jerry “Iceman” Butler, former lead singer of the Impressions and Cook County Commissioner, “music and politics kind of walk hand in hand down Michigan Avenue.” Other key musicians in this story include Curtis Mayfield, Baby Huey, Minnie Ripperton and Rotary Connection, Maurice White, the Chi-Lites, and Syl Johnson, among many others, who often eschewed commercial concerns in favor of socially conscious lyrics, liberation, and solidarity.Continue reading →
Title: The Beautiful Ones
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook
Release date: October 29, 2019
While not the complete autobiography we hoped for, or that Prince intended to release (“it has to be the biggest music book of all time”), The Beautiful Ones is still a significant first person account of the artist’s life. Who, but Prince, might ponder a few days before his death, “We need to find a word for what funk is.” As editor and collaborator Dan Peipenbring states in the introduction, “Unpacking these ideas is part of what made [Prince] want to write a book in the first place.” At a time when he had turned more introspective and was processing his past, Prince sought an “improvisational partner” who understood that “music holds things together.” Dan became the keeper of the Prince “handbook” and worked diligently with the artist to create a memoir that defied conventions in the same manner as his music. But just as their ideas were starting to gel in the spring of 2016, the fateful news came from Paisley Park: Prince was dead.Continue reading →
This year celebrates the 50th anniversary of James Brown’s homecoming concert in Augusta, Georgia’s Bell Auditorium on October 1, 1969. Live at Home with His Bad Self captures this historic performance by the legendary Soul Brother No. 1 and the James Brown Orchestra with occasional dialogue by Brown and emcee Maceo Parker. Intended to “attract notoriety” to his hometown, Brown “decided to record this local concert and commemorate it with a live album” for release during the Christmas season of 1969. Unfortunately, the two-disc album was shelved for various reasons. While some selections were issued on previous compilations, Live at Home with His Bad Self finally includes the concert in its entirety from start to finish, just in time for the 2019 holiday season.Continue reading →
Artist: London Afrobeat Collective
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Label: London Afrobeat Productions
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Following their popular 2015 release Food Chain that earned them glowing reviews and widespread radio support, London Afrobeat Collective has released their newest album, Humans. The collective is formed of nine members who hail from England, Congo, Italy, France, Argentina, and New Zealand, and their music reflects the varied cultural backgrounds of their members. LAC is known for their eclectic sound that draws on funk, jazz, rock, and dub paired with socially conscious lyricism and their latest project is no departure from this.Continue reading →
Title: Gold Dust
Artist: Calvin Richardson
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 25, 2019
Soul music singer/songwriter Calvin Richardson is back with his smooth R&B vibes on his new release, Gold Dust. A well-known talent in the music industry, he has written songs for artists like Charlie Wilson and Angie Stone, and has even co-written with Babyface. Calvin’s songwriting leans heavily on the romantic side, showcasing his heartfelt emotions and belief in the fact that “love changes everything” in his music. This disposition, combined with Calvin’s soulful, textured voice, creates melodies that define soul music in every way, which is especially prevalent on this project, his eighth studio album.Continue reading →
Title: Hornē Electric Band
Artist: Hornē Electric Band
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: September 27th, 2019
Hailing from New York City, The Hornē Electric Band is a modern funk group that combines funk, jazz, and soul with modern music technology. According to their website bio, they “integrate current electronics soundscapes with horn-section-centric arrangements.” Their self-titled debut album is full of witty band humor and, like with all great funk albums, a groove that lives around “the one.” The rhythm section features bassist/producer Massimo Biolcati, drummer Corey Rawls, and vibraphonist/malletkat Tyler Blanton, who also provides midi electronics. Heading up the horn section is Wayne Tucker on trumpet and Yacine Boulares on tenor sax, as well as the Snarky Puppy team of Mike Maher (trumpet) and Chris Bullock (tenor sax).Continue reading →
Title: Stay Good
Artist: Brooklyn Funk Essentials
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 20, 2019
Brooklyn Funk Essentials may not be based in Brooklyn anymore, but they sure haven’t given up on the funk. Founded over twenty years ago by Lars “Lati” Kronlund, BFE and its lineup have gone through many shifts over the years. Just before forming the band, Lati released the club anthem “Where Love Lives” with Alison Limerick. Now, for the band’s latest album, the creative relationship between Lati and Alison has been rekindled—with the addition of four other musicians—and BFE has given new life to the projects the duo was working on in the 90s.Continue reading →
The long spanning, successful career of Vaneese Thomas is no surprise given her background—the daughter of legendary R&B musician and entertainer Rufus Thomas and the sister of “Memphis Queen” Carla Thomas and keyboardist Marvell Thomas, Vaneese has certainly carried on her family’s musical legacy. In her own style, Vaneese has captured the rich heritage of Memphis soul and R&B while infusing it with gospel, blues, and jazz influences from her lived experiences. In her latest project, Down Yonder, Thomas returns to her southern roots for a soul-stirring album that is at times both heart wrenching and joyous.Continue reading →
Title: My Mind Set Me Free
Artist: The House Guests
Label: Shake It
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: August 23, 2019
The new compilation from Cincinnati’s Shake It Records, My Mind Set Me Free: The House Guests Meet the Complete Strangers & Bootsy, Phelps & Gary, features nine tracks from a collective of rhythm section instrumentalists and artists who briefly performed together as the House Guests in 1971, but are best known by other names. Initially formed as the Cincinnati-based R&B band, the Pacemakers, when performing with James Brown they became the Original JB’s. After they left Brown, the group toured as the House Guests until they were persuaded by George Clinton to form the new rhythm section for Funkadelic in 1972. Under Clinton, they helped lay the foundation for P-funk, fusing the music with “dimensions from cosmic jazz, fusion [and] acid rock.” Another side project included the group Complete Strangers, and a few years later, Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Collectively, the House Guests/Complete Strangers are considered some of pioneers and progenitors of the airtight polyrhythmic sound that is funk.Continue reading →
Title: Jimmy Lee
Artist: Raphael Saadiq
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 23, 2019
Raphael Saadiq, the extraordinarily talented singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is known for his genre-spanning solo albums as well as his collaborations with the likes of Solange, Mick Jagger, D’Angelo and the band Lucy Pearl. Before becoming a solo artist, Saadiq was a member of Sheila E.’s band, playing the bass at the age of 18 on Prince’s Parade Tour. He would later join the dynamic R&B band Tony! Toni! Toné! as the primary lead singer, bassist and producer. On Jimmy Lee, Saadiq’s fifth studio album, he has created a deeply personal and passionate project. Named after his oldest brother who died from a drug overdose, Jimmy Lee is also dedicated to Saadiq’s three other siblings who tragically passed away due to murder, drug addiction and suicide. While the album may be full of lament, it is also full of life, love and celebration.Continue reading →
Artist: Avery R. Young
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 19, 2019
Chicago poet and musician Avery R. Young’s new release, Tubman, is promoted as a soundtrack to his first volume of poetry, neckbone: visual verses(Northwestern University Press, June 2019), and serves as a platform for extending and exploring the book’s many interwoven themes through music. Accompanied by his group, De Deacon Board, Young’s brilliant cross-genre album dedicated to Harriet Tubman certainly stands on its own merits. The provocative tracks frequently delve into socio-political commentary, while Young’s musical palette is deeply rooted in the Delta—“the blues, the gospel, that swamp type of rock ‘n’ roll.” As one might expect from this poet, other influences include The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, as well as ‘70s soul musicians such as Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding, the Black church, and the Black Arts Movement. Plus funk, lots of funk!Continue reading →