Hot 8 Brass Band – On the Spot

Hot 8 Brass Band
Title: On the Spot

Artist: Hot 8 Brass Band

Label: Tru Thoughts

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 31, 2017

 

The Hot 8 Brass Band uses their new release, On the Spot, to keep on doing what they do best.  The album is filled with the kind of up-tempo lively party music that one might expect from a top tier New Orleans brass band.  The Hot 8 is just that and they do not disappoint.

The album begins in spectacular fashion with “8 Kickin It Live” which is jam packed with energy via those great New Orleans syncopated rhythms which definitely had me dancing in my seat as I listened. Following are more original pieces, including “Working Together,” “Get It How You Live,” and “Bottom of the Bucket,” which is funky as all get out and features an infectious horn line with great feeling.

According to the Hot 8 Brass Band, “On the Spot” refers to the “glorious, rare moment in a New Orleans parade when the band stops to take a break but keeps playing for the crowd. Vibing and keeping the energy up, when they sync up and the magic happens—a new tune is created.”  You can almost hear this happening as the band lays into the title track.

The album features a few notable covers including “St. James Infirmary,” which sees the band dipping into classic New Orleans jazz and incorporating woodwind instruments into the track. Also covered is Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo,” reworked into a slightly more up-tempo jam, and Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl” which the Hot 8 mold in a rhythmic party anthem. The album closes out on a few more originals, most notably “Can’t Nobody Get Down” featuring a horn line reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing.”

With On The Spot, the Hot 8 Brass Band truly does a great job at packaging as much of the live energy they bring to their performance as possible.  I can only imagine what heights are reached when experiencing the band in real time.

Editor’s Note: the Hot 8 Brass Band’s U.S. tour in support of the album begins May 27, 2017 in Denver.

Review by Levon Williams

Eric Bibb – Migration Blues

Eric Bibb
Title: Migration Blues

Artist: Eric Bibb

Label: Stony Plain

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 31, 2017

 

“Blues was born of forced migration”— Michael Jerome Browne

Award-winning blues singer/songwriter Eric Bibb has offered fans a new album almost every year since signing to Stony Plain Records in 2011, ranging from explorations of American roots music to cross-cultural collaborations. With a career now spanning five decades, the 65-year-old artist pulls no punches on his latest release, Migration Blues, an overtly political statement. As Bibb’s explains, “Whether you’re looking at a former sharecropper, hitchhiking from Clarksdale to Chicago in 1923, or an orphan from Aleppo, in a boat full of refugees in 2016—it’s migration blues. With this album, I want to encourage us all to keep our minds and hearts wide open to the ongoing plight of refugees everywhere. As history shows, we all come from people who, at some time or another, had to move.”  He goes on to add, “While pondering the current refugee crisis I found myself thinking about the Great Migration, which saw millions of African Americans leaving the brutal segregation and economic misery of the rural South for the industrial cities of the North. Making this connection is what inspired the new songs included here.”

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Migration Blues was jointly produced by Bibb (vocals, guitars, six-string banjo and contrabass guitar), Michael Jerome Browne (guitars, vocals, banjos, mandolin and triangle), and JJ Milteau (harmonica), who all contributed to the songwriting process and recording. One of those newly composed songs, the opening track “Refugee Moan,” perfectly encapsulates the theme of the album. Drawing upon the roots of blues and gospel music by making use of a train metaphor, Bibb sings to the accompaniment of gourd banjo and harmonica:

If there’s a train that will take me there
Take me where I can live in peace
Oh, Lord, take me onboard, don’t leave me here
Let me ride that train.

From this point forward, the songs traverse time and space. “Delta Getaway” and “With a Dolla’ In My Pocket” are drawn from stories about the perilous journey from Mississippi to Chicago, while “Diego’s Blues” is about Mexican farm workers migrating to the Delta to replace those who fled north during the Great Migration. One of the most haunting tracks is “Prayin’ For Shore,” recounting contemporary journeys of refugees attempting to reach Europe by boat, and the many who drowned before achieving their goal:

In a ol’ leaky boat / Somewhere on the sea
Tryin’ to get away from the war
Welcome or not, we got to land soon
Oh, Lord – prayin’ for shore.

The title track is an instrumental featuring Bibb on a resophonic 12-string guitar, Browne on a 12-string slide guitar, and Milteau on harmonica. This interlude offers listeners a much needed moment to take a deep breath and reflect on the many threads connecting the songs. Other stand out tracks include “We Had to Move,” inspired by the life of James Brown, the instrumental “La Vie C’est Comme Un Oignon” referencing the expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia in the 1700s (ft. Browne on fiddle and ti-fer). Also included are several covers: Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” which unfortunately is still very relevant; Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land;” and an arrangement of the traditional spiritual “Mornin’ Train,” closing the album with the message that our final migration is to heaven, and everything else is transitory.

Migration Blues is a masterful album that’s both timely and historical in nature with its exploration of journeys and diasporas, of the impact of migration on musical borrowings and innovations, and perhaps most important—our shared humanity.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Ruthie Foster – Joy Comes Back

Ruthie Foster
Title: Joy Comes Back

Artist: Ruthie Foster

Label: Blue Corn Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: March 24, 2017

 

After eight albums recorded on Blue Corn Music, Ruthie Foster has released Joy Comes Back, a truly heartwarming collection of gospel, soulful rock, and blues songs. Joining Foster on this album are talented instrumentalists Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks Band, Willie Weeks, Joe Vitale, and Warren Hood. The inspiration for this album draws from Foster’s deep emotional struggle of claiming custody of her five-year old daughter and transforming her family life for the better.

Foster worked with Austin producer Daniel Barrett to record ten tracks of mostly reimagined cover songs. The album opens with two songs presenting Foster as a sensitive, yet strong and relatable woman—the smooth and easy “What Are You Listening To?” followed by the much harder rock song “Working Woman.” On the gospel title track, “Joy Comes Back,” Trucks complements Foster’s richly spirited vocals with masterful electric slide guitar.

The core of Foster’s music, particularly on her only original song “Open Sky,” reflect the strength, insight, and even uncertainty about love that arises when prolonged emotional battery comes to an end. The chorus of “Good Sailor” is especially expressive of her experience:

I’ve been tossed around the deepest blue / I almost drowned a time or two
Easy living never did me no favors / smooth seas never made a good sailor

Other eclectic, yet surprisingly fitting songs covered on this album include “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” written by Stevie Wonder and Ivy Jo Hunter, and “Richland Woman Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt. Joy Comes Back concludes with two emotionally powerful songs, “Abraham” and “Forgiven.” For Foster, music is therapeutic and gives her the strength to overcome challenges in her life, to embrace her family, and to celebrate happiness in both its hidden and exposed forms.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Future – Hndrxx

Future
Title: Hndrxx

Artist: Future

Label: A1/ Freebandz / Epic Records

Format: MP3

Release date: February 21, 2017

 

 

Future is arguably the king of today’s trap music. Part of what has cemented such a status is the prolific nature of his releases. And, lucky for us, 2017 is apparently no different, as he released the self-titled Future on February 17 and Hndrxx, its counterpart, only seven days later. In addition to the sheer amount of music he produces, Future’s reign lies in his mastery of combining what I’ve discussed in previous reviews (of T.I. and Post Malone) as the twin modes of trap music: flex and disillusion, in which a song either narrates the trap star’s thrilling excesses or memorializes their emptiness. In each case, the value of the trap star is directly correlated to his possession of or rejection by women, putting this music squarely within the discourse I refer to as “f*ck boy consciousness.” Interestingly, Future’s most recent releases present somewhat of a bifurcation of these modes, where Future represents the flex, the excess, and Hndrxx its emotional underside. This separation makes the albums quite different from each other; Future is chock-full of quick flows and expressions of street dominance, while Future rap-sings catchy hooks and melodies on Hndrxx. However, without his signature singing juxtapozed against the hard, quick flows, the songs on Future seem to all melt together in a relatively uncompelling and somewhat boring collection. In contrast, there are more than enough rhythmic and melodic changes in the sounds of Hndrxx to keep our attention and give us a spaced-out soundtrack to show out to.

Hndrxx showcases all of what Future does best in his traditional form as a trap star “f*ck boy.” It includes the typical trap drum sequences in almost every song and sing-song autotune flows that anticipate the beat drops in his hype-up collaboration with The Weeknd on “Comin’ Out Strong” and the ‘90s-reminiscent “Damage.” Future presents a disillusioned tone to his usually slurred vocals in both the strip club-esque “Fresh Air” and the condescending “Hallucinating,” on which he asserts that his perception, even while on drugs, is the ultimate, only perception. Throughout the album, Future juxtaposes wealth and ‘hood signifiers, especially on “Lookin’ Exotic,” where women get lumped into the category of things. He buys the woman in question numerous wealth signifiers in exchange for her in turn becoming a signifier of his own masculine dominance and virility. Very much in line with contemporary trap styles, some of which he pioneered, Future excels at the stretching of word sounds which creates both a melodic structure and an effortless feeling on “Fresh Air” and “New Illuminati,” while on the latter, it brings an emotionality to his “catch no feelings” disposition in similar ways as Young Thug’s Jeffrey. In conjunction with the stretching of words sounds is Future’s signature style of muffled singing and quiet, yell-like utterances on songs like the catchy “Testify” and “Turn On Me.” In addition, on this album more than others, there is not the usual clear division between verse and chorus, and they blend together seamlessly into what feels like a single stream of f*ck boy consciousness, explicating his own feelings while always returning to a general theme mapped out by a refrain. Following is the official video for “Use Me” ((C) 2017 Epic Records):

Content-wise this album revolves centrally around issues and dynamics between the trap star and “his” women. This supposed ownership is made explicit from the outset of the album in which the first song details “[His] Collection” of women, saying, “even if I hit you once, you’re part of my collection.” On “Testify” Future renders iconic Bonnie and Clyde imagery and details the seductiveness of his lifestyle for a woman. However, he makes it clear that the labor of the relationship will be hers alone. He won’t change for her; she must assimilate to his norm, some of which, like wealth, is exciting for her, but other parts which are less so, particularly his understanding that it is he only who defines the limits of the relationship. In “Fresh Air” he feels confined in his relationship, yet when he “loses” her in “Neva Missa Lost,” the repetition of “I’m losing you and you know it… and you know it” makes it seem like it’s her who’s in denial that she’s losing him. This is an interesting turn because she’s the one leaving. In typical “f*ck boy” fashion, he thinks she’s losing out rather than he, exposing him as terribly self-centered, conceited and unaccountable. In the lackluster “I Thank U,” Future laments about a woman’s doubt of him, which he, by the moment of the song, has overcome and is on top reflecting on the unbelieving. This song positions the woman as the quintessential hater of the trap star who he must silence/put in her place. It’s not really an apology or a thanking of her; it’s a tongue-in-cheek flexing on her lack of faith.

Future takes it one step further in “Turn On Me,” in which he complains that his female counterpart will inevitably “turn” on him, without presenting any of her reasoning as to why. Because her perspective is lacking entirely, he is presented as completely unaccountable for what happens in his relationships, which allows us to relate to him without questioning his role in making her leave. In fact, part of “turning” on him is taking up relationships with others. He says: “After I give you this game, you should never let a lame hit it.” This brings to the fore the insecurity built into the persona of the trap star, as his possession of women or lack of women again is the key factor in defining himself and establishing and maintaining his status in the wider community. “Selfish” and “Sorry” might be attempts to redeem the trap star in his dealings with women, the former sounding much like a f*ckboy prayer for togetherness, even though literally every other song could be seen as an explanation for why he winds up in this position, alone. He seems not to understand this, which makes the narrator in this song come across as somewhat innocent and naive. In “Sorry” Future purports that he’s “sorry it had to be this way…sorry it looks this way,” as if he’s got no choice in his actions and they can all be chalked up to fame, saying “you see what I’ve been put up against, baby.” Considering all the previous songs, his apology feels like a weak afterthought that ultimately fails to redeem him.

All in all, the trope of the “f*ck boy” is currently all the rage in rap music style today. Whatever his faults, he seems to be endlessly compelling for this generation of rappers, as well as for their young listeners. Whether one disagrees on the basis of messed up gender politics or suspends one’s disbelief altogether, with Hndrxx, Future continues to elaborate on his formulation of the trope in incredibly seductive melodies and beautiful, though sometimes unintelligible, utterances. If the Future album falls flat, Hndrxx recuperates Future’s signature style, and its style is a testament to the humongous impact Future has had and continues to have on trap music.

Reviewed by Nandi Marumo

Les Amazones d’Afrique – République Amazone

Les Amazones
Title: République Amazone

Artist: Les Amazones d’Afrique

Label: Real World Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 28, 2017

 

Les Amazones d’Afrique describe themselves as the “first all-female supergroup of West Africa,” a group of women with unique backgrounds and voices making music and fighting for gender equality. Their debut album, République Amazone, is out at the end of the month on Real World Records. Produced by Liam Farrell, who has worked with such artists as Tony Allen and Mbongwana Star, the album is edgy with industrial, electronic sounds and vocal effects interwoven with traditional instrumentation and a variety of languages (English, French, Bambara, and Fon).

Of the seven members, all hail from Mali where the Les Amazones d’Afrique project began, with the exception of Benin native and multiple Grammy-award winner Angelique Kidjo and the young soul singer Nneka from Nigeria. The name of the group is inspired by the Dahomey Amazons—“a legendary sub-Saharan band of female warriors highly-trained and armed to defend the Kingdom of Dahomey, in what is now modern-day Benin,” according to the extensive liner notes by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, a writer and the opinions editor at gal-dem, a feminist magazine produced exclusively by women of color.

Though Les Amazones d’Afrique are most certainly warriors for women, they use the album’s first single, “I Play the Kora” to directly ask men to join them in the fight for equality:

You men must support us
For we women need you
We are tired to fight alone

The title of the track is symbolic, since women were traditionally not allowed to play the kora (a harp-like instrument native to West Africa). True to their stated mission, all the proceeds from the single will benefit The Panzi Foundation, a foundation and hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has served more than 40,000 women, over half of whom are survivors of sexual assault. The moving song, featuring members Rokia Koné, Mamani Keita, Nneka, and Mariam Doumbia can be heard below and viewed with English subtitles:

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Issues of ongoing violence against women, sexual abuse, unequal access to land and education, and practices of female genital mutilation are present not just in Africa, but throughout the world. Les Amazones d’Afrique fight the idea of Africa as a monolithic culture, but aim to unite many countries and cultures in West Africa in the fight for gender equality.

The powerful female group is bold not only in their politically charged lyrics, but in the mix and use of many different technologies, musical instruments, and languages. Songs such as “Dombolo” (featuring the group’s most famous member, Angelique Kidjo) and “Le Dame et Ses Valises” (in which an internal conversation asks, “Woman, don’t you know you are a queen?”) have an industrial, contemporary sound, overlapping many soulful voices, high and low vocal timbres, and pulsating, electronic sounds. The hazy vocals in “Wedding” sound like they are coming out of a fuzzily recorded cassette, while the accompanying Malian blues guitar gives the song a relaxed, easy listening feel.

Most the songs on République Amazone reside in this space between the old and the new, the electronic and the acoustic, using varying technologies to push the boundaries of genre and rejecting the false impression that West African music is uniform. As the liner notes state: “We are swirling about in several decades simultaneously – filthy backwards or wah wah guitars, distorted thumb piano, dreamy, jazzy chords and soulful singing over a pneumatic beat.”

The format of the music matches the group’s intent, challenging stereotypes and conventional norms of what it means to be a musical collective from West Africa, and more importantly, what it means to be a woman living in West Africa and in the increasingly globalized world. République Amazone is an impressive debut from Les Amazones d’Afrique, a group that is undeniably talented and relentlessly passionate about women’s rights and global equality.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Tamikrest – Kidal

Tamikrest
Title: Kidal

Artist: Tamikrest

Label: Glitterbeat Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 17, 2017

 

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Edna Gallmon Cooke – My Joy – Rare Recordings 1948-1966

Edna Gallmon Cooke
Title: My Joy – Rare Recordings 1948-1966

Artist: Edna Gallmon Cooke

Label: Gospel Friend/dist. City Hall Records (U.S.)

Format: CD

Release date: February 27, 2017

 

Though her name may not be quite as familiar to contemporary gospel music fans, Edna Gallmon Cooke ranks right up there with Mahalia Jackson, the Caravans, the Roberta Martin Singers, and the Famous Ward Singers in the pantheon of great gospel artists. Her untimely death in 1967 cut short her recording career, and accounts for her underappreciation when compared to her contemporaries. On My Joy, producer and gospel historian Per Notini has gathered together Cooke’s rarest recordings over the two decades of her career, attempting to fill the gaps left by two previous compilations of her works. This is a rare gift indeed, for which all gospel music fans can be grateful!

Cooke, who was born in 1918 in Columbia, South Carolina, was raised in her father’s church. The family relocated to Washington, D.C. where her father founded the Springfield Baptist Church, where Edna served as choir director before attending Temple University in Philadelphia. Her ambitions to sing secular music took a 180 degree turn after witnessing a performance by Willie Mae Ford Smith, and from this point forward she devoted herself to gospel music.

The compilation begins with Cooke’s first five recorded performances from 1948-49, which reveal her sweet and supple soprano characterized by a very fast, shallow vibrato. Included is her first single to get considerable airplay, “Angels, Angels, Angels” (composed by Indianapolis gospel artist Beatrice Brown), accompanied by the Mt. Vernon Men’s Choir of Washington, D.C. Cooke’s popularity was already rising when she was picked up by Essex Records for her next pair of singles. “Have You Got Room?” (circa 1950-51), accompanied by the Young People’s Choir of her father’s church, shows a powerful transformation in her vocal style. The sweet soprano is now capable of raising the rafters!

From this point forward, there are simply too many outstanding tracks to mention. “Walk Through the Valley” (1952) demonstrates Cooke’s trademark chanted sermonettes, while “(Talk About a Child that Do Love Jesus) Here Is One” is a solo tour de force showcasing Cooke’s masterful use of the melisma. The Roberta Martin-Theodore Frye song “Hallelujah (Jesus Love Bubbles Over)” features the Singing Sons, Cooke’s regular backing group who provided accompaniment on many of her Nashboro sides. The set concludes with Thomas Dorsey’s “Remember Me,” recorded in 1966 as Cooke’s health was failing. Notini inserted this track as a tribute to Cooke, “one of gospel’s greatest singers,” who surely must have known that her time was running out as she sang the final notes of the chorus, “Now when I’m gone, please remember me.”

My Joy was released in a limited pressing on the Swedish label Gospel Friends. Don’t wait too long to pick up a copy for your collection.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

The McIntosh County Shouters: Spirituals & Shout Songs from the Georgia Coast

McIntosh Country Shouters
Title: The McIntosh County Shouters: Spirituals & Shout Songs from the Georgia Coast

Artist: The McIntosh County Shouters

Label: Smithsonian Folkways

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 20, 2017

 

This album is the second collection of The McIntosh County Shouters recorded and produced by Smithsonian Folkways. The first, The McIntosh County Shouters: Slave Shout Songs from the Coast of Georgia was released in 1983. The Shouters belong to a third generation of people freed from slavery and their featured songs on this album are performed exclusively for the traditional ring shout. In 1993, the group received the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, which is considered to be the greatest honor for the traditional arts in the United States.

As part of the educational mission of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, each album on the record label includes comprehensive liner notes that are ideal for further research. The liner notes on this album include photographs, detailed biographies of the artists, interviews with current members, and historical and cultural contextualization of the traditional ring shout. Bolden, aka “Briar Patch,” on the coastal mainland of Georgia is the home of The McIntosh County Shouters. The Mount Calvary Baptist Church is the spiritual space of the Gullah/Geechee people, known as “the stopping place of the shout.”

It is satisfying to hold such a project in your hands, with 17 tracks and a 40-page booklet accompanying the physical CD. Each song incorporates the essential elements of the ring shout: the rhythmic hand-clapping, a stick beating the floor, the soul-filled spirituals, and the fusion of call-and–response singing. All that is missing on this album, as described in the liner notes, is the visual element—the ability to watch the shouters shuffling in a counterclockwise circle. To amend this problem, Smithsonian Folkways created an accompanying short documentary film that shows the Shouters singing and dancing together. Brenton Jordan, the youngest Shouter today, looks forward to the future of the tradition and believes the strength of the shout community will continue to thrive.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh

Fish that Saved Pittsburgh
Title: The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh

Artist: Various

Label: Real Gone Music

Format: CD

Release date: February 3, 2017

 

Collectors of 1970s soundtrack albums will be interested in this reissue from Real Gone Music. The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh was a “big screen sports fantasy” based on the typical rags to riches theme of a scrappy backetball team’s road to the finals. Released in 1979, the film was co-produced by Gary Stromberg (Car Wash), whose goal was to score another music centric hit. But despite the inclusion of basketball greats Julius Erving, Meadowlark Lemon, and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, plus actors the likes of Flip Wilson, Debbie Allen and Dee Dee Bridgewater (the “jeerleaders”), Stockard Channing, Jonathan Winters, Joe Seneca, and M. Emmet Walsh, this Pittsburgh centric sports movie failed at the box office, and the original sound track album likewise never cracked the charts. Following the VHS release in the mid-1980s, however, both the film and soundtrack gained a cult following, attracting the attention of the hip hop generation. In fact, Questlove plays the title track every time a Pittsburgh native appears on Jimmy Falon’s Tonight Show. Appreciation for the film increased following the 2010 DVD release, and is now considered by diehard fans to be the greatest basketball movie of all time.

Interest in the soundtrack can easily be explained—it was composed, arranged, produced, and conducted by the legendary Thom Bell and recorded by Joe Tarsia and his crew at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. This was Bell’s first opportunity to score a film, and he brought in all of the industry heavyweights: The Sylvers (“Mighty Mighty Pisces”), The Spinners (“(Do It, Do It), No One Does It Better”), The Four Tops (“Chance of a Lifetime”), and even Eubie Blake, who accompanies Bell on “Ragtime.” The primary accompaniment is credited to the Thom Bell Orchestra (mostly PIR session musicians), featuring Bell on keyboards, Bob Babbitt (Funk Brothers) on bass, Anthony Bell and Bobby Eli on guitar, Larry Washington, Edward Shea and Michael Pultro on percussion, and Charles Collins on drums, plus Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns.

Released at the peak of the disco area, the music is funky and dance oriented, but also draws upon Bell’s trademark Philly soul and is liberally sprinkled with references from earlier Blaxploitation-era soundtracks, most notably Shaft. Other notable songs include “Magic Mona” (Phyllis Hyman), “Moses Theme” (Frankie Bleu), “Follow Every Dream” (William “Poogie” Hart), and the opening track “A Theme for L.A.’s Team” featuring trumpeter Doc Severinsen in his prime.

This is the first CD release of The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, and Real Gone’s expanded edition includes three bonus tracks culled from limited edition singles, along with liner notes by Joe Marchese in a fully illustrated booklet.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

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

Curtis Knight
Title: Live at George’s Club 20

Artist: Curtis Knight featuring Jimi Hendrix

Label: Dagger

Format: CD, LP

Release date: April 21, 2017

 

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Levon Williams

Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway

Rhiannon Giddens
Title: Freedom Highway

Artist: Rhiannon Giddens

Label: Nonesuch Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: February 24, 2017

 

Rhiannon Giddens maintains a heightened level of excellence as a musician and activist songwriter throughout Freedom Highway, her second full album since Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015). Co-produced by Dirk Powell, Giddens presents nine original songs and three reimagined arrangements of civil-rights era and traditional music featuring guest performances by Bhi Bhiman, Lalenja Harrington and Leyla McCalla.

Giddens opens the album with “At the Purchaser’s Option,” sung in the first person about a woman facing the physical, mental, and spiritual magnitude of enslavement:

The album creatively and poetically addresses historical and contemporary forms of racial oppression in the United States. In “Julie,” Giddens sings a fearful ballad about the imminent separation between a maid and her white mistress by Union soldiers. The story reveals complex emotions as the maid reminds the mistress of how she sold away the maid’s children in order to produce the money the mistress re-gifts to her. The slow and sweet duet “Baby Boy” is a both somber lullaby and loving tribute to mothers who raise and protect the future “saviors” and leaders of mankind:

Baby Boy, young man, beloved
Don’t you weep, I will watch over you, I will stand by you
You will be, You will be, a savior
But until then
Go to sleep

From the darker themes of the electrically blue “Come Love Come,” to the funky precision of “The Love We Almost Had,” Giddens exhibits her eclectic and perfectionist talent down to the fine detail as a vocalist, banjo player, and bandleader. In “Better Get It Right the First Time,” she sings a soulful chorus of multi-harmonies as her band mate, Justin Harrington, performs a rap verse enhancing the traditional American roots music style. “Hey Bébé” differs significantly midway during the album, drawing on Cajun rhythmic and instrumental patterns.

“Birmingham Sunday” may perhaps be the most emotionally compelling song on the album. Originally written by Richard Fariña and performed by Joan Baez on a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, Giddens suitably infuses the ballad of the Birmingham bombing of 1963 with a gospel style. She concludes with an instrumental banjo and bones duet on “Following the North Star” that leads into “Freedom Highway,” a soulful celebration of the fight for civil rights reminiscent of Aretha Franklin’s 1968 “Think.”

Rhiannon Giddens’ expertly produced Freedom Highway traverses the historical roots of racial unrest in the United States. Her work possesses an unwavering determination as she strives for accuracy connecting musical traditions with related contemporary genres to illustrate the deeply embedded patterns of racial oppression and resilience.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Measha Brueggergosman – Songs of Freedom

Measha
Title: Songs of Freedom

Artist: Measha Brueggergosman

Label: Outside Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 13, 2017

 

Canadian opera singer Measha Brueggergosman is known for the versatility of both her voice and her career. As a classically trained soprano, she performs both operatic roles as well as those of a concert artist. Her latest project, Songs of Freedom, is a collection of spirituals that corresponds with Brueggergosman’s discovery of her family’s history in Canada.  The album is much more than just a collection of spirituals, however—it is also part of a larger documentary project including a film, a 4-part TV series, mobile app and interactive website with narratives from both Brueggergosman and the owner of Chalet Studio, in which some of the spirituals were recorded. The documentary explores how she came to know these spirituals, and to learn about herself and her family history in the process.

The website for the Songs of Freedom project provides a number of complementary elements to the album. In addition to performance videos showing Brueggergosman and her collaborators, there are also essays written by Brueggergosman, the musicians with whom she worked, and scholars of African American music.  These essays help to frame the project and provide a foundation on the importance of spirituals to the black musical tradition.  Also featured on this website is a 360 degree performance video of Brueggergosman recording “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” one of the spirituals featured on the album. The 360 scope of the video provides an intimate portrait of how she explored these spirituals and eventually made them her own.

YouTube Preview Image

Musically, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is definitely one of the highlights of the album, along with other slow tempo spirituals such as “I Surrender All.” These two especially allow Brueggergosman’s voice time to fill in spaces, rather than to be rushed.  In this exploration of spirituals, she joins the company of other black operatic singers such as Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle.  Within the documentary series and the accompanying album, Measha Brueggergosman is doing important work to uncover her family’s history and also elevate the status of spirituals as repertoire.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

Valerie June – The Order of Time

Valerie June

Title: The Order of Time

Artist: Valerie June

Label: Concord Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: March 10, 2017

 

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Thornetta Davis – Honest Woman

Thornetta Davis
Title: Honest Woman

Artist: Thornetta Davis

Label: Self-released

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 23, 2016

 

Crowned the “Queen of Detroit Blues” in 2015, Thornetta Davis is a blues singer and songwriter with a big voice and a passion for all things blues, rock, and soul. Though she’s worked with labels like Sub Pop in the past, her latest release Honest Woman is a self-released project full of passion.

Honest Woman starts rather untraditionally, with Felicia Davis singing her sister’s praises like a spoken word poem over back porch Delta blues: “When my sister sings the blues, she moves her hips swaying to the beat / Snapping her fingers and stomping her feet.” She compares her sister to Bessie Smith and Sippie Wallace, two of the most famous black blues singers from the 1920s. This celebration of black women in music and the blues reverberates throughout the entire album, as Thornetta Davis draws inspiration from artists such as Denise LaSalle, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, and Big Mama Thornton.

The theme of honoring women is echoed on the second track, “I Gotta Sang the Blues,” which is a powerful duet with harmonica virtuoso Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbids. The songs talks about singing the blues not to get rich or famous, but rather to persevere when “living the blues gets too rough.” At the end of the song, Davis evokes the names of more famous blues women, singing on the outro,

I ain’t gon’ stop singin’ the blues
Big Mama Thorton sang the blues
Koko Taylor sang the blues
Etta James sang the blues.

On “Sister Friends Indeed,” Davis celebrates the female friendships in her own life. The bluesy Americana track is an ode to sisterhood, discussing how all the women who have supported her throughout life are her sisters, whether they share blood or not:

The rest of Honest Woman doesn’t celebrate blues women as explicitly, but it cements Davis as a part of that history. Her smooth voices oscillates between a number of styles. She sings contemporary upbeat rock blues on songs like “That Don’t Appease Me” and “I Need A Whole Lotta Lovin to Satisfy Me,” followed by effortless soul on the heartbreak ballad “(Am I Just A) Shadow,” and sexy R&B vocals on “Can We Do It Again.”

Davis’ mixture of black music genres stands out particularly on “Set Me Free,” a modern funk and blues spiritual featuring the Larry McCray Band. Though it may be easy to view the raunchy aspects of blues as the opposite of gospel, Davis’ plea for the Lord to come down and set her free pairs perfectly with the blues singer’s themes of struggles and the pain of working.

The final song on the album, “Feels Like Religion,” is another gospel song which celebrates Davis finding happiness and confidence in herself. The song even has a call and response section as Davis sings, “I wanna dance! (dance) Shout! (shout) Show you what it’s all about!” The steady beat of the drum set completely shifts after this call and response as the music transforms into foot-stomping, hand-clapping gospel that completely takes the listener to church. This celebratory, thankful song encapsulates what Honest Woman is all about—an album full of joy and gratitude for the black blues women who influenced Davis’ music, her sisters, her God, and herself, the “Queen of Detroit Blues.”

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Thundercat – Drunk

Thundercat
Title: Drunk

Artist: Thundercat

Label: Brainfeeder

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: February 24, 2017

 

This month sees a new release from the eclectic bass virtuoso Stephen Bruner, known by his stage name, Thundercat.  Bruner has performed with artists across a variety of genres, and is perhaps best known for his collaboration with rapper Kendrick Lamar on the latter’s 2015 masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly.  Thundercat has an ear for a variety of musical styles, and his wide-ranging musical approach is readily apparent on Drunk.

This 23-track album feels like a series of musical vignettes—only one of these cracks the 4-minute mark and the vast majority of them are shorter than 3 minutes long. However, this brevity allows each composition to be a highly detailed miniature, with carefully layered sounds and carefully composed tunes being the album’s highlight.  Each track leaves the listener craving more without feeling complete, almost as though each song were a brief study in compositional technique.  If Thundercat’s resume is full of versatility, so is his dossier of compositions.  This album is heavy on guest appearances, with Thundercat working with everyone from yacht-rockers Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins (“Show You the Way”), to socially-conscious rapper Kendrick Lamar (“Walk on By,” which can be heard below), to massive pop star and musical chameleon Pharrell Williams (“The Turn Down”).  On these “feat” tracks, Thundercat and company craft arrangements that bring out the best of his collaborators’ musical ideas while simultaneously pushing these otherwise well-established artists towards Thundercat’s own neo-soul jazz fusion.

The material on this album ranges from virtuosic (“Uh Uh”) to just plain weird, incorporating sung meows (“A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)”) and lyrics about playing Mortal Kombat when relegated to friend status by a potential romantic partner (“Friend Zone”) into his musically and technically sophisticated music.  This approach begs comparison to the bizarre combination of humor and virtuosity that was the hallmark of artists like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. While it is easy to imagine that listeners who are here for the marquee collaborations may be put off by the more technically involved or thematically strange music, these equal parts of Thundercat’s approach to composing and playing fit comfortably side-by-side.  This is the kind of record that will challenge listeners by pushing them out of their musical comfort zones by an artist who is comfortable across a wide variety of musical idioms.

Drunk is nothing if not ambitious, but ambitious records are usually a bit uneven.  It is hard to find a single unifying thread that runs throughout the album, but that ultimately doesn’t prove detrimental to the project as a whole. Drunk isn’t a novel, but a visit to a musical theme park, where listeners are encouraged to take a spin on each of the rides.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Harry Belafonte – When Colors Come Together… The Legacy of Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte
Title: When Colors Come Together… The Legacy of Harry Belafonte

Artist: Harry Belafonte

Label: Legacy Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

With a career spanning over 60 years, Harry Belafonte is perhaps most famous for bringing Caribbean music into American pop culture. His 1956 breakout LP Calypso became the first album ever to sell more than a million copies, solidifying his spot in pop culture and music history.

Now, Legacy Recordings is celebrating his 90th birthday with the newly released compilation When Colors Come Together…The Legacy of Harry Belafonte. Belafonte himself chose the track list for the album, which includes one new recording alongside many classic and well-known Harry Belafonte songs. His son, David Belafonte, produced the album and wrote the liner notes. He appears with Harry discussing the album below:

A year after Calypso was released, Belafonte appeared in the film Island in the Sun, which explored racial tensions and interracial romance. A re-interpretation of a song from the film, “When Colors Come Together (Our Island In the Sun),” is the first track on the album and is sung by a children’s choir. The song is full of joy and optimism as the chorus of kids sing “Dark skin, light skin, brown eyes, blue / It’s what inside that should matter to you” while upbeat bongos resound behind their voices. In his liner notes, David Belafonte states that they reinterpreted the song “[using] the voices and performances of children to make the case that there is no human gene for racism; that what has been learned must be unlearned if the world is to ever truly know peace.”

Belafonte’s famous recording of the Jamaican folk song “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” also makes an appearance, as well as the buoyant dance song “Jump the Line.” Other classic Belafonte songs on the compilation include “Jamaica Farewell” and “Try to Remember.”

At a time when racial tensions continue to reign and protests rise up around the country, another folk song recorded by Belafonte, “All My Trials,” rings especially poignant. Used during social movements and protests in the 1950s and 1960s, the song is a testament to Belafonte’s activism during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as his friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Belafonte has continued this passionate call for social justice throughout his career, advocating for causes such as the anti-apartheid movement and USA for Africa. He also served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is currently the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues. His social justice organization Sankofa.org has been involved with a number of important causes, most recently participating in a “Justice for Flint” benefit concert and working with Usher on his “Chains” music video and racial justice campaign.

When Colors Come Together…The Legacy of Harry Belafonte is a celebration of everything that Belafonte has accomplished in his wide-ranging career and life. Though prominently featuring the Calypso music that he became so well known for, the album also honors his career and legacy of social justice work through song choice and the re-recording of “When Colors Come Together (Our Island In the Sun).” It is clear that both Harry and David Belafonte are still passionate about addressing issues of racial prejudice and violence, and this compilation shows they are determined to continue embedding Harry Belafonte’s legacy in a whole new generation.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang – Build Music

Janka Nabay
Title: Build Music

Artist: Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang

Label: Luaka Bop

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: March 24, 2017

 

Janka Nabay rose to stardom in his native Sierra Leone during the 1990s for remixing and modernizing Bubu music (traditional music of the Temne people in Sierra Leone). Caught amid the decades-long war there, Nabay immigrated to the United States in 2003. After years of working side jobs and trying to make a life as an artist, in 2010 he crossed paths with filmmaker and scholar Wills Glasspiegel, who had recorded bubu horns. Together, they put together a touring band that eventually recorded and released their debut album En Yah Sah in 2012.

Three years later, Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang are returning with their sophomore album Build Music. This project reflects the many cultures and contradictions in Nabay’s life. He sings in Sierra Leone’s lingua franca, Krio, as well as his native tribal language Temne, English, and even bits of Arabic. Using traditional recordings and his band’s instrumentals as well as overdubs, loops, and electronic drumbeats, the result is a diversified sound that overturns the notion of static traditions while trying to remain true to the flavor and integrity of bubu music.

Bubu music is most identifiable by West African bamboo horns that the Temne people use in traditional bubu processions in rural areas of Sierra Leone during Ramadan. In the past, Nabay has mimicked the sounds of these horns on Casios. While he does use these keyboard imitations on Build Music, he also directly samples recordings of the horns that Glasspiegel recorded on a 2014 trip to Sierra Leone and includes them on the songs “Angbolieh” and “Santa Monica.”

Build Music’s title reflects the process behind the album, which was slow and intentional. Included are reimagined versions of songs Nabay recorded in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, like “Sabanoh” and “Angbolieh,” as well as tracks such as “Bubu Dub” featuring new vocals sung over original Sierra Leonean rhythms recorded by Nabay’s collaborators.

The diversity present in music styles and languages on the album is also reflected in choice of song topics and themes, which draw upon Nabay’s experiences in Sierra Leone and current incidents related to life as an immigrant in the United States. For example, “Santa Monica” is based on a tense encounter Nabay had with a police officer. These varied themes are a part of his philosophy–namely, that multiple, contradicting realities always coexist. Build Music is an example of this dichotomy, drawing from Nabay’s diverse life experiences yet keeping bubu music at the heart of it all.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Morgan Heritage – Strictly Roots

Morgan Heritage
Title: Strictly Roots

Artist: Morgan Heritage

Label : CTBC

Formats : 2-CD deluxe edition, MP3

Release date: December 9, 2016

 

Family acts in music have always been huge: The Osmonds, Sylvers, Five Stairsteps, Isleys, Carpenters, and of course The Jackson 5/The Jacksons—who recently marked their 50th anniversary. Morgan Heritage is a family act and I’m willing to bet that you’ve never heard of the group. MH is Jamaica’s answer to the J5. Made up a five siblings, their father is reggae singer Denroy Morgan, who had a big hit in 1981 with the single “I’ll Do Anything.”

First released in 2015, Strictly Roots is the band’s 10th studio album and the first on their own label CTBC, which stands for Cool To Be Conscious (they recorded for the label VP during much of their success, but felt it was time to move on). After winning a Grammy Award in the Best Reggae Album category in 2016, the group decided to release a 2-CD deluxe edition, which celebrates the album’s success with previously unreleased tracks and remixes.

The original album (Disc 1) was comprised of twelve tracks in which Morgan Heritage takes the listener through peaks and valleys. In the song “So Amazing,” Morgan Heritage steps away from traditional roots and goes for a more top 40 sound. “So Amazing” could easily be played on a CW series:

In reggae, one always pay homage to Jah and Morgan Heritage sticks with tradition. In “Child of Jah” (feat. Chronixx) they explain the part Jah plays in reggae music and rastas to those who don’t know. On “Light It Up,” featuring Jo Messa Marley, they chant “this is reggae music.” Can’t do reggae without a Marley. After all, Robert Nesta Marley is the godfather of reggae. “Rise and Fall,” which discusses the cycle of life, has the typical drum & bass sound you hear in reggae.

“Celebrate Life” may be Morgan Heritage’s best track on this album. Again, Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” had to play a major part. “Celebrate the life you love / Celebrate the life you live,” Peetah Morgan & Grampson sing on lead vocals. If the group wanted to get crossover appeal, this would be the track to do it.

Disc 2 includes 3 additional versions of “Light It Up,” plus the pop-oriented “Come Fly” featuring the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly and the more traditional “Lion Order,” among others.

Morgan Heritage has won respect from the reggae community worldwide. Now that they are independent on CTBC, I expect them to take some risks and open it up. After all, they’re royalty. One Love.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

February 2017 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during February 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk Country
Eddie Bo, Chris Barber: The 1991 Sea-Saint Sessions (Last Music Co.)
Hayes McMullan: Everyday Seem Like Murder Here (LITA)

Classical, Spoken Word, Soundtrack
Grace Bumbry: The Art Of Grace Bumbry (Deutsche Grammophon   )
Jordi Savall: the Routes of Slavery (Alia Vox)
Leontyne Price: Puccini: Tosca (Decca)
Steve Brown: Live at the Atlanta Comedy Theater (ATL Comedy Theater)
Various: The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh OST (Real Gone Music)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears: Backlash (Ingrooves)
Chameleon: Chameleon (expanded ed.) (BBR)
Dawn Richard: Redemption (expanded ed.) (Local Action / Our Dawn Ent.)
Della Reese: Special Delivery (Sepia)
Just Robyn: Mustard Seed (Joziewood)
Pazant Brothers: Skunk Juice: Dirty Funk From the Big Apple (BGP)
Sinkane: Life & Livin’ It (City Slang)
Thievery Corporation: The Temple of I & I (ESL Music)

Gospel, Christian Rap
AnG White: I Am AnG White (C Bazz Ent.)
Anthony Evans: Back to Life (Sherman James Productions)
Antonia Wilson: The Sower and the Seed (Tight Tunes Inc)
Ayiesha Woods: The Runway Project (Original Peace Music Group)
Meachum L. Clarke & True Purpose: The Victory Experience
Minister Antonio Coney & The Voices of Fire: I Been Born Again (Deltone)
Mos Stef: Christian Hip Hop 101 (Victorious Life)
Speez: Let Me Introduce Myself (I’M DOIN’ JESUS)
Tramaine: Clear (Divine Light Media)

Jazz
Albert Ayler Quartet: The Hilversum Sessions (Modern Silence)
Cameron Graves: Planetary Prince (Mack Avenue)
Carmen Lundy: Code Noir (Afrasia Productions)
Chris McClenney: Portrait in Two EP
Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (ECM)
Curtis Brothers Quartet: Syzygy (Truth Revolution Records)
David Weiss & Point of Departure: Wake Up Call (Raopeadope)
Elijah Rock: Gershwin For My Soul
Harriet Tubman: Araminta (Sunnyside Communications )
Heads of State: Four in One (Smoke Sessions)
Kayla Waters: Apogee (Trippin N Rhythm)
Mike Longo Trio: Only Time Will Tell (Consolidated Artists Prod)
Nicholas Payton: Afro-Caribbean Mixtape (Paytone-Ropeadope)
Ransom Moreland Jr: Restoration
The Baylor Project: The Journey (Be A Light)
Tiger Trio (with Nicole Miller): Unleased (Rogueart)
Xixel Langa: Inside Me (Modigi)

R&B, Soul
Andy Suzuki & The Method: The Glass Hour (digital)
Aretha Franklin: Aretha (2 CD deluxe ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Brenton Wood: The Very Best Of (Concord)
Charlie Wilson: In It To Win It (RCA)
Chocolate Milk: Chocolate Milk (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Chocolate Milk: We’re All in This Together/Milky Way (Funky Town Grooves)
D.J. Rogers: Love, Music & Life (Funky Town Grooves)
Delegation: Promise of Love: Limited (Clinck )
Divine Brown: Crazy Love Amplified EP
Eddie Kendricks: Something More (Funky Town Grooves)
Emanny: Black Heart (digital)
Gladys Knight & the Pips: 2nd Anniversary (Funky Town Grooves)
Gladys Knight & the Pips: I Feel a Song (Funky Town Grooves)
Gladys Knight & the Pips: The One and Only (Funky Town Grooves)
Jermaine Jackson: Don’t Take It Personal (Funky Town Grooves)
Jermaine Jackson: Precious Moments (Funky Town Grooves)
Jesse Boykins III x Two Fresh: TOKiMONSTA’s Young Art Sound
Jessica Manning: What If I Run
José James: Love in a Time of Madness (Blue Note)
Moonglows: Complete Singles As & Bs 1953-62 (Acrobat)
Oleta Adams: Third Set
Phil Perry: Breathless (Shanachie)
Roy Roberts: Roy Roberts Experience (Perfect Toy)
Sampha: Process (Young Turks)
Sergio Sylvestre: S/T (Sony )
Sir: Her Too EP (digital) (TDE)
Starpoint: Restless/Sensational (reissue) (Cherry Red)
SYD: Fin (Columbia)
Tef Poe: Black Julian (Footklan Music Group)
Tymes: Turning Point (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)

Rap
A$AP Mob: Cozy Tapes Vol. 1: Friends
Big Sean: I Decided (G.O.O.D. Music)
Black Moon: Enta Da Stage: The Complete Edition (box set) (Fat Beats)
Ces Cru: Catastrophic Event Specialists (Strange Music)
Christopher Martin: Big Deal (VP)
Dej Loaf and Jacquees: F*ck A Friend Zone (digital)
Denmark Vessey: Martin Lucid Dream ( Street Corner Music)
Fat Joe & Remy Ma: Plata O Plomo (RNG)
Funky DL: Marauding At Midnight: A Tribute To The Sounds of A Tribe Called Quest (Washington Classics)
Future: S/t
Ill Bill: Septagram (Uncle Howie)
Joe Young: Invincible Armour ( YoungLife Music Group)
Karriem Riggins: Headnob Suite (Stone’s Throw)
K-DEF: In the Moment (vinyl) (Redefinition)
Kent Jones: The Luh Tape (digital)
Kirk Knight: Black Noise (digital)
LiKWUiD & 2 Hungry Bros.: Fay Grim ( HiPNOTT)
Lil Reese: Better Days (digital) (RBC)
Lupe Fiasco: DROGAS Light ( 1st & 15th Productions)
Neek The Exotic: The Neek The Exotic Experience ( Still On The Hustle Music)
Nines: One Foot Out (digital) (XL)
Nobigdyl: Canopy (digital) (indie tribe)
Olivier St. Louis: Ever Since the Fall ( Jakarta)
Par-City: The Young, Dope & Gifted II (Par-City)
Paul Nice: Ultimate Block Party Breaks Volumes 3 (Super Break)
Quelle Chris: Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often (Mello Music Group)
Reek Daddy: Fiery Hot Rocks
Shield Enforcers: Crash Course ( ChamberMusik)
“Starlito and Don Trip:”  karate in the Garage (digital)
Steven Malcolm: S/T (digital) (4 AGAINST 5)
Urban Legend Blakboy: Koais Atrd (Mathutie)
Various: New Gen (XL)
Westside Gunn: Riots On Fashion Avenue (Effiscienz)
Young Dolph: Gelato (Paper Route Empire )

Reggae, Dancehall
Lyricson: Revolution Time Again (Undisputed)
Nafrythm: Ocean (RCM)
Neville Staple: Return of Judge Roughneck (Cleopatra)
Samu: My Soul (Maxizamus)
Skatalits: Foundation Ska ( Studio One)

World
Aurelio: Darandi (Real World)
Black Market Brass: Cheat & Start a Fight (Secret Stash)
Flavia Coelho: Sonho Real (PIASL)
Joe King Kologbo: Sugar Daddy (vinyl) (Strut)
Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita: Transparent Water (Ota)
Saddysa: African Modern Spirituals
Tinariwen: Elwan (Anti/Epitaph)