Beneficence – Basement Chemistry

beneficence_basement chemistry

Title: Basement Chemistry

Artist: Beneficence

Label: Ill Adrenaline

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 29, 2016

 

 

Newark, New Jersey rapper Beneficence released his sixth album, Basement Chemistry, in January on Ill Adrenaline, the record label he co-founded in 2010. The mission of Beneficence and his label is to “keep that raw and authentic boom-bap rap music alive.” The veteran rapper certainly does that on Basement Chemistry, with 19 tracks of diverse beats, clever flows, and a slew of notable guest rappers.

“Digital Warfare” features Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan and a brassy sample with a traditional boom-bap beat (thanks to cuts by DJ Rob Swift). Both rappers have unique but tight flows that make the song incredibly catchy and cohesive:

YouTube Preview Image

Two more impressive features are The Legion and Dres (of Black Sheep) on “Make It Hot (Jingle Jangle 2.0),” which samples “Never Can Say Goodbye” by the Jackson 5 and “When the Sun Comes,” with Masta Ace.  Other guest artists on the album include MC Eiht, El Da Sensei, Chubb Rock, MindsOne, and Nack of Tragic Allies.

Beneficence first started rapping in the 1990s, and his style stays true to the East coast origins of hip hop through heavy sampling, such as the R&B in “Intro” and soul in “Wranglers & Asics,” use of scratching in “Vibrate the Streets,” and narrative storytelling in “Maui Vacation.”

Coming up only a few years after they started, the music of Beneficence is very aesthetically similar to The Roots, and of rappers still in the game, he sounds most like Black Thought. Similar to The Roots, the music of Basement Chemistry is full of soul – not just in the 1960’s and 70’s samples, but in the passion and dedication behind every bar Beneficence raps.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate – Monistic Theory

joe driscoll sekou kouyate_monistic theory

Title: Monistic Theory

Artist: Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate

Label: Cumbancha

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 13, 2016

 

 

Joe Driscoll has become famous over the past decade because of his blend of funk, folk, and hip hop music. In 2010, he met and formed a friendship with Guinean kora player Sekou Kouyate, which led to the release of their debut album, Faya, in 2014. On their second album, Monistic Theory, Driscoll and Kouyate continue to create a unique brand of music that innovatively combines their styles and displays the duos’ songwriting skills and lyricism.

Monistic Theory features a mixture of instrumental tracks with sung and rapped songs. The opening track, “Tamala,” blends gentle guitar and kora with the voice of Oren Lyons, a Native American author and activist. Her words are few but poetic, as she muses, “Water is life, water is the foundation of life.”

Songs such as “Tokira” echo this softer side of the two musicians. Composed by Kouyate, the bass (by John Railton) and percussion (by Jimbo Breen) set a solid beat that allows his impeccable kora skills to shine. Driscoll’s lyrics are introspective and calm, reflecting on what his 10-year-old self would think about where he has ended up in life:

YouTube Preview Image

Kouyate’s and Driscoll’s rapping skills are most evident in the title track “Monistic Theory,” an uplifting song urging today’s younger generation to stay positive despite the world’s problems that concludes with the sung chorus: “Hey, you got to believe in you and what you know is true.” Songs such as “Rising Ride” and “Wama” echo these hip hop influences.

Many songs, including “Badiya” and “Barra,” feature Kouyate singing in his native language, which adds another element of world music to the mix. They transition to funk in the final track, a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster.” Here the groove has a reggae feel, and the energized performance was drawn from a live concert recorded in Syracuse, New York.

Though there are many genres that play into Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate’s Monistic Theory, all of the songs share a common message of maintaining hope and perseverance despite the many problems people face throughout the world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Daby Touré – Amonafi

darby toure

Title: Amonafi

Artist: Daby Touré

Label: Cumbancha

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 18, 2015

 

 

Daby Touré delights in his many identities, calling himself an “Afropean”; although he was born in Mauritania and raised in Senegal, he has now lived over half his life in Paris. Despite the wishes of some people for him to be a “traditional African artist,” he always loved listening to pop, and was inspired by Stevie Wonder, The Police, and Michael Jackson. He has made a career out of his genre-bending and –bridging music. His fifth album, Amonafi, which means “once upon a time” in Wolof, aims to show Touré’s unique vision of Africa, through embracing these multiple musical and cultural lenses.

The album traverses many topics and periods of history. The opening track, “Woyoyoye (A Cry)” describes a love story in the village Touré grew up in. “Amonafi (Once Upon a Time)” is about slavery, and how it changed a people who were once at one with nature into a nation “adrift.”

Amonafi also has many songs about the struggles of women, often discussed in Touré’s eloquent storytelling and songwriting. For instance, “Debho (Women)” is a tribute to women who he fears “bear the weight of our whole society.” “Oma (Call Me)” is about migration, but based on a story a Romanian woman told Touré near his Paris home:

These stories and masterful lyricism are coupled with powerful music that seasoned with folk flavors, soul, and Afropop. One song that Touré wrote with his father, “Khone (Enemy)” is actually an excerpt from a Black Power-inspired opera they created, with the album version of this song performed acapella.

Amonafi is another striking work of art from Daby Touré, mirroring his multifaceted world view and representing a fresh perspective on African history, life, and music.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

 

Lecrae – Church Clothes 3

CC3

Title: Church Clothes 3

Artist: Lecrae

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Reach Records

Release date: January 15, 2016

 

Lecrae has never been one to shy away from controversy, from criticizing rappers who glorify violence on his Grammy-winning Gravity to his personal story about abortion on his last album Anomaly. His latest project, Church Clothes 3 (often abbreviated CC3) is no different. He dropped the ten-track album without warning on January 15, and it fully embraces racial politics in a new way for Lecrae while retaining his characteristic Christian messages.

The first two Church Clothes mixtapes were produced by Don Cannon (50 Cent, Ludacris), and CC3 was produced by S1 (Kanye West, Jay-Z). All three have excellent production with beats that sound typical of what one hears from mainstream hip hop. CC3 reached the number one slot on Billboard’s Rap/Hip-Hop Album charts within a week of being released, showcasing Lecrae’s tendency to cross genre boundaries despite being known as a gospel rapper.

Central to the album and its political messages is the short film that was released simultaneously, featuring the songs “It Is What It Is,” “Gangland,” “Déjà Vu,” and “Misconceptions 3.” The video follows a young gang member who gets shot:

The opening track, “Freedom,” frames the concept through two lenses: freedom as spiritual salvation and freedom from racial injustice. The hook, sung by Dallas vocalist N’dambi, is smooth soul and claims freedom as a mindset. The song samples a gospel chorus in the background, which is chopped up in the verses, creating holy syncopation. There are clear influences of Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly throughout the entitle album and video, but this song includes a direct reference to the Lamar’s “King Kunta.”

Gangland,” featuring Propaganda, is the most overtly political song on CC3. Referencing the New Jim Crow and the government’s role in allowing drugs to permeate African American communities, the track includes spoken narration in between verses that criticize the criminal justice system and explain the origins of gangs in the United States. Maybe most controversial to Lecrae’s white, Christian fan base may be the lyrics in Propaganda’s verse: “When American churches scuff they Toms on our brother’s dead bodies / As they march to stop gay marriage / We had issues with Planned Parenthood too / We just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in.”

The song “Can’t Do You,” featuring the rapper E-40, brushes off haters, encouraging the listener to “do you.” It’s backed by a standard hand-clapping beat and a R&B chorus sung by Drew Allen. Another standout track is “Misconceptions 3,” featuring John Givez, JGivens & Jackie Hill Perry. As the title indicates, it is the third in a series of tracks about misconceptions that appear on the first two Church Clothes albums. The beat is fast and hard, and indiscriminate chanting in the background helps moves the song forward. Lecrae lets these rappers shine on the track, with fast flows and witty lyrics such as “They shocked to see us like Donald Trump up in a taqueria.”

Lecrae, who marched with #BlackLivesMatter protestors in Atlanta last year, recently said on CNN that he wants to “educate and help” people who don’t see the reality of racism in the United States. Church Clothes 3 certainly makes a bold step in that direction, as Lecrae explains the complexities of racism, unashamedly continuing to change the way people view the world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Birds of Chicago – Real Midnight

birds of chicago_real midnight

Title: Real Midnight

Artist: Birds of Chicago

Label: Five Head Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 19, 2016

 

 

Birds of Chicago defines its style of music as rock and roll poetry or even as a kind of “secular gospel.” Led by vocalist Allison Russell and her husband, songwriter JT Nero, the group’s folk and country roots are readily apparent. Produced by Joe Henry (who has worked with Solomon Burke, Bettye Lavette, and Emmylou Harris), Birds of Chicago’s second album Real Midnight explores the transformative power of music and the inevitability of death.

The title track ebbs and flows as full, harmonious choruses intermingle as twanging guitar and soft percussion fill in gaps in the vocal lines. The lyrics speak of how limited time is, asking “now what you gonna do with your days left in the sun?” The song is a combination of country and soul, fueled by Russell’s smooth voice and the rasp of backing vocalist Michelle McGrath during the chorus:

YouTube Preview Image

“Sparrow” is both haunting and sorrowful, a sparse song about mortality led by minimalistic banjo. “Color of Love” continues these reflective themes, taking listeners on an emotional journey that retrospectively looks back at life’s important moments. “Dim Star of the Palisades” is a reminder to hold on to what’s important through the hard times in life: “Storm’s coming through, top’s gonna blow. Hold on tight, don’t let your baby go.”

Though most the material is introspective, “Estrella Goodbye” is a fun, upbeat track with a harmonious chorus full of “na na na”s reminiscent of indie folk bands such as The Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Nero takes the lead in the verses with his bright vocals, and Rhiannon Giddens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) guest stars in the chorus.

“Pelican” is a beautiful duet between Nero and Russell with acoustic guitar and simple percussion – knocks on the guitar and a few piano notes in the chorus. It approaches the theme of mortality with a gentle hand, singing “you’re not too far gone,” a meditation on the power of love and redemption. This is where Birds of Chicago’s “secular gospel” is most evident. Despite the song’s references God, Nero has said the band does not believe in any one religion but rather in how “words and music together heal and transform like nothing else in this life.”

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Bri – Keys To My Heart

bri

Title: Keys to My Heart

Artist: Bri

Label: Marquis Boone Enterprises/Tyscot

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

Briana Babineaux, known simply as Bri, started singing at age five in the Lafayette, Louisiana church where her stepfather was a pastor. Now 21 years old and studying criminal justice, she never considered a career as a singer until one of her friends posted a video of her singing “Make Me Over” by Tonex on YouTube, which became a viral sensation.

Rising up through social media, Bri has become a full-fledged gospel star, releasing her debut album Keys to My Heart through Marquis Boone Enterprises and Tyscot Records. Her first gospel single, “I’ll Be the One,” came out last June and reached the top spot on Billboard’s Gospel Digital Songs chart. This heartfelt song includes a call and response chorus in which Bri offers her life to God:

Many gospel artists have encouraged and supported Bri on her debut album. Recording artist Bryan Andrew Wilson composed the warm, stripped-down ballad “Grace” especially for Bri, and Christian artist Reece wrote “Love You Forever.” The latter is evocative of ‘90s R&B girl groups, especially in the outro that features snapping, with Bri riffing both in melodies and speech as the song fades out.

Trying her hand as a singer-songwriter, Bri wrote her first compositions for the album—“Jacob’s Song” and its reprise “I’m Desperate.” They are both dynamic, with reverently quiet moments that build until the music swells and Bri belts outs skillfully embellished runs and high notes in the choruses.

In Keys to My Heart, Bri puts her soul into every song she sings, proving that she’s not just a social media star, but a rising gospel star with a lot to say.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Lakou Mizik – Wa Di Yo

lakou mizik_wa di yo

Title: Wa Di Yo

Artist: Lakou Mizik

Label: Cumbancha

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: April 1, 2016

 

Guitarist and singer Steeve Valcourt, singer Jonas Attis, and American producer Zach Niles (who worked on the documentary film that introduced Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars) began the group Lakou Mizik in Port-au-Prince in 2010, believing that music could help people recover and find positivity despite the horrible tragedy of the Haitian earthquakes. The group has grown from three to nine members who range in age from their early twenties to late sixties. Their debut album Wa Di Yo is being released April 1 on Cumbancha.

The members of Lakou Mizik each have a different story to tell, and they bring different musical styles along with their distinctive perspectives. Wa Di Yo represents the confluence of many influences within Haitian culture: African, French, Caribbean, and U.S.

YouTube Preview Image

The collectivity that Lakou Mizik enjoys was not always a natural fit.  Originally, vocalist Nadine Remy was afraid of the vodou singer Sanba Zao due to Remy’s own evangelical Christian roots. However, Remy and Zao are now close and Remy has embraced and learned from the racine (roots) music movement.

Another uniquely Haitian genre is added through the Rara maestros Peterson “Ti Piti” Joseph and James “Ti Malis”Carrier. Rara is a traditional street music that supplies much of the rhythm that undergirds the music of Lakou Mizik. Their cornets (a simple brass horn they hope can one day be as respected as much as trombone or trumpet) can be heard on many of the songs, such as “Pran Ka Mwen” and “Wa Di Yo.”

Accordions also are foundational elements of the album’s sound on tracks such as “Poze,” “Anba Siklòn,” and “Is Ta Fi Bo.” There are also tracks without the band’s cadre of musical instruments, occasionally the band delivers such raw tracks such as “Bade Zile” and “Parenn Legba,” both traditional songs arranged by the group as beautiful full-chorus a capella songs with only slight percussion accompanying them.

In Creole, the word lakou has multiple meanings which range from a communal gathering place to home or “where you are from.” Rising from terrible national tragedy, Lakou Mizik takes pride in the many musical styles and cultural backgrounds of their members and, more broadly, of their country. One member asserts in a promotional video for the album, “the true richness of our culture has yet to be discovered.” Wa Di Yo may begin the discovery process for listeners around the world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Cha Wa – Funk ‘n’ Feathers

cha wa_funknfeathers

Title: Funk ‘n’ Feathers

Artist: Cha Wa

Label: UPT Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 1, 2016

 

It is nearly impossible to listen to New Orleans band Cha Wa without dancing. After years playing in the Crescent City, the Mardi Gras/funk band is releasing their first full length album Funk ‘n’ Feathers. Their funk sensibility and background in Mardi Gras Indian music make every song full of life, whether fueled by Latin beats, joyful unison choruses, or a soaring trumpet.

The album includes many classic Mardi Gras Indian songs, such as “Li’l Liza Jane,” “Jock-A-Mo” (later famously covered as “Iko Iko”), and a cover of Dr. John’s “All on a Mardi Gras Day.” There are also more hardcore funk songs such as the rocking “Shallow Water” and “UPT,” which features organ and wailing electric guitar. Most songs, though, are a thoroughly-blended scoop of New Orleans’s musical gumbo, as evidenced in the video for “Ooh Na Nay”:

YouTube Preview Image

Cha Wa transforms its vast musical experience and unending catalog of songs into a ten track album that is immensely enjoyable and full of the spirit of Mardi Gras funk.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Silk – Quiet Storm

Silk

Title: Quiet Storm

Artist: Silk

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 18, 2016

 

The Atlanta-based R&B vocal group Silk originally started performing at churches, talent shows, and even in the streets, eventually becoming known for their “baby-making music” throughout the ‘90s. Now the five men of Silk are back with their first new album in a decade titled Quiet Storm.

Unlike their 2006 album which reinterpreted other artists’ R&B hits, Quiet Storm features ten original tracks. As suggested by the title, these are intensely romantic songs, such as “Love 4 U 2 Like Me” and “It Only Takes One,” as well as some characteristically sensual tracks such as “Slow Grind and “Baby Maker,” which they call a new brand of “grown-man sexy.” The group takes pride in their vocal arrangements and perfectly blended five-part harmonies, which remain as skillful and smooth as when they started.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Regina Belle – The Day Life Began

ReginaBelle

Title: The Day Life Began

Artist: Regina Belle

Label: Shanachie/Peak Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 22, 2016

 

Regina Belle is a versatile singer and songwriter who has moved between the worlds of jazz, R&B, and gospel. She is also an actress who famously sang “A Whole New World” with Peabo Bryson in Disney’s Aladdin. Her first album in fifteen years, The Day Life Began, is full of classic, inspirational R&B songs produced by Jamie Jones and Jack Kugell of The Heavyweights.

The Day Life Began features many R&B love songs, such as Regina’s own original ballad “You Saw the Good In Me,” the orchestral “A Night of Love,” and the upbeat, funk-infused cover of Reggie Lucas and James Mtume’s “You Know How to Love Me:”

Though the album focuses on R&B, Regina’s multiple influences are apparent, such as the gospel choruses in “He’s Alright” and “The Day Life Began,” which celebrates multiples milestones in Regina’s life, such as the birth of her children and the first time she won a Grammy.

The album ends with a version of Steve Diamond and Allen Shambin’s “Be Careful Out There,” which Regina said she chose because it reflects her emotions as her children all move away from home. This kind of personal connection to her songs is seen throughout The Day Life Began, as Regina reflects on her past while reminding listeners that her voice and her passion for music are as strong as ever.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irvin Mayfield & The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra – Dee Dee’s Feathers

DeeDeesFeathers

Title: Dee Dee’s Feathers

Artist: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irvin Mayfield & The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra

Label: OKeh Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: August 7, 2015

 

Dee Dee’s Feathers celebrates New Orleans in a wide-ranging jazz album that explores the neighborhoods of NOLA and their respective cultures and musical genres. The album was even recorded at Esplanade Studios, located in a reconverted historical church that was damaged severely by Hurricane Katrina. It is overflowing with talent, featuring vocals by Grammy and Tony Award winner (for her 1975 role as Glinda in The Wiz) Dee Dee Bridgewater, Grammy-winning producer and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, and backup by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

The album takes listeners on a musical journey through New Orleans. “Big Chief,” a traditional Mardi Gras Indian song, celebrates the Second Line with six minutes of lively horns and guest vocals by Dr. John. “C’est Ici Que Je T’aime” transports the listener to the French Quarter, where Irvin Mayfield has created his Jazz Playhouse on historic Bourbon Street.

The title track, “Dee Dee’s Feathers,” is an incredibly fun original composition by Dee Dee, Irvin, and Bill Summers (of Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters fame). There is a clear Afro-Caribbean influence in the percussion, and an acapella section ends the song with great harmonies and vocal polyrhythmic layers.

Other original songs on the album include “Congo Square,” which again features Bill Summers and African drumming, and “From the Lake to the River,” a composition by Irvin about Elysian Fields Avenue, the only street in New Orleans that connects Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.

The album also features a stunning arrangement of Bloomington, Indiana native songwriter Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans.” Starting with a muted brass solo, the song morphs into an impressive demonstration of Dee Dee’s incredible scatting skills as she imitates and then expands on the original melody.

Dee Dee’s Feathers is bound to be a treat for any listener as it is bursting with musical skill while also recognizing the many cultures of New Orleans and the multitude of jazz styles that have arisen from the Crescent City.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Lynda Randle – Ageless Hymns: Songs of Joy

Lynda Randle

Title: Ageless Hymns: Songs of Joy

Artist: Lynda Randle

Label: Lynda Randle Ministries/Gaither Music Group

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 15, 2016

 

Growing up in Washington, D.C as the middle child of seven kids, Lynda Randle learned many traditional hymns from her family. During a difficult period when she was caring for her sick mother, Randle decided to record many of these hymns in honor of her parents. Ageless Hymns: Songs of Joy is the final installment in this series of three albums “dedicated to timeless, classic songs of faith.” The series is distributed through Gaither Music, a Christian music group powerhouse created and run by native Hoosiers Bill and Gloria Gaither in Alexandria, Indiana. Randle is one of the only African American artists to appear regularly at Gaither Homecomings, and has released many contemporary Christian albums and DVDs as part of the Gaither Gospel Series.

All the songs on Ageless Hymns: Songs of Joy are meant to “uplift, renew, and encourage the soul.” They include traditional hymns such as “Real, Real,” “The Windows of Heaven,” and “This Joy I Have.” The album also features originals, such as “He Touched Me” written by Bill Gaither, and “In You I Find My Joy,” written by Randle, who has composed and arranged hundreds of songs over the course of her career.

Randle’s dedication to her faith is present throughout the whole album, and her passionate, soulful voice amplifies and gives life to these traditional hymns.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Indra Rios-Moore – Heartland

Indra

Title: Heartland

Artist: Indra Rios-Moore

Label: Impulse!

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 7, 2015

 

Indra Rios-Moore grew up in Manhattan, singing along to the radio every morning, learning American folk songs, and eventually getting classical vocal training. After marrying Danish saxophonist Benjamin Traerup, she moved to Denmark and joined his jazz trio along with his friend and bassist Thomas Sejthen. Their first two albums won the 2010 and 2012 Best Jazz Vocal Album awards in Denmark.

Rios-Moore’s third album, Heartland, marries her soft and soulful vocals with smooth jazz and harmonious instrumentation. Produced by Larry Klein, who’s worked with artists such as Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock, the album is easygoing and effortless, with wide dynamic variation and well thought-out arrangements.

The first song, “Little Black Train,” is a folk tune once sung by Woodie Guthrie. It’s full of soul and energy, percussively driven and propelled by a saxophone solo:

YouTube Preview Image

The cover of Duke Ellington’s “Azure” is quiet and sultry, showing the power of subtlety as the dynamics leisurely build and fall. Indra takes her time on the vocals, and it pays off in this beautiful song. There is also a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” in the form of a ballad that often sounds mournful, particularly now in the context of Bowie’s death in January. Other outstanding tracks include “Money,” which shows off the raw power and diversity in Indra’s voice, and the heartbreaking yet moving “Your Long Journey.”

Rios-Moore said all the songs chosen for the album are very personal because they brought her comfort when her mother passed away shortly before she gave birth to her son. In her words, they “traverse the territories of the heart.” While the album focuses on journeys, sometimes explicitly in songs about trains and lost loves, Indra also takes time to mourn, such as in to the somber final track “Solitude,” which begs, “Dear Lord above, send back my love.” Any listener of Heartland is fortunate to hear such a beautiful, authentic expression of what is means to simultaneously lose someone and celebrate new life.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Taj Weekes & Adowa – Love Herb & Reggae

taj weekes adowa_love herb reggae

Title: Love Herb & Reggae

Artist: Taj Weekes & Adowa

Label: VP Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 12, 2016

 

 

A play on the classic “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” theme, Taj Weekes and his band Adowa’s fifth studio release, Love Herb & Reggae, is an effort to return to the roots of reggae by producing music filled with Rastafarian ideas of peaceful revolution. In this powerful album, Weekes brings his activism to his music, tackling social issues through smart lyrics and a progressive approach to reggae.

The themes of social justice are laid out on the opening track, “Let Your Voice,” which proclaims “let your voice be as loud as your silence.” Other songs include “Bullet From a Gun,” which begs for gun reform; “Life in the Red,” which warns about the destructiveness of capitalism; and “Here I Stand,” a story about the dangers of homophobia, which Weekes discusses in the following video:

There are also some more upbeat tunes on the album, such as the homage to the homeland, “St. Lucia On My Mind,” and the pure love song “Was It You.” While most songs don’t stray far from the more traditional reggae format that Taj Weekes & Adowa have presented before, Weekes claims to have made a breakthrough in his creative process, more carefully choosing chords and jumping from major to minor keys to match the topic and narrative of the lyrics with the melodies.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

 

O’Jays – The O’Jays 50th Anniversary Concert

ojays_50th anniversary concert

Title: The O’Jays 50th Anniversary Concert

Artist: O’Jays

Label: Wienerworld

Formats: CD + DVD

Release date: October 16, 2015

 

Legends of R&B, the O’Jays got their start in 1958 in Canton, Ohio, and based their name on the famous Cleveland deejay Eddie O’Jay. This timeless group is still full of soul, as is evident in the combined CD and DVD edition of their 50th Anniversary Concert, recorded in 2009 at New Jersey’s Bergen Performing Arts Center. The concert features all their legendary hits, including “Love Train,” “Back Stabbers,” and “For the Love of Money,” with band member’s divulging stories between songs. The DVD includes a bonus interview, full of insights from Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, Eric Nolan Grant, and O’Jays band members. This two-disc set is a great way to experience a live performance from one of Philly Soul’s most popular and classic groups.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

 

 

DIEUF-DIEUL de Thiès – Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2

dieuf dieul de thies_Aw Sa Yone 2

Title: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2

Artist: DIEUF-DIEUL de Thiès

Label: Teranga Beat / Forced Exposure

Formats: CD, MP3, 2LP Collector’s Ltd Edition (300 copies), 2LP Deluxe Edition

Release date: October 30, 2015

 

Senegalese band DIEUF-DIEUL de Thiès has a long history, from their origins in 1979 to their breakup in 1983. Now the band is back together again and planning their first international tour, while also issuing previously unreleased recordings from the early 1980s.

Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2 presents the remainder of the tracks from the recording session featured on Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1, as well as three tracks from a lost 1981 recording. The combination of Mbalax (the national popular dance music of Senegal and the Gambia), Afro-Cuban, and Afro-jazz ballads creates a memorable and full-spirited album.

YouTube Preview Image

The horns, fuzz guitars, and tight percussion fuse traditional Senegalese melodies and instruments with electric psychedelic music. Five of the seven tracks are sung by Bassirou Sarr, whose emotional and soulful voice pairs with any genre. Also featured is a cover of the Latin ballad “Rumba Para Parejas” sung by Assane Camara. Other standout songs include “Ariyo” and “Nianky,” which are full of energy and rhythm.

Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2 includes a 16-page booklet, full of history about the band and their recordings. The album is also available in a limited Collector’s Edition double LP, housed in a silk screened sleeve with a large poster, perfect for anyone wanting to discover more about music coming out of Senegal in the 1980s.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Magic Sam Blues Band – Black Magic, Deluxe Edition

magic sam_black Magic deluxe edition

Title: Black Magic, Deluxe Edition

Artist: Magic Sam Blues Band

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD

Release date: December 29, 2015
 

 

The Magic Sam Blues Band performed quintessential Chicago blues, from the classic rhythm section led by Odie Payne, Jr. to the tenor saxophone played by Eddie Shaw. Now their 1969 album, Black Magic, has been remastered from the original analog tapes and reissued by Delmark as a deluxe edition, including two previously unissued tracks and 16 pages of liner notes, beautifully illustrated with never-before-seen photos from the 1968 recording sessions.

Black Magic
includes irresistible blues jams such as “I Just Want A Little Bit” and “Keep On Loving Me, Baby,” as well as more funk-inspired ballads like “You Better Stop.” No matter the style, every song is full of the soul and top notch musicianship of the 1960s Chicago west side blues scene. This was the last studio album recorded by Magic Sam, released just days after his premature death at the age of 32, Black Magic’s endurance stands as a testament to his legacy in the world of blues music.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick