Judith Hill – Baby I’m Hollywood

 

Title: Baby I’m Hollywood
Artist: Judith Hill
Label: Regime Music Group
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 5, 2021

 

Many may be familiar with Grammy-winning artist Judith Hill through her work with Michael Jackson, or any number of other artists ranging from Josh Groban, Stevie Wonder and John Legend to the late Andraé Crouch. Hill was also one of the featured backup singers in the Academy Award winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom (2013), and that same year she made it to the finals on The Voice. Yet despite these successes and a debut album co-produced by Prince, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is still struggling in her pursuit of a career in music. Hill’s new project, Baby I’m Hollywood, speaks to the highs and lows of life in the spotlight, and so much more.

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Skylar Rogers – Firebreather

 

Title: Firebreather
Artist: Skylar Rogers
Label: CD Baby (distrib.)
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 29, 2021

 

With a sound that draws comparisons to Etta James and Koko Taylor, Chicago-born vocalist Skylar Rogers is a relatively new force on the blues scene. After the success of her debut EP, she began touring nationally in 2019 and dropped her first single last year. Now Rogers tears into her first full-length album, Firebreather, with a powerful blast of energy that fuels her unique blend of “soul rockin’ blues.”

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Cameron Graves – Seven

 

Title: Seven
Artist: Cameron Graves
Label: Artistry Music/Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 19, 2021

 

Pianist-composer Cameron Graves initially achieved acclaim as a member of the West Coast Get Down, a collective of L.A. jazz musicians that includes Kamasi Washington and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. More recently he has performed and recorded with fusion pioneer Stanley Clarke, who has served as a mentor to the younger musician. Releasing his widely acclaimed debut album Planetary Prince in 2017,Graves now returns with his own brand of progressive jazz on Seven. Referring to his new style as thrash-jazz, Graves draws upon his jazz and classical studies as well as his love of Living Colour, Meshuggah, and other heavy metal bands to create a stunningly inventive jazz-rock fusion that will blast you into another galaxy.

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Archie Shepp & Jason Moran – Let My People Go

 

Title: Let My People Go
Artist: Archie Shepp & Jason Moran
Label: Archieball
Formats: Digital
Release date: February 5, 2021

 

A living legend in jazz, saxophonist Archie Shepp’s six decade career is notable not only for expanding the cannon towards avant-garde and free jazz, but also for the socially conscious and Afrocentric themes of his albums. Five years ago, he met pianist-composer Jason Moran backstage at Belgium’s JazzMiddelheim Festival, and the two have performed together on many stages since that auspicious occasion. In addition to Moran’s many albums and soundtracks, the 2010 MacArthur “Genius” Grant awardee is also known for groundbreaking productions with his wife, Alicia Hall Moran, including Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration. Shepp and Moran’s new album, Let My People Go, seems like a natural progression for these two musicians who both actively promote an appreciation for Black history through music.

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Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet – Social Distancing

 

Title: Social Distancing
Artist: Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet
Label: Saponegro/Tiger Turn
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 29, 2021

 

Like most artists, trumpeter and composer Gabriel Alegría and members of his Afro-Peruvian Sextet have been profoundly affected by the pandemic. But thanks to their “determined fans and a poem-gone-viral,” the group has been able to persevere in the face of adversity. The result is their new concept album, Social Distancing, a “musical memoir (& protest)” based on artistic collaborations inspired by the 2020 pandemic as well as issues of social justice that have surfaced over that past year. “Every sound and rhythm,” says Alegría, “is an attempt to guide you safely away from the confusion” into the band’s safe space: Afro-Peruvian jazz music.

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Sounds of A&R – Questions Left Unanswered…

 

Title: Questions Left Unanswered…
Artist: Sounds of A&R
Label: Soaring
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: January 22, 2021

 

Jazz ensembles fronted by a vocalist and trumpeter in equal roles are far and few between, and that’s a major part of the charm of Sounds of A&R. Led by April May Webb (vocals) and Randall Haywood (trumpet and flugelhorn), who are musical partners as well as partners in life, the duo calls to mind the classic pairing of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Rounding out this family affair are two of Webb’s siblings—Jacob Webb on bass and Nathan Webb on drums—plus guitarist Charlie Sigler, pianist James Austin, and harpist Riza Printup. On their impressive third studio album, Questions Left Unanswered, S.O.A.R. offers a mix of new arrangements of romantic classics and bold, fresh originals that speak to contemporary issues.

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Selwyn Birchwood – Living in a Burning House

 

Title: Living in a Burning House
Artist: Selwyn Birchwood
Label: Alligator
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: January 29, 2021

 

Chicago’s venerable Alligator Records is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and to kick off the festivities the blues label is shining the spotlight on Selwyn Birchwood, a “new generation blues artist.” Building upon his widely acclaimed 2017 album, Pick Your Poison, Birchwood’s new release, Living in a Burning House, is his third project for the label. Across the 13 original tracks of the album, the Florida native demonstrates his phenomenal technique on both six-string and lap steel guitar, as well as his exceptional talent as a singer-songwriter and storyteller.

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Various Artists – The Ska from Jamaica

 

Title: The Ska from Jamaica
Artist: Various
Label: Doctor Bird; Dist. Cherry Red
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 18, 2020

 

While working in the vast Trojan Records archive in London, Jamaican music specialist Laurence Cane-Honeycutt discovered the production master for an unissued 1966 compilation, The Ska from Jamaica. The 12 tracks, recorded in Jamaica from 1964-1966, were produced by Lindon Pottinger and featured many of era’s leading musicians, including the Maytals. Released in August 2020 by Trojan Records as a Record Store Day special vinyl limited edition, the album is now available as an expanded two-CD set produced by Cane-Honeycutt, with 47 additional tracks. Most of these were culled from 7” singles released on Rita and Benny King’s UK-based Ska Beat label, which was sold to Trojan in 1971, but other tracks were never released in the UK and are quite rare.

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A Capella Black Gospel: Look How the World Has Made a Change, 1940-1969

 

Title: A Capella Black Gospel: Look How the World Has Made a Change, 1940-1969
Artist: Various
Label: Narroway/Dist. City Hall Records
Format: CD
Release date: November 2020

 

This recent gospel compilation from Swedish producer and collector Per Notini is a three disc, 84 track set focused exclusively on a capella singing without any instrumental accompaniment. Featuring many well-known quartets such as the Fairfield Four and Soul Stirrers as well as lesser known artists, the set traces stylistic changes over a thirty year period, concluding in 1969 before the ‘contemporary’ gospel era. These groups created some of the most inventive and progressive African American vocal music of the post-war period, which had a profound effect on later R&B and soul artists, not to mention artists across all other genres.

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Jimi Hendrix Experience – Live In Maui

 

Title: Live In Maui
Artist: Jimi Hendrix Experience
Label: Experience Hendrix L.L.C./Sony Legacy
Formats: 2-CD or 3-LP + Blu-Ray set
Release date: November 20, 2020

 

Rarely a year goes by without a new release from the Hendrix archives and 2020 is no exception. This year’s offering, Live In Maui, features both the audio and video documentation of the “Rainbow Bridge Vibratory Color/Sound Experiment” concerts performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Hawaii on July 30, 1970, plus a new documentary and liner notes that chronicle the story behind the making of the film Rainbow Bridge. As is the case with the majority of these posthumous releases, the results are a mixed bag. For most Hendrix fans, however, there is likely enough new, high quality content to warrant the purchase of this three disc set. First and foremost, there’s the music, a remarkable live performance previously available only on bootlegs, offered here in superb sound, newly restored and mixed by Eddie Kramer and mastered by Bernie Grundman.

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Prince – Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Ed.

 

Title: Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Ed.
Artist: Prince
Label: Warner
Formats: 8-CD or 13-LP + DVD Box Set
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

Any Prince fan on your holiday gift list would likely be thrilled to receive the new edition of Sign O’ The Times, one of the Prince’s most memorable albums now offered as a super deluxe box set. Featuring 92 tracks across eight CDs plus a DVD and a 120-page illustrated hardcover book with essays by Dave Chappelle, Lenny Kravitz, and various Prince scholars, this set can be considered a bargain. In addition to the original 1987 double album remastered by Bernie Grundman, the other CDs include 63 previously unreleased tracks ranging from single remixes and B-sides to live songs plus a complete concert performance recorded in Utrecht, Netherlands, on June 20, 1987 during the Sign O’ The Times Tour.

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Little Richard – Expanded Editions of Reprise Albums

In a year that has brought many heartbreaking losses, one of the greatest was Little Richard, the undisputed architect of rock and roll who died on May 9, 2020 at the age of 87. Along with his peers, pianist Fats Domino and guitarists Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, Richard secured a place in the rock n’ roll pantheon for Black musicians in the 1950s and managed to hold onto that success for the next 60 years through recordings and live performances. Though a number of compilations have been released in the past that cover his early years with Specialty, OKeh, and Vee-Jay Records, his recordings for Reprise Records in the 1970s have been somewhat neglected. Thanks to the reissue label Omnivore Recordings and producer Cheryl Pawelski, fans can now enjoy expanded CD editions of three of Little Richards’ Reprise releases as well as his 1986 Warner Bros. release, all with new liner notes by Bill Dahl.

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Chubby Checker and the 60th Anniversary of The Twist

 

Title: The Twist
Artist: Chubby Checker
Label: ABKCO
Format: 7” vinyl
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

Sixty years ago, Philadelphia teenager Chubby Checker released his iconic version of “The Twist.” Dropping in the summer of 1960, the single hit the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 on September 24, 1960. Originally a twelve-bar blues song written and released a year earlier by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, it was Checker’s rendition that caught the attention of Dick Clark, who invited him to perform on American Bandstand. The rest, as they say, is history. Checker’s song spurred a worldwide dance craze, eventually earning him a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. In recognition of the 60th anniversary of “The Twist,” ABKCO Records is offering several commemorative releases of Checker’s recordings.

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The Staple Singers – Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection

 

Title: Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection
Artist: The Staple Singers
Label: Craft
Format: 7CD Box Set
Release Date: September 23, 2020

 

Released last year as a vinyl box set, Craft has now issued the seven disc deluxe CD edition of Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection. Celebrating one of the most influential gospel and soul groups of all time, the box set features all of the Staple Singers’ studio albums recorded for Stax Records from 1968–1974: Soul Folk in Action (1968), We’ll Get Over (1969), The Staple Swingers (1971), Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1972), Be What You Are (1973)and City in the Sky (1974)These albums were released after the Staple Singers had already transitioned from the gospel circuit to the stages of folk and rock music festivals, and they were well on their way to becoming musical icons of the Civil Rights Movement with albums such as Freedom Highway (1965) that preached a message of empowerment and racial equality.

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The Kanneh-Masons – Carnival of the Animals

 

Title: Carnival of the Animals
Artist: The Kanneh-Masons
Label: Decca
Formats: CD, LP, Deluxe CD + Book
Release date: December 18, 2020

 

London’s “young, gifted and classical” Kanneh-Mason family have joined together with friends for a retelling of Camille Saint-Saëns classic children’s suite, Carnival of the Animals, paired with Michael Morpurgo’s Grandpa Christmas. Performers include the four oldest family members who currently study at the Royal Academy of Music—pianist Isata, cellist Sheku, and violinists Braimah and Konya—with their younger siblings including 18-year-old pianist Jeneba, 15-year-old violinist Aminata, and 11-year-old cellist Mariatu. Recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, this album marks the first release to feature all seven of the famous siblings performing together.

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Shemekia Copeland – Uncivil War

 

Title: Uncivil War
Artist: Shemekia Copeland
Label: Alligator
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: October 23, 2020

 

Reigning blues queen Shemekia Copeland delves deep into the divided heart and tarnished soul of America on her latest release, Uncivil War. The follow-up to her 2018 album, America’s Child, Copeland again teams up with Nashville guitarist/producer Will Kimbrough, who casts her signature vocal style into a spellbinding Americana brew. Assisting with this effort is an all-star cast featuring singer-guitarist Jason Isbell, rising young Delta blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, lap steel guitarist Jerry Douglas, bluegrass mandolinist Sam Bush, legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s), roots guitarists Duane “King of Twang” Eddy and Webb Wilder, plus The Orphan Brigade on background vocals.

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Benjamin Boone – The Poets Are Gathering

 

Title: The Poets Are Gathering
Artist: Benjamin Boone
Label: Origin
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 16, 2020

 

Composer-saxophonist Benjamin Boone continues his fascination with poetry and jazz on his latest album, The Poets Are Gathering. The Cal State University Fresno professor, who has released two previous collections devoted to this pairing, notes that jazz and poetry have been inextricably linked since the Harlem Renaissance. Following the tradition of artists such as Langston Hughes and Charles Mingus, who collaborated on the album Weary Blues (1958), Boone’s new project features eleven acclaimed poets—including Black poets Tyehimba Jess, Patrick Sylvain, Patricia Smith, and Donald Brown, II—who narrate their own works. Boone, who performs on soprano and alto sax, leads the various backing ensembles, featuring contributions from guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Corcoran Holt, and drummer Ari Hoenig. Recorded over the last three years, the content reflects the political and social turmoil of the present, providing “up-to-the minute, ripped-from-the-headlines” messages.

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Kahil El’Zabar – America the Beautiful

 

Title: America the Beautiful 
Artist: Kahil El’Zabar
Label: Spiritmuse
Formts: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 23, 2020

 

Chicago musician and composer Kahil El’Zabar, former chairman of the legendary AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) collective, is also known as a pioneer of spiritual jazz. A master multi-percussionist and instrumentalist, El’Zabar founded the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in 1973, the Ritual Trio a decade later, and other ensembles including JUBA Collective, the Kahil El’Zabar Quartet, and more recently the Ethnics featuring Nona Hendryx. His new release, Kahil El’Zabar’s America the Beautiful, was inspired by music he scored for Daryl Roberts’s award-winning three-part documentary series, America the Beautiful (2007-2014). Joining El’Zabar on these selections are a number of notable Chicago musicians, including cellist Tomeka Reid, trumpeter Corey Wilkes, alto saxophonist Dennis Winslett, and the late baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, to whom this recording is dedicated.

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Alonzo Demetrius – Live from the Prison Nation

 

Title: Live from the Prison Nation
Artist: Alonzo Demetrius
Label: Onyx Productions
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 16, 2020

 

On his debut album, Live from the Prison Nation, trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius strives for an educational as well as a musical experience. Expressing a sense of urgency, he hopes to inspire listeners into taking action against the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). A recent graduate of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Masters Program, Demetrius conceived of this project while taking classes that dealt with the social and political significance of activism for musicians. His website not only delves into the thoughts behind each track, but also offers ‘conversation starters’ that provide discussion questions and workshops to facilitate the development of community action plans. Backing him on this project is his band, The Ego, featuring tenor saxophonist Yesseh Furaha-Ali, pianist Daniel Abraham Jr., bassist Benjamin Jephta, and drummer Brian Richburg Jr.

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