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.
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.”
Title: Seven Artist: Cameron Graves Label: Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: February 19, 2021
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 Princein 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Title: America the Beautiful Artist: Kahil El’Zabar Label: Spiritmuse Formts: CD, LP, Digital Release date: October 23, 2020
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.
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.