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.
Title: Now Artist: Lafayette Gilchrist Label: Lafayette Gilchrist Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: October 2, 2020
Baltimore-based composer and jazz pianist Lafayette Gilchrist offers a new double album, Now, that’s brimming over with his signature genre-spanning tunes. Though his recordings over the past decade have featured larger ensembles, for this project Gilchrist returns to the more intimate trio format with bassist Herman Burney and drummer Eric Kennedy. Addressing topics that range from the state of race relations and daily struggles faced by many within and beyond the city of Baltimore, to the more romantic aspects of love and life, the music reaches deep into the heart and soul of the community and the nation as a whole.
Title: Your Man of Faith Artist: Elder Charles Beck Label: Gospel Friend/dist. City Hall Records Formats: CD, Digital Release date: November 20, 2020
Elder Charles D. Beck, born in 1902 in
Mobile, Alabama, was a self-taught musician who covered a variety of
instruments including drums, trumpet, saxophone, vibes, piano, and organ. A
member of the large African American Pentecostal denomination, Church of God in
Christ, he was influenced by the performance style of another well-known church
member, the early gospel singer and pianist Arizona
Dranes. After cutting his first recordings on
the OKeh label in 1930 (a year after Dranes’ final OKeh session), Beck became
an ordained COGIC minister and briefly moved to Chicago, where he met Thomas A.
Dorsey, before permanently relocating to Buffalo, New York. Known as the singing
evangelist and one of the most accomplished sanctified musicians of his
generation, Beck released many recordings and also spread the gospel far and
wide through weekly radio broadcasts of his sermons and live performances at
churches across the U.S.
Title: Dialogues on Race, Volume One Artist: Gregg August Label: Iacuessa/dist. Bandcamp Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: August 21, 2020
An extremely versatile artist, double bassist and composer Gregg August performs and records with groups spanning multiple genres. Currently a member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra, he also performs regularly as a jazz bassist with the JD Allen Trio and Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. In 2009, shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, August was inspired to compose Dialogues on Race, an extended suite for large jazz ensemble, vocalists, strings and narrator. Drawing upon poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Marilyn Nelson and other notable American poets, August hoped to “create a musical conversation that would help bring awareness and foster understanding on the issue of race” in support of the nation’s first Black president. Following the premiere at The Jazz Gallery in New York, the work was set aside for a time. But as the political discourse in the U.S. grew increasingly toxic and more Black lives were lost to violence, many of the musicians that premiered Dialogues urged August to revive and record the suite. The result is a stunning achievement that deftly combines jazz, blues, classical and Latin influences with gripping poetic verses to create a provocative work that is even more relevant and necessary today.
Soprano and tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery developed a keen
interest in the music of Thelonious Monk as a teenager, after hearing the acclaimed
jazz pianist’s landmark 1963 album Monk’s
Dream. After repeated listening, Avery says, “It became clear to me that
Monk wanted his complex melodies and harmonies to affect the musicians and the
listeners alike with non-stop swing rhythms…He wanted that swing beat to just
permeate the sound while he delivered his unique sound on top.” Avery went on to
earn a Doctorate in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California and
along the way performed and recorded with many jazz titans as well as artists
ranging from Leela James and Lauryn Hill to Mos Def and Talib Kweli. But for
his latest project, Avery decided to return to his early fascination with Monk and
take a much deeper dive into the complexities of his music on Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk.
Title: Give the Drummer Some Artist: Cindy Blackman Santana Label: Copperline Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: September 18, 2020
drummer Cindy Blackman Santana is well-known for her versatility, especially in
the realm of jazz and rock. A member of Lenny Kravitz’s band from 1992-2007,
for the past decade she has been the regular touring drummer for Santana (and
later married Carlos Santana). Heavily influenced by her mentor, the late
drummer Tony Williams who initially rose to fame in the 1960s as a member of
Miles Davis’ group, Cindy has extended and expanded his jazz-rock fusion
legacy. On her new album, Give the Drummer Some, Cindy reaches new
heights, on vocals and percussion, as she collaborates with four of the world’s
top fusion guitarists: Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Kirk Hammett (Metallica),
and Vernon Reid (Living Colour). Produced by Narada Michael Walden, the album
was three years in the making, and the results are no less than spectacular.
Title: Safe Space Invader Artist: Paris Label: Guerilla Funk Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: September 25, 2020
One of the most politically
charged rappers to emerge in the 1990s, Paris is perhaps best known for his
militant albums The Devil Made Me Do It and Sleeping with the Enemy.
The latter album, originally scheduled for release prior to the 1992 election
(but withheld by the label), featured the incendiary track “Bush
Killa,” aimed at the incumbent, President George H.W. Bush. Now, prior to
what may be the most contentious election in US history amidst a pandemic and
social unrest, the Bay Area rapper returns with Safe Space
Invader. Released on Paris’ own Guerilla Funk label, there is no one to hold him back and nothing is off