The String Queens Self-Titled Debut

 

Title: The String Queens
Artist: The String Queens
Label: Self-released
Format: Digital
Release date: November 25, 2019

 

Renowned for their genre spanning repertoire, the Washington, D.C. based trio The String Queens have been changing the ways audiences engage with classical music. The three women—Kendall Isadore (violin), Dawn Johnson (viola), and Élise Cuffy (cello)—are “school teachers by day and concert performers by night” who have a strong commitment to artistic integrity and music education. Though they might not yet be a household name, you have likely heard TSQ backing artists such as Solange, Janelle Monae, and Jennifer Hudson, as well as Aloe Blacc on his recent video of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” filmed on the grounds of Monticello. The trio has also been featured on concert stages around the world, including Carnegie Hall, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Royal Festival Hall, and Shanghai Grand Theatre. Continue reading

Bobby Rush – Sitting on Top of the Blues

 

Title: Sitting on Top of the Blues
Artist: Bobby Rush
Label: Deep Rush/dist. Thirty Tigers
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 16, 2019

 

An octogenarian and elder statesman of the blues, Bobby Rush shows no signs of slowing down. The self-professed “king of the chitlin’ circuit” is currently riding high from his cameo in the acclaimed film, Dolemite Is My Name, where he performed his original song “I Ain’t Studdin’ Ya,” as well as the release of his latest studio album, Sitting on Top of the Blues.  The album’s title aptly describes Rush’s position as a “bluesman who’s sitting on the top of my game, proud of what I do and proud of who I am.” The eleven tracks, all penned by Rush, also speak to his talents as a master storyteller as he regales us with songs about “how I came up and who did I love.” Continue reading

Altered Five Blues Band – Ten Thousand Watts

 

Title: Ten Thousand Watts
Artist: Altered Five Blues Band
Label: Blind Pig
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 6, 2019

 

Milwaukee’s Altered Five Blues Band, led by vocalist Ted Taylor, has been garnering legions of fans since the quintet formed in 2002. On their fifth studio album, Ten Thousand Watts, they generate their own brand of high voltage blues rock across twelve original tracks. The A5’s cohesiveness is immediately evident, a testimony to the band’s seventeen years as a unit and appearances at blues festivals worldwide. In addition to Taylor, band members include guitarist Jeff Schroedl, bassist Mark Solveson, keyboardist Raymond Tevich, and drummer Alan Arber, who joined in 2017. Continue reading

Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues – Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter

 

Title: Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter
Artist: Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues
Label: Alligator
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 5, 2019

 

One of the greatest blues harmonica players alive today, the three-time Blues Music Award winner Billy Branch carries on the Chicago blues harp tradition he learned first-hand from legends such as Junior Wells, James Cotton and Willie Dixon. Following up on his 2014 release, Blues Shock, Branch’s latest project reimagines 15 songs written or made famous by another Chicago harp legend, the late great Little Walter Jacobs. Branch is joined by his longtime band, The Sons of Blues, featuring pianist Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi, guitarist Giles Corey, bassist Marvin Little, and drummer Andrew “Blaze” Thomas. Their goal for this project was to go beyond a mere tribute recording, fusing their own contemporary mix of funk, rhythm and blues, and soul into each and every track. Continue reading

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes – Cypress Grove

 

Title: Cypress Grove
Artist: Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
Label: Easy Eye Sound
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 18, 2019

 

Mississippi bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes literally grew up in a southern juke joint. His mother and father established the historic Blue Front Café in 1948 in the town of Betonia—ground zero for the minor-tuned, acoustic country blues style made famous by Jack Owens and his predecessor, Skip James. Now a prominent stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail, the Blue Front Café has been run for the past 47 years by Holmes, who can still be heard nearly every weekend singing and playing his acoustic or hollowbody electric guitar. As possibly the last living musician who was weaned on the Bentonia blues style, Holmes aims to keep the tradition alive on his latest album, Cypress Grove. Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the project captures classics performed in forward looking renditions that stay true to their roots while bringing a spontaneity into the mix. Backing Holmes is an all-star cast of musicians including Auerbach and Marcus King on guitars, Eric Deaton on bass, and Sam Bacco on drums and percussion. Continue reading

Various Artists – 50 Years of Como MS Blues

 

Title: 50 Years of Como Ms Blues (Greatest Blues Songs, Vol. 1)
Artist: Various
Label: Wolf
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 25, 2019

 

The hill country around Como, Mississippi produced several significant country blues artists. Less than an hour south of Memphis, the relatively isolated region also gave birth to a unique blues style that was distinct from the more popular Delta blues tradition. This new compilation from Wolf Records includes both well-known and lesser-known artists from Como, including Fred McDowell, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Eli Green, Ranie Burnette and Othar Turner—all born between 1901-1923. R.L. Boyce, the last living bluesman in Como and Othar Turner’s nephew, represents the younger generation. Continue reading

Viscaynes, Sylvester Stewart – The Viscaynes & Friends

 

Title: The Viscaynes & Friends
Artist: Viscaynes, Sylvester Stewart (aka Sly Stone)
Label: ORG Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: December 6, 2019

 

The Viscaynes & Friends from ORG Music is essentially a reissue of the tracks featured on the long out of print vinyl compilation, Spaced Out Sly, released in 1977. As many Sly Stone fans are likely aware, the young Sylvester Stewart cut his first singles in 1961-1962, both under his own name and with the Viscaynes, a multi-racial teenage doo-wop group formed by students at Vellejo High School in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. As Rickey Vincent relates in the liner notes, Sly was initially approached by classmates in the Viscaynes to assist with vocal harmonies, and they were so impressed with the multi-talented musician that they persuaded him to join their group. By that time, Sly had been performing gospel music for well over a decade and had also played guitar for other doo-wop and jazz groups. By 1961, the 18-year-old was a seasoned professional who led the Viscaynes to success with the single, “Yellow Moon,” which incidentally is backed by a band featuring saxophonist Jerry Martini, who would later join Sly and the Family Stone. Continue reading

Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection

 

Title: Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection
Artist: Various
Label: Earwig
Formats: 4 CD Box Set
Release date: August 9, 2019

 

Produced by Earwig Music Company’s Michael Robert Frank, Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection is hands down one of the best box sets of the year. The beautifully produced hard cover book includes four CDs inserted into the front and back covers, while the lavishly illustrated inner pages tell the story of the Chicago based independent record company owned by Narvel Eatmon, a colorful character better known on the South Side as “Cadillac Baby.” Frank began this labor of love in 2006 when he purchased the entire catalog and archive of the Bea & Baby label, with the goal of sharing Cadillac Baby’s musical legacy with the rest of the world.  The result is this comprehensive anthology which includes all released and unreleased tracks (with a couple of exceptions), ranging from urban and country blues, gospel, doo-wop, soul, and comedy, to rap. Along the way, Cadillac narrates his own story through six spoken word tracks interspersed throughout the collection. Other “expert witnesses” from Chicago include Jim O’Neal (Living Blues magazine), Bill Dahl, and Robert M. Marovich (Journal of Gospel Music), who all contributed to the informative liner notes. Continue reading

VP Records 40th Anniversary Box Set – Down in Jamaica

 

Title: Down In Jamaica: 40 Years of VP Records
Artist: Various
Label: VP
Formats: Limited Edition Box Set, Digital
Release date: October 25, 2019

 

Reggae fans will appreciate the new limited edition box set, Down in Jamaica: 40 Years of VP Records, whichtells the story of a continually owned and operated family business at the heart of the global growth of reggae, dancehall, and Caribbean music.” Founded by Vincent and Patricia Chin, VP Records was started as Randy’s Record Mart, a record store in Kingston, Jamaica, and over the years grew into the world’s largest reggae music company. This 94-track anthology focuses on singles released by the esteemed label and its more obscure sublabels, offering many rare gems that have long been out of print. In addition to well-known musicians on the VP roster who are still active such as Barrington Levy, Yellowman, Shaggy, and Beenie Man, there are many tracks from earlier artists such as “Gi Mi Di Weed” by Jigsy King, “Lots of Signs” by Tenor Saw, and “Roots Natty Congo” by Johnny Clarke. This bountiful package includes a 24-page booklet that tells the history of the label, as well as four 7-inch singles, four 12-inch singles, and four CDs. If you want an overview of reggae and dancehall music from the 1980s to present, this is an excellent place to begin, but act fast because only 2000 copies have been published. Continue reading

Booker T. Jones – New Autobiography and Companion CD

 

Title: Time is Tight: My Life, Note by Note
Author: Booker T. Jones
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle
Release date: October 29, 2019

 

Anyone familiar with the history of Memphis music and Stax Records will be interested in this new memoir from keyboard wizard Booker T. Jones, who led the Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In Time is Tight, Jones riffs on his six decades in the music business, taking us from his formative years in Memphis through his matriculation at Indiana University in the spring of 1962. Any IU alum will especially enjoy his memories of trombone studies under Buddy Baker, playing David Baker’s charts in the jazz band alongside Randy Brecker and Jamey Aebersold, performing with the Marching Hundred, meeting his first wife at Teter Quad cafeteria, living on his advance royalty payment from “Green Onions,” and his appreciation for the music of Bloomington’s most famous native son, Hoagy Carmichael. Continue reading

Aaron Cohen – Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power

 

Title: Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power
Author: Aaron Cohen
Publisher: Chicago University Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle
Release date: September 25, 2019

 

It’s been nearly thirty years since Robert Pruter released his ground breaking book, Chicago Soul, which examined the emergence of soul music in the Windy City and its key players. Now another Chicago author, Aaron Cohen, takes the story one step further with Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power. Based on interviews with more than 100 people and a multitude of books and articles, Cohen strikes the perfect balance between a well-researched, scholarly perspective and an extremely engaging journalistic history. His primary goal is to weave the story of Chicago’s diverse music scene with the social and political changes happening in the city from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. In the words of Jerry “Iceman” Butler, former lead singer of the Impressions and Cook County Commissioner, “music and politics kind of walk hand in hand down Michigan Avenue.” Other key musicians in this story include Curtis Mayfield, Baby Huey, Minnie Ripperton and Rotary Connection, Maurice White, the Chi-Lites, and Syl Johnson, among many others, who often eschewed commercial concerns in favor of socially conscious lyrics, liberation, and solidarity. Continue reading

Prince – The Beautiful Ones

 

Title: The Beautiful Ones
Author: Prince
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook
Release date: October 29, 2019

 

While not the complete autobiography we hoped for, or that Prince intended to release (“it has to be the biggest music book of all time”), The Beautiful Ones is still a significant first person account of the artist’s life. Who, but Prince, might ponder a few days before his death, “We need to find a word for what funk is.” As editor and collaborator Dan Peipenbring states in the introduction, “Unpacking these ideas is part of what made [Prince] want to write a book in the first place.” At a time when he had turned more introspective and was processing his past, Prince sought an “improvisational partner” who understood that “music holds things together.” Dan became the keeper of the Prince “handbook” and worked diligently with the artist to create a memoir that defied conventions in the same manner as his music. But just as their ideas were starting to gel in the spring of 2016, the fateful news came from Paisley Park: Prince was dead. Continue reading

Jerome Jennings – Solidarity

 

Title: Solidarity
Artist: Jerome Jennings
Label: Iola/dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date; November 8, 2019

 

Jazz drummer Jerome Jennings highlights his compositional skills on his latest release, Solidarity, marking his second album as a leader. This groundbreaking project focuses on the experiences of African American women, who he explains have “traditionally been the conscience of the country.” In his view, “solidarity means…being present, not walking away. Being an ally, in a very overt way. ‘I got you. I hear you. I’m with you.’”  Jennings turns this laser sharp focus on injustices faced by women from all walks of life, as well as those who have made a significant difference through various movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Civil Rights, and more. Joining him on this quest is his core unit—Josh Evens (trumpet), Stacy Dillard (tenor and soprano sax), Andrae Murchinson (trombone), Zaccai Curtis (piano), and Christian McBride (bass) —along with a number of special guests. Continue reading

Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Snoop Dogg

 

Title: Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Snoop Dogg
Label: Rockabye Baby
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: December 6, 2019

 

Need a gift for new parents? Do you know what new parents really need? If your answer is more sleep, we’ve got you covered. What could be more slumber inducing than Lullaby Renditions of Snoop Dogg, which trades beats and rhymes for the soothing sounds of glockenspiel. This is rap music made baby-friendly and kids music that’s adult-friendly. While parents groove to “Sensual Seduction” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” they can hope junior will be blissfully sleeping in the crib. And yes, “Gin and Juice” is also included as a nightcap. From the company that previously released lullaby renditions of Prince, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Bob Marley, this latest addition to the catalog is sure to please. Continue reading

Rissi Palmer – Revival

 

Title: Revival
Artist: Rissi Palmer
Label: Self-released
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 22, 2019

 

Raised in a musical family that loved both country and R&B music, singer-songwriter Rissi Palmer first achieved success in 2007 with her crossover single, “Country Girl,” off her self-titled debut album. Palmer’s new release, Revival, touches upon the uplifting themes of regeneration, renewal, and being saved, while also addressing intensely personal issues related to social justice, relationships, loss, and identity. Featuring eight original songs, Palmer collaborated with Nashville songwriters Deanna Walker and Rick Beresford, as well as songwriter and producer Brian Owens, who featured Palmer on his recent project Soul of Cash.   Continue reading

The Sensational Barnes Brothers – Nobody’s Fault But My Own

 

Title: Nobody’s Fault But My Own
Artist: The Sensational Barnes Brothers
Label: Bible & Tire/Big Legal Mess
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 20, 2019

 

Memphis natives Chris and Courtney Barnes grew up in a musical family steeped in gospel and soul music. Their mother Deborah was a former Raelette (Ray Charles’ background singers) and their father, Calvin “Duke” Barnes, was a local church musician. Together with their four children, the Barnes formed the musical group Joy, and more recently recorded and performed together as the Barnes Family. With this background the Barnes brothers were a perfect fit for producer Bruce Watson, of the newly launched Bible and Tire Recording Co., whose vision is to present contemporary artists performing in “the spirit and sound of the past.” After scouring the catalog of Designer Records, a Memphis-based gospel label now owned by parent company Big Legal Mess, they selected eleven songs from the early 1970s for the Sensational Barnes Brothers’ debut, Nobody’s Fault But My Own. Continue reading

Elizabeth King and the Gospel Souls – The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings

 

Title: The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings
Artist: Elizabeth King and the Gospel Souls
Label: Bible & Tire Recording Co.
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 20, 2019

 

In 1960, a newly married Elizabeth King moved 90 miles north of her hometown in Charleston, Mississippi to settle in Memphis, Tennessee. This fortuitous relocation led to a 33-year collaboration with the Gospel Souls, a popular male vocal group in Memphis featuring lead singers Walter Boone and John Powell. Sister Liz King was invited to join the group in 1969 and took over the lead on the majority of songs. According to the liner notes by Nick Loss-Eaton, King had always envisioned being backed by male singers, so this was her dream come true. However, she told the men in no uncertain terms that if they had jealous wives, she would walk. Continue reading

Homeless Oakland Heart Collective – Homeless Oakland Heart

 

Title: Homeless Oakland Heart
Artist: Homeless Oakland Heart Collective
Label: Electric Cowbell
Format: Digital
Release date: October 11, 2019

 

Every day brings more stories to light about the burgeoning number of homeless people throughout the U.S. Due to rapid gentrification and “hyper-capitalism” in Oakland, CA, the situation is especially dire. Homeless Oakland Heart, released to coincide with World Homeless Day, offers a collection of songs and stories recorded live on the streets of Oakland. This project from Grammy-winning producer and author, Ian Brennan, attempts to capture the “street” cred and raw-ness of the individual performers, with tracks “ranging from old school beat-boxing to free jazz guitar to ballads and electronica.” Despite their brevity, songs such as “Food Not Drugs,” “Money Honey” and “Sidewalk Cemetery” hit hard. The tenderness and vulnerability will certainly pull heart strings, but more importantly, Brennan seeks to humanize the homeless and alleviate suffering. Any and all profits will be donated to Coalition on Homelessness. A vinyl release is planned for Record Store Day on April 18, 2020. Continue reading

Protobilly: The Minstrel & Tin Pan Alley DNA of Country Music

Title: Protobilly: The Minstrel & Tin Pan Alley DNA of Country Music
Artist: Various
Label: JSP
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 25, 2019

 

 

Those who watched Ken Burns Country Music documentary on PBS and want to dig a little deeper into the roots of the genre should find this new box set quite fascinating. Protobilly: The Minstrel & Tin Pan Alley DNA of Country Music 1892-2017, as the title suggests, “documents old country songs with origins in minstrelsy, vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, ballads, ancient hymnals, deep-south blues, and other venerable popular music genres.” The anthology was meticulously produced by three highly regarded sound recording historians—the vernacular music specialists and radio producers Dick Spottswood and Henry Sapoznik, who also wrote the liner notes, and David Giovannoni, who contributed many rare cylinders and discs from his own collection. Additionally, Grammy Award winning musician Dom Flemons, aka “The American Songster” and former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, also contributed to the notes.  Continue reading