Paris – Safe Space Invader

 

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 limits.

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Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down

 

Title: What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down
Artist: Public Enemy
Label: Def Jam
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

Public Enemy is back! In yet another pre-election release by socially conscious hip hop icons, What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down is an explosive album of politically charged tracks from Chuck D, Flavor Flav and DJ Lord. With collabs from the likes of George Clinton, Ice T, Cypress Hill and Run-DMC, there’s plenty of nostalgia to arouse the interest of golden age hip hop fans, as well as tracks addressing contemporary issues, ranging from the Trump presidency and internet dependency to the killing of Breonna Taylor. Yet despite addressing weighty social-political topics, the infectious beats and off-the-charts production give the album a celebratory quality, with tracks maintaining a high energy level from beginning to end.

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Free Radicals – White Power Outage Volume 1

 

Title: White Power Outage Volume 1
Artist: Free Radicals
Label: RWE
Format: Digital
Release Date: September 15, 2020

 

One of the most diverse musical collectives in the country, Free Radicals includes over 50 musicians that range from 4-year-old attendees of Peace Camp Houston to 92-year-old vibraphone player Harry Sheppard. These musicians bring together their varied backgrounds and talents on White Power Outage Volume 1, a revolutionary album that demands an end to white supremacy in the arts, culture, and politics.

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The War And Treaty – Hearts Town

 

Title: Hearts Town
Artist: The War And Treaty
Label: Rounder
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: August 14, 2020

 

Named the 2019 Emerging Act of the Year by Americana Music Association, husband and wife duo Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter are artists to watch out for as they continue to take the music world by storm. Between their performance at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards back in January, the release of their newest album Hearts Town in August, and their spot as an opener on John Legend’s upcoming Bigger Love 2020 Tour (rescheduled for 2021), The War And Treaty have proven themselves to be a powerhouse R&B duo.

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Toots & the Maytals – Got To Be Tough

 

Title: Got To Be Tough 
Artist: Toots & the Maytals
Label: Trojan Jamaica/BMG
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: June 12, 2020

 

It is hard to imagine a title more fitting for Frederick “Toots” Hibbert’s final album than Got To Be Tough. The legendary Jamaican reggae pioneer, who died at age 77 on September 11, 2020 from COVID-19 related complications, experienced more than his share of hardships. Orphaned at the age of 11, imprisoned in his twenties for possession of ganja, and severely injured during a music festival in 2013 by an inebriated bottle-wielding fan, Toots was a survivor. What was meant to be a comeback album for Toots & the Maytals, the ska and rocksteady collective Toots led for nearly 60 years, instead serves as a poignant tribute to the much beloved musician and his indomitable spirit.  

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Valvin “V” Roane – Image a Nation

 

Title: Image a Nation
Artist: Valvin “V” Roane
Label: BBE Music
Format: Digital  
Release date: October 2, 2020

 

Philadelphia R&B/soul singer, songwriter and producer Valvin “V” Roane is making his return with Image a Nation, his first full-length project with Barely Breaking Even (BBE Music) in 15 years. In collaboration with production partners Jontae Slade, Andre Capers and Yameen Allworld, V creates an album that colorfully illustrates the changes in the world around us through both the lyrical and melodic structures within the project.

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Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne – Go, Just Do It!

 

Title: Go, Just Do It!
Artist: Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne
Label: Stony Plain Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 1, 2020

 

Usually thought of as a blues musician, Kenny Wayne is too versatile as a player to be bound within any one genre. Now 75 years old, Wayne has been paying his dues for a long time, and that level of experience is evident on Go, Just Do It!  Playing like a seasoned veteran—always playing the right notes, and always in the groove—it is obvious why Wayne has been inducted into the Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame in Cincinnati. On this latest release he is joined by veteran personnel, such as former B. B. King bassist Russell Jackson and a rhythm section rounded out by Joey DiMarco on drums and Yuji Ihara on guitar, both of whom have played with the Canadian act Boogie Patrol. Harmonica ace Sherman “Tank” Doucette plays on “They Call Me the Breeze,” and Wayne is joined by Grammy winner Diane Schuur on a cover of Percy Mayfield’s “You’re in for a Big Surprise.” A horn section consisting of Jerry Cook on sax and Vince Mai on trumpet rounds out some of the other notable personnel on the record.

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Chicago Mass Choir – My Soul Says Yes

 

Title: My Soul Says Yes
Artist: Chicago Mass Choir
Label: New Haven
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 31, 2020

 

There’s truly no sound like that of the gospel mass choir and the Chicago Mass Choir embodies the very spirit and essence of this tradition. With thrilling heart thumping, hand clapping, foot stomping songs, the choir takes you back to the “old time way,” to quote the late Bishop G.E. Patteson (former presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ denomination). My Soul Says Yes, the choir’s 17th album release, continues this legacy through their creation of songs that further their mission of giving back to their community and the world.

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Various Artists – The Last Shall Be First: The JCR Records Story

 

Title: The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1
Artist: Various
Label: Bible & Tire
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 18, 2020

 

Rev. Juan D. Shipp was the force behind many Black gospel recordings emanating from Memphis, Tennessee in the 1970s. A pastor at the Greater Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church, Shipp also had a gospel radio show on K-WAM, where he spun gospel quartet records as “Juan D.” Believing that “local artists deserve a better sound,” he formed a relationship with Clyde Leoppard, a former Sun Studio drummer who owned Tempo Recording Studio in downtown Memphis. Shipp began recording and releasing professional quality singles for many local and regional gospel groups on his own small boutique label, D-Vine Spirituals. Soon business was booming, and he spun off a secondary label, JCR, for up-and-coming artists who wanted to press a record but didn’t make the D-Vine cut. Seventeen of these tracks are featured in The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1, which was produced by Rev. Shipp.

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Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’

 

Title: Just Coolin’
Artist: Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 17, 2020

 

This reissue of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ Just Coolin’ is from a 1959 studio album that was never released, most likely due to the fact that four of the six tracks were included several months later on a pair of live albums recorded at the legendary jazz club Birdland in New York City—Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the Jazz Corner of the World (vols. 1 & 2, later reissued as a two-CD set.). Consequently, the original studio sessions comprising this release were shelved and are finally seeing the light of day 60 years later.

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James Booker – Classified

 

Title: Classified
Artist: James Booker
Label: Rounder/Craft
Formats: LP
Release date: July 31, 2020

 

As part of Rounder Records’ 50th anniversary celebration, Craft Recordings is offering this remixed and remastered vinyl reissue of Classified, an unjustly overlooked 1982 release by New Orleans keyboardist James Booker, the iconoclastic disciple of the legendary Professor Longhair. On this record Booker performs an eclectic variety of songs, including tunes by R&B legends like Titus Turner, Fats Domino, and Lloyd Price. But he also covers “Hound Dog” (the Leiber & Stoller classic made famous by Big Mama Thornton and later by Elvis), the jazz standard “Angel Eyes,” the 1926 pop standard “Baby Face,” as well as the country classic “King of the Road” and two originals, particularly the scintillating “Three Keys” that concludes the record. Yet in spite of these disparate song sources, it all comes out sounding like Booker thanks to his inimitable musical talent and force of personality.

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The Staple Singers – Let’s Do It Again

 

Title: Let’s Do It Again
Artist: The Staple Singers
Label: Omnivore
Formats: CD
Release date: June 5, 2020

 

In June, the reissue label Omnivore released four expanded editions of classic albums by the Staple Singers, including Family Tree (1977), produced by former Chi-lite Eugene Record; Unlock Your Mind (1978), produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett at Muscle Shoals; and Pass It On (1976), produced by Curtis Mayfield. The fourth release was another Curtis Mayfield production—the soundtrack to the 1975 film, Let’s Do It Again, which featured an all-star cast led by Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Ossie Davis and Jimmie Walker. Recorded three years after Mayfield’s critically acclaimed soundtrack for Superfly, Let’s Do It Again used many of the same personnel from his Curtom house band: Mayfield on lead guitar, Joseph “Lucky” Scott on bass, and Master Henry Gibson laying down the funky conga and bongo parts. The album represented the Staple Singers’ first post-Stax Records release, and features five songs and three instrumentals that Mayfield composed for the film.

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Works by William Dawson & Ulysses Kay

Title: William Dawson Negro Folk Symphony/Ulysses Kay Fantasy Variations & Umbrian Scene
Artist: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Fagan, cond.
Label: Naxos
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 16, 2020

 

Whether intentional or not, Naxos picked an opportune time to release this recording featuring works by two very prominent 20th century African American composers—William Levi Dawson (1899-1990) and his somewhat younger contemporary, Ulysses Simpson Kay (1917-1995). As a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, at least a portion of white America is finally addressing gaps in their knowledge of Black history, having come of age at a time when the historical narrative and education system was (and is) unquestionably white-washed. At the same time, many university music departments and libraries have begun the process of re-examining the Western classical music canon in an attempt to decolonize syllabi and collections. This new release on Naxos American Classics series is certainly a very welcome addition to those efforts. Though most of these works have been released commercially in the past, the most recent of these recordings was issued nearly 20 years ago.

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Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris – EarthSeed

 

Title: EarthSeed
Artist: Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris
Label: FPE
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: June 26, 2020

 

They say that great minds think alike, and that seems to be the case with the new collaborative album between renowned composers Nicole Mitchell and Lisa E. Harris. The pair met at the New Quorum Composers’ Residency in New Orleans and were drawn together by a shared interest in celebrated author Octavia E. Butler, one of the best known African American writers in science fiction. Together, the two musicians took inspiration from Butler’s legacy of Afrofuturistic novels to create EarthSeed.

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Regina Carter Freedom Band – Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground

 

Title: Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground
Artist: Regina Carter Freedom Band
Label: Tiger Turn
Format: Digital
Release date: July 31, 2020

 

Virtuoso jazz violinist Regina Carter has a history of releasing music that celebrates Black culture, whether commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald or her father’s roots on Southern Comfort. Yet at this pivotal point in history, with the COVID-19 pandemic surging unabated in tandem with protests and civil unrest, Carter has chosen a more politically charged theme. Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground is her urgent message to those who have not taken part in the democratic process, extolling them to get out and exercise their right to vote. The title, she explains, speaks to the current state of the nation: “We are living in surreal times…we have become a divided country of Red vs. Blue, Us vs. Them or Not Our Kind, and that pot is starting to boil over.” Rest assured, however, that both hope and harmony are encouraged across the album’s 14 tracks as Carter and her band of jazz luminaries take the listener on a tour from sea to shining sea.

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Javier Nero – Freedom

 

Title: Freedom
Artist: Javier Nero
Label: Outside In Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 7, 2020

 

The winner of multiple prestigious jazz trombone competitions and recipient of a Ph.D. from Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, Dr. Javier Nero appears more than ready to present his debut solo album, Freedom. The title, he explains, reflects the very essence of jazz, as well as “the beauty that can be created by learning from and appreciating disparate cultures.” Nero draws upon his own multi-cultural ancestry and extensive training as a jazz and classical musician, as well as his experience as a member of the Haitian band Klass, to seamlessly incorporate elements of multiple genres across the 12 tracks of the album. Joining Nero in the ensemble are Tom Kelley (sax/flute), Melvin Butler (tenor/soprano sax), Jean Caze (trumpet/flugelhorn), Tal Cohen (piano), Dion Kerr (bass) and Aaron Kimmel (drums).

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Derrick Hodge – Color of Noize

 

Title: Color of Noize
Artist: Derrick Hodge
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: June 26, 2020

 

Bassist and composer Derrick Hodge has worked with some of the best, performing on GRAMMY award winning albums by Robert Glasper (as a founding member of the Robert Glasper Experiment) and Terence Blanchard, producing projects with Quincy Jones, and writing/recording with a wide range of other artists across multiple genres, from Kanye West, Q-Tip, and Andre 3000 to Jill Scott, Sade, and Kirk Franklin. Hodge’s innovative arrangements also played an essential role in the powerful performances by Nas and Maxwell with the National Symphony Orchestra, and Common with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Now, on his latest project and his third release for Blue Note Records, Hodge seeks to bridge the divide between urban, jazz and classical music with his new concept album, Color of Noize.

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Derrick Gardner & the Big dig! Band – Still I Rise

 

Title: Still I Rise
Artist: Derrick Gardner & the Big dig! Band
Label: Impact Jazz
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 10, 2020

 

Trumpeter Derrick Gardner has gathered together friends and family to form a new ensemble that makes its debut on his latest release, Still I Rise. Christened the Big dig! Band, after co-leader Steve Kirby’s bi-monthly jazz publication dig! magazine, the 18-piece big band performs contemporary music composed and arranged by Gardner while retaining the classic feel of the swing era. In addition to Derrick, an alumnus of the Count Basie Orchestra and the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band, the group also features his brother, trombonist Vincent Gardner, who currently serves as artistic director of the Jazz Houston Orchestra. Other world class musicians from across North America include saxophonists Mark Gross (Duke Ellington Orchestra), Greg Gatien, Rob Dixon, Tristan Martinuson and Ken Gold; trumpeters Bijon Watson (Gerald Wilson Jazz Orchestra), Jeff Johnson, Curtis Taylor and Andrew Littleford; trombonists Joel Green, Anthony Bryson and Bill Green; with pianist Zen Zadravec, bassist Luke Sellick, guitarist Kasey Kurtz and drummer Curtis Nowosad heading up the rhythm section.

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Mike Burton – Walk With Me

 

Title: Walk With Me
Artist: Mike Burton
Label: Mike Burton Co.
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 14th, 2020

 

A native of Jackson, Mississippi, saxophonist Michael Burton‘s affinity for music was nurtured at an early age by his mother, a singer with the Mississippi Mass Choir, and father, a tenor saxophonist. Burton honed his craft at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music under the tutelage of the renowned David Baker, and as a member of the IU Soul Revue, an ensemble that examines and performs Black popular music. Since completing his master’s degree in Jazz Studies, Burton has toured with major artists ranging from Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, Patti LaBelle and Anita Baker to New Edition, PJ Morton, and blues singer Willie Clayton. He has also played keyboards and saxophone on many of Tyler Perry’s stage and film productions. Burton’s vast experience is reflected in his third studio album, Walk With Me. Co-produced by Burton and Atlanta-based multi-instrumentalist Jelani Jackson, the album features collaborations from artists such as PJ Morton, Sho Baraka, Jeff Bradshaw, Melvin Jones, Len’i McKinney and Paula Champion.

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