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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Alabama Slim – The Parlor

 

Title: The Parlor
Artist: Alabama Slim
Label: Cornelius Chapel
Format: CD, LP, digital
Release Date: January 29, 2021

 

Bluesman Alabama Slim of Vance, Alabama was poised for a late-in-life breakout with a scheduled appearance at the 2020 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Although the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Slim is moving forward with the release of his new solo project, The Parlor. On the album, the 82-year-old performer dives deep into the soulful blues that he grew up listening to in the South.

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Willie Jones – Right Now

 

Title: Right Now
Artist: Willie Jones
Label: The Penthouse/Empire
Format: Digital
Release Date: January 22, 2021

 

A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, a 26-year-old Willie Jones has crafted a genre-bending sound that captures his Southern roots and incorporates the other diverse musical influences that he loves. On his debut album, Right Now, he secures his place as a next generation country artist, joining the small but growing roster of Black artists who are revolutionizing the genre by deftly adding contemporary elements of hip hop and R&B.

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Corey Ledet – Zydeco

Title: Corey Ledet Zydeco
Artist: Corey Ledet
Label: Nouveau Electric Records
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: January 15, 2021

Grammy-nominated Zydeco artist Corey Ledet pays homage to his family and musical heritage on his latest release, Corey Ledet Zydeco. This is Ledet’s 14th album since releasing his full-length debut (3 Years 2 Late) in 2004, and features the multi-talented artist performing on vocals, accordion, drums, and washboard. Ledet’s unique style is influenced by multiple genres including early jazz, be-bop, blues, and traditional Creole music, as well as by musicians of Zydeco past and present.

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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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New Holiday Albums: The Best of 2020

One of the most essential parts of the holiday season is the music we listen to with our family and friends. This year, we especially need to come together to celebrate (virtually or in person), so we’re offering our list of the most comforting and inspiring holiday albums that have been released over the past few months. Included are brief reviews of our top six holiday albums of 2020, including releases from Leslie Odom Jr., Warren Wolf, the original cast of Hadestown, Amber Weekes, Lynda Randle, and Pentatonix. Also included is a list of honorable mentions, since there were too many amazing albums released this holiday season to cover in depth. Although this Christmas and holiday season may be a bit different from what most of us are used to, we hope these new music selections will help make this Christmas feel just as special as the last.

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Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, Vol. 18

 

Title: Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, vol. 18
Artist: Various
Label: Blues Images
Format: CD + Calendar
Release date: September 8, 2020

 

The Blues Images team strike a resonant chord again this year with their annual blues calendar and CD package. The wall calendar, featuring a historic advertisement for Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Pneumonia Blues” on the cover, displays additional photographs and graphical artwork that help bring to life the classic Pre-War blues classics included on this year’s audio selections. Beautiful photographs of Peg Leg Howell, Bertha Henderson, Ramblin’ Thomas, Victoria Spivey, and Blind Boy Fuller will help pass the months of 2021 as the calendar’s pages are turned, including a stand-out photo of Lead Belly and Martha Promise on their wedding day in the month of July.

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New Box Set and Books Commemorate Bob Marley’s 75th Anniversary

 

Title: The Complete Island Recordings
Artist: Bob Marley
Label: UMC/Island
Format: 11CD box set, vinyl reissues
Release Date: December 4, 2020

 

Fans of Bob Marley will have no shortage of Marley-related releases to choose from this holiday season. In December, UMC/Island will release The Complete Island Recordings, a new 11CD box set featuring all nine Bob Marley & The Wailers studio albums recorded for Island Records as well as two live albums (Live! and Babylon By Bus). The set spans a decade, beginning with 1973’s Catch A Fire and concluding with 1983’s Confrontation, a posthumous album released two years after Marley’s death. Additionally, on November 20, Universal is reissuing the same 11 albums and the compilation album Legend on vinyl as half-speed mastered editions. A third set of these albums, which are being pressed at the legendary Tuff Gong International headquarters in Kingston, will also be released on vinyl on December 11. The Tuff Gong set features the original Jamaica-recorded version of Catch A Fire, which is without overdubs, longer fades, and two extra tracks from the sessions.

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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 Gospel Truth: The Complete Singles Collection

 

Title: The Gospel Truth: The Complete Singles Collection
Artist: Various
Label: Stax/Craft
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 13, 2020

 

The Gospel Truth: The Complete Singles Collection is a two CD compilation of all of the gospel music singles released from 1972-1974 by the Stax subsidiary label, Gospel Truth.  One of the many highlights of this set are the opening tracks by the most popular artist on the label, Bishop Rance Allen and the Rance Allen Group, who perform “Just My Imagination (Just My Salvation)” and the song popularized by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Up Above My Head.”

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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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Evelyn “Champagne” King – The RCA Albums 1977-1985

 

Title: The RCA Albums 1977-1985
Artist: Evelyn “Champagne” King
Label: SoulMusic Records (dist. Cherry Red)
Format: 8-CD Box Set
Release Date: September 24, 2020

 

This 8-CD release from David Nathan’s SoulMusic Records features the eight RCA albums recorded between 1977 and 1985 by the iconic Evelyn “Champagne” King. King is one of the primary purveyors of R&B and dance music that helped fuel the disco movement of the late 1970s. The RCA Albums, distributed by Cherry Red Records, is the first-of-its-kind deluxe box set including reissues of all eight albums, handpicked bonus tracks, and essays on King’s time with RCA by two renowned writers.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Con Funk Shun – Confunkshunizeya: The Mercury Anthology

 

Title: Confunkshunizeya: The Mercury Anthology
Artist: Con Funk Shun
Label: Robinsongs
Format: 2CD set
Release Date: September 24, 2020

 

Con Funk Shun was one of the premier funk and soul ensembles of the ’70s and ’80s. Led by the vocals of Felton Pilate and Michael Cooper, the group produced eight Top Ten R&B hits and the No. 1 chart topping single, “Ffun,” in addition to four consecutive Gold albums. Confunkshunizeya, the first double CD career anthology of the supergroup, includes 32 tracks from Con Funk Shun’s golden years and the full 12” version of “Ffun.”

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Sade – This Far

Title: This Far
Artist: Sade
Label: Legacy
Format: 6-LP vinyl box set
Release Date: September 2, 2020

This Far, the new Sade vinyl box set, offers brand new half-speed masters, courtesy of Miles Showell at Abbey Road. The first of its kind, this set includes all six of the soul singer’s acclaimed albums on pure 180-gram black vinyl. Showell worked from high resolution digital transfers of the stereo master mixes and from the original analog studio tapes, resulting in exceptionally clean and detailed audio that remains faithful to the band’s intended sound.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Beyoncé – Homecoming: The Live Album

 

Title: Homecoming: The Live Album
Artist: Beyoncé
Label: Columbia
Format: 4-LP vinyl set
Release Date: December 4, 2020

 

The first African American woman to headline the Coachella festival, Beyoncé received immediate acclaim from fans and critics alike following her April 2018 Homecoming performances. Her concert celebrated Historically Black Colleges and Universities with over 100 dancers, a band, and special guest performers including J Balvin, Jay-Z, and a nostalgic Destiny’s Child reunion with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. This new 4-LP set includes over two dozen songs from the live performances that thrilled over 125,000 concertgoers on those April weekends.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick