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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.