Fidel Nadal – Tek A Ship

fidel nadal _ tek a ship

Title: Tek A Ship

Artist: Fidel Nadal

Label: Pelo Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 20, 2015



In his native Argentina, Fidel Nadal is one of the most famous Afro-Argentine artists in popular music.  Nadal’s success began with his band, Hasta Los Muertos—a punk outfit that was popular throughout Latin America in the early 1990s.  Since 2001, he has crafted a solo career with a strong focus on reggae music.

In addition to his connection with Argentina, Nadal dialogues with the African Diaspora.  Born to Afro-Argentine activist parents—his father was a filmmaker and mother a professor of anthropology—the musician’s Pan-African consciousness and Argentine identity blend throughout the newest of his seventeen albums, Tek A Ship.

For this effort, Nadal traveled to Kingston, Jamaica—the birthplace of reggae—to work with the legendary mastering engineer and producer, Bobby Digital.  Joined by a host of Jamaica’s best reggae musicians, Tek A Ship is a groove-heavy performance with solid production. Nadal’s duet with reggae star Jah Thunder on “Ackee Tree” best represents the musician’s dual identities.  Backed by a chunky rhythm and sunny melody, Nadal sings:

Soy Argentino/I am Argentine

El (Jah Thunder) es Jamaicano/He (Jah Thunder) is Jamaican

La verdad es que los dos somos Africanos/But the truth is that we are both Africans

But not all on Tek a Ship takes a tone of unified affirmations.  The album’s opening track, “Confusion,” speaks of troubled times with images of violence, racism, and destruction from the United States, Chile, Nepal, and Jamaica.  Despite the theme of things falling apart, Nadal remains musically focused and rhythmically poised throughout the track.

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Much like Paul Gilroy theorized “the ship” in his seminal work The Black Atlantic, Nadal sings of taking a ship back to Ethiopia to see Haille Selassie on the album’s title track.  Themes of Rastafarianism are central to Tek A Ship, and appear in “Vinimos para Ganar” (“We Come to Win”) and “Blessed is the Man.”

Throughout Tek A Ship, Nadal shows that the vibrations, melodies, and rhythms of his reggae are a vehicle to connect his identities and socially-conscious ideology.  Lucky for our moving bodies and satisfied ears, we can be along for the ride.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Walker Family Singers – Panola County Spirit

walker family singers_panola county spirit

Title: Panola County Spirit

Artist: Walker Family Singers

Label: Daptone Records

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3/320, FLAC, WAV), Vinyl

Release date: March 18, 2016



Music and place often go hand-in-hand.  Take the Mississippi Delta, for example.  The region’s association with the blues has made the city of Clarksdale a site of pilgrimage: one can visit the Delta Blues Museum, explore the Mississippi Blues Trail, and visit the famous Juke Joint Festival.

Recording engineer Michael Reilly asks us to consider a less-explored musical tradition of Mississippi’s Delta—a capella gospel music.  To make his case, Reilly has recorded three albums of sacred African American music in Como, Mississippi— just thirty miles from Clarksdale—for Daptone Records. His third release, Panola County Spirit, features the gifted Walker Family Singers.  Known throughout Como for their musical talent, the group is spread over two generations: parents Raymond and Joella; daughters Alberta, Patricia, and Delouse; and sons Bobby and Robert—all of whom appear on the album.

Just like their music, faith has been a practice shared among the Walker Family.  They identify themselves as “vessels for God” and understand music as a tool to deepen their relationship with Jesus. The Walker’s commitment to the Lord is strong—Raymond Walker even turned down offers to tour with legendary musicians Fred McDowell and Sam Cooke, as he committed himself to making music for the Lord, rather than commercial gain. Through seventeen tracks of spirituals, hymns, and quartet-style singing, Panola County Spirit features the Walker Family in both individual and group settings.  In harmony, the Walker Family Singers shine on “Jesus Gave Me Water”—a classic gospel quartet performance.  The song’s abridged rendition leaves the listener with feet tapping and a thirst for more.

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The individual performances from the Walker Family hold just as much power as their ensemble offerings.  On “Make Me Real,” daughter Patricia Walker begs with a disciple’s conviction for Jesus to “teach [her] heart what’s right.”  Joella Walker’s lament on “Had My Chance” is a chilling reflection upon missed opportunities to praise the Lord during a life that is coming to an end. While the majority of Panola County Spirit is a capella, “Oh Lord Hear My Voice” and “Leave That Liar Alone” feature clapping and body percussion.  Their heightened energy, as compared to other tracks on the album, leaves one to wonder about the power of these songs when performed in Como’s local churches.

The strong recording quality on the album is worth noting, especially since the songs were recorded in Raymond and Joella’s living room.  On the other hand, Michael Reilly’s liner notes, at times, raise eyebrows.  He calls the process of recording the Walker Family Singers “fishing these old dark songs” (are these “old” songs not being sung today?), and places his own interpretation of the album’s music in front of the Walker Family’s sacred associations.

Production questions aside, Panola County Spirit proves two things: that the Mississippi Delta is rich in music beyond the blues, and that the Walker Family Singers are some of the region’s best voices to praise His holy name.


Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach



Leyla McCalla – A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey

leyla mccalla_a day for the hunter

Title: A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey

Artist: Leyla McCalla

Label: Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: May 27, 2016



The goal of multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla’s project is to link the musical heritages of three areas: Haiti, Southern Louisiana, and the larger United States.  On her second album, A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey, McCalla draws from each of these traditions, as well as her own compositions, for an album that navigates between haunting reflections and carefree charm.

A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is inspired by a book of the same title, written by ethnomusicologist Gage Averill.  The work explores popular music, power, and politics in Haiti. Keeping with this theme, McCalla’s covers “Manman,” by Haitian singer-songwriter and political activist Manno Charlemagne, in a lilting political statement.  On “Manman,” McCalla is joined by Rhiannon Giddens, her former bandmate from the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Their experience sharing harmonies translates beautifully to this new context.

McCalla’s focus on folklore and politics moves to a darker place with a cover of “Vietnam”—Abner Jay’s haunting reflection on going to war. “Salangadou”—a creole song about a distraught mother seeking her child—finds McCalla and vocalist Sarah Quintana reflecting the song’s helplessness with a sorrowful interpretation: Their voices weave in and out of key, much like a mother’s emotions at the thought of losing their loved one.  The title track is an ominous performance, exhibiting the beautiful insecurity of McCalla’s voice.  This aesthetic adds an urgency throughout the album.

The entirety of McCalla’s album, however, does not focus on life’s heavy tribulations.  The light-hearted “Bluerunner” shows off a rollicking good time between fiddler Louis Michot, ti fer (triangle) player Daniel Tremblay, and McCalla on cello.  McCalla’s cello is a constant presence throughout the disc, moving between solid accompaniment and a subtle lyricism.

Watch the music video for A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey:

While A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is an ambitious, transnational, and well-performed project, McCalla has yet to construct a focused bridge between the heritages she represents.  As such, the album can feel disconnected amidst its individual tracks.  Despite this shortcoming, A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is a sound contribution to the musical map of hopes, fears, and history that link the Afro-Atlantic.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach



Anthony Wilson – Frogtown

anthony wilson_frogtown

Title: Frogtown

Artist: Anthony Wilson

Label: Goat Hill Records

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: April 15, 2016



Today, jazz musicians drift into Americana music with ease and frequency.  Anthony Wilson is the latest jazz guitarist to take the plunge into Americana with his superb release, Frogtown.  The album’s name is taken from the Frogtown neighborhood in Central Los Angeles, also known as the Elysian Valley.  Frogtown’s population of 8,000 is predominately middle-class Latinos and Asians, who, recently, have resisted gentrification through community organizing.  Wilson does little to connect the album’s thirteen songs back to this neighborhood in an explicit fashion, but the musical quality of Frogtown is what merits attention.

In this jazz/Americana context, Wilson’s guitar expertise and songwriting talents go hand-in-hand.  Frogtown’s title track—destined to appear on a public radio program somewhere—is as catchy-as-they-come and features deceptively lush orchestration.  “The Geranium” is a moody jazz tune, whose melody recalls Wes Montgomery’s “Bock to Bock.”  This reminds us that Anthony Wilson is no stranger to the jazz canon: his father, Gerald Wilson, was a jazz trumpeter, big band leader, and arranger in Los Angeles whose career began in the 1930s.

A surprise on the album is Wilson’s singing.  To date, Wilson has crafted his musical identity as a supporting guitarist with jazz/pop musicians like Diana Krall, Al Jarreau, and Paul McCartney.  Yet, on Frogtown, Wilson’s voice takes center stage.  “I Saw It Through the Skylight” is a spry vocal performance—he sings as if he has just found love all over again.  On “Shabby Bird,” Wilson makes the best of his limited range, with a harmonized vocal line that is clean and understated.

Frogtown is largely composed by Wilson, but the accompanying cast of instrumentalists and producers make the final product shine.  It is not a surprise to see Jesse Harris on the album, as the musician/producer has worked with many jazz artists who venture into Americana, such as Norah Jones and Julian Lage.  The band also features the talented Petra Haden on fiddle, producer extraordinaire Mike Elizondo on bass, Patrick Warren and Josh Nelson on all-things piano, Jim Keltner and Matt Chamberlain on drums, and a special appearance by tenor saxophone legend Charles Lloyd on “Your Footprints.”

In its convincing drift from jazz to Americana, Frogtown is a solid release that shows Anthony Wilson to be as multi-faceted as the neighborhood for which his album is named.


Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis (featuring Damien Sneed and Chorale Le Chateau) – The Abyssinian Mass

lincoln center orchestra_the abyssinian mass

Title: The Abyssinian Mass

Artist: Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis (featuring Damien Sneed and Chorale Le Chateau)

Label: Blue Engine Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 18, 2016


Is jazz sacred or secular music?  Some folks argue that the secular nature of jazz is undeniable, even positioning it as “the sound of modernity.”  Others point to the music’s roots in the Black church as a sacred component of the art form.

To this belabored question, Wynton Marsalis has provided an answer, contemporary and clear: jazz is inseparable from the Black Christian experience.  The trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and nine-time Grammy winner makes his point through his ambitious and well-funded project, The Abyssinian Mass.  This two-CD, DVD package began as Marsalis was commissioned to write a piece in celebration of Abyssinian Baptist Church’s 200th anniversary.  The church is an historic African American institution in Harlem, whose past proves Marsalis’ argument: Fats Waller’s father was a minister of the Baptist church and the funeral for the “Father of the Blues,” W.C. Handy, was held at Abyssinian.

Bringing together the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JALC), Chorale Le Chateau, and Abyssinian’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, the work mixes gospel and jazz, big band and choir, while it leads listeners through a long-composed form inspired by the Black Baptist Church.  Rev. Dr. Butts describes this deep, contemporary dialog between two pillars of Black traditions—jazz and the Black Church—as “a cosmopolitan approach to faith.”

While Marsalis has certainly reached cosmopolitan status through his career, he draws deeply upon his experience as a youngster in New Orleans, upbringing in the Black church, and knowledge of African American history to inform his compositions.  In the project’s accompanying DVD, Marsalis narrates the music as it is performed, giving listeners a “director’s cut” version of the compositions.  In the video below, Marsalis details his thought process for “Devotional,” the first song of the album’s spiritual experience.

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In this context, Marsalis’ genius is on display: for him, music is not just notes and rhythms, but is a rich metaphorical wellspring, which he draws on readily and with a child-like enthusiasm, when composing and improvising.

At times, Marsalis has been accused of being a jazz traditionalist and museumifying the art form.  But in the case of The Abyssinian Mass, Marsalis’ vision is a perfect theoretical fit.  Many of the musicians he has selected for the JALC Orchestra have direct experience in the Black church and hail from areas of the Southern United States that serve to authenticate the project.  The Chorale Le Chateau, led by Georgia-native and African American Damien Sneed, is comfortable in gospel and classical music, which complements the Orchestra’s musicality and professionalism.  It is not a stretch for these musicians to find jazz in the church, and the church in jazz.

In practice, this professionalism denies the opportunity for musical magic, or the moments when musical risks reap unexpected benefits.  Said another way: The Abyssinian Mass’ brilliance lies in its design, rather than its exacting performance.

On the other hand, the professionalism of the album’s packaging does not go unnoticed.  In a time of where physical CD releases are staring hard at their demise, The Abyssinian Mass is a brave box-set: the release is beautifully-packaged, features provocative liner notes from Leon Weiseltier, and dazzling display of color photographs from the piece’s 2013 tour.  Online, one can find videos of this tour, each spotlighting a different member of the JALC Orchestra or the Chorale Le Chateau and produced with a restrained flair.

The Abyssinian Mass is not a work to be digested quickly.  It is a musical tome for a historic African American institution, led by one of the leading African American musicians of our time.  In his effort to bring together profound strands of the Black experience, Marsalis has found fertile ground for musical inspiration, deep pockets to realize his vision, and incorporated his trademark stylistic approach.  The results are worthy of blessings from the Patron Saint of cosmopolitans.


Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach


Raphaël Imbert and Co. – Music is My Home, Act 1

raphael imbert and co_music is my home

Title: Music is My Home, Act 1

Artist: Raphaël Imbert and Co.

Label: Harmonia Mundi/JazzVillage

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 5, 2016



French saxophonist Raphaël Imbert took a musical journey from 2011-2013.  Funded through a grant from his native country, Imbert traveled throughout the Southern United States to study improvisation in popular and traditional music.  Meeting musicians like Leyla McCalla, Big Ron Hunter, Alabama Slim, and Sarah Quintana along the way, Imbert invited these musicians to another South—of France, that is—to record Music is My Home, Act 1 with his bandmates.

For Imbert, the phrase “music is my home” evokes the heart of his cultural exchange project: it is “a state of mind, [a] creative look at heritage, [and] a feeling of welcome, otherness, and innovation.”  Imbert is, ostensibly, working as an ethnomusicologist.  However, the album’s liner notes reflect this lack of training in the discipline: he confuses the “Deep South” with Appalachia, makes fuzzy statements about the nature of zydeco, and does not reveal the questions that guided his musical search.  To be fair, his release is not an academic monograph, but is focused on the music shared by these cross-continental encounters.  And to be clear, his enthusiasm for the project is palpable in the release’s liner notes and recordings.

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On Music is My Home, Imbert gives ample room for others to share in this enthusiasm.  His band—Thomas Weirich (guitars), Simon Sieger (trombone, keyboards, accordion), Alain Soler (harmonica), Marion Rampal (vocals), and Pierre Fenichel (double bass, bass ukulele), and Anne Paceo (drums)—provides an especially fertile foundation for the album’s invited guests.  On “Going for Myself,” Big Ron Hunter leads the musicians on a R&B voyage, which Imbert and his musicians navigate with ease.  The original compositions by Alabama Slim—“The Mighty Flood” and “Please, Don’t Leave Me”—are cultural exchanges that end with nods of approval.

On Music is My Home, Act 1, Imbert’s own compositions draw from the musical knowledge and socio-cultural history of African Americans and the African Diaspora he learned in his Southern travels.  The album’s first track, “MLK Blues” is a bricolage of zydeco and blues, with jazz-inflected solos by Imbert, demonstrating his eagerness to blend musical styles. Imbert walks the fine line of cultural misappropriation with “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” but rationalizes the song’s inclusion: when Big Ron Hunter heard Imbert playing the melody, the former began to weep.  Imbert uses this sentimentality as a green light, and even includes Hunter’s statement, “My mother used to sing me that spiritual when I was little,” on the recording.  If Imbert’s metaphorical “home” is out of bounds anywhere on this record, it is at times like these.

As with any project predicated on working outside of one’s musical element, Music is My Home, Act 1 lacks a deep intimacy with the musical traditions from which it borrows.  Imbert is deferential to the African American artists on the recordings, but never hands complete control to them.  While Music is my Home, Act 1 is well-performed and musically-engaging, it is difficult to embrace the album due to its lack of clarity on cultural politics.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach


Keb’ Mo’ – That Hot Pink Blues Album

keb mo_hot pink blues album

Title: That Hot Pink Blues Album

Artist: Keb’ Mo’

Label: Kind of Blue Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 15, 2016



For years now we have been using the term “smooth jazz.”  So, are we ready to consider “smooth blues” a musical genre?

If so, Keb’ Mo’s latest release, That Hot Pink Blues Album, would be a textbook for the style.  The two-disc live album features performances from the guitarist/singer/songwriter’s 2015 tour and a retrospective of songs from the three-time Grammy Award winner’s twenty-one years in the music industry.  But, more importantly, That Hot Pink Blues Album shows how Keb’ Mo’s blues foundation has merged with R&B, jazz, Americana, and pop to create an accessible, polished, and perhaps even androgynous blues style.  I mean, seriously, when was the last time we associated the color hot pink—barring Pink Anderson’s name—with the blues?

The foundation for Keb’ Mo’s style is optimism.  His blues are not about heartache or poverty, but ring with positive messages of good-times and lookin’ on the bright side.  On songs like “Life is Beautiful,” the musician sounds like a crooner—the song’s string arrangement, bouncy rhythm, and care-free lyrics would sound appropriate if performed by Rod Stewart (The Great American Songbook version of the rock-turned-adult contemporary vocalist, not the Jeff Beck Group one) or Barry Manilow. Keb’ Mo’ is at his best when his positivity incorporates a little grit, as heard on “Dangerous Mood” or “The Worst is Yet to Come.”

Technically, That Hot Pink Blues Album highlights Keb’ Mo’s talent as a songwriter and guitarist.  He authored or co-authored all sixteen of the album’s tracks and the live album setting gives his guitar playing room to shine.  The album also benefits from the instrumental prowess of Michael Hicks, whose keyboard and organ playing lend a variety of rich textures to Keb’ Mo’s straight-forward compositions.

For local Bloomington readers, That Hot Pink Blues Album, is a great teaser for Keb’ Mo’s upcoming performance at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on April 21 at 8:00pm.  There, attendees can hear the songs that comprise Keb’ Mo’s latest release and hear for themselves if the era of “smooth blues” is among us.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach


Zane Rodulfo – Pathways

zane rodulfo_pathways

Title: Pathways

Artist: Zane Rodulfo

Label: Lavway Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 26, 2016



The Caribbean has been a potent source for world-class jazz musicians in recent years: Francisco Mela from Cuba and Miguel Zenon of Puerto Rico come to mind.  An up-and-coming addition to this list is drummer Zane Rodulfo. Much like Mela and Zenon, the 26-year-old has turned to his Caribbean roots for inspiration on Pathways, his first release as a bandleader.

Rodulfo was raised in Trinidad, where he served as a percussionist in steel pan bands, in church, and wherever else his anxious spirit could find musical release.  Arriving in the United States at sixteen years old, Rodulfo cultivated his jazz pedigree through two years of study at William Patterson University, a BA in jazz studies and ethnomusicology from Oberlin College, and a MA in jazz studies from New York University.  Today, he is an in-demand musician and educator, residing in Brooklyn, NY.

Pathways is a mature, consistent, and, at times, dark first album.  The disc’s opening track, “Abiku” is an eerie stroll through heavy memories—it is fitting that abiku is the Yoruba word for the spirits of children who die before puberty.  “Hourglass”—written by guitarist and fellow Trini-musician, Marvin Dolly—lightens the mood with its lyricism and bright steel pan solo from Victor Provost.  The musicians on this record—Danya Stephens (saxophone), Nir Felder (guitar), the aforementioned Marvin Dolly (guitar), Noble Jolley (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), Victor Provost (steel pan) and Earl Brooks, Jr. (steel pan)—contribute lush accompaniment and confident improvisations to Pathways.  Rodulfo’s drumming throughout the release is melodic and balanced, with an eye kept toward the future.

Pathways is, indeed, a fitting title for Rodulfo’s first release.  The drummer has successfully used his education and heritage to carve a rhythmic and melodic dialogue between the Caribbean and the United States.  Judging from the quality of his work, Rodulfo’s diasporic path will lead him to high ground in the world of modern jazz.


Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach


shirlette ammons – Language Barrier

shirlette ammons_language barrier

Title: Language Barrier

Artist: shirlette ammons

Label: Churchkey/SugarQube

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 5, 2016



shirlette ammons wears many hats (she prefers her name in lowercase): she is a poet, musician, author, and activist. On Language Barrier, ammons’ second album, she also shows her mastery at disrupting musical boundaries.

Language Barrier crosses freely, and frequently, through rock, pop, hip-hop, and folk music, disregarding generic distinctions in favor of an embracing eclecticism. For ammons, this approach to genres is a metaphor for the way humans behave in our everyday lives. She explains, “As a part of the whole Language Barrier concept, I wanted to write an album that explores the ways we love across imposed and implied barriers. In this sense, Language Barrier is an album about love as an act of resistance. I also wanted to approach genre as a ‘barrier’ then break it down.”



Language Barrier feels like a mixtape of ammons’ favorite artists. Following the album’s first track, “Earth (Intro Segue),” she passes the microphone to guest artists—including The Indigo Girls, MeShell Ndegeocello, Sookee, Heather McEntire, and Phil Cook—leaving them to tell the album’s story. ammons even handed over the duty of writing the album’s music to multi-instrumentalist and composer, Daniel Hart.

All of this delegation does not take away from ammons’ goal: by including a large cast of instrumentalists, singers, and producers from a wide-range of genres, she has created a sonic exhibition that makes heads bob, feet shuffle, and, most importantly, reminds us that love has no boundaries.


Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach


Sam Butler – Raise Your Hands!

sam butler_raise your hands

Title: Raise Your Hands!

Artist: Sam Butler

Label: Severn Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 16, 2015


White rock musicians drawing inspiration from black gospel music is a common story. Less common are black gospel musicians recording sacred songs written by white rock musicians.

Producer Brian Brinkerhoff thought of the latter when he contacted guitarist and singer Sam Butler about doing an album together. Butler—known for his work with the Blind Boys of Alabama and Clarence Fountain—liked the proposal. The two hired a talented trio of musicians—pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier, drummer Marco Giovino, and bassist Viktor Krauss—and selected songs by U2, Eric Clapton, and Van Morrison, to name a few, to record. Over three days—which Brinkerhoff called a “musical worship service”—Raise Your Hands! was born.

Musically, the album moves between blues-rock grooves and songs of reflective contemplation. Tom Waits’ “Gospel Train” is a swampy invocation to join the Lord’s ride and evade the Devil’s foolishness. “Heaven’s Wall” has a similar heaviness, laid over an extended vamp. On the other hand, “Sanctuary” is a reverb-soaked ballad, with an earthy, Americana sound. Between these two poles, Butler’s dynamic voice, passionate interpretation, and praise for the Lord are the album’s common threads.

While Butler is the centerpiece of Raise Your Hands!, pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier is the star. Collier was raised in the House of God Congregation—known for producing many talented pedal steel musicians. Collier’s solos on “Magnificent” and “Lead Me Father” are bold, soaring statements, while his sensitive accompaniment on the album’s slower songs is ever-tasteful. Drummer Marco Giovino, too, shines on Curtis Mayfield’s “Wherever You Leadth” and Victor Krauss is consistent throughout the release.

Raise Your Hands! is an album that blurs musical lines. Sacred and secular, rock and gospel, bandleader and band member are productively eschewed, in service of the Lord and His gift of good music.


Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Lizz Wright – Freedom & Surrender

Lizz Wright

Title: Freedom & Surrender

Artist: Lizz Wright

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 4, 2015



Lizz Wright’s newest album, Freedom & Surrender, is an eclectic collection of love songs. Pulling from jazz, rock, Americana, and blues, the album is a sexy, sleek, and mystical listening experience, but one grounded in quotidian honesty. It is also an album of firsts: Wright’s debut release on the Concord label and her first collaboration with producer Larry Klein, whose production résumé includes Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux, and Tracy Chapman.

Originally intended to be an album of cover songs, Freedom & Surrender transitioned into a disc of original music written by Wright, Klein, David Batteau, J.D. Souther, Toshi Reagon, and Maia Sharp. “The New Game”—a catchy blues-rock tune co-written by Wright, Klein, and Batteau—demonstrates how productive the singer’s collaborative penchant can be. Another highlight is the dance track “Lean In”:

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Despite the numerous collaborations, Wright’s deep, sensuous voice remains the centerpiece of the album. The singer is immensely talented and sounds wise beyond her thirty-five years. Wright has been celebrated within the jazz industry since the early 2000s, achieving a rare combination of critical and commercial acclaim. Freedom & Surrender builds on this admirable body of work, resulting in Wright’s most accomplished release-to-date.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Angie Stone – Dream

Angie Stone

Title: Dream

Artist: Angie Stone

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 6, 2015

For the writing and recording of her newest album, Dream, veteran R&B vocalist Angie Stone found herself in an unfamiliar place: she was single.  With no love to call her own, the recording finds Stone inspired by what it would be like to love, lust, and correct the mistakes of her previous relationships.  Thus, one can imagine why Dream is an appropriate title for the release.

On the album, Stone collaborated with Walter Millsap III, a producer who has worked with Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Timbaland.  Millsap is clearly inspired by classic R&B and soul, as the album, at times, nods to Stevie Wonder and Motown in its compositions.  Stone admits that her favorite track is “Magnet,” which rhetorically questions why the singer always ends up with the wrong type of man.  “Two Bad Habits” is a playful R&B tune that explores Stone’s two worst behaviors: drinking too much wine and a particular romantic interest.

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One of the stand out tracks is “Begin Again,” a duet with R&B singer Dave Hollister.  The song opens with an irresistible groove that finds the singers wishing to rekindle a relationship that went sour.  “Dollar Bill” is a single woman’s anthem, detailing the excitement of preparing for a night on the town for a group of women “not looking for Mr. Right, right now.”

Stone’s artistic contributions to R&B have been significant throughout the 1990s and 2000s.   Dream continues down this successful artistic path, showing that Stone is not only a survivor in the music industry, but also in the game of love.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Steve Howell & the Mighty Men – Friend Like Me

Steve Howell

Title: Friend Like Me

Artist: Steve Howell & the Mighty Men

Label: Out of the Past

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 20, 2015


The blues can make one dance, shout, and cry, but it is not often that they make one relax. This is exactly what Steve Howell accomplishes on Friend Like Me, his fifth release. Joined by his band, The Mighty Men, Howell revisits songs by the likes of Bukka White, Charly Patton, the Grateful Dead, and many more. These artists have been Howell’s collaborators, mentors, and inspirations throughout his 40-year career, which is most associated with his time in Shreveport, Louisiana and Texarkana, Texas. Friend Like Me is a mature and laid-back release, more focused on tasteful performances and musicianship than an animated delivery of the acoustic blues.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Linsey Alexander – Come Back Baby


Title: Come Back Baby

Artist: Linsey Alexander

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2014


Linsey Alexander, better known as the “Hoochie Man,” is a veteran Chicago blues musician. His most recent Delmark release, Come Back Baby, features what Alexander does best: soulful guitar playing, solid vocals, and no-nonsense lyrics. Alexander reflects on the past (“Things Done Changed”), shows he still loves to have a good time (“Call My Wife”), pays homage to the blues tradition (“I Can’t Quit You Baby”), and Chicago winters (“Snowing in Chicago”).

The result is a fun, and at times naughty, release. Come Back Baby breaks no rules, but is a confident statement from an elder of the blues.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Sonny Terry – His Best 21 Songs

Sonny Terry

Title: His Best 21 Songs

Artist: Sonny Terry

Label: Wolf Records International

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2015


The joy of Wolf Records International’s release of a new Sonny Terry compilation is that the harmonica player and singer’s talent is allowed to take center stage. While his later recordings were mostly in a duo format with guitarist Brownie McGhee—who does appear on the album—His 21 Best showcases many of Terry’s recordings released before World War II. The result is a powerful document of the musician’s playful, sometimes falsetto, voice and his mastery of the blues harmonica.

Terry could make the harmonica be an instrument for rhythmic accompaniment, a stand-in for the human voice, and a ready-to-lead melodic instrument for improvisation. A range of collaborators—including Woody Guthrie, Blind Boy Fuller, Washboard Sam, and the aforementioned McGhee—augment this release, to mixed results. The album feels, at times, to be thrown together and under-curated. Many cuts seem to be studio outtakes that would make the diehard fan ecstatic, but leave new listeners underwhelmed. Despite this weakness, the album serves as a strong reminder of just how much Terry’s influence can be heard in blues harmonica players to this day.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Danielle Nicole – Wolf Den


Title: Wolf Den

Artist: Danielle Nicole

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2015


Sometimes, a change of scenery can do wonders for a project. Take Danielle Nicole’s newest release, Wolf Den, for example. The singer is a proud St. Louis native, but for this album she traveled south to New Orleans. Teaming up with veteran producer and guitarist, Anders Osbourne, and enlisting some of the best session musicians in the city’s blues, roots, and funk scenes, Wolf Den achieves a swampy New Orleans-sound without losing Nicole’s preferred aesthetic of the “groove blues.” Her songs are both seedy and seductive. The album’s title track evokes a bar where sin runs amok and its clients are up to no-good, but, somehow, it still it remains irresistible.

Equally irresistible is Nicole’s musicality. The artist has proven herself as both a singer and bass player—she won the Blues Foundation’s 2014 Blues Music Award for Best Instrumentalist on Bass—and now, with Wolf Den, has also proved that her artistic turns can lead to fruitful new terrain.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach