November 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during November 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. 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

October 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during October 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading

September 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during September 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.  Continue reading

Ranky Tanky – Good Time

 

Title: Good Time
Artist: Ranky Tanky
Label: Resilience Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 12, 2019

 

Ranky Tanky‘s Good Time is a beautiful project that honors the Gullah culture while also celebrating African and African American culture and music. Their music represents the African concept of music, life and religion as a unified entity. Because of this “oneness,” many of Ranky Tanky’s songs such as “Freedom” and “Stand By Me” are intertwined with social and political messages, conveying issues in contemporary Black life while also using religious overtones. These sacred overtones are heard throughout the song “Good Time,” which “takes you straight to church” as they say in the vernacular. Ranky Tanky also revisit the storytelling folk tradition of their Gullah heritage to convey the messages found in each song. Continue reading

Rhiannon Giddens – there is no Other

 

Title: there is no Other
Artist: Rhiannon Giddens
Label: Nonesuch Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: May 3, 2019

 

there is no Other is the third solo studio album from former Carolina Chocolate Drops member, Rhiannon Giddens, following Tomorrow is My Turn (2015) and Freedom Highway (2017). This new release is also her first formal collaboration with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. Both Giddens and Turrisi share similar musical passions rooted in a desire to unearth hidden or underexplored roots of certain styles of music. For Rhiannon, her interests lie with African American influences on folk or Americana music, while Turrisi focuses on the Mediterranean (Middle Eastern and North African) influences on the music of Southern Europe. Continue reading

Our Native Daughters – Songs of Our Native Daughters

 

Title: Songs of Our Native Daughters
Artist: Our Native Daughters
Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Formats: CD, Digital
Release: February 22, 2019

 

“It is only in his music…that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear.” James Baldwin wrote these words in his 1955 collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son. These are the words that inspired the title for the collaborative project between four African American female folk musicians. Coming together under the name Our Native Daughters, Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell have combined their unique talents, distinct voices, and shared mission to shed light on the oft unknown influence of African Americans on Americana music to produce the much anticipated album, Songs of Our Native Daughters. Continue reading

Birds of Chicago – Love in Wartime

birds

 

Title: Love in Wartime

Artist: Birds of Chicago

Label: Signature Sounds

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: May 4, 2018

 

Americana duo Birds of Chicago is a marriage, literally, of singer-songwriters JT Nero and Allison Russell. Formed in 2012, the group has developed a loyal following through their relentless touring schedule. Since their last full-length project, Real Midnight (2016), the Birds have flown from Chicago to Nashville, where they now reside. Their new album, Love in Wartime, co-produced by Luther Dickenson, reflects the sounds of both hometowns as the duo artfully intertwines elements of country, folk, blues and rock.

While Russell’s voice has been prominent on previous albums, Love in Wartime is perhaps more evenly divided between the duo, contrasting Russell’s silky, soulful soprano against Nero’s grittier baritone.  Opening with the intro “Now/Sunlight,” Russell hums a whimsical, folksy tune over plucked banjo chords, then segues into the uptempo roots rock song, “Never Go Back,” with Nero on lead vocals. On the title track, twangy guitars come to the fore as Nero recounts the realities of longterm relationships and parenthood, “we sat there and tried to remember our dreams, no such luck, no such luck.” Life on the road is the subject of the poignant “Travelers,” as Russell sings “there’s no home in this world, got no home in this world.” One of the most effective duets on the album is “Try,” with Russell and Nero trading verses before coming together on the chorus, “Try a little harder, give a little more.”

Other highlights include the uplifting bluesy song “Roll Away” which encourages folks to “roll away the heavy stones, roll away the heavy hours, roll on in the summer moon,” and the banjo accompanied ballad “Superlover.”

Love in Wartime is jam-packed with carefully crafted songs and inspirational lyrics that celebrate life and love despite troubled times and the daily grind.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

The Ebony Hillbillies – 5 Miles from Town

Hillbillies

Title: 5 Miles From Town

Artist: The Ebony Hillbillies

Label: EH Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 15, 2017

 

 

After four successful albums and TV appearances on the BBC and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” The Ebony Hillbillies are back with their latest album, 5 Miles From Town. The group, which hails from the streets of New York City, is keeping African American string band traditions alive for new generations. Their fifth album features 12 tracks that seamlessly combine pop, folk, bluegrass, and jazz to create The Ebony Hillbillies’ trademark sound.

In addition to reviving string band music through tracks such as “Hog Eyed Man,” a classic 19th century American fiddle tune from the Upper South, the group also offers new songs with strong social commentary. The gritty “Another Man Done Gone (Hands Up Don’t Shoot)” explores the issue of police brutality, while the similarly-themed “I’m On My Way To Brooklyn” ends with the ominous sound of gunshots.

Other songs, like “Fork in the Road,” are more lighthearted and highlight the beauty of the fiddle and banjo, as performed by group leader Henrique Prince and Norris Bennett, respectively. Additional performers include Gloria Thomas Gassaway, Allanah Salter and Iris T. Olden (vocals, bones, shaker), William “Salty Bill” Salter (acoustic bass), Newman Taylor Baker (washboard percussion), and A.R. (aka Ali Rahman, cowboy percussion).

The album concludes with the title track, “Five Miles From Town,” a very lively rendition of the old-timey classic that’s punctuated with plenty of whoopin’ and hollerin’ before fading out on an extended percussive improv section with hints of jazz.

Almost 15 years after the release of their first album, The Ebony Hillbillies continue their mission to educate and inspire, fusing the sonic textures of the past with contemporary music elements and socially-relevant lyrics.  5 Miles From Town lives up to the legacy created by the Manhattan-based band and offers a fresh take on the sound that listeners love.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick