Tom Morello. The Fabled City (Red Ink, September 2008)
Morello, best known as a heavy metal guitarist and former member of Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine, now has another claim to fame as the “other half-Kenyan Harvard graduate from Illinois.” His latest solo album also reflects another side, which is decidedly folksy, but with a definite political edge. Morello is no stranger to politics- his father was Kenya’s first black delegate to the United Nations and his parents met during Kenya’s struggle for independance. Here, in his alter ego as Nightwatchman, he tackles a number of issues ranging from post-Katrina New Orleans to war. His distinctive songwriting along with his acoustic vocal-guitar arrangements have already led many to brand him as something of a modern day Dylan.
Richie Havens. Nobody Left to Crown (Verve Forecast, March 2008)
Noted ’60s folk singer Richie Havens recently released his first studio album in four years, singing covers of Pete Townshend (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”), Peter, Paul & Mary (“The Great Mandala-The Wheel of Life”) and Jackson Browne (“Lives in the Balance”). The majority of the album, however, features new material composed largely by Havens, including the title track which lambasts political leaders and “Fates,” his ode against capitalism.
Estelle. Shine (Atlantic, April 2008)
British R&B songstress Estelle has hit it big with her sophomore release, which has garnered significant attention including placement on many “Best of 2008” lists. Kanye West, John Legend, and Cee-lo make guest appearances, ensuring success on this side of the pond, while Wyclef Jean and Will.i.am lend a hand on production. A major selling point is the album’s diversity. By incorporating elements of dance-hall, hip hop, R&B, soul and ska, every track offers up something distinctly new and fresh.
Conya Doss. Still (Conya Doss Songs,April 2008)
Neo-soul singer/songwriter Conya Doss is a native of Cleveland who has been developing a considerable following, especially in Europe, since her debut album was released in 2002. Despite this fact, she still doesn’t have the backing of a major label and continues to self-release her projects, while earning a living as a teacher in the Cleveland public schools. Still features 14 tracks with a predominant focus on love and relationships that never become overly sentimental, and she keeps up the pace by alternating between up-tempo numbers and ballads.
Hil St. Soul. Black Rose (Shanachie, April 2008)
Hil St. Soul is a duo featuring Zambian-born, London-raised neo-soul singer/songwriter Hilary Mwelwa and Victor Redwood Sawyerr, an instrumentalist and producer, who also shares songwriting credits. Like Doss, Hil St. Soul’s music largely appeals to the over-30 crowd and thus has been ignored by the major labels. Case in point, the song “Sweetest Days” reminisces about the time when “There was no Nintendo or computer games but a natural interaction with your friends.” But if you fall into this demographic and enjoy original soul with a dose of jazz, R&B, funk, and hip hop, you might want to check out this album.
Raheem DeVaughn. Love Behind the Melody (Jive, January 2008)
There are any number of young R&B singers we could have added to the list, but we have to give credit to Raheem Devaughn for keeping the soul alive, and keeping it fresh with healthy doses of hip hop. In an effort not to be constrained or classified, Devaughn claims to be a “R&B-hippie-neosoul-rock star.” His music almost achieves this level of diversity. He frequently references classic R&B, such as when “Friday (Shut the Club Down)” playfully evolves into “My Girl,” and “Butterflies” is somewhat reminiscent of British-invasion era rock. What most impresses, besides his incredible vocal technique, is his ability to reach a wide audience without selling out.