The O’Jays – The Last Word

 

Title: The Last Word
Artist: The O’Jays
Label: S-Curve
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 19, 2019

 

The O’Jays are back with their new project, The Last Word, and it’s like they never left.  Fans once again can experience the classic Philadelphia soul sound of Eddie Levert Sr., Walter Williams Sr. and Eric Nolan Grant (who joined the group in 1995), whose smooth, rich harmonies are backed by elaborate arrangements and lush strings. The new release is the O’Jays’ first studio album in 15 years and regrettably is said to be their final album. Grammy nominated producers Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini and R&B legend Betty Wright assisted with the production. Continue reading

Ayanna Witter-Johnson – Road Runner

 

Title: Road Runner
Artist: Ayanna Witter-Johnson
Label: Hill and Gully Records
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 26, 2019

 

A singer, songwriter, and cellist in a class all her own, Ayanna Witter-Johnson has taken a classic R&B sound and turned it on its head. Born in the UK, Ayanna has been honing her craft for quite some time now, earning music degrees from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music. She has worked as a composer and arranger with both Hugh Masekela and the London Symphony Orchestra as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Ayanna has released several EPs—Truthfully Still (2011), Black Panther (2015) and Ella, Reuben & Ay (2018)and now offers her full-length debut album Road Runner. Continue reading

Anu Sun – Sanguine Regum

 

Title: Sanguine Regum
Artist: Anu Sun
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: February 8, 2019

 

Music is in a constant state of evolution, enlightening our soundscapes with its ingenious performers who move themselves and their creations beyond the norm.  Producer, songwriter and engineer Anu Sun, affectionately known industry-wide as “Anu The Giant,” is one such artist. A staple in New York City’s live music scene, Sun’s recent credits include work on the Grammy Award winning motion picture soundtrack Miles Ahead, production partner Robert Glasper’s Grammy nominated Black Radio 2, his collaborations with jazz and R&B staples like Bilal, Ledisi, Laura Mvula and his credits with legends like Johnny Cash and Miles Davis. With the release of his own album, Sanguine Regum, Sun has positioned himself as a prominent, provocative renaissance musician alongside his peers in the business. But his music goes deeper than that. Continue reading

Nubiyan Twist – Jungle Run

 

Title: Jungle Run
Artist: Nubiyan Twist
Label: Strut Records
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: February 15, 2019

 

The 12-piece collective Nubiyan Twist, named after frontwoman Nubiya Brandon, just released their newest studio album, Jungle Run. Formed in 2015 at Leeds College of Music and influenced by the diverse music scene in Leeds, Nubiyan Twist and their unique sound can only be described as versatile, fluid, and all-around captivating. Continue reading

Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness

 

Title: Hello Happiness
Artist: Chaka Khan
Label: Island
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 15, 2019

 

Chaka Khan’s new album, Hello Happiness, is a short, seven-track release that is somewhat of a departure from her previous work. Many listeners will associate Khan with her classic hits such as “I’m Every Woman,” which would lead them to expect a strong vocal showing. However, one might find this newest release more barren of Khan’s vocal prowess than anticipated. But before a decision is made to not give this album a chance, understand that the lessened presence of Khan is more attributed to a difference in production than a diminishing of her abilities. Chaka Khan’s powerful voice is used to complement contemporary production practices that are at times ambient in nature. Continue reading

Beldina – Black & Blond

 

Title: Black & Blond
Artist: Beldina
Label: Self-released
Formats: Digital
Release date: February 8, 2019

 

Born in Stockholm with ancestral ties to Kenya, Scandinavian R&B artist Beldina Malaika pays homage to her heritage through her autobiographical album title, Black & Blond. An aspiring artist from an early age, Beldina was accepted to one of Sweden’s most prestigious performing arts schools at age 10. Soon after, she was releasing her own music and performing with some of Sweden’s top acts in the country’s most iconic venues. Her work with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams and Childish Gambino further enhanced her legendary status, and with the release of her newest EP, Beldina is emerging as a free, independent artist. Continue reading

New Holiday Albums: The Best of 2018

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without good music to really get you in the spirit! We’re featuring brief reviews of our favorite new holiday releases from PJ Morton, John Legend, Cece Winans, Aloe Blacc, Motown Gospel, and After 7. Our specially curated Black Grooves Christmas Spotify playlist features our favorite songs from these artists and more, providing the perfect soundtrack as you get together with friends and family to celebrate the holidays. Continue reading

Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25

 

Title: Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25
Artist: Various
Label: Certified Classics
Formats: LP, Digital
Release Date: October 19, 2018

 

Released in honor of So So Def’s 25th anniversary, So So Def 25 pays tribute to the pioneering Atlanta-based label with a collection of its hip-hop and R&B hits. Curated by So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri, the compilation has been released on a 12” vinyl collector’s edition by Sony Music’s Certified Classics. Featured artists include Jay-Z, Bow Wow, Ghost Town DJ, Aaliyah, and many more. Scattered amongst the So So Def classics are rarer tracks like Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married (Kanye West Remix)”—one of Kanye’s early verses—as well as an explicit version of “Da B Side” by Da Brat with an alternative verse by The Notorious B.I.G. Additional playlists celebrating the anniversary can be found on So So Def’s website. Continue reading

Book – Soul R&B Funk Photographs, 1972-1982

 

Title: Soul R&B Funk Photographs, 1972-1982
Author: Bruce W. Talamon
Publisher: Taschen
Format: Hardcover, 375 pages
Release date: October 2018

 

The coffee table book of the year for soul and funk music fans is without a doubt this oversize, hardcover volume featuring the early photographs of Bruce W. Talamon. Those who are familiar with SOUL newspaper will recognize some of these images. Started in L.A. in 1968 by Ken Jones and Regina Jones, SOUL was the first black-owned paper dedicated to R&B, soul and funk musicians. Talamon was hired in 1972 by Regina, who gave the young photographer his first steady gig, and before long he was shooting for national publications. From 1972-1982, Talamon captured R&B royalty in stunning detail—working up a sweat in concert, dancing on the stage of Soul Train, striking a pose during formal photo shoots, and enjoying quieter moments backstage and on the road. Continue reading

Welcome to the November 2018 Issue

Welcome to the November 2018 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring three new jazz releases including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest, drummer Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, and the eponymous debut album from Christian McBride’s New Jawn.

In honor of Bill Withers’ 80th birthday, two artists have released tributes to the legendary singer-songwriter: José James’ Lean On Me and Anthony David’s Hello Like Before: The Songs of Bill Withers. The late soul singer Charles Bradley is remembered on the posthumous release Black Velvet, while the late Ohio funk musician Roger Troutman is honored on Zapp VII Roger & Friends.

Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and composer Louis Rosen offer their new project Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs, while baritone Thomas Hampson’s Songs From Chicago features works by composers Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, and John Alden Carpenter—all based on poems by Langston Hughes. Gospel music releases include Brent Jones’ Open Your Mouth and Say Something and the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom.

Alternative rock and blues projects include Blood Orange’s Negro Swan, Black Joe Lewis’ The Difference Between Me and You, and Cedric Burnside’s Benton County Relic. Rap albums include Masta Ace & Marco Polo’s A Breukelen Story, and the self-titled release from Ill Doots that blends funk, jazz and hip hop. Wrapping up this issue is the Burkina Faso group Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band’s Siri Ba Kele and our list of October Black Music Releases of Note.

Anthony David – Hello Like Before – The Songs of Bill Withers

 

Title: Hello Like Before – The Songs of Bill Withers
Artist: Anthony David
Label: Shanachie
Formats: CD, Digital Release
Date: September 21, 2018

 

God bless you, Anthony David.  Not only are you paying tribute to perhaps my favorite male artist of all time, Bill Withers, but you titled the project Hello Like Before, my favorite Withers song hands down—and that, my friend, is saying something. When one artist pays tribute to another, especially a legendary artist, it can either go one of two ways. But Anthony David delivers in a huge way! When the Savannah, Georgia native emerged on the scene in 2004 with his album Three Chords & the Truth, some compared him to Bill Withers and guess what? They were spot on. Like Withers, David ain’t flashy, just straight forward. Continue reading

Welcome to the October 2018 Issue

This month we’re rolling out a new and improved website and mobile version of Black Grooves!

Our featured releases include soulful songstress Macy Gray’s new album Ruby, the Prince acoustic compilation Piano & a Microphone 1983, and avant-garde artist Lonnie Holley’s third release, MITH.

Jazz releases include mezzo soprano Alicia Hall Moran’s genre blending classical/jazz project Here Today, Judith Lorick’s Second Time Around with the Eric Reed Trio, drummer Tosin Aribisala’s Áfríkà Rising, and two Grant Green compilations from Resonance Records—Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s and Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes 1969-1970.

For this month’s gospel music selections were looking in our own backyard with releases from two Indianapolis-based artists—Judah Band’s sophomore album Gone Fishin’ and Tyscot Records’ own Bishop Leonard Scott’s praise and worship album Jesus Love Legacy. R&B/soul releases include Unstoppable by Candi Staton and Free Me from Burundian soul singer J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts.

Albums with a Caribbean tie include legendary reggae group Black Uhuru’s new release As the World Turns, the collaboration of reggae musician Winston McAnuff and French accordionist Fixi on Big Brothers, French-Guadeloupian trio Delgres’ debut album Mo Jodi, Snarky Puppy spin-off group Bokanté with the Metropole Orkest on What Heat (featuring Guadeloupian vocalist Malika Tirolien), plus Bokanté member and lap/pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier’s ‘dirty funk’ solo debut Exit 16.

Wrapping up this issue is the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins compilation, Are YOU one of Jay’s Kids? – The Complete Bizzare Sessions 1990-1994, and our list of September 2018 Black Music Releases of Note.

Macy Gray – Ruby

 

Title: Ruby
Artist: Macy Gray
Label: Artistry Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 21, 2018

 

Macy Gray recently gifted us with her tenth studio album, Ruby. Unlike her previous release, Stripped—an album that included a number of covers and a remake of her hit song “I Try”—Ruby features twelve new original tracks from Gray. When asked by Rolling Stone to describe the general soundscape or style of the album, Gray explained: “Sonically, it is beautiful. It has all sorts of [fusions]. There are a lot of live instruments. We mixed it with samples… But, it is very different. At the same time, it is excellent ear candy. . .very pop…[but] gritty and grimy and dirty. [The record] will be super R&B. You know, with my stuff, there is always a jazz element. That is what I grew up on. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it. I love it.”  Continue reading

Water Seed – Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile

Water Seed

Title: Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile

Artist: Water Seed

Label: Water Seed Music Group

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 22, 2018

 

Water Seed, a New Orleans-based group under the leadership of drummer Lou Hill, drew attention with their May 2017 debut album, We Are Stars, which reached the Billboard Top 20. Three months later, on August 19, 2017, their high-energy and brilliant performance at the Blue Nile in New Orleans was recorded and has now been released as the band’s first live album, Say Yeah!!.

Water Seed’s success has lead them to perform on prominent stages such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Apollo Theater, and a three-month residency in Russia. Their compositions blend funk, R&B, fusion, and soul genres into an amalgam of sound and groove that reflect not only the musical mission of the group, but also the musical environment that is New Orleans.

Say Yeah!! includes songs from their debut album, including the fan favorites “Open Sesame,” “Work It Out,” “Brand New Day,” and “Funktimus Prime.”  Now, while each track is musically exhilarating and dynamic, the highlight of this live set is the impeccable musicianship and artistic acumen of the entire ensemble (Lou Hill, J Sharp, Cinese Love, Shaleyah and Berkley). The vocal harmonies are blended perfectly, the brass lines are clean and precise, and the grooves in the rhythm section are flawlessly executed. In addition to the superb performance, listeners are treated to the call-and-response interactions between the band and audience members, which according to Hill inspired the title Say Yeah!!.

Besides the soulful and foot-stomping grooves, this album captures the spontaneity and pure artistic expressions of a well-rehearsed ensemble. Say Yeah!! is truly a magnificent demonstration of maturity and musicality.

Review by Jamaal Baptiste