The Cleveland, Ohio-based funk and soul collective Mourning [A] BLKstar is a “multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora.” Boldly confronting themes of racism, oppression, and injustice, the group’s albums reflect the reality of living in a world that is all too frequently hostile to people of color. Their previous release, The Garner Poems(2018), was a eulogy to Eric Garner and the many other victims of police brutality past and present. M[A]B’s new double album, The Cycle, is yet another epic and thought-provoking addition to the group’s catalog. Set as an 18 movement song cycle featuring vocalists James Longs, Kyle Kidd and LaToya Kent, the group envisions the work as “a humble addition to the long legacy of James Baldwin’s adage of the artist as witness.”
Title: No Beginning No End 2 Artist: José James Label: Rainbow Blonde Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 6, 2020
José James’ No Beginning No End 2, a sequel to his 2013 Blue Note debut album, resurrects the eclecticism audiences first fell in love with. Back then, the singer-songwriter was transitioning from Verve Records to Blue Note, and the new release finds James shifting to his own Rainbow Blonde label. ”There’s this beautiful cycle that’s happening again,” James explains. “This essence of it is what I wanted to get back — the idea of courage, freedom, real quality music that’s made without boundaries but still had a cohesive quality. That’s what I did on the first (No Beginning No End), and this one feels the same way.” With No Beginning No End 2, James pays homage to a multitude of musicians who inspired him.
Title: The Anthology Artist: Omar Label: Freestyle Format: CD, Digital Release date: January 31, 2020
London-born neo-soul singer Omar Lye-Fook MBE, known as the “Godfather of UK Soul,” has now been recording for 35 years. A musical prodigy, by the age of five he was learning to play the drums from his studio musician father and went on to study other percussion instruments as well as piano, trumpet and bass guitar, eventually matriculating at the Guildhall School of Music. Omar’s debut single, “Mr. Postman,” was released on his father’s Kongo label in 1985, and his debut album, There’s Nothing Like This, followed in 1990. From that point forward Omar’s career took off, and before long he was recognized not only as a uniquely talented singer and multi-instrumentalist fluent in multiple genres, but also as a composer, arranger, and producer. All of Omar’s talents are showcased on his new two-disc set, TheAnthology, which includes hits from the past three decades along with a few lesser known and previously unreleased tracks.
Title: Woman Artist: Syleena Johnson Label: eOne Music Formats: Digital Release Date: January 31, 2020
Johnson’s new album, Woman, is
a timely, soulful ode to womanhood as well as a call to action wrapped in deep
reflection. Opening with “Woman (intro),” Johnson positions this brief spoken
introduction as a centering track that grounds listeners in the journey of
empowerment they are about to embark on. Additionally, she guides us through
each track with lyrics that illuminate the common threads of strength,
resilience, and healing that tie women together.
Not feeling the love this Valentine’s Day? Are you experiencing a relationship that has gone sour? Let the sisters set you free! You’re Not Gonna Hurt Me was compiled “to empower women to kiss off those men that don’t treat them with the utmost respect they deserve.” Featuring 15 classic soul tracks “performed by powerful women with powerful voices delivering a powerful message,” this album “serves as a scathing anti-Valentine’s Day card.” Included are songs such as ‘You’re the Dog (I Do the Barking Myself)” by Irma Thomas, “Lot More of Me Leaving (Less of Me Coming Home)” by Ruth Brown, and “Divorce Decree” by Doris Duke, plus gems by lesser known artists like “I’m Moving On” by Chyvonne Scott and “Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over)” by Ruby Andrews. All tracks have been newly re-mastered for this release.
Title: Black Hole Rainbow
Artist: Devon Gilfillian
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: January 10, 2020
A Philly-born musician who was weaned on his father’s vintage soul records, Devon Gilfillian is now a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and bandleader who is currently making waves on the touring circuit. Recently signed to Capitol Records, Gilfillian kicks off the New Year with the release of his debut album, Black Hole Rainbow. With inspirations from the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan, Devon has created his own distillation of the soul sound, forming a collection of incredibly powerful and stirring tracks. Produced by Grammy award winner Shawn Everett, the album dissects the multiple levels of love and its effects on all parties involved. “The theme of the record is pulling yourself out of a dark place and learning how to love yourself, and getting back up and learning from your mistakes,” Gilfillian says. “It’s about falling in love, falling out of love, and then learning how to love yourself; picking yourself up and really figuring out what matters in your life, and to never stop hustling.” The tracks were recorded with a wide variety of gear, including vintage equipment and analog boards, resulting in an album with a daring collision of eras, styles, and genres.Continue reading →
Produced by Earwig Music Company’s Michael Robert Frank, Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection is hands down one of the best box sets of the year. The beautifully produced hard cover book includes four CDs inserted into the front and back covers, while the lavishly illustrated inner pages tell the story of the Chicago based independent record company owned by Narvel Eatmon, a colorful character better known on the South Side as “Cadillac Baby.” Frank began this labor of love in 2006 when he purchased the entire catalog and archive of the Bea & Baby label, with the goal of sharing Cadillac Baby’s musical legacy with the rest of the world. The result is this comprehensive anthology which includes all released and unreleased tracks (with a couple of exceptions), ranging from urban and country blues, gospel, doo-wop, soul, and comedy, to rap. Along the way, Cadillac narrates his own story through six spoken word tracks interspersed throughout the collection. Other “expert witnesses” from Chicago include Jim O’Neal (Living Blues magazine), Bill Dahl, and Robert M. Marovich (Journal of Gospel Music), who all contributed to the informative liner notes.Continue reading →
For those of you who aren’t from the Midwest, “Naptown” is a nickname created by local jazz musicians back in the day to describe the sometimes sleepy city of Indianapolis. Bringing some old Naptown soul and funk to light, the new anthology LAMP Records: It Glowed Like the Sun: The Story of Naptown’s Motown offers an overview of the city’s fabled record label, little known outside of hardcore soul collectors. Now, current and former Indianapolis natives can reminisce while the rest of the world can finally hear the soulful sounds that sprung from Naptown during the years 1969-1972. The liner notes for this release, researched and written over a twenty year span by Eothen Alapatt, Jeff Kollath, Jason Yoder and Kyle Long, read like a book as these four experts uncover the history of the LAMP label and Naptown’s music scene.Continue reading →
It’s been nearly thirty years since Robert Pruter released his ground breaking book, Chicago Soul, which examined the emergence of soul music in the Windy City and its key players. Now another Chicago author, Aaron Cohen, takes the story one step further with Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power. Based on interviews with more than 100 people and a multitude of books and articles, Cohen strikes the perfect balance between a well-researched, scholarly perspective and an extremely engaging journalistic history. His primary goal is to weave the story of Chicago’s diverse music scene with the social and political changes happening in the city from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. In the words of Jerry “Iceman” Butler, former lead singer of the Impressions and Cook County Commissioner, “music and politics kind of walk hand in hand down Michigan Avenue.” Other key musicians in this story include Curtis Mayfield, Baby Huey, Minnie Ripperton and Rotary Connection, Maurice White, the Chi-Lites, and Syl Johnson, among many others, who often eschewed commercial concerns in favor of socially conscious lyrics, liberation, and solidarity.Continue reading →
Artist: Avery R. Young
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 19, 2019
Chicago poet and musician Avery R. Young’s new release, Tubman, is promoted as a soundtrack to his first volume of poetry, neckbone: visual verses(Northwestern University Press, June 2019), and serves as a platform for extending and exploring the book’s many interwoven themes through music. Accompanied by his group, De Deacon Board, Young’s brilliant cross-genre album dedicated to Harriet Tubman certainly stands on its own merits. The provocative tracks frequently delve into socio-political commentary, while Young’s musical palette is deeply rooted in the Delta—“the blues, the gospel, that swamp type of rock ‘n’ roll.” As one might expect from this poet, other influences include The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, as well as ‘70s soul musicians such as Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding, the Black church, and the Black Arts Movement. Plus funk, lots of funk!Continue reading →