Category Archives: Radio

William Bell and the need for legacy soul radio

William BellWilliam Bell and the need for legacy soul radio

By Ron Wynn

 

William Bell, classic soul and the need for legacy radio

By Ron Wynn

Many years ago (early ’90s) I made a trip to Chicago for my first face-to-face meeting and interview with the legendary Iceman himself, the great Jerry Butler. It was for a CD-Rom project (a technology that has long since faded into oblivion), and we had a wonderful 90-meeting plus conversation on a host of topics. The only time Butler got agitated during our entire encounter came when we talked about the problems he’d had with a recent album he’d recorded for a Southern Soul label (I think it was Urgent, but it was a long time ago, so it might have been something else).

“It’s OK for Tony Bennett to make new music, it’s OK for Barry Manilow or whoever to make new music, but for whatever reason I can’t get the radio stations to play my new music,” Butler complained. “They will play my old hits, but these new PD’s won’t give my new music a shot.” I recall that lament while listening to the songs from another soul legend’s latest release. William Bell may be the most underrated great male soul singer and songwriter active today. If not, there aren’t many others in the conversation.

If Bell had only written “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and “Born Under A Bad Sign” (along with Booker. T. Jones) those two are enough to certify immortality. But they are only the tip of his compositional iceberg. William Bell has been penning and singing glorious numbers since his teen years, and the new release “This Is Where I Live” (Concord/Stax) stands as both a wonderful retrospective portrait and a work every bit as good as anything coming from vocalists half or more of his 76 years. The title track is a glorious, demonstrative declaration of career achievements, sung without a hint of regret or pity, while “Poison in the Well” has that wonderful combination of irony, edge, heartbreak and the quest for salvation at the base of all great soul, country and blues tunes.

He also updates “Born Under A Bad Sign,” bringing in the wry understated tones that made it such a rousing hit for Albert King, while taking it just a bit slower, but with equal stature and resolve. The album is getting rave reviews everywhere, from NPR to The New Yorker. These are heady times for Bell, as he’s also featured in Martin Shore’s highly praised film “Take Me To The River,” and he even appeared at the White House in 2013.

There’s only one thing missing here for Bell, and it’s the same problem faced by Mavis Staples and Betty LaVette, two other superb veteran soul artists making wonderful and contemporary music. Other than specialty shows on college, community and public radio stations or internet sites, there’s not many places you hear their current music. Urban radio’s already super-tight playlists won’t even air the songs of many youthful Black acts whose sound doesn’t fall into a carefully defined, easily identifiable blend of heavily tracked vocals girded by hip-hop refrains. That’s not to dismiss out of hand the many talented and popular performers out there in the urban sphere, nor to vilify their sizable audiences. These stations make money for the corporations that own them, the artists they play sell out concert houses and get lots of airplay via streaming. A few of them even still sell a lot of physical product.

But there should still be a place where you can hear William Bell or Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings without having to pay a monthly fee. There’s a sizable constituency in the Black community for instance that doesn’t listen to  specialty or satellite radio, and isn’t really into downloads or getting everything off the Internet. These are the people who regularly attend shows at places like the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville whenever acts like The Spinners or Artie “Blues Boy” White (to name just two that you also don’t hear on urban radio) appear.

This is the audience who would no doubt love an album like “This Is Where I Live” if they even knew it existed. Even the syndicated radio programs like “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” or “Steve Harvey Show” seldom air anything by someone like Bell. They generally play old-school funk and soul hits of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, or lately even blending in current material from recognizable urban artists, even those whose music they have to censor to fit their format. Plus there is as much emphasis these days on celebrity gossip and politics as on music, perhaps even more in some cases.

With June being either Black or African American Music month (depending on your preference), what is really needed to fill this gap are more legacy stations devoted to airing the entire spectrum of Black music. As someone who grew up in the era when there were far more Black-owned radio stations, I can recall a time when great personalities would introduce you to all types of wonderful performers. They still played the hits to be sure, and blues, jazz and gospel were already mostly restricted to weekend specialty shows. However that music did still get aired, and there were occasions when a Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann/Eddie Harris, B.B. King or Edwin Hawkins Singers would break into the main rotation alongside the other Motown, Stax and various hits of the day.

Today, an artist like William Bell or Mavis Staples has almost zero chance of getting on an urban radio station. Staples can open for Bob Dylan, but you’ll only hear cuts from her current music on specialty shows. To those who say the same thing is true for Paul Simon or Bob Dylan, neither of those people need radio airplay at this stage of their career. It would be pure icing on the cake for Simon to score a hit, but it would really mean something for William Bell to have his music heard by a larger audience, particularly those in the Black community who still remember “Trying To Love Two” or “You Don’t Miss Your Water.”

A natural place for this to happen seems to me satellite radio, which already has a number of special formats dedicated to Black music. I don’t know if you’d call it legacy radio or updated soul sounds or whatever, but there’s certainly enough of this 21st century soul being made to merit exposure. After all, you’ve got the likes of Leon Bridges playing at Bonnaroo, Staples out there with Dylan, Bell drawing big crowds on his current concert swing, and even some in neo-soul wing like Anthony Hamilton and Angie Stone who also could work in this format.

In the meantime, I hope the handful of Black-owned legacy stations out there in the broadcast sphere like Nashville’s WVOL-1470 AM are giving this new William Bell a lot of exposure, because it deserves it. Not only does it NOT sound like a retro project (the biggest complaint I’ve heard about people like Bridges and Hamilton from contemporary music programmers), but it’s also a wonderful indicator that soul in the greatest sense is timeless, and that William Bell is still one of its finest performers.

 

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Filed under Booker T Jones, internet, Jerry Butler, old school, Radio, Soul, Stax Records, Uncategorized, William Bell

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/31/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Skeletons” by Stevie Wonder

I’m going to start off this blog with a little personal story. During my childhood,my father and I would often make cassette tape recordings together that mimicked our own radio show. Actually have dealt with this in more detail on another blog last year. When we did a 1988 Halloween presentation? My father picked a Stevie Wonder song called “Skeletons” from his then latest album called Characters. I had actually chosen “Superstition” for this selection. But neither my father nor I had the song at the time,and wouldn’t for many many years actually. Unable to understand the lyrical concept of the time? It just sounded like a funky song with a holiday appropriate subtext-the very understandable concept of fear. It’s only more recently that I’ve fully made sense of this association.

The song starts out with what sounds like an 808 drum machine beat playing a mid 80’s style hip-hop/funk beat over which Stevie lays down a menacing sound bass synthesizer-with long spaces between the notes almost as if they are creeping towards you. Then some scratchy,hissing percussion effects play an equally penetrating,yet somewhat farther away sounding,rhythmic role with a bluesy lead keyboard melody played on a DX7 digital synthesizer simulating a Clavinet-giving a glossier and round tone than the actual instrument. Stevie’s lead vocals,on both the main chorus and the refrain are met with a call-and-response vocal that,unlike Stevie’s,is muffled and sung through some vocal manipulation device. Might even have been Stevie himself having some internal dialog. There is also a bridge that repeats itself twice-a variation of the bass synth part from the beginning,only more hesitant sounding.

Stevie Wonder’s outlook on romance ranges vastly across the spectrum from an almost fantastically giddy sense of joy to a sense of legitimate suspicion. That sense that a horrible secret is being kept and must be exposed in order to be released. This song explores the later end of that spectrum. Lyrically Stevie takes on the character of someone lightly scolding his character for having to clear their conscience-pointing out that “you know your mama told you ‘don’t lie'”. He’s definitely moralizing a good deal here. And does so with a playful style-almost as if he’s repeating the words of his grandma or something. The accompanying video clip showcases Stevie recalling bullying he (or his character) dealt with for his blindness. And the fact that as an an adult,he’s playing party to a clandestine affair next door in a stereotypical suburbia-without even physically being able to see it play it visually.  Surely this was one of Stevie’s most powerful funk statements of the late 1980’s. And is an easy candidate for one of his funk classics in general.

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Filed under "Skeletons", 1980's, cassette tape, drum machine, Funk, Halloween, Motown, Radio, Stevie Wonder

The Anatomy of THE Groove 7/11/14 Andre’s Pick : “Touch” by Omarion

Never ceases to amaze me how much Pharrell Williams was involved in so many of what I feel are the most instrumentally exciting funk of the past decade or so. As one half of The Neptunes with Chad Hugo,Pharrell helped spin musical gold for everyone from Kelis,Justin Timberlake,Jay Z,Snoog Dogg and even Britney Spears. And by 2004 Pharrell on his own was already being singled out as a pie in the sky artist/producer whom,like Quincy Jones before him was able to showcase the connectivity of soul/funk through the post millennial hip-hop era. Then in 2005,Pharrell turned his magic to Omarian,lead singer of the hip-hop/dance boy band B2K,as he released his debut solo album ‘O’ and,most impressively on the song “Touch”.

Follow a soft “huh” by Omarian,the song kicks right into gear at full power. The drum machine kicks out a very percussive Afro-Latin uptempo groove. Layered carefully within this rhythmic bed are two powerful synthesizer lines. One is a higher,almost digitized clavinet style effect playing a complex three chord sequence in very syncopated time. Below that is a very rubbery and flamboyant Moog bass line that has a lot of jazz/blues oriented “blue notes” and is almost played in fast paced be-bop style. As Omarian asks us to get comfortable,he begins to illustrate how he has “visions and fantasies”,and lyrically stays on the one with them throughout the song-illustrating both lyrically along with The Neptunes instrumentation the seductive energy of the song itself.

It was actually my blog-mate here Henrique who first introduced me to this songs several years ago. Having had a musical education that was equal parts Stevie Wonder,Prince,Teena Marie,Steve Winwood and Todd Rundgren? I always had the utmost admiration for musically eloquent multi instrumentalists. This song simply gave me goosebumps when I first heard it. So much so I totally forgot it even had any lyrics to it. The instrumental futurism and complexity of the drum machines and harmonizing lead/bass synthesizer was simply amazing. Especially with the tremendous physical energy and vigor with which it was played. This song revealed itself to me as an outstanding template for modern day,electronically derived instrumental funk. And forever had me digging deep to see what this apparently musically ingenius Pharrell Williams was up to.

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Filed under Funk, Hip-Hop, Omarion, Pharrell Willaims, Quincy Jones, Radio, Stevie Wonder, The Neptunes

The Inspiration Information of Shuggie at the Turning of the Millennium: Andre’s Outlook

Shuggie

Looking back on when the century and also the millennium turned,the year 2000 was felt very much like a huge temporal pain reliever for me. No Y2K,could buy anything in a record store without being constantly questioned as to the “credibility of my musical tastes and overall? The futurist mentality that most science fiction/Star Trek admirers such as myself had been pining for seemed to at last be on the horizon. One memory was on a dark,snowy January first playing the O’Jay’s song “The Year 2000” in my room and having similar thoughts as to what Eddie Levert was singing about-all that wonder and promise. It would be sometime towards the middle of this year that another millennial milestones of my musical development occurred: my own introduction to Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information.

First of all I wanted to say that during the 2000/2001 period? I wouldn’t have sought out Shuggie Otis on my own because I still couldn’t stand the blues. It had nothing to do with tuning into any cliches of self pitying lyrics or anything. It was more a cultural misunderstanding of intent. Growing up in 1990’s central/Northern Maine? All any music lover would hear was how much the blues was part of every popular music. Outside the Top 10 radio? Most non commercial radio at the time was obsessed with the blues. And with such a sense of seriousness. From what I saw? No one ever danced or clapped their hands to chase their blues away. Just listened,frowned and sometimes even drank a lot. Because those were not qualities I felt boded well with music,itself a motivating factor in life? I did flatly reject any connection that the music (which I loved with my heart and soul) and it’s connection with the blues.

So on one warm and welcoming day in the summer of 2001? My father and I were about to go for a cruise to take in the beauty of nature. As well as some always vital father/son bonding time. On our way we stopped at Bull Moose records,the local music store chain in the state of Maine,and my father came out very excited. He had a CD in his hand with this bright orange 70’s art deco style about it. He told me that Talking Heads’ David Byrne had declared this album the big unsung 70’s masterpiece and re-released it on his Luaka Bop record label. The album of course was Inspiration Information by this man I vaguely knew about named Shuggie Otis. When I asked my father who he was,he told me Shuggie was the son of the blues icon Johnny Otis.

What was I hearing here? Johnny Otis? The BLUES? Well I actually recalling rolling my eyes and tisking lightly to myself. Had a feeling of “here we go-someone trying to up-sell me on the blues again. Like it’s the only music in the world”. It was likely I wanted to hear a Stevie Wonder,Curtis Mayfield or Miles Davis record I’d bought with me at that time. It was my dad’s car of course,and I wanted to understand why he’d be so gleeful about this music. So my father put the record in the CD player of our used 1992 Toyota Corolla. The first thing that came out of the speaker was this beautiful swell of male falsetto vocal parts-harmonizing with each other over an upbeat wah wah bass/guitar and a sunny organ solo.

By the time the sweetly monotone voice of Shuggie himself came in with the lyrics “we had a rainy day/I’m in a sneak back situation/Here’s a pencil pad/I’m gonna spread some information/You, making me happier/Now I am snappier, while I’m with you”?How was this music blues? The only blues I’d heard thus far related mainly to unemployment,romantic distress and death. I wasn’t hearing any of that with Shuggie Otis. There was this realization I was indeed hearing that meaningful,bright funk/soul music I loved. But it was a totally different sound on that level. Through “Island Letter”,”Aht Uh Mi Hed”,”Happy House” and this amazing percussive instrumental called “XL-30” that I asked my father to repeat over and over again that afternoon? There was a hollow,dreamy sound about this album that I’d really never heard before.

My father told me Shuggie played almost all the instruments on the album the way Prince did. Later on as I listened and read the liner notes? It came to me where I’d seen Shuggie’s name before. During that era I was deeply into the music of the Brothers Johnson. Even more so when I fully realized their involvement with two musical icons in my life: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. One of their biggest songs “Strawberry Letter#23” was originally written and recorded by Shuggie Otis in 1971 for his Freedom Flight album. After hearing the album itself and the bonus songs on that CD? I was truly shocked. By no definition I’d ever dealt with was this the blues that I had been hearing. Shuggie’s music helped me see the depth and complexity of the blues. This music was reflective,thoughtful,poetic and very tender.

Recently I debated with myself whether to bring this up here. But about seven years later? I was playing a beat up CD of this album I’d gotten later from the Bull Moose free bin with my fiancee while driving through town during a visit to see his family. Upon hearing “Aht Uh Mi Hed”? He remarked how much he enjoyed the way Shuggie used organ in his music. Such an instrumentally inclined remark from a fellow Generation X’er was very much unknown to me even by that time. It was only a year ago that I ended up with the album again-released with Shuggie’s newest set of unreleased material called Wings Of Love. After playing it in the car? Even my musically persnickety mother fell under the spell Shuggie Otis set with Inspiration Information. Although he absent mindedly remarked just last week that she thought “XL-30” sounded like something from the score of the film Napoleon Dynamite? Even her respect for Shuggie’s musicality remains undiminished.

Part of my overall respect for Shuggie Otis also came from how his music helped me to better appreciate session musicians and the vital role they play in many a musical masterpiece. I was aware of his session playing for his father Johnny. But not necessarily in how his playing helped to revitalize the careers of Etta James,Louis Jordan and Bobby Blue Bland and “Louie Louie” composer Richard Berry. Growing up I’d tended to view musicians who played out front in bands as being the most musically important-either as soloists or as members of bands. Though already very aware and involved with listening to The Crusaders by this time? My admiration for the non session/solo music of people such as Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho Da Costa, Bernard Wright,Weldon Irvine and bands such as Stuff began to grow and increase follwing my exposure to Shuggie.

As for my father,the man who originally introduced me to Shuggie Otis? He is still broadening my appreciation of the man to this very day. Only earlier today,when discussing this blog with him,did he discuss Shuggie’s involvement with Frank Zappa. Shuggie in fact played electric bass on Zappa’s iconic instrumental “Peaches en Regalia” from his 1969 album Hot Rats. My dad is a long time admirer of Zappa,who was an individual who often elevated musicians considered to be sidemen into positions of prominence. One such musician was the violinist Don Sugarcane Harris. It was mentioned by my father this afternoon that he first heard about Shuggie Otis via his session playing on Harris’s 1970 LP release Sugarcane. So when Luaka Pop reissued the Inspiration Information album on CD? My father,being unfamiliar with Shuggie’s solo music,was very eager to hear it. So as I was writing my own story about this man and his album? My father was telling me about the first time he heard of Shuggie Otis.

One of the reasons I still find this album to be some of the most beautiful funk ever recorded is association. When I first heard it? That magical 21’st century had arrived. The future that everyone had been dreaming about in the century before had at last arrived. And considering the dark days of the post 9/11 world would arrive in only a seasons time? This introduction to Shuggie Otis to my life always reminds me of the importance of maintaining dreamy optimism. Especially in the hardest of times. Also,with some later help from Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary? Hearing Shuggie Otis completely altered my perception of the blues. He really put a sunshine funk filter inside of his musicality. And it helped me realize that broadness of the soul/funk/jazz/blues musical spectrum-outside of any locally based misconceptions. As Branford Marsalis said of blues music itself? To this very day,whenever I hear Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information,it makes me smile.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Funk, Local Radio, Maine, Psychedelia, Radio, Shuggie Otis, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archive for June 7th,2014: Prince’s ‘Musicology’ and ‘3121’

          In celebration of Prince’s 56th birthday today,the artist in on the threshold of a huge comeback on Warner Bros. At the same time,this is not the first time he has been in such a position since the turn of the 21st century. Since Prince is now securely in the position of being the type of legacy artist in his field that he once musically admired? I am going to be presenting two reviews of the albums that symbolized Prince’s last major comeback about a decade ago. Enjoy!

Musicology

First off THE best thing on this CD is the title track-an as pure-as-funk-can-be distillation of all of Prince’s musical influences-a trip back to funk 101.When I first heard the CD a couple years back I was slightly disappointed,expecting an album of songs just as funky.For one critical moment I forgot what Prince was all about-musical eclecticism.This album is free of is the heavy rap/hip-hip type funk of some of his symbol era recordings.Luckily a new wave of pop artists have taken Prince’s classic sound as a base for their own and ‘Musicology’ finds him taking back that sound,representing Prince getting back to home plate in terms of his music-that means his freewheeling mixture of funk,soul and rock styles and everything in between.

“Illusion,Coma,Pimp & Circumstance” and “Life Of The Party” are both catchy,upbeat dance songs with a lot of programming and synthesizers,but they are used in a fairly organic fashion. Both.Both are about what is new and progressive in funk rather then the old school retro style of the title cut.The main styles used on this album are a series of sexy ballads based in classic 60’s soul,”Call My Name”,On The Couch” and “Dear Mr.Man” all put a great Princely spin on an old style.One of the most impressive songs here is the eerie “What Do U Want Me 2 Do”-another great example of a well crafted song with no musical boundaries that Prince does so well,with a very complicated rhythm pattern.Most of the rest of the album explores Prince’s patented pop-rock sound on such hard edged tunes as “A Million Days” and “If Eye Was The Man In Ur Life”,both showcasing Prince’s multifarious ability on the electric guitar and his great rock n roll shouting.And he delivers one of the very best pop records of his career with the peppy “Cinnamon Girl”,on my top ten list of favorite Prince songs actually and sounds very timeless.

The final cut “Reflection” is just beautiful-a pleasant,radio friendly pop/soul/folk ballad that’s very gentle and attention grabbing.Having been released twenty years after his “Purple Rain” album this shows the music world that Prince has actually taught the mainstream audience of his generation some important musical lessons-that despite radio categorizing and such the barriers between funk,soul,rock,folk and jazz are not as big as they seem to be-even though each tend to have their own audience and are usually referred to apart Prince has found a way to bring them all together into one style AND get people to enjoy them over the years.And despite whatever angry,political rock-hip hop/funk that TAFKAP tended to specialize in Prince was always there bubbling under the surface.’Musicology’ is a new beginning for Prince,a journey he started at the beginning of the millennium by taking his name back and (finally) his music.

Originally Written On May 26th,2006

3121

 

To me as a Prince fan of twenty years I was glad to see in Rolling Stone that ‘3121’ got to Number 1-it’s been awhile.But Prince’s latest CD’s since his post TAFKAP days have been a bit of a mixed bag.So I got this for my birthday and just slapped and on and BOY I must say I am impressed.But you have to put this CD on good stereo headphones-it burns.My opinion?Prince still has the nack for genre bending.And yes-‘3121’ has certain elements of his 80’s sound,namely the synthisized hooks and the heavy pop hooks.But Prince has changed his mind about the musical styles he uses for the now patened ‘Prince’ sound (he really just deserves a genre of his now)-classic funk is still the base but the rock blends in more and the jazz and new Brazillian elements are actually put into play,and (thankfully) the hip hop stuff is dead.As always variety continues to be the spice of Prince.

The title song is very deep, bassy and mysterious but “Lolita” burns with a harder,sexier funk and has a great tune attached to it.”Te Amo Corazon” is lovely,gentle latin pop jazz and very sudtle.”Black Sweat” is the big hit-it’s a fairly contemporary variation of the 1986 era Prince sound that produced “Kiss” and “Girls And Boys” but is much darkly sexier in tone.”Incence and Candles” as well as the more uptempo “Love” and “The Word” take a more contemporary taste on funk but it’s no in Prince’s orbit it’s barely noticable.”Satisfied” is terrific-one of Prince most passionate forays into classic 60’s soul with some great belting and Hammond Organ and very cleverly written.”Fury” is the one tune that harkens all the way back to 80’s Prince music with it’s funk-rock pop mixture.The final three songs here are actually some of the best here-“Beautiful,Loved And Blessed” is very bouncy and hummable-Tamar takes lead and raps (a little) and does a good job.

“The Dance” has a latin feel too but tries at a type of music Prince hasn’t really done before-the kind of Brazilian funk-jazz fusion Sheila E,George Duke.Airto and Flora Purim were doing in the 70’s.”Get On The Boat” is a terrific way to cap off-Maceo rips a solo through a cut totally worthy of James Brown-Prince himself even takes some grace notes from The Godfather himself.After all these years of hits and misses Prince is still THE MAN when it comes to his craft and at the very least ‘3121’ finds him at the top of his game.I do not know if it is marriage or his new religion that have inspired him and besides these could all be songs that existed in his vaults since the 80’s.But not likely-Prince is someone who seems to revel in letting the public here his latest material rather then relaying on his legendary vaults,which he only did briefly in the late 90’s during his post Warner Brothers slump.’3121′ merges the old with the new-it reaches out to young listeners with it’s bassy sonics,dancibility and use of technology as well as reaching out to more (shall I say) adult contemporary listeners looking to hear music from someone they grew up with-hard to believe Prince is lumped in with that age group now.And for those who just want to get funky?This like ANY Prince album is just the ticket.But it more then lives up to the hype and if he keeps moving on from this direction this could be the beginning of a new commercial comeback for his music.

Original Review From May 25th,2006

*Here are links to the original reviews.

For ‘Musicology’- http://www.amazon.com/review/R1N3RE80DZWGUA/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0001XTRCI

For ‘3121’- http://www.amazon.com/review/R1HDH29CYRI5VJ/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B000E97HIA

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Blues, Electronica, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Jazz, Minneapolis, Music, Music Reviewing, Prince, Radio, rhythm & blues, Soul

Anatomy of THE groove 5/16/14 Rique’s Pick : “Good Kisser” by Usher

 

2013 was a great year for funky singles in the mainstream music world. Records like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk ft Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams, and of course, the international smash “Happy” by Pharrell, carved out a strong place both on the dance floors, on peoples cell phones, and laptops and tablets, and at all sorts of social outings. They were ubiquitous enough to terrorize millenials weaned on auto tune and more rigid, computerized beats. I’d wondered for some time when one Usher Raymond would come on in and join this funky party. Ushers spent the better part of the past few albums chasing down European EDM dance while his blue eyed soul conterparts splashed torso deep into funk. Despite Ushers impressive career resume, outstanding charisma, and great dancing and vocal talent, I thought he’d forever be chained to the tastes of the teeny bopper side of the “urban” crowd, the one that votes your video to the top of BET’s 106th & Park.  I got a firm backhand from Mr. Raymond earlier this month when he released today’s fonky pick, “Good Kisser.”

“Good Kisser” is a dramatic, funky song of sensual romantic praise. It has a mean groove and is centered in its funky rhythms as Usher also puts on a clinic in various tonalities of soulful male vocals. The topic is pure sensual satisfaction, placing it in the line of many great soul songs of the past, including Ben E King’s “Supernatural Thing”, but that topic of sensual satisfaction, of a man giving praise instead of shaming for the sensual gratification he gets, is one that was once prevelant in R&B but has been far less so since Hip Hop’s locker room slut shaming came to predominate.

One of the first things I notice about the song musically is how heavy it is on the ONE, the first beat of the measure that provides a musical grounding point that James Brown told us was the most important beat and George Clinton expanded into a way of life. The song is built on this “ONE” centered drum and bass part. The drum simply plays kicks on the first beat and the third beats of the four four measure. There is no snare drum on the back beat, the “2” and “4”, in fact, for the whole song, there is no snare, saving the snare drum pick ups on the upbeat that lead our ears and bodies back to the “ONE.” The snare drum pick up, occuring on the upbeat of beat three, is matched by a low register, serious three note bass line. That bass line lands on the “ONE” of the next beat, sounding like a firm period at the ending of the sentence, or a word that contains the message of the beat. This upbeat drum pickup landing on the one sort of gives the song a funky West Indian or Carribean flavor. The bassline is the major motif of the song, as Usher builds vocal lines off the notes and the rhythm of this bassline later in the song. The drum beat and bass line continue the same way for the entirety of the song, as Usher adds different vocal textures, various chord progressions come in, and the basic drum beat is augmented with percussion, but the basic bass and drum motif remains unchanged, rigid, and marching on with an almost martial, military feel.

The scene is set by the four bar intro of the bass and drums, which gives you an expectant, almost cinematic military feel. This feel is rather enhanced in the music video as the music video takes place in a cold grey enviroment. Usher whispers romantic encouragements and flirtatious phrases during the intro. Following the intro, Usher sings in what is a new vocal tone for him to my ears, a funky, spoken/sung baritone. It takes both from classic funksters like Larry Blackmon (without the extra “ow”) and funky ’90s hip hop oriented singers like Portrait or BBD or Blackstreet. Usher uses this funky baritone to tell his lady (and by extension us) ” I Done been around the world/I Done kissed a lot of girls”. Right away he positions himself lyrically as a romantic lover of great experience, a grown man. That’s one of the things I like about this track, while so many in pop culture strain for youth today, Usher embraces a youthful but experienced lyrical perspective.

After 8 bars of that funky baritone, Usher gives us 8 bars of falsetto. The falsetto is right there on the sensual edge, like Marvin Gaye or Al Green, the sound of a man at HIS sensual edge. Then Usher comes with another vocal tone for the pre chorus, another baritone sound, but smoother than the rhythmic baritone of the verse. And I’m crazy about the way he begins it :

“The Devil is a Lie/ Them other girls/can’t compete with mine”

I dig the lyric so much because “The Devil is a lie” is a phrase you’ll hear all day among black evangelical thinking communities. I love Ushers usage of it in a “profane” sexual context though, which is a great part of the tradition of black music, the conversation between the spiritual and the sensual, as Ray Charles did way back on “I Got a Woman.” Usher uses it here to place his woman above any and all competition. The other thing I like is the vocals on this pre chorus are based around the rhythm and notes of the bass line. This pre chorus as well as the chorus also introduce harmony into the song, brightening it up with a jazzy chord progression, while the militant rhythm remains unabated. For the chorus itself, after so much rhythmic wordiness, Usher relaxes, one might say climaxing, simply singing “She’s such a good kisser” both in lead and harmony. Usher comes back after that with a powerful full voice vocal, building up to the gospel melismatic style. I like that. Oft times in R&B the last 20 years or so, singers have overdosed on runs before the song even starts. Here Usher builds up to the climax we all seek, and I think the song is much better for it.

I love the rhythmic orientation of the song as well as Usher’s vocal performance. He gives us baritone, falsetto, and his natural high tenor stretched out to the max, while also going between choppy rhythms and looser, more flowing parts. The song also revitalizes the classic R&B hallmark of double entendre, as he actually says in the song “Cant nobody kiss IT like you.” However, for those with virginous ears, they can simply choose to hear the rather benign “You’re such a good kisser.” But one day they will wonder why a grown man was singing about a woman being a good kisser with such passion and excitement!

One of the things that shows me Usher really has something with the song is the mixed responses to it on the net. There are some folks who totally get it, in the vein of “thats REAL music.” And there are other young people who simply dismiss it as, “It’s garbage” or “he could have done much better.” I think for the young, many of them don’t understand AT ALL the soul/funk/jazzy music practices Usher and crew are laying down here, nor the tradition of being right on the lines of nastiness in lyrical forthwrightness. I hope they get on board though, because Usher’s “Good Kisser” has the potential to be a game changer in a funky R&B sense. I also have to give props to my man for posing in the video playing the drum fill, which kinds of gives people a visual of how the music would LOOK being played. It’s early, but I might have found the song to give me my funky summer swagger.

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", Funk, Funk Bass, Marvin Gaye, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Radio, Rhythm, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/2/14 Andre’s Pick: “I Will” by Kenny Thomas

One of those fascinating coincidences in the history of soul and funk music is the tendency of the British music scene to fill in significant gaps when the music is experiencing a low popularity and audience in the United States. Funk oriented new wave era groups such as Level 42,Heaven 17,Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet provided this during the US post disco radio freeze out. Some maintained this style through mid decade even. Sade,Simply Red,George Michael and Soul II Soul continued this tradition later in the decade. Aside from American adoration’s such as Prince and Talking Heads,the popularity of funky soul grooves seemed to be in a strange holding pattern on this end of the pond. In the mid 1990’s onward through the post 9/11 world? This pattern came back in play-with 2006-08 being the height of this ethic. Years after his debut in 1991,English soul/funk artist Kenny Thomas emerged in 2006 with a song that showcased this impulse entitled “I Will”.

Starting off with a fan faring drum roll and a plast of joyful,gospel inspired horns the song gets started with thickly grooving mix of high stepping drums,highly melodic electric piano chords and the fantastically vital horn section providing the life force that keeps the entire song alive. With a chunky bass/guitar interactive holding the keyboard riffs all together, Kenny himself sings lyrics with the same level of joy expressed in the horn parts and melody revolving around the most optimistic outlook on newfound romance that one could possibly ask. On the refrains,the melody changes to include a few minor chords but when going back into the main theme of the song,the melody rises up into the major chord as Kenny declares “I WILL” on the chorus. His voice-a passionate cross between Teddy Pendergrass,Michael McDonald and Heatwave’s Keith Wilder,provides an almost ideal reflection of the songs overall joyousness.

From my own personal observations, the era in which this song was recorded was not among the happiest or secure time for the planet Earth, A never ending war on terror was going on,people were divided even more than they were in the 1960’s and that 90’s era cynicism prevented a great deal of action from occurring to counter this. Music was in a great need for empathy over apathy,release instead of tension. And for those who followed the music of Kenny Thomas (which I unfortunately wasn’t at the time),this song in particular provided just what a proverbial Dr. Funkenstein might want. Its another one of those songs defined by a hybrid sound-in this case a mixture of the Chi-town funk of Earth Wind & Fire and the sleek West Coast style of late 70’s Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Also there’s a strong element of Phil Collins’ early 80’s Brit-funk approach as well. This song is a perfect example of,on a purely musical level of what Mick Jagger sang in 1969: you can’t always get what you want,but sometimes you just might find that you get what you need.

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Filed under Funk, Late 70's Funk, Neo Soul, New Wave, Radio, Soul, UK

The Maine DJ & Radio Scene: Half There And Half Square?

wkit                  As with just about any young person growing up in anywhere America during the 1980’s,I’d have to count myself as part of the last American generation whose musical interests were deeply affected by the radio. As maudlin and funereal as that might sound,it was something of a necessity in New England. Even than most commercial radio stations were very limited in their approach. Being someone interested in the music of the funk/soul/R&B/jazz spectrum? The only musical outlet local radio in my area offered this would’ve been through either European new wave era groups and soloists having soul/funk oriented hits such as Duran Duran’s “Notorious” but also with the big hits of artists such as Michael Jackson,Prince and Whitney Houston. In terms of the black population/DJ culture of the area? There was absolutely no DJ culture in that regard. And as far as the black population? I assumed it was only my mother. And that wasn’t an entirely inaccurate outlook either. One thing Bangor Maine did have at that time was Stephen King.

471px-Stephen_King,_Comicon

King and his wife Tabitha own the Zone Corporation-a  part of which is the rock radio station WKIT,which was  founded in 1979.. This is one of the few radio stations that  still has a live local announcer in the studio 24 hours a day,  however on the weekends they carry some  syndicated programming.  After the turn of the  millennium,WKIT also adapted to the digital age by  streaming their programming on the internet via the official  station website. Their personalities include the “Rock and Roll Morning  Show” hosts Bobby Russell and Mark “The Shark” Young,  midday host Jason “Rock Dog” Roberts, afternoon host  Scotty Moore, evening host Dave Isaac, overnight host Rob  Greene, and news anchor Paul Allen. As time has marched on  however, WKIT has oriented itself more and more towards  the oldies based format in their playlists. King has openly  voiced his views on the continuation of live radio DJ’s and their place in promoting music-which I feel is extremely laudable. However their format does seem to be mainly based in the “classic rock” music of their particular generation. Of course soul/R&B/funk is almost totally excluded. Some of the people involved in the station (King himself may or may not have been excluded from this) very likely supported the racist and homophobic “disco sucks” attitude of the early 80’s. And much 70’s/80’s era soul,funk and R&B has been seen only under that moniker. Even so,there is always a place for the blues on WKIT-both old and new. So that door is at least halfway open.

WERU Logo 2012 - PMS 286 Blue

 On May 1’st,1988 WERU FM first began broadcasting out of one area of an old hen house located in Orland-not too far from its base town of the fairly large coastal town of Blue Hill. Folk icon Paul Stookey was a major benefactor of this major breakthrough in non commercial,independent radio  in the state of Maine. In 1997 the station moved it’s operations from the hen house to a more traditional facility in the same town but directly on U.S Route 1-linking the state to traffic from across the country. Every Thursday at 2-4PM the station carries the X-Large Soul Show. This showcases primarily new and often independent music from soul,R&B and blues acts-with some lesser known oldies thrown in for good measure. The one difficulty WERU has it that,to this day it still operates at an effective radiated power of 11,500 watts. In a state consisting of huge amounts of undeveloped rural land connected by conflicting signals from other radio and TV transmitter,sub stations and cellular phone towers,WERU can be somewhat difficult to receive on both its translators. Especially if one happens to be in transit in their vehicle between one town/city or another.

WMEB

WMEB,91.9 FM actually began its life 50 years ago this month as a strictly on campus collage radio specifically for the University Of Maine in the town of Orono. Becoming primarily known as a progressive rock/AOR oriented radio format during the 1970’s,WMEB spent the next three decades developing a strong and diverse format somewhat similar to WERU and some of the collage stations out of Maine’s larger towns and cities such as Portland,Waterville and its capitol Augusta. For a long time they specialized in playing vinyl records. And a good part of my vinyl collection came from a giveaway they presented to the public of their entire vinyl record catalog in 1994 when they were ceasing use of this format.  This alternative oriented format began to strongly embrace DJ culture during the early years of the millennium. It was here I met Nigel Hall-than a DJ with his own funk/soul/jazz show on WMEB moonlighting with the local band Funkizon,now a moderately successful session musician who was a member of Soulive for a time. It was through Nigel’s influence that my interest in the jazz end of funk music expanded so greatly of course. Though the years since have found WMEB specializing more and more on the popular Maine Black Bears collage ice hockey radio coverage,a possible local jazz/funk underground was beginning to spring from this station in 2003-2004; the earliest years of Nigel’s show when he even managed to secure on air interviews with musicians Jan Hammer and George Duke-the latter of which I had the privilege of participating in.

While a long time DJ at the local public radio station one Rich Tozier has maintained his Friday Night Jazz show,though I believe now airing on Sundays,Tozier is very proudly an acoustic jazz traditionalist who excludes anything fusion and jazz/funk oriented from his playlist due to his own lack of interest-focusing instead on replaying the music of be-bop era jazz icons.  A good deal of the stations I talked about here,however do not attract a very wide audience of listeners. And are generally dependent on local benefactors and fund drives to stay financially afloat. Generally it is the commercial country music stations that tend to draw the widest audience where I live. In a way the DJ/radio scene in Maine has been,and continues to be rather based on its demographic. Being that even today over half of the landmass of the United States of America is still very rural it is primarily the homegrown musical variations on  folk,country and blues musics that continue to be the driving force of local radio in places such as Northeastern Maine.  While these music’s certainly have their value,people moved musically by music within more of the jazz/soul/funk spectrum face many challenges in either being a radio listener or even one of the endangered species of DJ being in such an area. Often I ask myself: it is a challenge worth facing? Or has its time come to pass? Perhaps that question is more important than it’s answer.

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Filed under Community Radio, DJ's, Funk, Jazz, Local Radio, Maine, Radio