Category Archives: Soul

Nina Simone – Young, Gifted, and Black

nina-superjumbo

Monday would have been Nina Simones 84th birthday; and, while Andre already did an excellent job of commemorating the occasion, I thought I’d pitch in with this review of some reissues I wrote way back in 2006 (!). Incidentally, one of the albums, Nina Simone Sings the Blues, was remastered late last year by the Vinyl Me, Please record of the month club; if you’re a member, you can still pick it up.

Over the course of her almost 50-year performing career, Nina Simone was many things to many different people. She was the husky-voiced blues goddess of “See Line Woman” and “Feeling Good”; the fearless Civil Rights crusader of “Old Jim Crow” and “Mississippi Goddam”; the sophisticated “High Priestess of Soul” who gave her definitive 1966 album its name. That is precisely why the essence of Simone is so difficult to capture on a single disc: to try and boil down a career as long, as varied, as singularly eclectic as hers into just a handful of iconic moments is an exercise in futility.

Thankfully, the compilers of a recent set of reissues understand that fact. Playing to just three of Simone’s many strengths, they wisely highlight each with a disc of its own: Sings the Blues and Silk & Soul, both originally released in 1967, cover their self-explanatory genres with the comfortable ease of a woman who had been blending them for years; while Forever Young, Gifted & Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit compiles politically-minded highlights and rarities from the late ’60s. Granted, some might argue that these releases are inherently flawed, hailing as they do from the singer’s less renowned tenure at RCA rather than her two trailblazing years with Phillips. But if listening to this music with fresh ears proves anything, it’s that there’s a timelessness to all of Simone’s work, which no amount of critical grumpiness could ever erase.

© Legacy Recordings

© Legacy Recordings

As a matter of fact, these albums work a hell of a lot better than they have any right to. The track listing to Forever Young, Gifted & Blacks may read at first glance like a senseless grab bag of Civil Rights Nina: a single here, an alternate take there, a smattering of live cuts to fill the gaps. But the music within is never less than interesting, and often revelatory. Three excerpts from Simone’s performance at the Westbury Music Fair on April 7, 1968, a mere three days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, are the obvious highlights: a performance so charged that the stage banter by a shell-shocked, emotional Simone rivals the music for intensity. “Do you realize how many we have lost?” she asks before the rousing final chorus of “Why? (The King of Love is Dead),” a tribute to Dr. King originally released in edited form on Simone’s live album ‘Nuff Said!, here expanded to its full thirteen minutes. “They’re shooting us down one by one.” Next, she invokes the Birmingham Four and launches into an incendiary rendition of “Mississippi Goddam” that threatens to leave its better-known counterpart (from 1964’s Nina Simone in Concert) in the dust. “The King of Love is dead! I ain’t ’bout to be non-violent, honey!” she exclaims before the last verse, demonstrating in just thirteen words the miles of difference four years can make in the national consciousness.

The Westbury tracks are indeed something of a double-edged sword for the compilation: they leave one salivating over the prospect of a full-length release for that concert, while making the rest of the CD we do have look rather hodge-podge by comparison. But Forever Young, Gifted & Black still manages to hold together as an enjoyable listening experience. The Lorraine Hansberry-quoting title track, a vibrant collision of gospel exultation and pomp reverence, remains one of Simone’s most immediate anthems, while the alternate versions of the Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and Simone’s medley of “Ain’t Got No” and “I Got Life” from the musical Hair are both more intimate and more rollicking than their previously-released forebears. Finally, the collection is rounded out by a handful of album cuts: two live from New York City’s Philharmonic Hall in 1969 (already made available on 1970’s Black Gold), two from 1969’s To Love Somebody, and one from Silk & Soul. Although I can’t help but wonder why these tracks weren’t passed over in favor of more rare material, they’re all hits rather than misses; and with a specially-commissioned new poem by Nikki Giovanni adorning the inner sleeve, who really has the heart to quibble?

© RCA Records

© RCA Records

In many ways more compelling than the collection, however, are the reissues of Sings the Blues and Silk & Soul: not just Simone’s two greatest albums for RCA, but, in the case of Sings the Blues, her single most successful excursion into the “raw” side of her music–and as we all know, Nina was about as raw as a Juilliard graduate could get. Though it may not contain anything quite as gritty as 1965’s neo-work song “Be My Husband,” Sings the Blues’ smoky juke-joint confessionals stand comfortably with Simone’s best work. It’s also a more expansive album than its name implies, containing everything from frank expressions of female sexuality like “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” “Buck,” and “Do I Move You,” to a railing anti-racism anthem co-written by Langston Hughes (“Backlash Blues”), to a Gershwin cover (“My Man’s Gone Now”) and a version of “House of the Rising Sun” performed in the style of “Sinnerman.” The bonus tracks are few but worthy, and Sid McCoy’s weedy original liner notes, reproduced here, are also worth a laugh or two: “‘Sugar in My Bowl’ is one of those suggestive tunes successfully employing double entendre,” he explains.

© RCA Records

© RCA Records

Meanwhile, “It Be’s That Way Sometime” kicks off Silk & Soul in a funky, if somewhat mannered mode; the result, as Simone’s powerful vocals struggle for dominance with her lite-soul backing, is inspired, creating a tension that lasts throughout the whole record. Thus fiery, gospel-tinged “soul” like “Go to Hell” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” rubs shoulders with the “silk” of contemporary cocktail-pop standards “Cherish” and “The Look of Love,” and somehow she manages to pull it all off with equal skill. Throw in a few lesser-known bonus tracks (one of which, “Save Me,” carries a co-writing credit by one Aretha Franklin), and this trio of Nina Simone reissues has its third consecutive success.

There is, of course, more to the Nina Simone story than even these fine discs can tell; if her career remains impossible to encapsulate in just one CD, it’s hardly any easier to contain with three. Yet Sings the Blues, Silk & Soul, and Forever Young, Gifted and Black remain concise statements of three of Simone’s most appealing sides: the reincarnated blueswoman, the crafter and interpreter of soulful pop melodies, the poet of the African American experience. If there’s any chance that these CDs could bring a deeper understanding of Nina Simone to a new generation of listeners, then a better means to that end could hardly be imagined.

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Filed under 1960's, Aretha Franklin, Blues, civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr., Nina Simone, people music, Soul, soul jazz

Jazz Plus 1: Rhythm & Bayous,Will Downing & The Terry Hanck Band

Rhythm & BayousJazz Plus

New DVD spotlights Louisiana’s music excellence
By Ron Wynn
“Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” (MVD, 120 minutes)
The Louisiana music experience epitomizes the scope and vitality of this nation’s cultural heritage, and ace filmmaker Robert Mugge’s new DVD “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” showcases those qualities in marvelous fashion  What was initially supposed to be a travelogue feature documenting a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bus trip instead evolved into a comprehensive documentary with a host of informative interviews, reflections and encounters. Mugge dispenses with the bus trip portion via some early foundation footage that establishes the film’s premise. It is a series of visits to key locales across the state, plus interviews with knowledgeable experts, and most importantly, unforgettable performances from numerous Louisiana artists.
The film’s divided into three sections covering Northern Louisiana, New Orleans/Baton Rouge and the Southwestern region. There are stops at clubs, churches, record stores, and other key locations that collectively comprise key aspects of Louisiana’s amazing musical tapestry. The marvelous musical selections include blues, R&B, swamp pop, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, jazzand rock, all delivered with an urgency and energy that comes only from those making music that live and love it, as opposed to cranking out whatever’s in vogue for strictly commercial purposes.
Kermit Ruffins, Frankie Ford, Rosie Ledet, Dale Hawkins, Henry Gray, Henry Butler, Nathan Williams, Warren Storm, Claude King, Hackberry Ramblers, La Famille Viator, and Rod Bernard are among the distinguished lineup. As with all his musical presentations, Mugge provides a stunning, comprehensive and varied portrait. Ford’s “Roberta” helps jump start things, while those who’ve either grown up in or experienced fervent church worship will be totally engaged by the marvelous Ever Ready Singers.
But it’s just as revealing to see lesser known acts like La Famile Viator, a family group whose young kids are doing traditional Cajun music with the identical flair and detail of grizzled veterans, or see personalities like legendary gospel DJ Sister Pearlee Toliver, doing the kind of programming that was once available on Black radio everywhere, but now can only be heard on a handful of legacy stations.
No matter your preference, there’s something you’ll enjoy hearing at some point on “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.” The disc also delves into distinctive areas of regional interest, like the “Easter Rock” celebration that combines a religious observance with a dance/stepping tradition. He also spotlights newer artists such as Lil’ Bryan and Lil’ Alfred extending and tweaking vintage styles, and venerable types like Henry Gray, who’s returned home to Louisiana after spending decades in Chicago backing the greats of modern blues.
Although there’s quite like personally visiting these Louisiana sites, the next best thing is seeing them and hearing the music soar the way it does throughout “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.
CD reviews
Will Downing – “Black Pearls” (Shanachie)
Will Downing
Downing’s first release in six years pays homage to women vocalists he’s idolized. Thankfully, he’s also won his battle with the auto immune disease Polymyositis, and is again singing with the robust sound and soulful ardor that characterized his past releases. It’s a treat to hear his approach on tunes previously done by vocalists ranging from Cherelle to Deniece Williams, Phyllis Hyman and others. Personal favorites include his soothing version of the Emotions “Don’t Ask My Neighbors,” a masterful interpretation of Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” and a dazzling rendition of Williams’ “Black Butterfly.” Even tunes equally notable the first time around for dynamic arrangements (Cherelle’s “Everything I Miss At Home” and The Jones Girls’ “Nights Over Egypt,”) prove just as engaging and effective numbers when done as in Downing’s smoother, less driving fashion. His version of “Street Life” is slicker than Randy Crawford’s, but just as emphatic. Najee and Kirk Whalum add crisp sax assistance on “Street Life,” and atmospheric flute interludes on “Nights Over Egypt.” Downing is at his sensual best on “Meet Me On The Moon,” a suiting tribute to Hyman, and increases his ardor while reworking the Chaka Khan and Rufus number “”Everlasting Love.” “Black Pearls” proves a solid return for Will Downing, and is ample evidence he’s back in form and still an tremendous pure singer.,
The Terry Hanck Band – “From Roadhouse To Your House: Live” (Vizztone/TVR)
Terry Hanck
Saxophonist/vocalist and bandleader Terry Hanck’s Band seamlessly blends rocking blues, roadhouse R&B, soul covers and even a throwback tune or two in a rousing live session cut last year at the California State Fair. Hanck’s tenor sax style blends hot licks and high register effects with expressive melodic interpretations and fiery lines, while he’s an effective, alternately comical and earnest vocalist. The band’s best covers include solid versions of Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind” and the Louis Jordan war-of-the-sexes piece “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman.” The top originals are the surging opener “Good Good Rockin’ Goin’ On,” a testimonial to Junior Walker (“Junior’s Walk”) and “Peace Of Mind.” Besides Hanck, the tight group’s other stirring soloists include guitarist Johnny “Cat” Soubrand and masterful special guest Jimmy Pugh on an array of keyboards. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Wagar and drummer Butch Cousins keep the grooves tight and fluid, and the Terry Hanck Band offer 13 mostly engaging performances that show why they’re 2016 Blues Award winners.

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Filed under 2016, Blues, CD's, film reviews, Louisiana, Music Reviewing, musical documentary, rhythm & blues, Robert Mugge, Soul, The Terry Hanck Band, Uncategorized, Will Downing

Grooves On Wax: Summer Madness ’16

Ray Charles

Ray Charle’s early 50’s sides,recorded before his Atlantic years, were reissued by the Coronet label in 1963. They find the future Genius Of Soul finding his own voice through his earlier influences. These song sound a lot closer to Charles Brown and earlier jump blues/R&B songs than the gospel and country influenced soul sound Ray would become an icon with. It’s still wonderful to hear a very youthful Ray croon some blues here though.

Key Jam: “Misery In My Heart”

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My father gave me his vinyl copies of several of his mid 60’s Rolling Stones albums. This one is a classic album of spicy,bluesy rock ‘n’ soul that showcased the Stones really reaching their commercial and creative peak. Mick Jagger’s vocal personality,Keith Richard’s down ‘n dirty guitar and Charlie Watts’ righteous rhythm make the punchy sound of the original Mono mix of this 1965 album something not to be missed out on!

Key Jams: “Mercy Mercy”,“Hitch Hike” and “Satisfaction”

Love Child

Berry Gordy himself was part of a writing team he called The Clan,who came up with much of this matter following the iconic Holland/Dozier/Holland team left Motown. The title song of this album felt very different for the Supremes alone-it had a grittier cinematic funky/soul flavor. Even if most of the album,especially the second side followed the groups iconic Motown girl group sound,this 1968 release sure began with a bang.

Key Jams: “Love Child” and “Keep An Eye”

Spiral Starecase

Always enjoyed the horn heavy,soulful shuffle for the title song of this 1968 album whenever it came on oldies radio. I eventually found their full length debut album. With the reliance on interpretations, they do sound very much like an R&B/soul cover band from the time period. One thing they do with them,especially when the source material was a ballad,is add their uptempo horn based approach to it. That makes this a very satisfying listen overall.

Key Jams: “More Today Than Yesterday”,“Our Day Will Come” and “No One For Me To Turn To”

Come Back Charleston Blue

Donny Hathaway and Quincy Jones coming together to record a film score/soundtrack was a masterstroke for its time. It was musician Nigel Hall who recommended this albumf or me to seek out over a decade ago. It definitely has Quincy exploring his long of jazz history-from dixieland through modal on the scoring elements. Hathaway on the other hand delivers some of his most expansive funky soul on this album as well.

Key Jam: “Little Ghetto Boy”

Nuff Said

This 1971 album found Ike & Tina Turner in their prime period of creativity. Ike Turner had an approach similar to James Brown where earlier songs spun off into new ones-with at least one of these songs baring a strong resemblance to the then recent hit “Proud Mary”. Even though they duo were seeming to tire a bit creatively at this point,they could still rock up some heavy funky soul with their guitar and vocal might.

Key Jams: “What You Don’t See (Is Better Yet) and “Moving Into Hip Style-A Trip Child”

I Wrote A Simple Song

Billy Preston really came into his own on this 1971 debut album for A&M. It brought out the versitility across soul,blues,rock and hard funk that this organ virtuoso and vocalist brought to his music. Especially when adding the guitar like effects of the Clavinet electric piano to his renowned organ work as he did here-not to mention his abilities to deliver message music that could really stick. Billy Preston albums used to be pretty easy to come by in used vinyl crates in my late teens/early 20’s. Saw this over and over before finally picking it up. And wondered why I didn’t sooner.

Key Jams: “The Bus” and “Outta Space”

Nightbirds

In 1974,the song “Lady Marmalade” from this record really helped to bring the talents of Patti LaBelle and future new wave funk/Talking Head member Nona Hendryx firmly into the public eye. Producer/musician/songwriter Allen Toussaint really helped bring the high stepping and stomping New Orleans funky soul sound and gospel soul drenched ballads to this revived Philly trio on this album.

Key Jams: “Lady Marmalade” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”

Horizon_(Carpenters_Album)

Perhaps it was due to personal problems that made this Carpenters album from 1975 so depressing in parts. Richard and Karen Carpenter both came out of a jazz back-round. So on this album of finely crafted balladry as they did best,there’s a reality based soulfulness that would begin to influence their more complex later work together. Even though this has it’s flaws,notably in the cover material,at least one of it’s two uptempo numbers has it’s moments. Again as it points to it’s Brazilian flavored jazz orientation of some of their later 70’s faster songs.

Key Jam: “Happy”

T-Connection-On-Fire-524801

T-Connection reveal themselves to be a highly underrated band. This 1978 found the groups stylistic versatility keeping up the soul and funk through journey’s into disco,West Coast pop,some scorching rockers and even a couple country inflected numbers.

Key Jams: “Lady Of The Night”,“Groove To Get Down” and “Playing Games”

I Love My Music

Even in 1979 when this album came out,this Pittsburgh band were known for their 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music,White Boy”. And during the height of the disco era,the bands focus was still on hefty funk grooves and harmony driven soul ballads. So this album was more than a pleasant surprise for me.

Key Jams: “Lana” and “If You Want My Love”

Off The Wall

Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones’ work on this 1979 masterpiece resulted in so many strong musical performance,listening to this vinyl passed down to me from my parents turned me onto the instrumentalists here. People such as Greg Phillinganes,Jerry Hey,Louis Johnson and Paulinho Da Costa. Which…in turn led me to starting this blog really. Bringing out this old vinyl to check out was mainly based on nostalgia. But also brought out that with songs such as “Rock With You” and “Get On The Floor”,very different mixed were used on the mid 90’s CD reissue I have. So it was fascinating to hear those differences come alive again through vinyl on this iconic album classic from the late MJ.

Key Jams: ALL of the first side. Plus “I Can’t Help It” on the flip side.

Sweat Band

Bootsy Collins came out of the lawsuit that barred him from using the Rubber Band name on George Clinton’s Uncle Jam label with this 1980 album of 100% P-Funk power! Having some of the bands finest players such as Mike Hampton,Garry Shider and Maceo Parker aboard allowed Bootsy’s iconic funksmanship to shine through in a way that…well actually impacted heavier on me by the second listen.

Key Jams: “Body Shop” and “Hyper Space”

Hiroshima Odori

Hiroshima are among the most fascinating jazz fusion groups to emerge from the late 70’s. This sophomore album of theirs from 1980 showcases their Sansei Japanese founder/woodwind player Dan Kuramoto,along with his Koto virtuoso wife June,creating a pan ethnic jazz/rock sound that blended many Japanese instrumental approaches into that fusion framework. And while their 1979 was extremely strong,this second album made an even bigger musical statement.

Key Jams: “Crusin J-Town” and “Echoes”

Pieces Of A Dream

Pieces Of A Dream’s early albums extend very well on the late 70’s/early 80’s proto smooth jazz and latter day jazz/funk scene of Philadelphia. Grover Washington Jr. did a lot of work with this trio on this 1983 album. It even adds in a hip-hop styled turntable scratching synth effect on one of it’s songs as well.

Key Jams: “For The Fun Of It”,“It’s Getting Hot In Here” and “Fo Fi Fo”

1-style-cameo-album

Cameo didn’t have just one transitional album-they had a whole transitional period. This underrated 1983 album is a major part of it. As the mid 80’s came in,Cameo’s lineup seemed to get smaller and smaller. On this album,it was a stripped down quartet. But through the many scratches on my vinyl copy,it was clear that Cameo knew how to hit the groove loud and hard during their stripped down,early 80’s new wave funk period

Key Jams: “This Life Is Not For Me” and “Cameo’s Dance”

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Billy Preston, Bootsy Collins, Cameo, Dan Kuramoto, Donny Hathaway, Funk, Fusion, Hiroshima, Ike & Tina Turner, Labelle, Michael Jackson, Pieces Of A Dream, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, record collecting, rock 'n' roll, Rolling Stones, Soul, Spiral Starcase, Sweat Band, T-Connection, The Carpenters, The Supremes, Vinyl, Wild Cherry

Grooves On Wax: Funk On The 4th Of July

Soul Survivors

These Philly one hit wonders made a big splash with “Expressway To Your Heart” from this 1967 album. It always reminded me of the Young Rascals. And most of this album does too. They do have some amazing Hammond B-3 organ work here,especially on a version of James Brown’s “Please Please Please”. Where the album gets most interesting is when the Indian classical and psychedelic soul influences come in.

Key Jams “Expressway (To Your Heart” and “Taboo-India”

Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson’s 1968 album reminds me of how close the musical flavors were between windy city soul and the Motown sound. Jackie was the link between the two as Berry Gordy wrote a lot of his big hits of the 1950’s. This represents his most uptempo soul oriented album (with only two show tune styled ballads) of his late 60’s comeback. And the Motown connection even begins the album with a version of “You Keep Me Hanging On”.

Key Jams: “I Get The Sweetest Feeling”,“You Brought About A Change In Me” and “Nothing But Blue Skies”

Rainbow Bridge

Hendrix was near the end of his tragically short life and career when he appeared in this film. I actually liked the story of a young woman’s journey to Hendrix’s music through a political awakening. The soundtrack showcases how he and the Band Of Gypsies (Billy Cox and Buddy Miles) were about to change the game on the funk/rock sound the same way Hendrix and the Experience had a couple years earlier with psychedelia.

Key Jams: “Dolly Dagger”,”Earth Blues” and “Star Spangled Banner”

Supremes_1970s_Touch

This beautifully arranged 1971 album by the post Diana Ross Supremes has some very loving liner notes from the now Sir Elton John. It actually showcases the revived trio’s sound as focusing their mid tempo cinematic soul sound more towards an album than a singles focus as well.

Key Jams: “Nathan Jones” and “Happy (Is A Bumpy Road)”

Ahmad Jamal

This Ahmad Jamal 2 LP collection came borrowed from my father,who loaned it to me. It’s a rare 1973 collection of Jamal’s not entirely common three Impulse albums such as 1968’s Tranquility and 1972’s Outertimeinnerspace. A lot of these songs have an Afro Cuban/ Caribbean vibe with a does of soul jazz thrown in with Jamal’s trademark cool,light piano touch. He even pulls out the electric piano on one occasion with amazing results.

Key Jam: “Bogota”

Bar Kays Coldblooded

The Bar-Kays third and final album for Stax in 1974 was probably their most funkified overall thus far. They still had a lot of the psychedelic soul/rock touches that had them freaking out hard on their earlier albums. Yet the wah wah continued to let go big time on the title song,and the influence of Sly Stone and their penchant for funky impersonation started to show up on “Fightin’ Fire With Fire” as well.

Key Jams: “Coldblooded”,“Smiling,Styling And Profiling” and “Be Yourself”

Bell & James

Leroy Bell’s career arc from success to obscurity and back reads almost like fiction,as it turns out. In partnership with Casey James,the multi instrumentalist duo served up this 1979 album that didn’t provide as big a commercial as they did on the hit “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)”,but did really get down with some sleek Westlake studio sounding disco/pop/funk/soul straight out of the Off The Wall vibe. And with a lot of the same musicians playing on it as well.

Key Jams: “Shakedown”,“Laughing In The Face Of Love” and “Fare Thee Well”

stephaniemills-stephanie(1)

Stephanie Mills 1981 album is one of those boogie funk classics where every song,especially the uptempo ones,stand on just about equal footing in terms of success potential. Reggie Lucus and James Mtume’s writing and production help a lot in this degree. Even though it has it’s predictable aspects,the strong sound and Mills’ gospel/soul vocal chops really give this album quite a workout.

Key Jams: “Two Hearts” and “Top Of My List”

spinners-labor_of_love

One thing I really admire about The Spinners is that they kept up with uptempo boogie and electro funk sounds even after the disco era-rather than focusing solely on slow ballads.  This 1981 album,one of records very funky albums they put out that year,has perhaps even more harder driving funk material than their 70’s hit period with Thom Bell. One of it’s few ballads,”A Man Just Don’t Know What A Woman Goes Through” even focuses on male sensitivity to the opposite sex when it comes to aging. Not to even mention closing with a good attempt at an early rap/funk hybrid.

Key Jams: “Long Live Soul Music” and “The Deacon”Let There Be Sun

Sun were among the handful of iconic Dayton,Ohio funk bands who came out of the late 70’s. Each of these bands had their special qualities. This 1982 release being their next to last albums is actually the first Sun I’ve ever heard thus far. And want to hear more considering their own distinct approach to the P-Funk vibe they seem to have here.

Key Jams: “Slam Dunk The Funk” and “Super Duper Super Star”

Tyka Nelson

Yes,this 1988 album was presented to me on the selling point that Tyka Nelson was Prince’s sister. I knew all about Tyka before this,but not that she ever had a musical career. The overall vibe of this album is very much of a mid-tempo dance and ballad urban contemporary album of it’s day. Tyka’s soft,melodic voice actually carries these sleek numbers quite well.

Key Jams: “No Promises” and “Marc Anthony’s Tune”

 

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Ahmad Jamal, Bell & James, Boogie Funk, Chicago, Funk, funk rock, Jackie Wilson, Jazz, Soul, Soul Survivors, Stephanie Mills, Sun, The Bar Kays, The Spinners, The Supremes, Tyka Nelson, Vinyl

Improvisations – Frazey Ford

frazey-ford-09Frazey Ford blends folk approach, soul roots
By Ron Wynn
Sometimes all it takes is a pair of great ears to make something special happen. In this case they belonged to ace filmmaker/critic Robert Gordon, whose extensive knowledge of soul and blues music has been evident in critically acclaimed volumes on Stax and Memphis music, as well as an equally lauded film on Muddy Waters. He heard the tune “If You Gonna Go” from Candian vocalist Frazey Ford’s 2010 debut LP “Obadiah,” and instantly thought of something that most other observers wouldn’t: an earthy R&B influence in what was otherwise tabbed an alt.-folk project.
 Ford, a founding member of the Be Good Tanyas, visited Nashville Friday. She gave Gordon lots of credit for instantly hearing something in the song and her voice she wasn’t sure had really come across in the song. He also spearheaded the eventual session that featured her working with the Hi Rhythm section.
“He called the radio station that played the song and asked them about it,” Ford recalled to the Scene. “He told me later that he could hear the soul influence. He told me what he was doing (working on a documentary on soul music and Memphis musicians) and that he knew the Hi Rhythm people, and wanted to see about getting us together to do something. That was an incredible thrill, because they were musicians that I’ve listened to for a long time and were truly happy to get a chance to work alongside. He put everything in motion and it was a magical occasion for me.”
Ford’s spirited blend of old-time folk and country, infused with the urgency of classic R&B, has made her work with the Be Good Tanyas one of the more unusual and distinctive sounds on any circuit. The collaboration with the Hi Rhythm Section flourishes on the 2014 LP “Indian Ocean.” Organist Charles Hodges, bassist Leroy Hodges and guitarist Teenie Hodges provided a dynamic energy that is underpinned by pivotal contributions from several other musicians. They ranged from Be Good Tanyas member guitarist Trish Klein and pianist Phil Cook to other guitarists Darren Parris and Craig McCaul. Longtime Memphis ace saxophonist Jim Spake joined Scott Thompson and JP Carter doing the arrangements, while Debra Jean Creelman and Caroline Ballhorn added buoyant backing vocals.
“Indian Ocean” defies easy categorization, which is just what Ford enjoys. She and co-producer/drummer John Raham sought to get the kind of easy, yet exuberant energy that was the hallmark of the great albums the legendary Willie Mitchell produced at Royal Recording studios. But they also didn’t want to have any rigidly prescribed notions about what would occur.
“I’ve never really thought so much about genres as I have about feeling and about music and the musicians who’ve influenced me,” Ford continued. “Growing up in Canada I didn’t really listen so much to the radio as I did the music that my parents had. My mother had a real country/Cajun and soul thing going. I loved and still do Otis Redding. But Emmylou Harris is also a big influence on me. Al Green for sure. Neil Young is another person who’s a big influence. What I wanted to do with “Indian Ocean” is find a way to get all these influences into one place, make them work, and not have it sound disjointed.”
She acknowledges that while always enjoying singing, she didn’t really initially view it as a career path. “It was really kind of a surprise,” Ford said. “I was planning to do all this other stuff, looking at different occupations, but music kept getting in the way. It was really not just something to do on the side, but a passion, a drive, and that was what really made the decision for me. Plus I really wanted to explore more of that musical culture from America. The things that I heard growing up, I really wanted to get out and hear and see where it came from, see how I could incorporate it into my own music.”
Those seemingly disparate, yet interconnected influences, are seamlessly integrated throughout “Indian Ocean.”
Some numbers like the disc’s first tune “September Fields” feature edgy vocals and a stirring  beat. Others like the brisk number “Done” are more declarative, lyrically direct and shorter tunes fortified by enchanting vocals from Ford and precise, on the money backing from either the Hi Rhythm crew or the other musicians. Ford is at her strongest vocally on the assertive number “You’re Not Free,” while the lighter, softer approach she takes on “Three Golden Trees” probably comes closest to a straight folk tune.
“My only regret about the project was when I heard that Teenie had passed,” Ford concluded. “Working with those guys was so incredible, and he was an unbelievably warm and friendly guy. One thing we’ve been doing on this tour in a lot of cities is working with horn sections, which is a lot of fun.  I would like to do some more recording like that in the future. I’ve really got some other influences that people probably wouldn’t associate with me either. I really like Afrobeat for instance. Neosoul is another one, and also both contemporary and traditional country. I’d love to do some albums where I could expand into those areas musically.”
“For me, it really is all about experiencing all types of music. That’s something that always excites me. I don’t want to do the same thing with every album, and all the people I admire are those who keep searching and aren’t afraid to experiment, while maintaining the special quality that makes them stand out.”
(This originally ran in Nashville Scene’s “Cream” blog).

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Filed under Be Good Tanya's, Frazey Ford, Hi rhythm section, Nashville, Soul, Uncategorized

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

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Tour The U.S.A’ by James Brown & His Famous Flames

Tour The USA

During the first six or seven years of his career James Brown was essentially known for his energetically performed soul ballads and stage shows. That is generally what soul was at the time. When the music was uptempo, it was generally considered to be rhythm & blues. And soul was generally the romantic ballad end of that still new spectrum of music. Only in revision to many people realize that even from the get go, James Brown was always changing the rules.

He vocally performed his soul balladry with the theatrics and passion of the salvation gospel tent show. As the 1960’s began to come in, James began to embrace rhythm & blues to a greater degree. He was also listening to another type of music called boogaloo coming out of New York-with it’s African pop influence and use of musical breaks. With this new outlook on uptempo music in his arena, James’ music was beginning to change.

“Mashed Potatoes USA” is a very compelling song-a dancable yet fairly slow tempo rhythm & blues piece with a very raw rhythm attitude-filled with drum and horn breaks. Its quite possibly his first foray into the funk process,if not the full on funk itself. “Choo-Choo (Loco Motion)”,”Three Hearts In A Triangle” along with the instrumentals “Doin’ The Limbo”,”Joggin Along” and “Sticky” are all heavily rocking and organ/horn based R&B with a consistent and chunky rhythmic flavor that on the other hand is decidedly unbroken.

“I’ve Got Money” returns for a bit to the possibility of the funk process again. “I Don’t Care”,interestingly one of the few examples of his original soul ballad style, actually begins the lyrical process for his funk innovation “Cold Sweat” with him stating “I DON’T CARE about your past”. “Like A Baby”,”Every Beat Of My Heart” and “In The Wee Small Hours” are examples or James’ earlier instrumental organ blues throwdowns to round this out.

Often mistaken for a live album because of its title, this 1962 studio recording by James Brown and his Famous Flames is a neglected but very important album for James’ catalog. Its his first album to put a significant amount of attention on heavy rhythm and uptempo tunes. You begin to hear him and his band beginning to find their signature instrumental style that they were still ironing out, by trying out different styles from soul to R&B to blues on their earlier recordings.

Being from the era that it is, this album is of course likely a collection of James Brown “sides”,recorded originally in intention for release on 45 A and B and cobbled together on this long player to bring them together into a loose theme to resell them. Of course less cynically this also is influenced by Ray Charles’ intentionally conceptualized ABC-Paramount era albums as well. So this also finds James discovering the possibility that he could develop as an album artist perhaps. Despite its lack of popularity in James vast and vital recorded catalog, this album is an important dry run for his future.

Originally posted on July 14th,2013

*LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

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Filed under 1960's, Amazon.com, concept albums, Famous Flames, Funk, funk process, instrumental, James Brown, Music Reviewing, organ, rhythm & blues, Soul, Uncategorized

People Music: The Soulful Evolution Of Sound For African America

People Music is a term Henrique and myself often use to describe message songs recorded during the soul/funk generational cycle-specifically by black artists. Political and creative liberation was a key factor in this too. It was my father,however who inspired me to write this by asking me what the most significant song was during the 50’s and 60’s civil rights movement. The most obvious choice for that was “People Get Ready” by The Impressions. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Curtis Mayfield was an early champion for black musicians to have creative and business control of their art. And this 1965 ballad became a huge anthem for the movement as a whole.

As the 60’s progressed,the civil rights movement seeking racial equality evolved into a concept that assumed equality of person. Especially the idea that Afrocentric qualities were beautiful and must be appreciated as such. This became known as the black power movement. The completely rhythm based genre of funk developed during this time as well. As Henrique pointed out,funk continued to be the soundtrack to the black power movement well into the 1970’s. James Brown,who laid the foundation for funk, also recorded the genres earliest and most enduring anthem for racial empowerment entitled “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)”.

The 70’s funk era was chocked full of message songs. All of them reflected ideas that derived from the NOI and Black Panther Party from the mid/late 60’s that black American’s required a more positive understanding of themselves and their futures. 1974 was a year that dashed a lot of the 60’s hopes in general-especially for black Americans. Still funk and it’s tributaries through jazz,soul and rock music was at it’s strongest point. Even during the post Watergate recession. The poet/singer Gil Scott Heron,who five years earlier had given us the black power anthem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” offered up this 1974 song in reflection of a potent present but less certain tomorrow.

Hip-hop’s presence as a commercially successful entity wasn’t yet four years old when The Furious Five released what is very likely the beginning of what is known today as conscious rap. Musically based in the synthesizer based electro funk of the period,this song found Grandmaster Melle Mel dealing directly with the state of affairs of urban black America during the early years of the Reagan administration. The song takes the futuristic sounding electronic grooves and mixes in tales of urban decay and neglect. Of particular note is Melle Mel stating “don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/it’s like a jungle sometimes/it’s a wonder how I keep from going under”.

Though theoretically released at the end of the previous decade,Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” did some very significant things for black message songs at the head start of the 1990’s. It established hip-hop as a major archival medium for funk,in particular James Brown’s,through the use of electronic sampling. Not only that but the realization Chuck D and company had that “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp” showcased an empowering message for black Generation Xers as to just how much misrepresentation black American’s had to deal with over the centuries. And also by offering them a direct call to get involved and “fight the powers that be”.

Message songs within the black community seemed to disappear (or go totally underground) during the post 9/11 years. They were replaced by either reactionary (and often racist) patriotic anthems or simply musical silence. Suddenly a couple of years ago,longtime hip-hop/soul producer and singer Pharrell Williams emerged with “Happy”. Musically it hearkened back to the stripped down soul jazz trio sound of the mid 60’s. While it’s message was very all encompassing-asking the listener to “clap your hands if you feel that happiness is the truth”,it did open the door for black American artists to deliver new political anthems in music that were even more direct.

As I write this article,Beyonce’s performance of her newest song “Foundation” at the Superbowl,a strong pro black anthem, is generating similar controversies as were bought up during the height of the Black Panther Party and the black power movement in general. So the mid/late 2010’s are seeing black American message songs leap back into life in a huge way. Even though many people today are convinced no piece of music has any power to change the world,looking back on this history in the context of what is happening right now proves otherwise. That when it comes to being black in America, musical art is always at the forefront of the political.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2010's, Curtis Mayfield, Funk, Gil Scott Heron, Hip-Hop, James Brown, message music, message songs, Pharrell Willaims, Public Enemy, Sampling, Soul, soul jazz, The Furious Five, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 6/6/2015: ‘Big Love’ by Simply Red

simply red

Looks as if I’m going to have to add Mick Hucknall/Simply Red to my list of groups and artists with the “fine wine” syndrome-of just having a musical sound that just gets better with time. Since the group first implanted their ear worm of “Holding Back The Years’ from their debut Picture Book? Their music has always keenly interested me. The question I’m always asking myself is…why do I tend to ignore their new releases when they come out every 5-8 years or so? The answer is I didn’t know then,don’t know now. After 2008? I vowed that the next new Simply Red album I’d pick up because of my own negligence of this group I really enjoy and appreciate. Finally I made the right decision with this album all the way!

“Shine On”,opening with album with a big arrangement,”Daydreaming” as well as the more hyper-kinetic grooves of “Tight Tones” and “WORU” are all rhythm guitar heavy disco/funk dance numbers with creamy wah wah’s and uptown melodies all the way. The title song is a piano/guitar driven mid tempo soul ballad,with the sound and flavor that had me falling in love with the music of Simply Red from the get go. “The Ghost Of Love” and “Love Gave Me More” are lusciously orchestrated funky/soul numbers while “Love Wonders” and “Coming Home” are more atmospheric,cinematic numbers while “The Old Man And The Beer” is a ,slow swinging soul jazz style number. The album is rounded out with the more pop/rock style mid tempo melody of “Dad” and the more baroque pop ballad of “Each Day”.

From beginning to end? This album distills what makes this groups music flow as well as it does. For sure they have a well oiled sound that is distinctive and instantly recognizable. Yet it’s a style that can adapt itself to different variations very easily. The focus of this particular album is very much on orchestration. In this particular case in the Barry White/Marvin Gaye/Gamble & Huff mode. Happily Hucknall’s highly melodic and well constructed songwriting is of course very well suited to this. And everything from the rhythm section to the arrangements are extremely strong and well done. This is superb and mildly lyrically nostalgic/reflective adult funky soul from 2015 at it’s finest. And one I very highly recommend you give a try to!

Originally posted June 2nd,2015

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 2015, Amazon.com, Barry White, cinematic soul, disco funk, Gamble & Huff, Marvin Gaye, Mick Hucknall, Music Reviewing, Simply Red, Soul, soul jazz

Andre’s Amazon Archive 4/4/2015- ‘Experience: Jill Scott 826+’ by Jill Scott & Fatback Taffy

Experience_-Jill-Scott-826+-Disc-1-Live

Although originally inspired by jazz and funk’s incorporation into hip-hop the neo soul movement of the early/mid 90’s had certainly taken some interesting and unexpected turns by the beginning of the millennium. And no question this was part of that. After her debut Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 rocked the music world in such a huge way she released this album independently and at a reduced price. It did pretty well with fans who’d stuck by her before her years of recording I’m sure and likely did the same with those who’d been wowed by her debut. All the same this album was almost set up to be a nonevent in other ways. It disappeared off a lot of record store shelves shortly after release and is probably not her biggest seller. But it does present a wonderful and sound musical concept that has a strong appeal.

Basically what one gets here is a double album;one disc of a live concert featuring her band Fatback Taffy and another of demo level unreleased material. The live set on the first disc stands out the most. For one thing her band has a rich,creamy sound overall. Fatback Taffy have the advantage of being about to get that retro soul thing down to a tee while retaining much of hip-hop’s brooding spareness. She moves in and out of extended pieces such as “Love Rain”,”Do You Remember”,”It’s Love” and “Gettin’ In The Way” almost effortlessly as the songs thick,shuffling jazz styled funky soul textures flow from one tune to the next.

Musically the most fascinating and funky cuts is the high octane uptempo Latin percussion styled “He Loves Me” which brings to mind,of all things Stevie Wonder’s classic “Another Star”. Her overall attitude in the between song banter is one of confidence and wit. Retaining hip-hop styled musings regarding people “with naturals always supposed to be positive” she also adds she sometimes is,other times not while explaining away some easily misinterpreted lyrics from “Gettin’ In The Way”. The song titled after the band is done in a great old fashioned gospel styled rave up.

The studio disc is a whole other matter. Focused far more on the hip-hop side of her “Gotta Get Up” finds Jill having one of her self dialog about the world of duty versus personnel need. Of these tunes the chunky funk of “Gimme” and the uniquely vocally chorded “Be Ready” are the most individual of these songs but for a disc of unreleased music at this early point in a recording career,one really can’t expect complete musical evenness. That being the case one thing this album definitely isn’t lacking on is Jill’s type of self expression. She doesn’t possess the in-your-face attitude of many female hip-hop/neo/retro soul type artists. Instead she comes more from the 70’s OG era in terms of keeping her actual feelings just slightly guarded-choosing to express a more worldly outlook than an inward one. Her internal dialog is only occasionally expressed and that makes it an important element of her sound. The moody rhythmic and melodic side of her music also expresses this well. Even though she started out with a bang this album represents her intent on focusing on her music as art more than as a commodity.

Originally Posted June 24th,2011

Link to original review here*

Stay tuned to Andresmusictalk for a new weekly feature,inspired by friend and blogging partner Rique,called Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk. This will be focused on classic funk/jazz/soul songs from the early 60’s up through the disco era. And for now will be posted the first and last Monday’s of every month. Thank you!

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Filed under 2001, Fatback Taffy, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jill Scott, Neo Soul, OG's, Soul, Stevie Wonder