Now Hear This!

Issue # 5  November 2017


  • In this issue: Reviews of Gregory Porter, Thomas Rhett, Lizz Wright, Robert Plant, Ledisi, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Kamasi Washington, Darius Rucker, ODESZA, Fantasia, Ella Fitzgerald

  • I Want My Daddy’s Records!


The last Quarter of the year usually ushers in a flurry of new releases, and this year is proving to be no different.  Now that I’m back on track schedule-wise, the albums reviewed in this issue are truly new, within about a month or so.

Among the new tunes covered in this issue is the tribute album to Nat ‘King’ Cole from Gregory Porter; a new but not new Ella Fitzgerald album; new R&B release from Ledisi, as well as a quick hit on Fantasia’s Christmas album; new EDM releases from ODESZA and 80’s faves OMD; for my Country fans, I’ve reviewed the new Darius Rucker album, as well as Thomas Rhett’s latest;  finally, the uncategorizable Lizz Wright has a new project, and there are quick hits on the new projects from Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant, and Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington.

Looking ahead to the last two months of the year, I’m eagerly awaiting the second half of Chris Stapleton’s duology “From A Room, Vol. 2”, which drops on 12/1- have already heard the song samples, and it’s GOOD… new music from Sam Smith, Lalah Hathaway, and Maroon 5 should be out by the time you’re reading this issue; others with new music coming include the final new release from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Bjork, and a set of Jazz standards from Seal.

So without further delay, let’s see what’s music to my ears… and what’s not.



Gregory Porter “Nat King Cole & Me

The latest release from baritone Jazz singer extraordinaire Porter is a covers album of the music of his childhood hero.  Back in Cole’s day, heavily orchestrated albums were the order of the day, and almost a rite of passage for Black artists in the 50’s and 60’s- almost every popular group back then did a covers album, in what looks today to be a desperate (and usually dismal) attempt to gain crossover appeal- it appeared, however, to be the thing to do at the time.  So Gregory lovingly covers the tunes in a traditional orchestrated Jazz setting; the results are, of course, wonderful.  He does all the best known Cole tracks, like “Mona Lisa”, “Smile” and “Nature Boy”, and also offers a splendid rendition of “The Christmas Song”.  He reprises “When Love Was King”, a track he did on his 2013 “Liquid Spirit” album, and the Jazz standard “Miss Otis Regrets”.  The so-called Deluxe version of the album, which wasn’t yet available in stores as of this writing, adds three additional tracks to the Standard version (it is available on iTunes and streaming sites).  I posted the video of “Smile” to my Facebook page, but, in case you aren’t connected with me there, or you otherwise missed it, here it is…



Thomas Rhett “Life Changes

The first time I listened to the third album from Georgia native Rhett, I had a reaction similar to what some others wrote about it in their assessment of the album:  this isn’t REAL Country music; I want MY Country music to sound like it, not like pop music with a Southern accent.  So when I have an adverse reaction like that, I will give the project a second listen, to see if my first reaction will stick.  The best way to kinda sum this album up is to say that this isn’t your daddy’s Country… but it IS your son or daughter’s; what that means is there are other influences added into his contemporary Country mix.  For instance, the single “Craving You” featuring Maren Morris and “Smooth Like the Summer” sound a lot like current Maroon 5 to me; “Sweetheart” has a 50’s, almost doo-wop quality to it; my favorite track in the set, “Kiss Me Like A Stranger” is a soulful track that recalls Player’s 70’s hit “Baby Come Back”; “Leave Right Now” has a bombastic, mild Dubstep to it that brings to mind Imagine Dragons, while “Gateway” has a mild Dancehall-influenced beat to it; then finally, the title track waxes philosophical: “Ain’t it funny how life changes / You wake up, ain’t nothing the same and life changes / You can’t stop it, just hop on the train and / You never know what’s gonna happen / You make your plans and you hear God laughing”.  Elsewhere, it is largely slick contemporary Country; he does get back to his roots on “Drink a Little Beer” which features his dad Rhett Akins, “Marry Me”, and “When You Look Like That”.  For me, it’s OK… perhaps a little too safe and mainstream for my tastes, and if you want traditional Country, you’re probably not gonna find this album to float your boat; Thomas has his sights set on crossover appeal.  Here is the video for “Craving You”…



Lizz Wright “Grace

For her sixth album, Georgia native Wright takes us back to her roots, a rural America that she felt the need to reconnect with, one that she thought she may have lost touch with, given the current political landscape and the divide it’s created.  She has always used the fabric of her upbringing, as the daughter of a minister, to be the connector through which her songs attain a certain cohesiveness.  Initially labelled a jazz singer, she is more in tune with the singer-songwriter milieu- often considered a bookend to Norah Jones, and a younger contemporary to Cassandra Wilson- blending elements of Folk/Country, Soul, Blues, Rock and Gospel into the mix; the result is a soothing musical backdrop for her luscious contralto.  In particular, and probably due to the personal nature of this project, the spirituality aspect is more prevalent than others here, hence the album title.  It is mostly covers of other’s songs, ranging from Ray Charles (“What Would I Do Without You”) to Bob Dylan (“Every Grain of Sand”) to Sister Rosetta Tharpe (“Singing In My Soul”) to Nina Simone (“Seems I’m Never Tired Loving You”) and Allen Toussaint (“Southern Nights”); a beautiful rendition of the Jazz standard “Stars Fell On Alabama”, and one original composition (“All the Way Here”).  Another treat is her keyboardist Kenny Banks’ use of the B3 Hammond Organ,  an instrument you don’t hear too much anymore (unless you’re in church).  Lizz is an underrated and underappreciated talent who is currently on tour (not coming my way, unfortunately) – if you have the chance, go see her live; if not, pick up this album, put it on, sit back, and let it take you away…. Enjoy a live version of “Seems I’m Never Tired Loving You”…



QUICK HIT:  Robert Plant “Carry Fire

One of the greatest voices in Rock history returns with a new set.  Some people still expect “Dazed and Confused” or “Rock and Roll” era Robert, but he is now 69 years old – his voice sounds weary and tired, and the songs are mellower and more mature-sounding, but it didn’t diminish the quality of the music- it is still quality product from a musical legend.  Check out the track “The May Queen”…


Ledisi “Let Love Rule

When I first heard the lead single off of the sixth major label album (8th overall) from New Orleans-born Ledisi, I thought “Uh-oh, they got her- she’s fallen into the Trap”.  The single “High” is essentially a Trap track, a noted departure from the neo-soul stylings we’ve come to expect from her.  Happily though, that was a one track aberration- not that the track itself is bad, it isn’t- was just reeeallly praying that she didn’t fall all the way into the Trap for this album.  I decided when it was time to do a full listen, I invited one of her biggest fans- namely, my wife- in to check it out with me.  Her review: I really dig it; she brings out the girlie in me.  My review (contd):  The first half of the album is more contemporary R&B, starting with a couple of social statements in the reggae-ish “Shot Down” and the danceable “Let Love Rule” (I was hoping she had covered Lenny Kravitz’ track of the same name, but this is a different song).  There are short spoken word interludes interspersed throughout the first half from Iyanla Vanzant and Soledad O’Brien; starting with the sparse “Forgiveness”, she returns back to her neo-soul leanings for most of the rest of the disc.  BJ the Chicago Kid joins her for “Us4ever” and John Legend duets with her on “Give You More”.  By the time she closed with “If You Don’t Mind”, she had restored my faith that she was still the Ledisi I loved… here is the video for “High”…



Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark  “The Punishment of Luxury

One of the musical collections I’ve recently sought to complete and convert to CD is the music of this band- at least the first chapter of their career.  This British duo of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys started way back in 1978, releasing their sparse, analog synth, Kraftwerk-influenced self-titled debut two years later.  And over that first chapter, which covered seven albums, their sound evolved into an accessible synth-pop formula that spelled commercial success, and ultimately, their demise after 1986’s “Pacific Age.  McCluskey carried on the OMD name alone after Humphrey’s departure for the second chapter of the group, releasing three albums, before officially disbanding the group in ’96.  This third and latest chapter to the group began in 2006, when Humphrey rejoined McCluskey, and they began touring and writing new music; “The Punishment of Luxury” is the third album in this latest chapter, and 13th studio album overall.  It continues a return to their musical roots started with 2013’s “English Electric”, updating the sound to the latest technology, yet keeping some of the sparse elements of their original sound; it also bridges the sound evolution witnessed throughout that first chapter, adding some measure of accessibility, yet retaining some experimentation, as well.  The songs are loosely wedded to themes of anti-consumerism (title track, “Isotope”, “Robot Man”, “Precision & Decay”), a topic recently tackled by Arcade Fire’s latest album (which I reviewed last issue), and erosion of the human spirit, especially where it pertains to personal relationships (“What Have We Done”, “As We Open, So We Close”, “One More Time”).  The sound is vintage OMD, and I, for one, am glad to have them back; check out the video for the title track…



QUICK HIT:  Kamasi Washington “Harmony of Difference

After hittin’ us with a triple CD, nearly three hour debut, his follow up is an EP of just six tracks, all with one word titles, intended as a continuous suite that ‘explores the philosophical possibilities of the musical technique known as counterpoint’.  It was premiered as part of an art festival, which included an exhibit from his sister.  The six tracks fit into just 32 minutes, and with the exception of the sprawling, 13 minute finale, are straight to the point melodically.  Very pleasing… here is the video (actually a mini movie) for the long track, entitled “Truth”…



Darius Rucker “When Was the Last Time” 

Before I go into what I thought about the latest album from one of South Carolina’s favorite sons, I must confess that I’ve never found any of his previous music, whether solo, or as part of Hootie & the Blowfish, to be pleasing to my ears.  Then there have been the issues with him not appearing to identify more with his own- he’s sometimes made Bryant Gumbel look like Spike Lee in comparison to him, and that he has, for the most part, remained apolitical with his music.  I did learn that Hootie & ‘em made a track called “Drowning” from their “Cracked Rear View” album that was a protest song against the flying of the Confederate Flag on the SC State House grounds; I’ll give him a pass for that, but like one of my other Country darlings, Valerie June, he prefers to just stick to the music.  I‘d like to see him make some sort of statement- heck, if Drive-By Truckers can do it, Ben Harper can do it, Rhiannon Giddens can do a whole album based off of slave narratives – and she’s married to an Irishman – so can he.  I know it’d be taking a risk – both Harper and the Truckers have received some negative backlash on their politics from their largely white, Conservative fanbase- but some things have to be said, IF you feel them.  All that aside, I really wanna like this guy, so I decided to give this, his seventh solo effort overall, a listen (fifth Country album- his first solo album was actually an R&B project using Jill Scott’s production team, and he also has a Christmas album).  The first half of the album didn’t do much for me musically – kinda of like Hootie with a twang- lyrically, it’s more interesting, and this is where you’ll find the two radio-ready singles from the album: “If I Told You” gauges a love interest’s level of interest if they knew about his past; and “For the First Time”, the song from which the album is titled, talks of taking chances in life… “when was the last time you did something for the first time…”  For me, it gets going with the rockin’ collaboration that kicks off the second half- “Straight to Hell” with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley; this is followed by the string-laden “Another Night with You” and the mildly soulful “Hands On Me”, and finally there is the auto-biographical “Story to Tell”.  This release will be another chart topper for Rucker, I have no doubt, and for that I congratulate him; for me, I found some tracks I like – probably not a purchase, though (at least not the whole album), but I did develop enough of an appreciation of his music to check out his back catalog.  Check out the video for “For the First Time”…



Odesza “A Moment Apart

For the third album from the darlings of the Sirius XM Chill channel, this Seattle-based electronic duo find themselves more openly exposing one of their primary influences; more so than on their previous releases, I hear elements of “Play” and “18”-era Moby in these tracks- not a bad sound at all to emulate- just not entirely original on their part.  Instead of just using found samples like he did, they often employ the featured live vocalist, as everyone does these days; along for the ride are the likes of Regina Spektor (“Just A Memory”), Naomi Wild (“Higher Ground”), and Soul singer Leon Bridges (“Across the Room”), among others.  At their best, they produce celestial, dreamy electronic dance tracks (“Late Nights”), moody headnoddaz (“Boy”), a little electronic pop (“Line of Sight”), and headphone swirlers (“Thin Floors and Tall Ceilings”).  There is enough variety to keep you interested from start to finish… in addition to their great music, they produce equally beautiful videos… check out the videos for “Across the Room”, which I recently posted to my Facebook page…


and “Line of Sight”…



QUICK HIT:  Fantasia “Christmas After Midnight

In a mostly Jazz setting, Fantasia covers familiar holiday standards that have been done ad nauseum; she also covers some treasured R&B holiday songs.  She does well enough with both the standards and R&B songs, although some tracks should be off-limits: if I wanna hear “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto”, I’ll stick with the James Brown original.  And I wish no one else attempts to cover “This Christmas”, as only the original Donny Hathaway version matters.  Here is an audio clip of her covering “Merry Christmas, Baby”…



Ella Fitzgerald & The London Symphony Orchestra “Someone to Watch Over Me

To coincide with the Centennial celebration of the birth of Ella, Verve has released another new compilation of her music.  (BIG sigh) I’m not sure how I feel about this project…… wait… yes I am… my question, again, to those making the decisions at Verve Records, is simply WHY???  Just like Capitol/EMI keeps doing with the Beatles catalog, the folks at Verve are simply trying to milk the buying public into purchasing stuff they already own, with a couple of new twists.  This project is totally unnecessary.  Sure, it’s nice to hear the current King of Vocal Jazz, the magnificent Gregory Porter, singing along with Ella for “People Will Say We’re In Love”, but it’s not like this duet actually ever happened… and the inclusion of the LSO on top of these finished tracks give them a slightly different sound, but they were already perfect in their original incarnation… and you don’t mess with perfection!  As I mentioned in my “Ellabration” of her with my August blog article, they need to release their four “Complete Decca Singles” compilations on CD, instead of just on streaming sites… and, in my opinion, they should not have released this album at all.



I Want My Daddy’s Records!                                             blindmellowjellyjr

This is a new feature that I’ll run occasionally to review classic albums from my father’s collection.  Of course, the title theme is from the iconic episode of Sanford & Son, where Fred donates some old Blues 78’s to a library, until he realizes what they’re worth – then he develops a scheme to get them back.  Now if you have somehow managed to have never seen this episode, you can see it at this link…..


Ray Charles “What’d I Say

This was the fifth album Ray released for Atlantic Records; released in 1959, it is a collection of 10 tracks recorded at different sessions, some dating back as far as ’52, but most being recorded between ’57 and ’59.  This album is noteworthy for containing his first Top 10 hit, that being the title track.  The standout track for me on this album is its’ lone instrumental, “Rockhouse Pts 1 & 2”, a track that’s true to its’ name -it rocks the house!  Of the two early tracks, “Jumpin’ In the Mornin’” is a high energy Jump Blues, while “Roll With My Baby” features a sly-sounding Ray over a smooth jazzy Blues melody.  This album, as a stand-alone item, is not easy to find in any format; I purchased a Japanese CD pressing through Amazon.  My dad’s original album sits in good condition in the basement of the family home.  Here is an audio clip for “Rockhouse Pts 1 & 2”…

By maestrotjd

I'm a music head. A classically trained violinist/violist literate from chant to Chopin to Copland, Soul man, aging Punk, Classic rocker, Alt rocker, Church choir man, House head, Techno, Industrial guy, almost Rasta, Ska & Rock Steady baby, Junglist, Dubstep to Two-step to Chicago old school steppin', Lounge & Exotica, World Fusion, Latin & Bossa Nova dude, Jazz man from Swing to Bebop to Acid, Trip hop and Hip hop, ya don't stop, a lil bit Country, Gospel, and everything in between. These are my musings (or ramblings).

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