Now Hear This! Issue #9 May/June 2018
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…” (Bob Marley, 1979)
Got a lot to talk about this time around, so I’ll keep it brief here… let’s get to it…
My last full article talked about the dying bricks and mortar music buying experience, and reached out to those of you reading this to post your local independent music emporium. During the recent Record Store Day event, I happened to be in Myrtle Beach, SC for my 6th wedding anniversary, and was able to stop in to Kilgor Trouts in downtown Myrtle Beach. The store has a large selection of CD’s , vinyl, some cassettes, even a few 8-tracks and a reel to reel player; they also have Blurays, DVD’s and some VHS tapes. While I didn’t purchase anything that day, the store is well worth checking out. If there’s an independent music store in your area, please post their name and address (or a pic of their business card, as I’ve done) in the Comments section of this article. Let’s support the independent music retailers!
BACK ON THE MAP
The old guard is coming back! With new releases ramping up substantially the past couple of months, I’ve noticed some artists releasing new music for the first time in a while…. already we’ve seen new music from Basia, who back she was poppin’, was considered the Polish answer to Sade, has released “Butterflies“… upcoming is new music from Tower of Power “Soul Side of Town” (6/1); Roger Daltrey “As Long As I Have You” (6/1); Freddie Jackson “Love Signals” (6/4); The English Beat “Here We Go Love” (6/15); Swing Out Sister “Almost Persuaded” (6/22); Too $hort “The Pimp Tape” (7/27); Peabo Bryson “Stand for Love” (August); Echo & the Bunnymen “The Stars, The Oceans & the Moon” (October).
May 18th marked the 25th anniversary of the release of a landmark album for both the Hip-hop and Jazz worlds, “GURU’s Jazzmatazz“. To honor the anniversary, there is a new 3 LP vinyl reissue of the album now available; it includes the original album, an instrumental version, and a third disc of rare and previously unreleased remixes. This album brought together musicians from the Jazz world such as Doanld Byrd, Roy Ayers, and Lonnie Liston Smith, and members of the then-current Acid Jazz scene like N’dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies), Ronny Jordan, Carleen Anderson, D.C. Lee, Zachary Breaux, Courtney Pine, French rapper MC Solaar, and others to form a supergroup of sorts, with GURU being the creator and host of the event. There were a total of five projects in the “Jazzmatazz” series; this one and the second volume were the best. Having pulled it out again myself, it brought back memories of how mind blowing it was when it was originally released in 1993, and how it still sounds fresh today. Real music with real musicians. Sadly, several of the contributors for the project have passed away: GURU himself died in 2010, we’ve also lost Donald Byrd, Ronny Jordan, and Zachary Breaux. The music, however, lives on…
WHAT KANYE SAID…
So let’s talk about it; I’ll give you my thoughts on his comments about Trump and slavery being a choice… let me say in advance that Kanye is on a very short list of hip hop artists that I truly like and appreciate (Kendrick Lamar and Common are the other two)…
Yeezy & Treezy (Trump). Just like our president, Ye wants to make America great again; they plan to do it with different courses of action, however, and Kanye hasn’t quite grasped that concept yet. He hasn’t figured out yet that #45 has a different vision for America, one that isn’t necessarily inclusive of people that look like him. Ye wants everyone to love one another- we all do – but it ain’t likely to happen. But I think Kanye sees a lot of Trump in himself, that they have some things in common, and that’s why he counts him as part of his personal brotherhood.
What does he see? A couple of things: 1.) Although they’re not in the same tax bracket, they are both wealthy men, married to controversial and somewhat polarizing women, who have enjoyed some degree of notoriety. The truth of the matter, in my mind, is that Kanye is Black and his wife is White, and coupled with his upper echelon wealth, it could lend him to be shielded and disconnected from the daily realities of life as a Black person; that doesn’t sit well with his core community; 2) Trump says and does whatever he wants, apparently without impunity; in addition, he doesn’t give a f–k about what anyone thinks about what he says or does. Kanye likes that, and tries to be the same way.
The “slavery is a choice” comment. The first thing is that the media reduced what he said down to a soundbite that was interpreted in a way he didn’t intend- I think. Before I go any further with that, if you haven’t seen the TMZ interview where the comment was made, you can check it out here…
Now……….. this is not the same Kanye who produced “College Dropout“, “Late Registration“, and “Graduation“; he may be gone for good, but hopefully, it’s only temporary. This Kanye talks about free thought, and tries very hard to articulate his thought processes- I think he knows what he wants to say, but when it reaches his mouth, it doesn’t come out quite right. His “free thought” on slavery was horribly inarticulate, and it’s costing him major cool points.
I think I have an idea on what he was trying to say. I think he was trying to say that we are slaves to certain thought patterns or concepts. Example one: “My whole family fat; my grandma was fat, my mama fat, I’m fat, my kids gon’ be fat, too.” Example two: “The White man won’t let us have nothin’“. In the first example, slavery to the thought is actually set up to be a generational curse; of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Diet and lifestyle play a large part in whether or not you’re fat, it isn’t automatic through genetics. In the second example, slavery to this thought dictates that “since I can’t have nothin’, I won’t try to be nothin’“… meaning growth and accomplishment based on one’s own drive and determination are limited. This thought has at least a shred of truth to it, as Blacks were told generations ago to learn trades, work with your hands, because you’re not smart enough to be a doctor or lawyer, or anything else that uses your mind. But as a group, we have to overcome this thought process. Now, to be fair, this isn’t exclusive to Black folks, this affects everyone, to some degree. For instance, White nationalists seem to spend their every waking hour trying to make the life of minorities miserable, pointing out any and every misstep, in an effort to prove their (unknowingly to them) flawed viewpoint – slave to thought.
So I get the “free thought” concept, and it can be a good thing. But in Ye’s head, it’s more like “freeform thought”, not completely organized.
And if this is what Kanye was trying to say, why couldn’t he say it? He has since gone on to say that he knows slaves didn’t voluntarily shackle themselves, take the inhumane boat ride, and subject themselves to the plight they suffered through, but he’s an internationally acclaimed rapper, a wordsmith, someone who’s good with metaphors- why did he articulate this so badly? It is inexcusable, and has made him look like, as former President Obama once referred to him as… a jackass.
His next album betta be pure fiyah…
NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
J. Cole “KOD”
For his fifth studio album, J. Cole comes off as teacher, elder statesman in the game, and one who is at the top of the hip hop heap (actually, that would be Kendrick Lamar). Some have said he comes off as a bit self-righteous, but I have to contend that self-righteousness is informed by opinion only, and not experience with whatever subject matter is being discussed; in that regard, Cole cannot be necessarily accused of that, as he puts his own issues on display here, in an attempt to influence the actions of those in his listening audience, as well as his peers – the mantra throughout this album is “choose wisely”.
His 2016 album “4 Your Eyez Only” tackled death and the fragility that is life; this new album tackles addiction. The album title references three themes: Kids on Drugs, King OverDosed, and Kill Our Demons; they are all intertwined. He introduces the themes through the opening interlude and following track; otherwise, he tackles topics familiar to the rap crowd, such as money- “ATM” in his hands stands for ‘addicted to money” and speaks of his relationship with it (the track is getting a boost from ESPN commercials, too); “Motiv8” uses Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “get money” line to again describe Cole’s relationship with currency; “BRACKETS” is about taxes, with Cole questioning where his money goes, and presents a compelling argument of whether it is being used as a tool for resources that oppress his people… Cole uses addiction to drugs in various ways: as perhaps a woman he cheats on against his own better judgement (Kevin’s Heart”, a song whose video prominently features comedian Kevin Hart, and references his and Cole’s issues with infidelity)… “What’s done in the dark will always find a way to shine / I done did so much that when you see you might go blind…”; “Once An Addict” talks of his apathy towards his mother and her alcohol addiction, lamenting he should have done more about it; “FRIENDS” talks of the toll various drugs have had on people he knows, and urges them to “meditate, don’t medicate“; the topics of loyalty and users are something Cole addresses in “The Cut Off“, and in “Photograph“, he uses a picture of a girl he saw online to discuss addiction issues with social media and millennial dating.
Where he ultimately won me over was the final track “1985“, which is reportedly a diss track aimed as this freaky-looking rapper Lil’ Pump, but addresses and teaches the new school hip hop community at large on how the games work- rap and life. Cole closes long and strong on this track, no need to decipher the meaning, it was upfront and in your face. In most other places, I needed to sit down with the lyrics and break them down to fully understand, but I got it. I also like the fact that he has no features on his album, other than kiLLedward, which is his alter-ego. Several folks have suggested, based on my appreciation of Kendrick Lamar, to check out J. Cole; now I see why – I’m with it… as are many others, because the ENTIRE album- all 12 tracks- are on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (three in the top ten) as of this writing… check out the video for “Kevin’s Heart“…
Lake Street Dive “Free Yourself Up”
I first ran across this Boston via Brooklyn quartet about a year ago on NPR’s Charlie Rose show, and I found them to be a delightfully quirky group- a singer, a string bass, trumpet/guitarist and percussionist – their version of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” on a Boston street corner completely wowed me. On their last album “Side Pony”, they started to show signs of becoming an actual band, and though the album was good, they had lost some of their original appeal to me – they were slowly creeping towards the mainstream.
Their latest release continues the trend towards the mainstream- they’ve even added a new member to the group, a Black guy who plays keyboards, to further fill out their sound. So now, the quintet is a standard band: guitar, bass (still string bass), keyboards, drums, and lead vocalist Rachael Price. Though the musicians are accomplished, it is Price who runs the show, belting out their craftily-written songs with grit and soul. The opener “Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts” is not a song about love, but about sanity, likely inspired by events like school shootings; the single “Good Kisser” speaks to a cheating ex-lover trashing her name in the streets, but only telling one side of the story… “If you’re gonna tell them everything / tell them I’m a good kisser / tell them all the things you told me / in your desperate whisper / if you’re gonna tell them everything / don’t leave out the good part / tell them the way you broke my heart / when you told me that you missed her…”; “I Can Change” is an acoustic number expressing a desire to reform old attitudes toward others, while “Dude” uses a metaphor of male camaraderie to express a woman’s loneliness in her relationship with her man…”Now we don’t seem to talk anymore / we used to kick it like Joe and Obama / Now you just leave me at home playing mama / while you give your friends all your time / would you like me more? / would you like me more / if I was a dude / rolling with your crew…”; then there’s the poignant “Musta Been Something”, a song questioning the end of a relationship… “You said I didn’t do anything wrong / but there musta been something / I could’ve done better…”
So in their shift towards a full band, I hope they don’t become merely Rachael Price and the rest of ‘em -she commands the stage with her presence and that powerful voice (and she purdy too). The songwriting has taken the place of their quirkiness, and they have dedicated this effort to addressing, in their own style, current events in society. And that, they did very well. So although somewhat less interesting, they’re still quite enjoyable (but hopefully, they’ll bring back some quirk)… here’s the video for “Good Kisser”…
Thievery Corporation “Treasures from the Temple”
The latest collection from one of my favorite artists of the past 20 years is a set of dub plates, rarities, and remixes, all recorded in Kingston, JA during the sessions for last year’s fantastic “The Temple of I and I” album.
As with most of the other tracks, they have at least a small bit of a reggae influence, if not a straight-ahead reggae track; one notable exception would be the track that has been released as the album’s first video, “Voyage Libre” featuring frequent collaborator Lou Lou – it is a pop track in the Thievery tradition. There are two remixes from “…I and I” included, and the rest are all new to us- three instrumentals, the opening track, the dubby “San San Rock”, “Music to Make you Stagger”, which goes from a reggae funk vibe to a drum ‘n bass workout, and “Guidance” is like a reggae-influenced deep house track; hip-hop-influenced tracks include “History” and “Joy Ride” featuring rapper Mr. Lif; the standout track for me closes the set, the early 70’s reggae vibe of “Waiting Too Long” featuring Notch.
There are 12 tracks in all; most artists couldn’t release an album this strong with their A-list of tracks, and especially not from spare parts, which is what this albums consists of, yet TC brings it every time. Check out the video for “Voyage Libre”…
Old Crow Medicine Show “Volunteer”
For their sixth studio album, OCMS decided to go a little electric, adding some electric guitar to the usual all acoustic string band mix; it’s not an overwhelming change, but it is the first time any of the members have been “plugged” in over a decade.
This album was released as part of a commemoration of 20 years of making music, the title being a nod to their continued dedication to the band. That spirit is imbued in the album’s leadoff track “Flicker & Shine”… “all together, we fall together, we ride together, we’re wild together…” The track “Dixie Avenue” has the aforementioned electric guitar featured prominently here, in a song where the singer recalls where he fell in love with music; in other places, it adds a bit of color, as do the other instruments. “The Good Stuff” is a rowdy ole timey drinking song, while “Old Hickory” waxes nostalgic as a traditional country song. As someone who aspires to add fiddler to my musical resume, I gravitated towards the title track, “Shout Mountain Music”, and in particular, “Elzick’s Farewell”, a furious 111 second jig full of acoustic energy highlighted by the dueling fiddlers.
Longtime fans will not be disappointed by this latest effort, and they have a new fan in me, as this was my first exposure to them… won’t be the last, though, as I’ll be checking out the back catalogue… here’s a live performance of “Flicker &Shine” performed at SXSW…
Leon Bridges “Good Thing”
The sophomore effort from 28 year old Ft Worth, TX native finds him branching out a bit. His 2015 debut “Coming Home” was an exercise in Vintage Soul circa the early 1960’s; while he hasn’t completely abandoned that style, he is taking a stab at being a contemporary pop star, circa 2018 too.
If I have one criticism of the album, it’s that he’s making this move. He could carve out a successful niche being the guy that does the retro Soul- he does that rather well; instead, he’s throwing his hat into a very crowded Pop field, where he could get lost. Understanding the flip side of that though, he doesn’t wish to be pigeonholed as that guy either, I suppose; so, he diversifies the sound. The opening track “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” is a splendid piece of Baroque Soul circa about 1968- straight outta the playbook of Curtis Mayfield; “Bad Bad News” updates the sound to a late 70’s George Benson-type dancefloor filler, and “Beyond” and “Mrs” are good front-porch Southern Soul ballads- he also branched out vocally, as well. Elsewhere, he wants to appeal to current pop sensibilities, so there are a couple of midtempo pop tracks, and a couple of Maroon 5-ish type dance tracks.
A running lyrical theme throughout the album is an ambivalence, a reticence towards committal to a special someone – that someone hurt him bad, and it’s got him effed up; that’s the type of thing that can inform the music. And that, to me, is the “good thing” about this album… it did. He makes great videos too, check out “Bad Bad News”…
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite “No Mercy In This Land”
Following up their Grammy-winning 2013 album Get Up!, Ben & Charlie have teamed up for a second round of straight-ahead Blues.
For Ben Harper, this is the first time the 48 year old California folk rocker’s been heard from since his controversial “Call It What It Is” track and album from 2016, where he called out police brutality against the Black community- a move that cost him some of his mostly White fanbase – he’s Black and Jewish, but apparently some of his fans didn’t notice that until that track- now in their minds, he’s just another n-word; for the 74 year old Charlie, a native of Kosciusko, MS (just down the road from my mother’s hometown, and Oprah’s birthplace), it’s a continuation of a long career spanning better than 50 years as a Blues harmonica master. He takes the vocal lead on the title track, a song again laced with social commentary, though implicitly so; other tracks are sung by Harper. Standouts for me are the title track, “Found the One’, “The Bottle Wins Again”, and “Movin’ On”.
This one is worthy of a second Grammy for this duo… check out a live performance of “Found the One” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert…
Arctic Monkeys “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino”
The latest from this British outfit takes a wide left turn from their normal guitar-riff driven indie rock…. and turns it into something almost otherworldly.
The concept here is a fantasy scenario where the moon has been inhabited, and the group is the house band at one of its’ first hotels, the album’s title. The group has transformed into musical lounge lizards, driven by kitschy piano and keyboard riffs, and lead singer Alex Turner rambling on like a champagne bubbles-induced David Bowie about everything under the sun- as if it shined on the moon – including detailed talking points about the hotel itself (“Four Stars Out of Five” refers to ratings given by patrons).
It’s an oddly fascinating album, one that reminds me of the space-age bachelor pad period in the 90’s where hipsters listened to the likes of Martin Denny, Dean Martin, and Lawrence Welk, and groups like Stereolab were the hot thing – there were a couple of groups based out of my hometown- The Coctails, who were jazz-influenced, and another one called Las Toallitas (Spanish for “the little towels”, or, in my toddler-centric world, baby wipes) that were great lounge acts that I got to see live; wouldn’t mind checking these guys out in concert- and they’re on tour now… Check out the video for “Four Stars Out of Five”…
Ziggy Marley”Rebellion Rises”
The first-born son of Bob Marley has been putting out music now for around 30 years (mind you, Bob died at age 36), and throughout, he’s always embodied the message of his father while making the music accessible and pop-friendly. He’s even produced children’s albums and books, and voiced cartoon characters on television. It’s always been about the positive vibrations.
So when the opening track of this, his 7th solo album (without the Melody Makers) begins with the lyrics “See dem fake leaders / In the place of power they sit / From religion to politics / Riding a wave of fear / Starting fires, they don’t care / Making enemies out of friends…”, and then follows it up with the tracks “A Storm is Coming” and “World Revolution” it actually startled me. I said the world has even gotten to Ziggy, and he’s mad; indeed, the album contains a couple of strong messages, but he gets back to being himself, wrapping the messages up into an uptempo reggae-pop beat. The title track is especially powerful, despite the relatively simple construction of the message… “Rebellion rises / everywhere I go / rebellion rises…”, which is meant not just for liberation of people of color, but for all people who are being marginalized in society – it’s his version of Bob’s “Get Up, Stand Up“.
Ziggy, more than his other siblings in the industry, embody the spirit of father Bob- the others are powerful in their own way, as well. The legacy is alive and well… here is a live clip from the Late Late Show of Ziggy performing “Rebellion Rises“…