Now Hear This #17
This is a post I’ve been waiting to write, as there are two new reissues now out that I’ve been itchin’ to review- the long “lost” Marvin Gaye album, and a reissue of a rare and much sought-after album from Roy Ayers; also, I’ll tackle new music from The Cinematic Orchestra, S.P.Y., and Ibibio Sound Machine. Let’s get it on… but FIRST, I’ve got a couple of..
You know how you go looking for one thing, but you discover something else along the way? One thing I love is discovering new music, even if I’m tardy to the party! While looking for a video to go with my review of the Solange album in my last post, I ran across a couple of new discoveries:
Seinabo Sey is a 28 year old singer/songwriter and a native of Stockholm, Sweden; she has been around for about five years now. She is of Swedish and Gambian ancestry, and cites Alicia Keys and Beyonce among her influences, and among accolades, has won a Swedish Grammy. To date, she has released several singles and two full-length albums, including 2018’s I’m a Dream; her songs are mostly positive and uplifting tunes in a Pop/Soul vein. Her writing seems seasoned for her age… check out the song I think is her best track, from her latest album, which was released last September, “I Owe You Nothing“… video filmed in Ghana…
Sudan Archives is the artist name for 24 year old singer/songwriter and violinist Brittany Parks, who despite her apparent immersion into African culture, is a young lady actually born in Cincinnati, OH, and currently based in Los Angeles. She is inspired by both R&B/Hip-hop and North & West African Folk music, especially Sudanese fiddlers; her style is fairly minimalist, often using just tape loops, hand claps, and of course, her violin. So far, she has released a couple of EP’s – her 2017 self-titled debut, and 2018’s Sink… check out a video for “Come Meh Way“, from her first EP Sudan Archives… video also filmed in Ghana…
These are two young ladies to be on the lookout for… a little off the beaten path, talented, and worthy of greater exposure… and they purdy too!…
THE HEARD (Reviews)
You’re the Man
To commemorate the 80th birthday of Marvin Gaye on April 2nd, Motown Records has decided to finally release this 1972 album, long considered the “lost” Marvin Gaye album. These sessions were intended to form the followup to his landmark 1971 album What’s Going On?, rightfully considered to be one of the greatest ever R&B albums, an iconic, cultural landmark of a release.
As the story goes, Marvin wanted to further his social activism through his music, much to the chagrin of Berry Gordy, who told him he would be risking his career by alienating portions of his fanbase with his politics (where have we heard this before???); the fact is, Gordy initially resisted the What’s Going On? project for the same reason, until Gaye protested and threatened to refuse to record any more music for Motown. Well, Gordy backed down and let him do his thing, and the rest is musical history. The first single from this album was the title track, which was a scathing indictment of the Nixon administration; Gordy wasn’t pleased with the lyrical content, and resulting promotion of the single by the label was poor. While the single actually did well on the R&B charts, getting into the Top 10, it failed to cross over to the Pop charts; after all the success with his last album, which charted three Top 10 Pop hits, Gaye was spooked by the performance of the single, and decided to scrap the whole project, instead going on to work on the soundtrack for the blaxploitation film Trouble Man – the soundtrack performed better on the charts than the movie did in theaters. And getting back to the Gaye/Gordy rift about the politics, here’s an interesting historical perspective that wasn’t lost on me: Stevie Wonder shortly thereafter released the song “You Haven’t Done Nothing” (which included the Jackson 5 on backing vocals), which was very similar in its’ subject matter – Wonder’s song, with proper promotion, was a Pop hit.
The tracks that compose this album use a variety of hot producers and writers of the time, including Willie Hutch, Bohannon, and the Mizell Brothers, among others; the result is a nice variety of song textures. The first few tracks deal directly with social issues, starting with the title track, followed by “The World is Rated X“, speaking on how some events of the world are obscene; “Pieces of Clay” discusses how people want to mold others to their image, and that’s followed by “Where Are We Going?“- I IMMEDIATELY gravitated to this track, which has a traditional Motown sound circa early 70’s about the direction of the world and where’s it headed – for me, this song is on repeat… just listen…
Then there are the tracks that speak to the women in his life, culminating with a trio of tracks that have been remixed by Salaam Remi – “My Last Chance“, the first track released from the album, and “Symphony“- these two tracks my wife has on repeat – lush, slow drag, sensual tracks that would’ve fit nicely on his next studio masterpiece, 1973’s Let’s Get It On – check out “Symphony“…
… and finally, “I’d Give My Life for You“. Before the album closes, we get the bluesy instrumental “Christmas in the City“, an alternate take on “You’re the Man“, a poignant song “I Want to Come Home for Christmas“, spoken from the perspective of a POW in Vietnam; and the two bluesy funky jazzy closing tracks “I’m Going Home” and the spoken word “Checking Out (Double Clutch)“.
I’m ecstatic this album is finally seeing a proper release, but my first reaction after listening to it all the way through was one of rage against Berry Gordy, for withholding this album from us for 47 years; it shows Gaye was at his creative peak, and a faulty opposing view of some of the lyrical content helped to suppress him until 35 years after he was killed by his father (which happened on April 1st, 1984, the day before his 45th birthday)… and especially in light of the fact that Stevie’s song spoke directly to Nixon, and that song was promoted and was a smash hit – remember, he recorded for Tamla, a Motown label itself. But…. better late than never… Buy this album, if you don’t otherwise buy a physical medium like vinyl or CD’s, buy this and own an official copy; it will be available on double vinyl LP and CD formats.
Seeing the light of day for the first time in the U.S. is this 1983 UK only release from the vibes master. Three of its’ seven tracks were released on an American album the same year called Lots of Love, but its’ remaining four tracks are unique to this album; similarly, the remaining five of the eight tracks on Lots of Love are unique to it.
The set opener “Chicago” has a bit of a dark, almost sinister groove to it, not too unlike the vibe you get from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller“, while “Lots of Love” and “Keep On Movin‘” are closer to typical upbeat Ayers fare. The title track “Silver Vibrations” has a very nice early 80’s vibe to it – throughout most of this set, Roy didn’t stray too far from his roots, which made some of the other tracks sound a little dated for ’83, like he was stuck in the Disco era – the set closer “Good Good Music” is the most vivid example of that… You have the lone ballad “Smilin’ With Our Eyes“, and then a homage to our nation’s capitol “D.C. City“, a track made for the steppers crowd, and to me, the standout track on the album.
At the time of its’ release, Roy was between record labels – he and longtime label Polydor had parted ways, and he hadn’t yet signed with his next label, Columbia; he released this on his own label, Uno Melodic. I wouldn’t say this is a most essential release of his – it’s OK, but not up there with “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” or “Running Away” – it has, however, been a collector’s item fetching well over $100 for an original vinyl pressing. It is being reissued on double album vinyl, and also available in Digital and streaming formats… Here is the audio for “D.C. City“…
The Cinematic Orchestra
It’s been a while since the Cinematic Orchestra has released any new music; in fact, between the remix albums, live releases and soundtracks, this is only their fourth official studio album, and first since 2007’s Ma Fleur. That album contained the track “To Build a Home“, which has been featured in countless TV shows and commercials. This album was approximately three years in the making, with the title track having been released back in ’16, and we’ve been waiting for the rest of it ever since then. For anyone unfamiliar with this artist, it is the brainchild of Jason Swinscoe, who originally fashioned the “band” as a Jazz improv unit playing over samples and turntable techniques. They signed with the Ninja Tune label, which was known in the 90’s as a label devoted to Acid Jazz and Trip hop, and released their first album Motion 20 years ago.
There is only one word to adequately describe the music on this album: beautiful. Now some will think this would serve merely as background music, but to truly appreciate it, you’ve got to sit down and LISTEN to it and take in all of its’ nuances – from the swirling strings to the ambient keyboard washes, it sets a contemplative mood where hope lives, where a desire to believe in something or someone, be it a higher power, or an earthly vessel, leads to a search for the answers. The title track features vocals from R&B artist Moses Sumney and starts us on our journey… “Are you able? Find your ground / Other people fallin’ down / Tell the world that saw you head for Hell / I can be your somethin’ you believe in…” The following track “A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life” is one of three “dual song” tracks, this one featuring frequent TCO collaborator Roots Manuva, and asks the question “Why would you hide from yourself? / Belief is here to find you...” On “Wait for Now/Leave the World“, featured vocalist Tawiah sings… “Our walls come down / Reveal to me / No need to wait, no / For me to see / Now is the time / Reveal to me / If not now, when? / For me to see… “
It’s almost a spiritual experience to listen to these tracks. For this album, TCO largely eschew their normal jazzy tendencies for more of a Neo-Classical sound; the resulting sound perfectly captures the ambience this album sets out to create. It won’t be for everyone, but for those looking for a soothing escape from the minutiae of today’s Pop music, this is it… check out the audio of “To Believe“…
S.P.Y is the artist name for Brazilian born, London based DJ/Producer/Remixer Carlos Barbosa de Lima, one of the leading artists in the current Jungle/Drum ‘n Bass scene. Dubplate Style is his third full length album, his first since his 2014 duology Back to Basics, which had to be released in two volumes, due to the sheer amount of music contained within it. He’s signed to the preeminent label for Jungle/D ‘n B, Hospital Records, which is run by Tony Colman, who is also a labelmate, as part of the fantastic London Elektricity.
For this album, he takes a look back at the roots of the Jungle style, using a mixture of old school beat patterns, and his current production techniques. The first single from the album, “Runaway Dub” features a Jamaican vocalist intoning “can’t run away from yourself, ay /can’t run away from yourself, no no /no matter how hard you try / you can’t run away…” over a rolling tech-step rhythm – paying homage to one of the main roots of drum & bass, the Reggae influence, especially dub – it’s evident through several of the song titles here, such as “Ruffneck“, “Safari Dub“, “Rudeboy Step“, and the title track. Second single “See Your Face Again” is THE hot track of the album, utilizing an old school “funky drummer”-type drum pattern, and employing another of the roots of the style, Techno and rave culture, with the rave style piano and female vocals. S.P.Y is mainly a creator of the tech-step and dark-step styles, creating tunes that sound fit for science-fiction soundtracks and fast-paced gaming programs, with breakbeats topping out around a frantic 170 bpm. He throws a curve to end the album, giving us a Garage track in “Don’t You Leave Me“.
With this release, S.P.Y show why he is, in my opinion, at the top of the Drum & Bass heap, with this collection of techy rollers, dark stompers, and funky breakbeats… check out the video for “See Your Face Again“…
Ibibio Sound Machine
This is the third album from multi-ethnic London-based collective fronted by Nigerian singer Eno Williams. Another recent discovery of mine, they describe their sound on their website as “a clash of African and electronic elements inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West-African funk & disco and modern post-punk & electro”. The group’s name references Eno’s ancestry as part of the Ibibio people of Southern Nigeria, and also the language in which the songs are partly sung.
Without knowing how they describe themselves, the sound is fairly spot on to what they said- I hear late 70’s Afrobeat a la Fela, I hear latter period Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, a little 80’s New Wave, some Minneapolis-style Funk, and some Electro. The opening track “I Need You to Be Like Sugar (Nnge Nte Suka)” has Eno channeling her inner Rufus & Chaka Khan; the super funky second single “Wanna Come Down” is arguably the best track here, while the third, title track released from it, “Tell Me (Doko Mien)” is very Electro influenced. “Basquiat“, the first single, is New Wave funky, while “Nyak Mien” is the closest track to pure Afrobeat. Throughout, Eno sings mostly in Ibibio, but will break into English for the chorus, or for a whole verse.
For the most part, their formula works well, only mis-stepping when they slow the tempo down. The fact that you can’t understand much of what Eno is singing lends an air of exoticness to the music; it’ll have you dancing, though, and you’ll enjoy this album… check out the video for “Wanna Come Down“…. and if you have an hour to kill, check out their concert from 2017’s Reggae On the River festival on YouTube – Eno has a very energetic stage presence that’ll keep you on your feet…