This is the second half of that music bounty I discovered four weeks ago. In this post are reviews of the new album from singer/rapper Lizzo, the second album from EDM artist Satin Jackets, the latest from NuJazz artist Melodiesinfonie, and the new project from Rhiannon Giddens.
Those of you who were early readers of this blog may remember how I resisted using sites like SoundCloud, Apple Music, or Spotify; I wanted the experience of discovering music through brick and mortar stores, like I’ve always done. But as those stores are slowly diminishing, I’ve had to adopt a new method of discovery. So now I’m a subscriber to both Spotify and Apple Music- I only pay for Spotify, Apple Music comes free with my Verizon plan- but if I find something I like and wish to OWN, I will either download it from iTunes, or buy it at my local store, Papa Jazz. Old habits die hard, and some will never die… I explore (with amusement, at times) some of the playlists Spotify creates for me, based on what I’ve listened to, saved, or have in my iTunes playlists… it THINKS it knows me. Now sometimes, they get it right; other times, I’m going “what makes you think I’d like THAT???” I find that I still do a lot of exploration on my own, just like I did when I pounded the pavement on Clark St. in Chicago back in the day – only now I do it from my computer or smartphone in South Cakalakka. Ah well… My featured image for this post is another piece of vintage stereo equipment that was once for sale online: double 8-track with a cassette player and an equalizer; wish I had one of those way back when…
THE HEARD (Reviews)
Cuz I Love You
In the spirit of the Ohio Players, whose 70’s albums had gatefold covers of mostly nude women, whenever I see something approaching that style, it makes me stop and look. And when that model would literally break the mold of the sleek and slim, and what is presented is a plus-size model instead, it definitely gave me pause to stop and look. This was the first thing that caught my eye about the third album from 31 year old Detroit-born, Minneapolis-based singer/rapper Melissa Jefferson, aka Lizzo…… actually, it was the second thing; the first thing was that her track “Soulmate” popped up in the New Release Friday playlist on Spotify, as well as the Release Radar playlist they create specially for what they think I’d like. Then I saw the album cover…
The main point to Lizzo’s music is centered on body positivity, self-esteem and self love. As you’ll see in the video posted below, see has confidence in pallets… lots and lots of it; being plus-sized doesn’t in any way diminish her view of herself. She’s big, bold, and brash, and talented- in addition to singing, of which she has a powerful voice, and rapping (she’s no Queen Latifah, but…), she also plays a pretty good flute. The album opens with Lizzo showing off her singing prowess on the title track, fashioned as a classic Soul ballad. A couple of tracks further in, you get two of the singles: “Juice“, for which there’s a live performance from the Ellen show below, is one of several songs where she’s feelin’ herself… “If I’m shinin’, everybody gonna shine (Yeah, I’m goals) / I was born like this, don’t even gotta try (Now you know) / I’m like chardonnay (Okay), get better over time (So you know) / Heard you say I’m not the baddest, bitch, you lie (You lie) /It ain’t my fault that I’m out here gettin’ loose / Gotta blame it on the Goose / Gotta blame it on my juice, baby…” And that’s followed by the track I heard first, “Soulmate:… ”
‘Cause I’m my own soulmate (Yeah, yeah) / I know how to love me (Love me) / I know that I’m always gonna hold me down / Yeah, I’m my own soulmate (Yeah, yeah) / No, I’m never lonely (Lonely) / I know I’m a queen, but I don’t need no crown / Look up in the mirror like “Damn, she the one…” Later on, we get her collabo with Missy Elliot, “Tempo“… “Slow songs, they for skinny hoes / Can’t move all of this here to one of those / I’m a thick bitch, I need tempo (Tempo) / Fuck it up to the tempo…” As I said, confidence in spades. The album closes with the sexy burner “Lingerie“, which she describes as a fantasy she has for her lover to come her way and make her night.
This album may not be for me personally, but it contains messages for those at whom it’s directed that may be transformational, as it may instill the confidence in someone to be more comfortable with who (and what) they are. In that regard, the album is a rousing success; it got my wife hyped up quite a bit. For me, Lizzo is talented, and that means something to me, but it’s just not FOR me… but I understand…. it’s alright (the album, that is)… Here’s the aforementioned video for “Juice“…
A Journey to You
This is a project of Zurich, Switzerland-based producer Kevin Wettstein, and this is his third album under the name Melodiesinfonie. He calls himself a young jazz/soul/hiphop/electronica artist who uses a combination of live instrumentation, loops and samples; he is another new discovery of mine, finding him via the Global Funk playlist on Spotify – I was looking for some adventurous African grooves (which I also found), and he had a track there, and just happened to be releasing a new album.
I’ll just put this out there up front: if I had to appoint an Album of the Year based on what I’ve heard so far this year, this one would be in the mix to win. This album takes me back… to Chicago in the mid 90’s, during the Acid Jazz years, and at the infancy of the Trip-hop movement…. listening to Moods ‘n Grooves with Chuck Wren on Sunday nights on Northwestern University radio station WNUR, checking out the latest domestic and imported music. The latest single “AO Longo Do Rio” is a smooth jazzy hednodda with a hint of bossa, and some tasty flute – it would fit in perfectly on Kruder & Dorfmeister’s landmark EP G-Stoned… check it out…
Some of the other hednoddas here include “Feel Me“, which uses an odd 7/4 time signature, “A Fool’s Moon“, another track with an odd but hypnotic time sig, the seductively jazzy “Light“, and an earlier single “Words“, for which there is this video…
This album also recalls some of the best upbeat tropical-influenced jazz of the period. “Keep On Searching” sounds like some of Japanese artist Nobukazu Takemura’s best bossa-influenced stuff, while “There Is You” and “Tropicololo” echo Berlin, Germany-based Jazzanova with their uptempo and Latin-tinged jazz.
I’m known to say “there is nothing new under the sun, especially in the music industry”; my comparisons of Melodiesinfonie’s music to others is not a knock against him, or otherwise disparaging in any way. In my opinion, he’s created a great album of music that just literally struck a chord with me, taking it back to a period I consider to be a golden age in EDM, Jazz, Latin, and Hip-hop; the melding of these styles into concoctions both danceable and chilled out was a new creation. This album is available on double-LP import vinyl, as well as Download and Streaming platforms. Any way you can get this would be fine; just get it!
The term “NuDisco”, much like NuJazz or Neo-Soul do with their respective genres, is supposed to connote an update to the 70’s style dance music; it has been convolutedly described as mellow House music with Disco influences. House is nothing more than an update on the original Disco, so that description makes no sense. Whatever it is, one of the better producers of the style happens to be this German-based artist, the brainchild of a masked man (a la Daft Punk) named Tim Bernhardt. This, their second album, is the follow-up to 2016’s critically acclaimed Panorama Pacifico.
One of Bernhardt’s primary influences (according to him) has been Chic – a good starting reference point; another influence, from what my ears hear, is early Pet Shop Boys. One thing the songwriting team of Tennant & Lowe could (and still can) do is craft a hook-laden, danceable 4-5 minute tune; Satin Jackets seem to have the same knack for making a good song, even a good instrumental. As with many artists today, they use a rotating cast of vocalists to provide lyrics of yearning, love lost, or celebration, over a constantly pulsating beat- usually not quite at the speed of Disco, but mellower and slightly more languid, closer to PSB than Donna Summer – what they often refer to as Deep House. The current lead track from the album, “Automatic“, is a great example…. check it out…
My personal favorite tracks on the album are the instrumental “String It Again“, and then tracks featuring vocalist David Harks: “Northern Lights“, and “Shadow of You“- I could swear Neil Tennant was singing these two songs, but he isn’t… but you’ll see what I mean about that Pet Shop Boys influence… here’s “Shadow of You“…
Now, if these two tracks are to your liking, then you’ll enjoy the other 12 tracks on the album; no need for me to give you a track-by-track blow on this one. The beat never stops, lyrically, it’s not heavy, and the hooks are great throughout. That’s all you need to know… Me, I like it… a lot.
there is no Other (with Francesco Turrisi)
It seems I’ve written about Rhiannon Giddens a couple of times already in the first half of this year- she appeared on a track on Leyla McCalla’s The Capitalist Blues album, and she was a member of the Black Folk Women supergroup Our Native Daughters, along with McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amethyst Kiah. She follows up 2017’s splendid Freedom Highway, one of my top albums for that year, and an album that received three Grammy nominations, with this collaboration with Italian multi-instrumentalist (and current boyfriend) Francesco Turrisi.
For the most part, the tunes are performed solely by the duo, with the entire album recorded in just five days, and with limited overdubs; they are joined on a few tracks by a cellist, but that’s all. Giddens primarily plays her minstrel banjo, but also plays violin and viola, while Turrisi plays various traditional percussion instruments, along with accordion and piano. Together, they create new interpretations of the Gospel standard “Wayfaring Stranger“, singer/songwriter/civil rights activist Oscar Brown Jr’s “Brown Baby“, and Appalachian Folk singer Ola Belle Reed’s “I’m Gonna Write Me a Letter“, as well as traditional Italian tunes like “Pizzica di San Vito” and the aria “Black Swan“, a track which, in Gidden’s hands, takes on a whole new meaning. Throw in some original material from Giddens, and you have an eclectic mix of songs whose aim is tie the connections between the music and experiences of African, Arabic, and European cultures.
Giddens continues to be an excavationist for long forgotten, overlooked, or whitewashed American history, especially where it pertains to the Black experience in this country; she has mentioned a project she wants to do about the Wilmington Insurrection (look it up when you have a minute), which I’m hoping she does soon. Her music can be heavy, and some folks, particularly those she’d most like to reach, may find her to be too heavy. Personally, I think she’s just what we need… check out the video for “I’m On My Way“…