Several legends are in the house for this post; this time around, I’m reviewing the newest album from Mavis Staples, the latest from Gospel superstar Kirk Franklin, a new album from Santana, and a new set from Country/Pop star Thomas Rhett.
The news from Apple that they were killing iTunes didn’t initially sit well with me. As it is, they seemed to have killed both my iPod Classics, as both of them suddenly developed software and hardware issues, would no longer sync with iTunes, and would actually cause the program to freeze up. And prior to that, when they the upgraded the iTunes software to Version 11 several years ago, it eliminated the ability to burn vinyl to it, so I was (and still am) skeptical about what the upcoming changes will mean for my ability to own new music. What I’ve learned about the changes has tempered my mood somewhat… the existing Music app will take the majority of functionalities found in iTunes and integrate them into it… AND… they’ve released a new 7th generation iPod Touch, with a top end 256 GB version that costs just $399… I feel better now…… Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who are handling their business…
THE HEARD (Reviews)
We Get By
There aren’t many voices more recognizable than the iconic one of the legendary Staple Singers. Expressive and emotive on a level few have ever attained- only the late Billie Holiday, and Gospel’s Rance Allen immediately come to mind- the voice of Mavis Staples is a national treasure. As she approaches her 80th birthday on July 10th, she treats us to a new set of material, this time produced by Ben Harper, and her fifth studio album this decade, and not including a live album also released earlier this year, following up 2017’s If All I Was Was Black.
Her philosophy hasn’t changed much with age, so she’s still talking about things that are wrong with the world, just as she ‘n Pops ‘nem in the Staple Singers did from the late 50’s through the early 70’s. She is an equal opportunity social observer, too, as she takes her own people to task, just as she takes others; the opening salvo “Change” asks the question to her people “What good is freedom / if we haven’t learned to be free?”. On “Brothers and Sisters” she sings ” We belong to each other / Brothers and sisters (Brothers and sisters) / So be strong for each other / Brothers and sisters (Brothers and sisters) / Got to be brave in a scary world / Brothers and sisters (Brothers and sisters)…” a call of solidarity against evil. In other places, Mavis stares down tragedy, yet remains hopeful, with “Heavy On My Mind“, dedicated to her late father, as well as her sister Yvonne, who recently passed away, while “Never Needed Anyone” looks back at what could’ve been, and “Stronger” looks at the power of love. “Sometime” has a Gospel structure with a simple message in each verse that changes by one word… “Everybody gonna have to (give/change/need/cry/pray) sometimes” . Finally, the title track, which she duets with Harper, looks at a long relationship and all of the ups and downs it’s endured. Musically, the album is Roots… in her hands, a bluesy Americana infused with Folk and traditional Gospel, with Harper’s songwriting and production simple, yet poignant and effective. And Mavis remains adept at conveying emotion through her wonderful voice- she hasn’t lost much off of it over the years.
This album will seep into your soul and warm it until you’re full of its’ spirit; Mavis has crafted another album that runs the gamut of emotions, from agitated to satiated, embattled to empowering, helpless to hopeful. They say if you can run the gamut of emotions in one day, you’ve had a good day; well, have yourself a good day and buy this album… here’s the video for “We Get By“…
Long Live Love
The latest album from the man whom I consider to be Gospel music’s answer to Quincy Jones is back with his latest project, the followup to 2016’s Losing My Religion. Kirk has perfected his formula, not veering very far from it since he hit the scene with “Stomp” back in 1997; I was eager to hear which songs would be the “Looking for You“, “Imagine Me“, “I Smile” or “Wanna Be Happy” for this album.
I got my answer right away when I started listening to the project, as the first two tracks, “F.A.V.O.R.“, “Love Theory“, along with “OK” seem poised for constant radio airplay. Kirk is a master of constructing a good message with a good hook; “Just for Me” is a gorgeous song centered around an acoustic guitar, “Forever/Beautiful Grace” is similarly beautiful with its’ melancholy piano and soaring strings, and “Spiritual” begins with the funky bassist bringing us in, and a Mardi Gras-style celebration taking us out.
There aren’t many weak moments in this collection, as Kirk again succeeds with creating a project with varied textures and styles, and the all-important anointed message; no need for me to do any analysis of that, it is what you’d expect it to be. And if you’d expect this project to be good, you’d be right, too…. here’s the video for “Love Theory“…
Center Point Road
With the release of the fourth album from Thomas Rhett, the debate renews again about the authenticity of his music as Country. Just as they were with 2017’s Life Changes, many Country fans were dismayed to find his sound has taken on elements of Pop, transitioning away from the more traditional sounds found on his first couple of albums; a similar debate rages on in the R&B community, as well, over what passes as Soul. To his credit, Rhett has seemed to have attained his goal of reaching superstar status, as this album went straight to Number 1 on the charts upon its’ release.
Now if I didn’t know any better, I reckon Thomas dun got hisself hitched (excuse my Country grammar)… actually, I know he got married about seven years ago… they adopted a Ugandan girl, and recently, he and the wife welcomed their first biological child… that’s what seems to drive several tracks here – a celebration of his wife and family… “Blessed“, “Look What God Gave Her“, “Notice“, “Things You Do for Love“, and “Dream You Never Had” all pay tribute to her in particular, and family in general. Speaking on that last track, he has a ironic way of naming his songs – that’s a Country music trait I guess – the full lyrical context of that song is “just wanna say thank you for living this dream I know you never had” – song pertains to him being away from his family while on tour. “Beer Can’t Fix” should’ve been titled by it’s’ entire lyric “ain’t nothing a beer can’t fix“; “VHS” is not about video tapes- it stands for ‘very hot summer’, and “Remember You Young” talks of reminiscing with childhood friends… “ no matter how much time goes by / I hope we never have to grow up / We’ll say for worse or for better, from now ’til forever / I’ll always remember you young“. Little Big Town guests on the rousing “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time“, and he collabos with Kelsea Ballerini on the title track. Finally, Rhett waxes philosophical on the album opener “Up“… “you can never go up / if you never been down, down, down” and the album closer “Almost“… ” Thank God for the almost, thank God for the so close… Thank God for the highs, thank God for the lows / Thank God for the almost“.
Perhaps you can tell I like his lyrical aptitude, and overall, I like how he varies the styles throughout the album; this is precisely what some Country fans are railing against. I say let the man do his thing, the man IS what Country music is today, and let him be. If you gotta have country Country, listen to the nice track “This Old Truck“, along with the beer song and a couple others; otherwise, if you can’t take what he’s become (which is a star), it’s apparent that he’s won many fans to replace you- including me… Check out the video for “Look What God Gave Her“… you’ll see the entire family in the clip…
For the 25th album from this legendary band, Carlos & Co. pay homage to the music of Africa, acknowledging it as one of the roots of the music he’s produced over the years. This album follows up 2016’s Santana IV, which hit Number 5 on the charts, and reunited him with many of his bandmates from the early 70’s incarnation of the group. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of their self-titled debut, and also the 20th anniversary of the release of the Supernatural album, his most commercially successful album.
If you’re looking for the next “Smooth” or “Maria Maria“, you will NOT find it here; there are maybe two tracks that I think would translate well to commercial radio. The recording sessions for this album yielded close to 50 tracks, of which 11 were selected for the album, based on how the songs moved Carlos emotionally. When asked, in reference to the album’s title, what Africa is saying to him, he told an interviewer to “bring hope and courage to the listener and give them encouragement”. Carlos’ guitar is in an especially raw and wailing form on this album, as he thrashes through explosive solos on most tracks; vocals are provided by Grammy-nominated singer/composer/poet Buika, who sings in three languages: Spanish, English, and Yoruba. The lead track from the album “Los Invisibles” is as unlikely a choice for a single as are most of the other tracks, but that’s what was released; “Breaking Down the Door” would’ve been a better option, in my opinion. “Blue Skies” has a jazzy core, and it’s one of the better tracks, although it’s overlong, and “Bembele” is dancefloor ready. “Yo Me Lo Merezco” is the most ‘Rock’ track, while “Oye Este Mi Canto” features a tasty funky psychedelic bridge bookended by a nice polyrhythmic pattern.
This is a decent album that some will find polarizing- not enough Rock, not enough accessible tracks, and perhaps too much African influence and not enough English language lyrics. Spanish language markets should love it, however, and fans of Carlos Santana’s guitar stylings will overlook what’s happening under his solos… here’s the video for “Breaking Down the House“….