Critiquing Music is a Labor of Love

I’ve been writing about music, off and on, for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 years, all out of love, and the desire to be another Nelson George. As this post is being published during the week of Labor Day, I remind myself again of why I continue to do it without any recognition or compensation: I simply LOVE good music, and I want to tell everybody about it!

For this post, I have reviews of six new releases, from Raphael Saadiq, Common, Snoh Aalegra, Jazzmeia Horn, The Teskey Brothers, and a reissue of a classic from Massive Attack; let’s check ’em out….

THE HEARD (Reviews)

Raphael Saadiq

Jimmy Lee

It had been a long time (eight years, to be exact), since we last heard from the man born as Charles Ray Wiggins, but known to us as Raphael Saadiq; his last album, 2011’s Stone Rollin‘ was a critically acclaimed exercise in mostly vintage Rock and Soul. That acclaim, however, didn’t translate into sales, as it was commercially polarizing, especially amongst the R&B crowd, many of whom wanted him to bring his music into the 21st Century; his 2008 album The Way I See It was a heavily Motown-influenced masterpiece that was both commercially and critically successful. Saadiq has long been a champion for the “classic” Soul sound, live instrumentation, and such; Tony! Toni! Tone! was one of the few groups I could stand to listen to as the 90’s was happening, because of that aesthetic.

For this album, he does bring both the music and aesthetic into the current…. perhaps too much so for some. This is a very personal album, one that tackles two heavy issues that hit close to home: addiction and mass containment. The album’s title is named for his late older brother, who died of a heroin overdose years ago; the second issue is, to some extent, intertwined with the first, as the effects of the cycle of addiction, from the standpoint of the supplier, user, and government all have worked to manifest themselves into mass incarceration of people of color. The song content seems to follow this cycle, too, as the first couple of tracks (“Sinners Prayer” and “So Ready“) seem to speak from the viewpoint of the supplier, while the next several tracks speak from the standpoint of the addict. Of these, “Something Keeps Calling” which features Rob Bacon, is the most accessible, and easily the best track on the album. The last section receives a bridge from “Belongs to God“, which features Rev. E Baker, and is a straight-up Gospel quartet tune that leads into the dual tracks “Rikers Island” and “Rikers Island Redux“, the former featuring the lament from Raphael that “too many niggas in Rikers Island “… and the latter featuring a spoken word from Daniel Watts about mass incarceration. Lastly, “Rearview” features verses from Kendrick Lamar, and takes a retrospective look at the addict’s life, and questions “How can I change the world, when I can’t change myself?“.

This album is sequenced in a manner where the tracks abruptly stop and move into the next; this is how Blood Orange programs his albums, and it was also heavily used on Solange’s last album; I’m not a big fan of this format, but at least most of the tracks are fully realized before they cut off. Still, the album flies through its’ 13 tracks in just 39 minutes, and is more an album for thinking and absorbing, than for singing and dancing to its’ tracks. I think that’s what I was looking for, which is why I had to give this project multiple listens to get it; some may be put off by the content, sequencing, etc. during the first listen. Overall, It’s OK, now that I’ve got it; some just won’t get it… Here’s the video for “Something Keeps Calling“…

Snoh Aalegra

-ugh… those feels again

The globalization of R&B continues to expand into other parts of the world; in Sweden, there seems to be a small, but vibrant scene. From this scene comes 31 year old singer Snoh Aalegra, born and raised in Sweden to Iranian parents. In the musical food chain, she is in the middle, between an artist like fellow Swede Seinabo Sey, a singer I’ve written about before, and is worth a listen (she’s a Swedish/Gambian mix), and who would be slotted below Snoh, and on the other side would be the artist I think is her obvious target, Alicia Keys. This album is the followup to, and continuation of, her 2017 debut Feels.

This album has been described as a breakup album, but what I hear is the life cycle of a love affair… the ambivalence… hopefulness…. euphoria… lust… love!… regret…. remorse… peace with how it ended. The four singles released prior to the album all appear here- “I Want You Around ” is a gorgeous lil’ stepper, while “Find Someone Like You” (my favorite) is another beautiful track that sounds like it could’ve been sung by Adele, but was wonderfully done by Snoh; “You” is a plaintive love song, and “Situationship” sounds as awkward as the scenario it describes. Snoh changes up the flava, with a mixture of Hip-hop Soul (“Whoa” and “Nothing to Me“), a nod to more of a 90’s sound (“Toronto“), the accessible Pop of the singles and other tracks like “Love Like That” and “I Didn’t Mean to Fall In Love“, and the dope straight up Hip-hop of the closing track “Peace“. Her voice ranges from velvety to emotionally gritty, and the best part? There are NO features on the album, just Snoh – she gets MAJOR points from me for that alone.

This one is an overall thumbs up for me; this is the kind of Snoh I like. It gives me some nice warm “feels”…. Here is the video for “I Want You Around“…


Let Love

My bias for some of my native hometown artists may rear its’ head again; Common continues to be my favorite rapper, both for flow and lyrical content, and also for his extensive portfolio into other areas, such as acting, writing, and philanthropy, as well as for the multiple awards bestowed upon him – GRAMMY, Academy, Golden Globe. This, his 12th album, follows the release of his latest book Let Love Have the Last Word, and his 2016 album Black America Again.

I have to admit this review delayed this article from being published, as I wanted to make sure I heard what I thought I heard… after all, Common is such a cerebral brotha, I wanted to make sure I got what he’s saying. In the foreword for the book, Common says he wanted to “share my process, digging deeper, and trying again, and continuing to trust God that we all have an opportunity to live in freedom, love, and positivity when we do the work on self…” So the album actually runs a common (pardon the pun) theme, in that it’s about love and its’ manifestations. He reprises his earlier ode to Hip-hop with “HER Love“, which features Daniel Caesar, celebrates being an MC on “Hercules“, pays tribute to his mother on “Forever Your Love” which features BJ the Chicago Kid, and tells a rather humorous (to me) tale of infidelity in “Fifth Story“. Elsewhere, “Show Me That You Love Me” features a verse from Jill Scott, and tackles questionable fatherhood decisions, while “Memories of Home” looks back at his earlier self, trying to deal with unresolved issues from childhood, “Leaders” pays homage to people from Chitown, and finally “God Is Love” ties everything together, as everything he does is done from a God-centric perspective, and that the subjects of God and love are intertwined.

With this album, Common shifts his mood from one of anger, as portrayed on his last album, to hope; it’s a change we all make as we get older. I had the pleasure of meeting Common through a co-worker back in the mid-90’s when he was still Common Sense, and he had that raw, youthful energy about him; here, he is more laid back, the music is mostly jazzy, almost loungey, and he’s more contemplative – a mood befitting a man in his late 40’s. To see hope at this stage of life isn’t naive, as some have suggested, it’s positive (and I’m as jaded as anyone, and even I see hope these days). But seeing hope isn’t trying to save the world; we know better. We just hope it changes, and we will do our part individually to effect said change. Good job with this one, brotha Rasheed, as always… Here is the video for “Hercules“…

Jazzmeia Horn

Love and Liberation

It’s a rarity to find a sista in her late 20’s not into the current R&B or Hip-hop styles, but when you do, your ears can be rewarded handsomely; such is the case with this 28 year old Dallas native, NYC based Jazz vocalist. This is her sophomore album, following up her 2017 debut release A Social Call.

You can easily ascertain that she’s well-studied in classic Jazz, as you can tell by her style; you’ll pick up elements of Sarah Vaughn’s no-nonsense, sassy style, coupled with the scat ability of a DeeDee Bridgewater, herself a student of the stylings of Ella Fitzgerald. She throws in a heavy dose of her own Millennial attitude to round it all out; what you get is a new school Jazz diva who’s already quite accomplished in her genre. From the opening track “Free Your Mind“, through the sassy “Out the Window” and “When I Say“, to the defiant, Jon Hendricks/Hubert Laws composed, Ray Charles-styled “No More” and the juke joint Blues of “Still Tryin‘”, Jazzmeia injects plenty of personality into the songs. Eight of the album’s twelve songs are self-penned, with the standout Jazz standard being the closing track, Johnny Mercer’s “I Thought About You“, in which she is accompanied only by string bass.

This album is a pleasure to listen to; it is unfortunate, however, that in today’s musical climate, she will likely not get the exposure, airplay, etc. she deserves, as she’s not trapped in Trap, not a sullen Soul artist, or a profane Hip-hop flava of the moment. She’s got real talent, style, and… (you know it’s coming)… she purdy too! These days, Jazz is a niche style, and it has been mentioned, like Rock, as showing signs of dying away. Many of the Jazz greats of the past started making a name for themselves around her current age; it will be someone like her that will help keep that fire lit for the next generation. No video is available for any of the album’s tracks, but here is the audio for “Free Your Mind“…

The Teskey Brothers

Run Home Slow

Having earlier spoke of the continued globalization of R&B, I ran across these guys in the New Music Friday playlist on Spotify last week. This is a quartet founded by two brothers from the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia who seem to have a penchant for the sound of Memphis’ Stax Records. Run Home Slow is the followup to last year’s debut Half Mile Harvest.

Somewhere in heaven, Otis Redding, Joe Cocker, and Bobby Womack are looking down on this band and smiling; those of us here on Earth have a reason to smile, too. These guys knock it out of the park with their mixture of Soul and Blues circa the late 60’s, with a little early 70’s Rock thrown in there as well. Lead singer Josh Teskey has a gritty, soulful voice that seems aged by some brown liquor… and for being Australian, I don’t pick up any hint of an accent. The second single “So Caught Up” is sooo good, and proof of what I’m talking about, but it abounds throughout the album, from the early 60’s Soul of the opener “Let Me Let You Down” through several tracks with titles like “Carry You“, “Hold Me“, and “Paint My Heart” (the long, kinda psychedelic Rock track here), to the current single “Rain“, and an earlier single “Man of the Universe“, whose opening reminds me of Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped By a Thing Called Love“.

If you like good, old school Rhythm & Blues (I spelled that out for a reason… the definition of R&B!), do yourself a favor and check these guys out; it’ll be well worth your time… Here is the video for “So Caught Up“…

Massive Attack

Mezzanine (Deluxe Edition)

This is a reissue of the group’s 1998 masterpiece, remastered and expanded with a bonus disc of dub remixes from frequent collaborator, Britain’s dub mixologist extraordinaire Mad Professor. Inexplicably, this album was originally scheduled for release back in December, but was delayed time and time again, finally just now seeing the light of day.

The original album has been remastered, and a half dozen of the album’s tracks have been remixed, along with a couple of new tracks. For me, the standout dub was for “Teardrop“, which features Elizabeth Fraser from Cocteau Twins, and is also my favorite track from the original album. Curiously, there is no remix for “Man Next Door“, one of three tracks featuring reggae veteran Horace Andy- that one seemed like it would be a perfect fit for Mad Professor’s wizardry. There have been many remixes of tracks from this album floating around over the years, including some versions of these remixes, so I don’t understand the delays – they attributed them to production issues. This album sounds as fresh now as it did when it was released; in fact, it may be more relevant now, due to the prevalence of all of today’s societal paranoias. Here is the audio for “Teardrop“…

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).

One reply on “Critiquing Music is a Labor of Love”

I was thinking the same thing today, when I was listening to some heavy metal old songs, and wandering how can someone decide what is good or what is bad music, by the quality of its lyrics or the voice of the vocalist, complexity of instrumental music in melodies or rythm…?


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