Pick Up the Needle, Move It Back, and Play It Again

My dad would’ve turned 90 years old this past week, and one of my fondest memories of him is how he helped shape my love for music. As a child, he showed me how to play records… how to stack 45’s on the spindle so they could drop down to be played… how to play a specific track on an album by dropping the needle in the spot between the grooves… I got my first taste of steppin’ when he used to dance with the support pole in the basement, etc.; by the age of 9, I was DJ’ing our Friday night basement parties. He was a huge Temptations fan, and one of his favorite songs of theirs was “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)“…. Every time…… I mean every. single. time. Paul Williams opened it up, and Eddie Kendricks continued the part of the song where he sang “Ev’ry night on my knees I pray, Dear Lord, hear my plea / Don’t ever let another take her love from me or I would surely die…” My dad would walk over to the record player, pick up the needle, move it back to roughly the beginning of that passage, and drop the needle to play it again. And he would stand there at the record player as it played again, and he would repeat this process at least two more times before he would let the rest of that sublime lyrical passage complete… “Her love is heavenly, when her arms enfold me / I hear a tender rhapsody / but in reality, she doesn’t even know me…” Ahhhh, the memories… Happy heavenly Birthday, dad…

For this post, I’m reviewing the ‘lost’ Miles Davis album, the solo debut endeavor from Brittany Howard, the new album from Lindsey Stirling, and a listen to both the new Brand New Heavies album, and an album from a group that split off from them.


The Heard (Reviews)

Miles Davis

Rubberband

In 1985, after leaving his longtime label Columbia for Warner Brothers, Miles Davis began recording a new album that he hoped would finally yield him a hit single- after all, he’d received all the accolades anyone could garner with previous albums, but never actually had a hit song that got airplay on the radio. He was just four years out of a self-imposed six year hiatus from music, and his four albums released since his return were not well-received by critics. So Rubberband was supposed to be the album that would finally achieve his goal; he was gonna have guests from the R&B world… rumor had it Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau would be on it… and it appeared he was ready to be a sideman on some tracks on his album. As it turned out, the recording sessions for the album didn’t go well, and eventually the label scrapped the project altogether; Miles would go on to begin recording the sessions that would become his most successful ‘latter years’ album, Tutu, which was released the following year. Recently, Miles’ nephew Vince Wilburn Jr., who was the drummer on this album, along with the album’s original producers, decided it was time to finish it, and finally release it, and so now, we’ve been presented with the so called ‘lost’ Miles Davis album from 34 years ago.

I have mixed feelings about this album. On the one hand, it’s great to be able to get some never-heard-before Miles. There are a few good tracks here, most of the instrumental ones, showing what Miles was attempting to do. The title track is the best track, and the one where you get the most Miles, while “This Is It” is a funky send up that sounds like it could’ve been a Cosby Show theme, and “Give It Up” is another funky track with a bit of a Rock edge. “Maze” was supposedly written as a tribute to Frankie Beverly, while “Echoes In Time/The Wrinkle” is a nice, though overly long track (imagine a nine minute Miles track being considered overly long). On the other hand, we have the set opener “Rubberband of Life” which features Ledisi… in 1985, she would’ve been 13 years old…. it’s actually a nice track, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Doo Bop, Miles’ 1992 album that fused Jazz and Hip-hop, but I don’t think it belongs here. Same thing with “So Emotional” which features Lalah Hathaway, who would’ve been all of 16 when this was to have been released… this is a smoldering Quiet Storm-type track. “Paradise” is what I imagine Miles would sound like if he had featured on Santana’s Supernatural album, and someone named Randy Hall does his best Al Jarreau imitation on “I Like What We Make Together“…. where was Al??? The record label, I suspect, may be responsible for trying to add sales by adding some contemporary tunes in this collection, but that disturbs and undermines the concept of this being a ‘lost’ album from 1985.

If you’re a completist on certain artists, like I am, you want every note the artist ever performed, and you’ll probably go out and buy this album; I know I will at some point, but not right away. I say that because it’s not a great album – there weren’t enough scraps of recorded material to piece together a great album… but just because it’s Miles, it’s worthy enough for me to add to my collection… at some point. Here’s the audio clip for the title track…


Brittany Howard

Jaime

The debut solo album from Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard has finally arrived, hopefully to bridge the gap between Sound and Color, their last album, and new material. Brittany has been quite busy, having a couple of side projects: the punky Thunderbitch, and the Country-ish Bermuda Triangle; she also recently got married. The album is titled after her late sister Jaime, who died from a rare form of eye cancer, and was co-produced by the Shakes engineer Shawn Everett; she is also joined on this album by the Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell, and the exceptional Jazz keyboardist Robert Glasper, among others.

It took me a couple of listens to get a full grasp on what she was doing in this album, but it seems she took a cross country journey with her partner (now wife), and along the way, had some experiences that affected her, and also prompted her to reflect back on her younger days; things now began to make sense, whereas before they didn’t make sense. Overall, it’s about love- and we know that love is manifested in many ways. On “He Loves Me” she sings “I know He still loves me / when I’m smokin’ blunts / loves when I’m drinking too much / He loves me then, yeah / He loves me when I do what I want / He loves me, he doesn’t judge me…”, speaking, of course, of God’s love – since she begins the track by saying she doesn’t go to church anymore, I call it the lament of the lapsed Baptist… On “Tomorrow“, she is uneasy about the current state of the world, but holds out hope for tomorrow, and then when it gets there, not knowing what to do next, but remaining hopeful about the next tomorrow, where she wants everyone to love one another. “Stay High” is the album’s best track, also the most accessible one, and is a nice bluesy track yearning to remain in a euphoric state with a significant other. Things get noisy on “13th Century Metal” where she makes declarations about who she is and how she intends to live, and “Goat Head” recalls an event during her childhood in Alabama, where a racist placed the head of a goat in her dad’s car after slashing his tires, in an attempt at intimidation towards her White mother and Black father. On “Georgia“, she sings from a child’s perspective of a crush she has on an older woman – at the time, she didn’t realize the connection of that scenario to her later ‘queer’ self, while “Short & Sweet” is basically about having a fling, and then “Baby” tells the story of a concluded relationship that was one-sided.

Overall, the album may present a bit of a challenge to the casual listener, as she often stretches the sonic limits of Soul, Blues, Jazz and to some degree, Alt-Rock, but it’s well worth it to conquer that challenge; this is very much an example of what puts the concept of ‘art’ into music – check it out. Here is the video for “Stay High“, which features actor Terry Crews…


Lindsey Stirling

Artemis

There are a surprising number of violinists out here doing different types of music not associated with Classical… several in Jazz and Hip-hop, and of course, we had Rock artists like ELO, and the fusion of styles from the likes of Jean-Luc Ponty. As a violinist and violist who hasn’t played regularly in years, I’m thinking of getting back out there, too- pair myself with a pianist and become the wedding violinist; as far as I’m aware, 33 year old Arizona native Lindsey Stirling is the only EDM violinist, so she has that niche all to herself. Artemis is her fifth studio album overall, and first since her 2016 release Brave Enough; included in that total is a Christmas album Warmer In the Winter, which was released two years ago.

Artemis is the goddess of the moon in Greek mythology, and is also her character in a comic book she’s developing; as the album cover suggests, there is also a heavy influence in anime. She explains the concept of the moon as ‘bringing light to darkness’; it exudes a quiet strength, and that also speaks to more human subjects, like having the ability to deal with certain events in life, and having the strength to shine your personal light through dark times… I like that… and that quality shines though on a track like the beautiful “Between Twilight“. She came to prominence by combining Classical and Dubstep, and that trend continues on tracks like “Foreverglow“, “Til The Light Goes Out” and “Love Goes On and On“, which features vocals from Amy Lee from Evanescense. The set opens with the anthemic single “Underground“, and closes with a remix of another single, “The Upside” which features Elle King; the original version also appears here. The title track is an explosive and powerful track, while “Darkside” is surprisingly playful and upbeat.

It’ll probably be no surprise that I really dig this album… I have a soft spot for violinists doing contemporary music (especially Electronica); she is a highly accomplished player, and she uses it to great effect. I love the use of the Middle Eastern and Asian -style melodic structures she uses throughout the album, and the variance in styles and tempos from track to track. Very nice project!… Check out the video for “Underground“…


The Brand New Heavies

TBNH

On May 14, 1994, about a month after the release of their third album Brother Sister, The Brand New Heavies appeared in concert at Cabaret Metro in Chicago; I was there that night, and what I witnessed was an almost spiritual experience – one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. They were my favorite group of the 90’s, and I’ve followed their career ever since, so I’m thrilled about the release of this, their 10th official studio album, and first since 2014’s Sweet Freaks; my euphoria is tempered somewhat because the band has gone through a bit of a metamorphosis in the past five years.

Since we last heard from them, drummer, principal songwriter and co-founding member Jan Kincaid, along with the last permanent lead singer Dawn Joseph, left the group. According to Jan, via interviews he’s given to other news outlets, they were working without a manager, leading to some questionable decisions made by members of the group. He also claims the other group members didn’t want to evolve the sound, and the other members seemed to resent the bond he and Dawn were developing. We all know there are three sides to every story, but whatever the story is, the end result to me is like a cake missing a main ingredient- it might still taste good, but it ain’t like it used to be.

So what we’re left with are the remaining two members, guitarist Simon Bartholomew, and bassist Andrew Levy to soldier on, along with a new drummer. For this album, there is a rotating cast of lead singers: among them, we have everyone’s favorite, the most well-known BNH lead vocalist N’dea Davenport, who appears on three tracks; Siedah Garrett, who succeeded N’dea when she left the first time, on a couple of tracks; Angela Ricci, who seems to be the heir apparent, on three tracks. Also along for this ride include R&B veteran Angie Stone, and up ‘n coming British male vocalist Laville, whom I featured prominently a couple of posts ago. The lead track from the album, “Getaway” is classic BNH, sung by Davenport, and it also lifts the familiar horn stabs from The Emotions classic “Best of My Love“; confusingly, the video for the track features Angela Ricci on vocals… Here’s the video…

The overall tone of the album, as was their last album, is a non-stop party; most tracks are upbeat, with the exception of a couple of mid-tempo tracks, “Together” featuring Angie Stone, and “Dontcha Wanna” featuring Laville. The sound remains the same, although there is a bit of a lack of depth to some of the tracks; BNH have always been uplifting while you’re groovin’, and “Just Believe In You” and “It’s My Destiny“, the two Siedah tracks, fit that bill. Even though it’s not the same without Jan & Dawn, or N’dea full time, this is still good stuff… Here is the audio for the track for which they should’ve titled the album, “The Funk Is Back“, which is sung by Simon…

Now… let’s do a quick comparison of sounds…. I’m gonna take a look at the spin-off group from the Brand New Heavies called MF Robots… they released an album that somehow got by me in the spring of last year…

MF Robots “Music for Robots”

So this is where Jan Kincaid and Dawn Joseph ended up after leaving The Brand New Heavies – establishing a new group with a silly name. They explained the reasoning for the name as a nod to the continuing automation of the world’s workforce, to the point that someday, they’ll be making music for robots. They abbreviated the first two words to give the name a naughty element, hence the official group name MF Robots.

As you might expect, after performing a certain style of music for the last 30 plus years, your style isn’t going to radically change with a new group, so the new outfit of Jan & Dawn plus their hired help sound pretty much like The Brand New Heavies to me… I would hope that if they never reconcile with Simon and Andrew, years from now, they don’t go out on tour and do BNH songs, while BNH is on tour too- you often hear of several versions of the same group being out there… it’s pretty sad. I would hope this ends up being just a side project, and they all come together again.

Overall, since the album sounds very much like a BNH album, that means it sounds good… proof is in the mix here, check out their videos… for “Come On With the Good Thing“…

The Night Is Calling“… this one will remind you of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop til You Get Enough“…

and “Believe In Love“… this track, I believe, is the statement track for why this group exists. There isn’t a progression or change in the music, as Jan suggested as a reason for leaving BNH; if I’m not mistaken, it appears Jan & Dawn’s relationship is more than about the music, and that’s what likely played a big part in the parting of ways…


Author: maestrotjd

I am a music lover. All kinds of music. My musical palette is informed by everything in my musical past, and my music collection is a reflection of all of it. I don't claim to know everything about every type of music, and frankly, I'm starting to slip as far as staying current - but like anyone else, I like what I like. Because my palette is so wide, I'll review and talk about a lot of different types of music; I still maintain an ear for new and interesting music, and I've always lived on the cutting edge. This is a renewal of a couple of passions - writing, and talking about music; I'm also embarking on a renewal of playing music and DJ'ing, so that the last few tracks of my personal album will be the greatest works of my career.

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