This year, Thanksgiving Day will be a little bittersweet for me. In addition to being a day for giving thanks for all that we have and all that we are, it’s also the anniversary of the death of my only sibling, my sister Tasha. It hardly seems like it, but she’s been gone now twice as long as she was here; she passed away in 1988, and was buried on her 15th birthday four days later, a victim of Cancer.
Like our father, about whom I wrote a couple of posts ago, she also left me with a precious musical memory. She was a huge fan of New Edition, especially Ralph Tresvant; neither they nor he, however, provide this memory- that honor belongs to Terence Trent D’Arby. Some of y’all might remember him- he released his debut album Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby back in 1987; that album produced his Billboard Number 1 single “Wishing Well“, and his Number 4 single “Sign Your Name“. This song was a favorite of Tasha’s… one night, I’m sitting at my desk, she’s sitting on my bed and we’re listening to music, when she wanted to hear the song, so I pulled out the CD and put it in the disc player (my first CD player, mind you). After listening to it once, she wanted to hear it again… and after that time she wanted to hear it again… and then again… and again. The song runs for 4:37… she played the song a total of 13 times… her version of how our dad picked up the needle during his favorite part of The Temptations “Just My Imagination” was updated by my sister… she simply hit the “back” button on the CD remote each time the song ended, and let it play again… we listened to that song for A SOLID HOUR! And I’d give everything if I could do it with her again… remembering her through the video…
For this post, I provide my take on the Kanye West album, the profanely titled new joint from Robert Glasper, a new project from Black Violin, the debut from Sudan Archives, and the latest from Gospel artist Travis Greene.
THE HEARD (Reviews)
Jesus Is King
One thing about Kanye, is that he never disappoints… that is, if you’re looking for someone to confound you. After last year’s ye, which is generally acknowledged to be the weakest link in his catalog, one wouldn’t think he could sink any lower; in one way, he didn’t, but in another way, he might be on the way to doing so…. I’ll explain.
Coming from the guy who gave us both “Jesus Walks” and Yeezus, and had been working on a project called Yandhi, I’ve suspected Ye is actually trying to put himself on a par with God; as a Christian myself, I cannot buy into that line of thinking. Ye has been one of my favorite Hip-hop artist for years, but between his recent social commentaries, his avowed support for the current President, and his own personal demons, he’s become a polarizing personality, to the point that it’s getting harder to support him. Witnessing Snoop Dogg release a Gospel album last year, I had a sneaking suspicion that his effort would ultimately be looked upon as disingenuous; after proclaiming in the album that he had changed his ways and wasn’t turning back, he turned around and was back to talking about bitches and hoes again soon thereafter. Ye has gone so far as to assemble a choir, hold Sunday services that have attracted a lot of people… I even heard he asked his staffers to abstain from sex while the album was in production, and that he was limiting his use of cuss words to a couple a day. All that being said, I’m hoping the same can’t be said of Ye a year from now, that all of this was just a thing for this point in time.
As for the music itself, its about 27 minutes of his new dogma on display. For the most part, he says the right things, although I’m still not sold on the conviction and sincerity. He comes from a standpoint I’m not familiar with, a rich Christian that doesn’t already pastor a megachurch (like his buddy Joel Osteen); some of his rhetoric is taken more from a standpoint of privilege than one of humility. He enlisted the help of my favorite Gospel singer, Fred Hammond, to appear on one track (“Hands On“), jazz saxophonist Kenny G appears on “Use This Gospel“, and Ty Dolla $ign on “Everything We Need“. Most tracks are on the edge of simplistic- he won’t make you forget the Kirk Franklins, Richard Smallwoods or Tye Tribbetts of the world anytime soon… but, on the plus side of the equation, it would seem the album is appealing to those individuals who can’t be reached by a traditional church, so this project is just crazy enough to work, to bring new souls into the kingdom. That’s what I’m hoping for… Here is the audio for “Use This Gospel“…
F— Yo Feelings
Mixtapes try to create a flow that builds, but continues seemlessly throughout the session; many miss the mark, often sounding like a bunch of spare ideas thrown together. The latest album from keyboardist Glasper, which was released a little over a month ago, attempts to create the flow of a mixtape; essentially, he invited a legion of talent from the Jazz and Hip-hop worlds, including a legend like Herbie Hancock, to fall through his studio for a jam session. I have to admit, at first, I was so put off by the album’s title, that I was going “f— this album”…… but I like Glasper’s music, especially his Black Music 1 & 2 discs from 2012-13, so I decided to check it out.
This album comes right out the box wrong, by having comic (or so he calls himself) Affion Crockett begin by launching into a very unfunny bit where he’s roasting each of the band members, and at the end of each individual roast, evoking the album’s title; then he addresses the audience by telling them to tell their neighbor on both sides to “f— yo feelings”… after some more unnecessary profanity, I skipped to the next track, “This Changes Everything” which features Denzil Curry among others- it changed nothing at all for me. The next several tracks were just marginally better; there are 19 total tracks on the album, and other than “In Case You Forgot“, a short instrumental interlude, it took until the title track – track 7 – before things got interesting to me. Now… starting here, it got really good, and I’m going “yes, this is what I’m looking for!” The ladies took over for these tracks, and although “f— yo feelings” was still the prevailing sentiment, it was now being expressed with purpose : “Endangered Black Woman“, which features Andra Day and Staceyann Chin, and “Expectations” featuring Baby Rose among others direct their venom at anyone who objects to who they are and how they’re made, while “All I Do” which features SiR, Bridget Kelly and Songbird is easily the most soothing track in the set – it is a gorgeous, sexy, simmering piece of work. “Aah Whoa” features Muhsinah and Queen Sheba, and is basically a kiss-off of a lover, while “I Want You“, which is credited to just Glasper, goes in the opposite direction. Now after this, the album reverses course, and goes into some random tickling of the ivories by Glasper – not bad snippets, but a comedown from the previous tracks. On “DAF FTF“, Glasper basically goes into his thought process in making this mixtape, and it’s pretty raw, and that leads into “Treal” featuring Yasiin Bey, a track that goes on way too long; finally, the closing track “Cold” is actually a very nice instrumental track.
In the final analysis, I get the concept of the album title – I just feel it started off really poorly by having the comic roast the band members and tell his audience to tell someone to “f— yo feelings” – it set the wrong tone for the album, and that tone lasted for the first several tracks. Overall, I like the middle third of the album best, the last third less, and the first third even less still. If Glasper were to read this review (and I hope he does, I welcome comments and feedback), he would probably respond by evoking the album title… and that’s fine. My response to that would then likely be that this is my blog, where I state my opinion on what I hear, so… with all due respect (and a chuckle), back at cha… Here’s the video for the title track, which features Yebba; it has a groovy vibe reminiscent of early Minnie Riperton…
Take the Stairs
The third album from the South Florida duo of Kev Marcus and Wil Baptiste has finally arrived, four years after their last album Stereotypes dropped. These guys deserve a lot of credit for their philanthropic efforts, touring around the country and often playing in venues located in what’s considered urban or lower income areas (like the Opera House in lil ole Newberry, South Carolina), and especially to school students; their goal is to change the perception of what a classically trained violinist looks like- hence the title of their last album.
Their sound is a mixture of Classical and Hip-hop, and when on full display, they show a dazzling virtuosity- check out the video for the track “Showoff“; also check out “Spaz“. The album opener “Rise” and closer “Nimrod” are traditional Classical numbers, while “Serenade” adds beats to the classicism. Then there are several tracks that seem to relegate the duo to the background, as they have vocalists that step to the forefront. In normal circumstances, I’d object to them taking a back seat on their own album, but based on their philanthropy, tracks like “One Step“, “Unbreakable“, “Dreamer“, and “Impossible Is Possible” make sense in reaching the kiddos – they have good, inspirational messages, and besides, if they kept it all Classical and instrumental, it’d be a snooze session for the young’uns.
In the end, I’d like to hear more of what they do best, but I also understand the bigger picture and their focus, which is quite admirable. Here is the video for “Showoff“, which is them at their best…
Earlier this year, while I was researching YouTube for video clips to include with my review for Solange’s album, I happened to run across two new discoveries for me (and for you): Swedish / Gambian singer Seinabo Sey, and this young sista, 24 year old Cincinnati born, L.A. based singer / composer/ violinist Brittany Parks aka Sudan Archives. She describes her name in two parts: the first name is a nickname, and a homage to her fascination with Sudanese and Ghanian folk music, particularly the single string fiddling thing; the last name, which is near and dear to my heart, refers to crate-digging for hidden gems, like a disc jockey. This, her debut full length album, follows a couple of EP’s she released, her 2017 self-titled EP, and last year’s Sink.
I was already gearing up to proclaim this as one of the best albums of the year… and it still may be anointed as such, but as I was listening to the album all the way through the first time, there were a couple of things that gave me reason for pause. The first thing was that her violin wasn’t as prominent as it was in her earlier works, and when there, wasn’t as radical and tribal as before- only the single “Glorious” and “Confessions” reach those levels – a lot of time is spent plucking or strumming the instrument; the second thing is that she apparently wants to throw her hat into an already crowded Alt-Soul ring… like she wants to be the next SZA or something. There are those who do that thing better than her, but nobody else is doing what she had been doing, though- she had carved out a niche for herself – and to a degree, she shelved it here. Now… when she strikes a balance between tribal siren and melancholy Soul chanteuse, like on “Down On Me” and “Coming Up“, the results are very nice, and even nicer when she throws in a little abstract lyrical imagery, such as in “Iceland Moss” and “Pelicans In the Summer“. When she goes more straight-ahead Soul, like on “Green Eyes” or “Limitless“, the results, to me, are less interesting, although they’re still nice cuts.
The two reservations I brought up about the album do not detract from the fact that this is quite an auspicious debut, one that you should definitely check out; I brought them up because I don’t want to see her stray too far away from what got her noticed in the first place, nor get lost in a crowded field of voices that all start to sound alike – continue to explore and display your uniqueness, and give us more of that tribal fiddle… Here is the video for “Glorious“…
To my way of thinking, all Christian music should be one category… but, of course, it is further segmented and sub-categorized, usually along racial lines. That’s how we get Contemporary Christian, which is mainly White artists, and Gospel, which is traditionally Black artists. Newer artists on both sides of this spectrum are breaking from tradition, and doing their own form of worship music, blurring and blending the genres along the way; one such artist would be 35 year old Delaware native Travis Greene. Broken Record is his third studio, and fourth overall album; for me, he is also locally-based, as he is the pastor of Forward City Church in Columbia, SC. He’s internationally known and acclaimed, having won both Stellar and Billboard Music awards.
Greene’s instrument of choice is an acoustic guitar, and he uses it as his base to create music that touches on multiple styles and genres. “Great Jehovah” is a stompin’ track that includes a banjo and a fiddler – wasn’t expecting an Americana feel, but I very much enjoy that track; in fact, it got my two young children jumping and clapping. “No One Else” and “Broken Vessels” feel kinda Country, but they’re also nice tracks; closer to what I expect from someone considered Gospel is “Won’t Let Go” and “Loved By You“. The two centerpieces of the album are “Good & Loved“, which features Steffany Gretzinger, and “Respond“. The former also attaches a prayer from Steffany after the end of the song, and it’s set up as a separate track- combined, it’s 12 minutes long… a little overlong, in my opinion, but then again, you can’t hurry worship; the latter track unofficially ends after about 4 1/2 minutes, but then Travis allows his three background vocalists a moment of solo worship… one of these vocalists, D’Nar Young, is a young man to whom I’m acquainted and have had the pleasure of watching grow up in my home church, from a young pre-teen who used to sing too loud in the mic during Men’s Ministry events, to leading Praise & Worship for the Young Adult Ministry on 4th Sundays…. he, as well as the others, provided effectual and fervent worship over the final four minutes of the track. The remaining tracks don’t identify as a specific style, but they’re all effective vessels of worship, and that’s all that really matters.
This album is an excellent example of worship music, as it has the correct balance of all of its’ necessary elements – it doesn’t come off as overtly religious and holy, but it is a truly genuine expression of worship by individuals serious about their praise… and the music is varied, and interesting. It has serious crossover appeal because of these things, so I expect this one to receive universal acclaim from all sides of the Christian spectrum… Here’s the video for “Respond“…