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It’s the Most Musical Time of the Year II

When I did the first article bearing this title at the end of last year, I basically dumped everything I had listened to but not reviewed into the article, so there were 17 reviews in total; this year, since I’ve done more articles this year, I’ve had the chance to (for the most part) include most of the albums I’ve checked out so far in one of them. With that being said, this issue includes a couple of albums that have been around for a couple or a few months that I’m finally getting around to fully absorbing, as well as new stuff… I’ll include them now, so if they happen to appear on my Best of 2019 list, which will be published next month, you won’t be able to say I hadn’t told you about them. So… for this final article of 2019, we have new music from Incognito, the latest from Beck, the debut albums from Free Nationals and Nicole Bus, as well as new music from Kaytranada, Chase & Status, Popcaan, and Terri Lyne Carrington.

Before I jump into the reviews, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the passing of the young homie, rapper Juice Wrld, who recently passed away after suffering a seizure after arriving at Midway Airport in our hometown Chicago; he had just turned 21 years of age… RIP.

Happy Holidays from the Now Hear This! staff of one (Me!)…


THE HEARD (Reviews)

Incognito

Tomorrow’s New Dream

The 18th studio album from Jean Paul (Bluey) Maunick & Company comes along as they commemorate 40 years in the music industry. Splitting off from a group called Light of the World back in 1979, they released their first single “Parisienne Girl” that year, followed by their debut album Jazzfunk in 1981, then not releasing another album for a decade, but resurfacing during the Acid Jazz years with 1991’s Inside Life, and finally breaking through with 1992’s Tribes, Vibes + Scribes. This album follows their 2016 album In Search of Better Days.

This album continues to mine the group’s tried and tested formula of funky Jazz often filtered through a dancefloor aesthetic, and often paying nods to the groups influences, which include Roy Ayers and Earth, Wind & Fire. As has become commonplace on recent albums, there is an array of talent fronting the group vocally, from frequent contributors like Joy Rose, Italian Jazz vocalist Mario Biondi, and the woman I consider to be their signature voice, Maysa Leak, to newer talent, as well as throwing in some iconic talent – in this case, they employ R&B/Gospel legends Take 6 on “The Weather Report“, and pair Phil Perry with Maysa on “For the Love of You“. The standout track, to my ears, in this set is the dancefloor filler “All for You“, which also features Maysa on vocals; for good measure, there are also a couple of instrumentals, allowing Bluey & Company to be front and center.

With Incognito, you know what you’re going to get, so if you like what you’ve gotten in the past, you’ll like this, too- I certainly like it. I do wish Bluey would settle on a permanent lead singer, though; for me, Maysa with Incognito is like N’Dea Davenport with the Brand New Heavies – thee voice of the group, and basically irreplaceable… but… if not her, find someone you believe can carry the torch – the rotating cast of vocalists (something the Heavies are now doing, too) doesn’t always work for me… Here is the audio for “All for You“…


Beck

Hyperspace

The latest album from Beck finds him hanging out with Pharrell Williams, who produced the majority of this effort. This is the followup to 2017’s Colors, and this project finds him in a mellow mood – hard to believe it’s been 25 years now since he burst on the scene with Mellow Gold back in ’94 -that album’s title is completely apropos for this one.

Some of Beck’s longtime fans may have a bit of a problem with album, it’s sooo mellow. It’s a psychedelic Pop album that never gets noisy or tosses things around. Using a lot of keyboard washes and programmed percussion, it can be acoustic or mildly funky (in a quiet way), can be effective as background music, or just engaging enough to make you listen while doing something; the only exception is “Saw Lightning“, which is the closest thing to raucous as it gets. A lot of it sounds very retro 70’s Folky Rock to 10cc-ish to me- not a bad thing.

Have to say I’m kinda diggin’ the mellow mode Beck is in here; it takes me back to my teenage years. I know for some, it might be a little too light, or not quirky enough… but this feels right for me… and at this stage of his career, probably feels right to him, too… Here is the video for “Uneventful Days”…


Free Nationals

Free Nationals

This is the debut album from the backing band for Anderson. Paak. According to their self-penned bio, the name signifies they are “the First people of America, Indigenous to the land before Columbus came, Staying indigenous to the Funk”. Well, alright.

The first thing I heard from this album was the single “Eternal Light” featuring my man Chronixx; that’s certainly a way to get my attention- that track is pure fiyah. From one song to the next, there’s a cast of characters that fall through the sessions, including .Paak himself on “Gidget“, Syd from The Internet on the short “Shibuya“, Daniel Caesar on the P ‘n D tale of two lonely people hookin’ up (“Beauty & Essex“), T.I. reaffirming his status as the Trap king on “Cut Me a Break“, and the late Mac Miller appears with Kali Uchis on “Time“.

If there’s one place where this album may suffer a lil bit, it’s in some of the material of some of the personalities they’re backing… at least to my taste; but musically, this band is totally on point – they could do an all-instrumental album, and I’d buy it. This album is the next best thing – buy it…. Here’s the video for “Time“…


Nicole Bus

Kairos

I cannot take credit for discovering this artist, she was a recommendation of my co-worker and fellow music aficionado Angel, and I’m glad I listened to her- sometimes I get a little help from my friends, as The Beatles once sang… She has been around for more than a decade, releasing her debut album in her native Netherlands back in 2011, and previously served as a background vocalist for Gospel singer Canton Jones a few years earlier; Kairos is her introduction to the American audience. Born to a Dutch father and an Afro-Curacaoan mother, Nicole Bus brings a bit of grit to the table, drawing comparisons to the likes of Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Amy Winehouse, and Alicia Keys.

Nicole has a powerful, gritty voice that she uses to full effect on her relatively uncomplicated songs of love and relationships; the album, whose title is the Greek word for ‘the appointed time’, is a melange of Pop, old school Hip-hop, and R&B, and is co-produced by her and Needlz, whose production credits include Drake and Bruno Mars. The album includes three versions of “You“, including remixes with Ghostface Killa and Rick Ross, and is a remake of an Isaac Hayes-produced song by a group called the Charmels, and also interpolates a sample from Wu Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.”. The other single “Mr. Big Shot” is a bouncy Hip-hop sendup that evokes Hill or Sullivan, and is my fave track here.

Well, I’m riding the Nicole Bus bus; she has a solid future ahead of her… and she purdy too! As another face of Global Soul (see Snoh Aalegra, Seinabo Sey, Yuna, and others), she’ll bring a little different perspective just by being from somewhere besides the US or UK… and that can only be healthy for continued growth of the music. Hopefully, her material will continue to be as strong as her voice… Here are two videos from her: the singles “Mr. Big Shot” and “You“…


Kaytranada

Bubba

This is the second full length album from 27 year old Haitian born, Montreal, Quebec-based producer Louis Kevin Celestin, known by his current stage name Kaytranada- it is subject to change; this album follows up his 2016 debut 99.9%. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce the name- but after watching a couple of interviews with him, it rhymes with Granada (Kay-tra-nada).

My House Music heads should enjoy this album -it’s got that late night, upbeat groove we like; one thing, though, is that the album follows a trend I don’t really like, in that it jumps from one track to the next fairly abruptly, and the tracks are relatively short- only two of the 17 tracks exceed four minutes. Vocal contributors include Tinashe (“The Worst in Me“), Estelle (“Oh No“), Charlotte Day Wilson (“What You Need“), Kali Uchis (10%) and Pharrell Williams closes out the album with “Midsection“.

To my ears, this album should be called a mixtape- it has the flow necessary to justify use of that title. It’s a cohesive effort that satisfies from start to finish, and shows this young brotha has what it takes to sustain continued success in the fickle, ever-changing Dance category… Here is the audio for 10%


Chase & Status

RTRN II JUNGLE

The newest release from one of England’s top dance producers return them to their roots in the Jungle/Drum ‘n Bass scene. Released back at the end of May, the album was on my radar, but I just recently gave it a dedicated listen; now I can’t stop listening to it.

It comes on strong from the very beginning, starting with “Shut Up“featuring Suku, and continues all the way through to the twelfth and final track “Disaster“. They employ a mixture of legacy talent, from the likes of Cocoa Tea on “Burning“, Cutty Ranks (“Retreat2018“) to General Levy (“Heater“) and Burro Banton (“Delete“), alongside newer talent like Kabaka Pyramid and Irah, who feature on the two videos below. Musically, Chase & Status took it ALL the way back to the Ragga roots of the genre, where they essentially “jungleized” some 80’s and 90’s Dancehall.

RTRN II JUNGLE is a welcome return for Chase & Status, and the album is a huge success. This one takes us back to the early origins of Jungle and Drum & Bass, and does it well; look for it to be included as one of my best albums of 2019… here are two videos from the project… for “Program” and “Murder Music“… you can also check out a 12 minute documentary of the making of the album on YouTube…


Terri Lyne Carrington & Social Science

Waiting Game

The ninth studio album from three time GRAMMY winning, 54 year old Massachusetts native Jazz drummer, producer, and educator adds a new title to her extensive resume – activist. Per her bio on her website, this album brings to the forefront her concerns with society, among them mass incarceration of people of color, genocide, racism, homophobia, and gender identity and equity. Her band Social Science reflects all of the demographics contained within, so it’s definitely coming from a personal place.

There is much to digest here, about an hour and 49 minutes worth of music spread across two discs. The first disc has all of the protest songs, starting with “Trapped In the American Dream” featuring Kassa Overall, which uses the lyric “you can be you, and I can be me, and we can be free…”; Malcolm-Jamal Warner does spoken word on “Bells (Ring Loudly)“, which addresses the incarceration issue, while “Pray the Gay Away” addresses homophobia. Meshell Ndegeocello contributes to “No Justice (for Political Prisoners)“, while “If Not Now” and the title track (of which there is a regular and acapella version) address the need for acceptance and equality. The second disc contains a four part suite called “Dreams and Desperate Measures“; it’s all instrumental and very electric period Miles Davis-like in its’ sprawl – Part 4, in particular, evokes Miles’ “In A Silent Way“.

I love protest music, as anyone who reads me regularly can attest; however, my first impression of this album was that it wore me down with the weight of it all. The good news is that I think I know why I had that feeling: this was released in early November, but I discovered it after Thanksgiving, so it was already holiday season- I’ve been in a relatively festive mood for the past month, so when I started listening to this, it tempered my sense of euphoria; the second disc helped bring it back. Don’t get me wrong, this is a nice album that addresses issues that need to be addressed; you just may need to be in the proper mood for it – once you get there, it’ll invigorate you… Here is the audio for “If Not Now“, which features Maimouna Youssef…


Popcaan

Vanquish

The latest from this versatile Dancehall don is being pitched as a mixtape – 10 tracks that fly by in a relatively brief 32 minutes; this follows up his release from last year, Forever.

Subject matter here ranges from the usual tales of street life (“Numbers Don’t Lie“) and sex sendups (“Gimmi Love“), to attempts at being inspirational (“Elevate“, “Happy and Wealthy“) to his love for the herb (“One Ting Alone“) and homages to his higher power (“Jah Is for Me“, “Father God Ah Lead“). He keeps it interesting there, at least; the music is not so interesting, though.

This has the flow to qualify as what I would consider to be a a mixtape; however, it doesn’t sound very Dancehall at all to me – it actually reminds me a lot of Burna Boy’s recent African Giant album, which I didn’t care for that much… too much of this sounds too samey to me, like that album, and I also don’t care for the almost constant auto-tune, either. Overall, this is a little better to me than that album… not great, but OK… here is the audio for “Father God Ah Lead“…


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).

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