Stay Home… and Listen to Some Good New Music !

Soooo… I come out of writer’s block with my last post, and into the middle of a pandemic, which has, through the isolation achieved and mandated by shelter-at-home policies, social distancing, my job temporarily closing its’ center and forcing me to work from home, put me in a position moving towards a proclivity for productivity where it pertains to this piece of work known as this blog; in short, I’ve got more time on my hands to devote to it. So naturally, I’ve been listening to a lot of new music, and this post will create a short turnaround from the last one. This time around, I take a spin on new music from The Weeknd, Jazz saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, Childish Gambino, Australian band 5 Seconds of Summer, a sorta new album from Thievery Corporation, and Thundercat.

I need everyone reading this to stay home and out of Rona’s way, and listen to some good new music. What else you gonna do??? Gas and airfare are very cheap right now, but there’s nowhere to go- can’t go shopping, can’t get a drink at a bar or sit down to dinner at a restaurant, can’t go to the gym (and that’s killing me – see my last post, which is about my fitness regimen), can’t gather with other people… can’t do ANYTHING!!! One thing you CAN do: put on some headphones, and check out some new tunes…

Before we get into the reviews, gotta acknowledge the loss of several artists since my last post just two weeks ago. Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the Marsalis Jazz clan, father to Wynton, Branford, and others; Country legend Kenny Rogers, Afrobeat pioneer Manu Dibango, the man famous for “Soul Makoosa“, Country singer Joe Diffie, Chicago Folk legend John Prine, and a man most dear to me, a Soul legend, Bill Withers.

In my household in the early 70’s, Bill Withers was a fixture on our record player; the Still Bill album was in constant rotation for songs like “Use Me“, “Who Is He (and What Is He to You?)“, and, of course, “Lean On Me“. There are several other fine tracks on that album, and I consider it to be a classic. A few years ago, I was able to purchase The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums box set, which has all nine of Bill’s albums. His vibrato-less singing style is influential to me, as he emitted emotion with his voice without all the vocal histrionics you hear singers do… one of the singers who kind of emulates that style is none other than Sade, who has indicated he was a major influence on her… and he still has the distinction of holding one of the longest notes in recorded history towards the end of “Lovely Day“! His career was rather brief, leaving the music industry behind in 1985, but oh, what a legacy of music he left for us to enjoy… may Bill and the others (and there are even more than I mentioned that have passed away recently) REST IN PEACE!

ONE MORE THING! The new Gregory Porter album All Rise was scheduled to be released on April 17th, but has now been pushed back all the way to August 28th; his label Blue Note has offered no reason why – WHAT’S UP WITH THAT, BLUE NOTE??? Anyway, a new track from the album has been released, and just hit YouTube this morning as I was finishing up this post. Here is “Thank You“… Gregory went to church with this one… and on THAT note : To my Christian family around the world, HAPPY EASTER!!! He is Risen!

I’m so glad I don’t use my initial impressions of an album to formulate a review… I bought the only album I own by The Weeknd two years ago, when I purchased Starboy at Monster Music and Movies in Charleston, SC – they had the Deluxe version new for just $6.99, so I got it… heck, I knew and liked enough of the songs, I said why not? Being perfectly honest, I have had my issues with brotha Abel Tesfaye, and none of them were necessarily soothed with my first listen to the Deluxe version of After Hours, his fourth full-length album. This may partially be my fault; let me explain…

Back in the 80’s, I was a huge fan of nihilistic, self-deprecating, hedonistic, depressing, dramatic British melancholia and Industrial… bands and artists that spoke to me through their incessantly dark lyrics; that was where I was in my life at that time. I can still listen to that stuff now, but I’m just not in that place anymore; this appears to be the place where Abel resides… My issues with him have come from a couple of areas: 1.) He comes off really whiny sometimes- I think it’s his falsetto- Eddie Kendricks he ain’t; 2.) He seems to use his platform to express sexual desires and thoughts I’d rather not hear about- he appears to use sex as a tool to overcome his personal issues – that’s nothing new in lyrical content, but the use of overtly sexual lyrics seem gratuitous and unnecessary to me.

To his credit, he takes accountability for his actions; many of the songs here express a level of regret for his part in past failed relationships, the effects of his personality on the women who’ve tried to love him through personal demons like his well-documented drug use, and sort of pining for those lovers he lost, wishing he could have them back, but knowing he can’t – it’s a recurring theme throughout – in short, it seems like he’s maturing. The setting for these thoughts appears to be Las Vegas, where he is dressed a bit gaudy, and is bloody from all the sin he’s partaken while in Sin City.

My first listen through the first half of the album wore me down- especially lyrically – I almost stopped listening, I was worn out from the weight of the lyrics. Musically, it has some variety I like : “Too Late” is influenced by UK Garage, and “Hardest to Love” is influenced heavily by Drum & Bass; “Scared to Live” is like an 80’s torch ballad, and “Heartless” is Trap-ish. The second half begins with Abel confessing his continued drug use has him losing his religion (“Faith“), and then it gets very danceable in an 80’s Synth-pop kinda way, before closing the standard album with the morose “Until I Bleed Out“, where Abel seems to have weighed himself down from the journey through this album, and is emotionally spent. Now, the Deluxe edition adds three additional tracks, two of which follow the themes of much of the rest of the album, and then “Final Lullaby“, which is really an electronic lullaby, actually sounds more hopeful than anything else in the set. The Deluxe ed also includes four remixes: the Chromatics remix of “Blinding Lights“, which slows down the original’s New Wave flavor to a mid-tempo Synth-pop; the OPN remix of “Save Your Tears“, which sounds like some old Ultravox (that’s a good thing!); the Vapor Wave remix of “Heartless” is more Trapped out and includes a verse from Lil Uzi Vert, and the Blaze remix of the title track adds little to the original. Finally, there’s the nice performance of “Scared to Live” from Saturday Night Live, which finds Abel dressed as he is on the album cover.

After getting through the second half of the album, I went back over the first half, and it sounded better to me – it actually started to take me back to those days where melancholia was my ish. As a whole, this may be his most well-rounded release, as it sorta blends old Trilogy-era Weeknd with his current styles. His most ardent fans are calling him the Michael Jackson of the Millennial generation; I don’t know if I’d put him on that high a pedestal yet, BUT he may be one of the closest (besides Bruno Mars) to it out there… Here is the video for one of my fave tacks. “In Your Eyes“…

On his newest album, the cryptically titled 03.15.20, Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino throws together a collage (some may say collision) of ideas, into the new project. I’m not even bothering to post a pic of the album cover, for it’s a blank white cover… I’ve seen one version with “ presents” dimly etched into it, but that ain’t the official cover…

All of the albums tracks (with the exception of the second and third tracks “Algorhythm” and “Time“) are indicated by timestamps; we know “42:26” as “Feels Like Summer” from 2018; everything else has been created over the past several years. “Algorhythm” is a nice tribal-infused track that interpolates Zhane’s “Hey Mr. D.J.” and samples a Nine Inch Nails song, while “Time” features an uncredited Ariana Grande. “12:38” features a verse from 21 Savage, while the nearly eight minute “24:14” sounds like mid-80’s Prince, and the first thought that crossed my mind when hearing 39:28 was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody“. His son Legend joins him on “47:48“, a track previous known as “Don’t Worry About Tomorrow“, a song that celebrates living for today, while fighting to survive to see tomorrow – Childish likes to place contrasts like this in his tracks – remember “This Is America“? Finally, in “53:49“, he proclaims “there is love in every moment under the sun“, trying to celebrate the life he’s been given.

There are moments of greatness interspersed with moments of “huh???” on the album; all told, it’s a bit uneven, but if you check out the album according to Gambino’s own tendencies, celebrate and listen to the best tracks, and skip the minutiae… Here is the audio for “Time“…

This may possibly be another case of where I’m clearly outside of my element…. My Spotify app likes to recommend different things for me to listen to; sometimes, it’s right, and other times I’m going “why’d you think I’d like that???” So it said I should listen to CALM, the new album from Australian boy band pop-punksters turned young men 5 Seconds of Summer. The album, titled after the first letter of each of the band member’s first names, is their fourth studio album, and is said to be one that stretches them out a little more musically.

This somewhat new direction for the guys may detract a little from them forging a new identity and a sound all their own, as I hear clear influences of The Cure (“Thin White Lies” ), coming off a little like Depeche Mode a la “Personal Jesus” on “Lonely Heart“, and elements of of styles from several other artists. Having said that, the majority of the songs are pleasant enough – I can hear most of them as being radio-ready, particularly the two singles “Old Me” and “No Shame“. The songwriting is indicative of a group maturing their sound – their core fans, which I imagine are young women, are growing with them, so I know they’re diggin’ it.

I’m not sure why Spotify suggested I listen to this album, but I’m willing to give just about anything a listen; I’m glad I did. Although this isn’t my speed, I can’t diss this effort from 5SOS… it’s aiight…. Here’s the video for “No Shame“…

It’s always a potential minefield when you try to regurgitate or reinterpret classic music- like singers trying to do Luther, or another trumpeter trying to do Miles. For her third studio album, NYC- based Jazz alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin tackles the music of Alice and John Coltrane.

Persuance – The Coltranes is an ambitious 13- track collection of her interpretations of their music, split almost evenly between the two artists. Along for the ride is some impressive guest help, from the likes of Ron Carter, Regina Carter, Gary Bartz, Greg Osby, plus vocal help from Jazzmeia Horn, DeeDee Bridgewater, and The Last Poets, among others. Coming in, my main concern with all of these instrumentalists on an album done by an instrumentalist is that they’re not stepping all over each other on the tracks. Benjamin is taking herself on a bit of a spiritual journey by exploring the music of the couple, and putting herself into “character” so to speak, helped her better interpret their songs.

The Coltrane estate prohibits lyrics to be added to their compositions, so any vocalists are relegated to other things. With that being said, the first tracks that grabbed me here are her collabos with young Jazz vocal diva Horn, doing her best Ella scat over “Central Park West“, and DeeDee Bridgewater and The Last Poets providing scat and spoken word over “Acknowledgement“; less impressive was the rendition of Alice’s “Om Shanti“, which featured bass work from Meshell N’degeocello and chant from Georgia Anne Muldrow. She absolutely smokes Alice’s “Prema” and especially “Turiya and Ramakrishna“, as well as John’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute”.

It would be fair to say that this young lady, with her athletic sax playing, can be added to a growing list of the next generation of Jazz artists to anchor the genre, along with Kamasi Washington, Jazzmeia Horn, and others. And to think, she hasn’t peaked yet; contrary to popular perception, Jazz is in good hands… Here is the audio for my favorite track on the album, “Central Park West“…

I got really hyped up when I heard one of my favorite groups, Thievery Corporation, was releasing a new album; then I learned that it really wasn’t new new, but new versions of old songs, and that somewhat tempered my excitement.

Symphonik is the DC-based duo’s ninth album, and it’s essentially orchestrated versions of songs they’ve done before, recorded with the FILMharmonic Orchestra from Prague, Czech Republic.

Thievery Corporation

Now don’t get me wrong, this is still a nice album, the music is beautiful – I was just hoping for all new music. Here is the audio for “Sweet Tides“…

The fourth album from bassist Thundercat is called It Is What It Is, and once you listen to a few of the songs, you’ll know why he titled it like that. This is the project of 35 year old bassist Stephen Bruner, who once played with punk band Suicidal Tendencies, and is currently musically aligned with the Alt-Soul aesthetic of artists like Flying Lotus; he was a major contributor to Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly. This is the followup to his critically acclaimed 2017 album Drunk.

Thundercat uses a sort of cosmic sense of humor… not too unlike The Jimmy Castor Bunch did in the 70’s (although they were a little sillier)… and you hear both a sardonic wit and some silliness in his lyrics- basically, he’s saying that whatever you make of a situation, ultimately (insert album title) – sometimes, you just gotta laugh. Take, for instance, the song for which the video below is for, “Dragonball Durag“, which describes a man trying to get the attention of a young lady at all costs, and choosing to highlight his headgear over other parts of his outlandish outfit. On “King of the Hill“, he uses a sardonic wit to illustrate a man misusing his personal resources for cheap thrills. Other tracks are more direct in their intention, such as “Miguel’s Happy Dance“, which simply implores you to dance to make yourself feel good, while “I Love Louis Cole” is simply a homage to his friend. He references his sense of loss of his friend, the late Mac Miller, in a couple of tracks – especially in “Fair Chance” which also features Ty Dolla $ign; the sense of loss recurs a few times in the album. On “Black Qualls“, he’s joined by Childish Gambino, Steve Lacy, and Steve Arrington of Slave fame (this collabo is 3 Steve’s and a Donald!), and it speaks of overcoming fear and paranoia.

This album has a strong, cohesive, and smooth flow to it – several tracks are nothing more than interludes that clock in under two minutes – the whole album glides through its’ 15 tracks in just 37 minutes… so smooth, I actually listened to the whole thing twice in a row without interruption. It picks up essentially where Drunk left off, and continues a run of great music being produced by this brotha- this is highly recommended…. Here is the video for “Dragonball Durag“…

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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