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Music to Get You Through A Quarantine

It looks like we may be in a situation where we are sheltered in place for longer than we expected; this COVID-19 pandemic has us all locked down. With me working from home at the moment, it affords me the ability to listen to music in one ear while listening to customers in the other ear; as such, I’m able to check out a lot of new music while captive doing my job. Hopefully, everyone reading this is staying well and out of the virus’ way.

For this post, I’m taking a spin on some new chilled out vibes from the likes of up ‘n coming Soul diva Elah Hale with her debut release, the latest from the prolific Lemongrass, a collabo from Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes, a new project from Toronto duo dvsn, a new collection of unreleased tracks from 24 Carat Black, the latest from Alina Baraz, and something new and different from MJ Cole. Keep calm, relax, and listen to these new tunes…


As I’ve said before, quoting The Fab Four, “I get by with a little help from my friends“… and family… and co-workers. I cannot take credit for my discovery of this young sista; that honor goes to someone who gave me a recommendation once before… my co-worker Ebony, who also turned me on to Ari Lennox (whose Shea Butter Baby album is still saved to my Spotify library) . She was gushing about this release, the debut Room 206 EP from 20 year old New York native Elah Hale, so I decided to give it a listen.

Short and to the point, it’s a winner. This nearly album length EP, which is nine tracks in about 28 minutes, was named after her college dorm room, and shows some decent songwriting for someone not even old enough to get a legal drink; keeping in mind she just turned 20, the subject matter isn’t very deep… communication issues in relationships is a common theme… it is often cleverly presented, though, like in “Posters“… “Cause baby, if you’re ready, this is my time (My time) / If you really need me just hit my line / Are you really leaving? This is way too fast / I’m gonna put the missing posters back…” The wife, whom I thought would like this album too, gravitated immediately to “one star rating“, as did I. What the songs may lack in perceived depth is compensated for in the simple intricacy of the lyrical content’s ability to weave in multiple aspects of a relationship without being gross, profane, or overtly sexual – there isn’t any P ‘n D content here (and I like that a LOT!). The other big track here, “My House” could be a quarantine anthem… “I’m cool, we’re cool, it’s fine / We could kick it at my house…” It’s hittin’ at just the right time.

I hear some crossover appeal for Elah; some of the tracks could make it on Pop radio, and some Alternative stations could get into some of this, too… some of her backing vocals are reminiscent of Cocteau Twins vocalist Elisabeth Fraser… and for the most part, she is definitely video ready- she has model looks… as I like to say… she purdy too!… although in some videos and photos, she likes to dye her eyebrows blonde, which makes her look kinda creepy (as Madea’s brother would say…. “don’t do it!”). Overall, get in on the ground floor while you can, cuz this young lady is gonna be large… Here’s the video for “My House“…


One of the most prolific artists I’ve come across in music happens to be German producer Roger Voss, who is the creative entity behind Lemongrass; his first project for 2020 is Temptations. By my count, this is his 24th album since he came on the scene back in 1998 with Drumatic Universe, which found him dabbling with the jazzy side of Jungle / Drum & Bass; last year alone, he released two full length albums, Earth and Imagine, plus an EP, a collaborative effort with vocalist Jane Maximova called Seven, and a various artists compilation album (Lemongrass is also a label) called Space Station Vol. 3.

He likes to create a sort of World Fusion, incorporating elements of music from different cultures, along with New Age / Ambient, Jazz, Electronica, Lounge, and Soul all making it into the mix. The general vibe is chill, and Temptations add a bit of sultry and sexy to the mix, making it almost like a trippy Jazzmasters.

Lemongrass

This album may be best enjoyed with headphones, a libation, and perhaps a significant other… or maybe just meditate solo in it’s hypnotic grooves. Check out the extensive back catalogue, too… lots of good stuff to explore… Here’s the video for “Keep Dancing“…


Now, here is another artist recommendation provided to me, courtesy of my co-worker Angel, who also turned me on to Nicole Bus. I checked out the Tom Misch 2018 solo debut Geography, and thought it was pretty good; this new album pairs the British guitarist / producer with versatile UK session Jazz drummer Yussef Dayes for What Kinda Music.

What kinda music you’ll find here is varied, from a little Prog Rock, some Jazz, a little Hip-hop, and some Soul, mostly all kinda mixed together. He is not too far off from what the likes of Thundercat and Flying Lotus are giving us these days, although he isn’t as far out into left field as they are- he’s more commercially accessible, yet still cutting edge. Musicianship isn’t a big thing, it seems, anymore, so those of us who appreciate that will definitely appreciate this duo. Recent albums from other drummers that I’ve reviewed (Makaya McCraven, Terri Lyne Carrington) illustrate the importance of the timekeeper, while the versatility of the other musicians to transcend genres, as Misch does effortlessly, ties it all together; you can tell the guys enjoy working with each other, and work well together. Prog rockers will enjoy “Last 100” and “Kyiv“, while “Storm Before the Calm” is more straight-ahead Jazz. “Nightrider” features U.S. rapper Freddie Gibbs, and is a butta-smooth hednodda, while “Lift Off” and “Julie Mangos” veer towards the funky side.

Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes

I’ve read a couple of other reviews of this album, and they’ve criticized the pairing of these two very talented musicians as doing a lot of noodling that’s more gratifying to them than it is to us, the listener; I’d have to disagree with that. If you’re looking for a rambunctious explosion of sound, no, this isn’t it; BUT, if you’re looking for mellow, keen musicianship from two accomplished players, this IS it. I like it a lot, and I think you will, too… Here is the video for “Nightrider“…


The third album from the Toronto duo of Daniel Daley and Nineteen85, better known as dvsn, just dropped; following up on 2017’s Morning After, they’ve decided to expand their sound a bit with A Muse In Her Feelings.

For better or worse, the expansion of their sound, in my opinion, was not the best idea for them; once again, my general disdain for the guest feature comes into play. Their first two albums were largely devoid of guests, but this album is replete with them. And it’s not that the features are bad – they have a formidable list of guests, including Future, Ty Dolla $ign, Snoh Aalegra, Popcaan, and others, and they do those things they do; it’s just that it detracts from dvsn. And as for what they do, this concept, though ambitious, of them painting the nude subject (the muse) on the cover with their music (apparently – I don’t see a paintbrush or any other art supplies, like the colors of paint), it comes off as rather pretentious – it ain’t that deep at all.

Oddly enough, it’s a song with a guest feature on it that strikes me the most, and that’s the track for which I posted the video below, “Between Us“, which features Snoh Aalegra – it’s a nice, 90’s sounding ballad. If you like dvsn, I would stick to their earlier albums, as this one, while OK, rings somewhat hollow compared to them, in my opinion.


As I was getting interested in the sound of Jazz in the early 90’s, a combination of Funk, Jazz, and Soul started to coalesce into what became Acid Jazz, and as part of that, the earlier Rare Groove scene focused on funky Jazz Fusion, as well as under-appreciated and obscure Soul and Funk gems from the 60’s and 70’s. One of the songs that caught my ear was the theme song for the Cincinnati-based group 24 Carat Black, the project of Dale Warren, a man who orchestrated some of Isaac Hayes’ seminal recordings, among others, on Stax records in the 70’s, before uniting with a group called the Ditalians. The song, titled after the group’s new name, was the final track on their only album, 1973’s Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth. There is a second album of previously unreleased tracks culled from the sessions for the first album that was released in 2009 and titled Gone: The Promises of Yesterday.

You may not know their name, but if you’re a Hip-hop head, you will undoubtedly recognize their music through the many times tracks from the album have been sampled, from older tracks by Eric B., Digable Planets, and Dre, to recent tracks by Pusha T and Kendrick Lamar. This newly-released album, simply called III, is an unfinished project of Warren’s that pulls together tracks from the early 90’s that were never released; Warren passed away in 1994.

The album continues the soundtrack-type vibe Warren displayed on earlier recordings; they’re sparse, languid tracks that are occasionally haunting, and feature a trio of different female vocalists from track to track. This is an effective final chapter to the legacy of this group. Here is my favorite cut from the album, and its’ longest track, the hypnotic ten minute instrumental “Skeleton Coast“…


So as far as I’m concerned, there is a bit of confusion surrounding the new project from Alina Baraz. I’ve read other reviews of the album, and each one is calling It Was Divine her debut album; did they not hear her fine 2018 effort The Color of You? Or are we calling that an EP now? Maybe I don’t know what constitutes an album anymore, but to my mind, this is her third project, including her actual debut with Galimatias on Urban Flora back in 2015.

For the most part, this album is appropriately titled; it’s all about love. Her dreamy voice slinks over the equally dreamy backdrop of many of the tracks; “Endlessly” is a gorgeous track, and so is “More Than Enough“, the first track I heard in advance of the album’s release. She pairs up again with Khalid for “Off the Grid“, and 6lack joins her for the short “Morocco“. Where the album stumbles is with the collabo with Smino (“Gimme the Wheel“) and the steppers track “Until I Met You“, which features a verse from Nas – the track itself is nice, but it pains me to say that he was not needed there. Other than those, no other missteps to be found here. The showstoppers for me were two acoustic guitar-driven tracks : “Say You Know” is a lush, orchestrated track that sends chills down my spine, and the closing track, ironically titled “The Beginning” has a mild Bossa Nova influence – I had already said before I got to this track that I could envision her as an Astrud Gilberto type in a sparse, acoustic setting – and then she sends us off with that track – what a way to go!

It goes without further saying, I like this album a lot, and you should, too… Here is the lyric video for “Endlessly“…


Back in 2000, I was introduced to MJ Cole through the release of his debut album Sincere; he was at the forefront of the UK 2Step / Garage scene – that album is a dance classic in my book, and still sounds great today. He released the album Cut to the Chase in 2003, and has also released numerous other dance-oriented, experimental electronic, and occasionally ambient singles and EP’s over the years, but Madrugada is his first album of all-new material in 17 years.

This album is the latest evolution of sound for Cole, as it is the chillest of chill albums – almost completely beatless, it’s lush, orchestrated, beautiful music – perfect for more quiet, serene moments, late night comedowns, and relaxation. It’s sleepy, soundtrack-y, and perfect as inobtrusive background music, yet at the same time, music meant to draw you in and make you take notice of its’ beauty.

There are numerous videos from the album available, and they are just as beautiful to watch as the music is to listen to – take your pick of them… here is one of those videos, “90 Miles“…


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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