Will These '20's Roar Like the Last One?… and The Best of 2019

The decade of the 1920’s witnessed the dawning of the phenomenons we know today as consumer spending and popular culture; as the 2020’s decade is now upon us, it may go down to those who research it a hundred years from now as one of the decades during the Technology Age. Obviously, I wasn’t around for the last one…. my dad was born in the last year of the 1920’s, and my mother missed it by three years (but at 86 years of age and still kickin’, she is now witnessing her 10th decade!)… and I won’t be around for the next one; but as I begin living in my seventh decade, I wondered what it was like a hundred years ago – and of course, since this is a music blog, what the music was like back then.

What was invented in the 1920s? Lots of major inventions occurred during the decade; some of them were: Radio stations– the first U.S. radio station debuted in October 1920, and with it came a whole new concept to marketing, as well as the promotion of music and the artists that made it, as well as being the forefather to television. By the late ’20’s, more than half of households reportedly had a radio.

An early radio

The lie detector was invented in 1921, and probably no-one is happier for its’ presence than Maury Povich. The first self-winding wristwatch was invented in 1923; also invented in 1923 was the instant camera – it also self-developed film. In 1924, the loudspeaker system was invented, and in 1925, the television was invented- it didn’t become a mass-produced item until some time later. The automobile was first introduced in 1908, but the automobile industry took off, thanks to the prosperity many people were experiencing, in the 1920’s, and bringing with it the drive-in restaurant in ’21, the convertible in ’22, and the stoplight in ’23, not to mention other industries like the gas station. Finally, in 1927, the first selective jukebox was introduced to the world, and the first “talking” movie appeared – The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, arrived in ’27, and ended the silent movie era.

What were the big events of the 1920’s? Two of the events defining the 1920’s occurred at the beginning and end of the decade. In August of ’20, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote, and of course, 1929 witnessed the collapse of the Stock Market, sending the country into The Great Depression. There is a nice timeline created for most of the big events of the decade; you can check it out here:


Most importantly, what kind of music was popular in the 1920’s? Coming into the 1920’s, the popular music of the day was still Orchestral music, along with music from the theater, mainly Broadway. The decade is remembered as the Jazz Age, as the style, largely created and performed (at least initially) by Black artists, began to take over the American musical conscience. It followed Ragtime, which is perhaps an early version of what came to be known as Jazz; that style dated back to end of the 1890’s through the 1910’s. Many detractors of Jazz referred to it as the “devil’s music” and completely dismissed it; however, it became popular enough that White musicians appropriated the style and created essentially a sub-genre of it that would put a White face on it and make it palatable to White audiences (this phenomenon still occurs today!). Two of its’ biggest stars were Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington; often, Black artists could play in clubs where Black patrons couldn’t go, as was the order of the times- and they could play, but they couldn’t stay if the venue was a hotel.

Duke Ellington & his Orchestra

Similarly, Blues also became part of the musical landscape; it was also performed mainly by Black artists (who else could claim having the “blues” but Black people back then? Maybe Eastern and Southern Europeans, but they were ultimately accepted, and decided to band against Blacks like everyone else)… This fact led to the music being referred to as “Race music”, although White audiences later appropriated this style, as well. Early stars of the Blues were women: Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith; among early male stars was Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Bessie Smith

Dancing was a big part of the scene, with the biggest dance of the decade being “The Charleston”. Check out this clip of the legendary Josephine Baker doing the dance in this clip from 1925…

So will these 20’s roar??? I believe they will, for both similar and dissimilar reasons the 1920’s roared. The advances made during the 1920’s were revolutionary for the times; no-one in their wildest imagination, however, would’ve predicted then where technology has taken us today. We have some idea for where technology is going in the immediate future, but ultimately no idea where technology will be in year 2120 (if man will not have already destroyed everything by then). My kids, if they live into their 80’s, will witness the beginning of the next century, but they’d have to live past 100 to see 2120 -their kids will live to tell the tales about how we used to use something called the internet to stream music and movies, and how our cars had to actually be driven by us to get from place to place, and how our big appliances like refrigerators had to stay in one spot, connected by a rubberized cable to an electrical outlet. What we’re experiencing now will be ancient someday, and people will look back on it and laugh, saying to themselves “I couldn’t have lived like that!”…. But today, year 2020, and for the next ten years, they will ROARRRRRRRR…

The 62nd GRAMMY Awards will be broadcast on January 26th. From the list of nominees, there are 16 albums that I reviewed last year (and a couple that actually came out in 2018) that are nominated for at least one award; in the cases of Khalid, Billie Eilish, and Lizzo, they’re nominated for multiple awards in some of the most prestigious categories, like Song of the Year, Album of the Year, etc. Gary Clark Jr. was nominated in two distinctly different categories, for Rock Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album of the Year for This Land. Ella Mai, whose album garnered multiple awards last year, is up for a couple more this year, from the same album. For the complete listing of nominees, check out the following link:


The Best Music of 2019 (to MY ears)

During 2019, Now Hear This! issued 17 posts, and reviewed 77 albums; there were numerous other albums that I listened to, but didn’t review for the blog. Of those 77 albums, here are my 10 Best of 2019 – they’re in no particular order:

Ash Walker


The third album from British bassist and producer Walker continued his forays into a wall of sound style of trippy, dubby Soul/Jazz/Funk. Put on some headphones and prepare to nod ya head.

Chase & Status


After stepping away from the scene for a while to do some different styles of music, this British duo + MC come home to the scene where it started for them; in the process, they explored the roots of Jungle/drum & bass, taking it all the way back to its’ Ragga roots. The results were incredible… as evidenced by it being awarded the Best Drum & Bass Album of 2019 at the D ‘n B Arena Awards last month.


A Journey to You

The debut album from Zurich, Switzerland-based producer is low-fi, mellow, jazzy, and soulful Hiphop-ish grooves, not unlike 90’s Trip-hop. And with no slight to the man that uses the name, these are the REAL Swiss beatz!

Marvin Gaye

You’re the Man

The “lost” 1972 album that was to be the followup to the landmark What’s Going On? finally saw the light of day after 47 years, and it made me wonder what was going on… with Berry Gordy for not releasing this back then – lots of good music here.

Gary Clark Jr.

This Land

The third studio album from Bluesman Clark flirted with controversy for the subject matter of the title track, but was also his most fully realized, versatile album to date… so good, it received nominations for a GRAMMY for best album in two different genres!

Durand Jones & the Indications

American Love Call

The sophomore album from these college friends from Indiana University showed off their finely-honed chops in the sound of vintage Soul a la The Delfonics and Dramatics.

The Black Keys

Let’s Rock

The Keys latest album was pure Rock ‘n Roll, putting a hold on talk that the genre was dying, showcasing styles that harkened back to 70’s Top 40 and album Rock, and early New Wave like The Knack or The Romantics. Rock on!

Sudan Archives


The debut album from Cincinnati native, L.A.-based singer, composer, and fiddler straddles the line between her more organic, early releases that more prominently featured her primal violin over tape loops, and her leanings into more of an Alt-Soul diva. She is, in my opinion, easily the most interesting artist in that crowded field.

Our Native Daughters

Songs of Our Native Daughters

This Black woman Folk supergroup, the brainchild of Rhiannon Gidddens, brings together four banjo-wielding sistas singing important historical stories of the female of color’s experiences through time.


Dubplate Special

The latest project from London-based Brazilian Drum & Bass producer was another album that explored the roots of Jungle; he went so far as to even retrofit his studio to analog equipment prevalent in the mid 90’s in order to recreate the sound- the results were spot-on. This one was nominated for Best Drum ‘n Bass Album at the D ‘n B Arena Awards, and deservedly so.

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)


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“…



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


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“…



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


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…



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“…

Lemme Hear It Again: Giving Thanks for Good Music

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)

Kanye West

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“…

Robert Glasper

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…

Black Violin

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…

Sudan Archives


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“…

Travis Greene

Broken Record

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“…

Sometimes, It’s NOT Music to My Ears

A colleague once asked me about the methods I use in determining what to review for this blog; I told them it’s very much the same way I’ve amassed a huge collection of music- just by listening to a lot of different stuff. A better question may be how I’ve ended up listening to some of the artists I like.

Over the years, one of the methods I’ve used to check out a new artist would begin with something as benign as their name… if I thought the name of the artist or group was cool, I’d check ’em out. That method has produced some of the groups I’ve listened to constantly over the years; I found my favorite all-time band, The Stranglers, that way back during my Punk years. Most of the artists on the 4AD label, particularly Cocteau Twins and Wolfgang Press, had cool names. Of more recent vintage, Thievery Corporation and The Black Keys were a curiosity choice based solely on their name; today, they are among my favorite groups. Many artists today have really stupid names that generate no curiosity for me; I’ll probably never listen to YoungBoy Never Broke Again, or anyone else with a name that ridiculous. Another method is hype (that’s how I ended up listening to Cardi B. last year), and lastly, past experience with the artist. Now… once I have an artist queued up, I’m hoping the music justifies and satisfies my curiosity; regrettably, sometimes what I hear is NOT music to my ears, which is contrary to my tagline. But sometimes it happens; when it does, I’ll review it anyway, so you’ll know what’s up, too. Even if I don’t like something, I’ll always advise you to listen to it, so that you can decide for yourself- maybe you’ll like it.

Time for a disclaimer: The preceding comments do not necessarily apply to the music I’m about to review. There. In this post, I have reviews of the new Fantasia album, the latest from Sturgill Simpson, a new joint from Reggae legend Mad Professor, and a new album from The Avett Brothers.

The Heard (REVIEWS)



The first verse from “History“, the opening track of Fantasia’s sixth album begins: ” Thought it was over for me / Nah, don’t never believe that / So now I need you to come closer towards me / I’m about to state true facts / It ain’t ever over for me…” Who said that about you, ‘Tasia??? I didn’t hear that… Anyway, her first album (not counting her 2017 Christmas album) since 2016’s The Definition Of… makes a powerful opening statement, and sets the tone for a collection of tunes that paint a portrait of imperfections throughout her life, things that have happened to her that have made her stronger… hence, the album’s title.

One of the things I’m always prepared for when listening to Fantasia is for her to go all Patti Labelle on us and start screaming lyrics out; I was pleasantly surprised to see she kept her raspy, gritty, very expressively soulful voice relatively contained. After her opening statement, she goes into a Trap duet with T-Pain for the relatively wretched “PTSD“, which in this case stands for “Post Traumatic Sex Disorder”. Ugggh! But then she gets back on course with “Believer“, which celebrates the goodness of her man, and the early release track “Enough” and “The Way!“, both of which celebrate relationships in full bloom. After that, we get to two of the standout tracks for me: “Bad Girl“, which finds her telling us the type of woman a man needs (of course, she’s it)… “Then I’ll be the bad girl / The one that you really want / The one that won’t settle for nothing / And make you show just what you’re made of / Yeah, I’ll be the bad girl / The one that you’re scared to love / I’ll make you face all your fears, then wipe all your tears / So toughen up and fall for the bad girl…” and the call to arms track “Free“, which asks the question “We gon’ get it right, when we gon’ get it right?“… the highlight for me with these tracks is the string arrangements, which were done by my girl Nicole Neely, who’s a personal acquaintance of mine from church, who’s going on to do big things… BIG UPS to her, these arrangements are tight!… We move on to “Holy Ghost“, a kind of Gospel/Trap hybrid that’ll be performed by every young adult and youth choir in the Black church at some point, and “Take Off” which simulates a Burna Boy-type rhythm over which she expresses hope for a budding relationship. “Fighting” is a gorgeous track of two people setting out to conquer the world together, and “Warning” is a Rock-influenced track directed at the sistas about the ‘ladies in wait’ for their man. Finally, there’s the duet with her mother, a sweet Southern Soul track “Looking for You“, which is a homage to God.

This may be the first time I’ve ever given a track-by-track account of an entire album, but that’s what you have here; every track has something to give, so I thought it pertinent to at least mention them all. This is really a pretty nice album – at first, I was a little cool to it, especially after hearing “PTSD” – but now I’m cool with it. There’s a lil flava for everybody, so you’re bound to find something you like here… Here’s the video for “Bad Girl“…

Sturgill Simpson


The fourth album from 41 year old Kentucky native Simpson takes a left turn from his previous efforts, which were a hybrid of outlaw Country and Prog Rock. After winning the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for his 2017 album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, which was loosely based on the birth of his son, Simpson creates a soundtrack for an anime film on Netflix.

SOUND & FURY is an appropriate name for the album, for it is an exercise in both; it’s sequenced as if he’s changing the station on a radio dial, so the tracks veer from one style to another, abruptly, and often in surprising fashion. If you’re looking for something that sounds like some of his earlier work, about the only place you’ll find it is on “All Said and Done“; otherwise, you get a Disco-flavored track in “A Good Look“, a track that reminds me of The Cars in “Mercury In Retroglade“, the punkish boogie of “Last Man Standing“, and the sleaziness of “The Fastest Horse in Town“. He’s got synthesizers on several tracks, prominently featuring on tracks like “Best Clockmaker on Mars” and “Make Art Not Friends“- this track’s title, I believe, is a summation of the tone of the album- a project done on the artist’s terms, without regard for what you may think of it. As far as what is most accessible in the set, “Remember to Breathe” and “Sing Along” are as close as this album gets to being radio-friendly.

In true outlaw fashion, Simpson has bucked trends and expectations with this release, making an album that really isn’t Country at all, but is a lot of other things. It’s everything he wants it to be, and perhaps nothing you had in mind…. and he’s perfectly fine with that. Personally, I think it’s freaking brilliant; I wish more artists would take this approach, instead of trying to please the masses… Here is the video for “Sing Along“…

Mad Professor

Mad Professor Meets Gaudi

Two worlds collide, sort of, on the latest album from legendary British dubmeister Neil Fraser aka Mad Professor. As the ’20’s approach us, he will be entering his 5th decade in the industry, and at 64 years of age, shows no sign of letting up on his prolific proclivity and running his Ariwa label. I had the good fortune to catch him in concert on a double bill with another Dub legend, Lee “Scratch” Perry back in November 1997 at, of all places, the Cubby Bear Lounge, in the shadows of Wrigley Field in Chicago; that was a great show, despite Perry’s characteristic off-kilter demeanor. This time around, he joins forces with Italian World fusion artist Gaudi, who’s been around almost as long as he has, for his latest project.

It’s hard to say how much input Gaudi had in the making of this album, as this sounds very much like most of Mad Professor’s other albums – then again, since Gaudi dabbles in Dub quite heavily himself, this may be very much a collaborative effort. I was actually hoping for more influence on this project from Gaudi- less reggae, but more from other genres, to see what Professor would do with ’em; alas, everything here is reggae. He takes a track “Cry Cry Blood” from Steel Pulse’s Mass Manipulation album and gives it the dub treatment as “Cry Dub“, as well as tracks from ex-Black Uhuru frontman Mykal Rose (“Sharp In Dub“), and British reggae and Ariwa label artist Macka B. (“Dub On Camera“).

This is a typical Mad Professor album, lots of good tracks, a couple of dud dubs, but surprisingly little effect from the collaboration with Gaudi. The audio of the album’s opening track “Smoking High” is included here; it’s a reggae dub version of The Staple Singers “Let’s Do It Again“…

The Avett Brothers

Closer Than Together

For their latest project, Scott and Seth Avett declared they weren’t making a political record; the album would, however, speak on current events of the day. And then they went out and did an album with a lot of political and social commentary on it. Now, if you’ve read this blog any length of time, you know that sort of content will usually perk up my antennae and prompt me to listen to what they have to say. This is my first exposure to this Concord, NC – based Americana group, so I have no history of what they have sounded like, written about, or anything like that over their previous nine studio albums; I have an open mind, though, so I wanted to hear their musings on this one.

As with any artist who sticks their neck out to give an opinion on social and political matters, they face a backlash from fans that don’t share their opinion; as expected, some have roiled against some of the tracks, giving the usual “stick to music” admonishments or other counter argument. Three tracks stick out here for their subject matter: “We Americans” is especially thorny, in that it recalls the mistakes made by the country they staunchly defend and represent… ” A misnamed people and a kidnapped race / Laws may change, but we can’t erase the scars of a nation / Of children devalued and disavowed / Displaced by greed and the arrogance of manifest destiny / Short-sighted to say it was a long time ago / Not even two life times have passed since the days of Lincoln / The sins of Andrew Jackson, the shame of Jim Crow / And time moves slow when the tragedies are beyond description…” Of course, they’re right about what they said, but some folks don’t wanna hear that. Then there’s “Bang Bang“, which addresses their disdain for gratuitously violent movies, and also comments on those gun-loving individuals… ” I live in the country because I love peace and quiet / But all of my neighbors have closets full of machine guns / And every Sunday they’re out there, pretending to be Rambo / And I’m in here pretending like Sunday is still sacred…” Ouch! Finally, there’s “New Woman’s World“, where they contradict the honorable James Brown… “It used to be a man’s world, but we didn’t treat it right / It used to be a man’s world, but all we did was fight / I’m glad it’s finally in the hands of the women and the girls / I can’t wait to see what they do with what’s left of the world…” This song has a decent melody, but this and “Bang Bang‘ both come off as somewhat wimpy and emasculating. As for some of the other tracks here, the back end has some ballads that I actually like- they remind me somewhat of early Elton John – the closer “It’s Raining Today” is especially nice. The single “High Steppin’” includes some electronic flourishes, and is the personal statement of a self-described outsider, while “Tell the Truth” advises the listener to take care of self first, and stop trying to please everyone, at your own expense.

I can certainly appreciate some of the sentiments presented here, although some will find this effort a bit preachy and sanctimonious. Overall, I’m lukewarm to this project – some good tracks, and some weak tracks. Here is the video for “High Steppin‘”…

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


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


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


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


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…

Critiquing Music is a Labor of Love

I’ve been writing about music, off and on, for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 years, all out of love, and the desire to be another Nelson George. As this post is being published during the week of Labor Day, I remind myself again of why I continue to do it without any recognition or compensation: I simply LOVE good music, and I want to tell everybody about it!

For this post, I have reviews of six new releases, from Raphael Saadiq, Common, Snoh Aalegra, Jazzmeia Horn, The Teskey Brothers, and a reissue of a classic from Massive Attack; let’s check ’em out….

THE HEARD (Reviews)

Raphael Saadiq

Jimmy Lee

It had been a long time (eight years, to be exact), since we last heard from the man born as Charles Ray Wiggins, but known to us as Raphael Saadiq; his last album, 2011’s Stone Rollin‘ was a critically acclaimed exercise in mostly vintage Rock and Soul. That acclaim, however, didn’t translate into sales, as it was commercially polarizing, especially amongst the R&B crowd, many of whom wanted him to bring his music into the 21st Century; his 2008 album The Way I See It was a heavily Motown-influenced masterpiece that was both commercially and critically successful. Saadiq has long been a champion for the “classic” Soul sound, live instrumentation, and such; Tony! Toni! Tone! was one of the few groups I could stand to listen to as the 90’s was happening, because of that aesthetic.

For this album, he does bring both the music and aesthetic into the current…. perhaps too much so for some. This is a very personal album, one that tackles two heavy issues that hit close to home: addiction and mass containment. The album’s title is named for his late older brother, who died of a heroin overdose years ago; the second issue is, to some extent, intertwined with the first, as the effects of the cycle of addiction, from the standpoint of the supplier, user, and government all have worked to manifest themselves into mass incarceration of people of color. The song content seems to follow this cycle, too, as the first couple of tracks (“Sinners Prayer” and “So Ready“) seem to speak from the viewpoint of the supplier, while the next several tracks speak from the standpoint of the addict. Of these, “Something Keeps Calling” which features Rob Bacon, is the most accessible, and easily the best track on the album. The last section receives a bridge from “Belongs to God“, which features Rev. E Baker, and is a straight-up Gospel quartet tune that leads into the dual tracks “Rikers Island” and “Rikers Island Redux“, the former featuring the lament from Raphael that “too many niggas in Rikers Island “… and the latter featuring a spoken word from Daniel Watts about mass incarceration. Lastly, “Rearview” features verses from Kendrick Lamar, and takes a retrospective look at the addict’s life, and questions “How can I change the world, when I can’t change myself?“.

This album is sequenced in a manner where the tracks abruptly stop and move into the next; this is how Blood Orange programs his albums, and it was also heavily used on Solange’s last album; I’m not a big fan of this format, but at least most of the tracks are fully realized before they cut off. Still, the album flies through its’ 13 tracks in just 39 minutes, and is more an album for thinking and absorbing, than for singing and dancing to its’ tracks. I think that’s what I was looking for, which is why I had to give this project multiple listens to get it; some may be put off by the content, sequencing, etc. during the first listen. Overall, It’s OK, now that I’ve got it; some just won’t get it… Here’s the video for “Something Keeps Calling“…

Snoh Aalegra

-ugh… those feels again

The globalization of R&B continues to expand into other parts of the world; in Sweden, there seems to be a small, but vibrant scene. From this scene comes 31 year old singer Snoh Aalegra, born and raised in Sweden to Iranian parents. In the musical food chain, she is in the middle, between an artist like fellow Swede Seinabo Sey, a singer I’ve written about before, and is worth a listen (she’s a Swedish/Gambian mix), and who would be slotted below Snoh, and on the other side would be the artist I think is her obvious target, Alicia Keys. This album is the followup to, and continuation of, her 2017 debut Feels.

This album has been described as a breakup album, but what I hear is the life cycle of a love affair… the ambivalence… hopefulness…. euphoria… lust… love!… regret…. remorse… peace with how it ended. The four singles released prior to the album all appear here- “I Want You Around ” is a gorgeous lil’ stepper, while “Find Someone Like You” (my favorite) is another beautiful track that sounds like it could’ve been sung by Adele, but was wonderfully done by Snoh; “You” is a plaintive love song, and “Situationship” sounds as awkward as the scenario it describes. Snoh changes up the flava, with a mixture of Hip-hop Soul (“Whoa” and “Nothing to Me“), a nod to more of a 90’s sound (“Toronto“), the accessible Pop of the singles and other tracks like “Love Like That” and “I Didn’t Mean to Fall In Love“, and the dope straight up Hip-hop of the closing track “Peace“. Her voice ranges from velvety to emotionally gritty, and the best part? There are NO features on the album, just Snoh – she gets MAJOR points from me for that alone.

This one is an overall thumbs up for me; this is the kind of Snoh I like. It gives me some nice warm “feels”…. Here is the video for “I Want You Around“…


Let Love

My bias for some of my native hometown artists may rear its’ head again; Common continues to be my favorite rapper, both for flow and lyrical content, and also for his extensive portfolio into other areas, such as acting, writing, and philanthropy, as well as for the multiple awards bestowed upon him – GRAMMY, Academy, Golden Globe. This, his 12th album, follows the release of his latest book Let Love Have the Last Word, and his 2016 album Black America Again.

I have to admit this review delayed this article from being published, as I wanted to make sure I heard what I thought I heard… after all, Common is such a cerebral brotha, I wanted to make sure I got what he’s saying. In the foreword for the book, Common says he wanted to “share my process, digging deeper, and trying again, and continuing to trust God that we all have an opportunity to live in freedom, love, and positivity when we do the work on self…” So the album actually runs a common (pardon the pun) theme, in that it’s about love and its’ manifestations. He reprises his earlier ode to Hip-hop with “HER Love“, which features Daniel Caesar, celebrates being an MC on “Hercules“, pays tribute to his mother on “Forever Your Love” which features BJ the Chicago Kid, and tells a rather humorous (to me) tale of infidelity in “Fifth Story“. Elsewhere, “Show Me That You Love Me” features a verse from Jill Scott, and tackles questionable fatherhood decisions, while “Memories of Home” looks back at his earlier self, trying to deal with unresolved issues from childhood, “Leaders” pays homage to people from Chitown, and finally “God Is Love” ties everything together, as everything he does is done from a God-centric perspective, and that the subjects of God and love are intertwined.

With this album, Common shifts his mood from one of anger, as portrayed on his last album, to hope; it’s a change we all make as we get older. I had the pleasure of meeting Common through a co-worker back in the mid-90’s when he was still Common Sense, and he had that raw, youthful energy about him; here, he is more laid back, the music is mostly jazzy, almost loungey, and he’s more contemplative – a mood befitting a man in his late 40’s. To see hope at this stage of life isn’t naive, as some have suggested, it’s positive (and I’m as jaded as anyone, and even I see hope these days). But seeing hope isn’t trying to save the world; we know better. We just hope it changes, and we will do our part individually to effect said change. Good job with this one, brotha Rasheed, as always… Here is the video for “Hercules“…

Jazzmeia Horn

Love and Liberation

It’s a rarity to find a sista in her late 20’s not into the current R&B or Hip-hop styles, but when you do, your ears can be rewarded handsomely; such is the case with this 28 year old Dallas native, NYC based Jazz vocalist. This is her sophomore album, following up her 2017 debut release A Social Call.

You can easily ascertain that she’s well-studied in classic Jazz, as you can tell by her style; you’ll pick up elements of Sarah Vaughn’s no-nonsense, sassy style, coupled with the scat ability of a DeeDee Bridgewater, herself a student of the stylings of Ella Fitzgerald. She throws in a heavy dose of her own Millennial attitude to round it all out; what you get is a new school Jazz diva who’s already quite accomplished in her genre. From the opening track “Free Your Mind“, through the sassy “Out the Window” and “When I Say“, to the defiant, Jon Hendricks/Hubert Laws composed, Ray Charles-styled “No More” and the juke joint Blues of “Still Tryin‘”, Jazzmeia injects plenty of personality into the songs. Eight of the album’s twelve songs are self-penned, with the standout Jazz standard being the closing track, Johnny Mercer’s “I Thought About You“, in which she is accompanied only by string bass.

This album is a pleasure to listen to; it is unfortunate, however, that in today’s musical climate, she will likely not get the exposure, airplay, etc. she deserves, as she’s not trapped in Trap, not a sullen Soul artist, or a profane Hip-hop flava of the moment. She’s got real talent, style, and… (you know it’s coming)… she purdy too! These days, Jazz is a niche style, and it has been mentioned, like Rock, as showing signs of dying away. Many of the Jazz greats of the past started making a name for themselves around her current age; it will be someone like her that will help keep that fire lit for the next generation. No video is available for any of the album’s tracks, but here is the audio for “Free Your Mind“…

The Teskey Brothers

Run Home Slow

Having earlier spoke of the continued globalization of R&B, I ran across these guys in the New Music Friday playlist on Spotify last week. This is a quartet founded by two brothers from the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia who seem to have a penchant for the sound of Memphis’ Stax Records. Run Home Slow is the followup to last year’s debut Half Mile Harvest.

Somewhere in heaven, Otis Redding, Joe Cocker, and Bobby Womack are looking down on this band and smiling; those of us here on Earth have a reason to smile, too. These guys knock it out of the park with their mixture of Soul and Blues circa the late 60’s, with a little early 70’s Rock thrown in there as well. Lead singer Josh Teskey has a gritty, soulful voice that seems aged by some brown liquor… and for being Australian, I don’t pick up any hint of an accent. The second single “So Caught Up” is sooo good, and proof of what I’m talking about, but it abounds throughout the album, from the early 60’s Soul of the opener “Let Me Let You Down” through several tracks with titles like “Carry You“, “Hold Me“, and “Paint My Heart” (the long, kinda psychedelic Rock track here), to the current single “Rain“, and an earlier single “Man of the Universe“, whose opening reminds me of Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped By a Thing Called Love“.

If you like good, old school Rhythm & Blues (I spelled that out for a reason… the definition of R&B!), do yourself a favor and check these guys out; it’ll be well worth your time… Here is the video for “So Caught Up“…

Massive Attack

Mezzanine (Deluxe Edition)

This is a reissue of the group’s 1998 masterpiece, remastered and expanded with a bonus disc of dub remixes from frequent collaborator, Britain’s dub mixologist extraordinaire Mad Professor. Inexplicably, this album was originally scheduled for release back in December, but was delayed time and time again, finally just now seeing the light of day.

The original album has been remastered, and a half dozen of the album’s tracks have been remixed, along with a couple of new tracks. For me, the standout dub was for “Teardrop“, which features Elizabeth Fraser from Cocteau Twins, and is also my favorite track from the original album. Curiously, there is no remix for “Man Next Door“, one of three tracks featuring reggae veteran Horace Andy- that one seemed like it would be a perfect fit for Mad Professor’s wizardry. There have been many remixes of tracks from this album floating around over the years, including some versions of these remixes, so I don’t understand the delays – they attributed them to production issues. This album sounds as fresh now as it did when it was released; in fact, it may be more relevant now, due to the prevalence of all of today’s societal paranoias. Here is the audio for “Teardrop“…

Lost In Music, Feel So Alive, I Quit My 9 to 5 (not really)

After finding it to be a bit of a struggle to find anything to write about in the last post, I was the recipient of a minor deluge of interesting new music. For this post, I review the new Chance the Rapper album, as well as new music from Nigeria’s Burna Boy, a mixtape from Blood Orange, and a pair of albums from a couple of British artists who have collaborated with each other, Ash Walker and Laville.

The inspiration for this post’s title comes from one of the hit singles from the 1979 album from Sister Sledge We Are Family… I lifted a portion of the song’s chorus, which I’ve been feeling in my soul… wish I could quit my job and get lost in the music, while getting paid for doing so… here’s the video of the sisters performing the song… they were purdy, too… allofem’… probably still are… Joni Sledge is no longer with us, having succumbed to cancer a few years ago… R.I.P….

THE HEARD (Reviews)

Chance the Rapper

The Big Day

I really, really, REALLY wanted to gush all over this album – after all, the 26 year old Chicago native born Chancelor Bennett is, for me, a hometown hero of sorts… he’s a community activist and his philanthropic efforts are well-known, and he’s been a commercial pitchman for various products. He is also a GRAMMY Award-winning rapper for his Coloring Book project, an album no-one bought (a bone of contention of mine… not against him, of course, but against an industry where physical units no longer matter- he won based on streaming). Hence, despite the fact that he has released three projects to date, this is his official “debut” album, one that you can actually own for posterity, to pass on to your kids.

Now… don’t let my opening statement convince you that I didn’t like this album… I do… I just don’t love it. This project should’ve been credited to Chance & Friends, as he has a guest list as long as the album’s tracklist… a guest list like a wedding guest list before you trim it down. And the guest list is across a wide spectrum of artists, from John Legend on the opening track “All Day Long” to Death Cab for Cutie on the following track “Do You Remember“. He even dug up 70’s Pop humorist Randy Newman! On the plus side, he changes up the styles from track to track… but… it can be a detraction to some due to a perceived lack of flow… personally, I can get with the variety. He’s got a cut for the steppers with “Eternal” (probably my favorite track), a House track (“Ballin Flossin“) featuring Shawn Mendes, and an Electro track (“Found a Good One (Single No More)“) that features SWV and someone called Pretty Vee. Other standouts for me include “Big Fish“, a collabo with Gucci Mane, and “Let’s Go On the Run” featuring Knox Fortune; of the few tracks without any guests, I liked “We Go High“, and “Sun Go Down“.

I think one of the reasons this album has gotten a somewhat polarizing reaction is that its’ theme is his wedding, which he should celebrate. The listener gets an audiobook of the events leading to the big day, the big day itself, and commentary on how you, too, can get to where he is now, a husband or wife. For some (especially single folks), it might be a little too much ‘in your face’… like “I get it, you’re married now and you love your wife and she loves you… now let’s talk about something else.” Some have said his flow is wack on this album, and some have even said it’s corny and elementary, like Chance is gonna turn into Ice Cube and make movies like “Are We There Yet?”, or start writing children’s books or something. I don’t particularly have an issue here, either, except for his occasional deadpan delivery on some tracks. Lastly, some people see he’s doing big things, and are just haters. I watched a review of the album on YouTube from a guy who just happens to be a rapper, and who recently released his own independent Hip hop album; while he was slammin’ Chance, he was promoting his own project, as the better of the two products. I checked his album out, and… No!… not better.

The young man is riding a wave, the likes of which all of us wish we could ride… a recent father, new husband, good music career, doing TV commercials, and as a philanthropist, doing critical work in a community that desperately needs someone to show they care about them…. let him have his moment! Is this his best album? No. Is it the worst thing you’ve heard? Nah there’s much worse out there now. Allow him to celebrate his blessings, and I’m betting the next album will be fiyah… Here is the audio for “Eternal“…

Ash Walker


This is the third full length album from London-based DJ/producer, musician and now bandleader; his first two albums, 2015’s Augmented 7th, and 2016’s Echo Chamber, were critically acclaimed underground releases.

Walker’s sound can be best described as an atmospheric, dubby Soul/Jazz- as evidenced from the title of the last album, he loves to use elements found in Dub Reggae, particularly the echo and reverb aspects. The results are almost otherworldly at times, and always intoxicating; it recalls the jazzy side of Trip hop. Along for the ride is British singer Laville, whose debut album came out the same day as this one (see separate review); he features on the two singles, “Under the Sun” and “Finishing Touch“, as well as three other tracks. Even he is EQ’d low in the overall sound, and he employs his lower registers more, coming off like a trippy Will Downing. Throughout, Walker employs the fat basslines, especially on tracks like “Come With Us“, which features the brass stylings of Yazz Ahmed, and the appropriately titled “Fat King Smoke“.

For me, this is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year; I can’t stop listening to it. Look for it to grace the upper rungs of my “Best of 2019” list… here is the video for “Finishing Touch“…


The Wanderer

As I often do these days, I wander around Spotify checking out new stuff, and I was researching the new Brand New Heavies album (which should drop September 6th), and I just happened by the page for Acid Jazz records. This label pretty much ruled most of the early 90’s for me, and I really thought the label was, for the most part, defunct; much to my pleasant surprise, not only are they alive and well (they’ve even resurrected the career of one time Impressions lead singer and 70’s soul balladeer Leroy Hutson), but they’ve released the debut album from North London native Laville. It was also through this discovery that I ran across Ash Walker, with whom he frequently collaborates. He is the first male artist to release an album on Acid Jazz since Jason Kay (aka Jamiroquai).

I haven’t discovered too much about him biographically, but what I do know is that he’s a promising young artist in the art of old school Soul. He’s been mentioned in the same breath as some Soul legends; what I hear is a combination of elements of Will Downing, Donny Hathaway, and Aloe Blacc- not a bad combination at all. The Gospel-influenced single “Easy” echoes Hathaway, while “Thirty One” gives off a funky Will Downing kind of vibe, one that also harkens back to the sound of the label in its’ heyday. The new single “This City” gives off a mid-70’s Disco vibe, while “The Answer” is a smoldering piece of sexy Soul, and is a standout track; for good measure, he can also tackle the classics, as he also throws in a cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love“, which he covers in standard fashion.

This is an auspicious debut, one that makes Laville someone to watch out for; hopefully, he doesn’t change or stray from these musical roots – he’s got something good brewing… Here’s the video for “Thirty One“…

Burna Boy

African Giant

Fresh off of winning a BET Award for Top International Act, one of Nigeria’s top music artists, 28 year old Damini Ogulu aka Burna Boy has released his fourth album, and the first one poised to break him into the American market.

Now, anyone who comes from Nigeria will, at one point in time, face the inevitable comparison to Fela Kuti. Musically, Burna Boy is a kind of hybrid of Jamaican dancehall, Afrobeat, and American Hip-hop, and lyrically, he does dabble in social issues, but he is an everyman who also dabbles in the usual core subjects: sex, love, partying, etc.; Fela he ain’t. If there is one good thing to say about his style, is at least he sounds like he comes from Nigeria; when I listened to Mr. Eazi’s album a while back, it sounded like any other Hip-hop artist, and there wasn’t much of a hint of Africa in it. I’ve read other reviews of this album, and they were surprisingly very favorable, but while I hear some good things, much of it is samey sounding, and his vocals are rather dull to me. The single “Anybody” is rather representative of most of the album; he invites other artists from around the musical spectrum, from fellow Nigerian Zlatan (“Killin Them“), to British singer Jorja Smith (“Gum Body“), Future and his potty mouth show up for “Show & Tell“, and Damien Marley & Angelique Kidjo partner with him on “Different“, which is one of the tracks that stood out for me. Among the others were “Dangote“, named after the Nigerian billionaire, “Destiny“, a song of perseverance, and “Another Story“, which begins with a spoken word lesson on the history of Nigeria and its’ colonial past- this was the most interesting thing on the album to me.

Overall, I think there was too much of African Giant to digest here; there are 19 tracks in all, and some of them could’ve been left off the album – actually, they should’ve considered doing a shorter version, and the ubiquitous “Deluxe” edition for those who can’t get enough of him. A shorter version would’ve made more of an impact for me; but after a while, I just lost interest. It’s not bad, but the title is overly ambitious… Here is the video for “Anybody“…

Blood Orange

Angel’s Pulse

The latest project from Devonte Hynes is actually an addendum to last year’s fine Negro Swan album, one that, if you missed it, explored the subject of life in a black and/or queer world. The material here is basically compiled into a “mixtape” format… still not sure what constitutes a mixtape these days- it used to be a cassette of the hottest dance tunes sequed together – but now… this is a compilation of other material produced during the sessions for the last album, pieced together like a scrapbook into its’ own project.

Hynes takes this style of musical scrapbooking seriously, so you have to be prepared for very abrupt changes in direction from song to song, or even within a song. The 14 tracks in this collection fly by in a mere 32 minutes – only two surpass the three minute mark (one of those by a mere 2 seconds), and it can be frustrating to get into a groove, only for it to suddenly stop and go into something else (see Solange’s latest album). Case in point is the opening track “I Wanna C U“, a nice piece of 70’s styled soft Rock – cuts a nice, mellow groove, only to suddenly stop at just 75 seconds in. The second half of the mixtape offers the majority of the longer tracks (between two and three minutes in length), and is more satisfying – “Tuesday Feeling (Choose to Stay)” and the longest track in the collection “Take It Back” are two of the better selections. Chaz Bundick aka Toro y Moi features on “Dark & Handsome” – he is part of a large cast of contributors for such a short project; others include Tinashe, Kelsey Lu, Justin Skye, and Memphis rappers Project Pat and Gangsta Boo.

This project takes you on an emotional journey, as do all of Hynes’ projects; his voice can be fragile or soothing, whisper soft or wailing. Overall, it’s OK once you get used to its’ flow- you can’t really take it on a track by track basis, but kinda as a whole, hence the ‘mixtape’ designation, I guess … Here is the video for “Benzo“…