You’ve Got to Hear These Tunes!

Now Hear This! Issue #15


This time around, I review a quartet of new albums that have come across my desk and piqued my interest: the new Gary Clark Jr. album, a new mixtape from Kehlani, the comeback album from Chaka Khan, and a collaborative project from Rhiannon Giddens called Our Native Daughters about which I am most excited.


RANDOM NOTES

So the GRAMMY Awards was a pretty big bore, and none of my picks won anything. This was the year of #GrammysSoGirly, and the ladies dominated; this article is kinda in that vein, as three of the four artists here are female. I went off about Kacey Musgraves winning for Top Album- I had never heard of her… but I went to Spotify later and listened to her album, and while I still don’t agree about it being Album of the Year, it is actually a pretty good album. To be honest, there were several of the major categories where I couldn’t pick a winner from any of the nominees, that’s how bad it was for me. The way I see it, the GRAMMY Awards is like All Star games in the four major sports- more popularity contests than awards based on an artist’s actual talent or song/album merit… and that’s too bad…

I thought about trying to publish this article to close out Black History Month; then I rethought it, saying Black History is 365 days a year, not just in February, so it doesn’t matter if it’s published after the month is over- it’ll still be relevant. I’ve also come to think of the month as one that’s mainly for the benefit of White people who care to learn about the rich history of African Americans in this country; regrettably, many Blacks don’t know this history, either, beyond Martin Luther King, Jr., so I suppose it’s useful for us, too…


THE HEARD (Reviews)

Our Native Daughters

Songs of Our Native Daughters

This is a project brought to fruition by Folk artist and Greensboro, NC native Rhiannon Giddens, whose mission is to retell the stories of the Black experience as originally told through those who lived it during the late 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, and also to reclaim the heritage of the string band tradition (especially the banjo) as part of Black history and culture through song itself. One of the elements of the stories being retold here involve the tradition of minstrelsy… this comes at a time when “blackface” has been prominent in recent news. Some of the stories have never been told, or have been altered or whitewashed. Her last album, 2017’s Freedom Highway, was a collection of songs whose lyrics were derived from slave narratives, and was one of my Best of ’17 releases.

Joining her in this project are Leyla McCalla, whose new album I reviewed in my last article; Allison Russell, who is part of the Folk outfit Birds of Chicago; rising Folk singer Amethyst Kiah, whose style can recall elements of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Tracy Chapman, and Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes. This Black woman Folk supergroup (who, in my mind, is missing only Valerie June from this assemblage) came together to record these sessions in an old house in the Lafayette, LA area, with production overseen by Rhiannon’s producer Dirk Powell.

The 13 songs presented here run the gamut of sources, from scraps of melody or dialogue recalled from memory, and sung by slaves, old Blues singers, to Haitian Folk, modern adaptations of other melodies or lyrics, to a wonderful cover of Bob Marley’s “Slave Driver“. The banjo is the focal instrument throughout the tracks, as it is an instrument whose origins date back to 18th century West Africa, and then more recently to Jamaica. The ladies are all multi-instrumentalists: Rhiannon is also a fiddler, McCalla a cellist, and Russell a clarinetist, among other instruments. As Blacks left the oppressive South at the beginning of the 20th Century and started heading north, they left behind all associations with it, including the banjo, which has since been co-opted by White artists, and they’ve made it their instrument, and Folk and Bluegrass largely genres preformed by them. So… as such.. this may prove to come as difficult listening for some, especially in terms of lyrical content, as these songs can vividly recall some harrowing experiences. Check out the following video about the making of perhaps the most intense song, “Mama’s Cryin’ Long“…

Each of the ladies bring something unique to the table here, and result of all of their influences create a seemless track list. Kiah opens the set with “Black Myself“, a song about intraracial discrimination, or more colloquially, the light vs dark skin argument that persists to this day, and “Polly Ann’s Hammer“, about one woman’s strength to endure her personal hardships in grueling servitude. Russell gives us “Quasheba, Quasheba“, a slave ancestor of hers, as she details the story of her life, from her journey on the trans-Atlantic ride, and throughout her life until her passing, and “You’re Not Alone“, which was inspired by her own tales of childhood abuse at the hands of her White father, and with deference to her five year old daughter. Giddens gives us a glimpse into what a slave may have been thinking during the period where minstrel shows flourished, and education of slaves was discouraged with “Better Git Yer Learnin’” and a haunting melody in “Barbados“. McCalla gives us “I Knew I Could Fly“, about a woman who gave up her dreams of playing music for family, at the behest of her husband, only to mine her craft after his death, as well as a Haitian Folk tune “Lavi Difisil“.

The packaging for this disc includes detailed notes on the inspirations that resulted in the songs in this project, as well as the lyrics for all songs and the personnel configurations; it is a good argument against the current streaming culture that exists in music buying today- you don’t get this kind of annotation on Apple Music or Spotify. Go BUY the physical CD! This project deserves that, and all the critical acclaim that will rightfully come its’ way. I predict this will make not only my 2019 Best Of… list at the beginning of next year, but many other’s lists as well… check out the audio for “Black Myself“…

Kehlani

While We Wait

The latest release from 23 year old Oakland native is considered a mixtape, a taster for what’s to come, as she’s preparing her sophomore album for release later this year… and also preparing to deliver her first child. Maybe I don’t know what makes this a mixtape- I always thought of that term in a literal sense, growing up on actual mixtapes (cassettes) from DJ’s back in the day; this is a millennial definition of the word, for seemingly no good reason. It’s a nine track set clocking in around 31 minutes, more than all five of the albums Kanye produced last year (his own, Nas, Pusha T, and the others), and Chaka Khan’s new album (see next review).

We find Kehlani talking about love in all its’ stages, from the acknowledgement of desire for someone (“Feels“) to the blossoming of a new relationship (“Butterfly“). Musiq Soulchild joins her on the set opener “Footsteps“, which describes a breakup of two people who can’t quite let each other go; she also covers the object of her desire being comfortable with her plainness on the very TLC-ish “Morning Glory“- this one even features a 1993 beat! 6LACK joins her on “RPG“, a track about inattentive lovers, Ty Dolla $ign assists her on a song of lover betrayal (“Nights Like This“), and Dom Kennedy spits a verse on “Nunya“, about jealous exes that can’t let go. Then there is the track about getting too serious with the side piece (“Too Deep“), and finally, the set closer “Love Language” discusses a communication gap between lovers that don’t actually speak the same language.

This is a nice little project to hold us until the next full-length album drops. It’s an interesting set from an interesting young woman; it feels rather personal, as her songs indicate lovers from both sexes- once the love interest of NBA star Kyrie Irving, she describes herself as “queer”. She is genetically exotic, claiming five different ethnic groups as part of her makeup, an offspring of two drug addicts, and she has an affinity for tattoos, which I personally find to be in gross excess on her (especially those on her face)… but, to each his/her own. Musically, though, I can get with this, despite the number of features here (y’all know I don’t go for those in abundance), and the subject matter focusing a good bit on P ‘n D- at least it isn’t presented in an obscene manner… here is the video for “Nunya“…

Chaka Khan

Hello Happiness

For many artists, maintaining relevance is important; for an R&B legend that has now released music in five decades, it would seem to be of less importance, than say, Fantasia or somebody. But here she is, the original Queen of Funk, now 65 years of age, returning with her first album of new material in 12 years. It’s produced by a British guy who goes by the name Switch, who has been a major presence in the current UK dance scene; Chaka’s trying to keep up in her advancing years.

There is a feel with this album that is unlike any Chaka Khan album preceding it, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first; then it came to me: the very thing that Chaka championed, working with a current, hot producer, is the very thing that lets her down throughout this album. For parts of it, she sounds like a guest, or even a sample… on her own album. Current production values don’t include much live instrumentation or complex, melodic song structures, or even high end- everything seems compressed in the mid-range, and it also sounds like Chaka’s voice is even being manipulated electronically. In short, Chaka doesn’t get much of a chance to let loose and use that soaring voice. The two lead singles from the album, the Jamiroquai-ish title track and “Like Sugar“, which uses a sample recently used by the group Jungle, are arguably the two best tracks here. Speaking of tracks, there are only seven tracks… really only six- the closing track “Ladylike“, which is the most Chaka-like song in this set, is a redux of the earlier track “Like a Lady“, a track that has an 80’s feel, perhaps trying to recapture the magic of “I Feel for You“. The album is shockingly brief, clocking in at just 27 minutes, so it feels more like an appetizer than a full meal.

Chaka is a legendary talent, who, in my opinion, needed producers of a caliber similar to her personal brand cache – starting with, perhaps, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, who produced her last album, 2007’s Funk This; Babyface or Quincy would’ve also gotten more out of her while enveloping her in more satisfying musical surroundings. This album is an expose for the producer, as he uses all of his studio tricks and gimmicks to tremendously over-produce this album. It’s not all bad, just not all good; she deserves more than this puts out… here are the videos for “Hello Happiness“, where she makes a cameo, and “Like Sugar“, where she is nowhere to be seen…

Gary Clark Jr.

This Land

The third studio album from 34 year old Austin, TX native Clark is gonna put him in a position recently occupied by Lenny Kravitz, and prior to him, by Ben Harper. That position? Black Rock or Folk artists whose music takes a turn towards the political realm, to the chagrin of a mostly white fanbase, some of whom will turn on him because of his opinions. The usual array of comments will surface: “just play music and leave politics out of it”; “another piece of left-wing race-baiting”. They’ll suddenly start to question his accomplished guitar playing, which they thought was fantastic, but now it’ll become “he’s only an average guitar player”, and the music will become less satisfying. All because the man spoke his truth, they’ll knock him off the pedestal they placed him on, and he’ll be reduced to just another complaining Black man claiming victimization. What his sudden detractors won’t realize is that even though he has money and a degree of fame, he still is the same as me, in the eyes of many people. They’ll never take a step in his shoes, and will never know what it’s like to go through life as someone who looks like him. But they’ll stop buying his records because he chose to inform his art with his life.

And that’s a damn shame. As I will now ‘stick to the music’, if these fair weather fans don’t listen to the entire project, they’ll miss much of what they like from Clark. Essentially, once you get past the first two tracks (which were the lead tracks that tightened jaws), of the remaining 15 tracks, you’ve got a really good soulful, rockin’ Blues album. When I first saw the title of the album, I thought he was covering the John Lee Hooker classic; but from the opening line, I knew this was something altogether different… “”Now that I got the money / Fifty acres and a model A / Right in the middle of Trump country / I told you, “There goes a neighborhood” / Now Mister Williams ain’t so funny / I see you looking out your window / Can’t wait to call the police on me …” Then he continues with this lyric… “Nigga run, nigga run / Go back where you come from (x2) / We don’t want, we don’t want your kind / We think you’s a dumb bum / Fuck you, I’m America’s son / This is where I come from / This land is mine…” Not exactly a sing-along track (another complaint I’ve heard). Here’s the video…

The following track “What About Us” talks of inclusion for all, and gives us this refrain… “Well, there goes the neighborhood, one way or another / You can call it what you want / But the young blood’s taking over / Don’t get too comfortable, just plan on moving over / ‘Cause things gon’ stay the same /It’s the same thing over and over / What about us?…” Here’s the video…

You can thank Gary’s neighbor, Mr. Williams and his bigotry for these songs. Now… once you get past those two, there is actually a lot of variety on the album. You get a rockin’ Blues from the next two tracks (“I Got My Eyes On You (Locked & Loaded)” and “I Walk Alone“, a reggae-influenced track (“Feelin’ Like Million“), a Punk-y track (“Gotta Get Into Something“), a track called “Feed the Babies” that would make Curtis Mayfield smile, and then perhaps his Purple Rain moment, “Pearl Cadillac“, a homage to his mother. Then there’s some good bluesy Pop with “When I’m Gone“, the soulful “The Guitar Man” and “Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow“, and finally, some straight-ahead Blues with “The Governor” and “Dirty Dishes Blues“.

As I’ve been known to say, no-one wants to hear your opinion, unless they happen to agree with it, so for those people who will walk away from GCJ based on those first two tracks, you will be replaced by many others who appreciate him taking a stand and speaking up for himself. This is Gary’s most versatile and satisfying (to me) album to date; do yourself a favor and check it out.

The First Musical Fruits of 2019

Now Hear This! Issue #14

The first month of a new year is usually pretty slow for new music releases; however, this year, I’ve already found a number of new projects worth checking out.

Over the past year, I tried reviewing music that was considered more mainstream; my history with NHT! (which goes back to a company newsletter in the 90’s) has always been to explore and expose new music from the outer fringes of the mainstream, or outside of it altogether. By doing so, I was attempting to increase interest and readership (is that a word??) in the blog; as that hasn’t happened to my expectations, I’ve decided to step back out into left field somewhat, and back to unknowns, unappreciated, and under-appreciated artists, with just an occasional look inside that sphere of mainstream music.

Apparently, I’m already there, as my Best Of 2018 list produced only three GRAMMY nominations – two for the Arctic Monkeys (Best Rock Performance for “Four Out of Five”, and Best Rock/Alternative album for “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”), and one for Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite (Best Traditional Blues album for “No Mercy In This Land”). I had 28 last year; about a half-dozen albums I positively reviewed that didn’t make the ‘Best Of… ‘ list are up for nominations, though, so at least there is some redemption for me in that area. To see the complete list of nominations, click the following link:

https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2019-grammy-awards-complete-nominations-list

The GRAMMY Awards will be broadcast this coming Sunday… so, read on to see what I thought about my first musical harvest of this year…


THE HEARD (Reviews)

Leyla McCalla “The Capitalist Blues”

This is the third album from first generation Haitian-American cellist/guitarist/banjoist singer/songwriter who was born in New York, raised in New Jersey and Ghana, and currently based in New Orleans. She was a member of the Black old-timey Folk group Carolina Chocolate Drops, which also featured Rhiannon Giddens, before embarking on her solo career. Her debut release, 2014’s Vari-Colored Songs were mainly tone poems based on the poetry of Langston Hughes, and 2016’s A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey explored the Folk music of her ancestral homeland.

The Capitalist Blues is very much informed by both the current social/political climate of the country (as she sees it) and her current surroundings, as she employed, in addition to her trio, a who’s who of New Orleans-based musicians, as well as a Haitian group. As with every release, there are also Haitian Folk tunes, as she is deeply involved in studying the traditional music from the island. The title track is a New Orleans-style jazz piece with a statement on what it takes to make it in this society… ”
You keep telling me / To climb this ladder / I’ve got to pay my dues / But as I rise / The stakes get higher / I’ve got the capitalist blues / And if I give everything / I won’t have much more to lose“. It’s followed by a cover of Calypso legend The Growling Tiger’s “Money Is King“, where it’s determined that if you’re poor, a dog’s life is better than yours. “Heavy As Lead” is a slow, simmering bluesy Soul that touches on the water contamination issue with which many communities live; “Aleppo” is a noisy indie rock track that speaks on the Syrian war crisis. On the lighter side, “Me and My Baby” is playful old-timey Southern Soul, while “Oh My Love” is straight-up Zydeco. Three are three nice Haitian folk tunes included here, as well; they’re sung in the native Haitian Creole.

Leyla has created a conscious, musically varied project that excels in all areas, and makes her an artist to watch out for (and not to objectify her, but she purdy too). If I had one minor criticism here, it’s that she laid down her cello for this album. She is an accomplished cellist, having studied at NYU, and she used it to great effect on her first two albums, but it’s nowhere to be found here. Still, this is a wonderful project you should check out… also check her out later this month on a project she collaborated on with Giddens, Allison Russell (from Birds of Chicago), and rising talent Amethyst Kiah on a project called Our Native Daughters…. for now, enjoy the video to “Money Is King“…

The Specials “Encore

It was the first wave of Ska revivalism that is most directly responsible for my head first dive into Jamaican music styles, and this group helped lead that charge, by way of their punky ska self-titled 1979 debut album, along with The Selecter, Madness, The English Beat, and Bad Manners, among others- they formed the Two Tone family of artists. The original group released just one more album after that auspicious debut, before splintering off – lead singer Terry Hall, Neville Staples and Lynval Golding went on to form Fun Boy Three, which also eventually begat Bananarama; Hall later went on to form The Colourfield . The Specials, in various member configurations, have carried on through the years, but this release is most notable for witnessing the return of Hall back into the fold to record with them for the first time in 38 years. The current lineup consists of just three original members: Hall, Golding, and bassist Horace Panter; most notably absent are Staples, who was mostly a dancer and hype man, and keyboardist Jerry Dammers, arguably the architect of the original group’s sound.

The sound of the album, for the most part, picks up where 1980’s More Specials left off- at the time, that album had largely eschewed the Ska sound in favor of a Rock Steady (the Jamaican style between Ska and Reggae) meets Lounge, which was coming into vogue at the time. It starts, however, with a pair of curveballs – “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is like 80’s James Brown funk, a cover song of Eddy Grant’s group The Equals about the world becoming more genetically multi-cultural, and “B.L.M“., another straight-ahead funk track, a spoken word song in which Golding traces his history from Jamaica to England and then America, and the racism he’s encountered at every turn. Finally, we get to a Specials-sounding track, the single “Vote for Me“, a track about the people in power all over the world, who they proclaim all “bore them to tears – it will remind you of “Ghost Town“, their last hit single from 1981 with the original lineup. Elsewhere, they cover themselves (in a sense), doing a remake of Fun Boy Three’s “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)” and they cover for a second time “Blam Blam Fever“, a 1967 song from a group called The Valentines, which discusses gun culture. They adapted the track “10 Commandments” from the original Prince Buster track to a kind of dubby #metoo manifesto, using the riddim most often identified with Dawn Penn’s “No No No (You Don’t Love Me)“, with spoken word from Saffiyah Khan, a Birmingham , UK activist who was famously photographed in a standoff against the English Defence League, which is said to be an anti-Islamic far-right outfit. They close the album with “We Sell Hope“, which is in contrast to the bleak outlooks portrayed throughout the album – it basically infers “we can make it better if only we try”.

It is a welcome return for these guys, as the world is very much as they left it- if anything, it’s worse now, making their outlook and viewpoints to be as relevant now as they were back when they started, only now from a more world weary view, due to life experience. The deluxe version of this album includes a second disc of the group performing their old hits live. There is no official video for a track yet, but check out the audio for “Vote for Me“…

James Blake “Assume Form

If I’m not mistaken, I would say that Blake sounds like someone in love… and after reading some press articles in advance of the release of this, his fourth album, I learned I wasn’t mistaken, he is in love. That is the driving force behind this album bringing him out of the deep emotional abyss his first three albums found him in. So he’s in a three-year relationship with British actress Jameela Jamil (can’t say I blame him, she purdy)… makes me wonder why he was seemingly so distraught on his 2016 album The Colour in Anything. I purchased Overgrown, his 2013 sophomore album, based off the track “Retrograde” being in heavy rotation on Sirius xm Chill, and at the time, I kinda compared him to early 80’s Gary Numan because of the icyness, the often disjointed, and occasionally even disorienting aspects of his music – frankly, I’ve been wondering how he’s garnered the attention of the likes of Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and others; the industry has tried to pass him off as some sort of abstract R&B artist… but when I think of R&B, the term ‘warmth’ comes to mind – his music has not conveyed warmth… quite the opposite, actually.

But not this album… from the opening, title track, Blake expresses a desire to open himself up to receive love; “Mile High” features Travis Scott and production work from hot Trap producer Metro Boomin’, and while it talks of clubbin’, I think it’s a euphemism for his euphoria of being in a relationship. Tracks like “Tell Them“, “Power On“, and “Don’t Miss It” seem to have him in a reflective mode back to the way it was before this relationship brought him out, and how he had to change his modus operandi, while “Into the Red“, “Barefoot in the Park“, and especially “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” are celebratory love songs about her. Musically, it’s his most accessible album to date, although he hasn’t necessarily strayed from his formula. But even with all that being the current situation, I’m not sure that Blake is completely comfortable with this thing called love… “Are You In Love?” talks of that nervous uncertainty when you’re not sure of the other person’s feeling towards you – especially when you have those feelings towards them; “Where’s the Catch?“, which features Andre 3000, seems to question his good fortune, as if his situation is too good to be true.

With this album, Blake has taken a step forward… I usually don’t advocate any artist to dull their edge, but in this case, it seems to have made a change for the better, as I believe he’ll also get to celebrate what is his best album to date. Jameela, we thank you… check out the video for “Mile High“…

Toro y Moi “Outer Peace

For his sixth album, Columbia, SC native Chaz Bundick, or as he wants to be known these days, Chaz Bear, changes it up a little. Currently based in the Bay Area of California, his 2017 album Boo Boo was one of my Best of 2017 picks, so he kinda set a standard in my mind for the quality of each successive record. Now that album had a very 80’s vibe to it, and was described as a ‘break-up’ album, so it was sometimes funky, but also had moments of melancholy.

For Outer Peace, he described it to Apple Music as ‘a motivational record, a you can do it because all you do is work’ album. More than half of the albums 10 tracks are four-on-the-floor dance tracks, the remainder being more atmospheric tracks.

Overall, I like this tight collection of tunes; every track ends kind of abruptly and goes straight into the next, and you’re in and out of this one in a half-hour flat. I will admit I still like the last album better, though… check out the video for “Freelance“…

Julian Marley “As I Am

This is the fourth album from Marley son, and his first since he dropped Awake some 10 years ago. He was born in London, and raised by his mother Lucy Pounder; he is part of the Marley offspring’s Ghetto Youths International production company.

For me, this album tries too hard to be something for everyone, and it doesn’t do a very good job. Over its’ 17 tracks, I found less than half of them to be keepers; it starts well, with the first three tracks, including the single “Hey Jack“, and it ends well, with perhaps the best three tracks on the album… my favorites “Can’t Cool the Fire“, “War Zone”, and the dub instrumental “I Am the Sound” featuring the son of another reggae legend, Addis Pablo, the offspring of the melodica master Augustus Pablo. In between, two, maybe three tracks would’ve made the cut with me, otherwise, tracks like “Baby Lotion” and “Biology” have nice grooves but insipid lyrics aimed at the P ‘n D crowd; he enlists Shaggy for the overly busy “Too Hot to Dance“, Beenie Man pops in for an awful cover of “What’s New Pussycat“, and Spragga Benz guests on “Panic Mind State“, which was only somewhat better.

I was hoping for so much more from this one, but it failed to deliver the goods. It’s almost blasphemous to pan a release by anyone named Marley, but this one earns the distinction of being my least favorite album I’ve heard from one of the kids… check out the video for “Hey Jack“…

The Best Music of 2018 (to me)

Now Hear This! Issue #13 January 2019

The output of recorded music produced in 2018 continued a downward slide in quality, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed. And now, there is scientific proof that music is less musical than it has ever been. This is due, mainly, to the proliferation of so-called “bedroom producers”, someone with a keyboard and a computer who has enough skills to make a song, but not necessarily the skills to make music.

A couple of people have asked what makes me think I’m an authority on music; to that, I answer that I’m not an authority, but a student of music – I’ve studied music going back as far as Gregorian chant, all of the classical music eras – I’m classically trained on viola and violin – I’m both a student and owner of most popular American styles, going back to Ragtime and early Jazz; I’ve lived long enough to see all styles of popular musics go in and out of style and come back – Hip hop is the last new American musical invention, and its’ legs stand largely on groundwork laid before it- I’ve listened to, studied and enjoyed music from all the corners of the globe, which has helped me to develop the large musical palette I have today.

The statement “there’s nothing new under the sun” is as true a statement as one can be when applied to music today. There are, of course, variations on a theme – Trap being the most prevalent variation right now – but I don’t know that we’ll see any more new styles come along any time soon. With that being the case, it means that as a reviewer, you get to slog through a lot of same-sounding, lame-sounding, musically deficient stuff. Over the course of eight articles produced in 2018, Now Hear This! reviewed 50 albums; many other projects were listened to, but I didn’t bother to review them because I didn’t think I needed to take the time to do so. This blog aims to promote good new music – I don’t want to be the Roger Ebert or Simon Crowell of music, the guy who doesn’t seem to like anything. So… with all that being said, here are my top picks in music (in no particular order) from 2018…


The Internet “Hive Mind”

Latest offering from this L.A.-based collective is a fine blend of lo-fi dance, Hip hop and sensuous R&B, and had the best R&B album title all wrapped up… until Georgia Anne Muldrow came along later.

Dead Can Dance “Dionysus”

This duo’s first album in six years is a heady concoction of their Medieval Folk combined with African, Asian, and Middle Eastern flavors; it earned the Best World Music Album of 2018.

Nas “Nasir”

This Kanye West-produced effort was brief, clocking in at just 27 minutes, but is an incendiary and powerful dissertation on the Seven Deadly Sins. It is my Best Hip Hop/Rap Album of 2018.

Arctic Monkeys “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”

This indie Rock group took a wide left turn, and incorporated heavy doses of Lounge music into this fantasy concept about managing a resort on the moon. Oddly fascinating, this one garners my Best Rock/Alternative Album of 2018.

Georgia Anne Muldrow “Overload”

I discovered this artist on Blood Orange’s Negro Swan album, and I went on to check out this album, as well as her back catalog- she is a multi-faceted performer who uses aliases for different music projects- she raps, she does cosmic Jazz, and billed as herself, is Neo-Soul in the tradition of Erykah Badu. This one earns my Best Soul/R&B Album of 2018.

Kamasi Washington “Heaven & Earth”

The sophomore effort from this Jazz saxophonist is a sprawling 2 1/2 hour effort that is more focused than his even more sprawling debut. The addendum to this album, an EP called The Choice was included with vinyl copies of the album. For the third consecutive year, he has earned my Best Jazz Album of 2018.

Victory “The Broken Instrument”

A wonderfully uplifting and empowering album from NYC- based 23 year old guitarist and singer/songwriter some have compared to Nina Simone. This one was my Best Debut Album of 2018.

Thievery Corporation “Treasures from the Temple”

A collection of additional tracks produced from the sessions that produced last year’s The Temple of I & I, which was one of 2017’s Best Of’s… their leftovers are better than many artist’s best effort.

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite “No Mercy In This Land”

The second collaboration between Folk rocker Harper and Blues harmonica legend Musselwhite is a great collection of straight-ahead Blues, and earned my Best Blues Album of 2018.

Audio Dope “Audio Dope”

As Damian Marley’s Stony Hill was in the 2017 Best Of… list, this one is my wild-card release- I never reviewed this album in any of my articles. This is the moniker for an unnamed and faceless producer from Basel, Switzerland who works as part of the Majestic Casual collective of artists, whose musical aesthetic is chilled out grooves. I placed a couple of his singles on my iTunes Hot Tracks playlist last January, and then his full length debut dropped in February; initially, the entire project didn’t hit me, but it has found favor with me recently. The sound is mostly instrumental, downtempo, mellow Hip hop and Jazz influenced grooves, recalling the best 90’s Trip hop. Last month, he released Preserved, an EP of five new tracks. This album earns my Best EDM/Electronic album of 2018.


WHAT’S COMING AHEAD

The beginning of the year is typically a slow time for new music releases; it’s usually when I do much of my back cataloging. This year, however, there are a couple of new releases I’m already stoked for – of course, they’ll be reviewed here once they arrive. One of them is the new album from the The Specials entitled Encore; it is the first album of theirs featuring original lead vocalist Terry Hall in 37 years. It’s due out on 2/5…. the third album from New Orleans based guitarist/cellist singer/songwriter Leyla McCalla The Capitalist Blues is due 1/25; she is a first generation Haitian American who does Roots music and also explores and performs the Folk music of her native homeland… she is also a part of a collaborative effort that includes Rhiannon Giddens, among others, on a project called Our Native Daughters; the album Songs of Our Native Daughters will be released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in late February.

As far as Now Hear This! goes, the blog is still undergoing changes to format and design, so you’ll be witness to that as it happens. I may begin doing more, shorter articles, reviewing and publishing reviews as the music is released, rather than creating the big article compiling everything I’ve heard. We’ll see… until next time, keep a song in your head, and joy in your heart.

It’s the Most Musical Time of the Year

Now Hear This !  Issue 12    December 2018

It’s time for my year-end issue, and it is jam-packed with news and reviews you can use!  In all, there are 17 reviews of new music to come across my ears since the last issue in mid-October, and as usual, it spans across my  broad spectrum of musical tastes.  So… grab your libation of choice, and kick back and have a good read, watch, and listen.  Oh, and if you haven’t noticed, the blog is now a full-fledged website – it is still under construction, but I hope to have a home landing page and a new logo soon!  This month’s image may become permanent – what do you think?  Lastly, here’s wishing you and yours a happy holiday season!


RANDOM NOTES

Here in the Columbia, SC area, we’re about to lose one of our three remaining brick & mortar music spots – a few years ago, we lost two Sounds Familiar locations, and now we’re losing Manifest Discs, as its’ corporate parent f.y.e. has decided to shut our location down; the Charlotte location will remain open.  Overhearing the store manager talk to a customer about the closing , he mentioned f.y.e wanted better performance from them in terms of all the other stuff it has its’ stores selling, like headphones, turntables, tshirts, and other paraphernalia – apparently, doing a good job selling vinyl, CD’s DVD’s and Blurays wasn’t good enough .  This is what happens when a former independent store is bought out by a corporate player.  So we’ll be left with just Scratch ‘n Spin, and my personal favorite, Papa Jazz… and then another corporate media store in 2nd & Charles.

I did manage to check out a new-to-me store during a recent trip to Savannah, GA.  Rody’s Records is located not far from the city’s Historic district, and is a relatively small independent retailer.  This is the place to go if you’re looking for rare, collectable vinyl albums- bootleg concerts and stuff like that.  Their CD selection is rather meager at the moment (they’re looking to vastly expand their offerings in this area), although I did manage to find a copy of Ultravox The Collection for five bucks, AND they had two copies of a Miles Davis poster from the 50’s, both of which I bought.  The staff there, which on the Thursday evening I visited the store, consisted of a talkative guy named Keith; he has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music (always nice to talk to someone like myself), and knowing trivial things like the fact that frontman Midge Ure from Ultravox started out as a member of Thin Lizzy- did any of you know that?  I didn’t…. would’ve never made that connection.  Overall, it’s a cool little place I’ll visit whenever I’m in town.  SUPPORT YOUR INDEPENDENT MUSIC RETAILER!!

The Sade watch is ON!  The original organic Soul diva is in the studio, and we may FINALLY get some new music from her sometime in 2019.  She released a new track as part of the Widows soundtrack called “The Big Unknown“… hear the song below…

Earlier this year, she released a song for another movie soundtrack, Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time… the song is called “Flower of The Universe“… hear it below…

Sade has released a total of just six studio albums… since Stronger Than Pride was released in 1988, she has released just three albums in the last 30 years!  Eagerly waiting for some new music from her…. at the same time, perhaps her male counterpart, Maxwell, seems poised to release the third and final piece to the Blacksummersnight trilogy.  His new single “Shame” was recently released… see the video below…

He released another track earlier this year called “The Glass House“… check it out…

Here’s a not widely known fact: if the music on his first three albums had a familiar sensual feel, it’s because he used Sade’s band, known as Sweetback when they perform without her, as the backing band.  They have released  a couple of nice albums under that name; check ’em out!

In other news, next month’s Grammys may take on the slogan #GrammysSoGirly… the last two years, it’s been #GrammysSoWhite and then #GrammysSoBlack, and this year, it appears to be all about the female artists.  Of particular note are two things for me: 1.) Cardi B is nominated for five Grammys… FIVE Grammys!  That, to me says something about the value of a Grammy award these days.  If you didn’t read my review of her Invasion of Privacy album, please check out my post “Have You Heard That New…” from April of this year, and you’ll understand why it appalls me.  We can accept her talking about her girl parts throughout the album, but a radio station can BAN a song like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside“, a song that’s been around for three quarters of a century, from being played on the radio because now someone appropriates the song as a scenario for date rape??  2.) Taylor Swift seems to have caught everyone by surprise with her recent political endorsement of a Democratic candidate for the Tennessee senate.  Republicans wanted her to “just stick to music”, the Far-Right denounced the woman they considered their Aryan princess, and even some people who received her support were taken aback.  Surprisingly, she was shut out of all Grammy consideration- maybe Hollywood isn’t so “liberal” after all…

Record companies can make me so mad sometimes!  In my last article, I reviewed the new Amos Lee album My New Moon, which was released at the end of August; his label, Dualtone Records, has just now released a Deluxe edition of the album, including SEVEN additional tracks!  Why didn’t they release both versions at or around the same time??? They want me to buy the album a second time, I suppose, to maximize profits; don’t know if I’ll bite, although I’d like to – among the tracks is a nice acoustic cover of the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On?”.  Similarly, Lake Street Dive, whose latest album Free Yourself Up was reviewed in my May article, has released a new EP called Freak Yourself Out, it has five new tracks from the same sessions that produced the album. Now, the album clocks in at about 44 minutes, the EP around 20 minutes – get where I’m going?  They could’ve put all the tracks on the original album, or at the very worst, release the dreaded Deluxe edition of the album with the extra tracks!

If you ask me, the record companies aren’t doing themselves any favors with those of us who still want the physical medium of a CD, a market which has been overtaken by digital downloads and streaming, by doing this kind of shiggedy…

Finally, we mourn the loss of Jazz singer Nancy Wilson… my fellow bloggin’ buddy Daddydforreal’s favorite singer… she is to him what Ella Fitzgerald is to me.   She exuded class and elegance, an under appreciated singer who was also a social activist back in the day.  May she rest in Heaven… check out a clip for the song for which she won a Grammy in 1965, “How Glad I Am“…


THE HEARD  (Reviews)

Dead Can Dance

“Dionysus”

The best way to describe the sound of Dead Can Dance is to imagine what pop music might’ve sounded like hundreds of years ago.  The duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry have been releasing music now for nearly 35 years (both also having released several solo albums), having made their name alongside their 4AD labelmates Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil for their mysterious, ethereal sound; the name of the group stems from a book quote, and a play on the word “decadence”.   They were lumped in as part of the Goth crowd by association, and their 1984 self-titled debut album did nothing to change the perception.  Future releases, however, separated them from their peers, as they developed a Neoclassical sound rooted in Gaelic Folk, using medieval instrumentation and vocalizing in ancient tongues, including Gregorian chant.  They broke up in the mid-90’s, only to reform a decade later; their more recent releases have become more rooted in other World music influences.

Dionysus, their ninth studio album, continues a pattern down this same path that began with 1996’s Spiritchaser, their final studio album before the split, and continued through their 2012 comeback album Anastasis.  You’ll hear a lot of African polyrhythms, Middle Eastern mantras, and Asian influences throughout the tracks, and is remarkable for the fact that this celestial music is created and performed (with only occasional augmentation) solely by the duo.  Dionysus is the Greek god of wine, fertility, and ritual ecstasy, and the album explores a journey through his life; it is formed as two Acts: a three part, mostly instrumental set, and a four part set which has some vocalizations and chanting from the duo.

The results of all of these influences meshing together is beautiful, invigorating, occasionally challenging music that, in some spots, you can actually dance to (something that hasn’t often been said about DCD releases).  Having followed this group since the very beginning and possessing all of their earlier stuff, it is a wonderful privilege to receive new music from them.  This is an album of the year candidate… check out the video for “Act II: The Mountain“…

Makaya Mc Craven

Universal Beings

Latest release from 35 year old jazz drummer born in Paris, France, but currently based in Chicago; this is his most recent experiment with live improvisational Jazz and Hip-hop. 

The live jam sessions were recorded in Chicago, New York, L.A., and London, the bit parts spliced together in the studio to create this double album.  The tracks are not songs per se, but a collage of ideas that become riffs that often never resolve anywhere, they just morph into a hypnotic groove that’s often minimalist in nature, but seldom monotonous.  The instrumentation can include such pairings as bass, drum, and cello, or bass, drum, saxophone and violin; Makaya always makes it a point to have at least one woman among the musicians, as well.

For both Jazz and mature Hip-hop fans, this joint is off the beaten path, but it is a must have for both camps.  It is part of an ongoing set of albums McCraven has produced in the past several years; also check out his release earlier this year, Where We Come From (Chicago x London Mixtape)… Check out “Black Lion” from the album…

Jose James

“Lean On Me”

First and foremost, Jose is a gifted Jazz vocalist; he is also chameleon-esque in the respect that he will genre hop from one style to another- his last album was Trap Soul, and I thought he’d lost his mind, especially since the album that preceded that one was his wonderful reinterpretations of Billie Holiday classics. So when I heard he was doing a tribute album of Bill Withers classics, I was highly intrigued… and a little concerned. His label mate, and current King of vocal Jazz, Gregory Porter, did an album last year of covers of his musical hero Nat King Cole; that album, while pleasing enough, seemed to lack the personality of the artist covering the music, and begged the question: do you reimagine the music to give it a new wrinkle, your spin, or just recreate it out of reverence for the original artist?

Jose’s answer was the latter.  In an interview posted on Blue Note’s website, he said he felt there was only one choice for him, so he got a band together and played the songs… pretty much the way Bill did them.  All of the most familiar songs from Wither’s eight studio albums are here- with nine of the twelve tracks coming from his three studio albums for the Sussex label: 1971’s As I Am, 1972’s Still Bill, and 1974’s +’Justments.  You get “Grandma’s Hands“, “Ain’t No Sunshine“, “Use Me“, “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)“, the title track, and a couple of lesser known tracks like “Better Off Dead“, “Hope She’ll Be Happier” and “Kissing My Love“.  From Bill’s Columbia Records output, which spanned for 10 years and across five studio albums, James picked the two obvious choices, “Lovely Day“, which he duets with Lalah Hathaway, and “Just the Two of Us“, as well as the lesser known chestnut “Hello Like Before“.

As far as I’m concerned, James did a good job of covering the tunes… perhaps too good.  Since I own all of Wither’s studio albums and the live album (I revere him, too), I found myself reaching for them to compare how James’ version stood up against the originals.  The only real difference between them was that James essentially used a jazz band to back him up, so there are some instrumental solos in some of the tracks; I always came out favoring the original versions.  And this is where the reverential treatment doesn’t work, in my opinion.  A reimagining of the material would bring something new and fresh to it, while this method just does what has already been done… and Bill did it best.  If you can’t do more than just replay the music, why not just leave it alone?  This project, like Porter’s, seems to benefit the artist more than the listener – I only bought Porter’s project because I don’t own any of Nat King Cole’s music (not yet, anyway) – but when it comes to this project, I’ll just stick with the originals… here is the video for “Lovely Day“…

Gregory Porter

“One Night Only (Live at the Royal Albert Hall 02 Apr 2018)

This is essentially a live version of Porter’s last studio album, Nat King Cole & Me, performed before a packed house at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.  If you happened to purchase the Deluxe version of that album, all 15 tracks are included in this live performance; he managed to also perform four tracks from two of his other four studio albums: “Hey Laura” and “No Love Dying” from 2013’s Liquid Spirit, and “In Heaven” and “Don’t Lose Your Steam” from 2016’s Take Me to the Alley.

As I mentioned in the previous review on Jose James, Porter paid tribute to his musical hero, and covered his music reverently, essentially redoing the tracks in much the same manner as Cole originally did them; to me, this method is more gratifying to the artist than to the listener.  If there is a reason to buy this album at all (especially if you bought the studio version) it’s that Gregory injects a little of his wonderful musical personality into the tracks in this live setting; I actually favor this version over the studio version for that reason.  Overall, I love me some Gregory Porter, and I’m glad he got to cover Cole’s music; now, though, I’m ready for some new Porter music… In the spirit of the holidays, here is Gregory performing “The Christmas Song“…

The Beatles

White Album (Super Deluxe)

This sort of thing really pisses me off; WHY does Capitol/EMI continue to try and milk the buying public into purchasing the same album over and over?

So for the umpteenth time, we are treated to a Beatles reissue; this time, we have demo versions of tracks from this album.  The commercially available version gives you the original double album newly remixed and remastered by Giles Martin (son of the album’s original engineer George), plus one disc of demos; this version you can download from iTunes gives you three extra discs of demos, rehearsal sessions, etc., turning the White Album into the White Box Set ! I own a box set with this sort of exhaustive coverage of the music – The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve – and among the things we were treated to are rehearsal takes that were interrupted because Billie coughed, or she developed too much phlegm in her throat, and alternate takes that were considered substandard to the version that was ultimately released on the album.  Part of the reason why these demos were unearthed was to show that there wasn’t as much acrimony among the members as previously thought- rehearsal sessions were recorded, ideas were exchanged, and they worked with the various parts together- a stark contrast to what has been thought of as four members of a group working independently on their own distinct individual sounds.

Unless the record company can find some brand new, never before heard tracks from the Beatles, I wish they’d stop trying to put a new wrinkle on what we already have, ’cause I’m NOT buying it…

A Certain Ratio

acr:set

This is a career spanning set of seminal Manchester UK post punk/art funk band, going back to their infancy in the late 70’s on Factory Records, home to other influential bands, such as Cabaret Voltaire, OMD, and Joy Division, who, of course, later became New Order.  Mute Records has taken on the task of reissuing their entire back catalog of ten albums, from 1979’s The Graveyard and the Ballroom to 2008’s Mind Made Up.  It also includes some non-album singles, including perhaps their most well-known song, a cover of Banbarra’s “Shack Up“, which spent some time on the Billboard 100 Disco charts.  This compilation’s 14 tracks leans heavily (and rightfully so) towards their earlier material.  After 1986’s Force album, the group lost keyboardist Andy Connell, as he went on to form Swing Out Sister.  The band’s sound veered towards rave culture in the late 80’s/early 90’s, before returning to their signature sound later in the 90’s.  They had been fairly dormant, releasing only one album in the last two decades; however, this set includes two new tracks: “Make It Happen“, and “Dirty Boy“, a collaboration with the great Barry Adamson… check out the video for “Shack Up“, which dates back to 1980…

Barry Adamson

Memento Mori (Anthology 1978-2018)

Another career spanning set from Mute Records of the solo career of former bassist for the post-punk group Magazine, and also of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.  Inspired by filmmakers like Ennio Morricone and John Barry, Adamson decided to make cinematic epics for nonexistent films, beginning with what I consider his best work, 1989’s Moss Side Story. He has since gone on to release eight other solo albums, as well as score music for actual films, like Delusion, Gas Food Lodging, Lost Highway, and others.  His soundtracks always seem to focus on the underbelly of society, the seedy side; film noir is his specialty.  This collection includes one new track, “Hummingbird“, and A Certain Ratio’s reworking of the track “I Got Clothes” from last year’s Love Sick Dick EP… here is an audio clip of “007- A Fantasy Bond Theme“, from his 1992 album Soul Murder

Ella Mai

Ella Mai

The debut album from 24 year old Brit Ella Mai Howell came on the heels of her smash single “Boo’d Up“; that track was so hot, I saw videos of street performers playing the song on a number of instruments… heck, I can play it on violin and viola myself.  In my opinion, the followup single “Trip” was actually a better song, and it did well on the charts, but didn’t have nearly the same effect as its’ predecessor.

Ella, who cites her primary influences as 90’s artists like Brandy, Mariah Carey, and Lauryn Hill, among others, says she was named after that legendary jazz singer I love so much; while I don’t hear that Ella’s influence anywhere, I can definitely detect the early Brandy-ish flava in both the song simplicities and the instrumentation, which is normally kept to a minimum.  Think of “Best Friend” or Lauryn’s “The Sweetest Thing” or even Erykah Badu’s “On & On” and how beautifully simple they kept it; that’s how she’s got it going, with just primarily bass, drums and piano for the most part.  As for the songwriting, one thing I will commend her on is that every song is not about P ‘n D (check my last article if you missed that discussion)… only the track “Own It” veers in that direction, and even it isn’t vulgar; the lyrics to “Dangerous“, for instance… “That’s dangerous / There’s no one else I trust / I put my all in us / I know the risk in love, yeah / That makes this dangerous / I still want all of ya / You got me so wrapped up / What if we’re savin’ love? / That’s dangerous..”  We all can identify with that feeling of vulnerability… or the closing track “Naked“… “But what if I told you there’s nothing I want more in this world / Than somebody who loves me naked / Someone who never asks for love, but knows how to take it / Are you that somebody who sees a wall and breaks it? / Are you ready to fight just to see what’s lost behind my flaws? / Can you love me naked?…”  Songs with a little bit of depth to ’em, not a bad thing.  Now, on the flip side, is the latest single “Whatchamacallit“, featuring Chris Brown in a song about two people cheating on their partners with each other; you can throw that one back.

Her album is also fairly light on features, another one of my pet peeves; John Legend makes an appearance on “Everything“, and another female vocalist on the rise, H.E.R. joins her on “Gut Feeling“, and other than the aforementioned Chris Brown, that’s it over 16 tracks.  There’s a lot to like here, and if her writing continues to mature, she will be in the game for some time to come… and she purdy too, despite all that tat action on her hand and arms…. check out the video for “Trip“…  

Mumford & Sons

Delta

The thing about when a band begins to evolve their sound, there is usually a mixed reaction… some people roll with the changes, and others have a visceral reaction in opposition to them.  As this is my first exposure to Mumford & Sons, I’ll approach a critique of this album differently than longtime fans, as I will have nothing with which to compare it – at first – I’ll go back and listen to the earlier stuff later, and then I’ll make my assessment on their sound evolution.  For now, I’ll listen to this, their fourth studio album, and merely talk about what I heard.

My curiosity with Mumford & Sons was due in part to the fact that I thought their name was cool…. for numerous groups that I’ve come to love over the years, my initial attraction was their name.  Also, I heard their sound was a neo-folk which was both critically acclaimed, and popular.  Many negative fan reviews have said they’ve gone electric, de-emphasizing acoustic instruments in general, the banjos in particular- a trend started with their last album, 2015’s Wilder Mind.   So what I heard certainly sounded like a band whose sound is in transition, and trying to diversify even more.   For instance, “Picture You ” and “Darkness Visible” essentially play as one long track, and are almost Moby-esque, with its’ mildly funky beat and electronic flourishes.  Elsewhere, there are several slow building tracks designed for the arena; of all the “electric” tracks, I favored “Rose of Sharon” the most.  What I imagine they may have sounded like prior to this transition were “Woman“, “Wild Heart“, and “If I Say“, all of which are nice tracks.

Overall, as a complete project, I found there were some things I liked, other things I could leave behind; maybe once they complete their transition and settle on a sound, I can get a better read on today’s Mumford & Sons… this project was a bit uneven, in my opinion.  Now….. after listening to Delta, I went back and listened to their second album, 2012’s Babel.  See, I don’t know now if the evolution isn’t such a bad idea.  The earlier album had a lot more energy to it, almost a punkish energy using folky instrumentation, but it just doesn’t resonate with me; I CAN see, however, how fans enamored with that earlier style might be dismayed by the new directions they’re taking… anyway… here’s a lyric video for “If I Say“…

T.I.

Dime Trap

There has been some debate recently on who is responsible (or to blame, depending on your viewpoint) for the phenomenon known as Trap music.  The architect of the style, which I consider to be an update on 90’s trip-hop, would seem to belong to the artist who named his second album Trap Muzik back in 2003 – rapper, actor, and businessman T.I.

For this, his tenth album, T.I. wants to diversify the Trap style, as well to deflect from himself total responsibility for creating it; he wants us to consider all the artists in the game as having contributed to the continuing evolution of Trap.  And as such, just about every track on the album has a different producer, in order to spread the wealth.  As for the tone of the album, T.I., at just 38 years of age himself, presents himself as an elder statesman of sorts, presenting tracks that serve as a kind of instruction manual for the aspiring player in the hustlin’ game, as well as speak on the consequences of your actions.  In particular, he bares his soul on several tracks, where he relays personal experiences as lessons to others.; he also employs Dave Chapelle as narrator throughout the album.

As I see it, there’s no need to point out specific tracks here, it pretty much flows with that theme, as well as the usual topic of loyalties within your circle.  For all the cooks that were in the kitchen to concoct this musical buffet, it holds together pretty well, and T.I. is in sharp form lyrically – he goes in hard and stays there… check out the video for “Wraith“…

The 1975

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

So here’s another band for whom I was intrigued by their name as to what they sounded like.  For me, 1975 was  a year that began to shape the future direction of my life – I was prepared to learn a bunch of foreign languages, so I could be an interpreter for the government – but then came disco music, especially Silver Convention and their string section – I decided to take up the violin, and the rest is history.  Now, as for The 1975, they’re a quartet from Manchester, UK, birthplace of a couple of other artists in this months’ issue, and this is their third album, and the first half of a duology that will culminate with a second new album in the spring of 2019.

As the title alludes, this is an album about the illusory concepts of millennial love and its’ many manifestations.  This is a band that seems to write songs as I would write them – the musical backdrop completely belies the subject matter.  For instance, “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” is a track with a danceable, mildly Afrobeat-type rhythm about digital infidelity… “
I swear that /  I only called her one time / Maybe it was two times? / I don’t think it was three times / It can’t be more than four times / I think we need to rewind / You text that boy sometimes / Must be more than three times / I didn’t mean to two-time you, two-time you / To two-time, two-time you…” Another single from the album, “Love It If We Made It” is a song lamenting the great social divides in the world, the chorus being a message of hope… the track itself sounds to me a lot like Songs From the Big Chair – era Tears for Fears.  They are musically schizophrenic: “Be My Mistake” is an country-styled acoustic ballad about a guilty conscience proposing a hookup outside of a relationship; “Sincerity is Scary” speaks on the concept of a person sending their “representative” into the world, especially the dating world – track sounds like urban R&B, while “I like America and America Likes Me” is a song decrying gun violence and the use of guns in general, set to a kind of a Trap-like beat with auto-tuned and digitized vocals; finally, “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) details the lead singer’s struggles with coke and heroin addictions, set to a upbeat pop rhythm that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in, um, 1975.  It that concept of sunny music with somber undertones lyrically that The 1975 are adept at creating, and they do it really well.

Do yourself a favor and check this one out; it caught me by surprise that I liked it so much, but that’s what this blog is all about, new musical discoveries… check out the video for “Love It If We Made It“…

TobyMac

The Elements

Back in January, TobyMac released the track “I just need U“, and I anointed it as the first great track of 2018; nine months later, his seventh solo album finally dropped.  His message is God-centered and inspirational, wrapped in pop confectionery, so it is accessible to all with an eye towards the spiritual realm without being preachy.   Two other singles, “Everything” and “Scars“, were also released in advance of the albums release, and are included here.  In addition to his usual message, he takes time out to appeal to current social matters, with “It Starts with Me“, a track about overcoming an upbringing of intolerance towards others.

TobyMac has been on his Christian journey and spreading positive messages for more than 30 years, and I hope he keeps on keepin’ on… here’s the video for “I just need U“…

Georgia Anne Muldrow

Overload

I love, love LOVE my self-appointed labor of love in listening to and reviewing music; someday, someone may appoint me to a paying gig doing it.  And the best part of it is when I can discover someone I didn’t know about… I said in my bio that I’m slippin’ as far as staying on top of all the best talent out there, and it’s true, ’cause I wouldn’t have been sleeping on this sista for the past dozen years.  Ms. Muldrow has been part of the L.A. Soul/Hip-hop/Jazz scene since about ’06, and has released an astonishing 17 projects since then, using different aliases for different styles of music.  I came across her as a feature on the Blood Orange Negro Swan album I reviewed in my last article, and my curiosity took over from there, so here we are…

The first name that’ll come to mind when listening to her is Erykah Badu- that sista has a certain panache that cannot be duplicated, so to call anyone a left-field version of her would be an insult to Erykah, for she is out there all by herself.  There are notable similarities in vibe that cannot be denied, however, so you must acknowledge it.  Most of this album percolates in a slow, simmering groove, starting with “Play It Up“, through the title track and its’ militant follower “Blam“, then back to the meditative “Vital Transformation” and the assuring “You Can Count on Me“.  The vibe is temporarily interrupted by the disjointed ragtime feel of “These Are the Things I Really Like About You” and a little later, by the cosmic jazz workout of “Bobbie’s Dittie“.  In between is the oddly titled “Canadian Hillbilly“, perhaps the most sensuous track, and my personal fave on the album. 

It took me a couple of listens all the way through to fully appreciate this album, but it was worth the extra listens to realize this sista is on another level – she has me binge listening to her back catalogue now… check out the audio clip for “Vital Transformation“…

Elvis Costello & The Imposters

Look Now

It took me a long time to begin the review for this album, as I wanted to provide complete clarity in my thoughts about the artist.  What I came up with, when it’s all said and done, is this:  Elvis Costello is a musical treasure, a songwriter who has treated us to many characters, and countless stories over his 30 albums.  I have often wondered how he could possibly remember all the lyrics to all of his songs; a lyric sheet from from one of his albums reads like a short book.  It is this literacy that makes him one of the pre-eminent songwriters of the past 40 years.  He has broached just about every style- his last album, 2013’s Wise Up Ghost paired him with The Roots, and previous collaborations have seen him try his hand at classical, country, jazz, and soul; the results, more often than not, are successful.  

For his latest album, Costello reunites with the Imposters for the first time since 2008’s Momofuku.  He co-wrote a song with Carole King (“Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter“), and teamed up with the legendary Burt Bacharach, with whom he collaborated on 1998’s Painted from Memory, for three tracks (“Don’t Look Now“, “Photographs Can Lie“, “He’s Given Me Things“).  The tone of the album is fairly mellow, sophisticated pop, with Costello’s sardonic wit and especially his anger turned down – at 64 years of age, he can no longer be considered an “angry young man” – but that doesn’t mean it’s turned off – check the video for “Suspect My Tears” I included at the end of the review.  The overall feel of this album will remind you of one of his early classics, 1982’s Imperial Bedroom, perhaps intermingled with the Bacharach collaboration.

For me, a fan since the very beginning, this album ranks as his best in many years.  He has placed this one along with some of my favorites, including 1980’s Get Happy!, 1978’s This Year’s Model, the previously mentioned Imperial Bedroom, and 1993’s collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet The Juliet Letters.  There is a Deluxe version of the album, which gives you four additional tracks, but stores were charging double the price for it over the standard edition, so those tracks will be a digital download for me.  If you’re a fan of this man’s music, this is definitely a worthy purchase. 

Beres Hammond

Never Ending

When I first heard “I’m Alive“, the lead track from the 20th album from this 63 year old lovers rock/dancehall icon, I thought to myself “this sounds like a testimony record-was Beres sick?”  There’s nothing I’ve read to suggest that he was, although he looks a little more frail than I remember him being.   And it has been six years since his last album, the Grammy-nominated One Love, One Life.  Alas, it appears it is just an effective testimony we can all sing.

The latest album furthers Beres’ legacy of quality lovers rock, one drop, and inspirational tracks through the stories he tells in his songs- he is one of reggae’s greatest lyricists.  Beres’ raspy tenor is also in its’ usual fine form throughout the album’s 14 tracks, so you get close to an hours’ worth of Sir Hammond doing what he does best. 

I’ve been waiting to see if he could top the albums that I think are his greatest works: Music is Life (2001), A Moment In Time (2008), and his magnum opus, 2004’s Love Has No Boundaries; I’ve come to the conclusion that he probably never will, so I’ve decided to judge each album without comparison to that seven-year period of genius.  This is a worthy addition to his catalog, and one of the best reggae releases of the year… here is the video for “I’m Alive“…

Hugh Cornwell

Monster

This is the ninth studio album from the former frontman of my all time favorite band The Stranglers.  Cornwell, a founding member of the band many called a punk version of the Doors (because of its’ keyboards) left the band in 1990 after 16 years, and both he and the band have soldiered on without each other now for close to three decades. Cornwell uses a stripped down band of just guitar, bass, and drums, and is still able to rock out pretty good for a man who will turn 70 next year.  This album is one that is devoted to songs about both heroes and villains in history- in his words, people who’ve defied categorization, including Lou Reed, Mose Allison, Evel Knievel, Phil Silvers aka Sgt. Bilko, Benito Mussolini and Robert Mugabe, among others.  It is a two disc set, with the second disc being devoted to Stranglers tracks performed by him solo.  Here’s wishing that he and the band can, at long last, put their differences behind them, and come together again before it’s too late… no video is available for any of the tracks, but this is an audio clip of what I think is the strongest track on the album, “Pure Evel“…

Kane Brown

Experiment

So I came across this young man purely by accident – I’d stopped by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and he just happened to be performing (Ella Mai was also in the parade).  The parade commentators mentioned that he’s one of the hottest country singers going right now, and I noticed that he is melanated, so I had to go and check him out online.   Along the way of learning about him and his music, I noticed there are some who are waging the “this ain’t REAL country music” argument against him.  Naturally, I needed to know what the fuss was all about, so I gave his newly released second album a spin.

For those unfamiliar with Kane Brown, he is  a 25 year old man from the northwest Georgia/Southeast Tennessee region, born to a black father and white mother.  He is not the average looking Country singer… he has a fair amount of urban swag to him – tattoos, jewelry, and an aggressive and expressive hairstyle – he looks like he’d fit in on Empire… until he opens his mouth… he doesn’t sing about beer, big wheel trucks and  and other stereotypical country topics… he may be more Atlanta Rhythm Section or Florida Georgia Line than Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings or Chris Stapleton… and that’s what has country purist’s britches in a bunch.  As I said when I reviewed Thomas Rhett’s album earlier this year, he is not your daddy’s Country… this is the new Country, which is sometimes Southern Rock, sometimes Country with elements of other genres, and sometimes it’s just Pop with a southern twang.  He is a star borne of the social media age, as he posted himself doing covers of other artist’s songs online.  As his popularity swelled, he gained the attention of major label folks, who signed him to a deal, he released some EP’s, and then his self-titled debut album dropped in late 2016… the rest, as they say is history.  The singles “Lose Him” and “Homesick” are here; my favorite tracks are “It Ain’t You, It’s Me“, and “The Weekend“.

To be fair about the authenticity of his music as Country, he sure sounds like Country to me.  The R&B world is waging the same war against its’ newer artists, too; it’s all a matter of the music diversifying itself to be more things to more people, or a matter of reinvention.  There’s nothing wrong with a little genre-bending, there is enough room for everybody; people are resistant to change, or anything other than what they like.  For someone like me, who can appreciate Country music, but is not a huge fan, I took this music as it is, not in comparison to what something else is – if it’s good on its’ own merit, then what difference does it make?  I think this is a decent album… check out the video for “The Weekend“…

Stories of P & D : Whatever Happened to Innuendo???

Now Hear This!  #11   Sept/Oct 2018

 

Definition of Innuendo 

1a : an oblique allusion : hint, insinuation especially : a veiled or equivocal reflection on character or reputation

  b : the use of such allusions resorting to innuendo

 

2 : a parenthetical explanation introduced into the text of a legal document

(Courtesy of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

 

I’m running late in releasing this article (should’ve been out two weeks ago), but to be honest, there was so little going on in terms of interesting music (to me) to listen to, that it took me until the last couple of weeks or so to compile enough material to write about.  I’m hopeful for the Fall release season, as there are signs that it’s picking up- so much so that I may do a special issue later this month.  But now that there is enough to talk about, let’s get to it…


There may be some that think I’m out of my league reviewing some of the stuff I do – too old or out of touch, or I just don’t understand what it’s like today.  In terms of hip-hop, a lot has changed, not much for the better.  It is MY generation that invented the genre, so if anything, I can offer a historical perspective on it (same with most other popular music), as well as comment on its’ current state. One of the things that hasn’t changed that much in popular music is subject matter.  Whether it is matters of the heart, sex, or love, they are subjects about which most songs are crafted.  The difference is the way in which it is expressed today.  Now, I won’t try to convince you that the underlying messages of the songs aren’t similar, but there is a difference between Chuck Berry singing about “My Ding-a-Ling” and Tank singing about “When We…”  Whereas the former used a double entendre about a bell, the latter left NOTHING to the imagination.  I know I made an example of this song in an article earlier this year, it is still one of the most vivid examples of what I’m talking about.  Now I’m far from a prude – I’m the guy who didn’t bat an eye in the late 70’s when, as a 15 year old, my all-time favorite band The Stranglers wrote a little ditty about a pedophile called “Bring On the Nubiles” with the lyric “I kiss your zones erogenous / There’s plenty to explore / I’ve got to lick your little puss / And nail it to the floor…  let me let me f**k ya f**k ya / let me let me f**k ya f**k ya / let me let me lick your lucky smiles…”  Part of their thing was the shock value of what they were saying, but it wasn’t the sum total of what they were about; today, we’re inundated with stream of consciousness-style lyrical content, and it seems to be not only commonplace, but almost expected, in order to give your song some street cred.

What I want to know is, when did everything get so crude and vulgar?  I know that as modern society has gotten freer, communication has become more open, and as such, people commonly express themselves with what has been known as vulgar, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate language.   Songwriting is considered an art; is it a lost art?  I don’t think so; I do, however, think people are more gratuitous with usage of this kind of language.  Especially in hip-hop, where metaphorical imagery is its’ hallmark, everything seems to be dumbed down to its’ lowest common denominator.

Now I’m only going to say this ONE time, just for the benefit of those who aren’t sure what I’m referring to in terms of the ‘P ‘n D’ in the topic’s title.  Quite simply, why is everything about pussy and dick these days?  Again, not saying that music that came before didn’t focus on that, but it was usually done using double entendres and innuendo – whatever happened to innuendo?  I hear songs where all it’s about is P ‘n D… I hear songs that are actually about something else, and then a featured rapper comes in and sings about something totally unrelated to the subject of the song they’re featured on, and it usually involves P ‘n D (one of several reasons I don’t particularly like ‘features’).  Every Friday, I attempt to navigate through the New Music Friday playlist on Spotify… but I usually can’t make it through, because there is so much P ‘n D crap in the song lyrics; is there anything else going on in a Millennial’s life besides that? My alter-ego, T.jamar, has written a couple of yet to be published books about relationships.  And in lending my experience to this topic, there are two concepts that can be used as fodder for lyrical content to help songwriting return to some level of decency, and away from constant and obscene references to P ‘n D:

1.)  Men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love.  The word ‘money’ could be used as a substitute for ‘love’ here, as well, and that’s also a hot topic.  One song said of women “you got to use what you got to get what you want“… Gwen Guthrie once sang “ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the rent / you got ta have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me“, and Destiny’s Child was famous for “can you pay my bills / can you pay my telephone bill / can you pay my automobill / then maybe baby we can chill?”….  Men have used similar imagery – Tom Browne had an early 80’s dance classic singing about “thighs high, to the sky… I wanna grip your hips and move…” And as stupid as it sounded at the time, the 90’s term “knockin’ the boots” is actually very clever imagery.  Men have been known to beg for it, saying just about ANYthing they think a woman would want to hear, and offering everything they can to get it.  Whereas these are earnest, genuine attempts to engage P ‘n D, today we talk about the act itself as if there’s no journey to get to that point -it’s goes straight to what she does in bed, what she likes, how long he is, his stoke game, etc – it’s just all about f**king.  Can we get back to the ride to the mountaintop, the journey to get to the place of engaging P ‘n D – is there no mating period, no getting to know you, no dates – is Netflix and chill the norm?

2.)  Men want to be needed, and women need to be wanted.  If we’re going to reduce the game of love down to primal instincts, let’s go alllll the way back down, to the roots.  I’ve been known to say that NO woman is ‘out of my league’, and I believe that.  Why do I say that?  Because at the core of a woman is a base instinct that needs attention, needs to be held, told and shown she is loved and cherished.  I believe that at the end of the day, a woman, regardless of accomplishments, mindset, etc. needs someone to hold her at night and tell her everything is gonna be OK, and tell her he (or she) loves her.  That is a base instinct, she is wired to be that way.  On the flip side, a (real) man wants to know that his woman needs him- it feeds into the base instinct of provider and protector – he wants to know that you need him.  If a woman plays too strong of a role, one that steps into a man’s domain, he will feel emasculated, as if she doesn’t need him.  And that will drive a (real) man crazy – ask me how I know.  What we hear in popular music is lust and desire; even the songs about a need point to P ‘n D – what about songs that speak to our basic needs when it comes to love?  When can we get back to that?

My featured image is a treble clef on its’ side, meant to symbolize how music is being killed (knocked on its’ back); it needs to be ‘turned up’.


R E V I E W S


Lenny Kravitz “Raise Vibration

lenny-kravitz-raise-vibration-capa

Here’s the thing: if there is ANYthing you realize about Lenny, it’s that his message has always been about LOVE.  From the very first album, which was titled Let Love Rule– that summed him up when he released it in 1989, and it’s still the same with this, his 11th album, nearly 30 years later.  He is the quintessential throwback to hippies, an artist that unabashedly wears his influences on his chest, and promotes them with an energy that belies his 54 years.  He is that increasingly rare artist that is multi-dimensional, still playing most of the instruments on his albums.  His music has managed to transcend social climates, and now, the message is more important than ever before; so it bothered me to read some listener reviews that were critical of both the messenger and the message.  I mean, what kind of human monster can’t get with a message that promotes love of mankind?

One of the criticisms I read was “it’s not rock ‘n roll enough”.  It is indeed the funkiest album he’s ever done, but he set a precedent for being funky back on Mama Said with “What Goes Around Comes Around” where he channeled his inner Curtis Mayfield.  The lead single “Low” and “Majesty of Love” are both quite funky, even features some horns; “Who Really Are the Monsters” is Minneapolis-style funk like one of the main influences he cites for this album (that being the late, Purple one, of course) and a commentary on the mindset of our current governmental officials; “It’s Enough” finds him channeling What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye on a song about police brutality  and corruption.  There IS some rock ‘n roll here: the title track, which features tribal chanting at the end, the opener “We Can Get It All Together“, and the arhythmic “Gold Dust” ; they are not among his best, so I can understand that if you come to Lenny for “Are You Gonna Go My Way?“, you will be disappointed here.  Otherwise, we have the country-ish ballad “Johnny Cash“, and some nice MOR pop tracks uncharacteristic of Lenny (“Ride“, “I’ll Always Be Inside Your Soul“).

The other main criticism I read was the usual opposition to any lyrical opinion by the artist of a social or political nature that doesn’t align with the listener’s views- you know, “just stick to making music”, “no-one wants to hear your opinion”, or “another piece of leftist political drivel” blah-blah-blah.  The track “Here to Love” is like the Lenny mantra, but it comes across to some as preachy – again, what monster cannot receive this message?   Overall, the album is pretty good… not his best- he’ll never top Let Love Rule and Mama Said, in my opinion, but it is a nice change to hear him expand his musical palette, and get his funky and mellow grooves on… Here’s the video for “Low“, the track that features background vocals from none other than the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson….

 

Amos Lee “My New Moon

amoslee-mynewmoon

My path may have crossed with this accomplished Philly native – he’s an alumnus of the University of South Carolina, and for a while, worked part time at my favorite local house of music, Papa Jazz Records.  He’s also been known to pop into the store and give an impromptu acoustic performance when he’s in town; you can check the store’s Facebook page for a clip of the performance.  My New Moon is his seventh album, and is a deeply personal affair for him, more so than other releases- he writes in his liner notes that it is “an altar of sorts to those who have shared their sorrows with me”.

This was my first full exposure to this singer-songwriter, whose style is rooted in a folky but soulful style- I picked up traces of Dylan and John Prine, as well as Terry Callier and early Bill Withers; he has also been called a male version of Norah Jones- some may call that an insult, but I consider that to be a compliment.  This is his first album for the Dualtone label, known more for Americana, after several albums for the renowned Jazz label Blue Note.  You’ll hear traces of Blues in “Don’t Give A Damn Anymore“, a Gospel influence in “Hang On, Hang On“, a song of perseverance;  a Country leaning features on “Crooked“, a song with oblique political overtones about what he considers regressive government.  His soulful style comes out in the inspirational “Little Light” and “All You Got Is a Song“, a song detailing his emotions around the passing of his grandmother- that topic also informs the closing track “Don’t Fade Away“.  The first single from the album, the opening track “No More Darkness, No More Light” is about as upbeat as it gets, with a tumbling beat with a bit of an African feel, and disarmingly somber lyrics, as he seeks a renewal of his spirit in the wake of the Parkland incident… “And a trail we choose to follow / It’s as cursed as it is blessed / Is there mercy that we all must face / Before the dead can raise? / Darkness, no more darkness / The broken days have beat the dead of night / Darkness, no more darkness / No more darkness, no more light…”  There is hope on display in “Whiskey On Ice“, which details a parents’ journey with losing a child to cancer- he detail in his liner notes about how they found solace in Lee’s music, and that provided the transformational moment for him about his world view, which was becoming something he didn’t want for himself.

The album tackles some heavy topics, but it’s done with a such a cohesiveness and fluidity through the stylistic changes, that it doesn’t wear you out.  Lee has a wonderfully expressive voice that can ease the pain, and the musical backdrop has little nuances that make it just as interesting…  enjoy the video for “No More Darkness, No More Light

 

 

Blood Orange “Negro Swan

blood orange_negro swan

The black swan is recognized as a majestic, beautiful, and rare bird; it is also marginalized by some, like some other things that are black, as ugly, unappealing, and abnormal.  The fourth album from multi-faceted 32 year old British singer-songwriter Devonte Hynes aka Blood Orange tackles a pretty heavy topic- Black depression and the struggle to get through everyday life as a Black and/or Queer person.  Hynes, who describes himself ambiguously as neither straight nor gay, is a lot like Lenny Kravitz, in that he serves as composer, producer, and player of many of the instruments on the album -he does supplement himself with guest musicians, vocalists, and samples, both found and created -he’s especially fond of the siren, which is sounded throughout the album.

Musically, the style is largely alt-soul, alt-hip hop or chillwave- what I consider MOR 70’s pop or 80’s influenced melancholia- similar to my guy Toro y Moi.  The album careens wildly between a collage of ideas (or a clash, if you find it not to your liking) over 16 tracks clocking in around 50 minutes.  Songs will abruptly change course- you can be rolling along on a nice groove, when the song reverses course, and morphs into an plaintive, acoustic vamp- sometimes it returns back to what it was, sometimes it doesn’t.  This schizophrenic, almost bi-polar musical tendency, I believe, is completely intentional and meant to display the wildly changing moods of those that suffer with the depression.  The album is narrated by transgender social activist Janet Mock, whose spoken word interludes about family, among other things, are interjected between several tracks.  The first single “Charcoal Baby” features Hynes softly singing over a nice, mellow grove featuring an out of tune guitar -sounds kind of like a badly pressed vinyl record- also a tactic used by Curtis Mayfield, who always turned his guitar sharp.  It serves as the focal track of the set, containing the lyric “No one wants to be the odd one out at times / No one wants to be the negro swan / Can you break sometimes?”   The set opener “Orlando” is loosely based on the nightclub tragedy…. “first kiss is the floor” describes a young unloved man as he gets shot… the second single “Jewelry” is perhaps the most disjointed track on the album, as it changes course twice.  “Chewing Gum” asks the question “tell me what you want from me” as there is forever dissatisfaction from the world in whatever or whoever they are- this track features A$AP Rocky, who hijacks the song to rap about… guess what?  P ‘n D…  “Holy Will” follows this up – an adaptation of the Clark Sisters gospel song “Center of Thy Will“, sung by several different vocalists.  There are plenty of guests that flow through this album, including Puff Daddy, Steve Lacy, and Georgia Anne Muldrow.

If you need your music to be a little challenging, this would be an album for you to consider.  Frankly, I consider it a change from the same ole, same ole- and that’s a good thing… Here’s the video for “Charcoal Baby“…

 

Bob Moses “Battle Lines

bobmoses-battlelines

The second album from this Vancouver, BC via Brooklyn duo throws a bit of a curveball from its’ predecessor.  The group name is not a combination of theirs – neither is named Bob, Moses, or Bob Moses – they are Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance- the name is a tribute to a prominent New York architect named Robert Moses.  Their first album Days Gone By was one of my Best of 2015 releases, and featured the shuffling dance track “Tearing Me Up“, which was nominated for two Grammys, winning one, for best remixed recording, non-classical.  The sound of that album was a mellow, deep House, with hushed, almost background vocals; it was, for the most part, rooted in trance and rave culture, with long stretched out tracks and an eye for late night/early morning dancefloors.

This time around, they decided to diversify the sound a bit; the bpm ethos is largely tossed aside in favor of more concise song structures in the four to five minute range,  with a bit of an Indie Rock thing, as they try and fuse some guitar into the sound.  Tempos on the whole are slower, and lyrics more mysterious now than before.  They now sound something like Black Celebration-era Depeche Mode meets Coldplay.  The album opener and first single “Heaven Only Knows” is a semi-industrial EDM banger and the best track here, in my opinion; the tracks “Back Down“, “Listen to Me“, and “Enough to Believe” are the other tracks that harken back to the best of the first album, with their cool Deep House beats.  “Don’t Hold Back” attempts to be this album’s “Tearing Me Up“, with its’ shuffling beat, while elsewhere they try to strike what sounds like a tenuous balance of electronics and rock.

Playing it safe seems to be the operative here, as Bob Moses’ attempt at growth seems to have taken them in the wrong direction.  It’s by no means a bad album, although you can probably discern from this review that I prefer their first album; when I talk about growth, be it personal, musical, or botanical,  I keep the fact that all growth isn’t good, since weeds also grow.  I would’ve rather they’d taken a chance on furthering their sonic footprint more into the EDM realm than taking steps towards becoming just another rock band… Here’s an audio clip of “Heaven Only Knows“…

 

Macy Gray “Ruby

macygray-ruby

As she was preparing to release her debut On How Life Is in 1999, Macy Gray embarked on a promotional tour to get her name out there; I was introduced to her through a track released on a CD included with a monthly music magazine.  When she came to Chicago, I not only had the pleasure of catching her free concert at the Double Door Theater, but had the chance to rub elbows and hang out alongside her and her crew at the restaurant next door to the theater.  That debut album produced her signature song “I Try“, for which she won a Grammy.

I have to admit, after about her second album, she kinda fell off my (and most others) radar; nearly 20 years since the debut, the 51 year old Canton, OH native born Natalie McIntyre has returned with her 10th album, and I think this one could put her back on the map.  Over the album’s 12 tracks, she gives us a good bit of variety, from the melodramatic pop balladry that made her famous (“When It Ends”, “But He Loves Me“), to straightahead pop (“Cold World“, “Over You“, “Jealousy“), some ragtime-styled jazz (“Tell Me“) and its’ playfully naughty companion, the collaboration with Meghan Trainor “Sugar Daddy“- this track is notable for its’ video, which features Macy as a stripper who finds her niche – it’s based on the movie Lady Sings the Blues and features Evan Ross, the son of Diana Ross, who of course played the lead role in the movie, as the Billy Dee Williams character, with the famous line “You want my arm to fall off?”.  The album begins with an anthem of hope with “Buddha“, which features Gary Clark Jr. on guitar, and closes with the reggae-influenced “Witness“.  Perhaps the centerpiece of the album is the dance stomper “White Man“, which is said to be directed at our President… but could be directed at anyone for whom the shoe fits, and features the lyric “Hey white man I am not my grandmother / I’m from the city Canton Ohio / I’m just a lady but I think like a man / You hating me and I don’t understand / You’re judging me, you wanna send me to hell / God is my father and I got my ban / You come for me, let me make it clear / I’ll whip your woooooo…”  Although the track ultimately speaks of unification of the races, it’s a track that could cause some controversy, especially from anyone to whom it probably pertains; at six feet tall in stocking feet, Macy is an imposing figure, so you may not wanna bet against her in a fight.

This album marks a return to form for Macy; she has enjoyed more success recently as an actress than with her music, but (at least for me), she is back on my musical radar.  Check out the nice video for “White Man“…

 

Jungle “For Ever

jungle_for ever

This is the sophomore album from British collective anchored by the duo of Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson.  My initial impression of them was based on their expanded touring lineup, which consists of seven members; I thought they were a Millennial version of the Fifth Dimension.  They’ve been quite the sensation in their homeland the past four years, and quietly, have made some inroads here in the States, as their music has been featured in television scenes, and commercials from Target,  Toyota and Uber, among others.

Musically, they’re 70’s-influenced funky pop and dance, featuring mid to uptempo grooves with punchy bass, keyboard flourishes, and an unmistakable vocal style utilizing a unison, high falsetto/low baritone style that is mostly devoid of harmony.  They fit somewhere between Daft Punk and Disclosure, and their videos are also part of the entire aesthetic that is Jungle- highly choreographed dancing and beautiful scenery that  gives you the impression that life is all good.  Alas, while their 2014 self-titled debut was mostly sunny, life experiences have betrayed that outlook somewhat, providing an undercurrent of dark cynicism that takes over the second half of this new album.  “Happy Man” features the lyric  “Buy yourself a dream / How’s it looking? / Buy yourself a car / And a house to live in / Get yourself a girl / Someone different / Buy yourself a dream / And it won’t mean nothing…”  Many of these tracks were informed by their experiences while living in California and being in relationships that ultimately fell apart.  Their upbeat tracks are the ones that work best- “Beat 54 (All Good Now)”, “Heavy, California”, “Smile“, and “Casio“, as well as the midtempo “Cherry“.  Much of the rest is more somber and brooding- the single “House in L.A” is a dramatic dirge- that style begins to betray their one-dimensional vocal delivery- it may actually wear on you over the course of the whole album if digested all at once.

When Jungle is good, they’re great; I think they work best as a singles band, however- as long as the beat goes on, it’s all good.  I don’t mind them diversifying the tone of the tracks (that’s a good thing), but they may wish to also change it up a little vocally, for the quieter, more pensive tracks expose that frail falsetto voice.  On the whole, though, I rather like it… here’s the video for “Happy Man“…

 

Just for the Record: The Politics of the Politics in Music

Now Hear This! #10  July/August 2018

“I wanna go there, still I don’t go there… everybody says ‘say something’…. I don’t wanna get, caught up in the middle of it…” (Justin Timberlake/Chris Stapleton)

In my recent article “The Music & the Madness”, I made a couple of comments that implicitly referenced my thoughts on our current President; one of my readers, a lifelong friend and a conservative Republican, took offense with the comments.  I encourage feedback on my articles, so I was welcoming of what she had to say;  she asked me “why did you have to bring politics into a music column, why not just keep it about the music?

The question took me right back to a quote that opened up an earlier article on Now Hear This!-  the quote came from me, and said “no one wants to hear your opinion, unless they agree with it…”  Now, I love my friend like a sister, although we aren’t (for the most part) politically aligned, but I was kind of amused by the question she asked, for I’ve read countless short reviews from listeners of albums by their favorite artists that became platforms for political commentary.  And in every case where there was disagreement with the artist’s stance, it was always “just stick to making music” or some other comment like that.

Let’s face it: we live in politically charged times, and one place where social politics have always gained a foothold is through music- you cannot escape it, especially today.  This is true in most every genre, except for one… but we’ll get into that in a bit…

Somehow, throughout all my trips to the Charleston, SC area over the past 16 years, I had managed to never been aware of the presence of Monster Music & Movies.  I realized why, though: all of my previous visits there were mainly to North Charleston, or on the peninsula, the main tourist trap; I rarely, if ever, ventured across the Ashley River to the area where most Charlestonians actually live (or can afford to live). img_2797 This is a music superstore, located in a strip mall across from a major shopping mall, with square footage rivaling a medium size grocery store.  I had to make two trips there to get to survey all the music- I never got to all the DVD’s and Blurays that consumed an entire wall.  The sell all the formats: new and used CD’s, vinyl, they had some cassettes, even a few 8-track tapes; they also have accessories, like record needles, sleeves and inserts for 7-inch and 12-inch vinyl, and more.  They have a large budget section (including a whole section of $1.99 Reggae CD’s!), and a pretty good selection of new music at competitive prices. I can now say that I’ve been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt (I actually did buy the T-shirt, for $7.99).  And from this point forward, EVERY trip to the Charleston area must include a stop at this store.  SUPPORT YOUR INDEPENDENT MUSIC RETAILER!

So… back to my earlier discussion.  Firstly, let me tell you a little about me… just for the record… I’m what I consider to be politically moderate at this point in my life.  At one point in my late teens/early 20’s, I was anarchic, far left leaning, considered Socialism to be a plausible solution, and atheist; fast forward 35 years or so, and the needle has moved considerably, closer to the center than it has ever been.  I’m still left leaning, but I’m conservative on some topics, and liberal on others – in some instances, I’m both within the same topic (like abortion – I’m pro-life for myself, pro-choice for everyone else).  I’m of the opinion that the two dominant political parties in America are both full of shiggedy, especially where it pertains to people of color.  Finally, I’m a Christian who attends church weekly via physical or virtual means.

Popular music has always been driven by what people go through in their lives, so it always speaks from a social perspective.  The political perspective was probably birthed around the time of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, and has continued to be a topic ever since then.  Today, in a society that’s more divided than ever, at a time when our togetherness, understanding, and tolerance with and of others not like us isn’t what we thought it was, it is more pervasive than ever.  The opening quote in this article is what this discourse is all about.  Most genres, be it Blues, Jazz, R&B, HipHop, or Rock, speak on the events of current times.  Conspicuously absent in this group is Country music.

There was an article about this very topic in the weekly Free Times newspaper here in Columbia, SC several months back; to read the article, click the following link:

https://www.free-times.com/news/cover-story/walk-the-line-navigating-politics-in-today-s-country-music/article_ec072a0e-da0b-11e7-8e91-2f1d2d27d99c.html

It seems as if Country artists go out of their way to NOT include politics in their music.  Why is that?  I’m fairly sure of the answer, but before I delve into that, this reminds me of a parallel with other local events that happened around the time I first came to Columbia in late 1999.  There was the whole Confederate flag controversy here, but then there was a barbecue restaurant magnate who was in the news about his views on race.  The owner of several local restaurants, he informed us that there was biblical justification for the enslavement of Black people, and that the White man is the best friend the Black man has ever had.  His business suffered tremendously for a while, but it has ultimately sustained.  He has since passed away, and his children run the business today; when they were asked about their father’s views and whether or not they share those views, they didn’t denounce them- in fact, they completely sidestepped the issue, and wanted to stick to talking about the barbecue.

Here’s my take: The demographic that calls Country their favorite music of choice is  mostly White, Conservative, and Republican, and within that demographic are many whose views probably wouldn’t be acceptable to a larger majority of Americans or considered ‘politically correct’ (to be fair, the same could be said of HipHop, but those artists and its’ listening audience wear their thoughts and emotions on their sleeves).  The artists that may share their views would rather not seem out of step, or racist, fascist, homophobic, or sexist; they prefer to stick to topics about big wheel trucks, drinking, and homespun tales of domestic life and love.  Conversely, those brave enough to stick their necks out and express views not aligned with much of their audience can find themselves facing severe backlash.  Examples of that include Drive-by Truckers, whose last album American Band was very sympathetic to African American causes, and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s last album The Nashville Sound, which again expressed empathetic sentiments to the African American experience.  Each caught some degree of flack from their fanbase for the songs, being called closet liberals- the Truckers in particular, heard it loud and clear from many in their fanbase that they didn’t approve- many jumped off the back of the truck!  Even legendary Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd are distancing themselves from the Confederate flag imagery that has been part of their identity their whole career, to the chagrin of some of their fanbase.

I’ve taken Black Country superstar Darius Rucker to task more than once for not speaking up- especially considering he comes from a place that witnessed one of the worst mass shootings in recent history- the Charleston church shootings at the hands of Dylann Roof-  but as with the others, his career is more important than risking it by infusing the music with political commentary, since you will probably piss off someone no matter what you say.

There is another line in the Timberlake/Stapleton collabo that goes “sometimes the greatest way to say something, is to say nothing at all”…. I love the song, BTW, but it isn’t lost on me that the writers of it are White men… you could just about guarantee a Black artist wouldn’t write this song (well, maybe Kanye would), because they come from a side (whether or not espouse those views) where many view that coming out in support of other groups compromises “our way of life”, while Black artists are more likely to state what’s wrong, and what’s needed to make it right.  But that lyric basically sums up the mindset of most Country artists… and probably others in other genres, as well…  and that can be a justifiable or a dangerous approach, depending upon the view.

Either way, I can understand… but sometimes, I still wish they would say something

R  E  V  I  E  W  S

Because of the length of the previous discourse, I will try to provide a degree of brevity to this month’s reviews.  Here we go…

Kamasi Washington “Heaven & Earth”

Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth

Brevity is not the modus operandi of ambitious Jazz tenor saxophonist Washington, whose debut album, 2015’s The Epic was a three hour plus triple-disc set; he released a mini epic called The Harmony of Difference last year, containing just 6 tracks, at a total length of about a half hour.  This full-length sophomore effort is a double-disc set clocking in at just over 2 1/2 hours across 16 tracks; vinyl copies include a bonus disc called The Choice (available for download and streaming elsewhere), which pushes the overall length back over three hours.  Overall, it’s a more consistent effort, as he edited himself enough to leave out weaker tracks, something he didn’t do on his debut.  He is a student of Coltrane, but the music is also informed by current events and styles, as well.  He likes to employ strings and what I call a celestial choir in the music to further enhance the sound.  He is the most exciting saxophonist to hit the scene since Joshua Redman some 20 plus years ago.  Definitely recommended… just set aside some time to listen… check out the video for “Street Fighter Mas“…

Victory “The Broken Instrument”

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The debut from 23 year old Detroit born, NYC based singer/guitarist Victory Boyd is a collection of songs she says are an attempt to spread the love of Jesus to a secular audience without being preachy.  Indeed, you wouldn’t detect that as a mission, but this preacher’s daughter sings uplifting and inspirational tunes with the maturity of someone much older; then again, she is part of a singing family- you can find videos of them on Youtube singing Christmas carols in Central Park.  She has drawn comparisons to the likes of Tracy Chapman and Nina Simone, among others, and the buzz around her is completely justified. Radio his beginning to pick up on the lead single “Open Your Eyes“, which recalls the Des’ree track “You Gotta Be“.   She will make your day… check out the video for the single…

Swing Out Sister “Almost Persuaded”

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The 10th album from this British duo is their first one of all new material since their 2009 album A Beautiful Mess, and is the culmination of a fan pledge-funded project called “A Movable Feast” that they began recording about four years ago.   It was originally released last fall to those who helped fund the project, and is just now getting a general release.  They never disappoint in their sound, which has always been heavily influenced by 60’s Easy Listening, particularly the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David; their sophisticated and subdued jazz pop stylings will put you in a mellow mood, and vocalist Corinne Drewery’s dreamy voice is oh so soothing.  Check out the video for “Which Wrong Is Right”

Kamaal Williams “The Return”

kamaalwilliams-thereturn

London based keyboardist born Henry Wu brings forth his second album, his first under his new Muslim name; he is of British and Taiwanese ancestry, and converted to Islam a few years ago.  His sound is best described as a nod to 70’s Jazz fusion from the likes of Herbie Hancock, combined with the flavor that style influenced, the 90’s Acid Jazz scene, particularly the music of groups like Incognito (in particular, the keyboardist for that group, Matt Cooper, did similar work under the moniker Outside).  Check out the video for “Salaam“, which is edited in this version, as it later breaks out into an almost drum ‘n bass vamp…

The Internet “Hive Mind”

theinternet-hivemind

Well look what we have here: an R&B GROUP!  The Internet is an amalgam of five individuals formerly involved with the Odd Future hip-hop collective, who’ve also dabbled in their own solo projects.  As a group, their fourth album solidifies them as an outfit to watch for, as they come together with a sound that is stripped down, lo-fi funky, smooth and silky, and yes, devoid of the Trap. Lead vocalist Syd has a voice reminiscent of Aaliyah or Janet, light and airy. Put this on and just zone out for close to an hour, let this one permeate your soul.  This one is an R&B album of the year candidate… check out the video for “Roll (Burbank Funk)“, a perfect summertime jam, and a great track for the skaters…

Gorillaz “The Now Now”

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After last year’s overly ambitious but ultimately underwhelming Humanz album, Gorillaz returns with a more streamlined, less guest-filled effort.  The only features here are from George Benson, who provides guitar on the single “Humility”, and Jamie Principle and Snoop Dogg on “Hollywood”.  This is, for the most part, a groove-oriented disc that just proves that sometimes, keeping it simple is better.  Here is the video for “Humility”

Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids “An Angel Fell”

idrisackamoor-AnAngelFell

The newest release from 67 year old Chicago native and cosmic space jazz saxophonist Ackamoor is his latest adventure in what he calls exploring the outer limits of jazz.  The influences of Sun Ra are abundant here, but he also mixes elements from around the African diaspora, from the Caribbean to South America and the African continent.  It may take a couple of listens before this one can be fully appreciated, but it is well worth the effort and repeated listens… no video is available for any of the tracks, but you can enjoy the audio to “Message to My People”…

You Heard All the New G.O.O.D. Music?

Now Hear This!   Special Issue #2

“I love myself way more than I love you.”  (Kanye West, 2018)

This issue reviews the five projects involving our wayward, musical genius free thinker Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music label: his own new album, as well as the projects from Pusha T, Teyana Taylor, KIDS SEE GHOSTS, and Nas.

The music industry has done kind of a 180 degree turn in how albums are being produced lately.  Historically, an album contained, on average, 4 to 6 tracks per sides, with an average length of about 3-4 minutes per song; the CD age, with room on a disc that allowed artists to cram close to 80 minutes worth of music on a single disc, often created albums with bloated excesses of material, diminishing the overall quality of a  project.  Now, as CD’s are being overshadowed by digital downloading and music streaming, we’ve seen the industry reverse course, and now we’re seeing shorter, more concise albums of 10 tracks, and overall lengths shrinking into the 30-35 minute range again.

The five releases being reviewed here are being marketed as full albums, but would’ve been known as EP’s or mini-albums just a few short years ago; as a matter of fact, with each of them containing just 7 tracks and an average total length of about 23-24 minutes, three of the four could fit onto one CD… but, each of them are distinctive in their own way.

Soooo, let’s get into those distinctions…


Pusha T “DAYTONA”

pusha-t-daytona-artwork

The third solo album from 41 year old Terrence Thornton aka Pusha T is largely a celebration of his lifestyle in the drug game.  Of course, this isn’t my preferred choice of occupation (heck, neither is my current occupation), so who am I to judge?

He’s speaking directly to those in the game with him, those who wish they were as successful as him, and to those with whom he’s at odds (more on that in a moment).  He proclaims in the opening headnodda “If You Know You Know“… “This thing of ours, oh, this thing of ours / A fraternity of drug dealers ringin’ off / I just happen to be alumni…” Much of his lyrical wordplay, frankly, will fly over the heads of many of us, but his core audience will get it.  And that’s part of what makes this album so intriguing, as you want to be part of that core, if only to understand.   The album’s title is a reference to his favorite watch, the Rolex Daytona –  as he says, he has the ‘luxury of time’.  On “The Games We Play“, he further describes life in the game, and all the excesses the money brings it… “Ain’t no stoppin’ this champagne from poppin’ / The draws from droppin’, the laws from watchin’ / With Ye back choppin’, the cars and the women come with options /
Caviar facials remove the toxins / This ain’t for the conscious, this is for the mud-made monsters…”  Rick Ross adds his $20 worth on “Hard Piano“,  and Kanye drops in on “What Would Meek Do?”; finally, on “Infrared“, he continues his beefs with Lil’ Wayne… “Salute Ross ’cause the message was pure / He see what I see when you see Wayne on tour / Flash without the fire / Another multi-platinum rapper trapped and can’t retire / Niggas get exposed, I see the cracks and I’m the liar?…”; and Drake… “How could you ever right these wrongs / When you don’t even write your songs? / But let us all play along / We all know what niggas for real been waitin’ on / Push…”

Y’see, Push thinks he is THE man, a self-described legend in his niche of the world, with a new joint he proclaims will be the ‘Album of the Year’.  With tight beats supplied by Kanye, the album, with its’ seven tracks clocking in at a tidy 21 minutes, is hard-hittin’, and with Push displaying an undeniable swagger and arrogance, he’ll get some votes…. check out the video for “If You Know You Know“…

Nas “Nasir”

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The 12th album from the king of Queens-area, NY rappers tackles both current and historical events, encompassing them within his focus on the effects of the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Sloth, Wrath, and Pride.

The opening salvo “Not for Radio” is a brutally honest and accurate political statement of race and financial issues, both personal and as witnessed and experienced historically by his people… “Convinced my experiences were meant to be / Helps me navigate as they validate they treachery / Felt established, fake as he smile / handshake questionable / “Am I good?” he ask, thinkin’, “But is he testin’ you?” / (Is he testin’ you?) In my hood, fear does a few things / Make you pussy, make you a snitch / Make irrational moves or even turn you to food…”  This song explores the sin of Pride, and features Puff Daddy as hype man throughout the track.  “Cops Shot the Kid” explores Wrath, features Kanye and Slick Rick, and speaks on the continued police brutality against Blacks; “White Label” speaks on the thought of ‘having too much of a good thing can be bad’ (Gluttony), while “Bonjour” tackles the need to fulfill fleshly desire (Lust).  The expansive 7 1/2 minute “everything” speaks on Greed… “If I had everything, everything / I could change anything / If I changed anything, I mean anything / I would change everything, oh yeah“… “Adam and Eve” tackles Sloth, as it pertains to the proverbial ‘apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’, or repeating generational sins, and finally, “Simple Things” tackles Envy, speaking on people’s jealousy of his lifestyle, possessions, etc, with Nas proclaiming at the end, “I just want my kids to have the same peace I’m blessed with.”

Quite simply, this album is stunning, easily the best of the batch of G.O.O.D. releases; it bests the J.Cole project, and pretty much anything else released in hip-hop so far in 2018.  It is, no disrespect to Pusha T’s sentiment of his joint, an “Album of the Year” candidate.  At just 26 minutes, he could’ve gone long form and treated us to a few more tracks…. but…. they’ve got a pattern going on here, and there are ‘only’ seven deadly sins… so I’ll just hit ‘repeat’ and listen to it again… and again. No video is available yet for any of the tracks, but check out the audio for “Not for Radio“…

KIDS SEE GHOSTS

kidsseeghosts

The collaboration between Kanye and Kid Cudi is an exploration into matters supernatural, spiritual, and earthly.  Several of the themes here involve overcoming man-made obstacles – the expectations and judgement of others; it also speaks to getting past personal demons like bi-polar disorder, depression, and drug abuse.

Labelmate Pusha T features on the opening track “Feel the Love“, which is punctuated by what is said to be gunshots- it actually sounds like Ye is vocalizing a Trap beat – to express them feeling the love in the community amidst all the violence.  Ye opens up “Fire” with the lyric “I love all your shit talkin’, I love all your shit talkin’ / You ain’t got nothin’ better to… do with yourself?…” to address those who’ve judged him for what they see as his failures; it also asks for forgiveness for their shortcomings from the one who can provide it.  My personal favorite track here, “4th Dimension” features a sample from old timey swing jazz musician Louis Prima; the track is lyrically scattershot, but it does again touch on people waiting for them to slip up, so they can pass judgement.  Both “Freee“, which is the sequel to “Ghost Town” from “ye“, and “Reborn” are almost spiritual, as they express getting beyond the expectations, and ultimately criticisms of a society hell bent on waiting on and wanting them to fall.  The album and group’s namesake track expresses a similar sentiment along a supernatural road, and the closer “Cudi Montage” features a Kurt Cobain sample, and addresses the effects on everyone resulting from gang violence.

The album has a bit of a Rock ethos to it, courtesy of Kid Cudi and his occasional involvement in that style; again, the beats are tight, and vocal delivery is on point.  Hopefully, these two will collaborate again… there is no official video from the album at this time, but you can enjoy the audio for “Reborn“…

Teyana Taylor “K.T.S.E.”

Teyana-Taylor-KTSE-cover

This is the fifth of five Kanye produced albums, each released a week apart; it is the sophomore effort from the singer/model/actress 27 year old Harlem native perhaps best known (as least to me) as Bow Wow’s character’s baby mama Sabrina from “Madea’s Big Happy Family” (the one shrieking “Byrennnnnnnnnnnn”).

It deviates from the pattern set by the previous four albums only in the respect that it contains eight tracks, instead of seven tracks; still it clocks in at a brief 22 minutes.   The album’s title is an acronym for “Keep That Same Energy”; she opens with “No Manners”, a 99 second ode of infatuation to her NBA player husband Iman Shumpert that proclaims “my hubby-my hubby so handsome / I hold him ransom, I hold him ransom / And then some / I got a man, but ain’t got no manners…”; she follows up that with two tracks dealing with relationship struggles, “Gonna Love Me”, which utilizes a nice Delfonics sample, and “Issues/Hold On”, which opens with a sample from Chicago R&B legend Billy Stewart’s “I Do Love You”.  “Hurry” is a tale of sexual prowess, and “3Way” discusses her willingness to invite another woman into her bed for her man’s pleasure, and features a part from Kanye doing his best K-Ci impersonation.  “A Rose in Harlem” talks about her rise above betrayal by people around, while “Never Would’ve Made It” take the Marvin Sapp track, reimagines it and makes it her own.  Finally, “W.T.P.” closes the set – the acronym stands for “Work This Pussy”, and is a musically, a nice track reminiscent of Chicago House and ”vogue-ing” – honestly though, she could’ve left this track off the album, and let the previous track end it.

The album has its’ moments, and Ye’s production is good, as usual, but it falls in other areas for lack of substance.  Overall, it’s aight… no videos are yet available for the album, but check out the audio for “A Rose in Harlem”…

 

Kanye West “ye”

kanye-west-ye-album-cover

In my last article, I talked about ‘what Kanye said’, referring to his comments about slavery in an interview with TMZ; at the end of the discussion, I expressed that Kanye needed to deliver a fiyah album, to win back some of the fans who were justifiably put off by some of his comments.   Well…. the album isn’t bad, and there is some flame, but not fiyah.  I had to listen to this album several times, to let his lyrics sink in, and ultimately, my overall impression improved over my initial thoughts – and that often happens with someone who is considered a bit of a crazy genius.

The album is perhaps Ye’s most vulnerable, as he puts his business out front- at this point in the game, he’s strong enough to endure any criticisms that may come his way.  Ye opens up with “I Thought About Killing You“, with the declarations “the most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest…”  It’s a forum for his inner demons, his bi-polar selves clashing with each other.  “Yikes” explores his opioid addiction, speaking on thoughts and hallucinations while under the influence, and how frightening they can be, while “All Mine” speaks on infidelity.  “Wouldn’t Leave” is about wife Kim’s loyalty to him through everything he’s been through, and “No Mistakes” talks on financial difficulties he’s recently endured; this track includes background vocal help from Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson, and also features a lyric directed at Drake, as a follow up to a diss Drake directed as him and Pusha T…”Too close to snipe you, truth told, I like you / Too bold to type you, too rich to fight you / Calm down, you light skin!…” Perhaps the centerpiece of the album is “Ghost Town” where Ye sings in a very shaky voice- I wish he had gotten someone you can actually sing to do this part, as I think this is what wrecks it for me; the lyric “We’re still the kids we used to be, yeah, yeah / I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed, yeah / And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free…” declares Ye as comfortable with himself again, and is reprized on the KIDS SEE GHOSTS album.  The closing track “Violent Times” could be the sentiments of any man raising a daughter… “No, Daddy don’t play, not when it come to they daughters / Don’t do no yoga, don’t do pilates / Just play piano and stick to karate / I pray your body’s draped more like mine And not like your mommy’s / Just bein’ salty, but niggas is nuts / And I am a nigga, I know what they want / I pray that you don’t get it all at once / Curves under your dress, I know it’s pervs all on the net…”  As a man raising a daughter, this resonates with me.  He wants his daughters to be a monster “like Nicki” – and Ms Minaj closes the song and the album with a spoken word comment on the lyric. Nice way to end!

Overall, after repeated listening, I have more of an appreciation for the project, although I believe the other albums here are stronger than this one.  Ye will be comfortable, in the aftermath of recent events involving him, with whatever the public thinks- and that’s a step in the right direction for his mental state… No videos are available for the album, but enjoy the audio for “Violent Crimes“…