Just Listen – You Might Like What You Hear…

Now Hear This #18


This time around, I’m reviewing a bunch of young’uns (using my Country grammar)… got the debut album from Billie Eilish, the second album from Khalid, as well as new music from this post’s left-field picks, Durand Jones & the Indications and Jai Wolf.

I’m on a roll now, this will be the fourth consecutive bi-weekly post, and as long as the new interesting music continues to flow, I’ll take the time to write ’em up and spit ’em out every other week.

RANDOM NOTES

Record Store Day was this past weekend, and I was able to get down to my local music emporium, Papa Jazz Records, to take part. From what I heard, they had people waiting outside the store at 8am to check out all the new vinyl being supplied specifically for the event. I didn’t buy any new vinyl, but I did make note that vinyl is more expensive than CD’s now… it is also heavier grade vinyl, so maybe that offsets the cost…. We recently lost two more personalities: Ranking Roger, from The English Beat and General Public, passed away late last month at the age of 56; the more high profile death was, of course, rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed outside a store he owned in Los Angeles. His death spurred discussion of his legacy – he was quite the humanitarian and community activist, not to mention father and husband. I’d never listened to his music until I learned his lone album Victory Lap was nominated for a GRAMMY. While I didn’t really care for his album, I do wish he had lived to continue making a difference in his community, and his world. He was just 33…


THE HEARD (Reviews)

Billie Eilish

When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

There is a part of me that feels a little out of place reviewing this album; after all, this young lady is less than one-third my age – what could she possibly say that would appeal to me? Well, I’m not your everyday music critic, so here goes… Three years or so ago, this young lady, an L.A. native, hit the scene with a song called “Ocean Eyes” that she released on SoundCloud; that song went viral, she released some more material that was well received, and now, as the world braced for her debut album, she finds herself already an unlikely international phenomenon. Her debut album has arrived, and Billie, now all of 17 years of age, is prepared to conquer the world.

For an old school Punk and classic Alternative guy such as myself, when I got a whiff of Eilish, there were two female artists that came to mind: Lene Lovich and Lydia Lunch. For all of her so-called Goth pretensions, I think she is as much performance artist as music artist, so I think she falls somewhere between the quirky New Wave of Lovich and the confrontational No Wave of Lunch. Eilish herself cites Lana del Ray and Lorde as influences (notice the prominence of the letter “L” with the artists’ names?). So she opens her album with a short interlude about removing her Invisalign braces, which seques into the quirky “bad guy” and then the sleepy “xanny“, with its’ distorted bass, a track about the merits of drug use – “xanny” being a reference to Xanax – Billie claims to not smoke, drink or take any drugs. Then there is “you should see me in a crown” which is based on the British TV show Sherlock– the song itself is a nice dubby number, but the video is either completely creepy or mildly entertaining, based on your viewpoint. She has a thing for arachnids… and… well… see the video for yourself…

Moving on from that, “wish you were gay” is a ballad about being rejected by a guy she liked – as it turned out, the guy really WAS gay, which is why he rejected her; “my strange addiction” is another song detailing a dysfunctional relationship – it incorporates snippets from the TV show The Office, which she is fond of, while “bury a friend” is about the ‘monster under her bed’. She ends the album with a trio of quiet ballads, one which is centered around a suicide attempt (“listen before i go“) and one that she calls a proper final track to an album (“goodbye“), which contains lyrical snippets or references of other songs on the album – a summary, if you will.

Overall, I kinda like this album… she shows her age in spots, but she also shows off elements of a nice voice and curiously affecting songwriting skills. I think part of her ammo is shock appeal as entertainment- underneath is just a girl who likes Hip-hop, baggy clothes, and doing things that raise eyebrows… Check the video of her performing “bury a friend” on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel; you’ll see why I think she’s a performance artist rather than a Goth girl – a Goth girl wouldn’t play up to the audience…


Durand Jones & the Indications

American Love Call

Good music comes from some unlikely places – in this case, we’re talking America’s heartland, Bloomington, IN. There, students at Indiana University, including grad student and Louisiana native Durand Jones got together and started making music. This is the second album from this quintet, following their self-titled 2016 debut, which featured a raw Soul sound with a good bit of grit. They were part of a New Music Friday playlist on Spotify a few weeks ago- that’s how I discovered them; they’ve also made an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel, so they’re getting some well-deserved exposure.

Aside from Jones, the group features a second lead singer, in drummer Adam Frazer, who sings in a falsetto voice; he nicely complements Jones’ raspy tenor. The sound on their first album ranges from the gritty style of a Jackie Wilson or a Wilson Pickett classic Soul to a Booker T & the MG’s funky – it’s raw and athletic, as are many debut albums. This album fills in the sound with strings and horn charts, giving the music a fuller, more lush sound in the style of late 60’s/early 70s Baroque Soul, typified by the music of The Impressions, Dramatics, Delfonics, and others. The album begins with a bit of social observation of the struggles of the many on “Morning In America“; from there, it goes into the new single, and my favorite track here, “Don’t You Know“, which is a beautiful slice of late 60’s Philly soul a la the Delfonics, in which the two lead singers trade portions of the verse. Frazer takes the lead on “Too Many Tears“, in which he shows off his Smokey Robinson-esque falsetto over a track that would make Smokey proud. “What I Know About You” gives a nod to the production values of late 60’s Curtis Mayfield, while “Walk Away” and “Listen to Your Heart” echo early Dramatics. The album closer “True Love” completely lifts the music chart of The Impressions track “I’ve Been Trying” and makes it their own.

I’m a sucker for a Soul revivalist-type band, especially one that does it as well as these guys; this album has been on repeat since I discovered it- in fact, I purchased the album on Record Store Day. This is much needed music, piercing the current landscape of what passes as Soul/R&B these days with their defining classic sound. Get this!… check out the video for “Don’t You Know“…


Khalid

Free Spirit

The sophomore album from 21 year old Khalid Robinson finds him much along the same path he mined with his debut album, 2017’s American Teen, and his 2018 EP Sun City, named for his hometown El Paso, TX. Khalid has been successful, both with his own material, and as a feature on other artist’s music as well; he seems to be everywhere, and for him, that’s a good thing. His eyes are squarely focused on achieving Pop superstardom, and he seems to be well on his way- Free Spirit recently debuted at number 1 on the Billboard album charts.

This album finds Khalid coming into his manhood, as well as his stardom; on the surface, it seems that he’s getting along OK. Musically, the album benefits from solid production – a lot of current music by so – called bedroom producers sound like it was literally recorded in someone’s bedroom- there’s a lack of high or low end, instrumentation seems generic, and overall production is amateurish. Here, production values are high, and the instrumental tracks are engaging on their own. He enlisted a variety of producers, including Murda Beatz, D’Mile, and Disclosure, among others. When you dig into his lyrics, however, you find anxiety (“Self“), talking about his mortality (“Heaven“, a song given to him by Father John Misty) and “Alive” where he makes the ironic statement “I shouldn’t have to die to feel alive“; the expectations and opinions of others (“Hundred“), and communication breakdowns in relationships (“My Bad“). There is a perception by some that Khalid is a bit soft, that he has no edge; that perception is perhaps justified by his persona in an industry where P ‘n D lyrics and gratuitous foul language is the norm, because he doesn’t really give it to you like that. Sometimes, he seems downright polite … the first single “Talk” is, IMHO, the best track on the entire album, and is about a relationship moving too fast “Can we just talk? (Oh) Can we just talk? / Talk about where we’re goin’ / Before we get lost, lend me your thoughts / Can’t get what we want without knowin’ / I’ve never felt like this before / I apologize if I’m movin’ too far / Can we just talk? Can we just talk? / Figure out where we’re goin’…” Other than a proclivity to smoke weed, he seems like a genuinely great guy. There is a collabo with John Mayer (“Outta My Head“) about a girl he can’t stop thinking about, and then there are two ‘coming of age’ songs, the title track and “Twenty One“.

There is something to be said about playing it safe in today’s R&B scene, in that the benefits will lend themselves well to the longevity of this artist’s and album’s success. As some people have said when talking about his music, he’s one of the few artists you can comfortably play in mixed company – and I suppose that’s a good thing. He has a smooth edge and (for the most part) keeps it clean… for the sake of comparison, you may point to Ella Mai’s album as another one clearly geared towards Pop success via R&B, a bit edgy, but accessible. Good job, Khalid; stand apart from the crowd, not in it – you’ll better distinguish yourself that way, and you’ll thank yourself later… There is a short film that was released in tandem with this album; check it out if you can… Here is the video for “Talk“…


Jai Wolf

The Cure to Loneliness

A couple of years in the making, this is the debut album from 27 year-old Sajeeb Saha aka Jai Wolf, born in Bangladesh, but raised and based in NYC. I first became familiar with this guy through one of his singles, a remixed version of “Like It’s Over” that was in rotation on Sirius xm Chill for a while; its’ late night, mellow groove is kinda what I was expecting from him for the album, but it was actually the mood and tone of the remixer for that song – the album is a liiitle different.

Jai is more of a facilitator, a producer who creates from behind the scenes; he isn’t out front. He uses a variety of vocalists for his tracks, and jumps around a bit stylisticly – the single “Lose My Mind“, which is very pop-oriented, “Your Way“, and “Still Sleeping” are steeped in 80’s synth-pop, while the majority of the remaining tracks are closer to the current wave of Indie electronic acts like ODESZA, with a prominent U2-ish guitar often leading the melody, while the electronics form the sometimes bombastic backdrop, along with the alien-sounding voices – “Telepathy” is the current song on rotation over at Sirius- along with “This Song Reminds Me Of You“, they have that anthemic feel to them. “Manic Pixie Dream” and “It All Started with a Feeling” cut the perfect balance of mellow and bombast, and are two of the strongest tracks here, and for those looking for a chilled out moment, the closing track “Around the World” fits that bill.

This is a nice debut for Jai Wolf; he diversified the sound enough throughout the album’s 12 tracks to keep it interesting. I was expecting more chilled out grooves, based on the one song I’d heard of his, but I have no complaints with this package at all… here is the video for “Lose My Mind“…

Lost Gems Rediscovered : Back In the Groove

Now Hear This #17


This is a post I’ve been waiting to write, as there are two new reissues now out that I’ve been itchin’ to review- the long “lost” Marvin Gaye album, and a reissue of a rare and much sought-after album from Roy Ayers; also, I’ll tackle new music from The Cinematic Orchestra, S.P.Y., and Ibibio Sound Machine. Let’s get it on… but FIRST, I’ve got a couple of..

SLEEPER ALERTS

You know how you go looking for one thing, but you discover something else along the way? One thing I love is discovering new music, even if I’m tardy to the party! While looking for a video to go with my review of the Solange album in my last post, I ran across a couple of new discoveries:

Seinabo Sey is a 28 year old singer/songwriter and a native of Stockholm, Sweden; she has been around for about five years now. She is of Swedish and Gambian ancestry, and cites Alicia Keys and Beyonce among her influences, and among accolades, has won a Swedish Grammy. To date, she has released several singles and two full-length albums, including 2018’s I’m a Dream; her songs are mostly positive and uplifting tunes in a Pop/Soul vein. Her writing seems seasoned for her age… check out the song I think is her best track, from her latest album, which was released last September, “I Owe You Nothing“… video filmed in Ghana…

Sudan Archives is the artist name for 24 year old singer/songwriter and violinist Brittany Parks, who despite her apparent immersion into African culture, is a young lady actually born in Cincinnati, OH, and currently based in Los Angeles. She is inspired by both R&B/Hip-hop and North & West African Folk music, especially Sudanese fiddlers; her style is fairly minimalist, often using just tape loops, hand claps, and of course, her violin. So far, she has released a couple of EP’s – her 2017 self-titled debut, and 2018’s Sink… check out a video for “Come Meh Way“, from her first EP Sudan Archives… video also filmed in Ghana…


These are two young ladies to be on the lookout for… a little off the beaten path, talented, and worthy of greater exposure… and they purdy too!…


THE HEARD (Reviews)

Marvin Gaye

You’re the Man

To commemorate the 80th birthday of Marvin Gaye on April 2nd, Motown Records has decided to finally release this 1972 album, long considered the “lost” Marvin Gaye album. These sessions were intended to form the followup to his landmark 1971 album What’s Going On?, rightfully considered to be one of the greatest ever R&B albums, an iconic, cultural landmark of a release.

As the story goes, Marvin wanted to further his social activism through his music, much to the chagrin of Berry Gordy, who told him he would be risking his career by alienating portions of his fanbase with his politics (where have we heard this before???); the fact is, Gordy initially resisted the What’s Going On? project for the same reason, until Gaye protested and threatened to refuse to record any more music for Motown. Well, Gordy backed down and let him do his thing, and the rest is musical history. The first single from this album was the title track, which was a scathing indictment of the Nixon administration; Gordy wasn’t pleased with the lyrical content, and resulting promotion of the single by the label was poor. While the single actually did well on the R&B charts, getting into the Top 10, it failed to cross over to the Pop charts; after all the success with his last album, which charted three Top 10 Pop hits, Gaye was spooked by the performance of the single, and decided to scrap the whole project, instead going on to work on the soundtrack for the blaxploitation film Trouble Man – the soundtrack performed better on the charts than the movie did in theaters. And getting back to the Gaye/Gordy rift about the politics, here’s an interesting historical perspective that wasn’t lost on me: Stevie Wonder shortly thereafter released the song “You Haven’t Done Nothing” (which included the Jackson 5 on backing vocals), which was very similar in its’ subject matter – Wonder’s song, with proper promotion, was a Pop hit.

The tracks that compose this album use a variety of hot producers and writers of the time, including Willie Hutch, Bohannon, and the Mizell Brothers, among others; the result is a nice variety of song textures. The first few tracks deal directly with social issues, starting with the title track, followed by “The World is Rated X“, speaking on how some events of the world are obscene; “Pieces of Clay” discusses how people want to mold others to their image, and that’s followed by “Where Are We Going?“- I IMMEDIATELY gravitated to this track, which has a traditional Motown sound circa early 70’s about the direction of the world and where’s it headed – for me, this song is on repeat… just listen…

Then there are the tracks that speak to the women in his life, culminating with a trio of tracks that have been remixed by Salaam Remi – “My Last Chance“, the first track released from the album, and “Symphony“- these two tracks my wife has on repeat – lush, slow drag, sensual tracks that would’ve fit nicely on his next studio masterpiece, 1973’s Let’s Get It On – check out “Symphony“…

… and finally, “I’d Give My Life for You“. Before the album closes, we get the bluesy instrumental “Christmas in the City“, an alternate take on “You’re the Man“, a poignant song “I Want to Come Home for Christmas“, spoken from the perspective of a POW in Vietnam; and the two bluesy funky jazzy closing tracks “I’m Going Home” and the spoken word “Checking Out (Double Clutch)“.

I’m ecstatic this album is finally seeing a proper release, but my first reaction after listening to it all the way through was one of rage against Berry Gordy, for withholding this album from us for 47 years; it shows Gaye was at his creative peak, and a faulty opposing view of some of the lyrical content helped to suppress him until 35 years after he was killed by his father (which happened on April 1st, 1984, the day before his 45th birthday)… and especially in light of the fact that Stevie’s song spoke directly to Nixon, and that song was promoted and was a smash hit – remember, he recorded for Tamla, a Motown label itself. But…. better late than never… Buy this album, if you don’t otherwise buy a physical medium like vinyl or CD’s, buy this and own an official copy; it will be available on double vinyl LP and CD formats.


Roy Ayers

Silver Vibrations

Seeing the light of day for the first time in the U.S. is this 1983 UK only release from the vibes master. Three of its’ seven tracks were released on an American album the same year called Lots of Love, but its’ remaining four tracks are unique to this album; similarly, the remaining five of the eight tracks on Lots of Love are unique to it.

The set opener “Chicago” has a bit of a dark, almost sinister groove to it, not too unlike the vibe you get from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller“, while “Lots of Love” and “Keep On Movin‘” are closer to typical upbeat Ayers fare. The title track “Silver Vibrations” has a very nice early 80’s vibe to it – throughout most of this set, Roy didn’t stray too far from his roots, which made some of the other tracks sound a little dated for ’83, like he was stuck in the Disco era – the set closer “Good Good Music” is the most vivid example of that… You have the lone ballad “Smilin’ With Our Eyes“, and then a homage to our nation’s capitol “D.C. City“, a track made for the steppers crowd, and to me, the standout track on the album.

At the time of its’ release, Roy was between record labels – he and longtime label Polydor had parted ways, and he hadn’t yet signed with his next label, Columbia; he released this on his own label, Uno Melodic. I wouldn’t say this is a most essential release of his – it’s OK, but not up there with “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” or “Running Away” – it has, however, been a collector’s item fetching well over $100 for an original vinyl pressing. It is being reissued on double album vinyl, and also available in Digital and streaming formats… Here is the audio for “D.C. City“…


The Cinematic Orchestra

To Believe

It’s been a while since the Cinematic Orchestra has released any new music; in fact, between the remix albums, live releases and soundtracks, this is only their fourth official studio album, and first since 2007’s Ma Fleur. That album contained the track “To Build a Home“, which has been featured in countless TV shows and commercials. This album was approximately three years in the making, with the title track having been released back in ’16, and we’ve been waiting for the rest of it ever since then. For anyone unfamiliar with this artist, it is the brainchild of Jason Swinscoe, who originally fashioned the “band” as a Jazz improv unit playing over samples and turntable techniques. They signed with the Ninja Tune label, which was known in the 90’s as a label devoted to Acid Jazz and Trip hop, and released their first album Motion 20 years ago.

There is only one word to adequately describe the music on this album: beautiful. Now some will think this would serve merely as background music, but to truly appreciate it, you’ve got to sit down and LISTEN to it and take in all of its’ nuances – from the swirling strings to the ambient keyboard washes, it sets a contemplative mood where hope lives, where a desire to believe in something or someone, be it a higher power, or an earthly vessel, leads to a search for the answers. The title track features vocals from R&B artist Moses Sumney and starts us on our journey… “Are you able? Find your ground / Other people fallin’ down / Tell the world that saw you head for Hell / I can be your somethin’ you believe in…” The following track “A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life” is one of three “dual song” tracks, this one featuring frequent TCO collaborator Roots Manuva, and asks the question “Why would you hide from yourself? / Belief is here to find you...” On “Wait for Now/Leave the World“, featured vocalist Tawiah sings… “Our walls come down / Reveal to me / No need to wait, no / For me to see / Now is the time / Reveal to me / If not now, when? / For me to see… “

It’s almost a spiritual experience to listen to these tracks. For this album, TCO largely eschew their normal jazzy tendencies for more of a Neo-Classical sound; the resulting sound perfectly captures the ambience this album sets out to create. It won’t be for everyone, but for those looking for a soothing escape from the minutiae of today’s Pop music, this is it… check out the audio of “To Believe“…


S.P.Y.

Dubplate Style

S.P.Y is the artist name for Brazilian born, London based DJ/Producer/Remixer Carlos Barbosa de Lima, one of the leading artists in the current Jungle/Drum ‘n Bass scene. Dubplate Style is his third full length album, his first since his 2014 duology Back to Basics, which had to be released in two volumes, due to the sheer amount of music contained within it. He’s signed to the preeminent label for Jungle/D ‘n B, Hospital Records, which is run by Tony Colman, who is also a labelmate, as part of the fantastic London Elektricity.

For this album, he takes a look back at the roots of the Jungle style, using a mixture of old school beat patterns, and his current production techniques. The first single from the album, “Runaway Dub” features a Jamaican vocalist intoning “can’t run away from yourself, ay /can’t run away from yourself, no no /no matter how hard you try / you can’t run away…” over a rolling tech-step rhythm – paying homage to one of the main roots of drum & bass, the Reggae influence, especially dub – it’s evident through several of the song titles here, such as “Ruffneck“, “Safari Dub“, “Rudeboy Step“, and the title track. Second single “See Your Face Again” is THE hot track of the album, utilizing an old school “funky drummer”-type drum pattern, and employing another of the roots of the style, Techno and rave culture, with the rave style piano and female vocals. S.P.Y is mainly a creator of the tech-step and dark-step styles, creating tunes that sound fit for science-fiction soundtracks and fast-paced gaming programs, with breakbeats topping out around a frantic 170 bpm. He throws a curve to end the album, giving us a Garage track in “Don’t You Leave Me“.

With this release, S.P.Y show why he is, in my opinion, at the top of the Drum & Bass heap, with this collection of techy rollers, dark stompers, and funky breakbeats… check out the video for “See Your Face Again“…


Ibibio Sound Machine

Doko Mein

This is the third album from multi-ethnic London-based collective fronted by Nigerian singer Eno Williams. Another recent discovery of mine, they describe their sound on their website as “a clash of African and electronic elements inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West-African funk & disco and modern post-punk & electro”. The group’s name references Eno’s ancestry as part of the Ibibio people of Southern Nigeria, and also the language in which the songs are partly sung.

Without knowing how they describe themselves, the sound is fairly spot on to what they said- I hear late 70’s Afrobeat a la Fela, I hear latter period Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, a little 80’s New Wave, some Minneapolis-style Funk, and some Electro. The opening track “I Need You to Be Like Sugar (Nnge Nte Suka)” has Eno channeling her inner Rufus & Chaka Khan; the super funky second single “Wanna Come Down” is arguably the best track here, while the third, title track released from it, “Tell Me (Doko Mien)” is very Electro influenced. “Basquiat“, the first single, is New Wave funky, while “Nyak Mien” is the closest track to pure Afrobeat. Throughout, Eno sings mostly in Ibibio, but will break into English for the chorus, or for a whole verse.

For the most part, their formula works well, only mis-stepping when they slow the tempo down. The fact that you can’t understand much of what Eno is singing lends an air of exoticness to the music; it’ll have you dancing, though, and you’ll enjoy this album… check out the video for “Wanna Come Down“…. and if you have an hour to kill, check out their concert from 2017’s Reggae On the River festival on YouTube – Eno has a very energetic stage presence that’ll keep you on your feet…

Let the Beat Hit ‘Cha… Let the Music Take Control

Now Hear This Issue #16

Yep, back again already… gonna start producing shorter but more frequent posts, mainly to support reviews of new music as soon as it drops. So this time, I’ve got the latest from Solange, the new album from Gesaffelstein, the debut album from Mansionair, and the second album from Juice WRLD.


RANDOM NOTES

Upcoming issues will include a tribute to the producer some have called the “Black Bacharach”, the unsung legend Charles Stepney…. I’m eagerly awaiting the release later this month of the “lost” Marvin Gaye album – should have a full review of You’re the Man in my next post… was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Mark Hollis from one of my favorite 80’s groups, Talk Talk. He was the mastermind behind the group, most famous for the song “It’s My Life“, which was also covered by No Doubt about 15 years ago; their sound evolved from synth-pop to an organic so-called “post rock” which was more free-form, improvisational, and sprawling, but nonetheless engaging. He was 64 years old…


THE HEARD (Reviews)

Solange

When I Get Home

The concept album has taken on a new method of being in the hands of today’s artists; we get a collage of ideas, both common and disparate, sometimes thrown together haphazardly, and other times thoughtfully. On her fourth album, Solange takes influences ranging from Stevie Wonder’s long misunderstood The Secret Life of Plants, the free form spiritual Jazz of Sun Ra, and the repetition of Steve Reich or Phillip Glass, and forms it into a celebration of her feelings, and a homage to her hometown of Houston. Her last album, 2016’s A Seat At the Table, was all about what she thought – she had a lot to say about the condition of today’s Black American woman.

I pulled up this album, and decided to listen to it on my half-hour drive in to work. Since the album has 19 tracks, i thought I’d only get through a small portion of it before I arrived at my destination; by the time I arrived, I was already on track 16…. as I mentioned, she has presented a collage of ideas, some just seconds longs… there are five interludes under a minute, five tracks between 1 and 2 minutes, four between 2 and 3 minutes, and five between 3 and 4 minutes, and that’s how you get 19 tracks in under 40 minutes. My initial thinking was that she has some really good ideas, but just as you really start grooving to a track, it abruptly ends, and a new idea is upon you- it sounds unfinished. This is something used to better effect by Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange), who is one of her collaborators, on his nice Negro Swan album. The track “Dreams” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about; just as you get ready to float away blissfully on the Robert Glasper-ish groove, it ends… even one of the longer tracks like “Sound of Rain“, another seductive groove, leaves you wanting more, as it abruptly flows into a 22 second interlude. Of the other songs, “Down With the Clique” and “Way to the Show” are odes to Houston’s Black culture; similarly, “Almeda“, which also features The Dream and Playboi Carti, suggests maintaining Black ownership of Black culture… it’s named after a Houston neighborhood… see the video, which is actually a portion of an entire film made surrounding this album…

Other tracks of note here include Gucci Mane and Tyler the Creator joining her on “My Skin My Logo“, and the gorgeously jazzy “Time (is)” and “Jarrod“. I’ll say this about the album; once you adjust and adapt to its’ flow, you’ll better appreciate the way it insinuates its’ groove into your psyche. Repeated listening may be required, but it’ll be worth it in the end.


Mansionair

Shadowboxer

The debut album from this Sydney, Australia trio comes after a series of seven singles releases (several of which appear here) over the past three years; they were nominated for a GRAMMY on the strength of a remix of an ODESZA track. My initial exposure to the group came via the track “Astronaut“, which has been in rotation on Sirius xm Chill for over a year now, and still continues to garner airplay.

You can describe their sound as a mellow indie electronic rock, displaying different textures almost from song to song, keeping you engaged throughout the 16 tracks. They like to employ occasional electronic fragments a la James Blake – I imagine him heading in their sonic direction if he stays in love with his girlfriend – and the lead singer often likes to sing in a falsetto voice. The temperament of the album can best be described as moody, from plaintive, quiet tracks, to the mellow Deep House of my favorite track “Astronaut” which was released in the fall of ’17… got some elements similar to Daft Punk… check out the video…

Of the newer tracks, the current single “Alibi” is also probably the most hard hitting song on the album, with its’ buzzing electronics… no video for it yet, but check out the audio clip…

As I mentioned earlier, most of their initial singles are here, including the Drum ‘n bass influenced “Technicolor“, the gorgeous Pop of “Violet City” and “We Could Leave“, and the moody “Easier“. Overall, I like this album quite a bit… hopefully, they won’t tinker with their formula too much; this one is working for them.


Gesaffelstein

Hyperion

The second album from French DJ/producer Mike Levy, who uses a made-up German name for his moniker, is a relatively brief exercise in dark EDM. He’s been around for a while, having done production work for, among others, Kanye West, for whom he produced a couple of tracks on Yeezus. Of recent note, he’s been hanging out with The Weeknd, for whom he produced a couple of tracks for his My Dear Melancholy EP last year.

Among his musical influences are artists with whom I’m very familiar – the likes of acts like Belgian industrial electronic pioneers Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and other EBM (Electronic Body Music) and Industrial acts from the 80’s – that was my bread ‘n butter from about ’83 to ’87. The tracks here display that influence… at least the ones that aren’t collaborations. Pharrell Williams joins him for the second single “Blast Off“; the first single, “Lost In the Fire” featuring The Weeknd, is a nice musical track otherwise marred by his gratuitously explicit P ‘n D lyrics… and he comes right out the box wit it… “I wanna f*ck you slow with the lights on / You’re the only one I’ve got my sights on / Type of sex you could never put a price on / I’ll take it off, you’re the one I’ll roll the dice on …” Then, as a part of the second verse, he expresses this desire… “You said you might be into girls / You said you’re going through a phase / Keepin’ your heart safe / Well, baby, you can bring a friend / She can ride on top your face / While I f*ck you straight …” I mean, what’s UP with this dude??? I like some of his music, but he’s got some issues… and what’s this got to do with being lost in a fire? Just watch the video… sheesh…

More to my liking is the instrumental track “Reset“, which is a slice of moody Industrial Hip-hop about which there is some debate as to the underlying meaning of the video… whatever it’s about, I think it’s a hot track … see for yourself…

Among the remaining tracks, female trio Haim guests on”So Bad“, The Hacker & Electric Youth provide vocals on “Forever“, a track that begins poppy, and turns into breakbeat at the end; “Vortex” is another nice Industrial banger; the title track and “Memora” are beatless electronic instrumentals, and finally, the funereal 10 1/2 minute dirge “Humanity Gone” closes the album. Gesaffelstein comes off at times as a darker Daft Punk… that’s twice in this post they’ve been referenced… and other times spooky dark, as did his primary influences in their quieter moments. Dance and Pop music fans will wanna stick to the singles and collabos only; meanwhile, this may drive me to pull out some old Front 242…


Juice WRLD

Death Race for Love

So there is this thing called “Emo-rap”… that completely sounds like an oxymoron to me… but here would be the poster child for the movement, 20 year old Jarad Higgins aka Juice WRLD, born and raised in Chicago and its’ south suburbs. I had to hear what a rapper in his feelings would sound like, and I like to support my hometown artists, as I count Common and early Kanye, and Chance among my faves, so I gave this a spin. This is his followup to his debut Goodbye & Good Riddance, released just last year, and it’s already one of the top albums of the moment.

Reading some background on him, Juice has led a rough life already, using drugs, drinking and smoking from an early age. This informs every track on the album, as it veers between the effects of the drugs as it relieves the pain, eases the paranoia and insecurities, his struggle to find love, and the effects of dealing with newfound fame and stardom. The opening track “Empty” gives you a good idea of what you’re getting to… “Ain’t no right way, just the wrong way I know / I problem solve with styrofoam / My world revolves around a black hole / The same black hole that’s in place of my soul /uh Empty, I feel so goddamn empty “… the second to last track “Rider” pretty much sums up his thoughts on finding love… “Let’s see if you a rider for real / I really wanna see if you a rider for real / Don’t think just ’cause you grip the wheel / Makes you a straight up rider for real / I don’t know, I don’t know / If I should give you the key to my soul / I don’t know, no, I don’t know / My paranoia and insecurities hold me close…” In between, we get the two lead singles: “Robbery“, a track about a relationship where he felt he was robbed of a chance to love; and “Hear Me Calling” which actually feels hopeful about his chances with a new lover. There are more variations on the same themes, and even a song called “The Bees Knees” – now how can you not like a rapper with a song with that title (smirking)? – that track is actually him discussing himself in comparison to his haters.

I suppose there is something to be said for Juice WRLD’s style, as I actually find his confessional, in his feelings style kind of refreshing, if initially a little startling. And then again, when you think about it, all rappers are in their feelings, just there is a different sort of sentiment expressed – rage is often the associated with them. There are some nice tracks here, but overall I think 22 tracks is too much “Juice” to take at one time; paring the tracklist down to maybe 12-15 tracks would’ve been plenty, and a little more consistency from one track to another would given it a better flow. It feels almost like two albums in one- the hard-edged, bitter Juice, and sensitive Juice, with the drugs trying to tie the two together. Not bad, though… check out the video for “Hear Me Calling“…

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“…