For reasons that I don’t fully understand — and you don’t need me to try to figure out here — 2022 marked a definite dip in the amount of both new and old music I’ve been listening to. This list would have been longer in previous years but in selecting my favorites of ’22, I wanted to make sure it was all killer, no filler, so I pared it down to my favorite 15 listens that stayed in the heaviest of rotations. In alphabetical order:
Robert Charlebois and Louise Forestier: California (7″, 1969)
Earlier in the year, I was checking out Controller 7’s great The Sound Of… mix and one track that immediately stood out was “California,” originally composed and recorded by Quebecois pop artist Robert Charlebois and featuring his frequent collaborator Louise Forestier. It’s her voice on that intro, combined with Charlebois’s slick groove, that gives this song oomph from jump. Forestier recorded her own version of the song later; it’s quite good in its own right but this is a case where the original still reigns supreme.
Coast Contra: Pimpin’ Benjamin (Apt. 505, 2022)
I was catching up with an old friend from the Bay Area, DJ Icewater, back in the summer and we got on the topic of whether or not hip-hop artists still make “bangers” or not and he volunteered Coast Contra, the rap group that includes the twin sons of Ras Kass. At the very least, this crew has a ton of verve going for it but while “Pimpin’ Benjamin” may not be their most muscular jam, but whatever jazz loop they use here just makes this song sing (still trying to figure out what the sample is in case anyone out there wants to help me out).
D’Angelo: The Root (Voodoo, 2000)
As sublime as I know Voodoo is, it’s not an album I’ve spent much time revisiting over the years but reading Dan Charnas’s extraordinary Dilla Timeinspired me to go back. In particular, Dan writes about how Dilla wanted to listen to “The Root” over and over to hear his time signature influence (albeit uncredited) on the track, with ?uestlove doing his best to on the trap set to capture the feel of Dilla’s MPC machinations. I began listening to “The Root” on constant repeat as well…I can’t believe I forgot how f—-ing amazing the entire song is but especially that chorus and especially how D ends it: “from the alpha creation to the end of the tiiiiiiiime.“
Ernest and D.L. Rocco: Count Terry Devine (7″, 1984)
You’ll have an opportunity to read more about this particular, obscure Ohio single when my Re:Discovery essay on it comes out in the next Wax Poetics issue but for now, just now that this is a cover of a tune originally recorded by The 511 Jazz Ensemble out of the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. I was writing about the 511 album for the mag when I accidentally stumbled across this single and it just blew me away that someone would have even known about the LP to cover one of Logan Rollins’s compositions from it. Tracking down a copy was the highlight of my record buying year.
Derrick Harriott: The Loser (7″, 1973)
I’m very much a newbie (still) when it comes to rocksteady-era ballads but cotdamn if there’ve been any I’ve heard that I don’t become instantly smitten with. I first learned of this Harriott single thanks to the 2020 cover by The Lions and while their version is cool, the OG simply can’t be outdone, especially with those irresistible doo-wop inflections on the chorus that we get to hear right off the bat. Basically, you put doo-wop harmonization on practically anything and you’ve got my curiosity and attention.
KMD: Black Bastards (Black Bastards, 2000)
I wrote about this extensively already and months later, I still can’t get enough of “Black Bastards.” It’s like that, never the wack.
The Masqueraders: Say It (7″, 1968)
Originally from Dallas, TX, this vocal group had to bounce from soul city to city for a bit in the mid-60s before finding traction with Chips Moman in Memphis with whom they cut their first real hit, “I’m Just an Average Guy.” I believe that “Say It” appeared on their follow-up single, “The Grass Was Green,” and this is one of those clear cases of “B-side Wins Again” given how it uses many of the same elements that made “Average Guy” so enticing. Perhaps it was a bit too similar but I’m really not going to deduct points here for the group and Moman landing on a winning formula that they decided to run back a couple of times.
Jackie Milton: Little By Little (7″, 1973)
Released on De-Vel, a short-lived label based out of Buffalo and distributed by Columbia, “Little by Little” was the debut single by Jackie Milton who, best as I know, only ever had two releases. I can’t find anything much about her or this recording but regardless, the reason it made my list is that it certainly sounds like “Little By Little” has an early drum machine burbling on it that gives an already likable crossover jam some additional sonic spice.
The Mirettes: To Love Somebody (7″, 1968)
I had initially assumed this cover of the Bee Gee’s 1967 hit was influenced by the heavy backbeat on Nina Simone’s version but it may have been the other way around: The Mirettes began charting with their version in early 1968 and it wouldn’t be another year until Simone’s single began climbing the charts. Regardless, while The Mirettes — former back-up singers for Ike and Tina Turner — don’t push the arrangement quite as far Simone’s, this is still an excellent cover, especially with thace rhythm section backing powering it.
Nanette: You Know Where To Find Me (7″, 1967)
The second Quebec-connected song on this list, “You Know Where To Find Me” finds the American-born, Quebec-based singer-songwriter Nanette Workman and prolific producer Tony Roman doing a pretty convincing take on a Warwick/Bachbarach-style tune. The arrangement and production here is lush and Nanette’s vocals fit in perfectly; I’m surprised this wasn’t a bigger hit.
Ray Newbeck Quartet: Night Lights (Contrasts In Jazz Vol. 1, 1973)
This is part of a small library series created by the British Peer International label that’s all — you guessed it! — jazz tracks. Each of the Contrasts volumes (three in total) feature two different bands; the Ray Newbeck Quaret hold down Side 2 and notably, I can’t find anything else about the Newbeck that isn’t linked to this LP. So either this is the only thing he ever worked on publicly…or maybe it’s a pseudonym? Either way, I do like a really good, solid straight-ahead jazz tune and the Quartet have both two great ones off this side, especially “Night Lights.”
Jalen Ngonda: Just Like You Used To (7″, 2022)
From the moment the opening drum roll leads into Ngonda crooning “hold me, kiss me, love me” I instantly clicked with the tune and I already knew it’d end up being one of my top new songs of the year. Released by Daptone, this was my introduction to the Maryland-born, Liverpool-based singer and I’m all in on whatever he wants to put out in the future.
Pusha T: Dreamin’ of the Past (It’s Almost Dry, 2022)
Every year or so, Ye and Pusha roll out a track that’s just dripping in swagger. In the past, that’s included “Untouchable” and “Numbers on the Board” and for 2022, it was this open-hand slapper that does for Donny what Ye did for Otis and Curtis. As much as Ye’s brief cameo still leaves a bad taste, there’s few rappers are exciting as Pusha when he’s on one.
Rick Schweihs and the Fast Eddie Band: Cream of the Crop (7″, 1977)
It’s hard to find much about Schweihs except that he’s a singer-songwriter out of Chicago and this is the only release I can find for him, released on the very short-lived Croton imprint, also out of Chi-town. Even though I’ve never spent quality time listening to ’70s folksy/rock grooves like this, I find the style immensely appealing (I guess I should listen to more Big Star) and Schweihs’s performance has this charming, earnest “I wrote this in my basement” vibe to it, in all the best ways.
Paul Smith: Dragon Rock (7″, 1968)
A native of San Diego, Smith became Ella Fitzgerald’s primary composer and pianist for over 20 years, including the span of time when he created his own label, Outstanding, which is where “Dragon Rock” first appeared. While it has a hint of Orientalism to it — opening gong alert! — it’s mostly just a good n’ funky organ-driven instrumental cooker.
(Originally written for the Soul Sides Stray newsletter)