Sunday, February 29, 2004


I don't know why it never occured to me to post sound files for select songs on this blog but hey, better late than never. Shouts to Pop Nose, Fluxblog and Sasha Frere-Jones for the inspiration.

So here's how it'll work. I'll try to post up a song every day or so. They'll stay up for at least 1-2 weeks and then I'll cycle them out (I need to be conscious of server storage).

Please do not email me, asking "how can I get this?" Thanks.

Let's start it like this...

Dizzy Gillespie: Matrix.
From The Real Thing (Perception, 1971)

This has long been not only one of my favorite Gillespie cuts of all time but one of my favorite soul jazz tunes, period. Based on the original composition of Gillespie's pianist Mike Longo, "Matrix" just grooves with a smooth, smoky beauty. The recurring horn riff is super funky and catchy, the main guitar line is similarly memorable and the bassline breakdown? Sublime. Throw in some snappy drumming and you have one helluva dance floor spin not to mention excellent listening material. The Real Thing has been recently reissued as part of a double-CD package along with Portrait of Jenny, another one of Gillespie's Perception LPs.

Added bonus: Marc Marcello points out that there's a new Gap ad with Shannyn Sossamon, Rob Swift and Shortkut that uses "Matrix." How 'bout that?

Crooklyn Dodgers: Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers
From The Clockers Soundtrack (MCA, 1995)

I wouldn't say this is the best DJ Premier production of all time - there's just so much competition - but it's definitely in the top 5. This beat is incredibly beautiful in a melancholy way, tapping into the nostalgia that's inherent in the song itself. Brooklyn has always inspired a mythology of its own greatness and "Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers" feed directly out of this and into it. Chubb Rock rambles here - I could have done without his unfocused conspiracy theorizing but O.C. brings the song back full force with his caustic flow. And with Jeru at anchor, the song closes with a series of hammer strokes: "Make money money/get money/take money/I can't understand that concept/'cause Jah rules everything around me/Fire burns the unjust/like arson/larceny/melt MCs/with mental telepathy/with precision/we're slicing and dicing/peace to East New York/Perverted Monks/and Mike Tyson." That's that shit.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I review 10 singles and LPs from the past for the ever-popular Soulstrut.Com Ish series.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

1) James Brown: Blind Man Can See It (from "Black Caesar" OST)

Determining the best James Brown album is like arguing over what flavor of milkshake is best - people have their personal preferences but you're not likely to come up with something crappy in the end. That said, you have think that the "Black Caesar" album is going to be in hot contention, ranking among the best blaxploitation soundtracks of the 1970s and one of the few OSTs Brown ever participated so fully in. This album helped produce numerous future classics from Brown's catalog such as "Sportin' Life," "Mama Feelgood," and "The Boss" alongside a variety of lesser known (but no less quality) cuts such as "White Lightning," "Make It Good To You," and especially the incredible "Down and Out in New York." However, the super-duper-cream-on-top-whole-milk cut is "Blind Man Can See It," - a song first introduced in the hip-hop generation by Lord Finesse, then blown the fuck up by Das Efx and most recently recycled by Jin. What makes this cut the jammy jam? It's just the memorable guitar loop that everybody samples - it initially comes in around :45 but the money hit comes after the first four bars when the theme seems to momentarily float away and then comes back hard with a short drum roll. Pure head nod moment for the rest of the song as you just ride out on James Brown's smoky groove. Makes you say unnnnnnh without the nah, nah, nah, nah.

2) Aretha Franklin: Day Dreaming (from "Young, Gifted and Black")

I can never pick my MOST favorite Aretha jawn,but right now, "Day Dreaming" has me something bad. The song is just so, well, dreamy which sounds a bit cliche, but how else can you describe the beginning of the song with its floating electric piano, lifting you up into heights unknown? Then the back-up singers start crooning and slowly build the door through which Aretha steps through - "he's the kind of guy/who'd say/hey baby/let's get away/let's go someplace/huh/where I don't caaaaaarrrrrrreeeeee." I'm not necessarily into three-somes but damn, I kind of want to hitch a ride to wherever those two are headed. This song is just so gorgeous, not just with the arrangement and production, both of which are rich and full, but the interplay between Aretha and her back-up singers is so beautiful. They begin on the chorus with "hey baby/let's get away/let's somewhere/far/baby can we?" and then Aretha answers, "where I don't caaaaaaaarrrreeeee." I could spend days in this song and not want to come out for air, water, Tivo, whatever.

3) Alicia Keys: You Don't Know My Name (from "The Diary of Alicia Keys")

I'm a little late in getting around to actually listening to this LP and I can thank MTV2's "Hip-Hop's Most Entertaining Videos" for introducing me to this song in particular. Let me get the bad stuff out of the way: I know Alicia is trying to capture that old school soul vibe, chatting things up on the song like Barry White, but it just does NOT work here. She goes on for far too long and with some truly inane patter. This isn't Barry trying to talk someone's panties off with a deep-throated "hey baby, you feel so good to me, I just want to lay you down and make love to you." Instead, Alicia is talking about how she uses milk and cream to make Mos Def's hot chocolate instead of water like her manager wants her too and the absolute WORST moment - talking about how her cell phone is losing reception. I mean, what the fuck is this, a Verizon commercial? Honey just needs to sing and play the piano and leave the stream of consciousness babble to a skit but instead, she goes on for A MINUTE AND A HALF which feels more like half an hour. It's like going on a date with some super hot girl or guy you just met and then you realize that they just keep talking and talking and talking about nothing and you start inventing excuses about why you have to leave in order to bury a grandparent or maybe darn your socks.

Yet, despite this egregious display of bad musical judgment, the other 4.5 minutes of the song are gorgeous, probably one of the best new soul songs I've heard in at least a year, if not more. I mean, maybe Beyonce can make the hotter club cut, but Yonce can't sing. Alicia can - she can croon, she can warble, she can shoo-be-doop and cop 'em with the best and she's just so butter on this. Of course, you also have to give ample credit to producer Kanye West, as well as the Main Ingredient whose "Let Me Prove My Love" powers the entire beat. The combined elements creates a song in the best tradition of the Philly Sound, Chi-Lites and any number of other soul legends of the '70s. The hotness is the piano decrescendo (also from the Main Ingredient) that Kanye carefully sprinkles only on the chorus and its unexpected inclusion adds just the right touch to make the song even more memorable. It says a lot that this song can annoy the hell out of me but I still can't get enough of it.

One more thing that I'm still trying to work out is why I like how the song opens, with its quintet of descending whole notes. My current theory is that this melodic entry is unexpected. In the original Main Ingredient song, it only comes at the END of a two bar measure but here, Kanye has moved it to the beginning and it's as if you step into a song already in progress, like walking into a club that's already popping off with some crazy vibe. You catch up with the song within an instant, but from there on out, those five notes keep coming back and they're always just a little bit unexpected, a little surprising, like a present you can get over and over again but never gets old.

4) The Beatles: Long, Long, Long (from "The Beatles" aka "The White Album")

Ok, I already gave this LP props in my album appreciation but I wanted to highlight this song in particular. It's one of George Harrison's lone offerings from "The White Album" (his most famous being "As My Guitar Gently Weeps") and it's such an interesting, lonesome ballad. It begins so quiet and it mostly is a quiet song except for Ringo's moments of percussive interruption but the arrangement also moves off in directions you don't expect it too (especially at the end). Also, I'm no Elliot Smith expert but doesn't it sound like he cribbed most of his singing career off this one song? I could've sworn that this was "Miss Misery" if I wasn't paying more attention.

5) Eddie Kendricks: Intimate Friends (from "Slick")

I first became acquainted with this song through Common Sense's "A Penny For My Thoughts" which samples it and I always wondered what that gorgeous soul cut was. Eventually, I discovered it was Eddie Kendricks who I feel like was never given his propers as one of the illest soulsters of the '70s. Not like Kendricks is some unsung secret but if you listen to his body of work, he's definitely in rotation with the finest that decade produced - such a sweet voice with hidden depth. "Intimate Friends" is a later ballad, circa 1977, and it's produced superbly - crazy cooled out and mellow but heavy and deep like the mind of Farrakhan, the song's a soul phenomenon. You just want to climb into this, as if the song were a nice flannel blanket and chill there with your girl and maybe some fuzzy puppies or something. Ok, or maybe not. You get the idea.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Since it's been a while, I decided to step up and drop some album flavor.

1) King T: Thy Kingdom Come

I wrote up a much longer review of this bootleg on my main blog, complete with sound clips but the short story is this: this was the Aftermath album that was supposed to have come out in 1998 but for whatever reasons, Dre deaded it and there went King T's career with it. The crazy thing is: this LP is REALLY fucking good. I mean, even at six years old, the production still sounds solid and King T is in fine form. He's really one of the best MCs to ever come out of LA - smooth and cool like a real OG should be - and he's just killing shit on here. Makes me wonder what that deaded Last Emperor album on Aftermath sounded like too. What was Dre thinking?

2) DJ Danger Mouse: The Grey Album

Folks seem to be mixed on this but I'm 100% positive that this is such a great mix-CD. I'm writing it up for the Bay Guardian but the gist of what I said is that 1) it's incredibly well produced and not some hatchet, fly by night job, 2) the creativity that went into figuring out how to flip the Fab 4 to fit Jigga is commendable and 3) it just plain SOUNDS GREAT. Pure matter of opinion of course, but this mix-CD actually made me appreciate both "the Black Album" and "The White Album" (see below) better and that's a powerful effect for any mix-CD to engender.

3) The Beatles: The White Album

Ok, I feel a little foolish in posting this because, hey, it's the fucking Beatles but I had NEVER listened to this album before and I have Danger Mouse to thank for creating an incentive to finally peep it. I grew up listening to the Beatles, but it was always anthologies, never complete albums and I could kick myself in the ass for having slept so long. There are just so many great songs on here: "Dear Prudence," "Martha My Dear," "Blackbird," "I Will," "Julia," "Sexy Sadie," "Helter Skelter", "Long Long Long," "Cry Baby Cry" - ya'll know the deal. A lot of folks hate on the Beatles b/c they think they're overrated but shit, sometimes, you just need to bow down and recognize talent, yaoming?

4) Kanye West: College Dropout

First of all, this cover is genius - it's on some Fatlip tip. Kanye isn't the Answer with a capital "A" but dude makes some great songs ("Jesus Walks," "All Falls Down," "Two Words," etc.) and does so with both introspection and a sense of humor. You don't have to feel like you're hopping on a bandwagon just to throw homie some love with coming with a solid debut. Don't be all insecurrrr - feel him.

5) Michael Jackson: Got To Be There

Ah, remember the gold old days before Michael Jackson became Wacko Jacko, one of the biggest freaks in pop culture and potential child molester? Remember when he was, you know, a great soul artist? This isn't even necessarily his best solo LP but I just dig how dude is chilling on the front in his big cap and cord jacket like, "hey, I'm the shit, I know it, but I don't need to floss. Just feel me." Plus he's singing "Ain't No Sunshine" - that gets automatic props but then he smacks you with "I Wanna Be Where You Are," which makes you think that maybe the days of polyester and visible chest hair weren't so bad after all. I guess this isn't that surprising but I wasn't expecting that he'd have different arrangers on each song, splitting duties b/t James Carmichael, Gene Page, "The Corporation" and Dave Blumberg, who only drops one song (the title) but does a great job with this light and pretty soul ballad. And flip the B-side and you get a sorta funky rip on "Rockin' Robin" - cheesy but not wack. As for "Maria"...whoo...Mikey be killing it. Seriously. Damn, what happened to him?