Friday, October 30, 2009

posted by O.W.

Bitty McLean: Walk Away From Love
From On Bond Street (Peckings, 2005)

Montclairs: Hey You!
From 7" single (Arch, 1969)

Captain Planet: Fumando
From Speakin Nuyorican EP (Bastard Jazz, 2009)

Big Boi w/ Gucci Mane: Shine Blockas
From Sir Lucious Leftfoot: Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam, forthcoming 2009/2010)

Jay Electronica: Exhibit C (radio rip)
From untitled(?) (Decon, forthcoming ?)

Lupe Fiasco: Fire
From Lasers (Atlantic, forthcoming 2009)

Clipse feat. Pharrell, Cam'ron: Popular Demand (Popeye's)
From Till the Casket Driops (Re-Up, forthcoming 2009)

I have a playlist I keep on my iPhone of all the songs that are at the top of my listening priorities but most of the time, I'll add just one or two songs to that list every week or two (if I'm lucky). In the last two weeks though, it's been like a deluge with quite a few things rolling through, including a few tracks that qualify as "today's best things ever" which mostly means I put them on single-song-repeat and just gorge on them.

Top of that list is Bitty McLean's cover of The Choice Four's "Walk Away From Love," a song most connected to David Ruffin's mid-70s recording of it. Let's first acknowledge that composer Charles Kipps penned an absolute gem here; it is such an incredibly well-written song about a someone who realizes that his relationship is fated to fail so he decides to "walk away from love/before love can break my heart." But here's what McLean does; first, he sets his song over the riddim from Alton Ellis' "Get Ready (Rocksteady)" (which is one of my favorite songs out of JA so this already looking good). Now...McLean sounds like he's 16 (he was really in his early 30s) with a very youthful tenor but Kipps' words to the work to make McLean sound more worldly and this all comes together at the chorus where McLean hits that falsetto during "breaks my heart..." Listen to the song and try NOT to sing along (even if you cause small animals sonic pain when hitting that top note) when he does this. It is magcial to me - despite being a song about heartbreak, when he gets there, I feel positively euphoric. Best thing ever. (By the way, the entire On Bond Street album is basically McLean singing over old rocksteady riddims).

The Montclairs song has also been in heavy rotation; it's a monster Northern Soul classic from the late '60s that's the best thing in this vein I've heard since first discovering Bobby Reed's "The Time Is Right For Love". I previously wrote about the Montclairs last summer but while the sweet soul on Dreaming Out of Season is lovely, "Hey You!" is on some whole other level. This has everything - great vocal performances, an irresistible uptempo track, and a general joyfulness that rings true with every snappy backbeat. Best thing ever.

Captain Planet's "Fumando" was, once upon a time, a track called "Boogaloo" which was (and still is) a favorite play-out track (and, as it were, appeared in an episode of Entourage). "Fumando" subtly upgrades the original "Boogaloo" track with some added melodic touches but at its core, it's still the same, bangin' track of guitars, horns, flutes, claps and that crisp breakbeat he's got popping off in the back. DJs - get familiar with this.

Ok, rap haters, feel free to leave now; the last four songs are all from upcoming hip-hop projects.

"Shine Blockas" comes from the long awaited Big Boi solo album that was first announced in 2007 but probably won't drop until late this year if not early 2010. Hua was the first to put me up on this, first by sending this to me on some, "this is pretty good." Then he followed up the next day with a succession of IMs: "I can't stop listening to this" and "have you listened to it yet?" and "Dude, what's your f---ng problem, this is fire, get with it already!" (ok, I'm making up the last one but I would have deserved it).

I don't know what it is but Southern flows over soul loops is a good combination - see here and here if you don't hear what I'm saying. This time around, it's not Willie Hutch (though that would have been a safe bet) but Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with "I Miss You" (last heard(?) on Jay-Z's "This Can't Be Life" (ah, back when him and Beanie weren't beefing). I'm not clear on who produced this (google, you failed me!) but kudos on a nice flip of the Melvin that doesn't fuss around with it too much except for the drum programming. I can see why Hua put this on repeat - between the ultra-smoothness of the track and Big Boi's hopscotch flow this has "instant classic" slathered all over it. (I'm still forming an opinion of Mane's verse but I was impatient to hear Boi back so I guess that's not a ringing endorsement).

For Part 2 of "Southern dudes rapping over soul tracks," please to see NOLA's Jay Electronica (he of the "terrible name yet intriguing artist" sabor) rapping over a Just Blaze track that is just...uh, blaze. I've been wondering what the hell the Megatron Don's been up to and clearly, it's figuring out how to make a smooth ass Billy Stewart track sound like the world's end.

And here's the thing: that beat is like the least great thing about this song, which is to say, Blaze's track is aces but holy sh--, I had no idea Jay Electronica could bring it like this. Even though this is a radio rip, with drops making it hard to listen through, by the time the song hits the last verse, I can see why Tony Touch rewound it to play back again. I can't even transcribe it but *whew* cotdamn.

(By the way, this song encouraged me to go back and listen again to some of Jay E's other works, including Nas' "Queens Get the Money." I originally thought it was a track that screamed for a drum track but I now recognize the simple brilliance of keeping this to just the piano. Hypnotic power. This user-created video understands this by extending that piano passage into a long instrumental before Nasir comes in on it.

Lupe isn't Southern and Jimi Hendrix isn't soul but whatever - "Fire" is a great pairing between the Chicago rapper and a Jimi classic that burns baby burns here. I'll be amazed if they manage to actually clear this sample for use (see what happened to Fat Joe's "Hey Joe") but I hope they do. This sh-- is a Leatherface mallet to the head; feeling the distorted mic approach Lupe takes here. Seriously, between this and the last two songs, 4th Q 2009 sounds a lot like 2006 (and I mean that in the best way possible).

...and just to complete that cipher, we have a new track from the Clipse and Neptunes, with Cam'ron cameoing. Straight up - this isn't incredible or anything, just merely good but I'm willing to settle for that given how some of the Clipse's other recent material was jaw-droppingly weak plus the Neptunes and Cam have stayed MIA for a minute. Cam's turn here isn't much to write home about (surprisingly) but the one shining spot is that beat. "Sparkling" comes to mind even though it also sounds like something the Neptunes might have hooked up years ago. Good enough is good enough.

(Oh, by the way, I have three CDs - two soul mixes, one Aretha special - all about to come up for the offering. It's been a long time but I hope I've made up for the hiatus).

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

posted by O.W.

Oh heck, since I'm already on this roll, here's a few more for you.


posted by O.W.

The Boat That Rocked (UK) aka Pirate Radio (US) comes out in the States in a few weeks and while I can't say the overall movie quite worked, it has 1) a killer soundtrack (natch) and 2) some great, quick scenes of people listening to the radio in all the idealized, romantic ways you can imagine.

I couldn't help but love those bits:

The irony is that this wasn't how I grew up with radio. My folks got me a small portable in the mid-1980s but it was largely a personal device; I don't really recall when me and my friends who gather around it and listen to anything. So while I love what these scenes represent, it's not like they tap into some part of my childhood that I actually experienced. More like an "imagined nostalgia" (which is probably a redundant term).


posted by O.W.

Eli Lake, a frequent contributor to, had me on to talk about hip-hop, record collecting in a digital age and other topics I enjoy blathering on about.


Friday, October 23, 2009

posted by O.W.

I'm always wary of giving in too much to the forces of nostalgia. There's a dangerous comfort in thinking on or fantasizing about the past; it's all too easy to filter out all the negative history and just focus on what you idealize from it. But it's impossible for me not to look through this new set of Magnum photos dedicated to records and record shops and not be pulled in by the romance of it all.

Mostly, I like looking at people listening; there's something so intimate about it even at mass events like a concert. That's one of the beautiful things about music - it's always simultaneously public and private and some of these images, of people standing by or dancing to a record player capture that duality.

And hey, just because we're in a digital age doesn't mean listening stops.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

posted by O.W.

Pazazz: So Hard To Find
From 7" reissue (Soulplex, 2009)

Twilight: You're In Love
From Pains of Love (Ross, 1986)

The folks at Soulflex in Germany were kind enough to hep me to this new reissue they put out of a killer Florida disco single by Pazazz called "So Hard To Find" (an apt name considering how insanely obscure it is). This is the kind of disco I never tire of: a simple but infectious groove, upbeat vocals and a general air of happiness that's like a mood-enhancing substance minus the substance. I'm sure those who hate disco would hold this up as everything wrong with the genre - its repetitiveness for example - but they're missing how amazingly awesome a song like this feels on a dancefloor where you want that repetition to keep that feel good vibe going as long as possible. The single also includes a remix by Samurai 7 though personally, I prefer the OG.

As for Twilight, this Vallejo-recorded LP was pushed on me by the Groove Merchant's Cool Chris and while I'm nowhere near someone who knows much about boogie or even bore the genre any mind until very recently, I was glad Chris encouraged me to open my ears enough to enjoy this. I'll be honest - I'm bewildered by how boogie (funk/R&B records from the early through mid '80s) have staged such an intriguing comeback as the latest style hipsters have glommed to. That's not a diss (well, not exactly) since I believe that people who like boogie actually really do like it. It's just that this used to be the kind of syrupy, fonky tunes that hip-hop heads would clown as they were getting their fingers dusty but this is all the rage with some of the elders from that crowd. Go figure.

But yeah...Twilight...of all the songs on the album, "You're In Love" grabbed my attention the most, probably because I love that little squeegee synth that runs throughout (plus that intro bassline is pretty slick).

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posted by O.W.

The Noisettes: Never Forget You
From Wild Young Hearts (2009)

Cookin' On 3 Burners: This Girl
Dog Wash
Cars (snippet)
From Soul Messin' (Freestyle, 2009)

It's funny but I started prepping for this post a couple of days before I read Jody Rosen's "DORF" theory of NPR's Black music content (DORF = dead, old, retro or foreign) and I'm just slightly more self-conscious at the fact that I've actively put the "R" in DORF and here I am again, focusing on the R.

And you know what? So be it; this is how I roll. There's plenty of other people focusing on YACL (young, alive, contemporary, local), can I live, dorfin' it out (or, in this case, RFin' it?)

The Noisettes are foreign (UK) but neither old nor dead. They're not necessarily even that retro overall. Of course, on "Never Forget You," it's unavoidable that lead singer Shingai Shoniwa would be compared to Amy Winehouse; they have similar voices and the vibe on "Never Forget You" is clearly slathered in the same kind of '60s, girl group flavor that some of Winehouse's songs are known for. That said, I'd say this is as good as anything I've heard Winehouse (or really, anyone's) put out and it's not a pure Brill Building retread, especially with the power rock elements that enter in on the chorus.

And yeah, that hook? Where they go, "my sweet joy/always remember me"? w/ the back-up singers? Pure Ronnettes, pure butter. Love that. Really like the lyrics too - it's both rebellious and sentimental, dipped in bittersweet sprinkles. (Thanks to DJ Phatrick who put me up on the song and its video).

Cookin' on 3 Burners have been around for a few years but I've been slow in familiarizing myself with the Australian soul scene but there's clearly a burgeoning scene there too with groups like CO3B and the Bamboos in the mix. "This Girl" is another great, catchy ballad, featuring the singing talents of TKTKT, and flows with the kind of vibe that reminds me of the best of Nicole Willis or Sharon Jones. Too bad I didn't hear this earlier in the spring; it easily would have made my list of summer '09 jams but better late than never. ("This Girl" is also CO3B's latest 7" for you vinyl dudes).

"This Girl" got me interested in the group but I was happy with how it introduced me to the rest of their repertoire. "Dog Wash," in particular is on some vintage Meters' tip - that slow groovin' second line funk built on whinnying organ stabs and vamps, some smoky rhythm guitar and snappy drums. However, the song that really made me smile was an unexpected cover of Gary Numan's "Cars" of the more defining pop songs of the early 1980s New Wave that I think deserves to be covered more. Listening to CO3B's version makes me wonder if they were at all influenced by the noted steel drum version by the Katzenjammers. "Cars" is also available as on 12".

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posted by O.W.

The Spirit House Movers: Beautiful Black Women
From Black & Beautiful, Soul & Madness (forthcoming on Sonboy, 1968/2009)

Sonboy Recordings resurrects this 1968 recording out of New Jersey featuring a young LeRoi Jones (now better known as poet Amiri Baraka) during the heart of the Black Power Movement. At some point in my life (early 1990s, when I was at Berkeley), something like this probably would have blown me away but at this point, having listened up on my Last Poets and Watts Prophets, it's hard to say if this is on the same level. It does have more of a DIY vibe to it, partially because it sounds like it was recorded in someone's house (which it was) and the musical fidelity is less than what you'd ideally want.

That said, I was really drawn to the first song on this album, "Beautiful Black Women," because it finds Jones/Baraka reciting his ode to Black women over their interpolation of "Ooh Baby Baby" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. If you're going to score the Revolution, I'm not mad at some Motown classics providing the inspiration.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

posted by O.W.

Hnos. Carrion: Rosa Mi Rosita
Toño Quirazco: Aprieta Arriba
Hielo Ardiente: Mambo La Merced

(Editor's Note: Sonido Franko of Super Sonido blesses us with another guest post, this time tapping into my favorite genre: covers! --O.W.)
    Everything you’ve ever known about copyright laws seems to fall off some huge cliff as soon as you enter a Latin American country. In fact, one has to simply walk over the boarder to Tijuana and find that the entire city is pretty much infringing upon everything. This especially rings true for the Mexican music industry, which has a long history of copped covers in almost every genre. Maybe it’s reparations for all the land we took from them.

    Take Los Hermanos Carrion for example. These two brothers started their career as the Mexican version of the Everly Brothers (see my prior post El Ultimo Adiós). From the pioneers of Mexican rock to the kings of cheesy ballads, they have run the gamut of every genre imaginable. I guess to stay on top you just have to keep reinventing yourself. Or if you run out of ideas you can always rip off Sly & The Family Stone’s Thank You. They actually pen themselves as authors for this pretty banging track.

    On the other hand, Toño Quirazco gives credit where credit is due. The king of Mexican Ska actually doesn’t claim to have written the cover of Stevie’s Uptight. Then again he is guilty of covering a shit piles of other tunes from ska, to rock, to reggae, to just about everything else under the sun.

    And lastly, we have El Salvador’s Hielo Ardiente doing what seems like a lot of Latin American groups do, cover a Perez Prado song. I chose the dope cover of Mambo La Merced, which is about the Merced Market in Mexico City. I was going to us the song Mensaje, which is the cover of Cymande’s The Message. But then I would have only been copying Mr. O-dub.

    I’d like to thank Soul-Sides for having me on their site, it has been a huge honor. I look forward to doing more in the future and I hope everyone likes what they hear! Saludos!!!

    – Sonido Franko

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posted by O.W.

Our longtime contributor Eric Luecking did Soul Sides a blessing by helping handle a lot of new release reviews and contests but he's ready to set up shop with his own blog: He'll still be tackling a diverse selection of soul, rock, jazz and other goodies.

Check out my man throwin' down, show him some love and be sure to add him to your blogroll!


posted by O.W.

Po-Boy-Citos: Brand New Dance
From 7" single (Superultramega, 2009)

Orchestra Harlow: Horsin' Up
From Presenta A Ismael Miranda (Fania, 1968)

Mophono: TIghten Up Remix
From 7" (CB, 2007)

One of my favorite new singles to spin out has been the appropriately named "Brand New Dance" by New Orleans' Po-Boy-Citos. I wrote about the group a year ago and they've been steadily building their name and catalog and this new 7" is a real gem (hint: they need to make it easier to buy other than their show!)

"Brand New Dance" combines two big hits from the South - mostly obviously "Tighten Up by Texas' Archie Bell and then they slide in a little "Check Your Bucket" for the hometown NOLA hero, Eddie Bo (there's also a touch of Wardell Quezergue/Jean Knight with that intro which sounds adapted from "Mr. Big Stuff"). The mash-up is a fun slice of instrumental soul that has yet to fail me in the club. (The B-side, "Trinidad" is a slick, funky guajira for the Latin heads).(The group also has their first CD avail, while this new single will likely end up on their next album.

"Brand New Dance" instantly reminded me of Orchestra Harlow's "Horsin' Up," recorded during Harlow's reluctant boogaloo days. I also posted this up around a year ago but no one seemed to have a reaction to it but I'm still feeling how it throws together Cliff Nobles' "Horse" and "Tighten Up" for a classically '60s meeting of two big, complementary hits.

Both songs just remind us how insanely massive "Tighten Up" was in its moments. Easily one of the most covered songs of its kind and one where it's hard to find a bad cover. In fact, I'd challenge anyone to send in a bad cover of this song, just to see if it actually exists. Just as some bonus flavor, I included Mophone's remix of "Tighten Up" (I previously put up the B-side of this single) which manages to both slim the song down to its most vital components, especially the drums, and then juice 'em up heavy. Rat-a-tat-tat.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

posted by O.W.

Some of you may have caught me blathering on NPR's Talk of the Nation today, talking about NPR's 50 Great Voices campaign. For those not familiar, starting in January, NPR is going to profile, week to week, "great voices" from around the world and that list will be determined by them on the basis of 1) listener nominations and 2) a panel of folks who, to put this diplomatically, are being convened to offer an "alternative" set of opinions to balance out L.C.D. populism.

I'm honored to be on that panel but it's been challenging since, when I think of "great voices," the names that immediately pop to mind are hardly that left-of-field. I mean, I named my daughter after Ella so you know she'd be on my list, as would Aretha, Al, Otis, et. al.

However, the point of this project isn't to affirm what we already know and more importantly, it is not "50 great-est voices," merely 50 great ones. Despite appearances of canon-making/validating, that's really not the point (even though I know most people will assume it is). Part of that has meant really trying to get away from obvious choices and in this case, "obvious" means, for the most part, American or British artists.

For example, Elis Regina keeps coming up in conversations I've had with friends and colleagues and I know there's a lot of sentiment running in her favor on the submissions' site too (her Brazilian contemporary Caetano Veloso is also under consideration).

Personally, I put Fela Kuti on my list; I think his is such a distinctive, rumbling voice with seemingly no bottom - the perfect kind of voice to go with the deep, hypnotic swirls of his music. Another one of my recommendations is Alton Ellis - one of the greatest vocalists to come out of Jamaica whose blend of soul phrasings with his patois pretty much defined the sound of rocksteady and proto-reggae in my opinion.

My most left-field choice is actually American: Chuck D. I could be wrong but I'm willing to wager he's the most sampled rapper-by-other-rappers and it's obvious why: I dare anyone to find a more powerful, commanding, authoritative and memorable baritone than his in hip-hop. Besides, I'd love to see NPR include a rapper in their final 50 as a way to tweak all these annoying anti-rap crusaders who pollute the site with their small-mindedness.

So far, I've sent in 6 and am mulling over 4 more. Under consideration:
Kongar-Al Ondar
Freddie Mercury
Donny Hathaway

If you have other suggestions, especially for non-US/UK artists, drop your nom to NPR's website and feel free to advocate in my comments too.


posted by O.W.

I forgot to mention that I had a guest post up on the Super Sonido site from the other week. I came up with several Latin funk covers songs, none of which I've ever posted here (I don't think).

We have another guest post from Sonido that will end up on our site later this week.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

posted by O.W.

Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu
I Frama Gami I Faram (w/ the Ethiopian Quartet)
From New York - Addis - London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-76 (Strut, 2009)

Once you hear Mulatu's music, you don't readily forget it. And while I don't want to credit him with singlehandedly inventing Ethiojazz, he has been its main ambassador and along the way, become its most heralded apostle. Technically, most of the albums that introduced Mulatu to the rest of the world were "best ofs" - including the venerable Ethiopiques Vol. 4 and more recent Ethio Jazz Vol. 1 but this new anthology really captures a diversity in his sound in a way I hadn't heard before. Mulatu's incredible experiments ran the gamut of incorporating all kinds of funk and soul elements but blended with the unique "exotic" (notice the scare quotes) sound of Ethiopian music with its non-Western scales and you get to hear those different styles all circulating on here.

Some of this material I was familiar with but much of it I wasn't and I was marveling at how incredibly diverse the styles represented are here - I was amazed at the Latin influenced tunes here, there's some beautiful, straight ahead-style vibe-heavy jazz, and other times, some dark, slinky funky stuff. It's impossible to just pick out a few sounds to "represent" it; it's not divisible by anything less than its whole.

That said, I pulled out these two songs as a small taste of the contrast available on the whole disc. "Mulatu" is perhaps one of the most sparse, obviously funk-influenced tunes in his catalog - there's so the notes here, with the drone of the sax filling the air between. I love the minimalism here, how this song is built with all these slim but layered textures.

As for "I Frama Gami I Faram" - I always forget that Mulatu recorded several Afro-Latin albums but it's another thing to really listen to how the Afro-Cuban styles of the Caribbean carries across the Atlantic and African continent. Except for the lyrics, if you had told me this was recorded in Havana, I would have easily believed that.

If you're feeling all this, don't forget the recent new album he put out with the Heliocentrics.

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posted by O.W.

Naturally, I'm most interested in the Birth of Boogaloo chapter but it's great that you can watch the whole series online.

Monday, October 12, 2009

posted by O.W.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

posted by O.W.

Betty Davis: Whorey Angel
Stars Starve You Know
From Is It Love Or Desire? (Light in the Attic, 2009)

I am really honored to have been part of this project, writing the liner notes to an album that many of us feared would never come to light.

Here's an excerpt from my liners:
    "Originally entitled Crashin' From Passion, Is It Love Or Desire? was recorded and completed in Bogalusa, Louisiana during the summer of 1976 before promptly vanishing into a hole for the next 33 years. Even for an artist as enigmatic as Betty Davis, Is It Love Or Desire? has been the ultimate mystery - no singles, no promos, not even so much as a bootleg. It’s as if the album never existed; a cruel fate to bestow on what was universally considered as Betty’s crowning achievement by those who worked on it.

    Fate is fickle though. For years, people knew of the album’s existence; a one-of-a-kind acetate test pressing even quietly circulated in private hands. Yet all this time, the original master tapes sat forgotten - not lost - in vaults in New York and Louisiana. After the success of the Betty Davis and They Say I’m Different reissues in 2007, momentum gathered to finally give Is It Love or Desire? a proper release that’s been three decades in the making."
This scratches the proverbial surface and my liners (all 3000 words of 'em) goes much deeper into the recording and background of this album. Suffice to say though, everyone I spoke to, especially the Funkhouse musicians who played on IILOD basically said it was the best damn thing Betty ever did and I'm not about to argue that point. It's not as "sample-friendly" as her earlier albums but in terms of her artistic execution, IILOD was a clear step ahead. The fact that it would become this ill-fated album only hurt all the more but that's balanced by the excitement in the album coming back after all these years.

I picked two of my favorite songs off the album to share here and here are my respective notes on each of them:
    "Arguably the most striking song in this vein is the unforgettably titled “Whorey Angel,” which seemed to sum up Betty’s recorded persona as well as any two words could - playfully dirty, yet sweet at the core. Beyond the title, the song is also notable because Betty shares her vocals with Fred Mills. Betty explained, “I would hear him kiddin’ around....he would sing, but he wouldn’t be like, ‘I’m a singer.” I thought Fred has a great sound in his voice, like a really earthy blues singer.”

    Mills had to overcome his own reservations to sing on the song: “I was kind of conflicted because my mama’s a minister and I knew she wasn’t gonna dig it...but you know, that’s what mothers do, especially if they’re ministers,” he joked. Mills didn’t necessarily seem himself a full-fledged singer; he felt his purpose was, “more about the noise or about the emotional things she put in. I basically wouldn’t have to say too many words. If you listen to the song, I’m just saying one or two words, but it’s the way she wanted [me] to say it.”

    "The intimacy of Is It Love Or Desire? went beyond the sound of a song or physicality of its themes; Betty never shied away from talking about her own life and on “Stars Starve, You Know,” she puts everything out on the table. It’s an answer song - a way for Betty to shout back at her critics and speak on the challenges of, well, being Betty Davis: “They said if I wanted to make some money, I’d have to clean up my act. So I called Miles Davis, he said, “It’’s ‘cause you’re a fine Black bitch, that’s all to that.” I said, “they won’t take what I’m giving, so it’s hard for me and the band to make a living.”

    She had never made as autobiographical a song about her actual musical career and “Stars Starve, You Know” was as humorous as it was serious; you get the sense that Betty was having a ball penning small asides such as, “we need some money...oh hey hey Island!” or singing, “ain’t no business like show business/that’s why we stay broke!” Betty said “Stars Starve” was a reaction to her critics but not in an antagonistic way: “everybody has a job to do. They get paid for writing about you, that’s how they make their living. I just lay it down and however it’s perceived, I just have to go along with it.”
IILOD is also being released along with the reissue of Betty's third album, Nasty Gal which originally came out on Island. The exceptional John Ballon, who wrote that kick ass Wax Poetics piece on Betty, wrote the liners for this one and I highly recommend you check that album (and Ballon's notes) too. John's interviewed on the Light in the Attic site. My interview will appear tomorrow.

As a bonus, there's a very cool Betty Davis poster commissioned, limited to 100 prints. They're running a contest for one right now or you can cop it for a Jackson.

I have a few extra copies of the CD to give away but I have a trio of CD-mixes I'm about to put out so I'll include them, at random, in that batch once I announce 'em. In the meantime, if you're impatient, get IILOD from the site, direct.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

posted by O.W.

Johnny Rivera and the Tequila Brass: Johnny on the Warpath
Boogaloo Que La Traigo
From S/T (Cotique, 1967)

Johnny Rivera and the Tequila Brass: Run, Run, Run
Light My Fire
From Up, Up and Away (Cotique, 1968)

(Editor's Note: Super Sonido is one of my favorite new blogs to hit the interweb. Excellent, in-depth posts about kick ass Latin music most of you will never hear outside of a plane ticket down south. Me and Sonido Franko decided to swap a pair of posts. Here's his... -O.W.)

It isn’t any wonder that in late 1990’s I started harvesting a deep appreciation for the Latin boogaloo. I already had a good sized soul, jazz, and Latin jazz collection by then. So a cross-over music like the boogaloo, which fused these similar genres together, drove me to a fascination with hybrid music that pretty much lasts to this day.

By the mid-60’s Latin music in the US was losing its popularity that it had garnered from the mambo era onward. Rock, doo-wop, R & B, and The Beatles had pretty much taken over the Anglo youth market. And what emerged was the very short lived boogaloo craze. One the one hand you can almost look at this genre as a really good marketing ploy. However, this association doesn’t stick all the time. Musically, there are no absolute definitions for the boogaloo, since it was drawing for a myriad assortment of sounds. And it is my belief that it was just the younger Latinos of the time who were carving out something unique in 60’s urban US. Like mambo in the swing era to reggaeton in the hip-hop era. Boogaloo in essence was the music as Latin American identity of its brief epoch.

When I purchased Up, Up, and Away on Ebay in the late 90’s I was surprised to actually get an email from Johnny Rivera himself. We corresponded for a while, but I unfortunately lost his email in one of the many computers I have burned through since then. If I remember correctly his boogaloo days lasted as long as the genre itself. He indicated that he spent the rest of his days as the conductor for the Statue of Liberty Army Band or something like that. Why did Johnny Rivera contact me in the first place? He wanted to know why I would have paid so much for his record. I’ll let the music be the answer to that question.

--Sonido Franko

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

posted by O.W.

Sly and the Family Stone: Sing a Simple Song
From Stand (Epic, 1969)

Ike and Tina Turner: Bold Soul Sister
From The Hunter (Blue Thumb, 1970). Also on Bold Soul Sister.

Deadeye: Silly Song
From Gathering at the Depot (Beta, 1970)

Please: Sing a Simple Song
From S/T (Telefunken, 1975)

Of all the pioneering funk tunes Sly and the Family Stone turned out, you'd be hard-pressed to find one more raucous, more alive with energy than "Sing a Simple Song." For one, the way the song opens is monstrous; it practically climaxes from jump yet rather than declining in intensity, the band keeps hammering away. While folks tend to contrast the thicker sound of Sly with the terse efficiency of the JBs, this is the closest I can think of a meeting point between the two, especially with the styles of changes the song goes through - it's hard not to hear the infamous bridge at 2:11 as comparable to any number of James Brown compositions, mostly notably Marva Whitney's "It's My Thing" or Lyn Collins' "Think."

Small aside - but on the second Digital Underground album, in the liner notes, the group jokes about the number of songs that used the "Humpty Break" which, in turn, comes from that same bridge. No doubt, many songs in the late '80s/early '90s used this same break but I was curious if DU were, indeed, the first to realize you could pan out the drums on this and just flip that? Any sample/production historians out there confirm this one way or another?

Given that this song was on the B-side of "Everyday People," it would become one of the best-known Sly songs of all time and as such, has been well, well, well covered. In choosing what songs to include in this post, I wanted to shy away from covers that were good but fairly loyal - sorry Kerrie Biddell! - and instead went with a few off the beaten path.

That has to include a song that is rather obviously a cover-yet-not-a-cover: "Bold Soul Sister" by Ike and Tina Turner who basically take the main riff from Sly but then turn it into a whole 'nother piece of funky ferocity. I'm rather curious if they ever got into a legal issue with Sly and the Family Stone around that.

Then there's Deadeye, a local Minneapolis group, with "Silly Song,"...I'm not sure if they were riffing off the fact that "Sing a Simple Song" mostly seems to consist of people going "ya ya ya" though it's hard to read "Silly Song" as anything but a bit of a diss. Despite that, it's actually a pretty good cover, and a loyal one at that despite a new, jaunty intro and some interesting contrasts in vocal harmony. What's particularly notable about their version is that on the bridge, they replace the organ from the original with the vocalizing of the band instead - do do do do do. (Thanks to Young Einstein for introducing me to this LP).

That idea gets taken to the nth degree with one of my favorite versions of this song, by the Filipino band Please (recording for Germany's Telefunken label). At 2:18, various members of the band get to "sing" a melding of the bridge's drum break but with the chorus melody. Each of four singers gets two bars to sing (some better than others) and then the entire group comes back for another few turns but what's cool is that after they're done, the familiar bridge comes back, this time played by the horn section. Righteous! (Apparently, this version was comped for one of the UBB series though I first heard it at J-Rocc's crib when I did a story on him a few years back.)

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