MY FAVORITE THINGS – 2019

2019 was a good balance between new music I discovered/enjoyed vs. old tunes I’m continually finding via records. I find that raising a teenager helps with the former and while I would never try to pass myself off – these days – as having a finger of the musical zeitgeist, I think it’s valuable to stay engaged with new music coming out. Anyways…I’m going to flip this from the round-ups of the last few years and start with the old tracks I gave heavy run to last year. (Not in ranked order)

1. The Rascals: My World (1968)

So…yeah, I slept. I think the only reason I even came across it last year was because of the 3 Ft. High and Rising anniversary mixtape. Anyways, this is an example of a perfect ’60s pop song in terms of all its core elements: the vocal interplay is key, the instrument and arrangement decisions are lush without being overbaked, and the hook is a legit ear worm.

2. Karen Dalton: Are You Leaving For the Country? (1971)

Credit for this goes to Jason Woodbury who brought in the Dalton LP for our Heat Rocks episode. I find the song haunting and melancholy and even this city boy isn’t immune to its sentiment.

3. Basabasa Experience: Homowo (1979)

Earlier this summer, I was crashing for a couple of nights with my friend Hua and in his office, he has a small stack of records and this was near the top. I was intrigued by the title and asked about it and he just put it on and I was instantly smitten. It’s easily the best African disco LP I’ve ever heard and “Homowo” is a standout thanks to those opening synths and the lyrics.

4. Italian Asphalt and Pavement Company: Check Yourself (1970)

No shade on The Intruders, who originally recorded this Gamble/Huff tune, but this cover by the IAP Co. is straight crossover fire.

5. Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble: Psych City (1971)

The best prison spiritual jazz LP ever recorded. Ok, maybe the only but seriously, this whole album is a gem. Read more here.

6. Kalle & L’African Team De Paris : Africa Boogaloo (1971)

I’ve long been a fan of New York boogaloo influences returning to its African roots and this single, written/produced by Manu Dibango, is a stellar example of the genre.

7. Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo (1970)

https://youtu.be/csIJBNhbKMk

The High Priestess taking it higher for an Italian jukebox-only cover of her “To Love Somebody,” sung in Italian. I have Y La Bamba’s Luz Mendoza to thank for this since I came across it when she chose Simone’s LP for her Heat Rocks episode.

8. R.D. Burman: Dance Music (1976)

Listening to Freddie Gibbs/Madlib’s “Education” (see below) compelled me to track its sample source back to this R.D. Burman-produced Bollywood marvel that packs in four movements in so many minutes. I find the whole song to be magical but the portion that kicks off a little after two minutes in is the best.

9. Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved (1971)

A white whale that took me a few years to hunt down, I think of this as a repentant playboy’s anthem. Love the whole groove of this one-off single from St. Louis MO’s Davis, especially the plinkling piano after “I hear the raindrops” opening line.

10. The Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You (1968)

Talk about coming out the gate: this is the Delfonics’ first single and it’s a masterful deep/sweet soul tune. The hook is massive and shout out to whoever is working the kettle drum on this.

11. Sweet Daddy Reed: I Believe To My Soul (1969)

Came across this via my dude Pablo: Sweet Daddy Reed takes Ray Charles’s original and strips it down to its bluesy bones. So deep, so good.

12. Breakers Two: I’m Gonna Get Down (1965)

When I came upon this in Amsterdam’s awesome Wax Well Records, I assumed it was an early electro single given the artist name and song title but nope: it’s a gorgeous island soul single from Guyana.

13. Joby Valente: Tu N’es Pas Riche, Tu N’es Pas Beau (1970)

Same trip to Amsterdam also brought me to Paris and I scooped this (plus the “Africa Boogaloo” single from earlier) at the ace Superfly Records. Originally from Martinique, Valente recorded several sides for the French/Guadalupe label Aux Ondes and this B-side is a killer blend of her voice with some soul boulder goodness on the track.

14. Members of the Staff: Stop the Bells (1972)

https://youtu.be/UWG1F04zeVM

Bought this one off of the aforementioned Hua: a Leon Haywood-produced, Gene Page-arranged, local L.A. tear-jerker that’s definitely NOT what you want to play at a wedding.

15. Fully Guaranteed: We Can’t Make It Together (1972)

One of the last things I picked up in 2019, I love how this is an answer/rebuke track to the 1970 soft rock hit, “Make It Together.” Take that, Bread!

Ok, onto the new joints….

1. Jamila Woods: Betty

I mean…Jamila made a song about Betty Davis. That’s already frickin’ awesome but it’s also my favorite tune off her Legacy! Legacy!” Those opening piano chords lure you in and I was hooked all the way through the stinger. I just wish it was longer but hey, I don’t want to be greedy.

2. Valerie June: Cosmic Dancer

Would I have guessed that Valerie would absolutely smash a T-Rex cover? Actually, yes, yes I would. The melancholic beauty of her rendition is just sublime.

3. Bazzi: I.F.L.Y.

This might be the most “Spotify sound” track on my list but if I’m a victim of the algorithm, I’m ok with that. Give me all the mellifluous guitar R&B beats.

4. Normani: Motivation

This feels like retro-Destiny’s Child and I mean that in all the best ways.

5. Los Retros: Someone to Spend Time With

I’m fine with Tapia’s general sound but it’s the pairing of his voice with Firelordmelisa’s that makes this work as well as it does.

My only knock: why is there no 45 for this yet?!?!?!

6. UMI: Sukidakara

UMI is one of my favorite new artist discoveries and I love that she gets to bust out her Japanese skills on this one. My 14 y.o. was already into her sound but discovering that UMI is half-Japanese (like her) endeared her even more.

7. Samm Henshaw: Church

London’s Henshaw is also one of my favorite new artist discoveries. I thought his 2018 single, “Broke” was stellar and this new gospel-infused single is similarly awesome. Glory glory hallelujah.

8. Kota the Friend: Chicago Diner

The lyrics here are…just ok but the vibe? Cookies in the oven on a Sunday, indeed.

9. Lady Wray: Come On In

As the late Matthew Africa would have called this: it’s a soul boulder.

So. Damn. Heavy.

10. Brainstory: Beautyful Beauti

Straight outta the Inland Empire, Brainstory’s Buck was one of my favorite albums of 2019 and this single, in particular, embodies everything great about their sound/style.

11. G Yamazawa: Good Writtens Vol. 5

I’m digging G’s entire “Good Written” series so this really was a toss up between equals. Regardless, I’m hyped for whenever he puts out some new studio material in 2020.

12. Amber Mark: Love is Stronger Than Pride

Technically from 2018 but no song got more early 2019 play than Mark’s luscious riff on Sade’s classic.

13. Solange: Stay Flo

I’m not sure how a song can sound sparse and lush at the same time but here we are.

14. Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Yasiin Bey, Black Thought: Education

I suppose this is lab-engineered to appeal to ’90s heads like myself but I don’t care. Having these three cats flow over that R.D. Burman loop (see above) is lo-fi gold.

15. Lizzo: Truth Hurts

Artist of the year and it’s not particularly close. We’re all in Lizzo’s world now.

A REVISIT TO MANU’S VOODOO (AND CRATE DIGGING POST-INTERNET)

A few weeks back, I was interview by The Ringer’s Justin Sayles for an article he just published about the last 20 years of crate-digging and sample-based production since the release of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. It is a sprawling long-form essay that covers a great deal of territory and I suspect it’d be of great interest to many of the readers of this site.

At the essay’s end, Sayles includes this section based around our convo:

Wang says that the internet has been both an “asset and a liability” for the world of crate digging. Yes, it’s had an effect of diluting hyperspecialized knowledge, making years’ worth of collecting accessible to anyone who can get online, but it has also brought together like-minded music aficionados to share knowledge, and has connected people with, for example, a rare LP a collector in the United Arab Emirates is selling.

That last line is specifically referring to an album I last wrote about in 2008: Manu Dibango’s African Voodoo (I re-upped the sound files for it today). I did, indeed, buy the album from a seller in the UAB that I was connected to via the old GEMM.com. For a long time, it was the closest I came to having anything approaching a “come up” story even though, in the grand scheme of things, “finding a record for cheap on the internet isn’t exactly the stuff of legend.1 In any case, what I had forgotten about was what I wrote in that 2008 post:

Why not post this earlier? I actually had planned to at one point but then noticed it had shown up, in full album form, on other blogs. That took the proverbial wind out of the sails, not just because I’ve been beaten from the punch (which I could care less about) but rather, once a $400 record becomes just another download, part of its unique magic dissipates. Under those circumstances, I’d rather post up something more meaningful to me, personally, than “check out this rare record I have” (especially when it’s not so rare once it becomes more mass available). Ah, but such is the reality of music going online.

Again, I wrote that in ’08 and I suspect many folks would have already begun feeling the same way back in ’98. My point here isn’t to rehash the debate but rather to point out that we’re still having it.

Sayles’s article doesn’t arrive at any clear conclusions and that seems exactly right: the internet is still transforming how we accumulate and disseminate both knowledge about music and the music itself. My own site embraces part of the irreconcilability of it all; it’s a digital space inspired by old analog ephemera and the existence of that site might be helping contribute to both/either the scarcity of that ephemera (as collector’s items) or its greater distribution (via comps, reissues, digital releases, etc.) The only thing I can say is that I should have posted African Voodoo earlier than 2008; I was too self-conscious back then and it is a great album and worthy of notice regards of how many other blogs posted about it back then.

  1. With that said, the greatest come up I ever had did, indeed, involve finding a record for cheap on the internet.

ABDOU EL OMARI: MOROCCAN MAGIC

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Naima Samih, Abdou El Omari: Rmani Rih
From 7″ (Disques Gam, 1977)

Abdou El Omari: Zifaf Filada
From 7″ (Disques Gam, 1977)

I basically know nil about Moroccan music/records but my friend Bachir, out in France, laced me with both of these. He’s North African by heritage and he’s been steadily collecting Tunisian and Moroccan records, especially pic sleeve 45s. Both of these songs feature the mesmerizing instrumental work of organist Abdou El Omari (Aquarium Drunkard briefly wrote about him earlier this year), whose zippy playing style is all over “Zifaf Filada” (“Wedding In Space”?) though I think it’s the percussion on that track that really sets things off. (That song also seems to be featured on the recently reissued Nuits D’ete LP).

“Rmani Rih” (“Wind Thrown”?) features the vocals of Moroccan singer Naima Samih who came to fame in the 1970s and would have been in her mid=20s when this track was recorded. El Omari’s organ work adds the spacey element here, especially around :25, when the rhythm track comes sliding in.

Thanks again to Bachir for these!

SILLY FOR SYLIPHONE

Last summer, I posted about the white whale Syliphone comp I got in Paris in August and now I just read that nearly the entirety of the Guinea’s Syliphone catalog has been digitized and is now being shared by the British Library. We’re talking over 7500 songs, in dozens of languages. This is an incredible resource for Afropop fans/scholars now. I’m already sampling through the various boogaloo songs in the catalog!

MYRIAM’S QUINTETTE: MERCY/MERCI

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Myriam’s Quintette: Solo Quintette (Syliphone, 1971, Discotheque ’71)

I just got back from my first ever trip to Paris (which was a blast) and while out there, I stopped by two stores: Superfly and Betino’s (both of which are highly recommended). Over the next few posts, I’ll be talking about records brought back from both but I had to start with this song in particular.

I first wrote about this here, back in 2004. It’s from a compilation produced out of Guinea though not all the artists are themselves from Guinea. Case in point, Myriam Mekeba, who is South African by birth but lived in Guinea during the era this was recorded, along with her then-husband Stokely Carmichael. While the cover of the LP credits the group as “Myryam’s Quintette,” that was almost certainly a typo. “Solo Quintette,” best as I can figure, is an instrumental track by Makeba’s band (there’s no singing on it).

As I wrote in 2004, “I appreciate how funky “Solo Quintette” is but not in a really obvious or force manner – that string melody doubles as a rhythm track too and the lo-fi drums give the song a sharp kick.” However, what’s also haunted me about this song, ever since I first heard it back in 1999 when the compilation was first reissued onto CD, is that it bears a striking resemblance to at least two American pop songs.

First, and perhaps most obviously, is The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” (based on the intros to both).1 However, Makeba released another version of this song as “Myriam’s Quintette Song,” and that song clearly is a riff on Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and you can hear the same interpolation of one of its melodic passages in both “Solo Quintette” and “Myriam’s Quintette Song.”

No matter what though, “Solo Quintette” stands on its own for just sounding cool as hell.

(Shout out to Superfly for digging in their basement to find a copy of the Discotheque 71 LP for me).



P.S. I’m sure it’s already quite evident but I pulled the plug on 365 Days of Soul: I just didn’t have the energy to pull it off the way I wanted but the upside is that I’ll be doing longer, more informative (I hope!) posts instead of the quick strikes that dominated the first half of the year.

  1. What’s funny about “Soul Kitchen” is that it got sampled by Motion Man but was also covered by Buddy Rich for a version that was sampled by Showbiz and AG.

KANTÉ MANFLA: AFROBOOGALOO

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Kanté Manfla: Mosso Gnouma (Boogaloo) (Djima, 196?, 7″)

I was writing the other day about Afro-Latin music…out of Africa and this track by the Ivory Coast’s Kanté Manfla highlights that tradition with a deliberate spin on New York’s boogaloo style. I love examples of how music criss-crosses regions to create spin-offs like this, especially with how soulful this version becomes thanks to those guitars.

365 Days of Soul, #143

THE FUNKEES: THEY’RE CALLED THE FUNKEES. NUFF SAID.

Funkees

The Funkees: Slippin’ Into Darkness (EMI, 1973, 7″)

The flipside to this, “Breakthrough” (cover of Atomic Rooster) went onto Deep Covers 2 but surprisingly, I forgot to share the A-side, which was the original reason I copped this killer 7″ from EMI’s Nigeria catalog.

365 Days of Soul, #109

ONE WORLD: ALL HAIL THE VICTOR

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One World: The Victor (EMI Nigeria, 197?, Victory)

Nigerian funk/rock album.

I first heard this – I think – on a Matthew Africa mix. I may have that wrong but I definitely do own his old copy now; very bittersweet. A great example of what EMI’s Nigerian office was putting out back in the ’70s though. So soulful and funky.

365 Days of Soul, #56

LAFAYETTE AFRO-ROCK BAND: RIFF-RAFF

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Lafayette Afro-Rock Band: Raff (Makossa, 1974, Malik)

Afro-rock album.

Everyone cops this for “Darkest Light” and no doubt, awesome song. But this LP is no one-tracker and “Raff,” which opens the LP, throws you headfirst into the heady fusion blend that the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band was known for. “Raft,” in particular, reminds me a little of early Kool and the Gang spliced with a healthy dose of Manu Dibango.

Let’s also agree: one case where you can judge an album by its cover.

365 Days of Soul, #34