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)
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)
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)
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.