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.

FUNK DEL MEXICO

Los socios
LOSLAZOS

Los Socios Del Ritmo: Frijol Con Puerco
From S/T (EMI, 1971)

Los Lazos: La Rola
From Como Has Hecho (Orfeon, 1970)

I’m not saying, “if you see a record by a Mexican band from the early 1970s where the band members are standing next to or leaning against a wood paneled wall, you should definitely pick it up.”But really, what do you have to lose?

Just be forewarned – with both these LPs, the two tracks I highlight are the outliers. True, the Los Lazos LP does have a very loyal cover of Booker T’s “Time Is Tight”…but I found it rather tepid. And definitely on the Los Socios Del Ritmo album, there is nothing that even approaches “Frijol Con Puerco.” Clearly, neither LP was meant to pitch itself to a soul/funk crowd (no matter what their outfits say) though our friends at Super Sonido suggest that you’d expect a Yucatán group like Los Socios Del Ritmo to get down on it.

Of the two, “Frijol Con Puerco” is short and snappy – a slick, mambo-meets-mod cut. Even though it was likely recorded after Los Lazos’s LP, it sounds about 4-5 years earlier (stylistically). “La Rola,” though…whew, that’s a bit of revelation to me: a jazzy, soulful swirl of a fusion track. Excepcional

SINGLE SERVINGS: BUDAPEST BOOGIE

Atlas
One of the more interesting things I picked up at the Groove Merchant last month was this 7″ on Hungary’s Qualiton imprint.1 I only have a handful of Hungarian records, all of it prog-rock, but it’s always been an intriguing sound: strong rhythms, big horn sections, and usually a drummer playing their ass off.

Here’s the single I got at the GM:

Atlasz: Töröld le a könnyeidet
From 7″ (Quality, 1970). Also on Töröld Le a Könnyeidet!

Before Cool Chris even played it for me, he asked, “doesn’t this sound like ‘Kashmere’?” and indeed, the bridge part does sound quite a bit like the bridge part of “Kashmere.” Coincidene? I’d have to guess so since I’m having a hard time imagining that a copy of a Kashmere Stage Band’s album made its way from TX out to Budapest in the late 1960s. But stranger things have happened.2

In any case, the sheer sound of the single had me hooked: hard, swinging funk, lyrics I don’t understand but clearly sung with some soulful flair, and of course, those drums. I wanted to learn more and through the magic of Google Translate, here’s what I could glean.

Atlasz formed in the mid 1960s, lead by songwriter and singer Francis Flamm. They have the reputation – at least on one site – of being Hungary’s first soul band. I have no way of confirming that but I like the idea. The group’s recording career lasted through the early 1970s at least, during which time they seemed to exclusively record singles but enough to eventually fill up a 17 track anthology.

Digging deeper into their catalog and my initial curiosity only deepened; their best songs are prig-rock at its bet, with a blend of folk, jazz and soul influences all mixed in. Even, on this cute, a little funky flute, ala Harold Alexander.

Atlasz: A kezem zsebre dugom
From Töröld Le a Könnyeidet! (Hungaroton, 2001)

  1. Like a lot of Eastern European labels, the cover art for their records were great. I love this stuff.
  2. I once found this album for sale online at a store based in the United Arab Emirates. I’m not saying that’s stranger than “Kashmere” making it ways to Hungary but it’s still a good, random story.

“WORLD’S FUNKIEST COVERS” CD GIVEAWAY + UPCOMING GIG

The folks at Cultures of Soul have a new CD/LP out – World’s Funkiest Covers – and obviously, this is of interest to moi! There’s some of my personal favorites on here, including Nostalgia 77’s wicked remake of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes and, of course, Ray Barretto’s epic “Pastime Paradise” cover.

You can peep some samples off the album below:
World’s Funkiest Covers Preview by Culturesofsoul

(Purchase the comp here).

Two things:

1) COS was nice enough to sponsor a CD giveaway for this new album. To enter, send us an email, subject line “Covers giveaway” and in the body of the email, I want to know what your favorite cover song is. Easy enough?

(Contest over. Winner to be announced in our next post).

2) COS, DJ Phatrick and I are all teaming up for next week’s Devil’s Pie, where I’ll put together a new covers set (hopefully, the beginning stages of a new mix too) for the occasion.

On that note, one artist that will be included in my mix next week is this:

The Katzenjammers: Cars
Do That To Me One More Time
From Panatics (S.E. Music/Long View, 198?)

I first learned about this incredible steel drum cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars” some years ago when Red Hook reissued it on 7″. It’s so surprising a cover that you’d be tempted to think it was some new recording (after all, Cookin’ On 3 Burners covered this song not that long ago). But nope, this comes from an early ’80s album by the Katzenjammers. Besides the prerequisite cover of “Yellow Bird” that appears on every steel drum album ever cut, the album also proclaims (via cover sticker) that it has a version of “Do It To Me One More Time.”

SIDEBAR #10: DJ CAPTAIN PLANET

I met Charlie Bethel aka Chuck Wild aka Captain Planet through his brother Wil (aka DJ Murphy’s Law), my old DJing partner at the Short Stop. At the time, Chuck was living out in Brooklyn, but last fall, he picked up and moved West, landing out here in L.A.

As Captain Planet, he’s been responsible for three Afro-Latin flavored EPs on Bastard Jazz thus far: Gumbo Funk (2005), Speakin’ Nuyorican (2009) and the just-released Ningané. He’s also at work on his first full-length, Cookin’ Gumbo, due out later this fall, also on Bastard Jazz.

Chuck also contributes to the group blog, Mixtape Riot, where he and Wil recently released a killer mix of global funky sounds, International Thief Thief.

In our podcast, we talk about the new EP, the differences in the music scenes in NY and LA and why it’s good to have panned vocals on old records.

*The official Los Angeles release party for Ningané is going down this Thursday at the El Cid. 1


The Sidebar #10: Captain Planet

 

Subscribe to this and future podcasts.

Music in the podcast:


Notes:

 

  1. Yours truly will be in the mix, my first public gig in a minute. It’ll be all soul n’ funk from around the world; I’m really looking forward to putting my set together.

MY SUMMER SOUNDTRACK (SO FAR)

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The last four weeks have been…awesome. Every day, I wake up and I get to write and write and write, usually pausing to get my noodle soup on. I’m trying to hammer my way through revising enough of this project to get it off to my publisher (the beginning of the end…but nowhere near “the end”). It’s great for my academic career, not so great for doing other stuff (hence why I’m writing this post at 11:36pm).

I love the Summer Songs series but this year, I just had to take a break from organizing it, mostly so I could divert that energy into getting The Sidebar off and running. As hopefully you’ve noted, I’ve used the podcasts as a way to talk about summer songs with various guests but I still felt like I needed to contribute something, at least to keep the tradition alive.


Since moving back to LA in 2006, my summers usually start out all the same way: getting writing done, usually in cafes or else at home. It’s a good routine for me and as I suggested earlier, keeps me productive. But it also means that in June especially, I more or less witness summer in small breaks, whenever I step out for lunch or go pick up my daughter from summer camp. It’s at those times that I notice, “holy shit, it’s summer!” and as boring as it must be to hear an Angelino talk about how great summers are in LA, blah blah blah…they really are. The air could be cleaner most days, but the summer light is intense and bright and hot and it takes all the colors of the outdoors – the blues and greens – and burnishes them. It would, of course, be easier to appreciate all this if it were about 10-15 degrees cooler but hey, at least it’s not 100 and humid. I’m not complaining.

Since I’m not commuting to campus right now, my drives tend to be short, 10-15 minutes, max. And that means I end up listening to the same songs again and again on my “current favorites” playlist since I never drive long enough to get to, say, the tune that would normally have started around the 34th minute. Right now, the top of that favorites list is heavily weighted towards all those Don Julian tracks I just posted (they’re awesome; if you haven’t peeped yet, you’re a sucker) but there’s three songs that have crept through that wall and which will likely be part of my early summer playlist, at least until late July.

Alice Smith and Aloe Blacc: Baby
From Red, Hot + Rio 2 (Giant Step, 2011)

For fucking perfect is this song, especially to kick off summer? Sure, it’s like the platonic ideal of a KCRW hit but in this case, that’s a good thing. Love the breezy, bossa feel, love Smith’s voice on here, love how it invokes all the possibilities that mark summer’s dawn, yet is also infused with the kind of nostalgia-tinged melancholy that will make this song sound bittersweet come late September. If the rest of Red, Hot + Rio 2 is half as good as this, it’ll be another classic in that series.

Fela Kuti/Nick Nielsen: Water No Get 8-Bit Enemy
From flossaway.com (2010)

Yeah, I know, this dropped March 2010. Late pass, my bad. But hey, I only started rocking Fela’s original “Water No Get Enemy” in the summer of 2006 and that was 31 years after it came out so I figured, I’m not running as far behind now. In any case, this remake is genius. I don’t think you can chiptune every song out there and expect it to sound good but this absolutely nails it, giving you some old school Nintendo thrills without offending the sublimeness of the original. NIelsen should be chiptuning “La Murga” or something next. Serious.

Los Rockin’ Devils: Juego De Amor (Book of Love)
From 7″ (Orfeon, 1965)

Shout out to Supersonido, who put me up on this song back in Feb. Took me a few months to track down a copy for self but man, totally worth the trouble. I always thought The Mindbenders’ “Game of Love” had a killer riff that belongs in the I-IV-V pantheon. De La Soul and Prince Paul knew the real.

I won’t claim this cover is better than the original…but you have to admit, replacing the original bass line with horns was absolutely the right way to go. I honking love it. Plus, you still have the signature guitar riff and best of all, Los Rockin’ Devils bring some garage sabor to their version. Keep it ruff!

THE BLUE NOTES: AFRO-CARIBBEAN SOUL

IMG_1672.JPG
The Blue Notes: Fever
Quando Quando
Can I Change My Mind
From Moving Up With (Proctor and Blue, 196?)

Picked this one up from Good Records in NYC when I was out East the other week. Given that one style of West Indies music – steel drum – can be real hit and miss, I wasn’t sure if the Blue Notes were going to deliver on the promise of their tracklisting but the moment I threw it on and started listening, I realized – whoa, real deal!

Though the instrumentation has a subtle island touch, the vocals are pure American R&B in inspiration; the lead singer has a lovely baritone and does an especially good Nat King Cole-style for “Quando Quando.” The group’s version of “Fever” is quite solid and personally, I love love love that they decided to record one of my favorite Tyrone Davis songs of all time: “Can I Change My Mind.”

DEEP COVERS: 2 OF 4, SHOOTING STARS

shooting.JPG
St. Peter and Paul Catholic High School Shooting Stars Steel Band: N.T.
What’s Going On
Percussion intro snippet
From St. Thomas, V.I. (Shooting Stars, 197?)

On paper, you’d think this LP couldn’t possibly flop. I mean, it’s both a high school band and steel drum group that has two Kool and the Gang covers, plus “What’s Going On” and a few more covers. It’s got both a drummer (who does the arrangements) and two guys on percussion besides the actual steel band. And somewhere, within that magical mix, something just doesn’t quite come together.

To be sure, steel drum albums are tricky to pull off if you want something that’s going to sound as good as a studio album. Most of them weren’t recorded that well and the most difficult thing is finding a balance between the steel drums (which should be the star, right?) and the other instruments. In general, I find that more that the steel drums play a side – but not lead – role, the more likely the end song will work. See “Down By the River” by the Dutch Rhythm and Steel Showband for a best case scenario).

As you can probably guess where I’m going here…the Shooting Stars don’t quite get there and while their songs are enjoyable just for hearing what “N.T.” would sound like in steel drum, they also sound like 1) they’re being recorded in a school auditorium (completely possible) and 2) their arrangements are a bit too literal. That’s especially obvious on “What’s Going On” which is quite loyal but otherwise sucks out the deep soulfulness of the original and replaces it with a sound I associate more with a merry-go-round calliope.

The thing is too…the band teases you with the possibility of something more. Several songs open with a short percussive section (snippet sample included above) that has so much potential…but then disappears underneath and otherwise underwhelming song.

PERET: THE KING OF RUMBA CATALAN

Peret-Rey_De_La_Rumba-Frontal copy.jpg
Peret: Chaví
Si Fulano
From S/T (Pronto, 1972)
. Also on Achilifunk Vo1. 1

In my last post on rumba catalan, I mentioned this excellent comp, Achilifunk which is now in its second volume. I was reminded of this via an email, touting a new set of remixes of rumba catalan tracks by Txarly Brown. Well worth a listen!

It was also a reminder to get back to writing about a pair of songs I discovered from the first volume by one of the kings of rumba catalan, guitarist and singer Pere Pubill Calaf, better known as Peret. These two tracks do an exemplary job of capturing the various music heritages flowing through the style; “Si Fulano,” especially has a grand, lively feel to it. Meanwhile, “Chavi” has a lovely, smoky funk groove that grabs the ear from jump. Both songs can also be found on what looks like an American-manufactured comp of Peret tracks from the late ’60s through early ’70s.

2010 REVIEW (FROM THE BINS)


There are other songs that could have made this list but I really went with those songs that, at the end of the year, I still enjoyed as much as when I first heard ’em. Interesting trends I noticed in my listening taste as a result of putting this playlist together: gospel was obviously big for me this year, reggae was not, and despite a wealth of Latin, only a few songs really stayed with me. As always, soul was huge but not so much funk. Jazz was totally shut out. We’ll have to see what 2011 brings…

2010 MIX (RS)

Tracklisting:
Little Ann: Deep Shadows
Tammy Montgomery: Sinner’s Devotion (From Come On And See Me: The Complete Solo Collection)
The Five Stairsteps: Danger, She’s a Stranger
Mayer Hawthorne: I Need You (From 12″)
Al Sharp: Gentle Is My Love
Carlton & The Shoes: Never Give Your Heart Away (From Love Me Forever)
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Better Things To Do (From I Learned The Hard Way)
Lord Echo: Thinking Of You (From Melodies)
Quantic y Conjunto: Dre en Cumbia
Trio Servando Diaz: El Viejito Cañandonga
Los Exciters: Morning
Ralph Thamar Featuring Mario Canonge: Siboney
Lee Moses: Got That Will
T.N.T. Band: Making Tracks (From Making Tracks)
Las 4 Monedas: Buena Suerte
Akwid: Esto Es Pa Mis Paisas [Explicit] (From Clasificado R)
Betty Moorer: Speed Up
Sugar Pie DeSanto: I Don’t Wanna Fuss
The Inspirational Gospel Singers: The Same Thing It Took (From Good God! Born Again Funk)
Numonics: You Lied (From Groove Merchant Turns 20)
Lou Bond: Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards (From Lou Bond)
Chicano Batman: Itotiani (From Chicano Batman)
Donnie and Joe Emerson: Baby
Kanye West: Devil In A New Dress (From My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
T.L. Barrett & Youth For Christ Choir: Like A Ship (From Like a Ship)
Marius Cultier: Nathalie
Erykah Badu: Out My Mind, Just In Time (Part 1) (From New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh))
The Gospel Hummingbirds: Trouble Don’t Last Always