Sunday, December 20, 2009

posted by O.W.

I was on WNYC's Soundcheck again last Friday, talking about hip hop in the '00s. Part of what I was asked to do, ahead of time, was submit my 3 top hip hop albums of 2009 and I'm not going to lie: I couldn't come up with three actual albums. In fact, none of the three I submitted were, technically, albums.

To be sure, I can't remotely claim to have heard much of what was released this year and the stuff I did hear just didn't move me to really admire them as albums. Sure, I liked some of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 but overall, I found the album overly long and kind of anemic for it. I admired Jay's Blueprint 3 but more for its calculated choices than anything inherently pleasurable about the CD as a listening experience. I jumped in and listened to about 50 Gucci Mane songs in a row (his Cold War mixtape series + the new album) just to see what the deal was and while I get his appeal, I'd rather re-listen to individual songs rather than trying to sit through any of the mix-CDs/albums as a whole. I'm not going to put this on hip-hop (well, not entirely). I could do a lot more to "stay current" but now that my writing has become more personally-driven (what I like) vs. professionally-driven (what I should be writing about), I just don't find much about today's hip-hop that speaks to me. People in my demographic aren't really who today's young rappers are aiming at. Either way, I've learned to catch my pleasures when I can, usually in single-servings, and I've learned to moderate my expectations as I recognize that the older I get, the distance between contemporary hip-hop and my tastes grow.

But for all that, I still leave myself open to crave those moments when a song will absolutely knock me on my f---ing ass, demand my attention and compel me to keep coming back to it. If you had told me that would be Jay Electronica, with a radio rip that skips, I would have laughed you out of the room but that's before I actually heard the song and once I did, all I could think was, "wait, this is that same dude who made this?" I was never checking for him before this song but after it? I'm thinking "Third Coming".

So yeah, this made my Top 3 even though it wasn't an album because frankly, I found the experience of listening to this more profound than most of the albums I actually did hear this year. And who knows - maybe his album (if it ever comes out) won't live up to this moment but I actually want to hear what he has to bring and that sense of anticipation is like water to the desert of my expectations.

So what's so good here?

Begin with the fact that it's the first unqualifiably incredible Just Blaze production I've heard in at least two years. There's the loop itself of course (more on this in a moment) but listen past just the actual sample. The added string arrangements don't just play off the main melody but they're also used to build tension as a second set of strings tick upward in a crescendo effect - all in key - so that by the peak moment, everything is aflame...only to start all over again for another 10 bar cycle (the 10 bar loop is also unusual since it plays against where you'd normally expect the progression to go). Pure intensity.

And yeah, Just was brilliant in playing with this Billy Stewart song:

Billy Stewart: Cross My Heart
From 7" (Chess, 1967). Also on The Best Of...

I confess that I had never heard this before but damn, what a great Stewart song, no? It opens like "Sitting In the Park" (I mean, exactly alike) but then when you get to hook - "lord, why don't you, send her to me?" is some magic, especially when followed by, "this fat boy is gonna love her!" Not a lyric you hear every day.

And speaking of lyrics - maybe it's just the acrobatics of it, but I can easily say that Jay's "call me Jay Electronica, f--- that, call me..." verse is probably the most jaw-dropping thing I've heard all year (except maybe for that Tiger Woods' voice mail message) and what leads up to there is pretty damn good too (loved the verse that immediately precedes it - it's not often you can hear Run DMC, Marcus Garvey and Nikola Tesla name-checked within three seconds of one another and it all makes sense.

Now where's the damn album?

As for my other favorite hip-hop moments of 2009, here's a sampling of Top 10 in reverse chronological order):

Jay Electronica: Exhibit C
Edan: Echo Party
Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane: Shine Blockas
Lupe Fiasco: Fire
Lil Wayne: Death of Autotune freestyle
MOP: Bang Time
Raekwon feat. Method Man and Ghostface: New Wu
The Cool Kids: Popcorn
Bambu: 2 Dope Boyz
Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z: My President Is Black (remix)

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

posted by O.W.

Edan: Echo Party (snippet)
From Echo Party (Five Day Weekend, 2009)

Answering the question of "what's Edan been up to?" my favorite rapper/producer/DJ/collector from Boston whose name is an anagram of "Dane". No, seriously, Edan is awesome and on this new 30 minute mix, he really outdoes himself in assembling a creatively executed, sonically compelling mega-mix that's in the best traditions of cut n' paste mixes of the past (Steinski, holler) but with Edan's particular taste in echo boxes, fuzzed out effects, psych-meets-old school aesthetics and all else that make Echo Party as ambitious (and enjoyable) a project that I've ever heard from him.

Stonesthrow still has LP copies available for pre-order, sold-out of their CDs but the album doesn't actually officially drop for another week or so.

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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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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Shafiq Husayn: Podcast (Mixed by Garth Trinidad)
From Unreleased (Promotional mix/podcast for “En A-Free-Ka” - Plug Research, 2009)

Here's a promotional mix/podcast of Sa-Ra Creative Partners member Shafiq Husayn's upcoming project “En A-Free-Ka,” available starting October 6. It follows his career from his own work, including tracks from his upcoming album, to work he's done for others such as Jurassic 5, King Tee, and Ms. Badu. 60 minutes of goodness that is highly recommended!! (Click the link above to be taken to another page to listen to the podcast.)


Sa-Ra - Fantastic Vampyre (OG version) - Non Album - prod by Sa-Ra
Sa-Ra exclusive - EXCLUSIVE - Non Album - prod by Sa-Ra
Shafiq Husayn w/ Fatima - Lil' Girl - Shafiq En' A-Free Kah - Plug Research - prod by Shafiq Husayn
Shafiq Husayn - Nirvana - Shafiq En' A-Free Kah - Plug Research - prod by Shafiq Husayn
Jill Scott - Breathe - The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3 - Hidden Beach - prod by Sa-Ra
John Legend - Maxine - Once Again - Sony Music - prod by Sa-Ra
Sa-Ra exclusive - EXCLUSIVE - Non Album - prod by Sa-Ra
King Tee - Trifflin Nigga - The Triflin' Album - Capitol Records - prod by Shafiq Husayn
Jurassic 5 - Twelve - Quality Control - Interscope Records - prod by Sa-Ra
Sa-Ra - we are Ra - EXCLUSIVE - Non Album - prod by Sa-Ra
Shafiq Husayn w/ Bilal - Cheeba - Shafiq En' A-Free Kah - Plug Research - prod by Shafiq Husayn
Sa-Ra - Drug Traffika - Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love - Ubiquity Records - prod by Sa-Ra
Sa-Ra exclusive - EXCLUSIVE - Non Album - prod by Sa-Ra
Erykah Badu - Me - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) - Universal Motown/Control Freaq - prod by Shafiq Husayn
Erykah Badu - Master Teacher - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) - Universal Motown/Control Freaq - co prod by Shafiq Husayn
Sa-Ra - Bitch Baby- Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love - Ubiquity Records - prod by Sa-Ra
Sa-Ra w/ Pharoahe Monch - Glorious - Non Album - prod by Sa-Ra
Sa-Ra - Master Teazer (Ken's revenge edit) - Non Album - prod by Sa-Ra

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posted by Eric Luecking

Binky Griptite: The Stroll Pt 2 (Snippet)
From The Stroll 7” (Daptone, 2009)

Dap King member/leader Binky Griptite has come to the forefront with his Stroll. Where I'm typically drawn to horn stabs and vocals over instrumental affairs, the flip-side “The Stroll Part 2” reworked instrumental peaked my interest more. The “dirty ho” lyrics just didn't quite sit right with me over the funky stylings presented. As mentioned above, the instrumental version is an altered version of the backing track. The horns are gone and the bongos are buried a little more in the mix. The lead vocals are replaced with a nice guitar lead, almost in a lite Freddie King styling which complements the thick bass riff quite well.

Darrell Banks: Don't Know What To Do (Snippet)
From Don't Know What To Do 7” (Daptone, 2009)

Just released last week on Daptone's Ever-Soul imprint, Darrell Banks' 1969 cuts (which were both lifted from his “Here To Stay” LP) are some pleading soulfulness, one in which he's pondering how to go on after being left and the other in which he learned his lesson and reserved a spot for his lovely lady. On “Don't Know What To Do” Darrell goes from gruff David Ruffin vocal stylings in the opening moments to smoother sounding Marvin Gaye when he eases up on the gas pedal. The Detroit influence was there because, well, he was from the Motor City. However, instead of a Motown/Tamla release, Darrell released these pieces on Stax/Volt, although it is believed that both Memphis and Detroit players laid down the music. The background woo-woos really add flair to an already nice accompaniment. Meanwhile the chunky bass keeps things afloat in his plea to win back his lost love. Hey, for whatever it's worth Darrell, I was won over with this 45.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

The winners of the Brownout album are Harry from blustery Minnesota, Bao from Washington, and Mark from Maryland.

You can still download this FREE mixtape of Brownout mixed by DJ Chicken George. And don't forget to check them out on tour. If you like what you hear, give 'em your hard-earned dollars and buy the new album.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Brownout: Olvidalo
From Aguilas And Cobras (Six Degrees, 2009)

Six Degrees has been kind enough to give us THREE copies of a Brownout's latest effort, Aguilas And Cobras, to give away. This is a great precursor to next month's Latin Music PBS special OW mentioned about a month ago.

The album is musical hot sauce and is sure to set your feet ablaze when you're grooving to their heavy riffs - the guitarist absolutely smokes! You can download this FREE mixtape of Brownout mixed by DJ Chicken George if you aren't familiar with the band.

Brownout has a few California tour dates left in September before going on a couple week break. But fear not, they start back at it in October hitting up New York, New Orleans, and DC to name a few. Check out their MySpace page for a listing of dates.

To win a copy, simply e-mail soulsideseric AT and put Brownout in the subject line. I will randomly select 3 names from all entries next Wednesday, September 23, 2009.

Contest Rules:

1. Contest ends at midnight on Wednesday, September 23, 2009. Entries that arrive after that time are ineligible.
2. Only US addresses are eligible. Sorry international readers!
3. Only 1 entry per person.

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posted by Eric Luecking

The winner of the latest contest at Soul-Sides is Asad from the Windy City. Congratulations on winning the new Breakestra single! Don't forget that the album, From Dusk Till Dawn, is out on September 29th. For the rest of you wanting to hear the new song, it is out NOW on vinyl and digital formats. Many thanks to Strut Records for sponsoring the contest and especially to you, our readers, for your continued support!

Contest Questions/Answers:

Q1. Breakestra is led by this “Music Man,” Miles ________. Fill in the missing word.
A1. Tackett
Q2. Name the title of their debut album. (Hint: It's NOT one of the mixtape releases.)
A2. Hit The Floor
Q3. “Music Man” Miles also released a non-Breakestra mixtape in 2004 under the name DJ Miles that was “Live From Hollywood.” Name the mixtape title.
A3. Funky Sole, Vol. 1

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Mayer Hawthorne: Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'
From A Strange Arrangement (Stones Throw, 2009)

When he came onto the scene nary a year ago with his falsetto classic “Just Ain't Gonna Work Out,” I thought, “Yeah, this is really nice – but can he deliver more than just a catchy single?” (Let's not forget the B-side “When I Said Goodbye” wasn't too shabby either.) Here we are in September with his highly anticipated album on the horizon (both ?uestlove and Justin Timberlake have sent out Twitter blasts about him) and the first single is no fluke, folks.

What's impressive is the fact that not only has he written all the songs (aside from “Maybe So, Maybe No”), but he plays nearly all the instruments as well. The ballads are a thick, syrupy elixir to cure any love malady, or at the very least provide you company in wallowing in your heartbreak. “I Wish It Would Rain” (not a Temptations remake) comes in starkly with its striking bass clef chords but has, once again, a tender falsetto lead with doo-wop backdrops.

However, he does more than just ballads. The previously-mentioned “Just Ain't Gonna Work Out” is upbeat, completely opposite of its breakup message. He abandons the falsetto for “Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'.” As I mentioned a few weeks ago, coming out of the break after the first hook I expect it to morph into “You Can't Hurry Love.” The sax solo is brief, yet so well-timed and not overstated, it's pure genius. When people say they don't make music like they used to, Hawthorne proves 'em wrong.

What's more is that he sings with such sincerity and charm that he's believable. He might not win a singing contest in acapella, but more importantly he knows how to use that sincerity and charm to his advantage by being able to structure such a catchy hook and a compelling story to go with it. In “The Ills,” a social commentary piece that doesn't get overtly political, he tackles a bit on New Orleans with a Curtis Mayfield-inspired backing track. The hook sings, “You know the ills of the world/they can get you down,” before a slight pause and then finishing with, “But then you get back up.” It's so simple, yet so catchy.

The album ends with a song, "Green Eyed Love," that sounds like no other on the album. With its west coast funk and staccato keys that would've even made a nice Dre beat, Hawthorne sings an ode to the green stuff. It even has a stoner guitar solo that smokes. It could be the cruising song to end the summer of 2009 and is supposed to be the next single. Can the Stones Throw team capitalize on the G-funk beat and get a Snoopified cameo for the video? It would fit perfectly.

Some early reviews have said some of the music itself sounds like a '60s Motown ripoff. People will say what they will say, but it's the best album I've heard this year – bar none.

Oliver's view: I'm not going to offer a contrarian view here but I didn't like the album as much as I hoped I would.

Part of the trick to albums in this retro/classic soul vein is that you have to be derivative to a certain extent; the whole point of the style is to tap into a particular aesthetic that's marked by certain musical signatures you can recognize. As Eric writes above about one song, you "expect it to morph into" a song you already know or expect.

The problem is that you're taking a risk here - if you're too derivative, then it just seems like you're doing an impression. A well-produced impression perhaps, but an impression nonetheless. As a genre, Northern Soul was influenced by Motown but that doesn't mean every great Northern Soul song sounds like it was recorded at Studio "A".

So with Mayer's album, his uptempo songs, for the most part, felt too derivative. "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'" is, in my opinion, far too close to the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love." "Make Her Mine" opens by interpolating "People Get Ready" but then goes into a fairly competent take on a Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song. "The Ills" was just too damn close to an Impressions song. "One Track Mind" = total Motown flavor.

And like I said, it can be a very thin line between close and too close. Nicole Willis and Raphael Sadeeq also played with similar styles on their respective albums and in some cases, I felt like it tipped over too far, in other cases, I was totally happy to hear them riff (but not replicate) on these classics. With Mayer, for his faster songs, I just couldn't get it. Yet - and I admit, I don't have a clear rationale here - I'm a big, big fan of his ballads even though one could argue they're not that much different, stylistically, from the faster tracks. And sure, that's probably true - "Green Eyed Love," for example has The Moments' stamp all over it. "Shiny and New" could be a Teddy Pendergress or Tyrone Davis slow jam. But these just work for me - call it some X factor (or H factor if you prefer).

When it comes to ballds, I think Mayer's stuff is as enjoyable as anything I've heard from anyone, including Lee Fields (who lays down a mean slow groover). "I Wish It Would Rain" is easily a top 10 of the year in my book. Once Mayer gets above 100bpms though, I think other artists like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings or Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators have been more successful in developing a sound all their own. Given that this is Mayer's first album - and an accidental opportunity in many ways - I think he has the potential to really blossom as his career matures. It can't be emphasized enough - this album is almost all Mayer, building each song one block at a time, playing the instruments and then editing it all together. That's pretty extraordinary - and it makes you respect not only the level of talent that went into this album but how challenging it must have been. (On this note, I also wanted to acknowledge that Miles Tackett of Breakestra crafts that "group's" songs the same way.)

PS: This has nothing to do with the music but I am very curious how the sales on this will do compared to the last Sharon Jones/DK album.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Kieran White: Hummingbird
From Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes (Numero, 2009)

As any polite person would tell you, it's always ladies first. So back in 2006 when Numero released their first folk compilation in a (soon-to-be) series entitled Wayfaring Strangers, they followed the age-old tradition. Now, it's time for the men to get their shine. These “lonesome heroes” offer observations mainly on everyday life on their sojourns to whereverland.

You'll find sparse instrumentation throughout, usually just an acoustic guitar – although sometimes a flute pops up. The lone exception is the album closer by Robb Kunkel which features lush orchestration. Featuring quite a spectrum of takes on the genre, “The Tailor” by Jack Hardy features a rough-voiced lead with occasional backup touches by two sweet-voiced females, whereas former hockey player Jim Schoenfeld has a more tender vocal on anti-war themed piece “Before.”

Kieran White's “Hummingbird” is a sweet slice of soulful solace. Interestingly, White recorded this song as a demo/guide vocal for another artist for Gull, a label he was a staff writer for in the early '70s. As the track ends, I think we found where the Crash Test Dummies got their inspiration for “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” 20 years later. “Hummingbird” is one of the most instantly likable pieces of acoustic music I've heard in the last several months next to Alexi Murdoch's “All My Days” (which you, too, might have heard for the first time like I did in the trailer for “Away We Go.”)

Lonesome Heroes isn't a start-to-finish masterpiece but it has its moments more often than not. Throw this on at a campfire with friends, and it's sure to start more than a few interesting conversations. That's all the artists featured intended to begin with – a few laughs and a few stories shared with close cronies.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Pax Nicholas And The Nettey Family: Na Six Feet (Snippet)
From Na Teef Know De Road Of Teef (Daptone, 2009)

Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band was THE band to be in if you lived in Africa in the 70s. Percussionist Pax Nicholas had been interested in music even as a young kid, from American soul music such as James Brown to the music he sang and performed in in his church choir. So when he lucked into a chance meeting with Fela Kuti, he turned the opportunity into a big break and scored a job as a conga player and background singer with Africa 70.

In addition to cutting material with Fela through most of the '70s, he also cut an album on the side while in Nigeria. The material on Na Teef is classic Afrobeat. “Na Six Feet” has a funky organ at its forefront. Chants are prevalent throughout while Nicholas takes center stage on vocals. Like Fela, this is rebel music.

Most of the songs follow a similar pattern where the vocals don't come in until halfway through the song (sometimes even 5 minutes in) allowing the music to simmer into a funky brew. The BPM meter remains pretty constant throughout keeping an even pace for an unvaried, yet still fresh listening experience.

Due to its limited pressing and Fela's supposed blasting of Nicholas for recording on the side, the album has remained a reclusive treasure. Fortunately, Daptone has unearthed it for the rest of us to hear. Check your local record (and CD) racks for it this Tuesday, September 1.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Mayer Hawthorne - Maybe So, Maybe No from Stones Throw on Vimeo.

Stones Throw just released a new video for Mayer's “Maybe So, Maybe No” cover. Nice little summer party toward the end of the video. A couple of shout-outs to the King of Pop are mixed in the video, too.

Also, on Stones Throw's Jukebox you can hear “Your Easy Lovin (Ain't Pleasin Nothin)” from his upcoming album. He definitely shows his Detroit roots with this nice little Motown Sound backbeat. With the mini-break coming out of that first hook, I always think The Supremes are going to jump in with “No love, love... don't come easy.” Of course they don't, but that's okay. That infectious hook and the way he stretches out “blue” right before the chorus as well as that sax solo are more than enough to put a nod in my head and a smile on my face.

Best believe this album is one to buy come September 8/9. Hold off on just one Beatles reissue for this album. You won't be disappointed.

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posted by O.W.

The Dynamites feat. Charles Walker: If I Had Known
From the forthcoming Burn It Down (Thirty Tigers, 2009)

Nashville's Dynamites, with vocalist Charles Walker, are about to tour in anticipation of their upcoming album, Burn It Down.
    August 28th, Fort Wayne Botanical, Fort Wayne, IN
    August 29th, Sweet Corn Festival, Urbana, IL
    August 30th, Stokie’s Backlot Bash, Stokie, IL
    September 11th, Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN
    September 12th, The Masquerade, Atlanta, GA
    September 17th, Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, MA
    September 18th, Pianos, New York, NY
    September 19th, The Note, Westchester, PA
    September 20th, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY
    September 22nd, Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, OH
    September 23rd, Schuba’s Tavern, Chicago, IL
    September 24th, Radio Radio, Indianapolis, IN
    September 25th, Southgate House, Newport, KY
    September 26th, TBA, Cleveland, OH
    October 2nd, Tipitina’s Uptown, New Orleans, LA
Looking forward to any West Coast dates they may add; I'm curious to see these guys throw it down live.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

The Herbaliser Band: Geddim!
From Session 2 (K7, 2009)

Nearly a decade after first delivering on the idea of making live band versions of their sample-based songs, The Herbaliser are back again. The live band thing, slowly but surely making its way back industry-wide, is proving to be no fad. Just as Session 1 featured no vocals, this set follows the same pattern, aside from the vocal samples sprinkled throughout.

What you get here is richer, more organic pieces that put more meat on your plate. Think of the originals as appetizers and the Sessions albums as the main entree. The difference is comparable to hearing the original sample-based versions of N.E.R.D.'s “In Search Of...” or Pharrell's “In My Mind” and then hearing their live-band reworkings with Spymob and ?uestlove and crew, respectively. It's night and day, and after hearing the full-band jazz and funk it up you don't want to go back. The snares have more snap, the bass is a bit juicier, and the sax has more swagger.

The lead single, “Geddim!,” is pure spy movie chase scene material. It moves, it darts, and it throws things in your way as it turns the corner. Just as you're about to catch up, it jumps a fence and you're left pausing for a moment to catch your breath before resuming the chase. The album is not all cat-and-mouse, though. The closer “Stranded On Earth” is an almost mournful piece that moves from weeping to crying before the song's end.

Even though Session 2 covers material spanning 12 years, it sounds quite cohesive. It's freaked-out acid jazz/funk with a bit of turntable thrown in for good measure. While brighter in tone than Portishead, I haven't heard mood music like this since, well... Portishead's first 2 albums, which I hold in very high regard. And while Session 2 may not be as genre-bending, musically it certainly belongs in the same conversation with its strong aural aesthetics.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Triorganico: Nana + Tempo De Amor
From Convivencia (Now Again, 2009)

Considering the “alternative” label Now Again is, “Convivencia” might be the most “alternative” release in their catalog yet. It's part of the “new” Now Again for lack of a better explanation. Whereas they previously were known primarily for their reissues of regional soul from yesteryear, the label has really reshuffled their image over the last 18 months. New music from the likes of afrofunk musicians Karl Hector and the Malcouns (a side project of Jan Whitefield) and Mr. Chop with his spacey brand of psychedelic funk can be an easily understood extension of the preconceived notion of the Now Again brand. Their latest release from acoustic latin jazz trio Triorganico showcases the label's refusal to be categorized as a one-trick pony.

Fabiano Do Nascimento gently strums his seven string guitar while Ricardo “Tiki” Pasillas provides the backbeat with syncopated percussion and Pablo Calogero woos you with various flutes and woodwind friends such as soprano sax and bass clarinet. Working like a singing group who could whisk you away with a breezy serenade by any of its members, the bandmates shift gears of lead instruments working as a harmonious conglomerate. No one overpowers their counterparts and instead choose to work cohesively as a unit.

“Tempo De Amor,” in its seven-and-a-half minutes, builds into a jam frenzy. Starting out lightly with a tantric guitar riff and Tiki's jaunty percussion, Pablo teases you with little flute stabs here and there before coming front and center to lead the pack. Midway through, Tiki starts to pick up the pace, feeding off Pablo's billowy breaths of bliss.

Aside from the lengua del amor, they also tackle Moacir Santos' “Nanã.” It's one of two Santos numbers they perform on the album, both with a bossa flair. Pablo trades in his flute for a bass clarinet to guide the rhythm that sways your hips. Like dance partners who have been performing together for years, the trio really dance about well with one another on this track, especially between the guitar and clarinet, moving in sync with their proverbial footwork.

The album, I must say, is an excellent companion to the latest Waxpoetics (issue 36), the Brazil issue. Pop in the Triorganico CD (or vinyl), sit back on the couch or favorite recliner, and get lost in the rhythms from south of the equator – which, when I think about it, is not a bad way to spend the evening after a long day of working for the man.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

posted by O.W.

Spinnerty feat. Elliot Peck: Sweet Soul
From 7" (Trazmick, 2008)

Spinnerty feat. EP and Czar Absolute: Feels Like Rain
From 7" (Trazmick, 2008)

At some point last year, someone suggested to me: "check out this guy Spinnerty," including a link to "Sweet Soul." I instantly dug the vibe, it reminded me some of Adriana Evans' songs from the early 1990s or a track that would have gotten some love at Nickies BBQ in the Haight. I should have already known this was out of the Bay but for whatever reason, I thought it was from Seattle. I also couldn't quite figure out who Elliot Peck was but I'm assuming it's the female singer on here...the fact that she's name "Elliot" is both strange and cool.

It wasn't until I was actually on Haight, at the Groove Merchant, listening to Spinnerty's latest earlier 45, "Feels Like Rain" that I discovered: duh, Spinnerty, 1) isn't a group. It's a guy and 2) he's currently living in the Bay (though he's originally from the Midwest).

As much as I liked "Sweet Soul," I really, really, really loved "Feels Like Rain." I credit those sweeping vocals looped up in the background but this is so easy to throw onto single-song repeat and just keep playing it over and over. Peck is back, this time credited as "EP" and joining her is rapper Czar Absolute who drops two small verses. The song works better with vocals but there's nothing wrong with flip the instrumental on as a lovely bit of background.

Update: I got a nice email from Dan "Spinnerty" Finnerty who corrected my timeline: "Feels Like Rain" actually came out before "Sweet Soul." He also filled in some backstory:

"The sample for "Feels Like Rain" I actually found at Rooky's [another record store in the Lower Haight]. It's a funny record because you can hear one of the guys coughing halfway through and some other foibles like that. I was over at Elliott's house doing some recording of another emcee for a different track and was playing some beats and heard Elliott humming along in the other room a la the oooooo'ing that made the final version. DING. Lightbulb went off."

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Friday, July 24, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

NOTE: Instead of the traditional player that Soul-Sides normally uses, I embedded audio of the full album to peruse. You should just be able to click on Music in the lower left and then click on the song of your choice.

From BLACKsummers'night (Columbia, 2009)

After a D'Angelo-like hiatus, Maxwell released his fourth studio album on July 7th. While he was away having new life experiences to write about, the soul music landscape has undergone quite a few changes. When Now, his last album, was released in 2001, neo soul was still making a small run at R&B marketshare and Jamie Foxx was just starting his run at more serious movie roles and not yet focused on topping charts. Today, the mainstream R&B front, on the whole, is more watered-down than ever (“Birthday Sex” - really, this is what it has come to???) and Jamie Foxx is making auto-tune hits.

This go-round, Maxwell's coif is not blown out but he's still blowing up the radio. The first single “Pretty Wings,” a ballad about letting go of a failing relationship, quickly shot to #1 on the urban charts. While the album does feature a couple of funky tunes, namely in the choppy horn groover “Cold,” it's primarily a slow jam affair. Maxwell, with his ability to go from natural singing voice right into a smooth falsetto, is a master of vocal sensuality; some critics have even said he's the premiere R&B vocalist of his generation.

Sensuality doesn't always have to mean explicitly sexual-filled rants of play-by-(fore)play; there's something to be said for leaving something to the imagination and allowing the sway of the music, vocal intonations, and bending of notes to open the door to the boudoir so YOU take care of bedroom business – not the singer getting you through every position before the first chorus. Marvin proved that to us years ago with his sexually-laden Let's Get It On album. Along those lines, Maxwell knows that less can truly be more. In the school where he comes from, set the mood and the rest will take care of itself.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

posted by O.W.

Quantic and His Combo Barbaro: Mambo Los Quantic
I Just Fell In Love Again
From Tradition in Transition (Tru Thought, 2009)

It's good to be Will "Quantic" Holland. His soul/funk remixes and productions are some of the best out there but then he went to developed a love affair with Colombian music and that's opened into a whole new, beautiful arena of music to craft.

This new album finds Holland teaming up with some of the same players who graced the Quantic Soul Orchestra's excellent 2007 album, Tropidélico, including the ever-excellent pianist Alfredo Linares, legendary Brazilian composer and guitarist Arthur Verocai, drumming bad ass Malcolm Catto and the singing talents of Panama's Kabir.

The album is an intriguing blend of multiple styles; it's not as "Latin" as you might initially expect. Instead, the group finds a way to bring in any number of different elements - a little cumbia here, some Afro-beat there, a dose of shing-a-ling, a whole lotta soul - to each song. "Mambo Los Quantic" is perhaps the closet thing to a set "genre" as you can find here but even then, it's not like you'd confuse it for something that would have rotated through the Palladium back in the day. "I Just Feel In Love Again" showcases the contribution Kabir brings to the Combo and I love the kind of happy energy emanating as the song shifts through sharp solos from the assembled talent.

Musica Del Alma has another Combo Barbaro song (not on the CD) for you to check out.

Bonus beat: Nostalgia 77 feat. Alice Russell: Seven Nation Army
From the forthcoming Tru Thoughts Covers.

Quantic's long-time label partners at Tru Thoughts are readying a compilation of cover songs and I am, quite predictably, looking forward to what they're bringing. One of the first songs they're circulating is this awesome cover of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" that first came out in 2004. It's incredible how monstrous they've made the signature bassline and when Alice Russell comes tearing in on the vocals, it's enough to make you cry. Hopefully, I can bring you at least one more selection off this comp once it drops later this summer.

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posted by Eric Luecking

24 Carat Black: The Best Of Good Love Gone
From Gone: The Promises Of Yesterday (Numero, 2009)

(Editor's note: It must feel good to be running The Numero Group. One of the advantages to creating one of the best reissue labels of our generation is that when something unexpected turns up - say the tapes of the unreleased second 24CB LP - you're in the position to really do something good with it. When last I wrote about the group's debut album, Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth, I noted that it was one of those "big digger titles" that was so incredibly good as to transcend its status as as "big digger title." Not surprisingly, any other material by the group would be of major interest and thanks to TNG, we now have access to these long-lost tapes. --O.W.)

24 Carat Black was headed by Dale Warren whose music, with its challenging, often operatic backdrops, was panned by critics when it was initially released. With its dark lyrical, musical, and topical overtones, it was too close to home to have any real commercial success. To further complicate matters, Stax was going broke. A couple of years after “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” was issued, Stax turned belly up.

Numero has dug up lost treasure with material that was being worked on for the follow-up album. Much of it was damaged beyond repair, lost to the sands of times. However, what has survived gives us a glimpse of the direction that Warren was headed. The societal doldrums were mostly gone as Warren had decided to revisit some material he had previously written as well as rearrange other work. However, darkness still looms over the album with titles such as “I Begin To Weep,” “I Don't Love You,” and “The Best Of Good Love Gone.”

While the most known feature might be the title cut's reworking of the Mad Lads classic, the album is filled with imaginative reinventions. The opening song has a slick and slinky bass groove that really rides while Princess Hearn's vocal interpretation of material that was well beyond her teenage years is both breathy and emotion-filled. Elsewhere, the album's most light-hearted affair is“I'll Never Let You Go,” which is jaunty at first (reminiscent of the first album's “Brown Baggin”) before an explosive bridge that then transforms into an almost masturbatory interlude and finally revisiting its bouncy beginnings.

Numero's blog, periodically updated by the powers that be at the label, has linked clips of some of the original material against Warren's reworkings that give you an idea of his new vision. Interestingly, they also posted another song from the project that was too damaged to make the final cut. You can also hear other snippets here.

Warren took away any further insight of the record's proceedings with his death in the mid-'90s. We may never know what the final product may have sounded like in full form, but we get a glimpse into the producer's mind of where the project was going. Incomplete never felt so satisfying.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Recently, Schoolhouse Funk Volume 1 was reissued through DJ Shadow's website as well as other retailers. The original release came out earlier this decade in a very limited release and sold out rather quickly. The concept initially started when Shadow and Lyrics Born were trying to outduel one another with who had the best high school records. Currently copies of the initial release are going for $80 on eBay, so get the reissue for a much more reasonable $15 or so while they last. The album features a variety of high school bands performing funk and soul songs like “Scorpio,” “Chameleon,” and “Cisco Kid.” A bit quirky but very fun. My wife hates when I listen to it, but screw it... sometimes a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do.

In other LB news, this past Tuesday Lyrics Born released a digital-only mixtape The Lyrics Born Variety Show Season Pho (samples available on his website). No reason to not get this... it's only $5. FIVE DOLLA! He even rocks the auto-tune on “Pop Campaign” as well as puts his own spin on Kanye's "Paranoid" on the "Differences" mash-up. Apparently he didn't get Jay-Z's memo. Catch some new exclusives, get a sneak peak of his upcoming album (due in early 2010), and enjoy a solid mix of the one and only LB!

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Monday, July 06, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Céu: Bubuia
From Vagarosa (Six Degrees, 2009)

I'm not quite sure what it is about Brazilian music that makes the sun shine and evokes a sense of summertime. Maybe you've heard of Céu, maybe you haven't – but maybe you should. This chanteuse, who has previously been nominated for a Grammy in 2007, has some serious vibes going on with “Vagarosa,” out this Tuesday. “Bubuia” lightly sways with its jaunty percussion. Meanwhile, the rest of the album features a nice blend of acoustic instrumentation but also blends in some underscored turntable effects to create a modern sound yet still keep its roots deeply planted. She wrote or co-wrote much of the album which was produced by Beto Villares.

You've read about the Brazilian old school, and now, along with Curumin, you can hear some of the new school, too.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Lee Fields: Honey Dove
From My World (Truth & Soul, 2009)

If at first you don't succeed... well, you know the rest. Lee Fields lives the mantra. During the 70s he released several 7”s and a full length but never made it big. Thanks to crate diggers, he never left the conscience of the soul faithful. Truth & Soul, true to their name, signed him and released his latest album earlier this month.

“Honey Dove” is quite representative of the album. With a lazy-summer-day guitar strum, it floats along like a gentle breeze. Fields fills the track with pleas to a lover who has gone and is begging her to come back. Toward the end of the track, horns gently blare echoing his yearning for his lover's return.

Production is helmed by Jeff Silverman, who, before T & S made a name with the too-short-lived Soul Fire, and Leon Michels (of El Michels Affair fame) along with their coterie, and Fields takes to the mic and serves up a batch of goodness. “My World” is a smoothed-out and sublime work. The album even exhibits a couple of instrumental numbers, a rare feature of a vocal LP these days. Fields also mellows out the Supremes/HDH classic “My World Is Empty Without You.” Vocally, the album is a honey-tinged exhibit, a lesson in doing what you can do well. You don't need bells and whistles when you know how to make music sweet like this.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

A few weeks ago I posted about Numero 25 being a book and 2LP set. Well, plans have changed as there has been a reshuffling of catalog numbers, and the results are even better than you can imagine.

The book and 2LP release has now been given a new catalog number as Numero 33. You can view a promo of it here with Ricky Allen's “No Better Time Than Now” as a musical backdrop. The coffee table book features a photo collection as shot by Michael Abramson of Chicago nightlife in the mid-70s. The exciting thing is that with a pre-order you can get a download of the music now (yes, NOW!) and your book will ship in September (the street date is in November). Also, the first 250 pre-orders from Numero's site get a signed and hand-numbered print from the photographer as well as a bonus 45 (only 1000 pressed).

So where does that leave Numero 25? Oh, all they did was rescue 6 tracks that were crumbling from the reels of the sophomore 24 Carat Black album that has never seen the light of day. Stay tuned as we'll be doing coverage closer to its release date (July 28).

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posted by Eric Luecking

Slum Village: Fall In Love (Remix)
From Dillanthology 2 (Rapster, 2009)

Lushlife: The Kindness
From Cassette City (Rapster, 2009)

The ReBel Yell: Everything She Wants
From Unreleased (Rapster, 2009)

UPDATE: The Dillanthology 2 and Lushlife albums have been pushed back to July 7.

Who honestly doesn't like some Dilla in their life? Rapster's second volume in collecting his work in the cleverly-named Dillanthology series focuses on the remixes of the dearly-departed James Yancey. Did you miss that CD single/12” that had the “Woo Ha” remix? Did you, like me, not know that a Dilla remix of Lucy Pearl's “Without You” ever existed? If so, then this compilation is for you.

You get a sense of the musicality that Dilla possessed as he reimagined tracks from jazz, hip hop, electronic and soul from artists from nearly all coasts and overseas on this release. Even more impressive you get different sounds such as a little boom-bap on De La to more mellow jazz-chord filled beats Mood's “Secrets Of The Sand.” This release hits stores Tuesday, July 7th.

Also that Tuesday, you can pick up Lushlife's “Cassette City.” Lyrically, it's standard hip hop fare but the production is what really shines on this album.
“In Soft Focus” has some nice DJ cut work while the horn-heavy “Another Word For Paradise” has a summer feel to it (while also bringing back long-lost Camp Lo). My personal favorite on the album is the laidback “The Kindness” with its nice chopped vocal sample with its screwed-vocals hook. Overall, it has a late-90s indie hip hop feel to it as you can hear on his Myspace page.

The last of the bunch sounds like it might be bad on paper but excels in execution. Wham has become the butt of many jokes, but you know somewhere deep inside you dig a few of their songs. The ReBel Yell, who is being produced by none other than James Poyser, comes through with this synthy dancefloor stepper remake of the snarky “Everything She Wants.” This is only a teaser of The ReBel Yell's upcoming album “Love & War,” and as of now, this song isn't set to be on the album, which releases this August.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

The Budos Band: Ephra
From The Budos Band EP (Daptone, 2009)

The Budos Band, your favorite Staten Island soul stalwarts return to satiate you with a selection of scintillating songs. Available on June 23 on digital, vinyl, and CD (CD from Daptone's site ONLY), this EP covers ground between their debut and sophomore albums. Two tracks you may have heard previously - “Mas O Menos,” which was on The Budos Band II, and “The Proposition,” which was on a Budos Band 45 from 2006.

The material here continues forth from their first album and gives you a sense of how they ended up with their second album – namely chunky bass riffs and solid horns. Some members of the band also perform with the Dap Kings, El Michels Affair, and the Menahan Street Band such as Tommy 'TNT' Brenneck and David Guy to name a few.

Featured on the EP are six killer tracks and a short half-minute bonus track thrown in for good measure to give you a lucky seven. Tempo-wise, the album remains fairly constant. “Hidden Hand,” the opener, bubbles up with thick bass. “Smoke Gets In” sounds as if it's sneaking around an unfamiliar tomb. “Ephra,” named after the goddess who bestowed powers upon the knights of old Budonia, perhaps seized control of the band and gave them the power to create a playful rhythmic backbone that is overlaid by majestic horns. You almost feel like a harem should appear from around the corner and perform a ritualistic dance.

For completists, this is a no-brainer purchase. For those who haven't yet gotten into the Budos Band I must ask, “What are you waiting for?” The Budos Band's sound reminds you of something you'd hear in an African or Middle Eastern bazaar where it would stand face-to-face with a snake charmer. If you don't watch out, you, too, could get bitten with their potent venom.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Joyo Velarde: Take You Home
From Joyo Velarde EP (Quannum, 2009)

Joyo Velarde. You may have heard the name but not quite sure where. Chances are it was from the Latyrx cut "Balcony Beach," a Cali classic. Joyo has also has performed and written tracks with with her husband, Lyrics Born (who pops up in the video), on his numerous album releases. Now she steps out on her own with her self-titled EP, available this Tuesday, May 26, from all digital distributors.

The vocal arrangements hearken to some '80s steppers. The hook on “Take You Home” reminds me a lot of Exposé's “Come Go With Me” vocally. The EP's opener, “Build This World,” has a slinky, brooding bass line. Closing out the EP is the reggae-tinged Bobby Digital-produced “I Need You Boy.” Kinda makes me feel like I'm back at a festival at the Holiday Inn in Montego Bay on my honeymoon.

Her voice is crisp and full (what else would you expect from someone who trained in opera in Rome) and reaches low, although not quite to Anita Baker or Toni Braxton levels. The EP is a nice opener into Joyo's world, and I can only imagine that this will sell well in sunny areas as it has a nice laidback summer sound. It's perfect beach music or to listen to in a droptop convertible while driving down Highway 1. Later this year, her full length “Love And Understanding” will be released by Quannum. Until then, this should tide you over quite nicely.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Naomi Shelton And The Gospel Queens: What Have You Done
From What Have You Done, My Brother? (Daptone, 2009)

Daptone's latest release by Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, out Tuesday, May 26, is a little bit Sam Cooke, a lot '60s soul, and all in servitude to the Lord. “What Have You Done, My Brother” is such a fine record. Lyrically, it's all gospel but numerous tracks sound straight out of the '60s soul bin. While that may sound foolish knowing it's a Daptone record, credit Cliff Driver and the various Dap-Kings members that play on this record for really giving it a nice soundbed. Also, credit the Gospel Queens - Edna Johnson, Bobbie Jean Gant, and Cynthia Langston - as they really enliven the call-and-response with Shelton.

Driver, the musical director of the group, is a pianist who has backed numerous soul legends such as the R and B of R&B... Ruth Brown, Solomon Burke, and even had a stint in Latin music working with the Johnny Ortega Band. If you recognize the lead vocalist, it's because she appeared on the Desco 45 “41st St. Breakdown” by Naomi Davis and the Knights of Forty First Street and on The Sugarman Three's “Promised Land.”

The album was culled mainly from sessions in the summer of 2007 with some even predating that. The title track is the most secular of the material and has a distinct Daptone sound, which may be the reason why it was chosen as the lead single. Elsewhere “I'll Take The Long Road” and “I Need You To Hold My Hand” really dig deep into the gospel roots and are the two showcases on the album. The former leads with the same guitar lick as Cooke's “That's Where It's At” and is a slow gospel burner. Shelton sings with passion about walking side-by-side on her journey to redemption.

While she's not the firecracker that Sharon Jones is, Naomi exudes a confidence that more than makes up for the lack of sass. After all, who says you have to have attitude to make a good album? With the opening chords on “What Is This,” which resemble the opening of Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” (which is also the album closer), you get a sense that you'll be on a long but righteous road of glory. If you have a set of headphones for your walk, be sure to bring this album with you.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

El Michels Affair: Shimmy Shimmy Ya
From Enter The 37th Chamber (Fatbeats Records, 2009)

“Music inspired by the Wu Tang,” listed in the corner of the new release by the El Michels Affair, sums up nicely what you get from this fine release. With a vibe similar to the Menahan Street Band, due in part because of Michels involvement with them, you know what to expect. While it would be easy to dismiss the tracks as not having enough thump in comparison to the Wu songs, it would also be a disservice to the exemplary interpretations that Michels and crew have brought to these “covers.”

Most of the tracks performed on the album are from the seminal Wu release, to which the title pays homage, and Raekwon's “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.” The remaining songs are from other peppered Wu-related releases, although none are from albums newer than 2001 – signifying the golden era of the Wu Tang Clan. From the lament in “Heaven and Hell” to the darkness of “Duel of the Iron Mics,” El Michels Affair showcases a real talent for delving into the soul the resides within the melodies. They even sprinkle in some Shaolin sampled bits of wisdom lending even more credence to flow of the album given its purpose.

OW's excellent NPR article on the Charmels song that serves as the inspiration for “C.R.E.A.M.” showcases the song's back-to-its-roots history. To me, it's the album's highlight. That piano lick still sends shivers up my spine. Unlike the Wu song, where the piano takes center stage, here it plays a more complementary role with the rest of the melody. There's a thudding bass that keeps resounding throughout and the horns help spice up the song adding just the right flair.

Elsewhere, you get the frenetic rework of the late ODB's “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” complete with a kids chorus. So while paying tribute to the Wu Tang, it also pays tribute to a technique Stax, always a RZA favorite, used in songs such as “Sang and Dance” by the Bar-Kays (made famous by Will Smith's “Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It”). As a bonus on the CD, you even get an instrumental of “Pjs From Afar,” a track on which Raekwon collaborated with El Michels Affair only a few years ago.

Even without the vocals, you can still tell that Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to f--- wit'; El Michels Affair pays the Wu a very serviceable homage. It would be interesting to see how El Michels Affair would have fared with material from other Ghostface songs such as “Apollo Kids” with its regal horns or the retrospective “All That I Got Is You,” as it really would play to their sound well. However, with the material that they did choose to cover, it's a very solid affair that gives us a varied plate of goodness to digest. I've certainly been eating it up.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

posted by O.W.

Joe Bataan: Subway Joe
Joe Bataan: The Bottle (snippet)
Joe Bataan: Puerto Rico Me Llama (snippet)
All from King of Latin Soul (Vampisoul, 2009)

A few months back, Joe mentioned that he was working on some new projects, including an album with the Barcelona band, Los Fulanos. The album is finally here - King of Latin Soul and like Joe's last album, Call My Name, it's coming out on the Spanish label, Vampisoul.

(Contrary to rumor, this new album was not recorded with the same folks who worked on Call My Name).

The album are all updated versions of Joe's classic catalog, spanning from his boogaloo years ("Subway Joe", "Gipsy [sic] Woman" and "It's a Good Feeling" to some of his straight up Latin jams ("Puerto Rico Me Llama"), salsoul era material ("The Bottle"), ballads ("The Prayer"), even an update on "Rap-O Clap-O 2008."

Take a peek and let us know what you think.

(By the way, I think it should get American distribution in a matter of weeks).

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

posted by O.W.

Greenwood Rhythm Collective: Guajira 78
From 7" (NYC Trust, 200?)

Greenwood Rhythm Collective: Salsa Verde (snippet)
From 7" (NYC Trust, 2008)

Orquesta International: Mucho Control
From El Barrio: Back on The Streets of Spanish Harlem (Fania, 2008)

Damn, I need a late pass for not realizing that the great Monk One - NY DJ and Wax Poetics contributor - helps run a label alongside E's E, NYC Trust. It's new become one of my favorite sites to peruse - there's a wealth of good-goodies here, including custom mixes by folks like Jared Boxxx (look for "Big City Soul") and Prince Paul ("6 Yrs. High and Rising") and a slew of free tracks by Monk, E and Oneman (look on the right column, especially Monk One's "Got To Give It Up" reggae remix).

Monk and E have two different bands (so far) that they've put together on the label - the more downtempo Midnight Lab Band and the Latin-flavored Greenwood Rhythm Coalition. The GRC's last two 7"s have been exceptionally strong - the "Guajira 78" is especially caliente fuego, a fast-paced, charanga style dance track with a darting flute.

The group's new "Salsa Verde" is equally infectious, built around the distinctive riff that originates with Orquesta International's popular "Mucho Control" hit (also covered by Ismael Quinones). I could be wrong, but I also pick up a distinctive Colombian salsa flavor off this but I'm still a neophyte in the genre. Regardless: it sounds fantastic. I can't wait to play this one out at Boogaloo[la].

For kicks, I also threw in the aforementioned "Mucho Control" which seems to embody so much of the aggressive, brassy style of '70s salsa that's been recently reborn into the so-called salsa dura movement. This was featured as part of Fania's new El Barrio series which includes excellent compilations on classic salsa, Latin soul, boogaloo and a recent Latin funk edition. (I'll be writing more about these in the weeks to come).

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

posted by O.W.

Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno: Westbound Train
Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno: Make Dub Not War
From Death of the Revolution (Tru Thoughts, 2008)

Should have been on top of this back in the summer when it first dropped but consider the new Flowering Inferno album to be good, warm listening for the chilliness of winter. This is Quantic's latest incarnation, a close kin to the Quantic Soul Orchestra's Tropidelico album from 2007 except here, it's Quantic himself handling all of the musical duties.

The sound this time is out notably influenced by reggae and dub - the Latin touch still trails in the background but most songs are unmistakably built on dub's viscous rhythmic signature. I was originally thinking this new album would be packed with tracks to play out and there are some more uptempo cumbias, such as the title track, but instead, I was pleased to find that where the album excels is really in the downtempo tracks that Quantic builds around drizzles of melody and druggy rhythms. "Make Dub Not War" for example, is a masterpiece of simplicity in contrasting the bright drops of acoustic piano against the echoing slap of snares. With "Westbound Train," Quantic is working with any number of different samples in here - the most obvious to me was the pygmy flutes from Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," and a guitar melody borrowed from Al Green's "Love and Happiness." It reminded me of some of the remix/edit tracks from the early '90s (just minus the Fatman Scoop style shout outs)..

With "Westbound Train," Quantic remakes the Dennis Brown song by the same name (thanks to DRev for schooling me) which, as most should note, picks its guitar line from Al Green's "Love and Happiness". From there, Q throws in a bit of the pygmy flute melody from Herbie Hancock's groundbreaking "Watermelon Man" and builds another winning slow-tempo track for you to get grind on to.

If you really want to get hardcore, there are three different 7"s available from the album.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

posted by O.W.

(from l-r: Alicia Keys, Estelle, Cool Kids, Lil Wayne
Chico Mann, Menahan St. Band, Q-Tip
Robin Thicke, Solange Knowles, Mayer Hawthorne, Raphael Saadiq)

(This post began life on Side Dishes and has "evolved" since).

As I suggested in PART 1, my tastes in 2008 were decidedly retro. Even the new songs I liked still sounded like they were recorded in 1968. But I'm not going to artificially stack my list below to make it seem like I wasn't stuck in some weird throwback mode for most of the year. Here's my favorite new songs of the year:


Solange Knowles: I Decided
From Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams (Geffen, 2008)

When I first heard this in early summer, I kept thinking, "it's got the build-up of a Supremes song but then never delivers. The Neptunes' beat just felt weird as a result and I initially dismissed it. Yet, each time I'd hear it, I'd just want to keep listening longer, maybe subconsciously waiting for the "real" beat to drop, but whatever the case, I soon enjoyed it for what it was - infectious pop in the best tradition of Ross and her Supremes. This was, much to my surprise, my favorite pop single of the year.

Estelle: No Substitute Love
From Shine (Atlantic, 2008)

Of course, Solange was hardly the only femme getting her retro-twist on. Besides her, there was also Little Jackie and Estelle, whose Shine album was one of my favorite of the year (see below). I had a hard time choosing which of her various songs were my favorite - I guess I could just have easily gone with the ragga-fied "Magnificent" or the swinging, uptempo "Pretty Please" (produced by Jack Splash, aka my new favorite producer). But "No Substitute Love" (produced by Wyclef) lingers a touch longer in the ear for some reason - it's really all about the hook and the way Estelle pulls her notes out and milks those long vowels.

Q-Tip: Getting Up
From The Renaissance (Motown, 2008)

Not that I haven't already written enough about Q-Tip this year but I'm still marveling at how good a comeback he's made. It's one thing to want to champion an artist, it's another thing when they exceed your expectations. Q-Tip's return was set off by the excellence of this first single that told you some of his ol' magic was back.

The Cool Kids: 88
From The Bake Sale EP (Chocolate Industries, 2008)

Rappers for the hypebeast generation, I like the Cool Kids even if I have little interest/love for their hyper-hipster consumerism. But hey, I'm not that into the crack trade either and that never stopped me from enjoying rappers who only seem to rhyme about Pyrex and fish scales. In the end, pair two decent flows and production that sounds like Magic Mike-meets-Rick Rubin-meets-Salih Williams and that's a good combination.

Raphael Saadiq: Seven
From The Way I See It (FYE Exclusive) (Columbia, 2008)

For all my reservations, I still think Saadiq pulled off one of the best crafted albums of the year, bringing together a masterful blend of '60s soul styles onto one album. However, my favorite song of his this year was actually a bonus cut from the "FYE exclusive" version (who the hell is FYE?): "Seven." I was told that this song is actually a veiled reference to Michael Vick (#7) and if you listen to the lyrics with that in mind, you can hear it. Even without that weird, pop culture nod though, I like how everything on this song comes together: the reverb on the melancholy guitars, the tap of the tambourine, and most of all, that synthesizer that comes in on the chorus with its buzzy texture. (Thanks to Eric L. for the hook-up).

Chico Mann : Dilo Como Yo
From Analogue Drift (forthcoming)

Captain Planet: Boogaloo
From Jazz Loves Dub (Rudiments, 2008)

My DJ partner, Murphy's Law, put me up on both of these by playing them at Boogaloo[la]. Of course, one could cite nepotism in the case of Captain Planet's tune since the two of them are brothers but hey, family relations aside, "Boogaloo" is a great, catchy instrumental that moves with a snappy step and some deft drum programming (love the fill that takes the song out of the bridges). Likewise, the yet-to-be-officially-released "Dilo Como Yo" ("as I say") has a slick Afro-flavored rhythm section and speaks the universal language of tooty-synthesizers.

Menahan Street Band: Home Again!
From Make the Road By Walking (Dunham, 2008)

Funk instrumental albums are a relatively rare breed but Brooklyn's Menahan Street Band pulled off one of the slickest albums in that vein this side of the James Brown Band circa Popcorn. Off that, I couldn't stop listening to "Home Again!" which has this beautifully laid-back feel thanks to the mellow guitar and horn section. Not sure why they put a ! on the title of such a languid composition but I'm more than happy to shout its praises.

Lil Wayne: Let the Beat Build
From The Carter III (Cash Money, 2008)

I still think Carter II was the better album but hey, I'm not going to begrudge Wayne his success this year (the record industry needed some good news). But even if Carter III didn't quite exceed expectations, Wayne still came with some killer cuts. "A Milli" made a huge impact but the song that I kept coming back to was "Let the Beat Build." What can I say? Gospel-tinged vocals + Wayne's verses + slowly evolving beat = untouchable. So sick it gave birth to ill twins (see Honorable Mentions below).

Mayer Hawthorne and the County: Just Ain't Gonna Work Out
From 7" single (Stones Throw, 2008)

This Detroit native turned L.A. transplant takes Allen Toussaint's drums and lays it under a simple but catchy melody and then unleashes that soulful falsetto to get the groove right. Heartbreak rarely sounded so achingly sweet.

Erykah Badu: Honey (DJ Day Remix)
From 7" (Day1, 2008)

Take one of the best songs from one of year's best albums and then give it a fantastically smart and intuitive remix and you get this. In hindsight, it probably seems obvious to remake Badu's "Honey" with Delegation's "Ooh Honey," but Day gives the pairing a natural depth (something he excels in as heard previously in that Marvin Gaye edit) that, dare I say, makes his remix sound better than the original.

Robin Thicke: Ms. Harmony
From Something Else (Interscope, 2008)

As I wrote in the L.A. Weekly, Thicke's sweetest confection off his third album was “Ms. Harmony,” a bossa nova-flavored blend of dreamy guitar melodies, Latin percussion and Thicke’s own, mojito-cool vocals. I don't much more to add except to say that I've been playing this as an "end of the night" song for parties and my, my, my, does it work nicely.


Alicia Keys: Teenage Love Affair
From As I Am (J Records, 2007)

I know this album came out in 2007 but, um, I just started to listening to it this past week and "Teenage Love Affair" has been on constant rotation since. Single-song-repeat rotation. Part of why I'm so taken by it is how Jack Splash juices up the loop from the Temprees and gives Keys' tune such a richness and catchy drive. The other half is how Keys handles this song with just the right blend of burgeoning sexuality and chaste coquettish-ness. I think I have a school boy crush on "Teenage Love Affair."

Quantic and Nicodemus: Mi Swing Es Tropical
From Ritmo Tropical EP (Tru Thoughts, 2005). Also on Shapes.

Like the Ray Barretto I wrote up on Part 1, I owe my discovery of this to Rani D. I love both songs for the same reason: electric piano + Afro-Latin sabor = unbeatable combination. That and, on this song, Nicodemus' vocals lend a gruff contrast to the soothing sweetness of the melody. I can't believe I never heard this until this past year since I'm a big fan of Quantic. This is easily my favorite track of all his tunes.

Honorable Mentions:
1. Busta Rhymes: Don't Touch Me
2. Freeway: Let the Heat Spill freestyle
3. Lauren Flax: You've Changed
4. Al Green: All I Need
5. J-Live: The Upgrade
6. Johnson and Jonson: The Only Way
7. Little Jackie: 28 Butts
8. Lone Catalysts: Make It Better
9. Roots: Rising Down
10. Usher: In This Club

If-I-Had-To-Come-Up-With-A-Top-10-Albums-List List:

1. Erykah Badu: New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War
2. Cool Kids: The Bake Sale EP
3. Estelle: Shine
4. Final Solution: Brotherman OST
5. Kanye West: 808s and Heartbreaks
6. Q-Tip: The Renaissance
7. Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It
8. LIl Wayne: The Carter III
9. Menahan Street Band: Make the Road By Walking
10. V/A: Verve Remixed 4

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

posted by O.W.

(from l-r, Alton Ellis, Edwin Starr, Labi Siffre, The Impressions
Joe Bataan, Stevie Wonder, the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band
Bobby Matos, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Skye 7")

(This post began life on Side Dishes and has "evolved" since).

I had a strange realization the other week: 2008 might be the first year where I spent more time listening to older music than new music. This hasn't been out of nowhere - it's been a long-term shift but it hit me, when I was trying to come up with the standard "Top 10" list that I'm not even sure if I actually listened to 10 new albums in '08.

Not just that: even the new music I did like tended to overwhelmingly be music that sounded like it was from another era - Raphael Saadiq, Solange Knowles, Mayer Hawthorne, etc. For real - if there was one big presence in my 2008 year-in-review, it was Motown! Not only do quite a few Motown artists fill up my "old music I discovered this year list," amongst the new artists, several of them ride off the Motown sound and one of them (Q-Tip) is actually signed to Motown.
I turned 36 this year but why do I feel like my tastes are that of a 66 year old?


On one hand, your tastes are your tastes and if that's the direction I'm leaning, maybe I should just shrug and enjoy it. I don't have the professional pressure to have to stay as current as my colleagues do but as I said last year, I also don't want to be a born-again baby boomer (even though my fascinating with the 1960s has only grown this past year).

So here's my New Year's Resolution For 2009: I shall listen to more new music and ideally, not new music that sounds like old music. (We'll check back a year from now and see where I'm at).

This all said, here's Part 1 of my year-in-review, beginning with old music I (re)discovered.

Edwin Starr: Running Back and Forth
From War & Peace (Gordy, 1970)

I get music recommendations from all sorts but no one is more influential than my friend Hua who has probably put me up on more of my more recent "new favorite songs" than any other single source I know. It helps that he has kick ass taste as well as a circle of friends in NY who have equally good taste and so I get some of these recommendation second, even third hand but heck - I ain't too proud!

Case in point: this lesser known single off Starr's big selling War and Peace album. It's easy enough to forget that there was any other songs from that LP given how successful and iconic the "War" single became but when I first heard "Running Back and Forth," I had a proverbial jaw-drop over how good it was and that it'd be from the same album. This song oozes with classic Motown production strengths of its era (RIP Norman Whitfield!), especially in its brass and the driving push of the sound bed. Seriously, try to piece apart all the little bits of the music; it is dense yet comes off sounding clean and simple. In contrast to Starr's forceful polemicizing on "War," here, he's in classic love man mode, trying to kick some game. (Bonus points for the Sam Cooke nod on the bridge).

Labi Siffre: A Little More Line
From S/T (Pye, 1970)

This British singer, songwriter and poet has a voice you can't soon forget - it's not the most powerful, nor the most dynamic - but it is so distinctive and soothing, it stays with you long after the song's end. I especially love how this song builds from an almost hymnal opening only to swell in size and sound with the string orchestration and some killer work on the drums. Siffre's entire catalog from the '70s is classic material (even if many of you probably have never heard of him). This was from his debut album and it's just as good of a place to start as any to enjoy his gifts.

Alton Ellis: What Does It Take To Win Your Love
From Sunday Coming (Coxsone, 1971)

There is something humbling discovering this song the year of Ellis' death. My awareness of him preceded his passing but I had been giving Ellis' cover of Jr. Walker's hit much spin in the first part of the year that when Ellis passed away in October, I found myself coming back to his catalog again and again. Ellis was arguably reggae's finest soul man, not just with his covers but also original compositions.

The Impressions: I'm Loving Nothing
From This Is My Country (Curtom, 1968)

In a year of Obama's ascendency, there are no doubt more apropos songs from the Impressions' catalog but the song of theirs that will haunt me is "I'm Loving Nothing." Its beauty seems almost profane given that this is all about the death of love. Not something you'd want as a first dance at your wedding but doesn't it sound like an embrace rather than slow turn away?

Bonnie and Shelia: You Keep Me Hanging On
From 7" (King, 1971). Also on New Orleans Funk Vol. 2.

King is best known as the home of James Brown for many of his pivotal funk productions of the late 60s but at least for this single, the Cincinnati-based label picked up a slice of NOLA funk thanks to this excellently produced tune from Wardell Quezerque. One of my new favorite femme funk tracks, "You Keep Me Hanging On" reminds me a lot of the snap and sass of Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff." Hang with it.

Ray Barretto: Pastime Paradise (Good Parts Edit)
From La Cuna (CTI, 1981)

Gotta thank my man Rani D for hepping me to this Barretto song. As big of a fan I am of the late master's work, I had never listened to anything he did past the early '70s and I was mightily drawn to how good this cover of Stevie Wonder's song is. The sound of this song is just so gorgeous, especially the first few minutes but I did have to admit I wasn't quite as enamored with the vocals...and cheesy sex...and bad, Santana-wannabe rock guitar. So I just cut all that out and left you with a 1/3rd length "best of" edit from the song. Like Bobby B. - it's my prerogative.

Joe Bataan: Ordinary Guy (7" version)
From 7" (Fania, 1967)

"Ordinary Guy" has been Joe Bataan's enduring hit for over 40 years but this version, which only appeared on 7" single, isn't well known and when I first heard it, I was instantly enamored. It's not entirely clear what Fania's thinking was but they brought in pianist Richard Tee to give the song a a subtle new dynamic, most obviously heard in how different the new intro is. Tee's piano has a strong presence, especially with an arrangement that sounds very much like the beginning of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Precious Love." This is probably my favorite version of the song, precisely for that intro which gives the tune such a rich, soulful feel to it.

Bobby Matos: Nadie Baila Como Yo
From My Latin Soul (Phillips, 1968)

I've owned Bobby Matos and Combo Conquistadores' incredible My Latin Soul album for years, but I had somehow totally overlooked the incredible charm of "Nadie Baila Como Yo" (nobody dances like me). It wasn't until I heard the Boogaloo Assassins play it at their shows that I was reminded of how damn good it is; it's since become, easily, one of my favorite Latin songs ever. Love how it changes up from a guanguanco into a son montuno and has those beautiful keyboard chords anchoring.

Skye: Ain't No Need (Unity Mix)
From 7" (Ananda, 1976)

When I was out in New York earlier this year, Jared at Big City Records slipped a reissue of this 45 into my hand and I was hooked (and then later, managed to procure an original from the Groove Merchant). Sometimes all you need is a good groove and this obscure disco single from the mid-70s delivers a one helluva great groove that just goes on and on and on. Under other circumstances, I'd find the whole thing repetitious but somehow, I don't tire of it. Ever. (I created this "Unity Mix" which combines the original mix and disco mix in a simple edit).

Stevie Wonder: Send Me Some Lovin'
From I Was Made to Love Her (Motown, 1967)

Heck, I could have filled this list with Stevie Wonder songs I've been rediscovering but "Send Me Some Lovin'" has stood in front of that line. I love the small touches of funk to the arrangement, especially those pianos at the very beginning. This has a fantastic groove to it and you put Stevie's distinctive vocals on top of that and you have an unbeatable combination.

Songs that are technically new (i.e. that just came out) but are based on older recordings:

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band: Express Yourself (alternate version)
From Puckey Puckey: Jams and Outtakes, 1970-71 (Rhino Handmade, 2008)

This was a real gem from the Puckey Puckey anthology that I wrote the liner notes for. It's a completely alternate recording of the Watts 103rd's big hit, "Express Yourself." Compared to the original, this one is far more languid, like the group was nearing the end of their recording day and just wanted to something to chill out to, maybe smoke a bowl to (as they were known to).

Final Solution: I Don't Care
From Brotherman (Numero Group, 2008)

Provided - their name was terrible. No one wants to think of the Holocaust while groovin' to sweet soul - but even if the Chicago band formerly known as the Kaldirons probably could have chosen a better name for themselves, at least the music speaks for itself. The album - a soundtrack for a blaxploitation film never made - has an interesting backstory all its own but for now, all you need to know is how damn good "I Don't Care" is. Especially when paired with that melancholy but heavy guitar melody by newcomer Carl Wolfolk, there's something sublime about how the group's falsetto voices come coasting in on top of the track. It's a mix of slow-building drama with an angelic set of voices, lending a gospel-like quality to the music's otherwise dark undertones.

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On (DJ Day Edit)
From 7" single (MPM, 2008)

This single just came out a week or so ago and it finds California's DJ Day reworking an alternative version of Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On" in a way so clean and organic that even Motown fanatics would swear it was a lost tape from the label's vaults. I don't know why it sounds so perfect with the season but there's something warm and comforting about this that makes you want to wrap yourself in it.

Nina Simone: Gimme Some (Mike Mangini Remix)
V/A: Verve Remixed 4 (Verve, 2008)

Frankly, this song had three killer remixes that I found almost equally commendable including Diplo's remix of Marlena Shaw's "California Soul" and the smoky Chris Shaw remix of Sarah Vaughn's "Tea For Two". But if I had to pick amongst that trio, this Nina Simone reworking took the slimmest of leads, possibly because it's so damn happy (which is not an adjective I often associate with Her High Priestess. Seriously though, this whole album is nice.

Honorable Mentions:
1. Patti Drew: Stop and Listen
2. Joubert Singers: Stand On the Word
3. Ceil Miner: Stardust
4. Aaron Neville: She Took You For a Ride
5. New Holidays: Maybe So, Maybe No
6. Nick and Valerie: I'll Find You
7. Pedrito Ramirez y su Combo: Micaela
8. Bobby Reed: The Time is Right
9. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: If You Can Want
10. Tammi Terrell: What a Good Man He Is

PART 2: NEW(ISH) MUSIC (to follow soon!)

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