listen out for 2016...
robert glasper & miles davis - everything's beautiful / zo! -skybreak
Robert Glasper hails from Houston in Texas. He has, in his 5 album, decade long career, become one of the foremost pianists in the Jazz genre today. His previous 3 album outings, have taken on an almost ‘Guru-esque’ aspect, as the artist brings on board several of his contemporaries, in order to create some remarkable pieces of recorded output. This latest album features some re-imagined interpretations of the music from the late Miles Davis. ‘Everything’s Beautiful’, by the way, has no cross reference to the Ray Stevens song, which I am sure Miles would have thought, that that song was very much Ray’s business! :)) Where these versions by Robert really come together, are where he steps backwards from the frenetic aspects of some of todays (especially) rap musicians. It is a real shame, as, I am sure I am not alone, when I reach for the record deck, in order to bypass the first ‘expletive-deletive’ distracting the listener from something worth their attention. With most people, as soon as folks hear the ‘f’ word, people stop listening. I bought this album as a vinyl product, which was refreshing, as it was actually available in my local store in this format. Miles was not a digital performer, so buying a digital copy from an analog artist seemed a nonsense in many ways. Bypassing the offerings of the rappers (swearing became ‘old hat’ in 1976 guys), there are some real delights on the album. Tracks by some of my favourite artists, including the hugely underrated Georgia Anne Muldrow, Hiatus Coyote and the wonderful Ledisi, all are very pleasing listens. Georgia delivers a fascinating take on ‘Milestones’, whilst Ledisi contributes her interpretation of ‘I’m Leaving You’, and the ‘Coyote’s’ breathe new life into ‘Little Church’. Cherry picking is an easy task, as Stevie’s take on ‘Right On Brotha’, (one of my favourite current group’s) KING’s interpretation of ’Song For Selim’ and the cream of the crop, in Erykah Badu’s terrific ‘Maiysha’ are each worth the entrance fee on their own. If you have a record deck, it is well worth listening to the music in an analog format. Sure, you can download an mp3 or a slightly better quality flac file, however, the Erykah Badu track is a joy to behold in an old school format. This would have been a 10 out of 10 album, but for the swearing. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and in these days it is so hard to get your song on the radio. When I want to hear some swearing, I can always go round to the mother-in-laws! Deejays can’t play these tracks, if the bloke is ‘talking loud and saying nothing’.
Zo! is the brainchild of a gentleman called Lorenzo Ferguson. Lorenzo hails from Detroit, and, very much like Dee Majek in the U.K., has been working away quietly on their own album projects. Lorenzo’s music is no stranger to this website. His music can best be described as ‘music that grows on the listener’. When he is not working as a solo artist, Lorenzo is also the keyboardist and Musical Director for the group The Foreign Exchange. It is refreshing that this artist utilises live instrumentation in his recordings. Back in 2010, Zo! released the terrific track ‘Greatest Weapon Of All Time’. In 2013, Foreign Exchanges ‘If I Knew Then’ was one of my dance tunes from that year. As with Robert Glasper, Lorenzo utilises some fine vocalists on his recorded output, and ‘Skybreak’ is no exception. I especially liked ‘Starlight’, (featuring Phonte), ‘Packing For Chicago’ (featuring Muhsinah), ‘I Don’t Mind’ (featuring Shana Tucker), ‘Wishing You Well’ (Featuring the excellent Carmen Rodgers) and ‘Lifelines (featuring Dornik). Not bad for a single album, however, the best two tracks are yet to come, in the form of ‘A Season’ (featuring Eric Roberson), and the very Eighties ‘Just Whatcha Like’ (featuring Joi). I guess the moral of this story is, if any set features the words ‘Lorenzo Ferguson’, ‘Zo!’ or ‘The Foreign Exchange’, it is well worth picking up! A very good album.
perri - back to you / olwethu - imbewu
One solo Lori Perry album aside, it has been a quarter of a century since the last album from the Perri Sisters....really! I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to listen to a new album by this terrific female group. It is easy to forget, in today’s market, just what we have been missing in the quality stakes, and we have the Perri Sisters arrive (like the 4th emergency service), to rescue us from the daily dirge! Vocally, the Perri’s sound as if their last album was released 26 days ago, rather than years. So where to start? ‘God Is So Good’ (with the help of the fine Snarky Puppy) is as good as anything the sisters have ever recorded. If you can find fault anyplace within this song, I know the name of a very good doctor! The opener ‘Majesty’ sets the overall tone, running throughout this fine Gospel outing. Uplifting, very Anita Baker-ish, and featuring no duff cuts at all. As with last years Lyle Divinsky epic ‘Fallin’, some albums breeze through the current scene, clearing away all the cobwebs, and wiping away the ‘old driftwood’, raising the bar to a level which challenges the rest. If you love the Perri’s harmonies, you will love this album. If the melodies that embroider the harmonies are of a high calibre, then you are left with, simply, a winner. My personal favourite track here, is the mellow ‘Back To You’. The girls hit the musical ‘sweet spots’ throughout this fine slice of Soul Gospel. A welcome return to form, on the Perri’s strongest album to date, and out on their own label.
Africa has been a musical source which has drawn me towards the continent over the last couple of years. Sister’s Lulu and Zonke Dikana, both released fine albums over the last couple of years. Nosa’s ‘Always Pray For You’ illustrated that the studio’s in Africa have begun to come to terms with the larger corporates in the States and Europe, however, what is immersing is the charm that the languages and the music that these artists bring to the table, is an innocence, which comes through in the melodies. This new album by Olwethu (full name is Olwethu Magushana) is entitled ‘Imbewu’. Olwethu is from Queenstown in The Eastern Cape South Africa, where, when she is not singing, she works for a cosmetic company in Johannesburg. ‘Imbewu’ is a Zulu word, which means ‘seed’, and therein lies the purpose of the release, which is to raise money for children’s charities in the country. Musically, much of the music is sung in Zulu, but the delivery is definitely Soulfully based. Contemporary R&B? Absolutely. The lead single ‘Angelina’ is a really beautiful Soul song. I also cherry picked ‘Feelings’ (not that one!:)), however, of interest to the Modern Luxury Soul crowd, ‘Slow Motion’ (partly sung in English) is as good a ballad I have heard in many years. Africa is definitely a continent to watch, if you are a lover of the real deal. Olwethu has a lovely voice. Well worth investigating.
2016 , to this point, has become very much the year of the single release. Although albums have arrived, much of the material has been very derivative. Perhaps if the artist was awarded more for their efforts, by the larger retail companies that make the bulk of the finances from their efforts, and gave something back, the artist might want to give a little more creativity? Just a thought. Thank heavens for the smaller distributors, who, to all intents and purposes, keep the machinery oiled for the corporates.
So what of the material around right now? Well, thank heavens for Gregory Porter. He is flying the flag for the traditional singer/songwriter, who are perceived by todays younger buyers, ‘the old blokes and women, who had their heyday back in the mists of time, and get wheeled out to receive a lifetime award at the old folks musical awards! :)). Los Angeles born, Gregory, grew up in California. His parents were into Nat King Cole, whom Gregory began to mimic in his younger days. The singer was almost a football player at one point, but injured his shoulder, so he took up singing full time. He was overheard by Hubert Laws’ sister, Eloise, who helped Gregory with his career. He released his first album, ‘Water’, six years ago, and from that point onwards, he went from strength to strength. Gregory, lyrically, is a very intelligent songwriter, whether he is preaching from the political pulpit, or articulating a tender love song. It is no wonder that the likes of Carole King, hold this artist in a very high regard. ‘Take Me To The Alley’ represents the singers 4th main album release, and it follows on in a similar vein to his terrific ‘Liquid Spirit’ release of 2013. ‘Don’t Lose Your Steam’ is definitely the most commercial track on show, and is the ‘Liquid Spirit’ style song from this new set. Bound to fill a few dance floors that one, and we can all look forward to seeing the track remixed half a dozen times in the future! There are 12 tracks on show on this version of the album. I have on order a vinyl copy, which is bound to be superseded by a Deluxe version with additional tracks! Very much a case of myself ‘putting my money where my mouth is’ going on here! This album is mainly a downtempo set, with some beautiful mid-tempo moments, my pick of which are ‘Day Dream’ and ‘In Heaven’. ‘In Fashion’ is a tricky little song. Hints of Reg Dwights ‘Bennie and the Jets’, however, Gregory develops the rhythm, and this could probably become ‘the grower’ on the album. ‘Fan The Flames’ is very radio friendly, and has already become rotated on daytime radio, on the better stations. This album will not disappoint you, if you loved ‘Liquid Spirit’. A case of ‘more of the same’ in many ways, however, what went before was of such a high standard, I would defy anyone to criticise Gregory on any track on offer here. Long may this artist reign on the Soul scene. Lost so many greats this year, so this is a very positive break from that negativity...
....Gregoire Maret is a new name to me. Boy, has he assembled some great artists on this slow and moody new album. Gregoire is a Swiss musician, who features the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, Mark Kibble (Take 6), Frank McComb, Dianne Reeves and Ivan Lins (a personal favourite here). I had to look at the liners on a couple of tracks on show here, to see if it was Stevie playing the harmonica, only to find it was Gregoire himself! His mother hails from Harlem, whilst his Dad was Swiss, so the artists influences are truly diverse here. In parts, I hear Herbie Hancock (the mid Seventies version here), whilst I also hear echoes of the Quincy Jones moments that featured Toots Thielmans. Lots of influences going on here. For myself, the musical mixture of all of these elements, fused with the vocal contributions of Frank McComb, make ‘Diary Of A Fool’ my favourite track on this album. ‘Wanted’ featuring Mark Kibble, sounds as if it was lifted from Quincy Jones’ album ’the Dude’. Very like ‘Velas’ from that particular album. ‘Heaven’s’ featuring Dianne Reeves, is a beautiful ballad, whilst, in a more uptempo vein is the very Pat Metheny sounding ‘Groove’. No co-incidence that Gregoire has toured with Pat, and has learned a great deal from that artist I think. ‘Footprints’ gets the toes tapping, on an album , which I would not describe as uptempo, however, musically, the album is top drawer, and for that aspect I am very grateful to this artist. Already a favourite with Jeff Young at Jazz FM (who, at the moment, has overtaken brother James Brown, as the hardest working man in show business! :) One album and artist to watch out for in the future...
...Music Soulchild (a.k.a. Talib Johnson) was a new artist at the time I set up Soulwalking, in the summer of 2000. Some 16 years down the line, and the singer has just released this, his 8th album within that time period. Throughout the passing of time, I have always been interested in this performer. He is not afraid to ‘rattle a few cages’, either lyrically, or musically. Just when you thing you have a whole set worked out, in throws Musiq something or other to upset the apple cart! This Philly born singer says his influences include James Brown, Patti LaBelle, Billie Holiday, and Sly and the Family Stone. I might suggest that he throws in his own name into that particular hat, as he is no replicator, but has originality within his own Soul. Check out ‘Alive and Well’ from this new album. The man addresses peoples issues with appearance, especially weight issues. The singer makes the point that, if you feel alive and well, everything else is related to appearance and others ways of dealing with issues, that really ought not to affect them at all. Very bold, is all I can say! This is a really great track. if it raises a few eyebrows lyrically, well he has just proved you are not drifting in and out of conscience! On the ‘what a great song’ front, look no further than ‘Changed My Mind’ and, the very Stevie, ‘Walk Away’. Both terrific songs. This is an album well worth investigating, and, as with this guys releases, I am sure I will be singing the praises (pardon the pun) in two years time, of his latest album, when he releases his follow up to this fine set.
christon gray - the glory album
As many of you have come to realise, at times I can be a right old moaner, when it comes to rappers, who have nothing to say, and Gospel singers who ‘shout’ at their Lord, rather than articulate their message! :)) I am delighted to say that, in both of those concerns, I have well and truly been put in my place. All told, I think this is my favourite album so far in 2016. Sure, Christon Gray raps with the best of them out there, however, he is spot on with his message. This Christian rapper has created a hugely listenable album, which, rap wise, the listener might draw a comparison to those Imprompt2, partially rapped albums from the mid Nineties. The Christian message is directed, pretty much, to the under 25’s, and that message is a very ‘Black’ one, in a hugely positive way.
Firstly, about the man. Well, Christon is from Ohio. He worked with a group called the Elevationists in 2006, going on to release a solo album in 2011. He became part of the We Live Like Kings collective in 2013. He released a second solo album on Collision Records in 2014, after which he signed to Kirk Franklin's Fo Yo Soul label. The result is this set entitled ‘The Glory Album’. The set is almost biblical in it’s format, starting with a terrific opener entitled ‘The Glory Part 1’. There are sections of the album which are purely rap, however, the more melodic offerings amount to half of the songs on this fine set. My favourite tracks here are the very radio friendly ‘My Love Is Real’, however the real tour-de-force is the stunningly beautiful ‘Blackmail (Black Male)’. Hugely Stevie in it’s delivery (I am sure Stevie would love to record this track himself), the song attempt’s to address the confusion that many young Black men have to address within a society filled with mixed messages. I would ask any young Black male to take out a couple of minutes to listen to this track. Absolutely terrific musically, and very, very, supportive and powerful.
The other tracks worth of note are the John Legend’y ‘Afraid With You’, the lovely ’No. 51 (The Glory Part Two) and the finale ‘Follow You’. Spiritual, political, musical, angry and, above all, an important album. Take the Tommy Sims set, and blend in Imprompt2, and you are not a million miles away from the Christon Gray sound. Great album out on RCA.
various artists - luxury soul 2016 / king - we are king
One of the albums, during each year, I really look forward to listening to, is the latest instalment of the Expansion Records compilation ‘Luxury Soul’. Traditionally, January is a quiet month for new releases, and this set always kicks of each New Year optimistically. The annual release now comprises 3 CD’s of some of the finer new Soul releases (many of which echo back to the Soul sounds of the pirate radio stations during the early Eighties), along with some superior dance tracks, and the odd rare groove thrown in for good measure.
The mix of product helps stop the albums from sounding same-y, thus keeping the interest running throughout proceedings. Ralph Tee and Richard Searling do deserve some props for keeping the show on the road, in these times of digital this, and lossless download that. The tactile product reminds us that musical interaction is the better way. Of the 35 or so tracks on offer, where do you begin to mark this particular exam paper?
One instant plus point for myself, is the inclusion of new product from the U.K. artist Kejam (who is creating some of the most interesting music in recent months). Here he weighs in with the excellent ’Diamonds’, which features Terry Harris. Great track, as is the jazzy ‘Love In My Eyes’ by Gene-O. Nice song that one. ‘Love Crazy’ (not the Atlantic Starr song, yet it could have been recorded by the group) by Chazz Mac. A particular personal favourite from this album, is the duet between Latrese Bush and Noel Gourdin, entitled ‘Because Of You’. Would make a good single this song.
CD 2 opens with the very catchy ‘Call On Me’ by the R&R Orchestra, and this side also features one of the U.K.’s finest singers, namely Tony Momrelle. Tony’s ‘Different Street’ was a favourite from his recent solo album, and that was an essential purchase.
CD3 features the popular Paul Johnson song, ‘The Road’ (a track I know many folks will have been looking around for). I love the Damon Cooper song on this side, entitled ‘Will You be My Lady’. Terrific piece of songwriting, which I would describe as ‘tune’! It was great to see the inclusion of a personal ballad favourite, the Dunn Pearson produced, ‘Even A Fool’ by Dunn Street. Thought after I bought that track in 1986, that would be the last I would ever hear of the song.
Ralph and Richard seem to always right any wrongs on the British soul Scene, and for that I am very grateful. This is an essential release for 2016. Pick this Expansion compilation up, and it should keep you happy for several months to come, on the musical quality front! Great release.
Here's the team sheet!
The album by the group King is of a very different vibe. This is a very good new album from three Los Angeles based women called Paris and Amber Strother (both twins) and Anita Bias. I have always been a sucker for group harmonies, and this album is almost completely based around the vocal textures these three singers create. I have listened to this set over the last week or so.
I don’t think there is a smash hit single anywhere on show here, and yet, this is a fully 5 star offering IMHO. There are sections which remind me of some of the collaborative work between Janet Jackson and Jam & Lewis many years ago. In parts (especially on the track ‘Red Eye’) the melodies are pure Stevie Wonder. The album lures the listener in, with the two openers ‘The Right’ and ‘The Greatest’, and then fools you into thinking you have heard the best of the set, and then the rest of the set draws you further in, and before you know it, every track is a five star tune.
Formed in 2010, it has been some 5 years since this group released their initial E.P. Recently, Rolling Stone magazine cited the singers as ‘one of 10 New Artists You Need To Know’. When the mainstream get on board with a group, I normally tend to run a mile, as irrational fears begin to build within me that I am about to be brainwashed into liking the latest new R&B Emporer’s New Clothes! This album, however, breaks the mindset here. I really enjoyed this album.
'We Are King' won’t make ’Northern Soul’s Greatest Album of 2016’, nor will it appeal to those who love their Rap or Funk, however, if your mind is open, you love your harmonies, and the music is intelligently put together, then this is a set I can heartily recommend. Prince took this group on tour with him recently. A man of good taste, is all I can say! Out on King Creative Records right now.
regina belle - the day life began / kejam feat. terry harris - start all over
Regina Belle - The Day Life Began - Shanachie Records 2016
It is very nearly 30 years since I picked up this singers debut set ‘All By Myself’. The track ’So many Tears’ has since become a favourite on the better Soul Stations out there. 29 years down the line, and I think that the Shanachie imprint is the perfect label for this fine singer. The label seems to empathise with the artists on their roster, in an attempt not to change the singers desired sound, but tagging along for the ride. The variation between the 1987 album, and this album, is way back then, the ballad material was the material of choice in this house. With this album, there is a very uplifting feel to proceedings. ‘He’s Alright’ is a fine example of the positivity running through the set, followed by a very respectable cover of the Phyllis Hyman evergreen ‘You Know How To Love Me’. On the mid-tempo front ‘Live 4 You’ really appeals, whilst the mellower side is nicely represented by ‘A Night Of Love’, a song which will appeal to those who love this singers downtempo material. My favourite track from the set, is probably, the most radio friendly, in the shape of ‘Open Our Eyes’. Sounds like regina had a fun time recording this track. It is nice to see this sister back in the studio. The generation around right now seem to be a set of younger folks, not looking at the charts for inspiration, but checking out the shelves of us older girls, and you never know, they might be spending their pocket money on Regina’s new album. A welcome return.
Kejam (featuring Terry Harris) - Start All Over/2 Can Play - Kejam Majek 2016
If you are getting a feeling of deja vu, yes I did post a couple of tracks from this fascinating U.K. artist at the end of last year. Kejam sent me two further tracks from his forthcoming album, which are both top drawer melodies. The featured vocalist on these two sides, namely Terry Harris, has a very similar vocal delivery to that of Eddie LeVert from the O’Jays, (which is a huge compliment!). ‘Start all Over’ is one of those tracks that gets stuck in the grey matter, which is always a great thing. I am sure we will be revisiting this artist again in the coming months. If these songs are anything to go by, the album will be a real treat.
lyle divinsky - uneven floors
I was sent this album by the artist himself. Lyle Divinsky is the singers name. I want to, cut to the chase, and talk about one track to begin with. The song ‘Fallin’ is the song in question. To create a picture of where the tune is coming from, well think of a 2015 version of ‘Galveston Bay’, with a hint of ‘Groovin’ by the Young Rascals (but an interpretation closer to the Collage take on the tune), sung in the style of a Darryl Hall, along with a large helping of Willie Mitchell thrown in, the final ingredient realising itself in the real instrumentation production work of Frederick Knight’s ‘You’re The Best Thing In My Life’....and you are almost there! If this song was released in the Sixties or Seventies, it would be all over daytime radio, all of the time. With the malaise of video and technology stifling artistic expression, this song will, truthfully, be brought by the musical ‘French Underground’ which the likes of yourself and myself represent. Miley Cyrus would have a panic attack, rip off all her clothes (in the worst possible taste!:)) if she was asked to sing a song of this quality! All I can say is Lyle and his army of real musicians (who deserve the medal of honor for their work on this track) have created the best track I have heard so far this year. The only downside of this album is this song distracts the listener from what is a very good album overall. The songs ’Disaster’, ‘Rich’, ‘Push On’, ‘Carry On’, ‘Hit man’ and ‘Serious Web’ (this one is a real grower), are all terrific modern Soul songs. In fact I had marked ‘Disaster’ as a five star track, before I had reached track 3. The Earth, Wind & Fire style horns did it for these old ears on that track. I spoke to Lyle about his roots and influences, which he said were, birthplace...Searsmont, Maine, influences...Mother & Father, who were into Motown, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, whilst his own influences include Donny Hathaway, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, Maxwell, and on the Blue-Eyed side, James Taylor, Van Morrison, and CSN. Lyle, himself, penned ‘Fallin’. Props to the man there. As I mentioned, if you look at the YouTube footage of Lyle’s band playing live, all those artists, who may be 20ft from the stage, each deserve the highest praise for creating a Blue Eyed Soul song of genuine beauty.