Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday's 5 song mix!

Since my computer developed a nasty virus, I will not have access to it for over a week as it's being repaired, so the posting will be at a minimum over the next week.  In the meantime, thought I'd post something on my work computer to tide me over until next week.  As usual, I'm continuing to buy tons of soul music, while also sprinkling in some Latin soul albums, jazz, and hip hop albums as well.  Since I don't have a lot of time today to post anything too much in depth, I thought I'd post a short mix of a few of my favorite tracks from albums I've bought over the past few weeks.

Joe Cuba Wanted Dead or Alive is a classic early Latin boogaloo soul album.  Tracks like "Oh Yeah" and "Push Push" are considered the classic Joe Cuba songs off this album.  Below is the track "Bang Bang", the quintessential Cuba track,  very enjoyful call-and-response vocals between Joe and the band.  This track is sizzling Latin soul at it's finest!

Jimmy Hughes is a great early soul singer who was one of the first singers ever recorded by the famed Muscles Shoals Studios.  I love many of the tracks he recorded, especially during his Fame/Muscle Shoals time.  This is the track "Steal Away", probably one of my 50 favorite soul tracks of all-time.  Love Jimmy Hughes voice, kind've a higher register pitch, reminiscent of Syl Johnson, Al Green, or Ted Taylor. 
Soul singer James Carr has an interesting story, as he's an individual who should've been bigger than he was.  He got by on his singing alone, as he never learned to read or write, and struggled with mental illness.  Eventually his mental issues got the best of him, and it got to the point where he eventually could not perform anymore.   I've owned James Carr albums for over 10 years, but just recently one of his tracks started haunting me, and I've been listening to it repeatedly, "Let It Happen".  Just a beautiful song.  I can feel Carr's vulnerability in this song. 
I've always liked Irma Thomas, and had her early singles from Kent/Ace Records, Time is On My Side, but was always disappointed as I thought I would like her more than I actually had...until now, as I recently picked up Irma Thomas's Something Good/The Muscle Shoals Sesssions, and man, this is the Irma that I always expected:  Gritty vocals, great horn lines, great songs, and not as polished as some of her earlier works.  I love this!  Highly recommended, and very reminiscent of Etta James's Muscle Shoals era. 
The last track I've featuring is another Latin track by Peruvian percussionist Coco Lagos, titled "Guajira Boogaloo".  Great 60's swinging, Latin boogaloo rhythm.  Feel the beat!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mondays with Manu...Manu Dibango

Manu Dibango is a saxophone player and vibraphonist from Cameroon, Africa.   He's worked with an amazingly diverse group of musicians over the years, from Nigerian great Fela Kuti to Latin greats the Fania All-Stars, from jazz greats Herbie Hancock and Don Cherry, to reggae greats Sly and Robbie.  If you find any solo Manu Dibango albums, especially from the early to mid 70's, definitely check them out.   Soul Makossa, Africadelic, and African Woodoo are all great, diverse albums from Dibango.  On those albums, Manu goes from extremely funky-jazz groove, to a Nigerian-African rhythm funk track, to a soulful groove.  It's all well-worth checking out, though I'm not as big of a fan of his late-70's/early 80's output as much.  Check out this track "Mama-se, Mama-sa, Ma-ko-Ma-ko-ssa", which Michael Jackson used for the ending of "Wanna Be Starting Something".
  Here's some more Manu Dibango to whet your appetite.
The later track, "Iron Wood", is off of his African Woodoo album, which is an interesting compilation of music recorded for commercials, movies, and tv shows for professional sound illustration, though they were never used for that purpose.  However, the album works surprisingly well as a whole.   Some of Manu's deepest funk cuts are on this comp, and it's probably my favorite of Manu Dibango's albums.  Cop it if you get the chance!
Manu Dibango

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Song That Wouldn't Die

The beauty of a great hip hop track is, besides telling a story in rhyme, or the flow of the words from the mc, or the slamming beats from the dj, it's also the history behind the samples that are used.  As I've gotten deeper into soul music over the years, I can't even name the countless times I've listened to a soul song and immediately recognized it as a sample taken from a hip hop track that I've liked over the years, like the first time I heard Syl Johnson's "Different Strokes", and right away recognized it as a sample used from the Wu-Tang track "Shame on a Nigga", or Eugene McDaniels songs "Headless Heroes" and "Jagger the Dagger", and recognizing the Beastie Boys "Get It Together" and A Tribe Called Quest "Push It Along", or noticing that Eddie Kendricks and The Impressions were sampled by J Dilla, among many, many other examples.  It makes you appreciate not only the original soul song in which the sample was taken from, but also the hip hop track in itself, and the dj who might have done some serious crate digging in order to find some obscure soul track.  In 1968, soul legend Freddie Scott recorded "(You) Got What I Need".  Over 20 years later in 1989, old school hip hop great Biz Markie recorded this ever-so-popular track, "Just A Friend".
Basically, the Biz flipped the chorus of Freddie Scott's soul classic and made uniquely his own.  Fifteen years later, The Ghostface Killah recorded "Save Me Dear", where he flipped the verses from Freddie Scott's "(You) Got What I Need", and made it uniquely his own as well.

Interestingly enough, all three tracks work, and all three tracks are among my favorites from each of these artists.   This is just one of many examples in which songs can take on so many more forms.  It's what makes hip hop so great and what makes soul music so timeless.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weekend Goodies

"Black on White Affair"--Seattle's ultimate funk/soul band from 67-72

Went to my three favorite music shops in Seattle this weekend:  Jive Time, Easy Street, and Silver Platters and picked up some good stuff:

1.  The Impressions Check Out Your Mind!/Times Have Changed---The more you read this blog, the more you'll probably notice what a big Impressions/Curtis Mayfield fan I am.  I have a lot of Impressions albums, but I never had this one before and decided to pick it up.  Check Out Your Mind!  is Mayfield's last album with the group when he decided to go solo.  There's a good mixture of doo-wop, pretty soul songs, along with some of the funk-inspired music that was more predominantly featured shortly after this album on Mayfield's first solo album Curtis.  The second album on the disc, Times Have Changed, is post-Mayfield, and has Leroy Hutson taking over a majority of the vocals.  Mayfield still had a big part in the group, as he wrote a majority of the songs on this album, but wasn't playing guitar and singing on this album.  It's a good album, but not as strong as Check Out Your Mind!  I don't think Curtis's songs were as strong on this album, and it wasn't as focused and cohesive as earlier Impressions like This is My Country, or We're a Winner

2.  Wheedle's Groove:  Seattle's Finest in Funk and Soul 1965-1975--What can I say about the Seattle-based Light in the Attic Records?  They are an extraordinary label that continues to put out wonderful reissues of hard-to-find soul, folk, reggae, you name it, they've put it out.  Just over the past two years, I've probably bought at least 5 or 6 of their reissues (Jim Sullivan, Rodriguez, Lou Bond, T.L. Barrett, Jackie Mittoo, just off the top of my head).  I'm just listening to this one right now as we speak, and it's wonderful to hear some of these lost soul/funk gems from the northwest.  The only track that I'm familiar with is The Overton Berry Trio's marvelous jazz-funk cover of The Beatles "Hey Jude", which I've been putting on repeat recently.  Once again, Light in the Attic Records does not disappoint with this reissue.  
3.  Willie Colon Crime Pays--I love me some Latin salsa, especially anything from the late 60's/early 70's, and Willie Colon never disappoints.  Dig the Latin-gangster attire on the cover.  That was Willie's shtick.  This is a great comp of some of his early grooves.  I was listening to this driving around Seattle on Sunday afternoon with the windows unrolled, as it was a relatively nice day on Sunday.  If you dig on this, you may like Ray Barreto, Joe Bataan, Pete Rodriguez, or hell, anything on Fania Records for that matter.  
4.  Major Lance Very Best of Major Lance--Of course, I was interested in this album with the sole basis that Curtis Mayfield was Major's buddy, and wrote 90% of the songs for Major Lance on this comp.  Good Chicago Soul, definitely Impressions-influenced, as expected.  Major doesn't have quite the voice that Mayfield does, but it's still good stuff and well-worth picking up.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

Song o' the day (pt. 5)---T.G.I.F

There are certain songs or albums in which every time you listen to it, it takes you into a time warp where you remember the exact time and place when you first heard it.  I remember hearing the Gino Washington album Out of This World at some random mod/scooter house party when I lived in Portland about ten years ago.  I was fresh out of college (early 20's), and digging on lots of 60's American garage and British Invasion type of stuff.  At that time, I was beginning to scratch the surface of the soul genre, owning a few soul albums, mainly the obvious ones like Marvin Gaye What's Going On, Al Green Let's Stay Together, and Otis Redding Otis Blue.  Hearing Gino for the first time that night opened some doors for me.  Out of This World was a cool combination of early garage/R&B type of stuff, which really appealed to me back then because I liked the noise, the garage-y, lo-fi guitars, and yet Gino also had a soulful voice which appealed to me as well.  These days I rarely listen to Gino Washington.  Actually, listening to the track, "Out of This World", made me realize that I haven't listened to this album in over five years.  But here I am, sitting next to my music collection, seeing the album here and looking back at Gino staring at me on the cover, and this album brings back so many memories that I can attach to that period of my life when I first discovered Gino Washington.  And I guess this is one of the main reasons we enjoy music...for the memories.  

Here's some Gino Washington for you on this Friday!  Enjoy your weekend! 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Radiohead: King of Limbs

Moving away from my usual post about soul music, I wanted to sing the praises of Radiohead's latest album.  I'm generally locked into the era of the 60's and 70's, as I find the 60's/70's era to be the most musicially compelling in every genre, from soul to jazz to rock (wth the exception of hip hop, as I listen to anything from the 80's old school to modern day hip hop).  Over 90% of my music purchases the past few years have been from the 60's and 70's, and a majority is of the soul and jazz genre.  However, there are those rare occasions that I like to buy a new release just to say that, yes, I do try to keep up to date on new releases.  I've listened to King of Limbs at least once every few days since it was released, and I must ask, why has it been so critically panned?   I find this to be their most interesting and engaging album since the Kid A/Amnesiac era.  The last three tracks of the album are some of most beautiful, ambient music I have heard since My Bloody Valentine's Loveless.    King of Limbs is a great album to listen late at night with the lights out because of it's chillness factor.  My 11 month old has fallen asleep twice to this album because of how calming it is.  I can't recommend this album enough.  Here is "Give Up the Ghost", my favorite track off of King of Limbs.  Check it out!    

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lamont Dozier: Black Bach

Picked up this album the other day at Easy Street Records in Seattle.  Lamont Dozier was one of the main songwriters for Motown, who wrote hit songs for Martha & The Vandellas, The Supremes, The Four Tops, and Isley Brothers, among others.  In 1973, Lamont decided to step out on his own and forge a solo career.  Black Bach is his second solo album, and considered by many to be his best.  Pretty ballsy of Lamont to place his head on what looks to be remsembling a Bach bust statue, comparing himself to one of the greatest Classical composers of all-time.  On my first few listens of this item, what impresses me most of all is the song arrangements, which isn't suprising considering Dozier's wonderful arrangements of some of the greatest soul and pop songs ever written.  But he also goes beyond string arrangments.  Banjos, steel guitar, and fiddle, accompany the track, "All Cried Out", probably my favorite track among the intial listenings.  There is somewhat of a country-folk influence on a few tracks, but Dozier's soul shines through.  Here's the track, "All Cried Out":

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bettye Swann--Criminally Underrated

Bettye Swann is not a household name in the music business, but she should've been.  Strong vocals with a tight horn section behind her, the majority of her songs recorded between the mid-60's to early-70's are all killer, no filler.   Bettye recorded some classic, classic soul songs, with also some country influences.  Bettye covered songs by the likes of Patsy Cline ("Sweet Dreams") and Tammy Wynette ("Stand By Your Man").  Check out her cover of country great Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again", all souled up! 
One of my favorite tracks Bettye recorded was one that she wrote, "(My Heart is) Closed For the Season":

Bettye didn't have the success that other female soul singers like Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, or Etta James had.  However, I would place her as one of the top ten female soul vocalists of all-time, and along with Candi Staton, a soul singer that should have been more recognized.  She wrote some great songs, recorded some amazing covers of great songs, and made them just as great on her own.

Bettye Swann--Criminally underrated and generally amazing soul singer! 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Many Moods of Miles

No, this isn't about my 10 1/2 month old son, Miles, who has had his ups and downs recently due to teething, but it's about Miles Davis, one of my favorite all-time musicians (and yes, my wife and I did name our son after the jazz great).  Miles Davis was a trumpeter, composer, and arranger of some of the most amazing jazz music from the 50's through the 70's.  Miles was never afraid to change and move onto a new musical direction, which is what I've always respected from him the most.   Miles Davis had many "eras", whether it's the early bebop of Birth of the Cool, the collaboration with composer/arranger Gil Evans on the Spanish flavored orchestration of  Sketches of Spain, the modal-jazz, minimalism of Kind of Blue, the post-bebop, hard-bop of ESP or Miles Smiles, the early electric jazz fusion of In a Silent Way or Bitches Brew, or the agit-funk of On The Corner, the one thing Miles never did was settle.  In terms of my favorite Miles era, it varies depending on my mood, which is what makes Miles so unique from many of his contemporaries.  I thought I'd focus on the funk of On The Corner, as this is one of my favorite Miles albums.

Mainly panned by the critics and jazz fans alike when it was initially released in 1972, On The Corner has grown to become a cult favorite among funk, punk, and soul fans over the years.  Dig this track "Black Satin":   
I love the sitar, congas, and the spacey keyboard/guitar (?) that appears at the introduction of the song, then shortly after the introduction, Miles' band locks into a funk groove with a fat bass line.  Repetition is the key on this track, and in the whole album in general.  The grooves are repetitious in On The Corner, but they never tire or feel overused. 

On The Corner is an album that you have to listen to all the way through to truly appreciate it, as each track segues into the next one.  I suggest putting this album on an i-pod and walking around in your nearest city while listening to this.  It feels like the chaos of city life to me.  However, as much as I love this album, I can't say it's my favorite Miles album (probably would be either Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew).  You really do have to be in a certain type of mood to listen to this.  But if you need the perfect album to accompany you through the busy streets of New York, Chicago, Seattle, etc., or want to blast an album in your car as you weave through the congestion of traffic, On The Corner can be a great companion to the madness.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Song o' the day (pt. 4)--In Honor of the Sun

I'm not posting much this week as I'm on vacation in Palm Springs with the family.  We are getting a much needed break from the rain in Seattle and enjoying the beautiful weather in Southern California.  In honor of the weather, what better band to feature than from one of Southern California's finest, War?  War had a string of solid hits through the 70's, like "Lowrider", "Spill the Wine", "Why Can't We Be Friends?", etc.  They have a nice mix of Latin, Soul, Reggae, and Funk influences.  I can't really pick a favorite War track, but I felt that "Summer" was the perfect pick for "Song o' the day".  Even though it isn't quite summer yet, this weather is getting me into that summer mode.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Eddie Kendricks

In my post earlier this week regarding The Temptations, I mentioned that I would discuss a seperate post on the solo career of Eddie Kendricks, who left The Temptations in 1971 to go solo.  When both David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks left The Temptations, the natural thought was that Ruffin would have the more successful solo career.  Even though Ruffin had a few hits, his solo albums were much more spotty.  Kendricks ended up having the more successful solo career, and his first two albums, All By Myself (released in 1971), and People...Hold On (released in 1972), were both great albums that exclusively featured Kendricks' falsetto. 

I would consider All By Myself one of the best solo debuts of any soul artist, and certainly one of the top soul albums of the 70's.  There's so much passion in his voice, and the album has a nice mixture of soul, funk, along with love songs which makes it an enjoyable listen.  Eddie had one minor hit on the album, "Something's Burning", which I like but my favorite of the album is "It's So Hard for Me to Say Good-Bye". 

With Eddie Kendricks second album, People...Hold On, he stepped it up even further.  There's a little more of an edge to it, politically ("My People...Hold On", which is a plea for African-Americans to keep their sanity during those troubled times in the community), musicially (definitely funkier on some tracks than the previous album, and with "My People...Hold On" heavier percussion, chanting vocals).  Overall, a more experimental album but also with some great straight-ahead soul songs, including "Date With The Rain", which is a soulful number but is almost a precursor to disco as well.   This is one of the greatest soul albums of all-time! 
These two albums are almost impossible to find, as they are out-of-print, which is truly unfortunate.  The best way to get ahold of these is the compilation Eddie Kendricks Keep on Truckin':  The Motown Solo Albums, Vol. 1, which contains his first four solo albums on two discs (his third and fourth albums, Eddie Kendricks and For You are not as good but contain a few songs well-worth checking out).  I own this, but had to pay $$$ on ebay to buy this, as it's not too easy to find.  However, it's well-worth the purchase.  Regarding the Eddie Kendricks album People...Hold On, if I had to make a top 10 list of all-time favorite soul albums, this album would definitely be up there.   

Eddie Kendricks--criminally underrated soul singer and the creator of some of the greatest soul music, from his career with The Temptations onto his solo career in the 70's.