Tuesday, November 22, 2011

OT: Feedback

I've been wanting to post this for over a month, but kept it on the back burner for awhile.  Soul Excursions has been a blog for almost a year now, run solely by yours truly.  In the beginning, I had some feedback via comments on the board, but mostly through emails from others sent directly to me.  Recently, I haven't received any sort of feedback, though I've noticed my numbers (in terms of those looking at my blog per day) continue to remain the same.  I would love some feedback either through email or comments on my blog.  Not necessarily along the lines of the above cartoon (though compliments are always great!), but any sort of dialect/conversation/comments regarding music, or my blog, would be greatly appreciated.   Constructive criticism is cool as well.  As Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band would say, "Express Yourself!"

Monday, November 21, 2011

Soul & Jazz vs. Rock--Evaluating a Music Collection

Blurred snapshot of a portion of my cd collection

Blurred snapshot of a small selection of my 45's
Recently, I've been in a music purging mode, getting rid of lots of albums that I didn't see the purpose of owning anymore.  This is not anything new for me (see May 11, 2011 Soul Excursion post titled "Binging and Purging--Music Style!").  In fact, it's almost a monthly event that I take out 10-20 albums that I don't see myself listening to anymore, and trading them in for something new--new as in usually something from the 60's/70's soul era, 60's/70's jazz era, or 90's hip hop.  As I've noticed recently, I have almost double the amount of soul and jazz albums then I do rock albums, which it seems my rock collection has dwindled over the past few years as some of my old rock albums are the first ones to go in trade.  In evaluating this observation, clearly this is because I hardly ever listen to any rock music anymore, from any era, and this has been that way for over a few years now.   The only rock I generally listen to is The Beatles (and occasionally Bee Gees, Donovan, or Elliott Smith), which the entire Soul Excursion family enjoys and is listened to frequently on road trips. This past weekend, I went on another music selling/buying binge, and thought I'd feature a few tracks off of new purchases from this past weekend.

The first track is the title track off of jazz drummer Billy Cobham's 1975 release A Funky Thide of Sings.  Great funky jazz, with some crazy synths and guitars included, the title track would've sounded perfect on a film straight from the 70's.   

I'm a big Roy Ayers fan, so I was excited when I stumbled upon Cincinnati's own RAMP, and their only release, Come Into KnowledgeCome Into Knowledge was released in 1977, and Ayers produced this album, and wrote some of the songs as well.  "Everybody Loves The Sunshine" is one of my favorite tracks by RAMP.  

I picked up a classic hip hop album by Oakland's Souls of Mischief, 93 'Til Infinity.  Released in 1993, I don't know how I slept on those cats for so long, when I have most of the essential hip hop releases from the 90's.  Somehow, 93 'Til Infinity has been on my list to buy for years but have never gotten the chance to do so.  I decided to scoop it up and glad I did, as it's one of those staples of 90's essential hip hop albums, well worth picking up. Here's the track and video for "Never No More". 
Lastly, I felt like including a James Brown track off of Black Caesar, which I actually picked up over a week ago while visiting Portland for the weekend.  JB released his soundtrack to the blaxploitation flick Black Caesar in 1973.  It seems as though every major soul artist was creating a soundtrack to a blaxploitation film during this time (Curtis Mayfield Superfly, Isaac Hayes Shaft, Marvin Gaye Trouble Man, Willie Hutch The Mack, and Edwin Starr Hell Up in Harlem, to name a few of the best), and Brown doesn't disappoint with this soundtrack.  I have about a dozen James Brown albums, and have always wanted to pick up Black Caesar, so I was stoked to find this for $5.  Very groove-heavy instrumentals, as much of James Brown's albums were during this time.  Good stuff, though in terms of James Brown's 70's albums, I like The Payback, and In The Jungle Groove better.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Dream Duo: Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack

Someday, I'm going to devote an "Under Review" post devoted solely to Donny Hathaway, along the lines of my previous ones on Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.  Hathaway was one of the greatest singers ever to walk this planet, and deserving of a post to his own.  In the meantime, I wanted to touch on the magic that Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack created together as a duo.  Sure, there were great male-female soul duos in the past (Otis Redding-Carla Thomas, and Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell, to name a few), but nothing touches these two together as a duo.  Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Flack's solo catalog as a whole (some smooth jazz albums in there that are too smooth for my taste), other than possibly First Take and Chapter Two, both very solid early 70's soul albums.  Hathaway, I could go on for hours about his voice and his albums.   Though a brief career recording-wise, everything in his catalog is essential...but I digress.
Released in 1972, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway is an absolute stunner of an album, from "I (Who Have Nothing)" to "Be Real Black for Me" to "Where is the Love" to "Come Ye Disconsolate" (one of most beautifully recorded tradional gospel songs ever) to the closer "Mood" (listening to the instrumental of Hathaway's electric piano and Flack's piano together is Classical music minimalist beauty for the 20th Century).  I really can't recommend this album enough.  I wanted to post the track "Come Ye Disconsolate", and to my suprise, could not find full clip of the song via the internet.  Instead, I thought a live clip of the duo performing "Baby I Love You" would suffice.  Though a little lo-fi, the clip certainly shows the musical chemistry between these two extraordinary soul singers.   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

45 Focus--Groove Thangs

The Originals!

I wanted to focus on a few 45's that I've picked up over the past few weeks.  First off, I wanted to start off with The Originals, whom worked closely with Marvin Gaye, and Gaye in fact wrote "We Can Make It Baby".  Vocally, it sounds like a Gaye track, more than anything, especially with the backing vocals repeating the lines of the lead vocals.  I picked up a compilation of The Originals months ago, but don't listen to it as often as I do with this 45.  
The Soul Excursions household is a big fan of anything Michael Jackson related, so anything by Jackson 5 (the first five albums up through Lookin' Through The Windows), The Jacksons (everything, with the exception of Victory), and early Michael Jackson (the Motown solo years through Thriller) is played anytime, and often.  "Ben" is the track off of Michael's second solo album, and is played often in my household, as it is the song that helps soothe my 1 1/2 year old son to sleep.  However, one of my favorite tracks from The Jacksons is "Blame it on the Boogie" off of Destiny.  You can tell MJ and company were beginning to perfect that disco-soul sound, and "Blame it on the Boogie" doesn't disappoint.  Somewhat of a precursor to "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" off of Off The Wall, released one year after The Jacksons Destiny album.  Love the video too, as MJ always succeeded in his videos, from The Jacksons through his solo albums. 
Regarding Eddie Holman's "Hey There, Lonely Girl", what else can I say about it other than it is perfect soul perfection, one of those perfect singles.  The falsettos, the oohs and aahs backing vocals, and the lovely accompanying orchestration make this such a treat.  Holman didn't record any other songs nearly as sublime as this. 
Finally, I wanted to throw out something modern, which I rarely do these days.  Recently dove into Jersey's own The One & Nines, as I recently listened to their recent 45 release "Tell Me/Make It Easy".  Released in October 2011, The One & Nines almost sound as if they stumbled out of a Stax Records session in Memphis, which is partially true, as this 45 was recorded in Memphis.  Stax influenced (I hear the keys come in on "Tell Me" and I'm reminded of Booker T and the MGs), yet also at the same time it also reminds me of Junior Walker (may be the driving horns), both "Tell Me" and "Make It Easy" work on a level where it appeals to the 60's/70's soul fan, yet they make it sound modern and original enough that it's interesting, and not the least bit retro-boring. Hopefully they make their way to Seattle in the near future!   In the meantime, here's a youtube clip of them peforming "Tell Me" live.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Marvin Gaye: Under Review

It's funny to devote a post entirely on soul singer Marvin Gaye.  I mean, what else is there to write or say about Marvin Gaye that hasn't been said already?  He's not only one of the best soul singers ever, but one of the best singers to ever walk this planet, and extremely creative to boot.  When I was in college (15 years ago), the first Marvin Gaye album I bought was What's Going On.  To be honest, at the time, I didn't understand the hoopla surrounding this album.  There are some great songs on that album, starting with the title track, "Mercy, Mercy Me", and "Inner City Blues".  It flows together nicely, but I rarely finished the album all the way through back then.  It wasn't until years ago, that I have grown to realize what an amazing album it is.  I fully appreciate everything regarding What's Going On, and consider it one of the best albums ever recorded, of any genre.  Moving on, the second album of Gaye's that I bought (also in college 15 years ago) was Let's Get It On.  While I thought it was a solid album upon first listen, it didn't quite blow me away like I thought it would.  Similar to What's Going On, it grew on me more so years later, and it's definitely one of my GOAT albums of Marvin's.   I Want You and Here, My Dear, are, in my opinion both extremely underrated.  Regarding the 1976 released I Want You, the story behind it is Leon Ware was nearly finished with his solo album at Motown, and invited Gaye over to listen to it.  Gaye loved it, and asked Ware to work on his new album, which ended up being over 90% of Ware's songs off of the unfinished album that Gaye originally heard.  While I really like Leon Ware Musical Massage, I can't help but feel Marvin Gaye really turned I Want You into his own.  Listen to "Come Live With Me, Angel", probably my favorite track off the album.  I love Gaye's use of multi-layered tracking vocals throughout this album, and especially this song.
It's interesting to hear Leon Ware's version of it, later released on the remastered version of Musical Massage.  Minnie Riperton sings with him on the track.  I don't like it as much, even though I like both Ware and Riperton (together and individually as soul singers), mainly because nothing tops Marvin Gaye.   
Here, My Dear is a brilliant Marvin Gaye album, possibly my second favorite of his behind What's Going On.  Released in 1978, this album was released after the messy divorce from his first wife, Anna Gordy (Motown founder Berry Gordy's sister).  In the divorce proceedings, the judge ordered Gaye to give the profits of his new album to his ex-wife.  Hence, the title Here, My Dear.  It's lyrically almost painfully too direct, while also bitter, sad, and tormented.  However, the album also has moments where Gaye is getting as funky as he's ever been.  Listen to "Anger", with the driven, funky percussion and guitar.  It probably sounded somewhat out-of-place when released among the swirling sounds of disco on the radio during that time, as the funk of "Anger" almost sounds like an underground funk band from the early 70's.  Good stuff!
I also love both of the albums Marvin Gaye recorded with Tammi Terrell, as well as some of his early singles from the 1960's, and even Trouble Man is a solid sountrack that Gaye released after What's Going On (his answer to Superfly and Shaft?) and is very underrated as well.