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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Al Green Retouches Roots on New Blue Note Album

Al Green recruits John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae, and other contemporary friends for his first new album in 3 years, Lay It Down, due on Tuesday, May 27, 2008.

Work on the album began in 2005.  Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots is the producer in charge who will attempt to fuse Green’s secular bluesy grit with today’s neo-soul groove.

Al Green will be on tour throughout 2008 to support Lay It Down, his 3rd album on the Blue Note label.

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Posted by King on 04/29 at 01:02 AM
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Friday, April 25, 2008

Janet Jackson Favors Little Discipline over Control

Now that the hype has settled surrounding the release of Janet Jackson’s new collection Discipline, let’s take a closer look at the music.

Heading south on the album charts, Discipline still holds onto a top 30 spot, having peaked the first week out at #1.

The biggest issue I have with Discipline is that Janet Jackson has thrown herself at the mercy of her producers.

Jermaine Dupri is all over the album as the main architect, whipping up Justin Timberlake like grooves on “Feedback."

With “Rollercoaster,” we hear the sample machine cranked up to the max, with screams, grunts, and beats bouncing around Janet’s lyrics for maximum punch.

The problem is that these musical theatrics craft the opposite effect that Janet’s sweet voice projects.

Trying too hard to be cutting Edge, Discipline disappoints.

This album is better than Janet’s last one, but the real Ms. Jackson is still pressing too hard to find her authentic voice.

You can tell a lot just from the CD pictures accompanying Discipline.

Where’s the musical beef?

Here are some other thoughts about Discipline...

The Los Angeles Times:Discipline tries to service both Tyler Perry-loving moms and their gone-wild progeny, sacrificing Jackson’s own vision in the process."

Dot Music: “Still, if not perfect, there’s plenty to like on Discipline, and while none of it is exactly vintage Janet, there’s enough here to keep the Jackson name on pop’s A-list for a little while longer."

Boston Globe: “Jackson’s decision to recycle the nympho routine one more time is just boring."

Entertainment Weekly: “Despite a couple of promising tracks the music generally befits the absurd lyrics...Dupri, Ne-Yo, Rodney Jerkins, The-Dream, and StarGate often drown out Jackson’s breathy vocals with soulless beats.

PopMatters: “On Discipline, Janet sounds part nympho, part aging diva trying to keep up with her would be replacements. It works on some songs, but fails miserably on most."

Hartford Courant: “When juxtaposed with the album’s bubble-gum bounce, the creepy parts just seem creepier."

Village Voice: “Discipline is the most cohesive deep-groove album from La Jackson since “Control."

I’d say there is overall consensus that Discipline is pretty weak.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers Go-Go

Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers circa 1979, Bustin’ Loose with the Go-Go sound of Washington, DC.

Chuck Brown jams with:

  1. “Bustin’ Loose”
  2. “Boogie Up The Nation”
  3. “Blow Your Whistle”
  4. “We The People”

Creator, founder, and doctor of dance floor strut Chuck Brown intimately reveals his funk powered manifesto for you while busting some thrilling literary moves at his official Go-Go website.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Classic Soul Icons: Cooke, Benton, & Eckstine

The modern style of soul that morphed out of popular 1950’s R&B was partly created by pioneer Sam Cooke.

Cooke’s 1957 smash, “You Send Me,” was a #1 R&B hit for six weeks, and a #1 pop favorite for three weeks.

The entire Cooke story is revealed in Dorothy Ferebee’s review of Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke.

Not everyone followed Cooke’s mainstream cross-over appeal...

Brook Benton came close.  “It’s Just a Matter of Time” was a 1959 hit for Benton, a guy who started his career writing songs recorded by Nat King Cole and Clyde McPhatter (of the Drifters).

The Barry White of his era, Benton had seven #1 R&B songs including “Rainy Night in Georgia,” a #1 R&B song in 1970 (#4 pop).

Benton’s distinctive baritone was his trademark.

Billy “Mr. B” Eckstine, another crooner with a magnificent voice, entered the R&B hit parade in 1946 with “Prisoner of Love,” later reworked by James Brown.

Eckstine also recorded “Blue Moon” in 1949, a song that would be taken to a new level by the Marcels with their 1961 hit.

This 45 rpm picture sleeve photo of Eckstine, (from the PowerhouseRadio.com archive), is from a 1976 session produced by Quincy Jones and Herb Alpert.

Eckstine, solidly rooted in popular jazz, never significantly crossed over into the contemporary soul scene.  As with singer Arthur Prysock, attempts by producers to blend Eckstine’s style into youth oriented rhythms just never clicked.

That’s not to sell their vocal talents short.  Billy Eckstine, Brook Benton, and especially Sam Cooke all deserve their place in the sun as classic soul icons who pioneered the genre.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Donna Summer Lights New Fire with Hotter Stuff

After a 17 year absence, Donna Summer is back in the game with a new release due on Tuesday, May 20, 2008.

Her studio album is called Crayons.  Listen to (and rate) 30 seconds of “I’m A Fire,” a track from the new collection (below).

The full 7 minute album version of “I’m A Fire” contains world music elements.  It’s a danceable track with a shifting arrangement that keeps things interesting including a short Latin influenced segment sung in Spanish.

Donna Summer joins Thelma Houston, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, and a few other “mature” classic soul divas to release new material within the past couple of years.

For a snapshot of her great career, read my review of Donna Summer’s autobiography, Ordinary Girl, written in June, 2004.

What can we expect on the new album?

Donna says the record will contain “a menagerie of colors and styles, with hints of different ethnic traditions and sounds."

She continues, “My dream is that when people hear the music it will remind them of their youth, their childhood and the joy and wonderment they felt exploring their first pack of Crayons."

Huh? OK.  I haven’t played with crayons in ages, but I get the metaphor.

Donna Summer always carried the excess baggage of “The Queen of Disco” label, despite her versatility.  Many missed the fact that she’s a very talented singer.

Just listen to the Quincy Jones’ produced song “State of Independence” for an example of Donna’s distinctive depth of style.

She gets the last laugh as a survivor with the power of Sony BMG & Burgundy Records behind this new release.

Here are my 5 Donna Summer Favorites.  What are yours?

  1. “Bad Girls”
  2. “Love To Love You Baby”
  3. “No More Tears” (duet with Barbra Streisand)
  4. “Hot Stuff”
  5. “Could This Be Magic”

Get reacquainted with an old friend, and visit the official Donna Summer web site.

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Posted by King on 04/15 at 01:02 AM
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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Three Degrees Touch Angelic Harmony

Valerie Holiday, Helen Scott, and Cynthia Garrison are the golden voices of The Three Degrees.

The ladies have 2008 tour plans with possible touch-downs in Hawaii, Japan, and Europe.

You have to go all the way back to Philadelphia, PA in 1963 for the genesis of the original group: Fayette Pinckney, Linda Turner, and Shirley Poole.

There have been plenty of personnel changes through the years, although Helen and Valerie have been with the group since 1976.  Helen was a late 1963 addition who left close to 1966, but returned a decade later.

You’ll probably remember “When Will I See You Again” as their biggest hit.

Before success on Philadelphia International Records, The Three Degrees released songs on 5 different labels.

When you graze through The Three Degrees Biography at their official web site, you’ll discover the British icon who named these ladies as his favorite group.

I’ll recommend these 4 tracks from the Three Degrees catalog:

  • “Love Is The Message” (with MFSB)
  • “When Will I See You Again”
  • “Maybe” (excellent cover of the Chantels hit with a rap to boot)
  • “We’re All Alone” (heavenly harmonies expanding the Boz Scaggs song)

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Posted by King on 04/11 at 01:02 AM
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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

7 Cameo Classics

Cameo took several years to develop their style of funk and finally differentiate themselves from the Parliament-Funkadelic conglomerate; (to whom they are often compared).

When their album Cardiac Arrest featuring “Rigor Mortis” came on the scene in 1977, group leader Larry Blackmon and company were building up their funk portfolio in the Big Apple, New York City.

New Cameo albums hit the streets every year between 1977 through 1986, with Word Up! in 86’ generating 3 big hit singles (#2, #3, & #7 on my list).

In the 1980’s, robotic electronic elements began to sterilize the raw funk sound of many classic soul groups.

Cameo survived this industry change, using it to their advantage, by giving their catchy songs multiple hooks, gritty grooves, and levity laced lyrics.

I saw Cameo perform live at the Missouri Black Expo in St. Louis in 1998.  They were spectacular.

When the final history of funk is written, Cameo will have a prominent chapter.

Even Mariah Carey jumped on the Cameo bandwagon in 2001 (with Larry Blackmon along for the ride), sampling “Candy” on her song “Loverboy,” albeit a weakly implemented cover at that.

7 Cameo Classics:

  1. “She’s Strange”
  2. “Candy”
  3. “Word Up!”
  4. “Single Life”
  5. “Shake Your Pants”
  6. “I Just Want To Be”
  7. “Back and Forth”

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Posted by King on 04/09 at 01:02 AM
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Monday, April 07, 2008

Aquarian Dream's Flight of the Phoenix

You can never be sure what the exact formula is for success.

Unlike the mythical bird reincarnated from its ashes, not everyone can reinvent themselves like the Phoenix.

Aquarian Dream is one R&B group from the 1970s that had a well known personality promoting them to go along with their talent, but they never quite clicked with music fans.

According to music critic Alex Henderson, none of Aquarian Dream’s three albums have ever been reissued on CD.

The ensemble recorded for the Buddah and Elektra labels, with limited success, releasing Norman Connors Presents Aquarian Dream, Fantasy, and Chance To Dance.

Norman Connors attached his name to the debut Aquarian Dream album, a promotional technique often used to break new acts during this period.  Think Motown when Diana Ross presented The Jackson 5 on their first release.

You don’t see this gimmick happening today, as there are many more ways for artists to expose their music in non-traditional ways.

Listen to a little over 1 minute of Aquarian Dream singing their 1977 song “Phoenix.” You might be reminded of the classic soul of Rufus & Chaka Khan or Atlantic Starr.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

The Night James Brown Saved Boston

The Night James Brown Saved Boston, a new VH1 documentary, is an amazing story about how the Godfather of Soul saved an American city from disaster in the immediate aftermath of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rare concert footage from his performance at the Boston Garden, plus personal recollections from band members, highlight this VH1 television special, scheduled for Saturday, April 5, at 9 pm Eastern, with a replay on Monday, April 7, at 10 pm Eastern.

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Posted by King on 04/04 at 08:00 AM
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