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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bama The Village Poet's Forgotten Thanksgiving Treat

On a recent Thanksgiving, a Classic Soul R&B Music Jam blog reader commented about Bama The Village Poet: “Thank you for that nourishing morsel of the Bama, and it is sad that this great piece of work has been largely forgotten."

Discover more about Bama The Village Poet.  Watch my brand new 3 minute 59 second video featuring Bama’s classic soul composition, “Thanksgiving,” (as he reads his own words).

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Posted by King on 11/23 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brian McKnight Comes Home for Christmas

Brian McKnight fans, Rejoice!  B.M. has just released his 2008 holiday chestnut, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, his 11th album.

Brian cheerfully reports at BrianMcKnight.com that “Christmas has always held a very special place in my life and my heart."

"When it arrives, it brings with it memories of the past and the promise of a future of memories with friends and family all over the world."

5 of the 12 tracks on I’ll Be Home For Christmas feature duets with Vince Gill, Josh Groban, Nikolas McKnight, Noel Schajris, and Take 6.

"The Christmas Song” kicks of the collection.  McKnight gives the spunky arrangement his best - keeping the vocal range in his trademark higher register.

When it comes to inflecting passion into his actual singing sound, McKnight has always been a vocalist who shines in the understatement.  You won’t mistake his articulated sonic discipline to the flashy nature of a Luther Vandross or Marvin Gaye.

McKnight has built a solid following over the years.  He now slots himself into mature R&B territory that young guns Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Akon, and Usher can’t quite occupy yet.

As for the other tracks on this new release, cut 2 “Silver Bells” chimes to McKnight’s clear, measured resonance.

In a departure, “Christmas You and Me” teams Brian with Vince Gill.  This track, grounded in R&B, has contemporary country music overtones, and succeeds nicely in the way Lionel Richie’s 1986 “Deep River Woman” duet with Alabama did.

"Let It Snow,” also featuring Nikolas McKnight, is bright, frothy, and bubbly with an ample supply of strings to delight the light hearted.

"It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” packs a powerful jazzy punch.  It’s the best uptempo track of the collection.

Overall, the mood is mellow on the I’ll Be Home For Christmas album.  The CD has a ‘quiet storm’ tone, with enough energy in the uptempo songs to provide good balance.

Piano builds the foundation of the classy instrumentation.  These songs are well arranged.

Even if you are not a Brian McKnight fan, you probably will be pleased with this charming Christmas CD.

Spread the news: “Brian McKnight Comes Home for Christmas!"

I’ll Be Home For Christmas:

  1. “The Christmas Song”
  2. “Silver Bells”
  3. “Let It Snow” (featuring Nikolas McKnight & Brian McKnight Jr.)
  4. “Christmas You And Me” (featuring Vince Gill)
  5. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
  6. “Silent Night"(featuring Noel Schajris)
  7. “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”
  8. “Adeste Fideles”
  9. “Who Would Have Thought”
  10. “Angels We Have Heard On High” (featuring Josh Groban)
  11. “Christmas Medley”
  12. “Bless This House” (featuring Take 6)

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Posted by King on 11/20 at 07:30 PM
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

8 Super Songs for 2008

Classic soul is more than just music that was produced during a period of time that’s passed us by, it’s a style that lives now through contemporary performances by today’s artists.

Some of the “now” artists were around during the golden years too.  The point is, you don’t have to look far to find a lot of people who have planted the R&B flag on their own 2008 turf.

The following 8 songs ranked in order all do an excellent job of blending great singing, good arrangements, quality lyrics, and old school street cred to bubble up our list as the best of the past year (November, 2007 - November, 2008).

  1. "Roll Out” - LaBelle.  This is not even the best song from their new album, Back To Now, however, “Roll Out” is a classic.  Mostly Patti LaBelle, less Sarah Dash & Nona Hendryx, and perhaps too much Miss Patti on the vocoder (an electronic device that makes the human voice sound like a robot with perfect pitch).  Featuring Wyclef Jean joining in and repeating the hook, “Roll Out” - it’s one of the best songs of the year.  Terrific pop music.

  2. "Teenage Love Affair” - Alicia Keys.  A song about the youthful pleasures of raging hormones.  This tune has a sixties rhythm that bounces along to the sweet and innocent charm of a fun-filled girl meets boy story.

  3. “I Am A Fire” - Donna Summer.  It’s tough when you are treated strictly as a nostalgia act.  “I’m A Fire “ is as good as the best Donna Summer back in her heyday.  When a zillion dj’s compete for who can come up with the best remix of a song as they did with this one, people get confused.  The album version is the best.  Hot, hot, hot.

  4. “Superwoman" - Alicia Keys.  Poor Alicia Keys, can’t she get any more respect?  Even though this song turned up on TV to promote the 2008 summer Olympics, it’s a nice anthem for the ladies in our lives who are our unsung heroes.  B+ for “Superwoman."

  5. “Disrespectful" - Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige.  Not for Grandma.  “Disrespectful rocks with Kahn and Blige pushing the soul energy to a climactic eruption.  On Chaka’s Funk This CD.

  6. "Stay Down” - Mary J. Blige.  It’s heavy on the melody and dramatic build, somewhat light on the lyrics, but satisfying in the delivery.  When you can include a reference to The Jeffersons (George & Louise), in your song, you can do no wrong.  Mary J. has crossed over to respectville.

  7. "100 Days, 100 Nights” - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings.  It’s a humorous riot reading people’s written thoughts as they debate whether this group is “real” soul.  Sharon Jones deserves much credit for putting her singing career into overdrive with her biggest break coming after the age of 40.  She’s the real deal.  Focus on her voice.

  8. "Just Stand Up” - Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, Miley Cyrus, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, Keyshia Cole, LeAnn Rimes, Ashanti, & Ciara.

    People can’t seem to stomach too much of these “We Are The World” type benefit collaborations (with the proceeds of sales going to charity).

    This one spotlighted the cause of cancer research.  The ladies get into it, but at times you strain to identify who is singing (unless you have seen the video).  Yes it’s commercial, and yes it sounds like some other stuff, but it’s a worthy medium to uptempo effort, and an entertaining one too.

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Posted by King on 11/18 at 07:30 PM
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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Soul Men Soft at Box Office

With an opening weekend gross of just over 5 million dollars, 5th place finisher Soul Men got socked by High School Musical 3: Senior Year, and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa during the November 7 - 9, 2008 weekend.

Don’t despair, because even though the reviews have been mixed, the performance of Bernie Mac has been universally applauded.

In Mac’s final film role, he plays a classic soul man who is called to the stage one more time for a reunion at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

The CD movie soundtrack has some great performances.

Take a look through the track list, and you’ll recognize a few songs that are very familiar.

Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the MG’s, and Sam & Dave recorded some of the original versions back in the day.

Here are all of the songs included in the CD soundtrack of Soul Men:

  1. “Soul Men” - Anthony Hamilton
  2. “I’m Your Puppet” - Bernie Mac, John Legend, & Samuel L. Jackson
  3. “Private Number” - Chris Pierce, Leela James
  4. “Water” - Me’Shell NdegeOcello
  5. “Never Can Say Goodbye” (Soul Men Redux) - Isaac Hayes
  6. “Boogie Ain’t Nuthin’ (But Gettin’ Down)” - Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson
  7. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
  8. “Memphis Train” - Ryan Shaw
  9. “Comfort Me” - Sharon Leal
  10. “You Don’t Know What You Mean (To A Lover Like Me)” - The Sugarman 3 - (featuring Lee Fields)
  11. “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” - Eddie Floyd
  12. “Do Your Thing” - Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson, & Sharon Leal

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Posted by King on 11/13 at 01:00 AM
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Miriam Makeba's Global Crusade for Justice

South Africa’s musical giant, Miriam Makeba, passed away Monday, November 10, 2008, at the age of 76.

This vinyl album, Makeba!, Reprise 6310, is a USA import released in 1967 and was issued in either South Africa, or Venezuela.

Miriam was born in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Her anti-apartheid activism will share equal billing with her musical legacy.

The singer appeared at the United Nations in 1963 to condemn apartheid and it’s evil of racial separation.

She spent 30 years in exile after her passport was revoked by the South African government.

Her biggest hit was 1967’s “Pata Pata.” Miriam is one of the artists credited with creating the genre called ‘world music.’

She’s one of the biggest names to emerge out of South Africa.

I’ve included this second shot from the back cover of Makeba!

The 11 tracks are listed, along with some very comprehensive liner notes written by A.B. Spellman (included on the back cover).

Here are A.B. Spellman’s complete comments...

"Unlike most of our African brothers, South Africans living in the United States usually merge immediately with the Afro-American community.

It is because we are the same men, have been similarly uprooted and dominated by European technological society, our ancestors reburied and our gods raped. and now we fight the same war.

It is no accident, then, that we love each other’s music. The brilliant South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsi le wrote: John Coltrane, John Coltrane, tell the ancestors We listened, we heard your message Tell them you gave us tracks to move, Trane, and now we know The choice is ours...

I am told a new Miles Davis record that reaches Johannesburg or Capetown is treated like a rarer-than-diamonds jewel. I also know that there is a great body of South African music that never reaches us here in the States.

But we have a small but growing colony of South African musicians who do very well among us.

The leading flame of that colony is, of course, Miriam Makeba, easily one of the world’s premier singers.

But we should never forget, even when digging a record as exquisitely truthful as this one, that the tradition runs from Makeba and Letta Mbulu to the Dark City Sisters and from Hugh Masekela to Dollar Brand; that there have been innumerable geniuses in the genre who never escaped Johannesburg.

Certainly, sister Makeba has this aura of beauty around her entire persona, and that is not a learned thing.

It is not merely that she has a beautiful voice, looks good and has a sweet personality - there are innumerable soft brown birds who get that together- but that Makeba has an added quality to her presentation, a touch that gets inside us and makes us stronger.

It may be several things. It may be that she was the first to make the South African-Afro-American synthesis and therefore has a greater element of originality in her work; it may be only that she is especially gifted (at the time the film which launched her, Come Back Africa, was made, she was already the brightest young star in South Africa).

But it seems to me that there is another element to Miriam’s singing style and feminine persona that makes us react more deeply to her singing than we would to most.

It is that the sister is what she sings, and what she sings is never trite. She is the soft, resilient fiber of nature as woman. She carries the image of African womanhood, the gentle assegai that lets us know we are warriors.

When she sings of the white-blown evil windspirit (Umoya) that cuts into the inner landscape of her people, she is the counterbreath of liberation that, quiet as it’s kept, is blowing in South Africa today.

The song is a spirit rhythm that rises in your chest and carries you out to action. My brother Steve Mncube tells me that the song floats on several levels of double entendre.

This is a defense mechanism that has been creeping into the Bantu languages since the defeat of Cetshwayo in the Zulu War of 1879.

Steve explained to me the word iliwizwe, integral in the proverb from which this song was made. It is more than land, more than soil, more than the earth that no man can possess.

It existed even before the earliest ancestors; and children, as the ongoing fruits of nature, own it more than the man who farms it.

Then this fixed ownership concept is itself an evil Moya (Spirit-wind) of European origin, and must be destroyed.

Miriam Makeba prods her menfolk gently in Magwala Ndini and Singa Madoda, both traditional men’s songs, and strengthens the warrior in us. Steve says the kind of man the word Madoda describes practically sleeps with his weapons, that he would fight bullets with an assegai.

Yes, says the sister’s versions of Magwala and Madoda, you are the men and must carry the man’s weight, but if you don’t carry it correctly, and bravely, there’ll be a lot of answering to do when you get home in the evenings.

The range of material, ideas, and vocal treatment in this record is incredible, yet it is integrated. With one rhythm Miriam pushes the recreant to be more manly, with another she invokes the Xhosa clairvoyant (U-mngoma) or calls the farmers to prepare next year’s harvest in the face of this year’s famine (Asilimanga).

In Iphi Ndilela her voice rises bravely above a lachrimose chorus to say goodbye to her homeland, friends, and family as she goes far, far away across many mountains and rivers, to find another life.

Then in Sibongile, dedicated to President Sekou Toure of Guinea, she thanks President Toure for making her an honorary citizen and, implicitly, for giving aid and assistance to South African Freedom Fighters.

There is much, much more to this deep and subtle record. I am tempted to call this her best record, but Miriam Makeba is so consistently good that there is no point in trying to decide which is best.

I will say that this is by far the most African of her recent releases. Here she is working in a purely African environment, and all the elements of her style are brilliantly focused. “Black is Beautiful” goes a current slogan, and Miriam Makeba is beautifully black."

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Posted by King on 11/11 at 01:00 AM
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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Al Jarreau's Christmas 2008

The term “song stylist” get tossed around a lot.  Al Jarreau is one singer who has earned the tag.

Jarreau’s distinctive voice and phrasing style puts him in unique company among the fraternity of balladeers.

Al’s Christmas is a charming collection of holiday favorites.

"Winter Wonderland” kicks off the yuletide mix bouncing along with a soulful beat to Mr. Jarreau’s lilting inflections.

"Hark The Herald Angels Sing” gets a respectful contemporary reading embellished with nice classical touches.

If you like your Al Jarreau contemplative and melodramatic, “White Christmas” delivers in this style.

The 2 tracks featuring the group Take 6 showcase the pure magic of traditional vocal harmony.

Jarreau touches various styles from jazz to R&B to pop in this, his first holiday collection.

Some of the arrangements remind you of similar approaches other artists have taken sculpting these familiar melodies.  However, the power of Jarreau prevails giving these songs a vibrant Mr. J personality.

Two thumbs up for Al Jarreau Christmas:

  1. “Winter Wonderland”
  2. “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”
  3. “White Christmas”
  4. “Interlude: By My Christmas Tree”
  5. “Carol Of The Bells”
  6. “O Come All Ye Faithful”
  7. “The Christmas Song, (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) - (featuring Take 6)
  8. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas - (featuring Take 6)”
  9. “Gloria In Excelsis”
  10. “Christmas Time Is Here”
  11. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
  12. “Some Children See Him”
  13. “The Little Christmas Tree
  14. “Angels Singing...” untitled bonus

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Posted by King on 11/06 at 08:00 AM
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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sam Cooke's Song of Change

On January, 30, 1964, 11 months before Lyndon Johnson was elected President of the United States, Sam Cooke recorded a spectacular pop anthem at the RCA studios in Hollywood, California.

The song would stand the test of time.

"A Change Is Gonna Come” tells the story of the struggle for respect, dignity, and validation.  This is a great classic soul masterpiece.

Thank you Powerhouse Radio listener Dot, for suggesting that we play this song in honor of the election of Barack Obama.

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Posted by King on 11/05 at 09:46 AM
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Presidents Sing Classic Soul by the Numbers

In the world of one hit wonders, The Presidents stand out for serenading the 1971 music scene with their hook-heavy classic soul favorite: “5-10-15-20 (25 - 30 Years of Love)."

"The Hustle” hit man Van McCoy, producer of winning tunes for Faith, Hope, & Charity, The Stylistics, and others, produced “5-10-15-20” for The Presidents.

McCoy energized this ballad with his perky production style, adding just enough sparkle to the smooth vocals of these Presidents (who hailed from Washington, DC).

I still have the original “5-10-15-20” 45 RPM vinyl single on the Sussex label, digitized a few years ago by yours truly to be featured for online play via Powerhouse Radio and live365.

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Posted by King on 11/04 at 01:00 AM
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