Thursday, March 29, 2007

Africa Soul

A very interesting thing happened to African music in the 60's and 70's as the influence of American soul and funk artists began to take hold. Stars like James Brown and Jimi Hendrix became worldwide phenomenons and their styles would infuse with music all over the world. Combine their new brand of soul music with traditional African rhythms and Cuban influences and a unique sound was born. Fortunately many of these great recordings by the likes of Manu Dibango, Mulate Astatqe and Fela Kuti are finding new audiences thanks to compilations from Luaka Bop, Luv N Haight and UK DJ Gilles Peterson just to name a few.

Super Eagles: Love's a Real Thing

Superstars in their native Ghana, Super Eagles only recorded one album, Viva in 1972. This is a great track that really shows the strong influence of American soul and rock. You can find it on the 2001 collection Senegambian Sensation. Love eesa reel ting!

Peter King: Ajo

Originally released on his 1972 album Omo Lawa, Ajo features soulful horns with more traditional African percussion. This is a tough one for me to sing along with, but the groove is undeniable. You can find this track on 2005's Gilles Peterson In Africa.

Fèqadu Amdè-Mesqel: Asmarina

This is definitely more on the jazzy side of things. It's one of my favorite tracks from the Gilles Peterson's Africa compilation. Originally released in 1974 on the album Yekatit/Ethio Jazz, this tune features a killer jazz flute and electric piano backed by a solid horn section. This track simmers with an almost eerie vibe.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Back Stabbers

I've got mixed emotions on the issue of sampling songs. For the most part I think it's kind of a cop out, but occasionally I'll hear someone create something totally new with a previously owned groove that I really dig. Generally speaking, if it was a good groove once, it will be a good groove again. You be the judge.

Angie Stone: Wish I Didn't Miss You

A standout track on her second solo album 2001's Mahogany Soul, Wish I Didn't Miss You borrows more than heavily from The O'Jays classic Back Stabbers. I love Angie's lyrics and new melody. She really makes this a brand new song. Best line: "Isn't it ironic, all you want to do is smoke chronic."

The O'Jays: Back Stabbers

Released on 1972's Back Stabbers LP, The O'Jays signal to everyone that the 70's are not going to be like the 60's. This song captures the paranoia and anguish of post Watergate America. I'm loving that ominous piano.

James Brown: Hot(I Need to Be Loved, Loved, Loved)

This 1975 single has sparked a lot of discussion among music fans. Let's start with the fact that this is bad ass funk to the highest degree. As most of you can tell, it's a total rip-off of Davis Bowie's 1975 hit Fame which was co-written by Carlos Alomar, a guitar player that actually played with JB and the Flames at one time. The story goes that Mr. Brown heard the song, played it for session musicians and quickly cut the track. JB thought he could disguise the stolen riff by rapping all over it. The Bowie track would go on to be #1 worldwide while Mr. Brown's version would be one of the first bumps in the road to his late 70's decline. Frankly, I prefer The Godfather's version! You can find it on the greatest box set ever released 1991's Star Time.

David Bowie: Fame

OK. This is the ONLY time you will find a non "soulful" track on this page, but I feel I have to include it for the sake of the discussion and besides it's a pretty funky track with a cool thumping bass line. And hey, that IS The Walrus on backing vocals! You can find Fame on 1975's Young Americans.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Happy Birthday Aretha!

Excuse me, Ms. Franklin. There's really nothing I can say about Aretha Franklin that hasn't been said a thousand times before. Quite simply, Aretha is the greatest female voice in all soul music and possibly in all music. Whether it be soul, blues, pop, gospel or even opera Aretha can do it all and she continues to be the measuring stick to which ALL female vocalists aspire. Aretha is a national treasure whose voice can literally give me chills (an effect that usually only happens while B.B. King holds that right note on Lucille). I can attest, seeing Aretha live just last year, that while 40+ years of smoking and life have added a little gravel and thickness to her tone, at 65 she still has the power to bring down the house. Happy Birthday, Lady Soul! Long live The Queen!

Aretha Franklin: Precious Lord, Take My Hand/You've Got A Friend

Aretha's started, like many, singing in the church and she never abandoned her gospel roots. In 1972 she released her unbelievable double album Amazing Grace. Recorded with James Cleveland the Southern California Community Choir it made the Top Ten, making it one of the greatest gospel-pop crossover records of all time. Here's Aretha's reworking of Carole King's You've Got A Friend. Take us to church!

Aretha Franklin: Maybe I'm a Fool

Aretha can absolutely sing the blues and thanks for asking. Recorded as one of her first singles in 1960, this song was released on the 1973 collection The Great Aretha Franklin: The First 12 Sides. Pretty powerful stuff from an 18 year old.

Aretha Franklin: Love The One You're With

Aretha also found success putting her own soulful twist on pop hits of the day. Here she covers Stephen Stills' Love The One You're With taken from her incredible 1971 set Live At Fillmore West. I could have posted any song on this album. Go buy it right now!

No warnings. No rehearsals. No Pavarotti. No Problem. Only Aretha could pull off this Grammy performance with such class. This is one of Aretha's many defining moments:

Friday, March 23, 2007

Freshly Baked From Quango

Quango is one of the more interesting record labels around with a great ear towards globally progressive and creative music. Releasing consistently eclectic and soulful material, I periodically check out their new releases to see what's fresh. Here are a few gems from the past year or so.

Gecko Turner: Fess It, Girl
from 2006's Chandalismo Ilustrado

Spaniard Gecko Turner puts out a unique mix of mellow soul/reggae/Brazilian he calls "afromeño". This is a particularly groovy track with a laid back wah wah guitar and a trumpet sprinkled throughout. Nice.

Curumin: Vem Menin
from 2005's Achados e Perdidos

Curumin is a Brazilian artist whose album blends elements of samba, reggae, soul and hip-hop. You can hear all of these styles in just this song alone. Be sure to stick around for the change at the 1:48 mark. I can't wait for summer with this tune!

Fat Freddy's Drop: Wandering Eye
from 2005's Based on a True Story

They've dubbed themselves "hi-tek soul," but New Zealand band Fat Freddy's Drop could just as easily be considered a modern reggae band that incorporates soul and dub. This track is a definite highlight from this stellar debut.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Luther Ingram Dead at 69

Luther Ingram: If Loving You Is Wrong (live)
from Wattstax 1972

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Luther Ingram, the soul singer who seduced audiences with his hit "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right," has died of a heart attack at age 69, his family said on Wednesday. Ingram, who also co-wrote the Staple Singers' hit "Respect Yourself," died Monday in Belleville, Illinois, near his home in O'Fallon. Ingram had diabetes and suffered kidney failure in 2003, his son, Eric, said."He couldn't tolerate the dialysis," said Eric, an aspiring music producer. "It began to take a toll on his heart, which caused his heart to fail."Luther Ingram had been a part of the deep talent pool at Stax Records, the influential Memphis, Tennessee, label, and its subsidiaries that included soul-music stars like Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, Booker T and the MGs and Rufus Thomas. Two other acts had recorded "(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right" before Ingram but neither version was released. Ingram decided to slow the song down and his version was released in May 1972. With his intimate, gospel-flavored vocal, it quickly hit No. 1 on the rhythm and blues chart, went to No. 3 on the pop chart and became a radio standby that summer. His other best known hits were "Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)" and "I'll Be Your Shelter." Ingram was born in Jackson, Tennessee, and grew up in Alton, Illinois. After singing with his family's gospel group, he and his brothers and friends formed the Gardenias and recorded with Ike Turner. In the 1960s Ingram went to New York, writing with Johnny Nash and living across the hall from Jimi Hendrix. He did not have a hit until 1969, when he recorded "Pity for the Lonely" and "My Honey and Me" for KoKo Records, a Stax Records partner.

George Benson vs. Donny Hathaway

George Benson: The Ghetto/El Barrio

Here's the guitar virtuoso's cover of Donny Hathaway's classic groove. Mr. Benson really gets with the Latin vibe but it's at the 5 minute mark where he really takes off to Cuba with a flourish featuring his signature guitar style and scatting vocals. The man is smooth. This track can be found on Mr. Benson's 2000 release Absolute Benson on GRP

Donny Hathaway: The Ghetto

This is Donny's incredible live version from his 1972 Live! album. This is truly one of the greatest live soul recordings ever. Recorded at the Troubadour in Hollywood, you really feel as your in the middle of the intimate crowd who play just as large a part on this record as any of the musicians. This version showcases the dynamic band as well as Donny's command on the electric piano not to mention his ability to work an audience into a frenzy.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Love Music

Songs praising the importance and power of music are as common as songs about love found and lost. I always seem respond to these tracks because I share this love for music. These great artists can explain this passion much more eloquently than I ever could.

Curtis Mayfield: Soul Music

Taken from Curtis' Give Get Take Have album from 1976, this track is bright and cheery. Curtis sings of the virtues of soul as a healer for life in the city. This music will take you to a higher place. The disco strings are almost too much, but Curtis' honest falsetto vocals keep it real.

Edwin Starr: Funky Music Sho' Nuff Turns Me On

Edwin Starr's vocals are as raw as Curtis' are gentle. This track is as funky as it gets. Again the music will take you higher. Released as a single for Motown in 1972, Funky Music... can be found on numerous Best of's.

The O'Jays: I Love Music

Cleveland based trio The O'Jays were one of the most successful (and in my opinion the best) acts to come from the direction of Gamble & Huff. Released in 1976 on the stellar Family Reunion album, this track was a disco smash but make no mistakes, this one is pure soul.

Flunk: I Love Music

Not much musically going on here, but hey, that's Brother Ray talking! This late night fare from Norway can be found on Flunk's 2002 release For Sleepyheads Only.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Van The Man

It's St. Paddy's Day which is usually an excuse for all the rookies to hit the road stuffed to the gills with green beer and corned beef. As for me, I prefer to stay home, pour myself a pint of the black stuff and listen to my favorite Irish soul singer Van Morrison. If anyone out there comments that Van IS NOT a soul singer I'll have to beat you down Belfast style.
Van Morrison is certainly one of the more charismatic figures in all music. Notorious for being moody and unpredictable, it's not uncommon for Van to get upset and walk off a stage just a few minutes into his set never to return. A slave only to his own muse, Van has covered all genres with ease from jazz to pop to country to blues. Soulful, heartfelt vocals are the constant that have earned Van a cult following of rabid fans (myself included). If your only experiences with Van Morrison are Brown Eyed Girl and Moondance I strongly urge you to dig deeper in his vast catalog. You won't be disappointed.

Van Morrison: Chick-A-Boom

This is taken from Van's 1967 Bang Records sessions recorded just after his departure from his band Them. Not typically considered an essential Van recording, it has always been one of my personal favorites. It has a great bouncy energy and almost Latin vibe with it's LaBamba-esque guitar riff. I have to dance like a Muppet to this one!

Van Morrison: Bein' Green

Speaking of Muppets...Van does a great job interpreting this Joe Raposo classic made famous by the one and only Kermit the Frog. Taken from 1973's Hardnose The Highway Van's vocals and great backing band really tell the story. Border lining on schmaltz, Van manages to reel it in just enough to make it quite a moving tale of self acceptance.

Van Morrison: Georgia On My Mind

Here we really see the true soul of The Man. Taken from one of the many live bootlegs Van has left in his wake, this one has it all. Performed in the late 90's we hear Van's John Lee Hooker influenced wordplay and as a bonus two tremendous solos from none other than Fred Wesley and Candy Dulfer. I saw Van perform Georgia at a show several years back in LA and it nearly moved me to tears. He later recorded it on 2002's Down The Road where it somehow falls flat. It just shows the fragility of Van's talents. He can hit clunkers, but when he's feelin' it, Van IS the Man!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Soul Power

There's no denying the raw power that soul music possesses. I love a great shouter as much as the next guy, but true power is belting out a ballad with honest emotion. I could dedicate an entire blog to just soul ballads, but here are just a couple that are in my head today.

Mary Love: Baby I'll Come Right Away

Mary Love was one of many soul singers from the 60's that, for what ever reason, were never able to make it to that next level of success. Mary found most of her fan base as part of the Northern Soul market in England. As you can hear on this track, she definitely has the skills needed. "All you gotta do is call me and I'll come" is certainly not a groundbreaking lyric, but Mary delivers it with such sincerity that one can't help but be moved. This track was recorded in 1967 and can be found on her Then & Now compilation from Kent.

Brenda Holloway: Every Little Bit Hurts

Every Little Bit Hurts is Brenda Holloway's biggest hit for good reason. Released in 1964, Brenda tells a tale of a shattered relationship that lay in ruin. This guy ain't coming back. The strings and tempo are more reminiscent of a funeral than a soul ballad. I honestly cannot get enough of this song. This track can be found on Brenda's 20th Century Masters collection. Also worth a listen is Steve Winwood's version with The Spencer Davis Group from 1967.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Future of Soul?

The publicists have been doing their job well creating a lot of buzz around British soulstress Amy Winehouse's second release 2006's Back To Black. Unfortunately, Ms. Winehouse's offstage (and occasionally onstage) partying takes the spotlight rather than the fact that this little girl can really belt out a tune. She actually seems to embrace her party girl image with tracks like Rehab, Addicted and Me And Mr Jones. She's been compared to past artists as varied as Billie Holiday to The Ronnettes to Lauren Hill. Amy mixes sounds from classic 60's R&B with themes that are very much from this century. Is this the future of soul? Back To Black has just been made available in the States and it's definately worth a listen. Here are the first two tracks.

Amy Winehouse: Rehab

Early last year, Amy's management suggested she go to rehab. In response, she dumped her management and wrote this tune which ended up in the UK top ten. She showed them. Besides her "Daddy thinks she's fine." Attagirl.

Amy Winehouse: You Know I'm No Good

This radio friendly track is an album standout. I love any song that references the great Roger Moore.

Monday, March 12, 2007

CD Feature: California Soul

Back in 2000, the fine folks at Ubiquity Records' soul & rare groove subsidiary Luv N' Haight put out a tremendous compilation of rare California based soul recorded from 1965-1981 entitled (duh) California Soul. I have to admit, I still give this CD a spin just as often as when I first picked it up nearly seven years ago. This set features many hard to find and out of print tracks covering jazz, Latin groove, soul and funk. Here's just a few, but I suggest you all pick it up as it never gets old.

West Coast Revival: Feelin' Alright

Here's a track from West Coast Revival's 1977 self titled LP. More familiarly recorded first by Traffic and soon after by Joe Cocker, this tune was produced by War producer Jerry Goldstein. This version has many of the same qualities in style and atmosphere as the War recordings of the seventies.

Courtial: Losing You

A Latin piano riff opens up this track from 1976. Once the guitar kicks in it's pure soul. I love that bridge, too!

Sons And Daughters Of Lite: A Real Thing

All at once jazzy, soulful & mystical, Oakland based The Sons And Daughters Of Lite exemplified the more spiritual side of seventies soul music. This track quickly turns into a jazz exploration in the style of Fela Kuti and Sun Ra. Mad horns, vibes, keys & yes...jazz flute!

Thursday, March 8, 2007


Here we go again. It's time to turn the clocks forward for spring, but this year it comes earlier. Just early enough to throw off your computers, cell phones, microwaves, Easy Bake ovens and everything else you can get a shock from. So go buy a bunch of water, stock up on duct tape and Pop-Tarts because the end is near...again. I'm not digging too deep today, but here are some tunes to remind you of our impending doom.

Booker T & The MG's: Time Is Tight

This is a classic from the Stax house band taken from 1968's Uptight LP. Duck Dunn's rolling bass line is what makes it for me. Add a gospel organ and your in business. The best tunes are always the simplest. I can't help but think of The Blues Brothers driving through the mall with this one. "...Pier One Imports!"

Chairmen Of The Board: Give Me Just A Little More Time

This is the Detroit based act's biggest hit from 1970. The pleading, impassioned vocals of General Norman Johnson grab the listener from the very start and never let go. This group probably wishes they had a little more time. They disbanded in 1976.

Groove Armada: Hands of Time

God knows I don't want to be pigeonholed as someone who just digs the old stuff. Soul can be found wherever you look for it. Case in point, Groove Armada's Hands of Time from 2003's Lovebox. Obviously it's Richie Havens' vocals that I immediately respond to, but the mellow electric piano and steady beat make this one a good choice for any occasion, Saturday night OR Sunday morning. This works.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Dig On This, Sucka!

There are many different schools of thought regarding the so-called "blaxploitation" films of the seventies. A definite message was sent to Hollywood that there is a creative force of black writers, directors and actors who will not be ignored AND there is a huge audience that will devour these action films about pimps, drugs, murder and life on the city streets. Many believe that these films simply perpetuate stereotypes and set back the strides made during the civil rights movement of the 60's. One thing that can be agreed upon is the great music from these films. James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Roy Ayers and many more musical giants offered their talents to create scores that in many cases were more memorable than the movies themselves. Here are just a few instrumental tracks that helped paint the picture in 3 of these action films of the seventies.

First up is the Godfather's ultra groovy Transmorgrapfication from 1973's Slaughter's Big Rip Off. Fred Wesley's trombone is featured along with a loping bass line that drives the groove. At a mere 2 minutes, the fade out comes far too soon. I could listen to this jam all night long.

James Brown: Transmorgrapfication

Arguably the greatest of all blaxploitation soundtracks was Curtis Mayfield's Superfly. Released in 1972, the Superfly soundtrack stands on it's own as a no holds barred testament of life on the city streets. Here is the instrumental version of Eddie You Should Know Better, a bonus track taken from the 25th Anniversary Edition. This smooth, atmospheric groove is classic Curtis.

Curtis Mayfield: Eddie You Should Know Better

Finally a track from the film that started it all, Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song from 1971.
A pre-glitter headband wearing Earth, Wind & Fire provides this electric piano driven jam that was written by Van Peebles himself. Once those hand claps come in, it's all over.

Earth, Wind & Fire: Sweetback's Theme

Sunday, March 4, 2007

If Loving Betty Is Wrong...

Betty Wright is a singer that is too often overlooked. Best known for her 1972 hit Clean Up Woman, Betty has proven herself as one of the most powerful voices in soul music. At the age if 13 she was working as a backup singer and just two years later she released her first solo single. Betty continued to release solid albums throughout the seventies and still performs and records today. Her most recent album was 2001's Fit For A King. Here's just a couple of classics for you to chew on.

Betty Wright: Shoorah! Shoorah!

Here's a classic Allen Toussaint composition from 1974. Betty's vocals echo the power of Mavis Staples. The tight horn section punctuates the every line. It's hard to sit still with this one.

Betty Wright: Let Me Be Your Lovemaker

This 1973 tune shows off Betty's sassy side. She sounds ready to me! Her scream at the end peels the paint off the walls.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Mace Windu Meets Wednesday Addams

I fully intended to keep this blog leaning more towards soul music, but anyone who knows me knows deep down I'm a bluesman. Anyways, what has more soul than the blues? This is why I'm so excited for today's release of Black Snake Moan. Samuel L. Jackson stars as a delta bluesman who happens upon a young unconscious white girl (Christina Ricci) in the middle of the road. He decides to take her in, chain her up and cure her of her wicked ways. Sounds fun but I'm here to talk about the soundtrack. This collection of old and new delta blues is quite simply one of the best I've heard in a long time. I sure wish I had it in the car driving through Clarksdale this past summer. Here's a sampler:

Samuel L. Jackson: Just Like A Bird Without A Feather

That's right Sam sings the blues, too! This is an R.L. Burnside tune. Kenny Brown's on guitar.

Bobby Rush: Chicken Heads

This one's pretty soulful. Jackson, Mississippi born Bobby Rush still performs across the south on what's left of the chitlin' circuit with no less than three dancers who make risque costume changes between every few songs. Nice!

North Mississippi All-Stars: Mean Ol' Wind Dies Down

This is from the All-Stars last album. A little Delta, a little Allman Bros. this track explodes into joyous gospel right around the four minute mark. If you don't like this, I don't want to know you!