Thursday, June 25, 2009
It Ain't No Use In Jivin'; Some Souls Need Revivin'...
"A Song For You"---Merry Clayton (LimeLinx)
"A Song For You"---Merry Clayton (YSI)
~Appears on the Merry Clayton LP (Ode 1971)
Although "A Song For You" was written and originally recorded by singer/songwriter/musician Leon Russell, most soul fans tend to enthusiastically agree that the definitive version was rendered by none other than the late, great Donny Hathaway. While the lyrics themselves are undoubtedly imbued with a degree of poignancy, it was Hathaway's deeply affecting take on the song that arguably blessed it with such a palpable sense of sincerity and longing. His impassioned delivery epitomizes the very essence of what makes soul music so moving and evocative~ unless you have sociopathic tendencies, it's virtually impossible not to absorb and fully empathize with his pain.
Now that I've lavished Hathaway's rendition with such high praise, you may rightfully be wondering what in hell would possess me to post an alternative cover of the song. For one thing, of the 30+ versions of this song I've heard, Merry Clayton's take is easily amongst my favorites once you control for the daunting Hathaway Effect. I sincerely dig the way Aretha, The Temptations, and Ray Charles interpreted the song, but Clayton's enormous vocal talent is too often criminally overlooked, which keeps me perpetually inspired to champion her sound. I featured her stellar rendition of Neil Young's "Southern Man" quite some time ago, and while it arguably surpasses "A Song For You" in terms of overall quality, she has the chops to transform nearly everything she touches into a quasi-religious experience.
It also may be of interest that Clayton was actually the first artist to release a cover of "A Song For You". She and Hathaway both released their versions in 1971, a year that also saw covers issued by Bill Medley, Helen Reddy, and Andy Williams. Oddly enough, only Williams garnered any measurable commercial success with the tune, peaking at #82 on the Billboard charts. I've never been a big fan of the popular crooner's work, but evidently that makes me uncivilized~ old people think he's dope and Ronald Reagan once declared his voice a national treasure. I'm certain there has to be a Time-Life retrospective of his material floating around on eBay, so...you know...get busy, son.
"D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)"---Jay-Z (LimeLinx)
"D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)"---Jay-Z (YSI)
Souled On Sample:
"In The Space"---Janko Nilovic & Dave Sucky (LimeLinx)
"In The Space"---Janko Nilovic & Dave Sucky (YSI)
Only in the rapidly cycling age of the internets would a track that leaked 2 1/2 weeks ago be considered old school, but for all intents and purposes, "D.O.A." has already been thoroughly vetted. Not only has it already undergone intense scrutiny by the armchair army, it's also spawned an impassioned response from the community of artists who utilize Auto-Tune. I'm sure that most of you have heard this already, but it's all good. You probably missed this if...say...you just recently escaped the clutches of an extremist cult that forced you to marry your cousin, punished you for refusing to drink the kool-aid, and banned access to all forms of media (with the possible exception of Channel 18).
Jay declaring a moratorium on Auto-Tune doesn't particularly bother me, because I would bet my meager life savings on the fact that "T-Painin'" (formerly known as the Cher Effect) will go down in history as one of the tackiest trends to ever infiltrate popular music. There's no doubt that a handful of artists have used it imaginatively and effectively, but for the most part, the novelty has progressively worn off with every irritating instance of creative abuse. Perhaps my bitterness is biased because I'm positive that I deserve credit for inventing this shit in the early '80s~ I nearly ripped my face off once while singing an MC Hammer song into the back of my Auntie Peaches' metal blade 12 volt fan.
Much as I'm down with Hov , I gave up hoping a long time ago that he would drop something as lyrically impressive as his rhymes on Reasonable Doubt, or even The Black Album. That said, he flips some clever lines on this joint, and I don't think I'll be mad if the final version of Blueprint 3 contains material of this caliber.
I also included the song that producer No I.D. sampled on the cut~ a track from a dusty library record called Psyc Impressions. I'm kinda scratching my head at all the people who are going bananas over the production on this song. Don't kill me~ I'm a No I.D. fan from way back, and I give him an A+ for being an industrious crate digger. The entire record is full of creative possibilities that heretofore have been overlooked and I give him mad props for having the foresight to unearth it. My only issue is that it's so faithful to the original that it comes across as more derivative than imaginative.
All in all, this is a pretty good look for Hov, with the added bonus that wifey isn't all up in the cut singing some of that oh oh ooh oh oh ooh oh oh ooh oh oh oh shit...
"Can't Buy Soul"---Hebrew Rogers (LimeLinx)
"Can't Buy Soul"---Hebrew Rogers (YSI)
Funky Music Machine is one of the illest funk compilations ever released on the Soul Patrol label. I know that many purists prefer to search for the original 45s, but since that's not always probable or practical, I'm never ashamed to cop a set of killer funk and soul grooves.
One of the obvious standouts on this particular collection is "Can't Buy Soul" by Hebrew Rogers. First released on the Original Sound label in 1973, the track was penned by the multi-talented Preston Epps. While Rogers remains a bit of an enigma, Epps is an accomplished percussionist who settled in Southern California after his tour of duty during the Korean War. While stationed in Okinawa he learned to play a number of different instruments, most notably the bongos. After being signed to Original Sounds Epps released "Bongo Rock" in 1959~ a hit single that climbed to #14 on the Billboard charts and was later covered by The Incredible Bongo Band. Epps subsequently released a full-length LP, and tried to mirror this early success with other bongo-themed joints such as "Bongo Bongo Bongo", "Bootlace Bongo", "Flamenco Bongo", "Bongo Boogie", "Mr. Bongo", "Bongo Shuffle", "Bongo in the Congo", "Bongo Rocket", etc. Perhaps it was bongo overkill, because none of these records touched the popularity or impact made by his first single, but Epps continued to work as a session musician and was a fixture on the SoCal club scene well into the 1990s. At any rate, I was impressed to learn that Epps wrote this extraordinary deep funk classic, and I'm also quite grateful that he avoided lacing the title with any of his standard bongoisms.
The Funky Music Machine compilation is becoming increasingly difficult to find through major retailers, but this particular gem is still available as the B-side to Deloris Ealy & The Roadrunners Band's "It's About Time I Made A Change" on Deep Groove Sounds, and was also compiled on BGP Records' SuperFunk Is Back- Rare And Classic Funk 1968-1977 LP in 2007. The latter has a bit more filler material than Funky Music Machine in my opinion, but it boasts a number of hard-to-find and previously unissued recordings that unquestionably inflate its overall worth.
"Words Of Wisdom (They Don't Know)"---Sam Sever and the Raiders of the Lost Art (LimeLinx)
"Words Of Wisdom (They Don't Know)"---Sam Sever and the Raiders of the Lost Art (YSI)
Although relatively few heads recognize Sam Sever's name these days, the NY-based producer has worked with a myriad of artists, including The Beastie Boys, Tricky Tee, Run-DMC, Oran 'Juice' Jones, Tashan, Ms. Melodie, Nikki D, Sham & The Professor, and A.D.O.R.
Although many hip hop elders still highly regard his early 90's hip-hop group with Bosco Money, Downtown Science, Sever (aka Sam Citrin) is perhaps most widely recognized for his affiliation with 3rd Bass. Having worked with both MC Serch and Pete Nice on their respective demos, he suggested that the two rival MCs work together, which ultimately lead to the group's formation. 3rd Bass scored a contract with Def Jam, and Sever stayed on board to produce a great deal of their material.
"Words Of Wisdom (They Don't Know)" was released by Sever on a Mo Wax 12" in 1995. What's That Sound? featured an ill side and a chill side, and this dope little throwback joint was one of three tracks featured on the latter. According to Can I Bring My Gat?, the spoken word on the track is courtesy of one of The Last Poets. This joint may be 14 years old, but its commentary on the recording industry couldn't be more relevant: “Record company is the pimp, artist is the ho, the stage is the corner, and the audience is the trick.” Word.
"The Truth Shall Make You Free"---King Hannibal (LimeLinx)
"The Truth Shall Make You Free"---King Hannibal (YSI)
*From the Truth LP (Aware, 1973)
King Hannibal starts off "The Truth Shall Make You Free" with a big wailing echo: "I wanna talk to all you addicts out there...that's got yourself a great big jones...and you done tried...the methadone...and you just can't leave that herion alone...I wonder...have you tried Jeeeee-zussssss." Those few lines speak volumes about a man who is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in all of soul music's history.
Born James Shaw, Hannibal started singing doo-wop in his hometown of Atlanta, GA. By 1954 he was singing with the Overalls, a group that included two future members of the Pips, Edward Patten and Merald "Bubba" Knight. He soon moved to LA and stepped out as a solo artist, releasing material on various labels as Jimmy Shaw, Hannibal, and the Mighty Hannibal.
By the mid-60s, Hannibal was beginning to fully realize his artistic potential. His vocal abilities were progessively more impressive, and he had developed a distinctive persona that involved his trademark turbans and an indescribably hypnotic stage presence. Upon returning to Atlanta, he signed with Shurfine Records and released two sides that were amongst the finest of his musical career, "Jerkin' The Dog" and "Hymn No. 5". Originally issued in 1966, "Hymn No. 5" became Hannibal's most commercially successful single, peaking at #21 on the R&B charts. Vividly depicting the horrors of the Vietnam War, the anti-establishment anthem was both radical and visionary in the sense that it preceded most of the protest music that would later be released. Despite the fact that many radio stations refused to play it, the record sold more than 3,000 copies in Columbus, Georgia alone, presumably because many of the soldiers stationed at Fort Benning could relate to the song's powerful sentiments.
Although this defining moment could have launched Hannibal into superstardom, the charismatic vocalist was spending more of his time pimping than performing, in addition to being consumed by a crippling heroin addiction. His gradual descent into hell-on-earth would be further punctuated by a stint a jail for tax evasion.
These trials and tribulations ultimately lead to Hannibal's re-emergence in the '70s as a reformed man with a newly signed contract with Aware Records. King Hannibal, as he was now calling himself, had officially traded heroin for Jesus, and he was enthusiastic about sharing the recipe for his triumphance with anyone who would listen. Understanding a bit of the backstory makes "The Truth Shall Set You Free" more than an in-your-face anti-drug anthem; it's the tale of a man whose life crumbled under his excesses until he found the strength to rise above his struggles and put himself back in the game. I'm not much for hyper-religiosity, but I can certainly appreciate the man's resilience, and besides...it's a funky-ass cut. (If you dig this, you might wanna check out his slight variation on this same theme, aptly titled "God's The Only Cure For The Crack". Seriously, cousin...)
Hannibal languished in obscurity for much of the '80s and '90s, but his career was jump-started when some of his music was featured in the film Velvet Goldmine. The artist is now blind and living in the Bronx, but he's still hustlin' CDs out of his apartment, and returned to Atlanta in 2007 for the proclamation of Mighty Hannibal Day.
"Fly Crow"---Tha Connection (LimeLinx)
"Fly Crow"---Tha Connection (YSI)
I think I may have mentioned this before, but Tha Connection's Trapeze was one of my favorite hip hop releases last year. Although 2009 is far from over, I feel confident in saying that their latest LP, The Love Royale, is likely to achieve the same elevated status this year when all is said and done.
Critical analysis/deconstruction isn't really my forte~ if I like something I like it, and I usually don't feel like bustin' out my thesaurus to justify whatever wild claims I'm making about a song or album on any given day (how fuckin' gangsta and anti-blogger of me). Consequently, I'll keep this relatively simple...What makes these guys so ill is their instinct for blending the soulful and the gritty. Their press release for The Love Royale vividly depicts their style as "pure nostalgic soul sounding vibes as sharp as blade winds".
If you had asked me in '93 what soulful hip hop sounded like, I would have probably referenced Gang Starr, Wu-Tang or Mobb Deep. RZA, Premier and Havoc were masterful at flipping some lovely old records, but those guys also knew how to keep it grimy. It would be ludicrous to blame the regression exclusively on Kanye's "chimpmunk soul" period, but that's roughly the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. Soulful hip hop got saddled with an oversized pink backpack and it hasn't quite managed to regain its integrity, composure, or credibility ever since.
In any case, I have much respect for Tha Connection in the sense that their music is an authentic throwback to the raw soul and jazz-infused bleakness of the golden era's east coast vibe. Don't jump on this expecting the caliber of The Infamous or 36 Chambers, but appreciate what is undoubtedly a positive step towards reclaiming a long lost art. MCs SmooVth and Hus don't spit the wittiest rhymes I've ever heard, but they're ingenious at creating the sort of moody atmosphere that characterized a grip of venerable hip hop classics. .
I've been listening to this album for a couple of months now, and I keep getting stuck on different tracks that I'll play on repeat until I step to the next one. I just started diggin' "Fly Crow", but you'll wanna cop the whole album so you can check out other dope joints such as "Royale", "Dum Dum Dum", "Let's Go", "Fool In Love", "Get Live", and the revamped version of "Take It Higher".
"When It's Over"---Don Varner (LimeLinx)
"When It's Over"---Don Varner (YSI)
Although I'm guessing that many of you haven't heard of Don Varner, the raspy-voiced soul vocalist performed or shared the stage with the likes of Ray Charles, Billy Preston, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson, just to name a few. Primarily issuing his singles on a string of obscure labels during the '60s and '70s, Varner recorded most of his material at Quin Ivy's studio in Muscle Shoals.
While the singer became somewhat legendary on the Northern Soul scene, his records enjoyed considerably less success in the States as compared to the UK. It's nearly impossible to justify why his talents were so underappreciated, but Varner is one of many accomplished artists who simply didn't receive the proper marketing and distribution to garner significant acclaim. In addition to his impressive baritone voice, Varner was also a prolific songwriter who stockpiled an abundance of original material in his vault.
The first proper collection of the artist's works, including previously unissued tracks, was released by RPM Records in the UK in 2005. Sadly, Varner passed away in 2002 and wasn't able to fully enjoy the rekindled interest in his material that was sparked at the turn of the millenium. His widow is fully committed to keeping the spirit of his music alive, and she was instrumental in laying the groundwork that led to the posthumous release of Finally Got Over!
Varner's tracks have appeared on various compilations, but I'd definitely recommend purchasing this excellent CD reissue of his recordings. "When It's Over" (an R&B twist on the same basic theme Cat Stevens explored on "Wild World" IMO) is merely one of 23 solid cuts from a man who epitomized the very heart of Southern soul music.
"See It All"---Fink (LimeLinx)
"See It All"---Fink (YSI)
*Appears on Sort Of A Revolution (Ninja Tune, 2009)
I'm thoroughly bored with writing in paragraph format, but I do want to share this one last song from Fink's captivating Sort Of A Revolution LP. A few random and potentially poorly organized facts:
*Born Fin Greenall, Fink was raised in Bristol in a musical household~ his father was a folk artist and his mother was a music manager. He started off his own career in the industry as a DJ and club promoter.
*Fink was the first traditional singer/songwriter to be on Ninja Tune's roster.
*He has worked in various capacities with artists such as Amy Winehouse, Nitin Sawhney, Zero 7, and Bonobo. His Sort Of A Revolution LP contains material he collaborated on with John Legend.
*Fink has drawn comparisons to artist such as Massive Attack, JJ Cale, Nick Drake, Nick Cave, Jeff Buckley, and John Martyn.
*His Sort Of A Revolution LP was preceded by Fresh Produce, Biscuits For Breakfast, and Distance And Time
*I didn't listen to Sort Of A Revolution very much at first, but one day not too long ago its brilliance just sort of crept up on me. In my experience it's often the albums that finally dawn on me after repeated listens that ultimately have the greatest replay value. "See It All" was the track that was coming out of the speakers when I experienced my little "holy fuck" moment...
Word From Your Moms:
"I am gonna write poems til i die and when i have gotten outta this body i am gonna hang round in the wind and knock over everybody who got their feet on the ground."---Ntozake Shange