Thursday, July 15, 2010

There Is No Planet Sun Or Star Could Hold You, If You But Knew What You Are...

"My Love Is Showing"---Bettye LaVette (LimeLinx)
"My Love Is Showing"---Bettye LaVette (YSI)

Over the course of the past five years, it's been unimaginably uplifting to behold the wonder of Bettye LaVette as her gracious persistence in the music industry has finally begun to show its worth. With a few highly acclaimed studio releases under her belt, as well as a string of powerhouse live performances, the Great Lady of Soul is poised to show the world what she's made of now that she has our undivided attention. Critics are unanimously singing the praises of her latest LP, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, and the stunning vocalist is likely to turn even more heads as she opens for Robert Plant on his July tour (maybe even some metalheads, which...I dunno...would fuckin' rock, dude).

Having released her first single as a teenager in 1962, LaVette followed with numerous failed attempts at attaining commercial viability. While her records were fairly popular on the UK northern soul scene, it took most of America 40+ years to even begin to fathom what they were missing. This probably wouldn't be so frustrating if I hadn't recently witnessed a bunch of people getting misty-eyed about some kid on American Idol who had to work in a fuckin' paint store for a few years before being catapulted into superstardom. Our conceptualization of what it means to pay dues seems increasingly skewed as it becomes infinitely more facile to achieve fame with only the slightest moronic effort. We're all suckers for a good fairytale I guess, but if Justin Bieber gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before Ms. LaVette, (in deep, ominous, psycho-killer voice) I don't know what I might do...

At any rate, as much as I'd like to offer up one of the many great selections from her Interpretations LP, I'm really hoping that you'll show the hardest working woman in show business some true love and actually purchase it. While the album debuted at a rather impressive #56 (all factors relating to the idiocy of the record-buying public considered), she still has a long-ass way to go before she can pull a tortoise move on all the spastic little hares who are blocking her way to the finish line.

"My Love Is Showing" is one of my favorites from her phenomenal repertoire, culled from her Child Of The Seventies LP. The album, slated to be her first full-length release, was recorded in the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in 1972 for Atlantic/Atco Records. At the last minute, the label made an abrupt decision to shelve the material and chalked it up as a loss. Although the Great Lady was understandably devastated, she soldiered on with her career in hopes that she would finally catch a break.

Decades later, she played her personal mono recordings of the album for Gilles Petard, who located the masters in 1999 and released them as Souvenirs on his Art and Soul label the following year. Rhino subsequently reissued the album in 2006 under the original Child of the Seventies title, including four Atlantic singles and a handful of unreleased material.

Despite the hardship and woes she's had to endure, LaVette is truly honored to finally be having her moment in the sun. At age 64, she's as dynamic, energetic, and fully charged as ever:

"If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die on stage. If I’m sick in the dressing room, get me on the stage so I can die out there."

Word, Ms. LaVette. If that's not the imperturbable swagger of an authentic soul survivor, I don't know what is...

So much about
Bettye to know and love, soul children: dig deeper

This is a clip of LaVette's jaw-dropping tribute to The Who at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors. The performance made
Pete cry, had Barbra snappin' her neck (although, was she listening to a different song?), and ultimately served as the inspiration behind the Great Lady's Interpretations LP. Also...for those who may be's my understanding that Roger Daltrey had that sharp stick removed from his ass shortly after the show:

"Now"---Numaads (LimeLinx)
"Now"---Numaads (YSI)

Numaads is the brilliant fusion of two radiant stars who hail from the Netherlands. The duo's Now EP dropped a few short weeks before summer officially started, and its slow-burning vibe has provided a near-perfect complement to the sultry evening air these past few weeks. Esperenzah's enchanting vocals are as haunting as they are curiously inviting, while SENSE's multi-dimensional production enriches the atmosphere of their sound with layers of sampled and organic instrumentation.

One could easily rattle off an exhaustive list of probable influences, but what makes this record fresh is that the duo yields a uniquely beautiful creation from the diverse elements they incorporate into the mix. In that sense, listening to Now is analogous to being in a dream state: components of reality are certainly present, but they're colorfully enhanced by otherworldly illusions, fabrications, and textures.

Haha...I know some of you thugs prolly think I've lost what's left of my fuckin' marbles, but trust me. Smoke a bowl, assume a lotus position, fix your eyes on the velvet Jesus painting on your living room wall...whatever. Look for the open spaces in the structure of these songs, explore them, and ultimately create your own domain. It's a magnificent sonic landscape to suddenly find yourself hopelessly lost...

Dig deeper: Esperanzah; SENSE

This video highlights Robert Koch's remix of "Now" (a lush redux by
J. Rawls appears on the EP as well):

Skeletons (LimeLinx)
Skeletons (YSI)

I admit to having a markedly unusual fascination with imaginary bands that are essentially the handiwork of a lone knob twiddler (I see you,
Madlib). Okay...I inadvertently made that sound dirty...but actually it can be quite exciting when left in wildly creative and fully capable hands. { matter how I phrase this, it appears to bear some unintentional sexual overtones, so I think I'll tap the enter key and make a more wholesome attempt at my next paragraph...}

Benedic Lamdin is a musician, producer, label boss and engineer who is perhaps best known to music lovers as the mastermind and ringleader of Nostalgia 77. Although I know that some of you will opine that such an undertaking is shady as fuck, Lamdin was commissioned some time ago to play forgeries and pastiches of African jazz for a library music company. Numerous musicians passed through his house to play during the sessions, but evidently they were never in the same place at the same time.
Lamdin compiled various fragments of sound that were left behind, merged them with his own creative musings, and the highly infectious Skeletons project was born.

The politics of forgery get complicated to say the very least, but in an overall sense, I genuinely respect
Lamdin's contributions to music culture. He's an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, one hell of a slick producer, and the material he and his compadres issue on their Impossible Ark label tends to be pretty freakin' amazing. Unlike artists who pilfer the archives of their musical ancestors without so much as a casual nod towards their inspiration, Lamdin maintains credibility by being forthcoming and giving credit where it's due. As just one example of this transparency, the song "Mulatu" on Smile outrightly pays homage to the great Mulatu Astatke, the father of Ethiopian jazz and a profound influence on Lambin's work.

When I first heard this album, I had no background information or contextual cues to base my opinion on, and my instinctual reaction was to bust some heartfelt (and perhaps humiliating) dance moves. Uhhh-ohhh, though...that means you should prolly forget all that shit I just talked so you can get loose without over-thinking it (I mean... no lie...even my own moms has to tell me to shut the fuck up sometimes). Strike my remarks from the record and proceed to get your undisturbed groove on, soul babies! Haha...

Dig deeper...

"Baby"---The Phenomenal Handclap Band (LimeLinx)
"Baby"---The Phenomenal Handclap Band (YSI)

I should have written about The Phenomenal Handclap Band a while ago, but the very lifeblood of
Souled On is the staggering volume of past, present, and future records that demand their turn in the rotation. It's kinda obvious at this stage that I'm routinely grappling with thoughts of retirement, but nawwww...there's no feasible exit strategy as long as the crates keep stacking themselves to infinity and beyond. So much for chillin' on the couch in a diaper with a cocktail of Centrum Silver....I can't quit you, babies!

Anyway, PHB is comprised of a collective of musicians and artists primarily from Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Fathered by DJ/producers Daniel Collás (the Witch Doctor) and Sean Marquand (The Medicine Man), the idea for the group began to materialize as they ventured into writing their own material. Enlisting the help of a diverse cast of characters they'd formed relationships with along the way, they assembled a bad-ass supergroup whose sound refuses to be contained within the confines of any particular genre. While I appreciate PHB's tendency to wander off down seemingly disparate musical pathways, I took an instant liking to the straight-forward soul vibe they went for on "Baby". It sounds like a nostalgic recording that was unearthed and remastered, which must be celebrated as an invaluable find in the proverbial haystack of contemporary music.

PHB rolls eight members deep for touring purposes, but friends such as The Lady Tigre, John Spencer, and TV on the Radio's Jaleel Bunton frequently stop by the studio to make a musical contribution or lend their support. The group is currently on a world tour that includes gigs in Sweden, Spain, Portugal, and the UK. I've read nothing but wildly favorable reviews of their live performances, so you might want to hit up one of their shows if the opportunity ever presents itself...and as always, dig deeper.

"Tristess"---Dutch (LimeLinx)
"Tristess"---Dutch (YSI)

Dutch is the stunning result of a collaborative effort between Liz Fullerton and Jedi Mind Tricks' prodigious beatsmith, Stoupe. The two Philadelphia residents originally conceived of doing an album together many moons ago, and they actively worked on the project for a few years prior to Bright Cold Day's release last month. Music that's cultivated under the pretenses of intense forethought often loses its luster and spontaneity over time (Chinese Democracy, anyone?), but this eloquent recording is a breath of fresh air in every sense imaginable.

Born in California and raised in Mexico, Fullerton lived a nomadic lifestyle as a young adult, traveling the United States and accumulating life experiences that she would later transform into a lyrical medley of emotions and ideas. Her official breakthrough came when she relocated to Philly and laid down vocals on a
Jedi Mind Tricks joint in Stoupe's apartment, but the ethereal songstress was still an apprehensive neophyte when the duo began sinking their teeth into their full-length creative endeavor. You wouldn't know it by the way Fullerton confidently rips through most of the tracks on the LP, but she unabashedly admits to having felt anxiety about everything from her lack of professional training to her tendency to express overwhelming sadness through her songs. After one of her first shows in Philly, an audience member reportedly asked her why she didn't just pass out razor blades. Say what you will about her melancholy nature, but Fullerton is easily one of the most sultry and mesmerizing fledgling vocalists to emerge on the scene in recent memory.

It's no small wonder that
Stoupe's dark, atmospheric production style integrates so exquisitely with his partner's deeply cathartic musings. For those who are unfamiliar with Jedi Mind Tricks, suffice it to say that violent, brooding, and apocalyptic would all function as suitable adjectives to describe their overall aesthetic. Stoupe has always come across as sort of a strange motherfucker, infrequently consenting to interviews and almost always refusing to show his face. People have hated on his shadowy persona for as long as I can remember, but I come from the perspective that dude is probably weird because he's a genius. His beats are perhaps best described as lavish orchestrations, and few producers parallel his ability to make a living, breathing entity from the obscurest of sample sources.

I've been a longtime fan of
JMT's work primarily on the strength of Stoupe's beat wizardry, because...if I may be honest...Vinnie Paz's lyrics are often too aggressive/disturbing/deranged to make for everyday listening. My favorite Tricks records will probably have to be pried from my cold, dead hands (I still don't like you, Charlton Heston)...but I'm beyond pleased to hear Stoupe spreading his expansive wings on this project, running with a sound more along the lines of Portishead or Bjork. JMT fans shouldn't despair, though~ I'm sure that Stoupe and Paz will reunite long before all of their cataclysmic prophecies come true.

Dig deeper...

"Too Much Pain"---Eugene Evans (LimeLinx)
"Too Much Pain"---Eugene Evans (YSI)

King's Serious Soul: Too Much Pain compilation has turned out to be one of my favorite recent discoveries. It was released nearly six years ago, but I never checked into it until one of the soul kids brought it to my attention a couple of months ago. As the title might suggest, there are a host of gritty southern soul offerings on this LP, the majority of which are rare recordings by relatively obscure artists.

I had honestly never heard of Eugene Evans prior to copping Serious Soul, and I was disappointed to eventually learn that he only cut a couple of sides throughout the entirety of his career. Both singles were originally issued on Hollywood Records, and may have even been recorded during the same studio session.

Evans himself is credited as the songwriter on "Too Much Pain", but the James Brown influence is palpable, emulating the Godfather's more tormented and highly emotive material. I'm not the least bit mad at the fact that this track borders on being derivative~ its familiar essence fits as comfortably as a worn pair of kicks. Never, ever hesitate to get up on your good foot, soul bambinos!

Word From Your Moms:

"Blessed are the dumbfucks."

"There's a fine edge to new grief, it severs nerves, disconnects reality--there's mercy in a sharp blade. Only with time, as the edge wears, does the real ache begin."

"Not unlike the toaster, I control darkness."

"The problem with being nuts, she thought, is that you don't always feel as if you're nuts. Sometimes, in fact, you feel perfectly sane, and there just happens to be a trailer-shaped dragon crouching in the lot next door."

Above quotes courtesy of Christopher Moore