Thursday, February 03, 2011

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead...

"The Devil Gives Me Everything Except What I Need"---Willy West & The High Society Brothers (zShare)

"The Devil Gives Me Everything Except What I Need"---Willy West & The High Society Brothers (UserShare)

Since I haven't done an update in quite some time, I wanted to kick off today's post with something that would shake your bones and rattle your teeth...perhaps even remind you why you still stop by on occasion despite your host's inexcusable negligence and inhospitality. Some of the more industrious soul brothers have beaten me to the punch in writing about this particular record, but it's such a gigantic tune that it feels like there's plenty of room for one more observation of its astronomic magnitude.

The almighty Willie West (aka Millard Leon) was born and raised in Raceland, LA, a rural town that's approximately an hour's drive from New Orleans. By age 15, West was already developing lofty musical aspirations, and had formed a band called The Sharks with his cousin and a couple of his friends from school. The group primarily covered radio hits and songs by popular rock, soul and blues artists, although Willie and his bandmates weren't yet old enough to gain entry into any of the clubs where their favorite artists were performing.

West eventually began hanging around outside of the Sugar Bowl, a famous establishment in Thibodaux, LA that was host to an impressive array of renowned musical acts. Undaunted by the limitations imposed by his youth, the enterprising adolescent would drink wine and strum his guitar, stealing glances through windows and acquainting himself with the performers whenever the opportunity should happen to arise. This strategic positioning enabled the ambitious upstart to rub elbows with legendary artists such as Ray Charles, Bobby Blue Bland, Junior Parker, Chuck Willis, and Sam Cooke. Accordingly, tenacity has been an essential defining characteristic for West, a man who has stubbornly clung to his dreams despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers that have hindered their realization.

I could elaborate on the exhaustive list of reasons why West's persistence failed to catapult him into superstardom, but ultimately, it all boils down to the same obstacles faced by countless other well-deserving recording artists: poor marketing, limited distribution, mismanagement, label woes, and living in the shadows of other musicians who were thought to be more commercially viable. The years he spent recording with the almighty Allen Toussaint and his unparalleled work ethic should have garnered him a life of fortune and fame, but listen, children...the American dream is pretty much on some bullshit...unless of course, you've got bangs like Justin Bieber. However, what he may lack in earthly riches is at least partially offset by his experience in working with the likes of Al Green, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Lee Dorsey, The Meters, Dr. John, The Electric Soul Train, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Paul McCartney, James Brown, and the list continues on into infinity.

West's resilience is perhaps one of the great wonders of the world, and this spirited veteran of the music industry continues to soldier on into the present. Relocating to Minnesota in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he's managed to rejuvenate his career by landing higher paying gigs, as well as recording new material for Timmion Records. The label released "The Devil Gives Me Everything Except What I Need" as a 7" in 2009 (TR-019). Backed by a Finnish funk combo known as the High Society Brothers, West delves into emotional depths that are rarely grazed by the dull blade of most contemporary artists. It's a painful reminder of how dishonest a lot of music sounds these days when you hear his gritty and impassioned vocal delivery on this cut. Artistic geniuses often find themselves in the unenviable position of suffering for the greater good, and I would argue that this record is...quite extension of that very idea.

I hope that after hearing/reading this, you'll be inspired to start digging for West's material, and possibly even make an effort to catch one of his live performances. If you want to extend respect for the man's unshakable hustle, what's more essential than to show and prove that his blood, sweat and tears haven't been shed in vain?

Dig deeper...

"One Of These Days"---The Q4 (zShare)

"One Of These Days"---The Q4 (UserShare)

One of the hottest labels to emerge in the new millenium is Project: Mooncircle, the beautiful bastard love child of artist/DJ/founder Gordon Gieseking. When I featured another group on its roster, Numaads, it was literally the shot heard 'round the soul child universe. I received more positive feedback and gratitude for covering them than just about any other group in recent memory. The high praise for their talent is certainly well-deserved, and should serve as evidence that, much like the Judeo-Christian God, Project: Mooncircle don't make no junk...

The caliber of material on the label is further exemplified by the outstanding material released thus far by The Quadraphoniquartet. Comprised of Arts the Beatdoctor, Sense and STW, Q4 is the outgrowth of three accomplished Dutch producers blending their unique styles to create an electrifying sound collage.

The sharper knives in the drawer may be wondering why a group comprised of three beatsmiths would call themselves The Q4. When the members joined forces in 2005, there were four producers from different regions of the Netherlands on board. One of them apparently exited due to time constraints, but the remaining trio soldiered on, deciding to keep their original vision and namesake firmly intact. As you may know, the name pays homage to a sound system that was popular in the '70s, which emitted sound from four speakers in the formation of a square. Each component brought its own noise, as well as being an integral part of a unified sonic experience. It's a truly fitting analogy for a group of artists whose sublime palette is derived from a seemingly effortless blend of three individual aesthetics.

While The Q4 have released a full-length LP (Sound Surroundings), an EP (Darker Days), and even inspired a tribute single by Mr. Cooper & Dday One, the threesome can hardly be considered prolific in an industry climate vexed by oversaturation. Their process for creating compositions is detailed and meticulous, cutting hundreds of samples and incorporating material recorded with session musicians. What they deliver in terms of quality certainly overrides any expectations concerning quantity, and the trio has already proven that their material is well worth the wait.

If you're feelin' "One Of These Days", you may also want to check out the remix by Glen Porter, another essential player on Project: Mooncircle's impeccable roster. Also, for those of you who like digging for the origins of sample-based music, here's the song that laid the foundation for the vocals on this killer cut:

This Ray Charles original was covered by The Animals in 1965, several years after Charles had released the track. Versions by Donny Hathaway, Albert King, Van Morrison, Al Cooper, and many others have followed suit.

Dig deeper... The Q4

Dig deeper... The Animals

"Dirt"---Shahmen (zShare)

"Dirt"---Shahmen (UserShare)

I guess maybe I've been sippin' and trippin' on the kool-aid again...but...I've been so hyped on Project: Mooncircle's jaw-dropping roster that I want to kick some knowledge about another one of their projects before I quit frontin' like I'm getting paid: the magnificent, unfuckwitable Shahmen. This powerhouse trio is comprised of the aforementioned Sense, in addition to a couple of rock solid MCs, known as Unorthadox and B L S. My fingers aren't stuttering ONE bit as I type that these guys are creating some of the most hauntingly affective hip hop music that my ears have heard in...foreva eva.

This ingenious collaborative effort was born in 2006, when B L S met Sense while passing through the latter's hometown of Amsterdam. Immediately recognizing their connection as kindred spirits, the two recorded a track together on the very first day of their acquaintance. They parted ways just as suddenly, when B L S returned to New York to continue studying psychology, and Sense went back to working diligently on his compositions for the Q4 and other projects. Despite the fact that he was still throwin' down with Freud, a creative spark had been ignited in B L S. He started writing to some demos and beats that Sense had given him, and formulated a plan to ultimately return to Amsterdam to collaborate on an album with his newfound friend.

Several months later, the fledgling lyricist was finally in a position to transform his dream into a reality. There was only one glitch in the execution of his grandiose ideas: Sense knew absolutely nothing about his future partner's intentions until the moment he arrived on his doorstep. Although he welcomed the opportunity to record a second track with B L S, he was initially hesitant to embrace the idea of taking on an entire full-length project.

By sheer accident or well-plotted scheme, the MC happened to leave his rhyme book behind when he departed from the studio that day. As Sense started leafing through the pages, he experienced a mind-boggling epiphany: the verses that lay before him were, most assuredly, the perfect words he'd been seeking to complement his sounds. Within a month of this game-changing revelation, the dynamic duo had inexplicably managed to lay down more than 50 tracks in the producer's home studio.

Recording in Amsterdam, as well as travelling through West Africa and South America, Sense and B L S spent the better part of three years cultivating their impeccable creation. They were joined by Orthodox midway through the process and began writing new material with him, as well as adding his vocals onto some tracks that were already in existence. After bringing Arts The Beatdoctor on board to master the project, Shahmen finally released their Enter the Circle EP as a free download in April of last year.

Although my response in writing about this EP is clearly d-d-delayed, I've kept these seven songs in heavy rotation for several months now, and still haven't grown tired of listening to them. Every day there are countless submissions in my inbox that might threaten to disrupt my ridiculously short attention span, and yet, Enter the Circle stubbornly refuses to be edged out by newer, shinier things.

A full-length effort was originally slated to drop in September of last year, but for the time being, the release appears to be on hold. If anyone knows the status of the situation, do the right thing and drop some knowledge in the box. In the meantime, check out the opening joint from the EP, the exquisitely noir, achingly beautiful head-nodder known as "Dirt".

Dig deeper... *includes link for free download

"Sunday Morning"---Amanaz (zShare)

"Sunday Morning"---Amanaz (UserShare)

Speaking of labels that release mind-blowing material, Stones Throws' Now Again subsidiary has an undeniable knack for harvesting gems that were previously unavailable for mass consumption. The obscurity of these recordings is usually due to limited pressings or distribution~ or, as is the case with Amanaz, both of these factors may be to blame.

Amanaz's Africa LP was originally released in 1975, and is loosely classified in collector-speak as zam-rock. For the less geeky amongst us, zam-rock is a term used to describe music by Zambian artists that was heavily influenced by Western blues, psych, and prog rock of the '60s and '70s. There may be grounds to engage in a discussion about the ways that this entire concept is potentially problematic, but I reference it here because if you do any research about Amanaz, you'll find that this term tends to resurface time and again.

Upon listening to this album, I'm confident that you'll identify similarities to a bevy of popular British and American musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Cream, James Brown, and even Velvet Underground. Additionally, most of the songs on Amanaz's one and only recorded offering are sung in English (the remainder of the vocal tracks are in the native Zambian language of Bemba). Both of these factors weigh heavily into this album being stamped with the zam-rock label, but there's also a rich political, historical and ethnographic context to be explored that's well beyond the scope of this post. If you are willing to do some digging, you'll understand why Fela Kuti's material is being peddled at Best Buy, while the incredibly lush musical history of the Zambians is scarcely recognized.

Acknowledging the Western impact on artists such as Amanaz should not, by any stretch of the imagination, lead to the conclusion that their material was derivative or unoriginal. For one thing, it's generally foolish to define the path of musical influence in terms of unidirectional flow. Additionally, Jimi Hendrix and James Brown brought the funk to pretty much everyone across the globe who had access to a radio~ the emulation of their styles was, and still is, a commonplace occurrence on every scratch of earth inhabited by humanity. Furthermore, any notes that Amanaz and other zam-rock pioneers may have taken from these greats are counterbalanced and accentuated by defining elements of their unique socio-political environment. In the tradition of great music worldwide, the songs these musicians crafted were born in a climate of unrest and burgeoning political dissent. Accordingly, Africa is readily distinguishable in the ways it's firmly planted in the spirit of the times, not to mention the fact that it bears the individual perspectives of all five bandmates.

Although it's still arguably a cohesive selection of material, Africa is an eclectic, multi-genre affair, which may project the illusion that a larger, more loosely aggregated collective of musicians was involved. "Sunday Morning" is perhaps not the best track in an objective sense, but it's so soulful and beautiful that I'm hoping it will reel in some potential members for Amanaz's woefully uncrowded fan club.

If you decide to cop this LP, you can get a virtually flawless remastered CD version through Stones Throw's website for $15.99. Wax enthusiasts, on the other hand, might want to save their lunch money for the vinyl copy released by Shadoks Music. You'll probably end up paying close to $50, but it's a second pressing on transparent yellow vinyl, and there are only 300 of them in existence. I've never personally ordered from them, but Insound is one of the few retailers who seems to still be carrying it.

Dig deeper...

"I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore"---Lorez Alexandria (zShare)

"I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore"---Lorez Alexandria (UserShare)

Those who've heard Lorez Alexandria's name in passing tend to primarily associate her with the genres of gospel and jazz, but anyone familiar with her repertoire can surely attest to her impressively wide-ranging style. As is the case with artists such as the late, great Nina Simone, Alexandria made her mark as a stunning interpretive vocalist. Her material encompassed such an incredibly broad spectrum, it's inconsequential and misleading to specify her artistry via any simplified means of categorization.

Lorez's In A Different Bag LP was originally released in 1969, and if nothing else, it certainly underscores her ability to stretch her talent into the reaches of soul, R&B, and popular music. Its accessibility and foray into more mainstream material rendered the singer equal amounts of criticism and acclaim. Some critics and fans felt she'd lost her sense of self, and perhaps even her mind, while others celebrated her uncanny ability to tackle fare such as The Beatles' "Hey Jude" and make it undeniably her own.

"I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore" is a cover of a song written by Randy Newman, and I have no doubt that for many, it will land somewhere in the middle of love-it-or-leave it territory. I personally think it's a phenomenal recording...fucking phenomenal even. I grew up listening to Jerry Butler's beloved rendition, and let's face it~ he set the bar ridiculously high as the first artist who committed it to wax. Many hits and misses were to follow: Dusty Springfield and Scott Walker both released truly worthwhile covers of the song...but there's no forgetting the PJ Proby version, which forces me into a state of despair so deep, I have to wonder if life's really worth living anymore. Proby's cover is considered by many to be the definitive version, but for me, Alexandria's take is the only one capable of holding significant weight against the Ice Man's powerhouse original. Disagree with me if you'd like, but someone has to take up for the overlooked efforts of the underdog!

In A Different Bag was out-of-print for many years, until it was reissued in 2001 with its 1968 predecessor, an album called Didn't We. Both LPs were originally released on Pzazz Records, a label started by New Orleans legend Paul Gayten. Gayten, who held things down at Chess Records during one defining moment in his career, acted as producer on both of these under-appreciated, yet ingenious, LPs. Lorez Alexandria: The 60's Pzazz Sessions is currently out of stock or unavailable via many online retailers, so if you happen to come across a copy, you might want to snag it right way.

As always, I'd encourage you to dig deeper..., and explore a wider scope of Alexandria's vast library of recordings. By now, most of you know better than to base your opinions solely on the oddball song selections of your humble scholar...right???

Peace and love, soul babies~ stay beautiful...

Word From Your Moms:

"On the other hand, what I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me. Not the demons, you understand, but the ghosts."---David Bowie

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Souled On Samples: The Wonder Steady Edition

Soul children! Damn~ how we feelin' out there?

Many of you wrote to me this summer to inquire as to my well-being, and as always, I sincerely appreciate the show of love and support! Once again, however, I find myself in the unfortunate position of having to dispel an abundance of mythology and urban legends surrounding my sudden disappearance. To set the record straight, I haven't choked to death on a spam rising fame isn't attributable to membership in the Illuminati...I wasn't killed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a ploy to distract attention from Iran...and...for fuck's sake, K-Fed didn't chop off his head and have it sewn onto my superhero, athletic frame!!!

One infallible truth, in a universe riddled with enigmas and unanswerable questions, can be relied upon for certain...I would never jump out of a chalk outline on the pavement and come back to you empty-handed. I had so many records stockpiled for this edition of Souled On Samples, that I had to scale back on 80% of what I'd originally planned to post. It's a schizophrenic mix, as usual, but I doubt you've come here seeking cohesiveness...or sanity.

I won't take so long between posts again, if you promise not to talk shit about me while I'm gone. Ha!

Catch you on the flip...Scholar

"I'll Never Sail The Seas Again"---The Detroit Emeralds (LimeLinx)
"I'll Never Sail The Seas Again"---The Detroit Emeralds (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

*Produced by Exile

"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"---Smokey Robinson (LimeLinx)
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"---Smokey Robinson (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

"Devil In A Blue Dress"---Kanye West (LimeLinx)
"Devil In A Blue Dress"---Kanye West (YSI)

"As Long As I Have You"---Carolyn Franklin (LimeLinx)
"As Long As I Have You"---Carolyn Franklin (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

"I'll Never Be Ashamed"---The Sylvers (LimeLinx)
"I'll Never Be Ashamed"---The Sylvers (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

"Cut Out To FL"---RJD2 (LimeLinx)
"Cut Out To FL"---RJD2 (YSI)

"Free Angela (Thoughts...and All I've Got To Say)"---Bayete (LimeLinx)
"Free Angela (Thoughts...and All I've Got To Say)"---Bayete (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

*Produced by Just Blaze

*"Free Angela" was also flipped on:

"Twice"---Little Dragon (LimeLinx)
"Twice"---Little Dragon (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

"San Pedro"---Exile (LimeLinx)
"San Pedro"---Exile (YSI)

"La Voce Del Silenzio"---Dionne Warwick (LimeLinx)
"La Voce Del Silenzio"---Dionne Warwick (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

"Must Be Bobby"---RZA (LimeLinx)
"Must Be Bobby"---RZA (YSI)

"Thin Line Between Love And Hate"---Lost Generation (LimeLinx)
"Thin Line Between Love And Hate"---Lost Generation (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

"Taxi"---Mos Def/Whosane (LimeLinx)
"Taxi"---Mos Def/Whosane (YSI)

*Produced by Ski Beatz

*Note: A few blogs/websites have attributed the original to The Persuaders' version of "Thin Line Between Love And Hate". To my ears, that's erroneous, but feel free to engage me in a friendly debate if you disagree...

"Devika"---Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes (LimeLinx)
"Devika"---Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

*Produced by Butterfly, Shane Faber, Mike Mangini

"You Can't Blame Me"---Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr (LimeLinx)
"You Can't Blame Me"---Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

*Produced by Big Chop

*Also sampled on "Big Dreamers" by Reks, "When You Find" by Wiz Khalifa, "Represent" by Jester and and Don Martin, and "What Goes On" by Mobb Deep

"400 Girls Ago"---Billy Butler (LimeLinx)
"400 Girls Ago"---Billy Butler (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

"Potholderz (instrumental)"---Count Bass D/MF Doom (LimeLinx)
"PotHolderz (instrumental)"---Count Bass D/MF Doom (YSI)

"Tear It Down"---Blue Magic (LimeLinx)
"Tear It Down"---Blue Magic (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

"Just Out Of My Reach"---Sam Dees (LimeLinx)
"Just Out Of My Reach"---Sam Dees (YSI)

Dig deeper...

Sampled On:

*Produced by 9th Wonder

As always, if you have any additional knowledge to share, drop it in the box...

Word From Your Moms:

"Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius."----Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'll Gather Melodies From Birdies That Fly And Compose You A Tune...

Awww hell...I know. Only a few entries deep, and I've already gone back to relying on my mega-posting superpowers to capture your attention for the next 4 1/2 hours. I still plan to make a swift return to brevity and am working through the challenges of economizing my expression, but I took an unplanned hiatus that I thought worthy of a herculean virtual comeback. I apologize for the weight...and the wait...but I'm hoping you'll pass through more than once if necessary to cop grooves, gain knowledge, and shake your head in dismay at my ridiculous banter. I promise that next time, I won't do this crazy shit again...

Meanwhile~ be easy, soul bambinos...Scholar

"I'll Try Something New"---The Temptations & The Supremes (LimeLinx)
"I'll Try Something New"---The Temptations & The Supremes (YSI)

Even if you're not a fanatical Motown enthusiast, you're probably still aware that The Supremes and The Temptations frequently joined forces, appearing together on television specials and collaborating on both studio and live material. It was obviously an ingenious marketing strategy to unite a couple of top-selling supergroups for various collective projects, but these two entities were cosmically entangled long before Berry Gordy was positioned to exploit the seemingly endless potential of their harmonious fusion.

In the late fifties, following several changes in name, line-up, and location, a doo-wop trio called The Primes began making some noise in and around Detroit. It was the third city where they'd attempted to launch their career, and it seemed they were finally on the right track as their extraordinary performances were becoming the cornerstone of their regional popularity. Eddie Kendricks was emerging as the trio's superstar, and Paul Williams' powerful baritone resounded with a mysterious depth that was remarkably atypical of a vocalist his age. The third member, Kel Osbourne, had been singing with Williams and Kendricks since they'd formed The Cavaliers in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

The Primes had landed in Motor City in a move that was orchestrated by their manager, Milton Jenkins. Shortly after they arrived, Jenkins decided to launch a sister group called The Primettes, comprised of four talented girls from the Brewster-Douglass Housing Project in Detroit: Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Betty McGlown.

The two groups became good friends and practiced together frequently, but contrary to popular belief, they never actually performed together onstage. As it turns out, The Primettes were in greater demand, laying down backing vocals on countless records issued by Detroit-based record labels. From this point onward, the two groups weathered various changes and took very different paths in pursuit of stardom. However, as you know, they both would ultimately sign contracts with Motown, reborn as The Temptations and The Supremes. By 1964, both of them were enjoying chart success~ The Temptations with "My Girl" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do"; The Supremes with their #1 hit "Where Did Our Love Go" (a track that they personally hated and were coerced into recording, by the way).

Fast forward to the late 1960s, and Motown was expanding, churning out successful singles, and widening their market to reach audiences overseas. However, the label certainly wasn't without its woes, and in some respects, 1968-1969 marked a highly critical turning point in its historic timeline. Their top songwriting team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, had departed following a dispute over royalties. David Ruffin had been fired from The Temptations, and was crashing gigs as well as engaging in a contractual dispute of his own. Florence Ballard had parted ways with The Supremes in 1967, and fans were seemingly less enthusiastic about her replacement, Cindy Birdsong. To say that the label was in trouble would perhaps be an overstatement, but certainly their far-reaching successes could no longer be taken for granted.

In this rapidly shifting climate, what better way was there to ensure a favorable outcome than reuniting The Primes and Primettes? Besides the fact that pairing the two groups was a sure win in terms of sales, racial politics certainly played into the marketing ploy as well. While The Supremes had been highly successful in appealing to white audiences, The Temptations hadn't crossed over in terms of their core constituency. Gordy saw the collaboration of the groups on both television and wax as an opportunity to make The Temptations more commercially viable.

The chart performance of their first studio recording, Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations, proves that the formula was least if you define achievement in terms of sales. The album reached #2 on the Billboard 200 and spawned a couple of hit singles in the US, not to mention that their cover of "I Second That Emotion" reached the Top 20 in the UK.

From a quality standpoint, the results were slightly less impressive. For aforementioned reasons, the scales are decidedly tipped towards The Temptations in terms of the focal point~ which isn't entirely a bad thing, but who orders a combo platter expecting one lousy ass piece of shrimp? It often feels like The Supremes are primarily playing a supporting role in the mix, and Diana Ross is the only one who has any solo parts on the album. Additionally, all the tracks on the LP are cover versions, which doesn't bode well overall since their interpretations frequently pale in comparison to the originals. To sum it up neatly, the record certainly isn't without merit, but minus the superstar effect, this offering isn't particularly compelling or extraordinary.

In all fairness, their rendition of "The Impossible Dream" is probably the most impressive, but I've always personally been partial to "I'll Try Something New" (the second single from the album). A lesser-known song from Smokey Robinson's repertoire, this particular version features an impeccable arrangement by the almighty Gene Page. Eddie Kendricks and Diana Ross sound lovely together on this joint, and of course only a blood-thirsty psychopath could front on lyrics this adorable! Flyin' birdies, castle-building, givin' love as warm as mama's's fuckin' beautiful, man...

Put your uzi down, pour a big glass of Ovaltine, and go hold hands with the one you love for a while. Then smile, children...'cause you know...sunshine is good for your teeth and shit.

Sampled On:

"Tower Of Ears"---MF Borat (LimeLinx)
"Tower Of Ears"---MF Borat (YSI)

*A remix of Doom's "Gazillion Ear" containing a sample of "I'll Try Something New"

For me, MF Borat is sort of like a collaboration between Osama bin Laden and the Tooth Fairy. Mf Doom (now just ominously rockin' Doom as his monikor) is, of course, the Osama bin Laden of the analogy. We think he's responsible for crafting some bomb ass shit, but rather than waiting around to receive punishment or propers, dude runs for the sand dunes like dust in the wind. Just when we figure he must be dead, he drops a mysterious tape on us, but so much conspiracy's involved, we never know if it's him or an imposter. Thusly, Sacha Baron Cohen's wildly popular Borat character is the Tooth Fairy, because legend has it that he possesses about 204 teeth, 3 of which are in his nose. Since that's just...fuckin' unnatural...the likely explanation is that he copped quite a few of those from under the pillows of unsuspecting, slumbering munchkins. Of course, this contention is also strongly supported by the fact that his character Bruno infamously descended on Eminem dressed in fairy wings and a thong... so...yeah.

As a result, I'm not going to treat the Doom + Borat collaboration as journalistic fact. Many writers are colossally failing to get the tongue-in-cheek element of the press release, but hey...if you believe that a based-out gypsy in Oakland is responsible for making this whole project fly, then please leave all your teeth under your pillow for me tonight. I know this chick from around the way named Polly Dent who'll front me a fortune for a bag of dentures, sun...

*If you dig this, you can snatch up other a few other free and legal MF Borat joints at the official spot (especially "So Good To Me" which simply shouldn't be missed, children)

"Don't Huzzle For Love"---The Apostles (LimeLinx)
"Don't Huzzle For Love"---The Apostles (YSI)

This is such a dope track, I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't share it sooner...

Not to be confused with Jesus' homeskillets or the myriad of other musical outfits who share the same name, these Apostles were a Nigerian folk/highlife/rock/pop/afrobeat/funk/gospel/reggae/kitchen sink outfit whose heyday was in the 1970s. Unfortunately, there's not a great deal of information readily available about these guys on the internet, but the almighty Discogs does have at least some of their releases and catalogue numbers listed. If anyone knows any firsthand information about them, please drop some knowledge in the box.

Up to this point, my broke ass hasn't managed to afford any of their albums on wax, but I have been able to gather a fairly impressive digital collection of their works with the help of my crate-digging cousins around the world. "Don't Huzzle for Love" kicks off their Black Is Beautiful LP, and it's one of those grooves I gravitate towards when I need a spontaneous burst of jubilation in my life. I've also found great satisfaction in attempting to utilize the word "huzzle" in a myriad of contexts, but...yeah...there's probably sort of a bold, geeks-only disclaimer written on that one...

"Back Home"---Yusef Lateef (LimeLinx)
"Back Home"---Yusef Lateef (YSI)

Yusef Lateef certainly deserves more fanfare than I have time or space to give him at this moment, so I'm gonna implore you to dig deeper until I get around to writing a more extensive commentary on his work. To the extent that I really only care to write about what's stirring in my soul at any given moment in time, I'm feelin' a genuine sense of urgency about passing along one of his many masterpieces to you today. I've probably listened to The Blue Yusef Lateef at least a hundred times over the years, but I swear I've just begun to really hear this album within the past couple of months.

Soul children who fiend for sampled ish are undoubtedly aware of at least one artist who's flipped Lateef's material~ The Beastie Boys, Pharcyde, MF Doom, Kool G Rap, Diamond D, Cormega, Aesop Rock and Sixtoo, just to name a few. You know that I'll be the last person to denounce sample-seeking as an avenue to musical discovery, but if you only cop a few selections from his discography, you're not only sleeping...we should keep it real and call that shit a coma.

Understanding that Lateef is a divinely supreme innovator of autophysiopsychic music (sounds emanating from one’s spiritual, physical and emotional being), it's hardly an overstatement to declare him one of the most essential artists in jazz/world music's illustrious history. In addition to being a greatly accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Lateef is also an educator, visual artist, author, philosopher, and composer.

While "Like It Is" tends to rightly be exalted as the standout track on The Blue Yusef Lateef (Atlantic/Wea, 1969), I love "Back Home" for a couple of different reasons. First of all, I have an affinity for his flirtations with blues music, which showcase how masterfully accomplished Lateef is at aurally exploring an incredibly rich tapestry of sounds. I actually consider this to be one of the more adventurous compositions of the bunch, and yet he manages to pull it off as flawlessly as if this style were his forte. Secondly, I make no apologies for my unabashed love of The Sweet Inspirations, who Lateef snagged to add backing vocals for this track and "Juba Juba".

Beautiful, mystifying stuff, children...

"Can't Get Used To Those"---Dimlite (LimeLinx)
"Can't Get Used To Those"---Dimlite (YSI)

Music lovers, feel me on this~ it's bittersweet falling in love with tracks that weigh in at a mere moment or two. It's impossible not to get greedy and just want...more!...but at the same time, you somehow realize that a degree of precision somehow preserves an integrity that often eludes longer compositions. Whatever...all that is essentially bullshit. I'm actually just tryin' to say that I'm enamored with this one minute and 31 seconds of sonic beauty from Dimlite's latest intriguing release, Prismic Tops.

When writers/critics/labels describe music as wonky, glitchy or blippy, I'm not particularly impressed. Those have become terms of endearment in the age of Flying Lotus, and if you're older than 12, perhaps you remember these same mechanically generated adjectives being hurled at the likes of Anti-Pop Consortium and Prefuse 73. Even if you thoroughly read the press release for Dimlite's album, you still can't honestly fathom what the fuck this guy's stuff is going to sound like (quote: "like John Cleese’s rubber face expressed as a post-modern work of musique concrete"). In fact, the only salient point made is that his music isn't likely to be canonized by The Source magazine, which at least lets us know that prismic tops aren't something people can use to pimp their ride. No disrespect to Stones Throw...because I am afraid of Peanut Butter Wolf...but is it even worth mentioning that their brand of hip hop isn't going to sit well alongside the drops and dimes that typically get covered in The Source???


A few rapid-fire facts you may actually want to know about Dimlite, aka Dimitri Grimm: 1) His first two 12"s were released in 2003~ "Sponsored By The Alphabet" got some attention via word-of-mouth and spins by Gilles Peterson 2) He grew up in rural Switzerland where the club scene was non-existent 3) He has several alter egos (isn't multiple personality disorder a prerequisite for being repped by Stones Throw?) and was part of a duo called The Slapped Eyeballers Are Dead 4) He has a quirky sense of humor: "Lullaby For Gastric Ulcer" is a choice title 5) He describes his sound as salty pop rocks.

There you have it, kids...go forth and be amazed that this joint sounds nothing like you'd imagined...

"You Had To Know"---Zulema (LimeLinx)
"You Had To Know"---Zulema (YSI)

My long-winded ass (somehow that sounds all wrong) is officially running short on time, but I have to close with this heartbreaker by Zulema...

The amazing Zulema Cusseaux started out singing with The Lovelles and Faith, Hope, And Charity before making her way as a solo artist. A powerhouse vocalist who could hold her own against the likes of Aretha and Chaka Khan, Zulema (meaning "peace" in Arabic) was a pioneering female artist who wrote and produced quite a bit of her own material. Couple this with the fact that she was a gifted multi-instrumentalist whose work was critically acclaimed, and it makes no damn sense whatsoever that she failed to crack the Billboard Pop 100 even once during her solo years.

"You Had To Know" is a torch song from her 1975 R.S.V.P. album, and constitutes a perfect way to end the relationship we started on the first track of the post...when we were still innocent, in love, and trying something new. Now it's all over and you're holding your shredded heart in your hands~ but you can't quite get over how much you loved that person in the beginning. No worries, was prolly just the Ovaltine...

Dig deeper...

Word From Your Moms

“I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and the soul.”

“I must tell you that I was always afraid of the fury with which I loved you. It overwhelmed me. I thought it beyond comprehension, therefore my silence.”

“Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on.”

~Above quotes by Henry Rollins