October 29, 2010

Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
soul, hip-hop, r&b

Musically complex and ignited with fiery social and political commentary, New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War) merges elements from neo-soul (via the vocals) and hop-hop (via the beats and production) and rounds them out with splashes of funk & contemporary r&b. Sounding confident and righteously motivated, Badu doesn’t hold back for a moment, delving fearlessly into heated topics such as politics, war, immigration, drugs, violence, patriotism, race-relations, religion, health, education, law and death, and her lyricism is razor-sharp throughout. So much of Badu’s vocal performance and the album’s subject matter will leave a mark on the listener: first track Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)“Amerykahn Promise” grabs your attention with the love-meets-violence catch-cry of “Promise to you baby, I’ll love you tooth for tooth and eye for eye”, while “The Healer” sees Badu claiming that hip-hop is “bigger than religion … bigger than the government”, set atop funky beats and dreamy chime samples. “The Cell” reflects on the tragedy of addiction within the family (“Momma hopped up on cocaine / Daddy on space ships with no brain / Sister gone numb the pain the same / Why same DNA cell?”) and tribute is paid to J Dilla in the serene “Telephone”, a seven-minute slow-burner which features a soaring coda that makes for one of the albums greatest highlights. The album is saturated with this sort of powerful sentiment and unwavering conviction, making New Amerykah Part One get under your skin as much for its moving content as its irresistible grooves.




July 30, 2010

Lee Fields & The Expressions – My World
soul, funk

Lee Fields & The Expressions - My WorldLee Fields made a name for himself in the 1970s putting out a series of awesome (and now very rare) 7″ singles on his own label, and he’s spent decades honing his sound to a perfect mix of the sheer power of James Brown and Sam & Dave and the subtlety and tenderness of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. When you listen to My World, his debut album with new band The Expressions, it becomes abundantly clear that you’re hearing the sound of a man who has proven himself as a titan of soul beyond any shadow of a doubt. His voice is simply huge, commanding such a degree of attention that it’s something of a marvel that the rest of the band even manage to get noticed. Opening track “Do You Love Me (Like You Say You Do)” is pure dynamite, a killer single that would’ve rocked the charts in times gone by, while my personal favourite, his silky cover of “My World is Empty (Without You)”, is inescapably moving – one of the finest examples of straight-from-the-gut soul music I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Anyone who’s been digging the fine soul renaissance that rose up throughout the second half of the 2000s needs to hear this album.


July 17, 2010

Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights
soul, funk

Sharon Jones might well be the coolest vocalist on the planet right now. Totally self-assured, with wicked attitude, stunning range, depth, maturity and a fantastic sense of humour, she’s a complete package of a singer who’s virtually without peer. When you back her up with the Dap-Kings, one of the tightest groups currently making funk and soul music, the results are pretty much unbeatable. My introduction to them was with 2005’s slow ‘n’ smooth Naturally, an album I loved, but thought was lacking a little too much in upbeat floor-shakers, an area where Jones really comes into her own. Where that album narrowly missed the mark, 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights succeeded spectacularly, and at least half the tracks grind awaySharon Jones and The Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights with an irresistibly funky abandon. The slower numbers are still there too, including a couple of beautiful gospel turns, and they’re better than ever before. This is deep-down, authentic soul music that could easily convince a casual listener that they’re hearing to something from the late-60s, yet it never drops into being an outright retread. Sharon Jones and her fabulous Dap-Kings leave their mark on every track, making for an album full of lively spirit and soulful personality.


July 13, 2010

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Umsindo
soul, funk, hip-hop

To me, this album feels a lot like a spiritual companion to Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part 1 (4th World War), so it’s hardly surprising Georgia Anne Muldrow - Umsindothat I adore it, given that Badu’s release is a major favourite (one you can expect to see higher up the list). Georgia Anne Muldrow’s biggest drawcard here might be the unpredictability of her songwriting, as her half-soul-half-hip-hop vocal leads each of these twenty-four (!) tracks along various unforseen pathways and surprising, meandering detours. The music, which consists of a dense melange of bubbling basslines, neo-soul vocal harmonies, strutting percussion and a host of influences derived from funk, hip-hop, electronic and world music, ebbs and flows in her wake, popping through unexpected stylistic shifts which never conform to your expectations yet always reach infinitely satisfying outcomes. Plus, there’s a handful of instantly graspable cuts, like the super-groovy “Daisies”, to keep the listener from losing themselves in the depths completely. Umsindo is complex, but it’s a truly rewarding album – an immense, sprawling work of bold creativity that rewards repeat listens with rich detail and masterful musicianship.