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.




October 27, 2010

Donnie – The Colored Section

Donnie - The Colored SectionThe Colored Section carries its themes of racial inequality with such compelling assurance that it gives the album a tremendous sense of weight and sociopolitical importance, placing it firmly alongside the more well-known, like-minded recordings of the 1960s and 70s. Like many of those earlier works, the vast majority of The Colored Section carries a sense of determination, heart, pride and passion that’s inspirational and deeply moving. The early blissful trifecta of “Beautiful Me”, “Could 9” and “People Person” combine to set the bar impossibly high, with the groovy “People Person” in particular sounding like a long-lost Stevie Wonder classic. It’s evident throughout The Colored Section that Wonder has had a huge influence on Donnie – although his vocals never dip into mere imitation – with several cuts sounding so authentically Motown that they could have come straight from one of the 60s/70s originals. The remainder of the album showcases Donnie’s versatility, from the consumer-criticism atop Dixie stylings of “Big Black Buck” to the squelch-&-flicker electronic backdrop of “Masterplan” and the Brazilian tones of “Do You Know?” A brilliant, bold and audacious debut, The Colored Section stamped Donnie’s mark on the music scene as an artist of truly immense ability.



October 25, 2010

椎名 林檎 (Ringo Shiina) – 三文ゴシップ (Sanmon Gossip)
j-pop, soul, jazz, big-band, experimental-pop

With Sanmon Gossip, her fifth solo album 椎名 林檎 (Ringo Shiina) - 三文ゴシップ (Sanmon Gossip)and first in six years, Ringo Shiina once again took the approach that’s made her previous works such a joy to hear – a willingness to embrace and experiment with a wide range of musical genres and techniques, combined with a firm grasp on pop-songwriting and a determination to make her songs as engaging, memorable and accessible as possible. In my opinion, it’s her finest album yet, an exuberant firecracker that crams so much content into its fourteen tracks that it constantly feels like it’s about to burst. Throughout the album, Shiina engages colourful splashes of just about every genre she could possibly shoehorn into her style of music, including big-band/swing (“Mittei Monogatari”, “Karisome Otome”, “Irokoizata”), American soul music (“Rōdōsha”), hip-hop (“Ryūkō”), laid-back soft-pop (“Shun”), alt-rock (“Yokyō”), electro (“Maru Chiten Kara”, “Togatta Teguchi”) and show-tunes-inspired vocal jazz (“Tsugō no Ii Karada”, “Futaribocchi Jikan”, the latter of which goes so far as to include a tap-solo!). She even finds time for a surprising, left-field display of minimalism on the accordion and vocals track “Bonsaihada”, one of the album’s finest cuts. The whole thing is an absolute feast, generously applying new musical angles, instruments, vocal touches and stylistic approaches at every turn, to the extent that, were it not for Shiina’s inescapable personality, Sanmon Gossip would verge on resembling a multi-artist compilation. That fantastic personality is the glue that makes Sanmon Gossip a genuinely thrilling success, though, as Shiina’s irresistible vocal twists and turns through the record, softly charming you on one track before knocking the roof off the building and reaching for the stars on the next. This album is simply huge, both in sound and scope, and is one of the most lively, expansive and ambitious pop releases I’ve ever heard.


October 23, 2010

King Khan and His Shrines What Is?!
garage-rock, soul, psych-rock


The garage-rock revival scene, with all of its assorted offshoots, subgenres and crossovers, has plenty of players, movers and shakers. In terms of quality of output, some have been more successful that others, but the fact is that King Khan and his sensational Shrines succeed more than pretty much any of them. What Is?!, the nine-piece outfit’s third album, sees the group elevating their killer blend of boozy garage-rock, psychedelic leanings and sensual, love-machine soul to the highest possible level, making for their finest personal effort and a guaranteed lock for the canon of garage-rock classics. Immediate impact is always a blessing on these kinds of albums, and this one opens incredibly strongly, with the blazing, bare-chested machismo of “Outta Harm’s Way”, the hilarious and hard-rocking full-disclosure of “I Wanna Be a Girl” and the groovy, garage-soul cut “Welfare Bread”, the track most seem King Khan and His Shrines - What Is?!to pick as the album’s key highlight. The sheer number of hits littered throughout the remainder is equally impressive, though, with speed-garage cuts like “Land of the Freak” and “No Regrets” (a personal favourite) interlaced between psychedelic sex-cult serenades like “69 Faces of Love”, “Cosmic Serenade” and “The Ballad of Lady Godiva”. King Khan himself is one of those larger than life rock stars, whose showmanship, attitude and massive personality make him a crucial component in the quest to keep rock music’s old-school theatricality alive and kicking. He fits the role beautifully, although in a somewhat unlikely manner – shirtless, cape-clad, beer-swilling and pot-bellied, he bellows his sexed-up lyrics (which would sound sleazy if he didn’t come across as such a fun-loving charmer) with furious abandon and limitless energy, making him feel like a cross between James Brown, Iggy Pop and the local drunkard. Hail to the King, baby!



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.