AAMAM: Remembering B.B. King! Part 13 of 30

kingThirty days ago today we lost a blues legend B.B. King.  Since his passing we have been reminded of his surely earned accolades; revisited our favorite song of his; watched his live performances on YouTube; wondered what will become of his guitars; marveled at his longevity; tuned into his life celebration and home going ceremony; and are currently watching the aftermath of his passing among his family—those who loved him the most and have experience his love—are struggling to find reason and understanding of his death.

As time marches on, we remember B.B. King in so many ways.  I have a special and fond memory of King in a recording studio.  I was lucky enough to have had the privilege of watching him record a song.  As luck would have it, my good friend Alma Ramirez, who has work in the production end of the music business with many notables, was project coordinator on B.B. King’s 37th studio album Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan.  Knowing I was a fan she invited to come and witness King in action. Once I arrived, I quickly found out that King wasn’t the only legend in the studio.  There I witnessed King in conversation with Dr. John, drummer Earl Palmer, and saxophonist Hank Crawford! Needless to say I was floored. I watched them interact for a while. In time they moved to their places—Dr. John slid behind a piano, Palmer climbed behind his drum set, and Crawford disappeared behind a sound partition were his sax and an expensive mic awaited his presence. Before you knew it there was a quiet count in and they began to record the Louis Jordan song “Jack, You’re Dead”. I was amazing and I watched it all happen before my eyes.

To watch legends work out their craft in the studio is a rarity for most of us and to have seen King lead Dr. John, Palmer, and Crawford is something I will never forget. Thanks Alma!

Listen to what I had the great luck to see!

Enjoy AAMAM!

AAMAM: Sorrow, Memory, and Poetry Part 4 of 30

billieRecorded on April 20, 1939 Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” spoke of the haunting imagery all to familiar to African Americans especially in the South. Holiday’s voice and cadence embodied the sorrows, horrors, loss, and spiritual pain that was lynching.  The lyrics of “Strange Fruit,” which became Holiday’s signature song, was written as a poem by Jewish writer and teacher Abel Meeropol in 1937.  He responded in poetry to a photo image of a lynching.  Meeropol hoped his poem would add voice the atrocities of lynchings and help further the campaign of antilynching laws, which were vigorously shot down in the Senate during era of the song’s popularity.

This is AAMAM. Listen to remember and be well.

Sometimes You Gotta Scream To Get Into the Conversation

Scream Michael & JanetThis post is a bit more than a photo of Michael Jackson and his sister Janet.  Although a lot could be said about the photo above that could range from the perils of a dynastic family to androgyny to nepotism and on and on . . . However this post is a video presentation.  Below you will find Michael Jackson’s 18 year-old “Scream” video.  This video, in my opinion, is one of the best videos ever filmed.  The video’s imagery hinges itself on classic escapism; Michael and Janet are literally escaping unknown ills in search of solace and unfettered leisure all within a futuristic setting.  The video is the suggested remedy to the song “Scream.” Michael’s song as announced by critics during the time of its release was a critical, angry, and vengeful response to his treatment in the media and his proclamation of frustration, social and personal injustice.  Michael was simply tired of it all.  The pairing of the song and video is a wonderfully awesome account of call and response between sonic and image.  The analysis of this fact would be amazing, but as Sweet Brown said, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”  To do it right one would have to explore the very nature of social injustice, resentment, the realities and purpose of pop culture in the media, fame, race, responses to stress, dance as celebration and of course the future; space travel, weightlessness, spaceship aesthetics (and connect it to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and might as well add in Star Wars and Star Trek while your at it), not to mention sibling rivalry and support and finally, why is it in black and white?

In the end, this amazing video allows Black artists through R&B and Soul to continue their sentimental conversation of life in America, which began in the sorrowful hums and moans while crossing the Atlantic to the Southern field hollers and ring shouts to the first utterance of a Blues riff in a juke joint.  This is Black music! Black music, since its beginning has always told a story of sentiment with emotion.  Listen to the conversation and have a great BMM!

Turn it up!

I, Too, Sing America!

Welcome to Black Music Month (BMM) on Justsoulyouknow.  All month long I will be posting photos that are both historic and iconic as well as cool and awesome.  Every other day or so, I will feature an amazing photo then give a little detail about that photo or the individuals contained in the photo.  I intend to connect you to the amazing history of Black Music as well as demonstrate why Black Music maters.

Patti wasn't the first to kick off her shoes and sing a verse

Patti wasn’t the first to kick off her shoes and sing a verse!

First up is this amazing photo of Mahalia Jackson and Dean Martin sharing a good hearty laugh together.  Life Magazine’s Allen Grant took this photo on Oct 1, 1958 during rehearsals for Bing Crosby’s new T.V. show called The Bing Crosby Show: Presented by Oldsmobile.  During the time of this photo Mahalia Jackson was at the top of her game.  She had just recorded her latest gospel album titled Live at Newport ’58, where she was part of the first ever Gospel Showcase of the Newport show.  Her album was released in early ’59 and would later be consistently touted as one of the greatest live gospel albums ever recorded.  Jackson was riding high on her new found fame as a singer/actor on the silver screen as well.  Her performance in the film St Louis Blues, where she beautifully sang and acted, garnered great reviews from critics.  Her appearance on the Bing Crosby’s show, which brought her image directly into the living rooms of America, was risky and bold.  America was in the midst of an epic battle, which involved African Americans attempt to gain inclusion in American society while powerful whites labored to hold onto a segregated America.  Jackson’s appearance threatened the national sponsorship of the show because America had yet to fully embrace an integrated performance on TV.  However, as history has informed us, it was in part though the power of Black music that the civil rights struggle changed minds and freed a nation.

Check out the result of their rehearsal below:

The POTUS and His Vinyl Close Up

POTUSAlbum covers, since their inception, have always been a great sign-post of the climate of our times.  Their images are visual cues that direct everyone from the culturally focused individual to the political astute citizen to the casual music listening fan toward the current grand social narrative of the day.  Savvy musical artists in cahoots with photographers and visual artists (in this new era of entertainment it is most likely the director of artist branding) design their album covers to attract and stimulate interest in their content.  Some of these efforts have been regrettable and forgettable, while others have been remarkably memorable and remain culturally relevant decade after decade.

So, what kind of visual cues are being made about the grand current social narrative when dime-a-dozen digital artists place the POTUS,  Barack Obama, on the cover of iconic album covers?  Does Obama’s presidency serve as the musical content in which the dime-a-dozen digital artist is trying to attract and stimulate the culturally focused individual and the casual political fan?  Either way, the following album covers containing the image of the POTUS are indeed memorable and culturally relevant . . . at the moment.  And if anything, are too cool to be regrettable.

[Try to make out some of the original album covers and artists]

1 1A 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Ndegeocello Sings Simone!

Me'Shell NdegeocelloI confess I’ve been a fan of bassist/singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello since she dropped her first album Plantation Lullabies in the early 90s.  I’ve watched her perform in L.A. several times and once in Atlanta in 2007, which was memorable I must say.  However, even more memorable than that was when I saw her years earlier live at the Virgin Mega store in Hollywood.  Ndegeocello played a small in-store set then signed copies of her second released Peace Beyond Passion (96).  I clearly remember asking her, as she signed the cover of my freshly bought CD, “Where’d you get that funk from?” like the P-Funk lyric.  She smiled and said, “Yes, right there!”  Wow! I just had a brief moment with Meshell Ndegeocello, whoa!

Over the years I’ve enjoyed the limitless range of Ndegeocello’s music.  As a serious soul music lover, I’ve especially relished in her exploration of the many nuances of soul. Ndegeocello and her music easily moved beyond the essentialist theory of the black artist.  She approached several other genres of music in her own unique way.

So, when I heard she was in the process of recording an album of Nina Simone songs I was excitedly perplexed (this is a good thing).  What would it sound like? Would it be funky with heavy bass lines? Or would the songs be reconfigured in emotion filled ballads with spoken word-like delivery? (You know how she does).

Nina Simone and Meshell Ndegeocello, on the one hand, are quite unique in their own right who together share some similarities.  Scholar Salamishah Tillet suggests, “Ndegeocello, like Simone, has dared to cross musical boundaries, express bold politics and be a steadfast presence as an African American woman instrumentalist in a male-dominated music scene.”  Also their similarities continue in terms of their fitting into socially comfortable places in America.  On the other hand, they are opposites in terms of the musical RESPONSE to their perspective eras; Simone confronted racial inequality amid social and civil unrest while Ndegeocello struggled in a post civil rights climate with her personal sexuality within rigid cultural mores.  A struggle afforded her by the work of Simone, in all seriousness.

Ndegeocello’s new album, Pour Une Âme Souveraine (For A Sovereign Soul) was released in October and is a wonderfully crafted tribute to Simone.  Pour Une Ame SouveraineFirst and foremost, Ndegeocello’s voice is perfect for the songs she sings while her musical approach is spot on.  She organically moves away–though not far–from the musical intention of Simone certainly due to the contemporary climate of the times. Ndegeocello finds a laid back groove for each song that departs from what NPR calls the “urgent” tone of Simone.  Her small group of musicians recorded the album with an obvious audible post soul aesthetic that is undeniably Ndegeocello.  She invited vocalist/musicians such as Cody ChesnuTT, Toshi Reagon, Sinead O’Connor, and Lizz Wright to join her on this tribute to Simone.  Collectively they sing with heartfelt respect for Simone whom Ndegeocello calls “royalty.”

This tribute album is a way to remember the indescribable force that was Nina Simone. Ndegeocello stated in a recent interview she hopes, “to get more people interested in her, check out her catalog and sort of revive it, and also use her story and learn from her story.”  After hearing the album it is clear to me that Ndegeocello was the perfect person to put forth this stellar tribute. Yes, Ndegeocello sings Simone!  In the end, I have to agree with Dr. Tillet when she suggests, Ndegeocello “has always been Simone’s heir apparent.

Your Sunday iPod add: Michael Kiwanuka: Raw Soul Folk

Here is your Sunday iPod add . . . any song form Michael Kiwanuka’s debut album Home Again.  For months now I have seen Kiwanuka’s face on the sidebar of my facebook page staring at me suggesting I should click on his image to hear his new music.  I’ve also seen his image on the bottom of my iTunes in a star-studded line up of what other listeners bought.  For months I have pass over his image and move on the next artist that caught my interest.

Well, today, after church and my daughter’s long rehearsal for a play, I headed home and I logged on.  There he was Michael Kiwanuka staring at me.  While eating my corndog I clicked on his image.  Wow! What took me so long to do this? What was I waiting for? Kiwanuka’s music combined the essential elements of acoustic soul and folk in the best way.  My musical taste are admittedly broad so, I listen to just about anything (I merely talk about the soul I listen to on this blog) and it’s been a quite along time since I’ve listen to some good contemporary acoustic folk music, rather, acoustic soul folk music.

I listened to a few of his songs and videos on youtube with amazement.  Kiwanuka, a 25 year old Brit with roots in Uganda has manage to capture a unique musical rawness of a generation and a half ago.  A recent USA Today article described his music as “warm and familiar as Sunday morning” and make sensible vocal comparisons to “Otis Redding” and “Bill Withers.”  However, I’ll take it a step further and easily compare him to the likes of badass guitar slingers and song poets such as Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Richie Havens without reservation. He’s that good! His music is soulful and righteously folk yet contain just enough blues to elicit a mystical wonder that conjures images of deals being made at a Mississippi crossroads.

Listen to Michael Kiwanuka! Don’t sleep on MK! Don’t be like me and pass on him.

Add his album to your iPod and you will thank me later.

Check his videos below:

You gotta check out his version of Hendrix’s “Waterfall”

Your Sunday iPod add: Cold Specks

Why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Hello! She’s only a click away.  Her music is probably better than anything you listened to today.  Trust me, she sings what you like.  You like Dylan?  You like Nina Simone? You like Sting?  You like Stevie Wonder?  You like the blues?  You like folk music?  You like coffee shop ditties on guitar?  You like turn of the century Southern gospel???  Chances are you said yes to one or all of these questions.  Why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Besides having one of the coolest stage names in show business today, Cold Specks owns the most unique voice you’ve ever heard.  It’s slightly raspy yet soft enough to draw you near your speakers.  Also, her voice is magical.  It’s infused with the sound of wisdom–a wisdom far beyond her age of 24.  Her voice seems to come from a guitar strapped centenarian storyteller bent on telling you one more tale.  When I look at her face and hear her sing I am easily perplexed.  When was the last time an artist did this for you? 

A Canadian who now hails from London and a nominee of the 2012 Polaris Music Prize, Cold Specks has upped the ante on the expectation for the human voice.  So, again, why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Now that you know about her you have no excuse.  Watch her videos below, add her to your iPod, and buy her album, titled I Predict a Graceful Expulsion.  You will thank me later.

Cold Specks is on tour. Check her out at a venue near you.

Your Sunday iPod Add: Rachelle Ferrell

Here is your Sunday iPod add.  Identified as a singer’s singer, Rachelle Farrell easily stands a top the small community of those truly gifted to sing.  Her GOD given vocal talent is revered by both veterans and up and coming singers who strive to hone their gift. The incomparable Anita Baker recently stated, “Rachelle Ferrell . . . is who we all want to be when we grow up.”  Rachelle is that rare talent that only comes around every once in a while.  Her voice, of seemingly endless amount octaves, can easily create a sonic tapestry that warms the soul.  Rachelle is one of a few artists that have mastered multiple genres of music such as jazz, blues, gospel, and R&B.  She is known for her ability to re-imagine and perform songs in her own unique way.  Rachelle is pitch-perfect in her endeavors and does not disappoint.  She is indeed a treasured commodity.  Take a moment to listen to this amazing vocalist then add her to your iPod.  You will thank me later.


José James: Your Sunday iPod Add

Returning with a vengeance, here is your new Sunday iPod add “Touch” by the extraordinary vocalist José James. “Touch” has become one of my favorite mid tempo jams to listen to.  The driving groove goes down smooth and easy.  Led by the drum and bass, this cut allows James to vocally float over chord changes with what some call a “romantic baritone” voice.  His voice is unique and defies comparison to other male vocalist on the scene today.  Admittedly inspired by the supreme John Coltrane, James’ music is rooted in Jazz and utilizes elements of Soul and Hip Hop, which displays a certain youthful exuberance to be admired.  If you were wondering where is that new vocalist who makes audience stand up and take notice, wonder no more.  José James is an artist you should know.  Add this song to your iPod as soon as possible.  You will thank me later.

Oh, and note to the romantics reading this: James’ songs are smoking hot!  Some soft light and a little wine can amp up an intimate moment . . . watch out dere now!