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: Funkin’ For Fun

Ok, I had something else cued up for this Sunday’s iPod add, but when I heard “Funkin’ For Fun” earlier today I had to pass it along.  This is one of my favorite songs off Parliament’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein(1976) album.  What makes this song so special to me are the vocals of Glen Goins.

Glen Goins and George Clinton circa 1976-77

He has the most powerful soulful gospel vocals I’ve ever heard.  He is featured on the entire album along with Garry Shider and together they are amazing (you ain’t heard nothing like it).  Goins guttural crescendos, screams, and hollers do it for me.  Goins voice easily creates a space, which hovers just outside the realm early turn of the century gospel music.  If you changed the lyrics, which give assurances to ones mother that everything is all right, the song might as well be a gospel song.  However, this song is not gospel it is full fledge Funk!  Sadly, Goins passed away in 1978 from Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 24. (RIP)

Anyway add this song to your iPod and you will thank me later.

Below is a live version of the song, however for a better experience of the song I suggest you take listen to the album version for more detail of Glen’s voice and the perfectly place version of the Beatles’ lyric “coo coo ca choo!”

Ohio Players: Black Body Politics & Honey!

As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” which rings true on closer examination.  Many of us have certainly seen pictures worth a thousand words and more.  That being said, how many words are the images on an album cover worth?

Album covers are meant to give the listening audience a visual clue or insight to the recorded work of the artist.  The images; some simple, some complex in their composition, speak volumes through hyperbole, metaphor, and double entendre images.  Given the decade, album covers made very specific social, cultural, and political commentary that spoke directly to the listening audience of that era.  No era was more prolific in relaying social, cultural, and political messages to a listening audience than the 70s.

The 70s followed the decade of social and political turbulence led by radicals, poets, and misfits who fought for and achieved real cultural change in all aspects in American life including music.  Simple photos of artists on their album covers were now passé.  The 70s demanded more!  Album covers had to say something else besides “look at us/me” (the artist).  The era required thought-provoking, emotional, bewildering, career defining, and indeed controversial album covers.  The Ohio Players stepped up to the plate.

The Ohio Players was (and still is) a funk and R&B band from Dayton Ohio who famously crooned about a funky worm, skin-tight britches, fire, sweet sticky thangs, and a love roller coaster.  Their album covers in the 70s are now legendary.  They constantly make the top 10 Internet list for the best album covers of the 70s and easily top the sexiest album cover lists of all time.  As you will see in this post, Ohio players featured a sexy and scantily clad woman on all of their albums in the 70s.  How many words are their album covers worth? Thousands!!!

Considering the era of the 70s, the Ohio Players’ album covers were more than just gratuitous sexy-women.  The band was engaging in the social, cultural, and political issues of the day.  Ohio Players were, in terms of album cover imagery, in lock step with the climate of the times.

The 70s ushered in a new and bold vision of blackness.  As the black urban community jettisoned out of the 60s, musical spokesperson and ‘soul brotha #1’ James Brown shouted out a new manifesto suited for a new conscious people: “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and we were.  The new vision of Blackness was righteous, cool, smart, and “sho nuff” beautiful.  The Ohio Players helped to create the musical soundtrack of this era.  Their music communicated the sentiment of the new definition of blackness.  Ohio Players sonically created that familiar black 70s swag.  Moreover, their album covers echoed black romance and the beauty of the black body–a women’s body.

In deliberate synchronicity with Blaxploitation films, their album covers exuded the new 70s black woman.  Gone was the imagery of the Aunt Jemima mammy and wash maids and here to stay was the self-assured, fearless, afro wearing, jumpsuit sporting, shit talking sista that could round house “The Man” in the throat, flip off the pigs, save your little brother from getting hit by a car on his Big Wheel, and lovingly kiss her man on the lips–all at the same time.  This was the image of the popular black woman of the 70s and this was the woman on the album covers of the Ohio Players only a bit more sexy.

Observation In Time, 1968, Capital Records

Although not recorded in the 70s, Ohio Players first album Observations In Time was telling of future album covers to come.

Pain, 1972. This is their first album on the Westbound label.
Photographer is Joel Brodsky. Model is Pat Evans.

Photographer Joel Brodsky, was instrumental in the creation of the Ohio Players album covers.  He wanted to create images of a strong black woman.  In the above photo model Pat Evans is the visual personification of this and more.  Not only is she dominating the man in the photo but she is also afro-less, which shows her defiant nature; this is extreme even in black culture.  Her bald head is a clear sign that she will not be controlled.  Think “Black Moses” Isaac Hayes.

Pleasure, 1972, Westbound

Brodsky album covers contained the “rest of the image” below or above the ‘gate-fold’ (where the album folds).  The folded album would showcase the “featured” image on the cover.  Then once unfolded the image would be “completed” or seen in its entirety to reveal an expanded visual commentary.  Examine the above photo.  Evans on the album cover is seen from mid forearm to shoulder with a facial expression that resembles the title of the album.  However, once the album is unfolded she is revealed to be bound by chains.  Which extends a whole new meaning to the title of the album.

Ecstasy, 1973, Westbound. This is the last Ohio Players album released while still on the Westbound label.  Others albums released on Westbound are compilations of unfinished songs, extra material, and previously released hits.

Brodsky’s images depict Evans as sexy and dominant.  The 70s witnessed the emergence of the black woman as sexy, exotic and erotic.  Black women, in terms of their darker skin color, emerged as objects of desire and the image of beauty.  Women such as Carol Speed, Gloria Hendry, Tamara Dobson, Pam Grier, and first black super model Naomi Sims were embraced for their sexuality and beauty alone.

Skin Tight, 1974 Mercury Records. First album for Mercury. Brodsky nor Evans were employed for the album cover.

Once the Ohio Players moved to Mercury Records, their album covers lost the image of strong black woman.  However, the albums covers did retain the sexy, sensual, and alluring body as the object of desire and muse for the album’s music. Brodsky’s beyond the gate-fold imagery was still utilized.  Mercury’s album covers pressed the sexuality of black woman, which rivaled the sexuality of white women.  Black women were sexy too!

Fire, 1974, Mercury. Heated sexuality.

Climax, 1974, Westbound. This album is composed of extra tracks from their years with the label. There is much commentary below the gate-fold.

Westbound’s image on the Ohio Players Climax album is aimed at the artists.  It revealed how the label felt when the group left and signed a deal with Mercury.  Brodsky and Evans image (a knife in the back) below the gate-fold was controversial.

Honey, 1975, Mercury.  Arguably the most famous Ohio Players album cover.  Check the net for the inner sleeve.

The most popular Ohio Players album cover came complete with a urban tale of hot honey, a deathly scream, and a studio murder, which may of may not have involved the model on the cover Ester Cordet.  Cordet was the first latin (Panamanian) Playboy “playmate of the month” (Miss October 1974). Her African heritage couched her and her body in the black aesthetic of beauty and sensuality.

Rattlesnake, 1975, Westbound.  (Rare)

The Rattlesnake album cover contains the image of a man, woman, and snake.  Evans is in a dominant position here and is in full control of the snake.  The imagery is reminiscent of Adam and Eve and metaphorically Westbound takes another dig at the Ohio Players with the presence of a snake.  (Members of Parliament/Funkadelic are rumored to have played the overdubs on this album of unfinished songs and re-recorded earlier releases.)

Greatest Hits, 1975, Westbound.

Ohio Players previous record label had yet another message for the band on their Greatest Hits cover.  Westbound’s commentary of the Ohio Players lies above the gate-fold.  Evans beauty still persists as did the Ohio Players music.

Contradiction, 1976, Mercury

The Contradiction album is indeed that.  The music contradicts their musical legacy in that it is not very appealing and the horse pictured is credited rather than the model.  This image is highly sexualized, which  plays on the image of the the black stallion metaphor and double entendre.

Gold, 1976, Mercury

Mercury’s release of Ohio Players Gold album was a compilation of the group’s gold records and a response to Westbound’s Grates Hits both sonically and in album cover image.  The model, whose look is similar to Evans, appears to be angelic-like as she flies through the air carrying Ohio Players gold record to the masses.  Her nude body and red cape exude power and femininity.

Angel, 1977, Mercury

The Angel album cover represented the last of the Ohio Players respectful image of the black body.  This should be of no surprise.  The image of the black body was by this time in American society common and had begun to lose its exotic-ness.  The black body had arrived; it was beautiful and could rival and be rivaled by any other body.  In terms of beauty there was a fair amount of parity.  This was reflected in the media and most powerfully seen on television in the form of black cast dramas and sitcoms of the 70s.

Mr. Mean, 1977, Mercury

The Ohio Players appearance on the Mr. Mean album cover ends a steak of not having any band member on cover since 1968.  Although the image of a feminine black body is present, it is, however, stifled by the men.  The model seems to be withdrawn and submissive this is far removed from the strong and controlling images of Westbound’s Brodsky/Evans covers.

Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee, 1978. Last album recorded for Mercury.  No outside gate-fold.

Inside gate-fold

Everybody Up, 1979, Arista

By the end of the 70s, as seen on the Everybody Up album, the unique  esthetic of black beauty had made a change.  Images birthed in the Blaxploitation era have waned and the black body evolved into mere sexual object; a collection of body parts to be desired.  Strong images of black women in terms of black power and feminine sexuality and attached meaning disappeared in the 80s and were reflected on not just the Ohio Players album covers but many other artists album covers as well.  The era of social and cultural commentary on black body politics and honey (beauty) was over.

Want more info on the Ohio Players? Check here:

http://wfnk.com/ohioplayers/index2.html

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-ohio-players-p5062

More photos of Pat Evans

5 Albums, Seriously!

You’ve all heard the question “What are your 5 favorite albums?” or this one “You find yourself stranded on a deserted island, what 5 albums do you hope you have with you?” Or even better, “If you could only listen to 5 albums for the rest of your life, which albums would you choose?”  These are seemingly harmless questions at first glance.  However, these questions are quite devastating if taken lightly.  You can’t just answer them too cavalierly, because the future of your listening pleasure is at stake.  You have to think seriously about these things.  Take some time, sit down, rub your chin, go over your music collection, and sleep on it.  Don’t ever rattle off 5 albums on a whim–that would be crazy insane and certain death ten days into your horror if you ever had to actually live out two of the above questions.

So, welcome to my Sunday afternoon.  I was faced with the question “If you could only listen to 5 albums for the rest of your life, which albums would you choose?” My first thought was “Oh this is easy!” I positioned my hand like I did when I was in elementary school to count to 5 . . . and that’s it. That’s all I did.  I stood motionless for a while . . . thinking.  My mind, like some possessed jukebox, began to play snippets of songs I heard over my whole life.  I even imagined a bevy of album covers, which was crazy (the Rufus feat. Chaka Khan album cover with the lips on it popped up most often and I don’t know why . . . really, I don’t).  This was tough because I wasn’t choosing 5 songs or 5 artists, but rather 5 entire albums.  I couldn’t quickly settle on 5.  I was stumped.  I had to get serious. So, I sat down, rubbed my chin, and went over my music collection, ultimately I slept on it.

Over night my mind weeded out all the albums that I would never listen too over and over again. That left me with about 150 albums that I would listen to, well not that many, but plenty.  So the following is my honest and serious attempt to answer that seemingly harmless question.  These are entire albums that I could listen to from beginning to end everyday with out question.  Every song on these albums is perfect in every way.  Check’em out and listen for yourself.

Here they are in no particular order:

1.     Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.  This is hands down my favorite jazz album, which so happens to be the most popular jazz album ever recorded in the history of jazz, period.  With personnel like Cannonball Adderly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, and Bill Evans of course it’s perfect. (My favorite song on the Album: “So What”)

2.     Steely Dan’s Aja.  If you have not listened to this album I feel sorry for you. You need to experience the artistry and obsessive perfection of Donald Fagan and Walter Becker.  This is the best in sophisticated 70s jazz/rock.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  It’s musically complex yet highly accessible.  Since I’m a amateur musician and truly appreciate great musicianship, I’m drawn to this album by the personnel of Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, Joe Sample, Wayne Shorter, and Michael McDonald.  Special shout out to Al Schmitt et al for creating an engineering and recording musical masterpiece.  They set the standard with this album in recording excellence and have the Grammy to prove it. (My favorite song on the Album: “Black Cow”)

3.     Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall.  It’s Mike under the direction of Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton, with Louis Johnson, David Foster, George Duke, Pattie Austin, and the C-wind (Seawind) horns; shout out to horn arranger Jerry Hey. What else do you need me to say? (My favorite song on the Album: “Working Day and Night”)

4.     Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (MTV Unplugged Live version). Neo soul at its finest.  Maxwell dives into these song off his first album in epic fashion.  How could he go wrong with writers such as Itaal Shur, Leon Ware, Stuart Matthewman, and Kate Bush, it’s perfect.  I love the freedom expressed in the live recording. (My favorite song on the Album: “Gotta Get: Closer”)

5.     Parliament’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.  This album contains some of the funkiest soul re-dipped in funk that you have ever heard in your life.  Full of social messages and culturally valuable writers George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Bernie Worrell nailed it.  Not to mention the voices of Glen Goins and Garry Shider are out of this world–these brothers blow in the most funkiest of ways. Special shout out to Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker.  (My favorite song on the Album: “I’ve Been Watching You (MoveYour Sexy Body”)

There you have it, my 5 albums that I could and will most certainly listen to for the rest of my life.  This was rough; because there are plenty more I could easily have listed.  But today, right now, this is it.

Whew! I have a headache!

Justsoulyouknow!

What are your 5?  Hey, hey, hey . . . . take your time. This is serious! Your Willy Nilly-ness could result in your early death!