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!”

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!