In an effort to educate myself on a corner of the musical world I’ve previously overlooked, and in some sense possibly scorned, I’ve hooked myself up with some James Brown. This move was mostly inspired by my enjoyment of the Wild Magnolia’s extremely funky self-titled 1974 album, and my subsequent realization, in conversation, that I did not have any other funk music within my scope of knowledge. I first picked up a copy of Brown’s single collecting debut, Please, Please, Please, and was surprised by the relatively mild R&B/Rock & Roll stylings therein contained. Regardless, I was on something of a mission to introduce myself to the raging funk that Brown is best known for, and accordingly plunged into the foundational classic of hip-hop sampling, In the Jungle Groove (1986). Unavoidably enjoyable, there’s not much to be said about the album that the grooving beats don’t say themselves. Though “Funky Drummer” is the most famous cut, with the drum break that sailed a thousand dj’s ships, and “It’s a New Day” is probably my favourite, with the gospel screams, I’d like to highlight “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” for its great a cappella breakdown and Brown’s instructing the engineer to keep the tape rolling during the break. Here’s the version from the 1972 album There It Is.
James Brown and the J.B.’s, “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing”
For a film I’ve never seen, the soundtrack to Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 The Big Chill plays a surprisingly prominent role in my life. I was introduced to the soundtrack as one of the more frequently played cassette tapes that my mother owned, and was turned back onto it during my undergrad when a friend of mine and I realized that, though neither of us had seen the film, we’d both grown up listening to that cassette. The soundtrack itself is filled primarily with soul classics from the mid-1960s, along with a couple hippy-rock gems, including Three Dog Night’s anthemic “Joy to the World.” Particular favourites of mine have always included Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears” and Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” though there’s not a dud track in the bunch. So, kick back and enjoy some Smokey and Aretha or better yet, go out pick up a copy, on cassette, of course.
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, “Tracks of My Tears” (1966)
Aretha Franklin, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (1968)
Filed under Music, Rock, Soul
Pressured by constant coverage over on Aquarium Drunkard (see, most recently, here), I’ve decided to trust the experts, and give some attention to Nick Waterhouse. As often seems to be the case these days, there’s very few actual Waterhouse recordings available, despite of the amount of buzz around him. That said, the songs that exist are consistently excellent. Waterhouse is a part of the whole neo-retro movement trying to capture the sound of the early 1960s, and Waterhouse’s contribution to this trend comes in the form of rockers heavily punctuated by skronking saxophone, capturing the moment when the Jump Blues of the 1950s were adopted by white kids from the suburbs and turned into the American Graffiti Rock & Roll that blended blues, jazz, soul and pop. The recent enthusiasm for this style of early rock is a welcome piece of historical revisionism, updating the musical nostalgia for this era to include the full breadth of early Rock & Roll, rather than just the traditionally remembered rockabilly of Sun Records and Elvis.
Nick Waterhouse’s debut LP Time’s All Gone drops May 1st on Innovative Leisure. Check out the first two singles, “Some Place” and “Is That Clear,” below.
Nick Waterhouse, “Some Place”
Nick Waterhouse, “Is That Clear”
Filed under Blues, Music, Rock, Soul
Dr. John, “Revolution [Teaser]” (2012)
A lot has been made recently about the Black Keys’ guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach’s involvement in Dr. John’s new album Locked Down, which should come as no surprise, seeing as the Black Keys are the current flag-bearers of roots-, blues-, and soul-rock, territory that Dr. John has stalked for most of his career. Auerbach serves as producer and guitar contributor on this set of ten songs, and his presence shows. The production bears a striking similarity to the Black Keys’ sound from 2008 onwards, with murky vocals, neo-retro keyboards and a funky swagger. Many of the song lead-ins feel like lost Danger Mouse backing tracks with their break-filled drumming and horn charts. This sound works well with Dr. John’s signature vocal style, still incredibly unchanged after 44 years, bringing the Doctor in line with the current neo-retro fascination.
The second most common topic to come up in the discussion of this album seems to be Dr. John’s return to Nite Tripper-era atmospherics, and while this is somewhat accurate, as Auerbach’s production adds a swampy layer of murk, the songwriting itself lies closer to the Doctor’s 1972-1974 era albums, than his 1968-1971 style. As such, Locked Down doesn’t contain an experimental freak-out in the vein of “Croker Courtbuillon,” nor a 17-minute “Angola Anthem” jam-along. Given that these more left-field adventures are what gave the Nite Tripper-era albums their dynamism, Locked Down is a much more consistent affair, like his 1972-1974 albums. Despite the Nite Tripper referencing reviews and album art, which is awesome, by the way, Locked Down feels more like the spiritual successor to In The Right Place (1973), than Gris-Gris (1968). The album, in its entirety, is a very enjoyable listen, full of funky grooves and a great vibes, and the songs stand up to individual scrutiny, ranging from the overpoweringly groovy “Revolution” to the more contemplative “My Children, My Angels.” Check out the teaser video below, and be sure to pick up the album at your local, independent record retailer.
Dr. John, “Locked Down [Teaser]” (2012)
Chicago lofi musician/artist Willis Beal Earl is everywhere these days, seemingly despite his best efforts. Earl, who lives on the South Side with his grandmother, shuns the internet and has publicized his art and music primarily through hand-drawn posters and busking. The combination of his lofi sound, childlike illustrations and naive persona have rightfully earned him many comparisons to Daniel Johnston, though Earl himself wants to become “the black Tom Waits.” His sudden rise to blog-stardom was precipitated by a cover article in Found Magazine.
I was initially skeptical over his offerings, particularly the frequently posted “Monotony,” as another instance of an artist gaining fame more for their backstory than their talent; however, unable to escape press about Earl, I was eventually won over to his cause by the song “Take Me Away” which, with it’s soulful take on Lomax-rock, immediately caught my attention and gave creedence to his “black Tom Waits” aspirations. The secondary effect of the song was to showcase Earl’s depth of talent, as this song is about as far as one can get from the muted guitar and confessional lyrics of tracks like “Monotony” and “Evening’s Kiss.” Willis Beal Earl’s debut album, Acousmatic Sorcery, comes out on XL imprint Hot Charity April 3. Check out “Take Me Away” and the hand-drawn video for “Evening’s Kiss” below. While his quieter confessional tracks are growing on me, it’s his more soulful and blues-inspired fare that really impresses me, so be sure to check out the two soulful live takes for Urban Eyez, “Same Old Tears” and “Wavering Lines,” I’ve added at the bottom.
Willis Beal Earl, “Take Me Away”
Willis Beal Earl, “Evening’s Kiss”
Willis Beal Earl, “Wavering Line”
Willis Beal Earl, “Same Old Tears”
You’d think that a band with a name like Alabama Shakes would have registered more intensely on my musical radar than they have until today. For some reason or other, I was under the impression that they were part of the neo-soul army, along the lines of a female Charles Bradley, although I reckoned that the name would best suit a sloppy garage-punk band. Despite my association with Alabama Shakes and the neo-soul movement, and judging from the track “Hold On,” part of their set for Seattle’s KEXP, their sound is much more varied. While “I Found You,” from the same set, hits on all the Daptone signifiers, “Hold On” strikes closer to the Southern-inspired rock of bands like Roadside Graves. Both songs are good, but having already (falsely) pigeon-holed the ‘Shakes as a neo-soul act, I was pleasantly surprised by “Hold On.” The other two tracks from the set, “Hang Loose” and “Rise to the Sun,” find the middle ground between the neo-soul of “I Found You” and the Southern Rock of “Hold On.” Anyways, suffice it to say that the Alabama Shakes are now officially on my radar, and I look forward to hearing more from them. Check out the KEXP performances, in order, below.
Alabama Shakes, “Rise to the Sun”
Alabama Shakes, “Hang Loose”
Alabama Shakes, “I Found You”
Alabama Shakes, “Hold On”
While looking for a compilation of Ike Turner’s early rock and roll sides, such as Jackie Brenston’s classic “Rocket 88,” I wound up with this 1969 album of Ike Turner instrumental tracks, mislabeled as his 1963 album Rocks the Blues. The album veers from early rock to blues and funk, and all the tracks seem ripe for a sample hound to throw together some amazing rhythm and blues-inspired beats. Dig some favourites from the album below.
Ike Turner, “Thinking Black”
Ike Turner, “Black Beauty”
Ike Turner, “Black Angel”
Ike Turner, “Getting Nasty”