#Bandcampgold-Whatever It Takes by The James Hunter Six
Music criticism makes my skin crawl when it becomes too coy about areas of specialization. Example: when a soul album like Whatever It Takes by The James Hunter Six comes out the criticism given by experts is very watery and ephemeral “this is nostalgic stuff so its fine but who needs it?! Just listen to the original stuff it apes.” That view of this album is one from the ears of someone who doesn’t genuinely love soul music. We all want to act like renaissance listeners who know everything but it’s so rarely true. We specialize. This lead in is to make it clear this music is exactly my specialization and Whatever It Takes is a fabulous example of my counter point to the “who needs it?!” people.
A giant percentage of our music is nostalgic but we only register some of it with that tag(lots of sneaking going on). I hold that The James Hunter Six are part of an active genre not a throwback trend. They aren’t a Temptations cover band they make music within a genre that lived in 1962 and does now. I applaud James Hunter and Daptone Records co-founder (and producer) Bosco Mann for remaining laser focused when putting these ten songs together.
Daptone separates itself with genius composition. You can hear it in the found sound jack in the box tuning on the title track (along with fantastic drum and organ), the engaging instrumental track Blisters, the frantic movement of I Got Eyes, the astounding bass line of Show Her (my favorite song). James Hunter is locked in pocket like a great closer on the mound in baseball. He arcs up and down within reach of every note he needs. My favorite performance vocally is Mm-Hmm where he glides along the drums before gently eking out the chorus. He commands the song (in summation: 2 things that elevate a soul album 1. Composition 2. Commanding vocal performance)
Whatever It Takes is an album. You just put it on and let it go. If other people are with you who haven’t heard it they will ask you what year it was made when you tell them this year they will get surprised. It passes the one test for soul music. The test Sharon Jones made everyone so aware of: if this is to sound like it’s from a bygone era does it sound like a new artist in that era or does it specifically sound like ripping off an artist? Is this just someone doing Wilson Pickett or James Brown again? If it is original vocal performance and composition like The James Hunter Six have given us than just enjoy it and be thankful we have more of it to warm the day.
Stream or BUY(I did) below:
#BandcampGold-A Common Wonder by Amerigo Gazaway, Stevie Wonder, & Common
Amerigo Gazaway is the best mash up dude in the world right now because when he picks two artists he doesn’t just jam them together he weaves them together. He’s paired Fela Kuti with De La Soul, Mos Def with Marvin Gaye all in ways that made you see the musical link between those artists and appreciate their skill set to a greater degree. Midway through a Gazaway mash up you wonder why you didn’t see it in the first place.
Gazaway’s strength is that he makes bold choices that pay off through deep knowledge of both artists discographies. A Common Wonder pulls heavily from 60’s Stevie in key moments; laying the foundational I Used to Love H.E.R over I Was Made to Love Her and most surprisingly finding a way to make Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours) and The Light seamless dance partners. Innervisions is the current critical go to for “best Stevie Wonder album” and it gets some play in interesting places. Common’s best verses from Chi-City are ferocious and perfect over the funky synthesizers from Living In The City, The Innervision intermission drops in an interview Com did with Rap Radar talking about his relationship to Stevie. It is classic Gazaway in the sense that it provides a meaningful connection between the two while making it clear that while Visions is one of the best Stevie songs ever he doesn’t need it and can use it on a skit.
Young Stevie didn’t have any of the problems Neo-soul did. While Neo-soul seemed to all move at the same tempo and represent as relentlessly earthy (I love Neo-soul but everything has problems) young Stevie brings undeniable kinetic energy to the sonic space he fills. You can hear Love of My Life change for the better as the pace pushes Badu and Common making the song better. As an MC Common has always been a difficult one for me, his best work stands alongside the best to ever happen in the genre but bad Common is horrible. Gazaway finds the verses, the songs that show a real three dimensional beating heart. When you hear The Sixth Superstition you’ll hear Common better than you ever have before and that’s the benefit of a great mashup for the MC, it throws a different light on verses we took for granted.
I had to perform at a very important event, commemorating a very important man and before I spoke I shut myself away from everyone and just listened to A Common Wonder. Someone asked me what I was listening to, I went into full pitch mode and a day later they were in my face about how great the project is. A Common Wonder is a tide that lifts all boats and I am sure that person I pitched is now off somewhere else pitching another friend.
Stream or download below:
Contrasting The Unsatisfying with The Satisfying
From the first Kehlani song I heard I filed her into my head as an important person. She has world domination pipes and a real versatility to her. Her new album SweetSexySavage was built around her ability to dig into many moods and styles of R&B. She can give you a snarling stepping out of the ashes anthem in Crzy or get super radio friendly with a song like Advice. The savage end of the three part equation isn’t quite there but that’s fine. Even on a song like Do U Dirty where she is the cocksure mistress declaring intentions to do you dirty and that we should be worried….you won’t be. Kehlani doesn’t have the dangerous side someone like Rihanna has. If Rihanna said she was gonna do me dirty and that I should worry…I would be genuinely fearful of getting a lamp broken over my head or something.
Here is Kehlani Do U Dirty
If you get the deluxe edition of SweetSexySavage it is 18 songs where she is changing personas but keeping each song as big screen as it can be. Every song is a swing for the fences radio hit that nearly clears the ball park but falls in an outstretched glove. Kehlani is frantically getting dressed in different characters for the big dance, her debut album. By the time the limo gets here she is mismatched and trying too hard. It is not a bad album AT ALL. Lots of great stuff on it, but it is not satisfying.
Syd’s album Fin is another story. This is a side project from the lead singer of The Internet. They put out one of 2015’s best albums Ego Death. Fin doesn’t have nearly the stakes that Kehlani’s debut has or seek the pressure of radio domination. Fin is such a personable album with a beating heart right next to Aaliyah’s legacy. Know sounds like Aaliyah, like really does…which is something to say. So few things sound like Aaliyah. She is genuinely funny “If I go to hell hope all my B’s can visit (Nothin To Somethin’)” and impossibly personable cashing in on a mid-tempo groove with a mixture of gratitude for where she is, confidence as to what she can do, where she came from, and psychosis. She stews it so perfectly that while Kehlani forces her voice in every crevice of SweetSexySavage you can find yourself forgetting how special Syd is as a vocalist. She doesn’t go full Mariah but when she hits a beautiful moment it is striking (See: Smile More). The other times you are led by these incredible lines. My favorite song on Fin is All About Me which starts “I be more than a god in my dreams, it’s wishful thinking. I sleep more than I need to, I drink more on the weekend.” To sleep more than you need to so you can return to the dreamscape you rule which contrasts to what?! Well, I’m hooked.
Here is All About Me
Syd might be incredibly versatile as well but you get the idea that she doesn’t care whether it ends up that way. This is a side project that will be full of stuff SHE WANTS IN. “When I die my grave gon’ be my music, my soul is living through it.(All About Me)” and she says it just as casual as anything else. It’s why Fin feels so damn free.
My Star Wars Analogy between Miguel and Leon Bridges
Miguel’s new album Wildheart is not short of brilliant. It’s like an intimidating layer cake of sexual pop music that carries Prince’s style with R. Kelly’s nymphomaniacal intention. Leon Bridges Come Home album is on the opposite side of the spectrum but just as exciting. It sounds like Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers had a baby in Motown’s 1963 Detroit. It’s not simple nostalgia but a hybrid of sounds with his voice as the clear center piece and effective, concise, heartfelt songwriting as its currency.
The two albums released so close together force a weird Star Wars comparison into my mind. Both albums have what music consumers could call “the force” that power to make soul not just earnest but catchy to the point of addiction. Miguel works on the dark side of the force and is the Darth Vader of this comparison. Last album he took the Clockwork Orange R&B of The Weeknd and made it fun(Kaleidoscope Dream), this time he’s even trickier forcing his drugs and sex agenda into a fantastic world of sizzling guitar and sharp drums. Even when he’s admitting that he’s gross the song is so great you don’t even care. He makes sinning seem awesome in the manner that Darth Vader made my generation of kids want to crush necks with our mind.
Example of Miguel’s dark power
When you are done with the Miguel and the cold shower that follows, pull up this youtube in front of your Mom and Grandmother and watch them all love Lisa Sawyer.
Come Home doesn’t just showcase Bridges powerful voice but masterful minimalism. In this situation he is Luke Skywalker on a journey to cut through the densely sexual R&B landscape with a very controlled sound. Ten songs, thirty five minutes and not a note out of place, it’s an album that brings the eloquence of confidently crafted soul music so efficiently that it grips you right at the core of who you are. Of course, in this analogy R. Kelly is the evil emperor.
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Tagged 2015 albums, Come Home, Darth Vader, Leon Bridges, Luke Skywalker, Miguel, R&B, soul music, Star Wars analogy, the force, Weeknd, Wildheart
Song Review-Baby Come Around by IZA produced by Snoop Dogg
I could probably get you interested in the mixtape Flower In The Jungle by IZA with a simple tagline. Polish singer does a DJ Skee mixtape produced entirely by Snoop Dogg. Those components alone would make a lot of rap fans press play just to hear what comes out.
It’s weird to think about but few rappers know R&B, Soul, or Funk as well as Snoop does. I know that Snoop collaborates across most musical genres; reggae with Snoop Lion and country collabs with Willie Nelson but this is a dude that name dropped Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes on an interlude on his first album (and worked with The Dramatics on the same album). So he produces this under the thesis that by powering up his time machine for 1977 and taking his hip hop knowledge back to disco the outcome will fit.
The Lean On Me cover is weird the Let’s Wait Awhile is even weirder but I like it. Snoop never tries to produce outside of his capabilities. He keeps it funky while her vocals remain clean and crisp and warm. Lyrically the songs have mobility and can talk about love at an upbeat hit-the-dancefloor pace without seeming awkward.
Flower In The Jungle seems like it was fun to make. You can imagine Snoops mostly closed eyes and silly smile, bobbing his head, as this track plays back for the first time in the studio. That fun is infectious and makes this collaboration one of 2014’s real gems.