It requires very little effort to fall deeply in love with Neneh Cherry when she’s performing on stage. Cherry’s complete dedication to delighting her audience was the saving grace of her second-ever performance in the United States (the first since 1992), as the gentlemen of RocketNumberNine were pushed to their maximum efforts, battling electronic failure, and one suspects jet-lag in equal measure. No matter, Cherry was an absolute delight, playing cuts off her latest, and yes, closing with “Buffalo Stance,” albeit a version with subdued instrumentation. The set blossomed more than it banged, the crowd allowing easy access to the closer spots near the front, as much of the audience began picnicking in preparation for Sharon Van Etten on the adjacent stage. Yet there’s simply no denying Cherry’s infectious presence, her unflinching embrace of an unmatched exuberance; it had me almost wishing that she would do the entire set a capella. If this turns out to be Cherry’s last ever performance in the United States, I’d still somehow feel satisfied. (Kenneth Preski)
“The music, history, food and culture of Brazil and New Orleans have so much in common that it just seems logical to put them together,” writes keyboardist Charlie Dennard on the liner notes for the independently released “From Brazil to New Orleans.” The same has been said by various Crescent City musicians I have interviewed over the years, because the liveliness and musicality of cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador makes them feel right at home. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
The best way to understand an artist is to meet them on their own terms, something that’s exceedingly difficult to do with Kelis, a musician who’s made a career out of defying definition. Check her track record: “Caught Out There” in 1999, “Milkshake” in 2003, “Bossy” in 2006, “Acapella” in 2010—a decade worth of hits to undermine any criticisms about her artistic vision. These songs resonate because of Kelis’ exceptional ability to layer vocal harmonies with a shifting timbre; striking a delicate balance between hard and soft, the opposing textures of her voice veering whichever way the mood shifts. Kelis has used the technique to create songs that are spiritual and sexual in equal measure, standout track “Floyd” off of her latest album “Food” emphasizing her skill in the endeavor, a heavenly refrain about being blown away. Through her music, Kelis is both sacred and profane in a world that can’t get enough of either. Read the rest of this entry »
Soul songstress Sharon Jones’ latest tour is also a victory lap. After a tough battle with bile duct cancer sidelined an album release and tour plans in 2013, Jones returns this year with a clean bill of health and the release of “Give The People What They Want.” This is her first full tour with the Dap-Kings in two years. With more than thirty dates for the North American tour alone, Jones and the Dap-Kings are clearly making up for lost time after releasing a solid, unrepentant traditionalist R&B/funk album—and I mean that as a total compliment. “Give The People What They Want” features Daptone Records’ usual bold, wall-of-sound production fleshed out with groove-drenched songs like “Retreat!” and “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Jessica Burg
The universal truth that music is best when shared remains unequivocal. For the last forty years, folks have traveled distances far and wide in pursuit of one of America’s original treasures, 1960s soul music. Over weekend-long parties they celebrate camaraderie, record trading, drinking (for some, not all) and most importantly, dancing till the wee hours of the morning. There are two standout characteristics to this little-known tradition, which has come to be known as a Northern Soul weekender. The first is that the songs they play aren’t the familiar standbys most often affiliated with the era—the Temptations or Otis Redding. The second is that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it going down on American soil. In fact, you’d have to make the stretch across the pond to England or another part of Europe. That was until Pilsen residents Kevin Jones and Brenda Hernandez held the first ever Soul Togetherness USA event in 2013. This year’s weekender incorporates four nights of free (that’s right, free!) local, national and international DJs, a record swap and Soul Serenade bus tour, making it the only bash of its kind in the States with the exception of Soul Trip USA, a European export. Read the rest of this entry »
Walk up to anyone and ask them to play the word-association game: the game where you say a word and they blurt out the very first thing that comes to mind. Say the word “funky,” and more than likely their response will be “James Brown,” “Horns,” “Chicken” or “Funkadelic.” And while there really is no right or wrong answer in a game designed to observe the human thought process, a better response arguably would have been “Maceo,” the first name of the player synonymous with the head bopping sounds of his funky alto sax. Tried and true, Maceo Parker is the funkiest horn player to have risen from the dawn of funk music. He has played with both James Brown, cutting a total of twelve albums with the Godfather of Soul including “Sex Machine,” and adhered to various syndicates of the first family of funk, Parliament-Funkadelic, for a total of ten albums including “Mothership Connection.” He first joined James Brown in 1964, and from then on was an integral player in defining and fostering funk’s sound. It’s even been written that between Maceo Parker and funk music it’s hard to discern which one came before the other—a living, breathing, chicken-or-egg paradox. Read the rest of this entry »
When George Duke succumbed to leukemia on August 5, he had already left behind a gigantic legacy in the music world through his innovative vision as a keyboardist, singer and composer. However, he still had something to say, and that was what turned out to be his final album, released just a couple of weeks before his untimely passing at age sixty-seven.
The album came after a long hiatus brought by the death of his wife in 2012, but the break served his music well—the album is a piece of art that encompasses the sounds of his four-decade career, beginning from the aptly titled title track, which has touches of psychedelics and funk, going to the jazz fusion groove of “Stones of Orion,” a tune that features one of the genre’s heroes, bassist Stanley Clarke. The cut just fizzles with electricity thanks to the chemistry between the two veteran musicians. “Change The World” begins with recordings of various speeches, and then various singers share the message of hope and understanding. Read the rest of this entry »
The greatest myths are good stories. And tales behind the discovery of any band are just decent fiction—or at least realities tweaked well enough to conjure up towering imagery.
Sweden’s Goat isn’t issuing its Stateside debut because of outstanding European festival performances but rather because a band it shares practice space with just shot a video over to Chris Reeder, UK’s Rocket Recordings honcho, and he dug it. That’s only part of the story, though.
“Over the course of the next few months when we were putting the seven-inch together, the band themselves started communicating with us,” Reeder says about his earliest digital interactions with the Swedes. “Then we didn’t really hear anything else from them until about May … when out of the blue ‘World Music,’ all finished and mastered, landed in our inbox.” Read the rest of this entry »
The perception of Lonnie Smith as an organ deviant stems from a variety of career choices. Being plucked up outta Buffalo by guitarist George Benson and incorporated into his funky quartet, Smith came to prominence amid the bandleader’s combination of swing and grace. Of course, the sporadic covers worked up by the quartet, including “All of Me” from 1966’s “The George Benson Cookbook,” made for some shoddy territory. And while Smith hasn’t taken to the mic to regale listeners with favored lyrical numbers, he has laid into “Sunshine Superman.” Wading into popular music didn’t relegate “Boogaloo” Joe Jones or “Groove” Holmes to lesser-known status, but the industry’s constraints weighed on Smith, stifling his ability to move beyond genre limitations his early career helped define. From the mid-1960s through the following decade, Smith released visually and aurally singular works—his “Think!” remaining one of the strikingly designed Blue Note albums of the era. Read the rest of this entry »
Billy Martin, best known as the driving, percussive force behind Medeski, Martin and Wood, pairs with former Chicagoan Wil Blades, an organist who’s performed with Galactic’s Stanton Moore and a handful of other funky luminaries. Martin, a player in his MMW configuration who keeps a table of noise-making toys by his side on stage, ditches the avant-approach on a set of tunes the duo’s simply titled “Shimmy.” The album ostensibly offers what fans expect: Inspiring percussion and loads of organ vamps with attendant solos. Recorded amid the duo’s recent West Coast run, the performances sound alive, clearly retaining some of the late-night vibes these players trucked to venues. Read the rest of this entry »