Is “Blank Project” a jazz, soul, art or pop album? Listening to the disc attentively one could easily say all of the above, as the Swedish-born singer Neneh Cherry (known by mainstream music fans for her collaboration with Senegalese star Youssou N’ Dour) does her thing on her first solo release since 1996. Backed solely by Four Tet’s mix of percussion and electronic sounds, the music grabs you from the beginning with the Afro-inspired “Across The Water” and doesn’t let go until the very last track. 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 »
Chicago welcomes back pop and R&B’s newest blue-eyed recruit, Daley. Born and raised in Manchester, England, the twenty-four-year-old has come up in the industry little by little in the past four years thanks to an unrelenting DIY philosophy. Donning one ridiculously top-heavy, modern-day pomp, perfectly pruned geometric facial hair, and thick-rimmed glasses, Daley looks especially eager for an audience. With this tour being the first to follow the release of his first-ever studio album (“Days & Nights”) who can blame him?
For Daley, a pursuit toward music came naturally and the recurring dream of signing with a major label began back in his teens. Locked away in his bedroom he’d write songs and lyrics channeling such predecessors as Prince, D’Angelo, Sade and Radiohead. When he was old enough, he left Manchester for London and began working his way into the underground urban music scene. Read the rest of this entry »
Tom Krell, aka How to Dress Well, isn’t just another sensitive guy making sensitive-guy music. He’s an ambassador for the human experience, not just for big touchstones like love and loss, but for the surprise emotions that come with accidentally discovering an unforeseen understanding of life’s events. Labeled by most as an R&B singer, his nontraditional sounds and lyricisms set him apart from his contemporaries such as Frank Ocean and the Weeknd, who typically orbit the time-honored realm of drugs, sex and shapes of the female anatomy.
Having never really had a formal musical background, Krell’s popularity grew from songs he recorded and uploaded on his blog. Then in 2010, Portland’s Lefse Records approached him to put together an album. He offered them “Love Remains,” a constellation of his spirit made from the very best of the EPs posted on his blog. Symphonic, sentimental and sorrowful throughout, “Love Remains” established Krell as an original and meaningful artist and led him to collaborate with like-minded artists such as Jacques Greene, Active Child, Shlohmo and Forest Swords. Read the rest of this entry »
On an album comprised mostly of well-known standards (save for one original composition), Chicago-based singer-songwriter Nhojj celebrates the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in the United States and abroad. “I am deeply grateful,” he writes in the liners, “to be living in a time when an album celebrating same-gender love could be released and even applauded.”
The album opens with a pared-down version of “Over The Rainbow” done solely with the accompaniment of Marcelo Cardozo’s electric guitar. Nhojj’s vocal range resembles that of the late Michael Jackson–he has the ability to reach low notes but mostly sings using a higher register, approaching each song in a different way. On India.Arie’s “He Heals Me,” he takes more of an R&B approach, taking advantage of the full band behind him, while on tunes like the George & Ira Gershwin classic “Our Love Is Here To Stay” he sings with a quiet bossa-like sensibility. Nhojj also reinvents Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” going for a playful samba-tinged groove without missing out on any of the title’s double entendre. Read the rest of this entry »
Every great pop star is at once completely of their time, and completely not. Shorthands for their eras, great pop stars are able to exude something ageless and universal that transcends the cultural moment they were birthed from. There are a million artists that do one or the other well. Miley is very of her time. Robin Thicke is timeless, in that there’ll be douchebags throughout time. But great pop stars are everything all at once. Great pop stars are both our windows and our mirrors—we see our culture through them, but we also see a little of us.
“The 20/20 Experience,” Justin Timberlake’s good if uneven double album, cemented him as our generation’s great pop star. Dressed to the nines, showing us a few things about lo-o-ove, Timberlake’s is a multivalent talent, spanning the mediums of film, TV and music. Read the rest of this entry »
The first step toward the success of Beyoncé’s fifth studio album was to render the publicist and the critic obsolete. By choosing December 13 for the release date (a Friday instead of the traditional Tuesday preferred by retailers) she excluded herself from many year-end polls and best-of lists. The playing field was made even, fans could embrace the work without having it marketed or explained beforehand with just one catch. A week-long exclusive deal with iTunes meant no physical release at a time of year when holiday shopping is at its peak, prohibiting her fans from buying it as a gift unless they did so at the last minute. Delaying the album’s arrival to places like Target and Walmart meant conversations about the record’s merits were online exclusive as well, as even indie retailers were left in the dark. More than a million tweets later, and compassionate consumers counting their pennies were somehow swayed to pony up the $15.99 necessary to treat themselves to fourteen tracks and seventeen videos. It was a big ask, but given the million-plus digital copies sold worldwide, the answer has been the most resounding success of Beyoncé’s solo career. Read the rest of this entry »
Tracking down any Otis Clay recording and tossing it on the ol’ turntable is gonna yield a pretty distinct experience. During the sixties and seventies Clay flitted from imprint to imprint, cutting sides but only issuing a few albums. Sticking to the singles format enabled the singer, who was raised up through the ranks of gospel, to turn out a significant amount of work in secular and religious mode. Of course, after hitting Chicago, transplanting himself from Mississippi, the industrialized Midwest came to bear on his output. But heading back down South to record sides for Memphis-based Hi Records, the same label Al Green and Syl Johnson were connected with, resulted in Clay hooking up with the imprint’s rhythm section. And it’s on those sides—compiled for the 1972 “Trying to Live My Life Without You” and its follow-up “I Can’t Take It”—on which Clay distinguished himself. Read the rest of this entry »
Nearly fifty years after she became an international sensation as an original member of the Supremes, Mary Wilson still knows how to light up a room. As she hosted a cocktail party to talk about her upcoming holiday show, all heads were turning when she made a star’s entrance, complete with accessorized golden gown.
Wilson mingled and posed for photos before sitting down to talk about her long career. “It didn’t come easy,” says Wilson. “We had seven flops before catching on. The Marvelettes had five consecutive number-one hits and so [Motown president] Berry Gordy decided to put us with the same songwriting team.”
Originally formed as the Primettes in 1958 as a female version of the popular Detroit male-singing group the Primes, it was Wilson who recruited her classmate Diane Ross—who would be later called Diana at Gordy’s direction—to join what was originally a quartet, becoming a trio in 1961. Read the rest of this entry »
In a moment of monumental historical import, this past summer President Obama slipped a National Medal of Arts around the neck of Allen Toussaint. Two centuries into America’s existence, the nation’s most prestigious artistic ceremony provided the backdrop for a scene of reckoning. The highest political authority in the land, a position formerly held by twelve different slave owners, was now embodied by an African-American for the very first time. President Obama warmly greeted his cultural counterpoint in Allen Toussaint, the epitome of the port city New Orleans, former epicenter of America’s slave trade.
Whereas the horrors of history would seem to have rendered the momentous encounter impossible, Toussaint offers some unique insight into the occasion, “Everything has its origin, and its birth. Just like the birth of a child, there’s really excruciating pain before the miracle happens, and then when the miracle happens, whatever pain that was, it was worth it all, whatever that seemed to have cost.” Read the rest of this entry »