The Chicago-based octet Sidewalk Chalk is far from your ordinary hip-hop group. The band fuses soul and jazz with contemporary beats and insightful lyrics to create original songs and live performances that get even the most conservative of concert-goers on their feet. Their arrangements highlight what each of the band’s members bring to the table. Maggie Vagle (vocals) and Rico Sisney (MC) complement each other on stage as well as they do on tracks, matching energy and emotion note for note. Likewise, while Tyler Berg uses a drum set to keep time, Jumaane Taylor tap dances to add in rhythms and provide a unique flair to the band’s sound. 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 »
There’s a tendency to attach the catch-all label of “world music” to any artist or band with non-Western musical influences. Accurate? Not always. But it’s a simple description to categorize and define a band’s sound. That being said, to classify the music of Slowbots as “world music” or “multicultural” is to immediately confine it to labels that don’t fully reflect this Chicago music collective’s varied influences. Slowbots’ moody ballads owe as much to the Velvet Underground as they do to the traditional Urdu singing that vocalist Yasmin Ali was trained in. In Slowbots you can hear strains of shoegaze, trip-hop, and folk with spacey, fuzzed-out guitar lines weaving their way through the soulful vocals of Ali and Angela Salva’s plaintive violin, all anchored by the R&B-influenced percussion work of Katie Chow. Read the rest of this entry »
When contemporary critics call art “outsider,” it is meant to refer to an artist who has learned outside of the reach of institutionalized instruction. Outsider artists tend to be self-taught, those who learn by doing, often marginalized for their lack of refinement. With luck, the rawness of the outsider artist becomes a tremendous asset, able to sharpen the focus of the expression by privileging the power of the message over the style of its messenger. To the listener, the insight is registered as a singular voice, a signature style. The challenge for artists of this ilk is to avoid becoming so outsider as to feel alien. Willis Earl Beal, for instance, was born in Chicago, but it doesn’t feel like he’s from anywhere at all. He’s signed to Britain’s XL Recordings, the same label that put out the latest Radiohead album. They released the final Gil Scott-Heron LP as well, a much better point of comparison for Beal’s work, whose sophomore effort “Nobody knows.” [sic] is a marked departure from the bedroom recordings and loose-leaf drawings that defined his initial approach. Read the rest of this entry »
If Indiana Jones were a vinyl junkie he’d carry a portable turntable instead of a whip and stop at nothing in his quest for that single-most-desired glossy black platter with its circling grooves. Imagine him, if you will, standing between a wilting ceiling and a floor littered with records, dark and stinking with the decay of years sitting abandoned in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. Or at the back of an unmarked bodega in a New York borough, having nobly solved the mystery to its secret whereabouts. Truth is, these adventures do belong to someone, only he goes by the name Rambo.
Thirty-two-year-old Minneapolis-based DJ Rambo Salinas has been building his record collection for the last third of his life. While other vinyl enthusiasts base their compendium on quantity, bragging rights or market value, Rambo is in pursuit of a greater mission. His quest began with the decision to focus on collecting Chicano Soul and Sweet Soul Lowrider rolas—genres from San Antonio and Los Angeles, unknown to most, aside from the generation of Mexican-American baby boomers. His own South Texas-Chicano background is just half the motivation. The other is simply to share the music and provide the rest of us with a sense of the time, place and culture from which Brown-Eyed Soul was conceived by way of his guerrilla compilation titled “Lone Star Soul Vol. 1.” 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 »
Soul music was born of the friction between pious and secular ecstasy. Many of the genre’s greatest artists came to know impulsive jubilation as children through the gospel. That this same joy is accessible in everyday experience essentially marks the epiphany of the soul singer, perhaps music’s most perfect muse. In the truest sense, D’Angelo is a direct descendant of the tradition. Love, pleasure, pain and redemption radiate through his weathered voice with a sense of ultimate vulnerability. It’s been more than a dozen years since D’Angelo’s name last sat atop a marquee in Chicago. Do not miss him this time around. Read the rest of this entry »
As the best-known proponent of the sacred steel, despite becoming a bit more secular than the church-going set might like, Robert Randolph stamping his name on anything warrants a bit of attention. With or without his blessing, the Slide Brothers would have pursued a music with tendrils slinking back to the 1930s and Pentecostals’ enthusiastic proclamations on its self-titled 2013 disc. Comprising Aubrey Ghent, Calvin Cooke and Chuck and Darick Campbell, the Slide Brothers rave up the most unholy devotional music since blues began. Read the rest of this entry »