Album: Untitled (Black Is) Artist: Sault Release Date: 19 June 2020 Label: Forever Living Originals Favorite Tracks:
Sault, a British music collective that eschews media attention on their real identities, put out two albums this year that encapsulate the Black experience in 2020. Released on Juneteenth, and just 25 days after the murder of George Floyd, the music expresses grief, defiance, and hope in equal measures. The music blends soul, R&B, afrobeat, and funk that clearly draws on its antecedents while also being fresh and unique.
Album: Untitled (Rise) Artist: Sault Release Date: 18 September 2020 Label: Forever Living Originals Favorite Tracks:
I Just Want to Dance
The Beginning and the End
Releasing a second album just three months after its predecessor seems a recipe for a watered-down follow-up, but with Sault it is just the opposite. If anything, Untitled (Rise) is brimming with energy and relevance with the music filled with disco melodies and traditional African polyrhythms.
Album: Spilligion Artist: Spillage Village Release Date: September 25, 2020 Label: Dreamville | Interscope | SinceThe80s Favorite Tracks:
End of Daze
Spillage Village is a hip hop musical collective based in Atlanta, Georgia. I am no expert on hip hop, but I find these days that when I really like something it comes from the Atlanta and Southern scene. The album was born of the COVID-19 lockdown with members of Spillage Village living at the studio as a safe place. Naturally, the album reflects the concerns of the time as greater inequality and social justice concerns. But is is also an album that is full of hope and joy. In addition to rap, the album reflects a wide variety of musical styles including soul, funk, and gospel. It serves as a perfect time capsule and a message of hope from this cursed year.
Thoughts: Mekons are an original UK punk rock band from the 1970s who remain fresh and relevant 40 years later. The folk rock/punk rock sound of Deserted is reminiscent of Billy Bragg, and is inspired by the landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park. Rating: ***
Thoughts: I heard this playing in a coffee shop and through the magic of Shazam, I learned about a new band. The album is an excellent collection of funk/jazz fusion from a former member of Lenny Kravitz’s backing band (so basically it’s the good part of Lenny Kravitz music without the bad part of Lenny Kravitz music). Rating: ***
Album: The Seduction of Kansas Artist: Priests Release Date: April 5, 2019 Favorite Tracks:
Album: Cuz I Love You Artist: Lizzo Release Date: April 19, 2019 Favorite Tracks:
Cuz I Love You
Like A Girl
Exactly How I Feel
Lizzo is one of those artists that excels in making music that fits into multiple genres – pop, hip hop, soul, funk, & R&B – so much so that her music is kind of it’s own Lizzo genre. I was going to compare the music on Cuz I Love You to the work of Prince, and that was before I learned that Lizzo is from Minneapolis (in fact she appeared on the Prince and 3rdeyegirl album Plectrumelectrum). The other obvious comparison is Janelle Monáe, and again there’s a direct connection as the pair performed together at Coachella last week and Lizzo interviewed Monáe for them.magazine. What sets Lizzo apart is her joyful exuberance. A large, black woman gets discriminated at from every angle, but Lizzo has embraced self-love, and much of the theme of this album is sharing the message of empowerment. And she sounds she’s having so much fun while doing it.
Album: Dirty Computer Artist: Janelle Monáe Release Date: April 28, 2018 Favorite Tracks: It would be easier to list my least favorite tracks, but really there are no duds on this album.
It’s hard to believe that this is only Janelle Monáe’s third studio album as she has made such a huge contribution to musical pop culture in the past decade. Monáe’s film work put this album on the back burner, but it was worth the wait. This is the first album where Monáe steps out from behind her Cindi Mayweather character, and thus it is the personal music she’s released. Similarly, stepping out of the metaphors of the Metropolis narrative, Monáe directly addresses political topics of the day while celebrating women, Blackness, sexuality, gender identity and being American (““It’s gonna be my America before it’s all over”).
Monáe picks up the mantle from David Bowie and Prince as the icon of redefining norms for gender identity and sexuality. In fact, Prince worked with Monáe on defining the sound of the music early on and it shows. Make no mistake though, this is Monáe’s album and guest artists from Grimes to Brian Wilson to Zoe Kravitz to Stevie Wonder move fluidly to her beat. This is the first great album of 2018, and the song “Americans” should be the song of the summer.
If you want to read more of my dumb thoughts on Monáe’s earlier body of work, check out my Music Discoveries post. For a more thoughtful career evaluation, read this article by Charles Pulliam-Moore.
Album: Soul of a Woman Artist: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings Release Date: 17 November 2017 Favorite Tracks: “Matter of Time,” “Come and Be a Winner,” “Rumors,” “Searching for a New Day,” and “Call on God” Thoughts: It’s hard to listen to this album without feeling tearful, not just because of the music, but the knowledge that Sharon Jones’ voice was silenced forever with her death last year. The final Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings album seems to recognize her mortality with more down tempo tracks, calls for reconciliation, messages of peace, and finish with the gospel hymn “Call on God.” It’s not intended as a final statement, but it’s what we get and serves as a reminder of the beauty and power that the great Sharon Jones brought to the world. Rating: ***1/2
Things I learned about Boston’s own Donna Summer: 1. she got her start in the Munich production of Hair where she became fluent in German, 2. she wrote or co-wrote most of her songs, 3. she and her producers basically invented electronic dance music, and 4. she continued to have club hits into the 2010s.