Album Reviews: Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise) by Sault


Album: Untitled (Black Is)
Artist: Sault
Release Date: 19 June 2020
Label: Forever Living Originals
Favorite Tracks:

  • Stop Dem
  • Wildfires

Thoughts:

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.

Rating: ****

Album: Untitled (Rise)
Artist: Sault
Release Date: 18 September 2020
Label: Forever Living Originals
Favorite Tracks:

  • Strong
  • Rise
  • I Just Want to Dance
  • The Beginning and the End
  • Free


Thoughts:

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.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Spilligion by Spillage Village


Album: Spilligion
Artist: Spillage Village
Release Date: September 25, 2020
Label: Dreamville | Interscope | SinceThe80s
Favorite Tracks:

  • Psalm Sing
  • Ea’alah (Family)
  • Mecca
  • End of Daze
  • Hapi
  • Jupiter

Thoughts:

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.

Rating: ****

 

Album Review: Cuz I Love You by Lizzo


AlbumCuz I Love You
Artist: Lizzo
Release Date: April 19, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Cuz I Love You
  • Like A Girl
  • Exactly How I Feel
  • Tempo
  • Juice
  • Lingerie

Thoughts:

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.

Rating: ****

Two Sentence Album Reviews Take Two


Some new albums that don’t exactly contain new content, so I’m reviewing them in bulk.


Album: MassEducation
Artist: St. Vincent
Release Date:  October 12, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Slow Disco,” “Los Ageless,”
Thoughts: A release of Masseduction with everything stripped away except Annie Clarke’s voice and a piano, making her sound more like a chanteuse.  I think I like this version better, although I didn’t really like the original much at all.
Rating: ***


Album: My Way
Artist: Willie Nelson
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Summer Wind,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “One for My Baby (And One More For the Road,” “What is This Thing Called Love?,” and “My Way”
Thoughts: Willie Nelson sings swinging standards in the style of Frank Sinatra.  What’s not to like?
Rating: ***


Album: Piano and a Microphone 1983
Artist: Prince
Release Date:  September 21, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “17 Days,” “Cold Coffee & Cocaine,” and “Why the Butterflies”
Thoughts: The first posthumous release from Prince’s music vaults is a glimpse of an artist at work.  Just Prince tooling around on a piano, working on several songs, and being amazingly talented.
Rating: ***1/2

 

Two Sentence Album Reviews


Got a backlog of albums from recent months, so here’s a collection of quick reviews.

 


Album: re:member
ArtistÓlafur Arnalds
Release Date: 24 August 2018
Favorite Tracks: “re:member,” “undir,” and “ekki hugsa”
Thoughts: Piano-based ambient music, reminiscent of Sigur Ros.  Very soothing.
Rating: ****


AlbumMarauder
Artist: Interpol
Release Date: 24 August 2018
Favorite Tracks: “If You Really Love Nothing” and “The Rover”
Thoughts: I’ve liked Interpol’s previous recordings, and this is an acceptable addition to their oeuvre.  But it feels a bit redundant and uninspired
Rating: ***


Album: Negro Swan
Artist: Blood Orange
Release Date: August 24, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Charcoal Baby,” “Holy Will,” “Daenham Dream,” and “Out of Your League”
Thoughts: Dev Hynes fourth album recording as Blood Orange is smooooooooooth.  The music is chill, but the lyrics examine depression and anxiety through an intersectional lens of political consciousness.
Rating: ***


Album: The Now Now
Artist: Gorillaz
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Humility (feat. George Benson),” “Hollywood,”
Thoughts: Damon Albarn’s second band – a “virtual band” at that – is now a veteran band of 20 years.  It features a stripped-down sound with fewer guest artists and I think it benefits from that even as it falls a bit short of Gorillaz best work.
Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 18


This is a particularly fruitful week for podcasts with a bumper crop of excellent episodes!

Afropop Worldwide :: Skippy White: A Vinyl Life

Checking in with a legendary soul & R&B record shop owner and entrepreneur, Skippy White.  His shop is located in Boston’s Egleston Square, not far from where I live, but this is the first I’ve heard of him!

Code Switch :: Behind the Lies My Teacher Told Me

An interview with James Loewen, author of the seminal critique of American history education, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

Hub History :: Folk Magic and Mysteries at the Fairbanks House

Daniel Neff, curator of the Fairbanks House museum in Dedham, talks about the house build by Puritan colonists that contains hidden charms and hex marks meant to ward off evil.

99% Invisible :: It’s Chinatown

The stories behind the origins of the distinctive architectural styles of American Chinatowns and the fortune cookie, neither of which actually originated in China.

Snap Judgment :: Talk of the Town

A local salesman, a fixture of his Oakland neighborhood, goes missing and is believed dead leading to an outpouring of remembrance in the community.  But one journalist digs deeper to find out what actually happened to the mystery man.

Tiny Desk Concerts :: Yo-Yo Ma

The famed cellist performs pieces of Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, and talks about learning to play the instrument.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Loop Groups

The work of the hidden actors who perform the background sounds of crowd scenes in movies.

 

Album Review: The Future and the Past by Natalie Prass


AlbumThe Future and the Past
Artist: Natalie Prass
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Hot for the Mountain
  • Sisters

Thoughts:

This is the second album from Richmond, VA singer-songwriter Prass.  I was drawn to this album by the anthemic “Sisters” which will certainly make my end of year favorite songs list.  But the rest of the album is meh, a collection of downtempo tracks in a smooth R&B style.  That is not to deny it is a technically proficient recording with lyrics focused on protest and solidarity in the age of Trump, but it’s just not a style that resonates with me.

Rating: **

Album Review: Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe


 

Album: Dirty Computer
ArtistJanelle 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.

Thoughts:

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.

Rating: *****

 

Album Review: Soul of a Woman by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings


AlbumSoul of a Woman
ArtistSharon 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

 

 

Music Discoveries: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings


I’m a fan of soul, funk, and R&B of the 1960s and 1970s, so naturally I’m drawn to Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. The band keeps alive the sounds of an earlier music with new songs that sometimes sound eerily as if they’ve been hidden in a vault for decades. Nevertheless, there’s a strong musical talent in Jones and the band that makes this more than just a nostalgia trap. Jones’ off-told story of resilience against a reluctant music industry as well as her battle with cancer also lends the music a poignancy.

A documentary released recently called Miss Sharon Jones! documents her life and struggles. I hope to see it soon and to prepare for it, I listened to the full catalog of brilliant music.

AlbumDap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Date: 2002
Favorite Tracks: “What Have You Done For Me Lately?,” “The Dap Dip,” “Ain’t It Hard,” and “Pick It Up, Lay It In The Cut”
Thoughts:

The debut album sounds more like it could have been from 1972 than 2002.  Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are built on a retro soul and funk sound, but it sounds ever more retro here, if that makes sense.  Effects like a James Brown-style introduction and inter-song banter add to the effect.  And then you wonder if Janet Jackson covered Sharon Jones rather than vice versa.
Rating:  ***1/2


Album: Naturally
Date: 25 January 2005
Favorite Tracks: “How Do I Let a Good Man Down?,” “My Man Is a Mean Man,” “How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?,”  “This Land Is Your Land,”  and “Fish in the Dish”
Thoughts: If the debut album is a time capsule holding a lost album from the early 1970s, Naturally is more of a compilation of an lost soul band’s hits over the course of the 1960s and 70s, echoing stylistic changes of Motown, Stax, Atlantic, et al.  It includes an Aretha Franklin-style ballad (“You’re Gonna Get It”), an Otis Redding/Carla Thomas-style duet (“Stranded in Your Love” ) and even a Civil Rights Era folk crossover (“This Land is Your Land”).
Rating: ***1/2


Album100 Days, 100 Nights
Date: 2 October 2007
Favorite Tracks: “100 Days, 100 Nights,” “Nobody’s Baby,” “Let Them Knock,” and “Answer Me.”
Thoughts: This album oozes with confidence with Jones’ voice stronger than ever, and the Dap-Tones tighter than they’e been before. The inspiration is still retro, but this album feels more contemporary than its predecessors, evolving a sound that’s been lost over the decades.
Rating: ****


AlbumI Learned the Hard Way
Date: 6 April 2010
Favorite Tracks: “I Learned the Hard Way,” “Mama Don’t Like My Man,” and “The Game Get Old”
Thoughts: If we lived in a just world, or maybe if this was released 40 years earlier, this would be the album remembered for containing the big hits that dominated the airwaves all summer long.  The album is less cohesive than its predecessors, but at its best moments it knocks you out.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumGive the People What They Want
Date: 14 January 2014
Favorite Tracks: “Retreat!,”  “Stranger to My Happiness,” “People Don’t Get What They Deserve,” and “We Get Along”
Thoughts: This album has a more melancholy air to it than its predecessors although there’s a strong resilience to it as well.  Seems appropriate that it comes from a time when Jones was stricken with pancreatic cancer yet perseveres and not only keeps a musical style alive, but also vital.
Rating: ***


AlbumIt’s a Holiday Soul Party
Date: 2015 October 30
Favorite Tracks: “8 Days of Hanukkah,” “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects,” and “Silent Night”
Thoughts: Holiday albums can be a cynical cash grab where an artist records new renditions of old standards with maybe a treacly original tune and the guarantee that the songs will played one month a year for eternity.  Fortunately, you can tell that Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings put their heart into this.  I don’t know if anyone in the band is Jewish, but the opening track is an authentically celebratory – and funky – celebration of the Festival of Lights.  That’s followed by the touching story of a mother’s love at the heart of Christmas.  The rest of the album is a mix of standards and originals that are worth putting on at a holiday party.
Rating: ***


AlbumMiss Sharon Jones!
Date: 16 August 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Longer and Stronger,” “Genuine Pt. 1,” and “I’m Still Here”
Thoughts: This is a soundtrack rather a compilation so I assume it follows the needs of the film rather than being a comprehensive overview of the band’s career.  Surprisingly, it contains no live performance tracks which is disappointing.  Nevertheless, it’s a good introduction to the newbie of the power and beauty of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.  And it includes some songs previously unreleased on albums including the new, autobiographical song “I’m Still Here.”
Rating: ***1/2

One final song I love – and one that made me first aware of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – is only available on the compilation album Dark Was the Night, a cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Inspiration Information.”