Album: Special Artist: Lizzo Release Date: July 14, 2022 Label: Nice Life Recording Company Favorite Tracks:
About Damn Time
2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)
If You Love Me
Thoughts: Lizzo returns with her follow-up to the instant classic Cuz I Love You. As the first single from the album (which has already become the Song of Summer) says, it’s “About Damn Time.” I have to confess that I don’t like the songs as much as on the predecessor but it’s Lizzo, so it’s still irresistible. She’s definitely feeling knowledge for the time of her infancy and before with the songs incorporating disco and 80s synth-dance sounds. Makes me wonder what a Lizzo cover of “Let the Music Play” would sound like. Lizzo’s tireless positivity fills this album with joy and it can get a bit cheezy at times. But it’s also a political at a time when the personal is deeply political. Lizzo is also finding new ways of sharing her deepest self and discovering she loves what she’s found.
Album: Summer of Soul ( … Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised…) Artist: Various Artists Release Date: January 28, 2022 Label: Sony Music Entertainment Favorite Tracks:
“Uptown” by The Chambers Brothers
“Why I Sing the Blues” by B.B. King
“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine” by The 5th Dimension
“Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers”
“It’s Been a Change” by The Staples Singers
“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra & Choir feat. Mahalia Jackson
“Sing A Simple Song” by Sly and the Family Stone
“Are You Ready” by Nina Simone
While this new album dropped last week, it contains the soundtrack to 2021’s best documentary Summer of Soul, and was recorded in the summer of 1969 at The Harlem Cultural Festival. The crew that restored these songs have done a great job of capturing the dynamic performance of the artists as well as the raw energy of the crowd. The 5th Dimension may be considered hokey, but they totally kill it with the support of the Harlem fans. David Ruffin hits high falsetto notes in “My Girl” that soar above the thousands watching that day. And whether its gospel from The Edwin Hawkins Singers, rock from Sly and the Family Stone, or a revolutionary chant from Nina Simone, the people are there to sing along.
Author: Kelefa Sanneh Title: Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres Narrator: Kelefa Sanneh Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group Summary/Review:
Kelefa Sanneh, a former music critic for the New York Times, and writer for the New Yorker, revisists the history of popular music from the 1970s to today in a series of essays focusing on genres. These genres include the venerable traditions of Rock, R&B, and Country as well as the upstarts Punk, Hip-Hop, and Dance. The final essay focuses on the amorphous genre of Pop.
Sanneh is a fan of all these types of music so he brings in his personal experience when discussing them. I find that appropriate since music is such a personal thing. Sanneh does a great job at summarizing the history and the struggles of artists within these genres to remain true to their style. He also notes that over the past 50 years that each of these genres is converging to create a new “pop” music even at a time when streaming music platforms should allow greater splits.
This was a fun an informative book for a music fan.
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.
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.
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
Got a backlog of albums from recent months, so here’s a collection of quick reviews.
Album: re:member Artist: Ólafur 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: ****
Album: Marauder 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