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

 

 

Advertisements

Album Review: If All I Was Was Black by Mavis Staples


AlbumIf All I Was Was Black
ArtistMavis Staples
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Little Bit,” “If All I Was Was Black,” “Ain’t No Doubt About It,” and “Try Harder”
Thoughts:

One of my favorite musical trends of 2017 is the appearance of the legendary Mavis Staples as guest artist on various recordings.  First, Arcade Fire released “I Give You Power” on the eve of Inauguration Day in January:

Then staples added her gospel chops to Benjamin Booker’s statement on police killings of black people “Witness.”

Next Staples joined Pusha T on the virtual hip-hop/electronic band Gorillaz’ Trump-inspired track “Let Me Out.”

Now, at last, we have a full album of new songs from Mavis Staples herself reflecting on our fraught, divided times and what we need to do to fight against it.  Frequent Staples’ collaborator, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, produced the album, appears on one track, and wrote all the songs (quite remarkable when you think that means he wrote the title track).  Staples’ versatility that makes her such a strong asset as a guest artist with distinctly different bands is seen here as well as the music mixes gospel, soul, blues, folk, and Americana.  Lyrically, the civil rights icon is still fighting the good fight but recognizes that she has limitations and that she’s still called to love her enemy.  Mavis Staples’ legacy is already well-established, and this album is probably not going to be what she’s remembered for, but nevertheless it is great to have her voice confront the issues of our times.

Rating:  ***1/2

Song of the Week: “Matter of Time” by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings


On November 18, 2016, Sharon Jones died leaving behind a musical legacy and broken hearts everywhere. A year later, the final Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings album Soul of a Woman will be released on November 17, 2017.  The first single, a peace anthem called “Matter of Time” reminds us of what we lost and what we’ll always have from Miss Sharon Jones’ musical gift.

 

 

 

Song of the Week: “Hot to Trot” by Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas


 

Ok, this blog has grown moribund and I find it impossible to keep myself organized enough to create a monthly “What I’m Listening To Now” post.  So I’m bringing back “Song of the Week.”  Especially since I heard this great new song on the radio (yes, the radio!) by Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas.  The band is from Detroit, Hernandez sings in English & Spanish, and this track at least reminds a bit of the early B-52s.  Enjoy some hot music for this hot Independence Day weekend!

 

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.”

Music Discoveries P-Funk, part 3 (1978-1982)


Here is my third and final post for my “discovery” series on the P-Funk collective of musicians in the 1970s and early 1980s.  In the first post I found myself impressed by the freshness and innovation of the music even though it was more than 40 years old.  The second post featured the familiar hit songs of P-Funk’s prolific peak.  This final post sadly marks the decline of P-Funk, and while there are some standout tracks and albums, I’m disappointed at how dated and tired much of the music from this period sounds.

Band: Funkadelic
Album: One Nation Under a Groove
Date: 4 September 1978
Favorite Tracks: “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?,” and “Cholly”
Lyrics of Note:

Who says a jazz band can’t play dance music?
Who says a rock band can’t play funk?
Who says a funk band can’t play rock?
Ok. We’re gonna play some funk so loud
We’re gonna rock and roll the crowd
Just watch them dance, watch them dance – from “Who says a funk band can’t play rock?”

Thoughts: The title track has more of dance/disco sound than one is accustomed to hearing from Funkadelic.  That’s followed by the relaxed, smooth calypso sound of “Groovallegiance.” And if the genre shifts are not enough on the first two songs, on track three they gleefully declare “Who says a funk band can’t play rock?” All right I won’t go track by track, but the album’s theme of the power of funk is emphasized by making every genre funky.  It’s a great album, that loses a half-point for the the tedious track about poop.
Rating: ***1/2


Band: Parliament
AlbumMotor Booty Affair
Date: 28 November 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop),”
Lyrics of Note:

You can dance underwater and not get wet – from “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)”

Thoughts: Another themed album, this one goes under the sea for the aquaboogie. Parliament can never be accused of not dedicating themselves to a theme and there are references to fish, water, swimming and Atlantis throughout as well as new characters like “Mr. Wiggles.” And Sir Nose finally gets dunked in  the funk.  It’s a fun and cohesive album but nothing about it really excites me much.
Rating: ***


Band: Funkadelic
AlbumUncle Jam Wants You
Date: 21 September 1979
Favorite Tracks: “(Not Just) Knee Deep,”  “Field Maneuvers,” and “Holly Wants to Go to California ”
Lyrics of Note:
Thoughts: Following on “One Nation Under a Groove,” Funkadelic plays with patriotic/militaristic phrases to promote the funk and “save dance music from the blahs.”  The epic jam “(Not Just) Knee Deep” defines the album and since it’s been sampled so many times that it sounds like a compilation of r&b and hip hop all by itself. The instrumental guitar jam “Field Maneuvers” and the melancholy ballad “Holly Wants to Go to California” are also standouts.  Despite drill instructors barking out dance moves, this album feels less gimmicky than its predecessors.
Rating: ****


Band: Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Album: This Boot Is Made for Fonk-N
Date: 1 June 1979
Favorite Tracks: “Bootsy (Get Live)”
Thoughts: Eschewing the slow jams of earlier Rubber Band albums, this is a non-stop party funk album. It coasts a lot on Bootsy Collins’ charma and charisma but it can coast a long way on that.
Rating: ***


Band: Parliament
Album: Gloryhallastoopid (or Pin the Tail on the Funky)
Date: 20 November 1979
Favorite Tracks: “Theme from the Black Hole”
Thoughts: Another concept album that attempts to explain the science behind the creation of the universe by way of funk.  It recycles a lot of ideas, lyrics, and grooves from previous albums and is awfully redundant in doing so.  And for all the criticism of disco this is is a disco-heavy album at the time of peak disco.  But it’s bland overall and doesn’t offer much.
Rating: *1/2


Band:Parliament
Album: Trombipulation
Date: 5 December 1980
Thoughts: OK, I’m officially sick of the Vocoder voice of D’Nose.  It’s a tired act and shows just how out of ideas Clinton & Co. were by 1980.  Kind of disappointing that Parliament goes out on such a bland album
Rating: **


Artist: Bootsy Collins
Album: Ultra Wave
Date: October 1980
Thoughts: Bootsy’s first album with a solo credit is fun and dance-able, but nothing that leaves an impression. From the r&b styles on display, one can tell that the 80s are here!
Rating: **1/2


Band: Funkadelic
Album: Connections & Disconnections
Date: 1980
Thoughts: Original P-Funk members Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon and Grady Thomas split off to form their own band under the Funkadelic name as the demise of George Clinton’s P-Funk stable of musicians descended into acrimonious lawsuits and in-fighting. Many of the lyrics are critical of Clinton, and musically it makes an attempt to recapture the early Funkadelic sound, but only achieves greatness in fits and starts.
Rating: **


Band: Funkadelic
Album: The Electric Spanking of War Babies
Date: 14 April 1981
Favorite Tracks: “Funk Gets Stronger” and “Shockwaves”
Lyrics of Note:

You can walk a mile in my shoes
But you can’t dance a step in my feet – from “Electric Spanking of War Babies”

Thoughts:  The official Funkadelic offers a better farewell album with a sound that played off the soul, funk, and R&B of the early 80s with P-Funk innovation. The lyrics are strongly political on many tracks, something that had been missing in latter day P-Funk. As an added bonus,Sly Stone is featured on this album and there’s a great funky reggae track “Shockwave.”
Rating: ***1/2


Band: George Clinton
Album: Computer Games
Date: 5 November 1982
Favorite Tracks: “Man’s Best Friend/Loopzilla” and “Atomic Dog”
Thoughts: Although credited to Clinton, many P-Funk musicians appear on this album much like on Parliament, Funkadelic, and side projects in previous years.  I arbitrarily chose to end this series on this album as it seems to mark the end of the P-Funk era although there more Clinton solo albums, P-Funk All-Stars recordings, and other projects in the ensuing years.  It’s a good album to go out on as it is reliant more on synths and has an electro sound that ties in well with the rise of hip hop in this era.
Rating: ***

Okay, so that’s it for P-Funk.  Whew!


Music Discoveries P-Funk, part 2 (1975-1978)


This second post in the series covers a period where Parliament-Funkadelic is exploding, releasing some of the bands’ most popular albums and singles, touring with an increasingly elaborate stage show, and branching off to form new bands and solo projects (although those bands and artists were frequently backed up by the same stable of P-Funk musicians).  Unlike part 1 where I was in awe of the music produced by Parliament and Funkadelic, I’m finding myself with mixed feelings about the music from this period.  The highs are higher but the lows are lower, and I think they may have spread themselves thin with the sheer prolificness of their output.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of fantastic music to feast your ears upon here.

Band: Parliament
AlbumMothership Connection
Date: 15 December 1975
Favorite Tracks: “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” “Mothership Connection (Star Child),” and “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)”
Lyrics of Note:

You’ve got all that is really needed
To save a dying world from its funkless hell – from “Unfunky UFO”

Gaga googa ga ga googa
Ga ga goo ga ga
(x33) – from “Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples”

Thoughts: This brilliant concept album establishes the Mothership and the Afro-Futurist themes of black people in space.  The songs are party anthems and protest songs against radio’s refusal to play funk and discrimination against the black community in general.  Pretty much a must-have of the P-Funk catalog with three of the collective’s most important tracks, although you’ll probably want to skip over the misogynist “Handcuffs.”
Rating: ****


Band: Bootsy’s Rubber Band
AlbumStretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Date: 30 January 1976
Favorite Tracks: “Stretchin’ Out (In a Rubber Band),” “Psychoticbumpschool,” and  “Another Point of View”
Thoughts: Bootsy Collins, the break out start of Parliament-Funkadelic, gets his own band and album although Clinton and a lot of the P-Funk lineup are involved so it really sounds like a continuation of Mothership Connection musically.  Lyrically, the album is more focused on romance and sexy times, and with the troubled sexual politics it can be hit or miss.

Rating: **1/2


Band: Parliament
AlbumThe Clones of Dr. Funkenstein
Date: September 1976
Favorite Tracks: “Do That Stuff,” “Getten’ to Know You,” and “Funkin’ for Fun”
Lyrics of Note:

When you see my mother
Tell her I’m all right
I’m just funkin’ around
For fun – from “Funkin’ for Fun”

Thoughts: May I frighten you? The utterly weird Parliament album expands deeper into the P-Funk mythology and it’s fun if it doesn’t make much sense.  I kind of get the sense that the prolific nature of Parliament-Funkadelic caught up with them as there seems nothing new here.  It’s entertaining, but it’s also disposable.  By the way, am I the only one who hears “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in “Do That Stuff”?
Rating:***


Band: Funkadelic
AlbumTales of Kidd Funkadelic
Date: 21 September 1976
Favorite Tracks:  “Undisco Kidd”
Thoughts: Learning that this was a “contractual obligation” album of outakes from recording a different album lowered my expectation, but this album is good enough if a bit generic.  Actually it sounds very familiar due to it being frequently sampled by other artists.  “Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation” may stand as the best song title in the P-Funk catalog.
Rating: **1/2


Band: Funkadelic
Album: Hardcore Jollies
Date: 29 October 1976
Favorite Tracks: “Comin’ Round the Mountain,” “Smokey,”  “Hardcore Jollies,” and “Cosmic Slop {Live],”
Lyrics of Note:

I thought I knew all there is to do
I stuck out my chest and dove into a love
With ego in charge, I charged into what seemed
To be the quickest way into manhood
You scared me, baby
You scared the love right outta me – from “You Scared the Lovin’ Outta Me”

Thoughts:  Holy crow, did they really funk up “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain”?!?!?  YES!!!  And it was better than most everything on Tales of Kidd Funkadelic.  And that’s just the start of a hard-rocking, emotionally raw yet joyously funky album with flashes of soul, gospel, and doo wop.  It feels like a return to form for Funkadelic, not that they’d been all that much out of shape.
Rating:****


Artist: Fuzzy Haskins
Album: A Whole Nother Thang
Date: 1976
Favorite Tracks:”Mr. Junk Man”
Thoughts: Haskins, one of the original five members of The Parliaments, and Funkadelic and Parliament, goes solo on this album with lots of support from the P-Funk stable of artists (but not George Clinton).  It’s entertaining and toe-tapping but ultimately bog standard funk and soul.
Rating:**


Band: Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Album: Ahh… The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!
Date: 14 January 1977
Favorite Tracks: “The Pinnochio Theory,” “Munchies for Your Love
Thoughts: Bootsy Collin’s second album is an interesting contrast to Fuzzy Haskins, loose with jazz-like improvisation compared to Haskins’ Motown-style tight pieces.  Just a theory, but Collins is a decade younger so maybe the age gap plays a part in the stylistic differences, and why I like the “full-band” sound of Parliament-Funkadelic albums better where the different styles can play off and complement one another.  This is a solid album though, with funk party anthems on side A and slow jams on the flip side.
Rating: ***1/2


Artist: Eddie Hazel
Album: Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs
Date: 1977
Favorite Tracks: “California Dreamin'” and “What About It?”
Thoughts: This is P-Funk’s guitar-virtuoso’s first and only album released during his lifetime, and what a treat it is to have it. Hazel interprets The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy” (an interestingly restrained performance), and Bootsy Collins’ “Phsyical Love” as well as an instrumental remake of Funkadelic’s “Wars of Armageddon” called “What About It?”. A great album for guitar buffs.
Rating: ***1/2


Band: Fred Wesley And The Horny Horns
Album: A Blow for Me, A Toot for You
Date: 1977
Favorite Tracks: “A Blow for Me, A Toot for You” and “Four Play”
Thoughts: Another section of the P-Funk orchestra is split off for their own bit of prominence, this time the horn players: Fred Wesley (trombone), Maceo Parker (saxophone), Rick Gardner (trumpet), and Richard Griffith (trumpet). There’s heavy participation from the P-Funk stable of musicians so in many ways this sounds like a Parliament album with an emphasis on the horns, but the instrumental horn jams stand out as the best tracks. The string arrangements on some tracks remind me that this was recorded in the height of the disco era.
Rating: ***1/2


Band: Parliament
Album: Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome
Date: 28 November 1977
Favorite Tracks: “Bop Gun (Endangered Species),” “Wizard of Finance,” and “Flash Light”
Lyrics of Note:

To dance is a protection
Funk is your connection
All you got to do is
Funk and dance

Thoughts:And George Clinton had thoughts on Disco and commercialized music in general which he called “the Placebo Syndrome” and personified in the character of the obstinately unfunky Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk who goes head-to-head with Starchild on this album. Perhaps listening to too many P-Funk albums in a row makes me feel like the mythology and humor are laid on too thick, but there are some classic tracks on this album. There are also synth sounds and arrangements that seem to be laying the ground for New Wave and early hip hop to come in just a few years.
Rating:***


Band: Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Album: Bootsy? Player of the Year
Date: 27 January 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Bootzilla”
Thoughts: The third album from Bootsy & Co. doesn’t break new ground. Love songs are in demand here ranging from the romantic to the raunchy.
Rating: ***


Band: The Brides of Funkenstein
Album: Funk Or Walk
Date:  September 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Disco to Go”
Thoughts: P-Funk is rather dominated by male musicians, so it was interesting to see what  P-Funk band lead by two women – Dawn Silva and Lynn Mabry – would sound like.  It should not be a surprise or even a bad thing that they basically sound a lot like Parliament with female vocalists.  There are disco and even Broadway showtune influences well.  But it doesn’t sound like they brought out the best material for this project, which is a shame.
Rating: **


Band: Parlet
Album: Pleasure Principle
Date: 1978
Favorite Tracks:  “Pleasure Principle” and “Love Amnesia”
Thoughts:Never to do things in small measures, there were two female P-Funk groups releasing their debut albums in 1978, this one featuring the vocal talents of Mallia Franklin, Jeanette Washington and Debbie Wright. Parlet sounds “harder” than The Brides of Funkenstein, the female Funkadelic to their female Parliament.  This album is pretty strong but most of the tracks are overlong.
Rating: ***


Band: Bernie Worrell
AlbumAll the Woo in the World
Date: 1978
Favorite Tracks: “I’ll Be With You” and “Much Thrust”
Thoughts: The legendary P-Funk keyboardist gets his star turn on this solo debut, with lots of P-Funk friends on board for the recording.  Worrell’s keyboard wizadry is on display and the vibe of the album harkens back to the psychedelia of the early Funkadelic.
Rating: ***


Whew! That is a lot of funk.  But I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to finish this series on P-Funk.

 

Music Discoveries: Janelle Monáe


Today I finally begin a new feature on this blog I’ve been planning for a long time called Music Discoveries.  The idea is to find musical artists and bands I’m familiar with and do a deep listen of their full catalog of recordings.  I was inspired by a fellow blogger on Desert Island Mix Tape when he listened to the entire back catalog of the Bee Gees and then wrote it up.  I’ve procrastinated a long time and hesitated posting at all because I’m not particularly skilled as a music critic.  But then again I’m not a book or beer critic and that hasn’t stopped me, and I can only get better with practice.  So please be patient with me as you read this and offer constructive criticism in the comments.

Let us begin with Janelle Monáe, a musician I first learned of a few years back from my wife (who is often more up to date on contemporary music). The 30-year-old artist from Kansas City, KS is a singer, song writer, producer, collaborator, and all around performer. Her musical style is eclectic bringing together soul, art music, R&B, hip-hop, funk, and even opera and cinematic scores.  In many ways she is a musical heir to the recently deceased David Bowie and Prince, a comparison heightened by her androgynous public image and signature tuxedo. Other clear influences on her work and style include Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, and the Afrofuturism of George Clinton and PFunk.

One thing for sure about Monáe is that she is committed to a high concept.  Her recordings are a series of suites called Metropolis inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film of the same name.  The suites center on Monáe’s alter ego Cindi Mayweather, an android from the year 2719, who breaks the law by falling in love with a human and while a fugitive becomes a messianic figure to other androids.  While there’s a lot to be gained from listening to the suites in order, the songs have universal themes that allow them to succeed out of context.  They work as a science fiction story but also as love songs as well as commentaries on social issues such as inequality, social stratification, racism, and discrimination against LGBT communities.

Monáe’s first recording is an extremely limited 2003 album called The Audition, which I wasn’t able to find so I’m going to skip ahead to her 2007 EP where the suites begin

AlbumMetropolis: Suite I (The Chase)
Release Date: August 24, 2007
Favorite Tracks: “Sincerely, Jane” and “Mr. President”
Thoughts:  This EP introduces the first of the Metropolis suites and introduces Cindi Mayweather and the science fiction plot line.  Pop and funk are mixed with opera and old standards (the special edition includes a rendition of the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile”). The album is short but epic and cinematic.  A good start
Rating: ***1/2

AlbumThe ArchAndroid
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Favorite Tracks: “Locked Inside” “Cold War”
Thoughts:  Suite’s II and III of Metropolis make up Monáe’s  first full-length major release.  The music here is upbeat belying the seriousness of the lyrics. Musically the album jumps among genres from song to song and even within songs.  Funk, soul, new wave, afrobeat, psychedelia, and even punk rock (“Come Alive” is reminiscent of the B52s).  The music gets a little slow and less interesting in Suite III, but this is definitely a masterpiece.
Rating: ****

AlbumThe Electric Lady
Release Date: September 6, 2013
Favorite Tracks:  “Givin’ Em What They Love” “Dance Apocalyptic” “Can’t Live Without Your Love”
Thoughts:  Monáe’s second full album and the fourth and fifth suites of the Metropolis opus is full of notable guest artists inluding  Miguel, Erykah Badu, Solange, Prince and Esperanza Spalding.  Musically this is smoother than The ArchAndroid with some slow jams, and jazz, hip-hop, and gospel influences. I could live without the radio breaks with the android DJ because the verisimilitude to a radio jock patter with callers is all to close.  Still this is a worth follow-up to The ArchAndroid  and shows Monáe’s s growth and range.
Rating: ***1/2

AlbumiTunes Festival: London 2013
Release Date: September 9, 2013
Favorite Tracks: “Dance Apocalyptic,” “Tightrope”
Thoughts: This live recording mixes together 5 previously released tracks, showing how well they work independent of the suites and more importantly the incredible energy Monáe brings to performance.  The horn section playing behind her is particularly fantastic. Definitely need to take the opportunity to see Monáe  in concert.
Rating: ***1/2

AlbumWondaland Presents: The Eephus
Release Date: August 14, 2015
Favorite Tracks: “Yoga”
Thoughts: Technically this is not a Monáe album but a compilation of songs by her collective at Wondaland Records (Jidenna, St. Beauty, Roman GianArthur and Deep Cotton).  There’s only once song by Monae, featuring Jidenna, called “Yoga” (which is, er, not really about yoga).  Monáe’s fingerprints are all over the recording though showing her capabilities as a collaborator and a producer.
Rating: ***

Speaking of collaboration, Janelle Monae appears as a guest on many other artists’ recordings.  Probably the most famous is “We Are Young” by fun.  Monae’s part on the bridge makes a great song – and music video – all the more epic.

Janelle Monae also brought together the Wondaland Records lineup last year on the powerful protest song “Hell You Talmbout” where they chant the names of African-Americans murdered by the police.

I will definitely continue to listen to Janelle Monáe’s music as her career continues.  I expect she will continue to grow as an artist and create some of the more innovative music of our time.  I’m sad to say that I somehow missed Janelle Monáe Day in my hometown of Boston a few years back, but I hope to see her in concert one day when she returns.

Stay tuned next week as I will tell you what I heard listening to every album by Kate Bush.

Song of the Week: “Call Me” by St. Paul and the Broken Bones


“Call Me” is a classic soul tune in the Bobby Bland style by a combo out of the capital of Minnesota Birmingham, Alabama (perhaps they’re fans of the Apostle to the Gentiles).  Led by crooner Paul Janeway, St. Paul & The Broken Bones released their first album Half the City in February.

What are you listening to this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Song of the Week: “Feeling Good (Bassnectar Remix)” by Nina Simone


 

Nina Simone‘s music is timeless, but the DJ Bassnectar adds an interesting groove in this remix of “Feeling Good.”

 

 

 

 

Here’s the unadorned, original recording for comparison:

 

 

What music are you listening to this week – new, old, or repurposed?  Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of the Week: “Minute By Minute” by The James Hunter 6


James Hunter is a new-to-me soul musician from England.  Upon a little research, I learned that he’s been active for over twenty-five years and performed with Van Morrison.  “Minute by Minute” is a good song to end one’s ignorance too, a tune worthy of the classic soul era of the 1960s & 70s.

Song of the Week: The Souljazz Orchestra – Cartão Postal


This weeks song by Canada’s The Souljazz Orchestra brightens up a dark and dreary (but still unseasonably warm) day with samba and semba rhythms.  And it’s about postcards, one of my favorite things.

I learned about this song through a podcast from Minnesota Public Radio’s Current Song of the Day.  Other places I hear new music include:

Believe it or not, I even still find good music on the radio, especially thanks to the many college and public radio stations in Boston.  My favorite is WERS, which you can stream online or through an app if you live in environs not accessible to good radio.

Where do you learn of new music?