Thoughts: The new compilation from Daptone Records is a collection of slower tunes released by the label’s many artists. If you’re not familiar, Daptone Records is a Brooklyn-based label founded in 2002 most noted for enabling the late career resurgence of Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley (both of whom are now deceased) and recording numerous other contemporary artists making classic soul and funk as well as reggae and afrobeat. The album is full of gems and really hits the spot for me right now.
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.
Album: Welcome 2 America Artist: Prince Release Date: July 30, 2021 Label: NPG Favorite Tracks:
“Welcome 2 America”
“Stand Up And B Strong”
“When She Comes”
“One Day We Will All B Free”
Thoughts: Recorded in 2010, this is the first posthumous album of previously-unreleased songs by Prince. Backed by by bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and drummer Chris Coleman, the album contains funky tracks reminiscent of P-Funk as well as earlier Prince music. Lyrically, the songs focus on topical issues of 2010, many of which feel relevant still in 2021. The problem is that as a protest song writer, Prince has no subtly. He observes a lot of America’s problems but really has nothing to say about those problems. With that being said, it’s a solid album by a great artist and his collaborators, even if it pales besides his best work. Rating: ***
Album: The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers Artist: Valerie June Release Date: March 12, 2001 Label: June Tunes Music Favorite Tracks:
“You and I”
“Call Me a Fool [feat. Carla Thomas]”
Memphis-raised, Brooklyn-based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Valerie June combines classic soul vocals with the instrumentation of folk and Appalachian music. She’s also not afraid to mix in some electronic beats from time to time. The result is music that sounds simultaneously timeless and contemporary. The legendary Carla Thomas, Queen of Memphis Soul, joins June on two tracks.
Album: Daddy’s Home Artist: St. Vincent Release Date: May 14, 2021 Label: Loma Vista Recording Favorite Tracks:
“Down and Out Downtown”
“The Melting of the Sun”
“Somebody Like Me”
“My Baby Wants a Baby”
“…At the Holiday Party”
Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent, is something of a chameleon, changing her personal appearance and musical style from album to album. This has lead to fascinating career with the highpoint of her 2014 album St. Vincent which I really loved, but also 2017’s Masseduction, which I really did not. On Daddy’s Home, the glam rock and pop noise of the past have been replaced by a soul and funk sound joined together thematically around the idea of New York City in the 1970s. The album title is inspired by Clark’s actual father’s release from prison after serving time for a decade for stock manipulation, but Clark suggests this is more metaphorical than biographical. To me, this album feels like a return to form for St. Vincent, which means it’s something new and experimental.
Album: Three Little Words Artist: Dominique Fils-Aime Release Date: February 12, 2021 Label: Ensoul Records Favorite Tracks: Thoughts: Dominique Fils-Aimé, a vocalist from Quebec, explores the sounds of soul music with hints of jazz on her third album. The songs draw on influences from Do-Wop and classic Motown to more recent performers like Amy Winehouse. Lyrically the songs celebrate Black history and music and the ongoing struggle for liberation. Everything seems to be arranged and produced to perfection. Really the only flaw to the album is that it ends with an unnecessary cover of “Stand By Me.” If you like beautiful vocals and souljazz arrangements, this album is for you.
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: The Cycle Artist: Mourning [A] BLKstar Release Date: May 15, 2020 Label: Don Giovanni Records Favorite Tracks:
If I Can I May
Sense of an Ending
Mist :: Missed
So Young So
The Mourning [A] BLKstar website describes the group thusly:
We are a multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora.
Founded in Cleveland, Ohio.
I can’t sum up MAB any better than that. The music has touches of soul, touches of gospel,touches of jazz, and touches of hiphop, all built over electronic music. The music is most reminiscent to me of Algiers, but MAB is mostly unique and original. If you like strong vocals, beautiful harmonies, horns that lift you up, and beats that make you want to move, this album is for you.
I’ve spent the past month “catching up” on album releases from the first six months of 2020, and this is my favorite of the year so far, but also probably the most important release of 2020.