Sunday, December 28, 2014

Week 50

That's Christmas to Me by Pentatonix

I know you've all been waiting for it, so here it is: a Christmas album. 

Say what you will about a cappella groups, especially given their FOTW popularity spike in the last years, but I like 'em. 



This release from arguably the most popular group of the since winning The Sing-Off, features several traditional Christmas songs, re-arranged rather nontraditionally.

The first track is a gospel-infused "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Sounds good, feels good, and makes me wanna stand up and drop some Amens. Mission accomplished.

Next is the not-often-heard "White Winter Hymnal." This one is gorgeous. Mellow, smooth, intricate, and complex, all at the time. If I'm not mistaken, the below music video has been pretty popular of late...

Following "Hymnal" is the funkiest version of "Sleigh Ride" I've ever heard. Now, it may be because I've played "Sleigh Ride" in band/orchestra about a zillion times, but this one just ain't doin' it for me. It sounds good, has a cool groove, and some sweet retro backup vocals. But, I still skip it most of the time. Oh well.

The fourth track is probably this album's most recognized track, "Winter Wonderland/Don't Worry" featuring Tori Kelly. I'll be the first to put my teenage girl hand up and admit that this one is my jam. Avi's funky bass line, the boys tasty harmonies, and K.O.'s killer beatboxing make this one way all-too-easy to bob your head to. If you can't get down on this arrangement, then you need to hit up the doc-in-a-box!

Next up is the album's title track. This one took me a few listens to appreciate, but just like most of the stuff these guys have done, listening to it makes me want a cup of hot chocolate, a fire place, and a 5'6" brunette with a dazzling smile (got that one covered). Love the fact that every member gets a chance to shine on this one. Have a listen yourself.

"Mary Did You Know" follows the above and it's a nice contrast. Scott's and Mitch's haunting vocals on this one are almost scary at times. But then again that's what good art should do sometimes. We'd never grow from it if it didn't shake us up now and then. Highly inspired and recommended.

The next two tracks are excellent arrangements, but if I'm being honest, lackluster tracks. They're just conservative compared to the rest of the album. "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" is very impressive, especially when you remember that every sound on that song is made by the human voice. But it's still "Sugarplum." Then "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" comes along and in much the same fashion as "Sleigh Ride," is a funky and unique arrangement. But... it still doesn't do a lot for me. There's plenty to appreciate, but I still don't like it. Boom.

Three songs from the end, we get the funkiest "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" in the history of that song's arrangements. And this time... I like it. 

Penultimate (sort of) track: "Silent Night." Beautiful, delicate, tender, and reverent. The exact adjectives that this hymn deserves. Much love to PTX for not slicing and dicing this one. 

I guess I should mention that there is a bonus track on the album, but you've probably heard it already. Because I'm only gonna let me inner sixth-grade girl out once on a review, I'll just link the vid and you can check it out yourself.

Overall, this is a great album to add to your Christmas collection, whether you like a cappella singing or not. The arrangements are a little 'out-of-the-box' at times, but to these ears, they're never over the top or tasteless. Many thanks to a young group not trying to reinvent the wheel here. Give it a listen people!

Week 49

Medicine Man by The Bamboos

Here it is: Joe's favorite album of 2014. Yes it's a little funny that it came in within the last two weeks of the year, but hey, better late than never!

The Bamboos are an Australian funk outfit that usually kill the instrumental funk scene down under. However, for their fifth studio release, Medicine Man, the group adds some sweet sweet vocalization to their sounds thanks to the likes of Aloe Blacc, Ella Thompson, and Daniel Merriweather among others.

The opening track is one of my favorites. The Booker T & The MG's have a new sound, and it is called The Bamboos. At least in this case. Check it.

Keeping on the keeping on, we get a few other standout tracks including both featuring Kylie Audinst, "What I Know" and "Cut Me Down."

The Daniel Merriweather feature is solid. Not sure if it's because it's a great song, or that I'm just a big fan of his vocal sound. Either way, the sixth track, "I Never" is one of my favorites. 

Rounding out the highlight reel are the title track (which I'm pretty sure has been featured on some sort of CSI soundtrack) and the closer, another track featuring Kylie Audinst, "Window." This one is a little repetitive, but the production and layering behind the vocals are great. And then you get the lyrics and well, they're also great. Soul meets funk meets pop meets motown. I dig.

The Bamboos are an impressive group from down under that I wouldn't have discovered if it hadn't been for a head-fi Christmas Music Exchange in which I participated. If you'd like to hear something a little different before your year rounds out, I highly recommend this album from the Australian funk sensation, The Bamboos.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Week 48

More About Nothing by Wale

I have mixed feelings about Wale, especially since his signing to major label (blech). Luckily, he demonstrated that he was interested in saying something a few years ago. 

More About Nothing is the continuation of a concept by Wale that's based on the sitcom Seinfeld. Almost every track is named for an episode from the show, and  each usually features a quote or snippet from the show that has something to do with the rhymes to follow. 

Here are the standouts:

Off the bat, is an in-your-face banger called "The Problem." To sum it up, the rap game is sick with empty rhymes and passionless MC's. Yep, that's about right.

Track three - "The Soup." Favorite track on the album. One of the most creatively-written "can we please elevate the rap game?!" rhymes I've heard.

Following "The Soup," is "The Breeze" and then "The Friends and Strangers." "The Breeze" - West coast sound from a DC MC. Not a huge fan of this one. It's a little crude and braggadocious for me. "Friends" is better. Check it:

I keep my friends close, enemies on a leash like, 
Me and my haters is literally Siamese 
I can define me but if I let my friends do it 
They'll tell you I'm some bipolar, hard drug user. 
The J gets smaller, I'm up in my zone 
Though surrounded by an entourage, I feel like I'm alone 
A long way from normal, I try to keep it cordial 
I made some new friends, meet recorder and touring.

"The Eyes of the Tiger" is another interesting one. So check it. The intro is the voicemail Tiger Woods left his um, dessert, after their scandalousness was discovered by his wife. The rest of the track goes on to emulate Tiger's experiences with regards to his family, career, and the media. An interesting venture. Touché Wale. Touché.

"The Black N Gold" and "The Flight" are two other standouts. The former, a club-ready, feel-good number and the latter, a seemingly awful song, but upon closer examination, there are some subtle, deeper things going on that only multiple listenings will reveal. 

As far as mixtapes go, well, they're hit or miss. Super easy to produce, and it follows that they're very easy to fill with crap until an artist's next official release drops. Thankfully, the About Nothing series from Wale is actually pretty good. He's obviously a little immature, but the fact that he's not telling me how to do some FOTW dance or how rich he is goes a long way. 

Week 47

Adapt by Trace Bundy

While fingerpicking tap-tastic acoustic guitar players are a dime a dozen these days, there are a few who've maintained their place in my iTunes library over the years. One of which is Mr. Trace Bundy. 

This album is one that displays not only an impressive technical ability, but also maturity. Instead of just blistering through scales or tap-dancing on the guitar body, this album includes quite a few singable and heart-wrenching melodies, not to mention some groove-tacular playing.

It's my blog and I'll cry if I want to... wait... I meant that I'll post what I've been digging on recently. Have a listen for something a little different.

Week 46

Time Control by Hiromi's Sonicbloom

Time to catch up!

So this album from Japan's Hiromi Uehara is one that caught me my surprise and boy am I glad it did.

Hiromi is a "classically" trained pianist with a propensity for innovation. She's played with jazz, fusion, and funk specialists like Lenny White, Stanley Clarke, Simon Philips, and Oscar Peterson, among others. Chick Corea is the girl's mentor. How awesome is that?!

In her 2007 release Time Control, we get treated to the fusion stylings of Hiromi with a trio of renowned studio musicians Tony Grey on bass, Martin Valihora on kit, and David Fuiczynski laying it down on his guitar. 

For those of you who are familiar with the genre of Math Rock, this album will be something you will dig. Like the title says, the concept here is time. Whether its messing with time signatures like the ultra-groovy "Time and Space" or the hemiolic play of one "Real Clock vs. Body Clock = Jet Lag," there is plenty to be said, musically speaking of course, on the nature of time. 

Honestly, listening to this album all the way through is no problem. While every track clock in over five minutes, I've never been bored. All the tunes have their own unique flavors - see the Mahavishnu-esque fusion of "Time Out" and then the more downtempo "Deep Into the Night" for some juxtaposition.

Top to bottom, this is an epic fusion/funk/piano effort from one of the most exciting jazz musicians I've ever seen. Monster playing that isn't overly technical is something that isn't always easy to find nowadays, especially from relatively younger musicians. Luckily, Time Control from Hiromi's Sonicbloom breaks the mold. Check it out!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Week 45

The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot

Yes, yes I know. This one is old news. But actually, it's not. 

I remember when I bought this album years ago thinking, "these guys have a pretty unique sound." Of course I was into the singles "Meant to Live" and "Dare You to Move," but I liked just about every other one on this release too. Some killer writing to front surprisingly varied playing from the group.

Anyway, here's why I've been re-digging this album pretty hard lately:

I'm sure everyone remembers the hard rocker "Meant to Live," the first single and first track from this album. Very catchy guitar riffs, Bonham-esque drumming and a pretty inspirational message. Really a sum of the whole album if you ask me!

Next up is "This Is Your Life," a track that asks the listener to look inside. Even though Switchfoot is a band that crosses back and forth between Christian and non- music regularly, it's still unique to hear a group pose such a question to the listener. Most of the time we hear stuff that's about the singer or his/her loss. Not this time. The slow jam chorus is great for belting in the car... Just saying.

Number three is "More than Fine." This one that I didn't take to at first. Honestly, because of the cheesy 'timer going off' start and the 'thwappy' snare drum sample, I skipped this one several times just because of the intro. But... it gets better. The writing is honest and once again, inspirational. And truthfully, it's one we should all internalize. What' the point of living if you're not thriving?!

Following "More than Fine" is "Ammunition," one of my favorites. The funkified intro groove on kit is enough to pique my interest. But then we get thrown into a full-blown rock anthem. Has a distincting Pearl Jam/Stone Temple sound to these ears that basically calls us out. 

(We've been blowing up) We're the issue, it's our condition.
(We've been blowing up) We're the issue, the detonation.
(We've been blowing up) We're the issue, we're ammunition.

Presumably for our own problems. Accountability people! Don't love unless you mean to!

Next up is the album's rock ballad and second single "Dare You to Move." This one is a beautiful song that challenges the listener to well, move. You can live complacently, slowly drowning in your problems or you can reach up to something higher and never look back. While it is a little repetitive, it's still a great song that shows how much these guys are invested in their message.

"Redemption" is an interesting tune from the two sides it portrays. One is the argument for letting go of your fears to well, redeem yourself. The second is the inner self being overwhelmed by the scars of our decisions. Which do you focus on more? 

Following "Redemption" is the title track. An almost ambient intro with funky bass intro over some Gorillaz-esque sampling eventually leads to some post-pop riffing and grooving that's pretty tasty. Once again, Mr. Foreman delivers a fantastic way to put the following message: this material, ephemeral, limited world is not what we were truly made for. Probably my favorite track on the album. Killer playing, great layering, and may favorite song-writing out of 11 really well-written tracks. PS. Watch out for that bridge. It's a hidden gem.

"Gone" is next. I think of this as the albums cheeky, pop hit that would make fans of Ed Sheeran, Train, or Spin Doctors happy. Lots of little one-liners that come together to make a message that we all need to remember. Check it.

Three from the end, we get the true ballad, "On Fire." Sultry piano, mellow backgrounds, and soulful singing. This one could easily be the love child of Bebo Norman and Coldplay. That's not to belittle the content though. My very good friend Kella makes a point that illustrates this one quite well. Most people feel Him when they're close, but you have to open yourself up to recognize. 

Penultimate track is called "Adding to the Noise." It has the same flavor as "Gone" but rocks a little harder. Once again we're reminded that things of this place aren't the ones we need to focus one. Good stuff.

Rounding out the album is a song called "Twenty-Four." The title comes from the song's inspiration: Jon Foreman's twenty four years of living. Certainly is an honest song about how our experiences will follow us always. Eventually we have to quit making excuses or regretting things in order to get to a real truth. Not a huge fan of the sound of this track, but I do support the message!

If you couldn't tell, "The Beautiful Letdown" is an album I've listened to a lot. It's incredibly well done, with excellent songwriting, tight and groovy playing, and enough variety to keep any and all Christian/alt/pop/grunge rockers pretty satisfied. Give it a listen if you haven't already!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Week 44

New Music!

The Side Steps Quintet

Scott Amendola Band

Rolling Jazz Revue

John Newman

Check 'em out!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Week 43

Brass Band by Benny Greb

Once again, it is time to get down!

Benny Greb is a well-known funk inspired drummer from Austria. On this record, he teams up with a trio of brass musicians to put out some of the funkiest traditional brass band funk you've ever laid ears on.

This album is unique in the fact that the texture is the same on every track, yet every one has its own unique flavor. From the get go, we get a very '70s true funk number called "Good Question." This one has Sly or James written all over it. 

After the more contemporary brass band-ish "Icestattin," we get a very Galactic "Detective." This tune is funky but very lyrical at the same time. Even though the tempo is very lazy, the track gives a lot of room for all involved to demonstrate not only different knowledge of style but also several opportunities to improvise. The same goes for the smooth jazzified "Next Question." This is also the only track that gives Benny a true drum solo.

Other standouts include "Polka," which sounds like it'd be just as appropriate on the opening number for a Hanna Barbara cartoon. There's also the gospel-infused "Sweetbelt," which really gives the horn players a chance to go to town over a quick swing before opening up some space for Professor Greb to dig in. Very cool tune this one.

The last song on this record, entitled "Good Night," is the only true ballad and well, it's quite nice. Slow, sultry, and yet still funky, this is one of my favorites that reveals a lot of nuance and sensitivity on the part of the players. Very cool.

If you dig on some Soul Rebels or MMW and you're looking for something a little different, look no further. Mr. Greb to the rescue. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Week 42

3 Brave Souls by John Beasley

This trio is one comprised of Miles Davis alums and it shows! Keyboardist John Beasley heads the group, but his contributions certainly aren't outshining those of Darryl Jones and Ndugu.

My favorites are the the gospel ballad "Come and Gone," the exotic "Ayala" featuring Bob Sheppard and Steve Taglavione, and "Nothing Left to Say," featuring Sy Smith laying down some sultry vocals. 

Check out a few for yourself.

This album is certainly funky more than straight ahead jazz, but there are plenty of influences to be found here. The Meters, Miles Davis, Donny Hathaway, and James Brown are all some that come to mind and there are many more to be sure. 3 Brave Souls has become one of my recent favorites from this genre and you'd have a hard time convincing me that anyone who listens to it won't be tapping their foot in a matter of seconds. Give it a listen people!

Week 41

Heather Maloney by Heather Maloney

Since my iTunes library is several weeks long, I rarely use Pandora or Spotify to shuffle through new music. However, every once in a while, I'm exposed to something by sheer happenstance that catches my ear. Enter: Heather Maloney.

Heather is a singer/songwriter with a unique sound. How's that for bland? But seriously, for someone who listens to 3-4 hours of music a day, hearing an artist who really catches my ear is rare. 

This is Heather's second album and well, I dig it. 

To me, what's special about this album is the approach that Heather takes. Instead of a bunch of songs that give her a chance to show off or get radio play, it reminds me of an instrumentalist's role: she let's the music come through her instead of the opposite. Very Bob Dylan. Check out some highlights, "Hey Broken," "Dirt and Stardust," and "Flutter." 

"Hey Broken," is probably my favorite tune from this album. It's got a hand-jive feel that has something reminiscent of Mumford and Sons or The Civil Wars. Thoughtful lyrics about knowing when to push against life and when to rest in a tasty package.

"Dirt and Stardust" is a more somber track about life's limited time. This one has Dylan written all over it if you ask me. Thoughtful, pensive, a little depressing, but overall... beautiful.

Here's "Flutter."

Heather is a force to be reckoned with. And although she may not wind up in the Top 40, she still has plenty of beauty to offer the world. Be sure to check out this album as well as the other two.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week 40

The Ozell Tapes by Marcus Miller

So in my experience, owning bootleg copies of live performances is usually fun only for the novelty of it. Usually they're low quality recordings that feature the artist making lame jokes or having dialogue with someone sitting in the front row, which is unique, but really not fun to listen to. Thankfully Mr. Miller's bootleg album, The Ozell Tapes breaks the mold.

After the intro from Doug Epting, Miller launches into a super-funky groove called "Power." Funky bass, tasty synth, and crispy horn stabs courtesy of Roger Byam and Patches Stewart lock it in! For a live recording, this group is tight. This tune along with most on the album have a very 'Snarky-Puppy-before-there-was-Snarky-Puppy" thing going on.

Next up are two covers in a row: "So What" and "Lonnie's Lament." The Davis tune starts a little loosely, but soon resembles the tune you know. It's been giving the funk treatment and probably the coolest one I've ever heard. My head was bobbin' in about 10 seconds. Trumpet, tenor, guitar, organ, and bass get solos and they are all tight! "Lament" is a ballad by John Coltrane that represents a nice break in the action. It's still pretty funky, but at least it's a slow funk. I can dig on it, although to me, it's not really a standout on this record. Gets a little directionless at times.

Following "Lonnie" is a tasty joint called "Cousin John." I don't know who John is, but he must be a funky man. Some Funky Knuckle-esque half-time funk that really yields some quality solo time for the ol' string players and Mr. Poogie Bell on kit. 

Next is one of my favorites from the album, "Scoop." Heavy, raw, gritty, funk. I'm immediately reminded of the Budos Band if you're familiar. Just a smokin' riff from Marcus and tasty background contributions from the horn section. Although it's one of the album's longer tunes (12+ minutes), it maintains a high energy level and I guess that's why I can't skip it.

Finishing out the first disc are "I Loves You Porgy," and "Panther." "Porgy" is a tune I'm unfamiliar with, but I can tell you Marcus' version is killer. It's the first real ballad we've gotten and it's just... sexy. "Panther" is a more well-known Miller tune and it's groovin' as always. An open bass solo gives Marcus a chance to show off. Also a little crowd involvement gets the energy hoppin' on this tune. Definitely a sweet end to the first set.

First tune, second set: "3 Deuces." Be prepared to groove your face off.

Next up is the second coolest treatment of Amazing Grace I've ever heard (MMSW is hard to beat!) Sax solo gives way to some free jazz-esque grooving until Mrs. Lalah Hathaway takes over just before the 5:00 mark. Girl's on top of it. Also, if I'm not mistaken, Marcus solos a little on the ol' soprano sax on this one.

Following is another one of my favorites from the album, "Nikki's Groove." Just awesome-sauce. It's one that he wrote for his daughter. Very Snarky Puppy-soudning again. Smooth jazz meets fusion meets Tower of Power. Check it.

Track number four from the second set is called "When Your Life Was Low." This sexy ballad gives Marcus and Lalah chances to sing. It's a very cool tune. That's all I have to say about that.

Last favorite: funkdefied cover of "Burnin' Down the House." I'm not sure I can describe it. Whether it's the voicings from the horns or the backgrounds, or Miller's playing, or something else, this tune always makes me smile. Give it a listen. Dean Brown on guitar and Marcus both take some face-melting solos on this one. Definitely not one to pass up.

Third from the end is "People Make the World Go Round." Poogie is layin' down a  sweet groove on skins and Marcus is singing! Despite its cool sound, I'm not a big fan. Just doesn't hit me in the groove-bone like the others from this recording.

Next to last, "Killing Me Softly." Heck. Yes. Lalah doin' it big.

The concert ends with a medley of Miles and Marcus tunes called "Hannibal/Amandla/Tutu." The ethereal intro gives way to some soft groovin' which gives way to some harder groovin' around the 5:00 minute mark. Cool trumpet soloing in this section and some wide open drum soloing. This tune alternates between loud, heavy, raucous sections and soft, gentle solos from the horn players. Kind of a weird way to end a concert if you ask me, but then again... you didn't.

All in all, this is one of my new favorite live recordings of any concert. It's also one of only a handful that I can listen to top to bottom and enjoy every song. Give ol' Marcus a listen if you need a reason to shake your groove thing.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Week 39

Blak and Blu by Gary Clark Jr.

This one is interesting. First, let's have a little honesty here. Black folks have done us all a solid. With the exceptions of classical, prog, and grunge music, most of the West's popular forms of music (i.e. jazz, hip hop, rock'n'roll, R&B, etc.) were pioneered by African Americans. Let that sink in. 

That brings me to this album. Gary Clark Jr.'s Blak and Blu synthesizes all of that in a single place. An interesting idea, especially for a debut.

So here it goes.

Off the bat, the opener is a neo-Chuck Berry roller called "Ain't Messin' 'Round." Uptempo, falsetto backup vocals, slightly-distorted guitar solo. Nice sampling of what Mr. Berry was doing back in the day with some new school flavor. It almost taps your foot for you.

Next is a straight-up blues rocker called "When My Train Pulls In." I'm not a huge fan of this song - just don't like the sound. But it does take the listener to a different era of Black music. Lots of gospel influence here with some seriously emotional guitar soloing. The North Mississippi All Stars would be proud.

Following "My Train," is one of my favorites, the title track. Think John Legend (there's even a "get lifted" quote!) meets The Black Keys. Urban blues gets a little alternative. Simple tune but unique and groovy. Check it.

Next up is "Bright Lights" and "Travis County." If "Blak and Blu" brings John Legend to The Keys, then "Bright Lights" would be The Keys takin' it to Mr. Legend. Dirty guitar and plenty of references to liven' in the city. That's all I have to say about that. "Travis County" on the other hand, has Chuck Berry written all over it. Copy and paste man. Little Richard's falsetto would be right at home in this one. 

Told ya.

With the next track, "The Life," we get the hip-hop side of the album. Easy, almost-spoken lyrics, fresh beat, and catchy hook. Definitely not East or West Coast, but some of the more spoken-word MCs a la Common or the boys of De La Soul would totally rhyme over this.

Back to electric blues with the next two, "Glitter Ain't Gold" and "Numb." Even though the messages are a little worn out, most material in blues music is. We all got the same problems! Gary proves again that even though he can do all the Black genres, blues is his thing.  "Glitter Ain't Gold" is another one that's a favorite of mine and "Numb" is no slouch either.

Now for a total change of pace, "Please Come Home" steps in. Soul, soul, soul baby. Four Tops, Temptations, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding. There all in there. Clark's rendition is surprisingly genuine. Doesn't try to reinvent the wheel and well, it works. Tasty horn hits, some clean falsetto vocals, a little guitar soloing, and lots of swing. Love it.

Next up is "Things Are Changin'" At first I wasn't a huge fan, but I came around. This one is hard to make an accurate comparison. It has the Legend sound and woman-centered content, but the way it's framed is very different. Every time I listened to this one, I found something new to like. Pretty cool.

Next up is a mash of two tunes "Third Stone from the Sun & If You Love Me Like You Say." The former is a pseudo-instrumental Jimi Hendrix tune that's a little weird even for Jimi. Very psychedelic. Lots of things to hear and see here. Clark's version is a little more conservative but obviously not a complete departure before giving way to the latter. Straight up blues with some tasty shaker work seriously effected guitar soloing before getting back into Jimi's tune. I suppose it's a cool tune although, I'll bet a live version would be much cooler.

Penultimate track is called "You Saved Me." You guessed it: more blues rock. Almost just straight up alt rock. Despite the heavy guitar intro, the meat of the song is a little lighter in texture, think The Black Coldplay Keys. The Blacoldpleys. Not really a fan of this one.

And lastly a lo-fi blues called "Next Door Neighbor Blues." Robert Johnson's ghost makes an appearance here. Very cool that one of the first Black genres to go mainstream (blues) is the last to appear on the album. Gary gives us a little slide guitar action and other than the gee-tar and his voice, that's all you get. Bare bones stuff right here that brings us full circle.

Overall, I'm a fan of Gary's debut album. The concept is interesting and frankly, ambitious. Glad he didn't try to go crazy, but instead demonstrates that he's capable of quite a bit more than the electric blues that is normally his bread and butter. Some may not like the jumping from genre to genre, but at least there's a point behind this game of leap frog. For some fresh samplings of all that a contemporary blues, R&B, soul, rock artist has to offer, check out Gary Clark Jr.'s Blak and Blu.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Week 38

Halcyon Days - Ellie Goulding

Vibin' on this one all week. Here are the highlights.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Week 37

The Old Prince by Shad

Get comfortable. Stumbled onto this album a few months ago, and well, it checks off a lot of the things I look for in a good hip hop album.

Shad is a Canadian rapper of Kenyan origin who does a lot of things differently than most rappers. He's not overly braggadocious. His writing has content. He's grounded in something larger than personal or financial success.

This album is his second and it's certainly one of my top 10. Period.

From the "here's what you can expect" intro "Quest for Glory," we get into "I Don't Really Like You." This track is full of wordplay that's worthy of lay admiration and props from full-on hip hop heads. I.e. 

Ah gee, now you got me cocky,
Cats say, "You the illest," I'm like "nah B, nah B, nah B..."
Well OK probably, but that's just only 'cause I rap like it's my hobby,
Not a jobby-job, gettin' all sloppy, off key
Y'all mad as March, tryin' to knock off the top seed.

A few tracks later is "The Old Prince Still Lives at Home." Haven't seen one that's this kind of funny in a long time. Check it.

After "Old Prince," is an interesting joint called "Out of Love, Pt. 2." This one is an ironic piece about doing things with/without your heart behind them. Be prepared to think a little on this one. 

After an instrumental interlude is another introspective track that could be about a lot of things. Corruption, politics, capitalism, lots of options here. Give it a listen.

The next two tunes are killer. First up is "Compromise." Lyrical content aside, the production and sampling on this one is one of my favorites. Following is "Exile," a very neo-West Coast sounding song about staying true to yourself and your beliefs.

Don't let the fact that I didn't break down a few tracks from this album throw you. Top to bottom, it's in my opinion a classic. Based on his music, Shad is a very thoughtful, forward-thinking, lyricist who can make some seriously deep topics sound like polite conversation. If you're tired of the junk that gets spins on the radio, I highly recommend Shad and The Old Prince.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Week 36

The Cello Suites: Inspired by Bach by Yo Yo Ma

Yes, I listen to Bach for fun. Solo cello at that. If you are unfamiliar than you quickly need to become acquainted as Ma's version of these pieces are just gorgeous.

Without writing an essay, there are a lot of critics who have problems with Ma's playing as he often doesn't follow period-correct performance practice to the letter. However, in my humble opinion, his musicality and phrasing more than make this recording a powerful experience. 

My favorite movements are the well-known Prelude from the first suite in G, the Prelude from the fourth suite in Eb (very under-appreciated if you ask me) and the Allemande from the second suite in D minor. 

More than any other instrumental musician I've met, Ma plays the way I imagine a vocalist would sing. His lines are always pushed and pulled in ways that make more straightforward versions sound mechanical or lifeless. 

If you haven't heard Yo-yo's second recording of the cello suites (he recorded them much earlier in his career as well), then I highly recommend you lock yourself in a quite room with a nice set of bookshelf speakers and let him sing to you!

Week 35

The Heat by Needtobreathe

So this is another that's been a favorite for quite a while. I was turned onto Needtobreathe's hybrid alt/Christian/rock sound about eight years ago and I've been pretty satisfied with just about everything they've done since. 

The Heat is the group's second full-length album and if I think that you'd be hard-pressed to find another that would best it. 

This is one of the few albums in my collection that I can listen to top to bottom and enjoy every song. 

My favorites include the mysterious "We Could Run Away," the Christocentric "Streets of Gold," the inspirational "Looks Like Love," and the Southern-gospel infused "Washed by the Water." For those of you who are familiar with the group's catalog, The Heat to me is a turning point. Instead of the mysterious pseudo-Christian influences from their first record Daylight, here the Rinehart brothers, Bear and Bo seem to be more willing to share of themselves with regards to songwriting. It shows a nice maturing of the group in both material and sound. 

While every song retains the NtB house sound (pop-friendly southern-inspired alt rock), I don't get tired of it. Fans of adult alternative groups like Sister Hazel or Kings of Leon will certainly find favor with this album. 

"Washed by the Water" has gotten the most proverbial spins from me, so I'll share it with you. Be sure to check out the group's other albums as well!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Week 34

No review, just some new music...

The RH Factor


Cory Henry

Ayla Nero

Check 'em out!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Week 33

Rendezvous by Michel Camilo

If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Camilo then prepare yourself. Some of the freshest, tightest, and grooviest latin fusion you've ever heard has come from this man. 

Rendezvous is one that slipped under my radar until very recently (thanks Spotify) and I immediately went home and downloaded it. Just killer playing from Camilo on piano, Anthony Jackson on bass, and Dave Weckl on kit. 

The opener "Tropical Jam," is just that. A Central American jam session (which makes sense since the album was recorded in the Dominican Republic). Give it a listen if you're feeling like the Chiquita banana girl...

Next up is a slow rhumba-esque arrangement of "Caravan." This one isn't as palatable at first as "Tropical Jam," but nonetheless features some of the bluesiest jazz piano I've heard from Camilo not to mention some tasty licks from Mr. Weckl. Prepare to hear Ellington like you've never heard him before.

"El Realejo" follows and does not disappoint. Although Camilo's soloing on this one is a lot to handle. Around the three minute mark, he hits his stride (or maybe this is the melody?) but in some of the shorter phrases, the soloing is hard to follow at times. On another note, the piano-bass or piano-drum unison licks are enough to make you laugh out loud. This one, presumably attributed to the El Realejo of Nicaragua, gives Michel a chance to shine and for the other musicians to show that they can contribute in a more subtle way than most of the tracks on the album.

Next up is the album's title track. The melody from this one is much more easily digested. Some gorgeous melodic and dynamic material that makes this 5:00 tune interesting from the first chords to the last cymbal hit.

"As One" is the album's fifth track and it'll keep you groovin'. It has a very '70's bop-fusion feel with a Stevie Wonder droning chromaticism in the keys. While I found the song a little long overall (7:40) I do dig on Weckl's chance to play around with the odd time signatures. Even throws a little double-bass in there!

"Remembrance" is this album's slow, romantic (in the Latin sense) ballad. Some heart-wrenching stuff in here than isn't just Camilo. Mad props to some of Jackson's moves on bass. Some of those notes just get low.

Track #7 is called "Blacky," and it's the only one that I didn't get jive with. It's tasty, don't get me wrong, but the combination of funky harmonies and mixed meters make it hard to follow for yours truly. The only thing that engages me is the relentless energy the trio brings that keeps the whole thing moving forward.

Penultimate track - "Albertina." Gimme some swing boys! Camilo show's that even he can channel his inner blues-man from time to time. Just an awesome funky/2nd line/latin version of this song.

Last but definitely not least: "From Within." This one is mind-blowing. Check it out on your own! 

All in all, Rendezvous is an awesome album from one heck of a trio. If you're new to latin-jazz or modern fusion, then this is a great place to experience it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Week 32

Earfood by the Roy Hargrove Quintet

This is one of my favorite contemporary jazz records of all time. Two reasons: 1. The concept. 2. The sound. 

1. Hargrove's concept was to make a record that well, sounds good. He intentionally avoided ambient, artistic, over-lengthened modern jazz and instead picked plenty of catchy melodies, sweet songs, and easy-to-listen solos. 'Bout time someone got hip to this. 

2. Keep reading. 

The boppy opener "I'm Not So Sure" certainly kicks off this disc in a food-for-the-ear way. Catchy head, drivin' beats, and some clean, cool soloing from Hargrove and saxophonist Justin Robinson.

The third tune is one of the standouts on the album. "Strasbourg/St. Denis" is one of the only jazz tunes I've heard for which I can sing all of the solos. Although it's a simple one, the soloists are just killer from top to bottom. Give it a listen:

Later in the album, Hargrove channels his inner funkiness in "Mr. Clean." Similarly to "Strasbourg" albeit with some funkier harmonies, this one is still very palatable with lots of room for head-bobbing. 

Other standouts are the mellow "Starmaker, "Divine," and "Style." The track "Divine," puts trumpet with piano in a mellow feel over a sparse bass and brush groove. This one shows off Hargrove's versatility and contrasts well with the head-solo-solo-solo-head form of most of the album's tunes.

The album closes out with a soulful, live version of Sam Cooke's "Bring it On Home To Me." Time to take 'em to church! From the beginning, you know that you may as well settle in and sit back. Hargrove gives us some down-home soloing that's plenty energetic although to this listener, this tune is kind of short. Would've been nicer to hear the group get live on this last one!
In conclusion, this is an excellent album that's the brainchild of an excellent trumpeter. If you have a hard time getting into "jazz" this would be a solid place to start. Give it a listen!