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.