Archives for posts with tag: Alice Russell

2013 in Review: New, New to Me, and Those We Lost

There were many solid new releases this past year and many had two things in common. First, they were introduced to me via Gilles Peterson’s (@gillespeterson) BBC6 program, Worldwide, a staple in my listening. Second, three of my top 5 were released on Blue Note Records.

New Releases:

Looking back just 12 months, there were so many good albums released that I had enough fodder for a top 10, with Omar’s The Man winning the year.

10. Kon, On My Way
9. Brand New Heavies, Forward
8. Mario Biondi, Sun
7. Alice Russell, To Dust
6. Ed Motta, AOR
5. Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, Leap of Faith
4. Jose James, No Beginning No End
3. Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2
2. Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit
1. Omar, The Man

Other notable releases were Quadron’s Avalanche, Da Lata’s Fabiola, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, RC & the Gritz’ Pay Your Tab, and Wild Belle’s Isles.

New to me: Rediscovered

Chakha Khan & Rufus – Before Chakha Khan’s 80’s resurgence, her career was launched with the 70’s funk and soul band, Rufus. Their album, Street Player (UMG Recordings, 1978) is a particularly good showcase of the bands smoothness and how well suited Khan’s vocal style is to their music. The track, “Destiny,” is essential listening.

Harvey Mason – I posted a Harvey Mason playlist after discovering this drummer who made his mark on numerous jazz and fusion classics.

Skee-Lo – An oddball find from 1995 when hip-hop albums were so prolific that it was hard to cut through the clutter to find those that would last. Skee-Lo’s album, I Wish (Ultra Moda Music, 1995) holds up today with its pleasing blend of melody and rhyme. It’s also a hip-hop album that’s not afraid to have some fun.

Ben l’Oncle Soul – Neo soul has been played out in my books for some time now. But Ben L’Oncle Soul’s self-titled release (Mercury Music Group, 2010) had a fresh take because a) it’s mostly sung in French; and b) the artist makes the music his own, not trying to mimic crooners from the 60’s and 70’s but celebrating his voice and music in his own way.

Notable Passings

  • Donald Byrd – One of my musical heros. An innovator and prolific melodist. Tributes to him abound on the internet as the year closes out. Nice to see him getting such wide recognition.
  • Stompin’ Tom Connors – A Canadian folk music treasure whose lyrics and music are essential Canadiana
  • George Duke – A keyboardist and innovator in the vein of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock
  • Lou Reed – Another innovator and catalyst who influenced rock and punk acts through the 70s and 80s

Most Anticipated in 2014

Q-Tip, The Last Zulu – This project has been on the radar for some time now but it’s hard to nail down a release date amongst the hype out there. The album is said to include, in some form, a reunion of original A Tribe Called Quest members.

Zara McFarlane, If You Knew Her – The follow-up from her excellent 2011 debut Until Tomorrow (Brownswood)

Jose James – His second release on the Blue Note label is in production, according to James’ facebook updates.

Prince, Plectrum Electrum – The recently released (and excellent) single, “Breakfast Can Wait,” will be on the album as will tracks featuring the rock-centered 3rd Eye Girl who are touring with Prince.

Happy, peaceful, and musical New Year!

Album Review: To Dust, Alice Russell (Tru Thoughts, 2013)

alice_russel_to_dust

Alice Russell is underserved. We don’t get enough of her, especially in North America where she is lesser known than her countrywomen, Adele and Amy Winehouse. If we must compare her to other soulful British female vocalists, my vote goes to a voice we knew in the eighties — Alison Moyet. Russell is uncannily similar in style and spirit to Moyet, the powerful vocalist behind Yazoo.

The five year pause since Russell’s last album, Pot of Gold (Six Degrees, 2008), has been worth the wait. To Dust gives us Russell’s voice in a surprising variety of tracks across the album. There are more straight-ahead soul tracks, some electronic influenced arrangements, and hooky pop tunes.

I can’t help but compare this with Jose James’ latest release, No Beginning No End (Blue Note, 2013). That album was focussed on showcasing James’ unique voice. I was expecting something similar for Russell’s current outing. Rather, To Dust offers a varied song selection and the production sometimes takes a front seat. This is not to say James’ album is better. To Dust takes a different approach with the artist, still using her range, but drawing from more genres in the process.

The first single, “Heartbreaker” is a driving and soulful march. It gives Russell an opportunity to show off her power, which she does without overdoing it. “Let Go (Breakdown)” is another catchy tune. This is where the vocals could be more front-and-centre. It works, but if you’ve heard Russell in a more raw production setting (like here), you’d want more vocals.

The rawness and Russell’s control is featured nicely in “I Loved You.” An echoed bass drum, not unlike Yazoo’s minimalist classic, “Winter Kills” from Upstairs at Eric’s (Mute, 1982), invokes more Russell vs. Moyet comparisons. Likewise, “Citizens” is a sparser track with vocals up front. The piano rhythm track gives the track a hip-hop feel, which works nicely with Russell’s treatment.

On the electronic side of the spectrum, “For a While” features synth and a very Prince-like breakdown, which Russell pulls off naturalistically. “Different” is the tranciest track and reminds me of “Driven to Tears” from The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta (A&M, 1980). “Drinking Song Interlude” hints that Russell could play in the electronic dance space easily but is so short it leaves us wanting more.

This is a strong end-to-end listen that takes you on a journey through soul, pop, and electronica. Russell’s vocals are reason enough to pick up this album. The style mix makes it even more compelling.

Feature: 2012 in Review – New, New to Me, and those we lost

Reflecting on my musical discoveries in 2012, there were many but the theme that emerges is squarely in the 1970’s. That decade pre-dated my musical awareness, which only sprung in the Eighties. But thanks to great DJs and musical curators like Gilles Peterson (@gillespeterson), Jason Palma (@jasonpalma), Kon (@Kon1200), and Huggs (@huggs), I rediscovered an amazing slice of musical magic from the 70’s.

So here are my favourite finds, some new releases, and a reminder of some of the musical greats we lost this year:

New Releases:

New to Me: Re-discovered

  • Leon Ware – An impressive body of work from the 70s that blends soulful vocals, jazz-influenced arrangements, and a dose of disco. The track, “What’s Your Name,” in particular, kills.
  • Ahmad Jamal – Calming, patient jazz that I overlooked in my younger years
  • The Philly Sound – Velvety
  • Donald Byrd – My 70s music hero and a mentor to the Mizzell Brothers, my other 70s heros. Not mention Harvey Mason, a spectacular jazz drummer. Mason’s beats on “Flight time” drive that track more than any other instrument in the arrangement. Not a lot of drummers can do that.
  • D-Train – Groovy synth funk from the early eighties; Credit the keyboard genius of Hubert Eaves III. “Keep on” is simply addictive.

Notable Passings

  • Don Cornelius – Host of Soul Train
  • Donna Summer – Queen of disco
  • Jose Roberto Bertrami – Azymuth keyboardist, one of the world’s best on the Rhodes
  • Sam ‘The Record Man’ Sniderman – Toronto record shop pioneer
  • Dave Brubeck – Legend of jazz
  • Ravi Shankar – Legend of Indian Classical music

Most Anticipated Release in 2013: New album from Alice Russell (expected February 2013)

Happy and Peaceful New Year!

Album Review: Look Around the Corner, Quantic and Alice Russell (with Combo Barbaro), April 2012

This pairing should excite those of us who know each of these artists for their work apart. Quantic, a.k.a. Will Holland, has a prolific and eclectic career so far. His delving into latin sounds has been done adeptly and avoided the pitfalls of others who try to ape the sound without understanding its roots. Before that, his release in the soul revival arena, I’m Thankful (Tru Thoughts, 2006), re-introduced us to the signature voice of Spanky Wilson and her take-no-prisoners version of “Don’t joke with a hungry man.”

Alice Russell’s Pot of Gold album (Six Degrees, 2008) proved she was a UK vocalist to be celebrated in the same light as Amy Winehouse and Adele. Alas, she is still largely unknown to North American audiences. Her solid tone and power remind me of Alison Moyet’s performance on Yazoo’s classic LP, Upstairs at Erics (Mute, 1982).

Look Around the Corner is not the first meeting of these two but it is the first featuring Holland’s band of Central American musicians, Combo Barbaro.

Where this album works best is where Russell and the Combo are allowed to do their thing in the most classic sense. That is, let Alice sing. Let the Combo play. And we have magic. Mess with that formula, and we have mush electronica.

“Magdalena” and “I’ll Keep My Light in My Window” are perfect for Russell. She wails on them in her inimitable way. Quantic’s production is reserved here and Russell soars above it.

“Una Tarde en Mariquita” is a nice latin tune with a straight-ahead performance by the band. Again, the production takes a back seat. The musicianship is sharp enough to carry the tune.

“I’d Cry” is a charming cha cha number with graceful violin accompaniment. It is a tad overproduced and leaves me wanting a more raw version. A short acoustic version is included toward the end of the album sans the violin.

There are ‘filler’ tracks here that we could all do without. But these are minor and seem to be de rigueur for Electronic releases these days. Still, for the more substantial tracks where Alice sings and the band plays, this is a fine collection and a welcome reunion. What’s more, unless there’s an Alice Russell LP in the near future, this will be our fill of her for the time being.