Archives for posts with tag: Reggae

Album Review: The Temple of I & I, Thievery Corporation (ESL Music, Feb 2017)

tciiIf you’re a fan of reggae and dub, you’ll wonder why anyone would describe this fine album as trip-hop or chill.

Thievery Corporation (a.k.a. Rob Garza and Eric Hilton) have created music in the electronic realm since their beginnings in 1997 with their trippy lounge music debut, Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi (4AD).

But the duo has proven their chops in many musical traditions, including bossa, the muse of their last outing, Saudade (ESL, 2014). Reggae has also been featured as long ago as 2003 with the release of Richest Man in Babylon (ESL Music).

The Temple of I & I is stylistically the most reggae influenced album since Babylon. It features several guests and the usual collaborators who bring so much of Garza’s and Hilton’s music to life. Reggae vocalists Notch, Puma, and Racquel Jones are most featured throughout the 15 tracks on the record.

Notch does particular justice to “Weapons of Distraction” and “Strike the Root.” The riddims are solid. Sly and Robbie would approve.

A couple of tracks echo their electronica catalogue, namely “Time & Space” sung partly in French by returning vocalist Lou Lou Ghelikhani and the mournful “Love Has No Heart” sung by Shana Halligan.

Other than that, it is all reggae and dub with a Thievery Corporation lustre. Respect.

 

 

 

 

Album Review: The Olympians, The Olympians (Daptone Records, Oct 2016)

olympians coverWhen we appreciate acts like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Al Green, their presence, performance, and most of all their vocals are what stand out. But pick one of your favourite tracks from that era and listen again, this time zooming in on the backing band.

Soul music demands tight performances, steady rhythms, and discerning instrumental breakouts that ebb and flow with the shape of each song. Among the musicians who created soundscapes for these legends were acts like The JBs and Booker T. & the MGs.

Happily, there are musicians today who carry a torch for impeccably executed instrumental soul. Many of them can be found in the stables of Daptone Records, ably extending and innovating a great musical tradition.

The Olympians is a project conceived by Toby Pazner, a musician in the Daptone family that had a vision for a themed instrumental album and the wherewithal to assemble the right players to bring it to life. Among them, Thomas Brenneck, whose recordings with the Dap-Kings have been churning out great instrumental music for years, including the much celebrated backing on Amy Winehouse’s blockbuster, Back to Black album (Island Records, 2006).

In The Olympians, Pazner, Brenneck, and their band have created a simply mesmerizing album. Stripped away to a core sound of soul with hints of reggae, the soundscape is the star.

“Apollo’s Mood” has an addictive rock steady groove reminiscent of William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful for What you Got” but also features horns and organs that elevate and round out the track. “Sirens of Jupiter” is also remarkable for its use of Harp and Afrobeat-influenced horn sound against a bassline inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” The album’s remaining nine tracks are just as engaging and widely varied.

I’ve always found that the musicianship on an album is key to its longevity. The Olympians are aptly named in this regard. Champions, all of them.

The Players (and their affiliations):

Thomas Brenneck (Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, Charles Bradley); Dave Guy (Tonight Show Band, The Dap-Kings); Leon Michels (The Arcs, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair); Nicholas Movshon (The Arcs, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair);  Homer Steinweiss (The Dap-Kings, The Arcs); Michael Leonhart (Musical Director for Steely Dan, David Byrne); Neal Sugarman  (The Dap-Kings, Sugarman 3); Aaron Johnson (Antibalas, El Michels Affair); Evan Pazner (Lee Fields); and Toby Pazner (Menahan Street Band, Lee Fields).

Related Listening

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The Budos Band, “Budos Rising,” from The Budos Band II

(Daptone Records, 2007)

 

 

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Menahan Street Band, “Everyday a Dream” from The Crossing

(Dunham Records, 2012)

 

 

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Lee Fields & The Expressions, “Ladies,” from My World

(Truth & Soul Records, 2009)

 

 

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Amy Winehouse, “Valerie,” featuring the Dap-Kings

(Island Records, 2006)

 

 

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Young-Holt Unlimited, “Soulful Strut

(Brunswick, 1968)

 

Related Reading

Lee Fields & The Expressions, Faithful Man

Soul Reviver – Daptone Records in New York Times Magazine (2008)

Album Review: This is my EP, Ady Suleiman (Sony Music, April 2015)

Ade Suleiman_ep_final

I’ve been waiting for this since 2013. That’s when I first heard Ady Suleiman, courtesy of Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide show on BBC6. A simple and sublime acoustic track called “Longing for your Love” instantly qualified as one of those few songs we hear in our lifetime that we can honestly say is perfectly crafted and performed.

Suleiman’s sound has evolved since his early acoustic demos. Higher production values and more diverse instrumentation give his music a new fullness. Thankfully, he hasn’t let it eclipse his greatest strength, which is his songwriting.

This is My EP is Suleiman’s recording debut. Its four tracks achieve the tricky task of giving us plenty of original music to enjoy while leaving us wanting more. The EP’s song selections showcase Suleiman’s promise. “State of Mind” is the only overtly reggae-influenced tune in the set, marking a departure of sorts from his earlier work and vocal stylings, which are strongly influenced by reggae.

“Need Somebody to Love” and “Out of Luck” are more lush, charging ably into the realm of R&B/pop ballads. The opening track, “So Lost,” deserves to be a straight up R&B hit. In particular, it’s evidence that Suleiman’s mastery of sublimely simple melody extends to his use of beats (D’Angelo anyone?).

Eighteen months ago, when I first heard “Longing for your Love,” I marvelled at its perfect melody, arrangement, and a vocal performance. I also felt great anticipation for what would come next from this artist. Suleiman’s SoundCloud page easily has an album’s worth of stellar songwriting. One can only hope he mines that material and keeps writing new songs to produce a full length album soon.

In the meantime, This is my EP is here. And it’s perfect.

 

Album Review: Pura, Luciana Oliveira (YB Music, 2013)

pura Luciana Oliveira is a Brazilian vocalist whose music is classified as Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB), which is more of a movement than a genre. Its membership is as broad as the styles it encompasses. With her sophomore album, Pura, Oliveira manages to expand MPB just enough to distinguish herself from a crowded Bossa Nova revival that surged in the 90’s.

Pura has a rawness that evokes a kind of folk music rather than the constructed coolness of recycled Bossa Nova. The production reminds me of the spartan treatment on Da Lata’s excellent debut, Songs from the Tin (Palm, 2000). The style is showcased in two very different tracks. “Condicionada” is a dissonant melody with sparse arrangements and a tribal rhythm track. It’s dark and raw, about as far as you can get from trendy ‘chill out’ collections. A brighter and beautifully playful track, “Samba em Pilet” offers a nice contrast and borders on ‘singalong.’

My favourite track, “Menina Guiné” is different yet again, this time borrowing from Oliveira’s history with reggae artists, including the Brazilian band Natiruts and dub legend Mad Professor.

With Pura, Oliveira proves that contemporary Brazilian music is more varied and substansive than the style that was “on trend” in the lounge music era. What more could we ask from a distinguished member of the MPB movement?