Monday, 13 December 2010

2010- end of year review

So seeing as we're nearly in 2011, here are 10 of the albums that have really stood above the rest for me this year.

This list features on Amazon here

Ty- Special Kind Of Fool

Possibly Ty's best album yet, and his debut on BBE this could be hiphop album of the year. Lyrically sharp, funky and as ever with Mr Chikoke- personal.

Aloe Blacc- Good Things
Politically shrewd, soulful and forward looking, Blacc paints a picture of America 2010. This is Blaccs moment as he glances toward Gil Scott Heron and Bill Withers. Featuring I Need A Dollar, big hit.

Shad- TSOL
A stellar album from one of Canada's finest up and coming hiphop artists, TSOL has Christian roots lyrically but boy is this record funky. If you like Pharcyde, check this.

Travie McCoy- Lazarus
This isn't me going all commercial, but this is an excellent pre-party album, irresistibly catchy (unfortunately). And Billionaire says something about modern society.

The Hundred In The Hands- The Hundred In The Hands
Very under appreciated album, you'll like that if you were a fan last year of Ladyhawkes album. The track Pigeons stands miles ahead.

Bonobo- Black Sands
Four albums in and Simon Green still has an ability to surprise and delight. In Black Sands he has created a beat record influenced by the contemporary and the oriental.

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings- I Learned The Hard Way
She makes follow up albums seem easy and seems to get better with age, but this record is too catchy to put down,  12 very well written songs, accompanied with knockout funk flair by the dap-kings.

Harper Simon- Harper Simon
Always difficult to be in your dad's shadow, but Harper's album proves he can stand on his own two just fine (even if his dad did co-write a couple). One of the best debuts you're likely to hear.

Hauschka- Foreign Landscapes
Pretty much Man With A Movie Camera 'Part 2', the German born producer eloquently paints intricate and often mood-setting glacial soundscapes.

Nite Jewel- Good Evening
Okay so this is late 2009, but can you date it? Lo-fi 80's synth pop which looks towards Kraftwerk. Recorded in a bedroom and all analogue,  dark & deep, lo-fi is back and long live cassette.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Playlist: Welcome To Jazz Club Vol 1

Welcome To Jazz Club Vol. 1

Over the last 4-6 months i've been compiling a playlist of some of the best traditional Jazz as well as more contemporary artists such as Elizabeth Shepherd, Esperanza Spalding, Build An Ark, Robert Glasper Trio, Nick Rosen and more. It felt kinda right to release it to the world at this present time, firstly because i didn't know what else to add or take away from the compilation. The twenty or so tracks, seemed to have a good harmony about them and secondly I felt that the records included had the right fit for an introduction and yet also those experienced in the genre might discover something new if i'd got it right.

The playlist is themed around accessible Jazz, but not necessarily ignoring the experimental. For instance, although we start with Nick Rosens uplifting morning of Twin Harbours and Blue Note's Robert Glasper Trio, soon pops up Rashaan Roland Kirk's cover of Ain't No Sunshine. Here is a Jazz record which is broody yet playful (Kirk tries to sing through his flute) and yet also from an artist of much repute, this one of his seminal works. Speaking of seminal works, the full version of My Favourite Things by John Coltrane also had to go in. The fact that the whole of the 4 track EP was recorded in 3 days and produced something which gets better with age is testament to the talent of the players involved. The vintage of Coltrane is nearly matched by the Egyptian Jazz of Pharoah Sanders who actually gets two spots on this hour long playlist. Firstly his record Astral Travelling, a classic from his LP Thembi, and secondly a group called Build An Ark who excellently covered You've Got To Have Freedom in 2004.

Roy Ayers, an artist who I own many albums by, appears with Mystic Voyage with an R&B come Jazz record. I guess this is really JazzFunk but it's groove is jazz and Ayers tinkling on the vibraphone is always something else.

Seven Bucks by Elizabeth Shepherd is one of the few fully vocalled records on this collection but the double bass, percussion, lyrics and upbeat message, for me adds to the idea that this genre is not easily date stamped.

Ronnie Foster's Mystic Brew was sampled to perfection by Tribe Called Quest, but the original stands the test of time, simply stunning lounge come R&B jazz. It wasn't available on Spotify but very much reminded me of Challenge by Travis Biggs for it's tempo.

Hank Mobley's Ballin- I love how this tune has a sort of hiphop name and starts with some flair; definite crowd pleaser. The harp is a much under appreciated/used instrument in Jazz, more often used in classical music, which is why Afro-Harping by Dorothy Ashby bucked the trend in 1968 using the harp as the main instrument and placing everything else around it. I chose to use the track 'Games' from the album but could have easily included anything else although it is very swinging 60's in places. What i'd liked previously about George Benson, whose track No Sooner Said Than Done is included here, was his work with Kenny Dope, Louie Vega on Masters At Work Nuyorican Soul album.

Beyond these selections, records by Azymuth, Weldon Irvine, Dave Brubeck, Pat Methany, George Duke, Terence Blanchard and more help to create this first compilation.

Full track listing below or click here to open the playlist in Spotify.

The next chapter has already started, but that can wait until 2011, keep posted here to see when that will be.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did putting it together..


Nick Rosen- Twin Harbours
Robert Glasper Trio- No Worries
Hank Mobley- Ballin'
Bobby Hutcherson- Head Start
George Duke- Alone 6AM
Build An Ark- You've Gotta Have Freedom
Elizabeth Shepherd- Seven Bucks
Rahsaan Roland Kirk- Ain't No Sunshine
Dorothy Ashby- Games
Pat Methany- Son of Thirteen
Esperanza Spalding- The Peacocks
George Benson- No Sooner Said Than Done
Pharaoh Sanders- Astral Travelling
Terence Blanchard- D's Choice
Azymuth- Butterfly
Weldon Irvine- Music Is The Key
Roy Ayers- Mystic Voyage
John Coltrane- My Favourite Things
Ronnie Foster- Mystic Brew
Dave Brubeck- Take Five
Eugene McDaniels- Jagger The Dagger

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Aloe Blacc- Good Things

The second album from Aloe Blacc, the former hiphop artist turned soul singer, is a box of treats evoking memories of Bill Withers, Motown and the political activism of Gil Scott Heron.

Beginning this sophomore is I Need A Dollar, the worldwide soul come R&B hit that looked towards Gil Scott Heron’s The Bottle and even the bible in the line ‘I don’t know if I’m walking on solid ground because everything around me is falling down’. The record portrays the hard quest for money to pay the bills and reaching a hand out for help, Blacc asking if people would share their dollar with him. It makes a shrewd political point about modern America, draws empathy and shows Blacc at his absolute peak. Plus instrumentally, it’s some tune, produced along with the rest of the album by the Truth & Soul duo of Jeff Dynamite and Leon Michels.

Following this is a tough thing to do, so it’s a surprise that Dollar is followed by an opposite in Green Lights, which sounds like a record Bill Withers might raise a knowing smile to. It’s upbeat message “Something special happened today, I got green lights all the way, no red light to stop me” is accompanied by a west coast beat, an organ that punctuates and blaccs backing harmonies creating ever more texture. Good Things, the title track which crops up ninth in the run order, is to Blacc what Lovely Day is to Withers.

Hey Brother meanwhile is sheer blaxploitation soundtrack, with it’s Shaft-esque wahwah guitar and hammond working throughout. The melacholy of Life So Hard again shows Blaccs willingness stand on a soapbox, this time he’s on point about ‘bailing out the banks’ and a recession hit America. Femme Fatale, the perils of falling for a perfect 10 girl, contains a big hook, and shows the Motown influenced edge to the album. The simple message of Loving You Is Killing Me suggests that although this album is quasi-political, it is also about the writers personal stuggles with relationships.

Aside from I Need A Dollar, one of the other tracks proving a possible zenith is ‘If I’ , the record in which Blacc questions whether people would pray for him, cry for him, dance with him and if ‘I tell a lie, will you fall with me?’. There’s no doubt the intention is to have the listener hooked on each questioning word.

The album should end on the ballad about the artists growth from boy to man in the teary ‘Mama Hold My Hand’, but actually ends on a slightly odd Sgt Pepper esque 1m39 of instrumental. A glitch, but not enough to change the overall sentiment.

Overall this is a superb follow up, bettering his debut and quite possibly his best work to date. Good Things is tour-de-force lyrically, poetically, creates a sound political message and drips with Blaccs honeyed voice.

This year the only artist on the lips of soul boys and girls worldwide should be his.


Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Legacy Of Rotary Connection

I’m originally penned this having just helped do some washing up after a visit home and a quality Sunday roast (made up of chicken, sausage, stuffing, leeks, potatoes and a hearty helping of white sauce). Soul stew indeed :).

I put on a two disc of Rotary Connection, the band which launched Minnie Riperton (Loving You, Two People, Inside My Love) and which was founded and co-produced by Marshall Chess, the son of Chess records owner Leonard. Listening to each song, I was further reminded of their lasting impression on modern music as well as at the time they were active. The band itself were releasing records between '66 to ’74, during which time they created an exciting mix of big sounding psychedelic soul fused with elements of jazz, American folk and a touch of country.

Connection created songs that we can only fully appreciate the impact of some forty years later. They’re most famous for the record Black Gold Of The Sun, taken from their 1971 album Hey Love which has since been given a retouch by 4Hero and covered by Masters At Work on the Nuyorican Soul album. However as a group they have influenced many other artists, especially those in HipHop; notably A Tribe Called Quest, Common and The Fugees.

Memory Band is the most notable in the way that A Tribe Called Quest sampled the sitar strokes for Bonita Applebum and also used by the Fugee’s in Killing Me Softly, itself an updated version of the Roberta Flack classic. Love Has Fallen on me was resung by Lily Allen and keys replayed on Common’s Drivin Me Wild. Souls Of Mischief of 93’ til Infinity fame used ‘Respect’ to influence The Name I Called Myself and Jay-Z used Burning of The Midnight Lamp on an intro to his album Vol 3…Life & Times of S Carter.

Sampling aside the band created a big sound which still allowed the elements within the song to breathe. Everything feels organic and loose, fitting with both the times and the musical outlook of the band. This makes such listening to their music feel positively life-affirming.

If you haven’t got any of their albums I’d highly recommend Black Gold: Very Best Of
Or check it on Spotify
So Rotary Connection, we salute you.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Ninja Tune XX

The much followed label behind Roots Manuva, Mr Scruff, Ty, Amon Tobin, Herbaliser, Bonobo, Andreya Triana, Cinematic Orchestra and many more are celebrating their 20th Birthday this year.

I found myself at their exhibition near Islington last week where amongst the trinkets and oddities were all of the album covers, Roots Manuva's plaster head from the Slime & Reason album, the Ninja family tree, The little ninja dude and the vinyl stack from Big Dada's Well Deep album.

If you're in London you can catch the Exhibition from now until 16 September 2010 Mon - Fri, 12-5pm, 10a Acton St.

To celebrate those 20 candles or 'XX' in roman speak, the label are releasing three different box sets and have made this pretty cool (and well mixed) video. Now where's my Mr Scruff branded mug?..

Monday, 16 August 2010

Rakaa- Crown Of Thorns

This landed on my desk a couple of weeks back and ever since it's been on high rotation. Well overdue that I gave it a proper review! :)

In the world of authentic hiphop only the the most select producers and acts seem to be counted as worldwide stars. This includes the likes of Slum Village, DJ Shadow, De La Soul, RJD2, MF Doom, ATCQ, Run DMC and The Beastie Boys. Add to this Los Angeles group Dilated Peoples. One third of this world renowned act is Rakaa Iriscience, their lead emcee who steps into the tricky ground of a debut solo. 

On Crown Of Thorns he has primarily brought in a sample sound produced by 7 different producers including The Alchemist (Eminem, Mobb Deep). Opening with gospel backed vocals and hook duties from Aloe ‘I Need A Dollar’ Blacc on the title track, the album does start as it means to go on, cleverly intertwining sonic-prisms accompanied by Rakaa who raps of the myriad cultures taken in whilst on tour. KRS One of 'Sound Of The Police' fame features on ‘Human Nature Now Breathe’ , Rakaa commenting that ‘pollution makes a beautiful haze’ over a flutey instrumental J Dilla might have been raised a knowing smile to. It's not an entirely solo album though as on the old skool soul of CTD fellow members of Dilated Peoples producer Babu and Evidence join in. Aces High meanwhile is another stand out track, Rakaa collaborating with three other mc’s over chunky Alchemist produced riffs.
This is not just a beats album either, the subtle calypso groove and African chants on Rosetta Stone Grove coupled with the thoughtful end track Upstairs give the album a worldwide feel fitting for an artist who has travelled much of the globe.
In the same way that Q-Tips first trip away from A Tribe Called Quest was a success, so here Rakaa treads. A varied album from the top drawer ****

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Wanted, The Beat Goes On & DJ Shadow

Hi, thought i'd start this blog with something homegrown! If you like this feel free to subscribe or follow me on twitter.

Two of my favourite record shops in Bristol are Wanted Records in St Nicks Market and The Beat Goes On which is just off Whiteladies Road. Both shops are run by enthusiasts who love music and have that wonderful dusty record shop feel which is getting harder to find. Wanted is co-founded by John Stapleton who regularly DJ's at various Bristol shindigs including Blowpop and former Massive Attack owned Tube Bar. Since Rewind and Imperial on Park Street closed (not to mention Bang Bang), vinyl enthusiasts have had to venture a bit further from the beaten track for their fix. These two shops are specialists in 7" disco, soul and funk records. Whenever i'm Bristol bound I try to pop in.

At Beat Goes On there are many crates underneath the cd shelves and second hand dvds to delve through including much of the Philadelphia International back catalogue and classic labels such as Chess. A month back whilst on a short visit I found myself purchasing a £25 rarity from Wanted (the record was The Positive Sounds- Fired Up, in case you were wondering). At Wanted the really good stuff is actually kept under lock and key round the back and you have to ask specially for a small flightcase box of select 7's which are worth too much to keep on the shop floor. Well worth checking out if you can. At times like these I can't help but think of the cover art and story behind DJ Shadow's seminal LP Endtroducing. The album cover is a classic; a homage to the art of crate digging and record shopping in such dens as those I mentioned above. He has an impressive 60,000 records in his collection. That takes alot of time & dedication, not to mention space and money.

Due to the pressure on Indie record shops and downturn in physical sales, there is an initiative to raise awareness and to help the smaller shops called Record Store Day. This is the day when exclusive records from big bands like Blur as well as limited edition records made specifically for that day from other bands, record labels and acts are put on the shelves and queues formed outside. It's a great idea and one that's growing each year in support.

My hope is that record shops stay for a long time to come, they're part of our heritage. As much as I love the accessibility of downloading music from iTunes or Amazon, it just doesn't have the same feel as the experience of venturing into a real independent record shop; I appreciate the authentic music they offer that little bit extra.