Saturday, 31 March 2012

Still Bill and a Perfect Trio of Albums for April

While I admit the discovery of all of these albums in March, I think it'd only be fair to play them all again in April.

March started well albeit with the overproduced and slightly underwhelming Michael Kiwanuka album, which promised so much; delivered  3 or 4 stand out tracks only for the rest to consist of fill. Expect this to pick up a few awards though as more of his songs hit the radio. As some people have commented, if we'd been given an album of him, his guitar and some percussion that would have been great, what we were got was a bit major label-ish, over-tinkered and actually took away from the end result. Among Kiwanuka's influences though is Bill Withers so it was on point that BBC4 brought the  documentary Still Bill over to our shores. An excellent expose on the man, his life now, his early days and of course the music, the timeless soulful music. Check out the trailer below. Quietly announced around all of the hype surrounding SXSW was a doc on hobo to funk hero Charles Bradley, whose album 'No Time For Dreaming' easily made this blogs top 10 album list for 2011. Trailer also in the below (plays after Still Bill spot). The beginning of March also meant the finishing the excellent softback Life & Times of Sam Cooke- my mini-review can be read in full here.

So then, on to the three albums that have been tipping the balance this month. First up Southamptons finest hiphop luminary: DJ Format. Cut from the hem of the Endtroducing//Jurassic 5 era, Formats debut album Music For The Mature B-Boy propelled him from bedroom tinkerer to one of the scenes most respected beat junkies. This third outing, the follow up to 2005's if you can't beat em, join 'em, we find him in fine fettle, chopping up records he found crate digging and partnering again with Canadian MC Abdominal. The first half of the album is definitely for the breakers amongst us, whereas the second half takes on a funkier sound as he teams up with Nostalgia 77, Mr Lif & Edan amongst others. Copper Canyons is worth a mention, cinematic, slightly oriental and mysterious, it reminded me of a much cooler version of the x-men theme tune. These moments break up the album nicely so we're not overloaded with all the sharp shooting lyrics. Other highlights include Remember... , Notes In Quotation and the bond-esque Mayor of a Ghost Town. ****

Next up, it's Lee Fields. Admittedly i'm late to the Lee Fields party and his last album 'My World' passed me by a little bit. So to this new album though, Faithful Man, which i'm not afraid to say i found out about through an advert on Spotify (it's okay, i did end up buying the cd). To say this is a top top soul funk album wouldn't be an understatement, on the title track he hollers about the girl that was tempting him, before the second song, occasionally shrieking with passion he tells us 'I Still Got It', a modern classic and very catchy. You could even take away his bank account, car, health and he still got it. It reminded me of faith, it's not something that can be taken away by the things we own or the money we have. It moves on to the summery You're The Kind Of Girl, complete with all the wah wah you could ask for. Moonlight Mile, a Rolling Stones cover, sounds like it was made in 1973, and is heartfelt in it's delivery. This isn't Fields changing his game to make modern Funk, it's more him sticking to his guns as at 61 he's stepping out from behind the shadow of James Brown along with his contemporaries such as Charles Bradley & Bobby Womack to keep Funk on it's game. The penultimate song, It's All Over But The Crying rounds the album as one of love and politics, without being too preachy or soppy, showing very much that the man still got it. ****

Finally an album released early April from a neo-soul artist, well two, in Alice Russell and Quantic's (Will Holland) Latin verve of Look Around The Corner with The Combo Barero Orchestra. Recorded in Cali, Colombia, We were given a little teaser with the title track and it's Rotary Connection/Minnie Riperton influenced sound, a real corker. But it was KCRW (possibly one of the best stations in the US for indie music) , that broke another highlight 'Light In The Window', a cover of Marvin/Diana Ross's original and one of Russells favourites. Delivered with a tonky, slightly off-key piano, it sounds deeply authentic. Travelling Song gives us a taste of the tropics with it's melodic bossa flair whilst the fun Su Suzy sounds like a long lost and sweet R&B record. The mid-tempo I'd Cry meanwhile is just a great track to kick back to whilst enjoying a pina colada. This is the album to, kick back, open the windows to and welcome the summer in this year. ****

All this and April still to come!

All of the above albums can be listened to here in full on the BristolFunk- Approved Albums of 2012

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Life & Times Of Sam Cooke

A few weeks ago I finished reading an eye opening bio on Sam Cooke by Daniel Wolff with contributions from those who were around Sam during his life. The man who came out of his gospel and R&B background did the hard yards within the gospel group circuit, went pop and became known as inventor of what we now know as soul.

What surprised me so much about this insight was that from outside he comes across with a very clean image, and a very sweet song. Raised in the Church by his reverend father Charles Cook and mother Annie May near the Sunflower river in Mississippi you'd expect this may be the case but Cooke originally born Samuel Cook - the 'E' was added when he needed to record under a different name- was not as innocent as his records make out. As the book informs he spent 90 days in prison when 17 for trading illicit content, fathered a child at 21 and didn't pay support, was involved in a car accident, married and divorced whilst only 27 and was involved in several disputes over royalties. All this going on whilst America was in the midst of racial, political stir with Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers amongst others carrying forward the cause. Cooke himself became the popstar of the movement and actively started to promote black musicians via his own publishing company. He was friends with both Malcolm X and then Cassius Clay who he ate with and met with on a few occasions.

A good thing about this book is that it includes a whole half chapter on A Change Is Going to Come, perhaps his most famous hit. It wasn't released until shortly after his untimely death, shot in a motel room in suspicious circumstances. Cooke, at 34, was at the top of his career at that point and had recorded the record in response to Bob Dylan's protest song 'Blowin' In The Wind. On page 251 we read 'Blowin In The Wind had continued to bother Sam. "A white boy writing a song like that?"It was a challenge to Sam-as a black man and a songwriter'. Passing away at this young age Cooke left an incredible legacy which has stood the test of time.

A compelling read and recommended reading for any fan of Sam, soul or American black politics from the mid fifties into the early sixties.

There's also a Spotify playlist of the music of the era, and some of the songs mentioned in the book. Feel free to have a listen here:

Friday, 9 March 2012

Film: Charles Bradley- Soul of America

Without doubt one of my favourite albums of last year, Charles Bradley's debut album was steeped in soul and real life grit. Backed by Daptone, the LP was recieved positively and created a very decent amount of media attention. Great news for a man who slept on the street for a part of his life and been through very tough times. Today I was very pleased to see there's going to be a whole film about his life, premiering at SXSW next week. Check out the trailer here :