In 2005, Blueprint came out with one of the best albums of the 21st century thus far in the form of 1988. He collaborated again with RJD2 for another Soul Position album. In the meantime, Blueprint has spent less time waiting around by writing and making more music. One of those projects is an interesting mini-LP where he rhymes over Funkadelic samples, and that's it.
Simple? In a way yeah, there was a time when dropping lyrics over loops and beats was all you needed to move yourself from a mere rapper to becoming an MC. Blueprint vs. Funkadelic sounds like it was done off the head, perhaps in a day, and it feels like those sessions you had not at a professional studio, but in front of your stereo or boom box. In fact, the entire album features bursts of audio that sounds like what we used to do when we made out own mix tapes, and clicked over to the radio just to make it sound funky. It has a homemade feel, but in "Don't Make Me Laugh" he has a mission that goes beyond his four-cornerned room:
I'm not a slave to the stage or the radio
I'm not a follower of fashion or the trends
The only challenge is to make good records
And be seen as a musician when this ends
You wanna turn rap into high school
You wanna gossip about what I do
Whatever it takes to inspire you
I wish I had something to gain from fighting you
Even though everyone has sampled something from the P-Funk empire, no one has quite done an album like this where it still feels like listening to it means being part of some secret society, when Funkadelic records meant spending $150+ for Maggot Brain. It feels like that De La Soul tape you once found in the garbage, but you brought it home and felt it was the best thing in the world because someone's trash became the reason you wanted to rap, DJ, break, or do a little graffiti. Blueprint has always been an incredible storyteller with a way of words, and his productions are always deserving of recognition, and now he's giving this album for free. Catch? No catch. This is a labor of love for Blueprint, and when he promised to funk, the whole funk, and nothing but, he meant it. It is devotion at its very best, and one is eager to find out what he plans on coming up with next.
(Blueprint vs. Funkadelic can be downloaded for free wherever downloads can be had. You can also purchase the CD from Weightless Merchandise.)
A commitment to hip-hop: you generally don't hear that coming from a lot of people these days, or when you do, the commitment is dedicated to having 12 commercial endorsements and creating a DVD to submit to film directors for future roles that everyone will bash once the film is released. If you want to make the next Cool As Ice, be my guest. It is nice when I do come across an artist whose commitment to the music is felt immediately, and I can say that about Truth Universal. He has been doing his thing from New Orleans for almost ten years, and has developed a reputation for telling it like it is over hot tracks created by some of the best underground producers out there. The fact that he hasn't been recognized alongside Mos Def and Common is a crime, but he continues to do the hustle and grind with the release of Self-Determination (Dragon's Breath).
Truth Universal writes lyrics that are meant to be listened to and read, it is obvious he puts a lot into his words and if you don't pay attention you might miss the kind of wisdom that is intended for you. In "Heat!!!" he lights a verbal fuse and you get to watch the mission become possible in the name of "grown folks hip-hop". The track has him saying that he has paid his dues and will not be involved in a battle unless you dare confront the man about how black culture (being) sabotaged or how some are taking niggas out the picture, like Passion of the Christ. The metaphors are sharp and throughout the album one will find themsleves with a smirk on stand-by, for he's clever with his lines and rhymes and he always pulls out a surprise out of nowhere. He's not out there to simply snap at anyone, for he touches on the importance of family, political and social struggles, and isn't afraid to state that the powers that be put people in their domestic prisons without ever stepping into a jail cell. "Angola 3" talks about some of the injustice happening in the Louisiana state prison system, something that can be found in any part of this country. He does it with such a groove that you can't help but nod your head or move from side to side, and yet you're also moved by how great the songwriting is, ranking up there with some of hip-hop's best. The negativity on this album is what Truth Universal is fighting against, and while he realizes that drastic changes can't be done without an effort, Self Determination proves that with an effort you can rise to your personal best, and make the world look into themselves and unite for the common cause. That common cause will still exist, as long as rappers like Truth Universal are living.
Top picks: "Angola 3", "Heat!!!", "Black Culture", "Feminine Melanin", "Freedom Or Death".
(Self Determination is available directly from TruthUniversal.com. You can also listen to MP3 snippets from the album on the order page.)
Radius is a producer/DJ from Chicago who has made music for himself and others for the last few years. Neighborhood Suicide (The Secret Life of Sound) is a wordless narrative about his home, told through sounds, basslines, beats, and occasional spoken word segments.
Some might call it trip-hop or down-tempo with an edge, but all of it are one and the same: instrumental hip-hop, and that is the vibe Radius tries to convey in his music. On the surface it sounds like a decent break tape, or something you might hear playing from an apartment bedroom with the curtains moving in the air. "Southshore (Baahumbug!)", "Hyde Park (Miss You)", and "Englewood (Necessary Growth)" all contain the visions seen through Radius' eyes and ears, with a bit of hope and dreams in the distance for him and his neighbors. "Rogers Park (North Pole Bakery)" has a sample that sounds like a cross between a saw and a fire alarm, and mixed in with something close to a church choir and bubbly synths, it sounds funky and sinister at the same time. All of the songs are mixed very well, with things evened out and never lacking in any particular area. When it comes time for Radius to keep his eye on a sparrow, he does so with intention to let it fly high. By the time he reaches "South Chicago (The Journey)" we realize that it is the end of his travels on the album and despite the subtlety of the dramatic melancholy samples, he hopes people will come back and revisit Chicago for all its glory, good and bad.
If there's only one thing lacking on this album, it's a rapper or two. Radius himself admits in the liner notes that some of the songs were originally submitted for projects that weren't completed, so they come off as true instrumentals rather than songs that have a bit more development. Fortunately it's two songs out of eleven, the rest of the album shows his expertise at cratedigging and record finding, resulting in beats that are both familiar and unfamiliar. The familiar sounds give it an old school feel, while the "new" sounds help shape Radius' craft on the boards.
(Neighborhood Suicide is available through Dusty Groove.)
Rave Tesar plays the piano like the true musician he is, although in order for you to experience that you have to take him on throughout the album. The album in question is called You Decide (Tesar Music) and is performed by Tesar and his trio (Bill Tesar on drums, Kermit Driscoll on piano), and together they create the kind of sound with the kind of intellect and power one would expect to hear on albums by McCoy Tyner, Dave Brubeck, or Herbie Hancock. The reason is because of his playing and improvisational skills and knowledge of how to fill in all of the right gaps. There's a point in "Helium" where he plays to the point of the piano lighting itself on fire, then he eases up while the other members carry the groove along with him, and then he works into the piano again. The bad part about it is that the song fades, and I'm there listening and going "no, I want to hear more, come back, don't fade".
The other songs on this 10-song album show the range of capabilities between these three, but if you take a look at the sessions they've been a part of, there's a reason why these guys play as well as they do. Their playing is tight and loose at the same time, with the Tesar brothers almost reading each other at times (when Rave plays in a way where he is about to do a number of different strokes on the drums, Bill will know when and where to switch up and when to come back. The same communication can be felt between Bill and Driscoll, with Driscoll never slowing down when things seem to never stop. "Have Some More" and "Someone Else's Spell" have to be heard to fully understand this.
You Decide is recorded very well, also helps when you run your own recording studio. The playing on this album is exceptional, those who love piano-based jazz will be excited about it, and anyone who loves good quality jazz will find this to be an album worth suggesting to friends at every opportunity.
(You Decide is available from CDBaby.)
Upon seeing the city skyline on the cover of Kenny Carr's Changing Tide (TAS Management), you immediately get a few and sensation of what the music could sound like. Within the first two seconds, Carr (guitar), Frank Russo (drums), Tom Baldwin (acoustic bass), and Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) immediately bring to mind the visions of a sunrise or sunset on the buildings with "The Chase", which could either be about cars, or about the paper chase all of us go through on a daily basis. It's performed at a slightly-faster-than-mid-tempo bass, as if someone is trying to speedwalk without looking like a fool or stumble upon everyone. Carr's hand strumming style is smooth and detailed, always maintaining himself within the structure of the songs and never falling too far from the song's core. It's great when he and McCaslin will play the melody with each other and occasionally bob and weave before they take off into different directions. They are a great team that gives both of them a distinct sound, and when it's time for McCaslin to create his low end theory, everyone moves back and allow him to shine. (I didn't know this until after I listened to the album, but the liner notes from Carr indicate that he and McCaslin are childhood friends, and perhaps that's why they feed off of each other the way they do, it's serious and yet playful).
The tone Carr has with his playing is great, whether it's during a solo or when he's playing low-key during one of Baldwin's passages (check out the great "Blues For Ray" as an example), it's nice to hear not only a good guitar player but an album that captures a good guitar sound. The album goes back and forth between trio and quartet combinations, and no matter what they play or how it is played, these guys know how to bring the most out of these songs. Anyone who loves jazz guitar of the Wes Montgomery/Pat Martino/Jim Hall variety will most likely put him up there with the greats, especially after hearing the lounge tropical stylings of "Bossa Luna", which would sound equally well in a romantic setting as it would in a surf film (one can perhaps hear a bit of his Santa Cruz roots in play here). The tropicalia vibe makes its way to the surface again in "Costa del Sol", and as the album's final song it very much sounds like the music of home, whatever home may be for the listener. Or perhaps that's my island roots at play.
Changing Tide is an appropriate title, for it features the kind of jazz one would find at a late night jazz club along with the kind of laid back (but never too smooth) musicianship one could hear on the beachfront, and then getting down and dirty with a bit of the blues (playing for the late Ray Charles for ten years definitely sharpened his chops in that department). The ocean is unpredictable, and the tides can be either high or low with a lot of factors inbetween. Carr is comfortable in playing with the high and low and is one of those guitarists that you have to hear in order to become a believer.
(Changing Tide is available from CD Universe.)
As the leader of Another Day (Whole Rest), Bob Claire shows what one can do to show off not only his talents from years of expertise, but to also present the musicianship of his friends who do an incredible job on the 9-song album they play on. The guitar, piano, and bass playing are unified almost in a Pat Metheny manner and the music does glide along like some of Metheny's music, one might look at the cover photo and if it wasn't for the fonts, it might be mistaken for an ECM release. Claire's flute work immediately takes the material to a new level, and it is then one becomes involved with the music going on within. "El Nino Del Campo" begins almost in a low-key manner, nothing too complex, a standard introduction that paves the way for incredible playing from each of the musicians, including pianist Art Lande (whose name should be familiar to ECM enthusiasts), who plays here as if he just got off of the plane from Rio and can't keep his excitement to himself. The intro to "A Thousand Hills" could have easily been mistaken for Paul Horn or maybe Herbie Mann's Stone Flute, as Claire's playing is meditative, but then it gets into something that might come from the Impulse vaults circa 1964 or 1969.
Outside of playing in a jazz manner, Claire at times plays with a slight Indian influence. I'm not sure if that's intentional or it's his love of baroque in play but the way he gets into a pocket and colors the song is like seeing an audio portrait for the first time. Then Lande gets in there and when he is in improvisational move, he can create sounds from luxurious to gloomy, then turn around and compliment Claire's romantic flavors. I was equally impressed by the drumming of Gaylord Birch, who is mixed upfront in the mix so he's not just there for rhythmic atmosphere, he seems to play in the tradition of Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones in that they are not just timekeepers, but time explorers, and one path can lead to 80 or more off-trail adventures. Bill Douglass' bass playing is nice as well, some of it done on a fretless bass. I also liked Steve Cardenas and his guitar work, but I wish he would have used different sounds to fit each song's mood. It's as if he liked one effect and just ran with it, which is unlike his playing on other albums.
Another Day is for those who want their jazz cool but not upset, creative but not dizzying. A hidden masterpiece.
(Another Day is available directly from Whole Rest Music.)
Enrico Pieranunzi has got to be one of the more vibrant pianists recording and performing today, and if you are unfamiliar with his name or work, I highly recommend As Never Before (CamJazz),a new album which teams him up with drummer Joey Baron, bassist Marc Johnson, and special guest Kenny Wheeler on trumpet. When you have musicians such as these to help you out, you can't help but be on your best playing behavior. But when you yourself are a musician who plays with the kind of skill that often leads to comparisons with some of the best, you know you have some expecations. This is one of those albums that fulfills them and goes beyond for one hell of an incredible ride.
Pieranunzi has played with Baron and Johnson for years, so they can pretty much read each other. Now add Wheeler into the music, which according to Pieranunzi was a dream come true for him, since he was able to hear his music performed by a musician he admired. When you hear him in "Winter Moon", "A Nameless Gate", or "Soundings", it's like witnessing the origins of magic and you can't help but sit there and just be floored by what you're hearing, at least that's how I felt. Pieranunzi's recordings are almost immaculate, in terms of how they are recorded and how they are eventually mixed, it creates emotional sensations that will definitely bring a tear to your eye (or should) because you didn't think recorded music could sound this great again. Through his playing and arrangements, Pieranunzi allows everyone to be equal, and you can tell he is moved when he and Wheeler play together, it's done so with passion and acknowledgement. A very moving album, worthy of the accolades it will receive from this point forward.
(The CD for As Never Before is available directly from CamJazz, and digitally from
The last time we heard from Patrick Flynn, he was playing some nice rootsy blues and rock. This time around he is taking part in a collaborative effort with Emily Palen (violin & vocals) and Darryl Webb (banjo, accordian & vocals) and calling it SilveRoot. The focus this time is country and folk, call it Americana if you will, and the music on Full Measure (Silverado) is feel good music. The lyrics tap into the heart and soul of one's being, none of these songs are superficial. Instead what you hear is the human spirit as it tries to extend a helping hand towards one another, and the music pushes that message. Palen's violin playing reminds me of the work of Al Garth, especially when she reaches a note, plays with it, and has her way with it as if she's dancing with it.
A unique touch to this is Flynn's guitar work. Most of the songs are acoustic in nature, but in "Long Train" he turns up the amps to 11 and let's the feedback move through as if he was Frank Marino, as you hear an acoustic guitar and banjo in the forefront. Perhaps the electric guitar represents the power and strength of a train, and as with many train-related songs, Flynn touches upon life that comes and goes, and if you don't hop on for a ride, you'll miss out on things that you'll eventually regret.
These songs sound at home in a living room, a garage, the back yard, or at a huge Americana music festival, and what people seek in this style of music is the human qualities that go through it, between friends or family, communicating through the joy and pain of life. Flynn presents himself as a renaissance man of sorts, and with his next project he might go all electric on us again and maybe talk about what he likes or dislikes about the new U.S. president. For this one, it's about person to person affairs, what we see everyday and what we wake up to. What these three musicians are saying is if you don't take time to stop and look around, you may miss out on the things in life that are truly important, including finding home grown music like this.
(Full Measure is available from CDBaby.)
American Beat Records are back once again with a series of reissues that will please fans of rock and hard rock, including a number of albums that make their digital debut.
In the United States, April Wine may only be known for a few songs due to heavy exposure in the early days of MTV, with "Just Between You & Me" and "Sign Of The Gypsy Queen" getting more airplay today than it did upon initial release (some people may even remember the slightly suggestive "If You See Kay"). But the band were like a cross between Bad Company, Grand Funk, Foghat, and Queen in terms of musical intensity, and probably could fight Triumph in any battle of the bands back then. There are many who still hold on to those cherished LP's (as they should). The release of 1978's First Glance shows how well this album has traveled over the years, with powerful guitar riffs and solos, strong vocals, and yes, the almighty cowbell. The album may make new fans believe it is their first but it is actually their 7th album so they were very much in their prime. "Hot On The Wheels Of Love', "Right Down To It", and "Roller" (which was released as a single) still pack the same punch as they did, and while FM radio airplay would give these songs and the band a bit of a boost, perhaps it's best (for now) for First Glance to be a bit low key. Then again, give this album the respect it deserves.
(First Glance is available from CD Universe.)
The Flamin' Groovies were one of many bands from the late 60's/early 70's who combined pop, blues, and the rock'n'roll spirit that a lot of bands felt was slowly disappearing. It's the kind of spirit one could find in bands such as Canned Heat and Jefferson Airplane, although The Flamin' Groovies made it more obvious by adding a touch of humor to their sound, a sound that was appreciated by many of their fans. Flamingo was their second album and one can hear the pride that these guys put into songs like "Jailbait", "Headin' For The Texas Border", and "Childhood's End", and why fans ate it up at home or on the stage. The band at this stage played in a way that was respectful to their influences, but at the same time would end up creating a sound that would influence various power pop and punk bands with the kind of crunchy guitar riffs that were short and to the point without being flamboyant or wanky. Their devoted cult following may be small compared to the likes of Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, but perhaps it's because The Flamin' Groovies were too busy traveling and keeping their feet firmly planted on the earth.
(Flamingo is available from CD Universe.)
When The New York Dolls were no more, many fans and critics were wondering about the future of singer David Johanssen. He surprised everyone with his self-titled debut album from 1978, which showed a love of rock'n'roll through the then-modern day punk ideals, with hints of soul, blues, and an uncanny knack to be a decent pop artist (which he would later explore when he put on his Buster Poindexter duds). Fans of the first album will definitely remember "Girls", I remember it getting a bit of airplay in Honolulu way back when and it was exciting to hear even though I had no idea what he was really talking about. Today the song still has the same anticipation and anxiety over that one thing many young men can't live out, one can still feel the swagger he was trying to put into the songs. "Donna" could have easily been a Rolling Stones song from the Black & Blue or Some Girls era but Johansen's voice almost has a vulnerability that Mick Jagger probably would not have done had he recorded it, and one tends to remember their own "Donna" from their past. Johansen may have turned off a few fans who still wanted the pretty ugliness of the Dolls, but Johansen was looking for something that would become more than the cool trend, even though he himself was someone who wasn't afraid to dip in and out of them. This was the start of something new.
If there were any benefits to MTV, it was that they helped bring Johansen to an audience who had never heard him before, specifically a younger audience who didn't read the music magazines or listened to anything but what was in the middle of the radio dial. In 1982, Johansen went on tour with his band and covered a wide range of classic rock and soul songs that showed people the music that made him what he is, as well as hints of his not too distant pass. The release of Live It Up was a success, due in part to a music video for his "We Gotta Get Out Of His Place/Don't Bring Me Down/It's My Life" medley that gained a lot of airplay in the early days of the music cable network that once celebrated music. It was a simple video of Johansen and his band playing in a small club, and the crowd who also shared a love for these songs were blown away and literally treated him as a born again rock'n'roll prophet of sorts. It was also a live album, from a time when a live album felt like a souvenir of the concert experience or a place to hear songs done in a raw manner that often blew away the studio versions. This is evident in his update of the Dolls' "Personality Crisis" except in this case the mascara and heels is replaced by a gentleman who wasn't afraid to be a juvenile, as long as it was in controlled moderation. The seeds planted with this album would eventually lead to everything he has done since then, including people accepting him (and discovering him for the first time) as Buster Poindexter, but Live It Up is a monarch strutting himself and celebrating his reign on his home turf.
(David Johansen is available from CD Universe.)
(Live It Up is available from CD Universe.)
Before Billy Squier became known for "The Big Beat", "The Stroke", "In The Dark", and the silky-smooth "Rock Me Tonight", he was making himself known as the man behind Piper. While the band has been lost in obscurity, people will be able to (re)discover them with the 2-in-1 reissue of their first two albums on A&M.
There's a big more edge and grit to his singing and guitar playing, owing a lot to The Rolling Stones before developing a sound he could call his own. Songs like "Out Of Control", "Sail Away", "Who's Your Boyfriend? (I Got A Feelin')" and "Telephone Relation" each have an anxious urgency that really never let up throughout his career, but hearing it originate here is great. The cover of The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time" makes the influence come full circle.
By the time the band reached Can't Wait, there was no need to cover anyone elses material. The band (Alan Nolan on guitars, Tommy Gunn on guitars, Danny McGary on bass, and Richie Fontana on drums) were mean and unbeatable, and they play like they knew it. Nolan and Gunn attacked their guitars as if they were weapons, and occasionally showed that Southern dual guitar twang. Again, that cocky attitude can be heard in the way Squier sings each of these songs, no doubt an attempt to prove he could pull it off and perhaps to bring in the ladies sitting in the first two rows.
The first album was produced by John Anthony with engineering from the one and only Eddie Kramer while Can't Wait was produced by Sean Delaney and Chris Kimsey, so there was definitely an attempt to push these guys to the top (the back covers had the Rock Steady logo, which for many meant it had to be of quality. Check your Kiss albums for references.) Squier would of course move on to bigger and better, but if there was any band who could 1-Up Cheap Trick, Piper had a big chance of doing it, even though they only left behind two albums.
(Piper/Can't Wait is available from CD Universe.)
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