Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #204

Aloha aikane, pehea 'oe? Mabuhay my friend to you, NI HAU MA!, and welcome to the 204th edition of this column called The Run-Off Groove. I am John Book, and talofa regards to you. Let's begin.

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Image Hosted by I'm going to start it from the top: very good album, terrible album cover. Let's attack the cover. The cover features a picture of the artists in a desert, hanging around some camels. That's alright. But then you have a DJ booth, a record collection that is monochrome green, and speakers that were all added in during the Photoshop process. The two men, the camels, and the trees cast shadows. Other items in the photo do not. Very bad and amateurish. But the music? Very good.

I've been a fan of DJ Logic since his days with Medeski, Martin & Wood, and later discovered that I had been a fan a few years before when he was with Eye & I. Jason Miles is a musician who has played with some of the best over the years. For Global Noize (Shanachie) the two men collaborate on a project that removes the boundaries of music and countries and create something that's quite worldly. For Logic, it may be one of the more milder projects he has done in quite some time, but what he does here is create some atmospherics that is fitting for each song. Miles does a bit of programming too but his keyboard work is what shines on this album. Other contributors on the album include Billy "illyB" Martin on drums, Karl Denson on sax, Cyro Baptista on percussion, along with special guests Herb Alpert (trumpet), Bernie Worrell (organ), Suphala (tabla), fellow Yohimbe Brother Vernon Reid (guitar), Me'Shell NdegeOcello (bass), John Popper (harmonica), and together they create some interesting journeys that travel from the continent of Africa to the swamps of the South and the grandeur of New Orleans, which all can he heard in tracks like "Spice Island", "Dar' abesque", "Bollyhood", and "Pool Of Honey". The music itself comes from experiences abroad, or a curiosity from hearing them on records and wanting to know more. Popper's playing in "The Souk" is different from what he may be known for but it fits in beautifully.

Overall the music is quite accessible, decent enough for smooth jazz radio airplay even though it doesn't quite fit the mold of what smooth jazz is. In a better world, this would get as much attention (if not more) than Paul Simon's Graceland, as it has a way of telling a story through music and words to where one begins to sense that what Logic and Miles are doing is saying that despite our locales, we're all in this together. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Logic gave all of these songs the Yohimbe treatment.

(The CD for Global Noize is available from CD Universe. MP3's can be purchased through eMusic.)

Image Hosted by From Michigan comes a crew that want to let people know their style is not to be messed with. They're called the Bake Up Boys (not to be confused with San Diego's Baka Boyz, and while they are from the mid-west, they definitely have a Southern vibe to their music that has them sounding like a cross between UGK and early Goodie Mob with a touch of Ludacris finesse. Fresh Out Da Kitchen (Phase One) has them talking about the rough and grimy ways of living, but wanting a lot more so they can provide for themselves and their family. "Now I Can Do That" (free MP3 download), produced by Flawless, Young RJ, and Craig Lane, has them "networking with my kin folk" along with Jim Jones, who definitely adds a unique touch to the song. The chorus has them also talking about taking their girls to the mall, so obviously there's a target audience they're trying to reach, and they should eat this up big time.

Another track that will also do well is the song MC Breed did with them, "Gucci's On My Feet" (free MP3 download), where they speak about having the top cars, doing everything before everyone else, and making sure they are fresh and clean. At times it sounds extremely materialistic, but when it sounds this good you may want to get some bootleg grills and spit game. Producer J'Seezie combines a mixture of Southern pride and West Coast funk in one of the album's best songs, "Chef J.R.", where they use cooking metaphors to talk about coming up with top recipes that will satisfy and make people impressed with them.

As one of the songs on the album states very clearly, "Ain't No Sense In Y'all Hatin' (free MP3 download), and I say this because while hardheads may want to express THE SHATE THAT SHATE MADE, there's absolutely no reason for anyone to hate the Bake Up Boyz or this album. It grooves, the production is tight, you can dance to it, and within it you'll find some well written lyrics. If these guys did a track with the Youngbloodz, it would be all over.

(Fresh Out Da Kitchen is available from CD Universe in both dirty and clean editions.)

Image Hosted by Sky Balla was once a member of Tha Gamblaz, who appeared on albums by Master P and JT The Bigga Figga. Sky has been working hard in the last ten years but had never rereased a proper album under his own name.

Until now.

Tycoon Status (Tycoon Status/Koch) is an album by a rapper who isn't afraid to talk about making money and never wanting to be broke, and also saying a few things that people might find offensive. That might prevent him from appearing in a G-funk musical, but he seems to be the kind of guy who could care less about stupid bullshit. Every song on this album could turn into a radio or street hit, especially "Creep With You", which features the high pitched honey vocals of Tynisha Keli, sounding a bit like Monica Payne in this one. The guy is able to bring on a number of special guests, including Cassidy, Hell Rell, E-40, and one of my favorite MC's out there, San Quinn, and they all help push Sky Balla's music over the top. People who aren't into the constant materialistic metaphors will be turned off by this immediately, but again, Sky Ball could care less. He is reaching an audience with his music, and his star will no doubt shine. I would not mind having an instrumental version of this album.

(Tycoon Status is available from CD Universe.)

Image Hosted by The new issue of Entertainment Weekly features an article about the new teen movement in entertainment, where everyone wants to be a knockoff of Miley Cyrus, Drake Bell (who isn't a teen but has teen appeal), Miranda Cosgrove, or Selena Gomez. The big musical heartthrobs, according to well paid publicists, are the botoheads in The Jonas Brothers, who make innocent music while promoting abstinence and wholesome milk. I think the "movement" of sorts is a way of filling a void, because what was new is now in its 30's and marrying Nick Cannon and the kids (the ones with the disposable income) need to have new heroes. Or need to find a reason to go to the mall and spend. They want good rocking music, stuff tha may sound wholesome but are really good and splendid variations of pop. Instead of going down the teen route, you can be your collegiate self and listen to a band called Her Space Holiday.

Okay, I lied, Her Space Holiday is actually the creation of one man, Marc Bianchi. He hasn't been a teen in awhile, but plays with the same enthusiasm found in a room of 500 girls. XOXO, Panda And The New Kid Revival (Mush) sounds like someone who discovered AM radio for the first time and tapped into all of the sugery sweetness that is pop music, and that's not bad at all. I really like what I hear, it's the kind of music that will be enjoyed by those who like singer/songwriters, infectious pop, and just some level of creativity that's beyond the norm. I'm digging it.

Image Hosted by Gospel is not a genre of music I listen to on a regular basis, the only time I will is if I go to thrift stores and pick up the odd 45 or two. It came as a surprise when I opened up a package and saw this CD. Was I the right recipient? I wasn't sure to expect so I popped it in.

Songs From Sunday Morning Vol. 1 is the first release from Holy Mountain Music, a group founded by producer Bobby Bush who wanted to create updated versions of gospel standards and classics. The music is jazzy and funky, but not overly so. What you do hear is a groove that is undeniable and one that provides a positive message if it is what you seek. Guitarist Rick Bowlby is a highlight throughout the album, I'm not sure if he does work outside of Christian music but I would not mind hearing a full album of his guitar work.

As for the material, the titles are familiar but you haven't heard them like this: "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Nothing But The Blood", "What A Friend We Have In Jesus", and "Crown Him With Many Crowns". There is a spoken intro at the beginning of the title track, and immediately you feel like you're entering church awaiting the good word from the pastor. When it becomes, you feel comforted and want to listen to it all. Despite the Christian themes of all of the songs, one does not have to be Christian to enjoy the songs, there is nothing wrong with wanting and seeking good in yourself and life, and the way they perform is definitely uplifting. I know there are issues with people who ask "where are all of the great black musicians?", because some say that you rarely see that in the mainstream. You can look to jazz or go into the church and see real musicians playing the music that satisfies them, but it is interesting when the gospel and jazz worlds collide together. Songs From Sunday Morning Vol. 1 was originally released in 2006 but is getting a re-release next month. If you are a fan of good gospel music, you will find it here.

(Songs From Sunday Morning Vol. 1 will be released on June 24th, and be made available directly from Holy Mountain Music.)

Image Hosted by Let's face it, there seems to be an overabundance of Broadway-based anything out on the market these days, to the point where one might be overwhelmed by the amount of people who want to make themselves known. Not everyone will, but one singer that may have a chance is Roberta Duchak, although to say that she has a chance seems to underestimate her talents, as she has been releasing music since 1996.

Intersections (self-released) combines the best of jazz and Broadway and sings with a voice that pushes the limits of both without getting too over the edge. She holds herself back at the right moments, and when she hits a moment that feels just right, she knows how to work it good. Take a listen to her scat-like ways in "Takin' A Chance On Love" or the grace of "Raise The Roof" and you'll hear what I'm talking about, someone who wants to create a story not only through the lyrics but by the strength of her voice that tends to add to the overall warmth and emotions being stirred up by the band. Duchak is a strong vocalist who can hold her own, and the album is her way of letting people know that along the path of life, it's best to keep on moving forward.

(Intersections is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by Leanne Weatherly is a voice that is described as "pure", and at times one can tell her influences come from two to three generations ago, and nothing wrong with that. Go and Find... (self-released) has the class and beauty of jazz and pop singers of the past, but she can also do things with a contemporary touch, which means she will not be limited by her own interests. She writes a good amount of her material and one can tell why she is a part of the West Coast Songwriters Association, this lady knows about the art of the song.

Let me repeat that for emphasis: this lady knows about the art of the song. It's nice to hear someone who sings her own words and does it as a way to say "this is from me, this is me, this is what I am about", which you can hear in songs like "Simple Things", "Go and Find", "Oo So Cool", and "Chocolate and Roses". When she does cover other songs, she does so by understanding the song, the music, and its intent, and in turn becoming the new voice of the song. Her versions of "Caravan", "Midnight At The Oasis", "God Bless The Child", and even Fleetwood Mac's "Songbird" are remarkable, and she is backed by a wide range of musicians who know how to paint the soundscape with their playing.

If there was one flaw on here, to my ears it felt like the vocals in some songs were pushed too far up in the mic, and because of this it revealed the coldness of the digital recording. When you have a warm and welcoming voice, you want everything to gel together, and it is in those moments that don't that slow the pace down for a brief moment or two. Apart from that, it's a welcome album to any vocal jazz collection.

(Go and Find... is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by TQ has been singing for most of his life and has been an artist for the last ten years, and his bio states that some have called him a "singing 2Pac" due to his swagger and appeal to the ladies. While he hasn't had major success as of yet, it seems that the changes in the music industry may change that path with the release of Paradise (Gracie/EMI).

The sing-songy vibe that has been a part of hip-hop for the last 13 years seems to be what TQ is all about, but instead of being some random singer who sounds like a cousin on luudes, the guy can really sing. "Soulja", with some mean LFO's courtesy of producer Deezle, has him talking about braving the ways of the streets and popping "it" for life. He refers to the street dealers and hustlers who do what they have to do in order to pay the bills, and mocks those who sell fradulent product. He also isn't afraid to give a shout out to his lord and savior in one song, and then talk about his pole position as a lady in question makes it clap in the stripper friendly "In My Lap" in the next. Think of some of the slow jams by Usher and Jodeci and you'll have an idea of what "In My Lap" sounds like (complete with a line which says "I'mma make it rain, put it in my lap". Hopefully she isn't too drippy.) Krayzie Bone shows up in the title track (MP3 download) and it's obvious TQ wants to create music that will make people get in the mood and have a good time, while occasionally showing respect for friends and family. A wholesome album in an itchy dick sense.

He speaks about his songwriting skills in his bio, which are there but sometimes what he writes about are just revisions of what has been done before. While that is nothing different from other genres that can find a thousand ways of writing about love lost and love found, there are moments on this album where I wish he would bust out and do something a bit more "grown", to show the maturity he no doubt has. I just hate to think he's putting a bit of his energy into having a decent singing career by taking everyone else's formula and not really getting into that TQ can provide. Someone like Usher manages to keep one foot on the side for his younger audience, the other foot for those who have followed his career since the beginning, and with songs like "Pumpin'", "S.E.X.Y." and "Whatchagondo?" it feels like TQ just wants to write lyrics for what he feels is his core audience. If you do listen deep enough (and it's hard to say if anyone is listening deep these days), there is someone who wants to show off how clever he can be and I wish he would show that side of his compositions more frequently. His productions though are top notch, he handles some of the songs here and co-produced a few others.

TQ presents himself as someone with confidence. He has also dabbled in acting and a bit of modeling, so to add singer, songwriter and producer to the resume, there aren't many people who are willing to cover all of those angles with equal determination. Perhaps that's why he's called the "singing 2Pac", and Paradise is what he may be able to find in this lifetime if he keeps working it at this pace. However, I would not mind seeing him do a traditional soul album without the modern R&B cliches and hip-hop hybrids that often plague the music. I can hear it in him, and I hope one day he'll make it happen.

(Paradise is available from CD Universe in both dirty and clean editions.)

Image Hosted by Dream Bitches aren't really dreamy (well, Yoko Kikuchi is), and I wouldn't think they are actual bitches. For all I know they could be complete nags, including guitarist Casey Holfort, the only non-female in the band. What is the point in mentioning any of this? With luck it will intrigue you to continue reading as I talk about their album, Coke-and-Spiriters (Olive Juice/Recommended If You Like).

This ten song album is all about that indie rock glory, jangly guitars and harmony vocals that remind me of the best of The Breeders and Bratmobile as they sing songs about vacations, silent days, cars, and in "Video Games" they talk about wanting to talk to a man until they get lost in the zone, only to question his motives in life. On the surface, their songs might seem like an endless collection of quirky pop references but take in the whole picture and one will find a lot of well written songs. They can be puzzle-like and unfold to reveal its truths, and perhaps that's what they're doing, hoping for fans to unravel the puzzle in order to reach the song's final destination and dwell in the glory of the epiphany. Are they dry and "wry", as their bio indicates, making them a part of the anti-folk movement like Kimya Dawson? They do enter that musical VFW hall every once in awhile, but they champion the kind of sound that would be familiar to fans of the Kill Rock Stars label. The vocal harmonies of Kikuchi (who plays guitar) and Ann Zakaluk (their lead vocalist who plays tambourine) can be a harmonious deadpan, which tends to be purposely "girly" but with lyrics like "I'll fuck you till you love me/you will remote control me/you'll pile it on my dreaming/until I wake and screaming/what could be a better way to go/than losing your life at a Dream Bitches show?", it's obvious that they do things with sarcasm and a devilish grin.

(Coke-and-Spiriters is available directly from Recommended If You Like Records).

Dream Bitches - Maniacal Mechanic (this is not a direct MP3 link, this will take you to the Recommended If You Like Records downloads page, where you are able to download "Maniacal Mechanic" and other RIYL artist MP3's for free.)

  • On a self-promotional note, the brand new digital broadcast of Book's Music is available, and it's free. One hour of solid music, not a second more, never a second less.

    Click here to get your own player.

  • Over at Okayplayer I have two brand new reviews that I'd like for you to take a look at when you have some time:
    Jackson Conti-Sujinho
    Orchestra Baobab-Made In Dakar

  • I'm now a part of FudgeFM, a website that calls itself "the future of urban music, film, art, intelligence, and culture". It's about to make its formal grand opening in a few weeks, but it will be a website dedicated to music discussion through sharing blogs, videos, reviews, and more. I've posted a few blog entries there and I hope you are able to join me there and get involved.

  • On a musical note, the new Crut album recording sessions are underway. I am hoping to release a 45 or 12" for "I Wanna Be A Rock'N'Roll Star" before the end of the year, and I'm currently in negotiations with someone to do a remix of the track. I haven't released any vinyl in six years, so for you true record junkies, this is for you. Stay tuned.

  • That is it for The Run-Off Groove As always, I still have more music to review and that will have to wait until next week. Perhaps a look at the new Kidz In The Hall? A good range of jazz? Yes to both.

  • If you have new music, DVD's, or books that you'd like for me to review, you can contact me through my my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact information.

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