The Menahan Street Band had become a minor footnote recently when one of their songs was sampled by Jay-Z. For fans of the funk that you can find on 7 inch 45 rpm singles, the band have been eagerly awaited by fans who wanted to hear more than the songs they had released on the Dunham via Daptone label. Members of the band came from other bands: Antibalas, The Budos Band, The Dap-Kings, and El Michels Affair. If you are familiar with any of them, you know how close knit they are, so perhaps it was inevitable that guitarist Thomas Brenneck would gain Daptone's attention. One thing lead to another, and now The Menahan Street Band offer some prime hard soul with Make The Road By Walking (Dunham/Daptone).
The 10 songs here remind me of the kind of music one would find on a custom/private press album, maybe a slight variation of a variation but it's what they do with it that works. Some of it would sound perfect on any late 60's/early 70's soul album, close to what happened when Motown was overshadowed by Sly & The Family Stone and Curtis Mayfield. In fact, a lot of these songs would have fit perfectly on any soundtrack of the era, including "Tired Of Fighting" (A Mayfield-flavored tune which could also become the backdrop for an Amy Winehouse when she gets her act together) and "Karina". The music is sweet and each pack a groove not unlike The Meters or anything released on the Phil-L.A. Of Soul label. "Home Again!" sounds like a mixture of Young-Holt Unlimited's "Soulful Strut" and Tommy James & The Shondells' "Crystal Blue Persuasion", complete with a tight horn section that just will not quit.
The combination of musicians within The Menahan Street Band (Brenneck, Dave Guy, Nick Movshon, Aaron Johnson, Mike Deller, Daniel Foder, Dave Guy, Homer Steinweiss, Fernando Velez, and the one and only Bosco Mann help make this into anything but ordinary, it's not just a bit of retro-soul and funk put on automatic, the arrangements here are clever and you get a sense that everyone is in the same room, locked into a groove for a common cause. The 3/4 of "Karina", the trobbing bassline and the blaring horn section makes this sound like David Axelrod meet Osibisa, and those African-flavored horns are definitely the Antibalas components at play. "Birds" sounds like something one would find on an obscure exotica/lounge album, complete with trippy Farfisa. Each of these songs could easily become pop masterpieces, but they hold up extremely well in their current state, enough to where you don't want to hear anyone sing at all (all of the songs are instrumental). It's ready made for the dance floor, for lounging in the basement with your favorite hi-fi system, and simply listening to good soul music with all of the classic touches that made the era they're honoring a great one. The reason those old songs still feel great is because of the arrangements involved, and by creating their own take on a classic sound, they continue on with the traditions of a sound that is the core of everything heard on the radio today.
(Make The Road By Walking will be released on October 14th on Dunham, via Daptone.)
Imagine this if you will: harmonica and tuba jazz. Sounds kinda trippy, but the album by Ron Kalina & Jim Self brings these two instruments together to create some moving jazz that is more effective than one might think. They call it The Odd Couple (Basset Hound), and together they fit in perfectly with each other. They begin with a Kalina original, "No More Mr. Nice Guy" before the incorporate the theme song to the television show that inspired the album's title. It is here that they show that these two instruments with accompaniment (Joe La Barbera on drums, Tom Warrington on string bass, and Larry Koonse on guitars) can blow away anyone who attempts to step up to their musicianship. Their versions of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Someone To Light Up My Life", Charlie Parker's "Confirmation", and Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" are true to the compositions but each of them allow themselves to explain what these songs mean to them through their playing. Kalina's harmonica playing is intense while Self's tuba work (he also plays something called a fluba goes beyond what anyone would expect from the instrument. Virtuoso? He may not admit it but he's doing something that will make fellow tuba and Flugelhorn players step back and rethink their approach to the instruments. The album will make listeners and musicians alike step back and rethink their approach to the what jazz should be.
(The Odd Couple is available from CDBaby.)
Khia's one-hit wonder status could have changed for the better after her appearance on VH-1's Miss Rap Supreme, and while she was eliminated for performing a song that had been recorded before (when the rule was that each contestant had to create a song from scratch), it may have been possible for her to let people know she could do a bit more than "My Neck, My Back". Unfortunately, Nasti Musik (Big Cat) shows that in terms of pulling tricks, she has one technique that will probably be her saving grace until she does songs about gum jobs.
I love a good sex rhyme, and on this album she continues to pace herself between doing raps and singing, and her singing voice is good enough to where she could be a hook vocalist. Instead, the songs here fall flat when you realize the formula is nothing but a hook that grabs you, and then a variation of that hook as a verse, and then the hook again. "Put That Pussy On His Ass" is possibly the best song on the album, and she basically tells her lady friends to use their pussy power to get what they want. That's understandable, power to the pussy indeed, but it almost seems as if she's stating that if you use your body to get what you want and need, you don't need to do anything else. "Be Your Lady", "Best Pussy He Ever Had", "Fuck You And Suck You", "Bitch I Been The Shit", I'm all about women who are confident about their sexuality enough to express themselves in this manner, but at times it comes off as if they're coming from a male perspective, or what a young guy would love to hear a woman say to them.
Khia is aggressive and she rhymes from the street, this isn't dainty, but it gets old very fast. She has the voice and flow, but the lyrics don't pull anything but puds.
(Nasti Musik will be released on August 19th, and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)
What's better than Khia? In truth, anything, and surprisingly the album I forced myself to listen to after that was Breakout. Not the Scorpions classic, but the CD by trendy teen sensation Miley Cyrus.
All of the songs (many of which were written by her father, Billy Ray Cyrus) are targeted to teens so you hear about school, waiting for the bell to ring, waking up and greeting the brand new day, and she even attempts to get eco-friendly in "Wake Up America" by telling everyone that we are all together and that everything we do matters in some way. Cyrus, in all honesty, has a decent voice and it's the kind of songs that her fans will love because they're filled with hooks, they're catchy, and it's positive. It would be too easy to jump on her success but the kind of songs she sings are the type that were made successful by adults in the 80's and 90's. She does do a cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", but she also does songs that some might mistake for a smarter (and less tarty) Avril Lavigne, the aforementioned "Wake Up America" or an all out country singer, "These Four Walls". In fact, it is that country twang mixed in with these pop songs that are probably a big draw for her young fans and the parents who buy her music. Some of the song choices may surprise her adult fans, but again this is the first album she has recorded solely under her own name and not under the Hannah Montana character. Whereas her TV character sings about a young girl who loves the idea of flirting with stardom, Cyrus comes off as a young woman looking forward to the good and positive things about being a grown-up, and at a time when music like that is in limited supply, perhaps an album like Breakout is needed. Her music is not assed out like The Jonas Brothers, let's put it that way. Like T-Pain, there's use of pitch correctors here but it's used in a subtle way not unlike a number of country singers today. She's no Kim Shattuck, but hey.
Cyrus has the potential to become this generation's favorite singer. She has her country roots, she already flirts with pop, she has the potential to rock (Southern rock at that), and with the Disney machine behind her she can coast on her career with ease unless Cyrus the person truly wants to Breakout and become her own woman without the aid of her parents, managers, and yes-men. Disney is her insurance, so perhaps there is no need to go out of the box, but if it's a way for her to also pave the way for other Disney stars such as Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez to continue to save the music industry in some fashion, bring the teens and tweens on. Just keep them away from Khia.
(Breakout is available from CD Universe.)
It's the new sound champion bound
Respect the O.G.'s, they're handing it down
We won't bow down, lower our standards
For these adolescent idiots with no manners
That's what it is, 'cous; that's what it be, blood
You see the future o' this music when you see us
So says MURS on his collaborative album with 9th Wonder, Sweet Lord, and the union is perfect between these two. You all heard 9th's beats, with his carefully selected samples and his secret gold snare, and he continues to offer the goods here so no need to boost his ego or bring him down, he's good people. MURS is one of those MC's you want to listen to because you put faith in someone who continues in extending and surpassing the traditions of lyricism in hip-hop, and he does that in each of the ten songs on this album. With the help of 9th, they reach those soulful and gospel touches that he (9th) is effective with, and takes MURS on to new levels. The album is just under 35 minutes, which is the perfect length because it will leave fans of both artists hungry for more. If another collaboration between the two isn't in the making, then I'm glad they were able to pull this off in the way that they did. Looking forward to the MURS For President album when it drops.
(Sweet Lord is available as a free download from MursAnd9thWonder.com.)
While C-Bo's name is first, I was more impressed by the rap skills of Big-O, who some may know and recognize as actor Omar Gooding, younger brother of Cuba Jr.. Trading War Stories (West Coast Mafia) has Omar/Big-O proving himself to be an incredibly capable rapper, and here it's a twist since he's an actor making the move to rapping (the tradition in hip-hop has been the reverse). What is it that makes his rhymes and flow work? The attitude, the charisma, and just the vibe that he provides. That's not to say that C-Bo doesn't offer anything, because his tracks (the album is split between contributions from both rappers in various incarnations) are very good, such as "Get What's Mines" but every Big-O song sounds like a banger and I'll be honest, the guy sounds a bit more hungry. The guy is ruthless, and if he can promote himself even more, he may become the next rapper to pay attention to. Nah, be ahead of the game and listen to him now.
(Trading War Stories will be released on August 19th and can be pre-ordered from CD Universe.)
In order to hear C-Bo stand out on his own, you have to pick up West Side Ryders IV - World Wide Mob (West Coast Mafia). While this album does have its share of collaborators as well, this album sounds a bit more balanced not only for C-Bo, but for everyone who helps him out on the album. He can be a party rapper if he wants, but there are no parties without hard work and paying bills, so while he gets into detail what happens when he's "Looking For A Time" (where he sounds like a West Coast version of Lord Finesse), he's also calling out fools in "Lair", complete with an instrumental that may or may not give you the lemon chillies. "It's My Life" is on some heavy G-Funk, and while it may sound like something you'll want to groove to, he speaks about his daughter and how he's thankful to live another day. The best way to describe C-Bo is that he's a gangsta with a heart, the attitude is definitely there and the stories will be the kind that many will salute from now until the end of time. The guy has been in the game for years and this album proves once again why he's not to be messed with.
(West Side Ryders IV - World Wide Mob will be released on August 5th.)
Sha Stimuli's idea of doing a tribute to Stevie Wonder is not exactly an original one, as DJ Spinna and Bobbito created the infamous compilation The Wonder Of Stevie, which was followed by Madlib's instrumental tribute to the man. However, this is Stevie we're talking about here, and in Sha's case, he is rapping over various Stevie Wonder samples, chops, and manipulations, as if to say "if Stevie Wonder had been down with rap music all these years, this is what it would sound like.
Hotter Than July '08 (self-released) is presented with the help of DJ Victorious, their initial projects have lead to future collaborations and this one is definitely one of the best. Sha and DJ Victorious do not go for the obvious, "Free!" sounds like it could turn into an Outkast track but then you hear Stevie's voice coming through and while new, it still feels familiar. Sha has been getting a lot of attention for his skills and has been on the top of a number of different critic polls, which in a way brings the attention back to New York. By collaborating with a Cali DJ, it proves the need to get rid of limits in this music. As for that music, all one has to do is listen to his freestyle track "The Flows" to know what he does and why he loves doing it, and "Redemption" could have easily been the summer jam of 2008 with its addicting chorus and solid booming beats that will keep all heads nodding. The Stevie factor is what will bring this album attention, but it's not just an album of Stevie-influenced beats but an album that stands out in its own right. Fortunately, this CD will probably be followed up very soon (maybe even next week) by another solid album. Buy, download, steal, do whatever, but you have to hear what this is about.
(Hotter Than July '08 can be purchased directly from Sha Stimuli or DJ Victorious.)
Dancehall artist Anthony B has returned with a brand new one. True Rastaman (Penitentiary) has him speaking about the proud people of Jamaica and not being afraid to speak out about the injustices of his people. Even songs that sound upbeat, such as "Make It", cut deep and leave no space to clean up the wounds. "Miss Fandangle" speaks about a woman who demands a lot but isn't getting any respect from the men who want to love her.
The album is a nice balance between current dancehall and rootsy tracks, with him doing well on both sides. A definite killer.
(True Rastaman is available from CD Universe.)
Richie Spice sounds a bit like Sizzla Kalonji but without the aggressiveness. Imagine Sizzla's romantic tracks fine tuned to become more radio friendly, and you have Gideon Boot(VP). The title track has some nice nyabingi rhythms while "The World Is A Cycle" is smooth enough to be mistaken for Maxi Priest, to the point where it sounds like it came from a smooth jazz track. In Richie Spice's case, he balances his songs between the heartfelt and the rootsy, and I tend to prefer the rootsier stuff as he sounds more inspired and not someone who can create the heartfelt stuff just to sell albums. Again, the background vocals could lead to him being accessible to a wider/whiter audience, but those instrumentals could be borrowed and used for any singer as a riddim. It's decent enough.
(Gideon Boot is available from CD Universe.)
Skillz is the kind of MC that needs no introduction, so I'm not going to give him one. What I will give you is a review of his new album, The Million Dollar Backpack (Koch), and this is a guy who is deserving of that cherished backpack but he's doing it Chinese style, meaning he's going to suffer and take the long path.
For one, it's hard to come up with something that hasn't been said about Skillz, but if you have been with him since he was Mad Skillz and have followed him since then, then you know what he has to offer. He makes club tracks, but not club as most people would take it these days, but rather nice dance tracks for the ladies, to romance and dance with them. "Where I Been" sounds like the Skillz of the past while "(For Real) He Don't Know Me" has him trying to take a slice of that Kanye West pie in order to come up with his own bakery chain. "Crazy World" is arguably the artsiest song on the album and perhaps one that should've been on there. It makes for a nice diversion but it almost ruins the pace of things. The saving grace is of course lyrics, and by following it up with "I'm Gon' Make It" (produced Bink it shows Skillz knows how to boost the energy from the dip in the album.
For the diehards, there's a lot to chew on. ?uestlove and James Poyser back him and Black Thoughts up for "Hold Tight", and Kwame Holland turns "Sick" into one of the album's finer moments. Usef Dinero gives the album a soulful vibe with "So Far So Good" (which features Common), and Freeway makes his presence known in the awesome "Don't Act Like You Don't Know", produced by Orthodox. The mood and vibe change throughout and yet still manages to be solid and cohesive, and that is one reason why Skillz has always been on top of his game even though he doesn't have the same kind of glory or fame that Jay-Z or Nas have. With this album he shows once again why he needs to be, with or without that golden backpack.
(The Million Dollar Backpack is available through CD Universe.)
Growing up with classic rock before it was called classic rock, it's the kind of music that I loved not because it had a name to it. it was just music my dad or relatives loved, the stuff my dad's friends had collections of in their living rooms. I knew that a visit to my uncle's apartment meant putting on big headphones and listening to Led Zeppelin. Classic rock, of course, is not just a blanket statement about rock'n'roll before us but now a genre that sells everything from beer to erectile dysfunction pills. Like any other genre that becomes popular, classic rock has been molded into a small selection of songs that are meant to signify what it means to people. Now That's What I Call Classic Rock (Capitol) is a part of the infamous compilation CD series and their focus is on the rock from the 1970's and 1980's
This isn't Freedom Rock, but rather a major label's wet dream of classic rock hits that you are guaranteed to hear on your classic rock radio station right now, in two hours, and on your way to and from work. In truth, these songs are good and are the soundtrack of youth, and if for some reason you don't have any of these songs, by all means buy this disc. It features George Thorogood's "Bad To The Bone", Steve Miller Band's "The Joker", Styx's "Renegade", Grand Funk Railroad's "We're An American Band", Heart's "Barracuda", Mountain's "Bad Moon Rising", and cherished live versions of Peter Frampton's "Show Me The Way" and Kiss' "Rock'N'Roll All Nite", among others. It's probably no surprise that a lot of these songs have also been used in video games in recent years, so there's a younger generation whose perception of these songs are different from mine, yours, or your parents. Maybe it's not a surprise, but there are a lot of omissions: Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, Van Halen, AC/DC, and many others. Maybe part of that has to do with not obtaining permission from the original artist, label, or publisher, or maybe this is just the primer for more titles in the series.
If there's one thing to complain about, it's that all of these were either singles or are radio staples. Some of the best classic rock tracks are the album tracks, specifically songs that do not get as much airplay as others. However, the placement of Aerosmith's "Combination" in a series like this might lead to the material becoming watered down so as long as this series opens up the world of classic rock for new listeners, I'm all for it.
(Now That's What I Call Classic Rock is available from CD Universe.)
This is my life/welcome to my life.
Anyone who uses a pseudonym or nickname as their artist name always ponders on using their government name for a possible release. While most of you know of me and my name from my writing and music, I choose to be heard as an artist as Crut. In time, it would be cool to present myself under my own name. Supastition has released a lot of great music over the years and gaining a lot of underground attention. For his new project, Supastition decided to present himself as himself for the first time, at least musically, and while it's not a different Supastition, it does show the growth of an artist. Therefore when you see the name Kam Moye, it means you're about to listen to Supastition.
Listening to The Self Centered EP (Reform School Music), one can tell that something is different. It's an older, more mature, more sophisticated rapper, someone who is "grown". "Where & Why" has him questioning himself and his path in life, and how he fits in with the current state of hip-hop. He touches on why he's releasing music under his own name, but in truth I'm still the same cool ass cat/I've been Kam Moye every day of my life, you can't grasp that/When fans say the other name, it better suited them/It's funny how a pseudonym would seem more true to 'em, right? He speaks about childhood, relationships, his upbringing, and the world today, and yet it doesn't seem forced or weak in any shape or form. If anything, it redefines his mission and will hopefully move people to listen to him and his words from a different perspective. In fact, if you liked him as Supastition then this is just an addition to the equation that is him. Top notch lyrics done by someone who knows what the defintion of "rap music" is. As far as what other people think of him and the creators of the music, he addresses everyone in "Black Enough" and states that by condemning the unwritten rule book on blackness, someone might as well put a target on him. There's no reason to go down that path, not from someone who comes off as genuine and a realist. Self-centered? Perhaps it's a way of saying he's more sure of himself. Either that, or it's the revelation of something he's always known.
(The Self-Centered EP can be downloaded for free directly from Supastition.com.)
The songs on this 16 song compilation are all great, but the reason for its existence is unknown. It's called Ziggy Marley In Jamaica (Tuff Gong) and the title may suggest that it's a live recording, but there's only one Ziggy Marley track on here.
The rest of the songs are classics from the golden era of reggae: Desmond Dekker's "Poor Me Israelites", The Maytals' "54-46 That's My Number", Peter Tosh's "You Can Get It If You Really Want", The Abyssinians' "Satta Massagana", Horace Andy's "Skylarking", Peter Tosh's "Legalize It", and only one song from his father's catalog, The Wailers' "Mr. Chatterbox", which came from an era when Bob Marley was more of a crooner than one celebrating Jah love. For a generation of fans who weren't around when Bob Marley was alive and only know of his legacy through Ziggy, this is a decent introduction of a genre of music that is too deep to limit to just 16 songs. Some of the songs selections are a bit peculiar, but if it was any different, it might as well be The Harder They Come soundtrack.
(Ziggy Marley In Jamaica is available from CD Universe.)
When it comes to "otherworldly" hip-hop, you might have a small handful of names that immediately come to mind. Otherworldly can mean everything from "next level" to "advanced" to "forward thinking", and if there's anyone who is all of these things and more, it would be Kongcrete.
Kongcrete, a/k/a Kong, offers Shackles Off (Classified), an album where each destination is definitely unknown. Tracks may begin in a traditional manner, but Kongcrete and some of the other MC's on the album take off to new and unexpected places. He can be direct, other times he is abstract and off the beaten path, as if Anti-Pop Consortium were the Kings of Rock and not Run-DMC. Even when things get a bit crunk in "It's Official", one realizes that the song features Gabarah, MF GRIMM, dub-L, Ikon, and Spiega Monsta and it's as if Divine Styler came down to Earth after touring on Sun Ra's recent Saturn's Revenge tour. In other words, it has that crunk feel but it's a few elements left of center with synthesized string samples layered over a filtered violin. The topics? It's hard to pin down, because on the surface it sounds like it's going all over the place, but pay attention and Kong is on a mission that isn't easy to understand at first, but will be after repeated listens.
(Shackles Off is available from Dusty Groove.)