Seattle will one day take the hip-hop community by storm, or at least that's what Common Market are hoping to do with their Tobacco Road (MassLine/Hyena) album. RA Scion has been doing his thing in and out of Seattle for the last few years. Sabzi will no doubt be familiar to fans of Blue Scholars. Considering how busy the Scholars have been in the last two years, it's amazing how Sabzi found time to do this with RA Scion but this was something they wanted to get out to the people, especially after the initial buzz they created with their first album a few years ago.
RA Scion speaks from a personal point of view, a thought that might sound silly but this is a bit easier to consume than someone who speaks from the mind of a fictitious character. He speaks from the heart and does so with wisdom and passion, and at times with a spiritual touch that does not make him holier than thou, but rather someone who comes off as approachable and perhaps less automaton and more human. He could easily sit in on an album by Eastern Sunz and feel at home without a grudge. "Weather Vane", "40 Acres", "Back Home (The Return)", and "Nothin At All" aren't done with a need to impress, RA Scion knows the capabilities of his skills and this is just a display of what he has to offer. Musically, Sabzi moves more into the kind of soulful territory 9th Wonder fans are familiar with, with the kind of grooves that could easily appeal to fans of Mos Def and Common. If anything, Sabzi is making more room for himself as a top producer in the making, meaning he will be someone who will be in demand not only for his beats, but for his musicianship. He's much more than a master of the Sears-default button.
Like the old song of yesteryear, "Tobacco Road" is a positive track about the struggles of everyone in the world community, while "Slow Cure" is about the need for everyone to slow down in life and get to know and speak to each other, in order to get rid of the division he feels exists amongst all of us. Older heads will not feel guilty about listening to Common Market, while younger fans may be the ones to help spread the word about a group whose time may be here.
(Tobacco Road will be released on September 9th on both vinyl and the trendy compact disc and can be pre-ordered directly from Hyena.)
Their last album was a personal favorite, and now The Primeridian are back with Da Mornin' Afta (All Natural). This time around they collaborate with Imani, Iomos Marad, Naledge (Kidz In The Hall) and Nicolay and as a whole the group show a lot of growth from last time. They were good before, with a philosophy that combined serious lyrics and production with a spirited vibe (of the green leafy substance kind) that is passed around without shame. "High Noon Stank" could easily be an Andre 3000 outtake while Naledge's contributions in "Bucktown (City Of Wind)" make the song sound like Madlib blessed them with a fat baggie.
The album is hard, it's soulful, definitely funky, and filled with the kind of imagery that comes from creating visual music that is meant to be consumed in a proper fashion. Great productions that become "music from the soul aspires to take you higher" through well written lyrics that will appeal to those who wish for their music to be scholarly and at times other worldly. Or perhaps it's a group that is open in expanding their minds to discover that the next level in anything is already within their reach. Da Mornin' Afta is the revelation that there's more in our lives than the party, but perhaps through careful maneuvering one is able to make it in this world in one piece without losing one's mind. Yes, they take it there, and perhaps we should all follow.
(Da Mornin' Afta will be released on October 7th and will be available directly from (All Natural.)
You don't hear too much jazz music coming out of Jamaica these days, despite the fact that reggae was rooted from American jazz via ska. There have been a small handful of musicians to surface, most people are probably aware of someone like Monty Alexander. If you're not familiar with Tony Greene, you are able to now with the release of Midnight Blue (VP). Greene plays relaxing jazz, but not all the way smooth, by playing respectfully on an album full of covers, a mixture of well known pop songs and reggae classics. Hearing him play The Four Seasons' "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" shows how versatile he is on the saxophone, while his version of Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves" will definitely turn some heads.
Greene's playing is not outrageous or avant garde, it's very tasteful and is ready made for smooth jazz radio airplay. He doesn't hold himself to just smooth jazz, his catalog shows a lot of adventure but for a bit of relaxation, look no further than Midnight Blue. Surprisingly, no version of "Midnight Blue" on here, Melissa Manchester's song would have been perfect by Greene. Maybe next time.
(Midnight Blue will be released on August 26th and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)
When it comes to soca, you can only think of one man, the king of soca, Byron Lee. If my grandfather found roots in Jamaica after World War II, he could have been the king as well, but we have Lee to save the say with his brand of music and yes, the man has yet another album in the form of Soca Royal.
Some will argue that this is nothing more than "tourist reggae", but it's still a fun music that will make you dance and get loose at the right moment. Along with The Dragonaires, Lee performs songs that aren't going to cause any riots, instead you might think about flowers, tea, and cheese with his mellow versions of The Maytals's "Sweet And Dandy", and Brenda Lee's "Always On My Mind". The album is supposed to have what I assume was a cover of Chuck Berry's "My Ding-A-Ling" but it seems to have been replaced by Inner Circle's "Sweat", and while it is a respectable version, it would have been cool to know what they could've done with the Berry classic.
(Soca Royal is available directly from VP Records.)
They've been showing fans how serious they are with their brand of hip-hop, but Apoc and Rel, known as The Ritz, are taking their skills and music to higher levels with the release of The Night Of Day (>Lab-Oratory).
In terms of beats and sample selection, Rel is going beyond what he may be known for and creating cinematic and thematic tracks. Not that he wasn't able to do it, I think anyone who has ever heard him before knew he had it in him, but the album shows he's capable of creating true anthems while making songs that are funky enough for the dance floor so that the wallflowers will stop nodding and start stirring it up like cock daisies.
As for Apoc, this guy is just furious when it comes to rhyming, and that comes from making an effort to be the best he can be. He's not complex in that he's not trying to drop difficult words or obscure references left and right, but it's what he writes and how he expresses himself that makes him a standout rapper. If he wants to drop something over some ATL crunk, he could (he comes close with his double-time flow in "The Getaway"), or he wanted to get hardcore NYC style, he makes a bid at it in "Chiaroscuro". Being indie, he and Rel have the freedom to speak and make music that goes anywhere and everywhere, but they also hold on to a few limits and show that they are more than capable of making potential hits and radio friendly material. What does work for them is the edginess that they hold on to, one that hopefully will not be watered down by any success they may come across from this point on. "The Point Of No return" could easily become the song that breaks them through, with a retrospective vibe (and Mountain-like percussive stabs) and sped up vocal harmonies (shades of Kanye West perhaps?) mixed in with stories about going for what you know, regardless of what anyone else. Apoc sounds like a cross between Son Doobie and Aesop Rock, which in turn helps him bob and weave to find his own voice.
Cameos from Racecar, Psalm One, Brendan B, Moodswangz and the great Elfamail help make The Night Of Day one of the sleeper indie hip-hop albums of 2008. Wake up and inject the java, lahns.
(The Night Of Day is available from Lab-Oratory Records.)
The Dark Romantics are the kind of project deluxe pop fans have been craving, and they will build up their caloric intake with the release of the fantastic Heartbreaker (Lujo), which is anything but. It begins with the lush robotics of "Heartbreaker Pt. 3" before band mastermind Eric Collins delivers his dedicated ill vocals with "Love & Pain", sounding like the great singers of the 80's and 90's who tore it up with emotional lyrics and harmonies that brought you to the nth of everything.
As much as I like the term "indie rock", which for me suggests it's something that's out of the normal rock template, I would hate for it to limit the idea of what this band can be. They sound like they would have been perfect in the early 90's and probably could have been the true competition for Radiohead (not the lightweights that are Coldplay). This is very much music of the now era. I like now.
(Heartbreaker is available directly from Lujo Records.)
The New Up have been called "trippy new wave", but I found their Broken Machine EP (self-released) to be a few shades away from sounding like Yeah Yeah Yeah's, but without the attitude.
To be honest, I shouldn't make that comparison but maybe out of laziness I did that. Let's try again. Vocalist ES Pitcher has the kind of vocals that display her influences on her sleeve, be it Siouxsie Sioux, Miki Berenyi, or even a hint of Dido, but... now see, I did it again. Lazy comparisons. I'll try again.
The New Up are a decent indie rock band with a knack to be pop friendly, not unlike The Pixies or to be more accurate, The Breeders.
Okay, can I stop from making another comparison? It may not be right but it's a way to let readers know that what I hear is familiar to what I've heard before, but it is a bit refreshing to hear them in this manner. What I do like in the title track is the alternating ways of Pitcher and guitarist Noah Reid, and when they sing together during the chorus, it reminds me of the nice blends one can commonly hear in country music (where there always seems to be a need to have a male presence during a female vocal). The jangly guitars makes their sound ethereal at times, piercing in others, where one simply wants to swirl around in their orgiastic pleasures, made evident in "Just Because". While sounding nothing like Gwen Stefani, Pitcher carries a similar energy throughout that makes you want to hear her more, but hopefully not to a point where she has to change her output in order to bring in that extra cash. Then again, maybe hearing her in front of different backdrops would make people listen to her and her music in a better light. That's not to say that The New Up are nothing more than a vehicle for Pitcher to take the spotlight on her own, but we all know the inevitability of that. Maybe they can beat the odds.
(Broken Machine will be available directly from the band themselves.)
Three Houses Down are a reggae band from New Zealand who, like Katchafire, are showing that the music of Jamaica can be played by anyone if you are true to the music and its spirit.. Dreadtown (Ohana) aren't just a group copying the roots reggae vibe, but show they can also go further by doing a bit of ska, as they do in the album's opening track, "Dandyman". This 11-man force, complete with a horn section, sound like The Wailers if they were backed by The Skatalites, with hints of The Specials.
Like many reggae bands with a love of that rootsy song, Three Houses Down sing about a wide range of topics, speaking about the struggles of the world but will also not hesitate to speak about dancing and skanking to the beat. There's a hint of politics in their lyrics but it doesn't overshadow their music to the point where one might feel a need to not listen. The repetitiveness of "Anthem" could have easily been reduced with a bit of self-editing (although the chant they offer in the song will work in a live setting), while "Ghettoworld (Move Your Feet)" is about soothing yourself in the warmth of something that will give you joy in therms of repetition. Outside of a brilliant horn section, what will make people listen to these guys is the musicianship and the great vocal harmonies, definitely true of many groups throughout Polynesia. They carry the traditions of reggae and also show their love of mellow soul, offering an audio warmth that can't be denied. "Island Lullaby" is a duet between vocalist Charlie Pome'e and guest vocalist Mary Terepo, and thsi will no doubt become a prom staple for years to come, trust me (one hopes that this will lead to Terepo recording a full length project). The band represent big time with a cover of a well known Tongan folk song, "Toi Paongo", and if anyone wants to know if these guys are true to their culture, one can only imagine how crowds will react to this song.
For my fellow kama'aina, if you're unfamiliar with Three Houses Down, let's just say if Sean Na'auao decided to devote himself full time to playing roots reggae, he would create the kind of music this band are creating right now, with a vibe that will bring people together. I hope they will be able to fine-tune a few things with their next album, and try out a few things that might be considered daring, since the guys are definitely kicking it in cruise control. I know they have it in them, and when that happens, they are sure to blow up worldwide.
Thom Keith is a member of Equal Time, and he had come in contact with Larry Gelberg through the internet. A meeting happened, and their common love of music and jazz lead to them collaborating on a number of projects. This album is a document of one of those events.
Fans of Equal Time will find Discussions: Live At Lotus Moon (Avant Coast) to be of interest, for it features not only Keith but bassist Tim Webb, along with drummer Jared Steer. Together they play jazz that is very free form, those who desire complete structure and solid form can move to the next review. Each of the three songs on this CD is improvised, beginning with Keith and Gelberg opening the proceedings with their saxophone work before the rest of the band kick in, and the adventures begin. It feels a bit like hearing Ornette Coleman and Pharoah Sanders play together, complete with the biting of the reed thing that I often enjoy when I hear free jazz. The album opens with a 21 minute rendition of John Coltrane's brilliant "Olé" (one of my favorite Trane pieces) and it's almost unrecognizable until you hear the melody in the theme. The communication between the two saxophonists is great, and when the sounds flirt it's quite remarkable (notable around the 7:00 mark). Mal Waldron is honored with a rendition of "The Seagulls Of Kristiansund", which allows the group to slow down and simmer for a brief moment, but their performance is anything but stagnant. They close with Keith's own "The Agitator", and like the title indicates, they start off with a jump and the energy doesn't let go. Imagine someone sprinkling some angel dust after hours at a sacred jazz club, with everyone out of their mind and egging each other on to take things one step further, and you have a slight hint of what Keith, Gelberg, Webb, and Steer are able to do. It is with this song that you can hear them work in unison even if it seems that they're working independently. They'll all play together as if they're about to walk down a dead end street, but they find a path way, signal it in, and the song moves comfortably into a solo. At the album's comclusion they leave you hanging, and yet you're hopeful that they'll return for a combo. Regardless of the combination these musicians work with, they are definitely a collective who will continue to expand the potential of what jazz is and can be.
(Discussions: Live at Lotus Moon is available from CDBaby.)
There was a grittiness in rap music from New York/New Jersey in the mid-1990's that arguably sparked an argument for a need to redefine the golden era, but it was a sound that still holds up to this day, both musically and lyrically. Karniege and MarQ Spekt together are known as Invizzibl Men, and anyone who ever wanted to know what Play (of Kid 'N...) and Funkmaster Flex might have sounded like had they dropped hardcore rhymes will have to listen to The Unveiling (Backwoodz Studioz).
The group are definitely grimy, and in terms of abstract rhymes these guys are more than able to carve their own niche and offer it at a premium price. A part of it may have to do with Karniege doing some work with Def Jux in the past, but this is him on his own terms offering the kind of rhymes that deserve praise and recognition. The two both have very distinctive flows and at times it sounds like they're going in for the kill, especially in "T-Rex", which features C-Rayz Walz. These guys don't just offer tight songs, but are able to put together a full album without filler, which these days seems to be a rarity. It will please those who prefer their music in iPodian doses, while those who prefer it in one or two sittings will be able to overdose in the album's sickness. I know it's a cliche to call a new album (especially one that hasn't been released as of this writing) "classic", but we called albums "classic" not for the now, but for the future. This will be one of those albums that will stand the test of time.
(The Unveiling will be released on August 19th and can be pre-ordered through AccessHipHop.com.)
The name Vordul Mega should not be new to most heads, as he is one half of Cannibal Ox. Vordul has been making a name for himself with tons of appearances and live performances that have kept him on the top of many a list, and fans who have been waiting patiently for new album will be happy to hear Megagraphitti (Backwoodz Studioz), as he talks about spitting grenades, swinging blades, and serenading the inferior with something far more superior (as he does in the Opto-produced "AK-47".
This is not something that's in your face like M.O.P., nor is this an album full of superstar myths and dreams, instead it's an album with a running theme of sorts about the struggles of the street, doing what needs to be done to survive and... yeah, it may sound like "every other album out there" but it definitely isn't, especially when he tells people to never betray the ways we was brought up/from the sun to nightfall, teleport through nightcrawls or to kiss the girls, let the beats bang/necklace and pearls, ain't she the sweetest thang?/but I wouldn't melt on them thighs. Anyone who has ever wanted to hear an album where the momentum never lets up will have to hear this, as Vordul condemns all that are frauds and builds up anyone who is down for his cause, as he, Invizzibl Men, and Hi-Coup display in the super-sharp "Broken Halo".
Menacing? This is the kind of album you want to play loud and you don't mind if a police officer arrests you for breaking the city's noise ordinance.
(Megagraffiti will be released on August 19th and can be pre-ordered through AccessHipHop.com.)
DJ Green Lantern has been doing his thing for years, DJ and turntablism fans know the deal, and he's been fortunate to put together a compilation of music from the Grand Theft Auto IV: Liberty City Invasion video game, but produce and remix everything to his liking.
Yeah, Liberty City Explosion came out right before the Oaktown Hyphy Punch in the Spring. I remember I used to listen to a lot of different mixes and promo compilations like this, but the bridge in "Informer" by Wyclef Jean, Uncle Murda and Mavado seemed a bit more doodoo-ish to me. You couldn't tell me Jim Jones & Juelz Santana didn't surpass themselves on "Bustin' Shots" when this album came out. Once I heard the fade, I was convinced.
More specifically, "Alone" by Joel Ortiz & Dante Hawkins came more the niche of Pine-Sol. The mix was quite nice for the most part (better to me than the original),and there was a significant amount of counter-melody in the tones. I could've SWORE they mixed it in 1997 on an obscure Bounty Killer dub plate, but it was ACTUALLY a loaf of bread. I actually found a limited edition flexi-disc online from this kid in Maine, and paid $7 for it, because this B-side had an extra 40 second fade and that had an EXTRAORDINARY verse from Buckshot that he never did before, but repeats her in the track with Heltah Skeltah, "Can't Trust 'Em".
Now that MANHOODLUM has created the unofficial John Book review template, let me tell you what I really think about this comp. I haven't played the game nor know how the songs apply to the game in general, but most of the 17 tracks on here hold up very well on their own without the benefit of imagery. Some of these collaborations, including Fabolous & Fat Joe and Clipse featuring Re-Up Gang, are great and may have been overlooked if they were just mere album tracks. Maybe they were meant as album tracks but the artists involved said "I'm in it to milk it, and I want to be heard". The only let down was Busta Rhymes' "Where's My Money", who speaks about how the removal of his dreads has not removed his sense of massiveness and bravado, but I didn't think he was doing anything EXTRAORDINARY. In fact, maybe it was the fact that it was "extra ordinary" that made it somewhat lightweight compared to not only his own work, but the rest of the songs on this comp. What you'll want this for is to hear DJ Green Lantern's productions and mixes. BTW, 38 Special on this CD is the rapper, not the Southern rock band.
The first is dedicated to new and interesting food discoveries, while the second is a blog that will lead to me buying a bicycle that I will use towards losing weight and becoming healthier. One might think that talking about food on one page and maintaining one's health on another is a contradiction, but hey, one can eat in moderation and still do well. I've never eating 10,000 in one sitting like U.S. gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps but if it leads to something better than yesterday, I'll do it. Basically, if you enjoy reading my reviews, perhaps you like to read something that is fun and personal at the same time, away from the superhype of music.