Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #221

Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #221. I am John Book and this is brand new. A lot of great albums have been making it my way as of late, and this is what I was able to fit in. Lube up, and let's start digging.

BTW - if you like the column, please consider clicking the banner below for eMusic. You are able to subscribe and download albums in a way that I feel is more effective than iTunes, and there's a lot of incredible music here. You will not be disappointed.

Also, each review features links to the artist's home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn't have most of these titles.

Now, the column.

Image Hosted by Sometimes when you listen to music, you aren't sure if what you're listening to is great, special, or something more. Australia's Kylie Auldist is a name that I was initially unfamiliar with at first, even though I am familiar with the group she sings with, The Bamboos. It had been awhile since I heard them, so Auldist did not ring a bell at first. While I prefer vinyl and CD's for review, I received Just Say (Tru-Thoughts) as a digital file. I believe the file came with an image of the cover, but I did not look at it at first. The first thing I heard was music with a distinct 60's soul vibe, very much the Northern Soul sound that made Amy Winehouse the smash she was with Back To Black. A lot of artists have taken that girl group sound to heart, so without knowing her Bamboos connection, I assumed she was just another white lady singing soulfully. As the album moved on, her voice began to sound more "authentic". If not that, there was a sense of soul that I couldn't quite figure out. Then it reached "Everybody Here Wants You", which is very much a 70's vibe in the vein of The New Birth. It was a slow ballad, and it was seductive, smooth, elegant, all before she begins to sing about "29 pearls and your kiss/ kiss, a singing smile/coffee smell and lilac skin, your flame in me". I felt like I was in a dark room with that one I've been looking for all my life, and she's luring me with all that is alluring to me and then some. Nowhere to go, I'm trapped in a chair, taking in everything I can detect with the senses I'm conscious of, and I'm caught up in it. In other words, I'm sold, I'm completely blown away by what I hear, and I have to to know who this woman is. I see her photo and say "oh shit, don't tell me..." She looks like someone who might be familiar, the kind of local girl I probably could have hung out with Hawai'i if we went to the right clubs, hung out at the safe thrift stores and coffee shops, as I held her bag. I began to do the research, and I'm close with my Polynesian connection. Auldist is part Samoan, and has been singing for years. I listen to the remainder of the album and I begin to understand what she's about.

Just Say is the kind of soul album that is sorely missing in the marketplace, and it's not just the Northern soul thing that makes her who she is. She can easily commit to a laid back funk vibe, but there's also "Pretty Things", an acoustic number that will definitely please fans of Clara Hill more recent work. Along with her voice, what makes these songs work are the fact that they are well written, touching on experiences and emotions that are often overshadowed by fashionable verses and the producer trying to outshine the actual artist. Like any good soul album, there's a lot of joy and happiness, a touch of sadness, and a hell of a lot of glory. It's the kind of album with a sound that immediately touches the soul, and you want to tell everyone "have you heard of Kylie Auldist? This is better than everything in the Top 50 right now". Auldist knows how to work a song and never goes beyond her limits, some singers push things and ruin their voice or it makes them sound as if they have more than their capabilities. The album as a whole flows very well from nice dance numbers to a bit of the quiet storm, some humble material, before returning to the dance floor, and that in itself is worthy of approval. But it's her voice and the music I can't get enough of, and as I've said many times before, as much as I'd like for every artist to tap into some of the formuals of the past to show its relevancy, some would essentially ruin it. Auldist is an artist who knows what music means, and by sharing that she is sharing a talent that has to be experienced. This will definitely become one of my favorite albums of the year.

(Just Say is available from Dusty Groove and digitally from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by Upon first listen of Lizzy Parks, the first few notes made me wonder if this was another visit into Northern soul land. But she begins to sing and I'm hearing very different from the rest, very jazzy influences. With a title like "Raise The Roof" I begin to wonder if she's someone who wants to make modern references just to be able to crossover to a younger audience. I'm proven wrong again as the music changes in style, almost sounding like what Monday Michiru would sound like if she hooked up with Jazzanova

Raise The Roof (Tru-Thoughts) is modern jazz with hints of soul, funk, and at times a hip-hop urgency, but this is far from anything that sounds like hip-hop. Or maybe it's a bit closer to the source, just as the Daptone guys do it. Parks' voice sometimes reaches that of a chanteuse, or a Minnie Riperton where she wraps herself in the music and flirts with the bottom heavy rhythm section, the lush string arrangement, or the schnazzy piano solo ("Ode To St. Cecilie"). For someone with such a delicate voice, she has a lot of power and it comes off gracefully, but she takes things to a higher level with "Prayer". The gentle sound of her voice, complimented with just a bass and piano at first, sounds like the perfect music you'd hear during a recently discovered romantic film shot in black & white. The color begins to come in slowly and you see the different tones and smell the scent of autumn through the emotions experienced through her singing. She's in control and sets the path of each song, and that's when you know someone knows what they're doing, that control that makes you want to put this on repeat. Everything gels in perfectly and it feels... right. Jazz vocals with hints of pop, it's a bold statement from a very bold singer.

(Raise The Roof is available from Dusty Groove.)

Image Hosted by Little Jackie is a brand new artist based out of Brooklyn who, like many others these days, is trying to gain attention showing an appreciation for 60's and 70's soul. Her album cover has her looking like a B-girl, so one can say she wants to be a "hybrid" artist. Unfortunately it comes off like she's making music to suit the needs of a record label who want to have their own Amy Winehouse or Lily Allen, Peaches or Solange Knowles.

The album features many odes to Northern soul, tweaked so that they have extra bass (think reggae), but lyrically she adds a modern touch with references to cell phones, computers, and popping a lot of pills. Okay, so Winehouse did the same thing but it sounded a bit more authentic when someone broke out of the sound and showed she had a bit of balls. She sings, she raps a bit, she does the sing-song rap, and while it can be impressive upon first listen, it gets boring about half way through the album. "The Kitchen", with its very crispy and raer breaks, would work as a single if people understood what makes this song so great. Her vocals here standout and it would have been great if she had spread that out for the duration of the album. Instead, it's an album that goes everywhere without a plan, and it's unfortunate.

(The Stoop is available from CD Universe.)

Image Hosted by Psapp are a British duo of the electronic variety, or at least one half creates the musical soundscapes while the other sings. The Camel's Back (Domino) isn't just a female voice singing over hard booming beats. Carim Clasmann is a masterful craftsman in the field of sound assembly, he will create something that sounds very ethnic ("Part Like Waves") or do something where you're not sure if it's rock, new wave, or something you can't quite figure out ("I Want That"). With "Fickle Ghost" it sounds like a simple keyboard melody, but then the heavy, almost industrial-beat comes in with a string section and it takes the listener on an unexpected journey. Each song doesn't sound anything like the song before, so one can't grasp the scope of the album until it is initially heard in full.

The music is complimented with the great voice of Galia Durant, who is able to weave herself through Clasmann's musical fabric and envelope everything that goes on, without her sounding strange, out of place, or hesitant. Sometimes when musicians and singers attempt to do something they don't want to do or aren't sure how to do it, you can hear that in the music. You don't hear that with Durant, who is much of a rocker (think Pat Benatar or Pink as she is a balladeer or a folk singer. Together, Psapp are an exciting listen, a duo that aren't afraid to get diverse and include as many of their influences as possible, whether it's ragtime jazz ("Parker") or circus music ("Marshrat"). They might fool us the next time and deliver an incredible pop album, but I hope that guilty pleasure is something they'll hold back from for a few years. By the time the ride is over, you'll want to head to the back of the line and start again.

(The Camel's Back is available directly from Those who seek the vinyl version can purchase it directly from Domino Record Co.. Earlier works by Psapp are available digitally from eMusic.)

Psapp - The Monster Song

Black Element is that guy who understands the history of the music and musicians who have come before him to pave the path he's about to create. With A Major Minority (Ill Roots), he makes a bold move by starting his album with a hot hip-hop track, only to touch on a bit of hip-house vibe with "The Stickup Kid?!?!", or at least the tempo may make you bust out your old Scoob and Scrap Luva moves. Even at this tempo, he sounds comfortable and certain that people will rock as he rattles off things endlessly and flawlessly. "Out In The Cold" sounds like something from the Common and/or Mad Skillz vaults, and as far as telling stories, you're right there with him looking at asses in Daisy Dukes, waiting for a feud at award shows, and him walking down the street waiting to execute fake rappers on stage.

Energy-wise, he sounds like the kind of guy who would be alongside Lupe Fiasco or Kanye West, but seems less affected by the role an MC tends to hold, he is a storyteller with privileges and he's not going to take advantage of it. A Major Minority has a lot of different musical textures that will please the hardcore cratedigger, the smooth sample-spotter, and collegiate listeners who enjoy hearing soundscapes fold onto and into each other. Black Element is, as he says in "Quiet Night", out to compete and when ideas come to head, he'll put pen to paper and commit himself to inevitable excellence. Welcome Black Element into your consciousness, he is what will keep hip-hop alive in the next five and beyond.

(A Major Minority is being made available for free directly from

A 6-Pack With Black: Black ELement's A Major Minority from Daniel Hedges on Vimeo.

Image Hosted by K-The-I??? is one big motherfucker, and I mean that in a good way. Anyone who is big and makes an attempt to bring themselves out in any musical genre has a lot to deal with. In hip-hop, it is the eternal comparisons to Biggie Smalls but let's get it out of the way: K-The-I??? sounds nothing like Biggie. If I have to compare him, I'd compare him more to Chill Rob G more than anything. If there is a cliche that always gets mentioned with big rappers, it's this: when you listen to Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (Mush), the brother shows that he has a lot of heart.

Fuck the cliches and let's get into the meat of the matter. K-The-I??? is a true MC, someone with that gift on his own, and he's able to find producers who are able to share their works by offering them who blesses them with flawless lyrics. "Decisions" has Melltron-type samples that sound like something from a prog rock album, then some Pharrell Williams-type background vocals, and then a pounding double time beat that would give Timbaland a decade. K-The-I??? raps bold as if he is a politician, standing on the podium insuring everyone is there to listen as he speaks with authority. He looks for a world without poverty, and he seeks the good life by exploring any and all musical worlds, including sounds that aren't the stereotypical hip-hop sound, and it sounds right as it comes from him.

(Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow will be available on vinyl and CD on November 7th, and can be pre-ordered directly from Mush Records.)

Image Hosted by Ruste Juxx has been heard on a number of albums and mix CD's in the last year, and now he's presenting himself in full length form with Indestructible (Duck Down), and as he talks about in the Black Milk-produced "Wipe Off Ya Smile", don't fuck with him or your bitch ass will get the kl-kl-klack.

Ruste Juxx is a grimy MC who wants to commit crimes and isn't afraid to explain his methods in detail. With tracks like "Pimpin' Ya Wife", "Machine Gun Skunk", "Morgue Truck", and "Homicide Niggaz", he proves himself by making the kind of songs that may make you want to sharpen your razor blades, and after hearing the congas of "Get Up", if Brooklyn doesn't come to mind, you haven't been paying attention. This album is trademark New York hip-hop, done without regret, and it makes you want to raise your first to salute the return of the good shit. Remember when people used to talk about hip-hop and refer to the word "science"? This album is done with a science, and while the guy carries him off as someone you wouldn't want to fuck with anywhere, songs like "Optimistic" and "Love Is Worth Waiting For" (complete with 70's soul samples) reveal that the guy can be compassionate when needed. Don't call him a thug rapper with a heart, that's for the mainstream media to come up with when they're bored. But call him a top notch MC who isn't afraid to show his reaction to the streets as he looks to the future for a way to get off the streets. It may be trademark NYC hip-hop, but it's also wordly too, a wordly message that hopefully people will be able to find and seek without the lure of the Broadway lights.

(Indestructible is available from CD Universe and digitally from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by The West coast is represented on a new mix CD by JNatural and DJ Ray Ray Raw. JNatural is a female MC who raps raw with stories of sex, lust, and power and on Sex, Lies and Sextape (self-released) does it with the same kind of punch that Lil' Kim and Princess Superstar offered in the old days with a sass that is uniquely their own. She also sings too (and quite well) but likes to let herself be known as the rugged bitch who can do things with a sense of humor but her style and lyrics are no laughing matter. DJ Ray Ray Raw does his best with the beats and samples he uses, I'd like to hear more exploration from him in a full length setting. However, JNatural is someone who shows that you can be a female rapper and prove that you have what it takes to step up with the big boys. Don't let her looks fool you, she'll verbally slash all combaluns with a vengeance, and that's the point behind this CD. As she says in the intro, the lure of the cover photo is nothing more than eye candy, but now that you have the candy in your hands, now what? It may appear at first that she does nothing but sex rhymes, but if you look at just the titles and make that assumption, you're not really paying attention. This lady is serious, and I hope she's pushed to the forefront with her style. It would be cool to hear her do some rhymes with Leila "Topik" Shun and Mash Comp. DJ Ray Ray Raw has knowledge of the music he uses, and I want to hear more from him.

(Sex, Lies and Sextape is available as a free download from JNatural 's and DJ Ray Ray Raw's respective MySpace pages.)

Image Hosted by The folks at Decon Media were sponsors of a recent hip-hop tour featuring Dilated Peoples, The Alchemist, Aceyalone, and 88 Keys and now they have released the festivities as a budget priced DVD/CD combo.

The DVD portion of Fresh Rhymes and Videotape (Decon) is brief and somewhat unfulfilled. There is documentary footage of what the guys did on the tour bus, outside of the tour bus, and backstage, but there's not much content. The highlight of the documentary footage is when The Alchemist talks about how to eat a bagel properly so that the cream cheese doesn't turn into cheese soup. That's really it, you probably get more interesting stuff on a YouTube or MySpace video, but you see it here in much better quality. Another highlight? DJ Babu. The guy is funny and he's the guy you'd wake up early in the morning to go fishing with. That's the kind of guy he is. Or isn't.

Even though the audio CD features a mere six songs (thus it's an EP), these tracks are some of the best these guys have done. 88 Keys and Mars Whiteman offer "I'm Like", and he also shows up in the "Fresh Rhymes and Videotape Anthem" along with Evidence, The Alchemist, Aceyalone, and Iriscience. Iriscience and Aceyalone team up for the uplifting "Legendary Status", while "Left Out In The Cold" unites Aceyalone, 88-Keys, and The Alchemist for a song that wraps up the disc nicely. Some may argue that an EP is nothing more than an inbetween-album-toss off, but these cuts are worthy of being major songs for everyone involved. I would have liked more songs of course, but six tracks left me wanting more and I have to be impatient and wait.

Considering this is being released and sold for a very nice price, it's definitely worth what you'll have to pay for it. Consider it a basic DVD with a bonus CD, or an EP with a bonus DVD. The DVD may be appealing but it's the music on the CD that blows it away. Get it.

(Fresh Rhymes and Videotape is available from CD Universe.)

Image Hosted by DJ Babu is back with a brand new edition of his Duck Season mix CD series, and we're now up to Vol. 3 (Nature Sounds). Babu is still creating those incredible boom bap-style hip-hop, and this time he has people like Little Brother, MF DOOM, Sean Price, Joe Scudda, Cali Agents, Strong Arm Steady, Likwit Junkies, Termanology, Oh No, Percee P, and many others. No deep concepts or any type of continuity other than musical, it's about raw beats and scratches going into each other one right after the other, it feels like a live show or a radio freestyle session where everyone is just dropping one incredible rhyme while the room smells like beer and reefer. Favorite tracks include "The Unexpected" (featuring MF DOOM and Sean Price), "Fan Mail" (featuring Little Brother, Joe Scudda, and D-Brock, and the scorching "2-Feet" (featuring Kardinal Offishall and Babu's fellow dilated person, Iriscience. Within the 18 tracks are a bit of turntable dialogue, so for those who seek the raps, listen. For those who want to hear Babu speak with his hands, let the exchange in dialogue begin.

(Duck Season Vol. 3 is available from CD Universe and digitally from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by B-Real has become a legend in his own right for his work with Cypress Hill and after 17 years of holding things down in a group setting, he's about to release his debut album in the form of Smoke-N-Mirrors (Duck Down). His rhymes and weeded stories about fraudulent rappers, street dealers, and personal struggles will appeal to those who seek more from their lyrics than brand names and endorsements. The sing-song choruses are a nice touch and while it's generally been a territory he has (perhaps) purposely avoided, it has the feel of Ice Cube and W.C. tracks.

The album features a number of producers, and the one track that stands out from the rest is the one The Alchemist did, "6 Minutes". If this isn't selected as a first single, I don't know, because this would be the perfect way to let people know and remind everyone else who B-Real is. The biggest surprise here: the tracks produced by B-Real himself, he could have easily done this album himself but using outside producers are definitely a helpful lure. His track with Damian Marley, "Fire", will deserve a lot of airplay when the album is released, and I can easily see the both of them performing this during the 2009 festival season. Sen Dogg surfaces in the trippy "One Life", while the track with Snoop Dogg ("Dr. Hyphenstein") is definitely the weakest of the bunch.

Cypress Hill have always had great music, and as a group they have increasingly relied on choruses to make their songs work, due to the accepted norm with today's hip-hop audiences. It doesn't sound like an old album, it's very much about the West Coast here and the sound they have developed in the last two decades. The Alchemist has his own sound that is as strong now as DJ Muggs' sound was 17 years ago. I'm making the comparisons to let people know this isn't Cypress Hill lite, it suits the vibe B-Real has always created and it's shows a side of him some may have been waiting to hear. Those who crave the rock edge of CH will have to check out Sen Dogg's album instead, but for the L.A. hip-hop hustle, pick this up.

(Smoke-N-Mirrors will be released on January 27, 2009.)

Image Hosted by The Germans must have something in the water, for there has been an intense amount of creativity in the country in terms of creating hip-hop and electronica. DJ Bizkid is based in Berlin. He teams up with Maine's own Nomar Slevik, whose recent works have been nothing short of amazing. Together they united musically to create The Mixtape, which is just that, a collection of no-nonsense tracks that show what these two are capable of, and how the sum of its parts are just as powerful.

The album moves from nice and deep hip-hop to tracks with a bit of a rock and psychedelic edge, with "Society" (featuring JD Walker and the almighty K-The-I???) being one of those tracks that will make high schools change their dress code policies, it's cult worthy. Nomar deserves an intense listen, because even when it sounds as if he's doing things abstract, there is much comprehension in his pieces, sometimes it might take two or three songs to finally figure out. "Smoke Screens" changes tempo with each verse and may not be for everyone, but if you are able to take it in, you should be able to take this challenging listen to heart. The entire "mixtape" is non-stop so it's somewhat-claustrophobic feel is intentional and easily works as a proper album. I hope the both of them will work with each other again, and I will definitely be checking DJ Bizkid in the future.

(The Mixtape is available from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by When Nomar Slevik isn't committing greatness under his own name, he's making himself known through a number of other projects. Done are a band that mixes up rapping with eclectic electronic sounds, indie rock, and a bit of the avant garde. Their slight tribute of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" sounds something nine inch nails might do or something Mike Patton would scream over on an Ipecac release.

The artwork and promotional material for How To Own A Shadow (Emben Digital) is very post-apocalyptic, or maybe it's about surviving the inevitable downfall of a country that gambled its way to world supremacy and failed. Now we're all on the same level, and Done offers the soundtrack for a dying world. It's nice to hear a derivative that is so unfamiliar it sounds strange, and yet welcoming. Insane.

(How To Own A Shadow is a digital release that is available through eMusic.)

Image Hosted by Let's make this one thing perfectly clear: I'm upset. Not really, but I bring this up because The Knux are being promoted as "alternative hip-hop" when they're not. What makes them different from the pack? They do not rap about what is stereotypically the norm, so they want to be pushed as being "something other than". They do not dress up in hideous T-shirts that might look good on 50 Cent and your 75 year old grandmother, complete with the same gold and diamonds. Do they look smart, nerdy, and if so, is that the assumption that mainstream hip-hop is full of hoods, thugs, and dumb asses? It's not exactly cool to call something the alternative, since that's often viewed as "a bit more clever" than the next man, but sometimes the tag fits.

So, are The Knux really that different? No, they are a group that do rap about things you would normally expect to hear on underground/indie hip-hop, but they're signed to Interscope through a connection with Eminem. Does that make that "alternative"? No. Remind Me In 3 Days (Interscope) sounds like the kind of album you'd expect to hear from The Jungle Brothers or New Kingdom, where the adventure is in their lyrics as much as it is in their music, a combination of real instrumentation and select samples. Don't expect to hear club anthems, they're the kind of guys who might be kicked out of the club. Instead, these are basement jams, apartment slammers, and sidewalk funk, the type that isn't difficult to listen to, serious enough to where you wouldn't want to be distracted. What the real instrumentation does is adds a unique dynamic to their songs, in that when they want to expand on a line or a verse, they are able to without it sounding programmed.

By the time the album was over, I wondered what made this so "alternative"? It's not really that different, and as Me'Shell NdegeOcello would say, the alternative to hip-hop is silence. It's hip-hop, and quality hip-hop at that, so don't believe the naysayers. This is a decent album from a brand new group that should make some serious moves in the coming years.

(Remind Me In 3 Days... is available from CD Universe, in explicit form and without. Vinyl junkies are also able to order it.)

Image Hosted by The Clutchy Hopkins phenomenon made everyone wonder who was this saluted genius? Was he really some bum who had a gift to jam, or was he a producer (or a group of producers) moonlighting? Only a select few know, but Hopkins has joined up with Shawn Lee for an album that will move many to salute their unified musical styles.

Clutch Of The Tiger (Ubiquity) sounds like one of those obscure albums I often talk about, the ones that sound like there's absolutely no mainstream appeal to it, but it manages to find its way into your collection because you care for good music. It has the feel of those much-sought-after library albums, or something that Yesterdays New Quintet may have indirectly influenced, but each song here are mental soundtracks that are laid back to the point where you may find yourself floating upstream and beyond. The music is loose, funky, and laid back, as if Lee and Hopkins decided to bring in instruments and discover what the day brought to them. It's not until the seventh song, "Dollar Shot", where some mid-tempo funk shines through with an open break and something from the farfisa files. "Bad Influence" sounds like the kind of filtered break I would love to use in one of my own songs, and... it just sounds very distant and obscure. Even "Till Next Time", which could easily be brought up to the surface by Justin Timberlake if he wanted to, sounds a few notches off from the norm, and you're into it because you know it doesn't belong anywhere but your own collection. It's the kind of album you would find on 8-track at a pawn shop, covered in soot and lettuce of unknown origin.

(Clutch Of The Tiger is available from CD Universe and digitally from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by DJ Myxzlplix out of Los Angeles is a guy who knows his funk and soul, and proves it with a new mix CD highlighting some of the best funk and soul of the last few years. Strictly Social Mix Vol. 2 is a collection of who is how and what should be, and includes flawless flows from Amp Fiddler, Flying Lotus, Beatphreak, Belleruche, and many more creating the kind of soul that brings back the old through the new phase without Auto-Tune.

It's a very classy mix that made me not only want to hear this mix over and over, but made me want to seek each individual artist and release. I dig this one a lot.

(Strictly Social Mix Vol. 2 can be streamed directly from DJ Myxzlplix's blog.)

  • On a promotional note, my new website will be opening in a few days. Currently you can access my weekly podcast, my Crut MySpace page, along with this column, and my food blog that I update every now and then. It will feature a lot more in the coming months, so head to and bookmark the Book.

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact address. Hard copy is preferred over digital files, and will get reviewed a lot faster than a digital files due to the amount of e-mails I receive.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #222.
  • Thursday, October 23, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #220

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #220. I am John Book and this is a new column. Mahalo nui to anyone who offered birthday wishes this week.

    BTW - if you like the column, please consider clicking the banner below for eMusic. You are able to subscribe and download albums in a way that I feel is more effective than iTunes, and there's a lot of incredible music here. You will not be disappointed.

    Now, the column.

    Download 25 FREE songs at!

    Image Hosted by If the last you heard from Jazzanova was their last album, In Between, then you might be in shock when you listen to Of All The Things (Sonar Kollektiv/Verve). If you haven't heard all of the different projects, mixes, and compilations they've come out with in the last six years, then you probably will think this new album is a step in a new direction. It definitely is, but this album is everything it can, could, and should be, and more. Explanations in the following paragraphs.

    In Between became an album for me that was the closest thing to perfection I had heard in a long time. The album was a great mixture of jazz, funk, soul, electronica, dance music, disco, and more, going back and forth between singing, rapping, and a bit of spoken word. It was a mixture of samples and real instrumentation, with some of the most creative samples and programming to ever be put on wax. The samples and the tribute to the breakbeat in "L.O.V.E. And You And I" immediately made you want to drop your jaw, and I know I listened to "No Use" for a month before I ever played track 3, in that time becoming a huge fan of Clara Hill. I went through the album song by song rather than as a whole, and it kept on getting better. "Hanazono", with its different time signatures and intense piano work from Japanese pianist Hajime Yoshizawa), kept me on the edge of my seat, I was wide eyed and wide eared. It was an intense listen, and by the time it reached the final song, it felt like serious afterglow (and I don't smoke). Since then, the individuals behind Jazzanova have released many different projects, from the Broadcasting series of compilations, a Blue Note comp, and the many offshoots that are on the label they would create, Sonar Kollektiv. In that time they have continued their style of production, to develop new interests and even creating music that sounds less electronic and more acoustic. This is where we are with Of All The Things.

    If there's an immediate downside (let's get them out of the way), there are no instrumentals on the album. Every song is a collaboration with someone, but if I want an instrumental I can pick up the 12" single or download a lossless file from the SK website. The vibe of Of All The Things is one that's more mature, or what some have called a "grown-up" sound. If In Between was more about getting to the clubs and tripping out, Of All The Things takes the listener into a living room for serious listening. There is a slight Northern soul vibe, no doubt due to the success of people such as Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones, but it's not the dominant sound. Even when it sounds like something that has been repeated in the last few years, there's always a few twists in their production that makes you smirk and go "they know what they're doing".

    Upside? There are many. Phonte of the group Little Brother has often talked about making it to Germany to meet up with the members of Jazzanova, and you don't casually meet up with a fellow artist without pushing yourself to say "can I do a track with you?" Phonte doesn't get one, but two tracks on the new album. "Look What You're Doing To Me" has him becoming the crooner he once displayed as Percy Miracles, and he's very serious as a singer, having the kind of flow that is a lot more easier to listen to than John Legend. He definitely has been influenced by the best, and the harmonies he has during the chorus makes one hopeful that he could do more of this. Unless D'Angelo comes out with a third album, Phonte may become one of the best soul vocalists of the early 21st century. Unfortunately, that might mean he will slow down on his rhymes, and I hope he continues doing what he does best, as he does in "So Far From Home". Here, he writes in a personal fashion as if you were reading a personal diary or blog, feeling the warmth of the youth while questioning the looks he feels he's getting from the older Europeans. He shows respect to a man in the military who is a fellow NC resident, and talks about how fortunate he is to travel around the world when so many of his friends may never leave the city or blocks they live on. He wants to work, he's going to grind the pavement, and yet he knows there's no place like home. Phonte has never been afraid to say what is on his mind, which is what makes those Little Brother albums mandatory listens, and hearing him sing or rap over Jazzanova productions is a perfect union.

    For the Northern soul vibe, Ben Westbeech sings along in "I Can See", a track that some might mistake as a Mark Ronson track but both Jazzanova and Ronson know excellence, and they bring that out in the artists they work with. "Lie", featuring Thief, sounds like it could have been an outtake from the Belle et Fou soundtrack or the Christmas single Thief did with Hill, "The Sirens' Call". The strings combined with the xylophone and booming drums will appeal to anyone who is a fan of UNKLE's Psyence Fiction album. Need a little love and romance as you commit the late night creep? Leon Ware and Dwele show up in the extra smooth "Rockin' You Eternally", and it's the kind of song your parents AND grandparents may groove to at 2am, because they will when you hear them go for the quiet storm. The slow and steady grooves move over to Brazil as they hook up with Pedro Martins and the group Azymuth (yes, I'm talking Ivan Conti's Azymuth) for the awesome "Gafiera", which will make you dance and samba in an instant.

    The stand out collaborator has to be Paul Randolph, a singer/musician from Detroit who has been highlighted on a number of Sonar Kollektiv releases. Here he has four tracks, including the perfect-for-a-rainy-day "Dial A Clich", and the one song that goes back to Jazzanova's more electronic side of things, "Let Me Show You". Hearing this seven and a half minute track feels like the after party, because it's essentially a disco song, maybe a celebration and a way to let loose on an album that created a relaxing and soothing vibe. If the album represents a feeling between midnight and 3am (eternal), "Let Me Show You" is about watching the sun rise and wanting to repeat the evening over and over again.

    Of All The Things is an accumulation of all the different sounds, experiments, and influences the group as a whole and as individuals have gathered over the years. It's more soulful in a mid to late 70's sort of way, that album you don't quite understand why is in your parents collection, but then again you do. What these guys bring out of the singers and musicians is incredible, and when they sample, they do it in a way where it increasingly sounds like real musicians, except you know that sounds don't start and stop like that, it's very clever. The same treatments they created in the past apply here too, the music may be arguably different but if you want to be genre specific I can analyze each and every song too. The "jazz" in their name is very much a key element of the production, and the "nova" is still a part of them, a collective of six producers who refuse to let the light dim as they expand the possibilities of their music. Nothing comes close to what Jazzanova do on this album, and this is very high on my list as one of the best albums of the year.

    (Of All The Things is available from CD Universe. Vinyl counterpart will be released very soon.)

    Image Hosted by If it's the quiet storm that you need, brand new slow jams for the forthcoming winter cuddle times, there's a series of three discs presented by Marcus Johnson that will be the perfect soundtrack for baby making. Each disc is called flo...[For The Love Of] (Three Keys Music), and they offer a chance for the listener to pop a CD in and create instant mood, whatever the mood may be (or want to be).

    The first one I listened to was the one for Romance, subtitled "A Smoothed Out Mix Of Sultry R&B and Sexy Jazz", and that's just what you get here. It's not smoothed out in a Kenny G sort of way, this is a lot better than that. It sounds like the album you wouldn't mind listening to anywhere, it's far from being embarrassing because sometimes smooth jazz can be assed out. Not here. "Soft And Warm", an Alyson Williams cover, is about the intimacy between a man and a woman, and they don't mind saying that when you add a bit of "wet", things can get hotter. Yeah, maybe it's corny in a Prince sort of way, but when you're with a significant other and the time is right, who cares? In truth it really sounds good, same can be said for a new rendition of Maxwell's "Til The Cops Come Knockin'", done sans vocals with the exception of the cover. Vocalist YahZarah takes the standard "My Funny Valentine" over the edge, but fortunately not to the point of no return. When you hear it, it sounds like she's going to reach out of the speaker and grab you, but she manages to hold back (at least for now).

    Second disc I listened to was Chill, subtitled "Lounge Vibes & Dance Grooves with the right touch of jazz", and this one was a lot funkier, packing the kind of groove that you would expect to hear on CTI or Tappan Zee LP's, or on some dusty acid jazz albums from the early 90's. It's an all-instrumental affair and with Johnson you can't go wrong with music that would have fit perfectly on any mid-70's Ramsey Lewis album, with songs like "Plush", "Another Planet", and "Shalom" making you want to get into the music's true intentions.

    Third and final disc was Standards, where Johnson and friends apply smooth jazz treatments to well known material, such as "Moanin'", "On Green Dolphin Street", "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", and a different take of "My Funny Valentine" that's on the Romantic disc. Anyone who has ever resisted to hear Johnson for whatever reason will at least have to hear his piano work in "I Didn't Know What Time It Was", showing his diversity and versatility in an amazing way. While it says "smooth jazz", to my ears this is more "true jazz", or at least a style of jazz that is a personal favorite. Nothing smooth about any of these songs.

    Summary: if you want something on the soulful side, pick up Romance. Laid back and funky, pick up Chill. You prefer to share your romantic side with a hint of bebop, you go directly to Standards. No matter which one you purchase, it will fit into what you're trying to achieve. If you purchase them all, listen to musicians who know how to and have a passion to play. This series of CD's is not something you'll want to pass up, I expected something on the weaker side and there's nothing weak about any of these songs.

    Image Hosted by Maysa Leak has returned once again with Metamorphosis (Shanachie) and this one is less reliant on covers than the last one, so it feels a lot like her older material (especially the album she did for Blue Thumb).

    Maysa has one of those voices that makes one wish she was the example for everyone, because it almost sounds like she comes from a different time, or that the way she sings and caresses the words and lines are from influences a lot of other modern singers aren't listening to. She has always been at the top with her performances, and you will hear her express herself beautifully in tracks like "Let's Figure It Out", "Love So True", "Walk Away", and "My Destiny", the latter featuring Najee on flute. While some of Maysa's recent albums have taken it easy, she goes for a bit of adventure with "A Conversation With The Universe", featuring the guys of Global Noize (DJ Logic and Jason Miles). I think it would be great if Maysa and Global Noize did a full album together, or maybe she can ask Logic to resurrect The Yohimbe Brothers with guitarist Vernon Reid.

    The back cover has a quote describing her as someone whose voice is "smooth as satin and rich as chocolate", and it's true, when you hear that voice you immediately know who it is. Metamorphosis is a continuation of the talent she continues to share with the world, and this one demands repeat plays.

    (Metamorphosis is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by Serge Severe is an MC that once you see the name, you know you're going to get an earful, and it's going to be not blends, but full 100 percent uncut Serge Severe. His name may not be a household one, and maybe that's for the better because I don't know if hip-hop as a whole could handle him. Yet after hearing his brand new album, there's no doubt in my mind he's ready to handle hip-hop.

    Concrete Techniques (Focused Noise) is a continuation of excellence from this Portland, Oregon-based rapper, whose last two projects released two years ago received positive reviews from me. One was his solo album Walk In My Shoes, the other united him with Diction for their album Our Purpose and I was hopeful Serge would come back with more. He has. This is the kind of gritty and grimy album that would have felt right if it was released between 1994-1996, kind of a Black Moon/Smif-N-Wessun feeling in terms of stories, flows, and production. On the production side he has Universal DJ Sect, whose beats and scratches touch upon the familiar and the obscure, with the kind of chops and slices that will cause chicken skin. Everything is appropriate to the feel and lyrics, and all of it is done well.

    Serge likes to do things with a lot of depth and meaning, he doesn't just drop words, lines, and verses to hear himself. There's no airy vibe about him, you know you're going to get content because Serge himself isn't content with just the surface, he's a storyteller and has studied the fine art of rapping. In a track like "Bring The Horns" he's telling people to rock a party, all while the various horn samples come close to sounding like car horns. He explains what he wants to do with his music in "This Path" and "Concrete Techniques", and the wordplay is done as a way to boast of his skills, but as a test to see if you're listening. This isn't meant for casual listening, this album is a head nodder and you want to play this loud in 20 degree weather even though the cops are ready to give you a ticket.

    Outside of the work that went into writing and producing Concrete Techniques, it's a feel good album that has the basement feel of those classic mid-90's albums, but when you hear it you know it's not dated. With cameos from Mic Crenshaw, Santotzin and Reyna Mallare, Serge is also capable of bringing people into his world but still being able to define what a Serge Severe album is about. I also hope with the release of this, he'll be able to collaborate with others, as there are a lot of MC's and groups that he would sound great with in a track and/or freestyle. The guy is legitimate, and again, he's ready to handle hip-hop because it's a no brainer. Listen to this and find out why.

    (Concrete Techniques will be released on November 18th through (Focused Noise Records)

    Image Hosted by Looking at the new album by Marcus Goldhaber, I wondered if he was influenced by various albums of the 1960's, particularly Columbia Records since the cover art looks somewhat Columbia-ish. Maybe, maybe not, but Goldhaber, along with The Jon Davis Trio (Davis on piano, Marcello Pellitteri on drums, and Martin Wind on bass) are out to make some pretty green vocal jazz with his new album Take Me Anywhere (Fallen Apple).

    Goldhaber sounds a bit loungy, but in a good way, his voice does not sound wretched. I think what makes his music work is that it sounds natural, he adds character and it doesn't sound... well, fake. Songs like "My Ship", "Top Hat, White Tie And Tails", and "With Plenty Of Money And You" he shows that these old standards and forgotten classics hold up well because they were all well written. Put them into the hands of someone who can sing very well and you have success, or at least it should lead to that. Goldhaber isn't just an interpreted of successful formulas, he is a songwriter too and in "Take Me", "In The Oeuvre Of The In-Between", and "She Knows" he is someone who is into the art of songsmanship, and you can feel it. He is someone who is of the Harry Connick Jr. tradition, a sense of cool before cool was cool, and again it isn't forced. But maybe that's his appeal, to work it as if it isn't forced, doing his thing gracefully. I wasn't sure if I would like this, thinking he was just a wanna-be lounge lizard but this is not what he's about.

    Image Hosted by Lua Hadar is a vocalist who has been around for awhile, but I can't quite get into her new album. Lua Hadar with Twist (Bellalua) is primarily a Latin jazz album, and what I can't quite into is how affected her voice is. She's always going in for the target, and she doesn't have to do that during every line, sometimes every word. It got to a point where it was too much for me to bear, but there were two surprises on here. Her covers of Joni Mitchell's "All I Want" and Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" are worthy enough to get a lot of airplay, and in a better marketplace this would work extremely well as a single. I would buy the 45 if this was released on vinyl.

    The rest of the album doesn't do it for me, and it's not that she can't sing, because she does. I just can't get into singing-like-a-Broadway-singer-for-a-solid-hour thing. If she did more material like "All I Want" and "Longer", where she is more reserved and where one is able to hear more of the tones of her voice than her gymnastics, I would enjoy this more.

    (Lua Hadar with Twist is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by The guys in the jazz group known as 3Ology have branched out into a bit of hip-hop, and Out Of The Depths (Creative Music Works) is a chance for the group to expand their audience with new twists into their already complex sound.

    In some of the tracks they feature rapper Milo Fortes, who does straightforward raps before mixing it up by seeking hip-hop's Jamaican roots. The combination has him and the group sound like some of the acid jazz bands of the early 1990's, such as Groove Collective. I'm not sure if all of his rhymes are pre-written, as some of them truly sounds off the head, giving him and the group a bit of freedom to interact with each other. One thing I like about 3ology recordings is that it has a live feel, so it doesn't sound as manufactured as a lot of hip-hop seems to sound these days. Another addition to their sound is Scott Christensen, who handles the didgeridoo and also does a bit of percussion. He appears in all of the tracks that feature Fortes, along with "I'll Give You A Reason To Cry", and at times it sounds like older Jamiroquai where the didgeridoo was also incorporated.

    The rest of the album is the core trio (Jon Powers on drums, Doug Carmichael on sax, and Tim Carmichael on bass) doing what they do best, finding themselves through their musicianship, improvising, and somehow creating a master plan without words. As with their debut album, they go through a wide spectrum of jazz, so if you want a more abrasive bebop, they do it. When they venture into fusion with occasional vacations into free jazz, you'll hear that. When they want to keep things locked on the one with solid funk, they do it extremely well. The capability to play formally and freely shows their talents as musicians and improvisers, they can go by the book or burn it while chanting around it. "Bart's Day Off", "Confusing The Masses", and the 8-minute title track are mind blowing, and I for one would love to hear how these guys do it in a live setting. As with their first album, this album was recorded live in the studio with the interaction between each of them obvious in the way they play. These guys could and should become a personal favorite for many new fans, the kind of group people will want to follow for years to come.

    (Out Of The Depths will be released on, inquire by contacting them through their MySpace page.)

    Image Hosted by The names James Moody and Hank Jones should bring a smile to any jazz aficionado's face, there's a lot of history and pride in their collective histories. The chicken skin will begin in a few seconds as I let you know that both of them have united to form a quartet, featuring Adam Nussbaum (drums) and Todd Coolman (bass) and if that doesn't make your creative juices flowing in terms of what this could sound like, let me just say that the reality is as great as you think it is.

    Our Delight (IPO) is an album about "respect", the first three words in the liner notes says it all: "respect your elders". It's about respecting these jazz legends, but also the elder music for some might feel the music has been passed up by those who think it's too old and not worthy of listening. A lot of music heard today on radio, television, and film might not be if it wasn't for jazz. Moody, Jones, Nussbaum, and Coolman prove this by playing some of the finest jazz recorded in the 21st century so far. The playing between the four of them is so sharp that you wish these songs were longer, especially the nine and a half minute "Soul Trane", you can tell they were all locked together and could have easily played for another 9 minutes, it's incredible. The album moves from the subtle and mellow to the "let's geev 'um" pace that never lets up through the duration of these songs, be it "Body And Soul", "Good Bait", Moody's on "Darben The Red Foxx" or Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma". As they perform songs of musicians and songwriters who are no longer with us, it's about them revisiting old friends and neighbors and if it was possible to bring these gentleman back to life to play with them, they would have welcomed the opportunity. The organization of the album is great too, feeling like a live performances with a number of peaks and less-intense tracks to loosen up again. When the album reached "Woody 'N You" (easily the most moving song of the album), they do it as if they are saying goodbye to everyone, their final hurrah. Had the album ended here, it would have been perfect, but they come back for a metaphorical encore with "Old Folks" to let listeners know "we're not about to sleep just yet". Things close with the album's only vocal track, "Moody's Groove", featuring Roberta Gambarini. Unfortunately I felt she changed the mood of the album completely, and it doesn't quite work for me as the closer. Again, "Woody 'N You" should have been the curtain call, or even "Old Folks", that would have been appropriate as a way to reveal the moral of the music. Without it, the album feels more whole. Despite that, Our Delight is indeed a delight, anyone who is into intense music listening sessions will be tapping their feet throughout this album. Get your favorite leafy substance and let yourself go.

    (Our Delight is available directly from IPO Recordings.)

    Image Hosted by Leonardo E.M. Cioglia is a musician that, like Keith Jarrett, demands your concentration. You can't allow yourself to be caught off guard during the first listen, for if you do, you may miss all of the little things, the silences, the influx of notes, that this guy is able to put into his music. This is what you get when you hear Contos Quizamba), a 10-track album where Cioglia's bass work becomes the anchor for everyone around him, and like Charles Mingus, he is the one who makes sure everyone is on board, on time, and in sync.

    It's Latin jazz, or more specifically Brazilian jazz, where Cioglia is able to take the influences of his home while never forgetting the roots of jazz itself, from America via Africa. He does this with an incredible set of musician friends, including John Ellis on saxophones, Antonio Sanchez on drums, Mike Moreno on acoustic and electric guitars, Stefon Harris on vibraphone and marimba, and Aaron Goldberg on piano. These musicians are Cioglia's crew and Cioglia is of course the captain. Make that your mindset as you listen to this album and it may feel as if you're hearing a performance featuring Mingus, Pharoah Sanders, Cannonball Adderley, Pat Martino, and McCoy Tyner. "Contos (Do Neco)" begins with a luxurious introduction before they get to the tempo they take for the main theme. At first it sounds like something with incredible style (which it has) and it could last throughout the song, but upon the first breakdown one detects that this is not going to be an album done by numbers. The songs themselves are audio illustrations of a Brazil most people aren't aware of, and Cioglia allows the characters in his songs to dance in a way that might not be possible in the real world. "Filhos Do Pequi" is one of those songs that touches on the heart and soul of the country, its children. Perhaps the pequi fields are a metaphor for the potential of the children, to do more than the hard labor, but if hard labor leads to something better, or at least the deserved recognition of the hard labor, maybe the effort is all worthwhile. At least the song feels like that especially when it's just Ellis and Sanchez dancing musically with each other, a driving rhythm that sounds like production in effect, and with a brief moment to relax, the work continues. "Aroma De Mel" is a bit more seductive, although without proper interpretations or background for any of the tracks, it's hard to say if the honey sensed is in the air or perhaps it's some other kind of desirable sweetness.

    The songs could also describe different sections of a day, and despite the hard work, the struggles, the romance, and everything that goes on, one must always find time to dance, be it something mid-tempo or something meant between two (or three or four) people. It's seductive when it wants to be, but these songs also paint a picture that partly describes the beauty of a country, its people, and the music which has found a home. Each person has a story, and Cioglia is able to get in-depth with the ten stories (Contos) he features here, each one at a minimum length of five minutes, the longest track being the nine minute title track. Each song has a beginning, middle and end, and in its construction of the stories an album that also has a starting point and final destination. These are stories that are worth returning to many times over, those who take it in as a personal favorite will find new things within the music with every listen.

    (Contos will be available directly from Quizamba Music.)

    Image Hosted by Like any genre of music, it always starts with a movement. Musicians who are tired of the old ways and want to create something new, but still hold on to the old for inspiration and guilty pleasures. Titan Records was a small label out of Kansas City, Missouri that ended as quickly as it started, with most (if not all) of its artists moving from obscurity into ultra obscurity. When someone discovers these lost and forgotten gems, one is able to hear the passion of a scene that did it for the love of the music and with luck, a way to get out and meet the world.

    Titan! It's All Pop (The Numero Group is an exhaustive 42-track collection of music released on the Titan! label, featuring bands who played punk, new wave, rock, and hard rock. Some of it was caught between the period of punk's acceptance and re-appreciation of rock'n'roll, with the attitude and vengeance that made a lot of those records from the 50's and early 60's great. It was a collection of bands creating in-your-face power pop, something that would become a part of the norm of what we call college rock/alternative music. It was edgy pop music, something with balls and torn up fishnets. Artists like Boys, Gems, Scott McCarl, Gary Charlson, and J.P. McClain & The Intruders may be lost with the passage of time, but in that brief time Titan! were making records, they were able to gain some underground support throughout the U.S. and England. Its appeal can be heard in these songs, a bunch of groups distant from the rock centers of the world, taking things into their own hands resulting in a sound that was uniquely their own. It was far and distant, but it was good enough for those who discovered the label. They only pressed up a small batch of each record, but once the positive reviews came in, people seeked them and would eventually become collector's items. The demand was important, and you can listen to why the demand was greater than the actual existing pressings.

    The time that the punk movement morphed into new wave is a period that hasn't been forgotten, countless artists continue to look to it for inspiration in the spirit of indie rock. The Titan! roster weren't exactly looking for fame, but what they received and continue to receive are accolades that go beyond one or two obscure singles with must-hear B-sides. Titan! It's All Pop lets go of the barriers they may have had and allows people to hear the music for what it is: power-pop. While everyone takes it for granted, the music did have its roots. One can start here for a primer.

    (Titan! It's All Pop will be released on November 4 and is available directly from The Numero Group.)

  • On a promotional note, my new website will be opening very soon. Currently you can access my weekly podcast, my Crut MySpace page, along with this column, and my food blog that I update every now and then. It will feature a lot more in the coming months, so head to and bookmark the Book.

  • For those of you who have waited for me to finish my damn album, it's coming. I'm about to go through all of the tracks I have ready to go, mix them to a state that will be good enough to be mixed again at a proper studio, and then it will be mastered. I will most likely release it myself, but it will be shopped around with the hopes of it getting out to the people who should hear it. Ringtones, placement in television shows and films, reality shows? Hell yeah, I got the song for you. The full title of the album will be revealed very soon, but for now it's L**********ss. While I have done music for 16 years, I have never done a live show. No live DJ sets, nothing, but I want to be able to do that next year. It's possible, and I want to do more than just a DJ set. However, the album needs to be finished and it will be, it's probably two or three songs from being complete.

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact address. Hard copy is preferred over digital files, and will get reviewed a lot faster than a digital files due to the amount of e-mails I receive.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #221.
  • Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #219

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #219. I am John Book and it's all about quality, not quantity. Take as much as you want, but know your limits. Now, the column.

    Download 25 FREE songs at!

    Image Hosted by After two very good albums, Nikka Costa was dropped from Virgin Records. At a time when the industry is struggling for anything, it seems they were not willing to watch an artist mature and grow. Even with her music being used in television commercials and film, it seems Costa was not enough for Virgin so she bailed. In that time she gave birth to her first child, which was part of what inspired her for this new project, which he recorded out of her own pocket. The end result is Pebble To A Pearl (Go Funk Yourself/Stax/Concord), an album that is a mixture of old soul with the sound that was a dominant force on her first two albums.

    In "Stuck To You", she speaks to her man and says unapologetically "If you a bride, I'll be your wedding/If you a soul, I'll be your Otis Redding/If you a verse, I'll be your song/If you a king, I'll be your kong". The groove in this song and for the first part of the album is very much in a 60's tinge. Some have already said that it's a reaction to the success of Amy Winehouse, something that Solange Knowles had also done effectively on her recent album, so do we need another album that sounds like it would be perfect for the Northern Soul crowd? Fortunately it is not what dominates the album, but the first few songs are usually what hook listeners and some might think "damn, a rehash". It's not, and if there's a plus side to this, it's a chance to hear her sing this style, and she's not bad at all. The anticipation for new Nikka doesn't come to a halt, but for me it made me wonder if this would be the tone for the rest of the songs.

    Again, it isn't, and once she moves out of the 60's girl group groove, we hit a bit of 70's soul and funk, including a song that sounds a hell of a lot like Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman". Some of the songs do sound like variations of a theme, and it was unexpected because Costa had always made herself out to be someone who went out of her way to make her brand of music, and it feels like she's taking a few steps back, as if she no longer wants to take the risk. Just when it feels like she's going to pull out something predictable, she busts out and does a blues track, which suits her voice perfectly. She has the grace of a soul singer, can belt it out and scream like a rocker, so it would be natural to have those qualities and sing the blues, as she does in "Someone For Everything", which should become her "Take It To The Limit" (The Eagles) and a highlight of her live shows. "Love To Love You Less" is another blues track where she puts down her man in a not so subtle way, in a fashion that honors the tradition of blues women throughout history. "Damn I Said It First" has her locked in a nice and tight reggae groove, or perhaps it's a Meters-influenced beat, there's definitely a hint of New Orleans in its grooves. If the beat sounds like Bill Withers's "Use Me", it's due to drummer James Gadson, who played on that Withers track and makes his presence known on most of the songs here. Anyone who refuses to believe that Costa isn't a soul singer will have to listen to the irresistible "Loving You" (a great Johnny "Guitar" Watson song), which manages to reach the same level of intensity as Erykah Badu, and when the album hits the final track (in the form of "Bullets In The Sky"), it's as if Lauryn Hill passed the torch to Costa and she was able to take it home and back. The song would have fit perfectly on Everybody Got Their Something and Can'tNeverDidNothing, with heavy and booming drums from Gadson and a lush arrangement that would have made her father proud. I wish the drums were more forward in the mix, that would have taken things over the top for me but if she ever releases the song as a single, I hope they create a new mix where the drums are just in your face. The song itself, which touches on war and the pain that comes from it, may not get her massive airplay but it's a message that at times seems ignored for the sake of promoting sexiness in death and violence:

    Mama's cryin' bullets in the sky
    raining, raining tears on each side
    Fight for love, don't love the fight
    Mama's cryin' bullets in the sky

    The path of fear we're being lead to tread is paved with wasted life

    It's what you'd expect to hear from the likes of Roberta Flack and Kasey Chambers, and perhaps it could only come from such a bold artist as Costa, because you certainly would not expect to hear this from Beyonce Knowles, Rihanna, or Alicia Keys.

    So how does an album that begins on a somewhat mediocre note end up being a true reflection of what Costa represents as an artist? Ineffective sequencing might be a key, and I'm someone who respects the integrity of the album, I would have preferred a stronger start and slight adjustments to the first half, because the second half is solid as is. The power of the songs on the second half make up for some of the faults that can be heard in the first, but you can't fault a project too much that was hers from start to finish. It's not a bad album at all, but careful sequencing in the first half could have made this good album a lot better. Costa could have fallen into the trap of making this an all-covers album, which would work in her favor but not as an album that is meant to represent her as an independent artist. When it works, it works very well, and Pebble To A Pearl is an album that takes time to warm up until all the components begin to work, just like an old TV set.

    (Pebble To A Pearl is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by If Demi Lovato is an unfamiliar name to you, you may want to ask your children, nieces, or nephews. For those without, some facts. Miss Lovato is a teenage actress getting some attention within the Disney camp with her role in Camp Rock, the cinematic masterpiece starring the fantastic Jonas Brothers. Okay, maybe not a masterpiece but with the rise of Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana, Disney has been quick with their hype machine to let people know who could be the next Miley Cyrus. Disney has no shortage of young ladies to fill the role, but they are pushing Lovato because not only can she act, but can sing. The same can be said for fellow Disney actress Selena Gomez, but what makes Lovato different is that she wants to be a rocker. She's released a few songs that received significant airplay on Disney Radio, so can she pull off a full album?

    To my surprise, she can, or that is, her producers can. Don't Forget (Hollywood) has her belting out the songs as if she was a cross between Pink and Michelle Branch, complete with the moans and sighs of the latter. Since this is her debut album, it merely displays her capabilities as a singer and since these songs are being molded for her, she does a decent job at doing what she is told to do. The songs are all written from an innocent point of view of a 16 year old, probably written by 42 year old men, but who am I to judge? I am not a part of Demi Lovato's target audience, but I can see how she could appeal to young rockers of all ages. She has the swagger and attitude that is an important part of rock, and sings songs that will create a lot of energy for those who take her in via their headphones or CD player in their room. She sings about the puppy love, but she also sings about joy and happiness, so don't expect anything heavy or too deep on her album. What you do have is a singer who has the potential to become an adult rocker in the vein of Gwen Stefani, if she wishes to go down that route. She's a cute girl, and I can see why teenage boys would dig her steez, but as they get older and discover new music, will they be around for her as she creates songs with more grown-up themes? There is a stigma with being connected with Disney, so maybe like Ashley Tisdale she'll have to record an album with a label away from the Disney camp, which would mean working with producers who could make her edgier than she is. It's an album one would expect from a teenage rocker, and while movies and television shows may one day dominate her career, I honestly hope she will continue making music. Considering the pap Disney normally releases (the album is released on Hollywood, a Disney-owned company), this isn't bad at all, and at least she has a voice one can recognize amongst a barrage of copy-cats.

    (Don't Forget is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by Random is back with a brand new album, or in truth an EP packaged in a DVD case, and if you've heard about this man and have wondered if he's worth the time, pick up his new album.

    The 8th Day: A Story Of New Beginnings (RAHM Nation) has him stepping up a few levels, reaching the kind of lyrical levels equal to that of Gift Of Gab. When Random speaks, he does so as a storyteller with things to pass on to listeners, old and new fans, and those he will eventually reach when they realize he is an MC worthy of musical examination. He talks about going through life wanting to do as much as possible and hopes he doesn't reach his inevitable destination anytime soon. As he says in "Left Behind", "I hate rap but I hate rappers more", and that's very much the stigma of a lot of today's hip-hop, respect for the alleged game but not caring for the gamers. Random is someone you want to bet on for lyrical dominance, in that you know you will get your money's worth and then some, especially in tracks like ""Placebo (What It Is)", "Granny Smith", and "Reset Button", the latter uniting him with MC Frontalot. He also isn't afraid to bless his tracks with R&B touches, and they aren't weak either. If put with the right people, he could easily become as popular as Ludacris, but that would require the masses to listen to him for more than just catchy choruses. Random is more cohesive than his name suggests, seek and find one of the best rappers of the early 21st century.

    (The 8th Day is available from

    Image Hosted by "Another banger for your body and your mind", that is what Mic Crenshaw offers, and not just one banger, but a solid 17, and not one weak track among them on his new album, Thinking Out Loud (Focused Noize).

    Maybe something is in the air again, either that or people are realizing that in this music called rap, it's about talking and wanting to listen to the speaker at hand. As I said on a bulletin board recently, it seems to be a return to simplicity, and through the simplicity one discovers the complexities that have been continuing through the muck of chun laost. In "Teach It" he speaks without music about the universal language of music and you can see (or at least visualize in the mind) the layers of each story and line as it builds until he comes to his conclusion. Over the laid back and politically charged "America", he speaks about having to deal with the struggle and not having the freedom to just live and be, talking about everything from video games, war, and today's children who are living their lives as if it's nothing more than a movie, one that they'll never get a chance to see the credits to. If Mic ever gets a chance to hook up with Crown City Rockers or The Roots, this could could go over the top and do even more damage. He does things "for the art of", where every track sounds like it's going to be his last, anyone who doesn't go away feeling the title track is obviously listening to smooth jazz.

    After hearing this album, Mic Crenshaw sounds like someone with a mind full of verbal ammo and is ready to commit himself to battle. The way he composes his verses... and that's a key point I'm making her, composition. He is very much a hip-hop composer with an occasional bitter tongue but does it to where even if he was insulting you in your face, it would still sound like a birthday card. The guy is effective, and having the help of producers who know how to compliment him (and vice versa) makes this album a standout. Thinking Out Loud, without a fence or established boundaries, is a piece of work that you're either going to embrace or get slashed by.

    Image Hosted by He is Rig 1, and he is a rapper from outer space. It isn't certain if he has ever met Kool Keith during his universal travels, but I am certain they have crossed paths. Rig 1 is not a Kool Keith wanna-be, he is in his own constellation and by bringing his music to Earth, he is letting people know what he has learned from hip-hoppers on this planet to remind them of the expansion the music once promised.

    Above the Tree Line West of the Periodic (Team Love) is an album that would have fit in perfectly in any era in the last 15 to 20 years, but it's very much a futuristic album without the UFO bullshit. It's far out in the sense that there aren't too many people doing what Rig 1 is trying to do. It's atmospheric, it's musical, it features a lot of unique arrangements, and it's still very much accessible hip-hop. Titles do not begin to describe the content of the actual songs: "Taibula Rasa", "Out The Periphery" (my personal favorite), "Dirty Little Sica", and "Dawn Of The Tinman". "Double Click" is very much about the modern world of technology and how we communicate with each other (no mouse solo, unfortuantely), whle "Ghost" ends the album appropriately as Rig 1 makes his way not into the sunset, but into the sun, because he can. His influences range from the Wu-Tang Clan to Pete Rock, at times having the experimental edge of MC 900 Ft. Jesus. Is he a stoned prophet, or an astrological pimp of the highest order? Or is he a realist trying to let people know that it's very much about perspective when it comes to his music? Maybe a mixture of all three. While many talk about taking their music to the next level, he's very much on the other level like the Geto Boys, +1. Nerdy, geeky, but skilled: these compose the matter that is Rig 1. It's un-trendy but very much of the now, he's above being relevant because he's been through it and turned it inside out. You may not recognize it at the entrance, but you'll feel like you've returned home by the time it's time to venture out into the open again.

    (Above the Tree Line West of the Periodic is available directly from Team Love.)

    Image Hosted by Scott Garred, who calls himself Super XX Man, says that his head might explode in the opening track "Medication", but throughout Volume XII: There'll Be Diamonds (Tender Loving Empire) he sounds like he wears the simplicity button on his heart with pride, and there's nothing wrong with that. The promo material that came with this album talks about how Garred works at a psychiatric institution at Oregon State Hospital, and with songs like "Medication", "Crazy People", "Psychotic Break", and "House/Home" it's obvious where he received some of the inspiration. Some of the material here sounds like Meddle-era Pink Floyd (and I'm talking more about music like "San Tropez", not "Echoes"), especially with the extra non-musical sound effects that come through in some of these tracks. He is able to envelope the listener into his world, and the worlds he describes in his songs. It's not quite folk but more like folk snorted by the guys in The Flaming Lips, and Garred is capable of making you dwell in his misery and occasional bright spots and motivate you to change zip codes. It might take a few listens to fully grasp what Super XX Man is doing, but let it sink in and perhaps after the second or third listen, you'll find it difficult to remove that smirk from your face.

    (Volume XII: There'll Be Diamonds will be released on October 21st and can be ordered through Tender Loving Empire

    Image Hosted by There was a term someone came up with this type of low-brow, almost monotonous-type of singing. Robyn Hitchcock has done this very well where it almost sounds mundane in a Bob Dylan manner but the reason you want to hear him is because you want to listen, and with McCarthy Trenching you get a sense that you want to hookybob on the plane while letting his music blow freely on your face.

    Calamity Drenching (Team Love) tells us "you don't have to be alone to be lonesome" (as told in "Christmas Song"), and throughout the album he talks about the ironies of life in all of its forms. You want to play these songs over and over because you can easily relate to his stories, and you also hope that others will feel the same way you do as you rock yourself out of your own mental pain. He is a pianist and one who takes charge of his songs in the same way Ben Folds or Elton John does, and just as there are many love songs to talk about the ultimate conquest, there are enough songs of lost love that will warm up any fire in the cold hearts of humans, and Trenching is one of the best of the current generation.

    (Calamity Drenching is available directly from Team Love.)

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. There's still more CD's I have to get to, but that will have to wait for another time. If you have any new music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact address. Hard copy is preferred over digital files, and will get reviewed a lot faster than a digital files due to the amount of e-mails I receive.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #220.
  • Thursday, October 9, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #218

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #218. I am John Book and how about those presidential debates? Yeah I know, less politics, more music, right?

    For those of you who are new to this column, let me tell what it's about. The column started four years ago as a part of the Music For America website. The column's main emphasis was, and at times is, hip-hop music. However, I wanted to be able to share my other musical tastes, which is pretty much anything and everything. The column would evolve into what it is today, so you will see your share of jazz, Americana, country, funk, noise, ska, reggae, dancehall, whatever. Send it to me, and I'm an open ear. I always represent Hawai'i in what I do, so whenever possible, I have a "Hawaiian Music Corner" (named after the Hawaiian music website I ran in the early 00's). The column has since left the boundaries of Music For America and has remained independent. In time, it will become a part of my new website,, and you are currently able to access this blogspot page from there. Please bookmark it.

    Until then... begin we shall.

    Download 25 FREE songs at!

    Image Hosted by People like to talk about credibility and what artists have done in the past, but in this case let's talk about the now. I speak of the now for DJ Revolution, whose brand new album shows why his participation in DJ'ing is nothing more than the continuation of the art. King Of The Decks (Duck Down) is a DJ album, a true DJ album where the DJ doesn't shout his name over verses, doesn't scream the title of his radio show airing on so and so radio station. There is a distinction between the radio DJ and the DJ that pumps the parties with his record collection, and DJ Revolution is the latter. The amount of guests on this album is staggering, everyone from Sway & King Tech to Bumpy Knuckles, Royce Da 5'9" to Joell Ortiz, Planet Asia to Defari, Evidence to Iriscience, DJ Premier to DJ Spinbad, KRS-One to the Boot Camp Clik, and there's more. One can easily assume that the amount of special guests must mean that this album is weak, but best to rewind that thought and start from the beginning. These guys come to DJ Revolution to drop some serious lyrics, and in turn Revolution comes up with some of the best production, cuts and scratches around.

    It's natural for any DJ album to have the MC's praise the man behind the one and two's, and that is present throughout King Of The Decks, but what you also hear is honor and pride of all that hip-hop represents. They mock things in the hilarious "Scratch Nerds" when one favors DJ Whoo Kid over DJ Q-Bert, only for Q-Bert himself to surface on the following track and speak martian in the form of "Invaders From The Planet Sqratch". When the Boot Camp Clik unite for "Start The Revolution", it feels like 1996 all over again but with a renewed sense of what made all of them great. The rest of the album is a nice blend of full length tracks and brief interludes, with an emphasis on the music and you don't want to skip tracks or create a new playlist when it comes to this album. All of the skills and tricks he does in a live setting, he pours it gingerly from song to song so you're not overdosed with everything at once. By the end of track 24, you're wanting more but he has done his job, he's not coming back, at least not on the album. Albums with alleged DJ's are commonplace, and some are as bad as a mixtape from your next door neighbor. King Of The Decks is high quality, no B.S. allowed, and anyone who calls themselves a DJ will value this album. Any mixtape architects will need to take lessons from Revolution beginning yesterday.

    (King Of The Decks is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by DJ B.Cause has been incredibly busy with doing an insane amount of underground remixes and mash-ups, many of which are up to par with some of what the pros are doing. By listening to his new mix CD Playcrater Too, one can tell he's already to be up there with the likes of Timbaland, Danger Mouse, and Fly Ni Noogs.

    B.Cause isn't just about grabbing random acapellas and layering any instrumental over it, there is some thought into these mixes, moreso when he connects the dots from start to finish. Within this CD you have everyone from Alice Russell to DJ Mark The 45 King, Lewis Taylor to Chromeo, De La Soul to The Dazz Band, and while you can isolate a track and pick it as your favorite, it is great to listen to as a whole repeatedly, the anticipation during blends is great. He knows what he's doing, and what he does is done well.

    You want quality mixes? DJ B.Cause is the guy to go to. Make him famous.

    (Playcrater Too is available directly from DJ B.Cause.)

    Image Hosted by Even with an EP that came out a few months ago, D-Sisive has returned with a new single featuring three mixes of "Like This" (URBNet) (featuring Guilty Simpson and DJ Grouch) along with two brand new tracks and a remix of a song from The Book EP.

    "Like This" has D-Sisive getting a bit abstract over what sounds like something from the David Axelrod logs as he speaks about how even during post-mortem, he's still going to fuck up your style and ways. The Muneshine remix of "Up" is quite good, while "The Flintstones" is a flashback of days gone by. I like the idea of rappers releasing EP's and singles over a period of time, a lot of times artists release albums and mess up the potential of what could be with too many interludes and not enough content. D-Sisive offers content that isn't as light as instant coffee, and by limiting things to just four songs, you're out wondering why he held himself back for this one. The answer might be revealed when he drops Let The Children Die in February.

    (Like This (Plus Three) is available through iTunes and can be purchased through URBNET Records.)

    Image Hosted by Here is an interesting concept: a collection of national anthems celebrating the people of the world, many of whom have made an impact on what is the United States of America. The title Us An'Them initially made me think of Pink Floyd, but after reading the rest of the cover, it is a reference to anthems. While it might make people think of "us vs. them", as in the United States vs. the world as if this was a FOX ice skating reality show, that's not the point. The point Garry Dial & Terry Roche wanted to make is listen to these songs, listen to the pride that these songs are meant to represent, and you will hear something quite interesting.

    Interesting? This is a jazz album, so what you're hearing is jazz interpretations mixed in with world traditions, along with English translations of each (when needed) that are either literal or interpretive. In a way, it sounds like what each culture immerses itself into when moving to the United States, and musically, things sound great. "France" sounds like something The Manhattan Transfer would turn out effortlessly, while "Tibet" sounds as distant and yet so near with its meditative chant and Tibetian bells. "India" was a personal favorite, beginning with the tambura before Sanghamitra Chatterjee sings beautifully of her homeland. "Jamaica", of course, has a nice reggae vibe to it, it may not have Monty Alexander playing along but vocalist Patrick Gordon handles his duty well.

    The liner notes talk about why an album like this needs to be made, and aren't most anthems nothing more than battle songs? If so, should your family sing along to them in a car? If anything, Us An'Them is an audio peek at what we as people represent, or perhaps as how the songs are meant to represent us. Is it political, is it social, is it about the protection of defending what each country represents, or is it nothing more than spending a few minutes to sing when we spend most of our adult lives worrying about how to put food on the table? Considering the state of the world in 2008, it's long overdue for a worldwide sing-a-long, and perhaps the great music found on this CD/DVD combo will lead the way to some sense of harmony. The concept of the album may be about what makes an American a true "American", and who are the judges that make those final decisions, and why a lot of times that shouldn't matter but does in the eyes of "our" goverments, the ones that are meant to protect its people while killing others. By hearing these anthems in a different context, we are allowed to go past the walls and look into the eyes of the people these songs represent.

    (Us An'Them will be released on November 25th, and will be available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by Jazz combinations, I love them, and I love the potential of what could be a great opportunity to make some fantastic music. Guitarist Gian Wiegner and organist Gary Brunotte have recorded an album together that is the perfect definition of cool jazz, where it sounds like Pat Martino and Jimmy Smith uniting in the studio or on stage for the first time. About Time (Sincopato is very much about the two musicians and their interaction together, along with the two bands that play along with them (the songs were recorded in two completely different sessions). Along with the standbys, Wiegner and Brunotte offer a number of songs from their own songbook, including "Wes Meets Les", "PM Blues", "Dont' Rush Me", "Samba This", and "Cool Waltzin'", and at times you'll have to look at the CD to remember that this was recorded in the last year, and not 40 or 50 years ago. It manages to capture the moment properly, and the recording itself (produced by Wiegner and Brunotte, no engineer listed) sounds like it came from someone who truly listens to jazz recordings. I enjoy it when both of them are deep into their solos, and if one feels a need to say "let me get in there a bit", the other player will step back (if only slightly) and allow the other to play. It's hard to say who is the better rhythm section, John Lockwood (bass) and Steve Langone (drums), or Dan Davis (drums) and Paul Engbretsen (bass). They each play in the pocket in their own way, each serving the leaders of these sessions quite well, but are different from one another. One might want to bother with the preferred rhythm section, but hearing some top notch jazz like this makes choosing less of an issue.

    All of the musicians here are capable of playing anything and everything, as Wiegner explores quite a bit on his solo work while Brunotte does more than just traditional jazz. But with their roots at the Berklee College Of Music, they know how to approach a song and take it to the next level, and they do that on thirteen occasions on this disc. Fans of both musicians will enjoy knowing these two have finally joined together for a project (thus the title of the album), and while it may or may not lead to other joint projects, new fans will be able to start finding other songs in their respective catalogs by picking this up.

    (About Time is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by Good album covers can sometimes make or break an album, even though they shouldn't. They're merely eye candy, and this album is proof. I'm not a ballroom dancer, but I always admired the moves and the look of the ladies involved, lots of passion and sexual energy involved. If I could dance like that, and find an elegant dancer, I'd be wicked. Instead I see the cover painting of a couple dancing,with the lady arched and a slit going up to who knows where, and it also suggests sophistication. Guitarist Michael Higgins, along with Adam Nussbaum (drums), and Jay Anderson (bass), suggest this as well with the album The Moon And The Lady Dancing (self-released), and you may want to listen to this with a suit on.

    In truth, this is jazz done not unlike The Modern Jazz Quartet, but in this case a trio setting. The songs are very stylized and sound right for the proper occasions, with titles like "When Colors Turn", "If I Only Knew", "Alone Together", and "In Love In Vain". Some of Higgins' guitar work sounds like what one would also hear on an Antonio Carlos Jobin recording, and if one needs a suggestion for a recording that will create a mood towards a seductive evening, I would recommend this. Some might see this type of album as a slow motion ride through molasses, but if so then you're probably not a fan of this style of jazz. It's not smooth jazz, it's something that demands your attention without resorting to the tried and true. The Moon And The Lady Dancing is a reliable album, and Higgins has the kind of playing style that will make a lot of other guitarists want to return to their basements and start from scratch.

    (The Moon And The Lady Dancing is available from CDBaby.)

  • On a self-promotional note, you can access my Book's Music podcast, my MySpace page, and of course this column by going directly to my brand new home page, which will make its presence known very soon:
    This Is Book's Music

    There will be a lot more than just the links that are on there.

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact address. Hard copy is preferred over digital files, and will get reviewed a lot faster than a digital files due to the amount of e-mails I receive.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #219.