DeepSoul Salutes Ashford and Simpson: "It Seems to Hang On"

The pair proved their worth as skilled composers and charismatic performers with this 1978 track.
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While the songwriting duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson experienced great success at Motown as the creators of some of the label's biggest hits ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand," and "You're All I Need to Get By"), by the late 1970s they were ready to reignite their performing careers. Although not their first album on their own, 1977's Send It proved to be their chart breakthrough. They grasped onto the flourishing disco trend, but the pair retained their unique chemistry and superb harmonies. The followup, Is It Still Good to Ya, produced their best-performing

Blu-ray Review: Eric Clapton - Life In 12 Bars

An unflinching look back at one of rock's great guitarists.
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Eric Clapton has had a career that any musician would envy. The only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he helped expose blues music to white America while staying a leading-edge, influential figure on guitar since the 1960s, receiving commercial and critical acclaim in multiple decades. His life has had its share of heartache however. Rejected by his birth mother (twice, no less) and raised by his grandmother, Clapton found solace first in music, but later in drugs and alcohol. That the death of his four-year-old son Conner didn't fully send him over the edge is

DeepSoul Salutes Ashford and Simpson: "Street Corner"

The legendary songwriting duo also performed their own material, such as this 1982 cautionary tale of the streets.
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Name some of Motown's biggest hits--"Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Your Precious Love," and "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand"--and one thinks of two singular talents: Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. The songwriting duo were behind these classic hits, along with other Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell standards such as "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By." While their numerous compositions earned them a well-deserved place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, few focus on the couple as performers, with the sole exception of their 1984 romantic duet "Solid." The next few DeepSoul

DeepSoul: Johnny Nash - "Hold Me Tight"

Artists such as Rihanna can thank this Houston-born singer for bringing Caribbean music to worldwide audiences.
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Say the name "Johnny Nash," and one song comes to mind: "I Can See Clearly Now," the 1972 smash that found renewed success when Jimmy Cliff covered it for the 1994 Cool Runnings soundtrack. However, Nash should also be known for bringing reggae into the mainstream, combining it with American pop and soul to create crossover hits. In addition, he became one of the earliest American artists to record in Jamaica. While "I Can See Clearly Now" remains his chief legacy, the 1968 single "Hold Me Tight" became a crossover success four years before that classic song. Due to his

DeepSoul: Cameo - "Feel Me"

While best known for the electro-funk classic "Word Up," this slow jam reveals more dimensions of this unique band.
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Unlike other '70s funk outfits, Cameo successfully updated their sound to match the 1980s synthesizer era. After experiencing a dip in sales, the band came roaring back with 1986's "Word Up," a futuristic groove featuring Larry Blackmon's robotic vocals. The song served as younger listeners' introduction to the group, but in fact Cameo had been recording quirky funk since the late 1970s. Dipping into their earlier work, one can find stripped-down arrangements without the electronic sound. "Feel Me," a 1980 slow jam, typifies their first wave of success. Cameo began as a group of 13 New York City musicians led

DeepSoul Tribute: Yvonne Staples, "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)"

The passing of the Staple Singers' Yvonne Staples reminds listeners of her important role in the legendary family group.
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In the 1970s, soul music took on a new conscience. Songs containing lyrics addressing social injustice such as Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" and the Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power Pt. 1" filled the airwaves. While those artists tapped into energy fueled by the 60s Civil Rights movement, the Staple Singers focused on self-esteem and empowerment. The Stax legends scored a number of crossover hits in the 1970s fusing soul and gospel, with "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There" becoming modern classics. While lead singer Mavis Staples has enjoyed a lengthy solo career, even collaborating

CD Review: Big Star - Live At Lafayette's Music Room

A fascinating live time capsule from this classic power pop group.
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In 1973, Big Star was in a state of flux. Founding member and co-leader Chris Bell had left after the failure of the group's debut album #1 Record and the band was unsure of its future. The rest of the group was persuaded to perform at a now-legendary showcase show for the Memphis Rock Writers Convention in May of that year, which led to the group entering the studio to record their second album, Radio City. What isn't as widely known is that this three-man version of Big Star played the same venue four months earlier opening for the R&B

DeepSoul: New Birth - "I Can Understand It"

The group's cover of a 1972 Bobby Womack track proves that passionate funk never goes out of style.
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Funk never goes out of style, and no song proves that notion better than "I Can Understand It" by New Birth. Originally written by Bobby Womack, "I Can Understand It" transforms into a James Brown-esque soul workout, and while it performed well on the R&B and pop charts in 1973, it is inexplicably rarely played on the radio today. According to New Birth's website, the group was the brainchild of Vernon Bullock, a songwriter responsible for classics such as "If I Can Build My Whole World Around You" by Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell as well as "What Does It

DeepSoul: Young-Holt Unlimited - "Soulful Strut"

The 1968 hit is a prime example of how jazz and R&B can merge, resulting in an irresistibly funky and timeless track.
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Chicago has deep soul and R&B roots. From Chess and Brunswick Records to Curtis Mayfield and his Curtom label, the city has produced incredibly talented players. Young-Holt Unlimited, featuring core members Eldee Young and Isaac "Red" Holt, were no exception, as they worked with Ramsey Lewis before branching out on their own. While they never scored major hits, they are best known for "Soulful Strut," the instrumental version of the Barbara Acklin single "Am I the Same Girl." Featuring a funky bass line, light jazzy piano, and a catchy horn riff, "Soulful Strut" has endured, covered by artists such as

CD Review: Ali McManus - Unbreakable

Ali McManus delivers a strong debut album.
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Singer-songwriter Ali McManus has had her share of adversity in her short 21 years and that's besides the near-impossible task of making it in the music business. McManus has been confined to a wheelchair since she was 7 as a result of a rare bone disorder. She's had 11 surgeries, halo tractions, and steel rods to straighten her spine. In spite of this, she became a musician, and fairly recently too. McManus has played piano since she was 14 and guitar since she was 16. One wouldn't know she has played for less than 10 years by listening to her

CD Review: Big Star - The Best Of Big Star

An excellent overview of this power pop's short, but memorable run.
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Big Star may be the biggest band a lot of people have never heard of. Formed in the wake of the Box Tops dissolution by Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, they were a group that was seemingly out of place with what was going on in popular music. A power pop band on a soul label making concise, Beatlesque pop songs in an era of 10-minute jams and rock and roll excess. A critics' darling, they were the victims of poor distribution from their record label Stax and broke up. After being persuaded to reform, Bell left the group, and

DVD Review: Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters - Live At David Lynch's Festival of Disruption

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters deliver a spirited performance at the Festival of Disruption.
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Robert Plant's solo career has taken many interesting turns, continuing to push the boundaries of what is possible in a rock music context. Backed since 2012 by his excellent band, The Sensational Space Shifters, the former Led Zeppelin front man has mixed rock, blues, folk and world music, combined with a healthy dose of African rhythms and exotic instruments to create a sound that is uniquely his. The fact his music has remained powerful and relevant nearly 40 years after Zeppelin's demise is a testament to his talent and vision. In October 2016, while on tour for his Lullaby And...

DeepSoul: Angie Stone - "I Wish I Didn't Miss You"

A deep dive into her catalog, beginning with this track off Mahogany Soul, reveals an immensely gifted R&B vocalist who spans other genres and deserves more attention.
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Since the late 1970s, Angie Stone has recorded everything from soul to hip hop to dance. Despite her talents, she remains an underrated artist who has never quite managed to score a massive hit. Yet she remains a pioneer of the late 1990s "Neo-Soul" movement and a "singer's singer," well-respected in the R&B industry. One of her best releases, 2001's Mahogany Soul, is a prime example of her songwriting and earthy vocal talents, particularly on "Wish I Didn't Miss You." In addition to being a deeply soulful track, it also demonstrates how samples can be effectively used to create an

DeepSoul: Hugh Masekela - "Afro Beat Blues"

The Afro-jazz legend blended other genres such as R&B, funk, and pop to create a pan-African sound that appealed to worldwide audiences.
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Called the "father of South African jazz," Hugh Masekela actually spanned several genres to create his own melting pot music. Perhaps best known for his 1968 instrumental hit "Grazing in the Grass," Masekela also became a pioneer in world fusion. The trumpet and flugelhorn player even dabbled in dance music, mixing Afro-pop with disco. One such example is "Afro Beat Blues," a previously unreleased 1975 track that finally surfaced on a 2006 compilation. Its slinky beat suits the dance floor as well as the radio, also paying tribute to the father of Afro-pop: Fela Kuti. Growing up in South Africa,

CD Review: Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer - Two Of A Kind

Two giants from different eras make magic with a big assist from Billy May
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In the early 1960s, Bobby Darin's manager Steve Blauner had a brainstorm: he wanted Darin to cut an album with famed lyricist/singer/composer Johnny Mercer with arrangements by Billy May. Darin was 24 at the time and Mercer was 51 and the record was a major nod to the Tin Pan Alley songs of old. While this might seem a recipe for disaster, quite the opposite happened. The pair had immediate chemistry and a playful camaraderie that is evident throughout. Add in the hard swinging sounds from May, who had worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, and the resulting album,

DeepSoul: Pieces of a Dream - "Fo Fi Fo"

With their 1984 hit, Pieces of a Dream demonstrated that jazz has more in common with soul, R&B, and funk than listeners may realize.
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Take three gifted teenagers equally versed in jazz and R&B, and what results is the crossover jazz sound of Pieces of a Dream. Still recording today, the group helped pioneer contemporary jazz with their smooth sound, pop hooks, and street feel. Their third album, 1983's Imagine This, proved to be one of their most successful due to the silky single "Fo Fi Fo." Philadelphia has spawned an impressive array of talent, and its roster includes keyboards James Lloyd, drummer Curtis Harmon, and bassist Cedric Napoleon. The teen musicians formed the group in 1976 and played throughout the Tri-State area. Their

CD Review: The Blind Boys Of Alabama - Atom Bomb

This mid-2000s Blind Boys Of Alabama classic has been reissued with bonus tracks.
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By the mid-2000s, The Blind Boys of Alabama were in the midst of a late-career resurgence that saw the group being introduced to new audiences and receiving critical acclaim and numerous awards. Continuing this hot streak was Atom Bomb, an album that featured several guest stars and showcased the group's signature blend of gospel, blues, R&B and rock. Originally released in 2005, the album has been rereleased with bonus tracks and expanded liner notes. The album opens with "(Jesus Hits Like The) Atom Bomb," a song that likens the return of Jesus Christ to that of an atom bomb and

CD Review: The Blind Boys Of Alabama - Go Tell It On The Mountain

The Blind Boys of Alabama's Christmas album rereleased with bonus tracks.
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Despite having been around for over 50 years at that point, The Blind Boys Of Alabama never recorded a Christmas album until 2003's Go Tell It On The Mountain. The album came during a period of renewed interest for the group that saw them reaching wider audiences, opening for (and performing on the albums of) the likes of Peter Gabriel and winning multiple Grammy Awards. The album featured the groups trademark harmonies, matched by an eclectic list of guest stars such as Tom Waits and Aaron Neville, and has been rereleased with bonus tracks. The album opens with "Last Month

Blu-ray Review: Black Sabbath - The End

The final chapter for this legendary heavy metal band.
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From their debut nearly 50 years ago, no band has been more synonymous with heavy metal than Black Sabbath. After numerous lineup changes over the years, including a reunion with the Ronnie James Dio-era band for the Heaven and Hell project, fans of the original Black Sabbath finally got their wish when, in 2013, the group (albeit without drummer Bill Ward, who sat out due to contract issues and was replaced by Brad Wilk) recorded a new album, 13, with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, their first since 1978's Never Say Die! After touring extensively for 13, the band, now with

CD Review: Charles Billingsley - It's Christmas Time Again

Charles Billingsley crafts a fun, swinging Christmas album.
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From his beginnings 25 years ago as a member of the contemporary Christian group NewSong to his lengthy solo career, which has also seen turns as a speaker and author, Charles Billingsley has had quite the career. His latest release, It's Christmas Time Again, brings to mind classic Christmas releases by the likes of Frank Sinatra and mixes traditional jazz sounds and the Great American Songbook with modern sensibilities, making for an excellent holiday release. The album leads off with the hard swinging "The Man With The Bag." The track could just as easily have been from the 1950s as

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