Yes, 2020 has sucked like a turbo-charged Hoover but quarantine life has given you the opportunity to summon your inner me and sit on the you the opportunity to do what comes so naturally: to sit on your living room floor with a stack of brand new records and meditate on their magnificence. Haven't started yet? Don't know where to begin? Allow me to assist. One thing that jumps out to me immediately that I want to highlight is there have been some sensational records from women! They make up half of my list and there are a couple additional
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An awful (start to the) year but with a brilliant soundtrack...
It was another great year for music. Need proof? Start with these albums!
Was 2019 a good or bad year for music? That is always an easy question for me and it may surprise some friends and readers: every year is a great year for music! I never fail to find albums that capture and inspire me. There is great music all around us and it comes from new and veteran artists every year if you are willing to look for and be found by it. So yes, 2019 was a great year for music and here are just some of the albums - listed alphabetically -- that spent considerable time with me
Best known for "Shotgun," Jr. Walker & the All-Stars cut several other worthy singles, including this 1965 dance classic.
Say "Jr. & Walker and the All-Stars," and two songs will immediately leap to mind: "Shotgun," their biggest hit, and the classic "What Does It Take (to Win Your Love)." While the two singles have endured, other tracks have received less attention, none more so than the timeless 1965 single "Shake and Fingerpop." Born Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr. in 1931, the musician earned his nickname courtesy of his stepfather; dubbing the child "Junior," he also allowed his stepson to adopt his surname: Walker. Growing up, Walker heard Louis Jordan's brand of "jump" music, inspiring him to take up the saxophone.
Honor original lead singer Jerry Lawson by diving into the eclectic a cappella group's extensive catalog.
"Still Ain't Got No Band."-- motto of the Persuasions A cappella singing has seen a resurgence in recent years, but the Persuasions set the standard over 50 years ago. The R&B group enjoyed a devoted following, performing with everyone from Frank Zappa to Liza Minnelli. Their rich, gospel-enriched vocals reimagined songs; they would reinterpret tracks rather than simply cover them. Recently the Persuasions lost the heart of the group: Jerry Lawson, the original lead singer, passed away on July 10, 2019. His husky, joyful, and distinct vocal touches enhanced songs including the "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother/You've Got a
In the series' final salute to the posthumous Marvin Gaye release "You're the Man," DeepSoul examines a buried gem from those 1972 sessions.
Jazz fans may be familiar with "Where Are We Going?" from Donald Byrd's 1973 album Black Byrd. The first of his albums for the Blue Note label, it became a pioneering work in the jazz funk genre and one of Blue Note Records' bestselling releases. However, Marvin Gaye also recorded the Larry Mizell/Larry Gordon composition for a planned album entitled You're the Man. The project was ultimately shelved, but a compilation of songs intended for that album as well as other outtakes were recently released to celebrate Gaye's 80th birthday. Lyrically, the track fits perfectly with What's Going On, retaining
Complete with funky guitar riffs and tinkling piano, the song creates tension in the listener yet offers glimpses of hope.
In 1972, Marvin Gaye reached a creative and commercial peak with his groundbreaking work What's Going On. Feeling pressure to record an equally successful followup, he began work on a planned album entitled You're the Man. After releasing the title track as a single--which failed to significantly impact the pop charts--he elected to shelve the project in favor of scoring the film Trouble Man. Now parts of the project have surfaced in a 2019 compilation entitled You're the Man, with one track eliciting a response just from its title: "The World is Rated X." The song embodies the cliché "don't
The 1972 single provides a snapshot of the turbulent early 1970 and its disillusionment with government--topics that still resonate today.
The recent release of the posthumous collection You're the Man presents Marvin Gaye at a career crossroads. Coming off the massive critical and commercial success of What's Going On, he again incorporated political commentary on the planned followup to the classic album. The first inkling of the project was "You're the Man," the 1972 single cowritten with frequent collaborator Kenneth Stover. While the song failed to chart as high as previous singles, the track paints a fascinating picture of 1970s political and social turmoil and offers an emotional lead vocal from Gaye. "You're the Man" exudes a 70s sound from
The planned followup to What's Going On was shelved in 1972; 47 years later, it finally sees an official release.
After a slew of successful singles in the 1950s, Marvin Gaye started the next decade with a staggering work: What's Going On, a socially conscious album commenting on topics of the day. He continued his exploration of topics including sexuality and divorce in works such as Let's Get It On, I Want You, and Here My Dear. But in 1972 Gaye recorded the followup to Let's Get It On: You're the Man, an album that further examined political issues. However, when the lead single "You're the Man" failed to cross over to the pop charts, he decided to shelve the
The late singer's voice could dig down deep or reach the highest peaks, as on this Quincy Jones classic.
Music recently lost one of its classiest vocalists: James Ingram, a Quincy Jones protege who scored an impressive number of hits in the 1980s and early 1990s. His January 29, 2019 passing from early onset Alzheimer and Parkinson disease marks the end of not only a successful career, but an era when smooth, pop-tinged R&B ruled the charts. Even though musical trends changed, Ingram never strayed from his strength, namely skilled interpretation. Born in Akron, Ohio, Ingram taught himself piano and sang in the church choir. When he reached his teens, he joined the group Revelation Funk and took part
Start off 2019 right with a resolution to hear classic Memphis Soul.
Today Otis Redding may be best known for his solo hits, but he also recorded with his Stax-labelmate Carla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul (and daughter of Rufus "Walkin' the Dog" Thomas). Hoping to replicate the success of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Stax paired two of their greatest stars for the 1967 album King & Queen, which produced the hit "Tramp." The album featured their takes on classics such as "Knock on Wood," "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby," "Bring It on Home to Me," and "It Takes Two" (a further indication of Stax's desire for a
For those who like their Christmas tunes tinged with melancholy, the soul trio's 1973 song fits the bill perfectly.
Christmas carols may be filled with cheer, but others prefer their holiday songs tinged with some melancholy. For those in the latter camp, the Emotions' 1973 single "What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?" fits the bill perfectly. The Hutchinson sisters' exquisite, heartfelt harmonies, lead singer Sheila's sincere performance, and the stellar songwriting team of Carl Hampton and Homer Banks. Hailing from Chicago, the Hutchinson sisters--Sheila, Wanda, and Jeanette--got their start in the church. While they had formed a gospel act, the Heavenly Sunbeams, they shifted their focus to secular music by the late 1960s. Signing with the Stax label,
Need some advice with a dash of sassiness? This 1974 deep cut may do the trick.
Like the sassy friend who doles out advice, Betty Wright's blues-inflected voice warned women of straying men. Her messages may not exemplify today's feminism, but her vocals come from a woman who has experienced life's rollercoaster and wants to share her hard-won lessons with fans. Best known for her 1972 hit "Cleanup Woman," Wright scored other hits including "Tonight Is the Night" and the 1974 thumper "Secretary." Born in Miami in 1953, Wright started singing in her family's gospel group Echoes of Joy. By 13 she transitioned into secular music by singing background on other recordings and embarking on a
Legendary poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen would have turned 84 today...
It's no surprise I should be listening to the Leonard Cohen on what would have been his 84th birthday if for no other reason than it's a safe bet I'm listening to him at any point of any day. His words and melodies whether printed or sung will forever be like a sun to my soul, keeping me in its orbit, informing both my own language as well as the lens through which I see and experience my world. I can't imagine he would have ever read this modest tribute to the enduring importance of his work in my life
DeepSoul pays tribute to the Queen of Soul with one of her funkiest tracks.
Music fans remember August 16, 1977 as the day the King of Rock 'n Roll, Elvis Presley, died. This year, the day marks another profound loss: Aretha Franklin passed on August 16, 2018 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She may be best known as the "Queen of Soul," but Franklin contributed even more to music. By bringing in elements of gospel, pop, and blues, Franklin transformed soul and R&B, shaping it to her own unique talents. Today artists still try to emulate her vocal style--passionate, wide-ranging, and spine-tingling. The church was at the root of everything she recorded,
The late 1970s dance culture is exemplified in this funk/disco track.
DeepSoul's final entry in this three-column salute to songwriting duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson delves into one of their funkiest tunes. In 1977, Ashford and Simpson released their album Send It, a selection of mid-to-uptempo tracks showcasing their tight harmonies. Proving their readiness to step into the spotlight, they announced their arrival as artists in their own right with the raw "Don't Cost You Nothing" a track that works equally on the dance floor and as a classic funk workout. Upon Send It's release, the album became an instant club favorite thanks in large part to legendary DJ Larry
The pair proved their worth as skilled composers and charismatic performers with this 1978 track.
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
The legendary songwriting duo also performed their own material, such as this 1982 cautionary tale of the streets.
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
Artists such as Rihanna can thank this Houston-born singer for bringing Caribbean music to worldwide audiences.
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
While best known for the electro-funk classic "Word Up," this slow jam reveals more dimensions of this unique band.
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
The passing of the Staple Singers' Yvonne Staples reminds listeners of her important role in the legendary family group.
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
The group's cover of a 1972 Bobby Womack track proves that passionate funk never goes out of style.
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
The 1968 hit is a prime example of how jazz and R&B can merge, resulting in an irresistibly funky and timeless track.
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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
The final installment of our salute to the rock pioneer spotlights a fun Beatles cover.
During their heyday (and into the solo years), the Beatles often professed their love of Fats Domino. Songs such as "Lady Madonna" can be directly traced to the rock 'n' roll architect's influence. During a New Orleans stop on their 1964 tour, the Beatles had one request: they wanted to meet their idol. After the meeting, Domino later repaid the favor by covering three of their tunes: "Lady Madonna," "Lovely Rita," and his ebullient rendition of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." While covering the Beatles is often fraught with difficulty, Domino manages to incorporate his
Our salute to the R&B pioneer continues with a 1956 classic first introduced in a seminal rock film.
Rolling Stone calls it the "working man's blues," and "Blue Monday" does demonstrate rock's indebtedness to the genre. While Fats Domino did not write the track--he was not even the first to record it--he transformed the song into a memorable blend of rock, blues, country, and New Orleans jazz. What results is a track addressing a subject with which most listeners can relate, along with a dose of good-natured naughtiness. Domino's longtime collaborator Dave Bartholomew originally penned "Blue Monday" for New Orleans R&B singer/guitarist Smiley Lewis. Released as a single in 1954, this version prominently features rhythm guitars, horns, and
This week's DeepSoul is the first in a three-part salute to the rock and roll pioneer.
One of the early architects of rock and roll, Fats Domino combined R&B with New Orleans swagger to create a feel-good but raunchy form of music. Lyrics such as "I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill" leave little doubt as to the nature of that thrill, but Domino's radiant smile and rollicking piano never offended. A huge part of rock history was lost upon his October 24, 2017 death. but his timeless catalog will remain for new fans to discover. This week's DeepSoul is the first in a three-part salute to the music pioneer. Born in the Big Easy in
Tom Petty, soul artist? His first hit single melds elements of R&B with rock and blues, making the track a standout in his catalog.
The music world has been mourning the loss of Tom Petty, the iconic rock artist who died from cardiac arrest on October 2. What few critics and fans have discussed, however, is that Petty's sound encompassed genres besides rock, namely blues, country, and folk. Another major influence that has been little explored is R&B, and that element permeates his first hit, 1976's "Breakdown." Its dominant drums, bass, and keyboards along with Petty's snarling narrative of a deteriorating love affair makes "Breakdown" sound like no other song in Petty's catalog. Coming off the breakup of his band Mudcrutch, Petty formed a
A slice of late '70s funk/disco, "Which Way Is Up" remains an underrated track by an unjustly neglected group.
A slice of late 70s funk/disco, "Which Way Is Up" remains an underrated track by an unjustly neglected act: Stargard. A female trio who drew comparisons to Labelle (particularly through their flamboyant costumes) and the Pointer Sisters, they achieved only one hit with the theme song to the 1977 Richard Pryor vehicle Which Way Is Up? Their blend of R&B, funk, and gospel should have achieved more success, but their lack of smash followup led to their 1983 breakup. The original lineup consisted of Rochelle Runnells, Debra Anderson and Janice Williams, and their more gritty, aggressive vocal approach led to