Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Janelle Monáe Releases Prince-Inspired New Track “Make Me Feel”

R&B star Janelle Monáe gives a nod to her late mentor Prince on her new track “Make Me Feel,” a wickedly funky bisexual anthem. It’s fitting that there’s so much Prince flavor on this song, as he was all about sexual freedom and gender fluidity—long before it was widely accepted. It’s sort of a 21st century update on the Purple One’s funky classic “Kiss.” It has the same minimalist funk sound, replete with tight chicken-scratch guitar licks, hot synth jabs, a rubbery electro beat and an irresistible chorus.

“Make Me Feel” is a single from Monáe’s forthcoming album, Dirty Computer, which is set for release on April 27. In a recent interview on BBC Radio 1, she said that Prince was working on the album with her “before he passed on to another frequency, and helped me come up with sounds.” The album marks a welcome return to music-making for the six-time Grammy Award nominee, who has been busy with her budding acting career, appearing in the widely acclaimed films Hidden Figures and Moonlight. She released her last album, The Electric Lady, in 2013. So anticipation is very high for the new album.

“Make Me Feel” is accompanied by a provocative music video that was directed by Alan Ferguson and features actress Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok). It takes place in a hip nightclub where Monáe flirts with both Thompson and a good-looking male patron, which culminates in a bisexual triangle/dance-off. The video is fun and very sexy but stops short of being raunchy. It’s also peppered with lots of cool Prince references; and Monáe pulls off some smooth dance moves.

On the same day that Monáe dropped “Make Me Feel,” she released the hard-hitting rap track “Django Jane,” which is also a single from Dirty Computer. These two strong tracks bode well for the new album, indicating that Monáe could have another classic on her hands.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Album Review of The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown’s Volume 2

The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown are back and funkier than ever. The behemoth funk collective dropped their much-anticipated second album, Volume 2, last month. It’s a stellar follow-up to the Getdown’s critically acclaimed debut album, Volume 1 (2012). The collection is filled with powerhouse grooves, impeccable musicianship and tons of funk. And like its predecessor, Volume 2 boasts an amazing lineup of top musical talent, including Fred Wesley (James Brown, Horny Horns), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Taylor Dayne, Norwood Fisher (Fishbone, Trulio Disgracias), Larry Dunn (Earth, Wind & Fire), Karl Denson (the Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz) and members from the following bands: Parliament-Funkadelic, Graham Central Station, Kool & the Gang, the Funky Meters, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, The Time, Dumpstaphunk, Mandrill and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, among many others. In all, more than 50 musicians from 18 bands contributed their talents to this album.

Volume 2 kicks off with the exuberant funk track “Rock It,” which features Speech from famed hip-hop group Arrested Development on vocals. This song has a lively, upbeat flow with tight horns, infectious guitar licks and a funkalicous trombone solo from horn legend Fred Wesley. And Larry Dunn brings some of his keyboard wizardry to the mix with some fantastic synth work.  Also, Speech’s energetic vocals help enhance the track’s fun, party vibe.“Rock It” is followed by the marvelous “Love Somebody.” Acclaimed singer-songwriter Laura Reed elevates the song with her exquisite vocals.

RonKat Spearman (Katdelic, P-Funk All Stars) delivers a dynamic vocal performance on the sizzling, high-powered funk jam “Groovy Nasty.” Jamar Woods (The Fritz) serves up a blistering organ solo while Ryan Martinie (Mudvayne) lays down some wicked bass. Additionally, the funk is augmented by blazing horn volleys from sax man Greg Hollowell (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band); trumpeter Michael Ray (Kool & the Gang, Sun Ra Arkestra); and trombone players Clifford Adams (Kool & the Gang) and Derrick Johnson (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band).

One of the album’s biggest highlights is the stunning “Mantra.” This jazz-laced soul gem features Grammy-winning songstress Kendra Foster (P-Funk, D’Angelo’s The Vanguard) and Speech on vocals. Foster serves up a mesmerizing vocal performance, and Speech is at the top of his game here, delivering his rap verses in a powerful, captivating fashion. Bassist extraordinaire Norwood Fisher holds down the bottom with his usual funky finesse. And the horn lines on this track are pure fire.

Laura Reed returns with more vocal magic on the lovely ballad “Word.” The track boasts some sterling flute work by Karl Denson.  It’s followed by the superb “Dream,” which features renowned singer Taylor Dayne, whose vocal skills are as impressive as ever.

The Getdown turn up the funk again on the hard-hitting fusion groove “Past, Present, Future.” The epic jam features some dazzling fretboard work from legendary guitarist Leo Nocentelli (co-founder of the Meters). Also, Mike Dillon (Mike Dillon Band, Primus) kills it on the vibes.

Fishbone’s frontman Angelo Moore and guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid are featured on the deep funk groove “Creatures of Habit.” Moore turns in a spirited vocal performance, and Reid tears it up with a scorching solo.

Rev. Desmond D'Angelo (The Soular System) provides the soulful lead vocals on the irresistible “B4u Loved Me.”

The Getdown brought it again on Volume 2, which is a superb collection soul, funk and R&B tracks. Those who enjoyed the Getdown’s first album definitely won’t be disappointed with this offering.

The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown is an ambitious project that bassist/producer John Heintz (Trulio Disgracias) conceived in 2007. The Getdown was created to celebrate funk music and its massive impact on contemporary music and culture. With the help of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band members Derrick Johnson and John-Paul Miller, Heintz assembled a group of some the baddest players on the planet in New Orleans for the Getdown’s first jam session in December 2007.

The epic session set the project in motion in a big way. The Getdown continued to expand, recruiting more talented musicians along the way. The funk supergroup released their debut album, Volume 1, in 2012, which received high praise across the funk, soul and R&B communities.

To learn more about the Getdown, visit their website or Facebook page.

"Rock It"


Related blog entry: The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown Pays Tribute To Funk Music

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Former Temptations Frontman, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dennis Edwards Dies At 74

Dennis Edwards, former lead singer for legendary Motown group the Temptations, died on Thursday, Feb. 1, at a Chicago-area hospital of complications from meningitis. He was 74.

Edwards was one of the foremost R&B vocalists of the late 1960s and ‘70s. As the lead singer for the Temptations, he lit up many classic tracks with his gritty, gospel-infused vocals. The singer joined the Temptations in 1968 as David Ruffin’s replacement. This was right when the group was entering its psychedelic-soul era, which was guided by visionary producer Norman Whitfield.

Edwards had has his work cut out for him, but he immediately proved that he was more than up for the task. His powerful, gutbucket vocal style turned out to be a perfect fit for the Temps’ new sonic direction, which was edgier and funkier than their previous work.  He brought his vocal magic to classic tracks such as “Cloud Nine,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” “Shakey Ground” and “Runaway Child, Running Wild.” Edwards’ vocals were filled with passion, conviction and a sense of urgency, which helped drive home the power and significance of the songs’ social and political themes. Edwards was a member of the Temptations from 1968 to 1977. He would briefly rejoin the group at various times throughout the ‘80s.

The singer also enjoyed success in his solo endeavors. His song “Don’t Look Any Further,” a duet with singer/songwriter Siedah Garrett, spent two weeks at #2 on the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1984. Edwards’ album of the same title also performed well on the charts, peaking at #2 on the U.S. R&B album chart. The song has been embraced by the hip-hop community and can be found, via sample, on a slew of rap tracks. 

 Edwards won three Grammy awards as a member of the Temptations. The first one was for “Cloud Nine.” The hit single earned the group a Grammy for “Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental” in 1969. It was the first Grammy win for the group, as well as the first Grammy win for the Motown label. In 1972, the Temps landed two Grammys for their classic “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”:  “Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus” and “Best R&B Instrumental Performance.”

Edwards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 as a member of the Temptations; and he was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame as a Temptation in 2013.

Edwards will be remembered as the vocal powerhouse who led the Temptations through their most socially conscious and experimental period. He gave those tracks the rawness and immediacy they needed. The singer brought an abundance of soul and funk to the Temptations’ recordings, and his legacy will forever live on through those classic tracks.

The Temptations performing"Shakey Ground" on The Midnight Special in 1975

"Runway Child, Running Wild"

"Don't Look Any Further" -- Dennis Edwards, featuring Siedah Garrett

Sunday, December 10, 2017

“Love Struck” by Jesse Johnson

Guitar wizard Jesse Johnson lays down some wicked funk on his 1988 hit “Love Struck.” The talented musician/songwriter/producer crafted a high-powered dance groove for this cut, which boasts an explosive beat and a booty-shaking bassline. The track also features some tight synth horn parts, and Johnson brings some of his fretboard magic to the mix with a ferocious guitar solo. This dynamic funk track displays Johnson’s considerable gifts as a musician, songwriter, arranger and producer.

“Love Struck” was a single from Johnson’s third studio album, Every Shade of Love, released in 1988.  The track climbed to #4 on the U.S R&B Billboard singles chart and peaked at #13 on the U.S. Billboard Dance Club chart. The song was written, arranged and produced by Johnson, as were all the tracks on the Every Shade of Love album.

Johnson first came into prominence on the national music scene as the lead guitarist and primary songwriter for the legendary Prince-formed funk band the Time. Johnson co-wrote the band’s big hits, “Jungle Love” and “The Bird.”  In 1984, he decided to strike out on his own to pursue a career as a solo artist. The Time was at the height of its popularity during this period due to the band's appearance in Prince’s blockbuster film Purple Rain. Johnson signed a solo deal with A&M Records that year.

The guitarist released three strong albums on the A&M label: Jesse Johnson’s Revue (1985), Shockadelica (1986) and Every Shade of Love (1988). He wrote, produced and arranged all three albums. Johnson only released one solo album in the ‘90s, Bare My Naked Soul (1996), and dropped his last solo album, Verbal Penetration, in 2009.

In addition to his own material, he has produced music for a variety of notable artists, including Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Cheryl Lynn and Debbie Allen. He has also worked with groundbreaking music legends Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder. Additionally, Johnson has contributed material to film soundtracks, including the 1996 crime drama A Time to Kill.

In 1990, he briefly reunited with the Time for the album Pandemonium—which he contributed his production, songwriting and guitar skills. He also worked with the band for the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack that year.

Johnson again reunited with all the original Time members for a live reunion performance at the 50th Grammy Awards, which aired on February 10, 2008. And he and the band performed a series of shows at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas that year. Johnson continued to work with the Time (which later changed its name to The Original 7ven) in the ensuing years until finally leaving the band for good in late 2011 and joining up with D’Angelo’s band, the Vanguard. He played on D’Angelo’s critically acclaimed album, Black Messiah (2014), which won a Grammy for Best R&B Album.

Another high point of Johnson’s career was when he performed at the White House as part of an all-star blues band for the PBS special “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues.” The concert took place on February 21, 2012. In addition to Johnson, some of the other performers included B.B. King, Fred Wesley, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Trombone Shorty and Gary Clarke, Jr. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were in attendance for this celebration of blues music, which was held in recognition of Black History Month.

Johnson will be part of D’Angelo’s European tour, which will kick off at London’s Eventim Apollo on March 6, 2018. The tour will also include stops in France, Germany, Sweden and Norway. In addition to Johnson, the other Vanguard members scheduled for this upcoming tour are Bobby Ray Sparks (keyboards), Rocco Palladino (bass), Isaiah Sharkey (guitar), Chris “Daddy” Day (drums) and Red Middleton and Jermaine Holmes (vocals). Visit D'Angelo & the Vanguard's website for more tour info and dates.

Related blog entry:"Crazay" by Jesse Johnson featuring Sly Stone

Monday, November 20, 2017

Stevie Wonder Explores Love, Heartbreak and Spirituality on Fulfillingness’ First Finale

Stevie Wonder released five incredible classic albums from the years 1972 to 1976. It was one of the most impressive runs in the history of popular music.  The multitalented music legend was at the height of his creative powers during these years, which came to be known as his “classic period.” Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) was one of his album releases during this period of sustained excellence, inspiration and unadulterated genius.

However, whenever people talk about Stevie’s classic period, the albums most frequently mentioned are Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life and Talking Book. Fulfillingness’ First Finale seems to be mentioned the least, right behind Music of My Mind. And it’s just as strong a collection as the other classic-era albums, but for some reason, it doesn’t get the same level of love and recognition as the others.

Perhaps First Finale is often overlooked because it was released between Innervisions (1973) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976), Stevie’s two most celebrated landmark albums.  It’s a testament to his great talent and exceptional output during the ‘70s that an amazing album like First Finale could be overlooked or underrated. Many talented music artists go their entire careers without an album as consistently strong as First Finale.

It should also be noted that First Finale was recorded after Stevie was involved in a terrible car crash in which he sustained life-threatening injuries. The near-death experience stirred a renewed spirituality in the artist. As a result, this LP has a more solemn, introspective tone than his other works from that period, as well as more pronounced spiritual themes.

 “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” is a spiritual song in which Stevie laments the fact that God’s love seems so far away during these troubled times of hate and division, and how it’s more important than ever that we embrace “His spirit.” The song possesses a wistful beauty, and Stevie sings his verses in a resigned and melancholy fashion.

Another song from the album with a strong spiritual theme is the elegiac “They Won’t Go When I Go.” Stevie muses on how his soul will go to a place of eternal peace and freedom upon his demise—a destination far away from all the wickedness, sadness, hate and suffering of the world. The song has a dirgelike Chopinesque feel to it, which helps emphasize its somber theme; it also has some soulful gospel shadings. And Stevie’s keyboard work here is superb—on the piano and the T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer. It’s just a brilliant piece of music and one of Stevie’s most underrated songs.

The album also touches on matters of the heart. The resplendent “Too Shy To Say” is an unrequited love ballad. This sonic gem is another example of why Stevie is untouchable as a ballad writer. The track features some exquisite pedal steel guitar work from Sneaky Pete Kleinow, and bass legend James Jamerson contributes his skills on the acoustic bass.

"Creepin’” also focuses on unrequited love with the object of Stevie’s affection invading his dreams at night. He sonically creates a mysterious and haunting atmosphere on this mesmerizing tune. Legendary singer Minnie Riperton brings her vocal magic to the track, and Stevie delivers a sterling harmonica solo.

Stevie decides to funk things up a bit with the irresistible Caribbean-flavored “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” This track features one of his funkiest Moog synth basslines. He’s just riding all over the groove on his Moog bass. And just when you think things can’t get any funkier, Stevie takes the funk up a notch with a smokin’ harmonica solo.

Side two kicks off with the blistering political anthem “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” where Stevie goes in with both barrels on the Nixon administration for its indifference, lies and corruption. This super-funky groove features some sizzling clavinet work from Stevie and some soulful backing vocals from his talented Motown labelmates the Jackson 5 on the “do-do-wops.” It’s one of the musician’s most powerful and scathing political statements on wax.

Following “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” is the bittersweet breakup song “It Ain’t No Use.” Stevie delivers a magnificent vocal performance here and receives strong support from Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton and Lani Groves on the chorus.

Amid all the spiritual soul searching, heartache and fiery political protest, there are two uplifting tunes on the album to lighten the mood a bit: “Smile Please” and “Bird of Beauty.” “Smile Please” has a very hopeful tone with Stevie urging the listener not to dwell in sadness, because “There're brighter days ahead.” Michael Sembello's delicate guitar work helps enhance the track’s tranquil vibe.

“Bird of Beauty” is about transporting yourself away from all the stress and negativity of the world and taking a mental vacation, where much beauty and true happiness can be found. The song has a soothing tropical flow that’s enhanced by the rich background harmonies provided by Deniece Williams, Lani Groves and Shirley Brewer.

“Please Don’t Go,"another great breakup song, closes out the album. The song has an infectious melody and a stellar arrangement. And Stevie serves up yet another fantastic harmonica solo.

Stevie displayed a broad range of his talents on Fulfillingness’ First Finale. He played most of the instruments on the tracks and was the sole writer of every song, except for “They Won’t Go When I Go,” which he co-wrote with singer/songwriter Yvonne Wright. He co-produced the album with Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil.

Fulfillingness’ First Finale was a huge commercial and critical success. It was lauded by numerous music publications and won three Grammy awards—Best Male Pop Vocal; Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance (for “Boogie On Reggae Woman); and the coveted Album of the Year award.

It topped the U.S. R&B album chart for nine non-consecutive weeks and spent two weeks atop the U.S. Pop album chart.  It also topped Canada’s album chart and reached #5 on the UK album chart. The album’s two singles (“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” and “Boogie on Reggae Woman”) also performed extremely well on the charts. “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” topped both the R&B and pop singles charts in the U.S. And “Boogie on Reggae Woman” reached the summit of the U.S. R&B singles chart and peaked at #3 on the U.S. pop singles chart.

Fulfillingness’ First Finale definitely earned its spot alongside Stevie’s other landmark albums from his classic period.  This collection, as with his other albums from that era, captures Stevie in complete control of his musical gifts, equipped with the vision, talent, technical skill and daring to see his creative ideas to their full fruition.

You Haven't Done Nothin'

They Won't Go When I Go

Thursday, November 9, 2017

“Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” by the Brothers Johnson

With the release of their blazing dance track “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” in 1978, the Brothers Johnson showed once again why they were one of the big dogs of the funk game. Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson’s powerhouse bassline drives this wall-shaking groove, and his brother, George “Lightnin’ Licks” Johnson, unleashes the funk with a scorching guitar solo. Also, the groove is augmented by a tight horn arrangement and Quincy Jones’ flawless production.

This mega-funky joint was a single from the talented duo’s third studio album Blam! (1978). It was co-written by Louis Johnson, Alex Weir, Quincy Johnson, Tom Bahler and Valerie Johnson. In addition to George and Louis, some of the other players on the track included their cousin Alex Weir (rhythm guitar), Steve Schaeffer (drums), Jerry Hey (Trumpet), William Reichenbah (trombone) and Lawrence Williams (saxophone). The track peaked at #45 on the U.S. R&B singles chart.

Blam! was produced by Quincy Jones. It topped the U.S. R&B album chart and climbed to #7 on the U.S. pop album chart. The LP went platinum, as did the other three Brothers Johnson albums that Q produced—Look Out for #1 (1976), Right on Time (1977) and Light Up the Night (1980).

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Influential Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer Fats Domino Dead at 89

Fats Domino, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers, died of natural causes on Tuesday, Oct. 24, at his home in Harvey, Louisiana. He was 89. Domino was a towering figure in the music world who made significant contributions to rock ‘n’ roll and its development as a vital new genre in the 1950s.

The New Orleans-bred piano man carved out his own place in music history with his seminal sound, which is a vibrant mix of Delta blues, R&B, Dixieland and jazz. His powerful boogie woogie piano playing was complemented by his rich, soulful baritone voice. And in addition to his considerable musical gifts, Domino would charm audiences with his warm, easygoing personality. His genuine modesty was as big as his talent.

From the mid-'50s to the early '60s, Domino racked up a string of hits, including the standards “I’m in Love Again,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t That a Shame” “I’m Walkin’” “Blue Monday,” “Whole Lotta Loving" and “Walking to New Orleans.” Many of the songs were co-written by Domino and his longtime songwriting partner Dave Bartholomew.

During his career, Domino had 35 U.S. top-40 hits (11 of which landed in the top 10), and he sold more than 110 million records. He outsold every ‘50s rock act except for Elvis Presley. Additionally, Domino’s million-selling 1949 release “The Fat Man” is widely regarded as one of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll records.

Domino’s importance to modern music can’t be understated. He was one of the key progenitors of the new and exciting rock ‘n’ roll sound that took the music world by storm in the 1950s. And he was a significant influence and inspiration to many music greats, including Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Little Richard, Dr. John, Randy Newman and Elton John.

Moreover, Domino was among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986—a well-deserved honor for an incredible artist whose music continues to be appreciated by people of all ages across all demographics.

"I'm in Love Again"

"The Fat Man"

Fats Domino performing "Blueberry Hill" on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956