Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Contradiction" by the Ohio Players

In 1976, the Ohio Players released the brilliant, soul-stirring track “Contradiction.” This underrated rock/funk gem is among the band’s best recordings. The lyrics address the many paradoxes of life and love, which drives the song’s narrator into a sea of confusion, uncertainty and inner turmoil. The powerful groove mirrors the narrator’s disquiet and angst. The track boasts a terrific rock-fueled guitar riff and tight, hard-hitting horn lines. And probably the best thing about the song is the superb vocal work. The mellifluous, falsetto-laced background harmonies provide a nice contrast to Sugarfoot’s raw, soulful baritone. Additionally, the song has a great jazzy bridge, and Sugarfoot accentuates the groove with a searing guitar solo following the second bridge.

“Contradiction” is the title track off the Ohio Players’ 1976 album release, which is a topflight collection of tracks. In addition to “Contradiction,” some of the other strong cuts from the album include “Bi-Centennial,” “Little Lady Maria,” “Far East Mississippi” and the mega-funky dance hit “Who’d She’d Coo?,” which topped the R&B singles chart and peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. And the album itself also performed extremely well on the charts, climbing all the way to #1 on the R&B album charts and #12 on the Billboard 200 album charts.

The lineup for the band upon the release of Contradiction was the following: Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner (guitar, harmonica, percussion, vocals); Marshall “Rock” Jones (bass, percussion); Marvin "Merv" Pierce (trumpet, trombone, percussion); Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks (trumpet); James "Diamond" Williams (drums and various percussion instruments); William “Billy” Beck (piano, keyboards); and Clarence "Satch" Satchell (flute, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, percussion, vocals).

“Contradiction” was written and composed by all seven band members.

"Contradiction" at Amazon

Related blog entry: Review of The Ohio Players' Album Fire

Sunday, November 17, 2013

RonKat Spearman’s Katdelic Ignites a New Funk Revolution Across the Bay Area

Photo by BabyDre Photography
Over the last few years, P-Funk Allstar RonKat Spearman has been shaking up the San Francisco music scene with his unique and potent brand of funk. The Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and vocalist has been busy writing tracks, recording, and fronting his ten-piece band Katdelic. RonKat and Katdelic have been electrifying audiences across the Bay Area with their super-funky, high-energy shows and have built a devoted following. And the band plays regularly at San Francisco’s world-famous Boom Boom Room where they never fail to tear the roof off. Also, in addition to being a gifted musician and songwriter, RonKat is a charismatic showman who knows how to connect with an audience. And he gets strong support from Katdelic, a crew of some of the baddest players in the Bay Area.

The lineup for Katdelic is the following: RonKat (guitar, bass, keyboards, lead vocals); Adam Lipsky (Drums); Kirk Peterson (bass); Patrick Sims (rhythm guitar); Alan Williams (trombone); Lela Caro (vocals); PTFI (gadgets and background vocals); Rob Poole (bass and background vocals); Genevieve (background singer); and Rasa Vitalia  (dancer and Pussy Kat).

Katdelic’s core sound and jumping off point is funk, and from there they mix it up with other genres, such as rock, hip hop, gospel, soul and jazz. The band achieves its unique and dynamic sound through the melding of these different styles, while still maintaining a solid funk foundation.

RonKat describes his sound as a “new fusion of funk."

“It’s a fusion of old and new beats,” he explains. “And I don’t want to discredit The Funk.  I’m just mixin’ it up and keepin’ it fresh.”

RonKat says one of the things that he enjoys most about being an artist/performer is seeing audience members having a blast during his shows.

“If you’re making people happy, and they’re dancing and singing along with you, you’re doin’ it right,” he says. “That’s what I do it for. I want people to have a good time, and that’s what I think funk brings.”

RonKat says that touring with George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic for 10 years (2000-2010) was an invaluable learning experience and helped him grow as both an artist and performer.

“Man, I learned so much from them about live performing and recording,” he says. “It’s like I really graduated from that school. Things will come back to me that they did or said, and that diploma is in effect. All those guys are seasoned professionals, and there’s a reason why they got all those accolades.”

With George Clinton’s blessings, RonKat took a hiatus from P-Funk in 2010 to focus on recording and performing with his band Katdelic, which had been an off-the-road project while he was still touring with the legendary funk outfit. However, he makes it clear that he’s still very much a part of the P-Funk family.

“Man, you don’t leave P-Funk. It’s like the mob,” he laughs. “Yes, I’m doin’ my own thing, but if they call me to do something, I gotta go. I strap up, put the guitar on, and they plug me up.”

RonKat formed a close friendship with George Clinton even before he began touring with P-Funk.

“Me and George were always friends,” RonKat says. “I call him dad; he’s like my dad, anyway. And the rest of them were like brothers. They were real encouraging. And me and Garry Shider [aka Starchild or Diaper Man] became really cool. He became a really good friend of mine as well.”

Additionally, RonKat says being a part of P-Funk opened up many opportunities for him to travel to different parts of the world and share the stage with some of music’s biggest names.

“It’s truly been an honor and a blessing,” he says.  “I mean, I’ve been on the stage with some of the greatest [artists] in the world.”

In addition to George Clinton and P-Funk, some of the other notable artists with whom RonKat has recorded, co-written songs, or shared the stage include Billy Preston, Smokey Robinson, Prince, Bobby Womack, Chaka Khan, Henry Rollins, Rick James, Bootsy Collins, El DeBarge, Lenny Kravitz, Shock G and Tommy Lee.

RonKat even had the opportunity to work with rap superstar Kanye West. Around 2008, he worked on a musical Kanye was producing.  For this project, RonKat spent some time in the studio with Kanye, Lamont Dozier (of legendary Motown songwriting and production team Holland-Dozier-Holland) and Tony Williams, who’s Kanye’s first cousin and was a singer in his band. No music has surfaced from those sessions as of yet; nonetheless, RonKat says it was a great experience to have worked with the acclaimed hip-hop artist, as well as Dozier and Williams.

Katdelic funking things up at the Boom Boom Room
As a kid growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, RonKat caught the music bug early and began playing at the age of five. His father was a musician, and he instilled his love for music in his young son.

“My dad had all these records, and he would call me in to listen to them,” RonKat says. “I was just kind of soakin’ it all up.”

RonKat adds that his father’s eclectic taste made him appreciate many different music styles.

“Man, he played everything, from like the hardest core jazz –like Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery—to  some Isley Brothers to some Earth, Wind & Fire,” says RonKat.

And even before RonKat had a real instrument, he’d create beats on whatever was available around the house.

 “Yeah, I could make music out of anything,” he says.  “Man, I’d beat on a TV with no tube in it, anything.”

RonKat says his first real instrument was the drums. He really took to them and would play along with his father’s records for hours.  RonKat was eventually proficient on several instruments, including guitar, bass, drums, percussion and keyboards. He had no formal music training and was completely self-taught.  And he says that there was never any question that music would be his path, stating, “It was something that just took its own place in my life.”

He says his parents’ constant encouragement was instrumental to his growth as a musician and performer.

“They allowed me the freedom to just kind of create,” he says.

When RonKat was seven, his father began taking him around to clubs to sit in with some of the “hot musicians who came to town.” At first, the seasoned professionals were skeptical of the grade schooler’s playing abilities and would give his father a hard time.

“They’d be like, ‘Ah man, you need to get on and take him home. It’s past his bedtime,’” RonKat laughs.

But his father eventually convinced the incredulous musicians to let his son play the congas for a couple of songs with them, and everyone was blown away by the gifted young musician’s chops and wanted him to stay.

“They’d be like, ‘Hey, where you goin’ man?  Let him play some more!’” says RonKat.

And in addition to improving his playing abilities, RonKat was also developing his songwriting skills.  He says from an early age, music ideas would constantly come to him.

“I’ve always had melodies and lyrics and things in my head all the time,” says RonKat.  “It’s kind of crazy.”

RonKat says he formed his first band when he was in the fifth grade and continued to hone his skills as a musician, songwriter, singer and performer throughout his adolescence. Finally, encouraged by stories of big record deals from his musician friends, RonKat moved to Los Angeles when he was around 20, hoping to get a foothold in the music business. However, once he arrived in L.A., the reality was much different from the glamorous picture his friends had painted.

“I thought everybody was makin’ it,” says RonKat. “I was like, dang, my boys just got signed, so let me go out there and see if I can make it.  Man, when I get in the door, the electricity’s off. It’s like roaches everywhere. I didn’t know they had gotten dropped from the label. And I asked, ‘What’s up, you don’t have a record deal anymore?’ And they were like, ‘Nah man, we’re still tryin’ to get a deal.’”

It was rough going for awhile for the young musician, but he resolved to tough it out.

“All them cats ended up going back home, but I stayed,” he says. “I was kind of roughin’ it for awhile, sleepin’ on the floor and stuff. And, man, I worked every kind of job you can imagine. Name a job, and I bet you I worked it.”

Things began to turn around for RonKat when he was introduced to composer/producer and multi-instrumentalist Vassal Benford. Benford had already had some success in the music business by the time RonKat met him.

“He was already touring and had played with people like the Jacksons and Earl Klugh,” says RonKat. “And he had gone to the Conservatory of Music.”

He says the two really hit it off and began writing songs together. They landed their first hit with the song “Good Love,” which they wrote for the popular all-female R&B/funk band Klymaxx. The track climbed all the way to #4 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart in 1990. The two had an even bigger hit with the 1993 smash “Don’t Walk Away,” a track they wrote for R&B trio Jade. The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard R&B singles chart and reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

Additionally, the songwriting team earned a Grammy nomination for penning Toni Braxton’s 1994 hit “I Belong to You,” which was a single from her self-titled debut album. The song also earned them the BMI “Songwriter of the Year” Award. And the two even scored a soundtrack together. It was for the comedy Class Act (1992), which starred hip-hop duo Kid ‘n Play.  RonKat and Benford remained songwriting partners until 1997.

RonKat’s life and music career took a major turn when he met P-Funk mastermind George Clinton.

“It was just an instant friendship,” says RonKat. “George, when he met me, I think he saw all the things that I had gone through before I could even say a word.”

RonKat would let Clinton use his L.A. studio free of charge. And in 1999, Clinton took RonKat to meet Prince for his birthday. Also, the two collaborated on a song for the film comedy The Breaks (1999).

Clinton would always ask RonKat to go out on the road with P-Funk. Initially, RonKat was hesitant to tour with the influential funk band, because he had his own thing going and was doing well. Clinton eventually convinced RonKat to tour with them. When RonKat looks back now, he says he’s really thankful that he made that decision. However, they didn’t make it easy for the new recruit to Uncle Jam’s army at first.

“Man, I went through the hazing period of my life with those brothers,” RonKat laughs. “Yeah man, I’m gonna write a book about that shit some day. It was crazy.  But after awhile, the hazing stopped.”

So equipped with the performance chops and life lessons acquired through a decade of touring with P-Funk coupled with the songwriting and production knowledge gained through his partnership with Vassal  Benford, RonKat was ready to set the world on fire with his own thing, and he hasn’t disappointed.

RonKat released his latest CD, D.O.T.M.S. (Dance On the Mothership), on October 11, 2012. He wrote, produced, arranged, performed, engineered and mixed all 16 tracks on the collection, which is a brilliant mélange of funk, rock and new pop, with a little hip hop sprinkled in the mix for some extra flavor.  The album features guest appearances from George Clinton and various P-Funk members.

RonKat says that he learned how to do everything in the studio out of necessity.

“Yeah, I had to, because, you know, as a musician, if you’re tryin’ to be in entertainment, you wanna be able to know how to do more than one thing,”  he explains. “You gotta be able to multitask, because like say, for instance, someone asks you to come out and sing backup for them for six months, or, you know, ‘Why don’t you come out and play bass for me, man, or come play guitar for me.’ You see what I’m saying? It’s like in any situation if you know how to play all of the positions, sometimes you won’t be out of a job.”

RonKat is a prolific songwriter and has recorded tons of great music over the years, which covers a wide range of styles and moods. In addition to D.O.T.M.S., some of his other CD releases include Funky Nation, Cheddar, Joy to the Funk and Little Monsters (CDr, EP). And a couple of months ago, he dropped the single “Give Me Back My Funky Music,” which he co-wrote and sang with George Clinton. The track has an irresistible, smooth funk groove that will have you bobbin’ your head.  There’s also a remix of the track done by DJ Spankalicious, which has a cool club vibe going on.

RonKat describes his songwriting process:

“You know, it varies,” he says. “Sometimes I might get the whole song all at once. I might get the lyrics, the beat, the guitar, the bass, the whole thing all at once. You know that happens a lot,” he continues. “Or I might just get a phrase, and the phrase might linger in my head, from anywhere to a year to weeks to a day. Or I might just get the guitar part, or I might just get all the music.”

And his songs cover a myriad of topics, such as bigotry, the economy, love, politics, the environment, etc.

He says some of his biggest musical influences include Prince, Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, Metallica, Kanye West, Nirvana and Jay-Z.

And as far as more recent artists on the music scene, he says he really enjoys the work of Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, Miguel and Adele.

RonKat talks about some of the things he’d like to accomplish with his music and future projects:

“I would like to score, and I’m working on a musical,” he says. “I’ve been working on it for at least four or five years, trying to get that up on its legs. And I would like to continue to tour and just continue to make great music that touches people and inspires them to do some cool things.”

So there’s a lot more to come from this multi-talented artist. Get ready for the next chapter of RonKat’s funky journey.

Katdelic performing "Give Me Back My Funky Music" at Jan Warner Plaza in San Francisco

Music video for Katdelic track "The One"

Give Me Back My Funky Music at Amazon

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Bar-Kays' Holy Ghost

In 1978, the Bar-Kays scorched the airwaves with their explosive funk hit "Holy Ghost." Funk doesn't get much better than this--ballsy, unapologetic and in-your-face. The groove is propelled by James Alexander's ferocious slap bass line, which is shadowed by a synthesized bass part to give it a thick, mechanized funk sound. Lead singer Larry Dodson delivers a powerful and gritty vocal performance. And the tight horn arrangement puts an exclamation point on the funk. The lyrics describe a woman whose love is so potent that it's akin to a religious experience for the song's narrator when the two hit the sheets, giving him sort of a spiritual/sexual rebirth.

The 12" extended version of the track is nearly nine minutes of glorious uncut funk, which includes a great percussion-filled breakdown. This long version was played at clubs, parties and discos back in the day and had folks burning up the dance floor.

"Holy Ghost" is a single from the Bar-Kays' 1978 album Money Talks. The track performed extremely well on the U.S. R&B singles charts, peaking at #9. The album also saw some chart action, climbing to #21 on the U.S. Billboard Soul Album chart.

The track was written by Eddie Marion, Henderson Thigpen and James Banks. It was produced by the late Allen A. Jones, who helmed all of Money Talks.  The line-up for the Bar-Kays when they released "Holy Ghost" was the following: Larry Dodson (lead vocals), Lloyd Smith (Guitar), James Alexander (bass, vocals), Michael Beard (drums), Charles Allen (trumpet, vocals), Harvey Henderson (tenor sax), Winston Stewart (keyboards), and Frank Thompson (trombone). Multi-instrumentalist, composer and engineer Paul Smith played the synth bass part on "Holy Ghost" but wasn't a member of the band.

"Holy Ghost" is a genuine funk classic and has been sampled by several prominent music acts, including Beastie Boys ("Hey Ladies"), Public Enemy ("Fear of a Black Planet"), Cee-Lo Green ("Glockappella") and M/A/R/R/S ("Pump Up the Volume").

Download "Holy Ghost" at Amazon

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

James Brown Biopic In The Works And Will Star 42 Actor Chadwick Boseman

James Brown’s incredible life story will finally be brought to the big screen in an upcoming biopic. Universal and Imagine Entertainment have given the project the green light, and rising young actor Chadwick Boseman will portray the highly influential funk innovator. Earlier this year, Boseman captivated audiences with his moving portrayal of baseball legend Jackie Robinson in the acclaimed film 42.

The biopic will be directed by Mississippi-born filmmaker Tate Taylor, who helmed the Oscar-nominated film The Help (2011). So the project has some quality talent on board. In an interview on Monday with the Associated Press, Taylor said the film will be shot entirely in Mississippi.“Every frame will be shot in Mississippi. We're even doing Paris, France, in Mississippi. ... Vietnam, as well, in Mississippi," Taylor said at the Mississippi Coliseum on the state fairgrounds in Jackson, where some scenes will be shot.

The film’s producers include Academy Award winner Brian Grazer, rock titan Mick Jagger, Erica Huggins and Victoria Pearman. British playwright brothers, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, wrote the screenplay. The title of the film has yet to be announced.

According to Taylor, filming will take place in November and December in and near Natchez, a Mississippi River town in the southwestern corner of the state, and in January and February in the capital city of Jackson. The director said the reason he chose Mississippi to film the biopic is that it provides a similar look to the locations where the legendary singer/musician/performer was born and raised. Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina and grew up in Augusta, Georgia. Mississippi is “on the same line of latitude,” Taylor said.

The biopic will chronicle Brown’s life from the age of 5 through 60, where he rose from extreme poverty to become a world-renowned cultural figure. He died on December 25, 2006 at the age of 73, leaving a rich legacy of amazing music and brilliant performances. Brown was one of the most influential artists/performers of the 20th century, and his massive impact is felt in many walks of music and entertainment today. Hopefully, this film is done right and will successfully convey to audiences young and old just how important the Godfather of Soul really was.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review of Prince's Album 1999

In 1982, Prince solidified his status as the most provocative and innovative young artist on the music scene with his stunning double LP 1999.  Only Prince's fifth album, 1999 was his big breakthrough and set the stage for the massive success of Purple Rain two years later.
1999 is an important album for a few reasons.  For one thing, it helped Prince further expand his fan base with crossover hits like “Little Red Corvette,” “1999,” and “Delirious.” It also showed that he could reach a wide audience without watering down his unique sound or softening his sometimes risqué themes and lyrics.

What set 1999 apart from Prince’s previous studio efforts is that he was pushing forward a more electronic-based sound. He was experimenting and creating a great deal with synthesizers and drum machines (specifically the Linn-LM1) while recording the album, and these experiments are reflected in the songs.
And this seminal album also helped introduce the Minneapolis sound to a larger audience. Many credit Purple Rain with putting the Minneapolis sound on the map, but 1999 also played a huge part in getting the sound out there.  
With 1999, Prince again displayed his great versatility in the recording studio. All the tracks on the album were written, arranged and produced entirely by him. He also played most of the instruments on the LP. The collection showed his continued growth as a musician, songwriter and producer.
And as he had done on previous records, Prince cross-pollinated different music styles to create a singular sound for the tracks on 1999. His genius at melding genres is evident on “Little Red Corvette,” a brilliant soul/pop/rock amalgam. The song is a torrid tale about Prince’s sexual encounter with a promiscuous young woman where he gets more than he bargained for. On this track, Prince shows his skills at writing clever sexual metaphors and double entendres. And he sonically creates a sexually charged atmosphere with sensual, slow-building synth lines. The song also has an irresistible chorus, and Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson serves up a majestic solo.
“Delirious” is a song that only Prince could have dreamed up. It sounds like 1950s-era Carl Perkins hopped into a time machine and transported himself 25 years into the future and had a jam session with Devo. It’s new wave/rockabilly with some soul and gospel thrown in the mix.
“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is a propulsive electro-funk groove in which Prince sings about the joys of wild, no-holds-barred sex marathons to help him forget about his former lover. The track gradually builds to a sonic climax that matches the ribald lyrics.
His Royal Badness delivers some ferocious funk on “D.M.S.R.” This powerful groove will make even the shiest wallflowers get up and work their backsides. The track boasts a wicked bass line, some dirty guitar licks and funkified synth vamps.
The apocalyptic title track is an infectious, high-energy dance groove. The lyrics reflect on the pervasive sense of fear and anxiety many felt in light of the heated arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the early 1980s. Prince sings that he’s going to party 'til the wheels fall off, because nuclear Armageddon could be near. On this track, he shares lead vocals with Dickerson, Revolution keyboardist/vocalist Lisa Coleman and background singer Jill Jones. Their vocal trade-offs work really well here and add some extra punch to the track. And the indelible main synth line is a great hook.
“Automatic” is a superb new wave/funk hybrid.  Prince fills the nearly ten-minute track with heaps of joyful noise. The synth lines here are amazing, and The Purple One delivers a scorching guitar solo, as well as some super-funky bass poppin’. This is one of Prince’s most underrated songs.
“Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” is a bizarre but intriguing track about Prince’s frustration and confusion that his strong attraction for a girl is unreciprocated. He creates a creepy and ominous mood with this outré electronic groove.  And he sings the lyrics in a low-key but soulful fashion and breaks out with some bone-chilling banshee screams near the end of the song to express his frustration, yearning and desire. This is the weirdest track on the album, but you can’t deny its inventiveness.
“Free” is a beautiful ballad that stands out from most of the other tracks on the album due to its conventional sound. The song has a stately quality about it. Prince sings most of the lyrics in a soothing falsetto and ends the song with some gospel-infused wailing.
“Lady Cab Driver” is an innovative funk cut where Prince shows off his studio wizardry and incredible chops as a multi-instrumentalist. The track has a nasty slap bass line and some quality drumming, both courtesy of Prince. He also delivers a blistering guitar solo and some great synth parts. The lyrics express Prince’s desire to escape from all the hate, intolerance, discrimination, greed and insanity in the world. During the bridge, he recites a litany of grievances he has with the world, while exacting his revenge through rough, angry sex.
“All the Critics Love U in New York” is an experimental track where Prince has a go at smug hipsters. The track has some terrific guitar work by Prince and a percolating electronic groove.
“International Lover” shows that The Purple One is a master of the slow jam. The song brings to mind the sensual soul of R&B greats like Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Teddy Pendergrass but done in Prince’s own inimitable fashion.
1999 was Prince’s most successful album to date. It was his first album to make the top ten on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 album chart, peaking at #9. The album went on to become the fifth best-selling album of 1983. Due to this album, more pop and rock stations began playing Prince’s music. Additionally, this was Prince’s first album to feature his band The Revolution. 
This album has had a significant impact on popular music. You can hear its influence in a number of genres today, including R&B, pop, hip hop, electronic and alternative.

Download 1999 at Amazon

Related blog entry: Prince Tears the Roof Off the Sucka at the Forum in Los Angeles

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” Gets a New Orleans Makeover by The Soul Rebels

The Soul Rebels add some New Orleans flavor to Eurythmics’ 1983 smash “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” The band does a superb job with their urgent, brass-driven overhaul of the synth-pop classic and make it their own—which is no mean feat with such an iconic, highly recognized song. It’s just an amazing cover, with the band infusing new life and energy into the track.   

The Soul Rebels are a brass ensemble that incorporates elements of funk, rock, hip hop, jazz and pop music with a traditional New Orleans brass band sound. The band was formed in 1991 by bass drummer Derrick Moss and Lumar DeBlanc (snare drums). The two musicians met while members of Harold Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band.  They shared a mutual desire to play contemporary music that they heard on the radio but within the framework of the traditional New Orleans brass sound that they had grown up on.  With this aim in mind, they formed the Soul Rebels, which consisted of eight highly talented players. In addition to DeBlanc and Moss, the other members of the ensemble are Julian Gosin (trumpet), Corey Peyton (trombone), Erion Williams (saxophone), Paul Robertson (trombone), Edward Lee, Jr. (sousaphone) and Marcus Hubbard (trumpet).
The Soul Rebels first made a name for themselves as the house band for New Orleans bar Le Bon Temps Roule, where they played every Thursday night. The band still plays there when they’re not on tour. The New Orleans octet now have a dedicated international following. They have toured extensively across the U.S. as well as Europe, Canada, South Africa and Brazil. Also, the band has played at a number of well-known festivals and prestigious venues worldwide, including The Fillmore, Hollywood Bowl, Playboy Jazz Festival, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, the Highline Ballroom, and the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) Festival.
The band is known for their rousing live performances in which they create a festive and funky party-like atmosphere.
And the band has played with a plethora of celebrated artists and bands from a wide cross section of musical genres. Some of the notable musical acts that the band has shared the stage with include Counting Crows, Snoop Dogg, Suzanne Vega, Allen Toussaint, the Gap Band, Seal, George Clinton, Better than Ezra, Marco Benevento, Metallica, Kanye West, Green Day, Robert Plant & Jimmy Page, Arcade Fire, Maceo Parker and the Neville Brothers. It was Neville Brother, Cyril Neville, who dubbed the band the Soul Rebels. When the two acts performed together in ’93, Cyril said, “Hey, you're a brass band, but y'all got funk and soul. Y'all are like soul rebels." The name stuck and the band has been calling themselves the Soul Rebels ever since.
The band has been getting a lot of television exposure of late. In 2010, they appeared on the HBO series Treme where they performed Grayson Capps' song "Drink a Little Poison (4 U Die)" for the finale episode of season one. They were also the official house band for the Annual NFL Honors Awards show, which aired on CBS prime time on February 22, 2013 and was hosted by Alec Baldwin.  And in December of 2011, the octet performed “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” on Later... with Jools Holland, a British late-night music television show. Metallica and Lou Reed appeared on the same episode. The members of Metallica were so impressed with the Soul Rebels that they invited them to open and share the stage with them for all four of their 30th anniversary-week concerts at The Fillmore in San Francisco. And last year, the Soul Rebels appeared and performed on the Conan show on TBS
The Soul Rebels released several albums on various independent labels before signing with Rounder Records (Concord) in 2011. Under the Rounder label, the band released their first nationally distributed album, Unlock Your Mind, on January 31, 2012. The album was produced by Scott Billington, who’s a Grammy-winning producer, songwriter and blues musician. The band’s cover of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is included on the album. Their cover of Stevie Wonder’s epic classic “Living for the City” is also on the album.
The Soul Rebels have garnered a lot of critical acclaim for their music and performances over the years. They won the New Orleans’ Big Easy award in 2010, 2008 and in 1999, as well as nominations in 2012, 2011 and in 2009. And they have been nominated for Best Of The Beat: Off Beat Awards in 2011, 2010, 2009 and in 2008. They were also nominated for four 2012 Best Of The Beat Awards: Best Artist Of The Year, Best Album Of The Year, Best Brass Band Of The Year and Best Brass Band Album Of The Year. They won Best Brass Band Album Of The Year for Unlock Your Mind.
The band is set to embark on a European tour, which will kick off tomorrow at La Défense Festival in Paris, France. The tour will also include stops in London and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Download Sweet Dreams at Amazon

Related blog entry: Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This): New Wave Soul

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sly & the Family Stone Four-CD Anthology, Higher!, Set For Release On August 27th

The musical legacy of Sly & the Family Stone will be celebrated in style with the comprehensive four-CD box set, Higher!, which is scheduled for release on August 27th through Epic/Legacy, a division of Sony Music Entertainment.  The career-spanning retrospective features 77 tracks by the innovative soul/funk/rock band, 17 of which were previously unreleased.

Higher! was put together in celebration of Sly Stone’s 70th birthday, which was on March 15. The funk pioneer was the band’s mastermind and guiding light. His massive influence on music spans more than four decades and can be heard in numerous genres today, including R&B, pop, rock, hip hop, and alternative, among others.

The anthology tracks the evolution of the band’s groundbreaking sound, and it also shows how Sly’s outlook had drastically changed within a short period of time. He went from idealistic counterculture champion on Stand! (1969) to the disillusioned creator of the dark, cynical funk masterpiece There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971).

In addition, the deluxe box set features a 104-page book, which includes a liner notes essay by Jeff Kaliss, author of I Want To take You Higher: The Life and Times of Sly & the Family Stone, the band’s only authorized biography; track-by-track annotations by original band members including Sly himself; rare and uncirculated photography; an illustrated timeline of the band's career; 45 rpm label and picture sleeve repros; vintage concert posters; and ticket stubs from Sly & The Family Stone concerts; and more.

The package also includes rare pre-Epic Records solo tracks by Sly during his tenure as A&R-producer-songwriter-staff musician at San Francisco's Autumn records, circa 1964-'65.

And in homage to the era of transistor radios, the package features rare mono masters of  the band’s signature hits, including “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again),” “Everyday People,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “I Want to Take You Higher,” and “Sing a Simple Song.” The box set also features rare recordings of some of the band’s legendary live performances.

So there’s enough here to sate the appetite of even the most voracious Sly & the Family Stone fan, as well as funk aficionados and music lovers in general.

“Hey music lover
Music for the human race
I'm gonna add some funky bass”

Preorder Higher! at Amazon

Related blog entry: Review of Sly & the Family Stone's Stand!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Just Funnin' by Mtume: Joyful Funk

"Just Funnin'" is an irresistible funk nugget by R&B/funk band Mtume. The 1978 release is a rollicking, bumpin’ groove with a little P-Funk flavor thrown in for good measure. I love the little piano intro that kicks the track off and continues to percolate beneath the groove throughout the main part of the song, very cool. The track also has some sweet guitar licks, a phat bass line, and some funky horn work. Befitting its title, "Just Funnin'" has a light-hearted, goofy charm. Whenever I hear this song, I envision a funky circus rolling through town.

Mtume was formed in 1977 by songwriter, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist James Mtume, a Philadelphia native and son of  acclaimed jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath. Mtume had previously worked as a percussionist for Miles Davis between 1971 and 1975.

The band Mtume had several hits, but they’re probably most remembered for their much-sampled R&B chart-topper “Juicy Fruit,” (1983).  "Just Funnin'" is a single from their album Kiss This World Goodbye, which was released in 1978. The song didn’t have a strong showing on the charts, only climbing to 93 on the R&B charts. It’s surprising that it charted so low, because it’s such a great cut.

 The lineup for Kiss This World Goodbye included Mtume (lead and backing vocals, congas, percussion), Tawatha Agee (lead vocals, percussion), Basil Fearrington (bass), Hubert Eaves III (keyboards), Howard King (drums), and guitarist Reggie Lucas, who also played in Miles Davis’ band in the ‘70s. “Just Funnin” was written by Mtume, Lucas and King.
In addition to their work with Mtume, Reggie Lucas and James Mtume were a successful and much sought-after production team. The duo formed the production company Mtume/Lucas Productions and wrote and produced tracks for notable artists such as Lou Rawls, Jennifer Holliday, Roberta Flack and Phyllis Hyman. They won a Grammy in 1981 for their composition “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” which was recorded by popular R&B artist Stephanie Mills and became her biggest hit.

Download Just Funnin' at Amazon

Friday, May 10, 2013

Singer-Songwriter Banks Impresses With Debut Single "Before I Ever Met You"

"Before I Ever Met You” is a mesmerizing track by Banks, a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter. The song captured my imagination a few months ago while I was switching stations in my car. I stopped cold when I landed on this track and was hooked. Banks’ sultry voice meshes well with the hauntingly seductive trip-hop groove. This is one of those tracks that creeps into your consciousness and stays with you. And Banks delivers an understated yet powerful vocal performance.

“Before I Ever Met You” was Banks’ debut single released in early February of this year. She dropped her equally impressive second single, “Fall Over,” in March. Banks is a self-taught pianist, vocalist and songwriter, and she cites Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill as influences. She had previously collaborated with UK DJ and producer Lil Silva on the club banger “Work.”  Banks is signed to LA-based independent label IAMSOUND Records. I’m keeping an eye out for this emerging new talent and looking forward to her next release.

Download track at Amazon