Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Do It, Fluid" By The Blackbyrds

The Blackbyrds’ “Do It, Fluid” is a great party jam that had clubs and parties jumpin’ back in the day. The irresistible groove is anchored by David Williams’ funky bass line. And Kevin Toney’s percolating clavinet keeps the groove cookin’. The track has a laid-back, relaxed flow that effectively captures a club atmosphere where everyone’s chillin’ and having a good time—and maybe a bit tipsy. Allan C. Barnes accentuates the groove with a smooth tenor sax solo, and Toney’s lazily sung lead vocal fits well with the track’s relaxed, funky vibe. And the song has a great hook with the catchy chant, “I like to party.” This is definitely my favorite Blackbyrds joint.

“Do It, Fluid” was written by the late jazz legend Donald Byrd, who was the Blackbyrds’ mentor and frequent collaborator and producer. It was a single from The Blackbyrds’ self-titled debut album, which was released in 1974. The song saw some major chart action; it peaked at #23 on the U.S. R&B singles chart, #39 on the dance charts and #69 on the pop singles chart.  It was the first in a string of R&B and pop hits for the talented jazz-funk outfit. Some of their other hits included “Happy Music,” “Walking in Rhythm,” “Soft and Easy,” “Rock Creek Park,” “Party Land” and “Supernatural Feeling.”

Additionally, “Do It, Fluid” was used effectively in a scene from Peter Berg’s twisted black comedy Very Bad Things (1998). And the track has also gotten some love in the hip-hop community. It’s been sampled by several hip-hop artists, including Racionais MC’s (“Mulheres Vulgares”); B-Fats (“How’s Everybody Feelin’?”); I.R.M. Crew (“R U Ready 2 Change The World?”); and DJ Quik and 2nd II None, featuring El DeBarge, AMG and Hi-C  (“Get 2Getha Again”).

The Blackbyrds are still active and continue to bring their potent brand of jazz-funk and soul to appreciative audiences around the world. They’ve been gigging off and on over the years, and the individual members have been involved in slew of various music projects.

Do It, Fluid at Amazon

Related blog entry: "Unfinished Business" by the Blackbyrds

Monday, January 26, 2015

"Free" By Graham Central Station, Featuring Prince and Chaka Khan

This Graham Central Station joint is funkier than skunk piss on a sweltering summer day. It's pure uncut funk like they used to make way back in golden era of funk music in the 1970s. The track features the powerful funk trinity of Larry Graham, Prince and Chaka Khan—and of course Graham’s super-tight band GCS. It’s hard to go wrong when you have this caliber of musical talent at the helm. And the song boasts some sterling horn work from former Sly & the Family Stone players Cynthia Robinson (trumpet) and Jerry Martini (saxophone), as well as some nasty bass from Graham. And Graham, Prince and Chaka serve up ample helpings of funk with their soulful, gospel-laced vocals. 

You can definitely hear some Riot-era Sly & the Family Stone elements in this slow-burn, percolating funk groove, as well as some Prince flavor. What’s also cool about this song is that you’ve got three great singers handling the vocals, and they all bring the fire.

“Free” was written by Graham and is from Graham Central Station’s album GCS 2000, which was released in 1998. The album was co-produced by Graham and Prince. Graham penned all the tracks on his own save for “Utopia” in which he co-wrote with Prince. The album was released on Prince’s label NPG Records. It was recorded between November, 1997 and January, 1998 at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, Minnesota.  GCS 2000 is a solid collection of funk, soul and R&B tracks. It was Graham Central Station’s first American album release since his 1979 collection Star Walk.

The musicians who played on the album consisted of Graham Central station members and members of Prince’s band, The New Power Generation. In addition to those already mentioned, some of the other players on the album include the following: Gail Muldrow (guitar, vocals); Robert “Butch” Sam (organ, vocals); Brother Jules (scratches); Wilton Rabb (guitar, vocals); Michael Bland (drums); Marva King (backing vocals); Tina and Latia Graham (backing vocals); and Kirk Johnson (drums). Prince appeared on every track either as a vocalist or musician. But outside of “Free,” his other musical contributions on the album are uncredited.

GCS 2000 CD at Amazon

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Alex Boyé Brings Some African Flavor To Michael Jackson's Song "They Don't Care About Us"

British-born singer Alex Boyé’s powerful “Africanized” rendition of Michael Jackson’s controversial 1995 song “They Don’t Care About Us” is one of the best covers I’ve heard recently. The African touch works really well on this cut. It augments the tribal feel of the percussion-heavy original. And I like how Boyé—who is of Nigerian descent—doesn’t try to imitate MJ’s singing style but brings his own raw African-tinged vocal style to the mix. And the vocal arrangement is top-notch—boasting a soul-stirring tribal-chant breakdown and some dope beatboxing. And the background vocals are also quality.

Additionally, the cover has a terrific video, which was directed by filmmaker and photographer Bryce Johnson. It contains some great dancing from Boyé, an awesome African drumming group, skilled beatboxers and colorful ethnic garb.

 Boyé was born in London, England to Nigerian parents.  The singer spent several of his early years in Nigeria before moving back to England.  When he was 16, he discovered The Church of the Latter Day Saints and converted to the faith.  He kicked off his professional career in music as a backup dancer for prominent pop artists such as George Michael.

 And following his stint as a backup dancer, he formed and became the lead singer of the European boyband Awesome in 1995. The group won a vocal competition on Capital Radio, one of London’s most popular radio stations.  This led to the group signing a five-album contract with Universal Records Europe. The group released three singles from their debut album Rumors, which made the top ten on various pop charts across Europe. The group was very successful, selling more than half a million CDS and performing alongside big-name artists such as Bryan Adams, The Backstreet Boys, Mary J. Blige, Smashing Pumpkins, Simon & Garfunkel and MC Hammer.

In 1999, Boyé left Awesome to pursue a solo career, as he felt being in the group was heading him toward a lifestyle that he wasn’t interested in pursuing. The following year, he moved to Salt Lake City, Utah and began his career as a solo artist in which he recorded and performed Christian music. He released his debut solo album, The Love Goes On, in 2001. The gospel album contains a mix of hip hop-flavored LDS hymns and R&B originals by Boyé. And in 2006, he became a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, while still continuing his solo career.

Boyé’s has been enjoying a quite a successful career as a solo artist. In 2005, he received an award from the LDS Booksellers Association for his album Testimony. And his songs have been featured on movie soundtracks, including the 2002 film Charly. And in 2013, he opened for Olivia Newton John at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Additionally, the singer was featured on The Piano Guys’ beautiful cover of Coldplay’s hit song “Paradise,” which was released in 2012 as “Peponi.” It blew up and currently has more than 32 million views on youtube. And his “Africanized” rendition of the song “Let It Go” from the Disney blockbuster film Frozen has also gone viral with more than 60 million views. Boyé’s gorgeous cover of the Disney song features the One Voice Children’s Choir, and it was voted the #1 cover song of 2014 on youtube.

Boyé has also been getting a lot of love for his uplifting and infectious original song “Lemonade,” which has been pulling in hundreds of thousands of views on youtube. And in August of last year, the talented singer/songwriter dropped his album Africanized. The album features covers of popular pop songs that have been given some African flavor—as he calls it “Africanized.” Some of the tracks on the album of include the following covers: “Happy” (Pharrell Williams); “Royals” (Lorde); “Grenade” (Bruno Mars); and “Roar” (Katy Perry). The album also contains his cover of “Let It Go.” And he recently did a cover of Taylor Swift’s smash “Shake It Off,” which can be found on youtube.

At his website, Boyé wrote that his “ultimate goal is to make people feel good and give them a few moments of uplift.” And he has certainly done that over the years through his music and performances. To learn more about Boyé, visit his website.

Boyé's cover  of  "They Don't Care About Us"

Boyé's original song "Lemonade"

They Don't Care About Us at Amazon

Africanized (album)_ at Amazon

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ontario Music Lovers Get Their Groove On To After Funk

After Funk has been bringing the ruckus to the Ontario music scene since its formation in 2011. The five-piece groove outfit has made a name for itself with its potent brand of progressive funk/soul and exhilarating live shows. The band is based in Toronto, Ontario and is comprised of the following talented players: Yanick Allwood (keyboards, vocals); Justin Bontje (bass); Jaime Rosenberg (drums); Phil Tessis (guitar); and Andrew Racknor (alto saxophone).  After Funk has been delivering mega doses of funk and soul to appreciative audiences across Ontario and Quebec, as well as parts of the U.S. And the band never fails to blow the doors off the hinges at their high-energy live shows—which are like huge house parties. Also, After Funk was crowned the winners of Electric Forest's 2014 Instrumental Forester Competition.

The band’s fan base continues to swell each year, and they have had the opportunity to open for acclaimed music acts such as Dumpstaphunk, Lettuce, Five Alarm Funk, The Souljazz Orchestra, Walk Off The Earth and Grammy-winning instrumental fusion band Snarky Puppy.

After Funk has a pretty wide range of influences, which include James Brown, Nigel Hall, Eric Krasno, Tchaikovsky, Herbie Hancock, Lettuce, Tye Tribbett, Snarky Puppy, Stevie Wonder, Soullive, D’Angelo and the Meters. The band melds all these diverse influences to create their own singular and dynamic sound.

Early last year the band dropped its self-titled EP, which is a stellar seven-song collection of funk, soul, jazz and rock. One of the standout tracks is “Palindrome,” a mesmerizing jazz-fusion instrumental, which showcases the band’s impressive musical chops and versatility. And “Arabia” is a beautiful romantic cut that’s elevated by a jazzy Middle Eastern-flavored section.  Also, I have “The Fugitive” on repeat. This winning track contains an infectious melody, indelible chorus and a great lead vocal from Allwood. And Kyla Charter and Rachel Vandezande sweeten the chorus with their honeyed backup vocals. I could easily imagine hearing this cut on the radio.

“The Way It Is” is a kinetic funk/soul track that’s driven by Bontje’s bumpin’ bass line. Allwood  really shines on this cut, delivering a powerful, gospel-drenched vocal performance. And Julian Nalli serves up a super-funky sax solo, and Tessis contributes a scorching solo on guitar. The band goes to church near the end of the song, with Allwood cutting loose with some fiery soul shouting. The finale sounds like a funky revival meeting.

The jazzy funk groove “Tequils” is another quality track from the collection. The song is enhanced by Bontje’s impeccable bass work and Rosenberg’s killer drumming. And Allwood brings the funk on vocals and organ. Additionally, Meagan Luchko provides some soulful backing vocals, and Tessis delivers another fantastic guitar solo.

The remaining three tracks on the EP are equally strong, showing that After Funk has talent and creativity to burn.  Allwood wrote four of the tracks on his own and co-wrote “Tequils” with Bontje. Tessis wrote “Palindrome” on his own and co-wrote “Busted” with Josh Cohen.

After Funk has been busy on the road thrilling fans with their exciting live shows. The band has some U.S. dates lined up for next month: The Rex Theater in Pittsburgh, PA (Feb. 19), The Tonic Room in Chicago, IL (Feb. 20), The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI (Feb. 21). And they return to Ontario on February 26 for a show at The Toucan in Kingston. To get more concert info, learn more about the band, or check out their EP, visit their website.

"The Way It Is"


Live performance of After Funk's super-funky track "Elephant Walk"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Let Me Tickle Your Fancy by Jermaine Jackson, featuring Devo

This song marked one of the more unusual collaborations in pop music:  Velvet-voiced R&B star Jermaine Jackson teamed up with two members of the innovative, eccentric new wave band Devo. For some odd reason, this unlikely pairing reaped winning results. The song is an infectious mélange of funk, rock, pop and new wave. And Devo members Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale’s rigid and robotic backing vocals provide a nice contrast to Jermaine’s smooth, soulful lead vocal. The percolating groove boasts some cool synth parts and funky rhythm guitar licks played by acclaimed axeman/composer/producer Paul M. Jackson, Jr., who also serves up a wicked guitar solo. The track reminds me a bit of the funk/new wave/rock hybrid tracks that Prince was recording at the time, but not quite as boldly creative or adventurous as his excursions into that area.

“Let Me Tickle Your Fancy” is the title track from Jermaine’s ninth studio album, released in 1982. It was the vocalist/bass player’s final album with Motown before he signed with Arista Records the following year. The track was written by Jermaine, Marilyn McLeod, Paul M. Jackson, Jr. and Pam Sawyer.  Jermaine is also credited with the track’s funky rhythm arrangement. And it was his idea to have the Devo members sing the backing vocals to enhance the new wave feel of the song. Mothersbaugh and Casale are credited as Spud and Pud Devo on the album. Neither of the Spudboys played any instruments on the studio version of the song, but you can certainly hear their influence throughout. Singer/songwriter Stephanie Spruill also helped out with the backing vocals, as did Jermaine.

The song performed well on the charts, peaking at #5 on the U.S. R&B charts and at # 18 on the pop charts. The song doesn’t seem to get a lot of love these days and is not as recognized as some of Jermaine’s other hits as a solo artist. I’ve come across some R&B music lovers who have never even heard of the song. But it’s a really great cut as well as quite an interesting collaboration between two very different artists.

Jermaine performing the song on a TV special with the Spudboys

Let Me Tickle Your Fancy at Amazon

Friday, January 9, 2015

P-Funk Burn Up The Stage At The Montreux Jazz Festival

George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars tore the roof off at the 2004 Montreux Jazz Festival with a show-stopping performance of  “Undisco Kidd.” This live rendition is a bit more smooth and jazzy than the studio version, but it doesn’t lose an ounce of that good funk.

Billy “Bass” Nelson holds down the bottom with the song’s memorable creepin’ bass line. And the late, great Belita Woods delivers a majestic vocal performance. Her vocals are just so effortlessly soulful and powerful. Also, Bernie Worrell does his thing on the keys. 

And the funakalicious backup vocals are provided by Kendra Foster, RonKat Spearman, Kim Manning, Michael “Clip” Payne and Steve Boyd. This a very tight performance, with all the P-Funk members bringing their a-game to the proceedings.

Uncle Jam and the P-Funk crew treated the Montreux audience to two and a half hours of some pure uncut funk. In addition to “Undisco Kidd,” their set included P-Funk classics such  as “Maggot Brain,” “Bop Gun (Endangered Species),” “Flash Light,” “Atomic Dog,”  and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Fortunately for Funkateers, the P-Funk's 2004 concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival is available on both CD and DVD.

The Montreux Jazz Festival is one of the most prominent annual music festivals in the world, attracting up to 250,000 attendees each year. The festival, which began in 1967, has drawn some of music’s biggest names over the years, including recording legends such as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Prince, Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye.  The music fest takes place annually in early July on the Lake Geneva shoreline in Montreux, Switzerland.

“Undisco Kidd” was written by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell and was a single from Funkadelic’s album Tales of Kid Funkadelic, which was released in 1976. The song peaked at #30 on the U.S. R&B charts and #102 on the pop charts.

Part 2 of the Montreux concert. "Undisco Kidd" starts at 9:15.

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic - Live at Montreux 2004 (DVD)

George Clinton and P-Funk Live in Montreux - 2004 CD

Friday, January 2, 2015

“Blue Gangsta” by Michael Jackson

“Blue Gangsta” is an unsung masterpiece, a truly inspired and powerful piece of R&B/pop. The song has a unique and indelible quality and sounds unlike anything Michael Jackson had previously recorded. With dynamic horn blasts, swelling strings and cool accordion strains, the song has a very filmic vibe. The track also boasts a badass stuttering beat and a slightly menacing piano part. And MJ delivers a searing vocal performance, which is nicely complemented by the rich, smooth background harmonies.

“Blue Gangsta” is about the heartbreak of a tough guy and follows in the tradition of some of MJ’s other cinematic gangster-themed cuts, such as “Smooth Criminal” and “Al Capone.” He had a huge love for classic film noir gangster flicks, which was often reflected in his songs and music videos.

“Blue Gangsta” was recorded around 1999 during the sessions for MJ’s 2001 Invincible album, but it didn’t make the final cut. Known for his near obsessive perfectionism, the late R&B/pop superstar would sometimes record up to 70 songs per album and then slowly narrow the list down to the tracks he felt were the best fit for that particular collection. Even if he really liked a song, he wouldn’t include it if he felt it wasn’t right for a particular album. That’s why he left behind so many great unreleased tracks.

The song was written, composed and produced by MJ and New Jack Swing songwriter/producer Elliot Straite (better known as Dr. Freeze). The brilliantly imaginative track showed that MJ was still experimenting and trying new things with his sound in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. He was far from running out of original ideas as many had claimed.

Rap artist Temperamental eventually got a hold of the track, and without Jackson's permission,  remixed it and added a rap; the remixed version features Pras of the Fugees and is titled “Gangsta (No Friend of Mine)." Temperamental posted this remixed version of the song on his Myspace page in late 2006.

The original version of “Blue Gangsta”—without the remixes and rap—was leaked online in 2010. And most of MJ’s fans were blown away by it and were flabbergasted that it wasn’t included on his Invincible album.

The song recently resurfaced on the pop legend’s second posthumous album Xscape, which was released on May 13, 2014.  Producers Timbaland and Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon overhauled the track for the new album. Some of their additions include a moody synth bass line and a more hip hop-based beat, and they removed the piano and accordion parts that were on the original version. The album includes both versions of the song.  I personally prefer the 1999 version. It’s MJ’s original vision of the song, and I feel it better captures the tense, cinematic mood that he was shooting for. Don’t get me wrong, Timbaland and Harmon did a good job, but some tracks are just better left alone; and this is one of them in my opinion.

The song was met with a largely positive reception, receiving high marks from noted music critics and a lot of love from fans. It’s praised as one of the strongest tracks on the Xscape album.

Dancers from The IMMORTAL World Tour celebrated the release of the Xscape album with a Smooth Criminal-inspired music video set to the original version of “Blue Gangsta.” The video is filled with stellar choreography that MJ no doubt would have appreciated.

Original version of "Blue Gangsta"

Version of "Blue Gangsta" with Timbaland and Harmon's changes

The IMMORTAL World Tour's Blue Gangsta video

Blue Gangsta (Original Version) at Amazon