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Posts Tagged ‘Isley Brothers’

(Above: Maxwell performs “Fistful of Tears” in Dallas on the fall 2009 arena leg of the tour.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

If the local birth notices are unusually high late next February, we’ll know why. Sunday night at Starlight, neo-soul stars Maxwell and Jill Scott set a romantic mood with three hours of slow jams designed to linger long after the last note expired.

Shortly after sunset, a silhouette appeared on the screen behind the band. As the 10-piece band vamped, Maxwell suavely strolled out in a three-piece suit and sunglasses. Women erupted in spontaneous shrieks of delight as he set the mood early with “Sumthin’ Sumthin’.”

It was hardly the only time Maxwell would play to the fairer sex. Over the course of his 90- minute set he praised (“Fortunate,” “Ascension”), chastised (“Cold”), apologized (“Pretty Wings”) and seduced (pretty much every other song) the women in the audience. The set comprised two-thirds of Maxwell’s 2009 comeback album “BLACKsummer’snight,” and another half dozen hits and favorites for good measure.

The band rolled through the first three numbers without stopping. The come-hither strut of “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” easily rolled into “Get To Know Ya” and an arrangement based on James Brown’s “The Big Payback.” After a New Orleans jazz breakdown and trumpet solo, the ensemble took a deft turn into the Kool and the Gang-inspired “Cold,” one of the most upbeat kiss-off songs of all time.

Nearly every musician backing Maxwell has a foot in the worlds of jazz and hip hop. Many members have collaborated with rappers Mos Def, Jay-Z or Diddy. Pianist Robert Glasper was received a Grammy nomination for his 2009 album “Double Booked.” This jazz pedigree was on display all night, in the way Glasper or organist Travis Sayles would respond to a vocal phrase, or feed off the rhythm section.

Although the size of venues, staging and setlists have changed, Maxwell and the band have been touring together for nearly two years now. They’ve had plenty of time to sand out the rough spots, and Sunday’s night was an effortlessly paced ride. The roughest element was likely the most surprising: Maxwell’s voice.

The rasp in Maxwell’s throat was obvious from the first number; by the fifth he ‘fessed up to overdoing it the previous night in St. Louis and asking for the audience to help him on the high notes he couldn’t hit. He then bravely launched into the falsetto-sung “This Woman’s Work,” holding the mic stand over the crowd on the chorus. It was a generous gesture, but Maxwell would have been better off letting back-up singer Latina Webb play a greater role. Their duet on “Reunion” was one of the better moments of the night.

This was a small hurdle to overcome. Maxwell’s voice grew stronger with each number, to the point that he was able to handle the high parts in a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Don’t Say Goodnight” with ease. The set ended with two guaranteed crowd-pleasers, “Fortunate” and “Ascension.” On the latter, the very full (but not sold out) house delivered the entire first verse a capella, much to Maxwell’s delight.

Jill Scott had the misfortune of taking the stage with the sun blazing through most of her 80-minute set, rendering most of her lighting and effects moot. It wasn’t a big loss, though, because like Maxwell the focus was on her voice and her band.

The 10-piece group sizzled through the keyboard propelled “It’s Love” that got most of the crowd up and dancing. If that number bounced with the energy of a passionate night on the town, then the next song, “Not Like Crazy,” gently embraced the delicate pleasure of waking up next to that person the following morning.

The two new numbers were studies in contrast. “I Love You” rode a bubbly ‘80s synth line, but wasn’t a radical departure in sound or subject. “Hear My Call” was a desperate, dead-of-night cry for help in the aftermath of a relationship. Scott performed the song backed only by piano. When it was over, she walked to the opposite end of the stage where her other keyboard player started one of her most affirming songs, “He Loves Me.”

Soon the band and the crowd were both fired up, but Scott stopped the show with her near-operatic vocal display that brought a richly deserved standing ovation. Scott made sure everyone stayed on their feet with the girl-power anthem “Hate On Me,” early hit “A Long Walk” and carpe diem hymn “Golden.”

It would have been a delight to have Scott and Maxwell share the stage for a number, but even apart the pair was a perfect complement. Both realized their roles as facilitators as much as entertainers.

“I’m here to support, engage and enthuse,” Maxwell said suggestively.

Scott was more direct: “This is an effort to get y’all some tonight.”

Jill Scott setlist: Gimme, The Real Thing, Insomnia, It’s Love, Not Like Crazy > The Way, Come See Me, Crown Royal, I Love You (new song), Cross My Mind, Hear My Call (new song), He Loves Me, Hate on Me, A Long Walk, Golden.

Maxwell setlist: Sumthin’ Sumthin’ > Get to Know Ya > Cold, Lifetime, Bad Habits, This Woman’s Work, Help Somebody, Fistful of Tears, Stop the World, Reunion, Till the Cops Come Knockin’, Don’t Say Goodnight (Isley Brothers cover) > Fortunate, Ascension. Encore: Pretty Wings.

Keep reading:

Fans delay Maxwell’s next album

Review: Jill Scott at Starlight

Raphael Saadiq sends a love letter to soul makers and Motown

Jamie Foxx brings it to Sprint Center on Saturday

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(Above: Jonny Lang and Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford blaze through “Fire” on March 6, 2010, at The Joint in Las Vegas.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The lineup for Tuesday’s Experience Hendrix concert at the Uptown Theater seemed to set up a joke: How many guitarists does it take to pay tribute to the most celebrated axeman of all time? The answer: Fourteen, including half of Los Lobos, all of Living Colour, a pair of virtuosos, a handful of bluesmen and several contemporaries.

HENDRIX_FY_031610_CGO_002F

Bass player Billy Cox met Jimi Hendrix while the two were in the Army. He is the last living musician from any of the bands Hendrix lead.

Billy Cox, the Band of Gypsys bass player and Jimi Hendrix’ last living band mate, opened the night with a heartfelt thank you and romp through “Stone Free.” Backing him on drums was Chris Layton, better known for his time backing Stevie Ray Vaughan in Double Trouble, and Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers. The star-power of the opening lineup may have had the loaded house drooling over their guitar magazines, but they didn’t have long to revel.

Every 20 minutes or so, another pairing of musicians emerged, each seeming to emphasize a different aspect of Hendrix’ music. His rhythm and blues roots came out in Living Colour’s set, while members of Los Lobos paid tribute to his roots and Kenny Wayne Shepherd emphasized the rock star angle.

Jonny Lang’s performance of “Fire” was the first explosive moment of the night. Backed by Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and a vivacious chorus of singers, Lang’s feverish vocals and impassioned playing drove the crowd to their feet. Whitford was finally able to emerge from the long shadow of his Aerosmith band mate Joe Perry as he and Lang traded solos.

Lang’s set was followed by Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s explosive interpretation of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Knowing his boss was about to burn down the fret board, singer Noah Hunt, who also sings in the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, abandoned the stage after completing his verses. Alone onstage, save the rhythm section of Layton and Scott Nelson, Shepherd struck about every rock star pose imaginable as he soloed endlessly to the rapture of the crowd.

Susan Tedeschi was the lone intruder into this guy’s night out. Although she wasn’t given a set of her own, each of her frequent guest appearances was inspiring. Her singing on “One Rainy Wish” added an earthy sensuality and vulnerability to Hendrix’ lyrics, and her tasty guitar solos were a welcome relief from the pyrotechnics.

The night’s two dozen songs spotlighted classic rock staples “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” and also unearthed some deeper treasures. Cox celebrated the guitarist he met in the Army with “Message of Love,” a song he a Hendrix recorded on the “Band of Gypsys” album. Eric Johnson embraced Hendrix’ love of unusual textures with the deep cut “House Burning Down.”

Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel brought new life into “Purple Haze.” The result wasn’t too different from what Randolph’s Family Band typically serves up, but the playing was much more elastic bouncing between the trio of steel guitars. Eric Johnson enlisted three drummers to help summon the heavy, drugged feel on “Are You Experienced.” Later, Joe Satriani had no trouble coaxing alien sounds from his guitar during “Third Stone From the Sun.”

Midway through the set, guitarist emeritus Hubert Sumlin emerged to represent the pre-Hendrix guitar world. Backed by Tedeschi, and Cesar Rosas and David Hildago of Los Lobos, Sumlin showed none of his 78 years powering through “Killing Floor,” a song he originally cut with Howlin’ Wolf for Chess Records in 1966.
HENDRIX_FY_031610_CGO_001F
While all the expected heavy hitters drew big responses, some of the evening’s best moments occurred during songs Hendrix didn’t write. Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel teamed with Cox and Living Colour singer Corey Glover for a jubilant gallop through Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.” Cox tried to end the number, but Randolph wouldn’t let it stop, motivating Glover’s fervent yelps with his riffs. Early in the night, Isley’s unaccompanied incorporation of “Amazing Grace,” mostly played with his teeth, brought back shades of Woodstock.

After every trick and novelty had been exhausted, Cox returned to the stage and closed the night with the blues staple “Red House.” When all the performers were brought out for a final bow, they extended nearly all the way across the stage. Evidently it takes a lot of bodies to fill some very big shoes.

PROGRAM
Stone Free – Billy Cox, Ernie Isley
Message To Love – Billy Cox, Ernie Isley
Manic Depression > Amazing Grace – Ernie Isley
Power of Soul – Living Colour
Crosstown Traffic – Living Colour
House Burning Down – Eric Johnson
Bold As Love – Eric Johnson
One Rainy Wish – Eric Johnson, Susan Tedeschi
Are You Experienced – Eric Johnson, Will Calhoun
Fire – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford
The Wind Cries Mary – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford
Spanish Castle Magic – Jonny Lang, Brad Whitford, Susan Tedeschi
I Don’t Live Today – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt
Come One – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt
Voodoo Chile > Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Noah Hunt
Can You See Me – David Hildago, Cesar Rosas
Little Wing – David Hildago, Cesar Rosas
Killing Floor – Hubert Sumlin, David Hildago, Cesar Rosas, Susan Tedeschi
Purple Haze – Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel
Them Changes – Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel, Billy Cox, Corey Glover
Third Stone from the Sun – Joe Satriani, Corey Glover, Doug Wimbish, Will Calhoun
Foxy Lady – Joe Satriani, Living Colour
All Along the Watchtower – Joe Satriani, Living Colour
Red House – Billy Cox, Joe Satriani, Brad Whitford, Robert Randolph, Will Calhoun

Note: Except when replaced by Living Colour or Billy Cox, Chris Layton and Scott Nelson played drums and bass. The Sacred Steel is Robert Randolph, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent. Living Colour is Will Calhoun, Corey Glover, Vernon Reid and Doug Wimbish.

Keep reading:

Rock Hall celebrates the 40th anniversary of Woodstock

Review: Buddy Guy

Review: Los Lobos

Review: Chickenfoot

Review: Robert Randolph and the Family Band

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grapevine
Gladys Knight and the Pips – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Pop # 2, R&B # 1

By Joel Francis

Unlike nearly every other soul singer at the time, Gladys Knight didn’t want to go to Motown. She was (rightly) worried she and her group, the Pips, would end up playing second fiddle to Diana Ross and the Supremes. However, the Pips were a democracy. When the rest of the group voted to migrate to Hitsville, Knight reluctantly acquiesced.

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was a thrice-heated leftover when Norman Whitfield presented his song to the group in 1967. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles cut a version the previous year that didn’t make it out of Berry Gordy’s Quality Control meeting. A second Miracles recording of “Grapevine” was buried as an album cut on 1968’s “Special Occasion” LP.  The Isley Brothers were rumored to have recorded a version during their brief stint on the label, but no recording has surfaced to date. Several Motown scholars believe a recording session with the Isleys to cut “Grapevine” was scheduled, but then cancelled.

This is likely the case. In 2005, Motown released the two-disc clearinghouse “Motown Sings Motown Treasures.” This incredible and enlightening collection presented many recordings – Kim Weston performing “Stop! In the Name of Love,” the Supremes doing “Can IGet A Witness,” and the Miracles original, unissued version of “Grapevine,” among others – previously locked in the vaults. It seems unlikely that the Isley Bros. version of “Grapevine,” if it exists, would have been omitted from this collection.

Although it wouldn’t be released for another year, Marvin Gaye had also cut his reading of “Grapevine” by the time the Pips were hearing Whitfield’s pitch.

Whitfield’s latest “Grapevine” arrangement was inspired by Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Whitfield’s desire to “out-funk” Franklin. It’s clear from the great snare-and-cymbal intro that Whitfield was on to something new. Motown had been a lot of things until that point, but it had rarely been so overtly funky. In the coming years, Whitfield would help place Hitsville at the epicenter of psychedelic soul. This recording was one of the first steps down that path.

Whitfield’s attempt to out-do the Memphis soul sound Aretha was getting from Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler was buoyed by Knight’s singing. The gospel background isn’t as obvious in Knight’s delivery, and her voice is a little earthier than Franklin’s, but Knight’s vocals can soar just as high. In fact, the song is little more than drums, piano and Knight’s powerful voice until a scratch guitar enters during the first chorus.

Stealing a page from the Holland-Dozier-Holland production book, the tambourine is mixed front and center. The instrument serves as a tractor, dragging the entire song it its wake. The signature organ line that introduces Gaye’s chart-topping “Grapevine” makes a cameo on the piano about a minute into the song. The saxophone solo bisecting the song is a straight-up homage to King Curtis, the Memphis soul legend. Even the juiciest gossip is rarely this much fun.

The fourth time was the charm for Whitfield, as the Pips’ powerful “Grapevine” finally made it past Gordy’s Quality Control meeting. That didn’t guarantee label support, though, as Knight was forced to rely on her DJ connections to promote the song. When “Grapevine” finally caught on, it caught fire holding the top spot on the R&B chart for six weeks and stalling behind the Monkee’s “Daydream Believer” at No. 2 on the pop chart. Although it was Motown’s best-selling single to date, the “Grapevine” story was far from over.

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(Above: Toots and the Maytals deliver “54-46 Was My Number” to a massive French audience in 2009.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

For four hours Sunday night, the back lot behind Grinder’s felt like a Jamaican resort.

The balmy summer weather was the perfect accompaniment to the music. Toots and the Maytals, the group that invented the word “reggae,” and the Wailers, the band that took it mainstream, celebrated both the roots and the future of the genre for a partially packed but fully appreciative audience.

While both groups feature only one founding member, it was more than enough for each ensemble. Led by bass player Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the Wailers blasted through an energetic hour of Bob Marley’s greatest hits.

The 10-piece band stuck closely to the original arrangements handed down from Mount Marley, but no one seemed to be looking for anything new. The Wailers played the hits for a crowd who had worn out their copies of “Legend” and needed no prompting to sing and dance along.

With a deck stacked so deeply, it was hard to go wrong, but a few songs stood out. “Jamming” took its title literally enough to feature some nice guitar work. “Wait In Vain” featured some nice harmony vocals from lead singer Elan Atias and the two female backing vocalists. The trio tossed the audience a curveball in the middle of that number when they worked “We Are the World” and a shout-out to Michael Jackson in the chorus.

The Wailers’ set ended with an epic medley of “Exodus” and “Punky Reggae Party.” Anchored by the wah guitar strumming and keyboard riff and garnished by horns, the 10-minute performance suggested a slithering, dancing convoy.

When “Exodus” was over, so was the set. It seemed a shame to shut down a band that felt like it was just getting start. The puzzlement was compounded by 45-minute wait before Toots and the Maytals came on.

Toots Hibbert made up for the wait between sets by opening with the song most people wanted to hear -– “Pressure Drop” -– and blasting through his best-known numbers. The music Hibbert made with the Maytals isn’t as famous as Marley’s, but it’s just as influential, mixing gospel, soul, funk and folk.

The earliest highlight wasn’t an original number, though. Hibbert and the seven-piece Maytals transformed “Louie Louie” to something that sounded like a Jamaican version of Booker T and the MGs that ended in double-time with Hibbert screaming like Ronald Isley at the end of “Shout” and verbally jousting with his two female backing singers. The trick worked so well it was reprised several times throughout the set.

A slowed-down reading of “Bam Bam” found Hibbert on acoustic guitar with an arrangement that betrayed the song’s sea shanty roots. Hibbert stayed on acoustic for a ferocious “Funky Kingston,” which more than lived up to its title. He blew a blues harp on “My Love Is So Strong” and dared the crowd to keep up with his fast dance moves several times.

The indefatigable Hibbert still has great pipes and he showed them off frequently. An improvised tribute to Kinston went from soul ballad to blues shuffle to reggae groove before getting a big gospel finish. The Maytals’ church collided with a great cover of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” that reclaimed the number from Dwight Schrute and Andy Bernard’s break room shenanigans.

The Maytals’ 95-minute set ended with romps through “Broadway Jungle” and “54-46 Was My Number” that culminated in another gospel blow-out and the band riffing on “Beat It.”

Public Property opened the evening with a 30-minute set played against the setting sun and an arriving audience. The six-piece band was definitely a disciple of the acts who followed. Their infectious set including the catchy “Choo-Choo Song.”

Setlists

The Wailers: Intro/horn instrumental, Lively Up Yourself, Rastaman Vibration, I Shot the Sheriff, Jamming, Wait In Vain ->We Are the World, Three Little Birds, One Love, Exodus/Punky Reggae Party

Toots and the Maytals: Pressure Drop, Pomp and Pride, Louie Louie, Reggae Got Soul, Time Tough, Bam Bam, Funky Kingston, unknown song, My Love is So Strong, Sweet and Dandy, Reggae Music All Right (improv), Take Me Home Country Roads, You Know, Light Your Light, Monkey Man/encore/Broadway Jungle, 54-46 Was My Number

Keep reading:

Review: Toots and the Maytals (2007)

Review: Sly and Robbie (2009)

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isleys

Isley Brothers – “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You),” Pop #12, R&B #6

By Joel Francis

For the most part, Motown’s talent during its heyday was home-grown. Martha Reeves was a Hitsville secretary, Stevie Wonder was a kid pestering the Funk Brothers for lessons, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson were part of Berry Gordy’s extended family and Diane Ross and her friends stopped by every day after school to pester staff for an audition.

In short, talent came to Motown, not the other way around.

Of course that mindset quickly changed when the Isley Brothers hit the free agent market in 1965. The brothers made their name with 1959’s “Shout!” (recorded for RCA) and 1962’s “Twist and Shout” (recorded for the Wand label and covered by the Beatles). But after bouncing between those two labels and the failure to establish their own imprint, the Isley Brothers were looking for a new home. Berry Gordy was all too happy to welcome them to his fold.

The Isley’s Motown debut, “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You) was their biggest success so far. Holland-Dozier-Holland definitely applied the Motown sound to their number. The drums lead the mix, and the string section sounds more like the Four Tops than the Isley Brothers’ gritty urban soul. The brothers had never sounded so slick before, but the results couldn’t be argued with. The song is infectious, fun and impossible to listen to without breaking into smiles or dance.

Unfortunately, the Isley-Motown marriage didn’t last long. Despite releasing two more albums, the group couldn’t find a follow-up hit and complained of being fed inferior, cast-off tracks. They had a point: “This Old Heart” was originally intended for the Supremes. The brothers left Motown in 1968 and signed with Buddha before finding long-term success with Epic.

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kim-weston

Kim Weston – “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While),” Pop #50, R&B #4

By Joel Francis

Kim Weston is best remembered as Marvin Gaye’s duet partner on “It Takes Two,” but she did manage to score a few chart hits on her own. (Like seemingly every Motown hit of 1965) “Take Me In Your Arms” was written by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team. It was Weston’s most successful solo effort.

Weston faced the same obstacle that confronted every female Motown singer post-1964: She wasn’t Diana Ross. While label founder Berry Gordy was busy obsessing over Ross and the Supremes, Weston’s husband, longtime Motown A&R man Mickey Stevenson, was pouring the same energy into his wife. Unfortunately, the Motown machinery didn’t quite know what to do with her. Weston’s body wasn’t built for the dresses Gordy had designed for his female stars and Gordy’s sisters, who also worked at the label, grew resentful of all the time Stevenson spent grooming his wife. Aside from her tenure as Gaye’s duet partner, Weston was always a second-tier vocalist for the label.

After writing epic, sweeping arrangements for the Four Tops, the score for this number is pretty straightforward. There are no strings or horns. In fact, the entire song rests in the strength of the Funk Brothers rhythm section. “Rock Me” is the operative phrase from the title. The tambourine and drums pushed in the listeners face while equally strong guitar and piano work buried in the mix. Weston’s powerful singing drives everything home. If you’re feet aren’t moving 10 seconds into this number call the doctor, there’s something wrong.

The song was back on the R&B charts just two years later courtesy of the Isley Brothers. A different set of brothers, the Doobie Brothers rode the song to No. 11 on the pop chart in 1975. Blood, Sweat and Tears also covered the song on their 1971 album “BS&T 4.”

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