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Posts Tagged ‘neo-soul’

(Above: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears rip up the Riot Room in Kansas City, Mo. on Valentine’s Day, 2013.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Thursday may be the first time Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears have headlined a show in Kansas City, but it’s far from the bandleader’s first visit.

The soul and roots music front man has lots of family in the area. For several months in the mid-’90s, his family lived with his grandmother off Cleveland Avenue.

“I was only about 15 or 16 at the time,” Lewis said. “I remember hanging out in the neighborhood playing basketball, hearing gunshots, BBQ. We weren’t there long, only about 6 months.”

black_joe_lewis_soundcheckmagazine_03Just a few years later, Lewis was busking on the streets of Austin, Texas. Five years ago, he started assembling the Honeybears, a five-piece horn and rhythm section welded tight after countless shows and miles touring by van.

Lewis has shuffled in and out of town on family visits several times over the years, but his band is in a vastly different place from when it last stopped in the area.

In 2010, when the group played the Bottleneck in Lawrence, it was touring on the back of its first full-length album, “Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!” In the two years since, the Honeybears dropped their sophomore LP and shuffled members. A third album is underway.

“Our set now is mostly new stuff, but we still play the older songs, too,” Lewis said. “It’s a lot of fun for us. We know fans sometimes want to hear stuff off the records, but they get into it. It will be nice when the record comes out and people will know what to expect.”

Right now Lewis’ plan is to get the six-piece combo in the studio once a two-week tour wraps up, then try to set up a distribution deal. Lewis said he hopes to have the album out this summer but doesn’t have a timeline. Regardless of when it’s released, Lewis can’t wait for fans to hear it.

“I feel like with what we’re doing right now, I’m putting out my first record,” Lewis said. “On a lot of it, we sound like a rock and roll power trio with a horn section.”

Sometimes songs start from skeletons worked up by Lewis or bass player Bill Stevenson. Other ideas come out of jams, either during rehearsal, sound check or a show.

“Somebody might record our jam on their phone and we’ll come back to it, but even when we’re playing live, the stuff that sounds cool, I’ll work on lyrics for it,” Lewis said. “For me the structure of the song is the meat of the song, and the lyrics put it over the top.”

Forces that compromised the band’s sound in the past are gone now. The contract is up with label Lost Highway, which commissioned DJs to create a Honeybears mix with an electronic and hip-hop flavor aimed at the dance floor. Band members who pressured Lewis to clean up the band’s sound are gone.

“To me, those first albums sound wimpy,” Lewis said. “Back in the day, different guys wanted to do different stuff, and I went with it because that goes with being in a band. Now that stuff isn’t around. I get to cut loose.”

A fully unleashed Lewis could be dangerous. There’s not a lot of sheen or timidity in the Honeybears’ catalog. Lewis doesn’t have any trouble channeling Wilson Pickett or Howlin’ Wolf. He isn’t as concerned with re-creating a specific sound or era as are contemporaries Sharon Jones, the Daptone family and Raphael Saadiq, but he works in enough similar circles to draw comparisons.

“Honestly, I think we’re doing something completely different,” Lewis said. “I feel like we’re American roots music with our own twist. Once the new record comes out, the differences will be more obvious.”

Keep reading:

The Budos Band breaks loose

Review: Raphael Saadiq

Fans delay Maxwell’s next album

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(Above: The video for “Pretty Wings,” one of the biggest songs to come off Maxwell’s latest album.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

When Maxwell released his first album in eight years last summer, he planned on making up for lost time by hitting his audience with three albums over a short period of time. The fans, however, had another plan. “BLACKsummer’snight” debuted at No. 1, spawned two singles that stayed on the charts for 46 and 47 weeks, respectively.

The assuring everyone “I’m back for good,” the follow up album is ready. Now Maxwell’s waiting for the excitement to die down.

“This (new album) will be the second in a trilogy,” Maxwell said. “They were going to come out in succession, but then the first one created this response. We’re waiting for the people to tell us when they’re ready.”

The soul man mapped his return cautiously, playing the Uptown on the first leg of his tour in the fall of 2008. By the time his show reached St. Louis a year later he was playing arenas and had two sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden under his belt.

“Honestly, I like the intimate settings better,” said Maxwell, who celebrated his 37th birthday on May 23. “People can hear us better and see us better. But because of the success of the record, I’d be in every town for two weeks if I did that.”

When Maxwell plays Starlight on Sunday, he will bring Jill Scott, one of the singers who blossomed during his time away.

“She is absolutely amazing,” Maxwell said of Scott. “Apart from the music, she not only has the most beautiful smile but the biggest spirit. She typifies soul right now.”

Maxwell said his set is “very different” from previous tour legs. The stage has been redesigned by Roy Bennett, who came to Maxwell’s attention through his work with Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein.

“His ability to design is stellar. We’ve got great video and lights,” Maxwell said. “More importantly is my band. These musicians could stand out in front of a cloth.”

The ten-piece outfit includes several artists who have made names for themselves in the jazz world, like pianist Robert Glasper and bass player Derrick Hodge. The pieces of the ensemble started falling into place when a friend introduced Maxwell to Chris Dave. Dave’s impressive resume includes collaborations with Mint Condition, Meshell Ndgeocello, Pat Metheny, Kenny Garrett.

“Chris is just an incredible drummer. He knew the person who introduced me to the horn section, and the band kind of evolved from there,” Maxwell said. “I won’t say it was happenstance, because I do believe in destiny, but it came together very organically.”

The musical landscape Maxwell re-entered is markedly different. Labels are failing and artists are selling fewer albums and, as a result, generating less money for both themselves and their label.

“It hasn’t been a problem for me, which is incredible,” Maxwell said. “We just added the fourth leg of the tour and I’m getting better album sales than I’ve ever had. I’ve been pretty – and I hate using this word, but – lucky. Blessed.”

For Maxwell the comeback is over. He’s returned and conquered, and now he’s ready to move on. Worn down by being asked why he voluntarily dropped out of sight so many times, Maxwell has a simple, smirking answer: “I like Seinfeld.”

Keep reading:

Review: Maxwell and Jill Scott

Review: Jill Scott at Starlight

Stevie Wonder celebrates Michael Jackson at Starlight

Review: Raphael Saadiq

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(Above: Raphael Saadiq runs the “100 Yard Dash.”)

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

Raphael Saadiq’s latest album, “The Way I See It,” is draped heavily in the sounds of Motown and Philly soul, but don’t call it a tribute album.

“Boyz II Men did a tribute; I wrote a bunch of songs,” Saadiq said about his all-originals album. “This was not intended to be a tribute album. It’s more like a secret love letter to the people I love.”

People like the Funk Brothers, Motown’s now-legendary stable of musicians, and the other unknown musicians who “took music to the level where it is today that I can come out and do this,” Saadiq said. “It’s not just about Smokey (Robinson) and Stevie Wonder, but a bunch of people we don’t even know about.”

He plays most of the instruments on the album himself, but Saadiq recruited two Funk Brothers to help him get that classic Motown sound. Jack Ashford’s tambourine has graced classics like “Nowhere to Run” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Paul Riser, who arranged the strings on Saadiq’s album, has worked with the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

“I brought Jack in because he added a sound I couldn’t have had without him,” said Saadiq, who performs Wednesday at the VooDoo Lounge. “With Paul Riser it was the same thing. You can feel the energy when they walk into a room.”

Having Stevie Wonder play harmonica on one song was ultimate validation. Saadiq even went so far as to introduce his guest like Wonder introduced Dizzy Gillespie on his 1982 hit “Do I Do.”

“Seeing Stevie walk into a room and play is something I’ve never gotten used to,” Saadiq said. “Having him play on this was a stamp of approval. I’ve worked hard for a long time to have him come play (on my album).”

The former Tony! Toni! Tone! singer, who named his first solo album “Instant Vintage,” is more worried about being called “neo soul” than being pigeonholed.

“Everybody knows I hate the term ‘neo-soul,’ ” Saadiq said. “If someone was playing the blues they’d want an old soul. I don’t want a new soul — then I’d sound like somebody on the radio today, which I hate.”

On an album with so much — ahem — old-school soul, Jay-Z’s guest spot on the final track, a bonus remix, probably surprised many listeners.

“That was Q-Tip’s idea,” said Saadiq, referring to the former MC of A Tribe Called Quest. “He was like, ‘You should put Jay-Z on this record’ and then went and got him, because I didn’t know Jay like that. Some people didn’t like it. They’re probably neo-soul fans. I did this for the other people.”

More on Raphael Saadiq from The Daily Record:
“The Way I See It” album review
“The Way I See It” caps the Top 10 albums of 2008

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raphael_saadiq_-_the_way_i_see_it
By Joel Francis

It’s hard to listen to Raphael Saadiq’s new album, “The Way I See It,” without thinking it’s a lost Motown gem.

The record blasts off with “Sure Hope You Mean It,” a song that recalls the finer moments of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Later, Saadiq channels the Temptations on “Keep Marchin'” and “Staying In Love,” which features an effervescent call-and-response over a great rhythm.

The horns on “Big Easy,” courtesy of the Rebirth Brass Band, couple with an incessant guitar and snare drum to create a frantic atmosphere as Saadiq sings “somebody tell me what’s going on/I ain’t seen my baby in far too long.” Think Holland-Dozier-Holland lost in Mardi Gras and you’re almost there.

Saadiq strays from the Motor City to channel the Sound of Philadelphia for “Just One Kiss,” a duet with Joss Stone. Stone shows more restraint on this number than she did on the album Saadiq produced for her last year, “Introducing Joss Stone.” “Calling” starts with a Spanish introduction over flamenco guitar before sliding into a great doo-wop melody.

“Never Give You Up,” another Gamble-Huff-flavored moment, is the stand-out track. The arrangement pulls the listener in before Saadiq’s smooth voice kicks in, and the magnificent, swirling chorus seals the deal. That Stevie Wonder’s cameo after the third verse does not feel forced, speaks to the organic vibe Saadiq has not only created here, but sustained over most of the record.

The only misstep is the album-closing remix of “Oh Girl” featuring Jay-Z. While he offers some of his most soulful rapping to date – at points Jay-Z is nearly singing – the hip hop intrusion breaks the spell and rudely slams the album into the present.

Despite this, Saadiq’s third album is the best of his career. “The Way I See It” is more focused than his 2004 sophomore effort, “Ray Ray,” and tighter than his bloated (but otherwise excellent) debut “Instant Vintage.” From the sound of the guitar and the echo on drums to the mix and arrangement of the backing vocals, everything is spot-on. Even the timing is right – most songs are between two and three minutes.

Motown tributes are a dime a dozen. What elevates “The Way I See It” above the score of old school knock-offs is that it goes beyond the paint-by-numbers approach to inhabit and invigorate the true spirit of the music.

Below: The video for “Love That Girl.”

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