Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Joss Stone’

 (Above: Damian Marley and Nas perform at the Beaumont Club in Kansas City, Mo. on June 26, 2009.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

When the rapper Nas and reggae artist Damian Marley, youngest son of Bob Marley, first teamed up five years ago, the result was solid, but not spectacular. “Road to Zion” was a typical mash-up with Nas dropping a verse into the pocket of a mostly completed composition. There was little interaction between the two.

All of that immediately flies out the window on “Distant Relatives,” the new full-length collaboration between Nas and Marley. Open cut “As We Enter” finds the pair tag-teaming stanzas. As Nas spits “My man can speak patois/and I can speak rap star,” Marley drops the line “from Queens to Kingston/gunshot we use and govern the kingdom.”

The “rhythm piranhas” – as Marley dubs the duo – started toying with the idea of producing an EP to benefit school in Africa back in 2008, but the project grew as it progressed. Predictably, the lyrics find both vocalists working in a political vein, which is not a radical departure for either.

Nas shines in this environment, weaving street parables into Marley’s global paradigm. Marley, on the other hand, brings a sense of optimism lacking on most hip hop albums. His influence permits Nas to deliver his most straightforward and affirming lines this since “I Can” on the track “Count Your Blessings.”

Although “Distant Relatives” celebrates Africa, the only musician from the continent to appear on the record in person is K’naan, who blesses two tracks. The reset of the album captures the energy and rhythm of the motherland through samples that include Ethiopian jazz, Angolan singing and the Malian couple Amadou and Miriam. And while the pulse is definitely (defiantly?) African, the concrete jungle of Marley’s Jamaica and Nas’ New York are never far.

The only time the third world spell is broken comes on the song “My Generation.” Lil Wayne’s appearance on the track is passable, but feels like a ponderous attempt at mainstream radio play. The most egregious offender, however, is Joss Stone, ruins a decent production with an over-the-top delivery that seems to parody an American Idol wannabe.

Despite the title, the worlds of rap and reggae aren’t really that distant. Afrika Bambaata and Run-DMC dipped into the reggae in rap’s first decade. KRS-One later incorporated reggae into his 1987 hit “The Bridge is Over,” which famously dissed Nas’ home borough. The decade would also find KRS-One collaborating with Sly and Robbie and Shabba Ranks.

Likewise, Marley is no stranger to hip hop. His raspy voice has always worked better in a spoken cadence than in his limited singing range. Both of his major-label albums bounce with an urban beat. “Welcome to Jamrock,” the Grammy-winning album that fostered his meeting with Nas, also featured a track with The Roots MC Black Thought. In addition, Marley’s brother Stephen Marley, who produced two of the cuts on “Distant Strangers” oversaw a remix album of his father’s songs that featured The Roots, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Guru and former Fugee Lauryn Hill, who is married to Rohan Marley, another of Bob Marley’s sons.

“Distant Relatives” flattens this musical landscape. It is an ambitious project with global aims, not only musically, but lyrically, dealing with humanity, morality and messy nuances of emotion like greed and humility that can easily come across as clichés or preaching. Few artists have the vision to imagine a project of such scope, let alone pull it off.

Marley and Nas teamed up because they wanted to respond to the disasters in Haiti, Somalia and Darfur. Their intentions should be appreciated. The results should be celebrated.

Keep reading:

Review: The Original Wailers

Jazz, hip hop collide to celebrate landmark album

Review: Toots and the Maytals, the Wailers

Review: Bela Fleck’s Africa Project

Review: Sly and Robbie

Album review – “Stax: The Soul of Hip-Hop”

Review: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Jay-Z – “The Blueprint 3″

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

(Above: Jeff Beck darn near steals “A Day in the Life” from the Beatles.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Guitar wizard Jeff Beck’s career spans six decades and encompasses rock, fusion, prog rock, rockabilly, techno and blues.

So when Beck says he prefers to experiment in different styles, it’s a bit like Mick Jagger saying he likes groupies.

There are few times on Beck’s 17 studio albums where he dips into as many styles as he has on his latest release, “Emotion and Commotion.”

The record includes performances with a full orchestra, collaborations with Irish, soul and opera singers and a pair of tributes to the late Jeff Buckley.

“I try not to get stuck on something or I’ll end up doing four albums of the same thing. I dabble,” Beck said in a recent telephone interview while on tour in Australia.

While Beck covers the gamut, his latest album was largely the product of good-luck accidents. Taking a cue from his fellow guitarists in the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Beck appears with an orchestra on several pieces, including Puccini’s aria “Nessun Dorma” and an arrangement of “Corpus Christi Carol,” recorded in tribute to Buckley.

“The whole idea of me doing classical numbers started five or six years ago,” Beck said. “I was trying to get my guitar to sound like a voice in an orchestra.”

The initial result — an interpretation of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 — remains unreleased, but it encouraged Beck to keep trying.

“It was a hell of a lot of work for it to just be lying around, but (Mahler’s Fifth) allowed me to compromise,” Beck said. “I didn’t want to take an entire album’s worth to EMI Classics, because I couldn’t see a career jumping on orchestra stages every night with me as conductor. So we just have a taste.”

Beck unintentionally mirrored another aspect of Clapton’s career when he covered “Over the Rainbow.” Clapton performed the number on his 2001 tour, but Beck said he has no intention of hearing Clapton’s interpretation “because I don’t want to realize any similarity.

“I used to watch weepy movies, genuine quality films by Busby Berkeley, where all of a sudden a band kicks in and music would happen,” Beck said. “When I heard that song, it was one of the most beautiful performances.”

The lush orchestral numbers are countered by a pair of songs featuring Joss Stone on vocals, and several hard-rocking cuts with his old touring band, including young British bass savant Tal Wilkenfeld.

On “Lilac Wine,” a second tribute to Buckley, Beck is joined by Imelda May on the mic.

“This is how my life is,” Beck said. “I meet people or hear about them, and then I find out they’re available when I look into them. Imelda and Joss are two of the most beautiful women ever, and they fancy working with me, so who’s going to say no?”

“Emotion and Commotion” closes with a song from the Oscar-winning score to “Atonement.” Beck had been working with an orchestra on the piece, when producer Steve Lipson told him opera singer Olivia Safe was recording next door.

“We played her ‘Elegy for Dunkirk,’ and she completely flipped out. The next thing I know, she’s sitting in on it,” Beck said. “I was missing some element on my own. The performance is much deeper, thanks to her.”

The tributes to Buckley were also serendipitous. Beck wasn’t familiar with the late singer-songwriter until someone slipped him a CD on the way out of a party.

Beck said he was incredibly moved by Buckley’s singing and wanted to interpret that voice on the guitar.

“Without any design, these songs slid into place,” he said. “At first we were going to do ‘Hallelujah,’ but that song has become very popular, so we decided against it.”

Before embarking on his latest tour, Beck paired with Clapton for a handful of dates in Japan. The shows featured solo sets from each guitarist and culminated with a jam.

“Eric and I have always been linked through the Yardbirds, but we always seem to brush casually past each other,” Beck said. “I know people were hoping we’d compete to see who’s better, but I’ve always thought it looks stupid to try and out-shred someone. Eric would hit me with a certain style of music, and then it’s up to me to respond. It’s a meeting of two people, not a guitar contest.”

While Beck’s tour will include about half of the songs from “Emotion and Commotion,” it will feature none of the guest musicians, including Wilkenfeld.

However, the tour has reunited Beck with drummer Narada Michael Walden, who played on Beck’s 1976 album “Wired.” Walden has since produced “The Bodyguard” soundtrack, wrote the No. 1 hit “Freeway of Love” for Aretha Franklin and has penned or produced other chart-toppers for Mariah Carey, Diana Ross, Starship and Al Jarreau.

“I had to replace the rhythm section because they had other commitments,” Beck said. “Tal had her own project to do, which she delayed while she was playing with me. I hesitated to call Narada because I knew how busy he was, but he said I should have called 30 years ago. He was waiting for the call.”

Keep reading:

The Best of Jeff Beck

Review: B.B. King and Buddy Guy

Review: Experience Hendrix

The True Story of Cadillac Records (Part One): The Birth of Chess Records and the Chicago Blues

Read Full Post »

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.”

Read Full Post »