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Posts Tagged ‘Meshell Ndgeocello’

Day 33

By Joel Francis

Keep grinding and hang in there, my friends.

Dinosaur Jr. – Farm (2009) Of all the ‘80s underground bands that reunited, Dinosaur Jr. might be the most underappreciated. If you read Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life, you may remember the chapter on Dinosaur Jr. as being the most venomous and spite-filled. (If you haven’t read this book, grab a copy and chow down. It’s not only a wonderful primer on how we got from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana, but a heck of a ride in the van with several then-unknown/now-influential bands.)

Yet just six years after guitarist J. Mascis and bass play Lou Barlow spilled their bile over the page, they were not only playing shows together again, but making new music. Farm is the second album in the reunion run. The trio – including drummer Murph – have blown out the cobwebs and are locked in, particularly on the nearly nine-minute song “Imagination Blind.” In the past, Mascis’s ferocious guitar was matched only by his aggressive vocals. His singing is more laid back these days, providing a counter-point that makes his guitar roar even louder. To date, Dinosaur Jr. have released four albums since reconvening – one more than they gave us in their original run. Farm is my favorite from the second batch.

John Cale – Paris 1919 (1973) Perhaps its because he only appeared on half of their albums, but John Cale has always been hidden in Lou Reed’s shadow of the Velvet Underground. There are no traces of the Underground’s sonic experiments with Cale on this, his third album. The songs are all stately and proper, with orchestration and a lyric sheet that reads like Victorian poetry. It’s also a masterpiece. Cale’s lyrics were rarely this direct and his music this accessible – and elegant – again. Think Brian Wilson spiked with Dylan Thomas and you’re getting close. Either way, you’re going to want to hear this. And then play it again.

Bryan Ferry – Boys and Girls (1985) Prior to Boys and Girls, Bryan Ferry solo albums were almost exclusively vehicles for the singer to put his own twist on other people’s material. With the end of Roxy Music, however, solo albums became Ferry’s outlet for his own compositions. Boys and Girls is Ferry’s first album after Roxy, and it retains the same impeccable sheen as Avalon. If anything, Boys and Girls is so polished it tends to get a bit samey. That said, Ferry’s songwriting is strong enough to keep me coming back to it. My favorites here are the opening singles “Sensation” and “Slave To Love” and the haunting title track. If you miss the sound and feel of late-period Roxy Music and want to keep the party going, Boys and Girls is the place to go.

Meshell Ndegeocello – Pour une ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone (2012) Look closely at the album title – this is a dedication to Nina Simone, not a tribute. For her tenth solo album, Ndegeocello does her best to reclaim these well-known covers associated with the diva and civil rights activist. It works.

It is almost impossible to think of the Animals version of “Don’t Let Me Be Understood,” except to comment on the vast differences between the interpretations. The same thing goes with Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and “House of the Rising Son.” The sensual “Real Real” with Toshi Reagon sounds something Ndegeocello wrote yesterday, not a 45-year-old Simone song. Simone was always searching for something new in her music, regardless of the cost, personal or professional. Ndegeocello captures that restless, temperamental spirit well across these 14 tracks. This won’t replace either woman’s individual work, but can proudly rest next to them.

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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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Cloud 9
Temptations – “Cloud 9,” Pop # 6, R&B # 2

By Joel Francis

When the Temptations kicked David Ruffin out of the group in 1968, they cleaned house. Free of their troubled lead singer and his drug dependence and egocentric demands to rebill the quintet “David Ruffin and the Temptations,” founding member Otis Williams decided the psychedelic stylings of Sly and the Family Stone were the sound of the future. Although producer Norman Whitfield was reluctant to change the band’s sound with something “that ain’t nothing but a little passing fancy,” he eventually relented.

The wah guitar and flat cymbal sound that opens the song was completely unlike anything Motown had issued before. Instead of featuring one vocalist, the number finds all five Temptations passing the lead around. Williams and Whitfield’s early interest in Sly and the Family Stone is betrayed by the arrangement, which mirrors the San Francisco group’s No. 8 hit, “Dance to the Music.”

The lyrics also hit on what would become another touchstone of the post-Ruffin Temptations. The socially conscious themes of poverty, abuse and danger in the urban core would be repeated in the hits “Ball of Confusion,” “Run Away Child, Running Wild” and several other album tracks.

Williams has denied that the songs glorifies drugs as an escape to the world’s problems. For him, the key line is when Eddie Kendricks explains that cloud nine is “a world of love and harmony.”

“Cloud 9” brought Motown its first Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental. The new category was just in its third year and had previously been awarded to Ramsey Lewis and Sam and Dave. The song paved the way for later psychedelic hits “Runaway Child, Running Wild,” “Psychedelic Shack.” These songs placed the Temptations on the vanguard of soul music and helped clear the way for Funkadelic, Earth Wind and Fire and the funk movement of the 1970s.

“Cloud 9” was run through the Motown stable and covered by Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and Edwin Starr. Meshell Ndgeocello performed the song live in the excellent Funk Brothers tribute/documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.” The song has also been covered by reggae artist Carl Dawkins, Latin musician Mongo Santamaria and Rod Stewart.

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