Tag Archives: soul

Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls

Alabama ShakesBoys and Girls (ATO)

By now, everyone reading this review has heard about Alabama Shakes, or to be more direct, everyone has heard the hype of Alabama Shakes rather than hearing a goddamn note.

I’ll admit to sneaking a peek at them just to get an idea of who the hell we’re contending with, because everything on paper looked a little too good to be true and we really shouldn’t get too hot and bothered about shit that was done as good as it could get generations ago.

That’s the draw of American music. We have short attention spans here in the United States, so forgive us if we’re shooting our wads at some bullshit new flavor while we’re completely ignoring how good Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin were back in the day.

Then, some upstart devotes their entire existence to those records, reminding us that while we were all discussing Lana Del Rey’s SNL appearance, the band Alabama Shakes were sweating in some dump of a rehearsal space, channeling all of those good American influences before becoming darlings at whatever hipster music festivals their managers could get them booked on.

So we’re finally provided with the debut, and yes, it’s awesome. Better yet, it’s recorded just like those old records you’re forgiven for forgetting.

However, Boys & Girls won’t be remembered in twenty years for its adherence to the past. Instead, it will be remembered for what it should be: a brief shot of American music that’s been appropriately rehearsed and impressively executed thanks to the talents of vocalist Brittany Howard.

The backing band–and that’s exactly what they are–should be commending for coming to the realization that their role is one of support, laying off as needed and bringing it back home when it’s time to. They’re not too tight, not too loose, and they know that just hearing Howard sigh, moan, or fucking breathe is more powerful than any bit of solo spotlight or professional chops.

Because they’re gonna get better with age, and they may even face a moment where Howard leaves for greener pastures just like Janis Joplin did with Big Brother. Why waste more time building on the nuances of their dynamics and synchronize their routines more than when they’re as good as we need them to be right now?

Spring echo guitars pluck out rhythms before drummer Steve Johnson even picks up the sticks. A plain background piano adds appropriate colors to several songs. And kudos to guitarist Heath Fogg–my nominee for best rock name of the year–who deserves an award for keeping on the restraint when he could have easily fell into the Sam Andrew trip of trying to outdo who’s obviously the star of this outfit.

I keep bringing up these Joplin references when I should clarify something: Alabama Shakes are better than Big Brother, and that includes when Janis was their frontman.

Howard can wail just as good as Joplin, but she uses the tool sparingly. She possesses a much wider range, and when she pulls out a showstopper like “Be Mine,” it’s a myriad of emotions. In one instance you can hear an exuberant “Whoo hoo!” after a particularly soaring declaration, only to be followed by a terse “If they want a fight, then they started fuckin’ with the wrong heart” that could scare the bejezus out of the biggest of troublemakers.

Joplin had a stunning jab, but Brittany Howard has a better sucker punch.

That’s the beauty of Boys & Girls. It’s a record that’s easy to dismiss based on what you’ve read, but it will land a righteous blow after your first listen. And hopefully the intimidation Ms. Howard and associates provide on their debut will be enough to remind us all how we should always have a band like the Alabama Shakes somewhere on our radar, and not just when some publicist’s pen reminds us of the power of American music.

Video: Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”

Video: Alabama Shakes – “I Found You” (Live)

Daptone Celebrates Ten Years

This video illustrates so much of what I love about independent music makers in general and Daptone Records specifically.

Celebrating ten years of service to soul music, Daptone Records takes you on a tour of their Brooklyn studio and HQ with stories of their humble beginnings and continued humility as they do what they love. See Sharon Jones wiring the control room, Charles Bradley roughing in the live room, and label chief Gabriel Roth showing off his pride and joy. Great, great stuff.

Erykah Badu – New Ameryka, Pt. 1: 4th World War

Erykah Badu - New Ameryka, Pt. 1: 4th World WarErykah BaduNew Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War (Universal Motown)

The story goes that when Marvin Gaye was making What’s Going On, Barry Gordy sent Smokey Robinson to check up on him to see how the artist was progressing. Smokey became one of Gaye’s staunchest supporters after hearing the results, an ally for Gaye. Gordy wanted nothing to do with the album, feeling it was uncommercial and wouldn’t find support at radio. Of course, Gordy found out how wrong he really was as What’s Going On was not only a hit for Marvin, but also a statement for the times and a creative highpoint.

Gaye told Robinson, “The album wasn’t done by me…It was done by God.”

I wonder if Erykah Badu faced similar concerns and criticism when she presented her fourth album, New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War to Motown. Record sales are woefully down and Badu hasn’t had a major hit in years, so it would come as no surprise if some of Universal’s executives were left scratching their heads when they heard the final product.

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Otis Redding – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul

Otis BlueOtis ReddingOtis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (Rhino)

I can’t understand why classic soul artists are frequently utilized for soundtracks and various compilations while their full-length albums are allowed to fall out of print. I understand that the era focused a lot of attention on singles, but surely there were more than a few soul artists that had twelve-inches worth of good material.

Otis Redding is one of those artists, and unfortunately his catalog is often spliced to benefit those soundtracks and compilations. As good as those collections might be, they merely provide a brief reminder that recalls the movie scene or the nostalgic memory. What they fail to do is to provide a picture of the artist, which is something that a decent album has the ability to do.

Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul provides a snapshot, one day in 1965, but the music from that lengthy session provides a lifetime of emotion and an eternity worth of enjoyment. As amazing as the productivity of this session is, what’s even more shocking is the quality of what was produced. It’s the kind of album where you lament why we haven’t been able to find an artist of equal caliber since his death over forty years ago before comprehending that Otis Redding may indeed be one of those once in a lifetime artist. And this is what makes his untimely death such a tragedy.

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The Brutal Story of Amy Winehouse

Amy WinehouseShe put out the best soul record in decades, got screwed up on more drugs than most humans have even heard of, and became a tabloid lightening rod. Join the circus that has swept up Britain and is running wild across the United States: The Amy Winehouse Show.

Her first album Frank was released in 2003 to the usual round of British hype and American indifference. It was nominated for a Mercury Prize but fell on deaf ears in the colonies and was written off as another bland Joss Stone rip-off. Sure, the mounting stories of its creator’s drug and alcohol problems garnered the occasional mention in Rolling Stone and Winehouse’s unusual fashion sense that leans so heavily on the beehive and pedal pusher look piqued our interest and made us lusty for Mary Tyler Moore reruns. But for a couple years she was nothing more than an interesting picture in gossip mags. So why does anyone care now?

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Billy Preston – Dead at 59

Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'Lots of people have made the claim of “the Fifth Beatle” and many more have been appointed the title. From manager Brian Epstein to roadie Mal Evans to producer George Martin to engineer Geoff Emerick, all have been tagged as the fifth Beatle. But only one man can truly claim that role in my eyes: Billy Preston.

Preston’s contribution to Let It Be alone gives him the right to claim the title. Imagine that album without his soulful, tasteful, and entirely emotional playing. You can’t.

Billy Preston died today at age 59 after falling into a coma in November.

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