Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Year one of Facel Vega Soul is at an end; and just like any good concert, we're currently at an intermission; everyone's buggered off to the bar for a couple of cheeky halfs (hic), an overpriced Cornetto and a sly fag out the back. Merry Xmas, a painlessly stoned New Year and then get back 'ere in January where we do it all again, once more, with feeling.

 Back in 2012!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Jasmine Kara - In The Basement (2011)

With various funk labels turning out new age jazz funk in the last couple of years, there was only really one thing for the label best known for that practice to do. Start releasing dirty soul and funk.
In The Basement, originally sung by Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto, is the first single out from Jasmine Kara, from the album Blues Ain't Nothing But A Good Woman Gone Bad.
Iranian born, Swedish native Kara has an ability to bare her soul vocally, quite a feat in a young voice. Not surprising then why it wasn’t long before she was brought to the attention of legendary records man Marshall Chess of Chess Records fame. Mr Chess became Jasmine's mentor and produced her debut album mentioned above, initially released through Tri-Sound Records, Marshal's other label.
In collaboration  with Tri-Sound, Acid Jazz have released this track as a single from the album, with the equally dancefloor filling flip-side In The Basement. Pt 2. Dunno what’s going on with the release schedule for the album; although the single came out September 19th on Acid Jazz, no date seems to have been set for the album.
The spectacularly-voiced  Kara performs a version of In The Basement that isn’t wildly different from the original - slightly heavier and faster - but nonetheless a dead ringer for a sixties soul session 45.
Off the hook singing, peerless production and a b-boy-featuring video should imbue Kara’s career with a credibility that prevents it ending up where Duffy’s has. In the basement.

Lack Of Afro - Roderigo (2007)

As a multi instrumentalist, in-demand producer and re-mixer, a DJ with his finger on the cutting edge of contemporary sounds, and an ear tastefully cocked to the hippest soul, jazz and funk music from the 60´s and 70´s, Adam Gibbons, the man at the centre of the Lack Of Afro phenomenon, has already established an unrivalled reputation as one of the most crucial names at work in funk and dance music today.
The Lack Of Afro story began back in 2006 after excited word spread to the Freestyle Records offices about the sounds Adam was creating, Freestyles´ head honcho DJ Adrian Gibson instantly signed him and released the stunning debut single Wait A Minute. One of the labels fastest selling 12”s ever, it has gone onto sell massive numbers worldwide and appeared on countless compilations. The subsequent 2007 album Press On fulfilled his early promise, with Adam playing nearly all the instruments himself. Hailed by iDJ magazine as “one of the greatest albums of the modern funk era” the release passed into contemporary music folklore.
This track takes it's cues from latin funk: Roderigo is a stomping, horn led dancefloor monster - once again illustrating the unique production style of this young producer and giving us a memorable track into the bargain.

Diesler feat. Laura Vane - Samba Magic (2010)

Diesler's first release was Cotton Wool, part of the Tru Thoughts Shapes One compilation: despite being written when he was only 20, the song still found its way onto Radio 1, a massive achievement for a debut track. This success was followed with the Ladies and Gentlemen Get Your Engines Ready EP in June 2004; a mixture of smooth, laid-back vibes and up tempo beats, from jazz and funk to Latin rhythms, it showcased Dieslers globe-trotting sound, and magpie-like ear for the best samples, to devastating effect.
He followed that up with his debut album & double vinyl EP releases Diggin It Somethin Rotten in April 2005 and a calendar year later with Keepie Uppies, both of which are on the Tru Thoughts label. His 3rd album, The Rhythm Station, was released in October 2007 on Freestyle Records and a remixes compilation, Tracks On The Rocks in 2009.
Aside from his own work Diesler has been remixing all over the place for labels including Ninja Tune (UK), Jugglin/Raw Fusion (Sweden), Hi Top (Spain), Schema (Italy), Tru Thoughts (UK), Catskills (UK), Freestyle (UK) Sunday Best (UK), Soultage (Japan), Record Kicks (Italy).
Samba Magic, the opening track from the album Tie Breakers, is a funky slice of samba-infused soul, with a fantastic horn that keeps spinning round in your head hours after listening, and of course features the vocals of the wonderful Laura Vane.
Tie Breakers was released May 2010 on Unique records; recommended listening.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Lalo Schifrin - Bullitt - Shifting Gears (1968)

Yes, this is the theme music you will be thinking of everytime you see McQueen up on the silver screen. Even when he is kissing Natalie Wood in Love With A Proper Stranger you'll be asking yourself when he will pull out his pistol or ride off in his 1968 Ford Mustang.
The heart of this album is Shifting Gears because it leads into the famous streets of Frisco car chase scene that made this movie so famous. There is an air of brooding menace about it, that even without seeing the visuals attached to it, you're aware of the fact that it's leading up to something.
A word about the composer; Lalo Schifrin is an Argentine composer, pianist and conductor, best known for his film and TV scores, such as (deep breath) Mission: Impossible, man From U.N.C.L.E., Enter The Dragon and a ton of stuff with Clint Eastwood in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, particularly the Dirty Harry films. Oh, and has four Grammy Awards and six Oscar nominations. If you haven't heard of him before, you've probably heard his work. Check out his discography, it's legendary.
Shifting Gears, as well as the Bullitt soundtrack is late 1960's acid jazz at its peak and somehow, after all of these years, it does not veer off into absurdity (or cliche) the way many of its contemporaries did. Who knew that it would remain stylish several decades after its debut? Apparently Schifrin had good instincts. And while the movie's staying power has certainly helped the soundtrack, one could argue rather persuasively that the music enhanced the film's reputation as well.
If you like greasy horns, clomping bongos, rolling maracca lines and lots of high hat stings accentuating the measures, this is your kind of music. It will make you wish you had your own cop drama where you had the time and money to become your own stunt driver.
It's sinful pleasure.

Quincy Jones - Theme from Ironside (1971)

Quincy Jones’s 1971 reading of the Ironside theme.
For those of you too young to remember, Ironside was a hit TV show that ran from 1967 to 1975  that featured Raymond Burr as a paraplegic, San Francisco police detective who went around solving crimes from the back of a specially engineered van.
The very groovy theme was penned by none other than the mighty Quincy Jones, the version you’re hearing today appeared on Jones’s 1971 LP Smackwater Jack.
Incidentally, while the opening theme music was written by Quincy and was the first synthesizer-based television theme song, much of the music score for the first few series of Ironside was by Oliver Nelson.
I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I suspect that like the version of Hikky Burr on the same album, this take on the Ironside theme was also re-recorded or embellished for that LP.
The whole affair manages to encapsulate a jazzy soundtrack feel, with some funky bass (Chuck Rainey), electric piano (Bob James), flute (Hubert Laws) and soprano sax (Jerome Richardson), taking the original theme and stretching it out for some solos. Jones manages to bring on the heavy brass without drowning out the rhythm section. This version starts out, like the TV theme, with (I think) a synthesizer imitating a police siren, with the Fender Rhodes bubbling underneath until the flute comes in to state the theme. There’s some groovy wah-wah guitar running in the background, and until the trumpet solo comes in, the feel is as much jazz rock as it is jazz. Aside from the impressive names listed above, the session was a who’s who of jazz and studio heavies, with Jones sharing producing duties with Phil Ramone and bass legend Ray Brown.
Very solid indeed.

Roy Budd - Get Carter (1971)

The classic 1971 film Get Carter, starring Michael Caine in arguably his most iconic role, is a great film. Part of what makes it great is the score from Roy Budd. As film scores go, I think it stands up there with anything by Lalo Schiffrin or Ennio Morricone. It forms a perfect backdrop for the film, from setting the mood as Carter travels North, to the grand slashing chords as the action reaches a climax in the emotionally charged finale.
The score is heavily influenced by the jazz and blues of the early 70s/late 60s. In its own right it is a series of classic tracks that stand up by themselves, and can be listened to in isolation from the film (although the film cannot be seen in isolation from the music!) It is track after track of great British jazz.
The Cinephile release of the soundtrack (the first official release of it outside of Japan) also contains several lines of dialogue from the film, interspersed between the tracks. These are some of the best lines, but might not mean anything to anyone who has not seen the film. If you haven't, now is your excuse to...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

More New Music - From 90's Artists...

Like I stated last time, there some great music coming out if you look hard enough; the irony is that these three acts were household names in the 1990s and all have new albums either out or soon to be released; Monica, Mint Condition, and Johnny Gill.
Show' the kids how it's done, fellas...

Johnny Gill - In The Mood (2011)

It’s been 16 long years since award winning, R&B veteran Johnny Gill released a solo album (1996's Let's Get the Mood Right), but now he's back with a new single In The Mood, the first track from his forthcoming album, Still Winning on Notifi Records.
In The Mood was written by Gill, Ralph Stacey and also Dave Young, who has composed hits for Faith Evans, Toni Braxton and Mary J. Blige. Gill stated:
"It’s a blessing to be able to record again after 16 years and I’m excited for my fans to enjoy the new music."
With over 30 years in the business, including several platinum hits and awards, Gill recently told Singersroom R&B magazine that he just remains true to himself.
"I don’t know if I have a formula. I just know most importantly I have to do and be me. One of the things I have been battling with while recording this record is [that] I like so many types of music but you think I know what people are going to expect and what they want. All this is put into a place and then somebody said to me “you have to do you and where you are today that is what it is.” That is what people are going to gravitate and connect with. If you want to do something a little bit more different than what you have done in the past, you just have to speak to a truth of what you’re doing. Everybody else will be able to connect to it."
My, my, my, Johnny Gill is looking like he's swum a few laps in the fountain of youth on a relay team with Prince, Q-Tip, Common, Pharrell, and Raphael Saadiq in the video for the tune. Aged 45, JG is giving those young whippersnappers a run for their money and honeys, but outside of Johnny providing more proof that black don't crack, the video is pretty formulaic. I feel like I've seen this video a few times before in the '90s, but that's OK with me because it's tastefully done and, although not the most exciting, it works for this song.
The new album will be released 11th October, featuring production by Grammy Award Winning Producers Troy Taylor, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Bryan Michael Cox and Wyclef Jean.

Mint Condition - Caught My Eye (2011)

Mint Condition are a legendary band who should need no introdcution. The chart-topping and globe-trotting R&B mainstay, who were discovered by music moguls Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and were on their now-defunct label, Perspective Records
Well now they're back with a new album, 7, their first since the 2008 release E-Life. Recently signing to Shanachie Records, the new LP was released April 5th this year, just in time to celebrate their 20th Anniversary. Currently on tour with Prince, the R&B super group has released the first single off the album, titled Caught My Eye, a two-stepper that does its best to recreate that signature sound they made their staple two decades ago.
I have to admit that I didn’t pay this track enough attention when it initially surfaced, like a fool. But, repeated plays have unlocked a groove thats up there with Mint Condition’s best (i.e. the Jam & Lewis years). It’s an addictive midtempo number featuring the hallmarks of that classic MC sound; live instrumentation, memorable vocals, mature lyrics and catchy songwriting. As a person who makes no qualms about hiding their appreciation for R&B music, I’ll gladly spread the word on MC's new tune.

Monica Feat. Lil' Kim & Rick Ross - Anything (To Find You) (2011)

Monica is back with a new single called Anything (To Find You), and was  for me probably one of the most infectious songs of the summer.
Monica, for the uninitiated, has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide, including over five million units in the US alone. With a career lasting over 15 years, she became the first artist to top the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. In 2010, Billboard listed Monica at number 24 on its list of the Top 50 R&B and Hip Hop Artists of the past 25 years.
Anything (To Find You), produced by Missy Elliott, rides atop a familiar beat to hip-hop heads, Notorious B.I.G’s classic tune, Who Shot Ya? Ironically, it features two artists who were definitely influenced by Big Poppa, himself -  Rick Ross and Lil Kim.
Rozay even mimics Biggie’s lyrical cadence on the track, but surprisingly, it’s the Queen Bee who comes through with the standout verse, referencing Who shot ya, but putting a love rather than hate slant on it.
Overall, this is a great R&B/hip-hop song for Monica and has got major airplay on US radio.
Be on the lookout for her upcoming album, New Life, when its released on the 29th November.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Think All New Music Is Rubbish? Think Again

Whenever I look up a tune now on YouTube, chances are that the comments section will contain remarks along the lines of:
'Music now ain't as good as it was in the old days.'
'No-one can sing worth a damn now, its all Autotune.'
'Its all about looks not talent.'
Granted, the charts are mostly best avoided, but go off the beaten path, dig a little deeper... and find that beneath the surface layers of pasteurised schlock, good music is still being made. Here are just three examples; I will be presenting many more over the course of time.

Its time to throw the playlist away...

Janelle Monáe - Tightrope (feat. Big Boi) (2010)

The first official single from her second album ArchAndroid (Suites II and III). The single premiered on February 11 on the Pitchfork Media website, earning an immediate 9/10 rating and their coveted "Best New Music" tag with the companion song entitled Cold War debuting the following day via Monáe's official website. The official Wondamix version features rappers B.o.B and Lupe Fiasco.

Discovered by OutKast's Big Boi, Monáe founded the Wondaland Arts Society with like-minded young artists and made appearances on Outkast's 2006 album Idlewild, where she is featured on the songs Call the Law and In Your Dreams. Big Boi told his friend Sean Combs about Monáe, whom he had not heard of before. Combs promptly visited her MySpace page, and according to Bad Boy Records' A&R Daniel 'Skid' Mitchell in an interview with HitQuarters, the label boss loved it straight away."He felt like she has something that was different - something new and fresh."
Monáe signed to Bad Boy in 2006. The label's chief role was in facilitating her exposure on a much broader scale rather than developing the artist and her music, because in the words of Mitchell, "She was already moving, she already had her records - she had a self-contained movement." Combs and Big Boi wanted to take their time and build her profile organically and allow the music to grow rather than put out "A hot single which everyone jumps on, and then they fade because it's just something of the moment."
Monáe released the video on March 31, 2010. It was directed by acclaimed director Wendy Morgan. In the music video she portrays an inpatient that possesses the power to walk through walls and later she catches the 'crazy/ dancing feet' with her friends. Monáe talked about the video saying " Tightrope takes place at the Palace of the Dogs. A lot of the greats were admitted into this place, like Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix. We wanted to keep it raw and funky - just having it in an insane asylum made it that much cooler to me." The video references experimental filmmaker Maya Deren's iconic film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943).
Another artist I knew nothing about until I heard this track on Craig Charles Soul All-Nighter; I think this girl has 'star' written all over her. She's clearly been influenced by James Brown, even Michael Jackson (in his Off The Wall period), and has that TLC-like quality of coming off like a lady without having to resort to sexist clichés. Tightrope is a certified floor-filler, proof that you can make a modern Rn'B sound without having to resort to tired old ideas and Autotune.

When you come back from having your baby, Beyonce, this girls gonna be sitting in your throne.
You ain't shifting her.

The Fantastics! feat. Sulene Fleming - Somewhere.. Finally (2011)

Summer never properly came, but this slice of slick soul let us dream of a perfect one. From The Fantastics! (the excalamtion mark is part of the band's name), featuring the smoky yet sensual vocal delights of micro diva, the wonderful Sulene Fleming.
The interplay between Fleming and the imperious tones of tenor sax-man Mark Norton will delight the listener over this slower Groovin' - style vibe. A subtle taster for their forthcoming new album. The Fantastics! once again demonstrate their versatility on this refreshing and golden tinged love song ripe for radio.
Never really comfortable with tightly defined and rigid musical pigeon holes, The Fantastics! have always been pushing the boundaries and honing their musical eclecticism since before their first Freestyle releases back in 2008. As a primer for their second Freestyle album All The People, released August 2011, 
Teaming up with stunning vocalist Sulene Fleming, on the recommendation of DJ, promotor and all round musical guru Lubi Jovanovich, the band set to writing with Sulene (who first came to attention on The New Mastersounds first album, with the funk club banger Turn This Thing Around) and the results speak for themselves. Somewhere Finally is a concise, catchy and beautiful summer love song, that's dripping with deep soul, horn hook lines, Sulenes' soaring vocals and a shimmering vibe that has already seen this track become a highlight of The Fantastics live shows already. 
All the People provided the band the opportunity to blend together their favourite influences into something that defies classification; is it disco, soul-jazz, fusion or organ funk? Well - it's all that and more..and just like the album it's taken from - this busts wide open the rigidly defined and often claustrophobic boundaries some people would prefer music to be trapped in.
That approach is not for The Fantastics!

Adele - Rolling In The Deep (2010)

Written and recorded by Adele for her second studio album, 21. The song was written by Paul Epworth and Adele, who described it as a "dark blues-y gospel disco tune". It was first released on 29 November 2010 as the lead single off the album.
The song has been acclaimed by music critics. The single has peaked at number one in some countries in Europe, as well in Canada and the United States. As of August 2011, Rolling in the Deep had sold over 4.93 million copies in the United States, making it her best-selling single outside her home country, topping her previous best-selling Chasing Pavements.
Rolling in the Deep has reached number one in eleven countries and top five in several other countries. The song has also become Adele's first number-one song in the U.S., reaching the top spot of four Billboard charts. It spent seven weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, the longest-running number-one single of 2011 so far. In July, the video was nominated for seven MTV Video Music Awards nominations, making it the most nominated music video of the year. The video won three awards: Best Editing, Best Cinematography andBest Art Direction.
But enough of the facts and figures; what do I think of the song? Well, I missed this song when it was first released (primarily as I don't follow 'the charts') and happen to catch it on Craig Charles' Soul All Nighter on BBC Radio 2 over the bank holiday weekend.
Talk about grab my attention! A deep, soulful, inspirational foot-stomper that I can't stop listening to. Her vocals are a little reminiscent of Brenda Russell's; high praise from a big B.R. fan like myself.
Blue-eyed Soul in the Dusty Springfield tradition.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Eric B. & Rakim - Don't Sweat The Technique (1992)

They never had a mainstream hit of their own, but during rap's so-called golden age in the late '80s, Eric B. & Rakim were almost universally recognized as the premier DJ/MC team in all of hip-hop. Not only was their chemistry superb, but individually, each represented the absolute state of the art in their respective skills. Eric B. was a hugely influential DJ and beatmaker whose taste for hard-hitting James Brown samples touched off a stampede through the Godfather of Soul's back catalogue that continues up to the present day. Rakim, meanwhile, still tops fan polls as the greatest MC of all time. He crafted his rhymes like poetry, filling his lines with elaborate metaphors and complex internal rhymes, and he played with the beat like a jazzman, earning a reputation as the smoothest-flowing MC ever to pick up a mic.
Don't Sweat the Technique was their fourth album, released on MCA Records. Recorded and produced by them at The Hit Factory in New York City, the album would be the duo's last album together. It came out June 23, 1992, two years after Let The Rhythm Hit'em, and one year after the unofficial end of hip hop's so-called Golden Age. It's not mentioned as often as their other three albums, but don't let that fool you - it is a classic.
The album builds on the sounds of 1990's Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em, with Rakim sounding more aggressive on Eric B.'s jazzy, soulful production. The title track was a minor radio hit. Casualties of War was also released as a single and contains some of Rakim's most political lyrics. Know the Ledge first appeared in the film Juice under the title Juice (Know the Ledge). The album charted at no.22 on the US Billboard 200 and was well-received by music critics upon its release.
The album received positive reviews from music critics upon its release. The Source gave it a four out of five mic rating and praised Rakim's lyricism. Havelock Nelson of Rolling Stone gave it four out of five stars and stated "Eric B.'s tracks are mellow and mean, while Rakim's lyrics are at once eloquent and threatening". Nelson wrote that the duo "expound further on the funky-fresh aesthetic" with Don't Sweat the Technique, adding that it "activates the mind -  it's erotic, playful, violent, dramatic, funky, jazzy and definitely dope". 
Musician magazine stated similarly, "What keeps this duo dynamic is that they understand the importance of sticking with the basics hard beats, sly samples and imaginative cadences - and foregoing fashion."
while. Boston Herald writer J.R. gave the album an A- rating and complimented Eric B.'s "diverse mix of beats and melodies  from hard funk to more subdued blues and jazz", concluding that "The potent combination of articulate raps and catchy beats makes 'Don't Sweat' a real burner". 
But instead of taking what an overly-verbose music critic thinks of the album, here's what RAKIM once said about it in the Source:

"I always go left. I wasn't looking for the familiar track sound. I was looking for classic [...] I did some things on there that I knew would never get played on the radio and I didn't care, but I knew that my dogs and my true listeners is gonna throw it in the walkman, in the truck, and zone out on it. That's what I like doing man and maybe that's why I'm still here 'cause people know I go the extra yard to try and get them to listen.
It's my rhymes, sometimes you might not get that @#%$ the first time. Play that [...] the next time you might not get it but after a while you start pickin' up like oh okay I see what he did."
What else can you say about arguably the best and most influential duo that hip-hop has ever witnessed?

Big Daddy Kane - Nuff Respect (1992)

This album signalled a return to form for Kane after two releases that were almost universally panned by fans and critics alike. Too much like Barry White? Too soft? Sold out? Big Daddy had something for that ass here - with a mixture of production from himself, long time collaborators Easy Mo Bee, Large Professor, Public Enemy's Bomb Squad and the oft-criticised TrakMasterz (who brought some real heat to the table) supporting him as he turned in his hungriest microphone performance in years.
From the return-of-the-champion feel of the title track, to the mocking of wack emcees on How U Get A Record Deal?, to the rugged and raw The Beef Is On, it seemed that Kane had taken all the criticism on board and came out swinging. Of course he still couldn’t resist a quick dash back into ladies’ terrority, but even here, the well-produced Very Special (Kane's first Top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit) saw him share mic time with Spinderella of Salt-N-Pepa and produce a chemistry and ultimately an end result that was different from all those ‘soft’ tracks on earlier albums.
My personal fave of the album, 'Nuff Respect is a treat for the ears; old-school lyricism don't get much better than this. No wonder so many rappers (such as Eminem) cite him as an influence on their technique.

LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)

"Don't call it a comeback!" L.L. Cool J shouted at the start of Mama Said Knock You Out. For all his bravado, after the critically disappointing Walking with a Panther in 1989, L.L. was sorely in need of a career boost. As he rapped on Cheesy Rat Blues, his self-mocking tale of woe, "I wanna fall off, but I don't know where the edge is/I'm so hungry, I eat my neighbour's hedges." The  22year-old got new life on his fourth record by hooking up with legendary New York DJ Marley Marl (producer of tracks for Biz Markie, Kool G Rap, Masta Ace), who produced a radio-ready hip-hop masterpiece - not just spare, muscular beats or self-conscious samplefests, but a smooth blend of borrowed licks with real instruments and vocals. When you played the album in your car, it had so much propulsion, it started the ignition and rolled down the windows all by itself.
L.L. had a lot on his mind; his stature in the rap community, insults to be avenged, life in Queens, the power of God. But what he rapped about on most of the fourteen tracks here was women, particularly the homegirls with bamboo earrings he praised on Around the Way Girl. L.L. portrayed himself as a good-natured Lothario; he had enough confidence to assume that all women would want to sleep with him and enough perspective to laugh when they turned him down. On rap after rap, he stretched metaphors for sex as far as they could possibly go -- and sometimes beyond, as on Milky Cereal, where he crammed more Kellogg's trademarks into a single song than you would think possible. But Illegal Search was brilliant: L.L. took the indignities of racial profiling and effortlessly flipped them into the efforts of seduction.
Mama uses samples from James Brown's ubiquitous Funky Drummer, the Chicago Gangsters' Gangster Boogie, Sly & The Family Stone's Trip to Your Heart and Sing a Simple Song, and his own track, Rock The Bells.
The single reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold by the RIAA. LL Cool J won Best Rap Solo Performance at the '92 Grammy Awards.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Amy Winehouse 1983-2011

I deliberately waited until some of the hoo-haa subsided until I posted Amy Winehouse tracks on FVS; I had at least one track (Take The Box) queued, but of course her untimely demise changed all that.
I'm also not gonna go on about her addictions and how they got the best of her, or the irony that they may have pushed her to greater heights creatively, but you don't need little ol' me to tell you a great talent has been lost.
She was credited as an influence in the resurgence in popularity of female musicians and Soul music, and also for revitalising British music. Her distinctive style made her a muse for fashion designers such as Karl Lagerfeld.
Perversely, as her life became more complex, her success increased. She won the 2007 Brit award for best female artist, and Ivor Novello awards for Rehab and Love Is a Losing Game. In addition, she picked up Q magazine's best album trophy, and was nominated for that year's Mercury prize.
During the chaotic last years of her life, she was frequently compared to other singers with tempestuous existences, such as Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf.
Whatever erroneous comparisons can be made about their personal lives, like those two, she sang from the heart.

Amy Winehouse - Take the Box (2004)

Co-written and produced by Amy Winehouse and Luke Smith (Keyboardist/Producer) for her debut album in 2003, Frank. Released as the album's second single on 12 January 2004, it was the highest-charting single from that album, peaking at no. 57 on the UK Singles Chart. The line "Frank's in there and I don't care", refers to her dog of that time of the same name. The album was also named after him.
The single for Take the Box features an exclusive B-side, titled Round Midnight. The song's content covers Winehouse as she leaves her lover after discovering he is having an affair. The song details her acceptance of the fact that its over as she tells the lover to literally "take the box" of stuff he left.
Frank is an overlooked gem and I couldn't stop playing this at the time; I had a feeling she was heading for bigger things, but with a sound aimed at the Katie Melua audience. Rehab changed all of that, and her, forever.

Amy Winehouse - Tears Dry On Their Own (2006)

Written and recorded by Amy Winehouse for her second studio album, Back to Black. It was released as the album's fourth single on 31 July 2007. While the melody and lyrics are composed by Winehouse, the music behind her voice contains a sample interpolation of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's classic 1967 Motown  hit Ain't No Mountain High Enough, penned by the dynamic duo of Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson.Tears Dry on Their Own became Winehouse's fourth consecutive single to chart inside the top forty of the UK Singles Chart, when it entered at no.37 on 5 August 2007. It also became her eighth UK R&B top forty hit. The single spent four weeks at number one on the UK Airplay Chart during August. After the song's physical release, the single climbed into the top twenty, peaking at no.16. Therefore, Tears Dry on Their Own is Winehouse's second highest-charting single behind Rehab and the fourth consecutive top thirty hit from her second album. To date, it has spent nineteen non-consecutive weeks on the UK Singles Chart, making it her fourth longest-running hit behind Rehab (fifty-seven weeks), her collaboration with Mark Ronson, Valerie (thirty-nine weeks), and Back to Black (thirty-four weeks).

Amy Winehouse - Rehab (2006)

From her second studio album, Back to Black. Written by Winehouse, it was released as the album's lead single in the United Kingdom on 23 October 2006. The lyrics are autobiographical, describing her drinking habits and refusal to enter rehabilitation clinics. The song received widespread critical acclaim and enjoyed commercial success in the UK and abroad. The tune won the 2007 Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song. Rehab also won three Grammy Awards in 2008, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Her subsequent public battle with substance abuse and the song's popularity contributed to its numerous appearances in the mainstream media. Several artists have covered the song, both in official releases and live. There are two official remixes; an awful one featuring Jay-Z that seems to only include him because his number happened to be on the producer's speed dial, and a second featuring Pharoahe Monch. In the UK, a further remix by electronic band Hot Chip was also released.
On a personal note, the very first time I heard this track, I was convinced that it was some long-lost 60's/70's Northern Soul track (drug rehab isn't a new thing dontcha know), such is its authenticity. 

Amy Winehouse - Do Me Good (2006)

The little-known b-side to Rehab; hands up who thought it was an Erika Badu track on first listen? I did.

Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse - Valerie (2007)

Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse covered Valerie for Ronson's second studio album in 2007, Version. Released as the album's third single on 15 October 2007, the track was originally done when Winehouse appeared on Jo Whiley's Live Lounge show on BBC Radio 1. The song was featured in the feature film 27 Dresses. Rolling Stone has called the cover Winehouse's only "notable recording" since Back to Black. Winehouse had previously recorded a slower-tempo version of the song, which appeared as bonus track on the deluxe edition of Back to Black.
The single peaked at Number 2 on the UK Singles Chart, where it spent 19 consecutive weeks inside the Top 20. With sales of 329,490, it became the UK's ninth biggest-selling single of 2007. As of 23 November 2008, the single has sold 491,890 copies in the UK, and spent 36 consecutive weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart between September 2007 and May 2008. It re-entered the chart in late June 2008 to take its total to 39 weeks.
It's a cover of a song by The Zutons from their second studio album in 2006, Tired of Hanging Around. Released as the album's second single on 19 June 2006 in the UK along with their previous single Why Won't You Give Me Your Love?, it gave The Zutons their joint-biggest single to date as well as their second UK Top 10 single.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Portishead - Glorybox (1995)

Portishead, for the uninitiated, is a group from Bristol, England named after the nearby town of the same name. Consisting of Geoff Barrow, Adrian Utley and the fantastic Beth Gibbons, they first shot to fame with the timeless album Dummy. Made at the same time as a short film noir called To Kill a Dead Man, and the same approach - gloomy, tormented, and wildly melodramatic- permeates the album, and while they first had success with the tracks Numb and Sour Times (two of the lynchpin songs of the album), they are probably best known to the masses for the absolutely gorgeous Glorybox, Taking a sample from Issac Hayes Ike's Rap II from 1971,Glorybox has dark flashes of old soul and film music, and a bassbeat pulse (courtesy in large part to Mr Hayes) derived from the slow bump and grind of the Bristol scene that spawned Barrow's old collaborators, Massive Attack.
It's got a beautiful sultry feeling to it which makes you feel like Gibbons emoting like she's consumed by shame while trying to seduce you through your stereo. That gorgeous orchestral back-drop works with a passionate chorus that makes you want to smile, cry and drag the nearest person into bed.
Another song on perpetual rotation on the FVS Zen player, this was the tune that got me into Porstihead and trip hop in a big way.


Spiller - Cry Baby (Röyksopp's Malselves Memorabilia Mix) (2001)

Cristiano Spiller is an Italian DJ and had a no.1 hit in the UK, Italy, Australia and other countries with the hit single, Groovejet (If This Ain't Love), featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor, released in 2000. Groovejet sold over 2 milion copies and was the first song to be played on an iPod according to technology journalist Steven Levy and sold over 2,000,000 copies worldwide.
In 2002, he released Cry Baby in the UK; while the original isn't a particularly memorable song (in my opinion), Röyksopp's remix of it most definitely is. Not so much a remix, more a complete reconstruction that owes little, if anything to the original.
Röyksopp, for the uninitiated, is an electronic music duo from Tromsø, Norway, formed in 1998. Since their inception, the band's line-up has included Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland.
From a young age, the two experimented with various forms of electronica music during the Tromsø techno scene before going their separate ways. Several years later, the two met up again and formed Röyksopp during the Bergen Wave. After experimenting with different genres of electronic music, the band solidified their place in the electronica scene with their brilliant debut album, Melody A.M.
Anyway, the sum result is a song that once heard, is never forgotten.

Handsome Boy Modeling School - The Truth (1999)

Handsome Boy Modeling School was a teaming of quirky super-producers; Prince Paul (best-known for his work with De la Soul and Stetsasonic) and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura (GorillazDeltron 3030 and Kool Keith's The Return Of Dr. Octagon album). Taking their name from an episode of the cult Chris Elliott sitcom Get a Life (which was sampled several times on their album), Paul and Dan adopted the über-stylish alter egos of Chest Rockwell and Nathaniel Merriweather, respectively.
Their debut album, So...How's Your Girl?, was a loose concept record packed with guest stars: rappers Del tha Funkee Homosapien, J-Live, and El-P; members of Cibo Matto, Brand Nubian, and the Beastie Boys; star turntablists like DJ Shadow, DJ Quest, and Kid Koala; electronica artists like Moloko's Roisin Murphy and Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire; and even Saturday Night Live's Father Guido Sarducci. So...How's Your Girl? was released on Tommy Boy in the fall of 1999 to mostly favorable reviews, and the opening track, "Rock n' Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This)," was licensed for a TV ad campaign. Nakamura subsequently moved on to a host of other highly conceptual projects, including Deltron 3030, Gorillaz, and Lovage. The duo returned to record-store shelves in 2004 with White People, their first album for Elektra.
In their universe, hip-hop encompasses popular music, not the other way around. The songs constantly shift between styles and moods. The sinister and atmospheric hip-hop of "Once Again" leads into "The Truth" , a lovely trip-hop torch song with seductively smoky vocals from the aforementioned Roison Murphy; voice purring over that bass heavy, plodding beat never, ever runs out of steam. J-Live has a great verse on there too, but that's a bonus to what makes this song great - and that, for me, is Murphy singing. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Sue Ann Carwell - 7 Days 7 Nights (1992)

Sue Ann Carwell’s voice has captured and enthralled audiences and seasoned performers since she started winning local talent shows in Minneapolis at the age of 15. As an experienced artist, writer, producer and vocal arranger with over 30 years in the business, Ms. Carwell has arranged and sung with such icons as James Brown, Patti LaBelle, Rod Stewart,and Prince, just to name a few

In 1981 Carwell auditioned for The Time, at that time being formed by Prince. It was composed of 4 members from an earlier funk group called Flyte Tyme, but the lead singer had not been chosen. As an aside, Alexander O'Neal nearly became The Time's lead singer, but dropped out due to payment negotiations; Morris day was chosen.
She then embarked on a solo career, with albums such as Sue Ann released in 1981 and Blue Velvet in 1988 (produced by The Time alimni Jesse Johnson and reknowned musician Robert Brookins), then released a third album, Painkiller, under her full name in 1992. Her songs on her first two albums reflected the Minneapolis Funk and R&B Sound of the 80s, whereas Painkiller
She's also established a career as a background singer, for various artists from the 1980s through today in the 2000s. Recently she has been on tour with Rufus and Sly Stone as a featured performer, and her current band contains members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She's also featured on the new blues album of her longtime friend Zac Harmon with a duet called The Price Of Loving You and all throughout Jesse’s new album Verbal Penetration
Carwell is currently signed to Verve records and working on a new album.

Atlantic Starr - Love Crazy (1991)

When you say Atlantic Starr to most people, chances are the first songs that will roll off their tongues will be their best known hits Secret Lovers and that MOR radio standard, Always.

However, throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Atlantic Starr scored several hits on the R&B charts. However, significant crossover success (onto the pop charts) did not come until halfway into the 80s, with the release of their As The Band Turns album, including Secret Lovers. By this time, the band had pared itself down to a quintet, consisting of the core of any A.S. line-up: the three Lewis brothers, David, Wayne and Jonathan, along with Joe Phillips, and the fantastic vocalist Barbara Weathers. In 1987, the band solidified their pop success by scoring a no.1 hit with Always, off their album All In The Name Of Love. Following this success, Weathers left for a solo career, and she was replaced by Porscha Martin for the band's next album, 1988's We're Movin' Up. Although this album was not quite as successful as its predecessor, it did produce another no.1 R&B hit with My First Love.
The band would continue to score hits on both the R&B and Pop charts into the early 90s. 1991 saw the introduction of yet another new female lead singer, when Martin was replaced by Rachel Oliver for the album, Love Crazy. This album featured the band's biggest hit of the 90s, with Masterpiece reaching no.3 on both the pop and R&B charts in early 1992. The Group toured to Japan in 1992 with yet another lead vocalist at the helm; Crystal Blake (session vocalist for Stevie Wonder, and lead on " Bust A Move" w/ Youmg M.C.)
The song Love Crazy was a nice surprise for many, including me; a group who at the time seemed so set in the way of the love ballad, released an album out of nowhere that had tunes I was listening to for years to come.
And in the case of Love Crazy, one that never went away.

Marva Hicks - I Got You Where I Want (1991)

Cutting her teeth as a gospel singer in Petersburg, Virginia, Marva Hicks later worked in theatre as an actress in Washington, D.C. From there she joined the group, the Eighties Ladies in 1981. She recorded several demos, after the band split, like Looking Over My Shoulder  for Infinity records. Marva wound up singing in Lena Horne's Broadway show which was how she met Stevie Wonder in London, as the show toured there. She toured with Stevie and sang background vocals on his Characters album.
She signed with Polydor in the late '80's and released her debut album Marva Hicks in 1991, with the killer tracks I got you where I want and Never been in love before and the track below, I Got You Where I Want, also the first single from the album. A lovely shuffling, SIIS style beat over strings, with the Extended Club Mix sporting a nice acappella intro and a funky drummer breakdown. A beautiful slice of early nineties street soul.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Bell Biv DeVoe - Poison (1990)

Although a lot of folks may think of Bell Biv DeVoe’s Poison and chuckle, that album (and its smash title track) has turned out to be more influential than most people will give it credit for. From the risqué lyrical content to the uncompromisingly hip-hop production, these dudes were as street as pop music got back in the day. Not bad for a project that essentially started as an accident.
The year was 1989. Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe were best known as the Tito, Jackie and Marlon of teen idols New Edition (lead singers Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill were Michael and Jermaine, respectively). The tour in support of N.E.’s multi-platinum 1988 album Heart Break had just ended, and Gill and Tresvant had made the decision to concentrate on solo albums. As legend has it, the other three group members were trying to figure out what to do with their idle time when legendary production team Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis suggested that they record an album. Dumbfounded that they hadn’t thought of that themselves, Bell Biv DeVoe was born, and wound up selling more records than Tresvant and Gill’s subsequent solo efforts - combined.

At any rate, the evolution of hip-hop soul had a lot to do with BBD’s success, in more ways than one. It’s hard to imagine acts like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci existing without Bell Biv DeVoe’s success. Hell, TLC was created as a female answer to BBD. By himself, Michael Bivins also pretty much created the artist/mogul template that most current R&B/hip-hop big willies aspire to these days, discovering and grooming acts like Another Bad Creation and Boyz II Men. It’s hard to imagine there being a Jermaine Dupri or a Puff Daddy without there being a Michael Bivins. The influence that Bell Biv DeVoe had on the contemporary scene in their brief time can't be underestimated.
That, and the title track is still memorable and relevant today.


TLC - Ain't Too Proud To Beg (1991)

Another track that helped new Jack Swing cross over into the mainstream and yet another track that has never left the FVS playlist since it's release.
TLC's debut single and taken from the album, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip. The song reached No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.2 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, becoming their first single to reach the top ten on both charts. Also one of the first acts on LaFace Records (L.A. Reid & Babyface's brainchild), they not only helped the label climb to unprecedented heights, they also paved the way for a slew of female R&B acts to have a more affirmative image, i.e. not feeling they had to dress as sex symbols.
Having sold an estimated 32 million albums and 20 million singles worldwide, they are the best selling female group of all time. They released four multi-platinum studio albums and in 2008, the group was inducted into the All Time Hot 100 Artist Hall of Fame by Billboard magazine, (at 56th place). At the end of 1999, the band was ranked (again by Billboard) as the seventh most successful act of the 1990's.
This success was unfortunately cut short by the tragic death of Lisa 'left Eye' Lopes in a car accident in Honduras in 2002. Tionne 'T-Boz Watkins and Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas have since reformed as a duo (having vowed to never replace Lopes in their line-up) and plan to record new material.

Boyz II Men - Motownphilly (1991)

Boyz II Men were formed in 1988 at Philadelphia's High School of the Creative and Performing Arts. Founding members Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson had been singing together for several years, but had trouble keeping a group together simply due to members graduating. Things finally stabilized when they hooked up with Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman, and bass vocalist Michael McCary; calling themselves Unique Attraction, the quintet performed a well-received Valentine's Day show for their school and developed a repertoire that leaned heavily on New Edition songs (one of which, "Boys to Men," gave them their name). Their big break came in 1989, when they snuck backstage at a Bell Biv DeVoe concert and wowed group member Michael Bivins (also formerly of New Edition, and a budding music entrepreneur) with an a cappella version of New Edition's "Can You Stand the Rain." Bivins offered them a deal right there, but Nelson would not stick around to be part of it; personality conflicts led to his departure soon after (he later resurfaced as a member of Az Yet).
"Motownphilly" is Boyz II Men's 1991 debut single for their debut album Cooleyhighharmony. The single was a success peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Michael Bivins, who co-wrote the song, provides a guest rap on the song. The group gives credit to New Jack Swing groups Another Bad Creation and Bell Biv DeVoe in the lyric "Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD."