Monday, 21 December 2015

En Vogue - Silent Night (1993)

First posted 20/12/2013.

From the 1991 album Remix To Sing, Silent Night takes the words of the popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr, and puts an En Vogue twist on them. Produced by Chuckii Booker (best known for the song Games), the song was surprisingly never released as a single in the US (as far as I know), but did merit a release in the UK and Europe.
But that doesn't diminish it's awesomeness one bit. Forget the seasonal nature of the song; its up there with the rest of En Vogues's catalogue.

- Mr Fabulous

Monday, 7 December 2015

RIP, Mike Allen

It has been reported that Mike Allen passed away last night after a long battle with Alzheimers. For those of you that don't know, before Tim Westwood ever uttered a word on UK radio, Mike Allen was one of the pioneers of getting hip-hop played on UK radio (commercial or otherwise) and probably inspired a generation of people to listen or pick up a mic. His legendary show on Capital Radio (back when that station had a soul) was required listening; most of the shows still exist as his legion of fans taped the show every week. And one of those presenters with such a smooth delivery, he could make the weather sound interesting. And it wan't just a case of a DJ being mandated to present a show who only had a passing interest in the subject matter; he chose every track he played and his choices were based on his love of the music. And he was well known to the big America acts of the day, acts that went on to be household names; Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaata were just some of the acts that mike-checked him in his show's jingles.
For those of us who remember the hip-hop landscape in the UK in the mid-late 1980's, Mike Allen's Captital Rap Show (and later, National Fresh) was the only way to hear real hip hop here in the UK; its fair to say that Allen and Morgan Khan (Streetsounds music) were responsible for a lot of us getting into the music.
He really was the John Peel of Hip-Hop.



Jingles all the way:

Interview with Public Enemy in 1987:


Run DMC giving props to The Boss:

The weekly Frontline chart, this one is from 26th April 1986:

And lastly, a sample from a show in 1985. Thanks to Mike Allen's many fans, a lot of his shows still exist:

Friday, 13 November 2015

Modern Soul Week: Samm Henshaw - Only Wanna Be With You (Unplugged) (2015)

Samm Henshaw, is a British singer, songwriter and record producer signed to Columbia Records. Born in South London. Henshaw grew up with music but not in the conventional sense. Nobody in his household played an instrument, but there was always sound running through the house, which highly influenced his musical nature. Alongside gospel artists Helen Baylor, Fred Hammond, Israel Houghton and Alvin Slaughter, Henshaw is said to have spent his childhood devouring mainstream pop music, from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to Usher and N-Sync. He pinpoints his biggest vocal inspirations as D’Angelo, Paolo Nutini, Lauryn Hill as well finding songwriting inspiration in Grammy award winner Frank Ocean.
Henshaw had essentially found his love for music and learned to play instruments in his church pastored by his father, where he developed his abilities further. He went on to study a Popular Music Performance degree at Southampton Solent.
In early 2015, during his final year at university he signed his first publishing deal with BMG Chrysalis; later in the year he went on to sign his record deal with Columbia Records. Henshaw began work on his debut EP The Sound Experiment which is set for a 2015 release and is set to feature production and songwriting input from Wayne Hector and Fred Cox amongst others.
Henshaw also performs with a live band composed of his closest friends, appropriately dubbed The Sound Experiment. The core of the The Sound Experiment band is made of Henshaw's childhood friend's who he grew up with nurturing his musical talents within church, as well as additional members he met along the way.
Henshaw has also garnered mainstream radio support from BBC Radio 1’s Dev and Phil & Alice, and was handpicked by James Bay to support him on tour.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Modern Soul Week: Lee Fields & The Expressions - You're The Kind Of Girl (2012)

Elmer "Lee" Fields is an American soul artist born in 1951 in North Carolina, sometimes nicknamed "Little JB" for his physical and vocal resemblance with James Brown.
During his prolific 43-year career, he has toured with such figures of soul and R&B as Kool and the Gang, Hip Huggers, O.V. Wright, Darrell Banks, and Little Royal. He recorded his first single in 1969 and is still active today. More recently, he made recordings with The Expressions, including the 2012 album Faithful Man. In 2006, he recorded the song "Jealousy" with Martin Solveig, and in 2008, the pair reunited to record I Want You.
In 2014, Fields provided additional vocals for the James Brown biopic, Get On Up.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Modern Soul Week: Leon Bridges - Coming Home (2015)

An absolute revelation. I heard this guys name banded about a while back, but only today did I get to hear his material. Within five seconds of hearing his voice, I was hooked; this guy is tapping into some serious Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and (gasp) Otis Redding vibe. And the best thing is? This was brand new material, released about six months ago, the album is more of the same and the singer is only 26 years old. If anyone tells you there isn't any good soul music being made now, point 'em in the direction of this guy.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Leon Bridges.


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Back in the groove again....

Well summer's definitely over here in the UK; the nights are drawing in and its getting colder. But, we still have the music to war us through, and now that we're back, its time to raise the game to a whole new level.


Monday, 27 July 2015

The Shaolin Afronauts - Kilimanjaro (2011)

The Shaolin Afronauts are an Adelaide-based afrobeat band that is styled after Fela Kuti's Africa '70 band and the legendary jazz artist, Sun Ra. Their music incorporates elements of avant-garde jazz, soul and traditional African and Cuban percussive rhythms.
Founded in 2008 out of a fascination with afrobeat and creative improvised music, the band began life as a support act for soul and funk band The Transatlantics before branching out to play their own shows. Over the course of the next few months, the group solidified with a core of 12 band members and expanded their repertoire of original songs. Over the next few years, the band's presence grew; in 2011, they were booked to play the Womadelaide festival in South Australia and had already seen extensive touring throughout the country.
Later in the same year, they were signed to Freestyle records and saw the release of their debut album, Flight Of The Ancients, from which his track - Kilimanjaro - is taken. The album was featured on Radio National Breakfast in Australia and garnered considerable attention on community radio, Streetpress and overseas radio, like here in the UK; Craig Charles has showcased them on his Funk & Soul show on BBC 6 Music.
In 2012, The Shaolin Afronauts released their second album Quest under Capricorn and in 2014, Follow The Path, their third, both released on Freestyle Records; the albums were recorded with an expanded ensemble of 18 musicians.


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Bob James - Sign Of The Times (1981)

For Sign Of The Times, his tenth contemporary jazz release, Bob James brought in the multi-talented Rod Temperton (he of Quincy Jones, James Ingram and Michael Jackson fame), and an all-star vocal cast including Patti Austin, Lani Groves, Major Holley, Valerie Simpson, Luther Vandross, and many others.
Hypnotique opens the album, built largely around a afro-centric percussion with some tribal background vocals punctuated by an  interlude of thick synthesizer grooves on the choruses. That Steamin' Feelin' is one of the strongest numbers on the album; a foot stomping jazz-funk stepper based on Temperton's trademark bluesy jazz-funk melodies played through beautifully arranged layers of synthesizers. Enchanted Forest showcases James basically being himself, yet the melodicism of the composition itself grows yet more complex from his already elaborate compositions.
Unicorn is a nine minute piece, with a strong latin percussion flavour that's juxtaposed by a melodic sax solo by Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra and glittering electronic synthesizers. Love Power concludes the album on a slow grooving funk note featuring primarily the vocal talents of Vandross and a lean, mean bass line.
And last but by no means least, the title track is a favorite of mine; another classic Temperton number featuring Simpson, Austin and Vandross on some wonderfully eccentric harmonic vocals along with the swinging jazz fanfare on the refrains. As well as being a fine song in its own right, it has been immortalised by being sample by De La Soul in 1991's Keeping The Faith, and most famously by Warren G and Nate Dogg in the 1994 track Regulate.


Saturday, 4 July 2015

James Brown - Living In America (1985)

Living in America was composed by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight and performed by James Brown; it was released as a single in 1985 and reached no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song entered the Billboard Top 40 on January 11, 1986, and remained on the chart for 11 weeks. It also became a top five hit in the UK, peaking at no. 5 on the UK Singles Chart; his only top 10 single in the UK. It was his first Top 40 hit in ten years in the US, and it would also be his last. In 1986, it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song and won Brown a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
The song was of course prominently featured in the film Rocky IV. In the film, Brown sings the song before Apollo Creed enters the boxing ring, in reference to the character's patriotism. The single version appeared on the Rocky IV soundtrack album, with the full 5 minute 58 second version of the song being included on Brown's 1986 album, Gravity, and on various compilations throughout the 1990s. Live performances of the song appear on the albums Soul Session Live and Live at the Apollo 1995


Friday, 26 June 2015

Commodores - Machine Gun (1974)

The Commodores formed as freshmen in Tuskegee University, Alabama, in 1968. They signed to Motown in 1972, starting with a support stint for the Jackson 5 on tour. They started recording their own material in 1974 in a career that lasted to early 90's and have sold in total over 75 million records. Their peak years commercially were in the late 70's with ballads like Easy, Still and Three Times a Lady that also defined the style of Lionel Richie's solo career. But before the more mainstream material, they had a very different sound, as they were known for funk numbers like Brick House, The Bump and today's track, Machine Gun.
It was the first single release from debut studio album of the same name by The Commodores, released on July 22, 1974, on Motown Records.
The famous clavinet sound is by Milan Williams, which led Berry Gordy to name the song Machine Gun as it apparently reminded him of gunfire. The song peaked at no.7 on the R&B charts, while reaching no.22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Samples from the song have been used prominently by the Beastie Boys in their 1989 song Hey Ladies, and the song itself was featured on the soundtrack for the 1997 film Boogie Nights.


Friday, 19 June 2015

Weeks And Co. - Rock Your World (1981)

When most people here the name Weeks & Co, Rock Your World automatically comes to mind. It's become a landmark song in the field of disco and house music. With it's 1981 release came success as it debuted on the US black singles charts in 1981 at no.75 and stayed in the chart for for seven weeks. Unusual for a disco-soul song to make the charts at that point, seeing as disco was on the wane, but this one deserved it. It's jazzy, up-beat tempo coupled with Richie Weeks' hot vocals make this a great listen.


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Loleatta Holloway - Hit & Run (1977)

From the 1977 album Loleatta (not to be confused with the 1973 album of the same name). While Love Sensation is probably the first song title that trips off the lips of most people that are asked to name a Loleatta Holloway song, its gems like Hit & Run that help cement her legend and pave the way for her later success. It reached no.11 on the Billboard Dance chart in the same year.


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Bugz in the Attic - Consequences (2006)


More 1980s soul authenticity - from 2006.
Bugz in the Attic are a group of DJs and producers based in London, who play what can be dubbed  broken beat; the collective includes Orin Walters (Afronaughts), Paul Dolby (Seiji), Kaidi Tatham, Daz-I-Kue, Alex Phountzi (Neon Phusion), Cliff Scott, Mark Force, Matt Lord, and Mikey Stirton.
The track below, called Consequences is from their Back In The Dog House album is definitely in the 80's soul/funk vein. I also recommend the floor-stomping revamp of Yarbrough & Peoples' Don't Stop the Music, a floorstomping revamp if ever there was.


Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Portia Monique - Ain't Scared of You (Opolopo Remix) (2015)


Portia Monique is a seriously talented singer-songwriter; her self entitled debut album is a perfect summary of that. Produced by Reel People main men Oli Lazarus and regular studio cohort Toni Economides , it includes the track Ain't Scared Of You; this sublime version is a remix by Sweden’s Mr. Funky, Opolopo.
The soulful house scene is alive with quality tracks and quality vocalists like this.


Monday, 27 April 2015

Soulperfreesia - Love Won't Do Me Right (2014)

Soulpersona is musician, producer, remixer, arranger and founder of the Digisoul label. From the well received underground success of his debut Soulacoaster album, he has gone on to produce and release the highly acclaimed The Lapdancer, a concept album starring Princess Freesia (Lija Rolavs) as her alter ego Avalon Lexus and most recently with the album Amalgamation under the Soulperfreesia guise as Princess Freesia.
Soulpersona's production credits include Charlie Wilson, Jocelyn Brown, Jody Watley, Light Of The World and many other soulful acts. He is currently working on a brand new rare groove album for Jocelyn Brown.
Going back to Soulperfreesia, the purpose of that guise is for creating music inspired by the 70's and 80's soul, jazz funk and rare groove movement; a great example of their work is the track featured today, Love Won't Do Me Right, a great slice of  authentic 1980's-inspired soul with catchy vocals by Freesia.
Its amazing how people think  that the Mark Ronson track Uptown Funk sounds true to a 1980's soul/funk sound, when to my ears, its a homage and nothing else. A pretty decent one, but still a facsimile of the real thing. But  Love Won't Do Me Right sounds so 'right', if someone pressed it onto vinyl and stuck a fake 1980s label on it, I'd be fooled. Hell, I've listened to it several times in the last few days and I'd still swear it was an old 1980s track.
An instant classic.


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Cover To Cover: Shuggie Otis vs. the Brothers Johnson - Strawberry Letter 23

Welcome to Cover To Cover, where we compare two versions of the same song and decide which is better, but only in our opinion.
Today's song? Strawberry Letter 23, originally by Shuggie Otis, versus The Brothers Johnson's version.



Shuggie otis' father is none other than the mighty West Coast R&B master Johnny Otis (he of The Johnny Otis Show, Willie & The Hand Jive and Watts Breakaway), and his work as something of a child prodigy had made it’s way onto my radar screen (however faintly) over the years. Born in 1953, Shuggie was playing guitar professionally by the time he was in junior high school. He recorded sessions with Frank Zappa and Al Kooper (in addition to playing on several of his fathers sessions), and released his first solo LP Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis in 1969. He recorded one more LP - Here Comes Shuggie Otis -  before producing Freedom Flight in 1971, that contains Strawberry Letter 23. 

Inspiration Information was also the first inkling I had that Shuggie Otis had written and recorded the original version of Strawberry Letter 23. Though the 1974 LP that gave the reissue it’s name is generally accepted as the better of the two early 70’s releases, Freedom Flight definitely has it’s moments. There, bluesy guitars stand side by side with hippiefied lyrics, soulful vocals and the kind of vaguely psychedelic touches that were starting to pass out of the collective musical vocabulary as the 70’s began. There also were startling (for 1971) sounds, like integrating a primitive beat-box into his records. Though his music isn't sparse, there’s a tasteful (and deliberate) lack of sonic overload on them. The vibe is perfect, but doomed in its day by being too soulful for the rock crowd and too trippy for R&B radio.

Amazingly, Shuggy's version of the song never saw any real success in any of the Billboards charts, although his 1974 single Inspiration Information reached no.56 on the Billboard R&B chart and the re-release of of the album of the same name (along with Wings Of Love, an anthology of new and unreleased work) reached no.34 in the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 2013.



One of my personal favourite songs, I can never get tired of hearing it. And have - ahem - played air guitar to that Lee Ritenour guitar solo...

While they never hit the "superstar" level like contemporaries Rick James or Kool & The Gang, The Brothers Johnson racked up several hit singles, platinum discs and Grammy Awards during their heyday throughout the 1970s.
The Brothers Johnson are guitarist/vocalist George Johnson aka 'Lightnin' Licks' and bassist/vocalist Louis E. Johnson aka 'Thunder Thumbs'.

They initially formed the band Johnson Three Plus One with older brother Tommy and their cousin Alex Weir while attending school in Los Angeles. When they became professionals, the band backed such touring R&B acts as Bobby Womack and the Supremes. George and Louis later joined Billy Preston's band and wrote Music in My Life and The Kids & Me for Preston before leaving his group in 1973. In 1976, The Brothers covered the Beatles' song, Hey Jude, for the ephemeral musical documentary All This and World War II.
Quincy Jones hired them to play on his album Mellow Madness, and recorded four of their songs, including Is It Love That We're Missing? and Just a Taste of Me. They then toured with Quincy in Japan and produced their debut album Look Out For #1, released in March 1976 (reaching no.1 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart). Their Right On Time album was released in May 1977 and reached no.13 on the Billboard Hot 200. Blam! came out in August 1978 and reached no. 7 on the Billboard 200.

Two of the duo's songs were featured on the soundtrack of the 1976 film Mother, Jugs & Speed. The instrumental track Thunder Thumbs and Lightnin' Licks is a tribute to their nicknames. Get the Funk Out Ma Face was co-written with Quincy Jones.
Light Up The Night was released in March 1980 and rose to no.5 on the Billboard 200. It was nò.46 on the Top 100 LPs of 1980 list in Rolling Stone Magazine. The brothers self-produced the subsequent album, Winners; released in July 1981, it only reached no.48 on the Billboard 200.
They probably achieved their greatest singles success from the mid-1970s to early '80s, with three singles topping the R&B charts:  I'll Be Good to You (Billboard Hot 100 no.3 in 1976), Ain't We Funkin' Now (1978), and the legendary Stomp! (Hot 100 no.7 and Hot Dance Music/Club Play no.1 in 1980). Strawberry Letter 23 reached no.5 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977 and was featured on the Right On Time album.

The story of how they came to cover the song is one of ironic coincidence; George Johnson was dating one of Shuggie Otis' cousins when he came across the Freedom Flight album that featured the song. The brothers later recorded it for Right On Time, under producer Quincy Jones, and the now-famous Shuggie Otis guitar solo was re-interpreted by ave jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour.
The album went platinum. Strawberry Letter 23, as recorded by The Brothers Johnson in a funkier, more dance-oriented vein than the original Otis version, hit the Hot 100, peaked at no.5 and reached no.1 on the US Soul Singles chart in 1977.
Since its original release, it came to the attention of a new generation by being used in Quentin Tarantino's film Jackie Brown.


A tough one for me, this; I knew the Brothers Johnson version long before I had even heard of Shuggie Otis.
Their version is near-perfect; George and Louis' flawless guitar work, Ritenour's dreamy solo, Quincy's subtle little touches in his production. For me, the song is timeless and stands near-endless repeated playing and stands together with Stomp! as the Brothers at the height of their powers.
But Shuggie Otis original has the better vocals and sounds more sensuous, whereas the Brothers Johnson version is faster, more funky, more danceable.
But I have to award this match-up to Shuggie Otis. His version is a trippy delight; its like running through a meadow with the love of your life; holding hands while spinning each other around, threading flowers in each others hair.
And given when it was created I have no doubt that is almost exactly what Shuggy Otis had in mind.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Herbie Hancock - I Thought It Was You (1978)

From the 1978 album Sunlight; Sennheiser vocoder pwns Autotune FTW. That and a mountain of talent, as well as performances by drummer Tony Williams and bassist Jaco Pastorius.
I Thought It Was You was mildly received at the time by UK jazz listeners; as a whole the album tends to lay more toward funk than a jazz record, and is reminiscent of much of the electro-funk (or boogie as it was also known) of the time.
Sunlight also marks the beginning of Herbie's 1980s electro-era style that was more refined in his later albums such as Future Shock and Sound System.

- The Oakland Stroke

Monday, 23 March 2015

Jill Scott - Golden (2004)

The first single from her second album Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2 released in 2004 by Hidden Beach records, an upstart record label started by veteran music industry exec Steve Mckeever.
A deceptively simple song in composition; a one-chord bassline, simple drumbeat and a repetitive chorus. Some say she repeats that line way too much but Jill Scott always has a little quirkiness to all her songs, which is how she really really pulls it off. if Ashanti or Beyoncé repeated that line everyone would probably be hitting the FFW button. But Scott's vocal style pulls it off and then some. One of her anthems.
She is due to release a new album later this year.

- The Oakland Stroke