Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Heights of Record-Nerdery

Being a collector makes you do crazy things, like buy an expensive Japanese-only Live album by a group that you don't even particularly like just because it happens to have your all-time favorite Brazilian pianist on it. Yes, that's right . . . João Donato is playing on this 1970 live album recorded in Japan. I heard about this album from the man himself when I had the chance to interview him. He explained that Bossa Rio's regular piano player could not get a visa to play the 1970 Expo show in Japan and that Sergio Mendes (Bossa Rio's founder and manager) asked Donato if he would play the show. Knowing Donato, he was probably broke and looking for work, so he jumped at the gig. But step back for a second and consider that Donato is one of THE fathers of Bossa Nova and Sergio, surely, was an early fan and owed a great debt to the man and now he was playing nearly anonymous piano in Sergio's second-tier band.

Here we see Donato in the middle of the band, injecting his unique style of playing into any setting. I've picked three songs form this pretty-darn-nice Live album. Donato shines more on the second two, though this being a "pop" band, there was not much room for soloing. Though the story goes that the owner of Blue Thumb records signed Donato for an album based on his economic, yet moving playing from this performance. The resulting album would be his lone album on Blue Thumb, "A Bad Donato".

Bossa Rio (Featuring João Donato) - Irene
A fresh, bossa-fied take on the great Caetano tune that had been released within the year.

Bossa Rio (Featuring João Donato) - What a Pity (Que Pena)
A cool english language version of this classic Jorge Ben tune.

Bossa Rio (Featuring João Donato) - Quem Diz Quem Sabe
This is the lone Donato composition on the album and one of the only in songs in Portuguese.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Songs That Don't Suck

Jamie, the woman formerly known as my girlfriend and now known as my fiance/beyonce, LOVES her some x-mas music. It was almost a deal-breaker when she admitted as much after I caught her singing along to the 24hr x-mas music radio station during our first holiday season as a couple. But as all healthy couples do, we found a compromise.

We can listen to holiday music together beginning the day after Thanksgiving, but she humors me by letting me pick the music (most of the time). Now, this is where the challenge comes in, because even some of my favorite musicians have made horrible x-mas records; or more accurately, most of my favorite musicians wouldn't be caught dead rehashing the x-mas cannon, or god-forbid contribute an original tune to the bloated roster of yule tunes. But I persevere . . . and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, embark on a mission to bring you some Christmas songs that don't suck.

Stevie Wonder - Christmas Greeting
This is a greeting recorded by Stevie in his 70s keyboard phase (clearly). He probably didn't even rehearse this and just freestyle busted it out . . .

National Lampoon - Kung Fu Christmas
This is the real gem in this batch. Big-ups to Mike in Seattle for tipping me off to this one. I don't know much about the National Lampoon LPs, but this guy does. Most importantly, it was written by National Lampoon Radio Hour regular Christopher Guest and Paul Shaffer. Watching/listening to this video also gives the longer intro to give you a sense of how this song was situated on the album.

Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime
Now this one might be overplayed, but I still love it. Its probably one of the best recent additions to the Christmas cannon and I don't care what the rest of you say. Knowing that Paul was probably stoned to the bone from smoking too much mistletoe also makes it more enjoyable to listen to. I wrote a piece in Wax Poetics (issue 31) about another song from this same recording session. Blog entry here. Actual pdf of article here.

The Roger Saga Continues: Dick's Initial thrust

I've been meaning to post some lesser-known Roger Troutman joints, but got held up trying to rip Shirley Murdock's 1986 album.
So, instead we're gonna give you two of my favorite cuts from another Troutman side project, Dick Smith's "Initial Thrust." This is kinda a weird project in that it comes off like a early-eighties version of jazz/soul vocalist album in the style of Lou Rawls in the mid-sixties on Capitol. Dick is a real interpreter of songs and on this, his only album, he tackles mostly cover tunes with a few Troutman-penned tunes squeezed in. The covers are WAY better, in my opinion, than the originals and they all have that Roger touch . . . that "more bounce" BOOM-CLAP.

Dick Smith - Tobacco Road
This opening track from Dick's album screams Roger from the first drum-kick. I've never really gotten into this old war-horse of a song until this version. Dick really rips into it by the end.

Dick Smith - Long and Winding Road
THIS is my jam! I know its smooth with those muted trumpets and tender beat, but not since Clapton re-did Layla has a cover version turned a song on its head. This album was Dick Smith's first AND last "thrust."

. . . over to you Morgan. Do it roger!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Disco Monster #5: Alton McClain & Destiny

I've been a bit negligent as of late on the ole blog, but I'm gonna try and make up for it in the next couple of days with a slew of posts. I'll keep this one short and to the point. Disco-Funk, Funky-Disco . . . whatever you wanna call it, Alton McClain & Destiny serve it up real nice from this 1979 album. I never knew much about this vocal group with a clunky name and browsing the web there's not much out there on the band. Their records are not too common, so grab one if you see it. I noticed that the newest Wax Poetics has a Re:Discovered about the groups' third album, "Gonna Tell the World." I've only heard this first one of theirs. Here are a couple songs I like from the album.

Alton McClain & Destiny - It Must Be Love
This tune has got more than a little in common with The Emotion's "Best of My Love" from around the same time. But then it also stands on its own as a great slice of dancefloor pop.

Alton McClain & Destiny - Push and Pull
This one is more on the funk tip. Whoever did production and led the band on this one did I great job. It's a bit gritty while also being super smooth.

Morgan asked if the picture of Animal was taken from Diana Ross' appearance on the Muppet show. I don't think it is. I know Sesame Street had a disco album "Sesame Street Fever" and his Travolta look could have been from that . . . Check out Diana Ross and the muppets here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Southern Soul Greats #1: Sam Dees

I've been a huge fan of southern soul music dating back to when I first started to take music seriously and dig deeper than the obvious selections and regular radio station fare. I'm gonna start a little on-going series here highlighting some of the lesser-known, or maybe well-known, southern soul greats. Today's great is Sam Dees, who I only came across more recently. The first I heard of him was a song or two on one of the excellent tapes that my good friend Hugh made for me nearly 7 years ago now. I happened to catch a glimpse of the album cover while popping through London and staying at Hugh's flat, so from then on I knew what I was looking for, but I had yet to hear the whole album. Next I picked up the excellent Southern Soul compilation, "Birmingham Sound: The Soul Of Neal Hemphill, Vol. 1" and there was another Sam Dees track, "Train to Tampa." And finally, at the infamous Alameda Flea Market I chance upon Sam's hard-to-find lone solo LP, "The Show Must Go On."

My copy's a bit warped, but I'm glad to have it anyway as it gave me the chance to really get into what might be one of the best 1970s Southern Soul records. For me, it's up there with the best Al Green or Ann Peebles record from the same decade and stands as one of the later entries into the classic Southern Soul cannon. While most soul singers were wavering on the brink of disco by 1975, Sam was keeping it real and gritty with some excellent songs, superb emotionally straining vocal delivery and excellent session players and back-up singers behind him. While this is his only LP , he has many a single that you can check out here and he has a couple CDs (Second to None & Heritage of a Black Man) of demos and unreleased cuts that I have yet to check out. I could have shared nearly any number of songs from this album, but I decided on these two.

Sam Dees - What's It Gonna Be?
Sam Dees - Good Guys

PS - not to worry, there will be more Zapp & Roger coming up soon - the tag-team continues!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Roger part two: Computer Love

ROGER!! When The Ambassador's brother and I used to cruise around in his truck, I would always insist we listen to his "Best of Roger (and Zapp)" tape. It basically had most of the first Zapp album and about half of the first solo Roger album. Also "Computer Love." So solid. My punk roommate walked by and sort of rolled his eyes when he saw me doing my fist pump thing while recording Computer Love earlier today. I hadn't given it a spin in a number of months so I can be forgiven for getting into one of my favorite songs. This cut sounds a bit dated, I know, but its Roger at his purest (and smoothest.) It's a "remix" of the original which means its shorter and sort of punchier. (Actually its pretty different.) If anyone likes I would be happy to provide the instrumental of this song which is probably about the least non-vocal instrumental version I've ever heard. From the "A Brand New Maxi Single IV U" 12".

Zapp - Computer Love (remix) This is one of those "mixtapes for ladies" songs for me (for better or worse.) Despite some serious willpower and desire, I'm sorry to say I've never quite been able to rock this one at a party... We'll get there.

The Human Body - Make You Shake It Now for something slightly more danceable... a much, much later incarnation of Roger and the Human Body! Its from 1984!! Actually Roger's name has been dropped from the band title although he still retains a producing credit (and some artistic control presumably.) It kind of sounds a lot like Zapp, not a bad thing

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Introducing Roger . . .

Mr. Morgan and I have been discussing a tag-team approach to the late, great Roger Troutman in all of his incarnations (Roger, Zapp, Funkadelic, Human Body and his productions for other peeps). I'm throwing down the gauntlet now and I hope that Morgan will take notice and return fire. We'll see how long this lasts before the Roger well runs dry, but given this guy's prolificness (a real word?) we should be grooving to Roger's elctro-voice for awhile.

Roger & the Human Body - Freedom (parts 1 & 2)
Roger & the Human Body - Nature's Song
Starting off, we have two of my favorite cuts from Mr. Troutman's first recordings. This album has some semblance of the laid-back funk of Zapp, but it kinda reminds me more of Earth, Wind & Fire. Given its 1976 date that makes perfect sense, but Roger's excellent sense of melody while still giving his songs rhythmic anchors can be seen in nearly all of his future output. This is where our Roger journey begins . . .

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Worst Week . . . EVER!

Have you ever had one of the days where it seems like everything and everyone is conspiring against you? A day when NOTHING goes right? Well, I had a whole week like that, last week.

Monday: I went into work early to prepare for an important meeting later that day to find that my brand-new work laptop refused to start up. Our IT person works from noon til late, so I wasn't able to get back to work until close to the end of the day. Needless to say I was frustrated, the meeting had to be postponed and regardless of the fact it wasn't my fault, it still reflected poorly on me.

Tuesday: Without going into details, I overdrafted my bank-account. I'm not the kind of person that balances my checkbook or anything, but I'm also not horribly irresponsible with my money. I think the problem had to do with the Tuesday bank holiday. Either way I had the embarrassing experience of being declined when trying to buy my morning bagel at my usual spot around the corner from work.

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes - Bad Luck

Wednesday: After moving to California, my girlfriend (a CA native) explained to me that drivers in California don't come to complete stops at stop signs. They call it a "rolling stop" or a "California stop". I changed my ways, but on my way to a work conference on Wednesday morning I got pulled over blocks from my house for making (or not making) such a "stop." Clearly, telling the Po-Po that "that's how we do" in California doesn't really work. Here's to a $160 fine and driving school!

Ellen McIlwaine - Born Under A Bad Sign

Thursday: Hallelujah! Nothing horrible happened, but needless to say I was still reeling from the disasters of the previous three days.

Friday: So, after work I went to see the new James Bond movie with Jamie and some work friends of hers. Before the show I went to put my heavy bags into the trunk of the car, parked no less than a block from the theater. It was too good to be true. After the less-than-steller Bond flick we went to a bar and as I went to the trunk to grab something from my bag, I was startled to find that IT WAS NOT THERE! Just my backpack was gone. The backpack with my brand-new, recently fixed work computer. Sunglasses, my current book and few smaller items were also sacrificed to the clever thief who must have watched me place my bags in the trunk. Surprisingly, there was no visible sign of forced entry into the car.

Earth, Wind & Fire - Keep Your Head to the Sky

Friday was the Full Moon, so it stands to reason that somehow my lunar vibrations were out of sync or some such shit, but thankfully my life has returned to normal, more or less, since then. I'm trying my best to focus on the positive. The last two songs are some of my favorites for doing just that.

The Impressions - We're Rolling On (Part One)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's Been A Long Long Time . . . Since We Had A Slow Jam

I picked this one up on a whim with a whole bunch of other LPs and 45s a few weeks back. In fact, I think it came from the same vendor that sold me the Gary Bartz LP . . . I wasn't sure what to make of it, but the price was right so I gave it a chance. But there's something peculiar about this 45. What appears to be the A-Side is "I Understand My Man" written by Holland-Dozier-Holland and produced by Holland-Dozier and dates from 1966. Today's featured song is on the B-side but its date is from 1961! I think what this refers to is the publishing date of the song in its original version done by Harvey Fuqua and the Five Quails. But I'm guessing that this track was also recorded in 1966 for their lone album "Darling Baby". Enjoy!

The Elgins - It's Been A Long Long Time
Lead Vocals [Lead] - Saundra
Producer - Harvey Fuqua, Johnny Bristol
Written By - Harvey Fuqua/The Five Quails

Also another great oldie, but goodie over on Soul Spectrum Videos culled from a recent purchase, Marvin Gaye - Live in Montreaux 1980.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Os Mutantes Record Rundown

So one of the most interesting parts of my discussions with Sergio Dias of Os Mutantes was a record-rundown of the most influential records that informed Os Mutantes distinctive sound. For the super-fans out there Sergio's selections make some obvious sense but I dare you to come up with a list of 15 records before clicking the link and see if you can guess them. If you get more than 4 albums or artists I'll be impressed. After reading his selections I find it makes perfect sense why each of these records were picked. Anyways, I hope you enjoy.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 7: To President-elect Barack Obama!

HOT DAMN! I'm struggling to grasp the immense reality of what this means. This is one of those moments that we'll remember when we're old and gray. Those moments don't come too often in life and its all the better when you can feel like you're a part of it. I'm not gonna say much more, cause I think these songs here say enough. I couldn't help myself and just on kept adding more songs to the post, some of them in a couple different versions.

Skull Snaps - It's A New Day
. . . And a better day is coming.

Sam Cooke - A Change Is Gonna Come
I first uploaded the Baby Huey version (now bumped to the bottom), but Sam's original version more accurately reflects the grace and eloquence that embodies our new President.

The Pointer Sisters - Medley: Yes We Can / Love In Them Hills
Yes We Can! (Can!)

James Brown - Funky President (People, It's Bad)
Well, I don't know that "funky" would be one of the words I'd use to describe President-elect Obama, but I can agree with James Brown (RIP) that, "People, It's Bad!"

Parliament - Chocolate City
We all know Obama is no racial radical, but Da Capitol is no longer an oreo, black on the outside and white in the middle. As of January 20th this cookie will have a deliciously fudgy center. (I hope that's not offensive to anyone, as it's not meant to be)

Donnie - Our New National Anthem
This came out after 9/11 and immediately spoke to me. It speaks louder now.

Baby Huey & the Babysitters - A Change Is Gonna Come
Psychedelic Politics

Lee Dorsey - Yes We Can
God Bless Allen Toussaint and Lee Dorsey for bringing us this anthem that inspired the nation.

and finally . . .

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 6: To the Undecided

It's hard for me to believe that anyone can still be undecided after more than two years of campaigning by both of these candidates, but I know you're out there, cause the media tells me so. Chances are you're not reading this blog, but if you are I have two songs here to help you make up your mind.

Lou Bond - Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards?
This is McCain. And I like this song. But basically he represents an outdated frame of mind with the same old policies as all of the previous administrations for as long as I can remember. Listening to this song, more than half of the problems Lou describes are still relevant today. That's not the best track record. I, for one, want to see a different approach.

Marvin Gaye - Where Are We Going?
This song is Obama. It's cautiously optimistic, aware of its vulnerability. It recognizes the struggle in life, but strives for something different, something bright and new. It challenges the American people to really examine ourselves and question what our country's role will be in the future, one of hate, fear and approaching apocalypse or one of sustainability, peace and hope. Well, that's what I took out of it anyways. The words are actually kinda sad if you listen closely, but the tone of the song, thanks to Marvin's golden pipes and some young Mizell Bros. (that's right, Mizells), is bright, reflective and uplifting. All told, I think it does hold up as Obama's song. I mean look around. We're in a recession, an endless war and no other country in the world really likes us. But that could all change tomorrow . . . Obamanos!

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 5: To the Paranoid, Patriots & Purchasers

Today's musical shout-out is a bit of a grab-bag, but I've conveniently lumped them under the letter "P" Sesame Street Style! Oscar is repping our letter of the day with an offer of a "pickle" that comes from god-knows-where. There's a lesson to you kids out there, don't accept pickles from furry monsters living in trash cans.

Today's songs do have something in common. They all speak to some fundamental discontent in our society, be it political, societal or cultural. And they're all pretty funky and two of them are covers.

Sergio Mendes & Brazil '66 - For What It's Worth
This great cover of the classic Buffalo Springfield song comes from the best Sergio Mendes & Brazil '(insert '66, '77 or '88 here) album. Recorded in 1970 this album sees Sergio tapping some of the Tropicalia-era songwriters like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso as well as their North American hippy counterparts like Joni Mitchell ("Chelsea Morning"), Stephen Stills ("For What It's Worth") abd Blood, Sweat & Tears ("Sometime in Winter"). Of all of the many covers of this song, this is by far my favorite with its slow build and eventual catharsis percolating over a soulful latin groove.

Dr. John - Patriotic Flag Waiver
On his second album of vood-doo funk Dr. John emerges from his psychedelic swamp to deliver this two-faced political manifesto. Surely Mr. Mac Rebennack is no political conservative, at least he wasn't in 1969, but his lyrics suggest that his tongue-in-cheek commentary on American politics was more serious than the first listening might suggest.

Esther Phillips - Disposable Society
On Ether's fourth album for CTI/Kudu she decided to cover another Gil Scott-Heron song (the first over being her "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" from her first Kudu album), "Disposable Society." Steve Gadd provides the excellent drumming and Pee Wee Ellis is on the arrangement and it could very well be Bob James on the keys. Esther as usual delivers soulful vocals on this still very relevant tune.

I can't help but mention the book, "Cradle to Cradle", after listening to this song's lyrics once more. This book is blowing my &%#!ing mind lately! If you're tired of looking at our society's wasteful ways and long for an approach that's more gratifying than just using less, throwing away less and doing less, it's in your interest to check this book out.

One day to go!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 4: To the Cynics

Just a few days away now from the most important election of most of our lifetimes. I don't think your political persuasion changes that fact. But is it really possible for a Black-American to get elected as the President. I for one surely hope so and deep down believe it's possible, but we won't know until Tuesday night, or if its close enough it might be a bit longer before anything's finalized. I'm also not ruling out some serious election fraud. I mean, really, it's been a HUGE factor in the last two presidential elections and seeing as McCain's using Karl Rove's people on his campaign why would we expect any less?

Syl Johnson - Is It Because I'm Black?
I wanna reassure you all that this song is merely a reality-check and in no way represents my opinion on the matter. But after listening to This American Life this afternoon and hearing life-long Democrats who are campaign on behalf of McCain, I can't help but wonder what is really motivating their political mutiny . . .

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 3: To the Bleading Hearts

Smokey's first solo album is a truly underrated masterpiece that deserves its place next to the other great Motown albums of the early seventies by the likes of Marvin or Stevie. The whole thing is straight-up perfect with maybe one weak track among the batch. The original songs are all great Smokey compositions with a real intimate feel and contemporary lyrics and the production called on the help of new Motown producer and soon to be artist, Willie Hutch. I have a Soul Train video at home of him doing his very mellow thing to three of the songs from this album, but this baby-making tune was the only one I could find on the interwebs.

Smokey Robinson - Just My Soul Responding
Smokey's best attempt at a political song is this lesser-known tune with an unusual rhythm track and arrangement. Still one of the best social commentary song from the seventies if you ask me . . . To all those bleading hearts out there, Smokey feels your pain . . .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 2: To the Current Administration

Too little, too late . . . I know. But it doesn't mean we can't send those bastards off with a nice kick in the pants. That's not to say that I have admitted democratic victory, but even if McRage does get elected he'll be better than W. was.

Today we have two tunes that really tell the President what we think of him. Like yesterday's tune, these songs emerged at a time when pop music could be politically relevant and its no secret that these songs are targeted at the "Big Dick," Richard Nixon. But bad, dishonest, power-hungry people are more alike than dissimilar, so I'm sure you will have no problem finding some relevancy lingering in these tunes.

Stevie Wonder - You Haven't Done Nuthin'
A great lesser-known jam from one of Stevie's best albums.

The Honey Drippers - Impeach the President
I'm ashamed to admit that I never knew this song until yesterday. I was reading the interview with Slick Rick in the new Wax Poetics and he referenced Doug E. Fresh beatboxing over this beat. Of course, I've heard the beat, but never bothered to track down the original tune. As an original track it sure does hold up.