Friday, December 11, 2009

It's a Wonder I forgot this one . . . Stevie Wonder's "Sugar"

Stevie Wonder - Sugar
I really can't believe I forgot this tune when selecting some of favorite lesser-known Stevie jams. Most people look to "Music of My Mind" as the first "funky" Stevie album and for the most part they're right, but before that album there was the mixed bag of "Where I'm Coming From" which hinted at a more experimental, bugged-out Stevie on funky keyboards and big drum sounds. But the song we have here is an album track off of his previous album, "Signed, Sealed & Delivered" from 1970. Sure, most of the album is soul-pop like the title track and that would probably be the description too for this cut, but listening to the drums (played by Stevie) and how prominent they are in the mix you can't help but think Stevie knew what was going on and you can feel that he was chomping at the bit to get out from under the Motown machine and let loose a funky maelstrom. I give you "Sugar". Tastes so sweet!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bay Area Peeps: Wonderfull - This Saturday @ Mezzanine with DJ Spinna & Bobbito and more

I've been meaning to get to one of these Wonderfull events since I first heard about it years ago back in NYC and for some stupid reason I just have never been able to make it, but this time I'm gonna break the curse and get my ass down to Mezzanine this weekend. And in honor of that I have some of my favorite Stevie Maravilha (his Brazilian nickname) deep cuts and cover tunes for your listening pleasure. Also, check out P-R-O-P-S radio for a killer set of Wonderfullness. Not much on commentary here and no albums covers (too many songs here and it's busy here at work), so just hit play on the yahoo media player and Stevie and friends take you on a trip through music of Stevie's mind . . .

Stevie Wonder - Christmas Greeting
Couldn't pass this one up given the time of year. I want a whole album of keyboard based Christmas funk from 'Lil Drummer Stevie.

Stevie Wonder - Love a Go-Go
This is one of the first album track/deep cuts that I sought out and as a result was even further inspired by the breadth and depth of Stevie's genius. I think this was big in the UK/Norther Soul thang . . .

Syreeta - I Love Everything About You

Possibly my favorite Stevie version ever . . . and all-time favorite song. period. when I first got this album I listened to this one track on repeat for two days straight. seriously.

Tamiko Jones - Creepin'
Who woulda thought you could fuck with Stevie & Minnie dueting on the original version? I'm not saying it's better, but its damn good!

Ray Charles - Living For the City
The most recent Steviania acquisition . . . so dope. Nobody (aside from Stevie) does Fender Rhodes so nasty and raw as "The Genius".

Ellen McIlwaine - Higher Ground
By far those most left-field cut here . . . you can't deny Ms. McIlwaine's mastery of this song. The way she does it, you can imagine that she wrote it. For me, this speaks to the universality of Stevie's tunes.

Main Ingredient - Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing
Main Ingredient have a long history of doing Stevie tunes, but this has got to be my favorite.

Stevie Wonder - Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Live)
A somewhat rare early-seventies live recording from an Jazz/R&B festival from 1974. I posted the whole album awhile back, but have since taken the songs down.

Sister Sledge - As
I can't say this holds a flame to the original, but it's such a great song that I could tolerate some less than perfect cover versions. This one is from the Sisters Sledge right before their Chic-produced breakout album. This one was recorded in Germany with the masterminds behind Silver Convention, Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay.

Laso - Another Star
Here we have a latin instrumental take on another Songs in the Key of Life classic. Laso was a Joe Bataan side project that sounds very much like an MFSB or Vince Montana release from the same time. New York Latin Disco, Yeah!

The Gary Byrd Experience - The Crown (Instrumental)
I feel a bit like a racist posting the instrumental version of this song and by default ommitting the social-conscious lyrics of Prof. Gary Byrd, but honestly his rap sucks and the best part about this song is the "Good Times"-esque bass line and Stevie's one verse about 1/2 way in. He just kills it!

Stevie Wonder - All I Do
Thanks to my brother Charlie for hipping me to this tune early on. I honestly thought Stevie was done with Songs in the Key of Life until I heard this joint. This is some superb soulful mid-tempo disco. I forgot to bring it, but I also love the previously unreleased version of Syreeta doing this tune from back in the late 60s in a straight-up Motown cookie-cutter formula (and I don't mean that in a bad way) cause it sounds like a totally different song in that style, tempo and from a female perspective.

Stevie Wonder - Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
My favorite sleeper Stevie track from Fullfillingness First Finale. This is the kind of religious music I can get down to.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Goodwill Girl Groups

These are three of the eight records I got last week for $7.98 at the Goodwill near where I work. I don't go too often, but each time I manage to find something interesting. Last time it was a David Axelrod produced Lou Rawls joint. I've been assessing my purchases and found these three great tracks in the process. The Pointer Sisters jam some of you probably know and I was aware of it before copping the album, but these other two were pleasent surprises. Enjoy!

Pointer Sisters - Don't It Drive Your Crazy

Softouch - Please Be True

Hot - Just 'Cause I'm Guilty

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Inter-American Dialogue: The Leon Ware - Marcos Valle Connection

This is what blogs are for. I've been fascinated by the collaboration between Marcos Valle (left) and Leon Ware (below) for years now, ever since I read on Dustygroove that Marcos had written some songs on Leon's "Rockin' You Eternally" album. A deeper look reveals that their collaboration was a two-way street and the songs they wrote together are peppered across several albums of Leon's and Marocs'. Sure, I could try and write a proper article about this phenomenon, but the blog format seems ideally suited for this topic. I recognize that not everyone will be intrigued by this side alley of popular music, but for those who are, I'll dissect this collaboration in depth.
I've collected some (but not all) of the songs and recordings of the Ware-Valle partnership in this blog post, beginning with a song that was written by Marcos Valle and Robert Lamm (of Chicago) which Leon recorded for his 1979 album "Inside is Love."

Leon Ware - Love Is a Simple Thing
As far as I can tell, this is the first published intersection between Leon and Marcos, though Marcos is not playing on this record. It's strange to think that Marcos Valle and late-seventies Chicago were grooving to the same sounds, but it was a different time and when you really think of it they both come from similar backgrounds: jazz-influenced, blue-eyed pop soul.

Leon Ware - Rockin' You Eternally
For me, this is really the crowning achievement of the inter-American songwriter duo. The title track of Leon's first of two album on Elektra, "Rockin' You Eternally" is quintessential quiet-storm funk. Leon's clearly spearheading the lyrics on this one, but the music has got the unmistakable Marcos Valle touch, especially in the (and I'm not very expert in describing musical concepts) way the song changes keys in the chorus. You'll not that same chord progression in a Marcos song below that otherwise sounds nothing like this tune. I wonder if there is a recording somewhere of Marcos doing this tune in Portuguese or a Leon Ware - Marcos Valle demo . . .

Leon Ware - Baby Don't Stop Me

Here we have the first example of a song that both Leon and Marcos recorded in different, but very similar versions. Leon's is clearly rooted in an early-80s quiet-storm boogie mode with hardly a trace of Brazil in the mix.

Marcos Valle - A Paraíba Não É Chicago
I've been listening to this album non-stop for the past few days and it just doesn't get old. The whole thing is great, without a weak song among the bunch. This is the lead-off track and as you can hear, it's Marcos' version of "Baby, Don't Stop Me" with that exact chorus being sung by Chicago' Peter Cetera. This song and "Sei La" were the only two songs recorded in LA, I'm guessing, before Marcos returned to Brazil to stay and finish the album.

Marcos Valle - Velhos Surfistas Querendo Voar
This is the real sleeper on the album and took a dozen or so listens to really grow on me. This is also the tune that reappropriates the chord-progression from "Rocking You Eternally", but that's about where the similarity with the latter song ends. This song is where the album title comes from too.

Marcos Valle - Não Pode Ser Qualquer Mulher
This is a beautiful tune composed by the duo, with lyrical assistance from Marcos' go-to lyric writer, Paul Sergio Valle (his brother).

Marcos Valle - Bicho No Cio
Before I even knew about the Marcos Valle - Leon Ware connection I got this Brazilian promotional 7" single with four songs and this was one of them. I immediately dug the slow, funky groove and began my search for the album it came from. This is also the second song, like "Baby Don't Stop Me" that both artists did in similar versions.

Leon Ware - Got To Be Loved
Here we have Leon's version of "Bicho No Cio". I love Leon's work throughout his career, so I mean no disrespect when I say that aside from "Rocking You Eternally", I prefer Marcos' versions over Leon's and this song is no exception.

Leon Ware - Somewhere
This is an interesting tune that shows Leon getting into a Brazilian groove unlike any other recording of his I've heard. That would be Flora & Airto on vocals and percussion.

Marcos Valle - Dia D
Here's the last tune in the set, a one-off collaboration in a funky party mode. This album features one other tune with co-writing credits from Leon, but its a pretty mediocre slow-jam. This is a fun song from a seriously under-rated album. Actually, my next post will likely pull the song "Fogo de Sol", which I just discovered is the vocal version of one of my favorite Marcos Valle tunes, "Adam's Hotel" from the Deodato album "First Cuckoo".