Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Baby love

It's only in the last few years that I've begun to appreciate '80s R&B, but breezy stuff like this was the gateway drug.

Aurra: "Baby Love" (Salsoul, 1983)

Aurra was a side project of Steve Washington of Slave. This was from the last record Aurra cut before he split with the singers, Curt Jones & Starleana Young, and they took off with the name.

There's a brand-new Kid Sister song featuring David Banner that's got a similar feel. It was produced by Diplo, who used this.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Norman Whitfield, R.I.P.

Norman Whitfield passed away last Tuesday.

He wrote a ton of great soul music, from the Marvelettes' "Too Many Fish in the Sea" to Rose Royce's "I Wanna Get Next to You" and was a phenomenal producer. Taking over from Smokey Robinson in the late 1960s, he reshaped the sound of the Temptations and pioneered a crazily lush, psychedelic brand of soul.

This is his masterpiece, all 12:40 of it:

The Temptations: "Smiling Faces Sometimes" (Gordy, 1971)

The arrangement is credited to Dave Van De Pitte but the sound, from the use of echo to the guitar, is all Whitfield.

This is a great rip-off of "Smiling Faces" that's probably the rarest thing I've ever posted here:

The Leaders: "It's a Rat Race" (Superstar Productions, 1971)

And finally, this is a great cover of another of Whitfield's greatest songs:

Mongo Santamaria: "Cloud Nine" (Columbia, 1969)

Oh, and, the very first post on this blog was a Norman Whitfield composition/production.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

He's the D.J., I'm the ...

Last week I was in NYC and dropped by Mr. Finewine's Wednesday party at Botanica. He had a guest DJ who was playing this:

D.J. Rogers: "Celebration" (Shelter, 1973)

D.J. Rogers's first two LPs, the self-titled one that this is drawn from and 1976's It's Good to Be Alive, both contain a lot of great moments. His arrangements and songwriting draw heavily on early-70s Sly Stone, but they're cut with a lightly religious message of uplift-- there's none of Sly's cynicism, but also none of his wit.

I wasn't gonna post two songs but this is just too timely (what up, Wall Street!):

D.J. Rogers: "Bailout" (Shelter, 1973)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Earl Palmer, R.I.P.

Earl Palmer passed away late last week at the age of 84. Although he wasn't a household name, I guarantee you've heard his playing-- for decades he was one of the most widely-recorded musicians on the L.A. studio scene, recording with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Neil Young.

Although he plays on dozens if not hundreds of records I own, I never really fixed on his name until I heard his playing on David Axelrod's Songs of Innocence album. Palmer was, along the great bassist Carol Kaye, the core of Axelrod's rhythm section in the era of Axelrod's great productions for Capitol Records. Axelrod's music is really hard to pin down genre-wise; it flirts with jazz, rock and orchestral music, but never settles into any one groove for long. Palmer did a phenomenal job of tying them all together, as this song illustrates:

David Axelrod: "Holy Thursday" (Capitol, 1968)

The song is all over the place, with themes and dynamics shifting almost constantly, but Palmer stays in such a deep pocket throughout that all the changes make sense. On the strength of playing like this, he's maybe my favorite drummer ever.

Modest digression: I can't really let the opportunity slip to mention that Palmer was from New Orleans, which has produced more great drummers than anywhere (Ziggy Modeliste, Idris Muhammad, Smokey Johnson, James Black, Clayton Fillyau, Baby Dodds, etc. etc.).

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sisters and brothers

While wasting time on the internet, I came across this:

The clip is from the TV adaptation of Marlo Thomas's Free to Be You and Me. As a kid, the album was omnipresent-- I heard it at home, in daycare and at friend's houses.

Recently I listened to it again when I bought it to play for my girlfriend. This track appears on the album, but in different form; it didn't really pop out at me. The video is another story.

The choreography kills me and it's crazy to see footage of the Voices of East Harlem, who sing this version and appear briefly several times. I'm a big fan of their music (I put their song "Can You Feel It?" in my Twee Funk mix a few years back), but I've never been able to learn much about them.

There is an import reissue of their first album, Right On Be Free, which features a bunch of unreleased material. Amazon has loosies of the mp3s; I really recommend "Hey Brother".

Shouts to my homie Cosmo Baker, who posted it over at Soulstrut. Speaking of the dude, he's on tour with Redman this week and recorded a mix of Redman songs that you can D/L over at his site. I was flattered that he included a little re-edit I did of this, which was always one of my favorite intro records:

Redman: "Bobyahed2dis" (Def Jam, 1993)

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Friday, September 12, 2008

I hate retro pt. 2

The new Bronx River Parkway/Candela All Stars album is another record I would've expected to set off my retro-bullshit detector, but it somehow sneaks through.

Currently there are a lot of acts churning out records that recreate the sound of 60s and 70s soul. Many are good and a few of them are outstanding (e.g., the Dap Kings), but by and large it's hard for me to get excited about their music. I'd rather hear someone trying to create something fresh than imitating something that's been done before, however good the original.

If San Sebastian 152 gets a pass it's because they've made something that didn't exist before. While the music is clearly inspired by 60s/70s latin soul by artists like Ray Barretto, Joe Bataan and others, it mostly doesn't really sound like them. The original stuff is is usually tinny and often shrill, this has mid-range and even bass; the original is usually in english with stupid lyrics, this is in spanish with lyrics that might be stupid, but I can't speak spanish so I'm free from knowing. It's what I wish old latin soul records sounded like.

This is their rip-off of Larry Harlow's "Freak Off":

Bronx River Parkway: "Donde" (Truth & Soul, 2008)

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

I hate retro but...

the new Rafael Saadiq album comes out Tuesday and it's kinda great.

A lot of his catalog flirts with retro sounds, especially Instant Vintage and Tony! Toni! Toné!'s House of Music album, but even those didn't feel that retro. Instant Vintage incorporated a lot of modern touches and House of Music was such a pastiche of different 70s soul styles that it felt fresh.

His new album, The Way I See It, is like an end-to-end Motown/Impressions revue. It's a pitch-perfect imitation-- there are hardly any anachronistic lyrics, let alone production choices to break the spell.

I would expect to hate it, or at least feel a little uncomfortable with it, but the songs are good throughout and Saadiq is just so great at what he does that it's a super-enjoyable listen.

The record is coming out through Columbia, but I don't think they've given him any kinda promotion budget, so there's no video for his single, "Love That Girl". Here's a clip of him performing it live in D.C. last week:

Rafael Saadiq: "Love That Girl"

I'd post some songs ("Stayin' In Love"! "Big Easy"!) but I really hope people buy the record.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Harder than the hardest, hardest hard can get

Way back in January my homie Beer and Rap Serg came over with a drive full of angry rap songs and we got to work on a mix CD.

In the months that followed, rigorous scientific tests were performed. Hundreds of songs about haters, busters, snitches, shit-talkers, jaw-jackers, mean-muggers, trifling, flauging ass hoes and other undesirables were auditioned. Using the most advanced technology, each selection was measured to gauge its level of viciousness. Songs were carefully selected for maximum violence, with special preference given to those that displayed particular creativity in their use of fists, 'bows, bottles and chairs. Only 33 were chosen.

The result is the hardest CD ever in the history of the universe-- 78 minutes of elbow-throwing, chin-checking, ass-whupping, hater-stomping fury. The art above, courtesy Matt Loomis, should give you some sense of how extremely buck this CD is, but just in case, here is a sample:

Matthew Africa: "Hard As Fuck 4 (excerpt)" (2008)

It was really difficult choosing one section to post here-- I seriously love every second of this mix-- but thought this excerpt was pretty representative. The songs in it are:

Pastor Troy: Just to Fight
Three 6 Mafia: Knock tha Black Off Yo Ass feat. Project Pat
Da Banggaz: Ain't No Bitch in Me
Three 6 Mafia: What Cha Starin' At? feat. Project Pat & Lil Jon
Criminal Manne: Whoop Yo Azz
Basswood Lane: Ciabatta Bread
Koopsta Knicca: Whoop Dat Bitch feat. Gangsta Boo
CSC: Let's Fight
David Banner: K.O.

To pick up a copy, go to Amoeba Berkeley, hit up Serg or (as of next week) Turntable Lab.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

The hardest working man in show business

As I ever-so-gently ease myself back into my excuse for a grind, I've gotta send a shout out to my homie Nick Catchdubs, who just put out his fourth (!) full-length mix in the last three months (!!!).

I have no idea how Nick manages to crank out tapes at that rate while running the Fool's Gold label, holding down a weekly with DJ Ayres and touring (not to mention finding time to check for my bullshit!), but my pet theory is he's actually three people and none of them ever sleeps. Regardless, Nick not only cranks out tapes, he makes really good ones.

The new new one is Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, a 90s alterna-rock mix he cooked up with his former Fader colleague Eric Ducker. Taking Spinbad's almighty 80s tapes as their inspiration, dudes put "big hits next to unexpected favorites with lots of movie dialogue and interludes for jokes, all smashed up in a dance party megamixxx".

As someone who managed to insulate myself from pretty much everything rock-related between the time Sonic Youth signed with a major and Pavement broke up, it's not the trip down memory lane that they intended. But for anyone white, over 25 and college-educated who also happens to be normal, it's probably a pretty awesome encapsulation of those years.

Then he's got an artist mixtape with Izza Kizza, a Georgia rapper who's working with Timbaland and to me sounds more than a little like Chamillionaire (download here). There are a lot of good tracks on the CD, but my favorite is this, produced by Trackademicks:

Izza Kizza: "Tell Em What My Name Iz" (2008)

Then there's his hipster dance mix, Slick, which I suspect is more or less a representation of Nick's current live sets (embarrassing disclosure: because he insists on only getting himself booked in the Bay on nights when I'm working or out of town, I've never actually seen the boy play). It's available here with accompanying interview.

And finally, his second collaboration with D.C. rapper Walé, the Seinfeld-themed The Mixtape About Nothing, which drew a rave from Pitchfork, although those boobs somehow neglected to mention Nick.

All of the above tapes are available free in digital form-- just follow the various links.

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