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Christmas Got Soul

“Christmas got funky, Christmas got soul!”

A great mix of Christmas tunes with “soul” is available from Any Major Dude With Half A Heart. Includes tracks by Al Green, The Staple Singers, Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and many others.

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Soul for Sunday: Dobie Gray, Drift Away

Not to be mistaken for Dobie Gillis…

Dobie Gray, “Drift Away” – from the album of the same name (1973)

Sort of a one-hit wonder, and pretty pop (and a bit country) for a soul tune, but if you’re in your mid forties to mid fifties, I bet you remember this song. It is very memorable. And it still gets a fair amount of radio airplay.

And if you’re a bit older, or a TV junkie like me, you probably also remember “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” with TV’s first beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs – played by Bob Denver, better known as Gilligan from “Gilligan’s Island.”  But like I said, that’s a different Dobie.

Have you ever actually met someone named Dobie?

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

Song of the Day: Alice Clark, “I Keep It Hid”

The interweb has mutated into many strange forms, some good, most not so good, and fragmented into various regions. On the good side, one of the tastier regions is a subset of the larger region of musical blogs – blogs that devote themselves to posting information on older records, along with rips (digital versions) of albums that are not are out of print, unavailable or were (re)released on CD.

Within that subset, there are further divisions, active groupings organized around various genres, like garage, folk, punk – and funk, soul and R&B, which has a particularly active community of bloggers based all around the world, sharing and posting an amazing collection of records that would otherwise in some cases be almost unobtainable. Here’s an obscure album I ran across last year on one of the soul blogs I follow:

Alice Clark, “I Keep It Hid” – from her self-titled 1972 album

This is not an entirely lost album, as the information below will show, but it doesn’t have anything like the following I think it deserves, even though nothing else on the album quite lives up to “I Keep It Hid.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Soul for Sunday: Curtis Mayfield, “Right On for the Darkness”

An underplayed deep soul groove from one of the less appreciated of Curtis Mayfield’s albums…

Curtis Mayfield, “Right On for the Darkness” – from Back to the World (1973)

Back to the World was Mayfield’s third regular studio album since embarking on his solo career, after Curtis (1970) and Roots (1971), and came out one year after what is generally considered his greatest album, the Superfly soundtrack (1972). It was a concept album, addressing social issues of the 1970s including civil rights, ecology and the Vietnam War. The “World” of the title is a reference to Vietnam soldier’s way of referring to civilian life and the world outside of the War as “the World” – sometimes counter-posed to “the Shit” as a way of referring to the War. So the album tried to address the world that would confront Vietnam vets returning from the War. Read the rest of this entry »

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Soul for Sunday: Aretha Franklin, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”

The Queen of Soul from her breakthrough album…

Aretha Franklin, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” – from I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967)

The album is a classic and includes what is maybe Aretha’s biggest hit of all, her best-known song, “Respect.” It was ranked 83rd on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. “Do Right Woman” may not have been written by Otis Redding, like “Respect,” and may not be as big of a hit as that song, but it is much sexier – a soulful tune, with an edge of the nasty in that “Do Right Man.”

For more…

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Song of the Day: “You’re No Good”

It’s not that hard to see why there’s been a simmering level of dissatisfaction with and criticism of the appropriation of black music by white musicians in the United States…

You’re No Good” is a song written by Clint Ballard, Jr. which first charted for Betty Everett in 1963 and in 1975 was a #1 hit for Linda Ronstadt. (via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Betty Everett, “You’re No Good” – from Beg, Scream & Shout!: The Big Ol’ Box Of 60’s Soul

Compare Everett’s soulful original with Linda Ronstadt’s version—a big hit when I was a kid and which I still remember vividly (listen here or here). Ronstadt is great and she tears it up—you can see why it was a huge hit for her, and it makes a great rock ballad. But I’ll take Everett’s version over it any day. That horn section and then that twangy guitar coming in, Everett’s soulful phrasing—it’s just more striking and original, for me, than the Ronstadt version.

So why is it Ronstadt’s version that was such a huge hit, and has stuck, while Everett has largely dropped off the radar?

Here’s Everett’s biggest hit, just to give you a sense of how great she was:“The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in his Kiss)”. Girl groups—those were the days.

There is, at least, a little justice: Cher‘s cover of this Everett song was not a hit for her. I do appreciate the old school backup singers, but Cher just does it too big—she’s such a drama queen—and loses what is great about the song (and whose idea were those strings?).

For more…

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Song of the Day: Ray Scott, The Prayer

Ray Scott, “The Prayer” – from Change Is Gonna Come: The Voice Of Black America 1963-1973

I first heard this track at a now-defunct record store in the Berkeley mudflats. It was one of those places with “listening stations” where one could hear the albums that were “on display”—and any album not featured on one of their listening stations could be taken to the front counter and listened to on headphones there.

These listening stations, which were big for a while here in the States but now seem to be disappearing, were a throwback to the record store experiences of my youth. When I was a kid, living on Potrero Hill, there was a great record store a few blocks from my house, on Connecticut Street. We’d go over there after school pretty regularly and sort through the hits and hot new singles—45rpms in those days. And we’d take a single up to the counter, The Jackson 5’s latest or something from The O’Jays, and the owner would play it for us. And we’d shake our groove things, a little group of black and white kids, friends, dancing in the dusty aisles of a neighborhood record store.

Those days and that record store have other powerful connections to this strange, terrific track. The neighborhood I lived in back then was predominantly African American, poor and working class, a mixture of small, older homes and housing projects, and the church was a powerful center and focus of the African American community in the area. Walking though my neighborhood on a Sunday morning, I would pass families going to church in their Sunday finery, the women in impressive hats, and from the churches would emanate the voice of preachers, call and response, the rhythms and cadence and force that is recreated in “The Prayer.”

Some background

Redd, Ray and Andre’s Prayer: Redd Foxx had a comedy routine called “The Prayer” which found Foxx taking on the tones of a black preacher to wish a litany of disasters upon Alabama governor George Wallace, then one of most prominent faces of segregationism (he of “segregation now, segregation forever” infamy). Legendary singer/songwriter/producer/”Black Godfather” Andre Williams hooked up with comedian/singer Ray Scott to record a version of the routine, in which Scott put all of his fervor into the presentation with appropriate church organ accompaniment and background vocalists adding a “church” feel. The result had a 1970 release as a Checker 45 (backed with the countrified novelty “Lily White Mama, Jet Black Dad”), which led to an LP the following year. (via Get On Down With The Stepfather Of Soul!.)

What is there to say about the song? It’s a superb evocation of the style of preaching in black churches, wildly inventive in the disasters it prays to the Lord to inflict on Wallace. It goes on and on, piling one thing onto the other in an increasingly giddy fashion. The specific details—14 possums, 22 freight trains—are particularly effective and appealing. But while it may raise a smile, it never exactly becomes funny. The anger is always right there on the surface.

The greatest moment in the song is the final line: Let him have nappy hair and be black like me. After the stupefying chain of disaster, pain and violence depicted in the song, it ends by saying, if that’s not enough, then make him black. It’s a shock. The song has been so powerful and in its way celebratory up till then—celebrating the anger and sense of purpose and solidarity in the black community. But what that final line says, in a suddenly quieter, no longer preaching voice, is that it is still a matter of violence and suffering to be black in the United States of America. Combined with the immensity of George Wallace’s fear and hated of African Americans, that makes being black the worst fate we could wish for him. It’s bracing.

A number of the cultural texts I’ve looked at recently have a twist at the end, that propels them in a new direction, or changes the way you see everything that has gone before, or introduces some powerful nuance to the discussion: the “long swim” at the end of Dobyn’s “Rain Song” (here) that brings in the seriousness of love at then end of what otherwise seems a lighthearted poem, or the final line of Dar William’s “It Happens Every Day” (here) that finally acknowledges the lost love that has haunted the song all along. It can be very effective, that twist at the end, but I think it can also be an easy way out, a shortcut to producing (a semblance of) profundity, particularly in poems.  But it’s not always the easy way, and sometimes it is completely earned—and it is seldom more powerful than here, where it is like the floor dropping out from underneath you.

For more info…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , , ,

Song of the Day: Cindy Blackman on drums

Guitars rock—pretty much by definition—as Lenny Kravitz demonstrates in this video, but check out the drummer (and her awesome ‘fro):

(The video was done by Mark Romanek, a terrific music video director whose other work includes Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” and Madonna’s “Bedtime Story.”)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for an interlude of political correctness: amongst all the things to take pleasure from in this musical video—above and beyond the drummer’s mad skills—are its rejection of some of the divisions of recent music: a black man who rocks out big time; and a female drummer. I mean, female bass players, sure, but how many female drummers do we see? And, no, Sheila E. doesn’t count—she’s a percussionist.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program…

Another Kravitz video—if you can take your eyes of the pulchritudinous American women, notice how even the white guitarist has a ‘fro in this one. That drummer’s style is irresistible:

One last Lenny:

(A fine video. Directed by Paul Hunter, showing how to make a relatively straightforward “band plays and audience dances” vid that has some real style and verve.)

The drummer in all these videos is Cindy Blackman. While she’s widely known for her terrific work with Kravitz, as seen here—providing a solid beat that powers this rock and also rolls with a rich variety of styles and real rhythmic complexity—much of her recording has been in the jazz world, under her own name and with a host of other artists. Blackman cites Miles Davis’ drummer Tony Williams as her main influence, and I think if you haul out the Lenny Kravitz albums and listen carefully to the drumming, you can hear that influence at work.

New York Times music critic Jon Pareles is another fan of her work with Kravitz: “Cindy Blackman on drums could switch from the splashy, sludgy style of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Mitch Mitchell to the casual economy of Ringo Starr to the crisp repetitions of James Brown’s funky drummers.”

Mike Zwerin, one of Miles’ drummers and a prominent jazz critic (writing for Village Voice and the International Herald Tribune), noted that “her strength is a variety of texture rather than one particularly evident style. She plays hard softly, aggressive but supportive, distinctive without encroaching.”

Earlier this year, Blackman released her latest album, Another Lifetime, to strong reviews. The talented line-up assisting Blackman on this album includes Vernon Reid, former front-man for Living Color.

Other Blackman releases include A Lil’ Somethin’ Somethin’: The Best of the Muse Years, Works on Canvas, and In the Now. She also has an instructional DVD, Multiplicity: Cindy Blackman’s Drum World. Ravi Coltrane, son of John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane, is a fixture on Blackman’s albums. You can review other works by Cindy Blackman on Amazon.com.

I discovered Cindy Blackman through the Lenny Kravitz videos, and so I chose to introduce her the same way. But here she is, doing her own thing in an instructional session from the 2008 Chicago Drum Show

And here, in a drum solo from a performance with Antoine Roney, Mark Cary & Rashaan Carter:

And there are lots more video clips of Blackman performing available through YouTube. Joe Bob Briggs says, “Check it out.”

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , ,

Song of the Day: Janelle Monae, “Tightrope”

Aggh! So great it makes both my frontal lobe and limbic system ache.

Janelle Monae, “Tightrope” – from the album The ArchAndroid (2010)

Great song. Great video. AMAZING dancing. Beautiful – people, singing, dancing, concept. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The thing it brought most to mind for me, on the first couple of listens (I’m going to be playing this all week – HEAVY rotation), was James Brown. In part for the funkiness, and the horn section, but mostly for the exuberance, the unrestrained, over the top pleasure, the gonad groove of it all. Like “Sex Machine” coming on at Melkweg or Nickie’s when you’re toasted enough to be loose, but not too toasted to jump, and everyone does jump onto the floor and throw it every which way.

It also made me think of another exuberant funky r&b dance song, Archie Bell & The Drells, “Tighten Up” (1968) – and there is something there, I think, beyond just the connection of the names.

(thanks to GreatDismal for the hook-up)

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , ,

Song of the Day: Barbara Lynn, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”

Barbara Lynn, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” – from the album of the same name (1962)

Compare Lynn’s version with Aretha Franklin’s from the album The Great Aretha Franklin [2003]. Aretha is the Queen of Soul—absolutely—and has such an incredible voice, but somehow there seems to me more raw soul in Lynn’s version—and Lynn seems tougher. I think maybe Aretha was over-produced, something that happened to her a fair bit early in her career.

And here’s Lynn performing the song live:

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

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zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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