Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #237. I am John Book, welcome.
This column is about music reviews, along with music-related books, DVD’s, etc. Each review will usually be followed by a graphic, when upon clicking you can make a purchase:
(for compact disc)
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This week features only five reviews, but I wanted to get this out sooner than later so I can get to the other albums while being able to highlight an EP that comes out on Tuesday, which starts off the column that you’re about to read. Enjoy
Joyo Velarde has been doing her thing in music for a long time but has made only small baby steps towards making a full project. A few years ago she released the beautiful single “Sweet Angels” and anyone who enjoyed hearing her on various Solesides/Quannum projects were quietly pushing her for more. Then the silence was too much, fans had to hear more and soon see more. She would eventually do shows with Quannum, especially with her man (now husband) Lyrics Born, and within small circles she was discussed. It seems 2009/2010 will be her time to shine, and she begins to let people know who Joyo is about with her brand new self-titled 5-song EP.
Velarde has a voice that is a mixture of soul, jazz, and a bit of pop thrown in. Her voice never sounds forced, although if a certain part of the song demands a certain vibe, she goes all out. The EP begins with “Build This World”, touching on her spiritual side with a verse that is sung in a manner not unlike Mary J. Blige‘s “You Bring Me Joy”, and perhaps that was the purpose, a bit of musical and word play on her behalf. The musical vibe has a groove that will make Seawind fans quite happy, in fact this EP could have been released in 1977 and it would have been a huge success. Being raised in Hawai’i, I grew up listening to a number of Asian singers who were influenced by funk, soul, and jazz and make it their own. There is a certain asthetic that I hear in her voice that probably comes not only from her own musical tastes, but from her upbringing, and that to me has always been an important factor in setting Velarde apart from other singers, Asian, part-Asian, or otherwise. “The Way We Are” is a nice mid-tempo track that sounds like something you’d dance and nod your head to as you wait for the ice cream man to drive down your street, it sounds festive and she sounds like she’s having an incredible time. “Feels Right” is that mixture of the old soul traditions with a bit of hip-hop, mix this song up with some tight Jill Scott, Stephanie McKay, and Erykah Badu tracks and it would fit in perfectly, and she slaps on her rollerskates for a jam called “Take You Home”, the perfect song to keep dancefloors hot and ready for more.
The last song, “I Need You Boy”, is listed as a bonus track even though this EP will be a digital only release. I will say that Velarde knows how to do the reggae too, and I would not be surprised if this song reaches Hawaiian audiences, enough to where they’ll never want to let go. It was produced by influential dancehall reggae producer Bobby Digital, which is sure to widen her audience even more.
This EP is not enough but it will have to do until November, when her long awaited debut album, Love And Understanding, will finally be revealed.
(Joyo Velarde’s self-titled EP is available now at your usual digital/MP3 outlets.)
Let’s get into the technicalities. 14 tracks are on this album, packed with some well known names: Shabaam Shadeeq, Sean Price, Black Moon, Smoothe Tha Hustler, Trigger Tha Gambler, Boot Camp Clik, DJ Revolution, and DJ Evil Dee among many others. If you are to look at the back cover, at times the guests overwhelm the main artist, but Steele is basically telling people “welcome to my world”, and his world features some of the best MC’s and DJ’s/producers ever. As for Steele himself, his rhymes and flows have never been better, he’s no longer that kid of “Wontime” fame but he’s still ruthless and almost as flawless as he can be. In other words, this is the raw, gritty hip-hop without baby wipes, and anyone who has remained a fan of the Duck Down empire will find more reasons to pick this and wish for more from Steele.
One significant factor. In the past, some of Duck Down’s albums have not sounded as cohesive as I’d like, but this album was mixed and mastered by Brian Herman, who is able to take the various elements given to him and make it sound like one solid project. I hope all future Duck Down albums will utilize Herman’s talents because he knows what he’s doing.
Emotional, heartfelt music is what Headless Heroes are about, and they at times are almost without any drums or percussion on their new album, The Silence Of Love (self-released). Maybe the title is meant to suggest that love is the heart, and the heartbeat has rhythm, and the rhythm… okay, maybe not. But vocalist Alela Diane sings in a way that seems too close to the bone, too harsh for the soul, almost too revealing and yet you listen because you feel like you should care because what you’re hearing is the sound of your soul in musical form. At least what’s what I got out of hearing songs like “Hey, Who Really Cares?”, “To You”, and “Here Before”, where there’s a pace that is very deliberate, one that you want to follow every step of the way.
The Silence Of Love is the kind of album you don’t want to be alone to listen to, and yet you know it’s the only way to go through the therapy that is your life. Take it one step at a time, lads and lasses, things will be alright.
Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop (Stax/Concord) is by no means a comprehensive look at the countless samples from the Stax Records vaults hip-hop producers have used over the years, but it’s a brief peak into the ingenious ways they were able to tap into the favorite songs of our parents and turn them into our personal favorites.
All of the songs here were used in classic hip-hop songs, and just naming them will bring to mind the songs that sample them: The Sweet Inspirations‘ “Why Marry” (used incredibly by The RZA to create Raekwon‘s “Criminology”), 24-Carat Black‘s “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” (Eric B. & Rakim‘s “In The Ghetto” among many others), The Emotions‘ “Blind Alley” (Big Daddy Kane‘s “Ain’t No Half Steppin'”), The Bar-Kays‘ “Humpin'” (DJ Shadow‘s “Entropy”), The Dramatics‘ “Get Up And Get Down” (Lifers Group‘s “The Real Deal”), and many more. You’ll hear the sound of the Wu-Tang, you’ll hear a bit of G-funk, you’ll hear the Dirty South, you’ll hear the New York swagger, you’ll hear breakbeat standards, sounds of which originated in the streets of Memphis. There have been countless compilations with sample sources, including the infamous Shaolin Soul counterfeit LP’s, but Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop is a label realizing the influence they had on us fiends of the boom bap, and perhaps by acknowleding this, they will remaster more albums and perhaps dip into the vaults and release some isolated drum and bass tracks.
Well, one can only hope.
The two ladies behind Blectum From Blechdom decided to start their own musical paths, and Kevin Blechdom has started a new voyage with Gentlemania (Sonig), which continues to move further away from the music she created with Blevin Blectum, so what does this album sound like? It’s a mixture of folk, pop, and I don’t know if you would call it vaudeville, but it sounds like music one would hear in the 1920’s or 1930’s, if not from an earlier period. The songs may sound musically distant at times but the lyrics show Blechdom opening herself up in a way that feels much more intimate, in line with much of what she has done in the last few years. It’s not a rock album. or at least not rock the evil beast, but it’s very rootsy, making it timeless and timely at the same time. One could easily picture these songs being interpreted on Broadway or off-broadway, or even used in popular television shows but I don’t know if this is the path Blechdom wants (even if her work has the potential to reach wider audiences). “I Thought I Knew You” may sound like a somewhat cutesy rock’n’roll flashback full of poodleskirt imagery and greased hair, but she realizes the hurt she feels after failed relationship and sarcastically tries to butter up her former lover with words that sugar coat the truth of the pain she feels.
The closest this album comes to her older material can be heard in “Tell Me Where It Hurts”, but with Blechdom is seems she’s having more fun finding new places to visit, new faces to see, and new sounds to explore. It’s not about running away from her musical past, it’s simply about making music that feels good and Gentlemania is a feel good album, but not in a John Mayer sort of way. This album is far better than that, and it’s an album that is sure to be in many “Best Of” lists come December.”