VIDEO: Braille’s “Changed Hearts”

Braille is always on top of making some quality track and for this one, he worked with The Bridge and DJ Efechto to create “Changed Hearts”. The song was created for the Grace And Peace Records compilation Glimpses Of Grace, released today. Some of the other artists on the album inclide Sivion, Evangel, Mr. J. Medeiros, Raging Moses, Eshon Burgungy, and Young Joshua.

REVIEW: Serge Severe’s “Back On My Rhymes”

Photobucket The line “all of y’all consumed by this money and the fashion/it’s got me all confused like “where is the passion?” can easily be used for hip-hop music of the last 15 years, and that’s not saying that all of hip-hop is on a downward spiral. It’s a say of asking why do some care about music that doesn’t care about anything but endorsements and how it looks? This is music, not a clothing line, and Portland, Oregon’s Serge Severe finds him going back to a vibe that used to be in abundance in the music he calls his own, on an album of his own, Back On My Rhymes.

Serge has never been “off” of his rhymes, but it’s an emphasis on going back, and simply saying “let’s continue”. In other words, this is very much a modern day album, not a retro one although it most certainly has the few of hip-hop in the 90’s pre Wu-Tang (November 1993 for those keeping track). It goes back to the overused “beats, rhymes & life” analogy but it fits here because that’s what Serge does, simply drop rhymes over hot beats and samples, and just delivering the goods. The ego is in the attitude and flow, but with the MC cap on, he simply creates one song after the other that works from start to finish, as the mission that it is and always will be.

What I enjoy about this album is that it has what younger audiences will call an “old school feel”, and maybe if we are to talk about target marketing, this style is one of the past, but I don’t feel it has ever left. To me, it just sounds like a 14-song album made with an emphasis to make an impact on anyone who listens. There are a lot of competitors and imitators out there, but this is someone who loves the music enough to want to share it with old and new fans alike. Also from Portland is Braille, who guests on “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” as they bust lyrics about using words as ammunition and music as a weapon, and as Braille talks about rubbing No. 2’s (pencils) until sparks ignite (writing lyrics for a potential song), you can’t help but think “damn, this is just ridiculous”.

It’s hip-hop that isn’t meant to be wallpaper at your bungalow, this is music that moves you to think. Serge Severe has made his fans think, want, and demand more of what he has to offer, and this new album is sure to move his talents outside of his core audience and into a wider realm, while still keeping to the “shoes” he started his path in years ago.

(Back On My Rhymes will be released on February 22nd. If you are in Portland on Friday, February 18th, he will have a CD release party at Ash Street Saloon (225 SW Ash St.) with special guests, so head to the show, and then grab a meal at Big Ass Sandwiches across the street.)

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REVIEW: Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

Photobucket Let me tell you what My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella) is not. It is not another pop album from Kanye West, in that it doesn’t cater to generic pop music standards. With that said, pop music at its best has never been generic, but the artist who chooses not to take risks with what they are given, be it a song, the music, or their own talents. Hip-hop and pop music: we like to think that they should never be bed mates, but hip-hop has been one of the more popular forms of mainstream music for decades. That means longer than a few years, shorter than a century. It’s as if there’s still a fear that hip-hop will be bigger than life, when the music itself is meant to make you feel that way, or as if life didn’t matter and all is good and great in the world. A lot of artists who choose to call themselves hip-hop create music with fear, with hesitation, and that’s why there’s that non-existent community of naysayers called haters. Despite everything you know, understand, and/or believe about Kanye West as a persona, it’s not his music. At his best, West is someone who takes risks, is willing to try new or previously-at-rest techniques and present them in a fashion that makes him look and sound bigger than thou, and that’s cool. It benefits him as an artist, producer, and entertainer. Put the jazz hands in your pockets, that’s not what I mean. What exactly is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s his fifth album with a five-word album title. It’s a metaphor for his music, his outlook in his career, the ultimate glory in what any artist wants from his fans. He’s living his fantasy, he’s bathing in the glory, and most of all, we’re all in it for the ride.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an accumulation of everything West has experienced in his life following the release of an album that has fans as it has enemies, 808’s & Heartbreak. It was an album that had him singing and creating pop songs, by someone who really doesn’t have a singing voice. Was he trying to say that hip-hop broke his heart, as so many have tried to do but failed? After the grief he went through following the passing of his mother, and some of the peaks and valleys of his music and life in the media, he shut everyone out and create a unique tale that became his mock fantasy, told in album form. It’s an album made to be listened to as an album, which may seem old and outdated by the general populace, but for West it is always about the show. He is a showman, and without the show, he is nothing. Albums are meant to be experienced as a sonic show, a sound play, something that jazz artists and classical composers understood for years. As music became profitable as popular music, the emphasis was on one song, as it was believed one song could change your life. The album was not a big deal in the pop realm until the late 1960’s, when rock’n’roll would take cues from jazz and classical and explore the idea of making unique worlds in 40 minutes or less. Other genres would follow. Hip-hop has always been about the power of that one banging song, but hip-hop at its best was when hip-hop became a generation’s CNN and “the new rock’n’roll”. As hip-hop became more mainstream and found its audience growing, it lost touch with the idea of long-distance and exploring and chose to have a stay-cation in the clubs. Meanwhile,those who chose to explore found themselves with small packs of associates who were willing to go on the trip.

In the last year, West has talked about this album being a return to a time when hip-hop meant the world to all of us. Some bloggers said it was the return of the boom bap in 2010, the idea that almost every new single, album, and artist coming out was celebrated for good and bad, not for how many jail terms they had or who was the mother of their child. The first cue of what this album could be like was the release of “Power”, a song co-produced with Symbolyc One. S1, as he is known, has a great style of production that dips back to the glory days of sample-based production, and I became a deeper fan when he produced a track for Portland rapper Braille called “It’s Nineteen”. I’ve been a fan of Braille for awhile, and while I am not religious by any means, I always got into the positivity he shared in his music. So here’s a track where he’s talking about understanding the limits of life, but why not go one higher? S1 pulled a much-used beat and placed it in the track, and along with vocalist Ragen Fykes, they both said “in my meditation I saw a manifestation of elevation.” I was sold: Braille’s positive lyrics mixed in with an incredibly funky track from S1, mixed in with beautiful vocal accents from Fykes, and I wanted to hear more. He did other tracks, but then it became known that he was collaborating with Kanye West. WHAT? How did that happen? Then the song leaked, and that King Crimson sample did it for me. As someone who has sampled King Crimson in my own works but failed to be heard, it was great to hear someone pull this off, use a progressive rock classic and make it work within the context of what West was doing, what West has become for some people. Was he describing himself as the schizoid man, or are we as crazy as he wants us to be, and he’s laughing at us? The lyrics have West getting into a very dark place, and then wishes for a beautiful death. Was this him talking about a suicide, or is he thinking in metaphors of pleasure? The term “instant death” is an old school phrase for “orgasm”, something Eddie Harris and Beastie Boys knew all too well when they used it. If it’s meant to say that life could begin and end in an instant like the feeling of orgasm, then West was going to see his death, his career, as something that comes and goes like a shooting star. Was he describing himself as the shooting star, or was he shooting something else across the universe? One version of the song surfaced, and then other versions would have added lines, so it seemed even as fans became aware he was about to release new music, he was changing and evolving his song in real time. Then the title of the album became known, which was also changed slightly in the last minute. The album cover was revealed, said to have been banned but may have been nothing more than attention grabber to get people to talk. I felt the cover may have been one of a number of images meant to represent the music. Very few in hip-hop have ever explored the idea of alternate/multiple covers, the exception being The Roots for their 1999 album Things Fall Apart. It is something that has been done in rock’n’roll by everyone from Led Zeppelin to The Police, and now it seems with a King Crimson sample and Cold Grits break as the key, and an album title as the red carpet, it was now time to walk into the castle and kingdom that is Kanye, Willy Wonka style.

  • Lyrically, West is at the top of his game, but he has always had the gift of gab with a swagger that he enjoys playing out publicly, but always works best (IMHO) in his music. Despite how bold he gets with completely smart ass lyrics and fearless messages and slogans, there’s a vulnerability that is nice to hear in a genre that often thinks too much about the size of its own dick. “Dark Fantasy” exploits this to its fullest potential, hints of the old and the new West both musically and vocally. In the opening track, he says even when things were down and out for him, he just zoned out to some video games and planned out the next mission:

    me drown sorrows in that Diablo
    me found bravery in my bravado
    DJ’s need to listen to the models
    You ain’t got no fuckin’ Yeezy in your Serato?

    It sounds like he’s building, but simplifies in a way that is so humble, it might be overlooked when he says all he is is “just a Chitown nigga with a nice flow” (not “a Nas flow” as other websites have translated it as.). For a brief moment, he pops his own bubble and plants his feet back to Earth, and that’s when that vulnerability comes in. Critics and fans were too quick to say that his last album was nothing but weak-hearted “emo rap”, as if showing your emotion was a sign of being a fake, fraud, or a weak, not worthy of creating rap music. Yet saying he is nothing more than a man from Chicago who loves to rap, I dare you to find someone with his popularity drop his guard and say “yes, this is me.” Now that you know who he is (a re-affirmation of the popular hip-hop idiom “you know what I’m sayin’?”, he’s hoping you have your seatbelt on, because it’s a ride unlike any other you have experienced in a hip-hop setting.

  • One can argue that West is at his best when he’s talking about himself., that used to be what shaped a rapper and what made fans honor him with calling him an MC. West has no problem in turning the spotlight and mirror on himself, as if he was Morris Day and Jerome Benton in the same person. Has West always been masturbatory? At times it’s very much like mixophilia, and if West is his own mixologist, then he is the seller and supplier of his own dope. With a song like “Gorgeous”, non-fans will go “oh no, this guy is saying he’s gorgeous now, like a boxer?” and maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. In the song, he says everyone deserves to live well and feel good, but he has seen enough people who have not had that good. Then he busts out a lyrical star and throws it hard with the line “I treat the cash the way government treats AIDS/I won’t be satisfied till all my niggas get it… get it?” Ouch, and yes, it’s meant to hurt. Like an earworm, that one will be hard to remove.
  • “Power” could be a flashback to what KRS-One said when in “My Philosophy”, he rapped “teachers teach and do the world good/kings just rule and most are never understood”. In this case, who is the king? West played with the guy with the artwork for the single, West’s head separated from his body, sword in his head, left there to bleed. If the sky is said to be the limit, the sky will always be there but “the powers that be” seem to prefer to see a black man with his head off than for him to see his dreams come true, or to even hope for dreams. The KRS-One references continue when, in the 4th line, West says “I guess every superhero need his theme music”. Now he’s the Jack of Spades, not the king, because “no one man should have all that power”, not even West himself, even though he trips off of what people thinks he has. One of the more effective moments in the song is when he says
    “I got the power, making life so excited”, and when the words “so excited” is echoed, it sounds like the word “suicide” repeating itself, leading to him saying “Now it’sll be a beautiful death”, complimented with Dwele singing “I’m jumpin’ out the window, I’m letting everything go”. West then says, in closing, “you got the power to let the power go?” Interpret that as you will.

  • The guests on “Monster” are impressive: Rick Ro$$, Jay-Z, and Bon Iver, and together they help describe a beast that is the unseen force tearing the world apart. The word “monster” is said to be a way to place a name for a beast that is actually man, but it is impossible for we as humans to see someone being so evil. That goes back to West asking about if one man can have so much power, because often times the most powerful people in the world are the ugliest beasts out there. However, it is the verse from Nicki Minaj that steals this song and makes it her own, with different accents and speed manipulations:

    Pull up in a monster automobile gangsta
    with a bad bitch that came from Sri Lanka
    Yeah I’m in a Tonka, color of Willy Wonka
    You can be the king, but watch the queen conquer
    Okay, first things first, I’ll eat your brains
    Then I’mma start rockin’ gold teeth and fangs
    Cause that’s what a motherfuckin monster do
    Hair dressed up from Milan as the monster ‘do
    Monster Guiseppe heel as the monster shoe
    Young Money is the roster and the monster crew
    And I’m all up in the bank with a funny face
    And if I am fake, I ain’t notice ’cause my money ain’t

    Then she validates the kill she just committed by placing the lyrical knife deeper into the body. If you have yet to become a believer of the words and wisdom of Nicki Minaj, her verse here will change your mind.

  • The entire album is like that, playing with listener emotions and perceptions, going back to a time when fans loved to rewind their tapes because a verse or line was so damn good, you had to go back and do it again. It is as impressive as anything he’s ever done times ten, because while he is very much confident of his success and how he got to this point in his life, he likes to play with the idea of what the public thinks of him. It’s “having your cake and eat it too” set to music, but he also explores himself from an outside perspective, opening the wounds and revealing his flaws. He’s human, and yet if there’s a steady stream of consciousness on the album, it’s exploring the exploitation of superstars and those with power, the evil that heroes do, and why some get praised for all the wrong reasons. Throughout the album you’ll also hear casual references to other musical heroes who are no longer with us, including Marvin Gaye, Rick James (the added sample used in his Saturday Night Live performance of “Runaway” are now in the final album mix), and Michael Jackson (a few that are obvious, one not so much). In some way, West is saying “if no one is going to take the role of today’s musical hero, I’ll be willing to take that role”, which is very hip-hop of him, thank you. He says that on an album that features the man who helped start his career, Jay-Z, and yet even though it’s being said as a means of wordplay, you have to give him credit for being true to himself, more than anything.
  • What I also found interesting about his album is how he executed his ideas, with songs that go over the four and five minute lengths. If the use of progressive rock and obscure samples is a throw back to people like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and Prince Paul, then the expansion of these songs also have to be considered a factor. Prog rock samples are nothing new in hip-hop, go back to 3rd Bass, Gold Money, Organized Konfusion, Powerrule, Mobb Deep… hell, go to “Oochie Wally”. While prog rock samples have always been hot for untapped beats and baselines, only a select few have taken the prog rock aesthetic into their hip-hop. DJ Shadow is an example of someone who has done it very well with his anthemic 4-part track “What Does Your Soul Look Like”, but that was 16 years ago and probably overlooked by those who don’t view Shadow as hip-hop (and if not, study your lessons and come back to me next week). West adds elements to these songs that might feel drawn-out and overdone to some, but the same fans who may feel this are probably the ones who will follow his very move and promotional tactic. West, at least for this album, wants people to hear what can be done if you go beyond hip-hop’s self-made and conservative boundaries and create music that may one day be compared to the works of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis.
  • That doesn’t mean My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the perfect album, but it comes damn close. There are moments throughout where the expectations are better than the reality, and perhaps should have been edited out of a song or the album would’ve been better without the track. Throughout the year, various mixes and versions of songs have circulated online, a few of which (for me at least) work better than the mixes that are on here. Some songs that aren’t on the album may have worked better in place of a few. Fortunately, if you are a completist, you can hunt down different variations of the album and listen the way you feel fit. Perhaps in a few years (or maybe next May), West may feel a need to release a box set featuring all of the songs recorded for this album, all demos, all multi-tracks, all isolated vocals, everything so that fans can create their own Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (okay, maybe that’s “my” fantasy). For now, West shows that his fantasies aren’t much different from anyone else’s, dark or otherwise (interpret that as you wish). But these are his fantasies, some of which have come true. Sometimes the fantasy is better than the reality, but West doesn’t mind catering to the fetishes he wants to explore in order to find out.

  • VIDEO: Grillade’s “Dream of You (Emotionally Yours)”

    A few days ago I Tweeted about vocalist Ragen Fykes. I became a fan of hers when she did vocals on the track Braille and Symbolyc One did together called “It’s Nineteen”, a song I felt was the best hip-hop song of 2009, and decided to investigate by checking out what else she had. She simply posted that she was in a group called Grillade, and a few days later, the good people at Okayplayer post a Grillade video, so here it is.

    For Miss Fykes, this is that higher she sang about in “It’s Nineteen”, so introduce yourself to her again and Grillade. Pave the way for Grillade smoothness in 2011.

    REVIEW: Braille’s “Resurrect Me”

    Weapon Aid is the latest album from Braille, and his new video brings him to the masses once again. It’s called “Resurrect Me”.

    John Book’s Best Of 2009: Best Hip-Hop Song

    The moment I heard this song, I somehow knew that it would be my favorite of the year. It’s a very spiritual song for two spiritual artists, but it’s not an overly religious song by any means. Yet what hit me immediately, as I said in my review 9 months ago was the line “in my meditation, I saw a manifestation of elevation”. Braille may have written it as a means of saying he looks towards a higher power, but the song can also be a way to say “aspire for better”. By mentioning “meditation”, Braille suggests looking into yourself for guidance. As Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire wrote in 1974 on the Open Our Eyes album, “in our heart lies all the answers to the truth you can’t run from.”

    Then you have the instrumental by Symbolic One, and with a drum break that was also used by the Beastie Boys 20 years ago driving the song forward, I was hooked. The song had an old feel, and as someone who has been following Braille’s music since his debut album, I felt this is perhaps what he has been aspiring to.

    I am sure amongst their fans, the spiritual side of the lyrics take on one meaning. For me, it simply said “whatever you got, whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re at, try to better yourself. Aim high”. It was a small burst of positivity in a genre that sometimes gets caught in its own hype, or tends to eat itself into oblivion, but in an indirect way, Braille and Symbolic One wanted to “aim high”. In a pool of muck, they offered a bit of hope.

    VIDEO: New Mony Mone video directed by Symbolyc One

    You may know Symbolyc One as a hip-hop producer, covering a lot of group and being responsible for producing what may be one of my favorite songs of 2009, “It’s Nineteen” with Braille. But what I wasn’t aware of until recently (read “just now”) was that he also makes videos. In this case it’s a video he made for Mony Mone called “The Proof”, and this may not be the completed version. Nonetheless, nice to hear about producers doing more than just “making beats”, so whether it’s for music or a video production, be on the lookout for S1.

    In fact, if you want to see some of the other video projects he has done, check out his Vimeo page.

    Mony Mone – The Proof(Reference/Test upload) from S1 (Symbolyc One) on Vimeo.

    The Run-Off Groove #232

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #232. 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)
    (for MP3’s)

    The point of this is to make readers aware of some of the good music out there, music I hope to be able to pass along to you. With that said, all MP3’s here are “legal”, which means they are being passed on to you with permission from the artist and/or publicity firm. All of you that are tech savvy should know where to get all the free music anyway, but please make a purchase whenever possible, whether it’s from your favorite store or in many instances from the artist themselves. If your tax return is coming in, get to those bills first and foremost, but with a bit of extra change buy a few albums.

    Also please consider clicking some of the links under the “Music and more” category to the right, which will help keep this website afloat.

    Now, the column.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Braille is back with a brand new album and for this one he’s teaming up with producer Symbolyc One. The end result is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and while I understand the year is only three months in, I will safely say this has become an album that will be in my Best Of 2009 list, and it’s all due to one song.

    First off, the album. Cloud Nineteen (Hiphopismusic) is a progression of what Braille has done over the years, and the guy gets better and stronger with each release. Why this man is not getting as much press as someone like Jay-Z or 50 Cent, I don’t know. People want to believe in the street chemists, I understand that, but here is someone who is putting some good into music and yet he doesn’t bombard you with it. Braille is a Christian rapper and it seems to think that by saying that, there’s still a risk of fitting him into any kind of cliche you may have in your mind. Get rid of it. Also forget the fact that he’s a white MC, look at the photos and cover shots and that’s obvious, but what may not be obvious to newbies is how good he raps and writes. In “That’s My World” he talks about the negative elements in the world and in the music industry, claiming that despite all the downfalls, he hasn’t lost his passion. As he shows in “Skepticold” and “Fill It In” he’s not afraid to attack the mic with a vengeance. “Hardrock” has him talking about the hip-hop he grew up listening to while struggling to get his music into the hands and ears of everyone, over a funky groove with a bit of piano and distant hold samples. Symbolyc One has all of the grooves and beats in his pockets, he knows exactly how to cater to Braille’s every vocal move and to enhance him, just as Braille does to S1. Even if the beat is familiar and well-worn, he uses it in a way that makes you just want to nod your head in approval.

    But if there is one song that I feel defines this album and Braille as an MC, it’s the track “It’s Nineteen”. The idea is that we as humans look towards feeling a good and reaching a metaphorical cloud 9, but if one wishes to go higher, maybe it’s cloud nineteen that will be more joyful. What hooked me immediately was the Southside Movement break, S1 sold me immediately with that right there. Then Braille drops his brand of knowledge:

    Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters
    Jews and gentiles, welcome to the picture
    Mr. Braille is on the microphone and this is not a movie
    But the poetry in motion will relax you like jacuzzi’s
    Leave you uzis and hand grenades at home
    The war is over, but we still haven’t recovered from the storm
    Return to the normality but it’s hard when the
    Formality was formally malice and greed
    What makes the world go ’round, it’s rhetorical
    But look at the historical data of human nature
    It’s easy to wager on what’s minor and what’s major
    Instead of feeding the poor, we buy another acre of land
    Fighting over money, women, and pride
    It’s a war going on, and it’s happening inside of our hearts
    We get tired of the daily grind
    We want to escape and find that place called cloud nine

    Cloud nine… leave all your worries behind

    Incredible way to open a song, but then it gets into one of the more deepest things I’ve heard in a hip-hop song in quite some time, and it happens in the the first line in the chorus:

    In my meditation, I saw a manifestation of elevation

    It’s a lyric that is life reaffirming, something that people will seek and make their own mantra, regardless of how you interpret it. For me, it’s getting out of that daily grind to find some sense of inner peace, in order to find something better than what exists, to look towards a much more optimistic experience, to 1-Up yourself. For Braille, it may signify that, as he says with vocalist Ragen Fykes, there is a place much higher, and everything that matters is provided there. It could suggest that you put value in what you have now, and if there is something better, we may never be able to experience it unless we look at the world and ourselves in a more positive light. A lot of times hip-hop is either about “me” or an exclusive “we” but it seems like it’s a more universal “all” and regardless of your belief system, you will find a way to look at the line above and make it mean something to you. In other words, it’s deep and it hit me, combine that with the great background vocals from Fykes and the beat from Symbolyc One and if there is a better song than “It’s Nineteen” in 2009, show it to me. It’s a song that could have easily ended the album too, but the fact that he starts it at a high level was perhaps his intention. The fact that it doesn’t dip into the nether regions right after is a true testament to their talents and skills as an MC and producer (I believe I read somewhere that while Braille is more than capable of producing his own tracks, he was able to have a bit more freedom when he had S1 handle the entire album).

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Panacea have come out with a new album, but the music is not exactly new.

    The Re Route (Glow Like This) is a remixed version of their Scenic Route album and if you liked that, you will definitely enjoy this new interpretation. The vibe in the remixes seems to be “let’s flip flop between party cuts and traditional hip-hop”, but that’s due to the people doing the interpretation. It’s a nice way to mix it up, and for some it may make these songs better than the originals (if that’s possible).

    I like Panacea a lot, along with the people doing the remixes, but I would almost prefer an EP of new material over something like this. It’s not bad at all, but that would be my preference.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Regenerated Headpiece are back with a new one, and if they were comfortable with playing the fool before, there seems to be a concentrated effort to come off as less foolish. I think some may have overshadowed their serious tracks with the humor they shared, and now they’re twisting their formula a bit with The New Animal (Headsnack).

    There’s still a geek factor in what they do, with loads of obscure reference that will make any Dennis Miller fan smile from ear to ear, but Sir Menelik this isn’t, it’s more about being purposely complex while making things easy to take in. Tracks like “Sandwiches”, “Mechanical Bull”, and “The Keynote Address” show this perfectly, while “Everybody Come On” is them teaching respect by telling people they need to offer it to get it.

    I like the tone of this, although I miss the big amount of humor they shared the last time. If this is meant to represent grow, I’m all for it.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Upon looking at the cover for La Tanya Hall‘s It’s About Time (Bridge), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I expected it to be soul, and while one should never judge from the cover alone, I guess my expectations where that of someone with a silky tone. Instead, Hall is a jazz vocalist whose voice is rich in tone and tradition. The album is her debut, even though she and her voice are known throughout New York City.

    It’s hard to believe this is her debut album, as it’s filled with the kind of singing one would expect from someone twice her age. One can only imagine what she will sound like in twenty years, as she covers a wide range of standards here, including “It’s All Right With Me”, “Summertime”, “The Nearness Of You”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, and “Skylark”.

    It may be vocal jazz but she’s not just another random jazz singer, no dentist jazz here. She has the kind of talent that will give you chicken skin, and her vocal stylings are superb. Job well done.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Mendi + Keith Obadike feel that we have moved far from spoken word. Simply put, American speech documented on record, CD and now in digital form, has documented people and time, and was was mere talk on a record has become a multi-billion dollar industry through rap music. Whether it’s with sound, improvisational experimentation, or over a rhythm, it shows the link between them all and on Crosstalk (Bridge) you get a chance to hear the chain link of dialogue, a steady stream of spoken consciousness.

    The album features everything from experimental/avant-garde to jazz, funk, and even a small bit of hip-hop flavor (but not in the most obvious way). Vijay Iyer teams up with Mike Ladd for “Redemption Chant 2.0” for the kind of underwater track Ladd is known for (would have been perfect as a collaboration with Sole of Anticon), while “Being Black” by DJ Spooky and Ursula Rucker is way too brief. This is a lady who gave her all in the incredicle “Circe” and here she’s limited to a song that’s a few seconds over a minute. What’s also incredible is Pamela Z‘s “Declaratives In First Person”, where her voice is altered digitally in as many ways as possible, stating that if an artist is silent, it is usually the art in question that becomes the only necessary statement to make.

    There are many statements throughout Crosstalk, be it political, social, or otherwise. The “crosstalk” can be an exchange of ideas or simply expressing them to the listener so perhaps (s)he will continue it with others. The dialogue is one that will pull you in, whether it’s for you to expand on it, or within it. A very compelling album that I wish would get more attention than it will.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic There are many stories like the one found on a new compilation released by The Numero Group, called Local Customs: Downriver Revival. In this case it’s the story of Felton Williams, a man outside of Detroit who didn’t want to copy the Motown sound at all. Instead he wanted to create his own legacy, and did so by combining his love of music with recording and electronics. Williams created Double U Sound (the “double U” referring to the first letter of his last name) and it was indepedent from top to bottom. He recorded anyone who wanted a record, he didn’t have any musical guidelines. If it was gospel, he would find the best singers and bands. If it was someone who wanted to make sweet soul music, they would end up using his services. If someone wanted to break down with the funk, Williams was going to make sure every groove was captured on tape.

    Local Customs: Downriver Revival is one story out of hundreds, if not thousands of young entrepreneurs who wanted to make and break it into the music business by being self contained. No one on this CD became a success, but what you do hear is a unique blend of musicians and singers united in the hopes of either becoming famous, or sharing their spirituality with anyone who was willing to listen. The album begins on a heavy gospel note to where you almost feel as if you’ve entered a Sunday service. Sometimes the vocals may be a bit off or the band not as tight as they could have been, maybe it was recording studio jitters, but they all eventually get it down. Things get interesting with track 7 and an “Untitled Jam” courtesy of Bobby Cook & The Explosions. This would have been one of those 45’s that Egon or Dante Carfagna dug up while on a hunting excursion, only for one of them to track down the source. Then you have an alternate take of “Foot Stomping” by The Organics that is so tight, it should have been a hot sample 18 years ago. The album goes in and out of different styles, and one doesn’t know whether to be impressed by the gospel recordings or just letting loose with the soul and funk. Williams, who often played on the recordings if asked, was more than capable of doing what the big city studio producers and engineered did, and this album looks at what could have been had there been someone to put him up to Detroit. Instead, it’s a solid document of a music scene outside of Detroit that doesn’t quite fit the Northern Soul tag, but should be praised just as much.

    The CD comes with a DVD that I hopefully more labels will embrace, something that should have been done ten years ago. The DVD features a great 30 minute documentary film on Double U Sound and features a recent interview with Felton Williams, who still has much of the equipment he used in the 60’s and 70’s, along with various singers and musicians who are still living in or near Ecorse, Michigan. If that wasn’t enough, the DVD also features an interactive tape library:
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    The liner notes in the CD booklet features loads of scans of tape boxes that The Numero Group know we vinyl junkies eat up, but this time you’re now able to hear the material that lurk on those tapes, music that wasn’t used for the regular CD. We’re talking alternate takes, outtakes, run throughs, and forgotten moments on tape that bring you closer to the music and what Williams was trying to do with his studio and labels. The time and research done to put this together is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life, and to see this happen this way is mindblowing. People praise Stones Throw like crazy, and rightfully so, but The Numero Group have gone beyond what they and anyone has ever done. This is how compilations should be done.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic What does Me Not Me (The Royal Potato Family) mean? For jazz musician Marco Benevento, it could mean that this album is a challenge for himself to do the kind of music that he’s always wanted to do but never tried. Granted, Benevento has never stayed in any particular place for too long, and on Me Not Me he takes his music on an electronic field trip, and it comes off a bit like what happened when Medeski, Martin & Wood did The Dropper. People liked what MMW did, but then they went deeper into the ugliness. That’s not saying this album is ugly, but if you are a Benevento fan who enjoys his work and the exploration of it, this is a holiday feast.

    “Golden” sounds like it was hip-hop, funk, and electronic influenced, but it could easily come from the streets of Brazil with its slightly distorted bossa nova feel, and if it wasn’t for the loops, one might hear this as new age. “Now They’re Writing Music” sounds like Benevento decided to get into a bit of bent circuitry as it sounds like he’s taking a bunch of children’s toys, finding the right bleeps and bloops, and make it into a low-tech symphony, or the kind of sounds you’d expect to hear in a video game room circa 1982 with the bootleg Piranha and Moon Cresta games. “Mephisto” briefly wipes the cathodes away to play something with an earthy, bluesy feel, and for some reason it reminds me of Robert Lamm‘s playing, I’m not sure why. The intro to “Heartbeats” is something that would also sound perfect on a Bjork, right before the guitars and crunchy drums kick in and switches direction. Even with the many different colors and shades here, it still sounds like Benevento, and perhaps that’s the one constant thing that runs through the album, you still hear the identity within the shuffle.

    It’s an album that doesn’t want to stay in one place, it’s too eager to look for something new, and that’s what Benevento does, takes his musical suitcase and goes around hoping to find a new place to sit for awhile. It may be him not him, but it’s still very much him.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic John Valentine has been recording, performing, and teaching music for years, and plays a wide range of instrumentsl. For his new album Uke ‘N’ Surf 1 (Self released), he decided to be inspired by the beach and play the kind of music one would expect to hear there.

    The music is very playful yet serene, and while some of the terms may be unknown outside of the surfing community (i.e. “Made The Drop”, “Goin’ To Eat It”, “Pull Inside Deep”, “Barreling”, and “Clean Tube Ride”), what you will hear is a musician who plays the ‘ukulele as you’ve never heard it before. Even if you grew up with Don Baduria, Herb Ohta, or more recently Jake Shimabukuro, you’re going to hear the kind of virtuosity that is his own. It’s music that’s laid back enough to be heard on planes, The Weather Channel, or the radio, as well as on some of the latest surf DVD’s. He has the same kind of flash in his style as Peter Moon does, and for Valentine he simply loves to play and it shows.

    Israel Kamakawiwo’oloe woke the world up again to Hawaiian music and the ‘ukulele. Unfortunately, every other television commercials tries to lure people in with someone playing an ‘ukulele, and there’s one running right now where the strumming is completely hemajang. Pick up Uke ‘N’ Surf 1 and hear one of many ways to play the ‘ukulele properly.

  • That’s it for this week’s Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD’s, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I’ll pass along my contact address. In the past I have generally frowned over receiving digital files, but I will accept them on a case by case basis. I still prefer hard copy as I want to hear the quality of the recording (which is important to me), but digital files are fine.
  • I apologize for the delay between the last column and this one, it has been somewhat busy but I made it through. Coming soon I’ll have reviews for new music by Quite Nyce & Raydar Ellis, Bill Wimmer, Eyran Katsenelenbogen, DJ Myxzlplix, The Wright Family, Steve Haines Quintet with Jimmy Cobb, Wand, Pomegranates, Joe Budden, Bob Albanese Trio with Ira Sullivan, Phil Woods, Jeniferever, Bob Rodriguez, Steve Elson, Illogic, Beth McDonaldBlue Sky 5 + 2, FrameworkBipolar, Youth Group, Leela James, Radam Schwartz, Seamus lake Quartet, Toubab Krewe, Danny Calvalho, Roger Davidson & Raul Jaurena, Dan Adler, Bethany Smith Staelens, Bill Horvitz & Robin Eschner, Sleeper, Dave Siebels, Kinetic Stereokids, Mary Jenson, Nebz Supreme, and perhaps even more.
  • Thank you, and come back next week for #233.