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:
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Now, the column.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
…AND NOW, THE HAWAIIAN MUSIC CORNER
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.