REVIEW: “The Motown 7s Box Volume 2″ (7 x 7” 45 box set)

 photo Motown7sV2_cover_zps3fe9113b.jpg Another gem for Motown fans, a new box set of seven 7″ singles exploring the side of music that was not released in a proper fashion at the time they were recorded and mixed. The Motown 7s Box: Rare And Unreleased Vinyl Volume 2 (Motown/UMC) shows how well the Motown and Northern Soul still holds up, as artists today are dipping into it and making a killing from the style of music that was popular 45+ years ago. All of these songs are not the big hits we know and love, so it’s a chance to hear these artists in a way that is unfamiliar to most of us. This includes Stevie Wonder’s “I Want My Baby Back”, Jimmy Ruffin’s “He Who Picks A Rose”, and Brenda Holloway’s “We’ll Keep On Rolling”. Other mixes here include songs made/mixed for box sets and compilations, including a 1994 box set version of “Angel Doll” by The Temptations, an outtake of “I Know Better” by Barbara McNair, and a 2004 anthology mix of “That’s A Funny Way” by The Velvettes. Considering all the mono/stereo variations and outtakes/alternate takes that exist, there is still something worthy here for even the completist, plus it’s all on vinyl to boot, some being released in that format for the very first time. Overall, a very nice set and a perfect companion to the first volume released late last year.

(The box set is available from Amazon.co.UK.)

COVERED: Stevie Wonder vs. Justin Horn

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At times it seems fans and critics tend to forget Music Of My Mind when it comes to discussing some of Stevie Wonder’s best albums. They’ll often talk about “the holy trinity”, or the holy trinity plus Songs In The Key Of Life as a platform. When Music Of My Mind is mentioned, it at times shows that the person who suggests it is paying attention.

For jazz/pop vocalist Justin Horn, he decided to honor Music Of My Mind by paying homage to the album cover, right down to the items reflected in his sunglasses. Down side: Horn’s Hornology has no covers from Music Of My Mind. No “Evil”, no “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)”, not even a rendition of “Sweet Little Girl”. There is a cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”, but it would have been nice to have at least one Wonder cut on here, even as a secret bonus track os a track 0. The album cover tribute is a nice touch, though.

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REVIEW: Yoron Israel & High Standards’ “Visions”

Photobucket For me, when a jazz artist does a tribute to someone, it always seems like that is the highest of honors. It’s an unspoken “thank you” from one creator to another of art, being able to say “this is what your music has done for me, now I’m going to give it back to you, playfully”. This is what drummer Yoron Israel and his group, High Standards, do with the Stevie Wonder tribute called Visions (Ronja Music).

It’s always great to hear Wonder’s music taken to new places, as it can be a time to revisit the song and/or memories one may associate with the songs, and what songs they are. They include “Creepin'”, “Passionate Raindrops”, “Bird Of Beauty”, “Another Star”, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”, and “All In Love Is Fair”, one of my all time favorite Wonder tracks. With help from bassist Ron Mahdi, pianist Lazlo Gardony, saxophonist Lance Bryant, and guitarist Thaddeus Bogarth, along with Larry Roland (who does spoken word performances in the two versions of the title track), it’s not only a tribute and acknowledgment, but almost like a church service, a sermon, a prayer, and just something that, again, is simply unspoken but communicated beautifully in music. Even if you know Wonder’s music inside and out, you have to hear this.

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REVIEW: David Caceres’ self-titled album

Photobucket “Holy crap!” may not be the most obvious way to start a review for a jazz album review, but David Caceres opens up his self-titled album (his fourth) with a cover of Maxwell’s “Symptom Unknown”, which is a bold move for any jazz artist. Some jazz purists will say “do nothing but the standards” but as someone who reviews a good amount of jazz, I want to hear something other than the accepted standards. In this case, Caceres shows his skills as a vocalist and saxophonist that brings the song back to its introspective home to create a bit of a temple of church, where you and only yourself becomes your own place of worship to figure out what you must do to get from here to there. I was blown away by his performance, as his voice shows qualities that remind me of the warmth of Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson and Corinne Bailey Rae. How about Maxwell? It’s very much a Maxwell song, but it sounds nothing like him and probably isn’t meant to. It’s a fantastic way to start the album, which then moves into a cover of Ray Lamontagne’s “You Can Bring Me Flowers”, bringing a jazzy New Orleans bravado into Lamontagne’s celebration of the American spirit, adding more spices into what’s already there. By Caceres singing the line “you can bring me flowers when I’m dead and gone” is his way of saying “yes, I have too much to do, don’t honor me now, I don’t want that. Put me to work, or let’s work together”. With two songs, he is bringing the listener into his community like a pied piper, hoping people will want to join him on his journey.

Van Morrison gets the funky/Northern soul vibe with a nice rendition of his “The Way Young Lovers Do”, sure to become sample-fodder for select producers and DJ’s, while “Giving Up” (a Van McCoy original that was covered by both Gladys Knight & The Pips and Donna Hathaway) is one of those that will make those cold nights warm. When Caceres wants to, he could be a heartbreaker for the ladies with his voice, and one could easily see him beign up there with Robin Thicke and Remy Shand. However, Caceres hasn’t run off to a hidden corner in Canada nor does he want to be novel for the sake of trying to put value in other people’s relevance. This is Caceres on his own terms, someone who wants to display his skills into the words of others, an interpreter, an arranger, an artist with a lot of range and depth. While the majority of his album are covers, including tracks by Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock, he does offer two of his own compositions, “Gratitude” and “Sacred Path”, which brings things back to his jazzy roots, and it’s not a bad place to be in. One can then here how he was rooted to hearing more, or hearing other music inside and out to become who he is here, and what he may continue to do for the rest of his musical career.

I must say, if more jazz vocal albums was like this, you’d hear a lot more of this everywhere and not just in a small pocket called jazz. Forget age barriers and whatnot, this is music for everyone. To everyone who does take time to hear David Caceres: take time to pass this along to the next man or woman and spread the word.

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SOME STUFFS: Stevie Wonder to get audiophile treatment once again

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Audio Fidelity‘s 24k gold CD remaster of Stevie Wonder‘s Talking Book (which I reviewed here) was not a one-time thing, as the label is scheduled to release a brand new remaster of an album that fans have called “part of the Stevie quadrant” or “the forgotten album” compared to what he would end up doing for the 1970’s.

Music Of My Mind was not the first album Wonder released when be became “of age”, but would later be considered by some to he the first step towards a mature sound that became Wonder’s trademark that decade. While a success, it would be his next album, Talking Book, that was embraced more by pop audiences. Wonder would then begin to carve out the decade for himself with his next two albums, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and then totally turn the world upside down with the massive Songs In The Key Of Life. However, one can go back to Music Of My Mind to hear not just the seeds of his genius, but simply plants in bloom. This is the album that features such classics as “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)”, “Happier Than the Morning Sun”, and “Keep on Running”, all of which are celebrated by Wonder and Motown fans. In the last 20 years, the album that became “forgotten” would soon be embraced by people who realized the importance of this essential piece to Wonder’s musical legacy.

This new CD, remastered by Kevin Gray, will be released on Tuesday, October 19th.

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REVIEW: Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” (2010 Audio Fidelity Gold CD remaster)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Talking Book, depending on who you speak with, is either a part of Wonder’s golden era, a part of his holy trinity or quadrant (Music Of My Mind may not be as influential as his other albums in the 70’s, but many see it as a factor in the music he would create for the decade). It is an album known for its hits “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” and “Superstition,” both of which can be heard on pop radio to this day, but Wonder was branching out, especially in a genre of music that was always based on the maximum potential of the hit single. It was a time in music when artists were looking into creating music as events, and the full length album was the grandest way to do so. Entering his Talking Book was a need to want to know and hear more, and this album would help him become one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

This CD was made for the audiophile market, so the cost of this 24k gold CD is higher than normal CD’s. Of course, the music on the disc is for everyone, but if you have always wanted to buy this album on CD and wanted to know which was the best pressing to have in your collection, I will say without hesitation that it is this Audio Fidelity. The remaster was created by Kevin Gray, who has worked on a number of remasters over the years, including Steely Dan’s Aja and a number of rock and jazz titles. The original plan was for Audio Fidelity to receive the master tape directly from Stevie Wonder himself, an admitted audiophile. This is how Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) obtained the master tape for Innervisions when the label licensed and released an incredible version of the album in the 1990’s. Audio Fidelity were that close when Universal stepped in and said no, so the only tape Gray was allowed to have was a secondary master, or a master dub from the actual master tape. Even the secondary tape is good, and for the most part this is probably the best you will ever hear this album.

Hearing the 10 songs on this album from start to finish, you tend to want to focus on the instrumentation and recording techniques a bit more. There’s a certain crispness in what was captured on tape, and an airiness in the studio where you are able to feel the music a bit more, or at least the instruments sound vibrant, alive, almost as if they are breathing entities. When you hear the vocals in “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” come in, you can almost sense the anticipation of the couple singing to each other, then Wonder coming in to sing about being rescued into love. Ray Parker Jr.’s sweet guitar solo in “Maybe Your Baby,” mixed in with Wonder’s work on the ARP and his slightly sped up vocals, may move you to do the things Wonder sings about, and the Moog bass sounds so thick that it sounds as if they’re ready to spill out of your speakers. You also can’t think of “Tuesday Heartbreak” without singing along to the saxophone melody made by David Sanborn, and the way Wonder’s keyboard work pans back and forth in stereo sounds as fresh now as it did all those years ago.

While Wonder loved collaborating with others (guitarist Jeff Beck played on”Lookin’ For Another Pure Love”), his love of studio technology allowed him to explore and expand the boundaries of his music. In songs like “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” and “Big Brother,” what you’re hearing is Stevie backed by Stevie, who jams with Stevie, singing with Stevie. It was something that Paul McCartney had explored a year before Talking Book with his McCartney album, and something both Prince, Lenny Kravitz, and DâM-FunK would explore when they first started making their own sounds. That first spark of influence can be heard on this album. What was once considered groundbreaking has lead to it being celebrated as a sub-genre, as if being daring and bold are occupational risks. This new remaster of Talking Book is an example of music done without fear, and to hear it so close to the source is an incredible, mandatory experience. While audiophiles seem to be more focused on hearing rock, jazz, and classical, I do hope Gray and Audio Fidelity will be moved to cover more soul and funk albums. I think a remaster of D’Angelo’s Voodoo would be most welcome (hint hint).

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SOME STUFF: Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” now plays gold

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Regardless of the perspective, Stevie Wonder‘s classic 1972 album Talking Book is a major part of his musical career. It’s either part of his holy trinity, the holy quadrant, an element of “the big five” but Talking Book is always in the equation. 38 years later, the album gets the audiophile treatment.

Audio Fidelity will be releasing the album as a 24k gold CD, remastered by Kevin Gray. This is the album that features such classics as “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, “You And I (We Can Conquer the World)”, “You’ve Got It Bad Girl”, “Superstition”, “Blame It On The Sun”, and “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”, the latter song vinyl junkies will remember as the song that closed the film High Fidelity. This is only the second time Wonder’s music has had the audiophile treatment, as Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab released Innervisions years ago, considered to be one of the best discs in MFSL’s entire discography.

The album is scheduled for release in June.

VIDEO: Phar-city featuring Range’s “Part Time Lover”

The ladies in this video are sexy, and the song is a cover of a well-known Stevie Wonder hit, but will it be enough to take Phar-city out of obscurity and into the mainstream? It’s possible.

The song is on Phar-city’s new mix tape CD type situation called The Talk of CT 4: Young, Fly, Fresh, which you can download in full for free by clicking here.