Saturday, 4 June 2016

Searching for Sugarman - Soundtrack

As the sixties came to a close in 1969 Mexican-American singer songwriter, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez was on the verge of something great. Following a brief and unsuccessful stint with local label Impact Records, the Detroit native had signed a new deal with fledgling Sussex Records and was about to release his debut record Cold Fact. Despite the initial promise of greatness and the quality of the record, Cold Fact was a commercial failure on its release in 1970. When his 1971 follow up record, Coming From Reality also failed to connect Rodriguez left Sussex Records and returned to family life in Detroit working in construction, teaching and even a career in local politics. It seemed as though Rodriguez and his music had disappeared in to obscurity. Thankfully this is just the first chapter in his remarkable story. A few years later and unbeknown to Rodriguez, Cold Fact had become a word-of-mouth, cult classic in Australia and New Zealand. The renewed profile of his music resulted in a 1979 and 1981 tour of Australia supporting Midnight Oil, Men At Work and Split Enz. But it was to be South Africa and in the homes and hearts of the anti-Apartheid liberals that Rodriguez would really strike a chord and achieve the superstar status that alluded him on home soil. Amid wild and fantastical stories of his ‘disappearance’, some even involving an alleged on-stage suicide, two South African fans set out to find out what really happened to their hero, and their investigation led them to a story more extraordinary than any of the many myths they’d heard. Their story forms the basis of Searching For Sugar Man and one of the greatest accompanying soundtracks of all time.


Thursday, 2 June 2016

Joss Stone - Water for Your Soul

The concept of Joss Stone's seventh studio release began to take shape following the formation of SuperHeavy, the multicultural, cross-generational group that released an awkward if free-spirited album in 2011, just before The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2 materialized. Among Stone's bandmates was Damian Marley, who implored the singer to cut a reggae album. Stone was hesitant at first but conceded, perhaps realizing that a drastic switch in her vocal approach would not be required. (She wouldn't even have to avoid using the word "soul" in the album's title.) More importantly, Marley wasn't fooling. He followed through and co-produced this with Stone. The duo devised a set of songs that often uses reggae as a foundation but incorporates a familiar mix of soul, rock, and roots music with light accents from tablas, Irish fiddles, and flamenco guitar. Even when the album deviates most from the singer's previous releases -- specifically in "Way Oh," during its chorus and forced-sounding references to a "buffalo soldier," likely a nod to Marley's father -- Water for Your Soul always sounds like Joss Stone. Her voice remains in debt to classic soul as much as ever. Additionally, she continues to switch from emotion to emotion with full-bore conviction. From one song to another, there are some extreme swings in sentiment. In "Let Me Breathe," she begs for release from a stifling relationship she cannot resist. She follows it with the exasperated "Cut the Line" -- fluid and dubwise, the album's song with the most surface appeal -- where "I can't get over how you're shutting me out" is delivered with the same amount of "help me out here" force. While one can always sense the pain and joy in the mere sound of Stone's voice, some of the songs' lines provoke head scratching rather than knowing nods. Through deep, repeated listening, the album increasingly resembles ragtag emoting. Heard passively, it's all pleasant summertime listening.


Sunday, 29 May 2016

Josh Rouse - 1972 (2003)

Rouse starts off in his lowest key with the title track. Most akin to his early, late-90s material, the song tosses off a dreamy narrative of utopian imperfection about life in its titular year: marooned, unemployed, getting high, and shooting pool. Comfortably sprinkled with subtle percussion and light strings, it's the most acoustic-based track on the record-- and though it might be aimed at a generation three or four removed from his own, it speaks in timeless divulgence.

The rest of the album is more exploratory, but also more compartmentalized within each of its sonic domains. The single, "Love Vibration", bounces a nostalgic eight-track beat with some synth work and light horn arrangements before giving way to a sax solo (!). Which speaks to one of the record's best traits; In each song, 70s-tinged red flags (flute solos, vibraphones, background singers, disco string loops, etc) find a place to settle in, but Rouse minimizes any potential damage by using them sparingly, squeezing highly effective hints of earnestness and atmosphere from them before sending them hurtling back into whatever vintage hellhole spat them out.

"Slaveship" might be vintage Jackson Browne on his birthday, with sparkling piano and handclaps; the shoreline tango "Flight Attendant" fits somewhere between Summerteeth's "How to Fight Loneliness" and something from former Rouse collaborators Lambchop; and "Sparrows Over Birmingham" employs a gospel choir to fill out its period soft soul swing. "James", meanwhile, is a veritable lost 70s soft-rock relic, and one of the only tracks to showcase Rouse's mercurial falsetto. Although not utilized to its fullest here, his voice transforms to fill the needs of the song, showing that, while sometimes the least compelling aspect of his songs, it can be made the centerpiece when necessary.

Lyrically, Rouse takes it easy throughout the album, finding fortune mostly in his simple reel-to-reel personal sketches, though he does occasionally cause facial contortions when traversing groovier territory and crooning gory, anachronistic lyrics like, "I wanna be your baby daddy." He ends the album on a fine note, though, with the symphonic "Rise", calling to mind early Damien Jurado (if he could sing) and some of the Pernice Brothers' more lightly conceptualized moments. 


theAngelcy - Exit Inside (2015)

Folk band from Israel.

Mumford & Sons - Babel (2012)

It's hard to imagine a more preposterous road to platinum success than the one Mumford & Sons traveled. Sigh No More, the 2010 debut by Marcus Mumford and his London crew, is a set of rousing tunes clad in choirboy harmonies, clawhammer banjo and Salvation Army brass that exploded amid a sea of AutoTuned cyber-pop. Soon, the band was backing Dylan on the Grammys, recording Kinks classics with Ray Davies and uncannily recalling the days when string bands like the Carter Family and the Louvin Brothers were radio gold.

Babel steps up Mumford & Sons' game without changing it too much. It feels shinier, punchier, more arena-scale than the debut, with the band hollering, hooting, plucking and strumming like Olympian street buskers. The songs lean toward the hooky folkfest stomps of tunes such as "Little Lion Man" and "The Cave," whose beer-slosh melody and fist-pump dynamics branded Sigh No More. See Babel's hymnlike first single, "I Will Wait," and "Lover of the Light" – both are proof that the Mumfords do dramatic builds, dropouts and soft-loud shifts as impressively as U2 or Skrillex. The fact that these guys are able to do big rock catharsis with humble tools is part of the thrill. 
But it's the band's lyrics, and Mumford's delivery, that define the album's sound. Babel is full of all manner of religious shoptalk, with Biblical metaphors swirling like detritus in a Christopher Nolan film. Jesus is invoked above Edge-style guitar on "Below My Feet." On "Whispers in the Dark," Mumford declares an intention "to serve the Lord" over a Riverdance bounce. Compared to unfreaky-folk-revival peers like the Avett Brothers or the Low Anthem, Mumford & Sons really double down on the ol' time religion.

Mumford grew up around evangelicals - his parents are English figureheads of The Vineyard, a California-born Christian movement that's so pop-savvy, they run a couple of record labels. (Bob Dylan was a member of the fellowship during his Christian phase in the Seventies.) But proselytizing is not the mission on Babel. Where Rick Ross slings church flavor to add levity to street tales, Mumford uses it to supersize and complicate love songs. "Lovers' Eyes" is merely the best of several songs that wrestle with betrayer's guilt. On "Broken Crown" he seems both sinner and sinned against. "The pull on my flesh was just too strong," he cries with moving hair-shirt candor. Disgraced politicians could learn something from this dude.

Colored with brass, group vocals and Ben Lovett's understated piano, "Lovers' Eyes" and "Broken Crown" (which, like "Little Lion Man," makes showstopping use of the word "fucked") show the subtler and more British folk elements that marked the group's debut. Those flavors get toned down on this record, which is too bad. But the power of the arrangements and Marcus Mumford's tortured-vicar vocals is undeniable. And if his conflation of love, lust and Christian spirituality sounds more like pre-dawn confusion than neat Bible lessons, it feels all the truer for it. His parents should be proud.


Xavier Rudd & The United Nations - Nanna

Flanked by new band the United Nations – comprised of musicians from Australia, Africa, Samoa, Germany and New Guinea – Xavier Rudd serves up what he has dubbed his "dream project". A thick reggae influence dominates Nanna – "Flag" is pure Marley – but Rudd adds his twists and his band weave in their individual world music flavours: the swirling Andean atmosphere of the title track and the modern indigenous feel of "Rainbow Serpent' in particular add a nice contrast to the LP's dominant sound. For the most part, Nanna is a beautiful celebration of global sound, the only flaw being that Rudd's own unique voice gets a little lost in all that egalitarianism.


Fat Freddy's Drop - Bays (2015)

If you’re already quite familiar with FFD’s genre-splicing and casual beat-dropping, then you’ll likely find a lot to love in Bays. Staying mostly true to that dub/reggae ethos, the New Zealanders have managed to suppress any urges to branch out with phoned-in collaborations with guest vocalists (although Food-era Kelis would certainly fit the bill) or mess around too much with the agreed formula. Beginning with ‘Wairunga Blues’, a swinging opener that does enough to pique your interest through its slow-burning and alluring groove, it’s not until the following track ‘Slings and Arrows’ that the album really bursts into life: a quickfire drum fill gives way to an uplifting horn section that’ll no doubt whip audiences worldwide into a mass skank-off.

The techno style of ‘Razor’ is probably the biggest change of pace on the record in terms of the band’s sound – presenting the listener with an unrelenting and rather intimidating beat that insists and insists throughout its eight-minute duration, it’s the mark of producer John Faiumu daring to push the band’s sound to unfamiliar territories. And, as such, it’s a little discomforting – following track ‘Makkan’s chilled, shuffling style is a welcome antidote to the strange and unusual trip that the previous song takes you on; a sensation that’s returned to when the similarly techno-focused ‘Cortina Motors’ kicks into life towards the end of the album.

The centrepiece of this intriguing record, however, is ‘Fish in the Sea’. The second longest track here, Joe Dukie’s Dr. Seuss-leaning lyrics about life’s struggles (“my wife needs a wish from the magic fish”) are enough of a draw to permit his band’s instrumentation to gradually build unnoticed around it, and, whilst it doesn’t explode into any kind of epic crescendo, it’s still the most delightful, smile-inducing moment on the record. You get the feeling that, when performed live, this and many of the songs on Bays could go anywhere – they all serve as a blueprint for the live arena, where FFD really do excel in letting their songs come into their own.

By Sam Moore


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Marcelinho da Lua - Social

Marcelinho da Lua is a Brazilian reggae/samba/dub/electronic music producer, singer and DJ. Released in 2007, Social brings together a great mix of funk, samba, reggae and dub along with electronic beats.
The album also features special guests such as B-Negao and Tonho Crocco.
Check it!

Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings - Give The People What They Want

Originally scheduled to drop last August, the album was instead put on the shelf and the Brooklyn-based band's punishing touring schedule put on hiatus as Jones battled cancer. For a while, the music stopped, but with Jones's successful treatment and a return to the stage confirmed next month in New York, the new album is just the sort of triumphant return the doctor ordered.
The 11-piece Dap-Kings, ably anchored by bassist, bandleader and Daptone Records chief Bosco Mann, again showcase their brand of unbridled soul and funk that has spearheaded the revival of the 1960s and 70s genre, and which has seen them and Jones perform everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to Italy's Umbria Jazz Festival.
It's also a sound that has transcended the fringes thanks to some high-profile collaborations. Fans will know the Dap-Kings had a heavy hand in Amy Winehouse's critically acclaimed Back to Black album of 2006, including credits on hit singles Rehab and You Know I'm No Good. Other collaborations with Michael Buble and Mark Ronson, meanwhile, have put the respective talents of guitarists Binky Griptite and Tommy "TNT" Brenneck, trumpeter David Guy, and tenor and baritone saxophonists Neal Sugarman and Ian Hendrickson-Smith firmly in the spotlight. Jones, however, remains the seductive and supremely talented frontwoman, oozing soul whether she's sticking her middle finger up at a love spurned on You'll Be Lonely, or relaying tales of hope as she does on the laidback and feelgood We Get Along.
There's an impressive diversity in tempo, too. While first single, Retreat!, is an up-tempo stomper and a thundering start to the album, it's a world away from the mellow Making Up and Breaking Up (And Making Up and Breaking Up Over Again), which lets the by now ubiquitous horns really shine. Stranger to My Happiness, meanwhile, is a playful number that sees Jones sing over a low-flung sax lick and chanting backing vocals that add a sharpness to her melodic command.
If there's anything to lament with Give the People What They Want, it's the album's length. Clocking in at about 34 minutes, the adventure is over all too soon. Given the challenges surrounding the album's release, though, it's a small and insignificant gripe.
The musician-owned and analog-proud Daptone Records continues to demonstrate that some of the best sounding soul and funk music doesn't require the latest digital equipment, and with labelmates such as Jones and the Dap-Kings on hand and now healthy, the future looks bright.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

RJD2 - More Is Than Isn't

More Is Than Isn’t, the fifth proper full-length from Philly beatsmith RJD2, opens and closes with the echoes of distant bird chips. A consummate crate-digger and sample hunter, RJ lines the path in between nu-disco, dusty soul, rock ‘n’ roll, spiraling organ runs, and brash hip-hop. As the title suggests, its 16 tracks are a cacophony of aesthetics pulled from the producer’s myriad inspirations. However, unlike other mad scientists, RJD2′s creations are beautiful offshoots of their distorted components rather than monster mashes.

Anchored by three tracks (“Suite 1″, “Suite 2″, and “Suite 3″), the album’s beats are granted ample room to roam before being reeled back into that celestial calm. During each movement, the creation and subsequent destruction of melodies builds tension across the broader piece. On the first half of the album, the soulful “Temperamental” and disco-leaning “Behold, Numbers!” establish the chillout tempos that the 8-bit electronics, heady Middle Eastern vibes, and rock riffs of “Her Majesty’s Socialist Request” are intent on eviscerating. The latter half’s Motown-indebted “See You Leave” (feat. STS and Khari Mateen), “Got There, Sugar”, and electro-pop current of “Love and Go” (feat. Aaron Livingston) serve similar roles.