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Category: Soul

Discovering Robert Palmer

robert_palmer

Excuse me while I become spontaneously obsessed with the music of Robert Palmer. I’d never forayed much into his back catalog. I knew all the songs everyone knows: “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor),” “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On,” “Simply Irresistible,” and of course “Addicted To Love.” I’m well familiar with his Power Station days with Roger and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran and Tony Thompson of Chic. I knew about his covers of Allen Toussaint’s “Sneaking Sally Though the Alley” and Little Feat’s “Sailing Shoes” from his ’74 debut album. But I’d never spent any time sitting down and listening to his albums.

Well, that all changed last week when I was surfing through the archives of Rolling Stone magazine (if you’re a subscriber, definitely check it out). I was leafing through September 25th, 1975 article about his then-upcoming second album, Pressure Drop. It mentioned how half was recorded in Baltimore with Little Feat as the backing band, and the other half in Los Angeles with a couple of Little Feat members and a Motown session legend on bass, “Funk Brother” James Jamerson.

Then I started clicking around his discography during those early years, and I noticed the names of some of his collaborators: names like Lowell George, Allen Toussaint, the Meters (his backing band on his debut album), Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Gary Numan, Andy Fraser (of Free), and Chris Frantz (Talking Heads).

So as I’ve sat and listened to these first several Palmer albums, I’ve been floored by the soulful, laid back, funky R&B vibe that permeates them. Of course, with Lowell George as produce of the first record, and Little Feat backing him on Pressure Drop, some tunes are right out of the classic Little Feat playbook (“Here With You Tonight,” for one). But there’s elements of reggae, rock, soul – a nice healthy mixture of different styles.

Palmer broke out commercially in 1979 with “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor), ” from his 5th album Secrets.  But it’s those first four albums I’ve been spending time with over the last week. Here are some of my favorites from his first funky four:

 “Sailin’ Shoes”, “Hey Julia,” “Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley” (Album 1: Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley – 1974)

The first three tunes from Palmer’s debut album work together as a trilogy – the groove seamlessly flowing from one song to the next. As brilliant of an opening trio as it is for Palmer, it really speaks to the genius of the Meters, who were at the top of their game at this point. With Art Neville on keys, George Porter, Jr. on bass, Leo Nocentelli on guitar, and Joseph Modeliste on drums, the funk smokes through this first nine plus minutes of Robert Palmer’s solo career.

“Fine Time” (Album 2: Pressure Drop– 1975)

Palmer really lets it rip with his vocals, soulfully shrieking into the higher registers. He gets raw with it while Little Feat lays down one of their signature grooves.

“Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” (Album 3: Some People Can Do What They Like– 1976)

Palmer didn’t shy away from covering tunes (his breakout hit “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” was a cover, after all), and his third record brought about a great cover of “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)”, which has been performed by the likes of Harry Belafonte and the Grateful Dead (a live staple of theirs from 1981 onward, and how I first heard the tune).  Once again, there’s a Little Feat connection, with the melodic flourishes of piano man Bill Payne on full display.

“Every Kinda People” (Album 4: Double Fun– 1978)

Palmer self-produced his fourth record, which kicks off with “Every Kinda People,” written by Free’s Andy Fraser. It’s got a “What’s Going On?”-era Marvin Gaye vibe to it – smooth and easygoing, a steel drum accentuating the chorus.

Unity, harmony, love for one another… It seems like such a simple concept to most of us, doesn’t it?

So I’m off to listen to more of these new/old treats. That’s the wonder of music – there’s always new avenues to explore, new and old, wherever you turn. We lost Robert Palmer all the way back in 2003, but his music lives on.

Parliament’s 1970 Debut, ‘Osmium’

osmiumI’m not sure if it was seeing old school funk n’ R&B masters Cameo on Friday night that launched me into the frame of mind (probably is), but I’m knee deep into that sound, and in the middle of a Parliament and Funkadelic listen-a-thon the last couple of days. Particularly, I’m hooked in to the early stuff for both of George Clinton’s sister acts. The debuts for both bands came the year I was born: 1970.

I’ve been really digging on Osmium, the debut from Parliament. What a wild, psychedelic, completely unexpected ride where you have no clue what strange and funky sounds are lurking around the next corner. The album has a lot more to do with the guitar-oriented psychedelic soul sound of Funkadelic than the 70’s Parliament funk / Bernie Worrell synth sound they came to be known for (with songs like “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)”, “Flashlight”, “Up For The Down Stroke”, etc.).

Indeed, it’s the guitar work of Eddie Hazel and Tawl Ross that shines strongest on Osmium – amid the cacophony of unique sounds. There’s soul, Hendrix-inspired rock psychedelia, gospel flavors, and hell, even a country-inspired tune called “Little Ole Country Boy”, which was written by British-born Ruth Copeland. She was married to Motown producer Jeffrey Bowen. When Bowen started producing for the upstart Invictus Label, and Parliament became one of its first signings, Ruth Copeland ended up co-producing the Osmium album with George Clinton, and wrote a couple of the tracks (“The Silent Boatman” being the other).

“Little Ole Country Boy” has a very infectious chorus that will have you singing along after repeating 3-4 times, which you will do because it’s so – out there… I mean, this is Parliament? Awesome!

Oh, and De La Soul fans, you’ll recognize this yodel in “Potholes In My Lawn” from their debut, 3 Feet High & Rising.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brtp6M6HQqw&w=420&h=315

Buy Osmium

I Still Really Really Love You…

The sweat is pouring off of me even though the air conditioner is humming away right above my head. It’s the end of July and I’m in Southern Illinois. Murphysboro to be exact. I’m sprawled out on my dad’s couch watching MTV. As the videos roll before my entranced eyes, music in the year 1984 is bursting to life. I see U2, R.E.M., Culture Club and the Police. I also see Yes, Billy Ocean, and the Thompson Twins. They all sound great. I close my eyes to really dig on the music. This is what I live for…

A new song comes on that I have never heard. My eyes are still closed. I’m half delirious from the heat. It’s a slow samba beat, followed by a slinky bass, and then…a crush-my-heart wonderful saxophone. Then I hear her voice.

She’s telling the story of a man. A man who is a world traveler who preys upon women – leaving a trail of broken hearts strewn about the earth. The tale is so compelling that even as I am sitting in a small southern town, I feel as though I am “coast to coast L.A. to Chicago” and “across the north and south to Key Largo.”

I am a world traveler now and am bearing witness to these tragic, passion-soaked events over a martini and a game of Baccarat. This would be the power of music. It transports your mind, heart, and soul to faraway lands that lie outward and inward. It’s a sacred, holy power that in the hands of woman makes it truly blessed.

In the hands of Sade Adu, it’s a monumental gift.

From the day I first heard the song “Smooth Operator” (nearly 26 years ago) until the present, I have worshiped at the feet of this elegant woman. Her sultry voice with the slight Brit accent overwhelms with each new album release. The first two albums came rather quickly…in 1984 and 1985 respectively. Then we had to start waiting a little bit. Three years for the third (and best) album, Stronger Than Pride; four years for Love Deluxe; six years for Lover’s Rock, and now ten years for Soldier of Love.

None of this matters, of course. I’d wait fifteen or twenty for the next one. They’re all filled with gorgeous music that rains kisses all over me. Each one has the ability to transport and transform a person – a rarity in music of any generation – and something to be embraced immediately. Her backing band (Stuart Matthewman, Paul Spencer Denman, Andrew Hale) have a lot to do with this fact. In addition to setting the scene and preparing us for the journey perfectly on each album, they fill in the long gaps between Sade releases with their own music: the fantastic Sweetback. The song “Mountain” on Sweetback’s second effort, Stage, should be at the top of the play list for any romantic evening.

Honestly, ten years wait was well worth it considering how Soldier of Love grabs you immediately and just…captivates. The first track, “The Moon and The Sky” begins with a gentle flamenco guitar and then bursts to life with chill out power combined with a nod to the balance we find in the sacred feminine. Put on any chill out track from the last fifteen years, b to the w, and hear how ALL of them owe their muse to the goddess that is Sade Adu. Next up is the title track and I recommend listening to it while mulling the album cover. As a fellow soldier said when looking at the cover, “Her  right hand…”

Mmm-hmm…

As the rest of the album unfolds with her usual, cherished themes of faith, devotion, heartbreak, and loss, a new theme reverberates: hope. We hear it first in “Long Hard Road” and then again in “Bring Me Home.” I guess this idea isn’t all that new for her, though. She expressed an abundance of hope in the song “Love is Stronger Than Pride” and, quite honestly, it was more than that.

She told us in that song that is was okay to capitulate to the wonder and terror of love. It was alright to be weak because with that kind of love weakness is actually a strength. This is that love that makes you stronger in all of the other relationships in your life. It’s relentless and it simply can’t be helped. There’s just too much, so it spills out to everyone. This is the power of your beloved. It represents a testament of hope for lovers everywhere that needs to be nourished forever.

I am a Soldier of Love… are you?

Buy Soldier of Love [+digital booklet]

Visit: Sade’s Official Site

The Soul Train Documentary on VH-1

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, be sure to set your DVR for the next airing of VH-1’s Soul Train: The Hippest Trip In America. Yes, buried among VH-1’s vapid, putrid pile of reality shows is actually a quality 90 minute documentary about the late great Soul Train – a show that lasted 36 years (the longest running syndicated show in TV history). It was interesting to learn the full story behind the show, and the groundbreaking genius of Don Cornelius – who owned and produced the show from its inception in 1970 – when it was broadcast locally in Chicago – all the way to its finale in 2006.

It goes without saying how influential and groundbreaking the show was – providing an outlet for Black American performers, dancers, and their viewers at home. Even the first TV commercials ever targeted to an African American audience appeared on Soul Train. It only took a couple of years for the show to become a smash, even spawning a Dick Clark-produced “Soul Unlimited”, which Cornelius quickly snuffed out. Its crossover appeal touched me personally too. In the early-mid 80’s when Prince’s music took me by storm, and I immersed myself in popular black music, I spent hours watching Soul Train – and forming adolescent fantasies around some of those dancers. Yow!

My only complaint about the special was its short running time (90 minutes – 60 if you’re DVR’ing thru the commercials). It didn’t leave a lot of time to focus on the legendary performances (James Brown, Aretha, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and on and on …). The clips were abbreviated, and left you wanting more. My favorite clip of the doc was this Al Green performance of “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”. The first thing I did afterward was march to the Mac and find the full performance…

Next broadcasts of the documentary are:

  • Saturday, Feb. 13th – 12:30am ET/PT
  • Friday, March 5th – 12am ET/PT

Single: Sade, “Soldier of Love”

http://ickmusic.com/pics/sade-soldie_05.jpg

In the past 25 years Sade has only put out 5 records – not accounting for live, remix and hits compilations – and it’s been nearly ten years since their last release, the brilliant Lovers Rock, so it’s a bit hard to anticipate what to expect of the group. Surely, you can count on it to sizzle; to find that slow burning subtle groove and unleash Sade Adu’s seductive tone and prose. I suppose it is that expectation that left me surprised me upon hearing the new single “Soldier of Love” – from the forthcoming album of the same name. There is absolutely nothing subtle about this track. Opening with a single trumpet and staccato string stabs over a driving cadence Sade croons “I’ve lost the use of my heart, but I’m still alive”, sounding more like a woman scorned than a woman in love. The track builds at a slow, almost clunky, pace and never really resolves itself, rather leaving us hanging and “Still waiting for love to come.” While I’d be lying if I didn’t say that that it’s wonderful to hear Sade’s voice again, I’d be equally libelous if I didn’t say it comes with some disappointment. But even in disappointment I’m thoroughly enjoying this song and look forward to hearing the rest of the record.

You can hear for yourself at the band’s official site.

Incoming: Gaslight Anthem, Citizen Cope

My next two shows are in the books…

The Gaslight Anthem – September 15th – Martini Ranch, Scottsdale | I’m not crazy about the venue – right in the heart of Old Town Snottsdale – but for Brian Fallon and the boys of Gaslight Anthem, I will endure the surrounding douchery. They’re fresh off a summer festival season highlighted by a couple of guest appearances by fellow Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen, and hallelujah, they’re back in Arizona for their second appearance in 6 months. Bless you boys.

The Gaslight AnthemBoomboxes and Dictionaries (mp3)  |  Official Site | Tour Dates

Citizen Cope – September 25th – Marquee Theater, Tempe | About as laid back of a stage presence as you’ll find, Citizen Cope brings the cool with a really unique mix of earthy soul & roots music. I really enjoyed my first Cope show in the same venue a year and a half ago. Part of  what made it great was the presence of sexy soul songstress Alice Smith. I think she’s still tagging along with Cope – here’s hoping she’s part of it again.

Citizen CopeHurricane Waters (mp3) | Official Site | Tour Dates

New Tunes: Rob Murat

Rob Murat is a singer/songwriter/producer who just dropped his first album, So Much To Say. I like the soul revival feel of this one. Sort of sounds like something Amy Winehouse would sing (only with “fuckery” and “Blake incarcerated” added to the lyrics). Blake, what on earth did you do to that girl? You look like you spent 5 years face down on a puke-stained floor of the South Kensington tube station – you must really hold sway in the sack, you dog.

You can check out Rob’s Official Site for every link you need…

Rob Murat Ready To Love (mp3)

New from The Heavy: Sixteen

The pride of Noid, England, The Heavy hit my radar back in January ’08 with a hard funkin’ tune called “That Kind of Man”. So when I heard they were getting set to release a new full length album, The House That Dirt Built, my ears perked up. The record doesn’t drop until October, but we do have a chance to hear the first single – “Sixteen”. If this tune isn’t heavily influenced by the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins version of “I Put A Spell on You”, I don’t know what is, people.

Listen: Sixteen (mp3)

Watch: Video of “Sixteen”

Visit: Official Site | MySpace

New Nino Moschella: Boom Shadow

Slipping just under my radar last week was the new release from California funk-soulmeister Nino Moschella. His debut a couple years back, The Fix, was heavy on the retro 70’s soul/funk sound – think Parliament, Sly, Shuggie Otis and the like (yep even Prince) – and his new one continues down that road – but advances even further production-wise.

The album is Boom Shadow, and even with all the comparisons and retro feel, you’ve still never heard anything like it. Moschella’s arrangements and production work on this album is a huge progression from The Fix. The horns, the synths, the innovative rhythms and vibes…

Just take a listen to this pair of tunes – tracks 5 and 6 on the album – and tell me this isn’t completely off the charts. Much like I said with his first album, if you long for the days when Prince used to drop crazy, innovative work on us, then you will really dig Boom Shadow.

Hear: Looking At Your Face (mp3)

Hear: Continue to Call (mp3)

Buy Boom Shadow on Amazon, on the Ubiquity Records site, or on Nino Moschella - Boomshadow.

Side note: If you’re on iTunes, be sure to download iConcertCal. The latest version is killer. It integrates as a visualizer into your iTunes, takes a look at your iTunes library – then shows you who in your library has an upcoming show in your area, and when they have new albums scheduled. Take a look & download here. Highly recommended by yours truly.

Ick’s Pick (Week XI): Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears

This week’s new releases were a pretty blah bunch as far as I was concerned. I lost my focus listening to Old Californio’s new album over and over. But alas, I committed to listening to one new album every week of this year. So week 11 (xi), here we go.

It’s SXSW week, and as much as I try to ignore the mountain of e-mails and Tweets and coverage everywhere I turn, the fact is I’m jealous, and I’d drink a gallon of hot sauce to be in Austin right now. I’m shooting for next year as my 1st SXSW experience.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears are from Austin, and they’re playing around town this week in support of their brand new album, ‘Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!

This release stuck out from the rest as something I clearly needed to hear: Black Joe Lewis channels his inner James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding for some soul revival craziness. This album clocks in at 30 minutes, and is filled with Lewis’s spirited, good humored (and sometimes explicit) hootin’ and hollerin, tasty retro (60’s) soul grooves, and a great horn section courtesy of some members of Austin’s Grupo Fantasma.

This one will be perfect for a weekend barbecue and some cold beer. You may wanna grab a babysitter though, unless you want your kids jumping around to “Get Yo S***”, “Humpin'”, and “Big Booty Woman”. You can thank Black Joe for leaving “Bitch, I Love You”, another one of his songs, off this record (don’t worry, Joe’s no misogynist – even you ladies will be groovin’).

BUY Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!

Links: Official Site | MySpace |Twitter

Take a listen to the horn blasts on “Gunpowder”, the album’s opener…

Gunpowder – Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears