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

Between the Cracks: Sly and the Family Stone’s “A Whole New Thing”

Hello, Ickies!

I know that my posts here have been minimal for some time. I’m busy looking for a job, wrapping up the dissertation, and playing Rock Band 2. But I promised Pete that my New Year’s resolution would be to post here with more frequency. This is a way to (potentially) force more regular posts out of me. I’ll just say that these will be “regular” or “occasional,” though I’d like to shoot for “monthly.” I make no promises.
I present the first of a new “column” so to speak, Between the Cracks. The series will focus on forgotten, underrated and misunderstood albums that are worthy of reexamination.

This edition takes a look/listen to the 1967 debut from Sly and the Family Stone, A Whole New Thing.

Truth be told, this post has been stewing in my mind for over a year. Last Christmas (2007), my girlfriend gave me the Sly and the Family Stone boxed set – all seven albums, remastered with bonus tracks. I’d coveted this set since it’s release, and was eager to devour it thoroughly. I’m pretty familiar with Sly’s catalog already, but put A Whole New Thing on my stereo with some hesitancy. The common problem with these comprehensive collections is that the artist’s best work is often sandwiched between generally uninteresting developmental early material, and bland, mediocre final albums.

Within 30 seconds of hearing the album’s opener, “Underdog” however, I felt like Sly had slapped me across the face with a fistful of funk for having doubted him. Playing the song a few days later for a fellow music geek and drinking buddy, he was similarly floored. And that’s kind of the way A Whole New Thing works as a whole – it’s a solid, sophisticated dose of soul and funk that shows surprisingly no weaknesses for a debut album.

But then the question remains – why is this disc largely forgotten?

My ponderings on this point were reignited recently while reading Nelson George’s Death of the Rhythm & Blues, where George briefly mentions Sly’s “debut” album, Dance to the Music. I was a bit flabergasted as to how or why a well-versed music journalist (and arguably, a music historian) would brush right over A Whole New Thing.

Perhaps it’s because the album did nothing commercially. Upon release, A Whole New Thing failed to chart at all. Indeed, it wasn’t until the aforementioned followup, Dance to the Music, that Sly and the Family Stone gained any substantial notoriety.

Nevertheless – hindsight is always 20/20, and it is this blogger/geek’s opinion that A Whole New Thing can stand strong with the rest of Sly’s classic catalog.

The album is admittedly more focused on the soul side of things, likely indicative of the time. In 1967, Motown and Stax were still going strong, maintaining their hold on the youth record buying public. Yet A Whole New Thing isn’t merely a Motown ripoff. In fact, it’s one of the more interesting soul records that I’ve ever heard.

“The Underdog” is undoubtedly the album’s strongest track, and its opener. Beginning with a minor key version of “Frere Jacques,” the song quickly jumps into a punchy, uptempo romp with strategically placed one-measure breaks where we can all catch a breather. I admit it’s become one of my ass-kicking anthems.

Sly & the Family StoneThe Underdog (mp3)

The rest of the album generally stays within the soul genre, but does so in a refreshing way. Yet even within the soul genre, A Whole New Thing is all over the place – cut time barn burners (“Turn Me Loose”), soulful downtempo ballads (“Let Me Hear it From You,” “This Kind of Person”), driving bass grooves cut with syncopated horn lines (“Bad Risk,” “If This Room Could Talk”), and tracks that would be sampled in classic hip hop cuts decades later (Public Enemy sampled “Turn Me Loose” for “Power to the People,” while “Trip to Your Heart” provides the groove for LL Cool J’s 1990 hit “Mama Said Knock You Out”).

One of the real treats of this release is the bonus track “What Would I Do.” I’m just going to let this one speak for itself, and leave you to ponder how in the world it was passed on as a single or album track.

Sly & the Family StoneWhat Would I Do (mp3)

It’s all here. A Whole New Thing has all the makings of a classic soul album, yet the world slept on it upon its release, and it remained forgotten even as Sly and the Family Stone rocketed to legendary status with their blend of soul, funk and pop music that laid the groundwork for so much of the music that followed (Funkadelic and Prince, to name but two). I highly recommend it. I’ll say that the Sly boxed set is one of the better multi-disc investments I’ve made (or received), although all of the albums are also available separately.

Until next time, I go back into the cracks.

-Gonzo

Buy A Whole New Thing

Buy Sly and the Family Stone: The Collection

Real Soul Food: The Way I See It

With great power comes great soul.

Raphael Saadiq is Neo Soul plain and simple. His latest The Way I See It is the record that he’s been leading up to since his days in Tony! Toni! Toné!. The opening rave up “Sure Hope You Mean It” sets the tone straight out of the gate with vibe to spare. Joss Stone lends her sultry vocals to “Just One Kiss” and Stevie Wonder turns in a harmonica solo on the brilliant “Never Give You Up”.  From Motown to Philly to Stax the influence is clear but this feels as real and relevant as anything in R&B these days. If you are a fan of soul and in need of a meal, this record is like mama’s cooking, warm and familiar and always your favorite. This is one of my favorite records of 2008 so far.

Buy The Way I See It: Amazon | iTunes

Links: Official Site | on Last.fm | on MySpace

Back to Soul / Back to School – An Ickmusic Giveaway

This may be the first and last time you will ever see the words “Avril Lavigne” or “Hayden Panetierre” ever mentioned here (at least by me). But today, these words will be uttered, and they’ll be uttered in the same space as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown!

Blasphemy? Perhaps.

It’s a double shot of giveaway goodness, people . Thanks to the good folks at Kohl’s and the Shout! Factory, these items are up for grabs to one lucky commenter.

  • I Got the Feelin’: James Brown in the 60’s – a deluxe, 3-DVD box set of a JB documentary and vintage performances.
  • A $50 gift card to Kohl’s.

And going against all of my instincts, I haven’t even opened the DVD set. I’ll force myself to Netflix it. So this is a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. And what do I ask of you? Well, read on after the jump…

Northern Exposure: The Duhks

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for The Duhks.

Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, The Duhks (pronounced like “ducks”) blend the unlikely bedfellows of traditional Celtic, Zydeco, Bluegrass, Soul and some Brazilian Samba into what they classify as “Roots, Worldbeat, Soul.” I sat down with their forthcoming release Fast Paced World (available August 19th) and was immediately drawn in by the scathing social commentary of the title track and the gypsy flavored instrumental detours of “Adam’s 3-Step” (complete with the crackling fire to lend to the atmosphere) and “Ship High in Transit”. The enchanting “Toujours Vouloir” (which translates to “To Always Want”) is completely engaging despite my not being able to understand the words as is the jazzy “Sleepin’ Is All I Wanna Do (Stars on a Sunny Day)”. For a taste of the mélange that is The Duhks check out “This Fall” below.

The DuhksThis Fall (MP3)

Pre-Order Fast Paced World: MerchLackey | Amazon

Links: Official Site | on Last.fm | on MySpace

The Duhks will be heading out and hitting the Folk Festivals as well as some solo dates that are listed after the jump.

One for Barack Obama

Tonight, an African American man is the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States. This is truly an historic day – one of the brightest in our nation’s 231 year history. And how does Hillary Clinton handle the news and reality of the day? She does everything but concede to Obama in her speech tonight. Classless as far as I’m concerned. Shame on her for not recognizing Obama, on a night when the entire Democratic party should be united, and the entire country should pause for a moment to salute Obama’s accomplishment.

Take it all the way, Barack Obama!

photo courtesy of Yahoo News / AP

Wattstax

wattstax

I watched Wattstax today for the very first time. Now, I’m burying myself in Stax music, and totally in a 70’s funk / soul / R&B frame of mind. What a film!

Wattstax was a music festival that took place at the L.A. Coliseum in August of 1972. Organized by the Memphis-based Stax record label to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Watts riots, it featured Stax artists like Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, the Bar-Kays, the Staples Singers, Luther Ingram, and a lot of others.

The film features music footage interspersed with interviews of Watts residents, a pre-‘Love Boat’ Ted Lange (Issac!), and Richard Prior, who all talk frankly about being Black in 1972 America.

By far the highlights for me were this Rufus Thomas performance of “Do the Funky Chicken”, and this, the Bar-Kays’ “Son of Shaft”. You just have to love the style of the times. And just check out how the Bar-Kays hit the stage. Now that’s showmanship! I guess the band wanted to come on to the field in a chariot, but that was rejected at the last minute. Well, the outfits stayed. S-t-y-l-e.

It really doesn’t get any better than this….

If you want a new (or renewed) appreciation for 70’s soul & the Stax label, as well as a fascinating document of the early 1970’s L.A. Black community, check out this film.

Thanks Gonzo for the recommendation!

By the way, if anyone can recommend any other good films / concert videos that document this era of 70’s soul, funk, and R&B, please drop a comment below. I want more!

Amazon: Wattstax (30th Anniversary Special Edition)

Bringing Quirky Back: Alan Wilkis

New Thinking. New Alan Wilkis.

Falling on the right side of fine line between contrived and convincing, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Alan Wilkis brings an indie sensibility to the electro-pop sound of the 80’s with a huge dollop of soul on his solo debut Babies Dream Big. From ABBA to Zappa the entire lexicon of pop is well represented and feels so, so good. Among the 10 cuts you’d be hard pressed to find a moment that is not crafted with the utmost respect for it’s influences which range from the Stevie Wonder-esque funk of “It’s Been Great” to the 50’s Motown of the tender “I Wanna Know” with nods to Prince, ELO and Nintendo along the way. This is a must-have for all fans of all things 80’s. Don’t just take my word for it, check out my favorite track “It’s Been Great” below and hop aboard yourself.

Alan WilkisIt’s Been Great (MP3)

Buy Babies Dream Big: CDBaby | iTunes

Links: on Last.fm | on MySpace