The first half of 2016 has been a really tough year on many fronts, but especially in terms of loss and grief. The events in Orlando a few days ago have many of us in the US depressed, angry, scared, confused and defiant all at the same time. As horrific as tragedies like this can be (and there will likely be many more tragedies, of smaller and greater scope, throughout the world and throughout our lives), the outpouring of compassion in their wake is often comforting. I often find hat music provides solace in these times and there are few songs that I turn to more than this song from Pharoah Sanders. From his live album recorded in 1971 at the venerable East in Brooklyn, New York City, “Healing Song,” is Sanders at his finest. While Sanders has often made great use of vocalists, the world-less chanting and voices here (credited to Harold Vic and Carlos Garnett, but I suspect there are others involved as well), right from the start give this song an almost otherworldly sound entirely all it’s own. I hope that sharing it will help to heal you and yours in trying times as it has continuously done for me.
Here in the States, it’s almost time for Memorial Day weekend, which is the unofficial start of Summer for us (even though it doesn’t actually start until June 20th)…but I’m not ready to give up this Spring. While we all know that eventually things are going to turn unbearably hot here in SoCal, right now we’ve been in the midst of breezy and cool May, almost an early version of June Gloom (a title I’ve always disliked, since the weather is like this all the time and I love it, but then again I’m depressed, so I’m used to “gloom”), with temperatures in the 70s and cool air all around. The kind of feelings generated by this kind of weather tend to be as breezy as the wind. Musically, there might not be a better representation for how this period of time feels than “O Trem Azul,” from the landmark Clube Da Esquina album released in 1972. Though credited to Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges the album (which I’ll likely feature here at a later date) is really a collective effort from the whole “Clube,” or collective of musicians associated with a particular location in Minas Gerais. Of late, I’ve had this on repeat, which involves a bit of effort, since until I got this post together I only had it on vinyl, so I’d have to get up and start the needle at the beginning again and again and again. But as soon as the song starts you understand why, and also why it so perfectly fits this moment of the year in LA.
Before recently leaving town for Cuba, I’d meant to post something brief in tribute to Billy Paul, who passed at the age of 81 a little over a week ago. Just the day before his death I had finally run across this album, When Love Is New, at Amoeba (where against all hope, I also ran into the 12″ version of “Take Me With U” from Prince). I’d been looking for this album for years and years because it features my favorite Billy Paul song, eternally linked to one of Dilla’s greatest productions, “Let The Dollar Circulate.” As I sit and write this from Cuba, unable to get my money changed over because the banks are closed for fumigation (even the Hotel is out of money), the general message of the song still rings true. In fact, it could be a good anthem for ending the Embargo, since letting the Dollars circulate more freely would do a lot for the Cuban people and the Cuban economy, as long as it happens on their terms…sense of hope that this will happen is palpable in Havana and Santiago, and that, along with Paul’s passing, has kept this song in my mind of late.
So…it seems it’s taken me a bit longer than I originally thought it would to get through all of that vinyl I picked up on my recent trip, but now that I’ve been through all of it, there definitely are a few records and tracks that stand out (most of which will end up in a mix I’ll post in the next couple of days), but probably the single track I’ve come back to the most in the two weeks I’ve been back home has been this one from the Czech band Modrý Efekt (Blue Effect), led by guitarist Radim Hladík. Part of why I was so excited to return to Spain, and especially to Discos Wah Wah in Barcelona, was access to not only Spanish, but other European music that we rarely see here in the States. Yes, most of these records can be found on the web somewhere, but nothing beats being able to browse the physical records, hold them, gaze at the artwork and ponder the sounds. “Cajovna” is perhaps the group’s most famous song, and deservedly so as you’ll hear, with it’s breezy proggish feel. It’s a song that sounds VERY familiar to me, and something that though I can’t confirm it online, must have been sampled previously by someone (a buddy of mine thought perhaps an Oddisee instrumental, something in me leans towards Madlib though), perhaps hearing it will cause one of you to recognize who has used it before, if so, let me know, so I can stop losing sleep over it…
While it’s been four years since Adrian Younge released the first volume of “Something About April,” you can forgive the man for taking that long on a sequel, because he has been a truly busy fellow. Multiple collaborations with Ghostface Killah, Bilal, Laetitia Sadier and others have graced our ears in the ensuing years between these albums, and in that time Younge’s music has taken on a very specific retro-funk sound, very specifically read through a Hip-Hop mindset. This has led to Younge being one of the few contemporary artists who music is routinely sampled in Hip-Hop. But you could make a case that Younge’s music is best when it is completely his own vision. Something About April II certainly seems to provide ample evidence to that assertion, with more than a few songs that sound nothing like anything that Younge has produced thus far. The particularities of his sound are all there, but when you hear “Sandrine,” or “La Ballade” you could be easily convinced that it is another artist’s work, that’s how new and fresh some of this music sounds. I don’t know if we’ll have to wait another four years for Part 3 (lately Younge has been busy getting ready to open up a new Artform Studio in Highland Park, which now I think will now bring the total to six of LA’s finest record stores being within 5 minutes of each other), but I sincerely hope he doesn’t wait that long to immerse us within his own personal musical world. This album is definitely a strong early contender for my “Best of 2016.”
When KING debuted their self-released video and music for “The Story,” they started a legitimate phenomena. At that time, all the way back in 2011, it seemed that all of the best new indie/future soul music was being made by Europeans like Quadron and Little Dragon. KING’s music and their vocal harmonies set thousands of people’s hearts aflame, and they garnered quick and deep appreciation from heavy-hitters like Phonte Coleman, Erykah Badu and even his purple highness Prince. One of my absolute finest and most cherished moments was bringing in the trio to record a session on KPFK, and of all of the sessions we did, there is no doubt that that particular one was the most downloaded and most shared on the web. The world had to wait a seemingly endless four years after “The Story” dropped for the full-length debut to finally be released, but that wait is now finally over with the release of We Are King. It’s fitting that the release came just ahead of Valentine’s Day, since virtually every song covers matters of love. The band has re-recorded new versions of most of the songs we knew already, adding new elements to “The Story,” “Hey” and “Supernatural” and introducing us to other songs that fans had only previously heard in their live performances in LA and elsewhere. Sometimes I find it hard to describe exactly why a certain son or artist moves me in a particular way…that is not the case with KING. Musically there are definitely elements in Paris Strother’s production that recall the late 1980s/early 1990s, but the way she weaves layer upon layer upon layer of sound is distinctive and a wonder in it’s own right. The vocal harmonies produced by Amber, Anita & Paris are some of the absolute sweetest I’ve ever heard…EVER! The result is a music that envelops the listener completely, into silky pillows of sound, softly soothing but never allowing you to drift away. The music of KING holds you in it’s lovely embrace and now that we’ve finally gotten our first release, the only question is when we’ll get more, because that ultimately is the feeling you get when the debut has finished, please let there be more…and please, Paris, Amber and Anita, don’t make us wait quite so long for what comes next.
As you’ll see once we move into 2016 proper, there will be many changes to this blog now that I’m connected to a radio station or radio show, and likely won’t be in the foreseeable future. One of those changes is that I’ll likely not be posting as much newer music. For pretty much the entirety of this blog’s close to 6 and 1/2 years, “In Heavy Rotation” has been about showcasing newer music that I was especially digging. From here on out, it’s likely to be a category that sticks more truly to the concept, being the things that I’m listening to more than anything else that week or month. It’s possible anything might find it’s way in here, including songs that I’ve shared before, but likely under a very different context. That’s the case with this song, from Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. This is a song that I’ve talked quite a bit about, featured before, and even played it on my last show at KPFK. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that I actually picked up a vinyl copy of the collection, which I was very happy to find included translations from Fon into English. It’s always fascinating hearing music from languages that you don’t understand, which forces you to relate to the music “itself.” What’s equally as fascinating to me is how the songs that seem to resonate most turn out to be the ones with very satisfying lyrics and messages, which is absolutely the case with “Min We Tun So” (which translates to “Who Knows The Future?”). Based on the lyrics above I think you’ll agree this seemed like a pretty close to perfect song to close out 2015 with as we move forward to 2016.
One of the unfortunate realities of no longer doing a radio show is that I don’t feel much pressure to keep up with new releases. But here at the end of the year, with “Best Of” lists on everyone’s mind, it’s a nice period of time to play catch up on Fall releases and anything else that might have slipped through the cracks. I’d heard some of Dexter Story’s new release, Wondem, but hadn’t really spent much time with the record to form any real opinion of the record. NOw that I’ve got some down time, with the end of the semester and the holidays, I can fully get on board with Story’s album. Given Story’s history with the LA collective Ethio-Cali, it’s perhaps no surprise that much of the inspiration for Wondem is clearly in East Africa, but it’s in the way the elements come together, in a thoroughly contemporary way. When I heard about the record before actually hearing the record I expected something much more along the lines of Ethio-Cali, with very clear Mulatu Astatke references, but Wondem is something else entirely, drawing on a variety of sounds to create one of the more enjoyable listening experiences of 2015.
As a bonus, Story has created some short films/videos culled from time spent in Ethiopia, in this case for the song “Merkato Star”:
A compilation far too long overdue, Luv n’ Haight has collected the music that singer Gloria Ann Taylor recorded for her own (and husband Walt Whisenhunt) record label Selector Sound. Taylor cut a few sides elsewhere, but never hit it big. Several of these sides, “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing,” “World That’s Not Real” and both the 7-inch and 12-inch versions of “Deep Inside You” have been much beloved by fans of rare soul and funk. The original 12″ for “Deep Inside You” is a bit of a holy grail release, fetching big time money on the open market. There was a reissue of that release recently, but this one has the full cooperation of the artist and is the most definitive release compiling this work. Of particularly interest to me, and something I suspected, is the clear and distinct influence of Dale Warren. While Walt Whisenhunt deserves a good deal of credit for the sound of these songs, it’s undeniable that the two tracks touched by Dale Warren, “World That’s Not Real” and the 7-inch version of “Deep Inside Of You” have a sound all their own. The 12-inch version of “Deep” sounds as if it’s the exact same recording, with the drums dropped out and some disco drums dropped in to excellent effect. Most definitely a sound that reaches deep inside of you, and one of the major highlights of 2015.
There really was a time, bot to long ago where I thought we’d run out of “rare grooves,” and such. It seems comic now, but it was something I believed. Instead as the years have passed, there’s been more and more funky material dug up and reintroduced through many fine reissue labels, so much that I can’t even keep track of it all. Vampi Soul has long been one of my favorite labels, and a couple months ago they sent me a real doozie of a record. Bruce and Vlady’s “The Reality” is the kind of record you dream of finding while diggin’ in the crates. It’s deep, soooooooooooooooooooo very deep. It’s so incredibly deep that I was pretty shocked in hearing it that I’d never heard anything from this album before. Apparently it was a Swedish only release, which seems odd given that Bruce came from the States and Vlady was a Polish drummer. But Hansson & Karlsson had already made a name for themselves as a organ and drums duo by this period of time, so there might have been a market for this over there. I’m just thankful that someone had the good sense to put some mics in gront of these two dudes and give us a taste of their “reality.” One of my fave reissues, not only of this year, but of the last several years.
It’s been almost 5 whole years since Dungen blessed us with new music. I have no idea why they took so long (though hopefully I’ll be able to find out from asking them, keep your fingers crossed on that front!), but I’m thankful the wait is over and we finally have new music from the group in the form of this album Allas Sak. In the beginning, Dungen was essentially the Gustaj Ejstes show, but essentially since Tio Bitar, they’ve been working as a four piece rounded out by Reine Fiske, Mattias Gustavsson and Johan Holmegard. The new album continues a clear progression from the group when you compare their earliest work to the more recent albums. There is definitely a mellower tone as the band has matured and fully truly a band. While they haven’t lost any of their psychedelic leanings, the sound of the group, at least on record, is a bit smoother at the edges and more focused on presenting sounds that flow more fluidly. One of the many things I’ve enjoyed about this group is the frequent inclusion of instrumentals. with such an impeccable attention to sound, it’s always nice to fully experience the music as music. “Flickor Och Pojkar” is a really interesting track, for while it clearly has all of the hallmarks of Dungen’s trademark psych-inflected sound, once the various elements come together when the drums come in, I’d swear this was a “future-funk” instrumental that would find a happy home in the mix with a group like Hiatus Kaiyote. Sounds like this tell me that the band is still searching and still exploring, which is very good for those of us who are fans of Dungen.
A chance encounter brought together Vieux Farka Toure and Julia Easterlin and a shared curiousity into each other’s traditions has produced the collaboration, “Touristes.” Malian desert blues mixes seamlessly and beautifully with American roots music on many of the tracks, but their cover of Dylan/Odetta’s “Masters Of War,” really stands out. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of a long musical partnership.
I’ve raved about my love for Shannon Shaw’s voice pretty much since the moment I first heard it on “Lover’s Lane” with Hunx & his Punx. Her latest release, “Gone By The Dawn,” recorded with her band, The Clams, finds the group with a significantly refined sound. Much of that is connected to recorded in a proper studio for perhaps the first time, Sonny Smith’s Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco. There’s still an edge to the band, but at times it’s polished cleanly off and smoothed out. “Gone By The Dawn” finds Shaw crooning in a way that could easily find this music in some more commercial spaces than the band has been used to. I’m not sure how fans of the more grittier days of the past will take to this new record and new sound. Personally, I love it and I’m interested to see how far this sound will take the band.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more respected Soul DJ, in the US, than WFMU’s Mr. Fine Wine. For roughly 20 years he’s hosted Downtown Soulville on WFMU and turned on people to countless Soul & R&B tunes. Since 2010, Mr. Fine Wine has been curating the R&B Hipshakers series for Vampi Soul, and these collections never disappoint. Clarence Paul’s “Baby Don’t You Leave Poor Me” really jumped out of the speakers for me, with a very ska-esque beat that makes me wonder if Paul and gang actually heard some Ska records or if it’s just a happy coincidence (after all, most of that early Ska sound was highly influenced by American R&B, Jump Blues and Boogie Woogie). This is just one of the 20 exceptional songs on the collection, maybe my favorite of the bunch.
Turning 40 this year came with a truly unexpected and most welcome birthday present, as one of my favorite artists, Holly Golightly, released her new album on my birthday. While she’s kept herself busy with her work with Lawyer Dave in Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, Slowtown Now, marks the first record released under her own name in over 10 years. I’ve been a fan of Miss Golightly almost from the start, discovering her first as a member of the Thee Headcoatees and then as a solo artist with her very distinctive and cool phrasing (is it possible to have a “British drawl”?) that mixes perfectly with the early Rock, R & B, Blues, Garage and Girl group sounds backing her. After listening to her for almost 20 years, I’m incredibly struck by the consistency of quality in her music. Perhaps I’m too big a fan to be really objective, but I don’t feel like there’s been a single bad Holly Golightly record. Every single one has something to treasure, and even though as a solo artist she’s basically had the same sound for 20 years (though her work with the Brokeoffs does have a more stripped down and country feel to it), I’ve never felt like she was spinning her wheels stuck in a rut. Slowtown Now moves and grooves along with a mostly mid-tempo swagger, as Golightly tells her tales of heartbreak, revenge and disdain for the lovelorn, all of which come together on the track I’m featuring here, “Fool Fool Fool.” Without a doubt, this will be one of my favorite records of the year, there’s just no way I can resist Holly Golightly’s sweet and sour siren’s song.