Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chicago Soul Stories: The Notations

Great article by Dave Hoekstra in today's Sun-Times about Chicago soul men the Notations. Protégés of Curtis Mayfield, the group only released one self-titled album in 1973 (on Mayfield's Custom Records subsidiary, Gemigo) but they represent the unsung history of the city's relationship to soul music.

Most think of the blues and jazz when it comes to the Windy City, but the truth is, my hometown has produced more soul records than most give it credit for. Detroit, Memphis, L.A. and Philly housed the key players, but Chicago had tons of tiny labels, not to mention offices for many of the majors of the time.

Ken Shipley, who founded the Chicago based Numero Group in 2003 (the Numero Group is putting on the first Eccentric Soul Revue at the lovely Park West this Saturday; with Syl Johnson and the Notations headlining) puts it best: "Chicago has always gotten the short end of the stick as far as soul goes," he says.
"And Chicago produced more soul records than any other city in the country. Chicago goes blow to blow with Detroit in a heartbeat because we had more labels. Someone is doing a Ken Burns-type documentary on soul and they contacted us about licensing music. So I go, 'You guys coming to Chicago?' and they said they were skipping it. People think of Chess and the blues with Chicago. But every major record company had an office here. Brunswick [Tyrone Davis, Jackie Wilson, Gene Chandler] was here. OKeh [Major Lance, the great Walter Jackson]. Mercury [Jerry Butler]. King had an office here. And of course, Curtom, Vee-Jay and One-derful, the home of Otis Clay and Harold Burrage. It blows my mind people don't know more about Chicago's soul history."

The Notations offer a window to the soul [Chicago Sun-Times]



When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage
Tickets: $22
Phone: (312) 559-1212;;

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Supavillain

MF Doom's new record, Born Like This, dropped earlier this week. eMusic, always towing the line between online download store and valid online music magazine, celebrates with A User's Guide to the Doomography. It's pretty comprehensive, hitting the high points of the pre-Doom days as well as his later work behind the mask.

As for Born Like This, I'm still on my first listen, but so far, so good. One track on there is "Ballskin," which was also on producer Jake One's White Van Music, while "Batty Boys" is either completely offensive or a nod of sympathy to the gay community. Actually, I'm pretty sure it's both (he's a uniter, not a divider). Meanwhile, "That's That" is driven by a violin sample, dotted with handclaps and the usual comic book sound effects. And on "Supervillainz," MF takes on the autotune with all the seriousness you'd expect, which is to say none. And of course we get further teased over the forever-in-the-works Doom/Ghostface album with a track featuring Tony Starks himself. In two words: cop it.

A User's Guide to the DOOMography [eMusic Essentials]
MF Doom's Born Like This [eMusic]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TDOS Obituaries: Uriel Jones

The last living drummer from the Funk Brothers, Uriel Jones, passed yesterday at the age of 74, due to complications following a heart attack. He was one of the chief session musicians at Motown for two decades.

Originally Marvin Gaye's tour drummer, Jones began filling in for Benny Benjamin as his drug and alcohol use worsened. Jones went on to use his Art Blakey inspired, hard hitting and crisp style on Motown classics like Marvin and Tammi's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," (and Diana's 1970 cover too) and Stevie's "For Once in My Life." He was also known for his extremely funky work, which was best displayed during the label's foray into the psychedelic, like with the Temps' "Cloud Nine."

Jones still played regularly with his fellow Funk Brothers and lamented missing a recent show last month. If you haven't seen Standing in the Shadows of Motown, it would behoove you to do so.

He is survived by his wife and three kids.

We here at TDOS will miss him greatly.

After the jump, a clip from Standing in the Shadows of Motown (embedding was disabled, unfortunately). Joan Osborne straight kills the Jimmy Ruffin gem, "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,"which Jones originally recorded. You can see him playing with the late "Pistol" Allen, next to a picture of Benny Benjamin.

Versatile Motown drummer Uriel Jones dies at 74

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bass For Your Face, Highs For Your Eyes: The Roots Jam, Highline Ballroom, NYC, 3.19.09

There are many angles to take when it comes to the Roots' new job as house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I choose ambivalence, personally. I think Fallon lacks charisma or a compelling sense of humor, to say nothing of his interview skills. I think the band's talents as a house band are unmatched among bands working today--they're the tightest and most versatile around--but they'd be put to better use elsewhere. That being said, this is a band that's been on tour almost nonstop for over a decade, during which they find time to record studio albums that push the genre forward even though they get pretty much zero credit from said genre, not to mention radio. On top of that are staggering side projects, and when they do make it to your town, they always bring their A game, whether it's in Illadel or Amherst, MA. So yeah, they deserve this "break," which requires scare quotes because it's actually a full time job. I'm sure it gives them more time to write, record, produce, whatever it is the guys want to do, and that's great.

From a provincial standpoint, I had a hunch it meant a lot more chances to see the band play live in their new hometown (I guess they take the bus in from the 215 to 30 Rock each day, but still). That hunch was more than confirmed by the 14 (FOURTEEN!) shows the band scheduled at the Highline Ballroom (where for art thou, Wetlands) between March and June. Last night was the second of these shows, and it was truly a jam.

These shows are not your typical Roots show. For one thing, tickets are an incredibly cheap $10. $12.50 after fees. That's on par with going to the movies in New York, so take your pick. On top of that, the venue's relatively tiny. And while the Roots have been shoved in the Jam Band pigeonhole with increasing regularity, their shows are always set listed and tightly composed, even as the band melts face with their solos. Not so at these meandering sets that seem to be headed anywhere and everywhere.

The Jams are exactly what they sound like: the Roots are not playing their hits, or even lesser known album tracks. They're jamming. Maybe they're working on new material, trying it out for a crowd, or maybe they're just having fun. They're bringing out their friends, and they're creating organic experiences that go wherever the musicians want. Two weeks ago, at the first of these Jams, we were treated to guest emcees Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Dice Raw (I think he's an honorary member at this point), and John Forte, as well as neo-soul cats Chrisette Michelle and Raheem DeVaughn.

This week's show, however, had much less freestyling and a lot more straight up jams, with a ton of vocal performances to make us stand up and take notice. Fellow Soulquarian Bilal came out, and sounded even better live than he does on record. For a blast from the past, we had Corey Glover of Living Colour fame. The band's lineup has been stripped down, with no appearances from percussionist Knuckles or keyboardist Kamal, which is easier to take as studio wizard James Poyser has been sitting in on keys. Last night the group was also joined for a number of songs by members of Afrobeat powerhouse Antibalas. But all of these guests were overshadowed by old timer Dee Dee Bridgewater, who showed the young'ns how a real soul singer performs: she held the audience's rapt attention the whole time she was on stage, departing with the kiss off line "see, grandma can get down too." We also saw all too brief freestyles from Dice Raw, back for more, and DC emcee/Mark Ronson collaborator Wale. The band ended things with an exceedingly long but never boring version of their classic "You Got Me," which drifted into a particularly fun downbeat ska sound and then back to the classic until it deteriorated at the set's end. All I have to say is, there's twelve more of these shows coming up, who knows how many special guests, and tickets are still on sale. Get to it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

All The Cutie Pies, They All Know, They Can Always L-A-Y On My Pillow.

[arts + entertainment]

A venerable J Dilla of R&B, Raphael Saadiq has been shaping the contemporary soul movement for the last 20 years. Be it his role as a new jack swing pioneer in Tony! Toni! Toné!, his short-lived but sincerely missed Lucy Pearl (his email response to my wishful request for a reunion was "NO (wink)," so here's hoping), his "gospel-delic" solo work or his endless producer credits, the man has cemented himself in the annals of R&B history. With his latest record, The Way I See It, Saadiq takes several of Cholly Atkins' choreographed steps back to 1960s Detroit and gives us a record that could definitely pass Berry Gordy's "quality control" department.

His current tour includes snappy suits, sharp footwork and vocals reminiscent of David Ruffin, former member of Saadiq's favorite Motown act, The Temptations: "The harmony was so amazing and rich all the time. Then there were so many great lead vocal personalities to choose from. At any moment another voice would jump out and grab you."

And the nod to popular music's greatest musical stable was a natural choice. "I felt it was time for me to have the second wave of the sound that's been around me since I could remember. But with all original songs, this was really important for me, their songs were always too great for me to try and cover." But considering that he had Stevie Wonder and Funk Brother Jack Ashford on his record, I think it would be allowed if he tried.

[Raphael Saadiq. Thu 3.19.09. Paradise Rock Club, 987 Comm. Ave., Boston. 617.562.8800. 8pm/18+/$26.50.]

music: Raphael Saadiq [Weekly Dig]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The TDOS Stimulus Package for Top 40 Radio

We want to propose two provisions to save pop radio from itself: 1) Increased use of foot stomps for percussion (and I'm talking real feet on hard wood here, not some prerecorded Pro Tools business), and 2) a healthy amount of "doo-langs" and "she-doops." Even through the terrible sound quality in the above clip, this song sounds about 1000 times more vital than anything on the radio today.

The Velvettes - Needle in a Haystack [youtube]

Sunday, March 1, 2009

TDOS Book Club

Having read my fair share of biographical material on the man I consider to be God, it is safe to say that I know a little bit about the life of Marvin Gaye (Michael Eric Dyson's Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye is pretty good, except for the R. Kelly comparison clap trap at the end). But for some reason, I had only read excerpts of David Ritz's heralded biography, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, which is the consummate bio on the man. It never was in stock at Border's or B&N and I always had it sitting in my Amazon cart just waiting to be purchased, but never got around to it, putting it off for the next splurge. Last week I decided these excuses were bullshit and after reading a book that contains a character that totally rips off Gaye's life story, I was angered into craving the real deal.

I cannot put this book down.

Apart from the fact that Gaye's life makes for a fantastic page turner (religion, sex, jealousy, infidelity, sexual fetishes, Motown, drugs, child abuse, heartbreak, depression, paranoia, Greek tragedy like family dysfunction, murder, Berry Gordy, etc.) this book is basically told by Marvin. Ritz and Gaye had planned on collaborating on a book together (and fun fact, Ritz is credited with co-writing "Sexual Healing," although, as you will learn in the book, that was not done without some legal issues that took a toll on the author and the musician's friendship), but unfortunately, Gaye passed before the project was started, one day shy of his 45th birthday. This was not the book Ritz intended to write. But lucky for us, he did. Based on years of intimate interviews with Marvin, his family, peers and friends, this book is the closest thing to an autobiography we could get. I already knew the general plot (as many do) but the anecdotes are what make this come to life and truly dance on the page (there is GREAT Motown dirt). I don't even want to write too much. This isn't a book review, just a plea for you to pick this up and immerse yourself in the world of Marvin. Heartbreaking, joyous, beautiful, ugly, complicated and organically simple all at once, Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr.'s life is my favorite story of all time. It's overwhelming.