Monday, May 16, 2005

CC Briefs: "Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway" by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

Artist: Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway
Album: Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway
Label: Atlantic

It’s hard to imagine me growing up without hearing a peep from this historic masterpiece. Though the album is mostly covers of previously released pop hits, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway team up together to give these songs such unique soulful styling that it pretty much overshadows the originals. Add to the equation that both Donny and Roberta play electric piano and organ and you have a brilliant masterpiece. Tackling songs such as “Where Is The Love” (becoming an adult contemporary standard and R&B hit and earned them a Grammy), Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend”, Ronnie Shannon’s “Baby I Love You” (made popular by Aretha Franklin) and the Righteous Brothers’ 60s classic “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’” was bold attempts, even for black artists, but became excellent hits for the both of them. And make no mistake about it, the two even join up for a spiritual gospel brunch on their joint arrangement of “Come Ye Disconsolate”. Though this was pretty much a duet album, “For All We Know” showcased Hathaway’s rich vocals all by himself and styled in the form of Hathaway’s infamous “A Song For You”, while “Mood” is a dramatic, seven minute long instrumental track featuring Roberta Flack on piano; which reveals gleaming piano overtures with fine gloomy expressions. And even though this closing track has no lyrics, it is a song that delights jazz lovers, along as those individuals with a classical backbone. Only one original track (“Be Real Black For Me”) made it to this LP and it became an important symbolic representation of mid 70's black pride. Both Flack and Hathaway joined up years later for “The Closer I Get To You” and began working together on a second duet album, until Hathaway drastically committed suicide during the process in 1979. But if you are looking for the definite duet album of the two, look no further.

RELEASE DATE: April, 1972

1. I (Who Have Nothing) (5:03)
2. You've Got A Friend (3:25)
3. Baby I Love You (3:27)
4. Be Real Black For Me (3:33)
5. You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling (6:38)
6. For All We Know (3:39)
7. Where Is The Love (2:46)
8. When Love Has Grown (3:26)
9. Come Ye Disconsolate (4:52)
10. Mood (7:02)

CC Briefs: "Funked Up: The Best Of Parliament" by Parliament

Artist: Parliament
Album: Funked Up: The Best Of Parliament
Label: Mercury

You can find several “greatest hits” compilations highlighting Parliament’s finer moments in history and even though any compilation listing the brighter moments such as “Flash Light”, “Dr. Funkenstein” and “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker” is sure to be a keeper, “Funked Up...” is the only supreme collection on the shelves that offers the bulk of Parliament’s best and much more. Tucked deep in this sixteen track collection from Casablanca Records is a small coverage from each and ever album they released; dating from 1974 to 1980 and they are evened out pretty nice; basically getting two songs per album. It should go on the record that Parliament, along with Funkadelic, were groups that were mostly known for their full-length albums rather than focusing on being artists that focused on singles. But the big singles are offered here, which include “Flash Light”, of course, and other favorites such as “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker” and “Aqua Boogie”. But pay close attention to the melodious “Do That Stuff”, the irresistible DJ raps from “Chocolate City” and “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)” along with the funky live inclusion of “Let’s Take It To The Stage”, taken from the highly-praised Parliament Live album. Don’t let it surprise you that most of the long cuts are cut down in song length, in order to accommodate space for sixteen cuts. But you are not going to disappointed at all, especially if you are a true P. Funk fan, by this collection. For one disc, this is a definite winner. It don’t matter if you gotta spend $15 dollars to pick this one up, refrain from the discount-priced collections and grab this one for the perfect introduction to P. Funk-maina.

RELEASE DATE: November 5, 2002

1. Up For The Down Stroke (3:27)
2. All Your Goodies Are Gone (5:06)
3. Ride On (3:37)
4. Chocolate City (5:39)
5. Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) (5:48)
6. P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up) (7:43)
7. Mothership Connection (Star Child) (3:16)
8. Do That Stuff (4:50)
9. Dr. Funkenstein (5:47)
10. Let's Take It To The Stage (Live) (5:11)
11. Fantasy Is Reality (5:58)
12. Bop Gun (Endangered Species) (3:42)
13. Flash Light (5:50)
14. Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop) (4:29)
15. Theme From The Black Hole (4:40)
16. Agony Of Defeet (4:25)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

CC Briefs: "Everything's OK" by Al Green

Artist: Al Green
Album: Everything’s OK
Label: Blue Note

When Al Green cut "I Can't Stop"; his return adventure to the historic Hi-Fi studios run by Willie Mitchell, people were optimistic over its success and if it would fall on anyone's ears. That great leap of faith proved to be a dramatic triumph - putting the legendary soul singer back on the map. This time around, Al Green (labeled on the album as "The Reverend Al Green") uses the same ol' strategy to create his latest musical odyssey; "Everything's OK". That title is an understatement, if it was to sum up this album's synergy. The album basically packs a strong amount of groovy up-tempo jams, beginning with the infectious title cut (though the lyrics might be misguided) and then flowing into the bright "Build Me Up" and "Nobody But You". The glossy strings arrangements are probably the only latest additions added to the mix this time around (heavily used on the Billy Preston arrangement of "You Are So Beautiful"); giving Al Green a much more polished and updated look for his legendary soulful catalog. Of course, most might interpret this project as being a solid blues album - since most of the songs still carry the old Hi-Fi feel, but the production is clear, slick and in most area, they are delighted with divine spirit from Green's emotional deliveries and the background singers' input. Stand outs on "Everything's OK" include the delightful "Perfect To Me" (revealing Green's sweet personality on the strong lyrics), "All The Time" (flowing in the same vein of Green's gospel classics, perked up with a taste of southern funk) and "Be My Baby" (a wondrous musical trip filled with zesty horns; possessing the spirit of Green's 1972 hit "Look What You've Done For Me"). There's barely a dry track on this album...especially since Green gives each track the same intensity as his classics and with the same zeal he's known for on stage. Any person that fails to enjoy this project either has no heart for real soul music or is too bombarded with the overly-exposed sounds of modern pop material. Truly, this album is a better production than "I Can't Stop" and definitely proves that Green has more in his soul than we imagined.

RELEASE DATE: March 15, 2005

1. Everything's O.K. (4:14)
2. You Are So Beautiful (3:36)
3. Build Me Up (3:51)
4. Perfect To Me (4:10)
5. Nobody But You (3:31)
6. Real Love (5:23)
7. I Can Make Music (4:41)
8. Be My Baby (3:17)
9. Magic Road (3:45)
10. I Wanna Hold You (3:41)
11. Another Day (3:21)
12. All The Time (4:01)

CC Briefs: "Mayfield: Remixed" by Curtis Mayfield

Name: Curtis Mayfield
Album: Mayfield: Remixed: The Curtis Mayfield Collection
Label: Rhino

The word "remix" should never replace the original interpretation of an artist work. But let it be known that even DJs, or mixers, gotta work too. They make a living mixing - and that is an art in itself also. Breathing fresh air into classics is the heart of this project...and it proves to be a worthy ride. No, this project is not perfect - and it is not compiled with a great deal of patience; probably because of meeting deadlines, but it features a chunkful of gems that are sure to push Mayfield's influence towards today's generation. The bulk of the material bases its foundation on the drive of house/club music (which may not take this album into pop chart fame); yet the original melodies are obviously in place - including Mayfield's voice. Eric Kupper graciously takes on the task of mixing "Move On Up" (which was one of Mayfield's best dance tunes), and does one of the better arrangements of the whole project. The fresh horns and bouncing rhthyms is sure to electrify any club or party setting. Louie Vega and his popular Masters At Work Team adds a greater calypso flow to the original and stretches the song out to a good seven minutes. "Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here", another Mayfield political standout, probably remains true to its original form. With a few add-ons and keyboard effects, fans of the original will surely greet this one with open arms. Of all the riveting cuts, "(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below..." gets the extra hype. It doesn't sound like the original, except for Mayfield's falsetto expressions in the lyrics. But the great part about this one is that it features a hefty electronica bounce that will have you dancing from the very beginning. Of course, it's the lyrics that one should focus more on (even though the music may deter you), but it's a wonderful ride. Another great track one should check out is the riveting "We Got To Have Peace"; mixed wondrously by Eddie Baez. Unlike most, I personally didn't enjoy DJ Grandmaster Flash's take on "We're A Winner". The words were broken up so much and stretched out so drastically that it was hard to enjoy the flow. "People Get Ready" may be the only track that may offend, or upset, fans of the original. A gospel house version of this would have been suffice. It would have been nice, or unique, to have the songs flow together in one heavy mix (in the form of modern day mix tapes). But individualizing each cut for each mixer probably would have been more beneficial in identifying their work. And plus, who would dare attempt to merge these songs together like that...and get cuzzed out later on. This is a good journey of music and wonderful way in delivering Mayfield's influential music to today's generation of party-goers. Yes, funk still lives on...and soul music lives on...but what an excellent way of embracing a person's art; to re-introduce it with tribute in mind.

MUSIC STYLE: R&B, Soul, House/Techno/Club, Disco
RELEASE DATE: February 15, 2004

1. Superfly (7:11)
2. Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here (6:45)
3. Move On Up (8:10)
4. We're A Winner (6:37)
5. Little Child Runnin' Wild (8:54)
6. Freddie's Dead (7:28)
7. (Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All Going To Go (5:26)
8. YoWe Got To Have Peace (6:56)
9. People Get Ready (8:05)
10. Pusherman (5:12)

CC Briefs: "La Dona" by Teena Marie

Artist: Teena Marie
Album: La Dona
Label: Cash Money

If it sounds like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, chances’s a duck. The old saying reverberates time and time again when one thinks of basic logic during the course of examination. This can also be used in the case of "La Dona"; another unexpected return from one of soul’s mighty divas. Teena Marie’s voice has not changed over the years, even though her distinctive vibrato sticks out a little more when singing on her lower register. This is a major plus - because her voice has always been one worth cloning. And because her voice is eccentrically soulful and engaging and so crafty that many will still imagine her as a black chick, this album is sure to slide her even more into the R&B genre. In the mid 80s, Marie cashed in heavily on the pop charts with "Lovergirl" and was her last pop offering. If you expect any pop-ish deliveries on this return, you will be searching a lifetime. This is a urban/hip-hop styled collection and is decades away from her past odysseys. But is this a fateful attempt? Most would believe that, since Marie is known for her funk foundations and her groovalistic gems. But this new-aged reinventing is probably one of her best modern projects ever released. And the reasons are clear. Marie has more artistic freedom and more control over the album’s main production and she even showcases, once more, her unique song writing capabilities. "I’m Still In Love" bounces off a familiar sample from Al Green and is infectious enough to fall into urban hip-hop and smooth soul formats. "A Rose By Any Other Name" takes you back to the Rick James’ duets, with Gerald Levert singing alongside Marie with grace and finesse. It almost sounds like a Isley/R. Kelly musical crossover; which definitely proves Marie has improved over time in her artistic developments. But Marie jumps into hip-hop flavor with "The Mackin’ Game" (featuring MC Lyte on a heavy bass groove), "Off The Chain" (with Baby a.k.a. Birdman) and "Makavelli Never Lied"; the latter track pays homage to fallen music warriors Tupac Shakur and Alliyah while assembling a vocoder effect reminiscent of Roger Troutman. Smooth quiet storm ballads including "My Body’s Hungry", "I’m On Fire" and "I Love Him Too" make their appearance and are pretty numerous, but not overwhelming. Even the late Rick James makes his last musical appearance with Marie on here ("I Got You"); which becomes a collectable artifact and is sure to generate attention for years to come. The album is pretty lengthy - hosting seventeen tracks and scaling to a full hour and seventeen minutes in length. And even though there are many tracks that will fall on dead ground for most conventional R&B lovers or even hip-hop fans, but this album is a perfect balance of music styles. She’s not all hip-hop, she’s not all jazz (which she perfectly exhibits on "Black Rain"), she’s not all R&B and she’s not all soul. She’s all of that and she knows how to divide it all up without sounding like she’s trying to appease everyone. Maybe because she sounds so good on all of that. But there is one important, obvious statement that will come from observing this musical documentation. Marie did not need all of the guest appearances from some of "rap delights" (other stars include Common, Medusa and Lady Levi) to pull this album off. It didn’t hurt her, but none of them are truly necessary.

MUSIC STYLE: R&B, Urban, Funk, Hip-hop
RELEASE DATE: May 11, 2004

1. La Dona - Intro (2:15)
2. I'm Still In Love (4:16)
3. Honey Call (4:21)
4. Baby I'm Your Fiend (4:56)
5. My Body's Hungry (5:33)
6. LiA Rose By Any Other Name (5:27)
7. Off The Chains (4:37)
8. Makavelli Never Lied (5:06)
9. Revelations 3:8 Introduction (0:30)
10. Recycle Hate To Love (4:52)
11. The Mackin' Game (5:34)
12. I Love Him Too (5:28)
13. I Got You (4:21)
14. Hit Me Where I Live (5:05)
15. High Yellow Girl (4:58)
16. Black Rain (4:27)
17. I'm On Fire (5:32)

CC Briefs: "My Everything" by Anita Baker

Artist: Anita Baker
Album: My Everything
Label: Blue Note

Even after all of these years, the irresistible Anita Baker, whom dominated the charts in the 80s literally by exposing pop culture to her cunning mix of soul and jazz music without any alterations, has returned with her first studio project of the decade. And though many have grown skeptical of Baker’s artistic developments over this period of time, one thing this album showcases, above all things, is that she has not only beautified her craft but shows no signs of aging or weakening. Of course, in comparison to her first two projects in the early 80s ("The Songstress", "Rapture"), there are a few missing elements in Baker’s arsenal; which include those dangerous high notes that could turn a gospel choir upside down. You don’t hear all of that on this project at all - but you will hear Baker successfully crooning and skating as if she studied Ella Fitzgerald or Betty Carter during her time off. Most of the tracks were done in one take - which definitely proves Baker doesn’t need fixer-uppers in the studio. The title track opens up things and is a delicate addition to her memorable hits. The melody sticks and so does the’s not a "Sweet Love", but it’s the perfect follow-up. Mid-tempo songs like "How Could You" and "How Does It Feel" experiments with contemporary jazz and smooth R&B, while "In My Heart" and "I Can’t Sleep" make intricate quiet storm tracks and fall neatly into the Adult Contemporary genre. And who can resist the spellbound duet with Babyface on "Like You Used To Do". The intimacy these two have on this track speaks incredible volumes and happens to be one of the more successful combination attempts this year. Of course, it is a short offering and that may bother Baker fanatics, but don’t get uptight over that. The journey is befitting from start to finish and the music provided by producer and multi-instrumentalist Barry Eastmond, the renowned Jerry Hey on trumpet, and even with a few cameos from Gerald Albright, George Duke and Paul Jackson, Jr. She is vocally unpredictable; exactly one of the amazing strengths she continues to reveal album after album and the music sounds like a live exhibition of fresh material - which fits perfectly in the Blue Note collection. We seriously hope Ms. Baker won’t have to wait another seven years for another offering...we need more good stuff like this. This is not a "Rapture" or "The Songstress", but it is a worthy return and possess good merit.

MUSIC STYLE: R&B, Soul, Jazz
RELEASE DATE: September 7, 2004

1. You're My Everything (5:03)
2. How Could You (4:21)
3. In My Heart (5:06)
4. Serious (5:25)
5. How Does It Feel (4:42)
6. Like You Used To Do (5:11)
7. Close Your Eyes (4:42)
8. You're My Everything Revisited (1:12)
9. I Can't Sleep (5:08)
10. Men In My Life (3:37)