Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All About Madonna

This week, I decided to pull out my old Sire records of Madonna like "Open Your Heart" and just marvelling at how her new style of dance music changed the platform of pop and R&B. The synths and nu wave styles had literally changed the landscape of '80s music and it all started with early '80s hits like "Borderline" and "Holiday."

I had a lot of special memories of "Holiday" and remembering how the song literally exploded on MTV and even black radio. Who knew that the virtual-unknown diva would emerge as one of our generation's greats.

Towards the back of the book Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco, author Peter Shapiro celebrated the star for her revival of dance music after disco began to vanish from the pop music scene. After I read that chapter, Shapiro's account created a new awakening for Madonna's detailed history. That led me to MTV's special Madonna Rising: All About Madonna. Three of the segments of that 1998 interview and documentary, with actor Rubert Everett, shows Madonna going back to her early days in New York - like her work as a dancer, performing with the Breakfast Club, her modeling shoots and her eventual audition with Sire executive with Seymour Stein (posted here). It really gives you a virtual backstage pass to her career beginnings and her reflections on that time period. It's also amazing to see how down to heart the international superstar is in these segments.

Thanks to MadonnaSlovakia for posting.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

We All Remember Wes

George Benson: We All Remember Wes (live)
From Weekend in L.A. (Warner Bros., 1977)

After recently covering one of my favorite contemporary jazz musicians Bobbi Humphrey, I decided to pull out George Benson's colorful, 2-disc live set Weekend in L.A.

The Warner Bros. set was a prolific addition to Benson's catalogue - reaching number one on the R&B and jazz charts. Astonishingly, the album even reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 (pop). The album contained his heavy rendition of the Drifters' classic "On Broadway" and the first recorded version of "The Greatest Love of All" - way before Whitney touched it.

One of my favs from that double-disc project was the disco-flavored, upbeat jazz tune "We All Remember Wes;" penned by the legendary virtuoso Stevie Wonder. Now I did a little research on where the song came from originally and what the song meant...and if it ever had lyrics to it. Hopefully that would help me in knowing if Wes was some tribute to jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery (who passed away in 1968). In all of my research, I didn't find not an iota of data to help a brother out. So I will carefully assume that Stevie Wonder and George Benson paid tribute to the late great guitarist - especially since Benson does a heck of a great job on the funky track. His performance is worth being labeled a tribute to Wes.

By the way, everytime I listened to it - it painted those images of that relaxing Price Is Right game show music.

The original track is 5:45 minutes long, but with my editing skills and modern technology I managed to cut a minute off. Still quite enjoyable, even though - if you are like me - you probably want to fetch for the longer version.

Let Love Be

Elliott Yamin: Let Love Be
From Let Love Be (Hickory, 2009)

Elliott Yamin has been fighting a good deal of bad reviews (Slant, SoulTracks, AllMusic, etc.)with the his sophomore album, Fight for Love. Some are calling it a fight to survive the obvious pop vs. R&B dilemma. And some are just saying he's lost a little bit of his luster while trying to write or co-write every song on board.

Think Stephen Thomas Erlewine at AllMusic said it best when he said:
"Yamin remains an ingratiating presence, possessed with a natural, almost accidental charm that's so endearing that it's hard not to wish that he was in warmer surroundings than these, or at least had a better collection of songs to sing."

Truthfully, Yamin's talent - with that gutsy soulful Donny Hathaway influence - is probably one of the better offerings to emerge from the shadows of that pop Idol institution. And he still gives us that enjoyable magic on the opening track, "Let Love Be." Hopefully it will be released as a single after the steam from the title track dries up. The song has that "get-up-and-go" drive and the smart hip-hop beats that easily compliments Yamin's vocal charms. I have to say: I keepz this one on repeat.

The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland

The Supremes: Going Down for the Third Time
The Supremes: You're Gone (But Always In My Heart)

From The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland (Motown, 1966)

Before there was Destiny's Child or them Dreamgirls, there were the Supremes.

In celebration of Motown 50th anniversary, I decided to dig up one of the better albums from the Supremes. The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland (also know as The Supremes Sing Motown), one of the group's last works together before H-D-H left Motown in 1967, finds Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard in comfortable territory singing to the tunes of their successful producers and song writers known as Holland-Dozier-Holland. The group worked on renditions of the Isley Brothers ("I Guess I'll Always Love You"), the Four Tops ("It's the Same Old Song," "I'll Turn to Stone") and Martha & the Vandellas ("Love Is Like a Heatwave"). While good to hear, none worked as good as the originals: "You Keep Me Hanging On" was a smash, "Love Is Here And Now You're Gone" was just as great and the bluesy, bossa noova tones of "You're Gone (But Always In My Heart)" are welcoming on their sweet voices.

One of my personal favorites, "Going Down for the Third Time," possessed a light Stax formula that brought up memories of Sam & Dave and Johnnie Taylor. With Ross providing strong energy to the meaty lyrics, the background vocals from the Supremes serenade the melody with precocious results. It could have easily have been just as popular as "Baby Love" and "Reflections" if released as a single.

On the back of the original 1966 album cover, Scott Regen mentioned that "besides Berry Gordy, Jr., who discovered The Supremes, the individuals most responsible for their phenomenal success are Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. The producing and songwriting team of Holland, Dozier, Holland has produced all of the Supremes number one record hits."

More on Motown 50: www.motown50.com
More on Motown: www.motownrecords.com

Congo Square

Teena Marie: You Baby
Teena Marie: Lover's Lane (featuring Howard Hewett)

From Congo Square (Stax, 2009)

Already being called the Ivory Queen of Soul, Teena Marie has proven over the years to be a rewarding champion in the fields of funk, flashy R&B and mellow love ballads. Most of that is attributed to her seductive phrasing and that irresistible vibrato. With years of funk under her belt due to her relations with the late punk-funk god Rick James, Marie exploded on black radio with jolting classics like "I Need Your Lovin'," "Behind the Groove" and "Lovergirl." And before rap was even considered to be favorable on black sistahs, Marie revealed no resistance on 1981's "Square Biz."

Years later, after her Cash Money debut with La' Dona, Marie shows no sign of slowing down. Surely her vibrato is undeniably stronger and highly transparent on the slower grooves but Marie is still working her chops. On her Stax debut Congo Square, she pays homage to the heartland of jazz and blues found in New Orleans. The singer recently discovered she had family roots in New Orleans - which explains the album title's reference. Ironically, Cash Money, based in New Orleans, isn't the label offering Marie's goodwill gesture to N.O.

The album, sounds like her last two works, but she does go for more jazz, more blues, more relaxed and mature grooves. There's a great lack of the funk she's notoriously known for performing - which might be the biggest setback of the disc. Yet she replaces it with new school beats, a hefty set of guest performers (Howard Hewett, MC Lyte, Faith Evans) and some unusual mutations of funk-jazz fusion like the candy-coated title track, which features George Duke on keys.

Ready to conquer radio is "Can't Last a Day" - spinning with familiar vibes from Rose Royce's "Wishing on a Star." Equally prepared is the heartfelt ballad "Marry Me," the R&B-infectious "You Baby," and the seductive quiet storm magic of "Lover's Lane." Marie handles most of the songwriting...and she's quite good at it. But some of the production and the melodies fall flat in her attempts to sound culturally relevant in today's music standards. Her lessons in black history on "Miss Coretta," "Harlem Blues" and the Obama-supportive "Black Cool" are tucked in the back of the disc, but do nothing more than serve up album filler like the black cultural studies found on Sounds of Blackness albums. Still, Congo Square is a good disc but far from her superior workouts found on her highly-overlooked, early releases. Especially if you're a fan of the funk. - J Matt

To read album review at SoulTracks.com, click here.
For a limited time, listen to clips from Teena Marie's new album Congo Square. Click here.

Raphael Saadiq Performing at Bonnaroo

I'll be posting a song from the The Way I See It album in the very near future, but figured you might want to plan fast to catch Raphael Saadiq live at Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN. He will be performing at the super music festival this Saturday.

Saturday, June 13: 3:15PM @ THAT TENT
Saturday, June 13: 5:30PM @ SONIC STAGE

According to his MySpace.com page, Raphael will be doing a short signing immediately following his Sonic Stage performance where he will be giving away limited-edition Bonnaroo t-shirts for the first 75 fans who show up with their copy of The Way I See It.

If you are not attending Bonnaroo and/or following the festival via radio, be sure to catch a special acoustic performance at noon on Saturday via RADIO BONNAROO. Click here to find a station near you carrying the broadcast.

If you are not attending Bonnaroo and/or following the festival on the web, you can watch a live stream of Raphael's THAT TENT performance via AT&T's Live Webcast. Click here for more information.


Lavine Hudson: Intervention

From Intervention (Virgin, 1988)

Lavine Hudson never exploded like she should have in the US, but the UK singer remained a hot sensation back in her homeland - appearing on the gospel show People Get Ready with John Francis. It's a strange phenomenon hearing her Virgin debut that the pop label perfectly groomed her into a crossover artist. She was light years away from the very same sound that BeBe & CeCe Winans and Helen Baylor became known for. Unfortunately, high expectations were met with low sales. The album Intervention only landed in the top 20 on the gospel charts.

With the conditions of our sagging economy and the violent warfare in our country and abroad plaguing the headlines, I felt it was neccesary to re-introduce this encouraging track. Many may not remember it, but I'm pretty sure you will enjoy the '80s, Paula Abdul-ish, light-synth pop sound.

From what I've been told, Hudson disappeared from the recording scene and is currently suffering from poor health. While she's battling to bounce back, she hopes to record another CD in the future. Our prayers go out to her. You can learn more about her from her official web site at www.lavinehudson.com.