Reviews from SoulTracks on Sun Music are the highly rated music releases by artists played on the 24/7 and On-Demand streams.
|Jeffrey Osborne - Worth It All
Five decades into a genre-crossing career, Jeffrey Osborne offers his first album of original material in 15 years on Worth It All. The richly deep-toned vocalist started out on the drum set during his teenage years, but by the time he joined then-simmering soul outfit L.T.D. in the early ‘70s, the way was paved for his dynamic pipes to shine on.
The six-year recording period which saw him lead the band’s classics “Love Ballad,” “Back in Love Again,” “Holding On,” and “Never Get Enough of Your Love” to the upper reaches of the R&B charts was followed by nearly a decade’s worth of solo hits spanning both soaring ballads (“On the Wings of Love,” “You Should Be Mine,” “Only Human”) and contagious uptempo anthems (“Stay with Me Tonight,” “Don’t You Get So Mad,” “She’s on the Left”). Read more...
|Me'shell NdegeOcello - Ventriloquism
Generally, there are two ways that music fans are interested in hearing their favorite songs covered by an artist who's not the beloved original. One, be “better” than the original performer on the tune in ways that are subjective, but identifiable, such as more vocal acrobatics, greater emotional sincerity and passion, or changing the mood and texture of a song through vocal interpretation.
The other way is to wholly reimagine the cut in ways that the original had not considered, by playing with the arrangements, switching out instrumentation, making the song bigger and more epic or spare and minimalist, but completely the new artist’s own. The latter is bolder and more daring. It does not rely on just vocal talent but technical skill and arranging know-how, and risks fidgeting with the mysterious DNA that made the song a hit in the first place. Which is often why the latter is so little done anymore in this ironic age of fewer musicians but more recording “artists” than in the history of the world. Read more...
|Tower of Power - Soul Side of Town
Fifty years have passed since the year 1968, and there have been plenty of retrospectives about the events from that tumultuous year. A book was written about the Tet Offensive and a commemoration took place in Memphis on April 4 – the day 50 years ago when the Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
In the world of music, Tower of Power is now releasing their new album, Soul Side of Town, and the band celebrates the 50thanniversary of their founding on June 1. TOP’s anniversary, which will also include a concert, will be not be a silver anniversary in name only. Four of the founding members, Emilio Castillo, Dave Girabaldi, Stephen Kupka and Francis Prestia, remain with the band. Secondly, unlike many of their contemporaries from days with R&B giant bands ruled the earth, TOP never stopped working. They simply inserted a vocalist and kept it pushing. Read more...
|N'Dambi - Air Castle (with All Cows Eat Grass)
Like other meaningful artists who came before her, N’Dambi is felt before she is heard. Gifted with a raw, resonant contralto and a presence that’s both sultry and self-possessed, the Dallas, Texas native is a performer who can reflect a given mood as well as she can create one.
Although early in her career she was a background singer for her more flamboyant peer, Erykah Badu, N’Dambi was always carving her own niche as a purveyor of home-grown, funk-fringed, yet eclectic soul.
After a handful of independently-distributed sets, N’Dambi joined forces with music veteran Leon Sylvers in 2009 and released Pink Elephant, a galvanizing Grammy-award-nominated album that added modernized urban sheen to her uniquely earthy style. With such a high-profile and hit-generating release, N’Dambi’s subsequent near-absence from music was just as affecting as her presence, so fans should find relief in her collaboration EP with the band All Cows Eat Grass, Air Castle. Read more...
|Marcus Miller - Laid Black
Miller Time, Marcus Miller’s three-hour exploration of the funky side of jazz, as the legendary bassist puts it, has become appointment radio for me. If I’m in my ride on a Sunday evening, I’m flipping over to Sirius radio station 67 to check out Miller Time.
Miller, who has worked with the likes of Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton and Meshell Ndegeocello, has view of jazz that is rangy and iconoclastic yet respectful to the art form’s traditions. He is after, all, the cousin of Wynton Kelly, who played the piano on “Freddy Freeloader,” the second song on Davis’ Kind of Blue. All of this explains why a Miller Time segment can include a hard bop classic such as Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father,” and then something straight funky from Incognito. Miller draws on his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, funk, soul and hip-hop to educate listeners on how it all fits together. He’ll chuckle, ‘ha-ha’ when the tune ends if he’s really feeling it. Read more...
|En Vogue - Electric Cafe
If eras were defined by girl groups, each one had a distinctive flavor and sound: the Supremes reigned during the 60s, the Emotions emerged in the 70s and the Pointer Sisters lay claim to the 80s. Many still want to debate the impacts of TLC and Destiny's Child in the 90s and beyond, but what can't be disputed is that long before either were a thought, the decade belonged to En Vogue.
Seen early on as vocalists to showcase the talents of two ambitious producers (Foster & McElroy), Maxine, Dawn, Terry and Cindy were an assembled quartet that quickly became a phenomenon: a hit debut album (1990's Born to Sing), an even bigger sophomore smash (Funky Divas), and personas built on the strengths of four ladies with their own looks and vocal styles that blended with impeccable precision and poise. Read more...
|Jonathan Butler - Sarah, Sarah: The Anthology
Looking back, Jonathan Butler marvels that he became an international star in jazz, R&B and gospel music who has endured for more than 30 years. Butler’s rise in South Africa came in the late 1970s and 80s, when that nation’s racist apartheid system of government was approaching its end. But like America’s Jim Crow racial caste system on which South African apartheid was modeled, the minders of the racist status quo became more reactionary and thus more dangerous to young men like Butler as the ultimately successful effort to dismantle apartheid gained momentum.
However, it is difficult if not impossible to keep Butler’s talent under wraps – even in a place as oppressive as apartheid era South Africa. Butler’s talent was apparent well before the 32 songs featured on Sarah, Sarah: The Anthology – the latest in the Soul Music Records series of anthologies – reached radios in the United States. Read more...
|Betty LaVette - Things Have Changed
Throughout the current millennium, following a career spanning six decades, 72-year-old Bettye LaVette has remained the gold standard for third act careers in soul. Like fellow soul singers Lee Fields and the late Charles Bradley, LaVette’s greatest recording fame came long after early peers had peaked and far too often perished far from public view, only to be remembered through aging nostalgia lenses, greatest hits compilations, and television commercial soundtracks.
LaVette’s arc was different from her more famed Motown and Stax contemporaries: a rollercoaster ride of hits from the age of 16 and other creative successes, including Broadway, only to inexplicably be followed again by years of obscurity and struggle. However, since 2003’s A Woman Like Me, LaVette has gained an international reputation as America’s greatest soul interpreter of classic rock, blues, soul, and country music. Critically acclaimed projects like 2005’s I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise and Grammy-nominated albums like 2007’s Scene of A Crime, 2010’s Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, and 2016’s Worthy have cemented LaVette’s place as a force of nature in an industry that struggles to create space for artists after 40, much less after 70. Read more...
|ABIAH - ABIAH sings NINA
I thought Abiah’s remake of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was one of the high points on his very strong 2016 album Bottles. A major part of what I found appealing about Abiah’s remake is how he reimagined the song’s arrangement, and his soaring tenor was a tremendous contrast to Turner’s raspy, southern soul infused vocal.
Abiah’s latest project is dedicated to exploring the music of another legendary woman, in this case pianist, vocalist, songwriter and activist Nina Simone. Simone died in 2003, so unlike Turner, she did not live to see her pop music career revival. Nor did she live to see her life story retold as a biopic or turned into the Academy award nominated documentary “What Happened Miss Simone.”
Simone’s protest music made her a household name in the turbulent 1960s when songs such as “Mississippi Goddamn” captured the zeitgeist of the times. However, Abiah Sings Nina finds Abiah focusing on Simone’s work as a balladeer, and the High Priestess of Soul had few equals in that category. Read more...