Archive for the ‘Ear Candy’ Category

Hello readers.

This is the first in a long line of entries containing mini music reviews of artists I’m listening to at the moment. Whilst I know that you all have a diverse range of taste in ear candy, I’m sure there is something I could recommend to you for your aural pleasure.

To tell you the truth, I’m surprised that I’m not blogging more about music, I used to deejay (and still do occasionally), have a pretty sizeable music collection and occasionally play bass and acoustic guitar (in a band and solo)…

So, without further ado, here is my current selection of album reviews in no particular order:

1. Soldier of Love– Sade (Neo Soul)

After a long hiatus of about 10 years, Sade is back and topping the U.S. album charts for the third week running. This long awaited album seems a little more melancholic than previous  Sade releases but is still pretty much in classic Sade territory with no ground breakingly different styles, except perhaps the title track:  ‘Soldier of Love’ which has a trip hop Tricky-esque beat to it. Other than the standout tracks, most tracks, I feel, are quite flat and appear almost as filler, however if you are a Sade fan you must get this album since there is enough material to keep you going….though I doubt for another 10 years…

Stand out tracks in my opinion are  ‘Soldier of Love,’ ‘Babyfather’ and ‘Skin.’

Rating 3.5/5

2. Blackmagic-José James (Soul/Jazz/Hip Hop)

After being introduced to  José James via Brownswood record label in London, 2 years ago. I was instantly hooked onto the  unique style and voice of José James, who describes himself as a ‘world citizen’ from Brooklyn on his myspace site. His first album ‘The Dreamer’ was an instant classic, with no filler, and music to evoke moods from a smoky jazz club to romance induced ballads to kick back sunday morning beats, my favourite being the Freestyle Fellowship cover of ‘Park Bench People.’ If you click the link on the left, it takes you to an awesome live rendition of the song, with ‘Soil & Pimp Sessions’ performing the jazz classic ‘Red Clay’ as the music. Make sure you check it out, as Jose flips from jazz singing to a ‘scat battle’ with the saxophonist.’

Now, that enough about ‘The Dreamer’ album, this review is all about his NEW album; ‘Blackmagic.’ Well all I can say is wow! The first three tracks on this album, are all amazing, with the rest being silky smooth and seductive. Its hard to pick Blackmagic apart other than to say that it evokes thoughts of Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Terry Callier and Gil-Scott Heron.

Having seen José perform live at the Jazz Cafe in London last year (he is also playing this month), his live entourage, a full fledged Jazz/Soul quartet did not disappoint. Not only did Jose tear the roof off with his vocals ranging from soul to scat, the band had more soul than a Motown New Years party. As with most music today, some of the lyrics are a little ‘steamy’ but tame in comparison to chart music.

Standout tracks? ALL OF THEM!

Rating: 4/5

3.  Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura – New Cuba Sound

This double CD compilation, put together by Radio 1 D.J. and eclectic musical guru Gilles Peterson after a trip to Cuba is one definitely for speakers to pump loud and proud. It features a hand picked selection from Havana’s music scene, last made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club. The first album/cd is performed by a band Gilles Peterson himself has produced himself, led by Roberto Fonesca (piano) and is as good as cuban jazz gets.  You’ll be finding it hard to sit still while this is on.

The second album is Giles  selection of his favourite Cuban tunes by current Cuban artists spanning many genres ranging from hip hop, pop, salsa and reggaeton . There is no doubt that the jazzy rhythms on this double CD leave you wanting more and tempt you to be more adventurous with your next foray into this vibrant musical scene..  before you know it, you’ll be booking that flight to Cuba, shaking the maracas all the way through check in (or maybe not, based on current tensions).

Again, like Jose James’ album, this album is packed to the brim with great tracks, but the Jay Dilla/Jay Dee cover ‘Think Twice’ by Danay & Obsesión is head and shoulder above all of them, worth getting the album just for that track alone!

Rating: 4.5/5


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Artists whether they are musical or visual, are very perceptive to their surroundings, and express what they take in through their chosen medium.

With the songs chosen below, the artists have made musical social commentaries on the state of our planet Earth and the decline of the world order of our society (but they don’t take into account the positive things that are subtly happening).

It is interesting because from the late 60’s onwards, music and art began to take a more global analysis of the world and a realisation of a common humanity, a positive thing, and a form of integration.

Ironic that this positive realisation contrasts with the collapse of moral standards in society as we know it, something that is accelerating post World War II.

The songs below,  are especially selected not because they talk about the disintegration in the world but rather because they acknowledge world problems being universal, reflecting that common humanity, destiny and the idea that nobody is immune. They suggest we are in it together and have to work together to overcome the problems. Surely that is a positive thing i.e. integration?

As a Baha’i, my viewpoint is that the root cause of the problems is a spiritual one, and that transcends borders, nationalities and race. As Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Baha’i Faith says, “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,”

The songs below are as relevant today (if not more so) as when they were first penned.

They talk about subjects ranging from pollution, racism, economic woes and war…… any of those sound familiar?

Links to relevant videos are provided.

1. Sign O’ The Times-Prince (1987)

Prince’s seminal music piece describing key 80s news headlines from discovery of AIDs to the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle…superb

2. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised-Gill Scott Heron (1971)

A well referenced spoken word poem written in the early 70’s alluding to the rise of commercialisation of everything. Gill Scott’s title, however, refers to the fact that real revolution cannot be commercialised, shown on tv a news event and is happening as we speak.

3. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)-Marvin Gaye

Long before ‘Inconvenient Truth’ was released, Marvin Gaye

4. Too Young To Die-Jamiroquai

Classic Jay Kay, at his best..

5. What’s Going On?-Marvin Gaye

Marvin’s ode to humanity to wake up….

6. Fear-Lenny Kravitz (1989)

Funkier than old green socks in a garbage can.

Written with the help of Lisa Bonet…great lyrics!!!

7. Something’s Got To Give-Beastie Boys

Very unique Beastie Boys song, with accompanying video that wouldn’t look out of place in Baraka

Opening lyrics:

I Wish For Peace Between The Races
Someday We Shall All Be One

8. So Much Trouble In The World-Bob Marley

9. Loose Ends-Will I Am, Justin Timberlake, Pharoahe Monch & Sergio Mendes (2006)

One of best tracks on Sergio’s revival album; ‘Timeless’ (album highly recommended)

Great lyrics, great flow by Monch, lyrics by Will.I.Am and great soulful vocals by Justin. Listen to it.

Opening of Will.I.Am’s verse:

The world is changin
We in danger
’cause We ain’t changin
Our behaviour

10.Imagine-John Lennon

One of the most beautiful songs ever written…acknowledging all the things that have caused war and division in the world from religion, materialism etc.

Though, as a Baha’is we acknowledge and recognise all the great religions, we also believe it is better to have no religion than belong to one that preaches hate.

“If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act.”

Abdul Baha, Paris Talks

End lyrics of Imagine:

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

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Last night, at the O2 arena-the largest single-roofed structure in the world, my brother and I witnessed the legend that is Stevie Wonder.

It was quite surreal for two reasons.

One, because in the space of a year, I have seen two out of three of my musical heroes; Stevie Wonder and Prince (M.Jackson being the third).

Two, because I saw them both at the O2 arena which is in Greenwich, my borough in London, 10 minutes from my home.

After getting in a quick, mandatory Nandos beforehand, we made our way to our seats, B3 Row D.

Good seats.

Let me quickly sidetrack and say that it was quite difficult to get hold of these tickets….they went on sale on a Monday morning at 9am exclusively through Ticketmaster…. and I was on the phone before 9am, at 9am and after 9am….

Turns out they were sold out before they officially went on sale?! (thank you ‘pre-sale’-the latest in concert sales gimmicks).

Luckily, I managed to get hold of a pair of tickets at a very good price, from a well known internet source….

Anyway, I digest

After clearing security quicker than Roadrunner on Red Bull, we waited patiently in our seats, watching the arena fill up until around 9pm, when Stevie Wonder appeared to a rapturous applause from over 20,000 revellers.

The legend arrived on stage helped by his daughter, Aisha Morris.

He was dressed in a black coat with extremely funky and garish sleeves.

I did wonder [excuse the pun] if he would have worn the coat had he seen it first….anyway….

Rather than go through the concert song by song, i’ll just give the playlist for the evening, and summarise my thoughts.

It was over 2 hours long and the playlist for the evening was as follows:….

  1. As If You Read My Mind
  2. Master Blaster
  3. Did I Hear You Say Love Me?
  4. All I Do
  5. Knock Me Off My Feet
  6. London Bridge [Is Falling Down] (yes, the nursery rhyme, not Fergie, Motown stylee)
  7. I Want To Hold Your Hand (Beatles cover)
  8. Don’t You Worry About A Thing
  9. Visions
  10. Living For The City
  11. Part Time Lover
  12. Overjoyed
  13. Ribbon In The Sky
  14. Lately
  15. Ma Cherie Amour
  16. Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours
  17. Sir Duke
  18. I Wish
  19. Isn’t She Lovely?
  20. You Are The Sunshine Of My Love
  21. I Just Called To Say I Love You
  22. War [What Is It Good For?] (Cover)
  23. As
  24. Superstitious

The talented tour band belted out the funk with back up singers, whilst Stevie carried the main vocals, playing the piano or keys (at one point, simultaneously) singing in his characteristic soulful gospel-esque voice.

It was amazing to see that the quality, power, range and dynamism of Stevie’s voice sounding little unchanged from his heyday of the mid 70s. Still blowing his contemporaries out of the water.

Neither had his creativity. At one point he pull out a talk box,

The atmosphere was electric.

Click here to hear/see Stevie on the ‘talk box circa 70s….. (29 secs in). Amazing.

At one point he had all the guys in the audience singing the intro to ‘Part Time Lover’ whilst the women sang the chorus over it, all in harmony. Not being able to see, and conducting a mostly tone deaf audience of 20,000 isn’t an easy feat…..

Half way through the set, Joss Stone joined Stevie for ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m yours,’ though I don’t think the crowd were particularly amped about that…..

The lyrics of Stevie Wonder’s songs address social problems (Living For The City,) pay homage to other musical greats (Sir Duke), are full pure positivity (Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing), dream of a better future (Visions) and beautiful ballads (Ma Cherie Amour) to songs about wishful reminiscing (I Wish) and just plain beauty (As).

The great thing about Stevie Wonder is that his back catalogue of music is rivalled by very few (except maybe Prince). He has had hits in every decade from the ’60s to the ’00s. Very few artists can claim that. If you ‘dig’ any modern soul/rnb artist worth his salt, they will claim Stevie Wonder as one of their biggest influences, and for good reason too.

Each song he played evoked a difference reaction in the crowd and for each member associated with a different memory, from a different decade.

Music brings people together, but i’ve rarely seen it bring people from different generations like this performer did.

Stevie Wonder’s music is far less risque than Prince.

It is consistently inclusive and definitely spiritual.

In fact, throughout the concert, Stevie Wonder made references to God, Unity, the coming together of ‘one human family’-our common humanity. The whole concert was in the spirit of love, Stevie repeatedly telling the audience ‘I Love You’, to hear ‘We Love You’ back… a sharp contrast to other concerts I have seen recently.

He said during the concert that the atmosphere felt like his ‘church.’

One thing of interest was Stevie Wonder’s support for U.S. Presidential hopeful; Barack Obama, to which initially, the audience cheered for, but began to grow a little weary by the second ‘plug’ (most likely because the audience paid to hear Stevie perform, not campaign).

Interspersed through the concert was his love for the audience, saying how much he missed playing in London and it was glad to be back. In fact it was the death of his mother a few years ago that prompted him to begin his first tour in a decade, dedicating his last song to her; As. This being the 3rd time he was playing London on this tour.

I won’t say what my favourite song is, there were too many, and many he didn’t play….

What I will say is that I’m happy to have experienced the Wonder that is Stevie, seeing the man responsible for a musical style that is often imitated but rarely innovated.

That’s my review, signed, sealed, delivered, and yours.

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Here is a small list of songs I recommend from 1969-1975 about the harshness of city life; materialism, poverty, racism.

The music is as relevant today as it was then.

Links to the songs are provided.

1. The Get Out of the Ghetto Blues-Gill Scott Heron (1972)

Classic blues tale about getting out of the slums.

Played on the piano and sung by Gill Scott Heron; the American poet, singer and proto-rapper.

Interesting fact: Scott-Heron’s father, Giles “Gil” Heron (nicknamed “The Black Arrow”) was a Jamaican soccer player who, in the 1950s, was the first ever black player to play for Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club in the U.K.

2. Living for The City-Stevie Wonder (1973)

This is a song about living to work, rather than working to live, but specifically, about the harshness of living in a city. One of Stevie Wonder’s best songs, on Innervisions.

3. Woman of the Ghetto-Marlena Shaw (1969)

Its hard for a woman in the ghetto. Marlena Shaw, one of the original soul divas, evokes this well.  This song has been sampled more than once in 90s hip hop. The track I’ve linked is from the live version.

4. Inner City Blues-Marvin Gaye (1971)

Great song, probably my favourite in this list. Not much to say, but except its from ‘What’s Going On?’ album. It’s funky and Marvin is playing the mellow vibes on the piano. Simply amazing.

5.When Seasons Change-Curtis Mayfield (1975)

Song about the gritty life of urban living. Taken from the album ‘There’s No Place Like America Today,’ one of the albums featured in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die published in 2005 by Cassell Illustrated.

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