Friday, 24 April 2015

'Back in Time' by Judith Hill

Judith Hill’s brand new album, ‘Back in Time’, is awesome and it’s out there… sorta!  Well, let’s correct that last point, the album is definitely out there for peoples’ consumption but just not having been released in the usual way.

Before we talk about that though, let’s discuss the talents of the incredible vocalist in question, Judith Hill.  Many may already know her from her appearance on The Voice, plus she was also due to have the supreme distinction of being Michael Jackson’s duet partner for ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ during his ill-fated ‘This Is It’ London O2 residency in 2009.  Hill’s credentials extend even further having sang backing vocals on albums by Dave Stewart, Elton John, Josh Groban and Evelyn “Champagne” King, amongst many others.  This is already a mind-blowing résumé but fast-forward a few years and Prince – after having heard of her desire to work with him – calls her up and the rest is, as they say, history.

Recorded over the course of less than 3 weeks, and produced by the Purple Majesty himself, the album was distributed via a free download through Hill’s WeTransfer account.  An accompanying note by Prince read:
"Sorry 2 bother U. Just wanted 2 send U this baby picture of Judith Hill with Her 1st piano. Loox like her parents, who r also musicians- had a plan. Well, that plan succeeded. This is Judith Hill’s debut album BACK IN TIME. Please spend some time with this music and then share it with someone U love."  
 The download link remained active for a few days and has since been closed.

I don’t know if the album is actually due to receive an official release but someone, somewhere has done something wrong if it isn’t.  ‘Back in Time’ is good.  I mean, reeeaaaally good.  It’s Prince’s funkiest music for quite some time and is the type of funk usually reserved for his famed aftershows.  It’s gritty, it’s horn-heavy, it’s a standout of the year.  The whole album can be streamed via SoundCloud here and I live in eternal hope that an official CD release will follow on shortly as this is too good.

Monday, 13 April 2015

"All Hail...!": The Mighty Sceptres [Interview]

Ubiquity Records have genuinely landed a gem with the debut release from The Mighty Sceptres!  The group, consisting of long-term musical collaborators – Angeline Morrison and Nick Radford – is a real dream come true for fans who have followed the duos previous musical excursions together and have subsequently been gifted with their first full-length release, ‘All Hail The Mighty Sceptres!’.  The album continues to build upon the incredible chemistry and quality of music we’ve now come to expect from Morrison and Radford, be it through their individual efforts or together.

We’ve marveled several times on this site about our adoration for vocalist Angeline Morrison and her remarkable debut solo release, ‘Are You Ready Cat?’: hers is an inimitable and exquisite class, and when paired with the musicianship and awesome talent of Nick Radford – under his usual music-making moniker of Frootful – it proves to be a difficult combination to top.  As with their previous collaborations (‘Fish in the Sea’ from Frootful’s ‘Colours’ album in 2011, and ‘Slowtime’ from the aforementioned ‘Are You Ready Cat?’, amongst others), we’re treated to a refreshing blend of sweet soul music that, as they describe themselves, “showcase[es] their love of 50s and 60s rhythm ’n’ blues, doo-wop, jazz and soul”.

Helping The Mighty Sceptres realize their vision is Chris Pedley of UK funk and soul veterans, The Baker Brothers, on production, and even further assistance behind the boards is brought in courtesy of Benedic Lamdin (aka Nostalgia 77) who takes up the album’s mixing duties.  It’s an undeniable dream team of inspiring talent best showcased amongst tunes like ‘Nothing Seems To Work’, ‘Gentle Refrain’, ‘Land Of Green Ginger’ and the album’s standout track, ‘Shy as a Butterfly’.  (Online purchases of the album from Bandcamp or Amazon treat you to an exclusive Kenny Dope mix of the latter song which is currently the only way to get your hands on it so, do yourselves a favour, and do all you can to get your hands on it.)

It's our distinct pleasure to have Angeline Morrison and Nick Radford take time out to discuss the brand new album, which is genuinely a timeless and exceptional piece of work.  Well, friends, it's now time to show due reverance as we chant - in one voice - "All hail The Mighty Sceptres!"

Where did the name 'The Mighty Sceptres' come from for the group?
We both love the tradition of regal-themed names from the late '50s and early '60s in American soul and doo-wop groups, such as the Five Royales.  So it's partly a reference to the fact that we're here in Shakespeare's 'sceptred isle' making this American-influenced music, and partly tongue-in-cheek too. ‘Mighty' also acknowledges the Jamaican influence, a word that often appears in Jamaican music from the same era, of which we are both fans, and Angeline's family is from Jamaica. We'd like to think of it as the sort of thing Gene Chandler might have come up with as a backing band for the Duke of Earl ;-)

You've been collaborating together for some time now, but how did the two of you initially meet?
We met through soul music, record collecting, and through playing in the same bands and knowing the same musicians in Cornwall.

How did the group come to the attention of Ubiquity Records?
Nick had sent Ubiquity some Frootful (Freestyle Records) vinyl releases, having done some t-shirt designs for them. They were very interested in Angeline who featured on these recordings, and the two of us collaborating on some new material. Following some discussions with Ubiquity, we decided to partner up as a combined artist, The Mighty Sceptres – working comprehensively together from the writing, through to the recording, production and mixing. Previous to this, we had only ever been featured on each other’s projects. We signed an album deal with Ubiquity before the album was even written, never mind recorded! So a noble step from Ubiquity, made in good faith, which did motivate us to produce the best album we possibly could.

What was the creative process of putting the album together like?
It was a really magical time, a highly concentrated period of immense fun and very focused creative energy. We were really lucky to work in an incredible studio (Gareth Young's Cube Studios in Cornwall), with some seriously talented musicians. We were also very lucky to work with our producer Chris Pedley (The Baker Brothers). He came down and pretty much lived with us for the whole time it took to record the album. He really understood where we were coming from and went the extra mile to realise the vision we had for a piece of work that sounded very authentically as though it had been recorded (for the most part) in the late '50s or early '60s.  Then the album was mixed down to tape by Nostalgia 77, who did a very beautiful job with some authentic analogue hardware from the right era (courtesy of Fishmarket Studios in London), so we've been very lucky all round.  Prior to this, we'd go about the writing in all sorts of different ways, we didn't really have a process that you could identify... On 'Shy as a Butterfly' for instance, Nick originally sent Angeline a demo of a basic backing track with a chord sequence. She then recorded her idea for a song on top of these, and the mp3 went back and forth several times as the song took shape... it was quite exciting to see the file turning up in your inbox, and wondering how it would have developed since the last time you heard it!  One or other of us might get an idea for a beat, or a story, or a melody, or a hook, and we'd work the whole song up from there. We've both turned up with songs that were pretty much complete, too, which we'd then hand over for embellishment or adjustment... the creative process has a mind of its own sometimes.

Being artists in your own right, did you find it easy making compromises or were you very much in tune with each other's vision for the album?
Collaborating is a very healthy thing to do if you're used to working on your own, as it does train your mind to stay expanded. It's also a learning process, you learn when to let something go, and when to fight for an idea. On the whole though, our ideas are pleasingly in tune!

Including the two of you, Chris Pedley and Nostalgia 77, there's a real dream-team of collaborators who have worked on this project - how did you go about selecting who you wanted to involve?
Nick had known Chris for some time through mutual friends, so we approached him because of his extensive knowledge and experience working with appropriate analogue recording techniques. He’s also a good man and a pleasure to work with, which helps! Then the hookup with Ben Lamdin (Nostalgia 77) came through Chris, who also enlisted his previous bandmates, Dan and Rich Baker (the original Baker Brothers lineup), for string and percussion sessions respectively. We were also lucky to have engineering assistance in the studio from Kryzysztof Oktalski (who produced the Stonephace album on Tru Thoughts) – mic placements, pre-amps and signal chains, etc. He knows WAY too much about how all our favourite labels and studios did that kind of thing back in the day! Then the session players we had worked with a lot previously, and understand where we are coming from with the music.

The Kenny Dope remix of 'Shy as a Butterfly' is an excellent bonus to digital purchases of the album from Bandcamp - how did you connect with him for the remix?
Ubiquity Records, our label, reached out to Kenny and sowed the seeds for the remix. We are seriously happy about it, and delighted he likes the record.

How does the music from the album translate to the live stage?
Generally, we try our best to get a sound that's as true to the album as possible, which always means some rearranging, but then that's part of the fun of the creative process.

If you had to introduce a prospective new fan to the album, which one song would you pick?
Ah now, that's a tricky question as there's a good bit of variety on the album! Angeline would probably say ‘Sting Like a Bee’ or ‘You're Nothing But a Pack of Cards’, whereas Nick might choose the single, ‘Siren Call’, as it covers most bases – the Jamaican influence combined with the rhythm ’n’ blues element and some swinging soul.

What can fans expect next from each of you?
Well, collectively, we are planning some UK dates, so please watch the Facebook page for updates on this.  Individually, we are both busy writing – hopefully it won't be too long before you'll be able to hear what we've both been working on!

For more on The Mighty Sceptres, follow the group on Facebook and check out the album on Bandcamp.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

'Soul Power' by Curtis Harding [Album review]

Curtis Harding.  If there’s any justice in the world, this is the new name in soul music that will eventually be on everybody’s lips.

An exceptional talent, now, with an exceptional debut album under his belt, ‘Soul Power’ not only boasts an impressive lead vocal, but also introduces us to Curtis Harding the writer, Curtis Harding the producer, Curtis Harding the instrumentalist, etc, etc.  The Atlanta-born artist, whose musical repertoire includes forays within hip-hop and rock, masterfully infuses these elements into his blend of soul music, with perfect tinges of rock, blues and country, in much the same way Lee Fields did in last year’s exceptional release ‘Emma Jean’ (not so much with the rock in his case).

Rest assured though, ‘Soul Power’ is a soul music release through and through – that type of pure and ethereal soul music you may have thought they didn’t actually make nowadays.  Twelve tracks over 41 minutes, not a second is wasted here with stand-out songs including ‘Freedom’, ‘Heaven’s On The Other Side’, 'Keep On Shining', 'Beautiful People' and ‘Next Time’ but trust that there are zero missteps here.

This blog exists for die-hard soul music enthusiasts who crave that new sound, that new artist that stops them in their tracks and makes them re-evaluate the music they’ve been listening to.  Friends, ‘Soul Power’ is that new release.

Friday, 27 March 2015

What I'm listening to...

Definitely thought it was time to unveil another of our 'What I'm listening to...' posts as I've just had an incredible week of discovering brand new music - it's been almost 7 days of 'God bless the Internet' as I'm stumbling upon so many gems that I'm having to restrict my spending as I can't keep up with it all.  In an even more unique twist to this WILT... post, it's an all-female entry...

'Drive Me Wild' by Alexia Coley
From Jalapeno Records, and a debut that came out in 2014, London's own Alexia Coley unveiled her debut 'Keep The Faith' and it sounds fairly awesome.  There's also a hefty amount of remixes floating around including work by Lack of Afro and label-mate Smoove (whose remix of 'Beautiful Waste of Time' is included on the album).  Can't wait to get my hands on the full-length, but in the meantime, I've been playing the heck out of this...

'Time is a Train' by Nasimiyu
This is exceptional - just check out Nasimiyu's vocal in the video below.  This song comes from an online-only album released in 2012 ('Rules Aren't Real'), which has since been followed-up with the release of an EP last year, entitled 'Dirt'.  Need to jump on the bandwagon quick with this before we fall further behind...

'Protect Ya Neck' by Lauriana Mae
This one is very new and I think the one I know the least about.  Lauriana Mae boasts a brand new EP which features production by the incredible Jack Splash (big fan!).  Nothing much else really needs to be said - click the below and I dare you to not like it...

Thursday, 19 March 2015

GetToKnow Episode #9: Maceo Parker

Episode #9 of our 'Get to Know' series see us finally showcasing the legendary work of tenor, alto and baritone saxophonist, Maceo "Blow Your Horn!" Parker.  He actually plays the flute too!

We've compiled a huge selection of gems over the next 70+ minutes of funk so hopefully we have a few of your favourites along with a few songs you may not have even realised featured Maceo's sax-playing: 'Groove is in the Heart' by Deee-Lite features both Maceo and Fred Wesley - how crazy is that?!  Make sure you also check out the Lenny Kravitz track featuring a veritable dream team of brass players.

Below is the tracklist for the show and please note there are several bonus interludes and treats in and around these songs as well:
'Got to Getcha' - Maceo & All The King's Men
'You Got to Have A Job' - Marva Whitney & James Brown
'Whole Lotta Loving' - Lenny Kravitz f/t Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Rebirth Brass Band & Trombone Shorty
'My Baby Loves You' - Maceo Parker
'Groove is in the Heart' - Deee-Lite
'Soul Power '74' - Maceo & The Macks
'Pretty Man' [Extended Mix] - Prince
'People Pleaser' - Andy Allo
'Red Baron' - Marcus Miller
'We Do This' [live] - Prince f/t Maceo Parker & George Clinton
'Doing it to Death' - The JBs

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Mighty Mocambos: "Pistols at Dawn!" (pt2)

As the release date for ‘Showdown’, by The Mighty Mocambos, draws ever nearer (27th March 2015), we’re still basking in our exclusive Mocambo feature with Bjorn Wagner, who we’re thilled to say took time out of his busy schedule to fill us in on the new album and the band’s future plans.  Well, Bjorn was actually so gracious that he took more time out than we had anticipated giving us the privilege of an added bonus extra at the tail-end of our interview which we’re more than happy to present to you oh-so-lucky readers right here…

Are there any plans to get back in the studio with Gizelle Smith for a follow-up release? 
There are no concrete plans as of yet, and it would not exactly be a follow-up. It's been almost six years since we released the album of our collaboration. After the supporting tour, Gizelle wanted to be more in charge of the production, so she decided to form a group for herself and do a solo album. She found it hard to realise her own vision with a self-contained band such as we are – which, in addition, also live in another country. Plus, we also had our own ideas that we did not want to put too far on the back burner, for example, ‘The Future Is Here’ album, our collaboration with Afrika Bambaataa, the project with Caroline Lacaze and the Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band.
In a situation where you cannot generate joined forces out of two different angles, you have to deal with compromises, which there was no point doing for either of us. It worked for the one album we did, as we managed to create an exciting, heterogenic release by uniting the different approaches, but it would not have made sense beyond that. Time will tell if there's a moment when we will create new music together. For now, she is still working on her solo album, singing in an interesting live house/electronica project and hosting a radio show, while we decided to keep up the pace making our records and going on tour.

If you could hook up with any other vocalist for a full album, who would it be? 
If there would be someone, we probably would have made that record already – such as we did with Caroline Lacaze. We highly enjoy the diversity of a Mighty Mocambos album with instrumentals and different vocalists. This is what we are, but it could happen any other day that we cross paths with someone we do not know yet and record a full length. I am less interested in recording a whole album with someone well-known, let alone funk and soul legends.

Congratulations on the success with Caroline Lacaze - are there any other artists for Mocambo Records that we can expect to be unveiled soon? 
Thank you! Recently, we have also been working on an album for our alter ego, the Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, which mostly consists of the Mighty Mocambos, a bunch of friends and our touring entourage – it's a wild mix of steel pans and a funky rhythm section. We have put this project in the trustworthy hands of Truth & Soul Records, who already released a couple of 45s from it. We also did a remix for Lee Fields with the Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band (for the song 'Just Can't Win' off his latest album 'Emma Jean'), and the debut album, '55', will follow later this year.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

"Got to Give It Up": Music sampling and the Law!

Stemming from this week's landmark ruling regarding Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke's gigantic hit record 'Blurred Lines' (2013) and the influence that Marvin Gaye's 'Got to Give It Up' may (or may not? depending on whether they appeal or not) have had on that record, we thought we’d take the discussion in a teeny tiny different direction and discuss more overtly blant examples of illegal music sampling.  The ramifications of the court's ruling will really need some time to gauge the wider impact this could likely have throughout: Bruno Mars, for example, enthusiastically agreed with comments regarding his hit 'Locked Out of Heaven' and openly noted similiarities with music by The Police - is he now liable to answer for that in a court of Law?  As I say, it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out, but regarding the main theme of our topic here...

Hip-hop, understandably, does tend to be the prominent genre to use as a case study when it comes to sampling discussions and the subsequent laws that were forced to be put into place.  The impact of hip-hop DJs and producers’ increased usage of sampling portions of instrumentation from existing songs and/or incorporating another artist’s vocals for use in their own songs, without permission, started to gain more popularity and success.  Perhaps more significantly though, it was the point at which the technique started to generate a sizable amount of money from songs as a result which is when the sampled artist started to revolt and people ended up in court forced to pay royalties, issue appropriate writing credits and in many cases, cease and desist making money from someone else’s efforts.

Using or recreating a part of a song that an artist didn’t write or record means that there’s a violation of two different types of copyright law, which means permission from the publishing company as well as the record label needs to be secured.  ‘What’ constituted theft though did use to be a bone of contention too: how long the piece of music being looped actually was, and whether that would constitute fair use; were enough alterations carried out to the original vocal/music thus morphing it into something new?  This used to be a subject of much controversial debate, and some individual cases still can be, however, all in all, it is less ambiguous now though seeing as sampling laws are now in force and, for the most part, are fairly specific on what constitutes theft, what would need to be credited and who owns what.

Here are a few (other) cases where sampling records, without having everything in place hasn’t always gone according to plan...

Danger Mouse Vs EMI ['The Grey Album', 2004]
By far, the most notable of the series of remix albums spawned from Jay-Z’s initial retirement from hip-hop.  Producers and DJs, including, Kev Brown and 9th Wonder took the accapellas from what, at the time, was Jay-Z’s swan song, ‘The Black Album’, and married the vocals with new original production.  One DJ even went as far as marrying the accapellas with instrumentals from Coldplay resulting in a surprisingly not-too-bad mashup.  New remix projects seemed to emerge with each passing week, but none garnered more notoriety and praise than Danger Mouse’s, ‘The Grey Album’, which paired ‘The Black Album’ vocals with the music from The Beatles’, ‘The White Album’.  [Black + White = Grey.  See what he did there?!]   Although initially available on a limited release, EMI soon put a stop to that once it got wind that appropriate copyright hadn’t been sought for the recreation of The Beatles’ music and copies had to be pulled from stores immediately.  Despite both Paul McCartney and Jay-Z being massively in favour of the project, EMI still wouldn’t budge refusing to let the project go ahead.  ‘God Bless the Internet’ though and, in this digital era, pulling store copies does absolutely nothing to stop a project from being heard… and being heard it was.  Although, EMI ultimately meant Danger Mouse couldn’t earn a penny from its release, the exposure he garnered from the project is immeasurable solidifying him as one of the most sought-after producers, with a resume that would go on to include Gorillaz, Beck and a gnarly collaboration with Cee Lo Green.

Lupe Fiasco/Kanye West/Pharrell Williams Vs Thom Yorke ['Us Placers', 2007]
American hip-hop artist, Lupe Fiasco, originally attempted to put this song together boasting a guest feature from the UK’s very own Mike (‘The Streets’) Skinner, but after receiving, what can only be described as a bit of a blank, Fiasco had to opt for the second-tier level of guest appearances in the form of little-known underground personnel who you may never have heard of before - Kanye West and Pharrell Williams (take THAT, Mike Skinner!).  Ultimately, it’s a song that would never go on to ‘officially’ see the light of day.  It featured an elegant sample from ‘The Eraser’, which was the title-track from Thom Yorke’s (Radiohead) debut solo album, and was used beautifully as the song’s chorus while the three rappers rapped about the perils of fame.  The sample was never officially cleared, thus never officially released, despite being lined up to appear at various times on both Fiasco’s and West’s solo albums, but was subsequently relegated to mixtapes only.  I say, ‘never ‘officially’ see the light of day’, but that’s clearly not the case as, in yet-another ‘God Bless the Internet’ moment, it’s out there for your listening and downloadable pleasure and was a song rated highly amongst critics and fans alike. 

Vanilla Ice Vs Queen & David Bowie ['Ice Ice Baby', 1990]
This is an interesting case, in theory, to highlight what’s mentioned above about how much of the original song is used and how much is changed to make the composition be deemed as something new and original in its own right.  Actually, this is a terrible example because the argument to potentially prove the rule was later revealed to be a lie but this could have been an interesting debate nonetheless.  Obviously, the song most affiliated with Vanilla Ice and, as the old adage goes, having become a success as a complete fluke:  The song was originally the B-side to the song that was supposed to be the lead single, ‘Play That Funky Music’, but the DJ unintentionally played the wrong song, and the rest as they say is history.  Also, famously sampling the bassline from ‘Under Pressure’, as performed by Queen and David Bowie, of course, with adequate permission NOT secured.  As the song would go on to become a huge success, guess who came a-knockin!  Ice’s initial defence was to claim that - get this - he added a note to the bassline thus making it an original/different piece.  Unfortunately, as no one … anywhere … in the world … was able to locate this additional ‘note’, Ice would later relent and pay the due royalties and include their names as writers of the song.