Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What I'm listening to... (May 2016)

Well, the immediate answer of what I've been listening to over the past few weeks is a steady flow of Prince records... Yes, I'm doing no better with dealing with that news at all, so aside from 'Sign O'The Times', 'Purple Rain', 'For You', 'Crystal Ball' and numerous other albums and songs, I have managed to extend my musical therapy with a few other sounds that I was keen to put your way...

'Into Forever' by Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra featuring Josephine Oniyama
Stumbled onto this one by chance and I'm very happy that I did.  This is an excellent song - the title track from an excellent album which really captures more of what this song delivers.  Make sure you check out this video because the visuals are brilliant.

'Fascinating, Devastating Man' by Eleanore Mills
This comes from one of two Soul Brothers reissues that the label will be riding high with this year: This Is Eleanore Mills.  It was a complete toss-up as to which of the albums I'd highlight here so it's only right that we name check Eramus Hall's Your Love is My Desire as well.  Pick up both for some classic connoisseur soul.

'Luvlite' by Hidden Jazz Quartet featuring Bajka
Hidden Jazz Quartet are doing well this year following the release of their 'Raw and Cooked' album which is generating a solid buzz.  Apart from this track, highlights also come in the form of the Omar-assisted 'High Heels' which is a great northern soul-esque number.

Monday, 9 May 2016

'Hello Baby' by Lack of Afro [Review]

Hot on the heels of the brilliant Junior Oliver release ‘Bristol Fashion’ mere months ago, Adam Gibbons once again throws on the Lack of Afro cape and unveils no less than his fifth studio album, ‘Hello Baby’.

What’s even more exciting about the album is that, like ‘Bristol Fashion’, this adds a further string to the bow of Gibbons’ own LOA Records – the independent record label he founded in 2015 to nurture his own indelible passion for quality music and talent.  And “indelible passion” seems an apt description when discussing Gibbons and music.  Just like Warner Bros Records creating Paisley Park Records for Prince in a bid to channel his creative energies into projects away from his own – because they simply couldn’t keep up with his output – that same unrelenting desire to constantly create music is what many people adore in Adam Gibbons, and why the Lack of Afro brand means so much to people.  And why LOA Records can only be destined for success!

“I was impressed with the way he just 'got it' straight away, he understood the sound I wanted to create.”  Long-time friend and collaborator, Angeline Morrison, brought up when we previously discussed the Gibbons contribution to her awesome Freestyle Records release, 'Are You Ready Cat?'. “He collects a lot of analogue equipment and knows his way around all of that, so his ability to create an authentic vintage feel on tracks is superb.”

‘Hello Baby’ boasts an eclectic mix of Lack of Afro’s trademark fiery northern soul stompers and disco-funk boogies all expertly balanced out by Gibbons’ production skill and brought to life by a diverse mix of vocalists including Joss Stone, Juliette Ashby, long-time friend and collaborator rapper Herbal T, and fellow LOA Records artists Emma Noble and Elliott Cole.  Standouts throughout the album include 'I Got The Rhythm', 'Take You Home', 'Fires Glow' and 'All My Love' but it's an album with very little to falter.

LOA Records have found unique and innovative ways to engage and nurture their audience: the “5 in 10” series, limited edition CDs, cassette releases and most importantly... genuine talent.  LOA Records is oozing with it and is amassing a staggering catalogue for such a young label.  2016 is certain to be a big year for them but also for anyone wise enough to be following them.

Should you need even more of a fix of Lack of Afro-ness be sure to check out his remix of ‘High Heels’ for the Hidden Jazz Quartet.  Bliss.  
And for more info on Lack of Afro, LOA Records and their artists, visit the label's home page here:

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

'Changes' by Charles Bradley [Review]

The screaming eagle of soul.  If you've listened to a Charles Bradley album before then you know that's an apt description of his prowess.  The third album release from the marquis act at Daptone's Dunham Records sees Bradley embrace that moniker like never before.  And like no one else could.

The Daptone Records family - and it's extended members - boast an indelible list of vocalists including the power house that is Sharon Jones but Charles Bradley forged his own path following the release of 'The World (Is Going Up In Flames)'.  The ultimate in Cinderella stories, Bradley was discovered by guitarist Thomas Brenneck before releasing his debut album in his early-60s.

With Brenneck again on production for 'Changes' - and also marking the third time that Bradley is backed by Brenneck's Menahan Street Band - the style on this release shifts away from the psychadelic soul of 2013's 'Victim of Love' and steers things back towards more classical soul stylings.

The album's title track sees a brilliant reworking of Black Sabbath's 'Changes', but further highlights come courtesy of 'Nobody But You'and 'Things We Do For Love' and the album's gem 'Slow Love'.  It's a very family affair throughout: although the Menahan Street Band provide the music throughout, they do step aside on two tracks to provide shine for The Budos Band ('Ain't It A Sin' and 'Changes') while Saun & Starr provide additional vocals on songs as do the Gospel Queens.

If you've never purchased a Charles Bradley album, this serves as an excellent introduction so while 2016 is already bursting with quality releases, don't let this one slip through your fingers.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

R.I.P. Prince [1958-2016] (+The Top 100 Mix)

In February 2016, I posted my Top 100 Prince songs... and ranked them... in order.  It took months to put together - I genuinely listened to everything so I could be sure my list would be as accurate as possible.  It was a labor of love though and I was happy to do it.

Then someone said "Wouldn't a mix be cool?!"

It was an off-the-cuff remark but my wheels started turning.  And a few weeks later, the 100-song, 128-minute mix was completed and uploaded...

Twenty-four hours later, it was announced that Prince had passed away while at his Paisley Park Recording Studio after suffering flu-like symptoms the week prior.  The news was like a horrible exclamation point on the passion project of the last six months.

I don't really know what to say, or how to process the news...  I used to drive a red 1992 Nissan Micra called Jemima.  I’ve had three cars since then but this one was by far the most reliable car I’ve ever owned.  Imagine how I felt coming home one day to see that someone had bent the top of the passenger door open with a crowbar just enough for them to slip their hand in and simply unlock it.  I wasn’t overly worried about it in as much as there was nothing in the car for anyone to take.  It literally consisted of an AtoZ and three cassette tapes for the car stereo.  There was a Sade album (the name of the album escapes me, but I think it was ‘Love Deluxe’), there was a modern jazz compilation tape, and Prince’s (although, officially, New Power Generation’s) ‘New Power Soul’ album.  Thankfully, none of the tapes were taken in this instance.  However, when I walked past Jemima around three weeks later, and saw the door bent in exactly the same way… I feared the worst.

That’s right.  The swine came back.

And took the tapes.

There’s something about being a Prince fan that can drive you to the point of obsession.  I like to think that that young hoodlum, who broke into Jemima, soon afterwards met a young female hoodlum who he found was a huge Prince fan.  In a bid to impress her, he did the only thing he could, and that was to go back and take my Prince tape.  In a strange way, I like to think ‘New Power Soul’ brought those two lovebirds together and I’m glad to have had a hand in that.  It’s hard to specifically be able to put your finger on it – but I’m sure we all know someone in our lives who pledges allegiance to the Purple Majesty.  And for everyone that knows me, I’m that person.  I spent six months compiling a list of 100 songs then turning it into a mix.  Even I can acknowledge that that's a bit extreme.

Like I said, I don't really know what to say so I'm sorry for this random slew of ramblings.  I did want to leave you with the actual 100-song mix which I'm hoping will act as all I could need to express my sadness at Prince's passing.
Prince might just be the most successful artist ever to walk the planet.  He hasn’t self-destructed or died, and he hasn’t allowed himself to age disgracefully or descend into self-parody.  Despite not having a genuine hit record in years, Prince can always claim he’s Number One at the bank.  He shows no signs of stopping.  Having changed the way music sounds and industry operates, he can rightly claim to be the most prolific and inventive artist of modern times, without having lost sight of his first passion.  After more then 30 years in the business he still maintains that “music to me is a life force.  It’s not what I do.  It’s what I am.”
‘Chaos, Disorder and Revolution’ by Jason Draper. Published by Backbeat Books, 2011

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

"No Turning Back": Eric "E" Cooke [Interview]

Interview with Imran Mirza

The release of the single 'The Turning Point' marks the next stage in Eric Cooke's ever-burgeoning musical journey.

The evolution of the artist who started out as a DJ, then emerged as a singer-songwriter, went on to form one-half of the soul singing duo, Myron & E (with Myron Glasper), has now aligned himself with Germany's prestigious funk outfit, The Mighty Mocambos - and with his first 45 through Mocambo Records - has now unveiled 'The Turning Point'.

With the release of Myron & E's 'Broadway' album on Stones Throw Records in 2013, the pairing of the American vocalists with the dynamic Finnish outfit, The Soul Investigators (famed for their collaborations with Nicole Willis on Timmion Records), proved a winning combination.  And while E's time since 'Broadway' has been more than productive, including tracks with The Gene Dudley Group, The Soul Surfers, and releasing music as Lucid Paradise and as part of The Pendletons, E's pairing with The Mighty Mocambos brings increasing excitement for the next step in that already-mentioned ever-burgeoning musical journey.

The Blue-in-Green Blog was thrilled to have secured time with E to discuss his new single, The Mighty Mocambos, Myron & E and what the future holds going forward...

IMRAN MIRZA: You initially started out as a DJ: was the intention always to transition to singing or did that happen on its own?
ERIC "E" COOKE: I kinda just started singing.  I really got started singing while doing back up vocals with Lateef The TruthSpeaker while being his DJ.  We were a two-man show so I had to do his backing vocals and raps when we were on tour.  After doing that I definitely was more comfortable with singing live on stage.

IM: Who were some of your musical heroes growing up?
E: Roy C, Barry White, Isaac Hayes, Marley Marl, DJ Red Alert, Fresh 3 MC's, Divine Sounds, Toro Y Moi, Paul Robeson, Nate Dogg.

IM: Congratulations on 'Broadway': were you happy with the album's success?
E: Yeah, I'm really happy with it.  It opened a lot of doors for me!  It's also nice to have a release on Stones Throw!  Really good vibes from PB Wolf and the whole crew at that label.

IM: Congratulations also on the new single: how did you come to the attention of Mocambo Records?
E: I got to meet Bjorn [Wagner, The Mighty Mocambos] in Hamburg while I was in town for a DJ gig.  During my time there I had a in-store DJ gig at Groove City Records and the promoter of my show told me that he was friends with Bjorn from The Mighty Mocambos.  I told him it would be great to meet as I was a big fan of his work and record label.  After we met I mentioned that I'd like to work on something if he was into it, so that began the process of us sending tracks and vocals over the internet.

IM: How did you hook up with Ishtar for the single?
E: I met Ishtar in San Francisco, she was singing in an opening band at a gig where I was playing.  We exchanged numbers and talked about possibly working together some time soon.  At that time I was recording some songs with The Gene Dudley Group from London so I asked her if she could sing background vocals on some tracks for me.  After that we started writing and recording songs together and 'The Turning Point' happened to be one of the tunes we did together.

IM: Is a full-length album currently in the works?
E: YES! :)

For more info on E and Mocambo Records, check out:

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

'Family Dinner, Volume 2' by Snarky Puppy [Review]

The Texas-born, New York-based, jazz-fusion ensemble called Snarky Puppy unveiled their tenth album this year, with the second in their collaborative ‘Family Dinner’ series, ‘Volume 2’.

Propelled by the success of their pairing with Lalah Hathaway for Volume 1 (their cover of Brenda Russell’s ‘Something’ earned the collective a Grammy), Volume 2 follows very much in suit with the aesthetic laid out previously: an eclectic and diverse list of collaborators assemble here to have their songs recorded live in front of an incredibly fortunate audience who got to see the magic unfold before their eyes.

“Magic” is a great word to use here too... David Crosby performing ‘Somebody Home’ is beautiful, particularly with his engaging banter with the audience before the song; Laura Mvula recreating ‘Sing to the Moon’ is glorious; Becca Stevens delivers a typically great vocal on ‘I Asked’ and ‘Be Still’; ditto with Chris Turner on ‘Liquid Love’.  Special mention as well to the pop outfit, Knower, who really bring an innovative energy to songs ‘I Remember’ and ‘One Hope’, and a further mention to Snarky Puppy’s dream pairing with Nigel Hall on ‘Brother, I’m Hungry’.

...Yes, that was a mouthful but the album is brimming with talent and incredible music, it feels like I’m doing a disservice by not mentioning as many of the songs and contributors as possible.

I mentioned earlier that this marks Snarky Puppy’s tenth album since 2006 so if the name is new to you, you’ll need to play catch-up quickly as a further album is due from them this year.  Family Dinner Vols 1 and 2 are as good a place to start as any though.

Friday, 1 April 2016

'Urban Hang Suite' turns 20! (+ bonus live review!)

'Urban Hang Suite' - the debut album from soul superstar Maxwell - has the privilege of seeing its 20th Birthday on the 2nd April.

Released in 1996 amidst the new wave of contemporary (or neo-)soul releases, following D'Angelo's 'Brown Sugar' (released in 1995) and preceding Erykah Badu's 'Baduizm' (1997), Maxwell's style and sound drew heavily from early-80s soul and R&B: music from Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Stevie Wonder and Prince were influences Maxwell wore openly on his sleeve.

These influences weren't just evident throughout the music on 'Urban Hang Suite' - Maxwell's whole aesthetic was an exciting throwback for a new generation.  The album's artwork, Maxwell's own giant fro... he was all in.  And we were too.

Spearheaded by the singles 'Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)', 'Sumthin Sumthin' and '...Til the Cops Come Knockin', 'Urban Hang Suite' boasts an awesome lineup of talent including the legendary Leon Ware, who co-writes on 'Sumthin Sumthin', Stuart Matthewman (of Sade and Sweetback glory) who graces much of the album with production and then there's the under sung contribution of Amp Fiddler who plays keyboards throughout.

'Urban Hang Suite' is a landmark album, regardless of which generation of soul music you may lean towards, and surely an essential purchase for even just the casual soul music fan.

Further to our Maxwell special, we've dug up this review from Maxwell's last visit to London, Friday 13th November 2009, following the release of 'BLACKsummer'snight' which you may enjoy...
With it having been 8 years(!) since ‘Now’, having the chance to see Maxwell perform on a stage this side of the pond seemed as unlikely as another studio album, but with the release of ‘BLACK’, my hopes were rekindled, and the dream finally came to fruition as the soul star graced the stage of the Hammersmith Apollo in November 2009.
Having been one of the shining stars of the neo-soul movement in the 1990s, it’s incredible to see the respect that he still commands within the genre that even after the ridiculously long hiatus between releases, he can still fill a ‘sold out’ Apollo at a cost of £45/ticket.
Fans were treated to a bevy of their favourites from past releases, including ‘Sumthin Sumthin’, ‘Get To Know Ya’, ‘Ascension’, as well as the song whose opening chords generated an explosive reaction... ‘This Woman’s Work’, before delving into tracks from his current studio release, with an unexpected energy from the smooth-talking crooner.  Amongst an incredible line-up of musicians, the London audience were also treated to the inclusion of Saunders Sermons and jazz pianist Robert Glasper – who had been touring with Maxwell in the States, so a pleasant surprise for him to cross the Pond as well.
With heart-warming sincerity, in between songs we were thanked more times than I can remember for continuing to embrace him “even after all this time”, but such humility was kicked out the door when it came to performing as the brash lover man declared in song, he wanted “to go down on his knees and eat you like some Japanese”, all to inviting shrieks from the female portion of the audience.
Seeing Maxwell adorn the stage at the Apollo, and hearing the screams of adulation, you can’t help but feel a certain buzz and excitement – no, not from the “Japanese” line – but the type of buzz you get when you know you’re experiencing something special.  And Maxwell is certainly that.  I have no doubts that in 10, 20, 30 years time, his name will be uttered amongst the greats that came before him.