Understand What Black Is - The Last Poets

from the album Understand What Black Is (2018)

It is a shame that more people do not know, and appreciate The Last Poets.

The group rose in the 1960s Harlem as part of the Black Nationalist movement, where their message and posture were aligned with leaders like Malcolm X.  Their style was a form of urban beat poetry that lent itself to both the Beat writers and African cadences.  And although they never achieved the notoriety they deserve, their influence is profound.

You can draw a direct line between Gil Scott Heron's classic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and The Last Poets' When The Revolution Comes.  You also hear their influence in the early rap of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, and The Fat Boys.  I would argue that you also hear their influence in the music of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley.

Fifty years after their first performances, The Last Poets are back with an album produced by London dub master, Prince Fatty.  I really dig the title track…

Middle America - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

from the album Sparkle Hard (2018)

At this stage in my life, I have honed my professional craft to a level of mastery that I could not have imagined twenty, or thirty,  years ago.  All of the hard work has paid off.  I am at my most potent, my most valuable.  I am at the pinnacle of my capability.

Yet the world does not recognize it.  It sees me as a middle aged sod, the type who needs to be shed as we transform from the Industrial Age to the Information Age.  People refer to you as overqualified, tell you that you are not "the right fit."  What they are telling you is that you are too old, that you are no longer relevant, that you are out of the picture.

You want to say "fuck off" and kick their asses.  You want to show them just how superior you are.  Yet you hold yourself back.  You fear the ticking clock, the fear that if you take risk - and fail - you will not have the time to financially recover and that the people who count on you will suffer.

So instead, yo…

Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium - The Claudettes

from the album Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium! (2018)

My funky friend, Richie Beans, and I occasionally go into the local record store and buy a CD for the other guy.  It is very fun and I always get turned onto something I dig.

Well, if Mr. Beans and I went into Decatur CD tonight, I would by him Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium! by The Claudettes.  It is my favorite record of the year.

The Claudettes' sound is driven by a rollicking Chicago blues piano sound, the type that Memphis Slim is famous for, coupled with a punk and rockabilly rhythm session, groin' female vocals, and some daring arrangements.

Sometimes, I listen through the entire album focusing on the drumming of Danny Yost.  It is some of the finest drumming that I have heard in years.

My favorite tune is the title track, Dance Scandal At Th Gymnasium.  The pounding piano, swirling beat, and vocal stylings create vibe reminiscent of a runaway mystery train.  It is great American music.

Get ready to dig it, Mr. Beans…

Make It Rain - Shoshana Bean

from the album Spectrum (2018)

For the past few months, my late night groove mix has featured Make It Rain by Shoshana Bean.  The song is a bluesy jazz composition featuring a high-wire vocal performance from the incredibly gifted Ms. Bean.

The song was originally written and recorded by Foy Vance in 2014.  It was subsequently covered by Ed Sheeran.

It is perfect for contemplative time spent alone.  The song is timeless in a way that frees your mind to wander.  I also find it to be uplifting; offering strength through blues.

I offer this song to you for times when clarity of thought is desired (or if you just want to hear a good tune).

Click Here to listen to the album version of Shoshana Bean's cover of Make It Rain.

Click Here to watch a live "acoustic" version of Make It Rain by Shoshana Bean performed at Past Studios in NYC earlier this year.  This rendition allows you to fully appreciate the beauty of the songwriting and the magnificence of the vocalist.

Me & My (To Bury Your Parents) - André 3000

from the social media release Me & My (To Bury Your Parents) (2018)

In the nearly seven years since my dad died, I have made it a priority to visit my mom almost every Sunday.  At first, the goal was to keep her from getting lonely.  Now, it is more about keeping an eye on her health and general well being.

So, for this Mother's Day, I decided to but all the annoying "stuff" behind and simply focus on having fun.  It worked.  We laughed and had a non-stop good time.  I will never forget it.

Driving home, I thought about the relationships I've had with each of my parents and just how fortunate I have been.

Once home, I began reading about - and subsequently listening to - an unexpected Mother's Day release from Outkast's André 3000.  It is a loving song about both his parents, titled Me & My (To Bury Your Parents).  The song features a truly beautiful piano track coupled with great woodwind and vocal performances. It has all the warmth and magic of a S…

Coolin' Out - Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

from the album Tearing At The Seams (2018)

A funky friend shot me note from the Milwaukee airport a few days ago.  This thru me into a cavalcade of precious memories of my MKE days, rambling around the fashionable east side, listening to great music up and down Brady Street.

That great place on a great lake was the first stop on my dirty gondola's magical tour.  From there it has been zig zag wandering like a coked-up armadillo  From Moscow to Manila.  Sydney to SoHo.

All of those places are dear to my heart, but few more so than Denver.  From my graduation road trip to that last glass of red wine, I have some beautiful memories of that city.

I think of them as I listen to Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats play Coolin' Out.  They are a Mile High City band with a kicking horn section and a strong sense of blue-eyed soul.  Their music makes me want to grab that girl with the sweetest smile, hold her tight, and dance 'till the end of time.

Click Here to listen to Cooli…

This Is America - Childish Gambino

from the single This Is America (2018)

If somebody held a gun to my head and asked me to name the most important song of the past fifty years, I would say The Message by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.

The reason is that the song not only depicted the state of things-as-they-are, it also provoked a meaningful conversation.  I believe that so much of my resistance to future hip-hop and rap songs is that they largely fail to provoke the conversation quite the same way.

This is America is the most consequential conversation starter that I can think of since The Message, particularly in the context of its music video.

Click Here to watch the music video to This Is America.  It will prepare you for the discussion that is surely to come.

City Looks Pretty - Courtney Barnett

from the album Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018)

I have been spending a lot of time listening to 70s and 80s rock bands with female singers.  Bands like The Pretenders, Blondie, and The Patti Smith Group.  It is amazing how much great material they put out, record after record.  Amazing.

When I look at current female artists, the one who continually impresses me is Courtney Barnett.  The hits just keep coming...

City Looks Pretty is the lead single on forthcoming album.  It rocks, it has her trademark vocals, and also closes with a cool downtempo breakdown.

For many artists, this would represent a high-water mark.  But for Courtney Barnett, it s just another day at the office.

She deserves to be in the same conversation as Chrissie, Deborah, and Patti.

Click Here to watch the official video for City Looks Pretty by Courtney Barnett.

Click Here to read my December 2013 blog post on History Erasure by Courtney Barnett.

Click Here to read my March 2015 blog post on Depreston by Courtney Bar…

Bad Dreams - Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson

from the EP Apart (2018)

I dig it when movie stars sing with rock bands.  Bridget Bardot, Catherine Denueve, even Gwyneth Paltrow.

On Bad Dreams, Pete Yorn sings with Scarlett Johansson.  This is not the actress' first foray into song.  In 2012, she sang a duet on the the delightful cover Bonnie & Clyde with Lulu Gainsbourg.

Bad Dreams is a cool tune with a 90's indie-alternative vibe.  I really like the way the vocals fit together.  Good stuff.

Click Here to watch the music video for Bad Dreams by Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson.

Click Here to read my November 2012 blog post on Bonnie & Clyde by Lulu Gainsbourg, featuring Scarlett Johansson.

Fists Of Fury - Kamasi Washington

from the album Heaven and Earth (2018)

My friend Brett is an accomplished DJ on a streaming music station.  The other night, we were riding Uber to a Brian Jonestown Massacre show in East Atlanta, talking about playlists.  I asked him how he managed to produce three-hour show after three-hour show.  My mixes sometimes take months to produce.

He said that his secret is not thinking about it.  His method involves picking a song, listening to it, and then picking a song that sounds real good following it.  He always plays one of the first two - or three - to come to mind; that way it feels more real.

Ultimately, Brett is dismissing structure.  His eyes are wide open. He scoffs at predisposition.  He simply kicks back, listens to his jam, and asks "What sounds good next?"  Then he plays it.  And it works every time.

Can you apply that same approach to a song's structure?  Lay down a groove and a vibe, noodle it out a little bit, then switch to whatever new groove and vibe yo…

Mo Light - 47Soul

from the album Balfron Promise (2018)

The iPhone has rendered a lot of things obsolete.  One of those things is the anthropologist.

With our massive digital footprints, future generations will know all about us by simply exploring our record.  Every element off our lives is being captured.  Nobody will need to guess.

Funny thing is that we are the first generation to be recorded this way.  From the perspective of a curious person - say four hundred years from now - we are as far back as you can go, digitally.

Think of the power we have.  And responsibility.  We get to frame how future people view earlier civilization and culture,  They will know our tendencies and sounds in a way that we cannot "know" previous cultures and people.

So, our digital legacy truly matters.  What will it be?

Nature and art form a good foundation.  Music and dance makes it even better.

Let's shine.

Click Here to listen to Mo Light by 47Soul.

Get To Know - Cosmo's Midnight

from the single Get To Know (2018)

So much of what is interesting in music relates to the intersections of diverse genres and subgenres.  This is where new possibilities are born.

The greatest catalyst for this today is electronic music.  It seems as though every type of music becomes more interesting when it is combined with electronica.  Dance, jazz, hip-hop, alternative, and even classical.  You name it.

Get To Know by Cosmo's Midnight sits at the intersection of electronica and R&B.   I dig the song's tempo, which is slower than the song sounds.  This gives the two musical styles a real chance to meld.  You feel it in the buoyancy of the beat.  Doesn't it sound round?

I also dig how the R&B vibe of the breakdowns set the stage for the beat's return.  This is such a simple and binary song, that works because of how good the two parts sound together.  This is also due, in no small part, to the guest vocals of Winston Surfshirt.

Take a close listen to this song…

Max Lush Carlos - Godriguez

from the album Vol. 1 '14-'18 (2018)

I am most attracted to talented people with strong work ethics.  They grind it out, day after day, believing in both themselves and a brighter tomorrow.

My friend Gerry lives in NYC.  At 50, he decided to enroll in law school, full-time.  This week, he is taking his final exams ahead of graduation.  Go, Gerry.  You took a giant chance, gave it your all, and are watching it pay off.  Woo-hoo.

Other friends are still navigating obstacles, bearing burdens, and sometimes struggling to stay true to themselves.  Still, they never quit.

I am inspired by each of them.

Click Here to listen to Max Lush Carlos by Godriguez

Incidental Boogie - U.S. Girls

from the album In A Poem Unlimited (2018)

I was recently approached by a tribute band asking if I would be interested in playing bass.  Although tribute bands are not my thing, this group consists of some funky friends and they are playing tunes by The Pretenders.  I dig that.

So, this weekend I spent some time learning the bass part for My City Is Gone.  It reminded me of the power of groove and tone.

Groove is a mighty force.  It creates a foundation for a song.  Other instruments play off the groove.  The groove is also unforgiving.  There are two objectives of playing the bass: establishing the groove and maintaining the groove.  Maintaining a groove is a challenge.  It requires chops and stamina.  It the groove falls apart - even for a single note - the entire song falls apart.

Tone also matters, particularly when playing a popular song.  Everyone familiar with the bass line to My City Is Gone not only knows every note, but how that note is supposed to sound.  Getting it perfect …

Weird Thought Thinker - Joshua Hedley

from the album Mr. Jukebox (2018)

At some level, every artist is playing a character.  I mean, Johnny Cash never "shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die," did he?

But at some other level, every song must have some kind of autobiographical tie.  Every good song, at least?

Weird Thought Thinker is a not just a bit autobiographical, it is a self-portrait.  This is Joshua Hedley singing into the mirror.  I really like where he takes this song, but what I really dig is that he is playing a western waltz.  Of all the genres and subgenres of music, he chose a western waltz.  What does this say about the person at his core?

Is he a man out of time?  Is he a cornball romantic?  Or is he a dusty troubadour, rambling about, singing his tune?

What style of music would you chose for your self-portrait?   New Wave?  Folk?  Rap?  It is interesting to think about.  Hmmm.

Click Here to watch Joshua Hedley perform Weird Thought Thinker.