Tag Archives: Soul music

Music To Listen To This Summer

Each season has their own soundtrack and summer is no exception.  There are numerous albums I listen to in the summer, and find perfect for days when you just can’t seem to cool off.  So here’s my selection of albums to listen to and kick back to.  (Note: I exclude some obvious choices such as Springsteen.)

Elvis CostelloGet Happy!!

Though King of America and Imperial Bedroom might be better albums, Get Happy!! is Costello’s most listenable album from front to back filled with R&B and soul styled songs with a punk twist.  The songs move along at breakneck speed (as do some of the songs) leaving the listener with barely any time to soak in the subtleties. Even when the songs are mean-spirited, the music is sheer fun.  What comes across though is Costello’s melodies and flawless songwriting, making it the perfect soundtrack for a summer day.

Outkast – Speakerboxxx

When Outkast’s double album first came out, most of the press focused on Andre 3000’s half, The Love Below.  As it turns out, Speakerboxxx turns out to be the better of the two, as Big Boi flirts with fast-paced beats, swing and jazz influences and George Clinton-style funk.  And like the rest of the albums on this list, there’s no filler – it’s genre -hopping music that’s perfect for nights with intense heat that never seems to let up.

The Gourds – Blood of the Ram

If you’re outside grilling, and drinking a beer, Blood on the Ram should be an essential addition.  It’s a combination of bluegrass, Band-style Americana, and alt-country.  Each song is a masterpiece in Southern Boogie and sing-alongs.  Songs such as “Do 4 U”,  “Lower 48” and “Cracklins” are designed to get you off your chair and dance.  And if you don’t feel that way, your humanity might come into question.  Plus where else can you sing every single state in the lower 48?

Creedence Clearwater RevivalChronicle

For a long time, I resisted getting this collection because practically every single on this collection is burned into the consciousness of every fan of classic rock.  But song for song, you can’t really ask for a better greatest hits collection.  With a a mix of down home rock and memorable songs, Chronicle feels like a lazy summer day.  And if it’s really hot, let CCR do the hard-work and sweat for you as they tear through their classics.

Al GreenThe Absolute Best

For me, Al Green has the best soul voice anybody’s side of Sam Cooke, and this collection as the title suggests, offers nothing but his best.  There’s straight-up soul classics – “So You’re Leaving”, “Strong as Death (Sweet as Love)”, funk-rock – “I’m a Ram”, “Driving Wheel”, and soul-jam classics – “Look What You For Me”.  Perfect for relaxing, with a strong drink in your hand as the day winds down.

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Albums Worth Revisiting: “Ultraglide in Black” – The Dirtbombs

I wrote about the Dirtbombs a few months back, placing them among my “Top 20 Concerts List“.   Ultraglide In Black, an album consisting of (mostly)  old soul and funk songs – (“Your Love Belongs Under a Rock” is the only original).The album will turn 10 this week, so now is the perfect to write about this under-rated gem.  Like the songs that The Dirtbombs tackle here, Ultraglide in Black is a full-on party album.

The Dirtbombs attack these song with punk furor, but never taking away what made the originals so great and timeless. It would be easy to suggest that The Dirtbombs were trying to put a contemporary spin on these songs, but the album plays more like musicians playing songs they love, because they want to.  With two drummers and two bassists, The Dirtbombs have turned these covers into tightly controlled jams, that lie somewhere between absolute chaos and sheer enthusiasm.  Singer Mick Collin’s voice in an instrument in itself.  He’s clearly in command here, pushing his bandmates as he shouts his way through J.J. Barnes’ “Chains of Love”.  Elsewhere on, “Kung Fu”, he croons in a soulful voice that is more than homage to the music that has clearly inspired him.  Smokey Robinson’s “If You Can What” is a sing-along fury, that nearly flies out of control.  Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City” is given a slow, fuzzed out treatment, that sounds like a cross between funk and the noisy experiments of the Velvet Underground.

Ultraglide in Black is the sound of a great band deciding for one drunken night that they are the best soul and funk cover band.  And with one listen to the album, you’d be crazy to think otherwise.

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The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade – 2. Kanye West

Kanye West begins his 2010 song Power with line: “I’m living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it, doing it better than anybody you ever seen do it,”   It’s the public personality of Kanye West put to music – a song full of boasts, and shots at his critics.  Yet, at the end of the song as the chanting and electro-rock beat that drives the song dies down, West pulls back from the egomaniac we know – and admits that death seems comforting –  “it would be a beautiful death, dropping out the window”.  It’s no surprise that West would use a choir chant as the background like he did with “Jesus Walks”.  It’s a sonic link between the struggles of earth, and ultimately salvation.

The struggle between his ego and his insecurities is at the heart of some of West’s best music – “Through the Wire”, “Jesus Walks”, “Stronger”, “Runaway” etc. Bragging has always been a favorite past-time of many rappers, and while Kanye does plenty of that – he’s not afraid to shed his skin.  There’s a reason why Kanye never took a stage name – he’s never had to create a persona.  From the outbursts to his music, Kanye is telling his audience and his critics exactly who he is.  Even the detour into his tortured psyche – 808s & Heartbreak was interesting and bold (even if it didn’t reach the heights of his previous albums.)  Even through the auto-tuned vocals, West revealed a side of himself that few rappers (and even other musicians) have dared. It’s the hip-hop equivalent of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band – the soundtrack to a man who’s witnessing himself spinning out of control.  Time has been kinder to this album – it’s become the blueprint for what can now considered to be “emo-rap” influencing other artists, particularly West’s protege Kid Cudi.

But what really sets West apart from other artists, is his ear for music and sound.  Sampling has always been a tool for hip-hop, but West is one of the few producers to actually master it.  Instead of just sticking a sample in the song – West uses samples from all over the music world, particularly soul that become the driving force behind his beats.  Who else would think of using “Diamonds Are Forever” as a hook?  “We Major” contains of West’s best lyrics, but it’s really constant horns that make the song truly memorable.  “All Of The Lights” is a collage of sounds (horns, weird beats, over 40 vocalists) that on paper shouldn’t work, but has already become something of a classic.   The piano of  “Runaway” (perhaps West’s best song) pulls you into his dark twisted fantasy where the douche-bags and assholes deserve toasts. This is even before the song take a left turn into 3-minutes into a mix auto-tuned vocals, distorted guitars, and violin turning the song into a perfect mix of traditional instruments, and post-modern synthetic sounds.

Throughout the past decade, West has constantly defined what records can sound like.  His latest offering My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has been called “the Pet Sounds of hip-hop” for its scope, vision, and sound.  His personality, he can sometimes be insufferable.  But West not only pushes himself, but all of music.  He’s a true visionary, whose influence will continue for years to come.  As West himself says, “no one man should have all that power”.

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Soul Music

If you’re looking for a good introduction to Soul Music, I’d suggest the four Disc Boxed set Soul Spectacular! The Greatest Soul Hits of All Time  It’s slightly pricey, but totally worth it.  A few Christmases ago, I was given a $50 gift card to Record & Tape Traders (which sadly by the time I move down to Charles Village that location has closed).  I’m not sure about anyone else but when I’m given a gift card, my mind goes blank.  Me, the person who always want to buy music, is totally blank.

I thought about buying the Phil Spector boxed-set Back to Mono, but it seems to be out of print.  (I wonder why.  But seriously, if anyone can help me out with that – I’d be greatly appreciate it.)  I decided to go for Soul Spectacular, because even though I do love soul music, my collection was severely lacking in that department.  Ever since I go it, it’s been on my “go to” list for whenever I can’t decide on what to listen to.  And believe me, this happens.  

Among the highlights:

Stand By Me – Ben E. King.  Everybody should have a copy of this song.  King’s voice is both wounded and hopeful.  Most romantic and love songs seem cheesy to me, but this is probably the “Amazing Grace of Soul”.  No hyperbole.  

Heat Wave – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas.  Just as it titles suggests – the perfect jam for a warm day.  Propelled by pounding drums and piano this song never lets go.  And it’s not just your regular call and response song, either.  The last 30 seconds contain some of the best “yeahs” ever put to vinyl.

Where Did Our Love Go – The Supremes.  Is there any other song that relies on the hand-clap more than this song?  (It also contains foot-stomps as well.)  One of Diana Ross’s best vocal performances, which is interesting because it was originally supposed to go to Gladys Horton of The Marvelettes.  

I Want You Back – The Jackson 5.  This song is little more funk than the rest, but who cares?  It’s not as popular as ABC, but the ad-libbing of Michael Jackson makes it worthy inclusion alone.

You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.  One of the best famous intros in soul music – with its famous bass.  Anyone who tries to come up with Top 10 Bass Songs and doesn’t include this one doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  

One quibble with the boxed set – Ray Charles’  What’d I  Say.  While it contain the longer version at 5:26.  So you do get the famous call and response – it’s still not the complete version.

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