New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: sharon jones

Lakecia Benjamin Invents a Brand New Soul Sound

Ever see some generic corporate band or singer on tv and wonder to yourself if the backing musicians are content to play cliches all the time…or if they have secret lives where they pull off their masks and play real music? Saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin is one of those players. She’s toured with the kind of acts you hear in the laundromat – and also with Stevie Wonder. Last month, Motema released Retox, Benjamin’s debut album as a leader with her band Soul Squad, and it’s eclectic to the extreme, something you would expect from a musician who’s played as many styles as she has. Though drawing deeply on the classic sounds of James Brown, Maceo Parker, Sly and the Family Stone and the Meters, the album also includes several tracks that mix in a more current-day vibe. It won’t alienate those who’re satisfied with John Legend or Erykah Badu, but it’ll satisfy diehard fans of real oldschool artists from Sharon Jones to George Clinton.

It’s a blend of vocal and instrumental joints. Along with the blissfully peaceful, atmospheric Dreams, there are some serious party jams: the band’s signature, P-Funk flavored opening track, SoulSquad, which evolved out of a jam at a concert soundcheck; Maceo, a tribute to funky sax legend Maceo Parker that blends vintage JB’s with 70s P-Funk; and the horn-driven groove Get Down, a rousingly successful attempt to mix a 60s go-go feel with James Brown, right down to the fat but simple bass groove and tight, punchy horn riffs.

The rest of the tracks cover a lot of ground as well. Keep Talkin’, a casually seductive duet between Amp Fiddler and Tracey Nicole, mashes up a sweet mid 60s-style soul melody with more ambitious 70s stylings. Share My Life reaches for more of an early 90s soul/hip-hop feel, featuring airy, carefree vocals from Jacoria Marzett and a cameo from rapper Whosane over swirling, summery ambience. My Love features a nuanced, Sarah Vaughan-esque vocal by Krystle Warren, while Mavis Swan Poole sings Human Being, a hypnotically echoey jazz/funk fusion that brings to mind Digable Planets.

With its wickedly catchy hook, Jump and Shout holds nothing back, a driving but sultry kiss-off anthem: Benjamin had been looking for a singer to channel her lyrics’ righteous rage and when she heard Chinah Blac singing at a house party, she realized she’d found a match. The easygoing, satisfied, boudoir-pop song Smile bounces along with lead vocals by Maya Azucena and one of Benjamin’s signature lush, balmy horn charts – and an exquisitely warm, direct alto sax solo. And Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing pays homage to Benjamin’s longtime pal Stevie Wonder: Benjamin speeds it up, reinventing it for the dancefloor with latin sabor and a tight clave beat.

The closing track, Slow Juice originated as a studio mistake: when Benjamin heard an earlier composition being played back at halfspeed, she realized that she’d stumbled upon a tremendous slow groove. So she took out the horns and vocals and turned the new track into a sly, sultry downtempo/trip-hop anthem, a platform for Benjamin to subtly flex the jazz chops she’d originally honed as a teenager playing with Rashied Ali and the Clark Terry Big Band. Benjamin’s next NYC gig with this band is 8/20 at the Red Rooster, 310 Lenox Ave. (125/126), time/$TBA; she’s at the big room at the Rockwood the following day, 8/21 at 8:30 PM for $10.

Sweet Soul Grooves from the Brothers Goldman

Bay area retro soul groovemeisters the Brothers Goldman’s album Fonkology came out at the tail end of last year. It’s a party record, a laid-back mix of 60s-style instrumental grooves and also a handful of vamps with vocals, like a cross between the Meters and Booker T. & the MG’s with a little early James Brown thrown in. That may seem like ridiculously high praise, but those are the big influences that bandleader/guitarist Bill Phillippe goes back to again and again here. While the production, the grooves and the tunes are strictly oldschool, Phillippe has an interesting, individual style that mixes biting blues with casual funk: he doesn’t nick Steve Cropper licks. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Wagar and drummer Joe O’Loughlin swings the slow stuff and keeps the more upbeat stuff simple and in the pocket, while organist Wil Blades – a frequent Billy Martin collaborator – switches between lush washes of big chords and wry, dancing, staccato punches. And the horn section of saxophonist Joe Cohen, trumpeter/trombonist Joel Behrman and trumpeter Will Magic – whose slowly crescendoing solo on the album’s fifth track is one of the high points here – punch in and then hang back until it’s time to hit it again, hard.

The most interesting, original track here is a vocal number with a don’t-mess-with-me message, a bittersweet tune and some delicious Memphis soul horn charts. The most reverential one is a homage to the Meters that gives Phillippe a long launching pad for a chill guitar solo that slowly and methodically brings the energy all the way up. Most of the tracks go with a long, hypnotic vamp that finally turns around quickly on the chorus, although a couple of cuts switch unpredictably from slinky soul to edgy funk and in one case, a shuffling New Orleans beat. As the Meters would do, much of the time the whole band, or at least the guitar, organ and bass all run the hook together as a song picks up steam: they know that catchy hooks are catchy because they’re simple. People who need booming subsonics to rattle their windows might find the sound a little thin; likewise, fans of the classics from the 60s, or acts like Sharon Jones, will love the analog vibe these guys bring. It’s a great soundtrack for a rooftop cookout, a fire escape smoke session or just a lazy Sunday afternoon.

A Rare Soul Gem by Mickey Murray Finally Gets an Official Release

Boutique label Secret Stash Records began as a self-release project for a couple of Afro-Peruvian folk projects. Since then they scored a mighty coup with the first American version of one of the iconic albums of chicha (the inimitably Peruvian blend of surf music, psychedelic rock and a million south-of-the-border sounds), Los Destellos’ 1971 classic Constelacion. One of their latest rediscoveries is also a doozy, and like Constelacion, it may be the first time it’s seen an official release in the US, a crime since it was recorded for the label that James Brown made famous. Soul singer Mickey Murray’s People Are Together goes back to 1970. Sadly, its Sam Cooke-inspired title track and its message to the entire world to “stop this discrimination thing” and stir up “a big old melting pot” reputedly met with fervent resistance from urban radio at a time when defiant messages of black power and solidarity were all the rage (and at point in history, there was every reason why they should have been). It appears that the label withdrew the record at that point, effectively putting Murray’s career trajectory on ice.

Murray’s vocal style is often raspy and fervent in a Wilson Pickett vein, but he can also be elegant like Otis Redding. The band, and the arrangements are primo. It may not be true that they don’t make records like this anymore (Sharon Jones, the One and Nines and Spanglish Fly all mine a similar deep molasses analog sound), but there aren’t a lot of them. The bass here sounds like it’s been amped up a little in the remastering, which is fine, because the groove is laid-back yet penetrating: a hollowbody Vox played through an old tube amp maybe?

And the tracks are strong, and sound older than their turn-of-the-70s vintage. Try a Little Harder features ornate hammer-on soul guitar, a slowly burning brass arrangement and incisively minimalistic piano. Deadric Malone’s Ace of Spades has a vintage Curtis Mayfield vibe – it would have made a great blaxploitation movie theme. I Found Out, with its funky Rhodes piano and staccato guitar, works a mid-60s JBs vibe, while the band gives Money – the future Flying Lizards hit – a psychedelic Memphis funk treatment.

They go back to the Godfather of Soul for Fat Gal’s insistent, bass-driven pulse, “all meat and no potatoes,” as Murray puts it. There’s a brand-new dance, The Buzzard, complete with moves, growls and a shout-out to Murray’s hometown of Augusta, Georgia; there’s also a bizarrely spot-on critique of suburban sprawl, Explosive Population, clocking in at a brief minute and 46 seconds. Murray’s version of The Fever goes for a hastily shuffling feel with organ and latin-influenced percussion in lieu of Peggy Lee boudoir ambience. The album winds up with a blues-tinged talking-soul vamp and a surprisingly hard-rocking closing track with fuzztone bass and wah guitar. In addition to the usual digital formats, the album is available on limited-edition high-quality vinyl: fans of oldschool soul are in for a treat. RIYL: James Brown, Lee Fields, Charles Bradley, Willie Hightower, Howard Tate and other underrated 60s/70s soul crooners who’ve recently gotten a well-deserved second look.