Posts Tagged ‘R&B’

Quick Hit or Miss – Mayer Hawthorne, Man About Town

April 12, 2016

81Ht6uzTd6L._SY355_I didn’t even know Mayer had a new album coming out until my wife sent a text to me and our friends who used to live in the “valley” here in LA with a new song she’d heard called aptly, The Valley.  This song is one of the highlights of the new record, so makes sense it would get some radio airplay.

After a brief opening track that oddly reminded me of the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody, this album settles into R&B with an pinch of 80s pop.  A few moments reminded me of Hall and Oates, particularly Book of Broken Hearts.  There’s a few slow jams (Breakfast in Bed and Get You Back) thrown in too.

The Valley has a catchy “oh oh oh” chorus and hand claps that provide a sunny backdrop to a song about a woman trying to escape the “valley” to make it in LA.  My favorite song on the album is the song that comes right before it, Fancy Clothes.  It’s a reggae-tinged song with more horns and guitar than most of the rest of the album.  I think the reason I liked it the most was it stood out as different than the rest of the tracks.

I think that’s my main problem with the album.  It’s good and consistent music with all the songs clocking in between 3:30 and 4 minutes long.  But that consistency can make it a little monotonous on repeated listens.  I’d give it a hit for throwing on in the backyard this summer or cherry-picking a few songs for a summer playlist, but I don’t think this one will keep me coming back.

Here’s Fancy Clothes, one of those songs I’d throw in a playlist:

2015 Year End Picks

December 28, 2015

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Haven’t posted in awhile, but still been listening to a bunch of albums this year.  Here’s some of my favorites from this year.  Quite a few have been on best of lists I’ve looked at, but there’s a few that I liked that I haven’t noticed on these lists so I focused on those.  I’ll split it up by genre.

Rock

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color.  Brittany Howard has got one of the best voices in rock today and her and the band cover a lot of ground in this album, with no missteps across the 12 tracks.  My two favorite tracks are Gimme All Your Love, a screaming stomp of a song, and Miss You, an almost folk-y ballad.

Budos Band – Burnt Offering.  While the Budos Band has produced several great soul instrumental albums, this year they decided to take a chance and make a “rock” record.  It’s not as far a stretch as you’d think.  A groove is a groove, whether it’s R&B or metal and Budos Band can groove.  The Sticks is my favorite song and the whole album is decidedly rocking.

Built to Spill – Untethered Moon.  One of those bands I’d always heard and read about, but just never spent the time to focus on, I happened onto their new release and decided to give it a spin.   I immediately went from this record to their earlier recordings, which I think is a testament to this record, which was their first in 6 years.  Living Zoo is a good representative of the album and the band’s sound in general, lots of guitars and Doug Bartsch’s off-beat, nasally lyrics.

Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home.  The all-female band from Seattle put out the rock album I listened to the most this year.  I think it reminded me of another band I loved in 2014, Parquet Courts.  They don’t quite get the same pace as Parquet Courts, but they bring a ton of attitude, great guitar work and clever lyrics.  Standouts are opener Drone, Why Not (which actually is a fast tempo number) and Joke.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager.  Lewis has a golden voice and I’m not sure I could dislike an album by her.  This year’s release was another fun, rollicking album with Lewis belting out numbers like the title track and my favorite from the album, Just One of The Guys.

Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun. I’d call this brooding psychedelia.  With its chugging riffs that sprawl over the entire record, their third full length seems like it would be the perfect record to soundtrack a nighttime desert drive down the freeway.  The trippily-titled Free The Skull is my favorite.

Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last.  Another band that sometimes gets the psychedelia label, a lot of reverb, garage rock riffs, and John Dwyer’s yips and yowls.  While they usually have songs that are tight and concise, my two favorite tunes from this album are the two longest tracks, Web and Sticky Hulks.

It was a good year for rock.  There were a lot of other good rock releases that are all over the year end lists that are definitely worth a listen: Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit; La Luz, Weirdo Shrine; My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall; Sleater Kinney, No Cities For Love; Spoon, They Want My Soul; Tame Impala, Currents.

Folk and Country

Calexico – Edge of the Sun. Another band that I’ve dabbled in a few songs here and there, but with this year’s album, I went straight to their back catalog after listening to this album. Toeing the line between folk and rock, I’m a big fan of singer Joey Burns’ voice and they flex in some new directions with the great Cumbia de Donde, which follows the other standout track Tapping on the Line, which has an assist from Neko Case.

Joanna Newsom – Divers. Just listened to this after getting it on vinyl as a present for my wife. Beautiful arrangements and Newsom’s voice, which can be a love-it or hate-it proposition, works well with these arrangements.  Kudos too for a well-presented vinyl package, with individual posters of beautiful nature scenes and lyrics for each song.

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material.  A polished country album that still reminds me more of “classic” country-pop than today’s versions.  Musgrave’s is the country version of Courtney Barnett with her sly, witty, conversational lyrics.  The title track, Biscuits, and Family is Family are all really good tracks.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell.  Abandoning the bleeps and bloops of Age of Adz, Sufjan returns to his folk roots with lean guitar providing the backdrop for some of his most beautiful and personal songs.  I saw him perform twice this year, and he beefed up the songs for the road with long, guitar-distorted extensions of those spare arrangements that worked surprisingly well.  He comes on strong out of the gate with tracks 2-4 all delivering a strong emotional punch.

Widowspeak – All Yours. An entirely different album than I was expecting, the fiery guitar band that I saw at SXSW two years ago is replaced with a softer, gentler version.  The guitars are more subdued and the lyrics more at the forefront.  Singer Molly Hamilton’s lush voice works well with that softer approach and it reminded me of Mazzy Star’s 90s output.  Stoned and Coke Bottle Green were my favorites.

Electronic

Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer.  Reining a little of the chirpy vocals of some of his earlier releases, but keeping his ability to create madcap beats, this album bounces and bobs its way through 8 tracks.  A master of the slow build, Sheathed Wings and When I Was Done Dying, will certainly have you dancing.  And if you have a chance to see him live, do it.

Hot Chip – Why Make Sense.  Remarkably consistent, Hot Chip put out another album this year full of pleasant, slightly funky, and always dance-y songs.  Opener Huarache Lights and the electro-funk of Easy to Get are representative of what this album has to offer.

Jamie XX – In Colour.  Taking a break from his more relaxed work with XX, this solo album showcases a more upbeat side of Jamie Smith.  Like Disclosure’s album last year, this is a great electronic album from beginning to end, a cohesive work that is meant to be listened to as a whole.  Obvs, the back-to-back duo of Hold Tight and Loud Places, and back ender The Rest is Noise are all great tracks.

Jazz, R&B, and Hip Hop

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf.  A surprising free release earlier in the year, this is probably the album I played the  most this year.  I think the reasons are: 1) the variety of musical styles on display from jazz, hip hop, and R&B and 2) it’s just a fun album.  Great to throw on in the car or when friends are over. The fact that my two favorite tracks land in the second half of the album, Familiar and Something Came to Me, is testament to the strength of the whole album.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic.  No album all year had a more spot-on title.  This ambitious jazz album, from the saxophonist who was also responsible for a lot of arrangements on the next album I’ll talk about, sprawls over three sides with 8 songs clocking in at over 10 minutes long.  It’s an immersive album that didn’t lose my interest even on those longer songs.  Several of the songs have lyrics and Malcolm’s Theme includes an excerpt from Malcolm X speech that is probably more topical than Kamasi imagined given recent events.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly.  Ranked at or near the top of most year end lists, hip hop’s reigning king followed up his critically acclaimed Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City with a angrier and more determined album.  King Kunta and The Blacker the Berry are raw, confident political statements with Lamar not mincing any words.  Throw in a super-strong opener, Wesley’s Theory, and the 12 minute long closer Mortal Man, and you have a new entry into the canon of classic hip hop albums.

Leon Bridges – Coming Home. Bridges is a 50s/60s soul and R&B throwback and his debut album sounds like it comes from a different time.  Songs like Brown Skin Girl could have been done by Otis Redding and the album-ending ballad The River is a beautiful number.  Hope that he can continue in the same vein as other similar throwback acts like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley.

Miguel – Wildheart.  My personal favorite album of the year.  Miguel is the heir-apparent to Prince as the man who exudes sex in his music.  Start with the cover and move to songs like The Valley and FLESH and you’ll see what I mean.  The man can also belt out a ballad, see Coffee for an example.  Great beats abound as well, I can’t get enough of Hollywood Dreams.  And he even throws in an outsider anthem in What’s Normal Anyway for good measure.

Shamir – Ratchet. Released earlier in the year, I think people slept on this one a little in the year-end lists.  After the slow build of opener Vegas, Shamir hits three homers in a row with Make A Scene, On the Regular and Call It Off.  His unique delivery, reminiscent of Missy Elliott’s ability to latch onto a beat, is suited to the disco and house beats that recall electronic acts like YACHT, Basement Jaxx, and Hot Chip.  Closer Head In the Clouds is a positive anthem that appropriately soars up and out to the end of the album.

Mr. Wright

April 30, 2010

Nothing to Write Home About – Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band from You’re So Beautiful

Well, I had to write about this song.  It’s the namesake of my blog.  I discovered Charles Wright and his band on the excellent Soulsides blog (which I recommend to everyone).  However, like most people, you’re probably familiar with at least one of their songs.  That would be the superb Express Yourself (a separate entry on that song coming soon).  You know it either by the song itself, or more likely the sampling of it for the N.W.A. song of the same name.

Mr. Wright is no one hit wonder.  Wright starts Nothing by asking the band if they’re all ready.  Oh yeah, they’re ready.  Horns, drums, a wooo! from the female backup singers.  Wright coughs, clearing his throat.  Then he begins a vicious song that should be a standard for anyone wanting to break up with someone via song.  “Every time you come into my life/something goes wrong/cause you don’t want to love us true/all you want to do is use me/ that’s all you want to do.”

The song effectively shifts between an uptempo beat with horn stabs, a guitar meandering in the background, and a slightly slower tempo towards the end of the verses where the backing vocals, horns and guitar take an almost orchestral sound (especially round the 1 minute mark).

The last verse ends with Wright saying “cause the time you spend with me is nothing to write home about”, then repeating the song title, turning it over to the backing singers to repeat it a few more times and the funky drums and horns adding the exclamation points.

So why do I love a song with such bitter subject matter so much?  I’m certainly not in a place in my life where I’m feelin’ what Charles is singing about (nor do I plan on feelin’ that way).  I think it’s the juxtaposition of the decidedly happy music (and even Wright’s singing is pretty upbeat) with the biting content of the lyrics.  A withering break-up song that makes you nod your head and want to dance.  Probably even if you’re on the receiving end of it.