Category: Soul Music

Live Footage: ATO Sessions: Nick Hakim “Bet She Looks Like You”

Up until relatively recently, it had been some since I had written about the Washington, DC-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Nick Hakim; however, 2017 looks to be a big year for the renowned singer/songwriter as his much-anticipated full-length debut Green Twins is slated for a May 19, 2017 release through ATO Records — and if you had stumbled across this site earlier today, you’d remember that Hakim is currently on tour to build up buzz for the new material until its release.

Interestingly enough, as the story goes, Hakim can trace the origins of the material of Green Twins to when armed with the masters for his first two EPs Where Will We Go Part 1 and Where Will We Go Part 2, the DC-born singer/songwriter and guitarist relocated from Boston, where he was based at the time to Brooklyn. And as soon as he got himself settled, he spent his spare time fleshing out incomplete songs and writing and recording sketches and lyrics using his phone’s voice memo app and a four-track cassette recorder. He then took his new, demo’d material to various studios in NYC, Philadelphia and London, where he built up the material with a number of engineers, including frequent collaborator Andrew Sarlo (bass, engineering and production), who were tasked with keeping the original spirit and essence of the material intact as much as humanly possible.

As Andrew Sarlo explained in press notes about the writing and recording process for Green Twins, for many artists, a demo typically serves an extremely rough sketch of what the song could eventually become and sound; however, with the Hakim, the general sense is that the demos are much more like building a holy temple — and as a result, as a producer and engineer, he was tasked to clean, furnish and prepare entrants for a religious experience. Thematically speaking, the material on the album reportedly focuses on unique and rather particular aspects of his life with the bulk of the songs based on specific things he was thinking and feeling at the time he was writing and composing. And as a result, the album consists of a series of different self-portraits — and in a similar fashion to Vincent Van Gogh’s famed self-portraits, the album’s song captures the artist sometimes in broad strokes but frequently in subtle gradations of mood, tone and feeling. Hakim adds, “I also felt the need to push my creativity in a different way than I had on the EPs,” The record draws from influences spanning Robert Wyatt, Marvin Gaye and Shuggie Otis to My Bloody Valentine. We wanted to imagine what it would have sounded like if RZA had produced a Portishead album. We experimented with engineering techniques from Phil Spector and Al Green’s Back Up Train, drum programming from RZA and Outkast, and we were listening to a lot of The Impressions, John Lennon, Wu-Tang, Madlib and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.”

While in town for an intimate and sold out show at Union Pool, Hakim and his backing band recorded a live version of the spectral and achingly confessional “Bet She Looks Like You” for the ATO Sessions at Bushwick’s Market Hotel — and while conveying a visceral heartache and longing, paired with a Quiet Storm-like groove, the song, with repeated listens somehow manages to nod at Marvin Gaye, Bilal and Roy Orbison, thanks in part to his incredibly tight backing band. Speaking of the great Roy Orbison, the live footage is shot in a gorgeous, film noir-like black and white, much like Roy Orbison and Friends: A Night in Black and White.

Live Footage: Marta Ren and the Groovelets Performing an Acoustic Version of Album Track “Smiling Faces”

Perhaps best known for being the frontwoman of the renowned Portuguese breakbeat outfit The Bombazines with whom she recorded and released two full-length albums, as well as contributing her vocals to a number of nationally known acts across Portugal, the Porto, Portugal-born and based vocalist Marta Ren has been a part of her homeland’s music scene since the mid-1990s. However, Ren has long been inspired by the funk and soul sounds of the 60s and over the past couple of years, she decided that it was time for her to go solo and front her own soul and funk-based project under her own name, before eventually hooking up with her backing band The Groovelets.

Now, if you had been frequenting this site over the last few months of last year, you’d recall that Ren and the Groovelets’ debut effort Stop Look Listen was released to critical praise and received airplay from from BBC Radio 6′s Craig Charles, Radio France‘s Francis Viel. Adding to a growing international profile Acid Jazz Records‘ Eddie Piller has also championed Ren and her Groovelets. “So Long” Stop Look Listen’s barn-burning third single was a visceral bit of soul that balanced fury and sensuality with a decided late 60s/early 70s psychedelic feel — in some way nodding at Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking” and James Bond soundtracks.

The Portuguese soul act recently recorded an acoustic rendition of the slow-burning and sensual album track “Smiling Faces” for French radio — and although the live, acoustic rendition leans slightly towards a hushed, jazz standard-like arrangement, the song which features a swaggering, Thelonious Monk-like bass line, some bluesy guitar playing, gentle drum tapping and some ethereal yet soaring organ while allowing room for Ren’s aching vocals, which simultaneously express the longing and profound loneliness of a deeply lovelorn narrator, who recognizes how difficult love can be, especially when they are incredibly unlucky in love — and others seem to constantly stumble upon it.

New Video: El Michels Affair’s Soulful and Cinematic Take on the Wu-Tang

Comprised of founding member, bandleader and primary arranger Leon Michels (saxophone), Homer Steinweiss (drums), Nick Movshon (bass), Thomas Brenneck (guitar), Sean Solomon (guitar), Tobias Pazner (keyboards), Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and Todd Simon (trumpet), the El Michels Affair is a Brooklyn-based All-Star, instrumental soul act featuring members from several renowned, locally-based acts including The Arcs, Menahan Street Band, The Shacks, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Lee Fields and the Expressions. After the release of their 2005 debut Sounding Out the City, the band was paired with Raekwon for a concert organized by Scion and it eventually led to a tour that featured several members of the Wu-Tang Clan. And interestingly enough, touring with the members of the Wu inspired the El Michels Affair’s sophomore effort Enter the 37th Chamber, soul-based, instrumental interpretations of the material off Wu-Tang’s seminal debut Enter the 36 Chambers.

Unsurprisingly, Enter the 37th Chamber has proven to be the band’s most commercially successful album to date, introducing the band to a much wider audience. It’s been several years since the band has released new material, as the members of the band have been extremely busy with their primary gigs, they had some time to reconvene to write and record Return to the 37th Chamber, their breakthrough sophomore effort’s long-awaited follow up. And much like its predecessor, the material will further cement the band’s reputation for soul music interpretations of the Wu Tang’s material for a live band, while paying homage to RZA’s imitable, hazy production; in fact, Michels in his role as producer, recorded the album straight to analog tape, sometimes hitting six generations of tape before it was ready for mixing. Adding to the album’s overall sound, the material possesses the occasional psychedelic flourish, John Carpenter-like synths, power chord-friendly guitar work, the enormous horn sections and traditional Chinese instrumentation in place of most of the vocals and guest spots from Lee Fields and The Shacks’ Shannon Wise. Essentially, while being a tribute to one of hip-hop’s most interesting, challenging producers and artists and his sound, the album finds the members of El Michels Affair picking up on and expanding the cinematic aspects of RZA’s production.

Of course, while Enter the 37th Chamber paid tribute to Enter the 36 Chambers, the El Michels Affair tackles some of the Wu’s beloved classics such as “4th Chamber” and “Wu Tang Ain’t Nuthin ta Fuck Wit,” as well as deeper cuts like Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s “Snakes,” Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse,” and Wu-Tang’s contribution to St. Ide’s legendary early 90s ad campaign, “Shaolin Brew.” Now, as you may remember earlier this month, I wrote about Return to the 37th Chamber’s first single “Tearz.” And that single, which featured guest spots from the aforementioned Lee Fields and Shannon Wise managed to sound as though it paid equal respect to the Wendy Rene original song from which the song’s backing sample came from as it did to the Wu Tang’s own use of the sample — but with subtly psychedelic flourishes.

Return to the 37th Chamber’s latest single “Iron Man” is a cinematic reworking of “Iron’s Theme (Interlude)” off Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele, that expands upon the original’s groove to make it a full-length song — but with martial arts and psychedelic film sound effects.

Directed by artist El Oms, who met Leon Michels though The Arcs and has become a fan of the El Michels Affair, the animated video is a fittingly a martial arts, revenge saga, complete with a couple of trippy flashbacks and a shit ton of bloody mayhem — and I bet it would be make Quentin Tarantino proud. As El Oms explains in press notes “Making this video really brought me back to my younger days. I grew up watching martial art movies and listening to Wu-Tang and when I heard El Michels Affair’s Enter The 37th Chamber I was blown away by the way the album captured those elements and still sounded original. So being able to work on Return To The 37th Chamber was truly amazing. I try to capture those same elements on the ‘Iron Man’ video and give it this originality but still have the old traditional martial arts movie feel to it.”

Comprised of three siblings, twins Alexis (bass) and Zandy Fitzgerald (guitar), along with their brother Darius (drums) and cousin Jasmine Mullen (vocals, guitar), The New Respects are a Nashville, TN-based blues rock act, that has been heavily influenced by the gospel music they were surrounded by — but also by a healthy amount of secular and pop artists including Aretha Franklin, Alabama Shakes, John Mayer and others. Produced by Leagues‘ Jermey Lutito, the Nashville, TN-based quartet’s debut EP Here Comes Trouble is slated for a March 10, 2017 release through Credential Recordings and with the release of the EP’s first single “Trouble,” which has seen recent placements on ESPN’s Major League Soccer coverage, Fox Sports’ Road To The Octagon and TNT’s NBA coverage, as well as praise from NPR World Music Cafe‘s Jewly Hight. And unsurprisingly, as a result, The New Respects’ debut EP may arguably be one of the most highly-anticipated EPs of the first few months of 2017.

Here Comes Trouble‘s second and latest single “Money” is a gritty yet funky and soulful that not only displays The New Respect’s genre-defying sound — a sound which effortlessly meshes blues, arena rock, pop and hip-hop; but it also reveals a band that has an uncanny ability to write an swaggering and anthemic, power chord friendly hook paired with a sinuous bass line, a darting yet funky guitar line, thunderous drumming and Mullen’s powerhouse, pop belter vocals. Sonically speaking “Money” will likely remind listeners of The Black Keys, Robert Randolph and The Family Band and others and while that would be a fair comparison, lyrically the song has struck me as an ironic take on “If I Was a Rich Girl” that not only points out that being filthy rich won’t buy you more time, nor would it buy you much in the way of happiness.  In fact, the song suggests two things that seem to be an anathema in our consumer world — that having money and a lot of possessions actually distracts you from life’s true purpose: to love someone else and to be here now.

Directed by Ry Cox, the artfully shot, recently released music video follows the members of the band as they break into the home of some rich guy as he’s away to play music and invite friends and other associates to the house, along with footage of the band languidly enjoying the fruits of greed and power as they sing the song’s hook. And while being kind of trippy, the video ends with the band disappearing before the rich man’s return.

The quartet will be opening for Robert and The Family Band throughout March. Check out tour dates below.

Tour

Supporting Robert Randolph & The Family Band

3/15 — Cincinnati, OH @ The Ballroom @ Taft

3/16 — Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom

3/17 — Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall

3/18 — Madison, WI @ Majestic

3/20 — Kansas City, MO @ Knuckleheads

3/22 — Fort Collins, CO @ Aggie

3/24 — Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre

3/25 — Denver, CO @ Gothic Theatre

3/26 — Aspen, CO @ Belly Up

Perhaps best known as a member of Charles Bradley’s backing band The Extraordinaires, the late, great Sharon Jones’ backing band The Dap Kings, Lee Fields’ backing band, The Expressions, Antibalas and The Budos Band, who has also collaborated with Mark Ronson and others, the Chicago, IL-born, New York-based trumpeter Billy Aukstik began writing his own soul-inspired compositions and founded Brooklyn-based indie soul label Dala Records. And since founding the label, Aukstik has produced the debut efforts of a handful of locally-based artists including singer/songwriter, John Fatum, The Rad Trads, Michael Harlen, Patrick Sargent and Camellia Hartman, as well as his own solo work under the moniker Billy the Kid.

Dala Records’ latest rlease “Breathing Hard (Over You)”/”Honey Bee” is a split 7 inch single featuring labelmates Camellia Hartman and its founder Aukstik, backed by the Dala Records house band, The Soulful Saints. Hartman is an East Village-born and raised vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, who as a child studied the Suzuki method on violin, bass and guitar at rock ‘n’ roll day camp, trombone in middle school band and a capella in high school — and her contribution to the split 7 inch, “Breathing Hard (Over You)” was recorded and mixed on an 8 track tape machine, which further emphasizes the classic Motown meets Northern soul production. And while making the song sound as though it could have been released as a 45rpm single back in 1964, the production manages to give Hartman’s tender yet playfully coquettish vocals room to express an aching yet somewhat girlish longing and desire.

Aukstik’s contribution “Honey Bee” is a twangy, slow-burning, 70s AM rock meets Muscle Shoals-leaning bit of soul that features Aukstik’s tender falsetto over an arrangement featuring lap steel guitar, Farfisa organ, Maestro Rhythm King drum machine, fuzzy guitar chords and a sinuous hook — and while nodding at psych rock, the song to my years reminds me a bit of Sandra Rhodes’ sadly forgotten Muscle Shoals meets Nashville solo debut, Where’s Your Love Been.

.

 

 

 

 

Now, if you had been frequenting this site over the last part of 2016, you may recall coming across a post on the Oakland, CA-based soul pop quintet Bells Atlas. Comprised of Derek Barber (guitar) Geneva Harrison (drums, percussion, keys) Sandra Lawson-Ndu (vocals, percussion, keys) and Doug Stuart (bass, vocals, keys), the quintet specializes in a sound that’s kaleidoscopic, lushly layered and difficult to pigeonhole as it incorporates elements of indie rock, Afro pop jazz and electro pop. Their trippy, shimmering and atmospheric “Spec and Bubbles” revealed a song that structurally owed a debt to  Hiatus Kaiyote as the song consisted of several, twisting and morphing sections held together by stuttering drumming, a sinuous bass line and Lawson-Ndu’s sultry cooing.

The Bay Area quintet’s latest single “NCAT” will further cement their burgeoning reputation for crafting slow-burning, atmospheric and soulful pop as the song consists of shimmering and bubbling arpeggio synths, stuttering drumming and a rolling bass line paired with Lawson-Ndu’s sultry yet ethereal vocals. And by far, the song may arguably be the sexiest song they’ve released to date, as Lawson-Ndu’s vocals express a visceral, vulnerability and human need — and in some way, the song nods at Quiet Storm-era R&B, Snoop Dogg‘s “Sexual Eruption” and the aforementioned Hiatus Kaiyote.

 

 

Growing up listening to an eclectic variety of music including Patti Labelle, Jill Scott, Bob James, Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo, Bjork and The Black Crowes among others, up-and-coming, Edmonton, AB-born, Toronto, ON-based soul artist Tanika Charles quickly developed a reputation locally as an emerging solo artist, whose puts a modern spin on the classic Motown soul sound — frequently meshing it with swaggering, hip-hop-like beats and deeply, confessional and honest lyrics, reminiscent of Mary J. Blige, Kelis and others. And as a result, within Canada’s soul scene, Charles has largely been considered her country’s next big thing; in fact, interestingly enough, over the past couple of years Charles transformed from being an emerging solo artist to being a commanding performer and bandleader, as well as one of the scene’s staples. Adding to a growing national profile, Charles has collaborated with Estelle, Lauryn Hill and Macy Gray, and has made regular appearances on CTV, Global and CBC Radio.

Produced by Slakah the Beatchild, best known for collaborating with Drake, Charles’ latest single “Soul Run” is the first single off her self-titled, full-length album, slated for an April 7, 2017 release through Italian soul label, Record Kicks, and the single will further cement the Edmonton-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter’s burgeoning reputation for crafting confessional lyrics based around her own personal experiences with “Soul Run” based around Charles’ experience of feeling trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship in rural Canada — until she decided to “borrow” her then fiancée’s car and left for Toronto to start her music career, never looking back. Considering the personal nature of the song, Charles as the song’s narrator expresses regret over her own foolishness that wound up with her being hopelessly trapped in an abusive and fucked up relationship and desperate desire to get away and start over. You can almost picture Charles, jumping into the car with whatever possessions she could manage and hitting the road without an idea of where she was going or what would happen — and yet feeling true freedom to do whatever she wanted.

 

 

 

New Video: The Cinematic Visuals for Lee Fields and The Expressions “Special Night”

If you’ve been frequenting this site over the past couple of years, you’ve likely come across a handful of posts featuring soul singer Lee Fields. Fields has had a nearly 50 year music career, which he can trace back to his first recorded efforts released back in 1969 — and as a result, he has toured with a number of nationally and internationally known acts including Kool and the Gang, O.V. Wright, Hip Huggers, and others. However, despite sharing bills with a number of renowned acts, Fields has largely toiled in a level of obscurity to most audiences with the exceptions of crate diggers seeking deep, funky grooves from the late 60s to mid 70s or so and obsessively completist soul music fans and record collectors. Fortunately for the likes of Fields, Sonny Knight, the late and utterly fantastic Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, the late, great Chuck Brown and others the soul music revival has allowed them to achieve a measure of attention and fame that had long eluded them — or in the case of both Chuck Brown and Sonny Knight, an opportunity to receive attention outside of their particular hometown. And along with that there have been an increasing number of contemporary acts and labels both nationally and internationally releasing new, original material that pushes what soul music should sound like and concern itself with thematically in very different directions.

Along with this latest backing band, The Expressions, which features some of New York’s finest soul musicians — members of the band have been members or have split time with the world famous Dap Kings, Charles Bradley’s backing bands The Extraordinaires and The Menahan Street Band and others — Fields captured the attention of the blogosphere and new fans with 2009’s My World, 2012’s Faithful Man and 2014’s Emma Jean through Truth and Soul Records. And with those three albums Fields and company increasingly pushed their overall sound and lyrical concerns in different directions — Emma Jean featured a gorgeous soulful cover of Leon Russell’s “Out In The Woods,” which managed to draw parallels to Fields’ own experience of arriving in New York as a 17 year-old with only $20 in his pocket and big dreams. Interestingly Fields’ fourth album with The Expressions Special Night mostly focuses on the intricacies of romantic and personal relationships with one exception — album single “Make The World.” a stomping, early 70s James Brown-indebted bit of funk soul, about the need for people to unite and get things right. The album’s latest single, album title track “Special Night” is a slow-burning and tender, psych soul and Quiet Storm-leaning love song in which the song’s narrator expresses being grateful and lucky to stumble upon a wonderful lover, and how he was going to show his lover how grateful he was. Lucky and rare are those who find that kind of love. May we all know that kind of love at some point in our lives.

Directed by Nick Walker, the recently released video for “Special Night” possesses a relatively simple concept — as we follow Lee Fields, using a free-floating dolly shot in a sunny, Southern California grapevine, and of a gorgeous backdrop with a hot air balloon in the background. It’s a subtly trippy yet cinematic video.

Comprised of founding member, bandleader and primary arranger Leon Michels (saxophone), Homer Steinweiss (drums), Nick Movshon (bass), Thomas Brenneck (guitar), Sean Solomon (guitar), Tobias Pazner (keyboards), Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and Todd Simon (trumpet), the El Michels AffairT is a Brooklyn-based All-Star, instrumental soul act featuring members from several renowned acts including The Arcs, Menahan Street Band, The Shacks, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Lee Fields and the Expressions. After the release of their 2005 debut Sounding Out the City, the band was paired with Raekwon for a concert organized by Scion  and it eventually led to a tour that featured several members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Interestingly, touring with the members of the Wu-Tang led to the band’s sophomore effort Enter the 37th Chamber, an effort that consisted of soul-based, instrumental interpretations of the Wu-Tang Clan’s influential debut Enter the 36 Chambers. 

Unsurprisingly, Enter the 37th Chamber has introduced the band and its members to a much wider audience, while being their most commercially successful effort to date. Although the members of El Michels Affair had been busy with their primary gigs, they reconvened to record Return To The 37th Chamber, the highly-anticipated follow- up to Enter the 37th Chamber — and reportedly while reinterpreting and arranging Wu-Tang songs for a live band, Return to the 37th Chamber also pays homage to RZA‘s imitable, hazy production; in fact, Michels in his role as producer, recorded the album straight to analog tape, sometimes hitting six generations of tape before it was ready for mixing. Adding to the album’s overall sound, the material possesses the occasional psychedelic flourish, John Carpenter-like synths, power chord-friendly guitar work, the enormous horn sections and traditional Chinese instrumentation in place of most of the vocals — or in other words, the material balances RZA’s imitable and influential aesthetic with El Michels Affair’s burgeoning reputation for cinematic and swaggering soul.

As far as the material on the new album, the renowned instrumental soul act tackles some of the Wu’s beloved classics such as “4th Chamber” and “Wu Tang Ain’t Nuthin ta Fuck Wit,” as well as deeper cuts like Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s “Snakes,” Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse,” and Wu-Tang’s contribution to St. Ide’s legendary early 90s ad campaign, “Shaolin Brew.” And unlike the previous album, the band invites some of their Big Crown Records labelmates to contribute guest spots; in fact, the first single off the “Tearz”/”Verbal Intercourse” 7 inch — and first single off the forthcoming album features Lee Fields and The Shacks’ Shannon Wise contributing vocals for the El Michels Affair rendition of “Tearz,” a rendition that pays as much homage to the Wendy Rene sample as it does to the Wu Tang while being subtly psychedelic.