Category: Soul Music

 

I’ll be pretty busy today, as I’ll be in Coney Island for an annual rite of summer here in New York City — The Mermaid Parade. I’m sure that there’ll be some Instagram posts until I actually get a chance to edit the photos — but in the meantime, let’s get to the business at hand, right? Now, over the past 18 months or so, I’ve written quite a bit about the Paris-born, London-based singer/songwriter Sophie Baudry, whose solo recording project Million Miles is the culmination of a life-long love affair with soul music.

After completing her studies at  Berklee College and a stint as a recording engineer and studio musician in New York, Baudry returned to London, where she felt an irresistible pull to write music inspired by Ray Charles and Bill Withers.  On an inspired whim, Baudry, took a trip to  Nashville, where she spent her first few days wandering, exploring and reaching out to strangers, as though she were saying “I ’m new here. I’m a songwriter and I’m looking for like-minded people to collaborate with.” As the story goes, Baudry wound up having chance meetings with local songwriters and producers Robin Eaton and Paul Eberson and within an hour or so of their meeting, they began writing material that eventually became the French-born, British-based singer/songwriter’s Million Miles debut EP, Berry Hill, which was recorded over the course of a year during multiple sessions at Robin Eaton’s Berry Hill home studio. And from EP singles “Can’t Get Around A Broken Heart” and “Love Like Yours,” Baudry quickly received attention across the blogosphere, as well as this site, for an easy-going yet deliberately crafted, Sunday afternoon, Soul Train-like soul that nodded equally at the aforementioned Bill Withers and Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.

Baudry’s latest single is the folksy and effortlessly soulful “If Only,” and while being a fitting vehicle for her equally effortless vocals, the hook-driven track is centered around a loose, jam-like arrangement of  funky, Bill Withers-ike strummed guitar, twinkling keys and gentle yet propulsive drumming and a funky bass line and while being an incredibly self-assured track that reveals an artist who is expanding upon her sound and approach, the song evokes the swooning pangs of meet-cute first love, but from the perspective of a narrator, who is over it and too busy to care — or so she tells herself. In some way, the song’s narrator takes on a tough veneer to protect herself from the inevitable. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives and as a result, the song manages to be warmly familiar sonically and thematically.

 

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New Video: Nana Adjoa Returns with the Mesmerizing and Intimate Sounds and Visuals for “Three”

Over the past few months I’ve written quite a bit about  Nana Adjoa, an up-and-coming Dutch-Ghanian singer/songwriter, who began to receive attention across the European Union and elsewhere with the release of her debut Down at the Root, Part 1, and as you may recall Adjoa was accepted at the prestigious Amsterdam Conservatory, where she would study jazz  — electric bass and double bass; however, she found the experience to not be what she had always imagined it would.  “It was very much like school,” she says in press notes. “We thought we wanted to go to the most difficult department, that we wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t a very fun experience.” Interestingly, around the same time, the Amsterdam-born and-based singer/songwriter began to experience a growing divide between the restrictive and theoretical compositions she was studying and the melodic, free-flowing music she’d play while outside of the school environment. Adjoa quickly began to realize that pursing a solo career was the direction she needed to take, and so she formed a band and record her original songs, which has resulted in the attention grabbing Down At The Root Part 1 and the soon-to-be released Down At The Root Part 2.

“Honestly,” Down at the Root Part 2‘s first single was an effortless and breezy affair that seemed indebted to Simply Bill-era Bill Withers, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and others, driven by an infectious hook and a lush melody. The EP’s second single, “Part Of It,” much like its predecessor was centered around a lush and plaintive melody, a sinuous and propulsive bass line, and arguably the most straightforward and honest lyrics of the entire EP, with the song focusing on the desire to fit in when you’re an outsider. “Three,” the EP’s aptly titled third single is a stripped down and intimate song in which Adjoa’s lovely and tender vocals are accompanied by simply strummed guitar and some fluttering electronics, which will further the Dutch-Ghaniaan singer/songwriter’s reputation for writing mesmerizing and effortlessly soulful, and thoughtful pop. 

New Audio: Nana Adjoa Returns with an Atmospheric, Soulful, and Straightforward New Single from Forthcoming EP

Last month, I wrote about Nana Adjoa, an up-and-coming Dutch-Ghanian singer/songwriter, who began to receive attention across the European Union and elsewhere with the release of her debut Down at the Root, Part 1. Now, as you may recall Adjoa’s was accepted at the prestigious Amsterdam Conservatory, where she would study jazz (electric bass and double bass); however, she found the experience to not be what she had always imagined it would.  “It was very much like school,” she says in press notes. “We thought we wanted to go to the most difficult department, that we wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t a very fun experience.” Around the same time, the Amsterdam-born and-based singer/songwriter began to experience a growing divide between the restrictive and theoretical compositions she was studying and the melodic, free-flowing music she’d play while outside. Adjoa began to realize that pursing a solo was the direction she needed to take, and so she formed a band and record her original songs, which has resulted in the attention grabbing Down At The Root Part 1 and the forthcoming Down At The Root Part 2.

“Honestly,” Down at the Root Part 2‘s first single was an effortless and breezy affair that seemed indebted to Simply Bill-era Bill Withers, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and others, as the song reveled a self-assured artist beyond her years, who can craft a song that’s driven by an infectious hook and a lush melody — and as Adjoa explained in press notes, the song is what she considers an “outsider track” that grew from a simple piano backing into its current, vibey, jazz-soul arrangement. “I didn’t even think it was going to make the record because it felt so different from the rest,” the Dutch-Ghanian singer/songwriter says. “I guess it’s about how people are scared of the possibility of something bad happening. And that fear is really strange because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Down At The Root, Part 2’s second and latest single is the slow-burning and atmospheric “Part Of It,” a track centered around a lush and plaintive melody, a sinuous and propulsive bass line and arguably the most honest and straightforward lyrics of the EP I’ve heard, as the song focuses on the desire and need to fit in when you’re a complete outsider.

 

New Video: Up-and-Coming Dutch Singer/Songwriter Nana Adjoa Releases Symbolic Visuals for Soulful Single “Honestly”

If you follow me through the various social media platforms, you’d know that I’ve had an absolutely epic time during my first two days in the Windy City — and everyone I’ve met has been a wonderful and kind ambassador to their hometown. Man, right now, I feel as though Chicago can’t do me wrong. But on to the business end of things  . . . 

Nana Adjoa is an up-and-coming Dutch-Ghanaian singer/songwriter, whose father emigrated to Amsterdam in the 1980s and eventually married the Amsterdam-born and-based singer/songwriter’s “very Dutch” mother. Growing up, Adjoa spent a portion of her childhood in the rough and tumble, working class Biljmer neighborhood, a section once described by a local police chief a “national disaster area.” In press notes, Adjoa describes her upbringing as being fairly liberal until her parents’ divorce and their subsequent embrace of Christianity. “The second part off my growing up was with some Christian values, but by this point, I was getting to the age of making up my own mind,” the Dutch-Ghanaian singer/songwriter recalls in press notes. “It was a bit too late for me.” Eventually, there was a rift within her family with the Christians (Nan’s father, mother and brother) on one side and the non-Christians (Nana, her sister and the rest of the extended family) on the other. Understandably religion, as well as questions about her own gender identity and of being a black person in an extremely white environment have been regularly occurring themes and concerns in her work. “In fact, I think I still unconsciously use a lot of Christian ideas and metaphors in my music,” she adds.

Adjoa was accepted at the prestigious Amsterdam Conservatory to study jazz (electric bass and double bass); however, she found the the experience to not be what she had always imagined it would. “It was very much like school,” she says. “We thought we wanted to go to the most difficult department, that we wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t a very fun experience.” Around the same time, the Amsterdam-born and-based singer/songwriter began to experience a growing divide between the restrictive and theoretical compositions she was studying and the melodic, free-flowing music she’d play while outside. Adjoa began to realize that pursing a solo was the direction she needed to take, and so she formed a band and record her original songs, which has resulted in the attention grabbing Down at the Root Part 1 and the forthcoming Down at the Root Part 2.

“Honestly,” Down at the Root Part 2‘s first single is an effortless, neo soul affair that nods at Simply Bill-era Bill Withers, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and others, as the song reveals a quietly self-assured singer/songwriter beyond her relative youth, who can craft a song that’s driven by an infectious hook and a lush melody; but as Adjoa explains, the song is an “outsider track” that grew from a simple piano backing into its vibey, jazz-like arrangement. “I didn’t even think it was going to make the record because it felt so different from the rest,” Nana says. “I guess it’s about how people are scared of the possibility of something bad happening. And that fear is really strange because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Directed by Bear Damen, the recently released video for “Honestly” features Adjoa and her backing band, as the backing musical act for a surrealistic play; but underneath that are much deeper interpretations — including, the vulnerability of having someone capture your heart, and knowing that with a cruel or thoughtless act, that they can crush it. 

Best known as a member of Charles Bradley‘s backing band The Extraordinaries and Sharon Jones‘ backing band The Dap Kings, Lee Fields‘ backing band The Expressions, Antibalas and The Budos Band and for collaborating 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.

Last year, I wrote about a Dala Records split 7 inch single “Breathing Hard (Over You)”/”Honey Bee” featuring Camellia Hartman and its founder Aukstik, with both artists backed by the Dala Records house band, The Soulful Saints. And as you may recall, Hartman is an East Village-born and-based 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 and a cappella in high school.  Hartman’s latest single is the Billy Aukstik penned, “Return the Favor,” which is centered around the East Village-born and -based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist’s effortless and old-timey soulful vocals and an arrangement featuring twinkling keys, shuffling drums, and a loose, bluesy guitar line and a sultry horn line. Sonically, the song, which draws from Northern Soul production brings to mind the sounds of The Supremes and others, complete with a swooning and aching longing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nana Adjoa is an up-and-coming Dutch-Ghanaian singer/songwriter, whose father emigrated to Amsterdam in the 1980s and eventually married the Amsterdam-born and-based singer/songwriter’s “very Dutch” mother. Growing up, Adjoa spent a portion of her childhood in the rough and tumble, working class Biljmer neighborhood, a section once described by a local police chief a “national disaster area.” In press notes, Adjoa describes her upbringing as being fairly liberal until her parents’ divorce and their subsequent embrace of Christianity. “The second part off my growing up was with some Christian values, but by this point, I was getting to the age of making up my own mind,” the Dutch-Ghanaian singer/songwriter recalls in press notes. “It was a bit too late for me.” Eventually, there was a rift within her family with the Christians (Nan’s father, mother and brother) on one side and the non-Christians (Nana, her sister and the rest of the extended family) on the other. Understandably religion, as well as questions about her own gender identity and of being a black person in an extremely white environment have been regularly occurring themes and concerns in her work. “In fact, I think I still unconsciously use a lot of Christian ideas and metaphors in my music,” she adds.

Adjoa was accepted at the prestigious Amsterdam Conservatory to study jazz (electric bass and double bass); however, she found the the experience to not be what she had always imagined it would. “It was very much like school,” she says. “We thought we wanted to go to the most difficult department, that we wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t a very fun experience.” Around the same time, the Amsterdam-born and-based singer/songwriter began to experience a growing divide between the restrictive and theoretical compositions she was studying and the melodic, free-flowing music she’d play while outside. Adjoa began to realize that pursing a solo was the direction she needed to take, and so she formed a band and record her original songs, which has resulted in the attention grabbing Down at the Root Part 1 and the forthcoming Down at the Root Part 2.

“Honestly,” Down at the Root Part 2‘s first single is an effortless, neo soul affair that nods at Simply Bill-era Bill Withers, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and others, as the song reveals a quietly self-assured singer/songwriter beyond her relative youth, who can craft a song that’s driven by an infectious hook and a lush melody; but as Adjoa explains, the song is an “outsider track” that grew from a simple piano backing into its vibey, jazz-like arrangement. “I didn’t even think it was going to make the record because it felt so different from the rest,” Nana says. “I guess it’s about how people are scared of the possibility of something bad happening. And that fear is really strange because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You never know what’s going to happen.”

 

Nicki Bluhm is a Lafayette, CA-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, who’s perhaps best known for a six year stint as the frontwoman of The Gramblers, a band that featured her now ex-husband Tim Bluhm (with whom she also released two albums), and for recent high-profile collaborations with the likes of Phil Lesh, Infamous Stringdusters, Ryan Adams and others.  Slated for a June 1, 2018 release, the Ross Sprang-produced To Rise You Gotta Fall Bluhm’s first solo album in several years, and the album, which was written over a difficult and life-altering period in which she got divorced and made a spur of the moment move to Nashville, TN — and as a result, the material is a deeply personal chronicle of her state of mind. “These songs are quite personal,” Bluhm says. “They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn’t have survived without.”

Interestingly, while Bluhm’s relocation to Nashville was spur of the moment decision, it actually came from the result of a number of writing sessions in the city. As Bluhm notes, the city was inspiring “because of all the songwriting going on here. When I would come to Nashville on writing trips, it was just percolating . . . it was intoxicating.” Around the same time, Bluhm met with renowned producer, engineer and mixer Matt Ross-Spang, who was in town mixing a record, and as the story goes Ross-Spang and Bluhm hit it off immediately.  “I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did,” Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. “My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn’t want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking.  So we agreed we’d record in Memphis.”
Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording, the sessions revolved around live tracking featuring a backing band of accomplished pros assembled by Ross-Spang featuring Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitars), Ken Coomer (drums and percussion), Al Gamble (Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano) and Dave Smith (bass), with Reba Russell and Susan Marshall (background singers), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and various special guests. “We really just recorded live and we didn’t do that many takes of each song,” Bluhm says. “The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second-guessing; forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. . . Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends time curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, ‘not perfection but captured moments in time.'”
 
“I had lost my partner in so many ways,” Bluhm continues in press notes, “my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary,” she says “but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. I was on auto-pilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward. When the album finally comes out it’s going to be like setting a caged bird free.”
Album title track “To Rise You Gotta Fall” is an incredibly self-assured and effortless track that manages to to be clearly indebted to classic Memphis and Muscle Shoals soul while nodding at contemporaries like Goodnight Rhonda Lee-era Nicole Atkins and Natalie Prass, as it reveals a careful attention to craft but with a “you-are-there” immediacy. Along with that, the song’s narrator reveals a resiliency and determination that comes from living a full, messy life full of struggles, heartbreak, loss and so on. As the song and its narrator seem to suggest, life will find a way to kick your ass but it’ll also find a way to move you forward towards where you need to be.
Bluhm will be on tour to first build up buzz for and to support her first solo album in some time and it’ll include a two night stay at Chicago’s Vic Theatre in April and a July 25, 2018 stop at The Bowery Ballroom. Check out the tour dates below.
 
TOUR DATES:
April 11 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue*
April 12 – Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre*
April 13 – Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre*
April 14 – Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre*
April 15 – Saint Louis, MO @ The Pageant*
April 17 – Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Ballroom*
April 18 – Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark*
April 19 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue*
April 20 – Knoxville, TN @ Bijou*
April 21 – Brevard, NC @ Songsmith Gathering
April 22 – Charlotte, NC @ Tuck Fest
May 27 – Colorado Springs, CO @ Meadowgrass Music Festival
May 28 – Aspen, CO @ Belly Up
May 31 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
June 1 – Eagle, CO @ Bonfire Brewing Block Party
June 2 – Taos, NM @ Music on the Mothership
June 3 – Flagstaff, AZ @ Hullabaloo
June 5 – Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up
June 7 – West Hollywood, CA @ The Troubadour
June 8 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
June 10 – Crystal Bay, NV @ Crystal Bay Club Casino
June 12 – Chico, CA @ Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
June 13 – Arcata, CA @ Humbrews
June 14 – Eugene, OR @ HiFi
June 15 – Portland, OR @ Dog Fir Lounge
June 16 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
July 13 – Atlanta, GA @ Atlanta Botanical Gardens
July 14 – Charlotte, NC @ Knight Theater
July 19 – Scranton, PA @ Peach Music Festival
July 20 – Alexandria, VA @ Hamilton
July 22 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
July 25 – Floyd, VA @ FloydFest
July 25 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
July 26 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry
July 29 – Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley
 
*Nicki solo supporting The Wood Brothers

I’ve written quite a bit about the New York-based producer, DJ and remixer Rhythm Scholar, who has developed a reputation for his crowd-pleasing, slickly produced, effortless and imitable mashups and remixes of hip hop, classic soul and pop. The JOVM mainstay recently released a remix of Bill Withers‘ beloved classic “Use Me Up” featuring a backing band,  which features Marcus Horndt contributing soulful blasts of Fender Rhodes, Jason Spillman contributing a 70s soul and disco-inspired bass line, Sami Turune, contributing some bluesy guitar paired with Withers warm vocals and rhythm guitar, and some insane scratching and production from Rhythm Scholar.

In my mind, what makes this remix interesting is that it’s a lovingly anachronistic take on it that manages to walk a difficult tightrope between the 70s and contemporary production while retaining the orignal’s effortless soul and thoughtful, deliberate attention to craft.

 

Live Footage: Million Miles’ Sultry and Jazzy Cover of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Beggin'”

Over the past year, I’ve written a bit about the Paris-born, London-based singer/songwriter Sophie Baudry, whose solo recording project Million Miles is the culmination of a life-long love affair with soul music. After completing her studies at  Berklee College and a stint as a recording engineer and studio musician in New York, Baudry returned to London, where she felt an irresistible pull to write music inspired by Ray Charles and Bill Withers. On an inspired whim, Baudry decided to make a trip to Nashville, where she spent her first few days wandering, exploring and reaching out to strangers, as though she were saying “I ’m new here and I’m a songwriter and i’m looking for people to collaborate with.” As the story goes, Baudry wound up having chance meetings with local songwriters and producers Robin Eaton and Paul Eberson and within an hour or so of their meeting, they began writing material that eventually became the French-born, British-based singer/songwriter’s Million Miles debut EP, Berry Hill, which was recorded over the course of a year during multiple sessions at Robin Eaton’s Berry Hill home studio. And from EP singles “Can’t Get Around A Broken Heart” and “Love Like Yours,” Baudry quickly received attention across the blogosphere, as well as this site, for an easy-going yet deliberately crafted, Sunday afternoon, Soul Train-like soul that nodded equally at the aforementioned Bill Withers and Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.
Recently, Mahogany Sessions invited the French-born, British singer/songwriter to participate in their Covers series in which she contributes a sultry and jazzy soul-like cover of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Beggin'” that sounds as though it nods more towards Brown Sugar-era D’Angelo, giving the classic song a modern interpretation without erasing the song’s plaintive and urgent need. 

Perhaps best known for lengthy stints in the backing bands for Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones and Lee Fields, as well as the horn sections of Antibalas and The Budos Band and for collaborating with Mark Ronson, the incredibly accomplished Chicago, IL-born, New York-based trumpeter, composer, producer and vocalist Billy Aukstik began writing his own soul-inspired compositions and founded the Brooklyn-based indie soul label Dala Records. And since the label’s founding, Aukstik has produced the debut efforts of a handful of locally-based soul and soul-leaning artists including singer/songwriter, John FatumThe Rad TradsMichael HarlenPatrick Sargent and Camellia Hartman, as well as his own solo work under the moniker Billy the Kid.

Slated for an April 2, 2018 release, Aukstik’s solo debut EP Stay Strong was recorded over the course of two years between two different studios — the first being an East Village-based DIY space, where Aukstik’s only recording gear was a Tascam 388 8-track tape machine, and the second being his new, self-built Bushwick, Brooklyn-based studio Hive Mind Recording. As a result, the listener may hear a subtle yet noticeable change in texture and fidelity throughout the EP; but as Aukstik explains in press notes, “the compositions and arrangements are crafted in a way that make the transitions from song to song smooth and welcoming.” Aukstik adds that the “EP could be considered a concept record by its evolution in sound from track one through nine, as well as the underlying story that can be pieced together as each song goes by.” Unsurprisingly, the EP features contributions from members of Charles Bradley’s Extraordinaires, Antibalas and The Dap Kings — and from the EP’s first single “Oh, Emily,” Aukstik will further cement his reputation for crafting sweeping soul indebted to the late 60s and early 70s; in fact, Aukstik has long employed the use of the Maestro Rhythm King, a 1970s drum machine made popular by Sly Stone and Shuggie Otis. But more important, “Oh, Emily” is a sweetly swooning, old-fashioned love song with an elegant horn line that to my ears makes a subtle nod to The Beatles‘ “Martha, My Dear” — although about an actual human.

 

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