JOVM’s William Ruben Helms celebrates Black History Month — and pays tribute to the legendary James Brown.
JOVM’s William Ruben Helms celebrates Black History Month — and pays tribute to the legendary Isley Brothers.
JOVM’s WIlliam Ruben Helms celebrates Black History — and pays tribute to Janet Jackson.
Today is the third day of Black History Month. And if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past few days of this month, you’d see that I’ve been featuring Black artists across a wide and eclectic array of genres and styles that I think can guide you towards understanding the Black experience.
Through the month — and throughout the year, I hope that you’ll come to understand and appreciate the following:
Black culture is American culture
Black music is American music.
Black history is American history.
America’s greatest and beloved contributions to the world are Black music styles — the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop.
Black art matters.
You can’t love black art and black artists without loving black people.
Black lives matter — all of them, all of the time.
Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the release of one of the best pop albums of the 80s, Janet Jackson’s Control, a brash, self-assured declaration of independence — and a defiant feminist anthem. Thematically and lyrically, Rhythm Nation 1814 is still relevant and necessary 25+ years since its release. Plus, she released an incredible string of chart-topping pop songs.
Throughout the course of their wildly successful 20 year run together, which included the release of seven full-length albums — 2002’s Dap Dappin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, 2005’s Naturally, 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights, 2014’s Give the People What They Want, 2015’s It’s a Holiday Soul Party! and 2017’s posthumously released Soul of a Woman — the acclaimed soul act Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings built a reputation for being one of the world’s best bands live — and in the studio. (I had the pleasure of seeing them live three times, including a powerfully uplifting night at The Apollo. They were one of the best soul acts in the entire world.)
Although the acclaimed soul act have a lengthy and prolific catalog of originals, they have made forays into covers numerous times. Some of those covers were contracted or use in commercials, movies, TV shows and even samples, while others were recorded of their own volition and desire. Their earliest covers included a completely re-invented rendition of Janet Jackson‘s “What Have You Done for Me Lately, which convinced more than a few fans that Jones’ version was in fact the original after a counterfeit news article surfaced claiming that Jones was suing Jackson for copyright infringement.
Slated for a Friday release, the act’s soon-to-be released album Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Rendition Is In is a compilation of both previously released and previously unreleased covers, which showcases the act’s eclectic tastes and musicality. Sadly, the album is the second album of material posthumously released after Sharon Jones’ 2016 death from pancreatic cancer.
Three singles have been released off the album so far, but I wanted to specifically call your attention to two singles off the album: a sashaying cover of Dusty Springfield‘s “Little by Little,'” was originally recorded for a tribute album to the legendary British soul vocalist — and a strutting cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” While both covers are fairly straightforward, they manage to be deceptively period specific while revealing the dynamism and ebullience of the act’s incredible frontwoman Sharon Jones and the band’s subtle yet deft touch.
The Brooks is a rising Montreal-based soul act that formed over eight years ago. And since their formation, the Montreal-based act proudly claims some of that city’s most accomplished musicians:
Florida-born, Montreal-based singer/songwriter and frontman Alan Prater has toured with Michael Jackson — and the band itself can trace much of its origins to behind the walls of the Motown Museum:
Alexandre Lapointe (bass) has worked alongside Joel Campbell, the musical director for Tina Turner and Janet Jackson.
Prater and Lapointe are joined by Maxime Bellavance (drums), Phillips Look (guitar, vocals), Daniel Thouin (keys), Sébastien Grenier (sax), Hichem Khalifa (French horn), and Phillipe Beaudin (percussion).
Developing and honing a sound that draws from James Brown, D’Angelo, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock and J. Dilla, the members of The Books have a songwriting approach that eschews rules and trends, fueled by the dual missions of spreading joy and the funk. And with the release of two albums and an EP, the band, which was once named the“best kept secret of Canadian funk” by La Presse, and nominations, and award wins at GAMIQ, Independent Music Awards, ADISQ, and others has built up a provincial and national profile.
Slated for an October 23, 2020 release through Duprince Records across North and South America and Underdog Records through Europe and Japan, the Montreal-based soul outfit’s third album Any Day Now finds the band firmly establishing their unique songwriting approach and sound. Earlier this year, I wrote about the strutting and stomping party anthem “Turn Up the Sound,” a track that recalled The Payback-era James Brown, Dance to the Music and Stand!-era Sly and the Family Stone while encoring people to get up out of that seat, dance and enjoy themselves, and escape their worldly concerns for 3-4 minutes or so. “I just wanted to write a fun song to get you to escape from whatever you’re doing,” the band’s Alan Prater explains in press notes.
Any Day Now’s latest single “Gameplay” is a slick, two-step inducing synthesis of 70s disco soul, funk and psych soul centered around a supple bass line, shuffling Nile Rodgers-like rhythm guitar, wah-wah pedal -driven lead guitar, a soaring string arrangement — within an expansive, yet pop-leaning song structure. Thematically, the song as the band’s Alan Prater explains is about a fairly common experience that countless straight men have had: “This song is about a boy wanting the girl that’s out of his league, but he has to have her. I’m Sure most guys have been there…haha”
Directed by Fred Remuzat, the recently released video for “Gameplay” visually recalls the animation style of Gorillaz — but while sweetly telling the song’s central story: boy falls for girl, who may not know he even exists. And yet through music, the boy makes his earnest plea of devotion and love, which manage to move the woman. The video is a blast of something adorable that I desperately needed. I suspect y’all will feel the same.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about the New Orleans-based act Video Age, and with the release of their first two albums 2016’s full-length debut Living Alone and 2018’s sophomore album Pop Therapy, the band — founding members Ross Farbe and Ray Micarelli, along with Nick Corson and Duncan Troast — received attention for crafting hook-driven material with a decidedly 80s synth pop-inspired sound.
Following the release of Pop Therapy, the band’s songwriting partners and co-founders Farbe and Micarelli were eager to write new material and continue upon the momentum they had just started to build up. The band convened at Farbe’s home studio to work on the band’s highly anticipated third album, Pleasure Line, which is slated for an August 7, 2020 release through Winspear, who recently signed the band.
Inspired by a vast range of influences including Janet Jackson, David Bowie and Paul McCartney, Pleasure Line finds the band crafting neon-bright 80s pop-like melodies to create an optimistic sound — with the material taking on a rosy hue. “I’m often trying to create a more idealized version of the world I’m in,” Video Age’s Ross Farbe says in press notes. “In fact, some of that optimism may come as a result of both Farbe and Micarelli getting married this year — just a few weeks apart from each other. “We’re feeling the love,” Farbe says.
Written as a salve that protects against cynicism. the album’s material is meant to help the listener see and feel a world full of romantic potential. But the album isn’t centered around one-dimensional puppy love — it’s the sort of fulfilling love that’s complicated, confusing and never easy; but ultimately worth it. So far, I’ve written about two of the album’s singles — the dance floor friendly, Tom Tom Club-like “Shadow On The Wall” and the slow-burning, Quiet Storm meets Prince-like “Pleasure Line.”
Pleasure Line’s third and latest single “Aerostar” is a decidedly upbeat New Wave-inspired, bop centered around shimmering and squiggling synth arpeggios, propulsive four-on-the-floor, a sinuous bass line, angular guitar blasts and an infectious, dance floor friendly hook. Sonically, the track may remind some listeners of The Cars, Talking Heads, and others — but with playful references to cars and hitting the road with your buddies, playing tunes. “This song looks at the bright side of being on the road. We did a lot of touring for the last album and it’s something that really brought us closer together as a band,” the members of Video Age say in press notes.
Directed by Zack Shorrosh, the recently released video follows the band and their adventures in their ’95 Ford Aerostar, shot in front of a green screen: we see the members of the band and the van as they travel throughout various locations, including the Grand Canyon, the desert and even space — and naturally, the video looks and feels as though it could have been released in 1985. “Once we found a green screen studio big enough to fit our ’95 Ford Aerostar, we hopped in and let the story unfold,” the band says.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about Charlene Kaye, a rising New York-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, who spent her childhood in some rather far-flung places across the globe — living in Hawaii, Singapore, Hong Kong and Michigan all before she turned 18. And although she spent time in a number of different places throughout the bulk of her childhood, there was always one consistent thing: her parents’ old soul records and 90s grunge radio, both of which have heavily influenced her own work and career.
Initially starting her career as a solo artist, Kaye is best known for a five year stint as the frontwoman of acclaimed indie act San Fermin, contributing to 2015’s Jackrabbit and 2017’s Belong, which were supported with touring internationally, including sets across the global festival circuit. While touring with San Fermin to support Jackrabbit, Kaye started her latest solo recording project KAYE, releasing a handful of singles and KAYE’s debut EP 2016’s Honey. Last year, Kaye left San Fermin to fully concentrate on her solo career.
The rising New York-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer started off the year with the Kirk Schoenherr-co-produced single “Closer Than This,” a bold and self-assured feminist pop anthem indebted to Cherelle, Patrice Rushen, Madonna and Control-era Janet Jackson that thematically touched upon lust, desire, longing, idealization, fantasy, self-preservation and centered around a narrator, who gives herself only on her terms. “Too Much,” Kaye’s second single of the year, continued a run of boldly feminist anthems centered around narrators, who have asserted themselves on their own terms — while being a decidedly electro rock affair that brought St. Vincent and Garbage to mind.
“Howl,” Kaye’s third and latest single off the year, is a slow-burning and sultry track that finds its creator delving deep into the darkest recesses of her psyche with an unflinching and fearless honesty. And a result, the song’s narrator manages to be boldly self-assured yet insecure, fearless yet afraid to accept a loss of control, as well as accept who she may really be — someone who may not always be willing to sacrifice or settle, if it doesn’t serve her needs or what her particular vision is. “Cheryl Strayed has this quote—‘You can’t fake the core. It’s a god we must obey, a force that brings us all to our knees,'” Kaye says in press notes. “It got me thinking about how we’re always told to listen to our gut, our intuition – but what if our purest impulses are evil or self-serving, that may cause harm to those we love? What is the cost of choosing oneself?”
Interestingly, the release of “Howl” comes with the announcement of the title of her forthcoming and highly awaited full-length album — Conscious Control. “I named this album Conscious Control because my big lesson of the last few years has been abandoning my rational mind to guide my decisions, even if they made no sense at the time…throwing myself into uncertainty for the sake of getting closer to myself, even if it comes at great personal cost,” Kaye explains. “Letting this ethos guide my songwriting as well has yielded the boldest, deepest work I’ve ever done.”
Co-directed and edited by Kaye and Deborah Farnault, the recently released video for “Howl” not only marks the rising singer/songwriter and guitarist’s directorial and editorial debut, the video may arguably be the most disarming and visceral visual piece Kay has released to date: the video follows the rising artist around the California desert with a gorgeous, 40-foot long purple cape, luxuriously billowing behind her, digging into the sand and howling like a feral animal, and shredding on a mirror-covered Flying V guitar that she created. And much like the accompanying song, the visual evokes a unique feminine vulnerability and strength while being cathartic — a howl of grief, rage, self-loathing and passion, shot with a gorgeous fashion forward sensibility.
Montreal-based soul act The Brooks formed over eight years ago — and the act can claim a lineup featuring some of the French Canadian city’s most accomplished local soul musicians: Florida-born, Montreal-based singer/songwriter and frontman Alan Prater has toured with Michael Jackson and the band itself can trace its origins to behind the walls of the Motown Museum: Alexandre Lapointe (bass) has worked alongside Joel Campbell, the musical director for Tina Turner and Janet Jackson. Prater and Lapointe are joined by Maxime Bellavance (drums), Phillips Look (guitar, vocals), Daniel Thouin (keys), Sébastien Grenier (sax), Hichem Khalifa (French horn), and Phillipe Beaudin (percussion).
Developing a sound that draws from James Brown, D’Angelo, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock and J. Dilla, the members of The Brooks have developed a reputation for a songwriting approach that eschews rules and trends while spreading joy and funk — and for an energetic live show. And as a result, the band has built up a profile both across the province and nationally over the course of two critically applauded albums and an EP: Named the “best kept secret of Canadian funk” by La Presse, the band has received a number of nominations and awards at GAMIQ, Independent Music Awards, ADISQ, and others.
The French Canadian soul outfit’s third full-length album Anyway Now is slated for a release this full through Duprince Records across North and South America and Underdog Records through Europe and Japan — and the album’s first single is the stomping, strutting and funky party anthem “Turn Up the Sound.” Centered around an arrangement that nods at The Payback-era James Brown, Dance to the Music and Stand!-era Sly and the Family Stone, the upbeat song was written to be played loud and to get you to get up out of your seat, escape your daily concerns for a few minutes and dance. Everything may seem canceled or postponed but music is still there to bring you joy — and to remind you that brighter days will come in time. “I just wanted to write a fun song to get you to escape from whatever you’re doing,” the band’s Alan Prater explains in press notes.
The single is accompanied by a live footage of the band performing the song in the studio, and it manages to reveal the band’s creative chemistry while being an introduction to the band to new listeners.
GRAE is a rising Toronto-based singer/songwriter and pop artist. Initially inspired by Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which she played on repeat as a child, the up-and-coming Canadian started playing piano and guitar when she was very young. Last year, GRAE released her attention-grabbing debut EP New Girl, which landed on the cover of Spotify’s Outliers Playlist — and since its release, has amassed over 2 million streams.
Building upon a growing profile, the Toronto-based artist will be releasing her highly-anticipated sophomore EP Bang Bang — and the EP’s first single is a slow-burning and sultry “Slow Down.” One part seductive Quiet Storm-like soul, one part jazz chanteuse and one part slickly produced pop, “Slow Down” the track is centered around a palpable sexual tension: its narrator is about to give into her temptations and rush into intimacy without knowing if the situation will be good for her. Most of our romantic relationships are initially centered around the confusing push and pull of lust, shame and our desire to be connected to someone — and the song evokes those feelings with an uncanny accuracy.
“‘Slow Down’ was fun to write because I had never explored this kind of topic before,” GRAE says in press notes. “I find, as a woman, sometimes it’s hard to express your wants and desires, in fear of being judged or shamed. So I wanted to touch on this subject to get more in tune with that side of myself.”
Directed by Priya Howlader, the recently released video for “Slow Down” employs a minimalist concept: the up-and-coming Canadian artist as a jazz chanteuse, performing the song in front of a red curtain. While performing the song, she winds up seducing an intrigued onlooker — and as the video progresses, we see that the pair have an unmistakable and irresistible sexual chemistry in which they’re pulled closer to each other.
“The video stems from a vision I had of me singing in a old jazz cafe in front of a classic red curtain,” the up-and-coming Canadian artist explains in press notes. “Priya, the director, really made it come alive with her treatment and ideas. The concept is minimal but so beautifully executed.”