Tag: soul music

Raymond James Mason is a Long Island, NY-born, Brooklyn-born trombonist and singer/songwriter. As the story goes, Mason picked up the trombone at a very young age, and as a teenager, he studied classical performance and jazz studies at my alma mater NYU, where he studied with Brian Lynch, Lenny Pickett, Alan Ferber and Elliot Mason. Upon graduating, Mason quickly became an in-demand musician, playing across a wide variety of genres; but he’s best known for being a member of renowned local Afrobeat act Antibalas, which eventually led to him becoming a member of the Daptone Records/Dunham Records in-house band, playing with the likes of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band, Lee Fields and the The Expressions and many others. Additionally, Mason has performed and or recorded with the likes of Alicia Keys, David Byrne, Randy Newman, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Arcade Fire, Ed Sheeran, Janelle Monae, Lukas Graham, Nile Rodgers, Tame Impala, Maren Morris, Earth Wind and Fire, Mark Ronson and and more. Unsurprisingly, he very busy Mason learned from these artists while honing his own compositional and vocal skills, patiently waiting for his moment to step out in the spotlight.

Back in October 2016, Mason reached out to Daptone Records house band member, longtime friend and Dala Records founder Billy Aukstik to set up at a casual recording session. At the time, Aukstik was recording out of an old East Village brownstone basement, equipped with only a Tascam 388 8-track tape recorder and a few old ribbon microphones. Aukstik and Mason assembled an all-star squad of local soul musicians, including Alex Chakour, who has played with Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones; Freddy DeBoe, who has played with Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones; Joe Harrison, who has played with Nick Hakim and Charles Bradley; and Morgan Price, who has played with Antibalas to record a couple of Mason’s compositions — two of which wound up becoming the A and B sides of Mason’s solo debut, “Back When”/”No Clue.”

A side single “Back When” is a strutting and swaggering bit of a soul pop centered around an arrangement of Arp Omni bass synth, fuzzy guitar lines and a steady backbeat — and while thematically the song is a universal tale of lost opportunity and what could have beens, it’s a decidedly contemporary take on the Dala Records sound, as it nods at contemporary soul, hip-hop and psych pop in a way that brings Tame Impala, Nick Hakim and others to mind. “No Clue,” the B side single is centered around fuzzy power chords and a garage rock vibe, while thematically the song focuses on a dysfunctional and confusing relationship. Both singles reveal an an up-and-coming artist, who’s actively and earnestly pushing the sonic boundaries of soul.

 

 

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New Audio: Melbourne Australia’s The Putbacks Release a Blazing Western-tinged Bit of Psych Soul

Comprised of founding members Rory McDougall (drums), Tom Martin (guitar) and Mick Meager (bass), Simon Mavin (Hammond organ) with Justin Marshall, funk and soul, instrumental act The Putbacks feature some of Melbourne, Australia’s most accomplished musicians as members of the band have played with Hiatus Kaiyote, The Bombay Royale, D.D. Dumbo, Swooping Duck, The Meltdown and The Black Arm Band.   The band which can trace its formation back to the early 00s has long been the unofficial house band of Australian label  HopeStreet Recordings, taking cues from the legendary house bands of 60s and 70s soul and funk studios — in particular, The MGs, The Meters and The Wrecking Crew, as well as film composers of David Axelrod and Adrian Younge.

With the release of a handful of 7 inches through HopeStreet, the band received attention across their native Australia; however, it was Dawn, their 2014 collaboration with Australian Aboriginal soul singer/songwriter Emma Donovan that found the members of The Putbacks with a growing international profile, as the album received attention outside of their homeland. Since the release of Dawn, the individual members of the acclaimed band have bee busy with a number of projects while managing to find the time to write and record their soon-to-be released Paul Bender-produced self-titled debut, slated for a November 9, 2018 release Now, as you may recall, the album finds the band collaborating with a number of internationally renowned artists including singer/songwriter and neo-soul pioneer Bilal and violins and arrangements from Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. The album’s first single, the cinematic, film-noir-ish “The Ways” was a scorching bit of psych school featuring Bilal that recalled  The Roots and Hot Buttered Soul-era Isaac Hayes but with an improvised, free-flowing air.
“Oranges,” the self-titled album’s latest single sound as though Ennio Morricone managed to compose an unreleased psychedelic Western Sci Fi soundtrack — thanks in part to the composition being centered around a blistering Western-influenced riff that begins with the organ and a thumping backbeat, with the other instrumentations playing off the riff. Of course, the end result is a hypnotic and propulsive groove that also manages to nod at Tinariwen and others, complete with a larger-than-life vibe and sensibility. 

 

Over the past few years, the Akron, OH-based funk septet Wesley Bright and The Honeytones, currently featuring Wesley Bright (vocals), Jonathan Fields (drums), Matthew Derubertis (bass), Jimmy Parsons (guitar), Nathan-Paul Davis (sax), Matt Garrett (trumpet) and Max Brady (trombone) have become a regional favorite among soul music fans and vinyl collectors — thanks in part to Bright’s vocals, which have been compared to Al Green and Otis Redding and to the group’s sound, which attempt to bridge the gap between classic soul and the modern sound. The band has gone through some changes both in personal and sound, and the act’s latest Leroi Conroy-produced 45 RPM single “Happiness”/”You Don’t Want Me,” which was released through Colemine Records reportedly represents the band’s new sonic direction. And while still clearly indebted to classic soul, the stomping and strutting “Happiness” brings to mind the G.E.D. Soul Records artists DeRobert and the Half-Truths and AJ and the Jiggawatts, as the song balances plaintive and earnest sweetness with a gritty toughness. It’s a song in which its narrator is fed up with a love interest, who he feels is playing with him and his emotions when all he wants is to love, be loved and be happy. “Happiness” has arguably one of the best bass lines I’ve heard this entire year paired with a horn section that brings to mind Daptone Records, Hannah Williams and the Affirmations and others.

The B-side “You Don’t Want Me” is a slow-burning soul number that nods at Otis Redding and Muscle Shoals, as it’s centered around a arrangement of bluesy and twangy guitar, a shuffling bass line and organ line, and Bright’s easygoing vocals, which manage to evoke plaintive ache, stubborn pride and longing within a turn of a phrase. From these two tracks, I think we’ll be hearing much more about Wesley Bright and his Honeytones.

 

 

 

New Video: Dunham Records Release a Funky Single from Charles Bradley’s Posthumous “Black Velvet”

Throughout the bulk of this site’s 8 plus year history, I’ve written a lot about the Charles Bradley, the late, Brooklyn-based soul singer and JOVM mainstay who led a remarkable life, overcoming difficult and overwhelming adversity achieve success and international acclaim late in his life, thanks in part to the release of the documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America, three full-length albums 2011’s No Time For Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes, and a powerful, heartfelt live show.  Interestingly, Bradley throughout his relatively short recording career wound up playing a larger-than-life role in pop culture; Bradley was a prominent figure in the Daptone Records live documentary, Living on Soul filmed during the Daptone Records Soul Revue shows back in 2014 at the legendary Apollo Theater; performed on Netflix’s Luke Cage; was the singing voice of Minstrel Krampus on American Dad; and he had tracks featured on a number of films and TV shows, including the title tracks for Netflix’s Big Mouth, HBO’s Barry and more.

And honestly, although those successes came late in his life, none of them should be surprising because what drew so many fans, critics and others towards him was the fact that understood that the great pain and tribulations of his life were a cry for  universal love, brotherhood and empathy. He preached it passionately and constantly — and as many would say, it seemed that he believed that if he loved harder, more passionately, and just more — if we all just loved each other a bit more — we could make the world a much better place. Certainly, in a seemingly dark and cynical world in which humanity is inching towards its annihilation, we could use more Charles Bradleys, more Sharon Joneses, too.

November 5, 2018 would have been Charles Bradley’s 70th birthday and in celebration of the man, his life and his music, Dunham Records will posthumously release his fourth and final album Black Velvet on November 9, 2018.  Featuring 10 tracks lovingly curated by his friends, bandmates and family, the album chronologically spans Bradley’s recording career — but instead of a greatest hits-like anthology or a rehashing of say, several different versions of known and beloved songs, the album focuses on deeper, mostly unreleased cuts recorded during the sessions from each of Bradley’s three albums. The album will include highly sought-after and beloved covers including his takes on Nirvana‘s “Stay Away,” Neil Young‘s “Heart of Gold,” Rodriguez‘s “I’ll Slip Away,” and an alternate full-band electric version of “Victim of Love,” among others.

Of course, in many ways, the album documents the friendship and collaboration shared between Bradley and longtime collaborator, producer and co-writer Tommy Brenneck. As Brenneck explains, Black Velvet‘s first single “I Feel A Change” was recorded during the Victim of Love sessions. “Horns and organ were recorded later adding a haunting beauty to the otherwise a cappella intro. The lyrics are 100% Charles. Personal yet abstract. Directly from the heart. He truly loved the expression ‘going through changes’ and this was a few years before we would record our rendition of Sabbath‘s ‘Changes‘ with the Budos. Sadly Charles never got to hear the finished version of this beautiful song.”

“I Feel a Change” is classic Charles Bradley — the Screaming Eagle of Soul’s imitable vocals passionately expressing desire, frustration and heartache within a turn of a phrase, pleading in a deeply confessional fashion to you. Of course, Bradley’s vocals are paired with a slow-burning, sensual arrangement that feels eerily spectral yet urgent and necessary. The album’s second single “Luv Jones” is arguably the funkiest and most ecstatic track on Black Velvet, a track centered by an explosive horn line, a propulsive rhythm section, burst of organs and Bradley’s vocals crooning about love and needing his love in that old school fashion. Certainly, in light of the fact that we often live in such a dark, cynical and place, we need more sweet, good natured love songs. The man may not be with us but his spirit is forcefully vital and with us, just when we need it the most. Long live Charles Edward Bradley, y’all! Long live Charles Edward Bradley!

To celebrate Charles Bradley’s life and music, a number of Charles Bradley-themed murals will be painted in a number of cities across the world and the recently released accompanying video features a mural painted by Joe Miller in Chicago shot in time-lapse. 

Throwback: Long Live the Queen of Soul

There are a number of incontrovertible truths in life — the most obvious is that people die. Some of us die young. Some of us die tragically. Some of us die when we’re very old. But no matter what, people die, it’s just what people do; however, there are some people, who have larger than life presences, and seem incapable of ever dying. Bowie, Lemmy, ‘Retha (and if you’re black, it’s ‘Retha and only ‘Retha), Keith Richards, Iggy Pop and a few others were on that list, and within the past couple of years that list has gotten shorter and shorter. When I heard that ‘Retha was deathly ill and in hospice care my initial thought was  “Well, she kicked pancreatic cancer’s ass, maybe she’ll do it again. I mean she beat back death — and only a goddess can do that, right?” So when I heard the news that the Queen died, it seemed impossible. It’s been several hours and it still seems as implausible as ever before.

Copious amounts of ink have been spilled throughout ‘Retha’s career, so there’s no real need to delve deeply into her biography; but what I wanted to do was pay a humble little tribute to one of the most influential artists of the past 60 years with some of my favorite songs.

New Audio: Introducing the Atmospheric Soul of The Sha La Das

The Staten Island, NY-based Schalda Brothers, Will (a.k.a. Swivs), who played keys for Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires; Paul, the creative mastermind and guitarist with his Paul and The Tall Trees, as well as a member of Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaries; and Carmine grew up in a rather musical home — their father, while as a teenager was a member of the Brooklyn-based doo wop act The Montereys in the early 60s, an act that played neighborhood clubs and bars, before eventually playing at the 1964 World’s Fair before putting his musical career on hold to raise his family; however, Bill made sure that he taught his sons what he knew. As the eldest son Will recalls in press notes, “He would bring us out on the stoop on Staten Island, and we would teach us parts of say, the Sesame Street theme song. We were his backing group early on and that was a lot of fun for us growing up.”

Interestingly though, the newest band in the Daptone Records Universe, The Sha La Das, which features the the aforementioned Schalda Brothers and their father Bill can trace the impetus of the group when The Schalda Brothers had come into the studio to record background vocals on Charles Bradley’s sophomore album Victim of Love. And as the story goes, as soon as Daptone Records/Dunham Records producer and guitarist Thomas Brenneck first heard The Schalda Brothers’ close harmonizing, The Everly Brothers and The Beach Boys immediately came to his mind — and from that point, Brenneck knew that he had to work with them as a separate project.

Slated for a September 21, 2018 release through Dunham Records, an imprint of Daptone Records, The Sha La Das’ Thomas Brenneck-produced full-length debut Love In The Wind was co-written by Brenneck and Bill Schalda, and as Brenneck explains, he wanted to take the group outside of doo wop . . . and “to take the whole vocabulary of doo wop harmony and reapply it to soul, so you get super soulful harmonies along the lines of The Manhattans and The Moments.” Unsurprisingly, the album was a family affair — both biological and within the Daptone Records Universe, as the Schaldas are backed by a modern soul All-Star backing band featuring Brenneck, Homer Steinweiss, Dave Guy, Leon Michels, Nick Movshon and Victor Axelrod.

Love In The Wind’s first single is the achingly tender and yearning ballad “Open My Eyes” a song centered around an atmospheric and unhurried arrangement consisting of a bluesy guitar line, plinking keys, dramatic and gently padded drums, soaring strings and the Schaldas’ soulful harmonizing. And in the Dunham/Daptone tradition, the track sounds as though it were some long lost release from 1964 that was found by some intrepid and adventurous record collector.

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.