Tag: soul music

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.

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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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New Video: The Legendary Mavis Staples Teams Up With Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on the Politically Charged “If All I Was Was Black”

Throughout the legendary Mavis Staples’ eight decades-long music career, both as a member of The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, Staples has seen quite bit of American history — including the bitter prejudice, racism, ugliness and violence of the Jim Crow-era South, the hypocrisy and wishy washines of White liberals, the Civil Rights era, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, the hypocrisy and wishy washiness of White moderates and liberals, the election and presidency of Barack Obama, the Black Life Matters movement. And yet, as the old adage says, “the more things change, the more things remain the same — and the same racial, gender and class-based animus has forced itself back to the forefront of national consciousness.  

Staples latest effort, If All I Was Was Black was released late last year through Anti- Records, and the album continues Staples’ ongoing and critically applauded collaboration with renowned singer/songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy; however, the album manages to mark the first time that Tweedy has composed an entire album worth of music for the legendary vocalist. And unsurprisingly, as Tweedy and Staples reconvened to write the album, the duo found themselves completely in sync in wanting (and needing) to say something about the current state of the country and the various fissures that had been re-exposed. “We’re not loving one another the way we should,” the legendary vocalist says in press notes. “Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division.” Tweedy adds, “I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself — that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.”

Lyrically, a portion of the album’s material expresses anger and frustration but overall, the material finds the legendary soul artist balancing her renowned optimism with a realistic sensibility; the sort of realism that says “there’s hard work, sacrifice and love that’s needed to make the world truly just and right.” Interestingly album title track “If All I Was Was Black” reminded me a bit of Syl Johnson‘s “Is It Because I’m Black” as both songs are earnest pleas to the listener, imploring the listener to look into the heart and soul of every individual they may come across, and to see them for their unique and innate talents; while hoping that one day, one’s skin color can be rendered as relatively unimportant as the color of their eyes. Perhaps by doing so, one’s perspective of the people they see as “other” and don’t understand will be shifted towards seeing and celebrating both difference and universality. 

Directed and edited by Zac Manuel, the recently released video for “If All I Was Was Black” features a deeply pensive Staples sitting in a local diner, drinking tea or coffee but just outside the window Confederate statues have been torn down — and a local man replaces one with a thoughtful and honest representation of a lovely sister. That sequence suggests a new reality that accepts and celebrates diversity with everyone’s story adding to the larger American zeitgeist. 

Live Footage: Mavis Staples Performs “Build A Bridge” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

More than enough ink has been spilled throughout Mavis Staples‘ eight decades in music, both as a member of the legendary The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, so I won’t delve into her biography or what other journalists have written about her and her work, because for this post, it’s largely unnecessary; however, whether as a member of The Staple Singers or as a solo artist, Ms. Staples has released some of the most important, influential and beloved songs of the 60s and 70s — and in my book, the woman is a revered, national treasure. 

Unsurprisingly, Staples has seen quite a bit of the past century of American history — including the embittering and dehumanizing prejudice, racism, injustice and violence of the Jim Crow-era South, the Civil Rights era, the hypocrisy and wishy washiness of White moderates, liberals and the Far Left, the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and yet . . . as the old adage says,  the more things change, the more things remain the same. And while the same hate has always remained, rooted around race, gender, gender expression, sexuality, class, ethnicity and nationality, for the first time in a couple of generations, the discussion of whether or not this country has lived up to its ideals, how we get there — hell, if we’re even willing to sacrifice to get there, have all been forced back into the national consciousness on a insistent basis.  

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site for a while, you’d know that Staples’ latest effort If All I Was Was Black, which was released last November continued her ongoing and critically applauded collaboration with renowned singer/songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy. And interestingly, the album marked the first time that Tweedy has composed an entire album worth of music specifically for Staples. As the story goes, when Tweedy and Staples convened to write new material, the duo recognized that they were in the middle of a critical, historical moment — and that they felt it necessary to address the current sociopolitical state of things both here in the States and elsewhere. “We’re not loving one another the way we should,” the legendary vocalist says in press notes. “Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division.” Tweedy adds, “I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself — that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.”

Of course, some of the album’s material expresses anger and frustration — after all, how could it not? In some way, Donald Trump’s election back in 2016 felt like the major gains made by Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Asians and the LGBQT communities were going to be completely wiped away. And yet, while rooted around Staples’ legendary and lifelong optimism that optimism is balanced by a healthy pragmatism in which the soul legend seems to say “well shit, there’s quite a bit of hard work, love and empathy that’s needed to get things right.” 

Interestingly, when I heard album title track  “If All I Was Was Black,” I was immediately reminded of Syl Johnson‘s aching and bitter lament “Is It Because I’m Black.” in the sense that Staples’ latest single is an earnest and hopeful plea to the listener, imploring them to look into the heart and souls of every individual they come across, and to see them for their unique abilities; to render one’s skin color as relatively unimportant as the color of one’s eyes. The album’s latest single “Build A Bridge” focuses on the growing sense of alienation, loneliness and misunderstanding of modern life — with Ms. Staples boldly suggesting that many of the world’s problems could be solved if people could allow themselves to be vulnerable and empathetic to the plight of others, so that they can see both the glorious differences in others and the universality of all.  For Ms. Staples sake, I hope we can all try before it’s too late.

Mavis and her backing band have been doing the talk show circuit to promote If All I Was Was Black and it included a Martin Luther King Day appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where they appropriately performed “Build a Bridge.

New Video: Visuals for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ “Searching for a New Day” Pay Tribute to the Late Soul Singer’s Life and Legacy

Throughout the course of this site’s almost eight year history, I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink covering the multitude of artists on Daptone Records, including JOVM mainstays Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Charles Bradley. As you may recall, Sharon Jones died in 2016 after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer and Charles Bradley died last year after a two-year battle with stomach cancer, and for fans of Daptone Records, of soul music, hell of music generally, their deaths were a 1-2 punch.

Now, as it turned out Jones and her Dap Kings managed to spent the better part of Jones’ last few months writing and recording what turned out to be the band’s final, full-length album together Soul of a Woman. Recorded on eight-track tape at Daptone Records’ famed House of Soul Studios, the album, which was released almost a year to the day of Jones’ death, found the band and their beloved frontwoman pushing the limits of their songwriting while arguably being among the most direct, honest and sophisticated material they had ever written together. Soul of a Woman‘s first single “Matter of Time,” was a lush and moody meditation on the nature of time that brought to mind Ecclesiastes and The Byrds’ legendary cover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The album’s second single, the Jones penned and arranged “Call on God” focused on how faith can sustain you and guide you in the most desperate and uneasy times of your life. “Sail On!,” Soul of a Woman’s third album featured one of the world’s best horn sections blowing the doors down while a confident and brassy Jones tells a story about how revenge, karma and schadenfreude in which the song’s narrator decides to help an old friend, who did her dirty.

“Searching for a New Day,” Soul of a Woman’s fourth and latest single may arguably be one of their most ambivalent, if not emotionally complex songs they’ve ever released. While musically, the song is an upbeat, two step — the sort that the Dap Kings always excelled at, Jones’ vocals expresses the aching longing, hurt, pride and resolve of a woman, who struggled spiritually, emotionally and financially but bravely with dignity and a sense of humor and cool defiance.

Directed by Mel Rodriguez III, the recently released video takes place in a local bar that’s hosting a listening party for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ Soul of a Woman, and as the  unseen DJ plays the album, in front a crowd of fans, friends and others, the bar shows footage of Sharon and her Dap Kings performing live.  And while clearly being nostalgic, bringing memories of a tremendous performer, who in her brief stint in the limelight left such an enduring presence, the video begins to tell a a story of a young woman, who becomes enthralled and inspired by Sharon, suggesting that the beloved soul artist’s work will inspire a new generation of performers. Oh and while we’re at it, representation fucking matters. And being a young black woman, seeing a strong, older black woman tearing a stage up with a mischievous and warm smile must be a powerful thing, indeed.

New Video: Up-and-Coming Soul Act Million Miles Returns with Visuals for Bittersweet and Swooning New Single

Paris-born, London-based singer/songwriter Sophie Baudry is the creative mastermind behind the up-and-coming soul project, Million Miles, and interestingly enough the project is the culmination of a life-long love affair with soul music. After studying at Boston’s renowned Berklee College and a stint working as a recording engineer and studio musician in New York, Baudry returned to London and felt an irresistible pull to create her own music inspired by likes of Ray Charles and Bill Withers.  

On an inspired whim, Baudry wound up in Nashville, TN. The French-born, British-based singer/songwriter spent her first few days in Nashville 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.” Baudry had chance meetings with local songwriters and producers Robin Eaton and Paul Eberson, and within an hour or so, they began writing material together. 

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past couple of months, you may recall that Baudry’s Million Miles debut, Berry Hill EP was recorded over the course of a year during multiple sessions at Robin Eaton’s Berry Hill home studio. And the effort reportedly focuses on the journeys taken and lessons learned in the singer/songwriter’s life; in fact, EP single “Can’t Get Around A Broken Heart” revealed that Baudry specialized in an easy-going, effortless singer/songwriter/balladeer-based soul reminiscent of  Bill Withers and Sandra Rhodes’ sadly under-appreciated and seemingly forgotten debut Where’s Your Love Been. And much like Withers and Rhodes, Baudry revealed a rare ability to express joy and heartache within a turn of a phrase, just underneath the Sunday afternoon vibes.
The EP’s latest single “Love Like Yours” will further cement Baudry’s growing reputation for crafting easy-going yet deliberately crafted soul that while influenced by Bill Withers also manages to nod at early Erykah Badu and Jill Scott; however, whereas the previous single focused on crushing heartache, the EP’s latest single is the antithesis — or perhaps even the begging of the songwriter’s story, as the song’s narrator expresses joy and relief over finding — finally! — that profound love she’s been looking for. Of course, deep down, we all know the perverse irony in these sort of love songs — that love, like everything else isn’t forever, and that it can be as disappointing and frustrating. And yet, what would our lives be without that constant search, without those impermanent yet so important moments of joy? 

As Baudry explains of the video treatment, “We shot this video at home on a rainy day. I filmed footage on a trip to LA and loved projecting it on the wall at home when I was writing or recording, it’s really quite inspiring. The song has always been a favourite of mine as lyrically its quite personal and really reminiscent of a specific time in my life, so I wanted to keep that feeling throughout the video, keeping everything really intimate and what’s more intimate than home.”

 

New Video: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings Release New Single from Posthumous Album/Dap Kings Pay a Moving Tribute to Sharon Jones

Throughout the course of this site’s almost eight year history, I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink writing about a great deal of the artists on Daptone Records, including JOVM mainstays Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Charles Bradley.  Now, as you may recall, we lost Sharon last year after her three-year battle with pancreatic cancer and earlier this year, we lost Charles after his two-year battle with stomach cancer. Naturally they’ve been sorely missed by everyone who’s known them or worked with them in any capacity, as well as to their legions of fans across the world, who they brought joy, wisdom, hope and love to every single night.

Interestingly enough, Jones and her Dap Kings managed to spent the better part of her last few months writing and recording what turned out to be the band’s final, full-length studio album together, Soul of a Woman last month, almost a year to the date of her death.  Recorded on eight-track tape at Daptone Records’ famed, Bushwick, Brooklyn-based House of Soul Studios, and the album finds the band and their beloved frontwoman pushing the limits of their songwriting while being among the most direct, honest and sophisticated material they’ve written together.  In fact, Soul of a Woman’s first single “Matter of Time,” was a lush and moody meditation on the nature of time that brought to mind Ecclesiastes and The Byrds’ legendary cover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” while the album’s second single, the Jones’ penned “Call on God” focused on how faith can sustain you and guide you in the most desperate and uneasy times of your life while featuring some of her dearest and oldest friends adding backing vocals to the song — just how Sharon would have wanted it.

“Sail On!,” Soul of a Woman’s third and latest single, features the Dap Kings horn section, arguably one of the world’s best horn sections, blowing the doors down while a confident and brassy Sharon signs about a tale about the dangers of revenge — in terms of the song, it suggests that it winds up backfiring. So the song’s narrator suggests actually forgiving and even helping an old friend, who did her dirty; but underneath that theme of forgiveness is a very human and very honest bit of schadenfreude in which the song’s narrator kind of says “You’re coming back to me now? Serves your dumbass right,” before rolling her sleeves up to do the dirty work.

The recently released video was filmed at House of Soul during the recording sessions for the album and the song, capturing the band and Sharon at some of their most intimate moments.

Recently, the members of the Dap Kings were on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where they performed a medley of album singles “Sail On!” and “Searching for a New Day” to pay a profoundly moving tribute to their beloved leader, and to celebrate the official release of their final album together.