Tag: soul music

Throwback: Black History Month: Chaka Khan

JOVM’s William Ruben Helms celebrates Black History Month — and pays tribute to Chaka Khan.

Live Footage: Yola Performs “Diamond Studded Shoes” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

With the release of her critically applauded, Dan Auerbach-produced full-length debut, 2019’s Walk Through Fire, the Bristol, UK-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and JOVM mainstay Yola had a breakthrough year that year with a series of career-defining highlights including:

making her New York debut at Rockwood Music Hall
playing a buzz-worthy, breakout performance at that year’s SXSW
opening for a list of acclaimed artists including Kacey Musgraves, Lake Street Dive and Andrew Bird on a select series of US tour dates that featured stops at Newport Folk Festival, Hollywood Bowl, Austin City Limits Festival, and Lincoln Center Out of Doors
playing a YouTube session at YouTube Space New York
making her nationally televised debut on CBS This Morning: Saturday Sessions
receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Artist, along with fellow JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas
making her late night national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! 
releasing a soulful cover of Elton John‘s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,”that not only quickly became a staple of her live sets — but caught the attention of Sir Elton John, who praised her and her cover

Last year, the Bristol-born, Nashville-based JOVM mainstay had hopes to build upon 2019’s momentum with a handful of opportunities that came her way last year that many artists across the world would kill for: Early last year, it was announced that she was casted as blues and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama Elvis alongside Austin Butler in the title role, Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Presley’s mother. Unfortunately, much like with everyone else,the COVID-19 pandemic threw a series of monkey wrenches into her hopes and plans: Tom Hanks wound up contracting COVID-19 while filming in Australia and because of pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions, filming was delayed. During breaks in the Elvis filming schedule, she was supposed to play a series of dates opening for country superstar Chris Stapleton and Grammy Award-winning acts  The Black Keys and Brandi Carlile — with one of those shows being at Madison Square Garden, which also got postponed until later on this year. (More on that below.) 

However, Yola managed two finish her first Stateside headlining tour, a tour that included a stop at Music Hall of Williamsburg, a few weeks before the world went into lockdown.  In lieu of actual touring, the Bristol-born, Nashville-based JOVM mainstay wound up making a virtual tour of the domestic, late night television show circuit that saw her playing bonus track “I Don’t Want to Lie” on The Late Late Show with James Corden — and gospel-tleaning cover of Nina Simone‘s classic and beloved “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” filmed at The Ryman Auditorium for Late Night with Seth Meyers. 

But besides that, much like the rest of us Yola had a lot of time on her hands. The Bristol-born, Nashville-based JOVM mainstay used the unexpected gift of time and space to ground herself physically and mentally as she began to write the material that would become her highly-anticipated sophomore album Stand For Myself. Some of the album’s material was written several years previously and inspired by deeply personal moments, like her mother’s funeral. Other songs were written during pandemic isolation, and as a result they reflect on her personal and collective moments of longing and awakening — inspired and informed by Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and other movements. 

Tracks were also cowritten with Ruby Amanfu, John Bettis, Pat McLaughlin, Natalie Hemby, Joy Oladokun, Paul Overstreet, Liz Rose, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Hannah Vasanth and Bobby Wood. But importantly, the album’s material will make a connection with anyone who has experienced feeling as though they were an “other” while urging the listener to challenge the biases and assumptions that fuel bigotry, inequality and tokenism — all of which have impacted her personal life and career. “It’s a collection of stories of allyship, black feminine strength through vulnerability, and loving connection from the sexual to the social. All celebrating a change in thinking and paradigm shift at their core.” Yola says in press note, adding, “It is an album not blindly positive and it does not simply plead for everyone to come together. It instead explores ways that we need to stand for ourselves throughout our lives, what limits our connection as humans and declares that real change will come when we challenge our thinking and acknowledge our true complexity.” Ultimately, the JOVM mainstay’s hope is that the album will encourage both empathy and self actualization, all while returning to where she started, to the real Yola. “I kind of got talked out of being me, and now I’m here. This is who I’ve always been in music and in life. There was a little hiatus where I got brainwashed out of my own majesty, but a bitch is back.”

Continuing her ongoing collaboration with acclaimed producer, singer/songwriter, musician and label head Dan Auerbach, the album which was recorded late last year at Easy Eye Sound is inspired by the seminal albums she initially discovered through her mother’s record collection, as well as the eclectic mixtapes she created while listening to British radio that featured neo soul, R&B, Brit Pop and others. Featuring a backing band that includes Nick Movshon (bass), best known for his work with Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars alongside Aaron Frazier (drums), a rising solo artist in his own right, the album is sonically is a noticeable shift from her debut, with the album’s aesthetic meshing symphonic soul and classic pop while occasionally hinting at the country soul of her critically applauded debut.

In the buildup to the album’s release last month, I’ve written about three of Stand For Myself‘s singles: 

“Diamond Studded Shoes,” a woozy yet seamless synthesis of densely layered Phil Spector-like Wall of Sound pop, country, 70s singer/songwriter pop and late 60s/early 70s Motown soul centered around the JOVM mainstay’s powerhouse vocals and some of the most incisive sociopolitical commentary of her growing catalog. “This song explores the false divides created to distract us from those few who are in charge of the majority of the world’s wealth and use the ‘divide and conquer’ tactic to keep it,” Yola explained in press notes. “This song calls on us to unite and turn our focus to those with a stranglehold on humanity.”
“Stand For Myself,” a bold and proudly feminist anthem written from the perspective of a survivor, who wants to do more than just survive; she wants to thrive and be wholly herself — at all costs. While featuring a rousing, shout-along worthy hook. a clean pop-leaning take on the famous Nashville sound and a the JOVM mainstay’s powerhouse vocals, the song, much like its immediate predecessor is undermined by incisive social commentary: Essentially, the track reflects on Yola’s belief in the possibility of paradigm shift beyond the mental programming that creates both tokenism and bigotry. “The song’s protagonist ‘token,’ has been shrinking themselves to fit into the narrative of another’s making, but it becomes clear that shrinking is pointless,” Yola explains. “This song is about a celebration of being awake from the nightmare supremacist paradigm. Truly alive, awake and eyes finally wide open and trained on your path to self actualisation. You are thinking freely and working on undoing the mental programming that has made you live in fear. It is about standing for ourselves throughout our lives and real change coming when we challenge our thinking. This is who I’ve always been in music and in life.”
“Starlight,” a sultry and lush, Quiet Storm-inspired song featuring twinkling keys, a sinuous bass line, a soaring hook, strummed guitar, shuffling rhythms paired with Yola’s vocals expressing vulnerability and longing for human connection and touch. “‘Starlight’ is a song about looking for positive physical, sexual and human connections at every level of your journey towards love,” Yola explains. She adds: “The world seems to attach a negative trope of cold heartlessness to the concept of any sexual connection that isn’t marriage, this song looks through a lens of warmth specifically when it comes to sex positivity. Understanding the necessity of every stage of connection and that it is possible for every stage of your journey in love, sex and connection to be nurturing. Temporary or transitory doesn’t have to be meaningless or miserable. In the right situations every connection can teach us something valuable about who we are, what we want and what is healthy.”

Last night Yola performed a slightly stripped down and jammy version of her chart-topping single “Diamond Studded Shoes” on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Over the past 15 years, Finnish indie soul label Timmion Records have developed a reputation for being one of the preeminent soul labels in the international scene, as they’ve released some of the most exciting batches of material around. Interestingly, the Finnish indie label has developed and enjoyed a long-held kingship with world famous soul label, Daptone Records centered on mutual respect and a shared love of all thing soul music. While Daptone has distributed a number of Timmion Records titles internationally, the Brooklyn-based label will be partnering with the Finnish label on a much larger scale.

With the forthcoming release of Bad Education, Vol 1. on July 19, 2019, Daptone Records hope to give wider exposure to the Timmion Records catalog with a carefully curated list of 10 of world famous, Brooklyn-based label’s favorite Timmion tracks over the past few years — both released and previously unreleased. Interestingly, the compilations’ first single is Wanda Felicia’s slow-burning, classic soul ballad “Until You’re Mine.” Centered around an simple, two-step inducing arrangement featuring mournful horns, soaring organ keys and shuffling drumming, the track is spacious enough for Wanda Felica’s effortlessly soulful yet emotionally raw vocals (which express heartache and longing simultaneously). “Timmion Records has secured their place in the history of Soul music as one of the great indie labels creating raw emotional, soulful music, and Wanda Felicia’s ‘Until You’re Mine’ is proof of that,” Daptone Records co-founder Neal Sugarman says in press notes. “Her singing is raw and natural without relying on the added inflection and vocal acrobatics that most modern singers have adapted to cover up for the lack of a solid melody that good, simple song writing should have. Wanda and the Timmion production team have clearly nailed it, once again!”

Over the bulk of this site’s almost nine-year history, I’ve written quite a bit about JOVM mainstay Charles Bradley. The late Jacksonville, FL-born, Brooklyn-based soul singer/songwriter led a remarkable life, overcoming unimaginable adversity, eventually appearing in two documentaries, Charles Bradley: Soul of America and the Daptone Records live documentary, Living on Soul filmed during the 2014 Daptone Records Soul Revue residency at the legendary Apollo Theater, and four full-length albums, 2011’s No Time For Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love, 2016’s Changes, and last year’s posthumously released Black Velvet.

As you may recall, in late 2016, Bradley faced what would be one of the greatest challenges in a lifetime filled with challenges. A stomach cancer diagnosis during the fall forced him to cancel a busy touring schedule to support Changes. Weakened by months of chemotherapy, facing a potentially life-threatening surgery and confronting his own mortality, Bradley stepped into a home recording studio in Queens and spontaneously created “Lonely as You Are.” Featuring a looping piano sequence, shuffling drumming and gently strummed guitars, the track features Bradley’s imitable and achingly soulful vocals speaking and singing lyrics that express his profound loneliness, the tacit awareness of his impending mortality, his hope to be reunited with his mother and grandmother in heaven and his hope to leave something that connects with fans and others once he was gone. While the song was centered around a sparse instrumental arrangement of The Avett Brothers‘ Seth Avett (guitar) and Mike Marsh (drums) and co-producers James Levy and The Avett Brothers and Langhorne Slim‘s Paul Defigilia (bass, piano and organ and co-production), the track manages to be a great example of Bradley’s powerfully earnest soulfulness — and a comforting plea to other lonely souls out there.

In contrast to the tearjerking “Lonely as You Are,” “Lucifer,” the second song from that last recording session is a classic, joyful Charles Bradley love song with a soaring string arrangement; but unlike his previously released material, the song focuses on both the spiritual and physical — of a sustaining love that transcends time and all things. While being a bittersweet track because of his death shortly after the song’s recording, it’s a fitting farewell from one of this generation’s most sincere and heartfelt singer/songwriters.

 

 

 

Over the bulk of this site’s almost nine-year history, I’ve written quite a bit about JOVM mainstay Charles Bradley. And as you may recall, the late Jacksonville, FL-born, Brooklyn-based soul singer/songwriter led a remarkable life, overcoming unimaginable adversity, eventually appearing in two documentaries, Charles Bradley: Soul of America and the Daptone Records live documentary, Living on Soul filmed during the 2014 Daptone Records Soul Revue residency at the legendary Apollo Theater, and four full-length albums, 2011’s No Time For Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love, 2016’s Changes, and last year’s posthumously released Black Velvet.

In late 2016, Bradley faced what would be one the greatest challenges in a lifetime filled with challenges. A stomach cancer diagnosis earlier during the fall forced him to cancel a busy touring schedule. Weakened by months of chemotherapy, facing a potentially life threatening surgery and confronting his own mortality, Bradley stepped into a home recording studio in Queens and spontaneously created “Lonely as You Are.” Featuring a looping piano sequence, shuffling drumming and gently strummed guitars, the track features Bradley’s imitable and achingly soulful vocals speaking and singing lyrics that express his profound loneliness, the tacit awareness of his impending mortality, his hope to be reunited with his mother and grandmother in heaven and his hope to leave something that connects with fans and others once he was gone. While the song is centered around a sparse instrumental arrangement of The Avett Brothers‘ Seth Avett (guitar) and Mike Marsh (drums) and co-producers James Levy and The Avett Brothers and Langhorne Slim‘s Paul Defigilia (bass, piano and organ and co-production), the track manages to be a great example of Bradley’s powerfully earnest soulfulness — and a comforting plea to other lonely souls out there. But goddamn it, it’s an also achingly sincere tear-jerker.

The song ends with Bradley saying “I love you. And this is Charles Bradley. I hope this one days get out to the world.” His hope has been realized, and while achingly sad, it’s a reminder of how a great artist’s work can resonate long after they’ve left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.