What I’ve Been Listening To: Lenny Kravitz/Raise Vibration

Eleventh studio album illustrates that after 30 years Kravitz maintains his gift to combine retro with modern sounds and write catchy tunes

Advertisements

Somehow I completely missed Lenny Kravitz’s new album Raise Vibration when it was released on September 7. I guess I should perhaps subscribe to a music publication to better stay on top of new music, except of course I’m not into most music that’s coming out these days. Anyway, I “discovered” Raise Vibration earlier today after I had seen a related clip on Facebook. Most of the reviews I read were quick to point out Kravitz’s 11th studio release doesn’t break any new ground. I mostly agree and that’s just fine with me.

I feel many critics have given Kravitz a hard time since he emerged in September 1989 with Let Love Rule. Some have said his music too much reflects his ’60s influences like Jimi Hendrix or early Led Zeppelin. Last time I checked both were among the most outstanding artists on the planet. Some folks have maintained Kravitz doesn’t sound black enough, while others have found he sounded too white. All of this is complete and utter nonsense, in my opinion!

Lenny Kravitz

When I look at Kravitz, I see an incredibly talented artist who writes, sings and produces his own music. Oh, and apart from being a capable guitarist, he also plays most of the other instruments on his records. Most importantly, Kravitz has the gift to mix retro elements with modern sounds and write catchy tunes. All of these qualities are present on Raise Vibration, his first new album in four years since Strut from September 2014.

But evidently, Kravitz found himself in a very different place three years ago after he had finished his last world tour, he told Rolling Stone in April this year. “I really wasn’t sure where I was going musically,” Kravitz explained. “After doing this for 30 years, I wasn’t feeling it. I’d never felt that confused about what to do. And it was kind of a scary place. You don’t know when it’s going to come.” While there are techniques that can stimulate creativity, ultimately, you can’t force it.

Lenny Kravitz In Concert

Kravitz bravely rejected the advice from others to collaborate with producers and songwriters who know how to score hits. “I’ve never really worked that way, following trends or doing what people think you should do,” he further noted to Rolling Stone. “I’ve always made music that came naturally out of me.” And fortunately that’s exactly what happened when one night Kravitz woke up at 4:00 am in his house in the Bahamas with a song in his head, which would become Low, one of the standouts on the album. It proofed to be the catalyst he needed to spur his artistic creativity. “I learned you have to trust yourself and the artist in yourself. Always trust what you have.” Yes! And with that let’s get to some music.

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Low. Like all other tunes on Raise Vibration except for two, it was written by Kravitz. The song also became the second single released ahead of the album on May 29. If the “oohs” in the track sound like Michael Jackson, that’s because it features posthumous, presumably sampled “guest vocals” from the King of Pop. This is one great funky tune!

Next up: The album’s title track. I just love the guitar sound and the cool breaks on that track. The native American chants and drums toward the end ad an unusual element. So much for not breaking any new ground!

Johnny Cash, a moving tribute to the country legend, is based on an encounter Kravitz had with the Man in Black and his wife June Carter Cash in 1995, when they were all staying at producer Rick Rubin’s apartment in Los Angeles. At the time his mother was receiving treatment for breast cancer. After getting a call from the hospital that this mom had passed away, Johnny and June consoled Kravitz. “…they decided at that moment (to) treat me like they would treat someone in their family,” Kravitz said during a BBC interview, as reported by Music-News.com. “It was a beautiful moment of humanity and love.”

Another gem on the album is Here To Love, a nice piano-driven ballad.

The last tune I’d like to call out is It’s Enough, which also became the album’s lead single released on May 11. It’s got a cool Marvin Gaye vibe that lyrically is reminiscent of  What’s Going On with a bass line that sounds like it could have been inspired by Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). Also check out the horns that start at around 6 minutes into the song: nice touch of ’70s Temptations – super cool!

Like he usually does, Kravitz produced the album and plays most of the instruments. Other than string and horn players, the only other musicians are longtime collaborator and guitarist Craig Ross, who also co-wrote two of the tracks with Kravitz, as well as keyboardist and orchestrator David Baron. Kravitz is supporting the album with a world tour. The 2018 section started in April ahead of the record’s release and mostly focused on Europe. It also included 10 dates in the U.S., which wrapped up in Las Vegas in late October. According to the schedule, the tour will resume in March 2019 with a series of gigs in South America before traveling back to Europe. Currently, the last date is June 11, 2019 in London, U.K.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Music-News.com, Lenny Kravitz website, YouTube

 

Clips & Pix: Beth Hart/Leave The Light On

Sometimes you come across music that blows you away. Completely. It rarely happens. When it does it’s a beautiful thing. Check out the above clip of Beth Hart performing Leave The Light On. Turn up the volume and tell me this isn’t powerful shit! Frankly, I was close to tears when I did.

Leave The Light On is the title track of Hart’s fourth studio album. The above clip is from an upcoming record called Live At The Royal Albert Hall, which is scheduled for release on November 30th. I’ll be looking for that one!

Hart is an American singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, who according to Wikipedia began playing clubs in Hollywood at the age of 15. Based on her birthday, that was back in 1987. Six years later, she released her first record as Beth Hart and the Ocean of Souls. After sampling a few tunes, this seems to be one smoking hot record! She has since released eight additional studio albums, one extended play, three collaboration albums and three live records, including the upcoming one. I’ll be sure to further check her out!

Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics of Leave The Light On. This is painful stuff:

Daddy ain’t that bad he just plays rough
I ain’t that scarred when I’m covered up 
I leave the light on 
Little girl hiding underneath the bed was it something I did 
Must be something I said 
I leave the light on, better leave the light on.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

 

Clips & Pix: Aretha Franklin/Rock Steady

While the memorial for Aretha Franklin is still going on in Detroit, it felt right to celebrate her with more great music. My previous post about the Queen of Soul is here. Apparently, the above clip of Rock Steady was captured in 1972 during a performance on the TV show Soul Train. I just love the funky groove of this tune!

Rock Steady was written by Franklin, who was mostly known for performing songs by other writers and making them her own. She first recorded the tune for her eighteenth studio album Young, Gifted And Black from January 1972. It was also released separately as the record’s third single in August 1971.

The single peaked at no. 9 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It climbed all the way to no. 2 on the Best Selling Souls Singles chart, now called the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

1,100 Miles From Memphis, Keeping It Real With Funky Blues And Soul

Southern Avenue shines live in New York City

Southern Avenue has been on my radar screen since I listened to their great eponymous debut album a year ago. When I learned the funky blues and soul band was coming to New York City, I decided right away that I wanted to see them. And so I did, Tuesday night at Joe’s Pub at The Public, a terrific small music venue in the Big Apple’s West Village. The band’s powerful performance made it worth every minute!

Founded in Memphis in 2015, Southern Avenue include Tierini Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Ori Naftaly (guitar), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Gage Markey (bass), who is a touring member. According the band’s website, they are named after a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of the legdendary Stax Records.

Southern Avenue
Southern Avenue (left to right): Tikyra Jackson, Ori Naftaly, Tierini Jackson and Jeremy Powell

Naftaly, a blues guitarist who came to Memphis from Israel in 2013 for a blues competition, decided to stay and tour the U.S. with his own band. Later he met Memphis native Tierini Jackson and immediately was impressed with her powerful voice. Soon thereafter, they started writing music together. Tierini introduced him to her sister, other members joined the band, and they began touring in the U.S. and Europe.

Less than a year after their formation, Southern Avenue got a contract with none other than Stax Records. Sure, that label has seen many changes since the days of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and its house band Booker T. & The M.G.s. Still, appearing on a label that’s associated with such a glorious history is pretty cool! Southern Avenue’s eponymous debut studio album was released in February 2017. It entered the Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 and topped the iTunes Blues Chart, an impressive and well-deserved showing. Time to get to some music.

Tuesday night’s set predominantly featured tunes from the band’s debut album, along with various covers, such as great takes of Chain Of Fools, first recorded by Aretha Franklin in November 1967, and Come Together by The Beatles, the opener of the Abbey Road album from September 1969. Here’s a clip of Wildflower, an original song from the band’s first record.

I do not know the title of the tune featured in the next clip. I believe it is also an original song. Since it is not included on the band’s debut album, I assume it hasn’t been released yet.

Next up is one of my Southern Avenue favorites, 80 Miles From Memphis. I just love the bluesy groove of that tune! When I told Naftaly during a meet and greet with the band after the show that I had noticed they had slowed it down a bit, he explained that was done deliberately. The speed of the tune varies based on the audience and where it is in the set during the show. If it’s more of a blues crowd or they use it to warm up the audience, the band speeds it up. Last night, it came right before the closer Don’t Give Up, a slower tune.

The last song I’d like to call out is the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, the opener of Southern Avenue’s debut album. It nicely illustrates Tierini’s powerful voice, who is often supported by her sister on harmony vocals. When I asked Tierini where she had learned to sing like this, she mentioned the church and that her parents were musicians. One really wonders what soul would be without gospel music and church choirs!

Commenting on Tueday night’s set overall, Naftaly said they mostly filled it with slower and quieter songs, given the small size of the venue. He added if they would have rocked with full force, they would have blown away the audience – I actually would have been fine with that, though blew me away in a different manner! 🙂 When I told Tierini that unlike what’s mostly in the charts today I love their music, she moderately replied, “We’re trying to keep it real.”

Asked by somebody else when their next album is coming out, Naftaly said it will be released in February, hinting it is ready. In the meantime, Southern Avenue will continue to tour. The schedule on their Facebook page lists gigs until March 1, 2017. Upcoming shows are in Plattsburgh, N.Y. (Aug 30), East Stroudsburg, Pa. (Aug 31) and Effingham, Ill (Sep 1). This is an exciting young band I will continue to follow.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Avenue website and Facebook page, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Tommy Castro & The Painkillers/Soul Shake

Over the weekend, I came across this smoking hot soulful boogie rocker Soul Shake performed by Tommy Castro & The Painkillers. If this doesn’t get you moving, frankly, I don’t know what will!

Apparently co-written by songwriters Margaret Lewis and Mira Ann Smith, the tune was first recorded by Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson in 1969. It was also covered by Delaney & Bonnie on their fourth studio album To Bonnie From Delaney, released in September 1970.

Castro & The Painkillers included the song on Stompin’ Ground, their most recent studio album that appeared in September 2017. I understand the entire record is soul-oriented rock, which sounds like right up my alley, so I’m going to further check it out.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Aretha Franklin

Earlier this year, I got very close to seeing Aretha Franklin live at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. I had already purchased two tickets and was thrilled to finally experience who I felt was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. Another cool thing was that the March 25th show would have coincided with her 76th birthday. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

On very short notice, the concert was cancelled due to an unidentified illness. When media reported shortly thereafter that Franklin’s doctor had ordered three months of absolute rest, I didn’t have a good feeling. After all, this wasn’t the first time she had dealt with health issues. Yesterday, the Queen of Soul passed away from advanced pancreatic cancer, barely five months after her birthday and what I’m sure would have been an unforgettable performance.

FRANKLIN
Aretha Franklin performing at the VH1 Divas 2001

Given the vast number of obituaries that have been published since news about her untimely death broke yesterday morning, I’m not going to develop yet another one. Instead, I’d like to focus on what will remain – an amazing amount of music by an amazing performer, released over a 60-year-plus professional career.

Based on Wikipedia, Franklin’s enormous catalog includes 42 studio albums, six live albums, 131 singles and numerous compilations. While it’s obviously impossible to capture all of that music in one playlist while keeping it to no more than 10 tracks, I tried to come up with tunes that span her entire recording period.

Where to start the undertaking? Well, how about Franklin’s studio debut Songs Of Faith from 1956, which was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, the church of her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin. Here’s While The Blood Runs Warm. Franklin was only 14 years old at the time, but you can already hear her powerful voice. This is giving me goosebumps!

Franklin’s fourth studio album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin from August 1962 became her first charting record, reaching no. 69 on the Billboard pop albums chart. Here’s Try A Little Tenderness, a tune I dig, written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods, and first recorded by the Ray Nobel Orchestra in December 1932. It has since been covered by many other artists, who in addition to Franklin most notably included Otis Redding in 1966.

Respect is perhaps the best-known Aretha Franklin song. The signature tune, which was written and first released by Otis Redding in 1965, appeared on her 11th studio album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You from March 1967. The song was Franklin’s first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, as well as the Cash Box chart. The record became her highest charting to date, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard album chart and topping the magazine’s R&B chart.

Another Franklin signature song undoubtedly is Think, co-written by her and her manager and first husband Ted White. The feminism anthem appeared on her 15th studio album Aretha Now in June 1968 and was also released separately as a single in May of the same year. White’s involvement in the song’s writing looks ironical, given Franklin divorced him in 1969, following reports of domestic abuse.

This Girl’s In Love With You was Franklin’s first ’70s album appearing in January that year, and her 18th studio album overall. Intriguingly, it includes the first commercial release of Let It Be, preceding The Beatles’ version by two months, and the following take of The Weight written by The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Oh, and if the guy on the slide guitar somehow seems to sound familiar, it was Duane Allman. I think not only is this soulful cover smoking hot, but it’s also a great illustration of Franklin’s great ability to take songs written by others and make them her own.

In February 1974, Franklin released her 22nd studio album Let Me Be In Your Life.  The second single from that record was Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do), co-written by Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder and Morris Broadnax. It was first recorded by Wonder in 1967, though he didn’t release his version until 1977. The tune became a million-seller for Franklin, topping the Billboard R&B chart and peaking at no. 2 on the Hot 100. It was her last major ’70s hit.

Jumping to the ’80s, Franklin collaborated on a number of songs with various other artists during that decade, such as George Benson, Elton John, George Michael and Eurhythmics. The tune I’d like to highlight in this context is Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, another feminist anthem that Franklin recorded with Eurhythmics. Apart from appearing as a single in October 1985, the tune was included on Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? and the British pop duo’s Be Yourself Tonight studio albums. Co-written by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, the song reached no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 9 in the U.K. on the Official Singles Chart. The track proves that Franklin could even make an ’80s commercial pop tune sound pretty hot.

A Rose Is Still A Rose, released in March 1998, was Franklin’s last studio album that reached Gold certification and became her best-selling record of the ’90s. Following is the title track, which was written by Lauryn Hill and is yet another feminist-based tune. It also appeared as a single one month ahead of the album, reaching no. 1, 5 and 26 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap Songs and Hot 100 charts, respectively.

Jumping to the current century, in September 2003, Franklin’s 38th studio record So Damn Happy appeared. It included Wonderful, a song co-written by Aleese Simmons and Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, which won Franklin the 2003 Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.

Franklin’s 42nd and final studio album A Brand New Me was released in November 2017. It featured archival vocal recordings from her years with Atlantic Records combined with new arrangements by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and newly recorded backing vocals. Here’s I Say A Little Prayer, which Burt Bacharach and Hal David co-wrote for Dionne Warwick who released it in 1967 as as single. It was also included on her eighth studio release The Windows Of The World. Franklin originally recorded the tune for the above noted Aretha Now album and released it as a single in July 1968, scoring a no. 3 and 10 on the Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively.

As previously noted, the goal of the above playlist was to be career-spanning. As such, not all of the songs are among my favorite tunes. But at the same time, I feel that because of her powerful voice and soulful delivery, Franklin simply never sang a bad song in the first place – at least I haven’t heard one yet. Two other artists who come to my mind in this context are Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. It’s a rare quality that is going to be part of Franklin’s legacy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clarence Carter, Groovy Southern Soul And R&B Man

Despite several hits in the late 60s and early 70s, Carter didn’t achieve the popularity of other FAME recording artists

I just love when this happens. Yesterday morning, I checked Apple Music and under “new releases” spotted Snatching It Back by Clarence Carter, a name I wasn’t familiar with. The cover showing Carter holding his electric guitar somehow reminded me of Stax, so I decided to give the album a listen. Right from the get-go I was intrigued by what I heard – great southern style soul and R&B that makes you groove and snip your fingers – my kind of music to start the day!

Carter was born blind in Montgomery, Ala. on January 14, 1936. According to his profile on Apple Music, he taught himself how to play the guitar at a young age by listening to blues artists like John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jimmy Reed. Any guy who can pull that off has my full respect! Following graduation from Alabama State College with a B.S. in music in August 1960, another remarkable accomplishment, given the time and place, he formed the duo Clarence & Calvin with his friend Calvin Scott. They signed with the Fairlane label and started releasing a series of singles, none of which got any traction. After Scott was badly injured in a car accident, Carter went on as a solo artist.

Clarence Carter Live 2012
Clarence Carter (center) live in 2012

It took until 1967 that Carter’s music received first recognition with Tell Daddy, recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. The tune, which he co-wrote, peaked at no. 35 on the Billboard R&B Chart. Carter gained additional visibility when Etta James covered the song as Tell Mama, scoring a no. 10 on the R&B Chart and peaking at no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, her highest-charting song there. At the end of 1967, he joined Atlantic Records and put out a series of records and singles. Some were pretty awesome and did well on the charts, but Carter never achieved the popularity of a Wilson PickettOtis Redding or Solomon Burke.

At the end of 1971, after a string of less successful releases, Carter left Atlantic and went to FAME Records, which like FAME Studios was owned by Rick Hall. In 1975, he signed with ABC Records, but the advent of disco negatively impacted his career. In 1985, Carter switched to Ichiban Records and released six albums before establishing his own Cee Cee Entertainment label in 1996. Since then, he has released at least 14 additional records, including the above mentioned Snatching It Back, a compilation that appeared last Friday. Time for some music. I’m mostly focusing on Carter’s early career.

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Tell Daddy, Carter’s first hit single. According to Wikipedia, he co-wrote the song with Marcus Daniel and Wilbur Terrell, though for some reason these guys didn’t receive any credits. BTW, Etta James initially resisted to record her version of the tune Tell Mama, but apparently Rick Hall insisted and eventually she gave in – a decision I imagine she didn’t regret!

Slip Away, released in 1968, was Carter’s first big hit, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard R&B Chart. Co-written by Marcus Daniel, Wilbur Terrell and William Armstrong, it was included on his Atlantic debut studio album This Is Clarence Carter.

Also in 1968, Carter released a single called Back Door Santa, which hip hop group Run-D.M.C. sampled for their 1987 hit Christmas In Hollis. The tune was also included on his second Atlantic release Testifyin’ from 1969. The song is credited to Carter, Rick Hall, David Newman and Marcus Daniel. While the tune was also featured on a Christmas album, the sexually suggestive lyrics make it clear it doesn’t have much to do with the holiday. Steamy lyrics, BTW, became Carter’s trademark.

Snatching It Back, also from Testfyin’, was another successful single for Carter released in 1969. The song was co-written by Carter, Jimmie Haskell, Rick Hall, Harrison Calloway and George Jackson. I just love the horns on this tune and its Stax vibe.

Another beautiful Carter song and yet another track from Testifyin’ that came out in 1969 is The Feeling Is Right. It was composed by Jimmie Haskell, Rick Hall, Harrison Calloway, Mickey Buckins and George Jackson.

Patches, the title track of Carter’s 1970 studio album, became his biggest hit, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard R&B Chart and reaching no. 4 Billboard Hot 100. Written by General Johnson and Ron Dunbar, the tune also earned Carter the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

Another nice track from the Patches album is You’re Love Lifted Me, co-written by Jimmie Haskell, Harrison Calloway and Obie McClinton. And yes, while the title looks grammatically wrong, it actually seems to be written that way – don’t know why.

I’m The Midnight Special is the opener to Carter’s 1973 album Sixty Minutes With Clarence Carter, the first record after he had signed on with FAME. It is credited to Muscle Shoals Horns, Raymond Moore, George Jackson, Allyn Mitchell and Larry Chambers.

In 1975, Carter issued a single called I Got Caught. Co-written by him and R. Hatcher, the soul ballad is classic Carter, lyrically speaking. Apparently, it was one of his last singles that charted.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is a Carter composition called Strokin’, the closer of his 1986 studio album Dr. C.C.  Since due to its lyrics the song was considered too raunchy for release as a single or radio play, the record company placed it in jukeboxes where it apparently became popular. Use in an Eddie Murphy picture gave it further exposure.

Today at the mighty age of 82, Carter is still active. While it appears he currently has no official website with a tour schedule, I found a reference on the web, according to which he’s scheduled to perform at Union Bank & Trust Pavillion in Portsmouth, Va. on September 8, 2018.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Discogs, YouTube