Tag Archives: Rap

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Atom Bomb

blindboysofalabama_atombombReissue of post-Grammy album of gospel and faithful pop

After a four album Grammy run from Spirit of the Century through the Ben Harper-produced There Will Be a Light, the group re-teamed with producer John Chelew for this 2005 release. As on the preceding albums, the material was selected from a wide range of sources, the group’s gospel singing was combined with pop, rap, R&B and blues, and the studio welcomed guests that included harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite, keyboard player Billy Preston and guitarist David Hidalgo. Unlike the star-fronted Go Tell It on the Mountain, the guests here support the Blind Boys’ lead vocals. If you liked the reach of the Grammy run, you’ll enjoy how the rich gospel harmonies are spent on both standards and pop songs of faith, including Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” and Blind Faith’s “Presence of the Lord.” Omnivore’s 2016 reissue adds instrumental versions of seven album tracks and new liner notes by David Seay, providing a nice upgrade to those who already have the original release. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Home Page

OST: Hot Tub Time Machine

14 musical icons of the 1980s and a surprise!

The premise of Hot Tub Time Machine, four friends transported back to 1986, provides an opportunity to trot out some of the decade’s popular classics for this soundtrack album. One realization gained from the variety here is that the stultifying affect of MTV at decade’s end wasn’t nearly as overpowering at decade’s start, from which many of these tracks are selected. The tunes include boundary pushing rap, Australian pop, revivalist ska, synthpop, hair metal, post-punk, and alternative rock that dates to a time when there was rock to which one could be an actual alternative. It will remind you that once-upon-a-time MTV was a channel for artists rather than a brand to be worn. One of the film’s actors, Craig Robinson, performs a credible cover of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and transports the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get it Started” back to the ‘80s where it fits surprisingly well. Caution: these songs are addictive and may lead you to search out the bigger fixes of Hip-O’s I Want My 80’s Box! and Rhino’s even more extensive Like Omigod! The ‘80s Pop Culture Box (Totally). After all, everybody must Wang Chung tonight. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Rick Rubin: In the Studio

RickRubin_InTheStudioHagiography constructed from existing interviews

Author Jake Brown seems to have synthesized this book almost entirely from other people’s interviews with Rubin, his mentors and partners, and the broad range of musicians with whom he’s worked. The only new interview Brown lists in his extensive bibliography is with Rubin’s early protégé George Drakoulias. The bulk of the book is a series of quotes artfully selected and stitched together from newspapers, music magazines and websites. Brown’s research is extensive, and organized into coherently themed chapters the material paints a broad-brush portrait of Rubin. But with only one original interview, Brown adds few new insights to the record.

Brown neither interviewed Rubin, nor actually watched him work, nor – other than Drakoulias – appears to have spoken with anyone who worked with Rubin. The quotes are all presented at face value, with no dissenting or contrasting opinions, and by sampling from other people’s interviews, Brown robs himself of the opportunity to interact with the sources and ask specific follow-up questions. He cleverly synthesizes conversational back-and-forth between principals (e.g., Rubin and Johnny Cash) by weaving together quotes from multiple sources, but in the end it’s a simulation rather than real-life interplay, and though a nice writing trick, it’s not satisfying.

The existing materials that Brown could find, or his own personal interests, color the depth and breadth of the book’s coverage. Individual chapters on Public Enemy, Mick Jagger and the Dixie Chicks are short and shallow, while multiple chapters on the Red Hot Chili Peppers wander away from Rubin into fetishistic, over-long explorations of guitarist John Frusciante’s equipment. There are a few obvious typos, such as the use of “peak” in place of “pique,” and at least one ill-chosen presumption: the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster is mentioned without explaining why it would have made Rubin nervous – those who’ve never seen the film are left in the dark.

Readers are left to synthesize the larger themes from Brown’s reporting. Rubin emerges from the quotes as a transformative figure that brought rap to the mainstream, revitalized rock production, resuscitated moribund and damaged musical careers, and pried mature artists from their ruts. The diligence of his pre-production, particularly his focus on selecting and preparing material, is shown to free musicians to be emotional performers in the studio rather than technical craftsmen. Rubin himself is only rarely glimpsed in the studio, a by-product of both his working method and Brown’s method as a writer, but he’s pictured as listening intently and nudging (or jolting) artists with his ideas.

Drawing views from multiple sources might give readers a chance to triangulate on Rubin, but the vantage points are often too similar to create real dimension. The sampling of quotes doesn’t bring the author, and thus the reader, close enough to really feel Rubin’s character. The numerous in-line citations, laudable for their accuracy in accreditation, leave the reader feeling one step removed from the book’s subject. The breadth of Brown’s research shows a deep passion for Rubin’s work (particularly with the Red Hot Chili Peppers) that would have paid greater dividends via first-person access to the producer. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

On Tour: Chuck D

Music icon and political activist Chuck D will make a number of appearances at colleges throughout the country during Black History Month holding lectures on the subjects of racism, culture, and the power of knowledge.

Feb. 2  Columbia, SC University of South Carolina
Feb. 4  Tacoma, WA University of Puget Sound
Feb. 10  Tuscaloosa, AL University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa
Feb. 11  Birmingham, AL Miles College
Feb. 17  Chicago, IL Columbia College
Feb. 18  Gary, IN Indiana University-Northwest (tent)
Feb. 19  Richmond, KY Eastern Kentucky University

Press Release
Chuck D’s MySpace Page

Girl Talk: Feed the Animals

girltalk_feedtheanimalsBrain busting mashups of pop, rock, hip-hop and rap

Even if you don’t care for dance beats and rap peppered with expletives, it’s hard not to get hooked by the craftiness with which Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) mashes up hundreds of soft pop, classic rock, hip-hop and rap samples. Simply playing “what’s that sample” will provide hours of fun as you untangle iconic riffage from the Spencer Davis Group, Twisted Sister, Argent, Eddie Floyd, Heart, Rick Derringer, The Carpenters, Metallica, Elvis Costello, Carole King, Prince, The Velvet Underground, Chicago, ? and the Mysterians, and hundreds more, including dozens of rappers and vocalists that include Busta Rhymes, Sly & The Family Stone, The Edgar Winter Group, Roy Orbison, Salt-n-Pepa, Kurt Cobain, Rick Springfield, and Earth, Wind & Fire. The album’s divided into fourteen cuts, but it plays as one long blender ride of a record collector’s OCD all-night editing orgy. The assembled rhythm tracks align the samples into consistent dance time, but unlike a “Stars on 45” production, Girl Talk’s head-spinning collage of sound is too hyperkinetic to ever submit to the beat. Whether you’re dancing to this in a club or listening to it swirl through your headphones, this is truly as infectious as three hundred hit singles. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Here’s the Thing
Get Feed the Animals
The Full Sample List
Song-by-Song Sample Analysis

Various Artists: Let Freedom Sing

various_letfreedomsingPerfectly timed musical anthology of the civil rights movement

Two years ago, just when then-Senator Barack Obama was announcing his run for the highest public office in the U.S., the producers at Time Life began work on this stupendous 3-disc, fifty-eight track collection. Scheduled in celebration of February’s Black History Month (and in conjunction with a PBS/TV-One documentary), the set gains an indelible exclamation point from the inauguration of President Obama as the 44th chief executive of the United States of America. Throughout these fifty-eight tracks one can hear spirit, belief, faith, fear, sadness, hope and empowerment that were an inspirational source from which participants in the civil rights movement drew strength and a narrative soundtrack of historical events.

The fluidity with which music intertwines daily life makes it more of a people’s art than other performance media, self-sung as field hollers and church spirituals, passed as folk songs by troubadours, and saturating the ether of popular consciousness through records, radio, television and movies. Music is an accessible medium for documenting one’s times, creatable with only a human voice as an instrument. Like speech, music can both record and instigate, but unlike speech, musical melodies readily anchor themselves in one’s memory, forever associated with a time or place or person or event. That duality allows this set to play both as a public chronology of historic events and, for those old enough to have been there, a personal history of one’s emotional response.

The set opens a few years before America’s entry into World War II with the a cappella spiritual “Go Down Moses,” the dire reportage of “Strange Fruit” and the protest of “Uncle Sam Says.” The ironies of post-war America continued to be questioned in “No Restricted Signs” and “Black, Brown and White,” but as the ‘40s turned into the ‘50s, the tone became more direct, and at times angry. Historic court decisions and watershed protests intertwined with horrific killings, and this was reflected in the documentary tunes “The Death of Emmett Till, Parts 1 & 2” and “The Alabama Bus,” and the questing lyrics of The Weavers’ “The Hammer Song” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “When Do I Get to Be Called a Man?”

The set list follows a rough chronology of recording dates, but the thematic flow paints the more circuitous route of gains and setbacks, hopes and disappointments, triumphs and retrenchments that highlighted and pockmarked the movement’s progress. The turbulence of 1965, the year of Malcolm X’s assassination, provides a particularly keen microcosm of the conflicts, segueing the righteous protest of J.B. Lenoir’s “Alabama Blues” with The Dixie Hummingbird’s temperate ode “Our Freedom Song,” and matching the cutting irony of Oscar Brown, Jr.’s “Forty Acres and a Mule” with The Impressions’ compassionate call “People Get Ready.”

The last half of the sixties offered up beachheads in Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Sly & The Family Stone’s “Stand!,” and Lee Dorsey’s pre-Pointers Sisters original “Yes We Can, Part 1.” At the same time, assassinations and riots yielded John Lee Hooker’s “The Motor City is Burning” and George Perkins & The Silver Stars’ funereal “Cryin’ in the Streets, Part 1.” At the turn from the 60s into the 70s the movement seemed unstoppable, inciting Motown to veer into social commentary with The Temptations’ “Message From a Black Man,” provoking the Chi-Lites to editorialize with “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” and launching Curtis Mayfield’s solo career with deep thinking, adventurous productions like “We the People.” Mayfield would be joined by Marvin Gaye with the release of What’s Going On, and the catalog of injustice and angst “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).”

The momentum continued in the ‘70s, but not without opposition, anger and dissent. Gil Scott-Heron provides a stream-of-consciousness news report from the frontlines with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” displays caution bordering on paranoia, and Aaron Nevill’s “Hercules” is both paranoid and pessimistic. The embers of empowerment still burned, as heard in Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” which pairs nicely with the collection’s earlier reggae tune, a cover of Nina Simone’s “Young Gifted and Black.” The set jump-cuts from the soul sounds of the O’Jays’ “Give the People What They Want” to the hip-hop works of the Jungle Brothers’ “Black is Black,” Chuck D’s “The Pride” and Sounds of Blackness’ “Unity.” Disc three includes new works by old masters Solomon Burke and Mavis Staples, but omits key figures of the ‘80s and ‘90s such as Public Enemy, KRS-One, and Mos Def. The set closes with the gospel spiritual “Free at Last,” answering the call of disc one’s opener.

These events, stories and lessons resonate against an evolving palette of musical forms – doo-wop, jazz, gospel, blues, soul, rap – pioneered by African Americans in parallel with the civil rights movement. The pairings of stories and sounds tell an indelible story of faith, belief, empowerment and spirit. The producers have mixed little-known gems with the movement’s hits, providing much deserved exposure to the former and much welcomed context to the latter. Production quality is top-notch, with sharp remastering, an introduction by Chuck D, and Grammy-worthy liner notes by Colin Escott that interweave song details and historical moments. Disc one is mono, except tracks 11, 13-18; disc two is stereo, except tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 21; disc three is stereo. This is a fantastic music collection that doubles as the soundtrack to a history lesson. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Listen to Let Freedom Sing, Disc 1
Listen to Let Freedom Sing, Disc 2
Listen to Let Freedom Sing, Disc 3
Time Life Records Home Page