Category Archives: Review

D’Angelo and the Vanguard: An Album 14 Years in Anticipation

Album Cover

At the beginning of the year, there were rumours this was going to drop, but no one got too excited. As the year’s end got closer, the whispers were of an early 2015 release – but this was the sort of procrastination we’d been hearing since 2009. If it took another 14 years, no would have been surprised. But then, last Friday the 12th December, a single for streaming. And then, the following Monday, finally, The Album.

Normally I like to wait for the vinyl to drop before purchasing albums. But upon news that the wax wouldn’t be available until late February 2015, I grit my teeth and resolved that I’d have to do business with either the monopolistic iTunes or the restrictive Google Play. There was simply too much anticipation to wait another two months for a proper listen.

After the 2000 release of Voodoo, D’Angelo, struggling with the sudden transition from being a nerdy, glasses wearing musician to a sex symbol, removed himself from the public life and entered a world of reclusiveness. Reportedly struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, it looked likely that Voodoo might be D’Angelo’s second and last album. He re-emerged in 2009 with reports of a forth coming album, and recent years have seen a return to touring along with further rumours and teasers of an upcoming release.

And then it just appeared. Despite the never ending anticipation, on the back of the Ferguson grand jury decision, D’Angelo felt the album needed to drop now. No month long, major label marketing build up, it just dropped.

I’m quite a few listens in now, and this album has not disappointed. From the opening few tracks it seems a more intense and heavy album than D’Angelo’s previous releases. It’s not until track 3, The Charade, that we begin to hear the floating-in-air-type sounds that he is often associated with. This is followed by the exceptionally funky Sugah Daddy (listen below), the debut single from the album. Towards the end of the album there’s almost a roots vibe with tracks such as The Door, but none of them escape from the neo-soul sound that D’Angelo almost single-handedly pioneered.

This is not an album that will disappoint. Black Messiah not only lives up to the legend that Voodoo became, but builds on and evolves the sound taking it to a new level. There are intricacies, subtleties, and nuances within the production, musicianship, and song writing of every track. Don’t spoil your first listen of this album on shitty laptop speakers. Sit down with some good stereo speakers, or a good set of headphones, and lose yourself.

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I’m Back/Some Funky New Releases

I know, it’s been awhile since my last post. Partly, the real world has gotten in the way (read as, making sure I pay my rent). But I’ve also been playing a lot of gigs, and working on getting a piece of paper that says I can do stuff (read as, working on my degree). But I’ve now freed up, which means I can focus much more time on music, and writing about music.

This has come at just the right time having just picked up what would have to be two of the funkiest releases of year.

The first is from the J.B.’s titled These are The J.B.’s. That’s right, The J.B.’s have a new release! And I’m not talking about just any J.B.’s lineup, this is the short lived and infamous one featuring Bootsy and Catfish Collins on bass and guitar. The tracks were recorded between May and September 1970 and scheduled for release in July 1971. But other than a couple of test pressing, for reasons only fully known to James Brown, the album never ended up being released…until now!
J'B's Front Cover

This album is just what you’d expect from this J.B.’s lineup; funky, funky, and funky! Each track has the relentless grooves that you’d expect with the Booty’s bass sitting front and centre and arrangement that are the tight and punchy sounds that the discipline of James Brown produced. If you love James Brown, and/or the J.B.’s, then you need this album – but you need to get in quick. Pressings are apparently very limited, and word on the street is that there was only a total of 80 copies distributed to Australia, and they’ve already been sold.

The next release sitting on my turntables is from Melbourne’s own Emma Donovan w/The Putbacks titled, Dawn. I’ve normally associated The Putbacks with deep funk, but this defiantly a neo-soul album. The slug from the drum and bass thirty seconds into track 1, Black Woman, has neo-soul written all over it. Combined with the harmonic movements in tracks such as Dawn, and Emma Donovan’s sultry vocals, and you have record that is sophisticated without being pretentious. This is a record that is layered with subtle detail and certainly deserves more than a few plays.


The Soul of Melbourne – A Compilation of Melbourne Soul Music

The Soul of MelbourneA few months ago I wrote about how soul music in Melbourne had finally come of age. Unbeknownst to me at the time of writing, preparation was in place which resulted in the creation of The Soul of Melbourne, a compilation that brings together some of the best tracks that the Melbourne soul scene has to offer.

On the surface you know you’re in safe hands being complied by the two people who can claim Melbourne soul is part of their expertise; the Godfather of Melbourne Soul, Chris Gill (Northside Records), and the man responsible some of the best tracks to have come out of this city, Lance Ferguson (The Bamboos).

The obvious inclusions are all there such as funk and soul heavy weights The Bamboos and Saskwatch, bad ass groove playing young’ns The Cactus Channel, the slick and sexy Electric Empire, and recent U.S Billboard Chart entrant Clairy Browne and The Bangin Rackettes.

Further to this, the diversity of Melbourne Soul is on offer featuring the afrobeat goodness of Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, the hypnotic bollywood sounds of The Bombay Royale, and the downtempo soul grooves of Chet Faker.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Melbourne soul compilation if it didn’t showcase the depth of the scene with two of my favourite bands The Putbacks and Deep Street Soul, and two bands that were previously unknown to me, The Mighty Show Stoppers and Gypsy Brown. For me, the discovery of these last two bands makes the record well worth the purchase.

This compilation marks a flag in the road for what I hope will be an ever strengthening Melbourne soul scene. In particular it shows how far Melbourne rhythm sections have come with the amount of quality instrumental tracks that don’t just make the cut, but hold their own when compared to vocal tracks. It does however highlight the lack of male vocal talent that exists to the extent that Sly Johnson featuring The Bamboos was included. Whilst it is a high quality track and an A1 performance from The Bamboos, I can’t help but wonder if the inclusion was necessary to help balance this shortcoming.

Overall, regardless of what type of soul music you like, and regardless of where you live, you will not be disappointed with this record. It demonstrates the quality, depth and diversity that Melbourne soul has to offer. And whilst New York is without a doubt the soul capital of the world, it shows why Melbourne has placed itself on the map.

** I’m still listening to a digital version. The wax, I’m told should drop late December and I’m hoping includes liner notes about all the bands.