Tag Archives: R&B

[160] James Carr – You Got My Mind Messed Up

6 May

Another artist that time appears to have passed by.  Another record I find myself falling in love with.


Despite the derivative sounding up-tempos, despite the lack of a signature hit, there is more than enough heart and soul, passion and pain on You Got My Mind Messed Up to catch my attention midway through the first listen and not let up for a week or more.

It is the evocative down-tempo tunes which initially enchant, not as catchy or heartbreaking as those of Arthur Alexander, but polished and profound nonetheless.

As usual for this era, the session musicians backing Carr are phenomenal, building him up and keeping out of his way, never pulling focus but oh-so accomplished when you do actually notice them.

For once, although I fully endorse Tom Moon’s inclusion in the thousand, I understand why Carr’s name is not a household one.  There is no single song here that demands attention, nothing that makes a listener sing along with more than perhaps just the evocative song titles themselves.  The rest is beautiful, but there is no urgency, no immediacy.

If this sounds like a lukewarm recommendation, then I am not doing this album justice.  It is the kind of record that gets into your head and under your skin – it certainly got into and under mine.

For all its apparent shortcomings You Got My Mind Messed Up is the kind of album that gets played again and again.  And if I am not accurately articulating the reason why, you’ll just have to go have a listen for yourself . . .

Next Week:  The Original Carter Family – 1927 to 1934

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 160 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 160 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (134 of 160 = 84%)

[146] Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me

29 Jan

It is not clear to me why I haven’t heard Solomon Burke before, but then it’s not clear why he wasn’t better known at the height of his powers in the 1960s.


Tom Moon’s choice of his 2002 “comeback” album, Don’t Give Up On Me, is inspired.

The complex and textured voice is cast in the role of seen-it-all-done-it-all elder statesman, as he sings songs at times written especially for the project by some of the best singer-songwriters to follow in the footsteps of Burke and his Atlantic cohorts.

The pedigree is undeniable, both on and off the record.  Songs here are penned by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Mann and Weill.  No surprise then that, once the interest in the tempo and tone of this old soul voice starts to lose its initial wonder, the songs themselves keep the listener hooked and rapt for spin after spin.

And, in one of the highlights of this disc foll of highlights, The Blind Boys of Alabama join Burke in going to church on the soulful and haunting “None Of Us Are Free”, finally bringing attention to a song which had disappeared despite releases by artists as varied as
Ray Charles and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Under and around and through it all, the polished session musicians build a sound that is consistently crisp and enveloping, crafting the net in which the gem that is Burke’s voice lays on display for all who care to hear.

While not a household name, and without a signature hit of the kind that his stablemates – Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett – could hang a career on, Solomon Burke is now firmly on my radar as a talent to explore, to seek out, to hear more of.

The album is well named . . .

Next Week: Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 146 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 146 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (121 of 146 = 83%)

[137] Ruth Brown – Miss Rhythm

20 Nov

Fair or otherwise, this is the recording I wanted the Marian Anderson entry into the 1,000 to be.


Ruth Brown has the tone and technique of Anderson, and showcases it in this collection of Jazz and Blues tinged compositions rather than wasting them on stilted songs of praise.  She leads her band and her listeners on an energetic romp through standards and torch songs that are full of warmth and joy.

Surrounded by top notch musicians, it is clear to hear why Atlantic Records was labeled “The House That Ruth Built” (a riff on the Ballpark in the Bronx and a man named Babe . . .)

Known as “The Queen of R&B”, Brown’s sound was far cleaner, more restrained than the messier, more passionate output of “The Queen of Soul” (who arguably dethroned her) or even “The King of Rock and Roll” and later “The King of Pop.”

It seems we prefer our musical monarchs to have a little more edge.

Despite her brief reign (if an initial career spanning three decades can be described as brief) Brown’s professional sound pleasure to spend some time in.  It’s not the most earth-shattering , not the most ground-breaking album I’ve ever heard, but the seeds of the gospel-rock fusion which was just around the corner is on display and oh-so enjoyable.

Next Week: Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 137 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 137 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (113 of 137 = 82%)

[135] James Brown and the JB’s – “Sex Machine”

6 Nov

Don’t worry.  Of course I am going to recommend this remarkable single.


That said, I am left with a bizarre sensation, coming to the end of three James Brown recordings – all excellent – without any mention of his signature tune, “I Feel Good”.  It’s as if Tom Moon had included Chuck Berry but left out “Johnny B Goode” . . .

But back to sex – sometimes cumbersomely titled “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine”.

The two note guitar stab, the bouncing piano fills, the seemingly improvised lyrics, the all day long call and response – “Sex Machine” is spontaneous perfection.  The fruits of the first recording session with his new band in 1970, here was the start of Brown’s second act, exploding once more into mainstream consciousness with a monster hit and a see-what-I-can-still-do gauntlet.

I listened to a handful of different live versions of this infectious groove and no two are quite the same, lyrically or even in tone.

The studio version is still the definitive, managing to feel at once laid back and urgent, while 1980s Live at Studio 54 version is all hectic energy and messy skatting.  The 1971 return to the Apollo provides a teasing groove of husky masculinity, in stark contrast to the full on, straight ahead, no nonsense pounding of the recording captured at the Olympia (Paris, France) the same year.

All the various settings of the Machine are satisfying – variety being the slice of life – but it’s still weird to know that Tom Moon has something against “I Feel Good” . . .

Next Week: Oscar Brown, Jr. – Sin & Soul

Owned before blogging? Yes. (12 of 135 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (20 of 135 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (111 of 135 = 82%)

[134] James Brown – Soul Pride: The Instrumentals, 1960-1969

30 Oct

I think I enjoy these mostly instrumental and wholly impressive session jams even more than the familiar tunes that made Brown a household name.

soul pride

The whole thing, almost two and a half hours of freewheeling music, sounds like the soundtrack to an exceptional action movies with adrenaline and passion informing every note.  I can almost see the movement and color on the screen as Brown drives his buddies on in these late night recording binges, wailing occasionally or leading from the keyboard as every instrument imaginable takes its turn in the spotlight, adding its piece to the story.

This is the good stuff – artists performing for other artists, having fun, showing off.  The result could have been masturbatory but instead manages a wide-eyed “look what I can do” vibe as everyone shines, everyone soars.

There is so much joy in Brown’s music, and this is never more evident than in these 36 tracks spanning a decade.  You could throw this album on at almost any party, with almost any crowd and make your guests happy.

Whether it is hot horns, raging guitars or wandering electric piano riffs there is always something cool happening, technically excellent, subjectively pleasing regardless of the time or place or players.

The one constant is Brown, his recognizable aesthetic and legendary work ethic.

Next Week:  James Brown and the JB’s – “Sex Machine”

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 134 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 134 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (110 of 134 = 82%)

[133] James Brown and the Famous Flames – Live At The Apollo (1962)

23 Oct

Short and oh so sweet, this tight and tiny live set is an amazing primer for anyone wanting to hear for themselves why James Brown was known as the hardest working man in show business.


Barely half an hour long (even after including the spoken word introduction and instrumental opening track) it is not clear that the audience could have taken much more of this high octane, passion filled performance. From the very first lines sung by that instantly recognizable voice nothing is left to chance and nothing is left in reserve.

The notoriously demanding Apollo crowd laps up every note and it is easy to understand why.

The band is admirably sharp, keeping up with Brown’s energy and providing the canvas on which his whooping and wailing can appear as an artist painting with vocal color rather than just a crazy man screaming at a wall.

Assigned by Moon to his R&B category, this could as easily be seen as prototypical Rock n Roll, with the Blues (of the Rhythm and Blues) buried pretty far in the mix, and the guitar placed well forward in the mix, often dueling mightily with the powerful horn section.

But whatever you call it, this opportunity to experience “Mr Dynamite” (to use one of the titles bestowed on Brown during the introductions) in the early blush of his full powers and success is well worth listening to.

Next Week: James Brown – Soul Pride: The Instrumentals, 1960-1969

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 133 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 133 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (109 of 133 = 82%)

[131] Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers – Any Other Way To Go?

9 Oct

A little bit of Soul, a splash of Hip Hop, a touch of syncopated Jazz, plus a healthy helping of Rhythm and Blues, this album is a whole lot of good times.


Here is a weird and wonderful fusion of all kinds of sounds and traditions, constantly in motion (hence the designation Go-Go), hugely inventive and inevitably toe-tapping.  The vocals are decidedly non-traditional, but always engaging with some fun scats and warm sung tones whose melody at times appears heavily improvised.

There is an obvious 80s feel on display throughout this live recording, despite the classic era of many of the compositions.  Much of the drum work was surely soon co opted by those programming drum machines and the production has the slick and polished veneer that is so recognizable.

The multiple percussionists keep up the all-day groove that anchors this collection of diverse covers, allowing the guitars to noodle, the horns to stop by for a cup of coffee, the vocals to rap or croon as the mood strikes.  And mood is very much at the forefront here.

There are unique takes on a number of old chestnuts – from Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing”,  through  Sly’s “Family Affair” all the way to the Woody Woodpecker theme! – but the highlight for me is the hypnotic and unstoppable “Run Joe”.  It is worthy of  spot on the 1,000 all on its own.

I am glad to have been introduced to this fascinating sound – I have never heard anything quite like Go-Go.  It appears to have been well respected, but never quite commercially successful, which is a shame.

Better late than never . . .

Next Week:  Clifford Brown and Max Roach – Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 131 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 131 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (107 of 131 = 82%)

[116] James Booker – New Orleans Jazz Wizard Live

26 Jun

It seems that James Booker never played just one note on his piano when there were keys to either side there for the taking.


But to reduce New Orleans Jazz Wizard Live down to merely its technical merits does it a huge disservice.  Much as I discovered with Martha Argerich way back in the as it is quickly apparent that there is feel and nuance here to spare, elevated rather than shouldered aside by the incredible skill in execution.

Take even the very first track, “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”.

For two and a half minutes the piano jumps all around the familiar and pleasing melody, exploring and trilling, a sublime mixture of Jazz and Blues that I would be happy to listen to forever more.

Then, completely unlooked-for, Booker’s rich and textured vocals kick in, and the song and the album soar.

The pattern continues, with a vocal track followed by an instrumental, and throughout I have to keep reminding myself that there is only one instrument being played, not the whole damn orchestra which Booker somehow manages to suggest.

By my rough count and erratic memory, this is the fifth of 116 recordings to include one of my favorite songs, “Come Rain Or Come Shine”.  (4% for those tracking stats at home.)  It seems it may be a  favorite of Tom Moon’s, too.  This begs the chicken-and-egg question of whether such a great song makes an album it is on, or whether a great album frames the song and raises it to greater heights.

This version is respectful and contemplative, the vocals dripping with loss and longings past, the piano far more restrained than previous.  It moves me in that way that the best performances of the best songs do.

That the record moves directly from the polite applause of an audience unsure how to respond to this quiet highlight to the breakneck pace of an instrumental “Something Stupid” is the juxtaposition of a supremely confident showman.  The raucous response that the end of the latter song coaxes from the crowd is well-earned.

I love everything about all 37 minutes of this 9 track masterpiece.  Even the moments between songs.

Next Week:  Lo Borges – Lo Borges

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 116 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (17 of 116 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (95 of 116 = 82%)

[43] Anita Baker – Rapture

31 Jan

I can imagine hearing these beautifully crafted songs at a high end cabaret venue like the Carlyle or Metropolitan Room.  Classy arrangements and good musicianship, coupled with Baker’s emphatic and rangy delivery, make for a delightful listening experience.













It helps that I remember the opening track fondly – I can’t tell you concretely when or where I have heard “Sweet Love” but I surely have many times – and enjoy it every time it plays.

The whole reminds me of early Whitney Houston records, before everyone began to misuse the word “Diva” and she tried to cram too much into every phrase.  That Baker can sing (as Houston surely could) shines through loud and clear, and the occasional bout of vocal acrobatics is all the more special in light of all the many times when she lets a note just stand on its own, rather than riffing all around it.

Some might call it overproduced, but I find the perfectly polished layers of sound comforting – it is one I know well from the 80s – and the warmth flowing through every instrument, from the vocals to keyboards to sax, is hugely appropriate to the songs on display here.

There really was much more sax to be heard in the mainstream during the 80s than there is today, and I think pop music is worse off for its lack.

There are jazz like vocal scats as well as fun stop time passages in tracks like “Been So Long” which display thoughtful craftsmanship and are a joy to hear.  But as a whole these are understated and subtle vocals appropriately blended into the mix.

This is late night driving music, these are winding down at the end of a long day sounds.  I’m glad Tom Moon included Anita Baker on the list and inspired me to do just that.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 43. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 43. 9%)
Recommend? Yes. (35 of 43. 81%)

Next week: Chet Baker – Let’s Get Lost

[41] Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun

17 Jan

We do fall hard into our own tiny niches, don’t we?  Here is another name I knew, a sound I absolutely didn’t.

Mama's Gun

Mama’s Gun



(It likely doesn’t help that I actively swore off commercial radio in 1989 or 1990 when Dan Reed Network’s “Rainbow Child” failed to chart . . .)

My initial response to Mama’s Gun is that my wife would love it.  Myself, I’m not sold on the high, thin, affected voice.  But the groove is infectious and relentless.

But as the album progresses, I’m finding it all rather ambient and bland.  Why exactly pick this recording from all the similar sounding modern R&B that I hear in stores and restaurants?  The almost torch songs are performed better by better singers, the funk performed better by more raw and unleashed musicians.  This all sounds so middle of the road.

And honestly, I’m just not hearing the comparisons to Billie Holliday, whose voice is the focus of her every recording.

Eryka Badu sounds pleasant enough, but I just don’t care.

This is a shame, since I was looking forward to this – the first in a interesting run of three strong and diverse female vocalists in the list – as a chance to expand my knowledge into a more contemporary genre that I have limited exposure to.

So far, the reason for the my lack of exposure remains.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 41. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 41. 10%)
Recommend? No. (34 of 41. 83%)

Next week: Joan Baez – Joan Baez


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