The Neville Family is a gifted musical and creative family in the United States. Ivan Neville began absorbing the musical attitudes of his family at birth and learned to play keyboards guitar bass and drums.
It wasn’t long before he became a pivotal member of Bonnie Raitt’s band Rufus Keith Richards & the Xpensive Winos and the Spin Doctors.
Ivan launched his solo career with the acclaimed If My Ancestors Could See Me Now and Thanks. Ivan also wroteand co-produced Saturday Morning Music which includes a timeless hybrid of soul, rock and New Orleans Funk that translates into an incomparable modern musical gumbo.
Billy Preston’s career spanned five decades, starting as a child prodigy playing the movie role of young W.C. Handy and then playing organ for Ray Charles and Little Richard. His accomplishments are highlighted by a seriesg of hits, including collaborating with some of the most celebrated names in the music industry, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, The Jackson Five, Sly and the Family Stone, Barbara Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones and perhaps the most famous of all, The Beatles.
Billy’s relationship with The Beatles led to his signing with Apple Records in the 1960s. Billy is widely acknowledged as the “Fifth Beatle” having been the only party to ever hand his name included in the label credits of the Let It Be and the Abbey Road albums as well as the landmark The White Album. Billy also appeared with them in the films “The Complete Beatles” and Let It Be as well as performing as part of them during their historic rooftop final concert.
In the late 1960s Billy worked with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their solo Plastic Ono Band album as well as Ringo Starr’s solo single “Oh My My” and he participated in George Harrison’s American Tour. In addition Billy Preston was a leading character in the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band also featuring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, performing a stunning version of “Get Back”.
Preston’s name and fame were solidified as a solo artist when he scored a series of Number 1 hit singles including the Grammy winning “Outta Space”, “Will It Go Round In Circles”, “Nothing From Nothing” and “Space Race”.
A prolific writer, Billy Preston composed the multi-platinum standard “You Are So Beautiful” that was performed by his friend Joe Cocker. He also wrote the title songs for a series of box office hits including “Never Gonna Say Goodbye” “Fast Break” and “O’Hara’s Wide”. The title song from “Fast Break” became a Preston classic hit when performed as a duet with the late Syreeta Wright. Billy also co-wrote the score for the Sidney Poitier movie “They Call Me Mr. Tibbs” with Quincy Jones.
Billy Preston was the first black musical director of a late night television show “Nightlife” starring David Brenner, was a regular on the UPN series “Good News” and made a cameo appearance in “Blues Brothers 2” as part of the super group that included Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood and B.B. King among others.
Billy’s participation in the tribute concert “Concert for George Harrison” at Royal Albert Hall and his performance of “My Sweet Lord” received critical acclaim. Billy recorded on the last album his mentor Ray Charles was to record, toured with The Funk Brothers and Stevie Winwood in Europe in early 2004 and then hit the road, touring extensively and garnering rave reviews for his performances with his dear friend Eric Clapton through Europe and North America. Billy’s keyboard dominance was highlighted with the release of the “Let It Be–Naked” album issue.
With his extensive touring and studio involvement Billy Preston found the time to create special project tribute to his dear friends The Beatles. He even wrote two new songs, one in tribute to George Harrison and another to all four of the fab fellows, “John, Paul, George and Ringo”.
Antonio Manuel Álvarez Vélez, better known as Pitingo was born into a seafaring family in the city of Ayamonte in Huelva, Spain, in southwestern Spain.
After going to school locally, he moved to Madrid where he started performing in underground flamenco clubs, eventually ending up with a weekly gig at the flamenco bar El Mago (The Magician), a regular spot of flamenco’s greatest vocalists, such as Enrique Morente and Carmen Linares. He soon debuted at festivals and theaters across Spain and was signed to Universal Music.
Pitingo’s first album, Pitingo con habichuelas, brought together the singer with worldclass guitarist Pepe Habichuela. Pitingo quickly distinguished himself from other flamenco singers with his unconventional R&B and Gospel approach to flamenco.
In 2008 Pitingo released his first major effort to fuse flamenco with soul and gospel traditions, Soulería. The word-play of the title refers to the flamenco musical style called bulería. Pitingo followed that release with 2010’s Olé and Amén that featured the London Community Gospel Choir.
Pitingo’s Malecón Street (named for the famous Havana seaside promenade) expanded his flamenco soul style to the streets of Old Havana with a collection of classic Cuban songs from decades past.
If you haven’t heard yet about Daymé Arocena, her new album Cubafonía is a great opportunity to listen to one of the best voices that has come out of Cuban in recent years.
Winner of the significant Marti y el Arte award in 2007, Daymé Arocena demonstrates her formidable talent by crossing musical boundaries with her voice. She shows her mastery at Cuban traditional genres like mambo and changüí, Afro-Cuban chants, and ballads, as well as the more modern timba. However, her repertoire is more extensive as she explores American soul and jazz effortlessly.
Cubafonía is Daymé’s second album and very different from her debut album. While her debut Havana Cultura Sessions focused on electronic dance music culture, Cubafonía features an irresistible acoustic rhythm section and more conventional instrumentation.
Most of the songs are in Spanish, although Daymé also sings a couple of songs in English and has a trilingual song titled “Valentine” where she inserts some English and French.
In recent months, Cuban musicians have released a series of dazzling piano-based albums. Cubafonía focuses on vocal talent and Daymé Arocena is one of the best and equally spectacular.
Composer and keyboardist Doug Duffey takes you back to the classic sound of 1970s soul and funk on Louisiana Soul Revival’s debut album. The self-titled release features funk beats, a splendid brass section, wah wah guitar and some northern Louisiana spice.
The band features up to 11 musicians on stage, representing several generations, from twenties to sixties. The lineup includes Doug Duffey on vocals, piano and keyboards; Daniel Sumner on guitar; Ben Ford on bass; Adam Ryland on drums, percussion; Cody Holder on baritone saxophone; Jonathan Patterson on trombone; Mason Howard on alto saxophone; Bert Windham on trumpet; Betsy Lowe on backing vocals; Naomi Holder on backing vocals; and Alex Noppe on trumpet.
Louisiana Soul Revival delivers a tight set of persuasive soul and funk songs.
William Bell’s new release This Is Where I Live on revived Stax Records keeps the same spirit, and purpose (or telos to quote the ancient Greeks,) as the label’s releases in 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s: that of an unashamed articulation of a Southern humanist musical accent true to local values that transcends or transfixes a listener.
Years after the heyday of Stax Records Soul music, William Bell is back at it with the similar compositions, all produced to feel as clear as any new style of song and not to mimic an old one. This time his song is much graver than it was the case for his older songs such as his “A Tribute To A King” on The Very Best Of William Bell. His songs are lyrically complex and it gives his music a valuable quality: his songs must be listened to more than once in order to feel a complete plunge into them. They are not as complex instrumentally, but that’s all right.
Much has been put in these songs lyrically; the simplicity in their instrumentation, as it’s always the case for William Bell, is deceptive. “Poison in the well” is an enjoyable listen and sounds like a metaphor, as fairy tales or myths seem to all be. He sings “she put poison in the well / and I drank it” with so much ease and faith in the experience that he persuades us that it’s only normal to. If it is an attempt at singing a myth: congratulations. “Mississippi – Arkansas Bridge” is a long song that requires the same listening into as a short story or a novel.
Bell’s singing style is that of a singer of beautiful troubadour epics or of beautiful troubadour narratives – he articulates the words and the ideas that make his songs logical letting this story swoon as much as his voice. It is the most impressive element of the album and should exist more in American song. The language of the songs’ lyrics is fairly simple and, given the possibilities that come with his singing style, these songs could have worked with much more complex language. It would have been even better to hear him sing us words that impress.
Stax Records Soul meant to meld the erotic and the political into one burning experience. Bell’s songs will unhinge some with their eroticism but will not for others.
Listeners who were not around for Stax’s greater days and who are now left with old recordings will find in this album the possibility of listening to a renewed, and clear, version of Stax soul.
Lalah Hathaway has released a new video for her neo-soul song “Mirror.” The video burns slowly as the song does also. Its lyrics are straight to the point and ask us, with incredible clarity, to love the image that we see in the mirror.
There is something remarkably proverbial about Lalah Hathaway’s singing, again, and again, poignantly each time, to “stop hiding yourself” in “Mirror.” It reminds of advice given in the form of sayings that can be heard in homes being told by a person to someone in need of help. Are proverbs still a thing in this American culture of advanced capitalism?
Hasn’t public education and public libraries and the necessity to educate one’s self “by the book” in order to get a job replaced proverbs with texts by known writers, revered for their knowledge? One would think so. While listening to Hathaway’s neo-soul song, rooted in the infamous soul aesthetic that came about at a much different stage of American capitalism, the listener is transported out of the world in which he or she lives and into one where proverbial knowledge seems to be what matters. It’s beautiful and reveals the possibilities of music.
Hathaway’s song might just be opening a door to temporarily feeling an alternative to mass culture not only through the song’s message and the song’s non-pop rhythm, but also through the fact that the message feels powerfully proverbial.
Liz Vice is a singer of neo-gospel: music that sounds pretty close to the gospel of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Tharpe used the blues and invented rock in order to spread thrilling gospel in nightclubs and in similar bacchanals. Liz Vice sings us beauty for the sake of beauty, wherein beautiful gospel is the light.
She is best at narrative singing. In the song “Entrance,” she sings us a narrative that is impossible to turn away from. After a climactic build up, the song’s chorus and its accompanying instrumentation amazes. She does the same in “Everything Is Yours,” and “All Must Be Well”: two songs that burn beautifully.
She is a humble singer and the timbre in her singing is much more pronounced than her phrasing. Most of the phrasing in this album is done by instruments.
We are submerged in gorgeous instrumentation from beginning to end, instrumentation that we do not expect from contemporary gospel. In “Empty Me Out” we hear the word Jesus loud and clear but it’s hearing the tambourine that is the most spiritual element in the music.
A listener will likely listen to There’s A Light as if he or she is listening to a secular soul album. Unless when one hears the word ‘Jesus,’ this album’s sounds are reminiscent of the very best neo-soul music that includes D’Angelo’s, Erykah Badu’s, and Maxwell’s.
In the 20th century, a wonderful thing happened to American poetry. The recordings of musical troubadours, a singer of vernacular poetry, became very important to most of the population. Not even Robert Lowell has known the poetic esteem of Muddy Waters, of Bob Dylan or of Bill Withers. They were the product of years of social dissent and political organization that had created a new ethos in this country: a love for poetic and popular song.
Some of these musicians were educated at the University level. Some were not. The USA, singer of countless ballads, had produced a Guillaume IX d’Aquitaine. Millions, not hundreds, not thousands, sang along. In his book Writing Degree Zero, Roland Barthes writes that modern poems are a matter of “verbal luck.” The “verbal luck” had worked. Three such musicians are undeniable greats: Charles Bradley, Charles Caldwell and RL Burnside.
Charles Bradley is a singer who has had the chance of officially beginning his career as a matured man. It has allowed him to sing from the bottom of his heart and with verve. He does not sing us a traditional ‘composition”; instead he chooses for his songs to be incredible moments strung together as a formidable experience. He sings about a multitude of things: He sings us nationalism superbly in the song “Good to be back home” and love in at most beautiful vernacular in “Crazy for your love.” In five words, he is a superb musician.
Charles Caldwell writes songs that burn. He is a man at a fireplace: with few words he attempts a flame, adding more wood to the fire (with his guitar) without saying more than the minimum “and along / come another man ..” His album Remember Me is magnificence.
RL Burnside will change your mind about what to dance along to. His songs are introductions to an art of life of humor, contemplations, but also of feeling. His lyrics are amazing. His songs like “Fireman ring the bell” and “I be troubled” have the ability to erase and leads towards other avenues and in doing so ‘stomping one’s blues.”
They are known as blues singers or folk singers but those are commercial categories. What they are in American society are troubadours. What makes these singers of poetry troubadours is the fact that, like European troubadours, they propose language and conceptions through their songs, though they are not court poets. Music has dethroned religion in the US for how it is (i.e. tones) that people speak. Music has made vernacular not only accepted but also revered. Like European troubadours, American singers are those who propose definitions of emotions like “love.” Love introduced in Europe in the middle ages by Troubadours who also rebelled against static living.
Before the rise of the Bourgeoisie into power through revolutions like the American Revolution, monarchy and Aristocracy decided on great poetry. Whether if it was classical poetry, the Alexandrin for example, for example, the poems of Joachim de Bellay or the English poetry of Chaucer and of Hoccleve, they all had to produced, promoted, and approved by a system. With the Bourgeoisie rise in power came, through revolution, new liberties.
American poetry was born as the poetry of this modern world and never had to submit itself to the court system, though it has to academia. Academia, however, in the end, has not decided for the people. Unlike academics, Americans have never longed read court poets. They have rebelled against court society. They would also agree with Barthes’s stating that a poem is a “possible adventure”. It’s some sort of intellectual entertainment. Most would disagree that poetry functions in American society like the Iliad did in Greek society. The most well known “poetry” in American life that is both known and revered is poetry put to song.
Sovereignty has chosen poetry. Charles Bradley, Charles Caldwell, RL Burnside are American culture’s great European troubadour poets of the Middle Ages, singing in such a thing as American language. They have been loved by many Americans and have shaped resting, sitting, or limping American souls.
Headline photo: RL Burnside – Photo courtesy of Fat Possum Records
Corinne Bailey Rae’s new album The Heart Speaks In Whispers belongs to a crop of what we may call artistry devoid of “collective era”; it does not belong to a particular genre or school that matches popular sentiment. It could be liberal or neo-liberal subculture art, where it exists to express the artist and that’s it. It’s true art: individual art without a grand obligation, at a time of polarized politics, and because of this, The Heart Speaks In Whispers may be fated to be quietly labeled as an uncompassionate album. If one can listen to the parts of a song, singing is often unclear because of its sincerity, coupled with abstract expressionist synth sounds, then you have found yourself a grand experience.
Which era do we belong to? Surely not one of immense prosperity. It’s an era of pain for most thus our politics and most musicians signed to well-known labels push the fact aside to sell great visuals and Belle Epoque. Others add in “profound: lyrics that empathize without expressing contemporary habits or survival culture. Some are so good at what they do that their songs, despite being divorced of popular sentiment, are very enjoyable. Bailey Rae belongs to this group of artists. She does not belong to any monikered era and her music is quite simply productions that are meant to be appreciated by listeners.
“Night” is a song with such sharp parts (sharp as in cheese) that one does not have a firm grasp on the whole at the songs end. The song’s parts are both acoustic and electronic music. Her singing is often unclear and we’re asked to feel much more we are asked to understand. It seems to be vehicle-ing faith in beauty and in feeling as opposed to faith in wording and perhaps it is an answer to living in modern societies full of lying politicians and lying media. It, however, is not clear enough to be such a song.
Most of the songs have familiar rhythms. They are either singer-songwriter songs, children of folk, are soulful R and B songs with both quiet and expansive songs. Some of the songs “Push On For The Dawn” is very good. It is a giant metaphor and sounds like a long epic poem put to song. “Horse Print Dress” doesn’t make sense at first listen nor will a listener want to make any sense of it. None of the songs are danceable nor do they have an understanding of how to dance others. All of them are groovy.
“Stop Where You Are” has an incredible beginning. It’s pure majesty and pure beauty. It speaks to our need for individual liberty. The rest of the song is less beautiful than the song’s beginning.
The Heart Speaks In Whispers should be listened to as a the music of an artist’s personality and tastes. As such it is divorced from popular sentiment and collective living. It wants to impose itself on collective living.