SPOTLIGHT

Introducing… Natasha Watts

The name of this charming songbird has been on the lips of those by fortune blessed to be in the know for a while now. With what and when I shall get to momentarily, but the ‘spotlight’ feature is about an album first and foremost, so be you a fan of hers for some time or only now to be afresh in the delight, the marvellous news is that at last her debut collection is upon us.

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I first became familiar with the lady a few years back with Time To Shine (Aaron Ross feat. Natasha Watts). It was an instant case of “WORD!” – anyone who knows me or is familiar with my musings upon these pages is aware of how I adore songs of affirmation.

As it was the MuthaFunkaz Soul Time Mix that got my juice initially a-boiling to that most sweet sizzling state, so it is that one that I now select here.

I later discovered of Natasha’s personal loss in having to say goodbye to her greatest support and inspiration, that being her Mother, and how this track therefore held a special meaning for her. As I too have had to do the same  – Time To Shine truly takes on that extra power to myself also. As someone once wrote:

“Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.”

Another worthy listing here is 2009’s MuSol feat. Pete Simpson & Natasha Watts – I Believe; so much so that both the Original Mix and the Central Avenue Soulful Remix sit here for your auditory cortex stimulation.

In 2012 she released the four-track Downtown Diva EP,  which included a wonderful take on Touch Me (All Night Long). An undeniable classic, first brought to us with Wish & Fonda Rae in 1984 and then covered by both Cathy Dennis in 1990 and Angel City in 2004, with her rendition she gives the familiar a whole new lease.

That year also saw her being one part of the stellar collective brought together for the Cool Million III album with the track Show Me.

To her debut album then, and to begin at the beginning with Born A Star. Upon playing this tears wetted my cheeks with a smile, carrying its deeply personal expression of love that both Natasha and I, as mentioned, have been blessed to hold as ours. It is a beautiful, bouncing chorale of eternal gratitude, and this song will remain with me now as a forever favourite.

The best culinary dishes are created by putting together the finest ingredients, and it is just the same with a musical enterprise. So the fusion of Natasha Watts upon an album produced by Cool Million (aka Frank Ryle & Rob Hardt – the European production duo whose mission statement most assured in accomplishment is to “take soul back to the future”) well, it makes for a sumptuous feast of many flavours.

Singles taken from this rich body of work have been Change, and Go Slow, both of which hit the Number One spot in the UK Soul Charts last year

Other stand-out tracks for me are Worth (too right!) and Skywards – it is a mighty good way to be looking. This is an album of variety, which illustrates with polished precision Natasha’s abundant music education. It is both comfortably retro and quintessentially current. She has the sultry slo-jams, the gentle lilts, the kick-sass no attitude and the affirmation; so in my castle, Natasha Watts is not only welcome, she is a Queen with whom I place a crown upon her head. Though she’s been at this game for a wee while, I think this is just a taste of what is yet to come.

Giles Addison

Check out more on the producers Cool Million here: https://musicgspot.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/coolmillion/

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Six Degrees or Less…

RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT

This series begins with a particular track from an artist, with a look into their story, which then follows up with a musical game of ‘Six Degrees…’ as I dig into both covers and the many other connections born from that initial tune.

Six Degrees of Separation is the theory that anyone on earth can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. In the world of music, that number is often much less.

‘Rhythm of the Night’ and DeBarge

The breakthrough for the siblings DeBarge came in 1983 with their self-penned release of I Like It. However, by far their greatest hit was Rhythm Of The Night, which was their first music video, and indeed their last, more of which I will come to in a moment.

With huge, if relatively brief, success in the US, this 1985 release was the only major hit single in the UK for the Pop/R&B sensations DeBarge, a family group consisting of brothers Mark, Randy, Eldra, James, Bobby* and sister Bunny.

*Eldest brothers Bobby (and Tommy LeBarge ) were originally with the R&B/Funk band Switch that found fame recording for the Gordy label in the late 1970s with such hits as There’ll Never Be.

Bobby, like his younger brother El following him, was known for being able to sing in beautiful falsetto. After leaving Switch to join his siblings his tenure with the group was brief due to his continuing battle with heroin addiction.

deBarge

Rhythm of the Night was featured in the soundtrack of the musical film ‘The Last Dragon’, which though a critical disappointment was a financial triumph, and is now considered a cult classic. Set in New York City, it is about a teenage martial arts student who is said to possess “The Glow”, a mystical energy that can only be attained by a true master.

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DeBarge were one of the few big acts for the Motown label during the early 1980’s. Their multiracial roots (their Mother was black and their father was white) that had been the cause of such difficulty growing up made them hugely marketable at this period.

“Motown had big expectations as far as a possible television series, movies… they had big plans for the DeBarges, very big plans.” Bob Jones (Former Motown Publicist)

Their song Share My World proved to be an inspiration for Mary J Blige, with her 1997 track of the same name.

Another track of theirs is:

Released in 1983 and reaching number one on the Billboard R&B singles chart, this was their biggest hit prior to Rhythm of the Night. It has been covered by, amongst others, Jed Madela in 2004, Purple Ribbon All-Stars feat. Janelle Monáe in 2005, Boyz II Men in 2004 and Jay-R in 2008.

In 1985 You Wear It Well (El DeBarge with DeBarge) found itself on to the B-Side of a white label promo of Depeche Mode’s It’s Called A Heart. One would wonder how these two groups connect… take a listen for yourself.

DeBarge had both the looks and the talent that, with the backing of the Motown label, had seen them ascend rapidly to stardom in the early 1980s, setting them up to become heirs to the Jackson 5. Unfortunately, a growing propensity for substance abuse was prevalent. The siblings were all marked by a rough upbringing under a highly abusive father, and were gaining the reputation for being wild and often uncontrollable. ‘Fours and Doors’, the street name for pills that mixed barbiturates with codeine, became known as the drug of choice for DeBarge; with one noteable exception. “It just so happened that the one stand-out in DeBarge was diligent about it, was not doing drugs, was in the studio doing what he was supposed to be doing.” (Greg Williams – Musician).

El became known as the one dependably sober member of the group, and the management increasingly put more focus on him, which did little to help the fractures already in existence.

el

Despite the colossal boom of Rhythm Of The Night, Motown dropped DeBarge as a group that same year, then offered solo deals to Bunny, El and their younger brother Chico, though any further rises were swiftly curtailed as individually they all succumbed to addiction. A seeming button for self-destruction sadly prevented them, both as a group and as individual artists, from achieving the lasting success that was envisioned. Nonetheless, to many, they are still held as soul music royalty.

El DeBarge made a high profile come-back (after a 16 year hiatus) in 2010 with the album Second Chance. He performed at the 54th Grammy Awards in February 2012.

 

‘Rhythm of the Night’ continues…

The song was first covered as Al Ritmo De La Noche by Puerto Rican artist Sophy, also in 1985, sung in Spanish with merengue rhythms.

It was also covered in 2001 by Valeria Andrews in 2001 for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

Diane Warren

Rhythm of the Night was written by the songwriter Diane Warren, and was the kick-start to her prolific career.

Di

Her songs have received an incredible six Academy Award nominations, five Golden Globe nominations and seven Grammy Award nominations.

She was the first songwriter in the history of Billboard to have seven hits, all by different artists, on the singles chart at the same time, and her songs have been featured in more than 70 films or television shows. These include I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing performed by American rock band Aerosmith for the 1998 film Armageddon.

Were I to even simply list all of her songs, let alone place the links to them, what you read here would be running close to the length of the novel ‘War and Peace’, so instead, to illustrate her diversity, I chose to highlight with just a few:

This next one brought tears to the eyes as I played it just now, knowing how things went for her in the end. Another article for another time, but here, the truly legendary Whitney Houston.

Released in 1996, Un-Break My Heart was a number one in countless nations, among them the US, where it held the top spot for 11 weeks. It made Toni Braxton a superstar and remains her signature tune. Warren hadn’t written this song with a specific singer in mind, and according to Warren, Braxton initially “didn’t want to do the song. She hated it. But I was there for her vocal performance in the studio, and predicted that she’d win a Grammy for it. And she did.”

In all she has over 800 songs under her belt, and still counting. Bearing this in mind Diane Warren is probably one degree of separation from probably every music artist on the planet.

‘Rhythm of the Night’ by Corona…

It was in 1993 that those four words took on a whole new life with the release from Italian pop dance band Corona, who had a world-wide hit with its debut single.

This track took multiple elements from the Playing With Knives (Quadrant Radio Mix) by Bizarre Inc (1991), Scream for Daddy by Ish Ledesma (1987)  and Save Me by Say When! which was also released in 1987.

Playing With Knives by Bizarre Inc was in turn built in part from:

Happiness Is Just Around the Bend by Cuba Gooding (1983) – who also had a brief solo career with Motown Records the same time as DeBarge.

Shelter Me by Circuit feat. Koffi (1989)

Move Your Body by Tyree feat. J.M.D. (1989)

Bizarre Inc were a house/dance duo from Stafford, England, formed in 1989 by DJs Dean Meredith and Mark “Aaron” Archer.  They were also behind the hit I’m Gonna Get You in 1992 with Angie Brown…

…which takes the main vocal hook from Jocelyn Brown’s Love Is Gonna Get You, released in 1985.

Jocelyn Brown had a huge hit with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which was written by husband and wife Ashford & Simpson. In 1986 they performed in concert with special guest El DeBarge.

The shout-out you hear on I’m Gonna Get You – “Yo DJ Pump This Party” – is from Brass Disk by Dupree (1991).

Corona’s original hit has had numerous remixes, and has subsequently been covered many times over. For the purposes of my own tastes and not wishing to extend this article beyond measure I’m not going to place the links to all of them, but should you wish to hunt them out they include:

Yo Tengo Un Novio en Hawai by No Se Lo Digas a Mamá in 1997, Alex C. feat. Yasmin K in 2002, Miguel Picasso in 2008, Ex-Otago, also in 2008, Hermes House Band in 2009, Sex Worker in 2010 and Cascada in 2012.

Corona’s original version was also sampled in My Life by Slaughterhouse feat. Cee-Lo Green in 2012.

And in October 2013 British band Bastille released Of the Night, which is made up of both The Rhythm of the Night and Rhythm Is A Dancer by Snap. Incidentally, I’ve Got The Power, also by Snap, features a hook sung by Jocelyn Brown (again from 1985s Love Is Gonna Get You). She was never credited, and in 2009 sued the German pop group for £10 million.  At present, I am unable to find any information regarding the outcome of the judicial progress, which I hope indicates that she was able to settle out of court for a very handsome sum.

The version that I do feature here is The Rhythm of the Night as released by Ely Bruna in 2010, a delightful bossa nova take on the track.

It is taken from her album Remember The Time, which, along with this one, features remakes in a soul-jazz style of numerous 80s/90s hits, a cover of I’m Your Baby Tonight.

I close here then with the original of that track, of course featuring the late, the great Whitney Houston. I place both the U.S. release and the European Version.

The song was written and produced by L.A.Reid and Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds.

Finally… Whitney worked with Luther Vandross on the album this song gives title to. For his ‘Busy Body Tour’ back in 1984, Luther Vandross had two support acts; one was an unknown group by the name of The Deele… which featured L.A.Reid and Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds. The other, handpicked because of their success, was DeBarge.

SOURCES:

An article by Chris Rizik, which can be read in full here – http://www.soultracks.com/debarge.htm

A great in-depth interview with Diane Warren by Paul Tingen https://www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug08/articles/warren.htm#Top

The television series ‘UNSUNG’. The site http://www.whosampled.com

Hello to… INDIA.ARIE

This is my second posting under the title of Hello to…, which commences with me introducing a favoured tune, followed by me delving in a little deeper into that particular artist’s work.

As ever, if you enjoy the piece, please leave a comment at the very bottom of the page. And remember, these are not critiques, nor reviews. They are written in the first person as this is personal, it is my ‘Music G Spot’ after all, and as The Bard put it: “If music be the food of love, play on!” 

india pic

So let me first introduce the track, which is her latest release, the gloriously up-beat self-affirming ‘Just Do You’. Listening to this is the perfect way to begin each new day.

Pretty much the moment I decided upon doing this particular series, I knew India.Arie would be soon enshrined here by my musings. Without a doubt this beautiful woman has proved to be a guide to my soul, a comfort to my heart and an inspiration to my mind; an earthly goddess who I have yet to have the joy of seeing performing live, and who – though we are strangers – I rather uniquely for someone in such standing, look upon as a friend. I’d go as far to say that in the darkest of times she has played a part in saving my life. That may perhaps seem something of an overstatement; it isn’t.

The first track I became familiar with was her debut release ‘Video’, and I remember as clear as day thinking “Who IS this?!” – (the answer immediately with me, as she name-checks herself within the lyrics). I was struck with the hook-in that so perfectly summed it all up; as Ralph Waldo Emerson once put it: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

It was the year 2001, and I was going through a challenging time personally. I went and brought the album ‘Acoustic Soul’ – a love-affair began and she has been a constant along my journey ever since.

I can’t list every song from that and the personal connection I have with it, else I would have to do so with each subsequent album too, so I’ll pick just one, that being ‘Strength, Courage & Wisdom’. As with most of her songs, it is less a statement of absolute fact, more an affirmation that one is aiming to be all that is being said; it is as fresh with me as that as it was when it I took it within over a decade ago.

Born in Denver, Colarado in 1975, India.Arie is a multi-Grammy Award-winning American singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer. In total to date, 4 Grammy Awards from her 21 nominations, but the road to that hasn’t always been smooth sailing, as she reveals here in this extract from an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“In 2002, newcomer India Arie netted a total of seven Grammy nominations. At the end of the night, though, she walked away with none – an outcome that is still considered one of the worst snubs in Grammy history. India Arie says that she learned two very important lessons from that night.”

Of course, whatever it is in life, adversity is the tempering of one’s mettle – to learn, to grow, to triumph through on the other side is the biggest accomplishment of all. I certainly don’t believe that awards are the sole-defining marker of an artist anyway, but this story nonetheless brings forward a message with it.

Given the powerful connection I had with her first album, it would be true to say that her follow-up – ‘Voyage to India’ – was the most anticipated release from an artist I have ever longed for. It was a wait that though less than a year seemed an eternity, my first internet pre-order, the arrival of which brought me yet further unsurpassed comfort and joy. I listened in entirety, repeatedly; When I need to pick myself up again, her guidance is the best reminder to carry on through, so perfectly pointed in ‘Headed In The Right Direction’.

In 2006 – which even more seemed an eternal wait – her third album ‘Testimony Vol. 1: Life & Relationship’ served to do yet further what India.Arie always has, and remains, to do in my life. A week after buying it I went and purchased several more copies to give as gifts, including to my three sisters, a unique happening in my chosen musical odyssey.

As I was slowly but surely coming through the other side of the ending of a romantic relationship during this period, her songs came to me as a light breaking through darkest cloud. Again, listing particular tracks isn’t so simple, given that the entire work was holding power, but her cover of Don Henley’s ‘The Heart Of The Matter’ certainly stood firm as the word in song of a wise comrade at my side. Framed either side of this were the admission of ‘These Eyes’, and the gradual acceptance ‘Good Morning’ was a true moment of synchronicity that held a power quite beyond measure, a power that sustains.

Here is footage of her singing ‘The Heart Of The Matter’ live (along with another you will be familiar with), taken from the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2007.

Though I’d happily place every track here, I’ll leave the listings from this third album on, first, the positive rebuilding tones of a triumphant ‘I Choose’.

I am a great believer in looking to quotes from the great and good throughout history to aid us as we travail this rock-strewn path of life, and undoubtedly one of many favourites has to be this one from the philosopher Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC):

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

And so, to the second, a ‘hidden’ delight at the very end of the playlist, for when life is getting tricky, and the need to be reminded comes in ‘This Too Shall Pass’

“Listening to the songs is like listening to an audio version of someone’s diary. The words and feelings are so intensely personal, it makes you wonder how and why someone would be willing to put so much of themselves out there for the entire world to see and hear. But it’s this boldness and frankness that makes ‘Testimony’ such a breath of fresh air compared to most American R&B and Soul music these days. The songs connect with the listener in a way that most artists could only dream of.”

Mark Edward Nero (1)

If there was a Volume 1, we had to expect another, and thankfully this came in 2008 with her release of ‘Testimony Vol. 2: Love and Politics’. The mission of this second volume was, as she said “…to spread love, healing and peace through the power of words and music. That’s actually the mission statement for everything I do. The only contribution I have in that is when I’m writing those songs, I’m very conscious of what I say, and how I say what I say. I feel that I hear, from whoever the higher power is, songs, subject matter that is about the human condition more than it’s just about what’s happening in my life.” (2)

My first choice to select here is ‘Therapy’ being, as I’ve well-established already, that in listening to her she is continuously mine.

The bounce in the basic wisdom of ‘Better People’, imploring for more of a connection, this time between the ages.

And then I choose ‘Yellow’, because I still hold faith such a thing will at last come to be.

Finally, the bonus track from this album, that being ‘A Beautiful Day’, which rightly should be played daily with the introductory tune I placed here; I’ve often thought it should be my morning alarm to arise to.

ALL GOOD THINGS…

I’ve joked previously of seeming eternities, but it really was then the longest of waits for her fifth album – ‘SongVersation’, released in 2013. This was as much as anything to do with her requirement, her need to take a step inwards.

“I realized it long before I did it. It was at the end of 2006; I had a breakdown in the dressing room. I just lost it, and I don’t remember everything that happened, really. … I rested for a couple days.

But then finally, somewhere in 2009, things just weren’t right. Things just kept happening… and I knew I needed to take a break, but there’s that … drive and the competition of the music industry. … You’re scheduled to be who they think you are all the time.

It’s business, and I get it, but what I refused to do any further — and what I refuse to do ever again — is to not be on the same page with the people who want me to deliver. We need to be on the same page and have the same plans so I’m not just spending my life trying to deliver what you need.” (3)

India.Arie explains further: “This is where I’ve been for the last four years, I’ve struggled most of my career to feel comfortable with how things were, how I was treated, the politics of the music industry. I needed to pull back from the public eye to ground myself and rebuild my life and career. It’s a process many of us go through: spiritual maturation, spiritual awakening, clearing out the old and starting anew.” (4)

She supports this strength born from a time of tearing much down and rebuilding again when discussing one’s own worth (she has a necklace with the word ‘worthy’ to remind her).

“It’s a powerful word… Now we are living in a time where there are challenges being whoever you are; being gay, being black, being a woman, there’s challenges that come with any aspect of humanity. This is the time where you can define your own worth… You don’t let anybody tell you or define your worth for you. We do it, but it’s not sustainable, it’s not productive, it doesn’t give you a beautiful life.” (5)

What India.Arie brings us now is a culmination of that pilgrimage into herself, and, just as she has found herself enlightened by her own personal epiphanies, through her honesty, her truth to herself and putting that into her music, she in turn helps bring us to our own; ‘SongVersation’ is pure incandescence.

“Putting spiritual and empowerment ideals into music concepts … that’s always been the core message of my music—and it seemed I was talking to others …” she says. “But the truth is that it was my message to myself because I was yearning to know the peace of a self-defined life.” (6)

That, for me, makes me love and appreciate this gift she shares even more. She is on her journey, I am on mine, we are on ours. India.Arie doesn’t speak to us from an advanced place of being (though I could easily accept that she is too), what she does is reach both inwards and upwards to look at the eternal wisdom that is there to guide, and as she affirms it to herself, she aids in our own personal affirmations.

I’ve learned through her talking that ‘SongVersation’ also come into being because of another album called ‘Open Door’ that she was working on that, through exhaustion, frustration and other factors hasn’t as yet come to light. I hope it does in time; like a great painter, none of her art should be hidden from us.

But to today, and to ‘SongVersation’, born after a day of prayer and six months of pure focus. As much I adore this album in its entirety, and would strongly recommend playing in full as that, let me point to a few immediate favourites. Aside from my introductory choice which is the essential empowerment of ‘Just Do You’, I come to the following:

We all have a secret pain

We all have a tender place

We were born to want more

And no I’m not meant to live alone

But this is the life I know

I acknowledged and accepted the tears that fell upon my cheeks as this first played. It reverberated within, for music is indeed what feelings sound like.

As Kahlil Gibran put it: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding… And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.”

The pure peace and serenity that meditation brings.

The final track I put here is not a track from one of her albums. It is the sheer beauty of ‘A Time to Love’ with Stevie Wonder*, released in 2005. It is a track I wish was heard, and heeded, globally.

“He gave me the melody and he said “this is what I want it to be about” and I took it home, and I pray for songs all the time because it just helps you get centred – prayer just helps. This time, in my prayer I said “Please let me finish it all today (laughing) because I want it done NOW!” And I did, and then I sent it to him, and I didn’t hear from him so I flew to LA… this is Stevie, he’s got my song and I want to know what’s up. I went to his studio and he said “I recorded it” and he pulled it out and started playing it and I got light-headed… it was a MOMENT. Then he said “you sound so great on here, do you want to sing it with me”… er, YEAH, YES I DO!” (7)

* Incidentally, during her own music career India.Arie’s mother Joyce Simpson opened in concert for Stevie Wonder.

My last clip here is not one of her songs, but again returns to the interview with Oprah Winfrey that I featured earlier. I do so because she talks of a revelation I too finally came to not so long ago, probably around the same time as India.Arie herself did. Synchronicity is everywhere.

“I won’t let anyone talk me out of my intuition.”

Follow your own voice.

I am at last following mine.

Hold the Faith in You. See the invisible, feel the intangible, achieve the impossible; believe when it’s beyond the power of reason to believe. Because by taking this leap of faith, we find out who we are truly capable of becoming.

Follow your own voice and fulfill every aspiration.

And thank you India.Arie – you have helped, and continue to aid me in fulfilling this. As you do countless others.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes once put it: “Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons.  You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.”

No finer flowing water is there on this Earth for such a bath than India.Arie.

Giles Addison

(1) http://randb.about.com/od/cdreviews/fr/TestimonyVol1.htm

(2) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101568800

(3) Interview with Neal Conan. http://www.npr.org/2013/06/13/191313811/india-arie-returns-to-start-a-new-songversation

(4), (6) http://www.amazon.co.uk/India.Arie/e/B000APOHOA/ref=ac_dtp_sa_bio

(5), (7)  Interview with Tavis Smiley. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/interviews/singer-songwriter-india-arie/

SPOTLIGHT

Introducing… Debra Debs

debs

Her album ‘LifeCycles’ was released in November 2013 – a sublime fusion that she sums up as “NeosoulfulJazzyRnBAfrosoulThings”. Eclectic brilliance then, for here the finest musicianship accompanies adroit liquid-gold libretto that flows forth from her ravishing voice, shining with a brilliance that bounces buoyantly into the auditory cortex.

At present the track wheeling wondrous waves in several spheres is the intoxicating ‘Fizzy Lemonade’, some variations of which I put here. It is, I feel, a striking testimony to Debra’s ability that this one song works so resplendently at such varied pace; listen on, and I’m sure you will agree.

debs

I begin then with a live acoustic performance done on BBC Radio, beautifully illustrating the strength of her inspiration born from listening to her Mother’s jazz collection in childhood. >>>

And here now, upping the ante to make the concept to “drink me so much I’ll make you wanna stay” so true, and danceable with it.

The Felo Le Tee Remix >>>

The Reel People Remix >>>

Back to the album itself, I next highlight the track ‘Blew my Mind’, because that is kind of what the whole work did upon the first listen, and because once again it perfectly illustrates how she is so accomplished at lifting it up and slowing it down. The track holds a different feel as it stands on ‘LifeCycles’ which, if you haven’t yet brought it you surely will by the time you’ve finished reading here (lest you are a fool), but for now, let THAT purity of voice and her joyful demeanour shine through as it does here with Lekan Shobiyi. >>>

Debra is a gifted story-teller, and one who carries so much truth and wisdom in her melodic tales, such as in ‘Blending Colours’ – because many concepts of barriers that are held really do have the requirement, the need, to dissolve. >>>

This album follows up from her EP release ‘WHUMAN’ which features, amongst other tracks, the incredible ‘Africa Higher Higher’  – a potent call for change that needs to be heeded. >>>

If not yet evident, I am of the firm belief that here is one of the most prodigiously outstanding artists to launch forth in recent times, and I am of no doubt that Debra Debs is going to see her star continually ascending up into the musical firmament – this is what is most assuredly deserved.

Giles Addison

To purchase:

Go direct to the source: www.debradebs.com

and available via other stockists such as iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby.

Hello to… BRENDA RUSSELL

brenda

Here is my inaugural posting under the title of Hello to…, an occasional series which will always commence with introducing a favoured tune I often play, followed by me delving in a little deeper into that particular artist’s work. I have included posts to youtube for the tracks mentioned at the end of each relevant paragraph. Also, if you enjoy this piece, please be as so kind to leave a comment in the box at the very bottom of the page. Thank you.

My first tune then is the jazz-tinged soul-funk uplift that is ‘In the Thick of It’, and the artist – of course – is Brenda Russell. It is by no means the only track from this great lady that I regularly listen to, but I had to start somewhere.

If you’re not that acquainted with her original, but find it is still ringing clear in your head when you listen, that may well be because, as with many of her compositions, the song has been covered, in this case done relatively recently and to some considerable acclaim by the sublime Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band, featuring Angela Johnson charging forth on the vocals. I guess this also explains why I chose this track out of the several of hers I listen to quite frequently, because that version is also in high ranking on my “Onwards & Upwards” playlist.

Brenda Russell (née Gordon) was born in Brooklyn, New York, and spent her teenage years in Canada. If it could be said of anyone it surely could be said here hers was a pedigree set in stone, given that both her father Gus Gordon and Cinnamon Sharpe were singers.

It was evident at a very early age that she could sing, as the story goes: There she was, eyes closed, no older than three, standing at the radio crooning note for note to a popular jazz tune.“My mother just froze,” Russell said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB).“She couldn’t believe it.” (1)

It was there her musical career took off, when aged 18, she released her first (and their only) single as part of the Toronto-based girl The Tiaras ‘Where Does All The Time Go’ (which was released on Barry Records in 1968).

Following this she went on to join the Toronto production of ‘Hair’, and it was also around this time she began to play the piano. She had a brief period after this with a musical group called Dr. Music, touring throughout Canada in 1972, but the 1970’s really took off when she moved to Los Angeles with her then-husband Bryan Russell. Working as backing singers for Neil Sedaka, the pair were seen one night by Elton John, subsequently leading to them releasing two albums through his Rocket label, first with ‘Word Called Love’  in 1976 (featuring tracks such as ‘Gonna Do My Best To Love You’ which in my opinion, though much less known, has the same power as an Ashford & Simpson gem – and I’ve placed both the original and the Tom Moulton mix just below). followed just one year later with ‘Supersonic Lover’ (containing diamonds such as ‘Don’t Let Love Go’, which either stands as wise advice or the wish of a broken heart, depending where one is in life). Both of these albums are most worthy of discovering if not yet done so – true underrated classic works as they stand.

This album was followed just one year later with ‘Supersonic Lover’ (containing diamonds such as ‘Don’t Let Love Go’, which either stands as wise advice or the wish of a broken heart, depending where one is in life). Both collections are most worthy of discovering if not yet done so – true underrated classic works as they stand.

Time marches on, and so it came for Brenda Russell, both in her private life and her career, to now go solo, which brings us back to ‘In the Thick of It’, taken from her first album release ‘Brenda Russell’ in 1978 (A&M Records). It was not one of the two tracks that were released as singles in America (those being ‘So Good, So Right’ and ‘Way Back When’), though it was the A-side with ‘So Good, So Right’ here in the UK and throughout much of Europe.

“I wrote that (So Good, So Right) while I was washing dishes at a dinner party I was having.” Brenda says.

“This little song came in my head, and all I had in those days – this was 1978 – all I had was a piano in the living room where all the dinner guests were. And so I knew that I had to get it down, put it on the tape recorder or I was going to forget it, and I knew it was good. I’m a very shy writer, I don’t like writing in front of people. So for me to go in that living room, sit down at the piano, and write that song while they were all sitting there was really, really hard for me. I did it because I knew this song in my head was too good to just keep going along with the dinner conversation. You know, it’s like, I gotta get this down. And luckily I did that, because it became my first hit record.” (2)

A notable fact, especially given the body of work she has created over the last few decades, is that Brenda neither reads or writes music:

“I never actually learned. I play by ear, as some people say. I just   kind of hear it in my head, and then pick it out on the piano.”(3)

Another notable track from that debut album is ‘If Only for One Night’, which was later covered by both Roberta Flack with Peabo Bryson and by Luther Vandross. The album was re-released in 2000, a clear pointer to her continuing and ever-growing popularity.

Of all her accomplishments, probably her best known hit is the 1998 double Grammy-nominated ‘Piano in the Dark’ (again with A&M Records).

As already established, her work as a songwriter has been the source for many other artists, such as Oleta Adams, who garnered herself a huge international hit in 1991 with the Grammy-nominated cover of ‘Get Here’. An interesting fact about this track is that Brenda Russell wrote it whilst she was in Stockholm, Sweden in 1984, and Oleta Adams first heard it some years later in a record store… in Stockholm, Sweden; talk about synchronicity!

Other artists who have covered her songs include Patti LaBelle, Johnny Mathis, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Dionne Warwick, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Herb Alpert, Roberta Flack, Lalah Hathaway, Al Jarreau and Chaka Khan… an almost inexhaustible list so here is to name but a few. One can then add to this her writing talents specifically for others, such as ‘I’ve Had Enough’ in 1982 for the band Earth, Wind & Fire. Of the multitude, this I single out firstly because I love it, and secondly because it later got sampled to fine use on two other tracks I’m fond of, namely ‘Fly Away’, again with Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band featuring Peter Simpson in 2004, and 2012’s ‘Free Your Mind’ (Richard Earnshaw Classic Vocal Mix) by A.M Dusk and Allistair Whitehead. I digress.

As a solo artist she has released nine albums in all (not including anthologies or collaborations), and my personal favourite (if I had to pick) is the inspiring ‘Paris Rain’ (Epic/Hidden Beach Recordings) in 2000, featuring amongst others the utterly transcendent prayer that is ‘Ideal World’ and the up-beat ‘Walking In New York’ – which makes me long to do so again.

brenda

She followed this in 2004 with the release of ‘Between The Sun And Moon’ (Dome Records), which saw her wings spread further still on such tracks as the elevatory afro-rhythmic title track (Patti Austin joining her here on vocals), the holiday-feel ‘Make You Smile’ with its conga drums and horns accompanying joyful scat (a singing style only the best can master), and the silken song of a languid panther ‘Too Cool For The Room’.

Her breadth of accomplishment is remarkable. As well as her solo work, she co-wrote the score for ‘The Colour Purple’ musical, and other notable works include her collaboration with Stevie Wonder on the beautiful song ‘Justice of the Heart’ for the Denzel Washington 2002 movie ‘John Q’, and her co-composition with Brazilian artist Ivan Lins ‘She Walks This Earth’, which was subsequently recorded by Sting, seeing him win a Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance.

She walks this Earth indeed, and it is a better place for it. Brenda Russell’s work, as I have merely touched upon here, is prolific, fusing over musical genres and breaking the boundaries that lock down many. In this there is something cohesive, a unity.

In her own words: “I am a citizen of the world and believe in peace and love to all people. That is what I write about and what I sing about. It’s the motivating force behind everything I do and the way I live. I want my music to bring people together.”

Giles Addison

 

NOTES:

1. A great in-depth article. http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2768/Russell-Brenda.html

2 & 3. Taken from an interview with Brenda Russell (well worth checking it out in full) on April 24, 2007. http://www.songfacts.com/blog/interviews/brenda_russell/

TOM GLIDE with Timmy Thomas ‘SWEET HEAVEN’

An accomplished producer, composer, musician and singer in his own right (he’d taught himself to play guitar, drums, bass and keyboards by the age of 10), Tom Glide has become a name synonymous with the masterful musicianship of uplifting groove, and his new release, featuring vocals from the legendary Timmy Thomas, is set to further seal his stance as a maestro at the top of his game.

This latest release follows on from the highly acclaimed ‘In the Name of Luv: Tom Glide and the Luv All Stars’, his sublime 11-track smash collection of funk and soul infused tunes that, with soaring horns and accomplished vocals et al so beautifully bridges the old school with the new. Featuring some of the best artists in their field, whose collective credits, aside from their own, range from Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and George Duke to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Rolling Stones, to name but a few, this album, the culmination of a long-held dream, holds up the vision of, in Tom’s own words “music that erases the distance between the past and the present, and looks ahead to the future; a universal celebration of togetherness, brotherhood and love”.

The ‘All Stars’ saw collaboration with luminaries including keyboardist Larry Dunn, bassist Alex Al, drummer James Gadson and the acclaimed trumpeter Rahmlee Michael Davis (Jackie Wilson, Michael Jackson, B.B. King, Donny Hathaway, Minnie Riperton… the list of that particular pedigree goes on). The latter, Tom says, was “…one of the most beautiful musical experiences of my musician’s life. I learned a lot about music, human relationships and humility. His unique art to construct voicing as foundations inside my songs or how to distribute notes like characters in the cinema, or measuring ingredients as in fine cooking, and gastronomy – to have the perfect taste or colour.  Learning this art has been like a revelation for me.”

It is a revelation that abounds in telling, shown not only in how Tom brings so many top talents of all ages together, but on with the tunes they create, ones that stand solid as new classics. So with this latest release Tom is set to continue in furthering his vision of bringing real musicianship into the lounge, the bedroom and upon a truly uplifting dance-floor to the fore.

With some four decades in the music business Timmy Thomas has given us golden gems like ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’ (1972), with its memorable stripped-down production of Hammond organ and percussion to his soulful vocal, along with classics under the T.K.Disco label such as ‘Stone To The Bone’ and much more besides, seeing him consistently topping the R&B charts. Here now then, under the umbrella of Tom’s ‘All Stars’, another hit is assured. With remixes from the likes of the equally prolific talents of UK producers Matt Early and 12 Shades, along with some stunning keyboards by JD 73, this March release of ‘Sweet Heaven’, is another vibrant step in the on-going march of Tom Glide and company, here with Markus Kater and Stephen Tucker in Miami (the two guys who made the connection with Timmy Thomas happen) and supervised in studio by the acclaimed American bassist, songwriter and producer George “Chocolate” Perry.

The train shows no sign of stopping either, as this will lead on to yet another release in May, before the planned launch of a second album towards the end of the year.

And after his hugely successful 2012 UK tour ‘Soul On The Road’ together with Cool Million, Gary Poole and Westcoast Soulstars, along with vocalists like Laura Jackson and Tim Owens, as well as being on the road in Germany, France, Japan and the US West Coast, Tom is also getting focused on a second tour in the UK: “I’m hoping to bring a full horns section on stage, to make the full circus happen.”

As Berthold Auerbach once put it: “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”  Tom and his unrivalled collective don’t just wash the dust away, they buff the soul to the highest gleam. In his own words: “We pray we’ve created music to uplift people; to bring people closer together.” 

One listen and that becomes undeniably true.

Giles Addison – March 2013

Image

https://soundcloud.com/tom-glide/tom-glide-feat-timmy-thomas-2

(This is the M.Maurro Remix #1 Traxsource Soul/Funk/Disco top 100)

Obá Frank Lords: WHEN

In a moment, I will ask you to LISTEN.

Because this powerful message needs to be heard. With humble gratitude to my friend, the inspiring artist who created this beautiful work, Obá Frank Lords, I had the huge honour of being one of the first few to ever hear it, and it stands as a shining example of music as prayer.

So please… LISTEN. Listen, and share. (click the link at the bottom of this article)

As is said upon my souncloud page:

Listen. It as if the toll of a bell is calling us… as if the tick of a clock is telling us…

As Marvin Gaye sang in 1971 with What’s Going On & Mercy Mercy Me.

WHY?

We must act TODAY for ourselves, for our children, for our children’s children…

As Obá Frank Lords implores here: “It starts with me and nobody else”

No apathy. WE need to act. In a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

And if you think that your voice doesn’t matter, think for just a moment on what you would wish to leave as legacy to every child you care about… yes, your voice therefore DOES matter.

As one, we are one voice. Just one.

But add a loved one, it is two.

That done again, it is four, then eight. Next sixteen, then thirty two.

It is an infinite yet simple sequence of mathematics.

That happens just fifteen more times and it is over one million (1,048,576 to be exact).

One million voices asking “WHEN” and answering “NOW”.

We can be… we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

https://soundcloud.com/g2000/oba-frank-lords-when

Above is the link to the original track. This link below is the Drum Remix.