Songs »You’ll Lose A Good Thing, Barbara Lynn

lose1by Barbara Lynn (1962)

Barbara Lynn played guitar like a boss, wrote her own songs, and gave us the wonderful You’ll Lose a Good Thing. She’s like a hero I never knew before and her hit song is the kind that makes the world stop for a few minutes then seem like a better place when it ends.


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Posted on March 25, 2013

Albums »Ray Charles In Person

by Ray Charles (1959)

My sticking point with Ray Charles has always been over-production. Those Disney-esque backup vocals and cascading orchestra? It’s too much and distracts from his voice.

So, a live album like Ray Charles in Person is perfect.

Same great songs minus all the fluffy polish. It’s a quick one, blink and it’s over, but you get some classic favorites ( “The Right Time”, “What’d I Say”, “Drown In My Own Tears”).

Most impressive? It was recorded on a rainy night by one guy in the audience with a microphone but it sounds amazing.

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Posted on August 15, 2012

Albums »Hurt: The Best of Timi Yuro

by Timi Yuro

Timi Yuro, where have you been all my life? So crazy that a voice this good is virtually unknown today (or am I wrong? Has everyone been dancing to a Yuro party without me?)

Sometimes the arrangements are dull in comparison to her dynamic voice, but there’s lots to love in Hurt, a long compilation of her peak recording years.

If you don’t trust my taste, Morrissey and Elvis were both huge fans. Plus, she looked like a real life Rizzo.

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Posted on July 6, 2012

Albums »Raphael Saadiq Live at SXSW

at NPR

Having not found a babysitter (and honestly, being ok not leaving Van with a stranger) we probably do not have a Raphael Saadiq concert on our horizon (though fans, take note! – he will be playing Webster Hall May 10th).

Lucky for us NPR came to the rescue with this SXSW set that includes rocking tunes from the new album Stone Rollin, some from his breakout solo hit Instant Vintage and a couple from that loveliest of soul revival albums, The Way I See It.

The showmanship is lively, exciting and perfected. Do enjoy!

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Posted on March 24, 2011

Songs »The Uptown Sound’s Billy Bungeroth’s 10 Favorite Secret Soul Songs

from AV Club, Chicago

I’ve been friends with Billy since he was sporting a satin Batman bike cap and me, ignorantly, a Rasta skull cap solely because I liked the colors. In other words for a very long time. And if there’s one thing I know, he compiles a list of soul songs, you best listen. Which is just what Van and I have been doing with his AV Club recommendations all day.

From the dirty Mary Jane ditty you don’t know to a Gene Chandler song that will have you wishing summer was here, the list is great. The world kind of stopped around me though when I listened to his Sam Cooke selection, “Mean Old World”.

Other favorites of mine are The Mighty Clouds of Joy’s “I’m Glad About It” a gospel song which Billy describes as “like something Nick Cave would write” and the very pretty “Go Now” by Bessie Banks.

Van was not so divided about his favorite. He perked up, smiling and bouncing to Booker T And The MGs, “Sunday Sermon”, Billy’s “favorite Sunday chill-out song” and Van loves to chill out.

If any of my readers are in Chicago, he and his band are playing at the Double Door tonight.

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Posted on March 18, 2011

Songs »Natural High

by Bloodstone (1973)

While Bloodstone might sound like a current goth pop outfit, it’s actually a Kansas City R&B, funk soul band who hit a career high with Natural High. The doo wop ballad is lovely and surely got lots of girls to go to the back seats in 1973.

Van and I were grooving to this on a classic soul internet station called Got Radio R&B Classics. It is probably well known from its inclusion in the Jackie Brown soundtrack. You have to admit Tarantino knows how to put some good tunes together.

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Posted on March 2, 2011

Songs »Empire State of Mind Part II

by Alicia Keys (2009)

One good thing about winter isolation is that I rarely have to inadvertently listen to the radio playing in stores, that plus an ability to fast forward commercials? I’ve heard nary a Sugar Ray or an American Idol winner song in months and months.

The down side is that once and a while an uplifting gem slips through my radar, like Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind Part 2.

I am not sure if it makes me lame to the broader world that I didn’t know this song (when I asked the manicurist who sang it, she was polite enough to not give me an “are you serious?” look, yet I could tell that something had been decided for her about me right then and there). It was, as I’ve since learned, all the rage almost two years ago.

But then again, among the I-only-listen-to-radio-for-NPR crowd, it might make me just as lame to be so in love with such a popular hit – after all, it played right after the Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy”.

But lame or not – this sounds like modern day Donna Summer and there’s not a thing wrong with that. It makes one feel all alive with excitement, teaming with the hope of Diana Ross’ Mahogany stepping out to make her dreams come true in a huge shawl and a maxi skirt.

It reminds me of the initial thrill of coming to New York, when it felt as exciting in it’s vast energy as it was intimidating. And while I don’t walk down a street in Soho with the same dreamy eyes I had back in those days, the city can still amaze: when you drive back home during dusk and the skyline welcomes you, when snow first starts falling in the night time street lights, when… see look at me. I am super sentimental and it’s all because of this song.

But not the original Jay-Z version, I get less emotional to raps about Robert DeNiro.

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Posted on February 8, 2011

Songs »Pimps Don’t Cry

by Jon Brion, Cee-lo and Eva Mendes (2010)

It used to be I didn’t know this Jon Brion, then I saw him perform and I loved him, now I am ready to take it to what ever the next step is, because his Pimps Don’t Cry, performed by Cee-lo and Eva Mendes is fabulous.

Is it weird that some of my favorite songs are “parody songs” (see One Track Lover and other Matt Berry, see Reggae Man, see the Nashville soundtrack, see Higher and Higher)?

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Posted on February 5, 2011

Albums »Let My People Go

by Darondo (1973)

Darondo led an unusual life: according to wikipedia “Later he traveled the world collecting interesting artifacts, became the king of Bay Area cable with three shows per day, and worked as a physical therapist coaxing patients to walk again” this was after a brief but brilliant stint as a soul singer which left us Let My People Go, a solid, hip swaying album.

You’ll hear hints of James Brown, Prince and Al Green among these nine songs and some will surely become new favorites for any other lovers of the genre out there. Didn’t I, which brought Darondo back into the spot light thanks to radio play, is one of those favorites and the whole album starts off with a great bass line bang with the title track.

It took years for this virtually forgotten artist to get a rerelease – but I can’t claim I found the album having any knowledge of the history. I was just browsing emusic (a site I am sure to tell you about soon) and was struck by the album cover, that featured, to my mind, possibly one of the coolest men on earth. Lucky for me, judging a book by its cover worked out (I actually find it often does) because I found some excellent new music that I can’t wait to share with friends.

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Posted on December 30, 2010

Albums »One Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at The Harlem Square Club

by Sam Cooke (1963, released 1984)

Sam Cooke is considered one of the founders of soul music. His short career boasted many well known hits, most of which he plays here on One Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club including the toe tapping Twistin’ the Night Away, Having a Party, and Chain Gang as well as some great love songs like my favorite Bring It On Home To Me, It’s All Right and Cupid.

Even if you’ve heard these songs before, they have new life in this quick, dynamic live performance at the cramped, hot (and according to the liner notes, scorpion infested) Florida club. The audience is palpably enthusiastic, Cooke is charismatic, and it just sounds like tons of fun. Only a year before his untimely and sordid death, none of the impending tragedy hangs in the air – just a passion and energy that’s hard to capture on tape. It’s considered one of the best live soul performance albums of all time.

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Posted on October 21, 2010

Songs »Tell It Like It Is

by Aaron Neville (1966)

If you still harbor any resentment towards Aaron Neville for his part in “Don’t Know Much” (maybe it’s just me haunted by this adult contemporary radio classic) you only need to listen to the truly excellent love ballad, Tell It Like It Is. Neville’s original is my favorite version and the one I am most familiar with but to my surprise Heart had their biggest hit (bigger than Barracuda?!) with a rendition in 81. Other notable songsters that have tackled the hit are Nina Simone and Percy Sledge.

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Posted on September 26, 2010

Albums »I Learned the Hard Way

by Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings (2010)

I am indebted to friend Mike for introducing me to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and loaning me their latest, fantastic album I Learned the Hard Way. Jones, who was working as a corrections officer at Rikers before making a huge mid-life break into a singing career a decade ago, embodies the soul of classic soul music. Every song on the album is a gem and sounds timeless due to the band’s dislike for modern recording equipment and methods.

They’re more than a novelty act though, the songs are instantly catchy and memorable and I can’t wait to explore their other releases.

Click here for the rest of I Learned the Hard Way

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Posted on April 25, 2010

Albums »First Take

roberta flack first takeRoberta Flack's first album, First Take is a quiet triumph of spare production. Often barely a guitar string interrupts her sonorous voice. Flack here, just like the cover image would indicate, with her natural afro and comfy hand-me-down dress is the antithesis of the divaesque image of contemporary songstresses.

You can imagine her sitting gorgeously on winter afternoons, penning her sorrows as she as she gazes out of an apartment window – though, to be accurate, she actually didn't write anything here; but she's imbued the songs with her own melodic, melancholy power.

The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face
, which became a hit after its inclusion in Play Misty for Me, was and is my parents “song”, but really the whole album is a nice mellow listen that really grows on you the more you listen.

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Posted on May 11, 2009

Albums »What’s Going On

what's going on marvin gayeWhat's Going On is an album of beautiful despair, told from the point of view of a Vietnam vet returned to a country on the wrong path. The album, which was a departure for Marvin Gaye (and his reluctant record company, which was known as a hit factory), dealt with many issues that had been bubbling just below the surface of a forgotten American dream. Poverty, joblessness, and environmental issues were a far cry from Heard it Trough the Grapevine, but Gaye was not feeling terribly hopeful and cheery in 1970. His duet partner Tammi Terrell had just died and other factors of fame had sent him into a deep depression.

The titular track is by far the album's most popular, but it's a great experience to listen to it in its entirety as each song bleeds into the next. Considered revolutionary and praised as a soul masterpiece, it's actually a somewhat subdued and simple album that derives its power from the strength of its subject, Gaye's captivating voice, and the layers of orchestration.

While I consider the album one of despair, and it seems that that's the way he was feeling when making it, there's a sense of, if not hope than at least a quiet ambition to try to make the world a better place. In many ways, as lots of the problems Gaye addressed become worse, it's still a powerfully relevant piece today.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Songs »Searching For My Love (1966)

bobby moore the rhythm acesBobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces' Searching for My Love, which was released on Chicago's famous Chess Records label in '66 was the band's (who were part of the Alabama R&B club scene) only major hit – but it is a great one. Soulful and infectious, the song has features the gritty voice of Chico Jenkins.

Once a big hit, the song seems almost forgotten, with even allmusic left with little to say about the one hit wonder band. Huey Lewis agrees with me that it shouldn't be forgotten and covered the song in 1994, but sadly by then he was kind of forgotten too.

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Posted on April 13, 2009

Albums »Beat of Our Own Drum

jc brooks & the uptown sound beat of our own drumIt's always exciting to be able to pick something created by a friend, and I'm especially tickled to recommend the latest musical venture of my friend Billy, a bouncy but all too brief album entitled Beat of Our Own Drum by JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. Billy and I have been friends since the 6th grade (which is why I can still refer to him as Billy, long after he's become known as Bill). Even though we haven't lived in the same city since those good old days, back when he was sporting a satin Batman baseball cap and taking me to my first concert (the Steve Miller Band), we've managed to stay in touch and always have a grand old time whenever we get a chance to meet up.

As a New Yorker, my conception of an “uptown sound” is the rustle of Brooks Brothers trousers against white thighs and the click clack of old lady heels, but in Chicago “the uptown sound” seems to be upbeat, clear sounding, good natured, and lots of fun. Fronted by the charming voiced and handsome Brooks, the band works comfortably in the traditions of Motown while maintaining an off beat sense of humor.

One of my favorite songs, which lends its name to the title of the album, captures the celebratory experience of falling in love with the adorable lyric, “You make me hotter than an apple pie”. Another song claims, “Baltimore is the new Brooklyn/ Just a short train ride from where you really want to be”.

That song, by the way, has a wonderful music video where I've delighted in seeing my good friend (he's playing the guitar). It reminds me of a time he once told me about a gig that wasn't going too well. He equated the experience with Back to the Future, when Marty McFly's hand begins to fade but then suddenly it comes back and he finished with a bang, all the crowd on his side. Well, it looks like the crowds will be on Bill's side with this new project.

But I digress with friendship nostalgia. Other favorites on the album include Alright, which channels the funk of James Brown, and the provocatively titled 75 Years of Art Sex that, at least in my opinion, is begging for a disco-fied version; it already gives me visions of a Bianca Jagger/Soul Train smash.

You can experience the band live! at Southpaw next Thursday (4/16) evening. I'll be there!

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Posted on April 13, 2009