Allen Stone on KEXP

He sounds like Stevie Wonder.

  

The Best of Soul Train (3 DVD)


RIYL: ’70s soul, really bad fashion, Afro-Sheen

Prior to MTV (to say nothing of the network’s lack of acceptance for soul and rap music for half a decade or so) and BET, or for those of us who just didn’t have cable for a long time, “Soul Train” was the primary destination for soul music lovers looking to check out their favorite artists. Running for over three decades, just about everyone who was ever anyone in R&B or hip-hop stood on the hallowed “Soul Train” stage and performed as dozens of young, stylish dancers showed off their latest moves.

Time-Life has recently opened the “Soul Train” vaults and unleashed a nine-DVD set containing hours of performances, interviews and legendary routines, and even more recently, some of the all-time classic performances have been compiled onto the “Best of Soul Train” DVD.

This 3-disc set contains performances from some of the all-time greats of soul music, and almost all of them come from the show’s first few years, 1971-1979. (Stevie Wonder provides the only content coming from a later date, with a 1991 medley of his hits.) Although many of “Soul Train’s” guests lip-synched, this set is heavy on the rare live performances. They include a sweaty run through “That Lady” by the Isley Brothers, riveting performances of “Use Me” and “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers, an impromptu duet of “Ooh Baby Baby” by Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson, and a performance by Barry White and a huge orchestra that must have required Don Cornelius’s production company to expand the Soul Train stage.

In addition to those performances, you get mimed but still incredible performances by the Jackson 5, the Commodores and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (featuring a frighteningly dressed Teddy Pendergrass). There’s also interview footage from those shows (worth the cost for the Marvin Gaye segment alone) as well as several dance routines that show how ahead of their time the Soul Train dancers were (in addition to how horrendous some of the fashions of the time were). You also get to see some of the groundbreaking commercials that ran during the Soul Train episodes, among the first ads to feature products geared exclusively towards a black audience. Bonus footage includes interviews with Soul Train creator/host Don Cornelius, the legendary Smokey Robinson, and Soul Train dancer-turned-Grammy winning singer Jody Watley.

As an admitted “Soul Train”-aholic, I’m hoping that eventually the highlights from every episode (up until the mid-Nineties, when I pretty much stopped watching) gets released. However, if you are a fan of soul music in any one of its incarnations, you need to have this DVD in your collection. So throw on your tightest bell-bottoms, pick your afro, and take a ride on the funkiest train in music history. As Don famously stated at the end of each episode, “you can bet your last money that it’s gonna be a stone gas, honey!”
(Time-Life 2010)

  

Rob Blackledge: Inside These Walls

Mississippi-raised and Nashville-based Rob Blackledge was torn between pursuing a career in baseball or in music. But his love of music was affirmed after he decided to attend Belmont University in Nashville, a music industry hub, when Blackledge won a talent contest and had a positive crowd reaction leave him wanting more of that artist/audience connection that can be magical when it’s right. Blackledge honed his craft while touring with Nashville favorite son Dave Barnes, co-wrote country act Love and Theft’s “Runaway,” then later signed with One Revolution Entertainment. Now Blackledge has his own debut album, Inside These Walls, and his wide range of influences are all there for the world to see – James Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Ben Folds among them. That may seem crazy, but it’s not – Blackledge is accomplished on both piano and guitar, his melodies soar with his falsetto (which he wisely does not overuse), and everything is tied together nicely by producer Jeff Coplan. Among a solid set of songs, the best ones are the hummable “Early Morning Riser,” the radio-ready “Should Have Known Better,” and the understated R&B-infused beauty, “Worth Taking” – the latter of which could be a huge Top 40 hit in the right hands. (One Revolution Entertainment 2009)

Rob Blackledge MySpace page

  

Stevie Wonder at the White House

With Barack Obama in the White House, we have a president who doesn’t go to bed at 9:30 with a glass of warm milk. President Obama and Michelle Obama like to have fun, and Stevie Wonder rocked the White House the other night.

The East Room of the White House, normally a place for staid presidential news conferences and other Washington happenings, was switched into a nightclub Wednesday night as Stevie Wonder stepped inside and rocked the house.

Wonder was the winner of The Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize, which was bestowed on him by President Obama.

In a celebration to be broadcast on PBS Thursday night, Wonder serenaded the first couple, kicking things off with a version of “Sir Duke” and later Wonder classics like “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Superstition.”

But the night was also a tribute to Wonder. Tony Bennett, Paul Simon, Will.i.am and Martina McBride all paraded though, each with their own rendition of Wonder’s hits.

President Obama and Michelle Obama, in an elegant emerald gown, along with Vice President Biden and his wife Jill, took in the show from the front row.

Good stuff.

  

Various Artists: Motown 50 – Yesterday, Today, Forever

How does a legendary label celebrate its 50th birthday? By inviting the public at large to vote on its 50 greatest hits, turning the results into a terrific 3-CD compilation…and then releasing it only in the UK. The upshot is that even though you’ll have to pay import prices for it – and even though anyone who’s interested in Motown probably already has copies of most, if not all, of these songs – Motown 50 is one of the more interesting and consistently interesting label retrospectives to come down the pike in quite some time. Much of this is owed to the strength of the catalog, of course, but still, Motown has never been a label known for playing fast and loose with its heritage, both of which make this the entry-level Hitsville compilation to own. If Motown 50 has a major drawback, it’s that it’s sequenced in order, meaning you start out listening to the classics (Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street”) and wind up with lesser entries like Lionel Richie’s “My Destiny”; it would have been better (and braver) to count down rather than up. But hey, that’s what the shuffle button is for – and when the label takes enough care to tack on 11 tracks of Motown artists covering (often left-field) hits, who can complain? When you can get the Elgins’ “Heaven Must Have Sent You” and Stevie Wonder covering “Light My Fire” in one compilation, all disagreements are minor. Now when is this getting an American release? (Motown 2008)

Motown 50 Official Site

  

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