Soulive: Rubber Soulive

RIYL: The Beatles, G Love & Special Sauce

There is a reason why so many artists have taken a whack at the Beatles’ catalog – it quite literally has something for everyone, which is why everyone from Aretha Franklin to Motley Crue have covered them. Curiously, despite the fact that they were a driving force behind a million pop acts, it’s the soul singers that have gotten the most mileage out of their material. This makes perfect sense, really; before Brian Wilson came along, Paul McCartney wanted to be Little Richard.

Enter New York jazz funk hounds Soulive, who have tackled songs from both ends of the Beatles spectrum (the soul singers tended to stick to the earlier material) for Rubber Soulive, finding the funk in even the more white-bread songs in the Fab Four’s catalog. One wonders if the band heard the Beastie Boys’ cover of the Jam’s “Start!,” because the goings here are very similar in nature, though Soulive clearly have musicianship on their side. Their version of “In My Life” is surprisingly soulful, and Eric Krasno does as good an impression of George Harrison (on guitar, that is) as you’re likely to hear. Sometimes the band seems to be trying harder than the song deserves (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Revolution”), and as nifty as their arrangements are, they don’t exactly make any of these songs their own, as a certain “American Idol” judge is fond of saying. Still, it’s a perfectly enjoyable trip through the finest catalog in music, and the kind of thing that will likely land as backing music in movies for years to come. (Royal Family Recordings 2010)

Soulive MySpace page
Click to buy Rubber Soulive from Amazon


Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project

RIYL: Santana’s Shaman and Supernatural, Anoushka  Shankar’s Breathing Underwater,  WOMAD label artists

On the surface, one might conclude that Herbie Hancock’s current release, The Imaging Project, is a Johnny-come-lately effort that builds on the model Carlos Santana rode to great success on Supernatural and Shaman.  That is to say, call in a diverse group of popular artists and have them record songs that infuse their styles with the dominant musical character of bandleader. Hancock and company certainly attempt that, but Mr. Hancock has grander designs other than just creating a hit record.  The Imagine Project is, according to Hancock, part of a global outreach strategy featuring musicians from various corners of the world to foster a kind of globalization that emphasizes mutual respect rather than a top-down cultural dominance emanating from U.S. to the rest of the world.  Does Hancock succeed in his ambitions?  At times he does, but at other times the record sounds like bland smooth jazz that never rises above level of innocuous background music for worker bees in office buildings.

The most interesting tracks (and ones that reach Hancock’s ambitions on this album) are tucked in the middle and end of the CD.  “The Song Goes On” featuring Chaka Khan and Wayne Shorter – and some blistering sitar playing by Anoushka Shankar – demonstrates what I think Hancock had in mind for this album (the same goes for “Tempo De Amor,” “La Tierra,” and “Tamatant Tilay/Exodus”). Alas, there are some real duds that take away from the potential grandness of the project.  “Tomorrow Never Knows” featuring Dave Matthews is as pointless of a cover as it is boring. “Imagine” gets bogged down in pomposity and relegates Jeff Beck to playing a solo that could have been done by any good musician with about a year’s worth of guitar lessons.  And only Pink saves “Don’t Give Up” from becoming a milquetoast cover of the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush original.

The Imagine Project is not a horrible record by any stretch, but it continually falls short on both fusing various musical styles and finding new wine from the old wineskins of classic songs. However, when it shines (as it does at times), the music does transcend geographic boarders to create a fusion that lives up to Hancock’s stated goal for this record.  (Hancock Records 2010)

Herbie Hancock’s website
Click to buy The Imagine Project from Amazon


The Derek Trucks Band: Roadsongs

RIYL: Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers Band, Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses

The Derek Trucks Band is finally giving way to the overdue and inevitable Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band (the pair married in 2001), which perhaps means the end of the road for this phase of Trucks’ career. Trucks is an amazing slide guitar talent and this is a top-rate band, but the highlights are here and there, whereas just about every song with the new Trucks/Tedeschi band is pure magic. But the foundation for the greatness of the Trucks and Tedeschi group comes from what the DTB has been laying down for the past decade. If this is it for the DTB, Roadsongs is a great swan song – it documents what a hot band this has been, while also whetting the appetite for the new band.

A top highlight is a sweet 14-minute jam on jazz standard “Afro Blue,” which serves notice on how Trucks is not just a blues master but quite the jazzman as well. There’s great flute work from keyboardist Kofi Burbridge and fantastic jazzy blues riffing from Trucks. Tunes like “Already Free” and “Down in the Flood” from the DTB’s most recent studio album crackle with energy and sweet licks on that slide guitar. Another major highlight is the sensational pairing of “Get Out My Life Woman/Who Knows,” which opens with a fabulously dirty funk groove and deeply soulful vocals from Mike Mattison before segueing into a sick jam on the Band of Gypsys classic. This track has it all – deep electric piano/organ from Burbridge in a Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters style, strong harmony vocals, a monster groove from bassist Todd Smallie and drummer Y’Onrico Scott, and Trucks tearing it up as he blends Duane Allman with Jimi Hendrix.

“Down Don’t Bother Me No More” and “Get What You Deserve” also feature hot bluesy jams, as do most of the tracks. Eric Clapton/Derek & the Dominoes covers of “Anyday” and “Key to the Highway” display the band’s love for and skill with the early ’70s classic rock for which Trucks was named, but they also highlight the DTB’s ceiling. Once you’ve witnessed the uplifting “Anyday” performed with Tedeschi and Mattison sharing the vocals, hearing it without Tedeschi just isn’t the same. It still rocks for sure, but you want more. And that sums up this album – the DTB is dishing out some of the best blues rock available these days, but adding Tedeschi just takes the whole sound to a higher dimension. Still, this is high quality stuff. (Sony Legacy 2010)

Derek Trucks MySpace page


Me, Myself, and iPod 6/9/10: They work in bars. Whether they are all on drugs remains unknown

esd ipod

Strange. I thought that the closer we got to summer, the more awesome mp3s I’d have for all y’all. Instead, it appears the opposite is happening. Like I said, strange.

The Chap – We Work in Bars
I’m not 100% sold on this London band, but there’s a spirit to the work that I find appealing. Definitely want to hear more before officially passing judgment.

The Mercury Program – Arrived/Departed
This made the cut for one reason: the delay-driven guitar line at the beginning of the song is a near note-for-note copy of the beginning to the song “Outside” by the late, great band Tribe. These guys obviously took it in a much different direction (an instrumental, moody jazzy direction, that is), and that’s cool.

Hot Hot Heat – Goddess on the Prairie
You have to feel a little bad for these guys. When people start making jokes about the ’00s, these guys will be near the top of the One Hit Wonder joke list, and the worst part is that even the members of the band don’t like that song and wish they had never recorded it. This song, from their new album Future Breeds, which came out this week, shows the band, well, pretty much where the world left them. Give them points for not suddenly pretending to be Franz Ferdinand.

Parlovr – Pen to the Paper
Is Montreal the new Brooklyn? Or was Montreal Montreal before Brooklyn became the destination of choice for musical immigrants? Either way, this song has a driving quality to it that brings out the New Order fan in me.


Bibi Tanga and the Selenites: Dunya

RIYL: Massive Attack, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown

Red flags go up whenever musical artists describe their music as having “no rules” – as Bibi Tanga does on his MySpace page. Tanga must know there are rules when recording music. If there weren’t, he would certainly have produced an anarchic stew of disparate noises like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. No, Tanga is a much more structured musician than that, and he and his sidekick (Professeur Inlassable – “Professor Tireless”) have put together a record that has “world traveler” stamped all over it – and having it on National Geographic’s record label reinforces that fact.

Dunya is trippy, funky, lyrics are sung in English, French, and Sango (the native language of the Central African Republic where Tanga’s family comes from), and there are loops the Professor weaves into the mix that give the songs modern flourishes. In short, Dunya isn’t only a mixture of funk, African rhythms, jazz and hip-hop, it’s also an album that takes us into space age chants about the moon – a recurring theme throughout the album.

One of strongest tracks is “Gospel Singers,” which starts off with a dissonant toy xylophone loop coupled with a kind of “Ah-Ah-Ah” sound reminiscent of the “Friday the 13th” opening title sequence. But all that dissonance gives way to Tanga’s high pitched, yet soulful vocals and some Sarah McLachlan-esque co-vocals that round out the song in a harmonious and passionate way.

Curiously, the least imaginative song on the album is the lead single “Red Wine” – with its laconic rhythm and equally listless vocal delivery that makes for a poor introduction to Tanga’s music. Songs that really show Tanga in top form are the ultra-funky “Swing Swing” and “Shine” – both channeling a kind of James Brown/Prince vibe. Also, I thought “Bonjour Monsieur Jean” was a gem with its neo-jazz/trip-hop pastiche of Parisian sounds nicely reflecting the years Tanga spent growing up in France.

Overall, Dunya is an album that will take a few listens to really “get” what Tanga is doing with the musical influences that have inspired him. Knowing that he was the son of a Central African Republic diplomat who lived in a number of countries, and he grew up on the steady diet of funk, new wave, hip-hop, indigenous African sounds and jazz, will give you an insight into where he’s trying to take the listener. He doesn’t always succeed in his endeavors at bringing parts of the world to the listener’s ear, but when he does, it’s as sublime as a full moon rising in the evening sky. (National Geographic 2010)

Bibi Tanga MySpace page_Click to Buy Dunya from Amazon


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