top-image

LATEST ARTICLES

If you read my last post, you know how I feel about the state of underground soul.  Despite my feelings about the dearth of great releases, every few months an album will come along to renew my faith in the underground scene.  Lately, ZO!’s new long player, Man Made, along with Omar’s The Man, have done just that.  These albums are close to being on my list of my favorites of all-time.  This brings me to the subject of this post.  I felt it was high time I let my listeners know my choices for best underground soul albums of the new millennium.  There is nothing scientific about my list.  It’s based on the quality of the production, the instrumentation and those unexplainable psychographics that make you feel certain ways about music.  Although great vocals are a plus, they are not an absolute necessity.  The same thing applies for lyrics.  Let’s face it.  If the music sucks, most of us aren’t going to stick around for the lyrics anyway.  So here it is, in no particular order.  Of course, it is a dynamic list that could change with the next great release.

For my list, I had to have some parameters, otherwise I could have easily had about 40 albums on it.  I made it a 25-album list because 10 is just too small an amount for all of the brilliant music that’s been made since the year 2000 and 40 just didn’t seem exclusive enough. The criteria for my list are as follows:

1)    The album was released in year 2000 or later

2)    No “major” label releases (sorry D’Angelo, Jill, Bilal and Amel)

3)    No top 40 albums or albums that had top 40 singles

4)    Albums must have been released and available to the general public (i.e., no shelved albums or albums sold from the back of the trunk; unfortunately this eliminates Dwele’s amazing R.I.Z.E.

5)    Majority of songs must have singing (as opposed to rapping or instrumentals)

6)    No EP’s

7)    No compilations

Michelle Amador-Higher: Jazzy vocals over nu-jazz, hip hop, and nu-soul grooves.  The bass line on In And Out is special.  As are the bass, strings and horns on Eager Of The Years.   Excellent production by Zed Bias.

Oezlem-*Reflections: Another Zed Bias production.  I put an asterisk next to it because this album has apparently been removed from all music stores and the digital songs from all download sites, at least in the USA.  And there’s hardly a mention of it on the internet which is even more unbelievable since you can find virtually anything on the internet.   If you have this one, make a copy of it in case you lose the original.  As for the music, it’s all good.  The bass and beat mixed with the strings at the end of Lollipop make that song one of my favorites on an album full of outstanding tracks. By the way, Zed, if you’re reading this, tell me how you can produce two albums at the same time as good as Oezlem’s and Michelle’s, then never be heard from again?

Darrius-Can’t Get Enough: It’s easy to get lost in the soul scene when one is in the northwest part of the U.S.  But you can’t hide good music or an artist with obvious skill.  And if you don’t believe me, check out the two albums he released before this one.

Teedra Moses-Complex Simplicity: No underground album could cross back and forth between mainstream radio and the underground better than this one, if mainstream radio decided to play it, that is.  She can sing Rescue Me to me all day with that voice! Over the acoustic guitar of (I Think Of You) Shirley’s Song, it could make a grown man cry.  This album should have made her famous.

The Rebirth-This Journey In: Back in the days, talented musicians and singers used to team up and call the unit a band.  Remember them? We don’t have too many on the R&B/soul scene these days.  But these folks decided to do it and they did it remarkably well.  The music and harmonies on this one make it timeless.  Too bad they only released one cd.

Cecilia Stalin-Step Like A Giant: One of the most recent releases on this list. Thanks, Cecilia.  My music collection needed some hot butta.  Love the beat on Blue And GreenCPW is perfect.  Producer Waiwan kicked some serious tail on that one.

Erik Rico-Journey Back To Me: Best electronic soul to come out of the US. Welcome To The Space Age indeed!  I was playing that song for a year before I put it away.

Brotherly-One Sweet Life: Anna Stubbs on vocals and Robin Mularkey on production make one awesome duo.  I didn’t hear this one until three years after it was released, so three years of my life have been deprived of this jazzy, soulful goodness.  The standouts for me are Searching and True (check out the drum kit on the last two minutes).  This album’s mix of programmed and live instrumentation is some of the best you’ll hear.

Jose James-Blackmagic: I can only describe Jose James as the best jazz lounge singer you will ever hear.  You never hear his type of voice over soul and electronica.  However, this album’s music fits his voice perfectly.  The horn section of Promise In Love, the keyboards in Greater Good, the jazz guitar of Blackmagic, the minimalism of Love Conversation.  It is all literally magic.

Aquanote-The Pearl: If this doesn’t put you in a “Friday night at the lounge” state of mind, nothing will.  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of listening to this one.  I would put this album in my top five for sure.

N’Dambi-Tunin Up And Cosignin: A double-album of new studio cuts and live versions of songs from her first album, Little Lost Girl Blues.  This one runs the gamut from old school jazz (Bitter Bitter Blue) to house (Call Me).  As time goes on, the brilliance of this album becomes more apparent.

Carmen Rodgers-Free: Producer Geno Young must’ve known how much I love the Rhodes piano.  This album puts me in a really good mood. You could call this an underrated underground album, if there is such a thing.

J*Davey-The Beauty In Distortion/The Land Of The Lost: A double-album this eclectic? I have to steal the tag line of fast food chain Zaxby’s – indescribably good!

Adriana Evans-El Camino: This album reminded long-time fans that she still had that magic.  Ideal summer afternoon music.

2000 Black-A Next Set A Rockers: Super UK producers Dego and Kaidi Tatham blessed us with more of their surreal sounds.  I think So Right is  one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, and my music collection goes back to the 1960’s.

Wayna-Moments Of Clarity, Book 1: This is what a classic nu-soul album should sound like, in my opinion.  There are no duds on this one.  Put on Straight Up at a party and watch the necks start snapping.

Soul:ID-Sex, Lies & Philosophy: People of African descent making soul.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  This is just straight pure neo-soul.  And it sounds good when the speakers are turned up, especially the beat of Beauty & Sin.  I don’t have a decent enough adjective for Tender.  It just  sounds better every time I hear it.

Fertile Ground-Seasons Change: I was actually considering their Black Is cd for this list as well, but felt I should keep it to one album per artist since there is so much good music out there.  I chose Seasons Change because it had more songs that I liked on it and it’s the one that really gave them their identity, but you can’t go wrong with either one.  Love me some Navasha Daya!

Van Hunt-Van Hunt: If you like your soul mixed with early 70’s funk & rock, then you need to have this.  Other than Prince, this is the closest-sounding thing to Sly & The Family Stone.  There was no band like them, but Sly would have been proud to make an album like this.  On Anything, Van doesn’t say “anything”, he says “anyTHANG”.  Now that’s funk!

Lanu-This Is My Home: It should be called This Is My Jam because I say that about nearly every song on this one.  This is some of the finest broken beat, soul and samba you’ll find on one album.  Get this if you don’t have it.  The song Let You Glow is worth the price alone.

Reel People-Second Guess: I knew I would have Reel People on this list.  I just didn’t know which one of their three brilliant albums it would be.  And choosing was extremely difficult.  I chose this one since it was their first.  However, you should have all three.  Second Guess and The Light are my favorites.  If you want to hear one of their best songs, check out It Will Be on their Seven Ways To Wonder album.

Sy Smith-Psykosoul: This album was so good, it was released twice.  In actuality, it was shelved shortly after its release on Hollywood Records.  Due to popular demand from the underground, Sy re-released it on her own label in 2005.  The second version contained some good bonus tracks so, technically, it is better.  Don’t sleep on the song Don’t Sleep.

Fly-Fly: You may have never heard of them.  They released their one and only cd in 2004.  The musicianship is on par with any of the best nu-jazz you’ve heard.  Of all the tremendously good tracks on here, Satellite is the one you definitely need to hear.  They are from Finland, so some of the lyrics may not be grammatically correct.  But it doesn’t matter because the music is on point.

Stateless-Art Of No State: Despite the title, this one puts me in a peaceful state of mind.  This is my answer to one of those “if you were trapped on an island, which albums would you want with you” questions.  Each song has just the right amount of both vocal moments (to appreciate the singing) and instrumental moments (to appreciate the musicianship).

Myron-Free: Island Records tried to turn the talented Myron into a R&B crooner in 1998 with his album Destiny.  You could hear the underpinnings of nu-soul in that release.  After that release, Myron left the label, went into his underground lab and put together this group of songs which became an instant classic in my book.  Shows you what can be done when a record company is removed from the creative process.

Like I mentioned above, there were many deserving albums I could have put on this list.  There was about ten more about which I debated in my head.  If I wrote this blog on a different day, some of the titles listed above may not have been on it.  Nevertheless, if you’re new to the underground soul scene, picking up the albums listed here will get you off to a great start.

I’ll admit I’ve been slacking in my blog posts but the reason why I haven’t written in so long is, ironically, the same reason I’m writing now.  I have been pondering a question that I’m sure many underground soul fans have asked themselves in the past few years.  That question is: “Have we reached the end of the road for underground soul”?  Well, signs are pointing to the fact that we are.  One thing that years of following music trends has taught me is that music genres have cycles.  Like your favorite old car, the underground soul world has been creaking along lately and the engine could drop at any time.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are still great artists making beautiful music, but the amount of consistently good product seems to be waning.  Back in the early aughts, there seemed to be a new “next thing” being introduced every month (Glenn Lewis, Musiq Soulchild, Donnie, Jill Scott, etc.)  I couldn’t make enough mix cd’s to keep up with the volume of music coming not just from the States, but also Europe with its brilliant nu-jazz songs (coincidentally, I’m listening to Beady Belle as I write this).  Now, instead of there being an abundance of soul, I have to do some serious digging to find gems.  I have been fortunate enough to find artists like Sarah MK, Miles Bonny and Reva DeVito over the past couple of years, but truthfully, I’ve been putting in too much work in my recent searches for the the next great act.  Ten years ago I never had to dig as hard as I am now.  This brings me to a theory as to why there is less music: being an independent artist is hard work.  The indy artist is also a project manager that must do the writing, producing, engineering, marketing, and everything else that selling a product entails.  I basically think our underground soul artists are tired and there isn’t enough reward to offset the risk of making an album.  It’s a catch 22 situation.  We want these artists to remain true to the underground soul ethos, but they can only make so much money as an independent.  And the cost of doing business ain’t getting cheaper.  In case you didn’t know, most of the independent artists out here also have full time jobs.  The enthusiasm of a decade ago seems to be gone.  Over the past couple of years, more and more of my requests for new music or radio “drops” have been met with no replies whatsoever.  This has had a domino effect on my enthusiasm to keep spending hours every week doing my radio shows.  Combine that with work and family activities, and suddenly, music inches further down the priority list.  I’ll always be a champion for underground soul, but I’m sad to say that the prolific days of this music are now behind us.

Don’t worry if you can’t hear my Soul By David J podcast on podomatic.com. I’m making some changes and will keep you updated. You can still hear Esoteric Modulations on play.fm.

There’s nothing I can say about my featured artist,Sarah MK, that her EP doesn’t.  Just listen to the tracks and you’ll hear what I mean.

Now that the basketball season is over, I have to find something on television that is worth my attention (I can only spend so much time listening to music).  Based on what I’m seeing, the dog days of summer are officially here.  More specifically, the dog days of television.  Not that television hasn’t always had mindless drivel for us to watch, but like the music world, the tv shows being produced are close to unwatchable.  As you can probably guess, I’m about to go on a rant about what I see flipping through over 300 channels.  Where should I start?  I guess the most logical place would be the type of ubiquitous programming that every broadcast and cable network seems to be showing 75% of the time.  This, of course, is the “so-called” reality television genre.  And before you call me a hater, realize that I do watch some of this type of programming, such as Deadliest Catch, but even that is unwatchable at times.  As I’m writing this, I have Hell’s Kitchen on the screen.  As I sit here watching Gordon Ramsay go through his maniacal, over-bearing shout-fest, I question myself as to why I’ve been watching this show for the last five years.  I guess it was the fact that Gordon was yelling at the contestants instead of telling them how great they are.  On this show, the yelling is deserved.  Basically, this show is about a rag-tag bunch of line cooks who think they are good enough to be executive chefs.  I can’t be the only one who doesn’t see anything executive-like in any of these people.  I wouldn’t let these cooks serve dinner to my dog (if I had one, that is).  I’m not certain if this show is staged, but it’s just too coincidental that every single contest between the two teams always comes down to the last two people.  Every time I watch this show, it reminds me of why I don’t like eating in restaurants.  If you can’t stand to see the following, then stay away from this show: 1) people dropping food on the floor and picking it up while no one is looking, 2) people wiping their faces and the counter with the same towel, 3) people tasting the food with a spoon then dipping that same spoon back in the pot, and 4) people that weigh 300-plus pounds on the verge of having a heart attack while sweating in the food.  By the way, does every single wanna-be chef in the world smoke cigarettes?  And why don’t chefs wear gloves?  If someone walked into your home while you were eating dinner, picked up your food with their hands and then put it back in the plate, would you eat it?  Not likely.  So why do we allow chefs to do it?  If you’re reading this Gordon Ramsey, keep your knuckles off the filet mignon!

Just so you know I’m not exclusively picking on this show, here are some other thoughts on reality TV:

Why does everyone think they can sing or cook?  Is it because we all do a little of both in the privacy of our homes?  Let me break the news you:  we’re not that good at either, now let’s move on with our lives.  You wouldn’t see 10,000 people show up at “world’s best young chemist” audition.  That would actually take talent.

Why would five or six housewives get together every day just to yell at (and throw glasses of wine at) each other?  Doesn’t make any sense to me.

If Undercover Boss doesn’t prove to you how clueless executives are about the inner workings of their companies, then nothing will.  Even more clueless than the executives on this show are the employees who don’t realize the guy wearing a toupee and fake mustache is their CEO.  There might be a little staging for this show too.  An awful lot of these alleged employees have just had some tragedy which results in the boss giving them a huge sum of money or other gift at the show’s conclusion.  Does CBS give the boss all of this money to dole out?  If not, I’d be pissed if my boss was giving out money to a co-worker.  This program is nothing more than a one-hour commercial for the CEO’s company.

Noticed the proliferation of shows based in New Jersey, centered around heavily east coast-accented caricatures?  Yes, there are some people like that in the state, but it is not an accurate representation of the people of New Jersey or Italian-Americans, in general.  Trust me, I’m from there.

Isn’t it ironic that every “reality” show on Tru TV appears to be (okay…is) fake?

How can any show be considered real when the participants are reading a narrative of their feelings off of a teleprompter?  I think most of these shows are scripted or acted out to a certain extent.

When did the Discovery Channel become redneck central?  Shows about people restoring broken down cars; two shows about guns; programs showing us how to survive in the wild; moonshiners; and the latest–a show about a motorcycle gang.  Wasn’t this an educational network when it started?

We already knew in the back of our minds that hotels were a human Petri dish.  Now we can thank Anthony Melchiorri for confirming this on Hotel Impossible.

What are Big Brother and Survivor still doing on?  I can’t believe people are still watching that played-out mess.

Speaking of played-out, you didn’t think American Idol was going to go unscathed in this blog, did you?  Since I specialize in underground soul, you can probably guess why I have never watched that show—ever!  Something about a half-decent singer covering Stevie Wonder songs and becoming a star overnight because some kids called an 800 number irks me.  The other unfortunate residual of this show’s success is the number of copycat shows it has spawned.  This includes all of the singing, dancing and other strange talent shows that seem to be on every night.  I can’t blame the programmers.  They know we are all mindless sheep that’ll watch anything they put on.  They only give us what we ask for.

We also ask for a lot of food in this country, so it’s no wonder why we’ve got a bunch of shows where guys go around shoving anything put in front of them down their gullets.  It’s also no wonder that forty percent of the country is going to be obese in about twenty years.  You think health care is expensive now?  You haven’t seen anything yet.

Although I could go on, I am going to put my rant to an end, for now.  I was going to talk about the sports entertainment industry, but I’ll save that for another blog.  Anthony Bourdain is on.  Hey, I did say I watch some of this stuff.

Unfortunately, due to many obligations at home, I haven’t been able to take in any live performances lately. Although my concert-going days are few and far between, luckily for the concert industry, a lot of people still partake. Based on the Billboard 2011 year-end tally of venue ticket sales, there was a whole lot of dancing in the aisles last year. The top-grossing American venue with a capacity of 15,001 or more was the Staples Center in Los Angeles which took in $60,872,868.00 between November 10, 2010 and November 8, 2011. It just “edged” out Madison Square Garden by a couple of million. Keep in mind that these figures do not include revenue from home team sports clubs, strictly concerts and other live events. The O2 Arena in London lead all arenas of this size with a whopping $136,531.810.00 in sales. Personally, I like the more intimate settings, which is usually where you’ll catch the artists I like (I sure miss my favorite venue—S.O.B.’s in NYC). The top club with a capacity of 5,000 or less was The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Unlike most small venues, The Colosseum hosts some of the biggest names in music so it’s no surprise that it had $76,400,771.00 in ticket sales. The top American venue, regardless of capacity, was Radio City Music Hall with a total of $126,909,370.00. All those years living in New Jersey and hanging out in NYC and I’ve never been there. I’ll have to put that on my bucket list. Hit this link to see the results for yourself. Naturally, with all of this money being paid for tickets, there’s going to be a bunch of promoters getting a cut of the take. If you’ve gone to any concerts within the last decade, you can probably guess that Live Nation is the leading promotion company. The shows it promoted grossed over $1 billion. If you’re interested, check out the list of Top 25 Promoters

For those of you who like spilling your drinks on the dance floor, Nightclub & Bar magazine has released its latest ratings for the top nightclubs in America. Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub in Las Vegas was the top earning club with total revenue of $70-$80 million. Wow, that’s a lot of liquor! Of course, I don’t frequent any of the places on this list, but, obviously, a whole lot of people do. So, ladies, if you feel like joining them, put on your best outfits and, fellas, bring a lot of money (because you will be paying for the drinks) and have at it!

I’ve been slacking lately in my blogging on different aspects of the music industry. I’ll try to be more consistent starting this month. There’s no better sector to talk about than the recording industry. Although 98% of the music I listen to, buy and play on my radio shows comes from independent artists, it’s always good to know how the majors are operating. The Nielsen Company in conjunction with Billboard Magazine recently released its annual report on the music industry appropriately titled 2011 Music Industry Report. It’s somewhat detailed so I’ll just give some of the highlights here. Universal Music Group led the all-important metric of total albums sold with a market share of 29.85%. It was close though, as Sony Music had a 29.29% share. Expect UMG’s total to increase substantially next year. That’s because EMI Music’s recorded music division was sold to Universal in November 2011 by Citigroup who had bought the struggling music company earlier in 2011. For physical albums (CD’s, vinyl, etc.), Sony led with a 31.08% market share. Universal led in both digital albums (28.35%) and digital tracks (32.97%).

Another interesting fact is how important the holiday season is to the music business. According to the report, the industry sold 330.6 million albums overall. Of that amount, 75.1 million, or roughly 23%, were sold during the season (from Black Friday to year-end). The one thing that stands out in the report is the fact that singer Adele had a banner year leading all artists in album sales and digital track sales. I have nothing bad to say about Adele, but, frankly, I find this surprising as her songs cannot compare to most of the tunes I play on my programs. But it’s a new era in music. You don’t have to be Stevie Wonder or Earth, Wind & Fire to be considered the best these days. You just have to be a little different and get a whole lot of exposure. But at least one can listen to Adele’s music without cringing, which is more than I can say for most of the music on terrestrial airwaves. Overall, the industry had a good year with sales increasing 7% from the previous year. You can see more industry tidbits for yourself here.

Okay, people.  It’s official.  I’ve found the new voice that has captured my attention.  Firstly, let me admit that I am a sucker for a sensuous female voice, but you don’t have to be a sucker to appreciate the harmonious sounds emanating from the mouth of this month’s featured artist Sarah Fonteyne.  Forget all of those top 40 and American Idol female singers.  Sarah is the one all true music fans should be checking out.  And it’s not just her voice that is amazing.  It’s also the sounds of jazzy soul on her initial long–player simply titled Debut.  The title of her first single, Beautiful, describes a couple of things–her voice and the track.  The music on this song is a perfect complement to her voice.  Her vocals bounce over the rolling bass and kick drum.  You’ll appreciate the use of muted trumpets (there’s nothing like real instrumentation) . They give this song the perfect blend of soul and jazz.  That’s the basic M.O. of the album.  Sarah gives us a marvelous remake of The Foreign Exchange’s If She Breaks Your Heart.  The sparseness of the track gives us the opportunity to hear Sarah doing work with her vocals.  Another choice cut is the nu-jazz tinged Breathe.  There’s plenty of other songs worthy of your attention.  The production on this album is top-notch and never does the music overtake Sarah’s voice and vice versa.  It’s fitting that the album is titled Debut as it could be a blueprint for any up-and-coming soul artist on how to make their own.  Hear for yourself below.  You can find out more about Sarah Fonteyne at on her website.


ComScore

Page 1 of 4:1 2 3 4 »
bottom-img