Things quiet down a little in August when it comes to New Borns so we dont get so much in the way of big names or those ones that you have heard of before. This week we bring you a complete mix bag of musical genres, from Synth Pop to Gospel Soul. Things got a bit exciting this week as each of our contributors decided to spice things up, selecting New Borns that they would have otherwise listened to. Life is full of challenges and we don’t shy away from a good old challenge, you got to take risks right. As they say, when you take risks, things can pay off and thankfully in some instances they did. First up we have the incredible Naomi Shelton and her Gospel Queens who deliver an album full of classic soul and gospel tunes, that you’d be a good damn full not to pleasure your ears with. Travelling through the Prince inspired sounds of Zackery Force Funk right through to the dirty eclectic lo-fi sounds of PS I Love You, reviewed by our newest Contributor who currently remains faceless. Welcome to our latest addition. As for the music, over to you take make your own mind.
Artist_ Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens
Album Title_ Cold World
Label_ Daptone Records
Genre_ Soul, Gospel, Ballad
Moments Of_ Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Charles Bradley, Otis Redding
Stand Out_ Sinner, Bound For The Promised Land, Get Up Child
Soul legend Naomi Shelton has one impressive resumé. Having sung in church as a youngster and inspired by the greats of American soul, she’s been singing regularly in New York clubs since the early 60’s. Now with her trio of Gospel Queens (who she came together with in the late 90’s), her second release with the group on the prestigious NY soul label Daptone Records, Cold World is a slice of pure comfort. With an eclectic mix of traditional styles, Naomi presents her vocal talents across a honourable collection of blues, boogie, soul, funk and jazz.
There is no denying Naomi is a true spirit. With this spirit, and the help of her wonderful Gospel Queens, pianist and musical director Cliff Driver, as well as the most fantastic and impeccably tight house band, Naomi finds a way to put a smile on anyone’s face. She met Driver in the 1960’s while singing in clubs in New York, and the pair had lost contact until Driver contacted her about starting a new musical group in the late 90’s. Hence the group Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens was born. With the help of Daptone Records behind them, there is no doubt that we should expect a top quality production. Most commonly know for their foundation members, the Dap Kings, Daptone Records are responsible for quality releases from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (who also performed on Amy Winehouse’s hugely successful album Black To Black, as requested by producer Mark Ronson and recorded at the Daptone Studios), Charles Bradley’s last two albums and reissues from The Sugarman 3.
With the impressive production that goes along with each Daptone production, is of course the classic stylings and instrumentation of each song. On Cold World, you can expect to hear everything from classic soul jams (Sinner), country boogie (Get Up, Child), pure funk groove reminiscent of early Michael Jackson (Bound For the Promised Land), upbeat gospel (I Got Mine) and rich blues-tinged ballads (One Day). As expected, each song is brimming with classic sounds; jazz drums, funk bass, Hammond organs and cuts of typical guitar rhythms. As the titles suggest, most of the songs lyrics are based upon secular themes. Naomi has been singing the lords praise since she was a child at her local Baptist church, so her talent has been nurtured for more than half a century (can you believe it?).
Given her age and experience, Naomi’s is a voice to be heard and remembered. As a comparison to Sharon Jones’ crisp pop-flavoured tone, Naomi’s is effortlessly and deeply rooted in the soul. Where it is not smooth or particularly broad in range, you can’t help being transported to Beale Street, Memphis T.N. in the height of the Stax era. Daptone put a huge emphasis on retaining the classic soul sound, and are very good at doing so. Any release from them in the last decade or so that they have been operating, would easily slot in between any Tamla/Motown effort of the late 60’s/early 70’s. Just without that surface noise.
A visit with Naomi Shelton
While this second release from Naomi Shelton (and her most fabulous Gospel Queens) is an accurate example of American soul, it is hard to decide whether, in this current musical spectrum, that there is a still an ear for this truly retro genre. While they might not be reaching a broad audience, those who do follow Daptone records and their quality releases with be truly smitten by this album. It really is a blast, while helping to remind us that there is a little bit of soul in everything you hear today. With Naomi being really one of the most experienced candidates for this role of bringing soul back, she’s doing a pretty fine job of it.
Artist_ Zackey Force Funk
Album Title_ Money Green Viper
Label_ Hit + Run
Genre_ Psychedic Funk
Moments Of_ Prince, Jimmy Jam, Empire of the Sun, Terry Lewis and more Prince
Stand Out _ Cocaine Lady
If you haven’t been afforded an introduction to Tuscon’s resident wild boy turned funk – master aficionado Zackey Force Funk, chile’ you been missing out. Following string a of dalliances with the law from an early age, Arizona’s finest decided to channel his energy into more productive means, and by that I do mean make music. Money Green Viper is his consequent brain baby, a full-length solo debut that dabbles in throwback funk infused fare, the searing classic hey – days of disco and assuredly my favourite, the early puritan palavers of New York Hip Hop. This week I ventured down the rabbit hole to partake of some savoury force funk delights.
I’m always delighted and equally fascinated when I get to learn the back-stories of the artists we review. So upon the discovery that Zackey Force Funk spent some time in the ol’ pen for various misdemeanours, it coloured me somewhat curious. Or perhaps it’s just that I deem it a semi romantic ideal of sorts when I look at his life, a bad boy turning his life around and finding a positive, creative outlet in which to channel his thoughts and feelings. Coming from a mixed racial background, as a wee lad young Zackey was shuffled between two parents after a messy divorce, his mother of Mexican descent, hailing from Tucson and his father from Syracuse, New York. It may in part explain the diversity in the sound palette presented here on Money Green Viper, a heady fusion of stylised funk as frenetic and unpredictable as the madman who created it.
Two things struck me when I was reviewing this album. Firstly, I have to make mention of the proverbial elephant in the room, namely, there feels like a whole lot of Prince action going on up in here. It could be those rousing bouts of unbridled falsetto that hang heavily on the track or just the prolific use of 80’s stock standard Prophet 5’s and a lazy Oberheim OB – X for that extra dose of Prince nostalgia (or any other manner of sonic fodder frankly). And that’s a hefty likeness if you ask me, even if the holy purple one does stand at four foot nothing. The other little titbit is that Zackey asserts he only started singing from the age of 32, which is really quite a curious notion when you consider a sea of Biebers and Timberlakes who have been hustling on the singing tip since they were floating around in utero.
Now this album covers a veritable plethora of subjects, but staples are all in tow too, sex, drugs, rock and roll and hustling are all relatively common subject de jour. But personally, I think the electro boogie backdrop on this record may just have enough gumption to ensure the content isn’t completely lost in translation. The production on this record is afforded in a collaborative context, which could in part account for the miasma of dishevelled mish mash which takes place on here at times, the likes of Inkswel, Max Kane, Teeko and old time collaborator Tobacco in the mix to drop a few. Early in the piece, we are graced with tracks such as Glass Tear Groove and Cocaine Lady which are presumably forerunners for the most catchy amongst all these songs, the latter inexplicably the most Prince like track on here, but there is a displaced homogeny that reminded me of Empire of The Sun in parts too. Montego Bay is a stripped back muted, languorous slow jam whilst Zackey Can’t Rap is a semi farcical, self – deprecating slur and Suicide is an ethereal examination at the ends of the earth. I also really dug the vulgarity of Yo Bael and the way it sounded off against the spacier tracks like Roch and Gunny Piece. Just enough variety but not too much that it borders on circus cray.
In short, a solid debut from a consummate eccentric. Initially I thought that the material might buckle under all those Prince comparisons but I think Zackey Force Funk is just sufficiently bonkers enough to pull it off. So if you enjoy all the trappings of our Lord Prince, then please by all means, this is one for your compendium. Zackey Force Funk strikes me as a rather robust character with his personality fully on show within the confines of this album and that’s something I like to see when I’m doing a review. Money Green Viper is whimsical, unpredictable and surely a must have for your collection.
Artist_ PS I Love You
Album Title_ For Those Who Stay
Label_ LTD Records
Genre_ Dream Pop, Indie Rock, Psychedelic
Moments Of_ The Kills, Haunted Hearts, My Bloody Valentine
Canadian pop rock outfit PS I Love You have been knocking around since about 2003 and are one of the buzziest names in pop rock. They are an interestingly collaborative band in that each member manages to perform not just a role as a musician but also designer or social media person. They captain a deep pop rock reminiscent of early 60’s pop rock with a burly, gnarly bass and howling vocals. They return to our consciousness with ‘For Those Who Stay’ to try and tackle any predispositions or premonitions we may have previously had about their abilities.
The best part about an album like For Those Who Stay is that it’s basically a piss off album for the haters – if indie rock had a version of ‘no shade…but seriously some shade’ it would probably be this. The title is quite potentially a an ode to those that have stuck with this band over the years due to the fact that they have been knocking about the dirty, dusty pubs only to finally get to make a shiny album like this one. So, those fans who stuck it out over the years would seem extra special to them.
Musically, the album also seems a bit like a piss off album only in the sense that it instantly grabs your attention with Salnier’s demanding riffs and characteristically powerful vocals. This said, the rawness of their sound, is not only one of the things that they’ve managed to define themselves by over the years, but is something they don’t stray from in this album. Producing through Paper Bag Records, they’ve added in an extra instrument or two on tracks here and there, but overall they still have that grungy, pint at the pub, pop rock sound that they’ve comet to be known for.
The track ‘For Those Who Stay’ is probably the most pure track on the album in that it demonstrates the band’s ability pump out a radio-worthy belter with a great melody. The rest of the album takes you through a journey through a more Stone’s like musicality. ‘In My Mind At Least’ very much plays off Salnier’s characteristically quintessentially indie vocals. Whereas, tracks like ‘Friends Forever’ and ‘Afraid of the Light’ demonstrate the band’s willingness to get slightly more experimental with added vocals and instruments. PS I Love you enter a new sophisticated world in which the final product is King without entirely straying from their raw roots and it’s utter bliss.
Artist_ The Dream Academy
Album Title_ The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective
Label_ Real Gone Music
Genre_ Folk Pop, Dream Rock.
Moments Of_ Hall & Oates and The Smiths
Stand Out_ Life In A Northern Town and (Johnny) New Light
Once upon a time, The Dream Academy consisted of Gilbert Gabriel, Nick Laird-Clowes and Kate St John. The folk rock/dream rockin trio got their first record contract with Warner Bros. in 1985, after a lot of hard work and persistence. It wasn’t until later that year that their ‘one hit wonder’ Life In A Northern Town got them recognized and even peaked at number 7 on the US Billboard charts. But was this their only claim to fame? Was this The End?
This week, choosing to review this 80’s folk rock group was a bit different for me. I had no idea who The Dream Academy were to be honest, UNTIL…I jumped on YouTube. I smashed in The Dream Academy and the first thing to pop up was Life In A Northern Town, so I began to listen. 48 seconds into the song and my reaction went something like this “OMG Whaaaaatt? Wait, where is this from? How do I know this? NO WAY, SHUTUP! THE PARENT TRAP, WOLOLOL”
Life In A Northern Town was adapted by a group called Jakaranda, whose only release was featured in the 1997 Disney film, The Parent Trap. The song was called Never Let You Go.
This was the first time I ever stumbled across The Dream Academy, surely I’m not the only one who found them through The Parent Trap right?
Anyway, Life In A Northern Town is said to be there one hit wonder song, and I kind of agree. Apart from their other hit The Edge Of Forever, which is track three on this compilation and featured on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I don’t think this band would have had any success at all without this tune.
The first 5 songs on disc 1 are definitely their biggest hits. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, (which if you haven’t heard any version of this song before you must be living under a rock, is a cover of the famous band The Smiths) is track 4. The Dream Academy recorded this cover in 1984, but it wasn’t until their instrumental cover of the song that was also featured on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, along side The Edge Of Forever, that they had any sucess with it. I don’t loathe this cover, but nothing is quite like the original sung by Morrissey in my opinion.
My favourite track on this retrospective compilation is (Johnny) New Light. I cannot put my finger on it, but it reminds me of an extremely fun sing along Lion King song almost. The song has a dramatic backup harmonising choir and a very african flutey beat as well as a memorable guitar strumming, that make the song hard not to bop to.
So The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective is split into two discs, each featuring 12 tracks. I think that having 24 songs might be a bit excessive. Unless you are Michael Jackson or Hilary Duff (you love her old stuff too), I feel like the casual fan might find it a tad too much. In 2000 The Dream Academy released a compilation album titled Somewhere in the Sun… Best of the Dream Academy. This album featured all their main hits, like every compilation CD generally does. In my opinion So The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective was a pretty pointless release. I know it is a good way for a band to make some extra money, however, most of their fans will have already collected their albums or purchased their best Of mix.
Artist_ Horray For Earth
Label_ Dovecoate Records
Genre_Dream Pop, Indie Rock, Sythn Pop
Moments Of_ Local Natives, Small Black, Washed Out, M83
Stand Out_Keys, Somewhere Else
Hooray for Earth offers their 2nd full length album, RACY, a band that reside in New York City and construct high energy synth rock tunes, heavily polished and well-produced. Since 2005, the band have been toying with their synth sound with various band member changes, settling as a four piece for a quintessential formula popularised in 2014. The question is have we had enough of this genre of music and is there room for yet more prog-synth-rock?
You should never judge a book (album cover) by its cover. Having drawn the straw to review this week’s new born, I still can’t help but pre-empt what sounds will play before me through the imagery depicted in album cover. Sadly, the days of purchasing a hard copy of all this music is slowly creeping away and perhaps album covers are no longer a true reflection of a bands image, sound or genre. This again is a standing point for Hooray For Earth and there latest release, RACY.
I was expecting to hear an album that would be riddled with delayed guitar effects and a dirty undertone of punk rock and grimy riffs. Well, how wrong could I be, Hooray For Earth, produce electro synth pop that momentary hit some quite refreshing heights, in particular track two Keys, where lead singer Noel Heroux’s sweet harmonious lyrics glide over an instantly catchy synth sound and a groove powered drum rhythm. It sounds full to the brim thanks to some overly produced guitar sounds and I think that here is where lies the problem.
This is an album that is so over produced and mixed to its last dying day that it just oozes such commercialism, I cant help become that arrogant music listener who feels that music has lost a bit of direction in 2014. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that Hooray for Earth have been around for a few years now so this is no flash in the pan, but this is a personal critique right? Ive realised that I am full the brim and these lads have just missed out.
Fast forward to Last, First and oh boy, the chord progression of “I bless the rains down in Africa”, it cant be Toto can it? The first minute of this track, has me struggling so much that I had to slide the Spotify tool thing to the right…thankfully by 1 minute 13 seconds it comes good, but again, that chord progressions returns. Its not very good, sorry lads.
The problem with this album and with many albums this week is what appears to be a struggle for identity, listen to Airs, opening track Hey and Pass and there is a dark undertone that borders a bit of My Bloody Valentine in its washy production but then throw in Somewhere Else and you may as well think it is a different band. Is it a lack of direction or is it just a band who don’t really have a formula and don’t over think things. What I did learn about myself, is that I am still a little too judgemental in a band maintaining a genre and a story for each of their albums. Ill bring it down to my judgemental ears for not taking to this album, but if you happened to jump on to bands as mentioned in my “moments of///” well it may be worth a listening for a couple of stand out tracks.