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Music Reviews | Search Results for "Peggy Oliver"

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Renee Dion & Jon Rogers | Moonlight

Renee Dion & Jon Rogers | Moonlight
By Peggy Oliver

On one of producer/beat crafter Jon Rogers’ mixtapes, (complex)ions: MAUVE', he handed out major props to Renee Dion with a hearty, “keeping it live.” The feeling was apparently mutual as Dion hired Rogers to sonically guide her poetic soulful voice and to share head billing for her latest project, Moonlight. Though the behind the scenes teaching moments from Dion developed into a semi-rugged training ground for Rogers, who had never interacted with a vocalist, the end results on Moonlight capture Dion’s upgraded musical vision from her previous work.

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Erica Campbell | Help

Erica Campbell | Help
Entertainment One
by Peggy Oliver

When fans catch wind a member of their beloved duet or group recording a solo project, their natural tendency is to rev up the rumor mill about a potential breakup. But the realities between the industry demands and the demands weighing upon one’s personal lives, even within a time-tested act, are constantly taken into account. Now facing this scenario are the sister duo of Mary Mary, Tina and Erica Atkins-Campbell. Their track record of electrifying the R&B and gospel radio airwaves since 2000 with five top-selling CD’s and number #1 singles, “Shackles (Praise You),” “Heaven,” and “Go Get It” is undoubtedly impressive.

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Dianne Reeves | Beautiful Life

Dianne Reeves | Beautiful Life
Concord Music Group - 2014
by Peggy Oliver

Sometimes the element of surprise conceived by the creative minds of musicians remind me of the hook from an inspirational pop hit: “Everything is beautiful in its own way.”   Growing up versed in jazz but always willing to cross musical boundaries, Dianne Reeves completely invested in whatever genre she could adapt to her inimitable vocal style.
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James Fortune & F.I.Y.A. | Live Through It

James Fortune & F.I.Y.A. | Live Through It
Light Records
By Peggy Oliver

Advance Review - CD Coming Feb. 25th, 2014
While music evangelists are driven by proudly proclaiming God’s goodness and dropping testimonials of being delivered through storms, they also face life’s brutal realities racked with occasional questioning of faith and doubting their relationship with God. Never minimizing the importance of praise and worship, it is sometimes those definitive make or break character development moments that hits the mark with those who avoid weekly church services.

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Rajdulari | Journey of a Woman

Rajdulari | Journey of a Woman
By Peggy Oliver
Through the ever increasing social media tools, musicians are masterminding their Facebook page and hash tagging like crazy towards their fans and music industry insiders about their latest achievements in their career. When a relatively unknown artist is already tweeting about their road to the Grammy Awards, this could be someone with a justified confidence or they are stroking their ego a bit more then they should.   Singer/songwriter Rajdulari’s Twitter handle: #Journey2TheGrammys was one of the first items that caught my eye.

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Robert Glasper Experiment | Black Radio 2

Robert Glasper Experiment | Black Radio 2
Blue Note
By Peggy Oliver

When an artist commits to a sequel that rides on the extremely successful previous work, the expectations to top its predecessor are exceedingly high, certainly when the predecessor was recognized with a Grammy Award.

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Various Artists | BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music 2013

Various Artists | BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music 2013
By Peggy Oliver

In the past thirteen years, BMI has honored those whose contributions to the gospel industry raised the artistic and spiritual bar for generations to come. The class of 2013 of the BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music spotlights the works of Tramaine Hawkins, Edwin Hawkins and Kurt Carr with interpretations by their many peers.

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Jonathan Butler | Merry Christmas To You

Jonathan Butler | Merry Christmas To You
Artistry Music
By Peggy Oliver

Just like the department stores who prepare in advance to entice shoppers for Christmas, so do the music marketers who are just as attuned to sharing good cheer for the year end fanfare.  That season of Christmas offers one of its first major releases with Jonathan Butler, the latest to join others with their inspirations centered around the most celebrated commercial time of the year.

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Gregory Porter | Liquid Spirit

Gregory Porter | Liquid Spirit
Blue Note Records
By Peggy Oliver

(Advance Review - CD to be Released on Sept. 17th, 2013)

In recent years, Motema Music emerged into a respected independent label with a solid commitment to their artists’ improvisational gifts and musical diversity. From Caribbean-born pianist Monty Alexander to former Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun, the New York-based company has drawn comparisons to jazz giant Blue Note Records in its heyday, swiftly integrating soul, blues, gospel and avant garde flavors into its be-bop jazz mix.

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Marques Houston | Famous

Marques Houston | Famous
Shanachie Records
by Peggy Oliver

Vocalists who have established their niche with their hit-making history rarely feel they need to tamper with success, as long it sustains a win-win situation between themselves and their fans. The truly wise at heart artist is also willing to tweak a few ideas or two in staying relevant with what the current market dictates.

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George Duke | DreamWeaver

George Duke | DreamWeaver
Concord Records
by Peggy Oliver
Those who make a living creating off the cuff are entitled with an occasional moment of writer’s block. And in their strong devotion to the art, they usually find their way back to fill up their creative cup. Jazz icon George Duke recently faced that dreaded drought.

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Sheléa | Love Fell On Me

Shelea | Love Fell on Me
Breath Of Life Records
By Peggy Oliver

While the world was mourning the passing of Whitney Houston, the tributes were understandably fast and furious offerings of documentaries and musical friends on award shows, whom all embraced the passion from this electrifying icon. But what generated one of the biggest fan love fests came from the mighty world of the internet.

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Maysa | Blue Velvet Soul

Maysa | Blue Velvet Soul
Shanachie Records
Review by Peggy Oliver

In a sea of R&B, soul and jazz stars, urban music aficionados can count on Maysa to present a complete package in terms of quality musical entertainment. Since the early nineties, Maysa’s resume includes nine albums as a soloist, and her regular contributions with popular U.K. soul/jazz group, Incognito. For elevating the art of soul music to a level of shear class, Soul Train awarded Maysa as the Soul Approved Underground Singer.

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George Benson | Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole

George Benson | Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole
Concord Records
By Peggy Oliver

I fully appreciate it when recording artists occasionally devote a cover song made famous by one of their favorite artists or better yet an influential figure who has stood the test the time. That stated, the way over abundance and over the top tribute projects, such as anything entitled Smooth Sax Tributes, are frankly opportunities to simply cheapen the legacy of musical icons.

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Tasha Cobbs | Grace

Tasha Cobbs | Grace
EMI Gospel
By Peggy  Oliver

When someone declares, “you were born to sing,” sometimes those compliments would ring true or it might be a bunch of hype. Unquestionably, Tasha Cobbs was born to sing. But Cobbs was born to accomplish even bigger things than just her obvious vocal skills. That critical gift is leading the masses into the presence of God that many gospel fans and industry cohorts have gravitated to.

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Paul Hardcastle | VII

Paul Hardcastle | VII
By Peggy Oliver
Paul Hardcastle has unashamedly flown the banner for electronic music since 1984 while encompassing a kaleidoscope of soundscapes from hip-hop, R&B, funk and dance to numerous contemporary jazz recordings under the Jazzmasters, Kiss the Sky and under his own name.

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Phil Perry | Say Yes

Phil Perry | Say Yes
Shanachie Records
By Peggy Oliver

No matter how experienced, appreciated and in-demand a musician or singer occasionally the artistic drought hits them a ton of bricks. After releasing his solo album released around 9/11, Magic, Phil Perry faced that mountain. For those who may not be as familiar with Perry’s resume, he had already etched a reputation as one of the most popular background vocalists with a body of work that included Barbara Streisand, Chaka Khan, and Lee Ritenour, amongst many others.

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Marion Meadows | Whisper

Marion Meadows | Whisper
Shanachie Records
By Peggy Oliver

Once a musician has established their fan base, their confidence is even more solidified as they build a particular signature sound and boost the artistic integrity. Marion Meadows has not only built a solid reputation in the industry alongside Will Downing. Norman Connors and the like, he has become a staunch advocate for the cause of contemporary and smooth jazz and is unafraid of tooting his own horn (pun somewhat intended).

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Swing Out Sister | Private View

Swing Out Sister | Private View
Shanachie Records
By Peggy Oliver
When Corrine Drewery first decided to pursue music without the benefit of professional experience, one could imagine there were plenty of hoops to jump. From impressing and winning over band mates Andy Connell and Martin Jackson of Swing Out Sister, to eventually releasing their debut album in 1985, It’s Better to Travel, for the mainstream market, Drewery was in for a very profitable future.

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José James | No Beginning No End

Jose James | No Beginning No End
Blue Note Records
By Peggy Oliver

As the independent music market is growing leaps and bounds amongst the mainstream industry, more singer/songwriters are daring to think further outside the mainstream. With a voice that transcends numerous genres, no one could or should pigeonhole Jose James’ intentions as an artist.

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Syleena Johnson | Acoustic Soul Sessions

Syleena Johnson | Acoustic Soul Sessions
By Peggy Oliver

Syleena Johnson must have graduated from the school of hard knocks. Her closest fans certainly know the path to survival she has endured industry wise. After a debut independent release in 1999, Johnson signed to a major label. Those first three Chapters from Jive Records earned some respectable hits even though the daughter of blues legend Syl Johnson never cracked the top forty compared to R&B peers including Beyonce and Faith (Evans).

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U-Nam & Friends: Weekend in L.A.: A Tribute to George Benson

U-Nam & Friends:
Weekend in L.A.: A Tribute to George Benson
By Peggy Oliver

It has become a ritual for the musical community to produce tribute projects and many paying homage to influential artists. However, only a few of those aforementioned are of exceptional caliber. Whether it’s their distinctive approach, performance excellence or a special connection with that artist, their tributes pay an even higher compliment towards the one being honored. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Mint Condition | Music @ The Speed Of Life

Mint Condition
Music @ the Speed of Life
(Shanachie Ent.)

Longevity is a rare commodity in the world of show business, especially for the sake of musical ensembles. Many bands remain for a long time but their personnel moves are a constant for whatever the reason. Thankfully there are high quality bands who are able to maintain their core members; persevering through the long course of recording, touring and other media commitments. Mint Condition has weathered this relentless course since its inception, losing only keyboard player Keri Lewis in 2005. They are also rooted in a strong musical legacy out of Minneapolis that boasts mega producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, gospel choir The Sounds of Blackness and funk master Prince. In an R&B/soul world where vocal groups predominately rule, Mint Condition remains one of the few influential bands standing today that is self-contained - from the instrumentation replete with jazz, hip-hop and funk to their production and arranging - driven by Stokley's electrifying lead voice.
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Leela James | Loving You More…In the Spirit of Etta James

Leela James
Loving You More…In the Spirit of Etta James

Record Review by Peggy Oliver

When a potential artist navigates the journey to professional music glory, their friends and family probably told them at one point that they were born to be a star. Then there are others who hint that the aspiring talent reminds them of a specific music superstar. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Teri Tobin | So Good To Me

Teri Tobin
So Good to Me
(Sol to Kep Ent.)

Record Review by Peggy Oliver

Despite one’s musical training throughout childhood and college, one earmark of a credible artist is digging into their lifelong experiences and translating those special stories to effectively communicate with their audiences. Those persistent and driven talents refuse to be weighed down by musical trends or record sales in dictating their artistry and achievements. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

3 Brave Souls | John Beasley / Daryl Jones / Ndugu Chancler

3 Brave Souls
John Beasley / Daryl Jones / Ndugu Chancler
(BFM Jazz)

Album Review by Peggy Oliver
Occasionally, I ponder about what truly inspires bands or vocal groups in choosing their names and what their thought process was behind it.  For instance, the name 3 Brave Souls sparked immense curiosity. After checking their musical background, I particularly noted that John Beasley, Daryl Jones and Leon ‘Ngudu’ Chancler had one major common bond. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Kenny G & Rahul Sharma | Namaste India

Kenny G & Rahul Sharma
Namaste India

Record Review by Peggy Oliver

Since the mid-eighties, Kenny G’s distinct aesthetic soprano saxophone has been a strong force in the smooth jazz community. G (which stands for his last name Gorelick) initially paid major dues with jazz fusion giant Jeff Lorber. Like many superstars in waiting, the Seattle, WA native’s solo triumph was not immediately realized when he released his debut in 1982. Album sales were more respectable on his second and third releases but the breakthrough arrived in 1986 with his fourth disc, Duotones, and the smash jazz/R&B single “Songbird,” which sealed Kenny G’s longevity in the industry. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Gerald Albright & Norman Brown | 24/7

Gerald Albright & Norman Brown – 24/7
By Peggy Oliver

If one is seeking the perfect summer smooth jazz breeze, or better yet, a super sweet jazz treat for all seasons, there is one special project that is a must hear headlining two of the contemporary jazz’s most respected musicians. Multi-instrumentalist Gerald Albright, who has backed superstars from Phil Collins to The Temptations, and guitarist Norman Brown (compared frequently to George Benson) who began with Motown’s custom label Mo Jazz in 1992, finally connect for a retro jazz/R&B anchored ride entitled 24/7. Titling this Concord Jazz disc 24/7 truly reflects the long dedication towards their craft. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

K'Jon | Moving On

Moving On
(Up & Up Records)

Review by Peggy Oliver

It is fair to say that extreme talent and intense perseverance have not always expedited opening music industry doors. Many well-deserving vocalists and musicians strive to find their niche before they strike a chord with an audience and land their first major radio exposure. Singer/songwriter K’Jon’s story is like many who dream to touch others with their music. Since he was eight years old, K’Jon figured that music was his way of life. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Anita Wilson | Worship Soul

Anita Wilson
Worship Soul
 (EMI Gospel)

By Peggy Oliver
On most live gospel recordings, it is customary for the church’s pastor or gospel music luminary to introduce the artist to the congregation.  During the introduction for Worship Soul by Anita Wilson, her mentor Donald Lawrence pays this worship leader and singer/songwriter a significant compliment: “With a style all her own and a tone all her own.” To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Incognito | Surreal


By Peggy Oliver

How does one band with a revolving door of contributors for over three different decades manage to obtain incredible longevity without missing a beat? What has kept Incognito - the multi-cultural, multi-personnel phenomenon that was highly responsible for sparking the eighties’ acid jazz movement - sounding so fresh, remaining so relevant and making it look so effortless? It all lies in the architect of Incognito, Jean-Paul Maunick a.k.a. “Bluey” - the group’s main songwriter and arranger - who refuses to change his musical stripes and feeds off of an indescribable energetic kick from his extended musical family. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise | After This

JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise
After This

By Peggy Oliver

When I first stepped foot in church during the early sixties, my attention focused on the precious, riveting harmonies of the choir. It did not matter if the choir embodied a hymn, spiritual or the Psalms, this part of the weekly church service was my absolute favorite moment. As I started taking my relationship with Christ more seriously, choir ministries took on a slightly different meaning, equivocating more than just some pretty voices that have sheer technical skill. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Andrea Helms | Moving Forward

Andrea Helms
Moving Forward (EP)
(Music World Music)

Review by Peggy Oliver

When it comes to all those TV talent competitions where the winner is judged by America, being a runner-up, third placed or even lower does not constitute a death sentence in one’s career future.  Most persons are aware by now that countless “American Idol” non-winners have carved prolific, if not at least steady, recording and concert platforms (i.e. Jennifer Hudson, Elliott Yamin).  Representing the show “Sunday Best” - the gospel alternative to “Idol” - praise and worship leader Andrea Helms (the runner-up for Season Four to jazz/gospel stylist Amber Bullock) recently signed with Music World Music. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Ruben Studdard | Letters from Birmingham

Ruben Studdard
Letters from Birmingham

By Peggy Oliver

Who might have thought that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s passionate open “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” would have generated a title for an R&B-fueled concept album?  While Ruben Studdard was planning his next recording project, a thought dawned on him during a trip to Atlanta as he observed a display of King, Jr.  It just happened to be that Studdard was more than well acquainted with the celebrated civil rights leader’s reflections of racial segregation while being held in a jail cell, considering the former “American Idol” winner is Birmingham born and raised. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Robert Glasper Experiment | Black Radio

Robert Glasper Experiment | Black Radio

By Peggy Oliver

What makes jazz musicians so appreciated are their extraordinary musical moves and how they incorporate their vigorous passions in other genres into their own distinct musical personality. Robert Glasper was influenced by a jazz/blues singer in his mother, Kim Yvette Glasper. But Glasper certainly was destined to become more than the standard jazz stylist. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Najee | The Smooth Side Of Soul

Album Review: Najee | The Smooth Side of Soul
By Peggy Oliver
Multi-award winner Najee is one of contemporary jazz’s long-standing ambassadors and continues to challenge himself with respect towards his fan base that has further translated to his overall industry longevity. As a lifelong fan of R&B and jazz music, Jerome Najee Rasheed decided to follow his musical childhood inspirations while developing his woodwind skills. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Kirk Whalum | Romance Language

Album Review: Kirk Whalum – Romance Language
By Peggy Oliver
(Advance Review - Scheduled for Release Feb. 14th, 2012)
One of jazz’s unlikely pairs, depending on who you might speak with, stirred some magic in the early sixties. John Coltrane was undeniably a groundbreaking modern saxophone player who leaned more towards the avant-gardism school of thinking.   After choosing crooner Johnny Hartman for an Impulse! recording project of romantic ballads came to fruition in 1963, Coltrane immediately connected with Hartman’s melodic and sensitive phrasing, which was the self-titled project’s driving force. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Maysa | Motions of Love

Album Review: Maysa | Motions of Love
By Peggy Oliver
Mentored by an urban music icon and raised by a U.K. jazz soul band, Maysa Leak has breathed sweet life into many songs from the vaults of soul, R&B and jazz catalogs and conveyed many personal tales of love found, lost and found.   And though there are still more achievements to conquer, such as developing a stage play about jazz legend Sarah Vaughn, Maysa has etched amazing musical memories, primarily with Stevie (Wonder) and Incognito. For nearly twenty years, Maysa remains firm as a much respected figure for the contemporary R&B and jazz community; since the time a jazz label executive eminently declared the introduction of a solo career. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

The Revelations feat. Tre Williams | Concrete Blues

Album Review: The Revelations feat. Tre Williams | Concrete Blues
By Peggy Oliver

Tre Williams was one of the most coveted voices in the millennium hip-hop nation collaborating with Wu-Tang Clan, Petey Pablo, and Nas, as well as the focal point for a mix tape on Nas’ Ill Will Records: Street Gospel: The Old Test of Men. Though Williams kept company in the hip-hop field for a few years, he eventually pursued an avenue to express his voice on a solo level. Fueled by his biggest inspirations Otis Redding, Johnnie Taylor and others, Williams has been preaching his own southern fried message since he formed The Revelations, with the assistance of producer Bob Perry. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Shirley Murdock | Live: The Journey

Album Review: Shirley Murdock | Live: The Journey
By Peggy Oliver
There are plenty of saints - to sinners - to saint’s stories within the gospel music industry. It is quite commonplace for artists to maturate their voices in the church before taking the gifts to the secular side for such a season; before they recall the strong foundation they received thru solid Christian teaching. Shirley Murdock was raised on gospel in her hometown of Toledo, Ohio but her claim to fame was as part of the R&B/futuristic funk outfit Roger Troutman & Zapp. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Lalah Hathaway | Where It All Begins

Album Review: Lalah Hathaway | Where It All Begins
By Peggy Oliver
Lalah Hathaway is one of the most entrusted vocalists the music industry has ever known. While many will always recognize Hathaway as the daughter of one of soul music's classic stylists, Donny Hathaway, she has etched her own voice by successfully capturing her father’s essence with her warm alto. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Gordon Chambers | Sincere

Album Review: Gordon Chambers | Sincere
By Peggy Oliver

Sometimes there are hidden gems among those songwriting geniuses whose labor of love has crafted hits for urban music icons.   Stars like Anita Baker, Whitney Houston and The Isley Brothers are more than acquainted with Gordon Chambers, whose heartfelt and on-point lyrics have graced the charts for many years. Just an ever so small taste of his songwriting credits include the Grammy winning “I Apologize,” by Ms. Baker, Whitney’s “My Love,” The Isley’s “Just Came Here to Chill” plus the smash hit “If You Love Me” by Brownstone. He credits his mature songwriting abilities from years of experience with producers like David Foster, Barry Eastmond (Billy Ocean, Mike Howard & Baker) and L.A. Reid -- who signed Chambers to his publishing company HITCO that housed many R&B elite songwriters. But this gentleman can blow as well; possessing a pure, effortless tenor voice that recalls smooth balladeers like Brian McKnight. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Syleena Johnson | Chapter 5: Underrated

Album Review: Syleena Johnson | Chapter 5: Underrated
By Peggy Oliver
If there were ever a singer/songwriter who could write a book on telling it like it is, one Syleena Johnson has perfected this craft to the nines. Performing in classical, gospel and jazz choirs throughout college, Johnson was actually studying to be a psychology major. She eventually ended up graduating with a major in Music. Yet she might as well have utilized what she soaked in from her psychology classes. Never accused of being shy when it comes to laying her feelings on the table, Johnson is well qualified to sing about her frustration of abusive relationships and surviving other bumpy roads of life. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Judith Christie McAllister | Sound the Trumpet

Album Review: Judith Christie McAllister | Sound the Trumpet
By Peggy Oliver

As a forerunner in one of the most powerful and influential music ministries in the last twenty years, Judith Christie McAllister has been dubbed by many as The First Lady of Praise & Worship. During her childhood, McAllister was quite familiar with singing all the familiar hymns. Though she was grateful to be exposed to church service on a daily basis, the praise and worship environment seemed a bit strict at times. McAllister was also the product of a classically trained background as she graduated from The High School of the Performing Arts in New York City at sixteen years of age. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Deitrick Haddon | Anthology: The Writer & His Music

Album Review: Deitrick Haddon | Anthology: The Writer & His Music
By Peggy Oliver

As contemporary gospel presented many important influential voices to the landscape throughout the seventies and eighties like the Crouches, the Hawkins and the Winans, the following decade would prove no exception. When Deitrick Haddon hit the nineties decade -- and hit it radically hard -- another chapter would soon be written as his ‘gospel soul’ imprint has heavily influenced the way most people hear gospel to this day. Coming from one of gospel’s landmark cities Detroit, Michigan, Haddon feeds his progressive praise and worship with R&B, soul and funk and everything else in between. His mix of Biblical inspiration with shadings of Prince, Michael Jackson and others have intrigued both fans, critics and the industry especially when he launched his solo career in 2002 with Lost & Found. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Trombone Shorty | For True

Album Review: Trombone Shorty | For True
By Peggy Oliver

(Advance review: CD to be released on Sept. 13th, 2011)
Troy Andrews has that contagious, monstrously incredible bundle of energy every time he hits the stage. Besides his remarkable talent to back up that Energizer Bunny power supply, he has fed off his childhood musician friends, family and mentors in a city where their music history is highly celebrated and immensely embraced on a daily basis. Nicknamed Trombone Shorty at the age of four by his older brother James, Troy was undoubtedly destined to make his birthplace of New Orleans proud by educating and encouraging future generations of brass players. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Global Noize | A Prayer for the Planet

Album Review: Global Noize | A Prayer for the Planet
By Peggy Oliver
If there is a specific musician who can reconstruct the music of Marvin (Gaye) and Miles (Davis) and actually bring believability to those icon’s original versions, Jason Miles would easily qualify. The keyboardist is quite familiar with sculpting soul, pop, jazz, funk and turntable wizardry into slightly unconventional, yet still accessible musical delights. More than just a seasoned sideman/producer who has worked with Davis, Chaka Khan and Ivan Lins to name a few, Miles was always willing to stretch beyond the mainstream. After all, who could also pull off playing the songbook of quirky pop stylist Bjork by forming The Bjorkestra? To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Medicine – Live at The Black Academy of Arts & Letters

Various Artists: Medicine – Live at The Black Academy of Arts & Letters
By Peggy Oliver
Let’s face the facts about the state of the non-profit art institutions in this day and age. The economy has hit this area hard as if most people need to be reminded. But while this matter is becoming more of a reality, everyone could still use a little music, dance or some form of the arts to inspire and lift up our souls through troublesome times. The Black Academy of Arts & Letters in Dallas, Texas was founded in 1977 by Curtis King; producing over one-hundred programs in theatre, film, literary and other disciplines in African, African-American and Caribbean culture. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

The Jade Element

Album Review: The Jade Element
By Peggy Oliver

Anthony Molinaro, Alfred Howard and Rebecca Jade are more than well acquainted with each other through their work with several San Diego based bands. Molinero and Jade worked alongside the soul/jazz band Super Magnetic, while Howard was the rapping front man with the K23 Orchestra. Pooling all their musical resources after years of experience sharing many stages in the same city, the trio eventually decided to join forces to birth yet another band. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Al Green | The Best of the Gospel Sessions

Album Review: Al Green | The Best of the Gospel Sessions
By Peggy Oliver
From Billboard Magazine’s ranking as one of the top one-hundred Greatest Artists of All Time to being inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Al Green fully deserves all of those props for his overall contributions to popular music culture.  Many classic soul connoisseurs know him for his caressing and strong pipes on “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired of Being Alone” and other hits for the Memphis based Hi Records guided by producer and engineer Willie Mitchell. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

John Jay | The Secret to Life

Album Review: John Jay – The Secret to Life
By Peggy Oliver

John Jay may not be a household name in the gospel industry -- yet.   However, by no means, does it diminish the fact that his talents have been solidified through his body of work and in a variety of musical settings. From appearances at Jazz Aspen Snowmass to the Holy Hip Hop Awards, Jay’s gospel journey can certainly not be put in any kind of box.   As a vocal and songwriting contributor to Bloodline Music Group, the Richmond, Virginia native primarily ministered to a high school and college audience with an unusual brand of urban worship utilizing neo-soul, hip-hop and R&B and jazz. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Gail Holmes | I Receive Your Love

Album Review: Gail Holmes | I Receive Your Love
By Peggy Oliver
The current urban music industry’s thinking process mostly caters to a much younger audience. In other words, artists who are searching for their first recording break at -- say age thirty and over -- might be scoffed at or simply overlooked. But somehow in that grand scheme of music, Gail Holmes was not letting those factors become an obstacle course in her ministry mission. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Kindred the Family Soul | Love Has No Recession

Album Review: Kindred the Family Soul | Love Has No Recession

By Peggy Oliver

(Advance Review: CD To Be Released on July 26th, 2011)

It seems the artistry of the urban music duo in this decade is almost biting the dust. The passionate chemistry from Martin & Tami, Ashford & Simpson and others from decades gone by kept our ears riveted and our emotions hanging on every note they conveyed. But those who really treasure what the meat of soul is all about is probably familiar with Kindred the Family Soul, the married duo of Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon whom was first introduced to the public via Jill Scott’s Hidden Beach imprint in 2003. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Gail Jhonson | HerStory

Album Review: Gail Jhonson – Her Story
By Peggy Oliver
Growing up in one of music’s historical hotbeds, Gail Jhonson was one of many hard working dreamers who truly loved to play the piano.  She was thoroughly awed in how nearly everyone in Philadelphia seemed to take music seriously; even the one who were strictly ‘basement’ musicians.   But between her teachers and funk heroes she heard on the radio like Sly (Stone) and Stevie (Wonder), there were constant conflicts of interest. While the teachers demanded training her in the classical genre, Jhonson highly desired otherwise. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Malika Zarra | Berber Taxi

Album Review: Malika Zarra – Berber Taxi
By Peggy Oliver
Most have heard the old saying life imitating art. Yet maybe art imitating life would best apply to singer/songwriter Malika Zarra. Zarra was practically a sponge from the time she was singing and dancing as a little girl in her home country of Morocco. Even after she moved with her family to France at three years old, music would always rule Zarra’s mind and soul. Thanks to a wealth of music at her fingertips, her influences were extremely eclectic; from classic Moroccan pop (Haja Hamdaouia) to classic Arabic pop (Warda Al-Jazairia). Zarra was especially drawn to jazz – especially Ella (Fitzgerald) and Bobby McFerrin - because of how improvisation was pivotal to this genre; much like the music inspired by native Arabic. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Monday Michiru | Don't Disturb This Groove

Monday Michiru – Don’t Disturb This Groove
By Peggy Oliver
Monday Michiru is a woman who has worn a lot of hats. Though she was born to notable jazz musicians, the Japanese born multi-gifted talent has also tapped into acting, journalism and as a media host. But when successful musicians are surrounded with like-minded family members, it is only natural that they want to carry on in their parent’s footsteps. Michiru Michiru parents just happen to be pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and saxophonist Charlie Mariano. Her mother was one of the few women during the fifties to make a big impression in the bebop jazz and was noted as the first female arranger and composer by Down Beat Magazine Readers Choice in 1984. Mariano has played with Charles Mingus and Japanese saxophone player Sadeo Watanabe; combining jazz and occasionally incorporating world music. Like her mother, Michiru is a well respected arranger and composer. Like her father, Michiru picked up a woodwind instrument in the flute. She also discovered there was another instrument inside of her. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Keke Wyatt | Unbelievable!

Album Review: Keke Wyatt – Unbelievable!
Shanchie Entertainment
By Peggy Oliver

It seems Keke Wyatt is finally making up for lost time. Since being first introduced to the public in 2001 with Soul Sista, personal matters and record label issues consumed Wyatt’s path towards more radio exposure for radio and notoriety as a solo recording artist. Sure; she made her presence known as a duet partner to Avant and a few post Soul Sista’ singles in “Ghetto Rose” and “Put Your Hands on Me,” which kept the underappreciated R&B vocalist afloat. But her loyal fans are more than aware of the many frustrations Wyatt suffered that tripped up her career for a season, including the highly publicized abuse in her marriage. Fully moving forward at this point, Wyatt is opening a new musical chapter while raising her children and has been extremely busy in the past two years. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Deirdre Gaddis | Life in The Key of Dei

Album Review: Deirdre Gaddis – Life in The Key of Dei
By Peggy Oliver
It has been proven through the dawn of time that music in any shape and form can be that great yet reasonable escape; whether for the listener or the songwriter.   Deirdre Gaddis knows how to share her dark and victorious times through the gift of songwriting and she is not afraid to use it. The Birmingham, Alabama born vocalist began her expressing herself in song at age eight. And her life has been quite a roller coaster ride. But Gaddis is fully able to mold those experiences into a soulful, spiritual quest that empowers and encourages. Her debut from the very busy folks at 111 East Records, Life in The Key of Dei, is a no-nonsense handbook on love lost, stalled and found. The team of Brian ‘B-Flat Trax’ Cook and Will aka Slick and Dboi from creates picturesque silky jazz/R&B grooves to match Gaddis' gospel-like and soulful intensity. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Kim Burrell | The Love Album

Album Review: Kim Burrell | The Love Album
By Peggy Oliver

Advance Review - CD to be released on May 17th, 2011.

When Kim Burrell was introduced to the gospel world on Everlasting Love in 1998, the anticipation was justified; from her fellow peers to being rewarded with the prestigious Stellar Award for urban gospel excellence. Many musicians were awed by her rich husky voice dropped an array of gorgeous colors with stunning timing and total ease. But with all the praise given by her cohorts, there bumps in the road were plenty; record deals and project gone sour to controversy to crossing over on several occasions, including several duets with jazz vocalist Harry Connick, Jr. Despite the controversies that Burrell has endured, whether fair or unfair, she still commands respect in the industry for her ministry efforts to the gospel community. In 2010, she served as a mentor on BET's gospel vocal competition - Sunday Best and founded a new church (The Love & Liberty Fellowship Church), in which she also pastors. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Soul Tempo | Doing Our Father’s Business

Album Review: Soul Tempo – Doing Our Father’s Business
By Peggy Oliver

Listen to song samples from "Dong Our Father's Business" by Soul Tempo, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!
In the 1996 movie The Preacher’s Wife, Soul Tempo performed on screen with an acappella reading of the Swan Silvertones, “The Lord’s Prayer.”   It is hard to top for any modern quartet to touch one of gospel music legends who were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002. But experiencing groups like Soul Tempo who cover a whole lot of ground in a classy manner from the traditional to hip-hop is quite extraordinary this day and age. Formed in 1985, brothers Kevin and Phillip Mitchell and their childhood friends Jeremiah Brunson and Anthony Burnett are ‘sort of latecomers’ to the gospel industry who won the 2009 McDonald’s Gospel Fest. They also sung for the Democratic Debate on PBS moderated by Tavis Smiley and have inspired audiences on several stages, including the Apollo Theater. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Dionne | Living in the Music (EP)

Album Review: Dionne – Living in the Music (EP)
By Peggy Oliver

Listen to song samples from "Living In The Music'', exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!
I must give kudos to 111 East Music for doing their homework in finding vocal jewels like Dionne, a singer/songwriter who paints plenty of vivid pictures with her music. The Texas born, now Washington, DC based neo-soul/jazz stylist simply loves to inspire those who want to live life to the fullest. Every time she blazes the stage, one seems to gravitate towards her sincere, energetic personality who takes the inspirations of India.Arie and Anita Baker right along with her. A graduate of the Arts Magnet School in Dallas who boosts Erykah Badu and Kirk Whalum as their alumni, Dionne (who used to perform under Deedee Kirby) has been around several job blocks before blossoming into a full time musical artist. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Les Nubians | Nu Revolution

Album Review: Les Nubians – Nu Revolution
By Peggy Oliver

Listen to song samples from "Nu Revolution'', exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!

Sometimes in the grand scheme of music, there are history lessons that are taught. Born of a French father and Cameroonian mother, the sisters spent time -between their birthplace of Paris, France, the war-torn Chad, Africa - where their father volunteered for the Red Cross - and Bordeaux, France. When Helene moved away at age nineteen, Celia was battling loneliness but remained passionate about music, especially when it came to jazz. Helene encouraged her sister from afar by sending tapes of Ella (Fitzgerald) and Louis (Armstrong). The sisters reunited after their father’s passing and began their musical quest while educating themselves and others about their upbringing.   Their collective - Les Nouveaux Griots – inspired the duo’s name of Les Nubians. Though they discovered more about their Afropean (African & European) roots through time, Les Nubians brought no formal vocal training to the table. Rejected by musicians who were reluctant to work with the duo at first, they persevered by performing cover tunes in acapella and producing poetry slams throughout France. After paying many dues, Virgin Records finally took notice and signed them in the late eighties. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Jackie O Kelley | Forgiven

Jackie O – Forgiven
By Peggy Oliver
Jackie O, a multi-gifted singer/songwriter, has fully dedicated her life in leading souls to Christ since the age of seven. The Fresno, California born musician played piano and sang before her father administered the sermons at her local church. A few years later, Jackie O taught music and directed choirs; eventually leading up to an international ministry throughout the U.S., Europe and Egypt. When not spreading the message of joy to others with original songs, Jackie O has taught piano and voice for the past twenty years and served in various minister of music capacities in central California. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Our Concert Review of The Stanley Clarke Band | Live at The Jazz Alley

The Stanley Clarke Band – Live in Concert at Jazz Alley on April 8, 2011
Seattle, Washington
By Peggy Oliver

One of the first and few opportunities to experience a live concert was as a college student in the mid seventies; having the privilege to see Return to Forever featuring Chick Corea. The band’s young yet much heralded bass player Stanley Clarke commanded the stage whether as a sideman or soloist. His dexterity on the instrument – electric or acoustic – was breathtaking. It was not always about the speed, but expanding the harmonics, chords and its possibilities. Clarke had a full arsenal of basses at his disposal including the tenor and piccolo basses, which is the norm for his recording and concert repertoire. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Mary Mary | Something Big

Album Review: Mary Mary | Something Big
By Peggy Oliver

(Advance Review - CD To Be Released March 29th, 2011)
From the moment that funky message heard around the world of being freed from the chains that bind us in life – entitled “Shackles,” Mary Mary still stands strong in the gospel industry. This international hit in 2000 was just the beginning for sisters Erika and Tina Atkins with a ministry that keeps on blossoming with uplifting tunes like “Heaven,” “In the Morning,” “I Try,” “Yesterday” and “Get Up.” Though there have been intermissions (starting their respective families) and inconveniences (music piracy on the rise in the millennium), the ladies now known as Erika and Tina Campbell keep on pressing for the cause of Christ. Their audiences span from pop to hip-hop.   Yet the gospel message remains firm and consistent; no matter how the message is delivered. With five discs to their credit - all with Warryn Campbell in the production chair - including their most recent offering and most popular disc to date, The Sound, Something Big presents another healthy contemporary gospel mix of rock, R&B, hip-hop and jazz. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Jump Start 2 | By Various Artists

Album Review: Jump Start 2
| Various Artists
By Peggy Oliver

Speaking only as a former mix and radio DJ, I have a small bit of envy for Ginger Tony. And why do I even make mention of this matter? I continue to this day being a huge fan of soulful, passionate dance music and actually got to briefly live my dream guest hosting one mix show installment many years ago from a non-commercial station in my Seattle, WA. Ginger Tony AKA Tony Farmer not only grew up listening to his favorite radio DJ’s, he practiced and refined his own skills by taping mock radio broadcasts.  His record collection ranged from Burt Bacharach to Motown. But Ginger was especially enamored with hip-hop and the samples drawn from this remarkable art form. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Marsha Ambrosius | Late Nights & Early Mornings

Marsha Ambrosius
| Late Nights & Early Mornings
By Peggy Oliver
Listen to song samples from "Late Nights & Early Mornings" on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!

I can not exactly determine if coincidence played a role in The Floacist AKA Natalie Stewart and Marsha Ambrosius releasing their debut projects just a few months apart. But whatever the reason, the timing for these gifted ladies to make noise on the charts was a stroke of genius. Their fans that were familiar with these ladies when they teamed as Floetry were more than ready to experience their talent in a solo spotlight. Considering that Floetry was short lived as a recording and touring act, their sensually soulful vocal/spoken word collages was a much needed, revitalizing alternative in the adult contemporary urban wilderness. And their solid musical reputation has carried them into successful collaborations. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Sharon Musgrave | Outflow

Album Review: Sharon Musgrave | Outflow
By Peggy Oliver
“Fascinating Rhythm,” not to be mistaken with the George Gershwin jazz standard from the twenties, was a funky diet of soul, jazz and reggae flavors provided by dance producer extraordinaire William Orbit. The voice who graced the U.K. top ten dance hit from 1990 was Sharon Musgrave. After touring to support the Orbit’s Bass-O-Matic project, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Bass and the hit single “Fascinating Rhythm,” the England born, Canadian native found another outlet to demonstrate her earthy vocal tones to the jazz world with Julian Joseph. Thanks to a performance of Curtis Mayfield’s “The Other Side of Town” from Joseph’s Language of Love disc, Musgrave’s collaboration with the pianist led to a tour where they opened for Herbie Hancock and others. Then came her solo debut in 2001 on her Zosar Music imprint – Selah - revealing a riveting mix of jazz sensibility interspersed with spoken word, pop, R&B, blues and folk. No wonder because Musgrave’s inspirations run extremely deep from Bob Marley to Billie Holliday to Joni Mitchell. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Colie Williams | Light Up The Darkness

Album Review: Colie Williams – Light Up the Darkness
By Peggy Oliver

Neo-soul is one of those categories that sometimes is hard to figure out or dissect. But it is encouraging knowing there are many urban vocalists today who are embracing the past without sounding too outdated.   From the veterans Jill Scott to the recent voices Colie Williams, old-fashioned smooth soul with a fierce attitude is more alive and well than ever. A junior high school teacher recognized Williams’ talent which ended up paving a secure road for the Bronx, New York born singer/songwriter from that day. Graduating from the prestigious Music & Arts School in Harlem, Williams pursued music and theater at Syracuse University, though she ended majoring in education; a wise move so she could further market her already formidable maturity as a business woman and musicality. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Etana | Free Expressions

Etana| Free Expressions
By Peggy Oliver

Her name is The Strong One in Swahili and she clearly lives up to her name. Etana shares all her thoughts in an old-school reggae style tossed with old-fashioned, unabashed soul that the urban music audience is dreadfully missing in the millennium.  Though the artist whose birth name is Shauna McKenzie is receiving more press in the past few years, the road to fame was paved with many lessons learned personally and professionally.  While living in Florida, she was part of the vocal band, Gift. During her tenure with the all girl group, her record company required Etana to compromise her ethical principals.  Eventually she broke away back to her homeland of August Town, a suburb of Kingston, Jamaica. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Syreeta Thompson | In His Presence

Album Review: Syreeta Thompson | In His Presence
By Peggy Oliver

In many gospel music circles, she is known as the Trumpet Lady. But there is so much more to this gifted musician and teacher. Syreeta Thompson has ministered alongside Pastor Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Choir and played with several jazz icons like Tito Puente and Wynton Marsalis, one of her treasured mentors. And she has highly invested many years since the age of twelve to perfect her musical discipline and teach others along the way. After completing a Bachelor’s at Rutgers University, Syreeta then furthered her talents with a Masters in jazz and film scoring at New York University. Now an educator in her own right, the Chicago native is presently the Department Chair at the Cicely Tyson School for Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey, and has served on the Gospel Music Workshop America Workshop (GMWA) faculty. She is also on a growing list of highly respected and innovative female jazz figures including Esperanza Spaulding and Regina Carter. While growing up playing in church, Syreeta learned about how jazz and gospel were fueled by musical passion, despite their structural differences. But despite her consummate musicianship and her role as an educator, Syreeta never has forsaken her faith in the process. Gabriel’s Praise was a more than appropriate title for her 2004 debut release. This praise and worship extravaganza from jazz to hip-hop showcased the trumpeter/singer/songwriter’s extensive musicality and her pure joy in honoring Jesus Christ with her voice. Several years have passed for this current New York resident since Gabriel’s Praise but the Trumpet Lady returns back to her hometown for a live setting at Destiny Worship Center for In His Presence. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

MichauX | What’s Going On…Still

MichauX –
What’s Going On…Still
By Peggy Oliver

MichauX is a thinking man's musician; whether writing about his strong faith in God or sharing his convictions about what is happening in the world around us. And the singer/songwriter’s constant involvement in the community, especially interacting with at risk youth and ex-offenders, would justify those concerns in his lyrics. Just MichauX was his introduction as a soul independent artist to be on the look out for. The media raved about this 2004 project on his MX Music moniker, a contemporary gospel tour-de-force drenched in old-fashioned soul funk, jazz and hip-hop. The Austin, Texas resident’s sweet tenor draws memories of The Isley Brothers and Marvin (Gaye) that has reeled in an international listening audience from the Netherlands to the U.K. and has been showcased on throughout his home state and on the Showtime at the Apollo stage. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Brenna MacQuarrie | Hybrid

Brenna MacQuarrie – Hybrid
By Peggy Oliver

Brenna MacQuarrie is a seasoned performer who handles various genres from musical theater to electronica with ease. Ever since the age of eight, the Canadian native clearly enjoys her craft and it shows in her commanding vocals and poised stage presence. Through her career, MacQuarrie has been a regular staple in her birthplace of Edmonton, Alberta and more recently on the Toronto club circuit, where she continues to grow and mature as a performer in front of various audience settings.   In the past few years, she started embracing the soul genre embracing the likes of Alicia Keys, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. In fact, if one were to see Macquarrie in concert, her song list includes many of those urban music architects finest work. Along with her original repertoire, the singer/songwriter/musician covers Michael Jackson, Stevie (Wonder), Aretha (Franklin), Sharon Jones and the aforementioned. This current student of jazz at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario blends old fashioned soul sprinkled with jazz, pop and rock for her debut disc, Hybrid, which was released in January. To continue, please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Nigel Lewis & Sound Mind | Light Up The Darkness

Nigel Lewis & Sound Mind | Light Up the Darkness
By Peggy Oliver

When Nigel Lewis first made major noise on the music scene, he was dubbed the “party vocalist of the year” in his native Trinidad and Tobago for his contributions to the southern Caribbean's popular ragga soca genre - where traditional soca beats clashes with DJ-flavored dancehall reggae. Though Lewis always felt a deep joy witnessing his audiences fully embracing the music, his lyrical skills were just as convicting. From writing a song that influenced changes in his hometown of Togo’s poverty issues to spreading the gospel of Christ, Lewis has always taken his gift seriously. His skills and talent were inspired by his musically inclined parents, and the power of music became his own solace dealing with those political hardships growing up. Through his childhood years, Lewis developed his craft without formal training.  For those who thrive upon the Caribbean Carnival festive spirit, The Chronicles of Nigel Lewis captures his ‘Road March King’ days. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Marcus Miller | A Night In Monte-Carlo

Album Review: Marcus Miller –
A Night in Monte-Carlo
By Peggy Oliver

(Advance Review: Re-Release on Feb. 1st, 2011)

Marcus Miller has worn many musical hats through his established career. Besides being one of the most in-demand studio musicians, especially for Luther Vandross, David Sanborn and Miles Davis, Miller is one of the master bass guitar technicians. From the slap style to gorgeous melodic washes, Miller has furthered the cause for contemporary urban bass players; certainly through the inspirations of other bass greats Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius. But there is much more to his multi-gifted musician. Miller is a proficient multi-instrumentalist with the bass clarinet and keyboards. His production savvy and instrumental skills have graced many R&B and jazz recording sessions, which has won him numerous Grammy awards. And the longevity of Miller’s career is a testament to his devotion to making music in various urban formats. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Keke Palmer | Awaken

Album Review: Keke Palmer | Awaken Mixtape
By Peggy Oliver

Keke Palmer started chasing her dream of becoming a double threat entertainer since she was in grade school. And she had the advantage of developing her voice in her mother’s home recording studio. Once the very gifted Palmer (born Lauren Keyana ‘Keke’ Palmer) ventured out to make her dream reality, she went through the motions of various rejections, including her audition being edited out of American Idol’s short-lived spin off series, American Juniors. Though Palmer was signed to Atlantic Records in 2005, she first won the hearts of many moviegoers for her portrayal of a teen who prepares to win a national spelling bee in Akeelah & The Bee. Her debut single, “All My Girlz,” was also featured in that 2006 film. Her contributions to soundtracks were many, including Disney’s Jump In!, the dance-themed film, Make It Happen and Night at the Museum. Though primarily identified with tween channels Disney and Nickelodoen, she displayed her full range of acting roles as a young pregnant girl in the Ludacris & Mary J. Blige video, “Runaway Love” and appearances on ER, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and The Cleveland Show. Though her acting performances earned several awards, including the NAACP Image Awards for Akeelah & her current TV series – True Jackson, VP, how would Palmer fare in the recording studio with her own full-length project? To continue, Please click 'MORE'!<< MORE >>

Mini Concert Review of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Dimitrious’ Jazz Alley, Seattle WA – January 11, 2011

Mini Concert Review of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Dimitrious’ Jazz Alley, Seattle WA – January 11, 2011
By Peggy Oliver
When it gets down to taking an authentic musical tour of Harlem, composer/musician/entertainer Fats Waller would highly qualify as the tour guide. His compositions highlighted the ragtime/stride piano era during the twenties, and his popularity extended overseas to Europe. Whenever he played the organ and piano, there was an undeniable pure joy that resonated in his soul. Whether it was a comedic song, melancholy blues or Broadway, Waller’s music touched many persons through his all too brief lifetime (he died before age forty). But what a legacy that the much-decorated New York native left with a testimonial revue entitled Ain’t Misbehavin’ (named after one of Waller’s smash hits), that first graced the Broadway stage in 1978 and won several Tony Awards. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Patti Austin | Sound Advice

Patti Austin – Sound Advice
By Peggy Oliver

(Advance Review - CD to be released Jan. 25th, 2011)

Listen to song samples from "Sound Advice" on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!
Patti Austin’s extraordinary voice is a songwriter’s sweetest dream. Since she bowed on the stage at The Apollo Theater at age four with her godmother Dinah Washington, Austin was highly destined to be a songwriter’s best friend. Her maturity as a vocalist grew as a teenager touring with the legendary Harry Belafonte. So it came naturally for Austin to choose the business they call show in her adult life. Session work came frequently and often with some of music’s prolific names like Cat Stevens and George Benson. Yet it would take some time for the industry to recognize Austin as an important musical force. From one of Quincy Jones’ regular cast of vocalists for his label Qwest Records in the eighties to her distinguished solo career and many duets in between (especially with James Ingram), the New York native has captured the hearts of jazz, soul, R&B and pop audiences.  Austin’s extensive repertoire encompassed dance music (“Rhythm of the Street,” “Reach”), James Moody’s jazz classic “Moody’s Mood for Love” alongside Benson; the Gershwin songbook for her 2007 release - Avant Gershwin, and much more in between. In other words, no one could truly put Austin in one box. She has worked steadily as a solo recording artist beginning in 1976 with End of the Rainbow; even with the occasional bumps of bruises critics bestowed upon her and sporadic radio play. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

The Rance Allen Group | The Live Experience II

The Rance Allen Group | The Live Experience II
By Peggy Oliver
(Coming Jan. 25th, 2011)
There are only a few singers and vocal groups who have strongly impacted gospel music for over four decades. Though raised by strict grandparents, Rance and his brothers were encouraged to experiment with different genres while playing gospel. After releasing an independent single in 1969 entitled “Let’s Get Together & Love” and winning a talent contest in Detroit, Michigan, Rance, Steve and Tom Allen began their groundbreaking journey. The Rance Allen Group (RAG) started with a bang on the legendary soul company Stax Records under the Gospel Truth custom label. Their appearance in the 1972 documentary film Wattstax was an opportunity for a gospel group to share the stage with artists on Stax Records roster in a Woodstock-type format.   Though there have been some bumpy roads along the way which is the norm for the music industry, the Allen brothers have not looked back since. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Charles Martin | Mary's Son

Charles Martin | Mary’s Son
By Peggy Oliver
Detroit is an urban music hotbed; from the sweet soul of Motown to contemporary gospel. The list of gospel pioneers is very impressive indeed including: The Clark Sisters & Mattie Moss Clark, The Winans, Reverend C.L. & Aretha Franklin, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Thomas Whitfield and Deitrick Haddon. Since the mid nineties, Haddon elevated and reshaped contemporary gospel music with his classic soul, edgy R&B and hard hitting praise and worship thru the vocal group Voices of Unity (VOU). Taking many cues from Haddon, VOU member Charles Martin weaves those same elements on his debut, Mary’s Son. Though he has spent more time in a background vocalist capacity (VOU, Radical for Christ) and in theatrical productions (Black Nativity), Martin won the hearts of audiences in solo appearances on Bobby Jones Gospel TV show. His warm voice, certainly the antithesis of Haddon’s gritty and charismatic style, holds his own for the most part by nicely textured production from Rachard ‘Chardyroc’ Williams. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Michael Jackson | Michael

Album Review: Michael Jackson Michael
By Peggy Oliver
Over a year and a half has gone since the King of Pop left this world barely at over a half-century of age. Shortly after his death, most fans and faithful movie goers naturally flocked to Jackson’s This Is It, which concentrated on the selection and rehearsal process for what was to be billed as his giant final farewell tour. I observed the film myself and witnessed the perfectionist personality at work making sure every note, dance step and staging earned Michael’s stamp of approval. Then there was the immediate increase of his back catalog sales (roughly 35 million units sold) that followed his passing. That said I now turn to the posthumous project, Michael, certainly lacking endorsements by Jackson’s family and numerous professional colleagues from to Quincy Jones.   And there were the countless controversies swirling around such as if the voice belonged to Michael’s voice, or if his voice was altered; and how much control belonged to Michael (who is credited as co-producer on almost all tracks).  Considering what has been written by the media and relayed by industry insiders covering several internet site blocks, I simply choose to focus on most of the final contents (ten tracks in all), beginning with the current single, “Hold My Hand.” To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Wendy Moten | Tis The Season

Album Review: Wendy Moten | Tis The Season
By Peggy Oliver

Listen to song samples from "Tis The Season", exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!
Wendy Moten’s beautifully timed and gorgeously tuned voice has graced the music industry for almost two decades, even if her solo recording exposure was somewhat unappreciated.  No matter what the genre, her instrument was well utilized with international superstars, both in the studio and in concert. From Michael Bolton, to Faith Hill & Tim McGraw and Julio Iglesias, Moten was a much in-demand backing and featured vocalist. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Stanley Clarke | The Stanley Clarke Band

Album Review: Stanley Clarke - The Stanley Clarke Band
By Peggy Oliver

Listen to song samples from "The Stanley Clarke Band", exclusively from Amazon, on our Jazz page by clicking here!!
Oh, the power of the bass. The booming bass that shakes car stereos. The bass vocalist who frames all the choir sections: baritones, tenors, altos and sopranos. Then there is Stanley Clarke. Not only is he extraordinarily versed on the standard acoustic bass and electric bass, he throws in a variety of tenor, piccolo and other basses in between.   Whether a soloist or in a group, Clarke rarely plays by the rhythmic bass rules. Since his days with keyboardist Chick Corea and Return to Forever (RTF), Clarke’s nimble fingering, stunning dynamics and complex solos always turned into jaw dropping experiences. During his quieter and more retrospective moments as part of the Bass Folk Songs series, Clark balanced exquisite melodies with his own accompaniment, a mesmerizing task for any bassist.  The Philadelphia School of Music graduate from 1971 found immediate work afterwards with major bandleaders like Horace Silver and Gil Evans. His melodic sense was fueled by listening to Scott LaFaro (bass player for Bill Evans) and Charles Mingus, an attribute which certainly attracted musicians like Corea and landing a long time gig with RTF. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Dante Lewis | Set The Mood

Dante Lewis – Set The Mood

Listen to song samples from "Set The Mood", exclusively from Amazon on our Jazz Page by Clicking Here!

Whether playing in church or for the local jazz festivals in South Carolina, Dante Lewis always presents a joyful of spirit when making music. The saxophonist’s band Vision blazes plenty of funk and classic R&B to their loyal audiences. Vision includes keyboard player and vocalist Byron Counts who brought his own production and musical vision onto Lewis’ debut, Set The Mood from Sounds of the City Records. This contemporary jazz collection combines R&B favorites and original tunes written or co-written by Counts. Considering this is Lewis’ first chance in the national spotlight, his contributions on Set The Mood are quite pleasing to the ears and can stand up to some of today’s counterparts. The backing musicians include members of Vision: Counts and bass guitarist Tyrone Mack. Two of Lewis’ attributes are his refreshing perspective on the melody and his seamless improvisations which mostly stray from excessive runs and maintaining a pure tone throughout. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Ronald Isley | Mr. I

Ronald Isley – Mr. I
When I was asked to review Mr. I from Ron Isley, how could I pass up an opportunity to spend a few minutes talking about an already soulful legend in many people’s minds. I also happened to witness Mr. Ronald Isley being serenaded at the 2010 Soul Train Music Awards for his contributions to the urban music community. The host of adult contemporary R&B stars on that stage in Atlanta: Freddie Jackson, El DeBarge, Eric Benet and several others did the latest inductee proud before he was officially handed the Soul Train Legends Award.  Though the rewards have been many, Ronald Isley has weathered many storms through his almost seventy years, including suffering a stroke and other health issues. But this ageless Isley Brother finds ways to dust himself off and still be relevant in a predominately hip-hop saturated R&B generation without having to sacrifice his roots that go way back to the days of “Shout” and “Twist & Shout.”<< MORE >>

Paul Brown | Love You Found Me

Paul Brown – Love You Found Me
By Peggy Oliver
For the past fifteen years, many in the contemporary jazz community turned to Paul Brown for his production, sound engineering and composer. From Al Jarreau, to Boney James, to his major guitar hero, George Benson, Brown brought his very keen ear behind the boards. His technical skills were also utilized outside the jazz realm; such as the pop-dance hit for Paula Abdul, “Straight Up,” for singer/songwriter Jennifer Warnes and modern rock band Oingo Boingo. But where Brown got his feet wet was his engineering time spent with R&B legend Luther Vandross. Though he came into the business as one who appreciated a wide variety of music from The Grateful Dead to Peter Gabriel, Vandross’ stylish vocals certainly rubbed off on Brown’s work with Benson, Jarreau, Gerald Albright and his own solo projects. There is no doubt listening to his effortless way with a melody and his masterful ability to see the big musical picture, that Brown has no trouble creating the ultimate smooth jazz tapestry. This is reflected in numerous number one hits from one of the genre’s most reliable architects. To continue, Please click "MORE"!<< MORE >>

Joe Pace Presents - Praise for the Sanctuary

Joe Pace Presents Praise for the Sanctuary (CD & DVD)
Many gospel fans are familiar with Joe Pace, mostly alongside The Colorado Mass Choir. Since their debut on Verity Records in 1995, God’s Got It (co-produced by Chicago gospel guru Percy Bady), Pace & CMC garnered plenty of Stellar Award nominations in the Traditional Choir category and winning the Stellar for New Artist of the Year in 1996.<< MORE >>

Myron Williams | Thankful

Myron Williams – Thankful
Since the inception of Juanita Bynum’s Flow Records a few years ago, Myron Williams’ production stamp has graced the labels recordings, such as the groundbreaking Gospel Goes Classical with Bynum and Jonathan Butler. Before Flow Records spouted as one of gospel’s pleasant surprises in 2006, Williams and his brother Demarcus Williams directed MDM & Voices; one of many reasons why their hometown of Dallas flourished with suburb youth choirs in the late nineties along with God’s Property. Their contributions, I Found the Answer and That I May Know Him, made a small dent via the independent company Myriad Records. But there was more to come from this multi-gifted music minister.<< MORE >>

Mini Concert Review of Fourplay at Dimitrious’ Jazz Alley in Seattle, WA | Nov. 5th, 2010

Mini Concert Review of Fourplay at Dimitrious’ Jazz Alley in Seattle, WA
Closing in on twenty years of contemporary jazz history, Fourplay returned to Dimitrious’ Jazz Alley stage in Seattle, WA last weekend, November 5-7, 2010, celebrating their latest project, Let’s Touch the Sky. The way they carry themselves with their intricate improvisations and spirited musicianship, Fourplay truly ...
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Sunshine Anderson | The Sun Still Shines

Sunshine Anderson | The Sun Still Shines
The advantage of making music for a living has its extra perks. Sometimes a musician or vocalist can act as their own therapist in the process. Sunshine Anderson has survived the pitfalls within a brutal industry world and in dealing with personal relationships  Things were looking up musically for this rich soulful ...
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For Love of Liberty Soundtrack | Various Artists

Various Artists – For Love of Liberty Soundtrack
Filmmaker Frank Martin has been responsible for some of Hollywood’s finest moments including the life of legendary John Huston – The Man, The Movies, The Maverick and a forty year television retrospective of Walt Disney: The Wonderful World of Disney: Forty Years of Television Magic. But Martin may have topped himself by reaching back to an important yet somehow forsaken part of American history. Throughout the years since thousands of U.S. servicemen have served our country since the Revolutionary War in the late 1700's, black soldiers have played an integral role on the battlefields.<< MORE >>

Gail Pettis | Here In The Moment

Gail Pettis – Here in the Moment

When a jazz singer revisits a standard that has been tackled time and again, it is quite the task to express their musical personality without having to alter the integrity of the original.  The experienced jazz vocalist should set the tone for his or her self and their accompanists to create a colorful musical ...

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fo/mo/deep | Eclecticism

fo/mo/deep – Eclecticism 

Starting a memorable groove may be easy pickings, but keeping that drive alive is another matter. What is even more challenging is mastering these grooves in a live setting without adding extra studio clutter while always bringing out the best musicianship. Ron Holmes, Jr., founder of jazz/funk collective fo/mo/deep believes being in the pocket is key to ...

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Tracey Harris | Love 365

Tracey Harris – Love 365 

Tracey Harris is one of those soulful voices many may not be familiar with. She was first introduced professionally alongside a now popular contemporary jazz player who was also making his debut. Harris sang background on “Feels Good” and the title track of Najee’s 1986 Grammy Award-nominated, Najee’s ...

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Take 6 | The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Take 6 | The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
By Peggy Oliver

If there is anybody who could jump start the holiday season with high class, Take 6 would win hands down.  This sextet continues to bring their brand of a cappella stylized gospel to the forefront since they bowed on the national scene in 1987.  Their humble beginnings were etched on the campus of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama in 1980 as a quartet under the moniker Alliance.

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Lizz Wright | Fellowship

Lizz Wright – Fellowship

Listen to song samples from "Fellowship", exclusively from Amazon, on our Jazz page by clicking here!!

Growing up in a strict, conservative household, Lizz Wright found several opportunities to stimulate her creativity.  Without a television in the house, she listened to radio dramas in learning the art of storytelling.  Though she sang traditional gospel as a child, Wright was more attracted to the contemporary side with artists like The Winans and Commissioned who sprinkled their gospel messages with R&B, soul and jazz.  << MORE >>

Evelyn Turrentine-Agee | There's Gonna Be A Meeting

Evelyn Turrentine-Agee – There’s Gonna Be A Meeting

Listen to song samples from "There's Gonna Be A Meeting", exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

As one of the most respected female quartet singers in urban gospel music, Evelyn Turrentine-Agee fully understands the principles of vocal harmonies.  Being born into a family of eighteen siblings, one can bet harmony played a major role in relating to such a huge number of personalities under one roof.   Turrentine-Agee’s journey to the queen of quartets began at the age three witnessing her father singing quartet music while growing up in St. Louis, Missouri<< MORE >>

Fourplay | Let's Touch The Sky

Fourplay – Let’s Touch The Sky

Advance Review - Album to be Released Oct. 25th, 2010

A band can get into a period of complacency after long establishing their stake in the musical game.  But the jazz quartet Fourplay on the heels of their new project, Let’s Touch The Sky, would not have any of that; inviting new Chuck Loeb in the guitar spot replacing long time member Larry Carlton.  Bob James first discovered a musical connection with the other Fourplay personnel while still a solo recording artist<< MORE >>

Will Downing | Lust, Love & Lies (An Audio Novel)

Will Downing – Lust, Love & Lies (An Audio Novel)

 Listen to song samples from "Lust, Love & Lies (An Audio Novel)", exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!

When Will Downing was a session vocalist throughout the eighties, he took his role to full heart.  During his tenure supporting Jennifer Holiday, Gerald Albright and several of dance producer Arthur Baker’s projects,he always kept his vocal skills fresh while maintaining respect to whom he was working for.  Guess that theory worked in his favor when he first introduced his solo career with a warm vocal version of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in 1988, followed by other covers of “Free” by Deniece Williams and the jazz pop classic “When Sunny Gets Blue”.  Other aspiring vocalists must be looking up to Downing because of his longevity and high professionalism.<< MORE >>

Calvin Richardson | America's Most Wanted

Calvin Richardson – America’s Most Wanted

Listen to song samples from "America's Most Wanted", exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!

First and foremost, I must ask how can Calvin Richardson top himself after his stunning Bobby Womack tribute project from 2009?   Being the so-called Soul Prince, the task should not be too difficult.  And who would complain when one’s current back-up band turns out to be The Revelations coming oh-so-fresh off their 2009 contributions, Deep Soul and The Bleeding Edge,that was a meeting of blistering southern soul recalling Stax, Hi and Malaco Records and streetwise sensibility.  Long before he found his solo platform, Richardson grew up with K-Ci & JoJo, the vocal powers behind Jodeci, whom he joined on the gospel circuit in his birth state of North Carolina.  But that aside, he has served up that extra saucy soulful grit since he bowed on the music scene with appropriately titledCountry Boy over a decade ago.  Despite the Womack cover “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much” on this 1999 release,the initial public expectations fell quite short as Uptown (the home label of Jodeci) never gave him a chance to shine a second time.  In the meantime, Richardson was keeping his chops fresh in a duet with Angie Stone, “More Than A Woman” from her 2001 Mahogany Stone project. 

Richardson released 2:35 in2003 with a new label - Hollywood Records, bigger sales and more assured vocal confidence.  This time out, several singles were represented, including “Keep on Pushin’ and “Not Like This.”   After hearing those riveting ballads, no one could really accuse Richardson of riding the coattails of the crop of R&B studs like Usher and Ne-Yo.  This was because of his uncanny ability to bridge classic soul lines with tailor-made hip modern arrangements.  Yet despite the positives that seemed to be in his favor, there was another long wait in store before Richardson headed back to the studio. 

Five more years past and another switch of record companies presented the 2008 release: When Love Comes;another turning point for Richardson who continued to crank up his songwriting and vocal game, especially on the sensual track, “Fire In The Attic,” with nods to Dizzy (Gillespie) and Santana; and the doo-wop peppered, “Sang No More.”  Though there were no singles culled from Richardson’s next disc: Facts of Life: The Soul of Bobby Womack, his laid back yet expressive voice naturally flowed with a southern soul charm and pulled most of the tracks off, including “Harry Hippie”and “Love Has Finally Come At Last” (a duet with Ann Nesby) without resorting to all-out mimicking the sixties and seventies soul legend,considering his tone has close similarities.   Richardson received further props the following year for his composition co-penned with Babyface, Darryl Simmons and others, “There Goes My Baby,” a monster Charlie Wilson hit from his Uncle Charlie disc in 2009.  Interestingly enough, Richardson’s version from 2004 that was never released on an album was remixed in a Lovers Rock style on Billion Riddim, a 2008 compilation which was the brainchild of reggae/hip-hop producers, The London Individuals.  

One year removed from Facts of Life, Richardson returns with America’s Most Wanted,co-produced by The Revelations producer Robert Perry; this time leaning completely on original material.  The title track some get the steppers bee-lining towards the dance floor.  The catchy mid tempo grooves for the adult contemporary R&B fan base,"Feels Like We Sexin', is sweetly layered with perculating percussion.  Since Richardson thrives on taking it nice and slow on a regular basis, there are plenty of tracks to choose from.  “Never Do You Wrong” is one example with its rich string orchestration, gentle guitar strums and juicy harmonies. The debut single and a justified pick, “You’re So Amazing,” finds Richardson at his lyrical genius: “I have been to the river, swam up a stream, Stood on the mountain top, I swear it leans, Like Martin Luther King said, girl, I had a dream, but I never stopped loving you.”  But where his voice absolutely sours and reaches his prime emotional niche is on the other highly recommended cut, “Come Over.”  

Granted Richardson is a breath of fresh air in a contemporary urban world where pure skills sometimes is few and auto tune perfection rules the roost. However, there are occasional issues on America’s Most Wanted,which can not be blamed on creative and business heads butting with each other as this disc is the third release on Richardson’s moniker, NuMo via Shanachie Entertainment.   Two examples are “You Possess My Body,” where the monotony level between the rhythm and melody can get on one’s nerve and the connection with duet partner Nadia during “Reach Out” never fully registers.   Even though America’s Most Wanted is a couple of steps down from Facts of Life,despite its killer backing band – The Revelations - it does not necessarily indicate Richardson has lost its southern soul touch. 

Peggy Oliver 
The Urban Music Scene

Vashawn Mitchell | Triumphant

Vashawn MitchellTriumphant

Listen to song samples from "Triumpant", exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

Many luminaries in the gospel industry have looked up to Vashawn Mitchell for impeccable gospel melodies since the late nineties.  And he has plenty of gospel history in his corner.   After his tenure with the St Mark Baptist Church music department under the tutelage of Bishop Lonnie Hunter, he worked his way up the ladder to the Senior Minister of Music position at Sweet Spirit Church.  Both congregations are located in Chicago, certainly one of the most influential urban music Meccas in the U.S.   While at Sweet Spirit, Mitchell was blossoming as a nationally known songwriter for notables like Vanessa Bell (Armstrong), Fred Hammond and Ernest Pugh.   His contributions with Bishop Larry Trotter and Sweet Holy Spirit with “It’s Only A Test,” “My Worship is For Real,”et. al. has enriched the traditional Chicago gospel sound.   Even though he built his reputation as an arranger (check out the classic hymn “All Hail the Power” from Believe In Your Dreams)songwriter (“Don’t Last,” “Where The Praises Are”) and producer, the Chicago native can hold his own in front of the microphone and exhorting others into the full worship zone.   Understandably, Mitchell, who faced some difficult times during his youth, feels totally at ease ministering for God; especially when it comes to encouraging those to understand God’s purpose for their lives.  He bowed as a recording artist in 1998 with So Satisfied alongside The New Image Chorale for the independent company Manatee Records. Yet Mitchell was willing to sacrifice his solo career for a season to further the cause of ministering to the Sweet Spirit church family.  

When Mitchell was ready to break from Bishop Trotter and Sweet Spirit, his solo career was back on track.  He financed his second solo project in2005 - Believe in Your Dreams, which was eventually picked up by Tyscot Records; then followed it two years later with Promises. But the biggest change of all was a change of address with a new church ministry role as Minister of Worship & Arts at New Birth South in the greater Atlanta area.  This move was probably the biggest sacrifice ever considering Mitchell cultivated his ministry and recording career within the Chicago gospel environment.  More recently, there was a switch of record labels in which he parted ways from Tyscot to join the EMI Gospel family. 

His new label debut, Triumphant,shifts the musical focus from the soulful Chicago gospel traditions to an urban pop attitude, but this minimizes Mitchell’s praise and worship dynamics.  He continues to gather excellent support from his choir,musicians and his longtime associates co-producers Daniel Weatherspoon and Rick Robinson.  Triumphant’s setting is the Higher Living Christian Church (Mitchell’s new church home in Hampton, GA.). The majestic opener complete with intense marching snares, “Conqueror,” sets the tone; dropping scripture verses about living victoriously such as “You are the head and not the tail.”(Deuteronomy 28:13). Mitchell’s creamy tenor takes “Nobody Greater” (the first single off Triumphant) on a captivating worship ride from a calm but confident manner to a joyful noise from both the choir; sandwiched in by well-placed adlibs from Tasha Cobbs. “Chasing After You” was first recorded by Bishop Paul S. Morton and The Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship Mass Choir in 2008 on their Cry Your Last Tear project.  In a wise move, the version on Triumphant rarely differs from FGBCF Mass, and features a fervent exchange between Mitchell and Tajuanese Robertson.  The title track brings a little bitof funky R&B punctuation especially the popping bass and the stopping points, but maintains the praise level with high integrity. The backing choir is stellar in their vocal tone and presentation throughout Triumphant; one example being “You Reign.”  Between the proclamation of “You reign, Jesus” and the plaintive worship vamps, this track substantiates the quality of talent Mitchell surrounds himself with.    For the “what really rocked my spirit” award, the honors go to “His Blood Still Works,” which detours back to Mitchell’s Chicago gospel roots.  It just seems every time the track’s soloist Lisa Page-Brooks grabs the microphone, the church service heads to a higher plain.

Mitchell may not quite have the vocal embellishments at his disposal.  Yet how he structures each track without going into overindulgence is what makes Triumphant one of the best praise and worship discs of 2010.  And when all is said and done, no matter where he lives or what musical style he tackles, I am sure more gospel artists will want to tap into Mitchell’s special talents.

Peggy Oliver 
The Urban Music Scene

Fred Hammond | Life In The Word

Fred Hammond Family Entertainment Presents Life In The Word

Listen to song samples from "Life In The Word", exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

With three decades as one of urban praise and worship’s innovators and as a groundbreaking gospel artist, Fred Hammond has been there, done that,and so lots more in between.  From his partnership with The Winans, as the main driving force of Commissioned, to his early solo work with Radical for Christ (RFC), and now balancing a plate as singer/songwriter/producer, Hammond simply knows what his audience wants -   to be drawn into the pure presence of God.  His approach has rarely changed through the years.  And that is quite alright with those who especially love to praise with an old-sound funky R&B base and love to worship with a soft soulful sensibility.   Being a versatile musician in his own right,Hammond was more than capable to add Latin elements, hip-hop, smooth jazz and acoustic rock when needed. 

When he put on his businessman hat, Hammond introduced other like-minded praise and worshippers that share the same honest passion for Christ.  For instance, In Case You Missed It…And Then Some released on F Hammond Music in 2001 was an opportunity to step back to hear soloists from RFC such as JoAnn Rosario and the family group The Singletons; just a few gifted voices who are part of the extended Hammond family.   In a similar vein to In Case You Missed It, Hammond once again steps into the background except on two tracks on Life In The Word to present another generation of worshippers.  

Like the title indicates, the project is entirely dedicated to scriptural devotional songs and scriptural verses in a quieter, sometimes acoustic setting.  Even though the musical tone on Life In The Word strays from Hammond’s trademark funky gospel jams in most cases, there is a still mighty spirit encompassing most of the tracks.   One of the few upbeat pieces, “You Do Great Things,” jumps starts Life In The Word with Faith Anderson (Kirk Franklin, Juanita Bynum) in the lead role. Lowell Pye, who is in high demand these days, reminds me in some ways of Hammond’s colorful vocal personality.  Pye's contribution on “Walking In Victory” knocks the praiser’s socks off.   Other voices to keep your ears open for are Michael Bethany (Israel & New Breed, Dawkins & Dawkins) who injects a sweet jazzy soul to “Need My Time With You” and Tilunda Larson (Kim Burrell, Donald Lawrence) whose commanding vocal presence throughout “All My Help” sends shivers down anyone’s spine.  Then there is Hammond’s turn on “Dwelling Place” as his lead and background voices are strictly locked into his purpose of worship.  

As a whole with the exception of the just OK title track, Life In The Word,which introduces the Fred Hammond Family Entertainment label, is a nice treat for those who want to hear solid contemporary gospel music.  And no matter what side of the glass Hammond sits, urban praise and worship will continue to be guided in a positive direction.

Peggy Oliver 
The Urban Music Scene

Aysha | Stay With Me

Aysha – Stay With Me

(Advance review - EP to be released Aug. 24th, 2010)

As the music industry is synching more with the digital age, many promising musicians are packaging their musical wares on Myspace, Facebook and whatever cost effective methods they can take advantage of.  While pursuing a solo career, Aysha took full advantage of those avenues while investing time to become a savvy businesswoman and well-rounded artist.   Her constantly active personality absolutely fits her namesake (Aysha is African for life).  Though she did not have the luxury of growing up in a musical family, she found a way to breakthrough to the professional rankings.   Her humble beginnings began with the cover band Destination, which had a faithful local following in her hometown of Santa Barbara, California.  Then she joined the self-contained vocal quintet Girls In The Mix, who had in hand in writing all their material and choreographing their stage shows.  One of their career highlights was opening for several well-known urban hitmakers including Roger Troutman & Zapp.  Yet the talent scouts that scoped GITM’s shows noticed something specifically special in Aysha.  

Ina very eventful decade for Aysha between 1999 & 2009, it was shear determination and her regular gigs throughout the greater Los Angeles area that garnered her a nomination for Jazz Artist of the Year at the 2009 Los Angeles Music Awards.  And there were plenty of learning curves on the long solo road; developing a thick through bad business lessons learned, researching on the internet whom she would collaborate with and probing musicians on how to effectively produce her own music.  After learning all the aspects of recording herself, Aysha released her debut Love Is a Rock in 2006.  Several tracks – “Honey,” “Is This Just a Dream” and the Atlantic Starr 1991 R&B top twenty-five hit, “Send For Me” - were spotlighted on adult urban contemporary internet radio.  Several independent music magazines and non-internet radio outlets also zeroed in on this sultry R&B/jazz singer/songwriter, who has drawn comparisons to Chante Moore, Toni Braxton and Sade (whom Aysha considers her biggest influence).  Representing the true independent music star,Aysha still balances a ‘day’ job while perfecting her music and business tools.  As the CEO of KLW Records, which released her 2006 debut and her new EP - Stay With Me, she now mentors future independent artists to equip themselves in knowing the ropes of the business they call show.   

On Stay With Me, Aysha once again shapes her soothing alto voice into familiar old-school adult urban contemporary territory with songs about mature love.  The disc is all too short at five tracks plus three radio edits. Both guest saxophonists - contemporary jazz giants Everette Harp and Gerald Albright - pull more than their weight; Harp lending soft soulfulfinesse on the title track and Albright tearing it up every which way on the Latin-spiced, “Dreamin.’  “Keep on Loving Me” might as well be a tribute to Sade with its ethereal tones and jazzy harmonies.  A reprise from Love Is a Rock, the smooth groove driven “Is This Just a Dream,” is vocally hypnotizing from the get go.  Only “I Remember Your Love” lacks the musical luster of Stay With Me’s other four tracks. 

While Stay With Me does not stretch beyond a typical R&B/jazz project, Aysha’s sharp vocal phrasing and the supporting musicians serve up a pleasurable listening experience. Like Love Is a Rock, several like-minded adult urban radio stations are embracing Stay With Me for justified reason.  And despite the economic hard times that frustrate the music industry in several areas, even four years between releases for gifted talents such as Aysha, who is full of musical life in everything she sings, is still too long a waiting period. 

Peggy Oliver 
The Urban Music Scene

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Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed | Come and Get It

Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed – Come and Get It

(Advance Review - CD to be released Aug. 10th, 2010)

As part of the retro soul mass invasion during the past decade including Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, James Hunter and several artists from the Soul Unsigned compilations the man called ‘Paperboy’ can now be added to that list.  Eli Reid was blessed with the opportunity to study and embrace artists like Ray Charles and Tyrone Davis - two of the singer/songwriter’s many musical heroes.  Reed’s initiation to soul music was a Charles box set from his father.  But before receiving the treasured gift that etched his professional future, Reid listened to anything at his immediate disposal from rock and roll (Chuck Berry) to country (Marty Stuart).   Reid showed a lot of promise as a performer by the time he reached high school, but his overall skills were met with mixed results.  While wowing the audiences with his expressive voice,his musicianship as a guitarist and saxophonist was not quite on par with his fellow peers.  

After graduating from high school, Reid took a DJ gig at a blues station in Clarksdale, Mississippi (the place where the ‘Paperboy’ nickname was birthed because of an old newsboy hat worn by Reid from his grandfather).  His curiosity and adoration of the blues grew while playing in various clubs throughout Mississippi, the true school of hard knocks for the young, inexperienced vocalist.  Through much rejection by musicians and the audiences, he learned his craft the hard way.   Yet those brutal experiences never dampened the fire and desire for his affection of classic urban music.  His next stop was a blues and music hotbed period – the windy city.  While enrolled at the University of Chicago, Reid hosted a highly regarded Southern soul radio program.  Living in a city loaded with history from jazz to house music, he naturally invested more time scavenging around record stores in adding to his record collection.    

From the familiar:Otis (Redding) and O.V. Wright; to the obscure: Boston soul singer Frank Lynch (who passed get rest) and Chess Records’ Mitty Collier, (the latter whom he befriended and played with during church services in Chicago), Reid increased his understanding of classic urban history. After further education of playing throughout Mississippi and Chicago and studying their musical culture in a less than two-year intensive journey, Reid returned to his birthplace of Boston to form his current back-up group, The True Loves.  Their first release - Sings Walkin’ & Talkin’ & Other Smash Hits! was recorded in one day and in mono; an anomaly in the modern high-tech recording era.  The follow-up, Roll With It on Boston independent label Q-Division, had more sophisticated production yet still kept the integrity of that fiery classic blues and soul flavor that leans on precision horn sections and moving vocals.      

With two successful and regionally hyped projects behind them, current New York resident Reid and The True Loves now join the major label ranks.  Their Capitol Records debut, Come & Get It,continues celebrating the spirit of sixties and seventies urban stylists through mostly original material and Reed’s widespread inspiration from his record collection.  In a daring move, he sought producer Mike Elizondo - more recognized as a hip-hop and pop producer -who sprinkles his subtle touches into Reed’s retro soul mix.  This choice of producer could have caused an over slicked mess, but Elizondo’s musicality is perfectly suited to Reed’s effervescent, roots soul style and deep respect for infectious pop melodies.  

Come & Get It begins with the only cover tune, “Young Girl,” recalling the R&B/pop smash hit “Can I Change My Mind” by Tyrone Davis, and is dedicated to Lynch, the songs’ original performer.  “Name Calling” soaked in the post-Motown era of songwriters Holland, Dozier & Holland, delivers deliciously soulful vocals while revealing Reed’s wittier side:  “You went from name calling to calling my name.”  Reid covers the wide scope of emotions on “Just Like Me” – growls, falsetto and the vocal slides in between.  “Pick a Number” takes it back to Philly with lush strings and funky drum riffs that climax the final chorus.   For a slight change of pace, “You Can Run On” marries Carl Perkins type rockabilly, the country/rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival and a foot-stomping gospel quartet.  To close Come & Get It down, “Explosion” breezes along like an accelerated James Brown funk breakdown.  

With his short body of work, including Come & Get It,there is no doubt Reid affectionately shares his passion for the music he has pursued and grown up.  And to some degree, the well-studied Reid has another step on some of his contemporaries in the retro soul movement.


Young Girl 

Name Calling 

Help Me 

Just Like Me 

Come and Get It 

Pick a Number 

I Found You Out 

Tell Me What I Wanna Hear 

Time Will Tell  

You Can Run On   

Pick Your Battles   


Peggy Oliver 
The Urban Music Scene

Esperanza Spalding | Chamber Music Society

Esperanza Spalding – Chamber Music Society

(Advance Review - Album to be released August 17th, 2010)

In just one decade, Esperanza Spalding has achieved so much in her musical quest and persevered even more along the way to find her own special star.  Go figure that this singer/songwriter/musician who survived some challenging circumstances in her childhood would make teachers marvel, thrill audiences and teach elementary school students about the power of jazz.  When the Portland, OR native first watched cellist Yo Yo Ma on the TV program Mr. Rogers Neighborhood at age four, she discovered the perfect creative outlet.  Originally,she taught herself to play violin and she was so proficient at her instrument that by age fifteen, she became concertmaster in a local chamber music orchestra.  But in high school, she fell in love with another instrument.  From that moment on, the relationship change would prove fruitful for a long time to come. 

As she learned more about the dynamics of the acoustic bass, the possibilities beyond the classical music field danced in Spalding’s head.  And others picked upon that love interest as well.  She landed a gig with a blues band as  their bass player despite a limited amount of professional experience. After refining her skills beyond just playing one bass line, she paid more dues playing hip-hop, funk and served as the lead vocalist/bassist for the alternative pop/jazz fusion group Noise for Pretend, which released two discs.  The following year when she had graduated with a GED, she enrolled in a local college’s music program.  There was still more refining in the works for this expressive bassist, but again the teachers grasped her potential, which eventually led to an opportunity of a lifetime – the highly regarded Berklee School of Music in Boston. The Berklee staff including vibraphonist Gary Burton demanded much from this still teenage prodigy but were astounded how she was able to deal with compositional theory despite her somewhat free spirit.  After graduating at just age twenty, she was elected to the school’s faculty where she taught of all things, “Bass Lines,” a weekend camp for aspiring musicians.  Spalding also had the recent pleasure in preaching the good news of jazz to an excited group of elementary school students utilizing children's' stories to hit her points.

With plenty of side gigs under her belt including world tours with Patti Austin and playing with The Boston Pops, two friends – one of them Berklee faculty member; drummer/percussionist Francisco Mela, joined Spalding for her debut recording, Junjo. Their warm intimate tones laid down lyrical jazz with doses of Latinelegance.  Spalding’s self-titled sophomore project as a leader focused more on her spunky voice which exuded calmness and excitement.  With a little bit of soul, funk, pop and bop, tossed with plenty of Brazilian and Portuguese flavor, Spalding teamed with some of jazz’s top-notch musicians including Donald Harrison and New Flamingo guitarist Nino Josele.

Once again, Spalding changes up the game on her third disc, Chamber Music Society, as Spalding revisits her first musical love of chamber music and ties it together with her jazz piano trio (her current pianist Leo Genovese and drummer Terri Lynn Carrington).  There are the signature Spalding vocals and those familiar dancing bass notes and extended bass lines,only this time with the addition of a string trio (violin, viola and cello).  And there are plenty of intriguing tracks on Chamber Music Society to choose from.  The string trio acts as rhythm section on Spalding's closing solo on the opening "Little Fly," based on the William Blake poem.  An illustration of the Adam & Eve story comes alive on"Knowledge of Good and Evil," where Spalding's meshes wordless vocals and tantalizing scats.  "Really Very Small" drops a subtle funk groove amongst differentiating time signatures between the melody and accompaniment.   Spalding pushes the intensity level for "Wild is the Wind," as she incorporates the seductiveness and aggressive mood of the tango.  Brazilian and Portuguese influences are abundant throughout "Chacarera" climaxed by the percussion section of Carrington and Quintino Cinalli.  "What a Friend" mixes sweet soul and tinges of bossa nova.  Finally, "Short and Sweet" breaks into a playful conversation midway between pianist Genovese and Spalding.  Amongst the brilliant moments, there are a couple of letdowns (Spalding and the usually reliable vocalist Milton Nascimento in their duet on “Apple Blossom”fails to ignite and the bass/voice duet “Inutil Paisagem” drowns in monotony.)  

Even with an occasional misfire, Spalding's musicality and balancing her vocals and bass playing on Chamber Music Society, 
considering her short tenure as a professional musician, is extremely commendable.  As she continues through the musical maturation process,her fans and educators alike will grow to cherish the youthful spirit that makes Esperanza Spalding a certified jazz music star.


Little Fly  

Knowledge of Good and Evil 

Really Very Small  


Wild is the Wind 

Apple Blossom  

What a Friend    

Winter Sun 

Inutil Paisagem

Short and Sweet

Peggy Oliver 
The Urban Music Scene

Various Artists - Playing for Change Live CD/DVD

Various Artists - Playing for Change Live CD/DVD 

Grammy Award winning producer/engineer Mark Johnson had a dream; a dream that has emerged into a much-talked about series where people of all nations find common ground to make beautiful music.  I have to thank public television for the opportunity to catch Playing for Change – Songs Around the World, where Johnson and his team circled the globe for musicians in the least likely (and sometimes dangerous) places – from the isolated plains to the mountaintops.  It is apparent that Johnson thrives on the theory‘music is the universal language.’   This exciting celebration of music was the follow-up in a series – which launched with the 2004 film Playing for Change - The Cinematic of Street Musicians; introducing Roger Ridley from the streets of Santa Monica, California.  Ridley’s raw emotional tenor turned Ben E. King’s pop classic “Stand by Me” upside down.  By the power of headphones and a very busy recording engineers, Johnson synched Ridley with forty other singers and musicians including a Zulu choir recorded in their home country and another soon-to-be PFC favorite - popular New Orleans’ street musician, Grandpa Elliott. Highlights on Songs Around the World included a Bob Marley concert performance of “War/No More Trouble”(mixed with choirs from India & Ireland and U2’s Bono) and “Don’t Worry,” the first original PFC tune played by the composer Pierre Minetti from Spain with assistance from Eliott and many PFC friends.   Johnson certainly taught his audience that no matter what culture they grew up with or music experience they brought to the table,the participants’ enthusiasm was absolutely priceless. 

Eventually,a core group from the PFC series congregated for a tour in 2009 through several continents including Spain and North America.  Playing for Change Live features a crackerjack ten-piece band (appropriately titled the Playing for Change Band), including Elliott who has his own disc culled from the PFC band performances – Sugar Sweet.  Considering the personnel have worked together, face to face for a short time, their stage presence is electric and they manage to keep the audience jumping, smiling and singing along when called to do so.    

Elliott’s charismatic personality and on-point harmonica playing are two of the reasons to check out PFC Live beginning with the blues-drenched “Fannie Mae.”  “Don’t Worry” focuses on the confident vocal trio – Clarence Bekker (The Netherlands), Ruth ‘Titi’ Tsira (South Africa) and Mermans Kenkosenki (Democratic Republic of the Congo).   Roots reggae legend Toots Hibbert (Toots and the Maytals) channels an R&B spirit with the Otis Redding classic “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.”  Tsira’s elastic voice rides on the North African/funky backbeats of “Fela Ngaye.”  One bonus on the DVD version is Elliott’s poignant reading of “Amazing Grace,” providing further reasoning why music can stir souls for the better.  

The main concern on PFC Live is when the musicians switch into ‘jam band’ mode where some of the vocal strength and musicality is stripped.   Examples include the overextended melody onthe DVD - “What’s Up” (the only hit for the rock band 4 Non-Blondes)with Bobby McFerrin’s trademark “Don’t Worry Be Happy”; and “Mado” which begins with fluent African reggae lines before engaging into a much too drawn out guitar solo by an otherwise very competent guitarist Louis Mhlanga (Zimbabwe).  

Judging by the audiences who fully appreciated these musicians, and rightfully so most of the time, Johnson’s dream of Playing for Change will probably grow more legs and inspire another installment for the PFC musicians who still continue tour in 2010.  

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Incognito | Transatlantic RPM

Incognito | Transatlantic RPM

(Advance Review - Album to be released July 27th, 2010)

Happy 30th Anniversary Incognito!  Yes; thirty years of old school soul, funk, disco, hip-hop and jazz produced by the U.K. sensation that still sounds as fresh today as when they were first introduced to the world in 1980 with an album appropriately named Jazz Funk. Despite a ten-year absence after their debut, they returned to the recording studio with Inside Life and have never looked back since.  After signing with club DJ Giles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud imprint through Verve Records, Incognito was one of the label’s prominent acts throughout the nineties.  Their long string of singles including “Always There,” “Still a Friend of Mine” and “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing,” plus various dance remixes, have charted consistently on the U.K. Top 100.  Incognito’s percussive groves were fueled by the funky jazz of mid sixties and seventies played by Roy Ayers and Donald Byrd.  As the club scene progressed, depending on who you talk to, these grooves were also dubbed Acid Jazz, Nu Jazz, Soul Funk, Jazz Rap, etc.  Other prolific groups and vocalists including Greyboy All-Stars, James Taylor Quartet, Ronny Jordan and The Brand New Heavies deliver those funky beats with jazz sensibility to this day. But for now, it is Incognito’s turn for their close-up.  And boy, are they celebrating the biggest year of their life with full abandon.  

In2010 alone, they released their 30th Anniversary DVD (Livein London) which included Incognito alumni Maysa Leak and Jocelyn Brown; followed by a brand new studio release Transatlantic RPM.  What astounds me about Incognito is how the many contributing talents have surpassed their counterparts; all under the direction of their founder Jean Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick.  Though Bluey has full hands on as producer, musician and songwriter, he stands by the philosophy of congregating various musicians and singers who are able to keep their ego at the door and share the same musical vision.  Thus,the ever expanding Incognito family remains intact, even while popular soulful vocalists such as Maysa, Imaani and Brown who enjoy fruitful careers return to the fold on various occasions, including their 30thAnniversary celebration.  

Incognito and a stellar supporting cast including 'family' members Maysa, Joy Rose and Tony Momrelle, Italian soul star Mario Biondi and R&B legend Chaka Khan are onboard the Transatlantic RPM.  This labor of pure love was one year in the works to accommodate everybody’s schedules, and the result on this Shanachie Entertainment release (Dome Records in the U.K.) is full of old school good times. The title Transatlantic RPM was inspired by Bluey’s observation of U.S.funk/R&B's overwhelming popularity trickling across the Atlantic;generated by Earth Wind & Fire (EWF), Stevie Wonder, and others. Putting their spin on the 1976 top forty smash, “Lowdown,” Khan and Biondi are vocally sizzling and Stewart Zender’s in the pocket electric bass increases the deep funk factor to this Boz Scaggs’ classic.  Chaka returns for an encore (and an electrifying Rufus-style moment) on “The Song,” teamed with EWF veteran, guitarist Al McKay.  Momrelle’s creamy tenor voice is all over the disco jam “Put A Little Lovin’ in Your Heart.”  Rose takes the lead on “1975” with those soulfully delicious vocal hooks, hearty brass punches and plenty of party-down memories: “He remembers boogie brought down the house DJ’s turned it out…”  Maysa’s vocal resonance melts in the ears throughout “Your Sun Your Sky.”  “Expresso Madureira” provides an opportunity for the musicians to strut their house-music flavored jazz.  Bluey shines on “Tell Me What toDo,” with his understated lead vocals, backed by soft broken beats. Other outside contributors include Tortured Soul’s frontman John-Christian Urich, whose sass appeal drives “Gotta” and the reason Tortured Soul is one of the U.S.’s talked about soul dance underground groups today.  Singer/songwriter Ursula Rucker incorporates bits of spoken word on the solemn ballad, “Gotta.” 

So what is there to truly say after experiencing Transatlantic RPM.  How about Happy 30thAnniversary Incognito!  And here's to sixties and seventies jazz funk at is peak in the millennium.   



Everything That We Are 


Your Sun Your Sky    

Line in the Sand    


Let’s Fall In Love Again   

The Song 

Put a Little Lovin’ in Your Heart 

All of My Life   

Expresso Madureira 

Life Ain’t Nothing But a Good Thing   

Make Room for Love   

Can’t Get Enough   

The Winter of my Springs   

Tell Me What to Do  

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene  

Smokie Norful Presents: Victory Cathedral Choir

Smokie Norful Presents: Victory Cathedral Choir 

Sometimes music ministers are called to serve in other capacities and those pastors are on the increase, including Donnie McClurkin, Shirley Caesar and Marvin Sapp.  Smokie Norful joins this honored list as he mentors and shepherds his church congregation which is only five years young.  As the senior pastor of Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Chicago,Illinois, Norful has encouraged members to take their servant hood seriously.  In fact, he took a two year music sabbatical away from the microphone and the big stage to concentrate to begin serving his new church family. 

To say the least, Norful has been crazy busy these days.  Earlier this year, he simultaneously released three series of sermons from his home church backed by a music track which applies to the topic:  According to Your FaithYou Can, Matters of the Heart and The Myth of Unmet Needs.  Then there is the choir from Victory Cathedral for their first live recording close-up. All of these releases are part of Norful’s Tre Myles mogul for EMI Gospel. What makes Victory Cathedral Choir extremely special is the fact most of the members have not pursued professional careers.  They also are called on by Norful to serve the community outside their choir obligations. 

That said, some including myself were probably expecting Norful might and could have brought seasoned vocalists for the solos and VCC would primarily handle the backgrounds.  But after a thorough listen to Smokie Norful Presents Victory Cathedral Choir, VCC could stand toe-to-toe with many other mass choirs.  As an extra bonus, most of the soloists are in-house andseveral of the choir directors share in the songwriting.  Norful gets into the act with the choir matching him note for note on “Come Too Far,” backed by an infectious New Orleans rhythmic kick.  Chicago gospel reigns in the building with “The Greatest Name,” as Lenasia Taylor drops an invigorating performance.  “I Made It” brings back the goldendays of urban gospel a la Andrae Crouch & The Disciples and Rev.Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Choir (The Tommies).  Thomas Agnew’s tenor packs a lot of soul just like Smokie.  Likewise, VCC connects to the worship tracks with ease; especially with “Your Latter (Will Be Greater Than Your Past)” and “You Are All I Need” (co-choir director Keshia McFarland and Tiffany Gatlin’s rich sopranos handle the leads).  

Smokie Norful must be thanked for investing time outside his own musical endeavors in putting together a choir willing just to sing praise and worship for the sake of loving God.  Hopefully,this introductory recording for VCC will not be their last.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene  

Deitrick Haddon Presents Voices of Unity – Blessed & Cursed Motion Picture Soundtrack

Deitrick Haddon Presents Voices of UnityBlessed & Cursed Motion Picture Soundtrack

Advance Review | Album to be released June 29th, 2010

There is no denying that Deitrick Haddon can hold an audience captive when he first starts singing.  For someone who once claimed he was shy as a child, his soulful tenor pierces the heart the second one experiences his voice. Haddon was only eleven when he first soloed with the adult choir at his church; only two years before he was chosen as the choir director.   And like his musical endeavors, when he approaches other tasks, Haddon handles his business with no less than one-hundred percent effort.  Of course, this comes as no shock because Haddon’s keen creative flow has made each of his recordings highly anticipated events.   Born in Detroit, one of the trademark cities for gospel and R&B, Haddon was stirred by the best of both worlds from Stevie Wonder to Rance Allen. The visionary singer/songwriter and choral director’s imaginative musical arrangements and bold personality turned the gospel world upside down when he first made his presence known in the mid-nineties.  

On Haddon’s collaborations with Voices of Unity (members from Haddon’s home church Unity Cathedral of Faith in Detroit), their modern R&B/funk/soul punch dramatically changed the course of contemporary gospel choirs (check out their debut Come Into This House-1995and Live the Life-1997).As a solo act, Haddon’s countless significant moments was filled with exciting funky praise jams like “God is Good” (from Crossroads in 2004) and “Go with Me” (from Revealed in 2008); and sophisticated soul ballads which conveyed vulnerability (“Sinner’s Prayer” from Lost in Found in 2002) and chastised the body of Christ in their complacency (“Heaven Knows” from 7 Days-2006).  Haddon also reworked classic hymns into a soulful praise and worship opus including Bill & Gloria Gaither’s “Because He Lives” Hon the 2000 CD Nu Hymnz: Live from the Motor City; and paid an on-point tribute to gospel soul pioneer Sam Cooke with “A Change is Gonna Come,” featured on the 2005soundtrack of Gospel.  With all those accomplishments, Haddon joins the expanding list of Detroit’s certified gospel talent: Commissioned, The Clark Sisters and the Winans family, to name a few.  Though his music explodes with high doses of hip-hop,R&B and funk, Haddon’s uncompromising hard-hitting lyrics expresses his unabashed faith in Christ.  

These days, this musician and minister can add acting and filmmaking to his plate.  Debuting in a starring role for Blessed & Cursed, Haddon spins his version of the Saul & David story in the Bible’s Old Testament.  The accompanying soundtrack unites V.O.U., Haddon, and independent gospel music stars that are already making an impact.  Once again, Haddon injects his urban music magic while sprinkling several other musical elements.  The debut single, “Judah (Let Me Hear You Praise),” features V.O.U. soprano Clareta Jackson in an electrifying lead vocal topped with a funkified Haddon aftertaste.  “Praise in the House” anchored by Lowell Pye and Jessica Reedy (Sunday Best)brews traditional gospel praise with a contagious steppers groove.  By the way, I swear Pye is embodying a bit of Rance Allen…coincidence,maybe.  Eric ‘Bishop’ Taylor’s husky, emphatic voice on “Zion (Let’s Go Up)” accents the bumpy hip-hop rhythm track.  The techno-edged “I’m Blessed” with Haddon’s fervent attitude of wrestling the devil and all spiritual enemies, drops a reggae dancehall swerve.  Haddon’s other solo, the eighties/nineties R&B flavored ballad “Don’t Leave MeNow,” reaches back to his vulnerable side a la “Sinner’s Prayer.”  Those who yearn for V.O.U.’s golden days will feed off of “One Touch,” a duet with Deitrick’s wife Damita and Sean Hardin.  Another of Haddon’s strengths is finding new voices that urban crossover audiences should appreciate.  Three examples are the unsigned group Suzie Rock’s stylish pop/rap of “So What” (that plays over the opening credits on Blessed & Cursed); Rock Nation’s strong  soulful rock sensibility on “Anything is Possible”; and singer/songwriter Cylas’s poignant subject matter of dealing with sinful nature (“Over Again”). Amongst the soundtrack gems, Damita’s “Breath Away” and Shekinah Glory’s“Most High” do not quite match the excellence of the aforementioned tracks.   

I also had the opportunity of watching the actual Blessed & Cursed DVD (premiering in late July), which was packaged with the soundtrack CD. The storyline provides a strong teaching tool for churches.  Yet, as much as Haddon invests full effort to portray his character with integrity, unfortunately that character limits his chances to stretch his acting skills.  However, with or without another movie in his future, Haddon is still one of the most original gospel communicators ever as evidenced from the Blessed & Cursed soundtrack, and there is no sign of him slowing down for a long time to come.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene  

John Blackwell Project | 4ever Jia

John Blackwell Project – 4ever Jia

Listen to song samples from "4ever Jia, exclusively from Amazon, on our Jazz page by clicking here!!

Drummer John Blackwell Jr.’s musical destiny was already carved out long before he started public school.  For hours on end, he observed his father’s drum technique and joined him on the road when he played with The Spinners and Mary Wells, to name a few.  The first jam that Blackwell picked up on his own was that funk blast, "Brick House" by The Commodores - at age two mind you.   Besides playing in various high school bands, he had the distinct honor to work with Billy Eckstein, one of his first real tastes of working with a professional besides his father.  Then after graduating from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts, Blackwell paid dues with various musicians in the greater Boston area before hooking up with some of the greatest icons in urban music and his early musical heroes, including Cameo and Prince.  His experience eventually brought him more attention on a national level as Modern Drummer Magazine dubbed him a ‘Promising Up& Coming Drummer’ in 1998; and Prince, who always demanded high quality work from his musicians, bestowed Blackwell with the highest praise for his drumming work.  Despite all those accolades plus his work as a drum clinician, one particular event almost altered Blackwell’s hard earned musical stripes. 

In 2004, he lost his two year old daughter to a freak accident, and he strongly considered leaving the music business.  Ironically, another memorial for a legendary musician would eventually lead to a new chapter in Blackwell’s career.  In 2008,Blackwell and his fellow musicians attended the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert, in tribute to a drummer who set a tremendous standard for other percussionists in all genres.  Afterwards, he not only fulfilled his wishes to finally lead his own group, those musical friends Will Lee, Paul Pesco and Corey Bernhard formed The John Blackwell Project (JBP).  Their special tribute to Blackwell’s daughter, courtesy of their self-released debut 4ever Jia, is a truly cathartic experience for this deserving musician and entails his diverse inspirations, including fusion jazz great Billy Cobham and two tracks that recall his days with Cameo.   

Blackwell is one of those drummers who can hold down a steady groove yet manages a melodic quality within many of his solos, most of them accompanied by the other musicians.   From all the solos, his virtuosity shines best on "Jaiven."   What can be said about Will Lee, who has played with almost everyone on the planet because his bass guitar skills provides a solid foundation while sparking his solos with soothing textures and sensitive musicianship.  Born into a multi-cultural family, Paul Pesco’s scorching and funky guitar licks have crossed many musical boundaries with Madonna, Bob James, Mary J. Blige, and others prolific musicians. Finally, Corey Bernhard, who once toured with reggae/funk/hip-hop band Soulfege in Ghana and played with Blackwell on his Master Drum Class DVDHudson, is a keyboardist on the urban music radar. 

"Hyper-Formants" kick starts 4ever Jia with an impressive drum line of Terry Bozzio (Missing Persons), veteran studio musician Curt Bisquera and Greg Bissonette (Steve Vai).  This track along with "Sexual Harassment" is a welcome return to fusion jazz’s heyday (think Return to Forever, Cobham, etc.)  At times, this experimental yet invigorating era seems like a musical dinosaur which should be resurrected.  "Black House" & "Mind of J" registers on the funk factor and peppers in some acoustic jazz tidbits. "Amazing"could pass as a Cameo jam for the millennium, but the band's guitarist/vocalist Charlie Singleton avoids retreading the past by lending a fresh approach that should please faithful and newer Cameo fans.  Blackwell and company also know how to pick versatile musicians, such as Esperanza Spaulding and Sue Quin.  On "No Ordinary Day," Spaulding's caressing voice (sans her acoustic bass) is one of 4everJia's finest moments.  Sue Quin, whose performance on Jada left me wondering why isn’t this U.K. based veteran singer/songwriter is not currently signed, stamps a soufully lasting impression on "Jada."   

If there any misfires on 4everJia, the electronically enhanced lead vocals by Singleton on "You’re The One" is the only true disappointment.  Otherwise, JBP’s on-point tribute to Blackwell's belated daughter serves as a wonderful springboard for Blackwell in a leadership role and now fulfills a destiny supported by strong mentorship from family and many musical friends.

Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

TolumiDE | My Love

TolumiDE – My Love

Listen to song samples from "My Love" by TolumiDE, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

TolumiDE is an exquisite, rare talent in today’s contemporary gospel landscape.  Of course, gospel music would be considered a natural choice for this singer/songwriter, given her birth name Tolu Olumide; translated as 'Thank You God' in her native language Yuruba.  With a sound which crosses Western and African cultures,TolumiDE meshes classic soul, modern R&B, reggae, dance, Afro-pop and contemporary gospel.  From an artist who was fully engrossed in the arts from her childhood to her college days, TolumiDE was preparing to reach the world with Christ's love.  While growing up in Nigeria, she studied music and dance at the Atlantic Secondary Arts School. Originally, the plan was to follow her father’s footsteps as an architect and engineer.  But TolumiDE's love for multi-media(music, dance, movies, graphics) was her calling and she had a special place in mind.  She wanted to expand upon her musical experience by traveling to Toronto, Canada to study graphic arts at York University. 

While pursuing her studies, she joined an all female band, Women Ah Run Tings, whose hybrid of reggae, rock, hip-hop and R&B scored highly with fans and was featured on Canada’s premier video channel Much Music.  As a side note, TolumiDE designed the band’s website.  It is no wonder that TolumiDE evolved into the diversified artist she is today.  In the meantime, she was able to complete her degree and follow her dream in the graphic arts world.  But these days,TolumiDE’s musical side has come full circle mostly performing in non-traditional gospel venues such as various jazz and world concert venues and festivals in her current hometown of Baltimore, Maryland; her college home of Toronto; and her homeland of Lagos, Nigeria.  In an incredibly short amount of time, TolumiDE has generated a major impact on two continents.  Besides being nominated with four Canadian Reggae Music Awards with Women Ah Run Tings, she was honored with the2009 African Heritage Award for Outstanding African Artist.

After releasing an EP in 2008 (Specialty),TolumiDE releases My Love, her first full-length self-released disc.  Her warm voice glides effortlessly through all her own compositions with equally classy musical arrangements topped with mostly understated African elements on nearly every track.  Most of My Love provides a unique listening treat.  The title track, where TolumiDE praises Jesusfor who He is, caters to both the younger and mature urban audiences with its calm demeanor and sonic beats.  The excellent string section enhances the poetic piece, "Colours of Life."  Classic soul/R&B lovers should appreciate "Specialty."  Then there’s the smooth as butterfunk of “What I’d Like To Be, stating TolumiDE's desire to strive to think and act like Christ.  The jazz-flavored "Speed of Life" talks about living faith to the fullest.  Finally, there are plenty of hops on"O Lagbara," a celebration of TolumiDE's Christian heritage of her homeland. 

The only place where My Love falters is "All Cell Phones," a lame mismatch mostly because TolumiDE's fairly easy going vocals fails to deliver with the intensity hip-hop requires.  But despite that one oversight, My Love is a loving introduction to TolumiDE’s refreshing brand of gospel and inspirational music.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene  

forever JONES | Get Ready

forever Jones – Get Ready

Listen to song samples from "Get Ready", exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

There was a time thirty one years ago when Dewitt III & Kim Jones were told by the doctors that children would not be in their future plans.  Those possibly frustrating circumstances turned into not just one…not two...but five miracles in more ways than one.   Dewitt III & Kim were well-seasoned gospel musicians who gave birth to the future of gospel music – Dominique, Mya, D’Jeniele’, Judah & Dewitt IV.  Being led by his faith, Dewitt III, a successful songwriter for The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and other familiar gospel artists, led the daily family devotionals for twenty years, which in turn inspired forever Jones’ debut disc, Get Ready. Throughout history, family groups such as The Hawkins, The Winans and The Clark Sisters have been the heartbeat of urban gospel music with their undeniable harmonies, but yet few have mastered vocals with instrumental skills.  This is the case of forever Jones, who plays guitars, keyboards, bass guitar and drums.  It all started with pots and pans (a convenient alternative to a full drum kit), a piano from Toys R’Us, a used guitar, and whatever instruments were in the Jones’ household.  The children thoroughly engaged in music lessons before they attended kindergarten.  Yet as their confidence grew, they disciplined themselves to practice more diligently.  Besides perfecting their instruments, Dominique, Mya, D'Jeniele', Judah & Dewitt IV were always encouraged to genuinely grasp what they were singing about.  

Even though forever Jones usually play their own instruments in concert, Get Ready utilizes some top-notch Nashville-based musicians such as Aaron Lindsay, Dan Needham and Tommy Sims.  This EMI Gospel release kicks oodles of soulful energy but effectively manages to blend other musical elements.  The debut single which has caused massive buzz in 2010, “He Wants It All,” teaches those who love the Lord to sacrifice their wants to follow Christ’s will.  But it is the song’s composer,Dominique Jones, whose brutally honest vocals ultimately pierces the listeners’ heart.  Besides “He Wants It All,” there are many other noteworthy tracks.  “This is the Day” ushers in Get Ready with a ready made two minute funkified intro from the house band.  For the remaining five minutes, forever Jones are locked into the praise zone without wondering into oblivion.  No matter if it’s disco (Get Ready), southern gospel (Bless the Lord), a dose of doo-wop (Adoration {So Amazing}) or contemporary gospel (Jubilee), forever Jones’ voices and integrity always remain intact. 

Get Ready is a more than promising introduction to forever Jones with the exception of “You Can Do Anything,” which lacks a bit of vocal and musical spark in comparison to the nine other contributions.  That aside, this family named Jones are living miracles who carry themselves in a worthy manner with their talents and their testimony. 

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene  

Jose James & Jef Neve | For All We Know

Jose James & Jef Neve – For All We Know

Listen to song samples from "For All We Know", exclusively from Amazon, on our Jazz page by clicking here!!

There are two young jazz lions making a lot of noise all over the world.  Jose James’ cool as a cucumber baritone is totally at ease mixing jazz sensibility with soul, DJ beats, hip-hop and blues.  The Minneapolis, Minnesota-born vocalist draws upon his exposure to A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and other hip-hop icons, and his father who was a jazz musician in Panama.  James is also deeply enamored with John Coltrane, thanks to a support system of musicians called the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).  When James moved to New York,he studied under legends Chico Hamilton and Junior Nance at the New School’s jazz program.  His first big break came when he was sought out by Gilles Peterson after a vocal competition in London, England.  The U.K.- based DJ then signed him to the independent label Brownswood Recordings in 2006. After signing on the dotted line, James would soon be heralded as the next soulful jazz ambassador of the millennium in the vein of Joe Williams and Jon Lucien.  That seemed like a major load of pressure for a talent just coming out of the box.  The following year, James dropped a taste of what the world would be in store for with “Equinox,” a shear genius vocal interpretation that matched the intensity and tone of Coltrane’s classic 1960 recording.   

What turned out to be a deep admiration for jazz's rich history turned into a fascinating professional journey which brought James overwhelming international success.  His debut, The Dreamer, in 2008 was a brilliant mix of James’ smooth vocal swagger sifting through R&B, hip-hop and drum & bass climaxed with a reworking of Freestyle Fellowship’s “Park Bench People”; all backed by a modern jazz ensemble.  Two years later, James pushed more boundaries into DJ friendlier territory on Black magic.  Through his relationship with Peterson, James connected with other producer/composers like Flying Lotus and Taylor McFerrin, who bridged the language of jazz with hip-hop, chilled out funk, classic soul and dubstep.  Besides his work as a solo recording artist, he has collaborated with a wide array of musicians: from the dance duo of Basement Jaxx, to jazz bassist Christian McBride and bossa nova DJ/producer Nicola Conte.  James’ unique approach to the art of jazz has brought him to numerous international jazz festivals from Japan to Russia. 

It seems fitting that James would enter into what he affectionately calls Trane’s (Coltrane’s) house.  Now on his latest project and first U.S. release on Impulse! Records, James joins another promising talent, Jef Neve, on For All We Know. This totally intimate setting features familiar jazz, pop and blues material.  Neve was undoubtedly the perfect choice for this pairing with James because of their unbridled joy in communicating those timeless standards.  The Belgian born, classically-trained pianist cut his teeth in his earlier years playing funk (Mr. Zebedee) and pop (Belgian boy band Get Ready).  Neve balances his many musical hats: classical (his preparations and performances of the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach), writing soundtracks (Dagen Zander Lief-English translation With Friends Like These) and meshes the best of both into his mesmerizing brand of modern jazz with his trio (Jef Neve Trio).  Like James, Neve has studied under great names of jazz like Toots Thielemans and Billy Hart, and has developed international acclaim throughout various jazz festivals. 

As for the music, it is not important to pick highlights or even pick apart For All We Know under the circumstances.  But let me advise those who decide to invest in For All We Know that they will be touched by a soulful man with a jazz heart and a lyrical pianist with an equal amount of passion.  The jury is officially out.  For All We Know is clear cut evidence that Jose James and Jef Neve are more than worth the critic’s and fan’s praise.


1. Autumn in New York

2.  Embraceable You

3.  Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You

4.  Body and Soul

5.  When I Fall In Love

6. Tenderly

7.  Just Squeeze Me    

8.  Lush Life

9. For All We Know

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene  

Myron Butler & Levi | Revealed...Live In Dallas

Myron Butler & Levi – Revealed…Live in Dallas

Listen to song samples from "Revealed...Live In Dallas" by Myron Butler & Levi, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

Asa well-respected producer and songwriter, Myron Butler’s powerful impact in gospel music has been widespread for over a decade.   Many in the industry first got wind of Butler as the director of God’s Property,the group who made us want to ‘stomp.’ The Dallas, Texas-born jack of all trades was already a natural when it came to taking charge ofchoirs.  When fellow Texas native Kirk Franklin witnessed some of GP’s performances, he was impressed with their enthusiasm.  The invitation was then extended for the group to sing backgrounds on several occasions, including Franklin’s 2001, The Nu Nation Project,where Butler’s composition “Up Above My Head” was the disc’s ultimate highlight.  Unfortunately the demise of GP was frustrating, yet various members eventually found their way to form Levi with Butler continuing at the leadership helm.  There have been many other gospel luminaries who were equally as impressed like Franklin with Butler’s unsung talents: Kim Burrell, Smokie Norful, Yolanda Adams and Trin-i-tee 5:7,to name a few.  But it was his humble beginnings as a teenager when Butler’s first song was published which got the ball rolling for this contemporary gospel guru.

“Lift Him Up,” Butler’s first major composition, was featured on the 1993 album Another Chance from DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) Mass Choir – who was co-organized by Savoy Records Executive Producer, Reverend Milton Biggham.  Butler was also responsible for putting together a community choir while in high school. Those were both astonishing achievements considering Butler sincerely believed he had the calling from God at age ten to be an influential music minister.  By the time he completed one year at Morehouse University in Atlanta, he decided to expand upon his gift after realizing a greater knowledge of God’s word.  After establishing firm discipline in the art of songwriting, the spirit began to move in enormous ways.   Even though Butler is a principal songwriter for Levi,he encourages the groups’ musicians and vocalists to contribute material so they can experience the process of writing a powerful song. Understandingly, Franklin’s bouncy approach has somewhat rubbed off of Butler & Levi’s, as exhibited in such hits as “Set Me Free,” - the title track off their 2005 debut, “Stronger”and “Jesus Saves” (both from the sophomore disc in 2007 - Stronger).  

The opening track off Butler & Levi’s latest disc Revealed…Live in Dallas, “Revealed,” kicks off the festivities in a grand and funky eighties old-school style.  Besides his songwriting capabilities, Butler possesses a smooth tenor voice which would fit comfortably on any urban music format.  Taking us back further is the sixties retro jam, Just Can’t Live.  Who else but TV’s Sunday Best’s‘cousin’ and ‘nephew’ Kirk Franklin could add a timely praise and worship sense as he frames the gorgeous choir hooks: “This is what it sounds like, this is what it feels like.”   “Covered” presents that appreciated yet rarely heard syncopated percussive groove called the go-go beat (remember the 1978 hit “Busting Loose” by Chuck Brown &The Soul Searchers that started it all) which is right up Butler &Levi’s ally on “Covered.”  A special big-up to drummer Robert Searight and percussionist Nathan Worth for nailing that complex beat.  On the quieter side, “I Choose to Believe,” “Greatest Love” & “I Am God”are remarkable examples as to why Butler & Levi steadily navigate the contemporary gospel waters with effortless time changes, impeccable range and sincerity in their worship.  Yet my pick for the Wow Factor Award: What could have turned into a cheesy version of the Cyndi Lauper signature hit, “Time After Time,” is transformed into a worship gem about God’s glory.  The stumbles far outnumber the stellar work on Revealed:Butler’s attempt towards a pop structured arrangement of “Holy God” and“Moving Closer” which seems stagnant in places.   

Now that Butler & Levi had their chance to experience their first live recording, Revealed…Live in Dallas is one of contemporary gospel’s exciting moments in2010.  And Butler’s impact will continue to spread, whether in the foreground or background, as far as his Godly desires want him too. 

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene  

Toni Rackard | Unconditional Love

Toni Rackard – Unconditional Love

Listen to song samples from "Unconditional Love" by Toni Rackard, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

As a highly regarded worship leader in her Florida home church, Toni Rackard realized her voice was an absolute gift from God.  With a soprano that boasts the lung power of Jennifer Hudson and a hearty spirit to match, Rackard was a perfect candidate to be an urban music recording star. When she was growing up, she formed several girl groups with her friends, even though none of them panned out.   However, those shortcomings did not stop Rackard’s drive to pursue her destiny.  The question was would her voice be used for R&B grooves or gospel glory.  Once she chose her direction, the goal was to maintain the spiritual integrity within her music ministry.  When dealing with doubts about life’s daily curve balls, the current praise and worship leader at Jesus People Worship Center in Tampa, Florida learned to tap into God’s presence.  The uncompromising passion Rackard exercises during the live church service translates nicely in the recording studio on her debut from Beneath the Veil Records, Unconditional Love(originally released last summer as Are You Ready for War?).

Mixing Rackard’s strength in praise and worship with a modern R&B ambience by producer Lewis Bryant (who worked with Freddie Jackson on It’s Your Move in 2004), Unconditional Love is a distinguished debut.   Usually, it is customary to start an urban contemporary record with an up-tempo bang.  Not the case here.  Unconditional Love instead proceeds with a slow tempo bang.   Rackard lays her heart and soul throughout “I Can See the Light,” calling on believers to surrender all to Jesus:  “Here I am, I’m your child, I bow before You to serve You now.”   Then there are the funky surges.  The title track rocks Mtume’s ‘Juicy’ rhythm.  In a precious change of pace, Rackard concludes with a sincere prayer about not letting circumstances overcome the senses.  The majestic “Arise Within Us” explodes off the disc player with the syncopated strings, Rackard’s assertive lead and blazing backing choir (with all parts ably provided by Rackard).   

Delivering a jazzier frame of mind, “Lovely Day” is a welcome remake of the inspirational Bill Withers classic, which was also covered by Kirk Franklin off his Nu Nation Project.  No doubt, a gospel project needs a healthy injection of praise dance. The house music beats of “Let Us Dance” gets the job done.  Switching to a darker blues mood, “Lord I Cry for You” is an intense plea to rely on Christ’s strength instead of our own.  There is always room for a moving worship melody; in this case “You Are Lord Forever.”  This Rackard composition backed with the classic “We Exalt Thee” and “Just to Be Close to You” (recorded by Fred Hammond) is accompanied by Rackard’s pastor, Pastor Andre Mitchell on keyboard.  Finally, “You Pulled Me Through” with strains of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, features a riveting duet turn by Marvin Winans, Jr.

After listening to Unconditional Love, Toni Rackard should become a gospel music household name in the very near future. Unconditional Love also provides a much needed jolt of strong praise and worship when life’s chips are down.

Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Gregory Porter | Water

Gregory Porter – Water

Listen to song samples from "Water" by Gregory Porter, exclusively from Amazon, on our Jazz page by clicking here!!

It can be a blessing or a curse when a major sports injury can change life’s course; more often the former, of course.  Gregory Porter was singing in clubs during his college days at San Diego State University.  However, it was a shoulder injury while playing football that prompted him to further his music plans.  A musician friend just happened to be looking out for this gifted  jazz interpreter.  Ever since Porter’s mother emphatically proclaimed he sounded like Nat King Cole, this was enough to impress him in checking out Cole’s catalog on a Playskool record player of all things. Multi-instrumentalist and composer Kamau Kenyetta mentored Porter in perfecting his craft.  Kenyetta eventually extended an invitation to a recording session with flautist Hubert Laws.  Coincidentally, that 1998session was a tribute to one of jazz and pop music’s greatest gifts (Hubert Laws Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole) with Porter featured on the bonus track – the international pop classic,“Smile.”  In the studio at that time was another respected vocalist -Laws’ sister, Eloise - who was immediately captivated with Porter’s creamy baritone, an almost dead ringer of Cole.  Needless to say, Porter joined Eloise in a Denver, Colorado regional stage production of It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues before the show landed on Broadway, where the NY Times raved about Porter’s performance.  Yet the piece de resistance would be Porter’s dream; appearing, co-writing and starring in another Denver regional production: Nat King Cole & Me: A Musical Healing.  With his foot solidly planted in musical theater and jazz clubs, this California-born, Brooklyn, NY resident had officially arrived. 


With a ringing endorsement by his mother growing up, it was the ultimate compliment for Porter to have that endorsement seconded by jazz master, Wynton Marsalis.  Besides his frequent contributions with Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, he has established audiences in several countries, including Russia.   Now Porter goes into the studio on a solo tip for his debut, Water (produced by Kenyetta), a superb jazz vocal workshop sprinkled with blues, gospel and funk overtones while arousing many levels of emotions in between.  In fact, Porter’s heartfelt narratives throughout Water echo the essence of Nat King Cole & Me


“Illusion” is a solemn piece about lost love in an exquisite duet with Porter’s baritone and pianist Chip Crawford.  Porter’s haunting vocals surround “Lonely One,” where the subject matter speaks loudly about abusive love relationships.  The soulful“Magic Cup” comes alive via a fun storyline of Porter’s love for coffee and a friend who works at a coffee shop, propelled with a caffeinated (all to the good) solo by saxophonist Yoske Sato.  The title track (another inviting duet by Crawford & Porter) paints a vivid picture of how this wonder called H20 can cleanse green gardens and troubled souls.  Certainly living through the civil right movement of the sixties struck a nerve for many.  Powell revisits some of those moments,including the infamous Martin Luther King’s assassination, for the intense twelve-minute musical poem, “1960 What?”   


Besides his original compositions on Water,Porter’s full-bodied voice easily handles the post-bop classic “Black Nile” by Wayne Shorter (highlighted by a confident scat break) and a gospel acapella reading of “Feeling Good,” written for the 1964 musical, The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd.  


Water is an absolute must for lovers of jazz and otherwise, especially because of Porter’s vocal range and lyrical integrity.  Maybe the sports world has lost a potential athletic talent, but the music industry has gained a much needed blessing.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene   

Lucinda Moore | Blessed, Broken & Given

Listen to song samples from "Blessed, Broken & Given" by Lucinda Moore, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

Lucinda Moore –
Blessed, Broken & Given

Lucinda Moore does not take for granted what the Lord has done for her,especially behind the church and concert stages.  Her powerful soprano voice was groomed and her durability was shaped by her grandmother since she was age four.  Working hard for this talent, mentored by Tremaine Hawkins from the legendary Hawkins Family while a teenager, was naturally easy. Besides Tremaine Hawkins, Moore’s musical heroes are a stellar cast of gospel’s most potent voices including Pastor Shirley Caesar, Pastor Donnie McClurkin and The Clark Sisters.  That mentorship with Hawkins was just the beginning of a very busy ministry and edifying journey for Moore.   Encouraging others throughout various gospel conferences and her magnifying solos, both as a guest artist and her recording career with Tyscot Records, was indeed a product of solid teaching and an excellent work ethic.   

With those musical gifts and talents bestowed to Moore on one side, she dealt with many intense challenges throughout her personal life - from depression to an abusive marriage - which can attract people towards cynicism.   However, knowing who her power source is, she has re-pursued God in a bigger and wiser way.  What an appropriate platform she has for her testimony than her sophomore disc, Blessed, Broken & Gifted. From the one who introduced the gospel world to “Pressure into Praise”in 2006, the Bridgeport, Connecticut native is completely comfortable in a praise and worship zone, even when she was living in pure discomfort.

Before signing with Tyscot, Moore was a well-seasoned minister and guest vocalist. Moore has contributed numerous guest solos with Hezekiah Walker, The Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA), Joe Pace& The Colorado Mass Choir and many others.  She also joined several respected
leaders including Bishop T.D. Jakes and Prophetess Juanita Bynum for numerous conferences.  She released a four-track independent EP entitled Unlimited Praise. Her self-titled national debut produced by one of worship’s best songwriters, Vashawn Mitchell, invited the listener to church with Moore’s convicting voice in full control; whether with an upbeat Caribbean jam “Pressure Into Praise,” in duet with Pastor Daryl Coley on“Safe In His Arms” or the classic hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”   

Blessed, Broken & Gifted comes during a long period when Moore’s personal pressures finally came to a head.  Throughout this disc recorded live at The Elizabeth Baptist Church, she created an outlet to help her reach another plateau with God and to help others battling full plates of stress.  Unquestionably, Moore’s voice pierces the soul on every track.  It does not make a difference whether it is roots gospel or contemporary urban praise because Moore is sincerely locked into her purpose of glorifying God.  

The opening track, “We Celebrate The Cross,” is an effective praise setter.  There have been many pop/rock fueled pieces on recent urban gospel recordings (Darwin  Hobbs “He Is Able” comes to mind as one example).  But I believe “Fruit of my Lips” succeeds simply because of Moore’s timing and adlibs. “There’s A River” expounds on the Biblical account of the woman at the well, thanks to Moore musical touch and an opening narration by Moore’s pastor Dr. Kevin A. Williams.  “Let the Praises Flow” exudes a great attitude check when one does not feel like praising God.  Even though these tracks certainly spark the love for unadulterated praise and worship, the title track detours into some heavy personal moments. Moore does not mess around in addressing the audience how she reached her breakthrough to find renewed peace: “Let Jesus break you.”  Finally,Moore finds more hymn gems like “I Need Thee” and a “Fire Baptized Melody” featuring “I’m Running for my Life” to represent the old school.

The hindrances are few on Blessed, Broken & Gifted.  For instance, one can sometimes barely hear the congregation from Elizabeth Baptist feed off the passionate atmosphere.  A few tracks also fade a bit too abruptly affecting the continuity in spots. Otherwise, Blessed, Broken & Gifted continues to prove Moore is considered one of gospel’s hardest working and vocally skillful talents faithfully serving the cause of Christ despite what hardships might break her spirit.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings | I Learned The Hard Way

Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings –
I Learned the Hard Way

Listen to song samples from "I Learned The Hard Way", exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!

The chances of making the critical musical breakthrough late in life are often nil.  But never ask that question to vocalist Sharon Jones.  Sure, she had the pipes to enter all sorts of talent competitions; belting out the James Brown-style funk and smoky blues in her younger years. Her efforts earned her plenty of session work as a background vocalist.  It was one of those sessions with soul/funk vocalist Lee Fields where two records producers would drastically change Jones’ professional life while she was in her late thirties.  After given a solo spotlight on the album, Soul Tequila by The Soul Providers, Jones eventually became part of the family of former underground soul label Desco Records.  Those two producers – Gabriel Roth (AKA Bosco Mann) and Philip Lehman who recorded Jones on the defunct Pure label founded Desco Records.  Jones and Fields amongst other like-minded acts released several 45rpm singles, which became a collectors’ paradise for sixties and seventies deep funk fanatics.  The Soul Providers were considered the label’s house band.  Desco also re-released the Soul Tequila album as Gimme the Paw.  Eventually Roth and Lehman parted business ways but stayed true to form by launching other soul funk companies – Lehman with Soul Fire (now Truth & Soul) and Roth with Daptone Records.  It was destiny in the strongest sense that several members of The Soul Providers would be the core group to back Jones.  Thus -The Dap-Kings (that includes Bosco Mannon bass guitar) were born.  

Jones’ transparency decorated with gospel shouts, funk bursts and soulful cries comes right from the gut without resorting to excess vocal acrobatics. The Dap-Kings’ distinct sound, whether delivering an outright funk shuffle or a sensitive ballad, evolved from their long musical relationship with Jones. While certainly a well-respected band in its own right, their talents have been somewhat overshadowed by playing with the controversial Amy Winehouse on her 2006 Back to Black disc (which featured her biggest hit to date “Rehab”).   

Though Jones& The Dap-Kings’ sound feeds off of sixties’ recordings from Motown, Stax, Hi and Atlantic Records, dubbing this group as nostalgic may be unfair.  With four discs (or albums) starting with their debut in 2002, their live shows continue to grow in popularity because they adhere to the fundamentals of soul music without shifting too far to the left or the right.  They pull these feats off with mostly origina lmaterial but sometimes Jones & The Dap-Kings can pull other established gems like rabbits out of the hat.  Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” from their second disc Naturally is transformed into a delightful soul morsel complete with trumpet trills. “I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In”, the sixties pop hit by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, turns into a gospel romp accented by The Dap-King’s high-stepping rhythms.  Last but not least, their James Brown funky throw downs of “What Have You Done for Me Lately” off of Dap-Dippin' brought anew relevance to Janet’s original version.

Jones & The Dap-Kings’ fourth and latest project, I Learned the Hard Way,is another welcome visit to yesteryear soul delights; this time captured entirely by an eight-track machine.  Compared to their previous work, the mood is quite solemn on most counts like the disc’s title indicates.  That aside, Jones’ voice dresses to impress and The Dap-Kings’ horns and strings superbly frame her expressive voice.  In just a thirty-six minute span of music, there were several songs of interest.  “The Game Gets Old” bears the bruises of a broken heart:  “I had a love that played with my soul."  On a more positive spin, “Better Things” strives for hoping in a better future.  This track dabbles in the contemporary style but not enough to detract from their retro approach. Jones’ unashamed affinity for the blues and gospel is clearly a factor on “Money.”  Right along side are The Dap-Kings horns echoing every one of Jones’ painful expressions.  Besides her gift of entertaining, Jones drops some convicting story lines like “She Ain’t a Child No More.” about a woman adjusting to life as an adult despite a troublesome childhood; and “Without a Heart,” which questions our attitude towards our fellow man.

Even if Jones & The Dap-Kings are not major stars in the eyes and ears of today’s R&B/soul industry, one thing is paramount.  Jones & The Dap-Kings are one of the biggest, sincerest deals in urban music today.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

C Notes for Haiti | Various Artists

Various Artists - C Notes for Haiti

Listen to song samples from "C Notes for Haiti" byEscro Entertainment, exclusively from Amazon, on our Jazz page by clicking here!!

It seemed like just a minute ago when a cross-section of urban entertainers from Stevie Wonder to Wyclef Jean were making music for one of several fundraisers to collect money for the aftermath of the January earthquake in Haiti. Other famous artists stepped in to produce fundraising singles on behalf of the Haiti earthquake victims. Kirk Franklin and a choir of gospel’s finest under the umbrella Artists United for Haiti asked the question, “Are You Listening.” Another superstar collective revisited the 1985 landmark anthem, “We Are The World,” also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the landmark recording.

But thanks to a vision of Marissa Caliguire, Marty Arnold and Rasul A-Haqq at Escro Entertainment, the compilation, C Notes for Haiti, features a fabulous cast of independent recording artists. Whether C Notes will receive the notoriety of Franklin’s gospel presentation or We Are The World 2010 has yet to be determined. However, the continuity of the ten tracks is crisp; a rarity when it comes down to the average compilation. Avid fans of contemporary jazz and soul can enjoy these gifted musicians while donating to an always urgent humanitarian cause.

The tasty, swinging “Strawberry Lemonade,” a 2005 classic by Darnell Kendricks is just one of many C Notes for Haiti’s recommended moments. This Detroit native is one reason why the Motor City continues to bristle with urban talent. Detroit represents again with a saxophonist that mixes inspiration with lots of hops. Tim Reeves’ “Peace” is a masterpiece with its soft Latin flair and wonderful electric piano sweeps. Matt Cusson’s suave tenor recalls the days of how the old school soul ballad should be delivered on “Every Step.” No wonder this singer/musician has the goods since he once worked alongside one of the best soulful tenors in the business – Brian McKnight. Imagine collaboration with two fixtures in the U.K. soul scene – Kloud 9 and backgrounds by Incognito. “The Promise” spins a solid dance groove to Kloud 9’s gospel-induced vocals. The gentleman they call ‘Lil Man Soul,’ Jackiem Joyner, has risen to the smooth jazz top with his melodic soulful saxophone, as is the case of “Horns for Haiti.” I have to add the duo Impromp2’s “Mo Jazz” (a shout out to their first record label) with its drop-dead funky hip-hop-edged musical change ups. Their vocal and instrumental prowess is absolutely ridiculous. But the unexpected bonus comes via the unsigned vocalist, Llisa Juried, who weaves her soulful lines into the power pop ballad “Yours To Save.”

Once again, I tip my hat to Escro Entertainment for giving us a justified reason to support those in need and those who need their jazzy, soul fix.

Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Leela James | My Soul

Leela James – My Soul

Advance Review | Album Coming May 25th, 2010

Listen to song samples from "My Soul", exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul Page by clicking here!!


All the roads in Leela James’ brief but remarkable career have led to her new deal with Stax Records.  In hindsight, this move to the resurrected version of the company who brought us Otis Redding and The Staple Singers amongst a cast of hundreds seems perfectly orchestrated.  After all, James’s ultimate respect for her soulful elders runs deep – from Al Green to James Brown (who just happened to be her mentor).  Her rich husky voice that recalls Candi Staton has stirred many souls with songs recapturing the many moods of yesteryear.  The critically-acclaimed A Change is Gonna Come, James’ debut on Warner Brothers, was a wall-to-wall account of the music that made her musical psyche tick; whether it was blues, funk or gospel.  Though her voice might have a few rough edges, her musicality has never failed.  The songs were mostly originals by James, but laced with the roots sound and a few modern sound lifts from Wyclef, Raphael Saadiq and other heavy hitting producers.  And some of James’ lyrics send some meaty messages about the business called show.  For instance, "Music" finds James yearning for the time where the sincere art of music making is sorely missing in today’s world.  Both “Music” and the mid-tempo funky “Good Time” were excellent vehicles for dance DJ’s in both house and disco form.  Ska/rock group No Doubt’s trademark hit, “Don’t Speak,” was a tour de force for James’ sensitive voice.  Unfortunately, the records sales for Change were disappointing.  However, James was immediately recognized by her peers with nominations for the Soul Train and NAACP Awards.   Meanwhile, while she was etching her name as a warrior in the name of classic urban music, she has been blessed by working with heroes Ray Charles and B. B. King throughout her touring on the international festival circuit.


Let’s Do It Again (Shanachie Entertainment) was more than an appropriate title for James’ sophomore disc.  This recording event became extremely special because of her band delivering raw soulful energy in the studio.  Unlike Change, all the songs personally selected by James, were major hits for other artists mostly in the soul music realm.  Again her strongest vocal weapon was her interpretive skills.  Highlights included the Phyllis Hyman dance classic “You Know How to Love Me,” Betty Wright’s definitive piece “Clean Up Woman” and the title track originally performed by The Staples.


Less than a year later with yet a new label home Stax Records, James strikes again with My Soul.  Continuing to be more confident and wiser within her talents, James played a bigger role in the creative process.  Several production teams provide James with a rich classic soulful palette mixed with a few modern strokes.   Her in-your-face lyrics still propel her songwriting; such as the opening “I Ain’t New to This,” about survival of the fittest in the music business.  From the tracks’ get-go, James’ vocals come out with a vengeance.   “The Fact Is” sizzles with southern fried soul, reminiscent of Stax Records moments with The Emotions and Carla Thomas.  With only a looped snare as accompaniment, James struts her wish list on “I Want It All.”  “Mr. Incredible Ms. Unforgettable,” a duet with Raheem Devaughn, is an exciting meeting of sixties sophisticated balladry and sensual millennium R&B.  The first single, “Tell Me You Love Me,” cleverly builds upon James’ riffs from “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” by The Manhattans.  Finally “Supr Luva” has the feel of Prince’s alluring slow jams.


Known for her electrifying performances on stage, there is a lot of vocal electricity clinging to “My Soul.”  That in itself is why My Soul is her finest project to date.  Unquestionably, James wears the name of classic soul and the new banner of Stax Records with pride.



I Ain’t New To This

So Cold

The Fact Is

I Want It All

Party All Night

Mr. Incredible Ms. Unforgettable

Tell Me You Love Me

Let It Roll

Supr Lovr

If It’s Wrong

It’s Over

Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Fred Hammond | Love Unstoppable

Listen to song samples from "Love Unstoppable" by Fred Hammond, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

Fred Hammond – Love Unstoppable


From an instrumentalist who played with a famous gospel family; to a long tenure with a successful urban praise and worship band; and then an even longer span as an in-demand songwriter/producer/musician.  In over two decades, Fred Hammond has been one of the main voices in the urban gospel landscape.  He continues to set the bar as a multi-talented musician who has entered other avenues of music.  Even as one of the busiest men in gospel - period, Hammond remains fervent about serving God with the highest degree of excellence, whether its ingrained in his songwriting or his resounding tenor voice.  Through the several phases of Hammond’s career, he has earned many accolades including Dove & Stellar Awards, yet occasionally faced detractors about his philosophy of integrating gospel with edgier urban grooves and sophisticated soul ballads.  The latter has never stopped Hammond from reaching out to different audiences for the cause of praise and worship.


Hammond first experienced professional life as a bass guitarist backing The Winans in the early eighties.  Of course, being that he was influenced by this contemporary gospel groundbreaking family vocal quartet and urban legends like Stevie (Wonder), it was only natural that Hammond would further his mission as a gospel groundbreaker.  Formed in 1985, the band Commissioned was comprised of Hammond and several friends.  Like The Winans, their music pushed boundaries of how contemporary gospel would be reshaped through the years.  Commissioned recorded for almost two decades, including a reunion in 2004.  Hammond stayed with Commissioned for several albums until he broke away for solo pastures.  In 1995, Radical for Christ, a choir comprised of fellow Detroit talents, backed Hammond for four recordings; all which made a large imprint in the urban praise and worship market.  While a recording artist in his own right, he developed several young gospel guns including the family group The Singletons.   When not in the studio, Hammond stepped into the movie world including the role of executive producer of The Gospel; and on the stage writing and directing the musical, Been There, Done That.  


It’s been a long time since the RFC days, but Hammond remains faithful to his praise and worship.  However for his latest disc, Love Unstoppable, he gambles a bit beyond his urbanized trademark sound.  But one area Hammond’s fans can always count on is his raw energy as a vocalist and communicator – willing to exhort the masses when necessary.  The disc opens with a touching prayer featuring both of Hammond’s children with BreeAnn Michelle and Darius Sean.  “Awesome God,” “Happy” and “Take My Hand” are solid reminders of how Hammond kicks that eighties R&B vibe into the praise and worship territory.  The subtle Caribbean flavor of “Find No Fault” adds a sweet texture to the atmosphere.  On the traditional side in a loose sense, “I Know What He’s Done” accommodates with its bluesy overtones.   “You Are Good” is an example of how Hammond can be potent in a quieter spirit of worship.   Finally, the ‘ooo-ooo good’ award belongs to “They That Wait” with the equally infectious Pastor John P. Kee (they also collaborated on The Glory from Kee & The VIP Mass Choir’s Live in Miami disc).


There are a few disappointing moments on Love Unstoppable; including the “Best Thing That Ever Happened” that frankly echoes several pop/rock worship offerings today and the soft samba-driven “Thoughts of You,” where both lead and backing vocals are quite stilted.   However, in the long run, Fred Hammond can be counted on to deliver in the urban gospel music clutch.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Jonathan Butler | So Strong

Jonathan Butler – So Strong

Advance Review - Album Coming May 11th, 2010

Listen to song samples from "So Strong" by Jonathan Butler, exclusively from Amazon, on our Jazz page by clicking here!!


I believe when Jonathan Butler entitled his latest disc So Strong, it had something to do with all the trails he has endured, especially in his earlier years.  Through an exciting yet sometimes frustrating road as an adored musician, the internationally-known vocalist/guitarist grasped onto his faith in Jesus.   Ever since he left his home country of South Africa where he experienced the intense apartheid era growing up, he started making his presence known in the R&B, world music, jazz and dance idioms.  Besides his vocal and instrumental skills, he has written songs for the likes of one-time label mate, Billy Ocean and one of his guitar heroes, George Benson.  Despite being flustered about how he was treated as an artist, he traveled back to his birthplace to check in on his family still caught in the middle of the apartheid era.  He recaptured his South African childhood in the extremely poignant release from 2000 - Story of Life - and played for an audience that included the influential South African leader, Nelson Mandela.  For a season, Butler declared his faith with Brand New Day and collaborating with Juanita Bynum on Gospel Goes Classical.  In essence, no matter what he decides to sing about, it is unquestionable that his gritty passion for musical has inspired audiences all over the world.


Butler was born in Cape Town, South Africa into great poverty and the youngest of twelve siblings.  But the undeniable strength of music and the power of prayer held the family together.  Under Butler’s mother, they formed a singing group with Butler as lead vocalist.   After his contributions with the country's top jazz/rock group, Pacific Express, he broke as a solo artist.   His increased fame as a pop star garnered him the honor of being the first black musician played on white radio stations.  Ironically, the harsh political climate caused Butler anxiety, such as how he was treated while touring and being stifled with government censorship in his music.  After being signed to U.K. label Jive at age thirteen, his international level of fame would slowly rise.  He eventually changed his home base to London, England where he could further stretch his creative potential.  In his thirty-plus year recording stand, Butler has blossomed from a not too bad R&B/pop artist into a sophisticated vocalist and poised guitarist.  From the pop ballad “Lies”; to a soulful take on James Taylor’s “Fire &Rain”; to the funky original praise song “Don’t You Worry,” Butler has turned in a complete urban music package.


Some of the meat behind So Strong undoubtedly comes from some recent challenges in Butler’s life, including the loss of a close musical comrade Waymon Tisdale, the loss of his mother, and his wife’s battle with cancer.  This Mack Avenue Records/Rendezvous Music disc is his first studio effort in three years and a return to a smooth jazz/R&B vibe since 2005’s Jonathan.   For starters, the title track might resonate for John Legend fans.  Butler reaches for his love of gospel on “You Got to Believe in Something.”   The modern bossa nova in “Make Room for Me” showcases Butler’s nimble guitar lines.  “Feels So Good” is a chill to the bone delight that lounge DJ’s could get their hands on.  Angie Stone joins in a riveting duet on “Be Here with You.”  I always appreciate when voice and guitar match wits as in the case of “Good Times.”  The pop classic “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash once again proves Butler knows how to reconstruct covers.  


Like much of his previous work, Butler handles most of the songwriting and instrumentation.   I recommend So Strong for the most part with the exceptions of a couple of run-of-the-mill arrangements.  Overall, Butler exudes a confidence in whatever he performs and he has definitely passed those harsh tests he endured throughout life with flying colors. 


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

The Soweto Gospel Choir Live in Concert | Concert Review

Concert Review of Soweto Gospel Choir at the First Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA

March 12, 2010


For less than a decade, The Soweto Gospel Choir have blessed the music community and encouraged the masses with their potent mix of Western and African gospel traditions.  Their performances across the world are sparked with unspeakable joy in every note they sing and every step they dance.  Their reputation has also afforded them to collaborate with a variety of high profile artists and sing for audiences of influential people such as Oprah Winfrey, Desmond Tutu, Mandela and former President Clinton.   Besides their concerts, they are involved in the community, especially raising funds for Nkosi’s Haven which supports AIDS orphans establishments. With much time invested in touring and commitments to special events, SGC consists of two choirs. 


Recently their hearts have been heavy since the recent passing of SGC’s original musical director, David Mulovhedzi (whom the choir also named Father), who was responsible for organizing the choir from day one.  I had a brief opportunity to speak with SGC soloist and narrator Sipokazi Luzipo who spoke highly of Mulovhedzi’s influence not only as a musician but as a caring figure towards everyone:  "He was a like a father to us young South Africans. Whatever we needed, he was always able to provide."  Mulovhedzi and executive producer/director Beverly Byers founded the choir in 2002, never imagining the depth of their ministry would touch many lives beyond their home country.  Their first disc, Voices from Heaven, was released the same year, a crowning achievement considering they won many awards and topped the Billboard World Music Charts.  From this point on, SGC has etched a successful legacy which continues to build with every tour and ministry involvement.


There are a few stops on the recent tour in which SGC administers special workshops for the youth.  "It is mostly fun numbers to give the students the feel of gospel but not too heavy.  It is basically just to educate the children about South Africa,” explains Luzipo.  While visiting First Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington on March 12th, SGC covered some of their most popular treasures from their body of work, including their latest release from Shanachie Entertainment, Grace.  Without a doubt, the choir’s engaging presentation always surpasses expectations.  The staging was fairly simple, but their harmonies and dancing (choreographed by choir master Shimmy Jiyane) were a complex yet glorious work of art.  The later especially drew many rounds of applause throughout.  Their exuberant voices were occasionally accented with various mannerisms from clicks to yelps.  The accompaniment of just two dynamic hand drummers was more than enough to compliment their voices.  Their bright colored traditional costumes designed by Lyn Leventhorpe added to the festivities.


SGC was actually part of a program featuring two Grammy Award winning choirs coordinated by the American Directors Association Northwestern Division Conference (the other being the equally astounding Phoenix Choir).   It was truly tough picking the highlights from their one-hour set.  Yet what makes SGC excel the most is the connection of the solo or duet vocals that feeds off those rich African traditional harmonies.  From Grace, there were three selections: “Emarabeni/Nkomo Ka Baba” about the African wedding culture; “Mangisondele Nkosi Yam” (“Let Me Be Nearer My Lord”) spotlighting the intricate Zulu harmonies of SGC’s basses and tenors; and the Andre Crouch classic, “Oh! It Is Jesus,” sucessfully spins African and Western musical cultures.  Other selections included the popular hymn from the 19th century “At Calvary” (sung in the Sotho dialect) that moved the audiences’ emotions; “Swing Down,” where SGC grasps the concept of vocal swing; and “Oh Happy Day” by Edwin Hawkins brought everyone to their feet within an instant.  


As for those who want to audition for the choir when SGC advertises for openings, understandably the interest is always demanding.  “There are so many people that want to see themselves overseas as a part of this great choir,” says Luzipo.  David Mulovhedzi would have indeed been proud of the legacy of excellence he left with SGC.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Kirk Whalum | The Gospel According To Jazz: Chapter III

Kirk Whalum | The Gospel According To Jazz: Chapter III

Kirk Whalum was surrounded by music in his household growing up whether singing in the church choir or learning the fine points of jazz from his two uncles who played professionally.  And he never took that gift for granted to this day.  He has used his extraordinary gift to play with urban music greats like Bob James, Nicole C. Mullin and Luther Vandross.  One of his calling cards was a brief but soulful solo on Whitney’s signature hit, “I Will Always Love You.”  Like fellow jazz players such as George Duke, Allen & Allen, Angela Christie and Jonathan Butler, gospel music plays an integral role in their faith.  The 2001 disc, Hymns in the Garden, reworks classic worship hymns without the smooth jazz synthesizer trappings such as the Dixieland blues drenched “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and a classy piano trio sound on “I Must Tell Jesus.”  Whalum was also featured with gospel rapper Mr. Del on the foot-stomping “Chuuch.” 


Then there is the trilogy entitled The Gospel According to Jazz.  It is really no secret that throughout black history, gospel and jazz have been always been intertwined (i.e. Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music Series).   This ambitious project raises the praise and worship service to astounding heights.  Chapters I (made before Hymns) & II are shear jazz canvasses of Latin, bebop, hip-hop, R&B and contemporary gospel.  Now eight years later, Chapter III has finally been fulfilled.  Whalum’s indisputable love for communicating jazz with gospel is just one side to this multi-faceted musician.  


Whalum grew up in one of music’s hotbeds.  From blues to rock and all things in between, the city of Memphis was the birthplace of B. B. King, Elvis and Johnny Cash, and many influential artists.   The city’s history was certainly attractive to aspiring musicians like Whalum.  First starting on drums, he eventually switched to saxophone by junior high.  He then concentrated on jazz while in high school.  Thanks to a scholarship, Whalum traveled to a well-respected jazz mecca – Houston, the home of Texas Southern University.  After graduating, he did not immediately pursue music.  Strangely enough, it took a car accident for Whalum to reevaluate his future.  In 2003, he began a long musical relationship with Bob James.  Though he is not considered a jazz musician in the traditional sense, his respect for heroes like roots players Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis has pushed him to be one of the most recognizable modern day artists.   


On Chapter III of The Gospel According to Jazz (recorded in 2007 at Reid Temple in Glenn Dale, Maryland), Whalum and company including several entrusted family members, draw us into a relationship with God with a unique perspective.  There are several highlights worthy of mention.  The fierce New Orleans rhythms of “Fit to Battle” brings Kirk’s uncle Hugh‘Peanuts’ Whalum and nephew Kenneth Whalum III to the horn line and a riveting drum line, courtesy of Sean McCurley.  “Ananias & Sapphira,” named after characters in the book of Acts, is set-upin with an exquisite, unaccompanied acoustic bass solo by Reginald Vealwith a middle-eastern flair.  Once the song picks up speed, trumpeter Aaron Broedus' dexterious trumpet and Kirk's explosive sax are supported by a snappy Latin foundation from percussionist Lenny Castro and McCurley.  For those who remember “Because You Loved Me,” the pop smash by CelineDion, George Duke extends the piano table from gentle strokes to thunderous chords that stir hallelujahs throughout the Reid Temple building.   “Make Me a Believer,” recorded and co-composed by Luther Vandross, possesses all the qualities of Vandross’ smooth tenor, thanks to Kirk’s brother Kevin Whalum.  Yet the tweaked lyrics clearly emphasize believing in the Word of God.  Kirk pulls still another R&B rabbit of the hat with “You Are Everything;” first with the stellar guitar work by Doc Powell.  “AfricaJesus Africa” mixes a pseudo reggae beat along with a brief history lesson covered by Kirk’s cousin rapper, Caleb the Bridge.  The funk soul classic “Running Away” is an interesting teaching moment about how running closer to Jesus.  Kevin Whalum redefines this Frankie Beverly & Maze hit by sharing some crisp scat exchanges with the house band.  But it is Hugh Whalum’s sincere reading of a remarkable pop standard “Smile,” doubled up with the gospel/R&B tinged God Has Smiled on Me; that tugged at my ears the most.


Now that Chapter III of The Gospel According to Jazz is finally fulfilled, I highly recommend this Top Drawer DVD/CD.   After experiencing the depth of the Whalum’s stellar family and a solid cast that also includes organist Jerry Peters and vocalist/keyboardist John Stoddart, Kirk should strike a chord for both gospel and jazz fans alike.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Alan Hewitt | Retroactive

Listen to song samples from "Retroactive" on our Jazz page by clicking here!!

Alan Hewitt – Retroactive


The casual music fan probably will not recognize Alan Hewitt by name.   But it is possible they have heard his scores for television, movies and video games.  Lots of fellow musicians, especially in the smooth jazz community, have appreciated his production skills, arrangements and keyboard wizardry.  Ever since graduating from one of music’s prestigious institutions, Hewitt kept refining his songwriting chops in a variety of settings both behind and in front of the scenes.  With his last three releases: Noche de Pasion, Metropolis and his latest work Retroactive, Hewitt is now considered one of smooth jazz’s more respected players.  Through it all, he gives credit to music executive David Chackler, founder of Hewitt’s current label home nuGroove Records (home to ground breaking jazz sensations Down To The Bone), for being a major support system invarious phases of his career.   


The Los Angeles-based Hewitt is a multi-gifted musician who began as a drummer and vocalist.  While studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, he added piano and keyboards to his arsenal.  Once he graduated, Hewitt paid many dues inside the recording studio playing for artists representing almost every genre from his idols Earth Wind& Fire to Donny Osmond.  But it was more than his instrumental prowess that brought Hewitt to further prominence.  The more experience he gained in the studio, the more he grew in confidence with his compositional skills.  Some of Hewitt’s incidental and soundtracks for TV and movies include Survivor-South America, Oprah, Bridget Jones and Gods & Generals.  Hewitt also orchestrated the music for Utherworlds - a fantasy themed book centering on hope versus fear.



With all his extraordinary musicality to give, he found his solo voice in the contemporary jazz market; beginning with the 2004 release, the Latin-edged Noche de Pasion on 215 Records.  Through a series of cruises, he naturally bonded with veteran jazzmen Boney James and Norman Brown.  In 2008, Hewitt was involved in a cruise meshing popular smooth jazz musicians and hit-making soul stars – i.e. Motown greats, The Four Tops and funk band, Kool & The Gang.    


Hewitt’s appreciation of jazz and soul are evident throughout most of Retroactive.  One example is the Isaac Hayes soundtrack staple, “Shaft.”  Taking on a song of this caliber can be a risk.  Yet Hewitt pulls this task off because he is extremely sensitive to the grooves from the original version.  “Hot Fun In The Summertime” (an encore performance first heard on Metropolis), though not exactly aligned with Sly & The Family Stone’s smash hit, is sliced and diced to perfection.   Every once in a while, Hewitt decides to change up the mood; case in point“Big Bang” complete with fuzz guitar fills, funky breaks and a killer horn section.  Speaking of the funk and nothing but the funk, the acid-jazz flavored “In The Works” has all the trimmings including a delicious vibe solo that could make Roy Ayers take notice.   The title track adds several smooth layers of funk frosting; from the electric piano hooks to the brief but dazzling guitar harmonics and the dancing organ from Hewitt.


Overall, Retroactive should bring more recognition for Hewitt’s giftings as a jazz player who can shift from rock to pop to funk with pure ease.  In all sincerity, even though Hewitt can play and arrange anything his heart desires, he deserves to be a shining star in the contemporary jazz limelight.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Vickie Winans | How I Got Over

Listen to song samples from "How I Got Over" by Vickie Winans, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

Vickie Winans - How I Got Over 


The beauty of a gospel artist is that their voice can plant seeds for Jesus through their music and ministries.  But alongside their fame and responsibilities come the challenges; sometimes more than even one could possibly fathom.  If one could list what trails Vickie Winans has faced, she could write a book.  Surviving two divorces, losing her mother and several frustrations with the music industry, and so much more, there is plenty of reason for Vickie to testify how she got over those big humps.  The consummate professional since entering the music business, she started a record company a few years back, created and starred in a fitness video and released a comedy project.  To state that she is a go-getter for God might be the best way in describing this multi-awarded singer who first discovered her gift in a slightly unconventional way – in the bathtub.  Vicki’s professional career took off during her marriage to Pastor Marvin Winans, a member of the eighties’ gospel/soul vocal group The Winans with brothers Carvin, Michael and Ronald.   Yet once she released her debut for Light Records, Vickie never really needed to lean on other family members coattails to prove her formidable talent.  And oh - how her faith was tested several times over and again.


The 1985 release, Be Encouraged, was a remarkable start for Vickie that generated plenty of gospel radio play.  But it was the power balled, “We Shall Behold Him” composed by Dottie Rambo, where her fans first took notice.  Unfortunately, sales for Vickie’s sophomore disc, the 1989 disc Total Victory, went way south; a similar fate for her label home Light Records which was going through financial ruin.  The difficulties continued as she signed with a secular label where she could hopefully crossover to sing her vibrant brand of gospel.  The record executives had other plans.  From 1991, The Lady(co-produced by R. Kelly and Marvin & Mario Winans) her one and only disc for the MCA record family, was met with mostly negative feedback.  But just like the familiar song claims, she picked herself up and started over again.  In other words she always found a way to ‘get over.’  In 1997 & 1999 respectively, the recorded concert series Live in Detroit Vol. I & II brought Vickie back in the limelight.  On Vol. I, her rendition of Rev. James Cleveland’s “Long As I Got King Jesus” brought the church house down.  As a rare feat for a vocalist, she flexed her comedy skills on Share the Laughter.  Yet her record label fell upon hard times and she found herself in another recording hiatus.  Then in the millennium, she joined Verity for three discs, including Bringing It All Together which had somethin’ somethin’ for the traditional worshipper (“Shake Yourself Loose”) and Vickie’s personal ‘remix’ on the children’s favorite, “Happy & You Know It.” 


Being the persevering spirit she it, Vickie broke from Verity in 2006 to finally form her company, Destiny Joy Records.  The second release from DJ, How I Got Over, is another testimonial record as usual and has many shining moments.  The title track focuses on what Vickie does best; bridging the traditional with the now, courtesy of a snappy ‘21st century’ scat by her nephew, Tim Bowman, Jr.  One might consider dusting off their old-school roller skates (not blades) as “Swoop” & “Dance Till the Walls Come Down” throws down that‘rock, roll, skate’ feeling.   There is contemporary praise dance with “Heyy,” a perfectly suited pairing with Tye Tribbett.  From the Live in Detroit archives, “No Not A One” exercises Vickie’s preaching and teaching moments.  But the ultimate gem on How I Got Over is “My Peace”, a bittersweet tribute to her beloved mother, Mattie Bowman, who passed in 2006.

Through the years, I have considered Vickie as one of the most versatile female vocalists alongside Patti, Aretha and Chaka.  That said, How I Got Over successfully extends Vickie’s musical and ministry legacy and certainly qualifies as her lifelong mission statement.

Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Sade | Soldier Of Love

Sade – Soldier of Love

By Peggy Oliver


There are several fascinating storylines when it comes to Sade's career.  They first started recording twenty-five years ago making a huge splash internationally with their creamy smooth jazz/R&B hybrid on the strength of only five albums.  Within those five albums came hit after hit in rapid fire succession.  From“Your Love Is King,” to “By Your Side,” Nigerian born Sade Adu and musicians Stuart Colin Mathewman, Paul Spencer Denman and Andrew Hale have crafted pop masterpieces with a mellow jazz twist and understated funk attitude.  Very impressive considering this same group once started under the name Pride who played primarily Latin funk.  Adu was originally turned down when she applied as a backup vocalist.  Once Pride’s audiences heard more of Adu, who occasionally was spotlighted singing her own material, they promoted the then fashion designer into the lead spot.   Who would have thought Adu who lacked music performance experience could change the band’s professional lives.  When all was said and done, Pride eventually disbanded and the band revamped under the moniker of Sade in 1982 (which is actually derived from Adu's middle name Folasade).  The band name change was inspired because Adu was loyal about remaining with her band mates despite talent scouts insisting on Adu as a solo act after hearing the soon-to-be future smash hit “Smooth Operator.”   


Thanks to some friends who engaged Adu to sing in their vocal group, fans may have never heard her calming alto voice.  The U.K-based singer/songwriter was pursuing a fashion design career never intending for music to enter her life, even though she was an avid fan of soul & R&B music out from America, especially from the seventies (i.e. The Jackson Five & Curtis Mayfield).  Once Sade started to skyrocket, Adu was more comfortable playing music onstage as opposed to the promotion process of interviews and filming videos while always aiming to keep her personal life under wraps as much as possible. 


Everyone can vouch for Sade’s consistency on the charts.  Diamond Life, Promise, Stronger Than Pride, Love Deluxe and Lovers Rock all reached the Billboard top ten in the U.S. and the top twenty in the U.K.   Yet even with a strong track record, very few artists can come back like gangbusters after long hiatuses.  In fact, there was an eight-year gap between Love Deluxe and Lovers Rock.  However because of their solidified reputation in the industry, Sade can afford to dictate their own record release schedule.  Ten years after Lovers Rock, Soldier of Love proves Adu and company find ways to reinvent themselves.  To this day, Adu convincingly feeds off her absorbing lyrics even with a somewhat limited range.  On Soldier of Love,the lyrics are a bit introspective than usual on most tracks reflecting Adu's growth in her personal life over those ten years. 


The title track (heard on trailers of the TV show, Lost)strays from the usually softer textures on such signature hits as "Smooth Operator" and "Nothing Can Come Between Us."  Driven by march like rhythms, distorted guitar fills and reggae-edged harmonies on the song’s hooks, I was forever hooked.  The ambient orchestrations of subtle percussion and strings framing the glossy piano melodies accentuate “Morning Bird.”  As the song progresses, Adu's sense of urgency searches for some peace of mind:  “Nothing’s quite how it seems, The ghost of my joy won’t set me free.”  Another reggae-flavored track, “Babyfather,” loudly celebrates Adu’s commitment as a mother, and is the first song in which Adu is joined with her teenage daughter, Ila.   A song that could fit either a blues or country format, “Be That Easy,”talks about love conquering all despite the resonating pain: "Now it's easy for me to see, It couldn't be that easy, It had to be much harder."  Besides the ground-breaking tracks, there is vintage Sade as well.  “In Another Time,” a song that encourages women to persevere through difficult relationships, echoes Adu's affection for that seventies soul vibe. 


Give credit where it is due to Mathewman, Denman and Hale for their musical flexibility on Soldier of Love.  After all these years as Adu's musical associates, they clearly are attuned to her vocal qualities.  Overall, I can clearly state Soldier of Love is their finest work to date because of their artistry and Adu’s songwriting growth.   What I can not predict is when Adu feels inspired deep down in her soul to release another album.  Yet, Adu and her musical companions fascinating musical history will always be a story worth retelling.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Keke Wyatt | Who Knew

Keke Wyatt | Who Knew?

Advance Review | Coming Feb 23rd, 2010


Remember that back-in-the-day treasure by Jerry Butler, “Only the Strong Survive?”Keke Wyatt is one of those survivors in the music business who has kept her vocal chops soulfully fresh.  During her childhood, Wyatt was the 'ish' in her hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.  By age ten, she already experienced her first professional gig for a regionally recorded gospel compilation.  Shortly afterwards, she connected with a respected producer – Steve ‘Stone’ Huff (The Isley Brothers) - who took Wyatt under his wing.   Under his tutelage, she quickly learned the highs and the hardships of the music business.   After several demos, the public was privileged to witness Wyatt and R&B/hip-hop star Avant on his debut, My Thoughts with “My First Love,” first waxed by the popular soulful duo from the eighties - Rene & Angela.   That duet with Avant cemented a future for Wyatt as a solo artist.  The entire buzz indeed generated by the urban music circles was justified,


Wyatt’s debut from 2001, more than appropriately titled Soul Sista, was a wonderful introduction to a voice which can break glass at a moment’s notice and balanced classic soul with contemporary edgy R&B.  It was no surprise that another duet with Avant for “Nothing in This World” was the ultimate highlight along with her cover version of Patti LaBelle’s “If Only You Knew.”   The later track was quite a risk for an unproven talent, but her vocal maturity certainly could pull a Patti classic out of her hat compared to many of her R&B counterparts.  With a gold certification for Soul Sista and a 2002 Soul Train Lady of Soul nomination, everything was clicking for Wyatt to be the 'ish' in the urban music market.   


It did not help Wyatt’s cause when personal issues, especially the domestic abuse involving her husband, and changes of record labels slowed her climb for several years.  Through it all, she learned to stand strong through the musical business battlefield.   Her relationship with MCA was short-lived after Soul Sista.  In 2004, Wyatt inked with Cash Money Records, releasing the major urban radio hit “Put Your Hands on Me” that dished out stern warning about those who physically abuse their partners.   That radio exposure however died within a month.  Thus her sophomore full-length disc Emotional Rollercoaster was permanently shelved.   That obstacle did not hinder Wyatt as she bounced back on TVT Records, which garnered the title track from a supposedly upcoming album Ghetto Rose.  Once again, unfortunate circumstances forced this album to bite the dust.  


As I’ve probably mentioned in the past, big gaps between recordings for barely established artists could lead to music industry oblivion.  And eight years is a mighty long time.  Yet the mentally and vocally firm Wyatt is finally ready to drop her second full-length project (FOR REAL) entitled Who Knew?  Considering all her personal past history, the lyrics mostly concentrate on the roller coaster ride of relationships.  


Given life by her new label home Shanachie Entertainment, Who Knew? opens in feisty style with the title track; a mid-tempo anthem her triumphant return to the musical fold.  This is also one of the tracks on my high recommendation list.  Wyatt’s gospel roots are evident especially during the last half of “Without You.”  “Peace on Earth” could be just another gushy song about just getting along with each other.  In this case, I truly believe Wyatt’s sincerity behind the lyrics.  Besides, the minimal accompaniment of acoustic guitar provides ample space for her durable voice.  Finally, “Never Give Up” superbly frames classic soul in a modern vibe with its horn punches, jazzy guitar fills and sizzling lead and background vocals.  


Now, can I honestly say the rest of Who Knew? lives up to Wyatt’s talent?  Yes, especially when her extraordinary range is allowed to do the work – from sweet vocal adlib intros to soulfully passionate bursts.  No, because some of the arrangements are droll with overly bumpy synthesized slow beats.   But now that Wyatt has her foot back in the door, the industry should continue supporting this unappreciated voice for a much longer stint.  Whatever the future holds for her, Wyatt’s survival skills and high-quality voice should keep her in the musical game for years to come.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene    

Seal | Hits

Listen to "Hits", by Seal, exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul page by clicking here!

Seal | Hits


When I locked into Seal’s U.S.smash single from 1991 “Crazy” off his self-titled debut project, I told myself this will be an international star to be reckoned with.  His clever raspy vocals blending soul and pop sensibility topped with techno smooth beats was a match made in heaven.  However, it would be three long years before he broke with his follow-up disc, Seal II.  Even though “Crazy” was his first calling card, it would be “Prayer for the Dying” and “Kiss from a Rose” from the Batman Forever soundtrack that took the singer/songwriter to another level.  Before he became a certified hit maker, this singer/songwriter cut his teeth in blues and funk bands in his hometown of London and touring several countries as a solo artist.  But it was a meeting with a popular U.K. dance producer Adamski who teamed for Seal’s debut U.K. hit on ZZT Records – the rock-edged “Killer” - that introduced him to the musical big time.  From that point, Seal knew he was born with a shear musical genius despite his architectural degree.  His latest collection is the second offering of his most famous work (the first being The Best 1991-2004) entitled Hits.  With his natural ability to perform in several genres and his solid reputation with international audiences, Seal emphasizes special care into every single song; whether his own or a cover tune.  Throughout his career, Seal is a true survivor who faced a rough childhood and learned to adjust living in the musical fast lane.


Christened Seal Henry Olusegun Samuel to a Nigerian father and Brazilian mother, they divorced when he was still a baby.  His father seemed embittered about life which made their relationship strained for the most part.  Yet when you have the name Olusegun (meaning “God is victorious), that gives plenty of incentive for someone to persevere through life’s tough circumstances.  After Seal graduated from college, he worked odd jobs before pursuing his musical dream.  While he was in India doing solo gigs, his spiritual experiences caused him to rethink his priorities about immediately chasing a recording career.  When he finally broke into the major ranks with several hits off his debut, Seal had his shares of victories and valleys. 


His perfectionist side from the songwriting to production processes was the main yet legitimate reason for the gaps between recording projects – case in point the three years in between Seal & Seal II.  This pattern continued throughout his whole discography.  Human Being, the follow-up to Seal II, was recorded during a break-up and then reconciliation with long-time producer Trevor Horn.  This 1998 disc on his new label home Warner Brothers featured a track from the film Entrapment – “Lost My Faith.”  Togetherland, which was supposed to be released in 2001, was eventually shelved.  Yet the single “This Could Be Heaven” did make its way to another soundtrack – The Family Man.  After five years, Seal IV made its way with “Waiting For You” and “Get It Together.”  The 2007 disc – System - the first project made without Horn behind the boards; brought Seal back full circle to the dance community.  The following year, David Foster’s production – Soul - was a retrospective of crème de la crème soul classics including Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Going Come” and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.” 


Hits brings all almost all these tracks plus the Steve Miller top forty hit – “Fly Like An Eagle” (from {you guessed it} another soundtrack Space Jam) and “Don’t Cry” from Seal II.  The additional tracks – Seal’s take on “Thank You” from Sly & The Family Stone and “I Am Your Man”, are not the best representation of his past hits.   But these bonus tracks should not hinder Seal’s legacy as an artist who has won over an international audience with dance jams, delightful pop covers and oodles of soulful passion. Besides, his drive as a musician always willing to be the best in every department does not hurt, either.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene 

Bashiyra | Thought You Knew

Bashiyra – Thought You Knew


Just in case you want to know, the name Bashiyra means glad tidings and joy.  She has certainly reflected those sentiments in each phase of her career.   Since she first entered the industry, this veteran musical artist has been very active in many capacities.  She has taught and inspired future generations to realize their musical potential by striving towards the utmost professionalism as performers.  Her background vocals have been featured with international superstars from soul diva Patti LaBelle, to one of the U.K.’s greatest rockers Queen.  As a savvy business woman, she has collaborated with fellow musicians to form their own vocal agency.  From time-to-time, Bashiyra released numerous singles including the reggae hit from 1993 “I Will Always Love You;” to the jazzy dance jam“Mistified” in 1999 from Walk Spirit Talk Spirit by Red Raw Collective; to “U Know I Love It” on Super Chumbo’s Wowie Zowie project.  With all these rare grooves under her belt, music fans around the world began to pay more attention to her extraordinary voice.  Yet with all these accomplishments behind her, she is finally ready for her first full-length recording close-up.  Her debut, Thought You Knew, is a canvas of classic soul, funk, jazz and plenty of dance beats.  This is indeed a well-rounded musician who loves to spread the gospel of music towards anyone she meets.


Bashiyra has taught vocal and songwriting to people of all ages all across her hometown of London, England.  Her heart especially belongs to the youth connecting with school children of all grade levels and those with special needs.  One organization she co-partnered is ITA; utilizing the powers of music and literacy arts so different cultures can better understand their differences.  Those community services did not go unnoticed as The Festival of Black Female Voices honored her with an Aspiring Black Female Singer nomination in 1995. 


Also known as ‘The Voice,’ Bashiyra sets high standards in the studio whenever she sings lead or background - whether tone, harmony, or the relationship between vocals and instrumentation.  Thought You Knew scores many points on these attributes.  Her commitment to each lyric especially makes this self-released disc an enchanting experience.  The jazz-embellished “Immaculate” encourages persons to handle their business properly: “Stand firm.  Breathe.  Take your time.  Don’t rush, just hold on.”  “Outside In The Rain” calms the senses with a smooth jazz/R&B blend.  There are spiritual themes as in the case of “Give Back To Mother Earth.”  Bashiyra brings out her sassy side on the funk-filled debut single, “Don’t Get In My Face.”  “Love Child” sends an important message on balancing love relationships and raising children.  The cover material is few on Thought You Knew, but the updated take on “Love Jones” (a duet with S. Murray) pays the ultimate compliment to the original version by composer Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson in 1980.  The classic club music loyalists will flock to “Mistified;” plus other previously released singles such as “This Will Be My Night” and the dance floor smash driven by Belgium DJ Kid Crème, “The Game.”

As a whole, Thought You Knew is a commendable effort.   If there were a downside, I wish she could ease up a little on the disco and house mixes and concentrate more on her strongest asset - her exquisite voice.  There is supposedly a second disc in waiting, in which her fans could hear even more of her musicality.  Just in case you want to know, Bashiyra absolutely lives up to her name dropping glad tidings and joy, both on and off the stage. 

Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Vanessa Bell Armstrong | The Experience

Listen to song samples from "The Experience" by Vanessa Bell Armstrong, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

Vanessa Bell Armstrong – The Experience


Celebrating forty years as a professional singer, Vanessa Bell Armstrong’s vocal talents have not diminished one bit.  Granted forty years can be a wear and tear on the voice if one does not take regular care of their vocal chords or if other dramatic circumstances might impede their vocal endurance.  Fortunately, Armstrong’s voice has stood the test of time despite suffering a stroke a few years ago and taking a self-imposed hiatus to deal with family issues.  Mentored by one of gospel music’s greatest instructors, Mattie Moss Clark, and inspired by The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, Armstrong’s passionate soprano reels in the listener from the get-go.  Throughout her distinguished career since touring with The Clark Sisters and other notables, she has always made a musical and spiritual impact whether live on stage or in the studio.  Armstrong also made an impact in other areas of media including beating out two legendary voices Patti (LaBelle) and Aretha for the honor of singing the theme for the eighties popular TV comedy – Amen.  Besides singing the Amen theme – “Shine On Me,” Armstrong appeared on Broadway in Don’t Get God Started (1991), and performed at the first Soul Train Awards ceremony (1987).


A late bloomer to the recording industry in her early thirties, Armstrong immediately impressed the gospel community on her debut produced by Thomas Whitfield.  The Detroit native knocked out several signature pieces such as “Peace Be Still”and “Nobody But Jesus” even before she signed on a major label dotted line.  After releasing her self-titled disc with Jive Records in 1987, Armstrong met some resistance from the conservative gospel audiences who were fans of her earlier work because of the occasional crossover into the R&B and hip-hop idioms.  A homecoming of sorts – her first live recording, Desire of My Heart backed by Pastor Marvin Winans and the Perfecting Church Choir from Detroit - was a reaffirmation that she always respected gospel roots and refused to be marketed as a secular artist.  The Secret Is Out revisited Armstrong’s gospel classics under the production of another gospel legend, John P. Kee, and was the first disc at her new label home Verity.   Through it all, the controversies have not seriously tripped up her career.   Armstrong’s versatile voice fully graced gospel radio until her last release in 2001 - A Brand New Day, produced by Deitrick & Gerald Haddon - before Armstrong took her recording break.


Six years later, Armstrong returned with Walking Miracle, in which the title track was dedicated to one of her sons who suffered multiple sclerosis (MS).  Her latest - The Experience - is a rare opportunity to hear Armstrong in a live environment where her vocals thrive to the maximum.


Armstrong’s gifts for interpreting traditional works from Whitfield is one of her biggest assets as proven on “What He’s Done For Me” & “Any Way You Bless Me.”  "Hand of the Lord," written by Donald Lawrence, might as well apply to her testimony in how God has covered her through the highs and lows.  Armstrong tackles a rare gospel song from the Aretha songbook – “Good News” from 2003 -while putting her emphatic vocal stamp on the hook “prayer still works”so she can drive home a ministry moment to the congregation.  Duet casting central must have been responsible for Rance Allen as a duet partner for “You Bring Out The Best In Me,” first heard on Armstrong’s1987 Jive Records self-titled disc.  Just like Armstrong, Allen loves to squeeze every note possible as if they were his last.


“I’m hoping you get something from it”.  That is the brief intro for the ultimate highlight of The Experience, “I Will Praise You,” which takes the quieter route.  The more I hear Armstrong, I’m reminded of another remarkable voice in gospel today - Kim Burrell - who must have been inspired by Armstrong’s impeccable attention to vocal detail.


The Experience is an improvement from Armstrong’s previous two discs which leaned more on the edgier R&B beats which sometimes weighed down her jazzy vocal approach.   As an arranger, Lawrence who featured Armstrong on his Tri-City Singers Finale project knows exactly what her charismatic vocal personality needs – tight and soulful arrangements.   Unfortunately, Lawrence’s production is not his strongest forte on The Experience.  For example, there is too much overdubbing on the background voices of Co. and the occasional bombastic orchestrations overwhelm Armstrong at times.   That said, Armstrong remains one of the premier female gospel vocalists who hopefully won’t be taking any more extensive breaks in the near future.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Mary J Blige | Stronger withEach Tear

Mary J. Blige – Stronger withEach Tear


Who says the art of music does not generate personal therapy and stir positively for two decade of fans?  Since her debut – What’s The 411?- produced by one of urban music’s biggest impresarios, Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, Mary J. Blige has never held back on matters of love, relationships and a dramatized childhood.  Within a short period of time after its release, the music media was already calling Blige a true voice for a hip-hop generation.  Since that 1992 debut on Andre Harrell’s custom label Uptown Records, the New York born singer/songwriter was breaking the mold in hip-hop culture for the ladies.  She also was one of the few females including Lisa Lisa and vocal trio TLC who consistently scored hits during the new jack swing era.  Whether it was making a fashion statement for other artists to follow or developing a platform for females to stay strong yet keep their femininity, Blige would be dubbed the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.  Certainly the cost of fame taught Blige several hardcore lessons on how to handle her professional obligations and how to respect her adoring fans,especially in the early phases of her career. 


Once she figured out how to refine her image and build confidence in her talents, Blige grew deeper in her musical maturity.  Each subsequent recording from My Life to Share My World and The Tour - a raw 1998 concert recording from one of her first headlining tours- just proved Blige was here to stake her hip-hop/soul music territory for years to come.  Her magnetic voice was also heard on various other recorded events.  Some career highlights include “Not Gon’ Cry” from the Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds-produced movie soundtrack Waiting to Exhale; a hip-hop frosted remake of Marvin & Tami’s classic duet “You’re All I Need To Get By” with rapper Method Man; and a cameo appearance on“Lean on Me” (not the Bill Withers’ version) from contemporary gospel producer Kirk Franklin’s The Nu Nation Project.  Some of Blige’s greatest hits were also spotlighted on the house and disco music remixes entitled Dance With Me, and the club music community embraced her as evidenced on countless dance compilations. 


Through the years, Blige continued to tone down the raunchier elements of her music. Lyrically and stylistically however, she always remains adamant about how she survived her challenging circumstances.  The titles of her millennium projects: Love & Life, No More Drama, The Breakthrough and Growing Pains was all about Blige throwing down diaries of her life for her fans to embrace.  Stronger With Each Tear is certainly no exception to that rule.  


On Stronger, she surrounds herself with many respected production and vocal friends from the world of today’s urban industry, several who partnered on previous Blige recordings.  This disc is pretty much divided into two parts; first by first warming up the audience with some hardcore dance thumpers and then mellowing out a bit with some mid-tempo and slow pop/R&B jams.  I thoroughly enjoyed several pieces because of Blige’s reliable vocal performance and her lyrical spunk.  First seen and heard during a TV commercial for a famous internet &telephone company, the Darkchild-produced “The One” is anchored by futuristic beats and exudes a lot of confidence:   “Let me break it down if you don’t get it, Quality I’m custom fitted.”  “Said& Done,” produced and co-written by one of the most in-demand talents today Ryan Leslie, boasts about the willingness to deal with mistakes: “And I know that I was wrong, But today I need to move on.”  “Good Love” cleverly incorporates old school funk and a guest rap from T.I. (Blige was featured on T.I.’s “Remember Me”).  To remind us of her status as The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Blige delivers“We Got Hood Love” - a satisfying pairing with Trey Songz: “How you feel love, When I’m with you, Now that’s real love, When you ain’t here, then I miss you.”  This song is co-produced by Brian Michael Cox, the man behind one of Blige’s biggest hits: “Be Without You.”  But the real kicker on Stronger is the teaming of Raphael Saadiq as co-writer and producer of “I Can See In Color” from the movie Precious,which shows off Blige’s spiritual and bluesy side: “It took a long time to get to this place, And now that I’m here, no one can ever erase the joy that I feel way down deep inside.”


Summing up Stronger Than Every Tear, Blige already knows how to wow her audiences with her gritty soulful vocal delivery.  In certain places, this disc from Blige’s custom label Matriarch via Geffen Records drags a bit mid-way on the more pop slanted arrangements.  Yet in this day and age where the R&B market boasts few singer/songwriters of pure excellence, Blige can always be counted onto keep hip-hop and soul music relevant nearly twenty years later since she first asked us... 'What’s The 411'?


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene     

Kevon Edmonds | Who Knew

Kevon Edmonds – Who Knew


For whatever reason why Kevon Edmonds took a decade to finally release his sophomore disc - Who Knew - the anticipation was quite high to say the least.  After all, this is a singer who showed a lot of promise in the R&B world during the nineties before he practically dropped out of sight.  He is also related to a singer/songwriter/producer brother who has a fairly good handle on creating smooth hit records.  While in college, Kevon formed a vocal trio that made some noise on the R&B charts.  When the group disbanded, he launched a solo career with a successful recording debut.  However,the events of 9/11 and his desire to pursue other areas of entertainment kept Kevon away from the studio for almost a decade.  Even though many identified him as the younger brother of Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, no one could ever accuse the vocally sound Kevon of ever riding on his older brother’s coattails.


The Indiana-born Edmonds family boasts several brothers, including Kenneth, Melvin and Kevon.  At first, Kevon was leaning on majoring in a subject matter other than music.  Then after taking some classes centering on the business side of the music industry, the Indiana University graduate was more convinced he had a chance to flex his talents to the world and apply his business savvy behind the scenes.  Thus the group After 7, which included Melvin Edmonds and Kevon’s classmate Keith Mitchell, was birthed.  For awhile, the group paid the usual dues with local gigs.  Eventually,they signed with Virgin Records and entered into a partnership deal with Babyface and fellow musician Antonio 'L.A.' Reid, both members of another popular R&B vocal unit The Deele.  Beginning with their self-titled debut in 1989, After 7 experienced crossover success on the urban and pop charts with hits like “Can’t Stop,”“Nights Like This” and “Ready or Not.”  They earned their concert performance stripes as well opening for superstars such as Whitney (Houston) and Frankie Beverly (Kevon recently contributed to a Beverly tribute entitled Silky Soul Music).  When not with After 7, Kevon’s soulful tenor was featured with Babyface on several concert engagements.  Two years after After 7 disbanded, Kevon released his debut in 1999 - 24/7, resulting in two R&B hits including the title track. 


Despite a decade-long hiatus as a solo recording artist, his loyal fans did not forget Kevon’s heartfelt voice.  Who Knew is Kevon’s first solo project as an independent artist and the first without the musical support of any Edmonds family members.  This Make Entertainment release does not completely forego that nineties soulful sway that made After 7 a solid R&B staple.  The recommended tracks to check out on Who Knew include the pop/urban crossover ballad “Hurts Too Much To Cry,” the first single “Oh” about mutual respect in romantic relationships: “In this moment we resolve to redefine how we choose to love and treat each other kind” and the mid-tempo “April’s Fool.”  Who Knew also has a few stumbling points.  Two self-congratulatory phone interludes weigh down the continuity of this all too short disc of barely past thirty minutes; and “Callin’” is a lyrical disappointment and a production disaster because of those dreaded autotune tricks.  Considering everything, Who Knew justifies some of the anticipation from such a long wait. Maybe next time, Kevon will find an excuse to record more material on his next disc and not wait so long to do so.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene 

Ann Nesby | Ann Nesby's Soulful Christmas

Ann Nesby | Ann Nesby’s Soulful Christmas

By Peggy Oliver


There was a surefire electric night at the Gospel Music Channel’s studio in Atlanta, Georgia because Ann Nesby was in the building.  What a wonderful gesture to present a special Christmas gift – Ann Nesby’s Soulful Christmas - to all her fans after releasing a disc earlier this year – The Lula Lee Project.  I will be the first to jump on board that hot tamale train and the soul train to experience Nesby’s performances anytime.

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David Murray & The GWO KA Masters feat. Taj Mahal | The Devil Tried To Kill Me

David Murray & The GWO KA Masters featuring Taj Mahal –

The Devil Tried To Kill Me


For the past ten years, jazz saxophonist David Murray has immersed himself in the history of Guadeloupe while digging deep into the musical foundations of the island’s folk music heritage.  The seven different rhythms from this French Antilles island are played on a set of hand drums called the GWO KA.  These instruments have been commonplace during many of Guadeloupe’s celebrations and carnivals.  From Murray’s journey of ten years, he has realized four recordings Yonn-De, Gwotet and The Devil Tried To Kill Me- captured in a studio from the island’s largest city, Pointe-a-Pitre,utilizing some of the island’s finest musicians appropriately named The GWO KA Masters, plus the 1997 disc Creole (recorded in Guadeloupe's sister island of Martinique)  All these discs showcases the sizzling rhythms of the KA drums exemplify how the beauty of jazz music can be enriched with other cultures.  Murray’s main inspiration for these series of recordings was how the drumming tells stories of the island’s ancestry; which has come full circle inits history from slavery to independence and now incorporated with France.  These recordings are also just a tip of the iceberg throughout his interesting and adventurous thirty-plus year career.   


The Oakland, California-born Murray played soul music as a teenager before he started taking a serious interest in jazz.  While attending Ponoma College near Los Angeles, he hooked up with such musicians as drummer/instructor Stanley Crouch and fellow saxophonist Arthur Blythe.  By the time he moved to New York to follow his professional dreams, he was attracted to the experimental scene with the likes of woodwind player Sam Rivers and others.  Murray,a familiar name in the free jazz movement, has been an extremely active artist with over two-hundred works to his credit starting in 1975.  During the earlier part of his career, Murray’s recordings have primarily been for import record companies, especially with Italian-based Black Saint/Soul Note Records who has recorded artists from the free form jazz school of jazz like Rivers.  A few of his notable works include Ming’s Sambafrom 1990 (the first on a North American label – Sony custom label Portrait); his spiritually themed projects in duet with several pianists including Randy Weston and his unique perspective of music by The Grateful Dead entitled Dark Star (1996).  


Even with all this in his discography, most loyalists recognize Murray for his contributions with the internationally-known World Saxophone Quartet, considered as one of the most influential improvisational jazz ensembles of all time.   Always willing to take his tenor saxophone and bass clarinet into many musical territories; whether mainstream or free-form; Murray has played in various aggregates from big bands to trios.  He has also joined forces with instrumentalists from other countries:  the Cuban big band setting of Now Is Another Time (2003); Fo Deuk Revue (1997) featuring a cast Senegal’s musicians and storytellers and the aforementioned previous discs recorded in Guadalupe & Martinique.  With his latest The Devil Tried To Kill Me, Murray taps the voices of Sister Kee, blues legend Taj Mahal and GWO KA Master drummers Klod Kiavue and Francois Ladrezeau.  Keeping it mostly in a contemporary vibe, Murray and company maintain the jazz atmosphere with a steady flow of Afropop, Caribbean, Creole, blues, spoken word and funk.  Usually an anything goes type musician, Murray actually gives the supporting cast plenty of room to breathe.  He still does not hesitate to invoke those free jazz colors, but he is also sensitive to the band’s musicianship.  The tracks that made the strongest impression in my mind are “Southern Skies,” a touching story about the unfair treatment towards African-American females accented by a spoken word break by Kee; “Canto Oneguine,” based on an opera about Pushkin and propelled by the call and response by Ladrezeau & Kiavue; and Africa, a somber but spiritual piece convincingly sung by Mahal.


I have always appreciated jazz players willing to stretch their boundaries, especially with innovative minds like Murray.  Overall, The Devil Tried To Kill Me is one example as to why Murray has so much excitement for his craft – both to the jazz world and the rich musical cultures of the rest of the world.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Tone 7 | Tonality

Tone 7 | Tonality


What do you get when you merge the talents of a singer/songwriter who is heavily influenced by Michael Jackson, a guitarist who has opened for Bob Marley and a blues guitar virtuoso?  The end result is Tone 7, a band who bridges several musical decades while mixing elements of pop, jazz, blues and rock.  Tony ‘The Tone’ Jackson, the lead vocalist of the five-piece group is no stranger to the entertainment industry.  His acting credentials include an appearance on the late sixties/early seventies detective show, The Mod Squad.  His claim to musical fame started with the obscure single from 1990 “My Mama Named Me Batman,” a song he wrote and co-produced for D-Rock & The Bayou Crew.  These days The Tone, a man who wears several hats and is a long-time M.J. devotee, balances lead vocal duties between Tone 7 and Stereo Type, a multicultural quartet.  Well-versed lead guitarist Neil Stallings has played with blues legends Big Mama Thornton, Albert Collins and B.B. King.  Co-lead guitarist Bobby Cobb was actually approached by reggae giant Bob Marley to open for him on two occasions.  These San Francisco-Bay area based band also includes keyboardist Will Hammond Jr., drummer Tommy Mason and bass guitarist Stephen Smith.


When not on stage, The Tone is a Professor of Psychology helping those with conflicting issues, and is involved in social activism.  He knows all too well about troublesome circumstances growing up in a gang-infested neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles witnessing the constant battles between the Bloods and the Crips.  But even though his childhood environment could have overtaken him as an adult, he chose to be a voice for the people when called for.  Sometimes The Tone’s songwriting reflects the attitudes and events he has experienced in his life, including dealing with a dear friend’s murder.  


It is no surprise that The Tone’s influences of the ‘King of Pop’ resonate in his lead vocals.  The more you hear Tony Jackson’s voice throughout Tone 7’s debut disc - Tonality, there are shades of Michael Jackson’s expressive tenor.  I also found many tracks on Tonality fairly refreshing because of the retro sound shaped by many urban artists back in the day, and M.J.’s pop/R&B imprint.     


The danceable groove of  “Chicago Streets” jump starts Tonality.  Between the jazzy vocal harmonies on the chorus and a funky bass line that echoes “Good Time” by Chic, Bay area saxophonist Angelo Luster adds a bit of gospel jazz frosting with his solo.  


The Tone struts his rap stuff with a soul/funk underpinning (think Kool & The Gang & Earth, Wind & Fire) on “Maybe I” if only for a brief moment: “You can take the diamond rings and material things I chalk it up as experience…you and me we should have seen the signs.”


“Fantasize” recalls some of the sweet mid-tempo jams from the Motown era, especially from smooth balladeers like Smokey Robinson.


With a perfect marriage of Michael Jackson soulful pop a la “Rock With You”and social commentary, “Ballet on the Gun” provides a list of what if’s about every day life’s scenarios: “What do you do when the vote don’t count…what do you do when the questions out, children asking what it is all about.”


Finally, “Revolutionary Eyes” meshes more topical subject matter with a heavy duty rock slant; a possibly perfect vehicle for Lenny Kravitz: “Some say it’s love some say it’s hate depending on their view.”


The only problem I found with Tonality is that The Tone, as talented as he is, might be trying to emulate M.J. on several tracks instead of developing his own vocal niche.  This observation is not to be mistaken for the fact that Michael Jackson was undoubtedly a remarkable artist in his own right.  But overall, Tone 7’s musicality and confident musicianship are the absolute reasons to check out Tonality.  


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Kendra Carr | Unexpected Judah

Kendra Carr – Unexpected Judah


Sometimes it can be a daunting task to create a riveting praise and worship studio atmosphere.  But with Kendra Carr’s extensive background in both performance and ministry, it is a challenge that she meets with flying colors.  Unexpected Judah is Carr’s national solo debut, where she shares everything the Lord has laid on her heart in the past three years.  For those who are unfamiliar with Carr’s career, her recording debut was back in 2000 with a little known project entitled Yielded.  Through the years as a seasoned background vocalist, Carr has worked alongside top gospel names including Darwin Hobbs and Daryl Coley.  Her unmistakable voice that has moved worshippers for years is evident on the Dove Award nominated Praise In His Presence with Ann McCreary and Marvin Sapp; and the gospel star-filled CD featuring the youth choir Judah Generation.  Both discs were released from Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee with Bishop Joseph Walker III as the pastor.   


Undoubtedly her calling card is leading others into God’s presence, and Carr has never compromised from those desires since she first learned to sing.  Carr began ministering at age three with her home church choir in Pensacola, Florida.  After participating in numerous vocal competitions, she continued building on her vocal excellence at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Carr has been a steady music worship force at Mt. Zion Baptist ever since.  Currently, she is the overseer of Music & Worship Arts Ministry at another of Walker Jr.’s church plants, The Zion Church.


The second release, Unexpected Judah, should raise the awareness on a national scale for this versatile singer/songwriter and minister.   Without exception, this disc from Commandment Entertainment is all about unadulterated praise and worship with sprinklings of energetic Latin, smooth jazz, R&B, pop, traditional and contemporary gospel and pop.  The opening piece, “My Victory,” cuts right to the quick as Carr points to the source authority: “Promotion does not come from the east nor from the west, but it comes from above.”  From the mid-tempo waltz of the first single “Only You” to the festive Brazilian flair all over “He Is”, Carr focuses on acknowledging God for who He is.  On the later track, I admit the accordion was a special treat, especially since the instrument is rarely heard in gospel music.  “He’ll Deliver” is old-school praise in action.  The majestic choral arrangement and the different chord changes on “Reign In Me” brought even more life to the worship zone.  This track is also my favorite moment on Unexpected Judah.


The absolute strength behind Unexpected Judah is Carr’s commanding vocal performances whether emitting a quiet spirit or evangelizing to the masses; much like those on her solos on the Mt. Zion compilations.  At times, the orchestrations are slightly underwhelming.  Yet it really makes little difference because of Carr and the supporting choir’s connection to each other.  That said, I will recommended Unexpected Judah as a welcome addition to anyone’s contemporary gospel library.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene  

Dee Dee Bridgewater – Eleanora Fagan (1917-1959) To Billie with Love from Dee Dee

Note: CD Cover Coming _ T.U.M.S.

Advance Review: CD Available in 2010

Dee Dee Bridgewater – Eleanora Fagan (1917-1959) To Billie with Love from Dee Dee


Billie Holiday’s musical legacy is so memorable despite the tragic circumstances she surrounded herself with.  Many musicians and singers from various genres of life have paid homage from Ethiopian born soul singer Wayna to jazz/pop vocalist Rosemary Clooney to Archie Shepp.   But within that scope of tributes which are all well meaning, Dee Dee Bridgewater is quite familiar with the artist also named Lady Day.  This multi-talented singer and actress recreated Holliday’s life in a one-woman show based on the singer’s autobiography Lady Sings The Blues - appropriately entitled Lady Day.  By the time she completed her two-year period on this exhausting play, Dee Dee became more immersed in Holliday’s expressive voice that was compared to a jazz instrument.  For her stunning performance, she earned the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress. This time without trying to recreate Holiday’s persona, she spins her own intricacies and fine-tuned voice dedicated to a jazz, pop and blues legend gone way too soon.  This singer/actress who has already recorded discs featuring the music of Ella (Fitzgerald) & pianist Horace Silver decides to enter into this tribute, Eleanora Fagan To Billie with Love from Dee Dee, from her own vocal point of view.  While some dote on the dark side of Holiday’s personal and sometimes professional life, Dee Dee believes this should be strictly a celebration of Lady Day’s unique musical treasures.   


Now a bit more about Dee Dee.  The Memphis-born talent has been praised as one of jazz’s best modern day voices.  Her role as Lady Day is just a slice of what she has accomplished since her childhood.  From her tenure as lead vocalist of an influential big band to interpreting melodies from Africa and France, Dee Dee has an intuitive sense in breathing excitement with every note.   Born Denise Garrett, she was exposed to plenty of jazz, thanks to her trumpeter father who played as a side man around the Memphis area.  One of her icons was Nancy Wilson, another modern jazz vocal master who she tried to emulate.  While attending the University of Illinois in Champaign, her breakthrough began in the late sixties when she was invited to join the schools’ jazz ensemble.  The following year, she met her first husband - trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater.  After they toured together with the jazz band to the Soviet Union, they headed to New York City in search of professional exposure.  From there, Dee Dee’s jazz star began to rise, starting as the vocalist with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band.  She has graced the musical stage throughout her stellar career such as The Wiz, and has the distinct honor of being the first African-American female to portray Sally Bowles in Cabaret.  Dee Dee eventually returned to her first love after a period of recording contemporary jazz/pop.  In the mid-eighties, she moved to France realizing an audience of many diehard jazz fans.  Of course, she was a much respected jazz vocalist all over Europe and in the Far East where she once toured with in a band including trumpeter Clark Terry.  In showing her appreciation for world music, her previous two discs: J’aiDeux Amours (2005) featuring mostly French pop songs (including twosongs recorded African-American French resident Josephine Baker) & Red Earth: A Malian Journey (2007) a stroke of genius weaving acoustic jazz and African musical roots.


Eleanora Fagan To Billie With Love from Dee Dee gives back a whole lot of love without question.  Dee Dee’s vocal sculptures, whether caressing, tantalizing or powerful, is backed by her long-time musical director, pianist Edel Gomez.  Gomez’s arrangements also takes full advantage of the remarkable reeds man James Carter and one of the best rhythm sections in jazz today:Christian McBride and Lewis Nash.   In all honesty, all tracks are worth the listener’s time and money.  Here are all the track listings:


1)  Lady Sings The Blues - African polyrhythms are mixed with a cool jazz groove.


2)  All of Me - This is one of several tracks where Dee Dee shows off her crisp scatting abilities.


3)  Good Morning Headache - This version of Holliday’s signature tune gives arare opportunity to hear a bass clarinet, delivered with finesse byCarter.


4)  Lover Man - Gomez’s solo work simply glides along on this gentle waltz.


5)  You’ve Changed - Carter’s explosive tenor sax work is on display.


6)  Miss Brown To Me - This swinging piece provides a spotlight for Nash’s classy drum solo while Dee Dee cheers him on: “Nash it to me.”


7)  Don’t Explain - What woodwind has Carter not played?  His alto flute is an absolutely exquisite match with Dee Dee’s aching bluesy tone.


8)  Fine & Mellow - There’s plenty of musical flirtation between Dee Dee& Carter while Gomez’s piano and Carter start their own littleflirtation on the side.  One of the most charismatic blues performances I have experienced in recent memory. 


9)  Mother’s Son-In-Law - Dee Dee has some fun, thanks to the nimble accompaniment and soloing by McBride on this rarely heard tune from Holliday’s career.


10) God Bless The Child - All I can say is Dee Dee & Carter takes us to church.


11) Foggy Day -I swear Dee Dee is channeling a bit of Louis (Armstrong) during another scat sequence.


12) Strange Fruit -This haunting, sparse arrangement puts the focus on a deeply poignant reading by Dee Dee.


With her stirring tribute to Eleanora Fagan, Dee Dee continues to build her own modern jazz legacy.  Overall, I rate this with a several thumbs up.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene


Angie Stone | Unexpected

Angie Stone – Unexpected


Remember the artist Angie B?  That was the moniker for Angie Stone during her days as part of the Sugar Hill Records trio The Sequence, who along with Ladies Fresh opened the female rap game for the Salt ‘n Peppa’s and Queen Latifah’s of the world.  But from the ‘who would have known’ department; who could have imagined the rapper Angie B transforming into a sophisticated songstress named Stone breathing new life into hip-hop a decade later?  With a near three-decade career under her belt, Angela Laverne Brown is now a quintuple threat.   Besides her rapping skills, she is a successful vocalist, songwriter, producer and musician in her own right who collaborated with various artists and brought neo-soul music to the forefront. 


After Stone’s tenure with The Sequence, she moved on to several background vocal gigs including Lenny Kravitz.  She eventually returned to the lead microphone with another trio Vertical Hold that produced their biggest hit in 1993 - “Seems You’re Much Too Busy” - reminiscent of the smooth dance grooves from Soul II Soul.  Many of R&B’s elite like Mary J. Blige also utilized Stone’s services as a songwriter.  Besides Kravitz, one of neo-soul’s future stars D’Angelo who played keyboards on Vertical Holds’ Head First was a key figure in Stone’s development toward a solo career.  But in the long run, it was her personal arsenal of dynamic vocals, poignant songwriting and her natural abilities to effectively balance the old soul with snippets of hip-hop that earned her the title ‘the new soul queen.”  Those assets clearly positioned Stone as an urban music staple whose four solo discs charted on the Billboard R&B Top Ten.  Besides her solo resume, Stone demonstrated her musicality by partnering with artists ranging from DJ/producers Groove Armada (“Feel The Same” from 2007) to U.K. pop band Blue (on the Stevie Wonder gem “Signed Sealed & Delivered”).


When Stone established her solo star in 1999 with Black Diamond (co-produced by Kravitz & D’Angelo), she was praised for her honesty regarding the ins and outs of love relationships and her faith that carried her through.  “No More Rain (In This Cloud)” was a masterful crafting of gospel overtones with the hook from Gladys Knight & The Pips classic “Neither One of Us.”   The follow-up from 2001, Mahogany Soul, included the emotionally charged lyrics and performance of “Wish I Didn’t Miss You.”  On her biggest international hit to date, Stone once again reached into the soul vaults with the Philly classic - “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays.  The third release, Stone Love (2004), highlighted “Stay For Awhile,” an invigorating duet with fellow neo-soul stylist Anthony Hamilton.  After the aforementioned projects from record mogul Clive Davis’ Arista &J Records, Stone signed with the resurrected Stax label in 2007.  On her label debut, The Art of Love & War, the emphasis shifted from the neo-soul towards the older soul music sensibility.  “Baby”marked a rare and welcome appearance with Stone’s duet partner - ‘The Cleanup Woman’ Betty Wright, an inspiration to future hip-hoppers. 


Now with Unexpected, Stone somewhat flip-flops the musical script by embracing some of the techno-edged R&B that is more expected from Keri Hilson and Rihannon. To a certain degree, I can understand her desiring a change of pace because of the inspiration she drew from her recently deceased father to take chances no matter what people thought.  On the other hand, I was partially taken aback by the ‘new’ Stone.  Despite those mixed feelings about Unexpected, there are redeeming moments including Stone’s dependable jolting lyrics about love, faith and relationships.  Stone starts off on the right foot with the title track anchored by the strains of Sly’s (& The Family Stone) “Family Affair.”  The first single, “I Ain’t Hearin’ U,” is a winning combination of laid back funk and the message of not being caught up in gossip.  The neo-soul feeling is not completely abandoned as evidenced on “I Don’t Care,” where Stone declares: “I know I’m heaven-sent.”  In the same vein, “Maybe” has the best storyline where the questions keep on coming regarding the trust level in a long-standing romance. Finally, “Think Sometimes” that emits a sweet seventies soul vibe(think Honey Cone and The Emotions) stirs memories of loved ones.


Where Unexpected completely gets off kilter are “Tell Me” and “Free” which are two examples of overly produced R&B beats that overmatch Stone’s rich alto.  Unfortunately, certain production choices and following the current trends are not always suitable for everyone,even for highly respected artists like Stone.  Thus, Unexpected as a whole is not the best representation of Stone’s discography.  Yet because of her impeccably timed vocals despite those circumstances, I moderately recommend this CD.  And I can assure you, Stone has still come a mighty long way from her days as Angie B.      


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene    

Shirley Caesar | A City Called Heaven

Shirley Caesar – A City Called Heaven


A few years ago, I had the utmost pleasure in witnessing a full-on church service as Shirley Caesar was administering the word of God to her audience.  I say the word administer as opposed to performing because Pastor Caesar’s business is wholeheartedly about giving God the glory.  And believe me, there is plenty of praise and worship strength within this singer/songwriter and pulpit minister.  During that concert, or should I again say on-fire church service, Caesar’s honesty and integrity was unquestionable in whatever she spoke about –a personal antidote or a scripture that someone could relate to.   Those signature gifts have translated successfully throughout a much decorated career of over fifty years since her days with the Gospel Music Hall of Fame female quartet The Caravans.   


With a loving family that spiritually supported her while growing up, Caesar survived many hardships along the way.  For starters, Caesar endured much racism, including in her home state of North Carolina.  Through it all, she pressed on with her unwavering faith and her shear love of gospel music.  Before she locked-in her career as a traveling musician and evangelist, Caesar sang with her father’s quartet for a few years and toured with Evangelist LeRoy Johnson.  While at NC Central College, she declared she would henceforth preach the gospel around the world.   About the same period, she was already enamored by the music of The Caravans.  Needless to say, she auditioned for the group founded by another gospel legend, Caesar’s mentor Albertina Walker.  After winning that audition, Caesar’s own legacy soon began starting in the late fifties.  Besides The Caravans, Caesar also recorded with another respected gospel figure, Reverend James Cleveland.   In 1966, Caesar took the first steps in her solo chapter by forming The Caesar Singers in 1966.


Caesar’s accolades are far too many to mention.  Yet if there were an award that was indeed historically special, it was her first Grammy in 1971 for her recording, “Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man from Galilee” – a rarity for an African-American female gospel artist before the urban gospel scene exploded several years later.  But even with her music tours and outreach ministries, Caesar’s heart and soul belongs to saving souls.  To this day since 1983, she co-pastors with her long-time husband Reverend Harold Williams at the Mt. Calvary Holy Church in North Carolina.


With the wonderful marriage of God-breathed stories and energetic praise & worship, A City Called Heaven once again shows Caesar at her ministry best.  Somehow she is always able to paint various musical shapes and colors within her repertoire, including an edgy urban jam and a country flavored ballad.  


As for the highlights, I begin with “Celebration,” which takes the praise party to church and the Soul Train line.  The blues drenched “Cornerstone” features a high-spirited duet with fellow pastor Dorothy Glass, which Glass recently recorded on her independent disc Cornerstone - with Caesar also by her side.   Obviously, Caesar appreciates songs that will transport listeners to the worship abyss.  Two examples are “In This Place” from a young but innovative songwriter Jonathan Dunn and the southern gospel favorite, “Can’t Even Walk (Without Him Holding My Hand).”   What sincerely struck a chord in me on City Called Heaven was “Playground in Heaven” with an intriguing narrative by Caesar about a little girl who lost her twin sister who envisions what heaven would look like. 


For the most part, it is hard turning down a Pastor Caesar recording (or concert for that matter) experience, including A City Called Heaven.  However, it did take awhile adjusting to the first single the PAJAM produced “Nobody” featuring J. Moss.  After trying to adjust to some opening electronically masked vocals, the song’s bridging of traditional and contemporary styles won me over.   Just remember when listening to any of Pastor Caesar’s music library, it is not about just an exciting vocal performance.   It is all about faith filled stories and an exuberant love for God’s goodness.     



Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Marva King | The One (EP)

Listen to "The One", by Marva King, exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul page by clicking here!

Marva King – The One EP


Marva King is every woman, one of the definitive soul sisters that lets loose with her feelings in every note she sings.  With a life built on lots of faith and determination during her childhood years, the Michigan native has had plenty to sing about.  Her chameleon voice has always charmed the urban music fans since the early eighties, including her more recent efforts through King’s Marvalous Works Entertainment.  Her Soul Sistah disc (originally released on the U.K.’s Expansion Records) explored several moods and several genres outside the R&B/soul box.  From the romantic ecstasy of “Baby This Love” (originally recorded by Minnie Ripperton) with George Duke and Stanley Clarke to the empowering anthem “Sistah,” Soul Sistah is just one of many delectable discs from the singer/songwriter since she honed her professional skills as a teenager.  Besides Soul Sistah, her other Marvalous projects - Light of Day (2004) and Grown & Sexy (2008) - drew raves from European soul loyalists.   But King is not just another independent soul music standout who rests strictly on her laurels. 


From an artist who craved music’s magical spell since she first took the stage at age seven, she soaked up a world of wisdom performing with cream of the crop musicians – Stevie, The Isleys and Chaka to name a few, which reflects her musical legacy to a tee.  And King has logged plenty of time in the studio for almost thirty years beginning with her first solo project on a label that once recorded The Pointer Sisters.


Feels Right was King’s debut on Planet Records, who waxed some of The Pointers biggest hits including “Neutron Dance” and “I’m So Excited.”   For those who absolutely dig obscure eighties R&B,  King was a member of the group Madagascar, a collective of top-notch players including Gerald Albright and John Barnes, whose big R&B/funk hit was “Rainbow.”  She also was one half of the duo Answered Questions with Morris Renties in the early nineties.  Because of King’s appreciation of several genres and experience in the music business, she occasionally crossed over from her usual soul/funk environment into Brazilian (the Soul of Brazil compilation), hip-hop (Tupac), dance (Jessie Saunders) and jazz formats (George Howard).   But no matter what the musical backdrops are, her sturdy voice is captivating beyond measure.


It really comes as no shock that King is an excellent student of the Prince and Stevie school of urban music excellence.  The comparisons to Minnie Ripperton are also many because of the command of her four octave range.   The spirit of Prince, Stevie and Minnie are all embodied on King’s latest release - The One - which in reality are tracks mostly from Grown & Sexy and an encore track from Soul Sistah. 


From the seven song EP, three pieces perked my ears upon first listen.  Even though I’m not the biggest fan of mid-tempo R&B club cuts, the percussive raindrops and sweet keyboard layering behind “Holla” is magnetizing.  “Every Night” reveals a crisp horn arrangement by Ms. King.  “If You Say So” tosses a bit of the blues with sophisticated funk.  Finally, I thoroughly endorse “Sistah” (also on Soul Sistah) where King convincingly preaches about the benefits of womanhood.  Guest violinist Karen Briggs’ solo adds some musical meat that produces shivers up and down the listener’s spine.


In essence, King’s undeniable voice transforms The One into an urban music thing of beauty for both the sisters and brothers.   This is also one urban music disciple who is simply Marvalous for any other words.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene    

Soul Unsigned Vol. 3 - Various Artists

Various Artists – Soul Unsigned Vol. 3


Sometimes I like to think a sweet refrain from a soul-injected tune is like being hugged by a good friend.  Listening to voices who are bearing their heart with every strain of the music has moved me on many occasions to shear excitement, to a few tears and makes me want to clap my hands and dance – even if it is only a recorded performance.   Maybe that is the reason why I was attracted to the passion behind Motown, Stax, and other soul making machines since I first owned a transistor radio.  Now with urban hit radio indulging in steadier diets of sometimes senseless rap, it is good to know there are still plenty of signed and unsigned musicians who can kick the classic soul music meter up several notches. 


Thanks to Phil Driver’s appropriately named Soul Unsigned Records, the mission is to seek those underground musicians from all over the world who capture soul music’s heyday during the seventies and eighties in their own classy way.  His affection for back in the day talent also resonates to current unsigned musicians who freely exercise their artistic freedom.  With a huge collection of raw untapped talent at his disposal, Driver was able to select the best of the best for The Soul Unsigned Vol. 1 & 2 compilations; covering the bases with energetic jazz, funk, dance and of course soul trimmings.   


I had the utmost pleasure of reviewing Vol. 2 a few months ago for T.U.M.S., and nearly every track jumped out of the disc with those future soul-stirring memories.  As for Vol. 3, I utter the same sentiments.  For that reason, it was extremely difficult to zero in on the highlights, but nonetheless I will choose just a few pieces that gave me hugs and stirred my highest emotions from the opening notes.


In no particular order, I start with the straight-ahead soul grooves from Soul Unsigned Vol. 3. Tyrone proves that the U.K. urban scene knows how to deliver the grooves with “Time Of Your Life.”  “Give Love A Chance” from Germany’s Candy cream emits that Stevie (Wonder) aftertaste, and a real urban music treasure from Latvia - J. Stever, who has already released five discs - dropping a Simply Red vibe on “Music.”  For a taste of southern flavored soul (and to take a break from the usually energetic pace of Vol. II), Chris Youngblood’s “In Love With You”absolutely soothes the spirit.  Alessia Piermarini, a veteran jazz voice out of Italy with the trio Boop Sisters, is a true disciple of the African-American musical experience, which shows on “Don’t Step On My Flower.”  Those Excellent Gentlemen (from near my neck of the woods – Portland, Oregon) administers uncompromised funk a la Prince with their contribution, “Freaky.”  Want to hear scary excellent synth-induced funk music just like The Dazz Band or anybody on Solar Records?  Representing France, Skalp handles that department quite well with “Chanana.”  I also can not forget Unified Tribe’s “Get Up” that simply defies description. 


Alright; I got carried away with the selection process, but Driver obviously knows his selection process by finding musicians who proudly wear the urban music banner on their sleeves.  As for the disappointments on Soul Unsigned Vol. 3, they are few and far between.  Only“Delightful Jazz” by Daniel Nelson & Mark Drummond treads a bit deep into slick jazz territory and the stilted arrangement of “You’ve Changed” by vocalist Richard Alexander Davis dampens a fairly decent vocal performance.   Otherwise, the latest chapter of Soul Unsigned stands toe-to-toe with Vol. II.  Now for the latest musical news headlines:  Vol. IV is on the way soon.  When that time comes, I know the place to go to in receiving my soulful hugs and raising my dance fever to the highest pitch.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Donald Sheffey | See You Tonight

Donald Sheffey – See You Tonight


As an independent music producer and businessman, Sheffey stands firm to produce music that the people will feel good about.  Before he started on his recording venture, he was already a seasoned DJ and marketing representative.  Those skills and his admiration for pure soul and R&B music led to his decision in forming a company that would provide a positive alternative for the music enthusiast.  As the founder and owner of Weezie Productions, Sheffey has gathered a group of like-minded musicians, singers and producers with like-minded goals to produce music that is fun to dance to, easy to listen to, and devoid of negative influences such as profanity and degrading lyrics.  Realistically,that mission statement in this day and age is a large order considering several of today’s urban market is not always geared on the positive tip.  However, Sheffey realizes as an independent musician to take advantage of every aspect of his career, such as producing his product with the highest integrity.  Thus far, Sheffey has kept his promise with every recording coming out of the Weezie production camp.  And he has been an extremely busy man since he stepped behind the microphone for five full-length discs since 2004.  Since he moved to New York City from his native Pittsburgh, the sky has been more than the limit for Sheffey.


Sheffey is indeed a jack of many entertainment trades.  Besides singing and his production company, Sheffey has worked in the commercial world whether modeling or voice-over work, including spots for Mars candies and The Ford Motor Company.  But Sheffey’s ultimate desire belongs to creating romantic tracks accented by many dance grooves blending R&B, pop and jazz, sans the electronically enhanced vocals that can plague many modern day producers.  His vocal delivery may remind old-school urban fans of Luther (Vandross) or Will Downing.  


Since his debut in 2004 for Weezie Productions, The Very Thought of You EP, and Welcome Into Love (featuring Hyman’s classic “I'm Truly Yours”), Sheffey has been quite busy in the studio.  His latest is See You Tonight which gives Sheffey a chance to back off a bit on the dance beats and concentrate more on his smooth jazz and classic soul side.  Considering his confident vocal abilities, this was a wise move and it shows throughout See You Tonight.   


“My Heart” channels his inner Will Downing with an impeccable performance expressing affection to a lifetime friend.  The ambience and the subtle percussion bed also accent Sheffey’s velvety voice on “Waiting.”  “Let’s Go Away” could provide a rumba backdrop on Dancing With The Stars.  It’s in frequent when Sheffey visits cover tunes.  But when he does, he strikes one-hundred percent gold.  This time, he transforms the Carole King pop ballad “So Far Away” into a relaxing silky R&B-induced place with that Luther frame of mind.  Sheffey also knows how to turn on the vocal jets when necessary; case in point “On My Mind.”  Not to omit the higher energy breaks, “I Don’t Want You Back” already has house remixes being featured on internet soul radio and “Tonight” should bring the club crowd to their feet.  The latter also gives a nod as to how the old-school sound ticks:  “I know it’s not too late to go back to that day when all you needed was good melody.”


There is no arguing that after listening to most of “See You Tonight,” Sheffey has the vocal tools to make the urban music fan feel good inside.  But somehow his poised vocal performance is a bit stymied with the totally programmed background tracks, some which sounded over-mechanized.  If not for that aspect, I would have given two thumbs up for “See You Tonight.”  Nonetheless, Sheffey is an independent voice that deserves to be heard on a bigger stage, and a businessman who truly seeks to spread the gospel of meaningful music.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

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Ken Reynolds | 1 W 1 G

Listen to song samples from "1 W 1 G" by Ken Reynolds, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

Ken Reynolds – 1 W 1 G (One World One God)


As a worship pastor observing the various world cultures that encompassed various churches, Ken Reynolds sensed a stronger sense of urgency about what his role in ministry would be.  Taking into account his diverse interest in music and his desire to unify others in worship, he has positioned himself to write, arrange and sing songs about God while serving with cross-cultural churches in his own backyard.  Currently the pastor at Resurrection Life Church in Grandville, Michigan, Reynolds was introduced to the national scene with the 2005 release, Great Things.  With different genres from jazz to Latin to pop, his independent debut easily flowed into a refreshing praise and worship experience that eventually caught the attention of the worldwide gospel company Integrity Music.  Three years later, Great Things was re-released; one year after Integrity presented For You I Live,featuring the talent from Resurrection Life’s worship team. Staying true to his previous recordings, Reynolds joins forces with Resurrection Life and other church choirs who have influenced his distinct inspirational journey on 1 W 1 G (One World One God).  


Along with Integrity Music, Reynolds along with Israel Houghton, Martha Munizzi and Australian based Hillsongs Worship have intensified the global praise territory.  Even high profile urban worship leaders like Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond are extremely conscientious about unifying different faiths and cultures.   Throughout his musical ministry, crossing cultural boundaries always seemed natural to Reynolds considering his appreciation for music in general. 


Reynolds soaked up a wide array of influences during his childhood from R&B/funk band The Gap Band to symphonies composed by Tchaikovsky.   The Michigan native first broke into the music business with contemporary gospel group His Image, who recorded on Detroit-based Inner Court Music.  His Image hit their stride during a period in the nineties when male vocal groups were dominant like The Winans and Commissioned.  As the principal songwriter for His Image, Reynolds realized the groups’ overall sound reached many cultures.


Yet as Reynolds was balancing the priorities of leading worship for his church at the time another cross-cultural church, Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his eventual calling was coming to fruition.   From that point on, the floodgates opened for Reynolds to concentrate on his ultimate heart’s desire by reaching multitudes around the world.   There was also a confirmation in his heart as church visitors from different countries including Korea who immediately started grasping his praise and worship compositions.   


Inspired by the scripture Ephesians 4:6 that states there is only one God and one faith, Reynolds once again stresses musical diversity and a unified purpose in worship for 1 W 1 G (One World One God).  One World One God is also a special reunion for Reynolds as he joins with the mass choirs from his close associations with Madison Square, New Hope Baptist and host Resurrection Life congregations. 


With a lengthier than usual listening session of almost one hour and fifteen  minutes, there were several moments that immediately caught my attention.  The Broadway music angle of “Not Ashamed” and “Stand Up” lights up this praise and worship setting.  Fellow Michigan native Darick Rutley injects a subtle soulful touch with “Your Will.”   The‘I Am’ Medley segues two original pieces topped with a unique arrangement by Reynolds of “I Give You My Heart” by Rueben Morgan.  Finally,I dub my ‘get up and dance praise’ award (as well as my favorite track by far) to the sizzling Latin induced “La Buena Vida,” anchored by an electrifying lead by El Salvador resident Lucia Parker in both English and Spanish. 


As a whole, the three mass choirs' passion level is constantly spirited and their vocal presentation is always exquisite.  However, Reynolds’ lead vocal approach on One World One God can be slightly subdued at times compared to his previous work Great Things.  In the long run though, that factor is not usually a major distraction.  If anything, Reynolds’ observations about connecting with people with different musical languages for the sake of worship is his strongest musical suit.   


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

The Anointed Pace Sisters | Access Granted

Listen to song samples from "Access Granted" by The Anointed Pace Sisters, exclusively from Amazon, on our Gospel Page by clicking here!!

The Anointed Pace Sisters – Access Granted


Nine sisters who are all musically inclined and have the same ministry goals may seem a bit overwhelming at times when it comes down to team work.  Yet since they first opened their mouth to sing, all of The Anointed Pace Sisters (TAPS) learned to balance their various personalities for the cause of remaining loyal to Jesus Christ without compromise.   Strange as it may seem, the sisters at first wanted to strive for careers other than music.  Their parents who were very active in the church had other plans as they pushed and nurtured all the sisters toward music ministry excellence. 


TAPS consists of Duranice, Phyllis, June, Melonda, Leslie, Latrice, Lydia & DeJuaii, who first started performing together in local talent shows and church services.  LaShun also recorded with TAPS in their earlier years until her solo career took off, and still guests with the group from time to time.  The irinitial break came through their participation in the Annual Church of God in Christ (COGIC) conventions in the seventies under the direction of gospel legend Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, in which they won Best Gospel Group performance.  It was a matter of some time, though, before TAPS finally started their recording phase of their ministry. 


After two independent projects, TAPS signed with the legendary blues/gospel company Savoy Records in the early nineties.  Their Savoy releases U-Know which featured the title track, “When God Is In The Building” & “24/7” and My Purpose garnered strong showing on the Billboard Gospel charts.   Their other hits include “In His Presence,” “High Praise” & “It’s Already Done” features TAPS’ trademark charismatic personalities, jazz influenced harmonies, and their remarkable skill in handling blues,gospel, pop and R&B genres.  Despite a hiatus between the Savoy projects and their return to recording in 2003 with It’s Already Done, TAPS has never lost a step because of their unquestionable gospel music reputation.


When not in the studio, TAPS has continued to be humbled through years of trials and tribulations and miles well traveled.   No matter what wrong came their way, TAPS holds fast to the principle of God holding themselves accountable for their responses and for their obedience to the Word.  Through those lessons learned as music ministers, TAPS continues to mature just as the music ministers their parents inspired them to be.  Because of their high integrity, they have been afforded more opportunities in the entertainment industry including stage appearances (Jesus Christ Superstar), movies (The Fighting Temptations) and even a Jiffy Lube commercial. 


With their riveting voices and their abilities to teach scripture to their audiences, TAPS primarily concentrates on live recording settings,including their latest Access Granted.  Once again, TAPS delivers the gospel goods in this mostly recommended disc from Tyscot Records.  Their opener “A Friend” ignites the proceedings talking about the friend they call Jesus.  “Seed of Righteousness” delivers a Carribean feel while “Get In His Presence” recalls funky disco vibes of the eighties.   TAPS knows how to slow the pace down while kicking in the worship factor and wisely applying a few teaching moments.  The Keisha McFarland composition “Daily,” & Duranice Pace’s songwriting contribution “Finally” are two excellent examples.  “It’s My Time To Be Blessed” reflects the extreme best of all of TAPS’ lead vocal talents.  For those who want fundamentally sound old school church service, “Jesus Will (Do It Again)” will fully supply those needs. 


Along with the absolute thrillers, there are minor letdowns I have with Access Granted.  “Someday”(written by gospel veteran Bishop Leonard S. Scott) is a well intentioned piece but somehow does not flow with the rest of TAPS live program.  Then there is “If I Be Lifted Up” has TAPS’ vocal enthusiasm but unfortunately is somewhat stripped on this studio bonus track.  


Overall, any access into a TAPS experience is well worth the listen, including Access Granted.  Their unwavering perseverance to serve the body of Christ and their decision to not pursue their dream careers from childhood is contemporary gospel’s gain.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

The Revelations featuring Tre Williams | The Bleeding Edge

Listen to "The Bleeding Edge", exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul page by clicking here!

The Revelations featuring Tre' Williams – The Bleeding Edge


Since Tre Williams has been recently acclaimed as one of the new voices in R&B in quite some time, his talents were mostly utilized by some of hip-hop music’s elite.  With several years under his belt collaborating alongside Nas, Petey Pablo and others since 2001, the matter was how long Williams would be paying his dues by toiling behind the scenes before stepping into his own microphone moment.  Well, there is the solo project from2007 from this former Showtime at the Apollo participant which still has not seen the light of day.  Believe it or not, another promising R&B vocalist in recent years experienced a similar path on his way to a solo career.


The artist known as Rell (Gaddis), the only vocalist ever signed to rap label powerhouse Roc-A-Fella Records, was a prominently featured vocal and songwriter for the label’s lineup including co-founder Jay-Z and Kanye West.   Yet Rell’s rare opportunities for his solo close-up were few with the exception of a few singles.  Eventually his debut album for the label was permanently shelved.  Sound too close to home with Tre’s climb to the top?  


So while Rell became a music free agent including writing songs for Usher,that timely scenario called coincidence brought him and Tre into a partnership, thanks to veteran hip-hop/R&B producer Bob Perry (AZ).  Thus the front men for The Revelations, a group of well-seasoned musicians from the urban music industry (from reggae musicians Sly & Robbie to Erykah Badu), temporarily put their up-coming solo projects on hold.  After a six-track EP released earlier in 2009 entitled Deep Soul, Tre, Rell and The Revelations continue the passionate southern soul meets hip-hop edged R&B concept on The Bleeding Edge. 


This independent disc from Decision Records is probably best described as old wine in newer skins.  To explain a bit further, The Bleeding Edgeis a collision between hip/hop fueled R&B and classic soul (think eighties & nineties stars KC & Jo-Jo or Blackstreet backed by the house bands from Stax, Malaco and Atlantic Records from the sixties and seventies).   Oh yeah, there are plenty of stories about love’s complexities and the assorted drama with several crib and in the club references made from time to time.  


The solid musicianship of The Revelations and the passionate rapport between Tre & Rell is where the true magic happens on The Bleeding Edge.  The disc begins with a bang on “Stay Free,” mixing the heartbeat of Motown and ‘a put your hands in the air’ chant.  Continuing in the upbeat mode, the gospel-tinged “Heavy Metal Blues,” a witty piece of songwriting, finds Tre flexing his inner blues side: “I tried to warn him, told him to chill, begged him to stop it, and now he is filled with heavy metal.”  “He’s A Hustler,” is a harder edged funky blues twist to the Curtis Mayfield’s action movie soundtracks.  


Besides the original material, Tre & Rell drop appealing performances with the cover pieces.  The tormented lyrics behind Latimore’s soul/blues hit from 1974 “Let’s Straighten It Out” (also recorded by Millie Jackson) transcends wellinto the hip-hop/R&B frame of mind.  Guitarist Wes Mingus guitar solo provides a pleasing setup.  Co-lead vocalist Rell also gets his chance to shine on “It’s Too Late,” a Carole King classic that was also recorded by several soul brothers including Billy Paul and The Isley Brothers. 


Two other tracks are worthy of note.  “How Do I Tell Him” proves Tre knows how to push the buttons on garnering sympathy when it comes to revealing an adulterous relationship to his closest friend.  Lastly, “The Truth Sets You Free” is a reverse sentiment about how honesty may not be the best policy, especially when it comes to romantic commitments.


There are rare moments where the arrangements and vocal presentations are a bit ordinary. Yet The Bleeding Edge should put listeners on the edge of their seats with Tre & Rell’s bluntly honest stories of everyday relationships along with the accompanying gamut of emotions.  As a side note, The Revelations pulled off every single track without the use of guest rappers, samples and turntable tricks.  Supposedly Tre & Rell with their strong hip-hop background could have been tempted to go that route.  Nonetheless, I’m ecstatic that they backed off.  All the more reason to check out The Bleeding Edge, which might be the only opportunity to hear Tre & Rell before they decide to plunge into their long- awaited solo debuts.

Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Melba Moore & Phil Perry | The Gift Of Love

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Melba Moore & Phil Perry – The Gift of Love


If there ever was an urban music central casting to find the next powerhouse duo to record a special collaboration, Melba Moore & Phil Perry would absolutely qualify hands down as two valid candidates.   Their deep musical credentials are solid as a rock even if they have encountered unsteady waters for extremely different reasons in their long tenured career.   Moore survived numerous troublesome business and personal setbacks in the nineties after her glory Grammy award winning days in the R&B/soul music during the seventies and eighties.  Now she has bounced back in graceful style to record a gospel album in 2004 and returned to her first love-musical theater.  Despite an under appreciated career in many aspects, Perry managed to garner raves from loyal fans and fellow musicians as one of soul and contemporary jazz since the early seventies and as one of the top-notch background vocalists in the business.  Through their combined talents and longevity, Moore & Perry possess all the critical ingredients in a vocalists’ arsenal: range, depth, timing, and a touch of charisma on the side.  So when Moore was approached to pair up with Perry and his long time associate - Chris Davis, the Shanachie Entertainment disc The Gift of Love was birthed.  


In my mind, Moore & Perry could sing the encyclopedia and I would be chilling in soul music heaven.   Besides, the art of the duet is sorely missing in today’s urban landscape as evidenced in such highly-touted pairings: Rick James & Teena Marie, James Ingram & Patti Austin; Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack and Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrill.   As well-seasoned performers, Moore & Perry have also worked in several duo partnerships.


Some of Moore’s greatest R&B/soul moments were in duets including “A Little Bit More” & “I Can’t Complain” with Freddie Jackson.   Moore’s own discography is quite extensive in that it is really exhausting to list all her recording accomplishments.   To list a few highlights, Moore’s electrifying voice either in a duet or as a soloist is extremely comfortable with any genre including disco (i.e. “Pick Me Up I’ll Dance,” “You Stepped Into My Life”), Broadway(the original casts of Hair & Purlie) and jazz (“I’m Beginning To See The Light” with Ray Brown Jr., the adopted son of Ray Brown & Ella Fitzgerald.)  Moore also reunited with Jackson on the gospel compilation Songs 4 Worship Soul for Andrae Crouch’s masterpiece “My Tribute.”     


Phil Perry’s first exposure to the national soul music scene was with The Montclairs in the early to mid seventies, mostly on the popular independent label Paula Records.  The group eventually disbanded after some minor hits.   Yet Perry’s durable tenor still makes a strong impact throughout his near four-year decade as a soloist, well-respected background vocalist (from George Duke to Ricky Martin) and in duets (CeCe Winans & former Montclairs member Kevin Sanlin) without regularly striking gold or platinum in record sales. 


Moore & Perry join forces with two of urban music’s finest producers Chris Davis & Preston Glass (with able assistance by soul/R&B renaissance man David Nathan) for The Gift Of Love.  Because of the duo’s exciting vocal vibe, there is rarely a disappointment to be heard.   This is due to the song selection of soul music tested material, which can make or break the flow of a full-length project; especially in how the song is reinterpreted.  In this category, The Gift of Love gets the job done.  The melodies of both the Marvin & Tammi classics “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” & “You’re All I Need To Get By” are not overtweaked.   Moore & Perry’s adlibs also enhance the emotional intentions of the aforementioned.  In the gospel department, “It Will Be Alright,” an old school church service sparkler by John P. Kee & The New Life Community Choir, is transformed into a stylish jazz/blues arrangement.  “Weakness” - first heard on The Woman In Red soundtrack by Stevie Wonder & Dionne Warwick - combines a flair for smooth jazz and R&B genres, both areas where Moore & Perry have encountered a loyal fan base.  Last but not totally least, the ‘shivering up and down my spine’ honors goes to the heart-wrenching ode - “Sadie” - straight out of The Spinners soul/R&B vaults, and this rendition far outdoes R. Kelly’s take anytime.  


As for the newer compositions, the message driven “Survival Kit” and the romantic “Give (The Gift of Love)” could have been ordinary vocal affairs in other artists hands, but Moore & Perry’s vocal expertise add a lyrical pep in their step.  In fact, the only tiny dent on The Gift of Love is The Sounds of Blackness funky inspirational hit “Optimistic,” mostly because of the paper thin production of the backing vocals.   


For fans of Moore & Perry, or even those who are being introduced to the duo for the first time, The Gift of Love is a must have.  Both their voices are still in terrific form even after many triumphant and sometimes unappreciated years (Moore is now in her early sixties, Perry in his late fifties).  With overall efforts like The Gift of Love, I also believe they need to serenade the urban music lovers in the near future to remind our ears of how their voices can taste so soulfully great.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe | Brother's Keeper

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Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe – Brother’s Keeper


Lenny Kravitz, Minor Records, Greyboy All Stars, Tiny Universe.  These aforementioned artists and underground jazz label are all connected with the musical timeline of jazz/funk groove master Karl Denson.   When Denson established his big break with Lenny Kravitz on Let Love Rule in the late eighties, there would be no doubt that his solo career would be eminent.  He took his supporting role with Kravitz so seriously that he definitely took a piece of the forward thinking musician with him throughout his career.  Somehow throughout his various configurations and collaborations, Denson always found away to share his many musical voices in an intriguing way; whether with acid or acoustic jazz, retro soul, funk, reggae or a pinch of rock and pop to boot.   Since breaking from Kravitz, there has been a restless spirit lurking inside Denson to keep his music accessible no matter if it was as a solo act or in tandem with a small group or as a guest artist (i.e. Blind Boys of Alabama). That asset can be classified as a good thing even for the sake of not always reaching a higher commercial artistic status.  Yet no one can argue that the San Diego native upheld a strong belief system to attract a huge audience with his solid music making principles.       


After his tenure with Kravitz, Denson signed with the German-based jazz company Minor Music (who also recorded two of Densons major inspirations Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker) in a series of recordings throughout the nineties.  Tapping into his love for jazz’s earlier roots, Denson covered hard bop, blues and free jazz predominately with his own compositions on Blackened Red Snapper; Chunky Pecan Pie, a trio setting with Jack DeJonnette and Dave Holland along with Maceo Parker disciple Pee Wee Ellis; and Herbal Turkey Breast.   The latter featured a tribute to Yusef Lateef and a cover of Charles Mingus’ nod to Lester Young – “Goodbye Pork Hat.” Of course, Denson’s respect for the groove and nothing but the groove was fulfilled in partnership with Wesley on four discs.  Through his Minor Music accomplishments, however, was one of Denson’s crowning periods with The Greyboy All Stars, co-founded with the band’s inspiration and namesake DJ Greyboy. 


The All-Stars only recorded four discs but certainly was atop force in the so-called acid jazz period in the U.S. with their boogaloo style that was very popular in the east coast during the sixties - a wonderful marriage of Cuban rhythms with various urban genres.  However, these west-coast All-Stars from San Diego was an extremely competent unit that exercised their jazz expertise beyond just hard-hitting grooves, especially on the 1997 release A Town Called Earth.  The group parted ways until reuniting a decade later for What Happened To Television. In the meantime, Denson was never fazed about what he could bring to the table next.  His solo disc Dance Lesson#2 (2001) on the groundbreaking jazz label Blue Note blended the best of the All-Stars, his traditional jazz offerings with Minor Music, and some engrossing turntable skills from DJ Logic.  A trio outing, KD3, continued Denson’s relay of the jazz grab bag with the 2007 disc Lunar Orbit (Dig).     


If that was not enough, there is Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe (KDTU), a collective that manages to keep funk and jazz grooves as the center point with elements of rock and hip-hop. KDTU’s debut in 1999 was followed by Bridges in 2002 and their 2006 EP Once You’re There, all showcasing Denson’s raw voice that lends a Gil Scott-Heron soulful poetic touch from inner beauty of one’s soul to social injustice.  The latest from KDTU – Brother’s Keeper lessens the jazz meter and is the most accessible recording in Denson’s multi-faceted career.  This entire CD is engaging as he channels a bit more of the Lenny Kravitz retro rock/soul/psychedelic vibe.  Yet Denson’s intense tenor voice, swift woodwind lines, various shapes of grooves and artistic imprint through the years assures Brother’s Keeper remains his unique musical painting.


The opener and first single – “Shake It Out” cries the spirit of Motown and the sixties disco soul smash from The Capitols “Cool Jerk.”   Fans of the funk/soul style of la Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings should be diggin' “Where It Counts.”  Issues dealing with the Christian faith dominate “The Drums of War” and the roots reggae flowing “Mighty Rebel”; both penned or co-composed by Jon Foreman from the band Switchfoot.   The title track about watching each others' back in easy and hard times is broken into two parts; the latter rubbing that blues/jazz groove in.  “Expressions” and “Empty Soul” press on the theme of not taking our freedoms for granted.


Brother’s Keeper may be in a bit more in the mainstream for Denson compared to most of his musical portfolio, and this is Denson’s biggest label offering since Dance Lesson #2.   That aside, it is about high time Denson deserves a higher platform because of his long-suffering work ethic with mostly independent labels and he receives another opportunity for an expanded fan base since his days with Greyboy Allstars.  I am sure Kravitz is smiling down and nodding his head to the grooves from his former sideman. 


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Javen | Keeping The Faith

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Javen – Keeping The Faith

For an artist who is able to multi-task a career with elegance and grace in a short period of time, Javen has made an impact with everything he has accomplished.  Whether as a TV host, a pastor, actor, or a singer/songwriter, Javen has touched lives for Jesus while engaging audiences with his animated personality.  In fact, he has remained in so much high demand including a period where he appeared in four movies that were released within a short period of time including One Night With The King starring Omar Sharif.   Javen has also balanced assignments as a church pastor and as a host on a popular weekly radio show on The Urban Network.   This scenario of having both feet in entertainment and ministry was not quite what this Florida-born talent dreamed up, not less imagined singing in the church choir growing up.  Even though there was no fairy tale story or American Idol episodes that made his career possible, it was simply the power of music and the adrenalin of acting that brought him many opportunities along the way.  With upcoming movie roles in The Preacher’s Kid and Abadoned, Javen still sparks the musical flames with his latest disc, a return to the major label fold with Keeping The Faith.

Since his 2002 debut, Javen’s rich persuasive tenor voice absolutely grabs the soul as a worshipper and lets loose during a funky ‘souled out’ jam.   Javen’s released his debut self-titled disc on Word Records featuring the disco-injected “Never Give Up On Love.”  The next step was to go the independent route with his JCM imprint.  In 2003, his second disc, Changes (2004) was an acoustic worship setting that also favored Javen’s expressive pipes.  Flexing his confidence as a musician, Javen demonstrated his ability to reshape Christmas classics such as boldly putting a smooth jazz frosting on “O Holy Night” for his third project also released in 2004, Christmas With Javen.  Next was Believer from 2007, which is probably his most urban intensive recording to date featuring Garcia, Deitrick & Damita Haddon and Israel Houghton.

Several songs from Believer are reprised on Keeping The Faith.  Javen’s latest disc is the most ambitious project he has tackled where there is more emphasis on the pop and rock elements, but the R&B grooves that Javen is recognized for are not totally forsaken.  The title track that evokes a bit of classic soul was written for those in mind going through those tough days. Kicking up a contemporary gospel storm that Fred Hammond might sink his voice into is the crazy praise jam “Celebrate.” Javen and his duet partners Israel (“Wipe Away My Tears”) and Deitrick (“Not Gonna Worry”) wear their fervent voices on their sleeves.  Damita’s silky vocal harmonies absolutely stress the lyrical intent of the later piece.  The softer and slower moments - “Count It All Joy” (the only non-original composition) and “Then Came You” - gives Javen’s sensitive vocal side more opportunity to flow.

Certainly Javen can handle numerous genres without vocal apprehension.  However in the case of Keeping The Faith when he does enter into the pop/rock praise territory on a few occasions (i.e. the techno-edged With All My Life), he loses a bit of soulful luster.  That factor is really the only mild blemish on an otherwise recommended praise and worship collective.  No matter what the oversights and triumphs down the road and after all is said and done in his multi-faceted career, Javen will always be the consummate professional who handles his business with grace and class.  

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Sounds of Blackness | The 3rd Gift: Story, Song & Spirit

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Sounds of Blackness – The 3rd Gift: Story, Song & Spirit

Gary Hines has always purposed to keep his audiences entertained, encouraged and edified.  These are three very impressive reasons as to why the musical choir and self-contained band he has directed for almost four decades - Sounds of Blackness - continue to manage a high standard of excellence in any genre of music and any audience they perform to.  Many R&B loyalists were first introduced to Sounds with a string of hits in the late eighties to mid-nineties - co-arranged and produced by fellow Minneapolis musicians Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.  But the group’s history stretches way back into the early seventies as pillars in African and African American culture through theatrical and concert presentations, and twelve recordings - their latest being The 3rd Gift.  Their longevity and accomplishments are astounding considering a lack of a representative chart topping albums or singles since their hit music reign.   Yet the Sounds have never compromised the power behind their original musical gifts to this day; staying true to their signature sound based off gospel and inspirational themes in both classic and contemporary arrangements.  

When the Sounds began as a private college choir in the Minneapolis area in 1969, who would have ever fathomed that one person two years later – such as Gary Hines – could completely revolutionize their direction in a short period of time.  After a permanent name change signifying their purpose to embrace African music history in all its glory, Hines and the Sounds pushed new boundaries in entertainment by producing theatrical shows.  One such show, The Night Before Christmas – A Musical Fantasy, was eventually showcased on a national scale on the Sounds’ second major label release on Jam and Lewis’ custom label Perspective Records.  

Besides entertaining the masses with their extraordinary repertoire utilizing blues, jazz, hip-hop and spirituals, The Sounds emphasize encouraging messages of hope and faith.  Their hit parade during the eighties and nineties were a breath of fresh air on the R&B charts:  “Hold On (Change Is Coming),” “Testify,” “Optimistic,” “I’m Going All The Way and “The Pressure” being a few examples.  After the Perspective Records era ended in 1997, Hines and the Sounds decided to lift their unique ministry to newer heights.  With Time For Healing, Unity, Reconciliation and The 3rd Gift, they started addressing more pressing issues in society including reconciliation, the realities of global war and the pressures causing domestic violence.      

Both Sounds faithful fans and those who simply appreciate inspirational music during our current troubling times like these will not be disappointed with The 3rd Gift.  Some of the more memorable moments include Hines’ innovative arrangements of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child: and Marvin Gaye’s “God Is Love” without stripping either song’s lyrical intention.  A slightly laid-back update of “Optimistic” matches the intensity of the original take. The lively spirit of Africa is represented on “Harambee.”  “Healing” provides hope for those who are dealing with abuse issues.  Finally, what would a Sounds event be without a treasure chest of spirituals such as “Steal Away”, “Certainly Lord” and “Great Getting’ Up Mornin.’ "

With The 3rd Gift, Hines’ vision of entertainment, encouragement and edification to the masses still resonates true.  Quite frankly, there is no rhyme or reason as why The Sounds will ever drift from this mission statement as they continue bucking every trend known to musical mankind.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene 

Silky Soul Music: All Star Tribute to Maze featuring Frankie Beverly - Various Artists

(Available Sept. 29th, 2009!)

Listen to "Silky Soul Music", exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul page by clicking here!

Various Artists - Silky Soul Music: All Star Tribute to Maze featuring Frankie Beverly

With much of today’s R&B landscape, the hottest hits rely on hitting that perfect beat, the perfect hook, or the latest dance crazes that are "walking it out" as fast they walked on in. Then there were the golden days where staples like Maze featuring Frankie Beverly simply relied on soothing pure soul melodies with splashes of funk and jazz and plenty of smooth grooves. Their winning formula continues to impact audiences as they are a staple at The Essence Music Festival. Maze kept both the pop and R&B charts blazing once they released their debut album and the hits flowed for two straight decades starting in the mid-seventies. Their discography of singles and albums crossed over to the pop music charts, and audiences in the U.K. were naturally attracted to Maze because of their solid affection for old school unadulterated soul. Long before the group was discovered by a Motown legend, the citizens of Beverly’s hometown was raving about his suave singing abilities as a young man.

Beverly was a fan of a fifties vocal group from his hometown of Philadelphia, an urban music hotbed, which inspired him in striving for the music industry big time. Born Howard Beverly, one of Beverly’s early idols was Frankie Lymon. Lyman’s claim to fame was as the lead vocalist with The Teenagers, who breezed their way with several doo-wop favorites including "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and "The ABC’s of Love." Beverly was so enamored with Lymon that he changed his first name to Frankie. With his first professional job before becoming a teenager, Beverly sang in doo-wop groups The Silhouettes (the group known for the 1959 hit "Get A Job") and his first group as a leader - The Blenders. When The Blenders disbanded, Beverly formed The Butlers, who eventually changed their name to Raw Soul. Before the group decided moving to the west coast, they recorded for Gamble Records - an independent company ran by Kenny Gamble before he turned soul music history upside down with his Philadelphia International Records moniker.

The group eventually moved to San Francisco paying more dues in the regional club scene. After a series of independent singles that addressed race issues such as "Color Blind," Beverly and company finally received their musical breakthrough from Marvin Gaye, who asked them to accompany him on tour and showcase their own material as an opening act. The domino effect too effect as Capitol Records eventually signed the group on the strength of the tour and the group Maze was birthed. Besides their many soul satisfying hits like "Happy Feeling," "Running Away," "Joy & Pain" and "Can’t Get Over You," Maze recorded three electrifying concerts on video including Live in New Orleans. The group’s impact was also widespread, especially for the hip-hop community including Grandmaster Flash who remixed "Before I Let Go" on his Essential Mix disc in 2002 and A Tribe Called Quest who sampled "Joy & Pain" on a song from their 1990 debut disc – "Go Ahead In The Rain." 

Named after one of their most successful albums Silky Soul Music, this excellent tribute is the brainchild of executive producer Frankie’s son Anthony who also acts as co-producer with Rex Rideout. Some of today’s soul communicators, all who are understandably huge fans of Maze, are on hand to recreate their greatest hits but respecting the vibe of the original recordings. Everything is heartily recommended here. That said, here are the tracks that are especially worthy of a second pass-through: Musiq Soulchild who sings the title track, Kem’s lush baritone on "Golden Time of Day"; Mary J. Blige’s fiery performance of "Before I Let Go"; Ledisi with an exhilarating jazz induced treatment of "Happy Feelings"; Mint Condition gracefully handling the high octane funk jam "Back In Stride" and the collective of The Clark Sisters, Kierra ‘Kiki’ Sheard and J. Moss with a rousing gospel music treatment of "I Wanna Thank You" (produced by Donald Lawrence).

The remaining tracks for Silky Soul Music are:

We Are One - Raheem Devaughn

Can’t Get Over You - Joe

Never Let You Down - Kevon Edmonds

Joy & Pain – Avant

Overall, this on-point tribute should extend the fan base of those who have enjoyed the sometimes underappreciated Frankie Beverly and Maze’s contributions to soul music all over the world.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Whitney Houston | I Look To You

Whitney Houston – I Look To You

From a rousing charity concert in London England in 2008 to over a year later with a less than inspiring appearance in Central Park in New York, Whitney Houston has heard her fair share of doubters and encouragers as she is trying to re-establish her full-time career. When I first heard the word Whitney Houston was returning to the studio after a lengthy hiatus and a new lease on life from her personal demons, I was patiently playing the waiting game for nearly two years to hear how Houston’s voice held up on the other side. While I was patiently anticipating receiving her new disc I Look To You; at least a year’s worth of anticipation; I read several of the media’s viewpoints on this Sony BMG disc. In earnest, many of those viewpoints were pretty harsh on how Houston’s vocal characteristics do not compare to her glory days starting with her first major hit "You Gave Good Love" to her signature "I Will Always Love You" from the movie The Bodyguard. Without documenting Whitney’s obviously troubled past which is simply history no matter what the current outcome, it is probably wise to just state the facts of what is happening in her present musical endeavors.

Taking everything into account I read from the printed media and after thoroughly listening to I Look To You on two or more passes, I have concluded my findings with a mixed reaction. First of all, there are still some redeeming qualities regarding Whitney’s vocal qualities. What strikes me the most on I Look To You is her soulful demeanor and her phrasing that pleasantly accents the song lyrics; two strengths that linger for me back to her earlier spine-tinkling vocal work as a much heralded R&B/pop superstar. In shear honesty and with sadness in my heart, I also have to mention there is now something critically missing from her arsenal. The durability in her once powerful soprano voice has substantially diminished, which was the overall selling point behind her greatest hits. In a sense, this scenario reminds me of the famous line from the children’s story, The Little Engine That Could: "I think I can, I think I can." At times when she is closing in on her vocal peak, she frequently lacks that finish line determination.

That aside, Whitney does hit her stride in during at least half of the tracks on I Look To You. The first single -"Million Dollar Bill" - is a stylish funky dance track co-written by Alicia Keys where Whitney feels musically at home. "Nothin’ But Love" is a personal song of victory towards those who doubted her fight to regain her self-esteem. The Diane Warren penned "I Didn’t Know My Own Strength" might as well be authored by Whitney as this ballad chronicles her climb back to more positive territory: "I didn’t know my own strength and I crashed out, and I tumbled but I did not crumble." Another song from the great American songbook – Leon Russell’s composition "A Song For You" - takes flight where Whitney asserts her vocal confidence when the orchestrations shift from an ordinary piano ballad to uplifting trance-like beats. "Worth It," the modern R&B flavored slow jam that that resembles a Ne-Yo or Mary J. Blige power ballad, is a nice musical fit for Whitney’s obstinate vocal approach.

Now that "I Look To You" has had its fair share of praise and scorn from the general public, it is now time to play the waiting game again to see how far Whitney chooses to go in her pursuit back to her first true love. Meanwhile, "I Look To You" is a respectable yet mildly recommended return to the recording studio.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

New Direction | Destiny

New Direction - Destiny

When Jeral Gray Sr. was laid off his day job back in the mid-nineties, it turned out to be no really big deal.  In fact, this gesture from his former employer turned out be to the birth of something giant for gospel music.   Jeral, who was already active in the music on a part-time basis, was already envisioning forming a choir of young voices who could relate to their own age appropriate group but devote themselves to praise and worship focus.  Along with his brother Percy Gray Jr., the vision came to fruition as New Direction.  The group was birthed out of a city which has bore much fruit in gospel music with torchbearers such as The Chicago Mass Choir, Clay Evans& AARC Mass Choir and Ricky Dillard & New G (New Generation). While pursuing a musical career for himself, the father of contemporary gospel - Thomas Dorsey - studied music formally in Chicago.  His stirring composition, "If You See My Savior" was played at the 1930 National Baptist Convention in Chicago, the period which gospel music started spreading like wildfire.  On top of that,the windy city's strong roots in other forms of urban music, was extremely strong, thanks to soul and blues themed record labels from Chess to Chi Sound.   Besides its legendary blues festival, Chicago recently celebrated twenty-five years for their gospel festival equivalent, which showcases some of the finest talent the region has to offer.

Jeral was an avid fan of numerous urban musical tastes from James Brown to
Earth,Wind & Fire.  There was no doubt, however, that their choice of musical direction swayed towards gospel.  Once New Direction was established in 1992, Jeral started the quest to find the best young talent from various church denominations.  The ongoing task was sometimes like pulling teeth as crime tends to run rabid in the streets of Chicago.  That never stopped Jeral's willingness to stay the course in encouraging the youth into music ministry to keep them from straying from the temptations of the streets.  A few years down the road, Jeral's vision finally paid off eventually leading ND to start their recording career in 1998.

A wealth of homegrown talents including renowned musician/producer Daniel Weatherspoon jumped on board in making ND's debut happen.  Once the self-titled disc broke out of the gate, Jeral and company were already setting a new standard for youth choirs in staying true to the worship traditions of their elder role models while spicing up some edges of hip-hop, classic soul, funk and jazz.  ND's versatility and their commitment to worship have garnered them with several opportunities to share a platform with high profile gospel music ministers including Pastor Shirley Caesar.  To this day, they continue to attract audiences who may not set foot in church regularly at first, but then eventually plug into the choir's no-nonsense biblical messages.  They also kept raising the gospel music bar further as evidenced on their latest disc, Destiny.

Like their previous three projects, much of this New Haven Records release is well worth the listening pleasure because of the way ND faithfully mix various elements of musical tastes with fresh energetic praise.   Percy Gray Jr. takes the lead microphone on "Lord You're Worthy" with his husky blues textures that enhance the choir's trademark sound. "Start All Over Again" rubs off with a neo-soul vibe, especially from Kymar Carter's cool jazzy lead vocals.  For something in a slightly different direction for ND, "Mighty Is The Lord" crosses over into pop territory but with successful results because of Maurice Anderson's vocal manner.  "Holy" weaves the best of old school worship with the lyrics incorporating the classic hymn"Holy Holy Holy" and best of contemporary worship in ND's stylish harmonies.  There are also a few tracks recalling Chicago's rich traditional gospel history.  "Heaven"composed by one of Chicago gospel's top-notch composers Anthony Tidwell, pushes the praise accelerator throughout with lead vocalist Alisa Gray (Jeral's wife)'s animated performance taking charge. 

In essence, Destiny is another assuring body of work that should keep ND on track as one of the top mass choirs in the current contemporary gospel scene.  I am also sure the day Jeral was laid off his ‘day' job long ago was simply meant to be another blessing to the greater Chicago gospel community.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene 

Quincy Jones - The 75th Birthday Celebration/Live At Montreaux 2008 (DVD)

Various Artists - Quincy Jones - The 75th Birthday Celebration


It is truly an understatement to simply say that Quincy Jones is a jack of all musical trades.   Through his career where he has worked in so many capacities of the industry and established many trusting relationships, the man affectionately known as Q has built up a gigantic guest list to host his own birthday parties every day for the rest of his life.  A top-notch international jazz festival which has been a regular stomping ground for Jones has celebrated his career on a few occasions.  One of Jones’ lifelong supporters, Montreux (Switzerland) Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs is no stranger in coordinating tributes for his close friend Jones, including a fifty year celebration in the music industry.  More recently, Jones was showered with love from Nobs and an international cast of popular vocalists and musicians, many whom have had the honor of working alongside the multi-faceted Jones - the visionary, businessman, arranger, producer and songwriter.  The 75th Birthday Celebration 2 DVD set recorded in mid-July at the 2008 Montreux Jazz Festival was another jubilant celebration for friends and participating musicians to express their gratitude for Jones’ contributions to African American music history.  His extremely productive legacy has also successfully bridged popular music culture through many genres.


Q’s initial success began as a teenage musician who toured with jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s orchestra but within a short time earned a reputation as an arranger and musical director.  The former Berklee Music Student continued his educational endeavors in Europe eventually touring with jazz orchestras and forming a group called The Jones Boys (none of them related to each other).  Through this transition, Jones learned some hard knocks between making music and dealing with the music business.  After chalking up many valuable lessons, Jones worked his way up from musical director to an executive position at Mercury Records.   When he stepped away from the executive chair, he began a lengthy tenure as a soundtrack composer including the Sidney Potier movie classic In The Heat Of The Night and the landmark television drama Roots.  Then there were the series of all-star extravaganzas throughout the seventies and eighties on A&M and his Qwest imprint such as Smackwater Jack, Q’s Juke Joint and The Dude.

Of course, Jones played a major instrumental role on the Michael Jackson recordings Off The Wall and Thriller.  With his sharp business savvy, Jones was able to somehow convince modern jazz great Miles Davis to create unforgettable concert collaboration at Montreux in 1991, which turned out to be the final recording for the immortal modern trumpeter.  These events just scratch the surface of Jones’ accomplishments in the music industry alone.


On The 75th Birthday Celebration, the near three hour 2-DVD set goes all over the musical board, primarily focusing on Jones’ original arrangements.  Summing up the concert party, there are many winning moments.  For starters, consider any of Patti Austin’s featured appearances as gems,especially “Miss Celie’s Blues” from The Color Purple soundtrack in an appealing duet with Chaka Khan, and the quaint solo on “How Do You Keep The Music Playing” (sans her original recording partner James Ingram).   James Moody’s vocalese work is quite appealing on “Moody’s Mood” and his genuine affection for tasteful rap shines on “The Television Song.”  From the British group Simply Red, Mick Hucknell’s husky bluesy tenor meshes wonderfully on a medley including the theme from “In The Heat of The Night.”  Marvin Gaye’s classic Motown smash, “What’s Going On”, is a spellbinding roller coaster ride that builds upon the original medley with cool jazz flair, intense passages, and capped with Belgian native Toots Thielemans and his expressive harmonica.  Ledisi’s soul/jazz tinged voice knocks “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” (from Jones’ A&M Records era) right out of the ballpark.  Scottish born Paolo Nutini drops some convincing retro soul vibes for “Strawberry Letter 23.”  “Mama Aifambeni” from the Roots soundtrack and “State of Independence,” a hit for Donna Summer, are aptly handled by Angelique Kidjo’s with her sturdy African pop inflections.   Considering these aforementioned heart-warming tributes, I believe the ultimate highlight belongs to the New York based vocal band out of Europe -Naturally 7.  Their natural vocal transformations into crisp replications of strings, brass, bass and percussion on their original composition “Wall of Sound” and a verse from Jackson’s “Billie Jean” caused much jaw dropping and a rare moment that drew a standing ovation.


Through the many triumphs in the near two-and-a half hour DVD concert, there were a few trails as well.  Besides the undistinguished version of “Ai No Corrida” from the background vocalists, the international pop chanteuses Petula Clark and Nana Mouskouri have lost their vocal intonation and are clearly in the twilight of their careers.   That aside, the birthday present brought to us by Jones’ friends was a joy to behold.  In wrapping up this concert review, the supporting players anchored by the best in the business including Nathan East, John Robinson and Greg Phillingaines along with The Swiss Army Big Band were superb accompanists considering the variety of musical styles represented.   For all the artists who have appreciated Q’s boundless energy he has exerted in his sixty-plus year career, I’m sure this 75th birthday celebration will be far from the last party of this mammoth caliber.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene 


The Terence Blanchard Group | Choices

The Terence Blanchard Group - Choices

Follow the journey into the making/webisodes of 'Choices' by clicking here!

For those who have had the opportunity to interact with Terence Blanchard -the bandleader, including his current band The Terence Blanchard Group, they will probably testify he inspires wise choices for the sake of musical art.  As one of the most sought after film scorers with fifty soundtracks to his credit, Blanchard knows firsthand how to choose the appropriate mood to enhance the film's premise.  He has earned the ultimate respect through the years as an educator of master music classes and as artistic director of The Thelonious Monk Institute by inspiring another generation of students who, like Blanchard, choose to create their unique musical canvas.  These are just a few of the exceptional accomplishments in Blanchard's near three-decade resume that all should be worthy of a Kennedy Center Honor in the near future; not too shabby for someone who is three years shy of fifty.  Once Blanchard chose to pursue his musical studies with the encouragement of his father, top-notch musicians and teachers were strategically placed in his path.

Many of Blanchard's figures in his musical journey came from a major metropolis which was known for its jazz and blues culture.  The New Orleans born musician/composer grew up listening to jazz greats like Louis Armstrong.  One of Blanchard's teachers at the New Orleans Center of Creative Arts came from Ellis Marsalis, the father of one of the Crescent City's famous jazz families.  If that was not good company, then imagine having the honor to play with another jazz institution: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.  This opportunity was so enriching, Blanchard ended up leaving Rutgers University in the midst of his classical music studies.  He eventually formed a bandleader partnership with fellow Jazz Messenger and New Orleans native Donald Harrison in the mid-eighties.  After the duo split, Blanchard's solo career skyrocketed, including his longtime association with Spike Lee as a film composer.  

With the demands between films and band leading, Blanchard kept a busy schedule from coast to coast.  When Katrina hit New Orleans, he chose to invest more time back to his birthplace as he felt strongly motivated in keeping the city's musical roots alive.  He eventually relocated the Monk Institute from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to Loyola University in New Orleans.  He also utilized his film scoring gifts with a breathtaking musical perspective on the infamous storm by crafting A Tale of God's Will (Requiem for Katrina) - a companion piece to Lee's documentary, When The Levees Broke.  With an impressive list of film scores and discography spanning almost three decades, this 2007 Grammy winner was a masterpiece that captured the roller coaster emotions surrounding the Katrina devastation.  

For his latest disc Choices, Blanchard chose another hometown institution for his recording studio: The Ogden Museum of Southern Art.  Before piecing material for his latest epic concept project, Blanchard consulted with long-time friend Herbie Hancock to ask how he renders choices for his recordings.  Remembering that Hancock mentioned music's overall purpose is to bring people together, Blanchard ran with the idea of how people can choose to influence a whole community and in controlling their own circumstances.  Besides the current band members who are all strong composers in their own right: Walter Smith III, Fabian Almazan, Derrick Hodge and Kendrick Scott, activist/scholar Dr. Cornell West drops his philosophic perspectives on the undeniable power of choice.  Blanchard's protégé and Monk Institute graduate Lionel Loueke, the African born guitarist, provides a quiet edge with his soothing colors and fluid soloing to the quintet's improvisational explorations.  Completing this complex modern jazz painting is neo-soul stylist Bilal, an immense fan of the jazz genre and Blanchard's work, who lends his rich soulful tenor on two tracks.  

With one thorough listen to this Concord Music disc, I was undoubtedly impressed with the depth of Blanchard and his group's musical presentation behind the running subject matter of choices.  In comparisons to the more somber tone of Tale of God's Will, Choices tends to lean in a more upbeat direction.  There are still the reflective moments that continue to explore the deep emotions expressed throughout the Katrina tragedy including gentle acoustic bass passages from Hodge that caresses throughout "D's Choice."  Blanchard's acoustic arrangement of Bilal's edgy R&B flavored composition "When Will You Call" actually clicks because of the duo's musical rapport.   The New Orleans bounce that sparks "A New World" is another clear-cut winner. "Him or Me" sends be-bop shivers down ones spine, especially with Blanchard and Smith's crisp solos.   Cuban pianist Almazan induces some of his culture's rhythmic overtones on "HUGS."   Yet the thread that holds Choices together is Dr. West's eight minutes of spoken contributions, including a brief tribute to the contributions of all jazz musicians ("Jazz Man in the World of Ideas").   Besides his philosophic contributions, his eloquent execution and impeccable timing clearly accentuates his understanding of the jazz language.  

The aforementioned tracks are the main highlights, but overall Choices is vintage Blanchard.   To prove how Blanchard still attracts cream of the crop musicians to his working bands, the current lineup all consists of members who are half of Blanchard's age but still exemplify a musical maturity.  Who knows?  These young lions could become filmmakers and educators in waiting.  Yet for now, Blanchard and company all make Choices well worth the listening experience.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene 

Our Review of The 12th Annual 2009 KWJZ 98.9 FM Smooth Jazz Festival | by Peggy Oliver

KWJZ 98.9 FM 2009 Smooth Jazz Festival
At the Chateau St. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, WA
August 2, 2009
With Spyro Gyra, Jesse Cook & Wayne Brady

It was a nice change of pace for yours truly to get away from the ever smoldering computer screen in my indoor office to head for the hot but still comfortable outdoors to check out some familiar national acts live and direct.  On this twelve annual event for KWJZ at 98.9 FM in Seattle Washington, the veteran smooth jazz station has gathered some of the top bands and vocalists that represent the heart of contemporary jazz and crossover acts under that genre's umbrella.  Special kudos to the KWJZ staff and station program director/afternoon DJ Carol Hanley, whose wealth of knowledge of jazz long before the smooth jazz came into existence - is so valuable in this station's rise to the smooth jazz top.  In its fifteenth year of broadcasting, KWJZ is still one of the most listened to smooth jazz formats on both the west coast and the entire U.S.   Now that KWJZ has received their brief and proper introduction, let's go on with the show, which was actually the second of a two day concert.

The first act to hit the stage was Wayne Brady (shown above), the ‘newest' of the smooth jazz stars on this bill who released a critically acclaimed disc from 2008, A Long Time Coming.   The multi-gifted television host, actor, impressionist, comedian and now recording artist took the audience on a tour of his Peak/Concord Records debut.  With his backup band and two dancers, Brady fulfilled that task in a fun and entertaining manner.  Fans that have followed the Florida born showman on the improvisational game show Whose Line Is It Anyway and more recently the musical game show Don't Forget The Lyrics also acknowledge his smooth soulful pipes.  Besides his capable vocals, he shows off his precision dance moves and meshed quite nicely with his dancing sidekicks, especially on the more advanced level including accomplishing the splits.  Even though he really did not stretch his comedy muscles too much, the audience was still laughing outright when he brought his jokes.   Brady is absolutely no stranger in pleasing audiences; from his ambitious Las Vegas improv/music impressions revue to his more recent career as a straight-ahead R&B old and new school vocalist.  Concentrating on the later, Brady's best moments came with his recent single "F.W.B." - his tribute to Marvin Gaye.  Of course, his debut hit entitled "Ordinary," which introduced him to the KWJZ audience, understandably received one of the biggest responses from the crowd.  This track reached a very respectable number #9 appearance on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Charts and #26 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts.   To close out, Brady wisely chose an outstanding and faithful rendition of Sam Cooke's signature civil rights anthem, "A Change Is Gonna Come," in which the crowd saluted him with a standing ovation.  Despite a tight and energetic show, the backing voices were all pre-taped, and for a sophisticated festival of its kind, this should never be the norm.  It would also fair to say that Brady's vocals and overall music content is not best suited for those who appreciate more jazz improvisation.  Yet with the state of smooth jazz market today, radio programmers are implementing more urban genres along with the contemporary jazz favorites.

For a complete one-eighty change of direction from Brady's slick R&B program, Canadian native Jesse Cook and his crackerjack backing band brought their flamboyant brand of world music flavors from the first note.  The Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Grammy Award) winner and nominee is considered one of the most popular musicians of the Nuevo Flamingo movement which also includes Ottmar Liebert and Armik.   Cook's uninhibited but articulate flamingo guitar approach is a product of classical training and interacting with the Gypsy culture on their freestyle traditions.  His engrossing improvisations, whether at a brisk pace or in a delicate mood, certainly have attracted the contemporary jazz lovers on various festival stages in Europe and North America.  Longtime violinist/accordion player Chris Church presented some calm ambiance during his solos but could also strut his stuff just as fast as Cook.  The extremely nimble Cuban percussionist Chandy Leon stole several of the shows moments behind a standard drum kit augmented by Latin percussion and his contribution on a percussion box that could have passed as a mini-drum kit.  Besides his trademark rumba rhythms that have made Cook a jazz and world music favorite, several corners of the world were covered throughout his set: from Cuba, Middle Eastern, Spain, Africa and Ireland (the latter two because of his appearance with Afro Celt Sound System).   As his portion was winding down, Cook in his slightly droll manner kept asking the audience about choosing a ‘rumba party' or ‘sad depressing songs'(which he only played one true ballad amongst the usual energetic arrangements).  After finally figuring out that the rumba party vote won, the audience started dancing to "Café Mocha,""Mario Takes A Walk" and other rumba favorites from his thirteen year recording career, mostly for Narada Productions.  Leave it to Cook for his humorous professionalism to deter the few technical wallops that hampered the beginning of the set and during a brief bass guitar solo from Dennis Mohammed.   Cook also downplayed the fact that the top string on his guitar snapped during one of his solos.  For those who live in the Pacific Northwest, Cook will return for a series of dates in September.

Finally, some old friends complete the two-day festivities.  Spyro Gyra (shown above) has been a solid fixture during past KWJZ Smooth Jazz Festivals, and like Cook, is another Pacific Northwest favorite.  This five-piece unit is still stirring jazz fusion magic thirty-five plus years later.  The long-standing members are group co-founder Jay Beckenstein, co- founder Tom Schuman, Scott Ambush, Julio Fernandez, and Bonny Bonnaparte.  Throughout various personnel changes in their history, this current configuration has held steady since the early nineties.  They began the set by dipping into their celebrated past with extended jams of old-school lessons: "Laser Material," "Shaker Song" and "Morning Dance."  What really bonded Spyro Gyra during this performance is that their exuberant stage presence is equally as steadfast as their sturdy musical cohesiveness.  The group expertly bounces off funk, Latin, rock, pop, R&B and be-bop jazz with shear ease while holding down long jams without drifting off into oblivion.  Due to time constraints, I stuck around for two more numbers centering on their newer material, including the title track from the most recent release - Down The Wire.  The audience was treated to a lengthy yet mind-boggling bass guitar clinic from the song's composer, Ambush.  His impeccable timed solo was filled with delightful pops, elegant chords and pure speed without losing his melodic sense.  In other words, I believe he could stand toe-to-toe with other fusion bass guitar technicians such as Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten.  Besides Ambush, every solo bit from Beckenstein, Schuman and Fernandez was full of joy and was exhibited with top-notch execution.  As an accompanist, Bonnaparte provided a thankful untiring foundation with his drumming and percussion skills.  During Spyro Gyra's sound check, I also heard Bonnaparte's rich tenor voice and was blown away.  In a nutshell, considering all the obvious talent representing this year's festival, the pride of Buffalo, New York registered the highest on the audience's radar.  As my friend and I caught the shuttle back to our car, we witnessed the event staff had a smile on their faces listening to the bright jazz fusion noise from the veteran fusion masters Spyro Gyra.  

Overall, the show was not a complete sell-out, but that did not hinder the festival audience that came for a rewarding half-day's getaway.  Once again, thanks to KWJZ for offering a complete package deal of urban delights, world music excitement, and naturally plenty of jazz desserts. 

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Marcus Johnson | Poetically Justified

Marcus Johnson - Poetically Justified

Listen to song samples from "Poetically Justified" on our Jazz page by clicking here!!

As the heartbreaking lyrics declares from one of Elton John's classic "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word": "It is a sad, sad situation."  In this case, it has nothing to do with a frustrating love relationship, but it is the current state of contemporary jazz mostly in the U.S. east coast region from record labels shutting down shop or lack of radio station play.  However, there is a certified talent who continues to dream big in the name of contemporary jazz since his recorded debut in 1997.  Washington D.C. native Marcus Johnson has charted over fifty percent of his recorded resume in the top twenty-five of the Billboard Jazz Charts; unarguably a massive accomplishment considering his status as an independent artist.  As his career has progressed, Johnson keeps digging deep into his creative well to expand his brand of jazz through his eleven full-length discs;  proving he has lots of game in his adventurous recipe of hip-hop, electronica, R&B and roots jazz. 

When Johnson first broke into the recording industry, he witnessed the collapse of a major label relationship gone sour.  Yet despite that mishap, he persevered through the various levels of negativity from those who did not believe in his large-scale plan for long-term success in the music industry.  His personal goal is simply to dream big based on the principles of life from the late great civil rights leader Martin Luther King; by standing tall even through the tough times.  His strong background in business and a strong family pedigree in music have served as essential tools for Johnson's overall mission statement to become the ultimate advocate for the jazz community. 

Born to a musically active family including a classical pianist mother and an aunt who administered private lessons, Johnson was well on his way in spreading his musical wings.  While growing up, Johnson was influenced by various genres, but his father made especially sure to check out some of the funkiest bands on the planet,including Earth Wind & Fire.  With those private lessons under his belt and a wealth of musical knowledge, he dedicated his talents to study influential jazz music role models from (Thelonius) Monk to Joe Sample.   Balancing his business studies at Georgetown University, his 1997 self-released recording debut Lessons In Love surpassed expectations for a new artist, especially in the sometimes underrated contemporary jazz genre.  

When Johnson mentions he was dreaming big, he was definitely not kidding.  He eventually obtained his MBA degree which he applied to his development as an entrepreneur that includes owning music and publishing companies,and teaching seminars to those who want to control their music destiny.  Much of Johnson's catalog has been recorded or reissued through Three Keys Music (standing for spirituality, strategy and artistry) label under his Marimelj Entertainment Group LLC.  His purpose in establishing Three Keys was stated on the 2004 disc Just Doing What I Do by utilizing new producers and new friends in realizing his expanded musical vision.  In addition, Johnson created FLO Brands LLC to recognize different lifestyles in the jazz movement.  His trilogy series entitled Flo (For The Love Of), where the jazz sky is the limit, encompasses an ambitious set of ambient, soul jazz, disco,lounge, contemporary R&B and traditional styles.  Of course, Johnson's reputation as both a regional and national performer sets the standard high as an intriguing entertainer and shear innovator.  When he is not wearing his businessman hat, he has appeared with many top contemporary and traditional jazz stars such as Boney James, Miles Jaye, Diana Krall, and Arturo Sandoval; plus many festival setting such as The Capital Jazz Festival and The Bermuda Jazz Festival.

Johnson's latest disc - Poetically Justified - is more or less an extension of the Flo Series as he dips into edgier R&B aura that has been dominated songs by Ne-Yo, Keysia and others;and more ambient dance grooves AKA Paul Hardcastle and Incognito.  He also invites musical friends such as Jaye, Maysa (formerly of Incognito), Najee and new independent recording artist - Washington D.C. based-saxophonist Marcus Anderson to the party.  Their contributions are definitely on point and a great fit for Johnson's trademark cool, soulful underpinnings. 

Here are some of the highlights for the listeners' further inspection.  The hypnotic percussive dance strains of "Chillaxin" and "Cherish The Journey" has high potential to be chill-out music dreams for club DJ's.  Jaye's melodic vocals are featured on two of his signature pieces from the past.   "Capice" is reworked musically with a soothing subtle African vibe and the disco tinged "Heaven" remains closer to the original version.  Maysa's silky voice properly covers all the romantic emotions behind "Master of My Heart," and is equally at home with up-tempo jazzy club beats on "Hold On." On the laid-back "Stand By Me," the young but musically mature Anderson knows how to partner alongside Johnson and also impresses by bringing his brimming but clean soprano sax lines during his solo spotlight.  On the other end of the spectrum, veteran sax player Najee frames "I See You" with some soft soulful licks as usual.  Finally, Johnson's arrangement of "This Place Hotel" begins similarly to The Jackson's eighties hit (originally named "Heartbreak Hotel")  but steers in another direction in the last two minutes with an intense bridge that amplifies the tension of the song's lyrical theme.  Amongst the gems, there is only one clinker on Poetically Justified.  The over utilized electronic-enhanced voices on "Say Yes" and "Used To Love You" frankly detract the beauty of Johnson's sweet effortless brand of musicianship.

Poetically Justified as a whole is actually one of the better ‘smooth jazz' contributions in2009 because of its diverse yet cohesive musical paintings.  With several layers of musical bliss, Poetically Justified is another of those big dreams from Johnson's creative artistry.  Let's hope with uplifting voices like Johnson that this underappreciated genre of contemporary jazz, west or east coast, will not get lost in the shuffle on the radio, for the next generation of jazz students, or for the record buying public.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

All B. Sure! | Honey I'm Home

Listen to "Honey, I'm Home", exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul page by clicking here!

Al B. Sure! – Honey I’m Home


When the new jack swing era piloted by producer Teddy Riley was in full effect between the late eighties and mid-nineties, vocal groups Guy, New Edition and Ready For The World plus others represented the R&B hit machine on a regular basis.  Tight-knit soulful voices fed off funk induced, fresh swinging beats mostly created by electronic drum sets or drum machines.  The recipe of heavy beats and sweet harmonies won over R&B fans and influenced like-minded hit makers.   These contagious new jack grooves started becoming prominent in songs from Janet Jackson, EnVogue and Keith Sweat to name just a few. A vocalist who hooked up with his cousin to make four-track recordings back in the day, Al B. Sure (born Albert Joseph Brown), was a notable vocalist in the new jack swing period, which is where he attained his biggest artistic success from 1988 to 1992.


Once Sure graduated from the Manhattan Center for the Performing Arts in 1986, life seemed to go favorably for this still teenage talent towards obtaining the dream of R&B superstardom.  Around a year later Sure was signed on the dotted line by Warner Brothers, thanks to longtime friends - eighties pop/rap new jack stars in their own right Heavy D & The Boyz.  The same year found him winning the inaugural edition of the Sony Innovator Talent Search with jazz great Herbie Hancock and music impresario Quincy Jones sitting in the judges’ chairs.  His 1988 initial and signature hit from the new jack swing era, “Nite & Day,” gathered so much momentum worldwide, a French & Spanish version was released.  Sure’s debut album In Effect Mode was off the entire hardware store selling over a million copies and gathering countless nominations including a Soul Train Award for Best New Artist.  The subsequent projects Private Times…and the Whole 9! and Sexy Versus registered high energy new jack gems and soulful ballads like“If I’m Not Your Lover” (remix included), “Off On Your Own Girl,” “Right Now” and “No Matter What You Do” with Diana Ross.  Besides his solo albums, Sure teamed with El DeBarge, Barry White and James Ingram on the 1990 quiet storm classic; the Quincy Jones executive-produced Secret Garden.  When the new jack genre eventually petered out, the Boston-born singer/songwriter also faded off the R&B charts, but Sure always kept busy in various capacities.


His production and songwriting skills landed him opportunities to crossover into other genres including working alongside soul legend Al Green and rock legend Rod Stewart.  Sure also had a natural ability in tapping future R&B superstars such as Faith Evans and Usher.  His appreciation for the radio industry during his pre-hit making days came to fruition as he has spent the past ten years DJ’s in Los Angeles and San Francisco spinning adult contemporary R&B.  In 2008, Sure was chosen as a music industry consultant for coverage of the 50thAnnual Grammy Awards on Los Angeles TV station KTLA.


Sure’s main inspiration for Honey I’m Home, his return to the studio since Sexy Versus, is from listeners stories on love relationships shared on his radio shows in the past decade.  Romance still remains in Al B. Sure’s heart and West is back in the production chair, but now the label home has changed.  The Hidden Beach Recordings disc has a few promising tracks; from a cover song by the ‘King of Pop’ and when Sure stretches past the slow and steamy R&B boundaries.  The song that might be considered Nite &Day the sequel is “I Love It Papi (Aye Aye Aye).”  Whether coincidence or fans craving Sure’s romantic prowess after a near two decade recording absence, “I Love It Papi” scored high on the R&B charts like just like “Nite & Day,” Sure’s first single from In Effect Mode.  The soft Latin swagger of “I’m Glad” and the pop/rock framed “Never Stop Loving You”gives Sure a chance to exercise his vocal muscles on different levels;especially the latter track.  He also revisits Michael Jackson’s emotional love ballad “Lady In My Life.”  This cut first caught me off guard because of Jackson’s passing.   However, after listening a second time, Sure’s undeniable affection for the Quincy Jones original production and lyrical content seals this solid song selection.   Finally, “4 Life” drops some classic soul tidbits; namely a few echoes of those Isley Brothers’ smooth love grooves.


On the other side of the coin, there are just as many disappointments.  Two examples are the auto-tuned, sometimes undecipherable vocal production on “All I Wanna Do” & “Whatcha Got”, both of which lose steam in the early going.  The raps on “All I Wanna Do” also pale in comparison to Sure’s witty raps on “Off On Your Own Girl.”  


Overall, Honey I’m Home is an OK return to the studio home for Sure.  This is absolutely not meant to downgrade Sure’s vocal presence. Yet he could improve on his current vocal stock in the near future by striving for more classic soul, rock or pop arrangements; all suitable fits for Sure’s smooth as silky tenor voice and sharp falsettos.   Besides, Sure has served his time well as anew jack star from the past, and he does not need to reprise his Nite & Day clip that intros Honey I’m Home to otherwise prove his vocal abilities.


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene


Sheri Jones-Moffett | Renewed

Sheri-Jones Moffett | Renewed

Listen to song samples from "Renewed" on our Gospel page by clicking here!

She has a distinctive voice and glorious presence that has graced the gospel music scene for nearly two decades.   Since singing with one of the most decorated contemporary mass choirs and as one half of a successful duo, it was a matter of time when a solo career for Sheri Jones-Moffett was eminent.   Her musical counselors and overall experience interacting in various musical environments certainly provided that firm foundation that carries over into the present.  O'Landa Draper, an influential choir director before his untimely passing, mentored Sheri Jones-Moffett through her early days, eventually introducing her to another mentor and one of Sheri's staunch supporters to this day - Donald Lawrence.  Before her longtime association with Lawrence, diehard gospel music followers first remember Sheri with The Voices of Binghampton (before the name change to Kevin Davidson & The Voices).   Another supportive figure - fellow vocalist and Voices member Ted Winn - worked with Sheri for overten years and was also under Draper's tutelage.  

When Ted & Sheri started their own recording path, they immediately clicked with the contemporary gospel public.  Their powerful debut, The Healing Starts Right Here, was one of the most talked about projects in 2001; and the comparisons to BeBe & CeCe started almost immediately.   The attraction to this worship duo was an unquestionable phenomenon considering Healing was released with limited distribution from independent label Church Howse Music.  Ted & Sheri's version of "Come Ye Disconsolate" was a reshaping of a late 1700's Lutheran church hymn into a relevant convicting alter call piece.  Backing the duo on Healing was a group of prominent gospel artists; vocal arranger Lawrence, keyboardist/co-producer Myron Butler and co-producer Tonex. With their winning mix of traditional praise and worship and modern urban music flavors, the disc elevated the much-heralded duo with two Stellar Awards.  After their follow-up Celebrate in 2004, which featured the invigorating title track, Ted & Sheri put their collaboration on hold indefinitely while pursuing solo ministries. 

Sheri's long-time association and connection with Lawrence since the mid-nineties has blossomed through the years in which she learned all the tools of the music industry, including understanding business etiquette behind the scenes.   Since joining Lawrence's Tri-City Singers, Sheri's jazzy, durable soprano generated abuzz on songs such as "Keep On Blessing Me," "Better" (the version on Finale), and her signature vocal stamp - "Encourage Yourself."   Now in her post Tri-City era, Sheri is ready to bless the masses on her solo debut Renewed - a musical soundtrack that documents all the dimensions of her life as a solid worshipper, a caring mother, a renewed spirit with increased insight, and an edifier of souls.

No one can accuse this EMI Gospel release as a one note musical project as Sheri explores several genres that accommodate her vocal depth and her songwriting abilities.   These factors makes Renewed an appealing listening experience.  The opening title track articulates that when we are overwhelmed, faith needs to be taken to the next level:  "Now I am stronger and wiser and ready to fulfill the master's plan."  Thought here is a serious message, the music is joyous old school soul as the hooks shout Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" and the riffs drip the classic Motown beat.  Though Sheri introduces "Free Indeed" as a bit different for her, this satisfying change of pace turns out to be a fun danceable pop/rock jam gospel artist Tye Tribbett could sink his teeth into.  This song simply talks about the freedom that believers in Christ Jesus can experience.  "Not Too Late To Dream" stays close to Lawrence's inspirational themes about reaching one's full potential.  Yet with the recent leadership changes in the U.S., the lyrics obviously speak louder volumes.  The pop/techno intense "Wonder" is an uninhibited praise for an absolute miracle - the healing of Sheri's baby daughter.  As a well-versed vocalist, Sheri has not forgotten the traditional roots of gospel as evidenced on "I Feel Your Spirit," where a New Orleans Dixieland brass band joins forces with a mass choir.  The brass band decides to stick around on the simmering blues-edged "Best Life"; striving to live everyday life stress-free.  For the piece-de-resistance, the reprise of "Encourage Yourself" (from Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers fond Finale disc) ties a perfect bow to Sheri's debut solo showcase.  My only minor quip with the ten tracks on Renewed is the rhythm arrangement on "Wonder," which sounds a bit suspiciously like Britney Spears recent hit "Womanizer."

Ultimately with Renewed, Sheri has fruitfully started another chapter in her musical ministry spanning her gifts in the choir, duo and now solo setting.  Her mentors - Draper and Lawrence - have truly served her well in every capacity as well.  From this point on, the gospel music community will be well served no matter which direction Sheri decides to proceed on next.  

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Maxwell | BLACKsummers' night

Maxwell – BLACKsummers’night

Listen to BLACKsummers' Night, exclusively from Amazon on our R&B/Soul page by clicking here!


Just when the familiar question 'whatever happened to?' might have plagued the minds of his most devoted fans or classic soul devotees for that matter, Maxwell has made his presence known once again after three more than respectable discs.  Now that BLACKsummers’night is out of the box, the first recorded performance since 2001’s Now,this ambitious musical collection is off to a promising start with two tracks already penetrating the R&B charts, “Bad Habits” and the extremely affecting“Pretty Wings.”  In the past two years,Maxwell stepped on the stage for two straight BET Award performances; with Al Green’s classic Simply Beautiful in 2008; and one of the few stimulating highlights from the 2009 ceremonies - “Pretty Wings.”  He also toured within that period previewing cuts from BLACKsummers’night.  The fans embraced him with open arms like he never missed a beat.  Besides the fan support, Maxwell was bestowed South African citizenship while appearing at a local music festival.   


So why is there all the fuss today?  For some artists, a seven year could be the kiss of musical career death.  Since his1996 debut Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, an intricately detailed experience on romantic love, much was expected by the listening public and critics from this fresh voice of the neo-soul movement, a voice that beckoned Prince, Stevie (Wonder) and Marvin (Gaye) with shear ease. For this much-heralded debut, Maxwell just happened to sought out Leon Ware, who shaped Gaye’s 1976 album, I Want You. It could have hurt Maxwell’s cause as Urban Hang Suite was shelved nearly two years due to behind the record label management scenes.  Once the green light was finally given, the singles “Till The Cops Come Knockin’, “Ascension (Never Wonder)” and “Sumthin Sumthin” hit their stride on the radio and the charts.  The anticipation was positively solidified with Grammy Award and NAACP nominations along with platinum record sales. 


Curiously with only one project to fall back on, he released a seven-song EP - MTV Unplugged.  From that session, “Whenever Whatever Wherever” from his debut made a dent on the R&B charts.  Yet this 1997 session taped in New York did not stop this expressive and energetic singer/songwriter to bend a few soul music rules.  His fairly faithful perspectives on industrial strength rock band Nine Inch Nails’ hit “Closer” and “This Woman’s Work,” originally written and recorded by enigmatic rock singer/songwriter Kate Bush, were the Unplugged showstoppers.  Both the 1998 Embrya with a more spiritual bent and Now from 2001 revisiting the romantic themes of Urban Hang Scene attained number two and one rankings respectively on the R&B charts.  The crème-de-la-crème hit in his career to this point was composed by R. Kelly. “Fortunate” was oneof several tunes Maxwell captured on various movie soundtracks. 


With the already hot reception by both fans and critics, it seems BLACKsummers’night is reasonably fulfilling compared to his previous body of work, despite – you guessed it – record release delays; even though for different reasons than Urban Hang Suite.  That aside, there are some winning moments that reach back to some classic soul gems and reveals a harder but still potent vocal edge.     


One of the few tracks where Maxwell strikes with a neo-soul sensibility is “Pretty Wings,” a tale about an ill-timed, well-intended love relationship.  “Help Somebody,” bears a slight resemblance to the powerful Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”  “Cold,” a cautionary song about relating to strong-willed women, hints of another Motown classic, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” by The Temptations.   The best parts of BLACKsummer’nights belongs to Maxwell’s unabashed soul busting aura on “Fistful Of Tears” and “Love You,” the latter beautifully framed with a mild house music gospel induced rhythms.


After all is mostly sung and played in a convincing manner,there are two main issues that arise with BLACKsummer’nights.  I admire Maxwell occasionally exploring the non-traditional song route yet when the instrumentation unnecessarily overpowers his vocals on “Help Somebody,” it tends to strip its powerfully rical purpose.  I was also disappointedwith his slightly uninspiring performance of “Love You.”   However with those few hiccups, BLACKsummer’nightsis still a cut above what passes on the R&B charts today and is a welcome diversion especially for those who truly crave classic soul in their musical diet.  I also have to give props to producer/songwriter/musician Hod David, Maxwell’s longtime collaborator for keeping the instrumentation pretty much all the way live.    


As if Maxwell has completed his triumphant return, fans should be clamoring and probably curious to the follow-ups (tentatively set for2010 and 2011) for BLACKsummer’nights, the first of a promised trilogy.  At least for now, Maxwell has lived up to the mass hype surrounding him since he started hanging on the Urban Hang Suite. 


Peggy Oliver

The Urban Music Scene

Will Downing | Classique

Will Downing - Classique

Sometimes a glass of sweet soul music from back in the day can still hit the spot even as many of today's top-charting urban tracks are filled with high-tech, auto-tuned vocals and rap-saturated sexual innuendos.  There are also the soul troubadours like Will Downing, who is surely appreciated by his faithful fans and the neo-soul connoisseur for remaining true to his classy soulful craft for over twenty years strong.   Unfortunately, the radio exposure for his contemporary jazz/R&B flavor has surely subsided through the years. "They only play it at night, and then I do not get the radio and listener play that could be possible," Downing told Ebony Man back in 1998.  Yet his following remains stronger than ever because of many rock-solid musical assets. 

His creamy baritone voice melts in the ear with plenty of romantic odes.  He can throw down with some jazzier upbeat jams.  Finally, he has an innate ability to balance both new compositions and soul music from the archives.  In fact, some of his significant hits are highly-recognizable R&B and jazz covers: "Stop Look Listen To Your Heart" (The Stylistics); "Free" (Deniece Williams); "Wishing On A Star" (Rose Royce); "I Try" (Angela Bofill); and the standard jazz torch song "When Sunny Gets Blue".  The track that got the ball rolling for Downing was "A Love Supreme," a spicy salsa-tinged version of the John Coltrane modern jazz masterpiece that peaked at number four on the Billboard Magazine's Hot Dance Club Play in 1988 from his self-titled debut.

In reaching his destiny as one of the finest sophisticated soul stylists today, as demonstrated on his latest disc Classique, his climb to the top was slow but sure.   His faithfulness in pursuing his dream during his childhood to adjusting with an illness that could have been more devastating than his lack ofradio exposure in the past decade is a testimony to Downing's strong character and musical longevity. 

During his school days, a teacher encouraged Downing to sing with the well-respected Brooklyn (New York) Borough Wide Chorus.  It turned out his parents volunteered him for the program, but Downing never regretted the opportunity.  The singer/songwriter graduated in 1981 from Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School, one of the top performing arts schools in the country, whose alumni includes Barbara Streisand and opera legend Beverly Sills.  A fellow class member, Kedar Massenburg, who heads up Kedar Entertainment, nurtured neo-soul singer Erykah Badu. 

After graduating, Downing was an in-demand background vocalist throughout the eighties with R&B greats Kool & The Gang & Stephanie Mills.   There was also the hardcore dance club music persona of Downing who recorded a series of twelve-inch singles under different names.   He was also featured with Wally Jump Jr. & The Criminal Element, a vocal group produced by freestyle electro funk music producer Arthur Baker, who later on linked with DJ/producer Afrika Bambaataa & the British dance/pop group New Order.   Downing then initiated his solo recording phase first as an R&B/pop dance artist on Island Records as his debut disc dropped "A Love Supreme" that drew more love in Europe than in his homeland. 

By his third disc, Downing wanted to stretch his vocal chords and tackle more sophisticated urban music.  The record company differed, yet the creative change in direction on A Dream Fulfilled resulted in Downing's dream coming true with such gems as "I Go Crazy" and "The World Is A Ghetto." The U.S. fan base also started buying his records in bigger droves.  Since that 1991 landmark, Downing has pretty much stuck to his sophisticated urban mix through all the shifting trends in the R&B/soul industry.  He is presently joined in good company with other smooth stylists like Peabo Bryson, Howard Hewitt, Regina Belle and Anita Baker.  Besides the aforementioned cover hits, some of Downing's other calling cards are "Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This" (a duet with the song's composer Rachelle Farrell), "A Million Ways," "Crazy Love" and "When You Need Me" (with Chante Moore).   However, the smooth journey of Downing was interrupted in 2006 by a muscular disorder that could have seriously altered his personal attitude and his professional life.

Downing was able to beat the odds of this disease that has now left him in a wheelchair without impacting his tender baritone.   Classique - his fourteenth disc once again shows off his warm voice with his own compositions and more blasts from the past in a classic R&B way sprinkled with jazz subtleties.  I enjoyed a great deal of this Peak Records release, but I will just give the Urban Music Scene readers some appetizers. 

"Something Special" (see video above) and "Just Think About It" are provided with silky orchestrations and velvety backing vocals that captures the essence of sophisticated soul at its best.  With three pieces from the urban vaults, Downing always manages to match the integrity of the original version, if not sometimes surpass it.  First is Barry White's first hit from 1973 - "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby."  Downing does not quite have Barry's vocal grit, but he slips in some delectable scat on this jazz-kissed version towards the end.   "Statue Of  A Fool," a country hit by Jack Green in 1969, was also a sweet soul hit by Motown artist David Ruffin.  Last but never least, the "Blows My Mind" award goes to Phil Perry adds his astounding voice and monumental falsetto for "Baby I'm For Real," a rare gem originally arranged by Marvin Gaye for another Motown act The Originals. 

To sum up Classique, Downing indeed ties a bow to twenty years of unadulterated soul music without any form of compromise to what appeals to most fans today.  For that, may Downing keep on keeping on for his loyal fans despite what any radio station dictates.  Highly Recommended. 

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Najee | Mind Over Matter

Najee - Mind Over Matter

(Coming soon...Aug. 25th, 2009!)

Whether Najee's music is labeled as sophisticated R&B, smooth jazz, or slick pop, his saxophone's melodic quality is fresh as the summer breeze, and he also knows when improvising is in the best interest of the song.  His reputation in contemporary jazz circles still remains indisputable after all these years as being one of the innovators of the ‘rhythm and jazz' movement; a decade after Bob James, Grover Washington, Jr., Stanley Clarke and others set the tone during the jazz fusion era of the seventies.   Since he bowed on the charts in the mid-eighties with Najee's Theme, he has utilized his double-edged jazz and R&B sword that has generated a series of crossover hits and chart-topping albums, a recorded tribute to a Motown R&B genius, and a three year gig with alongside a funk genius.  During this current decade, Najee still knows how to wet the R&B appetite with cool jazz riffs on his latest release, Mind Over Matter.   Through his illustrious career, Najee has shared with some of the best players in the urban world, and a very profitable partnership with his guitarist/producer brother, Fareed.  Thanks to his mother, jazz was a steady diet in their household in both Najee and Fareed's childhood.

His mother also encouraged a healthy dose of jazz in his musical diet as she played recordings ranging from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis.  Najee and Fareed listened intently to these jazz legends that eventually fueled their long-standing musical partnership that started when they were teenagers as music students and professional musicians.  Najee had plenty of big name mentors teaching him about big band jazz including The Heath Brothers saxophonist Jimmy Heath and pianist Dr.Billy Taylor.  His big band training continued at The New England Conservatory Music under the tutelage of veteran eclectic jazz artist Jaki Byard and others.   What started the musical wheels fully spinning was a local jazz mobile in Harlem, New York that perked Najee's interest in studying the full spectrum of jazz music even while he was digging the urban grooves on the side: "I was mainly into Kool & The Gang and James Brown."   

In the post-NECM days, Najee and Fareed was playing jazz in the New York City area when Najee got the call, followed later by Fareed, to back R&B superstar Chaka Khan in 1983.  Eventually a connection was made through one of Khan's backing vocalists which lead to Najee signing on the dotted line for a long relationship with the EMI/Capital Records family.  His popularity with urban audiences has remained steady since releasing Najee's Theme, and he has been honored with many top rankings on the Billboard charts for contemporary jazz, R&B/hip-hop and the top 200 throughout his two-decade plus career.  Some of his hit singles through the nineties include "Tokyo Blue," "For The Love of You," "Sweet Love," "Knocks Me Off My Feet, "Noah's Ark and "All I Ever Ask."   Besides his solo efforts, Najee also unleashed some jazz fusion power, touched up with doses of Miles and (Charlie) Mingus on Clarke's 1994 Live At The Greek Theater super band session with Billy Cobham, Larry Carlton, and Deron Johnson, and has toured with successful vocalists in their own right: Freddie Jackson, Patti LaBelle and BeBe Winans to name a few.  However, there were two landmark moments with R&B icons that ignited Najee's career to further heights.  

The first was a contemporary jazz interpretation of Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key of Life, considered by many critics as a step in the right direction from his previous glossier productions.  The 1995 release was anchored by a stellar supporting cast including Clarke, George Duke, & Paul Jackson Jr.  A few years later, he landed a three-year gig with a passionate fan of Najee's brand of R&B generated jazz: his royal purpleness Prince.  Najee was always able to relate in how the innovative guitarist/vocalist's constantly feeds off his audience: "I saw that he looks for fresh inspiration from other people and feeds off their energies."  In the meantime, Najee continues to manage his solo career including a series of projects in the millennium; the latest being Mind Over Matter.

From this ten-track release on Heads Up International, there are some memorable moments, especially when there a few unexpected twists: "Whenever I go into the studio, I try to make a record that is a little different from the last one."   "Love You A Lifetime" showcases his effectiveness with the saxophone and flute, complete with the laid-back funk lines that Najee excels with.   The title track thrives on co-writer Will Brock's dancing keyboard solo and Najee's simplistic but efficient improvising.  Besides leaning on up and mid-tempo pieces, Najee can pull off mellower moments without sounding hollow; case in point - the exquisite soundtrack-like painting of "The Journey" which was also completed in one take, a rare feat in the age of digital technology where re-do's and overdubbing are the norm.  "Moon Over Carolina" features R&B vocalist/instrumentalist Gary Taylor's understated voice which perfectly matches Najee's musical personality.  The ultimate highlight, though, belongs to "We Gone Ride", based off a horn arrangement by Roy Hargrove with modifications by fellow sax player Mike Partlett and producer/keyboardist Demonte Posey.  This hip-hop/blues/funk ride presents a different feel in a loose sense for both Najee and Eric Benet, an engaging vocal choice I might add. 

If I am really being honest, those unexpected surprises are the keys that make Mind Over Matter tick.  While Najee is a great musical technician with a knowledge of the R&B and jazz language, this project is his strongest work; especially compared to the Stevie Wonder tribute, the genuinely personal Morning Tenderness for Verve Records in 1998, or his solo spots on Live At The Greek.  That aside, Najee still masters that rhythm and jazz flair with a natural flow; always willing to creep out of the box to make the overall content interesting.  Recommended.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Terri Lyne Carrington | More To Say... (Real Life Story: NextGen)

Terri Lyne Carrington - More To Say...(Real Life Story: NextGen)

Listen to song samples from "More To Say...(Real Life Story: NextGen)" on our Jazz page by clicking here!!

Imagine playing and studying the alto saxophone as a child and then an unusual circumstance changes those plans.  For Terri Lyne Carrington, the loss of her baby teeth turned out to be an obstacle in learning the instrument.  However,the musical genes inherited from her father, Sonny Carrington, and her ingrained perseverance impressed upon her to follow her dream, even if it means changing musical instruments.  Thanks to a discovery in her family house basement - an old set of drums once owned by her musician grandfather, Matt Carrington, the then-seven year old was on her way to a well-decorated career in jazz.  Carrington's discipline on mastering her new found instrument that by age ten, brought her to stages small and big.   Three years after discovering the drum kit, she was featured with be-bop trumpeter and music educator Clark Terry at The Wichita Jazz Festival.   By the way, before experiencing her first major jazz festival, she had already cut her teeth with the likes of pianist Oscar Peterson and blues vocalist Joe Williams.  Her dream continued to proceed in fast and furious manner she earned a scholarship into her early teen years at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.  Her future class of influential musicians included Branford Marsalis & Greg Osby.   By age sixteen, Carrington's plate was always full; whether playing in aband, in the studio with her father on a custom record called TLC & Friends, touring with The New York Jazz Quartet or Clark Terry.  With her full plate, this portion of her career was just a sliver of the pie.

If there was the definitive big break, it started with Carrington beating out over a dozen musicians in 1987 in having the honor to join jazz fusion master Wayne Shorter and his group, Weather Report.   The same year, she also made the coast-to-coast move from New York City to Los Angeles, the gigs kept on coming, and her recording solo debut was birthed.


The Verve Forecast release - Real Life Story - brought a hodgepodge of R&B, fusion, world music, modern jazz, bop,and pop (the Beatles classic "Blackbird"); all styles that Terri feels extremely at home with.  In response to some jazz purists who were dumbfounded that her debut did not reflect her early traditional and modern jazz training, Carrington told Down Beat Magazine: "Well, all I got to say is, pigeonholes are pigeons."  Humor aside, Real Life Story garnered a Grammy nomination and was graced with cream of the crop musicians like Carlos Santana, Grover Washington Jr., Patrice Rushen, and Dianne Reeves.   The follow-ups to Real Life Story included two projects for Act Music that stretched the jazz spectrum.  Carrington lead a primarily acoustic accented small group with spoken word and world music rhythms called Jazz Is A Spirit,featuring Herbie Hancock & Wallace Roney, plus spoken word  contributions by actor Malcolm Jamal Warner, and a musical dedication to Shorter entitled Samsara.   Stucture, a quartet featuring Carrington and saxophonist Osby, explored more of the spontaneous jazz played over various rhythmic cycles - also known as M-Base, which is also a strong collective of several musicians since the mid-eighties that includes Carrington, Osby and bass guitarist Meshell Ndegeocello.

Back to Real Life Story, the 1989 disc has spawned Carrington's latest disc, More To Say...(Real Life Story: Next Gen.).   Like its successor, there are stellar supporting musicians, many who have played a part in Carrington's career at one time or another: Les McCann, Jimmy Haslip who played on Structure, George Duke, Christian McBride, current members of her working band, and her father Sonny.  Listeners can also expect a diversity of contemporary urban grooves weaved with shades of the roots of jazz, and a rousing version of another Beatles classic.

More To Say is more than just the Boston-based musician and now music clinician at Berklee coming full circle from her twenty-year solo recording debut.  There are plenty of celebrations of love throughout this thirteen track gem.  On this disc from E1 Entertainment, here are some highlights to start relishing.  Reflecting Carrington's love of neo-soul, the zealous saxophone of Everette Harp and vocal fills by R&B singer Chris Walker provide a credible and true to form funkified rendition of the Angie Stone hit "Everyday." "Oh Freedom" pays respect to human rights leaders like Martin Luther King,Jr., President Barack Obama, and the spiritual leader of India, Ghandi.  With Carrington's apparent love of The Beatles, the rich, commanding voice of Lori Perry effectively meshes gospel with jazz on the timeless hit "Let It Be."  A percussive-driven medley, "No Not One," is dedicated to her ninety-seven year old grandmother - Helen Carrington -once again breaking down the M-Base school of thought this time incorporating American, Latin, and African rhythms.  Proving hip-hop culture is a close cousin with jazz (check Guru's genius hip-hop meets jazz/funk jam from 1993: Jazzmatazz Vol. 1 as one example), Carrington chooses rapper/producer Maestro1ton and MC JTronius from the Boston-based Agari Crew who flips the original easy-listening title track of Real Life Story into a joyous house music flow.  For those who know Carrington's versatile drumming skills, her voice is always pleasing to the ear;  whether it is the ambient jazz of "Favorite Lullaby" alongside Kirk Whalum, or a soft but soulful blues drenched duet with McCann on "Hold Me Again."

With the aforementioned tracks and others not mentioned here, the highly-recommended More To Say drops fully satisfying contemporary jazz in various sizes and shapes.   Since Carrington's early days as a dedicated student playing with some jazzmasters, she has covered a lot of ground; as an educator, producer,long-standing member of Herbie Hancock's touring group, and as part of a vast circle of musical friends too numerous to mention.  In the long run, there certainly was no harm done in Carrington's choice to leave the alto saxophone and investing in her grandfathers' old drum kit.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Jocelyn AKA iNDIGO | The iNDI 1st Project....Breakthrough

Jocelyn AKA iNDIGO - The iNDI 1st Project...Breakthrough

Possessing the gift of music has its advantages for an aspiring or established artist; whether it is touching a music fan's soul or encouraging someone through poignant lyrics.  There is also the downside like the daily grind an artist experiences to keep their record deal and winning over a potential fan base.  As a former member of R&B ladies vocal band 4BIDN, who opened for R&B heavyweights like Ashanti, there was a point where Jocelyn Saunders felt burned out after the band was terminated by their label.  She was also tired of the politics behind the recording industry.   After 4BIDN's record deal faded, she continued as a solo artist working with urban stars like Kwame.  At the same time, the Washington D.C. resident was trying to figure out her place in life's big picture while attending college.  Meanwhile, during the songwriting process in the post-4BIDN period, Jocelyn started to change gears with a more spiritual bent.  This was even before she reaffirmed her commitment to the Christian faith; several years after drifting away from her roots as a teenager.

Jocelyn grew up in a predominantly Christian family and started singing in church at a very young age.  Yet during her younger years, she knew what the purpose of church was, but as for her relationship with God, she explained to in a recent interview: "I believed in Him, but I didn't believe Him until I got saved."  After Jocelyn accepted Christ into her life in 2006, she was more than content to just sing in her choir at About My Father's Business Outreach Ministries and not pursue the gospel music solo ministry.  Yet the more she was writing songs that hinted about faith and trust; i.e. "Talk To Me" - a song about empowerment, the more Jocelyn was gearing to write more music for God.  Jocelyn was pricked further in her soul when her father became seriously ill in early 2007, and decided to add another ministry to her plate through a non-music based website., which launched in August 2007, encourages young people with a hope beyond what is offered in this world, and can use their talents or business skills for the kingdom.    The premise started when Jocelyn noticed a teen being called out by an adult during church service for an inappropriate message on their T-shirt.  One of the website's section, Saved & Fly, presents testimonials from people from all walks of life who turned their life over to God after struggling with conflicting issues or low self-esteem.   There is also a small catalog for apparel and accessories that display the Saved & Fly moniker and other faith-based messages.  This catalog just happens to include Jocelyn AKA iNDIGO's debut gospel disc, The iNDI 1st Project...Breakthrough.


Whether it is urban pop, hip-hop, neo-soul, or praise and worship, Breakthrough is a winner on almost all levels, thanks to Jocelyn's vocal range and lyrical integrity.  From the twelve tracks, here are some highlights for the T.U.M.S. readers to scope out.  The first single - "Search My Heart" - mixes a snappy production with hip-hop beats, sweet harmonies, and a message about focusing on our faith: "Anything that's not like you, I'm asking you to take it away, I just want to do your will."  Jocelyn spices up a neo-soul type praise party called "Real," an obvious statement about making the right decision to seal her relationship with God, "This Way," peppered with old-school soul sensibility, is Jocelyn's favorite song to perform in concert.  The full gamut of musical emotions are on display; building from a mellow introduction into a funky mid-section; then finally rocking on all cylinders on the climax. 

Even though Jocelyn can bring the power punches and the assertiveness, much of Breakthrough plays to her bigger strength - a calm soulful alto with a few power surges that speaks louder volumes that over the top finesse. "Calling For You," an elegantly orchestrated R&B ballad, is a reminder that stubborn pride can trip us up: "You throw me a line because I'm drowning."   "Love Like This" is another ornate piece that thanks God for many chances when we rely on our own strength:  "Even when I try to move away and do my own thing, His grace and mercy lets me come back around."

When it comes to the contemporary praise and worship setting, Jocelyn is equally effective.  It is indeed a special treat for her to utilize the Stellar Award winning praise and worship leader Isaiah D. Thomas' talents as composer and producer for two tracks.   The understated instrumentation on "Jehovah God" builds the focus on Jocelyn's vocal style.  Thomas' choir Elements of Praise and the veteran Mo Horns then joins Jocelyn for the riveting worship gem, "Fresh Anointing."  

It is clear after hearing Breakthrough that Jocelyn is now more comfortable in her gospel music skin; a product of experiencing the wars of working in the music industry and building confidence in her faith.   It is also clear to say with Breakthrough, which I highly recommend, that Jocelyn should secure a faithful radio audience and more opportunities to share her testimony to young people and all other age groups.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Soul Unsigned, Volume 2 | Various Artists

Various Artists - Soul Unsigned Volume 2

To hear song samples from the album, please click here!!

Soul Unsigned is more than just a few compilations that are marketed on CD Baby, Amazon, and other music purchasing websites.
  With his own Soul Unsigned website, Solar Radio DJ Phil Driver has a full-time support system of discovering the new breed of soul, funk, R&B, and jazz talent from all over the world.  This system consists of a promotions staff, a weekly radio show, links to independent and unsigned artists, and on-line columns on various soul music websites singing the praises of the undiscovered artists to watch out for.   The U.K. resident's love for soul music goes back to 1975 citing sturdy voices from Minnie Riperton to Gladys Knight; eventually to a point where he started checking the various websites for the next shining soul artist.  These days, many of these promising soul artists are turning to the Soul Unsigned website, and from there, Driver and his staff provide free promotion and marketing towards those artists picked for their compilations.  Another goal is to build up the artist's business sense when it comes to gaining confidence in the music production process and marketing the music for a particular audience. 

Driver claims he is not a vocalist nor a musician, but when he chooses material for the S.U. series, he tends to aim for the organic, less processed productions, and he favors original compositions over cover tunes.   Driver truly misses the more danceable soul from the likes of seventies and eighties hit makers Chic & Earth Wind & Fire that is lacking in today's urban music.  The Soul Unsigned series, at least for now, primarily focuses on material with a high energy or mid tempo vibe.   As the S.U. catalog continues to grow, including releasing new material every six months, Drive promises special compilations featuring the mellower and chilled out aspect of soul.

Like its predecessor Volume 1 plus two EP's (with four songs each), there are plenty of soulful treats on Soul Unsigned Volume 2 that should wet many old school appetites, and introduce some dependable and deserving voices to the devoted urban music fan base.  It was extremely difficult to choose just a few highlights and frankly the representation is well balanced; disco, melodic soul, in your face funk, to jazzier side of funk, and jazz fusion.   That aside, here are some tracks that jarred my attention on the first go-round.

Out of South Africa, a hotbed of all sorts of music - period, Nash Reed's seamless voice registers soulful volumes for "Natural", a tip of the hat to those sweet funky pockets that Patrice Rushen worked so well during the eighties.
Venueconnection, the six piece band from Spain who won the Acid Jazz Hispano award for the 2008 Album of the Year - Madrid Boogie adds an understated Latin kick with the title track.

Former bass guitarist for Acoustic Alchemy - U.K. musician Frank Felix, gathers his new band Frank Felix & FU Express, inviting the clubbers into "Club 44," an intertwining of jazz vibraphone and funky bass lines going toe-to-toe with slick grooves.

Uncle Funkle, a project from the multi-faceted U.S. guitarist Adam Douglass who has fused rock and jazz with other bands, explores his smooth funky side on "Gonna Give It To You."

The Australian born J-Funk-a former London finalist of Live & Unsigned in 2007, has a great ear for melody and a great understanding of the power of soul.  His vocal pleasingly floats throughout the cozy ballad, the title track of his debut 2007 disc Breakthru.

On their previous discs, Destruments have gone from one extreme to another by experimenting with elements of progressive jazz, hip-hop, breakbeats, and funk.  "Take A Closer Look" shows off their soft soulful side.

Maxi got a chance to sing an acappella gospel number on her debut Soulful Integrity. From the same disc, her powerful but elegant voice echoing many of her influences like jazz/soul stylists Phyllis Hyman & Rachelle Farrell, is showcased on "Stepping Out."

Finally, last but never least, there's the deep friend funk courtesy of Varius Funkus.  The unsigned Paris France band takes a bite out of "Get On The Beat."

With the entire S.U. catalog, Driver has a true knack for finding the untapped artist who truly embrace their soulful roots.   For those who appreciate a refreshing break from the sometime hook-laden R&B and self-indulgent raps that rule the urban charts today, look for Soul Unsigned compilations at least every six months.  It is also great to know that Driver truly cares about the business well-being of these future soul stars in waiting.   I highly recommend all the Soul Unsigned catalog, including Volume 2.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene 

For Immediate purchase & song samples, please click here!!

LaKisha Jones | So Glad I'm Me

Listen to song samples from "So Glad I'm Me" on our R&B/Soul page by clicking here!
LaKisha Jones - So Glad I'm Me
When I received this disc, So Glad I'm Me by LaKisha Jones to review, the timing was absolutely perfect since it was less than a week ago when the current season of American Idol announced their latest winner.   From an estimated total of voters of nearly one million, the majority rule picked Kris Allen, whose prize will be a major recording contract.  People might ask: Why do I drop this question concerning who won the latest A.I. installment?   I was simply flabbergasted that the runner-up Adam Lambert was the one in my mind that had all the vocal goods to reach the very top.  I also happened to feel the same way when Jones, a very compelling vocalist and accomplished actress finished fourth behind season six winner Jordin Sparks.  This is not meant to be a personal knock on Sparks and Allen's obvious talents, but LaKisha's self-assured personality and her adaptability in handling standards ("Stormy Weather"), pop/rock (Bon Jovi's "This Ain't A Long Song") and British pop ("Diamonds Are Forever" by Shirley Bassey) are winning qualities when it comes to becoming a legitimate star.  By the way, Jones handles the Whitney Houston songbook with absolute finesse.  During the pre-top ten selection shows, Jones performed "I Have Nothing." On the Top 10 A.I. season six U.S tour, she stole the show with her rendition of Houston's signature hit, "I Will Always Love You."  If there was any consolation at the time, Jones finished in the A.I. bottom two once during the climb to first prize.  
The big label contract may have eluded Jones, but the Flint, Michigan born vocalist was fully willing to risk her ‘day job' at the time of the competition and exercise her faith in God to seek the chance for musical superstardom.  To progress into the final four during season six was an absolute accomplishment considering Jones never got past the first audition for A.I. in 2003.  Despite the rejections and stresses that usually plague talent contestants, there is plenty of fight instilled in this former vocal performance student from the University of Michigan.  When various vocal mentors guided the A.I. contestants, Jones was always adamant about how she treated each of her performances.  In an interview with The Fresno Bee, she stated: "I'm presenting the song, so I have to sing the song the way I think it will come across good."
Growing up, she treasured the music from legends like Aretha Franklin & Houston growing up, but was encouraged by the wisdom of her grandmother, which finally sealed her choice to pursue music.  Fueled by the love of soul and gospel, Jones had the opportunity to blend a portion of both genres in the popular Broadway adaptation of The Color Purple.  She joined the cast of the Quincy Jones/Oprah Winfrey co-production after finishing her commitment to the 2007 Top Ten A.I. tour.  During her tenure, she played two roles, including ‘the church soloist' in which she had the honor of being the stand-in for another R&B star Chaka Khan.   As an interesting but not surprising aside, former A.I. alumni such as Fantasia and LaToya London have also participated in traveling companies of The Color Purple.
Jones now joins an elite group of other A.I. non-winners who have gained notoriety on various levels in the independent and major label route including Elliot Yamin, George Huff, Mandisa, and Jennifer Hudson.  So Glad I'm Me, Jones' full-length recording debut, is a musical autobiography about how her faith has stood the test of time; in building the confidence in whom she is, and in facing the joys and challenges of love relationships.   So Glad I'm Me from independent company Elite Music also gives Jones further opportunity to rekindle her soul and gospel roots.  Even though she is very comfortable in handling other genres, her voice excels within this primarily adult urban contemporary format.  The standout tracks include the current single - the mid-tempo techno grooving "Let's Go Celebrate," a rare moment where Jones successfully breaks out of her normal balladeer mode.  "Beautiful Girl" pays an exquisite tribute to a special person in Jones' life - her five-year old daughter.  The Diane Warren-penned "Same Song" yearns for reconciliation in a relationship that has lost its synchronicity.  Showing her affection for Whitney once again, "You Give Good Love" proves that Jones' sensitive interpretation regarding any of Houston's material makes an enjoyable listening experience alongside the original versions.  What would an urban music disc be without a tossing in a seventies throwback soul track. "Memories (Fade Away)" answers the call with its gorgeous sea of woodwinds, strings, and soft guitar.  
Throughout So Glad I'm Me, Jones beams with confidence in her powerful vocals that never resort to over the top acrobatics.  However, I have a few minor downgrades.  Even with the nice musical production nuances and beautifully flowing track sequencing, some of the background vocal tracks could have been stripped of the electronic masking.  If Jones also could explore more of the older soul music school, this disc would be more remarkable than the average modern day R&B/soul offering.  Taking everything into account, I still believe Jones possesses a winning caliber voice, independent or major label aside, that could put talent contestants on notice; and I will give a solid recommendation for So Glad I'm Me
Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Greg O'Quin & iPraize | After The Storm

Greg O'Quin & iPraize - After The Storm

CD in stores June 30th, 2009!

There are different scenarios as to why an artist takes a furlough from the recording business.  One reason may be just refreshing one's creative juices.  Other times it may be a get-away from the industry for simple R&R-AKA rest & relaxation.  Greg O'Quin's reasoning is exercising a long time gift in waiting by ministering to a church congregation from the pulpit.   He never lost his confidence about what God had in store to share musically, even during an eight-year hiatus after his last release, Cliches in 2001.  The Dallas, Texas born and raised producer/arranger/musician is best known for the smash song about surviving spiritual storms - "I Told The Storm," from Conversations, a 1999 Dove Award nominee for Contemporary Gospel Record of the Year, and the follow-ups "God Can! God Can!" & "Unh Unh!" from Cliches was also steady fare at gospel radio.  His variety pack musical stamp works just about every urban genre possible: hip-hop, blues, roots gospel, jazz, and the popular new jack swing that swept the country during the nineties.

The man affectionally known as 'The Maestro', spent much of his recording hiatus investing into his ministry future by establishing The Church Without Walls International in Dallas: which simply emphasizes there are no walls nor boundaries when serving or loving God.  When the time came to hook up again in the recording industry, he was plenty rested to take his musical gifts to the next plateau when he signed with Ruben Rodriguez, the CEO/founder of Pendulum Records.  The label who first brought us the refreshing hip-hop sounds of Digible Planets & 90's R&B star Chris Walker (former musical director for Regina Belle), was quiet for several years after its initial beginnings in 1991 & is now in a resurgence period.   Pendulum's new era includes R&B icon Belle, who released her debut gospel disc Love Forever Shines in 2008; and the following year signified the long-awaited return of Greg O'Quin - this time with his new vocal band iPraize.

Whether it's under the umbrella of Joyful Noyze or iPraize, O'Quin is comfortable balancing different musical settings.  Yet he keeps it all focused on God's goodness and of course letting the body of Christ know that the Lord can help us through any storm. After The Storm might be considered another sequel to O'Quin's previous discs.  Even with a difference of eight long years and some changes to how urban music is presented, Q'Quin and iPraize have not lost a step in their vocal excellence.  They also take advantage of applying the gospel message for these unstable economic times and frankly they are unashamed worshippers.  Most of After The Storm is well worth the listening, but I would like to direct the Urban Music Scene readers to a few tracks that first sparked my attention.


The opener "Convinced," a song about breaking out of our weakened self-esteem, features riveting vocal solo and ensemble work.  "Every Little Step" offers encouragement and accountability in our daily walk: "I need you to order me."  The hypnotic drum pattern and dainty keyboards add sweet ambient background dressing. O'Quin's reputation relies mostly on the newer dimensions of gospel.  The rare exception -"Lead Me Jesus" (see video box above), the debut single, delivers foot stomping roots blues/gospel in the first degree and is somewhat similar to the Belle's hit "God Is Good."  Back to the other side of the musical meter, the Reggae dancehall driven "Pray" reminds us "He will supply our every need."  There's a humble spirit behind "I Appreciate You," but the song's sentiment resonates loudly for the ones who are thankful for living through the Hurricane Katrina turmoil and other situations that could make or break their attitudes toward life.  "I Say A Little Prayer For You", originally covered by Dionne Warwick & Aretha Franklin, is sprinkled with a disco funk flair but always mindful of a praise and worship opportunity.  Transforming a pop or soul classic is familiar territory for O'Quin as the Isley Brothers' smash hit - "For The Love Of You" was covered on Conversations.  Another knockout vocal performance; "Breakthru," declares to the enemy "that I'm sick and tired of your games."  "He's Worthy of Worship" provides a steppers groove touch and some agile vocal phrasing from iPraize.  I also include their reprise of "God Can!" to my list.

Despite its positive qualities, there are a couple of minor bumps in the road on After The Storm.  The biggest issue comes from O'Quin seeming to compete with his soloists on a couple of tracks when leading worship, which can be a major distraction on listener's ears.  I can safely say, however, that Gospel radio and fans alike should welcome back O'Quin - who has not missed one beat in his recording career - and continue to chase the spiritual storms without any regrets whatsoever. 

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Teena Marie | Congo Square

Teena Marie - Congo Square

(CD in stores June 9th!! Listen to "Can't Last A Day" feat Faith Evans, by clicking here!)

With the upcoming release of Teena Marie's latest recording, there are two notable items that deserve attention.  Number one: Congratulations to the singer/songwriter/musician's thirtieth anniversary in the recording industry.  The second and one for the music history books:  The new disc - Congo Square - begins a new chapter for Marie at Stax Records, one of the few urban owned record labels in the U.S, signifying the second signing to an urban company for a Caucasian artist.  After she first made her vocal presence known on the R&B charts in 1979, she knocked out many outright funky danceable gems and steamy soul ballads for the legendary African-American company - Motown Records - where she was signed by long associate - Rick James.  Her early string of hits through the mid-eighties include "I'm A Sucker For Your Love," "Portuguese Love", "Lover girl", & "Square Biz" highlighted by a stunning spoken rhyme breakdown from Marie thanking persons like Sarah Vaughn, Maya Angelou, and others for part of her inspirational fuel.   Through her thirty years producing a dozen discs and associations with three other labels including Cash Money Classics - a custom label of the hip-hop mogul Cash Money, Marie has kept the old-school R&B flames aglow with a voice that still shatters glass and a vocal confidence that struts from coast to coast. 

When The Rhythm & Blues Foundation honored the California native in November of 2008 for a Pioneer Award along with The Funk Brothers (the Motown house band from 1959-1972) and other recipients, the R&B Foundation chairman Kendall Minter confirmed Marie's status in the urban music community: "I guess you could really call her a true soul sister."  That supercharged confidence has surely resonated several fold because Marie's music has been sampled by a number of soul stars: The Fugees, Coko, & Ne-Yo.  Thankfully, she has not backed down on her classic soul stance on every recording she graces. 

As of recent, Marie has dedicated two projects towards persons of color who have historically made a difference.  For instance, the 2004 disc La Dona was named for women in the Latino community who has set examples for others before them.  There are several reasons why Marie tagged her latest disc - Congo Square.  This historical site in New Orleans has celebrated the African-American musical spirit beginning in the nineteenth century where slaves had free time to make music on Sundays as a get away from the traumatic pressures of daily life.   This disc also celebrates the top-notch musicians like Curtis Mayfield, former Stax soulster Isaac Hayes, jazz icons like Sara Vaughn & Louis Armstrong, and of course her mentor Rick James who have affected Marie throughout her exciting musical journey.

Fans who have followed Marie from her Motown juncture to supporters of a newer breed of R&B greats such as Beyonce and Alicia Keys should be pleased with this collection on Congo Square.  Picking the highlights for me was a bit of a chore, but here are a few tracks to perk one's listening pleasure.  The first single, "Can't Last A Day" recalls the Philadelphia International days (The O' Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes) and Marie chooses an equally passionate duet partner in Faith Evans to fulfill those soulful glory days.  On the quiet storm feel of "Baby I Love You," the absolutely breath-taking hook squeals with delight.  "Milk ‘n Honey" serves as a charming ‘like mother like daughter' showcase for Marie's daughter Rose LeBeau.  Speaking of duets, "Lover's Lane" has the perfect romantic balladeer partner in Howard Hewitt. "Marry Me" provides a subtle but needed nudge for those who treasure the sanctity in the marriage vows.   The jazz-tinged Congo Square honors the lively African-American spirit that still prevails in New Orleans, while "Black Cool" honors the gospel heritage of New Orleans' musical heritage.  Finally, "Ms. Coretta" passes a special thanks to the late Martin Luther King's wife for raising her family while King was on the battlefield in the name of racial equality.
The only true disappointments are few: "Ear Candy" that is covered in electronic vocal masking and "You Baby" where the staccato background vocals weigh down the song's pacing.  Otherwise, Congo Square continues to prove Marie's zeal for her music in the last thirty years.  Here's also a hearty thanks to Lady T for sharing her mammoth vocal talents for all the urban music community to enjoy.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

Jeff Kashiwa | Back In The Day

Jeff Kashiwa – Back In The Day

Listen to song samples from "Back In The Day" on our Jazz page by clicking here!


When you are hired by a major entertainment organization to represent them in all-star college band, it is an extreme honor to interact with a future generation of elite music makers.  When that same group asks you back to teach another generation of musicians, that’s extra validation in one’s musical adeptness.  Those two aforementioned statements apply to Jeff Kashiwa, a well-versed saxophonist that is easily at home with nearly any genre.  His main claim to fame was his stint during the nineties with The Rippingtons, a fusion band that meshed world, ambient, and other tones into their jazz phrasing.  The band was also a solid breeding ground for world class saxophonists like Dave Koz, Eric Marienthal, and Kenny G.   To mark the band’s twentieth anniversary in 2006, former members including Kashiwa, joined The Ripps on an extensive tour.  Of course, many of his loyal fans know his reputation with The Sax Pack, a recent collaboration with Steve Cole and Kim Waters, who add extra funk and soul layers to Kashiwa’s sweet manner.


Before he established his professional success, Kashiwa was attracted to the gurus' of what eventually grew to be the smooth jazz movement: Chuck Mangione and Spryo Gyra.  Yet Kashiwa got his feet wet during his college days playing with the ska band, The Untouchables.  The Seattle, Washington native added to his musical languages by learning about back to basics jazz theory at The Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.   The Disney Organization recognized this apparent talent by choosing Kashiwa as part of The Disney’s All-American College Band.  Because of his strong belief in the education system and a gigantic heart for students, Kashiwa was invited back by Disney as an instructor for the same band.  After transferring to Cal State Long Beach, he looked to CSLB’s saxophone teacher Leo Potts for guidance on tonal concepts.  Ever the consummate musician, he also refers to the modern jazz great Stan Getz, a masterful practitioner of melodic playing, one of Kashiwa’s standing trademarks.


When he first scored on the charts in 2000 with his top ten entry, Hyde Park (The Aah Ooh Song), Kashiwa’s star with the smooth jazz community rose sharply.  Sometimes, just like The Rippingtons, he will depart from the box to let down his musical guard.   His 2007 release, Play, a tour-de-force of roots jazz, reggae, rock, and so much more beyond the occasionally safe smooth jazz confines, finds Kashiwa bouncing ideas off his long time band Coastal Access.  


Just recently, Kashiwa released his greatest hits package, The Very Best of on his long time label, Native Language.  Now with Shanachie Entertainment, label home of The Sax Pack, his latest disc Back In The Day offers magnificent technical skill, what anyone should expect from a passionate student and music clinician.  There are also some funky strokes and uncluttered melodic lines on “When It Feels Good” - the title track; “You’re The One,” and “Creepin’.The closing piece, “Honesty,” boasts Kashiwa’s warm expressive strengths on tender ballads.  The positive aspects, however, are weighed down by the uninspired vocal track “Somethin’ Real;” the musical backgrounds which are stuck in neutral gear as the project progresses; and those dreaded robotic drum programs that can strip the power of the rhythm section in a heartbeat. 


This disc certainly can