I Learned the Hard Way – Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (2010)
In the 60’s and 70’s soul and funk dominated popular music; James Brown, The Isley Brothers, The Supremes, Gladys Knight, the entire Motown movement….. the list goes on and on and on. As time evolved however, so did people’s tastes and so did music and these days that classic sound is mostly relegated to oldie stations while the artists influenced by that day like John Legend or Alicia Keys are the ones dominating music. Yes, artist like Amy Winehouse and Adele have had success with their throwback to that era and so has Cee Lo Green, but for the most part it’s damn near impossible for a new artist to try and have a career writing new music exclusively sticking to that old school sound. …. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are an exception.
The Dap Kings are the real deal, not just a throwback but a project rooted in keeping the classic sound of 60’s and 70’s funk and soul alive, so much so that when they began making music in the early 90’s as The Soul Providers, they made a point of only recording with vintage gear that would have been used back in the day. They connected with Sharon Jones who after singing in churches as a young girl in Augusta Georgia moved to NY to try and make a career for herself but that eventually led to her struggling for a break and becoming a corrections officer at Rikers Island. However, once her voice was heard singing back ups for the Dap Kings she was given a chance to sing lead and they haven’t looked back. Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings are now one of the most critically acclaimed bands in music, and if you didn’t know better you might think they were straight out of 1970.
You’d Better Know It-Jackie Wilson (1958)
Since I’m on the topic of Motown and a classic sound lets talk about Berry Gordy. We can thank him for cultivating and giving us The Jackson 5, The Supremes and Smokey Robinson, but even before Motown, Gordy was writing music and scored 9 hits for Jackie Wilson. In fact it was the royalties from these co-writes that helped him establish Motown Records in the early 60’s, so in turn we could also thanks Jackie Wilson for the emergence of the Motown hit machine. Jackie Wilson was known as Mr. Excitement for good reason; he is one of the greatest artists and performers of all time. It wasn’t just his distinct voice but it was the way he moved that made him so legendary, it’s easy to believe that his early success as a boxer helped him with his quick feet as a dancer. Jackie Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 1987 and is an absolute necessity in understanding the evolution of any great vocal or dancing performance we have seen since.
April Fools-Rufus Wainwright (1998)
I can’t remember how I stumbled upon the first Rufus Wainwright album, I do however remember it being the soundtrack for my first year living in Halifax, I literally listened to it so much that the CD began to skip (Jesus, I feel like my dad talking about 8-tracks). I guess I just took for granted at the time that he would be one of those artists I would always listen to, and because the record was so good I think I also took for granted I would be reminded of him by the marketing machine that is the industry. I must say, I did remain pretty loyal for his next 3 albums buying them the week they were available, but then for some reason he fell off my radar, and looking back I think it’s because I wasn’t slapped in the face with his latest projects the way I figured I would be (not very loyal I know). Off my radar or not he has had a very steady and successful career with some personal ups and downs which have no doubt affected the forward movement of his star, but the fact remains in my mind, Rufus Wainwright might just be one of the best songwriters of his generation and perhaps hasn’t received the credit he deserves. Now there have been spikes in his career where he has been part of that in your face celebrity exposure that seems necessary to generate massive sales ….but for the most part he has a cult flowing. That’s not a bad thing, a cult following is a good look and translates to longevity which I’m guessing will be the case with Rufus because his cult following loves everything he does, whether it’s a Grammy nominated tribute to Judy Garland, writing an opera or just continuing to give his beautiful and unique take on pop music……on or off the radar. I have a little catching up to do I must admit, but every time I hear the song April Fools I remember that I can’t remember how I stumbled upon him in the first place.
No Room to Bleed-Ben Lee (2002)
I had heard Ben Lee’s name but not his music up until a few years ago when I found an acoustic version of his song “Gamble Everything for Love”. Truth be told, I listened to the song for a few months without knowing who was singing it because it was part of a compilation and I never thought to look on the screen of my iPod for whatever reason. It’s a great song and I kinda wish it was the song you could click on right now and listen to but I am slightly restricted sometimes to what songs we have in the video library so…. I will suggest another one of his songs that I ultimately discovered when I finally looked at my iPod screen and saw the name Ben Lee. “No Room to Bleed” is a great track from his 2002 album “Hey you, yes you”, but as soon as you are finished go find the track “Gamble Everything for Love”.
Chaka Demus– Jamie T (2009)
When he was 21 years old Jamie T released an album which he created mostly in the basement of his parents house in London. He called it “Panic Prevention” because, as the story goes he suffered intense panic attacks in his teens and the music helped him deal with it. The album hit with the UK media and music fans, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury award alongside Amy Winehouse and the Arctic Monkeys and that was his first attempt at an album; not bad. His lyrical take on British suburbia is entertaining even for someone who has never been there and can’t relate. The idea of his music representing growing up in London has actually become the focus of a lot of the attention his gotten from the British press, his reaction: “It’s hard… There’s a boredom in the suburbs that’s interesting to me. The whole… boredom of it.”“You’ve got nothing to do have you? So you make your own fun.” “I grew up here, so obviously it’s important,” “but it’s nothing to do with the place. It’s the people in the place, you know? I’m not patriotically London. I couldn’t really give a shit. It could be anywhere to me.” Jamie T is brand new to my ears, I’m still digesting his music but at the present moment I do really dig his tune “Chaka Demus” and recommend reading along with the lyrics so you don’t miss gems like: “two world wars, and one world cup, Screamed by the desperate divided crutch. Used to have an empire then we grew up. Lost everything, who gives a fuck.