Top 5 picks this week
Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens-What Have You Done? (Dap-tone)(US)
This has to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Alabama soul and gospel shouter Naomi Shelton is a grandmotherly character from back in the day and this album sounds like it was cut from the same cloth as the other churchy types who got mixed up in all this rock and roll jive. Because of Shelton's age (60+), the album really takes a good, hard look back at what a "life of crime" buys you. On What Have You Done?, the wages of sin are apparently very low with Shelton and her Raylette-esque backing singers asking many questions about the value of their lives (four of the 12 songs on the album are even phrased as questions) and find some tough answers along the way. That disappointment is expressed in the form of a soulful musical narrative that is a dead ringer throwback to the Stax and Muscle Shoals golden era. It's moody, reflective, and often just a wee bit sad. It's hard not to think of songs like the title track or the straight reading of Sam Cooke's stirring "A Change Is Gonna Come" not only as the reflections of a tough singer in the autumn years of her life looking back but of her dismay at the general unhinging of humanity that has happened in her lifetime. Leave it to a traditionalist to bring a little philosophical introspection into the mix and that's what makes this album pretty special.
Various-ZE30: Ze Records 1979-2009 (Strut)(US)
Ze Records was a favorite label of mine as a young record collector beginning with their origins in the post-punk landscape of New York's No Wave scene and winding their way through the highwater mark of American music during the past three decades-the Danceteria scene. What began as a look-ma-no-tunes sea of nihilistic indifference was molded and shaped by the nascent indie label into- what for a moment-typified everything that was new and expressive about American music in the late Seventies. Granted there were no Germs, ESG, or even a Lydia Lunch's on the label (actually Lydia's seminal classic and blueprint for EVERY Sonic Youth album Queen Of Siam was on Ze and for some criminal reason her deadoan reading of "Spooky" does not make an appearance here) but they did still manage to coax out No New York (produced by Eno), Suicide, James White & The Blacks, and "Something Wrong In Paradise". Disappointingly, this comp heads down the safe route and plays it for the DJs, as the label became more and more obsessed with disco and funk as the Eighties reared its ugly fangs Ze became more interested in club play and quick hits. Crap like Cristina's "Things Fall Apart" were and are still pure novelty far removed from the label's actual position for 30 seconds as the fracture zone between New Wave and disco that would influence everyone from Nirvana to Depeche Mode.
Various-Funk Aid For Africa (Dubspot)(US)
Nice groovy summer mix here with that feel good charitable hook. Proceeds for this compilation go to the relief organization NextAid as New York based DJ/ production school Dubspot lends a helping hand by gathering up some ace tunes for this disk. Funk Aid For Africa sounds exactly like its title would imply with lots of nice mid and downtempo African and funk inspired arrangements perfect for that special weekend get-together this summer. I personally enjoyed the re-apperance of Ursula Rucker's "Electric Santeria" but there are lots of others on this well-stocked collection of cuts designed for the fans of OM, Ubiquity, and ESL.
Black Gold-Rush (Red Bull)(US)
Is it me or does every new pop band sound just like the Kinks, to the point where I thought the NYC duo Black Gold would start busking "Waterloo Sunset" mid-song on their self-titled debut? The liberal usage of synthesizers to help out the lack of original songs or hooks definitely screams Blur and at the very least making this album some lazy, dumb summertime fun. But still the two very loudly proclaims an allegiance to Mr. Davies that they probably aren't even aware of. Oh well, I was born in a different era and even despite the boatload of catchy radio-friendly tunes I still can't find anything on here that I haven't heard from either the Kinks or Big Star a long, long, long time ago.
New Mondo-Total Control (Transport)(US)
Nice to see the return of veteran house producers DJ MFR and Vincent Kwok. Here they team up as New Mondo for a full length on longtime SF house imprint Transport. Unfortunately, the album is a complete stinker, beyond the leadoff cut "I Want Cha" with Lisa Shaw and the old Chicago sounding track "909" near the end the rest of this album is so light and fluffy it's practically unlistenable. I can handle the breezy SF sounds as long as the tunes are musical ala Migs but these ones are just dull, lifeless that even cheesy old OM Records would probably pass on.