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  • 0 The Raydio Evolution of Ray Parker Jr.

    • Review
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 08/10/2006

    Ray Parker Jr. learned his craft well. With tons of experience to guide him, he made the successful leap from session musician to Raydio hit maker. During his Raydio era, the air waves percolated with the charm of his group's catchy songs, sincere lyrics, and memorable melodies. Ray has just released a new solo album, "I'm Free," and he still knows how to tell great stories and handle tight harmonies through his songs. One thing that distinguishes Ray's style is the ease at which he effortlessly sings. You can understand all of the words as his voice cuts through (out front in the mix). With 11 songs, I found the first 9 tracks of "I'm Free," the most appealing. The title cut is a bluesy number done Texas style with a guitar lick reminiscent of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Sounds like Mr. Parker has been spending time on the beach too. There's a festive bounce in the air. "Rum Punch" is a lot of fun, as Ray and his party posse sing "pour me another and let's get drunk." You'll also find a few well done instrumentals, featuring Ray Parker's subtle guitar. A surprise song is his interpretation of a pop classic, "The Guitar Man," originally a hit for David Gates (with the group Bread). Overall, "I'm Free" offers you a pleasant sounding Ray Parker Jr., serving up some spicy new soulful songs. Honest and straightforward lyrics keep you interested throughout both the fun, and the despair illuminated in his songs. Here are some Ray Parker Jr. tour dates for the rest of 2006: August 26, Washington DC, Carter Barron Amphitheater (Rock Creek Park) September 9, Huntington Beach, CA September 30, Mesa, AZ, Ikeda Theater October 1, Santa Barbara, CA, Santa Barbara Zoo October 7, Catalina Island, CA, Catalina Jazz Festival October 13, Jacksonville, FL, The Florida Theatre October 14, Sarasota, FL, Van Weizel Performing Arts October 15, Melbourne, FL, King Center Ray's Official Biography begins..."singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer Ray Parker Jr. had hits as: Raydio (the million-selling Jack and Jill, You Can't Change That) Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio (Two Places at the Same Time, A Woman Needs Love Just Like You Do) Ray Parker Jr. (the number one R&B and pop gold single "Ghostbusters") Co-writer of hit songs for Rufus and Chaka Khan (the number one "You Got the Love" from Fall 1974) and Barry White's ("You See the Trouble With Me" from Spring 1976)." "Born May 1, 1954, in Detroit, Michigan, Parker started out as a teenage session guitarist playing on dates recorded for Holland-Dozier-Holland's Hot Wax and Invictus Records (whose roster included): Freda Payne Honey Cone Chairman of the Board 100 Proof Aged in Soul Laura Lee 8th Day Ray also played behind the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, the Spinners, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and other Motown acts when they appeared at the Twenty Grand Club." "In 1972, Wonder called Parker to ask him to play behind him on a tour that he was doing with the Rolling Stones. Parker thought it was a crank call and hung up the phone. Wonder called back and convinced Parker that he was the real deal by singing "Superstition" to him." See what he's up to now at the Ray Parker Jr. official website. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Usher on Broadway to Shakeup Chicago

    • News
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 08/09/2006

    2006 marks the 10th anniversary of the musical Chicago on Broadway. Grammy Award winner Usher is the latest star to cast his large shadow on the New York City stage. Chicago has made big box office bucks. In 2002, Queen Latifah was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the film adaptation. The movie went on to win six Academy Awards. The Broadway production won six Tony Awards in 1997. Usher will jump into the role of Billy Flynn. The flamboyant Roaring 20's musical offers plenty of jazz-based heat to keep the action hot for the 27 year-old Usher. "This is a very exciting time in my career," says Usher. "I have always admired Broadway actors for their showmanship, dedication and focus that goes into performing live on stage every night." "Being on Broadway allows you to connect to audiences in a whole new way that's different from music and movies. When they asked me to play Billy Flynn in "Chicago," I jumped at the chance to be a part of such an amazing production." Usher's acting resume is pretty impressive. He's appeared in the movies "She's All That," "The Faculty," "Light it Up," "Geppetto," "Texas Rangers," and "In the Mix". His television credits include "The Twilight Zone," "7th Heaven," "Moesha," and Dick Clark's "American Dreams" (portraying Marvin Gaye). Usher's 5th album, "Confessions" released in 2004, dominated the album charts and broke numerous records. "Confessions" sold over 15 million copies and spun off four phenomenal #1 Pop and #1 R&B hit singles. Usher has earned countless awards including 5 Grammy Awards, several American Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, BET Awards, and Billboard Awards. You get the feeling he'll be a hit on Broadway too. Usher joins the cast of Chicago at New York's Ambassador Theatre on August 22nd, and continues to shine through October 1, 2006. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Queen Latifah Leads Girl Power Tour

    • News
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 08/08/2006

    On Sunday, August 13, the final leg of this year's steamy 2006 Sugar Water Festival tour heads to the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Kicking off at 6:30pm, headliners Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Mo' Nique, and Kelis take the stage to perform their magic. Look for lots of curves, milkshakes, and "boys in the yard," checking out this sizzling summer show. Oh yes, the ladies will be there too. If you've seen this tour over the past year, (in either 2005 or 2006), let us know what you liked best. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 King of Sax Rocks Queen of Soul

    • News
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 08/03/2006

    Atlantic Records is at it again. Hot on the heels of two new vintage CD releases: "Soul Sisters" and " Soul Brothers," the label is releasing expanded versions of live classic R&B albums from Aretha Franklin, and King Curtis. Aretha's "Live at Fillmore West," recorded in 1971, will now have 13 additional tracks added to the amazing album (with new songs hand picked from various sets Aretha recorded at the historic venue). Her duet with Ray Charles, "Spirit in the Dark," is the show stopper on "Live at Fillmore West." King Curtis, who opened for Aretha at the legendary concert palace, gets featured with his own "Live at the Fillmore." The late "Memphis Soul Stew" saxophone guy churns up some lively instrumental versions of many hit songs from back in the day. There seems to be no end to the terrific classic soul material sitting inside of record company tape and vinyl vaults. The tracks are just waiting to sonically re-emerge on our own personal digital listening devices. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Mavis Staples Steps Up

    • News
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 08/02/2006

    You'll find lots of food for thought in this conversation with Mavis Staples by writer Robert Morast. What do you think? After the article, my postscript fills you in on current Mavis activities. ---------- Mavis Staples: Big voice, Lots of Soul by Robert Morast of the Sioux Falls Argust Leader "Mavis Staples says she doesn't know what key she's in while singing. But the soul legend who moaned and bellowed some classic R&B songs while part of The Staple Singers does know that she's not a fan of today's R&B music because so much of it disses women. That shouldn't be a surprise. After all, one of Staples' most memorable vocal moments was in The Staple Singers' song "Respect Yourself," a tune that admonishes the acts of ignorant men. After Pops Staples introduced the funky church-tinged song, Mavis took over the second verse issuing a soulful criticism of men by singing, "You curse around women but you don't even know their names/then you're dumb enough to think it'll make you a big ol' man." Sound like any hip hoppers or R&B singers you know? 50 Cent? R. Kelly, perhaps? Staples doesn't name names, but she's not afraid to call out the machismo-soaked lot 30 years after "Respect Yourself" dogged the men of its time. "The songs today ... it's actually garbage to me, because you're disrespecting the ladies," Staples says from her home in Chicago. She then steps back in time to cite the material of R&B patriarchs such as Curtis Mayfield or The Temptations as more appropriate examples of how to sing about women. "These songs could make you feel like you were falling in love," Staples says. After singing a quick, syrupy sweet line from The Temptations' "My Girl," Staples says, "You would actually swoon when you heard these guys sing." Somewhere, there are probably women swooning over Fiddy's mush-mouthed "In the Club." But it remains to be seen if this style of R&B can transcend the moment and live on through time, like "My Girl" or "Respect Yourself." "I'll never forget hearing 'Respect Yourself' for the first time," says Shemekia Copeland, a young blues singer. "It's hard to explain. (Mavis) just comes in and you know she's there. It's like a tornado hit." Too much bling nowadays ... Another natural disaster reminded Staples of some other things plaguing today's R&B materialism and the lack of a cultural leader. After seeing how Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Staples says she wished more musicians were taking stands on the neglect that surrounded the Katrina evacuees. "I feel that these kids should get on board and forget about the bling-bling for a while and check out what's going on around them," Staples says. "But it's hard for them to see that. They came out and became big stars. They didn't struggle coming up like we did." And she says they don't have anyone to guide them. "We don't have a black leader today," Staples says. "Maybe that would show them that they should start putting some positive messages in their music about the world today." As a former convert, she knows. The Staple Singers were pushing their gospel soul sounds when Martin Luther King Jr. managed to convince the group to start singing about civil rights - like its song "Long Walk to D.C.," which implores people to take their opinions to the nation's capitol. "But I don't see anyone being a leader," Staples says. "I think somebody like Queen Latifah (could) ... not totally, but she could be instrumental in getting it together. "But we need a white leader, too. We need to start thinking about everyone together." Hmmm, sounds like a new song." ---------- Catch Mavis Staples on tour this Summer and Fall making appearances with B.B. King, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and others. In June, Mavis was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) National Heritage Fellowship. The Fellowship is the USA's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Mavis's father Roebuck 'Pops' Staples received a Heritage Fellowship in 1998, and 2006 marks the first time that a daughter and father have been honored individually with a fellowship. Awarded since 1982, other past recipients of the Heritage Fellowship include B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Michael Doucet, Shirley Caesar, Albertina Walker, Doc Watson, and Bill Monroe. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Rediscovering Lionel Richie

    • Review
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 08/01/2006

    Two years ago, reviewing Lionel Richie's 2004 CD "Just for You," (link to be updated) I wrote that his collection of new songs did "not quite capture the style of his older hits, or the R&B sound of today." I was not alone. If you search through the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) gold and platinum records database, among the 27 citations for Lionel Richie, "Just for You" is missing in action. Gold and platinum releases represent success. Gold releases have sold 500,000 units, and platinum hits have topped 1 million units. "Just for You" sold only 204,000 copies in the USA. Compared to his string of 15 consecutive top 10 R&B hits between 1981 - 1992, (five peaked at #1), the material on "Just for You" was disappointing. Let's remember, here was a guy who is the consummate successful songwriter. An entertainer who: performed "All Night Long" during the XXIII Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984, with 200 dancers, and a worldwide television audience of over 2 billion people. Won 5 Grammy Awards. Won an Oscar and Golden Globe Award for "Say You, Say Me." Given my thoughts about "Just for You," I was pleasantly surprised while auditioning his brand new 2006 release, "I Call It Love," a song that will be included in his new CD, "Coming Home," scheduled for a September 12 release. Opening and closing with what sounds like either a mandolin, or a solo harp and acoustic guitar combination, the melodic song drifts effortlessly into a contemporary mid-tempo beat, accented by background harmonies, reminiscent of Usher's style. "I Call It Love" is well constructed, with a nice tight hook..."they call it - we call it - you call it - I call it love." Joining the hook to reset the song back to its main rhythm is a distinctive bridge (that all good pop songs contain). Listen closely, and you'll hear some understated synthesizer, a tip of the hat to Lionel's sound with The Commodores. His voice sounds clear and distinctive on this new song. He's feeling the song, and enjoying it. Lionel Richie fans, "I Call It Love" is not "Truly" or "Oh No," its closer to The Commodores "Sweet Love" (in tempo), with a more consistent pulsating beat. The young dynamic duo of Stargate and Taj have written and produced this gem for Lionel. Check out "I Call It Love," new to our playlist this week on Powerhouse Radio, The #1 Total R&B Experience. Richie's "Coming Home" CD includes other collaborations with a new generation of hitmakers, including Jermaine Dupri, Raphael Saadiq, Dallas Austin, Sean Garrett, Chuckii Booker, and others. Give "I Call It Love" a listen. I think you'll like it. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Patti Labelle: Miami Vice Siren

    • Review
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 07/27/2006

    On Friday, July 28th, Miami Vice drops into movie theaters across the USA. Based on the legendary television series, detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs rise again, like the phoenix, in this 2006 update. Jamie Foxx stretches out in the role of Tubbs, originally played by Phillip Michael Thomas. Colin Farrell jumps into the Crockett role, made famous by Don Johnson. Although Patti Labelle, Nina Simone, and India Arie add some pizzazz to the new soundtrack, overall the complete collection as a body of work fails to live up to the 1985 Miami Vice CD. The original 1985 release featured Chaka Khan, Phil Collins, Melle Mel, Tina Turner, Glenn Frey, and Jan Hammer. Musically, these artists were a snapshot of the best of the 80's. As I listened to the 2006 soundtrack, I was struck by how uneven it is. Moby and Patti Labelle collaborate for a pleasing song, "One of These Mornings." "Sinnerman" by the late Nina Simone is remixed by 'Felix Da Housecat' for a robotic techno ride. India Arie offers a charming and melodic ballad, "Ready For Love." The rest of the tracks lack the star power commanded by today's most successful music artists, who are conspicuous by their absence. Additional songs run the gamut from salsa to modern rock, and include other non-descript offerings...guaranteed not to distract while munching popcorn to the pyrotechnic beat of the cop cavalcade on the silver screen. I suppose this soundtrack will play well in trendy South Beach, the section of Miami known for it's expensive restaurants, nightclubs, and upscale fashion. We'll know soon enough if the music in the 2006 Miami Vice soundtrack is trendy, or has staying power, like it's 1985 soul mate. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Classic Soul in the Bermuda Sun

    • News
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 07/26/2006

    You may have noticed in our previous article that India Arie is scheduled to appear in Bermuda in early October. Bermuda is always a hot vacation destination. The string of islands, linked by causeways and bridges, offers plenty of fun in the sun. October 4 - 7, the 2006 Bermuda Music Festival kicks into high gear, offering a strong line-up of sensational classic soul and classic R&B. Gladys Knight, Teena Marie, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Harold Melvin's Blue Notes, and The Manhattans featuring Blue Lovett and Gerald Alston are just a few of the artists scheduled to perform. Island hop till you drop, soak in some sunshine, and tune into the soulful music. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 India Arie makes Positive Contact

    • News
    • by Kingsley H. Smith
    • 07/25/2006

    Here I am, visiting with India Arie, right after her live nationwide NPR studio concert, in Washington, DC, on Thursday, July 20. She's currently on tour to support her number one CD, "Testimony: vol. 1, Life & Relationship." This release is India's best to date. The standout tracks are: Good Morning There's Hope India's Song Summer Better People I Am Not My Hair featuring Akon Here's India's remaining 2006 tour schedule... July 29, Chastain Park - Atlanta, GA July 30, Orpheum Theater - Memphis, TN August 5, Aronoff Center - Cincinnati, OH August 6, Ryman Auditorium - Nashville, TN August 10 Tampa Performing Arts Center - Tampa, FL August 11, Orange County Convention Center - Orlando, FL August 12, BJCC Arena - Birmingham, AL September 16, Cascade Theater - Redding, CA September 17, Black Oak Ranch - Laytonville, CA October 6, Royal Naval Dockyard - Bermuda Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Rick James Movie is Super Freaky Part Three

    The escapades of Rick James are legendary. His daughter Ty is the co-producer of a new movie about Rick's life. See the Rick James Movie is Super Freaky Part One, in addition to the Rick James Movie is Super Freaky Part Two. When four limousines rolled into the old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, PA USA in the early 1980's, Rick James, one of the stars of the show, stepped out of a maroon stretch ride along side of three black limos that held his band. I remembered this show pretty well, because it was a fast one. Rick was, let's say, in party overdrive mode. When his quick set ended, he, his band, and entourage slipped back into their waiting limousines, to be whisked away out of the huge stadium, making a b-line to the land of punk funk superstars. Are you ready for the final chapter in the history of Rick James? Let's continue with the official Rick James story... ---------- "Swaggering decadence had been the essence of his image for so long that he wondered whether the public would be ready -- or, more important, willing -- to accept a Rick James whose concept of touchy-feely no longer had anything to do with an orgy. Ultimately, James decided not to ask them to. "I said, 'Fuck this, let's get back to the roots,' " he recalls, "and I wrote some new songs." instead of looking ahead, Urban Rapsody takes a long look back. James has attempted a concept album, an audio movie of his life; he compares the recording process to "recreating Frankenstein." And the record is something of a monster -- a sprawling, 70-minute, 15-track catharsis. If the CD has a problem, it is the obviousness of its intent, which is to appeal to the broadest audience possible. James enlisted a wide assortment of stars, from hip-hoppers (Snoop Doggy Dogg, Neb Love, Rappin' 4-Tay) to rhythm and blues legends (Bobby Womack, Charlie Wilson) to another of his proteges (Joanne "JoJo" McDuffie, of the Mary Jane Girls) to help out. Occasionally, the music sounds as though James has traveled to his collaborators' ground instead of staking out his own. The sly spelling of the album's title, Urban Rapsody, also carries the scent of concession, given the vehemence with which James used to rail against rappers. "That was just me going through an artistic ego trip," he says now. "I didn't want rappers touching my shit, but a lot of us older musicians felt that way then. I wanted to sue them. But then I saw what kind of money I was making from Hammer and LL Cool J and Will Smith and on and on with the people sampling Rick James music. And I said, 'Never mind.' " But if James's rap-and-funk approach now sometimes seems derivative, it's worth remembering that he's one of the innovators from whom it was derived. Certainly there is no doubting his technical mastery of the various styles he showcases on Urban Rapsody. His singing has acquired a honeyed richness, and his sincerity here can be downright disarming. Snoop Doggy Dogg and Charlie Wilson contribute star quality to "Players Way," the single that was released to radio, but the CD has moments with far more magic. The title track, an ode to the inner city, plays Rappin' 4-Tay's smooth staccato against James's bruising crooning, both vocals folding seamlessly into a tangy backing of warm horns and funky bass. Neb Love, of the struggling rap duo Da Five Footaz, may get her big break with her hauntingly seductive performances on "It's Time" and "Favorite Flava." There's also no denying the earnestness of "Mama's Eyes," a painful recollection of James's mother, who died of cancer while he was in prison. Throughout, the underlying tone of Urban Rapsody is one of uncertainty, both musically and lyrically, and that is its most personal and poignant statement: This is Rick James, circa 1997, vulnerable and bravely struggling for direction and meaning. "I have to establish myself again, but I have to be careful. I don't want to lose the fans I had, and I want to attract new fans, but I don't want to lose my musical integrity either," he says. "I don't want to make the same mistakes I made before, but I don't want to blow people away with something foreign or alien to what they expect. I have to find a happy medium. The album is out, yeah, but I'm still in search of that happy medium." A nightmare of hassles behind him, he's both relieved and relaxed, a bright and quick-witted student of American popular music, the history of which he has helped shape." ---------- Rick James Forever was released in 2005, a year after the king of punk funk died of a heart attack. Always the innovator, Rick was one of the first artists to jump on board the online radio craze back in 2000 and 2001. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his music stream, "Rick James Radio," on live365, featuring non-stop back-to-back Rick James tracks. Previous Post | Next Post

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