Archive for Black History Month Album Spotlight

BHM – Album Highlight – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

Sorry for missing a few days folks.  I’ve been really crazy busy at work trying to push out a release.  I needed a break so I’m over here to highlight something that is out of my comfort zone.  In the last few years, I have been getting into more classic jazz music with such artists as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and John Coltrane.  I guess the inspiration to listen to more jazz came from a trip to New Orleans and seeing how much jazz played a roll in the culture of New Orleans and some of the other styles of music that I enjoy.

I find jazz relaxing and quizzical.  I enjoy trying to figure out what an artist is trying to convey musically without a damn bit of words.  It’s like an abstract or impressionist painter in some regards.  A hint of subject is there, can you figure it out?  I’m a real amateur at this, but enjoy the challenge.  With this new fascination, I have started to collect a few jazz albums here and there.  Most recently picking up a box set from Ella Fitzgerald; however, the album I chose to spotlight today is from my personal collection, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.

John Coltrane was born in North Carolina in 1926 and became one of the most respected jazz saxophonist and composers.  He recorded and played with many jazz greats and passed away at the very young age of 40 due to liver cancer.

Johnny Hartman was a jazz singer known for his ballads.  He never really made it big, but did get noticed by Coltrane and was asked to record with him.  At first Hartman was reluctant to record with Coltrane, thinking their styles wouldn’t mesh, but after seeing Coltrane perform live, they quickly went to the studio.

The result is a mix of great jazz and sweet, deep ballads.  With only about a 30 minute run time, the album leaves you wishing for more, but the tracks that made the cut are top notch.  Coltrane’s sax runs on Autumn Serenade make you feel like you are strolling with your baby in a park in the fall.  I know jazz isn’t for everyone, but at only 30 minutes, it’s a quick listen.

If you have time, take in Coltrane’s “Alabama” and try to think about what he was trying to convey in this song.  He wrote it about 4 young girls who were killed in a church bombing by the KKK in 1963.

That’s it for now.  I hope to have additional time to go more in depth on some really great albums in the next few weeks.  Until then, keep listening.

BHM Album Highlight – Prince – 1999

I don’t have a ton of time today to write about the album because I’m stuck at work; however, I did not want to miss a day because there are so many great artists.  Today’s album is 1999 by Prince in honor of his catalog being released to streaming services today.  You can now listen to 1999, Purple Rain, and all of his great albums on Spotify today for the first time.

I chose 1999 over the other albums from Prince mainly because I have such great memories singing that song with my Aunt when we were growing up.  This album too is on Rolling Stones list of top 500 albums ever.  I hope you enjoy it.

BHM Album Highlight – Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

Our Black History Month Album Highlight today comes on the anniversary of the death of the artist.  Whitney Houston came on the music scene in 1985 and found almost instant success.  There is no wonder, because she is in my opinion, the most talented vocalist to ever been born.  Her technical skills are off the charts and the famous record producer Clive Davis knew it from the moment he saw her perform.

The album, “Whitney Houston” was a huge success with the hits, “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know,” “Thinking About You,” and “Greatest Love of All.”  It is on Rolling Stones list of 500 greatest albums of all time and sits in my personal collection.

I hope you enjoy the album from this incredibly talented artist.

RIP Whitney.

BHM Album Highlight – Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

This addition of Black History Month Album Highlight is spotlighting the magnificent singer and musician, Marvin Gaye and his brilliant piece, “What’s Going On.”

Marvin has one of the all time best voices and this album is just full of powerful lyrics wrapped in beautiful arrangements.  The album starts off with the title track which is one of the most important songs ever written.  Gaye is said to have written it in response to Renaldo Benson’s (Four Tops) accounts of witnessing police brutality in Berkeley California on Bloody Thursday.

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Although written almost 50 years ago, the lyrics still apply today.

The album continues into more socially inspired songs touching on the theme, “What’s Going On,” by asking the question in Save The Children:

I just want to ask a question
Who really cares?
To save a world in despair
There'll come a time, when the world won't be singin'
Flowers won't grow, bells won't be ringin'
Who really cares?
Who's willing to try to save a world
That's destined to die

The other really huge hit on the album finishing out side A is, “Mercy Mercy Me(The Ecology),” probably one of the first environmentally focused songs to come out of the R&B/Motown genre.  Gaye writes more questions:

Oh mercy, mercy me
Oh things ain't what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land
How much more abuse from man can she stand?

Side B of the album is only three songs including the seven and a half minute “Right On,” an almost summary of some of the highlights from side A.  The tempo changes a bit in this one in the middle and then picks up the pace with some wispy clarinet that brings hope.  “Wholy Holy” follows, a song begging folks to come together and love one another.

Side B ends with the introspective song called, “Inner City Blues.”

Natural fact is
I can't pay my taxes
Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands

Marvin couldn’t in fact pay his taxes and had to go into some what of an exile for a while.  The album ends with more call backs to earlier and themes and a last cry for “Mother, Mother.”

Marvin was born and raised in Washington DC.  He was shot and killed by his own father in 1984 after an altercation.  This is one of the best and most important albums of all times.  Please give it a listen from front to back and let the lyrics of the pain, the questions, the hope, the love and the despair sink in. Then I ask you to compare where he was in 1970 to where are today.  I find myself wondering why we are still asking the same questions some 50 years later.

Thanks for listening, I hope you enjoyed this and if you have any comments please post them on my blog here, or on Facebook or Twitter.  Keep listening and supporting art!

BHM Album Highlight – Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings – Give The People What They Want

My Black History Month album and artist highlight today is the wonderful “Give the People What They Want” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Sharon Jones was a fierce lady who released her first album at the age of 40 years old. She was a dynamite performer, and had the energy of a lightning bolt. I was lucky enough to see her perform once before her life ended battling cancer.

This album, “Give the People What They Want” was released in 2014 and received a Grammy nomination. It is a throwback to yesteryear when funk was king and the pure music made you tap your feet.  Please check it out and her other albums.  There is also a really good documentary on Netflix about Miss Jones entitled, “Miss Sharon Jones!”