In no particular order here is a bunch of my favorite releases from the year of the snake. I’ve listed 5 Australian titles and 5 releases from across the seas. If you like these sounds, support the artists by buying their records and go see these acts live!
Charles Bradley – Victim of Love
Firstly, one of my favorite albums of 2013 is Charles Bradley’s Victim of Love released on the Daptone label. Charles is an incredibly inspiring person on and off the stage and this second recorded offering does not disappoint. The compositions are brilliant, the lyrics are moving and Charles emotional vocal performance is gut wrenching. His voice is powerful, raw sounding and rich with emotion. Menahan Street Band are on backing band duties again (they initially collaborated on Charles’s debut No Time For Dreaming) and they really deliver again on this record – the arrangements are well thought out and the musicianship is first rate. Some real love and care has been put into this record. Each track could stand on its own as a solid 45 but as an album it flows beautifully from track to track.
I was fortunate to meet Charles when he dropped into PBS earlier this year for an interview. He gave me a big hug and thanked me for coming to his gigs and playing his music on the air. I was touched with how humble, patient and warm he was to everyone he met. His performances are quite moving and off the stage he takes the time to talk the crowd and is charmingly affectionate. Charles is a survivor of some pretty tough life circumstances and his story is incredibly inspiring. (I highly recommend watching the documentary Soul of America for insight into Bradley’s story) Charles shows that no matter what age you are you can achieve anything. Charles will be back in Melbourne in March, go and see the shows! Hopefully he will bring back his collection of jumpsuits and feathers. They don’t call him the ‘screaming eagle of soul’ for nothing!
Lady – Lady
Another must have record for 2013 is the self-titled album by Lady. This is a special transatlantic collaboration between two fabulous vocalists – Terri Walker (UK) and Nicole Wray (US) released on the Truth and Soul record label. I had the pleasure of seeing Terri sing in London mid 2013 at the Jazz Café and she was fabulous. I would LOVE to see Terri and Nicole sing together live! I’m not sure if Lady plan to tour together or not but if anyone hears anything please let me know! In the meantime though we can at least enjoy this equistite recording. The album contains eleven tracks with both vocalists sharing the lead and backing vocal parts. Both these girls have diva capabilities but the melisma runs are kept to a minimum and replaced with understated tasteful delivery of the lyrics. The band features members of the Menahan Street Band and El Michels affair, the arrangements are tight and the musicianship first class. Gorgeous harmonies, catchy songwriting and fuss free soul production. Album highlights for me is up-tempo Hold On (I particularly love the groove switches in the verses), the harmonies in Get Ready and Money is soul pop perfection. I love the album cover also! Looks like a 70s roller disco party logo. I really hope these girls cross continents again for another collaboration as this project is special!
Solange – True
This EP has really grown on me throughout the year and every time I listen to it I dig the production, compositions and lyrics a little more. There is a real mood to this recording, a sense of loss and a hint of darkness conveyed through a gorgeous mix of electro pop, synthesizers and 80s drum sounds. The lyrics are honest, raw and relatable. The mood is reminiscent of a Sade album in the way that it has a somber yet sweet energy about it. The production has an eighties throwback whilst still sounding thoroughly modern. It is not a collection of singles destined for the charts, it truly sounds like an independent electro pop artistic statement (devoid of sibling rivalry much to the tabloids dismay I’m sure). Highlight track is the opener Losing You. I love the drum loop, handclaps, double tracked vocals and the incredible film clip shot in Cape Town. This is a 7 track mini album, which I believe is the precursor to a full-length album scheduled for release on Solange’s independent label next year. Solange will be performing a sold out show January 7 at the Prince in Melbourne. Can’t wait!
Lizzo – Lizzobangers
Another Houston native, Lizzo presents her debut solo offering Lizzobangers on the Totally Gross National Product label. So many things I love about this record; the album features insanely catchy hooks, massive beats, clever lyrics and real mash up of house, hip-hop and pop influences. Classically trained as a flautist Lizzo can sing, MC, produce and write. Basically she is a force to be reckoned with and definitely one to watch. She doesn’t need to use over-sexualized lyrics, hyped up aggression or use bully tactics to psyche out her competition – this is feminine hip hop with swagger not smut. I’m really digging Lizzo’s personality and how she shines through her music – she cites ‘Bee Yon Say’ as her manager and wears a Beyonce T-Shirt in her film clip. I love the honesty in her interviews and her seemingly unstoppable work ethic. I really get the feeling Lizzo is not on a quest for fame – she has something to say and she is going about her music making quest with zest and fervor. Album highlights include the pumping Batches and Cookies, the insane 16th note lines she delivers on Be Still (and I love how she gives credit to her mates ‘All my friends are talented, all my friends got mad skillz’ at the end of this track) and the funky dance worthy track Pants Vs Dress. Subwoofer Paradise! Lizzobangers is attitude deluxe. Girl crush official.
Major Lazer – Free The Universe
This one might come as a bit of a surprise- but yes, Major Lazers Free the Universe is one of my favorites for 2013! This second offering from Diplo under the Major Lazer guise features a stack of guest appearances from acts such as Wyclef Jean, Shaggy and Peaches. But more importantly this album is jammed packed with sub heavy dance grooves, clever samples and ‘cray-cray’ hooks. The album spans dancehall, post dub step, and pop to create a danceable electronic paradise. This record has been my number one workout LP since it came out earlier in the year. It also sounds incredible in my car – subwoofer bliss! Highlights are Wind Up, Mashup The Dance and Sweat. I’m not much of a Big Day Out kind of a girl, but I absolutely cannot wait to boogie down at their sideshow in January. It’s going to be a mega calorie burn off situation.
On the local front here are some of my favorite Australian release of 2013 you simply must pick up!
Zillanova- Suicide 45
This gem out on local Melbourne label Hope Street is simply gorgeous. Cisco Tavares features on vocals on side one and Jess Harlen stars on side two – both performances are fabulous. Suicide is a world class 45! The production is melt in your mouth, the guitar sound is perfection and the tracks are earmworm delicious.
Bombay Royale – Phone Baje Na Remix 12 inch
Another release on the Hope Street label, Bombay Royale released this remix EP upon return from their Northern Hemisphere tour. The Royale can do no wrong – I really love their sound, their live show and their debut album You Me Bullets Love was a favorite of 2012. I was thrilled to pick up a copy of the remix EP and really dig these electro-fabulous reworks, making me fall in love with the skipper, mysterious lady and co all over again.
Kerbside Collection – Mind The Curb
Rare groove from the subtropics! Meet Kerbside Collection: a soul jazz quartet from the inner suburbs of Brisbane. Their debut offering ‘Mind the Curb’ is a collection of west coast cool, soul jazz and Hammond funk tracks released on German Indie groove label Legere Recordings. Recorded live to tape in the ‘old fashioned way’ (with Cookin’ on 3 Burners producer/organ player Jake Mason), the album has a warm gritty sound to it, making you feel like you have stumbled on to an unreleased Blue Note recording from the late 60s early 70s. I’m loving the understated guitar, jazz flute and the organ wrapping up the spaces in between. Hints of Wes Montgomery, Chico Hamilton and Grant Green. Album highlights are the B-boy version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Night in Tunisia and jazz funk sounds of Jelly Belly. Pick up this record, put it on your turntable and let it simmer. Just add a mojito and imagine yourself on the balcony of a beautiful Queenslander on a steamy night having a BBQ with friends. Soul jazz stand out for 2013.
Anton Delecca Quartet – The Healer
Pick this record up digitally via jazz head
Anton returns with his new album The Healer via Melbourne label jazzhead. The album features Anton on the tenor saxophone, Luke Howard on piano, Jonathan Zion on acoustic bass and Daniel Farrugia on drums delivering eight new compositions and two standards – Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered and Love For Sale. This album is intoxicating; the performances compelling, the compositions are engaging and the sound is moody, poignant and sophisticated. I really dig the mood of the album – it has a real darkness and sense of reflectiveness in the compositions. All the players in this ensemble are well-oiled jazz machines capable from flexing super chops in the bop-sphere but on this record they breathe space into the compositions allowing an over-all ‘vibe’ to be the star of the show. Album highlights is the moody Icaurus and title track The Healer. A must have Australian jazz release.
Ross McHenry – Distant Oceans
Buy this record on Bandcamp
Mister McHenry is one to watch in Australian jazz, soul and future genres. Bassist, composer and producer Ross is an extremely musical player and Distant Oceans shows him in fine form. You may have heard his work as bandleader of the Shaolin Afronauts or with Adelaide based northern soul outfit The Transatlantics. This is his debut solo offering with his ‘future ensemble’ featuring Mark De Clive Lowe on keys and Myele Manzanza on drums. The record hosts elements of hip hop grooves, futuristic electronic sounds, horns, and loop pedals to create an other worldly jazza-sphere. The future is now – courtesy of Ross McHenry.
Various Artists – Kev Beadle Private Collection
Check it out on the BBE website here.
Special mention to my favourite compilation of 2013. Compiled by broadcaster, DJ and event promoter Kev Beadle, this mix of tracks from Beadles ‘private collection’ presents rare jazz grooves and funky underground pieces with a mystic spiritual jazz bent. Kamal Abdul Alim’s Brotherhood is a stand out track. With an attention grabbing percussive intro, funk guitar groove, killer horn arrangement and a B section that launches into upbeat swing, I couldn’t help but wonder…. where has this song been all my life? Other note-worthy selections; Johnny Walkers’ Dippin’ delivers tight pre-disco funk whilst Chakra Son’s Irakara gives us a funk jazz fusion cross over with a percussive cumbia influenced groove starring the under-utilized balafone. Open Your Mind from Southern Energy Ensemble’ give us a glimpse of the seventies spiritual jazz movement and Roy Porter’s Jessica is another highlight track featuring the old jazz flute (one of my personal favs). A brilliant collection of tracks.
Watch out for these newbies in 2014!
Candice Monique and the Optics. One of the best lyricists, MCs and vocalists in Australia, Candice Monique is a soul queen you must see live in 2014! I’m very excited to hear her second album with the Optics will be coming out next year.
Cookin’ on 3 Burners. Trusty hammond trio CO3B are presenting their newbie mid next year I believe. Hang on to your hats!
Deep Street Soul Melbourne’s favourite funksters will be dropping some new 45’s in the first quarter of next year I believe. (and hope!)
Lake Minnetonka, Adam Rudegeair’s newest project is also scheduled for a release next year. Anything Rudegeair stamped is worth checking out for a dose of jazz/funk/space/noir. Possibly all at the same time.
Jen Kingwell and the Garland Thugs . I’m super excited to hear Miss Kingwell’s new project The Lotus Eaters EP. I believe the recording features arrangements of her gorgeous compositions backed by her incredible rhythm section and layered up with horns, strings and lush vocal sounds.
and not exactly confirmed but I believe we will also be hearing some new material from the charming Dru Chen, the irresistible Do Yo Thangs and soul darlings Saskwatch too. Not to mention my record also will be out in March! It’s going to be a huge year for Australian funk and soul.
Saddle up for year of the horse!