It’s kind of like a cross between John Martyn, Terry Callier and Paul Weller; finding out that he was the vocalist in Mother Earth and therefore responsible for the amazing Jesse, made a lot of sense. It sounds like an autumn morning, and would undoubtedly sound great on a sunny afternoon. He’s done a couple of albums since and I’m looking forward to hearing what else he has to say. Obviously, he hardly sells any records. Maybe he should get his foofa on.
In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eyes on Twitter and Instagram for more great new music. Which just goes to show…
Terry was the most spiritual person I’d ever come across. Very quiet, shy, humble. He had not had a good time in music, but once he came to the UK and saw the passion and obsession that British kids had for him – which he had no idea about, like so many black Americans who come here to perform totally unaware that they are cultural icons – it blew him away
This gave his music career a second lease of life and he went on to tour and record great music with bands and artists including Massive Attack and Paul Weller. If you want a single album to give you an idea of just how great he was, or why so many people absolutely loved him, I’d suggest Alive, his live album recorded at London’s Jazz Cafe and released on the seminal Soho label Mr Bongo. I was lucky enough to see him at the same venue, as well as at the wonderful Union Chapel, both of which are gigs that will stay with me forever.
If there’s one song that sums up Callier for me, it’s the beautiful Ordinary Joe; its melody, rhythm and lyrics all show him at his best. It’s brilliantly unassuming and makes a magnificent legacy for such a great man.
It must be terrible to be thought of by millions of people as a one-hit wonder if you’re actually an artist who has had a long and varied career with artistic highlights and influential fans in high places, yet been unable to turn any of those things into mainstream success. If, in other words, you’re Omar.
His breakout hit, and most famous tune, There’s Nothing Like This, was released on Gilles Peterson’s era defining Talkin’ Loud label and was, and is, an acid jazz standard. Since then he’s released numerous great pieces of music, including one of my favourite albums of the last decade, the brilliant Sing.
Many musicians have become bitter about situations like this, even ones who have gone on to great success. We all know the bands who will wilfully refuse to play the song that most people want to see them perform (Radiohead and Creep is an old example that springs to mind). But Omar, in what strikes me as a signal of the sort of man he is has, instead, taken an opportunity to revisit his defining moment 20 years later and, if anything, perfected it.
It still sounds exactly like a lazy summer’s afternoon, but this time has more of a Spanish air, has a slightly more pensive air about it, a beautiful touch of brass and is, simply, beautiful. It is an inspiring and heart-warming slice of modern soul.
Thom Yorke was bashing Spotify again this week, and maybe he has a point. But maybe it’s also the case that in the modern world where uniformity is prized over all, and the ability of mediums like radio to break new music is being crushed, we need the Spotify’s of this world to ensure we don’t run out of people like Omar.
Because it was a totally left-field cover for Faith No More, probably the biggest alternative rock band around when they released it (the Red Hot Chili Peppers of their day, even though the Chilis were around at the time.)
Because the original version of Easy, by Lionel Richie’s Commodores, was used in an ad for a bank in the 80s (below) which made me want to live in a loft, with a cat. Quite possibly the only cool bank ad ever made.
Marc Mac has been close to the beating heart of contemporary British for over two decades now. He was genre defining in the early 90s dance/hardcore movement, as part of A Homeboy, A Hippie & A Funki Dredd and redefined drum & bass as half of 4hero, where he was responsible for my favourite ever remix. And more recently he has been cataloguing his love of soul music, in all its forms, through his Visioneers project.
Their album Dirty Old Hip Hop, which consisted of instrumental covers of many of the most sampled tracks in rap, was and is one of my favourites of the last few years, and the follow-up, Hipology* (and the associated free mix-tape), which I only just discovered, is even more of a love-letter to the last great art-form of the 20th century. Kind of like an album length version of The Roots’ Act Too.
Anyway, I’ve been listening to his Visioneers stuff again quite a lot recently, and this has to be the stand-out track; it really is just beaitiful. The guitar line is wistful, funny & sad, the beat is, of course, absolutely spot on, and the whole is simply wonderful. Seriously, it has to be one of my favourite pieces of music of the last few years.
It’s like he bottled nostalgia, wrapped a beat around it and then pressed it on vinyl. Just listen to it, you’ll get the idea.
It appears that the song is actually an ad, (in the style of the Nike track Classic by Kanye, KRS-One and a host of rap luminaries), for the sneaker-pimp heaven that is the trainer shop Sole Heaven
So, I Know You Got Sole (Heaven) ticks any number of my meme tickboxes.
And, on top of that, DJ DSK’s beats and scratching are great, Mystro’s lyrics are pretty amusing, referencing any number of classic trainers, and the video reminds me of a slightly strange version of the cult British movie Human Traffic.
That ought to be enough reasons for anyone to like it, so why not download it now.
Where the bloody hell it went, I have no idea, but, as I do most years, I thought I’d finish it by wrapping up my favourite albums of the year. Now, I should probably add at this point that, because I’m no longer a teenager who buys NME every week, or even a 20-something buying a monthly music magazine, I don’t hear as much new music as I’d like. So, whilst many of these albums were released in 2011, some are actually older but were new to me in 2011.
The Streets – Computers And Blues: The Streets, or Mike Skinner as he’s known to his friends, is, I think, a perfectly English genius. This was his last album under The Streets moniker, and is, I think, a very fitting obituary. It mixes his trademark engagingly everyman raps with some lovely beats, and includes much of the (slightly cod) philosophy from his (amazingly under-rated) last album. I’ll be sorry to see The Streets go, but his new outfit The D.O.T. sound like they might be quite good, if their first track is anything to go by. It’s calledTrouble and features a young man called Ghostpoet.
Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam: His taste for bad puns reminds me slightly of Carter USM, but don’t let that put you off. He’s signed to Gilles Peterson’s excellent Brownswood label, his album is a brilliantly captured time-capsule of Britain in 2011 and it’s a crime that he didn’t win the Mercury.
DJ 2 Tone Jones – Shaolin Jazz: This is brilliant – a bunch of tracks by the Wu-Tang Clan, and is constituent members, with the backing tracks replaced with samples from classic jazz. Seriously. It’s what the wannabe hipsters would call amaze-balls. And his similar re-imagining of classic Gil Scott-Heron tracks is not to be missed either.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues: Nothing particularly different from their first album, but when you have a début as beautiful as the Fleet Foxes did, why would you want to change that? Music to get lost in.
The National – High Violet: I know, this was released in 2010. But I’m getting old, I’m not as up to date as I was, and this is simply too amazing not to put in a Best of list. Also, there might be people who are like I was – ignorant of the splendour of The National: possibly better than Arcade Fire.
Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys: A couple of the tracks sounded like attempts to replicate One Day Like This, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a truly beautiful record. Build a rocket boys indeed.
SBTRKT – SBTRKT: Soulful house music made by a man wearing a massive African tribal mask – what’s not to love? Listening to this today it occurred to me that it bears a lot of similarities to the all-time classic All Systems Gone by Presence which, if you don’t own, you really should.
Gilles Peterson – Masterpiece: Part of a series of mix albums released by Ministry of Sound, this 3 part epic shows why Radio 1 are fools to have let him go: like a 20th Century John Peel, he touches everything from techno to jazz and just about everything in between. Worth the price for just one of the three free extra mixes alone.
So, there you go. Hopefully something for everyone and some things that will be new to you and should get you through the festive season and into 2012.
*New to me.
Photo of Ghostpoet performing at Whelan’s in Dublin in September 2011 by yours truly, with a little help from Instagram.
Whilst my grand plan to hit shuffle on my iPod every day, and then to write about the first track to come along, didn’t last much past the new year, I have been using shuffle a lot recently. But rather than finding individual tracks, I’m using it to hit upon whole albums I can listen to (another New Year’s Resolution was to fight the atomisation of music).
And, this morning, whilst driving back from dropping my fiancée off at the airport at some ungodly hour, I stumbled across an album I only just remember buying, Larry Gold Presents Don Cello & Friends, which is on the excellent bbe record label (and hopefully wasn’t hit by the recent Sony fire.
It sees Larry Gold, the man behind many of the amazing string arrangements on 70s disco and philly-soul classics, including the amazing Ain’t No Stopping Us Now, teaming up with a host of modern artists to create updates of classics (including Ain’t No Stopping Us) as well as coming up with new tracks that blends the best of past & present: Travelin’ is one of the latter.
It sees wailing guitars, subtle scratching, strings that make you think you’ve died and gone to Philly heaven, and a great vocal by female rapper/singer Kameelah.
Do I belong in California?
Destiny’s in the land of Georgia?
Is there gold in Miami, Florida?
If Dublin actually had such a thing as a summer, I think this would be my anthem of 2011 (ignoring the fact that it came out a couple of years ago): I’ve had it on repeat for much of the last hour, and it really just keeps getting better.