Monday 23 December 2013

2013: Top 5 albums


'No Beginning No End' by Jose James [Blue Note Records]

For several months after this album's release, it looked certain to claim 2013's top spot.  Marking James's debut with Blue Note Records, 'No Beginning No End' saw him recruit heavy-hitters Pino Palladino, Chris Dave, Amp Fiddler, Hindi Zahra, Emily King and Robert Glasper, all in an effort to shift his music towards more 'soul' territory - notably for the first half of the album.  The division of 'halves' is ultimately what I think worked against it for me though: the first half, as mentioned, featured the album's soul aesthetic while the second half delves back into the jazz James was initially associated with, but ballads moreso than anything else, lacking the personality normally injected into his music (see Jose James's debut album 'The Dreamer', for example).  These are really just gripes for me as I place Jose James on such a pedestal.  What 'No Beginning No End' has actually gone on to achieve is undeniable though and much credit should go to Blue Note for the faith they clearly have in James and his product.  In and around this album though, we have to consider the two remix EPs that accompanied it ('It's All Over Your Body' (2012) and 'Come To My Door' (2013)) featuring alternate mixes by DJ Spinna, Taylor McFerrin and Oddisee, amongst others, as well as an incredible tour featuring Richard Spaven (drums), Takuya Karuda (trumpet) and Solomon Dorsey (bass).
For more info on the album, click here:
For a review of Jose James live in 2013, please click here:


'Where Does This Door Go' by Mayer Hawthorne [Universal]

Well... he's certainly come a long way since his Stones Throw debut in 2009, and the retro-themed stylings of 'A Strange Arrangement'.  Now housed under the Universal umbrella, Mayer Hawthorne evolves his music immaculately by taking his sound in a far more progressive direction while still dipping his cap to vintage soul in the way he's been famed for.
The decision to relinquish the production reigns to names including Jack Splash has given a fresh perspective, direction and sound that establishes it as wholly unique for 2013.  Three contributions are even submitted from Pharrell Williams (four, if you include the iTunes bonus track) and his production on 'Reach Out Richard' stands blissfully tall amongst an album full of highlights, including 'The Innocent', 'Crime' and 'Her Favourite Song'.  'Where Does This Door Go' genuinely ranks as an essential purchase for 2013 and was a genuinely strong contender for 'album of the year'.


'Are You Ready Cat?' by Angeline Morrison [Freestyle Records]

"Why so few words for the album you're ranking #3 of the year?"
Well, we're a mere few days away from unveiling our special feature on Ms Angeline Morrison, who was kind enough to engage in a Q&A just for you good people so we'll save all the best words about the album for that article.  Needless to say, it's claimed an incredible place on our list so it's worth already speaks volumes.  The BlueInGreenBlog bows down to you Angeline!


'Victim of Love' by Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band [Dunham Records]

Charles Bradley (and The Menahan Street Band) formally introduced themselves to the soul-loving public with 'The World (Is Going Up In Flames)' in 2007, and it took four years for the full-length album release to finally hit the shelves, which it finally did in 2011 in the form of 'No Time For Dreaming'.  Released on the Daptone subsidiary label, Dunham Records (headed up by Thomas Brenneck), the album was standard Daptone fare with Bradley's heart-wrenching lead vocal soaring over Brenneck's musical platform.  Thankfully, we didn't have to wait as long as we did on the first time round for the follow-up or else 'Victim of Love' wouldn't have a home on this year's list.  So ridiculously close to claiming the top spot, this release was by no means play-it-safe.  Much like Brenneck did with the Menahan Street Band's sophomore effort released last year ('The Crossing'), this album could have easily followed in the vein of its predecessor but songs like 'Victim of Love' and 'Confusion' are almost reminiscent of 60s/70s psychedelic rock a la Jimi Hendrix or The Doors.  It's a far more gutsier and more mature record, and probably the boldest one to ever come out of the Daptone family.  This is a certified classic that demands your attention. 


'Tortured Soul' by Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators [Timmion Records]

It really has been as long ago as 2005 since the perfect made-in-heaven collaboration of Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators came to its fruition unleashing their debut album, ‘Keep Reachin’ Up’.  Released on Timmion Records, an undeniable classic floor-filling record and soul connoisseur’s gem was unveiled, propelled by standouts including ‘Feeling Free’, ‘If This Ain’t Love’ and ‘My Four Leaf Clover’, the trans-Atlantic pairing of the Brooklyn-born, US songstress and Finland’s soul and funk power-house band garnered sterling reviews and a loyal fan base who patiently waited eight years for the follow-up record, delivered to us with glee, again, by Timmion Records in the form of 2013’s ‘Tortured Soul’.
While ‘Keep Reachin’ Up’ was glorious in its infectious enthusiasm and all-round feel-good vibes and nature, ‘Tortured Soul’ is a decidedly darker album – in both its themes and its music, adopting a more bluesy approach to many of its songs.  Few tracks on this release even seem like they’d have a home on ‘Keep Reachin’ Up’ with ‘Time To Get Business Straight’ being one of the few can’t-sit-still contenders.  By no means is this a bad thing at all – as a result of the new direction, songs are given more room to breathe and are fleshed out with more instrumental work showcasing just how unbelievingly good The Soul Investigators are.  These are conditions that Willis equally thrives under as well though – showcasing her indelible talent and ability, both as a singer and a songwriter, to get you up dancing or have you nostalgically lamenting.
With the new album’s release, it probably couldn’t get much busier, but despite it all, Nicole Willis took the time to bless this site with an exclusive chat about the last eight years and what went into the creating of the new album which you can read here:

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