Sweet Soul Music

The only song by Arthur Conley I was familiar with, “Sweet Soul Music,” is likely the only song by him that many people are familiar with.

I bet most people don’t know who he was, so here’s a short bio for you.

Arthur Conley did not have an illustrious career, though he was active for about 30 years. Like many soul artists, he got into singing through gospel choirs and moved along from there to a group called The Corvettes and then to his solo career, and was mentored and produced by Otis Redding. Eventually, he ended up moving to England and then Amsterdam, changing his name so as to live in peace with his secret of being gay, though the Dutch didn’t seem to care about that. He had a Dutch band for a little while, toured briefly and passed away at home in 2008.

So there’s that for you. But what I would rather talk about is his music. Honestly, it all sounds pretty much exactly like what you expect of soul music of the early 70’s, but there are a couple of songs that stood out to me.

“Sweet Soul Music” is absolutely my number one favorite, and you should really check it out. In fact, here’s a video link for you:

It references a number of well known Soul artists such as James Brown, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, etc. and is very fun to sing along to. Plus, that trumpet refrain is just plain fun!

My second favorite is “Hearsay” and if you like that one, maybe take a listen to “You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy” and “Funky Street” as well.

Pretty good stuff, and if you are a fan of classic soul music, this is prime material to add to your library.

Thats all I really have for you today, so happy listening to that sweet soul music!

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A Rose Is Still A Rose

First off, let it be said there is no shortage of Aretha Franklin music out there. I mean, holy crap, there are more than 40 albums on Spotify alone and that’s not counting the singles and compilations. Actually that’s why it took so long for me to post again; I was busy listening to that massive library of Aretha Franklin music.

And she’s still going, by the way. Her most recent album was in 2014, and she still tours and performs.

It was interesting listening to the different styles and recording qualities as I listened backwards through time. Current era Aretha’s voice shows her age just a little bit. If you want an example, listen to her cover album Sings the Great Diva Classics.

00’s and 90’s era Aretha left me a little tickled. It sounds just like the rest of the R&B/soul music of that time that I remember. Recommendation: listen to the songs “Wonderful” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose”

80’s Aretha was par for the course (but don’t be fooled, par on this course is fantastic) though I would note she recorded a jazz album in 1984 that stood out. It’s called Aretha’s Jazz, and it shows off her voice in a beautiful way.

Classic 60’s and 70’s Aretha will probably always be my favorite. Her voice is and always has been incredibly beautiful and strong. There are so many amazing songs from this period, I would recommend all of it. Really, just check it out. If you want specific recommendations, I will include a list of some of my all time Aretha favorites at the end of this post.

When you get back into the early 60’s she was mostly recording Gospel tunes. As with many famous soul and gospel artists, religion was a huge part of her upbringing. Her father was a well known pastor and she had been singing in churches since she was a little girl. There are some excellent tunes there as well, a good collection of which can be found on the album Amazing Grace.

All in all, Aretha Franklin has earned her title as Queen of Soul ten times over. She is extremely talented and skilled. If you like soul music at all, you are probably already quite familiar with much of her music, but I would suggest checking out some of the deeper cuts.

However; if you want to just listen to a good sampling, there are many great compilation albums available that have the best of the best of her music.

Fun fact! She famously stepped in at the Grammys one year for an ill Luciano Pavarotti, singing the famous opera tenor piece “Nessun Dorma” and absolutely nailed it. Here’s a video clip: https://youtu.be/5PONptwUo-Y

She shaped a genre, her music moves people, and her legacy will last for a long time to come.

Happy Listening!

As promised, here is a short list of some of my favorite Aretha tunes:

“Today I Sing the Blues”

“Think” *

“See Saw” *

“I Say a Little Prayer”

“Chain Of Fools” *

“The Weight” *

“Fool On The Hill”

“Respect”

“I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You” *

“(You Made Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”

“A Song For You”

“A Rose Is Still A Rose”

“Wonderful”

“Rock With Me”

“Son of a Preacher Man”

“Love For Sale”

Well, that turned out to be longer than I intended. I starred my top 5, if you want a shorter list. They are all great songs, though. And there are many more! Go check it out!

St. James Infirmary

So a couple of weeks ago I was searching Spotify for a good version of “St. James Infirmary”, a fun blues song I was introduced to a few years ago. I have heard a few versions of this song by artists such as Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but I was immediately impressed by Allen Toussaint’s version when I stumbled across it. The simple instrumentation combined with the minor key and well-placed subtlety made it a very nice arrangement.

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The only problem here is I had never heard of Allen Toussaint and I knew nothing about him. The solution? Listen to all of his music! And I gotta tell you, he has a lot of it; this guy was making and producing music from the ’50’s up until his death in 2015.

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Not all of his music is jazz. In fact, he has done quite a bit of R&B, Soul, Funk, and Blues. Apparently he has been an extremely influential figure to New Orleans R&B and composed a number of well-known songs such as “Fortune Teller” “Ride Your Pony” “Southern Nights” (this one was featured in the recent movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and the frequently covered “Working In The Coal Mine” He also helped produce hundreds of fantastic songs such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John (one of my favorites for road trips) and the famous “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle.

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I am so glad I know all of this now! This guy has been a major player in 60’s and 70’s funk and R&B music, I can hardly believe I didn’t know him.

Of course, this does not mean I love everything he’s done. There was one particular album I listened to called Mr. Mardi Gras – I Love A Carnival Ball that was truly hard for me to sit through. Almost painful, really. I can’t even tell you exactly what I didn’t like about it, but I think it was probably a combination of musical style and instrumentation. It just sounded cheap to me, and I was glad when it was over.

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We all know I am a sucker for jazz and all of its varied forms. Jazz is at least a little bit present in or was an inspiration for many of today’s genres anyway, and I enjoy those for what they are, but there is still something special to me about listening to a small combo band playing bluesy or jazzy tunes like I would expect to find in some smoky underground bar downtown in a big city in the 50’s. Thus, the albums I enjoyed most on this journey were the ones that reflected style.

So if you are looking for a relaxing jazz album to listen to, check one of these out: The Bright Mississippi and American Tunes. There are some great tracks on those two albums such as “Singin The Blues” “Delores’ Boyfriend” “Viper’s Drag” and “Long, Long Journey”

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If you prefer to stick with R&B and Funk, check out the albums Southern Nights (really good) and Sweet Touch Of Love. As far as recommended tracks, I would have to go with “Last Train” “Victim Of The Darkness” “Sweet Touch Of Love” and “Southern Nights”

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I may have found Allen Toussaint for his jazz albums, but every time I listen to his Soul, R&B, and Funk I love it just a little bit more. He was truly a gifted composer, and I am so glad I got the chance to explore his music like this. After everything I have learned I am almost ashamed I didn’t know who he was, but then I suppose that’s kind of the point of this project, isn’t it?

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Success!

Águas de Março

Oh, how I have been looking forward to this post!

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As an avid music listener and an amateur musician I have opinions on many aspects of music, and the one we will discuss now is rhythm. Drum beats have a vast variety across the many genres. From driving and steady quarter note rhythms found in many rock and pop songs, to tripping little triplets in jazz, to alternate beats accenting reggae, to heavy half-time dubstep, rhythm is a huge indicator of not only the genre of a song but mood and emotion.

I have personally always enjoyed the subtle and intricate rhythms found in Bossa Nova music. Here is some sheet music of such rhythm for those of you that can read it.

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Bossa Nova emerged in the 50’s and 60’s from Brazil and is possibly the most well-known genre to have emerged from that country. It’s a very smooth sounding music, with gentle melodies and subtle instrumentation which typically consists of an acoustic guitar and drums with perhaps a few other instruments thrown in such as organ, piano, saxophone, flute, etc. It is in fact a jazz subgenre, and is a kind of combination of jazz and samba, making for a relaxed romantic music.

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But enough of me expounding the virtues of Bossa Nova, let’s talk about the artist of the day. Antônio Carlos Jobim, also known as Tom Jobim, was a Brazillian composer and musician and one of the more prominent factors in the emergence of Bossa Nova along with artists such as João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, and Stan Getz. As a jazz subgenre, and also true to its time period, these songs were often performed by multiple artists. As such, many of the songs I love by Tom Jobim have also been recorded by other Bossa Nova artists.

The songs composed and arranged by Tom Jobim are beautiful and relaxing, the kind of thing you would expect to hear in an upscale restaurant or at some fancy garden party, but I like to listen to it when I’m relaxing. Its a great way to let stress leave you and take life as it comes.

Even if you don’t think you have ever heard a Bossa Nova song before, I can almost guarantee you have at least in passing heard the song “Garota de Ipanema” or “The Girl From Ipanema” This song seems to be the most popular elevator/waiting room song in Hollywood, and I can think of a few movies off the top of my head that have used it. Indeed, Bossa Nova seems to be the quitessential elevator music.

For example, this scene in The Emperors New Groove. It’s hard to hear, but it is there in most of the scene.

Or in The Blues Brothers for this elevator scene.

Or how about this scene from Scrubs.

It really is just about everywhere. In fact, one of my older sisters once made a mixed CD with nothing but different versions of that very song on it, all of them very good. It’s an excellent song. Since I included all those clips above, I figure I might as well include the whole song, so here’s my favorite version:

But let’s not stray too far from the original point of this post. Bossa Nova is in my opinion, as you no doubt have figured out, a fantastic genre of music. I love the way Portuguese sounds when sung in this way (enough that I decided to start learning the language myself so I could sing it). Truly beautiful.

If I were to make a Bossa Nova basics playlist for you to listen to, it would likely include the following tracks: “The Girl From Ipanema” “Corcovado” “Wave” One Note Samba” “Agua De Beber” and of course my long time favorite, “Águas de Março” These are all amazing songs, but if you only listened to one of these songs, I recommend that last one. Here’s another video link for you. I especially enjoy hearing the smile in their voices at the end.

Well, you’ve probably had enough of the video links, so I think I’ll end this here. If you end up loving Boss Nova just as I do, happy listening! If not, well at least you tried something new, right?

So long, and thanks for the beautiful music, Tom!