This Just In: Rocksteady!

To celebrate Sam Cooke’s birthday on Jan 22nd, the street performing act I’m a part of (Mr. E & MLE), played a little set outside where The Harlem Square Club stood in Overtown. Now you already know about that infamous Cooke gig and album, One Night Stand, since you follow this blog and read that post a few weeks ago, so here’s an anecdote from our gig that ties into today’s featured release. While we were setting up to play, a man stopped to ask what we were doing. Mr. E told him we were gonna pay homage to Sam Cooke and sing some soul music. The man replied “I only want to hear reggae.” “Well,” Mr. E replied, “a lot of reggae is heavily influenced by American soul music.” The man was intrigued as Mr. E rattled off names of reggae artists like the musical dictionary he is. And it’s true – reggae and soul are inextricably tied, both stylistically, and both as sociopolitical commentary on the times and places they originated in. Today, Soul Jazz Records’ second volume of influential Rocksteady tunes drops, and much like the American soul music of the 60’s, the songs’ messages are relevant now more than ever. -MLE

Various – Studio One Rocksteady Vol. 2 2LP
Listen: Various clips
“Soul Jazz Records’ new journey into the mighty vaults of Clement Dodd’s Studio One steps once more into the fertile musical environment of Jamaican music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, from the sweet harmony vocals of seminal 1960s Rocksteady right up to the nascent birth of Reggae and Roots music at the start of the 1970s.

Sleevenotes to this album are by Steve Barrow, author of ‘Rough Guide to Reggae’ as well as Soul Jazz Records’ own ‘Reggae Soundsystem Cover Art’ books.

While Ska at the start of the 1960s had taken American rhythm and blues as its main influence, Rocksteady focused on the emergence of American Soul music – with Jamaican vocal harmony groups such as The Gaylads, John Holt & The Paragons, Carlton & The Shoes showing a particular fascination with the close harmonies of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions and other US soul acts. Here The Heptones even feature with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’.

The influence of Soul music on Jamaican rock steady and reggae is almost palpable, so much so that one wonders how much more successful singers like Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis, Slim Smith and John Holt would have been had they been born in Chicago, Detroit or Memphis

Artists such as Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson and Owen Gray defined the era – a slowed down beat as Jamaican political and social heat slowly increased as the 1960s progressed into the start of the 1970s –  and the music evolved further from rock steady into roots reggae.

Wicked tunes!” -Soul Jazz


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This Just In: Epoch

The new Tycho album has ALL THE DRUMS. I liked Tycho somewhat before, but Epoch, is as literal as its title. There’s a great shift here to lots of organic instrumentation alongside electronic production, and it’s a stellar, welcome change. It’s almost, almost, almost a post-rock album (think Maserati or FMTM), which I can definitely get behind. Listen to the whole album below and read a bit about its creation, both sonic and visual. We also have ALL THE IN-STOCKS this week, so COME DIG! -MLE

Tycho – Epoch LP
Listen: Full album
“Tycho’s Epoch is the final album in the trilogy beginning with 2011’s Dive, then 2014’s Awake and culminating with the new album. This period between Dive and Epoch marks a significant maturation for Scott Hansen’s continually expanding project, one that has taken him from a solo performer and bedroom artist to fronting a live 4-piece band on large stages across the world. 

Epoch hones the sonic aesthetic of Dive while drawing on the kinetic energy of Awake, it explores darker themes and new musical territory. Epoch was produced and recorded by Hansen predominantly in his home studio in Berkeley, California. The album was arranged alongside long time collaborator and partner in the project, Zac Brown. Brown contributed bass and guitar parts to the songwriting process while Rory O’Connor performed drums on the album. Hansen sees Epoch as a multi-dimensional artistic vision at the confluence of his graphic design work via ISO50 and music with Tycho. The graphic presentation of album artwork is as important as the music itself. The keystone is the central image of Epoch and the colors scheme red and black. This is a stark contrast to the almost rainbow palette of Awake.” -Ghostly International

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This Just In: Memento Mori

I’m a total sucker for a killer concept album, especially when it also has a killer design. 156’s newest release, Memento Mori, hits both nails on the head. All the sounds on the album were played on human bone. Creepy, yeah, maybe, kinda. But if you dig out-there industrial/ambient stuff (think Zero Kama), you’ll be right at home. The 10″ record is pressed on bone-colored vinyl, with lovely lavender/bone accompaniment on the jacket and label artwork. The complete package, which also includes photographs of the instruments, is definitely something to behold. -MLE

156 – Memento Mori EP 10”
Listen: Full album
“Nine / eighteen tracks of the standard 156 sound, except all the music on this release was made using only human bones, or breath passing through human bones. While still in the spirit of the early industrial of Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept., and Z’EV, this record will serve as – for those who cannot obtain one – the skull’s replacement in the ritual room where a scholar contemplates death in the Renaissance rite of ‘ars moriendi’ (‘The Art of Dying’). 

These sessions have been sporadically recording since 2012, due to the scarcity of the instruments, which include skulls, femurs, vertebrae, bone whistles, and Tibetan thighbone trumpets (kangling).

The vinyl was pressed at 45rpm, so as to be able to play it at 33rpm during storms (titled ‘Thunderdrone Versions’). The digital release contains the original recordings, plus all Thunderdrone Versions (33rpm on the vinyl edition). Mastered by James Plotkin for both the vinyl and digital release.”

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This Just In: One Night Stand!

January 12th, 1963, RCA recorded a Sam Cooke performance live at The Harlem Square Club in Overtown with the intentions of releasing it as One Night Stand! But much to their dismay, Sam Cooke’s performance was too “gritty & raw” for the Nat King Cole-esque image they wanted him to portray. Despite this easily being one of the most important live performances in soul music history, it was hidden away for over 20 years until its final release in 1985. Maybe RCA was right to hide it – this thing might have changed the course of music as we know it. Oh wait, but then one year later “A Change Is Gonna Come” happened, and Cooke became far more controversial than One Night Stand! could have ever made him. At least no one hid that song. And now more than ever we need Cooke’s style and message – both the sexy, suggestive songs AND the staunch sociopolitical standards, to keep our heads straight. Come grab a beautiful, deluxe, audiophile edition of One Night Stand! (Live At The Harlem Square Club) and bring it on home. -MLE

Sam Cooke – Live At Harlem Square Club LP
Listen: “Bring It On Home To Me”

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