Music » Record Reviews

Recent Record Roundup



Marco Pavé
Welcome to Grc Lnd (Radio Rahim Music)
by Chris McCoy
Marco Pavé’s Welcome To Grc Lnd makes the party political from its opening moment, when Jamey Hatley intones the album’s name, sarcasm dripping from her voice like the devil’s honey. Hatley functions on the album like a DJ taking the temperature of the city. And that temperature is hot.
She’s not the only strong female voice chiming in. Duchess spits fire on “Hood Obit”. Soul singer Big Baby takes it to church on “Let Me Go”, providing a hook for a Black Lives Matter protester’s story of abusive police. Later, Artistik Approach wraps thoughts on the intersection of capitalism and racism in layers of angelic harmony.
Pavé is a charismatic frontman, equally at home flowing about the school-to-prison pipeline or barking his shins while getting out of bed. But his greatest talent may be in choosing collaborators and bringing out great performances. Overall, this is one of the most meticulously constructed, finely paced albums to come out of Memphis in recent memory.
***** (5 stars)

Various Artists
Fruition (Culture Power 45)
by Andria Lisle
This new vinyl-only hip hop imprint has an Arizona mailing address, but much of the label’s talent comes from the Memphop scene. Of 19 tracks, eight have local connections, including Empee’s gritty “Never CMO,” two memorable instrumentals from MaxPtah, and Jason Da Hater’s pile-driving wrestling ode “Black Randy,” also produced by Empee.
It’s a stretch to call Chicago-born, Philadelphia-based Fatnice local, but he has roots here — and his “Time U Miss” is biographical brilliance. That track and Infinito 2017’s “War Against Commercialism” transcend era and geography, a rare feat in contemporary hip hop. The latter’s hook (“I’ll never cross over”) rings with the assurance of an artist who is accustomed to DIY — Infinito 2017 is one of the “ten black men” behind the label which, so far, has released six lathe-cut limited edition 45s in addition to this vinyl-only full-length.
***** (5 stars)

Shannon McNally
Black Irish (Compass Records)
by Chris McCoy
What distinguishes Oxford-based Shannon McNally from the pack of Bonnie Raitt-influenced roots rockers is her commitment to the beat. McNally could have gone the rhythmless route on “Prayer in Open D”, the emotional and temporal center of Black Irish, when she is unaccompanied by her band. But even as she sings about “the river of darkness in my blood,” she keeps the beat bouncy. Elsewhere on the record, her cadre of Nashville cats keeps it tight. Album opener “You Made Me Feel For You” reworks “Baby Please Don’t Go” to good effect — the first of many times McNally and co-writer Rodney Crowell lean on the traditional hill country blues structure. On “Banshee Moan,” McNally is clearly having a blast going full Tusk, complete with pounding toms and breathy, Stevie Nicks vocal flourishes. Black Irish won’t teach you anything new about country, rock, or blues, but McNally’s craftsmanship and emotional honesty could get under your skin.
*** (3 stars)

Don Bryant
Don’t Give Up on Love (Fat Possum Records)
by J.D. Reager
Memphis native Don Bryant has been a fixture of the local soul scene since the early 1960s. Though he is primarily known as a songwriter — he has penned cuts for Al Green, Albert King, his wife, Ann Peebles, and others — he's also a talented singer and performer. His 1969 album for Hi Records, Precious Soul, is regarded by many as an underground soul/r&b classic. And while Don’t Give Up on Love is only the second “secular” offering of Bryant’s career (and his first since the pure gospel of 2000’s It’s All in the World), it radiates confidence and old-school Memphis swagger. With an ace backing band in tow, consisting of members of the Bo-Keys and the legendary Hi Rhythm Section, the grooves never feel forced or anachronistic: This is the real deal. Highlights include the uptown blues shuffle “I Got to Know” and a fierce cover of O.V. Wright’s “A Nickel and a Nail,” which opens Don’t Give Up on Love in style.
**** (4 stars)

Cory Branan
Adios (Bloodshot Records)
by J.D. Reager
Adios is Memphis-by-way-of-Southaven singer/songwriter Cory Branan’s fifth studio album — his third for the large indie label Bloodshot, and his first since moving back to Memphis from Nashville earlier this year. And though it might not be his sunniest offering to date (Adios is touted as Branan’s “death record” in promotional materials), it definitely shows Branan’s deft touch with a catchy pop hook and clever turn of phrase is undiminished by personal tragedy. From the opening earworm “I Only Know” (which features scorching backing vocals from Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace) to the 1980s Springsteen synth-pads of “The Vow,” to the barroom-ish closer, “My Father Was an Accordian Player,” the journey definitely has its emotional ups and downs. But as with most of his catalog, Branan’s wit and skill with the craft make the journey worthwhile.
**** (4 stars)

Charles Lloyd
Passin' Through (Blue Note Records)
by Alex Greene
This Memphis native is a point of pride for Mannassas High School, which has spawned so many legendary players. It was 50 years ago that Lloyd was first named Jazz Artist of the Year by Downbeat, and he may deserve that moniker still. This album finds him taking a virtual tour of jazz since then. Opening with the Coltrane-esque sonic washes and free flourishes of “Dream Weaver,” the quartet reveals its mastery of mood and style in this live setting. The next track ranges from Miles Smiles-type delicacy and out-ness, to classic swinging moments with walking bass. “Nu Blues” opens up its titular genre with unique tonal colors and an abrupt, punctuated arrangement. “Tagore on the Delta” is a classic '60s boogaloo groover that breaks down into a butt-simple half-time section, featuring Lloyd's flute chops. And it's all grounded by Lloyd's glorious tone, epitomized by the finale, which decelerates from more sonic upheaval into the long, moody closing note.
***** (5 stars)

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