Memphis music-scene fixture Valerie June releases her debut album, Pushin' Against a Stone, this week, as detailed in this week's cover story. But it's not the only Memphis-connected new music out this week.
Wishful Thinking — Skewby: This young local MC is an oasis of grounded, humane perspective in a scene dominated by grinders and wannabes trying to meet cultural expectations. Skewby's been pretty quiet of late with more than year since his last release, the EP Humble Pie. He returned on August 12th with the free online release (find it at wishtape.com) of this eight-song collection of thoughtful, self-assured raps over laid-back, soulful grooves. I miss some of the swagger Skewby first showed on his debut mixtape Proving You Wrong Since 1988, but Wishful Thinking is a good place to spend some time: an observational but unpreachy tour through the world of a young man out of time. With images of civil rights struggle flickering in his head and with most of his friends having kids when they still had fake IDs, he seeks out family history to put his own car-note complaints into context.
Skewby is a rapper who doesn't much enjoy hanging out with "music types," which could be a problem. And he knows his "Big Chance" might never come. His advice to a younger cousin who desires a rap career: "Rap all you want, man, just get a real job tho/Thirty-two, livin' with your mom, like, 'When I get this deal ...'/Homie, let's be real/Be a birthday present and move out her crib." If he never makes a mil or drives a Benz? It's all good. While he watches his cohort obsess over YouTube hits, he ends this release by setting aside fame as a goal in exchange for a more realistic wish list: "Property/Rooms to escape in/Books to get lost in/Cheap wine to sip on/A back porch to grill on."
Old & Young — Zeke Johnson & Screamin' Eagle: This blues/folk album spans generations, uniting 69-year-old area blues/folk player Zeke Johnson with 25-year-old Chris "Screamin' Eagle" Nanney. Johnson was a long-time sideman to Furry Lewis and also an associate of Mississippi Fred McDowell. This is apparently the first album on which he's appeared.
Both preview tracks — Screamin' Eagle taking the lead on his own blues-rock song "Good as Dead" and Johnson giving a warm reading of the Woody Guthrie classic "Pretty Boy Floyd" — are strong. The rest of the 32-minute album contains both original music from Screamin' Eagle and Johnson as well as interpretations of familiar songs from Lewis and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Old & Young was recorded in analog at Ardent Studios with Adam Hill and was released on August 13th. The duo plays an album-release show on Friday, August 16th, at Java Cabana coffeehouse in Cooper-Young. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.
Rebellious Soul — K. Michelle: The Memphis-bred, Atlanta-based R&B singer K. Michelle first started charting singles back in 2009: "Fakin' It" (with Missy Elliott), "Fallin'," and the 2011 belter "How Many Times" among them. Along the way, she also guested on R.Kelly's Love Letter album and appeared on the VH1 reality series Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta.
After the typical bout of delays, this debut album for Atlantic Records finally came out this week, trailing a lead hit single, "V.S.O.P." The album is tough-talking, rap-friendly R&B in the vein of young Mary J. Blige.
The opening, "My Life," a testament of struggle against a backdrop of drug dealers, strippers, and street violence, sets the tone, and sometimes — see "Pay My Bills" — it gets particularly raw. But K. Michelle can hold her own vocally and has a good chance to build on her already considerable success in the crowded world of radio-ready R&B.
K. Michelle returns home this weekend for a free show at Minglewood Hall on Friday, August 16th. The concert is sponsored by radio station K-97 and the event is set to begin at 4 p.m., with K. Michelle performing soon after being recognized by Mayor AC Wharton at 5 p.m.