Toni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes © Def Jam

Toni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes « Musical Wrap-Up


The Musical Wrap-Up closes another file as we compile the album and single reviews in one place for ‘Sex & Cigarettes,’ the first new solo Toni Braxton album in eight years. Continue reading Toni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes « Musical Wrap-Up

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Mali Music, Mali Is © RCA

Grammy Predictions: Who Wins in the Urban Categories?


The Grammy nominations have been announced. Now it’s time to dig in (early) and predict who wins within the urban categories – aka R&B and rap. Names to remember – Beyoncé, Kanye West, and Eminem. There are others, but wouldn’t many agree the three heavyweight vets have a great chance of being victorious?   Best R&B Performance: “Drunk In Love,” Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z (Beyoncé)* “New … Continue reading Grammy Predictions: Who Wins in the Urban Categories?

Barbra Streisand, Partners © Columbia

57th Annual Grammys Scorecard (Take 2…)


The official cut-off date for eligibility for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards is September 30, 2014. The end of September is filled with albums that are certainly looking to compete for music’s most prestigious awards. That said, there are also notable albums released after last year’s cutoff date that can’t be written off. From my perspective, here are among the best available albums within a number … Continue reading 57th Annual Grammys Scorecard (Take 2…)

Ranking 20 R&B Albums: January – April 2014


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It’s near the end of April, and as a music journalist, I have been privy to listen to a number of albums in differing genres. Even so, I have a soft spot for R&B, but am also very hard on it. Despite my criticisms, R&B and I have a relationship like a Whitney Houston song written by Dolly Parton: “I Will Always Love You”. That said, after listening to a number of R&B albums, I ranked 20 from 2014 (EPs and mixtapes included) in order from favorite to least favorite. Here goes nothing!

1

Z

SZA 

61dSOEUFyFL._SL500_AA280_It took a juggernaut to knock John Newman from the top spot of the R&B rankings – his Tribute is a sensational album. However, SZA’s Z, an alternative R&B effort too is a truly special album with quite the innovative spirit, something so often absent from R&B these days. If anything, SZA needs to be receiving her just due. Previously of SZA I penned:

Ultimately, Z is a home run. With so many R&B albums that come and go lacking that ‘extra special something’, Z has it. Weird, yet beautiful, Z seems like a step in the right direction in which R&B should go. That isn’t to say that an alternative R&B album like this is the perfect blueprint, but it also doesn’t confine the genre to clichés or limiting trends. SZA is definitely a supremely talented young artist to watch.

Favorites:

“UR”; “Child’s Play”; “Julia”; “Green Mile”; “Sweet November”

Verdict: ★★★★½

2

Tribute

John Newman

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Brit-soul definitely has something special about it – it’s as if overseas, the idea of retro-soul isn’t far-fetched or considered un-trendy or ‘old school’.   While Tribute doesn’t have the abstractness of alternative-R&B or the trendiness and gimmickry of contemporary R&B, it does have legit authenticity, carried by an artist who can just flat out blow. Previously, I summed upmy review of Tribute as follows:

Ultimately, Tribute epitomizes musical excellence through and through. In an age where many question ‘where the soul has gone,’ Newman shows that soul music is still very much alive. For any further questioning if the British soul movement was a thing of the past in it self, well, question no more. John Newman is legit as they come and he has top-notch material working in his favor on this affair. For pop and R&B fans alike, Tribute should easily tickle your fancy.

Favorites:

“Tribute”; “Love Me Again”; “Losing Sleep”; “Out Of My Head”; “Cheating”; “Down The Line”

Verdict: ★★★★½

3

G I R L

Pharrell Williams

512oYPuD-AL._SL500_AA280_Pharrell Williams second solo album G I R L eclipses his debut (In My Mind) easily. G I R L is one big ball of fun ultimately, with the quirky, incredibly talented artist flexing his muscles (and they’re big my friends, LOL). While it leans more danceable/groovy as opposed to relying on ballads, the material is solid and definitely enjoyable. When I had the pleasure of reviewing G I R L, this is how I concluded the review:

Ten tracks deep, G I R L benefits from its brevity and overall lack of filler. Sure, it’s not a perfect album, but ultimately, Pharrell Williams delivers an effort that plays to his musical strengths and is pleasant to the ear. He doesn’t over-sex R&B like so many of his contemporary and younger male artists tend to do; he keeps things classy. Mature and enjoyable, G I R L is definitely a winner worthy of numerous spins… or a high play count on the iPod, LOL.

Favorites:

“Brand New”; “Hunter”; “Happy”; “Come Get It Bae”; “Gust of Wind”

Verdict: ★★★★

4

Testimony

August Alsina

81cg4cMMqIL._SL1500_As I continue to listen to August Alsina’s full-length debut, despite giving it plenty of accolades, sometimes I think I should’ve bestowed even more. A 3 ½ star rating is a great one in my book/most critics, but perhaps Alsina’s Testimony deserves at least 4 stars. Here is what I previously wrote about Testimony when reviewing it:

 Ultimately, Testimony showcases the great amount of potential that August Alsina has to offer as an artist. Vocally, Alsina easily has the pipes to succeed. Additionally, he has the backstory to truly fuel the fire.   Sure, Testimony isn’t a perfectly crafted album, but it’s better more often than not. There are plenty of notable songs – filled with pain as well as the triumph of resolve. Maybe it’s not beautifully poetic, but isn’t grittiness a different take on beauty (or something like that)?

Favorites:

“Make It Home” ft. Jeezy; “FML” ft. Pusha T; “Ghetto” ft. Yo Gotti; “Benediction” ft. Rick Ross; “I Luv This Shit” ft. Trinidad James

Verdict: ★★★½ ★★★★

5

Days & Nights

Daley 

41u6FsCRi-L._SL500_AA280_John Newman may be the Brit getting the most buzz, but Daley shouldn’t be slept on – dude can flat out blow. Sporting a piercing, soulful tenor, Daley has some sick pipes. Daley can definitely count this music lover as a fan, something I attempted to convey enthusiastically in a previous review:

All in all, Days & Nights is an exceptional full-length debut from Daley. What is unfortunate is that there isn’t more buzz surrounding the Brit R&B standout. With such mad pipes, Daley deserves much more recognition. Regardless of his commercial lot, Daley has it going on strongly on Days & Nights.

Favorites:

“Time Travel”; “Blame The World”; “Love And Affection”; “Alone Together” ft. Marsha Ambrosius; “Pass It On”; “Broken”

Verdict: ★★★★

 

6

Lift Your Spirit

Aloe Blacc 

41Gjnw1dUPL._SL500_AA280_“Go ahead and tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”. Aloe Blacc may not be “the man” in regards to the second coming of R&B, but his big-time hit was enough to bring some added relevancy to the genre. The album Lift Your Spirit ultimately was quite appealing, a sentiment I conveyed within my final thoughts of my review:

Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy. There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall. Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least. Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout.   It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.

Favorites:

“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”

Verdict: ★★★★ 

7

Nirvana (EP)

Sam Smith

41MgGkSKTsL._SL500_AA280_2014 is the year of Brit-R&B, and this music journalist is digging it. Sam Smith is the most ‘pop’ of the big three (Smith, Daley, and John Newman), but maybe British pop is naturally more soulful, at least in recent times. Regardless, Nirvana definitely builds some serious buzz for Smith’s debut album. Of Nirvana, I summarized it as follows:

All in all, Sam Smith sets his career up soundly on this introductory EP. Vocally, Smith joins a talented class of British vocalists in 2014: John Newman (Tribute) and Daley (Days & Nights). Smith more than holds his own in such elite company, making him one of the artists to watch closely this year. Nirvana EP receives my blessings for sure.

Favorites:

“Safe With Me”; “Nirvana”; “Together”

Verdict: ★★★★

 

8

Give The People What They Want

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

71NyoHdWUWL._SL500_AA280_Traditional soul is hard to come by in 2014, particularly as R&B takes a more physical, less genuine turn. Give The People What They Want doesn’t follow this script, and even if it isn’t innovative given its inspiration from the 60s and 70s, the album feels incredibly refreshing. Of the superb Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings effort, I previously wrote:

Ultimately, Give The People What They Want is a fantastic album period. Brief at only 34 minutes and consistent from start to finish, there is truly little to criticize. Sharon Jones sounds superb throughout, as do the Dap-Kings. It’s not innovative, but the fact that Jones and company hearkens back to the classic sound, that is refreshing enough in itself.

Favorites:

“Retreat”; “We Get Along”; “You’ll Be Lonely”; “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”

Verdict: ★★★★

9

Recovery

Algebra Blessett

515FJOUivkL._SL500_AA280_Though it is neither flashy nor heroic, Recovery is a sound and enjoyable R&B album. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the album and artist Algebra Blessett is neither is well known or highly publicized. Still, my closing thoughts on Recovery were:

All said and done, Recovery is a fine R&B album, particularly to be released in a quiet January. There is a classiness and coolness about this effort that is appealing. Algebra never over sings; she always gives just the right amount of oomph and emotion to connect with the audience. Recovery is nothing flashy, but it doesn’t need to be. It is what it is – a narrative that a many of folk have experienced in real life, not merely an R&B album. Kudos Algebra – kudos.

Favorites:

“Recovery”; “Nobody But You”; “Struggle To Be” ft. Q. Parker; “Paper Heart”; “Mystery”

Verdict: ★★★★

10

The Truth

Ledisi

61CDEHhqbdL._SL500_AA280_“Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement”… actually, that’s a statement I used in my review of the diva’s latest album to summarize it: 

Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement. Don’t get me wrong, The Truth is no slouch, but comparing it to juggernauts like Lost & Found or Turn Me Loose may be a bit much. Still, the ten tracks that grace the LP are generally all worthwhile and do show Ledisi ensuring she doesn’t box herself in as only one type of artist. Maybe “That Good Good” (for example) is exactly the right answer, but it’s not that far off or too ‘left-of-center’ either. Overall, Ledisi gets it right once again. We (the fans) wouldn’t expect any less.

Favorites:

“I Blame You”; “Rock With You”; “Lose Control”; “Like This”; “88 Boxes”

Verdict: ★★★★

Continue reading “Ranking 20 R&B Albums: January – April 2014”

March Madness: Best Album Tournament for the 1st Quarter, 2014


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Ah, there is no better time of the year than March Madness… well maybe except for Christmas, LOL! It is a time where brackets continue to be devastated by college basketball teams many haven’t heard of upsetting highly favored giants.  As disappointing (when my John Wall-led UK Wildcats lost to WVU in 2010 in the Elite 8) as it is exciting (when my UK Wildcats won the 2012 Championship), there are few things less satisfying than weekends filled with toughly contested basketball games.  Still, what better way to celebrate all the basketball madness with some music madness?

I chose 16 albums released between January and March 11, 2014 to play off against each other, tournament style – hey can’t get enough of the “Madness” (Muse btw).  Teams were seeded based on my opinion of their quality and how I believe they might be ranked (opinion). Don’t worry, there are some upsets based on basketball tournament trends to keep things interesting (again opinion).  Additionally, each game is assigned an actual score from this year’s tournament or tournaments in the last couple of years.  The score is meant to be indicative of how well matched respective albums would be in a playoff.  Nerdy and pointless – perhaps, but I think its an interesting concept and read (opinion, self-promotion, LOL).

Here’s the bracket:

Best Album Tournament 1st Quarter 2014

Continue reading “March Madness: Best Album Tournament for the 1st Quarter, 2014”

R&B: The Good & Bad Takeaways So Far in 2014


2014 has been a mixed year for R&B.  There’s been some good and there has also been so bad.  Even though R&B is still struggling, 2014 has allowed for R&B to have its moments.  Then again, it’s also had its bombs…big time bombs.  The Good 🙂 Beyoncé gave R&B a shot in the… well she gave it a shot of commercial relevance with her ‘visual … Continue reading R&B: The Good & Bad Takeaways So Far in 2014

Review: Toni Braxton & Babyface, ‘Love Marriage & Divorce’


  Toni Braxton and Babyface make some sweet, classy music on Love Marriage & Divorce  Toni Braxton & Babyface • Love Marriage & Divorce • Motown • US Release Date: February 4, 2014 There’s just something special when two R&B veterans collaborate together.  Honestly, when your career has past its peak, why not come together and try to rekindle the magic – after all, isn’t … Continue reading Review: Toni Braxton & Babyface, ‘Love Marriage & Divorce’

The ‘Frozen Soundtrack’ and ‘The Grammys’ Are The Talk Of Charts


It’s been an awesome winter for the Frozen Soundtrack, as it spends yet another week atop the Billboard 200 Albums Chart.  This week, the album sold another 94,000 copies according to Billboard.com.  On the one hand, it is good that there is an album that’s infusing the industry with some, well, sales.  On the other hand – the more pessimistic one – yet another sub … Continue reading The ‘Frozen Soundtrack’ and ‘The Grammys’ Are The Talk Of Charts

Shopping List: Nine Albums to Consider Buying February 4, 2014


January has come and gone – thank goodness!  Still it’s cold and those bills keep on coming in – SMH (add a “D” or an “F” between the “M” and the “H” for extra intensity).  Still, there’s nothing like the gift of music to give us those “High Hopes” that Bruce Springsteen was singing about a couple of weeks ago.  Face it, that Frozen soundtrack … Continue reading Shopping List: Nine Albums to Consider Buying February 4, 2014