Albums

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Soul - Released January 18, 2019 | Dockland Music

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Soul - Released December 14, 2018 | Motown

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Soul - Released December 14, 2018 | Motown

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Soul - Released November 30, 2018 | Dancing Tiger Records

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Soul - Released September 26, 2018 | Silvius

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Soul - Released September 14, 2018 | Rhino

Between their first and second albums, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band taped a May 18, 1968 performance at the Haunted House night club in Hollywood for possible future use. Edited versions of a half-dozen of the songs appeared on their 1968 album Together, and an edited version of another ("Bottomless") was issued as a B-side. But this two-CD set, issued on Rhino Handmade a good 40 years later, has about two-and-a-half hours from the performance, with complete and uncut versions of the aforementioned songs. On the one hand, it's a valuable historical document; there aren't all that many live recordings of significant late-'60s soul-funk bands, and this one has both very good sound and very tight performances. On the other hand, it's not the group at their most interesting, since all but three of the songs are covers. Granted, they sound like one of the best cover bands you could have possibly heard at the time, playing with both guts and precision, and taking some liberties (some improvisational) with the source material, though not too drastic or lengthy ones. They're certainly versatile as well, taking on hits from Motown, Stax, James Brown, Sly Stone, the Impressions, Jackie Wilson, and others, as well as the occasional surprise or relatively obscure tune, like Willie Bobo's "Fried Neck Bones" and Otis Redding's "Sweet Lorene." Yet the hit-dominated set list just isn't the place to hear the outfit at their most original and innovative, though they offer fair original instrumentals in Wright's "The Joker" and Gabriel Flemings' "Bottomless." It does, however, also include the jam that grew out of "Funky Broadway," "Do Your Thing," that with some editing turned into their first hit. As usual, Rhino Handmade's packaging of this archival release is excellent, with lengthy historical liner notes. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Soul - Released August 17, 2018 | South London Recordings

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Soul - Released August 7, 2014 | New Colours Records

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Soul - Released July 27, 2018 | Dockland Music

Soul - Released June 1, 2018 | Groove United

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Soul - Released April 27, 2018 | Bad Boy Records

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"Yoga" was an ostensibly minor part of the Janelle Monáe discography by the arrival of Dirty Computer. Three years old and outshined by another Wondaland release, Jidenna's "Classic Man," it nevertheless became Monáe's first single to hit the Billboard Hot 100. That Monáe hadn't previously hit the chart as a headliner was further evidence of a flawed industry, given that she and primary collaborators Nate Wonder and Chuck Lightning had been making songs with pop appeal for nearly a decade. "Yoga" did show that Monáe was more open to messing with contemporary trends. Moreover, the song's humanized, sexually uninhibited, and anti-authoritarian qualities -- she was earthbound, celebrating her body, asserting "You cannot police me" -- also indicated the course she has taken with her third album. Oddly enough, "Make Me Feel," the one Dirty Computer track on which Monáe employs a wholly pop songwriting team including Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, and Mattman & Robin, is the funkiest and friskiest number here, clearly influenced by the late (and uncredited) Prince. Monáe and her trusty Wondaland partners, the album's dominant creative force, colorfully twist and flip new wave-leaning pop with booming bass drums and rattling percussion. They transmit powerful and defiant jubilance in response to "wack ass fuckboys everywhere (from the traphouse to the White House) who make the lives of little brown girls so damn hard," among dozens of other inspirations Monáe acknowledges in the essential liner notes. Almost every track is densely packed with quotables delivered in approaches that shift from easygoing elegance to hard-fought, triumphant conviction. The latter approach yields the album's apex, "Django Jane," in which Monáe raps throughout with inhuman precision, threatening a pussy riot, declaring "We ain't hidden no more," and uplifting the "highly melanated" while dropping some of the set's few sci-fi allusions, "Made a fandroid outta yo' girlfriend" among them. Not to be lost in all the power moves are indirect and direct references to a romantic relationship -- another form of dissent -- referenced and explored throughout, from the glowing "Crazy, Classic, Life" through the fiery "So Afraid," the only moment of emotional fragility. While this is easily the most loaded Monáe album in terms of guests, with Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, and Grimes among the contributors, there's no doubt that it's a Wondaland product. It demonstrates that artful resistance and pop music are not mutually exclusive. ~ Andy Kellman
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Soul - Released April 27, 2018 | Bad Boy Records

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Soul - Released March 12, 2018 | Sharp Music

Soul - Released February 3, 2018 | Ace Records

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Houston Person followed Bob Porter from Prestige to Westbound but before the tenor saxophonist could cut his first record for his new label Porter left Westbound, leaving Person on his own to produce '75. Originally titled '74 -- a title also given to a bunch of other Westbound jazz albums -- '75 was cut with an anonymous bunch of Detroit session musicians and it could be argued that the album itself is somewhat anonymous, finding the saxophonist aiming straight for the R&B charts. Always a full-bodied, groove-oriented player, this straight-up soul isn't much of a stretch for Person but the rhythms are frequently funkier than in the past and the surface is certainly slicker, sounding so clean it's almost possible to see your reflection in it. Often, the album is better when it doubles down on this gauche sound, such as the discotheque spangle of "500 Gin Rummy," cop-show funk of "A Touch of Bad Stuff," or satin seduction of "All in Love Is Fair." These are the tracks that show how stiff the cover of "Shotgun" is, and while they're certainly not for purists, they provide a good time capsule of the smooth but funky sounds of 1975. Person didn't straighten out his soul-jazz on Get Out'a My Way!, something that the very name of its opening cut makes plain. Called "Disco Sax," it's a bit of a Van McCoy hustle, complete with anonymous backup singers insisting that we should listen to the disco sax, and it sets the tone for a record that happily rides every mid-'70s trend they could find. Usually, this means some variation on disco -- even with its fuzz-toned Isley guitars, "Ain't Nothin' But a Funky Song" leans more toward the dancefloor than a funk workout -- but there's also a fair amount of exceptionally smooth romantic material that functions as the cool flip side of the disco workouts that take up the rest of the record. Although these period threads do have their charms, Get Out'a My Way! can get quite silly -- with its not quite herky-jerky rhythms and cooing background vocals, "Spread It" is the pinnacle of goofiness -- which is why it's ultimately not quite as satisfying a groove album as its Westbound companion, but anybody with a yen for exceptionally polished funky soul-jazz of the mid-'70s should find it worth a spin. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Soul - Released February 3, 2018 | Ace Records

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Soul - Released January 26, 2018 | Boxberglounge

Soul - Released December 15, 2017 | Star Records

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Soul - Released December 1, 2017 | Spinnin' Records

Soul - Released December 1, 2017 | Universal Music Group International

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Soul - Released August 9, 1974 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

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Soul in the magazine