One may be forgiven for dismissing Sade’s Stronger Than Pride as something of a transitional album between Promise and Love Deluxe. Both albums are tighter than this one, with better songs and a more expansive sound. But what speaks to me here is the subtlety. The atmosphere imbued in every track of Stronger Than Pride is like water to me. There was a period of time in 2017 where I listened to this album every night, and it comforted me from the first second.
The title track is a sublime ballad, while “Paradise” is one of few upbeat tracks on the album. These two are highlights, but I love the second side of the record most. “Keep Looking” recalls the rhythms of Sade’s classic debut Diamond Life, where “Clean Heart” and “Give It Up” are more easygoing but with no less impact. I have a soft spot for songs with no drums, and the penultimate “I’d Never Thought I’d See the Day” fits the bill. “You shed a shadow on my life,” begins Sade over an ambient keyboard melody which acts as a platform for her to show off her vocal prowess.
Stronger Than Pride is almost perfect. Its weak spots are “Turn My Back On You”, which plods on for too long without much substance, and the instrumental closer “Siempre Hay Esperanza”, which would be eclipsed by Love Deluxe‘s much-stronger (also instrumental) closer “Mermaid”. But these tracks hardly negate the brilliance on display here. It’s not the Sade album I’d recommend to a beginner, but don’t underestimate it. Give it some patience and you’ll fall deeply in love.
The eternally cool Strawberry Switchblade kick it off with Trees and Flowers, then French producer Myd teams up with Atlanta rappers Twice and Lil Patt on No Bullshit. The late, great Shawty Lo is assisted by Lyfe Jennings on the beautiful My Love, after which the funky Faze-O are Riding High. Underrated R&B singer Dwight Sykes follows with an old favorite, the lo-fi In the Life Zone. Then the great Bobby Hutcherson with the jam Goin’ Down South. The best dressed chicken in town Dr. Alimantado sings Plead I Cause. Heather Woods Broderick takes us to Wyoming and Saafir tells the tales of a Light Sleeper. Finishing up this week is one of my favorite songs of this year, Kehlani and Jhené Aiko’s Change Your Life.
If this one slipped under your radar at the time then don’t worry, because I missed it too. But in 2018, Lykke Li’s sound changed for the better. Since the retro rock hit of “I Follow Rivers” in 2011 and the lowkey followup I Never Learn in 2014, the Swedish singer relocated to Los Angeles, had a baby, and made the best work of her career.
“For the first time in my life, I was actually inspired by what was happening right now in music. Before, I would only listen to old shit and just kind of reminiscing of the past,” she told The Fader. And working in the present with pop producers brings a much-welcomed direction to her sound.
Malay stands out as a key component of so sad so sexy. The producer who crafted much of Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE and Blonde, as well as 3 tracks on Lorde’s Melodrama, was at the helm of production on 7 of the 10 tracks on this album. Sonically, we hear echoes of Frank’s futuristic, ambient beats. Structurally, the songs are uninhibited in their display of emotion, like Lorde’s “Sober”.
I first discovered this album last summer when Li released the follow-up remix EP still sad still sexy. The “sex money feelings die” remix features Lil Baby, and the existence of a collaboration between the two seemingly disparate artists caught my attention. Surprisingly, the combination was not bizarre at all. Since Lykke Li is no longer stuck in the past, she is using her talents as a songwriter and singer to make some of the most outstanding pop music of the present.
This week’s installment begins with Donna Lewis’s hit I Love You Always Forever, then Raphael Saadiq’s Still Ray, a standout from his debut album that interpolates Dr. Dre. Elzhi’s brilliant storytelling is on display with Weedipedia, then Charles Mingus’s sublime Profile of Jackie. Next, Judee Sill becomes the first artist to feature twice on the playlist as I couldn’t resist featuring the amazing Sunnyside Up Luck. Australia’s The Triffids follow with Wide Open Road and British rapper Jadasea fades (from his EP entirely produced by Archy Marshall aka King Krule). My favorite Stereolab song The Emergency Kisses flows into the laid-back Memphis Bleek/Beanie Sigel/Jay-Z collab Hypnotic. Closing out this week is the track from which my website’s name is derived: my favorite band Cocteau Twins with Spooning Good Singing Gum.
The prolific Miles Davis rarely ever played with a vibraphonist (I don’t believe he ever did after the 50s), and he played with the legendary Charles Mingus even less often. In July 1955 the two artists were on the cusp of brilliance: Miles was about to form his First Great Quintet, which would eventually feature John Coltrane, and Mingus was only 6 months from recording Pithecanthropus Erectus, arguably his first masterpiece. Miles was in debt and agreed to a hastily-arranged session with Mingus for Mingus’s recently formed Debut label. The resulting album is Blue Moods, a short and oft-overlooked record that features the only full-length collaboration between Miles and Mingus.
Although the two legends had something of a love/hate relationship, the 4 songs on Blue Moods are fairly quiet standards. The album begins with “Nature Boy”, the best-known song of bohemian writer/oddball Eden Ahbez, whose Eden’s Islandalbum is something of a lost exotica treasure. Teddy Charles’ vibraphone creates a deep atmosphere for Miles’ trumpet, and Mingus’s strumming about 4 minutes into the track. Miles’s wonderful interplay with drummer Elvin Jones (perhaps best known for becoming a mainstay in John Coltrane’s 60s bands) about 6 minutes into “There’s No You” is another highlight of this brief album. Perfectly mellow, Blue Moods is both a unique early entry in the discographies of two jazz giants and a go-to for when I want to play something relaxing.
Since we should never need an excuse to celebrate them, this week’s update to the mix features 10 songs written and/or performed by women! Some are originals, some are covers, all are jams.
Kicking things off is Yvonne Archer’s fantastic version of Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody, followed by ESG’s You Make No Sense. Linda Ronstadt‘s breakout Stone Poneys hit Different Drum is next along with Til Tuesday’s (Aimee Mann’s 80s band) Coming Up Close. Denmark’s Erika de Casier celebrates Puppy Love, then reggae singer Ebony with one of my favorite songs, a cover of Valerie Simpson’s Silly Wasn’t I. The underrated Ydegirl follows with I need this, before things get wild with Spellling’s Real Fun. To close things out this week, TLC’s album cut (and closer of the classic CrazySexyCool) Sumthin Wicked This Way Comes and Inoj’s banger Love You Down.
In 2015, E-40 had spent the past 5 years releasing double- and triple-albums (The Block Brochure had a whopping six installments). But then, the 47 year old rapper decided to switch things up by releasing an anomaly in his discography: a 7-track EP with themes of family, introspection, and god-fearing christianity.
So here’s an easy litmus test for this one: If a 7-minute version of “Across 110th Street” as interpreted by E-40 sounds good to you then you’re in luck, because that’s exactly how Poverty and Prosperity starts. No, he doesn’t sing the chorus (that’s Park Ave.), but his repurposing of Bobby Womack’s classic anthem into a tribute and commentary on his hometown of Vallejo, California is a surprising and welcome start to this release.
More surprises abound: The soulful Mike Marshall (who sang the iconic chorus of “I Got 5 On It”) helps turn “The Way I Was Raised” into a gospel dirge; “Appreciation” is practically pop country! Although its Uncle Kracker sheen may be overly saccharine to some, the sincerity of “Appreciation” pours through 40’s preaching. “I’ve been speakin’ these real deep messages for many moons, man,” he begins, before addressing the importance of loving family, difficult relationship issues, and how to help a friend addicted to drugs. Almost surreal in its honesty, it stands as one the more unique rap songs I’ve heard from a seasoned veteran and is a successful experiment in genre-blending.
Poverty and Prosperity is not without a classic Yay Area slapper. “Gamed Up” truly endows the listener with indispensable “game” (meaning knowledge or wisdom): “You can hate / Or you can learn”. But my favorite track is the closer, “The End”. Beginning ominously with a sample of Revelation 1:7, 40 then enters this dramatic track by reminiscing on a lost friend. In the second verse he rebukes Satan while owning up to his own habits (“Show me where in the Good Book say I can’t smoke a Taylor!”).
E-40 has always been in his own lane, but his messages of love and devotion are universal. As the man himself would say, “I ain’t above you, I ain’t below you, but I’m right beside you.”
Dog-lovers rejoice as Black Sheep bring the bounce on Similak Child, then reggae legend Burning Spear gives an amazing vocal performance on Door Peep. Bobbie Gentry gets her hair yanked on the bizarre country Reunion and then Dick Hyman takes us to the moon with Space Reflex. Moving away from weird sounds, Gary Stewart with Riley spends a long night Drinkin’ Them Squeezins before Jorge Ben calls us on O Telefone Tocou Novamente (“The Phone Rang Again”). Things get real mellow with Knxwledge and Anderson .Paak on NxWorries’ Best One (Remix), then a capella group Take 6 dazzles with I’m On My Way. Wrapping up, Thelonious Monk (with the help of one John Coltrane) performs a transcendent tribute to his wife on Crepescule With Nellie, and then N.O.R.E. leaves us with the most optimistic sentiment of all: I Love My Life.
Not knowing much about Linda Ronstadt outside of some big hits, I stumbled upon Silk Purse last year while looking for cover versions of “Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow?”, as made famous by The Shirelles. I loved Linda’s take on the song and this quickly became one of my favorite country albums.
Recorded in Nashville at age 23, Rondstadt’s second album Silk Purse is a mostly breezy record, as evidenced by its adorable album cover and short runtime (just under 30 minutes). The brevity makes it easier to love. There’s an undeniable Soul imbued in the aforementioned Shirelles cover as well as “Are My Thoughts With You?” (written by the great Mickey Newbury,), and the traditional singalong closer “Life is Like a Mountain Railway”.
Elsewhere, “Long Long Time” is a wrenching ballad with the album’s best vocal performance, and according to an admin on a Linda Ronstadt fan forum, “Linda was so exhausted after doing that take that she fell asleep in the control room.” The single earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, and was the only semblance of a hit from the album, peaking at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A few years later in 1974, Ronstadt would reach superstar status with Heart Like a Wheel. That’s an excellent album in its own right, but Silk Purse is simply an underrated gem that deserves more love. See a couple great related photos below and a link to stream the album today.
I’m really proud of today’s addition to the mix. As love is needed in these trying times, you’ll find love in the spirit of many of these songs (listed below).
First, Father’s Children ask Who’s Gonna Save the World? Van Morrison’s Wild Honey follows, then Avey Tare with Remember Mayan. Judee Sill’s stunning The Kiss comes next along with Stevie Wonder’s version of My Girl. We hear an early ambient track (1967!) in the form of The Crocheted Doughnut Ring’s Nice, after which YFN Lucci and Kevin Gates share a True Story. Then 2Pac shares some Unconditional Love, only for Kashif and Meli’sa Morgan to remind us that Love Changes. But at the end of the day, Blue Magic know that we Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely.