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The Rhythmic Nucleus Says Farewell And A Happy New Year To Come!

Drop_the_Funk_Bomb_by_roberlan

                                                                 When I started this blog in November of 2012,there was more of a firm concept about the subject matter than the blog itself. I didn’t know how long it was going to last,or if it would even be of interest to anyone. After all a blog usually isn’t something self satisfying. Its the same as with literature. Books are written to be read,and so are blogs. That firm concept I started with was basically to show people how that rhythmic pattern people heard in Congo Square in New Orleans before the American Civil War  has continued to be at the core of every popular music-even up to the most modern dubstep electronica music. About how building the melody and everything else on that basic “rhythmic nucleus” is the point where music parallels how people build their own lives. Not entirely sure if what was written here always fully transmitted that intention. But one thing I do know for sure is that,to many readers it was successful on that level.

                                                                  As I mentioned on the anniversary on this blog,I have decided to close down this blog after its 100th post. As mentioned at that point,this particular subject matter seems to have been reflected very thoroughly here. Also as I went on writing on this blog,the topics began to become quite a lot broader than merely scholarly discourse on the jazz/funk/soul spectrum of music. Themes of generationalism and the human perception of music,as well as the sociological conditions surrounding that,also began to play heavily into it. So the other day as this blog was coming down to the wire,I had a conversation with my friend and inspiration for this blog-Mister Henrique Hopkins,about what I am announcing to you right now: after much thought,I realized that I don’t want to do away with a music based WordPress blog. So he and I have agreed to a partially collaborative blog with Henrique.

                                                                        I will not be posting on the blog as often as I did with this one. And every other blog will be a music-based contribution from Henrique as well. The subject matter of the blogs will be in the musically eclectic arena-expanding on the themes that this blog had begun to explore as it evolved. Funk,jazz and soul will of course continue to play a huge part in it. However much much more will be discussed as well. Some of what this new blog will talk about may or may not have the same level of personalized content as this. It will be about consistent growth and evolution. One of the things that helped me define this more expansive approach to music related blogging is the return to genuine musical diversity I’ve noticed within the year I’ve had this. Sometimes its appropriate to be balanced even in how much of a non conformist one is. After all each of us have different aspects to our personality over time. They are like whole  different people. As actor Matt Smith said during his final appearance in Doctor Who,we all have to keep moving so long as we don’t forget all those people we used to be.

                                                                              In conclusion I would of course like to thank my father and Henrique for being the main sources of inspiration in my blog. Though I have disagreed with both on many occasions,for many different reasons we have all continued to learn new things from each other as time goes on. The presence of these two knowledgeable and experienced male figures in my life have really bought the whole spectrum of emotion one gains from new knowledge they receive: the joy,the excitement,the surprises,the hope,the wonder and sometimes even the disappointment. And the best parts are when it all happens at once. Life is like music. To make it all go well,you need to be well rounded on some level at least-both in the way you critique it and the way you deal with it. A lot of people today would like to think they know everything. But we cannot know everything if we are to truly become ourselves.  Additionally I’d like to thank Thomas Carley and Henry Cooper who have also been extremely helpful in inspiring this blog. For  the year or so of The Rhythmic Nucleus,it’s been fun. Happy 2014 to come every one around the world. Good evening everybody!

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The Rhythmic Nucleus Presents: Andre’s Top 50 List For 2013

Andre's Top 100

                                   One of the main purposes of creating this blog in the first place was to inform. To inform readers that,despite their heavy ubiquity,that popular music stretches far beyond what is promoted to the public-both in terms of the breadth of styles and availability of the music itself. Of course the filter through which I view most music was as influenced by my father: meaning the jazz/blues/soul/funk spectrum was at the core of my musical perceptions from the outset. Yet rock ‘n roll was also integrated into that. So the musical education I received was genuinely and healthily very universal and eclectic. Since its only been since 2007 that I seriously began to embrace new music again,its become clear that 2013 (so far the entire 2010’s) have presented a clear headed and quality level of new music. The past issues such as the musical credibility wars and complete lack of well rounded critical assessment are showing signs of soon becoming a thing of the past.

                                       Inspired by the tireless efforts of my friend Thomas Carley-nightly posting lists and songs online to Facebook to give exposure to talented yet unsung musical artists whom he’s antiquated with and even returning to school to learn the level of web design to facilitate a social networking site for such musical artists,I am devoting this next to last posting on this blog to discuss both the albums and singles that have significantly moved me during this year. While I acknowledge freely that music should not be aggressively labeled for purposes of extreme greediness,categorizing music in terms of the environment and culture from which it derived can actually be very healthy and artist friendly. So in this case I am dividing up 25 songs,followed by 25 albums from which those songs were derived. Please enjoy and seek out this music on your own. Overall,2013 pointed the way towards a healthy and creatively vital musical future for the planet Earth.

Songs
1. Love Starved-Teena Marie
2.New Life-Jim James
3.The Truth (Shall Set You Free)-Paul Hardcastle
4.In My Mouth-Todd Rundgren
5.Blaming Something-Jamie Lidell
6.Back On Track-Joan Armatrading
7.Don’t Stop-Brian McKnight
8.Got To Let My Feelings Show-Bluey
9.Something About You (Love The World)-LL Cool J
10.Get Lucky-Daft Punk
11.Do You Remember-Brand New Heavies
12. Oh Sheit It’s X-Thundercat
13.The Stars Are Ours-Mayer Hawthorne
14.Ooo La La-Robin Thicke
15.Center Stage-Capital Cities
16.Ghetto Woman-Janelle Monae
17.Blue Ocean Floor-Justin Timberlake
18.Dorothy Dandridge Eyes-Janelle Monae
19.Take Back The Night-Justin Timberlake
20.If You Knew Then-The Foreign Exchange
21.Long Weekend-Trombone Shorty
22.Flowers-India.Arie
23.A Couple Of Forevers-Chrisette Michele
24.Fashion!-Lady Gaga
25. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer-Mary J. Blige

Albums
26.Beautiful-Teena Marie
27.Manifestra-Erin McKeown
28.Regions Of Light And Sound Of God-Jim James
29.VII-Paul Hardcastle
30.Memphis-Boz Scaggs
31.Time-Rod Stewart
32.Random Access Memories-Daft Punk
33.Apocalypse-Thundercat
34.Electric-Pet Shop Boys
35.DreamWeaver-George Duke
36.Blurred Lines-Robin Thicke
37.Incitare-Volto!
38. Wassaic Way-Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
39.In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery-Capital Cities
40.Hacienda-The Jeff Lorber Fusion
41.The Electric Lady-Janelle Monae
42.Now,Then & Forever-Earth Wind & Fire
43.The Diving Board-Elton John
44.Love In Flying Colors-The Foreign Exchange
45.The 20/20 Experience Vol.1-Justin Timberlake
46.Days Are Gone-Haim
47.New-Paul McCartney
48.When The Night-St.Lucia
49.Say That To This-Trombone Shorty
50.Free Your Mind-Cut/Copy

Below I am providing links to this years series of Amazon.com guides that illustrate in more detail the music discussed here. I have also reviewed all of these albums on Amazon. You can find these reviews under my own name through these guides by clicking on each individual album. Depending on how many reviews the album receives,this may take a few minutes. But I aims to please,so do take the time to look. You might like what you find. I am also posting a link to Mr.Carley’s website Tom’s Music Place,where he has actually been kind enough to a similar list to this one along with similar ones from himself and his other friends. Please support Thomas Carley and others like him in the mission to give creative musical artists the recognition and support they deserve. Enjoy the music,peace,love and positive attitudes for 2014 and all the years to come. Thank you!

Hear Some Of The Best Music In The Soulful Spectrum Of 2013:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/R2HPR78VZZGIFP/ref=cm_sylt_byauthor_title_full_3

Hear Some Of The Best Music In The Audio Spectrum Of 2013:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/R20V7LRV3TY0FI/ref=cm_sylt_byauthor_title_full_2

Hear Some Of The Music I Passed On In 2013:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/R3K1HRJESI4FG7/ref=cm_sylt_byauthor_title_full_1

Tom’s Music Place

http://kingkong82.wix.com/tomsmusicplace2/bj-december-2013#!__home-page

Christmas Eve And The Music Of The Month Of December

mary+j+blige+christmas

                        Christmas time,to paraphrase someone I know, seems to be somewhat like the Rorschach test of holidays: everyone has a different interpretation of it.  Is it a religious celebration of the birth of Jesus? Is it only for children? Is it a giving time? Is it a waste of time? Its actually a very flexible and mongrel holiday as celebrated today. As far as myself,someone who is a secular humanist its a giving time. Giving gifts,giving love,giving memories. Within the past few years,it seems as though the  fast paced and presumably self centered modern world of working,going to school and living by ones iPhone  just adds ammunition to the Scrooge-like holiday cynicism that its only a time to celebrate the crass end of capitalism. To others not celebrating Christmas or holidays in general is an act of rebellion. Perhaps for cynical reasons,perhaps not. But there is one thing about this time of year that continues to fascinate me and that’s the music.

                           In America at least,Christmas is the only holiday in which a specific genre of music is associated with it. There are a classic body of songs almost every American knows by heart. And new ones are written all the time. It’s called Christmas music. Its not there to tell us to buy gifts. Sometimes its to remind us to give. Other times its to remind the religious to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ. How interesting is it that some of the most classic Christmas music comes out of rock ‘n roll itself-by The Beatles,Phil Specter and even Jimi Hendrix. Of course,mainly interesting in the sense rock ‘n roll has long been denounced as “the devils music” by many Christian zealots. Many people have had their own experiences with Christmas music. In fact this year having bought Christmas albums by Ledisi,James Brown and The Whispers this qualifies as the most Christmas music I ever bought. Odd for a unique genre that seems disposable if only for its one month of appropriate usage. Yet I have two vital memories associated with Christmas and music-though not necessarily exclusive to each other.

                       One such memory occurred during the Christmas season of 1994. My family and I would always visit my fathers family in the nearby town of Stillwater. It was a warm,cozy,comforting and (to my memory) very colorful environment that was full of the spirit of love and family. My grandfather took all of us out for a ride to look at Christmas lights-to this day one of my very favorite events of the year to do. We rode for a radius of about ten miles around their home-seeing lights of many sorts and colors. During this time I was deeply engaged in listening to a 1980 album by The Jackson’s called Triumph,which I had on a cassette tape. One song on the album was called “Give It Up”-whose conclusion was this melodic march with this surreal backdrop of dinging echoed bell-like electronics in the back round. When visiting a nearby area called French Island,the roads were so narrow that the huge displays of lights seemed to wrap the vehicle,myself and my family up like a multi colored Christmas blanket. Though not at all a Christmas related song,that dream-like conclusion of “Give It Up” rang through my head at and after that moment. It was like a visual expression of that sound playing out in my conscious mind.

                    Another memory actually just occurred. My mother was watching Tavis Smiley’s PBS talk show as she regularly does. She informed me that Mary J. Blige was releasing a Christmas album that she was very proud of. In my history of being a music admirer,Christmas albums have unfortunately often seemed to represent an artist either contemplating temporary retirement or the end of their career. Also the presence of arranger/producer David Foster and guest Barbara Streisand,while both musically talented people,made me scratch my head since neither would seem to mesh well at all with Mary J’s musical style. When I actually heard the breadth,variety,sincerity of performance and above all its soul it actually emerged as one of the finest Christmas albums I’ve heard in my life. An honorable mention of course would have to go to the 1988 GRP Christmas anthology-featuring a surprisingly eclectic mix of instrumental Christmas standards with a fusion jazz twist.

                      Overall I have felt a bit sad much of this holiday season,as the very qualities I love about the Christmas season seem to have faded from the consciousness of people. And much misery from some people I knew came my way with much force. But this afternoon I was talking to my father about Christmas memories and family,and he made mention that he felt that is what Christmas meant to him. It was by far the most satisfying moments of a season that’s growing better for me personally,and fast. Also I was watching Christmas In Washington-hosted by President Obama,First Lady Michelle and their two daughters. One of the musical numbers was one of my favorite modern artists Janelle Monae’,performing an absolutely beautiful rendition of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song”,of course made famous by the iconic Nat King Cole with violinist  Joshua Bell.  Christmas sometimes provides an easy label for stress we can put upon ourselves. Even those such as myself hoping to make it happier for others. But its also like a human recharging mechanism to me-the beginning of week long process of resolving the proceeding year before entering another. And as they say if music be the food of life,play on! A very happy holidays to everyone!

                                                                                                                         Janelle Monae And Joshua Bell At The White House,2013

                                                                                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFOStO7Cjr8

Questlove And The Modern Perception Of Those Who Love Music

Mo Meta Blues                                     From the days when I first his production of Al Green’s Lay It Down in 2008,I have grown to greatly admire Amir ?uestlove Thompson. His adherence to the instrumentality and craft of music has become a conversation starter with many of my online friends-especially Henrique Hopkins. It was him who first recommended that I seek out and read this book earlier this summer. Of course the erratic arc of my personal life has left me halfway through the book. Yet Questlove’s prose within what I’ve read so far has inspired what has since come from this blog as much as those I know has. It gives a strong literary context to one particular Philadelphia native’s musical journey from the late 1970’s through the beginning of his career in the early 1990’s. One special quality about the book is,following many of the chapters are a collection of reviews of albums from funk to hip-hop and how the cross-influence it had within the life first of Ahmir Thompson and later his adopted moniker of Questlove.

                                      Because of age difference and difference in life experience perhaps,Questlove and my own musical journey’s started out similarly but diverted quite a lot after the early 1990’s. Still his perspective was still vital. And remains so seeing as I have yet to finish the book. There is something that is mentioned only occasionally in the book that does trouble me a bit. And that is Questlove’s tendency to refer to himself as a music nerd. On a personal level perhaps its possible for him (where it isn’t with me) for Questlove to refer to himself in that way because he willingly pursued higher musical education. And therefore had the added concern of relating to a given peer group. Finding the aggressive ignorance of some of my peers totally antithetical to any learning,I rejected the idea of public education entirely to pursue what turned out to be a successful pipe dream of being a homeschooler. So the people I encountered actually had a greater level of variety among them. And we could learn about each other on our own terms rather than a contrived and forced relationship.

                                        Of course after reading the book I learned that Questlove was far from the only person referring to himself as a music nerd. As a matter of fact,only a mildly close analysis of any YouTube video or blog revealed that most intelligent and informative people are now referring to themselves as geeks and nerds. What disturbs me is that the original definition of a “geek” was a circus sideshow,usually a developmentally challenged person,forced to make a living by doing bizarre dances or shoving sharp objects into various orifices of their bodies. Today even some the most politically incorrect people have taken a  stance against bullying-understanding it to be destructive rather than constructive to human emotional growth. Yet a cynic could easily,and even correctly,view what’s happening now by saying that people are now bullying themselves. Internalizing hatred. Woman call themselves “bitches’,grown African American’s are calling each other “niggas”,homosexuals continue to refer to themselves as “queer” and now music lovers are calling themselves music nerds-probably believing they are healthily embracing a negative stereotype.

                                        The 21’st century is a a time when American culture is going through some very painful growing pains. There is this unspoken pitch battle between the politically correct and the politically incorrect. Between the bully and the victim. Between the lover and the hater. And between thinking in terms of we instead of me. Members of four American generations-the Silent,Baby Boom,X and Millennial are all surviving in this world. Some of these people don’t like each other. But much as with the unique cultural blend of New Orleans when jazz music was being born,these people have to deal with each other. You have people who equate bullying with discipline-even child/spousal abuse. You have others who are so politically correct they are willing to change whole phrases of American English to suit their means. Yet you have others who flat out just don’t care. These are very disparate and fixed points of view. They are more bound to clash than come together. In the end,how one perceives their love of something probably comes down to a vital mix of love for others and yourself. Those types of love are seeming more mutually exclusive every day. Doesn’t seem self love is going to be much of a problem for people. Genuine love and empathy for others would seem to be the next undiscovered country in America’s emotional journey.

                    

Play That Funky Muzak: Television,Movies And Being Caught Unawares Of The Subliminal Soundtrack

Adults Only

                                  What you see here is the logo for the ‘Adults Only’ segment of the late 70’s/early 80’s American pay TV service  ONTV,which was known to air hardcore pornography in some that carried it,after the station had signed off for its regular broadcast day. Interestingly enough ONTV and other pay TV services were originally created for providing a cable TV-like experiences to cities,who feared monopolies,that didn’t yet have cable TV service. There is an another  interesting fact about these services. The opening segment of this Adults Only service (a separate charge for subscribers to ONTV,by the way) which you see in the photo above featured during 1981  the Bob James song “The Walkman”-followed by Ronnie Laws “Heavy On Easy”. Since I tend to notice these things being a music aficionado of sorts,there was an hysterically interesting topic for this blog in there somewhere: the relationship between the music of the funk/jazz/soul spectrum of the 70’s and 80’s and promo commercial soundtrack material for television and film. Since it has the strongest personal connection,I’ll start with the subject of pornography.

                                    During the winter of 2006 I driving from back from the grocery store with my ex when I decided to play Jeff Beck’s reggae-funk version of the Beatles classic “She’s A Woman” from Beck’s 1975 album Blow By Blow. My ex,who was driving the car remarked that the song sounded as if it was part of the soundtrack to a pornographic film. Unlike him apparently? I had very little to no experience with pornography. Never was prudish,simply very uninterested. Whenever I would see a sketch about pornography on TV sketch comedy shows or adult cartoons such as Saturday Night Live or Family Guy,I would begin to hear funk oriented music in the back round. Personally I’ve chocked it up to the fact that because funk,jazz and any hybrids or extensions of the two both flow from rhythmic movements of sound that adult filmmakers noticed how this might effectively match the physical end of the human sexual experience. While most people today are aware how sexual ones singing can be on a record,instrumental funk and jazz are often still very much associated with adult film for many people.

                                        On the other hand,I have actually discovered music based on incidental soundtrack music heard in a film or television show. The first example I can remember occurred when I was eight years old. Where I lived there was a local television celebrity named Eddie Driscoll who had starred in (among other things) The Grover Swale Show, featuring the buck toothed character of that name who was one of Driscoll’s many television characters he played and created. As seen in a tribute TV special to Driscoll following his retirement,I never noticed the theme music used for that show as featured in a clip beside the fact it wasn’t a bad song and had a great groove. A decade and a half later I picked up a CD copy of the Ramsey Lewis album Tequila Mockingbird and when I arrived at a song called “Skippin” I was amazed. It was The Grover Swale Show theme! And now I knew where it came from. Come to find out,TV stations such as the type my father was once an engineer in (the same one where Driscoll once worked,by the way) had a huge store of records by Dave Grusin,Bob James,The Crusaders and Ramsey Lewis used as incidental back round music for local shows and commercials.

                                       In addition to the references to pornography,I’ve also heard a lot of people refer to funk (in particular) jazz-funk as being elevator music,or muzak. A good part of that probably has to do with the fact that so much visual media-from film to television,has integrated instrumental jazz/funk music into the back round of American’s day to day lives. We hear it when we turn on the TV. We hear it in movie trailers. Not to mention on the multitude of radio commercials and promos that utilize this type of music in the same fashion. Can we say therefore the still obscure music of funk is a part of our lives without us knowing it? Or is the presentation so subtle and misunderstood no one even realizes it? Jazz and funk are therefore not commercial musics-they are more often used  for commercials instead. Especially on the most melodic end of the music. Therefore if one is listening for it and,like myself are looking to jazz and funk as an alternative to what other music’s they are hearing,exposure to it may be easier than one thinks. So the funky sounding muzak your hearing is really just funky music in a little broadcast incidental soundtrack dressing.

*I would like to dedicate this to Ben Minnotte,creator of the YouTube channel ‘The OddityArvive’,which did serve to inspire some of the information here. So Ben,thank you very much for your contribution of influence.

Amazon.com And The Burgeoning Adventures Of The Aspiring Music Reviewer

Amazon

                                                What are seeing is not a defect in this website. As a matter of fact,its really the entire root of this blog to begin with. Today I’m going to tell you something that delves just a little into my private life-something I don’t do too often here. In the years after 9/11,I was living in an end of the city of Bangor which was likely the closest thing it had to a skid row. Don’t know how I got there,but somehow I managed to “live just enough for the city” to keep my nose as squeaky clean (even if flat busted broke) as I’d always been. While my partner at the time was at work,I would walk a good mile or two down a rather steep hill to the local Public Library where they had public computers. Due to abuses from often mentally ill wanderers in town using the computers to visit adult websites,the computers each had a limit of one hour after you punched your library card number into it as a password. I learned a lot technically about the Windows XP era PC this way. But also something else that was very important. Also want to apologize for the amount of “I,Me,Mine’s” you’re about to see in this article. Its not out of egoism. By virtue of this subject matter its simply unavoidable

                                                During my first years of rising adulthood,I ended up with a sudden great urge to beginning writing about the music that I was digesting between regular meals daily. There was also a lot of literature coming my way regarding the topic of the critical assessment of music such as the works of Rickey Vincent,Nelson George-as well as the more generic volumes such as MusicHounds Guide To Rhythm & Blues and of course the AllMusic Guide. In those pre-computer days of my life,just about every loose leaf notebook that came my way (and there were tons from all directions it seemed) I would review the music that I listened to. These all are probably still in existence in dingy plastic container in the family basement or stuffed into shoe boxes in some other secret somewhere. However a lot of them might’ve been recycled by yours truly because,at the time of writing them,I really didn’t have any individual framework in which to set up these reviews I wrote. So many of them were simply cut-n-paste jobs of the sarcastic and often mean spirited rhetoric of “professional” critical assessment of the mid/late ’90’s.

                                                   As the new millennium arrived these hand written,and by this time often word processed,music reviews I was writing were starting to take on a far more professional field to them. At the same time I had no intention of becoming a professional music writer. It seemed,particularly at that time,that working in such a field-while it seemed ideal for someone of my emotional type,would simply be making money by shattering someones artistic hopes and dreams. Not only was that a contradiction in terms to me,but also went against my individual type.  After all,as Sly Stone might have said it was definitely “time for living” at that point. Reality had set in hard,and it was mandatory participating. When I first began using those limited library computers during 2003, it became apparent that I’d have to find some way of using the computer to maintain my creative skills-in order to keep my heart and mind from becoming unimaginative,cynical,weak and helpless. It was during this time that I discovered Amazon.com. At first it presented itself as just another online shopping website. Then a very exciting moment occurred when I discovered that Amazon.com had something I’d been looking all along without realizing that I was: a customer review area that could be used for music.

                                                       Since listening to music was often the only level of happiness for me then,as it is so often with those forced to live through austere times,there was now a way in which I could consistently improve my skills as reviewing music and,best of all share them with the online public all across the world with the touch of a button. It was such a fulfilling and liberating experience. It actually bought me out of the skeptical and even anti cyberspace frame of mind I was in. The concepts we now know as YouTube and social media sites such as Facebook began to dance around in my head like sugarplums. My initial Amazon.com reviews were far inferior to my earliest hand written ones from the late 90’s. And luckily an site glitch forced me to abandon that original Amazon account,which still exists today in theory and open up the one I use today in 2005. Also through Amazon.com I had the opportunity to learn about little known artists through their customer recommendations. I even met my friend (and blog inspiration) Henrique Hopkins via his interest in my Amazon.com reviews. Suddenly I was discovering new music and reviewing as I heard it. And actually the idea of being,as it were a volunteer music reviewer as opposed to a paid critic was very appealing.

                                                       Today of course my online life is so much broader. There are now far more similar websites online on which to sort,rate and review ones music. Somehow Amazon remains my favorite,perhaps because I’ve grown online with it. The site itself is far from what it used to be. Continually difficult economic times have forced the site to continually pare down it’s features. For example,meeting someone such as Henrique wouldn’t be possible anymore since the social networking end of Amazon was eliminated several years ago. Also their reviewing system on the site seems to be evolving to more closely accommodate internet tablets/iPhone’s rather than notebooks and other more stationary computers. The only thing I hope for is that Amazon.com will never,ever abandon its customer review section. Nor would I want it to happen to any other website that does this. It would be satisfying to know that a young person stepping into an unknown new undiscovered country of their lives-entering their early 20’s in 2014 might be able to go to Amazon,RYM or any other music review site and be able to connect with others and share their views on the music they love. Making peace with the art we create is a wonderful way to start making much needed peace among each other. And sharing musical viewpoints,as I did over a decade ago,was a wonderful step in the right direction in terms of the most positive aspects of the internet.

                                                                         Link To My Amazon.com Profile. Please Read,Comment & Enjoy!

                                                             https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A3HU0B9XUEVHIM?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4

Andre’s 1990’s Top 40: A Long,Hard Look At A Long,Hard Decade

1990's Pop

                On the way home from a trip to Portland Maine a couple weekends ago,I quoted to my father a quote from the late 90’s satirical cartoon South Park about political correctness at Christmas. This quote involved the character of Mister Hankey stating that people had been looking so much at what was wrong with Christmas that they’d forgotten what was so right about it. My father promptly re-phrased the question,since we were already on the subject,that since I’d so often stated what what was wrong with the 1990’s culturally,what could I find right about it. At the time I rather frankly answered with by saying December 31st 1999. Readers of this blog are well aware of my feelings on the often unrepresented cultural improprieties on the 90’s-namely in how the culture of the day tried to pump itself up by condemning the decade before it. But the more I lived with that question,the more it fascinated me.

The main locust of this thought process was that by spending so much time decrying the 90’s cultural ethic of infection negativity,was I in fact weakening my position? On the basis of the entire sociopolitical culture,the answer to that type of question might take historians decades to bring to any kind of conclusion. So on a more personal level I decided the best way to make sense of the “best” and more positive aspects of the 90’s was through my perception of music. So this is my Top 40 list of the 1990’s musical spectrum. There is only one criteria I’ve set: this list will have no rules. Recording format,race,gender,album,single or genre aren’t going to matter in this list. Nor does the artist have to have began their recording career in the 90’s. And most importantly,this list WILL NOT discriminate musically based on the cultural credibility or subjective hipness of said artist. So here I present to you what would seem to be some of the best of music from the 1990’s.

Hammer U Can't Touch This

                             MC Hammer set off the 90’s for me…in the year 1990 itself with this song that famously looped a sample of Rick James “Superfreak” with a fast paced Bernie Worrell/P-Funk type “video game” synthesizer solo. With his colorful genie pants and gravity defying James Brown style dance moves,this man even gave the King Of Pop a serious run for his money in terms of performance. By bridging the original boogie funk sound with hip-hop inspired new jack swing music Hammer’s contributions to the evolution of funk are all too easily forgotten and dismissed as a one shot novelty. At the same time,I myself wonder what would’ve happened if something closer to this had become the musical standard for hip-hop.

Groove Is In The Heart

                      With a multi cultural trio of DJ’s and vocalists,Dee Lite rang in the 90’s officially in its first here with this groove that crossed the musical boundaries of house dance music,disco and hard core funk. Bringing in Bootsy Collins on bass and assorted vocal lines as well as a well crafted and melodic song to go along with the percussive groove,I tend to associate this song with the height of the “daisy age”-a dance/hip-hop sub culture that seemed to view the 90’s as a decade that would successfully embrace the good vibrations of the 60’s counter culture into more clarity and focus. At 23 years old this year,this song is not only still quite a bit ahead of its time instrumentally but points to a direction that was unfortunately not as fully explored as it deserved to be.

Portrait Here We Go Again

                            During the advent of the seemingly dime a dozen new jack swing male vocal groups that sprang up almost overnight after the enormous success of Boyz II Men,Portrait stood out. While they are technically a one hit wonder,the one hit they had was probably the best example of this end of New Jack Swing. Musically the song loops a slowed down segment of Stevie Wonder’s composition for Michael Jackson “I Can’t Help It” ,this song also features sly and nuanced solo vocals and rather jazzy collective vocal harmonies. Very few of the new jack era male vocal groups of the early 90’s produced anything that possessed such a unique level of musicality that Portrait achieved with this song. And its probably my personal favorite song of its type of that time. And certainly among the funkiest.

XTC nonsuch

                                  With the crisp sound and extremely melodic song construction,this album presented songs in this style such as “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkin Eater”,”The Smartest Monkey’s” and “The Disappointed” that showcased that even in a rock scene almost totally dominated by angry,angst ridden punk rockers and their protege’s there was room for more thoughtful and even optimistic pop/rock songwriting and lyrics during the early 1990’s. And what better a band to bring that to being than Andy Partridge and XTC.

         DavidSanbornUpfront

                When David Sanborn released the single “Bang Bang”,a funky interpretation of the Joe Cuba Sextet’s original,came out taken from his album Upfront,I was taking saxophone lessons in school that year. It was an enormous second fiddle,as I’d wanted to play upright bass but my music teacher feared liability due to its size and I wasn’t sure how to confront her how much I wanted to play it. So somewhat out of spite,knowing that there’s only one Charlie Parker and John Coltrane,the sound Sanborn got on sax at this time was something I really wanted to reflect on the alto I played at the time. Of course I never came much closer than “Twinkle Little Star”,and my playing style led my father to remark that I sounded rather like Archie Shepp-a somewhat atonal free jazz sax player. So the sax lessons faded away fairly soon. But have never stopped loving David Sanborn or that song.

Arrested Development Tennessee

                      At the start of a decade,many people are always hopeful that anything creatively new is going to impact positively on the world in general. When Arrested Development came along there was an attitude that I was confronting my own generations equivalent of Sly & The Family Stone. This was a group doing something in the hip-hop world that I hadn’t really seen. The band had an extremely strong African spiritual aestetic that seemed to influence the youth back to Africa revival movement occurring at that particular time. Their debut album had many strong songs such as “Mr.Wendell” but it was their hugely successful single “Tennessee” that continues to stick in my mind with its live funk instrumental sound and lead singer Speech’s meaningful and searching lyrics.

Sade Love Deluxe

                              Five years after their 1988 album Stronger Than Pride Sade released this fourth album. Both creatively and commercially,this album was almost instantly acknowledged as representative of their peak and sparked a wave of interest in their spare,seductive variety of jazz/pop/funk that matched up to the massive success in the middle of the last decade. The then embarked on a tour that eventually found them releasing a live VHS cassette of one of their performances called Sade Live. On the heels of this enormous comeback,it would turn out to be another eight years until Sade followed up this album. But with songs such as “No Ordinary Love” and “Cherish The Day” leading the way,it hardly seemed to matter.

Miles Davis Doo Bop                           Until the day he left this Earth Miles Davis continued his mothers advice to always play something people could hum. He delightfully embraced hip-hop on his final and unfortunately posthumous release which found him pared with rappers such as Easy Mo Bee,who famously declared Miles on the title song of this to be a “multi talented and gifted musician/who can play any position”. As thoroughly wonderful as this album is in finding the linkages with jazz,funk and hip-hop,its a testament to Miles following his artistic vision as opposed to more closed minded critics. Since he was doing what most hip-hoppers at this time continually gave lip service too,he should be respected for his emphasis-even to his very final days,on the style and performance quality of his music rather than its superficial social reputation. That might be why this,along with his other work,has and likely will continue to live through the ages.

 R-Kelly 2play

                             R.Kelly represents an artist who really ushered in the transition between the more pop oriented new jack swing styled music of the late 80’s/early 90’s with it’s transition mid decade to slower,more consistently funk variety of hip-hop/soul that would pretty much set the stage for the rest of the decade. This 1993 album,a very muscianly release featuring the talents of the sometimes neglected jazz fusion guitarist Bobby Broom,also presented R.Kelly as an artist firmly in the tradition of the male soul artist juggling the romantic and carnal sides of his nature. While the lyrics of “Sex Me,Baby” and “Bump ‘N Grind” showcase the carnal explicitness of Prince,the musical also showcases that artists melodic mastery of harmony and song craft. This is an artist I went back to later,after he had some time to show himself as much more than a one off-even writing one contemporary standard in “I Believe In Can Fly” from his self titled follow up in 1995. But the solo adventures of R.Kelly really started right here.

Rick Astley Body & Soul

                    During the height of the decades musical credibility wars,Rick Astley would be best described as persona non grata. Considering the internet phenomenon of “Rick Rolling” that seems to be very much in play even now. However in 1993 Rick was still in the peak of his musical career and was intent on being a serious soul vocalist. This album,which actually came to my attention based on my mothers collection,actually has a similar musical pallet to Sade’s music of that period-with it’s mix of melodic gospel based pop/soul with strong funk and lite jazz influences. Astley has probably never sounded better vocally than he did on this album,in particular on songs such as “The Ones You Love”,a message song that was quite rare in the pop world at the time.

Boss Of The Bass

                     Former Ornette Coleman bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma released a song on this 1993 album called “Trouble”,which I originally heard via a Grammavision sampler my father once played for me. Not only is it firmly in the hard mid/late 80’s funk style instrumentally but the songs lyrics are a strong and intelligent warning about the level of urban decay,violence and personal angst that was being delivered earlier in the 90’s decade. Though Tacuma’s music was not promoted nearly enough to reach a broader audience,I always found this song comforting in the sense it showed that not every socially conscious musician of that era was only capable of projected nonstop rage and pain.

Jeremey Jordan The Right Kind Of Love

                              Until very recently I didn’t know the name of the artist who did this song. But that is why YouTube is so constructive in that regard. As I mentioned in another post on this blog,it was during my earliest days shopping for photography equipment and the thrill of that creative venture that I was hearing this song a lot. Musically speaking it has a similar jazzy harmonic phrase about it’s melodic pop/funk sound that reminded me a bit of what I’d heard Portrait too,somewhere at the cross section of Anita Baker as well. The artist was Jeremy Jordan and the song “The Right Kind Of Love”. I wonder if this song had an influence on Justin Timberlake when he began his solo career because the influence on a young male singer with a strong funky ethic is more than evident here.

Donald Fagen Kamakiriad

                            As someone who was living on a pretty steady musical diet of Aja and The Nightfly at this time,it was a very happy occasion when Donald Fagen made a comeback after ten years with his 1993 album. Of course the witty future shock  lyrics of “Tommorow’s Girls”,an enormous hit that fit comfortably in the classic Steely Dan sound,got my attention at the time most. Yet over the next couple of years it was hard to get “Florida Room” and “On The Dunes” out of my head. Funny thing is,considering this was written about a man who was then confronting middle age it forever proves how eternally old headed I seem to be that these lyrics seemed as relatable as they did to me when I was just entering adolescence. Perhaps middle age and adolescence can evoke the same emotions when it comes what they receive from art.

Sting - Ten summoner's tales

                          After the 80’s I somehow started to forget about Sting. Especially after his third solo album The Soul Cages went rather unnoticed by me. With songs such as “If I Ever Lose My Faith” and “Fields Of Gold” bringing Sting back to his commercial peak,this contemporary and mildly hip-hop/soul influenced album produced music videos that were in heavy rotation on the satellite video channels my father was able to pull in on the TV station he worked at during this time. So between that and the radio,these songs bought Sting back into my musical consciousness for the time being. And the rest of the musical public as well. He sank again into oblivion for the rest of the decade and has never really fully reached this level of big commercial success again. But it represents to him what Love Deluxe did for Sade the way I figure it.

Pet Shop Boys Very

                                 Though even British pop radio and music charts had an unspoken embargo on anything outside the American alternative rock culture during the early 90’s,any new releases by Pet Shop Boys were an exciting event for me. The orange Lego-like jewel case this album came in was only the icing on the cake when I first heard “Can You Forgive Her”-a song that not too subtly puts the whole musical credibility wars into perspective with one lyric: “She’s made you some kind of laughing stock,because you dance to disco but you don’t like rock”. Instrumentally their 80’s dance sound was still going full throttle throughout this album-as well as their iconic pop song craft. Even though this album fell full victim to the credibility wars and its airplay embargo’s,that doesn’t stop it from being a melodically and intellectually satisfying electronic dance classic.

U2 Lemon

                       Interesting enough,this song was my first exposure to U2,a more groove oriented electronica number that I later learned was not the sound typically associated with them. Especially a a family friend of ours was a huge U2 admirer around the time this song came out this actually got me interested,albeit a bit belatedly in exploring their other music as well.

KD Lang Ingenue

                              As if her appearance on Pee Wee’s Christmas Special singing “Jingle Bell Rock” didn’t make K.D Lang’s sexuality abundantly clear,as well as being my very first exposure to her talent,this album was the first I ever heard of her. Here I was presented with an extremely talented,velvet voiced singer/songwriter on songs such as “Constant Craving” and “Miss Chatelaine”-on an album whose mix of jazz folk/pop lyrically explored K.D’s personal mission of officially revealing her homosexuality to the public. And with the sweet,poetic way in which she presented her melodically intense compositions I feel she did a totally bang up job on every possible level.

jamiroquai_-_emergency_on_planet_earth

                            During the middle of the 90’s when I was becoming heavily interest in the 70’s funk era,this 1993 debut album for Jamiroquai leaped out at me. First by hearing the song “Blow Your Mind” on another of my fathers samplers,than by hearing this album following the massively successful Travelling Without Moving. The fact that the band were looking to Afro Latin percussion based jazz fusion rather than hip-hop as the main influence for their message oriented funk showcased that they were a contemporary band leading what would turn into a massive live band funk revival that actually drew from the music’s original sources as opposed to its secondary ones.

Suede Barely Blue

                               This album entered my family through being recommended by two of their friends who ran a Pride shop in Portland called Drop Me A Line. Suede mixed a swinging jazz attitude with a melodic pop sensibility on songs such as “Puddle Of Love” and another favorite here called “Promises”. Earlier this year,in fact I learned the song was originally composed and performed by Basia-a singer/songwriter whose general musical aestetic is interestingly very similar to Suede’s.

TLC - Waterfalls

                            TLC were a trio that I always admired for their ability to deliver Ohio Players/Sly Stone-type melodic and slick funk through the filter of contemporary hip-hop/soul. Their album Crazysexycool was a near masterpiece of its time in that sense. Still its this melodic wah-wah guitar and horn powered groove that continues to have the most impact on me as time goes on. Speaking from the point of view of someone whose love of funk derives from its balance of rhythm and melodicism,this is probably one of the most significant R&B/pop crossover hits of 1994.

Gate To The Minds Eye

                                   After being absent so long from the public eye,80’s era synth pop innovator Thomas Dolby re-emerged in 1994 with this soundtrack to the third installment of the then highly innovative CGI movie The Minds Eye. With the previous installment having been scored instrumentally by Jan Hammer,Dolby adds a spare and ambient hip-hop/soul/chill type electronica rhythm and female vocals to songs such as “Neo” and “Quantum Mechanics”,which somehow became part of the rotation of songs used by my mother for an aerobics class she put on at the apartment where we lived at the time.

Michael_Jackson-Scream_(CD_Single)

                              The public defrocking of Michael Jackson’s character in 1993/1994 was a weary time for someone who even to this day still finds much to admire about Mike’s character. When his first new music since the child abuse charges first emerged in 1995,it was with a duet called “Scream”,recorded with his sister Janet. This was not needless angst projected in an unintelligible manner. With complete coherence and conviction Michael demands of a merciless segment of the media “Stop pressuring me”-still referencing the James Brown style vocal chants he embraced from the get go. The song meanwhile is a cluttered,percussive and mildly discordant funk groove with a typically strong melody. I’ve never exactly heard a song quite like it since. People are still debating the type of person Michael Jackson really was to this very day. However the honest authority with which he delivered this cannot be denied. And just to have MJ back kicking on all cylinders was worth it for me anyway.

george_michael-older

                After years of dealing with the loss of his first lover to HIV/AIDS and lack of record company support,George Michael made a comeback that I got very excited about in 1996. This album had a hit in the uptempo “Fastlove” is a funky dance floor friendly groove that’s very much a modernization of the funkier grooves Wham! produced on their 1983 debut album. There are also numbers such as “It Doesn’t Really Matter”,sparsely electronic and jazzier numbers that showcase the talents of this singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist at what is probably his very best creatively.

meshell-ndegeocello-faggot

                          Someone had to do it sooner or later. During the same time I was contemplating coming out of the then still very closed closet of society and revealing my own homosexuality,an artist I’d never heard of named Me’Shell Ndgeocello was presented to me by my father with this song “Leviticus: Faggot”. Using the template of out and out 70’s bass/guitar hard funk,Me’Shell tells the tale of a fundamentalist religious family trying to change their sons sexual orientation and his ensuing struggles. Neither before nor since have I heard this topic broached so perfectly,let alone in the context of hard bass driven funk. It was that groove that spurred my father to bring this to my attention. But sometimes I wonder if it was his subtle way of letting me know that not only was he aware of my sexual orientation,but that what happened to the young man in this song would never happen to me if my family had anything to do with it.

Isley-Brothers-Mission-To-Please

                        When I was a member of the now defunct BMG Music Service,they required their customers to buy one item at the often prohibitively expensive regular club price. They usually offered what they called a “featured selection”-hoping that you would make that your one selection to receive the seven free CD’s the club members had joined for in the first place. During 1996 I was reading Ricky Vincent’s book Funk-which referred to the Isley Brothers as “the epitome of funky manhood”. Sure enough my next BMG featured selection was this album,so I decided to buy it to get the seven free CD’s. In this instance,the featured selection I bought was the most interesting thing about the order. Not only was it my very first exposure to the Isley’s,but the first new music I purchased with my own money. R.Kelly’s production on this album essentially makes this the Isley’s take on the 12 Play sound,only of course with lyrics stating the romantic impulse with the Isley’s intimate and eloquent elegance.

Janet Jackson Runaway

                          I just always loved this stand alone Janet Jackson hit from 1996. With it’s mix mildly African influenced pop/soul with a little East Indian sitar mixed in,it was a world pop influenced hit that escaped the credibility wars statements that any world music elements in American pop were a “pretentious marketing tactic”. Plus very few are in this era knew their way around creamy multi tracked vocal harmonies the way the Janet Jackson/Jam & Lewis team did.

Galactic

                         Emerging smack dab in the middle of the mid 90’s funk revival,Galactic came out of the Crescent City funk scene that had once spawned the iconic Meters in the 1970’s. Since funk is generally going to be an important aspect of all music that comes out of New Orleans,its only natural that on songs such as “Start From Scratch” that this album would satisfy my interest in the more live instrumental end of funk music of that era.

Toni Toni Tone Thinking Of You

                           Toni Toni Tone were one of my favorite bands of the 1990’s,though technically they began during the late 80’s. Similarly to their Minneapolis contemporaries Mint Condition,they endured into the middle of the decade. In 1996 they released their fourth and so far final album House Of Music. The song that sticks out most in my mind on this album is “Thinking Of You”,group leader Raaphael Saadiq’s highly successful channeling of the slick HI/Willie Mitchell type soul/funk popularized by Al Green. Before the term retro soul or neo soul was in the public consciousness,this song began to bring that sound to the forefront. And I personally found it extremely comforting.

Prince Emancipation

                                      Prince had an undefinable identity during the 1990’s. The record company/credibility war issues had essentially left his career in ruins. And it was somehow voluntary on his part. Ironically this complicated period of his career was when I began getting interested in Prince. This album which contained at least two CD’s worth of the strongest funk he’d made in awhile was my favorite album creatively of this time period and represented the first “new” Prince material I ever bought.  Still feel as apparently others do this was Prince’s most defining and well thought out musical statement of the decade.

Daft Punk Homework

                    Driving about town with family I was beginning to hear this song on the radio called “Da Funk”. It was this grooving mixture of contemporary DJ/electronica sound effects with a hard bass/guitar driven funk back drop. Later on I learned it was a French house duo called Daft Punk. Shortly after I became acquainted with another song of theirs from this time period called “Around The World”. Here was someone doing something futurist and compelling with the long neglected 80’s era electro/boogie funk-dance sound and also becoming hugely popular. This also seem to come around at a time when the credibility wars in the music community was beginning to recede-at least in my eyes. Ever since I first purchased this album,I’ve seen Daft Punk grow and grow creatively until now the enjoy the success the melodically electronic funk music they’ve championed truly deserves.

cd-pete-belasco-get-it-together

                                    Marvin Gaye’s musical and vocal standard has inspired a lot of people. But few I’ve heard have actually been able to effectively adapt his exact song structure and vocal timbre to their music to the same level as the relatively unknown Pete Belasco did on this 1997 debut album.  Although his music doesn’t sound precisely like Marvin Gaye and is quite a bit calmer in vocal delivery and musical subtleties,Pete did showcase that at least he understood how to make use of the inspiration he drew from Marvin’s music.

Brandy-Never-Say-Never

                                While on vacation in Montreal with family in the summer of 1997,I picked up this CD at the local HMV. It wasn’t rare. But I really respected Brandy and,even though I don’t have all her music,often go back to her. This early Rodney Jerkins production of course is best known for her enormous hit single with Monica “The Boy Is Mine”. But the one thing I like most about Brandy is that she directs her music to the actual emotional concerns of adolescents,rather than talks down to them. And the fact that the music is based on melodically sophisticated and minimal funk grooves makes this one of my favorite albums of 1997.

Will_Smith-Big_Willie_Style

                       With hip-hop bitterly divided into schools during the 90’s,Will Smith launched his solo career very proudly devoted more to hip-hop’s original aestetic. Mainly in that Nile Rodgers/Chic-based music early 80’s post disco was directly responsible for hip-hop’s earliest success. With its blockbuster hits such as “Gettin’ Jiggy With It”,”Miami” and the theme for Men In Black Smith,while not the most vital or even vocally talented MC’s makes up for the qualities he lacks in sheer personality and charisma. He also showcases an interest in Cameo by featuring the band itself on a cover of their hit “Candy”. Its tangy enough to appeal to Will Smith’s age group,yet lacking in a tipper sticker it’s safe enough for even the most prudish of parents. Its a reminder when hip-hop wasn’t merely a bone to fight over for mere credibility. A time when hip-hop had been fun.

Imani Coppola Legend Of A Cowgirl

                    The still genre defying artist Imani Coppola first came to my attention via this particular song,of a type of which I’ve never quite heard before. Mixing a loop of Donovan’s hit “Sunshine Superman” with a touch of bluegrass fiddle picking,this psychedelic/drum ‘n bass/bluegrass/pop hybrid puts Imani into the character of the female equivalent of the unnamed lead character in an Unforgiven type figure. Musically and lyrically it represents what it really meant to be a musical non conformist when it came out in 1997.

Spiceworld

                   During their enormous commercial success in 1997,the Spice Girls represented ground zero of what turned out to be the final days of what I call the credibility wars-a time when those who produced,promoted or purchased musical artists were deemed far more significant than what the artist was actually creating. Depending on where one went,buying anything by The Spice Girls might mean raised eyebrows,backhanded giggles or in some cases perhaps a High Fidelity style lecture about their “coolness factor”-read: supposed lack thereof. From the first time I heard the Spice Girls,I loved what they were doing: emphasizing the optimism and confidence of the 60’s and 70’s era pop/R&B/funk spectrum and crossing it over to a young pop audience. This soundtrack to their feature film of the same title has it all for someone of my particular musical taste-the hardcore latin rhythms of  the uptempo “Spice Up Your Life” and the mellower “Viva Forever”,to hardcore dance/funk like “Never Give Up On The Good Times”,”Move Over” and “Do It” as well as powerful,soulful ballads “Too Much”-as well as the Motown girl group of “Stop” and the cabaret swing of “The Lady Is A Vamp” showcase the groups ballsy solo vocals and tight harmonies. No wonder they got so skimped on in their prime: their music stood for everything the 90’s alternative press seemed to want to destroy. Yet this has actually endured and is often now recognized as the…fairly ingenious soul/pop/funk/dance album that it is.

Mariah Carey Butterfly

                      The award winning pop success of Mariah Carey in the early/mid 90’s didn’t endear her music to everyone. And although I heard most of these songs via videos and radio and didn’t purchase the actual full album until years later, this is a good candidate for Mariah Carey’s most potent full length album of her first decade as a recording artist. The potent mixture of spare,romantic jazzy pop/funk with Mariah concentrating on her powerful natural voice rather than her chirping high pitched 3 octave range my personal favorite stand alone piece is here is her version of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones”,which she transformed into a passionate duet with Dru Hill. One of a couple Mariah Carey albums I actually loved all the way through.

African Eyes

                                   During 1998,my mother would often go to listening stations posted on the walls of Borders Books & Music where I often browsed for music during this time and check out some contemporary musical artists to see if she found anything appealing. She found a lot there actually-always gleefully mentioning this to my father and myself. She offered for me to hear this album,which shocked me because Sister Sledge hadn’t made an album in over twelve years before this. Its urban contemporary jazz/pop sound was nothing like what I’d heard from them. It is the title track,a genuinely Afro-Latin/funk percussion based groove that showcased the Sledge sisters strong vocal abilities and adherence to the Afrocentric ideologies. Another strong number I remember is the melodic salsa pop type number “The Thank You Song”,dedicated to the creative contributions of their sister Debbie. This album always reminded me of the 70’s “people music” funk I was deeply involved with at the time. And is one of my favorite albums of 1998.

lauryn_hill-the_miseducation_of_lauryn_hill

                                    Because Lauryn Hill and The Fugees were so over hyped by the “keeping it real” side of the credibility wars,at the time this album came out I avoided it like the plague-thinking that as with many albums promoted in that atmosphere this would be a cold,violent and edgy diatribe.  That was one of the only times during this era that I was completely wrong about an album. Upon hearing it at least a decade after it was released,this sonically and lyrically beautiful hybrid of jazz funk and conscious hip-hop was in every respect the precise opposite of the way it was first presented to me through the music press from which I first heard about it.  Hearing this album actually helped me the importance of exploring music for it’s own sake during the 90’s and not being pushed away from something by…well what in this case was a few cry wolf type critics who misrepresented what Lauryn was doing here. And what she was doing was showing the conscious linkages between hip-hop and the funk era.

Madonna-Ray-of-Light

                  In terms of her creative arc,this 1998 album is something I think of as Madonna’s Sgt.Pepper. She’d ducked out of the world of recording after the mid 90’s,at a time when her music was starting to take on a more artful type of atmosphere and than re-emerged five years later with this album that totally reinvented her musical personality-acting in the film Evita and giving birth to her first child Lordes along the way. Enlisting the help of William Orbit,Madonna’s music from the spastic title song and “Frozen” found Madonna’s dancefloor friendly sound created in the context of a more ambient electronica atmosphere. It was such a happy event for me that an 80’s era musical icon such as Madonna had,by age 40 still remained a musically powerful figure who would be able to creatively evolve into an album oriented artist.

Incognito No Time Like The Future

                   Again it was the cutaway CD bin at a now defunct brick and mortar record store on coastal Maine called Wild Rufus that bought this album to my attention in the final year of the 1990’s. Presented to me as being very Earth Wind & Fire-like,the feeling I got from this album was very much that of a lower key and more house music informed version of Jamiroquai. The highlights from this album include the  Eastern melodicism of the title song,a version of The Jones Girls “Nights Over Egypt” and-yes their hard funk collaboration with Jamiroquai on “Get Into My Groove”. This album sparked my interest in the musical offerings of vocalist Maysa Leak and singer/songwriter/guitarist Jean Paul “Bluey” Maunik that continues to this very day. So to me,this really did represent my music future.

                          Now that this article,which turned out to be an enormous labor of love on my part mind you,is complete I do have an answer to my fathers question: what was so good about the 1990’s to me? On a personal level? My original answer still stands. On a strictly musical level though,the 90’s did present an opportunity where finding music of the quality I was looking for-whether popular or not,much more of a challenge than it would’ve been had the music world of the time not been so intensely divided.  Musically the 90’s was a decade the focused more on the writer/critic than the artist. So many people would tend to look for music bought to them by that source. Even in the case of word of mouth,often one sided critical assessment tended to be the order the day. So searching for actual sounds that personally spoke to your heart and mind was mostly in the hands of those interested in seeking out the music. And on that one personal level? Perhaps that was what was “so right” about the 90’s.