Track Of The Week #42 – Eric Sermon ‘Music’

When it comes to the greats, I’ve always been a firm believer that they should be left alone. If something isn’t broke, there’s no need to fix it. To remix a classic, an atrocity, to sample one, an art-form. This week’s track of the week comes from New York producer and rapper, Eric Sermon.Working with the likes of Redman and EPMD, Sermon began his career in 1996 when east coast hip-hop was coming into its finer years. Focusing mostly on production, Sermon worked closely with the legendary Def Jam records whilst releasing music in both the early and late nineties. His career as a rapper really took off when he moved from Def Jam to J records in 2000. Although Def Jam was one of the staple names in the hip-hop, it couldn’t compete with J record’s partnership with industry moguls, Sony entertainment. Sermon released fourteen studio albums whilst working with EPMD, as well as in his solo career, seven in each.

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This week’s track of the week was Sermon’s biggest hit and featured on the album ‘Music’. The eponymous track is this week’s track of the week and really showcased his production value along side his sampling skills. Featuring a neat snippet from an unreleased Marvin Gaye song, ‘Music’ was a huge success. With the record blowing straight to number one in the rap chart and number 2 in the R&B chart, it wasn’t hard to see how popular it was. It certainly wasn’t hard to see why.  The sample derives from a Marvin Gaye song which goes by the name of ‘Turn On Some Music’ and together, Sermon had found a match made in heaven. The process however, was no way near as smooth sounding as the record. As the original record was an unreleased acapella version found in a London record store, Sermon thought that he could make the record, keep it off air and pay no royalties. However, a friend of his stole Sermon’s remix and started playing it out. Much to Sermon’s annoyance as well as surprise, the record started to blow up, meaning that he would sooner or later have to pay the royalties before getting caught. He eventually paid Marvin Gaye’s wife a sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. At the time it may have been a lot for Sermon but it’s unprecedented success ensured that he would receive far more back than he put in. However expensive it could have got, you can’t put a price on talent.

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Track Of The Week #41 – Otis Redding ‘Hard To Handle’

Some may call him Midas, but most of us know him as Otis Redding, the man who’s voice turned every record into gold. Possibly one of the greatest voices not only in soul, but in history. Like all the greats, Redding died far too young. Born in Dawson, Georgia in 1941, the supreme talent came from a deeply religious and gospel-orientated family. As a child his passion for singing was clear. Frequent sessions in his church as well as appearances on his local radio station would earn the young boy his weekly pocket money. Little did he know at the time that this would be the start of something great. A few years later Otis would go on to win his local talent contest ‘The Teenage Party’, fifteen weeks in a row. That type of repeat success just could not go ignored, whatever the field, and before you knew it he had his first lead in the group Pat T and the Mighty Panthers. He continued to move from group to group, earning what was at the time, a good wage. Eventually the build up of successful work led to his first solo studio album ‘Pain In My Heart’ in 1964. This was followed by the truly exceptional and best selling album ‘Otis Blue’ in 1965, an album that went on to define Redding’s career. With such hits as ‘Shake’, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and ‘I’ve Been Loving You’, it was clear to any ear that pressed into each and every record was raw and immense talent.

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Much like Charles Bradley in last week’s feature, Redding’s career was halted prematurely by his untimely death at the age of twenty six. Involved in a freak accident in 1968, just four years after his debut release, Redding was killed in a plane crash. Due to the accident taking place in the peak of the singer’s career, Redding was and had been, in the middle of recording copious amounts of precious music. Five immaculate studio albums to be precise. Each one of them was packed with only the highest quality Soul music and they went on to contain some of his most important and renowned hits. I feel this week’s track of the week represents not just Redding, but the incessant list of musicians who were taken from us far too soon. The Amy Winehouses, the Tupac Shakurs and the Kurt Kobains. Their talent was too much for this world and to possess that much talent and energy, made them too hard to handle. Now ‘Hard To Handle’ was one of the great hits from Redding’s posthumous albums. The single featured on the fantastic and aptly named ‘The Immortal Otis Redding’ album in 1968. Along with such classics as ‘Sitting on the dock of the bay’ and ‘Ole man trouble’, ‘Hard to handle’ was one of the big hits to be released after the singer’s death.

I know that whenever I listen to this record, it makes me think about the tenacity and funk which was portrayed in Redding’s character. A go-getter from the off, Otis Redding was a musician who like album involved, has an immortal legacy and will go down in history as one of the best to have ever done it.

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Track Of The Week #40 – Charles Bradley ‘Heartaches & Pain’

Heartaches and pain. Two words, two feelings, two curses that the legend-of-late, Charles Bradley had to carry with him his whole life. As many of you will know, Bradley sadly passed away on Saturday at the age of sixty eight. He was a character of life, struggle and soul. Described as having a life so rough ‘even a fiction writer wouldn’t have dared to invent it,’ the singer from Florida was a man who was rich in knowledge, love and suffering. After fleeing the reigns of his abusive mother at the age of fourteen, Bradley spent a large period of his life homeless, sleeping from train to train on the New York subway. He appeared to grow into what can only be described as a man who had been chewed up and spat out by the American system but not all hope was lost. After being taken to a James Brown concert in the early sixties, the young Bradley was in awe and left brimming with inspiration. This fascination lead the young boy to chase his idol and become one the best and emphatic James Brown impersonators in the states. However, the American dream is not a reality for most and like the masses, Bradley found it hard to capitalise on his dream. With no support and nowhere to turn to, Bradley traveled the US working low paid jobs, performing every now and then to earn a little extra cash. After seeing other musicians around him succeed, Bradley finally took the leap and approached forward-thinking record label Daptone who instantly fell for his voice and style. The singer went on to become somewhat of a late bloomer, popular among all ages.

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Now it’s extremely rare that a musician gets their breakthrough at the age of sixty two however, if you hadn’t guessed by now, Charles Bradley was not your average artist. His suffering roars through his music like an unbearable cry for help but yet, he was never the man to ask for it. Without a shadow of a doubt, one of Bradley’s most heartfelt and emotive songs is ‘Heartaches and Pain’, a vivid and saddening tale of his brother’s death, a brutal and unexpected gunning down by his own nephew. The song was released on Bradley’s most successful album ‘No Time For Dreaming’. Boasting an array of great tracks, the album has become a sure classic over the years with ‘Heartaches and Pain’ being right up there with the best. Much like the man himself, ‘Heartaches and Pain’ provides a path to healing and a soulful route to wrapping up the wounds. Described as “a man who wanted to hug the world”, Bradley was as compassionate as he was insightful and this record certainly shows it. ‘Heartaches and Pain’ is a living example of Bradley’s courage and perseverance and we can all take a lot from it. A truly heartbreaking poem by a man who had felt it all.  Rest in peace Charles.

Charles Bradley 1948-2017

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Track Of The Week #39 – Mark Morrison ‘Innocent Man ft DMX’

 

Yes he’s back in your ears, but this return of the ‘Mack’ surprisingly doesn’t come in the form of his staple classic. That’s right, the infamous gunslinging Mark Morrison has more than one banger in his arsenal. This one however, is as nearly as catchy as his best. He was always an artist who made people think, how can such an gangster sound so smooth? Well, I say, just look to Nate Dogg and there lies your answer. The main difference being that not many people know that Morrison is in fact British, as pose to many of his American counterparts. Although born in West-Germany, the smooth criminal always had a way of seamlessly floating in and out of the tops of charts in both the US and UK, whatever the case. He only had released two studio albums during his career, with each ones eponymous track being a classic within their own right. Aside from this, the Mack released various singles and EPs, each one showcasing just why he truly was, the man. Although a clear, natural born talent, Morrison’s career was never truly able to hit the heights he clearly craved as his life was scattered with crime and career tarnishing allegations.

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This week’s track symbolises Morrison’s struggle throughout music. ‘Innocent Man’ is track that in my opinion, everyone needs to hear. Stressing how before the crime, before birth, he would always been seen as guilty. His focus on a society which only breeds failure and hate for working class black males has been a common theme in music throughout history, but this, this was his own story. What can be best described as an R&B infused hip-hop record, him and DMX created a powerful yet soulful hit. As expected, Morrison leads the vocals with his distinguished and unique sound. Supplying all the hooks and majority of the verses doesn’t leave much space for fellow released convict DMX; however, the New York rapper ensures that no breaths are wasted as he spits a real and honest verse riddled with poignancy. The track was released in 2006 on Morrison’s second studio album ‘Innocent Man’. Although the album was supposed to be Morrison’s big comeback, it unfortunately failed to chart and was the subsequent victim to mixed reviews. It boasted an array of eclectic musicians, mostly falling into the realm of ragga and dancehall. Such artists as Tanya Stephens, Tippa Irie and Elephant man all featured but even their presence couldn’t boost it’s popularity. But alas, reviews are reviews and the charts are the charts. Mark Morrison may have owned it at one time, but he was never your stereotypical chart artist. He was a singer of the underground, a rogue in a game of fair play.

I respect his music massively and I honestly feel that there has never been a voice quite like his before. Morrison brought swag to soul by being the gangster in his genre. He was the wildcard that everyone was too afraid to gamble on, but everyone loved. He was the true Mack.

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Track Of The Week #38 – Mo’ Horizons ‘Foto Viva (Nicola Conte Mix)’

Another week goes by and we’re still clutching on to the sounds of the summer, desperately clinging on to the season we can all feel slipping out of out grasp. Attempting to replicate a foreign environment is never as bleak as it may sound however. Allowing our ears to be flooded with songs that induce good feelings and escapism is nothing to be ashamed of. Our desire as humans to persistently chase mental vacation via mellifluous melodies ensures that we discover and create playlist after playlist of sweet sound music. In my attempt to go on a poor man’s holiday, I stumbled across the enthralling German duo, Mo Horizons. Like a few of the recently featured artists in these posts, I struggle to narrow their sound down to just one genre but if one thing is for certain, it is that their sound is far from being quintessentially German. The eclectic nature of their melodies stretches from acid-jazz to downtempo, from trip-hop to bossa nova. Just right for that three minute getaway. The group were founded in 1999 and are still active to this day with their heavily latin-influenced sound and amalgamations of funk, soul and house.

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Their first album ‘Come Touch The Sun’ was an exceptional success. It featured twelve songs, each one heavily laced with soft, wispy vocals and a heavy latin groove. The original version of this week’s track of the week featured on the album. Although all of the songs were popular, ‘Foto Viva’ was the only one to really receive serious air time. It has a special quality to it, one which makes it quite the unique record. In Nicola Conte’s version of the track, the producer combines the mesmerising Bebel Gilberto-style lyrics with a choppy and sprightly beat. One which creates the most accessible and inviting sounds imaginable. I believe this song strikes such a chord with fans around the world is due to it’s nature. Being both laid back and lively at the same time ensures it’s adaptability on the dance floor. It could be the perfect opener to a sunroof or terrace DJ set, or at the same time, it could very easily be the last song spun in a gloomy jazz cafe as the night descends into a thick haze of smoke. Since releasing ‘Come Touch The Sun’ Mo’ Horizons have consistently delivered, album after album. Their latest full studio release came back in 2011 but they have released numerous records since. Each once still proving to be a smart infusion of influences from Brazil, India, Portugal and many other destinations around the globe. They have truly nailed the international sound and they express it with enthusiastic charm and class.

So go on, take a leap and do a holiday on the cheap. Lean back and get lost in the sounds of the Mo’ Horizons. Similar to such artists as St.Germain and Thievery Corporation, you are in safe hands when it’s Mo’ Horizons in charge.

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Track Of The Week #37 – Them ‘Gloria’

Now to of all of us, ten, twenty years ago seems like more than a lifetime. So when we try to think back to something over fifty years old it proves to be almost impossible. Dating back to 1964, this week’s track is an exciting and riveting record. Not only is it a phenomenal piece of music, but went on the start an illustrious career for it’s creator as well as kickstarting a powerful trend within rock and roll. This week’s track of the week was written by no other than the legendary Irishman, Van Morrison before he pursued a solo career and was with his band ‘Them’. His rough, rugged and raw sound mixed in with his surprisingly soulful voice ensured that even a young, eighteen year-old boy from Ireland could make the big time, not just in the UK but over the pond too.’Them’ were formed in Belfast all the way back in 1964 and played a significant part in creating what was known as ‘Garage rock’, a genre which enabled bands to really build bridges in the rock and roll scene between the US and UK. Despite their relatively short stint at the top, the group also had a dramatic impact on groups such as The Doors and became major players in what went on to be known as ‘The British Invasion’ in the US.

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There is no doubt that this song is popular; so popular in fact that it can be found everywhere. It pops up at least once in all big television series, in every parent’s record collection and thanks to it’s simple three-chord structure, in every guitar playing manual imaginable. The song’s simplicity has to be one of the reasons that it has become so successful. It’s basic structure leaves itself open to a world of interpretation and one which a powerful roster of singers embraced with open arms. Jimi Hendrix, The Patti Smith Group and AC/DC we’re just a few of the names to cover the track. One of the most impressive features of the it’s simplicity was how Morrison himself would be able to chop and change whilst playing live, throwing in ad-lib lyrics and even sometimes stretching the song to around fifteen to twenty minutes long. For me, the most remarkable feature of the track is by far, it’s energy. It’s not often you come across such a song so basic yet exhilarating. Like Steppenwolf’s hit ‘Born To Be Wild’, it possesses that truly unique ‘road-trip’ feel, the sort which can be felt regardless of whether you own a 1965 Ford Mustang and whether the wind blowing through your hair is Californian or not. This track is a timeless masterpiece and one which defined the great British era of rock and roll which was to follow. It was released as part of a two-track EP on Decca records in 1964 and was accompanied by another explosive and riveting record in ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’. The EP created a storm around Them and before you know it, a few fall-outs later and Van Morrison had set sail on his long and illustrious solo career. The group’s image of long hair, corduroy trousers and slick, pressed suits ensured that the group weren’t just one of the sounds of the sixties, they were the look too.

Their swagger was only intensified by the presence of ‘lead-man-van’ as their frontman with his can-do attitude and his ‘middle-finger to the world’ style. However, if we’re to call ourselves anything along the lines of honest music fans then we mustn’t forget how it all started with ‘Them’… not him.

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Track Of The Week #36 – Mop Mop ‘Kamakumba’

Mop Mop is an artist who has only come to my personal knowledge of late. Is it not often that I have come across music that grabs my attention so quickly, but yet still leaves me in a sense of bewilderment. The producer describes his work as ‘A bastard performance of modern jazz’ which is harsh to say the least. Whilst i’m still unsure as to what he means by this, I can still vouch for the fact that his work offers an oddly and creatively unique approach to traditional standards of music. Now Mop Mop, although a group, is pioneered and lead by the crafty Italian musician Andrea Benini. He has meandered his way through the Jazz and Afrobeat scene for years now and has built up both an iconic sound and reputation with Mop Mop. Described by themselves as being a mix of Funk, Afro and Jazz, I can’t help but feel that the group are being a little modest on this one. Yes, they do encapsulate every element of these three genres. However, their sound is broad and more than often it stretches far into the depths of dub, the rhythms of reggae and the calmness of sweet calypso music. The fact that their discography extends all the way back to 2005 shows just quite how far they had slipped under my nose as they are still producing to this day and have spun a thick and tangled web of soulful and perplex music just waiting to be explored.

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Their most succesful and I have to say, most impressive sounding album has to be the 2013 release ‘Isle Of Magic’. It not only showcases the talents of over fifteen different contributing musicians, it also creates a mindset within itself. For it is not merely an album, it is a world created by Mop Mop. Described as being “An imaginary land populated by musicians who spend their time fishing, cooking, playing and practicing voodoo rites at night;” the album really takes the listener on an unforgettable trip. The songs that make up the album show you each and every aspect the world and what can only be described as hypnotic voodoo-Jazz. If I were to pluck of one of the tracks from this mesmerising album it would have to ‘Kamakumba’. The track has a trance-inducing and spellbinding feel to it, one which almost feels like a ritual within itself. The track is primarily a composition of alluring steel pans; pans which lull the listener before breaking off into a funkier and far more vibrant rendition. Mop Mop’s masterpiece in ‘Kamakumba’ is cool, vivacious and bursting with island flavour. It’s zesty and captivating rhythm leaves you praying for just a moments sunshine so you can draw for the ice cold cocktail and bask in rich, calypso pleasure.

With twelve other tracks on the album, Mop Mop go to extreme lengths to ensure that each one differs from the other. All this differentiating proves to be key in shaping and guiding the listeners on a truly unique and unforgettable journey. Mop Mop’s ‘Isle Of Magic’ is the holiday we all want and need.

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