This post is a little out of character, as George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby didn’t exactly fly under the radar at the time of its release. The title track single was a massive chart-topper that sold 11 million copies worldwide, and is considered one of the early hits of disco. But I’ve been in a months-long habit of listening to “You Can Have It All” on repeat on my commutes home from work when I’m feeling deflated or overly cynical: it’s a song about deliberate and joyful vulnerability, delivered with infectious open-handed sincerity, and it always makes me feel better. As a record, Rock Your Baby is a relatively rare instance of a disco full-length that’s consistently solid all the way through, so I wanted to share it in the hopes that it might be new to some people.
The title track single came to McCrae somewhat by accident: though he had been a longtime musician, at the time he was largely acting as manager to his then-wife Gwen McCrae, who had been asked to contribute vocals to a track for Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine band because they were unable to reach the high notes that they had written in. The story goes that Gwen was late for the session so George recorded the vocals in her place, and his falsetto was so impressive that he went on to make an entire record with Finch and Casey, who produced and co-wrote Rock Your Baby.
I love the rough, almost winkingly dirty quality of the production, the effortless and smiling quality of McCrae’s vocals, and the irresistible percussion, especially on “I Get Lifted,” which has famously been sampled by everyone and their dog. Oh, and that famous title track is as gorgeous as its sales would suggest–sunny, relaxed, and tropical, more of a groove stretched into six and a half minutes than a verse-chorus disco banger. It’s enough to sell the full-length on its own, but fortunately there’s plenty more to love here. Enjoy!
I was deeply saddened to learn last night of the death of poet, novelist, and musician Leonard Cohen. For the countless fans that have connected with his music over the course of his 50 year long musical career, Cohen has served as equal parts companion and court jester, writing lyrics that were usually equal parts beautiful and cynical, mixing barbed love songs with enigmatic social commentary and plenty of self-deprecation. This was all packaged in his distinctively conversational lilt, a voice that I used to love to fall asleep to until I spent some time with his post-Songs From A Room work and realized just how biting and angry he was. Around the same time I started to suspect that his feelings towards women might be more complicated than I had thought–after all, he came of age in the 50s. All of this is to say that he wasn’t just the love-worn troubadour that the “general listening” CD collection staple The Best Of Leonard Cohen would have us believe. He was messy, cryptic, and seemed to contradict himself readily.
I wanted to share New Skin for the Old Ceremony today for a couple of reasons. It houses some of his more potent political songs, specifically “There Is A War” and “A Singer Must Die”—songs that are lyrically vague enough to be timeless, and as such feel apropos on a day as bilious as today. It also marks a turn in instrumentation for Cohen, incorporating new percussive textures, violas, mandolins, and jazz inflections—still minimal, but more orchestrated than the bare bones guitar-and-vocals of his previous records. From there, it’s easy to see a mostly straight line building up to the unabashedly synth-pop critic’s darling I’m Your Man. Finally, New Skin is the Cohen record to which I feel most attached: in particular, the brutally worded “Why Don’t You Try” has been a reproving reminder to ask uncomfortable questions about loneliness and codependency after every break-up I’ve gone through since I was a teenager. As with much of his music, New Skin offers new insights with every listen, so we’re all the more grateful for his large and generous body of work. Thank you for everything, Leonard.
Comprised of four long ruminative tracks, the classic Peace and Love – Wadadasow is probably reggae’s closest answer to Ash Ra Tempel — highly spiritual and free-wheeling, totally enveloping in its psychedelic nature with some of the brooding appeal of dub.
It’s the second album by Ras Michael, released under the moniker Dadawah, and here his passionate chanting and singing is treated with expansive post-production effects courtesy of Lloyd Charmers. Willie Lindo provides incredible bluesy guitar improvisation. The rhythm section is held together tightly by a constant bass groove, and “Zion Land,” for instance, highlights the spiritual and emotional core of the album. It’s as much a spacey trip as it is an intensely devotional record.
Dug Out’s 2010 reissue contains a slightly different mix, with more present vocals and heavier reverb, while the original pressing (provided here) focuses more on the spacious, atmospheric instrumentation.
Sublime spiritual jazz afrobeat fusion. Psychedelic shifting rhythms and urgent, brassy hooks doused in reverb. Many South African jazz musicians from this time period didn’t make any recordings at all, so big ups to Matsuli Music for digging up this previously unavailable landmark, lovingly remastering it, and making it available.
Chills. This album strikes me right to the core. Everything I Own proves to the world that Ken Boothe is obviously the ultimate lovers rocker. Keeping it incredibly real in the grooviest way, the work centers on themes of separation and divorce. The album also has a political message with anthemic songs like “Time Passage” and “Impossible Dream,” but all songs seem to cry out in funky protest. Vibe-wise, it has a cool, dark, soulful feel that can be likened to contemporaries like War and Richie Havens, with a judicious amount of synth swooshes. This particular version was released by Trojan for the UK and Germany, but I would recommend seeking out other versions which contain classics like “Is It Because I’m Black” and the cover of Bob Marley’s “African Lady.” In any case, it doesn’t get any better than this Jamaican crooner classic!
A seamless blend of traditional Japanese music with jazz, prog rock, and funk, Benzaiten takes off into new age, with sparse electronic drumming, bells, and synth sweeps. Hosono on synths. Benzaiten takes its name from the Buddhist equivalent of Saraswati, “goddess of everything that flows: water, words, speech, eloquence, music and by extension, knowledge.” Epic.
I’m posting this jewel in celebration of the first real snowfall we have had this year in Brooklyn. Considered an early example of proto-synthesizer-pop, Snowflakes are Dancing is Isao Tomita’s fantastical renditions of Debussy on a Moog synthesizer. It’s a masterpiece. For a bunch of interesting facts like all the Grammy awards this record won and how influential it is, check out the Wikipedia article.
I wouldn’t recommend this for casual listening. Put on some headphones, close your eyes, and let Tomita take you on a journey to whatever planet he’s from. So happy to share this with you.