Black Pumas – Black Moon Rising

My new favorite band. Your new favorite band. Black Pumas is the stuff of legend. Grammy-award producer meets talented street busker; they hang; make some music; magic happens; and – bam – they’re catch fire and you can’t get their shit out of your brain. Which is fantastic because they are legit and awesome.

Black Moon Rising, the lead single off their debut self-titled album released a couple of weeks ago, is just one of a host of golden tracks.

As other commenters have noted, Black Pumas doesn’t stay in the retro-soul box you want to put them in on first listen. The record spills over the side with modern production flashes, drum loops, and fresh-sounding guitar and keyboard licks. While they command their own unique sound that merges classic soul, gritty rock, and vintage-era funk, there are hints of current influences from Dan Auerbach, to Danger Mouse, and even Khruangbin.

Black Pumas is having a moment. And, we’re all better for it.

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Free Nationals (feat. Mac Miller and Kali Uchis) – Time

Free Nationals released this track today and, um….there was no way I was going to post about anything else. Free Nationals (Anderson .Paak’s backing band and one of the best live soul/funk/R&B groups on the planet right now) + Kali Uchis (my top “I’m-not-a-huge-fan-of-pop-radio-R&B-but-I-love-her” female vocalist) + Mac Miller (his first posthumous release) = Awesomeness.

Even if it sounded bad I was going to tune into this track. But, of course, it sounds fantastic. Melodically tight out of the gate, with Kali Uchis singing the chorus backed by a strummed acoustic guitar, and then picking up 30 seconds in with a Free Nationals / Kelsey Gonzalez classic, butter-smooth, on-the-one bass line.

That bass groove drives the song forward, accented by glittering synth, electric guitar, and trumpet riffs and graced at the top with Uchis’s layered, slightly ethereal vocals. It cruises along at a steady, head-nodding clip…and then Mac Miller tucks in with his verse.

Man, I miss Mac Miller. I was oddly affected by his passing (which I wrote about last September) and so I feel conflicted hearing his familiar, distinctively raspy voice again. Happy to be vibing along to his vocals and amazing flow again, even as I know he’s no longer here and I’m listening to a single moment frozen in time. He raps:

“Look at me watering seeds, it’s time to grow / I get out of control when I’m alone”

Damn, Mac.

I found myself wondering how it must be for his family and close friends; the courage it must take them to allow Free Nationals to release this song with the subject matter of letting go of love, which is guaranteed to feel haunting and sad for them even as it is likely what he would have wanted and keeps his memory and legacy alive for the rest of us. Respect.

After another chorus and verse by Kali Uchis, the track shifts keys and winds down with horns and a warped fade. Front-to-back, this track is just one smooth, effortless, R&B groove. You don’t so much listen as you sink into it.

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Concert Special! — Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, featuring “The Love,” Asase Yaa Entertainment Group

Last night, I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the first time. This morning, I am still transfixed and in a bit of a fog; still caught up in the artistry, grace, power, and emotion of the performances. Marking the 60th anniversary of the company, Ailey 60 spanned decades. There were classic pieces choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself in the 1960s to the music of traditional hymns and spirituals (the famous “Revelations”), modern pieces danced to funk, disco, and hip-hop of the early 1980s (“Stack-Up”), and a visceral, highly charged performance choreographed incredibly by Robert Battle in 2003 to an incredibly bold and modern original composition for orchestra by John Mackey (“Juba”).

Each were beyond remarkable.

Musically, however, I was particularly taken with the selections for the newest piece, a beautiful blend of modern and African dance completed in 2018 and titled “The Call.”

The Call by Ronald K. Brown from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

It features three distinct pieces of music, the last one titled, The Love from the album Drum Love, which is the soundtrack to a play of the same title featuring the Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation drummers led by Yao Ababio and Osei Ababio. I got lost in this music and the dancing was so well-choreographed to it; all fluid movements, deeply soulful, patient and quiet, while conveying strength and pride.

Featured Image: Paul Kolnik

Liniker e os Caramelows — Calmô

The 2019 music year is still a bit slow ramping up. Or maybe that’s just me. In any event, as new releases start to dribble out, I’m still vibing to music that I was listening to at the end of 2018. Calmô continues to be in heavy rotation from the In My Ear 2018 Playlist.I am way late to the Liniker e os Caramelows party and to this track as well, which was released as a single in early fall 2018. But, who cares man, because I am glad to be here now. Full credit to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series for introducing me to this band; they played a fantastic Tiny Desk in late October 2018.

I don’t know enough about the group to do a just profile of them, but their story is a remarkable one: a richly diverse collective from Araraquara in the interior of São Paulo state fronted by talented and vibrant singer/songwriter Liniker Barros — a Black, trans singer and outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights hailing from a country in Brazil that has some of the highest rates of homophobia and LGBTQ+ violence.

Barros speaks about their lyrics and the band’s entire ethos as being all about love. And, so it is with this track because Calmô, is just….warm. A beautiful, aching, sultry slow song that feels like a late summer day, a soft breeze against your cheek, or a lover’s hot, whispered breath on your ear. I love, love, love 70’s vintage Brazilian soul and funk music and this track includes so many of those intoxicating elements: deeply soulful emotion, jazz and Caribbean and Afro-Brazilian influences, an unhurried tempo, and an irresistible sway.

Sighhhhhh, drink this song in.

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Feature Image by Leila Penteado

Lamont Landers – Easy

Ain’t no reason to complicate this post by setting up how I heard this track or describing its’ elements or explaining why it hit me. All you need to know is that Lamont Landers’ new single Easy is just a pure sip of sunshine.

Lamont Landers is a young band. While their sounds are very different, there are comparisons to be made with St. Paul & the Broken Bones. Origins in Alabama; blue-eyed soul, self-taught front man reared on classic soul music. And, like the Broken Bones, Lamont Landers will have to work to keep their sound fresh or risk making records that sound the same and music that gets too easily labeled.

But, no need to think on all that right now. Easy is soulful, funky pop deliciousness of the sort that will always, always be in my wheelhouse. A tight melody, funky slap-bass line, a little chicken-scratch electric guitar. Yessssss…….

The Internet — Roll (Burbank Funk)

Yikes, July up and ran away from me. After a brief, unannounced hiatus (oops, sorry y’all. #nonmonetizedsidehustle), In My Ear is back! And, we’re going to crush it this week with three new posts to make up for the three weeks of lost time.

Starting with….this. f*cking. jam. right. here. and the album release of July for me. Recently, I’ve recommitted to daily recording things for which I am grateful. Little things. Big things. Basic things. Amazing things. Whatever. While I get the premise and accept whatever data exists on the benefits of feelings of gratitude, it’s an ongoing struggle to cultivate the practice and reap those benefits.

I’ll tell you what, though, I am damn grateful for The Internet. And, I sure as hell wrote that down in my journal when their new album Hive Mind dropped on July 20.

theinternet_hivemind

With the exception of Erykah Badu, there is no other performer or group who channels 1970s OG funk better or more often for me than The Internet. There is just an instantaneous flow when they kick into a groove, like they do on Roll (Burbank Funk).

But, the sound isn’t just simply a throwback. Nah. The Internet’s music sounds fresh and current, even as it draws so clearly on classic bass-driven, syrupy, rolling funk. It’s also the sound of a really tight band — excellent, independently accomplished musicians in each of their own rights — that sparks magic every time they come together on a record.

This track is money all the way. It starts with a drum beat and hand claps (called to my mind right away De La Soul, People Under the Stairs, and EWF’s various odes to Saturdays), adds in a delicious bass line, a somewhat surprising lead vocal turn from guitarist Steve Lacy, and then settles into 3-ish minutes of throbbing, definitely rolling, but also spacious funk. If you’re not hooked 30 seconds into this, I’m not sure what to say….

[Verse 2]
As you’re coming down
Where’d your heart go?

[Chorus]
Star shine so bright
It’s all in your heart
They’re up so high
It’s all in your heart
I wanna fly
Look no further
Let your heart flow

[Post-Chorus]
Roll, roll, roll, roll
Roll, roll, roll
Let your heart flow…

The groove stands on it’s own, but tapping into the lyrics added another level for me. Simple and repetitive (and feeling to me like direct, personal encouragement), they are perfectly matched with the music in pace and theme.

After a three year hiatus between albums, I wonder and like to think that these lyrics reflect the headspace for how The Internet came back together and got on track to make this record…and do what they do so expertly and distinctly.