Its that time of the year again. My soulful review of all that was good musically in 2013. First off, the elephant in the room. The mix does not feature the best LP's of the year, although there are tunes from most of them. Its a mix of some of my favorite tracks. I will be discussing the LP's below and recommending the best of them, but felt a nice long mix of the best of the year should be the way forward. So lets get on with it, press play on the mix below, and lets talk about some of those tunes.....
In most R&B lists of the year your gonna hear about 2 songs. Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky". Never had much time for the Robin Thicke track, a "Got to give it up" knock off, but Daft Punk's liaison with Nile Rogers was a throwback to 1979, Chic Guitars and post disco dancability. The definition of feel good. But lets not forget the connection between the two tracks, the man of the year, Pharrell Williams.
As well as producing those tunes, he had a hand in Beyonce's Stealth LP, with the best track on there, the boogiefied "Blow". Then there's production work for Mayer Hawthorne, Daley, Jennifer Hudson and so much more. A 24 hour video for his Despicable Me soundtrack song. The man was everywhere. In a good way.
Unlike Mr Kanye West, who seems to have lost the plot. But hey, thats just me I think. Look at the Best of 2013 Hip Hop Lp's and "Yeezus" is at the top of most of them. It kind of sums up my disillusionment with Hip Hop at present. Where's the Soul? The genius sample's? The lyrical invention? Well, I found alot of that in my Hip Hop LP of the year, Rashaan Ahmad's "Ceremony", an LP full of that Boom Bap, great soul and Jazz samples, and on tracks such as "Guns" Lyrics that actually talk to current Issues, namely Gun Control. Other Hip Hop LP's that picked my interest were those from Tanya Morgan (Rubber Souls), Oddisee (Tangible Dream), and Black Milk (No Poison no Paradise).
We had Soul Veteran's release music to various degrees of success. R.Kelly's "Black Panties" LP is the musical equivalent of your drunk older uncle turning up at your 21st and hitting on your girlfriends. Uncomfortable. Especially with the true life "rumors" and "accusations". That SNL appearance with Lady Gaga made my eyes bleed too. Much much better was the release of Earth Wind and Fire's "Now, then & Forever", while not up there with their best, has a track in "Love is Law" that is very cool. Brian McKnight, Chante Moore, Kenny Lattimore, Donell Jones, they all re-appeared with LP's but none left an impression. Would be great if these talents took a risk with their music, maybe hired some of the up and coming producers to handle their material, rather than phoning it in which is what it felt like. On a more positive note, The Systems "System Overload" and Steve Arrington's "Higher" had some great moments on them that reminded you of why they were, and are, talents. Joe's "Doubleback Evolution of R&B"suprised with tracks like "Easy" and "Something for you", producing work on a par with that of which his fans love him for. But it was the UK's own Omar whose "The Man" LP really showed what an enduring talent he is. The second I first heard the title track, I had to have the song, and let me tell you that does not happen to me much anymore. With guests such as Caron Wheeler and Stuart Zender, the Lp is filled with talent and great songs and is a must purchase.
My penchant for Soulful House music needed feeding this year too and there were a couple of corking LP's to search out. Glenn Underground's "July 12 1979" and Nathan Adam's "Audio Therapy" both included some great tunes and have a couple featured on this weeks mix. But so do Louie Vega's Elements of Life, newly signed to Fania, whose double LP "Eclipse" is a great listen. Mixing latin rhythms, jazz, soul and funk, its guaranteed to make you happy.
So what about current signed and independent artists?
Ill be going through my list of the best 10 LP's in a moment, but need to namecheck some that didn't quite make the list but deserve a mention. Contributors to last weeks Review, Joanna Borromeo and Water Seed both released fine LP's. Both "Kaleidoscope" and "Wonder Love 2" contain organic soulful cuts, created by artists that really do care about the product. My pick on Joanna's LP is the slow burner "Outside" and really like Water Seed's "I'm Trying" which has a great soulful vocal and neo-soul vibe.
Bilal's "A Love Surreal" and Amel Larrieux's "Ice cream Everyday" both had moments of excellence. Bilal's LP started in a style more akin to his early work with "Back to Love" and "Winning Hand" before moving off into a more Jazzy and eclectic style with tracks like "Butterfly" featuring Robert Glasper. Amel pulled off a similar trick, with tracks like "Afraid", "Orange Moon" and "You dont see me" sating the need of old school fans whilst tunes like "Moment to Reflect" show a more experimental side with relevant lyrics and a modern style.
Other LP's of note included A great LP from Gregory Porter, a voice that can dissipate the worst of days; AB & 14k's future soul LP "Saturn Return"; Bembe Segue's Lp of Demo's called "Untitled" had more quality than many actually released LP's, and "Space Odyssey" is a killer; Independent Artists Dolla Lova and Severince released great LP's in their own right in "Fall for you" and "Hear to See". Check out their Bandcamp pages for more info; Don- E released the solid "Little Star" LP, a real return to form for the UK underground sensation; Haitus Kaiyote got "Tawk Tomahawk" re-released, signed to SONY, Q-Tip added to "Nakamarra" (Though the track didnt need him, as much as I love the dude), and a Grammy Nomination; Justin Timberlake released 2 LP's which had moments, but I feel he went with the wrong producer from his first LP (Timberland) and should have gone with man of the moment Pharrell; Underground greats Osunlade and Peven Everett kept up their high quality output; Reggie B brought the Future-Soul FUNK with "DNA" as did Thundercat with "Apocalypse".
But with no more ado, here's my top 10 list of LP's for 2013, in no particular order:
1. The Foreign Exchamge - Love in Flying Colors
After hearing "So what if it is" and the first single "Call it home" I was a little worried that we would get a FE House LP. Not that that would be the end of the world (Cause I dig those tunes), but I was looking for those great Soulful tunes that they excel in. And they gave us an LP of them. "If I knew then" kicks us off with Phonte sharing vocals with the great Carmen Rogers on a Jazzy Soulful track; "Better" feat Eric Roberson is a FE classic joint, the best of released this year is worse off without it; "On a Day like this" has a killer melody over a ridiculous BONTEMPI style beat; and the strings on "When I feel Love" are spine tingling. You can always count on Nicolay and Phonte and friends to bring some quality, and on this joy filled LP they did just that.
2. Robert Glasper - Black Radio 2
OK, admission. This LP isnt as good as last years "Black Radio". Having said that, its a consistently soulful, Jazzy experience. Maybe that element of surprise we had with last years release was missing, taking the shine off the LP. Whatever, its still a top notch piece of work. And how can it not be with talent such as Jill Scott, Eric Roberson, Brandy, Dwele, Lalah Hathaway (The version of "Jesus Children" is spine tingling), Bilal etc etc More R&B oriented than the first LP, but thats not a negative. At 17 tracks (On the Deluxe Version), you get more than your monies worth, songs filled with soul and artistry that strives for more than just a quick buck.
3. Omar - The Man
The truth is that the song "The Man" had me at hello. I was copping this LP no matter what. But when I did it was a real treat. "Simplify" is classic Omar as is "Come Speak to me"; "I can Listen" is funky in an old school way and there are really successful hook up's with ex Soul II Soul vocalist Caron Wheeler, and Ex Jamiroquai Bassist Stuart Zender. Soul, funk, Jazz and latin grooves mixed into a concoction that can only sound like the genius that is Omar. I do have one serious problem with it though. It took 7 years to get to us. I know good things come to those who wait, but Omar......your taking the pee. Don't leave it so long next time!!
4. Zo! - Manmade
A great companion piece to label mates The Foreign Exchange LP. Zo! is a regular collaborator, and Phonte and friends return the favour on this LP. His last LP, "Sunstorm" was our best LP of 2010 and whilst this LP doesn't quite reach those heights, its still a must purchase. The title track for example is a joy. Not only is it musically soulful and stirring, but the lyrics relate to our relationship with God and is grown up and thought provoking; "We are on the one" featuring Eric Roberson (Again!) is a funky 80's style jam that's dancefloor ready for those steppers out there; "Tell me something New" with Jeanne Jolly on vocal's is the most FE sounding on the LP and is a track that will set a shiver down your spine; and "Body Rock" with Sy Smith isnt what it sounds (An electrofied 80's dancer!), but a soulful, Jazzy ballad that of which we haven't heard for a good while. A real talent, Zo! delivers another solid LP that you really should consider picking up.
5. The Internet - Feel Good
Out of the blue came this killer LP from a Band thats been around a moment, The Internet. They co-produced the LP with Pharrell's colleague from the Neptunes, Chad Hugo, and it adds a little more sheen than was evident on "Purple Naked Ladies", their previous LP. The Internet consists of producer Matt Martians and lead vocalist Syd “The Kyd” of Odd Future. "Sunset" is a tropical vibed slice of soul; "You don't Even know" a goosebump inducing ballad; "Partners in Crime Part 2" ropes in organic Jazz funk instrumentation as does "Cloud of their own". All in all a real consistent LP, full of soul and Jazz, highly recommended and unexpected.
6. Eric Lau - One of Many
The UK's own Eric Lau brings the Boom Bap this year with an LP for Soul Lovers who dig Hip Hop artists like Dilla and the Roots. Vocalists like Rahel, Georgia Anne Muldrow (Another Mixtape Favorite!) and Fatima all lay smooth vocals over some great Instrumentation that will get your head nodding in a way it hasn't for a few years now. "Divine", "Everytime" and Neptunes like "Guide you" all showcase Eric's great production work and the songwriting is top notch.
7. Quadron - Avalanche
Talking of production work, this LP is probably one of the best produced of the year. Quadron are a Danish duo consisting of singer Coco O (full name Coco Maja Hastrup Karshøj) and musician/producer Robin Hannibal (full name Robin Braun), and they've been around for a few years now delivering their own type of electronic soul. The opener "LFT" sent me back to 1984 sound wise and is a great mid tempo groove; "Its Gonna Get you" also has that 80's sound, like if you stuck an 80's Stevie Wonder bassline on an MJ track; "Neverland" channels Leon Ware (Who they've worked with) and is a real shuffler; Coco O's ethereal vocal's really add a great element to the 10 featured tunes that sets them apart from other LP's released this year, and together with that aforementioned excellent production work builds an excellent LP.
8. Giovanca - Satellite Love
Smash some 70's Disco and Funk with some Rotary Connection/Charles Stepney sounding work and this should give you an idea of what to expect from this idiosyncratic LP. Next to 70's disco sounding tunes like "Lockdown", "No More" and funk workouts like "Bad Wishes" you get gems like "How Does it feel" and the Minnie Ripperton stylings of "Finally Yours". If you love your 70's soul, funk and Disco, you'll love this excellent LP.
9. Jose James - No Begining no end
What more can I say about this LP that was released at the start of the year that hasn't been said already. Dissected by others, we've all seen some of the great live work hes done this year (Like the iTunes Festival gig he did), and most of you probably got this already. Jose's best LP to date, filled with great Soul Jazz tracks like "Make it Right", but my pick is "Vanguard" which shuffles off some jazzy rhodes and made me stop the car I was driving when I first heard Giles Peterson play the track earlier this year. A real talent.
10. Lucas Arruda - Sambadi
An LP you may not have checked out. Lucas heralds from Brazil, and boy do you know it. A 10 track LP full of fun, sun and sand its a Jazz Funk treasure. Weve played the title track "Sambadi" many times before (Its on the mix too) but other tunes like "Tamba Part 1" bring back Memories of sadly departed George Duke's "Brazilian Love" LP. Then there's a great version of "Whos that Lady" to top off a great Jazz Funk LP that I cant recommend enough to those who have that inclination. Looking forward to hearing more work from this talent in the future.
And thats it. 2013. Some real great music out there, just takes some digging underneath the stuff that pushed onto us via the TV talent shows, Music Video channels, and what calls itself radio nowadays. Stick with us Mixtapers, cause we promise to let you know about all the good music, past and present, that we can.
If you agree, disagree or feel Ive missed something from the above, feel free to comment, hit us up on Twitter @SoulNRnB, or Facebook "Soulnrnb Grizz", or Google +. Have a great Christmas to those celebrating, Grizz back shortly, and Ill have some DISCO ready for you for the New Year Party celebrations.