Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black (2017)

FrontCover1.jpgIf All I Was Was Black is the thirteenth studio album by American R&B, soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples. It was released on November 17, 2017, by ANTI- Records. The album was written and produced by Jeff Tweedy.

The album’s announced on September 11, 2017. The album consists of 11 songs, all of which were written by Jeff Tweedy. Staples said she hoped the album will “bring us all together as a people. That’s what I hope to do. You can’t stop me. You can’t break me. I’m too loving. These songs are going to change the world.” Tweedy described the message of the album, saying, “I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself—that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.”

The lead single, “If All I Was Was Black”, was released on September 11, 2017, along with the album’s pre-order. “Little Bit” was released as the second single from the album on October 12, 2017. The third single, “Build a Bridge”, was released on November 7, 2017. “Ain’t No Doubt About It” was released as the fourth and final single on November 14, 2017. A music video for “If All I Was Was Black” was released on February 12, 2018.

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The year 2017 has been full of political unrest and growing racial division in the United States, but for good or ill, Mavis Staples has seen days like these before. As a teenager, she was a member of the Staple Singers, who in their days as a gospel group were close friends and allies with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the struggle for civil rights was at its peak. They also experienced more than their share of violence and hostility as an African-American family band touring in the Deep South in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Mavis Staples was too strong to let hatred and narrow-mindedness break her when she was a twenty-something, and at the age of 78, she still isn’t about to back down. Released in 2017, If All I Was Was Black finds Staples once again collaborating with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who produced the sessions and wrote the bulk of the songs, and while the lyrics tend not to focus on the specifics of the chaos that’s marked the time it was made, it’s definitely an album intended to speak to troubled times.

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As a woman of deep spiritual beliefs, Staples is the ideal vehicle for these songs, which often deal with hatred, inequality, and indifference while making clear that love and understanding have the capacity to heal America’s wounded spirit. Staples’ vocal style here is informed by equal parts vintage gospel and classic soul, and together they fill these messages with strength, compassion, and a much-needed sense of hope. The lyrics sometimes reflect Tweedy’s usual tropes as a writer, but Staples gives them a musical and emotional force that sets them apart.

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Her voice is in splendid shape for a septuagenarian, still supple and able to navigate the twists of the melodies while sailing confidently over the arrangements that fuse indie rock with the feel of ’70s soul. And if this set of songs is a bit short on specific answers to our problems, well, “We Shall Overcome” never explained how that would happen either. What’s most special about If All I Was Was Black is the way Staples and her collaborators confront the challenges of a distraught world while filling the listener with the belief that all is not lost, that we can get past bad times and build a better future if we try. Quite simply, this is an album America needs. (by Mark Deming)

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Personnel:
Stephen Hodges (drums, percussion)
Rick Holmstrom (guitar)
Glenn Kotche (percussion)
Scott Ligon (keyboards, clavinet, guitar)
Mavis Staples (vocals)
Jeff Tweedy (guitar, bass, percussion, vocals)
Spencer Tweedy (drums, percussion)
Jeff Turnes (bass)
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background vocals:
Donny Gerrard – Kelly Hogan – Akenya

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Tracklist:
01. Little Bit (Tweedy) 3.51
02. If All I Was Was Black (Tweedy/Staples 3.55
03. Who Told You That (Tweedy) 2:48
04. Ain’t No Doubt About It (featuring Jeff Tweedy) Tweedy 3:18
05. Peaceful Dream (Tweedy) 3.20
06. No Time For Crying (Tweedy/Staples) 4.36
07. Build A Bridge (Tweedy) 3.37
08. We Go High (Tweedy/Staples) 3.26
09. Try Harder (Tweedy) 3.51
10. All Over Again (Tweedy) 1.54

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Oliver Nelson – More Blues And The Abstract Truth (1964)

FrontCover1.JPGMore Blues and the Abstract Truth is an album by American jazz composer, conductor and arranger Oliver Nelson featuring performances recorded in 1964 for the Impulse! label.

Unlike the original classic Blues and the Abstract Truth set from three years earlier, Oliver Nelson does not play on this album. He did contribute three of the eight originals and all of the arrangements but his decision not to play is disappointing. However there are some strong moments from such all-stars as trumpeter Thad Jones, altoist Phil Woods, baritonist Pepper Adams, pianist Roger Kellaway and guest tenor Ben Webster (who is on two songs). The emphasis is on blues-based pieces and there are some strong moments even if the date falls short of its predecessor. (by Scott Yanow)

Billed as a follow-up to Nelson’s 1961 triumph The Blues And The Abstract Truth, (Impulse A-5, including Bill Evans!), it doesn’t quite scale the same heights, but it is a thoroughly listenable offering, which has its moments (if not Stolen Moments). Ben Webster, Phil Woods, Thad Jones and Pepper Adams add their distinctive voices to the ensemble, with Nelson’s arranging skills well on display. Mixed in with the jazz heavyweights are relatively unknown and rising stars Roger Kellaway (piano) Phil Bodner (tenor) Daniel Moore (trumpet) together with the well-seasoned hands of Grady Tate and Richard Davis.

I’m not sure what “Abstract Truth” means in this context, but it sure sounds intellectually impressive, so let’s have more of it. Lights! Camera! Abstract Truth! ..and…Action!… (londonjazzcollector.wordpress.com

Recorded on November 10, 1964 (tracks 4 & 6-9) and
November 11, 1964 (tracks 1-3, 5 & 10).

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Personnel:
Pepper Adams (saxophone)
Phil Bodner (saxophone, english horn)
Richard Davis (bass)
Thad Jones (trumpet)
Roger Kellaway (piano)
Grady Tate (drums)
Phil Woods (saxophone)
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Danny Moore (trumpet on 01. + 05.)
Ben Webster (saxophone (on 04. + 07.)

Arranged & conducted by Oliver Nelson

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Tracklist:
01. Blues and the Abstract Truth (Nelson) 5.15
02. Blues O’Mighty (Hodges) 6.48
03. Theme From Mr. Broadway (Brubeck) 5.49
04. Midnight Blue (Hefti) 4.09
05. The Critic’s Choice (Nelson) 2.21
07. One For Bob (Nelson) 6.07
08. Blues For Mr. Broadway (Brubeck) 8.13
09. Goin’ To Chicago Blues (Basie/Rushing) 4.36

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Wishbone Ash – Argus (1972)

FrontCover1.jpgArgus is the third album by the rock band Wishbone Ash. It is their most commercially and critically successful album. It peaked at No. 3 in the UK Albums Chart.

The album is medieval-themed, featuring a blend of progressive rock, folk, and hard rock, and is considered a landmark album in the progression of twin-lead guitar harmonisation later adopted by bands such as Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. The sound engineer on Argus was Martin Birch, who also worked with Deep Purple, later with Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and other hard rock bands.[6] The bulk of the lyrics were provided by bassist/lead vocalist Martin Turner, although all members are credited with the music and arrangements.

It was named “Album of the Year” in the 1972 year-end issue of Sounds magazine. (by wikipedia)

If Wishbone Ash can be considered a group who dabbled in the main strains of early-’70s British rock without ever settling on one (were they a prog rock outfit like Yes, a space rock unit like Pink Floyd, a heavy metal ensemble like Led Zeppelin, or just a boogie TShirt.jpgband like Ten Years After?), the confusion compounded by their relative facelessness and the generic nature of their compositions, Argus, their third album, was the one on which they looked like they finally were going to forge their own unique amalgamation of all those styles into a sound of their own. The album boasted extended compositions, some of them (“Time Was,” “Sometime World”) actually medleys of different tunes, played with assurance and developing into imaginative explorations of new musical territory and group interaction. The lyrics touched on medieval themes (“The King Will Come,” “Warrior”) always popular with British rock bands, adding a majestic tone to the music, but it was the arrangements, with their twin lead guitar parts and open spaces for jamming, that made the songs work so well. Argus was a bigger hit in the U.K., where it reached the Top Five, than in the U.S., where it set up the commercial breakthrough enjoyed by the band’s next album, Wishbone Four, but over the years it came to be seen as the quintessential Wishbone Ash recording, the one that best realized the group’s complex vision. (by William Ruhlmann)

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Warrior, The King Will Come, Time Was, Blowin Free are such Classics..In fact every track on this album is at least very good if not excellent! This is the “Must Have” Ash recording and has become regarded by most as their finest hour..Its a master piece of prog rock, mystical, diverse and exciting and every track is delivered with conciseness and consistently high quality. One of the best Prog Albums ever! (Steve Smith)

Wishbone Ash were a staple of me and my friends’ mainly English, Progressive leaning lineup of early 70’s bands, and Argus is undoubtedly one of, if not the best, of their albums from that period and this lineup. It is very typical of the then newish, album-oriented, rather than singles, days, in that it is to be listened to as a whole, and indeed, with only two tracks coming in under four minutes, this wasn’t AM radio material (AM radio was still the predominant format in the U.S., esp outside cities). Those were the days of the complete ‘album experience’.

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You put it on, you listened to both sides, in order (Argus only had 2 songs on the second side, so it was a typical listening ‘experience’, then). And that was a big achievement, to put out an album with no fillers and is what brought forth many masterpieces of that time. Argus is full of many songs with strong hooks, however; even the long, ‘proggy-ier’ songs, which change in tempo, etc, have many memorable moments. Powell’s and Ted Turner’s dual guitars turn in joyous performances here, landing them on many ‘best of’ lists. There are softer tracks on this album (the lovely Leaf and Stream) as well as hard rockers, like the majestic Warrior. The King Will Come, and overall theme were often looked upon as Tolkien references, as Lord of the Rings was extremely popular and mined by many bands at that time Although I own and love all of their first four albums, this is my go-to Ash album, and certainly the most cohesively proggy of those. (S BB)

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Personnel:
Andy Powell (guitar, vocals)
Martin Turner (bass, vocals)
Ted Turner (guitar, vocals)
Steve Upton (drums, percussion)
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John Tout (organ on 07.)

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Tracklist:
01. Time Was 9.46
02. Sometime World 6.57
03. Blowin’ Free 5.20
04. The King Will Come 7.08
05. Leaf And Stream  M. Turner 3:55
06. Warrior 5.54
07. Throw Down The Sword 6.00
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09. No Easy Road (single version) 3.39

All songs written by Andy Powell – Martin Turner – Ted Turner – Steve Upton

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I’m leaving to search for something new
Leaving everything I ever knew
A hundred years in the sunshine
Hasn’t taught me all there is to know

The valley, we will gather there
Helpless in our surrender
Tomorrow the plow becomes the sword
Make us stronger in our danger

Time will pass away
Time will guard our secret
I’ll return again
To fight another day

I’d have to be a warrior
A slave I couldn’t be
A soldier and a conqueror
Fighting to be free