ALBUM REVIEW: Janet Jackson, Damita Jo – BLACKLISTED

Since I cannot quite get through Justin Timberlake’s new album, I have continued to listen to Janet Jackson. Partly in protest to his halftime show, and partly because she is exceptional.

It’s really a shame though. Since 2004, Jackson has released 4 studio albums of brand new music. Not one of these albums has reached the success it deserved. Like I’ve stated before, it’s not her best work (because you can’t top Janet or The Velvet Rope), but it’s not shabby. It’s the classic R&B Jackson has always provided for us with each album.

To continue my series of blacklisted albums by Janet Jackson, I decided to look at her immediate follow up to “Nipplegate,” Damita Jo. 


Damita Jo was released 5 weeks after the Super Bowl performance. Viacom and Clear Channel’s ban of Jackson’s singles and videos contributed to its underperformance. I’m not going to be a Jackson purest. Damita Jo is not Jackson’s best work, but there are some incredible gems within this album.

The album opens up with another one of Jackson’s classic interludes that introduce you to the tone of the album. We are then met with the upbeat and autobiographical “Damito Jo,” before heading straight into an uptempo sex scene with “Sexhibition” and “Strawberry Bounce.” All three songs are incredibly aesthetic to the ear.

Next, we come into the album’s groovy and funky portion with the songs “All Nite (Don’t Stop),” “R&B Junkie,” and “I Want You.” What’s fun about these songs, besides the beat, is Jackson’s vocal tone. She isn’t using her normal sensual purr, but she is dancing with her voice. They slightly compare to “Scream,” her duet with Michael Jackson, in the fact that they push Jackson out of her comfort zone.  The same happens with the closing song “Just a Little While.”

The last takeaway I had from this album is “Thinkin’ Bout My Ex.” With the song’s beginning guitar rift to its smooth chorus, this song returns Jackson back to her sensual side with a flush of vulnerability.


What I really took away from this album is how every one of Jackson’s albums since Rhythm Nation 1814 listens like a novel. Each album is perfectly curated into themes (scenes) with narrative introductions (interludes) while cumulating in a resolved ending.

This album deserves a lot more praise then what it received in 2004. The reviews were tainted with “Nipplegate” influences, instead of objective musical reviews. Although this album did not get its time in the light and greatly underperformed compared to Jackson’s previous releases, it still went on to be certified platinum.

This album shows, even in the face of adversity, it’s hard for Jackson to make a flop.


Check out my first article in my Jackson Blacklisted series here.

Check out my halftime protest playlist of Jackson’s music here.


ALBUM REVIEW: Janet Jackson, Discipline – BLACKLISTED

In my last article, I discussed how there needs to be justice for Janet Jackson. The entertainment industry has blacklisted Jackson since her Super Bowl performance. In a recent conversation, I was challenged on whether I could prove that she had truly been ostracized by Hollywood and the music elite.

And yes, yes I can. Since the wardrobe malfunction, that was in part caused by Justin Timberlake despite the conspiracy theory you subscribe too, here are a few ways Janet has been blacklisted:

  • The NFL, CBS, and MTV asked that Jackson make an apology, but not Timberlake
  • The Grammys were the next week. Jackson and Timberlake were scheduled to present and perform. Jackson was banned from the show, but Timberlake was allowed to perform
  • Clear Channel Communications, who owned MTV, removed all of Jackson’s singles and videos from rotation, but you could still see JT’s latest video, “Rock Your Body”*

Needless to say, the Super Bowl mishap  resulted in the mistreatment of Janet Jackson. Now you can disagree with this statement, but you cannot disagree with the FACT that Timberlake came out nearly unharmed.

Disclaimer: I am a Timberlake fan and thoroughly enjoyed his performance. The argument is that Janet was treated harsher and is ultimately unforgiven to this day, while Timberlake got a free pass.


 

Since the 2004 Super Bowl Janet Jackson has released 4 studio albums. Although I cannot claim these are her greatest works (How do you get over The Velvet Rope and Janet?), they are still excellent mid-2000’s R&B. I have decided to write over a few of these albums to provide some Jackson insight.

First, I would like to start with my favorite from the blacklisted era, Discipline. This album was released in 2008 and was given lukewarm reviews. Four singles were released from the album.

The album opens with an interlude from Janet. During this interlude, it sounds like she is entering a hyperbolic chamber with a digital assistant who is much more inept then Siri. The album then goes straight into “Feedback,” the lead single. This song is heavy on percussion and bass, while providing a futuristic tone through selective autotune on Jackson’s vocals. The song went on to chart at number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has become a staple in her live performances.

After a few more compositions and a “bathroom break,” we are met with “Rock With U.” Personally, this is my favorite track off the album. Jackson delivers another pounding club ready composition with slow and sultry vocals. With hints of disco, this song should rank amongst her best.

 

Discipline is heavy on the club bangers, but it also has its fair share of ballads. The songs “Can’t Be Good” and “Greatest X Ever” are again met with Jackson’s sultry purr. These are a reminder of the iconic sound she has created throughout her catalog.

Now I can’t leave out “The 1” feat. Missy Elliot. Every song these ladies touch together is irresistible. Missy’s candor mixed with Jackson’s vulnerable, yet sexy tones, always create a classic.

Janet closes the album with “Discipline” and “Curtains.” “Discipline” is the sexiest track on the whole album and I don’t even feel comfortable typing half its lyrics. Needless to say, it’s my second favorite track. This is one of Janet’s sexiest tracks since “Rope Burn” in 1997. “Curtains” takes on this same vibe, but with a faster tempo.


Discipline is not the top-notch in Janet’s belt, but it’s in no way the last. It seems there was a lot of drama behind the scenes of this album, causing riffs between Janet’s camp and Island records. The promotion was stopped shortly after the album’s release by Island, causing the album to quickly lose commercial traction.

Jackson said she named the album Discipline because of all the work she had put into her career thus far. Nobody can get as far as Jackson without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I think this album could have been a smash if it wasn’t for two reasons. First, was Island dropping promotion. Second, was the industry’s and public’s non-forgiving nature to the 2004 Super Bowl just four years earlier. 

Personally, I think everybody was just being nasty.

*https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/super-bowl/8007041/janet-jackson-justin-timberlake-2004-super-bowl-what-happened

ALBUM REVIEW: Nina Simone, Baltimore -Still Speechless

Some artists you can’t figure out. These artists are often the ones I skip over when I’m choosing someone to write about. If I can’t emotionally get my mind and heart wrapped around their music and voice, how could I put words to it?

One of these artists is Nina Simone. Her voice is as sharp as a razor blade, as extravagant as a fur coat, yet as innocent and simple as a little girl. It penetrates your being and goes straight for the soul. Listening to her is a spiritual experience.

Nina Simone Baltimore
From my personal collection

I have many of Simone’s albums and with each album, I find a new gem. Sometimes it could just be the way she stylizes a song differently, on other albums it’s her own compositions. On one of my recent vinyl hauls, I found her 1978 album, Baltimore.

This album immediately took me by surprise. Nina Simone was singing reggae? I wasn’t complaining. I liked it. Songs like the title track “Baltimore” and her cover of Hall and Oates “Rich Girl” really show a different tone to her voice. It is different than every one of her previous studio albums. It’s innovative.

Although, this change was not welcomed by Simone. We all know Simone was a complex lady, but I truly believe she had a beautiful soul. In 1977 famed jazz producer, Creed Taylor, signed Simone to his label CTI. Simone was not one to do what she didn’t want to, yet her comment’s made about this album proves she did just that. The sessions were tense and she eventually recorded the album’s vocals in an hour and a half.

Yet, a master piece was still born.

First, I was immediately hooked to the second song “Everything Must Change.” Simone’s vocals glide over the words of this song like second nature. At this point in her life, both personally and professionally, she had experienced change, while also not experiencing enough change. On this recording, Simone’s melancholy vocals continue to take on different shapes to each listener’s situation years later.

Then there is Simone’s second ballad of the album, “My Father.” The song’s lyrics make a complete circle, but Simone’s vocals fill in all the space between the words. It’s brilliance.

Nina Simone Baltimore
From last.fm

On side B I found Simone’s “melody” of traditional Christian songs intriguing. Through my experience with Simone, she doesn’t often give a higher power credit, but in “Balm of Gilead” and “If You Pray Right,” she does just that. Her voice sounds completely content and joyful in “Balm of Gilead,” which is taken straight from the Holy Bible. “If You Pray Right” takes on a complete gospel spin that really isn’t Simone, but it’s a vocal style that many African-American singers get type cast into. She is the High Priestess of Soul though, and she can preach like no other! It’s nice to hear Simone in these less heavy songs as she brings a new identity to both of them.

When I first heard the album I thought it was an interesting avenue Simone traveled down musically. Then I did the research and found that she was disgusted with the album, but the listener can’t hear that. She gives 110% to a project she distastes. Why?

Nina Simone both, self-perceived and in reality, lived on the back burner. People knew she was always going to give her all and they took advantage of that. Even this could not mask her genius interpretation of emotion.

I’m just going to have to end here because I simply can’t think of anything else to say. Again, Nina Simone has left me speechless.

ALBUM REVIEW: Ike and Tina Turner, The Ike and Tina Turner Show Vol. 2

This last weekend was my first venture into New York City to go on a vinyl hunt since moving to Westchester County.

My first find,was The Ike and Tina Turner Show Vol. 2. The record is in near mint condition and still has the shrink-wrap on it. Any vinyl collector can tell you how hard it is to find these older Ike and Tina Turner albums.

Tina Turner MusicWe all know the story of Ike and Tina Turner and personally I have no respect for Ike Turner. He may have been a good musician, but anyone who beats women immediately gets a “0” in my book. I love the fact that she went on to have a huge solo career without Ike and has been able to discover a happy life for herself.

“What’s Love Got To Do With It” was virtually a big “screw you” to Ike.

Although, what I discovered with this album, even though it presents Ike Turner, Tina Turner, and The Ikettes, was that Tina was a solo singer long before their divorce in 1978. Ike could not have made it without Tina and he knew she was a hot commodity. With this live album, released in 1965, Tina was already showing the foundation, at least vocally and musically, for a solo career.

This is obvious from the very beginning of the album. If the announcer acknowledged it by saying, “Introducing the main attraction of the evening, meet the star of the show, give her a nice friendly welcome, the fabulous Tina Turner!”

The album then immediately goes into Ike and Tina’s hit “Shake Your Tail Feather.” This track had a little too much Ikettes for me, but It also showed me how talented these ladies were Ike employed to back Tina. This is the same feeling I had for “You’re No Good” on side two.

Tina Turner MusicWhere Tina really shines is when she takes the mic alone. She first undertakes “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.” Her artistry comes out like a fire-ball wrapped in a lace blanket.

She quickly defines herself as a solor artist with “All I Can Do is Cry.” I have heard this song by Tina before, but never with quite this same passion. She told the story of being at “her man’s” wedding. In this emotional tune she was the preacher, choir, and usher.

Tina’s independence again becomes obvious on “It’s All Over” and “A Fool For You.””It’s All Over” is sang with some of Tina’s deepest emotion. I don’t think the song content was far from reality. She mixed this emotion with gospel styling and a rock sound that hadn’t been invented yet. She ends the show with the classic ballad “A Fool For You.” For some reason I feel like this may have been Tina’s true feelings when it came to fame.

It really didn’t matter who was backing Tina Turner in these early days of her career. After Ike and Tina Turner’s initial launch into stardom she instantly became the brightest star of the bunch.  Ike always resented this fact.

I really don’t feel the need to say “Ike” in front of Tina’s name. I respect that he influenced and arranged much of the music that made Tina famous, but there were others gladly waiting in line (Phil Spector anyone?).

This album shows that Tina was a solo artist from the start. Ike was simply a dealer and Tina was the commodity. The only problem was, the commodity became larger than the dealer could manage.

Ike was always a better user anyway.

ALBUM REVIEW: Tina Turner, Tina Turns Country on!

There is barely any debate among music critics and listeners wheather or not Tina Turner is an impeccable artist. She has a style that cannot be replicated and a legacy that is sealed into society’s consciousness. Find me one person that doesn’t know when to shake their head during “Proud Mary” and I’d be shocked.

IMG_2377There is more music that often goes unnoticed from her career between being a solo superstar with the album Private Dancer and her tenure with the Ike and Tina Turner Review. Between the years of 1974, a year before she divorced Ike, and 1984, the year “What’s Love Got To Do With It” went number one, Tina recorded multiple albums to little success.

The first of these albums was Tina Turns The Country On! This album finds Tina at her first solo experiment. When looking at music history and the history of Tina’s style, the choice to release an album of country and western covers does not seem like the obvious next step in her career. Yet this album speaks volumes of where Tina was at in 1974 and also widens her breadth as a vocal artist.

This album comes right at the end of Ike and Tina Turner’s marriage. Their popularity had waned in the 70’s due to Ike’s frequent drug use, which resulted in missed and postponed shows. Tina was beginning to build her nerve through inspiration she had found through Buddhism which was the budding of her independence.

That’s the diamond in the rough when it comes to Tina’s first solo album: independence. For the first time, she was given the most freedom on how she was going to conduct herself as a muscian.

Tina Turns The Country On! is completely…country. Tina knows country because she was brought up in Tennessee, but I don’t think anybody was expecting her to sing it. Each song is a cover of a country hit with a new arrangement and that arrangement was…country.

Tina Turner, the queen of rock and roll R&B, now had twang.

IMG_2378I could see Tina doing a twist off of Ray Charles successes from his early 1960’s country themed albums, but I didn’t expect a performance I would have readily seen on The Wilburn Brothers Show or The Johnny Cash Show. I was expecting a blended mix of early R&B and country, but instead she fit in perfectly right next to Loretta Lynn.

There are three levels of Tina within the album and with each level she becomes more…Tina. I call the first level “Mid-Tina.” This level finds Tina singing with the roughness we have all grown to love, but mixed with smooth twang. We find this on the songs “Bayou Song, “If You Love Me Let Me Know,” and “Don’t Talk Now.”

Next we venture into “Tina Turned Up.” This is the Tina we generally find in her earlier recordings with Ike Turner. These elements are found in songs such as Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On.”

Lastly, we have “Tina Turned Down.” In this level, Tina demonstrates her chops for delivering straightforward and easy masterpieces. This level contains all my favorite songs from this album. First she sings a vulnerable and rousing rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” Her voice is as smooth and liquid as melted butter. Her performance of this song finds her vocals in their most purest form. It is like they come from a child.

Tina-Album-Tina-Turns-The-Country-On-Promo-02Then there is the hopeful Dolly Parton cover “There’ll Always Be Music.” I could easily see a choir erupting behind Tina at any moment during this recording. Her genuine love of unadulterated music is on complete view. She then closes out the album with “The Love That Light’s Our Way.” This song eludes to the concrete truth that love will always prevail and lead the way, a sentiment that was muddled for Tina at this time. Her vocals in this song will convince anybody, that truth and love always prevails, something she still believed deep down.

This album begins to encapsulate the independent artistry of Tina Turner. It shows that she was not only a musical interpreter that crossed genres, but one that can reach the furthest of human emotions in the same fell swoop. She takes country music, flips it on its head, reconstructs it, and sings it her way, but she was still under a jail cell.

Her later solo efforts were to be completely independent of Ike Turner in all regards. This album shows that all you need sometimes is to let someone shake their own tail-feather and to never restrict someone to be a private dancer. This artistry within Tina was nearly untapped and it was time for the world to hear it.

It was time for Tina to be Tina.

ALBUM REVIEW: Tina Turner, Private Dancer

This may be a vinyl collector sin, but I generally don’t look through the dollar record bins. I often get tired of how unorganized they are and I figure there is a reason those records are there.

As I was walking by the dollar bin the other day I decided to give it a quick flip through. I found a few albums I thought were worth a dollar. I was not expecting much, but instead of buying a few scratched records, I found my new obsession.

Tina Turner.

Tina_Turner_Private_Dancer_original_vinyl_cover_artNow I already had a few Ike and Tina Turner albums. I think every lover of soul and rock is beholden to “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits,” but I had never researched her career post Ike. I only knew a few songs. The album I picked up in that dusty dollar bin was Private Dancer. Many critics claim this album to be the comeback of the 1980’s. I was immediately hooked on not only this records hits, but every song on the album.

Here is my track by track breakdown of the album Private Dancer:

“I Might Have Been Queen:” This album starts out with a bang, showcasing Turner’s sultry, yet raspy vocals. It’s a song you find yourself quickly wanting to get up and shake your hair to. This song is reflective of what Turner’s life was previously. From what I’ve read, this song was given to Turner to review with that exact pretense in mind. She even shed a tear reading the lyrics. Although those previous years had been rough, she was ready to move forward. She declares she is a soul survivor, and that it is time to start where she is now.

1366917244_tina-turner-560“What’s Love Got To Do With It:” Here we have the smash number one hit that propelled Turner’s name back into everyone’s household. It’s a soft rock tune, but with a distinct message. This song could have easily been forgotten, but Turner’s vocals add depth that I am still trying to understand. This song clearly shows her then disdain for love and what she had experienced. Her vocals show a vulnerable and struggling woman, yet she sings the song with confidence in who she is. A perfect companion to her life and sequel to “I Might Have Been Queen,” this song clearly paid off in topping the charts and garnering a few Grammys.

“Show Some Respect:” This is another song you just can’t help but move to. It’s a jammer and Turner declares respect for a love she has to protect.

“I Can’t Stand The Rain:” This is the ballad of the whole album by an 80’s definition. Her vocals sound effortless on this track. They are both a gravel road and a velvet lining. She sings of love lost with a slight yearning for it to return, yet her vocals show a strength that she would also be just fine without it.

“Better Be Good To Me:” This song is a plain statement of how any man was to treat Turner after what she had been through. Some of her “calmest” vocals, without her typical growls, are heard on this piece. She wanted to make sure she got her emotions across, while proving she doesn’t always have to be a vocal acrobat to make her point. She was ready to start from where she was. She didn’t want to forget the past, but she is clearly done dwelling.

“Let’s Stay Together:” We can’t expect Tina to leave all the soul behind. Although she is known as a rocker, Tina has never denied the soul that resonates in her voice.  Her vocals bring something completely new to the song. I think she is both wanting to stay together with her man, but she gives off the persona of a very independent woman. He better be good to Turner if he wants to stay together.

“1984:” This is a quick ode to David Bowie who helped Tina secure a contract with Capitol Records. This is another great dance tune that you can see her immaculate legs moving to.

“Steel Claw:” This song is clearly where Turner’s vocals return to their roots. It is easily the most rock orientated song on the album. Her stylings channel those of “Proud Mary” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” Her vocals are suburb on this track, reminding all listeners that although it was time for a new Tina, it was still the same Tina.

“Private Dancer:” On the surface this song seems to be about a stripper or a call girl, but for Turner it is much more. The subdue tone of the song sets the stage for one of Turner’s most memorable performances. She takes us inside the empty eyes she had lived with for many years, both as a performer and partner. For the longest time Turner was used for her vocal agility and magnetic stage performance, while she was also being used in relationships for pure business benefits. She shows how it is absurd to be a performer if you can’t be true to yourself. She loves her audience, but she is more. It was time for Turner to take Tina by the reigns and declare her own prerogative.

Any old music for Turner would not do anymore.

013Since listening to this album, I have scoured every record store in the vicinity for anything by Turner. I want to know where she has been and I want to know where she went and is still going. Her career is a metamorphosis. She transformed from a young lady with every move being directed to an independent songstress that didn’t need supervision. She was the same Tina Turner everyone knew with this album, yet in name only, for now she was a new creature.

It doesn’t surprise anyone how powerful Turner’s vocals are. In this album, she proves again and again that a singer’s vocal interpretation can make the slightest and most extreme difference in the finesse of a song. Every emotion was expressed to its furthest extreme in this album. The genius of this record is that it can easily be listened to during a relaxing jam session, or it can be heard as a thoroughly articulated journey.

Nevertheless, Turner clearly made a comeback with this album. She was performing in Vegas without a record deal prior to this release. Some might have said she was washed up, while others may have thought she had hit her plateau, but she proved that not all of her struggles were in vain.

With this album, she cemented herself as a legend, firmly replacing the “Ike and” before her name with a “The.”

ALBUM REVIEW: Peabo Bryson, Crosswinds

The soundtrack of my childhood is the great R&B legends. My mom’s car was consistently filled with cassette tapes of Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, Peabo Bryson, and Diana Ross. I became in tune with my soul early in life.

Peabo Bryson CrosswindsAwhile back, I bought Peabo Bryson’s, Crosswinds. This album is his Capitol records debut from 1978. I don’t even remember where I picked it up or how long I have had it. Since I am now going through my entire collection to see what I haven’t listened to, I decided to give this album the time it deserves.

Yet, that time is still being determined considering that it has been on the turntable the week, through the weekend, and is still playing at the time of this writing.

The album starts out with the title track “Crosswinds,” which I easily get caught up in. This tune set up the album perfectly on what is to come. It contains the smooth stylings and rhythmic patterns of any great R&B song, with a dash of funk, and a pinch of disco.

Peabo Bryson CrosswindsNext comes “I’m So Into You.” A pure ballad that could easily fit into the Copa in 1956 as well as Studio 54 in 1978. Then comes a pure disco track that had me strapping on my roller skates, “Smile.” Needless to say, my leisure suit was at the cleaners.

The B side of the album keeps the same consistent feel throughout. I especially enjoyed “Spread Your Wings.” This is an up beat song about achieving your dreams, but sang as if whispered into your little darling’s ear. Bryson follows that with “Don’t Touch Me.” This song reminds me of Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait a While,” waiting for that right time where it will mean the most.

He concludes this album with “Love is Watching You.” The only “break-up” song of the album if you will, yet it still doesn’t totally encompass the end. It is a R&B power ballad stating how love can walk in and out of “her” life, but that heaven is watching her, eluding to future blessings.

What I find extraordinary about this album is that Bryson, at a mere age of 27, wrote and composed all the songs on this album. Each song is very different, yet they distinctly stay in sync. The lyrics barely repeat themselves and you find a new favorite with each listen. Bryson’s smooth tenor vocals are relative to Marvin Gaye’s. His writings have the passion Lionel Richie’s, and his vocals have the spunk of Smokey Robinson.

Peabo Bryson CrosswindsNo wonder all the articles I read over Bryson have named him the “Kind of Balladers,” with countless praises to his writing ability. This album is his major debut. He was entrusted with a lot for a young man, yet delivered ten fold.

I don’t understand how this album has been hiding so well in my collection. I sure am glad I finally took a peek.