Various Artists — Jesus Rocked the Jukebox: Small Group Black Gospel (1951–1965)
Brothers and sisters, suspend your disbelief and lend an ear so that you might bask in the glories of gospel. For it is not enough to give gospel a wing in the house of R&B when it has earned its VIP credentials. Or, as gospel music historian Bob Marovich writes in the liner notes of Jesus Rocked the Jukebox: Small Group Black Gospel (1951-1965), “Whether stolen, borrowed, leased or subconsciously emulated, the music of the African American church in the 20th century has had a profound and permanent influence on popular music.” This shimmering, 40-song deep collection — mined from the vaults of Specialty and Vee Jay — is a near-immaculate display of how the undeniable power of the sacred bled into the secular, forever changing the history of popular music as we know it. The roots of gospel vine into rock ‘n’ roll, pop, hip-hop and everything that came after.
When you experience Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers’ acapella “Jesus Gave Me Water,” which hit airwaves in 1951, you can clearly hear its influence on what would soon become doo-wop. When you experience the Staple Singers’ familial harmonies on “Uncloudy Day,” “Pray On” and “Help Me Jesus,” you’re hearing what generations have woven into the fabric of rock, pop and Americana. On the latter, you’re hearing young Mavis carving a sonic diamond the likes of which have not been heard for a half-century since. The Staples took the gospel sound (and its message) from the church into the streets, transcending religion and all the walls it has built.
When you take the deep dive into Jesus Rocked the Jukebox, you’ll also sense greatness in those who never crossed over: the Blind Boys of Alabama, whose “This May Be the Last Time,” would inspire the Rolling Stones’ hit by the same name; the Swan Silvertones and the Highway Q.C.’s, whose soul-searing harmonies evoke an otherworldly commotion rarely achieved in today’s music culture. Dig even deeper, and you’ll find album-only gems you can’t get anywhere else, including the Harmonizing Four’s lay-it-all-out-on-the-table “It’s In My Heart,” the Silver Quintette’s operatic onslaught “Sinner’s Crossroads” and the Patterson Singers’ “I Am So Glad,” a visceral, heartening standout.
In these and all the soulful anthems here, you’ll experience something beyond words: “the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul,” as Martin Luther described it. Music trends and genres will expand and contract with time, but the reverberation of that gospel shimmer will always run through it. Collectively, Jesus Rocked the Jukebox is a must-have for any early gospel enthusiast or music collector seeking a full-circle understanding of popular music in the 20th century. | Concord Music Group
While fronting the Monolith, Bill Rousseau and Dahlia Gallin Ramirez would hover over Moogs and create synth-y, new wave-inspired indie pop. This was before they disbanded and woodsheded a new sound in Ramirez’s basement before resurfacing as Billy & Dolly. Under this moniker, they sometimes played acoustic guitar and keys as a stripped-down duo. The pair’s third album, Five Suns, finds them operating as an indie rock outfit comprising bassist Adam Cunha (20 Minute Loop), guitarist Nils Erickson and drummer Alex DeCarville (the Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice). Their new album opens on the glitter-glam, platform-booted stomp of “Sunlight from Another Life,” which could be mistaken for ’70s Queen before Rousseau and Gallin’s vocal harmonies transport the tune to the realm of 21st century indie pop. By the second song, “Bobby,” it’s apparent that the band has decided to dust off their antiquated analog devices. Distorted, dirty synth textures beautifully contrast with slick singing. This dynamic is explored in “Setting Sun,” with Rousseau’s overdriven electric guitar unleashing raspy riffs alongside harmonic congruences so vacuum-tight, it almost sounds like the duo could be singing sibling harmonies. “Please” stands out with its timeless pop sophistication; the warm vintage tones here could fool anyone into believing this was an unearthed gem from the heyday of FM radio. | Shit Krystal Records
Browsing DAW videos online has never made my production aspirations a reality, but at least it led me to Adam Szabo. The Hungarian beatmaker has put out a dozen sleek, spacey fusions of trance and progressive house over the last decade, many created with like-minded DJs and vocalists from across Europe. This 2013 collaboration, the first of several with Stockholm’s Johan Vilborg, is Szabo’s moodiest and most dynamic effort. A darkly gorgeous chord progression takes shape over an industrial pulse, wafting in as a breathy synth pad before detonating into searing fragments. What might otherwise amount to ordinary dancefloor fare straight-up thrills in this duo’s capable hands. | Enhanced Recordings
Coming out of the gate, Abraham Vázquez has credibility where it counts: he co-wrote “A Lo Lejos Me Verán,” the monster hit that helped catapult Rancho Humilde labelmate El De La Guitarra to huge success. Although Vázquez currently resides in Ojinaga, Mexico, the streets of Los Angeles factor heavily into the themes and aesthetics of his debut release as a soloist, Lo Que Aprendí de Las Calles. Rooted in the current guitar-driven corrido style that has dominated the sound of contemporary Mexican music emanating from the Southland and Tijuana, Vázquez has a delivery and perspective that make him instantly recognizable, with a deep, earnest voice and a straightforward writing style. Thematically, illicit lifestyle dominates the release. Fans of the genre will definitely embrace that aspect, but the ballads here are equally strong, suggesting a versatility that will lend itself to longevity in the industry. Suena aun mejor con un gallito en la mano. | Rancho Humilde
Benny Blanco is the super-producer and songwriting genius behind quite a few of your favorite pop songs. Blanco is no stranger to working with some of the biggest pop acts such as Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and the Weeknd. Now, he’s blessed us with yet another hit, “Eastside,” featuring Halsey and Khalid. The summery single opens with Khalid’s smooth vocals, which paint a picture of a young, innocent, unapologetic type of love — the kind where just holding hands is enough. As the track builds, we experience the muses’ growing pains. The narrative shifts from an easy-breezy teenage love story to an adulthood in which the protagonists have outgrown their friends and don’t love their jobs. But at the end of the day, they’re still bound by love. | Interscope
Hurricane Irma came through the Virgin Islands almost two years ago, but the community is still recovering from the devastation, and Kenny Chesney has not stopped working on their behalf. This album doesn’t stray from Chesney’s mission, and all proceeds will be donated back to the victims. Where many charity-focused albums fall short on substance, Songs for the Saints brings all of the depth and flavor fans have come to expect from Chesney’s work. “Get Along,” his fastest-charting single to date, is a much-needed plea for civility, replete with an uplifting chorus sung over a banjo and wood-toned acoustic guitar arpeggios. And, of course, Chesney doesn’t skip over some fun, doubling down on his commitment to the recovery efforts on a beachy duet with Ziggy Marley, in “Love for Love City” and in the more mellowed “Trying to Reason with a Hurricane” with Jimmy Buffet. “Better Boat” is a harmonious and heartfelt duet featuring one of my favorite artists and writers, Mindy Smith. The lyrics are self-reflective — refreshing for modern day music — and focus on the hard work of self-improvement required to make the world a better place. After all, you can’t have the latter without the former. | Warner Music Nashville
Every year, the hip-hop elite battle over who will own summer. 2018 is off to a great start, and the heavy hitters are all spitting heat. LA’s Tyga has released one of this year’s top contenders, flipping David Banner’s classic “Play” beat. Mumbling sexy vibes over a token DJ Mustard kick-clap, T-Raww keeps it X-rated for the club, the pool, the beach or the jet ski. After an extended eight-bar twerk break, we get a taste of this summer’s new trend: a NoLa bounce chant to keep the bodies moving. This one will get stuck in your head fast and have you on the dancefloor before the second verse. Plan on hearing it blasting from car windows all summer long. | Last Kings Music/Empire
– J Boogie
As the sun sets on the final summer of Warped Tour — an institution in the alternative music scene — it’s also rising on an exciting wave of rock, pop-punk and emo bands who are updating the mid-2000s sound we all jammed out to. Real Friends are one of them, and Composure’s 10 tracks of catchy melodies and emotive vocals are a polished addition to the band’s hard-hitting discography. Perhaps the most compelling thing about this album is how candidly singer Dan Lambton speaks about self-doubt, anxiety and other mental health issues. It’s forthright without being contrived. Any album that reminds you that you’re not alone while also giving you an excuse for a sick air drum solo is a win in my book. | Fearless Records
Nose Picker is the second full-length from Chicago post-punks Negative Scanner, and much like the band’s self-titled debut, it fuses a frantic funkiness with breathlessly catchy garage rock. The production is a bit more polished this time around (they recorded the first album themselves in their practice space), but not so polished that it removes any of the group’s gloriously rough edges. It does, however, allow the songs and melodies to truly shine as the band careens frantically between angular, jagged jitter and low-slung chug and churn. Rebecca Valeriano-Flores’ distinctive vocals perfectly thread the needle between throaty howl and moody croon, and when combined with Nose Picker’s sinewy songwriting and tightly wound rhythms, she ends up sounding almost like Siouxsie Sioux fronting a lo-fi Gang of Four. | Trouble in Mind
There are a handful of comedy albums that are technically mixtapes, layering station IDs, sketches and beats over jokes (Joe Mande’s Bitchface comes to mind). Sam Jay’s debut album uses the format as a running commentary on the content of her own show, reminiscent of the interview format on Jermaine Fowler’s Give ’Em Hell, Kid). Audio snippets chastise a friend who interrupts the show and explain to another comic (David Gborie) how Jay’s marriage devolved into domestic violence. Such dark subjects as abuse and losing a parent in these meta-moments may remind some of Hannah Gadsby’s recent special Nanette, but while Gadsby’s show refutes comedy as an answer to trauma, Donna’s Daughter doubles down on it. Jay imbues her takes on Nazis, gender roles and sexuality with a wholly unique vantage point (a lesbian African-American from Boston) and brash voice. Jay may now be best-known as a writer for SNL and her set on Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup, but this bold album is a major career marker. | Comedy Central Records
Hive Mind is the fourth studio album from LA-based alternative R&B outfit the Internet. The highly collaborative group has ties to Odd Future; Tyler, the Creator; Frank Ocean and Kaytranada, among other illustrious pioneers leading a resurgence of organic, improvisational R&B. The band recently described this latest effort as a pencil with an even sharper point than their last album, the critically acclaimed Ego Death. Despite a band mythology that’s full of technological references, the analogy of a pencil over a computer is apt. The Internet’s sound is charcoal smooth, and like a candle’s soft glow, warmly mellows the corners of any situation. Super sexy tracks like “Come Over” feature melodic bass lines, clean funk guitar, playful psychedelic production and hyper-sultry vocals courtesy of front-woman Syd, while “Burbank Funk (Roll)” is a retro rollerskating jam. The album’s summer love feels is a perfect next play after Childish Gambino’s Summer Pack. | Columbia Records
As Sonny Rollins writes in the liner notes, unearthing this album after 55 years in the shadows is “like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.” Both Directions at Once reveals the abandoned hours in the life of one of jazz music’s most important catalysts. This recently discovered, unreleased studio session from March 1963 — what some have called jazz’s “Holy Grail” — is unlike any “lost” or previously unheard John Coltrane album. It contains nearly 90 minutes of unheard music recorded by the John Coltrane Quartet at the Englewood Cliffs studio in New Jersey owned by legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Fresh off a two-week stint at Birdland, Coltrane is joined on the seven tracks by the musicians who would record A Love Supreme two years later: McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. The tapes from the sessions returned home to Queens, New York with Coltrane and remained untouched for five decades. Although the master tapes were lost, Coltrane left a reference tape of the sessions with his wife Naima, from which Both Directions at Once is sourced.
This recording features two never-before-heard tunes, “Untitled Original 11383” and “Untitled Original 11386,” both of which open with a modal vamp before casting off into an extended saxophone solo. The recognizable opening bars of “Nature Boy” follow in a stripped-down version that leaving Coltrane’s tight playing undecorated — a sign of where he was to go as a performer. Later, on “Slow Blues,” Tyner’s piano is absent for long portions, allowing Coltrane to drift extensively across the groove. A recording of “Impressions,” a staple of Coltrane’s live sets at the time, is a treat for enthusiasts.
While John Coltrane’s live performances broke musical boundaries, pushing both audience and band to the limit, Van Gelder’s flawless studio sound more than compensates. Savor this opportunity to hear Trane at the peak of his powers with quartet in tow, detouring into primal tangents the world couldn’t have prepared for. | Verve Label Group
Despite the heavy innuendo, Jada Kingdom doesn’t leave much to the imagination on her latest track, “Banana.” The tune is an S.O.S. of sorts, falling somewhere between sweet, come-hither whispers and more urgent requests for carnal satisfaction from a lover that is playing hard to get. With its lilting guitar and playful Afro-traphall rhythm, “Banana” could be the late-summer “Pine & Ginger” for 2018. Jada has been subtly tugging at our ears with a string of sexed-up singles over the past year, and this one is sure to inspire as many impromptu connections in private as it will on the dancefloor. | Popstyle Music
It’s only July, but it’s pretty safe to say Snail Mail’s Lush is already my album of the year. Yeah, it’s that good. I first came across the band in 2016 with their equally amazing debut EP, Thinning. But it’s their the live show that made me a believer. Frontwoman (and absolute star) Lindsey Jordan kills it in concert, effortlessly strumming her Fender Jaguar and belting out ultra-sincere lyrics that tap into the struggles of young adulthood. Considering she’s only 19 and already knocking it out of the park, I foresee a long career of game-changing and unapologetically honest music for many years to come. Do yourself a favor and bask in the magic of this groundbreaking, emotional lo-fi masterpiece. This is the next wave of indie rock, and damn, it sounds good. | Matador Records
Although the term “soundscape” is overused in music reviews, it only seems appropriate when describing the music of Sean Hellfritsch, aka Cool Maritime. The electronic composer often records in remote outdoor locations with a battery-powered modular setup. His passion for both surfing and synthesis shows up on his latest album, Sharing Waves, an immersive, seven-track exploration of sonic environments teeming with shimmering arpeggios, fluttering polyrhythms and lush temporal effects. Hellfritsch is also a mixed-media visual artist, which helps explain the undeniable cinematic feel of each song. Whether you picture waves curling beneath a sunset or raindrops dripping from a redwood, this album is the perfect soundtrack to energize your mind. | Leaving Records