New reviews on Modern Brews + Beats Podcast

Along with reviews here at GLM, I’ve been producing and co-hosting a podcast called Modern Brews + Beats. It’s hosted at my sister site, NTX Beer. You can listen and subscribe to the podcast at Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio. Topically, it’s 65 % music and 35% craft beer as Tony and I are fans of both. Come listen, subscribe and be at part of our community.

Photo of Kamasi Washington by Jerry Richard for Manadrake Arts & Media

Live Review: Kamasi Washington / Bastards of Soul at House of Blues Dallas

Thinking back on a week when presumptive positive cases of the virus became known around the city of Dallas, it makes the memory of this night at the House of Blues even more magical as the congregation waited to be lifted. A lift is what we needed from the dreadful selection of instrumental lo-fi hip-hop coming through the speakers as we first entered the auditorium. I’m a fan of genre, but not of whatever that was.

Photo of Chadwick Murray
Chadwick Murray / Bastards of Soul. Photo by Jerry Richard/Mandrake Arts & Media

So like an answer to prayer, the evening’s opener, Bastards of Soul came out strong with muscular, 60s-inspired soul grooves. While I’d seen Chadwick Murray before as the bassist in the band, Mur, this was my first time seeing him handling frontman duties. By the time the band served the second song in their short set, “That’s the Way it Should Be”, most of the crowd was on board. For those who weren’t yet convinced, their last two songs, “If These Walls Could Talk” and “I’ve Got The Key”, won everyone over.

Photo of Kamasi Washington by Jerry Richard for Mandrake Arts & Media
Kamasi Washington. Photo by Jerry Richard / Mandrake Arts & Media

During the break, I felt it was fitting to hear Stevie Wonder’s deep cut, “Saturn”, from Songs in the Key of Life. Kamasi Washington has always appeared to be a messenger receiving transmissions from other worlds. His seven-song set confirmed such beliefs. Each energizing solo from Washington and his six-piece band (including his father, Rickey Washington) took us all on musical journey into love and togetherness. What a message to remember as the media messages later in the week would stress social distancing due to COVID-19.

Photo of Kamasi Washington by Jerry Richard for Mandrake Arts & Media
Kamasi Washington. Photo by Jerry Richard / Mandrake Arts & Media

The late McCoy Tyner surely would have loved Washington’s tribute in the performance of his song, “Passion Dance” as well as Washington’s own “Fists of Fury” with added Tyner flair. Passionate, spiritual music remains an anchor in the Black American experience to bring peace in times of uncertainty. All of these musicians brought the balm that was needed, perhaps more than we realized.

Adam Lambert – Velvet Side A

From talk show performances earlier in 2019, it was clear that Adam Lambert’s fourth solo project was going to be influenced by the sounds of the 1970s. After all, Lambert has been performing lead vocals for Queen – one of the decade’s best-known bands, so the influence is understandable. Listening to the new EP, Velvet Side A brings an engaging – albeit brief – vocal performance from Lambert. The overall production receives inspiration from the past without getting lost in it.

Speaking about those talk show performances, the first single, “New Eyes” isn’t on Velvet Side A. Perhaps Lambert will save that song plus “Coming In Hot” for Side B. In the meantime, the funk-tinged second single and opener “Superpower” has echoes of Freddy Mercury (in an “Another One Bites the Dust” framework) as well as Faith-era George Michael. He brings similar George Michael energy to “Loverboy” with a touch of Chic. “Closer to You”, the album’s expressive third single sounds like it’s from the songbook of Pink. “Overglow”, the fourth track on the EP with a vocal performance that in my mind oscillates between Fleetwood Mac and 80’s era Heart.

At just six songs, Velvet Side A may be Lambert’s best project yet. Looking forward to hearing Side B whenever it’s released.

Moonchild – Little Ghost

Multi-instrumentalist trio Moonchild is back with its fourth set of velvety neo-soul grooves. Little Ghost doesn’t break new sonic ground from their previous efforts. But given that it was 2017’s Voyager that put more people on to the group thanks to outlets like NPR, who can blame them for not wanting to mess with a good thing.

It is nice to hear more acoustic instrumentation in the mix on the songs, “The Other Side” and “Strength”. The breathy, smiling vocal tone of Amber Navran remains a core element of their sound. Little Ghost provides fresh chill-out tunes for your workday or for any horizontal dancing you’re planning for later.

Tunecrush: Adam Lambert “Superpower”

While Adam Lambert has the enviable position as the lead vocalist with Queen over the last few years, he’s also been writing new solo music. While his first album right after American Idol has had the highest chart success in the U.S., I feel his upcoming EP, Velvet Side A, could make a bigger splash stateside than his previous two outings. The single, “Superpower”, has an 80s production like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, bridging disco and rock with ease. And much like the Queen track, there’s sticking power to it.

Share your thoughts on Adam Lambert’s single, “Superpower”, from Velvet Side A, scheduled to be released on September 27, 2019.

Introducing Modern Brews + Beats

I’ve been playing around with the idea of returning to podcasting for a bit now. Thanks to a push from Victor of Dallas Beer Talk, Anthony Dunn of KooTonyD and I decided to get things started.

This episode, Tony and I are sharing beer trends, chopped and screwed music, and Instagram handle backstories. Plus, we offer a shout-out to Robert Celestino II of Craft and Growler and Marsha Ambrosius along the way. We’d love your feedback! Find us on Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Stitcher, and Podbean.

Modern Brews + Beats 1

Kevin McHale – Boy EP

A Michael Jackson-inspired yowl kicks off Kevin McHale’s five-track EP, Boy. While American audiences know Kevin most from the Fox series, Glee, as Artie Abrams, some know well of his time in the boy band, NLT. With this solo project, Kevin brings catchy pop music that’s unapologetically homoerotic.

Letting your neuroses get the better of you is the lyrical core of “Help Me Now”. Kevin’s character takes feelings of insecurity within a relationship to absurd levels, even bluntly asking “do you wanna fuck?”. Can’t say the man doesn’t know how to communicate. The heat climbs from there with the next tracks, “James Dean”. “Arizona”, and “All I Want is You”.

With “Younger”, Kevin’s character recounts a childhood infatuation with another boy and wonders what would have happened had he been ready and if they weren’t kids. Kevin sings, “We could’ve done white picket fences and could have been fine, but I needed time to slow.” Towards the song’s end, he speaks to his would-be lover in Portuguese.

While the overall production on Boy feels like a series of pop demos, curious to hear what a proper full-length project could bring from Kevin.

B. Slade – Taurus

B. Slade has a deep well of songs to share. In the past twelve years he’s released 30 albums – an incredible amount of music. Then add his gospel albums from the earlier moniker, Tonex, to that discography, and you have an immense production history.

Taurus is his 2nd full-length project for 2019. With his birthday being May 16th, B. Slade gives his fans the gift of music with this birthday mixtape. Tracks like the blissful “Waves of Love”, “Very Best Man, and “Girl, I Just Want You Around” are radio-ready singles. The overall album production is trap music, though it switches up from time to time. Sensual slow jams (“Nowhere Fast Tonight”, “Wonder”), a touch of 60’s soul (“Stubborn”), and mid-tempo R&B sounds complement the set.

One thing that I find fascinating with some tracks is that he chooses to mute the profanity. On the aforementioned “Waves of Love”, he clarifies his interest in someone by saying “I just wanted to acknowledge you / Naw, I ain’t talking about fucking – I’m talking ‘bout vibing with you.”. Yet on “Mood”, “Pause”, and “Nothing To See Here”, the sung/spoken curses get cut. While it doesn’t ruin the overall experience with those songs, it’s a curious move.

There are two tracks that were unexpected earworms for me. “Boy, Interrupted” didn’t stick with me at first. Then came the almost two-minute vamp at the end. The pull was magnetic. It’s become my favorite track on the record. The second surprise was “Love My Life”. Considering B’s unique path and all that he’s experienced to support his artistic vision, it’s an anthem of celebration that unites the project’s theme. Taurus showcases the lover and fighter who’s stubborn about his craft.

Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness

With 40+ years in the music industry, Chaka Khan has performed just about every genre of popular music. 2019’s Hello Happiness is an ongoing testament to that free spirit. A 70’s funk party with electronic production from Switch (MIA, Major Lazer, Beyonce) and Sarah Ruba Taylor (New Look, DJ Leppy), the new album honors her career roots for a new generation. However, in the producers’ zeal to modernize Khan’s sound, there are times when her vocal presentation suffers.

Out of the gate, the title track is a groove that should be played at every roller-skate party (and yes, people still roller skate!). “Hello Happiness” is a solid keyboard/bass groove awash in reverberating sonic drops. It’s as if the listener is transported to a space funk universe. But at about three minutes and some change you’re ready to travel to the next destination. Sounded as if Chaka herself was ready to move on between 3:26 – 3:38 as her bluesy ad-lib breakdown temporarily saps the track of its dance steam.

With a swoosh, we arrive at “Like a Lady”. By this time in the record we’re aware of the 70’s funk hologram surrounding us. That is until the reverb drops from the song, leaving us with a dry vocal and piano pass. It’s Chaka Khan for god’s sake so there’s nothing wrong with that except the fact that until then, the song {and much of the album} is drowned in reverb. This isn’t a total surprise given the dub and dancehall production credits of the producers. What I didn’t expect however was for Chaka herself to become just another sample on her own album as on the forgettable track, “Don’t Cha Know”. When you’re working with a vocalist of this caliber, longtime fans expect more.

“Like Sugar”, the album’s first single, contains a sample of “(Are You Ready) Do the Bus Stop” by The Fatback Band. The track was originally a 2016 single for Ruba from the Netflix show, The Get Down. Hearing both versions, you realize that Khan is singing on top of Ruba’s vocals in the chorus and some ad-libs here. As Ruba performs background vocals through the entire project, this doubling is probably happening more than we realize and this could be my issue with the album. Both women have a strong vocal presence. But concerning the vocal presentation, at times it feels as if Khan is a special guest as opposed to the main reason we’re here.

The hologram lifts a bit on the bluesy “Too Hot”. Hearing Khan’s upfront and gritty vocal sans all the reverb is a treat. The reggae-style cooker, “Isn’t That Enough” is equally nice – one that sparks curiosity as to what a full reggae album would sound like coming from Chaka. The EP ends with an acoustic guitar take on “Like a Lady” called “Ladylike”.

Overall Hello Happiness is a lively addition to Chaka’s discography. Go into the record knowing that it’s a collection of fun dance songs – a mostly electronic experience with Chaka’s essence.