Soulshowmike’s Album and Concert Picks, plus a retrospective on Mandrill | Pittsburgh City Paper

Soulshowmike’s Album and Concert Picks, plus a retrospective on Mandrill

click to enlarge Soulshowmike’s Album and Concert Picks, plus a retrospective on Mandrill
Photo: Flat 5th Dimension Records
Game Changer by Laranah Phipps-Ray

Soulshowmike’s Album Picks

Writing early-year Soulshowmike’s Album Picks installments is difficult, simply because not much of the new material is on the shelf yet. Last week, singer and bandleader Laranah Phipps-Ray announced that her new album Game Changer was being released. Having raved about the first single in July, I was really excited about this news. Phipps-Ray delivered the full package for a listen.

Phipps-Ray hails from a New Jersey music family with roots in 1930s Big Band. She is the lead vocalist for Cosmic Krewe, and La Funkalicious is her latest personal project.

“Daddy’s Back” has a swinging rhythm and great horns. The single “Jazz Crimes” brings a Big Band element to the funk, and Phipps-Ray scats with glee. It remains my favorite track.

On the somber end, Phipps-Ray’s rendition of “Strange Fruit” begins with a history lesson on its meaning. In between are the mid-tempo “Connie’s Blues” and the near-ballad “Power Of Love.” “Stand Together” is the requisite appeal for a better world.

This is solid music, and it resonates personally with its old-school feel. Phipps-Ray calls out Sun Ra in the track “Funk,” and describes the project as Afrofuturistic. I hear tinges of Sun Ra, whose present was the future; this album helps push that future ever forward.

50th-Anniversary Retrospectives: 1973

As the 2020s progress, I feature 50th-anniversary retrospectives on important album releases on The Soul Show on WZUM.

In 1973, The Temptations were in their psychedelic mode, Stevie Wonder was two albums into his golden era with Innervisions, and Rufus & Chaka Khan were just getting started.

One of my favorite bands of the early ‘70s was Mandrill, founded by the Wilson Brothers of New York City via Panama. They showcased world funk, as did bands like Osibisa and Cymande.

Mandrill supported the concept of Afro-Latin melding in the vein of Eddie Palmieri’s 1971 Harlem River Drive. Their freshman eponymous release was an expansive piece, with Side B set to esoteric movements. It was seriously good music for the fully initiated, not destined for huge success. The 1972 Mandrill Is started down a more commercial road, but without losing the spirit.

By 1973, Mandrill was in full stride. Composite Truth begins with “Hang Loose” and “Fencewalk,” one of my favorite one-two punches in an album sequence. These hard funk numbers sound like they were written on the same day, and they stitch together beautifully. Another favorite is the haunting “Out With The Boys.”

click to enlarge Soulshowmike’s Album and Concert Picks, plus a retrospective on Mandrill
Photo: Polydor Records/Universal Music Group
Composite Truth by Mandrill

Soulshowmike’s Concert Picks

In 2023, Soulshowmike’s Album Picks will offer suggestions on concerts and festivals. While there are some exciting ones in the very near future, two in particular are on my radar.

Soul Sessions, one of several annual series at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, features more contemporary artists. This March, singer-songwriter and critically acclaimed bassist Meshell Ndegeocello graces the stage. Regarded as the queen of the 1990s neo-soul movement, her album themes range from social commentary marinated in personal experience, to the creative covers on her 2018 work Ventriloquism. The last Pittsburgh appearance with her own band was in 2012. She’s a must-see.

Last year, AWAACC announced a new series called Uhuru Jazz Sessions. Georgia Anne Muldrow was announced for June 2023. Every time a new album of hers arrives in the mail, my heart jumps in anticipation.

From AWAACC’s website, “Part of the fabric of Los Angeles’ hip-hop / jazz / soul avant-garde since 2005, Georgia Anne Muldrow has built a mightily impressive discography and a reputation to match during her career as a vocalist, songwriter, producer and musician.”

Mike Canton is the longtime host and producer of The Soul Show, airing on local radio stations WZUM and WIUP. The program is currently syndicated in seven markets in the U.S. and Caribbean. Canton is also a Pittsburgh-area voice artist.

The Soul Show.

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