Tag Archive: Soul


If Frank Ocean is the best thing to happen to R&B since D’Angelo, then British rising star Michael Kiwanuka may be the best thing to happen to soul music since Van Morrison. If that sounds like absurdly high praise, well, I mean every word of it. As I said back in June when I used his “Home Again” as my Song of the Day as part of my acts I saw at Bonnaroo series, he’s Otis Redding reborn with the more baroque sensibilities of Van Morrison thrown in for good measure. I can pretty much personally guarantee that nearly every song from his debut record, Home Again, will be used as my Song of the Day. It’s one of the three best records of the year (the other two are channel ORANGE and Shields. Also maybe Wrecking Ball for good measure). Unlike a lot of my more esoteric indie tastes, here’s an artist that should appeal to everyone, whether it’s parents that grew up with Otis Redding and Van Morrison, or young people who can simply appreciate stellar song-writing and a superbly soulful delivery. Today, I’m going with “Tell Me a Tale” as my Song of the Day because it’s the most Van Morrison-y of the songs on the record, and also a good contender for my favorite track on the album. There are too many great ones to choose though.

Moondance by Van Morrison is one of the most under-appreciated albums of all time. If you’re having a conversation about the Top 10 Greatest Albums Ever Made, and Moondance doesn’t at least sneak its way onto your list, it can really only mean one thing. You’ve never listened to Moondance. From the opening strains of today’s Song of the Day, “And It Stoned Me,” until the closing notes of “Glad Tidings,” you’re listening to a perfect record. End of discussion. It’s gotten to the point where I think Moondance (and even Astral Weeks) are so good that I can’t listen to Van Morrison’s big single, “Brown Eyed Girl” without getting infuriated over the fact that that song’s a huge “classic” but the rest of his library of music isn’t as famous. Moondance was a stupendous, genre-blurring masterpiece covering R&B, soul, folk, jazz, country, and a million other genres as well, and I’ll never be able to for the rest of my life hear “And It Stoned Me” without getting chills because of how phenomenal the song itself is as well as the rest of the album it calls home.

The first time I ever heard this classic track was on the soundtrack to Platoon. I actually don’t even think I had seen Oliver Stone’s classic war film yet (regularly counted among the best war films ever made). My dad purchased the soundtrack to the film, and we listened to it a lot. There were a ton of great tunes on there including the Rascals, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, and I want to say Jefferson Airplane as well. I might be wrong about the latter. The only song on the album I actively disliked was the god-awful “Okie from Muskogee” which I rank among the worst/most jingoistic songs I’ve ever listened to. Along with Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” (I’m pretty sure it’s on the soundtrack), the song that got the most play from me was “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. It’s one of the greatest soul songs ever recorded and I hope you all enjoy it if you somehow haven’t managed to hear it before.

I’m getting to this weird point in my life where I enjoy classic soul and old school R&B more than I like classic rock. This is really odd because before like my sophomore year of college, classic rock was all I listened to. I’m not sure what it is, but the emotions and passion in old soul music just seems so much rawer and more authentic than classic rock which has become increasingly pandering as I’ve gotten older. I’m not dissing the all-time greats like the Beatles or the Stones or Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel. There’s just a lot of so-so music that I really enjoyed when I was younger primarily because I thought I was supposed to like it. There’s a line in last year’s under-rated gem of a film, Beginners, where Ewan McGregor’s mother tells him as a child that black music is better because African American artists at the time experienced more pain and suffering than their white counterparts. It’s not the most politically correct thing to say, but it’s kind of true. There’s a wounded edge to this music that speaks to the injustice and institutional repression that was the African-American experience in the 60s and 70s. They were also incredible musicians which I don’t think gets recognized enough. I’m going with “Family Affair” by Sly & the Family Stone, off their classic LP There’s a Riot Goin’ On, because it’s one of the greatest soul/funk songs ever recorded. Period.

If you want to know when I first knew who Gil Scott-Heron was by name, I’m ashamed to admit that it’s because of “Who Will Survive in America,” the closing track on Kanye West’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. If  you want to know when I first actually heard him, it was on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto IV (on the old school jazz/soul station which was possibly the best radio station in the game). Each time I heard his music, I was blown away, especially by today’s Song of the Day, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.” I didn’t know who sang the song til years later, but it just blew me away and remains one of my favorite songs on the soundtrack. The late, great Gil Scott-Heron isn’t necessarily as well known as many of his 70s/60s contemporaries (his trouble with the law prematurely stunted his career) but he’s incredibly influential in modern soul circuits as well as the more jazz-influenced hip-hop artists. The man got the last word on Kanye West’s album for god’s sake. Anyways, here’s easily one of the best tunes of the 70s. Enjoy.

 

Spotify doesn’t have the studio version of the song on their server so today’s Song of the Day on Spotify will be live version of the tune that Gil Scott-Heron recorded in his later years (a year or so before he passed away). For those of you interested in July’s Song of the Day playlist, you can find it here (tomorrow’s the last day!). If you’re interested in the playlist for all of 2012 so far, you can find that here!

Michael Kiwanuka is Otis Redding reborn. I say this to every single person I talk to as I try to preach the value of this incredibly talented young soul singer from England. I wrote an article for work where I counted down my Top 10 Acts that I saw at this year’s Bonnaroo. I mean I saw Radiohead, Feist, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beach Boys, Kendrick Lamar. I saw a ton of amazing acts. Michael Kiwanuka was only behind Bon Iver (Bon Iver is going to close out this whole series of Bonnaroo related posts) in terms of the best acts I saw the entire weekend. He was my first act for Friday and he became the standard to cross for all other sets and nobody did it til Sunday night. He’s that damn good. His songwriting is phenomenal. His voice is silky smooth and belies the fact that he’s only 24 years old. He’s got the world weary and deeply emotional voice of a much older man. His musicianship and backing band is top notch, and I’ve listened to his debut album Home Again several times now. It’s become my favorite album of 2012. Michael Kiwanuka is simply an astounding act. Van Morrison (Moondance era) meets Otis Redding. You can’t beat that, and almost no other acts at Bonnaroo did. Much like Kendrick Lamar, it was nearly impossible to pick one of his songs specifically to use for this post. Trust me. He’s going to become a staple of this feature. I’m obsessed with his album. So, I’ll just use the title track off the new album. It’s a wonderful tune. And I hope you all enjoy it.

Hoo boy. If I’m ever going to pick a song with a complicated backstory as my “Song of the Day,” this is going to be it. “A House Is Not a Home” is one of my favorite love songs of all time. I first heard it performed by Chris Colfer and Corey Monteith on Glee (and later in the same episode by Kristin Chenoweth as part of a mash-up with “One Less Bell to Answer”), and then I discovered the very famous Luther Vandross cover and then finally the original version by legendary soul singer Dionne Warwick. Trying to pick which version of this song to use (because I feel like it’s themes are really appropriate for some emotions I’m experiencing in life right now) was a serious battle, and I finally decided to settle on the version performed by Kristin Chenoweth in the 2010 Broadway revival of the classic Neil Simon musical Promises, Promises. No matter who is singing this, it’s a beautiful song, but Kristin Chenoweth’s voice is pretty much an unmatched powerhouse, and like I said, this song fits where I’m at in my life right now (or at least this weekend). So, cheers everybody.

 

Also, for those who might be interested. I also have started making a Spotify playlist of my Songs of the Day which will be organized by month. April is only going to be about 2/3 of the correct length cause I started a week and a half or so into the month, but from this point forward, they should all be pretty kosher. You can get to my playlist here if you’re interested.