Don't Explain, a collaborative effort between blues revivalists Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, hit stores yesterday. It features a range of traditional blues, soul and even gospel classics first made famous by the likes of Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Of course, the intention is homage, but the artists are facing criticisms about cultural appropriation.
The opening track, "Sinner's Prayer" (lyrics) was recorded by both Lowell Fulson and Ray Charles in the 1950s. Here's their version:
Mavis Staples—gospel singer, soul artist and Civil Rights activist—is nothing short of a living legend. She started singing gospel with her family in the 1950s and had a successful Stax career as front woman for the Staple Singers. Though the family specialized in gospel, Staples' raw vocals and the band's bluesy arrangements endeared them to secular and religious audiences alike.
At seventy-two, she shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, she released Grammy-winning gospel album, You Are Not Alone, in a collaboration with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. It featured a handful of newly arranged old gospel songs as well as new ones like these (penned by Tweedy):
For one thing, you can tell just by looking at her that she’s an odd duck. She is prone, for instance, to wearing poof-y shouldered ’80s jackets and things with polka dots. She claims to have intentionally gained weight because, as she put it in a recent Guardian article, "I don't want to be 'pretty'. I don't aspire to be like the Pussycat Dolls…I want to be an artist who people can believe in."
But it’s Blay’s songs that really do it. The twentysomething British songwriter goes by the name thecocknbullkid, and she has created her own musical world, one filled with equal parts quirky soul-pop (Macy Gray-ish), zingy synth-pop (Yaz-ish), and lo-fi computer zings (Midnight-Star-ish).
Earlier this week, television stations around the globe clamored to cover Michael Jackson's memorial service, and tens of millions of us turned on the tube (or the internet) to watch. Now, before you write this post off as another hastily-made MJ mixtape tribute (not that there'd be anything wrong with that), give me a minute.
One of the things that struck a chord with me during the 177-minute, star-studded memorial, was Berry Gordy's eulogy for Michael. Not only was his reminiscing about the early days of Motown charming (who wouldn't love that story about the Gordy vs. Jackson family baseball games?) but it reminded me how effing awesome Motown's music is. (It is seriously awesome.) My other BitchTapes have made no secret of my love of soul music, but this time I am going all-out to present you with eight of my favorite Motown tunes.
Read about the songs, and add your own favorites, after the jump!