Results for gospel

interviews

Buddy Guy

Blues legend and fellow Chicagoan Buddy Guy visits the show this week. The 70-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is back in town for a month-long stint at his club Buddy Guy's Legends. The club has been a mainstay for blues in downtown Chicago for more than a decade, but Buddy recently announced that he is being forced to find a new location. As residents and Sound Opinions listeners know, the city is not always kind to music clubs, but in his interview with Jim and Greg, Buddy stresses the need to maintain such venues. Our hosts also recommend listeners check out the bluesman at his best — live and stripped down at Legends — while they can.

One thing that makes Buddy Guy's music so unique is his sense of melody. He explains how he will listen to spiritual and gospel music on the radio as inspiration. As Greg states: he's trying to imitate the voices. He learned this from B.B. King and went on to inspire vocalists like George Benson. Another musician who inspired Buddy was Guitar Slim. Before seeing Slim play, Buddy didn‘t know how far he could go with a“strat.”Now he is known for his violent, high-energy style. This style wasn’t appreciated by his former label Chess Records, but was adored and emulated by British blues fans like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Andy Summers.

Go to episode 58

Mavis Staples

It's not often we get to share a room with a genuine national treasure. Jim and Greg were honored to speak with gospel and soul legend and Civil Rights icon Mavis Staples. (Greg is also the author of Mavis's 2014 biography I'll Take You There). Beginning her career at age eleven as the lead singer of her family band The Staple Singers, Mavis has inspired countless artists over the past half century.

Her father Pops Staples learned guitar at the feet of Charley Patton in Dockery Farms, Mississippi before moving to Chicago. There, he formed The Staple Singers, a gospel vocal group featuring his children – Pervis, Cleotha, Yvonne, and Mavis taking the lead. The combination of Pops's blues guitar, Cleotha's counterpoint, and Mavis's precociously powerful voice launched them into national attention with their 1956 hit "Uncloudy Day." Soon, the Staple Singers were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, often serving as the opening act to Martin Luther King, Jr. (We'll cover that period in more detail in a second episode with Mavis).

The group had its greatest success once it signed to Stax Records and began recording with the famed session musicians in Muscle Shoals, Alabama on hits like "I'll Take You There." That's also when Mavis began her solo career – reluctantly at first, but still going as strong as ever today. Her latest album Livin' on a High Note found her working with songwriters like Nick Cave, tUnE-yArDs, and Neko Case. Mavis offers Jim and Greg an intimate look at growing up on Chicago's South Side, forming the Staple Singers' signature sound, meeting Mahalia Jackson, and collaborating with Curtis Mayfield and Prince.

Go to episode 593

Mavis Staples

Earlier this year, we aired part one of an interview that Jim and Greg did with gospel and soul legend Mavis Staples. Mavis was such a fantastic guest that we had plenty of extra tape that we haven't been able to broadcast until now. Greg literally wrote the book on Mavis Staples, titled I'll Take You There. As he details in the book, activism is nothing new to Mavis. The theme of social consciousness is something that started for Mavis as a part of The Staple Singers, and it continues to run through Mavis‘ solo career. It’s a major theme of her upcoming record If All I Was Was Black. In the 1950s and 60s, the Chicago-based Staple Singers toured the Jim Crow South extensively. It was a learning curve in many ways for the young Mavis, along with her siblings Cleotha, Yvonne, and Pervis.

Go to episode 618

Jamila Woods

In the midst of an accomplished career as a poet and educator, Jamila Woods launched onto the national music scene with heralded collaborations with Chance the Rapper, Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, and Macklemore. Last year, she released her debut solo album HEAVN, which was recently reissued by Jagjaguwar. That record, with its powerful lyrical examinations of black womanhood and police brutality, ended up on both Jim and Greg's Best of 2016 lists.

Jamila Woods and her band join Jim and Greg in the studio to play songs from the album. She discusses her eclectic blend of spoken word, gospel, and hip-hop, which samples lines from artists ranging from The Cure to Incubus to Paula Cole. She speaks about lessons learned from growing up in the church in Chicago's south side and her music's power to speak to people who don't share her experiences.

Go to episode 620
classic album dissections
Songs In the Key of LifeSongs in the Key of Life available on iTunes

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Every so often, Jim and Greg like to get all professorial on us and dissect a classic rock album. Stevie Wonder's 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life turns 30 this week, so what a perfect opportunity to delve into the making of the record and why it still means so much to so many people. The best way to kick off a dissection is with a sampling of Wonder's music. Of course, Songs in the Key of Life was released as a two-LP set with a bonus EP for a total of 21 songs. We couldn‘t squeeze ’em all into this two-minute montage, but here is what you do get to hear:

  • "Sir Duke"
  • "Knocks Me Off My Feet"
  • "Another Star"
  • "Summer Soft"
  • "Love's in Need of Love Today"
  • "I Wish"

One of the reasons Songs in the Key of Life stands out so radically in Wonder's catalog is that it was such a massive undertaking. Having had huge success with earlier albums, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness First Finale, Motown gave Wonder the freedom to stretch out — for two years, in fact. Jim and Greg speak to two men involved with the recording. The first is keyboardist Greg Phillinganes. Wonder himself is an amazing keyboardist, but Phillinganes explains that the songwriter liked the idea of having some fresh blood in the band. And you couldn't get much fresher than Phillinganes; he was only 18 when he signed on, making this session his first job.

John Fischbach, the second voice we hear from, was one of two engineers recording the session. Fischbach explains that of the many artists he has worked with in the studio, no one compares to Stevie Wonder. He says Wonder was the consummate professional and highly prolific, but also had rather atypical work habits… like calling in his musicians in the middle of the night. One such late night session resulted in the classic "I Wish."

To cap off this album dissection, both Jim and Greg pick one signature track from Songs in the Key of Life. Jim's pick is "Pastime Paradise." Many listeners will recognize the instrumental as the basis for Coolio's 1995 hit "Gangsta's Paradise," but the original far surpasses that soundtrack song. Jim explains that this Stevie Wonder album can be a bit too sweet for his punk rock tastes, but "Pastime Paradise" is reminiscent of the funkier, more political songs Wonder previously released such as "Living For the City" and "Superstition." He says Wonder is calling out for the listener to take action against a list of woes —“Dissipation, race relations, segregation…”Ultimately, though, the song is brought to an upbeat, optimistic point that matches the attitude of the rest of the record.

Greg's pick is the anthemic track "As." One of the important things to note about the recording of Songs in the Key of Life is the emphasis Wonder put on having a band and a band-like atmosphere. Certainly, as we heard from Greg Phillinganes and John Fischbach, Wonder could play almost any instrument himself, but he wanted guests to join him and bring life to the music.“As”was definitely recorded live, and the highlight of the song for Greg is Herbie Hancock's Rhodes piano part. According to Greg, Hancock“dirties”up his playing, making way for Stevie (and an overdub of multiple Stevies) to come in with huge gospel vocals. The result is an epic love song fitting an epic album.

Go to episode 45

Aretha Franklin Amazing Grace

It's a big year for Aretha Franklin. The“Queen of Soul”just turned 70, and her bestselling album, Amazing Grace, turns 40 this June. No, you won't find megahits like "Respect" or "Think " on Amazing Grace's track list, but this 1972 album of gospel covers influenced rock and rollers as diverse as the Rolling Stones and U2, and transformed gospel as we know it. In honor of the anniversary, Jim and Greg do a classic album dissection of Amazing Grace. They're joined by Aaron Cohen, Downbeat editor and author of a book on Amazing Grace for the 33 1/3 series. Everything Aretha did in this era, Aaron explains, she did in a big way. Her return to gospel music after over a decade in the pop wilderness was no exception. The record was recorded live at a Baptist church in Watts, Los Angeles over two days. Gospel luminaries including singer Clara Ward and Aretha's father, the Reverand CL Franklin, were in the audience (as were the Stones' Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger). Freed from the constraints of cutting a three-minute single, Franklin takes her time on Amazing Grace, stretching songs and combining them in surprising medleys. But the real magic of the album, Aaron contends, comes from the combination of Aretha's voice with that of Reverend James Cleveland's Southern California Community Choir. This combination of star soloist and choir became standard in gospel music from this point forward.

As always with classic album dissections, Jim and Greg choose their own tracks from Amazing Grace to highlight. Jim goes with "Precious Lord (Take My Hand)/You've Got a Friend," a medley that melds a classic gospel tune with Carole King's decidedly secular pop hit. Greg chooses "How I Got Over," a Clara Ward cover that, he explains, was closely associated with the ongoing civil rights movement.

Go to episode 332
The Belle AlbumThe Belle Album available on iTunes

Al Green The Belle Album

Al Green is known for archetypal soul hits like "Love & Happiness," "Let's Stay Together," and "I'm So Tired of Being Alone." But, while Al's songs are known around the world, the man himself is a bit of an enigma. To get a better sense of who Al Green is, Jim and Greg sat down with Jimmy McDonough, author of a new biography called Soul Survivor.

They also unpack a lesser known album from Al Green's catalogue: The Belle Album. The album, released in 1977, came out at a crucial period in Green's life. He had just left a lucrative career in soul music for the ministry. The album was his first gospel album, one that blended funk, disco, and according to Jim, even elements of punk. It was also Al's first dip into self-producing an album. His previous work had been produced by the legendary Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis. The album with its rough, almost garage-gospel sound is an outlier among Green's earlier works. The Belle Album means a lot to both Jim and Greg. Greg calls it "a transitional album that was also a masterpiece."

Go to episode 625
reviews
Sir The Baptist

Sir the Baptist Saint or Sinner

Chicago's Sir the Baptist broke on the scene with a gospel-fueled single called "Raise Hell", and his debut album Saint or Sinner continues his experiments in blending the sacred and the street. Greg says that at Lollapalooza last year, Sir performed part of his set out of a casket on stage, "a commentary on the gun violence in Chicago; but also, a deeper message about faith, about spirituality, and about the role it could play in the lives of young people." Jim and Greg note that Sir the Baptist was ahead of the curve of mixing religious music and popular urban music that fellow Chicagoans Chance the Rapper and Jamila Woods have also explored. Jim says that Sir the Baptist is "firmly based in that rich Chicago tradition of gospel music" but Sir is "skeptical… of faith that is not grounded in morality". He calls "Deliver Me" an extraordinary track. Jim praises the album's deep themes. Both Jim and Greg give Saint or Sinner an enthusiastic Buy It rating.

JimGreg
Go to episode 600
Everything That Happens Will Happen TodayEverything That Happens Will Happen Today available on iTunes

David Byrne and Brian Eno Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

While Jim and Greg are certainly the top duo in rock and roll, there are some runner ups, including the artists up for review this week. After nearly 30 years, collaborators David Byrne and Brian Eno are back with a new album called Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. The musicians first came together when Eno produced some Talking Heads albums, and later they teamed up for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Now Eno and Byrne have made what they're calling an "electronic gospel" album. Greg thinks they‘ve succeeded. Byrne’s vocals are not traditionally gospel, but have never sounded better. And the subject matter, which is about rising above tough times, certainly hits gospel themes. He gives the album a Buy It. Jim agrees, but doesn‘t want listeners to think that he gives that rating merely because he’s an Eno fan. He didn‘t think their first collaboration was all that successful, but this one is much more enjoyable and more accessible. He wishes Byrne didn’t dominate the singing so much, but also gives Everything That Happens Will Happen Today a Buy It rating.

JimGreg
Go to episode 144
Chance

Chance the Rapper Coloring Book

Chicago artist Chance the Rapper recently released his third mixtape, Coloring Book. And while he's at the forefront of the rap genre, he's never actually sold a single album. That's because all three of his mixtape releases, as well as two collaborative albums, can be downloaded for free from the Internet. On Coloring Book, Chance enlists a slew of popular guest stars, from fellow Chicagoan Kanye West to the man of the moment, Justin Bieber. Jim really enjoyed this record, especially Chance's use of gospel music to empower individuals and generate a sense of community in order to combat violence. While he doesn't think it is quite as good as his last release, Acid Rap, Jim strongly believes the music and lyrical insight on this album is equal parts impressive and inspiring. He gives it a Buy It. Greg agrees, saying that Coloring Book is one of the most ambitious records in hip hop right now. He even points out that West's recent album, The Life of Pablo, wouldn‘t be what it is without Chance’s gospel sound influence. Greg appreciates the larger themes of the album and how it connects so well to the music of the Civil Rights Movement. It's a Double Buy It for Coloring Book.

JimGreg
Go to episode 550
Livin' on a High NoteLivin' On a High Note available on iTunes

Mavis Staples Livin' On a High Note

Mavis Staples had a legendary career with her family's gospel and soul band The Staple Singers, which was a major part of the protest movement of the 1960s and scored huge hits for Stax in the 1970s. Mavis reinvented herself as solo artist in 2000s, collaborating on records with Ry Cooder and Jeff Tweedy. For Livin' On a High Note, she and producer M. Ward as a producer asked a variety of contemporary songwriters to write material for her to sing, including Neko Case, Nick Cave, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs. Jim loves how the best songs bring Mavis full circle by referencing on the Black Lives Matter movement. While the other songs are hit and miss, Mavis Staples is a“national treasure”and her voice is as powerful as ever. Jim is still waiting for her end career masterpiece, but this album is a definite Buy It. Greg – who literally wrote the book on Mavis Staples – points to We'll Never Turn Back as her masterpiece, but says this album is very good too. He loves what she does even with the lesser songs, like Vernon's generic love song, which she transforms into a moving address to her sister Yvonne Staples. In the middle of her 70s, Mavis Staples is doing some of the best work of her career.

JimGreg
Go to episode 536
Sweet Heart Sweet LightSweet Heart Sweet Light available on iTunes

Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Jason Pierce, the force behind Spiritualized, isn't shy about returning to his inspirations, album after album. There's the noise/melody combo of the Velvet Underground, German art rock, gospel music and free jazz. But melding those elements together well is no small feat. He does it again on Sweet Heart Sweet Light, which Greg says is good, but only 2nd tier. He‘d refer listeners back to 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. The new one is just a Burn It. Jim is forced to bite his tongue when he hears this, as he sees Sweet Heart Sweet Light as Spiritualized's most optimistic album to date. Pierce has battled a lot of pain and fought liver disease, and the musical result is a masterpiece. Jim says Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 334
Wounded Rhymes (Deluxe Version)Wounded Rhymes available on iTunes

Lykke Li Wounded Rhymes

Swedish singer Lykke Li has a new album out called Wounded Rhymes. She has again teamed up with fellow Swede Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John. The maturity is leaps and bounds above her previous effort. Greg was impressed with the“oomph”of her voice and her interesting source material. It's Phil Spector and doo-wop, but with a wicked tinge. Jim agrees, adding gospel and soul influences to that pot. Wounded Rhymes gets a double Buy It rating.

JimGreg
Go to episode 279
Post-NothingPost-Nothing available on iTunes

Japandroids Post-Nothing

Vancouver duo Brian King and David Prowse of Japandroids have released their third album called Post-Nothing. Jim notes that everyone seems to be a duo these days, but Japandroids rises above the pack. Amid the sea of noise are tuneful alientation anthems. He gives it an enthusiastic Buy It. Greg was impressed and energized by the two musicians at the Pitchfork Music Festival. And while he doesn't agree with Jim about the strong songwriting, he loves the textured guitar-playing and gospel-like crescendos. Post-Nothing gets two Buy It ratings.

JimGreg
Go to episode 193
MosquitoMosquito available on iTunes

Yeah Yeah Yeahs Mosquito

During the 2000s, two bands forged a New York garage rock revival: The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Two weeks ago, Jim and Greg eviscerated Comedown Machine, The Strokes' fifth studio effort. This week, they take on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' latest, Mosquito. Is this yet another case of early promise and later disappointment? Jim says“no way.”The album art might turn his stomach, but he's digging Mosquito, which shows the band experimenting with musical styles from gospel to hip-hop. Unlike The Strokes' similar genre experiments, Jim says Mosquito sounds organic, not contrived. Greg agrees. He was a big fan of lead singer Karen O's 2003 song "Maps," so he's glad to hear more of her emotional vocals on this record. Mosquito gets a double Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 385
Unfinished BusinessUnfinished Business available on iTunes

Wanda Jackson Unfinished Business

Wanda Jackson, Queen of Rockabilly since 1954, is out with a new album. Unfinished Business - like last year's The Party Ain't Over - is produced by a young fan. This time, Jim explains, it's Justin Townes Earle, not Jack White, at the helm. Neither Jim nor Greg was a fan of the Caribbean-flavored, White-produced The Party Ain't Over. Does Earle fare better? Greg says yes. You have to remember, he says, that in addition to being rockabilly royalty, Jackson has a background in country and gospel. She sounds perfectly at home covering artists like Freddy King and Etta James. Greg gives Unfinished Business a Buy It. Jim agrees that Earle played it smart by keeping Wanda in her comfort zone and allowing her feistiness to shine through. But he says there are three or four other Jackson albums he'd recommend over this one. He gives Unfinished Business a Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 359
dijs

Greg

“Midnight Train to Georgia”Gladys Knight

The harmony vocals on Wild Flag's record inspired Greg to give the backup singer some. And there's no better backup singing group than The Pips. Everyone, Jim and Greg included, wanted to be as cool as The Pips. Their music with Gladys Knight epitomized what was great about the golden era of soul music—not just sophisticated songwriting, but sophisticated arrangements that were influenced by the call and response style of gospel music. Greg chooses to add their hit song "Midnight Train to Georgia" to the Desert Island Jukebox, which incidentally is an improvement from the original title "Midnight Train to Houston."

Go to episode 302
features

Sample Platter: Voices of Conquest's "O Yes My Lord"

Jim and Greg explore how a 1960s gospel track out of Detroit found new life recently in two contemporary tracks. Both pop duo Phantogram and Chicago rapper Common sample "O Yes My Lord" by Voices of Conquest on their respective songs "Same Old Blues" and "Kingdom." The sample features a large church choir and John Bonham-like drumming. J&G discuss the origins of all three songs, and how both artists use the sample to enhance their tracks.

Go to episode 600
news

Music News

Whitney Houston is just the latest in a series of deceased musicians who have been made into holograms in order to tour around the world. Other famous holograms include Tupac, Buddy Holly, Liberace and Roy Orbison but this isn't anything new for the entertainment industry. For years, images of Elvis Presley and even Frank Sinatra were shown in concerts singing along with a live band and performers. And while the joke is that death is a great career move, Jim finds it interesting that it is no longer an impediment to touring. Who would you like to see as a hologram or do you think the whole thing is just too weird?

Back in 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded one of the great gospel albums of all time, Amazing Grace. In 2012, Jim and Greg even did a Classic Album Dissection on the live record because it was so good and so iconic. Famous director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Out of Africa) filmed the concert back in the '70s and now more than 40 years later, two major film festivals were finally supposed to show the movie. However, Aretha took legal action to block the film festivals from presenting it. Apparently she loves the film but Greg suspects this whole thing has something to do with money. This one may drag on, but Greg and Jim really hope that they sort things out because this is a true piece of musical history.

Go to episode 512

Music News

Donnasummer Last week Disco queen Donna Summer died at age 63. Jim and Greg talk about her gospel and musical theater roots and her contributions to pop music. People relegate Summer to the disco ghetto, but really she spanned many genres and didn't stop working after the 1970's. Her work with Giorgio Moroder also greatly contributed to the development of electronic music.

robingibb Only days after Summer's passing, we learned of the death of Bee Gees founder Robin Gibb. The 62-year-old had been battling cancer for some time. But before you say,“Groan…the Bee Gees,”know that the trio sold 200 million records worldwide, and not all of them copies of Saturday Night Fever. Their music from that 1977 movie defined the disco movement for many people, but the Bee Gees had hits in five different decades. And they thought of themselves more as blue-eyed soul singers. To honor Gibb, Greg highlights one of their tracks from the British Invasion period called "Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You."

Go to episode 339

Music News

It has been one year since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region. The music community has responded in a number of ways over the past 365 days. In fact, the response was quicker and more dramatic than that following the events of September 11, Jim and Greg note. The most high-profile Katrina project was the collaboration between Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint. Toussaint is one of New Orleans‘ most noted producers and musicians, and, like many of the city’s citizens, he had to flee during the storm and has yet to be able to return. He and Costello wrote their album's title track, "The River in Reverse," just weeks after Katrina hit. Check out Jim and Greg's review of that album.

Other artists inspired by Hurricane Katrina include Paul Simon, Mos Def and Bruce Springsteen, who decided to add new hurricane-related lyrics to the song "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Time and Live," during his live performances. Rapper Master P also just announced that he will be debuting a stage play, "Uncle Willy's Family," which he describes as a hip-hop gospel comedy play about Hurricane Katrina. It will star the rapper, as well as his son Lil Romeo, Silkk The Shockker, and Terry Miles. Now he can add playwright to his ever-expanding résumé. But the post-Katrina project that most moved Jim and Greg was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's version of Marvin Gaye's 1971 concept album What's Going On. Gaye's songs were inspired by many of the country's problems at the time, including poverty, the environment, urban decay and race conflicts. It's interesting to see how applicable his words are today.

Go to episode 40