I have been looking forward to this for years.
This is the first all-Black column in DISClaimer’s 40-year history. Never before have there been a full dozen current Black-music releases related to the Nashville music scene that are available in the same week.
Musically, it’s a mixed bag. You’ll find blues, folk, R&B, reggae, Americana and more in this roundup. What unites almost all of them is musical excellence.
Wendy Moten’s new single is the Disc of the Day. The DISCovery Award goes to the sister quartet The BoykinZ. Both acts are proud Nashvillians, and we’re just as proud of them.
JOY OLADOKUN / “Taking Things for Granted”
Writers: Joy Oladokun; Producers: Joy Oladokun, Elliot Skinner, Aaron Steele; Label: Verve Forecast/Republic
– I usually think of her as a folkie, but this track rocks with pop punch. Plus, she shreds on the electric guitar. It’s so hooky and radio friendly that she could ascend to Swiftian levels with it. This Nashvillian is celebrating a new album, Proof of Life, with a national tour and a basket full of rave reviews. Rousing applause from this corner.
WENDY MOTEN / “Don’t Give Up”
Writers: Wendy Moten/David Santos; Producers: Paul Worley/Wendy Moten; Label: Radio Eye Music
– After more than 20 years as a background vocalist for others, Moten shot to national fame via competing on The Voice last year. She was an inspiration to mature performers everywhere when she became a fan-favorite finalist. Her new single is similarly inspiring, a life philosophy about persevering through the storms. Not only that, it’s a groove-saturated sonic slab of soul. Everything about this is electrifying, from the sizzling organ to the rump-shaking rhythm section, from the tasty guitar licks to her shout-to-the-heavens vocal. All together now: “Hallelujah!”
LOUIS YORK & JESSIE J / “Heaven Bound”
Writers: Charles Harmon/Claude Kelly/Jessica Ellen Cornish/Margaret Rose Durante; Producer: Louis York; Label: Weirdo Workshop
– Contemporary R&B the way it is meant to be played. It’s also an ultra-romantic duet with scintillating harmonies, killer production and hooks a-plenty. Jessie sings great, but the stars of this show are the Louis York production team with Claude Kelly vocalizing up a storm and his partner Chuck Harmony laying down all the keyboard and guitar parts. It is part of a forthcoming album by these two Music City creators titled Songs With Friends.
THE WAR AND TREATY / “Up Yonder”
Writers: Michael Trotter, Jr., Tanya Trotter; Producer: Dave Cobb; Label: UMG Nashville
– These two thrilling voices wrecked the house during the PBS broadcast of the Memorial Day concert. Elaborating on the gospel chestnut “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” they paid tribute to the fallen men and women of our armed services. By the time they finished, I was sobbing openly. If you didn’t catch this performance on TV, go to YouTube right now and be prepared to be shaken to the depths of your soul. Michael and Tanya make me feel so proud to live in a community that lifts them up.
THE SHINDELLAS / “Last Night Was Good For My Soul”
Writers: Claude Kelly/Chuck Harmony; Producers: Louis York; Label: Weirdo Workshop
– This Nashville female trio harkens back to the glory days of the “girl group” era. Over an addictive funk/disco groove, they harmonize and emote marvelously on this sunny thumper. It debuted on Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay chart this week, and hooray for that. The Shindellas opened last fall’s Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame banquet, and I’d sure like to see them again. How about a local club date?
KEB’ MO’ / “Taking Me Higher”
Writers: Keb’ Mo’/John Lewis Parking; Producers: Keb’ Mo’/John Burk; Label: Candid
– “Taking Me Higher” is the first single from the soundtrack of the upcoming movie Sweetwater, which tells the story of Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African American to land an NBA contract. Nashville’s resident blues genius gives it a stately, deliberate reading, loaded with cool guitar licks, accompanying female choristers and his own brilliant, mellifluous, behind-the-beat phrasing. Totally uplifting. Love this. Love him.
DEVON GILFILLIAN / “All I Really Wanna Do”
Writers: Devon Gilfillian/Henry Brill/Ran Jackson; Producer: Jeremy Lutito; Label: Fantasy
– This guy attracted attention a few years back by recreating Marvin Gaye’s 1971 masterpiece What’s Going On, song for song. That influence is still audible on his new Love You Anyway album and its trippy, dreamy current single. Gilfillian’s presence in Nashville seems to me like the future of the town’s Black-music scene. This is a sound to get lost in.
MORGAN HERITAGE / “Ready”
Writers: Charles Nii Armah Mensah Jr./Emmanuel Mkono, Jose Chameleone/Morgan Heritage/Romeo Bangula; Producers: Morgan Hertiage/Nahreel; Label: CTBC Music Group
– Among Nashville’s most distinctive musician residents is Gramps Morgan, the Grammy-winning reggae star. His Morgan Heritage recording ensemble has a new 21-track album titled The Homeland, and it has already spawned several simultaneously released stoner singles. This one features Jose Chameleone and Shatta Wade chanting the refrain with Gramps coming in with a baritone rap about midway through. It’s a rhythm-happy bouncer extolling booty beauty. Beats to brighten your day.
AMYTHYST KIAH / “Chained to the Rhythm”
Writers: Ali Payami/Katy Perry/Max Martin/Sia Furler/Skip Marley; Producers: Amythyst Kiah/Matty Alger/Ethan Ballinger; Label: Rounder
– This Johnson City, Tennessee resident recently hit TikTok with her cool cover of the Katy Perry 2016 hit “Chained to the Rhythm.” It is awash in electronic atmosphere and an alto vocal echoing from deep in a well. The track is on her EP titled Pensive Pop. Hypnotic listening.
THE BOYKINZ / “Girls Night”
Writers: Alona Boykin/Anale Boykin/Cory Moore/Craig King/Kylan Boykin/Nytere Boykin; Producers: none listed; Label: The BoykinZ
– These four Black Nashville vocalists harmonize as only blood sisters can. An encounter with Shania Twain on Kelly Clarkson’s TV show led to an invitation to appear with the superstar on her June 7 concert at GEODIS park. They are still working on their album, but already have more than half a million followers on social media. The BoykinZ current single has hip-hop rhythms, dancefloor style and a country vibe. For an even more ear-opening experience, check out the YouTube footage of them singing Dolly’s “Jolene” in a cappella harmony on that same Kelly Clarkson Show.
RHIANNON GIDDENS / “You’re the One”
Writers: Lalenja Harrington/Rhiannon Giddens; Producer: Jack Splash; Label: Nonesuch
– This is the title track of her first solo album in six years (due Aug. 18). Previously noted for her old-time country and quasi-classical explorations, the set also marks her first collection of all original songs. The sound here is attractive, romantic pop-country with her fluid vocal layered over a track rippling with mandolin, fiddle and banjo notes plus crashing chorus percussion.
VALERIE JUNE & BILL FRISELL / “Handsome Molly”
Writer: Don Watson; Producer: Matthew Stevens; Label: FLi Records/Budde Music
– This is drawn from the Doc Watson tribute album I Am a Pilgrim. Both artists are big Americana favorites. The track is a traditional Anglo-American folk song, and June’s lead vocal sounds exactly like an Appalachian mountaineer, backed by Frisell’s ethereal, loopy strumming. She is a delightfully genre-defying Black Tennessee artist who has always followed her own bliss.
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