It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new releases from Atlanta rapper Childish Gambino, rock royalty The Rolling Stones, guitar prodigy Aaron Keylock and Memphis Bluesman Eric Gales.
New Album from a New Artist
Childish Gambino — Awaken, My Love!
Known to his parents and TV viewers as Donald Glover, Childish Gambino is a man of many talents. Writer, actor, producer, director, comedian, DJ, singer and songwriter, Glover also recently picked up a Golden Globe award for comedy/drama series Atlanta.
After starting his career as a writer on 30 Rock, Glover has slowly built his profile to the level that he has just been cast in the new Spider-Man movie, although not in the title role as was once mooted.
He’s also playing young Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Young Han Solo movie, so it’s fair to say that he’s doing okay as Donald Glover, actor.
In his persona of Childish Gambino (a name supposedly provided by an online Rap Name generator), Glover released debut album Camp in 2011. Including the singles Freak & Geeks and Bonfire, the album generated a positive critical response that continued to build with the 2013 release of Because the Internet. This sophomore album was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2015 Grammy Awards, along with lead single 3005 which was nominated for Best Rap Performance.
Rather than rest on his laurels or produce Because the Internet Vol 2, Gambino has embraced the challenge and expanded his horizons on Awaken, My Love. Mostly abandoning the rapping that characterized earlier albums, Gambino embraces Funk pays tribute to artists from Sly Stone to George Clinton, kicking off with the six-minute epic Me and Your Mama.
In an era when the term actor/singer evokes visions of entitled mediocrity, like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, Donald Glover is something of an anomaly. Rather than being a product of the celebrity machine, Glover has worked hard and grown his skills both in the realms of acting and music, and stands poised to become a standout performer of his generation.
Standout tracks: Me and Your Mama, Riot, California
Sample Lyric: ‘They can smell your money, and they want your soul.’ (Zombies)
Verdict: 8/10 — won’t be for everybody, but fans of classic Funk should love it
New Album from a New Artist
Aaron Keylock — Cut Against the Grain
Legend has it that Aaron Keylock first picked up a guitar at age eight, and by the age of 11 he was playing clubs in his home town of Oxford. Naturally this created some friction with the security monkeys, so Keylock expanded his repertoire of venues to include cafés and biker rallies, gradually building a loyal following across a broad demographic base. At age 13, Keylock met Blues guitar legend Joe Bonamassa and found a kindred soul who had walked a similar path.
Lyrically, Cut Against the Grain keeps things simple, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With some bands apparently competing to see who can include the most obscure underground literary reference, it’s somewhat refreshing to hear a bunch of songs about growing up, chasing girls and having fun. Note that this only works because Keylock is still a teenager; it’s a creepy as hell when the middle-aged chaps from Good Charlotte try to do the same thing.
With influences from Led Zeppelin to Rory Gallagher and Jonny Winter, Keylock resists the temptation to play as fast as possible (I’m looking at you, Trivium) in favour of creating solid, four-on-the-floor rock/metal screamers. Some of the credit for this must go to experienced producer Fabrizio Grossi, who has previously worked with guitar shredders like Slash, Zakk Wylde and Dave Navarro.
If you’re a fan of Blues-influenced rock and don’t mind listening to music made by a bloke who was born in 1998, I recommend checking out Cut Against the Grain.
Standout tracks: Medicine Man, All the Right Moves, No Matter What the Cost
Sample Lyric: ‘He’s a Tennessee preacher, blackjack dealer, lover, teacher, he’s a medicine man.’ (Medicine Man)
Verdict: 7/10 — definitely one to watch
Album I Expect to Suck
The Rolling Stones — Blue and Lonesome
It’s not that I don’t like The Rolling Stones. In fact, they’re one of my favourite old-timey bands, and I think Exile on Main Street still holds up as one of the top 10 albums of all time. Taking this into account, it’s fair to say that the Stones hit their creative peak sometime last century. On top of this, Blue and Lonesome is an album of cover versions, which is often code for a throwaway album produced only to honor contractual commitments.
So it’s a bit of a surprise when Blue and Lonesome turns out to be pretty bloody good. The rhythm section of Watts and Wood imbue the collection of Blues standards with an urgent, fresh feel, while Mick Jagger takes songs by vocalists including Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and Buddy Johnson and makes them his own. Taking all of that into account, if there is a true star of Blue and Lonesome, it’s Keith Richards. The leathery guitarist is on fire as he brings his own inimitable style to these classic tracks and it will be a sad day indeed when his lifetime of excess finally catches up with him.
What is most surprising about this album is how fresh it feels. All of the songs are decades old, yet they wouldn’t sound out of place on the main stage at one of the rapidly dwindling number of major outdoor festivals. By going back to the source, it seems the Stones have rediscovered what is great about the Blues and it’s given them a new lease on life.
With a cumulative age of 278 years, it is fair to say that the core group of Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood have some rock ‘n roll experience under their belts. It is this level of skill and familiarity that allowed the band to record Blue and Lonesome over a period of just three days in London studio British Grove (owned by fellow rock dinosaur Mark Knopfler). For many other bands, an album recorded in less than a week would be a lo-fi mess, but from the Stones it sounds great.
Standout tracks: Commit a Crime, Hate to See You Go, I Can’t Quit You Baby
Sample Lyric: ‘When I want to love her, man, she ain’t can be found.’ (Hoo Doo Blues)
Verdict: 8/10 — everything old is new again
Ch-check it Out…
Eric Gales — Middle of the Road
It has often been said that you need to go through hard times to really sing the Blues. While this might be a distant memory for the multi-millionaire seniors in the Stones, it’s stone cold reality for Eric Gales. After being hailed as the second coming of Jimi Hendrix when he released debut album The Eric Gales Band back in 1991, Gales embarked on a successful career, including collaborations with artists from George Clinton to Carlos Santana. Things went south when Gales was charged with drug and weapon offenses and sentenced to three years in prison.
Perhaps incensed by the number of white musicians who have been caught with drugs and guns, and avoided doing time, Gales arrest and incarceration was used as a rallying cry against the ongoing war on drugs.
Upon release, Gales refocused on his music, commenting:
"Unfortunately you have to go through some things in order to be free."
Middle of the Road celebrates freedom both from a lyrical and compositional perspective, from the beautiful Change in Me, to the melancholic Lauren Hill collaboration Been So Long. While Gales’ guitar chops haven’t diminished, he’s found a balance so the riffs don’t overwhelm the songs.
If you’re a fan of life-affirming Blues with a nice balance of hope and melancholy, then Middle of the Road may well be your bag.
Standout tracks: Change in Me, Been So Long
Sample Lyric: ‘I’ve been down so long, down in this misery.’ (Help Yourself)
Verdict: 7/10 — a unique voice with a story to tell
Enjoy what you've just read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out!
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