EML’s Favorite Songs – JUNIOR WALKER & the ALL STARS: “What Does it Take (To Win Your Love)”

Jr Walker What Does It Take

Few popular artists of the 1960s – or any other decade for that matter – could play the saxophone like Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., better known as Junior Walker. Along with with his band the All Stars, Junior Walker had a string of hits from the early 1960s through the early 1980s, including the fantastic “Shotgun” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” (Walker also went on to play sax on the great Foreigner song “Urgent” in 1981.) But my absolute favorite was “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”, which was a big hit for them in 1969. It has one of the best intros of any song ever. That opening bass riff, followed by Walker’s wailing sax, are fucking incredible, sending chills up and down my spine that remain there through the song’s entire two and a half minute run time.

The song was written by Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua and Vernon Bullock and, shockingly, was initially rejected for single release by a Motown quality control group. Thankfully, several radio station DJs chose to play the song, making it gain popularity, and prompted Motown executives to reverse their decision and ultimately release it as a single. It became a huge hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart. It’s one of my favorite songs of 1969.

What does it take to win your love for me?
How can I make this dream come true for me?
Oh, I just got to know
Ooh baby, cause I love you so
Gonna blow for you

I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried in every way I could
To make you see how much I love you
Ooh I thought you understood
So you gotta make me see
What does it take to win your love for me?
Gonna blow again for you

GRACE-ATTALIE – Single Review: “Polluted: The Medley”

Though the music I’ve written about on this blog has more often than not involved various forms of rock, folk, electronic or pop, as EclecticMusicLover I do like to feature other genres as well, especially from countries outside the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Today I have the pleasure of featuring singer/songwriter Grace-Attalie, a young woman with one of the most amazing and distinctive vocal styles I’ve heard in a long while. Originally from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and now based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Grace uses her soulful voice like a musical instrument, producing exquisite vocal sounds and textures with such incredible depth and emotional range that they leave me speechless.

In December 2018, she released her marvelous debut EP Polluted, featuring three excellent songs drawing from soul, jazz, Latin and African music influences. Now, she’s released a new medley of the three tracks, entitled simply “Polluted: The Medley“, along with a video of her performing the song with musicians Ngwato Mapalakanye on guitar and Joe Simoz on drums. The video was beautifully filmed in subdued light with cool blue tones by photographer and cinematographer Ryan Jarrett.

Though each of the three songs – “Eggshell”, “Standards” and “Sombre Storm” – are distinctly different, they’re artfully melded together seamlessly in the medley to flow as one flawlessly smooth and gorgeous composition. Simoz taps out the sultry tempo that hovers somewhere between a Latin and African-flavored jazz beat. Backed by airy synths and a sensual bass line, Mapalakanye’s strummed electric guitar notes are sublime, and a perfect complement to Grace’s lush vocals that go from breathy purr to deep smoke. It’s an absolutely captivating track.

To more fully appreciate Grace-Attalie’s astonishing vocal talents, spend a few extra minutes and listen to the three wonderful original songs here:

Connect with Grace-Attalie on Twitter
Stream “Polluted” on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

iLLPHONiCS – Double-Single Review: “Dv8, Pt. 1”

illphonics dv8

As I’ve noted in other recent posts, I’ve been revisiting quite a lot of artists and bands this year that I’ve previously reviewed on this blog, as many of them are releasing new music in 2019. The very first full album I ever reviewed, way back in March 2016, was the superb Gone With the Trends by St. Louis, Missouri-based hip hop-fusion band iLLPHONiCS. Hard to believe it’s been three years! (You can read that review here.) They followed up a year later with Purple Piano Society, named one of St. Louis’ best albums of 2017 by The Riverfront Times, and released a digital 45 double single “X-Rated” in May 2018, which I premiered on this blog. They now return with a new double single “dv8, pt. 1“, which represents somewhat of a new direction in sound for the collective. 

iLLPHONiCS formed in 2006, and to this day all five founding members are still with the band, a rarity among acts with that long a track record. During that time, they’ve built quite a large and loyal following throughout the St. Louis region, if not the entire Midwest. Their infectious and eclectic sound incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, which they deliver through high-energy, charismatic performances. The band members include lead singer/emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris, Keith Moore (keyboards, backing vocals), Kevin Koehler (lead guitar, backing vocals), Simon Chervitz (bass) and Chaz Brew (drums, backing vocals).

For their latest project, which they’ve dubbed “dv8” (for deviate), they’ve teamed up with famed producer Tony Visconti (who over the past 50 years has produced scores of albums for numerous artists, including many for David Bowie and T. Rex). The first phase of this project, entitled “dv8, pt. 1” includes two tracks – “Work” and “Make Your Move“. About the project, the band states “You have a choice. Do what’s already been done or dv8. Take the road less traveled with us.” Their new songs retain their soulful grooves and funky hip hop beats, but employ more pronounced synths, lending a more expansive vibe.

The first of the two tracks “Work” is darker and edgier than many of their previous tracks. Opening with spooky synths that set an ominous mood, a hard-driving trap beat soon kicks in, and this song is off and running. The variety and richness of the synth sounds, combined with the awesome beat, deep bass and sharp percussion, make for a dramatic and exciting listen. Morris’s rapid-fire melodic flow is flawless as he raps the verses, practically spitting out the pessimistic lyrics that speak to the struggle and drudgery of trying to earn a decent living: “Yeah, I’m on that clock. I put in that work. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, when I’m covered in dirt. Tryin’ to get to a meal.”

The guys change things up dramatically with “Make Your Move”, a languorous and sexy tune with an old-school R&B vibe, but delivered with a fresh, updated approach. Guest vocalist Lena Charlie, who’s previously collaborated with iLLPHONiCS on several of their songs, provides her silky vocals on this track, harmonizing beautifully with Morris’s smooth rap vocals as they sing about making plans to get together for some serious love action: “Girl it’s your move. Tell me what you gon’ do. / Hey boy it’s your move. Tell me what you gon’ do.” I love the slow beat and sultry synths, and the funky bass and tasty electric guitar are so fine, as are the guys’ backing harmonies.

I’m loving these two songs, and can’t wait to hear more from their forthcoming album. Have a listen:

Connect with iLLPHONiCS:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

SAMUEL ASHTON – EP Review: “Spreading Light”

Samuel Ashton EP

Samuel Ashton is a singer/songwriter based in Canterbury, England, who makes what he beautifully refers to as “acoustic soul.” Drawing inspiration from such artists as Michael Kiwanuka, Paolo Nutini, Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff, Samuel blends smooth blues, soul and country to create uplifting and powerful songs. He’s also spent years travelling around the world, and the various different cultures he experienced and came to embrace also strongly influence his music.

In January, he released his debut EP Spreading Light through independent label 2728 Records, and received a warm response at his EP launch show in Canterbury on the 19th. He’s also been playing at venues throughout Kent and southeast England, including Brighton and London, and is currently booking future shows throughout England for this Spring.

Samuel Ashton

First up is the title track “Spreading Light“, a moving and hopeful song about staying positive in the face of adversity and troubled times, and spreading truth and goodness through our actions. The song’s melody is rather simple, driven by a strummed acoustic guitar and light percussion, but a closer listen reveals lots of added subtle textures such as somber piano keys, bluesy electric guitar and delicate, moody synths. In his deep and resonant vocals, Samuel urgently sings “Said we got to keep on spreading light. Even in the dark and lonesome night, we gotta keep on spreading light. Oh how I moan, when my heart feels woe when there’s such injustice and pain.”

Send Me Angels” has a bit of a gospel feel, with a prominent organ providing the basis of the melody, and Samuel’s emotional vocals pleading “Send me angels, come on save my soul.” I like the way he uses both acoustic and jangly electric guitars to achieve a fuller, multi-textured sound. On the slow and bluesy “Freedom Never Lies“, his intricate layered guitar work is outstanding, creating a sultry mood for his soulful, fervent vocals. He sings about surrendering oneself freely to passion: “There’s a light that’s shining in your eyes. There’s a fire that burns inside you that you just can’t disguise. Let it burn. Freedom never lies. / I’m so close to the edge, I’m still wanting more.”

Love is in the Sun” is an uplifting folk song about the presence of love everywhere we look and in everything we do. “Love is in the earth, love is in the sea. Love is in the power, power that heals.” The track has a pleasing gospel-like melody, with acoustic guitar and gentle hand claps. The Americana song “Medicine Music” speaks to the healing powers of music, something I think everyone who loves and appreciates music can attest to. “Healing my soul, my heart is full of love./ Medicine music, purify me. Medicine music, show me freedom. Medicine music heals.” The backing choruses have a Native American sound, as if being sung by a Shaman. And once again, Samuel’s guitar prowess is on full display, as his riff that closes out the track is marvelous.

Spreading Light is a wonderful EP and a fine debut effort from this thoughtful and talented musician who’s intent on spreading his positive message of love and healing in our troubled times. Samuel’s compelling lyrics, outstanding guitar work and soulful vocals make for pleasing songs you want to hear again and again.

To learn more about Samuel, check out his Website
Connect with him on  Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

JOHN DEFEO – Single Review: “Sigue Con El Amor”

john defeo3

One of the most exciting new artists I had the pleasure of discovering in 2018 is John DeFeo, a young singer/songwriter based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His infectious and soulful blend of R&B, hip-hop and pop is fresh, honest and sensual, and I just love it! On top of all that, he’s also a thoughtful, kind and gracious guy. He released his first self-titled EP in 2014, a pleasing collection of jazz-infused pop songs, and followed up with Purple Heart in 2017, which saw him evolve to a more soulful R&B & trip hop sound. But the song that first captured my attention was “Unwind” (read my review here), a sexy and fun track from his 2018 EP Champagne Heart. I love that song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up at #16 for the year.

John was on a creative tear throughout 2018, releasing several new singles, his latest of which “Sigue Con El Amor” dropped in December. Man, this is one fantastic song, and I can’t gush about it enough! Once again, John delivers an enthralling and sensual track that pushes all the right sonic buttons for me. The spellbinding plucked guitar riff at the beginning immediately grabs hold and once that sultry Latin beat kicks in and John’s smooth, seductive vocals enter the mix, magic occurs. I love the deep bassline, and the crisp percussive synths and bits of funky guitar are great. I love this song, and have had it on replay for days.

John celebrates not only love, but also his Puerto Rican heritage by including both Spanish & English lyrics in the song, and its title “Sigue Con El Amor” translates to “follow with love.” With a Latin-infused hip-hop cadence to his captivating vocals,  John croons “Big smile on my face. You can’t kill it, no nobody can take this energy. / Love is important. It’s a strong thing. Yeah yeah. El amor. El amor.” The beautiful and sensuous video, directed and edited by Luke Fowler, was filmed in sepia tones, and shows three exotic women seemingly resurrecting John from the dead and standing him up to a microphone, whereupon he sings the song as they dance around him. Footage of vintage cartoons of skeletons dancing is a nice addition. Watch and listen:

Connect with John: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Terrified”

James Bakian Terrified

James Bakian is an exceptionally talented, hard working and charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, England. He wrote his first song at the age of six, began studying piano at seven, and released his first EP By Your Side in 2016 when he was only 13. In the two years since, the prolific musician has continued recording and building a loyal fan base. He released his appropriately-named second EP Unstoppable – a really fine effort featuring six tracks – in late 2017 (which I reviewed), and so far in 2018 has released an astonishing 12 singles, the latest of which is “Terrified,” which drops today, November 23.

Now 15, James possesses a phenomenal vocal styling with a depth and maturity beyond his years. He writes all his own lyrics and music, records all the instruments, and is now even producing his songs. I’ve been following him for about two years, and it’s gratifying to watch him grow professionally and hear his vocals and music style get better and better as he matures. He was recently a Featured Artist on BBC Radio London’s BBC Introducing show, where his song “Ice Cold” was played.

“Terrified” is a lovely, soulful track, with sublime jazzy synths set to a gentle drum loop. James’ tinkling piano keys are exquisite, driving the delicate melody forward and creating a beautiful backdrop for his smooth, heartfelt vocals that speak to feeling lost, aimless and alone, without purpose or love in his life. James states that it’s “about someone going through a dark time but choosing to remember and hope for the good times, and reaching out for help.” Despite his youth, he manages to convey the sense of pain and despair expressed in the lyrics in a way that’s believable and convincing. It’s another stellar effort from James that only bolsters my belief that this talented young man has a very bright and promising future.

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

St. Louis Band iLLPHONiCS Release New Digital 45: “X-Rated”

illphonics

St. Louis music innovators iLLPHONiCS are more than a band, they’re an identity. They’re also a rarity, in that all five individuals in the band are founding members, and since 2006, they’ve consistently made some of the most groundbreaking music to come out of the St. Louis music scene, if not the entire Midwest. Their infectious, high energy sound incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, with stylish compositions and harmonic vocals that grab and hold listeners and audiences rapt attention. The five band members include lead singer/emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris, Keith Moore (keyboards, backing vocals), Kevin Koehler (lead guitar, backing vocals), Simon Chervitz (bass) and Chaz Brew (drums, backing vocals).

I had the pleasure of reviewing their superb fifth album Gone With the Trends in 2016 (which you can read here), and in 2017 they followed with Purple Piano Society,  which was named one of St. Louis’ best albums of 2017 by The Riverfront Times.  Now the band is set to release their first Digital 45 entitled “X-Rated” on Friday, May 25. “X-Rated” will include two songs, an A-side “Breathe Like” and a B-side “Green Note$.” The band calls the Digital 45 “a comfy middle ground between the paltry single and the increasingly trendy EP.” “X-Rated” will be available to stream on Spotify and Soundcloud, among other platforms. The band requests all downloads be purchased from their Bandcamp account.

A week later, on Saturday, June 2, iLLPHONiCS will celebrate the release with their first St. Louis live performance of 2018 – “A Sensory Experience,” to be held at the Stage at KDHX, starting at 8 pm. Tickets are $10 and available in advance through Ticketfly. The band will be collaborating with Captured Planet on visuals for the event, which will also serve as a kind of ‘unofficial’ release party for ‘X-Rated.

ILLPHONICS 45

iLLPHONiCS went on tour in 2017 to promote Purple Piano Society, performing in Detroit, New York and Boston, among other cities. Then they spent this past winter writing new songs, the first of which are the two now being released. Regarding these new songs, band frontman and emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris explains: “Musically we have melded many types of genres but the one genre we haven’t explored the most is Hip-Hop. It only makes sense that we go deeper into what’s at the core of our sound.”

“Breathe Like truly is what it is. We all have physical desires and fantasies, and they are even better when you’re engaging with someone who shares the same passion for you, as you for them. Being able to act upon those things and being open with your partner (and vice versa) is a beautiful thing and something worth celebrating. I appreciate love songs and the beauty of intimacy, but sometimes you got to kick it up a notch. This keeps things interesting!

“Green Note$ is inspired by my own experience but also by stories I’d get from my cousin and bandmate Chaz, who at one point used to frequent gentlemen’s clubs often. I know many regular people who attend strip clubs, and I feel that it’s awkward that society often looks down on the profession, especially when we are embracing sexuality in ways they didn’t when my parents were growing up. I also play on the power dynamic, because even though some unfortunately may see the profession of stripping as “lowly,” I see the power in a person being able to seduce an individual to come off some cash.”

“Breathe Like” has a slow and sexy hip-hop beat, with background breathy sounds that continue throughout the track. Cool synths and a crisp snare drum are the dominant instruments, but there’s smooth bass and terrific harmonic vocals holding it all together. Morris croons “I love when you bend down and let me feel some.” And “Green Note$” features sparkling synths and smooth guitar set to a mesmerizing beat. The harmonizing vocals are especially nice on this track, but then that can be said of all iLLPHONiCS songs. They’re both exceptional tracks, and fresh proof that, after 12 years of making music, this band is still at the top of their game.

Connect with iLLPHONiCS:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp

BARBUDO – Single Review: “Secret Admirer”

I recently stumbled upon yet another terrific British band (there are so many!) named Barbudo, and it took me only a few minutes of listening to their music to become a fan. Consisting of brothers Ben and Harry Stanworth and Elliot Salter, they fuse elements of old-school funk, soul, psych rock and smooth R&B to create an infectious and incredibly pleasing sound they call ‘Nu-eyed funk’. But whatever one calls it, I hear influences from The Isley Brothers, Rufus, Steely Dan, Average White Band and Style Council, and how could you possible go wrong with that lineup?

Barbudo Performing

Following up on their exceptional 2017 EP Pleasures, Barbudo has just dropped a sparkling new single “Secret Admirer,” and it was instant love for me. The band have managed to craft an uplifting, intoxicating track that’s at once both cool and hot – sort of like sipping an icy Margarita at a tropical beach bar. The coolness comes from a breezy mix of smooth vocal harmonies, chiming synths, chill bass lines, and shimmering grooves on the clavinet, while the summery Latin dance beat and funky guitar riffs provide ample steam.

In describing the song, Ben explains We were going for a Latin-infused funk vibe, like a blend of Michael Jackson and Santana.” Harry adds “It’s a playful confession of secretly liking something that is deemed ‘uncool’ by most people. You might not publicly admit to liking it, but beyond judging eyes you see it for what it is. Like listening to Coldplay when you are sad…” Hey now – I love Coldplay and am not ashamed to admit it!

But seriously, “Secret Admirer” has all the right ingredients for the perfect summer song, and I can’t stop hitting replay. Listen for yourselves and you’ll be helplessly moving your hips within seconds.

Connect with BARBUDO: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: iTunes / Bandcamp

DANCING ON PLUTO – EP Review: “Paradise Fahrenheit”

Dancing on Pluto

Dancing on Pluto is a talented and charismatic rock band I learned about at the beginning of this year, when I first heard their fantastic single “Feels Good” (which I reviewed). Formed in early 2017 and based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dancing on Pluto is made up of four long time friends Chas (lead vocals), Josh (drums), Gilbert (guitar) and Ishmael (bass). Drawing influences from many of their favorite genres, including rock, hip hop, R&B, reggae, synth-pop, shoegaze and grunge, they create music that’s eclectic, interesting and unpredictable. They released their superb debut EP Abandon Ship in 2017, followed by “Feels Good” at the end of the year. In April, they dropped their second EP Paradise Fahrenheit, delivering five great new tunes for our listening pleasure.

Like they did on Abandon Ship, Dancing on Pluto really bends genres and mixes things up on Paradise Fahrenheit – one of the things I love about their music. The first track “Ozone” has a sunny reggae beat, but a hip hop element is added via Chas speed-rapping in the song’s middle. The acoustic and wobbly electric guitars are particularly good, with a tasty little riff in the bridge. The song seems to essentially be about not seeing the forest for the trees, and feeling pessimistic about life: “All I see, nestled in green, tripping over nothin’ by my own damn feet. I can’t see at all, no stars in the sky. No food and I’m starving.” But after spending time in the forest, he finds clarity and peace of mind, and his attitude becomes more optimistic: “Nestled in green. Visibly at ease. The stars are so beautiful.

Where the Wild Things Are” starts off as an uptempo rock song, with buoyant riffs and peppy drums. Halfway through, the track shifts to sort of a ska beat, with jangly guitars and strutting bass. Chas sings of teenage insecurities, self-doubt and the struggle for independence: “I know what people see. I’m scared that you’re too good for me. That’s why I’m always scared. / Is it because I get jealous when I see you in a crowd? Is it because I can’t take you where my thoughts get loud? Am I not beautiful enough for you to want to treat me good?

The joyously uplifting gem “Feels Good” is the song that first made me fall for Dancing on Pluto. Beginning with Chas yelling “It feels good, yeah!“, followed by a few seconds of a simple drumbeat and tapping drumsticks, the track bursts wide open with a barrage of shredded guitars, then settles back down. Chas’ incredible vocal dexterity really shines on this track – sounding as smooth and soulful as John Legend one minute, then raw and loud the next.  The tempo goes from a mellow, bass-driven groove while he croons “When you’re on your own, take time and deep breaths. And when you’re on your own you’ll find out…”, to an explosion of wailing guitars and thunderous drums with the refrain that perfectly describes the song’s affect on me:  “It feels good! It’s so good, right on!”

The guys change things up again with “Snowflakes on Mercury,” which sounds totally different than any of the other tracks on the EP.  The beautiful, languid song has more of a shoegaze vibe, with greater use of synths and keyboards, yet they insert some grungy riffs in the bridge, adding a bit of poignant drama. The lyrics seem to address self-awareness and appraisal: “Snowflakes, I want to see you even when you hurt my eyes. I want to feel you even when you hurt my skin. Falling and floating. You help all of my footprints be seen. So I can see how far I am from where I’ve been. Falling and floating.”

Monet,” is a seven-minute-long rock song with an incredibly pleasing and catchy melody, and marvelous strummed acoustic and electric guitar work. At roughly four minutes in, the tempo slows and riffs of jangly guitar dominate until drums and crashing cymbals return. The instrumentals all quiet down to just a simple acoustic guitar riff to close out the track. The lyrics seem to be about working through problems in a relationship: “I’d paint a picture of love that I can’t put into words for you. / This is your whole life, not just a cause worth fighting for. / I’m standing outside your door, ’cause I thought that I was more than the half-hearted fool you took me for. We’re fine ’cause our creator says so. We’ll be fine.

With Paradise Fahrenheit, Dancing on Pluto have another solid EP under their collective belts as they start to build an impressive discography. I love their music, and look forward to hearing more great and innovative songs from them.

Connect with Dancing on Pluto:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Ice Cold”

James Bakian

James Bakian is a majorly talented and charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, UK. He’s only 14 years old, but possesses a phenomenal vocal styling with a maturity beyond his years. He writes all his own songs and music, and records all the instruments. He’s also a hard-working and prolific musician. James released his second EP Unstoppable – a really fine effort featuring six tracks – in late 2017 (which I reviewed), and in the first three months of 2018 he’s already dropped five new singles, the latest of which is “Ice Cold,” which debuted on March 30.

The new song is a bit of a departure from his usual soulful pop sound. James states that he’s been exploring R&B and lo-fi hip-hop, and boy does he deliver! The track is mesmerizing, starting off with sounds of static and a hesitating synth chord, then unfolding into a gorgeous soundscape of shimmering keyboard synths floating above a languid hip hop beat. James’ smooth vocals are captivating, and sound better than ever. He can seduce us one moment, then raise goosebumps with impassioned pleas the next. It’s a fantastic song, and it’s wonderful seeing his music and vocals continue to mature so nicely.

“Ice Cold” speaks to not allowing self-doubt and past mistakes to turn you into a bitter person:

Build up strength to live a day yeah
All you want is to escape yeah
Don’t let words intoxicate you
We all get deserted sometimes

We get disappointed with what we’re assigned
Can’t go without a complaint in your mind
Losing your patience is turning you blind
You need space to rewind

Cause you’re ice cold
And it’s making you bad but you deserve a chance
And we all make our mistakes but they are just mistakes
We don’t catch the message so we all get sad

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes