Three cyberspace releases that'll blow your circuits.
A Race of Angels
Broadcast No. 1
Luv Classics/ www.araceofangels.com
A couple years ago in this very paper I wrote about an EP I picked up online by a group called A Race of Angels. I didn't know who they were. I didn't know where they came from. All I knew was that the EP had some damn fine genre-transcending music. Now this group is back with another EP, and I still don't know a damn thing about them. What I do know is they're beginning to perform in public (I heard they did a show in L.A. with Meshell Ndegeocello), and they still haven't lost their knack for creating ambient, gloriously soulful music. The Taxi Driver-sampling "Golden" and the beautiful "Afrika Dis-placed" are the only two holdovers from the previous EP. A Race of Angels amp up the synths and strings on such tracks as "We," "Your Name" and "Love Is the End," produced by GB, which can be found on his recent compilation Soundtrack for Sunrise. It would be nice if these cats finally came out from the shadows to take responsibility for what's theirs. Music this good should have a rightful owner.
The Syberspace Social
Sy Smith is one trippy lady. You can practically detect that on this album, the follow-up to her 2002 major label debut Psykosoul. The California-based soul siren aspires to make her music both laid-back and hallucinogenic. But mostly, it's engaging, space-age soul for the hip, unassuming hedonist. Given that Syberspace Social is a self-distributed release, Smith certainly rounds up an impressive list of producers to help her out. Dutch producer Nicolay, who joined forces with Little Brother MC Phonte to form hip-hop unit the Foreign Exchange for last year's Connected album, provides the bouncy beat for "Aquarius Rising." Neo-soul great James Poyser co-produces the album's final track "Bruise." But most of Syberspace is a joint collabo between Smith and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, formerly of A Tribe Called Quest and Lucy Pearl. When they get together, the mellow grooves flow, making this Smith-concocted social club of the mind not such a bad place to visit.
The Sweet Spot
Believe it or not, Houston isn't just a breeding ground for rappers with diamond-encrusted grills, as recent discoveries MCs Mike Jones and Paul Wall have shown. There are other things popping beneath the surface, like female vocalists ready to add melodious sultriness to any alt-dance groove they get served. That's the best way to describe this compilation, which shows just how much talent Space City is keeping under wraps. Michele Thibeaux, Cyd Marie and Karina Nistal are a few of the grand dames who appear repeatedly throughout the album, with producers/Rebel Crew captains Joe B. and Mark Sound choosing a bevy of sounds to accompany these ladies' vocal riffing. Whether it's Shina Rae getting the electronic dub treatment on "ThreeFold" or Kash getting exotically remixed by San Fran DJ Gavin Hardkiss on "Tantra," the album takes a different turn with each track. This makes The Sweet Spot one of the few dance albums that doesn't sound like a repetitive loop. This satisfying mix of women and song couldn't be sweeter.
The Inner Beauty Movement
For many female singer/songwriters, comparisons to Roberta Flack would be enough. But a call from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to sing Flack vocals to Anthony Hamilton's interpretation of Donny Hathaway was validation of how much talent Lina Loi has to give the music industry. Lina's new CD The Inner Beauty Movement is a continuation of that label's commitment to original talent and music that matters. "The Inner Beauty Movement is about embracing yourself and accepting all of who you are," Lina told PW by phone. "The most beautiful things are not seen or heard but felt with the heart. My music is about taking us all to a higher level spiritually, not about gaining more material possessions." Lina says her favorite song "I Am" is about acceptance of the good and bad. The song reminds you how great it is to be you-and to be thankful for how you got to this point. On the track "All Around the World," Lina and Hamilton get their Flack and Hathaway on. Lina adds a voice to soul music that's every bit as spiritually enriching as it is musically. Solid A.(Raymond Tyler)
A Band of Bees
Free the Bees
By jingo, those crazy Brits have gone and done it again! Yet another slice of pop classicism to enrich your culturally barren little lives. And guess what? The Bees (as they're known to the rest of the civilized world) look and sound absolutely nothing like Franz Ferdinand or the Futureheads. That's right-no references to post-punk funk, no skinny ties and no "ironic" haircuts. Nope, the vibe here is one of psychedelic wonderment, and it's fantastic. Admittedly, the band does look like a bunch of filthy, soap-dodging hippies-but don't let that put you off. Like a more direct and less willfully obscure Beta Band, this is the sound of a band hitting its stride, tipping an exuberant nod to the past while looking forward to the future with wit, confidence and invention. A- (Neil Ferguson)
from the vaults
The New Tony Williams Lifetime
Million Dollar Legs
If you grew up in the '70s, chances are you were doing some weird shit. Back in the Me Decade, everybody was experimenting one way or another-including jazzmen. Already considered a young dynamo when he played with Miles Davis in the '60s, jazz drummer Tony Williams established his own group, the Tony Williams Lifetime (which also included Ron Carter on bass and late Larry Young on organ), and went on trippy, exploratory jazz-rock fusion journeys on such albums as Emergency! and Ego. By the mid-'70s he revamped his Lifetime lineup, this time adding guitar great Allan Holdsworth into the mix, and went for a more structured jazz-rock sound. The two albums that followed, Believe It and Million Dollar Legs, had Williams and his crew sounding like they were ready to play an arena instead of a jazz club. On Believe such compositions as "Fred," "Wildlife" and "Mr. Spock" are heady, consistently groovy numbers highlighted by Williams' amazing drumming skills and Holdsworth's strong guitar work. Legs was even poppier than Believe, with Williams throwing in horns and even his own vocals on some tracks. The opener "Sweet Revenge" begins with a crazy plowing bassline that's so reminiscent of the Knack's one hit "My Sharona," it makes you wonder if they ripped it off. Sadly, Williams died at 51 of a heart attack in '97. But with these albums he hipped his listeners to a truism people often greet with apprehension: One should always be open to experimentation. (C.D.L.)