Boogiemporium: Top 11 Soul Rebirth Albums

Sitting here on the day of rapture and feeling like a list this morning. Figured the day of rapture was a good day to get up early, but let the lovely wife sleep in. Actually, Ellison wanted to get one last good meal in at 5:15am. I granted her that request. Figured it was a small request in the grand scheme of things.

This morning’s Boogiemporium (fittingly after a long hiatus for Boogiemporium) tackles the surging marketplace of soul rebirth albums now flooding the marketplace. “Soul rebirth” really started gaining momentum in early in the 00’s as conventional soul music became glossier and more polished. The major label soul/R&B game was morphing into a weird genre-twisting blend of hip hop and R&B whose song structure dissolved down to the lowest common denominator and whose lyrics typically bordered on PG-13/R-rated sexuality. Smokey Robinson was on his fifth or sixth facelift, Otis Redding’s legacy forgotten and soul’s rich history was being compiled and condensed into a conveniently sized and storable digital format, robbing it of it’s original richness and magnitude and where it could be sold on late-night informercials like some uncool, insignificant and irrelevant flash in the pan or hawked on iTunes as a two-for-the-price of one genre bought with fake Monopoly money. And the faded and all-but-gone influences of Motown and Stax left a vacancy in the marketplace for appreciators of pure soul music.

Lucky for the listening public, however, there was a small army of labels, vinyl curators, saucy A&Rs, hip hop heads and flavor-of-the-month hipster suckas that would, from the depths, begin a rumbling that eventually see itself return to prominence. By enlisting soul brothers from a new generation of musicians and singers who were undeniably influenced and other artists who were busting out of retirement in hope of recapturing some of that glory like George Foreman, the movement had names, voices and a definable sound. They were still faceless, really, until a girl named Amy Winehouse started taking home Grammys by the armload in 2008. To the popular music world, this marked a genesis in the genre, however, by that point, the train was moving full steam ahead and Amy was simply a convenient and marketable option for radio to latch onto.

Because Raising Elle likes you and values you, we’re gonna compile a list of the definitive records of the genre. While I hate sub-genre and would like to simply call them “soul” records, the reality is that they’re not. Reluctantly, they have to be called what they are. It’s a soul revival. Their influences are undeniable and unarguable. It’s not like you can ignore that there was a 30-year gap in the genre.

The cool thing about much of these recording is that Ellison seems to have taken fancy to the genre and, being that they’re free of bump-and-grind dancefloor humping and, for dad, are driven by real musicians, not drum machines and autotune, it’s something he can get down to too. It’s fun for the whole family which is why you’re reading about it here. So, here’s a shallow pocket of recordings to get with. If you enjoy what you hear, keep digging. This represents a small stack of the goodness that’s out there. Get it while it lasts though because inevitably, the hipsters will be leaving town soon and they’ll be forgetting about the names you’re about to read and once the hipsters (who didn’t know Cee Lo was a rapper about twenty years ago) move onto a new pile of carcasses to piss on, the label revenues dry up like playa lakes in the Texas panhandle and writers act like you’re the ugly girl at the dance.

So, here it is, the top 11 Soul Rebirth albums in twenty words or less.

Mayer Hawthorne’s Strange Arrangement (Stones Throw, 2009)

Smooth soul nerd recreates Smokey and Sam Cooke in this tasty and infinitely listenable longplayer making mad lullabies.

John Legend & The Roots’ Wake Up! (Columbia, 2010)

Well-intended pairing of the each genre’s top players. Fulfilling listen, but leaves a lot on table still. Baby Huey!

Kings Go Forth’s Outsiders are Back (Luaka Bop, 2010)

Badness from Milwaukee. Kings are just nasty. Channelling Curtis, Otis, the JBs and Temptations. Beautiful record.

Poets of Rhythm’s Discern/Define (Quannum, 2001)

Mostly exquisite instrumentals. Harnessing the best of JBs and the Meters. Get down to this with the whole family.

Bettye Lavette’s I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise (Anti, 2005)

Dirty and bluesy rebirth record from one of the finest. Exorcising demons with angelic magnificence.

El Michels’ Affair’s Enter the 37th Chamber (Fat Beats, 2009)

The only Wu-Tang I’d recommend for children. They recreate RZA with blend of Bar Kays and blaxploitation. So dope.

Lee Fields and the Expressions’ My World (Truth and Soul, 2009)

Ragged veteran blows the dust off with a new band and absolutely kills it with this monster LP.

Manahan Street Band’s Make the Road By Walking (Daptone, 2008)

El Michels at it again. From largo to staccato funk, it’s uncut and oozing with cool.

Aloe Blacc’s Good Things (Stones Throw, 2010)

Polished offering from soul refugee from hip hop’s independent scene. Good listen and bona fide crowd pleaser.

The Heavy’s House That Dirt Built (Counter, 2009)

Definitive kitchen-sink album with mass appeal. Fun from top to bottom and charming as hell.

The Mighty Imperials’ Thunder Chicken (Daptone, 2004)

Unmistakable Meters influence. Heavy drums, just plain nasty organ and altogether raw blistering funk. This thing is a muddah.


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