Monarch Music Minute: Mavis Staples, PnB Rock, Eric Johnson
Adam Flores | Senior Writer
Mavis Staples – ‘If All I Was Was Black’ 💿 💿 💿 💿 💿
In her eighth decade as a vocalist, Mavis Staples new 11-track collection, “If All I Was Was Black,” teams up with longtime friend and Wilco frontman, Jeff Tweedy. For the rhythm and blues/gospel singer and civil rights activist, this is her 16th studio album featuring all 11 songs written by Tweedy.
The new album “bring[s] us all together as a people. That’s what I hope to do. You can’t stop me. You can’t break me. I’m too loving. These songs are going to change the world,” Staples said.
Both take on the current state of ongoing racial tensions and conflicts in America today, a condition Staples knows all-too-well touring the gospel circuit in her younger years with The Staple Singers.
“I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself–that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on,” Tweedy said.
Stellar in its voice and presentation, “We didn’t make the songs point to a specific person. If you follow the lyrics it’s about yesterday and today,” Staples said.
PnB Rock – ‘Catch These Vibes’ 💿 💿 💿
Rakim Hasheem Allen, better known as hip-hop and R&B rapper and singer PnB Rock, has dropped his debut studio album, “Catch These Vibes,” which features guest appearances by Wiz Khalifa, Lil Yachty and A Boogie wit da Hoodie, among others.
Influenced by hip-hop and gangsta rap artist Tupac Shakur (2Pac) and R&B/hip-hop soul/new jack swing quartet Jodeci, Rock crafted these elements within the new LP’s lead single, “Feelins,” and the second single, “Issues (feat. Russ),” giving fans a glimpse into the new record’s tone and feel.
Within Rock’s past mixtapes, he stayed in his comfort zone incorporating beats around 100 bpm with cruise-control vocal delivery. “Vibes” takes him somewhat out of his comfort zone. “TTM” with Khalifa and NGHTMRE explores the track’s two-step tendencies. “Scrub” is a groovacious track containing lush piano pads and big synth bass bottom with Rock crooning via a touch of Kanye Auto-Tune.
From track to track, Rock continually changes up each song’s hue exploring different sonic palettes keeping things fresh throughout which is the strength of “Vibes.” His continual use of explicatives and hyper-sexualization (e.g., “Face”) is the new album’s downfall. A more mature narrative would heighten PnB Rock’s musical offering within “Catch These Vibes.”
Eric Johnson – ‘Collage’ 💿 💿 💿 💿
Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuoso and tone-chaser Eric Johnson presents “Collage,” his 10th studio compilation. The Austin, Texas, native and musician, singer-songwriter and producer continues his quest delivering masterful guitar arrangements and performances throughout the new album.
As “one of the most respected guitarists on the planet” according to Guitar Player magazine, the new record continues to showcase Johnson’s multifaceted musicianship.
Lead track “Up Tight (Everything’s Alright)” sets the pace on “Collage” with Johnson singing and taking simple musical forms into new directions through smooth voice leading on the guitar along with tasteful solo improvisations.
“Pipeline” updates The Ventures classic instrumental track with harmonically rich chordal passages and classic Johnson lead guitar frenzy while another cover, “We Can Work It Out,” revisits a classic Beatles’ track à la Johnson.
“Morning Sun” and “To Love You” slow the pace down a bit with Johnson’s pristine chordal guitar work shining through the mix. “Stratagem” showcases and revisits his “Cliffs of Dover” energy and vibe. “One Rainy Wish” further exemplifies his prowess on acoustic guitar, deviating momentarily from the album’s predominant, electric tones.
Eric Johnson’s “Collage” excels musically yet needed a stronger tonal presence vocally to elevate the message and verve of certain songs.
💿 – Face palm.
💿 💿 – Eh…
💿 💿 💿 – We’re getting there.
💿 💿 💿 💿 – I’ll listen to it twice, even.
💿 💿 💿 💿 💿 – Hell yes!