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Kim Nalley | Blues People

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Blues: Classic Female Blues Jazz: Soul-Jazz Moods: Type: Vocal
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Blues People

by Kim Nalley

Long-awaited Blues CD by acclaimed Jazz vocalist Kim Nalley contains originals, protest, love and goodtime songs capturing the many dimensions of the Black experience.
Genre: Blues: Classic Female Blues
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Summertime
6:00 $0.99
2. Big Hooded Black Man
2:22 $0.99
3. Trouble of the World (Acoustic Version)
3:59 $0.99
4. Listen Here! / Cold Duck / Compared to What?
6:27 $0.99
5. Movin' On Up
6:58 $0.99
6. Never Make Your Move Too Soon
4:50 $0.99
7. Sugar in My Bowl
4:12 $0.99
8. Trombone Song (Big Long Sliding Thing)
6:00 $0.99
9. Ferguson Blues
4:51 $0.99
10. Trouble of the World (Organ Version)
4:10 $0.99
11. The Chair Song (If I Can't Sell It)
9:11 $0.99
12. Sunday Kind of Love
3:34 $0.99
13. Amazing Grace
4:08 $0.99
14. I Shall Be Released
4:45 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Blues People captures an extraordinary singer at the height of her amazing vocal and artistic powers. The mood and substance throughout — indeed the album in its entirety — reveal a singer who can not only sing awesomely, but also, a singer who can “really sang,” as those in the know like to say. Bold in vision and beautifully executed, Nalley’s Blues People is a deep musical mediation on an insightful interpretation of African American history and culture advanced over fifty years ago by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) in his seminal Blues People: Negro Music in White America. In that influential book, Baraka argued that African Americans, as best revealed in their various highly original and widely influential musical forms, were fundamentally a Blues People. By that, Baraka meant the blues were in fact a fully realized culture, or way of life, that encompasses the totality of their historical and day-to-day experiences.

Kim Nalley’s Blues People commands attention. While this fine album builds upon Baraka’s insight, it does so in strikingly brilliant, fresh, and gripping ways. It is engaging, engaged, and highly listenable. Nalley’s Blues People admirably succeeds as both a provocative and pleasurable musical exploration of the blues, in particular their centrality and multidimensionality. For Nalley, as for Baraka, the blues range across the full continuum of human experience: sacred and secular; love and hate; joy and sadness; success and failure; highs and lows, and, the infinite crossings and mixes of these human fundamentals. Equally important, the blues are about struggle, endurance, survival, all too often “making a way where there is no way,” and transcendence. Ultimately, the blues are about what art historian Robert Farris Thompson identifies as the aesthetic of the cool: going through life with grace and style, whatever one’s station or immediate situation.

Nalley’s Blues People artfully presents the blues as complex yet cool. Throughout, the dynamic interplay among Nalley’s lush voice, expansive vocal range, exceptional musicianship, and an eclectic yet excellent set of tunes create a delightful musical tapestry. Particularly noteworthy is Nalley’s ability to do what the very best singers have always done — use these songs as vehicles to tell movingly and meaningfully stories that demand telling. Three aspects of her exemplary musical artistry are compellingly communicated and heard here. First, Nalley, the consummate vocalist and band leader, is in total control throughout, breathing exciting new life into standards and favorites as well as invitingly presenting several of her own original tunes, displaying a noteworthy songwriting talent. Second, each individual song, she vividly shows, is a compelling story in its own right, shedding light on some aspect of the multi-dimensional world of Blues People. Second, taken together, these songs perceptively explore revealing aspects of the history and lived experiences of Blues People. As shown here, that history and those experiences are at once utterly unique and utterly common.

The band is hot. Tammy Hall on piano and organ, Greg Skaff on guitar, Michael Zisman on bass, Kent Bryson on drums, and Bryan Dyer, who provides background vocals, are critical ingredients of the musical and artistic triumph of Nalley’s Blues People. Demonstrating their impeccable musical chops, individually and collectively, they masterfully explore Blues People’s diverse and challenging sonic landscape. The mutually enriching interaction between the band and Nalley’s far-reaching vocals is pervasive. Indeed together they create and, in turn, advance the album’s rich, multi-layered, and intensely pleasurable sonic universe.
Nalley’s forceful and energetic version of “Summertime” invites the listener into the harsh world of domestic and agricultural labor that decisively shaped African Americans’ lives for most of their post-emancipation experience. While artfully ranging vocally and emotionally, Nalley demands that we think seriously about the life struggles of working class African American women who have not only cared for the children of wealthy white families, but also picked their cotton. In an especially caustic and growly moment, she asks us pointedly to think about the glaring inequality between these black and white worlds and the ways in which white economic privilege rests squarely upon the exploitation of black labor.

In striking contrast, Nalley offers an infectious version of “Movin’ On Up,” the theme song of the popular African American sitcom “The Jeffersons” (1975-1985). Especially since the advances of the recent Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, fully a third of African American families have achieved middle class status, often as Nalley’s vocals and the song emphasizes, as the result of mighty struggle. I recently heard Nalley perform this tune live to a wildly enthusiastic audience, which knew the lyrics by heart and delightedly joined Nalley in a rousing back-and-forth homage to upward mobility and economic success, that of African Americans and others.

Perhaps most striking, though, while rightfully taking note of African American success, Nalley’s Blues People demonstrates a clear commitment to the enduring demand for resistance and protest as ways to help alleviate persistent racial injustices. Nalley’s “Listen Here/Cold Duck/Compared to What” really “cooks,” calling to mind the memorable originals by saxophonist Eddie Harris and pianist-vocalist Les McCann. The original epitomized the crying need for continued collective African American struggle for justice and equality in the late 1960s era of Black Power. “Big Hooded Black Man” is a heartfelt and forceful Nalley original, in which she deftly uses her extensive range, notably her powerful lower vocal register, to help plumb the depths of the complicated racial politics surrounding the 2012 killing of seventeen year-old black youth Trayvon Martin by a mixed race man, often identified as white, who claimed to be acting in self-defense. The song vividly captures the history of demonization, criminalization, and terrorization that has hounded African Americans generally, African American men specifically, and the impact of that awful history in this particular tragedy. Similarly, in “Ferguson Blues,” another strong Nalley original, she sings movingly about both the firm commitment to justice and the understandable anger fueling the racial turmoil that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the killing of eighteen year-old black Michael Brown in 2014 by a white policeman under contested circumstances.

Nalley offers two hauntingly beautiful versions of the Mahalia Jackson classic, “Trouble of the World,” as laments for the ancestors as well as for those like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown who tragically left us way too early. In both versions, the first honoring Martin and the second honoring Brown, Nalley channels Mahalia and revels in her own intense gospel connection. In the first version, the one for Trayvon, Nalley uses her lower register especially effectively to offer an achingly emotional reading. In the second, the one for Michael, she uses her upper register especially effectively to offer an achingly ethereal reading. Both sonically and musically reveal the pain, the struggle, and the transcendence that have historically shaped the worlds of Blues People. Nalley vocally navigates, and in turn transforms, the history of that pain, struggle, and transcendence in her inspired renditions of the penultimate African American religious touchstone, “Amazing Grace,” and, Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” In the latter, Nalley strikingly channels Nina Simone’s classic rendition of Dylan’s song. Nalley’s moving vocal explorations of the religious dimensions of the worlds of Blues People bear profound witness to the deep sacred spirit and equally deep-seated spiritual resources at the heart of those worlds.

In her marvelous singing throughout, Nalley shows that precisely because of all they know and experience, Blues People necessarily understand the need for and wholeheartedly engage in the unending search for pleasure, love, and happiness. For them, as Nalley demonstrates, the alleged tension between the sacred and the secular might be real, but that tension must not prevent one from enjoying life. Nowhere is this clearer than in the best of the Blues women and men, who revel in the unending human search for pleasure, love, and happiness.

Nalley reveals exceptional blues chops. Substantively as well as stylistically, she is a first-rate singer of all kinds of blues, or “Grown Folks Music” — a recent branding of varieties of blues — notably, songs that delight in sensuality, sex, and the infinite complexities of interpersonal relationships. Nalley’s rocking version of B.B. King’s “Never Make Your Move Too Soon, ” pays sincere yet rollicking homage to the legendary “King of the Blues,” who influenced her own performance style, in particular her keen storytelling sensibility and her engaging stage patter. Indeed, as she reminds us, while “movin’ on up,” one must never “move too soon.”

Blues People is a first-rate showcase for Nalley’s fresh and vibrant yet evocative and historically-informed and culturally-informed blues vocals. Deeply enmeshed in the awesome tradition of classic African American women vocalists, Nalley’s voice glows with originality and authenticity as well as respect for the legendary vocalists, especially the women, who have so profoundly influenced her. In songs identified with Bessie Smith —“Sugar In My Bowl”; Dinah Washington — “Trombone Song (Big Long Sliding Thing”; and, Ruth Brown — “The Chair Song If I Can’t Sell It),” Nalley healthily and heartily embraces woman’s pleasure and sexuality. As such, she musically excels at the double entendre and sassiness of the lyrics and the imaginative vocal possibilities that both invite. With her sensitive rendition of “Sunday Kind of Love,” a song identified with Etta James, Nalley taps into the music’s tender yet wizened qualities.

With “Amazing Grace” followed by “I Shall Be Released,” Nalley’s Blues People do not just leave us. Rather, they linger. In lingering, they endow us — or heard another way, haunt us, indeed trouble us — with an abiding sense of affirmation, hope, and redemption.

Nalley’s renditions of these well-chosen songs speak both to the distinctiveness of African American history and culture and the highly illuminating ways in which that history and culture ultimately speak to the human condition. Blues People illustrates Nalley’s penetrating command of the broader histories and traditions that inform her music, the musical histories and traditions that inform her vocal art, and the dynamic interactions between them. As Nalley effortlessly shapes, bends, and spins notes and lyrics, as she moves equally effortlessly across octaves and keys, the ups and downs, highs and lows, prospects and perils of Blues People come alive. The sighs, shouts, moans, groans, and shrieks as well as the exciting call-and-response with her outstanding band not only give the album a gritty, downhome feel. These elements also reveal a searching exploration of both the distinctive and universal qualities of the worlds of Blues People.

Waldo E. Martin, Jr.
Berkeley, California
July 6, 2015



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