Unveiling Something Bigg At The African Place

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

My homeboy Otis Logan is one of Memphis’ best young drummers, so when he told me he would be playing for a singer named Bigg Smith at The African Place, I was intrigued, as I didn’t know the singer or the venue, but I made plans to attend. As it turned out, The African Place is the former Cafe 581 which had an extremely brief run about four years ago, and it is not usually a music venue, but rather more of a shop/gallery for imported African goods. All the same, the place was packed to overflowing, with a very small space for the band. The show opened with a few songs from an R & B singer named Lamar, but Bigg Smith proved to be an amazingly talented singer, with a warm voice that exudes confidence, and the backing band was first-rate as well. Smith’s repertoire included some originals, as well as covers ranging from Aretha Franklin to Jeffrey Osborne. All too soon it was over, but it was a Friday evening well-spent.


A Memphis Rap Jam for Christmas at the Hi-Tone

001 I Love Memphis002 The Band003 Walawyse004 Walawyse005 Walawyse006 Walawyse007 Walawyse008 Walawyse009 Tori WhoDat010 Tori WhoDat011 Tori WhoDat012 Tori WhoDat013 Tori WhoDat014 Tori WhoDat015 Tori WhoDat016 Tori WhoDat017 Tori WhoDat018 Tori WhoDat020 The Drummer022 DJ Bay023 Lloyd Anderson025 Al Kapone & Tune C026 DJ Zirk & Al Kapone027 Young AJ028 Young AJ & Al Kapone029 Young AJ & Al Kapone030 Young AJ, Tune C & Al Kapone031 Young AJ, Al Kapone & Tune C032 Young AJ & Al Kapone033 DJ Zirk034 Al Kapone & Young AJ035 Young AJ & Al Kapone036 Tune C037 Frost, G & Tune C038 Frayser Boy039 Frayser Boy040 Frayser Boy041 Hi-Tone042 Frayser Boy043 Tune C044 Tune C
Two days before Christmas, the Hi-Tone in Midtown Memphis was the scene of an all-star gala rap show with a live band, featuring many of Memphis’ best lyricists, old and new. The DJ and announcer for the occasion was none other than Radio MemphisDJ Bay, and the line-up of performers included such Memphis icons as Tori Whodat, Al Kapone and Frayser Boy, as well as guest appearances from Memphis veterans like DJ Zirk. But there were also some outstanding new artists in the house, including a new Memphis rapper named Wala Wyse who was quite impressive, as well as the solo debut of Tune C, Al Kapone’s long-time hype man and a former member of the 1990’s hip-hop group NationWide. Tune performed his new single “Naturally”, one of five recent songs that have been recorded toward his upcoming album The Great Flood. Also fun was an impromptu collaboration between the band’s drummer and DJ Bay during an extended break between live acts. Such drum/DJ duets have caught on in markets like New York, Vegas and Miami, but have not been seen as often in the Memphis market. Altogether, it was a cheerful holiday tribute to our city’s hip-hop past and future.


Soul Renaissance: Leon Bridges Live at the White Water Tavern in Little Rock

001 White Water Tavern Schedule007 Leon Bridges008 Leon Bridges009 Leon Bridges010 Leon Bridges011 Leon Bridges012 Leon Bridges013 Leon Bridges014 Leon Bridges015 Leon Bridges016 Leon Bridges017 Leon Bridges018 Leon Bridges019 Leon Bridges020 Leon Bridges021 Leon Bridges022 Leon Bridges023 Leon Bridges024 Leon Bridges025 Leon Bridges026 Leon Bridges027 Leon Bridges028 Leon Bridges029 Leon Bridges030 Leon Bridges031 Leon Bridges
It’s hard to believe that only a couple of months ago I had never heard of Leon Bridges. Of course, the Fort Worth-based soul singer had already been doing things and beginning to make moves, but he somehow didn’t hit my radar until one of my favorite Mid-South venues, Tupelo’s Blue Canoe sent me an email in January triumphantly announcing that they had booked the up-and-coming young soul star in March, with all the enthusiasm of a record collector proudly showing off his newly-acquired copy of some rare 45 single. And the analogy is apt, because Leon Bridges and his band carefully craft the aesthetics of 1964-era classic soul and rhythm and blues (not R & B). His original compositions have that flavor, and even the appearance and dress style of him and his band members reinforce the retro feel. Not that this is entirely unprecedented, because the last few years have seen the emergence of a number of these types of groups, from Alabama Shakes to St. Paul and the Broken Bones, to J. C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound, to even James Hunter. And in some ways, Bridges and his band have points of similarity with all of that, and yet, Bridges is so young, his band so dynamic and tight, his compositions so personal (the newest released song “Lisa Sawyer” is a musical biography of his mother), his guitar playing so exquisite, that he is something at once familiar and yet brand new.
Freshly back from Europe, Bridges returned to the states with a Monday-night gig at Little Rock’s White Water Tavern, a venerable dive bar that happens to feature some of Arkansas’ best live music. It was in some ways a strange choice of venue, but Leon Bridges’ record label, Last Chance Records is based in Little Rock, and it was also a strange choice of night for a concert, but it is a tribute to Bridges’ rising popularity that the Monday night event was completely sold out, and he played to a standing-room-only crowd.
The building blocks of Leon’s magic are astoundingly simple. His band consists of guitar (two of them when he plays), bass, drums, a saxophonist and three female singers. His voice exudes a youthful naivety and innocence that is eminently appealing, and as he sings of his desire to “come home” to his sweetheart, you could almost imagine that you had been transported back to 1965. While only three songs are currently available commercially, Bridges performed far more on this night, with moods that ran the gamut from 6/8 soul ballads to 1950’s R & B, and lyrics that frequently mention the Mississippi River, New Orleans, even being washed clean from sins, the timeless themes of the South, white or Black. At show’s end, it was hard to imagine that the smiling, humble kid we were meeting is a star, but his single “Coming Home” was the most-donwloaded song in the world last week. And that suggests something exciting- perhaps soul music is finally “coming home.”

Keep up with Leon Bridges:

http://www.leonbridges.com

https://www.facebook.com/LeonBridgesOfficial
https://instagram.com/leonbridgesofficial/
https://www.youtube.com/user/LeonBridgesVEVO

Keep up with Last Chance Records:

Last Chance Records


https://www.facebook.com/pages/Last-Chance-Records/397436315023

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcoOeXtbyA-sf0aeWAQOctQ
http://www.reverbnation.com/label/lastchancerecords

Keep up with the White Water Tavern:

http://www.whitewatertavern.com
https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-White-Water-Tavern/308817294918







The Amazing Adventures of Adam WarRock (@eugewarrock)

Chances are, even if you live in Memphis, you’ve probably never heard of Adam WarRock. Had he not been on this year’s South By Southwest line-up, I might have never encountered him, but when I watched one of his videos and noticed that it was filmed on Beale Street, I was intrigued, and some further research revealed that he is indeed from Memphis. But Adam WarRock is fairly different from any other rapper working in Memphis today. With a somewhat nerdy, geeky approach to hip-hop, WarRock often raps about comic books or his favorite television shows, and he has no reservations about rapping over hit instrumentals to do it. His EP Parks and Recreation references one of his favorite television shows, and one of his songs is entitled “Marvel vs. DC”. But Adam WarRock is neither a jokester nor a gimmicky artist. He has tremendous skillz, and his new EP title City Beautiful (Memphis was the nation’s “City Beautiful” for many years in the era of E. H. Crump) suggests a depth of meaning that reflects on Memphis as a city. Adam WarRock will be performing at the Flamingo Cantina during SXSW at 10:05 PM on March 12. His music can be downloaded by visiting his website at http://www.adamwarrock.com/.

The Amazing Latasha Lee (@latashaleesings) “So Blind”


The homie @DJBay at Select-O-Hits introduced me to this amazing singer from Texas named Latasha Lee, who is working the same kind of retro soul vein that brought the late Amy Winehouse to prominence. “So Blind” is Latasha Lee’s most recent video, and the song benefits greatly from Salih Williams’ throwback track that recreates something of a 60’s ambience. While Lee’s earlier work was in a more traditional R & B and Texas rap zone (some of the early songs actually have screwed-and-chopped versions!) the atmosphere of soul nostalgia hangs over all her more recent songs. Latasha Lee is an incredible talent that deserves wider recognition.