Posts Tagged ‘Top 5’

Top 5 Soul Females

Aretha Franklin

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Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul because she oozes the ache and pain of soul music in every note she sings and every key she plays.  Aretha’s is a kind of effortless vocal perfection that deserves to be associated with the only musical format named for what gives us life.  From her days as a child singing and playing in the church choir to her early break out success as an R&B singer, Aretha feels whatever she is singing and in that truth lies what makes her music soul.  There’s no acting when she talks about being in,  “a chain of fools” and there is no duplicating her sincerity when she cries out, “You make me feel like a natural woman.”  Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is one of the most celebrated Grammy artists of all time.  This music legend is still recording and just released a new album,  A Woman Falling Out of Love. Aretha has sung us through the complications of being women and she has a song for every up and down that’s in it.  That’s soul.

Nina Simone

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Take a walk down the dank alleys of jazz, sit in the darkest corner of blues, lie naked on a cold theatre’s stage and in that space is where you find the soul that is Nina Simone.  While her music may cross numerous genres her voice belongs to one, soul.  Nina was a complex vocalist with a graduate student’s approach to this often-elementary music industry.  The consummate underground sensation, Nina found her audience was folk with discrete tastes and the balls to sing, “Mississippi Goddamn!” in mixed company.  The proof of her originality is this… how many times have you heard someone say, “That singer is the next Nina Simone.”

Gladys Knight

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I can’t pick one Gladys Knight song, or one moment that sealed this singer’s place in my heart as one of the best.  When I was a child it seemed like Gladys Knight and the Pips were just everywhere, if it was a hit either they or Lou Rawls were singing it.  The crossover success of this singer lies in the uniqueness of her voice.  Just like the other women on this list, Gladys has an unmistakable sound.  Gladys also has a delivery that is all her own.  When she sings a song she respects it and tells its story with a refinement that sets her a part from most soul singers who proved their girth by screaming their way through lyrics.  With Gladys it was never about how high or how long she could hold a note.  It was about communicating a feeling while using one of the most comforting and soulful voices in soul music to do it.

Mavis Staples

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Mavis Staples sang, “I’ll take you there,” and her vocal power suggested you had no choice but to go.  Mavis gained national attention in the 60’s as the lead singer of the Staples Singers.  Her raspy lower octave confused listeners who didn’t benefit from a face to face via one of the Staples Singers church tours.  Was this a little boy singing with the power of a god?  No, it was a little girl fronting her family’s gospel group and as they crossed from Negro spirituals, into gospel into soul music; her androgynous vocals painted the 70’s with some of its most memorable tunes.  Yes, let’s do it again and again!

Etta James

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Etta James elevated Chess Records above blues, beyond R&B and straight into soul when she sang out, “At last my love has come along.”  Singer-songwriter Etta James was soul even as she sang the blues. James is a multi grammy winning, Rock and Roll, Blues and Grammy Hall of Fame Inductee.  While so much music that was once considered great has come and gone, Etta James has been charming generation after generation with her classic expression of how good it is when your “Man” finally comes along.  That sentiment helped knock down the door for sisters to feel free and sing about how they love as blues and R&B developed into soul and crossed over into the mainstream.

 

 

Top 5 Neo-Soul Females

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Erykah Badu

One of my favorite albums, across all music genres, is Erykah Badu’sMomma’s Gun.”  I honestly believe it’s one of the last true albums produced; and by that I mean it’s not a collection of singles… it’s a well-arranged production of songs.  Erykah is the mother of Neo-Soul;  I say this because she was the first major female Neo-soul artist, and has also “birthed” a number of new Neo-soul singers.   A couple of her background singers, N’Dambi and Yahzarah, have gone on to be hit makers in the genre as well… like Badu said, “[she] goes on and on and on and on.”

Badu calls her self an “analog girl in a digital world,” but that’s just her modesty.  She’s actually one of the most forward thinking and creative artists in music today.  A good songwriter can express the words and thoughts that you may feel everyday but don’t know how to say on your own; that’s why we love good music, it’s relatable.  A good singer can bring well-written lyrics to life; they have soul and passion.  A musician finds the notes to tie it all together…  but an artist is all this and more.  Whatever has created Erykah Badu, I love it.  She is a fantastic mix of flawed yet unapologetic womanhood.  She strips herself bare, sometimes literally, and shares her soul.  I don’t hear artists paying tribute to Badu or crediting her genius and influence, but isn’t that always the way for women?  The industry may not appreciate her now, but it will.  Maybe what’s really going on is she is the digital girl and we’re stuck in an analog world.

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Jill Scott

When the “Who is Jill Scott” album was first released, I put it in my car’s CD changer and didn’t take it out for like two years.  From her soft vocals echoing hope of lasting love to her screams of celebration, “Who is Jill Scott” is a classic album.  While I obviously love her recordings there is nothing like Jill Scott live.  She writes with the soul of a poet, performs with the intensity of a dramatic actress and sings like a goddess… I would say an angel, but I don’t’ think angels bring it like “Jilly from Philly.”  When her heart is broken, yours breaks too.  When she’s in love, you can’t wait to feel the same way.  That’s what Philadelphia soul has always done and that’s what flows through Jill Scott, from her hair follicles to her toenails.

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Ledisi

Not since Sly and the Family Stone has a sound so raw and real come out of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Ledisi’s vocals can make you want to kick off your shoes in celebration or ball up in the corner and cry.  In her music, she asks the hard and serious questions aloud that so many women keep inside like; “How am I going to pay my bills?”  and “Will you be there in the morning?”  She is a down-home “gal” from the left coast and represents for the everyday sister everywhere.

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Amel Larrieux

Now here lies the voice of an Angel. From the first time Amel Larrieux sweetly said, “Tell me if you want me to give you all my time,” the answer was a resounding yes from music fans everywhere. This singer, songwriter, musician and producer, began as a member of Groove Theory in the 90’s and has since become a solo, Neo-soul staple. Her sweet, soft and often pain stricken vocals always seem to feel a little melancholy even when she’s singing a happy song. She was a part of pioneering Neo-soul and continues to perform it better than most.

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Me`shell Ndegeocello

From the fist time I heard Me`shell Ndegeocello’s low moan over her sensual bass guitar I thought, “Thank you God for sending my generation the music of Ndegeocello.”  She was so wonderfully retro-soul it almost seemed like a cosmic mistake.

Originally from the DC area, she flirts with hints of go-go in her percussion-driven up-tempo songs but is obviously in a serious relationship with soul.  She is a visual and stimulating songwriter; I can see what she’s describing and I can feel what she’s feeling.  My favorite Me`shell song changes from time-to-time, but my top two would be Outside Your Door and Rush Over.  These are literally two of my favorite songs of all time and there are quite a few other Me`shell songs that would easily go in my Top 50.  This musician, singer, songwriter is simply amazing and if you haven’t heard her album “Bitter,” get it immediately.  From the first note to the last, it is one of the most haunting R&B, Neo-Soul, Funk, Soul compilations ever!  And “Bitter” is great after a hard break up… just stay away from all sharp objects while you listen.

Top 5 R&B Male Singers

Marvin Gaye

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Marvin Gaye’s silky voice, groundbreaking lyrics, compositions and fight for artistic control have inspired an entire generation of musicians.  In my opinion, Marvin’s influence birthed neo-soul long before the genre or even some of its artists existed.  Marvin walked the line between sex and political relevance before we knew there was a line to be walked; and he did so as a man.  He set the stage; he showed way.

Luther Vandross

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My favorite thing about Luther Vandross was his ability to take an old song and make it completely his own.  His vocal styling, arrangements and attention to detail were always in a class by itself.  When I really began paying attention to music as a teen, Luther is who I played over and over again.  In R&B music he is to me what The Godfather is to film, the standard.

 

Eddie Kendricks

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As founding member and original lead singer of The TemptationsEddie Kendricks‘ falsetto changed the sound of American music.  As a solo artist, he created some of the most sampled music of today.  On the day of Michael Jackson‘s death, in an interview Smokey Robinson listed Kendricks right behind Marvin Gaye as an example of another great artists gone too soon.

Will Downing

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Will Downing’s sexy low octaves can tickle a song or grab it tightly; wherever he decides to take you, you know it’s going to be good.  From jazz standards to R&B classics, Will is one of the most underrated talents in music.

Alexander O’Neal

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R&B needs Alexander O’Neal back.  His rough and rugged vocals cut through the refinement of male R&B singers in the 80’s.  He was a muse for producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis; it showed in every song they produced for him.  Alex’s vocal interpretation of their lyrics is one of a kind and his adlibs are flawless.