You don’t need a hi- fi or transistor radio to groove to the music of these artists today
“THEY DON’T MAKE MUSIC LIKE THEY USED TO.”
Truth is, a growing number of musicians are making music today that might make your wonder if you’ve somehow traveled in a time machine back to the 1960s or ’70s. Surely, you think, this is a group I just happened to miss back then. It’s music that sounds as if it should have been played on your transistor radio, hi-fi or even a boom box.
You might not hear these artists on radio stations today, but they’re out there.
Disco is not dead.
Neither is soul.
And neither is rock, in all its magical mutations.
This overview of retro-sounding musicians is by no means all-inclusive, but it’s a good look at some of what’s out there.
Here’s who’s making yesterday’s sounds today.
Listen to Raphael Saadiq, and you’ll swear he’s a Motown artist from 40 or 50 years ago. (With his lanky body, short hair and black-rimmed glasses, he even looks like David Ruffin and sounds like Eddie Kendricks, back when The Temptations were starting out.)
Raphael Saadiq, above, formerly of Tony! Toni! Tone!, below.
COLUMBIA RECORDS / Mr. Saadiq was one-third of Tony! Toni! Tone! in the late 1980s and ’90s. Now he’s a solo act, with songs that sound like Holland-Dozier-Holland or Smokey Robinson compositions, filled with tambourine, hand clapping and falsetto.
Mr. Saadiq’s 2008 album, “The Way I See It,” earned three Grammy nominations, and a special collector’s edition box set contained the songs on 45s. At the 2011 Grammys, he and his band backed Mick Jagger’s tribute performance of Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.”
A critically praised follow-up album, “Stone Rollin’,” was released last year.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
FEDERICO CANTONI / COURTESY PHOTO This guy’s the real deal.
If raw soul is your thing, check out Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Her powerful and expressive voice has been compared to early Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Irma Thomas. And the Dap-Kings, a 10-piece band with a killer horn section, sound as if they’re straight out of Stax Records in Memphis. (In fact, Amy Winehouse used them for her band, and they were responsible for giving her that retro sound.)
The group records on Daptone Records in Brooklyn, N.Y., using vintage equipment.
Ms. Jones appeared on-screen and on the soundtrack of “The Great Debate,” and her version of “This Land is Your Land” was in the Oscar-winning movie “Up in the Air.”
She and her band have opened for Prince at shows in New York City, Paris and Ghent. Their latest album, “I Learned the Hard Way,” came out in 2010 and landed the No. 15 spot on the Billboard 200 during its first week of release. It went on to sell 100,000 copies in the four months following.
In fact, you can’t go wrong with virtually any recording from Daptone Records, which specializes in that retro blend of soul, gospel, funk and R&B.
Charles Bradley, another Daptone recording artist, released his debut album, “No Time for Dreaming,” last year. Mr. Bradley fell in love with music when he saw James Brown at the Apollo Theater in 1962. In the late 1990s, he made his living as a James Brown impersonator, performing under the name Black Velvet. His sound is raw and gritty, as if he’s on his knees, begging.
R&B, disco and more
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, another group that recalls James Brown, presents a somewhat more polished R&B sound. Mr. Lewis’ bio describes his music as a combination of Delta and Chicago blues, Memphis soul and Detroit garage punk, and says he taught himself to play guitar by messing around with one in the pawn shop where he worked.
Their 2009 album, “Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!” features propulsive music driven by a horn section with double-time tempos and a tight band that just explodes with sound.
And Mr. Lewis? The man knows how to wail!!
Dusty Springfield fans want to give Shelby Lynne a listen. She’s known as a country artist, but recordrd labels don’t seem to know what to do with her. They try to pigeonhole her, but her style remains fluid.
Ms. Lynne has a definite “Dusty in Memphis” sound, haunting and soulful, on her 2000 album, “I Am Shelby Lynne.” In 2008 she released a Dusty Springfield tribute album, “Just a Little Lovin’,” which includes tunes such as “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and “I Only Want to Be With You.” The tunes are sparse and beautiful.
Michael Kiwanuka, a British soul musician, channels Bill Withers, James Taylor and Cat Stevens on his debut album, “Home Again,” released earlier this year. You can also hear a little Curtis Mayfield in his tunes. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, his songs are thoughtful, heartfelt and simple. Prior to releasing his album, Mr. Kiwanuka supported Adele on her Adele Live 2011 tour.
Those missing the heyday of disco might want to check out Calvin Harris (the stage name for Adam Richard Wiles.) He called his 2007 album “I Created Disco.” (He came out with “Ready for the Weekend” in 2009.) This is disco for the 21st century: in other words, danceable, catchy electronica with blips, beeps and bloops used as percussion.
Scissor Sisters share Mr. Harris’ sensibilities. Not only does their music have a disco beat and recall the Bee Gees, but it’s also heavily influenced by glam rock and 1970s and ’80s Elton John. They’re sassy and outrageous. (The cover of their 2010 album, “Night Work,” seems to be the flip side of the Rolling Stones’ famous “Sticky Fingers” jacket.) Scissor Sisters’ fourth album, “Magic Hour,” was released earlier this summer.
For psychedelic rock, nothing can beat Tame Impala, a group from Perth, Australia, who named themselves after the animal, not the car. Their sonically rich debut album, “Innerspeaker,” contains swirling guitars and trippy musical journeys that hold up on repeated listens.
For those who love ’60s pop/soul British Invasion-style music, Fitz and the Tantrums should satisfy. Or tantalize. A completely guitar-less band, they’re fronted by Michael Fitzpatrick on vocals and keyboards and Noelle Scaggs on vocals and percussion. Mr. Fitzpatrick, who has said he was influenced by early Motown and Stax records, was inspired to start the group when he rescued an old Conn electronic organ and began composing songs on it.
The band released an EP, “Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1” in 2009 and followed it up a year later with a full album, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces.” They’ve performed their hit single “MoneyGrabber” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,’ “Conan” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Beach Boys influence
The Beach Boys, with their amazing harmonies, catchy pop melodies and complex compositions, have been a strong influence on many bands over the decades.
The Los Angeles power pop band, The Wondermints, wears that influence proudly. Formed in 1992, they released albums such as “Wonderful World of the Wondermints” and “Bali.” But with their tight harmonies, they sound so much like the Beach Boys in their heyday that Brian Wilson hired them to tour and record with him. That was The Wondermints playing and singing with him at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. And if you saw Brian Wilson at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts in October 2000, that was the Wondermints on stage with him.
Another group influenced by the Beach Boys is Grizzly Bear. Listen to their album “Veckatimest,” especially the songs “Two Weeks” and “Foreground,” and you hear the Beach Boys-style melodies, complex harmonies and falsetto. (Other songs, such as “Southern Point” and “Free for Now,” sound like the band America.)
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros borrow from a variety of sounds from the 1960s, including Donovan and The Band. Their music has an “All We Are Saying is Give Peace a Chance” group-sing vibe, and they are known to lead sing-alongs during their concerts. Flaunt magazine dubbed them “Hippiesters.” The 12-member group released their newest album, “Here,” in May. They tour in a converted school bus, and lead singer Alex Ebert is prone to performing barefoot and bare-chested, dancing in circles and shaking a tambourine.
These are just some of the artists today who are creating and performing authentic retro music. Although they might not be Golden Oldies, they’re unmistakably classic. ¦