Stokley Rises To New Level On Solo Single

Mint Condition was one of my favorite groups of the 90s. Who can forget some of their biggest hits like “Breakin My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),” “What Kind Of Man Would I Be?”, and “U Send Me Swingin”? Front man Stokley has an unmistakable voice that was a large part of the group’s appeal. It has been 5 years since the group’s last original studio release, Music @ The Speed Of Life. Now Stokley has returned as a solo artist. The move seemed a little oft put at first, considering Mint Conditions impressive run for nearly 30 years. The music business is much more fickle than their hey day. Would die hard fans be open to hearing from solo music from Stokley after so long? Would the generational gap be too wide for him to really find his proper space?

Stokley slams the naysayers in his new single, “Level”. The track sounds like that feel good, vintage Mint Condition sound. Plus, his vocals are as crisp and distinct as ever. I must say I was pleasantly surprised after hearing this track. The idea of a long awaited solo album from him seems just as viable now as it was in the 90s. The song speaks about him finding a woman who is his equal and on the same level as him. Thank goodness he did not fall into the trap of trying to sound trendy. Mint Condition (and subsequently Stokley) has always been in an elite class. So, it would be a shame to see Stokley flush all of those innovative years down the drain.

Expect to hear some big noise from him this summer. “Level” is a solid R&B offering that makes you reminisce on the days when music actually had more to offer than a dance-able track. This is soul music. This is what music is missing right now.

Plus, check out Stokely’s debut album, Introducing Stokley, available now on all digital retailers.

Hear “Level” for yourself below. What are your thoughts on the new single?

Anthony Brown & group therAPy’s Long Way From Sunday

Anthony Brown & group therAPy had some big shoes to fill with their new album, A Long Way From Sunday. Their sophomore release, Everyday Jesus, catapulted them to major success. They picked up many gospel awards along the way. However, they prove they can’t be counted out, after just a few minutes of listening to A Long Way From Sunday. I love a good concept album. There is a common theme here that introduces many of the songs. Anthony Brown states, “What I feel” and then follows it with, “What I know”.

A Long Way From Sunday starts off with a high energy celebration with the uptempo praise songs, “Glad” and “Na Na Ok (The Happy Song)”. His full, scratchy tenor pairs well with the slick production and group therAPy’s vocals. Anthony Brown’s relatable lyrics permeate through the speakers and inspire the listener. “I Got That” is a perfect example. Trap music influences slip in here, but in a tasteful way. This is one of several songs I had on repeat when I first heard the CD. The lyrics are triumphant and uplifting (“I got that V-I-C-T-O-R-Y/I got no reason to fear/I got Jesus on my side”). This is sure to be a fan favorite, especially with the younger generation.

Don’t mistake it. Despite the thumping bass knock of some of the uptempo songs, there are some rousing ballads here. The album’s first single, “Trust In You”, delicately commands us to stop worrying and turn our troubles over to God. “Everytime” featuring Jonathan McReynolds and Travis Greene is a tender, acoustic ballad that reminds us of how dependable God is. However, “I Refuse” is the album’s showstopper. The production, lyrics, vocal arrangements. Everything about this song screams hit single potential. The song speaks of boldly not allowing our circumstances to strip our faith from us.

“Miracle Worker” is also one of the album’s several standout gems. The mid-tempo, R&B tinged track challenges us to remember that God can and will make miracles in our lives. It’s never too late. “It Had To Be You” and “Thank You” are smooth worship songs that compliment A Long Way From Sunday very nicely. “Why?” finely showcases group therAPy’s amazing vocals. My only complaint about this one is I hope there’s a full, extended version that gets released someday. Nonetheless, the interlude serves a great purpose for ushering in the lyrically dense and infectiously melodic “Want You More”. I can only imagine how this song would sound live.

Le’Andria Johnson lends her stirring vocals on the gratuitous ballad, “Consumed”. The album ends on an upbeat note with the reassuring, pop influenced “Never Alone”. Just when you thought Anthony Brown and group therAPy couldn’t top themselves, they have done just that. A Long Way From Sunday empathizes with the daily struggles we all encounter along our faith walk. There are times we party, times we cry, times we reflect and times we just simply want to give thanks. Sunday doesn’t seem so far away after all.

Daley: The Undeniable Soul Spectrum

I’ve been waiting for Daley’s return to the studio since 2014’s stellar debut, Days & Nights. Some people prefer the more mainstream soul styling of Sam Smith. However, Daley was the one who made a cover of Maxwell’s classic “Pretty Wings” that’s nearly better than the original. Needless to say, he had some big shoes to fill on his sophomore studio set. Now, he’s back with his new release, simply titled The Spectrum. The colorful album proves that his three year gap in between albums was well worth the wait. 

The album’s first single, “Until The Pain Is Gone”, is a heavenly slice of vintage soul pie. Daley could have carried the song by himself. Nevertheless, Jill Scott is like that extra spoonful of butter. She just makes everything smoother and better tasting. He’s unapologetic on the bipolar ballad, “Selfish”. He admits he wants to be in love, but is not ready for its commitment. The oft put drum patterns of the uptempo “Slow Burn” provides a backdrop to a melancholy love story. He’s willing to keep up the games in love if his woman decides to act that way. 

“Sympathy” is one of the most unexpected tracks on The Spectrum. The groove seems more suitable for Raphael Saadiq or Warren G, but Daley pulls it off without missing a beat. Sympathy never sounded so vibrant. “The Only One” is an essential acoustic offering that finds Daley telling his lover not to be so one sided. This is vocally one of the best songs on the album. The tropical tinged “On Fire” is confident and complimentary. This song easily stands out as one of the more radio friendly tracks. 

The appropriately titled “Second To None” rips a page from classic Prince in his hey day. Expect this one to be a wedding favorite this year. Everything about this song is well…..second to none. The touching tribute song, “The Fabric” is perhaps the most lyrically dense song on the album. Whether uptempo (check out the infectious “Careless”) or slow groove, Daley can handle it all. It’s great to see him back in the swing of music. He’s back and better than before; a feat that seemed nearly impossible. 

Remembering Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington

Linkin Park recently celebrated the release of their seventh studio album, One More Light. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart (as did six of their other albums). The group’s catalog even includes a mash up project with Jay Z. Their music defined a generation with hits like “Numb”, “In The End”, “Closer” and their latest gem, “Heavy”. However, the group as we know reached its completion today. Chester Bennington, lead singer, took his life at the age of 41 years old. 

Chester and his group hailed from California and instantly took the music industry by storm. Their debut studio album, Hybrid Theory, went on to sell an astonishing 10 million copies in the US alone. Linkin Park’s star status could not be dimmed. The group infectiously blended Rock and Rap.  They created sounds that were not previously heard before. Chester Bennington’s piercing vocals were the main attraction. His pain and angst reverberated in the atmosphere even after their songs were over. Linkin Park was an acquired taste for some. Their influence cannot be denied though. 

Chester Bennington struggle with himself was apparent in the group’s last recording together. “Heavy” has some dark, disturbing lyrics that sound like a cry for help in hindsight. “Holding on/So much more than I can carry/I keep dragging around what’s bringing me down”. Nevertheless, Chester Bennington’s (and Linkin Park’s) legacy will forever be the cool guy(s) of Rock/Rap who broke the mold and set trends for others to follow. 

If you or someone you know has contemplated suicide, call The National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Jarrett Michael: A Rollercoaster Year In Review

I have been a fan of Jarrett Michael’s music for a few years. His raw and honest approach has always made me respect his craft. However, his latest album, What A Year, takes his skills to new heights. Hip Hop artists may find it difficult to carve out their own sound in today’s music landscape. Thankfully, this is not the case at all for Jarrett. His flow and delivery, coupled with his gritty tone make his rhymes unmistakable. 

The six track set kicks off strong with “FU ’16”. The dreamy track is the backdrop as Jarrett candidly talks about his personal struggles and triumphs over the last 365 days. There’s something about this song that has a vintage feel, which suits the subject matter well here. He’s ready for change and forging ahead to higher heights. He follows up with “can YOU love me…” with a sing song rap flow that he pulls off very well. Jarrett is letting everyone that he is unapologetic about remaining true to himself. 

“YRS. 2” rolls in with a stutter step drum pattern. There is no question that he is passionate and telling it like it is on this one. He openly talks about a topic we all can relate to: love and breakups. The story ends on a happy note as he shouts his excitement for his woman. “MIDNIGHT HR” warns us of foes who disguise themselves as friends. His rapid flow is a nice contrast to the molasses production. Plus, the ending skit is hilarious. 

Jarrett opts for a more Pop and R&B influenced sound on “answered?’s”. This is the mellow love song on the album. This is the kind of song you put on when you really want to relax and chill. “1924” closes out the album on a deeply personal note. He recounts the feelings of the exact moment he found out when his grandmother passed away. Songs like this truly showcase his versatility as an artist. He’s also willing to get down in the trenches of his feelings and share them with his fans. 2016 made up for one hell of an album for 2017. Make sure you get Jarrett Michael’s What A Year on all digital music retailers. 

New Coldplay With Aliens

Coldplay’s last album, A Head Full Of Dreams, still gets regular play on my iPod. The group is one of few acts who still find relevancy after a 20 year run. “Aliens” is their new single, from their forthcoming Kaleidoscope EP. The song’s production has a worldly sound, as much of their music does. The vibe of the track is very hypnotic, but should not be lost beneath the song’s lyrics. The melody of the song is upbeat. However, “Aliens” speaks about an uprooted refugee family. “We were just about to lose our home/Diamonds ate the radio/Moving in the dead of night”. 

The visuals for the lyric video are eye catching and eccentric. I am really curios now to see how the music video will look. As if the new single wasn’t cool enough, proceeds from “Aliens” will benefit the Migrant Offshore Aid Station. The organization rescues immigrants and refugees stranded at the Mediterranean Sea. This grand gesture makes me have even more respect for Coldplay. Kaleidoscope will be available for streaming this Friday, July 14th. The CD and vinyl versions will follow on August 4th.

What are your thoughts on “Aliens”? Will you be streaming Kaleidoscope this Friday?

Chelsea Loses Her Cool….And Her Cream

My latest novel, No Cream In The Middle, will officially be released in just 5 days! I’m so excited to share the follow up to my first novel, Fortune Cookie, with everyone. Chelsea takes center stage in No Cream In The Middle and we really get to find out what makes her tick. She has really been dealt a bad hand of throughout the majority of her life. Here is one of the reasons she’s not too stable in No Cream In The Middle

Plus, don’t forget there are 2 book signing events this weekend to celebrate the No Cream In The Middle release:

Saturday, July 8th at I CE NY Dallas (2625 Old Denton Rd. Suite 812, Carrollton, TX 75007), from 1 to 3 pm. 

Sunday, July 9th at Half Price Books (5803 E Northwest Hwy, Dallas, TX 75231), from 1 to 3 pm. 

Mel’s phone rang five times before he answered. He was an early riser, so Chelsea was surprised she was about to miss him. When the phone finally picked up, Chelsea beat him saying hello. “Hey babe! I’m so glad I caught you. You won’t believe what happened to me this morning while I was leaving for work.” There was dead silence on the other end. Chelsea looked at her phone to make sure her reception was fully available. All bars were up, but still no sound from Mel. “Mel, baby? Are you there? Hello???” Chelsea asked.

“Ooh baby, yes right there. Hell yeah! That’s how I like it. Move it just like that,” Mel said. His statement was followed by several loud slaps of flesh. She could hear a woman whimpering in pleasure in the background. “Yes, deeper! Deeper Daddy! Spank it! Oooh…right there. Bite it! Suck it! Don’t stop! I’m about to….” the woman screamed.

“What?” Chelsea whispered in fury, with clenched teeth. Now her curiosity set in and she held the line to see just how long it would take to for Mel to realize that he accidentally picked up the phone. She couldn’t believe it. She trusted this scumbag. Chelsea could have kicked herself for even believing Mel was the man she could see herself marrying. She didn’t want to believe it was true. But the proof was right there. She was hearing it first-hand.

Get your signed copy of No Cream In The Middle HERE

 

Jay Z: 4:44 (Don’t Believe The Hype)

Jay Z’s latest album is being touted as the response to his wife’s blockbuster album, Lemonade. However, the album does not focus entirely on his infidelity. 4:44 (produced by No I.D.) is a celebration of his cunning business prowess. The album is exclusively available for Sprint and existing Tidal customers. It makes perfect sense considering Sprint bought 33% of Tidal this year. 4:44 allows us to be reacquainted with Sean Carter. Pop rapper Jay Z takes a backseat to personal anecdotes.

4:44 kicks off strong out of the gate, with “Kill Jay Z”. He recounts all of the criticism he has received over the years. He even dedicates a large part of his verses to Kanye West. Perhaps it’s all a gimmick. Nevertheless, it’s entertaining. Jay Z calls himself out for cheating on Beyonce, claiming that he almost “went Eric Benet”. “The Story of O.J.” is a politically poignant and racially charged track. He calls out O.J. Simpson for famously saying “I’m not black….I’m O.J.”. The song samples Nina Simone’s “Four Women”, which is a song that details struggles from four Black women of different hues. He slams the notion that he has sold out. Jay Z’s mindset is creating wealth to leave behind for future generations.

“Smile” also features a sample of “Love’s In Need Of Love”, from the legendary Stevie Wonder. He openly speaks out about his mother’s lesbian lifestyle. The song is uplifting, yet sad. His mother, Grace Carter, closes out the song with a rousing spoken word piece. He’s stripped of pop hooks here and has a hunger like his first album. Ironically, 4:44 is not even 40 minutes long. 

Jay Z reveals his close relationship with Prince on the Frank Ocean assisted, “Caught Their Eyes”. “4:44” is his new age “Song Cry”. This time it’s all about Beyonce. He wrote the song in the middle of the night (at 4:44 am to be exact) at home….on Beyonce’s studio microphone. Kim Burrell offers a memorable chorus that is reminiscent of ambulance sirens. Clearly there was trouble in paradise. Beyonce drops in for a guest appearance on the misleadingly named “Family Feud”, which samples The Clark Sisters’ “Ha-Ya (Eternal Life)”. The song deals with the divided state of Hip Hop, not their relationship. He asks for old school and new school to come together. 

“Bam” featuring Damian Marley is one the most laid back and radio friendly tracks on the album. “Moonlight” cleverly samples The Fugees classic, “Fu-Gee-La”. He criticizes the stagnant state of Hip Hop. “Even if we win, we lose,” he says. Overall, it’s one of Jay Z’s most cohesive and thought provoking albums in a long time. There you have it; the summation of 4:44 in 444 words. 

 

TLC: Still No Introduction Needed

It’s been a long time coming. Yep. When it comes to TLC, that’s definitely an understatement. The sexy (Chilli) and cool (T-Boz) members of TLC have pushed forward as a duo since the loss of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. Despite several tours, a juicy biopic and sporadic single releases, TLC is the first studio album from the group in 15 years (since 2002’s 3D). The new, self-titled project came later than fans expected. Their 2015 Kickstarter campaign blew the doors off their funding ask. However, the album took “a long time coming” to create. Here is my take on each of the songs from the new album.

No Introduction

Well, hello there. This song will keep the rock the tweeters of your speakers. They proudly boast that they, “Forever keep it crazy, sexy, with the AC blast” and “play in every country”. So many groups couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have the audacity to make such a bold introductory statement. But, it’s TLC and they pull it off well.

Way Back

The album’s first single has an infectious backyard boogie. The smooth harmonies of T-Boz and Chilli (along with Snoop Dogg’s rap) will easily take you back down memory lane. It feels like 1995 all over again. There’s also an extended version of the song on the album, which is better than the short version because it includes Chilli’s saucy bridge.

It’s Sunny

An upbeat, positive song about being on the brighter side of life’s struggles. The song samples Earth, Wind & Fire’s classic hit, “September”. Add in some live horns, drums and a hint of disco, and it’s instant vintage greatness.

Haters

My least favorite track on the album. I must admit this one has grown on me though. Plus, you have to give it to TLC. They know how to make people feel better about themselves. This song reiterates the notion that haters are irrelevant and shouldn’t be given any attention.

Perfect Girls

Just think “Unpretty” 2017. This song tackles self image issues, specifically with the current social media trends of filters, selfies and enhancements. TLC urges us to let it all go, be real and love yourself.

Interlude

Left Eye’s sole presence on the album is lifted from a TLC interview from MTV’s Past, Present and Future (filmed over 20 years ago). The eerie thing is just 3 years before her untimely passing, her voice was taken from another piece of that same interview to create pieces of the Fanmail album’s title track. This reminds me of how much her energy is missed.

Start A Fire

I wasn’t ready. What kind of sticky, sultry, acoustic neo soul seduction is this? You have to hear it to understand it. Even after 25 years, this song proves TLC still has some musical tricks up their sleeve. Hands down one of the best songs on the album.

American Gold

TLC gut punches us right after they hand us the cigarette we needed after “Start A Fire”. This song reminds us why TLC still matters and always has. They sing, “I lost some stars/My heart bleeds red, white and blue”. The song pays tribute to fallen soldiers and calls out the injustice happening in America today. “American Gold” (one of several songs co-written by T-Boz) is the most intense offering on TLC.

Scandalous 

TLC has always spoken boldly about their bedroom requirements. “Scandalous” continues that trend. They still ain’t too proud to beg, but only if it’s worth it. T-Boz and Chilli drift into trendy waters, with the techno trap tinged production. They pull it off exceptionally well though.

Aye Mutha$%^&#

Well this one likely won’t be played on the radio. However, it’s not due to lack of potential. In fact, this is another one of the album’s great standouts. This must be what happens when a scrub persists to the point of insanity. This time, they just simply say, “aye mutha%$^&*” and walk away. Left Eye would have delivered a hot, fiesty rap to this one.

Joyride 

This song is the obvious choice for the album’s closer. It’s the curtain call that reminds us of the bittersweet reality that TLC is done (at least making albums). They thank the fans for sticking by them the whole time. Although the mood of the song is upbeat, you can’t help but feel a melancholy chill in the air after it ends.

Will TLC go down as their greatest album ever? Probably not. CrazySexyCool will still hold that title in the hearts of many. However, T-Boz and Chilli don’t try to recreate their past successes here. That alone is what makes them so legendary. This is not to say that they don’t recognize their brightest moments themselves. The album artwork and CD packaging even borrows from their past.

There are bright colors, like O000oh On The TLC Tip. The inside of the CD jacket has similar formatting to CrazySexyCool. Their outfits have a futuristic flare, much like the Fanmail era. No other girl group’s legacy has mattered as much. They simply speak from the heart as they’ve always done and deliver some kick ass music along the way. It seems a piece of TLC is better than none at all. Sounds like they still have too much great music left in them to totally call it quits.

Be Cooler Than Most This Summer

Let’s face it. Everyone loves the summer, but we hate the heat. Well, I will speak for myself. I hate the heat. During the warmer months, it can be difficult to find refreshing drinks without a ton of sugar. However, Trader Joe’s has made sure that is not an issue this summer. Watermelon Cucumber Cooler is here to the rescue. This drink has apparently been on the market for quite some time, but it’s new time. I thought it was worth sharing today, since it may be new to many of you as well. 

Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler is refreshingly sweet, without the overkill. For starters, it’s made with organic watermelon juice. Plus, it’s only 90 calories per 8 oz serving. The sugars and carbs here are more natural, since they come straight from the fruit. But let’s be honest. This drink is so good, I would sill indulge in it even if the calorie count was high. There’s just the right hint of cucumber here to really quench the most intense thirst. 

You didn’t hear this from me, but it might make a great mixer for those adult summer beverages. Trust me; you won’t be disappointed. The Watermelon Cucumber drink can be found at your local Trader Joe’s. This drink is so good, you should probably by 2 containers at a time. 

Bottoms up…..it’s Thirsty Thursday!

Plus, don’t forget to pair a little Cream with that thirst. My new novel, No Cream In The Middle, is available HERE. Get your copy today!