Oliver Wang

Oliver Wang is a music writer, scholar, and DJ based in California. Since 1994, he's written on popular music, culture, race, and America for outlets such as NPR, Vibe, Wax Poetics, Scratch, The Village Voice, SF Bay Guardian, and LA Weekly.

Wang begins work as an assistant professor in sociology at Long Beach State this fall; He also hosts the renowned audioblog soul-sides.com. For more information, visit o-dub.com.

A Queen Among Kings

Nov 21, 2016

The first time I ever saw Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings perform was circa 2002 at the Elbo Room, a tiny venue in San Francisco's Mission District. If you've ever been there, you know the Elbo Room doesn't need many bodies to pack the floor, and with the Dap-Kings crowding the diminutive stage, the full intensity of their act filled the space from practically the first note. I was already familiar with the group through its early records, but hadn't fully appreciated how much power Jones could pack into her stout, 5-foot frame as she sang, sweated, stamped, strutted, slayed.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Not to open on a down note, but the arrival of The Frightnrs' debut album, Nothing More To Say, is a bittersweet affair. The group's lead singer, Dan Klein, died from ALS earlier this summer, and much of the album was recorded after he was diagnosed last fall. His piercing, wailing tone feels all the more plaintive as a result, but even if Nothing More To Say marks a career cruelly curtailed, the album's release also represents a dream fulfilled.

Los Angeles musician Gabriel Reyes-Whittaker had a problem: A few years ago, he was asked to tackle the weighty subject of Latin American modernism in sound. His response was to invent a new persona, and to restrict himself to a spare and specific set of tools. Under the new name Frankie Reyes, he set off to record a dozen instrumental versions of Spanish-language ballads and waltzes from the 1930s through the '60s, using only a vintage analog synthesizer.

In 2013, Nicole Wray and Terri Walker teamed up to form Lady, a pair of new-school R&B singers kicking a decidedly old-school soul flavor. Since then, Walker's peeled off — leaving behind Lady Wray, who cheekily nods to her new solo act with the title of her forthcoming album Queen Alone.

Over the last 10 years, 1970s funk icon Betty Davis has enjoyed a renaissance of rediscovery. Her music has been lavishly reissued and anthologized, but for years the holy grail was a collection of songs she recorded for Columbia Records in the late '60s, several of which her then-husband, Miles Davis, helped to produce. For decades, no one could hear those songs — until now. The Columbia Years 1968-1969 captures an artist beginning to assert her own voice.

The names James Brown and Apollo Theater have practically become synonymous; it's hard to think of one without the other. Beginning in 1963, Brown released three albums recorded there. But there was a fourth — recordings from Sept. 13 and 14, 1972 — that has been buried ever since. Now, Get Down with James Brown: Live At The Apollo Vol. 4 is finally out on vinyl, with a CD to follow this summer.

I'm not sure there's ever been a record release as confounding as the one for Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo. He's changed its title and track listing several times in as many weeks, and even up until the very moment I'm writing this, it's not 100 percent certain what will be on that final album, whenever and wherever it comes out.

When Kendrick Lamar released his major label debut in 2012, he vaulted onto pop's leaderboard as one of the best rappers of his generation. He wasn't just a skilled lyricist, but a vivid storyteller able to create scenes with vivid detail and intrigue.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In title and concept, the new tribute album Dionne Dionne is a great gimmick. But if you've followed the career of Dionne Farris, having her record an entire album of Dionne Warwick covers isn't an obvious move, names aside. It's an idea that took root some 20 years ago: Farris met guitarist Charlie Hunter while the two were on tour as members of hip-hop groups, she with Arrested Development and he with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

This isn't the first time Shuggie Otis' masterpiece, Inspiration Information, has been reissued — but that's OK. It's an album that absolutely deserves to be rediscovered every decade or so.

The very first notes on Laura Mvula's new album feel like a powerful invocation. You're not sure for what, but the moment is awesome — with an emphasis on awe.

It's tempting to describe the voices of Charles Bradley and

R&B singers Nicole Wray and Terri Walker both had promising starts to their careers more than ten years ago. Wray came up on the Virginia coast under the wing of mentor Missy Elliott. Walker, a Londoner, was classically trained yet released her debut on a Def Jam subsidiary. Both enjoyed early critical success but by decade's end struggled to find a wide audience. Instead, they found each other.

Bill Withers' very first single became a breakout hit in 1971. He would go on to record nine albums over the next 14 years, and all of them are now available on a new box set, The Complete Sussex and Columbia Masters.

Early synthesizers were supposed to imitate or re-create other existing sounds, but as anyone can tell you, they mostly sounded like synthesizers. That distinctive whine and wheeze captivated all manner of pop artists, from prog-rockers to classical composers to soul musicians. However, back then, synthesizers were so expensive and bulky, you needed a major-label budget and an entire studio wall to install them.