May 14, 2016

RhoDeo 1619 Grooves

Hello, a different kind of blues grooves here today to cleanse those other parts of soul..

Today an artist who assumed the moniker "Little Axe" and began moving from hip hop to a form of blues that drew from an array of musical influences, including dub, R&B, gospel, and jazz  He has been working steadily as a studio musician, recording both his own blues albums, continuing to appear as a guest act on other artists' albums as well.  ... N'joy

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Providing guitars, bass, keyboards, and vocals, Little Axe is the return to the blues that Skip grew up with and learned from his father. Born Bernard Alexander on 1 September 1949, Dayton, Ohio in the USA. Skip McDonald learned to play the blues on his father's guitar from the age of 8, although by the time he was 12 years old he had opted to perform doo-wop.

But from picking up a guitar as a child, and returning to his roots with Little Axe, there has been a long twisting road. McDonald, along with bassplayer Doug Wimbish and drummer Keith LeBlanc formed the house band for the pioneering rap label Sugar Hill, providing the music for some of the most seminal records of the era by Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaata, Force M.D.'s and others. From there he worked closely with Adrian Sherwood on many of projects for the On-U Sound label, as well as spearheading the band Tackhead and working with Living Colour.

But first, back to Dayton, Ohio.

Having completed his high school education Skip left Dayton with a band called the Ohio Hustlers, which broke up not long after relocating to New York City. His first professional work as a musician began when he formed the Entertainers who toured the east coast through to the mid-70s.

He moved on to Hartford, Connecticut, and there's when he met Doug Wimbish, who played in a band called Wood, Brass & Steel. Wood, Brass & Steel recorded a selftitled album for All Platinum Records, the label of Sylvia and Joe Robinson, in 1976. Skip and Doug played a lot of music together, in clubs and colleges around New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

In 1979, three years after the Wood, Brass & Steel album, Skip and Doug teamed up with drummer Keith LeBlanc and they became the house band for Sugarhill Records, the Robinson's new label. The trio played on some of the earliest rap hits such as The Message and White Lines (Don't Do It) with Grandmaster Flash.

While they worked at Sugar Hill, LeBlanc also freelanced at Tommy Boy Records where he first met Adrian Sherwood. LeBlanc introduced his colleagues to Sherwood and the trio were persuaded to relocate in London. Upon their entry into the On-U Sound fold, the group formed a production team and, again, a house band, this time for On-U. The three participated in dozens of records on Sherwood's label.

The partnership developed and metamorphosed into a fully-fledged band, Tackhead. Though good working relationships remain to this day, the dispersion of Tackhead in the early 1990s saw Keith and Doug pursue more of their own projects and play less often togther.

For Skip the time since has seen him work ever more closely with Sherwood, both on his own projects and as a musician or guest vocalist on many other of Adrian's On-U Sound productions - such as by Junior Delgado, Bim Sherman, Dub Syndicate and African Head Charge, sometimes along side Keith and /or Doug.

Skip has been the prime mover behind Little Axe since around 1992. Under a name inspired by Bob Marley's Small Axe and gospel singer Willmer 'Little Ax' Broadnax, the debut album Wolf That House Built was a personal take on blues and dub, and was released to critical acclaim in 1994. This had followed a partial release in Japan compiled in a slightly different form and with a different title (Never Turn Back) the previous year. The second Little Axe album, Slow Fuse, was also well received. Both albums featured tabla player Talvin Singh, for Slow Fuse the gifted voices of Kevin Gibbs and Sas Bell were added.

Then it remained silent for far too long. In 2002 Skip's third Little Axe album Hard Grind became the first release for four years on Sherwood's revived and re-launched On-U Sound label with a mixture of raw blues and reggae. While Hard Grind no doubt will also draw comparisons to Moby's Play, it was Skip who pioneered the fusion of blues and electronic music with Little Axe.

In 2006 Skip McDonald released the fifth Little Axe album, Stone Cold Ohio, after Champagne and Grits (2004), the second record released on Peter Gabriel's Real World Records. This time the emphasis was on the gospel, another of Skip's old loves. The production and mixing was done Adrian Sherwood; 'gospel dub' like you never heard before.
2007 Little Axe Live And Direct was released, followed by Bought For A Dollar/Sold For A Dime in 2008.
Call My Name (2009) was a side project with Mauritanian singer Daby Tour. His thusfar last studio album with the great title "If You Want Loyalty Buy A Dog" was released in 2011. As of 2016, he still tours and gigs regularly, has a loyal following and is in regular demand for session work as a guitarist.

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Technically this is an Epic release, but those in the know will see Adrian Sherwood listed as producer and Skip McDonald as sole performer and understand immediately: in all but name, this is an On-U Sound production. What does that mean? It means that groove will be primary, words secondary, and overall sound will be dark and thrilling; it means that weird samples will bubble up unpredictably from beneath churning funk and reggae rhythms; and it means that a certain degree of dubwise anarchy will infuse every note. What distinguishes this album from other On-U projects is the raw material: whereas an On-U Sound album generally builds on a reggae foundation, Skip McDonald's background is in the blues, and what he has put together here is a tribute to Howling Wolf. This is a roiling pastiche of samples taken from Wolf's singing and speaking, all of them thrown into a stew of funk and reggae beats and interspersed with McDonald's own multi-tracked vocals (which will sound very familiar to fans of Tackhead and Strange Parcels, both of which were founded by him). It's hard to identify highlights here, but some of the album's especially strong moments come during "Ride On," which samples Howling Wolf's discussions of life on the road, and the primarily instrumental "Out in the Rain and Cold." Exquisite.

Little Axe - The Wolf That House Built   (flac 402mb)

01 Ride On (Fight On) 5:22
02 The Time Has Come 5:04
03 Out In The Rain And Cold 4:37
04 Back To The Crossroads 6:36
05 Never Turn Back (Part 1 & 2) 7:19
06 Another Sinful Day 4:06
07 Crossfire 4:29
08 Wolf's Story 4:22
09 Hear My Cry 7:01
10 Dayton 6:12
11 Falling Down 4:28
12 Wake The Town 3:55

Little Axe - The Wolf That House Built  (ogg   147mb)

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Slow Fuse cuts back markedly on the sweeping sonic experimentation of the critically acclaimed The Wolf That House Built for more vocals and a song-oriented approach built on a foundation of acoustic guitar meeting high-tech studio sound. This time, rather than fashion a musical extension, Skip McDonald apparently set his sights on imagining and re-creating (to a point) the ambience of the Mississippi Delta world from which the blues took root. "On the Beat Sound" is framed around a sampled Howlin' Wolf interview snippet that conceptually unites the disc. The moody arrangement sets the musical tone -- it sounds more like an attempt at updating an old field holler than using a traditional form as a launching pad. The title track is a country jog trot; banjo figures prominently in "Speak Easy"; and "Black Diamond Train" is a train song, featuring harmonica and hushed backing voices, motivated by Keith LeBlanc's drums. "Storm is rising/Blues falls down like drops of rain" is a memorable lyrical couplet, and much of Slow Fuse is geared toward taking the blues as a metaphoric experience. "Going Down Slow" and "Must Have Been the Devil" are classic song titles used as hooks for new lyrics dealing with 21st century blues themes, and the closing "Don't nobody know my troubles but God" refrain on "Black Diamond Train" echoes other vintage standards. But the music doesn't rise to the occasion, especially compared to a masterpiece like The Wolf That House Built, which presaged Moby's Play; it just trails away into an evanescent zone far too often, especially at the end. Early releases of Slow Fuse contained a ten-track second disk of dubs (timid by On-U-Sound standards) that didn't offer any radical reinterpretations -- it's really not worth searching out and paying collectors' prices for.

Little Axe - Slow Fuse   (flac  334mb)

01 Blue 2:09
02 On The Beat Sound 3:44
03 Storm Is Rising 5:12
04 Black Diamond Train 4:13
05 Short Fuse 5:09
06 Going Down Slow 3:57
07 Must Have Been The Devil 4:46
08 People Do 4:53
09 Amber 2:13
10 Chains 3:41
11 Return 5:21
12 Too Late 5:05
13 Speak Easy 3:44

Little Axe - Slow Fuse (ogg  118mb)

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Skip McDonald's Little Axe returns for Champagne and Grits, and it could well be the band's finest, most expansive set yet. Little Axe's brand of blues-gospel-dub is probably the most interesting and adventurous of all the projects that attempt to infuse new life into the blues, and Champagne and Grits rivals their debut not only for an outstanding set of tunes, but for sheer sonic experimentation as well. Skip runs the show with plenty of help from producer Adrian Sherwood, and of course Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc are on hand as well. The set starts with a pure acoustic blues, but then enters territory charted only by this band. It's still the blues, but there are gospel-flavored vocals, eerie harmonica, and fantastic dub elements all combined into a singular style. Disembodied vocals and sermons waft in and out of the ether, along with washes of electronica, soulful blues guitar, and wicked basslines. A couple of the tracks venture a bit further into reggae territory (with some help from Junior Delgado), but it still all feels bluesy despite the additional trappings. McDonald knows and respects the past, but he knows how to build on it, not enshrine it. Little Axe is the only band that does what it does, and does it brilliantly. Ancient to the future. Highly recommended.

Little Axe - Champagne & Grits   (flac 346mb)

01 People Grinning In Your Face 3:57
02 Finger On The Trigger 5:09
03 Mean Things 6:17
04 The Way I See It 0:37
05 Walk On Water 4:49
06 Go Away Devil 4:43
07 Say My Name 4:44
08 Take Me Back To The Country 1:00
09 All In The Same Boat 4:10
10 Living And Sleeping In A Dangerous Time 5:44
11 Will I Ever Get Back Home Again ? 4:21
12 Cloud 3:10
13 Sinners 4:43

Little Axe - Champagne & Grits  (ogg  122mb)

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1 comment:

E-mile said...

I've seen this band live. A dream came true. Ever since their Slow fuse 2CD set was on 'eavy rotation I always wanted to see them live....Years later I got the chance! Respect.