Ben Harper has always been something of a musical pioneer. Fusing elements of blues, soul, folk, rock and [occasionally] reggae, his signature soundscape has never slotted easily into the American music business’s genre or marketing templates – and yet this has not hindered his international career or status one bit. For coming up to three decades and now 17 albums, Harper’s star has maintained its trajectory, his loyal band of followers lapping up some various and varying recorded adventures – intermittently alongside partners like Blind Boys Of Alabama, Charlie Musselwhite, Ladysmith Black Mambazo or Ziggy Marley – and his many tours, with undimmed enthusiasm.
For his latest album, Bloodline Maintenance, however – recently an Echoes Soul Album Of The Month [which also indicates its musical leaning this time around] – he has decided to create his own genre: Black Americana. And there is a specific reason, he explains over a Zoom call from Paris.
It is a convention to ask audiences at a jazz club to keep their conversation to a minimum level, so the band can be heard. Listening, not talking, is encouraged. Butcher Brown have other ideas. Whether they are playing The Blue Note in New York or Ronnie Scott’s in London, the Richmond, Virginia combo are happy for the sound of the crowd to go up not down.
“If people are making too much noise, maybe your music’s not loud enough,” says Tennishu, very possibly the only emcee in the world to play saxophone and trumpet, and rap. Very well.
Bassist Andy Randazzo and guitarist Morgan Burrs join him on a Zoom call, representing the five-piece that includes keyboardist D.J. Harrison and drummer Corey Fonville, all of whom have played in other bands but make a whole greater than the sum of the parts in Butcher Brown…
‘Where is Lewis Taylor?’
It’s a question I’ve often been asked over the past 15 years – usually by artists and producers enraptured by the maverick music man’s obvious talent and plainly as puzzled as me about his disappearance from the scene in the early 2000s.
Back in 1996, I was asked by Island Records to write Taylor’s first press biography – and agreed immediately because Lewis Taylorwas such an amazing album, especially for a British artist working during the earliest days of neo-soul. The project attracted a huge amount of critical praise, led on to some highly anticipated live shows and then… sold bugger all. The story then goes that Lewis recorded a second album with more of a Brian Wilson/psychedelic vibe, saw it turned down flat by Island and so cut a replacement ‘second’ album, Lewis ll, in more of a soul-slanted style. That also failed to sell in any significant numbers and our man was subsequently released from his contract. Now, at last, we can shed a little light on the great Lewis Taylor mystery…
Sly Dunbar is reggae music’s greatest drummer. For more than 50 years he’s been the driving force behind the music’s evolution, changing the beat as easily as most of us sit behind the wheel and shift gears. His preferred style isn’t flashy or combustible, but solid and dependable – like that of his friend Charlie Watts, who anchored The Rolling Stones for decades. Charlie handed out “Sly Dunbar Fan Club” badges when Peter Tosh [who had Sly & Robbie in his band at the time] supported the Stones on their 1978 US tour, but then Sly never did lack for celebrity admirers.
Together with bassist Robbie Shakespeare, who passed away last December, he’s played on sessions with virtually everyone in reggae music, including Bunny Wailer, Toots, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown, but it’s their client base from outside the Caribbean that impresses most…