Morley's sound has always been large. Even with just a simple guitar and her elegant voice, the Queens, NY native has consistently conjured music that can barely be contained in the room that attempts to house it. The reasons are numerous: smart production, intelligent songwriting and -- especially in Morley's case -- poetry disguised as lyrics that immediately resonates with heartfelt conviction.
Social consciousness has always been woven into her songs, and Undivided is no different. She has the uncanny ability to make you feel good about yourself and life without you realizing that you're feeling good about these things. It's just the instantaneous contact that happens inside your headphones: "Be the One," "On My Way" and the soulful "Thank You," featuring the inimitable Raul Midon, offer hope and light in a time when our political system has none to champion. The keyword here is community, something Morley is expert at creating, be it through her hospice work or teaching yoga in prisons. Yet none of her music is sacrificed for a message, as sometimes happens with troubadours so intent on a message that they miss the music. In Morley, all factors are stitched together beautifully, undivided and complete.
Continuing with the theme of thoughtful female singers, Pharaoh's Daughter founder Basya Schechter has now tackled Jewish philosopher and Civil Rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Regarded as a scholar of spirituality -- the man studied both Hasidism and Kabbalah -- Heschel cast aside critical textual study to understand how Jewish teachings could be applied to as wide an audience as possible. Schechter has now taken his poetry and set it to music. Pulling from New York's powerful collection of Jewish musicians, she has created a masterful album with Songs of Wonder (Tzadik). Foremost perhaps is the gorgeous trumpet sections by downtown mainstay Frank London, though Rich Stein's percussion and Albert Leusink's mournful flugelhorn sound fantastic. Uri Shalin's piano contribution on "I and You" sturdily lifts this already beautiful melody, while Tamar Pinarbasi's kanun is splendid on the rhythmic "To A Lady In A Dream." Front and center, as with all of her work both as a solo artist and fronting Pharaoh's Daughter, is Schechter on oud, saz and vocals. Just as the target of this album used his Jewish heritage to respond to difficult national challenges, Schechter digs deeply inside of her culture's sonic lineage to produce this album that will certainly appeal to a far wider community.
A trio of dance records has recently invaded my iTunes, each leaving my foot tapping and head bobbing while I sit at my desk. Remixtasy (Big Mind) is a collection of remixes by Guelph, Canada-based Eccodek. Opening his catalog to a community of globally minded producers, the talented Canuck received a number of lively takes of his three albums. San Francisco's Middle Eastern-leaning Jef Stott lays down a hearty beat to counter the sinuous kora strings on "Behind the Mask," while Nate Wize jazzes up "Bodhichitta Dub" nicely. Eccodek himself contributes a beat-heavy take on "Calling the Rain," properly titling it the Afrodisiac mix. Someone up north has been getting his dose of Fela, learning from and applying it properly.
I'd hate to call DJ Center's Everything in Time a throwback record, as he threw the funk and soul aesthetic of the '70s way forward. He's possibly the most tasteful live DJ that I know, and the music he creates reflects his intelligent and soulful selection. With Everything in Time Remixed (Push the Fader) he gets a nice boost from the community. DJ Obah's Rollerskate Remix of "You Got the Love" has the same minimalist vibe that Red Astaire (aka Freddie Crueger) threw down on his own Rollerskate mix for Nickodemus's "Sun Children." Fellow Brooklynite Captain Planet injects a slice of Brazil into Center's upbeat and highly danceable "Center's Groove," the cuica chatting boldly underneath the keys and brass. And DJ Spinna takes "In a Song" in the right direction with a solid flanger-fueled beat reminiscent of People's Instinctive Travels And Paths Of Rhythm.
Speaking of Captain Planet, his debut, Cookin' Gumbo (Bastard Jazz), is one of the dancefloor heaviest records I've gotten in some time -- like Center, a compliment to his astute DJ ear. Dropping the Bollywood beats on "Ram Ad Infinitum" to the Nuevo bossa flow on "Get You Some" to the Afro-vibing "Fumando" and Afrobeating "Ningane," the man once known as Charlie Bethel (no, not Don Cheadle) has cooked up some powerful stew. Flipping Badu-type beats on "Burn Baby Burn" and resurrecting the Fania days of Bronx folklore in "Speakin Nuyorican," Bethel's homage to the New York City neighborhoods and Lagos compounds is pure brilliance, every second of the way.