Today, 54 years ago, The Motortown Revue arrived at the Finsbury Park Astoria, London, England for the first night of their UK package tour. The group was set to visit 21 theatres around the UK for two shows a night and a live TV special. Features included the Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and then 14 year-old Stevie Wonder backed by the Funk Brothers. The tour then was an important milestone in Motown’s international expansion and crucial in Motown breaking the UK.
Texas guitarist, Gary Clark Jr., released his third studio album, ‘This Land’, last week. The artist has spent the last few years translating his mojo into studio statements and seemingly failed to capture the thrilling dynamics of his live shows in his previous albums — 2012’s ‘Blak and Blu’ and 2015’s ‘The Story of Sonny Boy Slim’. Clark Jr. finally conquered the pitfalls that held him back all these years. His latest album serves as evidence of the singer-guitarist embracing the possibilities of studio production rather than resisting the expressive challenges. His studio experimentation consists of eighties R&B, funk, rockabilly, punk, reggae-inspired bass synths, keyboards and samples to replace his extensive guitar solo’s that he is known for in his live shows. The 35-year-old has never had more to say thanks to his updated studio experimentation methods that led him to a flux of songwriting. “Exploitation wants me to be the same,” as he puts it. “I don’t want to.” In the album, Clark narrates stories of success, marriage and fatherhood and, for the first time, his longing for social justice. The artist stated that he was concerned about coming across as the stereotypical angry black man at first, but he realised that it was more important for him to be honest and authentic. Listeners will be confronted with traces of Clark’s earlier music influence such as Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder. He is currently on tour for the album and was quoted saying, “I’m singing like I never sang in my life before. I’m going to be exhausted after this but it’s time to put it all out there on the table.”
Today, 56 years ago, the first night of a two month Motown Records package tour, The Motortown Revue, started in Washington, DC. Early 1960 tours included performances from Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Barrett Strong and The Contours as headlining acts. Some of the then-second-tier artists who were given the chance to improve their skills included Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes and The Temptations. Occasionally, even non-Motown performers such as Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Shirelles and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles were featured on the tours. In the early years of the Motortown Revue, most venues were situated along the “chitlin circuit” in eastern and southern America. Racism at the time, was an issue and African American performers faced threats and attacks from local white residents. Later tours from the mid 60’s branched out to the entire US and later the rest of the world as well.
Stevie Wonder was quoted saying, without God’s goodness,” “We will have never known a Queen like this, we will have never known the joy she gave to us”, after he closed out Aretha Franklin’s funeral with “The Lord’s Prayer” and “As” at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple. Wonder opened his performance with a harmonica version of “The Lord’s Prayer” before delivering his eulogy. He further mentioned his hopes of one day collaborating with Franklin in heaven before launching into the Songs in the Key of Life favourite, with Wonder backed by the choir, brass section and other performers from the service to close out the funeral. “She did incredible music, incredible singer. She touched every genre. Every singer was influenced in some way by the way she sang, and they will forever be influenced by her because of her voice, her emotion, her sincerity is unforgettable”, Wonder stated previously the day after the singer’s passing. Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan and Ariana Grande were among the singers who paid musical tribute to the artist.
“Who put this shit together? I’m the glue!” this lyric plays as a mission statement from Scott as ‘Astroworld’ is a return to form. Curating seems to be Travis’ strength above all else. As an artist who started out as a producer (yet has no producer credits on any of his own albums) then transitioned to rapper it only makes sense he was taken under Kanye West’s wing and it seems Scott has taken Ye’s ability to glue together polar opposites to new heights. Stevie Wonder playing a harmonica solo on a psychedelic trap song no longer is something only bedroom sampling producers would concoct, Travis manages to get Drake, Tame Impala, Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean and more all seamlessly on a sporadic psychedelic soundscape all seen through a trap lens.
Travis Scott’s previous two efforts “Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight” (a step down from the fabulous debut ‘Rodeo’) & collabo album “Huncho Jack” both lacked the spirit and creativity of his all encompassing debut. Now becoming a full tabloid figure with his relationship with mega celebrity Kylie Jenner listeners would expect Travis’ originality and rebellious energy to be completely subdued and prepare for a career of bland generic trap as fame is a full time job and art we would assume would take a back seat. Surprisingly ‘Astroworld’ is a resurgence of that’Rodeo’ energy and hunger. ‘STARGAZING’ has Scott back to rapping bars similar to his XXL Freshmen days, something fans haven’t gotten since the opener ‘pornography’ on his debut.
Less nihilistic than his previous efforts ‘Astroworld’ has heart but still lacks focus in the content department. “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” hints of introspection but never delivers a clear thought, “SKELETONS” sonically is set for depth but only has glimpses of meaning. “WAKE UP” seems to be a ‘Shiloh-esque’ instrumental (the mysterious Vine star who’s 6 second guitar work and unfinished musical sketches brought him fame), akin to rapper XXXTENTACION’s fully fleshed take on this sound on his debut “17” (which actually sampled Shiloh). Travis continues his mind boggling beat switches more than ever on this LP, changing what many on twitter thought was the better beat on “SICKO MODE” twice- and both worse than the last- only to have a Drake feature on the weakest of the 3 beats. Schizophrenic beat switches like this are a page right out of Madlib’s book, once a ‘weird’ move only used in the underground/alternative scene. Travis shows his broad musical palette on the production with Beastie Boys samples, Bigge’s “Give Me The Loot” stabs and a complete Goodie Mobb remake, a rare stroke of genius in a time where artists have zero concern for what came before them. “COFFEE BEAN” has Scott the most sharp and focused we’ve ever heard him and is a great end to an amazing LP that shows Scott will be around for a long time and will continue to push the genre of Trap to new territory.
Rating 8.1 / 10