NPR's Jason Beaubien just returned from Sierra Leone, which along with Guinea and Liberia is suffering from the worst ever Ebola outbreak.
And that’s a shame, according to Here & Now pop culture critic Renee Graham, she says because it’s the perfect album for summer listening.
“It’s so light, it’s breezy, it’s easy,” Graham said. “It’s beautifully produced music.”
Quadron’s “Avalanche” is one of three new albums Renee wants to bring to listeners’ attention. She also loves “Sound the Alarm” by Booker T. Jones, perhaps better known as the man behind the R&B staple “Green Onions.”
On the new album, Booker T. teams up with a number of younger performers, but as the writer or co-writer of every song on the album, “he’s still leading the show here.”
“If you like soul, if you like jazz, Jose James will work for you,” she said.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LFT")
COCO O: (Singing) Heels on the bike, it's a mess. We are supposed to meet by the bridge. I'm not the only one who's late.
HOBSON: That is "LFT" by the electronic duo, Quadron. They are from Denmark though they're based in Los Angeles now. And their latest CD "Avalanche" just came out in May. But "Avalanche" has not gotten a lot of attention, and HERE AND NOW pop culture critic Renee Graham wants to change that. In fact, "Avalanche" is one of three new albums that she wants to put on the radar. She joins us now in the studio to tell us why. Welcome, Renee.
RENEE GRAHAM, BYLINE: Hi, Jeremy.
HOBSON: So tell us more about this Quadron.
GRAHAM: As you mentioned, they're a Los Angeles duo by way of Denmark. And their sound is sort of warm, sexy neo-soul, very reminiscent of, say, Groove Theory from the 1990s. The lead singer's name is Coco O and her partner is producer and instrumentalist Robin Hannibal. And they create a vibe that's accessible and a force that's really cool and subtle. We were just hearing a little bit of the lead track which is called "LFT," which stands for looking for trouble.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LFT")
COCO O: (Singing) I guess I'm still looking, looking for trouble. Yes, I'm still looking, looking for trouble. Looking for trouble.
GRAHAM: It sets the mood for the album because it's so light. It's breezy. It's easy. The music isn't insubstantial. That's what's really important here. It's beautifully produced music. It's not slick, though. But there is a polish to it.
HOBSON: I have to say, they sound much more L.A. than Denmark.
GRAHAM: They do. I think that's what's really interesting for a lot people, that they essentially are this soul band coming out of Denmark. You don't really think of Denmark as a hotbed of soul music.
GRAHAM: But obviously, something's going right because I think this band is really special.
HOBSON: All right. Well, you've got another song from "Avalanche" that you wanted us to listen to. Let's take a listen to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAVORITE STAR")
COCO O: (Singing) Told me there was no rules when you came out of the blue. Guarding myself from mornings. Crushes don't come with warning. Never have you looked so cute as when suggesting me to start something new.
HOBSON: So tell us what we're hearing here.
GRAHAM: This is "Favorite Star." And again, if you notice, very different but very clean, polished, crisp sound. Perfect for the summer - backyard barbecues, beach. It's all there.
HOBSON: I can hear this at the beach totally.
GRAHAM: Absolutely. I mean, that's the whole thing. That's what makes it so special. I think it's why, you know, I would love people start listening to this album. I think it just really got a lot of good stuff here.
HOBSON: OK. Well, let's move on to your next selection. People may not recognize this artist, but they probably will recognize his most famous song. Let's listen to a little of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "GREEN ONIONS" BY BOOKER T. AND THE M.G.S)
HOBSON: That is, of course, "Green Onions" by Booker T. and the M.G.'s, a very recognizable song. But we don't really know that much about Booker T. So fill us in.
GRAHAM: Well, here's one of the great things about Booker T. That song, "Green Onions," he wrote when he was a teenager. And listen to how cool that song is. The song is over 50 years old, you know?
GRAHAM: And that song is timeless. And that's the thing about Booker T. He's this great instrumentalist, this wonderful composer, and he has always been recording. He's done lots of solo work, and he's worked with everyone from Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes, to Neil Young and, you know, the Bay Area punk band Rancid. In recent years, he's been putting out a lot of different albums with different artists, and he's been winning Grammys. So as I said, he is never gone away
And his latest album is called "Sound the Alarm." And it takes sort of an old formula in that it's pairing him up with newer artists like Anthony Hamilton and Estelle, but it's not that kind of thing where he's just sort of plugging in. This is a Booker T. album because what anchors the album is that wonderful Hammond B3 organ. That is his musical weapon of choice, it always has been, and it still stands up here. And we're going to hear the title song, "Sound the Alarm," which is a duet he does with Mayer Hawthorne.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUND THE ALARM")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And here's Booker T. Let's give him a big round of applause from the audience, from the audience, from the audience, from the audience, from the audience, audience, audience.
MAYER HAWTHORNE: (Singing) Like a million soldiers, you know, you can't break me. Can you feel the rumble up under your feet? I can roll on water...
HOBSON: So a very updated sound, and yet there are still hints of what we heard in "Green Onions."
GRAHAM: Absolutely. I mean, that's the thing. You know, what I like about this album is it is an older artist with newer artists, but he has written or co-written every song on this album. It isn't just one of those situations where you take an older artist and say, let's pair them up, and let's try to see if we can find him a new audience. That's not the point. Booker T. is still leading the show here.
We heard a bit of the vocal. And this is a young soul singer out of the Detroit area named Mayer Hawthorne, who is fantastic, whose career isn't nearly as big as it should be, but, hopefully, this is going to change that. And he has his own soul album coming out later this month. So, you know, lot of good things to listen to here.
HOBSON: Let's here another song from this album, "Sound the Alarm," that you wanted us to hear. What's this one?
GRAHAM: This is "Can't Wait," and he's paired with the singer Estelle.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T WAIT")
ESTELLE: (Singing ) Celebrate life today. Hope you do the same. Celebrate life today because I can't, I can't, I can't wait. I can't wait. I can't wait. I can't wait. I, I, I can't wait. I can't wait. It's a new day and...
HOBSON: This is very different.
GRAHAM: It is very different. There's a hip-hop influence but it's not - it doesn't feel sort of grafted on just to catch the contemporary audience. Estelle is a singer who's been around for a few years and the critics seem to love her. And, you know, it's a good match.
You know, again, he's co-written these songs. He's not just sort of sitting in there sort of filling time. You know, he really has the sense of and the feel for these songs and working with really great singers.
HOBSON: OK. And finally, Renee, one more artist that you think we should all be paying attention to. This is Jose James, who is of Panamanian descent and from Minneapolis.
GRAHAM: You know, so you've been listening to Booker T., you've been listening Quadron, you've been dancing, but Jose James is for that golden time of the day, when the evening sun goes down...
HOBSON: Time to cool off a little bit.
GRAHAM: ...you know, whether you're cooling off and just chilling out. He combines jazz and hip-hop, and that sounds really gimmicky but it's not. He's got an incredible, incredible voice and just sort of unlike anything that's out there right now. If you like soul, if you like jazz, Jose James will work for you.
HOBSON: OK. So let's listen to a song from his CD, "No Beginning No End."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU FEEL")
JOSE JAMES: (Singing) Do you see what I see? Want to go where I want to go? And you know I'm feeling like a long time waiting for someone divine, and maybe it's you. Oh, oh, oh, oh.
HOBSON: So what is this we're listening to?
GRAHAM: Listening to "Do You Feel." And notice just how - again, how clean and easy the sound is. There's not a lot of nonsense, there's not a lot of stuff, which is what real singers could actually do. They can just sing.
HOBSON: Hmm. All right. Well, before we let you go, Renee, what song should we go out on?
GRAHAM: I think we should go out on "Come To My Door." You know, it's unabashedly romantic. No blurred lines, no tunnel vision, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. This is a song for adults. This is a song for people who still want to hear good love songs. He's that kind of an artist.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME TO MY DOOR")
JAMES: (Singing) So long we've been distant now since you set out on your own. You told me you had to find something to believe in. Never thought you'd ever leave...
HOBSON: We've been talking about some off-the-radar album releases with HERE AND NOW pop culture critic Renee Graham. And if you have some suggestions of your own, you can let us know or follow her on Twitter, @reneeygraham. Renee, thank you so much.
GRAHAM: Thanks, Jeremy.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME TO MY DOOR")
JAMES: (Singing) If the rain starts falling or you get too cold, if you need a place to go, oh, I just want you to know...
HOBSON: And you can find all the names to all the songs we just heard at our website, hereandnow.org. This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.