Music Review 6: Incognito (The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of)

I’ve heard said or written that good or very good is the enemy of the best.  That may be true in some cases.  But, my question to the saying is…why don’t we appreciate the good or very good?  It’s not bad or horrible….so if something is good doesn’t it deserve recognition or acknowledgement as well.

I’m thinking about the things that are good but get overlooked or unnoticed like Graham Cracker Cookies (chocolate chip cookies get all the attention) or the Nissan Maxima (a lot people have them but they are never on the most desired car list) or San Antonio Spurs in NBA Basketball (Only the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Chicago Bulls have won more championships than the Spurs) and the novelist Athol Dickson ( he writes Christian Fiction but his novels are dynamic and interesting and I would put him up against a Richard Ford or Russell Banks or Martin Amis or Michael Chabon and he would hold his own.)

That brings me to my favorite band, Incognito.  I first heard them back in 1992 when I was living in Atlanta.  I had a friend who told me about this group from England that were not quite jazz or not quite R&B, but their music was great.  He played the Inside Life CD for me and I was hooked instantly.

I went to Sound Warehouse (that was the record store popular in Atlanta back in the early 1990s) the next day and bought my own copy of Inside Life and I wore out that cassette.  Journey Into Sunlight was my favorite song on that cassette and I drove my roommates crazy with it.

Several months later in 1992, Incognito came to Atlanta for a concert.  They played at a small club in the Little Five Points area of the city. I saw Bluey and the band and they played songs from Inside Life and Tribes, Vibes, and Scribes CDs and rocked the house. It was my first concert and I left that night knowing I would be a fan for a long time.

Fast forward to 2012, I’m married with two kids and living in San Antonio, Texas.  Life has changed quite a bit for me. However, one of the things that has remained constant is listening to Incognito.  Their songs over the years have picked me up, chilled me out, helped me deal with my relationship issues from past girlfriends, and been a constant companion for long drives out-of town.

The odd thing is that every time I’ve played their CDs for someone I always get the same reaction.  That music is great. Who is that band? I have always wondered why I keep getting the same reaction. I’ve had several theories to why Incognito is not well-known in America.

Could it be because they are British mostly? (Maysa is from Baltimore….I know! LOL!)

Could it be that their music is a mixture of 70’s funk, jazz, house, and dance music. (People like having a defined genre for their music listening pleasures)

Could it be that bands are not popular anymore? (Acts like Beyoncé, Usher, Drake, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus are what the masses like these days.)

It could be a combination of all of those factors.  However, I keep going back to the saying that started this blog post, “The good or very good is the enemy of the best.”

With 15 studio CDs and several live and remix CDs, Incognito has put out good music nearly on an annual basis and that consistency tends to get overlooked and underappreciated.  Well, not here.

Incognito consists of Jean-Paul “Bluey” Manuick, the creative genius and founder of the band. Also, there is a rotation of singers like Maysa (the most well-known), Joy Malcolm, Pamela Anderson, Mark Antoni, Tony Momrelle, Imaani, Jocelyn Brown,  and a bevy of musicians that have created the Incognito sound.  In recent years, the band has worked with Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, and Leon Ware.

My hope is that this band gets more recognition from the American music public. I guess it’s a fickle business on determining what becomes popular for mass consumption.  However, when there’s good music it deserves to be recognized and celebrated for their contribution.  This blog post is my appreciation for what Incognito has done throughout the years and the smile it has put on my face many times over.

Lastly, I have created a list of my favorite 15 Incognito Songs.  This was the hardest list I’ve created.  Here we go:

1) Did We Really Ever Try from Who Needs Love

2) Fences and Barriers from Adventures in Black Sunshine

3) When Tomorrow Brings You Down from Eleven

4) Everybody Loves The Sunshine from Bees, Things, & Flowers

5) A Shade of Blue from Beneath The Surface

6) I Remember A Time from Tales From The Beach

7) Step Aside from Tales From The Beach

8) Marrakech from No Time Like The Future

9) The Way You Love from Surreal

10) When Words Are Just Words from Tales From The Beach

11) Pieces Of A Dream from Positivity

12) Barumba from 100 Degrees and Rising

13) Come Away With Me from Eleven

14) Promise You The Moon from Inside Life

15) I Can See The Future from No Time Like The Future


Music Review 5: Peculiar Image-Vertical Glory

For about ten years, there has been a growing genre of Christian Hip-Hop that has come on the popular music scene.  I must admit I have not listened to a lot of it.  But like any fledging genre, some of it is worth listening to, some of it is not and there are some hidden gems that standout.

I received a copy of Vertical Glory by Peculiar Image a few weeks ago and it took me awhile to listen to it.  I’m glad I finally did.

Peculiar Image are an Austin/San Antonio, Texas-based group that was formed in 2003 by Levester White, Larry Purefoy, John Johnson, and Mike Dillard. The mission for their music is to “Vertical, Relevant, and enjoyable to people of all walks of life.”

I believe Vertical Glory reflects the group’s mission statement.  It is a mix of hip-hop, 70’s R & B, and Worship music that will make you bob you head and even get you to dance down the aisle at church.

The standout cuts are: What’s That Sound, Beautiful to God, Humility, and It’s Alright (Back to the 70’s).  However, when you listen to Vertical Glory, you will have your own favorite songs immediately.

There are a lot of well-known groups in music that receives a lot of publicity.  But it was nice for this reviewer to find some unknown talent that deserves some recognition and has a bright future ahead.

If you want to listen to some good uplifting music that’s relevant. I will recommend you add Vertical Glory to your music collection and will give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Music Review 4: Incognito-Surreal

For those who known me personally know that Incognito has been one of the bands I have listened to consistently over the past 20 years. (Pat Metheny Group is the other band.)

They are my favorite band and everytime I have played their music for someone, people have always been very receptive to their British Soulful Jazz mixed with 70’s funk.  They are always surprised by the fact that they have never heard of Incognito before.

Boy, they don’t what they have been missing!

As you can see, writing a review about your favorite band will make you tend to lose any sense of objectivity.  However, I will attempt to do just that on their latest CD release, Surreal.

I got Incognito’s latest earlier this week and I have not stopped playing it since.  Surreal reminded me of the soulfulness of their 100 Degrees and Rising CD and the jazzy vibes of Tribes, Vibes, and Scribes & Inside Life CDs.

The standout songs on Surreal are The Less You Know (featuring longtime vocalist, Maysa); Goodbye to Yesterday; Above the Night (my favorite song); Capricorn Sun (another one sung by Maysa); Don’t Wanna Know; The Way You Love; and Rivers on the Sun (an Incognito standard instrumental and my second favorite song).

Moreover, there is not a bad song on the CD and after their last two CDs: Tales from the Beach and Transatlantic RPM which were disappointing for me. Surreal is a strong return reminiscent of Incognito’s best work from the early to mid 90’s.

I will give Surreal 4.5 out of 5 stars and highly recommended to it anyone who loves soulful jazz, 70’s funk, and good, uplifting music in general.

Music Review 3: Fred Hammond’s God, Love, and Romance

I read from an interview prior to Fred Hammond’s latest release, God, Love, and Romance that he was unsure how his fans would receive it.

Well, I believe his fans should not worry about that at all and he will pick up some new fans from this excellent CD.

Hammond covers the topic of love and relationships with a Godly perspective in a variety of genres from jazz, funk, r & b, gospel and rock.

What I can appreciate from Hammond is that he doesn’t covers the subject in a manufactured “Christianese” way.  He sings about dating, marriage, and divorce in a way that everyone can relate to, Christian or not.

BTW, he refers to the Song of Solomon throughout both CDs and that refreshing to hear.  (When was the last time a pastor taught from that book to their congregation?)

I played both CDs through in one setting and the stand-out cuts for me are: When I Come Home to You, I’m In Love With You, The Proposal, My Love Is Real, I See the Sunshine’n, and I Got A Good Woman. 

The last song I mentioned has an interlude where two men are talking and one of them asked the other how has been able to stay married for 20 years.  The man replied that their marriage had not be easy and they almost reached the breaking point several times during their marriage.  But, he saw his wife praying for him and he had never seen anything like that before. (Prayer works!) He was touched by and realized how much his wife loved him and would do anything to keep their marriage together.  Powerful and Touching!

Hammond’s latest shows how Christian music can expand and go beyond the status quo to reveal how God can work in one of the most important areas in our lives.

I will that write God, Love, and Romance deserves 4 out of 5 stars and is a must have in your CD collection.

Marion’s Favorite Things II

I’ve been reading a lot of top 10 lists lately and I decided I want to do one of my own.

My other major hobby besides reading and writing….is listening to music.

So I was thinking of the Top 10 Songs that I have listened to the most of my life.

Here we go:

1) Did We Really Ever Try: Incognito (Incognito is my favorite groups and I could have chosen several songs of theirs…but this is the one I’ve listened to the most over the years.)

2) As It Is: Pat Metheny Group (Pat Metheny Group is also one of my favorite groups and several of their songs I could have chosen as well. But this is the one for me.)

3) The Lovers: Alexander O’Neal (Alexander O’Neal is my favorite R & B singer of all time.  The Hearsay album is a classic and I have worn this song out over the years.

4) Hang  to Your Love: Sade (Sade…wow!  Nuff said!)

5) My Life: Mary J. Blige I must admit I’m not a huge Mary J. Blige fan.  But she gets deep on this song and I have listen to it a lot over the years.

6) Consider Me Gone: Sting  I always Sting and the Police and this is song on his Dream of the Blue Turtles CD is the one I have listened to the most.

7) Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You): Stevie Wonder  This is my favorite Stevie Wonder song.  It’s a beautiful song.  Stevie is incredible!

8) It Never Rains in Southern California: Tony Toni Tone  One of my favorite bands as well.  I love listening to this song.  Simple and elegant.

9) Hotel California: The Eagles  A surprise!  I’m not a huge Eagles fan…but this is a great song.  I played it several times last week going to work.

10) Cantaloupe Island: Herbie Hancock:  I love jazz and this is a great song to listen to.

Honorable Mention: Friend of God: Israel and the New Breed.  My favorite worship song.

There’s my list….what about yours!

Music Review 2: Bill Withers

“Your love its like a chunk of gold,

hard to get and hard to hold”

(The Same Love That Made Me Laugh)

“Grandma’s hands soothed a local unwed mother

Grandma’s hands used to ache and swell

Grandma’s hands used to lift her face and tell her

Baby, Grandma understands that you really love that man

but put yourself in Jesus’ hands”

(Grandma’s Hands)

Those lyrics are some of my favorites from Bill Withers.  He is my favorite singer (along with Sade) in music. That’s interesting since he hasn’t release any music since 1985.  Wow!!

Lean on Me, Lovely Day, Grandma’s Hands, Use Me, Who Is He (And What Is He To You), and Ain’t No Sunshine are some of the many classics that Bill Withers provided to his fans in a short window of time.

His music is emotional, stirring, soothing, and refreshing.  In today’s What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately culture, its so nice and incredible that we have a musician’s work that has and will continue to stand test of time.

I believe the key to Bill Withers’ music is his simplicity and ability to tell a story.   He has songs of love won and lost(Lovely Day, Use Me, & Who Is He And What Is He To You), a parent’s love (I’m Her Daddy), the power and influence of a Grandma (Grandma’s Hands), and friendship (Lean on Me).  Those subjects will always interest people from here to the end of time.

For anyone who is not familiar with his music, please download a few of his songs from iTunes or look him on Youtube and I will assure that you become a fan.

Music Review I:Sade

There has been no one like Sade on the pop music scene in the last 25 years.

With hits like Smooth Operator, Your Love is King, The Sweetest Taboo, Love is Stronger than Pride, Paradise, No Ordinary Love, Cherish the Day,  By Your Side, and her most recent hit, Solider of Love, Sade has blazed her own trail in modern music.

I will write I’m one of her biggest fans.  I know there are some of you that will dispute my claim.  I’m okay with that. But, she has been my favorite female singer hands down.

Unlike most pop stars, Sade has only released 6 recorded CDs in 26 years on the music scene. The music industry usually wants their stars to put out a CD every year or two because they think the audience would forget about them and go on to the next pop sensation.

However, Sade has managed to have a large and devoted audience for all these years despite her relative low output. For example, her latest CD, Soldier of Love, released earlier this year made it the first for her in ten years.

What pop star could wait released to a new CD ten years after their previous one?  I could probably count on one hand on how many artists could get away with doing that.

Okay, I some of you reading are asking why I do I like her so much?

Sade’s music has this laid-back, jazzy appeal that makes her easy to listen to.  Her voice, while not a big voice like Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey or Patti LaBelle, is distinctive and unique and fits the music.  When you listen to her, you know it’s Sade and it’s original.

Also, she sings about love with such depth and heartache that I actually feel for her.

In Heaven’s name

why are you walking away

Hang on to your love

In Heaven’s name

why are you playing games

Hang on to your love

Take time

If you are down on love

It’s so easy to walk out on love

Take your time

If the going gets gets tough

Its so precious

So if you want it to get stronger

You better not let go

You go to hold on longer

If you want your love to grow

You got to stick together like hand and glove

Hold tight

Don’t fight

Hang on to your Love

That was from Hang On To Your Love (my favorite Sade song) on the Promise CD and Sade sings this with such earnestness and heartfelt emotion unlike anybody else in pop music.

I may be showing my age in this review…however I believe Sade’s music is timeless and we will still be writing or talking about her music 25 years from now.