Gilles Peterson Digs America: Brownswood U.S.A.
(Ubiquity/Luv N' Haight)
Gilles Peterson Presents the BBC Sessions
If there's an emotional distance—measured by time, money, and heart invested—between the enthusiast and the collector, there's a chasm between collector and obsessive which few cross, like the guy who paid $26,000 for Motown's rarest 45, Frank Wilson's "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)." Similarly, DJ and vinyl archivist Gilles Peterson doesn't merely cherish rare cuts; he's got an entire house, called Brownswood, in which to enshrine his ever-growing collection. His syndicated BBC Radio 1 show, Worldwide, occasionally features "Brownswood Basement" rarities: as-yet-unreissued world, funk, soul, and jazz relics from the '60s and '70s. Gilles Peterson Digs America is the DJ's first compilation of entirely U.S.-produced finds; from test pressings and private collections, he unearths everything from Bay Area crooner Dorando's "Didn't I" to Jon Lucien's supple baritone in "Search for the Inner Self," whose lyrics may resonate with Peterson's life: "Young boy in a world without love/Can you see where you're going?/You must look within yourself/Find the ruse that's made for you/Stretch your mind to distant shores."
Not all the tracks here are so lovely, and any cynic will tell you that some things are obscure for a reason. But Peterson's been there and done that, and he hasn't handed in an easy-listening background for dinner parties. It's challenging, and underneath the shrill vocals of "Get Off the Ground," which might challenge your patience, syncopated snare fills, bongos, and bass beats echo the modern garage-house and broken-beat rhythms Peterson has championed. It's easy to hear the Cinematic Orchestra or nu-jazz Sonar Kollektiv artists mining the grooves of Ira Sullivan's "The Kingdom Within You," and J.R. Bailey's "Just Me 'N You," which follows, is the honeyed sex jam to end all. Still, nuggets like the World Experience Orchestra's raw and mournful "The Prayer"—which Peterson called "the ultimate modal jazz prayer, the kind of record that I dream about" in an NPR interview last November—and the Ensemble Al Salaam's "Circles," which tumbles into tuneless vocal ones, might take a collector's ear to enjoy.
The more accessible two-disc BBC Sessions, extracted from over five years of Worldwide in-studio performances, has its share of doozies, too, like N.E.R.D.'s "Exclusive Jam," where Pharell waxes poetic first on war, then aliens ("Where do you think we brownies come from?"), Steely Dan, and Paris. Dude, WTF? Doing better justice to OutKast's "Prototype" is Plantlife's "3 a.m.," a space-jam booty call that precedes an excellent version of "This Room" from live dub septet Fat Freddy's Drop. That band and other, underheard-in-the-U.S. British musicians like Roots Manuva, Róisín Murphy, and Homelife would be the best reason to hear it if not for neo-soul singer Peven Everett's robust, beat-less version of the house classic "Gabrielle" and Cody Chesnutt's acoustic "Seed," where his voice—distorted from being too close to the mike—makes passion palpable. "If Mary drop my baby girl tonight/I would name it rock and roll/Gospel and soul." And funk. And jazz. And . . . RACHEL SHIMP
Ain't Nobody Worryin'
(So So Def/Zomba)
This North Carolina–born R&B crooner's central asset is his well- contoured voice, one of neo-soul's most expressive. It's tempting to think of Hamilton as channeling Bill Withers, whose smoky-creamy timbre Hamilton eerily replicates. But where Withers used to duck out of a note at the precise moment when you'd expect him to start growling, Hamilton goes ahead and starts growling; his husky baritone noodling is the masculine equivalent of the melisma female peers like Angie Stone and Beyoncé do. A few months ago, Rhino released Soulife, an album comprising material Hamilton had recorded between 1999 and 2001 that fell prey to record-label insolvency. It's notable that the stuff on Ain't Nobody Worryin', the proper follow-up to Hamilton's million-selling Comin' From Where I'm From, doesn't differ all that much from the material on Soulife, which the singer made under entirely different circumstances: Hamilton relies on the old-school verities of taste and technique, so you get the sense that he'll be churning out modest variations on a theme for years to come. His approach hasn't dulled yet; the gently thudding beats and gooey keyboards that define new tunes like "Can't Let Go," a humble ode to sticking together, still sound homey and lived in, not done to death. If there's a touch less of the mellow country grit that made Where I'm From an object of Cackalacka pride, Hamilton replaces it with "Everybody," a blunted reggae tune with ambience to spare. MIKAEL WOOD