O.G. This new HBO film stars Jeffrey Wright as Louis, the former head of a prison gang, who is winding down the final stretch of a 24 year sentence. When he sees that new arrival Beecher (Theothus Carter) is being courted by current gang leadership, Louis decides to him under his wing. It’s a mentorship that forces Louis to come to grips with the severity of his past crime, the challenges that await him once he gets out, and how his friendship with Beecher puts his chance at leaving at risk. Shot at an actual prison (with a number of those incarcerated cast in acting roles), Wright gives yet another powerful performance as Louis, navigating through an array of emotions on his journey to freedom. It’s a role that yet again reaffirms his status as one of our top actors. The film also isn’t afraid to ask hard questions about our current prison system, with the central one being that does time behind bars truly rehabilitates the soul. It’s a powerful work that will stay with you long after the film ends. O.G. premieres on Saturday at 10pm Eastern on HBO. You can also go to www.hbo.com for more information.
United Skates. John Legend executive produced this new HBO documentary about roller skating and its relationship to the Black community. Directed by first time directors Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown, it highlights the colorful world of roller skating and how it also served as a breeding ground for future hip hop icons such as Queen Latifah and N.W.A. The film also looks at three skaters from L.A, North Carolina and Chicago, who are fighting to keep their respective rinks – and the culture attached to it – alive. Told with warmth and candor, plus loaded with great music – and moves – this is a dynamic tribute to a movement that has endured through time. United Skates is airing now on HBO, HBO Go and HBO Now. You can also go to www.hbo.com for more information.
Walk Through Fire by Yola. After stints as a featured vocalist for Massive Attack and Bugz In The Attic, and fronting the band Phantom Limb, singer-songwriter Yola has stepped out to release her first full length solo album. Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach produced the set with assistance from some of Nashville’s best session pros such as Vince Gill, Dan Penn and Pat McLaughlin. It continues the Bristol-native’s love for American roots music, wonderfully weaving in country, soul, gospel and blues to an astonishing effect. Auerbach surrounds Yola with production that recalls meshes together classic Brill Building and the sweeping orchestrations that were best used on iconic tracks by Dusty Springfield, Candi Staton, Bobbie Gentry. Tracks such ‘Faraway Love’, ‘Ride Out In The Country’ and ‘Lonely The Night’ will simply reduce you to mist. No longer the industry’s best kept secret, this album marks the arrival of the next music’s next major voice. One of the year’s best. Walk Through The Fire by Yola is available now through Amazon, Itunes, and all major music retailers.
Tales Of America by J.S. Ondara. As a teenager, the Nigerian-born Ondara was listening to bands like Nirvana, Oasis and Guns N’ Roses. But when a discussion about Guns’ cover of ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ introduced him to the music of Bob Dylan, it became a transformative moment. Ondara re-located to Dylan’s home state of Minnesota, and aggressively pursued a career in music. Now 26, Ondara has just released his debut album, which looks at the American experience through an immigrant’s eyes. Vocally, Ondara channels the spirit of early Dylan, Odetta, and Richie Havens with lyrics that are both defiant as much as they are poignant. No frills in presentation but no less powerful. One of the year’s best. Tales Of America by J.S. Ondara is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
American Love Song by Ryan Bingham. The latest from the Oscar-winning singer-songwriter is a big, spraw bling love letter to every facet of American popular music. It’s loaded with honky tonk rockers, introspective and politically charged ballads, outlaw country, dirty blues and gospel-infused rock n roll. It’s a summation of all of the music and people he encountered growing up along the U.S.-Mexico border, with some well pointed jabs at politicos looking to divide rather than united. This is the sound of a singer-songwriter at the peak of his powers and we are all the better for it. One of the best albums of the year. American Love Song by Ryan Bingham is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music streaming services.
Hello Happiness by Chaka Khan. For someone like Chaka Khan, the prospect of putting out an album of new material (her first in 12 years) has become more challenging than ever before. First, it has to be on par with the 40 plus years of material that has made her one of the premier ocalists of all time. Then, it has to have enough sonic textures and nuances to attract today’s music buying public. But with her latest release, Chaka manages to pull off both. Tracks such as ‘Don’t Cha Know’ puts Chaka firmly in the present with a barrage of samples, crunchy lead guitar lines, loopy bass with Khan’s soaring wails leading the charge. ‘Too Hot’ is Chaka at her most assertive and sensual while updating the high powered R&B that was her trademark throughout her solo career. She even ventures into dub reggae with ‘Isn’t That Enough’ and flirts with amped up folk on ‘Ladylike’. With fantastic production by Switch and Sarah Ruba, Chaka has crafted an exciting new chapter to her Hall Of Fame career. Hello Happiness by Chaka Khan is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
Living With The Dead: The Films Of George Romero. Released in 1968, Night Of The Living Dead ushered in a new era of independent filmmaking, revived the horror movie genre and make writer/director George Romero a horror icon. What made Romeo’s films even more memorable was that they often served as allegories on issues pertaining to race, capitalism, and government mistrust. BAM Cinematek will pay homage to Romero with a 10 day retrospective covering nearly 50 years of his work. It will include Night Of The Living Dead and all of its respective sequels; Creepshow, The Crazies, Monkey Shines, early industrial films, documentaries and much more. A cool salute to one of the cinema’s unsung heroes. Living With The Dead: The Films Of George Romero will be at The Brooklyn Academy Of Music February 22nd through March 3rd. You can also go to www.bam.org for tickets, a complete schedule and more information.