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April + Vista, You Are HereOtherfeels Recordings

On their latest EP, singer and multi-instrumentalist April George quietly warbles over lush, laid-back grooves that she and producer, engineer, and bassist Matthew Thompson created. George’s vocals are more than aural wallpaper; she periodically varies the tempo of her enunciation and offers some gospel and ’90s R&B-rooted power. Most of this duo’s eight electro-R&B songs on You Are Here are short, with some feeling more like sketches—albeit sketches with much going on. One such cut, “How to Get By,” cleverly shows off George initially getting conversational and poetic, with jazzy bass licks leading into a catchy, repeated refrain of “If I sit and wait,” over echoed, knob-twirling programmed rhythms.

RIYL: Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, Solange.

Black Alley, Dirty LaundryBlack Alley Cooperative Association

Black Alley have long billed their music as “hood rock” and “soul garage” and on their latest album, the genre-fusion checks out: a number of tracks mix power chords and funky rhythms. Singer Kacey Williams‘ powerful, gospel choir-formed voice is front and center, especially on the track “Don’t Belong,” where she offers tear-stained R&B crooning. On the track “Complicated,” the band mixes pop and go-go. Williams and the band go for melodramatic pop/R&B on “Be Me,” while adding a pop sheen to the funk of “Vamp’n.”  

RIYL: Paisley Park Battle of the Band Contest winners who want to be stars.

Hardway Connection, I Don’t Wanna GoSelf-released

Hardway Connection are part of a southern soul scene whose acts mix old-school R&B melodies with double-entendre lyrics and modern keyboard sounds. On the veteran group’s latest album, they emphasize classic gospel elements in a way that, with the right marketing, should garner them fans of retro-soul acts like the late Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. While Hardway’s song “My Woman” has a “too short” reference, most of the lyrics here address more mature relationship issues. Singer Jerome Mackall conveys the male point-of-view with his stunning range, and Toni Love responds with her brash female vocals, while guitarist/vocalist/producer Robert Owens holds it all together in the background.

RIYL: William Bell, Roy C., Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.

Team Familiar, Raw & Uncut Volume 2

Self-released

Team Familiar may largely be a rap and R&B cover band on this 2018 live appearance at Nipsey’s in Upper Marlboro, but with conga player Milton “Go-Go Mickey” Freeman, drummer  Jeffery “Jammin Jeff” Warren, and percussionist Milton “Lil Mickey” Freeman III adding that distinctive go-go beat, it all still feels unique and joyous. Familiar, started 17 years ago by former Rare Essence member Donnell D. Floyd, has undergone some membership changes over the past year. While I miss hearing former guitarist/singer Frank Sirius and singer Ms. Kim, new vocalists Steve Roy and Lakindra Pierce help the band turn hits like “Stir Fry,” “I Like it Like That,” and “Boo’d Up,” into Capitol crankin’ material.

RIYL: Pre-gentrification D.C.