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BIG CROWN

Bobby Oroza & El Michels Affair

Whatcha Know / Losing It

    Bobby's 2019 tour ended in New York City and he had two days off before flying home to Finland. Leon invited him to the Diamond Mine to record some music. Bobby had been talking about wanting to stretch out lyrically and write about more esoteric subject matter, Leon was game. They recorded "Reasons" in one session which put the chemistry between the two on the world stage and sparked the idea of doing a full length album together. More than halfway through the recording process, they have decided to treat us to another two-sider of the new material.

    On the A side, "Whatcha Know" Bobby explores death and the human experience, putting his philosophical ponderings into his music. Michels' production and overall ethos is the perfect complement to Bobby's desire to stretch out his sound. EMA provides a gorgeous backing track that compliments Bobby's style and simultaneously broadens its scope.

    The B side "Losing It" is a dramatic and moving number that Bobby sings in Spanish and English. A gorgeous guitar riff is countered with eerie sound effects that crescendo when the drums come in. Bobby professes he's "Losing It" over a love too strong and El Michels Affair's production turns the whole affair into a saga that thunders through speakers.

    TRACK LISTING

    Whatcha Know
    Losing It

    Various Artists

    Dear Sunny...

      Big Crown Records is proud to present Dear Sunny... a compilation of Sunny & The Sunliners covers by Big Crown artists. Since the first time we heard "Should I Take You Home" by Sunny & The Sunliners, we have been avid fans. That record, which we were introduced to on MF Classy Chris' now legendary mixtape, The Time Is Right, set a lot of things in motion. It started of course with tracking down copies and collecting all of Sunny's records for our personal collections.

      That quickly turned into the desire to reissue some of his vast catalog on our label for the rest of the world to hear. We got in touch with Sunny and his son David and brought the idea to them. After getting to know each other well enough Dave said, "You have been calling us non-stop for more than three years, you MUST mean what you are saying" and with that, we signed a deal to do a reissue project on Big Crown. We then flew out to San Antonio again, this time with a scanner and a videographer. We sat down with Sunny to interview him, went through his vast collection of photos, and talked about his life and career. Sunny was even kind enough to let us film him performing acoustic versions of a few songs.

      We used all of that material for our 2017 compilation, Mr Brown Eyed Soul. That release is our highlight reel of Sunny's Soul tunes. We also made his rarest records readily available to collectors at a price that wouldn't empty their pockets. The concept for Dear Sunn came to us right after we signed the deal. We wanted our artists to cover his music as a tribute to him. Three years later we released the digital album on Sept 4th to coincide with Sunny's 77th birthday. The response has been nothing but love and now we are ready to press this up on vinyl with the addition of Liam Bailey's scorching cover of "Give Me Time". Everyone here stepped up to fill very big shoes doing these covers. Bobby Oroza teamed up with Cold Diamond & Mink and made a smashing version of "Should I Take You Home". The Shacks took on the anthemic "Smile Now, Cry Later" while Holy Hive covers "If I Could See You Now" building off the uptempo dance floor energy of the original. Paul & The Tall Trees bring a crooning vibe to "Rain Makes Me Blue" and Brainstory turned "Runaway" into a haunting ballad reminiscent of early Lee Hazelwood productions.

      Some of these turn out to be covers of covers. Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band takes on the funk collector's holy grail from Sunny, his cover of War's "Get Down" while 79.5 take Sunny's version of "My Dream" and change the vibe from a floating love song to theme music for the brokenhearted. Mr. Lee Fields does "The One Who's Hurting Is You" and the latest addition to the Big Crown Roster, Lizette and Quevin, do a rendition of the song that brought Sunny to Dick Clark's American Bandstand in 1963 and catapulted him to fame; his cover of Little Willie John's "Talk To Me". So as the letter begins, "Dear Sunny.." we hope that you enjoy this homage Sir. Thank you for all the music you have given all of us, it has been a pleasure to work with you and to get a chance to know you and your family. We hope everyone enjoys this homage to the living legend, San Antonio's finest, Mr. Brown Eyed Soul, Sunny Ozuna as much as we do

      TRACK LISTING

      SIDE A

      1. Smile Now, Cry Later - The Shacks
      2. Should I Take You Home - Bobby Oroza
      3. My Dream - 79.5
      4. If I Could See You Now - Holy Hive
      5. Get Down - Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band.

      SIDE B

      1. Give Me Time - Liam Bailey
      2. The One Who’s Hurting Is You - Lee Fields & The Expressions
      3. Talk To Me - Lizette & Quevin
      4. Rain Makes Me Blue - Paul & The Tall Trees
      5. Runaway – Brainstory

      Fresh off of their 2020 offering Adult Themes, El Michels Affair is back with a new full-length release. Titled Yeti Season, this newest album has everything we've come to expect from EMA’s patented cinematic style of instrumental soul music. Where Adult Themes inspired a soundtrack to an imaginary film, Yeti Season brings us to a different place in time with new inspirations. Taken with Turkish-styled funk and an almost Mumbai-esque take on soul, El Michels Affair offers us a different kind of drama and imagination with Yeti Season. If you've been following along, this shouldn't be viewed as too far a departure for El Michels Affair.

      The first single off of Yeti Season showed their hand back in 2018. A double-sided banger, that release brought the musical textures to the fore that dominate this record. The first song, titled "Unathi," is fully realized with the beautifully haunting-yet-hopeful vocals of Piya Malik, formally of 79.5 another Big Crown artist. Singing in Hindi, Piya's ethereal voice is telling us to work and strive together toward progress.

      Even if you don't understand her language, you can still hear the urgency of purpose, creating a lasting vibe that sits on top of it all. Leon Michels explains that Piya had a vital influence on this record: "When Piya started singing in Hindi, she had a different voice, a different tone. I knew we had to do something together." And so Piya appears on three other songs on Yeti Season: "Zaharila," "Murkit Gem," and "Dhuaan." Each providing particular signatures to the album. "Zaharila" is a building and changing love song punctuated by blaring trumpets, driving drums, and Piya's pleading lyrics. While the more upbeat "Murkit Gem" opens with a fuzzed out, Wu-Tang-esque baseline that buoys Piya's stylings. The psychedelic guitar and Piya's changing tones and textures singing about an all-consuming love are what pushed "Dhuaan" on to the second single from Yeti Season.

      There is also a vocal appearance from Shannon Wise of The Shacks, yet another Big Crown artist. Her song called "Sha Na Na," lies more in the familiar EMA vein: melodic, hypnotic, soulfully visual. But between Shannon's airy singing, the jumpy baseline, moody vibes, the active drum lines, it sounds like a pensive walk home after a strangely dramatic night. So what is Yeti Season? It could be more of a feeling than an actual place or time of year. It's a heavy album as evidenced by the signature musicianship and dramatic vocal expressions. But it's also a hopeful record, with phrasings, textures, and chord changes that hint at something better or fuller coming our way. You hear it in songs like "Ala Vida," with its stabby, pulsing chords laying a bedrock for EMA's bright, atmospheric horn lines. Or even in "Fazed Out," which leaves you with a feeling of determination, a striving for resolution even though the driving, march-like song structure should accompany some conquering army.

      This persistence has to come from the fact that Leon Michels and company finished this record during the lockdown. It was a tough and troublesome time. But look at what has come of it: Yeti Season a record of high and heavy drama, but also one of hope and promise. It may take a year like 2020 behind us to find hope in a winter big footed creature like a Yeti, but that's where we are.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: Another brilliantly rich and beautifully soulful suite from El Michels Affair here, flitting between eastern psychedelia and filmic grooves into more beat-driven downbeat territory. It's all wonderfully produced (as is the way with EMA) and presents a hypnotic and alluring repeat listen.

      TRACK LISTING

      A1. Unathi
      A2. Sha Na Na
      A3. Ala Vida
      A4. Fazed Out
      A5. Murkit Gem
      B1. Lesson Learned
      B2. Dhuaan
      B3. Perfect Harmony
      B4. Silver Lining
      B5. Zaharila
      B6. Last Blast

      El Michels Affair

      Adult Themes

        Big Crown Records is proud to present Adult Themes, the latest full length offering from El Michels Affair. This album takes the band’s “Cinematic Soul” aesthetic literally and sends the listener on a journey through a whirlwind of moods and energies. With their 2005 debut album Sounding Out The City, EMA spearheaded an instrumental funk / soul movement that inspired a slew of bands and even lead to the creation of a few independent record labels. El Michels has since lent his signature sound to artists from Adele to Dr John, Lana Del Rey to Aloe Blacc, and a who’s who list of others. In 2016 he co-founded Big Crown Records and has since produced the lion’s share of its output. A short stint as the touring band for Wu Tang Clan in 2007 led to the cult classics Enter The 37th Chamber (2009) and Return To The 37th Chamber (2017). Adult Themes marks the long awaited, highly anticipated return to an album of original compositions from El Michels Affair.

        In 2017 in between producing, playing, and recording on other artists’ records Leon Michels began creating compilations of short interludes intended to be sampled by hip hop producers. Some of these wound up becoming songs by Jay Z & Beyonce, Travis Scott, and Don Toliver. These minute-long snippets were inspired by the dense moody work of ‘60s composers like David Axelrod, and Francois de Roubaix, as well as Moondog’s brand of classical jazz. Michels was having so much fun creating these instrumental / orchestral nuggets that he decided to expand on some of the ideas and create what would become the soundtrack for a movie that has yet to be made, an imaginary film entitled “Adult Themes.” The album plays like the colors on an artists pallet. Songs like “Rubix” and “Villa” are densely orchestrated with the hard-hitting drums that El Michels Affair is known for. On “Life of Pablo”, Leon’s son makes his first appearance on record and intros a song with an epic arrangement and a moving mood. “Hipps” is a drum heavy ballad that could’ve easily fit on EMA’s debut record, Sounding Out the City. Other compositions like “The Difference” and “Kill The Lights” are bare, melodic mood pieces with sparse drums and sophisticated chord movement. All of these tunes come together to make perfect backgrounds for dialogue and action. One of the beautiful things about instrumental music is that the listener can decide what the narrative is. With Adult Themes El Michels Affair has created a “choose your own adventure” in musical form.

        TRACK LISTING

        1. Enfant
        2. Adult Theme No. 1
        3. Kill The Lights
        4. Villa
        5. Adult Theme No. 2
        6. Life Of Pablo
        7. Adult Theme No. 3

        SIDE B:
        1. Rubix
        2. A Swift Nap
        3. Hipps
        4. Munecas
        5. Adult Theme No. 4

        The Shacks / Brainstory

        Smile Now, Cry Later / Runaway

          Taken from the forthcoming Big Crown label compilation “Dear Sunny...” Runaway produced by Tommy Brenneck (Charles Bradley, Menahan Street Band). Covers of Sunny & The Sunliners sweet soul classics. In 2017 we released a compilation of Sunny & The Sunliners music entitled “Mr Brown Eyed Soul”. Since that, we reissued three of his albums in their original format and dropped five different 7 inches. We were huge fans of Mr. Ozuna before we started working together and we knew that our audience would love his music as much as we do. One thing we hadn’t anticipated was just how much our own roster of artists were going to fall in love with his catalog. We came up with the idea to have everyone on the label cover a Sunny & The Sunliners tune and do a full length release as an homage to the man himself, Mr. Brown Eyed Soul, Sunny Ozuna. The full compilation is due out in the Fall of 2020 but this new 45 is a taste of what’s to come. Side A is a cover of Sunny's classic “Smile Now, Cry Later” done by The Shacks. Shannon’s gentle whispered vocals bring a whole new energy keeping to the tune keeping laid back and dreamy and Max’s production does justice to one of Sunny’s biggest tunes. Brainstory covers “Runaway”. The darling dears of Rialto properly turn this tune into something completely their own. Tommy Brenneck’s (Charles Bradley) production takes this one over top, a modern day slowie classic that is bound to find its way into DJ sets next to the staples of yesteryear.

          TRACK LISTING

          SIDE A: 1.Smile Now, Cry Later
          SIDE B: 1. Runaway

          Various Artists

          Youth In Action Talent Hunt Winners

            Youth in Action, Inc. (YIA) was formed in 1963 when the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council received a grant to develop a youth services program in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community. It was originally organized to identify and address the social problems that were leading to the high crime rate in Bed-Stuy. Recently the Smithsonian Museum of African American History released an archive of footage filmed by a community activist, which shows the real-world effects of the group's efforts: young people engaged in sports, the arts, and other activities to better themselves and their world. The appearances by Jackie and Bobby Kennedy point to the group's relationship to the Great Society programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson. What there is no mention of in either the NMAAHC's collection of YIA materials nor in the Brooklyn Public Library's also extensive collection is this talent show and the record that came to be because of it.

            Local vocal groups chose tunes to cover from the era (1964 - 1968) ranging from The Rascals to The Intruders, from The O'Jays to Billy Stewart. All of these groups were backed by a local act called The Thrillers Band. The winners of the talent contest were then invited into the studio to record their versions which would be pressed up on this record and given away to local radio and TV stations. The hope of the whole thing was that this would help the young groups get discovered by producers and record labels and start their professional music careers. The intro to the album is Reverend Horace Tyler congratulating the winners and asking them "to just remember, when you reach the top and become our big stars of tomorrow, don't forget YIA". What this album may lack in fidelity and production it more than makes up for in charm. The engineers at the recording sessions pump in pre-recorded applause and screaming to give the it the feel of the day of the contest while the young groups sing their hearts out, clearly giving their all. From today's perspective, soul music fans will lose it over the choices of covers on this record and the killer, raw, innocent performances of them by these local Brooklyn groups. 


            TRACK LISTING

            A:
            1. The Thrillers Band
            2. Love Makes A Woman
            3. I Wish It Would Rain
            4. Come & Get These Memories
            5. I Want To Be Sweeter 

            B:
            1. Cowboys To Girls
            2. Grooving
            3. Cross My Heart
            4. The Way You Do The Things You Do
            5. Dry Your Eyes

            At the corner of Living Legend St. and OG Ave. you will find Lee Fields’ house. A home that was built with blood, sweat, and tears, and stands on the unshakable foundation of his god given talent. Lee has been singing for 50 plus years and is undeniably, yet amazingly, at the top of his game. Those who have paid attention know that Lee is part of the class that is directly responsible for the revival of old school funk and soul. He has inspired many of today’s younger artists who are doing their best to carry the torch. As long as the road has been, and heavy as the crown may be, Fields is proving yet again that he’s “still got it”. His latest offering is sure to be a warmly received instant classic.

            It Rains Love is the 2nd album by Lee Fields & The Expressions on Brooklyn’s Big Crown Records and gives us yet another masterclass in soul. Teaming up again with frequent collaborator and producer Leon Michels and his devoted band, The Expressions, they have managed again to take a classic approach and update it. Traditional soul sensibilities are mixed with a hip-hop tinged, sample ready sound that is as much an homage to the old as to the new. Some of the songs sound like they could belong to any of the last 4 decades without it feeling like a throwback, while others are 60’s soul through and through. Lyrically, Lee runs the gamut from gushing admonishments of love to politically charged calls to action, from proclamations of God’s existence to love letters written to his wife. This record marks the fifth studio album from Lee Fields & the Expressions and we are very proud to add it to the already impeccable catalog they have created together. Another strong offering by a man many people consider to be a national treasure, the professor of love himself, Mr Lee Fields. It’s all love baby! 

            STAFF COMMENTS

            Millie says: Lee Field’s is on top form and dominating the soul genre with his distinctive and bold vocals. It Rains Love is a monumental album which sets him apart as a pure talent, taking all things soul and putting his own stamp on it.

            TRACK LISTING

            1. It Rains Love
            2. Blessed With The Best
            3. Two Faces
            4. You’re What’s Needed In My Life
            5. Wake Up
            6. Will I Get Off Easy
            7. Prisoner Of Love
            8. A Promise Is A Promise
            9. God Is Real
            10. Love Is The Answer
            11. Don’t Give Up (Cd Bonus Track)

            Lee Fields & The Expressions

            Special Night Instrumentals

            The instrumental version of the instant classic "Special Night" by Lee Fields & The Expressions. There are a few terms that get thrown around loosely, two of which are legend and retro-soul. One of these fits Lee Fields hand and glove, one of these doesn’t fit at all. Very few people in music have both earned the status of legendary and continue to solidify it. 50 years in the game and only getting better, gaining more fans, and evolving his sound on each album, Lee is in fact a Living Legend. This brings us to the misuse of the term "retro-soul" when talking about Mr. Fields. You don’t have to look far to find a younger generation emulating the essence and styles of an era the’ve only experienced through music and movies. It seems unfair to tag Lee with a term that implies imitation when he is part of the generation that actually defined the genre. Plain and simple, this is not that. "Special Night" is a masterclass in soul music past and present. “I feel that every human being’s purpose is to do what their inner voice says to do,” says Lee Fields. “And my inner voice, my driving force, wants me to put out music and keeping making better records.” Special Night is also the first record in the Expressions catalogue in which every song was written jointly by Lee Fields and The Expressions.

            “When I record, I make every song like I actually mean it. I mean every word I say. On Special Night I’m talking to my lady — literally, expressing the way I feel.” says Lee Fields. “You can tell if a song is real or not, and every moment I’m recording, those moments are real, this is a record about what people do in real life”. For one example, he cites the song “Work to Do,” which tells the story of “a guy going to counseling, drinking too much, apologizing to the old lady and trying to keep family together, doing the manly thing.” On “Make This World”, Lee makes a nod back to his early funk roots with a cautionary tale about the health of the planet. The world was designed to last indefinitely,” says Fields. “We’re the only living species on Earth who can alter that process. I’m hoping that song has a chain reaction, helps somebody put into action whatever contribution they can to change what the world is going through.” As always, sticking to the formula but pushing the boundaries “Never Be Another You” from the first note doesn’t sound like something you would hear on a Lee record, that is until he starts singing anyhow. A low tempo ballad with a head nodding drum track, sparse piano lines, and all the space Lee needs to lay down what is sure to be one of the flyest love songs of 2017.

            TRACK LISTING

            A1. Special Night
            A2. I’m Coming Home
            A3. Work To Do
            A4. Never Be Another You
            A5. Lover Man
            B1. Make The World
            B2. Let Him In
            B3. How I Like It
            B4. Where Is The Love?
            B5. Precious Love 


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