Jellowstone Records is a force to be reckoned with. With a string of high profile, high quality releases over the past year, including DJ Harrison’s StashBoxxx, Butcher Brown’s All Purpose Music, and most recently the self-titled debut from R&B group Kings, the independent, Richmond based record label has caught the ears of big figures in the music world from all over the country, including Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf, Jazz musician Nicholas Payton, and even Kendrick Lamar.
R&B singer Sam Reed, and her debut album This is Love, is the next one up to prove that Jellowstone Records, and Richmond, Virginia, has got something to say.
The album is a collaboration between Sam Reed and label co-founder Devonne Harris (DJ Harrison), the incredibly prolific producer/multi-instrumentalist and the mastermind behind most Jellowstone Records releases. In addition to having a large amount of solo material already under his belt, Harris mastered rapper Count Bass D’s recent album Handshake vs. Dap, plays keys in Butcher Brown, does gigs as a jazz drummer around the country, and produced Kings entire debut album.
To roll out the physical release of this new project, Jellowstone put together a showcase of the label’s three most prominent acts as of late on May 5th, at Richmond, VA, based venue The Camel. On the bill were Butcher Brown, Kings, and Sam Reed.
left to right: bassist Andrew Randazzo and guitarist Keith Askey, half of Butcher Brown
Butcher Brown and Kings had relatively short, three or four song long sets. Butcher Brown played the best show of theirs I’ve seen, using material from All Purpose Music in addition to some newer, unreleased songs. As all members of the quartet have extensive backgrounds in jazz music, they carried over one of the genre’s most endearing qualities to this performance: the ability to take an already existing composition and breathe new life into it. They added new outros, interludes, and solos to the previously released songs and significantly improved on the already great compositions.
left to right: producer and Jellowstone co-founder Reggie Pace, Kelli Strawbridge, and jazz musician Marcus Tenney
Kings followed, doing a few songs off of their recent release in an electrifying performance. Frontman Kelli Strawbridge was in peak form, holding the crowd down and giving the best vocal performance I’ve seen of his, from the softer moments during the ballads to the high-energy wails that even James Brown would be proud of. The headliner hadn’t even started and I already knew that this was going to be a monumental night.
However the minute Sam Reed and her live band, the Sam Reed Syndicate hit the stage, the already high expectations I had for the night were exceeded. Sam performed her album in its entirety, an album which I can’t say enough good things about.
This is Love is an incredibly dynamic piece of work, covering a lot of sonic ground both instrumentally and vocally. On the first half of the album Sam goes through a spoken word intro, “I’ll Go”, a song with a free-jazz backing track, into two explosive opening tracks, “Come Inside” and “Reel Feel Sound”, both songs that have distorted, arena ready guitars, thundering drums, and chugging basslines. They come off as having a hard rock influence, a sound that we haven’t heard yet from Jellowstone Records that goes over remarkably well. Then the album gets into “Those Words”, a smooth, beautiful, and romantic song, one that stays more within the kind of standard Jellowstone sound established by Butcher Brown that we’ve come to know and love, yet still delivers on fronts. Its followed by one of the strongest tracks on the album, “True Value”, a powerful and emotional piano driven ballad, seething with emotion.
Listen: “Reel Feel Sound” – Sam Reed
Listen: “Love Ain’t Free” – Sam Reed
On the second half of the album, DJ Harrison begins to go more futuristic and experimental with the instrumentation, with more songs having electronics and non-conventional beats incorporated into them. On the song “Never Alone”, Reed and her husband, rapper Joshua “Freeze” Reed, pass the mic back and forth, trading verses and melodies over a jazzy beat that has the earmarks of DJ Harrison’s distinctive style all over it. Its really cool to hear these two team up on a track, and Josh does a great job riding the beat and delivers some solid verses. Its followed by the romantic, synth enfused, Dam-Funk evoking “Love Aint Free” (a personal favorite of mine), the funky and danceable“Astrobelt”, and the heart-wrenching ballad “Can’t Walk Away”.
All over this tracklist, on song after song, Sam Reed proves her immense versatility as a vocalist while banging out gorgeous melodies and some of the most beautiful and memorable hooks I’ve heard all year. Her voice easily switches back and forth between staggering, powerful moments where she’s belting out runs, and softer, more subtle moments where she riding a quieter track. To top it off, every now and then she’ll slip into a short rap verse mid song, and of course she fuckin kills it.
from top to bottom: Sam Reed, Devonne Harris
Needless to say, this album was all the more impressive live. Reed has a great stage presence, and she’s backed up by some great musicians, including DJ Harrison on keys and Kelli Strawbridge on backup vocals/hype-man duties. It was heart-warming to watch someone who clearly has so much passion for their music and art finally see a dream of their’s come to fruition, to see the culmination of months, if not years of hard work finally pay off.
As corny as it may sound, This is Love is about just that. Sam Reed has so much love for the music, as does DJ Harrison, Butcher Brown, Kelli Strawbridge, and every single person in the audience that night. That love shines through on each and every song on the album, and by the end of her set, Reed was crying tears of joy.
If you want to hear a boundary-pushing, innovative, versatile, pain-stakingly created and beautiful R&B and soul record, then pick up Sam Reed’s This is Love ASAP. It’s another win in the books for Jellowstone Records, a label which is on a winning streak that is beginning to rival that of Stones Throw Records in the early 2000’s, Blue Note Records in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and even Death Row Records in the early to mid 90’s, except without all the organized crime and beating the shit out of people with lead pipes. This is history in the making and you shouldn’t be missing out on it.