Feb 9 2018
STATE OF GROOVE
Rocking Magpie Review (With corrected names)
A Red Hot and Timeless Blend of Feisty Female Rhythm, Blues, Funk and S.O.U.L
This album has very nearly gone into the Oxfam box twice in recent weeks; not because it’s no good but simply because it arrived in October 2017 when Mrs Magpie was rushed into hospital and I didn’t do any reviews for a couple of months and the 2018 pile of CD’s is growing like Topsy every day.
But……this is far too good a record to give away and in my humble opinion deserves a much wider audience than the hirsute hipsters of Jesmondia near Newcastle.
First of all I’m not too sure I like the striking artwork on the album cover; but in it’s defence it does ‘sum up the contents’ extremely well! What you see is what you get……a red, hot and timeless mix of feisty female Rhythm, Blues, Funk and S.O.U.L
With no preconceptions at all, apart from trusting the PR who sent the disc……..my stomach spun like a turbo fan the first time I heard opening track ROCKET!
Oh Lordy Lord….everything I love about R&B and Soul Music is here…..and MORE! Nikki Armstrong aka Mama SpanX has a warm, velvety and expressive vocal style and her band The Spankers (ooh, err Missus!) Rock, Roll and Swing like a cross between The Swampers and Count Basie’s Big Band……and that’s only a slight exaggeration.
Seeing me making a cup of coffee earlier Mrs. Magpie giggled “What are you doing?” As I was shuffling my feet and actually ‘shaking my thang’ as Wild Emotion filtered out of the office speakers on the other side of the house. Caught in the act; I kept on dancing regardless of how silly I looked; it’s that good a song and too good an opportunity to miss, regardless of the location.
When she wasn’t watching I secretly danced again to the Funkylicious Being Beautiful and Alligator Boogaloo and then again on the title track State Of Groove; because that’s what this music is for……DANCING and you will too.
Mama SpanX can get low down and dirty too by the way; with Crawl and Thinkin’ being the sort of late night Bluesy/Soul crossover that is perfect for both seduction purposes and also crying your heart out into your beer when it all goes horribly wrong!
Before I get onto my ‘favourite track’ I have to heap copious praise on the Spankers; without whom this album wouldn’t be half as good….Harlan Spector’s keyboard playing is exceptional and holds the whole sound together and the horn section ….Steve Sadd, Russ Mullen and Julie Sax make a big, big sound worthy of the best in Memphis; and David Abercrombie on a six string fretless bass (?) alongside drummer Ben Beckley combine to create controlled thunder in the background while Steve Johnson provides virtual lightning on guitars throughout.
As I say I love the dance tunes here; but the two songs that tie for ‘favourite track status are the Power Ballad Wrong Side of the Garden; which is a thrill a minute and promises to be a guaranteed showstopper when sung live; yet the other finds Nikki Armstrong singing the lyrics to the heart breaking Anywhere You Are over a very gently played piano. Simple, yet emotionally destructive……just like Soul music should be.
Where do I start and stop comparing the Mama SpanX ‘sound’? Classic acts as diverse as Tina Turner, Nina Simone, Tower of Power and even Sly and the Family Stone sprung to mind at various times playing this record; but so did RMHQ Favourites the James Hunter Six and of course the late lamented Miss Sharon Jones of Daptone Records fame……and Mama SpanX and the Spankers could easily sit comfortably in any of that company.
MAMA SPANX - “STATE OF GROOVE”
by Paul Freeman
Mama SpanX puts together a grabbing combination of fierce funk, rollicking rock and sizzling soul. They soar thanks to the power-packed vocals of Nikki Armstrong, hot horns and infectious grooves. There’s a retro feel to the band’s exciting sound. Standout tracks include “Let’s Roll (Get Your Mama Spanx On),” “All Around the World,” the catchy title track and the torchy “Wrong Side of the Garden.” Armstrong can beautifully deliver a ballad, as well, as she demonstrates on “Anywhere You Are.”
Two new reviews
Denmark January 8, 2018 Translation from Dutch
Reviewed by Walter Vanheuckelom
MAMA SPANX - STATE OF GROOVE
Mama SpanX is the latest project by Nikki Armstrong, an American singer / songwriter and bandleader. Nikki was born in Riverhead on Long Island and studied music in Boston, Los Angeles and New York. Nikki is also a professional dancer and actress. She has already been compared to Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. After writing session work in Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles, Nikki decided to change her focus to live performances. This change brought her back to New York City. Nikki Armstrong played with her previous formations Whole Lotta Blues (funk, blues and rock) and The Nikki Armstrong Project (jazz and blues) for more than twenty years in the New York Tri State area. She has performed and recorded music with Melvin Sparks, Bucky Pizzarelli and Les Paul, to name a few. Nikki can be found regularly on large stages, Carribean cruise ships and at festivals and she was already allowed to open for Joan Osborne, The Commitments, Dave Mason, Dickey Betts, Hubert Sumlin, Coco Montoya, Cornell Dupree and Ivan Neville. In 2012 she did a successful tour in France and was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. Nikki has already released five albums. After a second tour in 2014 in France, Nikki returned to Los Angeles, where she sought the right musicians to jointly build and launch her new project Mama SpanX. She sought and found drummer and producer Ben Beckley, guitarist Steve Johnson, trumpet player and trombone player Julie Sax, keyboardist Harlan Spector, saxophonist Steve Sadd and bassist David Abercrombie. On November 1, 2017 'State Of Groove' appeared, the debut album of Mama SpanX. There are nine songs on the album, eight of which are original songs written by Nikki Armstrong.
The first sounds we hear when we set up the CD is the crackling of an old vinyl record. A little later we hear the raw voice of Nikki Armstrong and the bass drum and the hi hat of drummer Ben Beckley who take care of the intro of the opener 'Rocket'. Later the other instruments will amplify the song and 'Rocket' will become a soulful funky song with a lot of wind instruments and an excellent solo by Steve Sadd on the saxophone. Keyboardist Harlan Spector is also explicitly present at Hammond. To the end, this soulful funk song turns into a swinging gospel song, with great work by David Abercrombie on his fretless bass guitar. 'Wild Emotion' and 'Crawl' Nikki wrote together her good friend and blues guitarist Dave Fields. 'Wild Emotion' is a very danceable soul song, in which many influences from the seventies can be heard. 'Crawl' is a funky rocker with an exciting groove, in which keyboardist Harlan Spector, saxophonist Steve Sadd, trumpet player Julie Sax and bassist David Abercrombie claim a leading role. 'Being Beautiful' is a steaming rocker, who is sung in a very convincing way by Nikki Armstrong.
'Wrong Side Of The Garden' is a melodic ballad in which we can once again enjoy the beautiful full voice of Nikki. Guitarist Steve Johnson is in the spotlight with beautiful and bluesy strings. The only cover on the album is 'Alligator Boogaloo', a bluesy rocker by jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson from 1967. The very danceable funk song 'Thinkin' has a catchy chorus. Guitarist Steve Johnson and keyboardist Harlan Spector are allowed to display their instrumental virtuosity again during a handsome solo. In the intimate, understated ballad 'Anywhere You Are' the beautiful voice of Nikki Armstrong is only supported by the piano sounds of Harlan Spector. The horns are again explicitly part of the intro of the fiercely grooving title track 'State Of Groove', a funky song in which bassist David Abercrombie can enjoy the six thick strings of his fretless bass. The album ends as it started, namely with the crackling of an old vinyl record. 'State Of Groove' is a nice debut album with lots of soul and funk. The voice of Nikki Armstrong is full, raw and powerful and she has a good relationship behind her. (7/10)
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Mama SpanX - State Of Groove - New Release Review
I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release, State Of Groove, from Mama SpanX and it moves. Opening with Rocket, a funky dance tune, lead vocalist, Nikki Armstrong is backed by Steve Johnson on guitars, Harlan Spector on keys, Steve Sadd on tenor and soprano sax, Julie Sax on alto and bari sax, Russ Mullen on trumpet and trombone, David Ambercrombie on bass, and Ben Beckley on drums and percussion. With slick sax solos by both players and a tight guitar solo by Johnson, this is a cool opener. R&B strutting, Wild Emotion has an authentic 60's sound with trumpet and sax fillers, a nice bass line, cool backing vocals and a snappy bottom. Blues ballad, Wrong Side Of The Garden, is a showcase for Armstrong. Warm sax soloing and tight guitar riffs nail this track. James Brown's influence is really clear on Alligator Boogaloo with it's funky back beat. Julie and Steve both step up with tight sax solos on this one giving it super traction. Wrapping the release is title track, State Of Groove and Abercrombie lays it down. With funky B3 lines and horn punch this track gets into the slot and rides it all the way. Solid closer.
Richard L'Hommedieu's Making A Scene Interview with Nikki -Mama SpanX
Richard L'Hommedieu's Making A Scene Interview with Nikki -Mama SpanX
MAMA SPANX Review Zicazine Written by Fred Delforge
Saturday, 02 December 2017 (Translated from French)
- of groove (Frank Roszak Promotions - 2017)
Duration 41'39 - 9 Songs
An excellent singer but also a brilliant songwriter, Nikki Armstrong made her debut at New York's Blues Hall Of Fame, but she has not lost the desire to continue to offer rich and groove-rich music for which she uses gratin of the US scene, inviting brilliant musicians from the West Coast but also from the East Coast to drop a little funk, rhythm'n'blues or rock on compositions that smell good soul and blues. It's in the company of the Spankers, seven brilliant musicians, that Nikki created Mama SpanX, and it's inspired by models such as Tower Of Power, Sly & The Stone Family, Ike & Tina Turner or James Brown that she has come to offer us an album that smells like the soul of the 60s and 70s, a "State Of Groove" which shines by its very sought-after arrangements but also by its very present brass. Benefiting from Steve Johnson's prowess on guitars, Harlan Spector on keyboards, Steve Sadd and Julie Sax on saxophones, Russ Mullen on trumpets and trombones, David Abercrombie on bass and Ben Beckley on music direction and drums, Mama SpanX manages to take this art to the highest musical spheres and it is a music at once catchy and convincing but also sometimes very intimate that offer us the group but also its singer whose voice is a pure treasure. We will inevitably focus on titles like "Wild Emotion", "Being Beautiful", "Alligator Boogaloo" or the beautiful tittle track that closes the effort but also a superb "Anywhere You Are" taking with his trumpet solo deposited by Stewart Cole. By offering the (re-) discovery of some of the American black music in her own way, Mama SpanX wins the game by hand and proves by the way that we can offer something new by firmly leaning legacy of the elders. It naturally commands respect! http://www.zicazic.com/zicazine/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=14441
BluesN Roots Netherlands 11.17.17
The band Mama SpanX, which New York has as a base, has not existed for so long. Somewhere in 2015, Nikki Armstrong and Ben Beckley laid the foundations for the band. Their collaboration goes back to Los Angeles, where they combined songwriting and producer work together. Nikki, originally from Riverhead, Long Island, moves to Boston and then Los Angeles for her music study. In addition to her music studies, she develops her dance and acting talents. After her study she settles in New York where she forms Whole Lotta Blues, The Nikki Armstrong Project and the tribute project Just Janis. With various relics on her name Blues and Jazz, Live at BB King's, Turnin '& Burnin', New, Borrowed & Blue and her penultimate release from 2012 Now and Then it's high time to join forces again with drummer,
This originally jazz drummer has been behind the boilers since he was eleven, studied music at the Berklee School of Music and Manhattan School of Music and has since then been involved in countless bands in the genre rock, soul, funk, blues, country, latin and even Irish music played. In Steve Johnson, both find the ultimate guitarist. Johnson, who started playing guitar in 1963, shared the stage with Paul Butterfield, Johnny Copeland, Paul Schaeffer, Albert Collins, Little Jimmy King, Jaco Pastorious, Fernando Saunders, Leslie West, Little Mike, Hubert Sumlin, Nikki Armstrong, Popa Chubby and Michael Hill. In addition to his three self-management productions with the powerblues trio The Tanks and three albums for Virgin Records he has five albums under his own name for the French Dixiefrog label to his name. The equally experienced Julie Sax-Woodwinds and Steve Sadd are responsible for the copper work. Keyboardist Harlan Spector and bassist David Abercrombie complete the band. An ensemble that has a broad background and also propagates this in the chosen repertoire, in which rock, soul, funk and pop come together in mostly written pieces.
The crackling of an old gramophone record announces the first song Rocket and that's how we quickly get to know the delicious, almost raw sounding voice of Nikki Armstrong, who has a solid soulful funk performance of the song. Both Steve's let themselves be heard briefly on a solo level and it is clear, here is a close team at work. The same plan is a bit extended in Wild Emotion and the very groovy sounding Crawl . This path is abandoned in the pounding rocker Being Beautiful and then the tempo is lowered in Wrong Side Of The Garden, in which there is plenty of room for excellent bluesy guitar work from Steve Johnson, as we know him from his Dixie Frog albums. Soon the pace is restored and the band puts down a funky performance of Alligator Boogaloo . Also Thinkin ' is in this genre, but where the first tends towards blues, slide there Thinkin' more like a poppy embodiment in which solo space for Hammond Player Harlan Spector and guitarist Steve Johnson. Anywhere You Are is an absolute resting point on this album, this ballad is mainly based on the piano playing of Harlan Spector and therefore gives all the space to the great singer Nikki Armstrong. Then we have already landed again at the last track, State of Groove, the title says enough and just the deep tones from the six-string fretless bass by David Abercrombie guarantee the groove that spouts the speakers. A fine album, that has the necessary variation and makes us acquainted with a close company that knows how to connect various styles in a tasteful way.
BLUES BLAST MAGAZINE REVIEW-MAMA SPANX STATE of GROOVE October 26, 2017
Mama SpanX are a funk/soul/rock/pop band led by singer, songwriter and New York Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Nikki Armstrong. Having originally kicked around the idea of the band with the late soul-jazz guitarist Melvin Sparks (who coined the band name), Armstrong finally began pulling the band together in 2015.
The opening track, “Rocket”, perfectly sets out Mama SpanX’s stall. With a rock solid groove, funky horns, Armstrong’s top drawer blues voice, great dueling saxophone solos from Julie Sax and Steve Sadd and a rock guitar solo from Steve Johnson, the song shifts through various key changes before suddenly launching into the stratosphere as it explodes into a James Brown-style gospel breakdown.
It is immediately apparent that Mama SpanX have chops to spare but also retain the precious ability to craft clever songs. Armstrong herself wrote or co-wrote 11 of the songs on State of Groove, the sole cover being an updated version of Lou Donaldson’s 1967 hit, “Alligator Boogie” (to which Armstrong added additional lyrics). She has a particular knack for coming up with catchy choruses, such as in “Thinkin’, where one finds oneself excited for the verse to end, knowing what is about to happen.
Armstrong has a magnificent voice, warm and powerful, with an endearing lived-in edge to it, and she is superbly supported by her band. In addition to Armstrong, Mama SpanX features Steve Johnson on guitars, Harlan Spector on organ and piano, Julie Sax on alto and bari-saxophone, flute and backing vocals, Steve Sadd on tenor and soprano sax, David Abercrombie on bass, “Uncle ” Ben Beckley on drums (and piano on “Anywhere You Are”). There are also guest appearances by Russ Mullen (trumpet and trombone), John “Beedo” Dzubak, Sr (vocals on “Let’s Roll”), Stewart Cole (trumpet solo on “Anywhere You Are”) and Rob Chaseman (percussion programming on “Black & White”).
There is more than a hint of the 1970s in songs like “Black And White” and “All Around The World”, partly in the chord structures, partly in the lavish production and smart backing vocals, but primarily in the easy virtuosity of the musicians. In an era when the pernicious devaluation of music as a valuable art form shows no sign of abating, it is both refreshing and encouraging to hear an album like this. The musicians successfully run that delicate balance between being a musical wizard whilst never over-shadowing the song and the music. The album title is spot on – groove is absolutely key to every song on State of Groove – but so are melody, technical excellence and passion.
There is also a fine sense of humor on display, as evidenced by the sound of an old-fashioned needle being placed on a record that book-ends the album. This is proudly retro-modern music.
Despite Armstrong’s impressive blues resume, there isn’t a huge amount of blues on State of Groove. There is however a lot to enjoy on this album. If you revel in the soul-funk-pop of the likes of Tower of Power, James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone, you will find much to appreciate here.
Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.