Feb 9 2018 TWO MORE GREAT REVIEWS TODAY!
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 today
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
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
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.
BIG CITY R&B MAG REVIEW of STATE OF GROOVE-June 2017
"New York Blues Hall of Fame vocalist Nikki Armstrong is singer, songwriter, bandleader and Mama SpanX herself. Nikki was given the handle by friend and collaborator, the late Melvin Melvin Rip Sparkss and once you’ve heard “State Of Groove” it’s a name you won’t easily forget. Nikki pulled together a seven-piece band of bi-coastal musicians with diverse influences to create a sound that incorporates aspects of funk, soul, jazz and blues. This eclectic band includes drummer and songwriting collaborator Ben Beckley, blues guitarist Steve Johnson, Latin/jazz saxophonist Julie Sax, LA soul and gospel tenor saxophonist Steve Sadd, Harlan Spector on keyboards and six string fretless bassist David Abercrombie along with a few guest artists. The band’s mantra is ‘keep it in the groove’ and the dozen tracks with eleven originals were recorded live on a vintage 32 channel deck to analog tape giving the whole album the feel of classic funk.
The band takes off with “Rocket” on a steady climb, horns flaring and guitar go into a free fall, but Nikki’s commanding vocals keep it clearly on track. Mama’s soulful storytelling style is shown off as she confesses her “Wild Emotion” then the band rolls out some gritty licks as the hot sax and powerful vocals join forces, you’ll be on your knees and willing to “Crawl” as her lyrics get deep into the ugly reality of “Being Beautiful.” The jazzy groove and Julie’s flute on “Black & White” stand out but it’s the song’s message that really moves ya. You can smell the funk as this party gets hoppin’ while John “Beedo” Dzubak declares “Let’s Roll” and the band shakes it on down. The horns drift through a dream-like state as Nikki sings of love and the band takes a spin “Around The World.” With the band locked into a James Brown groove they let Mama do the “Thinkin’” and the “Alligator Boogaloo” was a soulfully funky instrumental by saxophonist Lou Donaldson but the addition of Mama’s lyrics gives it a bite. Guitar screams into a solemn rock power ballad that’s on the “Wrong Side of the Garden” then mellows to a simple piano accompaniment and soft backup vocals but it’s the lyrics that makes “Anywhere You Are.” Closing with all the funk they can stand, the horns, keys and solid beat take it to a higher place in a “State Of Groove.”
If you’re ready for some old school funk with a twist, Mama SpanX has your “State Of Groove” in good hands." —Roger & Margaret White [BIG CITY R&B MAG](http://www.bigcitybluesmag.com/)
Popular Music and Society
Audio Review State of Groove
Thomas M. Kitts Pages 1-2 | Published online: 25 Apr 2017O REVIEW
State of Groove Mama SpanX, 2017, CD, Ideal Scene, B06XB8GSYJ
Over the last couple of decades, I have seen Nikki Armstrong perform several times in New York City clubs or at blues festivals. While I have anticipated each of her new releases, I never found that any of her albums captured the high-octane raw sensuality of her live performances. Armstrong’s five CDs previous to State of Groove are solid enough, capable and efficient, but with only sporadic moments of the urgency and immediacy that define her live shows. Even her Live at B.B. King’s somehow falls a bit short. Finally, however, with State of Groove and with Mama SpanX, Armstrong, an inductee in the New York State Blues Hall of Fame, delivers an album that matches the exuberance, potency, and steam of her live performances. In the fall 2016, Armstrong led a band of seasoned veterans into a Los Angeles studio where, for almost two weeks, the newly christened Mama SpanX churned song after song until they found the right groove for each. The result is State of Groove, 12 tracks, 11 written or co-written by Armstrong and a cover of Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo,” songs rich in texture that cut deep, evocative images and sounds of funkmasters like James Brown, Sly, George Clinton, and Prince, and funk hotspots like Memphis and New Orleans with every so often a dash of Motown. To round off the album, Armstrong delivers three ballads: the jazzy “Black & White,” the bluesy “Wrong Side of the Garden,” and the soulful “Anywhere You Are.” Perhaps in an effort to pack both the wallop and the warmth of her live shows and to achieve an old-school effect, Armstrong recorded Groove on analogue tape, somewhat of a studio relic these days that can necessitate painfully precise care. The singer, who co-produced the CD with Ben Beckley and Howard Lindeman, signals her old-school intentions with some needle hissings and cracklings at the album’s opening and, again, at album’s close. In between, the sound is clean, the balance precise, and each instrument clear. Here Lindeman, who mixed all but one track, excels. Mixing a funk album, with all its multilayered and nuanced textures, can be tricky. State of Groove simply sounds beautiful. Mama SpanX launches Groove with “Rocket,” just over five minutes of explosive energy. “Yes, I feel like a motor rocket,” a charged Armstrong exclaims in the chorus, “and my dimensions are all shook up…and I’m never gonna stop, never gonna stop.” Armstrong’s vocals are gritty, rough, and resolute, girded by the funky rhythms created by veteran blues guitarist Steve Johnson, the percolating bass of David Abercrombie, and the backbeat and nifty fills of Ben Beckley. On the album’s first instrumental break, saxophonists Julie Sax (yes, the name is correct) and Steve Sadd play off one another before Armstrong calls on Johnson for his first solo, to which he responds with big, rounded, high register notes, twisting and orbiting upward. Armstrong reenters with another verse but, when she reaches the chorus, she quiets the music and sings accompanied by her backup vocalists. “Rocket” then accelerates into a solid minute of spirited gospel with blasting horns, fast pumping bass, and Harlan Spector’s B-3 organ riffs lifting the singers ever “a little bit higher” to an hallelujah-like crescendo finish. Among the other highlights on State of Groove is “Wild Emotion,” which could have been a smash hit in a different era. With its cool relaxed groove, catchy chorus, and Stax-like horns, the song sways and eases forward, drenched in sexuality and soul, and featuring a stellar Dicky Betts-like solo from Johnson. Another favorite is the funky and ironic “Being Beautiful,” in which Armstrong plays a whiney, conceited singer “cursed” with being “beautiful…sexy and cool—even when [her] hair is a mess.” In the bridge, she complains that she “didn’t even know who [she] was dating “till [she] saw it on Facebook.” The lightness and playfulness of the track are animated by the controlled but upbeat tempo, the punctuating brass section, and the bobbing organ fills. In “Thinkin’,” a more credible persona contemplates her absent lover with “sensations, vibrations, pounding my heart...in the dark” to short rhythmic bursts from the horn section underscored by the clicky, funky rhythm of Johnson’s guitar and Beckley’s backbeat. The bass drives the music into the chorus with a sustained blare from the organ and brass section, rising in the mix to Armstrong’s jubilant vocals: “I think I feel you thinkin’ about me.…The thrill of it all, the thrill of it all.” State of Groove evokes images and spirits from the past. “Alligator Boogaloo,” for which Armstrong wrote lyrics and a new bridge with Alan Hagar, takes us down to sultry New Orleans; “Crawl” has the gritty, grunge-like feel of urban blues, suggesting dark city nights, and the title track calls to mind Prince’s Paisley Park, colorful and joyous. The only track that didn’t quite win me over is the only somewhat amusing “Let’s Roll.” While it features some deft guitar work, the sing-songy backing vocals and the interaction of Armstrong and guest vocalist John “Beedo” Dzubak, who drummed with Etta James and the Soul Survivors (“Expressway to Your Heart”), try too hard to be clever and playful. Armstrong and her band are fully invested in this album. They play off and inspire one another, performing with care and craft, and surprising us with rhythmic shifts and startling solos. They deliver old-school funk at its best: hot, emotional, spiritual, bluesy, and joyful. With State of Groove, Mama SpanX brings us a music too often missing from today’s soundscape.
Thomas M. Kitts St. John’s University Kittst@stjohns.edu © 2017 Thomas M. Kitts https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2017.1318523
Dr. Thomas M. Kitts, Professor of English, St. John’s University, New York, is the author of Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else and the 2016 book release John Fogerty: An American Son.
Mama Spanx-STATE of GROOVE
Review by Michael Lydon
Sometimes, but alas, not often enough, a singer manages by hook and crook to weave many strands of music together into one soul-satisfying sound fabric, a fabric as smooth as blue velvet and tough as blue denim. Not a grab-bag of genres chosen only because the singer worries, “I gotta sound like (fill in the blank) to get on the radio today!” Instead the singer digs deep down to his or her musical roots and creates a rich blend sound from a core of feelings that go back to the long ago day when the singer knew, once and for all, “I’ve gotta sing to live, I’ve gotta live to sing.”
Nikki Armstrong’s brand new Mama SpanX album “State of Groove: is one of those rare albums. Don’t dawdle: get your copy today! Then buy another and send it to your mama—she’ll dig it!
Nikki Armstrong has been New Jersey’s and Manhattan’s reigning funk-pop-jazz-blues singer for a couple of decades now, working clubs and concert halls on both sides of the Hudson, building bands from a tight-group of sidemen, and getting happy crowds dancing and romancing through the wee-wee hours after midnight. In the past few years Nikki’s twice toured France before packed houses, and, without abandoning Jersey, she’s become bicoastal, singing, writing, and recording during extended stays in Los Angeles. Out on the coast in 2015 Nikki reconnected with friend and drummer-composer-producer Ben Beckley and together they began putting together the band and the sound that’s become Mama SpanX. Among a deeply experienced supporting cast is guitarist Steve Johnsonn, saxophonist, flutist and arranger Julie Sax, keyboard-organist Harlan Spector, saxophonist and arranger Steve Sadd, plus six-string fretless bassist David Abercrombiee.
Mama SpanX on State of Groove, delivers just what the name promises: it’s sexy. Not show-off, wink-wink sexy, but grown-up sexy, passionate sexy, funk sexy, soul sexy. Nikki makes every note her own, but in track after track I hear bass grooves and horn riffs, sax wails guitar screams, and backup singer croons that go back through Muscle Shoals to 1950’s R&B. “I just wanna fall in love with you,” Nikki sings on one track, and listening to her rough-smooth contralto, I can’t help falling in love with her myself. But, oh, no maybe I’m too late: on another track she sings “I’ve got too many men on my menu!” Much as I love the driving blues tracks, I think my favorite is Anywhere You Are, a meditative, poignant piano jazz ballad that brought tears to my eyes.
“All the music in the air demands a change of scene,” Nikki sings on one of the State of Groove pop-inflected tunes. I’m guessing, hell, I am predicting that Mama SpanX’s music will bring a high-rising change of scene to Nikki Armstrong that will bust New Jersey’s favorite daughter up and out into the Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt big time.
Go, Mama SpanX, go!!
Mr. Lydon is a founding editor of Rolling Stone Magazine and author of Ray Charles: Man and Music - a biography of the Genius.