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Chicago Soul: A Mid-Year Review of Must Listen to Albums And More

Written by on June 5, 2019

Ayana Contreras hosts Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo and WBEZ and co-produces Sound Opinions on WBEZ. She also can’t stop digging… and always has her ear to the ground for the best.

Tune in below for Ayana’s favorite Chicago releases of the year… along with a few oldies but goodies to keep you groovin’ all summer long.


Ayana’s Top Chicago Releases of 2019

It’s been an incredible year for Chicago music, so far. Here’s a short list of releases I’ve fallen for:

The Oracle

Angel Bat Dawid – The Oracle

This woman’s bright and powerful spirit is all over this record, as is her connection to the deep well of spiritual jazz that has come before her (particularly out of Chicago). The record feels very immediate, and was for the most part recorded and dubbed by Angel on her phone while touring. She is of this time, but out of this world.


Resavoir – Resavoir

A tight collective of musicians led by Will Miller, this album is absolutely refreshing. With features by Knox Fortune, Sen Morimoto and Brandee Younger, this album is full of freshness while steeped in a jazz-funk tradition that rings true to me.

TheasterGates-B1Theaster Gates & The Black Monks – Furthermore

Blending field hollers, gospel, preaching, and thumping house, Furthermore flies a flag for the Southern-ness at the core of Black Chicago culture.

black momument ensemble

Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble – Where Future Unfolds

I first heard this album driving down the 405 in Los Angeles. Lushness and sky just beyond the road. It feels open like that. The record gives me flavors of Eddie Gale’s outstanding jazz-with-voices, wed with Damon’s inventive use of sampling and 808 programming. It feels huge and hopeful and keeps ringing in your head long after the songs are over.

intellexual cover

Intellexual – Intellexual

Nico Segal and Nate Fox deliver a laser-sharp, intricate mashup of yachtrock, hooky jazz and hip hop… which may sound strange to the uninitiated, but is perfect like guava and cheese empanadas. More please.

legacy legacy

Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!

(Jagjaguwar) This album is both rumination and celebration of a wide variety of artists of all stripes, from MUDDY to BASQUIAT to ZORA. Extoling dimensional emotion, she plays with mood like a painter plays with color. And it bumps. The sonic palate pulses with a continuously fulfilling groove.

rogue parade

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade – Stomping Off From Greenwood

 This record might be situated off Greenwood, but it’s also at the delicious intersection of slightly glitchy art-rock and cinematically scaled bebop.


…Other Wild Tings…

Here’s a few of the other new releases that Ayana has been keeping in rotation:

emily king scenery

Emily King – Scenery

Instant classic pop-soul, soaring harmonies, synths and her idiosyncratic sweetness make for a heady combo. (check our convo here)



Van Hunt – TRIM 

A stripped-down re-imagined version of Van’s classic 2004 debut. “Out of the Sky” is revelatory. (check our convo here)

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye – You’re The Man

“You’re The Man” is a funky mid-tempo message record, built around calling out issues like political corruption, busing and wage inequality even more pointedly than on Gaye’s smash “What’s Going On. A number of the other songs that make up the album You’re The Man also deal with political and social themes. (check my review here)



Sparkling afro-funk meets jazz.

bells atlas

Bells Atlas – the mystic 

Afrobeat meets synthy broken beats. More experimental than previous outings by the Bay Area band, and the result leaves you on the edge of your seat.


fyah theon cross

 Theon Cross – Fyah 

 I friended Theon on Facebook after his tuba basslines shattered me at a Ben LaMar Gay show in New York this past January (see my review of that show here). This record is a brew of Grime, New Orleans Boogie, Soca, and so many other sounds that’s it’s hard to put a pin in it. That’s my favorite part.


The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery

Spiritual cosmic jazz straight outta the London scene that’s been killing it, as of late.


dexter story

 Dexter Story – Bahir

Classic Ethio-Jazz revisited featuring a deck of intriguing artists like Sudan Archives, a touch of rock, percolating beats, Sudanese grooves, and more. Sunshine on shoulders music.


illana the creator

 Mdou Moctar – Ilana (The Creator)

Taureg guitarist Mdou Moctar absolutely burns with this blend of classic rock and more traditional Taureg sounds.

helado negro

 Helado Negro – This Is How You Smile  

South Florida native Helado Negro draws from multiple cultural threads to create genre-defying avant-electronic sounds (check our convo here)


Solange – When I Get Home

If you were expecting A Seat At The Table 2, you might be sadly disappointed by this album. if you wanted an audio-art-studded, mantra-laden, chopped-and-screwed ode to Houston, baby you got it.

While We’re At It…

A few old albums that are in my rotation like they’re new:

young americans

David Bowie – Young Americans (RCA, 1976)

A perennial favorite, it glams, it jams, it slinks, and is so much more than the hit single “Fame”. You can start with the flip of that original single, “Right”. A colossal yet understated groove. Also, I can’t stop watching the clips of David Bowie performing cuts from this album on Soul Train. I actually wrote a poem about it.

johnny watson 

Johnny Guitar Watson – Listen (Fantasy, 1973)

 I love this whole vibe of this record. It swings hard as a diamond lapel pin, it’s lushly orchestrated, and it’s got a heart of 24 karat gold (teeth). Plus, members of the cult favorite black rock band Maxayn supplied rhythm on this. So you know the album does its thing.

 Labelle – Pressure Cookin’  (RCA, 1973)

Featuring the grooving Stevie Wonder composition “Open Your Heart” (which was also a single), the dynamic slow jam “Last Dance” and the red-hot latin-tinged cut “Pressure Cookin’”, this record is a scorcher, but it flopped. My copy belonged to the late Keith Barrow, who cut the lyrics to “(Can I Speak to You Before You Go to) Hollywood” out of the inner sleeve, ostensibly to pin it up somewhere before he trekked off to a recording career of his own. But that’s a story for another day.

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