Hello again and welcome back to Come Hear North Carolina, your home for all things North Carolina music in 2019. Every week in January, we are publishing a list of iconic albums made by North Carolinians. Our hope is that you spend time listening – really listening – to these records. Some of the artists featured on this list have national and international influence, while others are regional heroes with voices that illuminate local traditions and culture. The humanity, honesty and sheer genius captured in the sprawling sonic and lyrical landscapes of these works embody the diversity of North Carolina’s people and geography.
Nina Simone – Silk & Soul (1967)
How does one choose only one album to represent the “High Priestess of Soul”? A daunting task indeed, and one not taken lightly. Silk & Soul kicks off with a rip-roaring “It Be’s That Way Sometime,” highlighting all of Simone’s skills as bandleader, pianist, and vocal improviser; the record also features Grammy-nominated “Go to Hell” (bested by Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”), and, most notably, a cover of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” composed by North Carolina Award recipient and Greenville native Billy Taylor, which became a Civil Rights anthem.
James Taylor – James Taylor (1968)
James Taylor is one of North Carolina’s most famous musicians. This 1968 debut album was recorded in London and released by the Beatles’ label Apple Records It features vocal and instrumental appearances by George Harrison and Paul McCartney, and the first recordings of “Something in the Way She Moves,” and “Carolina On My Mind,” arguably our unofficial state anthem.
Plant and See (Willie French Lowery) – Plant and See (1969, 2012)
Pioneering interracial swamp-psych band Plant and See was the short-lived project of influential songwriter, singer, and guitarist Willie French Lowery—an icon of North Carolina’s Lumbee community, the largest tribe East of the Mississippi—and his bandmates, African American drummer Forris Fulford, Latino bassist Ron Seiger, and Scotch-Irish backup vocalist Carol Fitzgerald. Lowery, who grew up in tri-racial Robeson County, soon renamed the band after his tribe, Lumbee, and went on to tour with the Allman Brothers and to write the unofficial tribal national anthem “Proud to Be a Lumbee.” Plant and See’s humid, storm-cloud guitars, ductile vocal harmonies, and intuitive, loose-limbed drumming are redolent of a specifically Southern syncretic musical identity and sense of place, testifying to the outstanding, colorblind musicianship of its members. The album was reissued by North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors in 2012.
Little Brother – The Minstrel Show (2005)
Little Brother’s Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder met at North Carolina Central University in 1998. The underground hip-hop trio was signed by Atlantic Records after they released their first full-length studio album in 2003. This critically acclaimed release is a concept album based around a fictional television station that satirizes the stereotypical portrayal of African Americans in the media. The albums critique of modern rap and the mediums that distribute it created controversy and a music video ban by BET. It’s far and away one of the most important hip-hop records made by North Carolinians.
Doc & Merle Watson – Two Days in November (1974)
The album title references the two days it took father/son duo Doc and Merle Watson to cut this fantastic collection of songs. The tight, ten-track record shows off their skills as pickers, songwriters, arrangers, and re-interpreters and earned them the 1975 Grammy for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording. Doc and Merle first cut a record together in 1965, and they released their last album in 1985, the same year of Merle’s tragic death. Doc established MerleFest, a folk music festival in 1988 in honor of his son.
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane – At Carnegie Hall (Recorded 1957)
In 1957, Thelonious Monk took up residency at a little club in New York CIty called the Five Spot Café, accompanied by Wilbur Ware on bass, Shadow Wilson on drums, and a fellow North Carolina ex-pat, John Coltrane, on tenor sax. Contractual problems hindered significant recorded output from this quartet, but in 2005 the Library of Congress, through Blue Note Records, discovered and released a performance with these jazz titans, recorded from Carnegie Hall on Thanksgiving in 1957. Newsweek described the recording as “the musical equivalent of the discovery of a new Mount Everest.” Take a climb.
Caroline Shaw – Partita for 8 Voices (2012)
“To the side. To the side. To the side and around.” With those simple lyrics, the world of classical music was introduced to the organized chaos of square-dancing calls, and Caroline Shaw introduced herself as one of today’s most innovative and joyous composers. Composed by the Greenville native from for her acapella group, Roomful of Teeth, this stunning work was awarded a Grammy and later won Shaw a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013. She is the youngest award recipient in the history of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and the vocalist, violinist, composer, and producer has since gone on to record with Kanye West, The National and Nas.