Pass the Aux: New Tracks by Black London, Lowstar Rodeo, Dom Jones and Lil Bean

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Three musicians smile and pose in front of palm trees.
Oakland's Black London collective features musicians and bandleaders Howard Wiley, Mike Blankenship and Kev Choice. (Ariel Nava)

Do you miss packing your friends into the car, playing your favorite tracks and dancing in your seat? Us too. Welcome to Pass the Aux, where every other week the KQED Arts & Culture team introduces you to new(ish) releases from Bay Area artists. Here’s what we have on deck.


Black London feat. Viveca Hawkins, “Devil’s Pie” (D’Angelo cover)

D’Angelo’s regal Verzuz appearance last week was a reminder of the quiet power of his discography—not only has he produced some genre-defining neo-soul gems, but his music has always been infused with an insightful political consciousness. While fans await new music from him, Oakland’s Black London music collective is embarking on a project to pay homage to his seminal 2000 album, Voodoo. Over the next several weeks, they’ll be releasing jazz interpretations of some of D’Angelo’s best-known tracks.

First up is their cover of “Devil’s Pie,” featuring singer Viveca Hawkins. While D’Angelo’s original juxtaposes the organic feel of his bluesy vocals with a stripped-down hip-hop beat, Black London brings in lush, new textures with Hawkins’ honeyed voice, Kev Choice and Mike Blankenship’s celestial keys and Howard Wiley’s soulful saxophone. The collective finds pockets for improvisation, breaking free from the structure of a straightforward pop song. It’s an unorthodox approach that reflects D’Angelo’s own creative thinking in his lyrics about how capitalism compromises people’s values: “Who am I to justify / All the evil in our eye / When I myself feel the high / From all that I despise.”—Nastia Voynovskaya


Dom Jones, “One More Night”

Poet and R&B vocalist Dom Jones recently debuted her single “One More Night” off of her new EP, CHASM. The jazzy song is an uplifting and melodic musical approach to that bad habit of reaching out to a former lover for one more night of romance. “I only think of you when my body is hot, the night is cold, that’s when that old love crosses my mind,” sings Jones in the opening seconds of the uptempo track.

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Jones, an Oakland-raised artist who graduated from the Berkelee School of Music in 2014, says both the five-track EP and newly released poetry book with the same title are dedicated to the decision to leave a lukewarm relationship and pursue her dreams of making music.

“Crazytown,” the EP’s first single, starts with a voicemail from an ex full of mixed messages about not wanting a relationship but extending an invitation to meet up. The song “Rather Be a River” exemplifies the feeling of trying to fit yourself into confining spaces in order to make a relationship work. And the song “HeartSlave” is simply a song of liberation from an unfulfilling love.

“One More Night” stands out not only because of Jones’ lyrics and voice. The guitar solo at the end of the track by Jeremy Flegel is simply cold, and it drives the message home as Jones repeats “lay me down one more night.”—Pendarvis Harshaw

Lowstar Rodeo, “Yesterdeja Vu”

As a member of the country duo the Easy Leaves, Kevin Carducci has seen his share of nightclubs and honky-tonks all up and down the West Coast. But for the last year, he's mostly seen the same four walls during shelter-in-place, over and over, just like the rest of us. That Groundhog Day-esque existence is the subject of “Yesterdeja Vu,” from Carducci's side project Lowstar Rodeo. Over a plaintive acoustic accompaniment, Carducci sings of the mental effects of cabin fever in the months since “time came apart at the seams.” An accompanying video chronicles the progression in our pandemic lives, from novelty to boredom to mania, as Tiger King and sourdough bread give way to imaginary friends and morning drinking. Between the recognizable scenes and feelings of familiarity, I keep reminding myself that with vaccinations underway, it'll be over soon.—Gabe Meline

Lil Bean feat. Lil Yee, “War Ready”

As of late, San Francisco’s Lil Bean hasn’t missed. This week he dropped a banger of a single, “Vital.” Last month he put out a high-powered cross-Bay collaboration with Oakland’s Offset Jim, “Who Wit Me.” Around that same time he debuted the visual for “Jeff Hardy,” which features his Northern Californian comrade Sacramento’s ShooterGang Kony.

Given all that Lil Bean’s got cooking, it’s hard to boil it down to one song to spotlight. But his December 2020 EP 4TheCulture starts with a track by the name of “War Ready,” which features San Francisco’s Lil Yee. It’s a song that screams “you can’t hold me back,” coupled with percussion and a bass line that’ll motivate anyone to overcome whatever they’re facing. “They gave my cousin 17, I got a couple years / I’m trynna give my mom a G for every single tear,” Lil Bean raps vulnerably.

The visual to the song, which dropped earlier this year, is directed by Mota Media and depicts a day in a trauma-filled life of a man going through relationship issues and festering neighborhood beef. Despite dealing with paranoia and close calls, the young man ultimately makes it through the day and night, because as the title says: he was war ready.—P.H.