Limited LP : Limited edition of 300 copies
Otis Houston Jr. can frequently be found making art, performance, poetry and social commentary at his long-held spot in New York City at the entrance to the FDR drive at 122 Street. Over the years, he has come to occupy and claim this marginalized stretch of the FDR as gallery, studio, and public forum. Since 1997, following a period of incarceration and his mother’s death, Houston Jr. has set up shop weekly at this self-anointed soapbox under the Triborough Bridge, where he stages impromptu performances and displays an arrangement of signage, drawings, and found-object assemblages that critique racism, poverty and addiction, and also celebrate health, education, happiness, and freedom. As he says, “We not in the same boat, but we all in the water.” The works of Houston Jr., who calls himself “Black Cherokee,” are made primarily with discarded objects that he collects from the street and the dumpster at his job, and creates in his East Harlem apartment of 30 years, or in the basement of the office building where he works in Midtown Manhattan.
Houston Jr. recorded the songs for “America” in 3 locations around Harlem and the Bronx in 2006, the year the album was originally self-released on CD. Makeshift studios that no longer exist provide a telling context for his autobiographical storytelling. Prerecorded beats made by studio owners were picked based on which suited his cadence laden poetry best and often times on “America” the songs repeat, with different lyrics, transforming themselves. Houston Jr., a raconteur and quick witted wordsmith has so much to say, that when there is a groove, he doesn’t want to let it go, but rather float around and experiment. Influenced by Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and the like, his strong voice and natural ability to use slogans give this album a cunning stance. Juxtaposed by the highly visible time stamp of mid-aughts DIY R&B production “America” sounds sometimes like worlds colliding, smooth improvisations, quick turnarounds and soul bearing truths.
“America” opens with a song not written by Houston Jr., the only song on the record penned by someone else. In “Soul Brother 27”, he explains “…It was given to me 30 years ago, 1975 by my cellmate… but has been such a part of me I wanted everyone to hear it”. He goes on to read this poem that sets the tone for his story laid out in 14 tracks. Songs about Incarceration for drug charges, his short stint as a boxer, getting shot, being in the hospital, and his positive approach to life and desire for change in his community. In the song “The Children” he spells it out: “We need to raise up a new generation. We need to use video, rap music, pop sounds and any and everything all around. We need to sing it, play it, sew it, picture it, draw it, wave it, and shout it everywhere.” This touching and unsuspecting underground classic finally gets the release it deserves.
2. The Children
4. One More River To Cross
5. Who’s The Fool
6. This Real Man Black Cherokee
7. My Books I Read
1. The Thang
2. Sugar Ray Get Out Of My Way
3. Thanking The Lord
4. I Like Where I Stay
6. My Name And My Word