Soul And / Or Related Artists

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• Brown's Bag - Soul Satisfied / Peven Everett - Power Soul / Various - Classic Detroit Style R & B

Brown's BagPeven EverettClassic Detroit

One very good album throughout, and two others that highlight, perhaps a malaise that affects todays newer releases.

Ward Brown was in touch with me earlier this year and suggested I take a listen to his debut Brown's Bag project. Just like London buses, once one arrives, another is on it's way almost immediately. This set is the first of the three I mentioned above. A strong offering throughout, which is already receiving high praise through the more credible reviewers out there. One such scribe is Bill Buckley in Blues and Soul magazine (a man who does know what he is talking about!), who waxes lyrically about this album, making it the 'album of the fortnight' in the latest issue. I am not going to dispute that at all. Musically, this is a 'state of the art' modern Soul release. The opener is absolutely beautiful ('You Touch My Heart'), whilst I know if Robbie Vincent was still gracing our airwaves, he would be heavily rotating the dancer 'No More Love'. All told, worth fully investigating. Check www.soulchoonz.com and Soul Brother for copies. Highly recommended.

The 'malaise' that I mentioned at the beginning of these writings is this. Why are there so many one track albums doing the rounds right now? Truth be told, the performer's are shooting themselves in their respective musical feet, in as much as, the costs of these albums become highly prohibitive for the day to day punter i the U.K., who want more than just the one melody to warrant a purchase from any current release. What is even more criminal here is the 'one off's' on offer here, are of such a high standard, one can only hope that a diligent record company representative might see fit to incorporate these songs together within a compilation CD, that, to all intents and purposes, would be a 'must have'. Tracks in question here are Peven Everett's glorious 'This Just In', and the Funk Factory dancer 'Give It What Cha Got', taken fro the 'Classic Detroit Style R & B' collection. Both stunning, both destined for obscurity, unfortunately. Check Soul Brother for copies, if you think you are hard enough! These are exceptional songs.

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• John Legend - Once Again / Anthony David - The Red Clay Chronicles

John LegendAnthony David

Funny couple of albums here. One by an already established artist, one by a new singer, feeling his way in todays musical marketplace.

John Legend's second album is a far superior effort to his debut from a couple of years back, to these old ears. That album rocketed the man to stardom, with this listener struggling to find out what the fuss was all about. Sure, whilst 'Live It Up' and 'Ordinary People were examples of first rate material at the time, the rest of that set left me wondering if there was something wrong with me, as, whilst the rest of the 'emporers' entourage raved about the whole set, I was left feeling that I had missed something.
My personal take on John's popularity is his sound. He, actually, looks like his voice isn't really his. It resonates with such a warmth and power for someone of, albeit, a slight frame. This second set has moved the man onto a different level. Really annoying thing about the John, is he pens songs that have you thnking to yourself 'I am sure I have heard this song before in another incarnation'. A good example here would be my favourite tune, 'We Just Don't Care'. I spent an hour trying to work out where I had heard the song before, and the nearest melody I could find a match to is Stevie's track 'All I Do'. This is a lovely piece of Soul with a gorgeous bridge towards to the final home bend of the songs structure. Of the other tracks, well, 'Each Day Gets Better' is a strong melody, that I am sure I can hear touches of Barbra Streisand's Blue Eyed Soul tune 'Stoney End'. 'Slow Dance' has a real Impressions feel to proceedings and 'Maxine' will appeal to the smooth jazzers out there. 'Where Did We Go?' had me humming along the Harry Nilsson song 'Everybody's Talking' during the verse periods. All told, this is a much better set and a forward movement, musically, for the man. I think at some stage he may have a very big album, considered a Soul clasic. You can pick up this set at favourable prices, if you are prepared to shop around. Worth investigating.

I have sat on the Anthony David set (not literally! LOL) for the last couple of months now. This Atlanta based singers first effort isn't, exactly, earth shattering, however, I have heard a great deal worse this year. Not sure what the 'Red Clay Chronicles' are but they amount to a nice little debut offering. As with the John Legend set, Anthony makes all the right noises, musically, for todays market. He has positioned himself on the Soul side of the new R & B set, which is a relief. He has some real heavyweights on board in the shape of India Irie, Julie Dexter and Earl Klugh, who adds a softening influence to one of the two versions of one of the albums better melodies, that of 'Smoke One'. Real groove that track. The album does grow on you, which may be an achillies heel for Anthony as today's society has very much a 'I want it here and I want it now, and now I am going to throw it away,' mindset. Us older girls, who do take our time getting to know folks and culture, will appreciate what is served up here. My personal favourite here is the lazy 'On & On', which no-one has picked up upon as yet. This had me reaching for the repeat button on the walkperson. A song of true beauty. Good luck in the future, mate. This cultural musical artist has an album here which has been fabricated on solid foundations. Out on Dome Records (who have the new Donnie album in the pipeline. Can't wait for that).

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• Marcell and the Truth - Hopes Too High / Liv Warfield - Embrace Me

Marcel And The TruthLiv Warfield

A new group to these old ears, Marcell Russell and the rest of this quartet of musicians got in touch with me a week or so ago, and on the mat fell a copy of this album yesterday. This is a lovely album. I am sure Marcell won't mind me saying that this isn't a new 'What's Going On', but just a nice set of melodies, brought together very tastefully on a base of high quality backgrounds. Of the songs on offer here, well, to these old ears, the title track, and the gorgeous 'Breathe Love' stand head and shoulders above the other songs and are worth the price of the CD alone. 'Time Stops' is a nice mid-tempo number, which adds to the strength of proceedings. All told, a nice addition to any modern soul collection. Available from CD Baby right now. Recommended.

Also available at CD Baby, along with Soul Brother, is this lovely release from Olivia Warfield, who just goes under the name of 'Liv' for this set. This is a lovely, strong set of songs, with Liv's vocals forefront, indicating the quality of this woman's vocal delivery. The opener 'A, B, C' has, not only Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie on drums and vocal chores, but quite the 'dirtiest' bassline I have heard all year. An excellent opener, that leads us through Liv's Soulful musical garden. These songs are all of a very high standard, with, perhaps, 'Waiting', 'Work For Me' and ''Get Away' being the sets other highlights. All told, very satisfying throughout and a great addition to any Soul colection.

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• Eliane Elias - Around The City / Tim Dillinger - The Muse

Eliane EliasTim Dillinger

Funny thing about this woman is I make the same typo every time I mention her at this site. I type 'Elaine' and I get reminded that her Christian name is Eliane. Suspect the poor woman always gets this happening to her all the time.

In a complete U-Turn to many of her previous projects, Eliane has adopted a much more uptempo feel to this overall project. The title track is wonderful. A great modern dancer, that the purists may not agree with me stylistically, however, this is, to these old ears, irresistable. If that wasn't enough, Eliane's take on the old Bob Marley classic, 'Jammin', is in it's own way, outrageous. A fantastic dancer. Eliane does drop a beat or two for the gorgeous song 'Secrets', whilst 'Slide Show' moves up a few beats and is equally as listenable. Definitely, do not compartmentalise this singer into an average Brazilian songstress. This is a lovely, adventurous, album, which deserves a deeper inspection than many an album that masquerades as 'music' out there thesedays. Really woke me out of my X Factor stupor, and this definitely isn't another re-run of 'The Girl From Ipanema'!

Check Amazon for copies and availability.

Tim Dillinger's second album follows his debut from a couple of years back ('Love Is On My Mind'). I featured that set at the site after Tim had sent me a copy. I thought that album was quite excellent. I met the man outside Soul Brother Records in London a few months later, and he has been in touch with me ever since. This second album highlights a growing musical maturity that bodes well for forthcoming releases. Released on his own Icons Pen Media imprint, Tim wears his heart on his sleeve musically, showing all of his musical influences, which include a 'soft spot' for the Blue Eyed Soul Songstress, Teena Marie. Interspersed with some very Nikki Giovanni pieces of dialogue throughout, this album is more consistent than it's predecessor and is very song led. Personal highlights are the tender 'You're Gone', the melodic 'Seasons Of Change', the emotive 'I'm Not Colorblind' and my personal favourite 'That's The Kind Of Love'. Really, this is an album you can put on your stereo and not leave our armchair. No duff tunes. A very strong album. Highy recommended.

Available at CD Baby and Soul Brother REcords in East Putney, London.

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• Ty Stephens - Aquarian Mind / Gary Taylor - Retro Blackness

Ty StephensGary Taylor

Ty Stephens is an odd album, which really is like a real old school set. The material on here is so out of vogue with the modern Soul Scene. A few years ago this album would have sold in huge numbers, however, my fear for the likes of albums such as this, is they will fall by the wayside, which would be criminal, because this is a peach of an album. A good contact called Joerg Schmitt e-mailed me regarding this set and said I ought to take a listen. I am so pleased he did. I love material like this. Soundwise, the listener is treated to real instruments, some songs recorded live, with Ty somewhere, vocally positioned between Al Jarreau and T.C. Carson, although there are hints of the late Keith Barrow thrown in for good measure. The Funkier / Fusion moments are lovely. 'I Never Liked You' is lovely. 'Skydance' is a great instrumental. 'Chaka!' and 'Sucker!' provide the exclamation marks, and are top drawer slices of Soul. Ballad wise, well it doesn't get much better than 'What Can I Do For You?'. 'All The Love' is a lovely midtempo offering. As usual, I do have a favourite melody, which is the catchy 'What Does Your Heart Say?' Lovely song. As I said, Ty is daring to be different, and that makes this set well worth a space on your shelves at home, and makes him 'very bold'! LOL. Very nice album. By the way, Ty has been the opening act for several artists including Larry Coryell, Vanessa Rubin and Angela Bofill amongst others. Says it all really regarding this singers musical pedigree. Oh yes, if you don't believe my comments at the beginning of this review, ask yourself when you last heard a track by Fourplay or Marc Antoine on the airwaves? Thesedays it is a case of taking out 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' for it's millionth spin. Where are the 'Grapevine's' of tomorrow going to come from if we don't allow the likes of Ty some space on the radio thesedays?

www.tystephensmusic.com

What is there not to like about Gary Taylor? He writes songs. He pens very strong songs. Not the gimmicks that are on display across the airwaves thesedays, which may be trendy, but have little to do with anything song led, but more to do with looks, and even worse, purely for financial gain in return for having little or no talent or ability. Gary ain't no new kid on the block. His first album is now 23 years old, and, unlike whatever there is on offer in today's top twenty, his melodies, fundamentally, stand the test of time. Mellower than the earlier output, Gary just does his own thing thesedays, and thank the man or woman upstairs for that. Vocally, if you don't know Gary's material, well he allows his voice to reach it's own level, without feeling he has to belt out each song, which, all told, assists his melodies and allows the listener to take in the song, which, after all, is exactly what a song ought to be. If someone shouts at me, personally, I tend not to listen. Why I can't stomach today's rapper's really. My only concern regarding the promo copies that are circulating right now, is there are no tracklistings. I found some at CD Baby, so if you check the link below and take a screenshot, that will answer any questions you may have. As far as Gary Taylor albums go, well, a) there aren't any bad ones, and b) this is definitely one of his better releases. Favourite song? Well, as this great songwriter moves up a few gears, 'My Blackness', is wonderful. Credentials? Well, if you have penned songs for Marlena Shaw, Michael Wycoff, Anita Baker, The Whispers, Grover Washington Jnr, The Controllers, Carl Anderson, Beau Williams and The Dazz Band, well, come on if you think you are 'ard enough'! LOL. Lovely album.

http://cdbaby.com/cd/taylorgary7

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• Yolanda Johnson - Violet Flower / Jocelyn Brown - Unreleased

Yolanda JohnsonJocelyn Brown

Yolanda Johnson is a new name to me, although her Dad isn't! Samuel Jonathan Johnson recorded a lovely album amidst all the wilderness that comprised of 'Disco' back in the late Seventies. His song 'You' was quite excellent and he appears to have passed down the family Soulfull tradition on to his daughter. Here is an opening salvo of seven tunes that will be part of a bigger musical picture later this year. This is very much 'mood music' of the highest quality. The sleevenotes boast that this isn't a one track CD sampler, so no skipping tunes with your remote. Well that is very true, although there isn't a 'What's Going On' in place here. Just a nice selection of Soul melodies, which are inoffensive, very 'nu organic' in sound and recommended wholeheartedly. I have heard some very indifferent songs this year. This provides a nice respite and is, consequently recommended from this ageing old scribe.

www.yolandadiary.com

Jocelyn Brown is a great singer. No one can question that. Funny thing is whenever I picture Jocelyn musically, I either get a template that fixates in the mind 'Somebody Else's Guy' or 'Always there'. I guess she has carved a niche for herself, although, I have always suspected she has several more strings to her musical vocal bow. This set provides the evidence for that supposition. Jocelyn has a lovely resinence to her vocal delivery. In many ways songs such as 'She'd Called' is a great example of where Jocelyn may have gone some 20 years ago. This set is entitled 'Unreleased', which made many Soul folks think that this set is just that. It is lovely to hear Jocelyn drop down a few beats and leave the 'housier' material to one side. This allows her to show folks what she is actually capable of regarding her own vocal dynamics. 'Not Yet' is almost a Joni Mitchell effort. Lovely material as is 'Not Yet', 'It's You' another pair of lovely folksy offerings 'Real Thing' is a great slab of Soul Music. All told, a real nice album, that I fear may not do too well, although it deserves a great deal more recognition.

www.digisoul.co.uk

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• Various - Soul Cellar Volume 2

Soul Cellar 2

This set is the second of Peter Young's (Smooth FM), series of double compilations. He was a lucky man to enlist to his musical ranks, Charles Waring from Blues and Soul, Record Collector and Mojo magazines. Some great liner notes on offer here.

PY's selection's are simply great, basically, because he includes melodies that simply 'do it' for him. Maybe the punters are trying to tell the powers that be that they may have taken their eyes off the musical ball and ought to listen to the listening audience, who tune into other stations when the computers take over as deejays, after PY has left his post for the green, green grass of Ealing Broadway (so good they named it once!)? All I know is, the mailbag is full of folks asking 'what was this tune, or what was that tune' that the man played the previous week?

O.K., enough of 'point making', firstly congratulations to Union Square Music Ltd for sticking with the quality and not 'the width'. There really aren't any bad tracks on show here. No Sade's singing 'You Kiss His Ring' (very bold!), Rot Stewart or Simply Dead's. Just great quality Soul Music from each decade, from the latter part of the Twentieth Century, (and a couple of new tunes thrown in). Long may his legendary Soul Cellar endure. If you can't catch PY's Saturday Night show, try Soul Brother for this set and his first excellent compilation (reviewed here last year). Personal favourites? 'Living Without You' by the late great Walter Jackson, is pure bliss. 'Strung Out For Your Love', by the Four Tops, 'Let's Do It Again', by the Staples Singers, and I have always loved the late Johnnie Taylor's song 'Your Love Is Rated X'. Those are worth the entrance fee alone.

Get out your handbags, put away the lipstick, put on a little blusher, find your purse and go treat yourself girl! The women out there ought to do the same thing as well!! Highly recommended.

Soul Cellar 2 Rear

Soul Brother Records

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• Julie Dexter and Khari Simmons - Moon Bossa / Marva King - Soul Sistah

Julie & KhariMarva King

Two more U.K. releases, that I have criminally ignored over the last couple of weeks, mainly due to work commitments here, and my daughters school play, which is thankfully over now. Very good it was. Worth all the effort she put in, bless her.

Julie Dexter has a lovely vocal delivery and is very ably supported by Khari Simmons, who produced this set. The title is a bit of a giveaway as to exactly what you are about to listen to musically. Incognito's Bluey helps out with this very satisfying set of songs. Nice to see the inclusion of the Swing Out Sister song 'Fooled By A Smile'. I tend to forget what great songs that band pens. You get various additional mixes here, although I must confess to liking the original versions of these songs, also contained here. Real nice Sunday morning listening, so on with the sun cream, out with the barbecue, and this set on the stereo! Lovely stuff. On Dome Records.

Marva King? Where have I heard that name before? I went into the other room and dug out my old album by the group Madagascar, and, lo and behold, there she is on the cover. I bought that album back in 1981, after hearing Robbie Vincent play a track called 'Rainbow'. What a joyous piece of music that is. Funny thing is Marva looks younger 25 years on, than she did back then! Her voice is as strong today as it was way back on that Arista album. Obviously the the technology has moved on, so Marva has a more 'Urban' sound thesedays. Bit more attitude from the Sista, as a result, in her vocal delivery. This leaves a more moodier feel to proceedings, however, that is no bad thing as this is a lovely outing. Really liked the song called 'My Life', where she allows her vocal dynamics to extend themselves. Lovely take of the William De Vaughn evergreen 'Be Thankful For What You Got' here as well. Very satisfying throughout. Organic Soul? Well maybe. All I hear is just good music. Check Soul Brother for copies.

Marva King marva king in 1981

Dome Records

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• Kenny Thomas - Crazy World / Little Beaver - Katie Pearl

Kenny ThomasLittle Beaver

Two albums, musically, miles apart, and years apart for that matter. They are both new, however the Little Beaver album is nearly 36 years old!

I really like Kenny Thomas's music. He almost records songs you think you have heard before. He's probably one of the finest U.K. Blue Eyed Soul Singers. What carries his songs are the melodies. Where Kenny suceeds is he just sings in his own way and doesn't try to emulate any style other than his own. The songs are lovely here. The previous singles 'Crazy World' and 'Him', are marvellous songs. What is intriguing are the new melodies on offer here. Kenny takes the bold step of covering Norah Jones's song 'Don't Know Why'. I have heard several versions of that tune. Even one by Pat Metheney. The song is so strong that, it would be hard to make a bad version, although I am sure Rod Stewart might give it a go! LOL. There are some real gems in here. I liked the Dramatics influenced 'Let It Rain'. 'No Way In, No Way Out' is highly infectious, whilst 'Foolin' Around' has a lovely optimistic feel and the opener, 'I Will' really reminded me of Leroy Hutson's 'Get To This, You'll Get To Me'. Lovely set. Check Soul Brother for copies. Links all over the site.

Little Beaver's set arrived in yesterday. Came as a complete surprise, as I thought his material had all seen the light of day. TK's mentor, Henry Stone sent me this album. Renaissance man, as they say. Henry presided over Gwen McCrae's recent album, that Little Beaver worked on. The material here covers a three year period between 1970 and 1973. I am amazed this hasn't seen the light of day. It is wonderful, and definitely in my record box at the next gig I get to do in the future. Very James Brown / Charles Wright in sound, with 'Everybody Has Some Dues To Pay' being an irresistable dancefloor track. There are some great dancers and ballads throughout here. 'Miami Girl' is a gorgeous song. I e-mailed Henry regarding this set. If there is further information available regarding these tunes, I will post it here. Folks used to say, if you were a deejay, 'when in doubt, James Brown out'. Well you can add Little Beaver to that list!

henrystonemusic@aol.com

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• Various Artists - Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers

Atlantic Soul Brothers

I was going to place this album on the reissues page, but it is far too important a set for one reason. It has one of the greatest Soul songs I have ever heard on this set. In fact, I haven't listened to any of the other tracks here at all. The album arrived here and I noticed there was an unreleased Donny Hathaway song included here. Always loved his music. Stuck it in the stereo and couldn't move for about 5 minutes after the song had finished. It's only 2 and a half minutes long. To tell you the honest truth, I am scares me to put the CD in the stereo. This song is perfect. It is called 'What A Woman Really Means'. It epitomises why I love this music so much.

I've always loved Donny's vocal styling so much. Roberta Flack did a version of this song, I am told. This version hasn't been out before. Quite one of the best songs I have heard in my life. Goosepimples? And the rest. This song has stopped me listening to anything else in the last week. It is disabling, is my best description for this old fool. Over the top? Well, I was cooking for my wife and daughter yesterday evening and, after I had recommended the tune to PY at Smooth FM, he played it. I was just pleased the women were out of the kitchen. I lost it again! LOL. If sheer beauty could be encaptured in music, well this is it. This is up there with 'What's Going On' and songs of that standard. If it doesn't move you, then you need to go see your doctor. Absolutely a stunning, stunning song. You have to have this. I played it to Tashan and my friend Chris Bangs. Chris just said 'superb'. Tashan said 'Wow Toby, 2:48 seconds of soulful bliss'. Chris is very choosy regarding music, so 'superb' is really him saying 'that is just fantastic'. We watched the England game during the week and he said to me 'when that song get's to the middle, it moves into another dimension'.

Music really is the healing force of the World, as the O'Jays once sang. It doesn't matter who musically turns you on, as long as something musically does. Donny Hathaway. 'What A Woman Really Means'. Even my daughter Grace said to me 'doesn't he have a really nice voice?' Well he has a tune to go with it. This will keep me going for the rest of the year, and probably my life. Lovely, lovely song. I remember the deejay John Peel once saying he heard an Undertones tune called 'Teenage Kicks' whilst driving his car, and he had to pull over onto the hard shoulder of the motorway and he lost it. Well, snap!. John just knew the right buttons that that band had pushed that did it for him. Same for you guys, I am sure. Donny's tune is now in my favourites from the last hundred years (hate the term 'all time') Why Donny took his life, well who knows. Some of us male girls go to some dark places in our heads, I guess. Wish he was still with us. My personal belief is that, if he knew how much he would have been missed, he may have thought twice about taking his life. Who knows? One thing I would say, is that taking that course of action does effect many folks close to you, and I believe that people ought to think about others and how they may feel if you weren't here.

I am going to play this song again now, so no-one bother me for a few minutes! LOL

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• Corinne Bailey Rae - Corinne Bailey Rae / Underground Soul - Various Artists

Corinne Bailey RaeUnderground Soul

Got a feeling of deja vu? Well Corinne Bailey Rae's album, I actually reviewed a sampler of back before Christmas. Reason why I am going back to the set is that the nice folks in the States are just about to be introduced to this fine new U.K. singer. If you reside in the U.K.,most Soul fans will already have this fine set of songs by now, and quite rightly so. Since the Christmas review, well Corinne has had huge success in the U.K. with this album. Many T.V. appearances on shows such as the Jools Holland show here as well as a great deal of T.V. advertising. I bought a copy for my daughter for her birthday, which she hid from me! All her school friends like this album, my wife likes this album, and obviously I do as well. People I played it to like it, (that was until my daughter hid it! LOL). I think the reason for all this is because Corinne has some depth within her music. She's not lightweight, and has offered the public something that, I believe, the public want. Quality. Not the rubbish that makes certain mainstream music programmes. People yearn for something that isn't the stuff we are currently being spoonfed. Corinne's vocal delivery is almost childlike. Hope she doesn't mind me saying that. Women like this album. Corinne's singing style isn't too dis-similar to that of the late Minnie Riperton, along with the usual comparison's folks make with Eryka Badu. Pretty high praise, and pretty accurate. A fine foundation for, what will become a fruitful career. I defy anyone to tell me this won't make many a Christmas stocking. If you haven't got a copy, well you're not having mine! My copy is my business!

The Underground Soul set is real nice and has a certain track by one Corinne Bailey Rae! That's why I paired these two together. I have to say that that particular track is probably my favourite song thus far by the woman. This CD has been lovingly compiled by a woman called Eleonora for Expansion Records. Eleonora represents the underground-soul.com website. Some very nice songs here, including input from the excellent artists Noel McKoy, Jill Scott, Donna Gardier, Monday Michiru and the wonderful Deborah Bond. Well worth picking up for any of those songs. If you like Corinne Bailey Rae, however, you'll need this.

Check Amazon for Corinne's album and Soul Brother for Eleonora's fine Expansion compilation. Both highly recommended.

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• Teena Marie - Sapphire / Mike Avery - Destination Love

Teena MarieMike Avery

Teena Marie albums are like London Buses. You wait for ages for one and then two come along at the same time. I guess the passing of Rick James has motivated the woman into burying herself in her work. Those guys were pretty close. Just my take on matters, that's all. Teena is just about the best female singer out there thesedays, bar Aretha. Funny, but the cover....well not sure if it was an intentional gesture, but isn't she a dead ringer for Gillian Anderson from the X Files? The music? Well, fabulous is an understatement. Her voice is very similar to Gwen McCrae's thesedays, not in sound, but the pair of them do share one thing in common. They sound better than at any time in their careers. Teena is also similar to Dusty Springfield in as much as Black Audiences have no problem in embracing their vocal delivery. In many ways, Dusty's and Teena's style's are almost pleading when listening to these great women. The music? Well there are no bad tracks here. A lovely duet with Smokey Robinson on 'Cruise Control', a fabulous mid tempo melody called 'Make It Hot', a gorgeous ballad called 'You Blow Me Away', well you pays your money, but paying your money is essential. Lovely, lovely album. Mind you Teena doesn't make bad records, does she? Check Amazon for copies.

Mike Avery is a new name to me. This is on his own label and is stocked at CD Baby right now. His bio says 'Mike Avery needs no introduction' there, which is not that true as I didn't know about the man until I read his biography at that web page. Funny, when folks say that 'here is a man who needs no introduction'. If that is the case, why are they introduced? LOL. Me rambling again. This is another fabulous album. Mike used to be in a band called New Image, then moving to a group called the Wrecking Crew. He has also worked with Mavis Staples and R Kelly in recent years. You can hear some of the songs from this album, if you want to test the musical water at CD Baby. Personal favourites? The opener 'Miss Lady' is an absolute gorgeous stepper. Worth the price of the album alone. The title track is real nice, 'Loveland' is a nice mid tempo offering, 'I'll Be Watching You' is another lovely song. All told, you need this for 'Miss Lady', which will be in my year end top 10 easily. A very 'song led' album, which is streets ahead of the Eurovision Five Heavy Metal werewolves with leprosy from Finland, that I witnessed at that song contest last Saturday. I have my lawyers on the case regarding a breach of the Trades Description Act, concerning the use of the word 'song'! LOL.

http://cdbaby.com/cd/averymike

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• Letha - Up From Under / Van Hunt - On The Jungle Floor

LethaVan Hunt

Letha got in touch with me a while back. An Independent artist, looking for a deal. What you are looking at above is the amazing package that Letha sent me. When your kid says to you 'I made it myself', well Letha certainly makes this feel real homemade. Nice change from the glossy packages that arrive from some of the bigger artists out there. The biggest problem I had with this album wasn't anything to do with the music, which is very nice. No the problem was my daughter took a shine to the clipboard, so I had to fight her off! LOL. The file that Letha has put together, obviously has her CD inside, along with imagery, including the woman sitting writing, fully clothed, in the bath with her laptop next to her! Not sure what health and safety would say about that! LOL The music? Well, I hate the term 'Nu Organic Soul', however, this best describes where the woman is coming from, musically. Songs interspersed with dialogue. Normally I am not keen on the genre, however, Letha has a charm in her music, and, as with many Americans, a polite innocence, which is irresistable. Letha told me this will go up on CD Baby soon. I am sure she would admit this isn't a 'What's Going On', however, it is a good start and bodes well for her future. Remember, easy to criticise, hard to create. More power to your elbow Sista.

Letha

http://cdbaby.com/cd/letha

Van Hunt stares out of the CD cover looking like Tierry Henry's brother! LOL Seperated at birth? Tierry Henry is an Arsenal soccer player based in London, for those of you who haven't the foggiest idea who I am referring to. Don't worry, even my wife doesn't know what I am waffling on about half the time! If you check the upcoming World Cup, he is just about the best player in the World right now. O.K., waffling again! LOL I really like Van Hunt. The man almost made it through the back door onto the Soul Scene with his first album. That was excellent and this is on a par with that. Both albums take a few plays to get under your skin, but under your skin is where they get. This set, even if you only like one track, that would have to be 'Hole In My Heart'. Fantastic tune. I think one day he will move to another popularity level. In the meantime, all we have to do is just enjoy the man's music and wait for the rest of the rabble to catch up. Far more enjoyable than watching 5 Finnish Heavy Metal werewolves with leprosy winning the Eurovision Song Contest! LOL. You can get this set at Amazon.

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• Frank McComb - The 1995 Bootleg / Karen Bernod - Life @ 360 Degrees

Frank McCombKaren Bernod

Frank McComb is an artist, that you have to see live, if he is ever in town. Quite a remarkable singer really, whom some compare to Stevie Wonder in sound, although, to these ears is very much more set within the Donny Hathaway mould. Funny thing is, he is almost too good for his own musical boots! Thesedays we like to be told what to like by the industry, the next Frank Sinatra soundalike, or if it doesn't sound like a mobile phone ringtone, then it just isn't worth any of our hard earned money. All I can say, is most of us music lovers out there 'love music' and not folks's mobile phone ring tones going off to a 'house beat'. This album I have had in my collection for a while now. Frank used to be with Sony, then Motown were going to release this set, but nothing happened with it, but then copies started changing hands. By the time it arrived here, the music was great, but the quality wasn't all that. I loved the songs on this set. Poor Frank played live gigs and was presented with pirate copies of his own album for him to autograph! Brass neck or what. I figured this excellent album would be tied up with so many legal issues, that it would never see the light of day. Frank has taken the reigns, as far as his career is concerned, and we finally get to hear something that might actually make the man some money. I won't run through this track by track. I could use so many superlatives, you just won't find a much better album released this year. All the links you need are below. Highly recommended indeed.

Dome Records have taken under their wings Karen Bernod for her second album outing. Many parts of the industry would pigeonhole her as 'Nu Organic Soul', however, that brings on connotations of moodiness and Eryka Badu soundalikes. This is a hugely cheerful album, with Karen being very funny in some spoken parts of this lovely set of 'Soul Songs', not Nu this or that. 'Dreamer' is almost Will Downing in delivery, odd as Will took the sleeve images, and they are of a very high standard indeed. I loved the uplifting flirtations relating to the song 'Subway Love Game', which finds Karen 'stalking' fellow passengers! LOL. 'Family' is a beautiful ballad, very personal in content, and, all told, this is well worth picking up. As with Expansion, Dome's releases are all of the highest standard (and no, I am not on any sort of payroll! LOL). Another winner.

www.frankmccomb.info
www.boobeescootmusic.com
www.myspace.com/frankmccombmusic

Dome Records

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• Gwen McCrae - Gwen McCrae Sings TK / Prince - 3121 / Various - The Spirit Of Philadelphia Vol.2

Gwen McCraePrinceSpirit Of Philadelphia

Last Saturday, I went to see Gwen McCrae at the Jazz Cafe here in London. We have been in touch for a while now. I met Gwen last summer at her last gig there. She is a very sweet person. This time round I took some friends along as guests of the Soulpower Crew. Real nice people. Very easy going. They took us up to meet Gwen before the show, and we took some photo's. Whilst we were chatting Gwen gave me a CD she had just recorded, which is, basically, an album of TK remakes (although there is one new song on the set). Got up Sunday morning, with a sore head, and put the album on the player. Gwen's voice sounds really great thesedays. Her show was marvellous. If this album had been recorded by Joss Stone, everyone would be raving about it, as she fits todays industry template. What is lovely about this set, is Gwen has almost recorded the album Joss might have made herself. Her album, last time round included some Southern Soul greats. Gwen has the likes of Timmy Thomas, Little Beaver, George 'Chocolate' Perry, Latimore, K.C., amongst many others on board here. The new song is called 'You Gotta Love Me (Like I Love Me)' which is a duet with K.C. Great song. There are versions of 'Rock Your Baby', 'Party Down', 'Misty Blue', 'Let's Straighten It Out', and my personal favourite, Gwen's take on 'Honey, Honey', real Soul perfection to these old ears. In many ways not too dis-similar to her 'I Can Only Think Of You' song from a few years back. Biased? Possibly, however, you can't deny it when you hear real quailty. This certainly is that. Hugely recommended and on the www.henrystonemusic.com website. Welcome back Sista.

Prince certainly has had an interesting career. One day he is a 'Prince', another day he is a 'Symbol'. His appearance at the U.K. music awards a few years back, raised some eyebrows. In a way, I think he has run the gauntlet, within the industry, that Michael Jackson has had to. Michael, bless his heart, has never been allowed to go through the childhood experiences that the rest of us have been allowed to do, which in a way was very unkind and he should have been supported and allowed to mature without the attention of the media, now that, remember, he has been proven to be innocent of everything the media wanted him to be guilty of. Perhaps we should 'hound' a few journalists and take photo's of them at all hours? Prince, however, has 'ducked and dived'. The man has been very clever in his handling the media, mainly as they don't know what to make of him! He has been his own rebel / man. One thing I would say about him is he is a very good employer. Helped many with their careers, from the likes of Sheena Easton, Rosie Gaines, all the way to the likes of Mavis Staples along the way. Personally, as with his persona's, there are two sides of this artist, as far as I am concerned. One side produces songs such as 'Rasberry Beret' and 'When Dove's Cry', the other that records songs such as 'Sign Of The Times' and the incredibly undrerrated 'Silly Games'. Guess you know which side of the man's music I prefer. The thing with Prince's recent material, is that, even if you dislike many of the tracks, there is alway a gem buried in there somewhere. Personally, I like this set. The title track is a great funky opener, 'Love' is a nice mid tempo offering, 'The Word' is moody and catchy, and 'Beautiful, Loved And Blessed' is a nice, sort of 'stepper'. My personal favourite is the second to last track 'The Dance', which is a haunting mid-tempo melody, almost samba in style. The type of track that only this artist can carry off. Interesting album, but it would be wouldn't it? You can pick this up most places. Not hard to find.

Last, but certainly not least, is the second release in the 'Spirit Of Philadelphia' series from Expansion Records. One thing you can say about this label, is you can, pretty much, pick up any of their releases and find pure quality within the melodies. I reviewed the first of the series at the site and this is of an equally high standard. Philadelphia turned out some great music. When most folks talk about the label, it conjures memories of the likes of the O'Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Jean Carne, The Jones Girls, The Three Degrees etc. Great music, however, in other parts of the city, and away from the Gamble and Huff set-up, there were other artists recording some great sides, many times with the same musicians. This is where these excellent compilations focus in on. Before I talk about the music, I must say that the sleevenotes and liner notes are always impeccable. Roger Williams cover designs are highly impressive (and that comes from someone who works within the industry). O.K. The music. Well, the starting line-up is impressive. Ben E. King, Eddie Kendricks, The Whispers, The Four Tops, New York City and the recent Vince Montana melody, 'That's What Love Does', which has become a club anthem in the U.K. recently. 17 tracks of Philly gems. If you like the label, you'll love this. Compiled by Ralph Tee, who has far better taste than I do, so you won't be disappointed. As Peter Young once said to me, when Ralph was on the airwaves, 'I listen to his show to find out what I'll be playing in 6 month's time'! High praise from a great Soul veteran. Check Soul Brother for copies.

Soul Brother Records

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• Hil St. Soul - Soulidified / The Whispers - For Your Ears Only

Hil St. SoulThe Whispers

Hil St. Soul are almost a bridge between the 'New R & B' and the Old Skool style of material and delivery. Hilary Mwelwa has a lovely vocal styling. I would not be brutally honest if I didn't say that, the new R & B side of the scene isn't my cup of Earl Grey, however, with Hilary's vocals, this listener doesn't get to reach for the skip button on the remote. I am sure that, on a trip to the Jazz Cafe in London, I bumped into Hilary, in the street, and asked her if she was Ledisi! I am not a complete idiot, but I'm still trying to work out what piece is missing! LOL. Sorry Hilary! Mind you, they do look similar to each other. You can tell Ledisi, as she has the cider I spilled on her feet, which I also did the same night! Idiot as I said. This album is going to hit the streets on the Shanachie label in the near future. It is listed at Amazon at the moment as well. I particularly like the songs 'It's O.K.', 'Hey Boy' and the opener 'Sweet On You'. 'Betta Days' samples Eddie Kendricks' 'Intimate Friends' very nicely. One funny aside (which I am sure is intentional) is that the first 3 songs all have the following tracks titles within the lyrics. Certainly confused this old fool! Highly recommended Urban Contemporary release. Very talented artist. I guess, my only concern with this set is that daytime radio has become so bland, this set will need the oxygen of the Internet for sales.

Well, as far as the Whispers go, for this listener, they can do no wrong. What amazes me about this album, is how fresh this veteran group still sound. Walter & Scotty's voices sound exactly the same as they did back in the Seventies. I know I have joked about the boys going so far back, that you might find a cylinder recording or a 78 by the band in your local second hand store, well, these guys have my 'W' section nicely filled here, already. This is another wonderful addition to their curriculum vitae. The opener 'Get It On' pays homage to the classic Soul acts from the previous couple of decades. A great dancer. The guys cover of Major Harris's evergreen 'Love Won't Let Me Wait', uptempo's the original. Found it very interesting to hear their version of the song 'Livin' It Up', which I have as an Italian twelve by a group called Bros2 featuring Mike Francis, released back in 1990. Most of this set comprises of original material. They even have Teena Marie helping on writing and production chores on the offering called 'Butta'. 'I Sing This Song For You' is absolutely gorgeous. A dedication to the man upstairs guess, with the able help of the Emmanuel Baptist Church Choir Of San Jose. What with their impeccable harmonies, Ollie Woodson on board, you have a lovely, lovely recording here. Unreservedly recommended. One of the best of 2006, I think.

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• The Persuaders - Made To Be Loved / Sargent Tucker - ...and Comrades

The PersuadersSargent Tucker

The Persuaders are perhaps best remembered for their Soul evergreen 'Thin Line Between Love And Hate'. What a great song that was.

This new album was a real nice surprise. I must confess I wasn't too sure as to what to expect when I put this on the player here. It was, obviously, going to be very much old school, and sure it is just that, however, there is much more to this set than meets the 'ear'. If you were into the recent Temptations releases, then, this will be very pleasing to you. In many ways, the songs, not only remind me of the Temptations, but there are inflections of recent Dells material here as well. I guess these guys vocal deliveries have matured with time, obviously, and thank heavens for that. Couple of covers here. Lovely take on Burt Bacharach's chestnut 'A House Is Not A Home' and Glady's Knight's 'You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me'. The original material is contemporary, and not too much 'in your face', which is a relief in this current environment of 'American Pop Idol' (why don't these guys listen to those close to them and give us all a little peace! Half of them sound like they are in pain! Maybe we should put them out of their misery! LOL). The Persuaders could sing any of those latest Michael Jackson's on that show off the stage, and the guys prove that with the very Temptations 'Stay', sounding 'She's Mine'. What a great song. Real Soul is still alive and well, thankfully. Soul Brother will have copies of this, so check the link below. Highly recommended and strong throughout. Welcome back Soul Brothers!

Sargent Tucker's people sent me several copies of this CD. Their website is at www.anadarecords.com. Out of California, this is an unusual item as the mixture of musical genre's allows the various styles to do their thing, ranging from Rock to Smooth Jazz, to Soul music. When I review material at this site, I will not lead the visitor down a path that might let them think that I am under the instruction of a company or individual....so, I am actively going to say that I completely miss some of the Rock music on this set. Having said that, the Smooth Jazz Material is listenable, but just that, unfortunately. The interesting material is Sargent's own input, especially on the songs 'All The Squares' and the richer 'I Need Your Love'. Reminded me a little of the Beach Music set reviewed at the site last year. A notable CD for these songs, and you do get instrumentals of these tracks thrown in. I would like, personally, to hear an album by the Sargent on his own entirely. As I have said before, these are the artists 'babies', understanding that it is easy to criticise, but hard to create as well. Good luck to the label, and the artists out there. I am sure that there will be those out there that love the material here I do not. Down to taste all told.

Soul Brother Records

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• Steve 'The Scotsman' Harvey - The Everyday People Project / Jiva - Sun And Moon

Steve HarveyJiva

More from the excellent Expansion record label here. Two very nice releases to move us out of the Winter period on on, hopefully towards Spring, although it is still pretty cold right now here in London.

Steve Harvey has been around for a while now, as a songwriter and producer. He was behind the excellent Donnie debut album, Frank McComb's 'The Truth' album, along with many other projects over the years. I mentioned Donnie as he makes an appearance on this CD, which is, almost, a showcase of various artists who could be described as Nu Organic Soul. I think that verbal label isolates the artists a little. Musical segregation if you like. The thing is, as I have said before, there are only two types of music in the listeners perceived ear. Good and Bad. The team line up here is pretty impressive. There is a very nice starter from the excellent Ledisi. Quite why she hasn't been more widely embraced by the States, musically, as she stands head and shoulders above many vocalists out there. There is a real nice tune called 'Where Has The Love Gone', by a newcomer to this old soulboy, called K.K. (Glad there were only two 'K's there!). Rahsaan Patterson weighs in with the excellent 'That's The Way'. Fine stuff. As usual, I do have a favourite cut, which comes in the form of Linn Segolson's lovely 'Troubled Times'. Great music. Nice set available from Soul Brother.

Jiva are a new name to me. The blurb tells me that they were with Giant Step Records. That is an excellent label. This is a very nicely constructed, part Soul and part Samba, set of recordings. You get dance songs as well as some lovely mid-tempo material. Parts reminded me of some of Minnie Ripertons material, especially on the track 'Free Falling'. 'Swept Away' is another delightful piece of Soul Samba, and I know if Robbie Vincent was still on the air, he would be rotating 'Confessions Of A Man' heavily. That is a great track. Parts of this set almost hark back to the days of the late Seventies Fusion. More power to these guys elbows. Some nice alternative mixes thrown in for good measure. Nice to put on a Sunday morning and just enjoy. Available at Soul Brother as well. Real instruments, very enjoyable all round, and highly recommended.

Soul Brother Records

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• Anthony Hamilton - Ain't Nobody Worryin' / Syleena Johnson - Chapter Three: The Flesh

Anthony HamiltonSyleena Johnson

Anthony Hamilton's people sent me the man's last outing. I really liked that set, so I reviewed it at the site. Anthony is an interesting artist, as there are certain performers that you believe will come up with a work of real genius during their careers. I read Bill Buckley's review of this set in the pages of Blues and Soul magazine. Bill was raving about a track called 'Change Your World', almost to the point of ignoring the rest of the set. It was album of the fortnight. Reviewing albums could be compared to those who are elitest regarding themselves being the only individuals owning a copy of a certain track. Once one person has reviewed an album, then that is their domain. I respect Bill's opinions and I have no problem in raising his arm and letting the man know he is right on the button with this tune! What a fantastic song. You need this song. Don't get me wrong, the rest of this album is excellent, however, Anthony has hit that little piece of genius that takes 'Change Your World' onto another level completely. You will now want to ask me 'O.K. then Toby, what does this song sound like?' Well if you ever yearned for the days of the classic Philadelphia International ballad, or the Delfonics releasing another classic melody, well this is for you. For me there's even a touch of the Vee Allen / David Peaston song 'Can I?' Song of the year.

Anthony wandered off into the studio next door to pitch in his fine musical abilities on the lovely song 'More', alongside Syl Johnson's daughter, Syleena. I thought Syleena's previous efforts were very good. This set is her best yet. I think that Syleena's first two albums were a personal musical education. She has now qualified and is up there with the finest of her generation. The song 'Special Occasion' was recommended to me by Charles Waring, another Blues and Soul scribe. Thank heavens for Charles and Bill. They keep us, musically, sane. This song has echoes of the Deniece Williams song 'Free'. Can't recommend that more highly, could I? Slightly steppers in style with R Kelly on board helping out with proceedings. You get the idea I am sure. Other real highlights include Anthony's contribution on the lovely melodic 'More', as I mentioned. Why songs such as this do not grace our pop charts, well is beyond me. A personal belief is that the pop charts ought to carry an animation, or something similar, such as dancers, to accompany the music, which would mean we would be forced to listen to the music and not the male or female models that think they can sing and dance, but cannot. Far too much lip gloss, cleavage, hairspray, make-up, belly piercing, bling and ponsing around in tights for this old Soul fan........and the women are just as bad! LOL. Oh yes, whilst I do my usual ramble, turn off the T.V. and put on 'Time' from this excellent album. Two essential albums. I rest my case M'Lud!

Both sets are up at Amazon, where you can read other folks opinions. I am sure they will concur with Bill's, Charles's and my 'grumble' opinions. LOL. Classic Soul

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• Kirk Franklin - Hero / Will Downing - Soul Symphony

Brown's Bag - Labor Of Love / Sparlha Swa - In The Distance

Donald McCollum - U Don't Want My Love / Anita Baker - Christmas Fantasy

Kirk FranklinWill DowningBrown's BagSparlha SwaDonald McCollumAnita Baker

2006 is going to be a great year for music if these late Christmas crackers are anything to go by.

Kirk Franklin's album 'Hero' I cannot recommend more highly. In many parts this album reminds me of Tommy Sims debut from a few years back. The whole set begins with a plea to help those less privileged in Africa. The follow on song samples Patrice Rushen's 'Haven't You Heard' very cleverly. This is a very spiritual album, highly moving in parts. The title song, featuring one Dorinda Clark-Cole, is very R Kelly-esq in a ballad format. Lovely harmonies.'Could've Been Me' is another top drawer dancer, with echoes of Benny Golson's 'I'm Always Dancing To The Music'. Great material. There are further contributions on the Gospel front from Yolanda Adams and Marvin Winans, however, the real tour de force on this set is a collaboration with Stevie Wonder on the track 'Why'. This track cleverly utilises Deniece William's song 'Free'. Quite why Stevie's album isn't number one on every chart is beyond me. Kirk's set is quite brilliant. Every home should have a copy. You can obtain a copy from Amazon (link at the top of the page).

Will Downing, if nothing else, is consistent with all of his releases. His warm vocal delivery has been turning on the women out there ever since his debut set nearly 20 years ago. This latest CD is a very mellow set. In fact, there is only one song that could be described as a dancer. That is the stepper song 'Soul Steppin'. Great tune. Will weighs in with his own take on the song 'Superstar', a track Luther made his own back in the day. All of the ballad arrangements are lush and highly song-led on this fine 9 track offering. My favourite song on offer here is the very final track, the gorgeous 'Heart Of Mine', a track that will definitely make my year end 'best of' top 20. Amazon should stock this set as well.

A guy called Ward Brown got in touch with me during December and asked whether I might take a listen to his and his brother (I guess) Sherrod's new CD. The guys are Illinois based and are similar in style to the Kloud 9 brothers soundwise. This is a lovely CD. The guys define themselves as 'defenders of Soul', and their 'defending' is of the highest standard. Personal highlights are 'Things You Say', the highly harmonic 'Love Never Comes Around', and the killer track 'Heaven'. That is another track of 2006, and we are only 4 days into the New Year! Well worth picking up a copy from the website below. Lovely album.

http://www.bushmanentertainment.com/bme/brownsbag/default.asp

Another artist who contacted me is Jamaican born singer Sparlha Swa. Sparlha now is a New York resident. A very different sound to Brown's Bag, Sparlha's approach is much more folksy and equally as Soulful. The blurb states that her sound has been compared to Sade, Joan Armatrading and Tracey Chapman. I wouldn't argue with those comparisons. Probably nearer to Sade than Tracey in my humble opinion. There is something very charming about Sparlha's delivery, with 'Sister, Sister' being a personal favourite. This is a very nice album that grows on the listener. Great debut. Check her website at: www.sparlhaswa.com

Donald McCollum's set arrived in just before Christmas. Another fine release from the excellent people at Dome Records. Donald created a stir earlier last year with the release of the title track from this album on a twelve. That received heavy rotation on the better Soul Stations here in the U.K. and quite rightly so. Bright and breezy and lit up a few dancefloors as well as receiving radio exposure. Essential listening. There is a very nice version of William DeVaughn's evergreen 'Be Thankful For What You Got' and, of the original material, 'You're My Everything', 'You're In My Arms Again' (this will please the Real Soul fraternity), 'I Wanna Love You' and 'Love Will Come Along', all really stand out. Pretty solid set throughout. Recommended.

Dome Records

I make no apology in reviewing a Christmas album after the recent festivities! LOL. A good friend gave me a copy of this album just after Christmas had passed, so it feels strange listening to the set today (mind you I suppose it is 10th night). Odd that folks don't wait until 12th night (especially if they have kids) as it seems that Christmas is all about getting drunk and material things thesedays, so I guess folks have got what they wanted, so out goes the decorations and get back to the day to day routine. I personally, hate to see the things go. Anyhow, the music! LOL. Anita Baker's last album was O.K., however, it didn't break any new ground. The songs were all nice, but I think Anita deserved more. That set was beset with technical problems, which meant she had to re-record the whole thing again. There were even lawsuits. When the album was finally released, it sounded a little 'tired', understandably. On this set, she sounds a lot happier. The set comprises of many standards the most notable being her take on 'My Favourite Things', which is lovely, and as a friend pointed out to me, can be played all year round. There are 3 original tunes here, all of which are lovely, my favourite being 'Family Of Man', which is very much 'Caught Up In The Rapture' in feel. Nice to have Anita back on form again. Check Amazon again for this set. Recommended.

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