Soul And / Or Related Artists

listen out for 2011...

 

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Tracy Cruz - Universoul Symphony / Nicci Canada - Twenty Twelve

Tracy CruzNicci Canada

Two albums here seeing the women artists taking centre stage, both of whom do so very much in style.

Tracy Cruz's album is exactly the type of album I love getting via Her Majesty's post, or via an internet promotional package, this time round, straight from Tracy herself! In fact, Tracy has been in touch for a while now, initially alerting me to her forthcoming album, and now by sending me a promotional copy. If anything else demands the attention from the Soul fan out there, is the fact that a certain Ledisi is Tracy's vocal coach! Got your attaention now? :)) Tracy hails from Quezon City on the island of Luzon in the Philippines and posesses a voice that has echoes of Teena Marie and Adrianna Evans in places, however, what is apparent throughout this album, is the pure quality of Tracy's own music on offer. When I first receive an album here thesedays, I expect to like a couple of tracks, quite like a couple more, and leave the rest to those who the music might appeal more to. Thus, I quickly take a journey through most albums at speed, and then return to the tracks I mark up on the iTunes here. With this album I had to relisten to the whole set in full, as this is one of the best albums released over the last 12 months or so. Nice that Tracy is a new artist, as these folks are full of enthusiasm, which is refreshing, as there is a great deal of cynicism out there, and albums such as these generate so much optimism. Thank heavens for the likes of Tracy, Nicci Canada (we'll get to her album shortly, and the recently released Jenny James 'Love 101'. Tracy herself has shared centre stage with the likes of Sy Smith, Latoya London and one of the members of the group the Black Eyed Peas. Musically, this album is full of, what many folks describe as 'old school sensibilities', which is a sentiment I fully agree with. Tracy's album opener began with a beautiful piece of piano led orchestration (thus the album's title), which, for myself, was a very good introduction and statement to the fact the the listener was going to be introduced to something a little above par, musically. This opening melody ('Soundation - Prelude') led on to a cracking piece of mid tempo Soul in the form of 'Mind Travel', built around an almost militaristic beat, leading beautifully into the 'steppy' 'Let's Go Back'. The single 'Love Galaxy' is probably, the track that I would have chosen myself as an initial release, as it is probably, my favourite track from the album. Check the tune out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wy1ZZloGMUI 'Happy' will probably be the U.K. pick for the radio. A very Incognito-esque vibe running through the dancer. Lovely tune. 'Joyful Rain' is an orchestrated ballad, which really brings the Teena Marie sound out in Tracy's voice. 'Flowers and Candy' brings out the Adrianna Evans and Ledisi sound in her delivery. 'Struggle' is a lovely finale. Quite simply a cracking album throughout. I know many folks talk of 'best of the year' album releases, however, all I can say, is ignore this album at your peril. It is very, very good.

Another woman showing us 'male girls' just how Soul music ought to be sung, is Nicci Canada. I have to thank Brian Hurst from his excellent soulandjazz.com website, for sending me this album. Brian and I have very similar tastes, and to his great credit, he helps the independent artist's 'extend their range', in all aspects regarding their product. This is another great album, which features 14 tracks, which are filed under 'Neo-Soul' by many folks out there, however, removing all genre labels, this is simply a very good album of songs, influenced by many styles. Nicci is not only a great songstress, she co-writes (or writes completely) much of the material on this set, truly making the album 'her baby'. Nicci has a very powerful vocal delivery, which would cover many genre's very neatly. I can hear Jazz influences as well as Soul inflections coming through within the album's overall vibe. I loved the track 'Attraction', as well as 'Butterfly' and her dedication to her husband 'Boaz'. 'Love' is a very optiimistic stepper, sung in parts in a style no too dissimilar to the previously mentioned, Ledisi. The killer track for myself here is the very moody 'Take It Back', which has a very late Eighties independent Soul sound to the song. Back in those days, ballads were not out of vogue, in the way they seem to be in 2011. Let's hope by the end of the decade, we might see these types of songs seeing a resurgence. This is top drawer Soul music. A truly great song. The albums final track 'Free' is a song I can hear on daytime radio in the coming months. Very, very funky, and I loved the props to Eryka Badu during the song. Raised an appreciative smile in this house! This a very nice album, currently being promoted by a very good label. Sounds like the perfect combination leading us forward, musically, in 2011. Woman to watch, with a label to watch...and hear on both counts! Thanks for sending this to me Brian.

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Omar Cunnigham - Growing Pains / Cedric Le'Mont - I Promise

Omar CunninghamCedric LeMont

Omar Cunningham is a Southern Soul artist, who has a page at this site (http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/Omar%20Cunningham.html). Omar is on to his 5th album release since 2003, and is a singer I really like. He manages to be faithful to his Southern roots, but also manages to infuse a little of the Modern Soul sound effortlessly into his music. I have reviewed Omar's music at the site before, and I am often alerted to a new album by either his music folks, or his ever expanding fan base Stateside. 'Growing Pains' is probably the man's best release thus far. Many Southern releases create a vibe, and by and large, stick within the genre format. Omar extends his musical wings on parts of this album, which have the effect of creating a couple of very radio friendly tracks for the mainstream R&B market. The very last track on this fine set is one such tune, which is my current favourite song on this album. 'Gotta Keep (Do You Know Him)' is a particularly fine song, which has echoes of the Ernest D. Wilson song 'Amazing' from last year. That track is a real sleeper, and I do hope that this song is picked up by the better radio stations out there. Great song. The song 'I'm Your Maintenance Man' is so Southern it was 'Taylor' made for the late Johnnie Taylor (pardon the pun!)! 'Do Right' is a great Modern Soul swayer, whilst 'Mr. Lowdown' begins with a very 'O'Jays-ish 'My Favorite Person' opening set of bars! Nice Southern song. On the midtempo front 'Find A Good Woman' is just about as good as it gets. There are some very fine Soul ballads on this hugely pleasing album, which comes highly recommended in this house. Out on Soul 1st Records.

Cedric Le'Mont is a new singer, who hails from Maryland. This new 7 tracker is out on his own self titled label, and is currently on sale at CD Baby. This album is unusual in as much it has a vibe that I have not heard for nearly 20 years or so now. Back in those days, the About Time label was retailing this type of Soul Music here in the U.K. 'I Promise' kicks off with the title track, which is set at midtempo and is hugely song led. Charming in many ways due mainly to the fact that (I am sure Cedric will agree) this singer doesn't 'belt' songs, but retains his vocal discipline, which enhances the overall listening experience. Check this link at You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKDqaYSIQFQ). 'In Your Eyes' is another great song, very old school in delivery. 'Out On The Floor' seems to be creating some waves in some circles, understandably, although, one track really has caught my attention here. Usually, any song that has the word 'birthday' in the title, is a track that is something most folks might bypass, however, the listener would do so at their peril! 'The Birthday Song's' opening bars could easily be mistaken for the opening bars of Curtis Mayfield's evergreen 'Give Me Your Love', however, this track could easily become a firm favourite on the better Soul Stations out there. Perhaps my only critique is the length of the song being set st only just over 3 minutes. I bet this track will be on many deejays turntables over the upcoming festive period. Very interesting new singer, with a very interesting new album. A performer to keep your eyes (and ears) open for. Two albums where the very last track is the pick of the bunch, setting a trend perhaps!

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Jenny James - Aspiring 2 B Me / L.J. Reynolds - Get To This

Jenny JamesL.J. Reynolds

One of the most frustrating things regarding reviewing album releases, is dithering as to whether to post an album or not. Many albums these days are very frustrating in as much as, contained on some albums are a genuine bona fide killer track, which would win over even the most critical of Soul punters out there. Thus this album is making a showing here. This is an album that will bypass many listeners to this site, after reading the blurb ('a combination of atmospheric pop, techno dance, smooth jazz, plaintive piano ballads'....I think you can begin to build a picture), and yet Canadian singer Jenny James has generated one of the tracks of the year so far, in the form of track 3 here, namely 'Love 101'. In many ways, I can imagine Jenny sitting bolt upright when her producer first played this song to her. After working her way through the melody, embellishing the song with some lovely harmonies, she must have thought to herself 'I wish they had given me a couple songs more like this track from their songwriting locker'. The rest of the album will appeal to many other folks out there, but well outside the realm of the visitors to this site. Having said that, this album is a must have for 'Love 101', which is quite simply, gorgeous.

L.J. Reynolds I am going to re-title, (very much in the style of Sir David Frost), 'Renaissance Man'. What a brilliant album this new release is. No one track release here, in fact, I would imagine (must be getting near Christmas again!) this will be an album of the year for many Soul fans out there. I played 'I Will Always Love You' to my wife this morning. She has been watching the Simon Cowell based programmes over the last few weeks, so straight away I had a review right here at home, whether I wanted it, or didn't!!. This track got the thumbs up, so I worked my way through the rest of the album, and L.J. received a 'not at all bad' summary from her, which in her highly critical books is an 'outstanding', and all told, this album truly is just that. Couple of Marvin covers here. The single 'Come Get To This' and 'You Sure Love To Ball', which has been given a midtempo vibe, and what a great vibe L.J. has created for Marvin's evergreen classics. A whole new lease of life for both songs. A real grower on this album is 'You Been Cheating', which echoes the S.O.S. Band in places. L.J.'s voice is still very strong, and effortless in delivery. 'Like Crazy' drops the tempo and is a very fine ballad (a much maligned genre thesedays). 'Find Your Love' was a real surprise, as this is a dancer which would have filled the daytime Soul radio back in the Eighties. The type of melody that many of the younger folks coming through, try to emulate thesedays. Old skooler educating the class in how to fill a dancefloor! Very spiritually uplifting track indeed. Nice to hear L.J. cover the old Blue Eyed Soul song 'Baby Come Back', a song originally recorded by the group Player. What a full on cracking album this is. Ought to be massive. It will be on the better stations out there, I am sure. Welcome back L.J.!

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Various Artists - Soul Togetherness 2011 / Expansion Soul Sauce 25

Soul Togetherness 2011Soul Sauce 25

Two great new releases from Expansion Records here. Exapnsion releases are always a hugely welcome addition to the music market. I have mentioned the words 'kite mark of quality' before regarding any of the releases concerned with the label, and these two CD's are absolutely essential listening in 2001. The Soul Togetherness series are, to all intents and purposes, a snapshot of the Soul Scene during the particular year in concern. Ralph Tee is the man who carefully cherry picks the music for the albums, and he often chooses tracks that have featured at the site here over the previous 12 months or so. We have very similar tastes in music, which for myself is a godsend. Any track I have missed at any point in time, I can pick up on his fine albums, completing a fuller musical picture of the year as a whole. On this CD there are 15 cracking tracks, no fillers, and everyone a tune which will stand the test of time in years to come. Included here are the dancers '5:35', from Deborah Bond's fine album, 'And You Don't Stop', from the recent Kelly Price album, my good friend Chris Bang's excellent CB Remix on the killer track from Heston's album from earlier this year, (namely 'Greatest Lover'), the very retro 'Feeling High' by Los Charly's Orchestra and Sarah Fonteyne's optimistic 'Messing'. Tracks that really were great to own in this house are the beautiful 'Maybe You'll Be Back' by Sharon McMahon (real corker of a tune) and the track that really tested my memory here, namely, Shuya Okino's take on the Narada Michael Walden song 'Give Your Love A Chance', which was originally on Narada's 1977 album 'Awakening' (title track off that album is a killer track, too). This is an essential album, with the bonus ball being the inclusion of the band Electric Empire, who are very popular in our neighbourhood! A must own album release...as is..

Amazon

....'Expansion Soul Sauce 25'. Not the 25th album in a series, but a celebration of the quarter of a century this great label has kept the Soul Music flag flying. This release contains a couple of new tunes, along with many tracks that have seen the light of day through this excellent imprint. Again, Bangsy weighs in with a great remix on Tom Glide's 'Luv Is Comin' Up' on this 16 tracker. Nice to see a new tune from the lovely Sheree Brown see the light of day here. 'Just A Simple Love Song' sounds like it could have been lifted from either of her two classic album releases from around 30 years ago. Across the previous 25 years, various tracks have been lifted from the company back catalogue, including James King's fine dancer 'Memory' and Kuh Ledesma's timeless 'Dreaming'. There are newer releases of which 'Magic Happen' by Kindred The Family Soul, 'So Real' by Keni Burke, and the real surprise 'Sweetest Sensations' by the fine Kloud 9, all really shone. This is as essential a release as the Soul Togetherness album. Would make a great (and not too expensive) Christmas present for someone who has a real appreciation for some of the finer Soul Music releases out there. Here's looking forward to another 25 years for this fine label. Both releases highly recommended, and if you don't pick up any other albums this year, make sure these two CD's comprise of the ones that you do buy!

Amazon

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Ronnie McNeir - Living My Life

Ronnie McNeir

Ronnie McNeir is one of many Soul music purists favourite singer-songwriters. This is probably because his output is pretty consistent in quality. His songwriting is strong and, in today's, pasteurised and homogenised muse method writing techniques out there, Ronnie's musical songwriting roots are very much set in an 'old school' state of the art. On listening to this album, it did make me wonder what Beyonce and Kelly Rowland would make of a scenario where, say, they were handed one of these tunes and told to deliver the song on stage, phrasing the music as it was delivered back in the day. One thing I can guarantee, is, if they had to perform the track 'Forever My Love' (lifted from this album), they both would be smiling from ear to ear! Given the game away there somewhat, as 'Forever' is my first 'cherry pick' from this fine 13 tracker, although, there are so many killer tracks on this fine, fine album, that I am sure my favourite will change with further listenings. I bought the songs 'Pontiac' and 'Tell Me You're Not Foolin' Me' from CD Baby, as single tracks, a couple of months ago. Sent them to a couple of deejays at Jazz FM in the U.K. where, 'Tell Me' quickly became a station favourite. Both of those tunes feature on this new album, along with two cracking cover tracks, namely Curtis Mayfield's/the Impressions wonderful 'Gypsy Woman', and Marvin Gaye/Leon Ware's evergreen, 'I Want You'. Another favourite track here is Ronnie's tribute to his grandmother 'Sweet Grandmother Of Mine', which can be a very hard subject to handle artistically, however, this is a great Soul music song handled with the utmost care and delivery. 'Said I Do' is another top drawer stormer. Beautiful chorus hook with Ronnie's harmnonies flowing effortlessly through the grooves. Hard to find a track I don't think is anything other that simply excellent here, so, thus far, my album of the year. Real cracker and on CD Baby imminently. By the way, some huge props to Ronnie's colleague Millicent, who put up with some incessant nagging on my part, so apologies from here, along with some huge thanks to Ronnie's hard working colleague. Ronnie should be here in the U.K., as the front man for the Four Tops, around March next year. Catch them if you can. Ronnie's take on 'Ask The Lonely' is quite superb thesedays!

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Lalah Hathaway - Where It All Began / Deborah Bond - Madame Palindrome / Teri Tobin - Love Infinity

Lalah HathawayDeborah BondTeri Tobin

Lalah Hathaway albums are always something I look forward to. Whenever I listen to Lalah, I hear her fathers influences, however, she has a distinctive style of vocalizing, which goes against the grain of many of her contemporaries. In many ways, the advice handed out by many vocal coaches, regarding 'disciplining one's breathing whilst singing' seems to be a factor which can largely be ignored by those who listen to and love this woman's music. As with Maysa Leak, the tenderness of this particular style of singing, is enhanced by allowing the vocals to go wherever the melody suits this fine singer. More power to her elbow in that particular department. O.K., that's a long winded way of saying 'I like Lalah Hathaway's singing'!! What of the content of this new offering? Well, the funny thing about all three of the albums here, are they are all 'growers'. On first listen, none of them are classic albums per se, however, they do grow on you. Took nearly 6 weeks for Deborah Bond's album to kick in here, and this album is creeping up on me, to a point now, where I think this is a very good release. The opening track does give ground to the newer R&B set of fans, which many will bypass. Of the growers, the title track is a perfect example of a tune which grows with listens. My favourite track is the ballad 'You Were Meant For Me', a song which showcases Lalah at what she does best, and was recorded by her father back in the day. Taking a melody, not over embroidering the song with vocal gymnastics, but allowing the melody to permeate through. A lovely song indeed. Of the radio friendly tracks 'Small Of My Back' will certainly be the tune that the maturer stations will gravitate towards. Some nice key changes in this song. 'If You Want Me To' is the single, which is familiar to many, and another 'file under grower' selection. I really like the 'steppy' 'Always Love You', which is beautifully harmonised by Lalah. There's a lovely ballad included here, which features the excellent Rachelle Ferrell, a Gary Taylor song called 'I'm Coming Back' which is a hugely haunting song, and a re-working of a track featured on her first album release. A real delight. All told, an album which may raise an eyebrow or two as Lalah looks to break into some new musical environments, however, in this house, a solid album by quite simply, one of the best songstresses around today. Out on Stax Records, by the way.

http://www.lalahhathaway.com/

Deborah Bond is a real nice woman. I know that as she was in touch here several years ago, when her previous album 'Day After' saw the light of day back in 2003. I loved that album, and I have listened to this album over the last month or so, and it is another grower. On first listen the music seemed to be slighly over complicated, however, I am pleased I persevered with her 'Madame Palindrome' album, as it is quickly becoming one of my favourite albums of this year. The opener 'Nothing Matters' I listened to many times on my iPod whilst I was on holiday recently. Kept hitting the repeat button on the player. Real cracker of a tune. Deborah posesses a very clear and distinctive way of singing, the clarity of which is beautifully juxaposed by the complexity of the grooves. The killer track on this album is definitely the Chic-esque dancer '5:35', which Nile Rodgers would have been proud to have written. One of the best dancers this year so far. Very retro bass line on show here. One aspect I ought to give credit to here, is the artworker deserves a huge pat on the back, as this album is beautifully packaged. Great to read about the musicians and influences etc. Those who mail out mp3's ought to take note. Nothing beat's the tactile nature of a CD. Deborah's vocals come to the fore when the tempo drops slightly, which works beautifully on the song 'Perfect'. A work of beauty. 'Highest Mountain' is another lovely song, beautifully harmonised and atmospheric. Deborah co-pens most of the material on this album. As with Lalah, she is partial to the odd key change, which shines through on 'Say It', which has echoes of the work Patrice Rushen recorded back in the mid seventies. Great tune. I want to thank Brian Hurst, from the excelllent www.soulandjazz.com website, who sent me a finished copy of this album. Really made me listen to this album with a new set of ears, so a big thank you to Brian. Highly recommended.

www.deborahbond.com

Teri Tobin is a new name to me. The blurb that is around regarding this album tells us that Teri is from Arizona and was born on Valentine's day. As with many Soul vocalists, their skills are honed at an early age in the churches within their local neighbourhood's. Teri's big break came with her background singing sessions for Jon Anderson's band, Yes, along a series of vocal sessions with the ex LTD vocalist, Jeffrey Osborne. Teri attended Howard University, and sang at President Clinton’s Inaugural Gala on the National Mall, performing backgrounds for Diana Ross, also sharing the stage with Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross and the group Shai. She has also sung for the likes of Joe, Chico DeBarge, Coolio, Chante Moore and Mica Paris. All these artists have certainly given Teri an appreciation of real music. This album is very well written and performed, opening (very boldly!) with two ballads, however, it is when the listener reaches track 3 that the class really takes centre stage. 'Free' will become a favourite track for many folks this year. Lot of songs called 'Free' released over the years, and this particular original holds it's head up very nicely with it's contemporaries. 'Tune', as they say, with a passing nod, lyrically, to Donny Hathaway's 'Someday We'll All Be Free', so I guess Lalah will want to say thank you, I am sure! One big family here! Teri's album is packed full of great mid tempo melodies, none of which are under par. A cracking new release from a new songstress, centre stage, but a seasoned campaigner a few feet backstage!. Recommended.

http://neo2soul.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/teri-tobin/

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Various Artists - Ralph Tee's Luxury Soul / Bridgette Bryant - Soulmate Collection / Augie Johnson's Side Effect - About Time

Luxury SoulBridgette BryantAugie's Side Effect

When Ralph Tee's album arrived here this week, the album really got me thinking. Twenty Five years ago, an album like this set would have been a godsend to many Soul fans for very different reasons than the role it serves thesedays. Back in the late Eighties, Rare Groove was very much at the forefront of many Soul fans minds. Either the music was a very expensive 'must buy' for the first time buyer, or some of the releases didn't retail that much on initial release, but garnered interest down the line, and these albums became 'gap-fillers' in a seasoned Soul fan's collection. At that time, the albums were an 'arm and a leg' purchases (in many cases for a very much one track album), therefore when the likes of the 'Soul Souveniers' albums hit the street, you could get your track of choice on either vinyl, or the relatively new CD format. Both of those formats played a big role in keeping the music flowing. As I have mentioned previously at the site, the solid state format endures. The formats that require movement for the enjoyment of the visual or audio formats, eventually wear in time, which is a point that Ralph touches upon in his liner notes regarding this release. Many of the older, original master tapes have eventaully bowed to the physics of entropy, reverting to whatever state that nature intended for those particular elements. Vinyl will endure, if it is looked after and treasured (as it is in this house!). CD will endure, provided that the albums are copied, renewing the data after a couple of decades, for as long as the musical librarians can maintain an interest in this music. Ralph's double CD contains many great tracks, many of which you may already own, but I am sure there are just as many that are missing from your shelves, and, as always with the man, there are no fillers within the musical content on show here. Ralph has, in as many ways I have, become a librarian. Keeper of the flame if you wish. His efforts to preserve the music are very much becoming an effort of epic proportions. Thesedays most folks do not pay for their music. Why pay for the albums if you can download them for free? Why are the likes of Ralph and Soul Brother Records even bothering to try to retail something that folks can obtain at the click of a mouse? Well the truth lies in the love of the music. Long gone are the 'entrepreneurs', who drove big cars and made huge amounts of money for overpricing CD's to the general public. Instead we have seperated the musical wheat from the chaff, and we are now left with is the real deal. Those who love the music and make huge sacrfices to keep the fires burning. They ought to be awarded a services to industry award. My small role involves archiving in a similar fashion, for some particular respected deejays. One third of all the vinyl ever released, has never made it to CD, therefore, the phone goes, or an e-mail arrives, requesting an old vinyl only track, which I archive to CD and send to the deejays in order to keep the music alive. I have become a librarian as well! The librarians are some of the few folks left who still buy vinyl. I came back from Cornwall recently with 15 albums and a couple of 45's. I love this music, still pay for it, and I have a great respect for those whose tastes were forged in a similar era of music. The tracklisting for this fine piece of classic material is below (hope you can read it!). Personal favourites here include anything by Keni Burke (I must archive his Dark Horse album), Nancy Wilson's beautiful 'Are We Losing Touch?', Linda Clifford's delightful 'Only The Angel's Know' and the fine David Ruffin evergreen 'I Wanna Be With You'. Truth be told, as I said, pretty much a masterpiece of cataloging. Buy and keep for the rest of your days, essential music, and good for your own soul and peace of mind.

Luxury Soul

I listened to several new albums after my return from the summer break. Some very nice albums around, with some nice songs, but not really any killer tracks, although there are a couple on this new album by the Californian based vocalist Bridgette Bryant. One song that struck me in particular was the delightful ballad 'Touch Me Again'. This is the type of track that would have been big on the Soul Stations in the more 'ballad acceptable' 1990's. There's a touch of the Marvin Gaye's about the song, which has some lovely key changes throughout the melody. I won't tell a porky pie and say that this album is full of great dancers. This release is a very downtempo album throughout, which should not distract the discerning listener to, what to all intents and purposes, a very good album all told. The high standard of 'Touch Me Again' is maintained with the likes of 'So High', 'Soft Place', 'Callin' Me', Key To My Heart' and 'There Is Love'. All would make many folks year end favourite track listings. Bridgette has contributed background vocals/was featured with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Phil Collins, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, Will Downing, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Patti LaBelle, Nancy Wilson, Sergio Mendez, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bachrach, Michael Bolton, Herbie Hancock, Sheila E., Maurice White, Bebe & Cece Winans, Mary Mary and more. Certainly a fine CV there, which adds to the interest in this fine singer, who Will Downing really rates Bridgette Bryant as a vocalist I am told. If he rates her, then you get the idea.... Recommended.

The third of the trio of releases see's Augie Johnson emerging from the previous decades with his great band Side Effect. They have made some great tracks over the years, and the danger of newer material by seasoned Soul folks who punters consider part of the rich tapestry of the genre, is....well, is the new stuff any good? I am very pleased to say that the answer to that particular question, is one great big 'yes'. As you might expect, there are elements of the past, epitomiosed by the very L.A. Boppers opener 'Me And U'. Augie, himself, is a New Orleans born performer, who played the clarinet when he was only 6 years old! He played in various bands as a youngster, with one real claim to fame being he sang on Frank Sinatra's take on the song 'High Hopes'. Perhaps it was the participation with the greats at such an early age, that influenced his performance styling and delivery. On this set he recreates Side Effects own take on the Cab Calloway classic 'Minnie The Moocher'. Calloway influenced many artists in his musical wake. Cab Calloway begat Side Effect, who begat Kid Creole and Dr Buzzard, who then begat Janelle Monae. Everything has it's roots I guess. Returning to this album, one real delight is the title track, which really is very much set out in a Side Effect circa 1977 mode. Great dancer with real instruments. There is a delightful, doo-wop-esque take on Michael Jackson's song 'The Way You Make Me Feel', which really works in that particular territory. I also really like the very long ballad 'Slow Dancin', which has echoes of the material you might hear the Whispers record thesedays. Great stuff, and a very welcome return to the center stage.

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DJ Jazzy Jeff featuring Ayah - Back For More

DJ Jazzy Jeff feat. Ayah

Ocassionally an album arrives, which, on first listen, you ask yourself 'Should I like this, or should I lean towards the Soul purists outlook?'. I must admit I do find albums like these ones, a refreshing arrival on the scene, as everyone will have an opinion on the set, for various reasons. Personally, I find this album pretty irresistable listening, perhaps due to the fact that much of the music on offer is material I am very familiar with. The clever aspect of DJ Jazzy Jeff's interpretations of older classics, is the man has a real empathy with the old school material. Remember his clever sampling of Kool and the Gang's 'Summer Madness', on his 'Summertime' release back in the day? Great tune....which will never make an Ace compilation, I know, but nevertheless was the acceptable face of hip hop/rap/the spoken word, or whatever tag the companies like to hang on records such as these.

On first listening, two things struck me about this album. The first one was 'should I allow myself to love this album'? (which I do by the way), and the second aspect had me wondering what would have Angie Stone made of this release. I love Ayah's vocals stylings on this set, and the listener can hear echoes of Angie's stylings embedded within Ayah's. My guess is Angie would, probably, be very frustrated that she didn't get her vocals laid down on this album first time round. DJ Jazzy Jeff has, to all intents and purposes, pushed the sampling boat out even further, and taken an old tune by the horns, and re-written the overlying melody and lyric layer. The overall effect is a completely new take on songs that we are as familiar with today, as we are with our families. The opener is a reconstructed take on Stevie's 'Love's In Need Of Love Today', which is quite brilliant (in 1976 and also in 2011). Probably, the tune that will make the most waves, is the Marvin re-write on 'Mercy, Mercy Me', which is realised in 'Make It Last'. That would be a great daytime radio track. There are other songs that borrow from the Isleys, George Benson, Paulinho Da Costa, The Art Of Noise, Barry White, and a few other tracks, which are infuriating, in as much as you find yourself asking the question 'I know this tune, it is so familiar, but I can't remember what the tune actually is'! I feel a party game coming on!

The strengths of this album are highlighted in the respect that DJ Jazzy Jeff displays for the older Soul artists, the strength (and sympathy) that Ayah embraces the newer versions of the older foundations, and the additional strength of the songs on offer, which are, (unusually for this type of album genre), very much song led. DJ Jazzy Jeff? Very much 'renaissance Soul man'. I really like this album. One that may sleep for a whle, but will definitely make some waves given half a chance and an open mind thrown in for good measure!

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Aretha Franklin - A Woman Falling Out Of Love / Brian McKnight - Just Me

Aretha FranklinBrian McKnight

Any time that Aretha Franklin decides to release a new album, gets the thumbs up in this house! This latest addition to the Franklin canon is even more of a milestone, as this Soul sister has been battling the grim reaper, and winning her battle thus far, thankfully. Aretha was suffering from pancreatic cancer, which has sidelined her recording career for a while, however, after a brief appearance at the Barack Obama inauguration, here she is, back to her Soulful best. Aretha has always had 'that something', which has the ability to incapacitate a listener with just a few bars of a melody. 'Just My Daydream' is a very good example of this, taken from her Luther Vandross collaboration 'Jump To It' (in 1982). That was a cracker of an album, and this album sees Aretha in a very downtempo mode, writing a couple of the songs on offer here. In fact, the opening three tracks on this twelve tracker, were penned (or co-written) by the woman herself. These are the tracks 'How Long I've Been Waiting', the blues'y 'Sweet Sixteen', and my personal favourite of the trio, 'This You Should Know'. Aretha is nearly 70, which, along with her recent illness, make the release of this album all the more remarkable. Oddly, as with her Christmas album from a couple of years ago, this set was originally a Wal Mart only release. How the marketplace has changed. You now pick up Aretha's new album, whilst you are picking up your weekly shopping. Aretha could teach Beyonce and her contemporaries a lesson or two in how to handle a melody. Not sure who the songwriter Curtis Boone is, however, the man can write a tune, as is realised in the Anita Baker-esque 'U Can't See Me'. One of my favourite tracks from the album. The album has several cover versions of standard melodies, Mack Discant & Max Steiner's evergreen, 'Summer Place' really working for these old ears! I am sure that Aretha would be the first person to admit that, vocally, she is not the singer that graced our vinyl albums throughout the Sixties, however, I would argue that she can still hold her vocal own with many of those half her age out there. One of a very few performers who could sing your weekly shopping list, and still move the listener. Make sure you add to the list Aretha's new album! Welcome back the Queen Of Soul.

Brian McKnight has a beautiful singing voice. Coming from a family which his older brother, Claude McKnight III is a part of, stands this man in a very fine place. Take 6 are one of my favourite vocal groups, and the similarities between Brian and Claude's voices are pretty obvious to the listener. In recent years, Brian's music has been quite derivative of whatever has been around on the R&B scene at any given point. Right sound, however, pleasant without being remarkable...until now! Brian is currently signed to the Entertainment One Music imprint, who seem to have allowed Brian a bit more of a free reign with his choice of music. Additionally, the current market seems to be moving more towards a song led, (dare I say, Stevie Wonder led), sound, as epitomised in the Eddie Sea and Electric Empire releases reviewed below here. The opener 'Temptation', however, borrows heavily from the Leon Ware penned Marvin Gaye material, circa 1976. 'Fall' and the melodic 'Gimme Yo Love' are very pleasing to the ear (especially the latter track). My favourite song here is the Stevie Wonder sounding 'Without You', which utilises the synthesiser sounds derived from the early Seventies Stevie sound. Great track. Brian delivers a very nice serving of ballads here, however, one surprising inclusion is a cover of the George Michael song 'Careless Whisper', which I would have skipped over as a knee jerk reaction to that song, however, Peter Young at Jazz FM stopped me skipping, and the track actually works very well. Probably Brian McKnight's finest release to date thus far, and a lesson to this old fool not to judge a song by it's previous history!

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Eddie Sea - Eddie Sea Welcomes You To The Velvet Lounge

Eddie Sea's Velvet Lounge

Funny how the year was panning out to be a relatively quiet onemusically, and, as with London buses, two absolute stormers of albums arrive together. Both sets are contenders for albums of the year. Electric Empire we have already discussed, and now we have the new Eddie Sea release, which Eddie himself kindly sent me. Arrived yesterday. Eddie liked the last album review I posted at the site relating to his previous offering. That was a very good album. This one is better! Eddie is a guy who likes his 'concepts'. The Velvet Lounge is divided into two rooms. The Blue Room, and the Red Room. Both Rooms seem to have a similar vibe to these old ears. That particular vibe is one of pure quality, all told. 14 tracks that are beautifully delivered by Eddie and his featured vocalists, namely The Golden Child, Shaunita Toussaint, Tajj, Sturvidant, and Marilyn Hearns. The albums opener 'Planet Earth' ought to be all over daytime radio. Simply beautiful summery music. One of this years finest songs. Shaunita Toussaint is a new singer to me. She features on 5 of the tracks on offer here. She has a very disciplined, warm and articulate delivery vocally. If you bought Eddie Sea's last album, 'Moon City', you'll know just what a great set that was. Buy this album blind, as it is a huge step up in quality. Cracking album, from this fine Chicago based artist, which reminded me of Norman Connors in places. Hugely recommended.

http://eddiesea.bandcamp.com/

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Electric Empire - Electric Empire / Various - Soul Unsigned - The 2011 (Summer) Session

Electric EmpireSoul Unsigned

Electric Empire's album is one of the best albums of 2011 thus far, in my humble opinion. Sure it is very Stevie derivative, however, the music has so much going for it, that any quibbling regarding 'sounding like this track' or that track are pretty meaningless. The group hail from the other side of the planet, from where I am currently sitting! Melbourne/Australian dudes, who are currently doing their thing at Glastonbury over here, beginning the process of promoting this fine album in Europe. On the Soul circuit, they have made the perfect start by hooking up with Ralph at Expansion here in the U.K. He has hit the bonus ball with this release, which I enjoyed throughout all of the 10 tracks on offer here. Electric Empire are Dennis Dowlut, Aaron Mendoza and Jason Heerah, although it appears several other family members are involved in the creation of this fine release. The group do cite the Beatles, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie as influences, with Stevie being very influential on the tracks 'Brother', 'Then It's Over' and 'Always', all of which draw from the 'Where I'm Coming From'/'Song In The Key Of Life' era. Great it wasn't from the 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' time frame!. One thing struck me, whilst listening to this album, is that the U.K. Soul fraternity could do well to listen to this album, with a view to, perhaps, a different road forward musically, than the well trod template, which was great in it's time, but is beginning to lose it's way somewhat. Hope that is constructive and not destructive. The latter it certainly is not my intention, just an observation. This is a cracking album, which will retail through Expansion shortly, and I am convinced will sell very well. It deserves to. Incidentally, the liner notes and sleeve are very nicely designed. One of this years finest.

www.electricempiremusic.com

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/electric-empire/id447017468

Soul Unsigned, Phil Driver's name, I was looking for in the Queen's birthday honours list.He deserved to be included, in my humble opinion! As Morgan Khan (Street Sounds) says in the liner notes of this fine compilation, this album is full of 'good honest Soul Music'. For those who think that music started in the year 2000, Morgan Khan was the head of the Street Sounds series of releases which came out during the 1980's. That was that huge dark expanse of music where all the music your Mum and Dad used to like eminated from!!! A very well respected musical entrepreneur. Phil picks the finest music released by the independent Soul artists out there, and takes all of the leg (ear?) work out of cherry picking the finest for the rest of us. It was nice to see Jameil Aossey on this set. He was in touch last year here, and we ran with his fine album at the site here. If you like the group Imprompt2, you'll like that album. This album contains 14 tracks, which are all highly recommended. Not a great lover of the vocoder sound here, however, the opener really does work well in the form of 'Boogieland' by the group Moonshoes. Could have been made in 1977. Great stuff. Unlike many previous album releases by Soul Unsigned, this is a very much uptempo offering (as the album title suggests), with the Katie Cole, LeNora Jaye and E.R.I.C. melodies especially appealing here. The high standard is maintained throughout this series, and long may Phil and his colleagues keep up the great work. Recommended unreservedly.

at amazon....

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Kim Burrell - The Love Album / Rhian Benson - Hands Clean

Kim BurrellRhian Benson

My favourite albums of 2011, thus far, are all by men. I am outraged! The R Kelly, John Stoddart and Frank McComb sets are all simply wonderful....and the women can now join them, with their heads held high, due to this fantastic album by Kim Burrell. As good, if not better than those by her male artistic counterparts. All I would say to this Texas based Gospel gal, is, one great big 'Go Girl'!! I liked every track on this 10 tracker on Shanachie Records. The lesser tracks would be one of the better tunes on many other offerings out there. To enhance the whole experience further, Kim either writes, or co-pens all bar two tunes on this album. One of the covers is her take on DeBarge's 'Love Me In A Special Way', which is lovely. The cracker of a cover, however, is her take on the Skip Scarborough classic 'Lovers Holiday', (which I know you will know), was an Earth, Wind and Fire evergreen. This version is one of the best takes on the song I have heard, equalling the wonderful original. Kim's album opens with the bright and breezy, orchestrated, 'Let's Make It To Love', which echoes the Natalie Cole song 'More Than The Stars' in overall effect. Jazzy soul of the highest order. If the opener was a blinder, the second track 'Sweeter' is equally as brilliant, but in a more R&B vibe. Really lovely song, which hits a great groove, and is tremendously song led. Other songs include 'A Little More Time', which takes Kim into a 'Heaven Help Us All' arena, and is another winner for the Soul deejays out there. On the ballad front, Kim showcases echoes of Ella on 'Is This The Way Love Goes', which sounds like a standard, but is an original. 'Jesus In A Love Song' is another grower of a track, which is becoming a favourite here, a song that is incredibly moody. Indeed, listening to the ballads on offer here, I can help but think that Anita Baker could really do with enlisting the services of Kim, employing this songstress on songwriting chores. Overly enthusiastic about an album? Sure. When it looks like a winner, sounds like a winner, and is sung by a tremendous vocalist, with a hugely rewarding Gospel delivery...it probably is a winner....and it is. One of the best in 2011, unquestionably.

Rhian Benson makes some very 'different' albums. I liked her last set, and this release is set on a similar sound stage. Listenable in the main part, not at all bad, although, there is a track which stands out on this set, in a very similar vibe to the track '1986' off the Ely Bruna album. That song has rightly become one of the songs of 2011, and I believe that 'Rewind' is destined to keep that song company. There's a very Matt Bianco/Basia-esque feel to this song, which will appeal those deejays who warm to the Samba-Soul beat herein. I liked 'Afraid To Love Again' on this set. A very slow, haunting ballad, which will probably receive little airplay, which is a shame. Ballads are out of vogue thesedays, with deejays prefering the 'crash band wallop, poorly accompanied by a nursery rhyme' daytime radio format, which seems to be flavour of the decade during this period in music. 'Rewind' will fare well on some stations, however, as there are some superior stations out there, which will really take to this song. Great track. Album can be found at most retailers...and it is released on Icarus Music.

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Musiq Soulchild - MusiqInTheMagic / Mayer Hawthorne - Impressions (The Covers E.P.) / Etana - Free Expressions

Musiq SoulchildMayer HawthorneEtana

Very, very thin on the ground for new releases right now. These three albums represent for myself, some of the better offerings out there, although, I would mention that they are not 'solid' releases, but albums that contain a good track or two. Simply, it would be a shame to miss out on them.

Music Soulchild's album is, probably, the most 'complete' release of the three on offer here. Philly native, Talib Johnson (a.k.a. Musiq) is onto his sixth album release here. (There's a festive one in there someplace, too!) This is his second album release for Atlantic Records. Musiq's music appeals to me as it is consistent, and there is always something on his albums that is worthy of my attention. His vocal delivery is considered, and not belted at the listener, which makes the music all that much more appealing. On this set, Musiq is in full on Gene Chandler disco mode on the opener 'Anything'. Very infectious song, which will appeal to the Modern Soul set, as well as the more Modern R&B flavoured fraternity. 'Say I Do' really was a charming track, bringing back memories of the Otis & Shugg melodies from the mid Nineties. 'Love Contract', reflects the style of R&B music, which has recently been revisited by the likes of R Kelly and Raphael Saadiq. A yearning for the song led Sixties and Seventies, hinting at that a full circle has now been realised by those of a more musical ear within the industry (or at least the part that comprises of songwriters and performers). My favourite track on the album is another strong melody, namely 'Waiting Still'. It is the tune such as this one which makes me want to take this guy's music very seriously. Full of harmony, melody and definitely a song that would never fit the bill for the Eurovision! Those guys would not know what to do with a tune of this calibre. Great song. 'Do We Have To' ran 'Waiting Still' a close second for these old ears. Another moment of musical tenderness, showcasing Musiq's vocal timbre beautifully. Another cracker of a song. 'Yes' is my final pick of the Soulchild bunch in 2011 on offer here. Definitely not a one track album, in a sea of many that are, unfortunately.

Two albums of further note are, firstly, an E.P. by the Blue Eyed Soul singer Mayer Hawthorne. I liked his first album so much, I reviewed it here. He certainly empathises with the music of the past, out of Black America. This E.P. comprises of 6 songs, 5 of which have a Soulful vibe running through them, and the other is a take on the ELO Beatles impression 'Mr Blue Skies'. Never done much for me that song, so onto the tracks that do. The opening song is a cover of the Isley Brothers evergreen 'Work To Do'. The press release blurb credits the Average White Band, although you and I know better. Nice version nonetheless here. The second track is a cover of a Chromeo song, the fourth is a song by an artist called Steve Salazar, the fifth is a song by a writer called Jon Brion, all of which are here, but missed me, all told. The track that is the real song of consequence to this listener is the Impressions-esq 'You've Got The Makings Of A Lover', which sounds as if it was recorded back in the Sixties. The original was released by a little known Dallas, Texas group called The Festivals. Northern fans know of this song, so I am told. First time I have heard the song, and love this version. This E.P. is worth the money for this song alone, however, you do get the bonus ball of his take on 'Work To Do'.

Etana's album I nearly skipped through completely, as much of the album comprises of Lovers material. I do like Reggae, but in no way am I an expert. Definitely a Soul Boy in this neck of the woods! The track that stopped me in my tracks is a brilliant Soul track entitled 'I Got You', which is so melodic and 'steppy' that it reminded me of many of the Soul tracks that eminated out of the States circa 1981-1982. My gut feeling tells me that Etana will have a favourite track from this album, and that track will be this one. In many ways, this is the sort of track that the Rock fraternity will embrace in the way that they tolerate the likes of Al Green and Ann Peebles within their rocky repertoires. This is a lovely song, with a touch of the Van Morrison's in there someplace! The rest of the album? Other folks will appreciate her music in many more ways than I do, although I can tell that, of it's genre, this is a very good album.

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Mamas Gun - The Life And Soul / Various Artists - The Spirit Of Philadelphia Vol.3

Mama's GunSpirit Of Philadelphia

Two albums which are just about the one's most flowing through the faulty audio out socket on the i-Mac here!

When people talk about the Seventies, and the club scene especially, from that era, the media would have you believe that all we danced to were the BeeGees, Abba and 'Blame It On The Boogie' at that time. The Seventies was musical period of rediscovery. On the Rock scene, folks wondered how they would cope without the Beatles there to save us all! Truth be told, a lot of artistic gambles were taken during that decade. Jazz fused with Soul, which in turn fused with Funk, and the Saturday Night Fever, Dancing Queen's et all, were all really peripheral aspects of what turned out to be a very exciting and convaluted decade. Why am I rambling on about the Seventies? Well, Mama's Gun's second album (a continuation of their excellent debut) sort of reflects the daytime radio output of that era. I would encourage any reader to check the Billboard Pop Charts of, say, 1976. Most of the charts comprised of Soul Music, or the Blue Eyed version of that genre. 'Little Bit More' by Dr Hook, or 'I'd Really Love To See You Tonight' by England Dan & John Ford Coley. Thoughfully penned Soulful Blue Eyed material. 'Let's Find A Way', from Mamas Gun's first album would have sat very comfortably on that chart, as would 'We Make It Look So Easy' from this latest offering from this highly intriguing ensemble. I don't like all of the tracks on this album. I didn't on their first album either, but the tracks I do like from the albums...I like very much indeed. 'On A String', 'Heavy Hands', 'Rocket To The Moon' and the lovely Beverly Knight fronted 'Only One' are all very much songs that Dave Cash might had rotated on his weekday lunchtime Capitol Radio show during the mid Seventies. Blue Eyed Soul of a very high calibre in the 11th year of a new millennium. Recommended album from a very interesting band, whose live shows are hugely entertaining, I am told....

...so when the daytime radio was airing some of the better Soulful releases, Philadelphia International were in on the act, during what must be the label's golden period. Lou Rawls, The Three Degrees, The Intruders, The O'Jays, along with many other great acts, all charted big time. This new release from Expansion Records, digs a little deeper into the vaults of the Philly based releases, many of which were widely ignored.....which, to all intents and purposes, makes this an album of new songs to many listeners ears. One tune that was familiar to me was the lovely Ronnie Dyson song 'I Think I'll Tell Her'. I dug that album out from the shelves here and CDR'd it, remembering what a great track that was, only a few months ago. To have it finally released on CD is wonderful, so a big thank you to the guys in West London on that front! This excellent CD comprises of 17 songs, all of which give the listener a fascinating 'behind the scenes' aspect to the Philly Sound and the vibe running through the music in that part of the States at that time. Tapestry's great opener 'It's Not The World That's Messed Up', is a great opening track, that has echoes of the Intruders in the vocal delivery, along with a Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes vibe running through the instrumentation. Lost gems from Sharon Paige, Sharon McMahan, Sister Sledge (who I saw live at this time), Major Harris, Jay & The Techniques etc. All top drawer material, which I know has been maticulously resourced, and is another fine feather in the cap of this great enduring label. Cracking release, which is worth the entrance fee alone for the Ronnie Dyson tune.

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Brettina - Brettina

Brettina

After a sudden flourish of new albums, the market has slowed a little right now. I am optimistic for the coming months, however, as the material that has already arrived in 2011 has been of the highest quality.

Brettina's album I bought from CD Baby a couple of weeks ago. Lot of spare time here, is taken up with trawling that website looking for an album that moves this listener, and Brettina's set certainly achieved that. I sent a copy to a couple of London deejays I know, wondering whether they would be taken with the, second to last track, 'One' off this abum. The song is a 6 and a half minute epic, which begins in a Patti Austin vibe, but grows into a minor musical masterpiece of sorts. The track is a collboration with the producer-pianist, and Zimbabwe born vocalist Wanda Xulu. Some of the lyrics are delivered in Zulu, to great effect. Brettina is, herself, from the Bahama's, (Nassau to be precise) and posesses a lovely voice, full of clarity and respect to her roots, as her take on the Harry Belafonte evergreen 'Island In The Sun', and the original 'Bahamian Girl', testify. She shows her soulful credentials, realised in her cover of the T Connection song 'Paradise'. Interesting choice of cover there.Her mother is the gospel singer Leona Coakley-Spring, whilst her uncles were members of that Seventies funk band. On the fusion tip, the excellent Gerald Albright weighs in on the lovely song 'My Time to Shine'. Roots wise, the singer cites Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, and Shirley Horn as influences, and the listener can certainly appreciate their vibes running throughout this album. Thesedays Brettina resides in Los Angeles, and performs there and in Seattle. Very interesting singer, songwriter and model. 'One is destined to be a Soul classic in the future. Hugely recommended album, available from CD Baby and all the best outlets.

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Mary Mary - Something Big / Michael Jeffries, Daughter & Son - Family Affair

Mary MaryMichael Jeffries

Two lovely new Soul albums, which, following on from the three gems below, have restored a little faith in myself regarding the future of the Modern Soul market out there in 2011.

Mary Mary are fantastic singers. I have to say that, as every time I hear these women, they never fail to impress. Their music is powerful, moving and understandable. I say the latter as, much of the Rock market seems to wallow is folks mumbling through tracks, or belting so many feats of vocal gymnastics, that the singers hit every note, other than the note that the music is pleading, and, more importantly, intended for! With Mary Mary, the listener does get a full on Gospel outing, with very much a Modern aspect to the proceedings. 'Something Big' is out on Sony, and has three absolute storming tracks which are directly aimed at this listener. The killer track for me is 'Survive'. If anyone asks me 'give me an example of the best in Soul Music around in todays market', well the answer has to be this song. Punchy, melodic and an irresistable chorus to boot. Wonderful, wonderful song. The second track that is another stormer is the 'heavy on the bass bins' dancer called 'Walking'. With a title like that, I probably would like the song anyhow. Suits the site, and another stormer. The real curio on the album is the very Sunday morning 'Homecoming Glory'. This is a funny track. I had this on the stereo, and my wife said to me 'you listening to Country music now, Toby'? Funny thing is I know what she means, although there is a very Armsted Christian vibe running throughout this song. The tune moves effortlessly, telling it's tale of human identity. Very spiritual, and something I can imagine Robbie Vincent picking up on. The more you listen to the track, the 'Country' dissipates, the 'Jazz' comes into the perspective, following on by the Gospel, which in turn provides an 'I must play that track again' overall feel to this album finale. A lovely song from two of the finest singers, who ought to be brought out centre stage in the Modern marketplace. A very strong album from these two women. If they were on 'American I'm-dull' anyone watching would be hailing these two as the latest musical Soul Saviours. Hugely recommended for 'Survive' alone, however, there is so much more going on here.

Michael Jeffries got in touch with me, and asked me if I would take a listen to his new independent release. Happy to do so! He probably wasn't aware that, on the shelves here is a 12" single called 'Razzle Dazzle', which I heard on the radio, and bought some 23 years ago now. That came from a movie soundtrack I believe. I wondered what the man had been doing since that release, and, lo and behold, here is the answer! In 2011, Michael is accompanied by his son and daughter (as you might have deduced!) on this fine album entitled 'Family Affair'. So from the funky dancer of 1987, where has the music moved on to in the new millennium? Well, as you can imagine from these pages, this is an album full of songs that amount to the real deal. Twelve tracks, with Michael taking lead on some of the track, his daughter, Anikol, and son, Mike J, handling the vocal affairs on the other songs. The bonus ball on this album is the vocal input from the excellent Lenny Williams on the beautiful ballad, 'Rewrite'. The tracks that really appeal here, are the uplifting 'Can You Feel It', the track that Ralph Tee is currently taking for a spin on his fine Jazz FM Sunday show, namely 'Make Sum', and the uplifting 'Journey On A Butterfly'. I liked the ballad 'Mothers Love' a great deal. Ballads are out of vogue these days, however, trends are cyclical, and what goes around etc. Lovely downtempo gem this song. This is a very solid album, which you can navigate around the Chancellors budget, by buying a download from CD Baby. A very strong album throughout, so I thoroughly recommend you pick up a copy. Great stuff.

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Phil Geston - Love Is Finally Here / Ely Bruna - Remember The Time / Chuck A. Gentry - Back 2 Basics

Phil GestonEly BrunaChuck A. Gentry

Phil Geston got in touch with me recently, and let me know he had a new CD out at CD Baby, and would I like to take a listen. Nice of him to ask. One of the really great aspects of some musicians (Marilyn Ashford Brown springs to mind) is the way these guys communicate with other folks. Phil sent me his CD and hand wrote some promotional notes, which I thought was a real nice gesture. This CD is a cracking album all told. Firstly Phil sings within his range, doesn't try to strangle to melodies, but harmonises his melodies beautifully. He states that he has a love for the old school performers, and you can hear that empathy weaving it's way through all of the tracks on offer here. Any Modern Soul fan will really take to this album, which has an old school 'Lillo Thomas-esque' vibe running through the set. On about three ocassions on this album, I had to stop what I was doing and relisten to the song that was playing. 'You're Fine' is one such song, which would have been all over the R&B stations circa 1982. Perhaps may be too classy thesedays, although, thank heavens for those who play the real deal on the more Soulful stations out there in 2011. 'You're Fine', a real cracker of a song. It's two album predecesors, namely the openers 'Heaven' and 'Pick Up The Phone' are both crying out for airtime. 'Back To Yesterday' is a lovely retrospective look at the folks that Phil holds in high regard, from back in the day. This is another 'shiver down the spine' moment, from this fine album. The man loves Smokey, Stevie, Luther, Soul Train etc...but then again who, into this music, doesn't? Phil has immaculate taste, that's all. Loved the 'borrow' of 'Never Can Say Goodbye' on 'I Wantchu Back', along with the uplifting 'Outstanding' vibe running throughout 'Going Out Tonight'. This is the best album I have heard so far this year. It will certainly feature on the chart at the site, later showcasing some of the best songs released in 2011, in my humble opinion. Check CD Baby for copies. Very welcome breath of fresh musical air.

One of the great things about having Robbie Vincent back on the radio, over the last couple of weeks, is you get a man on the radio who can pick a tune. Ralph Tee and Peter Young do likewise at the station, which is why I check the shows from the station during the week, following the first run on Saturdays and Sundays. Robbie, as most Soul fans know by now, has been fighting illness over the last year, so it must be a blessed relief for the man to be back doing what he does best....and what he does best is pick a track like '1986' from Ely Bruna's album. This is the perfect summer tune, from a hugely varied album from the songstress who came to our attention, initially, though her fine contributions to last years album from Papik. Robbie played '1986', and I immediately bought the album from iTunes. Ely sang on the excellent 'Notes From The Past' which was on that Papik album from last year. That was a tune in itself....this is a song set at a less dancier tempo, beginning as if she was going to break into Omar's 'There's Nothing Like This', however, she imparts her memories regarding a relationship from that particular year. The album has some hugely unusual choices of tune, none more so than the Aqua tune 'Barbie Girl'!! All told, a lesson in how to pull a tune, kicking and screaming from a lousy song that just doesn't want to give up it's awfulness...but just about does (failing perhaps at the 'Best Of The Year' lyric contest!!! You should listen to the album before dismissing the set out of hand. Worth the price of the admission fee for '1986' alone. Hugely recommended track from a very unusual release. Nice to have Robbie back as well. Thanks for the recommendation.

Baltimore based Chuck Gentry is another artist who got in touch, and told me he had a new album doing the retail circuit, and wondered whether I would consider taking a listen to the album. It arrived here this morning and I have listened to the album a few times now. To some this album would be placed within the Smooth Jazz section of their local store. The easy option for a member of staff, who may be into R.E.M., however, there is a touch of the 'Craig T. Cooper's' going on here. Not sure if you remember that release, however, there were many rough edges to that set, which really appealed to many Soul and Fusion fans back in the late Eighties. Odd that I spoke of Robbie in the previous review, as this CD from the ex-Shalamar collaborator, really would sit well on his show. There is, to my ears, a killer Fusion tune here, in the form of 'Palm Beach Style'. Very Craig T Cooper indeed. What may have helped the album a little, would have been a Soul vocal track, however that is a minor observation, not a criticism, as I really like this set immensly. By the way, I mentioned Shalamar, check this for a collaboration resume...Billy Preston, Cheryl Lynn, David Benoit, George Duke, High Energy, Jeffrey Osborne, Junior Walker, Keith Washington, The Jacksons, Stephanie Mills, Sweet Inspirations, Pleasure, Klymaxx....I can begin to see why this album appeals to me so much. An excellent Fusion release, which should definitely not be filed under anything retailed as 'Smooth'! www.chuckgentrymusic.com

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Jonathan Jeremiah - A Solitary Man / Marsha Ambrosius - Late Nights And Early Mornings / Anthony David - As Above, So Below

Jonathan JeremiahMarsha AmbrosiusAnthony David

When I review albums at the site, I often make the point that I am not in the pay of any one particular record company, shop or label, which allows me to be completely objective regarding the music that I post at the site. If I like it, up it goes, if I don't, it does likewise, but with a smoke attachment! I posted the Janelle Monae set last year, not liking all of it, but loving it in parts, and this year, I am doing likewise with this new Jonathan Jeremiah album. The sound emanating from both pieces of merchandise are poles apart musically, however, I think they are both notable releases, thus this new set from a man who has been at the site before. Two years ago I posted a 45 on Jonathan Jeremiah called 'What's A Guy Got To Do?', which was a cracking single, and doesn't make it to this debut album release, strangely. Soundwise, Jonathan will not be at all palatable to those who are Soul purists. Nor will the album appeal to many on the Modern Soul circuit, however, if Terry Callier is someone whose music appeals (especially his debut album 'The New Folk Sound'), then this will certainly be to your liking. 'Happiness' and 'Lost' were early tasters from the new release, and are probably the most Soulful offerings on show here. I know that Peter Young has had a positive response on his fine Jazz FM Saturday show recently to 'Happiness'. 'Lost' was an early internet giveaway on one online station. Jonathan has been listening to Stevie's 'Hey Love' on that tune. This album is a hugely varied album. Nick Drake gone Sixties Soul? Possibly. I really like the songwriter in this bloke from Wembley. He writes a good tune. Very listenable indeed. There is a 'consistent' running through this set, and that is, if you only listen to the opening bars of any of these songs, you think, as a Soul fan, 'Oh no'. The song moves on and by the end of many of these tracks, you are won over. 'The Same Old Line' is a case in point, as is 'See (It Doesn't Bother Me)'. Very Sixties influenced song that one. With so many new releases, the overall albums are not all that strong, however, with this album, there is an overall consistency in there. Track down the album online, when it is released and listen to 'Happiness', and if you like the song, investigate. I am pretty impressed by this guy.

Marsha Ambrosius is signed to J Records (Luther's old label). I listened to the first couple of tracks, and wasn't too sure. She looks the part, in todays market, but can she cut it vocally? I checked the last track on the listings and saw a version of Michael Jackson's/Floetry's tune, 'Butterflies'. I really like that tune so I persevered with the rest of the album. Marsha could well have been a featured vocalist on a Norman Connors album some 25 years or so ago, had she been contemporary at the time. Thesedays artists have to bow to the demands of certain labels, however J Records allow a certain amount of artistic licence with their performers, and thank heavens they do. There is a real scorcher of a tune on this album, and it isn't 'Butterflies'. 'I Want You To Stay', I listened to first time round, and after the second listen, I reached double figures on the repeat charts in my iTunes here pretty quickly. Anita Baker would love to have this song on any of her albums, I am sure. A proper song, sung well, well written, with 'end of year winner' written all over it. I am sure that the real music stations will run with this song, and it will become a Soul favourite with many punters out there. Marsha's take on 'Butterflies' is pretty good as well, although I did struggle in parts with some of the tracks trying too hard to make the sound right, but forgetting the melody someplace down the line. Marsha has a great voice, undeniably, so I would ask you to make up your own minds. I am a very happy bunny with 'I Want You To Stay'.....so.....recommended.

Anthony David's set I have slipped in with Jonathan and Marsha's albums, as there does seem to be the annual lull in new releases of true quality at the moment. Anthony is liked by the Obama's, so Anthony's blurb states. Quite unusual for Barack and Michelle not to go for the usual suspects, so more power to their elbow as far as I am concerned! Anthony's 2006 album 'The Red Clay Chronicles' had a song called 'On & On' on that album. That tune haunted me for a long time. Talk about a tune that gets under the skin, and this album has a couple that do likewise. I listened to the album in full over the last few days, and the song 'Body Language' really did an 'On & On' on me. Mailed a deejay friend of mine about the song, with the words 'Is this a cracker of a song, or am I going mad?'. Response was 'It's on my forcthcoming playlist'! 'Forever More' will be the radio tune on this set. Very summery and radio friendly. 'Reach Ya' is another great track. Very socially aware and thought provoking. Very unusual choice, including the Tears For Fears tune 'Everyone Wants To Rule The World', however, those guys have their own Soul pedigree, I guess, helping Oleta Adams getting her break etc. 'Keep You Around' is another grower of a tune. Very much one for getting the head nodding! Dome Records are releasing some very good albums at the moment. Anthony David has a great voice, and is a very thoughful songsmith. 'Body Language'? Now there is a tune. Recommended.

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Patti Austin - Sound Advice / Donnie Ray - Who's Rockin' You?

Patti AustinDonnie Ray

A great deal of water has passed under the proverbial bridge, since Patti Austin became Dinah Washington and Sammy Davis Jnr's protege as a 5 year old way back in the day. Quincy Jones threw his name into the family hat, weighing in as one of her godparents!! Soul folks look to those wonderful Patti Austin Seventies and Eighties releases, remembering those tunes the likes of Robbie Vincent used to play on their stations in those days. 'We're In Love', 'That's Enough For Me', Body Language', 'The Heat Of Heat' etc....the list is endless. Following several excellent releases in recent years, she now has found a home at the fine Shanachie imprint. That label ought to be congratulated for keeping the fires burning on many great Soul singers (Vesta Williams and Deniece Williams come to mind). Shanachie release albums that, for the most part, feature cover versions of Soul standards, although this set drifts from the usual template, in as much as the choices are unusual, in a very inspiring way. There are 11 songs in the can here, all of which are brought up to the Patti standard, which has always been way up there, all told. Des'ree's 'You Gotta Be' has been given a real Gospel edge, and makes for a great opener. 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' is a highly unusual choice of a song to cover, however, this a a great bluesy version of the Stones rocker. The other Sixties combo, almost get a look in, with Patti visiting the Paul McCartney and Wings tune, made Soulful by Billy Paul in Philadelphia, namely 'Let Em In'. Macca is an old Soul Boy in my humble opinion, given creedence by the stylistic penning of this evergreen. This is a great cover version. Real head nodder. In many ways, I can hear a producer picking the most unlikely songs out of a hat, and challenging Patti to 'make something of this if you think you are hard enough!!'....and by and large...she does with these choices! My favourite song on this set is her wonderful cover of the Jacksons tune 'Give It Up'. Always a cracking song, and this is, simply, the business. A lovely album from a woman who is defying the ageing process, judging by the album cover. Never seen Patti looking so well. Props for the stylist as well! Hugely recommended release. The Dinah Washington/Patti image is here, if you want to check it out:

http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/Patti%20Austin.html

From highly polished Soul Music, to the real roots of the genre. Donnie Ray's new album is out on Ecko Records and is an example of the type of album Johnnie Taylor might be releasing if the man was still with us. In fact, the opening tune, 'A Good Woman' has real echoes of the 'Let's Get Back On Track' tune featured on Brother Johnnie's final album release. Donnie Ray hails from Texarkana, Texas. When he was fifteen, he was performing in his father's band, Aldredge Brothers Band. His main instrument is the guitar, although he is apparently a multi instrumentalist. Donnie has actually been signed to Ecko Records since 2005. Thesedays, based in Montgomery, Alabama, his latest album is a set to be very proud of. If Southern Soul is your thing, this will be the type of album which ought to be on your shopping list. No one track album this one. The opener is a gorgeous piece of Soul Music. 'I'm Gonna Keep My Love At Home' has a highy infectious chorus, 'Who's Rockin' You' is a fine dancer, 'Three Stars For A Lady' a great ballad, 'Truly Love You Baby' a fine Soul swayer and 'Lover's Paradise' is another wonderful downtempo stepper. How many does that make? Certainly not a single track album as I mentioned. The overall feel is certainly Southern, although there is a mainstream retro Soul aspect to the album thrown in for good measure. A very strong release, and isn't it great that there is room in todays market for the real deal. At this point I should encourage the die hard Soul followers to 'keep the faith'....however, in this case, ignore that request...'spread it' instead! Available at Amazon and other good retailers. Another highly recommended album.

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Heston - Warm Human, Cold World / John Stoddart - Faith, Hope, Love

HestonJohn Stoddart

First review of a new year. Hope you had a good break at the end of last year. This January period is an odd time of the year. Almost suspended animation on many levels. The industry stalls for a while and then moves, begrudgingly, into gear, none of us knowing whether the coming months will bring us classics or disappointments. These two albums are the two Soul albums that I have been listening to the most over the last couple of weeks, although, if I held my hand on my heart, much of the material has been retrospective in the stereo during December and early January.

Heston's album arrived here from Dome Records a week or so ago. Santosh and Peter there are always running with one artist or another, consistently giving them more support than most labels out there, to their great credit. Heston's previous album 'Storyteller' was a very nice album, which I missed on reviewing first time around, however, it was a substantial offering indeed. This new album is very different and very bold in many ways. Hypnotic, melodic and beautifully delivered by this Dominican born vocalist. Parts are very Curtis Mayfield in overall feel, perhaps with a sprinkling of Leon Ware, which gives the listener a pretty good lowdown on the vibe. I loved the title track on this album. I heard (the excellent, and hugely underated deejay) Jeff Young at Jazz FM take that tune for a spin. Sounded immensly listenable on the DAB radio here. Another tune that is a winner here is the opening track 'Outside Your Window'. Mellow and marvellous. The tune that will, probably, receive a sizeable amount of radio rotation, all told, is the uptempo 'My Kinda Lady'. My personal favourite tune on show is the really optimistic final track 'Greatest Lover'. When these singers record these albums, I get a feeling that, if you pinned the guys up against your mother in law and asked them 'come on my friend, what is your own personal favourite track on the album.....or I'll leave you with 'her'', Heston would tell you, 'man, it has to be 'Greatest Lover'. If I pinned Heston up against my mother in law, that would be that last we'd see of him!!! Thank you for 'Greatest Lover', Heston. Tune! Rest of the album is very nice listening as well. Solid album release and very much recommended in this house.

John Stoddart's album I bought from CD Baby just before Christmas. At the time I remember saying to myself, 'I mustn't let thius album pass by without a mention. Ralph Tee, Peter Young and the other deejays at Jazz FM are all spinning this set right now. Keeping me on my toes, and I am very pleased they are, as this is a cracking album. The album certainly meets all the requirements of those on the Modern Soul circuit. Tuneful, Soulful with a hint of the retro that seems to be part of the 'wants list' that the new Soul folks seem to yearn for on their album releases in 2010-11. Certainly in the last couple of years or so, many albums 'pastiche up' releases that hark back to the circa 1981-82 period in Modern Soul music. 'Slowdown' by Al Olive is a definitive tune in helping me describe this new genre. Luxury? Perhaps. I know why that description is utilised, although, perhaps it's the old punk rocker in me that likes things shaken up a little musically? Rambling aside, check this album. Buy it even, if you think you are hard enough! The opening track 'More Than You And Me' is worth the entrance fee alone. 'Put Love, Love, Love In It' is simply gorgeous as well. Could have been lifted off an old Rockie Robbins album. 'I Still Believe' is up to the standard of the tracks already mentioned. Having already mentioned Rockie Robbins, well, mix his 'I Believe In Love' album with Luther's 'Night I Fell In Love' set, and then throw in some Jazz influences (which come through, especially' on 'When We Dance') on this album, and you have an album you miss at your peril. Hugely recommended, perhaps being released at a time when it might fade into the festive haze, and the would be a sizeable shame. Hope that 2011 is a good year for you. Treat yourself to these two sets, and your year will start off very nicely. Neither album is a one track album. Companies take note!

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Frank McComb - A New Beginning / R Kelly - Love Letters / El DeBarge - Second Chance

Frank McCombR KellyEl DeBarge

These three albums will be the final 'newies' of 2010, which I think has been the year of the one (or two) track albums. Not sure whether the industry has beaten the life-blood out of the creative sector, or whether the recession has taken it's toll, however, the artists have rallied towards year end, and thank heavens for that!

Frank McComb can do no wrong in my eyes...or should that be ears! I was listening to Ralph Tee's excellent show on Jazz FM last Sunday, completely unaware that Frank had a new album in the pipeline at all. Ralph said CD Baby had copies, so I went off and bought one!. What you guys will want to know is how this set shapes up to his Sony and Expansion albums from a few years back? Well, this set is right up there with them. I know Frank is a fan of Donny Hathaway, as he not only sounds like the great man at times, but he also told me so! All told, if you could merge Donny, Stevie and infuse that cocktail with some fusion aspects, well, the listener would be singing from the same Frank McComb songsheet. I put this album on after loading it into iTunes, and just hit the play button. Frank's albums don't contain 'hits' per se. What they do are hit a sky high standard and simple hang on that musical block until the last note drifts out of your speakers at home. His harmonies are lush, beautifully delivered, and impossible to choose favourites, as everything on offer is a favourite. One track album? More like one album to be tracked down! Beautiful from start to finish, and I can't think of an album I have enjoyed more this year. Last minute Christmas present? Buy this! Quite superb and out now on Boobeescoot Music.

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/frankmccomb7

Listening to Ralph's show, as I mentioned, he played a track off this new R Kelly set. He mentioned that this album has divided the Soul purists from the rest of us, perhaps as R Kelly is showcased on the sleeve, portraying himself as a Stevie Wonder-esque Sixties type figure. Who knows? Sometimes I wonder whether I am living on another planet! I put this album on and heard influences of Stevie's Seventies tracks, perhaps some Isley material from the same era, but certainly nothing Soulfully offensive. In fact, whilst I was listening to the set I thought to myself 'this is the best album this guy has recorded to date'! The man certainly has a lovely voice, which really helps proceedings. Maybe it might be the man's colorful personal history, which may be swaying folks? For myself, well I am in the Berry Gordy camp on this one. 'It's What's In The Groove That Counts!' This album is a real return to the 'Body's Calling' days for Robert, who I think has recorded his finest album thus far. I can point to the songs 'Love Letter', 'Number One Hit', 'Not Feelin' The Love', 'Lost In Your Love', 'Just Can't Get Enough' and 'Just Like That' as some of the better songs released this year. Perhaps Robert needs to be left to gather dust for 40 years for folks who criticize this music to come around to appreciating something which has manifested itself into some pretty fine music all told. Surely we ought to concentrate on living in a 'Soulful world' and not someplace where the sun don't shine! I'd recommend this set to anyone unreservedly. If I played 'Love Letters' to Frank Wilson, my guess is he'd tell you 'hey man, this is a great album'. That is because it IS a great album. Robert Kelly has an impressive voice, which makes this release an essential purchase. Beware of the doubters!

The latest release from El DeBarge, showcases another evergreen Soul Singer, who is on great form for this return to recording. The man has something in common with Robert Kelly's release, in as much as there is some festive material on offer to compliment the full album release. Here there are 3 Christmas songs which accompany the main 13 tracker, parent release. The opening track is a nice duet with Faith Evans (who has her own excellent new album doing the rounds right now). This is followed by the lovely harmonic 'Heaven' and 'Close To You', which brought back to echoes of the great songs on his family albums during the Eighties. We put up with a lot of heavily (and poorly programmed) drum machine material back in those days, however, DeBarge were one of the better pop orientated acts around during that period. El DeBarge sounds so young on this new album, it almost puts a spring back into this old listeners step! One killer tune here, which really got my head nodding here, is the moody melody 'Serenading'. Very much a grower of a song. In parts of this release El reminds me of Michael Jackson (who the industry will not let the man rest in peace right now), which I am sure the man would find a compliment all told. Radio friendly is certainly a description I would apply to the track '50 Seconds'. Nice song, helped out by the artist Fabulous on background vocals. If you like/liked DeBarge, you'll love this album.

Next week I'll let the time of the year take over the site, however, I am sure these albums will carry us through into 2011 very nicely. Happy Christmas.

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