listen out for 2013...
Christmas records are seen by many as either tacky or lightweight, lyrically, as far as musical credibility is concerned. They also suffer from the season, which allows the listener to appreciate the music, for about a month, before filing away for a year, hopefully, remembering to dig them out at next years Yuletide. As to your take on the genre, I have always found Christmas Records fascinating. In many ways, a gauntlet is thrown down to the artist. ‘Make me a Christmas album, which has substance, musically, and will not be discarded to the bottom of the offerings from over the years, under the Move, Slade and Cliff Wretched albums’. Most artists give the topic a wide berth, understandably. Soulwise, Expansion Records gave the Christmas market a good shot with their ‘Christmas With Emotions’ set from 2012. Over the years, there have been great festive albums by the likes of The Whispers, the Salsoul Orchestra, Will Downing and Ledisi. All these records worked, as they took the challenge seriously, writing some songs, and covering traditional material with a new perspective for their particular year of release. Some major label artists are given a poisoned chalice, by their respective ‘label suits’, and the results can be seen, this year, by the sub-standard Mary J. Blige album. These sets are frustrating, as you know the woman is worth far more than the sum of this years seasonal parts. John Stoddard has stepped up to the ‘misteltoe’ this year, so well, that I think this is the first festive album I have actually reviewed, rather than posted in an annual gallery of recommended releases. If you bought the mans regular release from a couple of years ago, you will know this guy is a far better performer than many of his contemporaries in 2013. This album realises collaborations with Kirk Whalum, Lalah Hathaway, Rick Braun, and some members of his own family. Mentioning those guys may give you an idea that this may be a bit of a smooth jazz offering. It isn’t. It is a straight ahead album of great Soul songs, adorned with, non overpowering, festive lyrics. Nothing more nothing less, and it is a great album whatever way you look at proceedings. I loved the Lalah version of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, Kirk’s opener ‘O Come Immanuel’, the very Aretha-esque ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’, the acoustic ‘You’, and ‘Love From A Star’ (which I thought was going to become a version of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, judging the opening strings). The ‘cherry pick’ choice here is the lovely mid-tempo ‘All I Want’, which could be an Earth, Wind and Fire/Luther, vehicle. A truly great Christmas song. The only gripe I have with this album, is I won’t be able to play the CD whilst folks are digging into their strawberries at Wimbledon next year! John Stoddard is a great artist, who deserves all of the plaudits praises he ought to be receiving this holiday season. If you want to buy a Christmas album this year, you won’t find a better one than this one out there.....
....now did I mention Expansion Records earlier? Well, those nice folks at the label sent me a couple of new CD’s from their latest releases, of which, Tyrone Lee’s album really stood out from the rest. You always get a very high standard of material from this label, so you always know that everything is well worth your attention. Tyrone has a real warmth in his vocal tones, which gives his sound a rich harmonic quality, and it is the harmonies on each of these 13 songs, which lift the album from a decent set, into a release of the highest quality. I noticed that Tyrone lends a hand in the writing of these melodies, and ‘melody’ here is the watchword. He and Michelle Chiavarini have crafted some lovely songs here, which at times have an El DeBarge quality in the arrangements. My favourite tracks here are ‘What Took You So Long’ and ‘Sky To The Ground’, which I gave each 5 stars whilst I was cataloguing the album into the computer here. The standard is set so highly here that you will have your own choice cut, I am sure. One this that I would recommend is, if you have a friend who is into this music, and are looking for a Christmas present for them, well, if you have any change left after picking up the Donny Hathaway box set, this album and the John Stoddart albums should be next on your list. Tyrone’s album will certainly take us in 2014 on a very positive note, and has the non-festive longevity, which will unfortunately see John’s album archived for 11 months. I like this album throughout. It is well written, well sung and, all told, is pretty faultless throughout. Very highly recommended.
O.K. Hands up. Who doesn’t like Donny Hathaway? Can’t see any raised arms, so I guess... The funny thing about Donny Hathaway, is he has really come into his own, over the last 20 or so years. Prior to those times, he was ‘that bloke who sang with Roberta Flack, and wrote a nice Christmas Record. Thankfully, in recent times, folks attitudes have changed. With that wonderful thing, called hindsight, if he had survived his depressions, he would undoubtedly, achieved the same status afforded to the likes of Terry Callier. He would have been reborn again. That decision was taken out of our hands by the dark place which took this wonderful man. Now we are left with half a dozen albums, and a desire for much more. Moving side-stage very quickly, a few years back, a good friend of mine called Charles Waring, alerted me to some recordings being held by Universal. Some of these later permeated themselves onto the shelves of other compilers, and were subsequently, released on other box sets, leaving me with a feeling of, well, wouldn’t it be great if the likes of Charles could be given the contract in compiling and writing the liner notes, for what would become the definitive set of compact discs on this great artist. Charles came over to stay here a couple of times, after gigs in London. He writes for Mojo magazine, very eloquently and concisely, and knows a darn sight more about music generally, than I ever will.
charles waring and marva whitney
He has just completed a biography on the late Marva Whitney (which I can tell you, was a real labour of love for the artist and author), and now, I shall go to the ball, as his writings grace the release of this Christmases 'must have' compilation set of Donny Hathaway’s finest recordings. There are four discs, which got to make up this Donny Hathaway resume. The first are a pick of personal favourites. Here the likes of ‘Love, Love, Love’, ‘You Were Meant For Me’, Someday We’ll All Be Free’ (you know the score), which alone would make a great solo best of CD. Disc two features many of those unreleased gems, of which, I would definitely, cherry pick the Record Store Day 45 ‘Memory Of Our Love’. This is a tune which I would play to anyone who thought that the term ‘scraping the barrel’ might be connected with these tracks. I think this is one of Donny’s finest songs...so there! Disc 3 showcases a live show, recorded at the Bitter End venue in New York in 1971. These are unreleased songs, which include live versions of ‘What’s Going On’, ‘The Ghetto’, ‘Jealous Guy’ amongst others. My personal favourite track here is ‘Sack Full Of Dreams’, which is recorded in absolute clarity. The engineers had their best gear out that night! The final CD concerns Donny’s collaborations with Roberta Flack (who I saw live in London a few years ago with Charles). Most folks will know ‘Where Is The Love?’, a tune which always comes up fresh every time I hear the song, however, we should not ignore the lovely ‘You Are My Heaven’ (a Stevie Wonder song), and the, pretty well completely ignored ‘Be Real Black For Me’. A real gem. For myself, this artist is one of the true greats in Soul Music. That coupled with an author, whose writings I admire a great deal (and puts the ‘E’ in the term ‘empathy’), well you couldn’t ask for more. When your wife, partner or lover asks you ‘what can I get you this Christmas’, ask her to leave the pants and socks section of Marks and Spencer, and head for the nearest record store, and pick you up a present you will pick up, enjoy and play well after those socks have developed holes and are discarded. If ever there was an essential purchase, in any year, this is that recording. Check Charles and Bill Buckley’s excellent website: http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com Both guys used to write for Blues and Soul magazine.
Onto newer things, and this new release from keyboardist and producer Francesco Gazzara. I have an old 12” single by this group from 1995, which was their take on the Earth, Wind & Fire evergreen, ‘Can’t Hide Love’, a release which was followed by 6 album releases, prior to this latest release. This album came as a surprise to me, in as much as, I was expecting the album to be choc full of dancers, however, within the dance grooves are some very impressive melodies and fusion grooves, which will surprise many who pigeon-hole groups into finite categories. The title track is a lovely mid-tempo song, delicately vocalised, and delivered in two versions on this album. Almost a Blue Eyed soul song, which is made for daytime radio. The opening track, ‘Love Needs Time’, is very much in an Italian dance vibe. Reminded me of an old tune...but which one! :)) Brazilian music is visited in the form of ‘O Passarinho’, which is one of those songs you have no idea what they are singing about, however, the effects is full on ‘sunshine’! ‘Train To Sambaville’ is another George Duke-esque moment, which will appeal to the fusion folks out there. I really loved ‘The Miracle Of Your Smile’, however, the track which really fascinated me is the track ‘Orinoco’. This is pure Jazz Funk. The sort of melody which would have graced an old Bobby Lyle album, or an old Crusaders set. At 9 minutes plus, it is what some deejays describe as ‘a long one’ (very much their business!), but in a society that desires this thing, or that thing, instantly, by computer, this is a tune to sit back, relax and enjoy for the duration. A very bold track and marking this album out as one to watch out for.
In the absence of a new Chestnut Brothers album, I was wondering what the guys were up to these days. No album as yet, however, I can tell you that Ty and Al are now just Al performing as a Chestnut Brother! Al sent me his latest single, which I am delighted to say is terrific. A mid-tempo song entitled ‘Touch Me In A Special Way’, this is just about the place where these guys ought to be right now as performers/performer. The Brothers haven’t fallen out. Ty is taking a sabbatical from Soul, so Al is carrying the torch...a torch that I do hope realises an album release. This is a great song. Check CD Baby for a download. Al tells me that CD’s are on their way regarding the single.
Tony Momrelle has recently been singing with Bluey in the evergreen U.K. Soul band Incognito. That band are a hard group to become a vocal part of, as Bluey is very particular regarding his choice of singers. Tony is now setting out on a solo career, with this latest E.P. a very sure stepping stone, en route to success? Well I hope so. Prior to his involvement within Incognito, he was already releasing solo material, releasing two studio albums under his name. I was sent, (by that nice Steve Ripley) a taster track from the new E.P. in the form of the song ‘Spotlight’. Took that on my iPod to the Bournemouth Soul Weekender, and the track really grew on my, and is now receiving some heavy rotation on some of the better Soul Stations out there. Now the full seven tracker E.P. has arrived, there are even better tracks on show here. ‘Everything’s Alright’ is a contender for one of the better tracks around this year. The title track and ‘Get On up’ are classic grooves, set in an environment with echoes of previous era’s. ‘Here It Is’ drops the tempo, nestling in a very musically latin engraved environment. As far as his next move is concerned, well I would suggest a third album should not be too long in the making, as this is Tony Momrelle’s finest work thus far. Worth tracking down and investing in.
Camera Soul are the brainchild of the Italian based songwriter Piero Lombardo, who kindly shared his Dropbox account with me, in order that I might take a listen to his groups new album. I must confess that I did, actually, receive a copy, through another deejay, several weeks ago. I listened to the album at that time, and thought ‘I must post this set at the site’. Quite why I never did is mainly down to other releases, which were around at various times, which I ran with. Some decisions are repairable, and thus this fine set of songs makes a justified appearance here. The album is very much generated with real instruments, and great singers, giving the album a ‘Papik sound’, with perhaps a slightly less sprinkling of the fusion element. When I checked the star ratings I posted in my library at the time of the initial listening I ran with the tracks ‘I Don’t Like Flowers’, ‘Time Fades Away’ (lovely latin vibe), ‘I’m A Fool’ (my favourite track on offer here) and ‘Locked Inside’. The thread which runs through my choices here, are the drops in tempo concerning each track. With many newer artists around these days, if the performers infuses a little discipline, and a little less frenetic activity in the grooves, the final outcome is generally a superior musical sculpture. ‘I’m A Fool’ has a vibe very much in sympathy with Quincy Jones song ‘One Hundred Ways’. Lovely track. ‘Locked Inside’ runs the previous song a very close second. Piero says his album is doing well on the U.K. Soul Scene. Like to add my small thumbs up from this corner of the Net. Very enjoyable album indeed.
Aloe Blacc’s ‘Dollar’ track drove me crazy a couple of years ago. It cross fertilised itself across all musical genre platforms, making it an ‘impossible to avoid’ melody, wherever you pointed the dial on the radio at that time. Having said that, I liked the song when I first heard the track, and I liked his album. Doing a follow up album was always going to be a poisoned chalice. Take a look at the new John Legend album, and you will witness a great performer throwing in the towel before the music was written and degraded into digital. Aloe’s album could have followed the same route, and by track 10, I figured the guy had sacrificed his Soul, for the ‘dollar bill’, however, Track 11 was a bit of a ‘salvational revelation’. ‘Eyes Of A Child’ is a grower of a song. My feeling is that, when the artist got to record this final song, a huge weight must have been lifted from his shoulders. The tune grows and grows throughout the set, and by the 6th minute, this particular listener is very pleased that I took the time to let the album do it’s damage, before the musical International Rescue arrived to haul me back from the brink! I hope Aloe is bold enough to perform this song as one of the preferred tracks in his live repertoire. Very nice song indeed.
Been a while since I looked at a couple of albums here. Been out of the mix, working in London on a couple of design projects for my sins, so good to be back here again.
Following on from the excellent Janelle Monae album (by the way, do check out the extended version of that album, for her take on the Jackson 5's 'I Want You Back', which is a revelation!), we turn towards another sister, who is very much her own woman. This Texas born songstress (she has that in common with Janelle, so women hold up half the sky in that part of the States!) was part of the group the Family Stand, several years ago. It was in 1996, Sandra released her first solo album, and this new release, is actually, only her third album. Musically, Sandra doesn't stick to the standard musical template for R&B, and she certainly does not shove the listener into any old elevator either! You need to work with her music, and it seems to almost inevitably grow on the listener. Thinking woman's Soul Music, if you please! Sandra is certainly not afraid to be adventurous within the personal confines of her cultural tapestries. For myself, the track 'Spirit Talk' is too short. What a great groove, which is deserving of more than the two minutes allocated, however, one of the two real gems on this consistent set from this fine singer, is the irresistable dancer 'What Have We Learned Pt.1'. Wherever part two is, I hope she has an internet link, as this is a truly terrific dance tune. A driving bass riff which is hard to ignore, and immersed in there someplace are hints evolving from that very first Slave album. The other track of note is the anthemic closing track 'Coming Around', which drifts up and down the scales with ease, with Sandra harmonising beautifully, embellishing proceedings. I really like this singer, who has been hugely under-utilised by her contemporaries these days. Her last 2001 album release featured Roy Ayers and the late Donald Byrd, so somewhere along the timeline, Sandra must be doing something right. More power to your elbow, Sandra.
Trombone Shorty is also responsible for another of the great dance tracks of 2013 here in the shape of the Chic-esque 'Long Weekend'. If you took a cross section through Slave's 'Just A Touch Of Love' and did likewise with Chic's 'Good Times', merging the two into a different incarnation, then you would have an article closest to that description. This performers mother, when asked 'have you a name for this child?' at the time of 'Trombone's' birth, definitely did not say 'Trombone'! His real name is Troy Andrews, and he hails from New Orleans. I think this is, also, a third album release for the performer. 'Trombone' is also an accomplished trumpeteer, and that is apparent throughout this album, where, when the spirit moves him, he drifts into the odd James Brown/Maceo moment, although I would say, he is very much his own man here. I was quite taken by the instrumental track 'Vieux Carre', which has echoes of the Earth, Wind and Fire track 'Getaway', and segue's very nicely into my pick of this fine bunch, namely the song 'Be My Lady'. If you liked the Al Olive song 'Slowdown' from a couple of years ago, well this is not a soundalike, but positioned in a similar environment melodically. Real nice song. By the way, Check the track 'Dream On', which will get a few toes tapping out there. Now if you were to put on 'Long Weekend', followed on by Sandra's 'What Have We Learned Pt. 1' on at the beginning of your deejaying gig this weekend, you would certainly put a few smiles on a few faces, and shake a few cobwebs off some of those hugely embarrasing dancing shoes!
Janelle Monae is an artist I really like. Odd that, for the main part, her albums contain tracks that I really have to persevere with, before I appreciate them. I reviewed her 'Archandroid' album, from a couple of years ago, and had a couple of site responses asking me whether I had lost the plot or not. Perhaps, as that really depends on wherever your vantage point is within Soul Music. If you like your Northern Soul, or are a diehard Fusion follower, then I can fully understand your disposition. For myself, when I put up at the site an artists resume, if the artist has made a real contribution to Black music, then I don't stand on any ceremony. Cab Calloway or Public Enemy? You pays your money. For me, both of those performers have contributed to the culture of the African American scene, and so both would still be on my to do list here. There are those who might argue that the Drifters may be too cabaret for this site. They have a page here, and as the perfume commercial states 'because they are worth it'!!
Janelle Monae is one of the new crop of R&B artists, who prove that you don't have to be just a two dimensional mannequin on a stage, to possess real merit. Janelle has a real sense of heritage, and...get this, she can have a list of artists such as Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange and Espernaza Spalding on her new album, and none of those artists influence the sound of each of the relative tracks. There seems to be a Janelle Monae template to each album, a theme if you like, and these guys are there for the musical ride, and not to effect the direction which has been formulated by this singer. So, that said, I MUST like everything on this new album by this artist? Well, I actually don't !!:)) When it is not my scene, it really isn't. When it is my scene, I am fully won over.
If you don't know Janelle Monae's music, well it is very apparent that she is very influenced by many of her Soul heroes. Her sound? Well, imagine Cab Calloway meets Kid Creole meets Michael Jackson meets Stevie Wonder, who has just met Judy Garland! All clear? Me neither! Woman is hard to categorize, all told. I guess she is a singer who has everything, but determining just exactly what 'that everything' is, is a very mute point. Influentially, I am drawn to the songs which have been derived from some of the Soul artists who have become household names over the years. I am underselling the description of the songs, by saying that this sounds like this, and that sounds like that. Suffice to say the roots of the songs foundations seem to have a foundation in one influence, as is showcased in my favourite song 'Dorothy Dandridge Eyes', which has a hint of Michael Jackson's 'I Can't Help It'.
(Dorothy was the first African American actress to receive an Oscar, before her premature death in the mid Sixties at the relatively tender age of 42. A very beautiful actress.). This track is no carbon copy of Michael's evergreen, but a descriptive way of giving the listener an idea where the original roots were laid down. Mentioning Michael Jackson, brings me on to the song 'The Code', which has echoes of a much younger Michael in it's very early Seventies delivery. Hints of 'Never Can Say Goodbye' here. I found the song 'Can't Live Without Your Love' a real grower. This may be the track that will be the main standout for myself come years end. 'Ghetto Woman' is located, very much, on a Stevie 'Another Star' stage set.
Interspersed in amongst these songs are Janelle's, almost B52's/Cab Calloway influenced trademark frenetic dancers, which come in the form of 'Dance Apocalyptic'. Very radio friendly, but not my particular cup of Earl Grey, but definitely part of a rich music tapestry, delivered by this highly intriguing artist. I have always loved artists who are uncategorizable. She may have laid down her own roots in a sort of 'Soul Music Never Never Land', but that is O.K. by me. The less control the industry has over the likes of Janelle Monae, the healthier this genre will become. Who, after all, wants to know what is around every corner in any creative walk of life? We would make little progress and become hugely uncultured in the process.
As far as disciplinary proceedings against myself, for reviewing artists such as Janelle Monae....well it's a fair cop, society is to blame...and yes I will look to review her next album in a couple of years time....and that is very much my business and no-one else's!
There’s something to be said, that, by this artists 3rd album, he has already ingrained himself so much onto the listening public, that a new album is seen as an ‘event’ rather than just another release. I would hold my hands up, and say that, after hearing Gregory Porter’s debut album ‘Water’, I was left a little confused as to the reasoning behind all of the accolades the man was receiving at that time. Following the release of ‘Be Cool’ my own doubts had been proved to be a little presumptive and also a little premature on my part. What I had missed, others had run with, and quite rightly so. These days, many Soul reviewers rave about an artist, who may leave others cold. I do it myself at times, however, what I would say is, if it turns you on, it turns you on, and this latest Gregory Porter album does exactly that. I think you will not read any poor reviews of this album, and quite rightly so. By this latest Blue Note release, the man has proven his pedigree, and done so by satisfying almost every Soul Music nook and cranny out there. Those who delight in all things ‘Northern’, will love the reworking of ‘The In Crowd’. The daytime fusion stations will heavily rotate this albums title track, and the likes of ‘Free’ and ‘Lonesome Lover’. I think longevity will see the track ‘Wind Song’ becoming a Jazz Radio favourite, with it’s echoes of the Dianne Reeves evergreen ‘Smile’. Lovely song that one. What fascinates me watching Gregory Porter’s progress is where the man uses his eloquence in relating narratives within his writings. Where Paul Simon would use ‘there’s a wall in China that’s a thousand miles long, to keep out the foreigners they made it strong, and there’s a wall around me’ etc., in order to say ‘I’m not that easy to get on with’, Gregory relates ‘if I could go back, I’d take our worst days, our worst days are better than loneliness’, and it is this side of this singer I find fascinating. Imparting the not so bleedin’ obvious! It’s my personal opinion that Gregory is about as good as it gets in 2013, as a singer and songwriter. Very few have the skills to be able to, as a friend put it to me recently, lyrically paint picture in your mind. Stevie Wonder and Curtis can do it. So can Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Carole King. Not to say that Gregory is up there with those guys, but he is well and truly on the right road. Every listener to this new album, will have their own favourites. Sign of a good album all told. Mine are the ballad ‘Water Under Bridges’, ‘No Love Dying’, and my pick of the bunch ‘Brown Grass’. Not out until early September I am told. Get your orders in early as this is a pretty essential album in 2013.
Don-e is an artist whose career I have followed with great interest. He is a singer whose U.K. career hasn’t followed many of his contemporaries. sure many appear on this album, but I have always considered him to be slightly set apart from the mainstream. ‘Unbreakable’ was a classic song from his debut outing. Whilst the deejays were heavily playing the likes of ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’, Don-e was also showcasing himself as a guy who could write a good song, and sing it pretty well too. His ‘Changing Seasons’ had a great track entitled ‘Don’t She’, which I remembered fell on musical stony ground at the time. Real shame, as that was another gem of a song. The man has since drifted in an out of the studio, with varying degrees of success, and we are now treated to his latest offering ‘Little Star’, which sees the light of day on the excellent Dome Records imprint. I think that, with age, human beings listen less and less to those who would have us do their bidding, and listening to this new album, there is a feeling that the listener is taking in a much more relaxed performance from a singer, who promised as deserved a great deal more over the years. Don-e has a very Stevie influence within the structure of his music. Even the cover of the Dennis Brown classic ‘Love Has Found It’s Way’ has an influence of the Wonderman going on in there someplace. I loved the title track from this set, and really liked the telephone ‘who’s who’ directory of U.K. Soul performers all joining the starting line-up on ‘Spiritual’. The likes of Carl MacIntosh, Junior Giscombe, Leee John, Noel McKoy, Omar, Paul Johnson and Rick Clarke join the man on this song. Tracks with so many featured artists can be a little overindulgent in many cases, but not so here. Nice groove of a track, very song led, and very radio friendly. ‘He Ain’t Got My Style’ is another winner, with Don-e weaving his multi textured vocal harmonies across a hugely pleasing backdrop. Probably ‘Hold On’ is my personal choice from this fine set of songs, all of which go to make a very welcome return, at a label I know only has the artists best interests at heart. More power to Dome’s and Don-e’s funny bone!
One of the great mysteries in music, are the odd occasions when an artist, who has recorded a genuine piece of quality product, find themselves trudging from store to store, in order to find some sort of positive response for their efforts. One such situation transpired when a U.K. Soul based singer walked into the doors of the Collectors Record Centre in Kingston Upon Thames, a couple of weeks ago.
keith outside his store - july 2013
This particular store is run by a very personable guy called Keith, who I pop into see on a regular basis , as his store is not overpriced, and Keith has a good knowledge of all styles of music (including a good grasp of all things soulful). The singer in question is a guy named DaPaul. He took some CD’s into the shop, which Keith heard, liked the music, and agreed to stock, subsequently bringing the music to my attention when I next went down to see the man. I bought a copy with the intention of contacting this artist, as this album is something of a U.K. Soul...should I say ‘classic’?...well, certainly an album, which if ignored, would be a crime. All told, I get slightly frustrated when I hear an album of this standard. Frustrated by the fact that, performers of a much poorer standard seem to receive many plaudits ‘thumbs up’, and many accolades, whilst the likes of DaPaul create something of real quality, and are by and largely ignored. All I can say is ‘not on my watch!’ I contacted DaPaul, who is a very personable guy. He’s worked with several excellent U.K. performers, including the fine jazzman Ciyo, whose album ‘Urban Landscape’ I have on the shelves here. You may remember ‘We Know We Are’ off that 1993 set? Old Robbie Vincent favourite, that song. If you do, you will have an illustration of the standard of artist who is working with DaPaul on this fine release. So what to do now? The man didn’t know the guys at Soul Brother, so I gave him some contact details. He, in turn, is mailing me some promotional packs, and I mailed a song to Peter Young at Jazz FM who called the track ‘class’. So at least I can now say that I have arrived at the conclusion I am not going mad! DaPaul told me he is about to perform at the 606 club in Chelsea. Should be a good show judging by this fine, fine album. So on to the music. The team sheet comprises of 12 new tracks, no covers, kicking off with the hugely radio friendly ‘She’s So Entertaining’, a track that would sit alongside Al Jarreau’s ‘Morning’ very nicely, and not be out of place. Music for the better radio stations out there. If there is a mood throughout the set, it is probably set around mid-tempo, with several tracks drifting above and below that barometer line. DaPaul has an empathy with his fellow human being, showcased on the socially aware songs ‘Fairtrade’ and ‘Red Blood Streets’, with the former certainly hitting home in this house. ‘Kumbaya’ is another very strong melody, a term which is not only applicable to the scout movement, but has several global interpretations, one salient meaning relating to a Creole language spoken by the former slaves living on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. I really enjoyed the title track of this album, along with the lengthy ‘My Gift’ and the acoustic ‘Let Me Go’. A very competently performed album, showcasing about as good as it gets, musically, in the U.K. in 2013. I hope this CD is a foundation of sorts for a lengthy career for this singer. It is a real crime that this set is currently being circulated on a door to door basis. It deserves a great deal more than that. Retailing at CD Baby as I write (or in Keith’s shop).
I thought that we had, sadly heard the last recordings by the late Vesta Williams, who, during her relatively short-lived career may have lived in the shadow, somewhat, of the singer whose sound she had vocal parallels with, namely Chaka Khan. Vesta’s ‘Relationships’ album is still one of my favourite female Soul albums of the last 25 years or so. The world lost a great singer, nearly two years ago, due to an enlarged heart condition. Not an uncommon condition, however, the shock factor when a person dies from the illness is that much greater, due to the lack of preparation time. Vesta, at the time she passed away (some two years ago now) was working on this album, and by the sounds of the finished product, must have been very close to completing the set. Released on the Bronx Bridge Entertainment, Inc. imprint, this is a fine swan song from this great vocalist. Edwin Nicholas, Devon Collins and Kahlil I. Pedizisai produced this final masterpiece for Vesta some some 24 years after her 1989 debut set. One producer, Devon Collins stated that Vesta was talking about ‘completion’ regarding this album, but not in a labour completion context. He said ‘I kept asking her, completion of what? She was adamant that in seven months she wanted it to come out’. If she was aware of her pending demise, then this is, to quote an often quoted phrase ‘what she would have wanted’, knowing that that was exactly the case. Musically, there are 11 very good songs on offer here. My ‘cherry pick’ is the final song ‘Rewind’. One of those mid-tempo tracks that Vesta excelled in, throughout her excellent career. ‘Better Days’, ‘Can We Talk About It?’, Truth Of The Matter’ and ‘Five Ways’ are all Vesta at her finest. This album is, probably, one of the better releases in this singers lifetime. No afterthought, just simply fine music, performed by a singer who life was far too short lived.
Tracy Yvette Hamlin is a singer who has appeared a couple of times at this website in recent years. This Baltimore native has a very appealing vocal style, who certainly has her musical heart, very much in the right place. Vocally, she has really matured since her debut release, ‘Seasons’, saw the light of day in 2005. Recording on her own DMH Records imprint, Tracy followed the debut release with ‘Better Days’ in 2009. In the meantime, she has been contributing her background vocals for the singer Gloria Gaynor, and also helping out on recent Pieces Of A Dream releases. Her career has been honed at an early age, seeing Tracy attending the Baltimore School of the Arts and the Peabody Preparatory School of Music. As well as Gloria and the Pieces guys, Tracy has collaborated with the likes of Carlos Santana, Marcus Miller, Jonathan Butler, Kirk Whalum, Wayman Tisdale, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Esperanza Spaulding, and Gerald Albright. So, in 2013, we are now treated to her latest release entitled ‘This Is My Life’, a title derived from one of the songs featured on this set, namely, the Jim Webb penned ‘This Is Your Life’. That song, as I am sure you will know, was the title track of a Norman Connors album from the late Seventies, and originally featured on the legendary ’Sunflower’ album by the great Thelma Houston. ‘This Is My Life’ features several cover versions of songs. The Jim Webb song is an immense piece of songwriting, excavating the ‘yearnin’ element out of any performer that takes on this classic. On show here are also really lovely versions of the Bill Withers song ‘ Let Me Be The One You Need’, a fine attempt at the almost uncoverable Luther Vandross evergreen, ’Never Too Much’, Aretha’s ‘Ain’t No Way’ and an excellent take on Starpoint’s ‘Bring Your Sweet Loving Back’. Favourite song? Any take on ‘This Is Your Life’ will always be my choice, as it is a personal favourite. A truly brilliant piece of songwriting, which in a weak moment here... Tracy is a very fine singer, so all told, hugely rewarding listening experience!
Sometimes at this site, I get sent many digital or CD albums to listen to here. Occasionally, there are releases that I really look forward to, and I sit here hoping that the label will put a copy in the post here, and I am eternally grateful to ralph at Expansion Records for sending this new Personal Life album to this house. Peter Young at Jazz FM, initially raised my interest in this group, following airplay of some of the band’s early promotional songs. Ralph then teased us with a couple of song on his labels ‘Luxury Soul’ release earlier this year. Now the full monty is here, and a hugely rewarding listen this new album is too. Personal Life were formed some 3 years ago. They are London based, the brainchild of the musician and producer Robert Strauss. Along with the rich vocal delivery of Stuart Lisbie, along with some core members of Amy Winehouse s touring band, the early track releases were hugely enjoyable. No ‘in your face’ raps or beats here, but an eloquent series of finely tuned melodies, all of which construct one of the most interesting U.K. Soul groups in recent years. The ten tracks on offer provide a template for the younger generation of U.K. based Soul singers. Listening to the album opener ‘Classy Lady’, I recall many releases from the mid to late Eighties, (the ones which bypassed the computer generated drum machines, thankfully). A great song. ‘Bring It Back’ is in a similar style. A hugely melodic song, followed by one of the pre-release melodies (which turned me on to this group in the first place) in ‘Morning Light’. Tracks like these songs, perhaps, don’t hit home immediately, however, once they have imbedded themselves into your grey matter, they are there for the rest of the year! ‘I Remember’, ‘It Is What It Is’, ‘There’s A Time For Everything’ and the mellow/mid ‘Rainy Day In London’ (which is about 364 days a year! :) are all some of the U.K.’s finest Soul songs in 2013. Really looked forward to this album, and i was not disappointed. If you are Stateside based, and want an example of some of the best Soul music being released in the U.K. in 2013, go pick up a copy of this Personal Life album. If you live anywhere else....ditto! Recommended.
If I remember correctly, this is Maryland native, Maysa Leak’s eighth solo album. One consistent factor throughout all of this fine singers releases, is the high standard that flows throughout the grooves of every release. I can’t remember a bad track, let alone a bad album. Her voice is soft, easy on the ear, but with an underlying strength, which is there when required. I was fortunate enough to meet Maysa at a Ledisi gig a few years ago. She has a very modest and charming disposition, so the musicians who work with her, will do so with the utmost ease. Over the last 8 years or so, Maysa has become one of Bluey’s (from Incognito) favoured session singers. This latest album shows Maysa returning the favour, employing Bluey on writing and production chores. I was fortunate enough to receive a preview copy of a lovely track from this set entitled ‘Good Morning Sunrise’, which is one of those songs you feel you have known for years, but is brand new! Some beautiful harmonies on show here, with Bluey assisting vocally, with his own harmonies, only recently discovered via his recent debut album. Maysa’s album additionally features some great production from Mike City and Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis. ‘Blue Velvet Soul’ has a very mid-tempo vibe running throughout proceedings, which suits Maysa’s delivery very nicely. Personal favourites are, the aforementioned Bluey song, ‘Quiet Fire’, ’Sophisticated Lover’, and my favourite song ‘Pouring Rain’, which, give this woman a melody to work with, she truly come into her own. Lovely stuff.
Vancouver born, Mellissa Mya Larochelle, is known by her stage name, Honey Larochelle. If I am correct, this is her debut release on Butter Fly Soul Records. Raised in Texas, Florida and Brooklyn Honey has toured with the Brand New Heavies, Joss Stone and Omar amongst others. She then signed a record deal with Macy Gray, began touring as a background singer and, if that wasn’t enough, she could be found producing, arranging, and writing for other artists. Roberta Flack has expressed an interest in this singer, offering to work with her in the future. After several career twists and turns, Honey’s album ‘The Yes Feeling’ is now released. Any good? Is the Pope Catholic? This is a very fine set indeed. Going straight for the musical jugular, I was very interested in the song ‘Whose Gonna Love You’, which apart from being a great song, made me fascinated that the maturity indicated in this song probably accounts for the Roberta Flack interest. A very mature vocal head on young shoulders! The track reminded me of a cross between Rosie Gaines ‘Honey Child’ and Bloodstone’s ‘We Go A Long Way Back’. Lovely Soul swayer. Some very good tracks on show here. Couple of others that hit home here are the songs ‘Heaven’ and ‘Be Your Baby’ (with a vocal style not dissimilar to the Jazzy Jeff feat. Ayah album from a couple of years ago). Effortlessly delivered songs from a very interesting young woman. Watch her career!
At the same Ledisi gig that I met Maysa, I also got to meet the Braxton Brothers, who were backing Ledisi on her set. Small world as they say. During the heyday of Smooth Jazz, these two brothers were releasing some of the better instrumentals of that genre. To put it this way, their songs would not have made ‘the elevator’, if you know what I mean! I believe this is the Braxton’s 5th album release, which is entitled ’True Love’ (retailing at CD Baby). These guys are very talented musicians, playing several instruments including the tuba, saxophone, bass, trombone, keyboards, guitar, clarinet and flute....but not all at once!! Having pointed out that fact, the guys have taken a different style turn, almost hinting that the ‘Smoother Jazz’ may be a thing of the past in their own minds. Vocalists Martin Luther , Chandlar along with a rapper called Clister, all of which takes the Brothers along a different, more contemporary Soul route. This is a very welcome manoeuvre, as the results are very pleasing. ‘Can This Be Love’ (vocalised by Chandler) is a real Modern Soul gem. ‘You Know Better’, ‘On and On’ and the albums title track are all fine, fine songs. If you remember, back some twenty years or so ago, Smooth Jazz albums might have had one vocal track, alongside several unadventurous ‘play-alongs’. Thosec one-off’s would, possibly, make a good Soul compilation, however, the parent albums were widely ignored. The Braxtons are treading boldly in this new venture, and more power to their elbow. There are some great songs on show here. Chandler, especially, makes the most of some competently penned material. As I remember, these guys are some of the best dressed musicians I have ever met. No grunge going on here! Great songs, recommended very highly.
Chrisette Michele is a singer, whose career I have followed with interest since her first album ‘I Am’ was released 6 years ago. That album contained the track ‘Best of Me’, which for the following months I couldn’t understand why more of a fuss was not being made about that great song here in the U.K. The epitome of the term ‘radio friendly’. Music is a very personal thing, which, if you love something, one thing I have learned over the years is, don’t look for anyone else’s approval before you give a song the thumbs up in your house. Babyface penned that great track, which sits very nicely alongside some of his finest songs (‘You Can’t Run’ by Vanessa Williams being another). Chrisette’s surname is actually Payne, which makes sense when the listener reads through the liner notes regarding who wrote which song etc. You see the credit ‘C. Payne’ on every track here. The woman herself hails from Central Islip in New York, and spent her early years there in Patchogue. Her father was a deacon and her mother a choir director, so the musical foundations were being laid at a very early age. As she reached her late teens, she began to perform on several rap artists albums, which brings certain parallels with the career of Janelle Monae (another fascinating performer). ‘Better’ is Chrisette’s fourth album release, and highlights a growing maturity in her songwriting and vocalising skill set. She has been recognised as an artist of substance in her 21st year, as this set is seeing the light of day on the Motown imprint. Musically, of interest to Soul fans will be the song ‘A Couple Of Forevers’, which is a melody joint penned by Chrisette and Gamble & Huff, no less. Lovely song, as you might expect. I enjoyed the opener ‘Be In Love’, and the infectious ‘Let Me Win’. Very radio friendly indeed, reminding me of the track ‘I’m In Love’ from the Isley Brothers Christmas album from a couple of years ago. The track that had me thinking that Chrisette could nudge Alicia Keys towards her modern style of recording (and would further enhance her own ‘style with soul’) comes in the form of ‘Love Won't Leave Me Out’. A really lovely song. Nice to have a major league Soul singer, whose vocals are instantly recognisable as this particular woman, and not ‘the crowd’. I hope her career develops in a direction led by herself, as the finished product is top drawer.
Robin McKelle I have been turned on to by http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/’s Bill Buckley (who I also have to thank for point out the great Cody Chesnutt album, in it’s early days, last year). Although the label says Sony Records, the distributor for this album is the legendary OKeh imprint. Robin is a native of Rochester in New York, and an ex teacher at the famous Berklee College Of Music. She has penned many of the recordings on this fine new release, which will gather huge interest with the Modern Soul fraternity, via a duet performed with Gregory Porter (the man who can do no wrong these days!) on the track ‘Love’s Work’.
Influenced by the likes of Nina Simone and Gladys Knight, Robin’s musical heart is set in a very Soulful place, covering on this album the Bacharach and David evergreen ‘Walk On By’. What is refreshing is that particular cover has been re-worked into an uptempo groove, which brings something new to the musical table. As the albums group title showcases, Robin is keen to give credit to her jazz influenced musicians Sam Barsh (piano) and Derek Nievergelt (bass). On ‘Soul Flower’, Robin collaborates with some established vocalists, apart from the aforementioned Gregory Porter, Robin also has enlisted the great Lee Fields on the cover of the BeeGees, ‘To Love Somebody’. Hugely Soulful and tastefully delivered. One theme that does emerge through this fine set of songs, is the empathy that she feels for the plight of people suffering, in one way or another, all across the globe on a day to day basis. Nice to know there are people around like Robin, as the World can appear as a very introverted and cold place at times. Oh yes, the track ‘Fairytale Ending’ was the tune Bill sent me initially. Northern Soul at it’s finest, and my pick from a fine bunch of songs. Scenically, musically, very much set in a Kylie Auldist/Bamboo’s stylee, with a whole lot more. Very highly recommended.
Lynn Marie is a new name to me. She hails from Detroit, a city steeped in the finest Soul music, and on this new set, the quality certainly has soaked up the musical roots of the area. Released on the Mocy Music Group, LLC imprint, ‘Phoenix’ is actually penned by Lynn herself and her sister, with co-production chores also handled by Lynn and her sister, Patricia Loreen Shannon. As far back as 2005, Lynn released her first self named and produced CD entitled ‘Lynn Marie Smith’, after which she worked with Stevie Wonder, and acted in an opera entitled ‘Forgotten: The Murder at the Rouge Plant’. ‘Phoenix’ is a lovely mix of Modern Soul with a nod to some of the artists who have left us over the years, one of whom is the singer Phyllis Hyman. Lynn covers her song ‘Living All Alone’ very competently on this album. Lynn and Patricia certainly have their musical direction fixed very much in the right place, showcased by three real corkers which open this fine 13 track release. ‘Round and Round’ has an almost Drizabone vibe running throughout the melody. ‘Diggin’ U’ and ‘She Ain’t U/He Ain’t U’ are two very fine examples of the better style of Soul songs going on out there. I noticed from Lynn’s own website, that Soul Brother in the U.K. have an interest in this singer, and they are pretty much a kite mark of quality over here. Cherry picking a tune here, for myself, has to be the flowing, melodic ‘Can’t Get U Off My Mind’. Lovely song showcasing the influence that Stevie Wonder seems to have had on her writings. Definitely an album to watch. Great stuff!
The Cuban Brothers album ‘Yo Bonita’ was actually released at the end of January, although I have only just caught up with the set recently, and very please indeed I have done. The album sees the light of day on Jam City Records, and the group comprise of Miguel Mantovani, Archerio Mantovani and Kengo San.
The ‘Los Hermanos Cubanos’ have performed for the likes of Elton John, Richard Branson and Robbie Williams, but, more credibily, have supported James Brown, Chuck Berry, De La Soul, along with working with the likes of Chic, Roy Ayers and Jocelyn Brown. Perhaps one of the reasons why this album has bypassed me, is the cover does look a little like a release that might be on sale at your local Marks and Spencer! The music certainly isn’t of that standard, but will appeal to many old school soul and funk fans. Guest appearances on the album include Mica Paris (on the excellent ‘So Sweet’), KT Tunstall (a very fine version of the Stairsteps ‘We Must Be In Love’), Kurtis Blow, Tenor Fly and Omar. There are a couple of odd inclusions, one of which is a take on the metal track ‘Ace Of Spades’, by that hairy bloke who name slips my mind! Of real interest to the old schoolers is the track ‘Ain’t No Need’, which could be played in amongst a group of dancers from 1976, and no-one would bat an eye! The dancer had me thinking about the roots of the song, which I think I have pinned down to the break in the Double Exposure tune ‘Ten Percent’. I know a great many Lacy Lady’ers who will really take to this track. Remember when you heard the Haggis Horns 'The Traveller' Pt. 2'? Similar in experience, although a genre change. Very interesting album (if you ignore the sleeve! :))))
Sheree Brown is one of the most talented singer songwriters covering the last 30 years. Quite why she never is not more widely accepted as a major artist in her own right, is beyond me (and probably accounts for my dislike of today’s ‘instant’ pop stars). Sheree writes a simple song, multi textures the melody, and delivers the song in a neat, clear and hugely appealing parcel. Perhaps her first two releases on Capitol were released within a too shorter time space at the outset of the eighties. You can speculate as much about this proverbial bridge, and the water that has flowed under it’s supports, however, with the passing of time, some melodies maintain their charm, whilst others suffer from dated arrangements, and the ‘sound of the day’. All told, if you are a gifted songsmith, the quality of your work will endure. Sheree’s two Capitol albums are now hugely collectable, 'rare groove' being one epithet that has been adorned to those classic Soul albums. ‘It’s A Pleasure’ is certainly a Soul Classic, and should be a mainstream classic as well. Problem with songsmith’s without gimmicks, are they are ignored for the shiny musical trinkets that come and go like ships in the night. I would file Sheree’s work alongside the likes of Bill Withers or Carole King. One day mainstream pundits will rise from the unconsciousness they seem to drift in and out of, and herald the likes of Sheree and her kind as being the bedrock which todays music was laid out, planned and constructed upon. Sheree, herself, got in touch with me some 13 years or so ago, and sent me some of her collaborations with her good friend Patrice Rushen. With the help of the fine Expansion label in London, she has emerged with a new release, which showcases her fine songwriting abilities. Ralph Tee at Expansion is a fan of Sheree’s and re-released her Capitol albums a couple of years ago, for a new audience. This 14 track album is a fine, fine album for this L.A. based songstress. Sheree has collaborated with the great Leon Ware on the album’s title track, and also performs a very good cover of the song Leon penned, and was recorded by the late Minnie Riperton, in the shape of ‘Inside My Love’. The original songs stand up very nicely on this album, alongside the Leon Ware songs. Sheree penned the lions share of the melodies herself, standouts for this listener being ‘Where Love Grows’, ‘Just A Simple Love Song’ and, the bright and breezy, ‘Being In Love With You’. This is a great album, which sits alongside her previous releases, despite the 30 year gap between releases. Sheree sounds like she did way back in the day, vocally. To top all of that off, in my correspondence over the years with her, she is plain and simply, a very nice woman.
P.J. Morton is a singer, whose albums have not shaken the foundations of the music industry, but always have something which is of the highest standard. He has spent a short stint with the group Maroon 5 as a session performer, and now returns to his solo career for this, his third album release. The ‘P’ in his name stands for Paul, he hails from New Orleans (thus the album title) and is a youthful 32 year old, which I mention as his music has a much more mature conception, than his years may suggest. As I mentioned, Paul’s previous albums contained some songs which really appealed to myself. If you check the charts at the site, I am pretty sure, in previous years, you will find a review and a chart position from each relevant release year. This new album, in parts, very much reminded me of the Tommy Sims album from 2000. Songs you think you have heard before, but are new creations that seem like the getting together of old friends. His enlisting of Stevie Wonder, on the song ‘Only One’, was a stroke of genius. What a corker of a song. Terrific. Songs of such magnitude can distract the listener from the other writings on offer, which certainly should not be ignored. ‘Always Be’ is a case in point. Another tune cemented in a Tommy Sims-esque vibe. There are some parallels which could be drawn with the excellent group Electric Empire here. Although the Busta Rhymes track missed me somewhat, an odd collaboration with Adam Levine, in the song ‘Heavy’, well it certainly seems to gel very nicely indeed. A very interesting release, beautifully delivered, and, as for that Stevie track...worth the admission price alone! Well worth seeking out, and sees the light of day on Republic Records.
I really like Sabrina Starke. As with P.J., I always seem to find a tune or two which hit home from this Rotterdam based vocalist. She is not a singer afraid to melt together genre’s and come up with a song or two of real substance. Her new album was something of a surprise to myself, as it is an album of cover songs. It is a debatable matter as to how many cover albums we can endure before we lose the will to live, however, when they are as empathic as this album is for the music of Bill Withers, well that is very much a different ‘kettle of poisson’! The accompanying musicians and the orchestration give the whole set a very polished sheen, comparisons with Quincy Jones productions would not be an out of place description. Sabrina’s only difficulty in recording this great man’s C.V. is which of this back catalogue should she cherry pick from. ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, ‘Lean On Me’, ‘Use Me’ and ‘Grandma’s Hands’ chose themselves, and would create something of a stir if they were omitted, however, it is the lesser known Bill penned tracks which really come into their own here. ‘Let Me Be The One You Need’, ‘Hello Like Before’ and, my favourite song from this set, ‘I Don’t Know’ are all really great songs, covered sympathetically and very competently. The albums full title is ‘Lean On Me - The Songs of Bill Withers’ and features the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Vince Mendoza. I liked this album very much indeed. Out on 8Ball Records.
Peven Everett is one of my favourite performers, of the latest generation of ‘Soul songsmith’s’. He first came to my attention back in 2001, when I was sent a copy of his album ‘Studio Confessions’. To state that this is a debut release is something highly debatable, in as much as, I could also describe Peven as the ‘Pablo Picasso of Soul’! Why so? Well, the great artist had a self imposed agenda, that he would flood the art market with his drawings and paintings, in order to regulate the pricing of his artworks after he passed away. Peven has created so many songs over the years, that the term ‘debut’ becomes something of a discussion piece. I liked the CD that was sent, and further sides, up until 2006, when ‘Power Soul’ hit the streets. that album contained one of my favourite tracks from that decade, in the form of ‘This Just In’. Anyone I play that track to, loves it from that point onwards. A similar occurrence transpired with 2008’s ‘Sincerely Yours’, where the track ‘Miss Chicago’ became one of my songs of that year. These tracks are hugely soulful in style, which is interesting, as the man’s roots are sown in the Jazz genre. miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie have both witnessed Peven at work. I think Miles would especially appreciate this performer, as he ‘rocks the musical boat’ so to speak. As with the likes of Todd Rundgren, one moment you are lulled into thinking an album is going to deliver one style, only to have your cage rattles as another creation moves the whole shabang in another direction! to fullyb appreciate a Peven Everett release, you have to be prepared to wear several different listening hats, whilst immersing yourself in the man’s music. ‘King Of Hearts’ is my third ‘wow’ experience, where, not only one track hits the spot, but two do, initially. ‘I Just Want To Make You Happy’ is classic vocal jazz fusion in a seventies style. Danceable, optimistic, and very ‘Groovy Kind of Day’ by the Fatback Band. Remember that tune? ‘Taking Me Back’ is the second danceable winner. Frenetic with hints of the Archie Bell tune ‘Tighten Up’ going on in there someplace. Peven excels on the sparse arrangements, which for many artists, simply do not work, however, with Peven’s ‘Leroy Burgess-esque’ (and slightly more versatile) vocal stylings, everything comes up smelling of the finest summer roses. The album is a danceable affair, and probably, Peven’s most accessible release to date. ‘I Just Want To Make You Happy’ will be in my year end top ten tunes of 2013. Message to Peven? Keep on doin’ what your doin’!
Chris Jasper’s album I am a little late with in reviewing. Thankfully, the man sent this fine new album to me, personally, so I thank him for taking the time to do so. As you all know, Chris was a huge songwriting contributor and partner in Soul with the Isley Brothers ensemble. When you hear a tune, penned by Chris, you can hear how much influence this man had in the Isley’s curriculum vitae. I mentioned the term ‘songsmith’ in the previous review, and I will use the term again with Chris in mind. He is certainly an expert writer all told. Chris is classically trained and is very much at home writing either hefty protest funk sides, or the tenderest of Soul ballads. This latest album showcases both sides of the Chris Jasper writing skill set. ‘Keep Believin’ and ‘Let My People Go’ beautifully illustrate his social awareness, and his aspiration for a better society and a better world. ‘Inspired: By Love, By Life, By the Spirit’. When the mood changes, the midtempo and downtempo tracks illustrate his ability to write, simply a great song. Check ‘Any Day’, ‘Faith’, ‘In My Dream’ or ’Someone’, all of which could have been written and recorded anytime during the last 20 years. Chris’s music has a timeless quality, and the world is a better place for that fact. Amazes me that this album takes Chris into double figure for solo releases. No bad albums in any of those CD’s either. He is one of the few artists who could contain a kite mark of quality for every album release. A quick thank you to Chris’s wife, Margie, who is the main point of contact , and is always charming whenever we are talking about Chris’s latest releases.
I was very surprised when Glenn Lewis’s new album arrived here, in as much as, the only previous release I can remember by the man was 2002’s album ‘World Outside My Window’, which is over a decade old these days! I remember at the time, Glenn was the darling of American television, with the parallels being drawn between Glenn and Stevie Wonder. I really liked that album by this Toronto born vocalist. Glenn’s real name is Glen Ricketts. He had, apparently, another album release due a year after his debut, but that set was shelves, was called ‘Back For More’, and never saw the light of day. What a shame. Whoever was responsible for the man’s career, must have had a ‘heads gone’ moment, as Glenn certainly has the potential to become a great artist, however, as with Cody Chesnutt, for a decade or two the proverbial water has been passing under the Soul bridge of time. During the albumless period, Glenn released a few singles and was awarded a Grammy nomination for his contribution to Stanley Clarke's ‘Where Is the Love’, a duet also featuring the songstress Amel Larrieux. So what of ‘Moment Of Truth’? Well, it is as if the man has never been away. His voice, writing and key changes, do have similarities with Stevie, which really helps the proceedings move along very nicely. I really like Glenn Lewis as an artist. The tracks that really jumped out of this fine 14 track release are ‘Random Thoughts’, ‘Up and Down’ and, (the killer track for me) ‘Better With Time’, which is a lovely ballad, which could have been lifted from any of the albums from Stevie’s ‘golden 5 album period’ in the early Seventies. I do hope this vehicle has enough gas to keep the Glenn Lewis show on the road. He is hugely talented, and I if I have to watch one more ‘Britain and America’s X Factor of Talent Karaoke, (but can any of these guys actually write a song themselves....) 2013’ starring Simon Foul and Paula Madbull, I will have to go visit the shrink! Don’t lie, you know what I am talking about, don’t you....
Two albums which are both retrospective’s of music, new to the scene some 50 or so years ago. Having recently been involved in assembling a compilation set of albums myself, one of the hardest aspects of this task is, how to cherry pick the right music, which so many folks out there are so familiar with. Sure, these are well known songs for the most part, but the compiler is left with the questions, such as ‘Should I just put out the material which is, all told, a very obvious choice, or should I try to dig a little deeper, running the risk of perhaps choosing something of a lesser melody, but more desirable to the prospective purchaser?’ When all is said and done, you cannot ignore the obvious, as, first time round, it was one of the several building blocks that form the foundations of these artists careers. Both of these sets are terrific examples of certain sections of the Sixties Soul genre. ‘Northern Soul’, in my eyes/ears is another term for Sixties Soul. Sure, the leanings are towards the bass driven Motown beats of that era, however, when a track such as Gene Chandler’s take on ‘Nothing Can Stop Me’ is sheltered under the ‘Northern’ umbrella, the verdict has already been reached, that the song is a Soul song, pure and simple. This new double CD (with a DVD included to make a three disc set) is impressive, in as much as the release does not go for the more obvious tracks, which are included in umpteen other Northern releases, but concentrates on many tunes, I personally, have never heard of. Many are classic ‘Northern’ tunes. These include ‘Out On The Floor’ by the late Dobie Gray, ‘I Spy (For The F.B.I.) by Jamo Thomas, ‘Getting Mighty Crowded’ by Betty Everett and the much sampled ‘’I’d Think It Over Twice’ by Sam Fletcher. The two CD’s , amounting to 40 Sixties Soul sides, are fine examples of the best in Soul Music from that era. For myself, Soul Music is all about raw emotion. I love the way that this music can paint a picture in your mind of an era, an old flame perhaps, which combines to create an emotional tapestry of the past. When certain sides do just that (and it varies from person to person), you begin a love affair with a song, which stays with you from that moment onwards. On this album, two such songs came along one after the other, which were buses both going ‘my way’. ‘I’m A Fool, I Must Love You’ by the Falcons, and the glorious ‘That Other Place’ by Wade Flemons, both of which have an Impressions style vibe, and defy any category or bar code, other that they were both written and aimed in my personal direction. If these particular buses are going your way as well, jump on and take a ride! Truly beautiful, beautiful music...
....and talking of the Impressions.....well, another new double set of musical CD’s now see the light of day, and thanks to http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/’s Bill Buckley for sending me this lovely new release. Bill penned the liner notes for this new retrospective release, which, as I mentioned previously, must have been a hard set for the man to compile. Many retrospectives have been issued on Curtis and the Impressions over the years. It is a tricky tightrope to negotiate, getting the mix to just the right temperature, that it satisfies those who want the familiar, with those who wish for something filed away deeper in the Impressions vaults. Seems to me the mix came out just about right. Several of the more familiar sides are released in their original single format’s, whilst, a few gems are inlaid into an almost perfect back catalogue of five star songs, which, if the trades descriptions would allow, I would embellish with the sporting ‘110%’ that is allocated to those who have traveled that extra mile to create that moment of genius. Indeed, in allocating the star system iTunes allow the listener to credit to a particular choice from an album track, well, all but two of the songs on offer here were all 5 star rated in this house! The four star remaining songs, would be 5 star tracks on any other artists album, but we are talking Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden here! The music of the Impressions has no sell by date. It is always fresh, right from the album to your stereo, and is sure not to gather dust on any of your shelves at home. If you have kids, you need to play them these guys music. In fact, it ought to be written into any constitution, that the Impressions are part of any national curriculum. Bill is lucky guy in being given permission to handle these Stateside national treasures. Curtis Mayfield can lift your soul up to the heavens, and then impart a heartfelt empathy with the listener during emotional hard times. In the meantime he can be found sorting out the American Constitution! Check ‘Just One Kiss From You’ and then ’Never Could You Be’, after which I will finalise my arguments and rest my case M’Lud. Part of the foundational bedrock in the history of Soul Music. ‘Essential’ just doesn’t cut it as a description. You plain and simply need this music. Thanks for sending me this set, Bill.
Louie Vega and Elements of Life's album ‘Eclipse’ is probably the best received album of 2013 so far. On this new set, Louie merges many genre’s, covering some tracks in parts, however, showing a true appreciation of the sounds that have taken us to this point musically. The Robert Glasper album from last year, tested a few boundaries, being received famously in some quarters, and a cooler response in others. Louie has been picked up by the legendary Fania imprint, and responding favourably to the signing by releasing this excellent set, very much in the vibe of the Nuyorican Soul album from several years ago. There are multi influences showcased within the walls of this album, including African and Brazilian rhythms, Jazz, Soul, R&B, Gospel, and mainstream. ‘Eclipse’ if nothing else, is certainly an epic release, highlighted by the 17 tracks, covering 78 minutes on offer. Highlights include the ‘Balance in All Things’ and ‘Canto Para Ochosi’, which harken back to an era covering the fusion vibes around 1980 - 82. The performer, Josh Milan, penned nearly half of the tracks on this album, with the man vocalising on several songs, including ‘Children of the World’. There is a great reading of the Webster Lewis evergreen ‘Barbara Ann’, and the Fela Kuti song ‘Overtake Don Overtake Overtake’. Other covers include ’Sodade’ (originally by Armando Zeferino Soares), the Larry Mizell penned Bobbi Humphrey classic ‘Harlem River Drive’ and the Roy Ayers' tune ‘You Came into My Life’. This set will be many pundits album of 2013. Who am I to argue? Great music is simply great music.
Les Dion is a new name to myself, although the man has been on the scene for a few decades right now! He was 12 when Sylvia Robinson signed him to her Sugarhill imprint. He toured with New Edition, Earth, Wind and Fire, and yet his own solo career has been a long time coming. Les served in the military, and then settled down, however, domestic tragedies saw his wife struggling with leukaemia for nearly 10 years, and the loss of two of his children meant artistic endeavours had to go on hold. Les recorded Gospel material for the JJireh imprint, however, it wasn’t until the development of technology, which allowed him to take control of his musical direction, that we now see the fruits of his songwriting efforts. He describes this new album as an ‘album of a lifetime’, but perhaps it might have been labelled ‘an album that has taken a lifetime’, and thank heavens the man has finally delivered a very fine set of songs indeed. All told, Les is a singer, songwriter, musician, producer, and music executive, all rolled into one! ‘Back 2 Smooth’ is a very fine album throughout. You can hear the influences of the Old School etched into this new set of songs here. Three tracks immediately lept out of the grooves here, namely, the catchy ‘Godstrong’, the melodic ‘Callin’ and my pick of this fine bunch ‘Gotta Believe’. ‘Back 2 Smooth’ is not over produced, but simply allows the melodies to come to the centre stage, and that is fine by this old scribe. Thoroughly enjoyable debut. ‘Been a long time comin’ as the songs states.
Los Angeles based Dexter Story is obviously a big fan of Earth, Wind and Fire! His new release ‘Seasons’, is full of that particular sound, with a leaning, perhaps, to the fusion side of that classic group.
All of these songs were written by Dexter and co-produced by Carlos Nino, with L.A. based guests including Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Dwight Trible, i_Ced and Gaby Hernandez. Dexter’s own blurb states that ‘Seasons’ is influenced by the likes of Bill Withers, Steely Dan, Donovan, and Earth Wind and Fire. This album began it’s development as far back as 2010, penning some 300 melodies, of which 14 have made it to this new release. The opening track is pure EWF, and goes under the title of ‘Underway (Love Is)’. Within this track, you can hear the influences of ’Sun Goddess’. A nice touch is a complimentary version of the song as an album finale, this time featuring the vocals of Jimetta Rose. ‘Underway’ is certainly one of the best songs around in 2013. Terrific stuff. I highlighted 8 other tracks from this fine album, which I would recommend you track down. 'Water Bearer' is lovely, as is 'Underneath It All' (a very strong melody here). 'As Is' is more of the great EWF vibe, with a very Maurice White sounding lead vocal. As with the Louie Vega album, Dexter is experimenting with all sorts of genre’s here, and they all seem to come off. Reminded me of the old saying which goes 'if you want to make a great omlette, you have to break a few eggs'. One of the most interesting releases of 2013 thus far.
I was going to commence this review with the line, ‘this album represents something of a renaissance for Jean ‘Bluey’ Maunick a.k.a. Bluey, however, after some consideration, this fine singer/songwriter has never released an album as solo artist, until now! In fact, over the previous 15 or so albums, Bluey and his Incognito ensemble, have become something of a full time employer of some of the U.K.’s finest vocalists, along with being a hugely committed employer of that fine singer Maysa. So after 4 decades of being the driving force, Bluey has taken up the central part of the stage, releasing his debut solo album ‘Leap Of Faith’. Although the title of the set, you might have presumed, may be a self descriptive narrative, the actual song speaks of the trials and tribulations, along the road to freedom taken by Nelson Mandela a couple of decades ago. During those dark days of apartheid, it would be easy to assume that South Africa spoke as a whole, however, it was at the hands of the bigoted minority that the great man suffered. As an aside, do rent the film ‘Search for the Sugar Man’, which showcases the writings of an almost unknown artist called Rodriguez, along with the oppression of those who used the inspiration from that man’s lyrics to rebel against the fascist state which prevailed during those awful days. A great film, complemented by Bluey’s brilliant narrative in this particular perspective. A great life lesson to be learned there for the younger folks getting to grips with the crazy world we live in. So what of this debut album from the ‘Man from Incognito’? Well, a firm favourite in this house, is the single which arrived before the full album (thank you Santosh!). ‘Got To Let My Feelings Show’ has a summery vibe, a dancer of the highest quality, and hugely song-led. This track has echoes of the likes of those early eighties dancers, songs such as ‘Step In The Light’ by Sunfire, and ‘Can You Feel My Love’ by Khemistry, both of which spring to mind. Of it’s kind, this song is pretty well flawless. The albums opener has Bluey playing a ‘rolling’ bass line on the song ‘Stronger’. By ‘rolling’, if you imagine Jakarta’s ‘Golden Girl’, you will be somewhere in the ball park. ‘If You Really Wanna’ had me hitting the five stars buttons in my iTunes ratings here. It is almost a mystery to me that the man hasn’t recorded more of the vocal tracks on his releases with Incognito. He comes across as being very capable and listenable on every track on show here. I loved the songs ‘Live Like A Millionaire’ (Bluey with his Charles Wright hat on!) and ‘Sky’, which is absolutely terrific. Bluey wrote and contributed to the other ‘best album of 2013’ (so far) in the form of Mario Biondi’s ‘Sun’. There is a lesson to be learned by any budding songwriter embedded within Bluey’s material. ‘Set a song to write a song’. By that, I mean that a songwriter should listen to the music that personally moves them. Utilise those influences, not to plagiarise, but to embellish the inspiration which emanates from within. In Blueys material, I can hear the music that influences him, as it is very near to the music that influences myself. The differences are that Bluey has far more skill and creativity than I will ever possess, and for that I am delighted to leave the articulation to this very talented man. Not meant to be patronising. Just stating a fact, that’s all. A fine album, and one of Dome’s finest releases.
Brian McKnight’s releases seem to improve as the years pass by. At the outset, Brian, if anything, played ‘too safe’ within the new ‘R&B’ market. His songs were very formulated, leading the listener to know exactly what was about to arrive within each song. Brian has now given himself carte blanche to let those creative influences flow. These days I can hear many influences going on. Echoes of another Soul era, which makes the whole listening experience that much more enjoyable. The two album openers here showcase two aspects of the modern Soul dancer. The ‘walking’ opener ‘Don’t Stop’ has a ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ (the Jacksons tune) vibe running through the song. ‘Let Somebody Love U’, isn’t the Keni Burke evergreen, but an almost Michael McDonald-esque dancer. Lovely slice of uptempo Soul. ‘More Than Words’ title track could, almost be, an Anthony David original. If you know Anthony’s music, you will know where I am coming from. Very nicely delivered melody, which is followed by the very Stevie ‘Nothing But A Thang’, a track which represents something of a trend growing in Brian’s writings. Lot of key changes going on within this song. Moving up a gear, ‘I Didn’t Really Mean To Turn U Out’ is hugely appealing. This is another song that could have been penned by the ‘Wonder man’. Cherry picking on the album is, I am very pleased to say, is not an easy job, although, when I first heard ‘Get U To Say’, I had a feeling that our Brian had had the latest Donald Fagen album on the stereo just before putting pen to paper! Best song on the album, in my humble opinion! This is my pick from this very good album from the younger brother of Claude McKnight III from Take 6. You certainly can hear the family resemblance in the grooves of this album. Brian wrote, or co-wrote, everything on show here. I’m impressed! Out on eOne Records. Recommended.
Phil Perry is very much from the same musical template as the previously reviewed Will Downing. Whenever a new album is about to be released by either one of these guys, you know that the albums are going to be, at least, of a very high standard. Will concentrates, by and largely, on his own material, whilst Phil mixes the old with the new. This ex-Montclairs singer, takes any older material he may be reworking, and does just that. The tracks are true to the originals, in maintaining the melody, however, Phil shifts the rhythms up and down gears, mellowing the songs, but leaving the ‘singalong’ aspect revered within the originals. Of the older tracks, I think this new take on ‘You Send Me’ is probably the best version since Roy Ayers sensualised the tune many moons ago. I really like this take, on a song, I must confess, I thought I had heard as much as I needed to at this point. Silk purse out of a seasoned soul song! Nice to hear the very fine Chante Moore, doing her thing on the reworking of ‘Where Is The Love’. Phil’s incisive vocals contrast with the very sweet tones Chante delivers. Perhaps not a massive ‘re-work’, but how do you improve on what was always perfection. In amongst the older tracks are some newer songs, mainly co-penned by Mr Phillip Eugene Perry. ‘Tonight Just Me And You’ is a fine example of how strong the melody writing showcased here actually is. Impressive that a song can stand alongside ‘You Send Me’ and ‘Where Is The Love?’ and still stand it's ground. This albums title track is another song co-penned with his long time associate Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis, which is a pretty decent ballad, however, a step up in standard arrives in the, oh so moody, ‘Just A Little Bit’. Cracking track. Two other originals are ‘Peel The Veil’ and ‘Can’t Hide Love’, the latter had me looking at the liners in case the song was the Earth, Wind and Fire chestnut. It isn’t, but is a fine mid tempo stepper of a track. Another winner indeed. The cover tracks I have not mentioned, are all pretty decent takes on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (Simon and Garfunkel), ‘The Long and Winding Road’ (Beatles) and ‘You Belong To Me’ (Michael McDonald). All of these aren’t half bad, although ‘You Send Me’ gets my vote in the ‘covers class’. Of the originals, probably ‘Tonight Just Me And You’ wins by a neck! Very welcome new album, from a singer who simply never ages vocally!
Mop Mop are, essentially, one man. Andrea Benini from Italy. I am not sure of the reasons why, however, at this point in time, the newest and most creative musical ideas are coming out of Italy. Papik, Mario Biondi, and Mop Mop are all fine examples of these guys who seem to possess all of the most innovative rhythms and musical textures generated in 2013. Mop Mop delivered the excellent ‘Perfect Day’ a couple of years ago. Became one of my favourite dancers from back then, a track showing a writer how you can take an idea (an Old Bobby Cole original from the Sixties), rework the track and bring it bang up to date. Terrific thought processes going on there, and now we are treated to a new album entitled ‘Isle Of Magic’, which sees the light of day on the Agogo imprint in 2013. This time around Andrea is utilising the vocal gymnastics of Anthony Joseph, with a resulting tribal groove running throughout this great album. If you liked last years Kojato album, then you will begin to get an idea as to whereabouts this vibe is situated. The album here suffers slightly, in as much as, one track is hugely distracting. The track in question is the dancer ‘Run Around’. This is the best dance track I have heard in many months. Infectious from start to finish, with a groove to die for. Anthony politically preaches throughout the track, and a certain Fred Wesley weighs in on horns. My goodness me, politics, rhythm, energy, and above all essential for the discerning dancefloor. Terry Callier would have really worked this track and been praised to the rafters. In the absence of Brother Terry, well he would be proud of Anthony and Andrea. Picked up the baton from wherever Terry last laid it down. A great dancer for 2013 and hugely distracting from the rest of the set, which is of a very high standard. ‘Run Around’ has set the dancefloor bar at a world breaking level!
Will Downing's new album has been a while in arriving. There are some tracks around which are not on the album version available at CD Baby right now, so a deluxe version in the pipeline perhaps? The fact that the new album is on Will's own imprint right now, highlights how artists, such as he, and Frank McComb, are taking their career affairs under their own control, and not placing them in the hands of, say a large computer institution, with a passion for a certain fruit! This new album, no matter who is in charge of the promotion, is classic Will Downing. It comes as no surprise to me that Will's vocal efforts were highly admired by the late Princess Diana. Will could charm a smile out of the least emotional person out there. There is a warmth, which belies a hidden strength in the man's singing, which can easily manouvere itself up and down the beats per minute pretty effortlessly. I am sure you are aware of Will's struggles with health issues over the last decade. Thankfully, even at it's lowest point, Will has always come up with the goods, and in 2013, 'Silver' is certainly no exception. 'Stuff That I Like' will undoubtedly make a bid to be a single at some stage. Almost a steppers delight. The album I would not describe as 'full of bang on house music dancers', but simply the man sticking at what he is very good at. Imparting a melody, with that unique slant, that he makes the whole environment a very personal exchange between the listener and the performer. Hugely song led throughout the 12 songs on show. My 'cherry picking' bears some ripe fruit in the melodies 'You Were Meant Just For Me', 'Never Find Another Love' and one of my favourite Miracles songs 'Ooh Baby, Baby'. Classic Soul from a performer who would not have been out of place within that particular era. The recently passed Bobby Rogers would approve wholeheartedly, I am sure. Typical Will Downing set, and by that I mean, if you like any of the man's previous albums, you'll love this album. In the absence of singers, such as Luther Vandross, we need these guys on the scene. Highly Recommended.
Several thousand miles away, and a very long row in a canoe!, (in Czechoslovakia to be precise), resides a certain Erika Fecova. An artist least likely? Well, not a bit of it! Europe is often a haven for many Soul singers who are ignored in the States. Ask any of the Four Tops if they want to tour in Europe, they would accept the gig without payment! These guys love coming to this corner of the World. Musical respect is something a man in a suit cannot buy. Across Europe, sometimes in the least likely of places, you find artist with some real Soul sensibilities, and this is the case with Erica Fecova. The listener only needs to listen to the track 'Party Girls' and it is apparent that Erika's CD collection is not full of old Abba albums! This album is on a Czech label called Subpub Records. Subpub have a Last FM web page, however their own page is under construction at the moment. If this album is anything to go by, this country and this label will be worth watching. The picks for this old scribe here are, the bright and breezy 'Someone Like You', 'Always For You', the very 'Expansion Records-y' 'Leave Me Alone' (great change in tempo on this track) and 'I Still Love you' (which shows a great maturity in writing and delivery). The closest comparison I can make to other releases, perhaps might point towards those nineties Janita albums, which eminated out of Finland over that period. If Gerry Devaux had involvement in this set, it would not surprise me. He doesn't, however, that will give you an idea of the overall vibe contained within this great little release. Czechoslovakia got Soul! Nice album.
Swing Out Sister I first heard via a 1986 compilation entitled ‘Beat Runs Wild’. The album featured many artists, from that era, some of whom have long since faded from the artistic horizon, however, the track ‘Another Lost Weekend’ raised a few eyebrows at the time, was cherry picked by the Soul stations, and set the ball rolling for a fine career which followed over the coming years. This latest album by Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell sees the duo returning to some of their previous recordings, re-working the songs and bringing them right up to date. The ‘Private View’ title hints at the journey the album has taken in order to arrive in it’s current CD format. Some tracks were, originally, available from the groups Facebook page as downloads, with the tunes aimed mainly at the diehard fan audiences out there. The response was far more impressive than the duo had anticipated, thus the final release in the U.K. last year, and the international release transpiring at the moment. This is a late review on my part, as the album has already been played extensively on the better U.K. soul stations, however, I am keen to include this set on these pages (albeit late on my part!), as this album is one of the better releases by the group in recent years. Personally, I have liked, pretty well, everything the group has recorded, which is due to the empathy that I have with the influences both Corinne and Andy look to when constructing their pieces of musical art. Northern soul/Jim Webb etc. So what of the music here? Well, co-incidentally, the recent passing of Donald Byrd is reflected in part of the re-worked version of ‘Am I The Same Girl?’, which segue’s beautifully into the late Professor’s ‘Places And Spaces’. Two classic pieces of Soul Music. Many of the tunes on this fine 10 track CD, are introduced into a mellower vibe, which really suits Corinne’s maturing vocal stylings. ‘Incomplete Without You’ is a fine example. ‘La La Means I love You’ is a Delfonics classic, which you will all know. I have loved this song since it’s initial release, and the subsequent takes by several artists, (even by soft rocker Todd Rundgren!) Corinne and Andy cleverly rework this classic, cleverly moving the melody in and out of Marvin Gaye territory, and back again. Great version. Probably, my favourite song on show here, is ‘Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool’. A lovely melody. For any female singer starting out on their career, (perhaps attending Uni), ought to be played a copy of any Swing Out Sister album. Well penned melodies, competently delivered, proving a song doesn’t have to be predictable, but song led and not ‘belted’. An education! Great album, which should grace every home in 2013.
Debra Marie is a new name to me. She hails from Illinois (Rockford to be precise), and has a delivery, which CD Baby describe as similar to Phyllis Hyman and Nancy Wilson. Those parallels might be questioned, in as much as I haven’t heard a vocalist like Debra before! Musically, those who remember the great Khani Cole albums from the Nineties, will probably find some musical similarities in the grooves of this very nice set of songs. Debra’s journey to recording this album, has been along a very rocky road. She has suffered from domestic violence, and fought several rounds against breast cancer. She left Rockford in ’79, relocating to Texas, worked as a cosmetics sales director, before making inroads into the music business. This album is released on her own label, and features 8 new songs, some of which touch on several aspects of her personal life experience. Sounds a little heavy? Well, I personally found the whole listening experience a very uplifting one. A’ Stanza’ is an Italian word for ‘standing place’. A certain point in someone’s life experience. My personal choice here is the reflective ‘Live’, which is a tune moulded in a very Khani Cole/Anita Baker vibe. ‘Family’ will probably be the track which the stations will pick up on, and I do hope they do so. Great to hear real instruments, played by competent musicians, being hugely melodic and charming. ‘Lovers Holiday’ is not the Earth, Wind and Fire song, but a latin tinged toe tapper. Great tune. Other winners on this set come in the form of ‘Unconditional Love’ and ‘Home’. This is a very listenable album, which will grace many of the better Soul radio stations out there. Interesting new(ish) artist, who I hope will release further material of this quality in the coming years. Recommended.
Been around 7 years since Mario Biondi surfaced via the group Wasabee, the combination of which gave us 'This Is What You Are'. The song has been so successful for Mario, that it, in many ways, may have become something of a poisoned chalice for the man. By that, I mean that his albums, although well received by deejays and purists, the interminal question always arises at any gig I work at, namely the constant requests for the debut single. Remix after remix has been created, as if the mixers have been charged with getting the man a deserved pop hit for a song which would have been number one for several weeks in any other era other than this one! This latest album is terrific. It is too good, almost, for it's own musical boots. At the end of this year, it will be lauded as 'my album of the year' by many soul fans and deejays (even if they still want to hear 'what you are' to dance to for the umpteenth time!). What I really like about this set, is Mario has steered the musical vehicular vibe in a more soulful direction, away from the 'file under jazz' format that his earlier albums were unfairly defined by. This set boast some lovely collaborations with the likes of Al Jarreau and Leon Ware.Those tracks are not the best songs on offer here....they are on a par with an enormous kite mark of quality achieved by every track on offer here. No bad tracks, just great music. If you liked the Papik album from last year, well imagine that set, but with Mario taking the helm vocally. Buy this set blind, as any reviewer could almost offer a money back guarantee with the goods on offer here. This will be many punters album of this year, come next Christmas, and who would I be to argue at that point? Terrific stuff, from a great performer (who is no one track wonder, mark my words!)....
...taking of assigning folks as one track wonders, well, straight to the top of the chart at the site at the moment goes Charlie Wilson's song 'I Still Have You', taken from this new RCA Records album entitled 'Love Charlie'. 'Love Charlie', well most soul fans will do after hearing this great tune, by an artist, I must admit, isn't the most likely suspect in this house. The Godfather of the New R&B, has a sound which can sound a little samey to these old ears. I am in a soul minority, however, as I know Charlie can do no wrong in many circles. What I love about his track, is Charlie is 'treading boldly', to quote those Trekkies out there! This is simply a great tune, which stays in the grey matter long after the track has finished doing it's stuff. I am full of admiration for the man. Worth the price of the digital format alone here, although, the overall album sees Charlie in a much more soulful mode, putting aside the templates of the past, which are audibly highlighted by the aforementioned song, 'Our Anniversary' and 'Ooh Wee'. In many ways, this album reminded me of the journey Tony Toni Tone took during the Eighties and Nineties, from R&B to Soul. Very pleasant surprise, all told, with 'I Still Have You' doing a bit of Cody Chesnutt for 2013 on my stereo. Essential song! Certainly already in my year end top ten winners.
On the 28th of January, three years ago, I set off from my home town to travel up into Central London, where I met up with Charles Waring (of Mojo magazine, and www.soulandjazzandfunk.com), prior to journeying to a hotel near St. Pauls, where we were due to meet up with Teena Marie. Teena was here, preparing to perform at the O2 in London. Meeting her was a real delight. She was very conversational, considered carefully her responses to questions, (mainly put to her by Charles), and came across as having a great sense of humour. By Boxing Day that year, she had passed away. A huge shock to many, who were surprised that someone of such a relatively young disposition, had left us so soon. The show I attended following her interview was terrific. Her voice was in superb shape and Teena was so full of energy. On stage with her, she was supported by her daughter, Rose Lebeau, amongst others. Little did Rose know that it would later become her responsibility to complete the final section of the Teena Marie album curriculum vitae. A baton which she would have hoped would never be passed on to her.
With many posthumous album releases comes the apprehension that the high standards set by previous releases may be somewhat diminished by, what may have become, something of an afterthought. Such is the legacy of this fine singer, that, one of the questions I asked Teena when we met, was 'what is currently on your iPod?' Teena told me that she completely trusted her daughter's taste in music, allowing her to fill up her iPod on her behalf, knowing that whatever was loaded into the machine, would be something of real merit.
In a nonsensical way, I have been dreading reviewing this album. Heaven knows why. It was sent here before Christmas, and I have had time to listen, and grow to love the set all the way through. I would say that, it is head and shoulders above anything that is around right now, so here goes, for the last review of the final full album of material from this great songstress.
'Luv Letter' came though here before the full album, as an early pre-release track. Classic Teena in many ways. She sounds so young on this track. You will know what I mean when you hear the song. Infectious melody, set off by a subtle dance groove. 'Sweet Tooth' has a 'Whatcha See Is What You Get' vibe running throughout proceedings. 'Rare Breed' has a nice steppin groove, followed by the mid tempo 'Love Starved', which could have been lifted from any of her Eighties albums. The 'meat in the musical sandwich', for this listener, comprise he three central tracks on the album, namely 'Maria Bonita', 'Beautful' and 'The Long Play'. This album's title track is my favourite melody from this album. Very Quincy Jones in mood, in one of his 'Secret Garden' moments. This tune, and 'The Long Play', both fit into this description very nicely. Teena doing what she did at her finest. Very moving songs. One track of note, is Teena's fine cover of Curtis Mayfield's evergreen 'Give Me Your Love'. Not a like for like cover version, but a re-interpretation of a Soul gem. All told, anyone with only a passing interest in Teena Marie, will find something of merit on this album release. Teena's real fans will buy the album blind. She will potentailly win over some of the newer fans on the block as well, as cream always rises, as they say.
My guess is that 'Beautiful' was an album that was 90 percent completed at the time of Teena's passing, however, take nothing away from Rose's efforts in completing this fine album. Feather in that daughter's cap, if ever there was one. Eerie and lovely hearing something new from Teena doing what she did best throughout her life. If longevity is achieved by the things we leave behind, Teena will live long after many of us have moved on to a another place. Terrific album release. One of her finest albums. Props to Rose Lebeau. (Rose Lebeau being her stage name, by the way)
...and the other essential 'must buy' album, from the beginning weeks of 2013, is the annual Expansion Records release 'Luxury Soul 2013', which represents the music relating to the labels events (and radio shows), running throught the relevant year. 'Luxury' certainly is the right description for the product itself, which comprises of three CD's, all packaged in a beautifully designed graphic CD sleeve. The contents of the annual CD release comprise of many of the label's evergreen list of artists and their previous album releases, each track carefully cherry picked for the listener. Sandwiched between these great melodies, are some new, upcoming sampler tracks from what is yet to come for the label. Disc one deals with the newer material released, or due, on Expansion. The opening track represents one of these fine melodies, namely the lovely 'What Am I Gonna Do For Your love' by ReGrooved featuring Kerrie Manuel. Early contender for the annual year end top twenty at this site, as is a new song from the great Valentine Brothers, entitled 'Taste Of Your Love'. This triple CD set is worth the entrance fee alone for these songs in their own right. Two rear corkers! Sheree Brown is a good friend to this website. She was in touch shortly after the site went online some 13 years ago. Expansion is her U.K. home these days, a label who have immaculate taste concerning this great genre. Sheree has a new album due, for the label, and 'Time For the Party' is a taster from that new set, which, judging by this dancer, is something to really look forward to in 2013. I really liked the Personal Life, 'Morning Light', track on the first CD. Very 1983 in sound. Midtempo from that era in style. Lovely song. CD 2 continues in a current vibe, with 'Far Away' by the group Real jumping out of the grooves into these old ears. Nice summery shuffler. I was pleased to see the track 'Less Than A Minute' by Victor Haynes included here. One of my favourite songs from his recent album release. A very Drizabone vibe running throughout that track. The other songs well worth a mention include the Soul Talk, Khari Cabral Simmons and Kindred and the Family Soul tunes. The final CD in this great batch, comprises of some older, and some songs missed in earlier Expansion releases. These include great songs by the hugely underrated Keni Burke, Bobby Thurston, D-Train, Jean Carne, Howard Hewett, Maysa, Lew Kirton and Adrianna Evans. I particularly liked the Dave Appell & Friends song 'On The Rebound' and the Holloway & John Whitehead 1999 track 'When I Think Of You', which missed me first time round. In many ways, that is the story of this side of proceedings. Songs you may have missed, but now have to add to (and enhance) your Soul archive. This set of songs, along with Teena marie's album, represent the best material around towards January's end 2013 here in the U.K. A very welcome release indeed.
Rhonda Dorsey hails from Philadelphia, whose University of Pennsylvania, she attended back in the day, achieving a B.A. in Psychology. As a performer, she has toured throughout Europe, prior to the release of this excellent debut album. All told, the European Soulful vibe emanates throughout the grooves of this fine 13 track release, which sees the light of day on her own label. The album was, actually, produced in Los Angeles by Bryant Siono (Chaka Khan, Jennifer Lopez, Kelly Rowland, and Israel Houghton). When the album arrived here, I loaded it into the i-tunes on the computer, and as you guys know, there is a really irritating section of that programme, where you can give a track stars. Recently, due to the bulk of material sent, I have been using that system to remind myself which tunes I ought to be returning to to cherry pick here. The ratings are realistic, in as much as very seldomly I give a song 5 stars, however, a song is a fine melody if I post a four star rating for the tune. 11 of the tracks on offer here I posted as 4 star, which is most unusual thesedays. Three had a five star, after a few listenings, as the songs have a vibe which grows on this listener. 'The Sun', 'Living It' and the beautiful tune 'Giving' are really top drawer songs. The title track gave those three a good run for their money, whilst I heard echoes of the Reverend Al Green running through 'It's All Good Day'. There is something very haunting going on in the inventively titled 'Supernaturalcirclesoflove'. Great song. 'Far From You', the final song, is the type of tune that Anita Baker would be completely at home with. Very strong album indeed. Bodes very well in the future for this fine Philly based songstress. I'm off to take 'Giving' for another spin....
...for the second release, onstage we welcome LaNette Hester who hails from Missourri. She is the wife of Randall Hester, an Elder at the Tabernacle of David Worship Center, Lansing in Missourri. LaNette is a minister herself at the same place of worship. 'Favor' isn't her first release. She released 'I’m Comin’ Out' in 2007, (a live performance). The second album release, 'My Destiny' saw the light of day in 2009. LaNette has performed with many of the contemporary Gospel singers today, including Marvin Sapp, Donnie McClurkin, Vickie Winans, Micah Stampley, Earnest Pugh and Dorinda Clark-Cole. 'Favor' is one of the best Gospel releases I have heard this year. As with many gospel singers around, LaNette has no problem with any scale or musical note placed in front of her! As with the ex Side Effect singer Helen Baylor, LaNette allows the power of her vocals to articulate the message. After all, if a song has a message, the message ought to be understandable, and she does a fine job here as the Lord's messenger. The opener 'Duty Driven' is a real delight. Toe-tapping Gospel of a very high standard. I know I mentioned the excellent Anita Baker in Rhonda's review, and I will bring to the table another melody here, namely the title song, which would be very well suited to Anita's stylings. There are some lovely key changes in this terrific ballad. Not many ballads of this standard being recorded thesedays. Thank the heavens for the likes of LaNette. Beautiful song. 'Take Your Burdens to the Lord' is another great song recorded in a similar vein. Upping the tempo to mid, 'Pursue, Overtake and Recover All' is a lovely slice of midtempo magic. Another song with some lovely key changes running throughout. Additionally, the interesting 'Nay 2 the Naysayers' makes a respectful retrospective nod to Marvin's 'Inner City Blues'. Of particular interest to Soul Fans, is the track 'If God's People', which sees LaNette putting her political hat firmly on. Lyrically, not dissimilar to the Winans 'Let My People Go'. Very clever slice of message Gospel. Now politicians take note...literally! 'As I mentioned previously, this is a Gospel album as good as any I have heard this year, thus far. If you like Helen Baylor's style of Gospel music, you'll go for LaNette's as well. Great album.