listen out for 2016...
gwendolyn collins - storytelling side II moments4love / worthy davis - pieces of park hill
Coming towards the end of the year, as with many folks, we look back on the strangest of years, globally, but a consistent one, musically, and try to place in order our ‘best of the years’. Before I put up any tinsel, there are a couple of ‘waifs and strays’, that deserve special mention, so as not to get lost in the commercial dirge of the season!
Gwendolyn Collins is a newish singer to me (although I see many of my U.K. contemporaries have already been running with this Sista for a while now!), whose album has been on replay at this place for a few weeks now. ‘Storytelling Side II Moments4love’ is Gwendolyn’s follow up release to 2014’s, ‘Storytelling Side I, The Simple Things’, and is released on the Harmony Entertainment imprint. New Jersey born, Gwendolyn, has already visited the U.K. She began her musical career after a family move to Maryland. In 2013, Gwendolyn wrote, co-produced and released her debut single, ‘Share’, along with with keyboardist and producer, Ollie Wright. This new album is a very consistent release, a mix of many styles, the first of which I instantly took to, is the lead single ’Smile4me’ (a song dedicated to her father). A very ‘radio’ tune if ever there was one. ‘Different’ is a fine toe-tapper, another tune which could realise a future single status? Very interested to hear Gwendolyn’s take on the Vertical Hold evergreen ’Seems You’re Too Busy’ (which is simply entitled ’Too Busy’ here), which does offer up a comparison between Gwendolyn and Angie Stone vocally. Don’t think Gwendolyn would object to that comparison! Both women have a strong vocal delivery, which handles tenderness in a tune very professionally. Some nice keys on this take. ‘Can I Get To Know You’ deserves a mention in the ‘better to listen to this’ stakes. A very nice Modern Soul album, which I can recommend to any fan of the genre.
Worthy Davis is the second artist who deserves end of year mention, for this fine album ‘Pieces of Park Hill’. The album is released on the Soundbox Music Cologne, which indicates the current residence of this singer, and his fine album. Cologne is one beautiful part of Germany, which suffered greatly during the 2nd World War, however, the place has been rebuilt into a fine tourist destination, as I found out a few years ago. Worthy grew up in Denver, Colorado, sang in his local church choir, and taught himself piano. He sang at the China Club in Los Angeles where he shared the stage with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, David Paich and Steve Lukather from the band TOTO. Worthy eventually was given a recording contract with BMG/Ariola. Now in Germany he has made appearances on television and was official support act for Britney Spear’s ‘Oops, I did it again tour throughout the country. ‘Pieces of Park Hill’ is a fascinating listen, as there are so many old school references, embedded into the music. ’Saltwater’ sounds to these old ears like an old school rare groove. ‘Back 2 Us’, ‘Some Of This’, ‘Made Me Into’ and ‘She Can Make Me Dance’ are all fine Modern Soul gems. My ‘cherry pick of this particular bunch’ are the latin styled ‘Reflection’, and the quite superb ‘Cool’. Terrific album, played with real instruments, which should not be overlooked, as it is very, very good throughout.
october london - color blind: love / mayer hawthorne - party of one e.p.
Perhaps the least likely artist to appear on these pages, is Snoop Dogg. Don’t get me wrong, he is a genius in a world of music that doesn’t do a great deal for this old fool. Perhaps I have heard one expletive too many over the years! :)) Snoop however, is presenting this new album from a group called October London, who are, Jared Samuel Erskine, who hals from South Bend, Indiana. The singer may be in his early thirties, however, this brothers mindset is well and truly entrenched in the early 1970’s. Initially, the main influence is full on Marvin Gaye, however, as the album progresses, the likes of Donnie Hathaway, and Sam Cooke emerge in the music. Snoop Dogg, and a colleague signed Jared to their Cadillac Music imprint, and the collaboration has born this fine new set of traditional Soul melodies. ’Black Man in America’ was the debut release from this album, a single which is slightly misleading, as this is a full on ‘struggle’ track in a different style to the ballads that combine to make this one of today’s better releases on the market. There are 8 tracks on this album, of which ‘Bring Me Up’ and ‘Love In The Summer’ really hit the spot here. Hugely enjoyable album, from the stable of a rapper, who is indicating there is much more to the man than meets the ear!
Mayer Hawthorne (a man who describes himself as a ‘man seeking a woman’! Very bold) releases albums which I always listen to, as he comes up with a tune or two on every release. This E.P. is, probably, his finest release to date. Six tracks that comprise of vocal and instrumental versions of three. The nice aspect of this E.P. is it is not full of the vocoded effects that permeate many releases out there in 2016. These are simply three very strong Soulful tracks, kicking off with ’Someone Like You’ (a track that Keni Burke might have recorded, and would be very at home with artistically). ‘A New Love’ is a very retrospective Sixties style ballad, (in a very Delfonics vibe), whilst ’Time For Love’ is about as good a dancer as you would want to hear in 2016. Very JB’s, drifting into various dance styles over the bridge and verse. Really nice surprise from another ‘man least likely’!
r. kelly - 12 nights of christmas / j-wonn - the legacy begins / various - ethreal magic 2
It is one of the hardest challenges in Popular Music. The obligatory Christmas album. ‘The label has asked for one, I don’t want to do it, so I will take the ‘cheesey way out’!! Personally, I have always been fascinated by the genre, to the point that, if I see a festive R&B or Jazz album, I invariably I buy it. I get drawn to these albums, like the proverbial moth to the flame, which, I guess, is born out of a fascination as to how some of these guys will treat the mammoth task at hand. Not an easy one, as you are handicapped by several obstacles. Firstly, you know the album will have a limited longevity. A window of perhaps 3 weeks each year, every year, after which your creative efforts are mothballed, until same time next year. (by which time most punters will have completely forgotten about it anyhow!). Secondly, how can you write about something so important in the religious calendar, whilst juxtaposing the commercial aspects, which help sell the music to the stores. The definitive festive record, I guess, is the late Donny Hathaway’s evergreen ‘This Christmas’. That worked really well as it addresed both aspects, and was a great song to boot , but what of the other attempts at addressing this unaddressable subject! Well, R Kelly has further woes. His recent material has not been as consistent as the heights his ‘Love Letters’ album lifted him to...so this album...well might as well ignore it all told...and that is what many folks will do. Whoops! If the subject matter disturbs you, then you will never even click on the play button, which would be a huge mistake. This is the singers finest album in recent years, in my humble festive opinion. If the songs were about love and good times, this album would be many folks album of the year, and yet, even with the seasonable ball and chain tied to the artistic legs of this release, the quality is still right in there. Of it’s genre, it is up there with many classic Christmas albums by, say, the Whispers and the Salsoul Orchestra. Check the very Stevie ‘As’-esque ‘I’m Sending You My Love For Christmas’ and tell me the track isn’t worth 4 more stars than the one over that two thousand year old stable. I counted one slice of cheese, in what amounts to a classic bumper Christmas release. Be a real shame if folks ignored this album, as it plain and simply, very good.
If you looked at the cover of this release (from a new artist to me), called J-Wonn, you might expect some balaeric ball of noise, billowing out of every speaker, however, this young man has created a fine album, which might be better compared with the likes of Willie Clayton, than Willie Wonka! ‘The Legacy Begins’ is released on the cleverly titled ‘I Got This Record Publishing’ imprint. His real name is Jawonn Smith, who is aptly described as ‘a contemporary southern R&B artist with a youthful voice’. J-Wonn hails from Jackson, Mississippi, where sang in his local church choir. In 2013, he released the song ‘I Got This Record’, which charted locally. He released an album of the same name in 2014, for the Savior Music Group imprint. Further singles were released, and now we have this fine album, from which I really liked ‘I Need A Grown Woman’ (hints of the Staples Singers ‘Let’s Do It Again’ going on here), ’To My Grave’ and ‘Get Funky’. My personal favourite tracks on show here are the ’steppy’ ‘The Night Away’, along with the superb ballad ‘Left Me Now’. This relative newcomer is certainly an artist I will be looking out for in the coming years.
It has been just about a year since the first of Tony Monson’s ‘Ethreal Magic’ releases, and the second of this series landed on the door matt earlier this week. I caught up with Tony at Expansion Records 30th anniversary party, around a month ago. It is that imprint where this fine deejay has found a home for these two fine releases. To use the much dis-liked phrase ‘back in the day’, Tony actually began DJ-ing on ZBM Radio in Bermuda between 1963-1967. After that time, he worked on Pirate Radio and between 1971-76, he was the co-owner of Sound Unlimited in Brighton. Tony also had his own shop at Worlds End, London, called Disc Empire between 1978 and 1981. After then he became a regular deejay at Solar Radio. Been around for a long while, and what the blurb doesn’t tell you, is the man has a great ear for music. I listed regularly to his shows during the Eighties, where his Sweet Rhythm charts were always a pleasure to catch up with. So what of ‘Ethreal Magic 2’? Well, the opener ‘Under The Moon And Over The Sky’ by Angela Bofill, sets the standard, and throughout this fine 15 tracker, that standard never drops. ‘You Are My Starship’ by Norman Connors, I am sure you all now. Brilliant from the day it was originally released, however, what fascinates myself are the tracks I don’t know that well, and I came away from the album wanting to revisit many of these. The Novecento, Sunny Hawkins, Joey Negro, Mouth Music, and Miri Ben and Keri Chandler tracks all had the same effect. Where’s the repeat button? Additionally, I felt a little ashamed that I don’t spend enough time checking out peoples radio shows. Something I need to address. Thankfully, with these and the other fine songs on offer here, I am being given a second chance. Slapped wrists here, and in your house too, if you miss out on this fine release. I hope Tony gets signed up for another, third, series (pick up the first one, if you missed it. It was reviewed here last year, and that was a pretty tasty offering too)!
lindsey webster - back to your heart / lori williams - behind the smiles / various - let it be - black america sings lennon, mccartney and harrison
Lindsey Webster’s new album arrived this week, (almost out of the blue). I loved the previous album (‘You Change’), which became one of my favourite releases from 2015. That set was the follow-up from her debut, self titled, album from 2013. I think if you asked Lindsey herself, she would almost certainly tell you her name is very much the name of her band. The group are one tight-knit community of musicians, quietly being organised by Lindsey’s husband and keyboard maestro, Keith Slattery.
If you are a new musician, perhaps straight out of music school, the template set out by Lindsey and her group, could well be a career format worth considering. Live shows, fund raising, all of which finance further project releases. As with every band, from the Beatles onwards, the key is very much in live performing. Not a route that many young folks want to move along, as these days, many newer performers think that you push a button, and success happens. That is the way of todays world in many aspects, however, these are the flimsy foundations built without respect and integrity.
I have spoken often about the battlefield, that is todays music industry. Rhythm has become estranged from Blues, ‘Hip’ has forgotten how to ‘Hop’, and the songs that permeate the dying on the creative battlefields, have no historical relevance. Songs once that were constructed as ’Verse’...’verse’....’chorus’...’verse’...’bridge’...’chorus’...’verse’, are now stuck together by a historical sticky tape forming a sort of ‘start’, ’hook’, ‘hook’, ‘hook’, ‘hook’, ‘hook’, ‘hook’, ‘hook’, ‘stop’ :)). The recent Cookin On Three Burners, ‘That Girl’, pastiche showcases ideas are now becoming cut and pasted from those of a more recent useful creative substance. We will soon see Gregory Porter being cut and pasted into a Balearic beat, with the listener wondering who the great Black singer was, camouflaged into the song, with that really cool voice! I mention Gregory Porter intentionally. He is circumnavigating the ‘new’, and succeeding as a wandering stranger still making his way with some pride and integrity within the business. There are a very few who still make this creditable journey, and I believe, Lindsey and her band have all the tools to do likewise. After all, there is only so much turgid radio, even the most diehard digester of this excretia, can take! I hope people will look for more from their music, and these artists offer us all hope for that aspect to come to fruition.
So what of Lindsey’s ‘third’? Well this release is entitled ‘Back To Your Heart’. Some folks describe Lindsey’s music as being Sade-esque. The only similarity to these old ears, are the instruments are real ones. As with all emerging artists, you hope that the new album is a progression from the previous material. If the artist is on the road and performing, this aspect of the music simply becomes a natural progression. Bands work out a formula, and then develop the sound and the songwriting, and that is a very clear progression indicated here. I mark tracks on listening by star ratings in my iTunes here, in order to guide me with these writings, although this album is a hard one to cherry pick from. Everything is 4 stars and up, with many of the tracks as good as I believe music can achieve at the point in today’s music. Killer tracks will change with repeated listenings. ‘I Know You Well’ is pretty well perfect. ‘On Our Way’, ’Next To Me’ and ‘Somehow’, likewise. All told, if you don’t like this album, you need to dial 911 (999 in the U.K.) and be taken straight to Emergency! Your ears need syringing as matter of urgency!
This might not make sense to folks, (unless you are of a certain age), however, the quality of these songs echo the finer moments of Bobby Caldwell from back in the day. YouTube ‘Down For The Third Time’ by the man, and the vibe is not dissimilar. That track has become a classic over the years, and I believe that Lindsey’s progression will eventually take her music into the ‘evergreen’ music territory in the years to come. Along with the Frank McComb album, label up these releases as potential albums of 2016. More power to Lindsey, Keith’s and the bands skills and progression. Buy without hesitation!
If you have been wondering when the next Dianne Reeves album will hit the streets, well, whilst you are waiting, you could do a great deal worse that check out this fine new album by this Washington based jazz singer Lori Williams. Lori heads up her own entertainment group ‘LoriJazz’, and is is the Director of Vocal Music at Woodrow Wilson High School.
As a lead or background vocalist, Lori has worked alongside (and performed with) the likes of Oleta Adams, Regina Belle, Eric Benet, The Blackbyrds, Norman Brown, Tom Browne, Peabo Bryson, Jerry Butler, Terri Lyne Carrington, Gene Chandler, Stanley Clarke, Will Downing, George Duke, Howard Hewett, Al Johnson, Kindred The Family Soul, Ben E. King, Ledisi, Maysa, Phil Perry, Gary Taylor, Vesta Williams and Angela Winbush. This woman needs to get out more! :))) Lori has released three CDs on Pacific Coast Jazz, with this new album being her third. Already having an airing on the fine Peter Young show on Jazz FM, ‘Deja Vu’ is a terrific take on the Isaac Hayes/Dionne Warwick classic, this time treated in mid-tempo jazzy style. ‘It’s Love’ is another beauty, very much a song which the listener can imagine Dianne Reeves ‘borrowing’ for her next album release. Nice to hear the Ivan Lins penned ‘The Island’ sitting alongside lovely versions of Stevie’s ‘Overjoyed’. Lori’s title track here, lyrically, is impressive, setting the melody out in the style of a Norman Connors album track. A fine release, well worth your attention if Dianne Reeves and Jazz music is your bag.
I reviewed (and really loved) the first release of this series of Ace Records, Beatles based compilations. The previous album was entitled ‘Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon & McCartney’ Released in 2011. This new release is entitled ‘Let It Be: Black America Sings Lennon, McCartney & Harrison’. This new album is as consistent as the first issue, showcasing 22 tracks, covered by Black artists, of the music of the Fab Four. I loved the Maxine Brown take on ‘We Can Work It Out’ from the initial album, and there are several similar standard comparisons on offer here. Dionne takes on the same song as Maxine, and develops the song into, what is almost a Dionne original. Most of you guys will know Aretha’s version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, and you will be familiar with the Stairsteps fine version of ‘Dear Prudence’, along with Earth, Wind & Fire’s take on ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’, however, from the file section of ‘who’d have thought it’, I would point the listener to the lovely take of ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’ by the late Mary Wells (taken from her ‘Love Songs To The Beatles’ album in 1965), or Bill Withers terrific uptempo version of ‘Let It Be’ from his ‘Just As I Am’ in 1971. Arthur Conley takes ‘Ob La Di’ almost into ska territory, whilst Fat’s Domino’s take on ‘Lovely Rita’ is now and R&B classic! Probably, the most welcome track to appear here is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins version of ‘A Hard Days Night’, which I believe last appeared on a compilation album entitled ‘Lotta Boppin' (And Plenty Screamin' Too!), Roulette Rock 'N' Roll, Vol. 4’, back in 1997. Proof that when it comes to ‘crate diggin’, Ace Records dig that little bit deeper. Great compilation.
various artists - soul togetherness 2016 / chris jasper - share with me / mark murphy - the jazz singer
Expansion Records have just released their latest in a superb series of annual compilations, on the eve of their 30th anniversary celebrations event at the O2 in London. During that time I have gone from a buying punter, to an avid reviewer here, and the latest of the label’s Soul Togetherness series is a welcome addition to the imprint’s C.V. This series I have always posted here at the site, as the music represents a ‘audio screenshot’ of the state of the Soul music industry to every respective year. 2016 has seen many losses artistically, all of which have been an unwelcome distraction from the fine music still being written and recorded at this point in time. This compilation brings the listener very much back to the positive, and thank the Lord for this label! This new set of winners contains many personal favourites on it’s team sheet. Jocelyn Brown we were lucky enough to see at this years Happy Days festival. The woman was in fine voice, and she lends her vocal powerhouse to the opening melody to the Dutch DJ’s Diephuis Eastar fine dancer, ‘Don’t Quit (Be A Believer)’. That should fill up your dance-floor! Terrific to see the band Soulutions included with their excellent dancer ‘I Got To Party’ (which is reviewed here below previously). Hints of Positive Force going on in there someplace! I think Soulutions are one of those ‘they don’t make bad records’ type of groups. I am always interested in whatever the band are up to, and I am seldom disappointed with the results. Another favourite tune, in this house, is the Breakwater, Grey & Hanks penned, track ’No Limits’. I bought the parent album of this song back in 1978. Never created waves at the time, (although I remember Robbie Vincent playing ‘Feel Your Way’ from the album at the time), but ’No Limits’ was my personal favourite tune. Ralph and the band have dug deeply into the vaults, and have discovered a longer version, which makes this listener a very happy bunny! It is also great to see Hannah White have her excellent ‘Sunny Day’ dancer included here. Something retro and very haunting about this song. Hints of Cory Daye (Dr. Buzzard) going on here. Props to Gary Van Den Bussche for this tune. The fine Tracey Hamlin is performing at the Expansion gig. She weighs in here with ‘Just Talk To Me’. Nice to see her with a great label. She has been a favourite at this site for nearly a decade now. Terrific vocalist. The Soul Togetherness compilations are always essential, and this one keeps the standards right up there. Hugely recommended release.
Whilst the Isley Brothers have been a few years between releases, Chris Jasper has constantly been working and releasing material for his Gold City Records, Inc. imprint. This Cincinnati, Ohio native studied musical composition at the Juilliard School of Music, which has stood the singer and songwriter in good stead over the years. Hard to believe his first solo album was released nearly 30 years ago. Listening to this new album, it brings home to me just how influential this artist was within the Isley brotherly group line-up. Chris must have been seen as ‘indisposable’ within the Isleys over the years. It seems logistics, rather than differences that took the band along different paths over time. I heard Jazz FM’s Jeff Young play ‘That's What Love Can Do’ from this album a couple of weeks ago. Very nice mid-tempo tune. Having listened to the album, I am going to go straight to the excellent dancer ‘I Love You’ (one of Chris’s finest melodies in my humble opinion), and declare that tune my own winner! Has echoes of Windjammer’ going on in there someplace, to these old ears! ’Share With Me’s title track was the lead tune at the outset. A well above average offering from this fine singer and songwriter. Very impressive album, which caught me slightly unawares, and made me sit up! Well worth checking out. You can pick up a download at CD Baby at the moment.
Been nearly a year since the world lost Mark Howe Murphy. I was contacted by Laurence at Soul Brother Records, who asked me if I would be interested in listening to one of their latest fine fusion compilations. When they told me the album was a Mark Murphy retrospective, I was extremely interested. Mark was one of those jazz vocalists, who was ‘an evolver’ rather than a ‘musical mimic’. By that I mean that he took a tune and tried not to reproduce a previously recorded version, but instead took a melody to some completely different venue, enthusing the listener, without losing them. When I hear a Mark Murphy song I know exactly who is singing the song, without looking for an iPad and Wretchedpedia for further information! When Soul Brother go to work on an artists resume, they go for it big time. Sure ’Stolen Moments’ inclusion is almost a given, however they really have dug that little bit deeper, and the final resulting CD (and vinyl album) is mightily impressive! Tunes on display here include the aforementioned Oliver Nelson’s ‘Stolen Moments’’, Freddie Hubbard’s excellent ’On the Red Clay’, Herbie Hancock’s evergreen’s ‘Cantaloupe Island’ and ‘Maiden Voyage', McCoy Tyner’s 'Effendi' and John Coltrane’s classic ‘Naima’. Mark would often take an instrumental jazz tune, and embed his own writings to take the track onto another level. The set takes in the Brazilian aspects of Mark’s repertoire (‘Waters Of March’ etc), and touches on the facet of the singers music, which appeals to this old Soulboy, in the form of Stevie’s ‘Talking Book’ beauty, ‘Lookin’ For Another Pure Love’. File that track under absolute favourites here! In the late 80’s and 90’s, Mark’s career underwent something of a renaissance, mainly due to the love he was feeling from the London Jazz Scene. Gilles Peterson championed Mark’s music, and Mark penned the tune ‘DingWalls’ as a mark of respect, (and a thank you to everyone concerned). This singer, to put it simply, seems to have been a very nice person. I think he would certainly approve of Soul Brothers compilation, which now seems something of a personal a tribute from the store and label. Highly recommended release. One of the Soul Brothers finest.
angel-monique - the music in me / soulutions - i got to party b/w don't judge a book by it's cover / eddie levert - did i make you go ooh
Three artists, who all have created some of the finest music around in 2016 (in my humble...)
Angel-Monique releases her new album ‘The Music In Me’ on the Avail Records, Inc. imprint. The album is one of those Gospel releases, which conveniently leave the door ajar, allowing those from the secular side of music, in to take a look and listen around in her place. Angel began singing in the 1990’s with the Daughter of Zion children’s choir. She worked her way through high school, and has now landed a record deal, which has allowed her to share her voice with the rest of us! In this house, undoubtedly, the killer track is, the Terry Lewis penned, ‘Higher’. This song is a track which I quite liked at first, however, subsequent plays allow the melody to get under your skin, and this has now become one of my favourite songs of 2016. ‘My Heart Belongs To You’ runs ‘Higher’ a close second place favourite here, although I would recommend you listen to the whole album, which has been tastefully constructed, and provides a perfect vocal vehicle for this fine new Gospel songstress. Recommended listening....
...if you drop by this site in recent years, you will know I am a big fan of this group. Louise Mehan and Steve Lee are very clever songwriters. By this, I mean they take an influence or two, and don’t simply reproduce that particular sound, but develop the material, adding their own ‘catchy’ inflections, which turn an average dancer, into an irresistible one. They now have a full support band, which comprises of Louise & Steve, supported by Elliott Todd (on trumpet), David Gray (on trombone), Pete Robson (on guitar), James Carmichael (on Drums), James Robson (on bass) and Carly McKee (on Backgrounds). The overall sound has moved on from the group’s album release, and this is the first single of new material since that release. The side two melody ‘Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover’ has a message, lyrically, which discourages people from making personality judgements made on the basis of the visual. In total agreement here. The industry seems pre-occupied with the video that supports a song, and less with the song itself! Louise’s vocals are hugely listenable, making most of the material this group has offered up, hugely palatable. The top side of this single is a great dancing tune. again, the song is so catchy, and without plagiarising the song, there are hints of the Positive Force going on here. I believe this track will make Ralph Tee’s upcoming ’Soul Togetherness’ CD for 2016. He always knows a good tune when he hears it! great double header out on One World Records, great band, and when is the album out guys? :))...
...a new Eddie LeVert album normally creates huge waves in amongst the soul community. I have lived with this album for a month or so now, and have been surprised that the response has been so underwhelming! Sure, Eddie would admit himself that the voice has seen better days, and in places, I would say that, some of the songwriting might be a little more considerate to this fine singer. This album is entitled ‘Did I Make You Go Ooh’ and sees the light of day on the Blakbyrd Entertainment Records imprint. The title track is very much set in the old Philly style of the O’Jays, showcasing empathy and respect for that era in the man’s music. The standout track on show here is the very fine dancer ‘Say It Isn’t So’, which is as good as anything the man has recorded in recent years. I do hope that this set isn’t completely ignored, especially ‘Say It Isn’t So’, which should be gracing most of the better radio stations out there at the moment. Rumours of the man’s passing this week, were completely inaccurate, thankfully.
ashleigh smith - sunkissed / anthony david - the powerful one / grace - grace
For the last two weeks, I have been away from home, attending family weddings in Cornwall. Whilst I am away, I take whatever music is on my system, with me to review on my return. Some of the more notable tracks appear here, so, without any hesitation!....
....Jazz songstress, Ashleigh Smith hails from Georgia. She recently won the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocals Competition, a competition she was runner up in two years previously.
Her prize was a recording contract with the Concord Music Group, which has resulted in this very fine debut album, entitled ‘Sunkissed’.
Much of the new offerings around are quite hard to get into, however, this set comes out of the iPod/CD Player, as bright as a button! The opening bars of the opener ‘Best Friends’ sets the stage perfectly, and the standard is maintained throughout. The Hall and Oates gem ‘Sara Smile’ sounds as if it had been written and composed yesterday. Ashleigh has a way of generating new life into a song that you thought you had gotten too familiar with over the years, none more so than her beautiful take on the Fab Four’s ‘Blackbird’. Always one of my favourite Beatles songs, which this singer has steered into my favourite tune on this album. One very strange set of circumstances sees Ashleigh vocalising the tune ‘Pure Imagination’, in a Take 6 style, following the recent passing of Gene Wilder.
Ashleigh plays alongside musicians who were fellow classmates of hers at the University of North Texas, where she studied jazz on this album. The include Nigel Rivers (on bass) and Joel Cross (on guitar), all of whom contribute to an album that is one of the finer releases in 2016....
...Anthony David has been releasing material since 2004. I make this Anthony David Harrington’s 6th album, and his first for the Shanachie Records imprint.
From Savannah, Anthony wrote material for India Arie’s 2001 ’Acoustic Soul’ album. Anthony managed her for a short period, before setting out on his own career, as a singer and songwriter. He certainly fits the bill on both counts. Anthony has released material for the U.K.’s excellent dome Records imprint, in the past, and has also been mentioned as a favourite singer of the Obama family. ’The Powerful Now’ represents the singers first release for nearly four years, and is a welcome addition to his library in this house! By no means is this singer a ‘powerhouse’ vocal deliverer. His music is relaxed and has a habit of creeping up on the listener. 2006’s ‘Red Clay Chronicles’ featured, what I would call, a very ‘tricky track’. These tunes become embedded in my mind and persistently replay themselves in my thoughts. That track was the song ‘On & On’. No barnstorming song at all, but it really hit home here, and there is another one of these songs (which only Anthony can come up with IMHO), in the form of ‘Booed Up’ (which features a singer called Mylah) on this album. ‘The Powerful One’ is a hugely listenable album throughout, as our Anthony is a highly competent singer and songwriter. ‘Booed Up’ is my particular icing on this very fine album.
Grace are a gospel group, who are signed to the Christian section of Universal Music. I have checked online, however, Universal seem to not want to promote their Christian Music releases in the same way they do with their secular artists on their imprint. This is a real shame, as this album has some very fine moments, and is not too far apart, musically, from the fine Gospel singers Mary, Mary. I wish those women still released material as a duo. In recent years they have begun to release solo albums, which are O.K., but not a patch on their joint efforts. Grace’s album is a set of high’s and lows (the lows not being too ‘low’, by the way). When they are on form, they can really get those bass bins pounding, none more so than on the ‘beaty’ opener ‘Making Changes’. A great dancer. ‘Blowin’ My Mind’ is a real old school p-funker. Exactly the sort of material Beyonce ought to entertain adding to her own album releases. My personal choice of songs here, is the anthemic ‘Hope Cries Out’. Very uplifting message melody, which drifts through an ascending and descending chord sequence. What is a real shame is that this sort of release will disappear without trace, in amongst the (what recently Quincy Jones described as ‘really awful’) pop charts. Fine gospel music for 2016.
kindred the family soul - legacy of love / various - greg belson's divine disco
Husband and wife team, Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon are now, about to release their sixth album. Legacy Of Love’ was kindly sent to me by Steve Ripley, who is a very funny guy, and probably one of the best record distributors around, if Soul and Jazz music is your thing.
I think ‘Legacy’ is the duo’s finest release to date. There are certainly, some albums when you first hear them, you know that, when the three wise men and shepherds are doing their thing, later in the year, you will still be spinning these tunes. Frank McComb, Christon Gray, and now the Family Kindred. This group released their first CD back in 2003. I have always liked the group, which prompted me to post a page on the duo at this site. They are, originally from Philadelphia. Labelled as Neo-Soul performers, they soon had shrugged off any labelling, and now just create great records. Love the fact that their label is called ‘We’re Not A Label Records’. I think that describes the group very well. The lead single, ‘All My People’ has been refurbished a couple of times already, although, there is something about the original, which is haunting and appealing, so that is my pick of this litter. The tune has a great relevance with the global insanity, which is currently the fashion of the day. I am a white man, but very much believe that any Black life matters. Great message in this tune.
The track that has been on repeat in this house, is the uptempo ‘Never Know’. Listening to the amount of music I do here daily, longevity is a great bonus in a tune. This track holds it’s own with repeated plays. One of my favourite tracks this year so far. Tune. I can also recommend the ‘Welcome To My World’ and ‘Legacy Of Love’ from this particular menu, unreservedly. The standard never drops throughout here, and, repeating myself again, this is their finest album to date. Check out the listings to see when they are next in the U.K. Well worth checking out, either side of the pond!
Greg Belson is a very under-rated deejay. He used to perform at a club called the Blue Room in Molesey, along with a friend of mine called Simon Trounce. Simon spoke to me about this album a couple of months ago. He got me curious, and, as if choreographed, another good friend of mine called Roy Power, shoved a copy of this CD into my hands a week or so ago. So what of the music? Well, perhaps the best way of describing the set is, if you remember the gospel outings of the likes of Howard smith from back in the day, this compilation comprises of Seventies and Eighties ‘messages’ to the man upstairs. On the cultures Of Soul imprint, ‘Divine Disco’ showcases various artists, including Shirley Finney and The Gospelaires, the excellent The Enlightment, Betty Griffin and the Gospel Ambassadors amongst others. Little labels, but with power to their punches!
enlightment - faith is the key - 1984
The Enlightment, led by, producer, Larry H. Jordan, feature two tracks, both of which come from one of those albums you don’t believe exist, until you see the set! :)) The album was called ‘Faith Is The Key’, which came out on New Release Records in 1984. Prices at Discogs start at $78! ‘What’s Happening People?’, from this album, certainly is a killer track. Much cheaper to own, thanks to this fine release. Not your run of the mill compilation, constructed by a guy who knows his stuff! Thanks to Greg, Simon & Roy on this set. Recommended.
frank mccomb - soulmate: another love story / kejam - majek
I have been fortunate enough to meet Frank McComb. Gave the man a CDR'd Donny Hathaway single, which I thought he might like (being a number one Donny fan!). Consistence is something that most of us folks, (who still buy music :)), look for in an artist. It is half the battle, if there are a pile of review mp3's to work through in any particular week. Frank, not only is a 'keyboard king' out there, but he also has an appreciation of his craft when it comes to writing a tune or two. I have all of the man's music (as far as I am aware) here, and there are no sections within this particular library, where the standard falls at any point.
I make this album, Frank's 9th in his terrific CV, and, put plainly, I cannot find fault anywhere here. It is one of the two best album's, in my humble opinion, to reach these shores this year. The other set is Christon Gray's, Tommy Sims-esque release, 'Glory', however, placing a cigarette paper between that album and this one, is an almost impossible task. Those of you who miss new material from Stevie Wonder, would do well to pick up this set from CD Baby. That store now gives the customer Flac, 320 and standard mp3's with every purchase, so you can make your own copy for a physical CD library, if the spirit moves you. CD Baby commission here? No.
Tracks from this album? Well the first point of note, are 4 of the 17 tracks on this album, are originally from last years Valentine's Day E.P. I looked at my library here, and had all four songs at a 5 star rating. The quality simply continues throughout here. Cherry pick? 'Season' is quite superb. I believe the female singer on 'Labeled As Love' is Maysa. She has a very unique vocal style, however, no credits in the text file that comes with the purchase. If you thought Stevie's 'Superstition' was funky, well after 8 and a half minutes with Frank at the wheel, and...well...think again! Almost 'Contusion' merged with 'Superstition'. One for the better dancefloors, sounding very Herbie Hancock in places as well. 'Like Chicken' is another fusion track that would have sat very comfortably on Webster Lewis's album 'Touch My Love'. Something for every fan of Black Music on show here. Superb, superb, superb stuff. Buy this album for a friend, and that friend won't just be for Christmas, make no mistake!
Dee Majek's album has been a while in the making, and the wait has been well worth while. Dee is a real nice guy, who has sent me various sampler tracks from this fine album over the last few months. The album is terrific, and is released, I believe, in Japan, initially, but will soon be more widely available, and I would encourage you to track down the album and add it to your collection. Firstly, Kejam (Oladisun Majekodunmi otherwise known also as Dee Majek), has created some of the finest Soul music the U.K., produced in the last 12 months or so. He has been involved in several capacities within the industry for nearly four decades now. It is this experience which shines through in the depth of the musical inspiration on show here. On, for instance, the tune 'Start All Over', there are musical echoes of the Philly era and the O'Jays. Great song, (and probably my choice track from this album), 'whilst 'Never Listen' could almost be the hit track Anita Baker never recorded! 'My Love' and the, very S.O.S. Band, 'Kejam Steppin (Lorain's Theme)' are hugely evocative melodies of the early Eighties sound. Superb songwriting overlaid upon an uncomplicated backdrop, which is, all told, hugely appealing to this listener. I have been looking forward to this album release, and Dee has not disappointed. 10 great tracks on a very well rounded and complete album. Great for daytime radio, so a winner all round. Track this one down!
incognito - in search of better days / bob baldwin - the brazilian - american soundtrack / vick lavender - architect
Incognito albums are consistent releases, always well worth looking forward to, and seldom do Bluey and his team ever let the side down. I recently saw the band playing live at the Happy Days Festival in Esher, and was hugely impressed by the variety and overall quality of the vocal performances. On this album, the team sheet features the vocals from the U.K.’s finest, featuring Imaani, Vanessa Haynes, Tony Momrelle, Katie Leone, Vula Malinga and the wonderful Maysa Leak. Instrumentally, the set includes performances from (pianist) Avery Sunshine, (drummer) Richard Spaven, (percussionist) Jody Linscott, and (guitarist) Tomoyasu Hotei. The album is released on Shanachie Records again, and kicks off with the terrific ‘Love Born In Flames’. As with the group’s previous (and Bluey’s solo releases), the styles on offer are diverse. My three killer tracks from this album are ‘Racing Through The Bends’, the brilliant ‘Love’s Revival’ and the slow building ‘’I See the Light’. The latter tunes will be ‘year end’ favourite tunes, but don’t settle for my opinions regarding just those tunes. When marking the album, no track scored less that 3 out of 5 stars.What you get here is state of the art, U.K. Soul Music, which leads the way forward, riding across a sea of blandness out there. Bluey looked well and full of life at Happy Days. Let’s hope the future is long and prosperous for one of the U.K.’s musical crown jewels.
Bob Baldwin is usually an artist who usually releases fairly safe fusion album releases. Great for daytime radio, if you have an odd five minutes of airtime to fill, so props to Bob in giving me a musical slap in the face! This Brazilian-American Soundtrack is actually a double CD, which features some 26 tracks, all embedding influences from the two aforementioned countries. The most pleasant surprises are the featured vocal tracks. Remember when, almost every fusion release featured ‘that’ killer vocal tune? This album contains several songs, all of which vary from the harmonic, to the written lyric, and it is these tracks which are of interest in this house. Firstly, if you remember James ‘Crab’ Robinson, the singer is showcased on Bob’s interpretation of the Kool and the Gang evergreen ’Summer Madness’. Very nice take it is too. There are also two Maurice White featured songs, and a cover of the Ivan Lins classic ‘Love Dance’. Other performers singled out include Djavan, Elaine Elias, George Duke and Pat Metheny. The tracks which are my current favourites are ‘Greatest Lover’ featuring Zoiea (great Modern Soul) and a tune I cannot get out of my head right now, in the form of ‘’Looking At Me’, which features a singer called Gigi. One of my year end tracks, and make no mistake! An album full of some of the finest Fusion and Soul tracks released in 2016. Nice surprise, Bob. Out on City Sketches Records.
Vick Lavender has featured at this website in the past. In fact, two years ago to be precise, which was when his last album ‘Sophisticado’ was released. This Chicago based musician explores the dance genre, which, when it doesn’t work, the music falls a little flat, however, when it is on the button, it really is some of the most innovative dance music out there. These two aspects to the man’s music is a hugely healthy scenario, highlighting the man’s willingness to take risks, musically, and that is only to be applauded. This new album ‘Architect’ is a development from the man’s previous release, and is all the more interesting as a result. Vick has been performing as an artist since the Eighties. In the Nineties he took up production work, and is now running his own digital label Sophisticado Recordings, along with Steven Stewert. Personal track choices? ’Time Traveler’ reminded me a little of tracks from the Dexter Wansel ‘Life On Mars’ album. A tune which builds. ‘Eyes They Never Lie’ is another experimental Dance/Soul tune, which develops a mood, which can also be attributed to the Street Soul track ‘Magic’. The killer track on show here is 2016’s answer to Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘Brazilian Rhyme’/Roy Ayers ‘Africa Center Of The World’, namely 'Heritage Song'. Irresistable dance music, from an innovative dance music pioneer, all told.
robert glasper & miles davis - everything's beautiful / zo! -skybreak
Robert Glasper hails from Houston in Texas. He has, in his 5 album, decade long career, become one of the foremost pianists in the Jazz genre today. His previous 3 album outings, have taken on an almost ‘Guru-esque’ aspect, as the artist brings on board several of his contemporaries, in order to create some remarkable pieces of recorded output. This latest album features some re-imagined interpretations of the music from the late Miles Davis. ‘Everything’s Beautiful’, by the way, has no cross reference to the Ray Stevens song, which I am sure Miles would have thought, that that song was very much Ray’s business! :)) Where these versions by Robert really come together, are where he steps backwards from the frenetic aspects of some of todays (especially) rap musicians. It is a real shame, as, I am sure I am not alone, when I reach for the record deck, in order to bypass the first ‘expletive-deletive’ distracting the listener from something worth their attention. With most people, as soon as folks hear the ‘f’ word, people stop listening. I bought this album as a vinyl product, which was refreshing, as it was actually available in my local store in this format. Miles was not a digital performer, so buying a digital copy from an analog artist seemed a nonsense in many ways. Bypassing the offerings of the rappers (swearing became ‘old hat’ in 1976 guys), there are some real delights on the album. Tracks by some of my favourite artists, including the hugely underrated Georgia Anne Muldrow, Hiatus Coyote and the wonderful Ledisi, all are very pleasing listens. Georgia delivers a fascinating take on ‘Milestones’, whilst Ledisi contributes her interpretation of ‘I’m Leaving You’, and the ‘Coyote’s’ breathe new life into ‘Little Church’. Cherry picking is an easy task, as Stevie’s take on ‘Right On Brotha’, (one of my favourite current group’s) KING’s interpretation of ’Song For Selim’ and the cream of the crop, in Erykah Badu’s terrific ‘Maiysha’ are each worth the entrance fee on their own. If you have a record deck, it is well worth listening to the music in an analog format. Sure, you can download an mp3 or a slightly better quality flac file, however, the Erykah Badu track is a joy to behold in an old school format. This would have been a 10 out of 10 album, but for the swearing. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and in these days it is so hard to get your song on the radio. When I want to hear some swearing, I can always go round to the mother-in-laws! Deejays can’t play these tracks, if the bloke is ‘talking loud and saying nothing’.
Zo! is the brainchild of a gentleman called Lorenzo Ferguson. Lorenzo hails from Detroit, and, very much like Dee Majek in the U.K., has been working away quietly on their own album projects. Lorenzo’s music is no stranger to this website. His music can best be described as ‘music that grows on the listener’. When he is not working as a solo artist, Lorenzo is also the keyboardist and Musical Director for the group The Foreign Exchange. It is refreshing that this artist utilises live instrumentation in his recordings. Back in 2010, Zo! released the terrific track ‘Greatest Weapon Of All Time’. In 2013, Foreign Exchanges ‘If I Knew Then’ was one of my dance tunes from that year. As with Robert Glasper, Lorenzo utilises some fine vocalists on his recorded output, and ‘Skybreak’ is no exception. I especially liked ‘Starlight’, (featuring Phonte), ‘Packing For Chicago’ (featuring Muhsinah), ‘I Don’t Mind’ (featuring Shana Tucker), ‘Wishing You Well’ (Featuring the excellent Carmen Rodgers) and ‘Lifelines (featuring Dornik). Not bad for a single album, however, the best two tracks are yet to come, in the form of ‘A Season’ (featuring Eric Roberson), and the very Eighties ‘Just Whatcha Like’ (featuring Joi). I guess the moral of this story is, if any set features the words ‘Lorenzo Ferguson’, ‘Zo!’ or ‘The Foreign Exchange’, it is well worth picking up! A very good album.
perri - back to you / olwethu - imbewu
One solo Lori Perry album aside, it has been a quarter of a century since the last album from the Perri Sisters....really! I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to listen to a new album by this terrific female group. It is easy to forget, in today’s market, just what we have been missing in the quality stakes, and we have the Perri Sisters arrive (like the 4th emergency service), to rescue us from the daily dirge! Vocally, the Perri’s sound as if their last album was released 26 days ago, rather than years. So where to start? ‘God Is So Good’ (with the help of the fine Snarky Puppy) is as good as anything the sisters have ever recorded. If you can find fault anyplace within this song, I know the name of a very good doctor! The opener ‘Majesty’ sets the overall tone, running throughout this fine Gospel outing. Uplifting, very Anita Baker-ish, and featuring no duff cuts at all. As with last years Lyle Divinsky epic ‘Fallin’, some albums breeze through the current scene, clearing away all the cobwebs, and wiping away the ‘old driftwood’, raising the bar to a level which challenges the rest. If you love the Perri’s harmonies, you will love this album. If the melodies that embroider the harmonies are of a high calibre, then you are left with, simply, a winner. My personal favourite track here, is the mellow ‘Back To You’. The girls hit the musical ‘sweet spots’ throughout this fine slice of Soul Gospel. A welcome return to form, on the Perri’s strongest album to date, and out on their own label.
Africa has been a musical source which has drawn me towards the continent over the last couple of years. Sister’s Lulu and Zonke Dikana, both released fine albums over the last couple of years. Nosa’s ‘Always Pray For You’ illustrated that the studio’s in Africa have begun to come to terms with the larger corporates in the States and Europe, however, what is immersing is the charm that the languages and the music that these artists bring to the table, is an innocence, which comes through in the melodies. This new album by Olwethu (full name is Olwethu Magushana) is entitled ‘Imbewu’. Olwethu is from Queenstown in The Eastern Cape South Africa, where, when she is not singing, she works for a cosmetic company in Johannesburg. ‘Imbewu’ is a Zulu word, which means ‘seed’, and therein lies the purpose of the release, which is to raise money for children’s charities in the country. Musically, much of the music is sung in Zulu, but the delivery is definitely Soulfully based. Contemporary R&B? Absolutely. The lead single ‘Angelina’ is a really beautiful Soul song. I also cherry picked ‘Feelings’ (not that one!:)), however, of interest to the Modern Luxury Soul crowd, ‘Slow Motion’ (partly sung in English) is as good a ballad I have heard in many years. Africa is definitely a continent to watch, if you are a lover of the real deal. Olwethu has a lovely voice. Well worth investigating.
2016 , to this point, has become very much the year of the single release. Although albums have arrived, much of the material has been very derivative. Perhaps if the artist was awarded more for their efforts, by the larger retail companies that make the bulk of the finances from their efforts, and gave something back, the artist might want to give a little more creativity? Just a thought. Thank heavens for the smaller distributors, who, to all intents and purposes, keep the machinery oiled for the corporates.
So what of the material around right now? Well, thank heavens for Gregory Porter. He is flying the flag for the traditional singer/songwriter, who are perceived by todays younger buyers, ‘the old blokes and women, who had their heyday back in the mists of time, and get wheeled out to receive a lifetime award at the old folks musical awards! :)). Los Angeles born, Gregory, grew up in California. His parents were into Nat King Cole, whom Gregory began to mimic in his younger days. The singer was almost a football player at one point, but injured his shoulder, so he took up singing full time. He was overheard by Hubert Laws’ sister, Eloise, who helped Gregory with his career. He released his first album, ‘Water’, six years ago, and from that point onwards, he went from strength to strength. Gregory, lyrically, is a very intelligent songwriter, whether he is preaching from the political pulpit, or articulating a tender love song. It is no wonder that the likes of Carole King, hold this artist in a very high regard. ‘Take Me To The Alley’ represents the singers 4th main album release, and it follows on in a similar vein to his terrific ‘Liquid Spirit’ release of 2013. ‘Don’t Lose Your Steam’ is definitely the most commercial track on show, and is the ‘Liquid Spirit’ style song from this new set. Bound to fill a few dance floors that one, and we can all look forward to seeing the track remixed half a dozen times in the future! There are 12 tracks on show on this version of the album. I have on order a vinyl copy, which is bound to be superseded by a Deluxe version with additional tracks! Very much a case of myself ‘putting my money where my mouth is’ going on here! This album is mainly a downtempo set, with some beautiful mid-tempo moments, my pick of which are ‘Day Dream’ and ‘In Heaven’. ‘In Fashion’ is a tricky little song. Hints of Reg Dwights ‘Bennie and the Jets’, however, Gregory develops the rhythm, and this could probably become ‘the grower’ on the album. ‘Fan The Flames’ is very radio friendly, and has already become rotated on daytime radio, on the better stations. This album will not disappoint you, if you loved ‘Liquid Spirit’. A case of ‘more of the same’ in many ways, however, what went before was of such a high standard, I would defy anyone to criticise Gregory on any track on offer here. Long may this artist reign on the Soul scene. Lost so many greats this year, so this is a very positive break from that negativity...
....Gregoire Maret is a new name to me. Boy, has he assembled some great artists on this slow and moody new album. Gregoire is a Swiss musician, who features the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, Mark Kibble (Take 6), Frank McComb, Dianne Reeves and Ivan Lins (a personal favourite here). I had to look at the liners on a couple of tracks on show here, to see if it was Stevie playing the harmonica, only to find it was Gregoire himself! His mother hails from Harlem, whilst his Dad was Swiss, so the artists influences are truly diverse here. In parts, I hear Herbie Hancock (the mid Seventies version here), whilst I also hear echoes of the Quincy Jones moments that featured Toots Thielmans. Lots of influences going on here. For myself, the musical mixture of all of these elements, fused with the vocal contributions of Frank McComb, make ‘Diary Of A Fool’ my favourite track on this album. ‘Wanted’ featuring Mark Kibble, sounds as if it was lifted from Quincy Jones’ album ’the Dude’. Very like ‘Velas’ from that particular album. ‘Heaven’s’ featuring Dianne Reeves, is a beautiful ballad, whilst, in a more uptempo vein is the very Pat Metheny sounding ‘Groove’. No co-incidence that Gregoire has toured with Pat, and has learned a great deal from that artist I think. ‘Footprints’ gets the toes tapping, on an album , which I would not describe as uptempo, however, musically, the album is top drawer, and for that aspect I am very grateful to this artist. Already a favourite with Jeff Young at Jazz FM (who, at the moment, has overtaken brother James Brown, as the hardest working man in show business! :) One album and artist to watch out for in the future...
...Music Soulchild (a.k.a. Talib Johnson) was a new artist at the time I set up Soulwalking, in the summer of 2000. Some 16 years down the line, and the singer has just released this, his 8th album within that time period. Throughout the passing of time, I have always been interested in this performer. He is not afraid to ‘rattle a few cages’, either lyrically, or musically. Just when you thing you have a whole set worked out, in throws Musiq something or other to upset the apple cart! This Philly born singer says his influences include James Brown, Patti LaBelle, Billie Holiday, and Sly and the Family Stone. I might suggest that he throws in his own name into that particular hat, as he is no replicator, but has originality within his own Soul. Check out ‘Alive and Well’ from this new album. The man addresses peoples issues with appearance, especially weight issues. The singer makes the point that, if you feel alive and well, everything else is related to appearance and others ways of dealing with issues, that really ought not to affect them at all. Very bold, is all I can say! This is a really great track. if it raises a few eyebrows lyrically, well he has just proved you are not drifting in and out of conscience! On the ‘what a great song’ front, look no further than ‘Changed My Mind’ and, the very Stevie, ‘Walk Away’. Both terrific songs. This is an album well worth investigating, and, as with this guys releases, I am sure I will be singing the praises (pardon the pun) in two years time, of his latest album, when he releases his follow up to this fine set.
christon gray - the glory album
As many of you have come to realise, at times I can be a right old moaner, when it comes to rappers, who have nothing to say, and Gospel singers who ‘shout’ at their Lord, rather than articulate their message! :)) I am delighted to say that, in both of those concerns, I have well and truly been put in my place. All told, I think this is my favourite album so far in 2016. Sure, Christon Gray raps with the best of them out there, however, he is spot on with his message. This Christian rapper has created a hugely listenable album, which, rap wise, the listener might draw a comparison to those Imprompt2, partially rapped albums from the mid Nineties. The Christian message is directed, pretty much, to the under 25’s, and that message is a very ‘Black’ one, in a hugely positive way.
Firstly, about the man. Well, Christon is from Ohio. He worked with a group called the Elevationists in 2006, going on to release a solo album in 2011. He became part of the We Live Like Kings collective in 2013. He released a second solo album on Collision Records in 2014, after which he signed to Kirk Franklin's Fo Yo Soul label. The result is this set entitled ‘The Glory Album’. The set is almost biblical in it’s format, starting with a terrific opener entitled ‘The Glory Part 1’. There are sections of the album which are purely rap, however, the more melodic offerings amount to half of the songs on this fine set. My favourite tracks here are the very radio friendly ‘My Love Is Real’, however the real tour-de-force is the stunningly beautiful ‘Blackmail (Black Male)’. Hugely Stevie in it’s delivery (I am sure Stevie would love to record this track himself), the song attempt’s to address the confusion that many young Black men have to address within a society filled with mixed messages. I would ask any young Black male to take out a couple of minutes to listen to this track. Absolutely terrific musically, and very, very, supportive and powerful.
The other tracks worth of note are the John Legend’y ‘Afraid With You’, the lovely ’No. 51 (The Glory Part Two) and the finale ‘Follow You’. Spiritual, political, musical, angry and, above all, an important album. Take the Tommy Sims set, and blend in Imprompt2, and you are not a million miles away from the Christon Gray sound. Great album out on RCA.
various artists - luxury soul 2016 / king - we are king
One of the albums, during each year, I really look forward to listening to, is the latest instalment of the Expansion Records compilation ‘Luxury Soul’. Traditionally, January is a quiet month for new releases, and this set always kicks of each New Year optimistically. The annual release now comprises 3 CD’s of some of the finer new Soul releases (many of which echo back to the Soul sounds of the pirate radio stations during the early Eighties), along with some superior dance tracks, and the odd rare groove thrown in for good measure.
The mix of product helps stop the albums from sounding same-y, thus keeping the interest running throughout proceedings. Ralph Tee and Richard Searling do deserve some props for keeping the show on the road, in these times of digital this, and lossless download that. The tactile product reminds us that musical interaction is the better way. Of the 35 or so tracks on offer, where do you begin to mark this particular exam paper?
One instant plus point for myself, is the inclusion of new product from the U.K. artist Kejam (who is creating some of the most interesting music in recent months). Here he weighs in with the excellent ’Diamonds’, which features Terry Harris. Great track, as is the jazzy ‘Love In My Eyes’ by Gene-O. Nice song that one. ‘Love Crazy’ (not the Atlantic Starr song, yet it could have been recorded by the group) by Chazz Mac. A particular personal favourite from this album, is the duet between Latrese Bush and Noel Gourdin, entitled ‘Because Of You’. Would make a good single this song.
CD 2 opens with the very catchy ‘Call On Me’ by the R&R Orchestra, and this side also features one of the U.K.’s finest singers, namely Tony Momrelle. Tony’s ‘Different Street’ was a favourite from his recent solo album, and that was an essential purchase.
CD3 features the popular Paul Johnson song, ‘The Road’ (a track I know many folks will have been looking around for). I love the Damon Cooper song on this side, entitled ‘Will You be My Lady’. Terrific piece of songwriting, which I would describe as ‘tune’! It was great to see the inclusion of a personal ballad favourite, the Dunn Pearson produced, ‘Even A Fool’ by Dunn Street. Thought after I bought that track in 1986, that would be the last I would ever hear of the song.
Ralph and Richard seem to always right any wrongs on the British soul Scene, and for that I am very grateful. This is an essential release for 2016. Pick this Expansion compilation up, and it should keep you happy for several months to come, on the musical quality front! Great release.
Here's the team sheet!
The album by the group King is of a very different vibe. This is a very good new album from three Los Angeles based women called Paris and Amber Strother (both twins) and Anita Bias. I have always been a sucker for group harmonies, and this album is almost completely based around the vocal textures these three singers create. I have listened to this set over the last week or so.
I don’t think there is a smash hit single anywhere on show here, and yet, this is a fully 5 star offering IMHO. There are sections which remind me of some of the collaborative work between Janet Jackson and Jam & Lewis many years ago. In parts (especially on the track ‘Red Eye’) the melodies are pure Stevie Wonder. The album lures the listener in, with the two openers ‘The Right’ and ‘The Greatest’, and then fools you into thinking you have heard the best of the set, and then the rest of the set draws you further in, and before you know it, every track is a five star tune.
Formed in 2010, it has been some 5 years since this group released their initial E.P. Recently, Rolling Stone magazine cited the singers as ‘one of 10 New Artists You Need To Know’. When the mainstream get on board with a group, I normally tend to run a mile, as irrational fears begin to build within me that I am about to be brainwashed into liking the latest new R&B Emporer’s New Clothes! This album, however, breaks the mindset here. I really enjoyed this album.
'We Are King' won’t make ’Northern Soul’s Greatest Album of 2016’, nor will it appeal to those who love their Rap or Funk, however, if your mind is open, you love your harmonies, and the music is intelligently put together, then this is a set I can heartily recommend. Prince took this group on tour with him recently. A man of good taste, is all I can say! Out on King Creative Records right now.
regina belle - the day life began / kejam feat. terry harris - start all over
Regina Belle - The Day Life Began - Shanachie Records 2016
It is very nearly 30 years since I picked up this singers debut set ‘All By Myself’. The track ’So many Tears’ has since become a favourite on the better Soul Stations out there. 29 years down the line, and I think that the Shanachie imprint is the perfect label for this fine singer. The label seems to empathise with the artists on their roster, in an attempt not to change the singers desired sound, but tagging along for the ride. The variation between the 1987 album, and this album, is way back then, the ballad material was the material of choice in this house. With this album, there is a very uplifting feel to proceedings. ‘He’s Alright’ is a fine example of the positivity running through the set, followed by a very respectable cover of the Phyllis Hyman evergreen ‘You Know How To Love Me’. On the mid-tempo front ‘Live 4 You’ really appeals, whilst the mellower side is nicely represented by ‘A Night Of Love’, a song which will appeal to those who love this singers downtempo material. My favourite track from the set, is probably, the most radio friendly, in the shape of ‘Open Our Eyes’. Sounds like regina had a fun time recording this track. It is nice to see this sister back in the studio. The generation around right now seem to be a set of younger folks, not looking at the charts for inspiration, but checking out the shelves of us older girls, and you never know, they might be spending their pocket money on Regina’s new album. A welcome return.
Kejam (featuring Terry Harris) - Start All Over/2 Can Play - Kejam Majek 2016
If you are getting a feeling of deja vu, yes I did post a couple of tracks from this fascinating U.K. artist at the end of last year. Kejam sent me two further tracks from his forthcoming album, which are both top drawer melodies. The featured vocalist on these two sides, namely Terry Harris, has a very similar vocal delivery to that of Eddie LeVert from the O’Jays, (which is a huge compliment!). ‘Start all Over’ is one of those tracks that gets stuck in the grey matter, which is always a great thing. I am sure we will be revisiting this artist again in the coming months. If these songs are anything to go by, the album will be a real treat.
lyle divinsky - uneven floors
I was sent this album by the artist himself. Lyle Divinsky is the singers name. I want to, cut to the chase, and talk about one track to begin with. The song ‘Fallin’ is the song in question. To create a picture of where the tune is coming from, well think of a 2015 version of ‘Galveston Bay’, with a hint of ‘Groovin’ by the Young Rascals (but an interpretation closer to the Collage take on the tune), sung in the style of a Darryl Hall, along with a large helping of Willie Mitchell thrown in, the final ingredient realising itself in the real instrumentation production work of Frederick Knight’s ‘You’re The Best Thing In My Life’....and you are almost there! If this song was released in the Sixties or Seventies, it would be all over daytime radio, all of the time. With the malaise of video and technology stifling artistic expression, this song will, truthfully, be brought by the musical ‘French Underground’ which the likes of yourself and myself represent. Miley Cyrus would have a panic attack, rip off all her clothes (in the worst possible taste!:)) if she was asked to sing a song of this quality! All I can say is Lyle and his army of real musicians (who deserve the medal of honor for their work on this track) have created the best track I have heard so far this year. The only downside of this album is this song distracts the listener from what is a very good album overall. The songs ’Disaster’, ‘Rich’, ‘Push On’, ‘Carry On’, ‘Hit man’ and ‘Serious Web’ (this one is a real grower), are all terrific modern Soul songs. In fact I had marked ‘Disaster’ as a five star track, before I had reached track 3. The Earth, Wind & Fire style horns did it for these old ears on that track. I spoke to Lyle about his roots and influences, which he said were, birthplace...Searsmont, Maine, influences...Mother & Father, who were into Motown, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, whilst his own influences include Donny Hathaway, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, Maxwell, and on the Blue-Eyed side, James Taylor, Van Morrison, and CSN. Lyle, himself, penned ‘Fallin’. Props to the man there. As I mentioned, if you look at the YouTube footage of Lyle’s band playing live, all those artists, who may be 20ft from the stage, each deserve the highest praise for creating a Blue Eyed Soul song of genuine beauty.