Soul And / Or Related Artists

listen out for 2009...



• Charles Wilson - Troubled Child / The Whispers - Thankful / Noel McKoy - Brighter Day

Charles WilsonThe WhispersNoel McKoy

Charles Wilson is not to be confused with the Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band fame. This Charles Wilson is one real Southern Soul singer, who follows up his previous album for the Delmark imprint, (which was entitled 'If Heartaches Were Nickels') with a new release on the Severn Records label entitled 'Troubled Child'. To prove the 'Real Soul' tag, the legendary producer Willie Henderson (Tyrone Davis and Jackie Wilson) contributes his skills on the horn and string arrangements. Charles sings some real stormers here, including the Sam Dees penned title track, along with Bobby Bland's 'Where My Baby Went', the late Little Milton (Charles' uncle) and Denise LaSalle's 'Somebody's Tears', the Oakland based Natural Four's 'It's Love that Really Counts', Bob Marley's 'Is This Love' and two originals written by bassist and co-producer Steve Gomes. The Severn house band provides Charles with the musical support, all of which go to make something of a modern classic release. With many new albums thesedays, the listener may be looking at just a couple of reasons to go out and buy an album. This release is one of this years finest and is a very solid set throughout. A wonderful Soul album, which I know Soul Brother have some limited stocks in at the moment. I have to thank Peter Young at Jazz FM for turning me onto this album. A real diamond in the rough all told, and one of the best releases of 2009. Hugely (and very highly) recommended.

The Whispers have been around so long now that I had to check on my own page here to find out just when they began recording together! Nurse! My records state 1963, so I will stick with that year, unless there is someone out there who has a '78 from '58' by the group! The boys are currently recording for the Kingdom Records Gospel label, and I must say sound as good as they did during their heyday back in the Seventies. Walter and Scotty have a very distinctive vocal styling, instantly identifiable. Although the messages on this set do not relate to the relationships between a man and a woman, but deal with the relationship we have with our maker (whoever you consider your God might be, may he or she go with you...that's what I say!). I suspect that the secular Whispers fans will buy this album, along with those from the Gospel fraternity, for varying reasons. I nail my proverbial colors to the mast and say I love the Whispers harmonies immensly, so whether the music is on the message or not, it is immaterial to this listener. This is wonderful music all told. If Gospel music is to follow an individual styling, well this would be my 'message of choice'. 'Did You Know' is an absolutely wonderful song, 'For Thou Art With Me' is another gem, as is 'In The Name Of Jesus' (which did have hints of the George Harrison song 'My Sweet Lord'). The Whispers don't make bad records. I don't think I have missed any of their album releases here. I love every one of them, and this is another Whispers classic. I hope these guys are around for many years to come. I am sure they will be.

Noel McKoy I had the pleasure of meeting a few years back, when I took the singer Tashan up to meet the man in his recording studio in North London. Noel did make me laugh. If you ever get to meet Noel, get him to do an impression of Groucho Marx. Tremendous sense of humour. Really brightened my day that day, and here he is with a new release on the Tri-Sound Records imprint. The U.K. has many reasons to be 'Soulfully proud', and Noel McKoy is definitely one of them. He MC's at the Jazz Cafe from time to time, along with solo performing and ocassionally recording, which is something he ought to do more often if this album is anything to go by. Noel seems to be examining his own musical roots here, along with the music which has influenced the man over the years. The title track certainly hits a Sam Cooke moment, a la 'Change Is Gonna Come', a track which almost seems to be a tribute to the latest resident in the White House, without naming the President personally. Just my opinion. This is lovely deep soul music. 'Great Big Gap' is very Sixties, a song followed on with a duet with another UK unsung heroine, Ebony Alleyne (who in many ways is a woman born out of her time. She would not be out of place during the Bacharach and David days of the Sixties). The pair both sound as if they have been recording for many years together. Noel's track 4 is my favourite song on this set. He had his Curtis Mayfield hat on, when he co-penned 'Fly Away With Me', which is a song, best described as the best melody Curtis never recorded. Curtis crossed with 'Oh No, Not My Baby' is a good description of this lovely song. I think this is the best song Noel has recorded thus far, in my humble opinion. 'Merry Go Round' is another cracking song, which has a Southern feel to proceedings. This album contains 12 fine, fine songs by this very hard working Soul singer. Made the U.K. proud with this release Noel. More power to your Soulful elbow!

All three releases are available from Amazon, although if the Charles Wilson is difficult to find there, check Soul Brother. This is a second printing of that CD, after which there will be no more, so you may be picking yourself up a future rare groove in my humble opinion. All three albums are excellent and recommended unreservedly!

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• N'Dambi - Pink Elephant / BeBe & CeCe Winans - Still / Various - Soul Unsigned - Volume 3

N'DambiBeBe & CeCe WinansSoul Unsigned

N'Dambi was born Chonita Gilbert in Dallas, Texas. This album is, actually, her 4th album, and represents a forward career move for the woman, relocating to the rejuvenated Stax Records imprint. N'Dambi used to sing backgrounds for Erykah Badu, and, along with the help of the legendary producer Leon Sylvers III, she recorded this fine album in Santa Monica, California. To her credit, N'Dambi has a hugely distinctive vocal styling, making her instantly recognizable to most Soul Music fans. This set is, probably, her most satisfying release to date. Previous outings did contain killer tracks, however, these recordings show a new maturity and consistency throughout the proceedings, which make for a hugely enjoyable journey, stopping off at various welcome points along the way, one of which is the wonderfully titled 'Nobody Jones', which is as good a song as I have ever heard from this woman. 'LIE' is another cracker, containing a very socially aware lyric. Other moments of high standard arrive in the contrasting shapes of 'Mind Blowin', the Southern sounding 'Daisy Chain', 'Can't Hardly Wait' and the moody and melodic 'What It Takes'. N'Dambi's music is a thoughtful and really does set a mood throughout. 'N'Dambi....Mistress Of The Mood Music'! Very bold! Very fine release.

BeBe & CeCe Winans originally released their debut set 'Lord Lift Us Up', way back in 1985. Some 24 years later, the duo return (following a series of solo releases) as a combo, on the Malaco imprint. Those vocalists who have cut their recording cloth on the Gospel circuit, are generally those whose vocal strength's endure the longest on the Soul Scene. BeBe & CeCe sound as fresh today as they did nearly a quarter of a century ago. Describing the Winan's family vocal stylings is a fairly straighforward business. 'Strength' is the appropriate word. This strength is apparent throughout this 11 track set. 'Things' (a duet with brother Marvin), is the most commercial song on the set, borrowing a little from the Sounds Of Blackness's chestnut 'Optimistic'. Other moments of note are the downtempo title track, the very 'Wanna Be Startin' Something', 'Reason To Dance' (already a favourite of Peter Young at Jazz FM), the uplifting 'Changed My World' and the lovely ballad entitled 'The Garden'. Nice song that one. Nice to have the Winans 'Bro' and 'Sis' back together again. Very fine return to form. Recommended.

Phil Driver Soul Unsigned Records release their third in a fine series of releases, each of which indicate an increment in the standard of quality respectively. I really look forward to these albums landing on the doormat here. As with Expansion Records releases, Phil's label are fast becoming a Soul Standard kite mark of quality, which is a credit to Phil and his team's efforts over the last couple of years. One other aspect, to this fine series of releases, is the fact that the listener isn't shortchanged trackwise. On show here are 14 of some of the finest independent released Soul melodies, one artist of whom I have to mention is the excellent Richard Alexander Davis. His song 'You've Changed' is a highlight on this set, from a very strong solo album. One of Britain's finest in my humble opinion. Excellent Gentlemen have also seen the reviewing light of day at this site, and they are on display here with their song funky offering 'Freaky'. Personal favourites here? All of them, I kid you not! Nice to see the group Cool Million featured here, loved the songs by Alessia Piermarini and Candycream, although I think my favourite on the album overall has to be the Chris Youngblood song 'In Love With You', which has a similar feel to Leroy Hutson's 'So In Love'. Cracking song all told. Bring on Soul Unsigned Vol.4, which will be a hard act to follow on from this fine release. More power to your elbow Phil. Highly recommended.

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• Guiltypleasures - Love Stories / Mamas Gun - Routes To Riches / Tracy Hamlin - Better Days

Guilty PleasuresMamas GunTracy Hamlin

Guiltypleasures are, all told, one man. Rick White has assembled a group of very fine vocalists here, whom, with the able assistance of Rick, have constructed a veritable cracker of a 10 track album, which is currently retailing out of the fine store CD Baby. The very first song, sung by a certain Sol Elder, is a very simple piece of Modern Soul music, which is about as good as anything out there at the present. Not heard of this singer before, although he weighs in on two offerings here. 'The One' is the first of these two fine songs, with 'Soul' coming a close second. Both are real gems, which I cannot fault. Fine music indeed. A female soloist called Mycah Chevalier contributes to 5 songs on the album. As with Sol's tracks, these songs are of the highest order. Mycah can sing. No 'sing every note on the scale except the one she is supposed to sing' thing going on here! Her delivery is disciplined and hugely pleasing. A third vocalist, one Jerrica White, completes the trio of 'Soul Musicateers' on show here. It does come across in Rick's choice of vocalists on show, that the man knows what he wants out of a song and it's deliverer, and the vocalists seem to, almost, choose themselves. An album that will see some rotation on the better Soul Stations out there. A very fine release.

Mamas Gun are a U.K. based band out of Liverpool, whose main man, Andy Platt, achieved a scholarship to Liverpool's LIPA Institute. He also accompanied Corinne Bailey Rae on her debut album release and has collaborated alongside the likes of Rod Temperton (Heatwave), John Oates and Gil Scott Heron's mate, Brian Jackson! A very nice contact called Jules Gilchrist kindly sent me the album through their PR company. The album I had become interested in due to the recommendation of ex Blues and Soul scribe, Bill Buckley. Bill sent me a song from the promo CD entitled 'Pots Of Gold', which is one of the best Blue Eyed Soul tracks I have heard in a long while. Mamas Gun, to their credit, certainly examine every musical boundary within their musical CV, so this set is not for he 'play it safe purchaser' or the faint hearted! That said, I would describe this album as hugely refreshing. Some tracks are very Sly Stone meets Prince in the Purple One's rockier moments, however, there are some Soul Gems embedded into this tapestry, which make this a release for the many, and not for the few. The group will be hugely embraced by the likes of Jools Holland etc, however, the diehard Soul fan needs to check out the track mentioned, the downright hippy funk of 'Miracle', and the very Hall and Oates'y 'Lets Find A Way' (a very breezy dancer, which sounds as if it were made for a movie). I can't help but thinking that, if this song was released in 1976, it would be at the top of the pop charts. 2009? I think we are still waiting for the 'real music bus' to come round again to complete a long awaited route traversed around a huge north circular of stuff masquerading as music! :))) At the moment that particular bus is held up in never ending queue of 'dirge' traffic! Of the crop of new artists on the block, these guys deserve all the accolades that are currently murmuring from under he surface of the scene out there. Out imminently on Candelion Records. 'And finally, this week's number one.....yes it's 'Let's Find A Way' by Mamas Gun'! What are the chances?

Baltimore native, Tracy Hamlin's album is another CD Baby release, which sees the light of day thanks to the DMH Records imprint. Tracy was a featured vocalist for the fusion trio Pieces of a Dream on their 'No Assembly Required' and 'Love’s Silhouette' albums. Other artists who have partaken in the woman's vocal talents include Carlos Santana, Marcus Miller, Jonathan Butler, Kirk Whalum, Wayman Tisdale, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Acoustic Alchemy and Richard Elliott. 'Better Days' is Tracy's second album release, following on from her debut album 'Seasons'. This set has already been featured on the excellent Ralph Tee show on Jazz FM (check Ralph's chart at the site), which almost confirms a 'Soul Seal Of Approval'! Educationally, Tracy studied classical music at the Baltimore School of the Arts and followed on with further training at the Peabody Preparatory School of Music. Producers, Phil Davis, Eric Valentine and Kelvin Wooten really have helped Tracy craft an album of fine songs, current favourites here are 'You've Got To Let Go', 'You Are The One' (gorgeous song) and her delightful take on Stevie's / Aretha's 'Til You Come Back To Me', which is taken into an almost reggae vibe. Great set throughout.

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• Melba Moore and Phil Perry - The Gift Of Love / Francesca Sortino - The Music I Play / Claude Deuce - Young Elder

Melba Moore and Phil PerryFrancesca SortinoClaude Deuce

Worst possible thing any reviewer can do is review an album with a personal agenda. Personal agenda? Caught me bang to rights, guvnor! Shanachie is a label whose releases I have included at this site on a fairly regular basis. Each release has arrived on it's merits, and this set would have been no exception, as it features two of my favourite Soul vocalists. I have the added incentive in the guise of a certain Dwayne Palmer, who has become a great online friend over the last 6 or so years, ever since a compilation album he sent here back in the day impressed me so much, I posted it at the site. Dwayne is a very talented songwriter, who has contributed to this set, with a lovely (original) new song entitled 'We'll Be Together, Then'. This is a real gem of a tune, which provides Melba with a solo vocal vehicle of the highest order.

Dwayne Palmer dwayne c. palmer

Dwayne really ought to be let loose on an album with the Emotions, (a group whom he is good friends with). His songwriting encompasses the older stylings, without surrendering today's current musical textures. Shanachie albums are, by and large sets of cover versions. The label has almost become a state of the art label for this particular format. Lovely versions of some classic songs sit alongside Dwayne's song and the Chris 'Big Dog' Davis penned title track. Phil's voice is always in fine form. He is a pretty prolific vocalist, which does help. Melba has been away too long. I think it was Andy Warhol who once said 'we are all good looking for seven minutes in our lifetimes'. Melba, judging by the press photography, is experiencing her seven minutes right now. She has never looked more beautiful. Her vocal delivery is of the high standard set way back in the Seventies. The duo were not the first pairing I would have come up with for an album of duets, however, this has turned out to be an inspirational combination. First of many? Who knows, although I hope Phil continues in his fine series of album releases. Melba, well she simply cannot be allowed to sit on the artistic shelf. We need her around on the scene, if for no other reason, to show the younger pretenders just how this 'music thing' ought to be presented and delivered. A great Soul vocalist. Favourite tracks on the album are Dwayne's, the Spinners song 'Sadie', 'You Never Know' (which is far too short), and the gorgeous ballad 'Weakness' (can't recall who recorded this first!). Thanks for sending the album Dwayne. That is one great song my friend.

Francesca Sortino is a new singer to these ears. This, release, on Phantom Sound and Vision Records, is her first album in three years, apparently. Francesca is influenced by the likes of Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and the music of the '70s. In many ways, you can hear those guys influences on this set. 'The Music I Play' is arrangered by Dario Rosciglione and Enrico Solazzo, who have given Francesca free reign to explore several sides of the Soul and Jazz spectrum. When I first heard the song 'Namorada', it really lifted my spirits. One of those samba songs with that something extra, which carefully repositions the song within the territory normally occupied by the Soul fan. Very uplifting, which finishes suddenly, therefore deejays be warned! Many reviwers would file this set in the Bebel Gilberto / Diane Krall section of the store, although, I would point the archiver to the song 'Flattering' and suggest that the dance section might be a more appropriate home! Whatever you guys make of this album, I would certainly say there is a Swing Out Sister element to the music, which is a huge compliment to any artist, knowing the high regard I hold Corinne and Andy's work from that particular group. There are many great moments on this album, the title track being a good example. Great album, which should not be ignored.

Claude Deuce's album is a Gospel set. The album crept out on A. Williams Ent. at the start of the summer (?) and has sat on many a shelf without much recognition, which is a shame, as tucked away on this album is a real gem of a Soul tune, which didn't grab me at first, although, having walked around with 'What More' tucked away on my 'iPod for old blokes' (mine is so old it has a small dog sitting in front of it most places I go!), this song has really grown on me. Perhaps it is because the song doesn't go for the musical jugular on first listen, however, it builds on repeat listens, arriving at a point when the repeat button is reached for several times after each play. The rest of the album is contemporary Soul Gospel, with that particular twist. Gospel has become more and more important in todays Soul Music. Sure it always has been someplace buried in the roots of R&B, however, Soul Music does disappear altogether from it's own definition at times, and the spiritual hauls the genre back to where it belongs, thankfully. '4 Who UR' is a good example of this discipline. 'Holyghost Gyrl' is a decent ballad, although it is 'What More' which is the centre of attention on this set. 'Grower of the year' so far!

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• Tess Henley - Easy To Love / Sheri Jones-Moffett - Renewed / Smokey Robinson - Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Tess HenleySheri Jones MoffettSmokey Robinson

Been away for a couple weeks on family illness matters, so I had the time to catch up on some new material, which is great. Something about having time on your hands gives you time to concentrate a little more on a tune or two, which might otherwise slip through the net.

Tess Henley is a new U.K. artist, who has based herself in the States, and I wouldn't have any idea she existed if it hadn't been for Bill Buckley and Charles Waring at their excellent website. Bill sent me a track called 'Easy To Love', just before the family matters called me away. I really liked the song, so, whilst I was away, he sent me the rest of the 8 track album. Not the longest set on the market right now. I am grateful in some ways for that, as many CD's are so packed with songs, it is slightly off putting listening to the whole set throughout. Perhaps it is the time required to complete the journey, who knows? Tess is certainly a fine songwriter, who vocally, isn't any Aretha Franklin, although she seems to know her boundaries and wisely keeps within them, which is most endearing to this listener. Really it is this sort of artist who ought to be winning the likes of the X Factor. The road the likes that Tess and her like travel is a far more credible rather than the 'instant pot noodle' Soul music that is the flavour of the X Factor show dates, which lack the longevity of a good musical recipe. The X Factor and American Idol do seem to give the wannabees a 'deception factor' which can trick the panelist through showmanship. A full album delivers what cannot be denied, and this set is a prelude to, what could be a very fruitful career. Very much in the singer / songwriter vein, illustrated by the excellent ballad 'Hittin' Me Hard Now', Complicated' and my personal favourite 'Fool With You'. Out on Tess's own label, and through Amazon. Recommended indeed.

Amazon also stock the Sheri Jones Moffett album, which is out on EMI Gospel. I was sitting on a train listening to this album and thought that Norman Whitfield had been resurrected! It was the title track which woke me up. 'Renewed' is certainly the best track Norman Whitfield never recorded. A cracking 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' intro takes the song and album right up there into 'best dancer of 2009' territory. Gospel, with a Temptations slant. Can't be bad. The only problem with such an album opener, is the listener gets stuck on a 'hit the repeat' button mode, and we forget there are 9 other tracks awaiting attention! Let's deal with those then! Sheri is one of the non gospel belters out there, thankfully. 'Not To Late To Dream' is a lovely Anita Baker-esque ballad. 'I Feel Your Spirit' is hugely uplifting, whilst 'Best Life' is very reminiscent of the vocal stylings of Vanessa Bell Armstrong. After the opening dance classic, the album is downtempo in feel, and most enjoyable.

Smokey Robinson certainly defines the word 'evergreen'. He has remained true to his roots ever since his first outing, some 5 decades or so ago. You can pick up any Smokey Robinson album, and find a classic somewhere within the collection. 'Easy To Love' was one track which stood out from his recent years, and, as with this album, indicates how music has moved on since the late Fifties. Back in those days, it was commonplace to find a ballad or two in the Top 20. In todays marketplace, the only ballads are normally covers of older tunes, sung by the latest winner of this or that talent show. The stage surely has turned into a catwalk, and the music represents the rhythms a model requires to strut her stuff in front of the interactive audiences. Smokey has always had a beautiful voice. The delivery is still spot on, which is quite amazing for a performer of his maturing years. Balladry may be out of fashion with the public at the moment, however, within the industry there are those performers who respect those whom have transcended requesting respect. They have it as a matter of course. In the likes of Smokey's and Stevie's cases, it is there is there. Enough said. 'Time Flies' is a lovely album. Nice to hear Smokey giving the Norah Jones song 'Don't Know Why' his tender touch. 'You're The One For Me' is a great duet with the UK singer Joss Stone, who accompanies Smokey on a top drawer melody, which is probably the pick of the bunch of the overall set. Nice to hear Joss disciplining herself vocally, maintaining the harmony sections without turning matters into a contest. 'Time Flies' is simply gorgeous (a Robbie Vincent favourite) and 'Satisfy You' is Smokey at his finest. If you even part like this singer, you'll be awarding yourself several brownie points if you bought this album. Lovely release from a genius, who never suffers from 'a fine return to form' syndrome, as he is always up there or thereabouts.

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• Jeff Majors - Sacred Heart / Ledisi - Turn Me Loose / Charles 'Big Daddy' Stallings - Blues Evolution

Jeff MajorsLedisiCharles Stallings

Jeff Majors is a Gospel artist, who plays the harp! Pretty appropriate instrument all told when dealing with matters of a spiritual nature! Around 9 or so years ago, I first became aware of Jeff's work, whilst listening to a Soul Show on Jazz FM hosted by Ralph Tee. Ralph played a track by Jeff called 'Sonny's Prayer' way back then. At that time, the point of interest, regarding the song, wasn't anything to do with Jeff per se. It was the the fact that he had played a small part in de-mothballing MFSB to lend a hand with the string arrangements. That was a real nice instrumental track, and some 9 years down the line, Jeff releases 'Sacred Heart' on the Music One imprint. As to whether MFSB are involved on this set, well, I am not sure, although it sure sounds as if the guys are on board again. What I am aware of are the vocal enlistings of the likes of Ali Ollie Woodson, the Sacred Voices, Shirley Murdock, Chuck Brown and LaShell Griffin. Each of the artists mention contribute quality material on this set, although I am going to take the direct route to one particular track, fronted by a gentleman called James Murphy. I have always liked the steppers sound, which has developed over the last few years. I think here, Jeff may have made the definitive steppers track, which goes under the title of 'Step In'. The message, coupled with the lush string arrangements, Jeff's tender harp interjections, along with James' beautifullly delivered vocal, all go to make this the track of this summer for these old ears. Really delightful track and completely essential. Shirly Murdock's lovely midtempo 'My Body' has some very Jones Girls overtones, probably due to the string inclusions on show here. LaShell Griffin's song 'Broken Vessel' is set to be the 45 off the album, however, they shouldn't wait too long to let 'Step In' loose into the Soul Music world. Lovely material.

Ledisi is a singer I have met, mainly due to the efforts of those nice Prangell Brothers at Soul Brother, and a certain Charles Waring, who conspired to get me along to a gig of Ledisi's here in London some 6 years ago now. I don't think there will be many folks out there (who have heard and seen this woman perform), who would disagree with the statement that 'Ledisi is the finest female Soul vocalist on the scene right now'. That she sure is. Controlled vocal dynamics, which don't wreck a melody, but enhance affairs. Ledisi has become a well respected artist, thus her appearance on the Verve label thesedays. Ledisi's recognition has allowed her, in her own words, to take the Star Trek route and 'tread boldly' on this album. Tearing the heart out of Buddy Miles' 'Them Changes' is a perfect example of her taking a gamble. Has it paid off? Well, yes, unreservedly. The proof of a great singer, over an ordinary pretender, is a great singer could sing your laundry list and give it some feeling. Ledisi could sing 'Ernie the fastest milkman in the west' and still have the song topping the R&B charts! there's a thought! LOL. Of the tracks on show here, well the Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis collaboration 'Higher Than This' is a lovely song. Thev woman has also been in the studio with Chucky Thompson (Mary J.Blige), Raphael Saadiq and Rex Rideout to add to her team on this fine album. A very nice set throughout, with 'Say No' doing the business for this listener.

A month or so ago, a man representing, the wonderfully named, 'Charles 'Big Daddy' Stallings got in touch with me. He was called J.T. (not sure what the initials stand for), however, the man sent me a song called 'Hand Dancin', which I can purely describe as 'absolutely charming'. The song reminded me of the sort of song the late Johnnie Taylor would have loved to record. Very Bill Coday in many ways as well. J.T. said he'd mail the set to me, which was originally recorded back in 2007. As with many independent releases, these albums go on the back burner for a while, until folks pick up on them and they begin to make waves amongst those on the Real Soul circuit. 20 years ago, this sound would have been called 'little label', although thesedays, the littlest of labels now receive the oxygen of the Internet, and thank heavens for that technological blessing! Charles' CD is out on the Tai Jeria Record label and is full of all sorts of musical twists and turns! 'Hand Dancin' is one of the best Southern Soul music melodies I have heard in a long time. If you were into Bill Codays 'Midnight Mood' tune, recorded a few years ago, this is very much in that vein. The album as a whole, is very much a Blues orientated set. If you are into your polished modern music, then this set isn't for your ears. This is the real deal. The raw material which makes up the foundations of everything on the radio today, and, as with all of the major releases that accompany this album here, all are available at Amazon right now.

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• Excellent Gentlemen - Just Say Yes / Various - The Contemporary Soul Songbook Vol. 1 / George Benson - Songs and Stories

Excellent GentlemenContemporary Soul SongbookGeorge Benson

Excellent Gentleman are a new, Oregon based, Soul group, whose CD retails at CD Baby right now. This is a very much old school offering, however, there are contemporary influences involved in the mix, which drew me to the album initially. On first hearing 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah', I figured this would be an album that would meet with many Soul folks approval out there. This 'old school' feel is definitely from an early Eighties classroom. Not top heavy on production, but nicely sung and, definitely, 'in the groove. Parts of the album are semi rapped, which will have some purists hitting for the skip button, however, I put the album on the stereo and enjoyed it throughout. Some very nice moments to add to the previously mentioned song, the pick of which were the ballad 'Hard Gentlemen' (very bold and very much their business!), and the melodic 'Chances'. 'You Gotta Believe' is top drawer modern Soul, and the killer for myself, was the Stevie Wonder influenced 'Remember Your Love'. Enough on this album to satisfy the most enthusiastic of critics. Worth tracking down.

Phil Driver's fine efforts in bringing Modern Soul to the masses, are now beginning to pay dividends, in as much as this album has already featured on Jazz FM, and quite rightly so. Phil has 'cherry picked' some of the finer releases from the last year or so, for his fine Soul Unsigned imprint. The great aspect of releases such as these are, during hard financial times such as these, none of us can keep up with every album release within this genre. Phil has done the proverbial ear/leg work for you, so the best of the best all accumulate here, giving the listener an accurate snapshot of what has transpired on the Modern Soul scene recently. Sixteen tracks all told, all of which are classy, and, many have featured at this site at various times. Razzberry, the excellent Trish Andrews, Sophia Nelson and the brilliant Anoinette Manganas, all have found a home here, and all realize a new lease of life on this fine compilation. Nice to see Ariana Jane making an appearance here, in the form of her Michael Powell produced song 'Mirage'. She is a very nice person. Just thought I would mention that, as she was in touch here a few months back. I think, currently, my probable favourite track on this set is the underrated 'India' taken from the recently reviewed Eddie Sea album. That set deserved more attention than it received first time round, so second time round the block? I hope so, and thanks to Phil for providing the taxi! LOL. Soul Unsigned is a very worthwhile venture. In these times of recession, the term 'uphill climb' is an understatement. More power to the labels elbow! Out at Amazon and Soul Brother right now.

A new George Benson album, back in the Seventies, was greeted with a fanfare. In the new millennium, they seem to be greeted with a bus fare instead! LOL What a shame as, George has constructed a really lovely set here. If this album came out in 1978, say, it would be hailed as a fusion classic. Smooth Jazz may have been a godsend to fusion fans in the mid nineties, however, the perception of the listening Soul folks soon became that, if you wanted a smooth jazz album, you could only find one in an elevator. Smooth Jazz has moved on, largely due to the likes of brother George just being too good for....well his own good! It maked me laugh that 'those in the know', at Warners back in the mid Seventies, tried to stop George singing on his records. His voice wasn't strong enough (in their opinion) apparently! Lesson to be learned for the younger musicians out there. Those elders that try to steer you in a direction, which is uncomfortable for your liking, well stick to your guns. George did, and he went on to release some million sellers. I think this album will be greeted underwhelmingly by the corporate music businessmen, however, as punters, we know better. George's new set really is the business. Just take a listen to 'Family Reunion' (not the old O'Jays chestnut, but a new tune). Really top drawer Soul music of the highest order. If they release a single from the album 'Show Me The Love' will probably be the initial choice. I feel a couple of remixes coming on for some Soul entrepreneur remixer out there! Also, this set has a couple bonus balls for this listener. Lalah Hathaway can do no wrong in my book, and she duets with George on 'A Telephone Call Away', following which George performs his rendition of Lalah's Dad's 'Someday We'll All Be Free'. You scratch my back etc... As you would expect, the guitar playing is of the highest order, and George's voice is as fresh as a daisy. Ought to sell in huge quantities, however, I think the financial climate might moderate those sales somewhat, which would be a shame. Check Soul Brother for early copies when the set finally gets a 'release into the wild', sometime in September! Great release.

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• Jonathan Jeremiah - What's A Guy Got To Do? - EP / Julius - My Time / Calvin Richardson - Facts Of Life

Jonathan JeremiahJuliusCalvin Richardson

Jonathan Jeremiah is from Wembley in London. He looks the man most least likely to make anything that would resemble Soul Music in any shape or form, and yet, he has penned one of the best Soul songs of 2009 thus far (obviously in my very humble opinion, for whatever that's worth! LOL). There isn't a sleeve to this release as of now, so I pulled this photo from the man's MySpace web page. Got to have a face to a voice, haven't we? The EP comes in a 10" format as well as a CD release, with some very diverse songs on offer. Jonathan cites the likes of James Taylor and Carole King as influences, which is fine by me, although it is the title track of the quartet that will really appeal to the more Soulful listener. There are full on strings to accompany this beautiful mid tempo offering, on which Jonathan is, vocally, slightly reminiscent of O.C. Smith. If O.C. is your bag, then you'll love this song. I guess if Universal are behind Jonathan, then he'll be appearing on many, more Rock orientated, television shows, mainly due to the majority of the songs on offer here. Of this odd song, well, it will probably be filed alongside the couple of Michael Jackson tunes around, which ought to be 45's, but won't be. A very nice track that I can't imagine any Soul fan will not wholeheartedly approve of. Many thanks to Bill Buckley and Charles Waring, from the fine, website, for putting me onto this fine song. Out shortly I am told. Check Amazon for copies, or iTunes for a downloadable copy.

Julius's set has arrived on CD Baby very quietly a month or so ago. Julius Bresler sounds a little like Frankie Beverly in places on this album. The music does have an independent feel throughout the release, which, when it works as it does very well here, adds to the charm of the music. Much of the music sent here comes from the larger labels. Some of it is very nice indeed, although, I do love to hear albums such as this set. The song that instantly grabbed me on this album, is the lovely, Maze-esque, 'So Much Love'. I am sure Julius must be a fan of that ensemble. This is lovely midtempo material. The album is very much ballad orientated, which is usually the main appeal to this listener, however, the uptempo numbers really do win the day, with 'People All Over The World' being a fine example. 'All Night' is another fine piece of midtempo Soul, whilst 'My Love Is For Real' is balladry of a very high standard. This set will appeal to those who loved the independent material which saw the light of day during the Eighties. Very nice album. Check CD Baby for copies.

Calvin Richardson has been with Shanachie Records for a while now. He even recorded an album, which wasn't an album full of cover versions for the label! LOL This new release does revert to the covers format, which could be a retrograde step for some artists, however, Calvin has a couple of aspects on his side. Firstly, if you are going to record an album of cover versions, Shanachie is the label to do just that at, and secondly, if an album is going to be constructed of the material of others, then you can't go far wrong with the writings of the 'last Soul man', Brother Bobby Womack. Who doesn't like Bobby's music? Not many folks out there, whether they are Rock, Country or Soul music based. The Stones like Bobby's music and so does any other Soul music fan out there. You do don't you? If you don't, straight down to your local casualty department at the nearest hospital with you! I am highly concerned regarding the state of your mental health! LOL What is nice about this set is Calvin has maintained the vocal inflections which permeate Bobby's Music over the years. 'Harry Hippie' has often been used as an 'evening end smoocher'. This is on here, along with 10 other Bobby classics. I am not going to single out any of these songs, as I love all of them. The biggest wish with this release, is the hope that the contemporary R&B fan might listen to the set and become curious as to the source material. Couple of songs I would have included (especially 'How Could You Break My Heart' and 'Give It Up'), however, all told, that is insignificant quibbling on my part. Very nice set, which I am a little late with. Just didn't want anyone to bypass this release. Be nice to have some new music from the originator at some stage. Soon to be out on Amazon.

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• Michael Jackson - Someone Put Your Hand Out / Mayer Hawthorne - A Strange Arrangement / Cookin' On 3 Burners - Soul Messin'

Michael JacksonMayer HawthorneCookin On 3 Burners

Michael Jackson's passing has created two mindsets with most folks. One is a feeling of absolute despair amongst his fans, the other is that sense of anger that someone has been taken from us without any prior warning, which is another natural feeling that anyone would undergo when they have lost someone who had a place somewhere in their lives. The man looked well running through his routines two days before his passing, so the shock factor for some folks is still there. So why is the singer here on the latest releases page at Soulwalking? Well, in many ways, I am scratching an itch, which has been there for nearly two years now. The itch relates to a song an engineer sent me, recorded by Michael, which I presumed was taken from a new set of sessions the singer was recording, some songs of which featured many of the latest R & B performers, along with some major performers, such as Carlos Santana. This song however, has really haunted me all this time, in as much as, it sat uneasily against the other songs on the set, and it did make me wonder regarding the origins of the song. Since Michael's passing, facts have emerged which, not only make the song playable on the radio, but also clear up why this particular song sounded so unique. 'Someone Put Your Hand Out' wasn't part of the new album. It originated through the sessions recorded back when Michael was recording the 'Dangerous' album tracks back in 1992. The song was originally released on a cassette, as part of a promotion pack for Pepsi. I am sure you will remember that Michael had a problem with some of the fire pyrotechnics whilst recording one video, which led to the pain killer / hair catching fire matter, and everything else which subsequently followed. 'Someone' was penned by Teddy Riley, and was later issued as part of a 3 CD Box Set, which Sony released back in 2004. The track also made it to a promo CD pack, along with other tracks taken from 'Dangerous'. All very similar to the 'My Last Chance' song, which Marvin Gaye recorded, and was only promotionally released a few years ago. I spoke to a good friend, in the business, who assured me the track was 'playable' on air, the song any good? LOL. Put it this way, if 'Thriller' or 'Off The Wall' were Michael's pinnacle recording achievements during his lifetime, it is my belief that 'Someone Put Your Hand Out' would sit comfortably on either set. In my opinion, it would be one of the better tracks on either of those albums. Am I being overly enthusiastic? I don't think so. 'Realistic' is a better description. Well, everyone I have played this song to, says exactly the same. It is simply one of the best songs Michael Jackson recorded during his 50 years. My only 'pipedream' is that the song might be released as a postumous 45, make the top of the charts (as 'Dock Of The Bay' did relating to brother Otis Redding back in '67), with, perhaps, a generous gesture bring, the profits go to a charity of the families choice. My friend wisely reminded me that the Music business is called 'a business' for that reason, however, I do believe that, as Alan Price once sang 'it's just amazing how fair people can be'. What I would say is, normally after an artist passes away, we are spoon fed sub standard unfinished new material, which has been heaved from the vaults (kicking and screaming), or given several repackaged older, successful albums. Folks are then expected to replace their older records and tapes with new CD repressings (normally being described as 'remasters', which means the volume has been turned up a bit! LOL). All told, there is a genuine opportunity here to release a song which is as good as anything the originator has ever recorded (and better than most), giving the diehard Michael Jackson fan one additional gem to add to their collection. There is a posting of 'Someone Put Your Hand Out' (a very biographical song title if ever there was one) on You Tube. Whatever happens to this song, it would be a crime for it to be allowed to remain, even partially, in the Michael Jackson vaults. Go take a listen and make your own mind up:

The passing of Michael Jackson was not the day the music died. Music endures. It always will do. Michael Jackson enhanced the genre, and for that we are all very grateful. His passing has overshadowed everything else related to music in the last fortnight, therefore, I think we should 'accentuate the positive' and look forward to this new Mayer Hawthorne and Cookin' on 3 Burners albums, both of which are due shortly. Mayer Hawthorne really doesn't look the part does he? When my good friend Bill Buckley said he had an album by the man, and he thought I would like the set, well I went off to Amazon to check the sleeve. I thought Bill might have lost his marbles, however, after the CD arrived, what a revelation! Perhaps the best comparison to the set is the release last year by Raphael Saadiq. That set was a very Motown-esque montage of great new songs....which sounded like old songs! This album is positioned very much in that playing field. Perhaps the biggest difference is the musical root base from which has been chosen influentially. What do I mean by that? Well, the title track is of a heavily Thom Bell / Detroit Spinners structure. Beautiful song indeed. There are the Motown influences with 'Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin' being a perfect example. There are so many styles that have been chosen by this Michigan based vocalist, who does look as if he ought to be handling your annual accounts! LOL Looks are so deceiving here. He has been listening to the Impressions on 'Make Her Mine', Martha Reeves on 'One Track Mind' and the Delfonics on 'Shiny and New'. Mayer will, probably appear on shows such as the Jools Holland programme when this album is released in September. It is well worth an iTunes download if the Raphael Saadiq album was something that pleased you last year. Lovely Soul Music all told. I'd pay good money to see an assistant (who might be into indie music, say) at your local record store, trying to find a place on the shelves for this CD! LOL.

In the U.K., the Australians have hit town! No not to completely overtake daytime U.K. television with their soap opera's (doing a pretty good job thus far, however! LOL), but the cricket team are in town to take on the Pom's in order to win a cup full of ashes! LOL (don't ask me, but it is very much their business!). Far more subtely, over the last couple of years, Australian Soul performers have been carving their own niche within the global Soul Scene, and a pretty good job they are doing of the task truth be told. The Bamboo's are one of the premier outifits from down under. They are one terrific Soul outfit, closely followed by these guys called 'Cookin On 3 Burners'. The glue which seems to hold much of the music together falls into the vocal talents of a certain Kylie Auldist. Kylie could easly sing her countries namesake off any stage, not through 'hollering', but with sheer exuberance and her own unique vocal styling. Kylie has her own excellent album around called 'Made Of Stone', which is a fine piece of music in it's own right, although, trackwise, she really pushed he boat out on this new 3 Burners album, with the song 'This Girl'. Retro is a quality which seems to permeate through many of the newer Australian Soul sounds currently being exported to distant shores. When Kylie really lets her hair down (as with 'Push It Up' on this album), she can run with the best of the singers out there. Personally, when the tempo drops a little, allowing the melody to come through', there are few to touch her amongst her contemporaries. 'This Girl' is a perfect example. Lovely summer Soul Music. Do check 'In A Week, In A Day' on her own album as well. Not sure if the Aussie's will win the 'cup full of ashes' (we've got an old full ashtray here, they are most welcome to as well!), however, they will win over many new fans with this 'new wave' of Soul Music eminating from the 'land of the rising soap opera'! LOL Kylie Auldist is a real find. Highly recommended in all departments!

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• Mykah Montgomery - Me N'U / Will Downing - Classique

Mykah MontgomeryWill Downing

Mykah Montgomery has had a great deal to deal with, domestically, recently, as her Grandfather, Buddy Montgomery, passed away last month. Buddy was an amazing musician and played a huge part in the history of Black Music across the last few decades. Mykah is also the grandniece of a certain Wes Montgomery, no less. On this set she continues the family musical tradition very competently. I wanted to namecheck Joerg from Sonicsoul, who put me in touch with Mykah, who is very personable, and somewhat reflective right now, understandably. The music? Well, this new CD comprises of some 18 tracks, one of which (a song entitled 'I Want You') I tried to download from a link Mykah sent me, but got the same track as another on the set, so someplace there lies a mystery tune, however, the other seventeen songs range between the run of the mill (only one song), to the quite exceptional throughout the listening journey. 'Think I Like Ya' is a great song for daytime radio purposes. A catchy chorus, and far too short in my humble opinion. I am not sure if any of you remember a Craig T Cooper track called 'Quality Time' (a lush ballad of real quality from 1990)? Well 'Love Is Blind' on here is of a similar standard. A real cracker of a ballad this one. Ballads a pretty much the order of the day throughout this set, which all go to make the album very listenable indeed. 'Dream With Me' is another prime example of balladry at it's finest. This is a very fine set, and a great addition to the Montgomery family curriculum vitae. Available at iTunes and Amazon, along with Mykah's own website right now. I hope the Montgomery family are all keeping (and coping) well right now. Nice album this one.

Talking of being available at Amazon right now, the new Will Downing album is available there as well as Mykah's fine album. Any new album from Will is almost a 'go buy blind' occasion for a Soul Fan. This copy only arrived in a couple of days ago, so, as a deejay friend of mine once said to me, 'I'll be the first person to review this album last!' LOL. Quite what the need is to be the first to music in some corners of this business, is a mystery to me. Too much haste and less speed! Will, as many of you know by now, has been unwell over the last couple of years. Back in 2007 he wrote:

'2007 has been quite the year. Health being the most paramount for me and my family, in 2007 I was stricken with Polymyositis, a muscle debilitating disorder that basically took away my ability to function on my own including using any of my limbs or even walking. The project could have easily been entitled 'Songs From The Black Chair' since the majority of my vocals were cut from my wheelchair at home. After a period of depression and "why me's", I rekindled a relationship with God and family like never before. His love for me is getting me through these interesting times. I've come to deal with these circumstances but not accept them as I know I will overcome this illness. Enjoy this project as the Love that it took to make it, is powerful and sincere.'

That all referred to his last album 'After Tonight'. Bit of a health rollercoaster ride for this singer. His recovery is not only a welcome return to health for the man, but speaking selfishly, a welcome return to his music, which has always been of the highest standard. I have picked up all of Will's recordings since his first self titled outing was released back in the late Eighties. Not a bad record within any of the fine collection. These recordings simply have no filler tracks, and each resemble a collection of musical works of art. Masterpieces, if you like. Here you get 10 future Downing classics, therefore the title of the album is pretty much a 'does what it says on the box' state of affairs!. Favourites? Yes, 10 of them! 'Something Special' was the preview song, which is a very nice mid tempo outing indeed. Will covers a couple of standards on the set. 'Baby, I'm For Real' and 'I'm Gonna Love You A Little Bit More' are both treated with respect, beautifully sung and given his own vocal treatment very nicely. Will posesses a lovely voice, warm and vibrant, which suits most musical styles. His voice is very strong thesedays, considering his recent health, trials and tribulations. I think my personal favourite on this set is 'Let's Make It Now', which ought to be played to every musical scholar out there. How to write and perform a song, leading by melody and not arrangement. If you bought this set, and the latest Teena Marie album from Amazon, I think you would be a pretty pleased bunny all told. If for some reason you don't like either of these sets, do let me know so I can immediately call the casualty department at your local hospital and admit an emergency case in the need of the utmost urgent medical attention! That told you! LOL.

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• Teena Marie - Congo Square / Marcus Johnson - Poetically Justified / Nathan Haines - Right Now

Teena MarieMarcus JohnsonNathan Haines

Teena Marie doesn't make bad albums. True or false? Well, apart from a couple of late Eighties rock tinged sets, she is more reliable than many artists out there. The recent publicity shots and hype that have accompanied this set did raise the expectations of the listener to some heady heights regarding this set, heights of which, Teena has easily achieved with this latest 16 tracker on Stax Records. In the recent press publicity of this songstress, she comes across relaxed, complimentary of her fellow artists, and respectul of the subject matter which is touched upon in the title song here:

'Congo Square is a place in New Orleans where slaves were allowed to dance and sing on Sundays. It's kind of a tribute to a lot of the jazz musicians that came through New Orleans (and) the people that I loved when I was growing up. Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and then a lot of the younger jazz artists now (such as) Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.'

Teena collaborates with several contemporary and old school artists on her new offering. MC Lyte helps out on the album opener 'The Pressure', Faith Evans assists vocally on the single 'Can't Last A Day', Howard Hewett (his name often is mis-spelled out there!) duets on 'Lovers Lane', Shirley Murdock does likewise on 'Soldier', and the (extremely busy thesedays) George Duke helps out on the albums excellent title track. The only name new to these old ears is one Rose LeBeau, who is featured on the song 'Milk N'Honey'. For the large part, this set is positioned someplace around mid-tempo, with Teena sounding as fresh as ever on all offerings on show. I cannot point my finger at any one track and say, 'that is he tune on this set'. Therein lies the strength of Teena Marie's albums. There never are any filler tracks thesedays. Back in the day, we could have pulled 'My Dear Mr Gaye' from one set, 'Just Us Two' from another. In recent years, a great deal of thought and competent songwriting go to make her albums of the highest order within the Soul scene. Tomorrow, my favourite track will be a different one to the current favourites, which are 'Congo Square' and 'Baby I Love You'. The song 'Soldier' is a thoughtful political melody, which will bring some comfort to those who have seen relatives pass away in recent troubles. Teena has matured into a very nice woman, who will hopefully, be gracing us with her musical presence for many years to come. One of the must have sets of 2009.

Marcus Johnson is a fine fusion keyboard player. Maysa Leak is a superb vocalist, highly distinctive in her own vocal delivery, and a big favourite here. Put the two together, and something magical is bound to happen, and here it transpires beautifully. The album also features a couple of artists, who have been either, on the scene (but keeping a low profile), or off the scene completely for a long while...until now. Najee was a huge fusion artist in the Eighties. He did nothing wrong personally and musically, it was just that the machinery that was Smooth Jazz veered off the beaten track in recent years, taking many performers in it's wake. Miles Jaye, additionally, was big on the Soul scene back in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Thankfully, artists such as Marcus, offer new avenues of opportunity for these great performers, and here we have the return of two giants in their own performing fields. Miles gets to perform on two offerings here, 'Capice' and a great re-working of his own single 'Heaven' from back in the day. I remember Frankie Knuckles taking this song into a very nice, different place back in the day. Najee gets funky with Marcus on the radio friendly 'I See You'. Very nice track this one. Marcus also gets to grips with John Legends song 'Used To Love You', although the tracks that will please the Soul folks out there are bound to be the Maysa Leak melodies. 'Hold On' is the uptempo offering, which will please the folks who want to shake their 'ever expanding parts' (very bold!) about he dancefloors out there! LOL. The killer track really is Maysa and Marcus's future Soul classic 'Master Of The Game'. If anyone was to ask me 'what do you mean when you describe a melody as being 'song-led?', well, this is a fine example. Bound to be in the Top Twenty of 2009 in many folks charts. Highly recommended and out on Three Keys Music.

Nathan Haines makes great dance records. His latest offering is a real barnstormer of a set. 'Right Now' is out on Phantom Sound & Vision Records, and is another set featuring a couple of vocalists who are household Soul and Jazz names. The title track features a certain Marlena Shaw, and Vanessa Freeman guests on 'Creation Calling' and 'Tell Me What You're Feeling'. Marlena's vocals, coupled with Nathans penchant for 'retro', almost go to create an additional track, from say, her 'Who Is This Bitch Anyway?' set from the early Seventies. This is as good a dancer as you could wish to hear this year. Vanessa's two tracks follow in an uptempo mode. 'Tell Me' is what some would describe as 'hypnotic', although 'great' might be a better description! The 'Nathan only' tracks are of a similar high standard, with the Roy Ayers sounding 'Today' doing it for these old ears! 'Talking Around' is very old school fusion, which will please many old 'jazz funkers' out there. All told, a very nice album of uptempo dancers and made all the more palatable with the inclusion of several performers, especially the excellent Marlena. Nathan Haines has almost cornered the market concerning this section of the Black Music genre, and more power to his performing elbow. Eagerly looking forward to his next release already!

All of the above albums can be found at Soul Brother Records, or Amazon. All well worth adding to your shelves, that's for sure!

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• Vanessa Williams - The Real Thing / Eddie Sea Presents - Moon City / 45 a.k.a. Swing-O - The Revenge Of Soul

Vanessa WilliamsEddie Sea45 a.k.a. Swing-O

Vanessa Williams is someone I was lucky enough to meet 20 years ago, when she turned up the the Oxford Street branch of HMV Records. At that time, her debut album had just been released, and she was that 'U.S. super model, who had just turned her hand to music', so to speak. I remember how striking she looked at the time, and I already had her album, not because of her looks, but because it was, actually, very good. Her take on the Guinn song 'Dreamin' was a particular favourite at the time. Well, after a movie with Arnold Schwarzenneger ('Eraser'), singing 'Colours Of The Wind' from Pochahontas, a lead part in 'Shaft', roles in Ugly Betty etc, we still have taken our eyes off the ball, in as much as she is still releasing music of the highest quality. 1994's song, 'You Can't Run', was one of my favourite songs of that year. Some 15 years on, the woman brings us her new Concord Music release 'The Real Thing'. Vocally, she still as strong as ever, beautifully illustrated by the opening song 'Breathless', which is, subsequently, complemented by 'Just Friends, a song which Anita Baker would be very pleased to see appear on any of her albums (what is she up to thesedays?). Babyface penned the songs 'Loving You' here, and the previously mentioned 'Just Friends', whilst 'Hello Like Before' is a Bill Withers tune (her late father’s favourite artist. The Stevie Wonder penned title track takes Vanessa into samba territory, another excellent song, vocally suiting the Vanessa Williams vocal environment and lushly arranged. Those of you who own Patti Austin's similarly titled album of the same name 'The Real Me', will be aware of Patti's take on the evergreen 'Lazy Afternoon', which Vanessa also adds to her own portfolio. Very nice it is too. In fact I would say, and I am sure Vanessa would not mind, that as a reference point as to the overall feel of this album, Patti's set would be a good place to start. Certainly won't break any bass bins, but a highly recommended set from a very underrated singer. Out at Amazon right now.

Chicago based, Eddie Sea Caldwell's album is out at CD Baby right now on the Music of the Sea Inc.imprint. This album is acutally a 'Various Artists' set. The blurb describes the album is 'Eddie's album of a lifetime'! Very bold claim to fame, however, this isn't half bad, truth be told. The opener, the Aaron Sledge fronted 'India' is already receiving airplay on some of the better Soul Radio stations out there, and quite right too. Aaron navigates the melody into a real groove, which is highly listenable and worth the price of the set on it's own. The fourteen track set features Aaron, alongside Marilyn Hearns, The Golden Child, Shauntia Toussaint (a relative?), Iesha Sturdivant, Aaron Mills, Rio a.k.a Swolts and Eddie himself. Shauntia's haunting 'Underwater Paradise' has a real 'Michael Jackson/I Can't Help It' vibe gracing proceedings, and is probably my favourite track on show here. Another of her tunes, 'Changing People' is another winner. Very radio friendly. Very nice set throughout, worth tracking down. Check CD Baby for some audio.

The oddly titled 45 a.k.a. Swing-O is an artist very much in the same vein of the previous arist Eddie Sea. 'Revenge of the Soul' features various artists, all gelled together by 45 a.k.a. Swing -O, who is a Japanese pianist/composer/producer. Swing-O is based on the Tokyo club music scene. Swing-O has his own group called Izanami, and is a member of the Jamnuts group (who comprise of a multitude of local musicians). This new set is his second release, and features several artists, some of which you will be familiar with, namely Stephanie McKay, Marcellus Nealy and a certain Jimmy Abney. If you drop by the site regularly, you'll be aware of Jimmy's fine album from last year. That set was one of my favourite albums from last year. Retro, sure, but retro of the highest quality. On this set he only weighs in with one song, however. 'Nothing Feels Better Than You', from this fine release, would probably eclipse anything on that excellent album. One of the best songs this year without doubt. This album touches so many musical bases, that if there was ever an album around which would suit most tastes out there.....well this is it! 'Mysterious Journey' will delight those who long for the likes of another 'Summer Madness' on the scene. Quite an amazing piece of music. This album is very much in the Acid Jazz bag, however, there is a huge slice of 'and then some' regarding proceedings. A fine release, which Soul Brother and other superior retailers are bound to be stocking and retailing as I write. Out on Origami Productions.

Vanessa Williams

Eddie Sea

45 a.k.a. Swing-O

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• Asher Roth - Asleep In The Bread Aisle / Lisa McClendon - Reality / Natalie Williams - Soul Family Vol.1

Asher RothLisa McLendonNatalie Williams

Asher Roth's album is pretty terrible. LOL That woke you up didn't it! Sometimes a track is so demanding and difficult to ignore, that if you choose to ignore it, you become part of the musical industry machinery that you have come to criticise over the years. As with many of you guys, you'll have a circuit of friends, who are interested in the music, and each of them will have a side of the music which they are more focussed upon than others. Your best friend might be a Soul Fan, but he's very into Reggae, another might be a fan of Jazz, another, a Lovers Rock specialist. The common thread is the music of Black origin. A very good friend of mine called Owen (whom I used to work with in the Design business) is a big fan of Soul music. Owen's specialist subject was dance music, although he had a very comprehensive knowledge of all things Soulful. Whenever he recommends something to me, I listen. Something about some people which demands attention, without themselves being demanding per se. Owen listens to a side of Black Music I normally do not, therefore anything he recommends, is usually, a) something interesting, or b) something so alien to my own musical senses, I have to put a completely different musical hat on to listen to the stuff. That is the case with this Asher Roth track. Asher raps, a bloke called Miguel sings. I know that most purists will hold up their hands and say, what on earth is Toby putting an Eminem wannabe on a site that includes the likes of Nancy Wilson, Count Basie and Otis Redding? I guess it is the same reason I entertained the Michael Franti song 'Every Single Soul' at the site several years back. Sure this song entitled 'His Dream' will not make any Soul charts out there. It won't, in turn, make any Rap charts either. Soul fans might hate it, Soul companies certainly will, Soul deejays? Those with open minds might entertain a listen (which I would encourage them to do so), others will think I have lost the plot. Great! 'His Dream' will just sit in a musical no mans land, largely ignored, as the rest of the album isn't all that, and that would be a shame. If you are a radio deejay, you would be instantly criticised for playing this track on your show, however, there is something very haunting about the track, which is basically a spoken (not shouted) word over a very nice piece of Soul Music, relating a younger person's perspective of their fathers day to day life predicament. Perhaps this is why this song appeals to myself right now, being of a similar age the father is within the story. I know many men of my age would listen to, and relate to, this song. The song also appeals to the side of me which really believes in much of the younger generation. They are always portrayed as being greedy and mannerless (I know some older folks than myself who also might fit into that category!). This track corrects the balance. 'His Dream' will enfuriate some sections of the Soul fraternity, however, life would be pretty boring if the boat wasn't rocked once in a while. I am very grateful to Owen for letting me know about this song. File under 'one track album', however, thank you to Mr Roth for keeping an open mind and bringing the 'Color Him Father' message into the new millennium. Looking forward to the torrent of e-mails from 'Outraged of Wigan'! LOL.

Lisa McClendon's album is in much safer Soul territory. 'Reality' is already being highly recommended by those nice guys down at Soul Brother at the moment. Lisa has previously released several albums, with this new set bringing a Gospel message to proceedings, in a very subtle manner. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the album doesn't sound gospelly at all. As previously mentioned, listening to the dialogue is what promotes the message. Lisa's album has very much a feel of Leon Ware's work running throughout the set. The songs are lushly presented, and, (hate to use the 'new organic soul' tag), however, this is of that kind, just moved up a few levels in quality, that's all. The set isn't a one track set, but has a full on 'quality throughout' standard hallmark. The album does move up and down the gears, although the bass bins are resonated rather than trembled, which make for a very nice listening experience. The track 'Manifest' really stood out for these old ears. Some lovely 'Norman Connors-esque' effects, beautiful harmonies, and there's a tune in there as well! The song sounds a little like the bridge in Stevie's 'Superwoman'.....that part where one song runs into a different one. The meat in that sandwich. This is a very fine album indeed. All of the songs are of a very high standard. Recommended unreservedly.

Earlier I was talking about people whose opinions I hold highly. Charles Waring is another writer / jouranlist whose opinions I always listen to. Charles sent me a CD a couple of years on the artist Natalie Williams. I had seen the adverts in, what was once Blues and Soul magazine, but wasn't aware of the music. I asked Charles after Natalie and how I regretted missing her musical output that year. 2009 brings an album which is a Various Artists set, although Natalie is the helmswoman of this particular Soul boat, and what a very nice ensemble she has collected here. This 15 track album has many variations on a Soul theme, some of which miss me slightly, however, some are very pleasing to the ear. Guess these are the pitfalls and the upsides of this type of album. Of the upsides, the Brendan Reilly 'Problems' melody would suit many a daytime radio station. Very nice song indeed. Nice to have the excellent David Lynden Hall back in the studio again. Here he weighs in with the song 'Love X's 2', which is a great stepper. Neil Thomas takes the listener back to the Soul of the Sam Cooke era, with a lovely song called 'Last Time We Kissed Goodnight'. I know the excellent Peter Young at Jazz FM likes this set. Always a man of great taste. I think the Modern Soulers will probably go for L-Marie's 'Save Me', which meets all the right criteria for that particular circuit. Very listenable album, which ought to please all Soul bases. Big hit here in our house!

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• Wil Key - Satisfy My Soul / Larisa Dolina - Hollywood Mood / Oleta Adams - Let's Stay Here

Wil KeyLarisa DolinaOleta Adams

Wil Key is a new artist to myself, although I believe this is a second album release by the man. His first being a 2003 release called 'Gypsy' I think? My first thought, looking at the CD sleeve, how much he looks like Denzel Washington! LOL. I am sure that hasn't been the first time he has heard that comparison (lucky man). This new album is out on Mad Wheels Music, retailing at CD Baby, and what a fine release this album is. Although the sound may not be similar in style, the standard of the material is right up there with Darien's recent offering. Vocally, Wil has a voice that can cope with several styles and tempo's. This set comprises of 15 excellent melodies, which all combine to make a pretty complete and essential purchase. The title track highlights the Soulful and Jazzy aspects of the man, which will appeal to the Jazz and Soul radio stations alike. The sound is rich and not over complicated. The melodies are centre stage, which is always a relief! 'That's What I Mean (I Jus Wanna Run Wit U)' is another midtempo, female duet, which has an instant appeal, as does my favourite track 'Awake Me', which is simply a great song. Bird flu and recessions allowing, 2009 is at least becoming a great year for music. Something to be thankful for, and this set is a great example of where the music ought to be headed in 2009. Intelligently constructed Soul music.

Larisa Dolina is a new name to me. A CD arrived in the post here (without a cover, so I had to dig around on the Net to find out further information. There ain't much, all told), which reveals Larisa to be a Russian singer, who has released material in her homeland, and now has spread her musical wings overseas. In this case, her wings have taken her to Hollywood, and more importantly for fans of Soul Music, to the front door of a certain George Duke. Personally, I have been a huge fan of George's for many years. I have many of his albums on record here and one thing has always mystified me about the man. Why is he not a household name? I suppose George's biggest single success was his 'Brazlian Love Affair' dancer from back in the day. Personal success may have eluded George, however, he does have the Midas touch when it comes to the people he produces. Anita Baker is one standout artist to benefit from his production skills. Then there are the likes of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Rufus, Jeffrey Osborne, Deniece Williams, to name but a few. Now you can add the name of Larisa Dolina. This set is pretty much a George Duke musical vehicle (I am sure that Larisa won't mind me saying), with some melodies which see George right on the top of his game. 'Lately' is a song which would easily give Al Jarreau's 'Morning' a good run for it's money. 'Wonder Where You Are?' features the aforementioned Al on vocal chores, whilst 'Lost In Brazil' could be a huge track on the better contemporary Jazz radio stations. Larisa, thankfully, doesn't 'belt' George's melodies, but she 'embraces' them, which all go to make this album a pretty essential purchase. Check Amazon for copies.

I have also, for a long time, been a fan of Oleta Adams. She is one of a certain group of singers, who, vocally, when you hear her sing, she is instantly recognisable. There is something 'anthemic' regarding her vocal singing style, which is, probably, something the Tears For Fears guys recognised when they first heard her sing all those years ago. The style suited their sound perfectly. Certainly 'Rhythm Of Life' is one of those tunes that, even non-Soul fans, appreciate. I recently updated Oleta's page at the site here. Very interesting woman, whose latest album (on Koch Records) I added to her listings there. Oleta's new album has her looking as is she is back at school again! LOL. Doesn't she look young! Handling ballads is something which she is a dab hand at. Easy as falling off a log for her. 'Feeling Good' is a nice cover of the Nina Simone song, which opens proceedings, nicely followed on with the lovely song 'Picture You The Way That I Do'. Great material. Oleta shifts up a gear for the haunting 'Another Day Has Come And Gone'. Very eerie sounding song, almost Gospel in style. The favourites? 'Let's Stay Here' is classic Oleta Adams. A very melodic, song led track, followed by the song 'Yesterday' (not the Fab Four evergreen), which moves along very nicely. The final track is a real dancefloor stormer entitled 'Act Of Forgiveness', which is the sort of track that Robbie Vincent would start off his final hour on his legendary Radio London Soul Show, back in the day! Some of you will know what I mean. A real bass bin trembler! Oleta Adams is a fine singer, who doesn't put a song to the sword with vocal power. She takes a melody and carefully weaves her own vocal tapestry around a series of notes, making the final creation something all of her own. A great singer and a fine album. Check Amazon for copies or Soul Brother in Putney in South London. No such thing as an album those guys don't have!

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• Various Artists - Soul Unsigned Volume Two / Soul Dean - Presents Cipher Soul Revival

Soul UnsignedSoul Dean

Hosting a Soul Music website, can, at times, be hugely rewarding, however on other occasions, it can be very disheartening. The latter times sometimes involve product being sent here, which really doesn't do a thing for my old ears, however, when I have to work with the likes of these two sets of guys, the work can be hugely rewarding.

You will, probably, be aware of the Soul Unsigned series featured at this site over the last few months. Soul Unsigned is the brainchild of, Solar Radio's very own deejay, Phil Driver. Phil has very selflessly helped many unsigned artists get their product to a format folks can buy, and with the least amount of self promotion anyone might expect. Phil just lets the artists take centre stage, and, as I have discovered via previous releases, the end product is of the highest standard. Soul Unsigned 1 was an excellent collection. Soul Unsigned 2 has taken the concept to a much improved level, which is something that can only bode well for any future releases. So what about the music on the new CD?

Nash Reed opens the proceedings with her dancer entitled 'Natural', which is a good way of describing the opener. Optimistic, easy, and really gets the toes tapping. There are 14 tracks on offer in total here. No fillers in the line-up, just varying degrees of superior quality Soul Music. The pick of any bunch is always a personal thing for every listener. In this old fool's case, I particularly liked the Maxi track 'Steppin Out', even better is the Sean Miranda, heavily harmonised 'Dig It', J-Funks (standout, and probably favourite song on the album) 'Break Thru' and the Calumet dancer 'Keep The Funk Alive' (these guys have been listening to the Players Association on their i-Pods! LOL). A very satisfying set, which I know Phil, and his associate Leigh Fry, are rightly very proud of. If ever there was a case of a label which deserved support from the 'ever diminishing financial pockets' of the discerning Soul fan, this is one well worth supporting. Highly recommended.

Soul Dean is a Pittsburgh based artist, whose 'collaborated with' section of his portfolio, is highly impressive. A Gospel based, ex-military man, Soul Dean is a singer and songwriter who has worked with Kindred and the Family Soul, Raheem DeVaughn, Lyfe Jennings, Eric Roberson and Floetry to name but a few. A week or so ago, I received a nice e-mail from one of Soul Dean's colleague's, a nice woman called Penda, who asked me if I would be interested in hearing this new album. 'Cipher Soul Revival' (don't ask me, I have no idea what one is! LOL) arrived towards the end of last week, whilst I was completely absorbed by the biography of Tammi Terrell in that section at the site, which meant I have only just got round to giving this album my full and undivided dementia! LOL. Parts of the set are dialogue based, and amount to fillers in many ways, although they do serve to 'knit' the music together. Firstly, Penda pointed me towards two tracks which are receiving some airplay Stateside, one of which is the prime track on the set. 'Brand New Day' really does pasteurise and homogenise the Delfonics 'La La Means I Love You' very cleverly. I liked this track a great deal. The follow on track number 6 (track 5 is a radio intro), 'Long As I got It', isn't half bad either. Moving the set out of a two track territory, 'Sunshine' was a very old school sounding vehicle. Loosely harmonised and very competently delivered. My final pick comes in the form of a ballad entitled 'Love Will Conquer'. In a strange way, this album had me thinking to myself, 'If Sly Stone was still putting out product in 2009, it might sound a little along these lines (or should I say 'grooves')'. Very interesting album, well worth seeking out. Love Dean's suit on the sleeve! Now where did I put my old Sly records?......

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• Sherree Brown - First Fruit / Donnie Williams and Park Place - The Power / James Day - Natural Things

Sherree BrownDonnie WilliamsJames Day

Sheree Brown is a lovely woman, who has made some great albums, including 'Straight Ahead' and 'My Music'. That is THAT Sheree Brown! LOL This Sherree Brown (note the extra 'r' in her Christian name' is, actually, Sherree Ford-Payne, whose C.V. discography can be best described as a who's who of the best contemporary Soul singers around thesedays. She has sung with Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Kelly Rowland, Mary J.Blige, Al fact, you name them and I'll tick the box! LOL. Sherree has released solo material previously, however, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe his is her first sojourn into Gospel Music. The secular past back catalogue has assisted this album tremendously, as the listener is not shouted at, but gently persuaded into listening to the message within the music. Perfect examples of the genre here are ' Adore U', and the title song, 'First Fruit'. Either of these tracks could easily merit 'track of the month' status in most Soulful charts out there. Interspersed within the music are short 'messages', which help to create the overall mood on display. There are no Ann Nesby style barnstormers on this set. In fact, the album is more of a 'Soulful mood', and very agreeable the whole complement of songs are indeed. 'Perfect Peace' is lovely finger snapper of a ballad, 'A Lil' Bit Mo' 2 Go' is another nice midtempo offering, however, those two previously mentioned openers are the real deal within this set. Certainly be amongst my year end Christmas crackers, as they are two tracks of the highest order. Recommended.

Donnie Williams and Park Place are a group who record for the wonderfully named Chumpchange Records! Donnie is, also, another singer (as was the case with Melinda Doolittle earlier this year), who has escaped the shackles of 'American Earfull' (at least that is what I think that show is called! LOL), and showed us that there can be life for those with real talent, after wading through the wailing wannabees on that debacle of a show. I guess I am eating humble pie somewhat, as this is, actually, the second singer, who has transcended the mundane and shown us that cream actually can rise to the top. People on that dreadful show described Donnie as 'the next Luther Vandross'. I am sure Luther would be delighted to be called the 'only Luther Vandross', and Donnie be just as pleased to be known as the 'first Donnie Williams'. So what of this E.P.? Well, I like every track on this release. Sure, the set is ballad based for the most part, however, we are talking very high quality balladry here. Probably, the killer track here has to be 'Darkness To The Light', a duet, with a female vocalist (not listed here), and Donnie in full on Stevie mode, (which is some place he ought to explore a little more). Great song. Hopefully, I will be forced to eat plate loads of 'American Earfull' humble pie in the coming months. Be delighted to do so, if this set is anything to go by. Lovely stuff, and timeless material, as a friend once described this standard of material to me.

Expansion Records are, as most of you guys already know, are one of my favourite U.K. based record labels. They are, in fact, less of a label, but more of a hallmark standard of quality on the Soul Scene in this part of the globe. Many independent artists, who get in touch during the year, already know of Expansion and their roster of artists, of whom James Day is one of the current crop. This is James' second release for the label, which features many of the vocalists whom have had product released on the imprint in recent years. O.K., so get on with it, who are these singers? Well, the album opener, 'Speak Love' features the ex By All Means vocalist Mikelyn Roderick, whose own solo album featured here some months ago. Very easy way to slip into proceedings and very radio friendly. I very much liked the Jeff Ramsey follow on song 'Happy On Hold'. Very nicely sung, and nicely constructed. Very nice to hear Audrey Wheeler back in the studio again. She is joined by Walter Beasley on 'Natural Thing', which is very easy on the ear. Personal favourite? Well, I love the very sleazy Mikelyn Roderick fronted 'Stormy', which had me looking for the sleevenotes in order to find out whether it was Cole Porter or George Gershwin who penned the track....only to find out it was James himself! LOL Hows that for a recommendation! I hope the Expansion guys don't mind me saying that I think this set is an improvement on his previous offering, which I guess are how things are supposed to transpire, artistically? Great album, nicely designed (props again to Roger Williams and his keen typographical eye), and from a label that any discerning Soul artist would be proud to be part of. Recommended.

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• Terry Callier - Hidden Conversations / Arnold McCuller - Sabor / Makeda - Escape From Egypt / Ann Nesby - The Lula Lee Project

Terry CallierArnold McCullerMakedaAnn Nesby

Any new album from Terry Callier demands any discerning Soul fans attention. Lyrically he is as profound as the angriest political rapper, without being 'in your face', sexist or carrying any other baggage that goes with some of those individuals trying to get their point across by shouting at you. Terry Callier's delivery, if anything, is very tender, almost spoken thesedays. Terry comes from a generation who wanted to change the World, and in some aspects they achieved just that. The music scene is left wanting for more of this man's kind. In the meantime, we are lucky to be able to witness the real deal, as the man is currently about to tour. His latest offering is released (as was his previous album) on Mr Bongo records. Terry's collaborations in the past have seen the man teaming up with the likes of Bluey from Incognito, however, with this new album we see him collaborating with Robert Del Naja from Massive Attack. The latter group will give you an idea of the almost ghostly sound that permeates into every corner of this new set, musically. Terry is on subject, putting the World to rights and tilting his head slightly, in order to observe global issues from his own unique perspective. 'Once I Dreamed Of Heaven' sounds as if it had been recorded at some half way house between that place and Hell! A very hypnotising piece of songwritten material indeed. One song is a biographical melody, simply called 'John Lee Hooker'. 'Hidden Conversations' will not be to some of the Soul Purists tastes, although the album demands to be heard and is very, very clever, probably too good for it's own boots! I loved the song 'Jessie and Alice', although my favourite song is 'Rice and Beans', which borrows heavily from the folk song 'Oh Suzannah'. Another political commentary regarding poverty, politics and New Orleans. Political and poetic songsmiths such as Terry Callier, aren't around in much abundance thesedays. Thank heavens for these guys, and thank you to Malcolm Duffin for sending me this album. Terry is playing at his venue in June. Check out Malcolm's, along with Mr Bongo's websites here:

One of Robbie Vincents evergreen songs taken from his Radio London and Jazz FM days used to be Arnold McCuller's take on the Little Feat song 'Gringo'. Robbie still takes that song for a spin every now and again. To my surprise (on two counts) was receiving an e-mail, out of the blue, from Arnold, thanking me for the Revelation page at Soulwalking, which Arnold had pointed a friend to as a point of reference. I got talking to Arnold, who spoke of a new album, asking me if I would be interested in hearing the set. Oddly enough, Arnold had been collaborating on the album with a certain Matt Cusson, whose own set I had reveiwed at the site last month! A parcel arrived a couple of days ago and I dropped all the songs into iTunes and took a listen. The distinctive Arnold McCuller vocal delivery instantly brought back memories of 'Gringo'. In a strange way, his vocal style reminds me of Leon Ware's, a kind of whispered delivery, which on this set sounds very Phil Perry-esque in places. Thesedays it would be very easy to slip a batch of Arnold McCuller's albums onto the Smooth Jazz shelves in your local record store. That would be a mistake. This 9 track album (out on What's Good Records) I thoroughly enjoyed, particularly the songs, 'Start All Over Again' (which is so Leon Ware in sound), 'Love Will Prevail' (lovely ballad), 'Guru N U' (fine dancer) and the very radio friendly, 'Let's Go Back', which should be played on all of the best Soul radio shows out there immediately! An album which is slowly being passed by, by many folks out here. As I mentioned, if you like your Phil Perry albums, you'll love this set. Beautifully sung and penned set, well worth checking out.

Makeda isn't Makeda at all! LOL I only know this as the fine deejay, Roger Williams, told me so! Roger is always one step ahead of myself, musically, which is a real bonus for myself, in as much as, the wider the Soul Net, the less chance of any album, such as this one, slipping through that net, unplayed and unnoticed. Makeda? Well if you were a site visitor back in 2002, you may well have read a review of an album by a woman called Tiffany Laing called 'The Naked Truth'. Some seven years later on and the woman has undergone a name change. Tiffany is now Makeda. This didn't slip by myself, in as much as I recognised that voice anywhere! LOL Makeda has a definite resemblance at times to Regina Belle vocally. I love Regina's vocal styling, and therefore Makeda has got a head start as far as I am concerned! Makeda will certainly have an interesting playlist on her iPod I believe. The listener can hear all sorts of musical influences in her music, which is of the highest standard all told. There are some lovely ballad moments on this new release, namely 'Forever' and my album highlight 'The Lily' (which has a chorus which I would defy anyone not to sing along to). That is a gorgeous song. A good single release would be 'The Dayz', another radio friendly stepper. 'Moonlight' sounds as if it was recorded at the time of her 2002 album. Very nice song indeed. The albums closing track, 'My Life', is another song which will make many a modern dancefloor come alive over the coming weeks. Probably, the track that will be played the most on air will be Makeda's own take on the Deniece Williams standard 'Free', although my personal repeat play is the aforementioned 'The Lily'. Very much aimed at myself, that song, which is very much my business!

Whilst my typing hands are beginning to lose their will to live (LOL), Ann Nesby comes out with a new album. Ann is another Sista with a very distinctive vocal style. Play one of her tunes, and most Soul fans will be able to pick out who this singer is. Gospel Soul of the highest order as always. A comparison with Jocelyn Brown would not be unfair. Women who can hit any note, in key, and not overwork the melodic scales in doing so. I have liked Ann's singing since her days with the Sounds Of Blackness. In fact, if you ask many people which is their favourite dancer from the last 25 years or so, many would choose 'Optimistic'. Dancefloor perfection in many ways, and a perfect example of how to get folks onto a dancefloor without making their ears bleed with excessive volume! Never understood the 'blast them onto the dancefloor' mentality! LOL The woman's new album will not move her into a new musical home. Instead it will add a new extension to what already exists in a fine portfolio. Comparisons? I think the album sits someplace neatly in between Jennifer Hudson's debut set, and the most recent offering from Shirley Brown. Very nice neighbours indeed! 'Sky Is The Limit' perfectly illustrates this scenario. Top drawer Modern Soul. The real cracker of a song here is 'Thinkin About You'. Hugely infectious tune, which will please diehard fans, and newcomers to Ann's music alike. If you love the dancier side of this woman, the final track will bring you 'So Much Joy', doing exactly what it says on the proverbial tin! Lord have mercy! Great stuff, from a very nice new album. Recommended. Available at Amazon.

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• Adé Siji - Adé Siji / Bob James - The Very Best Of

Ade SijiBob James

Adé Siji's album has been with us for a couple of months now. As usual, I m terribly late in catching up with some albums, and this, British born Nigerian, certainly deserves the 'Toby, better late than never' award of 2009 thus far! Adé has resided all over the World, literally (London, San Francisco, Lagos, Baltimore, and New York include his haunts), and this multicultural piece of, well, culture, certainly reflects his human diversity. Most folks that know myself, do know that I like some material which challenges the perceived idea's of exactly what a Soul fan ought to be. If you listened to the Michael Franti album 'Stay Human', you'll know exactly where I am coming from. That said, well this will horrify the 'it may be rubbish, but it's Northern, people won't dance to it, and is worth half a million pounds' brigade out there! It will also not win any fans of those who embrace Smooth Jazz or quiet storm.....however...what this set represents, is very good music, sung with passion and a real sense of urgency (without being too 'in your face' so to speak). This album will probably sit someplace in the Soul background within today's market. I can see a couple of staff in a high street music store near you, saying to each other 'Whereabouts do I file this album?'. Probable reply will be 'Well he looks African, so stick it in the World Music section!' Doing that would do this album an injustice, all told. I can hear all sorts of things going on in here, musically. African rhythms, naturally, as the man has Nigerian roots, although, I have read comments regarding the man's similarity to Jon Lucien. Sure, I can hear that. I can hear bits of Ola Onabule's sound going on here, but I can also hear sections which could be Earth, Wind and Fire. Adé has a very pleasing voice. Gets any message across without bellowing or threatening. Troubled man? Who knows. More of a thoughful type I believe. The single 'Fantasy' came and went away without any fanfare, which is criminal. That is one great track. 'Yearning For Home' is very rootsy and pleasing as is 'Morenike', with it's beautiful synthesised breaks. Very Jazzy and very nice indeed. Adé has been listening to Stevie, when Stevie had his 'Music Of My Mind' hat on. 'Room Full Of Noise' certainly fit's into that category. Very nice sleeper of an album. Check out iTunes. On Ivy Records from around the turn of this year.

Talking of compartmentalizing artists, Bob James has had a number done on him by the Smooth Jazz marketeers out there in the new millennium. The cutting edge fusion artists of the Seventies were the proverbial square pegs, which were crammed into very round holes by the industry from the late Nineties onwards. Grover Washington Jnr was one of Bob's mates, who was another who created perhaps some of the finest fusion moments of the Seventies. Grover made, in my humble opinion, the greatest live album of the last 50 years with his 'Live at the Bijou' set in 1977. Bob James created one of the most sampled fusion tracks within that half century as well, notably the classic 'Westchester Lady'. The term 'of all time' is a widely misused phrase thesedays, usually to descibe how much a person feels for a track, rather than an actual factual description. If it was, what of that 10th century Deep Soul/Gospel rare groove made by a 'hip monk' in Rumania some 900 years ago! LOL. So what of Bob's retrospective here? Well, beautiful, is a good description. There are two CD's on show here, which cover Bob's most prolific years. Everything from 'Nautilus' to 'Kickin' Back' and everything else therein. Some material had to left out, however, this is a pretty solid resume of the great man's work, in my humble opinion. I use then word 'beautiful' relating to the effort made by Charles Waring and Bob himself regarding the accompanying booklet that goes with this lovely album. Bob has dug out some shots taken from his own personal photo library. There are images of the man during his earlier years. Previously unseen pictures of Bob as a youngster, along with photo's taken with Sarah Vaughan, the late Richard Tee, Tom Scott, Steve Gadd, Ralph MacDonald, Ravi Shankar and Quincy Jones. There's a conversation with Charles (who is currently writing Marva Whitney's biography), all of which make for a must read for any fusion fan. It is CD releases such as this one, which remind me how much better a piece of ergonomic music is to own, rather than a digital download. The sound is preferable as well! A lovely album indeed, by one of my favourite fusion artists, and written by a reviewer who really knows his stuff. Recommended unreservedly.

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• Matt Cusson - Matt Cusson / 76 Degrees West Band - 76 Degrees West Band

Matt Cusson76 Degrees West

Matt Cusson has been in touch here at the site. He's a real nice person, whose debut set has just been released on Cuesound Records. I think Matt would be the first to admit that his 'new baby' won't set the dancefloors alight, however, what a pleasure to have an album of intelligently penned, song led material. When the material is written well, the musical garment looks the part wears all the better with time. Matt is a Blue Eyed Soul boy, of that there is no doubt. He has, to his credit, a great deal more Soul than many of his contemporaries, which will see him fare well in the future, in my humble opinion. He has a tender, Michael Jackson-esque delivery, which will appeal to anyone into the quiet storm genre. Matt's influences go far and wide, he tells me. James Taylor is a personal favourite of Matt's. He would be....he's toured with him! James is a favourite with many a Soul artist, who have lent the Walking Man a few of their wares, and James has returned the favour. James says Matt is 'the real deal'. He sure is. When the CD first hit the decks here, 'Every Step' made the rest of the journey through the set a real breeze. That is such a great song. Matt can hit the high notes with perfect pitch. One point I would make regarding vocalists, is, sure, get those high notes spot on, however, it is a real trick to be able to reach the lower range in style as well. Matt achieves this to add to his emerging portfolio. Some parts of this album sound so Take 6 in style, that I can hear very clearly the Brian McKnight influences (Brian being a vocalist that Matt is currently touring with). Nice also to hear the excellent vocalist Shoshana Bean on call here. 'Could' is the best song I have heard her input on in recent times. More to come from Soshana in the future. Matt's album reminds me a little of the Hilary James (Bob James daughter) set from a few years back. Other personal favourites here are 'Take Me Along', 'Heaven' and Matt's own take on the evergreen 'Like A Lover' (lovely version by Dianne Reeves a few years ago). Don't expect to tremble any bass bins here, but do try to get to listen to an album, without any fillers, which is purely a great set to put on on a Sunday morning, grab a coffee and catch up with the morning papers. Very, very nice album. Matt's Myspace page is at

76 Degrees West Band's album I was lucky enough to have a head start with, thanks again to my friend Roger Williams, who sent me a lovely song called 'Can't Keep Runnin', featuring the vocal talents of the excellent Gordon Chambers. Roger said he thought this would be one of his favourite songs from 2009. I would have to agree with the man. The album arrived here a week or so ago. The album is not full of similar tracks, which is a real shame, as I think we may be looking at another Darien type of album if it was (I trust you have bought your copy of that set from iTunes by now? LOL). Instead, we have a very competent fusion set, which will drift in and out of peoples grey matter, only for the listener to be completely startled by the quality upgrade when Gordon's vocal track hits the speakers. Sure 'Be Careful' and 'Be There' do rock the bass bins, although these tracks were left to the final songs on the album, whereas they would, perhaps, be best placed as album openers? Just a thought. There is a wider question regarding the Smooth Jazz genre going on here. The recent resurgence of some of the fusion radio stations does give an outlet for the fusion artists, although it does seem that the mix thesedays has to include a great deal more of the Soul mix to reach the wider audiences. During credit crunches etc, we all have to think about divergency in order to financially survive. Perhaps, musically, a new fusion of artists and sounds might get the tills ringing a little more loudly? This album is a one track set, but definitely worth the outlay for the Gordon Chambers song. That is of the highest quality. Do check out Rogers Solar Radio podcasts by the way. The man has real taste.

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• Darien - If These Walls Could Talk / Leela James - Let's Do It Again / Various - Songs 4 Worship

DarienLeela JamesSongs 4 Worship

Darien is a new singer to these old ears. He has been around for a while now, however, following a conversation I had with the excellent Solar Radio Deejay Roger Williams (who not only can pick a tune, he can also design a beautiful cover to go with the album as well). Roger is a nice bloke, who said that he agreed with myself regarding a song on this set called 'Composure' which is one of the line up of tracks on offer on this advance copy which arrived in the post a week or so ago. Moral of that conversation was I needed to listen to Roger's regular podcasts a little more during the weeks to come. So what of Darien? Well, this is the best material I have heard this year thus far. The previously mentioned song 'Composure' is a 'best of the year' type of song. The album doesn't relent in quality throughout. I would love to find out more about this singer, as, on the strength of this material, he would become a big artist, at least on this side of the pond. The other songs? 'Where It's At' is wonderful, as are 'My Door', the Stevie sounding 'Sail Thru', the uptempo 'All Kinds Of Things', the acoustic title track, and the drop dead gorgeous ballad 'Seasons' (ballads don't get much better than this). A very, very strong album, which I hope will become widely available soon, although, this promo has a feel of a set speedily thrown together (tracks in odd order etc). I hope I am wrong, as this needs to not hang around in that God awful 'I've got it and you haven't' half way house where some on the scene seem to draw life blood from.

Darien Addendum 24.3.09.

Since penning the review above, Darien's manager has sent me a press pack relating to this excellent release. His name is Miles Anthony. Very nice person, who asked me to post the places where the album might be purchased. You'll need to buy this album, as it is the best release this year thus far. The appropriate term is 'every home should have one'! Here goes. ITunes are now stocking the set, which is great. For a 'proper' copy, Soul Brother have copies on sale right now. Also check out the labels website, and check the excellent Soulchoonz people's website as well.

Leela James' album is about to see a release on the excellent Shanachie imprint. Hooray, this time I have a cover sleeve! LOL The label has, almost, carved out a niche for itself, in as much as the labels Soul releases give the artist the opportunity to cherry pick a couple of personal favourite songs. Leela is a bit of a rocker, truth be told, in places, and good luck to her I say. Her take on the Stones 'Miss You' I quite enjoyed on this set. 'I Wanna Know What Love Is?' Sorry sista, even if I was being held at gunpoint and told to like the song by an extreemist group, I couldn't do that! LOL This album is very eclectic and highly listenable, having said that. Leela never allows the listener to 'sit comfortably', and for myself, that is the sets inherent strength. Leela looks visually, as if she may sit someplace, artistically, in the same slot that the Leona Lewis currently occupies. This would be a misconception, however, as Leela has more of a Syleena Johnson thing going on, which is to her credit. When she has her Soulful hat on, she really shines on this set. Her take on Angela Bofill's wonderful 'I Try' is, definitely 'Try and succeeded' in my humble opinion. It was a pleasure to hear her inclusion of the great Womack and Womack chestnut 'Baby, I'm Scared Of You' (always loved that song), along with her takes on 'Clean Up Woman' and Brother James 'It's A Man's Man's World'. Great material. The penultimate track and set finale comprise of the Reverend Al Green's 'Simply Beautiful' and the Staples toe-tapper 'Let's Do It Again', both of which Leela takes on and gives the songs a real Southern flavour. To sum up, 'covers with bite'! A very nice selection, different enough to satisfy the cynics, without drifting off the subject matter. Recommended.

Songs 4 Worship is an album which would almost disappear without trace in todays 'pasteurised and homoigenised' music market. 30 years ago, if someone told you there was a new album coming out which would feature the likes of Melba Moore, Teddy Pendergrass, Peabo Bryson, Jody Watley, Freddie Jackson, Regina Belle, Maurice White, Deniece Williams and Evelyn Champagne King, the average Soul punter would buy the set blind, without even listening to the music, such is the pedigree of these artists. Sure, the word 'Worship' might hold up a few horses, however, we have encompassed message music within the Soul scene, and, after all, without some of this genre we would be all the poorer musically today. So can the old stagers still kick it? Well the good news is they can and have been doing so for years. This album sees the Brothers and Sista's constructing a new musical extension, that's all. I really liked several of the songs on show here. Teddy's take on the Edwin Hawkins classic 'Oh Happy Day' really did it for these old ears, as did Melba Moore's 'Days Of Elijah'. Maurice White's 'Young Hearts' was retro in sound. Nice to hear the man back and doing his thing. Jody Watley really took the old Stevie tune 'Heaven Help Us All' onto a different stage, which you may expect from the ex Shalamar front woman. My favourite track on show here is by none of the artists previously mentioned, namely Ruben Studdard. 'Holding On To You, Lord' will really please the Modern Soul followers out there. Quite remarkable track. This is a much better album than any Soul cynic might fear. Very nice release and recommended by yours truly. Great to hear folks who can really sing......well.... sing! Recommended.

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• Tuomo - Reaches Out For You / Razzberry - Be Yourself


Two albums this time round, one of which is brand new, and one that I missed last year, however, one that has grown on me over the last couple of months, thus the inclusion here.

Tuomo's last album was a real revelation. It was so full of quality Soul Music, that the reviewer was spoilt for choice trackwise. The new album, when it is at it's rockiest, misses me completely. Having said that, when it hits the spot, it does just that, big time. I like this guys voice, perhaps as, at time, he is very reminiscent of Lamont Dozier in his delivery. That tender passing line, which Lamont uses so sparingly (and so disarmingly to the listener), Tuomo possesses. I had quite enjoyed parts of this second set (second, unless you know otherwise), when I arrived at track 10. 'Fear Of Love' is such a beautiful song, without itself being schmaltzy or overpowering. Tuomo embraces lush arrangements in the same way the likes of Swing Out Sister show no fear in utilising. This is simply a gorgeous song, which had me hitting the repeat button, which was a shame as the final track 'Good Night' ain't half bad either! This will definitely be in my year end 'one of the tracks of the year'. The best description of the song is to take some of the instrumentation from Dexter Wansel's 'Life On Mars' album, add the vocals of Lamont Dozier, in a Blue Eyed stylee, and you are pretty well there. Overall, the album is a strong offering, although I did find myself wondering just what was going on regarding tracks 2 and 3, however, normal service was resumed with track 4, namely the toe tapper 'Ordinary', a very Sly Stone sounding song. 'Love and Friendship' cheekily borrows from the Temptations/Otis Redding evergreen 'My Girl', whilst the title track has a very social political edge, apparently a reflection of his experiences through his MySpace page and the diversity of the folks passing by and their individual stories. This is a lovely song, however, the killer has to be 'Fear Of Love', which may not do it for many, but it certainly hits the spot here. Out on the Jupiter imprint shortly. Recommended 'without no hestitation'!

Razzberry has worked with the likes of The Deele, Slave, and Bootsy Collins. Of interest to this scribe is the album is produced by Nate White of the group R.A.M.P. (Roy Ayers Music Production). I got to meet the guys after helping them secure some dates at London's Jazz Cafe, therefore, any artist associated with the guys immediately has my attention. On this set, track 9 is called 'My Favorite Song'. Whoops, not for this listener! Mine is track 8, a song called 'Closer'! LOL. In truth, this is a pretty solid set throughought. The grooves are moody, repetetive (in a very positive way), and simply grow on you. There are a couple of rapped parts which feature on a couple of tracks, which don't spoil the occasion, which is a relief. The track 'Come To Me' reminded me of an old tune, which escapes me right now. 'I'm Sure' offers the listener a very pleasing ballad, as does the final melody 'Can't Call'. The title track gets the head nodding very nicely on a set which won't create huge waves on the Soul Circuit, however, this album should not be ignored either. 'Closer' demands the attention of any fan of the real stuff, moody and full of Soul, therefore, a hugely satisfying and recommended album. Available from CD Baby right now.

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• Antoinette Manganas - Verbal Crush / Trish Andrews - These Five Words / Sunlightsquare - Urban Latin Soul

Antoinette ManganasTrish AndrewsSunlightsquare

Antoinette Manganas is a name which might be familiar to you, if you are aware of the latest album release by Norman Connors (featured below). In fact, one of the songs on Norman's album, is also featured here. That is the self penned 'Where Do We Go From Here', a really lovely song, sitting in Antoinette's solo set, which is an album of classic melodies, given Antoinette's own personal vocal hallmark. Antoinette got in touch with me here regarding the Norman Connors review, and sent me off to her own website, where you can pick up a copy of this very fine album. Antoinette has a very classy vocal style, which Norman picked up on (being a man of very good taste himself), and added his own production input on this solo set, in places. The Connors featured tracks are 'Where Do We Go From Here?', Nick Martinelli's 'My Love Is All That' and his own song, 'Special'. This is an album of the very highest quality, with, probably, Antoinette's take on the Soul evergreen 'Deja Vu', my personal favourite. There are many versions of the song by the likes of Dionne Warwick, Ahmad Jamal etc., with this take, (borrowing vocally from the Dionne version I believe), being a real gem. Always loved this song. I asked Antoinette about her own personal musical influences. She told me 'I love the smoothness of Sade, the phrasing of Nancy Wilson, and the tone of Keshia Cole and the low tones of India Arie...., and the soulfulness of Peabo, Howard, and Marvin Gaye!' I added that part of the e-mail, to illustrate what the purchaser might expect from this album. a pretty good foundation it must be said. Lovely album, full of the highest quality melodies. Trust Norman to get it right again! LOL.

One prop I forgot to mention regarding Antoinette's album, and also applies to this excellent set, is the informational conduit, namely Joerg Michael Schmitt. Joerg is a rock solid supporter of this site, and puts me in touch with all sorts of great performers, so many thanks comrade. Huge amount of respect for you my friend. Joerg was also on the case with this Trish Andrews set. Trish got in touch here and talked to me about her new album. I actually have to credit Ralph Tee at Expansion for this one, as it was on his show a couple of weeks ago, he introduced my old ears to this great new singer. Ralph said he thought this was probably the first real quality release of 2009 thus far. Although there is much great music around right now, I can understand where he is coming from regarding Trisha's fine new release. The two tracks that will be the killer songs for many U.K. radio folks are the opener 'Comfort Zone' and the moody 'Can't Keep Running'. The overall standard throughout is pretty rock solid on this album. Trisha has a smooth vocal styling, which will please many radio jocks, and is a very pleasant woman to correspond with. I asked Trisha about her own influences as well. She told me, 'Kirk Whalum's take on Stevie Wonder's 'All I Do' but it's heavily Jazzed up. Rahiem DeVaughn, Ledisi, Jill Scott, Eric Benet, KEM, Brian McNight, Walter Beasley, Kim Waters, Brian Culberston, Maxwell, GUY, Gap Band, Parlament, Earthwind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Raphel Saadiq, Cameo, SOS Band, Trish Andrews, :-)' Herself? I am outraged! LOL Anyone who likes Ledisi is alright by myself! She has some fine music in her collection, which accounts for this must have release in 2009. Even sending me a signed copy of her album, bless her. Very nice album, Trisha. Hugely recommended set. Check her website here:

Trish Andrews trish andrews

Sunlightsquare are a U.K. based group, whom I got to hear via the fine Peter Young show on Jazz FM here. I asked Peter about the album, as there were some very fine moments showcased, which he had highlighted on his excellent show, and he, subsequently, put me in touch with a very nice woman called Sarah Foote, who is handling the marketing for this band here in the U.K. Sarah kindly sent me a copy of this set, along with a bio, and the news that these guys have some Jazz Cafe gigs on the way next month, so I guess we will get to be more familiar with this fine group over the coming months. On show here are 11 tracks, which show a huge diversity, musically, within the group. Sure, as the title of the album might suggest, there are some sprightly Latin numbers, one of which is making some waves on the club circuit, being their own take on Stevie Wonder's classic 'Pastime Paradise'. Very nice it is too. The killers here for this old Soul boy, are the dancer 'Relax', which if anything broke the Trades Descriptions Act, this one does! LOL It doesn't do what it says on the tin, instead it gets right into a funk groove, which will fill many a dancefloor (and will possibly become a favourite live number for the band, in my humble). The track that pleases these old ears, however, is the gorgeous ballad 'Giving Me Love'. Real top drawer, quality, balladry. Watch out for this band. British and very proud of it methinks! LOL Recommended unreservedly.

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• Leon Ware - Leon Ware and Friends / LaShell Griffin - Dreams Are Possible / Ty Causey - True Love In Motion

Leon WareLaShell GriffinTy Causey

Leon Ware is one of the few performers out there, whom one could call 'living geniuses'. He is also one of the most approachable people you might ever wish to meet. Probably (and I am sure Leon won't mind me stating) his golden era peaked in the Seventies and early Eighties, although, if you listen to his recent produce, that ain't half bad either. 'Sure Do Want You Now' is one tune that really bowled me over when I first heard it. There were so many countless others, rare grooves, call them what you will, they are timeless recordings. During these years Leon stepped sidestage to allow others the limelight, penning several other 'I didn't know Leon Ware wrote that song', melodies. Sure we all know about Marvin and his recordings of the classic Leon penned 'I Want You' album, but what of the rest of the man's portfolio out there? Personally, I went out and bought albums by some of the artists featured here, and then was not the least bit surprised that Leon had his name on the teamsheet. It was the quality of the songwriting that shone through. One such track featured here is the effortless 'I Can Dream', taken from Thelma Jones self titled set from 1978. Missed this first time round, probably due to the sea of John Travolta lookalkes that infested the planet that year! LOL They should have made a special pest remover for those white suited, Bee Gee simulating, gymnasts! LOL. All told you have 19 tracks here which showcase the undiscovered section of Leon Ware's superb portfolio. I will add a JPEG below, in order for you to peruse the songlistings yourself. Beautifully designed, completely essential, and out on Expansion Records right now. Nice one Ralph. Leon Ware. A true giant of Soul Music.

Leon Listing

LaShell Griffins' album is out on Dap Music Llc, and actually came out in September last year originally. Only just come to my attention due to the efforts of George Reid from Scotland, via his excellent Fresh Air show, which I believe is broadcast in the Edinburgh area up there. Thanks for the recommendation comrade. As with the Sharri Addison, this follows the standard that much of todays Gospel music needs to aspire to. Very Soulful, which encourages the listener to listen to the message without having perforated eardrums! LOL LaShell's vocal stylings are very Ann Nesby-esque all told. Can't give a contemporary Gospel set a higher recommendation than that one. The track that really stood out for this listener is the infectious 'Jesus Said'. If this doesn't get your toes tapping, you must have your shoes glued to the floor. The album opener 'Live By Faith' gets the heavenly party started right, and features two mixes. 'I Don't Judge' is very Bebe and Cece Winans in style, whilst 'This 2 Shall Pass' took on a very Stevie/'He's Misstra Know It All' vibe running throughout. This will be many folks 'toon' on this set. A very nice gospel album indeed and, thank you George for pointing me in this albums direction.

Ty Causey has consistently released quality product over the last few years. An album a year man, whose music comes across in a very Marvin Gaye mood. The sound is uncluttered, with Ty's gentle vocals pleasing throughout. If you liked Ty's previous albums, then this set is very much for you. What sets this album apart from his previous offerings for myself, is one particular track. Ty Causeys albums should never be seen as having a killer track, usually. The albums have to be appreciated in their entirety. Each previous album has been very much in this mould, although, this time around the song 'I Still Get Butterflies', jumped out of the grooves, and gave me quite a start! LOL In a way, as these albums are 'mood' albums, then it would be easy to bypass this song. If you did, you would do so and be very sorry you did. What a lovely melody. Almost delivered in a Ronnie McNeir 'I'm Your Lover' stylewise, this really is a cracker of a track. One for one of those warm summer days methinks. Check iTunes and see what you think. Worth the price of the album alone, although I'd pick up any album by this singer. Lovely contemporary Soul Music and completely recommended.

Check Soul Brother or Amazon for any of these albums. Links all over the site.

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• Norman Connors - Star Power / Jesse Boykins III - The Beauty Created / Sharri Addison - Sharri Addison

Norman ConnorsJesse Boykins IIISharri Addison

Three new sets which indicate that, in spite of the economic bad news, the great music keeps coming into the new year.

Shanachie Records, as you may have previously gathered, I have a regular bone to pick with. There never seems to be any sleeve artwork available for any of their Soul music releases (thus the rather glum image of Norman Connors shown's a recent one), until only on, or very near, the release date. Never sure why this should be, especially with folks having less and less disposable income thesedays, you would have thought that a little biographical promotion wouldn't go amiss? With this set however, the label are very fortunate, in as much as this particular artist has a solid fan base amongst the old school Soul fans. My one meeting with the man, at the Jazz Cafe in London, led to a short conversation, followed by myself offering to buy the man a drink I had never heard of....(which they, actually, had at the bar! LOL). Most of the Soul folks I know remember Norman's great Seventies and early Eighties releases, which everyone will have a personal favourite. I guess the 'Take It To The Limit' album, from 1980, must take some beating quality wise. One thing Norman has consistantly undertaken with every album release, is breaking 'that' new vocalist. Jean Carne and the late Phyllis Hyman owe Norman some props, as does a certain Antoinette Manganas, whose vocal abilities are showcased on here. Of the other artist on display here, we are treated to vocal contributions from Christopher Williams, Howard Hewett, Paul Jackson Jnr., Juanita Daly, Norman Brown, Peabo Bryson and an artist called Danny Boy. The 14 tracker lives someplace between his older Soul stylings and the later Smooth Jazz which Norman slipped into during his last couple of recordings. Smooth Jazz became, almost, an insult to an album a couple of years back, however Norman can always bring something a little extra to any proceedings. Already a favourite on many of the better stations is Norman's take on Sade's 'Sweetest Taboo', with Anoinette showcased very nicely on lead vocals. Nice to see Norman taking on his own song, 'You Are My Starship', ably assisted by Peabo Bryson. All told, a very nice album, which will win over some new listeners, although it will be that bed rock of followers who will most appreciate the man's new offering. Highly where did I put those sleeve notes?....LOL.

Jesse Boykins III, has released a couple of songs over the last year, with this set creeping out, tip-toeing into the stores during November last year. Brooklyn born Jesse states his influences are the likes of Stevie, Marvin, Donny and Bob Marley, and the man is currently touring at the moment. This set arrived without any biographical information, which left me Googling around the Net, in order to build a picture up of the man. This album is very much a downtempo set, which, if he had added Leon Ware to his list of folks whom have influenced him in his early years, he would have hit the mood of the album very well. There are 16 tracks on offer here, the last two being remixes which are out of pace with the rest of the set. The first 14 songs have him in a downtempo mode, and a very tastefully delivered set of melodies these are indeed. After the opening 'Intro/Fever', the albums settles down into a highly enjoyable series of Leon/Marvin sounding songs, picking out 'Amorous', the beautiful 'Come To My Room', 'Shine' and 'Trust'. Really, any of the first 14 tracks could be in any listeners 'best song on the album' picks. 2008? 2009? Don't care really. I am just going to keep my eye on this singer's career. This is a very promising opening offering, out on Nomadic Records. Recommended.

To be honest with you, at times I get all 'Gospelled out' regarding new releases. Many of these albums almost seem frightened to take the man upstairs into a different musical place, which is a shame. There are too few Mary Mary's and Tommy Sims out there (what on Earth has happened to that genius thesedays?). Sharri's album was a real treat in as much as I listened to the message, rather that allowed it to bypass me in a feeling of 'I've heard this all before'. A good way of illustrating my ramblings is this. If you know a child swears all the time, after a while you stop listening to them. The kids that articulate well, are generally listened to much more. If the Gospel becomes samey, people won't go to church. They will do, if folks feel 'message stimulated', then they can then hear the message much more clearly. Sharri's set delivers the message, fresh, articulate, and at times downright funky.'Whateva' is a very clever opener, with it's echoes of the Gap Band's 'Outstanding'. Gets you thinking at the outset. 'I Praise You' belts the message big time, within the confines of a strong melody and a discipline, which allows the music to be delivered effortlessly. I wish I was in the studio when they laid that track down. Great material. The mid tempo of 'Please Make Me Better' will please many radio deejays. Lovely melody, with Sharri singing, and not shouting, the song. 'You Can Rise' is another delight, which adds to a lovely CV of Gospel material, and all goes to make up the tapestry of one of the best Gospel albums I have heard in a while. Highly recommended.

All of these sets are available from Amazon.

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• Melinda Doolittle - Coming Back To You / Darrius - Can't Get Enough / G. Wright - All Things Are Possible

Melinda DoolittleDarrius WillrichG Wright

With the festive season still within it's '12 days of' mode, here are three albums that landed on the doormat just a couple of days before the festivities began....

Melinda Doolittle is a woman, whose album is quite remarkable all told. She has, actually, made me eat humble pie over Christmas, as, the more I discover about her, the more amazed I am that I actually even entertained this album within these walls! LOL My experts here (Julie, my wife, and my daughter, Grace) told me they had the head start on this singer over this scribe, in as much as they had seen her perform, long before I had listened to this set. Melinda was actually on my arch enemies televison programme American Pop Idol! I think that those of you who know me, know how much I cannot stand shows such as that particular one and the U.K. version here, both hosted by that very self appointed 'maker or breaker of careers', Simon Cowell. Oddly I found myself agreeing with the man as far as Melinda is concerned. My wife told me that he had said to Melinda that 'she must have been very frustrated singing background vocals for artists, whose voices weren't a patch on her own'. I cannot disagree with that summation, although Leonard Cohen at number one? Not a good idea when a country is going through a depression at the moment! LOL Melinda is different to many of the singers on those shows, in as much as she doesn't vocally over do matters gymnastically. If there is a melody in there, she hits the right notes, and not every other one around that said note as many wannabees do on these shows in an effort to impress those whose opinions carry very little credibilty. Melinda's album is musically very strong, utilising real instrumentation alongside very strong, song led material. The overall feel is one of a woman who stumbled into the American Idol studio's, made Simon Cowell wonder what on earth she was doing there in the first place, and headed straight for the recording studio (and sanity!) to cut this gem of an album. She has a strong, but not overpowering delivery, faultless melodically, and a wonderful start to what looks to be a turbulent year for many out there. Tracks? Well I sent a copy of this album to a deejay friend of mine. Instructions read 'Play 'Walkin Blues' firstly, follow that by 'I'll Never Stop Loving You' and then listen to the whole set in one take'. 'I'll Never Stop Loving You' is an old Doris Day tune! This will be in my year end best of 2009. 365 days to go! LOL....

...Darrius Willrich is not a new artist to me. I was sent an album of his a couple of years ago, which I really liked, although I remember thinking at the time, this singer has a much better series of albums in the pipeline. Well, here is the first! Another Christmas corker, which I hope will see a great deal of airplay over the coming months. The killer track here is the song 'Hold On To You', which echoes back to the late seventies in an almost Earth, Wind and Fire stylee. There are two takes of the song on this album, both of which are quite notable, although I do lean towards the latter version on the album, which has the words 'Vita D' printed alongside the cut. Not sure what that means, however, my guess is 'put this in the chart at the site immediately'.....something which I have already undertaken! There are 14 tracks on show here, of which I could easily single out 6 songs straight away, which rise above much of the material out there right now. 'Where We Are' is a lovely ballad, 'Get It On' and 'Promise Me Love' are fine examples of Street Soul music thesedays, 'Can't Get Enough' is a beautiful mid tempo offering, in fact, pick up a copy and tell me what turns you on musically here. Another 2009 cracker (pardon the pun!)....

G. Wright's album came in the post just after Christmas, at a time when I am the least receptive to listening to anything unfamiliar, mainly due to exhaustion (I don't drink alcohol, so it's not that! LOL). This album is placed by the label under the Gospel tag, although, there are many secular moments, to complement the message melodies. I have looked throughout the sleeve notes, but still don't know what the 'G' in the man's name stands for. I am sure the label will let me know in time. My guess is either George or Gary. Who knows? The opener is a very nice toe tapper entitled 'Receive My Love', which is smartly followed by a reprise and two melodies that did have me reaching for the skip button, however, the song 'His Love Never Ends' is a very nice slice of Soul Gospel, with echoes of the chorus line in Stevie's song 'As'. This will certainly be of interest of the Modern Soul punters out there. The ballad title song is very Peabo Bryson-esque in delivery, although I did prefer 'Love Is A Miracle', which realises a high quality duet with a singer called Avery Sunshine. One very much for the quiet storm slot on the more discerning radio stations. The album has a very ballad feel throughout, with the man saving the best for last, (in the guise of the bonus track here). 'What Love's Supposed To Be' is a very simple song, almost not requiring instrumentation. When the instrument's that are utlised come into play, they are not all consuming. This is a simple, beautiful song, and the best on offer here (in my humble).

Stop Press:

'Hello. This is G. Wright. How are you doing? I just wanted to say thank you for the review of my cd 'All Things Are Possible.' I really appreciate you for taking the time to listen to it. 'G' stands for Gregory, or just Greg for short. God bless you and have a great weekend. Feel free to keep in touch.
G. Wright'

What a very nice man. All of these sets are either up at Amazon, or just about to go up there. I would recommend all of these albums unreservedly, although I would pin the 'miss at your peril' sticker on Melinda's album. In the words of the great Kevin Keegan 'I don't make predictions, I never have done and I never will' out for Melinda Doolittle in 2009.

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