listen out for 2014...
One of the most frustrating things, regarding reviewing music at this website, is this time of the year. You sit down and look at all of the music released in any year, work up your charts, and begin to compile a chart....and then an artist comes along and throws a spanner in the works. In the future, I am going to call this occurrence a ‘Shirma Rouse’! This album landed on the desktop here, and, hard as I try to convince myself that I don’t like this set, it has to be said that Shirma has recorded some real beauties on here. Shirma Rouse hails from the Caribbean Island of St. Eustatius, who relocated to the Netherlands when she was nineteen. She is an accomplished background vocalist, featuring in that role in the Netherlands entry for the Eurovision Song Contest a couple of years ago. In 2010, she released an album called ‘Chocolate Coated Dreams’, which was followed on, in 2012, with ‘Shirma Rouse sings Aretha’. I guess that Shirma is the Netherlands answer to the likes of Jocelyn Brown, Maysa etc. This new album is entitled ‘Shout It Out Loud’, which is not a strictly accurate album title, as Shirma is in full control of the vocal gymnastics on offer here. As the album progressed through the tracks, I really liked ‘Searching’ and the rootsy grooves showcased in ‘Pick Yourself Up’. ‘Fool For Love’ came along, and I was surprised that the ballad was so accurately retro and Soulful, I thought I had found the killer track on offer here, but boy was I wrong. Two tracks sit side by side in the track 8 and 9 section of the album. ‘L-O-V-E’ runs Smokie Norful as my track of 2014, only to be followed by the track that most of the Soul deejays will gravitate towards. ‘Work For It’ has a Rockie Robbins, circa 1985, dance vibe going on in those grooves. Terrific dancer. 'Struck By Love' is also a very tasty groove. Whilst 'Work For It' is the ‘radio play’ track, ‘L-O-V-E’ had me re-adjusting the site chart, late in 2014. Miss at your peril. Quite magnificent material, so Shirma...’go girl’!
At the outset, I must state that I do like Rumer as an artist. She is a modern musical echo of a point in time, which is either viewed as a classic part of innovative musical history, or, certainly at the time, often seen as a style of music your parents would have approved of. Nothing ‘hip’ enough for a 16 year old, unfortunately. For myself, the likes of Rumer are something of an enigma. After all, time has proven that what was one era’s MOR, is another era’s latest ‘all the rage’. The enigma part of Rumer might be best described from my own awkward take on things. Imagine Rumer as a child who has been asked what they want for Christmas, and the child is offered 4 alternatives of a musical doll. She can either have the Bacharach doll, the Karen Carpenter version, the ‘Northern’ doll or the King/Taylor/Mitchell version of the doll. Which one to choose, as she loves all four of them? In truth, she can have a small part of all of them, however, out of all the templates must emerge one true ’Rumer doll’. In this case, her, probable, final choice seems to be to have a little of all four, working with that particular kit of parts, in an attempt to make a superior doll. This album is comprised of the better pieces of each of those 4 choices, without merging them to take the music onto another level. When you listen to ‘Reach Out’ or ‘Play Your Guitar’, there are hints of something spectacular about to arrive in Rumer’s future releases. These are terrific songs. Other tracks lay themselves open, a little, to those who aren’t into music at all, but, unfortunately, are big on ridicule. ‘Sam’ perhaps might fall into that category unfairly, in the same way that Karen Carpenter was often not taken seriously, (although those who worked with the singer, said she was one of very few artists who could record a song in just one take, and was pitch perfect). One additional point, regarding Karen, and her street credibility? If she was to be viewed as a bland, somewhat, middle of the road vocalist, why are there so many singers around at the moment, trying to emulate the woman's recordings? Whether Rumer’s day is still to come, who’s to say, however, I think she is at the forefront of a generation of artists (this year saw Sharon Corr, tentatively, take a dip into this particular pond of musical waters), who are trying to reposition the melody centre stage. From that standpoint, more power to her elbow. This album? Let’s be precise! Loved the first album, not too keen on the second, right back on form on this one. Layman’s guide to Rumer! ‘Reach Out’ and ‘Play Your Guitar’ are worth the entrance fee on their own!
Dara Tucker is a Tulsa based singer, whose latest album ‘The Sun Season’, has been released on the Watchman Music imprint. The latest release is her third album, dating back to 2009’s, ‘All Right Now’. As a performer, Dara has performed with the likes of Dr. Lonnie Smith and Charlie Hunter. Dara’s sister, Lynda, is also a singer. Her third release was recorded in Astoria, Queens, in New York. She penned most of the songs on the new album, and her stated influences do come through in her writings. The likes of James Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Dinah Washington, Donny Hathaway, Nancy Wilson, Gregory Porter, Lalah Hathaway Karen Carpenter & Dionne Warwick are some of her stated reference points. One thing that struck me about this album, was a missing artistic influence? That of the great Randy Crawford. Dara’s delivery brought Randy to mind here, as both women have that ‘tenderness’ aspect to their voices, which is hugely endearing for the listener. This album features, a couple of re-workings of old Jazz standards, including ‘The Nearness Of You’, along with a very different take on the Judy Garland melody, ‘Over The Rainbow’. The tracks, however, that drew me to this release, are the songs penned by Dara herself. The album opener, ’Time Is On Our Side’, is one of my favourite songs on the album. A light samba backing fronted by Dara in an almost merging of Randy Crawford and Carmen Lundy, with a dash of Dianne Reeves, musically. Really delightful stuff. The album is not entitled ‘The Sun Season’ without reason, with many song title cross references to the star which keeps us all alive. ‘Beautiful Sun’ is exactly that, ‘The Morning Sun’, well, likewise. ‘The Sun Suite’ will have many of the better jazz stations adding the melody to their in-house playlists. This album will not ‘rattle any cages’, and for that we should all be very grateful, as it is an album that certainly lifts the spirits. Of it’s kind, this is one of the better jazz vocal releases this year. Recommended.
Problem with the run into Christmas, is many artists take a break from recording, rightly, thinking that this isn't the best time of year to achieve any sort of exposure for their musical efforts. Most of their contemporaries are digging out Donny Hathaways song 'This Christmas', and recording, yet another, version of this great song, along with many Christmas songs, which, truth be told, ought to be consigned to the recycling bin outside! Still, everyone has a right to record their version of 'Jingle Bells', and I exercise my right as a truly free citizen, not to listen to that abomination in whatever form it manifests itself! That is very much my business, whilst, another album, which is also, very much my business, is the latest release by the excellent Teri Tobin.
Teri has seen her work posted at this site in previous years. Hailing from Arizona, Teri is a fan of the aforementioned Donny Hathaway. In fact, her Facebook ‘likes’, indicate a sister of taste, which undoubtedly lays the foundations of her musical progression. As a child, Teri sang background vocals Jeffrey Osborne, and, interestingly, the prog rock band, Yes. She studied at Howard University, later singing backgrounds at President Clinton’s Inaugural Gala, for the likes of Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle and Luther Vandross. Her previous releases include ‘Love Infinity’ (in 2011) and ’So Good To Me’ seeing the light of day a year later. In late 2014, we are introduced to this fine new album, entitled ‘Truth Is’. I guess that the person working in the local record store might be tempted to drop this album in the Neo-Soul section of the Soul department, however, as with a few artists recently, these singers are spreading their cultural wings, which is beautifully highlighted in my favourite track on offer here, namely, ‘Love Happens’. Now regarding Teri’s Facebook ‘likes’, one artist listed is Stevie Wonder. This track has a real Stevie vibe, cleverly slipping up and down those key changes, that the Soul master is truly adept at realising. It’s a ‘tricky’ track, in as much as it really grows with several plays. Whether daytime radio is ready for such subtlety, who knows, but if you are reading these pages, I know you guys are. Radio-wise, I think that ‘Shine’ will be the deejays choice, although there are a couple of other fine uptempo numbers, in what is essentially, a downtempo release. This is, however, downtempo of the highest order I might add. ‘Always Be You’ and ‘Free Yo Mind’ are tracks I should give special mention to, as they ought to dot any ‘i’s and cross any ’t’s, if you wonder whether the album is a strong one. That it certainly is. Highly recommended.
Two new essential albums, currently doing the Soul circuit, are the new releases from Portia Monique and Calvin Richardson.
Portia’s album was preceded by two tracks, entitled ‘Grace’ and ‘Nobody’, which the promoter Steve Ripley very kindly sent my way. The best description of Portia’s album are ‘uptempo’ and ‘refreshing’. She has a very unique sound which is easy on the ear, and powerfully controlled (if that makes any sense!). What I mean by that is, anything that the great Reel People’s production team demands of her vocally, she can take on all comers with ease. Both of the aforementioned tracks are top drawer dancers, which have been championed in London, by the deejays Peter Young and Jeff Young (no not sisters!) at Jazz FM here in London. The issue, sometimes, with albums such as these, are, the ‘tasters’ sometimes give a false impression regarding the main course to follow. The album arrived from Steve this week, and I know that no-one out there will be disappointed. Uptempo music of the highest quality. So who is Portia Monique? Well, quick bio...Portia was born in Hawaii and these days lives in Seattle. When she was 16, she began working with several music producers, whilst living in Houston, one of whom was the producer Illoquint, then, when she was 23, Portia relocated back the Seattle. Her skills were noticed by the US R&B producers Rodney Jerkins, Kyle West and Midi Mafia. In the U.K., she became acquainted with Reel People Music’s Oli Lazarus. Her work with The Layabouts on Reel People Music led to Portia’s self titled debut album, (also produced by Reel People). Killer tracks? Well I have four marked as 5 star here, the rest are, at least 4 star. My pick of the litter here has to be ‘I Ain’t Scared Of You’. This will get some of the better dance floor bass bins trembling out there. A dancer that builds. Terrific stuff all told. well worth picking up.....
...As is, probably, Calvin Richardson’s latest offering. Calvin has appeared on these pages before. His Bobby Womack tribute album was a great set. This Monroe, North Carolina native is maturing very nicely. Strange that, in 2014, I am seeing a pattern emerging, which is epitomised by this album. You have to take a trip to the very last track (as with the recent Kelly Price album) to locate the killer track (IMHO). ‘Home In A Minute’ will, probably not win Calvin the ‘Wordsworth Award for the Greatest Piece of Lyrical Literature’, however, the overall vibe is warm and very Soulful. An end of the year top 10 contender, if ever there was one. ‘Dark Side Of Love’ is another corker of a song, which I would love to see Calvin perform on a live stage. It has that kind of sound, full of real singers, and folks who know how to hits some keys and strum some strings, as well as hitting a few keys on a MacBook. Calvin pitches in here with a very nice take on DeBarge’s evergreen ‘All This Love’, which is treated, as all cover versions ought to be, not as a photocopy, but a reworking. ‘What Would I Do’ has a very Eighties sound, and appeals, even with the rap that emerges towards the end of the song. Nice track. ‘More Than A Picture’ is a lovely song’, whilst ‘We Gon’ Love Tonite’ reminded me a little of the Midnight Star song ‘Curious’. Another track with it’s roots planted very much in the mid eighties. I really like this new album from this maturing vocalist. Out on Jordan House/Primary Wave Music/BMG Rights Management, and highly recommended.
One of the questions I am often asked, is the question, ‘Are you funded by any particular label at your website?’, to which I always answer that, the site reflects my own tastes, and not those of a corporate body. Back in the mid Seventies, I had a fling with the Punk Scene, as that scene dipped its toes into the Soul scene for a while, and I liked the rebellious ‘ratting of cages’ that the fashion brought to the cultural table. The party lasted, maybe a year, but that rebellious element has always been a part of my make-up, so, when I post two albums, which both originate from the same U.K. label, I do so because these guys release some of the best material on the scene right now, and for that, along with Expansion Records, Dome should be congratulated, not interrogated.
Jarrod Lawson’s album I, initially, had a ‘rebellious’ knee jerk reaction to when it arrived here at the start of the summer. Everyone raved about the set, so I thought any efforts on my part were one particular bus I had missed. What I would say is, once the album was loaded into my MacBook, I listened to the album endlessly, whilst working on the recent NATO project in Wales. That project gave me the daytime, to listen closely to the set. I received a couple of e-mails asking why I hadn’t posted the album, and, all told, I thought at that time, well everyone else had said what I would have imparted. A song sheet we were all singing along to! ‘All That Surrounds’ is my favourite track on this set, by the way. Almost seems immaterial, cherry picking tracks. They are all good, so you pays your money... Seems to me that Jarrod has an edge to his music, which appealed to me greatly, and hinted at the rebel that may be lurking within this artist’s creative juices. What gave this album a whole new lease of life, was the label switch to Dome, who, if you are an independent artist, you would be crazy not to want to be part of this set-up. The label does not only press up and release albums, they nurture the artist and their careers, which takes a great deal of worry from the creative mind. Although Jarrod and I work in different cultural environments, the ‘creatives’ are usually treated poorly by the ‘suits’ who cannot comprehend how they could do our work, however, we could do theirs without breaking much of a sweat. Jarrod has a very interesting ‘lean’ on Black music (for a white dude), which will be embraced by the brothers and sisters out there, as they will completely ‘get’ what this artist is trying to create. For those musicians who are trying to get themselves noticed out there, firstly, well done in opening up your own souls, and learn from the likes of Jarrod, who played on cruise ships for a while, crafting his trade. Dome have given the guy a promotion, which will free this artist to spread their creative wings. Be interested in where this journey takes this singer. This album isn’t half bad!
Whilst Dome are nurturing Jarrod, they have other performers on their roster, one of whom is the songstress, Imaani. Her resume tells us that she contributed to the U.K. in 1998’s Eurovision Song Contest. Whether that fact will enamour a diehard Soul fan, or send them on their way, well that is very much your business, however, if the latter is the end result, what I would say to those folks is ‘Hold your horses’! Imaani is one of those fantastic voices, which are carefully cherry picked by Bluey for his standout Incognito projects. That man has immaculate tastes, so this album needs to be heard. ‘Standing Tall’ has given this fine singer her very own musical canvas to paint, or embroider, her own musical pictures in our minds, and for that, props again to Peter and Santosh at Dome. This is a very nice album, a great deal less ebrasive than Jarrod’s fine set, but a fine set this certainly is. I marked up several tracks, which are worthy of repeat visits. The opener, for instance (‘Ten Thousand’), the catchy ‘Yeah’, ‘Just For One Day’ and ‘Let’s Do It Right’. One thing I have noticed in the album releases covering the last couple of years is this. I am hugely pleased that the art of crafting a ballad is returning, sneaking in the back door inconspicuously. Gregory Porter has been listening to the beautiful ballads delivered over the years, by the likes of Stevie and, dare I say, Paul Simon, who can pen a lyric like no other, in my humble opinion. Women are wising up and getting back to those song led melodies, and this is beautifully showcased here by the, hugely impressive, ‘Please Let Me In’. There are only so many ways of articulating the affairs of the heart on a very personal basis, and Imaani has cracked it here. Peach of a song, that won’t have folks rushing to the dance floor to ‘get on down’, but perhaps, in these days of folks walking round staring at technology whilst walking into lamp posts, we may begin to start looking and appreciating our fellow human beings. Worth the entrance fee on it’s own this song. If Imaani delivers more of this standard of material, she will be laying the foundations of something quite remarkable in the coming years.
Labels like Dome and Expansion are the concrete rocks which hold up and support this music. The Americans might say ‘good job’, but, truth be told, these labels are much, much more than that interpretation in reality.
Even back as far as 2001, if anyone told you that there were still great tracks, yet to be released, by Marvin Gaye, you would certainly have raised eyebrows. It was a great Scottish deejay called George Reid, who alerted me at the time, to a new track, hidden away on a ‘Best Of’, which had been released at that time, with very little fanfare. I was so impressed by ‘Where Are We Going?’ that I sent a copy to Robbie Vincent at Jazz FM, who called me to find out more about the track. Donald Byrd had recorded a version on his ‘Blackbyrd’ album in 1973. There was also a version by Funk Inc. (on their 'Priced To Sell' album), although Donald’s seemed to be the definitive take. Leap into 2014, some 13 years after the initial revelation, and another Donald Byrd track, this time ‘Woman Of The World’, also is let loose on an unsuspecting public. Co-incidentally, the same year Professor Donald released ‘Blackbyrd’, he also released ‘Street Lady’, and this set included the original ‘Woman Of The World’. On this album, the buyer gets the two Marvin versions, backed with the two Donald versions. So what are the common denominators between a genius of Jazz, and a genius of Soul? The musical glue comes in the form of the Mizell Brothers. Check their page at the site here. Larry and Fonce were once part of the ensemble called The Corporation, a group of in-house songwriters for the Motown imprint. Motown and Marvin Gaye? Their paths were bound to have crossed at some point, and, thank the man upstairs they did. You will probably know ‘Where Are We Going?’ by now. It’s in most of the better deejays boxes out there. ‘Woman Of The World’ is just as great a track as it’s predecessor, so you know you NEED this mini album. It will, almost certainly, be the last of the great Marvin sides still unreleased. Deejays these days spend a great deal of time remixing Marvin’s older material. No matter what is thrown at the man’s music, it always stands up, as the man’s music is the epitome of timelessness. Essential.
Also, absolutely essential, is the annual Soul Togetherness compilation from Expansion Records. How any Soul music businessman makes ends meet in these, download this/download that environment is beyond me. Personally, I still buy quite a bit of the newer music out there, but I get a sense of being something of a dying breed in today’s market. Hope is in the vinyl market, and Expansion are doing their utmost on that front to fly the flag, and, along with the likes of Dome Records, well, more power to their elbows. Soul Togetherness is always a welcome arrival in this house. There are always tracks I missed, which Ralph Tee, thankfully includes on his releases. A personal standout is the Garcia melody ‘’Praying For Rain’, which has a very early Eighties fell running throughout. Very pleased to see the great Noel Gourdin song ‘No Worries’, which is a standout on this fine set. SouLutions great dancer, ‘Listen’ is a must have 2014 anthem, vinyl copies of which are already fetching high prices on the Northern Soul circuit. Drizabone work their wonders on this fine piece of modern soul. The J Holiday album I had almost forgotten about, so it was great to be reminded about the fine uptempo melody, ‘Thinking About You’. With the excellent Paul Johnson kicking off proceedings with his fine dancer ‘Better Than This’, this is one of Expansions best releases in this series thus far. Essential all the way. These CD’s will become highly sought after in the coming years, so it is best to pick up a copy at this point, so as to keep a control on those tightening purse strings!
Boston born, songstress SuCh was raised in New York. Her name is comprised of her abbreviated birth name, Su Charles. When she was 15, SuCh performed at her Grammy High School Jazz Ensemble for three years, early in the 2000’s. She has collaborated with the likes of Patrice Rushen, Dave Koz, Erykah Badu and Yolanda Adams. SuCh went on to perform on the 2012 incarnation of American Idol, and released her first album ‘Stretch Marks’. ‘Trial and Error’ is her new album, and a very good album it is as well! The album sets off at a great rate of knots, with the bright and breezy ‘Open Book’. This is my current favourite track from the album, which immediately gets the toes tapping, reminding me of Brenda Russell in one of her better upbeat moments. Hugely radio friendly. ’Sugar Maple’ was a single, initially released last year, a mid-tempo stepper of a very high standard. ‘Heaven’ is honed in a similar vein. SuCh’s album is not your run of the mill ‘Nu Soul’ release, but a more developed and Soulful version of that genre. I really loved ‘P’s & Q’s’, which will find favour on the better Soul Stations out there. Adult Contemporary, whatever that means :)). Just a great song, ably assisted by Mathenee Treco (a new name to me). Another track that appealed was the slower ‘Frustrated’, which is heavy on melody. Nice to hear an album like this these days. The year started off slowly, however, tracks such as ‘Open Book’ auger well for the coming months. A very good album.
Another ex-American Idol stalwart comes in the form of the powerful vocalist, Jennifer Hudson. Jennifer performed as a finalist on the 2004 season of that musical cattle market. True, some very good singers have emerged from the dirge featured in that show, but is it the way to carve longevity in a singers career? Up for debate, however, judging by many of these singers, they are dropped within 12 months or so, by their mentor’s, often, as the material requested by those folks are either albums featuring cover material, or in some cases, simply a case of ‘striking up the bland’! With Jennifer, it was ‘Dreamgirls’ that hinted that there may be more to this artist, as she seemed to me to be the woman most likely, in a cast of established heavyweights. She has also had to endure some family tragedies, which would have finished most of us off, before we started. Her first two albums were, in my humble opinion, vehicles for her to perform powerful ascending and descending scales, with a hint of a melody in there someplace. This third album sees the woman getting down to business, musically, and for that, we should all be very grateful. The R Kelly collaboration ‘It’s Your World’, will probably be the one picked up by the Soul Stations, however, perhaps with a little of the Pharrell Williams effect, the song ‘Just That Type Of Girl’, sounds like a Modern Soul masterpiece in the making. Great groove, complemented by Jennifer singing something a little more disciplined, which showcases her abilities to great effect. The aptly titled ‘Bring Back The Music’, does just that. Out with the trash goes the pasteurised/homogenised R&B, and out comes the Teena Marie in this songstress. Although I am not keen on a couple of the track here, for the most part, this is a very well constructed album, which will help her to win over a whole new set of Soul fans.
...by the way...if you haven't bought a copy of 'I Got What You Need' by Smokie Norful, you really are missing out....this should not be allowed to get away....:))
Two albums came in by guys called Smokey last week. One was by the Robinson version we all know and love, but close behind that genius, was this Smokie, whose album will pass like a ship in the night I fear, and that would be a real tragedy. Pastor Smokie Norful is the Senior Pastor at the Illinois based Victory Cathedral Worship Center. As with most Gospel vocalists, his ability is unquestioned, as the church is the foundation for many of Black Music’s greatest vocalists. Back in 2002, Smokie released ‘I Need You Now’, his debut, which was followed by successive album releases, each garnering the singer success as a Gospel singer, and, with this new release, a new group of followers from today’s Modern Soul Circuit. This is hugely due to the majestic ‘I Got What You Need’. This is a dancer of the highest calibre, which I have listened to over and over during the last fortnight, and I can tell you that the song never loses it’s shine. Candidate for the fine Ralph Tee’s Soul Togetherness compilations? Would be a perfect fit. I must confess that, once I had heard the track, I am guilty of paying less attention to the rest of the set, as this song will be many Soul fans ‘track of the year’. Smokie currently resides in Chicago, a city which has it’s own serious public order issues, so I guess the man is fully occupied, spiritually, for most of the time. I do hope that his work in (as the residents themselves describe the city) ‘Chiraq’, does not keep this great vocalist out of the studio for too long. ‘I Got What You Need’ is simply ‘immense’.
Uvee Hayes is an Ecko Records recording artist and Soul and Blues singer. Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Uvee style is set in a very traditional mode. She has released some nine albums and has collaborated with the likes of Tom Tom Washington, Bobby Rush, Syl Johnson, Tyrone Davis, Otis Clay, The Emotions, Theresa Davis, Oliver Sain, Stevie Wonder, Luther Ingram and The Phoenix Horns. No slouch, this woman! I was impressed with her approach to this set, which relies on tried and traditional approaches to her music. Her collaboration with the late Tyrone Davis is highlighted by the album opener, which is her take on the great man’s evergreen ‘In The Mood’. A faithful, very harmonious take on a great tune. The vibe of the album has a ‘Southern’ aspect, which echoes some of the great songstresses from recent years. Lyn White, springs to mind, manifested musically in the charming dancer ‘You Make Me Happy’. Truth be told, I am a real sucker for albums like Uvee’s. Refreshing from the pop charts, which, by and largely, might have been put together by creatures from another planet (and some of those artists look like bit part actors from Star Trek! :)). ‘Grooving’ was another tune, which has elements of Shirley Brown going on in the melody. Lovely stuff. 11 tracks which are all the real deal. I hope Uvee does well with this lovely set of Soul songs....and not a daytime radio Martian in sight! :))
Don-E is, undoubtedly, one of my favourite U.K. singer, songwriters. His voice is instantly recognisable, his songs are always ‘ingenious’ in many ways. He is a very good idea’s performer. I was very surprised to see this album appear, whilst I was picking up another album from CD Baby. I bought Don-E’s last Dome records album, only a year ago, and I had to check, and re-check, the website to see if I was picking up an old album. Indeed, I wasn’t. This release the man has put on CD Baby himself, and it is his own tribute to the Rare Groove scene, which came to the forefront during the mid to late Eighties. The difference between other albums of re-workings, is you can tell that the singer REALLY loves the originals of each of these reworked melodies. Don-E’s has taken the likes of ‘The Fruit Song’, ‘Lover To Lover’ and ‘Body Fusion’, and rewritten the songs, utilising the sections which fit with the new. This album I wasn’t sure about to begin with. The idea seemed a little ‘old-hat’, however, I have really grown to love this album over the last week or so. Albums like these are hugely uplifting, and, all I can say, is that ‘I Got It’ and the ‘Lover To Lover’ reworking, entitled ‘Live It Up’, are fast becoming two of my favourite songs released this year. Don-E has utilised the excellent Natasha Watts on this fine new album, whose only criticism I can level at this project, is it is all far too short! Short and sweet it is however, and well worth investigating. All told, Don-E is a terrific singer and performer. Well worth a fiver of anyone’s money at that website!
Zanye’s new album ‘Conversations’, I have lived with for a couple of weeks now. It is a very strong set of songs, released on her SoundThought Recordings imprint. It is, actually, her second album release, the first I am not familiar with (but was called ‘My Story Today’ in 2012), however, on the strength of this new album, I will go seek out her debut. In amongst the original material material on this album, are two cover versions of the songs ‘Funny Valentine’, and the Jean Carn evergreen ‘Don’t Let It Go To Your Head’. The litmus test of this new album, are the original songs all stand up well against the two previously recorded tracks. Out of Detroit, Zanye brought in a team of musicians and songsmiths, including Inohs Sivad, Lavell Williams, Dana Anderson and Naomi Daniel. She is additionally well backed up vocally by Kyle Rushing, Anesha Birchett and Antea Shelton. Zanye’s material is very mature in overall sound, with the opener ‘Crazy Love’, ‘Feels like Rain’ and ‘Celebrate’ all lifting the listeners spirits very nicely. The tracks that have made me reach for the repeat button are two ballads, namely, the moody ‘Extra Ordinary’ and the hugely Anita Baker-ish title track. This is my cherry pick from this very interesting set, a song which Anita’s vocals would sit very snugly around. Real nice album this one.
On K-Tone Enterprises, Dominique Toney’s album, ‘A Love Like Ours’, showcases another songstress, this time, emanating from the Blackbyrd’s own, Kevin Toney’s daughter. Based in Los Angeles, Dominique has crafted a very listenable Jazz and Soul release, which will either fly, or fall. I do hope it’s the former, as this is a very good album. Educationally, Dominique attended the Colburn School of Music, later attending songwriting classes with Jonathan Hart Makwaia. She has also performed as a member of The Blackbyrds singing lead and playing second keyboards including a Tribute to Donald Byrd show in San Francisco. The opening track from this new album ‘Loving You Is So Easy’ reminded me greatly of those lovely Adrianna Evans albums from a few years ago. Her fathers influences are evident throughout this nice album, with no attempts to ‘Beyoncify’ affairs. Plain and simply great Soul and Jazz music. ‘We Are’ is nice and moody, whilst, if bright and breezy is your bag, then the title track will fit the bill for many Soul fans. The track features input from her father, whilst the song ‘Pieces’ showcases, the often heard these days, Ray Parker Jnr. Very Soulful and one million miles away from ‘Ghostbusters’! ‘The Last One’ has a movie soundtrack feel to the melody. Really like this song. Probably, my cherry pick from this set is ‘We Are’, however, this is an album that you can put on the stereo and enjoy the whole musical journey. Very nice music indeed.
Firstly, before I 'walk' into these four album releases, just a quick apology regarding the site. Since early June I have been working hard on a design project, which has kept me busy for 12 hours a day during the week, so the updates have inevitably slowed somewhat. The project is hugely demanding, but does come to fruition late in August, so, I will add what I can, when I can here, as time allows.
The first two album releases here (Angela Johnson's and Eric Roberson's) are both being carfully looked after by the, very capable Dome Records imprint. Dome stick with their artists, which is hugely to their credit, as the listener can see and hear each artist develop over a period of time. Certainly with both of these singers/songwriters, there has been a real blossoming of each of their own skill sets. Angela Johnson is one of my personal favourites on Dome's roster. This new release is, probably, her finest album to date. Ten tracks which feature a re-working of a song by the late Teena Marie, along with duets with the fine singer Raul Midon. That duet, 'I Promise M.O.N.E.Y.', will probably become the 'radio' song from the album. Angela's take on Teena Marie's 'Deja-Vu (I've Been Here Before) would surely have met with approval from the late singer. There's a reverence in Angela's delivery, which is apparent, and adds something else to, what is, one of my favourite Teena Marie songs. I really loved the Southern Soul sounding 'I Don't Mind'. Echoes of those great Willie Mitchell sides. Other winners in this house are 'A Beautiful Place', the drop dead gorgeous 'Handz', and the opener 'To Love Again'. Angela has 'come of age' with this fine new album. Well worth picking up a copy.
Eric Roberson, to these ears, is one of those 'tricky' artists. You take a first listen to one of his releases, and they never hit home first time round. You have to re-visit a couple of times before the gems emerge on the surface of this complex musical tapestry. Knowing this, at the outset of an Eric Roberson album, is almost essential. If you listen once, and ignore, well, ignore at your peril. Personally, I really like this singers voice. He sits someplace outside Neo-Soul, which is strange, as I am sure he will be filed under that genre in many a store...however...it would also be a mistake to put his batch of CD's in the new R&B section as well. Truth be told, you could put Eric in either of those sections, but also place him in the Soul section. 'Haunting' is a good description of this man's music. Haunting and 'tricky' :)) My current favourite here is the King duet on 'Just Imagine'. Really nice song this one. Almost like an amalgamation of Leon Ware and Pat Metheney! Oddly, I liked the song 'Haunting'....odd in as much as the sound is hugely self descriptive (and is a word I have already mentioned regarding this fine swinger). Other tracks? 'Mark On Me' is another quirky, tricky, haunting stepper. Hugely appealing, if you stay with the man. Eric Roberson's music is very much created like a portrait, which you can't quite make out to begin with, however with further scrutiny, all becomes clear. Two great Dome Records releases.
Tavis Minner, is an artist who has visited this website, review-wise, previously. The Tulsa, Oklahoma based singer's 'Unity' album was featured here a couple of years ago. I am sure that this new album will please those who enjoyed his previous release. 'Love Confessions' showcases a progession for the singer, taking him into, in places, almost S.O.S. Band territory. The album is almost a sandwich of music! The bread comprises of dance material, however, it is the 'meat in the proverbial sandwich' which interests me greatly. Set at midtempo, by and largely, the songs are very strong. What carries the music, for the large part, is Tavis' own mellow harmonic voice, which pulls the songs up by their boot laces. The instrumentation is quite sparce in places, which is a shame, as with a full live band, Tavis would be creating minor masterpieces, certainly with the likes of 'Never Felt Like This Before'. What a great song this is. Infact, the 'meat in the sandwich covers 4 of the eight songs on offer here. These are, the aforementioned song, the title track, 'I've Got The Love You Need', and 'Special', all of which would grace any major artists album releases. Tavis Minner is a fascinating artist, whose career I will be watching closely over the coming years. He is an artist not to be ignored!
Aneesa Strings hails from Oakland, California. She is a bassist, as well as a composer, who is another 'tricky' artist! She is deeply rooted in Jazz, which permeates all of the grooves throughout this album. Whether she will 'do it for you' is very much whether you decide to pay your money and make your choice. Vocally, she is hugely appealing, although I would recommend you listen to the album before picking up a copy, as she is artistically set, very much, in a Robert Glasper musical mindset, however, what made the purchase essential for this old man, is the unusually titled 'Simpin'. A tune which is hugely mature, soulful and appealing. One of the better tracks around at the moment. Her website states her influences eminate from the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Bobby Blue Bland, and Miles Davis. I can hear all those guys in Aneesa's music, although I think there is very much more on her iPod than she is letting on! :))) Check out 'Simpin'. I think you guys will like the song.
joe - bridges / kelly price - sing
The last couple of albums by Joe, have had a couple of real gems on them. ‘Compromise’ was a great dancer from his last set, and he is very welcome in this house, for filling the void left by the last R Kelly album (a release which saw a reversion to a previously uninspiring format, which was very sad to see...and even sadder to hear!). Joe, on the other hand, has decided to embrace the better aspects of modern Soul music, and has gone some distance in endearing himself to those on the scene, who look for better things on the radio. Indeed, if you play the opening track ‘Future Teller’, you are treated to some superior Soul music, which gets the toes tapping, and the listener humming along. I counted four tracks that were noteworthy here. ‘Future Teller’ is the first, followed by a great ballad entitled ‘If You Lose Her’, which is a song that has been annoying me, as there is a guitar riff ‘borrowed’ from another Soul tune....but can I remember the song....? Sounded a bit ‘mid seventies Millie Jackson/Larry Santos. Someone out there will put me out of my misery! Great track, however. ‘First Lady’ is a nice dancer, whilst the biggest surprise came from a source ‘least likely’. Kelly Rowland! I know you guys know my thoughts regarding Beyonce and her old band. Very much a waste of a good singer, and Kelly, well, likewise, however, given the right material, a girl can make something highly pleasing if she puts her mind to it! ‘Love and Sex Pt.2’ is mainly a Joe led vehicle, however, when Kelly gets involved, she is very much more than a catwalk model. Good to hear the Soul in the sister coming out! I hope that Joe continues down this Soulful path, as the songs on offer here are well above the average.
The Kelly Price album has had me turning the radio off, in an attempt not to be put off by the overkill, I think the track ‘Metamorphosis’ will probably generate. Suffice to say that the song is a ‘mistake’ within an album of contemporary R&B, which is fine if that is your bag. Safe as houses music, non offensive, but uninspiring in many ways. ‘Metamorphosis’ is something of a wake-up call for those ‘Contemporary R&B’, dime a dozen soundalikes, in as much as it offers a way forward. Kelly’s song sounds as if it would be well at home on one of Norman Connors great releases of the seventies. 'Metamorphosis' is a huge error I think on Kelly’s part, as this is certainly the happiest accident around in a long time. Must have scared the life out of her when this song was placed in front of her! As for myself, so as not to spoil the song, it is solely located on my i-Pod, without a DAB radio in sight!
Over the previous few years Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon (a.k.a. Kindred the Family Soul) have slowly been accumulating accolades for their releases, which have been growing stronger and stronger, musically. There is always a great track or two on their albums, with the duo, perhaps unfairly, being placed in a ‘nu-organic soul’ folder, however being a great deal more than the sum of those three descriptive words. Their debut album is now over a decade old, and the journey has been a worthwhile venture, as this new album realises all of the promised potential of previous releases. In some aspects, the husband and wife team seem to have taken onboard many of the influences of the U.K.’s Modern Soul scene. The opening single ‘Everybody’s Hustling’, scratched an itch for this listener, as, lyrically, artists have resisted being ‘political’ in their content, and quite why I am none too sure. There are many aspects of today’s society, which are ripe pickings for any budding ‘What’s Going on’ type of lyricist. Instead we seem to be drifting as a society, so props to Kindred for addressing the financial sector. Looking at the listings in the iTunes folder here (thank you to Steve Ripley for sending me this set), I see four 5 star songs, along with 6 four star’s to back that lot up with. All told, the songs ‘Everybody’s Hustling’, ‘Loving The Night’, ‘Never Loved You More’ and ‘Drop The Bomb On Me’, all could easily be year end top ten tunes in many folks charts. ‘Loving The Night’ could be taken off many a Seventies Soul release (reference: Atlantic Starr), ‘Never Loved You More’ likewise, with hints of ‘This Kind Of Love’ by Special Delivery and ‘Drop The Bomb On Me’ will have Chaka Khan kicking herself that Kindred did not give her the tune for her next album. Thank heavens people are still making music of this standard. Kindred....stand up and take a bow. Terrific album release.
Julie Crochetiere is a new artist to me. Hailing from Montreal, ‘Counting Dreams’ is her new album, which sees the light of day on the Vega Musique imprint. When I first listened to this album, I thought to myself ‘I can see this artist appearing on Jools Hollands show in the coming weeks’. It’s certainly not a straight ahead Soul album, but neither is it a soft rock or commercial album. ‘Counting Dreams’ floats around someplace just inside...and outside...all of those genre’s. I skipped through a couple of songs, and found myself returning to the melodies, which are very strongly musical, and are enhanced by the tonal quality of her delivery, which is rich and a real pleasure to listen to. The killer track here, for myself, is the title track, which, is probably the most soulful tune on offer here. It is an irritating song, as, once it embeds itself in what is left of the grey matter, there it stays! A lovely song, which is my choice track around right now. Unsurprisingly, Julie states her influences include the likes of Carole King, Bill Withers, Roberta Flack and Nina Simone. I think her album could draw comparisons to Robin McKelle’s recent offering, which is no mean comparison. All told, if she does make Jools’ show, Julie will provide a nice respite from some of the rowdier elements that find themselves on the personable man’s late night gig. one nice inclusion on this set, is the Donny Hathaway evergreen ‘For All We Know’, which I think Lalah Hathaway might be impressed by Julie’s interpretation, and be a rendition she might approve of. Interesting artist, who I would recommend you listen to with an open mind. A very rewarding experience, which is worth the entrance fee along for that title track.
The GB Collective sounds like a group of U.K. based musicians, working out of, perhaps, Bluey’s stable, however, the ‘GB’ comes from the Johannesburg based writer and producer, Greg Borowsky. Greg has compiled a fine set of songs here, utilising several different singers, with, (I hope he doesn’t mind me saying) a very U.K. sound. This ensemble have already signed a deal with Universal Music, and state their influences are based very much in the newer Soul R&B arena. John Legend, Angie Stone, Glenn Lewis (I can hear that influence on a couple of the ballad offerings), all of which go to create a very interesting album. My personal choice tracks lie very much in the uptempo opening numbers, although, my ‘cherry pick’ is the beautifully sung ‘Like Rain’. Great song, delivered by a vocalist called Mariechan. ‘Thinking About You’, ‘Just Don’t Know’ and ‘Keep On Loving You’ are all top drawer melodies, and, whilst the album might look like a run of the mill deejay vehicle, it has certainly arrived at fruition several places away from that scenario. Interesting and highly recommended.
P.S. My apologies for the slowness of updates here recently. I have had a proverbial bee in my bonnet regarding the resume’s at the site, which have arrived at a new place, where there is something to see and read on all the pages at this point in time.
4.6.14 Musically, I have been sent a new Kindred and the Family Soul single, which, judging by this new 45, will almost certainly make an appearance at the site in the coming weeks. Terrific stuff is all I can say! (See above!)
Any new Incognito album is always something to be welcomed with, with open arms (and ears!). They are one of the few groups whose music represents something of a kite mark of high quality, by and largely due to the musical intelligence, which group creator Bluey, approaches each release. ‘Amplified Soul’ is the 16th studio album from the group, not this time, released on the Dome label, but a one off for Shanachie Records in 2014. The album was recorded and mixed North London, and features the fine vocals of Tony Momrelle, Vanessa Haynes and Katie Leone. Carleen Anderson, Imaani, Chiara Hunter and Deborah Bond are both added to the mix. I loved the opening track on this set (the title track), which is very Marvin-esque. ‘I Couldn't Love You More’ has echoes of Stephanie Mills ‘Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin’, ‘Rapture’ is terrific...well that’s the first 3 tracks! I will stop there and say to you, just go buy the album. It is one of those albums, your favourite will change with repeated plays. My current pick is ‘Something 'Bout July’, but that will change I am sure!....
One of the best female pair of singers, over the last 15 or so years, in my humble opinion, are the gospel duo, Mary, Mary. Both Erica and Tina Campbell possess power and discipline in their delivery, and have released some seven albums throughout their career so far. This new album features one of the duo, namely Erica Campbell, whose album is called Help’, and is released on eOne Music. Erica finds herself looking for a newer, more personal musical direction, which, by and largely, she has achieved with this album. ‘Help’ represents a bit of a family affair, as her collaborator on the set is her husband, Warryn Campbell. This album features a great deal of live instrumentation, which has enabled Erica to work on some very interesting retrospective forms of music, none more so than the hugely derivative of the Ad Libs evergreen ‘Boy From New York City’-esque ‘A Little More Jesus’. This is a terrific song, which, if you imagine the Ad Libs, crossed with Gregory Porters ‘Liquid Spirit’, then you are getting close to the overall vibe. Hugely refreshing, is the best description here. The album is strong throughout, with Erica getting very ‘Stevie’ on the very funky ‘More Than A Lover’ and ’Nobody Else’. Great couple of dance tracks there. My pick of all of the songs on offer, is the last track, a ballad called ‘Changes’, which showcases how versatile and listenable Erica’s vocal stylings have developed over the years. One of my favourite songs of 2014 thus far. Highly recommended album.
Kira Hooks is a new singer to this listener. Another singer with ‘real music’ in mind when constructing an album. On her own label, ‘Elephant Heart’ sits very comfortably on the shelves here, alongside the likes of Sheree Brown and Brenda Russell. Hailing from Los Angeles, Kira’s album is a collection of 12 songs, which cover several styles, my favourite of which is when she settles on a mid-tempo range. Cherry picking tracks took me straight to ‘When I Run To You’, which is another song I attach my own ‘best of 2014’ stamp to. Real Brenda Russell vibe running throughout this great song. I really enjoyed ‘Try To Hold On To You’, and ‘How Beautiful Life Is' additionally on this album. Nice to hear people recording albums such as this set these days. Fine album.
Papik are a group, who have become a firm favourite in our household. Only three full albums in, and each set contains modern soul masterpieces. Nerio Poggi, the Rome based musician, composer, producer and arranger has created a band that is very much a template, showing those who are keen in making a career in this industry, just how it ought to be done. He is very much an equal opportunities employer, advancing the careers of the singers Alan Scaffardi and Ely Bruna (whose own albums are well worth seeking out). Two years ago, Papik’s ‘Music Inside’ was my album of that particular year. Two years down the line, and we are treated to a double album, entitled ‘Songs For The Open Road’. As with every double album release, there is a lot to work a reviewer through, although, with this particular set, I could see a pattern forming. The tracks I marked as being the most remarkable, all seemed to end with the words ‘featuring Ely Bruna’. The other songs on offer are all very good (with the usual highly surprising cover versions!), however, I think there is a ‘hand in hand’ element to Ely’s delivery, which fits most snugly into the grooves of this group. The best of these track, for myself, is the opening song ‘Tender Lies’, which picks up from where ‘Music Inside’ left off. Other songs featuring this singer, (which are all five star melodies in my humble opinion), are ‘I Will Walk Away’, ’Special Love’, ‘Your Love Is Enough For Me’ and (the Matt Bianco cover of) ‘More Than I Can Bear’. The other real killer track on offer here, is the beautifully sung, Frank McComb vehicle ‘Falling Out Of Your Love’. Terrific stuff. Great to have this group around, and, if you have a spare moment, do ‘You Tube’ Ely Bruna’s great song ‘1986’, off her own album from a couple of years ago. A modern soul classic out on Irma Records.
Off to Bari in Italy now, to reacquaint myself with Nicola Conte, who is onto his 7th album release, if I am not mistaken. Each album is a progression in quality, as far as I am concerned. Whilst Papik aim for a slightly more commercial end of Modern Soul, Nicola certainly fills any gaps in the area of sophistication! ‘Free Soul’s is probably the best album around at the moment, and I have to thank Peter Young at Jazz FM for turning me onto this fine album. The opening track features Marvin Parks, on the jazzy melody ‘Shades of Joy’ (almost Mark Murphy in delivery), with lyrics written by one Gregory Porter and (the ex Brit School artist) Bridgette Amofah. Marvin is also in effect on the summery ‘If I Should Lose You’, which features sax by Rosario Giuliani. An interesting take here on the Bobbie Gentry evergreen ‘Ode to Billie Joe’, which works very well indeed. Other folks featured on this fine album include Greg Osby on ‘Ahmad’s Blues’. I really liked the samba melody ‘Sandalia Dela’, and the very funky title track. Nicola seems to improve with each release, so having reviewed his albums at the site previously, you will be well aware that I can highly recommend this release. Great music out on Schema Records.
We, finally, leave Italy, and head to France, for this curious release, which, on the surface, looks as if it may be filled with several twists on the Gloria Gaynor song ‘I Will Survive’! Although that song is one I never liked, I do like this album, which is a set produced, composed, performed, arranged, recorded & mixed by a gentleman called Gilles Paulet. ‘Boogieland’ is an Earth, Wind & Fire song, as you know, however, this is a mis-representation as well, as this is a Blue Eyed Soul album, which, if anything, has more in common with Bernard Oattes, than Maurice White! The blurb that goes with the album states Gilles is ‘Bringing the 70s back to life with this music which could be the imaginary original soundtrack theme of a movie.’ All clear then :))! the album contains 16 tracks all merged together into a mix of several styles from the era in concern. One particular track has been on replay here over the last couple of weeks or so. ’Someone’ is one of those ‘tricky’ tracks that get stuck in the grey matter, and I have really grown into this melody. Probably, become a year end favourite song, but it sure isn’t a Seventies disco stormer, but simply a terrific song. Do check this album out.
Princess Freesia Is actually Lija Rolavs, who is a female vocalist and keyboards player. Lija hails from Australia, and this album is a collaboration with, Cardiff born, Morgan Howell, who in turn is the creator of the band, Soulpersona. Lija was a member of the group The Digisoul Band. She has also provided background vocals for the likes of Leon Ware, Jean Carne, The Jones Girls, Ben E King, Sheree Brown, Jocelyn Brown, The Valentine Brothers and Barbara Mason, no less. Introductions aside ‘Fateful Attraction’ has provided some very welcome relief from the swathes of Jason Derulo soundalikes, which seem to be coming out of every artistic orifice on the scene right now. Morgan’s understanding of the better side of this music, has born some fruit on this 7 track release. On the R&B Moguls imprint, each song finds a groove, which allows Lija to do her vocal thing, without any embellishment, other than to deliver a melody articulately and, above all, hugely enjoyably. All seven songs possess longevity, not only in timing, but in durability. We will certainly still be enjoying these sides at the end of 2014, and long after that. Tracks one to five are pretty well set at uptempo (my picks being ‘Do It Baby’ and ‘I’m Still Young’), with the mellower side of the album permeating through on ‘Missing Love’ and ‘I Won’t Forget’. Very retro sounding mid-tempo songs, which are, probably, my overall choices from this very fine album. Having said that, the uptempo number are all growers, and, what I would say, is the album has no filler tracks. I like everything on offer on this album, which is something you can’t say that often. Whether the album has a ‘killer track’ has no bearing for this listener. It is a hugely enjoyable listen from start to finish, and, as I said, a welcome relief from the floods of reissues, and even worse, the current, invogue, tepid, top 40, neo soul template we are all being force fed in 2014.
One of the great things about hosting this website, is I do not allow myself to be guided by one genre or other. Although I do draw the line at heavy metal and (not all) country music, I can look ‘outside the conventional musical box’ at music from other parts of the World. Does this mean the music will be lacking ’soul’? Well, a few years ago, Australia might not be seen as a hotbed of Soul Music (even Italy at that matter), however, these days some great music comes from the performers in those two great countries. This time round, I am off, melodically, to Lagos in Nigeria. Another ‘Graceland’ type album? Fela Kuti? Great as those artists are, the name that trips off the tongue here (:))) is Nosakhare Shadrack Omoregie, who, I have to personally thank, for abbreviating his stage name to 'Nosa'! Nosa has a lovely voice, which I can only describe as, not being too far from the vocal sound of an African version of John Legend. It is important to stress that any previous musical memories you may have regarding melody from this huge continent, be parked well and truly someplace else. Nosa, himself, was born in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. He sang in the choir in church and states his musical influences emerge from the likes of Gospel artists such as the excellent Fred Hammond, along with the more secular R&B bands such as Boys II Men. The old belief that ‘you can take the man out of Nigeria, but you can’t take Nigeria out of the man’ is only partially evident in the clarity and strong melody that enhances Nosa's individual overall sound. I absolutely love the song ‘Always Pray For You’. I think this is a beautiful piece of highly optimistic Soul Music, beautifully sung by Nosa, who has been running with this album for a couple of years now, and has thankfully landed a deal at Chocolate City Records in Lagos. The title track, ‘Open Doors’ is another winner, set at mid-tempo in a reggae-ish vibe. Well there’s sunshine emanating from the speakers here on this one! :)) If you are into Robbie Vincent-esque ‘tricky’ tracks, check ‘Undisputed’, with its cross between U.K. Soul/Fusion and Nigerian vibes. Like a breath of fresh air, could we be looking at Africa as the new home of Soul Music on this side of the pond? Doesn’t matter to me where it comes from....if it is good it is good. In the case of ‘Always Pray For You’, it is GREAT.
Any new Will Downing album is always welcome. As with Nosa, Will’s voice is the central feature of any of his album releases. Powerful, but tender, is my best shot at describing the man’s sound. This set represents the man’s 17th studio album since his self titled debut in 1988. ‘Euphoria’ is an album of re-workings of classic (but not obvious) evergreen Soul songs. The production chores on this set are handled by Will, Chris Big Dog Davis and Mike Logan, all very respectfully regarding the originals, but without the songs becoming carbon copies of the classics. The album's first single, is the Teddy Pendergrass song, ‘Turn Off The Lights’.
Will then reworks some great tracks including Stevie Wonder's ‘Too High’ (terrific) and the late Lou Rawls' song ‘If I Were A Musician’. Not all of the songs are covers. Will’s own original composition is realised in the form of ‘Heaven In Your Eyes’. His songwriting is of such a high standard, that this song stands up against all of the other greats. He covers Jazz classics including ‘Lush Life’ (feat. Najee), a’ bluesy take on ‘You Can Bring Me Flowers’, and a very nice re-working of the Hall & Oattes Blue eyed Soul classic ‘She's Gone’. Will Downing albums have appeared on the shelves here in a regular procession over the years, some without myself even listening to the releases initially. I can’t recall a bad album in any of the man’s C.V. and I am sure the man’s immaculate taste will not change the standard of quality, regarding future releases, one little bit. Well worth checking out.
Cheryl Barnes is a singer, who has sporadically released albums over the last 35 years or so, whilst running an acting career in parallel, which has made her, almost, slip under the radar as a soul songstress. In 1978, she was releasing Disco twelves, in the shape of ‘Save & Spend’ for the Millenium imprint. Two years later, she collaborated with Giorgio Moroder, on ‘Love & Passion’, for the ‘American Gigolo’ soundtrack, and some seven years later, she finally released her own, self titled, debut album for Optimisim Incorporated Records. That release featured the very soulful ‘Love Changed My Ways’, along with a very passable take on the Jim Webb evergreen ‘Everybody Gets To Go To The Moon’. On the acting front, Cheryl starred in Miloš Forman’s 1979 film adaptation of the musical ‘Hair’, acting as the mother of Hud’s little son. Early career performances came as a singer came whilst at school at Union College, New Jersey. Cheryl sang as lead singer, joining the rock band Eve's Garden. The band opened for several bands including, the Classics IV, the Vagrants, and Ten Wheel Drive. So, in 2014, Cheryl releases a follow up album to her 1987 album, this set entitled ‘Listen To This’, this time for the Barnes & Cabasso Music imprint. This new album has been distributed as a Jazz release, although, after taking the whole set onboard, I would also add the tags Soul and Fusion. Cheryl’s voice has not changed in the passing years. She sounds as if she walked out of the studio in 1987, and walked back into the studio a week later, to record this very nice album. There are 12 songs on offer here, most of which are easily 5 minutes plus in duration. You even get a festive track thrown in for good measure (file that away for 10 months time!). The album is very Jazz orientated in parts, and very Norman Connors/Gregory Porter-esque in other areas. Of those songs, I really liked ‘That Afternoon In Harlem’ and the albums jazzy title track. The two tracks that really got stuck in the grey matter here are the epic melodies ‘Come In From The Cold’ (a ten minute plus epic), and my album ‘cherry pick’, namely ‘What’s On Your Mind’, a track that would have sat very nicely on the soul stations back at the time of her debut set, however, in today’s market cream seems to descend, rather than rise to the top, defying the ‘quality gravity’ mark. All told, this elusive artist has created a very diverse set of songs, all of which are hugely likeable, and will probably not achieve a great deal in todays market. All I would say to Cheryl is, achieving that is almost a kite mark of quality in 2014!
One album, which is drifting around in the shallow waters of todays market, not being thrown a hook as, as with Cheryl’s album, releases such as this one are not considered with any credibility. Babyface is a proven songwriter, whilst Tony Braxton is a hugely gifted vocalist, however, if pinned to the wall by Robbie Vincent’s Mexican Bandits, most folks will only recall ‘Unbreak My Heart’ by this singer. In Toni’s defence, she was well and truly ‘bustled’ into a smooth jazz slot in the local store by blokes in suits (who know very little about music, but a lot about the dollar bill), completely ignoring her credentials as a top notch Soul singer. Babyface’s sound is not perceived as ‘hip’ these days as ballads are frowned at by the music executives, who, as the Grammy’s showcased, ‘don’t know their Bobbie Smith’s from their John Edwards’. So what is likely to happen with this new Babyface and Toni Braxton album? Not a lot, is the likeliest scenario, which would be a shame. Those of you who remember that great Vanessa Williams track ‘You Can’t Run’, will know what Babyface is capable of as a songsmith. This album is very much of that standard. Easy on the ear, sure...but also very much song-led. The dilemma is, if you are a radio jock in 2014, where would you fit an album like this into your schedule. Too ’smooth’ for a Northern jock, too new for some, and not dancey enough for those who like their Neo-Soul. What I would say about this album is, to my ears, this set would be a huge album, if it was, say, a new Sade album. In fact I would say that this is the best album that singer never released! Great tracks on this set? I asterisked 5 tracks as 4 stars and above in my listings here. ‘Roller Coaster’, ‘Sweat’, ‘I Hope That You’re O.K.’ and ‘Hurt You’, all sounded pretty fine here. My ‘track of the album’ has to be the very last track entitled ‘The D Word’ (‘D’ standing for Divorce, thus the albums title), which is a hugely haunting song. All told, Babyface albums can be a bit patchy at times, although, apart from a couple of, perhaps, over indulgent slowie’s, this is one of his best overall pieces of his fine curriculum vitae. Let’s hope the album isn’t allowed to drift into the midsts of a very turgid radio market out there.
Recently, I watched the Grammy’s tribute to the Beatles, which celebrated 50 years since the Fab Four’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Watching the surviving Beatles was very interesting, as, that morning, I received this fine box set of 4CD’s which cherry picks some of the finest music of another singer, who is also celebrating their 50th anniversary. Macca and Ringo are well into their 70th year, whilst the late Otis Redding was only to see three of those 50 years before he relocated from this world to a better place. As to whose music showcased a superior longevity, well, you pays your money...There certainly is no doubt that ‘Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay’ sits alongside any of the Beatles songs, in the Musical Hall of Fame, very comfortably. I have often argued the case that Black Music is seen as something of an ideas repository, so control of that library is very important to those who ‘borrow’ from it’s huge cultural database, which the Beatles certainly did, and to their credit, admit as much. The crime is that 190 gram vinyl box sets of original Beatles albums, are lovingly repressed and sold for, what amounts to a sizeable downpayment on a property, whilst, I still scour the shelves for likewise on the Otis Redding front. The Beatles output was terrific, however, neither John, Paul, George or Ringo, could never send a chill down the spine the same way that many an Otis Redding tune could...and still can. The Beatles penned standards. Otis did likewise, but threw in the ‘feeling’ ingredient for good measure. Any new retrospective release by the King Of Soul is always something to be celebrated. ‘The King of Soul’ coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the late genius’s debut album, namely 1964’s ‘Pain in My Heart’. This 4 CD box set comprises of 92 tracks, which follows the career of Otis Redding since day one. Who would have imagined the roller-coaster ride to only have endured for a further 3 years? This great set revisits many studio and live recordings, including all the main singles and tracks from Otis Redding’s impressive CV. These albums include 1965’s ‘Otis Blue’, 1967’s Carla Thomas duets on ‘King and Queen’, and 1968’s posthumously-released ‘The Dock of the Bay’. The releases are delivered in Stereo, when possible, if not the others in glorious mono. Stax Records, actually started recording in stereo sometime in 1965. As a songwriter, included are his melodies ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’, ‘Ole Man Trouble’ and ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’. Also showcased are the great man’s live performances recorded in 1966 at the Whisky a Go Go in L.A. and in 1967 during the Stax/Volt Revue tour of Europe. There were also the cover versions of Solomon Burke’s ‘Down in the Valley’ William Bell’s ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’, the Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ and his brilliant take on Smokey Robinson’s ‘My Girl’. Along with his collaborations with Carla Thomas, this is a case of ‘must buy’, rather than ‘I will think about it’. Whether Otis Redding should be seen with the same stature of the Fab Four, well ‘Yes’ for all of the reasons I have outlined previously. I think, if you asked the Beatles individually, they would probably state that they would be honoured to be seen as being anything near the level of this genius. Unfortunately, the Sixties being the decade they were, we can never be objective. If the Fab Four were four young Black guys, would they have the acceptance on shows such as Ed Sullivan’s back in 1964? Ed would probably have wanted the group on his show, however, those in control of the media, well who knows? Not the lads from Liverpool’s fault. They were some of the most opened minded folks you could wish to meet, so, I only have one question....’When might we see these great Otis Redding compilations pressed onto pristine 190gm vinyl in 2014’? Just a thought. :)) In the meantime 10 out of 10 awarded to the Rhino Entertainment Group for the loving care shown in their collating of a musical work of art!
In any other week, I might well have bypassed this Loretta album, archiving it into the Amy Winehouse section of the new female retro singers on the block. Loretta’s album is called ‘Find A Way’ and is released on Vaziva Music out of France. She has a very nice website, where I went along to find out a little more about this singer. The page described as ‘Biography’ has a great deal of text contained on the page, none of the texts being contaminated with any of that irritating ‘relevant factual information’, so I am none the wiser regarding Loretta. The French Wikipedia page states that she used to go under the name of Laure Milan. Loretta writes most of her melodies, and this is her third album release. Musically, she has collaborated with several R&B artists including Craig David , Ne- Yo, Lauryn Hill, Lionel Richie and Raphael Saadiq. Last year she released the tracks ‘Miss You’ and ‘The Wonder That You Are’, all of which are featured on this new album. So, first question, is the album sung in English? Yes it is! As I worked my way through this very nice album, I cherry picked the title track and ‘Miracles’, as being good, well written songs, so why am I including this album in the review section here? Well, it’s because the album contains the track I like the most this year thus far. It is track 9, which is a duet with a singer called Gimenez E, entitled ‘So Alive’. If you like the Earth, Wind & Fire sound of ‘That’s The Way Of The World’, or you can remember the lovely Martha Redbone’s ‘Children Of Love’ from 2005, then you will certainly need to hear this track. it is simply a terrific way of sending six minutes listening to something really quite special. Perhaps one to pick up from iTunes? Do check the rest of the album when you are there, as this sister can write a tune or two.
As if like London buses, the quality new releases are coming through thick and fast right now! Ruben Studdard is now onto his 6th album. On each previous release, I have appreciated the music contained on each offering, however, in all honesty, I viewed Ruben as a singer who made good albums, but was holding on for an album which raised him above many of his contemporaries, and in 2014, some 11 years after his debut, by jove, I think he has just got there! You wouldn’t think that an album of cover versions, predominantly, would merit such enthusiasm, however, there is a trick to making a good covers album. That trick is simple. Do not copy the original, but ‘interpret’ the writings. Sure, our German born singer may have won the second season of American Idol, but I won’t hold that against the man! :)) Ruben has approached this album using all the directions. Respect for the original melody, he has allowed us to hear his voice, (and not him shouting at his audience), His choice is not too ‘obvious’, and that choice is nothing short of impeccable. Two tracks that are delivered with the word ‘winner’ impregnated throughout the tune, are his take on Paul McCartney’s ballad ‘My Love’ (a song covered by Margie Joseph back in the day), which has been given the full ‘Luther/Never Too Much’ treatment...and the track ‘Love, Love, Love’, a Donny Hathaway standard, which was recently covered by Frank McComb on his live set, but this time round, Ruben has delivered an uplifting almost Gospel styled stormer. Both of these will definitely make many a Soul fans top 20 at the end of 2014. If you get the deluxe version of this album, there is a very tastefully sung version of Stevie’s ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’. That is a song ruined by Frank Sinatra, who gave the track his own ‘swing’, whilst surgically removing the heart and soul out of the tracks carcass. Ruben has completed his own ‘Soul transplant’, and the song is back in safe hands again! There are great cover versions of Marvin’s ‘If This World Were Mine’ (which features the multi talented Lalah Hathaway), Gamble & Huff’s evergreen ‘Close The Door’, Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘The Nearness Of You’, Boz Scaggs ‘Love, Look What You’ve Done To Me’, along with his own song ‘Meant To Be’ (and a very nice song that is as well!). This album is a masterclass in how to construct an album of cover songs. To take a song such as ‘My Love’ and inject the song with a whole new lease of life, is enough to make this album hugely recommendable, however, the sum of this albums parts is so much more than the one track here or there. Great stuff.
I look forward very much to Expansion Records annual Luxury Soul compilations. These releases are almost a musical stock take for the label, and even more so, the state of Soul music in each respective year of release. As with the 2013 set, this album is a) a must purchase, and b) bound to have an end of year favourite track or two. Proof of the pudding in our house here, were the inclusion in the site charts of the Personal Life and Valentine Brothers inclusions from last year. This year the standard is, if anything, higher! With many compilations, it would be the easy thing to cobble together about 30 or so songs, and just ‘sausage machine’ the music to the buyers. Ralph Tee has a vast knowledge of this music, and, knowing a small fraction of the information he knows, I completely understand the care that goes into his label’s releases. All told, there are 35 tracks, covering 3 CD’s of music, which features the likes of Gregory Porter, Tony Momrelle, Maysa, Bluey, The Jones Girls, Ed Motta, Keni Burke, Leon Ware....I think by now you will be getting a good idea as to the standard of the material on offer here. I am scanning the rear cover for you, so you can take a look at the full listings. Suffice to say, this is an essential purchase, and I would strongly recommend that, if you have missed any of the previous ‘Luxury Soul’ releases, you go check them out. All are essential and very reasonably priced, I must say. Thank you to the guys at Expansion for sending me this fine album.
Robin McKelle makes another appearance on this website in the space of a year! All told, however, this new album has been two years in the making, since her last album release. I was a bit of a slowcoach in picking up on that great set, by this native of Rochester in New York. I mentioned in my previous album review, that Robin was an ex teacher at the Berklee College Of Music. As far as her own back catalogue is concerned, I make this her 5th album release, a C.V. which dates back to 2006. For this new album she has chosen the city of the Stax and Hi record labels, for the musical tapestry which showcases a sound, harking back to the likes of Otis Redding and Al Green. She is certainly a versatile songstress and songwriter, penning eleven of the songs on this thirteen track fine set of melodies. As I mentioned, it has been 2 years since her ‘Soul Flower’ release, and this set of songs shows a growing maturity in all aspects of hers, and her bands sound. Right from the opening song, the listener is taken back to a time when Willie Mitchell ruled the roost in Memphis. ‘About To Be Your Baby’ is pure Al Green and Ann Peebles in sound. There is a fascinating version of the Animals evergreen ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, which has it’s melody ‘encouraged’, and not ‘belted’ out of the song. In parts, this album reminds me of the pre ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ Candi Staton, none more so on the bluesy ballad ‘Forgetting You’. Now, as you guys are aware by now, I do like to cherry pick a track or two, and two is the relevant figure here. I can’t separate the very soulful ‘Control Yourself’ from the Souther Soul sounding ‘Easier That Way’. I’ve always been a sucker for that particular genre. All told, this album is as good as ‘Soul Flower’...but nothing like ‘Soul Flower’, which had a more contemporary sound. One thing that is undeniable, is Robin and the Flytones are evolving musically, which is a bonus for all the rest of us! Lovely album. More power to her, and her band’s respective elbows!
Walter Christopher is and artist who has made an appearance in the charts at this site before, but never made a showing on these particular pages, As these are set aside of album releases, by and largely. The one off tracks have been sent to me by that nice Steve Ripley and his Soulfood folks, in the past. Now Walter has a completed set of songs, we can get to know this brother a little better, musically. To begin with, Walter must have been reading his dictionary over the last few months! :)) What does ‘Mellisonant’ actually mean? Well in the dictionary here I have ‘pleasing to the ear’, which does seem to make sense on listening to this fine set of songs. ‘Mellisonant’ is a better title to the dictionary definition, so is the music ‘pleasing to the ear’? Very much so. Walter funded this project himself, and this is actually his 5th album release. Working alongside Hubert Eaves IV, the first track that jumped out of player is the very ‘swing’ ‘Sexy Cool’. Quite a brave style to adopt in a market that doesn’t look kindly on those who ‘drift off-track’ musically. This is a very radio friendly tune, so radio jocks take note! ‘You’re Beautiful’ is a track that I was sent last year, and is a song that made me follow this guys career from a distance. If I mention Al B. Sure’s ‘Night & Day’, then you’ll get a good idea of the vibe going on in this song. Multilayered vocally, with several very pleasing key changes, drawing the listener in. The track that is my current favourite is ‘Splendor’, which is tenderly sung and is a five star rated song in this house. I recently watched Gregory Porter in television. In the interview he talked about the singers who looked for instant success on various talent shows, show of which the likes of Walter would never win, as he does not holler the music at the listener, but simply charms the audience. It is these guys that Gregory was concerned about. The great music that deserves a wider audience. Robin McKelle and Walter Christopher deserve that wider audience. Whether the suits out there will give these guys a break is doubtful. I am very grateful that music of this very high standard is being made in 2014. It is a shame it is likely to be immersed in musical broth of daytime radio sewage. Check these albums out. They are both very good indeed.
Anthony Crawford’s album ‘Urban Jazz, My Story’, is right up your street, if the sound of Robert Glasper is your thing. Anthony is a very proficient bass player, whose father Hubert Crawford played drums with the likes of James Brown and Mothers Finest. His uncle is the saxophonist Hank Crawford. In 2000, Anthony played in Los Angeles at the National Democratic Convention for Bill Clinton. He has also played with the group Shalamar, and collaborated with the likes of Erykah Badu, Peabo Bryson, Jeff Lorber, Dave Weckl, Everette Harp, Frank McComb, Andrae Crouch and Eric Marienthal. ‘Urban Jazz’ is the man’s first solo offering, just out on Hydro 6 Records. The album sounds, strangely, almost Top 40, in places, and out and out fusion in others, such is the diversity of the melodies on offer. The instrumental ‘Jazz vs Hip Hop’ is VERY cool, almost in a ‘Miles Davis in 2014’ stylee. On the vocal Soul front, the track ‘Baby’ featuring the vocals of Valencia Robinson, is a real treat, as is the song ‘Only You’, which features the excellent Frank McComb (whom I met and shook hands with here in London only 5 days ago!). Frank really brings that ‘little extra’ to anything he performs on. This is a lovely song. ‘Never Go Away’ also appealed here, delivered in a very Stanley Clarke sounding format. If Stanley’s sound is your bag, you’ll take to this track. Quite the weirdest song, (and my current favourite melody on this fine set) is the partially jazz rapped ‘Dreams’ featuring a singer called Anon. A vocalist with no name? Who knows :)), however, this is a hugely haunting song, which remained in my grey matter well after the closing bars. Great material. Perhaps not for the purist Northern fan, but definitely targeted at the Robert Glasper style forward thinkers. Thought provoking and fascinating album. Recommended.
Debra Debs was born in the Cameroon. Now living in London, this new album called ‘Life Cycles’, is creating a great deal of interest in Soul and Jazz circles, and quite rightly so. The genre ’Neo Soul’, is a genre that, in recent years, has often given me the impression that an album might be a little ‘samey’ in sound (before taking it for a spin), as the template has been set by the likes of Jill Scott and Eryka Badu, whose debut releases were ground breaking. In the passing of the years, the genre has been somewhat unmovable. It has not evolved in it’s style, but has parked the bus, that bus had run out of gas, and has sorely needed a kick start in order to bring something new to the table. Debra Debs has given the genre a shot of ’Soul’ into it’s bloodstream, and the result is very pleasing indeed. Debra, herself, cites Jill Scott, Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, Floetry, R.Kelly, and Mary J Blige as influences, however, they appear as influences, but, thankfully, not templates, which gives Debra her own hallmark. There are many tracks which appeal here, none more so than the opener ‘Caught Up’, although these old ears were also drawn towards the soulful ‘Clear My Name’, ‘Love Galore’ (my current favourite track), ‘Blew Your Mind’, ‘Blending Colours’, ‘Awake With You’ and ‘Daddy’ (not a cheesy song, but a great slice of Soul). All told, as you can see, there isn’t much not to like about this album. Well worth watching, is our ‘Debs’. Highly recommended. On DebraDebs Music in 2014.
We begin the New Year, as we do with most new years....exhausted and full of anticipation in regard the new music which is in the 2014 pipeline. These two albums begin 2014 very positively, starting the year with a clean slate, and in Frank McComb's case, a couple of gigs right here in London.
Frank McComb was often compared to Stevie Wonder, when he first came on the music scene. I completely understood the comparisons (all those key changes etc.), although, to me, his vocal inflections echoed those of a certain Donny Hathaway. Several years down the line, this latest album almost crept into the stores. Blink and you'll miss it! Live albums are often viewed as 'filler' albums in an artists C.V., however, as with the late Grover Washington Jnr's 'Live At The Bijou' set from 1977, they can become pivotal albums in an artists career. Another great live album was Donny's own 'Live' set from 1972, so it would be almost an inevitable release that Donny's own standard bearer sees fit to add to the musical timeline. Firstly, I must say that this album has been very beautifully recorded. The development of super sensitive sound equipment brings the studio and live sessions closer together. When I say that this album comprises of 8 tracks, the listener might perceive that they are about to be shortchanged regarding the albums duration. It is, actually around 44mins in duration, as many of the songs are seven minutes plus. Franks renditions are interpreted and embellished with the singers own phrasings, but never diverting too far from the style of the great originator. 7 of the tracks are Hathaway originals, however, 'We'll Carry Your Name On' is a Frank McComb original. Frank explains how the tune came together, with the singer, working in the Gamble & Huff studio's in 1992, laid down the first recording of this song. 'Carry Your Name' is pure Frank McComb in sound and writing, so diehard fans of the singer will need this album for this song alone. Frank additionally covers one of my favourite Hathaway evergreen's in the form of 'Flying Easy'. It's an odd song, which, when I first heard it, sounded as if Georgie Fame had had a hand in the arrangements. 'Love, Love, Love' is beautifully delivered, during the playing of which here, my daughter walked into the room, heard the song, and went online to buy 4 tickets for Franks gig at the Jazz Cafe here in London on the 18th of January, where he performs this album in a similar format. Hows that for a fully functional Internet! Looking forward to the show, but if you can't make it, do pick up this album. It is terrific.
Ursula Ricks is a new name to me. She records for the Severn Records imprint, and is, essentially, a Blues singer. Based in Baltimore, Ursula must have a penchant for the Soul Music format, as, on a couple of occasions here, she drifts into the genre, and the result is very pleasing. Produced by David Earl and Steve Gomes with horns by Chicago’s own Willie Henderson, Ursula has penned some fine songs within this set. There are 8 original tunes here, which sit very nicely alongside Ursula’s versions of the Bobby Rush song ‘Mary Jane’, and the wonderful Curtis Mayfield's tune ‘Just a Little Bit Of Love’. The Curtis song is certainly a highlight here, however, the song isn’t my personal favourite song on show here. Two of Ursula’s own songs are so full of the real deal, they really put a spring in my listening step! ‘Make Me Blue’ would sit very nicely on either of Bobby Womack’s Poet albums, however, ‘Sweet Tenderness’ is a killer Soul track, which will be in many a Soul fan’s best of charts of 2014. Very Patrick Moten in sound and essential in this house! This album is due any day now, so, as with Frank’s album, if you were bought vouchers over the holiday season, you could do yourself a favour and pick up these two gems. Recommended unreservedly.