listen out for 2016...
christon gray - the glory album
As many of you have come to realise, at times I can be a right old moaner, when it comes to rappers, who have nothing to say, and Gospel singers who ‘shout’ at their Lord, rather than articulate their message! :)) I am delighted to say that, in both of those concerns, I have well and truly been put in my place. All told, I think this is my favourite album so far in 2016. Sure, Christon Gray raps with the best of them out there, however, he is spot on with his message. This Christian rapper has created a hugely listenable album, which, rap wise, the listener might draw a comparison to those Imprompt2, partially rapped albums from the mid Nineties. The Christian message is directed, pretty much, to the under 25’s, and that message is a very ‘Black’ one, in a hugely positive way.
Firstly, about the man. Well, Christon is from Ohio. He worked with a group called the Elevationists in 2006, going on to release a solo album in 2011. He became part of the We Live Like Kings collective in 2013. He released a second solo album on Collision Records in 2014, after which he signed to Kirk Franklin's Fo Yo Soul label. The result is this set entitled ‘The Glory Album’. The set is almost biblical in it’s format, starting with a terrific opener entitled ‘The Glory Part 1’. There are sections of the album which are purely rap, however, the more melodic offerings amount to half of the songs on this fine set. My favourite tracks here are the very radio friendly ‘My Love Is Real’, however the real tour-de-force is the stunningly beautiful ‘Blackmail (Black Male)’. Hugely Stevie in it’s delivery (I am sure Stevie would love to record this track himself), the song attempt’s to address the confusion that many young Black men have to address within a society filled with mixed messages. I would ask any young Black male to take out a couple of minutes to listen to this track. Absolutely terrific musically, and very, very, supportive and powerful.
The other tracks worth of note are the John Legend’y ‘Afraid With You’, the lovely ’No. 51 (The Glory Part Two) and the finale ‘Follow You’. Spiritual, political, musical, angry and, above all, an important album. Take the Tommy Sims set, and blend in Imprompt2, and you are not a million miles away from the Christon Gray sound. Great album out on RCA.
various artists - luxury soul 2016 / king - we are king
One of the albums, during each year, I really look forward to listening to, is the latest instalment of the Expansion Records compilation ‘Luxury Soul’. Traditionally, January is a quiet month for new releases, and this set always kicks of each New Year optimistically. The annual release now comprises 3 CD’s of some of the finer new Soul releases (many of which echo back to the Soul sounds of the pirate radio stations during the early Eighties), along with some superior dance tracks, and the odd rare groove thrown in for good measure.
The mix of product helps stop the albums from sounding same-y, thus keeping the interest running throughout proceedings. Ralph Tee and Richard Searling do deserve some props for keeping the show on the road, in these times of digital this, and lossless download that. The tactile product reminds us that musical interaction is the better way. Of the 35 or so tracks on offer, where do you begin to mark this particular exam paper?
One instant plus point for myself, is the inclusion of new product from the U.K. artist Kejam (who is creating some of the most interesting music in recent months). Here he weighs in with the excellent ’Diamonds’, which features Terry Harris. Great track, as is the jazzy ‘Love In My Eyes’ by Gene-O. Nice song that one. ‘Love Crazy’ (not the Atlantic Starr song, yet it could have been recorded by the group) by Chazz Mac. A particular personal favourite from this album, is the duet between Latrese Bush and Noel Gourdin, entitled ‘Because Of You’. Would make a good single this song.
CD 2 opens with the very catchy ‘Call On Me’ by the R&R Orchestra, and this side also features one of the U.K.’s finest singers, namely Tony Momrelle. Tony’s ‘Different Street’ was a favourite from his recent solo album, and that was an essential purchase.
CD3 features the popular Paul Johnson song, ‘The Road’ (a track I know many folks will have been looking around for). I love the Damon Cooper song on this side, entitled ‘Will You be My Lady’. Terrific piece of songwriting, which I would describe as ‘tune’! It was great to see the inclusion of a personal ballad favourite, the Dunn Pearson produced, ‘Even A Fool’ by Dunn Street. Thought after I bought that track in 1986, that would be the last I would ever hear of the song.
Ralph and Richard seem to always right any wrongs on the British soul Scene, and for that I am very grateful. This is an essential release for 2016. Pick this Expansion compilation up, and it should keep you happy for several months to come, on the musical quality front! Great release.
Here's the team sheet!
The album by the group King is of a very different vibe. This is a very good new album from three Los Angeles based women called Paris and Amber Strother (both twins) and Anita Bias. I have always been a sucker for group harmonies, and this album is almost completely based around the vocal textures these three singers create. I have listened to this set over the last week or so.
I don’t think there is a smash hit single anywhere on show here, and yet, this is a fully 5 star offering IMHO. There are sections which remind me of some of the collaborative work between Janet Jackson and Jam & Lewis many years ago. In parts (especially on the track ‘Red Eye’) the melodies are pure Stevie Wonder. The album lures the listener in, with the two openers ‘The Right’ and ‘The Greatest’, and then fools you into thinking you have heard the best of the set, and then the rest of the set draws you further in, and before you know it, every track is a five star tune.
Formed in 2010, it has been some 5 years since this group released their initial E.P. Recently, Rolling Stone magazine cited the singers as ‘one of 10 New Artists You Need To Know’. When the mainstream get on board with a group, I normally tend to run a mile, as irrational fears begin to build within me that I am about to be brainwashed into liking the latest new R&B Emporer’s New Clothes! This album, however, breaks the mindset here. I really enjoyed this album.
'We Are King' won’t make ’Northern Soul’s Greatest Album of 2016’, nor will it appeal to those who love their Rap or Funk, however, if your mind is open, you love your harmonies, and the music is intelligently put together, then this is a set I can heartily recommend. Prince took this group on tour with him recently. A man of good taste, is all I can say! Out on King Creative Records right now.
regina belle - the day life began / kejam feat. terry harris - start all over
Regina Belle - The Day Life Began - Shanachie Records 2016
It is very nearly 30 years since I picked up this singers debut set ‘All By Myself’. The track ’So many Tears’ has since become a favourite on the better Soul Stations out there. 29 years down the line, and I think that the Shanachie imprint is the perfect label for this fine singer. The label seems to empathise with the artists on their roster, in an attempt not to change the singers desired sound, but tagging along for the ride. The variation between the 1987 album, and this album, is way back then, the ballad material was the material of choice in this house. With this album, there is a very uplifting feel to proceedings. ‘He’s Alright’ is a fine example of the positivity running through the set, followed by a very respectable cover of the Phyllis Hyman evergreen ‘You Know How To Love Me’. On the mid-tempo front ‘Live 4 You’ really appeals, whilst the mellower side is nicely represented by ‘A Night Of Love’, a song which will appeal to those who love this singers downtempo material. My favourite track from the set, is probably, the most radio friendly, in the shape of ‘Open Our Eyes’. Sounds like regina had a fun time recording this track. It is nice to see this sister back in the studio. The generation around right now seem to be a set of younger folks, not looking at the charts for inspiration, but checking out the shelves of us older girls, and you never know, they might be spending their pocket money on Regina’s new album. A welcome return.
Kejam (featuring Terry Harris) - Start All Over/2 Can Play - Kejam Majek 2016
If you are getting a feeling of deja vu, yes I did post a couple of tracks from this fascinating U.K. artist at the end of last year. Kejam sent me two further tracks from his forthcoming album, which are both top drawer melodies. The featured vocalist on these two sides, namely Terry Harris, has a very similar vocal delivery to that of Eddie LeVert from the O’Jays, (which is a huge compliment!). ‘Start all Over’ is one of those tracks that gets stuck in the grey matter, which is always a great thing. I am sure we will be revisiting this artist again in the coming months. If these songs are anything to go by, the album will be a real treat.
lyle divinsky - uneven floors
I was sent this album by the artist himself. Lyle Divinsky is the singers name. I want to, cut to the chase, and talk about one track to begin with. The song ‘Fallin’ is the song in question. To create a picture of where the tune is coming from, well think of a 2015 version of ‘Galveston Bay’, with a hint of ‘Groovin’ by the Young Rascals (but an interpretation closer to the Collage take on the tune), sung in the style of a Darryl Hall, along with a large helping of Willie Mitchell thrown in, the final ingredient realising itself in the real instrumentation production work of Frederick Knight’s ‘You’re The Best Thing In My Life’....and you are almost there! If this song was released in the Sixties or Seventies, it would be all over daytime radio, all of the time. With the malaise of video and technology stifling artistic expression, this song will, truthfully, be brought by the musical ‘French Underground’ which the likes of yourself and myself represent. Miley Cyrus would have a panic attack, rip off all her clothes (in the worst possible taste!:)) if she was asked to sing a song of this quality! All I can say is Lyle and his army of real musicians (who deserve the medal of honor for their work on this track) have created the best track I have heard so far this year. The only downside of this album is this song distracts the listener from what is a very good album overall. The songs ’Disaster’, ‘Rich’, ‘Push On’, ‘Carry On’, ‘Hit man’ and ‘Serious Web’ (this one is a real grower), are all terrific modern Soul songs. In fact I had marked ‘Disaster’ as a five star track, before I had reached track 3. The Earth, Wind & Fire style horns did it for these old ears on that track. I spoke to Lyle about his roots and influences, which he said were, birthplace...Searsmont, Maine, influences...Mother & Father, who were into Motown, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, whilst his own influences include Donny Hathaway, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, Maxwell, and on the Blue-Eyed side, James Taylor, Van Morrison, and CSN. Lyle, himself, penned ‘Fallin’. Props to the man there. As I mentioned, if you look at the YouTube footage of Lyle’s band playing live, all those artists, who may be 20ft from the stage, each deserve the highest praise for creating a Blue Eyed Soul song of genuine beauty.