listen out for 2015...
This new album from Soul Singer, Lulu Dikana, came in last week. In an unfortunate way, it represents something of a first at this website. When I first listened to the album, it had a very fresh feel to the set, with one particular track ‘You Rule My World’ really shining through. I sent a copy to another reviewer, whose opinion I always respect, and said that I thought that this track was my favourite song around right now. Some of the better tracks around, like this one, have a Sixties feel running through proceedings, and this certainly was the case here. I was asked if I had posted anything at the site. I hadn’t, so I set about tracking down a biography of this singer. What I found out, left me a little cold for a while. Lulu hails from South Africa, is well known in music circles in that part of the World, and had set about spreading her musical wings, after performing as the opening act for John Legend on his Johannesburg section of his latest series of overseas tours. This album represented a follow up to her 2008 album ‘My Diary, My Thoughts’, and Lulu was beginning to promote this new release, entitled 'I Came to Love' . At the tail end of 2014, she was taken ill and went into hospital in early December. After a very short illness, Lulu passed away. There is hardly anything on this singer on Wikipedia, Discogs or the All Music Guide, which leaves us all with more questions than answers. Only the local media reported her passing, although it appeared that her passing created a great deal of interest in that part of the continent. A local heroine of sorts. The media reports in South Africa stated that:
‘Dikana’s manager at Sony Music Entertainment confirmed the news earlier today. “It is with deep sadness that we announce the unexpected and tragic loss of soul songstress Lulu Dikana who passed away last night after a short illness while being treated in hospital. Our deepest condolences go out to her family, friends and all her fans who came to know and love her through her music”.
Quite a shock for someone so young. I am pleased that I heard the news, after I had heard the album itself, as this review is as it would have been, if the singer was still with us. Check the audio for ‘You Rule My World’, on the chart page. I think she would have gone on to make many new friends on both sides of the Atlantic with this new album, with even John Legend finding some inspiration within her melodies. ‘Good L.O.V.E.’ was my other choice to the track already mentioned, opinions of which are now all pretty much irrelevant regarding my own point of view right now. One thing is for sure, Lulu certainly released one of my favourite tracks of 2015. Just wish she was around to read this.
Daptone Records are a great label, with a modern back catalogue the envy of many a label around these days. Saun & Starr are two singers (one of whom is no stranger to this website!) who perform background vocals for Sharon Jones, no less. The singers comprise of two women, namely Starr Duncan-Lowe and Saundra Williams. I was very kindly pointed in this albums direction by the fine reviewer and journalist, Bill Buckley, who sent me the track ‘Dear Mr Teddy’, which I really warmed to straight away. What made me curious, was a sense of deja-vu regarding Saundra Williams. I had heard that name before, so I ran a search of my own website (nurse!) and recalled that Saundra’s album ‘Bless The Day’ made these pages back in 2001. In the ‘float your boat’ department, it was the track ‘Innocence/Gold Rivers’, which persuaded me to make the song one of my tracks of 2001. Lot of water under the bridge since that release, and Saundra and Saun have lost none of their soulfulness in their music. ‘Dear Mr Teddy’ is a timeless piece of music. The song would sit happily in the charts of 2015, or 1965 for that matter. If there was any criticism of Daptone, which I might have levelled at the label in the past, it would be that the artists concentrated on the retro soul sound, sometimes at the expense of the melody, however, this album rectifies any anomaly that might have existed. Tune, followed by sound, supported by performers who know how to utilise their musical hardware, without too much reliance on the software side of the situation. Sitting somewhere between Barbara Acklin, Sandra Wright and Millie Jackson (the cleaned up version:))), Saun and Sandra’s album is one of Daptone’s better releases in my humble opinion. Thanks to Bill for the tip off, and to these fine singers. They should be proud of themselves!
Danita Mumphard is a songstress who hails from Missouri. her father was the bassist in the group Trio Trés Bien. As a child, Danita sang in local churches with her mother, who was a music teacher in St. Louis. She has made several television appearances, and has opened for Ron Winans and Tramaine Hawkins, amongst others. This new album, (entitled ‘Love’s Taking Over’) , was released on Valentine's Day 2015. The album features production from her husband, Robert Mumphard, Jr., along with the musicians, (guitarist) Daryl Darden, (keyboardist) Brenda Foster, and (keyboardist) Phillip Graves. ‘Love’s Taking Over’ is Danita’s 4th album, a series which began in 2002 with ‘Eternally’. The debut was followed by ‘With Love’ in 2005, and ‘Watch God Work’, in 2007. Currently, Danita is an academic adviser at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. In between time, this new album is very impressive release. The killer track is the opening tune, which has echoes of the Deniece Williams evergreen, ‘Free’. Entitled ‘Sincerely Yours’, it would be a real shame if this song is lost in the mass of pasteurised/homogenised and regurgitated ‘same as it ever was’, which seems to be bulging at the radio wave seams. Danita’s voice comes through with great purity and clarity, and is a definite recommendation in 2015, for those who are looking for something more in their music these days. ‘Into You’, ‘Crazy’ (great groove in this track), and ‘Wait Until The Time Is Right’ (another winner), all go to make this album well worth picking up. You can pick up Danita’s back catalogue on CD Baby. Worth the entrance fee for ‘Sincerely Yours’ alone.... Recommended stuff.
‘Vinyl Daze’ is the latest release by the excellent Rhonda Thomas. Championed by Brian Hurst on his fine soulandjazz.com website, and played several times on Peter Young’s excellent Jazz FM Saturday Show in London, this set has done, what Robbie Vincent used to describe as ‘creeping up your trouser leg’! Always made me smile that description. In fact, Rhonda has managed to achieve something a little different, with this new album. There are a few albums around, which owe a great deal to the melodies that were released circa 1981 - 1982. Different in as much as, sure there are couple of tracks which could be described as such, however, ‘Vinyl Daze drifts into other soulful and jazzy territories, which give the release another interesting aspect. That is ‘diversity’. ’Show Me How To Love You’ is a terrific opening dancer, however, if you focus in on ‘Honey To A Bee’, all of a sudden, there is a latin jazz thing going on. Very interesting! ‘Reach’ sees this singer visit the better side of, say, the group, Incognito. ‘Oh Yay’ takes on another diversion, which would fit nicely into a purely Jazz section of many shows. ‘I Love It’ completes this fascinating journey in an almost Sheree Brown vibe, with hints of the Brothers Johnson instrumental ‘Streetwave’. Nice to have an album you can put on the turntable (in your dreams::)), and not skip a track. A very complete set, well worth investigating.
Mayer Hawthorne has, for a few years now, received a warm welcome from this website. His records have not been the most consistent, however, there has always been a tune or two of note an every release. mayer has now teamed up with the Grammy Award nominated artist, Jake One, to form this new incarnation. The Eighties influenced Soul group, Tuxedo. This self titled album is released on the Stones Throw Records imprint, and represents Mayers finest work to date. Although the blurb that accompanies these releases, draws parallels with the likes of early Eighties group’s such as Chic, Shalamar, Plush & Zapp, there are far more subtler influences going on here. Indeed, those of you who remember Robbie Vincent's final Soul Hour, on his legendary Radio London Saturday Soul Shows, will know exactly what I mean when I say that these tracks on this new release, emulate the type of dancer that Robbie would kick off that final hour each weekend. When the comparisons say ‘Zapp’, I would adjust that to ‘D Train’, and when the blurb states ’Shalamar’, I would say ‘Evan Rogers ‘Secret Love’. Sure, very anal comparisons, however, getting the comparisons as accurately described, are they keys to opening up the true descriptions of each of these fine tunes. Two killer tracks for myself here are ‘Watch The Dance’, along with ‘Lost Lover’. Two terrific dancers, which could have been lifted straight off Glenn Jones’ ‘Finesse’ album from that era. The terrific aspect of this release, is every track is an uptempo winner. Not sure what Mayer and Jake were eating for breakfast the morning they constructed this album, but it is one of the truest representations of an era, during which, these guys ‘wheels on the buses were going round and round’ in, say, 1983. The fine John Morales reworked these tracks at his home studio in South Plainfield, New Jersey, and it is this experience that shines through on an album, which all involved should be proud. Hugely recommended.
Other artists making welcome reappearances at this site are the fine Soulpersona ensemble, featuring (again) the excellent Princess Freesia. Been nearly a year since I posted this group’s previous outing, and this new release is equally impressive. Morgan Howell’s latest release sees the light of day on the SBR imprint, and performs another nod to the Eighties Soul music format, however, whilst Mayer is leaning more towards the James Williams version of Soul, this album is very bass heavy, reflecting more of the styles showcased by the likes of Slave and Kleeer, back in the day. If you liked last years ‘Fateful Attraction’ set, you will like this one, without any hesitation. The new album features the likes of the wonderful Jocelyn Brown, along with other very fine notables, Marlon McClain and Carl Hudson. Two tracks really trembled the bass bins in this house, namely, the very Soulful ‘Happily Ever After’, and the fine dancer ‘You Did It Again’. Many of you will be familiar with a bass heavy track by the group Kleeer of the same name. I think this is a new song, however, the melody does echo the Kleeer classic in many ways. All told, it is simply a great dancer. Of all the melodies on offer here, personally, I prefer the collaborations with Princess Freesia, as her vocal stylings compliment Morgan’s melodies very well.
With both of these releases, the most notable aspect is the influences of all of the finer sides of an era, which suffered greatly from the sounds that emanated from the poorly, Harold Faltermeyer-esque, amateurishly programmed drum machines. Back in the day, (in 1986 to be precise), Anita Baker’s album ‘Rapture’ became everybody’s album of 1986. There were good reasons for those triumph’s, which were a reaction to the beats, which had begun to sound like dustbin lids being smashed onto a marble floors in various recording studio’s. Folks wanted real instruments, and real melodies, whether in the Soul, Funk or Fusion environments. Soulpersona and Tuxedo both bring back some of the better memories from that era, so props to both groups in 2015.
The previous review at this site, inadvertently, prompted the latest one posted right here! I was contacted, a couple of days ago, by Aaron Parnell Brown. Aaron is a singer and songwriter from Philadelphia. He is currently, putting the finishing touches to his new album ‘The Tin Man’. One of Aaron’s background singers on this new project, is Shayna Steele, who is featured below.
Aaron, himself, has been compared to the likes of Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and John Legend. Personally, I think those are not unreasonable comparisons, as this artist’s writings are genuine in their delivery, complemented with the utilisation of real instruments.
He says that some of his own influences emanate from the writing skills of the likes of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and James Taylor, amongst others.
In 2014, Aaron won the Soul Artist of the Year in Philadelphia, and was named as one of NPR Music’s 10 Artists You Should Have Known in 2012, for his previous endeavours.
His previous group were called Aaron & The Spell (who released one album entitled ’Sing’), changing the group name to his own for this latest release.
Initially, Aaron sent me a link to his lead single, which is called ‘Just Leave’. This track is my favourite song from the album, which he also kindly sent to me earlier this week. ‘Just Leave’ is the best song I have heard this year so far. I might be so bold as to suggest, that this song will make many other folks top 20’s at the end of 2015. It is simply, a Marvin-esque creation of true beauty. Essential.
The album I have listened to several times over this week. I wish more artists took the time to craft their music, in the way that Aaron has taken the time to create something of real quality showcased here. The album is a real grower. That is a blessing, as many albums that arrive here, are either full of gimmicks, or are samey pastiche’s of what has gone before.
Of the 9 songs which comprise this fine album, ‘Changes’ is another real beauty. ‘Leave The Light On’? A 5 Star song. 'The Tin Man' never drops below a 4 star rating throughout, with a brief note that the album is set at a mid tempo pace, so no full on dancers here. Just a slice of genuine songwriting, honestly delivered, and for this I will be thankful throughout this year to this fine performer. Real class is my verdict. I hope it is yours too.
‘The Tin Man’ (a title referring to life’s constant changes) is out in the spring of 2015. ‘Just Leave’ you should investigate immediately.
Frank McComb's latest E.P. I would have almost missed, if it wasn't for myself stumbling over a few postings on Facebook. Facebook is almost a unfathomable swamp of useless information, however, it has it's uses if you want to get directly in touch with someone, or raise funds for worthwhile causes.....
Been nearly a year since I saw Frank at the Jazz Cafe. He has since, either been releasing material, dedicated to the likes of Donny Hathaway, or he's been making guest appearances on other artistic projects.
This E.P. showcases Frank at what he does best, in my humble opinion. Writing and singing his own studio material. The man's new E.P. is a real gem in the gentleman's arsenal. I think this set is released to co-incide with Valentines Day. Take that particular subject out of the equation, and you are left with four top drawer melodies, all of which could be the highlight on any of Frank's releases.
Unlike the latest One Direction album (which to all intents and purposes represents three quarters of an hour out of your life, you will never get back!) I bought my copy of Frank's E.P. off iChav's yesterday. Worth every penny, so I had to post this set here. Purchase without hesitation, you will not regret it.
I am not sure whether it is this time of the year, however, I seem to find myself gravitating, even more, towards music which is purely song led. Songsmith’s crafting melodies that appeal to those who yearn for something more in their music. The daytime radio fodder in 2015 is almost worth hurling yourself under a London Bus in order to avoid the crippling listening agony that some releases inflict....masquerading as ‘music’! :)) Yikes! ‘Daytime radio’? Just say NO’! I have received some albums this year, some of which are not too bad at all, however, they hide behind formats which have been visited in previous years. There is absolutely nothing wrong in being adventurous, and expressing yourself...after all, this is what this music is all about. People opening their hearts, bearing their souls, to a grateful, welcoming audience. Two albums here are adventurous in very different ways.
Shayna Steele hails from Sacramento, California. She relocated to Oklahoma, via Germany, and then Biloxi, Missouri, mainly due to her fathers involvement in the military. After winning a few talent shows, she relocated to Mississippi to complete high school. Today her home is New York. Her new album ‘Rise’ is a collection of songs produced by Matt Pierson. The album features Marcus Miller, Christian McBride and Bashiri Johnson amongst others. Shayna sang on Snarky Puppy’s ‘Family Dinner, Volume 1’, performing with Snarky Puppy at the 2014 Nice Jazz Festival, and the North Sea Jazz Festival. Her songs and vocals have been featured on Moby’s ‘Disco Lies’ which reached number 1 on the Billboard Dance Charts in 2010. She even had a song featured on the BBC during the 2008 Olympics in China. As well as the singers already mentioned, Shayna has been a background vocalist for Bette Midler. So what of the album? Well, the album requires a willing listener, and has an overall feel of, kind of, welcoming the listener into a new year very gently. ‘Can’t Let You Go’ reminded me of the Armsted Christian album from a few years back. Hints of the Hilary James album (from the same time period) additionally, going on here someplace. There’s a version ’Grandma’s Hands’, which is really nice. Other thumb’s up’s are showcased by the melodies ‘Gone Under’ and ‘Could Had Me’. The track that prompted this review is the really charming ballad ‘Hyde Park’. An almost, Joni Mitchell in her ‘Court and Spark’ period (with a dash of Patti Austin), going on lyrically and musically. I could listen to this track every morning for the rest of the year. This is how song led material is constructed, in my very humble opinion. Folksy I know, however, worth the entrance fee on it’s own in this house.
Brandon Williams has produced, performed, and remixed music for the likes of Vickie Winans, Janet Jackson, Lalah Hathaway, L.J. Reynolds, Eric Roberson and Gene Dunlap amongst others. This Detroit based artist released the album ‘XII’, towards the tail end of last year, and, as I have a habit of doing these days, I missed the set first time round, so I am correcting my error, The album features the likes of Matt Cusson (featured at this site previously), the excellent Frank McComb, Robert Glasper, Bernard Wright, the late Don Blackman, Li'l John Roberts, Gerald Veasley, Amp Fiddler, Nicholas Payton and Jean Baylor (of Zhane) amongst others. If your taste is for the Robert Glasper type of release, this album will not disappoint. Absolute winners here are ‘Everything’ sung very ably by the fine Matt Cusson, ‘Feel Free’, sung by the equally brilliant Frank McComb, ‘Leave Love Be’, with vocals by Alex Isley (gorgeous song), and last, but very not least, ‘Make Believe’, vocalised by another favourite at this website, Deborah Bond. Brandon certainly is a man of taste, and very fine taste that is too. This is an immaculate album release, which, for this listener, provides a bridge between the best Soul Music around right now, along with the more experimental side of modern fusion, epitomised by the fine Mr. Glasper. Pleased I didn’t miss this album at the site. Playing catch up that’s all. Check this set out. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
7th of January 2015? Happy New Year to you. Hope you had a good holiday break, and look optimistically forward to a New Year, which, if last year was anything to go by, should be a great year for music. 2014 was a terrific musical year. Had to leave out some great tracks from the chart at the site, which was a shame.
Although January is traditionally a quieter time for new material, these three albums all contain tracks that are deserving of your attention.
Carol Riddick hails from South Philadelphia, where she began her career performing with local bands in the area. Carol, at one time, signed to Motown Records, also, finding herself working with the likes of Anthony Hamilton, Will Smith, Jazzy Jeff, Musiq Soulchild, Kindred The Family Soul and Norman Brown. She has also performed live with the likes of Brian McKnight, Mario Winans and Yolanda Adams. Her debut album, ‘Moments Like This’, was released in 2006. Her new album ‘Love Phases’, sees the light of day on her own imprint. If you were expecting an album of dance floor fillers, well, think again! If anything, ‘Love Phases’ could be a new set from Anita Baker. The album is largely, reserved for the Quiet Storm section of a radio show. These songs are all very strong, however, I found myself drawn to two of the more uptempo melodies, namely, ‘Once You Let Go’ (which skips along very hauntingly) and the best track for these old ears, ‘Jump In’. Too early to look forward to year end charts at this juncture, however, this track would give any Soul fan something serious to think about in 2015.
Roger Cox’s album, ‘Loveaholic’, is just out on his own Cox Music imprint. Roger was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but raised in Miami, giving this accomplished Songwriter and Saxophonist, a broad musical grounding. ‘Loveaholic’ was recorded in Oakland, in California, however, in parts, the set sounds very ‘British’, epitomised by the lead track ‘Hard Times’, which is very Incognito in sound. My favourite track, that’s for sure! I was quite taken by the title track of this album, which has a strong melody, followed by another winner in the form of the ballad ‘More Time’. These days, it is nice to hear a fusion album that is comfortable with vocal input. Thankfully, the days of the ‘music for elevators’ section in your local music store, now seem to have had their day. Albums such as Roger’s showcase a better way forward, and for that we should all be eternally grateful.
Johnny Walker Gill, Jr., at the age of 48, looks as if he could be 28! He has found the secret of eternal youth (and I wish he would share that particular recipe with this old fool!). Some quarter of a century since his self titled 1990 album, which created many waves amongst Soul purists (remember ‘My, My, My’?), we are now presented with a new album from the man on the J Skillz Records imprint. Johnny’s debut album saw the light of day 31 years ago. ’Game Changer’ is about the best album by the man since the 1990 release, and realises his 8th album, either recorded as a solo artist, or as part of a duo with the singer Stacy Lattisaw. Johnny was originally, with the group New Edition, who formed in 1978, making Johnny’s career, one which spans 37 years! Not too sure of his labels intentions with Johnny’s new album, but I would suggest that a December release might see the album disappear into a Christmas fog, with folks never getting to hear these songs, some of which are unmissable. Two songs which I would instantly point you in the direction of, firstly are the beautiful title track, which sounds as if Smokey Robinson might have had some input in the songwriting at some stage. Very much reminded me of the Bloodstone evergreen ‘We Go A Long Way Back’. Top drawer material on show here. The track of choice here, for myself, is the lovely opener ‘Your Body’. Modern Contemporary Soul at it’s finest. Some great harmonies, with Johnny sounding 28, as well as looking that age! Terrific material not to miss.
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’!