listen out for 2016...
angel-monique - the music in me / soulutions - i got to party b/w don't judge a book by it's cover / eddie levert - did i make you go ooh
Three artists, who all have created some of the finest music around in 2016 (in my humble...)
Angel-Monique releases her new album ‘The Music In Me’ on the Avail Records, Inc. imprint. The album is one of those Gospel releases, which conveniently leave the door ajar, allowing those from the secular side of music, in to take a look and listen around in her place. Angel began singing in the 1990’s with the Daughter of Zion children’s choir. She worked her way through high school, and has now landed a record deal, which has allowed her to share her voice with the rest of us! In this house, undoubtedly, the killer track is, the Terry Lewis penned, ‘Higher’. This song is a track which I quite liked at first, however, subsequent plays allow the melody to get under your skin, and this has now become one of my favourite songs of 2016. ‘My Heart Belongs To You’ runs ‘Higher’ a close second place favourite here, although I would recommend you listen to the whole album, which has been tastefully constructed, and provides a perfect vocal vehicle for this fine new Gospel songstress. Recommended listening....
...if you drop by this site in recent years, you will know I am a big fan of this group. Louise Mehan and Steve Lee are very clever songwriters. By this, I mean they take an influence or two, and don’t simply reproduce that particular sound, but develop the material, adding their own ‘catchy’ inflections, which turn an average dancer, into an irresistible one. They now have a full support band, which comprises of Louise & Steve, supported by Elliott Todd (on trumpet), David Gray (on trombone), Pete Robson (on guitar), James Carmichael (on Drums), James Robson (on bass) and Carly McKee (on Backgrounds). The overall sound has moved on from the group’s album release, and this is the first single of new material since that release. The side two melody ‘Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover’ has a message, lyrically, which discourages people from making personality judgements made on the basis of the visual. In total agreement here. The industry seems pre-occupied with the video that supports a song, and less with the song itself! Louise’s vocals are hugely listenable, making most of the material this group has offered up, hugely palatable. The top side of this single is a great dancing tune. again, the song is so catchy, and without plagiarising the song, there are hints of the Positive Force going on here. I believe this track will make Ralph Tee’s upcoming ’Soul Togetherness’ CD for 2016. He always knows a good tune when he hears it! great double header out on One World Records, great band, and when is the album out guys? :))...
...a new Eddie LeVert album normally creates huge waves in amongst the soul community. I have lived with this album for a month or so now, and have been surprised that the response has been so underwhelming! Sure, Eddie would admit himself that the voice has seen better days, and in places, I would say that, some of the songwriting might be a little more considerate to this fine singer. This album is entitled ‘Did I Make You Go Ooh’ and sees the light of day on the Blakbyrd Entertainment Records imprint. The title track is very much set in the old Philly style of the O’Jays, showcasing empathy and respect for that era in the man’s music. The standout track on show here is the very fine dancer ‘Say It Isn’t So’, which is as good as anything the man has recorded in recent years. I do hope that this set isn’t completely ignored, especially ‘Say It Isn’t So’, which should be gracing most of the better radio stations out there at the moment. Rumours of the man’s passing this week, were completely inaccurate, thankfully.
ashleigh smith - sunkissed / anthony david - the powerful one / grace - grace
For the last two weeks, I have been away from home, attending family weddings in Cornwall. Whilst I am away, I take whatever music is on my system, with me to review on my return. Some of the more notable tracks appear here, so, without any hesitation!....
....Jazz songstress, Ashleigh Smith hails from Georgia. She recently won the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocals Competition, a competition she was runner up in two years previously.
Her prize was a recording contract with the Concord Music Group, which has resulted in this very fine debut album, entitled ‘Sunkissed’.
Much of the new offerings around are quite hard to get into, however, this set comes out of the iPod/CD Player, as bright as a button! The opening bars of the opener ‘Best Friends’ sets the stage perfectly, and the standard is maintained throughout. The Hall and Oates gem ‘Sara Smile’ sounds as if it had been written and composed yesterday. Ashleigh has a way of generating new life into a song that you thought you had gotten too familiar with over the years, none more so than her beautiful take on the Fab Four’s ‘Blackbird’. Always one of my favourite Beatles songs, which this singer has steered into my favourite tune on this album. One very strange set of circumstances sees Ashleigh vocalising the tune ‘Pure Imagination’, in a Take 6 style, following the recent passing of Gene Wilder.
Ashleigh plays alongside musicians who were fellow classmates of hers at the University of North Texas, where she studied jazz on this album. The include Nigel Rivers (on bass) and Joel Cross (on guitar), all of whom contribute to an album that is one of the finer releases in 2016....
...Anthony David has been releasing material since 2004. I make this Anthony David Harrington’s 6th album, and his first for the Shanachie Records imprint.
From Savannah, Anthony wrote material for India Arie’s 2001 ’Acoustic Soul’ album. Anthony managed her for a short period, before setting out on his own career, as a singer and songwriter. He certainly fits the bill on both counts. Anthony has released material for the U.K.’s excellent dome Records imprint, in the past, and has also been mentioned as a favourite singer of the Obama family. ’The Powerful Now’ represents the singers first release for nearly four years, and is a welcome addition to his library in this house! By no means is this singer a ‘powerhouse’ vocal deliverer. His music is relaxed and has a habit of creeping up on the listener. 2006’s ‘Red Clay Chronicles’ featured, what I would call, a very ‘tricky track’. These tunes become embedded in my mind and persistently replay themselves in my thoughts. That track was the song ‘On & On’. No barnstorming song at all, but it really hit home here, and there is another one of these songs (which only Anthony can come up with IMHO), in the form of ‘Booed Up’ (which features a singer called Mylah) on this album. ‘The Powerful One’ is a hugely listenable album throughout, as our Anthony is a highly competent singer and songwriter. ‘Booed Up’ is my particular icing on this very fine album.
Grace are a gospel group, who are signed to the Christian section of Universal Music. I have checked online, however, Universal seem to not want to promote their Christian Music releases in the same way they do with their secular artists on their imprint. This is a real shame, as this album has some very fine moments, and is not too far apart, musically, from the fine Gospel singers Mary, Mary. I wish those women still released material as a duo. In recent years they have begun to release solo albums, which are O.K., but not a patch on their joint efforts. Grace’s album is a set of high’s and lows (the lows not being too ‘low’, by the way). When they are on form, they can really get those bass bins pounding, none more so than on the ‘beaty’ opener ‘Making Changes’. A great dancer. ‘Blowin’ My Mind’ is a real old school p-funker. Exactly the sort of material Beyonce ought to entertain adding to her own album releases. My personal choice of songs here, is the anthemic ‘Hope Cries Out’. Very uplifting message melody, which drifts through an ascending and descending chord sequence. What is a real shame is that this sort of release will disappear without trace, in amongst the (what recently Quincy Jones described as ‘really awful’) pop charts. Fine gospel music for 2016.
kindred the family soul - legacy of love / various - greg belson's divine disco
Husband and wife team, Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon are now, about to release their sixth album. Legacy Of Love’ was kindly sent to me by Steve Ripley, who is a very funny guy, and probably one of the best record distributors around, if Soul and Jazz music is your thing.
I think ‘Legacy’ is the duo’s finest release to date. There are certainly, some albums when you first hear them, you know that, when the three wise men and shepherds are doing their thing, later in the year, you will still be spinning these tunes. Frank McComb, Christon Gray, and now the Family Kindred. This group released their first CD back in 2003. I have always liked the group, which prompted me to post a page on the duo at this site. They are, originally from Philadelphia. Labelled as Neo-Soul performers, they soon had shrugged off any labelling, and now just create great records. Love the fact that their label is called ‘We’re Not A Label Records’. I think that describes the group very well. The lead single, ‘All My People’ has been refurbished a couple of times already, although, there is something about the original, which is haunting and appealing, so that is my pick of this litter. The tune has a great relevance with the global insanity, which is currently the fashion of the day. I am a white man, but very much believe that any Black life matters. Great message in this tune.
The track that has been on repeat in this house, is the uptempo ‘Never Know’. Listening to the amount of music I do here daily, longevity is a great bonus in a tune. This track holds it’s own with repeated plays. One of my favourite tracks this year so far. Tune. I can also recommend the ‘Welcome To My World’ and ‘Legacy Of Love’ from this particular menu, unreservedly. The standard never drops throughout here, and, repeating myself again, this is their finest album to date. Check out the listings to see when they are next in the U.K. Well worth checking out, either side of the pond!
Greg Belson is a very under-rated deejay. He used to perform at a club called the Blue Room in Molesey, along with a friend of mine called Simon Trounce. Simon spoke to me about this album a couple of months ago. He got me curious, and, as if choreographed, another good friend of mine called Roy Power, shoved a copy of this CD into my hands a week or so ago. So what of the music? Well, perhaps the best way of describing the set is, if you remember the gospel outings of the likes of Howard smith from back in the day, this compilation comprises of Seventies and Eighties ‘messages’ to the man upstairs. On the cultures Of Soul imprint, ‘Divine Disco’ showcases various artists, including Shirley Finney and The Gospelaires, the excellent The Enlightment, Betty Griffin and the Gospel Ambassadors amongst others. Little labels, but with power to their punches!
enlightment - faith is the key - 1984
The Enlightment, led by, producer, Larry H. Jordan, feature two tracks, both of which come from one of those albums you don’t believe exist, until you see the set! :)) The album was called ‘Faith Is The Key’, which came out on New Release Records in 1984. Prices at Discogs start at $78! ‘What’s Happening People?’, from this album, certainly is a killer track. Much cheaper to own, thanks to this fine release. Not your run of the mill compilation, constructed by a guy who knows his stuff! Thanks to Greg, Simon & Roy on this set. Recommended.
frank mccomb - soulmate: another love story / kejam - majek
I have been fortunate enough to meet Frank McComb. Gave the man a CDR'd Donny Hathaway single, which I thought he might like (being a number one Donny fan!). Consistence is something that most of us folks, (who still buy music :)), look for in an artist. It is half the battle, if there are a pile of review mp3's to work through in any particular week. Frank, not only is a 'keyboard king' out there, but he also has an appreciation of his craft when it comes to writing a tune or two. I have all of the man's music (as far as I am aware) here, and there are no sections within this particular library, where the standard falls at any point.
I make this album, Frank's 9th in his terrific CV, and, put plainly, I cannot find fault anywhere here. It is one of the two best album's, in my humble opinion, to reach these shores this year. The other set is Christon Gray's, Tommy Sims-esque release, 'Glory', however, placing a cigarette paper between that album and this one, is an almost impossible task. Those of you who miss new material from Stevie Wonder, would do well to pick up this set from CD Baby. That store now gives the customer Flac, 320 and standard mp3's with every purchase, so you can make your own copy for a physical CD library, if the spirit moves you. CD Baby commission here? No.
Tracks from this album? Well the first point of note, are 4 of the 17 tracks on this album, are originally from last years Valentine's Day E.P. I looked at my library here, and had all four songs at a 5 star rating. The quality simply continues throughout here. Cherry pick? 'Season' is quite superb. I believe the female singer on 'Labeled As Love' is Maysa. She has a very unique vocal style, however, no credits in the text file that comes with the purchase. If you thought Stevie's 'Superstition' was funky, well after 8 and a half minutes with Frank at the wheel, and...well...think again! Almost 'Contusion' merged with 'Superstition'. One for the better dancefloors, sounding very Herbie Hancock in places as well. 'Like Chicken' is another fusion track that would have sat very comfortably on Webster Lewis's album 'Touch My Love'. Something for every fan of Black Music on show here. Superb, superb, superb stuff. Buy this album for a friend, and that friend won't just be for Christmas, make no mistake!
Dee Majek's album has been a while in the making, and the wait has been well worth while. Dee is a real nice guy, who has sent me various sampler tracks from this fine album over the last few months. The album is terrific, and is released, I believe, in Japan, initially, but will soon be more widely available, and I would encourage you to track down the album and add it to your collection. Firstly, Kejam (Oladisun Majekodunmi otherwise known also as Dee Majek), has created some of the finest Soul music the U.K., produced in the last 12 months or so. He has been involved in several capacities within the industry for nearly four decades now. It is this experience which shines through in the depth of the musical inspiration on show here. On, for instance, the tune 'Start All Over', there are musical echoes of the Philly era and the O'Jays. Great song, (and probably my choice track from this album), 'whilst 'Never Listen' could almost be the hit track Anita Baker never recorded! 'My Love' and the, very S.O.S. Band, 'Kejam Steppin (Lorain's Theme)' are hugely evocative melodies of the early Eighties sound. Superb songwriting overlaid upon an uncomplicated backdrop, which is, all told, hugely appealing to this listener. I have been looking forward to this album release, and Dee has not disappointed. 10 great tracks on a very well rounded and complete album. Great for daytime radio, so a winner all round. Track this one down!
incognito - in search of better days / bob baldwin - the brazilian - american soundtrack / vick lavender - architect
Incognito albums are consistent releases, always well worth looking forward to, and seldom do Bluey and his team ever let the side down. I recently saw the band playing live at the Happy Days Festival in Esher, and was hugely impressed by the variety and overall quality of the vocal performances. On this album, the team sheet features the vocals from the U.K.’s finest, featuring Imaani, Vanessa Haynes, Tony Momrelle, Katie Leone, Vula Malinga and the wonderful Maysa Leak. Instrumentally, the set includes performances from (pianist) Avery Sunshine, (drummer) Richard Spaven, (percussionist) Jody Linscott, and (guitarist) Tomoyasu Hotei. The album is released on Shanachie Records again, and kicks off with the terrific ‘Love Born In Flames’. As with the group’s previous (and Bluey’s solo releases), the styles on offer are diverse. My three killer tracks from this album are ‘Racing Through The Bends’, the brilliant ‘Love’s Revival’ and the slow building ‘’I See the Light’. The latter tunes will be ‘year end’ favourite tunes, but don’t settle for my opinions regarding just those tunes. When marking the album, no track scored less that 3 out of 5 stars.What you get here is state of the art, U.K. Soul Music, which leads the way forward, riding across a sea of blandness out there. Bluey looked well and full of life at Happy Days. Let’s hope the future is long and prosperous for one of the U.K.’s musical crown jewels.
Bob Baldwin is usually an artist who usually releases fairly safe fusion album releases. Great for daytime radio, if you have an odd five minutes of airtime to fill, so props to Bob in giving me a musical slap in the face! This Brazilian-American Soundtrack is actually a double CD, which features some 26 tracks, all embedding influences from the two aforementioned countries. The most pleasant surprises are the featured vocal tracks. Remember when, almost every fusion release featured ‘that’ killer vocal tune? This album contains several songs, all of which vary from the harmonic, to the written lyric, and it is these tracks which are of interest in this house. Firstly, if you remember James ‘Crab’ Robinson, the singer is showcased on Bob’s interpretation of the Kool and the Gang evergreen ’Summer Madness’. Very nice take it is too. There are also two Maurice White featured songs, and a cover of the Ivan Lins classic ‘Love Dance’. Other performers singled out include Djavan, Elaine Elias, George Duke and Pat Metheny. The tracks which are my current favourites are ‘Greatest Lover’ featuring Zoiea (great Modern Soul) and a tune I cannot get out of my head right now, in the form of ‘’Looking At Me’, which features a singer called Gigi. One of my year end tracks, and make no mistake! An album full of some of the finest Fusion and Soul tracks released in 2016. Nice surprise, Bob. Out on City Sketches Records.
Vick Lavender has featured at this website in the past. In fact, two years ago to be precise, which was when his last album ‘Sophisticado’ was released. This Chicago based musician explores the dance genre, which, when it doesn’t work, the music falls a little flat, however, when it is on the button, it really is some of the most innovative dance music out there. These two aspects to the man’s music is a hugely healthy scenario, highlighting the man’s willingness to take risks, musically, and that is only to be applauded. This new album ‘Architect’ is a development from the man’s previous release, and is all the more interesting as a result. Vick has been performing as an artist since the Eighties. In the Nineties he took up production work, and is now running his own digital label Sophisticado Recordings, along with Steven Stewert. Personal track choices? ’Time Traveler’ reminded me a little of tracks from the Dexter Wansel ‘Life On Mars’ album. A tune which builds. ‘Eyes They Never Lie’ is another experimental Dance/Soul tune, which develops a mood, which can also be attributed to the Street Soul track ‘Magic’. The killer track on show here is 2016’s answer to Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘Brazilian Rhyme’/Roy Ayers ‘Africa Center Of The World’, namely 'Heritage Song'. Irresistable dance music, from an innovative dance music pioneer, all told.
robert glasper & miles davis - everything's beautiful / zo! -skybreak
Robert Glasper hails from Houston in Texas. He has, in his 5 album, decade long career, become one of the foremost pianists in the Jazz genre today. His previous 3 album outings, have taken on an almost ‘Guru-esque’ aspect, as the artist brings on board several of his contemporaries, in order to create some remarkable pieces of recorded output. This latest album features some re-imagined interpretations of the music from the late Miles Davis. ‘Everything’s Beautiful’, by the way, has no cross reference to the Ray Stevens song, which I am sure Miles would have thought, that that song was very much Ray’s business! :)) Where these versions by Robert really come together, are where he steps backwards from the frenetic aspects of some of todays (especially) rap musicians. It is a real shame, as, I am sure I am not alone, when I reach for the record deck, in order to bypass the first ‘expletive-deletive’ distracting the listener from something worth their attention. With most people, as soon as folks hear the ‘f’ word, people stop listening. I bought this album as a vinyl product, which was refreshing, as it was actually available in my local store in this format. Miles was not a digital performer, so buying a digital copy from an analog artist seemed a nonsense in many ways. Bypassing the offerings of the rappers (swearing became ‘old hat’ in 1976 guys), there are some real delights on the album. Tracks by some of my favourite artists, including the hugely underrated Georgia Anne Muldrow, Hiatus Coyote and the wonderful Ledisi, all are very pleasing listens. Georgia delivers a fascinating take on ‘Milestones’, whilst Ledisi contributes her interpretation of ‘I’m Leaving You’, and the ‘Coyote’s’ breathe new life into ‘Little Church’. Cherry picking is an easy task, as Stevie’s take on ‘Right On Brotha’, (one of my favourite current group’s) KING’s interpretation of ’Song For Selim’ and the cream of the crop, in Erykah Badu’s terrific ‘Maiysha’ are each worth the entrance fee on their own. If you have a record deck, it is well worth listening to the music in an analog format. Sure, you can download an mp3 or a slightly better quality flac file, however, the Erykah Badu track is a joy to behold in an old school format. This would have been a 10 out of 10 album, but for the swearing. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and in these days it is so hard to get your song on the radio. When I want to hear some swearing, I can always go round to the mother-in-laws! Deejays can’t play these tracks, if the bloke is ‘talking loud and saying nothing’.
Zo! is the brainchild of a gentleman called Lorenzo Ferguson. Lorenzo hails from Detroit, and, very much like Dee Majek in the U.K., has been working away quietly on their own album projects. Lorenzo’s music is no stranger to this website. His music can best be described as ‘music that grows on the listener’. When he is not working as a solo artist, Lorenzo is also the keyboardist and Musical Director for the group The Foreign Exchange. It is refreshing that this artist utilises live instrumentation in his recordings. Back in 2010, Zo! released the terrific track ‘Greatest Weapon Of All Time’. In 2013, Foreign Exchanges ‘If I Knew Then’ was one of my dance tunes from that year. As with Robert Glasper, Lorenzo utilises some fine vocalists on his recorded output, and ‘Skybreak’ is no exception. I especially liked ‘Starlight’, (featuring Phonte), ‘Packing For Chicago’ (featuring Muhsinah), ‘I Don’t Mind’ (featuring Shana Tucker), ‘Wishing You Well’ (Featuring the excellent Carmen Rodgers) and ‘Lifelines (featuring Dornik). Not bad for a single album, however, the best two tracks are yet to come, in the form of ‘A Season’ (featuring Eric Roberson), and the very Eighties ‘Just Whatcha Like’ (featuring Joi). I guess the moral of this story is, if any set features the words ‘Lorenzo Ferguson’, ‘Zo!’ or ‘The Foreign Exchange’, it is well worth picking up! A very good album.
perri - back to you / olwethu - imbewu
One solo Lori Perry album aside, it has been a quarter of a century since the last album from the Perri Sisters....really! I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to listen to a new album by this terrific female group. It is easy to forget, in today’s market, just what we have been missing in the quality stakes, and we have the Perri Sisters arrive (like the 4th emergency service), to rescue us from the daily dirge! Vocally, the Perri’s sound as if their last album was released 26 days ago, rather than years. So where to start? ‘God Is So Good’ (with the help of the fine Snarky Puppy) is as good as anything the sisters have ever recorded. If you can find fault anyplace within this song, I know the name of a very good doctor! The opener ‘Majesty’ sets the overall tone, running throughout this fine Gospel outing. Uplifting, very Anita Baker-ish, and featuring no duff cuts at all. As with last years Lyle Divinsky epic ‘Fallin’, some albums breeze through the current scene, clearing away all the cobwebs, and wiping away the ‘old driftwood’, raising the bar to a level which challenges the rest. If you love the Perri’s harmonies, you will love this album. If the melodies that embroider the harmonies are of a high calibre, then you are left with, simply, a winner. My personal favourite track here, is the mellow ‘Back To You’. The girls hit the musical ‘sweet spots’ throughout this fine slice of Soul Gospel. A welcome return to form, on the Perri’s strongest album to date, and out on their own label.
Africa has been a musical source which has drawn me towards the continent over the last couple of years. Sister’s Lulu and Zonke Dikana, both released fine albums over the last couple of years. Nosa’s ‘Always Pray For You’ illustrated that the studio’s in Africa have begun to come to terms with the larger corporates in the States and Europe, however, what is immersing is the charm that the languages and the music that these artists bring to the table, is an innocence, which comes through in the melodies. This new album by Olwethu (full name is Olwethu Magushana) is entitled ‘Imbewu’. Olwethu is from Queenstown in The Eastern Cape South Africa, where, when she is not singing, she works for a cosmetic company in Johannesburg. ‘Imbewu’ is a Zulu word, which means ‘seed’, and therein lies the purpose of the release, which is to raise money for children’s charities in the country. Musically, much of the music is sung in Zulu, but the delivery is definitely Soulfully based. Contemporary R&B? Absolutely. The lead single ‘Angelina’ is a really beautiful Soul song. I also cherry picked ‘Feelings’ (not that one!:)), however, of interest to the Modern Luxury Soul crowd, ‘Slow Motion’ (partly sung in English) is as good a ballad I have heard in many years. Africa is definitely a continent to watch, if you are a lover of the real deal. Olwethu has a lovely voice. Well worth investigating.
2016 , to this point, has become very much the year of the single release. Although albums have arrived, much of the material has been very derivative. Perhaps if the artist was awarded more for their efforts, by the larger retail companies that make the bulk of the finances from their efforts, and gave something back, the artist might want to give a little more creativity? Just a thought. Thank heavens for the smaller distributors, who, to all intents and purposes, keep the machinery oiled for the corporates.
So what of the material around right now? Well, thank heavens for Gregory Porter. He is flying the flag for the traditional singer/songwriter, who are perceived by todays younger buyers, ‘the old blokes and women, who had their heyday back in the mists of time, and get wheeled out to receive a lifetime award at the old folks musical awards! :)). Los Angeles born, Gregory, grew up in California. His parents were into Nat King Cole, whom Gregory began to mimic in his younger days. The singer was almost a football player at one point, but injured his shoulder, so he took up singing full time. He was overheard by Hubert Laws’ sister, Eloise, who helped Gregory with his career. He released his first album, ‘Water’, six years ago, and from that point onwards, he went from strength to strength. Gregory, lyrically, is a very intelligent songwriter, whether he is preaching from the political pulpit, or articulating a tender love song. It is no wonder that the likes of Carole King, hold this artist in a very high regard. ‘Take Me To The Alley’ represents the singers 4th main album release, and it follows on in a similar vein to his terrific ‘Liquid Spirit’ release of 2013. ‘Don’t Lose Your Steam’ is definitely the most commercial track on show, and is the ‘Liquid Spirit’ style song from this new set. Bound to fill a few dance floors that one, and we can all look forward to seeing the track remixed half a dozen times in the future! There are 12 tracks on show on this version of the album. I have on order a vinyl copy, which is bound to be superseded by a Deluxe version with additional tracks! Very much a case of myself ‘putting my money where my mouth is’ going on here! This album is mainly a downtempo set, with some beautiful mid-tempo moments, my pick of which are ‘Day Dream’ and ‘In Heaven’. ‘In Fashion’ is a tricky little song. Hints of Reg Dwights ‘Bennie and the Jets’, however, Gregory develops the rhythm, and this could probably become ‘the grower’ on the album. ‘Fan The Flames’ is very radio friendly, and has already become rotated on daytime radio, on the better stations. This album will not disappoint you, if you loved ‘Liquid Spirit’. A case of ‘more of the same’ in many ways, however, what went before was of such a high standard, I would defy anyone to criticise Gregory on any track on offer here. Long may this artist reign on the Soul scene. Lost so many greats this year, so this is a very positive break from that negativity...
....Gregoire Maret is a new name to me. Boy, has he assembled some great artists on this slow and moody new album. Gregoire is a Swiss musician, who features the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, Mark Kibble (Take 6), Frank McComb, Dianne Reeves and Ivan Lins (a personal favourite here). I had to look at the liners on a couple of tracks on show here, to see if it was Stevie playing the harmonica, only to find it was Gregoire himself! His mother hails from Harlem, whilst his Dad was Swiss, so the artists influences are truly diverse here. In parts, I hear Herbie Hancock (the mid Seventies version here), whilst I also hear echoes of the Quincy Jones moments that featured Toots Thielmans. Lots of influences going on here. For myself, the musical mixture of all of these elements, fused with the vocal contributions of Frank McComb, make ‘Diary Of A Fool’ my favourite track on this album. ‘Wanted’ featuring Mark Kibble, sounds as if it was lifted from Quincy Jones’ album ’the Dude’. Very like ‘Velas’ from that particular album. ‘Heaven’s’ featuring Dianne Reeves, is a beautiful ballad, whilst, in a more uptempo vein is the very Pat Metheny sounding ‘Groove’. No co-incidence that Gregoire has toured with Pat, and has learned a great deal from that artist I think. ‘Footprints’ gets the toes tapping, on an album , which I would not describe as uptempo, however, musically, the album is top drawer, and for that aspect I am very grateful to this artist. Already a favourite with Jeff Young at Jazz FM (who, at the moment, has overtaken brother James Brown, as the hardest working man in show business! :) One album and artist to watch out for in the future...
...Music Soulchild (a.k.a. Talib Johnson) was a new artist at the time I set up Soulwalking, in the summer of 2000. Some 16 years down the line, and the singer has just released this, his 8th album within that time period. Throughout the passing of time, I have always been interested in this performer. He is not afraid to ‘rattle a few cages’, either lyrically, or musically. Just when you thing you have a whole set worked out, in throws Musiq something or other to upset the apple cart! This Philly born singer says his influences include James Brown, Patti LaBelle, Billie Holiday, and Sly and the Family Stone. I might suggest that he throws in his own name into that particular hat, as he is no replicator, but has originality within his own Soul. Check out ‘Alive and Well’ from this new album. The man addresses peoples issues with appearance, especially weight issues. The singer makes the point that, if you feel alive and well, everything else is related to appearance and others ways of dealing with issues, that really ought not to affect them at all. Very bold, is all I can say! This is a really great track. if it raises a few eyebrows lyrically, well he has just proved you are not drifting in and out of conscience! On the ‘what a great song’ front, look no further than ‘Changed My Mind’ and, the very Stevie, ‘Walk Away’. Both terrific songs. This is an album well worth investigating, and, as with this guys releases, I am sure I will be singing the praises (pardon the pun) in two years time, of his latest album, when he releases his follow up to this fine set.
christon gray - the glory album
As many of you have come to realise, at times I can be a right old moaner, when it comes to rappers, who have nothing to say, and Gospel singers who ‘shout’ at their Lord, rather than articulate their message! :)) I am delighted to say that, in both of those concerns, I have well and truly been put in my place. All told, I think this is my favourite album so far in 2016. Sure, Christon Gray raps with the best of them out there, however, he is spot on with his message. This Christian rapper has created a hugely listenable album, which, rap wise, the listener might draw a comparison to those Imprompt2, partially rapped albums from the mid Nineties. The Christian message is directed, pretty much, to the under 25’s, and that message is a very ‘Black’ one, in a hugely positive way.
Firstly, about the man. Well, Christon is from Ohio. He worked with a group called the Elevationists in 2006, going on to release a solo album in 2011. He became part of the We Live Like Kings collective in 2013. He released a second solo album on Collision Records in 2014, after which he signed to Kirk Franklin's Fo Yo Soul label. The result is this set entitled ‘The Glory Album’. The set is almost biblical in it’s format, starting with a terrific opener entitled ‘The Glory Part 1’. There are sections of the album which are purely rap, however, the more melodic offerings amount to half of the songs on this fine set. My favourite tracks here are the very radio friendly ‘My Love Is Real’, however the real tour-de-force is the stunningly beautiful ‘Blackmail (Black Male)’. Hugely Stevie in it’s delivery (I am sure Stevie would love to record this track himself), the song attempt’s to address the confusion that many young Black men have to address within a society filled with mixed messages. I would ask any young Black male to take out a couple of minutes to listen to this track. Absolutely terrific musically, and very, very, supportive and powerful.
The other tracks worth of note are the John Legend’y ‘Afraid With You’, the lovely ’No. 51 (The Glory Part Two) and the finale ‘Follow You’. Spiritual, political, musical, angry and, above all, an important album. Take the Tommy Sims set, and blend in Imprompt2, and you are not a million miles away from the Christon Gray sound. Great album out on RCA.
various artists - luxury soul 2016 / king - we are king
One of the albums, during each year, I really look forward to listening to, is the latest instalment of the Expansion Records compilation ‘Luxury Soul’. Traditionally, January is a quiet month for new releases, and this set always kicks of each New Year optimistically. The annual release now comprises 3 CD’s of some of the finer new Soul releases (many of which echo back to the Soul sounds of the pirate radio stations during the early Eighties), along with some superior dance tracks, and the odd rare groove thrown in for good measure.
The mix of product helps stop the albums from sounding same-y, thus keeping the interest running throughout proceedings. Ralph Tee and Richard Searling do deserve some props for keeping the show on the road, in these times of digital this, and lossless download that. The tactile product reminds us that musical interaction is the better way. Of the 35 or so tracks on offer, where do you begin to mark this particular exam paper?
One instant plus point for myself, is the inclusion of new product from the U.K. artist Kejam (who is creating some of the most interesting music in recent months). Here he weighs in with the excellent ’Diamonds’, which features Terry Harris. Great track, as is the jazzy ‘Love In My Eyes’ by Gene-O. Nice song that one. ‘Love Crazy’ (not the Atlantic Starr song, yet it could have been recorded by the group) by Chazz Mac. A particular personal favourite from this album, is the duet between Latrese Bush and Noel Gourdin, entitled ‘Because Of You’. Would make a good single this song.
CD 2 opens with the very catchy ‘Call On Me’ by the R&R Orchestra, and this side also features one of the U.K.’s finest singers, namely Tony Momrelle. Tony’s ‘Different Street’ was a favourite from his recent solo album, and that was an essential purchase.
CD3 features the popular Paul Johnson song, ‘The Road’ (a track I know many folks will have been looking around for). I love the Damon Cooper song on this side, entitled ‘Will You be My Lady’. Terrific piece of songwriting, which I would describe as ‘tune’! It was great to see the inclusion of a personal ballad favourite, the Dunn Pearson produced, ‘Even A Fool’ by Dunn Street. Thought after I bought that track in 1986, that would be the last I would ever hear of the song.
Ralph and Richard seem to always right any wrongs on the British soul Scene, and for that I am very grateful. This is an essential release for 2016. Pick this Expansion compilation up, and it should keep you happy for several months to come, on the musical quality front! Great release.
Here's the team sheet!
The album by the group King is of a very different vibe. This is a very good new album from three Los Angeles based women called Paris and Amber Strother (both twins) and Anita Bias. I have always been a sucker for group harmonies, and this album is almost completely based around the vocal textures these three singers create. I have listened to this set over the last week or so.
I don’t think there is a smash hit single anywhere on show here, and yet, this is a fully 5 star offering IMHO. There are sections which remind me of some of the collaborative work between Janet Jackson and Jam & Lewis many years ago. In parts (especially on the track ‘Red Eye’) the melodies are pure Stevie Wonder. The album lures the listener in, with the two openers ‘The Right’ and ‘The Greatest’, and then fools you into thinking you have heard the best of the set, and then the rest of the set draws you further in, and before you know it, every track is a five star tune.
Formed in 2010, it has been some 5 years since this group released their initial E.P. Recently, Rolling Stone magazine cited the singers as ‘one of 10 New Artists You Need To Know’. When the mainstream get on board with a group, I normally tend to run a mile, as irrational fears begin to build within me that I am about to be brainwashed into liking the latest new R&B Emporer’s New Clothes! This album, however, breaks the mindset here. I really enjoyed this album.
'We Are King' won’t make ’Northern Soul’s Greatest Album of 2016’, nor will it appeal to those who love their Rap or Funk, however, if your mind is open, you love your harmonies, and the music is intelligently put together, then this is a set I can heartily recommend. Prince took this group on tour with him recently. A man of good taste, is all I can say! Out on King Creative Records right now.
regina belle - the day life began / kejam feat. terry harris - start all over
Regina Belle - The Day Life Began - Shanachie Records 2016
It is very nearly 30 years since I picked up this singers debut set ‘All By Myself’. The track ’So many Tears’ has since become a favourite on the better Soul Stations out there. 29 years down the line, and I think that the Shanachie imprint is the perfect label for this fine singer. The label seems to empathise with the artists on their roster, in an attempt not to change the singers desired sound, but tagging along for the ride. The variation between the 1987 album, and this album, is way back then, the ballad material was the material of choice in this house. With this album, there is a very uplifting feel to proceedings. ‘He’s Alright’ is a fine example of the positivity running through the set, followed by a very respectable cover of the Phyllis Hyman evergreen ‘You Know How To Love Me’. On the mid-tempo front ‘Live 4 You’ really appeals, whilst the mellower side is nicely represented by ‘A Night Of Love’, a song which will appeal to those who love this singers downtempo material. My favourite track from the set, is probably, the most radio friendly, in the shape of ‘Open Our Eyes’. Sounds like regina had a fun time recording this track. It is nice to see this sister back in the studio. The generation around right now seem to be a set of younger folks, not looking at the charts for inspiration, but checking out the shelves of us older girls, and you never know, they might be spending their pocket money on Regina’s new album. A welcome return.
Kejam (featuring Terry Harris) - Start All Over/2 Can Play - Kejam Majek 2016
If you are getting a feeling of deja vu, yes I did post a couple of tracks from this fascinating U.K. artist at the end of last year. Kejam sent me two further tracks from his forthcoming album, which are both top drawer melodies. The featured vocalist on these two sides, namely Terry Harris, has a very similar vocal delivery to that of Eddie LeVert from the O’Jays, (which is a huge compliment!). ‘Start all Over’ is one of those tracks that gets stuck in the grey matter, which is always a great thing. I am sure we will be revisiting this artist again in the coming months. If these songs are anything to go by, the album will be a real treat.
lyle divinsky - uneven floors
I was sent this album by the artist himself. Lyle Divinsky is the singers name. I want to, cut to the chase, and talk about one track to begin with. The song ‘Fallin’ is the song in question. To create a picture of where the tune is coming from, well think of a 2015 version of ‘Galveston Bay’, with a hint of ‘Groovin’ by the Young Rascals (but an interpretation closer to the Collage take on the tune), sung in the style of a Darryl Hall, along with a large helping of Willie Mitchell thrown in, the final ingredient realising itself in the real instrumentation production work of Frederick Knight’s ‘You’re The Best Thing In My Life’....and you are almost there! If this song was released in the Sixties or Seventies, it would be all over daytime radio, all of the time. With the malaise of video and technology stifling artistic expression, this song will, truthfully, be brought by the musical ‘French Underground’ which the likes of yourself and myself represent. Miley Cyrus would have a panic attack, rip off all her clothes (in the worst possible taste!:)) if she was asked to sing a song of this quality! All I can say is Lyle and his army of real musicians (who deserve the medal of honor for their work on this track) have created the best track I have heard so far this year. The only downside of this album is this song distracts the listener from what is a very good album overall. The songs ’Disaster’, ‘Rich’, ‘Push On’, ‘Carry On’, ‘Hit man’ and ‘Serious Web’ (this one is a real grower), are all terrific modern Soul songs. In fact I had marked ‘Disaster’ as a five star track, before I had reached track 3. The Earth, Wind & Fire style horns did it for these old ears on that track. I spoke to Lyle about his roots and influences, which he said were, birthplace...Searsmont, Maine, influences...Mother & Father, who were into Motown, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, whilst his own influences include Donny Hathaway, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, Maxwell, and on the Blue-Eyed side, James Taylor, Van Morrison, and CSN. Lyle, himself, penned ‘Fallin’. Props to the man there. As I mentioned, if you look at the YouTube footage of Lyle’s band playing live, all those artists, who may be 20ft from the stage, each deserve the highest praise for creating a Blue Eyed Soul song of genuine beauty.