Soul And / Or Related Artists

listen out for 2015...

Dusty

the fantastic four - how sweet he is (a.k.a. the lost motown album)

Fantastic Four

The Fantastic Four comprised of ‘Sweet’ James Epps, brothers Ralph and Joseph Pruitt, and Wallace ‘Toby’ Childs. This new album was to have been the group’s debut release for Motown Records around the turn of the Seventies. The album was shelved, and, as you guys know, the group went on to achieve some success in the late Seventies under a new styling as a Soul and Funk band, charting with ‘B.Y.O.F. Bring Your Own Funk’ amongst other singles. Thankfully Kent Records have managed to lay their hands on the Motown album, which is, simply, as good as any of the other Motown album releases from that era. That good? Yes it is. Perhaps the group may have suffered from being too close to the Four Tops and the Temptations in sound, however, had this album landed on the desks of either of those immense performers, I am sure they would have welcomed these sides with open arms. Originally a group who recorded for the Ric-Tic imprint, the Fantastic Four actually out-sold material by label-mate Edwin Starr, before coming under the Motown wing. Following two years (and 30 sides, including three non-charting 45’s), their stay at the label ended.

This album contains all of the sides, which were intended for the album release, along with 13 other songs, so, almost a full C.V. of their Motown material. The tracks have been gathering dust within the tape vaults for over 40 years. This album was to have been titled ‘How Sweet He Is’, which probably oblique reference to lead singer ‘Sweet’ James Epps. James’ delivery is not too dissimilar to that of the late David Ruffin, and therein may lie the decision to shelve the album at the time. You might say, ’Motown wasn’t big enough for the both of them’. It was a great mistake then, as we can now hear in 2015. The excellent Tony Rounce has penned the liner notes for this must have album (if Motown is your thing, and I know it will be, otherwise you would not be here!). The tracks that jumped out of the stereo here, are an immense take on ‘If This World Were Mine’ (quite superb), ‘I’m Gonna Carry On’, ‘Don’t Tell Me I’m Crazy’, the Johnny Bristol produced ‘How Big Is Your Heart’, ‘I'm Still A Struggling Man’, and my (now, second) favourite version of the Fab Four’s ‘We Can Work It Out’ (the first being the wonderful Maxine Brown’s version...the third being the Beatles own take). I have to thank Peter Young at Jazz FM, for bending my ear, and guiding me towards this fine album. There are some great ‘thumbs-up’s’ at the fine http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/ website, and a nice review by Lois Wilson at Mojo magazine. Do not think this album is another regurgitation of older sub-standard Motown sides. This is a must have release, if you love the label. Kent have pulled out all the stops, and, probably, realise their finest release in recent years, from the vaults. This is the type of album I would love everyone around the age of 21, to take out for a spin. Would prove that many a good tune can be played on an i-Fiddle...whatever that is! :)). Essential if you love the real deal.

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lindsey webster - you change / tracy hamlin - no limits

Lindsey WebsterTracy Hamlin

If awards were handed out to the best promoters on Social media these days, I think Keith Slattery (the music producer and co writer for this fine album by Lindsey Webster), ought to win the coveted ‘I have taken over 50 percent of all the writings at Facebook Awards for 2015’! He has certainly championed this fine album, which, truth be told, would have risen, like the proverbial cream, to the top of most folks favourite album charts for 2015, without any help at all. I think Keith sent out a request to reviewers, asking folks which were their favourite tracks from this 10 track beauty. With many albums, in recent months, the sets arrive, and with the best will in the world, you end up cherry picking one or two tracks from most albums. Looking at my iTunes ratings, (which I use as quick links to remind me to re-visit a track or two for a second time), I have only two songs which don’t make a full five star rating. All told, most Soul fans gather round releases such as these, probably to remind ourselves that excellence is still possible in this age of the dire ‘nursery rhyme set a disco beat top 40 sausage machinery’ we laughingly describe as a music business. Music that stuff certainly isn’t. Business it may well be, however, it is a business which is very much someone else’s business, but not mine or yours! To answer Keith’s question regarding favourites, well, as you guys well know, favourites have a habit of changing following multiple listenings. At the moment ‘I Found You’ hits the spot in the family home. ‘Open Up’ and ‘Fool Me Once’ preceded the release, so they were the choice tracks in the absence of the full monty. ‘Lost One’ is delightful, ‘In Love’, ‘You Change’, ‘I’m Strong’ and ‘Universe’ are all five star melodies. One of those albums you would describe as ‘Every Home Should Have One’. The group had a lot of fun recording this album, which must be a pleasure for Lindsey to sing live, as she has a well written, song led melody to follow from start to finish. You have all that, then you don’t mind taking the song out for a stroll again! One real unsung hero regarding this great set, is the hard working Brian Hurst and his fine soulandjazz.com website. Known Brian for a while now. His work is relentless in getting artists like Lindsey out there, although Brian may have been pulled off side stage right now following all of the accolades this album is now receiving, Brian should be recalled back on stage for an encore for all his efforts. Great album, singer, producer and promoter. All you guys need to do now is sign Lionel Messi and your team will be world beaters!

One favourite female vocalist at this site, over the years, has beenTracy Yvette Hamlin. From Baltimore, Tracy’s career began with the Gospel House music ensemble the Jasper Street Co., who released material for the Basement Boys Records imprint since 1995. Since 2001, Tracy has been the vocalist with Pieces of a Dream, after which, she released three solo albums, namely 2005’s ‘Seasons’, 2009’s ‘Better Day’s’ and 2013’s ‘This Is My Life’. The latter album featured a terrific remake of the Jim Webb/Thelma Houston/Norman Connors evergreen title track. Signing to Expansion Records in 2015, this is her fourth album release entitled ‘No Limits’. Expansions musical sensibilities are in perfect Soulful harmony with Tracy’s ever maturing vocal progression. It is great to hear Frank McComb vocalising alongside Tracy on ‘My Good Day’, which is one of my favourite tracks from this new album. The lead single ‘No Limits’ is showcased in three formats here. A strong song which enables each mixer to enhance the melody in whatever direction that suits the listeners tastes. Tracy is certainly a cut above many of her contemporaries, with a true understanding of the genre, and the direction the sound is taking in 2015. Great to hear her take on the late Webster Lewis’s classic ‘Emotion’ (which was ably covered by Merry Clayton many years ago). Tracy would have enhanced Webster’s original back in the day, had she been the original vocalist. My favourite track on show here, is the Frank McComb penned ‘Plans For Two’, a very classy track, as you might expect coming from a bona fide ‘stamp mark of quality’ on the Soul Scene. A very professional album, beautifully delivered, and a great addition to this fine singers curriculum vitae. Tracy has, by the way, written and performed alongside, that great Soul ‘survivor’, Gloria Gaynor! She did survive!

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james mason - recollection echo / various artists - too slow to disco vol.2

James MasonToo Slow To Disco Vol.2

It has been nearly 40 years since the Chiaroscuro label released the debut album by, multi-instrumentalist & producer, James Philip Mason, entitled ‘Rhythm Of Life. The album featured some great musicians, including Narada Michael Walden, Justo Almario, Phillip Woo, along with the fine vocalist Clarice Taylor. James Mason, himself, was a member of the Roy Ayers band during the Seventies. James featured on the track ‘Running Away’, prior to the release of his first album. The set featured the pounding dancer ‘Sweet Power Of Your Embrace’, which did not hit home immediately, but came into it’s own the following decade. ‘Rhythm Of life’ went out of print at Chiaroscuro fairly quickly, resulting in the album becoming a much in demand set on the market today. Check Discogs, and the starting prices begin at £350 ($550 approx.). For those who found the prices over hiked (which they were, all told), Soul Brother Records set about re-releasing the album, bringing the great set to those who sought the set out. With many artists, the sessions that made the original releases, featured tracks that were omitted for one reason or another. In 2015, James returned to his original tapes, and the result is this new SHOUT! Productions album ‘Recollection Echo’. Seven of these tracks have been remastered from James Mason's own master tape. The tape did not survive the passing of the years well, leading to several reparations to the audio, which are not apparent on first listening to this fine album. James could have released this album a year or so later, and be compared favourably with the initial release in my humble opinion. This album’s liner notes have been penned by James himself, with vocal chores performed by Clarice (again) and Christine Wilshire. Christine features on the song (which superbly hit home first here), namely ‘I’ve Got Your Love’. I loved the track ‘The Dance Of Life’, along with all of the other songs on offer. A very complete album, which begs the question, ‘where has James been in the previous 38 years?’ There is a feeling of ‘completing the circle’ with this new album. Might be an opportune moment for some bright spark to re-release the 1977 set on vinyl in 2015? Just a thought.

The first ’Too Slow To Disco’ album from last year, was one of my favourite compilations of 2014. I hold my hands up and admit to having a great love for Blue Eyed Soul. The genre makes the Soul purist question their loyalties (and in some cases their own credibility, as many anoraks have fallen from some very high horses! :)) The guys at How Do You Dare Records are hugely adventurous in their choices of tracks, which go to make up these fine compilations. They dig a little deeper than most researchers, and are not afraid to, say, cherry pick a Doobie Brothers track (Losin’ End’ in this case), and not choose a tune, which may be more lucrative financially, but run with the track due to the standard of the songs writings and arrangement. This second album, I spoke to a local record retailer about. That last point came into question, when I mentioned this set had a track by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith. His response was ‘Oh, that will be ‘Rio’’. It turned out not to be the case. As I said, they are not frightened to put on their longest wellies and go get their hands dirty, in some old dusty record store way out in the sticks! The Michael Nesmith track is ‘Capsule’, which comes from a 1979 album called ‘Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma’ (title rolls off the tongue! :)). Great track. There are tracks you will know here. Niteflyte’s evergreen ‘If You Want It’ being one such track on the 16 song compilation. One favourite Blue Eyed singer of mine, is Ben Sidran, who makes an appearance with ‘Hey, Hey Baby’, a very uplifting an humorous track. Hall & Oates show up as well, not with ‘I Can’t Go For That’ or ’She’s Gone’, but on a song called ‘Alone Too Long’. Great track. Other featured artists include Jimmy Gray Hall, Eric Kaz, Dave Raynor, Larsen/Feiten Band, Bruce Hibbard, Michael Omartian, amongst others. No household names here, however, if you are looking for something refreshing, and challenging, to copy into your iTunes, well, this album just about fits the bill. Track of the album? Absolutely ’Stronger Love’ by LeBlanc & Karr from a 1977 album. ‘Never Gonna Stop Lovin You’ ran it a close second. That’s by Byrne & Barnes, by the way. Blue Eyed Soul at it’s finest.

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soul power featuring rasheed ali - 1968!

Soul Power

Soul Power is an album which was very kindly sent to me by Bill Buckley from his (and Charles Waring’s) fine http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/ website. Bill has fine taste, so anything recommended by him or Charles, I take very seriously. After I first listened to the album, my first thought was ‘Groove’! I re-listened to the album for a week or so, and it really has grown on me. The drive within the music is almost relentless, which is a perfect reflection of that era. If anything, cherry-picking one year, across that period of history, is almost unnecessary, as the injustices that led up to that year, passed throughout 1968, and are, unfortunately, appropriate in 2015. Some 45 years after that date, we are still looking at Black people being beaten for standing someplace, whilst a White racist is bought a takeaway after murdering 9 church-goers. I may be digressing, however, at times, culture reflects the politic of any one point in time. As with Gregory Porter’s anthemic ‘1960, What?’, the music becomes the tapestry the politic is etched upon. Gregory’s track was not reflective of 1960, musically, but it carried the frenetic message with power and conviction. The creator of ‘Soul Power’, Rasheed Ali, has created another powerful message, whose own tapestry is perhaps, musically, etched on a Blaxploitation canvass, Whilst listening to this fine 18 track set, I was, obliquely, reminded of the ‘death penalty’ concept album ‘Stay Human’, which Michael Franti brought to us some 15 years ago now. I can hear Rasheed’s Randy Muller/Jeff Lane-esque influences running throughout. Echoes of Mark Radice and Spiders Webb woven into the 1968, Mexico Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos Black Power salutes (which I remember watching as a young teenager at the time on our Black and White television set). In 1968, U.S. politics were a confusing mess to myself. It seemed, if they found anyone in politics the people liked, there would be someone there, someplace, to kill them, and they did just that. To hear an artist working with this era in 2015, is hugely refreshing. I know many of my contemporaries who will love is album. I do myself, and how appropriate that it has been released following the atrocity in Charleston. 1960 begat 1968 begat 2015 etc. Cherry picking a track from this fine album is, perhaps, an unfair thing to do, as this is almost a symphony on it’s own, however, of the ‘movements’ which comprise sections of the overall sum of it’s parts, well I do love ‘Not My Baby’, ‘Burn, Baby, Burn’, ‘Just Make It Funky’ and ‘Soul Power’. Having just cherry picked those tracks, I have been unfair to all of the other musical components. Overall, possibly, the most important release of 2015, thus far. More ‘Power’ to your political elbow, Rasheed. Thank you to Bill & Charles for turning me onto this set, and to PY for playing this fine release on his Jazz FM Saturday show.

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jai malano - rocket girl / soul liberation - who are you?

Jai MalanoSoul Liberation

Looking at the cover of this new album, Dallas based, Jai Malano’s new set could be seen visually as another Janelle Monae style artist. Certainly has that spacey, Grace Jones/Janelle artwork going on there, doesn’t it? Maybe, if it isn’t a Janelle type album, well, it’s probably a disco album of sorts? Maybe Bruno Mars has had some input? Completely threw a spanner in the works when I first listened to the album, as it is a record completely out of it’s time. If you can place the ‘sound’ at all, well it is mid Fifties R&B if anything. In places I can hear Louis Jordan, in other aspects, you can hear B.B. King, Etta James, and even Little Richard. The most interesting side of this release, is the absolute authenticity of the sound. You would expect to receive this album, not in mp3 format, but on a Shellac album format, or an old 78. It is an album that will unnerve the new R&B crowd, unsettle the Northern Soul fan and appeal to folks of a certain age unreservedly. Jai has a terrific powerhouse vocal delivery, which was the order of the day within that era, and she is complemented with some of the most ‘true to the art form’ performances on the album, which I have heard in years. The album completely won me over. The tracks that appealed here, are the humorous title track, 'Learn About A Man', ‘Don’t’, 'Let Me Be' and ’Schnick, Schnack, Boogie’. It is truly hard to pick a song from such a terrific release, but what I would say is, whatever these guys are trying to do, musically, well this old bloke absolutely gets it hook, line and sinker! Terrific release that blew away a few new R&B cobwebs, and showed those pretenders just how it ought to be done! The blurb states the album is ‘Similar to the sounds of the originators of Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll, is authentic and historically relevant to the culture of American music’. I won’t argue with that! It’s simply great music.

Great to hear some Gospel/Soul, which doesn’t include live performances. Not that these live albums aren’t worthy releases, however, in the last couple of years, there have been very few studio albums of this genre, that are up to the Helen Baylor/the Winans kite mark of quality. Soul Liberation originally hailed from New York City. They came under the wings of the ministry of Tom Skinner, a former gang-leader turned evangelical preacher. Tom assembled this group of musicians, from several performers he encountered on his U.S. tours, whilst spreading the word. The band were his mainstay group between 1973 up until 1993, sharing a home in the Bronx. ‘Who Are You’ was Soul Liberation's follow up album (originally released on Rainbow Records) to their self titled Creative Arts debut release.....in 1974! The album was recorded in Dallas, Texas, way back in 1982. The band leader, Jimmy Miller, wrote the songs, and the set finally sees a release via the BBE imprint. The album has a very Perri Sisters sound to proceedings, with the title track and ’Touch Me Again’ sounding fresh as a daisy in 2015. An original copy of the album retails for around £250 (about 380$). Nice to get a copy at a reasonable price right now.

Soul Liberation

soul liberation

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diane shaw - life, love and strings / maysa - back 2 love

Diane ShawMaysa

Been a very lacklustre last 2 months, album-wise. Some great singles, accompanied by multiple mixes of each release, however, the album release seems to have become unfashionable. The likes of Gregory Porter, are exceptions, but sadly not the rule. Thankfully, as ever, the Sista’s are on call, and here are two real gems.

Diane Shaw’s album has been in the making for a while now. The initial single ‘Leave A Little Love’, has long been a Sixties favourite in this house. Lulu’s brilliant Blue-Eyed 45 from 1965, sits in a singles box here. That track showcased Lulu at her finest. Shame that she is perceived as a celebrity rather than a bonafide Soul Singer in her own right. Diane takes the track, and, rather than bringing it bang up to date, interprets the song with a huge amount of respect and dedication, and for that I am truly grateful to the woman! It is hugely refreshing to hear a record performed in it’s finest format. Made for all formats, with real musicians, and by a singer who gets right into the heart of the genre. The album is aptly, entitled ‘Life, Love and Strings’, and, I hope she doesn’t mind me drawing a comparison to the Ebonye Alleyne album from a few years back. Both sets epitomise the best of the Sixties and Seventies, whilst being delivered with ‘vocal kid gloves’ within the new millennium. The album showcases 14 tracks, a couple of which are mixes of the latest deejays ’track of choice’ from the set, namely ‘That Thing You Do’, which has echoes of the wonderful bass-line running throughout Lowrell’s evergreen ‘Mellow, Mellow, Right On’. Diane, herself, has a very personable vocal delivery, which lends itself to multiple harmonies beautifully. My favourite tracks on the album are, obviously, the Lulu cover, along with the exceptionally catchy ‘Never Been Hurt’, ‘Good Lovin’ Man’, and ‘Today, I Started Loving You’. Truth be told, is you could drop your ‘needle, laser or finger on the track pad’ on any track on offer here, and come up with a winner. Diane is a seasoned campaigner on the U.K. Soul club circuit, filing herself, possibly, under the movie tag ‘20ft from Stardom’, touring with the likes of Martha Reeves, Brenda Holloway, Chris Clark, Tommy Hunt, Sidney Barnes & Geno Washington, Sister Sledge. George McCrae, Kirk Whalum & Peter White. With ‘Life, Love and Strings’, Diane has constructed one of the better albums in 2015, and it is sure to be in many Modern Soul Christmas stockings come December! Big thank you to Andy Birkinshaw for sending me this fine album. Highly recommended.

On the Modern Soul Scene, there are very few artists who can be consistently described as ‘quality’. Every release is hugely assisted by her tender, and very unique vocal stylings. The listener cannot help but be won over by her voice, which enhances many genres ranging from U.K. Soul, Fusion....and, I bet if she turned her mind to it, she would be brilliant at Lovers Rock. ‘Back 2 Love’ is released some 20 years after her 1995 debut album, and is this singers 8th album (excluding her Incognito output). Her voice is as strong, gentle and sophisticated as it was at the time of kick off! The title track from this release has already seen a remix on this 12 track album. Released on Shanachie, fans of Maysa will not be disappointed with the latest release. It will be embraced with both arms (and ears!), and provides a warm welcome to those who are unfamiliar with this fine singer. If this is the first time you have encountered Maysa, do go check her back catalogue. My personal favourite tracks here start with the lovely ‘Heavenly Voices’. A real beauty. ‘Smilin’, ‘Unforgettable’ and the funky ‘Tear It Up, Tear It Down’ all hit the spot in this household. I am not a great lover of the saying ‘it ticks all the boxes’, however, I empathise with that sentiment. A great break from the tedium that is currently being mass marketed, on turgid radio, as the latest ‘Da bomb’! All told Motown Records had it just about right, in their Sixties marketing campaign....’It’s What’s In The Groove That Counts’. Go buy this Maysa album.....and any of her other releases for that matter!

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bluey - life between the notes / mather & kingdon - life's so sweet

BlueyMather & Kingdon

After a short, fallow, period of new album releases, (which contain a solid track or two), but never quite realise a full kit of musical parts, we are now treated to two albums of which the listener can cherry pick from two very superior crops of melodies. Bluey’s last album was terrific. Some two years later down the line, the man has bettered that fine outing, with a set of 13 storming songs, any of which would make any reviewers top twenty of 2015. The great aspect of this artist, is he generates ideas, deriving from a huge experience within the industry. Rather than create through computer hardware and software, this performer can play a tune or two on his chosen instrument. These are only a couple of certain aspects, ignoring the main ingredient which makes Bluey very different from many of the other artists out there. He is a brilliant ideas man. Bluey can take an influence, which a seasoned Soul stalwart can partially deduce the originator first time round, and develop the idea into something which comes up fresh as a daisy. The result here are 13 tracks, with no fillers, covers, or musical half way houses. Instead, it makes the life of someone like myself, very hard to cherry pick a tune, as, well, what are you supposed to do? What the listener is left with are a series of favourites that move with the passing of time. Right now I am really warming to ‘Been There Before’, ‘The Poetry Of Life’ and ‘Sunships On The Shores Of Mars’. Tomorrow? Probably a completely different three songs. It is worth pointing out that with many artists out there, the leading single (in this case the title track of the album), is usually the best track on the album, following the release of the full monty. In this case, the single simply merges as an equal part of the overall jigsaw. It is easy to bandy about terms such as ‘album of the year’, however, if a better album surfaces in 2015, it will raise a few eyebrows in this household. Superb album.

Mather and Kingdon are, according to their Facebook page are ‘two friends who share a passion for quality grooves.’ I have sent a message to the guys, as, right now, all I do know is they have been championed on Jazz FM (amongst other U.K. Soul Stations), following the release of the track ‘All That I Need’, which I heard at the Bournemouth Soul Weekender at the tail end of 2013 (big nod to Jeff Young at Jazz FM on that one!). Bringing things right up to date, a promoter called Gary Van den Bussche, sent me a copy of the new album. Very much appreciated, Gary. This is a very fine album indeed. Very different from Bluey’s but with a couple of things in common. This new album ‘Life’s So Sweet’ is no one track album, and it is another good example of artists taking on board their historical influences, and developing them into something fresh and personal. The opener, ‘Soul Night’ really appealed to me, in as much as the singer articulates many of the influences which have taken to group to this point in proceedings. The previous single ‘All That I Need’, ‘Latino Girl’, the title track, along with the very upbeat ‘Feeling Funky’, all instantly jumped out of the speakers, although I get the feeling that this will be an album I will be returning to on a regular basis over the coming weeks. Great to have two fine new albums, both generated on this side of the pond (and both nodding heavily to the artists over past the other shoreline!). Mather & Kingdon. Very well worth tracking down.

mather & kindon @ facebook

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lulu dikana - i came to love / saun & starr - look closer

Lulu DikanaSaun & Starr

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!

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danita mumphard - loves taking over / rhonda thomas - vinyl daze

Danita MumphardRhonda Thomas

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.

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tuxedo - tuxedo / soul persona feat princess freesia - fast forward

TuxedoSoul Persona

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.

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aaron parnell brown - the tin man / frank mccomb - soulmate e.p.

Aaron Parnell BrownFrank McComb

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.

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shayna steele - rise / brandon williams - XII

Shayna SteeleBrandon Williams

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.

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Carol Riddick - Love Phases / Roger Cox - Loveaholic / Johnny Gill - Game Changer

Carol RiddickRoger CoxJohnny Gill

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.

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Shirma Rouse - Shout It Out Loud

Shirma Rouse

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’!

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