ESKA: 'Eska' (Naim Edge)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 19:56 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Eska_largeZimbabwean-born Londoner Eska Mtungwazi has been on the radar of the sharp-eared pop music cognoscenti for a couple of years now - her credits range from Afro-beat maestro Tony Allen to the Cinematic Orchestra and ex-Japan man, David Sylvian - but with this, her long-awaited debut album she finally gets to show the wider world what she can do. And it's pretty impressive. With its allusive but unclassifiable blend of soul, folk, alt-pop, gospel and electronica flavours, it's probably too left-field for many traditional R&B fans but for those with a broader palate and a taste for boundary-busting sonic adventure, 'Eska' offers a smorgasbord of aural delights.

The first thing that strikes you about this album is the pliable quality and lissom tone of Eska's voice. It's been lauded as one of the finest in the UK at the moment - her champions include fellow singer Laura Mvula plus influential 'tastemakers' Gilles Peterson and Jamie Cullum - and it certainly has a unique tone: at once delicate and forceful, it's superbly expressive and unlike any other. Her liquid tone is framed by an array of different and very atmospheric backdrops - 'Shades Of Blue' is a delightful piece of whimsy with psychedelic overtones and 'Heroes & Villains' is an infectious quasi-reggae groove while 'To Be Remembered' is like experiencing a Joni Mitchell song while undergoing an LSD trip. There's a palpable folk element on the dreamy 'She's In The Flowers' and the excellent 'Rock Of Ages' is like old time  gospel re-imagined for the 21st century but filtered through a singer-songwriter aesthetic.

By contrast, the haunting and ethereal 'Gatekeeper' - perhaps the album's standout track - is characterised by incredible vocal gymnastics, but they're not in the technique-over-substance style of, say, Mariah Carey and all those Whitney Houston wannabes. In fact, nothing here represents the vacuous showboating and lame stereotypes of the R&B world. And that's what makes this album so refreshing - there are no musical clichés and no obvious frames of reference. There are familiar elements, certainly, but the way that they're assembled is as individual and uniqueas every person's DNA code. It is, then, a new kind of music and it requires, perhaps, new ears to truly appreciate it. Die hard old school soul fans might, on the whole, be bemused by this truly groundbreaking concoction but those with broader musical sensibilities will find much to savour, enjoy and admire.

(CW) 4/5


STEPHANIE MILLS: Tantalizingly Hot (Caroline)

Friday, 26 June 2015 19:16 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

smMost soul folk know something of the Stephanie Mills story. She made her name, of course, as a Broadway child star before being whisked away to Motown to work with no less a personage than Burt Bacharach! Then she worked for a succession of labels enjoying a decent run of hits, peaking in the early 80s. She's still very much involved in the business and just last year she performed in a revival of the show that got her started – 'The Wiz'. This time though she played Aunt Em, not Dorothy!

In 1981 Stephanie signed to Casablanca Records and here Caroline Records reissue her '82 'Tantalisingly Hot' long player for the label. It's hard to know the raison d'être behind the reissue. Yes, the 8 tracker is a decent album ... very much a product of its time, but there's nothing particularly especial about it. Even hardened Mills fans prefer her earlier work, often citing the 1980 20th Century eponymous set as her best. Whatever, here you get a selection of slick dancers and smooth ballads with the Ashford/Simpson 'Keep Away Girls' taking honours as the LP standout. When released a single the tune hit #13 on the US R&B chart. Ms Mills also offers a workmanlike version of the same duo's Motown chestnut, 'I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You'. Elsewhere there are couple of Mtume/Lucas dancers but neither are essential and the inclusion of the 12" version of 'You Can't Run From My Love' as a bonus doesn't really make the reissue that much more tempting

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 26 June 2015 19:20


EARSIGHT; Earsight (

Wednesday, 24 June 2015 20:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

earEarsight is a funk n' jazz quartet from South Carolina. Band members are Adam Knight (guitar), Will Sinclair (Hammond B3/keyboards), Tim Blackwell (drums) and Tom Wright (alto saxophone) and between them they've been involved with people like Ellis Marsalis, Wycliff Gordan, Walter Blanding Jr. and Kenny Garret. Gig-wise they've had the opportunity to open for a varied range of jazz-based artists ... amongst them -Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Maceo Parker, Wynton Marsalis and Incubus.

As an introduction to their sound Earsight have just released their debut long player – though at an economical 6 tracks, maybe better to call it an EP. Small though has its virtues and there's plenty here for serious jazzers to enjoy with the opener, 'Working Funk' maybe best representing what Earsight can offer. At six minutes plus, it's a bouncy, bassy loose work out which maintains interest throughout. 'Shell Game' is moodier and broodier; 'Thanks (Again)' is fast... almost furious with a rocky guitar sound; 'Arc D'Irie is stately, smooth even while 'Nephew James' takes it colouring from the soul-jazz palette. These five tunes are all band originals, leaving just the mini album's only cover – a re-working of Stevie Wonder's 'I Wish'. This Earsight version is busy and rightly funky with some great Hammond stabs and Benson-esque guitar.

Find out more about Earsight and the album @

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 June 2015 20:13


BILL WYMAN; Back To Basics (Proper Records)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015 09:55 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

Back-to-BasicsBassist Bill Wyman quit the excesses of the Rolling Stones to eventually form the Rhythm Kings. His aim was to get back to what he loved best – playing blues, R&R, R&B and soul in small intimate venues where the audience came because they loved the music not just the superstar status of the performers. With a dedicated core of musicians and a smattering of guests, the Kings soon became national treasures with their regular tours and occasional recordings eagerly awaited by a growing legion of fans.

Now, for reasons not really explained, Bill has (temporarily?) dropped the Rhythm Kings to record a solo album (his first in 33 years!). However with Rhythm King regulars Terry Taylor, Guy Fletcher and Graham Broad backing him, the overall sound of 'Back To Basics' is the sound of the Rhythm Kings... with one big difference... the vocals. On Rhythm King LPs and on stage the band used a great team of singers – touring US "names", Georgie Fame, Gary Brooker, the redoubtable Beverley Skeete and more. Bill himself took occasional lead... but it was occasional; here though he fronts all 12 songs.

Wyman himself, I'm sure, will be the first admit that he's not the best of vocalists (that's why he uses a team with the Rhythm Kings) but he does have a distinctive style all of his own. His vocals are semi spoken/whispered and they do add a certain charm to the music especially on the more wistful, nostalgic items like 'November' with its opening, "It's been so long since I had to sing a song". Many of the other songs have a similar, personal slant ... like 'Seventeen' and 'Stuff (Can't Get Enough)' and given Bill's much publicised (one time ) penchant for younger women and his own financial status, it's hard to know whether it's all tongue in cheek.

Bill Wyman's 'Back To Basics' is out now.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 June 2015 10:01


VALERIE SIMPSON: Exposed/Valerie Simpson (Caroline)

Saturday, 20 June 2015 13:42 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

VSDuring her tenure at Motown (1966-74), Bronx-born Valerie Simpson was best known as a writer and producer. In tandem with long time partner Nick Ashford, she was responsible for a slew of classics – including 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', 'Your Precious Love' and 'Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing'. In 1970 Berry Gordy honoured Ashford and Simpson by handing them the job of producing Diana Ross' solo debut. The success of that LP encouraged Gordy to hand Simpson a contract as an artist in her own right (the Motown rumour mill, by the way, suggests that Val had already fronted the Motown mics... deputising in the studio for Florence Ballard AND Ms Ross). The result was two albums – 1971's 'Exposed' and '72's 'Valerie Simpson', both now reissued as a twofer by Universal imprint, Caroline.

'Exposed' didn't fare particularly well (it peaked at 30 R&B and it's only single 'I Can't Wait Till Tomorrow' had no chart impact) but it nevertheless is a quality album, exuding a strong gospel feel – hardy surprising given the singer's church-reared background. Hear that old time gospel at its best on the lengthy opener, 'I Don't Need No Help'. It's a brave choice for an opening track. ....a two minute acapella introduction followed by a further five minutes of just singer and piano accompaniment. It's an intense piece of work and maybe turned off potential buyers who maybe were expecting the poppier flavours of her earlier songs. In fairness that lovely lightness comes later on with things like the version of her own 'Love Woke Me Up This Morning' and the jaunty 'I Just Wanna Be There'.

The eponymous sophomore album fared less well than the debut – just making the R&B top 50, though the album's sole single, 'Silly Wasn't I' did make the pop hot 100. That simple song is the album highlight and in the excellent notes (put together by SJF's Charles Waring) Ms Simpson regrets not making the song last a little longer. Whatever, at 2 minutes 12 seconds I think it's just right... an underrated Motown classic. Sadly there's little else here that would fall into that bracket, but for Motown collectors the release will be hugely welcome.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 June 2015 13:53


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