Reviews

BETTYE LAVETTE: ‘Worthy’ (Cherry Red)

Thursday, 26 February 2015 10:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Bettye_coverWith her raspy delivery infused with gritty soul power, veteran R&B singer, Bettye LaVette, possesses a voice that's instantly recognisable. She's enjoying a successful career now but it wasn't always that way. After scoring her first hit for Atlantic as a fresh-faced teenager back in 1962 - 'My Man - He's A Lovin' Man' - the Michigan-born singer discovered that the success that her debut hit had achieved and seemed to guarantee was almost impossible to replicate or sustain. A series of singles on different labels during the '60s and '70s fell largely on deaf ears. She tasted some big deals along the way - at Atco in the '70s and Motown in the early '80s - but for various reasons Lady Luck seemed intent on giving Bettye a hard time. Finally, after years of toil and paying her dues, in 2005 at the age of 59 Bettye's luck changed for the better. Her album 'I've Got My Own Hell To Raise' for the Anti- label was critically acclaimed and heralded a musical rebirth that kindled a career renaissance that continues in 2015.

After four critically-lauded albums for Anti-, Bettye has joined the roster at the UK's Cherry Red label. 'Worthy' reunites her with producer, Joe Henry, who masterminded her renaissance album, 'I've Got My Own Hell To Raise,' exactly ten years ago. There's certainly a palpable chemistry that the pair generate when they work together: Henry intuitively knows how to coax powerful, heart-rending performances from the 69-year-old singer, whose craggy, lived-in voice improves with age. Indeed, she's on top form on the album's eleven songs, which stylistically follow the same trajectory as her more recent albums, with an emphasis on re-making rock and pop songs in her own image.

Last time around, Bettye explored tunes by this nation's tunesmiths (on her Grammy-nominated 'The British Rock Songbook' album in 2010) and here, there are echoes of that album with the inclusion of material from UK blues band Savoy Brown (the Chris Youlden-penned When I Was A Yong Girl'), The Rolling Stones (Complicated,' a rocky stomper), and The Beatles ('Wait' from their 'Rubber Soul' album), the latter reconfigured into a lachrymose ballad with skeletal acoustic guitar and ghostly organ. Elsewhere, Bettye superbly deconstructs songs by Bob Dylan ('Unbelievable'), Beth Nielsen Chapman ('Worthy') and Micky Newbury ('Bless Us All'). Such is her skill that she's able to transform those songs so that they resonate like autobiographical moments distilled from her own life experiences. Only a handful of singers possess the ability to do that convincingly and this album confirms that Bettye LaVette has that rare gift of being able to inhabit other people's songs so that they sound as if she wrote them herself. Pure genius. 

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 February 2015 10:54

 

SOULPARLOR; Smile (Tokyo Dawn)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015 20:12 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

00_SoulParlor_-_Smile_Tokyo_Dawn_RecordsSoulParlor (their choice is to omit the space between the words) is a German based production and DJ team.... Frank Jensen, Frank Lotz and Tobias Müller. The collective began in the Rhineland area some 15 years ago and have since broken out (they began as break beat specialists) to work all over Europe and throughout the States. For a time, they ran their own label, Sense Music, but since 2010 the crew have been pacted with Tokyo Dawn and over the years their sound has diversified.... embracing hip-hop, house, funk and soul.... they've even had the balls to remix some of James Brown's music! What the Godfather would have made of their efforts we'll never know. Their JB tweaks (along with their takes on the other genres) were spiced with the SoulParlor signature electro sound and if that's what floats your musical boat there's plenty on this new 15 tracker to keep your ship sailing!

Interestingly, given the current interest in the Mark Ronson style of funk there are few tunes that echo what music's current poster boy's up to. 'Get It How You Want It' and 'The Groove Is On' boast that snappy but sparse cod Prince sound. The vocalist on that latter, Raziel Jamaerah, by the way, does a great "tonight Matthew I'll be the Purple One". There's more retro on 'Hybrid Funk' – a kind of SOS Band pastiche while the aptly titled 'Nostalgia' offers a twist on the Warren G style of rapping from Capitol A while vocalist Leona Berlin does some great wailing behind his rhymes.

Elsewhere? Well, expect plenty of bumpy broken beaters that are musical grooves rather than proper "tunes". The most-focused of the cuts is the housified 'IO'. Leona Berlin, again, supplies a suitably soulful vocal - riding on a loping bass line. It could well interest the soulful house heads who don't mind the electro effects... and for me that's the big problem with the album. Old fashioned curmudgeon that I am, I've never been happy with the shotgun marriage of soul and electro.... but, hey.... what do I know!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 20:27

 

GEORGE BENSON: ‘The Ultimate Collection - Deluxe Edition’ (Rhino)

Sunday, 22 February 2015 16:14 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

BensonHot on the heels of George Benson's illuminating and enjoyable literary self-portrait published at the end of last year ('Benson: The Biography') comes this likeable if less-than-comprehensive overview of his musical exploits. This is the expanded deluxe version, which boasts an extra disc focusing on duets and lesser known and hard-to-find recordings. Even so, its title is something of a misnomer and it certainly doesn't span the entirety of the guitarist/singer's career, which began when he cut a single for RCA as 'Little Georgie' in the '50s - disappointingly, there's only one cut from Benson's pre-Warner years and that's his version of Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' recorded for Creed Taylor's CTI imprint in the early '70s. In its defence, though, this compilation has most of the obvious key cuts from Benson's incredibly successful tenure with Warner's and WEA-associated labels in the '70s, '80s and '90s.

'This Masquerade' was his breakthrough vocal track that helped propel him to international stardom in '75 along with the svelte-jazz-funk instrumental, 'Breezin'.' Both are mandatory inclusions, of course, on any Benson anthology and are presented here alongside some great Quincy Jones-produced cuts from 1980 - the brilliant 'Give Me The Night,' and 'Love X Love' - as well as more of his signature songs such as 'On Broadway,' 'Lady Love Me One More Time,' 'Love Ballad,' and 'The Greatest Love Of All.'  While CD 1 covers familiar ground, CD2 gives us a sprinkling of more hits ('Shiver,' '20/20' and 'In Your Eyes') and is bolstered with duets that Benson recorded with Patti Austin, Aretha Franklin (the tremendous 'Love All The Hurt Away'), Al Jarreau and Jill Scott (from one of his more recent albums), and Idina Menzel. There's a bona fide rarity in the shape of the long version of 'Love Will Come Again,' a duet with the mighty Chaka Khan from '83 which was only previously available on cassette.

George Benson wasn't the first technically-gifted jazz instrumentalist to successfully reinvent himself as a pop star (Louis Armstrong and Nat 'King' Cole beat him to it) but this compilation reaffirms that the Pittsburgh singer/guitarist possessed a singular talent as well as a remarkable ability in being able to crossover from the jazz to the pop world without seriously compromising his artistic integrity.

(CW) 4/5

 

LAWSON ROLLINS; Traveler (Infinita)

Sunday, 15 February 2015 20:39 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

laLawson Rollins is an American smooth jazz acoustic guitarist and 'Traveler' is his fifth solo album. The aim of the 12 tracker is to give listeners a flavour of the places that Rollins has visited – as a "traveller" rather than a tourist. (By the way, the single L spelling of "traveller" is how it appears on the album... there has to be a reason, I guess)

Be that as it may, our global journey begins with an African flavoured 'Traveler' before we're off to Spain ('Barcelona Express' and 'Meeting In Madrid'), France ('Cafe Paris'). Germany ('Berlin Bossa') and windswept England ('Across The Moors'). In between we call at Louisiana ('Beyond The Bayou') and California ('Marching West'). Our trip then ends with a trio of tunes that try to encapsulate the mysteries and enigmas of city life... ancient and modern.

An ambitious project and one that would cost a lot in both time and money! Here you can take the trip without leaving home and whether Rollins delivers will depend on if you've visited any of the places and what kind of memories you have. From my perspective, living in the North of England, the guitarist does get near to conjuring up the melancholic nature of the moors and fells of my North with his lugubrious 'Across The Moors'. I'm also pleased to say that having spent a lot of time in Paris his 'Café Paris'(with some crazy violin) does offer some of the flavour of cafe society – if a little stylised.

Helping Lawson take his trip are many of his usual crew - Dominic Camardella (keys), Dave Bryant (drums), Randy Tico (bass), Cameron Stone (cello) and Charlie Bisharat and Mads Toling (strings). Find out more about the album @ www.LawsonRollins.com

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 February 2015 20:45

 

AARON PARNELL BROWN: The Tin Man (www.aaronparnellbrown.com)

Friday, 13 February 2015 19:44 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

Aaron_Parnell_Brown_-_The_Tin_Man_-_Cover_ArtQuietly, without fuss or fanfare, Aaron Parnell Brown's 'The Tin Man' has been making waves with soul's tastemakers and it's easy to hear why. The nine track long player is redolent of some of soul's greats – Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, John Legend and cult hero Frank McComb amongst them. In essence the set is what proper, song-driven modern soul music should be all about.

The album is the Philly singer/songwriter's second collection. His first album, 'Sing', went out with the credit, "Aaron And The Spell" but now under his own moniker, 'The Tin Man' is set to justify the accolade he won just last year- 'Philadelphia Soul Artist Of The Year'.

The album's lead track 'Just Leave' sums up where Mr Brown's coming from. It's a subtle, shifting multi-layered song with thoughtfully romantic lyrics and committed vocal. It's different to anything that Marvin Gaye crafted but it has the same ethereal, other-worldly feeling that Gaye achieved in his pomp. And like the best of Marvin's work, it's intensely personal yet each and every listener will be easily able to identify with the sentiments.

'The Tin Man' offers plenty of other highlights.'Everlasting Light' takes us right back to church; 'I Believe In You' is a light, insidious soul shuffle; 'Leave The Light On' features sweet interplay between an acoustic guitar and Aaron's understated vocal; 'Can't Stop' is a bluesy, old school ballad; 'Changes' is ultra catchy yet very gentle; while 'Somewhere Around' is a complex, lazy jazz meander.

Aaron will be officllay self-releasing this album in May but in the meantime we're told he's looking for a big label to get involved in the project. Most big labels are sadly notoriously conservative. They don't like to take chances. In my book they wouldn't be taking too many chances here. How many labels, for instance would love to have someone like John Legend on their roster? Well in Aaron Parnell Brown they could have one.... grab a listen here to songs like 'Bleed Me Dry' or 'We All Fall In Love Sometimes' and you'll hear two of the best songs that Mr Legend never recorded. Don't misunderstand me though. Aaron Parnell Brown is no John Legend impersonator; rather, like John, Aaron offers committed music in a thoroughly contemporary soul setting... innovative, intriguing and infectious.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 February 2015 17:33

 

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