Reviews

VARIOUS; Soul Togetherness 2014 (Expansion)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014 15:46 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

SRT14Expansion's annual 'Soul Togetherness' compilation is one of the year's most anticipated releases and this year's edition justifies all that anticipation. The 2014 15 tracker – like all the previous sets – is stuffed with the classiest of classy modern soul and (continuing a recent trend) also includes a smattering of tasty soulful house cuts.

Interestingly three of this year's 'Togetherness' tunes come in their Soul Talk remixes. In their original incarnations Paul Johnson's 'Better Than This' , Lisa Stansfield's 'So Be It' and Glen Goldsmith's 'London Skies' were great records and would have made the 'Togetherness' cut anyway, but the Soul Talk tweaks take them to a whole new level and it's impossible to pick which one is the best. The Drizabone team have one of their mixes in the collection too. It's their delightful makeover of Soulution's 'Listen'. This has been one of the year's hottest tunes and its still sounds good and vital too. (The duo's album's on the way, by the way).

Other fab tunes on the set include Tracey Hamlin's cover of 'Never Too Much', Noel Gourdin's 'No Worries', J Holiday's 'Thinkin About You' and Garcia/Vince Durrell's more laid back 'Prayin' For Rain'. As ever Mr. Tee drops a classic oldie into the mix. This year's selection is Linda Clifford's 1979 'I Can't Let This Good Thing Get Away'. The Curtis Mayfield protégé is in her usual fine form and the tune features one of those lovely rolling bass lines that were always a feature of Ms Clifford's best.

Then there's the soulful house choices – The Company's 'Superstar' (in its Reel People mix) and 'Ready For Your Love' from Neil Pierce with a searing vocal from Vanessa Freeman. Both are sophisticated, irresistible dancers with delicious bass lines and point the way to a possible new direction for modern soul. Whatever, their inclusion, the quality of the straight soul tunes and the ability of remix teams to discover new ideas proves that modern soul is truly alive and well and "together"!

(BB) 4/5

 

THE ORIGINALS: Down To Love Town (bbr)

Monday, 15 September 2014 19:00 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

originalsThe Originals are responsible for one of soul's most sublime moments. In 1969, under the tutelage of one Marvin Gaye, they cut 'Baby I'm For Real' – one of soul's greatest harmony ballads and this most sensual of tunes catapulted the Motown second stringers into the limelight. But for all kinds of reasons, the group failed to consolidate on that success. Singles like 'The Bells' and 'We Can Make It Baby', though reasonably successful , never got them into the Soul Premier League, but the Originals kept on trying and a succession of albums ('Portrait Of The Originals', 'California Sunset' and 'Communiqué') kept their loyal fan base content without raising their profile into the mainstream.

So in 1977 the Originals hitched their star to the bandwagon called disco and released the 'Down To Love Town' album. Aimed straight at the glitter ball confraternity, the set's just won reissue on the Cherry Red imprint, bbr, and it's very much a timepiece. Tunes like 'Hurry Up And Wait', 'You're A Blessing To Me',' Six Million Dollar Man', 'Been Decided' and the LP's title tune are classic disco era artefacts. Sure, they're classier and grittier than lots of contemporary disco dancers and the title song went to #1 on the disco chart (it also attained a decent #47 on the pop charts).

Much, much better (soul wise at least) are the set's two slowies – 'Mother Nature's Best' and 'Sunrise'. On both, the foursome do what they always did best – sing with a conviction, swopping leads and drenching everything in remarkable vocal harmonies. Great stuff.

Oddly (and some might say niggardly) this reissue comes with just one bonus track – an alternative (shorter) version of 'Down To Love Town'. Its inclusion makes the reissue's tracks number a mere 8, probably limiting investigation to the serious group collectors.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 15 September 2014 19:08

 

JARROD LAWSON; Jarrod Lawson (Dome)

Friday, 12 September 2014 16:13 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

jarrodOregon farm boy, Jarrod Lawson is being hailed as soul's "next big thing" and on the evidence of this debut, eponymous 12 tracker those musical prophets could well be right. Oddly maybe – given the hype – the long player hasn't totally taken off despite being available on import. Now with an official release on soul specialist Dome we can expect it to dominate soul tastes for the rest of the year. Why? Well, quite simply the album is a remarkably complete and accomplished piece of work, touching all aspects of the soul genre. Little wonder that in the States, on the back of the album, Lawson has shared stages with Ronnie Laws, Bilal and the Average White Band, while a certain Stevie Wonder picked our man to play out at his birthday party!

Though brought up in Oregon, Lawson also spent many of his formative years at his father's recording studio in California. There he not only explored his father's record collection (which was heavy on Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway) but he also learned drums and keyboards. From there he went on to explore other musical genres –everything from Chopin to Chick Corea and all those influences (and many more... The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Oscar Petersen, Joni Mitchell even Ravel) inform this album and they come together in the remarkable opening track, 'Music And Its Magical Way'. Sonically and lyrically, it's Jarrod Lawson's mission statement. The cut's jazzy, shifting rhythms are compelling and along with the multi-layered harmonies there is no alternative other than "to give in to the music"... a very strong opening.

The album finishes with the Stevie Wonder-ish 'Gotta Keep' and in between these poles there are countless delights. Amongst them 'Spiritual Eyes' – as ethereal and mystic as the title implies; the percussive Latin romp that is 'Sleepwalkers'; the gentle 'All That Surrounds' (is that Keni Burke's bass line in there?); and the ultra classy 'Think About Why'.

A highlight throughout is Lawson's piano playing. As a teenager he developed a near obsession with the instrument and he went on to study it classically, though, by his own omission, he hated the theory and really didn't learn to read music. For him, (and many of his heroes) it was less about the learning, and more about the feeling; and that's here in spades!

Jarrod Lawson will be touring in October to promote the album. The dates are; Ronnie Scott's, London Saturday 4th October (Two Shows); The Wardrobe, Leeds ,Tuesday 7th October ; Band on the Wall, Manchester, Thursday 9th October.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 12 September 2014 16:20

 

NEW STREET ADVENTURE; No Hard Feelings (Acid Jazz)

Friday, 12 September 2014 12:05 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

NSAThe Acid Jazz label refuses to give up! The latest release from the venerable UK label is 'No Hard Feelings' by London-based five piece, New Street Adventure. The quintet (Nick Corbin, vocals/guitar; Ashley Hayden, bass; Billy Farr, guitar; Charlie Myers, keys and Jeremy Paul, drums) all grew up in the indie rock era but preferred the soul sounds of icons like Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack and Smokey Robinson and the influence of all those maestros can be heard throughout this never-less-than-intriguing 13 tracker. However, New Street Adventure wisely, don't try to replicate the soul sounds of that golden era. What would be the point? There are any number of second rate tribute bands out there and 'No Hard Feelings' ain't no exercise in karaoke! Rather, what the group do is use classic soul (its rhythms, melodies, harmonies and changes) as a chassis on which to forge their own quite unique sound and here we go back to the band's formative years. You see, though the boys preferred soul, their music also shows the influence of UK bands like Squeeze and the Jam and though, yes, we should file 'No Hard Feelings' under "soul", the music is a very particular kind of soul... soul with a distinctive English sound; more specifically the sound of South East England. Add to that mix some gritty lyrics that offer plenty of social commentary and you have something that's quite different – quirky, irresistible and original.

Hear this special sound at its best on the opener, 'On Our Front Door Step'. This one's a loose, brassy soul saunter with a vocal that Paul Weller would be proud. He'd also, I'm sure, approve of the lyrics' social slant. The faster 'Be Somebody' has a hint of the Jam about it – but maybe the Jam doing Northern soul! 'She's An Attraction' has a Northern feel to it too, but again the vocal inflection places it in the Estuary (the Thames that is...not the Mississippi). 'The Big AC' is another pacey tune while the best ballads are the sparse 'Say You're Lonely' and the more dramatic 'Foolish Once More' which features a quite lovely melodic hook on the chorus. In truth some soul folk might baulk at the rocky riffing on 'Foot In The Door' but I guess we can excuse one aberration in the band's attempt to create something new, fresh and unique, 'cos that's exactly what they've done.

Radio tastemakers like Craig Charles, Gary Crowley and Robert Elms have already gotten into this band and if you're adventurous and like your soul fresh and quirky I'd urge you to do the same. Do so via the band's Facebook pages.

(BB) 4/5

 

ELIAH; Eliah (eliahsoul.com)

Tuesday, 09 September 2014 19:42 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

eliahBorn in Charlotte, North Carolina and raised on gospel, Eliah made his secular music debut in a group called Unique By Design, harmonising alongside someone called Anthony Hamilton. Decamping to New York, sweet-voiced Eliah , made a living singing BVs and sessions alongside all and everyone including one of his favourite groups, The Clark Sisters.

He returned to Charlotte to record this, his debut album – writing, arranging and producing all 12 songs himself and soul folk who've now discovered Gregory Porter could do worse than investigate here. Clearly Porter's success has inspired Eliah – a quick glance at the album art work (head gear and big beard) will confirm this and musically he channels a similar sound –though without the jazz licks and flourishes that have become one of Porter's calling cards. If you think of GP songs like 'No Love Dying' and 'Water Under Bridges' then that's the sound that  Eliah's aspiring to... though he's not quite got there yet. His sound lacks the intimate resonance of Gregory Porter, but it still has considerable charm – think of a cross between Will Downing and the aforementioned Anthony Hamilton (with just a dash of neo-nu soul maybe) and you'd be getting near to Elaih's sound.

Sample it at its best on 'Something' – a quite lovely, mid-tempo soul groove prefaced by a reflective spoken intro courtesy of someone who rejoices in the name Curtis Mayfeel. 'Hold On' is another album highlight. This one features a sweet keyboard riff and a pleasing melody while 'Ebony' stands out too if only for its simple guitar accompaniment. Will Downing fans, would, I'm sure do a double take on hearing 'Every Single Time' – could be a Downing outtake and one of many down tempo tunes on the set. And therein, I think, lies the problem with this long player. Everything it seems is stuck in the same gear and tracks tend to meld into each other. Few chances are taken and maybe it might have been worth having a stab at a tried and tested cover (remember what Porter did to 'The In Crowd'); that said our man's worked a decent debut and his name's worth remembering. Find out more @ www.eliahsoul.com

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 September 2014 19:56

 

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