Reviews

CALVIN RICHARDSON; I Am Calvin (Primary Wave/Jordan House)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 15:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

calvinNorth Carolina's Calvin Richardson is often described as soul's almost man. Known as a naturally soulful singer (in the great tradition of his idol, the late Bobby Womack), Calvin débuted back in 1999 with the classic 'Country Boy' album which went on to sell over 100,000 units. Four more LPs followed including a heart-felt tribute to Bobby Womack but for reasons never fully explained they never managed to consolidate the impact of that defining debut set.

Maybe this new album might change things. For a start, it's enjoying the high profile promotion you'd expect from a release on Eric Benet's label; secondly, overall the 11 tracker is a more consistent piece of work than Calvin's other long players; thirdly, the soundscape of 'I Am Calvin' is right on the contemporary soul/R&B vibe... more Joe that Bobby Womack; and fourthly, loads of interest was created by the set's first single, the ultra infectious 'We Gon' Love'.

The good news is that 'We Gon' Love' isn't the only goodie on the album. 'Dark Side Of Love' is a great, chugging dancer; 'What Would I Do' has obvious and immediate appeal for those who espouse the modern soul cause; and 'More Than a Picture' is a wonderful mid-tempo groove which goes some way to explain why our Calvin dubs himself "Prince Soul". The album's killer cut though is 'Home In A Minute'. It's a subtle, little dance tune that builds and builds. Little wonder that it's already getting loads of rotation on the best soul stations and winning plenty of plays from discerning DJs. It makes a great up-tempo, optimistic ending to the album and it's in stark contrast to the opening track – a very sombre, simple ballad called 'Before This Moment Leaves'.

'I Am Calvin' also boasts a pair of decent covers. First up, Calvin shows his penchant for classic crooners by offering his take on Brook Benton's 'I'll Take Care Of You' while he jumps forwards a few decades for a stab at DeBarge's 'All This Love'. Lyrically, though neither would ever win the Pulitzer Prize, they're both head and shoulders above most of the lyrics on the new material. Sadly most descend into sexual stereotyping and get little further than extolling the virtues of bondage handcuffs. Maybe I'm old fashioned and as I said up top this is album is Calvin's attempt to get right into the contemporary market... so, I guess, good luck to him.

On another tack – my copy of the album featured a full 11 tracks; the liner only mentions 10. The "intruder" is a sensual little tune called 'Slow Job'. Though it's pleasant enough, it opens with the very questionable line, "Even when a woman says no, sometimes she really means yes. She just wants a little persuasion." C'mon Calvin, with a great soul voice like yours you can do better than that!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 15:18

 

LISA STANSFIELD; Seven + (Monkeynatra Records)

Sunday, 19 October 2014 20:22 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

lisaThe ever lovely Lisa Stansfield is enjoying a real renaissance at the moment. She's recently completed a sell-out tour, enjoyed high profile TV appearances and her Northern soul movie is about to hit a multiplex near you this very week! Oh, and let's not forget her wonderful album, 'Seven', which wowed critics and fans alike earlier in the year (our archive will get you access to a review and an exclusive interview with Ms S too).

The album was unusual because it appealed to what we might call your average music lover (and we don't mean that in any derogative way or mean to, imply that the album was "average") AND to proper soul fans who loved the dance floor potential of many of the album's cuts – so much so that many of the best soul remix teams retooled several of the tracks to give them extra special dance floor life... and each and every one of those remixes hit the spot with the connoisseurs.

However many of those remixes were limited editions – some only serviced to top DJs – and by implication hard to get hold of ... till now. You see, Lisa's people have wisely decided to reissue the 'Seven' album in a new de-luxe, extended 2 CD format which offers the original album on the first disc along with all those great remixes on CD 2.

In our review of the original LP we said that "the 10 tracker is a fabulous synthesis of everything that made us love Lisa back in the day.... energized dancers, feisty feminism and tender, tear-jerking ballads" and re-listening there's nothing that would make us change our minds. There's also the bonus of the inclusion of a track that didn't make the cut the first time around. Tune in question is the quite lovely 'There Goes My Heart' – a classic slice of Stansfield soul.

The second CD in the pack – masterfully put together by soul-man-about-town Steve Ripley – contains all those magic remixes and amongst the many highlights is the wonderful Soul Talk remix of 'So Be It'. The song in its original format was always one of the standouts on 'Seven' but Messrs McKone and Baker transform it into one of 2014's best modern soul dancers... its excellence testified by its inclusion on the year's definitive modern soul compilation, 'Soul Togetherness 2014'.

Other highlights include the two Cool Million remixes of that "new" song, 'There Goes My Heart' and Opolopo's synth-driven re-working of 'Picket Fence'. In fairness some soul folk might grimace at the more housiefied cuts (e.g. Moto Blanco' s edit of 'Can't Dance') but then again the house heads might not go for Andy Lewis's Northern flavoured re-tooling of the same song. But that's little Lisa for you – she offers something for everyone and does it with a real generosity of soul.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 October 2014 20:30

 

THE TEMPTATIONS; Hear To Tempt You/Bare Back (SoulMusic Records)

Friday, 17 October 2014 15:33 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

temptsThe Temptations are, of course, synonymous with Motown but in 1977, after a lean time, they quit the Gordy stable for the perceived fresher pastures of Atlantic. If the New York label had transformed Motown second stringers, the Spinners, into major stars... just think what they could do with the Tempts ... that seemed to be the thinking behind Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin's decision. For their part, Atlantic spared no expense on their big name signing and paired the veteran group with one of the then hottest production teams – Philadelphia's Baker, Harris and Young. It should have been a match made in heaven but the resulting album, 'Hear To Tempt You' was a patchy affair and the album bombed. The reasons are complex, I guess, but the nine tracker just didn't sound like the Temptations. Sure, the group were breaking in two comparatively new leads – Louis Price and Glenn Leonard – but the end result sounded more like a second rate Trammps album, or even something from fellow Philly outfit, Love Committee; it sure didn't sound like prime time Temptations.

Much head scratching followed and for the next album it was agreed to bring in fellow ex-Motowners Brian and Eddie Holland to produce. The result was the 9 track 'Bare Back' long player but with mediocre material, the Temptations once again struggled to find success and in 1980 the group returned to Motown where Berry Gordy took personal responsibility for their career.

That's the history, and now we can all reassess the music as David Nathan's SoulMusic records reissues both LPs on a one CD "twofer". 'Hear To Tempt You' is a Philly artefact – zipping disco numbers propelled by Young's drums leavened with lush ballads – one of which 'I Could Never Stop Loving You' is an oddity in that it features bass man Melvin Franklin on lead. 'Bare Back' is harder to pigeon-hole but its sound is very different – chiefly because the Hollands turned to ever dependable Richard Street for most of the leads and on the discofied 'Touch Me Again' he brings real passion to proceedings and for a few moments - on 'I See My Child' - there's those wonderful Tempts' harmonies – just a pity about the lyrics.

Notably none of the 18 songs over the two albums feature in the Temptations' classic canon (in the way that the Four Tops' ABC-Dunhill work does) and I guess all parties would choose to forget this period in their careers. Not that 'Hear To Tempt You' and 'Bare Back' are bad albums.. they're just not good Temptations' albums; but great to have them back in circulation if only for the collectors.

(BB) 3/5

 

PRINCE: ‘Art Official Age’ and ‘Plectrum Electrum’ (NPG/Warner Bros)

Friday, 17 October 2014 13:54 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

PrincePrince_3eyedgirlAn extravagant showman and prolific recording artist whose career has spanned five decades, the enigmatic Prince Rogers Nelson - now 56 and sporting a humongous Afro - has never done things by halves. It will come as little surprise, then, to his most devoted fans, that the diminutive Purple genius whose penchant for churning out new songs would exhaust the creativity of most other musicians has decided to serve up not one but two new long players. What is genuinely surprising, though, is that he's elected to join forces with Warner Bros, the label he famously fell out with in the early '90s (and who own the rights to the majority of his back catalogue though they've apparently given him back the rights to key '80s albums such as 'Purple Rain' and 'Sign O' The Times').

'Art Official Age,' is a Prince solo album proper while its counterpart, 'Plectrum Electrum,' is a rock guitar-oriented group affair attributed to Prince and his current backing band, the all-female 3rdeyegirl (the trio that accompanied the purple maestro on his recent 'Hit & Run' tour in the UK).

The former record is Prince's best album release for a while and vastly superior to the free albums ('Planet Earth' and '20Ten') that were given away with British tabloid newspapers a few years ago. Though the album's futuristic concept is largely unfathomable to this writer - it describes Prince being put into suspended animation and then revived 45 years later - what is clear is that it contains some of the best music he's done in years. The set's standout earworm is the brilliant 'The Gold Standard,' a funky, horn-laced ditty that has faint echoes of his classic '80s hit, 'Kiss.' The offbeat dance anthem, 'Funknroll,' also revives memoires of Prince's NPG days. 'Breakfast Can Wait' is another cool cut with a killer groove that could only have come from the pen of Prince while the ethereal 'Clouds' with its layered celestial harmonies and addictive funk undertow features an uncredited female vocalist. There are some great R&B ballads, too, in the shape of the dreamy, erotic 'U Know,' 'Time,' and 'This Could Be Us,' the latter complete with Prince's trademark screaming falsetto vocals.

By contrast, 'Plectrum Electrum' is a pure old school rock and roll record - one guy and three girls (Donna Grantis, Hannah Ford Welton, and Ida Nielsen) cranking up their amps all the way to eleven live onto analogue tape. The opener, 'Wow,' is a throbbing power ballad while the more muscular 'Pretzelbodylogic' is a mid-tempo groove that rides on a monolithic, granite-like guitar riff. The title cut is a sinewy blues-rock instrumental led by duelling guitars and a similar feel infuses the feisty blues-rocker, 'Aintturninround,' which is fronted by one of the girls. Respite from the relentless riffing is provided by the delightful, folk-tinged 'Whitecaps' with alluring female lead vocals, the delicate, gospel-influenced ballad, 'Stop This Train' and the playful 'Tictactoe.' The final cut on the album is 'Funknroll' - a song that also appears on 'Art Official Age' - though here it's deconstructed and given a stripped-down live band feel (and sounds all the better for it).

Though both albums have their virtues - and flaws - it's 'Art Official Age' that gets the thumbs up from this writer. It marks a return to form for Prince, an artist whose recorded output has often disappointed in recent years but who, judging from his new solo album, still remembers how to write a good tune or two.

(CW)  'Art Official Age' 4/5   'Plectrum Electrum' 3/5

 

RAUL MIDON: Don’t Hesitate (Artistry)

Friday, 17 October 2014 10:11 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

raulmidon-hesitateNew Mexico's Raul Midon is one half of a set of twins. Both boys were blinded at birth as a result of an incubator malfunction and, growing up, their Argentinean father used music as a therapy. He instilled his sons with a love of the folk music of his native country and the soul and jazz of his adopted home. Though his brother ended up working for NASA, Raul choose music as his career path and after taking up drumming he went on to master the guitar – and studied jazz at Miami University. On graduating he became a part of that city's vibrant music scene and even got to work with legends like Julio and Enrique Iglesias.

In 2002 Midon gravitated to New York and between playing solo bar gigs he also worked with Little Louie Vega which raised his NY profile considerably. Raul eventually attracted the attention of Arif Mardin and he debuted in 2005 with the criticality acclaimed album 'State Of Mind'. The LP announced the arrival of a unique artist whose music defies easy pigeon-holing. Pop any Raul Midon album into your I-tunes and it will class its genre as "R&B" and though there's a soulful undertow to everything Midon touches, his music isn't brash and braggardly contemporary R&B. There's an obvious jazz current running through his work and given his background and time in Miami, the Latin influences are obvious too. Then there are the subtle harmonics – evoking the sweetness of rock icons Crosby, Still and Nash while many of his melodies are sweet enough to grace the pop charts in the way that the songs of James Taylor did. Lyrically, though, Midon's themes and message are often complicated and controversial (for instance, on this album, he opens with a song that explores the sensitive issue of illegal Mexican immigration to the US). A complex artist, then whose music can't really be pinned down.... but maybe think Paul Simon meets Bill Withers with an instrumental garnish of Earl Klugh.

The Bill Withers reference, by the way, is pointed since the reclusive Withers offers a rare cameo appearance on this new Midon album. Bill duets with Raul on the gritty 'Mi Amigo Cubano' and it's an obvious album highlight. Other marquee names who feature on the LP are Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright. Ms Reeves features on the stark 'Make It Better' while Ms Wright is there on the gentler 'Keep Holding On'. Other album highlights include the despairing but lovely 'Was It Ever Really Love' and the layered 'God's Dream'. The album oddity (and the only cover) is a take on the Who's 'I Can See For Miles'. Its choice reveals the kind of irony that Midon has become known for and the perceptiveness of the songs on 'Don't Hesitate' show that our man can see for miles and miles... certainly further than many other artists.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 17 October 2014 10:22

 

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