Reviews

KARYN WHITE: 'Karyn White' (bbr)

Friday, 02 December 2016 15:19 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Church-reared Los Angeles singer, Karyn White, was just 23 when she released this, the first of three albums for Warner Bros, in 1988. She was already on the radar of some soul fans due to her presence on fusion keyboardist Jeff Lorber's 'Private Passion' album two years earlier but really came into her own on this, her nine-track debut, which hooked her up with rising R&B producers, Babyface and LA Reid, whose infectious, hook-laden songs and slick, mechanised production values were beginning to have a seismic impact on the US R&B scene.

Now reissued with an additional disc of bonus tracks, 'Karyn White' is a quintessential slice of '80s R&B whose sound is defined by crashing, programmed drum beats, sequenced rhythm tracks and glacial synthesizer parts. It's because of these very qualities that some '80s R&B and soul albums haven't stood the test of time very well but thankfully, White's debut platter is redeemed by good material, especially in terms of its ballads, which outshine the dance-oriented songs that rely too much on computerized technology. The best of the slower songs are the poignant yet empowering anthem, 'Superwoman' - where White was able to stretch out vocally and show how talented she was - and the sweetly seductive duet with Babyface, 'Love Saw It.'  The mid-tempo 'Slow Down' - helmed by Brit, Steve Harvey - is also appealing but ironically, White's biggest-selling US single, 'Secret Rendezvous,' sounds a tad dated now as a result of LA & Babyface's brash, and somewhat plastic production sound (though it was considered state of the art back in 1988). White's debut single, the euphoric dancer, 'The Way You Love Me,' another LA & Babyface confection, has lasted better, perhaps because of its more exuberant vibe, chanted chorus and Latin percussion break.

Appended to the original album are a slew of bonus cuts, including a couple of single B-sides, both written and produced by the estimable Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers (whose latest protégé is Kandace Springs). Though they, too, are heavily indebted to late-'80s music technology, they stand up better than some of LA Reid & Babyface cuts from White's debut album.  'Love On The Line' is a solid dance groove with a fat bass, funky keys and dynamic vocal performance from White while 'Language Of Love' is a more spacious groove but still packs a punch with its System-esque feel. Just as engaging are three cuts that White recorded with Jeff Lorber, which includes the super-catchy 'Facts Of Love' (another fine Sturken/Rogers tune) which sounds better than all of the uptempo tracks combined from her solo debut LP. Another Lorber cut, 'Back In Love,' a duet featuring White and Michael Jeffries, also stands up well after almost thirty years.

A second disc is packed with a plethora of remixes (twelve in all) of both White solo tracks and Jeff Lorber tracks, including the 'Actuality Mix' of 'The Facts Of Love' and a superior version of 'The Way You Love Me' housed-up by Paul Simpson.  Accompanying the music are detailed liner notes, including new interviews with White, Lorber and Darryl Simmons, which help to make this a worthwhile, value-for-money, package.

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 02 December 2016 15:23

 

GLADYS KNIGHT: Miss Gladys Knight/Gladys Knight (SoulMusic Records)

Friday, 02 December 2016 12:22 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altAs my esteemed SJF colleague Charles Waring points out in his excellent sleeve notes to this new SoulMusic Records twofer, the late 70s were a troublesome and turbulent time for Gladys Knight and, by extension, her faithful, family backing singers, The Pips.

In 1973 Gladys, brother Bubba and cousins Edward Patten and William Guest left Motown to join Buddah. There they almost immediately enjoyed some of the biggest success of their already garlanded career. Records like 'Midnight Train To Georgia' and 'The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me' turned Gladys Knight and her Pips into major crossover stars at home and across the globe.

By 1978, though, the hits has started to dry up and Buddah entered a complex financial downturn. Takeovers, stock sales and buy outs left the label in dire straits and sensing this, Ms Knight and the boys made plans to leave and join Columbia Records. Simultaneously complex law suits were launched by, it seems, everybody with an interest in Buddah... including Gladys and the Pips. As is the way with corporate America, the litigation went on and on and record making was put on hold for "Gladys Knight and the Pips". However, contractually at any rate, "Gladys Knight" was a different entity and in those circumstances she, reluctantly, worked on her first solo album. Thus 'Miss Gladys Knight' was released on Buddah in 1978.

The album has just won reissue on SoulMusic Records. Musically, it's a classic Gladys Knight album. That's to say a warming mix of driving up-tempo cuts and heart-rending ballads all delivered in the Atlanta-born singer's distinct, gospel-infused style. All that's missing (obviously) from her previous work are the bvs of the Pips.... replaced by a femme chorus. My pick on the set is 'I'm Still Caught Up With You'.... one of those cuts that makes you realise why Gladys Knight is regarded as one of the pre-eminent soul divas.

By the time the album was released Ms Knight had left Buddah and she was already working on a début set for Columbia. Simply titled 'Gladys Knight' that long player was released in 1979 and it forms the second part of this twofer release. Again the transition between labels made no distinct musical changes... the sound of the eponymous collection follows where the previous album left off. Highlights? Well, that's a personal thing. My picks are the lilting 'If You Ever Need Somebody' and a dramatic reading of 'I Who have Nothing' where the moody, shifting rhythms echo Gladys' early 60s hit, 'Giving Up'.

Given the circumstances of the releases, the similar titling and the fact that Buddah issued a Gladys Knight and the Pips album at about the same time, the two solo sets meant very little despite their quality. Soul fans I'm sure, will be delighted to have them easily accessible again and to make said fans even happier the release comes with lots of bonuses. Amongst them are four outtakes from the 'Gladys Knight' sessions. These include a lovely version of the standard 'For All We Know'. Gladys's reading of the song is, as you'd expect, right up there with the best!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 02 December 2016 12:29

 

VARIOUS; Super Duper Love (Kent)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016 14:16 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Super Duper Love' is Ace/Kent's latest look at the back catalogue of New York indie label Mainstream and its various offshoots. Mainstream was founded in 1964 by jazz guitarist Bob Shad but prior to that Shad had been a jazz session musician who'd also produced numerous indie jazz recordings and worked over the years for the Mercury and Decca labels as well as fronting his own imprints (like Shad, Time and Brent). He intended Mainstream to be a jazz label, but market place pressures meant that he ended up recording and releasing pop, rock and, of, course, soul and here we can enjoy 24 classy and collectable soul outings.

Shad's reputation in the biz meant that he managed to tempt some big(ish) names to record for him. Amongst the artists on this collection who had a measure of form are Lenny Welch, Freddie Scott, Doris Duke and The Dramatics. This set of Dramatics featured original Detroit group members Lenny Mayes and William Howard and their tune is a sweet yet gritty, ballad 'Feel It'. It was the B side to 'No Rebate On Love' (featured on Kent's last Mainstream collection) and features those typical Dramatic "switched" lead vocals. It seems that the "the other Dramatics" (Ron Banks et al) aimed some kind of action at Mayes and Howard, 'cos for their next single the Mainstream "Dramatics" changed their name to "The Dramatic Experience"! And whist we're unravelling Dramatics trivia, we need to tell you that this collection features a lovely, 'Just In The Nick Of Time' from Chocolate Syrup, who, of course, at one time featured L J Reynolds (a sometime Dramatic!)

On 'Super Duper Love' there are lots more sweet harmony items .... Special Delivery's 'The Lonely One', 'Then I Reach Satisfaction' from the Eleventh Commandment and 'Success Don't Come Easy' from the Steptones amongst them.

There are plenty of different favours to enjoy too... like Afrique's funky version of 'Soul Makosa', Sandra Phillips's steamy 'I Need You Back Home' and plenty of great soul crooning. Pick of that last bunch for me is J G Lewis's 'Let The Music Play' ... a hybrid of Jerry Butler and Lou Rawls! The album's title cut, by the way, is from Sugar Billy and the tune, 'Super Duper Love', was, of course, eventually covered by Joss Stone. Like everything here, the Sugar Billy cut is appearing on UK CD for the very first time.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 November 2016 14:30

 

VINCE MONTANA JR; Goody Goody (bbr)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 20:11 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altVibraphonist and percussionist, Vince Montana Jr is one of the great architects of the Philly soul and disco sound. Born in South Philadelphia, his music career began on the jazz club circuit where he played with the likes of Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, and Clifford Brown. In the mid 50s he returned to Philadelphia and helped Joe Tarisa set up the Sigma Sound studio where he soon began working on sessions with Gamble and Huff, eventually playing on countless Philly classics.

For reasons never best explained Montana fell out with the duo and joining the Cayre Brothers, he helped set up Salsoul Records... and outlet for, amongst others, the Salsoul Orchestra whose six albums were helmed by the vibes man. In 1978 he left Salsoul for Atlantic where he launched another studio band, Goody Goody, who were fronted on vocals by his daughter Denise.

That eponymous band's hard-to-find, collectable 1978 LP has just won reissue via bbr. Given the date and Montana's pedigree you can probably guess the album's signature sound... yep, bob on.... it's disco, disco all the way! And sadly from a soul perspective it's lightweight disco at that. Somebody once called it "Love Boat" music and if you remember that dire US TV series you'll understand where he's coming from.

The album/band's title cut is a frothy, light rendition of the old jazz standard and daughter Denise warbles politely through the lyrics but it's pure pop dance for the bourgeoisie. And that could just about describe everything here. What just about saves things are the clever arrangements and the odd sparkling Montana vibes solo.

As with most modern reissues you get the original album along with a set of bonuses. Here, it's remixes of the album singles '#1Dee Jay', 'Super Jock' and 'It Looks Like Love'.

Vince and Denise made one more LP for Atlantic, 'Montana'. It featured a great version of 'I Love Music'.... head and shoulders above everything here!

(BB) 2/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 November 2016 20:19

 

DAPAUL: London Town (Adassa)

Thursday, 24 November 2016 11:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altDaPaul (David Philips) is a London-based singer whose musical roots are in gospel music but in the 1990s he moved onto the secular circuit and was soon in demand as a session singer working with people like Eternal, Cleopatra, Alex O'Neal, Jhelisa, Kloud 9 and Gabrielle. Back in 2013 he created a name for himself in his own right with his debut solo album, 'Soulful Spirit'. From the long player, 'She's So Entertaining' became a favourite right across the best soul radio stations while the more up-tempo 'Let Me Go' saw plenty of dance floor action on the modern soul scene.

Since then DaPaul's been busy working on his second album and, just in time for the Christmas present rush, it's won release. The new 12 tracker begins where 2013's 'Soulful Spirit' left off. That's to say musically it's a thoroughly contemporary soul affair while lyrically DaPaul's songs explore the issues that mean the most to him... his family, his friends, his musical heroes, his role models, his faith and, of course, his home town... London. And that's exactly where the album begins. The set's title track (you may already know it from its single release) is a heartfelt homage to the city that DaPaul knows and loves. Like the old Light of the World song of the same name it's full of optimism and pride in the great old city's diversity.

Musically, it's a sprightly beater and there's more of the same on 'In The Sun' and 'The Way I Do'. That last one is a duet with Korin Deanna and the cut kind of evokes the positivity of those great Marvin and Tammi duets.

Real album highlights, however, come midway through the set with 'More Than We See' and 'Family'. The former is a jazzy meander with some lovely, gentle piano from DaPaul himself. Thoughtful lyrics too; "We're always caught up with the visual...attracted to the look of the physical... aesthetically pleasing emotions, our feelings. Life is more than we see". The title of the latter, I guess, is self-explanatory but, especially, at this time of year, it's no bad thing to underline the importance of family.

Elsewhere, 'The Sweetest Time' is DaPaul's homage to Prince and Muhammad Ali, while 'He's Real' harks back to the singer's gospel roots.

As a bonus, the album offers a remastered version of 2013's 'She' So Entertaining' and a special "Christmas mix" of 'London Town' which is a lovely snapshot of an urban Christmas, though I don't know where hot cross buns come in!

That aside, DaPaul's 'London Town' album confirms his position as one of the UK's best indie soul singer/songwriters and if you're looking for something a little bit different but still soulful for those Christmas stockings, this comes recommended.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 November 2016 11:49

 

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