DJ SPINNA AND OTHERS; The Sound Beyond Stars (bbe)

Friday, 23 January 2015 19:49 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

djsDJ Spinna (Vincent Williams to those who know him intimately) is a music biz veteran whose production and mixes have crossed all kinds of genre boundaries. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 80s, young Vince assimilated all kinds of musical influences – disco, soul, Caribbean, hip-hop, funk, Latin and much more. As a DJ, he quickly earned his spurs on the hip hop scene – playing out and as part of the Jigmastas production crew. However as the East Coast hip hop scene became more and more insular, Spinna turned to dance music.... a natural progression; after all he'd been a regular at the Paradise Garage and revered spinners like Larry Levan. Soulful house, therefore, became his music of choice and this new 2 CD, 18 tracker brings together for the first time the very best of Mr. Williams' work in the genre.

The two tunes that really did for Spinna are featured. They're the two Shaun Escoffery songs – 'Days Like This' and 'Space Rider'. Both became worldwide anthems and they retain the instant hit that made them such. Amongst the other goodies are our man's tweak on Bah Samba's 'Moonlight', Goapele's 'Closer' and Stephanie Cooke's 'If I Have To Change'.

Spinna is also big and confident enough to also tackle the work of his contemporaries in the field. So here you can enjoy what he does to cuts from Louie Vega ('A Better day'), Kerri Chandler ('You Can't Lie') and Ralf Gum ('Little W 12th Street').

Whatever he worked on, however, DJ Spinna's music is always built on a solid chassis of urgent, insistent beats wrapped around with subtle chord changes, catchy melodies and soulful grooves – testifying to his musical education on the streets of NYC.

'The Sound Beyond The Stars' is now officially available via bbe Records and comes digitally, as a double CD and in a vinyl version too. Spen, by the way has a brand new album too. It's called 'Transitions' and you'll find a full review in our archive.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 24 January 2015 16:04


MORGAN JAMES; Hunter (Sony)

Friday, 23 January 2015 19:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

MORGAN_JAMES-_HUNTER_HRWhen Berry Gordy recommends a singer, it's probably worth taking notice. The newest singer to win the Motown mogul's approbation is New York based singer/songwriter Morgan James who debuts here with a 14 tracker simply called 'Hunter'. James, though, is no newcomer to the business. She started out in musical theatre and has featured on Broadway in shows like 'The Addams Family', 'Wonderland', 'Godspell' and – more tellingly - 'Motown- The Musical', in which she played Teena Marie. It was that role that brought her to Gordy's attention and he warmingly described her as "a multi-talented performer... a pure delight...she can do it all". With that sort of testimonial it wasn't long before the labels came a–knocking with Morgan eventually signing with Epic/Sony and 'Hunter' is the first fruit of the partnership.

Standout soul track on the album is a remarkable cover of Prince's 'Call My Name'. Ms. James takes few liberties with it. She keeps thing simple – cranking up the song's latent drama. But what makes the cut so special is the voice. At one time both powerful and tender, it will remind soul connoisseurs of the late, and yes, great Teena Marie... little wonder that James was outstanding in that role in the Motown tribute show.

The album offers two more covers – retreads of Bruce Springsteen's 'Dancing In The Dark' and Hall and Oates' 'She's Gone'. The Boss song is stripped own and slowed down and the treatment is hugely successful while 'She's Gone' receives a "traditional" treatment. It's a great song anyway and it would be hard to make a mess of it. The choice of covers though is significant and, I think, highlights the conundrum that faces Ms. James. It seems that she and her people can't decide whether she's to be an AOR artist à la Springsteen, a blue eyed soulstrees in the mode of H&O or indeed something quite different and that's reflected throughout the rest of the long player.

Musically there are all kinds of flavours here. 'Bring Yourself To Me' is a bright, breezy pop outing; 'Drown' is a country rock rumble; 'Fed Up On You' is the attempt to create a kind of Motown/Northern soul feel; 'Heart Shake' is a stomper that channels the Amy Winehouse/Daptone thing. Add to those a catchy title track and a number of dramatic ballads that offer varied levels of intensity (one, 'Let Me Keep You' features a Robert Glasper cameo) and you have a varied album that's hard to pigeon-hole. What brings the unity is the singer's powerhouse voice that, I'm sure, had no problems carrying all the way to the gods in those cavernous Broadway theatres and once Morgan James decides exactly what she wants to be then we'll have a major force on our hands.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 23 January 2015 19:58


JEANINE; Thank You (Sorority Records)

Tuesday, 20 January 2015 19:52 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

jeanine3Jeanine (Smith) is a soul songstress from Chicago. Publicity-wise, she's a woman of few words. She says most of her energy goes into her writing and performing and not publicising herself. So what we hear is what we get and what we get is a quirky take on contemporary R&B and soul with a dash of pop and a garnish of hip-hop. CV wise we know that Jeanine's music has been featured on 'America's Next Top Model' and the Tyra Banks Show while she's worked with Anthony Hamilton on his 'Comin' From Where I'm From' long player. I guess what attracted the producers of those shows and Mr. Hamilton to Jeanine was her particular and unique voice that at times combines the edge of Macy Gray and the mannerisms of Erykah Badu.

Hear it at its best on the album's opener – a brisk, strutting 'California Part 2' which has a great old school feel to it, particularly on the harmonies. 'Baby Come And Get It' is the album's other "big" tune. Bright and brash with tight beats, the more adventurous of the modern soul crew could do worse than investigate it and that 'California' tune.

The simpler 'Last Ditch Effort' is another album highlight. It's a sweet thing with a hint of the Laura Nyro's about the melody and the harmonies. Elsewhere there's a selection of contemporary R&B rumbles – like 'Wake Up Song', 'Rather Be With You', 'Lake Minnetonka' and the latest single, 'Runnin'' which is right on the current street R&B vibe. The album's ballad moment is 'Babe It Ain't Over' – an insistent little grower.

Jeanine's 'Thank You' is currently available via CD Baby.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 19:57


THE MIKE COTTON SOUND; The Mike Cotton Sound (RPM)

Sunday, 18 January 2015 14:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

mcReaders of a certain vintage will have fond memories of the Mike Cotton Sound. Founded in the late fifties by trumpeter, Cotton, they started out as a trad jazz band but by the early 60s they'd morphed into a brassy, tight and punchy soul and R&B combo. Along with bands like Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Herbie Goins and the Nightimers, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, The Fix and the Almost Blues they gigged all over the country offering soul starved mods a live version of the music they loved but were deprived of because of archaic musicians' union regulations and limited radio airplay. By the mid 60s they were considered so good that they became the backing band of choice for visiting US soul stars like Sugar Pie DeSanto, Doris Troy, Stevie Wonder, the 4 Tops and Solomon Burke.

Popularity on the live circuit brought them a succession of record contracts (with Columbia, Polydor, Pye and MGM) but none of their 8 singles bothered the charts while their sole long player languished too, but ,as is the way with these things, it's now hugely collectable and frighteningly expensive to buy (if you could find one, that is!)

This new RPM CD, thankfully, saves collectors that expense by conveniently bringing together all of the Mike Cotton Sound's 60s output and the 27 track set is a wonderful, memory-jerking time piece. The core of the retrospective is the band's eponymous LP. The music on the album was essentially what the band offered on their live shows and is a mix of covers and band originals that ape the soul and jazz sounds coming from the States in '63/'64. Amongst the covers there's spirited versions of 'Watermelon Man', 'Night Train' and 'Poison Ivy'. Then there's the singles. Most impressive is a cover of Bob and Earl's 'Harlem Shuffle' with vocals from ex US air force man Bruce McPherson Lucas. Known simply as "Lucas", he was brought in to give the group a more authentic sound (interestingly, they'd earlier auditioned and rejected someone called Joe Cocker!). Lucas is upfront too on a great version of Tony Clarke's 'Ain't Love Good Ain't Love Proud' while those who like things a little mellower should try the lovely lilting 'Make Up Your Mind'. You also get the group's version 'Soul Serenade' which Mike Raven used as the theme to his Radio 1 soul show.

Sadly without commercial success, in 1969, the Mike Cotton Sound found a gig as backing band to Mary Hopkin, and then changed their name to Satisfaction and also changed musical tack towards a more progressive sound. When Satisfaction folded, Cotton went back to trad jazz, joining Acker Bilk's band. He stayed with the clarinettist till 1991 going on to work sessions and he still performs with a band called The Stars Of British Jazz. They probably don't play any of the songs on this album but Mike can be justifiably proud of his contribution to the British soul scene.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 January 2015 14:47


VARIOUS: Luxury Soul 2015 (Expansion)

Friday, 16 January 2015 16:23 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

Luxury_Soul_2015_Cover_3Each year Expansion Records issues two state of play modern soul compilations. Year end sees the eagerly-awaited 'Soul Togetherness' set while January welcomes 'Luxury Soul' – a retrospective of all that was good in the modern soul world the previous year and a tie in with the sell-out annual bash at the Blackpool Hilton.

Our spies at Blackpool tell us that the event was as successful as ever with the resident DJs playing out the very best modern, smooth and sophisticated soul. Naturally, the 3 CD, 35 track accompanying album reflects the quality of their playlists.

Most of 2014's big modern soul tunes are included – notably the pairing from the DSG label.... Soulutions' 'Philly Line' and Neo's 'Your Smile'. There's also plenty from the Expansion stable too – stuff like Muzart's 'Move (Yeh, Yeh)', Tyrone Lee's 'What Took You So Long' and Shirley Jones' comeback track, 'Because You Love Me'. Music too from some US big hitters like Calvin Richardson, Eric Roberson, Jarrod Lawson and Angela Johnson while it's good to have Shaun Escoffery in the mix too.

As ever the collection offers a smattering of older material like Keni Burke's 'Indigenous Love' - taken from his 1998 'Nothin' But Love' album and the delicious 'Dondi' from Brazilian star Ed Motta. You also get some album exclusives, notably the pacey insistent dancer 'You' from Soultalk featuring the vocals of Gary Poole.

Highlights? Well it would be foolish to cherry pick... like Mr Gump's fabled box of chox everyone will have their own favourites, but we keep coming back to the cover of Mystic Merlin's 'Just Can't Give You' from the Diplomats of Soul with Noel McKoy on vocals and Marc Staggers' 'It's All About You', a sad reminder of just how fabulous a certain Luther Vandross was.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 16 January 2015 16:30


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