Reviews

VARIOUS: Club Motown (Motown/Universal)

Friday, 25 July 2014 18:05 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

club_motownNo single record label has a more garlanded history than Berry Gordy's Motown Empire. Its legacy is phenomenal and its reputation is second to none. Interestingly, though, to casual music fans that legacy and reputation is based chiefly on the pioneering work that Gordy and his artists, producers and musicians crafted in the 60s and songs like 'My Guy', 'My Girl', 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine', 'Dancing In The Street' and countless others will forever remain absolute classics.

Motown's history, however, doesn't end in 1970. Indeed during the 70s the label released some of the most enduring soul ever committed to tape (Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder anybody?). Then as the 70s morphed into the 80s, Motown released dozens more classics that tapped into the spirit of that musical age... the spirit of the disco dance floor.

And now to underline that very point, the label has just released a remarkable new compilation on which Premier League DJ and mixer, John Morales works his considerable magic on a clutch of those Motown dance era gems.

Morales hasn't risen to the top on gimmickry and remixing pyrotechnics. Like the first great re-mixer, Tom Moulton, Morales only works with material for which he has huge respect and if you love and respect a tune, why try to significantly alter it? So he simply (yes, I know it's not really that "easy") extends and enhances the magic that was always there in the first place. He might stress a series of beats; he might enhance a harmonic passage; he might lengthen an important instrumental break ... whatever, he just magnifies the beauty that was already there.

Amongst the tunes given the Morales treatment are Dennis Edwards' 'Don't Look Any Further', The Mary Jane Girls' 'In My House', Rockwell's 'Somebody's Been Watching You', Diana Ross' 'The Boss' and Lionel Richie's 'All Night Long'. My particular favourites feature The Temptations. First up there's the epic 'Standing On Top'. This one originally appeared on the group's fabulous 'Reunion' LP (how about a CD reissue someone?) and features Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Glen Leonard and mainstays Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin. Some line-up! And if that's not enough Rick James lends a hand too! Then there's the smoother 'Treat Her Like A Lady', on which Ali Ollie Woodson proves he was every bit as good a lead voice as those aforementioned legends and Morales just allows his wonderful vocal to shine even more strongly .

That pair of Tempts' classics are just two of many standouts on the double CD, and if you're a vinyl head, you'll probably like to know that there's a double 12" pack featuring six of the cuts –the ones by the ladies – Teena Marie (2 tracks), Val Young, Diana Ross, and Tata Vega (2 tracks) .

Vinyl, CD or even digital... take your pick: Everyone's a winner!

(BB) 4/5

 

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: ‘Spirit’ (bbr)

Thursday, 24 July 2014 15:07 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

EWF_spiritEarth, Wind & Fire were already on a roll when this, their seventh album - and fifth for Columbia - was issued in 1976. Though it yielded some big hit singles - namely US R&B chart-topper 'Getaway' and 'Saturday Nite' - it's an album that tends to get overlooked in the band's canon; perhaps because the albums that were released before and after it were more successful in terms of sales ('Spirit' stalled at #2 in the US whereas '75's 'Gratitude' and '77's 'All 'N All' both spent several weeks at pole position in the American R&B albums chart). But it was a significant LP in that it was their last helmed by producer/arranger Charles Stepney, whom the band's leader, Maurice White, had known from his days as a session drummer at Chicago's Chess label. Stepney worked on the album as a co-producer with White but died aged 45 before it was released (the band understandably dedicated the album to him).

If Stepney's untimely death meant that EW&F had to move forward without the man that had guided them and had a crucial input on their approach to album-making since '74's 'Open Our Eyes,' then 'Spirit' showed that they were strong enough to stand on their own without their mentor. In short, they had come of age. They had already forged a unique sonic identity by the time that 'Spirit' had landed, melding funk, soul, jazz, Latin and African-inspired sounds into a seamless and homogenous whole.  Kicking off with the infectious turbo-charged funk of 'Getaway,' the album is a stunning showcase for the versatility of EW&F. As well as cosmic funk and hedonistic party anthems ('Saturday Nite'), there are celestial ballads - 'Imagination' fronted by Phillip Bailey's seraphic falsetto - deep mid-tempo grooves (the title track), atmospheric vignettes ('Departure'), and blistering jazz-funk instrumentals ('Biyo'). The excellent closer, 'Burnin' Bush,' with its biblical connotations and gospel undertones, is a groove-based feel-good anthem that is a close cousin to their '75 anthem, 'That's The Way Of The World.'

This fabulous new expanded reissue is bolstered with nine bonus cuts, ranging from alternative mixes and single versions to the more exciting prospect of non-album cuts ('Seraphim,' and 'African Symphony'). An album well worth revisiting.

(CW) 4/5

 

THE IMPELLERS; My Certainty (Legere)

Thursday, 24 July 2014 14:11 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

impleersThe Impellers are a Brighton-based 10 piece soul and funk band and 'My Certainty' is their third full album. Like their first two LPs, this one is stuffed with hard driving, brash and brassy funk – like the wild opener 'Veeber'. But this time around the set is top-heavy with vocals. Lead vocalist throughout is Clair Witcher, whose name is up there with the band's name in the main credits. They clearly think a lot about her and in fairness she has a strong, powerful voice – but (and I'm sure she'll admit it too) it's not in the same league as the true funk passion of people like Marva Whitney and Vicki Anderson.

She makes a brave fist of rolling funk tunes like the sparse 'I Don't Care' and the bassy 'The Routine'. Best of these big funk rumbles is the oddly titled 'Last Dance Of The Moai'. The Moai, it seems, are the big-headed Easter Island statues and this cut is a reworking of a tune from the band's first LP. The extra work they've put into the cut shows. Ms Witcher has more control here and she also shines on the ballads – notably the LP's title cut and the dramatic 60's throwback that is 'Can't Change'.

Elsewhere 'Ray McKay' is a decent Hammond-led jazz-soul workout while 'Sworn in Enemy' explores the same genre but in a much more disciplined way.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 15:30

 

MARCELL RUSSELL: The Serenade And The Sermon (CD Baby)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014 20:26 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

Marcell-Russell-Jacket-Cover_miniBaltimore-based Marcell Russell is one of America's biggest indie soul stars. In the business almost 20 years, he's chalked up countless awards and enjoys a sterling reputation amongst knowing soul connoisseurs who revere his remarkable 'Hopes Too High'. That one was recorded with his onetime group, The Truth, but for a year or two now our man's been treading a solo route and last year he released this remarkable double LP which is now being re-promoted on the back of higher US exposure (Marcell is currently starring in a Luther Vandross tribute) and an upcoming visit to the UK.

If 'The Serenade And The Sermon' sneaked under your soul radar last year, what did you miss? Well you missed out on a complex, intensely personal album which, to be honest, isn't an easy listen.... but then again, most serious concept album are difficult.

This one looks at relationships from two angles – and 'The Serenade' and 'The Sermon' deal with the two differing perspectives. The former is about what Mr. Russell describes as a "healthy relationship"... one in which the couple build their love on "divine principles". They start from a strong foundation and work to serve each other; the latter deals with the flip side – an "unhealthy relationship".... one based on recriminations and insecurities, where the two individuals see themselves as "victims". See what I mean about a difficult listen?

Musically Marcell primarily uses ballads to get his messages over and given the nature of that message the tunes tend to meld effortlessly into each other and no one cut really stands out, though the deployment of a number of guest contributors throws up a surprise or two. Rapper Messiah offers some decent rhymes on 'Love Vs Like' , Chanel Marie offers a distaff perspective on 'I Want His Babies' while Isaac Parham's sax makes 'You Bring Me Joy' a real highlight. What makes this one so special is, I think, that here Marcell concentrates more on the song than the message. Here, and indeed throughout, the vocal is superb, little wonder than critics have made comparison between Russell and people like Luther Vandross and Will Downing. Yes, he has that same kind of vocal presence and when the song's right the effect is stunning.

Find out more @ www.marcellrussell.com , while you can learn more about his upcoming UK shows @ www.hoochiecoochie.co.uk

(BB) 4/5

 

JOAO DONATO: ‘Piano Of Joao Donato - The New Sound Of Brazil’ (RCA/Sony)

Sunday, 20 July 2014 09:48 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Donato_RCAThe fallout from the bossa nova explosion that hit the USA like a tsunami in 1963 - largely initiated by Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd's 'Jazz Samba' LP and Astrud Gilberto's 'The Boy From Ipanema' single - was still being felt when then 31-year-old Rio Branco pianist Joao Donato de Oliveira Neto (to give him his full name) made this album, his North American debut, for RCA in 1965. Reissued, no doubt, to tie in with the interest in all things Brazilian stimulated by the recent World Cup, it turns out to be a lovely instrumental album of relaxed samba jazz spotlighting Donato's lean and percussive melodic lines over sinuous backing tracks. The real beauty of the album, though, is how Donato's conversational-style piano is framed by some lush - but not overpowering - strings by ace German arranger, Claus Ogerman, who during the same timeframe had created sonic magic for many of Donato's compatriots, including singer/songwriter, Antonio Carlos Jobim.

It's no surprise, then, that a couple of Jobim-scribed tunes - the classic 'How Insensitive' and 'Lost Hope' - appear on the album and they are tastefully retooled as delicate instrumentals that showcase Donato's innovative and successful melding of two musical languages: Brazilian bossa nova and American jazz. On this evidence, Donato - who's still alive and a year shy of his 80th birthday - was a key figure in laying the groundwork for later Brazilian pianists such as Tania Maria and Eliane Elias. The pianist submits six original tunes, including 'Amazonas' and 'Jungle Flower' and delivers some fine covers of the bossa classics 'O Barquinho,' 'Manha De Carnaval' and 'Samba De Orfeu.' With its laidback, easy listening flavour, it's hard to believe that this was hip, cutting edge stuff back in the mid-'60s but almost fifty years on, it still comes across as an incredibly cool, stylish collection - timeless, in fact.

(CW) 4/5

 

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