Reviews

THE 360 BAND: 360 (i2)

Monday, 16 January 2017 14:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe Average White Band is Scotland's finest soul export. Tunes like 'Pick Up The Pieces', 'Cut The Cake', 'Atlantic Avenue' and 'Let's Go Round Again' are, despite being over forty years old, still vital... great tunes from a great band! True classics, and occasional looks at gig guides will tell you that AWB are still recording and touring. Of course over such a lengthy life span there have been numerous personnel comings and goings and we're informed the the "original AWB brand" is currently being kept alive by founding members Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre. Good on them! However three other original "bandsmen"... Hamish Stuart, Steve Ferrone and Molly Duncan are again working together and, dubbed the 360 Band, they've just released their debut long player... and the nine tracker is a lovely return to the brassy, classy, groove-laden soul sounds on which AWB built their reputation.

'Mighty Fall' is the album's lead single and, sonically, it sets the tone for the whole album... slinky, and jazzy, it oozes soulful quality and like many of the great soul and funk sounds of yesteryear it comes in parts 1 and 2...though radio programmers will be delighted to know that there's a radio edit too. If they need more incentive to play the tune then they'll also need to know that the song is the trio's homage to the 20th Century's greatest sportsman, Muhammad Ali- "a man with a mission".

It is a great tune but our favourites at the moment are the album's two mid way tracks... 'Some Other Time' and 'Too Hip'. Both are jazzy, brassy meanders that betray the experience that the trio has under their collective belt!

Elsewhere 'Loose Change' is a bit if an oddity... a sort of funk and reggae hybrid; 'Cherry Blossom Time' is sweet and smooth while 'Just For A Thrill' is a throwback to a whole different era. That song was written way back in the late 30s and is probably best remembered in its Ray Charles' version (check out the Bill Wyman/Georgie Fame version too). Here, 360 give it a sort of early ("authentic") R&B feel.... lovely stuff.

Helping the original trio deliver are Steve Pearce (bass) Adam Phillips (guitar), Ross Stanley (keyboards), Andy Caine (guitar & vocals), Jim Watson (keyboards), Danny Cummings (percussion), Tom Walsh (trumpet and flugel), Neil Sidwell (trombone) and Hamish's daughter: Emma (backing vocals) and between them they concoct a quite lovely album... proper grown up music. If you like mellow moment Tower of Power, Van Morrison... oh, yes and the Average White Band, you'll love this!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 16 January 2017 14:59

 

GORDON CHAMBERS; Surrender (Chamber Music)

Sunday, 15 January 2017 21:02 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altGordon Chambers began his pro music career as a songwriter. He's written countless soul and pop classics – most notably Anita Baker's Grammy winning 'I Apologise'. Soul fans still relish his work with Brownstone; while others to benefit from Chambers' talent include Angie Stone, Brandy, Tamia, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, the Isley Brothers, Beyonce and, of course, Whitney Houston. Indeed it was Ms Houston who encouraged Chambers to get in front of the microphone himself. That encouragement led to three solo long players, the last being 2011's 'Sincere'. Since then Gordon's undergone something of a personal crisis. He's suffered loss in a house fire, seen the passing of close friends and family members and, sadly, Whitney herself.

It's taken Gordon Chambers over five years to get back into the studio and here he presents 'Surrender' – an album he calls "A soul-searching musical sojourn from heartbreak to hope". He uses the long player to re-establish a context for himself after such a challenging period and it's clear that the album's key note track is his treatment of the gospel standard, 'I Surrender All'. Those who know the song will understand why Chambers has selected it and gone on to use it for the album title. If you're not familiar with it, then accept that the song is an affirmation of hope (for believers, that is) in times of tribulation. Production-wise, it's lush and dramatic and that drama is the overriding musical template of the album. Songs like 'Unconditional', 'Love And Help Somebody' and 'One Voice' are overwrought builders. Indeed they're the kind of songs that Whitney Houston seemed to specialise in and listening here, the spirit of the tragic diva is never too far away. As if to hammer home the point there's even a very specific tribute to Whitney, 'My Way'. Naturally, it's a poignant moment, especially when you consider what kind of job Ms H, might have made of the song.

Other album highlights include the opening cut 'The Diamond Inside' (a busy, soul beater), 'Back To Love' (a sweet duet with Lalah Hathaway) and 'I Made It' (a collaboration with Eric Roberson and Steff Reed); that last one of course (look at the title) sums up the mood of the whole album. Gordon Chambers has truly made it.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 January 2017 21:08

 

STEVEN DAVIS: The Way You Look Tonight (First Second)

Friday, 13 January 2017 19:09 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Tis the season to swing, or so it seems. Curtis Stigers is all set to release his tribute to the classic Sinatra/Basie 'Live At The Sands' album while American lounge jazz/MOR entertainer, Steven Davis is busy promoting his own tribute to the Golden Age of Swing... 'The Way You Look Tonight', an album Steven calls "a beautiful homage to an incredible group of artists from that wondrous era when songs had soul, arrangements swung powerfully and poetic lyrics penetrated the heart."

To give authenticity to his work Steven recorded the long player with a 17-piece big band while the recording took place at Hollywood's iconic Capitol Studio A, yep, the same studio where Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and other masters of the genre cut their classic sides. The team was completed by producer Josh Charles, Grammy Award winning mixer/recording engineer Ed Cherney and conductor/arranger Andy Farber, who has arranged for, among others, Jon Hendricks, Wynton Marsalis, Bob Dylan, B.B. King and Ray Charles. They selected 8 classics from the Great American Songbook and between them they've crafted a perfect swing album.

Amongst the repertoire are three songs rightly "owned" by Frank Sinatra – 'The Way You Look Tonight,' 'Come Fly With Me' and 'Luck Be A Lady' and Mr Davis and producer Charles treat them with the right amount of respect while arranger Faber, though not aping the charts of Riddle and Jenkins, has clearly studied those maestros in considerable detail. Only on a version of the Platters' 'Only You' can you expect something a little different to the original. Here the doo-wop ballad is given a classic swing treatment perfectly suited to Steven Davis's rich, expressive voice. The genre clearly suits where the singer is now at. Indeed to be where he is now is a remarkable story. Steven Davis began his music career in gospel. Then a few short years ago, he almost lost his ability to sing altogether. Making his comeback, he suffered a severe vocal bleed with the possibility that he might never sing professionally again. After nearly a year-long period of intense steroid therapy and weeks of forced silence, he was given a clean bill of health and on the evidence of this collection he's now set to join the ranks of the great swing "names".

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 13 January 2017 19:17

 

TOWER OF POWER: 'Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now' (Dutton/Vocalion)

Thursday, 12 January 2017 15:21 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Oakland's Tower of Power, with their famed horn section, are something of a soul music institution. Though they're still going strong today, forty-seven years after their formation, this Vocalion reissue (which is a high-res Super Audio edition of the album remastered from a rare quadraphonic mix, though it's compatible with standard CD players) takes us back to the band's halcyon days in the '70s.

Released in 1976, 'Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now' was the group's eighth LP overall and their debut for Columbia. It followed in the wake of an extremely fertile stint at Warner Bros, the commercial high point of which was the 1973 crossover hit, 'So Very Hard To Go.' But by '76, the band had already chewed up and spat out four lead vocalists (Rufus Miller, Rick Stevens, Lenny Williams, and Hubert Tubbs) and now had Edward McGhee installed as lead singer (though he only stayed with the band for this album and was superseded by Michael Jeffries).

Though it doesn't quite hit the creative heights of the aggregation's best Warner Bros albums (namely 'Back To Oakland' and 'Urban Renewal') it's a solid, decent long player that is characterised by soulful ballads and funkafied uptempo numbers that feature Tower of Power's trademark punchy horn interjections and slick ensemble interplay. The most ear-catching cuts are the effervescent 'You Ought To Be Havin' Fun' - a minor Stateside R&B hit - the chugging 'Can't Stand To See The Slaughter' (which is reminiscent of the band's classic Warner's side, 'What Is Hip'), and the mellow, mid-tempo, 'It's So Nice.' Despite the bravado inherent in 'Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now's'  title, ironically, the band's move to Columbia witnessed the start of a commercial decline rather than a resurgence, though this album was the best of the three they released on the label.

(CW) 3/5

 

VIVIAN REED: 'Yours Until Tomorrow - The Epic Years' (SoulMusic Records)

Thursday, 05 January 2017 18:43 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Pittsburgh singer, Vivian Reed, is a familiar name, perhaps, to avid music theatre goers in the USA, where her stage performances on Broadway (in acclaimed shows like Bubbling Brown Sugar) have received Tony nominations and garnered her a clutch of awards over the years. Less well-known is Ms Reed's career as a recording artist, which began in the late-1960s at Epic Records, when she was signed by the legendary A&R man, John Hammond, among whose 'discoveries' were Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin. Long forgotten - except by the most devoted of her fans - and out of print, Vivian Reed's eponymous LP for Epic is now reissued in full for the first time alongside a clutch of non-album 45s and their B-sides in this new 20-track Soul Music Records compilation. 

Reared on a strict diet of classical music, which led her to study at New York's prestigious Juilliard School of Music, Reed, who gave her first concert when she was 13, had to be schooled on how to sing in R&B and pop styles and certainly, listening to some of the tracks on this collection, she doesn't come across as a natural soul singer. Though note-wise she's pitch-perfect, her performances exhibit a sense of emotional control and restraint that you wouldn't get with someone like Aretha Franklin. But that's not a bad thing and certainly helps to distinguish Reed's distinctive style, which is reminiscent, perhaps - certainly in terms of its rich, expressive, contralto tone -  of Dee Dee Warwick (Interestingly, this compilation's title song, 'Yours Until Tomorrow,' was first recorded by Warwick, though Reed's version charted at #44 in the US R&B charts and proved to be her biggest hit).

The stylistically-varied material that graced Reed's Epic album - ranging from a cover of the Righteous Brothers' 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' to Leonard Bernstein's dramatic West Side Story showstopper, 'Somewhere' - revealed the singer to be a versatile performer who was comfortable in a range of settings. Some of the non-album singles for Epic from the early '70s highlight facets of Reed's musical personality that the earlier album didn't explore - such as the blues-drenched and dramatic 'Unbelievable' and two eminently soulful sides - 'Lean On Me' and 'Missing You' - the latter both written and produced by Van McCoy and Joe Cobb (Aretha Franklin later cut 'Lean On Me' as B-side and then Melba Moore scored a hit with it). Reed moved into singer-songwriter pop/rock territory with her final Epic 45, a soulful, energetic retooling of Carole King's 'I Feel The Earth Move,' produced by Richard Perry, who would go on to helm hits for the Pointer Sisters. It caps off a fine collection that illuminates the largely forgotten and overlooked years of a singer whose underappreciated recordings deserve wider exposure.

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 06 January 2017 15:22

 

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