Reviews

VARIOUS; Mutants Volume 2 (Tokyo Dawn)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014 10:48 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

mutants2_355Most soul folk are familiar with Scandinavian master mixer Opolopo via his fab re-toolings of some of Gregory Porter's best but he has a pedigree that long predates the emergence of Porter and like the meaning of his name ("Opolopo" is Yoruban for "plenty") his productions have a huge breadth and diversity.

Opolopo (Peter Major) was born in Hungary and, as a boy, he toured with his musician father –enjoying the music of people like Herbie Hancock, EWF, Quincy Jones – even Kraftwerk! Though now residing in Scandinavia, he tours himself worldwide, playing out as an in-demand DJ and working with jazz ensemble, Expansions. He's released numerous albums on numerous labels and his bootleg remixes of tunes by Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross are hugely sought after. His current business home is Tokyo Dawn Records and this wonderful compilation is his fourth for the label.

It would be easy to describe the music on 'Mutants Volume 2' (I sadly missed the first instalment) as classy soulful house. It surely is that. Tracks like Roy Ananda's 'The Only Thing That Makes Sense (Is You)' and Taliwa's 'Music For My Sun' could define the genre. Urgent and hugely insistent, they are everything that proper "soulful" house should be. But there's much much more to this collection than that.

For instance, the mix of [re:jazz]'s 'At First Glance' is a hypnotic instrumental item while the Opolopo mix of Personal Life's 'My Prediction'(Omar on vocal here)is a great slab of polished 21st century funk. Then there's the visit to Joey Negro's Sunburst Band's 'In The Thick Of It' – recreated into a great 80s weekender anthem. It does everything that Cool Million does... but somehow does it all more effortlessly.

Hear that effortlessness at its very best on the album's outstanding track – the remix of Mario Biondi's 'This Is What You Are'. Always a classy cut, Opolopo adds a touch more polish .... tasty but subtle brass stabs, some sweeping strings and glistening percussion to allow the Italian's soulful vocal to soar. Less in your face that Opolopo's mixes of say Gregory Porter's '1960 What?' but none the less ultra satisfying.... indeed, like everything here. Find out more @ www.tokyodawn.net

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 July 2014 10:53

 

THE MASQUERADERS; Everybody Wanna Live On (Ace/Stax)

Monday, 28 July 2014 11:18 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

masqDallas-formed, the Maqueraders were/are soul etceteras. Despite that, though, they recorded prolifically and for a number of labels. Their most creative period was in the late seventies when they were signed to the ABC subsidiary label, Hot Buttered Soul. As the name suggests the short-lived label (only 6 LPs were released on it) was a vehicle for Isaac Hayes; ABC creating the imprint for Black Moses after he left Stax in a flurry of law suits. The Masqueraders (who'd just left Hi) were one of his first signings and 'Everybody Wanna Live On' was the first fruit of the relationship.

Sonically the nine tracker is prime time Isaac Hayes – lush and symphonic. With Hayes in the producer's chair, his Movement providing the rhythm and the Memphis Symphony adding the sweetening, the atmosphere reminds this reviewer of the Stax work Hayes did with Billy Eckstine. The most "Hayes-centric" track is 'Your Sweet Loving Is A Blessing'. This is a lengthy, dramatic ballad, complete with spoken passages but despite its similarities to the Hayes canon, it failed to have any impact when released as a single. 'Honest And True' and 'The Travelling Man (later covered by the Detroit Emeralds) are pleading ballads too while 'Everybody Wanna Live On', 'Listen' and 'Sweet Sweetening' are decent but dated up-tempo items.

Stand out cut is the only cover... an imaginative version of the Shirelles' 'Baby It You' (some will also know the Beatles' celebrated cover). With Hayes at the controls you can probably guess he re-imagines the whole thing, essentially creating a "new" song. Lead singer, Lee Hatim is in fine form, the harmonies are superb and Hayes even adds his own sax solo (a rare thing!) When released as a single it made #76 on the R&B chart while the LP itself peaked at 57.

The group cut a second album with Hayes – 'Love Anonymous'. This one featured a lovely cut called 'Modern Day Woman' and –being released in 1976 – a tribute to America's bi-centenary independence celebrations , 'The Bicentennial'. Don't know if Ace plan to reissue 'Love Anonymous' – so in the meantime enjoy 'Everybody Wanna Live On'.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 28 July 2014 11:23

 

SHAUN ESCOFFERY: In The Red Room (Dome)

Saturday, 26 July 2014 15:19 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

shaunesShaun Escoffery.... now there a blast from the recent past! Was it as far back as 2001 that the soulful Londoner broke through with 'Space Rider'? Then there was 'Days Like This', of course, but despite underground success – via work with DJ Spinna and people like Koop and Mark De Clive-Lowe, Shaun's career seemed to stall and the covers album, 'Move Into Soul' didn't change things too dramatically. Disillusioned maybe, the scion of a celebrated London musical family, found work in stage musicals – notably 'Parade' for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award. Shaun's also enjoyed a long run in 'The Lion King', but soul was always calling and for the last two years he's been working on this new album with producer Gil Cang, whose previous CV includes work with a certain Michael Jackson!

As a "comeback" album 'In The Red Room' is totally satisfactory and, if anything, Shaun's pleading, frail falsetto has acquired more depth and a maturity that really shines through on the track, 'Perfect Love Affair'. Don't really know why but its complexity reminds me of Marvin Gaye circa 'I Want You' and that's not a bad recommendation is it?

Another highlight is the simpler, stark 'Nobody Knows'. It features a chinking guitar figure that takes us back to the 60s but the overall vibe is the one that Amy Winehouse channelled – totally contemporary with a big nod to soul's Golden Age. Elsewhere 'Crazy' is an interesting semi-spoken piece; 'You' is a dramatic ballad; and 'By Your Side' is fronted by an old school churchified piano.

The biggest and brightest tune is 'Get Over' which really allows Shaun to stretch those vocals. For the rest, well expect plenty of soul-flecked pop though more intriguing is 'Time', a short experimental item with spaced-out vocal exhortations. More a sketch than a song, I'd have liked to have seen this one developed further.

Shaun is currently planning live shows in support of the album and watch out for a special video of the album's opener, 'Nature's Call'. The promo film has been shot by Shaun's log-time pal, Idris Elba and it's sure to get lots of attention and rightly so. Great to have you back, Shaun.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 July 2014 15:23

 

EUGENE McDANIELS: ‘Outlaw’ and ‘Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse’ (Atlantic/Warner Japan)

Saturday, 26 July 2014 12:50 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Gene_OutlawAt the start of the 1960s Gene McDaniels was flying high. Smartly-dressed and clean-cut, the smooth crooner from Kansas City scored two Top 10 US pop hits for the Liberty label, 'A Hundred Pounds Of Clay' and 'Tower Of Strength.' But as the '60s progressed, McDaniels' career took a commercial nose-dive as musical tastes changed and in 1970, after several fallow years, he re-launched his career as Eugene McDaniels and signed to Atlantic Records (aided by the fact that his song, 'Compared To What,' was a big hit for the label by Les McCann and Eddie Harris).

Those who were familiar with McDaniels' previous oeuvre would have been shocked by his Atlantic debut, 'Outlaw,' released in 1970, which has now been remastered and reissued alongside a clutch of classic soul and jazz titles by Warner Japan (the good news is that they're available over here at mid-price). The provocative cover of 'Outlaw' depicted a hirsute, scruffy McDaniels - who dubbed himself 'the left rev. mc d' - holding a revolver and clutching a bible alongside two armed women. The music (produced by Joel Dorn) was even more provocative, though perhaps not as revolutionary as McDaniels had hoped - songs like 'Welfare City,' 'The Silent Majority' and the ironically-titled 'Love Letter To America' are Bob Dylan-esque folk-rock songs with trenchantly polemic lyrics focusing on America's domestic problems. There's a jazz-meets-funk tinge to 'Unspoken Dreams Of Light' and the excellent 'Cherrystones,' a cleverly-wrought jazz-style paean to wilful ignorance. McDaniels' also serves up his own version of 'Reverend Lee,' a song about a preacher beset by carnal temptations that Roberta Flack brilliantly covered on her 'Chapter Two' album.

Gene_Hhoa

McDaniels' second Atlantic album, '71's 'Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse,' continues lyrically where 'Outlaw' left off with its protest themes though the music is darker, jazzier and funkier, thanks to a crack rhythm section comprising pianist Harry Whitaker and future Weather Report duo, bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. On 'Outlaw,' McDaniels was trying to be a black Bob Dylan but on 'Heroes,' he's channelling Mick Jagger, who's the inspiration behind a faintly sinister homage, 'Jagger The Dagger,' a song whose off-kilter jazzy groove has been sampled by a Tribe Called Quest and numerous other hip-hop acts.  The funkafied title track is a conspiracy theory song that focuses on conflict in the Middle East, while the epic 'The Parasite' finds McDaniels' commenting on the genocide of Native Americans. Arguably the album's best cut is the jazz-inflected 'Freedom Death Dance' (which references Eddie Harris's jazz classic, 'Freedom Jazz Dance'), laments the futility of good human endeavours in an unjust world. Sounds heavy? Well, lyrically, it is but the album's more sober themes are often leavened with a wry sense of humour, as evidenced by the absurd and hilarious narrative 'Supermarket Blues.'

Sadly, not many people saw the humour and satire behind some of McDaniels' lyrics, which came to the attention of President Richard Nixon's regime and resulted in a complaining phone call by then US vice-president Spiro Agnew to Atlantic Records' boss, Ahmet Ertegun. The fallout from that call was that McDaniels was unceremoniously dumped from the label (though he went on to become a hit-making producer and songwriter for Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight and Phyllis Hyman). The album sank into obscurity until segments of it were sampled by hip-hop acts in the late '80s, which eventually brought about its reissue in the early noughties. Now deemed a cult classic, 'Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse' is back in circulation again. Remastered, it sounds better than ever, though sadly these Japanese reissues don't possess liner notes, although McDaniels' lyrics are present and are well-worth reading. Much of what he wrote remains relevant to today's troubled world. The late producer Joel Dorn said of McDaniels: 'He's a genius.' McDaniels, himself, was more modest. "I'm just a half-assed poet,' he declared in 2002.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 July 2014 13:01

 

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. Many of the re-toolings, of course, date back to the 80s and have been resurrected from the vaults, but the album offers a selection of brand new mixes too.

New or old, though, the Morales magic works perfectly. Why? Well, simple really. The DJ super star 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

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 July 2014 14:26

 

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