Reviews

BOBBIE GENTRY: 'The Girl From Chickasaw County' (UMC)

Thursday, 20 September 2018 12:13 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altThough renowned for the originality of her songwriting, it's supremely ironic that Bobbie Gentry's biggest UK hit was her chart-topping 1969 cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again.' In fact, amazingly, her immortal signature song, 'Ode To Billie Joe' - a hauntingly atmospheric family dinner conversation about the mysterious suicide of Billie Joe McAllister - wasn't even her second best-selling single here, falling third (it made #13 in 1967) behind another cover, a Top 3 rendition of the Everly Brothers 'All I Have To Do Is Dream' sung as a duet with the late Glen Campbell in December 1969. But chart statistics don't always tell the whole story and the fact is that 'Ode To Billie Joe' is the most significant song in Gentry's repertoire. Not only did it win three Grammy awards but it has also been frequently listed by influential music magazines as one of the greatest songs of all time - not content with that, it also inspired a movie of the same name. Having said that, it would be wrong to think of Bobbie Gentry, arguably pop's equivalent to reclusive author J. D. Salinger,  as a one-song-wonder and helping to dispel that notion is a fabulous new box set from Universal, 'The Girl From Chickasaw County.'

Comprising all of her Capitol sides spread across eight CDs, this deluxe box set offers a vividly-drawn and in-depth portrait of the mysterious, sultry song siren who bewitched the world with 'Ode To Billie Joe' back in the summer of 1967. It contains in chronological order all of her albums, beginning with 'The Ode To Billie Joe' LP, followed by three albums from 1968 - 'The Delta Sweete,' 'Local Gentry,' 'Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell.' Then comes 1969's 'Touch 'Em With Love,' 1970's 'Fancy' (containing the wonderful title song) and '71's 'Patchwork,' the latter her final album before she decided to quit the music business and live quietly away from the unremitting glare of the showbiz spotlight.

Though Gentry - who was born Roberta Streeter in Mississippi  on July 27th 1942 - left us too soon from an artistic perspective, fortunately, she was very prolific in the five years she was active and as this box set shows, has left us much to digest and get our teeth into. Though her music was country-rooted, it was also very soulful and even, at times, tinged with blues, gospel ('Touch 'Em With Love'), and jazz (her song, 'Hurry, Tuesday Child,' is worthy of being a jazz standard). She could also get funky, too, as the searing, brassy soul stomper, 'Mississippi Delta' and 'Okolona River Bottom Band' -  key cuts from her first album - show. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Gentry was her brilliance as a songwriter. She was a natural storyteller whose lyrics vividly brought characters and places to life in vignettes about America's southern backwaters. She wrote all but one of the songs on her debut album though as her career progressed, her contribution as a writer diminished somewhat until her swansong LP, 'Patchwork,' which was devoted entirely to self-penned material.    

As well as Gentry's seven studio albums (which have been specially remastered for the project) there are oodles of rare treasures to be found in the box set. There's a complete disc devoted to the singer's performances for the BBC between 1968 and 1971 (she had her own TV special here and also appeared on the Beeb's flagship pop programme, Tops Of The Pops), and a whopping 75 previously unissued tracks.  Among these are demos, outtakes, alternate versions, and, miraculously, a complete jazz album (which includes a wonderful version of Billie Holiday's 'God Bless The Child') that was lost for many years. The box set, which has lovingly been put together and is adorned with a front cover painting from David Downton, also comes with an 84-page book packed with illuminating liner notes, rare photos, and eight postcards. It's an essential purchase for those who want to delve beyond the surface of 'Ode To Billie Joe' and dig deeper into the heart and soul of Bobbie Gentry's substantial and impressive back catalogue. They will discover a musician who was so much more than a pretty brunette with a striking voice. Gentry was a pathfinder for female singer/songwriters and laid the groundwork for those that followed in her wake, everyone from Dolly Parton and Joni Mitchell to India.Arie and Beyonce Knowles.

Though Gentry quietly slipped away into anonymity in 1978, 'The Girl From Chickasaw County' is an important retrospective that shows that the music she left behind still resonates deeply on a cultural as well as musical level.

(CW) 5/5

 

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Last Updated on Saturday, 22 September 2018 15:20

 

BRANDON COLEMAN: 'Resistance' (Brainfeeder)

Sunday, 16 September 2018 10:45 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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This Los Angeles keyboard magus boasts an impressive CV, having worked with some of the leading lights in both the jazz and R&B worlds (ranging from Stanley Clarke and Roy Hargrove to Ledisi and Babyface). More recently, Coleman - whose nickname, apparently, is "Professor Boogie" - has been playing, both live and on record,  as part of jazz sensation Kamasi Washington's band, The Next Step. Given Washington's current high profile, it would seem a good time, then, for Coleman to release the follow-up to his 2015 debut album, the largely-ignored 'Self-Taught.' 

'Resistance' is Brandon Coleman's inaugural offering for Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder imprint, the adventurous label that introduced the world to Kamasi Washington in 2015, but with its funkafied dance grooves and layered electronic keyboards,  it's a world away from the saxophonist's probing spiritual jazz aesthetics. In fact, listening to 'Resistance' is a bit like being taken in a time machine back to 1978 and landing on the planet, 'Herbie Hancock,' during his 'I Thought It Was You' phase. That's because of Coleman's heavy use of the vocoder on most tracks, which imbues the album with a pronounced retro feel.  

'Live For Today,' a disco-influenced stomper with lush, Philly-style strings and an infectious vocoder hook, gets the album under way impressively, and is followed by the equally catchy and stylish, 'All Around The World.' Then comes the more poppy, horn-laced  'A Letter To My Buggers.'  It's all very Hancock-esque up to this point though markedly different is the rumbling handclap groove of 'Sexy,' unashamedly indebted to Zapp's 'More Bounce To The Ounce,' and which offers a different slant on electro-funk. The dance pulse slows down for some striking ballads -  the plaintive 'There's No Turning Back'; the mournful but majestic 'Resistance'; and the mellow, mid-tempo 'Sundae,' the latter featuring noted neo-soul vocalist, N'Dambi, and sounding like an outtake from Herbie Hancock's 'Man Child' album.  'Just Reach For The Stars' and 'Love' are both uplifting, vocoder-led anthems, while 'Giant Feelings' - featuring Next Step vocalist, Patrice Quinn - is grandiose and more in line with the spiritual jazz vibe of Kamasi Washington's music.

Though Brandon Coleman wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, he's not simply a clone of his musical heroes and as this accomplished album reveals, he is able to display his own, very distinctive, musical personality. He's also able to take elements from vintage jazz, funk and soul and recast them in his own image, making them sound contemporary and cutting-edge. As well as being an ace keyboard player who's fond of lush, jazz-inflected harmonies, he also knows how to write addictive grooves and infectious hook lines. It proves a killer combination, here, which means that 'Resistance' (available on CD, LP, and download) is very hard to resist.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 September 2018 10:55

 

CEDRIC BURNSIDE: 'Benton County Relic' (Single Lock Records)

Friday, 14 September 2018 14:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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The grandson of legendary blues man, R.L. Burnside, this 40-year-old, Memphis-born drummer-turned-guitarist and singer/songwriter is making a name for himself in the blues world on the back of seven well-received album projects. His last, 'Descendants Of Hill Country,' released under the Cedric Burnside Project moniker, nabbed a Grammy award nomination in 2016. Now, Burnside's back with a potent offering called 'Benton Country Relics,' released on the Alabama-based Single Lock label, once home to St. Paul & The Broken Bones and singer/songwriter, Nicole Atkins (both interviewed by SJF).

If you like your blues in a primal, unpolished, almost ramshackle form, then this is the album for you. It's raw, authentic and visceral, and a far cry from what the likes of Robert Cray are doing. Cedric Burnside - who's had cameos in a couple of movies, including 2006's Samuel L. Jackson-starring Black Snake Moan - sings like he's spitting blood with every word uttered. It's music about pain, deprivation, and hardship and like all good blues music draws directly on the African American experience in the so-called "Land of the Free." It's not, then, a cheerful soundtrack but rather a sobering reality check and the perfect antidote for those who despise vacuous, machine-tooled, mainstream pop and rap. This isn't a record from someone bragging about their material possessions and wealth - like Illuminati puppet, Jay-Z, for example - but rather lamenting their circumstances and trying to keep their head above water. Ultimately, it's survival music.

"Sometimes it's hard to stay cool," sings Burnside, on the reflective ballad 'Hard To Stay Cool,' where he describes circumstances that "makes you want to cuss and fuss, make you want to tear things apart."  But this isn't an album without hope. The set's first single, 'We Made It,' with its fuzzy, monolithic guitar riff, is a celebration of survival in a harsh, remorseless world. "I came from nothin' ..." declares Burnside in a sepulchral voice, adding "I keep my head straight no matter how low I go." Astonishingly direct and honest, 'Benton County Relics' is a stinging riposte to those that (mistakenly) think blues music in antiquated, irrelevant and headed for the cemetery. One spin of this brutally beautiful record will confirm that rumours of its impending demise have been greatly exaggerated. Relic from a bygone age? We think not.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 14 September 2018 14:12

 

THE FOUR TOPS: 'The Complete ABC/Dunhill Singles' (Real Gone)

Wednesday, 12 September 2018 11:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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In 1972, Motown did the unthinkable and let the Four Tops go. By that time, the group (Levi Stubbs, Lawrence Payton, Renaldo 'Obie' Benson and Abdul 'Duke' Fakir)  was perceived as a veritable soul music institution having racked up 27 memorable US R&B hits (including a brace of chart toppers) for Berry Gordy's Detroit label. But when the time came for their contract to be renewed, Motown's then president, Ewart Abner, told them (unbeknownst to Berry Gordy) that they were surplus to requirements and showed them the door. The group were angry, heartbroken, and, naturally, felt betrayed but licked their wounds, girded their loins, and left the "Motor City." They soon had an offer to record with ABC/Dunhill under the production supervision of songwriters Dennis Potter and Brian Lambert. They spent six years at ABC/Dunhill and, unlike some ex-Motown acts, didn't struggle to recreate past glories. This fabulous new chronologically-sequenced 33-track anthology from Real Gone shines a light on the legendary group's tenure at ABC/Dunhill and presents all of their 45s and flipsides for the company during 1972-1978.  

The Tops' debut 45 for their new label was the strident 'Keeper Of The Castle,' a song which blended funk with harmonised soul and proved that the group could have a life after Motown. It was a Top 10 US  smash  and it's follow up, 'Ain't No Woman (Like The One I've Got)' was even bigger, rising to #2 R&B (#4 pop) and was their second and final single to achieve Gold status. Other big hits included here are the rousing  'Are You Man Enough' (taken from the Shaft In Africa movie soundtrack), the funkafied 'One Chain Don't Make No Prison' -  with Levi Stubbs at his strident, stentorian best -  the delicate 'Midnight Flower,' and the blissful dancer, 'Sweet Understanding Love,' the latter drawing on the classic H-D-H Motown sound of their 60s repertoire.  The group's last Top 10 R&B single for ABC/Dunhill was 'Catfish' in 1976, which showed the band doing something different (Tops' member, Lawrence Payton, is also the producer) and getting into a full-on disco mode.

But what makes this collection really intriguing are the largely unheralded songs that were on the flipsides of all the singles. It's a fascinating blend of material, ranging from the militant message song 'Peace Of Mind'  and nostalgic balladry of 'Main Street People' to the reflective 'My Brother's Keeper' and the funkafied, horn-laced 'Turn On The Light Of Your Love.'  Different again is 'The Good Lord Knows,' a delightful pastoral excursion co-written by Obie Benson that sounds like a cross between gospel, pop, classical and country music. Gentle, too, is the breezy 'All My Love,' laced with delectable layered harmonies and featuring its co-composer Obie Benson on lead vocals. There's even a jazzy vibe on the laidback, mid-tempo 'I'm Glad You Walked 'Into My Life' and a palpable Marvin Gaye-esque feel to the superb 'Feel Free.' Tops' completists will also be pleased by the inclusion of the group's slightly bizarre Spanish rendition of 'Keep Of The Castle' (which was translated as 'Guardian De Tu Castillo').

For committed fans of the Four Tops, a group that's always had a loyal following in the UK, this compilation, which features 13 songs that have never been reissued on CD before, is essential. Their ABC/Dunhill catalogue is often neglected at the expense of their Motown repertoire but as this fine compendium shows us, the group was still at the top of their game in the '70s. Not only does it remind us how remarkably talented this Detroit vocal quartet was but also shows us that they were outstandingly versatile in the 1970s and were able to able to record a wide range of songs without losing the soulful essence that was the core part of their identity. (Release date October 5th 2018).

(CW) 4/5

Read SJF's interviews with Duke Fakir here:

http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/interviews/5441-qits-the-greatest-high-in-the-worldq-duke-fakir-talks-about-the-four-tops-forthcoming-uk-tour-with-the-temptations.html

http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/interviews/2423-duke-fakir-of-the-four-tops-speaks-ahead-of-their-2014-uk-tour-.html

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 September 2018 17:06

 

JOSH HOYER & SOUL COLOSSAL; Do It Now (Silver Street)

Sunday, 09 September 2018 17:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJosh Hoyer hails from Lincoln, Nebraska and in 2012 he formed the five piece band that is Soul Colossal... Benjamin Kushner (guitar), Blake DeForest (trumpet), Mike Keeling (bass), Larell Ware (drums) and Josh himself on keys and vocals. The players came together via their mutual love for classic soul and funk – specifically the sounds of Stax, Motown, Muscle Shoals, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Their uncompromising commitment to that formula has provided the band with plenty of work. Since their inception, Soul Colossal have played over 150 shows each year including opening for acts like George Clinton, Charles Bradley, Booker T Jones, and the Muscle Shoals Revue. You probably won't be surprised to learn that their passion for the "old school" has won them plenty of fans in Europe. Indeed last year the band completed a 27 date European tour, from which a live album was well received and because of the love they're feeling from Europe, Josh and the boys have decided to release their latest album in Europe long before a US release.

'Do It Now' hit the European sales racks at the end of August and the soundscape they cook up on the ten tracker really does recall proper soul's golden age. The LP is topped and tailed by two southern style beaters – both 'Do It Now' and 'The Liberator' are brassy and brash and though recorded in Nebraska, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the provenance was Muscle Shoals. 'The Other Side' is another classy southern roller and if you're in doubt that the heart of the  'Do It Now' LP is in soulsville, try the searing 'Tell Me Why' – complete with a store front church intro, it's a clincher.

Elsewhere 'Love Song' is sweet and simple and reminds me of 'People Get Ready'; 'Clara Jayne' rides a steady soul groove; 'Enough For Everybody' is more complex, jazzy even; 'You, I , We (All Together)' is rough and funky while the equally tough  'Star Culture' might be just a tad too rocky for some soul sensitivities. That, though, is more than made up for by one quite remarkable cut – the gorgeous 'Better Days'. This mid-tempo groove is drenched in the most remarkable horn arrangement and soloing this side of the last Tower Of Power album. It's fast becoming a 2018 favourite here at SOULANDJAZZANDFUNK; yes, it's good!

And yes, lots of variety on 'Do It Now' but what holds it all together (apart from the band's obvious collective passion for proper soul) is the mighty voice of Josh Hoyer – powerful, committed and righteously soulful.

The album is out now in Europe, but for some reason won't be available in the States till January after the band have completed another European tour that takes in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Belgium. Find out more @ www.joshhoyer.com

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2018 18:20

 

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