Reviews

PETER WHITE: Smile (Heads Up)

Monday, 27 October 2014 16:44 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

peter_white_smile'Smile' is British-born, LA-based guitarist Peter White's fourteenth album as leader and like all his previous outings this 10 tracker is a pleasing mix of sounds and styles – lite jazz, a hint of classical, a smidgeon of world, a touch of Latin, a dose of Quiet Storm and an undertow of soul.

The most obvious soul groove is 'Beautiful Love'. This is White's tribute to Barry White – a singer whom the guitarist has loved since his teens and like most of Barry's tunes, White's 'Beautiful Love' builds slowly to a sensual climax. The other "tribute tune" on the album is 'Don Quixote's Final Quest'. Here the homage is to the Mason Williams' 60's guitar hit 'Classical Gas' and it couldn't be more different to the Barry White tune.

In between we have a couple of unchallenging vocals from Mindi Abair who lays down her sax to warble sweetly on 'Smile' and 'Hold Me Close'; some Kenny G style sax from Euge Groove on 'Coming Home' and 'Awakening'; breezy horn work from Rick Braun on 'Head Over Heels'; and plenty of pleasing key fills from Philippe Saisse.

White himself would be the first to admit that 'Smile' wasn't meant to set the jazz or soul worlds alight. He's set out to offer a selection of pleasant tunes which "might take you to different places" and his many fans (some who've been with him for over 15 years, we're told) will say he's succeeded.

If you want to be part of that "success" Peter tours the UK this November, visiting jazz venues mainly in the south, though, brave man, he does venture North for one show... at Altrincham's lovely Cinnamon Club... an internet search will fill you in with all the details.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 27 October 2014 16:51

 

JOHNNIE TAYLOR; She’s Killing Me/A New Day (SoulMusic Records)

Sunday, 26 October 2014 19:52 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

JOHNNIE_TAYLORThough Johnnie Taylor, "the philosopher of soul", was an archetypal, gospel-reared, southern soul man his biggest hit was 1976's 'Disco Lady'. Sure, that iconic glitter ball artefact was a million times more soulful than most contemporary disco tunes, but, equally, it was a long way away from Johnnie's Crawfordsville roots and the music he cut with the Soul Stirrers, for Stax and indeed, later at Malaco. Whatever, 'Disco Lady' bought the big bucks and little wonder that Johnnie and the label, Columbia, strove to duplicate the magic - sadly they didn't manage it. Three further Columbia albums were moderately successful (but not in the same league as the 'Disco Lady' yielding 'Eargasm'). Then, after a brief stint at RCA, JT cut two more Columbia sets ('She's Killing Me' and 'A New Day'') and these two later Columbia albums (brought together on a "twofer") have just won reissue on SoulMusic Records... and you can see (and hear, of course) singer and producers (Brad Shapiro and Don Davis) trying to hit disco pay dirt again.

'She's Killing Me' came out in 1979. Disco was still king and the seven tracker were studded with fuel for the feet but most of the up-tempo tracks were pedestrian and lacking the magic that made 'Disco Lady' what it was. Best of the beaters is the opener, 'Little Dancing Queen'. Stick with it and you'll hear some sweet changes at about the mid-point. Best cut by a mile is the Southern flavoured ballad 'Play Something Pretty' which opens with the telling line, "Baby, let's stay home tonight. I don't wanna see no disco lights".

'A New Day' was released in 1980 just as disco was beginning to wane and the set's up-tempo material is less slick – even veering towards funk in places. Once again though, it's the ballads like 'Signing Off With Love' that have travelled time best. Top tune though is a pacey item that eschews the disco gloss in favour of classic soul dance rhythms. The cut is 'Sylvia' which features vocal group Enchantment on BVs and it's a great and typical Don Davis production. Johnnie's on fine form and really that's what makes this "twofer" appealing. Yes, a lot of the material is moderate and the production in places is predictable, but come on – this is Johnnie Taylor remember.... one of the best and most distinctive soul voices of the 20th century.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 October 2014 20:00

 

CALVIN RICHARDSON; I Am Calvin (Primary Wave/Jordan House)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 15:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

calvinNorth Carolina's Calvin Richardson is often described as soul's almost man. Known as a naturally soulful singer (in the great tradition of his idol, the late Bobby Womack), Calvin débuted back in 1999 with the classic 'Country Boy' album which went on to sell over 100,000 units. Four more LPs followed including a heart-felt tribute to Bobby Womack but for reasons never fully explained they never managed to consolidate the impact of that defining debut set.

Maybe this new album might change things. For a start, it's enjoying the high profile promotion you'd expect from a release on Eric Benet's label; secondly, overall the 11 tracker is a more consistent piece of work than Calvin's other long players; thirdly, the soundscape of 'I Am Calvin' is right on the contemporary soul/R&B vibe... more Joe that Bobby Womack; and fourthly, loads of interest was created by the set's first single, the ultra infectious 'We Gon' Love'.

The good news is that 'We Gon' Love' isn't the only goodie on the album. 'Dark Side Of Love' is a great, chugging dancer; 'What Would I Do' has obvious and immediate appeal for those who espouse the modern soul cause; and 'More Than a Picture' is a wonderful mid-tempo groove which goes some way to explain why our Calvin dubs himself "Prince Soul". The album's killer cut though is 'Home In A Minute'. It's a subtle, little dance tune that builds and builds. Little wonder that it's already getting loads of rotation on the best soul stations and winning plenty of plays from discerning DJs. It makes a great up-tempo, optimistic ending to the album and it's in stark contrast to the opening track – a very sombre, simple ballad called 'Before This Moment Leaves'.

'I Am Calvin' also boasts a pair of decent covers. First up, Calvin shows his penchant for classic crooners by offering his take on Brook Benton's 'I'll Take Care Of You' while he jumps forwards a few decades for a stab at DeBarge's 'All This Love'. Lyrically, though neither would ever win the Pulitzer Prize, they're both head and shoulders above most of the lyrics on the new material. Sadly most descend into sexual stereotyping and get little further than extolling the virtues of bondage handcuffs. Maybe I'm old fashioned and as I said up top this is album is Calvin's attempt to get right into the contemporary market... so, I guess, good luck to him.

On another tack – my copy of the album featured a full 11 tracks; the liner only mentions 10. The "intruder" is a sensual little tune called 'Slow Job'. Though it's pleasant enough, it opens with the very questionable line, "Even when a woman says no, sometimes she really means yes. She just wants a little persuasion." C'mon Calvin, with a great soul voice like yours you can do better than that!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 15:18

 

LISA STANSFIELD; Seven + (Monkeynatra Records)

Sunday, 19 October 2014 20:22 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

lisaThe ever lovely Lisa Stansfield is enjoying a real renaissance at the moment. She's recently completed a sell-out tour, enjoyed high profile TV appearances and her Northern soul movie is about to hit a multiplex near you this very week! Oh, and let's not forget her wonderful album, 'Seven', which wowed critics and fans alike earlier in the year (our archive will get you access to a review and an exclusive interview with Ms S too).

The album was unusual because it appealed to what we might call your average music lover (and we don't mean that in any derogative way or mean to, imply that the album was "average") AND to proper soul fans who loved the dance floor potential of many of the album's cuts – so much so that many of the best soul remix teams retooled several of the tracks to give them extra special dance floor life... and each and every one of those remixes hit the spot with the connoisseurs.

However many of those remixes were limited editions – some only serviced to top DJs – and by implication hard to get hold of ... till now. You see, Lisa's people have wisely decided to reissue the 'Seven' album in a new de-luxe, extended 2 CD format which offers the original album on the first disc along with all those great remixes on CD 2.

In our review of the original LP we said that "the 10 tracker is a fabulous synthesis of everything that made us love Lisa back in the day.... energized dancers, feisty feminism and tender, tear-jerking ballads" and re-listening there's nothing that would make us change our minds. There's also the bonus of the inclusion of a track that didn't make the cut the first time around. Tune in question is the quite lovely 'There Goes My Heart' – a classic slice of Stansfield soul.

The second CD in the pack – masterfully put together by soul-man-about-town Steve Ripley – contains all those magic remixes and amongst the many highlights is the wonderful Soul Talk remix of 'So Be It'. The song in its original format was always one of the standouts on 'Seven' but Messrs McKone and Baker transform it into one of 2014's best modern soul dancers... its excellence testified by its inclusion on the year's definitive modern soul compilation, 'Soul Togetherness 2014'.

Other highlights include the two Cool Million remixes of that "new" song, 'There Goes My Heart' and Opolopo's synth-driven re-working of 'Picket Fence'. In fairness some soul folk might grimace at the more housiefied cuts (e.g. Moto Blanco' s edit of 'Can't Dance') but then again the house heads might not go for Andy Lewis's Northern flavoured re-tooling of the same song. But that's little Lisa for you – she offers something for everyone and does it with a real generosity of soul.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 October 2014 20:30

 

THE TEMPTATIONS; Hear To Tempt You/Bare Back (SoulMusic Records)

Friday, 17 October 2014 15:33 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

temptsThe Temptations are, of course, synonymous with Motown but in 1977, after a lean time, they quit the Gordy stable for the perceived fresher pastures of Atlantic. If the New York label had transformed Motown second stringers, the Spinners, into major stars... just think what they could do with the Tempts ... that seemed to be the thinking behind Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin's decision. For their part, Atlantic spared no expense on their big name signing and paired the veteran group with one of the then hottest production teams – Philadelphia's Baker, Harris and Young. It should have been a match made in heaven but the resulting album, 'Hear To Tempt You' was a patchy affair and the album bombed. The reasons are complex, I guess, but the nine tracker just didn't sound like the Temptations. Sure, the group were breaking in two comparatively new leads – Louis Price and Glenn Leonard – but the end result sounded more like a second rate Trammps album, or even something from fellow Philly outfit, Love Committee; it sure didn't sound like prime time Temptations.

Much head scratching followed and for the next album it was agreed to bring in fellow ex-Motowners Brian and Eddie Holland to produce. The result was the 9 track 'Bare Back' long player but with mediocre material, the Temptations once again struggled to find success and in 1980 the group returned to Motown where Berry Gordy took personal responsibility for their career.

That's the history, and now we can all reassess the music as David Nathan's SoulMusic records reissues both LPs on a one CD "twofer". 'Hear To Tempt You' is a Philly artefact – zipping disco numbers propelled by Young's drums leavened with lush ballads – one of which 'I Could Never Stop Loving You' is an oddity in that it features bass man Melvin Franklin on lead. 'Bare Back' is harder to pigeon-hole but its sound is very different – chiefly because the Hollands turned to ever dependable Richard Street for most of the leads and on the discofied 'Touch Me Again' he brings real passion to proceedings and for a few moments - on 'I See My Child' - there's those wonderful Tempts' harmonies – just a pity about the lyrics.

Notably none of the 18 songs over the two albums feature in the Temptations' classic canon (in the way that the Four Tops' ABC-Dunhill work does) and I guess all parties would choose to forget this period in their careers. Not that 'Hear To Tempt You' and 'Bare Back' are bad albums.. they're just not good Temptations' albums; but great to have them back in circulation if only for the collectors.

(BB) 3/5

 

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