Reviews

THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH: Cosmic Truth/Higher Than High (Kent)

Monday, 25 March 2019 16:34 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAce/Kent's latest foray into the Motown vault offers two oft neglected LPs (on 2 CDs) from an oft neglected group – the Undisputed Truth. Most Motown commentators would argue that they are "oft neglected" because they lack real identity and this collection helps explain that.

First a little history. Everyone knows that the Undisputed Truth were a creation of Norman Whitfield who wanted to take the Motown sound in a new directions (with or without the consent of Berry Gordy). Working with the Temptations he began that task but the Tempts' legacy always weighed heavily on him, so a brand new group obviously offered him much more scope. Thus Undisputed Truth were born ... Brenda Jo Evans, Billie Rae Calvin and Joe Harris. The trio enjoyed success fronting a soundscape sculpted by Whitfield but after 4 LPs the group's two ladies quit. Rather than replace them with two more females, Whitfield drafted in, lock a stock and barrel, the Magictones – a hard gigging Detroit quartet – three guys and just one doll – Vee McDonald. And it was this quartet plus Joe Harris that fronted 1975's 'Cosmic Truth' and 'Higher Than High'. So yes, a complete change of line up, made more confusing, I think, by the sleeve art work and publicity photos that had the quintet geared up in spaced out make up and weird and wonderful wigs.

Sonically, both LPs are, well, typically Norman Whitfield circa mid 70s... big productions, heavy bass lines, and lashings of wah wah guitars – often it's as if the vocal input is secondary. As ever Norman Whitfield used some of his old songs to flesh out his albums; so, for, instance, amongst the new songs, he lets the band have a go at the Temptations' classic 'I Know I'm Losing You'.... I know which version soul fans prefer.

Whatever, for Motown fans, it's great to have these two albums in circulation again. Ace/Kent think this is the first time both LPs have been available (since original release that is) in any form and the twofer is out now.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2019 18:52

 

MARVIN GAYE: 'You're The Man' (Motown/UMC)

Friday, 22 March 2019 15:28 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Marvin Gaye was the man in 1971, having struck chart gold with 'What's Going On,' an album laced with socio-political themes that Motown supremo Berry Gordy was initially reluctant to release, but which topped the US R&B LPs chart and spawned three hit singles in the shape of the pleading title track,  'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),' and 'Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).' Life seemed good, then for the softly-spoken soul man from Detroit, and in 1972, he planned to follow up 'What's Going On' with an album that continued his exploration of deeper and more meaningful concerns than the effervescent love songs that Motown had given him to sing in the 1960s.

The first fruit of his new post-'What's Going On' project was a single, the funkafied 'You're The Man,' released in May 1972, which was intended to be a taster of the parent album of the same name. Stylistically, in terms of its music and layered vocals, it continued from where 'What's Going On' left off but had more bite. It was a sarcastic and sneering put-down of the US politicians competing in that year's US presidential race but was unable to emulate the chart-topping exploits of his previous three 45s and stalled at No. 7 in the American R&B singles chart. That wasn't a bad thing but the fact that it was not unanimously embraced by the US public (it failed to go further than No. 50 n the US pop charts) purportedly dented Gaye's confidence and fearing it would be a failure, he put the planned 'You're The Man' album on hold.

In its stead came the soundtrack album, 'Trouble Man,' issued at the end of 1972, followed by 'Let's Get It On,' a return to old themes of love, sex, and romance, in 1973. Sadly, the 'You're The Man' album never came out, though most of the tracks that Gaye intended to use on it  trickled out over the years on various compilations. Now, though, to coincide what would have been the singer's 80th birthday (on April 2nd), Universal have re-assembled, with the help of Gaye biographer and confidante,  David Ritz, what they believe to be the original running order of the lost album and issued it on double vinyl complete with bonus material.  

Certainly it lacks the thematic coherence, artistic cohesion and single-mindedness of vision that characterised 'What's Going On' but that's probably because of the diverse number of producers involved, which include Gaye, himself, on nine tracks, Willie Hutch on four, plus contributions from Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell, Gloria Jones with Pam Sawyer, Hal Davis. The album's 17 cuts show that there was nothing wrong with Gaye's creativity in 1972. Highlights include 'Where Are We Going,' a tune that jazz trumpeter, Donald Byrd, recorded as an instrumental on his 'Black Byrd' album. It's written and co-produced by Fonce Mizell, one half of the Sky High team that he formed with his brother, Larry. Gaye fans who know their stuff will be familiar with this lovely track from its appearance on the 2005 career overview compilation, 'Gold.'   

Marvin fans will also know the cinematic 'The World Is Rated X,' another topical, socio-politically-slanted infusion of funk, which first appeared on Gaye's 'Anthology' Motown compilation in 1995. The four tracks he cut with Willie Hutch - just before Hutch broke out as a solo artist at Motown with his soundtrack albums 'Foxy Brown' and 'The Mack' - bring a different feel to the album with bright horns and an earthier, more direct sound distinguishing the likes of 'I'm Gonna A Give You Respect' and 'Try It You'll Like It' (which Hutch recorded himself for Motown). They show Marvin at his soulful best as an interpreter of other people's songs.

Ballad-wise, the haunting 'Piece Of Clay' (helmed by Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer), is memorable for its pleading vocals, bittersweet gospel cadences, searing guitar lines, and lyrics that hint at Gaye's domestic troubles. Controversially, perhaps - Motown fans can be a conservative bunch - Salaam Remi has remixed three cuts for the project. He treats 'My Last Chance, ' the silky ballad 'Symphony,' and 'I'd Give My Life For You' with the utmost respect and doesn't veer too far away from the originals. Appended to the album is a rare extended version of his superb 1972 Yuletide single, 'I Want To Come Home For Christmas' (where Gaye views the world as a US serviceman in Vietnam) and an unissued instrumental B-side, 'Christmas In The City.' An intriguing alternative version of 'I'm The Man' - which is smoother and features eerie warbling synth lines - is also included in the set.

Given that a lot of these tracks are spread over so many different Marvin Gaye compilations, it's good to have them together all in one place on 'You're The Man.' More importantly, the album brings to light a forgotten and overlooked chapter in Marvin Gaye's creative life. 35 years after his death, these recordings (available to buy from March 29th) prove that as far as soul music goes, Marvin Gaye is still the man.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 March 2019 11:30

 

TANIKA CHARLES: The Gumption (Record Kicks)

Friday, 22 March 2019 15:21 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altCanadian soul singer Tanika Charles first came amongst us with her catchy 'Endless Chain' a year or so ago. The tune was from her 'Soul Run' album which really took off after she licensed it to the Record Kicks label and that label has shown its confidence in Ms C by releasing her second full length album, 'The Gumption' which sonically takes off where 'Soul Run' ended... that's to say it delivers a punchy modern soul sound which at the same time pays huge respect to soul's golden age.

The 12 tracker has been produced by a team – DJ Kemo, Chin Injeti, Daniel Lee, Kevin Henkel and Marlon James. All are well-respected Canadian musos and despite their number the album has a real cohesion and unity – secured by Tanika's consistent and warm soulful delivery and the team's respect for old school soul values.

Amongst the album's highlights is the closing 'Always Restless' – a sweet ballad with the gentlest of atmospheres. Vocally it shows that Tanika is a real contender. 'Look At Us Now' is another ballad – slightly tougher, its flavour is redolent of classic Southern soul. The most striking of the up-tempo numbers is the Northern sounding 'Upside Down'. It's rough round the edges and sounds like it could have come from some  60's obscure US indie studio. In fact, that's this album's attraction ... it's honest and for real –a far cry from the polished, smooth soul that seems to win the airplay these days.

The album's title by the way is a reference to the opening lines of the opening track, the rolling, insistent 'Tell Me Something' but it also alludes to Tanika's stickabilty and her doggedness to deliver what she believes in.

Tanika Charles' 'The Gumption' will be officially released in May and you can learn more about Ms C by checking out our interview with her. Go to out interview archive

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 22 March 2019 15:35

 

JAMES BOOKER At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Vol. 1 (NDR)

Thursday, 21 March 2019 19:22 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJames Carroll Booker was one of blues music's more flamboyant and wildest performers. No less a person that Dr John described him as "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced." Others called him "the Black Liberace" and those descriptions just about sum him up!

Hugely talented, he developed a unique style that melded blues, R&B and jazz but addiction problems denied him making the mark that his abilities merited and when he died in 1983 waiting in a wheelchair for attention in the ER room at a New Orleans charity hospital, his many fans wondered what might have been if his life trajectory had been different.

If you're not familiar with his work this "new" live album will bring you up to speed. It was recorded at Hamburg's famous Onkel Po's, Carnegie Hall nightspot in 1976 and offers a snapshot of Booker's art. The set is a mix of songs by many off his heroes... people like Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Percy Mayfield and Jimmy Witherspoon alongside a clutch of originals like 'Classified' and 'One Hell Of A Nerve'. All are delivered in his laconic, laid back vocal style underpinned by his percussive, barrel house style piano playing. Best example is probably his medley of 'Lonely Avenue' and 'Stormy Monday'. On it he's clearly having a ball – as indeed he is throughout the 72 minute set.

Booker worked in Europe between 1976 and '78; there, he felt more appreciated than in his homeland. However, he returned to the States in '78 and found a gig as house pianist in a New Orleans bar. He recorded a couple of poorly received albums but he always felt sorely underappreciated. Consequently, his addictions took a more severe hold leading to his eventual death. This album shows James Booker at his best and it's out now.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2019 19:42

 

LEE FIELDS; It Rains Love (Big Crown)

Friday, 15 March 2019 15:52 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altLee Fields, with plenty of justification, sees himself as one of the last great, old school soul men. He's been plying his trade since the 60s and he's enjoyed some highs and sadly plenty of lows. However, with bags of self belief, a passion for what he does and his faith, he's kept going and though he's never made the major league he's still happy to be making the music he knows and loves.

'It Rains Love' – Lee's latest album, produced by Leon Michels – is full of the qualities that we've just listed – self belief, passion, faith, commitment and, yes, bags of old school soul . It's patently obvious right from the start. As your stylus hits the groove (or the laser finds the spot, or whatever!) on the first track (the LP's title cut) you'll know that you're in for an old school soul treat. Rough and tough, the cut is imbued with the spirit of Bobby Womack and in these trying times you can't argue with the message. 'God Is Real' is another of the album's focus cuts. It's a musical embodiment of where Lee Fields is at - both lyrically and sonically - and as many have said, if you want to define soul music don't use complicated words just play some of the music. Play this track and you have your definition.

At the risk of labouring the point, hit any of the ten tracks here and you'll get the same message – that old school, proper soul music is alive and well. Tunes like 'Will I Get Off Easy' and 'Blessed With The Best' could be long lost artefacts from the legendary indie studios of Memphis, Muscle Shoals or Malaco but they're not!

Right across the album, Lee is backed by his faithful and long-serving band, The Expressions and they nail every tune. The brass work in particular is remarkable and the whole ensemble create the exact vibe for Lee's powerful and impassioned vocal attack. You can find out more about this album and Lee's long career via our recent interview. Go to our interview archive.

Lee Fields and the Expressions'' 'It Rains Love' is officially available from April 6th.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 15 March 2019 16:00

 

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