Reviews

LISA STANSFIELD; Deeper (earMUSIC)

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 16:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThough Lisa Stansfield's been around since the 80s, I was surprised to learn that this latest long player, 'Deeper' is only her eighth studio album. Clearly Rochdale's finest prides herself on quality over quantity; for sure, you see 'Deeper' is stuffed with quality Brit soul and classy pop and will sit perfectly in Ms S's small but perfectly formed canon.

Astute followers will know by now that 'Deeper' has been heralded by two singles. Back in January we enjoyed the tight, electro groove that was 'Everything' and more recently there was the radio friendly 'Billionaire'. Wisely, Lisa and her people had 'Billionaire' remixed by modern soul don, Rob Hardt (of Cool Million/Sed Soul) and the result was a gorgeous modern soul groove that proved (again) that Lisa is still at the top of her soul game. The great news for the soul crew is that this album offers plenty more soul treasures – none finer than the title cut. 'Deeper' (the track) is one hell of a tune! It rides in on a bass line that reminds me of Maxwell's 'Ascension Don't Ever Wonder' and develops into four minutes worth of modern soul perfection topped with a fab sax break from Mick Donnelly. This is the single-in-waiting. The faster 'Never Ever' is another soul winner - zipping along with confidence and panache. The big soul ballad is 'Coming Up For Air' but the set's best slow moment comes via the heart-rending 'Hole In My Heart'. You can guess from the title where this one is coming from.

Elsewhere, 'Twisted' is an enjoyable oddity. After a slow start it builds into something that kind of embraces Latino rhythms (hear those castanets!) alongside Northern soul flavours. There's another nod to Lisa's roots on 'Desire'. This is a boomy, bassy dancer that recalls the great days of Cold Cut and Blue Zone while I'm guessing that the cover of Family Stand's 1990 'Ghetto Heaven' is Stansfield's homage to her past and/or influences. Quite different is the funky 'Butterflies'; for sure, it's not JB style funk but it is tough and tight with an authentic horn arrangement from veteran Jerry Hey and a crazy sax solo from Athol Ransome. Counter that with the electro trickery of 'Just Can't Help Myself' and factor in the tunes we've described and you can see that Lisa has delivered one of her most varied albums to date. Varied and, yes, stuffed with quality – not quantity.

LISA STANSFIELD; 'Deeper' is released on earMUSIC on April 6th

(BB) 4/5

 

MFSB: The Definitive Collection (Robin Songs)

Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:24 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAll soul collectors know that all the great labels had their own studio band.... Stax, Motown, FAME and more used the same players over and over again giving the music that the labels issued an easily identifiable sound. Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International label was no different. Right from the start (with their earlier labels like Gamble and Neptune) the dynamic duo knew the value of using the same musicians and working out of Philadelphia, they were spoilt for choice. The City Of Brotherly Love was chock-a-block with top, seasoned session players who'd worked for earlier, influential labels like Cameo-Parkway and Arctic while many of the city's large Italian immigrant population had retained a love of and an ability to play Italian string-driven operatic and orchestral music ... the "sweetener" that Gamble and Huff used consistently to make their records a little different, a little more polished, a little more sophisticated. And the studio players they assembled at Sigma to back the O'Jays, the Three Degrees, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the Intruders and many more did just that – created a very special sound.

That sound was so special that in 1973 Gamble and Huff decided to release records specifically by their studio orchestra and when a name was needed they opted for MFSB - "Mother, Father, Sister, Brother" or something ruder, depending on whom you believe. Soul buffs will know the names of the key players. People like Thom Bell, Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, Earl Young, Don Renaldo and Vince Montana are the stuff of soul legend; ditto the music they crafted.

Over the years many of MFSB's albums have been reissued but it's hard to remember anything that resembles a definitive retrospective. Et voila – here we have one! Robin Songs have just issued this delightful 2 CD, 32 track collection that pulls together all the big moments from MFSB's history... none bigger than 'TSOP' – the catchy, signature earworm that perfectly sums up the MFSB sound. Elsewhere there's a moody version of 'Backstabbers', the smooth jazz precursor 'Old San Juan', the obligatory cover of Elton John's 'Philadelphia Freedom', the vocalised (one of several) 'Let's Clean Up The Ghetto' and much more.

For those who want to know what's what and who's who, the sleeve notes come courtesy of SJF's redoubtable Charles Waring. They describe the music with the insight it deserves.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:31

 

ZZ HILL: That’s It (Kent)

Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:20 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altA few reviews back we explored an Ace/Kent album that spotlighted southern soul man, George Jackson. Now the same label offers an insight into the career of another southern soulster who enjoys the same kind of status as George Jackson. You see, like George, Texas' ZZ Hill is almost anonymous to the mainstream, but just like Jackson, Hill's oeuvre is revered by knowing collectors and they will be delighted with this new 2CD, 49 track collection that rounds up everything he recorded for Modern/Kent between 1964 and 1968.

Born Arzell Hill in 1935, ZZ's first musical forays were in the church but mentored by his brother Matt, he eventually signed a deal with Kent/Modern . There he recorded a slew of singles and one great album, 'A Whole Lot Of Soul'. Neither the singles nor the long player were particularly successful but as the collection proves, lack of success doesn't mean lack of quality. Hill's work at Kent/Modern is right up there with the best of southern soul – a tad bluesier, yes (Hill's roots were in Texas, after all) but still mighty soulful and always authentic.

This collection's first CD offers all of Hill's Kent singles and across the 27 tracks there's so much quality that it's impossible to cherry pick. Sound wise, the music is typically Texas soul blues much in the manner of Bobby Bland, though, oddly maybe, you can also hear traces of Joe Tex. Some of the cuts are a little more polished, a little more uptown- notably 'No More Doggin'', 'Set Your Sights Higher' and the pastiche of Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure's 'Don't Mess Up a Good Thing' that is 'Gimme Gimme'. The gloss on these tracks is probably down to producer Marc Gordon (later owner of Soul City Records) who at that time, as well as working for Kent/Modern, was also representing Motown on the West Coast and it's probable that some of the Motown ways were rubbing off on him even then. All the tracks on CD 1, by the way, are in mono.

The first half of the set's second CD offers Hill's 1967 album 'A Whole Lot Of Soul' – appearing for the first time on CD. The 12 tracks are in stereo and the repertoire consists of Hill's covers of well-known soul hits like 'When Something Is Wrong With My Baby', 'Knock On Wood' and 'Steal Away'. Interestingly there is a Bobby Bland cover – 'You Gonna Make Me Cry'; the most intriguing cut, though, is the take on Bettye Swann' 'Make Me Yours'.

The remaining tracks on CD 2 (some previously unissued) are tracks that Kent/Modern owner Joe Bihari "doctored" after Hill had left his label. In the early 70s, working for his brother's MHR label and Jerry Williams' Mankind, ZZ started to achieve moderate success so, to cash in, the ever-hustling Bihari tried to improve old ZZ Hill material – adding strings and so on – to score hits of his own. Most interesting of these "new" tracks is 'You Won't Hurt No More' – a blatant rip off of Brenda Holloway's 'Every Little Bit Hurts'. It's quite lovely but it was never released – it seems Bihari got cold feet and sensed that the Motown plagiarism lawyers would have had a field day!

ZZ Hill's 'That's It' is out now on Ace/Kent

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:31

 

VARIOUS: Brian Power Presents Soulhouse Volume1 (Soulhouse)

Tuesday, 06 March 2018 20:43 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBrian Power is a much loved and respected spinner on the UK soul and soulful house scene. Quite remarkable really when you learn that he only started DJ-ing in 2013 at the age of 50! (There's hope for us all!). Since that Damascene gig at London's Vintage Bean Café on Brick Lane, Mr P's played out all over (including the obligatory Ibiza gigs) and worked with luminaries like DJ Spen, Mike Delgado, Ronnie Herel and Richard Earnshaw. Brian also presents the monthly SoulHouse Radio Show on Mi-Soul Radio and, more importantly, last year he launched his own SoulHouse label.

In a short space of time the label has become hugely successful via a series of beautifully crafted and soulfully inspired singles – many of them have scaled all the credible charts and most have graced savvy DJ sets worldwide.

Why has the label been so successful in such a relatively short time span? Well several reasons. First and foremost, Brian's a fan – a huge soul fan of forty years standing and a committed clubber for more years than he cares to remember. He understands the genre and he knows what the people want. Because of that he knows how to craft a good tune and when the occasion demands he also knows how to pick a classic to cover. (The SoulHouse tweak on Luther Vandross' 'I Wanted Your Love' was a massive club hit). Then, because of his status, he can get some of the genre's top players to work with him.... people like bassist Ernie McKone, guitarist Luca Feroni and ace keyboardist Mike Patto. And finally he uses only the best vocalists to front his creations.... none better than the lovely Rebecca Scales who fronts two songs on this – SoulHouse's first album ... a compilation of the best of the label's singles.

Ms Scales fronts 'So Long Gone' and 'Have You Ever'. The former comes in two mixes – a Richard Earnshaw mix and one from Eric Kupper. By common consent the Kupper mix was THE soulful house tune of 2016. Everything about it was right. Most notably Rebecca's emotion-wringing vocal. Naturally it's one of this compilation's highlights. Others include the aforementioned 'I Wanted Your Love' with a Vandross style vocal from Ali Tenant and a cover of Jeffrey Osborne's 'I Really Don't Need No Light' fronted by Lloyd Wade.

The compilation boasts three brand new cuts - 'You Mean The World To Me' with house legend Marc Evans at the mic; a big Samba school workout, 'Memoria De Roberto' and 'You Win' which is a showcase for newcomer Michelle John. Brian spotted Michelle on The Voice (she was last year's runner up) proving again that he knows what makes things work and there's lashings more evidence on this 2Cd set that offers one satisfying eleven track disc and a big, big Brian Power master mix that segues all the highlights on a second disc.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 March 2018 21:01

 

JACKIE DESHANNON: 'Stone Cold Soul - The Complete Capitol Recordings' (Real Gone)

Sunday, 04 March 2018 11:44 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                  altOriginally from Hazel, Kentucky, Jackie DeShannon started her recording career as a precociously-talented teenager in the late 1950s but it wasn't until the following decade that the singer born  Sharon Lee Myers started making an impact on the US pop charts, racking up a slew of chart entries for the Liberty/Imperial labels between 1961 and 1970. Her two biggest hits were  'What The World Needs Now' from 1965, and 'Put A Little Love In Your Heart,' recorded four years later. But when 1970 arrived - ushering in the age of the singer/songwriter -  DeShannon, whose recordings had become increasingly soul-influenced,  was seeking a change of direction, and opted to join Capitol Records as 1971 approached. It proved to be a brief stop, with the singer/songwriter  releasing a lone album for the label ('Songs,' issued in June 1971) before being poached by Atlantic Records' Jerry Wexler.

This new 25-track retrospective offers us an opportunity to re-evaluate Jackie DeShannon's brief spell at Capitol Records. It proves to be a revelatory archival discovery - one that reveals that the former pop princess was morphing into a rootsy, southern soul sister. Capitol initially sent her down to Memphis in January 1971 to record at producer Chip Moman's American Sound Studios, a veritable southern hit factory that had produced chart smashes for Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Neil Diamond in the late '60s. The sessions yielded an album's worth of material helmed by Moman using the formidable talents of the studio's ace session crew (guitarist Reggie Young, keyboardists Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood, drummer Gene Chrisman) but Capitol rejected after the single, 'Stone Cold Soul' (co-written by Mark James, who wrote 'Suspicious Minds') failed to take off. They canned all of the remaining Memphis material, except the jaunty, Kurt Weill-influenced cabaret song, 'Show Me,' which ended up on DeShannon's eventual LP for the label, 'Songs,' recorded during April '71 in California.

Though 'Songs' (whose content is mainly included towards the tail-end of this set) is a good album (its main highlight being Bob Dylan's 'Lay Lady Lay,' reconfigured as 'Lay Baby Lay'), the rejected Memphis tracks helmed by Moman form the most impressive part of this compilation which includes five never-released-before tracks. They show how much DeShannon had developed as a vocalist since her pop days at Imperial. Her voice is husky and soulful, blending gospel, blues, and  Americana elements into a singular style. She really impresses on an all-too-short version of William Bell's 'Don't Miss Your Water,' which offers tantalising taster of what she can do. The Goffin-King ballad, 'Child Of Mine,' is recast as a country ballad with gospel inflections and she also delivers fine interpretations of songs by George Harrison ('Isn't It A Pity'), Van Morrison (a terrific version of 'And It Stoned Me'), Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn ('Sweet Inspiration,' where DeShannon's vocals are counterpointed by responses from a gospel choir), Arlo Guthrie ('Gabriel's Mother's Highway'), and Emitt Rhodes (the anthemic 'Live Till You Die'). DeShannon also submits some fine self-penned material in the shape of the plaintive  'Now That The Desert Is Blooming' (she also contributed 'Bad Water, 'Salinas,' and 'West Virginia Mine' on the 'Songs' album).

Hats off, then, to Real Gone for making available all of Ms. DeShannon's Capitol sides for the first time ever. It's a thoroughly engaging set that anticipates the singer/songwriter style of her much-lauded Atlantic output of the early '70s.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 March 2018 16:37

 

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