SYLEENA JOHNSON: The Rebirth Of Soul (Shanachie)

Friday, 10 November 2017 15:15 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altThe lovely Syleena Johnson is a proper soul singer with a real pedigree. Her father is soul/blues man Syl Johnson –most famous for his oft-sampled anthem 'Is It Because I'm Black' and the original waxing of 'Take Me To The River'. In her career, Ms J has produced some blistering soul music – some of it helmed by her father. Now she treats us to a whole long player which was conceived and produced by Syl. It's a simple concept – a set of covers of soul tunes, some better known than others; but what makes this so special is that clearly the two key participants – dad and daughter- know, respect and love the genre. What's more, to keep it real, live instrumentation is used throughout and Syl has used his clout to persuade legendary session players like Tom Washington and Willie Henderson to get on board. The end result is a beautiful tribute to classic soul music – not a pastiche, not a karaoke exercise; rather an injection of freshness and energy into the familiar... a "rebirth" indeed.

The album was heralded by the single 'We Did it' and anoraks will know that the song was originally recorded by Syl himself (they'll also tell you that that original was arranged by Donny Hathaway) and on this new version you can hear the joy of two people working on a project inspired by love. Syl gets Syleena to tackle another of his songs – the aforementioned 'Is It Because I'm Black. Like the original, this is dark and brooding... sinister even. Other sombre moments include versions of 'These Arms Of Mine 'and 'I'd Rather Go Blind'. Yep, great soul music can be a downer!

But great soul also has the ability to lift you up and make you smile and there are plenty of examples here. Chief amongst 'em is a belting version of Major Lance's 'The Monkey Time'. The two Johnsons play it like it should be played... chinking guitar, parping brass and wonderful second line harmonies. Dear old Curtis would be proud of it! The other big "up" moment is the cover of 'Make Me Yours' while for you old romantics, there's 'The Makings Of You'.

I've noticed that several US soul sites have made 'Rebirth Of Soul' their Album Of The Month".... you can't argue with that. Syl and Syleena have produced a proper soul Renaissance!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 November 2017 15:39


BOBBY BYRD: Help For My Brother (Ace/BGP)

Friday, 10 November 2017 15:12 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altMost soul fans know of Bobby Byrd and his association with James Brown. However, it's my guess that only Brown anoraks know that without Byrd there may have never been a James Brown! The pair first met in 1953 at a baseball game. JB was playing for the Alto Reform school where he had been incarcerated and after falling into conversation with Byrd (a boy from a respectable, church-going family) he convinced the Byrds to plead for his parole. They agreed and Brown was indeed released, joining Bobby's secular vocal group, the Flames. The group's new member quickly became the big draw and when Brown quit for a solo career Bobby opted to join his backing group - The Famous Flames. The rest, of course, is history and as Brown established himself as a major player he won record deals for many of his "people", including Bobby Byrd. Indeed Byrd went on to enjoy hits in his own right through the 70s- hits that became a cornerstone for the hip-hop sampling generation.

Most of those hits (thing like 'I Know You Got Soul') are fairly accessible, but Brown recorded Byrd in the 60s too and this new 24 track Ace/BGP collection focuses on Byrd's output between 1963 and 1968 when he recorded for Federal, Smash and King.

The sound, helmed mainly by the future "godfather", is the sound of early soul and R&B. Tough and rough, you can almost hear the duo searching for a new, muscular direction for the embryonic genre. The set begins with 1963's 'I Found Out' – classic early 60's with a whiff of Sam Cooke about the simple melody – and ends with the tougher, funkier 'You Gave My Heart A Song To Sing' – a 1967 King recording that presages what was to come in the 70s. In between hear the evolution of a sound. Tunes worth investigating include the jaunty 'We Are In Love' and an odd cover of the Dells' 'Oh What A Night' where a twee female chorus replaces the soaring harmonies of the original. Like many of the cuts herein, clearly experimental but to soul historians valuable and intriguing.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 November 2017 15:37


CAMERA SOUL; Connections (Azurra Music)

Wednesday, 08 November 2017 20:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altCamera Soul is an Italian soul and funk band led by Piero and Pippo Lombardo. Piero is a kind of behind the scenes guy – handling writing and generally managing things; Pippo helps big bro with song writing and also plays keyboards. The core of the rest of the band is Beppe Sequestro (bass), Liviana Ferri (percussionist), Fabio Delle Foglie (drummer) and the lovely Maria Enrica Lotesoriere who handles the vocals.

The band work out of Barri in Southern Italy but with three acclaimed albums under their belt the band have a following throughout Europe and in Japan and their last collection – 2015's 'Dress Code' - topped all the credible soul charts in the UK. On the back of that success Camera Soul will be touring the UK at the end of November, taking the opportunity to promote this – their new long player – 'Connections'.

The 18 track album is already winning praise from soul commentators while savvy DJs have cherry picked a couple of cuts for heavy rotation. Those tunes are the set's title track and a lovely sweet n'smooth 'Tonight (in This Night'). 'Connections' (the song, not the album) is being aired in two versions; the original which is a tight, melodic soul groove and in a Tom Glide remix. The TG mix cranks up the beats into almost soulful house territory and, oddly, I think, omits the gorgeous vocal. What Monsieur Glide creates though is one huge modern soul groove that is both hypnotic and irresistible. 'Tonight' is different again – smooth jazz meets modern soul; but a lovely melody, beautifully delivered and produced... quite charming!

Elsewhere, ones we like right now are the Latino-inflected 'Meu Carnival', the poppy Northern soul pastiche 'Never Enough' and 'This Is Not The Right Way' which mines a similar groove to 'Tonight'. Listen up too to the poignant tribute to Maurice White - 'In The Stone'. It's far too brief and segues into the aforementioned 'Tonight'. Clearly EWF have been a big influence on the Lombardo brothers and I think dear old Maurice would be impressed by what Camera Soul have produced here.

Camera Soul's 'Connections' is out now and you can find out more @

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 November 2017 21:03


ERIC BENÉT; Eric Benét (BMG)

Tuesday, 07 November 2017 11:13 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThis eponymous 12 tracker is Eric Benét's eighth studio album and his first since 2012's 'The One'. The delay may have disappointed fans of the Milwaukee-born soul man, but they won't be disappointed by the new collection; it offers everything that those fans have come to know, love and appreciate abut Mr B!

First off there are plenty of those on point contemporary R&B beaters that Eric's always excelled at. Best example is the brash opener, 'Can't Tell U Enough'. The MC Lyte guested 'Holdin' On' offers a similar flavour. Slightly different but equally satisfying and danceable is the funky, Prince influenced 'Cold Trigger'... clever and quirky with a sampled Vincent Price (I think) short, spoken intro. My ears can also hear the influence of Prince on the ponderous but sexy beater that is 'Insane'.

Highlights of Benét's long players, though, have always been the sweet ballads – tunes to showcase the man's fragile falsetto. Best of the bunch here is the big production (courtesy of Demonte Posey) that is 'Fun And Games'. 'Broke And Busted' is lovely too, while 'Floating Through Time' is as ethereal and atmospheric as the title suggests. Most intriguing ballad though is the melancholic 'Never Be The Same'. Sub-titled 'Luna's Lullaby', there's clearly a personal story behind this one.

This album's biggest surprise is the huge Latin romp, 'Holdin' On'. With guest input from celebrated trumpeter, Arturo Sandoval, this is full on salsa – uplifting and optimistic. Clearly there's a connection here with Eric's recent contribution to the Cuba album 'Two Beats One Soul' (see our review section).

The album's lead single is the sweet, building floater, 'Sunshine' – a good choice; a showcase for Eric's famed falsetto.

'Eric Benét' is out now.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 November 2017 11:27


COOL MILLION: Best Of .... (Sed Soul Records)

Friday, 03 November 2017 19:21 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSince 2008 (yes 9 years!) the Cool Million crew (Rob Hardt and Frank Ryle) have been serving up a unique, superlative take on the modern soul idiom. The pair - one German, the other Danish - are passionate about soul music and as practising DJs they know the joy and optimsim that soulful dance music can bring. So, what to do when you need new, quality dance tracks to play out? Easy – create your own! That's what Frank and Rob decided to do nine years ago and, putting their proudcers hats on, they set to work with people Leroy Burgess, Eugene Wilde, Jean Carne, Keni Burke, Alton McClain, Marc Evans, Dimitri From Paris, Kenny Thomas and dear old Lisa Stansfield to craft a soul sound that had its roots in the great days of those 80s Soul Weekenders but which also had classy contemporary flavour. That mix produced a soundscape that is immediately identifiable as the "Cool Million sound" and in the last nine years any number of producers have tried to copy the process but no one (yet) has managed to capture that special sound as well as Rob and Frank.

There can't be too many modern soul collectors who don't know about Cool Million; indeed most will have plenty of Cool Million cuts in their libraries; failing that, if they're dance event attendees, they'll have cut plenty of rugs to cool Cool Million tunes.

Well if you want to keep on dancing, or refresh your Cool Million collection, or, indeed get know the team for the first time, here – via a 15 track "Best Of..." collection – is wonderful opportunity to do any of those things.

The genesis of this album is interesting. Rob and Frank told us when they work on new material they always refer back to their previous glories for ideas and inspiration. So, while preparing their upcoming (2018) tenth anniversary album, they had a long listen to their back catalogue and they decided that there was so much quality in there that their first "Best Of..." would be a good idea!

That good idea is now officially available and though many of the cuts will be familiar to modern soul buffs, to have them lined up like this is a real treat and when things like the Marc Evans-vocalized 'Don't Cha Wanna Dance' is lined up next to Kenny Thomas' 'Without Your Love' which precedes the Dimitri From Paris remix of 'Oh!' you realize just what Cool Million have achieved in the last nine years.

As a bonus there are two new songs - 'That's My Lady' featuring Danish singer Gregers and 'Lovers Come, Lovers Go' featuring US singer Kiki Kyte. There's also a new treatment of the duo's 2011 Keni Burke fronted 'So Real' ....which is exactly what it is ... so real, so good! All three of these "new" tracks boast the wonderful Cool Million sound, so for the price of one CD you can have yourself your very own modern soul night... courtesy of Rob Hardt and Frank Ryle. They won't tell us their secret formula but my hunch is that first and foremost they're passionate soul fans and that passion is what drives their music!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 03 November 2017 19:31


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