Reviews

LASPERANZA: SEEDS (Dome)

Friday, 10 May 2019 18:20 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altUK soul brand leader Dome Records have been uncharacteristically quiet for a while but they're now back in real style with this much-anticipated project from Lasperanza (the word is something to do with hope). Lasperanza is the brainchild of UK producer/musician Rico Garofalo who's been on the scene since the 90s but he's long harboured a dream of recording an album of the songs that made him fall in love with soul in the 80s – the music that made him realize that he wanted a job in the business himself. Six years ago he built himself a studio in Hertfordshire and, at first just for himself, he started to record some of those influential tunes. The project grew and grew and when the Dome people got to know about it (and they know a thing or two about soul!) they decided to work with Rico and release it as a commercial album.

The album launch was preceded by two very well-received singles.... a version of Gwen Guthrie's 'It Should Have Been You' (with vocal from Izzy Chase)' and an intriguing version of MJ's 'Working Day And Night'...vocalist here is Kayleigh O'Neill. The key word in that last sentence is "intriguing". You see Rico didn't just want to do straight covers; he wanted something a little different; "I didn't want to do straightforward covers. I wanted to change the arrangements, be it from a rhythmic or harmonic aspect, sometimes both, while always keeping a soul/jazz flavor. Give the songs a new lease of life rather than just a fresh lick of paint".

And there's plenty that's different here. For instance take Lasperanza's look at that most familiar of soul songs – Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together'. Here it sounds like a different song altogether... a sort of Incognito thing going on... yes different.

Another thing that's different about 'Seeds' in comparison to other "covers" album is that many of the songs aren't that well-known. Sure we all know about 'Let's Stay Together' and 'Working Day And Night' but what about Lou Rawls' 'Early Morning Love', Angela Bofill's 'Under The Moon' and Marc Sadane's 'One Minute From Love'? If you know the Sadane song you'll know it's a brisk modern soul dancer. Here Rico turns it into a moving ballad... the inspiration, he says, was Tower Of Power.

'Seeds' is available now via Dome Records and Mr G says that the title is important: "these songs were some of the seeds that planted the roots of my love and passion for soul music." If you love soul too you'll surely want to investigate these passionate (and different) covers.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2019 18:31

 

ELAN TROTMAN; Dear Marvin (Woodward Avenue)

Friday, 10 May 2019 18:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altMarvin Gaye's back catalogue (especially his work from the 'What's Going On' period) has been covered by countless artists – with varying degrees of success, I have to say. Latest to offer his own spin on the Gaye magic is Barbados-born sax man Elan Trotman. Educated at the famous Berklee College Of Music in Boston, Mr T has recorded and performed with plenty of big names – including Michael McDonald, Roberta Flack, Jonathan Butler, Keiko Matsui, Johnny Gill, Jeffrey Osborne, Sheila E, Marcus Miller, Will Downing, Earl Klugh, Jeff Lorber, Peter White and Peabo Bryson. In his own right, he's enjoyed plenty of smooth jazz chart success and this new 10 track love letter to Marvin Gaye is sure to win plenty of favour too. It's an undemanding, easy-on-the ear, slickly produced set of covers, very much in the style of Elan's heroes – Grover Washington Jr, Kirk Whaum and Najee.

And, not by coincidence I'm guessing, Najee is one of the album's featured guests. He plays flute on a fairly straight cover of 'After The Dance'. There's vocal input on this from Tim "Smithsonian" Smith who also takes lead on 'Sexual Healing'. Other album guests include Patches Stewart whose trumpet graces 'Distant Lover', Jeff Lorber who takes the keyboard solo on 'Trouble Man' and Jeff Bradshaw whose trombone beefs up 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine'. Vocalist Ray Greene warbles sweetly on 'Mercy Mercy Me' while - offering something a little different - Obodele Thompson raps in old school fashion on 'I Want You'. In truth that rap is really the only inclusion that takes us away from the original Gaye versions. All the tunes are treated with respect; and why not? They're great tunes and don't need to much fussing over and great to hear 'em all over again with Elan's soulful sax taking over from those much loved, familiar vocals.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2019 18:32

 

CRACK OF DAWN; Spotlight (via CD Baby)

Thursday, 09 May 2019 13:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSadly, I've never heard of 'em till recently (much to my shame) but Canadian band Crack Of Dawn have been in business for over 40 years peddling their own brand of old school soul and funk. They were actually discovered by Otis Redding's manager and Canadian record sales statistics will tell you that Crack Of Dawn have sold more records than "big" bands like Earth Wind and Fire!

Over four decades there's been plenty of personnel changes but at the moment the band features the wonderful voice of Michael Dunston, guitarist and producer Carl Harvey (ex Toots and the Maytals), sax player, Alvin Jones, trombonist Trevor Daley (who has played with Third World), trumpeter Alexis Baro, keyboardist Bela Hayman, drummer Carl Otway, percussionist Mark Daniels and bassist Charles Sinclair (who has played with Al Green).

This new 'Spotlight' LP was heralded a month or so back with the mighty single 'Ol Skool'... an appropriate title for a tune that was a joyous throwback to the great days of the 80s weekenders. Brimming with the optimism that only upbeat soul can engender, the song featured one of those popular soul greats litanies....a winner!

The good news is that the 'Spotlight' album offers plenty more of the same. 'Keep The Faith' is crafted from the same ingredients; 'Somebody's Watching' is brassy and brash (flavours of Tower Of Power) while on 'Booby Rooby' the band prove that they can "do" funk with the very best! The album's title track is a sweet but not cloying ballad but the cut that keeps beckoning me back is the mid-tempo groove that is 'It's Alright'. It reminds me just a little of JJ Jackson's 'But It's Alright'... and it's not just the title... think it's the catchy hook.

Sadly it's taken me forty years to catch up with Crack Of Dawn... better late than never; here's hoping the wider soul community investigate the band.... they won't be disappointed!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2019 13:41

 

TRISTAN: The Spice Of Five (Isolde)

Wednesday, 08 May 2019 13:37 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altTristan is a Dutch band whose 2016 long player, 'Lifestyle' impressed plenty across the soul world. The music was a very particular hybrid of Incognito, the Brand New Heavies, Shakatak and Swing Out Sister. Though we need to say that what the fivesome create isn't like anything the above produce; it's just that there are elements of those sounds in the sounds that Tristan produce. Music always speaks louder than words so on 'The Spice Of Five' – their brand new LP – go first to 'Down Town' to hear the band's signature sound.... smooth (ish) jazz; light (ish) soul... that and more. The vocal of Evelyn Kallansee is sweet, light and melodic with an edge when required. It's a sunshine, optimistic sound – meticulously produced - and there's plenty more of it across the album's 12 tracks.

Other cuts worth checking are the wistful '1985', the lovely ballad, 'Where Do We Go From Here' 'Neon Girls' and 'I Left My Jacket In The Van'. Those last two boast clever and intriguing lyrics that are a cut above your average soul song.

Tristan tells us that the album title 'The Spice Of Five' is a sort of double entendre. It's the band's fifth long player and, like a great recipe, each of the band's five members brings their own special gifts to this particular dish. The songs are all collaborative efforts and on each cut each team member is allowed to shine. Naturally Ms Kallansee is out front as vocalist but keyboardist Coen Molenaar is never far from the action while guitarist Gut Nikkels provides bite when needed and the engine room of bassist Frans Vollink and drummer Sebastian Cornelissen keep everything on track. Indeed the listing includes two instrumentals - 'Travel' and 'Don't Skip This' –which allow the players to stretch and flex.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2019 14:16

 

SHIRLEY MURDOCK; Shirley Murdock (SoulMusic Records)

Wednesday, 08 May 2019 13:33 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altLike many soul singers, Toledo-born Shirley Murdock began her musical apprenticeship in the Church. And it was while she was working with the End Of Time Reveal Evangelic Crusade Choir that she was "discovered" by Roger Troutman who enlisted her services for his Zapp conglomerate. At first Shirley didn't even know who Troutman or Zapp were but she soon discovered they were on their way to "next big thing" status" via their use of the talk box and all its spaced out connotations. So, despite some reservations and after encouragement from keyboardist Dale DeGroat (who would become Shirley's husband) she signed up to the Zapp circus. Shirley featured on Roger's 'Cut It Out' and 'Computer Love' and before too long she had her own deal with Elektra Records.

Hit singles came in the shape of '86's 'No More' and 'As We Lay' and before long there was the obligatory album. The eponymous 9 tracker went gold, yet despite that success it's been out of print for some time. To oblige, David Nathan's SoulMusic Records have just reissued it with (as is the modern way) the addition of all kinds of extras and bonuses.

The original album is very much a time piece but 'As We Lay' can still bring out the goose bumps. I'm guessing it's the plethora of bonuses that will attract the collectors to this double CD. They come in the form of eight bonus cuts – that include five single edits; 'Computer Love' is there!

The second CD in the pack offers eleven tracks – various mixes of the original LP tracks and a big, extended version of 'Computer Love'.

Interestingly for a church-reared girl, much of the material is risqué but through it all Shirley kept her faith and after the heady Troutman/Zapp days she returned to gospel and is still recording in that genre.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2019 14:17

 

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