Reviews

VARIOUS; SOUL LOUNGE 13 (Dome)

Wednesday, 10 May 2017 18:52 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOne of the highlights of the soul year is the regular 'Soul Lounge' box set compilation from ever-dependable Dome Records. The series now consists of 13 instalments and this new 40 track, 3 CD collection is every bit as good as all those that have gone before and the bonus is that the price is very decent (expect to pay around £12).

The format of 'Soul Lounge 13' is the same as the previous 12. That's to say you get lots and lots of classy modern soul – some of it brand new and something from the archives – from names familiar and not so and though you will recognize and know most of the selections, the plus is that those familiar items are often offered in a mix that you may not be that familiar with. Best example here is probably Beverly Knight's 'Moving On Up' – still a great tune, of course, but here it comes in an earthier, slightly slower "Ethnic Boyz Remix".

Other remixes to look out for include Nigel Lowis' mix of Shaun Escoffery's 'The Healing Game' (one of this year's BIG tunes) and the "Young Pulse" mix of Jarrod Lawson's 'Spiritual Eyes'. And talking of Shaun and Jarrod, those two gents provide two of the collection's real highlights. First, Escoffery's spine tingling version of 'A House Is Not A Home', recorded at a Royal Festival Hall Burt Bacharach tribute concert; then an excellent Jarrod Lawson rendition of Lauryn Hill's 'Ex Factor' which was recorded for Trevor Nelson's BBC 1Xtra Live Lounge. Both recordings are exclusive to this album and worth the twelve quid admission price on their own. To let you know though, you'll also get excellence from people like Tony Momrelle, Simon Law featuring Caron Wheeler, Avery Sunshine, Incognito, Anthony David, Greg Dean, Incognito and Bluey, Eric Roberson, Dennis Taylor and Down To The Bone.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 May 2017 18:59

 

Johnny "Guitar" Watson: 'Ain't That A Bitch' and 'A Real Mutha For Ya' (Culture Factory)

Saturday, 06 May 2017 08:04 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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These were Houston-born Watson's two biggest selling albums, released in 1976 and '77 respectively for the UK-based DJM label. They contain some of Watson's best-known tunes and have just been reissued by France's Culture Factory label on limited edition coloured vinyl to coincide with Record Store Day.  Now available on blue vinyl, 'Ain't That A Bitch' is a significant album in Watson's canon as it heralded his transformation from a journeyman blues guitarist - whose biggest hits up to that point were scored in the mid-'50s and early-'60s - to a pimped-up blues-funk superstar. Combining a flamboyant persona with a distinctive, funked-up brand of blues and soul, Watson hit the US singles chart in 1976 with two fine 45s - the disco-tinged 'I Need It' and infectious, funk-infused 'Superman Lover' - taken from his 'Ain't That A Bitch' album (the title tune is also a killer track). Watson's charisma as well as his talent is what lights up 'Ain't That A Bitch.'  Not only could he play some mean, stinging blues guitar licks, but he also possessed a one-of-a-kind, super-smooth voice - and combined, those two features became an irresistible attraction in the mid-to-late-'70s. In fact, Johnny "Guitar" Watson contemporised the blues. In so doing, he attracted a new, younger, audience and made the idiom seem relevant again for a new generation of listeners.

1977's 'A Real Mutha For Ya' - pressed here on yellow vinyl and which boasts an hilarious front cover - was an even bigger smash (in fact, it represented the apex of his commercial success). The classic title cut was a Top 5 US R&B hit - a humorous meditation on the vagaries of contemporary life that everyone could relate to - while the groove ballad, 'Lover Jones,' made the same chart's Top 40. Other highlights include the breezy, horn-laden 'Your Love Is My Love' - where Watson, a year before Herbie Hancock, processes his vocals with a vocoder/vocie box effect.  'Tarzan,' cast from a similar mould to 'A Real Mutha For Ya's' title cut, also stands out and features some ace guitar playing. Forty years on from their original release, both these LPs continue to shine brightly as the biggest jewels in Johnny "Guitar" Watson's crown. Both albums are pressed up in quantities of 2,000 so there's still plenty of time to snap up a copy. Get one while you still can - you won't be disappointed.

(CW) 4/5    

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Last Updated on Monday, 08 May 2017 16:47

 

AVERY* SUNSHINE: Twenty Six Four (Shanachie)

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 20:23 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThough she'd never complain Avery* Sunshine's been a busy girl. Denise Nicole White (for that's her given name) won loads and loads of fiends with her second LP, 'The Sunroom'. Cleverly chosen singles and remixes kept the album alive and from then on it was regular touring and media appearances. They came alongside award nominations and work with people like Gregory Porter, Babyface, Will Downing, Patti Labelle, Aretha, Smokey and Boy George. We will, though, pass on him! Oh we almost forgot, Little Miss Sunshine also got herself married. She finally tied the knot with long time musical collaborator Dana "Big Dane" Johnson and much of the music on 'Twenty Four Six' reflects the couple's new loved up state (not that we're suggesting, that they weren't a couple previously).

Those who enjoy unashamed romantic soul will find plenty to please them here. Try 'Everything I Got' for starters. It's quite lovely and is enhanced by some fine muted brass figures. 'Heaven Is Right Here With Me' is out of the same romantic stable, This features a gentleman I'm not that familiar with... Mr Talkbox (he, of course, offers talk boxing). Another album guest is Frank McComb who offers his typically Hathaway-esque Rhodes on 'Kiss And Make It Better'. Then of course there's the title track... over six minutes of mutual love that even features archive recording of the wedding ceremony . How cheesy you consider the complex sand allegory ("The different colours sand is showing that we're bringing all of these family members together, right? And once joined the bits of sand begin to settle and to mix and you can't take them apart.....this is the eternity of a family.") depends, I guess, on your own romantic inclinations. If you want more of the Johnson nuptials, the pair even include their wedding song, 'The Ice Cream Song'. Avery wrote it especially for the wedding and is there anything more romantic than declaring "I'd give up ice cream for you"? What saves songs like this descending into sentimentality are the wonderful soul arrangements (classic AND contemporary) and Avery's true soul, committed voice. She is gospel trained, of course, but you would guess that wouldn't you?. Throughout, hear shades of Jill Scott, Angela Johnson, Deniece Williams even Alicia Keys – but singularly hear Avery Sunshine.

If you want something a touch tougher than the ballads you may want to try 'Used Car'. With clever lyrics and neo Motown rhythms, it will bring a smile to your face. But in fairness this is an album for those quiet storm moments. There is one oddity, though – 'Prayer Room' . With pedal steel and acoustic guitar, there's a definite country feel to the song that makes it hard to pigeon hole.

I've read that Avery Sunshine describes herself as a cross between Oprah Winfrey and Bette Midler. It may sound odd, but you know, listen long and hard to 'Twenty Six Four' and you'll start to understand... empowerment, encouragement, empathy, enjoyment, entertainment; all here... and, oh, have we mentioned romance?

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 May 2017 20:32

 

LIVE: Gregory Porter @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 01/05/2017

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 11:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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What more can be said or written about Gregory Porter that's not already been said or written? Since his emergence in 2012, the 6' 3" soulful jazz cat in the cap has taken the world by storm and seduced it with an irresistible combination of formidable God-given talent, personal magnetism and disarming humility. This former chef is, without doubt, a peerless singer and songwriter who has helped to revive a mainstream interest in jazz and almost singlehandedly made it a viable commercial commodity again - and he's done that without diluting the art form for mass consumption. And all the while, he's remained true to himself and, perhaps, more importantly, to jazz's spirit of improvisation and capturing the moment.

Since his debut as a relatively unknown recording artist at Cheltenham in 2013, he's returned to perform there every year. It's no exaggeration to state that the Gloucestershire spa town has adopted the Californian singer as its own and regards him as a returning local hero. Indeed, the place is almost like a second home to Porter, as he acknowledged to the audience at his concert that closed the festival. "It's a beautiful little village that's been created for this festival ...and it feels good to come back," he said. But there was no resting on his laurels by Porter here even in such a familiar environment in front of adoring fans and he pulled out all the stops in a breathtaking show that lasted two hours. Though it started in a low key manner, with the stoical ballad, 'Holding On,' the pace of the show picked up for an electrifying 'On My Way To Harlem,' which was taken at a break-neck tempo. In the main, Porter mostly served up renditions of material from his last two Blue Note LPs, the best-selling 'Liquid Spirit' and 'Take Me To The Alley.' But though these two albums were embraced by mainstream listeners, they included songs that featured jazz style solos and here, the singer's superlative band, ramped up the jazz quotient with extended passages of dazzling extemporisation. Pianist Chip Crawford and saxophonist Kamau Kenyatta impressed greatly with their instrumental prowess while bassist Jahmal Nichols and drummer Emanuel Harrold functioned as a dependable but also occasionally flamboyant rhythm section (each musician was given the opportunity to show their skills during long unaccompanied passages near the end of the show).  

Though blessed with a powerful set of lungs, Porter showed his innate sensitivity on the gentle ballads, 'Hey Laura,' 'In Fashion,' and 'Consequence Of Love,' and then showed a more declamatory side on the rousing 'Musical Genocide' which was preceded by a souped-up version of the Temptations' 'Papa Was A Rollin' Stone.' Porter then demonstrated his strong gospel roots by taking the audience to church with 'Liquid Spirit' and an impassioned version of the jazz standard, 'Work Song.' For the inevitable encore, Porter mellowed things down with the uplifting groove-ballad, 'No Love Dying, ' where he engaged in impromptu call-and-response vocals with the audience. It brought the curtain down on a memorable evening that not only affirmed Gregory Porter's prodigious talents but also underlined the importance of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival as a UK platform for showcasing the best musicians from around the world.

(CW)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 May 2017 15:10

 

The Devil Is Dope’ and ‘In The Rain’

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 10:12 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altUK collectors' label Soul Junction is renowned for its catalogue of quality rare groove and archive vinyl 7" reissues. They don't often do CD albums, so when they do you can be sure we're talking quality, in-demand, grown-up soul music and their latest sortie into albums is just that!

Soul Junction's latest long player focuses on Detroit harmony group, The Holidays. Though to add a little confusion to the mix, The Holidays also recorded as "The New Holidays", "The Fabulous Holidays" and just 'Holidays". More confusion? Well soul anoraks will know that were dozens of soul groups going out as "The Holidays"; so to be specific, the Holidays featured here were Detroit-based and for most of their life span they featured the brothers Jack and James Holland alongside various others (including Joe Billingslea of the Contours). Their biggest claims to fame seem to be the facts that they were the first to record Tony Hester/Don Davis' 'The Devil Is Dope' and 'In The Rain' (hits for the Dramatics, of course)and that in 2009 blue-eyed soul man Mayer Hawthorne covered their 'Maybe So, Maybe No' on his 'Strange Arrangement' album.

Indeed 'Maybe So, Maybe No' starts proceedings here. Written by Popcorn Wylie and Tony Hester and released on Wylie's Soulhawk label in 1969 this is a classic piece of Detroit harmony soul, sweet n' lovely. The flip side of the single (also featured here) is the busier, lead vocal-switching 'If I Only Knew', By the way, if you want to search for the original Soulhawk 45, the group were credited as "The New Holidays".

The remaining 13 tracks come from the Holidays' tenure at labels like Marathon, Ron-Hol and Ron Ron. Marathon was the group's own label and best of the Marathon material are the two sides of the label's first release. 'I'm So Glad I Met You' is a lovely, light dancer while 'Too Many Times' is a dramatic ballad. Both songs, by the way, were co-written by sometime Contour, Sylvester Potts.

Though we don't get the Holidays' versions of 'The Devil Is Dope' and 'In The Rain' (tapes lost?) there are plenty more highlights. Amongst 'em are 'Lazy Days' (a kind of Dells' pastiche with spoken intro); 'This Is Love (A Little Understanding)' and 'Getting Kind Of Serious' - both surprisingly lavishly produced for a small label release. In truth though point your remote at any of the 15 tracks on 'Getting Kind Of Soulful' and you'll enjoy quality, in-demand, grown-up soul music. But haven't we said that before?

Find out more @ www.souljunction.co.uk

(BB) 4/5

 

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