Reviews

THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH: 'Nothing But The Truth' (Ace/Kent)

Wednesday, 06 September 2017 15:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altSounding like a musical marriage between Sly & The Family Stone  and the Fifth Dimension while under the influence of  LSD, The Undisputed Truth was a Motown vocal trio created by producer Norman Whitfield who used his protégés (Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce) principally  as a vehicle for his sonic experiments in the early 1970s. The group's biggest hit by a mile was 1971's 'Smiling Faces Sometimes,' a dramatically-orchestrated paean to paranoia and hypocrisy penned by Whitfield and Barrett Strong, that struck a chord with the US public, and made #2 in R&B charts. It was the killer cut on the band's self-titled debut album, which is released in full for the first time along with their third (1973's 'Law Of The Land') and fourth (1974's 'Down To Earth') albums on this 2-CD compilation.  

One of the problems, perhaps, with The Undisputed Truth - and the main reason behind them not being massively successful - was the fact that they weren't that high in the pecking order at Motown, despite being Whitfield's pet group. As a result, they also got other Motown acts' leftovers to recycle - ironically, 'Smiling Faces Sometimes' was cut first by The Temptations, and they also covered that same vocal quintet's 'Ball of Confusion' (though they expanded it far beyond the original) plus Gladys Knight's/Marvin Gaye's 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine.' Whitfield also has them singing covers of 'California Soul,' 'Aquarius,' and even Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone.'

A similar mindset characterises the other two albums here, where more Temptations' songs get re-jigged (among them 'Papa Was A Rollin' Stone,' which lifts the bass line from Donny Hathaway's 'The Ghetto,' and 'Just My Imagination') on 'Law Of The Land.' These are interspersed with passable but unremarkable covers, including Al Green ('Love & Happiness'), Roberta Flack ('Killing Me Softly With His Song') and The Beatles' ('With A Little Help From My Friends,' based on Joe Cocker's version).  But there are some great moments - particularly on some of the Whitfield originals with their cinematic orchestrations - but the 'Law Of The Land' set is patchy, as is 'Down To Earth,' which is arguably the weaker of the three albums.  Among the six bonus tracks are 45 edits of 'What It Is' and 'You Make Your Own Heaven & Hell Right Here On Earth,' both of which appeared in longer form on the trio's second album, 1972's 'Face To Face With The Truth,' which is not included here.   

(CW) 3/5

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 September 2017 09:40

 

WILLIE HUTCH: 'Havin' A House Party' and 'Making A Game Out Of Love' (Soul Music Records)

Wednesday, 06 September 2017 14:46 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altBorn in Los Angeles and raised in Dallas, husky-voiced Willie Hutch was a distinctive singer/songwriter who came on the radar of most soul fans in the 1970s (though his career began in the '60s) when he signed to Motown and scored twelve charting R&B singles (the biggest was 1975's 'Love Power') and recorded eight albums. Never reissued before, 1977's 'Havin' A House Party' - his final offering for Berry Gordy's label in the '70s - is paired with his 1985 Motown comeback, 'Making A Game Out Of Love.' If you're familiar with any of Hutch's previous Motown albums from the '70s, then 'Havin' A House Party' won't disappoint. It's packed with some ear-catching material and strong performances, ranging from frothy symphonic dance tunes  - exemplified by the bright and breezy 'Soul Strut,' the rousing title track, the gospel-infused 'Train Of Love,' and 'Willie's Boogie'  - to simmering anthemic funk workouts  ('We Gonna Party Tonight') - and pleading ballads ('After Love Is Gone') and Hutch is also the master of the mid-tempo groove ballad as the pleading, mesmeric 'I Can So' Give You Love' attests.

After leaving Motown in '78 for the WEA-distributed Whitfield label, where he cut two albums, Hutch went back to Motown in 1982 and scored a minor hit with the excellent 'In & Out' (which is featured as a bonus cut here in both seven-inch and twelve-inch formats) before finally releasing an album in 1985. By that time, production values and recording methods had changed beyond recognition with technological developments (synths, sequencers, drum machines, samplers etc) , and 'Making A Game Out Of Love' was undoubtedly a 9-track album that reflected the changing times. Even so, Hutch's main strength - his songwriting - is still in full effect even though the musical backdrops are machine-tooled. The set's best known track was 'The Glow,' a driving, drum-machine-powered electro-funk groove complete with Hutch doing a rap (albeit somewhat unconvincingly). The Temptations guest on 'Inside You' but even their cameo and warm harmonies can't paper over the cracks of 'Making A Game Out Of Love,' whose cold techno grooves sound positively frigid.  This twofer, then, to use a football analogy, is a classic game of two halves with the '70s Motown side coming out on top.

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 September 2017 09:51

 

KIM TIBBS: Kim (Expansion)

Monday, 04 September 2017 19:22 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe name Kim Tibbs might be unfamiliar to many, but the Alabama-born, Gospel reared soulstress has been in the business for 30 years! Over that period, the keyboardist and singer/songwriter has built up an impressive CV that includes work with people like Billy Ray Cyrus, The Blind Boy of Alabama, Noel Gourdin, Percy Sledge, Bobby Rush, Bobby Bland, Paul Rogers of Bad Company, The Hi-Rhythm Section of Memphis, The Swampers of Muscle Shoals, Keke Wyatt, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals.

Last year Ms Tibbs struck out on her own debuting with a jazzy-soul single 'I Need You For Your Love!' which became a no. 1 hit in the UK Soul Chart finishing up at no.4 rating in the UK's Top 100 of the year's best soul records. That was followed by another jazz-tinged soul groove, 'Drifting' and then the uplifting 'Soul'. The buzz these records created convinced UK soul entrepreneur Ralph Tee to take up the Kim Tibbs cause and the end result is this – the lady's debut long player. Yep... maybe thirty years too late but well worth the wait!

Listening you can hear why Mr Tee took the album on. Tunes like 'I Need You For Your Love!', 'Soul' and 'My Reason For Life' are bob on the modern soul vibe that Tee's Expansion label is noted for... tight, danceable beats, sweet melodies and soul a-plenty! But a single artist album that repeats that groove over a dozen or so tracks soon wearies and Ralph and Kim know that only too well. So, be sure there's plenty if variety on 'Kim'.

Right, try 'Move' – an old school soul-jazz groove with a bluesy undertow and some fab Earl Van Dyke style Hammond fills; or 'My Heart Belong To You' – a jazzy Anita Ward style meander; or the sweet ballads that are 'For' and 'Can I Spend My Life'; then if you want to hear Kim's Gospel roots give 'Building That'll Last' a spin and contemplate on the metaphor-laden 'The River'.

Yep, plenty of soul variety all held together by the Kim's remarkable voice, best described as unusual – yet convincing and soulfully world weary, betraying both her Gospel roots and 30 years of spade work at the sharp end of the business. Singles-wise the new one is 'My Better Side' – a crisp dancer that's sure to repeat the success of 'I Need You For Your Love!' but to enjoy Ms Tibb's full range, it'll have to be the album!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 04 September 2017 19:30

 

VARIOUS: The Stax 7” Box Set (Concord/UMC)

Saturday, 02 September 2017 17:36 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe legendary STAX label is celebrating its 60th anniversary. You may have caught the recent BBC Prom concert to mark the date and also to commemorate things Concord/UMC are all set to release one of their fabulous 7" singles box sets.... the kind of thing that they've done so well with Motown, Stateside and Chess.

As with those previous boxes this new Stax collection offers seven, 7" vinyl singles selected from the archive by Richard Searling. Now knowing where Richard is coming from (his roots are in Northern soul... he was one of the original Wigan Casino jocks remember) don't expect what for want of a better description we might call "classic Memphis smouldering, tough, brassy, funky southern soul". Rather what we get is a different kind of Stax, the smoother, more "uptown" sounds that were popular on the Northern circuit. That, of course, doesn't make them any less soulful or worthy... witness two fab examples – JJ Barnes' 'Sweet Sherry' and Darrell Banks' 'I'm The One Who Loves You'. Both are superlative soul sounds – never mind what sub-genre you'd allocate them to, if that's what you like to do.

Barnes and Banks, though obviously "Stax artists" weren't part of the regular Stax roster. Indeed of the 14 artists here I think we could safely say that only three fit that category.... Johnnie Taylor, William Bell and Carla Thomas. Their respective offerings are 'Friday Night', 'Happy' and 'I'll Never Stop Loving You'. Amongst the other featured artists here are the lovely Barbara Lewis, the Phil Perry-led Montclairs and Margie Joseph. Less well-known, maybe, are Lou Bond, Paul Thompson, John Gary Williams, Roz Ryan, Charlene and the Serenade and Joni Wilson whose offering is a version of the Parliaments' 'Let Hurt Put You In The Loser's Seat'.

Apart from their soulful quality what links the 14 selections together, Richard Searling says, is their collectability. They're all hugely in-demand. So too are two tunes I'd have like to have seen included 'Candy' from the Astors and Collette Kelly's idiosyncratic 'City Of Fools' – maybe they're lined up for volume 2....here's hoping! In the meantime enjoy these 14 tunes as they were meant to be enjoyed.... on vinyl. If, however, you want to keep your discs pristine, the box does come with a download code. Great stuff!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 September 2017 10:14

 

MATT BIANCO: 'Gravity' (Must Have Jazz/Membran)

Saturday, 02 September 2017 09:08 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          alt

Initially a quartet, London's Matt Bianco seamlessly blended infectious pop with jazz and Latin flavours and were regular visitors to the UK singles charts between 1984 and 1989, scoring ten hit singles (their biggest was 1988's double A-side, 'Don't Blame It On That Girl'/'Wap-Bang-Boogie') and three smash albums. Though the chart hits dried up as the '80s became the '90s, the group soldiered on then slimmed down to a duo (with singer Mark Reilly and keyboardist Mark Fisher). The records kept coming but their days of mass exposure were a thing of the past. After the passing of Mark Fisher last year, Mark Reilly vowed to carry performing in the guise of Matt Bianco. This new studio album, Matt Bianco's thirteenth so far (excluding their compilations) , follows in the wake of last year's 'The Things You Love' EP, a collaboration with Holland's New Cool Collective funky jazz band.

On this new 11-track opus, Reilly's assembled a superb supporting cast of noted British jazz musicians,  including saxophonist Dave O'Higgins, bassist Geoff Gascoyne, pianist Graham Harvey,  and trumpeter, Martin Shaw (who've all worked as sidemen for Jamie Cullum) plus MJ Cole singer, Elisabeth Troy.  Top Swedish sax and flute man, Magnus Lindgren, also features. 

Although back in their heyday they were loved by some and loathed by others (especially the blinkered jazz purists), Matt Bianco's zeal, commitment and energy to their art was never in question and on this new set, Mark Reilly adheres to the tired and trusted musical values that served the band so well thirty or so years ago: namely, catchy tunes allied to strong musical content and danceable, jazz-inflected grooves. On that basis, 'Gravity' doesn't disappoint.

 'Joyride' is a blithe opener, riding on sinuous rhythms with Reilly's Georgie Fame-esque vocals punctuated by cool horns. The brass - a prominent component of the record -  are funkier on 'Invisible,'  whose blend of chirpy catchiness and cool nonchalance encapsulates the stylistic essence of Matt Bianco. The album's title track, with its muted horns, has a deeper bluesy feel, while 'Heart In Chains' is a lovely nocturnal ballad about unrequited love where Reilly's lead is counterpointed by Elisabeth Troy's responses to create a dialogue effect. Striking, too, are the swinging shuffle groove, 'AM/PM,' the sleek, supple Latin groove 'Summer In The City,'  and the mellow, 'Before It's Too Late,' featuring some wonderfully emotive sax work from Dave O'Higgins.  

Appended as a bonus cut is Mark De Clive's remix of 'Joyride,' which loosens up the groove, imbuing it with a laidback ambience. Overall, then, a fine, stylish return from the irrepressible Matt Bianco, who have matured over the years like a vintage wine.  

(CW) 3/5  



Last Updated on Saturday, 02 September 2017 12:51

 

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