Reviews

JULIA FORDHAM: The Language Of Love (Red River)

Wednesday, 26 April 2017 21:05 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altHere's a tough pub pop music quiz question: Who had a debut UK top 30 hit in 1988 with 'Happy Ever After'? I'm sure most people would struggle to name Julia Fordham. The Portsmouth-born singer went on to enjoy a few other middling hits – the best known maybe being 'Love Moves' – and then that seems to be that! But not quite! You see shortly after 'Love Moves' was featured in the 1992 Demi Moore movie, 'The Butcher's Wife', Julia relocated to Los Angeles and resurrected her recording career, winning critical acclaim with a series of jazz-nuanced vocal long players.

Her latest album has just been released and, fittingly, as we commemorate the centenary of Ella Fitzgerald's birth, Ms Fordham tries with 'The Language Of Love' to channel the Queen Of Jazz's spirit. Julia says that Ella Fitzgerald has already covered every traditional jazz song to perfection so for her album she's chosen a set of contemporary songs to cover in the way that Lady Ella covered the Great American Songbook.

So here you can enjoy songs from artists like Blondie, Janis Ian, Sting, Stevie Wonder and the Beatles (the chosen Fabs' song, by the way, is "Eleanor Rigby'). Right now we count the highlights as new twists on 10CC's 'I'm Not In Love' and Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Alone Again Naturally'. Ms Fordham and her producer Grant Mitchell reinvent the emotionally familiar and though she may not achieve the kind of soulful nuances that Esther Phillips achieved on her version of 'Alone Again' she does allow the bitter sweetness of the message to surface.

Never a believer in hiding her light under a bushel, Julia also includes a trio of her own songs. They are a fresh reading of her debut hit 'Happy Ever After' and two new songs penned with producer Mitchell and both 'Like You Used To Do' and 'The Morning After (The Night With You)' fit perfectly with the album's overall ambience. Indeed 'The Morning After (The Night With You)' is a wondrous piece of work. I love sad songs (I guess most of us do!) and this one just keeps on tugging at my heart strings and it lifts what was a perfectly OK covers album into something really special.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 21:12

 

DARA TUCKER: Oklahoma Rain (Watchman Music)

Tuesday, 25 April 2017 21:17 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altNashville-based Dara Tucker won plenty of friends on the soul underground with her 2014 album 'The Sun Season' and now her new long player, 'Oklahoma Rain' (Dara's 4th studio album) is set to outperform it, as once again the savvy soul media and the more discerning soul and jazz radio stations get behind Ms Tucker in an attempt to bring her sweet, melodic, heart and soul warming music to the mainstream.

The tune in the vanguard of the attack is the ab fab 'Radio'. This is feel good music of the highest order and reminds you why soul and jazz are your music genres of choice! It's one of those very rare cuts when EVERYTHING - melody, voice, lyric, ambience, production and Factor X – come together beautifully. The nostalgia quotient is high too and that always helps as first generation soul folk enter the autumn of their years!

Nostalgia is the theme to another of the album's big tunes- 'Oklahoma Rain'. With a hint of Nashville, about it, the song investigates the concept that though we would like to, the "golden" past and cherished memories of it can never be re-visited or indeed be re-created and Dara presents her thesis beautifully.

The good news is that 'Radio' and 'Oklahoma Rain' aren't the only standouts – each and every track has something special to offer. Space precludes us highlighting everything but if you enjoy the drama and emotion of Barbra Streisand then take a listen to Dara's 'The Road'. It proves that that diva doesn't have a monopoly on such things. Then there's the quite lovely, 'Heartache'. Complete with a sweet country-flavoured harmonica, it will pull at your emotions. Maybe you like soul balladry? Then try 'I Fall' – a duet with Kevin Whalum. Wonderful!

By highlighting those cuts, though, we're not doing justice to tracks like 'Anytime Your Heart Breaks' and 'Moving On' or 'All I See Is Love' or indeed any that we still haven't mentioned.

2017 is only four months old yet already we've had some great, proper, truly modern/contemporary soul albums... long players that are true to the roots of this wonderful art form yet still discover new ways to present it. I'm thinking of Brian Owens' set. Now we can add to that Dara Tucker's 'Oklahoma Rain'. Highly recommended

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 April 2017 21:26

 

DON BRYANT: Don’t Give Up On Love (Fat Possum)

Monday, 24 April 2017 13:45 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSouthern soul man, Don Bryant is unknown in the music mainstream, but to proper soul fans he enjoys legendary status. Now well into his 70s, Don began his singing career in the church (you could have guessed that, couldn't you?). When the devil's music came calling he led a Memphis vocal group, the Four Canes before joining the Four Kings who were vocalists for a young trumpeter's band. The young horn player was Willie Mitchell and when he realised that he only needed one voice out front, it was Don Bryant's that he chose. As Papa Willie came to take control at Hi (as artist, then as a songwriter, then a producer and co-owner) he had Don record his own records as well as fronting the vocal tracks credited to "Willie Mitchell". Serious soul collectors will know all about the scintillating Mitchell double A side, 'That Driving Beat'/'Everything's Gonna Be Alright'. The fiery, soul-fuelled vocal on both is Bryant. If that wasn't enough for a place in the Southern Soul Hall of Fame, then also consider that Don wrote 'I Can't Stand The Rain' for a young Hi artist, Ann Peebles. That was in 1973 and the following year Ann and Don married (they are still together, by the way). As family commitments beckoned Don put the brakes on his career but returned periodically – working more and more in the gospel arena and occasionally dueting with Mrs Bryant. Indeed it was partly Ann's inspiration that took Don back into the studio to cut this new set of songs... the 10 tracker that is 'Don't Give Up On Love'.

Recorded at Memphis' Electraphonic Studios, Don has called on plenty of old and reliable friends to help him deliver....Charles Hodges (organ), "Hubbie" Turner (keys), Howard Grimes (drums), Joe Restivo (guitar), Scott Bomar (bass)... Memphis veterans, one and all, while the brass parts are supplied by Marc Franklin and Art Edmaiston of the Greg Allman band. Between them, the team cook up a seriously tasty Memphis soul stew.

You can probably guess that the spirits of Hi and Papa Willie are never far away. Indeed much of the material references those classic old tunes. 'Something About You', for, instance, seems inspired by the aforementioned 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' while the opener, 'A Nickel And A Nail' is a faithful cover of O V Wright's 1971 hit. 'I Got To Know' is even more old school. It's a version of a song that Don wrote for the 5 Royales way, way back. Think a melange of Bobby Bland, a young James Brown and some biting BB King style guitar... yes, it's that good.

However, it's the ballads, here, that provide the real album highlights and pick of the bunch is Don's take on his own song, 'It Was Jealousy' ( soul fans might know it via versions from Otis Clay and Ann Peebles). This is a defining statement of what proper soul music is all about, while the lead single, 'How Do I Get There' proves again the almighty bond that exists between gospel and soul.

The sleeve notes describe 'Don't Give Up On Love' as "yesterday's now music today...completely new but with an old soul." You know, on reflection, that says more than my previous 500 words!

DON BRYANT'S 'Don't Give Up On Love' is released on Fat Possum Records on May 12th

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 24 April 2017 13:57

 

DAYMÉ AROCENA: 'Cubafonia' (Brownswood)

Saturday, 22 April 2017 09:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Many people imagine that given Cuba's isolation and insularity in the long reign of Fidel Castro, that its music and culture essentially remain unchanged, as if they had been trapped in a time bubble for fifty or so years. But 24-year-old vocal phenom, Daymé Arocena - who always dresses in white and sings barefoot - instantly dispels this notion as a fallacy with a sensational new album that shows that some of Cuba's younger performers are hip to what's going on musically in the rest of the world. This entrancing album - which follows on from her previous Brownswood releases as part of the label's Havana Cutura series - functions as a bridge between eras: between the old Cuba of Castro, referenced by some of the traditional musical styles (like the Rumba) that Arocena grew up with, and the post-Castro, forward-looking Cuba of today. The latter is represented by the influence of jazz, R&B, neo-soul and even classical music on Arocena's unique sound, which is a piquant fusion of different flavours but which remains quintessentially Cuban in character.

The soulful young singer - whose voice is both powerful and pliable - gives us a glimpse of a different Cuba with the eleven songs on this offering. The opener 'Ellegua' is richly dramatic; a hypnotic minor key jazz groove rising on a ostinato bass line over which the young singer contributes some soaring vocals. La Rumba Me LLamo You is more traditional in feel, factoring in the traditional, see-saw montuno piano rhythms. 'Mambo Na' Ma' is one of the set's killer cuts, which comes over like a Havana version of Incognito with its blend of jazz-infused dance rhythms with an infectious chorus and punchy horns. 'Como,' sung in English, is another standout  cut. It's an elegant mid-tempo ballad with a Sade-esque groove, where Arocena's exquisite voice is framed by orchestral strings.  Even slower is the gorgeous 'Angel,' where Ms. Arocena turns down the volume and instead shows shows great sensitivity and a quiter mode of emotional intensity.

Different again is the more exploratory is 'It's Not Gonna Be Forever,' which integrates transitional Cuban music with jazz and funk. Overall, this is an exciting, new style of Latin fusion that should appeal to aficionados of traditional Cuban music as well as the modernists. In short, 'Cubafonia' is a delicious revelation.

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 April 2017 09:24

 

ALICE COLTRANE: 'The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda' (Luaka Bop)

Friday, 21 April 2017 07:26 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                       

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Many people will be aware of Alice Coltrane via her association with jazz deity, saxophonist John Coltrane. A classically-trained pianist, young Detroit-born Alice McLeod (her maiden name) studied in Paris with noted bebop keyboard maven, Bud Powell, before playing with west coast vibraphonist, Terry Gibbs, in the early '60s. She met John Coltrane, fell in love with him and they married in 1965. Alice became the pianist in Coltrane's group a year later but in 1967, her husband died from liver cancer. After that, Alice Coltrane began her solo career aged 31 in 1968, recording the first of seven albums that would be released via the Impulse! label during a fertile five-year period. Featuring her on harp and organ as well as piano, the albums showed her developing a unique style that blended modal jazz with eastern-influenced sounds and spiritual themes. She then joined Warner Bros in 1975, where she cut four well-regarded albums before dropping off the jazz radar completely until 2004. This collection focuses on a crucial but overlooked time in Alice Coltrane's musical evolution when had left the music industry behind and was an active member of an Ashram in California. She continued to record music but her efforts were released as limited private pressings (on cassette and later CD).

The eight 'songs' on this Luaka Bop collection cherry picks some of the outstanding moments from four albums that she released under the name Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda via her own Avatar Book Institute label and which are now very collectable and hard-to-find. If you're familiar with Alice Coltrane's Impulse! and Warner Bros. oeuvre, you'll be able to follow and appreciate  the unique stylistic trajectory she embarks upon with the music on this collection. Its sounds are fervent and deeply spiritual, influenced by her interest in Hinduism and Indian culture. 'Om Rama' opens the collection, a mesmeric, percussion-driven, vocal chant supported by kaleidoscopic and otherworldly synth glissandi that bring an astral dimension to the music. Coltrane's own husky vocals front both the delicate, organ-accompanied song, 'Om Shanti,' as well as the dreamy 'Rama Rama,' where droning sitars, tablas and cosmic synth lines create a haunting soundscape.

Less serene is the more strident chant, 'Rama Guru,' and the joyous 'Hari Narayan.' Alice also updated her own classic song, 'Journey To Satchidananda' - which she first recorded on an album called 'Journey In Satchidananda' (note the subtle change in the title) in 1971 - where dark yet luminous synthesiser chords are eventually augmented by a chorus of plaintive voices, which help to create an inspiring, celestial sound. Alice Coltrane was also a brilliant harpist, and her talent is best illustrated here on the shimmering 'Er Ra,' where she accompanies her plangent voice with dazzling cascades of notes.

Coltrane expert, Ashley Kahn, sheds light on Alice Coltrane's life and music post-1978 with his illuminating liner notes, which together with the music makes for a profoundly rewarding package that will engage those looking for sounds that go beyond the conventional pop and jazz music norms. Inspirational stuff.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 21 April 2017 07:32

 

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