Reviews

JOHNNY ADAMS: 'Heart & Soul' (Label: Vampisoul)

Friday, 25 January 2008 07:43 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

JOHNNY ADAMS: 'Heart & Soul'

Big Easy-born soul singer, Johnny Adams, possessed a magnificent set of pipes - his athletic, gospel-reared voice was rich, resonant and wonderfully expressive - but fate, combining with the perplexing vagaries of the music business, conspired to prevent him from becoming a household name. Adams scored his first Billboard US chart entry for the New Orleans indie RIC as far back as 1962 with the Top 30 R&B smash, 'A Losing Battle' but another six years passed before Adams was able to make another successful foray into the higher reaches of the R&B lists. By then he was signed to entrepreneur Shelby Singleton's SSS International label based in Nashville. It was while he was with SSS that he scored his biggest smash, 'Reconsider Me,' which broke into the R&B Top 10 in the summer of '69. That fabulous country-infused ballad with its pleading refrain appeared on Adams' solitary LP for the company, 'Heart & Soul,' which now gets a welcome reissue courtesy of the Madrid-based label, Vampisoul. As well as the original 11-track album from 1969, six bonus tracks from the same timeframe have been added, making this a rewarding package for soul connoisseurs. The album kicks off with a magnificent opener, 'Georgia Morning Dew,' which marries soul with a distinctive country feel (not surprising given SSS's Nashville connection). Adams also delivers a brilliant soul-infused performance of the old country hit, 'Release Me,' which was an R&B chart-topper for Esther Phillips in 1962 and also a big pop smash for kitsch lounge crooner Engelbert Humperdinck in the UK. As well as striking ballads, there are some strong uptempo numbers on the album - like the funky 'You Made A New Man Out Of Me,' originally a non-album flipside, and the propulsive groover, 'South Side Of Soul Street.' Sadly, Johnny Adams - who resurfaced as a blues singer in the '80s and '90s - died from cancer in 1998 aged 66, thereby depriving the world of one of soul music's most compelling and passionate male voices. For those who are unfamiliar with the man dubbed 'the Tan Canary,' this compilation provides an essential introduction.
(CW) 4/5

 

VAN MORRISON: Reissues (Label: Polydor)

Wednesday, 23 January 2008 05:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VAN MORRISON: Reissues

Given the treatment that has been meted out to Van Morrison at the hands of the mainstream rock press over the years - he's been praised and vilified in equal measure - it's no wonder he's a reluctant interviewee and acutely suspicious of the media. After all, perhaps it's right he should feel hard done by, especially if he's been unfairly painted as some kind of eccentric, charmless, Victor Meldrew figure by people that he's never met or who don't actually know him as a person. The trouble is, so much has been written about Van Morrison's life and music by obsessive journalists trying to make a name for themselves that it's sometimes hard for us mere mortals to see past the myth-making hyperbole and see the real man. However, it's much easier to glimpse the real Van Morrison than you might think - just listen to his music and then you'll be able to sense someone who's committed to his art and fiercely passionate in the way he expresses himself. For these reasons, I believe Morrison is a bona fide soul singer - and perhaps the best 'blue-eyed' exponent of the genre, too. Certainly, in terms of his declamatory vocal style, it's possible to detect traces of Ray Charles, Solomon Burke and James Brown in there. Where Morrison's true genius lies, though, is the way he absorbs and filters those black music influences through his own personality and experiences to produce a unique style that has been captivating audiences since the mid-'60s when he rose to fame fronting the group, Them. The past forty years, this Belfast-born troubadour-turned-mystic has carved out a unique niche in popular music with what some observers have called 'Celtic Soul' - a seamless blend of soul, rhythm and blues, pop, country, jazz and folk. Novices seeking a career-spanning introduction to the man's music should seek out the recent Best Of compilation, 'Still On Top,' as it functions as an excellent entrée. However, those who wish to delve deeper should seriously investigate a new batch of remastered titles on Polydor. Almost all of Morrison's back catalogue titles - except his early Warner LPs, including the seminal 'Astral Weeks' and 'Moondance' - are due for reissue during the next year. Just out are seven titles - with 22 to follow - all remastered and expanded. The oldest is 'Tupelo Honey,' originally released on Mercury in 1971. Representative of his 'Caledonia Soul' period, to my mind it's one of Van Morrrison's best works, almost up there with his perceived magnum opus 'Astral Weeks.' It's immensely varied, yet cohesive too. Mood-wise, the material ranges from upbeat numbers like 'Wild Night' - an energetic dance floor stomper driven by Stax-style horns - and the equally pulsating, passionate '(Straight To Your Heart) Like A Cannonball' to the beautifully tender love song, 'You're My Woman,' and the glorious title track (recently covered by jazz singer, Cassandra Wilson). There are two bonus tracks - an alternate version of 'Wild Night' and a live rendition of 'Down By The Riverside.' Some of Morrison's best-known numbers appear on the 1974 live double album, 'It's Too Late To Stop Now,' where the singer is accompanied by the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. The set include versions of his classic 'Brown Eyed Girl' (previously unissued) and 'Into The Mystic' plus lusty renditions of Them's 'Gloria' and 'Here Comes The Night.' It provides a vivid snapshot of Morrison's exciting live shows in the mid-'70s. Next up is 1978's 'Wavelength,' a strong album whose chief highlight is 'Kingdom Hall' (a live rendering of the song is one of two bonus cuts). A year later, Morrison unleashed 'Into The Music,' which is also expanded by two alternate takes. The key track here is 'And The Healing Has Begun.' 1984's 'A Sense Of Wonder' features the brilliant 'Crazy Jane On God' while 1989's impressive opus, 'Avalon Sunset,' features the UK smash, 'Whenever God Shines His Light,' an infectious duet with Cliff Richard and a wistful, quasi-poetic reminiscence called 'Coney Island.' The best cut, though, is the pensive romantic ballad, 'Have I Told You Lately That I Love You.' The final album in this first batch of reissues is 1999's 'Back On Top,' another terrific set that is distinguished by the incantatory 'Philosopher's Stone' and poignant string-steeped ballad, 'When The Leaves Come Falling Down.' Seven superb reissues then to choose from here - but for neophytes seeking an entrance into the huge and sometimes daunting Morrison canon, 'Tupelo Honey' is as good a starting place as any. Life-enriching music and then some…
(CW) 4/5

 

CHERI MAREE: Pure Voice (Label: Celebrity Music Group)

Monday, 21 January 2008 15:01 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

CHERI MAREE: Pure Voice

I know nothing at all about Cheri Maree save that, vocally she really does live up to the title of this album. The lady, you see, really does have a great set of pipes that betray a possible gospel apprenticeship and maybe some jazz influences. That jazz feeling is most apparent on the almost scatty opener 'Hold Me Up', but the lady shows her versatility with the purest soul delivery on the following cut 'I Love…' Yes, lyrically, we're not treading new ground - but the song's simple sentiment is perfectly matched to Cheri's sincere, low-key delivery. The LP's best cut Is 'Talk To Me' - a ballad on which she fuses the jazz and soul, while there's more of the same on 'September' though I could have done without the rap interlude … maybe the lady's people are looking to get something out of the R&B brigade with it. 'Because Of You' is another good tune that might appeal to modern room dancers - the more sedate ones that is… and like all half decent soul music it's difficult to say what exactly brings the appeal - but it's certainly there. The big problem with this album is that it's one of those cheap-looking, low budget indie affairs that are so often dismissed or just overlooked. However, with a voice like this you shouldn't really need big budgets and glossy superficials to make inroads. A diligent internet search will allow you to at least grab a listen and make up your own minds.
(BB) 3/5

 

JASON MILES AND GUESTS: Soul Summit (Label: Shanachie)

Monday, 21 January 2008 05:30 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

JASON MILES AND GUESTS: Soul Summit

Last Spring award-winning producer Jason Miles put together a stellar band to play the Berks Jazz Festival in Reading Pennsylvania. His players included Bob Babbitt, Karl Denson, Richard Elliott, Reggie Young and Steve Ferrone - who between them have played on dozens of classic soul cuts. Add to those the vocal talents of Maysa, Susan Tedeschi and Mike Mattison and you have a fail safe recipe for the good groove. Playing a selection of soul covers and handful of originals, the vibe the collective cooked up was such that Miles took them straight off to the studio to make a '"proper" recording of the proceedings and though he was originally going to call the album 'Can You Feel It', there was so much righteousness in the music that he changed the overall title to 'Soul Summit' - and listening to the live, organic grooves on the 11 tracker you realize why he made the change. Things kick off with a version of Junior Walker's 'Shotgun' on which Richard Elliot cooks up the same rockin', raucous grooves as the tune's original creator and the proceedings end with a big James Brown medley featuring the whole ensemble. In between there's southern style soul with 'Son Of A Preacher Man' 'and 'What A Man' , groove-riding instrumentals in 'Memphis 2000' and 'Chicken And Waffles', and a blistering ballad, 'It Tears Me Up'. Best cut though is the original tune 'Can You Feel It'. Here Karl Denson's tenor tracks Maysa's emotive vocal on a recording that manages to capture all the live energy of true, one-take soul music… now with the wonder of the web you can watch some of the proceedings too - go to www.youtube.com/soulsummitchannel
(BB) 4/5

 

SNOWBOY: Snowboy's Soul Spectacular (Label: BGP)

Friday, 11 January 2008 08:42 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

SNOWBOY: Snowboy's Soul Spectacular

Mark Cotgrove is Snowboy and that dual identity is only half the story of the man's complexities. He's been part of the UK music scene since the mid 80s and since then he's recorded in different guises for a number of labels and in a number of styles. He's also the percussionist of choice for any number of name artists who want authentic rhythms on whatever track they may be recording. That said there's not a lot of easily-accessible material currently available on the man … and it's especially hard to trace those great tunes he cut in his non-Latin Section periods. Well, it's all been put right now, thanks to Ace's BGP subsidiary. Here we have 13 cuts collected from a number of labels, covering the period 1991 - 2001 that show (again) that when the spirit's right and there's a genuine motivator in place, UK studios can turn out soul every bit as authentic as their US counterparts. Case in point here is Snowboy's' beautiful version of Dorothy Moore's Malaco tune 'Girl Overboard'. When ever two soul heads get together, arguments will rage over which is the better version… and more often than not the vote goes to Cotgrove's Anna Ross-vocalized take. Equally, even Leroy Hutson fans concede that Snowboy's version of 'Lucky Fellow' (featuring) Noel McKoy) is every bit as good as the original - though in fairness it's treated a whole lot differently. Elsewhere on this collection you get more vocals from McKoy and Ross - 'Give Me The Sunshine' and 'Where Love Loves' and plenty of free ranging instrumentals that go from loose jazzers to funky steamers via Afro foot-tappers. Best of those instrumentals is 'Astralization' - a sincere homage to the Mizell brothers with just the precise amount of other-worldliness. As a portrait of one side of the artist the compilation is faultless and we're told that BGP plan to complete the picture with a collection of Snowboy's best Latin bits later in the year.
(BB) 4/5

 

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