Reviews

THE EMBERS: The Show Must Go On (Label: Bluewater)

Tuesday, 15 April 2008 16:47 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

THE EMBERS: The Show Must Go On

The Embers must be the perfect modern soul group. The core members have been round the musical block several times while the sounds they purvey have that delicious, comforting retro feel. In other words they're not really "modern" at all but in the world of music biz tags, "modern soul" is how they're categorized… and I guess there's nothing wrong with that. The Embers, themselves, won't be bothered; they have a decent fan base and know how to keep their followers happy. Said fan base will revel in the "new" familiarity of the music here, particularly the big opener, 'The Last Time I'm Saying Goodbye'. It has all the key ingredients of what you can expect from the Embers - sweet melody, great vocals, sympathetic harmonies, real instrumentation and a precise rhythm that echoes the song's old-fashioned structure. You see most Embers' songs have a beginning, middle and an end … see what I meant about old-fashioned? Dip in anywhere here and you'll enjoy more of the same, what's more you'll be metaphorically scratching your head wondering where you've heard a particular line, a snatch of melody or a vocal inflection before. 'Loving On Borrowed Time', for instance, has the feel of an old Blue Magic ballad, 'Not So Long Ago' might recall the innocence of a Peaches and Herb duet while 'I've Done Things With You' knicks the opening line from 'How Do You Keep The Music Playing'. Over the dozen cuts, though, my main point of reference was mellow-moment Tower of Power. However, the Embers are Tower of Power without the power and indeed the passion. At the end of the day, the Embers make a polite, even sanitized, version of modern soul. Not that that will bother their fans - especially the Northwest modern soul crew. They'll lap up the cosy familiarly of 'The Show Must Go On' but I can't help thinking that there's something more adventurous, more exciting and, dare I say it, more truly soulful out there. This album's currently available via www.soulchoonz.com
(BB) 3/5

 

LITTLE MILTON: If Walls Could Talk (Label: Shout)

Monday, 14 April 2008 14:17 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

LITTLE MILTON: If Walls Could Talk

Despite a committed fan base - here and in the States - Little Milton (Campbell) never quite made it to the major leagues and this reissue of his fourth full album for Chess/Checker perhaps explains why. Born in a sharecropper's hut in rural Mississippi, his first love was the blues, and singing and playing a mean guitar in that genre for labels like Sun and Meteor he enjoyed some local success. That success brought him to Chess at the time when the label was beginning to experiment with what to become labelled "soul". Working with producers like Billy Davis and Calvin Carter, Milton's sound became a kind of hybrid of tough blues and the new soul music and though he did score a decent run of hits, maybe his music was too bluesy for the uptown soul crew and too smooth for the blues crowd. Here on 'If Walls Could Talk' you can clearly hear that dichotomy. There's plenty of straight blues and generous helpings of brassy soul along with a fetching mix of both styles - best typified by a frantic reading of 'Kansas City'. Standout cut though is a lovely version of Jimmy Holiday's 'Baby I Love You', which proves that the man was a contender. The LP's original eleven tracks are boosted with five extra cuts, including 'Grits Ain't Groceries' - which remains his best known cut in the UK. When Chess folded Little Milton went to Stax where he was allowed to return to a more full-on blues approach. After Stax and a succession of smaller labels he eventually found a home at Malaco, where his impactful blues won a Grammy nomination. Little Milton died in 2005 aged 75, leaving a substantial back catalogue which is worth serious investigation by anyone who cares about real, committed black music and this 17 tracker is an excellent place to start.
(BB) 3/5

 

JACKSON 5 : 'Joyful Jukebox Music and Boogie' (Label: Hip-O Select)

Monday, 14 April 2008 12:52 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

JACKSON 5 : 'Joyful Jukebox Music and Boogie'

With rumours abounding in the press that the Jackson clan are planning to reunite for a farewell world tour and are on the verge of buying a property in deepest Devon, the belated UK release of this Hip-O Select twofer has an added significance perhaps. It goes back to a time in the mid-'70s when the Jacksons seemed a pretty 'normal' family group and their actions weren't scrutinised in microscopic detail by the tabloid press - even Michael (now a figure of ridicule but who, back then, was yet to go under the plastic surgeon's knife) seemed just a cute, skinny, high-voiced teenager armed with slick dance moves. Both these long-deleted Motown albums - which came out after the group jumped ship to Epic in 1975 - come to CD for the first time. Basically, both albums were sets of studio outtakes and the result of Motown trying to capitalise on the group's newfound success at Epic - but listening to both sets now it's apparent that even though they didn't pass Motown's strict quality control system back in the early '70s (when they were recorded), both albums are stuffed with top-notch tracks rather than second-rate filler. 'Joyful Jukebox Music' was issued in 1976 though its material was cut in '72/'73 around the time of the 'Skywriter' and 'Get It Together' sessions. Featuring production and writing input from the Mizell brothers (formerly part of The Corporation production team) and Hal Davis, its highlights include 'Love Is The Thing You Need,' 'The Eternal Light,' and a funky, Superfly-style version of Marvin Gaye's oldie, 'Pride & Joy.' The second album on the twofer, 'Boogie,' was put out by Motown on their Natural Resources imprint in 1979, just as Michael was on the cusp of superstar greatness with his album 'Off The Wall.' It contained seven strong, previously unissued cuts - including covers of Chris Clark's H-D-H penned 'Love's Gone Bad' and Bobby Taylor's 'Oh I've Been Blessed' - in addition to the group's big hits 'ABC,' 'Never Can Say Goodbye' and 'Dancing Machine.' An added bonus for J5 fans is the addition of a previously unreleased uncut version (14 minutes long) of 'Hum Along And Dance.' This limited edition CD originally came out in 2004 as a Stateside online-only release - now, though, thanks to Universal's Import Music Services, it's available through UK retailers for the first time. Get it while you still can….
(CW) 4/5

 

ELAINE NORWOOD: God Has A Way (Label: True Vine)

Sunday, 13 April 2008 14:30 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

ELAINE NORWOOD: God Has A Way

Some soul veterans might well remember Leon "It's Got To Be Mellow" Haywood. In the 80s he disappeared off the radar before surfacing again in the 90s producing some blues recordings on his own Eve-Jim label. That label, it seems, has now spawned several subsidiaries of which True Vine is devoted to gospel and big-voiced Elaine Norwood is one of that label's mainstays. The lady, born and raised in Prentiss, Mississippi, has an impressive CV which includes work with Edwin Hawkins, Angela Winbush, the Isley Brothers and various, regular TV religious shows. Currently she ministers her Home Assembly Church in Los Angeles and if she preaches like she sings my guess is that her church will have no shortage of believers. The 11 tracker - produced by Leon Haywood and Keith Buckhalter - is a fine example of modern gospel music and for an indie label there's been no stinting on budgets. The album features real musicians (including Haywood on organ) and amongst the back-up singers there are people like Brenda Lee Eager, Will Wheaton and Peggi Blu. Believers will find their usual solace herein but soul people of lesser faith won't be disappointed either. Those who like to dance will enjoy the big reading of Rance Allen's 'Do Your Will', while on 'A Brighter Day Is Coming' and 'Taking Territory' the beats are tight and just right for modern room dancing. The bonus, though, is the plain fact that Ms. Norwood's faith ensures the vocal fully delivers in the real soul department - think prime time Gladys Knight. That comparison is self-evident on the Leon Haywood song 'True Vine' and an excellent version of Alicia Key's 'If I Ain't Got You' - that latter again proving that real soul and gospel are fruits of the self-same seed. If, by the way, you like your gospel with a live feel, then there's also an Elaine Norwood live set out there right now. It's 'Double Blessing' on another Haywood subsidiary, Highly Favoured Records. Anoraks should know that this one features Paul Jackson Junior on guitar and Lynn Fidmont, and Jim Gilstrap amongst the choir. CD Baby and other internet sources will provide more details on both albums.
(BB) 4/5

 

ANITA EASTERLING: My Experience (Label: J Enterprises)

Saturday, 12 April 2008 06:11 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

ANITA EASTERLING: My Experience

Don't know anything about Anita Easterling, 'cept that she records for J Enterprises - a subsidiary of Milwaukee-based, indie set up Da Soul Recordings and with a vocal approach that betrays a deal of world-weariness, Miss Easterling certainly qualifies in that soul department. Indeed, it's the lady's beguiling voice that carries this album because in fairness there aren't too many really great songs here and with a production that relies too heavily on an over-syncopated drum machine, it's a relief to hear her understated, gentle passion. Hear Anita's unique approach to best effect on 'I Can't See Myself Leaving You'. It's one of those strange soul tracks where the appeal is hard to pin down. It's simple - under produced even- (the horns could've been higher in the mix, for instance), but there's a committed authenticity here that you don't find on too much polished product labelled "soul". Anita's vocal is strained as she recounts the oft-told soul tale of the victim who just can't pull herself free of a belittling relationship. She knows she deserves better but agrees to accept what she has with a soulful stoicism. It's the album's best cut, but the ballad 'That's What I'm Talkin' About' is decent too, while the chugging beats on 'Know That I Care' might please some dancers. It's good to know that music like this is still being produced, even though it demands some searching out. CD Baby will aid the search while there are more details on the site www.dasoulrecordings.com
(BB) 3/5

 

Page 411 of 438

    

Search

My Account

To comment on an article you must be registered and logged in.