Reviews

VARIOUS: 'Funky Nassau - The Compass Point Story 1980-1986' (Label: Strut)

Friday, 04 April 2008 10:24 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: 'Funky Nassau - The Compass Point Story 1980-1986'

In the early '80s, I was listening to a lot of records emanating from Chris Blackwell's Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. Blackwell, of course, was the boss of Island Records back then - before it was devoured by the voracious Universal group - and his roster at that time included an eclectic mix of artists, ranging from reggae icon, Bob Marley, and Irish post-punk band, U2, to ex-Vinegar Joe man Robert Palmer, singer/songwriter John Martyn and US new wavers, the B-52s. Most of all, it was Blackwell's interest in black music - and particularly reggae - that interested me. As well as Bob Marley, Blackwell's roster included reggae trio, Black Uhuru, ex-model-turned-singer and soon-to-be actress Grace Jones, Stateside soul singer Gwen Guthrie and Scottish dance/funk group, Set The Tone. Many of the records by those acts were cut at Compass Point, where the house band was built around the solid, in-the-pocket grooves laid down by the legendary twosome comprising bassist Robbie Shakespeare and drummer Sly Dunbar. As this fascinating compilation on the re-activated Strut label illustrates, the grooves coming out of Compass Point were tough, sinewy and bass-heavy and often fused with the experimentalism and post-new wave sensibilities of idiosyncratic acts like Talking Heads (the group's funk-fuelled 'Born Under Punches' is included here). The set kicks off with the extended version of Grace Jones's jaunty 'My Jamaican Guy' and includes Tom Tom Club's seminal proto hip-hop groove, 'Genius Of Love' as well as Larry Levan's mix of Gwen Guthrie's dance floor classic, 'Padlock.' Set The Tone - a group that was hyped-up beyond belief and still failed to deliver the goods in terms of sales - are represented by the Francois Kevorkian mix of their single 'Dance Sucker.' Of the oddities that were recorded at Compass Point, you'll find Ian Dury and The Blockheads' controversial 'Spasticus Autisticus' and a dub version of Will Powers' 'Adventures In Success.' Listeners fascinated by early '80s dance music will find much to interest them here in this richly variegated collection.
(CW) 3/5

 

VAN MORRISON: Keep It Simple (Label: Exile, Polydor)

Friday, 04 April 2008 05:39 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VAN MORRISON: Keep It Simple

'Keep It Simple' is Van Morrison's first album of all-new material since 2005 and it's the first in a while where all the songs are his own. But despite what might appear to be some kind of an "originality sabbatical", the Morrison sound remains essentially the same as it ever was. He uses the same musical, lyrical, and philosophical ingredients that he's relied on throughout his career and produced the same mesmerising mix of blues, jazz, soul, and country, all tempered with a deep-felt Celtic sensitivity. There's also no surprise in the fact that though the album's called 'Keep It Simple' there's nothing here that's actually that simple. Even the superficially basic blues opener 'How Can A Poor Boy' shows the complexities that make Morrison one of the few contemporary artists who can still genuinely challenge… and "contemporary" and "challenge" are the key words here. On the lovely and light 'That's Entrainment' for instance, he takes full flight - insisting that the connections his music makes are for the moment… the here and now and not some idyllically -perceived history. It's clear that the past - be it Belfast, New York, Woodstock, LA, San Francisco, even the cosy Cotswolds have impacted on him, but his new music is all about contemporary connection. 'Behind The Ritual' is another of the LP's challenges, with its complex references to the historical symbolism of wine throughout history, while 'Soul' tries to define what is almost indefinable. Elsewhere 'Song Of Home' is a delicious blend of country and Celtic influences, 'Don't Go To Nightclubs Anymore' (with nodding mentions of Mose Allison and Georgie Fame) will bring some solace to all of us as our years advance, and 'Lover Come Back' is one of Morrison's most soulful laments. And let's be clear, Van Morrison's music is all about soul. It might not be classed as "soul" in the record store racks, but on 'Keep It Simple' there's passion and pain, care and compassion, life and love, and a genuine, bold determination to face and challenge emotional and philosophical issues…that's soul.
(BB) 4/5

 

ESTELLE: Shine (Label: Atlantic)

Wednesday, 02 April 2008 09:52 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

ESTELLE: Shine

Estelle (Swaray) burst forth a couple of years back, and straight away her work was pigeon-holed as "British hip hop". Now, even though she's working for the mighty John Legend's label, google-style searches still put her in the same category. In fairness, on this new 12 tracker, there is a deal of that mockney-patois-toasting and plenty of references to Big Ben, boozers, blokes and chirpy Cockneys, but there's also music here that's a million miles away from Sarf London. Indeed in places Estelle offers us a real soul conviction that's more heartfelt than a lot of stuff that's currently labelled as "modern soul". By now everyone will be familiar with the hit 'American Boy'. Its big brashness has deservedly won it considerable success but that very commercial celebrity might put off blinkered soul people from investigating further - sadly their lack of curiosity will deny them access to some great soul cuts. Case in point is the duet with label boss, Legend. The song's 'You Are' and the gentle little tune is as good as anything on his own last epic LP; more, despite the fact that he owns the label, our Estelle is never over-shadowed. Then there's the plaintive 'Back In Love' on which Ms. S displays a vocal vulnerability that recalls Lauryn Hill's first solo album. 'In The Rain' is another superb soul cut. It samples Love Unlimited's 'Walkin' In The Rain With The One I Love' and yes, there is a rap in there but it's totally organic and gives the cut a whiff of contemporary commercial appeal. The album's fourth big soulful event is 'More Than Friends'. Here the sample reference is Aretha's version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and no one would be surprised if you mistook the cut for a Jill Scott outtake. Elsewhere, 'No Substitute Boy' is a light lovers rock romp while 'Magnificent', 'Come Over' and 'So Much Out Of The Way' will satisfy those who liked Estelle as she was and how she is categorized. 'Shine' though is one of those albums that ultimately defies simple categorization.
(BB) 4/5

 

MICHAEL McDONALD: 'Soul Speak' (Label: Universal)

Wednesday, 02 April 2008 09:27 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

MICHAEL McDONALD: 'Soul Speak'

Following the prodigious platinum success achieved by his last couple of solo efforts - two albums of Motown-inspired cover versions - the hunky he-man of hirsute, blue-eyed soul returns with a 14-track opus helmed by '80s pop star-turned-producer, Simon Climie. Again, it's a predominantly covers-based affair showcasing the gruff, soulful histrionics of the former Doobie Brothers' front man as he tackles songs as diverse as Teddy Pendergrass's 'Love T.K.O.', Dionne Warwick's 'Walk On By,' Van Morrison's 'Into The Mystic' and Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song.' For the most part, the set works fine - McDonald's passionate retooling of Stevie Wonder's 'Living For The City' is particularly noteworthy, as is his gospel-meets-rock-infused retread of the old Aretha/George Michael duet, 'I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,' which opens the album. However, on 'Walk On By,' his robust, overly-virile tones seem a tad too rough for conveying the bittersweet delicacy of Burt Bacharach's elegant melody - also, I don't feel his version of 'Redemption Song' quite hits the spot, rendering Marley's potent original into a quagmire of MOR blandness. That said, there's plenty for fans of the big man to enjoy here - including fine original tunes like the mid-tempo groover 'Getting Over You' and the achingly plaintive ballad, 'Only God Can Help Me Now.' Listen out, too, for an arresting revamp of Stevie's 'For Once In My Life' and an energetic take on Jackie Wilson's dance floor perennial, '(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher.' Another thing that can't be faulted is McDonald's commitment to his music - he always gives 100% and sounds like he's putting blood, sweat and tears into each and every performance. In that sense, he's a true soul man. He's also as solid and reliable as a rock - and that description just about sums up the consistency and quality of his latest album.
(CW) 3/5

 

NORTH "2UNES" WOODALL: Straight At You (Label: www.2unes.net)

Wednesday, 02 April 2008 08:41 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

NORTH

Don't know a thing about the wonderfully named "2unes" Woodall save that he plays a mean guitar and knows a bit about soul's back catalogue. A few years ago the music on this eleven tracker would have become a mainstay on the old Jazz FM (remember when they played jazz - smooth or otherwise?) but now, with decent outlets denied, it's hard to say how this album will get away other than via word of mouth … and indeed that's how the buzz on the CD has built up. Some savvy, crate-digging, net-searching members of the modern soul crowd have gotten hold of one of the album's tracks and started to play it out, and so the interest in 'ole "2unes" has begun. Oddly though, the track in question, 'All I Need Is You', is not particularly representative of the album overall. The cut's a nifty, shifty dancer and though a little lightweight, its tempo and retro feel are both perfect for the modern room. It is of course a vocal track (courtesy of Anna Sullivant) while the majority of the remaining ten tracks are smooth jazz instrumentals featuring Woodall's Benson-inspired guitar. The most obvious Benson pastiche is 'Café' while 'MVP' displays a deal of fret board intricacy. Elsewhere there are plenty of covers of well-known tunes like the Friends Of Distinction's 'Going In Circles', Paul Hardcastle's 'Rainforest', EWF's 'Let's Groove' and the Whispers' 'Rock Steady' (a tune that's been put into a much better smooth jazz setting by Paul Jackson Jr., by the way). Interestingly Mr. Woodall claims to be the "songwriter" throughout - hope he knows a good copyright lawyer! That legal thing, though, is secondary to the music. What we have here is one of those indie albums that soul people will dismiss as a "one tracker" … bit of a shame that, 'cos there's some decent, if unspectacular, smooth jazz herein. You can investigate more at www.soulchoonz.com.
(BB) 3/5

 

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