Reviews

THE DELLS: 'The Dells Sing Dionne Warwicke's Greatest Hits' (Label: Dusty Groove America)

Friday, 04 January 2008 10:51 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

THE DELLS: 'The Dells Sing Dionne Warwicke's Greatest Hits'

No, the title doesn't contain a typo - back in 1972, when The Dells recorded this amazing tribute to the singer dubbed by European audiences 'the Black Pearl,' Dionne Warwick had added the letter 'e' at the end of her surname on the advice of a numerologist (mercifully, the chanteuse came to her senses not long afterwards). But, to tell the truth, this remarkable album (originally released on Chess's Cadet subsidiary) is more about the work of tunesmiths Bacharach & David than Dionne Warwick - after all, Warwick was little more than a vehicle for the songwriting duo's sophisticated and well-crafted brand of easy listening music. Here, Windy City producer Charles Stepney - who was crucial to the early success of Minnie Riperton, Terry Callier and Earth, Wind & Fire - helps the Dells transform eleven classic Bacharach-David songs made famous by Warwick(e) into stirring Chi-town soul symphonies. In fact, thanks to Stepney's imaginative arranging skills, in some cases the Dells' versions actually transcend the originals. Indeed, it's apparent from the very first track - a rousing, sanctified rendering of 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' featuring the group's rich vocal harmonies - that this is no mere by-numbers covers album. 'Walk On By' also gets the epic Stepney treatment, with swirling strings combining with the group's impassioned voices to create a rich, kaleidoscopic tapestry of sound that can make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. Stepney's ornate arrangements possess a baroque-like opulence, though they never overwhelm or swamp the Dells' five-part harmonies. Striking and sumptuous versions of 'Close To You,' 'This Guy's In Love With You,' 'I Say A Little Prayer,' 'Alfie' and 'A House Is Not A Home' seduce the ear but perhaps most noteworthy of all is the funked-up, seven-minute retooling of 'I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself,' with Phil Upchurch's wah-wah guitar featuring prominently. Given how significant this LP is in the Dells' canon, it's mystifying that it hasn't been reissued on CD before - thanks, though, to those discerning folks at Dusty Groove in Chicago (www.dustygroove.com), this magnificent album is available again. Snap it up while you can.
(CW) 5/5

 

TOMMY TATE: I'm So Satisfied (Label: Kent)

Monday, 24 December 2007 14:58 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

TOMMY TATE: I'm So Satisfied

Tommy Tate is a cult soul hero and with more exposure could easily aspire to the status of people like James Carr and Sam Dees… hopefully, this new 20 track Kent collection will set the wheels in motion. What we get here are all the recordings Tate made for the notorious Johnny Baylor's Ko Ko label in the early seventies and they reveal a superb southern soul stylist who could also pen imaginative material as the situation demanded. Take the hugely personal 'School Of Love' as an example. The song uses the whole school graduation/rite of passage/teen pregnancy thing as its theme and despite that, it really is a peach. With a big arrangement that uses horn patterns similar to those Ike Hayes' 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' it was a deserved, if minor, hit. 'If You Got To Love Somebody' is just as delicious - rivalling anything by Sam Dees or Philip Mitchell. But dip in to any of Tommy's solo cuts (many previously unissued) and you'll enjoy southern soul perfection - heavy and intense yes, but though desperation always lurks in the shadows, there's a degree of optimism in Tommy's delivery. As a bonus Kent have added a trio of cuts that Tommy recorded as the temporary lead singer with Stax group the Nightingales - after lead man Ollie Hoskins had flown the coop. All three have that magical, vintage Stax sound and will delight Memphis completists. After Ko Ko, Tate recorded for small labels like Sundance, Juana, and Urgent and wrote prolifically for all kinds of artists, but nothing he did matched the quality of his Ko Ko output - tap into real soul right here.
(BB) (4/5)

 

VARIOUS: Village Soul 2 (Label: Expansion)

Monday, 24 December 2007 14:57 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: Village Soul 2

This is modern soul DJ Terry Jones' second 'Village Soul' compilation for Expansion and just like the first set, Terry uses his experience to prove that when done well, modern soul can offer more variety than some would accept. So here for example there's the full-on retro sounds of Delegation's 'One More Step To Take', the proto-house beats of Michael Proctor's 'Love Don't Live', the freshness of Billy Griffin's 'Like Water' and the lovely sensitive sounds of Randy Brown's 'I'm Here'. Real soul? Well look no further than Aretha's 'It's Just Your Love', ZZ Hill's take on Bettye Swan's 'Make Me Yours' or the Dells in full flow on the mighty 'Bring Back The Love Of Yesterday'. Other goodies amongst the 17 generous cuts include Rose Royce's 'Best Love' and Adeva's 'Don't Think About It' and the imaginative yet simple cover of Gladys Knight's 'Walk In My Shoes' from Bruce Cloud. The album's other big cover version, however, doesn't work so well - it's the in-demand Chuck Jackson's version of Bob Marley's 'Wait In Vain'. Chuck has great voice but the arrangement destroys the song's intrinsic innocence. It does, though, make an interesting inclusion, as too does the Real Thing's 'Love Takes Tears'. As a died-in-the-wool, xenophobic Scouser I championed the song when it was first issued way, way back, but the smarter soul-know-alls dismissed it as lightweight pop… funny how time changes peoples' musical perceptions. Here the song's ensconced as a gem of modern soul - and no way out of place amongst the big soul names I've already mentioned… great song - on another great Expansion compilation
(BB) 4/5

 

CONFECTION: Confection (Label: One Stop Funk Shop)

Monday, 24 December 2007 14:56 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

CONFECTION: Confection

Confection are an Australian musical unit. Essentially they consist of vocalist Juanita Tippins and multi-instrumentalist/producer Josh Beagley. They launched themselves on the UK last summer with a 12" - 'Fantasisin'' - which quickly won support in modern soul rooms with its slinky, sensual groove. Astute DJs however flipped the disc for the dancer 'I Choose You' and they discovered a perfect example of that peculiar, bouncy retro "modern" soul groove so beloved of the ultra-conservative modern soul fans. Said soul fans can now overdose on much more of the same with Confection's debut album. The eponymous set contains both 'I Choose You' and 'Fantasisin' along with 8 other tracks that could easily have been cut in the 80s - that's how retro they sound. Clearly main man Beagley has been on some kind of long distance Jam-Lewis correspondence course. Each tune contains elements of the great duo's work - indeed the aforementioned 'Fantasisin'' simply rips off the intro to 'Just Be Good To Me' and (naughty, naughty) they don't even give due credit … if I was a copyright solicitor I'd be on the job straightaway! Still, as a pastiche it's good enough - better than the synthy, electro 'Put Me On Your Playlist' and 'Flirt'. If you like things a little slower 'Stuck' is a moody ballad with pretty, layered vocals while if you're still in any doubts about the duo's Jam-Lewis allegiances they even cover their 'Diamonds' - but add little to it. Therein lies the problem with so called "modern" soul. It's not modern at all…. (and we won't even discuss the "soul" element). OK, it might all have been recorded "now" - but its essence comes from back in the day - it's a re-creation of an old sound - and if you get off on simple, boppy, bouncy music this will be perfect for you - check it all out at www.soulchoonz.com
(BB) 3/5

 

THE TEMPTATIONS: Back To Front (Label: New Door)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007 10:30 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

THE TEMPTATIONS: Back To Front

The last Temptations' album - the Motown covers set - was a bit of a disappointment. This new 11 tracker is a collection of covers too - but, it's a lot, lot better. Why? Well my contention is that the original Snake-pit-recorded Motown songs are unique and for all kinds of reasons the magic can never be recreated… but here the chosen songs don't have such a unique identity. Many of them have been covered many times before so in some ways there's no defining template. For example, one of the best cuts here is a sweet harmonised version of 'How Deep Is Your Love'. What should we compare it with? The Bee Gees original… Luther's version … even Take That's take? None really - the Tempts' new version simply adds to the song's lineage, and the same could be said for the lovely versions of 'Minute By Minute', 'Don't Ask My Neighbours' and 'Love Ballad'. Where things don't work quite so well is when the songs are still fondly remembered in their original contexts - so for instance, 'Hold On I'm Comin' will always be Sam and Dave's while 'Respect Yourself' will forever belong to the Staple Singers. Don't get me wrong - the Tempts do a great job, but add little new to the tunes. When they and producers Steve Harvey and Benjamin Wright really put their minds to it, though, they can revive very old favourites - notably Barry White's 'Never Never Gonna Give Ya Up' and Harold Melvin's 'Wake Up Everybody' - both of which feature the group's new boy, Bruce Williamson, who's clearly not daunted by taking on big Bazza and Teddy P. The others songs featured on the set are the Bobby Womack-penned/Wilson Pickett hit 'I'm In Love', LTD's 'Back In Love Again' and the pop standard 'Let It Be Me' … all are well-worth the price of the album, which is currently available through Universal's Import Music Services.
(BB) 4/5

 

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