BILLY GRIFFIN: Believe It Or Not - The Billy Griffin Collection (Label: Expansion)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008 07:37 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

BILLY GRIFFIN: Believe It Or Not - The Billy Griffin Collection

In 1973 Billy Griffin was handed one of the most difficult jobs in soul history - he was asked to replace Smokey Robinson as lead singer in the legendary Miracles. By general consent Griffin did a good job but by the early 80s a solo career beckoned and with the crisp anthemic 'Hold Me Tighter In The Rain' he scored a decent hit - and, for complicated reasons, he also won a special place in the hearts of the UK soul fraternity. The UK link blossomed with Griffin's association with Expansion Records and that's the label responsible for this pleasing 16 track retrospective. The set offers tracks from his Columbia albums 'Be With Me', 'Systematic' and 'Respect' alongside a brace from his most recent Expansion set 'Like Water. There's also a couple of his Miracle highspots - 'Love Machine' and 'Spy For The Brotherhood' but the big bonuses are 'Believe It Or Not' (a rare Atlantic single) and 'Olivia' an often overlooked duet with Ahira Jimbo. The proceedings start, of course, with 'Rain' and in truth few of the other 15 cuts come near to matching its ageless quality. It's one of those songs which, as Ralph Tee opines in his sleeve notes, helps to define an era and though it is very much an 80s artefact it is timeless. Some of the other cuts haven't travelled quite so well - it's clear that the producers like John Barnes were still trying to perfect the use of synths in soul - but for those who came to soul in the early 80s the collection is unmissable, while Griffin fans will be delighted to get hold of cuts that have never been legally on CD before - notably the extended mix of 'Understand' which features the inimitable Gerald Albright on sax.
(BB) 3/5


THE ISLEY BROTHERS: 3 plus 3, Go For Your Guns, Winner Takes It All, 2CDs (Label: SPV)

Monday, 19 May 2008 13:01 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

THE ISLEY BROTHERS: 3 plus 3, Go For Your Guns, Winner Takes It All, 2CDs

SPV is a German label that's recently embarked on an ambitious blues and soul reissue programme and these two releases are highpoints in the campaign so far. By anybody's standards the Isleys were/are an iconic band and in their long and distinguished career 1973's '3+3' was a watershed. It was the album when the original family vocal trio became a sextet and its incendiary music took soul in new directions. It also widened the Isley's fan base and in the re-worked 'That Lady', 'Summer Breeze' and 'The Highways Of My Life' the group created veritable and permanent soul anthems. But the album boasts much more than those well-known hits - notably an electrifying version of James Taylor's 'Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight'. SPV have paired the original '3+3' album with 1977's 'Go For Your Guns' and, if anything, the Isley's sound had by then become crisper and funkier - witness 'The Pride', 'Tell Me When You Need It Again', 'Livin' In The Life' and 'Go For Your Guns'. Isley aficionados, though, will tell you that the album's peaks are Ronnie's sublime vocals on 'Voyage To Atlantis' and 'Footsteps In The Dark'. 'Winner Takes It All' was issued in 1979 and, of course, it was a double vinyl album, hence its stand alone status on this reissue. The LP is often neglected in Isley histories but it did spawn the life-affirming hit 'It's A Disco Night' and any number of extended funk workouts. But the cuts that have travelled time best are the ballads like 'Let's Fall In Love', 'How Lucky I Am', 'You're The Key To My Heart', 'You're Beside Me' and 'Love Comes and Goes'. Few of those beauties ever appear on Isley compilations… now's the chance to hear them in their original setting. Allow them to remind you of the purity and true soul of Ronnie Isley's voice.
(BB) 5/5


Kim Tolliver: 'Come & Get Me I'm Ready' (Label: Reel Music)

Monday, 19 May 2008 03:13 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Kim Tolliver: 'Come & Get Me I'm Ready'

Nashville-born/Cleveland-raised singer/songwriter Dorothy Kimberley Tolliver is an unsung Southern Soul heroine to many collectors of rare and antique R&B records. Blessed with a powerful and tremendously expressive set of pipes, Tolliver began her recording career in 1967 with a single called 'Get A Little Soul' for the Sureshot label. Failing to see any chart action, Tolliver moved to another small indie, the New York-based Rojac label, where she waxed several sides between 1968 and 1970. With success proving elusive, Tolliver recorded a one-off 45 for Superheavy in the guise of 'Big Ella' in 1971. That too bombed. However, it wasn't all doom and gloom as Tolliver - who had married songwriter/producer Fred Briggs, author of The Dells' 'Strung Out Over You' and Mavis Staples' 'You're Driving Me Into The Arms Of A Stranger' - collaborated with her husband on Margie Joseph's two Volt LPs, 'Margie Joseph Makes A New Impression' and 'Phase II.' After that, the couple then worked together on Tolliver's debut album (which was credited to Kim Briggs) called 'Who's Kimberley' for their own label. In 1973, Tolliver landed at Chess, where she cut 'Come & Get Me I'm Ready,' which sadly, turned out to be her final long player. Now released on CD for the first time - thanks to the new US reissue label, Reel Music - 'Come & Get Me I'm Ready' proves to be a genuine soul masterpiece. Kim Tolliver's vocals, which swoop and soar majestically, are dark and sultry. Her singing possesses the rawness and visceral attack of the blues and yet also displays the subtle expressive nuances that jazz singers customarily employ. In soul terms, it sounds a little like Stax meets Motown. The opening number, the self-penned 'The Other Side Of Town,' with its passages of spoken narrative, is a tour de force of confessional Southern-style balladry. It's a classic 'other woman' cheating song and Tolliver's cathartic performance, while histrionic at times, is grippingly dramatic - so much so that her sense of heartbreak, betrayal and loss is almost palpable. Following this is a superlative interpretation of Clarence Reid's 'She Don't Know You Like I Do.' The title cut is another winner - a mid-tempo tale about misunderstanding and stubbornness that boasts a great chorus and superb string and horn arrangements. 'The Way He Used To' is a slow ballad about loss and nostalgic reminiscence featuring a rich, throaty vocal from Tolliver and an arrangement that builds to a passionate climax. Impressive in a different way is a medley, which combines the cinematic funk of 'I Need You (Come As You Are)' with the Motown-style 'Drop Whatever You're Doing.' By contrast, 'Taking A Woman's Stand' has a pronounced country-soul feel and a big, rousing chorus. Despite its high quality in terms of performance, material and production, sadly 'Come & Get Me I'm Ready' didn't see any chart action and sank without trace soon after its release. It's been championed by soul collectors for many years and now, finally, is granted a new lease of life that with any luck, will result in an army of new admirers. Go and get it while you can…
(CW) 5/5


JAMES HUNTER: The Hard Way (Label: Fantasy, Universal)

Sunday, 18 May 2008 14:57 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


James Hunter isn't your typical soul man. Pass him on the streets of his native Colchester and you'd be forgiven if you took him for a bank clerk or a high school teacher - albeit trendy ones. But hear the man sing or see him perform and you'd revise your misplaced first impressions immediately. Hunter, you see, has a remarkable soul voice. It's grittier and a tad rougher than Sam Cooke's but in Hunter's phrasing and laconic delivery you'll hear much to recall soul's true founding father. More, Hunter's wistful guitar playing and his uncluttered song writing will call to mind early period Curtis Mayfield, when the Gentle Genius and his fellow Impressions were laying down one of soul's most enduring templates. With such credentials, it's little wonder that, when available, the Grammy-nominated Hunter is support artist of choice for people like Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Van Morrison. Surprisingly, though his previous album - 'People Gonna Talk - was critically acclaimed as one of 2006's best LPs, Hunter still remains something of a soul secret. With the release of this new set, however, that secret shouldn't stay secretive much longer. Recorded in London's famed Toe Rag Studio with analogue equipment, the music here is for real - no posing or posturing, but simple passion - soul as it was meant to be. The set begins with the busy, light, lilting title tune. Featuring zippy strings and Allen Toussaint on keys, the confection is Sam Cooke for the 21st century. Toussaint features on a couple of other cuts - the bluesy 'Til The End' and the rumba-funk of 'Believe Me Baby'. That one's a real foot-tapper as are the jumpy 'Don't Do Me No Favours' and 'She's Got Away' which calls to mind Ray Charles' rockier moments. Hunter's in more restrained mood on the summery and harmonic 'Tell Her', the almost Caribbean-flavoured 'Carina' and the just-guitar-accompanied 'Strange But True.' That one provides this deceptively simple soul set with a low key, but sweet ending which will make you wonder why Hunter and his music have remained so secret for so long.
(BB) 4/5


THE OVATIONS: One In A Million (Label: Kent)

Wednesday, 14 May 2008 10:27 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

THE OVATIONS: One In A Million

This lovely 21 tracker is Kent's second look at the work of underrated vocal group The Ovations. Where the first set brought together the group's Goldwax recordings, this one assembles the sides they cut for the Sounds Of Memphis and XL between 1972 and 1978 and though the sound is very much of its time, there's still plenty here that has travelled remarkably well. Those who know the Ovations will know that in lead singer Louis Williams they had a gifted and emotive vocalist whose voice bore an uncanny resemblance to the great Sam Cooke's and indeed it's a Sam Cooke medley that gave the group their biggest US hit. Under the umbrella title of 'Having A Party', the track meshes together five Cooke songs and, like the originals, this medley has an undeniable feel-good atmosphere. Other cuts with a real Sam Cooke feel include the ballad 'Take It From One Who Knows' and the gentle 'Touching Me'. Elsewhere, the rolling 'So Nice To Be Loved By You' has a Bobby Womack flavour to it (hardly surprising since Womack was a Cooke acolyte), while the punchy 'Till I Find Some Way' is a hidden 70s gem. With Williams sterlingly supported by Nathan Lewis and Billy Boy Young, the Ovations were clearly not a one man team. The harmonies are superb throughout and apart from the Cooke link, you'll constantly be thinking of outfits like the Manhattans, the Detroit Emeralds and the Trammps. That Trammps connection Is most obvious on 'Don't Say You Love Me' where there's more than a similarity to 'Hold Back The Night' and if you like that tight discofied sound you'll enjoy the collection's title cut too. Indeed there's nothing here that's not to be enjoyed; it's all good, honest group soul and hopefully, together with Kent's first Ovations' collection, the group will at last achieve a wider notoriety.
(BB) 4/5


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