LORI JENAIRE: Fruition (Label: NBE Records)

Tuesday, 26 February 2008 05:09 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


Committed and knowing indie soul fans will know all about the talents of Lori Jenaire. Thanks to the sterling (and often unsung) work of UK soul promoters her work has been filtering in over here for a year or so and despite the odd dance aberration, her work has been consistently good. Now with this new 12 tracker - aptly called 'Fruition' - Lori's music moves to another level. Working with Gladys Knight's musical director Scott Cannady, Lori has crafted a wonderful indie soul set that demands investigation from anyone who digs divas like the aforementioned Gladys Knight or Anita Baker - to whose primetime work this album most resembles. The set starts promisingly with a cover of 'California Dreamin''. I never understood why the soul fraternity like this tune but Lori does it her way. Different to Bobby Womack's take, she even manages to work a snatch of Aretha's 'Daydreamin'' in. Track two, 'Stay Strong' doesn't quite take off, but maybe it's because I have a thing about those cod Caribbean interjections made popular by the Fugees. However, all's quickly forgiven with the third track - 'Matter Of Time'. It's a beaut and possibly the best indie soul tune of the year so far. The song boasts a lovely melody, there's the sweetest of choruses, the beats are elegantly paced and Lori's vocal is truly 'felt.' Add to that some extra soulful sax from Rodney Taylor and you have a perfect modern soul confection. Almost as good are 'Dontcha Wanna Know' and 'Pieces.' The former has some lovely, restrained beats which are perfect for the modern room while the latter is a steady groove underpinning a wonderful vocal on an ultra-catchy melody. If ballads are your thing then try the drama of 'Pictures'. It equals the Dianne Warren-penned 'Lately I' as the LP's best slowie - check out the piano on that one. Elsewhere, 'Unexpected Storm' has a touch of Latin about it while 'Better Now' has a different feel altogether. That one's produced by guitar man John Dixon and adds variety to a great indie soul set which I can't commend too highly.
(BB) 4 out of 5


DUFFY: 'Rockferry' (Label: A&M)

Monday, 25 February 2008 11:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

DUFFY: 'Rockferry'

By now just about everyone in the UK will be familiar with Amy Ann Duffy. The 23-year-old blond singer from Nefyn, North Wales, is currently enjoying pole position in the British singles chart with 'Mercy,' an infectious slice of gospel-infused retro-rhythm and blues that recalls '60s blue-eyed soul divas Dusty Springfield and Lulu. Though there's obviously a lot of PR hype and money helping to propel Duffy into the big time, there's no doubt that her unique voice - a raspy, bittersweet instrument that recalls Bettye LaVette, Candi Staton and even, in places, Bettye Swann - deserves a large, appreciative audience. The big test for Duffy is whether she'll be able to sustain the type of heady success she's currently enjoying. However, on the evidence of this eagerly anticipated debut album - which apparently has been in gestation for three years - the future looks bright. Sympathetically helmed by guitarist Bernard Butler - former member of Suede and one-time musical partner of David McAlmont - 'Rockferry' is a varied yet cohesive set containing ten soulful, well-wrought songs. The atmospheric title track has a palpable '60s feel and its striking instrumental introduction recalls antique Mersey beat groups like Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas. By contrast, 'Warwick Avenue' - complete with an opulent arrangement for string orchestra - is a catchy mid-tempo ballad that has a Motown feel. 'Serious' is even more addictive, largely due to its slinky mid-paced groove and insistent chorus. The gorgeous 'Steppin' Stone' is also noteworthy and features a poignant vocal underpinned by a haunting arrangement that recalls Dionne Warwick's Bacharach-David-helmed 'Walk On By.' Arguably the best showcase for Duffy's vocal prowess is 'Syrup and Honey,' an achingly slow, bluesy cut, which sounds like it was recorded in Memphis or Muscle Shoals in the late '60s/early '70s. 'Hanging On Too Long' is also strong, sounding like something Bettye Swann might have recorded for Atlantic in the early '70s while the plaintive 'Delayed Devotion' has an Al Green/Hi Records feel. Indeed, Duffy's influences are transparent but she's no mere copyist or karaoke singer and has definitely distilled her influences and added something of her own that gives her vocal delivery a unique, distinctive sound. Despite having a running time of just under 40 minutes, this album is not short on quality and proves to be a tantalising debut that leaves the listener craving more.
(CW) 4/5


MICHAEL JACKSON: Thriller 25 (Label: Epic, Legacy)

Thursday, 21 February 2008 13:46 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


Unless you've spent the early weeks of 2008 vacationing on Mars, it can't have escaped your attention that li'l' Michael Jackson's' Thriller' album is celebrating its 25th Anniversary - that's 25 short years since its initial release and subsequent elevation to the status of the world's biggest selling album of all time. Now, anyone who knows anything about the marketing people who work in the music biz will know that it's nigh on impossible for them to let such an opportunity pass by - so here we have it - a deluxe 'Thriller' reissue bolstered by remixes of some of the songs, along with classy DVD footage and a previously unreleased MJ gem. A review of the original album is redundant. Put simply, it was/is a genuine pop/soul apogee and its music is so familiar that maybe we take its success for granted. You'll get a measure of that complacency by listening again to just to one cut - 'Baby Be Mine'. It's the least known of the original LP's tracks, but it's a real beauty. A jaunty Rod Temperton song with Michael in fine, crystal-clear form, it would the standout on lesser albums. But what about the remixes and new tweaks? Well, I've heard plenty of people who claim that tampering with masterpieces is totally redundant. However just as the Surrealists encouraged people to look at art in a new way after painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa, here we have the opportunity to hear the ultra-familiar in a serious, alternative way. Best of the new versions is Akon's mix and participation on 'Wanna Be Starting Something'. It has a heavy intensity and sounds thoroughly contemporary as too does Kanye West's slowed down re-burn on 'Billie Jean' and surprisingly Mr. W keeps his own interjections to the barest minimum. Will I Am is the other mixer and his McCartney-less version of 'The Girl Is Mine' is very catchy - no wonder it's the lead single - though his Fergie-led take of 'Beat It' adds little. Then there's the previously unreleased track - 'For All Time'. Pretty and very much of its time, all Michael Jackson fans will want it. They'll also play the bonus DVD to death. It features the videos to 'Billie Jean', 'Beat It' and 'Thriller' and there's that fabulous 'Billie Jean' performance from the Motown 25 concert. It's still mesmerising and as I said up top, commercial pop/soul doesn't come any better.
(BB) 4/5


SYREETA: Syreeta:Stevie Wonder Presents... (Label: Motown, Hip-O-Select)

Thursday, 21 February 2008 07:56 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

SYREETA: Syreeta:Stevie Wonder Presents...

Universal's excellent Import Music Services have just started to bring in some of the Hip-O-Select range - that wonderful series of limited edition collectable albums that wouldn't normally get a reissue. First of the bunch is this lovely little twofer from the one-time Mrs. Wonder - Syreeta Wright. Ms. Wright came to Detroit to work in the Hitsville offices but was lured to the studio by Brian Holland. Their collaborations (as Rita Wright) had little commercial impact, but after a whirlwind relationship with Stevie Wonder (and a reversion to Syreeta) the lady made a full album debut with an eponymous collection that forms the first 9 tracks of this collection. Produced by her then hubby, the album can be seen both as a crucial part in Stevie's development and a major step in Syreeta's career. There's lots of that synth-inflected funk that was Wonder's trademark and a remarkable duet, 'To Know You Is To Love You'. But Syreeta is her own woman too - listen to the way she makes Smokey's 'What Love Has Joined Together' her own. For her second album, in an attempt to garner mores sales, Motown made the Wonder-link patently obvious and there's as much musical experimentation here as there is on Stevie's own same period albums. Indeed there's a sequence of segued cuts that recall the end medley of the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' and in fairness stuff like 'Waitin' For The Postman' haven't travelled that well. The cut which seems to have survived the best is the charming old school ballad that is 'I Wanna Be By Your Side' on which Syreeta duets beautifully with G. C Cameron… it's a delight. Both 'Syreeta' and 'Stevie Wonder Presents…' are 70s Motown and soul highlights and collectors will need to grab copies while they can.
(BB) 4 out of 5


IZZY JAMES: A Call To Conscience (Label: c. 2007 Izzy James)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 14:28 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

IZZY JAMES: A Call To Conscience

I don't know anything about Izzy James save that he wrote, produced and arranged this whole album. My first instincts were that Mr. James is a gospel artist - both the album's title and opening tracks indicated that here was something more than songs of love, lust, passion cheating and general good times. The opener, 'It's All Right' is a big, brash optimistic tune declaring that we should all look on the brighter side of life (though without the irony or humour of the Pythons). Track two - 'Change The World' is equally big and brassy - with horn charts that will recall the Tower of Power and lyrics that draw inspiration from gospel music. 'This Way', the third cut, is a dramatic ballad where, again, the lyrics urge us to seek solutions to the world's ills. Then things change. 'Fallin' Sky' is a tale of love cheats and this lyrical switch sets the tone for the rest of the LP, with the songs' messages alternating between romance and what, for want of a better description, we might call socio-religious themes. Vocally Izzy James is in fine form throughout. His voice is strong - though there's a gruff vulnerability in there that reminds me in places of Michael MacDonald - and more precisely a one-time MacDonald collaborator, Darwin Hobbs. Production values throughout are surprisingly expansive given that this is essentially one of those self-produced indie sets and overall it's a thoroughly decent modern soul set. It just lacks one really big tune to ignite proceedings. My vote for best cut would go to 'Stand Up'. This one's a lazy, laid back jazz-soul groove with some outstanding sax from Angelo Dirbraccio, but my guess is that's its too sophisticated for the average modern soulster. They would probably prefer the foot tapping potential in that opener,' It's All Right'. If you want to investigate more, the album's currently available through
(BB) 4 out of 5


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