DIONNE WARWICK: The Love Collection (Label: Sony BMG)

Wednesday, 06 February 2008 06:48 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

DIONNE WARWICK: The Love Collection

Every home should have a Dionne Warwick compilation and God knows there's enough out there to choose from. This latest 20 tracker is as good - and in many ways better - than most that are already available. There are a couple of reasons for this. First - the set is aimed directly at the Valentine's Day/red heart/ bouquet of flowers market. So each and every one of the cuts says something about that most elusive yet most appealing of human emotions, and though you've heard all the songs a million times before the lovely lady from New Jersey made them special when she recorded them and that special, fragile magic remains. Secondly, unlike lots of previous Warwick collections this one is a fairly comprehensive sweep - taking in not just her Wand/Scepter glory days but visiting lots of her later high spots. There are plenty of collaborations too - notably the oft-neglected 'Love Power' with Jeffrey Osborne and 'I Don't Need Another Lover' with the Spinners. Good too, to have the Isaac Hayes-penned 'Déjà Vu' included - you don't get that on too many other collections, while wherever soul fans meet the argument rages about whether Dionne's version of 'I Say A Little Prayer' is better than Aretha's. It's all academic of course - both are excellent - as is each and every cut on this lovely collection.
(BB) 5/5


Arthur Alexander: 'Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter' (Label: Hacktone)

Sunday, 03 February 2008 05:26 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Arthur Alexander: 'Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter'

After experiencing many disappointments in the music business, in the 1980s US singer/songwriter Arthur Alexander - whose seminal early '60s songs 'Anna (Go To Him)' and 'You Better Move On' were recorded by The Beatles & Rolling Stones respectively - decided to call time on his singing career and got a job as a bus driver. However, A&R staff at Elektra/Nonesuch persuaded the singer to come out of retirement in 1991 and record a keenly anticipated comeback album called 'Lonely Just Like Me,' which was released in 1993. But just as it seemed the fates were being kind to the man from the town of Florence, Alabama, tragedy struck - a few weeks after the album's release, the singer died suddenly of a heart attack while on a promotional tour. Sadly, as a consequence of this, the album also died and faded away despite positive reviews in publications like Rolling Stone. Happily, since his death 15 years ago, Alexander's profile has been increased by several notable reissues resulting in him receiving belated recognition as a true pioneer of country-soul. Now thanks to Hacktone Records, Alexander's valedictory opus for Elektra is granted a reissue - and a fabulous package it is, too, featuring an hour's worth of extra music (including 8 live tracks from '93, 4 demo tracks recorded in a hotel room in '91 and a live version of his classic 1962 song 'Anna' recorded at New York's famous Bottom Line club the same year). Not only that, but the packaging is superlative - there are replica photos from the original session, loads of absorbing liner note commentary to plough through and even a miniature reproduction of the man's funeral service booklet. But what about the music? Well, those who are aficionados of country-infused soul will lap up this Nashville-recorded session - especially when they realise that Muscle Shoals' luminaries like Spooner Oldham, Donny Fritts, and Dan Penn are among those providing the instrumental accompaniment. Alexander, whose voice sounds fabulous even though he'd been away from the music business for over a decade at the time, has a hand in all 12 songs on the original album, with the upbeat 'There Is A Road,' the plaintive 'In The Middle Of It All' and a revamp of his old tune, 'Go Home Girl,' being the immediate standouts. A marvellous musical monument to one of soul's unsung heroes.
(CW) 4/5


KIRK FRANKLIN: The Fight Of My Life (Label: Zomba)

Friday, 01 February 2008 11:40 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

KIRK FRANKLIN: The Fight Of My Life

Sadly, too many so-called soul fans don't get gospel. They seem to have a built in resistance to anything vaguely spiritual. Craving simple beats and hook-laden melodies, they fail to see that gospel and real soul are one and the same thing… indeed without the former we wouldn't have the latter to enjoy. Committed, long term soul lovers know that simple fact full well and they also know that Kirk Franklin is perhaps the current, leading gospel-soul practitioner. Franklin debuted in 1993 with his 17 member choir dubbed his "Family" and together they laid down a template that has served their collective ministry well for more than a decade. That template involves Kirk's emotive, testifying semi-spoken vocal trading licks with sweet ensemble choral work and though that idea might seem limiting, Franklin's albums are never one-dimensional. Indeed with imaginative production work, varied material and creative arrangements the Family's albums never cease to delight and (like all good soul music) provoke and challenge with their lyrics. This new 16 tracker is typical of Franklin's oeuvre. The template we've described is obvious, but with a great mix of up-tempo material, sensitive ballads, old school soul, R&B, traditional gospel - even rock, there're plenty of variety. For those who like to dance, 'Declaration' is the heavy-hitter. The LP's first single, it recalls prime time Sounds Of Blackness, while 'Hide Me' will delight those who like things more sophisticated. This one's a light summery sound with a gentle hint of Earth Wind and Fire and a killer melodic hook. Ballads? Well, 'Help Me Believe' is sweet, 'Still' is classic old soul while 'Chains' is big and dramatic. From a personal perspective I wasn't too taken by the rock guitar that dominates 'I Am God' or the booming R&B beats on 'I Like Me' but I understand why they're there and they're more than made up for by stuff like the modern soul dancer that is 'Jesus' and the almost funky 'Little Boy'. Believers will connect immediately with 'The Fight Of My Life' while for the doubters we mentioned up top, I'd recommend the album as an excellent starter pack to help unlock the soulful wonders of modern gospel music.
(BB) 4/5


VARIOUS: 'Music From The Wattstax Festival & Film' 35th Anniversary Expanded & Remastered Edition (Label: Stax )

Tuesday, 29 January 2008 11:26 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: 'Music From The Wattstax Festival & Film' 35th Anniversary Expanded & Remastered Edition

The date: August 20th 1972. The location: the Los Angeles Coliseum. The event: Wattstax, black America's answer to the Woodstock Festival. Those are the bare facts, but what they don't tell is the cultural, political and social significance of a concert whose principal aim was to celebrate black unity and give financial aid to the impoverished Watts' community after the riots of 1967. It was also employed by Memphis-based Stax Records to gain a West Coast foothold. Stax historian Rob Bowman's absorbing liner notes tell the whole story with pertinent quotes from many of the key participants. The music, spread over three CDs, features many previously unissued tracks, and provides a vivid reminder of the day when 112,000 people crammed together to witness unforgettable performances by pivotal Stax artists like Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla and Rufus Thomas, The Emotions, The Bar-Kays and The Temprees. Also present is the rest of the then Stax roster: Mel & Tim, William Bell, The Rance Allen Group, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Frederick Knight, Little Milton, David Porter, The Soul Children, Johnny Taylor and Kim Weston (Luther Ingram also performed but due to an ongoing legal issue, his performance is sadly omitted from this 35th Anniversary package). Other highlights include Jesse Jackson's inspirational opening speech and a couple of comic interludes by comedian Richard Pryor before Hollywood stole his soul. This wonderful, culturally significant, musical artefact is available via Universal's Import Music Services.
(CW) 4/5


MARVIN GAYE: 'Here, My Dear' EXPANDED EDITION (Label: Hip-O Select)

Friday, 25 January 2008 11:04 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Out of the ugliness of Marvin Gaye's acrimonious divorce from Anna Gordy in 1977 something beautiful emerged: 'Here, My Dear,' a warts 'n' all autobiographical album that graphically chronicled his failed marriage to Berry Gordy's sister, a woman 17 years his senior. Given that Gaye wasn't going to profit financially from the album - he had agreed with the authorities to hand over the proceeds to his ex-wife to settle spiralling divorce costs - he surprisingly poured his heart and soul into the project to create an inspired, frank, confessional that grew into a sprawling, epic, double album. Ironically, Marvin's musical efforts largely fell on deaf ears and the album, despite being attired in an eye-catching cover designed by Michael Bryan, sold poorly in comparison with the singer's previous long players (it didn't even spawn a hit single). Its ignominious commercial failure aside, over the years this over-looked and under-appreciated suite of songs has grown in stature with fans and critics alike and is now regarded as one of the keystones in the Marvin Gaye canon. This expanded 2-CD edition features a remastered version of the original LP on the first disc and a clutch of new mixes on the second one. Now sounding fresher than ever, it's easy to see - and hear - why 'Here, My Dear' continues to captivate soul fans. Marvin's multi-layered vocal performances are among his best ever and both the songs and arrangements are top drawer. The key track is the plaintive 'When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You,' which is heard in three different incarnations during the course of the album, each appearance denoting a new significance as Marvin's disintegrating relationship with his spouse unravels. 'Here, My Dear' for all its thematic negativity isn't wholly dominated by romantic angst. There are dark moments, certainly - like 'Anger,' wrapped in a spiky, insidious, funked-up groove; 'Is That Enough,' a mesmeric track brimming with irony and cynicism; and the brutal, businesslike, sexual politics that infuse 'You Can Leave But It's Going To Cost You.' But thankfully, the darkness is leavened with light - there are refulgent shafts of sunshine that punctuate the dark clouds of divorce, exemplified by 'I Met A Little Girl,' which is a sweet, doo-wop-infused ballad reflecting Gaye's early infatuation with Anna Gordy. And who can forget 'A Funky Space Reincarnation,' the dirtiest, slice of low down sex-funk that Gaye ever recorded? Then there's the euphoric penultimate track, 'Falling In Love Again,' where the promise of a new love affair (with teenager Janis Hunter) gives Gaye a sense of optimism and acts as a balm to heal old wounds. The new mixes on disc two might seem redundant to some, but in actual fact they shine a light on Gaye's creative processes, bringing into the foreground musical elements that were buried in the original mixes or even left out altogether (to his credit, reissue producer, Harry Weinger, didn't allow the remixers to resort to overdubs, samples and contemporary studio trickery). Those allowed to tweak the multi-track tapes in a decidedly old-school fashion include Bootsy Collins, Leon Ware, Marcus Miller, Prince Paul, DJ Smash, Salaam Remi and James Poyser, and the results are largely fascinating. Thirty years ago, 'Here My Dear' was met with critical and commercial indifference - today, though, the album is heralded by some commentators (including liner note writer, David Ritz) as a masterpiece. Rightly so, to my mind - and if this album, by any chance, has passed you by, there's no better time to get acquainted with it.
(CW) 5/5


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