Reviews

VARIOUS: City Teacher OST (Label: Expansion)

Thursday, 15 November 2007 11:58 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: City Teacher OST

'City Teacher' is an American movie that's yet to hit our screens and this new Expansion album is the film's soundtrack. In many ways it's a strange kind of affair and not the kind of thing you'd normally associate with the Expansion sound as typified by stuff like the Togetherness albums. What possibly attracted the Expansion team to the album are tracks from real soul stalwarts - Lenny Williams and Freda Payne. They open proceedings with 'Inner City Rainbow' and 'Welcome To The Human Race' respectively, but though both sing as well as you'd except, the songs aren't that great, though Freda's song does have a half-decent hook. Elsewhere there's some rap (Damian Deluxe's 'Piece Of Mind'), jazzy soundtrack fodder ('Love Dog, Content Prisoner'), putative inspirational ballads (Susan Therese's 'Leap Of Faith') and a selection of nondescript filler. Best cuts? Well, I believe Johnny Britt's dreamy 'In The Meantime' is play-listed on Solar - but that says more about sponsorship than song quality, while the Heatwave-sampled 'The Deeper You Go' is catchy in a quirky sort of way. Ces Tu's 'Street Light' - with its Boz Scaggs' style bass line - rides a good groove, bettered by 'Ghetto Legacy' which comes on like a David Sanborn throwback. However, the almost innocuous 'Better Than Yesterday' from Elaine Gibbs is the most rounded cut. Good song and mature vocal make it the album's soul standout.
(BB) 3/5

 

ROY HAMILTON: Warm Soul (Label: Poker Records)

Thursday, 15 November 2007 07:16 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

ROY HAMILTON: Warm Soul

Roy Hamilton was an acclaimed church-reared vocalist who first rose to prominence in the 50s. By the early 60s he was still scoring hits as 'real' R&B began to morph into classic soul. Working with Epic, his hits included 'Unchained Melody', 'If I Loved You' and 'Ebb Tide', and on the back of that success, he signed with MGM; this new 26-track collection from Cherry Red's Poker imprint chronicles his time with that label. The set contains all the tracks from Roy's MGM 'Warm Soul' album along with both sides from his seven MGM singles and the previously unreleased 'After He Breaks Your Heart'. Sound wise, Hamilton comes on like Brook Benton with a hint of Jackie Wilson in his pre-full-on soul days and though much of the music is maybe too near the middle of the road to be classed 'classic soul', there's still plenty here to stir emotions. Working with people like Leiber and Stoller, Bert Berns, Van McCoy and (possibly) Dee Dee Warwick and Cissy Houston there are some big ballads like 'Let Go' (penned by the aforementioned McCoy) and the eminently danceable 'The Panic Is On' - rightly a Northern fave back in the day - but bear in mind it's not a frantic hurtle, more a pleasing, almost sedate groove with bags of implied soul. It's one of the album's standout cuts and though Roy Hamilton will never figure in too many of those listings of soul's all time greats, this collection should interest both serious students of the genre and anyone who digs classy mid-60s sounds.
(BB) 3/5

 

VARIOUS: A Cellarful Of Motown Voume 3 (Label: Universal, Motown)

Thursday, 15 November 2007 05:44 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: A Cellarful Of Motown Voume 3

It's incredible how that big old Motown vault keeps turning up new finds, and though compiler Paul Nixon admits that maybe the well's about to run dry, this mighty 44 tracker is no barrel-scraping exercise. Almost all of the cuts here could have been released as singles - or at least have made it to album, but for all kinds of reasons they've stayed dust-layered, deep in the vault. This collection, like the previous two, is a comprehensive trawl through Motown's unreleased treasures and features big names, lesser luminaries and some downright oddities. Big names include Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Gladys Knight, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and the Four Tops whose 'Soldier Of Love' was actually recorded in 1984 - though Levi's in fine 60s form. Amongst the less-well known names there's producer Clarence Paul, the Lollipops, Debbie Dean and Mike Varo - who Gordy hoped might emulate the classic 60s Merseybeat sound! Oddities? Well what about Bobby Kayli? He was Berry Gordy's brother and his 'Love In A Movie' is a real Motown novelty. Then there's Little Miss Soul. Believed to be Patrice Jefferson, she offers a mighty version of Brenda Holloway's 'You've Made Me So Very Happy'… and speaking of Miss Holloway, she ends proceedings with a lovely demo version of Smokey's 'Going To A Go-Go' partnered by the Supremes. Best cuts? Well everyone has their own favourite Motown period/sound. Me? I'm a sucker for the early, innocent stuff - so, delighted to have the opportunity to listen to Carolyn Crawford's 'Too Young Too Long' and Brenda Holloway's 'You're Walking Out With My Heart'. Both bring back the true mod mood of the 60s, which, for me, makes a wonderful collection even more wondrous.
(BB) 5/5

 

RONNIE 'SPORTCOAT' OVERTON: When The Smoke Clears (Label: Still In The Pocket Productions)

Wednesday, 14 November 2007 15:48 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

RONNIE 'SPORTCOAT' OVERTON: When The Smoke Clears

Ronnie Overton (diligent research has drawn a blank on the 'Sportcoat' bit) has paid his dues. A native of Pontiac, Michigan, the bassist's early musical career involved Detroit studio work and touring in the roads bands of people like Ronnie McNeir and Kim Weston. During a long jail term Ronnie "cleared his head" and honed his keyboard skills - so much so that on release he began putting together this, his first solo album. Written and produced entirely by Ronnie, 'When The Smoke Clears' will probably be filed away under smooth or lite jazz. That category however doesn't really do justice to the soulful grooves that anchor tracks like 'Just Swinging', 'Bill's Mood' and the title cut. Elsewhere 'A Piece Of Mind' is a jaunty soul-jazz piece, while there's more nostalgia in 'Time For Lavern' which echoes some of the mellower moments on Isaac Hayes' 'Shaft'. In fairness I could have done without the electro synth sound of 'Pop That Koochie' while I'd have liked 'Latin Peach' to have been more Latino than it actually is and though 'Cruisematic' boasts some scatting, all 12 tracks are instrumentals and maybe one big vocal cut could have offered the album a real focus. Indeed if someone could pen lyrics, then drop them over 'When The Smoke Clears' itself, then we'd have a truly memorable modern soul tune.
(B B) 3/5

 

ALICIA KEYS: As I Am (Label: J Records)

Sunday, 11 November 2007 13:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

ALICIA KEYS: As I Am

Back in 2003, this Big Apple-born singer and pianist made both a creative and commercial quantum leap with her sophomore album, 'The Diary Of Alicia Keys,' which featured the stunning self-penned gem, 'If I Ain't Got You' - to my mind the best soul song written in the last ten years - and the addictive retro-groove, 'You Don't Know My Name.' Up to that point, Keys was just another aspiring R&B starlet with a promising debut to her name ('Songs In The Key Of A Minor'). Even though 'The Diary Of Alicia Keys' catapulted the young songstress into the R&B stratosphere inhabited by the likes of Mary J Blige and Whitney Houston, the singer was brought down to earth with the disappointing sales of the stop-gap follow-up, 'Alicia Keys Unplugged' in 2005. Four years on from her last studio effort, Keys is back with a new opus that has received a fairly mixed response by both the punters and pundits so far. I have to confess that on my first listen, I was profoundly disappointed - there's nothing here that remotely reaches the Olympian heights of 'If I Ain't Got You.' Having said that, with repeated plays my reservations were brushed aside - the album turns out to be a real grower and much more consistent in terms of quality than its predecessor. The arrangements are sparser this time around, with Keys' piano mostly accompanied by bass, drums and occasional guitar. Following a short, classical-tinged overture, the album proper opens with the boisterous beat ballad, 'Go Ahead.' Even better is the mid-paced, 'Superwoman' - not the '70s Stevie Wonder song - which makes way for the single, 'No One,' which is tough, brash and infectious (though its big, anthemic chorus is somewhat overcooked at the end by Keys' excessively declamatory vocals). By contrast, the dreamy soul ballad, 'Like You'll Never See Me Again,' is beautiful and delicate. The gorgeous, mid-tempo 'Lesson Learned' featuring John Mayer also seduces the ear, as does 'Teenage Love Affair,' which is vaguely reminiscent of 2003's 'You Don't Know My Name.' Another couple of engaging, soul-drenched ballads, 'Prelude To A Kiss' and 'Tell Me Something (Nana's Reprise)' can be found towards the end of the album, rounding out what is a significant release from a prodigious talent.
(CW) 4/5

 

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