Reviews

VOICES OF EAST HARLEM: Right On Be Free (Label: Rhino)

Friday, 02 November 2007 14:05 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VOICES OF EAST HARLEM: Right On Be Free

The Voices of East Harlem were a New York community choir who were to the late 60s/early 70s what the Sounds Of Blackness were to the 90s That's to say they emerged from their community/church roots to enjoy a measure of commercial success without compromising their integrity, sound or beliefs. In reality the Voices never enjoyed the huge success of the Sounds, but their 1970 debut set 'Right On Be Free' caused major ripples and you can hear exactly why on this new Rhino reissue that adds 11 bonus cuts to the original 10 track album. That original set was an energy-charged, passionate selection of thoughtful cover versions and what, back in the day, were called protest songs. The vocals (mainly down to Gerri Griffin and Cynthia Sessions) are fluid and there's a real live, committed feel to proceedings. It's the same with the bonus cuts, which include the single, 'Oxford Town' (produced by Donny Hathaway) and previously unreleased album tracks of which 'Nation Time' was written by an emerging Gamble and Huff. In fairness the music here is very much of its time and maybe hard to connect with in places where you can't contextualise. However, as a valuable piece of black music heritage, the set is vital. It's part of Rhino's big re-issue programme that also sees classic albums from people like Leroy Hutson, Ace Spectrum, Prince Phillip Mitchell, Ronn Matlock, Gwen McCrae and Blue Magic deservedly back on the racks.
(BB) 4/5

 

QUEEN LATIFAH: Trav'lin' Light (Label: Verve)

Friday, 02 November 2007 09:20 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

QUEEN LATIFAH: Trav'lin' Light

Career-wise, this 37-year-old Newark-born star of the recent movie 'Hairspray' has travelled a long way in only a relatively short span of time. Twenty years ago she was a struggling Big Apple rapper who broke into the big time in 1989 with the groundbreaking album 'All Hail The Queen.' Quickly establishing herself as the ruling regent of distaff hip-hop, Latifah's horizons were widened in 1991 when she appeared in the movies 'House Party 2,' 'Juice' and the Spike Lee film, 'Jungle Fever.' After starring in a US sitcom, 'Living Single,' in 1993, she caught the eye in the movie 'Set It Off.' By that time, her interest in hip-hop was on the back burner as movie roles came thick and fast. In 2004, Latifah released her fifth long player, 'The Dana Owens Album,' a collection of jazz standards that turned out to be markedly different from anything else she'd done and a world away, seemingly, from the street braggadocio of hip-hop. This excellent new oeuvre is the follow up to that revelatory offering and continues where 'The Dana Owens Album' left off. Latifah's metamorphosis from rough-hewn rapper to stylish songstress is truly remarkable, evidenced by the expert way she handles classic songs like 'I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl' (the old Nina Simone number) and the title song (made famous by the immortal Billie Holiday). There's a beautiful rendition of Phoebe Snow's 'Poetry Man' and a superbly soulful retooling of the 10cc pop classic, 'I'm Not In Love.' There are also noteworthy covers of material by Smokey Robinson, the Pointer Sisters (a furiously funky 'How Long') and a strong version of 'Gone Away,' as recorded by Roberta Flack back in 1970 (it was penned, incidentally, by a mighty soul triumvirate comprising Donny Hathaway, Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield). Talking of soul luminaries, Stevie Wonder supplies some suitably plaintive harmonica on 'Georgia Rose.' A classy jazz-meets-soul confection.
(CW) 4/5

 

DONNY HATHAWAY: Come Back Charleston Blue OST (Label: Rhino)

Thursday, 01 November 2007 14:54 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

DONNY HATHAWAY: Come Back Charleston Blue OST

I guess if you're reading this, then you need no introductory ramble about Donny Hathaway. Equally, I assume you'll be delighted to know that the great man's 1972 soundtrack album to the movie 'Come Back Charleston Blue' is now available on CD for the first time - and its been remastered and boosted by the inclusion of a couple of previously unreleased tracks. The 'Charleston Blue' movie came out at the peak of the blaxploitation era and didn't do too much box office-wise. Its release coincided with personal problems in Donny's life and for those, and other reasons, the soundtrack was overlooked…overlook it now at your peril. The album, you see, shows Donny Hathaway as the consummate musical artist with the ability to switch genres and styles with ease but, at the same time, injecting each of those styles with a deep passion that better writers than me would call soul. The album's flavours go from ragtime and Cotton Club-style jazz through to classy Latin American and onto classic blaxploitation via wonderful Basie pastiches. You also get the occasional vocal interjection, but the two big vocals are the title song - an inspiring duet between Donny and Margie Joseph and, of course, 'Little Ghetto Boy' - and it's two further versions of that song (one alternate cut and one live) that form the two bonuses. Working with Quincy Jones, here Hathaway has crafted one of the 70s best blaxploitation soundtracks. Like I said, miss it at your peril.
(BB) 5/5

 

ERIC ROBERSON: The Collection (Label: Dome)

Thursday, 01 November 2007 14:52 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

ERIC ROBERSON: The Collection

New Jersey's Eric Roberson (Erro, to his fans) was in the vanguard of the whole indie/neo/nu soul thing. But the man himself refuses to be categorized. He's always seen himself as a soul singer with stories to tell and emotions to stir via his music and it's for that reason that he steadfastly refused to sign deals with major labels who might have wanted to pigeon-hole him. So, Erro's stuff came out on his own label, while he would also occasionally guest on other artists' work if he felt his integrity wasn't being compromised. Latterly Eric signed a deal with Dome (a label sympathetic to his ideas) and the result was the acclaimed '…Left' album. Now, still with Dome, he's agreed to make available some of the best cuts from his first four albums so that UK soul fans can catch up on the man's back pages. What they'll discover is a mature soul music a thousand miles away from the trite, teen R&B often peddled as soul Stateside. Signature sounds are the Jazzy Jeff collaboration 'Rock With You' and the loose, languid 'Find The Way' but it's on the ballads that Eric's real soul sensitivities are most apparent. 'Just A Dream' is an almost perfect quiet storm moment, while the autobiographical 'Couldn't Hear Me' encapsulates the maturity we've just discussed. As a bonus there's one brand new cut - 'Head To Toe', another superb, svelte ballad. So, if you've missed Erro over the past few years here's a great opportunity to catch up on what you've missed.
(BB) 4/5

 

RAUL MIDON: A World Within A World (Label: Manhattan)

Thursday, 01 November 2007 12:27 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

RAUL MIDON: A World Within A World

One of the last albums to receive production input by the late great Turkish-American music mogul, Arif Mardin, was Raul Midon's 2005 debut, 'State Of Mind.' Mardin, in fact, was responsible for signing Midon to EMI, having granted the blind New Mexico-born singer/songwriter a private audition. But despite Mardin's unimpeachable record as regards discovering and nurturing new talent, I have to confess I wasn't wholly convinced by the material and performances on Midon's debut. Judging, however, from the hyperbole and acclaim heaped on Midon from some of the broadsheets, my dissenting voice was a lone one crying in the wilderness. And so to Midon's sophomore opus, which retains the Mardin connection thanks to the input of the producer's son, Joe. Given my previous encounter with the Afro-Argentine soul man, I wasn't expecting my world to be set on fire or my mind to be blown. Indeed, as I anticipated, 'A World Within A World' still doesn't convince me that Raul Midon is the next big thing but the album does have many fine moments and certainly engages me much more than its predecessor. 'Pick Me Up' is a breezy opener driven by acoustic guitar featuring some Soul II Soul-style string parts. With its storytelling lyrics, it's reminiscent, perhaps, of Bill Withers (other commentators have even suggested Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder). The slower 'Save My Life' is more contemplative, while the upbeat but pensive 'All The Answers' - possibly the album's best cut - finds Midon musing about the cyber age glut of online information. The a capella 'Ain't Happened Yet' is an enjoyable, well-executed doo-wop inspired number that boasts some dense, Take 6-style harmonies while highlighting Midon's vocal versatility. With its subject matter ranging from declarations of love to world peace and moments of deeper metaphysical contemplation, 'A World Within A World' is definitely a cut above your average Noughties soul and R&B album. Well worth investigating then - but don't expect it to change your world.

(CW) 4/5

 

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