Wednesday, 11 July 2018 10:43 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSummer is officially here and all kinds of music marketeers are offering us what they're calling "the perfect summer soundtrack" (or something like that). Well if you're a child of the 80s and/or a lover of classic soul and R&B from there or thereabouts, then Universal has something that will fit that "perfect" bill.

To tie in with the heat wave (more luck than accurate weather forecasting, me thinks) they've just released this ab fab 3CD, 55 track compilation that's named for the Montell Jordan smash, 'This Is How We Do It' and listening across the three silver discs , this, indeed , was how we did it!

All the big hitters and all the big tunes of that era are included – things like Bobby Brown's 'Every Little Step', Mary J's 'Real Love', Zhane's 'Hey Mr DJ and 'Request Line', Keith Sweat's 'I Want You, Shanice's 'I Love Your Smile', the Whitehead Bros'  'Forgot I Was G' and the always welcome, evergreen 'Optimistic' from the Sounds of Blackness.

There are plenty of lesser-known gems too and when tunes like Melvin Riley's Goin' Thru A Thang', Christopher Williams' 'Every Little Thing You Do', Today's 'Why You Get Funky On Me' and/or Teddy Riley's 'Is It Good' come on, I guarantee that they'll raise a smile and make you realise how much you've missed 'em.

Good too to see there's a strong Brit contingent in the mix – Beverley Knight's 'Flavour Of The Old School', Mark Morrison's 'Return of the Mack' and Soul II Soul's 'Keep On Movin'' amongst 'em.

The PR people tell us that this collection's title cut is James Corden's favourite song of all time; I'll bet that there are loads and loads of you out there who, amongst this 55 strong treasure trove, will find your own particular fave!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 July 2018 10:50


JAMES BROWN: 'Hey America' (Elemental)

Friday, 06 July 2018 11:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                         altNot to be confused with "The Godfather's" 1970 album of the same name - which was a Christmas-themed LP -  'Hey America' is a reissue on both CD and vinyl LP of an ace but slightly oddball Italian James Brown compilation released by Polydor two years later in 1972. It begins, though, in a festive mood with the title song of "Mr Dynamite's" aforementioned Yuletide offering, a funky Black Power anthem, which was divided into two sides for a single release. You get both sides consecutively sequenced here, with Part 2 being an instrumental version with string overdubs. Then follows two parts of the 1972 single  'I'm A Greedy Man,' with Brown's vocals counterpointed by Bobby Byrd and the JB's blaring horns.  One of JB's most explosive grooves in the early '70s was the heavily-sampled 'Soul Power,' which also features here (though, strangely,  you don't get its Part 2 flipside). Both sides of the  'Make It Funky' 45, another much-sampled funk gem, makes an appearance, and you also get two further instalments, 'My Part/Make It Funky' Parts 3 (which is basically a Fred Wesley trombone solo) and 4.

Just when you think the album is devoted to unbridled funk, the compilers break up the flow with the pleading ballad, 'I Cried,' a Dave Matthews-arranged single (complete with horns, strings, and female backing vocals) that Brown wrote with Bobby Byrd. In a bizarre twist, the final three cuts on this compilation are "live" and all covers - funked-up versions of Jerry Butler and Betty Everett's duet hit, 'Let It Be Me,' featuring Vicki Anderson, and Jimmy Webb's 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix,' both taken from the faux live album, 'Super Bad' (a studio session with overdubbed audience applause) plus a version of 'Kansas City' recorded at the Apollo Theater in 1967.

Though in terms of its blend of material, 'Hey America' is a slightly eccentric compilation,  it's still an enjoyable one to listen to and worth acquiring if you're a hardcore James Brown fan. Good God!

(CW) 4/5


Last Updated on Friday, 06 July 2018 17:46


DAVE KOZ ad FRIENDS; Summer Horns II From A to Z (Concord)

Wednesday, 04 July 2018 19:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altChiming perfectly with the current heat wave, smooth sax supremo, Dave Koz, has re-launched his "Summer Horns" project. The first Summer Horns was back in 2013 and, if you remember, Dave teamed up with like minded horn players, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair and Richard Elliot to groove through a selection of soul and jazz classics on which the horn parts were particularly strong. So they treated us to things like 'So Very Hard To Go', 'Got To Get You Into My Life', 'Reasons', 'Always There' and 'Rise' and jolly good they all were too!

For Summer Horns II, Kos once again works with Albright and Elliot but brings in "newcomers" Rick Braun (trumpet) and Aubrey Logan (trombone and vocals). That aside, the formula is very much like the Mark 1 long player. That's to say that Dave and his team (which includes arrangers Tom Scott, Greg Adams and Gordon Goodwin) have chosen a great selection (11 tracks in total) of soul and jazz standards where on the originals the horn section was prominent. And the crew nail their flags to the mast from the start with an opening medley salvo that pairs EWF'S 'Getaway' with KC's 'That's The Way I Like It'. Big and bold, it sets the tone for make-you-smile versions of 'More Today Than Yesterday', 'Keep That Same Old Feeling', 'If You Really Love Me' and 'Before I Let Go' (the Maze classic). All feature a gleaming horn phalanx. The set's big vocal is a swinging rendition of Natalie Cole's 'This Will Be' – vocalists here are Kenny Latimore and Shelea.

The jazz tunes include 'Take The A Train' and 'Route 66' while the one selection where the source is neither soul nor jazz is Paul Simon's 'Late In The Evening'. If you know it, you'll know it features township rhythms – fitting then that the guest vocalist is Jonathan Butler.

Harsh critics might opine that that this album lacks a level of imagination. Maybe... but c'mon, it's summer, the sun's out (dare we add that England are still in the World Cup!) and what's wrong with great tunes played with fun, energy and artistry by a top team. Nothing not to like here!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 July 2018 19:50


RAMSEY LEWIS: Four Columbia Albums (BGO)

Tuesday, 03 July 2018 13:31 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe great Ramsey Lewis is a black music pioneer. His work at Chess between 1956 and 1972 was truly ground breaking and secured him a place for all time in the jazz pantheon. His 'Hang On Sloopy', 'The In Crowd' and 'Wade In The Water' remain classics and are staples of every proper jazz station. In '72, though, Lewis left Chess for Columbia and though his time at the major was maybe not quite so significant, it did yield plenty of quality jazz, crossover and fusion – notably the incomparable '74 'Sun Goddess' album.

Lewis was prolific at Columbia where he released just over 20 long payers and over the years most have been reissued. Continuing the trend, BGO have just re-released four of 'em in a double CD pack. There seems to be no real logic behind the four choices.... 'Legacy' (1978), 'Ramsey' (1979), 'Live At The Savoy' (1982) and 'Chance Encounter' (1982) save that they show the keyboardist's breadth, versatility and commitment to quality.

'78's 'Legacy' is the first up in this pack and it represents one of Lewis' most ambitious ventures. Working with producer James L Mack, he wanted to create a bridge between jazz and classical music and using a tight, disciplined framework they crafted longish pieces under the familiar classical headings toccata, adagio and fugue.

'Ramsey' from the next year was again part produced by Mack bur represented a return to what most people expected from Ramsey Lewis. The third album in this package, 'Live At The Savoy' is even more "Ramsey Lewis" and harks back to those groundbreaking Chess sets in more ways than one - he even reprises his three biggest Chess hits for the audience at New York's swanky Savoy Theatre.

The last of this set's albums is 'Close Encounter' from 1982 - a workaday affair enlivened by a Fender Rhodes-led version of 'What's Going On' and a cover of 'Up Where We Belong' which features vocals from Morris Gray and Pat Shannon.

The sleeve notes for this four album set come from our very own Charles Waring. He tells you everything you need to know (and a lot that you thought you didn't need to know!) but even he would, I'm sure, agree that maybe these particular long players aren't vital or crucial to understanding Ramsey Lewis. Nevertheless, great to have them back in circulation.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 July 2018 13:54


SHIRLEY ELLIS: Three, Six, Nine... The Best Of (Ace)

Friday, 29 June 2018 12:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altTo most, Shirley Ellis is best known for her novelty hits - stuff like 'The Clapping Song', 'The Name Game' and the even more bizarre 'Ever See A Diver Kiss His Wife While The Bubbles Bounce About Above The Water'! The Northern fraternity still love her magnificent anthem 'Soul Time' while collectors will cite her version of 'The Nitty Gritty' (the original, by the way) as every bit as soulful as the better known Gladys Knight version. But there was so much more to Shirley (born Shirley O'Gara in Harlem in 1929) than that handful of tunes... and this new 24 track Ace collection amply makes the point.

Of course, all those novelty hits are here (the excellent sleeve notes explain their meanings – especially the names in 'The Name Game') alongside 'The Nitty Gritty' and 'Soul Time' but to get the real measure of Ms Ellis just listen to her intense version of the Clyde McPhatter-led Drifters' 'Such A Night'. Penned by her producer, Lincoln Chase, Shirley's version lost out in the chart race to someone called Elvis Presley! Other familiar songs given new and soulful treatments by Shirley include 'Kansas City', 'Bring It On Home To Me', 'Back Track' and 'Yes I'm Ready'. Those last two were produced by the legendary Charles Calello and the take of the Barbara Mason Philly song gives the original a proper soul run for its money.

Never a major "name", Shirley Ellis died in 2005 aged 76 and hopefully this long overdue retrospective will help establish a bigger and better reputation for her.

(BB) 35


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