TONY MOMRELLE; Best Is Yet To Come (Vibe 45)

Monday, 29 April 2019 17:18 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altMainstay of the Brit soul scene, Tony Momrelle must, by now, be fed up with two comments bandied about whenever his work is being played out or discussed by savvy soul folk. First how can someone sound so uncannily like a certain Stevie Wonder? And secondly, when oh when is he going to break into the major leagues? Well, I guess Tony's flattered by the Stevie comparison (Mr Wonder knows of Tony and loves his work, we're told) and maybe, fingers, crossed, this new long player will be the one to allow Tony to cross over. Mind you with a title like 'Best Is Yet To Come' it seems that Mr M has more up his sleeve. Well it'll have to be something very special to beat this 'cos it's a corker! Many of this set's 12 cuts are allready being rotated on soul radio (and the BBC!) while lots of experienced soul commentators are already touting the album as a potential "album of the year"!

'Best Is Yet To Come' was heralded last month by the single 'Rising Up' - a funky old beater, stuffed with brass breaks riding over complex rhythms and if that's your thing there's plenty more, like the sparse 'Two Minutes Forty' – a percussive jam that lasts – well, 2 minutes, 40 seconds. Then there's the album's live closer... 'Believe To My Soul' – funky and bluesy, it was recorded "live in London" – my copy doesn't say where exactly. Pick of the up-tempo items is 'My Paradise'. This is a lithe, Latin-flavoured work out that should remind you a lot of Incognito - Tony has worked with the band on many occasions.

And speaking of Incognito, another of the LP's highlights, 'We Have Searched For Heaven', features another Incognito alumnus, Maysa, and the blend of the voices is quite magical. More magic comes via the balladic 'We Can Have It All' and the reflective 'I Wanna Be Loved'. The lyric owes a little to 'If I Were a Carpenter' – but it goes deeper than that old Tom Hardin classic. And the album's title track? Well, that's another lovely ballad that will draw comparison with Stevie Wonder... even Donny Hathaway. If there's better to come from Tony Momrelle, bring it on!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 29 April 2019 17:44


SHAYNA STEELE: Watch Me Fly (Membran)

Friday, 26 April 2019 13:24 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe daughter of a military family, Shayna Steele has led something of an itinerant existence. Born in California, she's lived in (amongst other places) Germany, Oklahoma, Missouri and Mississippi but now resides in New York where she's a valuable and valued member of that city's vibrant music coterie. Her credits include work with Snarky Puppy, Moby and Bette Midler and those experiences along with her varied addresses go a long way to explaining why the music on her 2015 album 'Rise' was so eclectic!

Well, it's taken a while but Ms S now returns with a new album and the 10 cuts that make up 'Watch Me Fly' offer a menu as varied as 'Rise'. I mean there aren't too many modern soul long players where, alongside the originals, you can hear songs first recorded by people like Little Milton, Michael Jackson, Big Mama Thornton and dear Doris Day! The Doris Day cover is the 'Calamity Jane' classic 'Secret Love' and this new light jazzy arrangement quite transforms it. 'That's What Love Will Make You Do' is the Milton Campbell song and here its' given a rocky makeover while on Thornton's 'Life Goes On', Shayna stays down in Bluesville. MJ's 'Baby Be Mine' is maybe more interesting ... a hybrid of military marching and bumpy R&B grooves!

Amongst the originals, 'Be' is a fierce, proud opening cut... "so many things I wanna be... I'm gonna make my mark". While the closing 'Home' shows that Ms S can do introspective too. In between plenty of rock-tinged serous soul ... intriguing, interesting and, yes, eclectic!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 26 April 2019 14:32


VARIOUS; On The Detroit Beat (Ace)

Friday, 19 April 2019 07:07 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altHard to believe, but yes... it took the mighty Motown empire a while to secure a foothold here in the UK. Berry Gordy began his odyssey in 1959 but it wasn't till 1964 that he enjoyed his first UK success – Mary Well's 'My Guy'. That's not so say that Motown hadn't tried. Between '59 and '64 Motown released some 40 singles in Britain on labels like London, Oriole, Fontana and Stateside (it goes without saying that those original releases are now hugely collectable!) but to little or no avail. However that doesn't mean that Motown music was totally neglected. It became the music of choice for the mods; it was played in the best cellar clubs while savvy record company A&R men and music managers had many of their artists record (mostly unknown) Motown material in order to win some UK chart action. Lots of the more switched on early 60s artists loved Motown anyway. Both the Beatles and the Stones included Motown material in their early sets and you may remember that the Beatles' second LP featured no less than three Motown covers! Yes, so though Motown wasn't a chart presence, there was an awareness of the Motown sound... and this lovely, new, memory-jerking 24 track Ace compilation amply proves that point.

Here the ace Ace team have put together a varied selection of UK covers of Motown songs – all recorded between 1963 and 1967. The album offers some big 60s names – the Hollies, the Small Faces and dear Dusty Springfield amongst them. There's also a surprising inclusion from Cilla Black – a raucous version of Jr. Walker's 'Shotgun' – proving that at onetime at least there was more to Cilla than sweet balladeering and silly TV presenting! Amongst the 24 cuts there's also plenty of 60s wannabees like Guy Darrell, Louise Cordet and Truly Smith whose inclusion is a sweet version of Carolyn Crawford's 'My Smile Is Just A Smile Turned Upside Down'.

There's lots of anorak type intrigue too. For instance Everton FC supremo, radio DJ, ex Corrie actor and mega theatre impresario , Billy Kenwright's in here... fronting the Runaways, he warbles manfully through Chris Clark's 'I Wanna Go Back There Again.' Ex Searchers lead singer, Tony Jackson, gets a track too... a take on Martha and the Vandellas' 'Never Leave Your Baby's Side'.

It's all stirring stuff and,wonderfully, I think, the collection boasts what I (humbly) consider to be the best three UK Motown covers – Georgie Fame's take on the Spinners' 'Sweet Thing', the Action's cover of Martha and the Vandellas' 'In My Lonely Room' and the Spencer Davis Group's emotion-stirring take on Brenda Holloway's 'Every Little Bit Hurts'. That one's every bit (pun intended!)as good as the original and impossible to believe that Stevie Winwood was only 16 when he cut that so soulful vocal!

Interestingly too, 7 of the 24 artists here are from Liverpool, while another 5 are from the city's immediate hinterland - proving that while Detroit was vital to the emergence of soul, Liverpool was absolutley key and pre-eminent in the evolution of UK pop... we knew that anyway!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 19 April 2019 07:20


THE O’JAYS; The Last Word (BMG/S Curve)

Sunday, 14 April 2019 18:03 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altAll good things must come to an end so it was with great sadness that, last Autumn, we learned that the O'Jays were soon to retire. Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Eric Nolan Grant announced that sometime in 2019 they'd hang up their stage suits and get on doing what most seventy somethings do! However, they promised that before they shuffled out of the limelight, they'd deliver one final album – and here it is... a lovely, concise 9 tracker with the apposite title 'The Last Word' and , I'm pleased to report that the trio are going with heads held high and plenty of great music. 'The Last Word' is every bit as good as any of their earlier classic LPs – even those they cut at PIR! How sad it would have been for such an iconic group to bow out with a shoddy set or a wallow in nostalgia and self-indulgence. No – 'The Last Word' is fresh and vital and a wonderful way to end an almost 60 year career.

'The Last Word' (due April 19th) has been prefaced by a series of three singles each one serving as a delicious hors d'oeuvre for the LP. First up we had the gritty 'Above The Law' - a tough, hard hitting throwback to their socially conscious music of the 70s. Then we enjoyed 'I Got You' - another reminder of the great days of Philly.... lush, smooth and sophisticated and there's more of those lovely Philly flavours on the new single - the zippy, string-filled 'Start Stoppin'' .... lovely as it is, we're told there's a Boogie Back mix of the song on the way too. It's easy to hear why those three have been chosen as lead off singles but in honesty any of the nine cuts would have been great teasers for the set.

The Bruno Mars-penned 'Enjoy Yourself' is another highlight and those of you who like your soul to scorch, try the Betty Wright produced and written 'Pressure.' (Betty was at the controls too for the aforementioned 'Above The Law'). My standout pick is the memory-jerking ''68 Summer Nights' – lyric, tune, sentiment and the song's vibe remind me of just why I got caught up in the crazy world of soul in the mid 60s. The only other bit of nostalgia that the trio affords themselves comes with the last track – a new version of 'I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow' – a song the O'Jays first recorded in 1967! It comes with an Eddie Levert spoken intro and it's a magnificent way to end an excellent last LP!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 April 2019 19:50


ELI "PAPERBOY" REED; 99 Cent Dreams (Yep Roc)

Wednesday, 10 April 2019 07:55 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altBoston blue-eyed soul man Eli 'Paperboy' Reed (the "paperboy" bit refers to a nickname he had as a child for wearing a US paperboy's hat) has been on the scene for a few years now and despite plenty of acclaim and lashings of fine music, he's not quite made it to the premier league. He almost got there in 2010 with his long player 'Come And Get It'. The set won great reviews in the heavyweight press and was actually "album of the week" on dear old BBC Radio 2. Sadly it didn't quite get over the line, despite backing from the parent label, the mighty Capitol. Reed's next album was also on a major label – Warner Bros but again despite lots of praise, it just didn't cross over. Undeterred the singer continued to make the soul music he loved and was welcomed by the indie company Yep Roc who were glad to help him deliver his special sounds to his devoted coterie of fans – people who know and care about soul music and know and care about Eli Reed.

And its Yep Roc that's home to Reed's newest set – the 12 tracker that is '99 Cent Dreams'. If you know the Paperboy's work, you'll know what to expect – raw, gritty, old school, honest soul. If you're not familiar with his work, well that just about sums it up... massively obvious from the first bars of the first track – the jaunty 'News You Can Use'. The soul quotient is still high on track 2, the Sam Cooke-flavoured 'Said She Would'. The Cooke connection comes via the song's gentle melody and honest feel rather than the vocal. Where Cooke's vocal was honeyed and supple, Reed's is raw and edgy. Hear that raw and rough edge at its roughest and rawest on 'Tryin' – the vocal is a hybrid of the great chest-beating Southern soul men and the Godfather of Soul.

Amongst other album highlights are 'Coulda Had This' (complete with a 'People Get Ready' intro), the slow bluesy grind of 'In The End' and the moody album closer 'Couldn't Find a Way'. On those (and indeed throughout the album) vocal support comes from veteran Memphis soul harmony group, the Masqueraders.

In truth I could have done without the frantic 'Lover's Compensation' and 'A New Song' but maybe that's an age thing – mine, not Reed's! The good news is that there's plenty to compensate – like the classic 60s flavour 'Bank Robber' and the clever title track – the message here is that the things that don't cost a lot (or maybe don't cost anything) can inspire love and joy. Can't argue with that!

Find out more about Eli Reed and this album by accessing our interview archive.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 April 2019 15:00


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