THE NEW MASTERSOUNDS; Nashville Sessions II (One Note Records)

Friday, 21 December 2018 17:02 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altOriginally from Leeds, the prolific New Mastersounds have been around for quite some time and despite being the band that gave Corinne Bailey Rae her start the Mastersounds have never really cracked the big time. Not that that seems to bother the group's core –Eddie Roberts (guitar), Simon Allen (drums), Pete Shand (bass) and Joe Tatton (organ). They're content to enjoy what they do best – playing live and recording the jazz and funk that is their driving force. Indeed the team have a raft of albums under their belt – the last one being 'Renewable Energy' from earlier this year.

Amongst the band's back catalogue is an LP they cut back in 2016 in Nashville. Imaginatively titled 'The Nashville Sessions' it became one of the Mastersounds better sellers. so their latest LP offers more of the same.... 'Nashville Sessions II'. The ten tracker was recorded in the same Nashville studio as volume 1 and like it, it was recorded live in front of an audience straight onto audio tape. The soundscape is much the same too... indeed the signature Mastersounds sound – rough hewn soul-jazz and leggy, loose funk . There is though a subtle difference; this time around Joe Tatton eschews the organ to play various pianos and a vintage analog synth. Despite that, what's produced is typically New Mastersounds - best exemplified by tunes like 'Dusty Groove' and 'Pudding And Pie'. Both those and indeed all bar one of the cuts are band originals; the only cover is a take on John Cameron's cult classic 'Afro Metropolis'.

The New Mastersounds press people say that this album "perfectly captures the energy of the band" and that it's "an essential buy for band devotees". And that just about sums things up. The energy positively crackles here; equally there's not enough light or shade or subtlety to attract those outside the band's immediate fan coterie.

(BB) 35

Last Updated on Friday, 21 December 2018 18:44


VARIOUS: Fame Northern Soul (Kent)

Thursday, 20 December 2018 19:15 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altThe famous Fame studio and label down in Muscle Shoals helped define the signature sound of Southern soul.... an emotion tugging, heart wrenching sound that told of loving and losing, of cheating and winning, of oppression and hardship. What's not been so well documented, though, is the fact that Rick Hall's team down at Fame could also turn their hands to any soul sub genre including the optimistic, up-tempo sounds of Motown and up-town soul. To reinforce that point, Ace/Kent have just released this generous 24 tracker that highlights some of the best of Fame's up-tempo material – tunes that have found favour on the Northern scene or that are destined to after the jocks get their hands on the compilation.

Perhaps the best known track here is Clarence Carter's 'Looking For A Fox' but the Northern fraternity will probably also be familiar with stuff like Arthur Conley's 'I Can't Stop', James Barnet's 'Keep On Talking', Linda Carr's 'Everytime', Candi Staton's 'One More Hurt' and Spencer Wiggins' I'm At The Breaking Point' . Less familiar are items like Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces' 'Baby Come Back', George Jackson's 'It's Not Safe To Mess On Me' and 'A World Of My Own' from a duo dubbed here "Billy and Clyde". The Ace/Kent compilers found this track on one of their searches of the Fame vault and with no artist name of the tape box they simply credited it to "Billy and Clyde" and though this Billy does sound a little like the great Billy Stewart, we're assured it's not him!

Other highlights include George Soule's gorgeous 'Midnight Affair', Prince Philip Mitchell's 'Love Is A Wonderful Thing' and Dan Brantley's 'The Door To My Heart' but in all honesty drop in anywhere here and you'll hear a pulsing, exciting, optimistic and danceable music that rivals anything that the studios of the big Northern cities turned out and as ever the sleeve notes (courtesy of Ady Croasdell) will tell you everything you need to know.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 December 2018 19:25


WILL DOWNING; The Promise (Shanachie)

Friday, 07 December 2018 16:52 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSoul is the most personal of all musical genres and the masters of the craft deliver with such intimacy and conviction that they seem to be able to speak to and connect with each and every individual directly. Will Downing is an undoubted master of the soul art and over two decades he's delivered plenty of proper soul music – music that is both universal and personal. Now with his latest project, 'The Promise', Will delivers his most personal album to date.

You see back in 2007 – at what was shaping up to be his career peak – Will Downing was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease polymyositis. Always a fighter, Downing eventually recovered through, he believes, a combination of medical skill, familial love and his faith in God. The singer tells us that in prayer through his lowest times he offered himself to God in return for a recovery: "Lord you see me through this and I promise I will give you all the honour, all the praise...wherever I go."

Thankfully, Will made a full recovery and since 2007 he's made several excellent albums, but now 12 years down the line, he delivers on his promise with 'The Promise' – our man's first full gospel album and his testimony to the power of faith and prayer.

Musically, the sound is vintage Will Downing... smooth, sophisticated soul with, as you'd imagine, in places, gospel shadings. Those shadings are most obvious on the opener, 'Take It To The Cross', which features what sounds like a large gospel choir in support of Will's heartfelt testifying. Elsewhere there are pleasing upbeat, optimistic moments like 'God Will Show You The Way' which echoes those great Sounds Of Blackness /Jam and Lewis tunes and 'Look At Yourself In The Mirror' which was the album's first single. There are deeper moments too like the piano led 'God Is So Amazing' and 'Changed' - a stirring duet with Regina Belle.

Will calls this album is love letter to God; the ten song cycle is in the long tradition of gospel testifying... sharing experiences of adversity and overcoming it. But even if you're not a believer, Will also delivers a master class in soul music; believer or not this music will speak to you.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 07 December 2018 17:00


LYNNE FIDDMONT; Power Of Love (via CDBaby)

Friday, 30 November 2018 19:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLovely Lynne Fiddmont is one of America's top session and backing vocalists. There aren't too many big names, across all kinds of genres, who haven't benefited from Lynne's artistry in their back line either in the studio or live. Amongst the icons who've profited from Lynne's support are Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Bill Withers, Phil Collins, Barbara Streisand, George Duke, Barbara Streisand, Seal and Joe Zawinul. Ms F is in such demand that she finds it hard to pursue her own solo career but over time she's managed to record three fine solo sets including an acclaimed Billie Holiday tribute.

Lynne is currently promoting this, her fourth solo long player and 'Power Of Love' was much anticipated after the release of two heralding singles. First there was a swinging, jazzy version of Lou Rawls' 'Groovy People' and an equally fine 'Daylight' . Their quality was no flash in the proverbial pan; the 12 tracker that is 'Power of Love' is stuffed with plenty more of the same soul excellence. If you want foot tappers there are 'Good Time Party' and 'Walking On Rainbows' – the latter, a particularly fine slab of modern soul optimism. For something a little more laid back, try the moody meander of the album's title track or the bumpy 'Go'.

But where 'Power Of Love' really scores is in the delivery of the chosen cover songs. There's always been debate about the merits of cover versions. Can they be creative? Are they cop-outs? Do they match the quality of the original? Well, of course, the answers to all those questions are matters of opinion, but what is clear is that artists confident in their own abilities are never frightened to cover even very well known songs and put their own spin on 'em.... dear old Luther Vandross was a great example of this. Lynne Fiddmont, like Luther, from the sessioneer ranks, is clearly mightily confident in what she can do too, 'cos here she offers her versions of five very well known classics. We've already mentioned her take on 'Groovy People' – but you really need bottle (and some voice!) to try Minnie Riperton's 'Lovin' You'. Here Lynne offers a beautiful, melancholic jazzy version and if that's not enough there's a second Minnie cover – the less well-known 'Memory Lane'. Lynne nails that one too as she does with John Lennon's 'Imagine' and Stevie Wonder's 'Key Of Life' song 'Ngiculela .. I Am Singing'. Yes, our Lynne's not frightened to take on the big names.... comfortable in what she knows she can do, she just does it ... and beautifully! Mr Wonder no less recently commented: "Lynne's Music is Hot! She's been mine for years... now she will be yours too." Recommendation seconded!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2018 20:04


MARCUS STRICKLAND TWI-LIFE: 'People Of The Sun' (Blue Note/Revive)

Friday, 30 November 2018 10:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altOriginally from Gainesville, Florida, multi-reed man, Marcus Strickland, is forging a reputation as a genre blender with his tremendously versatile Twi-Life band. His previous album and debut platter for Blue Note, 2016's 'Nihil Novi,' harmoniously married jazz improv with hip-hop and contemporary R&B tropes, but here, on his sophomore outing for the iconic New York jazz label, Strickland has added perceptible Afrobeat elements into the mix to create a truly "genre fluid" sound.

The album's title alludes to the African diaspora, and over the course of eleven tracks, Strickland explores different themes related to the African American experience but more importantly, perhaps, the album is a quest to discover his own identity. As well as music, there are spoken narratives, which bind the songs together with a unifying sense of oneness. Besides his dependable Twi-Life band - Mitch Henry on organ, Kyle Miles on bass and drummer, Charles Haynes - Strickland is joined by R&B singers, Bilal and Akie Bermiss, plus rapper, Pharoahe Monch. The end result blurs the boundaries between different black music genres.

The music ranges from exploratory, jazz-oriented instrumental cuts - such as the excellent 'Build,' 'Relentless' and 'Timing,' all featuring Strickland on saxophone - to mesmeric hip-hop tinged grooves, like the 'Cloaked In Controversy.' More reflective is 'On My Mind,' a treatise on cosmic love narrated by writer and cultural commentator, Greg Tate. It also featuring Bilal's haunting, almost celestial, vocal, which is counterpointed by Strickland's resonant bass clarinet over an oozy trap beat. Veteran MC, Pharoahe Monch, contributes an incisive rap.

Brooklyn soul man, Akie Bermiss, adds a strident vocal on the trippy 'Marvelous' while in acute contrast, 'Black Love' is a simmering slow jam laced with warbling bass clarinet and interwoven with a host of different spoken narratives. Intertwining horns define the more upbeat 'Aim High,' an ode to aspiration, featuring R&B singer, Jermaine Holmes. The track features Strickland on bass clarinet, while the horn lines and groove draws on Afrobeat.

'People Of The Sun' is an impressive offering that shows 39-year-old Strickland maturing into a disparate and substantial artist. At heart, he is a jazz man who lives and breathes improvisation, but as this remarkable album shows, his musical psyche is a complex one as his influences are disparate and far-ranging. And it is those same influences - hip-hop, contemporary R&B, and Afrobeat, to name three of them - that are helping Marcus Strickland to make jazz relevant again and shape a new and exciting kind of urban music.

(CW) 4/5

Read SJF's 2016 interview with Marcus Strickland here:

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2018 16:44


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