Thursday, 23 March 2017 12:58 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

            altVirtuosic pedal steel guitarist, Robert Randolph, who'll be forty in August, learned his craft playing in church in his native New Jersey as a juvenile. Though he's familiar to many people for his myriad cameo roles on other people's albums (as a guest artist, he's played alongside some of the biggest names in rock and pop, including  Ringo Starr, Ozzy Osbourne, Elton John and Santana) it's as the leader of his own Family Band that he's made his most significant recordings. This new album - from a fretboard maven whom Rolling Stone magazine considers "one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time" - is his seventh outing so far and proves to be an enthralling high-octane fusion of blues, gospel, rock and soul flavours.

At the heart of Randolph's music is his distinctive guitar playing, with its sustained, soaring, soul-searching sound. Though traditionally associated with both country and Hawaiian music, Randolph has found an exciting new context for the pedal steel guitar and demonstrates his absolute mastery of the instrument over twelve tracks. Among the highlights is an original tune called 'Shake It,' driven by a turbo-charged rhythm section enhanced by a horn section. R&B singer, Anthony Hamilton, fronts  'She Got Soul' and another guest singer, Darius Rucker - of Hootie & The Blowfish fame - takes the lead on 'Love Do What It Do.' Even better is a stomping version of dynamic soul duo Sam & Dave's Hayes-Porter-scribed Stax tune, 'I Thank You,' which features Snarky Puppy's keyboard wizard,  Cory Henry. More seismic grooves come in the guise of the strutting 'Lovesick' and a locomotive, riff-laden instrumental called 'Travelin' Cheeba Man.' It's not all flat-out, pedal-to-the-metal, blues-rockers, though, as the chugging anthem, 'Be The Change,' the blissful 'Gonna Be All Right,' and a wonderful, celestial solo guitar interlude dubbed  'Heaven's Calling,' all attest. Got soul? He certainly has - and the proof, here, is super-abundant.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 March 2017 18:37


GEORGE ANDERSON; Body and Soul (Secret Records)

Thursday, 23 March 2017 11:23 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altGenial George Anderson is the bass player with smooth jazz veterans Shakatak but in band down time he also pursues his own solo ambitions in his own name (or sometimes as The George Anderson Band), George has released three well received "solo" sets. On 'George Anderson Band... From Cape Town To London' our man was brave enough to tackle George Duke's 'Brazilian Love Affair' and Luther Vandross' 'Never Too Much' while his 'Back In the Day' from his 'Expressions' long player became a modern soul favourite.

'Body and Soul' is George's fourth solo set and was heralded in January with the single 'Don't Waste'/ 'Gfunk'. Both were regularly rotated on soul and jazz radio and easy to hear why. Lead vocalist on both tunes is Mary Pearce and while the former is a catchy soul meander, the mood of the latter is summed up by the title. It's George's homage to heroes like EWF and the whole Parliament thing. Helping Mr A deliver is rising UK soul guitarist Greg Dogget (from the Dogget Brothers... you probably know and love their 'Colours' album) and between them they craft the tightest of tight funk grooves.

Savvy radio jocks have also been playing out the Latin romp that is 'Festival De La Vida'. Big, brash and brassy... think, maybe, Donald Byrd meets George Duke! The album yields other treasures too, like the Geo Gabriel vocalised 'All Or Nothing' and the shimmering ballad that is 'Beautiful'.

George Anderson's 'Body and Soul' is out now on Secret Records. There's also a London album launch gig on March 31st at the capital's prestigious Hideaway Jazz Club. Details on line.

(BB) 3/5


BILLY VALENTINE: Brit Eyed Soul (Cleopatra Records)

Monday, 20 March 2017 15:53 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altHere's an interesting concept album from an interesting singer, Billy Valentine. These days Valentine is best known for voicing the main theme to the hit TV show 'Boston Legal'. He also featured in the movie 'The Five Heartbeats' but to proper soul fans he's fondly remembered as the lead voice in the Valentine Brothers who in 1982 enjoyed a hit with the original version of 'Money's Too Tight To Mention'. That song, of course, went on to become a massive hit for Simply Red ...another soul tune that in the mainstream is best known in the cover version! That got Billy Valentine thinking and he counted dozens of similar situations going way back. Why even the Beatles and the Stones covered soul songs on their early long players and, in return, people like Otis Redding, The Supremes and Aretha would cover British hits.... something that seems to have died out of late. So here Billy Valentine restarts the practise by covering a dozen songs that originated in the UK.

He's cast his net wide picking songs made famous by people like the Bee Gees, Steve Winwood, Cat Stevens, Elton John and the Beatles and as with earlier soul covers of Brit songs some work and some don't. I Know it sounds obvious but the ones that work the best are where the songs have a soulful (rather than a rock) root in the first place. So Billy makes a great job of Culture Club's 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me', Ace's 'How Long' and the Bee Gees' 'More Than Woman' which he slows right down... lovely. He also returns the compliment that Mick Hucknall paid to him on 'Money' by covering his 'Holding Back The Years'. Quite a few soul folk have tackled this one and Billy's version is up there with the best.

Rockier, punkier material (the Clash's 'Train In Vain' and the Stones' 'Beast Of Burden' for instance) don't travel the soul road all that well while this jury's still out on the takes of John Lennon's 'Watching The Wheels' and the Fabs' 'Here There And Everywhere.' Yep... file this set under "interesting".

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 20 March 2017 15:58


VARIOUS: Pied Piper Finale (Kent)

Friday, 17 March 2017 11:50 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPied Piper was a Detroit-based music production company founded in 1965 by Shelley Haims. Originally from Cleveland, by the mid 60s he was in Detroit, working for Ed Wingate's Golden World/Ric Tic set up, but, ever ambitious, he decided he wanted some of that city's burgeoning music action (and dollars) for himself. He trawled around and found two disillusioned Motown men, Jack Ashford and Mike Terry and the trio set about recording any Motor City artists whom hadn't been swept up into the Berry Gordy empire. The team, essentially a production company, set up its own label, Giant, but preferred to lease his material to bigger labels – most often RCA. Sadly, despite, plenty of excellent output, Pied Piper didn't achieve too much success but over the years Pied Piper material has become hugely collectable with plenty of their output achieving iconic status on the Northern soul scene. Reissue/collectors label, Ace/Kent has won access to the Pied Piper archive and has already released a memorable cross section of Pied Piper music. Here they offer another 24 tracks and, if we're to believe the billing, this could well be the last full Pied Piper compilation. However, though this may be the last throw, this isn't a "scraping the barrel" exercise... the music here is consistently excellent and Detroit collectors and vintage soul lovers will find untold treasures.

Indeed a goodly selection of the tracks have never been issued in any format anywhere before. Most of these are credited to "The Pied Piper Players" and are essentially backing tracks – some used, some unused – featuring the cream of Detroit's session scene. No names, no pack drill, of course... who would want to incur the wrath of Mr Gordy?

And it's one of those Pied Piper Players instrumentals that kicks things off. However 'The Bari Sax' will be immediately familiar to the Northern fraternity. A version, credited to Doni Burdick, has long been a Northern soul mainstay. That itself was the backing track to Rose Batiste's 'This Heart Is Lonely'... another Northern classic. Here enjoy the tune over again; this time beefed up with Mike Terry's distinctive baritone sax. If ever you wanted an aural definition of proper Northern soul, this is it. But then you could say that about almost any of the track credited to the Pied Piper Players. 'I'd Like To Know' is just wonderful (anoraks will recognise it as the backing track to Sharon Scott's 1966 version of the tune).

There are plenty of fine vocal moments too. Right now, we're loving the mellow 'It's Better' from Reggie Alexander, Freddy Butler's 'I Like Your Style' (penned by UK duo Phil Coulter and Bill Martin who also wrote 'Puppet On A String' and 'Congratulation'!) and 'We Go Together' from The Cavaliers. That song, by the way, was originally a hit in 1960 for surf duo, Jan and Dean!

'Pied Piper Finale'? Well maybe; the exhaustive and excellent sleeve notes do hint that there may be odd tapes still left lurking somewhere in Detroit.... here's hoping!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 17 March 2017 11:57


MOTHER'S FINEST: 'Love Changes - The Anthology 1972-1983' (Soul Music Records)

Friday, 17 March 2017 09:41 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Mother's Finest weren't everyone's proverbial cup of tea with their disregard for racially-based music demarcation lines. Indeed, their propensity for heavy metal guitar riffs confused many people, who thought that African Americans should stick to playing R&B rather than venture into the mostly-all-white preserve of hard rock. But MF, a racially-integrated sextet originally from Georgia, dared to be different. Led by the barnstorming vocals of Joyce Kennedy and Glenn Murdock, they shared stages with The Who, Black Sabbath and AC/DC as well as Parliament/Funkadelic and paved the way for the likes of all-black rock bands like Living Colour and Fishbone. They were pioneers whose true value and impact hasn't been properly acknowledged in the annals of popular music, though this magnificent, 2-CD Soul Music Records' compilation should help increase awareness of what they achieved as well as making their music available to a new generation. 

Soul music fans who were around in the '70s will probably recall MF from their R&B-oriented crossover hit, 'Love Changes,' in 1978 - it was covered in the '80s by Meli'sa Morgan and Kashif and later by Mary J. Blige - but it's probable that the majority of the material contained here passed them by because of its uncompromising rock-leanings. But even those that don't gravitate towards rock music will find a soulful quality in the majority of MF's oeuvre (mainly thanks to Joyce Kennedy's impassioned vocal histrionics) and shouldn't dismiss this music out of hand.

Those listeners of an R&B bent who are willing to take off their prejudicial blinkers and persevere with this release will hopefully find this 37-song anthology a rewarding experience. Its story begins with the band's ill-fated RCA tenure in 1972. Their debut single, 'You Move Me' (later recorded by Aretha Franklin) b/w 'Dear Sir And Brother Mann' are soulful offerings, showing the band's softer side. They fell out with RCA and a second album they recorded was shelved but this compilation includes five of the cuts from that aborted project, which underline MF's hard rock credentials. In 1976, the band joined Epic and that's where their career really gathered momentum. Highlights from this period included the driving, riff-laden 'Rain,' plus 'Fire,' an explosive gospel-rocker, the more soulful 'Dontcha Wanna Love Me,' and a cover of The Miracles' 'Mickey's Monkey,' which sounds like it's been re-imagined as a Led Zeppelin song. The classic Skip Scarborough-helmed  'Love Changes,' a succulent moment of mid-tempo mellowness, appears on disc two, alongside more robust material like 'Hard Rock Lover,'  and the strident anthem, 'Truth'll Set You Free' (which was covered by a reformed Labelle on  their 2008 album, 'Back To Now'). 'Secret Service' has more of a pop/rock feel and showed MF using '80s sonics while  'Victory' - from the same decade - is an infectious  uptempo tune infused with a soulful vibe. Also noteworthy is an addictive funky R&B groove in the shape of 'Everybody Needs Somebody.' 

Though this retrospective inexplicably omits the essential '70s track, 'Niggaz Can't Sang Rock & Roll,' it still functions as a very good overview of the band's twin spells at RCA and Epic Records. The band are still going strong today but I'm sure that even they will admit that this Soul Music Records' anthology captures them at the peak of their powers and creativity.

(CW) 4/5



Last Updated on Friday, 17 March 2017 09:55


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