CEDRIC BURNSIDE: 'Benton County Relic' (Single Lock Records)

Friday, 14 September 2018 14:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


The grandson of legendary blues man, R.L. Burnside, this 40-year-old, Memphis-born drummer-turned-guitarist and singer/songwriter is making a name for himself in the blues world on the back of seven well-received album projects. His last, 'Descendants Of Hill Country,' released under the Cedric Burnside Project moniker, nabbed a Grammy award nomination in 2016. Now, Burnside's back with a potent offering called 'Benton Country Relics,' released on the Alabama-based Single Lock label, once home to St. Paul & The Broken Bones and singer/songwriter, Nicole Atkins (both interviewed by SJF).

If you like your blues in a primal, unpolished, almost ramshackle form, then this is the album for you. It's raw, authentic and visceral, and a far cry from what the likes of Robert Cray are doing. Cedric Burnside - who's had cameos in a couple of movies, including 2006's Samuel L. Jackson-starring Black Snake Moan - sings like he's spitting blood with every word uttered. It's music about pain, deprivation, and hardship and like all good blues music draws directly on the African American experience in the so-called "Land of the Free." It's not, then, a cheerful soundtrack but rather a sobering reality check and the perfect antidote for those who despise vacuous, machine-tooled, mainstream pop and rap. This isn't a record from someone bragging about their material possessions and wealth - like Illuminati puppet, Jay-Z, for example - but rather lamenting their circumstances and trying to keep their head above water. Ultimately, it's survival music.

"Sometimes it's hard to stay cool," sings Burnside, on the reflective ballad 'Hard To Stay Cool,' where he describes circumstances that "makes you want to cuss and fuss, make you want to tear things apart."  But this isn't an album without hope. The set's first single, 'We Made It,' with its fuzzy, monolithic guitar riff, is a celebration of survival in a harsh, remorseless world. "I came from nothin' ..." declares Burnside in a sepulchral voice, adding "I keep my head straight no matter how low I go." Astonishingly direct and honest, 'Benton County Relics' is a stinging riposte to those that (mistakenly) think blues music in antiquated, irrelevant and headed for the cemetery. One spin of this brutally beautiful record will confirm that rumours of its impending demise have been greatly exaggerated. Relic from a bygone age? We think not.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 14 September 2018 14:12


THE FOUR TOPS: 'The Complete ABC/Dunhill Singles' (Real Gone)

Wednesday, 12 September 2018 11:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


In 1972, Motown did the unthinkable and let the Four Tops go. By that time, the group (Levi Stubbs, Lawrence Payton, Renaldo 'Obie' Benson and Abdul 'Duke' Fakir)  was perceived as a veritable soul music institution having racked up 27 memorable US R&B hits (including a brace of chart toppers) for Berry Gordy's Detroit label. But when the time came for their contract to be renewed, Motown's then president, Ewart Abner, told them (unbeknownst to Berry Gordy) that they were surplus to requirements and showed them the door. The group were angry, heartbroken, and, naturally, felt betrayed but licked their wounds, girded their loins, and left the "Motor City." They soon had an offer to record with ABC/Dunhill under the production supervision of songwriters Dennis Potter and Brian Lambert. They spent six years at ABC/Dunhill and, unlike some ex-Motown acts, didn't struggle to recreate past glories. This fabulous new chronologically-sequenced 33-track anthology from Real Gone shines a light on the legendary group's tenure at ABC/Dunhill and presents all of their 45s and flipsides for the company during 1972-1978.  

The Tops' debut 45 for their new label was the strident 'Keeper Of The Castle,' a song which blended funk with harmonised soul and proved that the group could have a life after Motown. It was a Top 10 US  smash  and it's follow up, 'Ain't No Woman (Like The One I've Got)' was even bigger, rising to #2 R&B (#4 pop) and was their second and final single to achieve Gold status. Other big hits included here are the rousing  'Are You Man Enough' (taken from the Shaft In Africa movie soundtrack), the funkafied 'One Chain Don't Make No Prison' -  with Levi Stubbs at his strident, stentorian best -  the delicate 'Midnight Flower,' and the blissful dancer, 'Sweet Understanding Love,' the latter drawing on the classic H-D-H Motown sound of their 60s repertoire.  The group's last Top 10 R&B single for ABC/Dunhill was 'Catfish' in 1976, which showed the band doing something different (Tops' member, Lawrence Payton, is also the producer) and getting into a full-on disco mode.

But what makes this collection really intriguing are the largely unheralded songs that were on the flipsides of all the singles. It's a fascinating blend of material, ranging from the militant message song 'Peace Of Mind'  and nostalgic balladry of 'Main Street People' to the reflective 'My Brother's Keeper' and the funkafied, horn-laced 'Turn On The Light Of Your Love.'  Different again is 'The Good Lord Knows,' a delightful pastoral excursion co-written by Obie Benson that sounds like a cross between gospel, pop, classical and country music. Gentle, too, is the breezy 'All My Love,' laced with delectable layered harmonies and featuring its co-composer Obie Benson on lead vocals. There's even a jazzy vibe on the laidback, mid-tempo 'I'm Glad You Walked 'Into My Life' and a palpable Marvin Gaye-esque feel to the superb 'Feel Free.' Tops' completists will also be pleased by the inclusion of the group's slightly bizarre Spanish rendition of 'Keep Of The Castle' (which was translated as 'Guardian De Tu Castillo').

For committed fans of the Four Tops, a group that's always had a loyal following in the UK, this compilation, which features 13 songs that have never been reissued on CD before, is essential. Their ABC/Dunhill catalogue is often neglected at the expense of their Motown repertoire but as this fine compendium shows us, the group was still at the top of their game in the '70s. Not only does it remind us how remarkably talented this Detroit vocal quartet was but also shows us that they were outstandingly versatile in the 1970s and were able to able to record a wide range of songs without losing the soulful essence that was the core part of their identity. (Release date October 5th 2018).

(CW) 4/5

Read SJF's interviews with Duke Fakir here:

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 September 2018 17:06


JOSH HOYER & SOUL COLOSSAL; Do It Now (Silver Street)

Sunday, 09 September 2018 17:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJosh Hoyer hails from Lincoln, Nebraska and in 2012 he formed the five piece band that is Soul Colossal... Benjamin Kushner (guitar), Blake DeForest (trumpet), Mike Keeling (bass), Larell Ware (drums) and Josh himself on keys and vocals. The players came together via their mutual love for classic soul and funk – specifically the sounds of Stax, Motown, Muscle Shoals, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Their uncompromising commitment to that formula has provided the band with plenty of work. Since their inception, Soul Colossal have played over 150 shows each year including opening for acts like George Clinton, Charles Bradley, Booker T Jones, and the Muscle Shoals Revue. You probably won't be surprised to learn that their passion for the "old school" has won them plenty of fans in Europe. Indeed last year the band completed a 27 date European tour, from which a live album was well received and because of the love they're feeling from Europe, Josh and the boys have decided to release their latest album in Europe long before a US release.

'Do It Now' hit the European sales racks at the end of August and the soundscape they cook up on the ten tracker really does recall proper soul's golden age. The LP is topped and tailed by two southern style beaters – both 'Do It Now' and 'The Liberator' are brassy and brash and though recorded in Nebraska, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the provenance was Muscle Shoals. 'The Other Side' is another classy southern roller and if you're in doubt that the heart of the  'Do It Now' LP is in soulsville, try the searing 'Tell Me Why' – complete with a store front church intro, it's a clincher.

Elsewhere 'Love Song' is sweet and simple and reminds me of 'People Get Ready'; 'Clara Jayne' rides a steady soul groove; 'Enough For Everybody' is more complex, jazzy even; 'You, I , We (All Together)' is rough and funky while the equally tough  'Star Culture' might be just a tad too rocky for some soul sensitivities. That, though, is more than made up for by one quite remarkable cut – the gorgeous 'Better Days'. This mid-tempo groove is drenched in the most remarkable horn arrangement and soloing this side of the last Tower Of Power album. It's fast becoming a 2018 favourite here at SOULANDJAZZANDFUNK; yes, it's good!

And yes, lots of variety on 'Do It Now' but what holds it all together (apart from the band's obvious collective passion for proper soul) is the mighty voice of Josh Hoyer – powerful, committed and righteously soulful.

The album is out now in Europe, but for some reason won't be available in the States till January after the band have completed another European tour that takes in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Belgium. Find out more @

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2018 18:20


ASHFORD & SIMPSON: 'Love Will Fix It - The Warner Bros. Records Anthology 1973-1981' (Groove Line Records)

Thursday, 06 September 2018 15:29 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                            altHusband and wife duo, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, scored their biggest career hit for Capitol Records in 1984 with the matrimonial anthem, 'Solid,' which topped the US R&B charts and was hugely successful around the world (in the UK, it reached #3). While the success of that particular record took the duo's music to a much wider audience, putting them on the radar of casual pop fans all over the globe, long-time admirers of Ashford & Simpson's work, while applauding the fact that 'Solid's' success  made them a household name, tend (like me) to prefer the pair's recordings from their earlier tenure at Warner Bros.

After finding success at Motown in the late '60s and early '70s as songwriters and producers (for Marvin Gaye & Tami Terrell and Diana Ross), they joined the then Burbank-based Warner Bros. label in 1973 where they released eight LPs before leaving in 1981 for Capitol.  The work they produced during those eight years was remarkable, especially in the late '70s when they brought a sophisticated musical sensibility to the disco zeitgeist.

'Love Will Fix It' is a lovingly-curated 3-CD set that comes exactly 10 years after Rhino's 'The Warner Bros Years - Hits, Remixes & Rarities.' But while that particular collection focused on the duo's floor fillers - and was peppered with 12-inch mixes throughout - this new compendium features singles and key album cuts on the first two CDs and then reserves the dance mixes for the third and final disc. Even though the format's similar, it is, then, quite different in concept, which is reason enough to invest in this new compilation even if you possess the earlier Rhino one.

The music's so consistently good throughout that it feels almost churlish to single out individual tracks for praise. One thing that's clear, though, is that Nick and Val took their love of big, rousing, anthemic, choruses - a quality that distinguished their Motown work - with them to Warner Bros. Their debut single for Warner, the sublime duet, '(I'd Know You Anywhere),' which opens the first disc, probably would have been a big hit if it had come out on Motown, but just scraped into the US R&B Top 40 (Warner Bros wasn't renowned as a label for successfully promoting R&B acts).  The duo were also masters of dramatic tension. They knew (more from experience than instinct) how to write songs that built slowly and then exploded when the chorus hit. And their voices intertwined so perfectly, too. They didn't try to overpower each other. Nick's strong, masculine, virile delivery - he's one of the most criminally underrated male soul vocalists ever - was ably complemented by Val's sassy, gospel-infused delivery. Vocally, they were the perfect couple, and as songwriters, they were experts on dissecting love and relationships. What's also striking about their music - just listen to the sermon-like message of 'Have You Ever Tried It' - is the influence of the African American church in their music. It's an omnipresent feature in their songs and even when they take us down to the disco on the mirrorball-themed third CD in the set - comprising disco mixes of classic floor fillers such as 'Found A Cure,' 'Stay Free,' 'It Seems To Hang On,' and  the brilliant instrumental, 'Bourgie Bourgie' - they never lose the sanctified fervour that inhabits all of their songs.  

Beautifully packaged and accompanied by a detailed liner note booklet including reminiscences both from Val Simpson and A&S's collaborators and peers, 'Love Will Fix It' also premieres an ace new Mike Maurro bonus remix of the instrumental vamp from 'Tried, Tested & True.' This, then, is unequivocally the best Ashford & Simpson retrospective that money can buy right now.  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 September 2018 12:43


JONATHAN BUTLER: Close To You (Artistry)

Wednesday, 05 September 2018 20:03 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLike the Christmas album, most long serving recording artists feel the need sometime or other to have a bash at the Bacharach/David songbook. It might well be a well chosen cover or two on a new long player or it might be a whole album of the duo's best songs... and it's that latter path that South African singer/guitarist Jonathan Butler has chosen to tread for his latest project. 'Close To You' (bit of clue there) is JB's homage to one of the most influential writing teams of the modern era... well almost. You see the 11 tracker has an odd cuckoo in the nest... a new tune, penned by Butler, called 'Cape Town' – a bright and breezy vocal tribute to the South African city.

There seems to be no explanation as to why it sits amidst ten Bacharach/David songs... but there you have it... odd. And what of the Bacharach/David covers? Well if you're covering old chestnuts there seems to be two choices.... a faithful rendition based on well-known versions or a completely new treatment. By and large Butler opts for the second choice. In truth he doesn't go the whole hog as, say Luther Vandross did. Luther was beloved for his deconstructing the songs and building radical new versions; Jonathan treats his choices with a  little more respect but he does offer fresh arrangements bringing a new perspective to the very familiar.... sometimes it works... sometimes it doesn't.

The set gets off to a great start with a samba styled look at 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose'. The beats shuffle beautifully allowing Butler's guitar to deliver the lovely melody with sparking panache. The cover of 'I Say Am Little Prayer' works well too and I'm always impressed by 'Alfie'. It's such a great song (Bacharach's own favourite... do yourself a favour... dig out his heart-rending version).

Less impressive is the up-tempo cover of 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' ; it quite loses the ironic pathos of what, I think, was originally intended. Two other classics – 'Close To You' and 'Walk On By' become meanders rather than concise paeans to love and loss respectively. The other included songs are 'This Guy's In Love With You', 'The Look Of Love' and 'What The World Needs Now'.. all a bit predictable. Maybe if Mr Butler had chosen some less well-known Burt B songs, we might have had a more exciting/intriguing collection.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 September 2018 20:16


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