Reviews

NICOLE ATKINS: 'Goodnight Rhonda Lee' (Single Lock Records)

Wednesday, 19 July 2017 11:37 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altSubmersion in nostalgia is something that people have gravitated to over the past couple of years – the election of Donald Trump (Make America Great Again) and the longing for an imagined and glorified past in the culmination of Brexit (Red, White and Blue Brexit). Nostalgia tends to get a bad rap not only politically but also in our personal lives. The dangers of looking at past events through rose tinted glasses and coming to the often-erroneous conclusion that last year really wasn’t that bad. However, in the context of music, nostalgia doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Nicole Atkins' latest musical creation, 'Goodnight Rhonda Lee,' proves the point. The record is a submersion in sonically and soulfully constructed nostalgia with Atkins bringing soul and blues from the '60s and '70s, and making it her own. There’s no imitation but rather a reimagining of soul music through Atkins’ musical and personal filter.

Woven together by intently introspective and self-aware lyrics, Atkins turns the past over in her hands but never in a way that longs for something or somewhere that never really existed ('I Love Living Here, Even When I Don’t') nor does she indulge in self-flagellation. She merely looks at the past for what it was and the person she used to be for who she was – no judgement, just compassion and a way to navigate her present.

Soul music has always seemed to me the music that people need when they’ve been sufficiently beaten down by the world, and just need something that can put them back together again. Whether it’s Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’, Sam Cooke’s 'Bring It On Home’ or Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, these are the songs that never fail to move or to heal.

'Goodnight Rhonda Lee' evokes the feeling of music of the past, which evidently is still so much a part of our present. Atkins takes the warm ambience that Carole King so effortlessly created in 'Tapestry' and brings it to ‘Colors’, spinning an atmosphere so perfect that it brings you to right back to sitting on the floor listening to vinyl on your parent’s old record player.

Atkins takes the rich tapestry that only soul music creates and weaves it into ‘I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t)' and ‘A Night of Serious Drinking’. With their understated arrangements that slowly and effortlessly build throughout, and the pull and push of emotion in Atkins' vocals; the songs swell and surge and then fade out gently into the world.

‘Sleepwalking’, a delirious song that calls up the ghosts of Motown records, which as we all know that no matter how infectious or sensual the groove is, the lyrics are bound to be dramatically sad and at times co-dependent. Atkins sticks with this recipe, creating a song whose opening bars have you immediately dancing across the room to the groove of electric guitars and soulful horns.

‘Listen Up’ a soulful and funky piece that has the ambience and texture of a recording from the ‘70s. Like the rest of the album it is honest and effortless, both in its writing and arrangement. Drums and percussion set the piece off followed closely by a piano and Atkins' soulful and breathy vocals. There are moments when it feels like Atkins is physically wrestling with her demons and battling out her past insecurities through the music.

As 'Goodnight Rhonda Lee' beautifully illustrates, nostalgia doesn’t have to be filled with sentimental longing or only seeing a part of a photograph. When coupled with self-reflection and seeing things as they were, nostalgia can be powerful motivator for change.

“I wish that we stay the same/ But hoping means nothing as darkness turns into day”, Atkins sings in ‘Darkness Falls So Quiet’. Perhaps this perfectly sums up the record; that change is inevitable no matter how much we cling to the past.

(Emily Algar)  4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 July 2017 16:16

 

ESTHER PHILLIPS: 'A Beautiful Friendship - The Kudu Anthology 1971-1976' (Soul Music Records)

Sunday, 16 July 2017 09:30 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altWith her nasal tone and dry, raspy, tart delivery, Esther Phillips didn't possess one of the most beautiful voices known to humanity, but it was certainly one of the most  soulful, expressive and nakedly emotional in popular music. By 1971, when the 36-year-old Galveston singer joined Creed Taylor's CTI set up (Kudu was an R&B-oriented imprint to Taylor's jazz imprint, CTI), she was seemingly on a slow, downward descent towards mediocrity after a spectacular  early-'50s heyday that had seen her score two US R&B chart-toppers as a teenager under the name, Little Esther. She scored her only adult number one with her indelible version of the country song, 'Release Me,' in 1963 and then spent a spell at Atlantic in the late '60s before joining Kudu. Known to be volatile and unreliable - due to her battle with drug addiction - no one anticipated her alliance with Creed Taylor, a mild-mannered white producer from Virginia, to yield ,much in the way of good music let alone last five years. It proved to be a time, though, that the singer revitalised her ailing career - and that key period in her life is chronicled by this fabulous 2-CD set compiled and annotated by David Nathan, and avid Phillips' fan who also knew the singer personally.

The set begins with arguably Phillips' greatest side for CTI; her harrowing version of Gil Scott-Heron's junkie epiphany, 'Home Is Where The Hatred Is.' She used her own experience with narcotics to imbue her performance with a haunting authenticity and by so doing, created the absolute definitive version of the song. She made it indisputably her own, as she did with every song she covered. She was a song stylist supreme and the skilful way she appropriates other people's songs and makes them sound like utterances from her own soul is a rare and uncanny gift. This collection trawls though seven albums' worth of material, cherry picking stellar highlights such as 'From A Whisper To A Scream,' 'Use Me,' 'Baby, I'm For Real,' 'Black-Eyed Blues,' 'Disposable Society,' and her disco hit, 'What A Diff'rence A Day Makes,' her mirrorball revamp of an old Dinah Washington tune. Though there were no chart-topping records during her CTI tenure, she produced the most satisfying and consistent work of her career under Creed Taylor's aegis. For those not familiar with the work of the singer born Esther Mae Jones,  this 33-track anthology is a great starting place. Highly recommended.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 July 2017 12:34

 

ERIC GALE: 'The Definitive Collection' (Robinsongs/Cherry Red)

Saturday, 15 July 2017 10:39 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altEric Gale was a guitar genius. The musical equivalent of a polymath, he had perfect pitch and could play convincingly in an array of styles, ranging from jazz, pop, reggae, and rock to blues, soul and funk. Between the early 1960s and his death from lung cancer in 1994, he appeared as a sideman on hundreds of recording sessions, contributing to major records by artists as varied as Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Billy Joel, Bob Marley and Quincy Jones. He was also a lynchpin of the '70s fusion supergroup, Stuff, and made several notable albums under his own name. This excellent new 2-CD set brings together 27 tracks, which are mostly taken from his own solo repertoire but also includes three cuts from other sources (two are Stuff tracks - 'Foots' and 'My Sweetness' - while the other is 'Tell It Like It Is' by Stuff's keyboard wiz, Richard Tee).  

Gale had an immediately identifiable sound: a bittersweet, B.B. King-esque blues cry with an acerbic edge. He style was also very economical - almost minimalist, in fact - defined by a 'less is more' ethos. Eric Gale never overplayed - rather, every note he played fitted perfectly. His 1973 solo LP debut came for uber-producer Creed Taylor's Kudu imprint - Gale played on a plethora of sessions for its parent company, CTI, as well - and you get four cuts from it here, including a lovely reading of Robert Flack's 'Killing Me Softly With His Song.' After a solitary LP for Kudu, Gale was snapped up by Columbia and in 1976 released his most famous album, 'Ginseng Woman,' featuring a memorable title cut penned and produced by keyboard genie Bob James, who also helmed the guitarist's second CBS platter, 'Multiplication.'  There's a goodly selection of cuts from those two albums here, which were stylistically very similar, and have a strong Bob James influence.

Gale's third Columbia LP, 'Part Of You,' saw him teaming up with Ralph MacDonald as producer and was a tasteful collection of songs showcasing Gale's eloquent guitar in a range of settings. The gentle title track, included here, demonstrated the guitarist's ability as a master of melodic understatement while the more driving 'Let-Me-Slip-It-To-You' is a slice of brassy disco-funk.  His fourth and final Columbia album, 'Touch Of Silk' had Allen Toussaint in the producer's chair and was more stripped back as a result. It also included the straight ahead, hard-swinging jazz groove, a remake Charlie Parker's bebop classic, 'Au Privave.'  It's here, in a jazz trio setting with Charles Earland on organ, where Gale really demonstrates just how good his chops were. This collection ends with three cuts taken from Gale's post-Columbia period, when he recorded for Elektra Musician in the early '80s. They close what is a good, solid overview of Gale's career during its peak years, though it's shame that some of his contributions to Grover Washington Jr's '70s recordings didn't make the tracklisting (especially Grover's take on 'Where Is The Love,' which contained a Gale solo that the guitarist claimed was his favourite of everything he'd ever recorded). If you've never heard of Eric Gale, this is a fine introduction to his unique and much missed talent.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 July 2017 12:34

 

DECOSTA BOYCE: Electrick Soul (Vintedge Records)

Friday, 14 July 2017 18:07 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Electrick Soul' is the most aptly-named album that I've come across so far this year. That's exactly what the 11 trcaker is ... contemporary soul delivered in an electronic soundscape by a young man brought up on Prince and D'Angelo and for whom music biz insiders are forecasting a big future.

Decosta Boyce hails from Stevenage and after leaving college he immersed himself in the London music scene eventually working with people like Beverley Knight, Mica Paris and Roachford. He even landed himself a spot touring with Heatwave – taking the great Johnny Wilder's part as front man! Then the solo career beckoned but sadly poor business choices meant a stalled start – so for the past two years he's been putting together 'Electrik Soul' – happy to be in charge of his own destiny.

'Electrik Soul' reveals a young man who's prepared to experiment with soul and take chances – as he admits on the intro and outro; he sings that he just wants "to try his best to be me" and to that end he (largely) throws the soul text book out of the window. Throughout the album he offers up quirky, electronic beats, gimmicky effects and odd melody lines. The conservative soul crowd will wonder why, but that's their loss – repeated listens reveal some gems, like the chunky, funky 'No Holding Back' and the hazy, phasey 'I'll Do Anything' where the obvious reference point is Maxwell. They both work well but elsewhere (as on 'I Can Already Tell' and 'Givi2me') you can hear a lack of focus.

That brings us to the album's two best cuts (to these veteran ears at any rate). First up is a wonderful Isley Brothers pastiche 'Do It For You' which comes complete with some great Ernie Isley style guitar and lovely memories of 'Who's That Lady'. Then there's the album's big set piece ballad... 'Don't Go (Across The River)'. This is a mournful, Southern soul, gospel-infused piece on which Decosta shows what he can do without resorting to electronic gimmickry. The reference point on this track is Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Elsewhere? Well we've already mentioned Maxwell and his early heroes Prince and D'Angelo. Throw in people like Sly Stone, George Clinton and the whole Funkadelic circus and you'll start to get an idea of what Decosta Boyce is all about.

Decosta Boyce's 'Electrick Soul' is released on August 18th.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 14 July 2017 18:13

 

JACKIEM JOYNER; Main Street Beat (Artistry)

Friday, 14 July 2017 18:04 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Main Street Beat' is Jackiem Joyner's sixth album and it takes off where his last set, 2014's 'Evolve' finished; that's to say the new eleven tracker continues to deliver classic, sax-led smooth jazz – polished, glossily produced soul-based grooves. Sample it at its classiest on the opening two cuts – 'Main Street' and 'Back To Motown'. Both are easily accessible (as the best smooth jazz should be) and make no demands on the listener... and there's nothing wrong with that. There are times to be bombarded with cerebral music challenges and equally times when you deserve to just let the music flow over and around you.

Enjoy more of the same on 'When You Smile' and the atmospheric 'Trinity' – a tune for the sax man's first child – her presence represented by sweet acoustic guitar from Steve Oliver. Jackiem's funkier side is represented by 'Southside Boulevard' and 'Get Down Street' –both with big bass lines courtesy of Daryl Williams. Then if you like things mellower try 'Don't Make Her Wait' though the LP's other big slow passage, 'Addicted' veers to the funereal.... Joyner, by the way, plays all the instruments on this one.

'Main Street Beats' boasts two covers too – Justin Timberlake's 'Can't Stop The Feeling' and Bruno Mars' 'Treasure'. The former is bright and brash with a relaxed, minimal vocal from Gabe Roland that weaves in and out Joyner's sax lines; the latter is big and brash too and again it's Gabe Roland at the mic.

Jackiem Joyner's 'Main Street Beats' is out now and you can learn more @www.jackiemjoyner.com

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 14 July 2017 18:14

 

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