Reviews

CHUCK JACKSON: Big New York Soul (Kent)

Thursday, 05 October 2017 15:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLittle known in the mainstream, South Carolina born Chuck Jackson is revered by soul collectors and cognoscenti. Like many of his contemporaries, Jackson recorded for a number of labels, including Motown and All Platinum, but it's his time at New York's Wand label that those collectors and connoisseurs consider the high spot of his career. Between 1961 and 1967 Wand released 30 singles and 10 LPs on Chuck Jackson and with material from writers like Bacharach/David, Luther Dixon and Curtis Mayfield his work is considered by critics as the epitome of 60s uptown soul.

Chuck Jackson collectors have been well served by the reissue labels – notably Ace/Kent. The UK specialist has released a "best of" collection and reissued all his Wand albums as "twofers" and now they offer Jackson fans another collection that brings together a number of rarities alongside 8 previously unheard of tracks.

Highlights amongst those previously unheard cuts include the lively opener 'Things Just Ain't Right', a cover of Curtis Mayfield's 'Need To Belong' and 'Anymore' – a duet with then label mate Dionne Warwick.

Of the rest, well there's so much 60s soul excellence here that it would be churlish to cherry pick – but let's just highlight a few. First there the lovely 'If I Didn't Love You... the best song Bacharach and David never wrote! Clearly writers Mark Barkan and Pam Sawyer had been listening to 'Any Day Now' before penning this one. Soul veterans will recognize the song. It has been reissued before but here it's in the original mono format. Then there's 'Big New York' – the song for which this album is titled. Written and produced by Ed Townsend, it sums up in so many ways what 60s big city, uptown soul was all about and Chuck's performance underlines why he is considered the best interpreter of that sound.

(BB) 4/5

 

WILL DOWNING; Soul Survivor (Shanachie)

Friday, 29 September 2017 12:25 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThis lovely, new Will Downing album was heralded by the single 'I'm Feeling The Love'. The cut, which is a duet with the seemingly omnipresent Avery Sunshine, entranced both DJs and soul commentators, many earmarking the tune as one of the year's best. If you don't know it, now's the time to rectify the situation. The two voices meld perfectly, there's a delicious hook and it's one of those special songs that impress with the first play.

The good news is that there's plenty more soul excellence throughout 'Soul Survivor's' remaining nine tracks. Let's start with the other cuts that feature "name" guests. First up there's 'Everything I Want In My Lady' which is a collaboration with the ever-lovely Maysa. The pair have worked together before, of course, and those special voices make a snug fit on a gentle mid-tempo groove. Ditto, the other vocal collaborator – Phil Perry. Mr P joins Will on new version of Blue Magic's 'Stop To Start' ... a song that sounds tailor made for their two distinctive voices. The album boasts another Philly cover – 'Hurry Up This Way Again'. On this new treatment of the Regina Belle/Stylistics tune Downing is joined by smooth sax man Najee and with that combination you can probably guess the sound...yep, very sweet, very smooth and very soulful.

Amongst other highlights are the sweet and simple 'Our Time' (proof if ever it was needed that WD is THE "Prince Of Soul") and another contender for a 2017 track of the year, the 'Secret Garden'-styled 'When We Make Love' , the bossa-flavoured cover of Michael Franks' 'Tell Me About It' and the finger-clickingly good 'Since You Been Gone'.

Will Downing's come a long way since 'Love Supreme' (this album's opener, 'Soul Survivor Theme' name checks many of his achievements) and it would be easy for him to rest on his laurels, but now some 30 years on from 'Love Supreme' he's created one of his best, most complete albums.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 29 September 2017 12:31

 

BONEY JAMES: Honestly (Concord)

Friday, 29 September 2017 12:23 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe first thing I noticed about this new Boney James album is the guest list.... the set's two focus vocal cuts feature Avery Sunshine and Eric Roberson. The pair seems to be cropping up as guests everywhere these last few months.... not that we're complaining. Their soulful talents enhance everything they work on and here on the album title track and 'If I Can't Hold You' they bring an alternative kind of shading to what is a workmanlike smooth jazz sax-led album. Fans of Boney James, knowing what to expect, will love it.

The Avery Sunshine-led 'Honestly' is a rather sombre, hushed ballad that dips into neo/nu soul territory while Roberson's is another ballad that would fit well into late night radio Quiet Storm formats ... not sure if they still exist. On both, James' tenor weaves between the vocal refrain.

Elsewhere, expect what Boney James does best – quality soul-based, smooth jazz grooves that range from the not too frantic up-tempo ('We Came To Party' and 'Up All Night') to the slow and stately ('Speak Easy' and 'Low And Slow').

The album's cover is a treatment of the Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael standard, 'Skylark'. With just Darrell Smith's keyboard for company, James delivers a delight.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 29 September 2017 12:31

 

PHILLIP BRANDON: The Story Begins (Phillip Brandon llc)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017 18:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPhillip Brandon is a new-ish kid on the soul block. Raised in LA by music savvy parents (Phillip Sr was a jazz buff while mother Brenda was a member of Ray Charles' legendary Raelets) young Phil took a degree in marketing before embarking on his music career. Early jobs included working the cruise ships before he became in demand on the musical theatre circuit... most notably working in the BeBe Winans theatrical biog-show. Eventually Phillip landed a job with multi-platinum-selling rock group Trans Siberian Orchestra but in 2013 he struck out on his own with a 5 track EP that hit the smooth jazz charts and won Mr B plenty of live work. Now he's all set to release this – his first full long player and, with production input from Preston Glass, 'The Story Begins' is already winning praise in discerning soul and jazz circles... and it's easy to hear why. The album is an effortless and intriguing listen from start to finish with Phillip's approach drawing comparisons to artists like Will Downing and Gregory Porter.

Indeed Porter is a particular hero/role model for Brandon. He says; "Mr. Porter gave me the most current inspiration to do what I do. He once stated that it was his hope that he had opened a door for others to be unique" and on 'The Story Begins' you can hear the GP influence straight away on the LP's title cut – a lazy, melodic, soul-jazz meander where Preston Glass allows Brandon's plaintive tenor/baritone do the work. The gentler 'Stay In The Moment' is another album highlight and as a bonus Phillip coaxed his mother, Brenda, to join him on the song. Their voices meld beautifully on the title hook.

Elsewhere, 'Looking For You' channels a Stevie Wonder flavour, while the uplifting 'Chocolate Child' references messages voiced by pioneers like Oscar Brown Jr, Donny Hathaway and Curtis Mayfield. Listen up too to the lovely-piano-led ballad that is 'A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Goodbye' and the pitch at the lucrative "Wedding Song" market that is 'The Promise' –though I could have done without the rocky guitar towards the end.

The album boasts one focus cover – a version of Luther Vandross' 'Wait For Love'. It's a measure of Brandon's confidence that he tackles a Vandross number and to be fair he doesn't stray too far from the original though he does attempt a "jazzier" feel in the vocal and both song and delivery fit perfectly the overall mood of 'The Story Begins'.

Phillip Brandon sums up his music philosophy thus: "I love the music of yesteryear...when Pop wasn't a format, just what was legitimately popular. I want to get back to a day when that comes back. In the meantime, I create songs from the heart and a spiritual space of hope." Judge for yourself if he's succeeded when 'The Story Begins' wins official release on October 20th.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 September 2017 18:24

 

TED WINN: Stand In Awe (Shanachie)

Sunday, 24 September 2017 15:20 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAward-winning Gospel star, Ted Winn was born and raised in Memphis but latterly he's been working out of Atlanta and Washington DC. 'Stand In Awe' is his second long player and the ten tracker is a musical manifestation of his beliefs – sure the traditional Gospel messages are here, but Winn goes much further than what we would probably best call the Gospel establishment. Ted believes that Gospel artists should, indeed must, speak out through their music on issues that affect black people. He says: "Just because you go to church and you believe in God, doesn't mean anything. Your'e still black... you still experience all the other issues that people of colour are experiencing ion a daily basis."

Hear Winn's message throughout the album and most notably on the big opener, 'The Greatest Power' which features Gospel don, Hezekiah Walker. Elsewhere – on the title track for instance, the messages are more subtle. Musically the soundscape owes much to the pioneering work of people like Andrae Crouch and the Winans with Ted's own singers, Balance, offering stellar support alongside guests Lisa Knowles and Maranda Curtis who features on one of the albums best inspirational ballads, 'Grateful'.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 September 2017 15:25

 

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