Reviews

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

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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

 

SOULNATURALS; 'Love Says Yes!' (British Soul Standard)

Tuesday, 14 March 2017 21:16 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altThough they've been around for quite some time (2004, I think), the greater soul world first really got to know about Tony Cannam's Soulnaturals via their edgy, old school 'Rise Brother Rise' back in 2012. Then in 2015 came the equally anthemic 'I Never Knew A Hell Like You'. Now, almost two years later, Tooting's finest bandmaster is all set to unleash a full album.... 'Love Says Yes!'. Proper soul fans will already have enjoyed the set's first single, the energetic 'You Make Me Feel Like I Can Change The World' which featured a fab vocal from Australia's premier soul diva, Kylie Auldist.

The good news is that there's a whole lot more soul excellence crammed into the grooves (not sure what downloads or CDs have) of 'Love Says Yes!'. Right now we're all loving the jaunty 'Oh Lord When Will You Free Me' featuring a feisty vocal from Portugal's Nadia Pimentel. There's a touch of reggae swagger about the song and it's quite a little ear worm. No wonder that Cannam, and his team have sorted it as the next single. Equally infectious is the proper old school soul groove that is 'Gotta Get My Hands On Some Good Loving'. Here the vocalist is Davinia Vincent.

Fancy something a little tougher, funky even? OK flip to 'I Am The Lost That Do Not Want To Be Found' ... odd title but an uncompromising cut with Mr Cannam on lead vocals. 'I Got Sunshine (Enough For The World)' (Jo Kelsey at the mic) is another 21st century take on classic funk. Oddly you'd think that a song called 'A Room Full Of James Browns' (Danny Toeman on vocals here) would be a funk fest too. However it's not really... it's a rumbling slab of psycho-soul; more Norman Whitfield than JB! Interesting title though and equally interesting lyrics, even if the cut starts to, meander near the end. 'Moody Judy' is another intriguing cut.... cinematic , a whiff of 'Trouble Man' about it

If you prefer things a tad slower then 'Let Freedom Ring' and 'My Love For You Is Not Of This Earth' dip their sonic paintbrushes into the Southern soul palette. Vocalist on the latter is Bre-Antonia while on the former Dave Barker takes the vocal responsibility. Dave by the way was (indeed is) the "Dave" of Dave & Ansell Collins who had the UKs first Reggae No.1 hit with 'Double Barrell' back in the olden days! And therein lies part of the secret of Tony Cannam's success with the Soulnaturals. He knows lots of people in the business and can call on great musicians and talented vocalists to help him flesh out his ideas. They all want to work with him and share his positivity and despite some broody moments on 'Love Says Yes!', the overall thrust is upbeat and optimistic. Tony enthuses: "'Love Says Yes!' is a positive reaction to the hatred and negativity that is building in the US and Europe with far right populism, Love Says Yes but Hate Says No – hate never built a school, a hospital, happiness or freedom, and it never will." Can't argue with that!

'Love Says Yes!' will be released on April 15th 2017 on British Soul Standard.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 16:53

 

JAMES BROWN: 'Sex Machine' (Culture Factory)

Monday, 13 March 2017 21:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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This is generally regarded as one of James Brown's greatest live LPs - right up there with the seminal first volume of 'Live At The Apollo' recorded in 1963 - but the reality is that half of 'Sex Machine' (it came out as a 2-LP set on King in 1970) was recorded in an Augusta studio and then was drenched in extra reverb and overdubbed canned applause. But this deception - which was quite commonplace in the '60s and '70s, especially where James Brown was concerned - doesn't really matter because the album is a stone cold classic and a searing funk manifesto that launched a thousand hip-hop samples. All four sides of the original vinyl have been squeezed onto a single CD for this hi-def remaster by France's Culture Factory label, though they've packaged it in a facsimile of the gatefold sleeve it was first issued in.

'Sex Machine' was an album that premiered JB's new band of young guns, including Bootsy Collins on bass and his brother, Catfish, on guitar and they bring a streetwise rawness and urgency to the proceedings, especially on the album's classic title cut , where The Godfather's  polyrhythmic funk aesthetic reached its apotheosis. 'Brother Rapp' digs into a deeper groove - a relentless, mesmeric juggernaut - while 'I Got The Feelin,'' 'Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose,' 'Mother Popcorn,' and 'There Was A Time' are driven by a turbocharged sense of propulsion (thanks to the late Clyde Stubblefield's and Jabo Starks' kinetic drums) that crystallises the febrile combustible intensity of a Brown concert in the early '70s.

Not everything happens at an explosive 100 MPH, though, and offering a brief respite from the remorseless funk rollercoaster ride are some slow ballads (among them, JB's faithful standbys,  'Bewildered,' and 'If I Ruled The World')  demonstrating that James Brown could sing as well as scream and holler. While 'Sex Machine' was a double LP set that confirmed that Soul Brother Number One was the undisputed king of funk in 1970, it was an album that also paid tribute to his past,  as the inclusion of his old hits 'It's A Man's Man's Man's World' and 'Please, Please, Please,' prove.

Forty-seven years after the fact, this superlative reissue shows us that 'Sex Machine' has lost none of its power and, whether totally live or not (it's a moot point), it remains not only one of James Brown's defining albums but also is undoubtedly one of the very best that soul and funk music has to offer.

(CW) 5/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 March 2017 10:45

 

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