Reviews

THE NEW MASTERSOUNDS: Renewable Energy (One Note)

Monday, 28 May 2018 12:15 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altOriginally from Leeds, the New Mastersounds have been around for almost 20 years and they have something like 15 long players under their belt. Despite that, the band (Eddie Roberts (guitar), Simon Allen (drums), Pete Shand (bass) and Joe Tatton (organ)) are probably best known for giving Corinne Bailey Rae her start. The reason for their inability to break into the big time is apparent on this new album.... what they create musically doesn't pander to the mainstream. Their energetic brand of funk and soul-jazz is aimed very much at a niche market and I'm guessing that the foursome are quite happy with that (if not they'd have folded long ago). They're rarely out of work – gigging constantly – as much at home at the big festival as in the small cellar club and their loyal fans turns out in numbers wherever they play.

Said fans will be delighted with the 12 tracks on 'Renewable Energy' – it provides what the Mastersounds have always provided. So, there's plenty of funk – like the scratchy, percussive opener, "Chicago Girls'. I have to say, though, that this sounds more New Orleans than Windy City despite some lovely brass work from the West Coast Horns (Mike Olmos and Joe Cohen). There's also plenty of mid 60s style, "Hammond to the fore" soul-jazz on the collection ... try 'Tantalus' or 'Green Was Beautiful'. 'Stash' shows the more experimental side of the band while 'Swimming With My Fishies' is a lovely, mellow, cinematic way to finish the album.

The long player boasts one vocal – a meandering, funk workout fronted by a feisty, swooping Adryon De Leon. In truth it's not that remarkable – a workmanlike funk outing. Indeed that's the issue. This is a workmanlike album.... nothing to make you sit up and take real notice and help take the band to the next level (if indeed that's where they want to go).

Interestingly I note that the album was recorded in two venues – New Orleans and Denver – back in 2016 and February '17... may be the Mastersounds have something newer/fresher up their sleeves?

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 28 May 2018 12:33

 

JEFFREY OSBORNE; Worth It All (Artistry)

Tuesday, 22 May 2018 19:22 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altDear old Jeffrey Osborne is a proper old school soul veteran and latterly, sadly, his recordings are few and far between. I think his last release was maybe five years ago – 'A Time For Love'. However, out of the blue – it seems Jeff is all set to drop a new album – the 12 tracker that is 'Worth It All' but, sadly, sneak previews reveal that maybe it wasn't really worth it – well not entirely.

The problem – as I see it – is that there is too much here that is formulaic and pedestrian. The soundscape here alternates between polite beaters and twee ballads and it's those beaters that really disappoint. Jeffrey is 70 and he won't mind admitting that he's been around the block a few times, so maybe he could have come up with better lyrics than "Get out on the floor baby" ('Just Can't Stand It') or "I want your sexy body close" ('I Want You') or –even worse – "I like the way you work it. I wanna say you're so perfect" ('Work It'). OK, this is soul and R&B, and we don't expect metaphysical poetry, but c'mon Jeff – you're better than this.

The album's ballads work better but they're still heavily clichéd and there's no 'Love Ballad' or 'On The Wings Of Live' here. Best efforts are 'Greatest Night' – a chronicle of an evolving relationship (but what about "It was the 23rd June...a freaky full moon"?) and 'Saving My Love' which proves what Jeffrey can do when he really tries – a simple, uncluttered song on which that remarkable voice carries the day.

'Worth It All' boasts guest appearances from Rick Braun, Gerald Albright, rapper Kid Capri and Jeff's son Jeffrey Junior but they can't lift the album out of the mediocre category. The set is self produced and sure, Jeff knows what he's about but maybe a third ear might have made 'Worth It All' worth a little more.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 May 2018 19:29

 

BONNIE BAILEY; Song Book Volume 1 (Fierce Angel)

Wednesday, 16 May 2018 13:06 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThough they may not be too familiar with the name, soulful house connoisseurs/anoraks will recognize the voice of Bonnie Bailey. Her waif like vocals graced countless tunes in the early noughties – chiefly on the renowned Hed Kandi label. Bonnie fronted countless tracks that were featured on all kinds of beach/chill compilations. And why not? Her wispy, light and cute voice (the polar opposite of your usual gospel reared house diva) was (indeed is) perfect to accentuate those lovely laid-back Cafe del Mar moments.

At the peak of Hed Kandi's success a whole solo album was planned for Ms Bailey but for all kinds of reasons it never happened. Bonnie, however, continued to record –working chiefly with her original mentor, acclaimed US producer Eric Kupper and sometime Hed Kandi boss, Mark Doyle – now head boy at Fierce Angel Records. A number of Bonnie Bailey tracks have appeared on Fierce Angel and now – fanfare please – here's the long awaited BB solo set.

In truth not all the material is brand new –essentially this is a package of greatest hits and associated remixes and the menu, given the context, is very varied. There are, of course, those signature "Bonnie Bailey beach grooves" – 'Safe', 'Rise' and 'Even After' –all in the classic "Eric's Beach" mixes. All three are still wonderful summer sounds. Then there's the "harder" stuff, though tunes like 'Firefly', 'I Know You're There' and 'Sweet Serendipity' aren't too tough. They couldn't be. Bonne's more Kate Bush than Jocelyn Brown and – lo and behold – the 12 tracker actually boasts a Kate Bush cover... Bonnie's version of 'This Woman's Work'. (also covered by Maxwell, you may remember). The song allows Bonnie to show off the purity of her voice which also shines on the ballad 'I Can't Hardly Wait'. 'This Woman's Work' also comes in a "Fierce Angel" remix; too fierce, methinks, for the sentiment of the song.

You'll note that this is "Volume 1" –presumably there's more to come from Ms Bailey later in the year?

(BB) 35

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 13:14

 

SPUR OF THE MOMENT; N 2 Deep (SOTM Records)

Wednesday, 09 May 2018 14:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSpur of the Moment are a confusing band. I don't mean that in any kind of derogatory sense; rather I mean I find it hard to pin them down. And I'm not the only one. Over a 20 year career, various music writers and record selling sites have pitched them into all kinds of categories – ranging from smooth jazz right through to hard funk (with all kinds of stops en route). Even more confusing is the fact that the title of this rather fine new long player – 'N 2 Deep' - also happens to be the name of a 90s rap outfit! Well for sure, the music on Spur Of The Moment's 'N 2 Deep' isn't rap! So what is it? Well there is some smooth jazz; also a touch of funk (maybe not too hard, though); but there's also plenty of classy soul music. Someone called Berry Gordy tried to defy categorises. He once famously said that there were only two kinds of music – good and bad ; put it another way – what you like and what you don't like. So homing in on 'N 2 Deep' – here's a platter of good music, which if you're a soul fan, you'll love!

If you want some kind of guarantee about what I've just said, it should suffice just to say that a certain Maya Leak makes a guest appearance . Now we all know that Ms L only gets involved in quality projects and here she fronts a crisp, mid-tempo workout 'Free Urself' . OK – it does veer towards smooth jazz ; but it's a rather classy smooth jazz and THAT vocal is the cherry on the top!

Amongst the other vocalists is Kenny Allen who leads on a Jonathan Butler acoustic styled 'Love Her' and a brash, soulful 'Move On'. Jon Rych is at the mic for the Buddy Johnson jazz standard 'Save Your Love For Me' but the most interesting cut is a version of Stevie Wonder's 'Love's In Need Of Love Today'. Here the sax takes the lead lines while the vocalists offer Take 6 style support – lovely treatment of a lovely song.

That one, by the way, is preceded by 'NATB!' which I'm informed stands for "not the average band" - which kind of takes us back to where we came in. Yep – not an average band; not one to pigeon-hole. But purveyors of great music? Sure thing!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 May 2018 15:56

 

LIVE REVIEW: Tower Of Power @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2018

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 07:04 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

    alt

50 years ago, horn players and songwriters Emilio Castillo and Stephen 'Doc' Kupka, formed a band in Oakland, California, called The Motowns, which morphed in 1970 to Tower of Power. Despite numerous changes in personnel during their long and storied career (its past members number 64), half-a-century later the legendary soul and funk aggregation are still going strong. They have been fronted by many different lead singers - most notably, Lenny Williams, in the 1970s - but now they probably have the most charismatic and athletic vocalist that they've ever had - Marcus Scott. The Memphis singer, whose vocal gymnastics were often out of this world, really worked the crowd into a frenzy.

Opening with the thundering 'Soul With A Capital S,' with its soulful call-and-response vocals, the 10-piece, horn-heavy band came across like an out-of-control juggernaut hurtling down a hill with no brakes at 100 miles per hour. At the wheel steering it was Marcus Scott, who commanded the stage like a veteran, even though he's by far the youngest and most recent member of the band. The group served up some of their most cherished funk masterpieces from their voluminous back catalogue, including a pulsating 'So Much Oil In The Ground,' the frenetic 'On The Serious Side,' and the classic 'Soul Vaccination.'  

There were ace ballads, too, exemplified by the timeless 'You're Still A Young Man' and 'So Very Hard To Go,' where Scott demonstrated that he possesses sensitivity as well as incredible technique. Another fan favourite, the carefree, feel-good anthem, 'You Ought To Be Having Fun,' was given a run out as was 'You're So Wonderful, So Marvellous.' But the concert was not merely an exercise in nostalgia, as the introduction of a freshly-minted song called 'The Soul Side Of Town,' (taken from the group's forthcoming new album) proved, showing that the band are looking forward as well as back. Mind you, the new song had all the ingredients of classic Tower Of Power - a killer hook, stupendous brass charts, and a groove that won't quit.

The super-syncopated 'Diggin' On James Brown,' a track recorded in the 1990s as a homage to the "Godfather Of Soul," bookended a tribute to "Mr Dynamite," with Scott shimmying across the stage like "Soul Brother Number One" during energised versions of  Brown's 'It's A New Day,' 'Mother Popcorn,' and 'There It Is.' Scott vacated the stage to allow the band to shine on the fluid instrumental, 'Squib Cakes,' which as well as highlighting the individuals in the horn section, showcased Roger Smith on Hammond organ and Jerry Cortez on guitar.

Inevitably, the band climaxed their show with their signature song, the evergreen 'What Is Hip.' Characterised by an orgy of tightly-knit brass riding on a slippery groove propelled by drummer David Garibaldi and bassist Marc Van Wageningen, the song, with its instantly recognisable sound, encapsulated Tower Of Power's unique, Oakland-inflected  take on funk and soul.

Fifty years on, Tower Of Power are still at the top of their game - they might not be young men anymore, but they still play with a youthful vigour and enthusiasm. And crucially, they haven't forgotten how to be hip. Pure dynamite.

(CW)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 May 2018 08:28

 

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