Reviews

JAMES BOOKER At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall Vol. 1 (NDR)

Thursday, 21 March 2019 19:22 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJames Carroll Booker was one of blues music's more flamboyant and wildest performers. No less a person that Dr John described him as "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced." Others called him "the Black Liberace" and those descriptions just about sum him up!

Hugely talented, he developed a unique style that melded blues, R&B and jazz but addiction problems denied him making the mark that his abilities merited and when he died in 1983 waiting in a wheelchair for attention in the ER room at a New Orleans charity hospital, his many fans wondered what might have been if his life trajectory had been different.

If you're not familiar with his work this "new" live album will bring you up to speed. It was recorded at Hamburg's famous Onkel Po's, Carnegie Hall nightspot in 1976 and offers a snapshot of Booker's art. The set is a mix of songs by many off his heroes... people like Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Percy Mayfield and Jimmy Witherspoon alongside a clutch of originals like 'Classified' and 'One Hell Of A Nerve'. All are delivered in his laconic, laid back vocal style underpinned by his percussive, barrel house style piano playing. Best example is probably his medley of 'Lonely Avenue' and 'Stormy Monday'. On it he's clearly having a ball – as indeed he is throughout the 72 minute set.

Booker worked in Europe between 1976 and '78; there, he felt more appreciated than in his homeland. However, he returned to the States in '78 and found a gig as house pianist in a New Orleans bar. He recorded a couple of poorly received albums but he always felt sorely underappreciated. Consequently, his addictions took a more severe hold leading to his eventual death. This album shows James Booker at his best and it's out now.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2019 19:42

 

LEE FIELDS; It Rains Love (Big Crown)

Friday, 15 March 2019 15:52 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altLee Fields, with plenty of justification, sees himself as one of the last great, old school soul men. He's been plying his trade since the 60s and he's enjoyed some highs and sadly plenty of lows. However, with bags of self belief, a passion for what he does and his faith, he's kept going and though he's never made the major league he's still happy to be making the music he knows and loves.

'It Rains Love' – Lee's latest album, produced by Leon Michels – is full of the qualities that we've just listed – self belief, passion, faith, commitment and, yes, bags of old school soul . It's patently obvious right from the start. As your stylus hits the groove (or the laser finds the spot, or whatever!) on the first track (the LP's title cut) you'll know that you're in for an old school soul treat. Rough and tough, the cut is imbued with the spirit of Bobby Womack and in these trying times you can't argue with the message. 'God Is Real' is another of the album's focus cuts. It's a musical embodiment of where Lee Fields is at - both lyrically and sonically - and as many have said, if you want to define soul music don't use complicated words just play some of the music. Play this track and you have your definition.

At the risk of labouring the point, hit any of the ten tracks here and you'll get the same message – that old school, proper soul music is alive and well. Tunes like 'Will I Get Off Easy' and 'Blessed With The Best' could be long lost artefacts from the legendary indie studios of Memphis, Muscle Shoals or Malaco but they're not!

Right across the album, Lee is backed by his faithful and long-serving band, The Expressions and they nail every tune. The brass work in particular is remarkable and the whole ensemble create the exact vibe for Lee's powerful and impassioned vocal attack. You can find out more about this album and Lee's long career via our recent interview. Go to our interview archive.

Lee Fields and the Expressions'' 'It Rains Love' is officially available from April 6th.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 15 March 2019 16:00

 

NICOLE WILLIS: My Soul Sensation (Persephone)

Wednesday, 13 March 2019 16:47 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altThough this new release from Nicole Willis is being branded as an album, with just six tracks, it's really more of an old fashioned EP and two of the cuts ('I Call Your Name' and 'Reparate') have already been out as singles, so that means for your moneys you get just four new songs.

So here's rundown of those four new 'uns. 'Save It' opens the album. It's a mid-tempo groove with just a hint of reggae about it. The title cut offers some reggae style horns (courtesy of Jimi Tenor) though as the track unfolds, the flavour becomes more Afro-beat. The third new song is 'My Reflection' - a kind of homage to the disco era while the last newbie is 'Free' – a more blatant disco romp.

The LP/EP is completed by the two previous singles – 'Reparate' and 'I Call Your Name'. The former, you may recall, is a bass heavy dance groove while the latter is an infectious electro-funk mover and it gets my vote as the set's standout.

Brooklyn-born soulstress Nicole sings with conviction throughout, betraying her 30 years in the business while her new, credit-sharing band - Banda Palomita (Ndioba Gueye (electric bass), Julius Heikkilä (guitars), Antti Kujanpää (keyboards, synths, and sequencer), Ilari Larjosto (drums, engineer, and producer) and Luiz Orlando Sá Do Carmo (percussion) – work their socks off but things just don't quite ignite. Maybe the mini album needs just one more BIG tune...as it is, file 'Soul Sensation' under "workmanlike".

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2019 16:52

 

MARC STAGGERS; Let’s Go Out Tonight (Mar Reg Music)

Thursday, 07 March 2019 13:12 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn the last few years Marc Staggers has established himself as a proper modern soul contender. If you can remember back to the early years of the new millennium, there was a wonderful soul man called Dennis Taylor. His easy going sound was everywhere and I can remember the top jocks (club and radio) vying with each other to be the first to play his new material. Well, Marc Staggers has won himself a similar status. Quite remarkable really for an artist who began working the circuit as a Luther Vandross soundalike ... and yes, Marc's sound and style is uncannily similar to Luther's but with albums like 'Then And Now' and 'Cruising' he's managed to establish his own credible identity. And as with Dennis Taylor back in the day, the top jocks will now be clamouring to be the first to play cuts off this, his latest long player.

'Let's Go Out Tonight' is a collaborative effort between Marc and brother Reginald and both have tried to take their music to a new level and if you've enjoyed the two singles that have heralded this album, you'll concur that they've succeeded. Both 'I'll Do Anything For You' (a duet with Nia Simmons) and 'Crazy About You Girl' were/are fine examples of the art of modern soul. They tick all the boxes that smooth, sophisticated soul folk demand and they're just two amongst many. On most other albums they would be cherry picked as highlights – released as early singles to tempt investigation of the full album. In truth, any of the set's songs would have served the same purpose. So to some extent singling out tracks as "winners" is something of a redundant exercise... everyone's a winner! Right now, though, we're enjoying the slinky 'If You Love Me Say It' and the sax-led Quiet Storm moment that is 'Bring Your Heart Back To Love'. Like everything on the LP, they're big, full productions and yes, Marc does sound remarkably like dear old Luther but surely that's no bad thing... what a role model for any singer!

Whatever... up top we mentioned Dennis Taylor. Not sure what happened to him... not sure anyone knows, but he's faded and now just a name on some classy old soul. With new music like, though, Marc Staggers is far from fading. His star is shining bright and on this form it's all set to shine for a long time yet!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 March 2019 14:06

 

TOMMY HUNT; The Complete Man (Kent)

Wednesday, 06 March 2019 20:34 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altTommy Hunt (born Charles Wilson in Pittsburgh in 1933) is a proper soul veteran. Sadly, despite almost 60 years in the business and with a fine back catalogue across a raft of labels, Tommy has never quite made soul's Premier League. That said, as is often the way, he's revered by soul connoisseurs and collectors and both groups have been admirably served by UK reissue specialists Ace/Kent.

Back in 1997 Kent issued the Hunt collection, 'The Biggest Man' - ostensibly a "best of" set that included classics like his original version of 'I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself'. The 29 songs were taken from his time with the Scepter and Dynamo labels and a while back the Ace archivists discovered plenty more Hunt material in the vault – so, here we have a second Tommy Hunt retrospective that collects together the rest of his 60s output for those two labels alongside rarities he cut for Atlantic and Capitol.

The 25 tracker is sub-titled "60s NYC songs" but, oddly, some of the material was actually recorded in Chicago... notably, a brace of Van McCoy songs cut for Atlantic – 'I Don't Want To Lose You' and 'Hold On'. Both are classy Carl Davis "uptown" productions but sadly they failed to sell and Atlantic terminated their contract with Tommy. From there he moved to Capitol where a superb single that paired Jimmy Radcliffe's 'I'll Make You Happy' with a gritty 'The Clown' also failed. All included here.

Most of the cuts, though, come from the singer's time with Scepter and Dynamo and there's plenty of previously unissued stuff to keep collectors happy. Amongst the "new" stuff is a version of the Shirelles' 'What's The Matter Baby' and a Sam Cooke flavoured 'One Of These Days'. Also of note is the included take on Tommy's biggest hit 'Human'. Up till now, it's the 7" single version that's done the rounds; here Kent offer the original LP mix.

As ever with Ace/Kent, the sleeve notes will tell you everything you need to know about a fine soul stylist.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 March 2019 20:54

 

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