BRIAN OWENS; The Soul OF Cash (Nia Music)

Thursday, 19 October 2017 17:57 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThough he had several albums behind him, we first got to know and love Ferguson, Missouri soul man Brian Owens earlier this year. Backed by the redoubtable Deacons Of Soul, his 'Soul Of Ferguson' album was a remarkable piece of work. Inspired by an incident in Ferguson in 2014 that sparked off the whole Black Lives Matter movement, the album saw commentators drawing comparisons with people Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. Indeed the cover photo seemed to be Owens' homage to Gaye.

Now for his latest album Owens offers something very different – at least that's what it seems. The man's new set is a tribute to country music legend Johnny Cash. Owens, though, doesn't see his takes on Cash classics as something radically different: "One of the things I've come to know is that the soul of Johnny Cash is very similar to the soul of me. There was something about his life that resonated with me. What we have in common far outweighs the difference that I'm black and he's white, and that's what I want people to get from this project."

And what do we get from the project? Well, for sure, some fabulous, innovative soul music that will please everyone who was impressed with 'Soul Of Ferguson'. Let's start with Owens' version of 'Fulsom Prison Blues'. This new take is 100% old school soul. Clearly based on Joe Tex's 'Show Me', it's a thrilling ride. I'm sure the Tex connection is no coincidence; Joe was country-soul personified and Owens is saying if Joe Tex could do, then so can I!

Other Cash classics include 'Walk The Line', 'Ring Of Fire', 'Man In Black' and 'Sunday Morning Coming'. That last –a Kris Kristofferson song – has some of the best "down at heel" lyrics you'll ever hear... I mean "I had fear for breakfast" and "putting on my cleanest dirty shirt"! Brian Owens delivers the line impeccably.

The album also has one non-Cash song, "Soul In My Country'. This is a new song composed and sung by Owens and country star Rissi Palmer. In it they articulate what soul means to country artists and what country means to soul singers. The track  also features famed pedal steel guitar virtuoso, Robert Randolph. It's a great summation of what the whole album is all about.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 October 2017 18:19


GREGORY PORTER: Nat King Cole & Me (Decca)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017 20:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOfficially released on October 27th., this new Gregory Porter 12 track tribute to Nat King Cole has been a long time coming! Indeed its genesis goes right back to Porter's childhood. He tells us that "At 5 or 6 years old, Nat's music filled a void in me. My father wasn't in my life and wasn't showing interest in me or raising me and Nat's words were the life lessons, words of wisdom and fatherly advice I needed." So, at last, Greg's gotten round to saying thank you and repaying something of his debt. News of this album was leaked a while ago, creating obvious and massive interest. I mean what's not to like about the prospect of the great songs of Cole interpreted by THAT voice. However no sooner were web sites and media feeds buzzing with news of the long player than its existence seemed to be denied. The reports vanished off the web and the singer's official sites and social media made no mention of the work. Then within a week there was the official, big, big launch – TV, radio and high level media coverage cranked up the hype and the expectation.

So was the wait, the hype and the hide and seek worth it? In a word YES. Like we said, what not's to like about a set of great songs delivered by one of the great contemporary voices? Add to that the sumptuous, wrap around production and arrangement from Vince Mendoza and you have one hell of an album ... one on which, unusually, the voice and the songs complement each other throughout. What's more Porter and Mendoza have been very careful in their song selection. It would have been so easy to stuff the set with all the well-known Cole chestnuts (like George Benson did on his Cole tribute) but here the pair offer some lesser known Cole gems. Sure they offer 'Mona Lisa', 'Nature Boy', 'Ballerina' and 'Smile' but there are lesser known items from the Cole canon too – like 'The Lonely One', 'I Wonder Who My Daddy Was' (given added poignancy given what we know about Porter's own father) and 'Quizas, Quizas, Quizas' (delivered as a stately merengue and sung in Spanish).

Then there's this album's coup de grace – a non Nat King Cole song. Porter and Mendoza have included a new version of Greg's own 'When Love Was King' (from the 'Liquid Spirit' album). The original was sparse and beautiful (a simple trio arrangement, I recall); here the duo set the song in a lavish arrangement (recalling 'Nature Boy'). It remains achingly beautiful.

Equally beautiful is the LP closer – a gorgeous reading of 'The Christmas Song'. Yes, we know, it's only October but "Santa is on his way". Watch this one be omnipresent come Yule tide. It also, of course, ensures steady sales right through to year end. Clever marketing.... but 'Nat King Cole & Me ' really doesn't need too much marketing.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 October 2017 21:02


VARIOUS: Can You Feel The Force? (Groove Line)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017 20:48 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altConnoisseurs of disco – its music and its heritage – will be familiar with the work of Boston DJ John Luongo. Along with Tom Moulton he was one of the very first DJs to create special disco mixes. He was a true pioneer and like Moulton he never tampered too much with the originals; rather he emphasised the best hooks and the best breaks and cranked up the percussive elements to create newness from the familiar. Given his status there isn't that music of his work currently available. I guess the 12" mix format was made for the moment rather that the archive.

However, if you're a disco denizen, you'll surely want to check out this new 2 CD, 21 track collection of the best Luongo mixes. The album begins with an epic 9 minute plus version of Dan Hartman's flagship 'Relight My Fire' and ends with the Jacksons' 'Walk Right Now' – and that should give you the flavour of what comes in between. Right – lashings of bona fide disco classics – stuff like 'Shake Your Body Down', 'Blame It On The Boogie' and The Real Thing's 'Can You Feel The Force' – for which the album is named.

But you also get plenty of lesser know disco dancers – like Johnny Mathis' 'Gone, Gone' Gone' and the Mighty Clouds Of Joy's 'In These Changing Times'. Purists might baulk at disco remixes of Sly's 'Dance To the Music' and Santana's 'One Chain' but at least you should give 'em a try!

The album comes with a massive 24 page booklet that explains the raison d'être of every mix – fine for some, but as someone once said, it's actually what in the grooves that counts.... and plenty of big, big grooves here.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 October 2017 21:02


NICOLE WILLIS: My Name Is Nicole Willis (Persephone)

Monday, 16 October 2017 15:31 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altBrooklyn's Nicole Willis is a proper old school soul singer who now works for part of the year in continental Europe. Without too much fanfare she won loads of fans with her 'Tortured Soul' album back in 2013. That was followed by the equally well received 'Happiness In Every Style' from which the quite lovely 'One In A Million' became a modern soul favourite. On both records Ms Willis was backed by a great band, The Soul Investigators.

On her next outing, an EP in March this year, there was no mention of the Investigators. Now on this new album Nicole shares billing with the 18 piece UMO jazz Orchestra. They're based in Finland and I'm guessing that's where this 11 tracker was recorded. If I'm right that might explain the mournful, almost dreary feel to many of the cuts here. I've read that Finland like other Scandi countries has a high suicide rate and depression is sometimes said to be endemic... something to do with the long, dark winters. Despite Nicole's best efforts, some of the music here is rather depressing. I'm thinking of the 'Introduction', 'When We Go Down' and 'No Child Denied.' If we were to be cruel we could describe 'em as "music to slash your wrists to"!

But skip those and find some cheeriness and plenty of optimism on 'One In A Million' and 'Together We Climb'. Now both these tunes featured on Nicole's earlier albums (see the comments above) and I've listened hard to these "new" versions and I'm still not sure if they are "new" or just the old tracks being recycled. It doesn't really matter, 'cos especially in the case of 'One In A Million', they're well worth being recycled. If you don't know Nicole's 'One In A Million', do yourself as big favour and check it out!

There is one totally new up-tempo cut.... '(Everybody) Do The Watusi'. This one is classic Northern soul as is the recycled 'Break Free (Shake A Tail Feather)'.

My Name Is Nicole Willis is out now.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 October 2017 20:33


G.I.: Winning (Shanachie)

Monday, 16 October 2017 15:28 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altG.I. (Gods Image) is a three piece contemporary Gospel group from Richmond, Virginia. Founded back in 1997 by brothers Branden and Marlon Anderson, the current line-up is Branden Anderson, Rufus Johnson and Lamonte Harris. The sound of G. I. is unashamedly urban – the sound of contemporary R&B and soul. Lamonte explains: "We've always had an urban sound. We always keep up with the times in terms of what's hot in urban music but for this record we decided on a more urban approach than most of the gospel community. We asked "what's happening now that can give us another edge?""

The album's title track sums up the sound of the long player. It's totally contemporary and the message – "winning" is the album's theme. The trio suggest that the album is all about winning – the need to win in every aspect of your life – in your spiritual life, in your job or in your relationship. And therein is the album's attraction for modern soul fans. Sure it's a gospel set and that categorization might well put off non believers (it usually does). But the themes and messages of 'Winning' can, as the band suggest, be applied to other, non-spiritual relationships; so the advice is to investigate and you'll discover some mighty fine contemporary soul music- whether you believe or not.

Case in point is the delightful ballad that is 'In Love With You' which features a cameo from the lovely Keke Wyatt. In love with your god or in love with your partner, it matters little – just enjoy the soul herein. Other album highlights include 'Pray And Don't Worry' (which comes in its original format and in an acoustic version) and a cover of the Winans' 1984 jam 'Trust In God' on which the trio show their vocal prowess.

G.I.s 'Winning' is out now.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 16 October 2017 15:47


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