Reviews

TIM BOWMAN: Into The Blue (IM/Purpose Jazz)

Sunday, 24 September 2017 15:14 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Into The Blue' is guitarist Tim Bowman's seventh studio album and it was heralded by the rightly lauded single 'My Heart To You' which featured a sensual vocal from Angela Johnson. If you liked that cut you'll also love the set's other focus vocal – 'All I Need Is Love' with the seemingly rejuvenated Stokley at the mic. It's a tougher ballad than the Johnson cut but if you enjoyed the Mint Condition man's solo set, you'll need to investigate this one.

'Into The Blue' features one more vocal and 'Amazing Grace Party' is actually one of the album highlights and certainly the set's most ambitious offering. The title tells you what the cut's all about .... it's an up-tempo rendition of the classic hymn, 'Amazing Grace' and it really works. There's a big party atmosphere, Bowman's guitar hits a funky jazz groove and the singers, Tom Bowman Jr and Jonathan DuBose energise proceedings segueing the hymn into other inspirational songs like 'Wade In The Water'. Inspired stuff indeed.

Elsewhere, well, 'Into The Blue' ticks all the right smooth jazz guitar boxes in a kind of George Benson meets Earl Klugh kind of way. There's classical flourishes - 'Hello', 'Goodbye' and 'Madrid'; sweet ballads - 'Tan Hermosa', 'You Are' (yes, the Charlie Wilson soul tune )and 'Love Forever'; a nod to funk – 'Detroit Funk' and lashings of groove-based smooth jazz like the LP's title cut.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 September 2017 15:26

 

NAJEE: Poetry In Motion (Shanachie)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 19:03 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Poetry In Motion' is sax man Najee's 17th long player and he describes the collection as his homage to two of his musical heroes – Al Jarreau and Prince. However, don't expect a collection of covers of their songs; rather Najee suggests that it's all about tone, approach and atmosphere –the only obvious, overt homage being the cut, 'We'll Be Missing You'. The title of the song explains what it's all about and the rather predictable lyric is vocalised by Will Downing – a man enjoying something of a soul renaissance right now. His is a lovely soul, reassuring voice and predictable or not, it's a good smooth soul/jazz cut – and a proper duet...Will's voice duelling, as it were, with Najee's soprano sax.

The other vocal guests on the album are Eric Roberson and Maysa. Erro brings his talent to bear on 'Is It The Way' – a pleasing smooth soul shuffle, while Ms Leak treats us to 'Don't Make Me Wait'- more smooth jazz than searing soul but that lady's voice is a always a winner!

Maysa, despite a stellar solo catalogue, is often mentioned in the same context as Incognito and – what a coincidence – the Incognito team (well Bluey, anyway) is an album guest too. He features on the LP's best instrumental track 'Let's Take It Back' This one's a driving, urgent soul groove that wouldn't be out of place on any of Incognito's best albums. It's good.

Elsewhere? Well expect the usual Najee recipe – smooth jazz at its glossiest and slickest best with our man switching effortlessly from alto to tenor to soprano to flute as the lead instrument. Defining track is the ultra smooth, soul-based groove 'Song For The Ladies'. Helping Najee on various cuts are top, top piano man Bobby Lyle, and guitarist Blake Aaron but it's Najee's show and if you're a believer (and many are) you'll love this.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 September 2017 19:13

 

RANDY CRAWFORD: Naked And True (bbr)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 19:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe uniquely-voiced Randy Crawford came to prominence when she voiced the Crusaders' 'Street Life' epic in 1979.Then a series of fine albums with Warner Bros made her a major soul star, particularly favoured in the UK and Europe. After 17 years and some 11 long players with that label, Warners decided not to re-sign her. Tastes, they argued, were changing and maybe the Macon-born soulstress sounded a tad dated. Step in WEA Germany. Knowing Ms C had a faithful European fan base , they promptly signed her up and, pairing her with producer Ralf Droesmeyer, they set to work on a relaunch with the 1995 album 'Naked And True'.

The 11 track album has been sadly neglected by the reissue companies but now it's available again on bbr and, as is the current fashion, the reissue comes with a plethora of bonus cuts... in this case 14 extra tracks that turns the package into a 2 CD, 25 track Randy Crawford extravaganza.

For 'Naked And True', Droesmeyer's original plan was to showcase Randy on a set of new songs but the WEA suits thought differently, They believed that to maximise impact it would be better if the songs on the album were familiar soul outings, taking the singer back to her roots, as it were. So the set began with Randy's version of Herbie Mann/Cissy Houston's 'Cajun Moon' and ended with a cover of Aretha's 'All The King's Horses' and in between there are new readings of songs like 'Give Me The Night',' What A Difference A Days Makes', 'I'll'' Be Around', 'Glow Of Love' and 'Forget Me Nots' which was the album's lead single. There's also a look at Simply Red's 'Holding Back The Years' which becomes a slinky, atmospheric soul groove that's different enough from the original to keep the listeners' attention. Indeed that was the recipe that producer Droesmeyer seemed to work to throughout – i.e. put a new spin on the familiar and allow Ms Crawford's remarkable voice to take centre stage. And it worked. There's some lovely soul music here and the European audiences agreed. It charted throughout Europe and despite some US critics claiming it was too smooth, 'Naked And True' was nominated for a Soul Train Album of the Year award.

The bonus tracks on the "Deluxe Reissue" are remixes, radio mixes and instrumentals of key cuts. They include the Chill Night Mix of 'Give Me The Night' which became a surprising club hit. It still sounds good as does the Mousse T mix of the same tune and the Femi Fem mix of 'Forget Me Nots' but with the distinct and remarkable voice of Randy Crawford almost everything sounds good!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 19:16

 

RUBY AND THE REVELATORS: Walk With Me (rubytiger.bandcamp)

Wednesday, 06 September 2017 19:27 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altRuby and the Revelators are a hard-gigging soul and blues band operating in and around South East England. They comprise Olivia Stevens ("Ruby", of course), Louise Maggs (guitar), John Whale (bass), Fraser Wigg (keys) and Paco Munoz (drums). The band are currently promoting this, their debut album – a follow up to their 2014 'Vistas' EP which climbed to no 2 in the indie blues chart – kept off the top spot by someone called Joe Bonamassa!

This new 10 tracker is named for the set's closing track – a dramatic, piano-led blues that allows Olivia/Ruby to show off her vocal prowess. There are plenty more bluesy moments – but, take note, not traditional, 12 bar blues. So 'Pity City' is a rock-infused driving blues based number; 'Cold, Cold Winter' is a piano-led, late night lounge blues, while 'Find Me A Man' harks back to the juke joints of the 40s and 50s with barrel house styling. Elsewhere 'Lingers' is bassy and funky while the intriguing 'Coal Into Gold' is a lazy meander with a jazzy undertow.

From a soul perspective, album highlight (by a mile) is the lovely opener, 'When I See You' . With added brass, there's something special about this one... might sound odd but if you like blue-eyed soulsters Robin McKelle and Paul Carrack you'll love it! It's a proper blue-eyed soul ear-worm and you can investigate it @ www.rubyandtherevelators.co.uk

(BB) 3/5

 

THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH: 'Nothing But The Truth' (Ace/Kent)

Wednesday, 06 September 2017 15:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altSounding like a musical marriage between Sly & The Family Stone  and the Fifth Dimension while under the influence of  LSD, The Undisputed Truth was a Motown vocal trio created by producer Norman Whitfield who used his protégés (Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce) principally  as a vehicle for his sonic experiments in the early 1970s. The group's biggest hit by a mile was 1971's 'Smiling Faces Sometimes,' a dramatically-orchestrated paean to paranoia and hypocrisy penned by Whitfield and Barrett Strong, that struck a chord with the US public, and made #2 in R&B charts. It was the killer cut on the band's self-titled debut album, which is released in full for the first time along with their third (1973's 'Law Of The Land') and fourth (1974's 'Down To Earth') albums on this 2-CD compilation.  

One of the problems, perhaps, with The Undisputed Truth - and the main reason behind them not being massively successful - was the fact that they weren't that high in the pecking order at Motown, despite being Whitfield's pet group. As a result, they also got other Motown acts' leftovers to recycle - ironically, 'Smiling Faces Sometimes' was cut first by The Temptations, and they also covered that same vocal quintet's 'Ball of Confusion' (though they expanded it far beyond the original) plus Gladys Knight's/Marvin Gaye's 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine.' Whitfield also has them singing covers of 'California Soul,' 'Aquarius,' and even Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone.'

A similar mindset characterises the other two albums here, where more Temptations' songs get re-jigged (among them 'Papa Was A Rollin' Stone,' which lifts the bass line from Donny Hathaway's 'The Ghetto,' and 'Just My Imagination') on 'Law Of The Land.' These are interspersed with passable but unremarkable covers, including Al Green ('Love & Happiness'), Roberta Flack ('Killing Me Softly With His Song') and The Beatles' ('With A Little Help From My Friends,' based on Joe Cocker's version).  But there are some great moments - particularly on some of the Whitfield originals with their cinematic orchestrations - but the 'Law Of The Land' set is patchy, as is 'Down To Earth,' which is arguably the weaker of the three albums.  Among the six bonus tracks are 45 edits of 'What It Is' and 'You Make Your Own Heaven & Hell Right Here On Earth,' both of which appeared in longer form on the trio's second album, 1972's 'Face To Face With The Truth,' which is not included here.   

(CW) 3/5

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 September 2017 09:40

 

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