Reviews

ARTHUR ALEXANDER: Arthur Alexander (Omnivore)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017 18:09 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt60s music buffs and those who were actually around back in those Golden Days will know all about Arthur Alexander. Born in Florence, North Alabama in 1940 and raised on Gospel music, he was the prototype Southern soul man. One of the first to record down at FAME in Muscle Shoals, in 1962 he enjoyed a top ten hit with 'Anna' but further, major commercial success eluded him and through the late 60s and 70s, despite quality recordings on various labels he remained in the commercial wilderness and eventually quit the business to drive buses! In 1990, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and on the back of that he started performing again and even recorded an album, 'Lonely Just Like Me'. Sadly as things were looking up again, the singer suffered a massive heart attack and died in June 1993.

Arthur Alexander was just 53 but his legacy was immense. In the early 60s, his songs were covered live and recorded by countless bands. The Beatles cut his 'Anna' while the Stones made a great version of his 'You Better Move On'. But other Alexander songs like 'Soldier Of Love', 'Everyday I Have To Cry', 'Shot Of Rhythm And Blues' , 'Go Home Girl' and 'Where Have You Been' were staples of the whole beat band generation. Even as late as 1988 Bob Dylan covered Alexander's 'Sally Sue Brown' on his 'Down In The Groove' long player.

Most of Arthur Alexander's well-known songs are relatively easy to find, but it's much harder to track down anything else of his. Here Omnivore Records make available his 1972 eponymous long player that he recorded for Warner Bros. The album was recorded in Nashville and was produced by Tommy Cogbill who drafted in a team of top Memphis session players (amongst them Bobby Emmons, Reggie Young and Eddie Hinton). Between them, the team crafted a masterclass in Southern soul which sadly meant little commercially. The record buying public and radio wanted lighter, less troubled, less anguished sounds while the mighty Warner Bros hardly lifted a muscle to promote the set.

Commercial failure, of course, doesn't always equate with a lack of quality and Southern/country soul collectors have long chased this album. They'll rightly point to wonderful cuts like the melancholic, oft-recorded, almost semi-autobiographical 'Rainbow Road', the gospel song 'Thank God He Came' and the remake of 'Go Home Girl'. In truth 'Call Me In Tahiti' is lightweight but that's made up for by stuff like Alexander's original version of 'Burning Love' – later a big hit for Elvis Presley, of course.

This reissue comes with six bonus tracks. There are the four sides of two Warner Bros singles that includes a cover of Clyde McPhatter's 'Lover Please' and two previously unissued cuts – the mournful 'I Don't Want Nobody' and the jauntier 'Simple Song Of Love'. Classic Southern soul all the way!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 July 2017 08:05

 

QUENTIN MOORE; Black Privilege (Quentin Moore)

Friday, 07 July 2017 15:11 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altQuentin Moore is a hard-working soul man from Austin, Texas. When we got to know him a few years back the enthusiastic and youthful Quentin told us that his musical mission statement was to keep old school soul alive. He calls himself the "last Mohican of Southern soul" and his recordings (especially his special Valentine's Day releases) have borne that out – flavours of Sam Cooke and Bobby Womack... indeed he once offered a great cover of Bobby's 'That's The Way I Feel About Cha'.

'Black Privilege' is his latest outing and it offers more of the same uncomplicated, homespun soul flavours – the kind of music that conservative, southern soul fans complain is made too rarely in these techno, electro obsessed days. Nailing his credentials to the mast, here Mr Moore is brave enough to cover an Al Green classic - 'Simply Beautiful' and his treatment, though different to the Reverend's original, retains all the soulful melancholy tinged with hope. Indeed that mix of despair and hope is one of the album's recurring themes. Time and time again, he tells us that times are hard, moneys tight and there's a head case in the White House, but when he's with his girl everything's brighter... so he wants to dance with her ('I Need To Dance'), he loses himself in the party ethic ('Party Drugs')... and so on. By the way, neither of those cuts, despite their titles, are full on dance or party tunes! Both interesting.

Even more intriguing is 'Peter Norman'. Athletic fans and/or students of black history will know that Peter Norman was the third person on the medal podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos after the 200 metres race in the 1968 Olympics. Norman (who was white) supported Smith and Carlos' podium protest and here Moore gives him full honours – "our hero" and "a man of courage" for standing with his sporting brothers. The soundscape on the cut is blaxploitaion à la 'Superfly' and fans of the genre will find more to enjoy –like the instrumental 'Enough Is Enough'.

Elsewhere there are plenty of rough shod bluesy funk workouts but the outstanding track is the ballad 'I Can Never Stop Loving You' – a big production with duet input from a very soulful Maya Azucena... good, old fashioned (as opposed to retro) soul and the whole album is worth checking by followers of the genre.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 07 July 2017 15:19

 

LIVE REVIEW: GLADYS KNIGHT: Apollo Manchester 5/7/2017

Thursday, 06 July 2017 18:55 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altA proud and unbowed Manchester played host to the final evening of GLADYS KNIGHT'S 2017 UK tour and despite reassuring and thorough door security the evening started on time with a spirited support set from local lad, ALEXANDER STEWART. Channelling a Michael Bubblé/Bobby Darin lounge jazz thing, he mixed interesting soul covers with a trio of his own songs but the polite audience were by and large simply waiting for Ms Knight... and sadly they had to wait.

Pretty and petite in a white bejewelled trouser ensemble and flanked by two candelabra, she appeared a full half hour after the announced time but fans are a forgiving lot and as Ms. K launched into 'Baby, Baby Don't Waste My Time' and 'Bourgie, Bourgue' all was forgiven. What followed was a consummate greatest hits set peppered with a few classy covers like Lionel Richie's 'Hello', Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me' and Bruno Mars' 'If I Was Your Man.' That one was delivered in a clever duet sequence with the male from her BV trio and it dovetailed beautifully with 'If I Were Your Woman' ... one of several properly spine-tingling moments of the evening. The others? Well, 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' (prefaced by a verse from Bonnie Raitt's 'I Can't Make You Love Me') was stunning and fully merited the standing ovation while 'The Way We Were' and 'Neither One Of Us' proved that the 73 year old Ms Knight still possesses a magnificent, emotive and truly soulful voice.

Yes, Gladys is 73 and little wonder she took time out to banter with the audience about the power of love and what she described as the mysteries of social media. She also gave time to her backing trio to come centre stage and offer a medley of Prince songs, joining them on the end piece, 'Purple Rain'.

The it was time for the 'Midnight Train To Georgia' and suddenly she was gone. Clearly the engine was running and she had no time for the expected encore. Those forgiving fans didn't mind; their heroine had delivered in spades and they went away knowing that in the soul world, pretenders may come and pretenders may go, but Gladys Knight is still "The Empress".

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 July 2017 19:03

 

LIVE REVIEW: Tony Bennett - Symphony Hall, Birmingham 3/7/2017

Thursday, 06 July 2017 08:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

     

alt

When you witness a performer getting a standing ovation before they've even sung a note, you know you're in the presence of someone extra-special whose talent is transcendent - someone who's so well-loved and respected that they can command an audience to rise as one from their seats and break out in spontaneous, rapturous applause  just by walking out on stage.  And so it was with Tony Bennett, a veritable living legend, who just a month shy of his 91st birthday, is still defying the odds by performing at the very highest level at large, sold-out concert venues around the world.

He is undoubtedly a marvel, a glowing exemplar of humanity at its best, perhaps, and judging from his memorable performance here, his elixir of life is clearly visible for all to see - it's his passion for performing for the public, in front of his legions of adoring fans. He basks and revels in the applause and ovations he receives; his eyes closed, wearing a beatific smile with arms outstretched imploringly. Even though you'd think by now that he must have done and seen it all, Bennett never seems to tire of the wild adulation that greets him wherever he goes. It's the fuel that keeps his inner fire burning. And as long as it keeps burning, Tony Bennett can keep going. He seems indestructible. A god among mere mortals. But then again, it's Bennett's human qualities - his humility, sincerity and the fact that he never takes his success or fans for granted - that has aided his popularity and elevated him above other performers in the pantheon of greats.

While he can still do what he did forty years ago and not embarrass himself, almost as remarkable as his ability to tour the world and give 90-minute performances that would sap the energy of someone half his age, is his ability to bridge the generational gap - as the audience at Symphony Hall demonstrated, Bennett appeals to a wide spectrum of people, from children to octogenarians and all ages in between. Perhaps that's his greatest gift, bringing people together harmoniously in a dissonant, fractured world. Indeed, Tony Bennett is one of life's reassuring certainties at a time when stability in the world is under threat.

Though Tony Bennett loves the limelight, he allowed his excellent piano-led quartet to start without him, warming-up by doing four songs before he took to the stage. But ironically, Bennett's voice wasn't the first one we heard - rather it was Frank Sinatra's, via a recording broadcast over the PA system, where he famously described Tony Bennett as "the best singer in the world." Few, of course, ever disagreed with Sinatra, and the audience here weren't about to. In fact, over the course of the next 90 minutes, Tony Bennett not only went on to live up to Sinatra's words but also went beyond them - I came away thinking that I had witnessed the best ever performer in the history of popular music. Of course, Bennett's voice - once a rich, virile, Bel Canto - is not what it was but time has not been too unkind to it. Today it has a slightly husky, weathered quality - which gives it a different character altogether - but the power and intensity are still there. It's still unequivocally the Tony Bennett of old, the Godfather of power ballads, who hasn't lost his gift of telling a compelling story with a song. And what stories, he told. Of love, romance and hard life lessons.

He covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes, featuring 27 songs (albeit just a tiny fraction of his huge recorded canon), most of which illustrated Bennett's gift as a peerless interpreter of the Great American Songbook.  It was a career-spanning set that included some of his earliest hits - 'Rags To Riches' and 'Boulevard Of Broken Dreams' - to imperishable classics like 'The Good Life,'  'The Shadow Of Your Smile' and his evergreen signature song, 'I Left My Heart In San Francisco.'

When he wasn't singing, the sprightly singer enjoyed listening to and urging on his band and occasionally danced  around the piano (he even did a pirouette of joy at one point). And that joy was infectious. He closed with 'Fly Me To The Moon' where he took the courageous step of singing without a microphone, allowing his innate power combined with the fine natural acoustics of the concert hall to project his voice clearly throughout the auditorium. 

After that came a wave of standing ovations (I lost count after five). Then the singer became the recipient of an award bestowed on him by Symphony Hall to coincide with his tenth appearance there - he was given his own special seat and also a framed commemorative photograph of the venue (which Bennett earlier had described as "the best concert hall in the world").

Although Tony Bennett is an endangered species and undoubtedly the last of his kind, this wasn't the performance of someone struggling to survive in an ever-changing world that was leaving him behind. Rather, it was a glorious, life-affirming celebration of one of the greatest careers in popular music. And long may it continue.

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 July 2017 08:49

 

MAYSA: Love Is A Battlefield (Shanachie)

Tuesday, 04 July 2017 08:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn their careers most recording artists feel the need at some time to do two specific album projects.... the Christmas collection and the covers one. The musical jury has never agreed on the merits of these projects. Grudgingly many accept the raison d'être of the seasonal set but covers albums provoke much more debate with some commentators describing them as aural equivalents of writers' block indicating a lack of or a  loss of creativity. One soul man who escaped that kind of criticism was dear old Luther Vandross. His long players bristled with covers and his 'Songs' set was a whole collection of 'em. Luther got away with it for two reasons. First he dramatically reconstructed the songs he choose to cover (we need only to point at 'A House Is Not A Home') and secondly with THAT voice he could sing anything in anyway and get away with it.

Now Maysa (Leak), a lady with an equally unique and soulful voice, offers her covers album and like Vandross, Ms L succeeds spectacularly. The chief reason (which we've just alluded to) is her magnificent voice. The oft quoted cliché is that she could get away with singing the Yellow Pages, so she's bound to delight with versions of Jerry Butler's 'Mr Dream Merchant' and the Whispers' 'Can We Talk'. And therein is another clue to why this album is so appealing. The songs Maysa's chosen to cover aren't obvious... she's taken lesser known songs from the catalogues of people like Atlantic Starr, Natalie Cole, Odyssey, Sam Dees and the Isley Brothers. Why, she's even got the bottle to tackle a song originally recorded by someone called Justin Bieber! That one, by the way, is 'As Long As You Love Me'. And to get back to Luther Vandross, Maysa treats us to one of his best too... 'Because It's Really Love'.

On that and indeed on most of the tracks Maysa and her producers (amongst them Chris "Big Dog" Davis and Jason Miles) don't take too many liberties – staying fairly close to the original arrangements with just a garnish of subtle new shadings. The one track that is radically different is the LP's title cut. Pat Benatar's 'Love Is A Battlefield' in its original incarnation was a brash, slice of AOR; here Ms Leak transforms it into a sensual soul ballad but once again it's that remarkable voice that is the chief attraction. And without seeming to labour a point that is the attraction of the album... whether it's on a well-known song, a lesser known tune or a re-imagined classic, Maysa's pure soul voice is the constant. Hugely recommended!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 July 2017 09:00

 

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