Reviews

MTUME: 'Prime Time: The Epic Anthology' (SoulMusic Records)

Wednesday, 07 June 2017 15:48 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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After jazz icon Miles Davis hung up his trumpet in 1975 and retreated into his New York brownstone for a reclusive, six-year period of silence, his percussionist James Mtume and rhythm guitarist Reggie Lucas teamed up to form a songwriting and production duo. They played in Roberta Flack's backing band and got their first hit when the singer chose to record their tune, 'The Closer I Get To You,' as a duet with Donny Hathaway in 1977. Flushed with success, a year later, the duo put together a band, Mtume, and signed a deal with Epic Records. They stayed with the label until 1987, recording five albums and scoring eleven charting US singles, all of which can be found on this fabulous 2-CD retrospective of the group's Epic tenure.

Success didn't arrive instantly for Mtume. In fact, their early albums - such as '78's 'Kiss This World Goodbye' and '80's  'In Search Of The Rainbow Seekers' - largely fell on deaf, unappreciative, ears. That was due, perhaps, to the group's unique and idiosyncratic meld of jazz-inflected, disco-soul sophistication with a zany P-funk-style sensibility. Their debut 45, 'Just Funnin',' scraped into the US R&B Top100, landing at #93 while a second single, 'Funky Constellation,' failed to chart. But as this compilation reminds us, there was some good stuff on their first album - the group's version of 'The Closer I Get To You' (featuring Tawatha Agee's imperious vocals)  is sublime while 'Love Lock' is a brilliant slice of astral jazz-funk with soaring wordless lead vocals. Even so, it was the single 'Give It On Up (If You Want To),' a slice of thumping orchestral disco-funk taken from the group's sophomore LP, that really got them on the radar of R&B fans, which just grazed the US R&B Top 30 though its follow-up, the stupendous mirrorball groove, 'So You Wanna Be A Star,' couldn't achieve a similar chart trajectory.

After going back to the drawing board, the band  returned after a three-year hiatus with a new minimalist funk sound defined by synths and drum machines. They scored an instant hit with 'Juicy Fruit,' a hypnotic groove ballad that became their signature song and has been much-sampled in the hip-hop age. It ascended to the top of American R&B charts in 1983. Though it's the undoubted pinnacle of their career, the band produced much more besides and you'll find all the essential tunes here (including some rare 12-inch mixes). As a bonus, you'll also find three selections ('No More Tears,' 'Thigh Ride,' and 'Did I Dream You') from lead singer Tawatha Agee's solitary solo album, 'Welcome To My Dream.' Ace liner notes from David Nathan with pertinent quotes from all the key protagonists round off what is a satisfyingly soulful collection.  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 June 2017 15:54

 

JUNIE: 'The Complete Westbound Recordings' (Westbound/Ace)

Monday, 05 June 2017 19:10 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                   altThe late Walter 'Junie' Morrison, who died aged 62 earlier this year, rose to fame as the keyboard player with Dayton funk troupe, the Ohio Players in the early 1970s. A church-reared pianist, he wrote their million-selling 1973 smash hit, 'Funky Worm,' but quit the band soon after, forging a nascent solo career for Armen Boladian's Detroit-based Westbound label where he recorded three albums between 1973 and 1976. This 2-CD retrospective brings combines all of Junie's Westbound long players ('When We Do,' 'Freeze' and 'Suzie Super Groupie') together with seven bonus tracks.

'When We Do' is a debut LP brimming with invention and ideas - veering from slick Brazilian jazzy grooves ('Johnny Carson Samba') and cinematic funk ('Tight Rope,' 'Walt's Third Trip' and 'The Place') to soulful ballads ('Anna' and 'Married Him'). It's easy to see why Junie felt constricted by the Ohio Players' formulaic musical framework and elected to take a separate path. 1975's 'Freeze' offered more of the same but upped the surreal, cartoon-funk quotient with the comic preamble that precedes its killer cut, 'Granny's Funky Rolls Royce,' a synth-led groove that resurrects the Granny persona from Ohio Players' 'Funky Worm' track.

1976's 'Suzie Super Groupie' has more of a sleek, slightly softer, disco pulse, epitomized by 'Surrender,' 'Suzie,' and the sublime 'Suzie Thundertussy,' featuring female backing vocals and horns and the more frantic 'Super Groupie.' The mid-tempo 'If You Love Him' - with a swinging jazz-infused middle-eight - is also noteworthy, showing that Junie was much more than an off-the-wall funkateer. By contrast, 'What Am I Gonna Do,' with its lazy funk groove has much in common with George Clinton's Parliament aggregation. And ironically enough, that's where Junie's career trajectory took him after Westbound let him go in 1976. He co-wrote and arranged 'One Nation Under A Groove' for Parliament's sister group, Funkadelic, in 1978, which was a huge hit. He also masterminded Parliament's '(Not Just) Knee Deep' not long after, his unique, idiosyncratic style seeming a perfect fit with Clinton's zany crew of spaced-out funk cadets.

In recent years, Junie's music had been much-sampled by hip-hop groove robbers (including Kanye West, who filched a segment of 'Suzie Thundertussy' for 'Life Of Pablo') and was about to re-launch his career when he passed away in January while living in London. This excellent collection serves as a fine epitaph to the variegated yet singular musical talent that was Walter 'Junie' Morrison.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 June 2017 18:44

 

LYDELL WILLIAMS: The Sound Of My Melodies (LMG)

Wednesday, 31 May 2017 20:29 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLydell Williams is an indie soul singer/songwriter who hails from Little Rock, Arkansas but currently works out of Richmond, Virginia. He began singing as a hobby but after a successful EP debut back in 2008 he found a new career beckoning. Young Lydell, who cites his influences as people like Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and D'Angelo, soon found work supporting artists of the calibre of Eric Roberson and Dwele. He released a couple of singles – 'Get To Know You' and 'Heartbeat' and both won regional support with critics making comparisons with Bilal, Rahem DeVaughn and even John Legend.

Mightily encouraged, Mr W began putting together an album which he's just released on his own Lydell Music Group label and even a cursory listen will reveal that those early artist comparison are spot on. Lydell Williams does indeed craft a music that is the sound of contemporary US soul music – neo or nu soul, if you would.

Complex and multi-layered, 'The Sound Of My Melodies' isn't an immediate easy listen but patience, as is usually the way, brings its own rewards. Those two singles – 'Get To Know You' and 'Heartbeat'- take pride of place on the album. The former is as accurate a sonic definition of current neo-soul as you could get while a remix of the song will interest sophisticated dancers – as long as they accept the rap intro; the latter treads much the same path though it is a little more ponderous and meandering.

Elsewhere 'Groove your Body' is the most accessible track... tight beats and a loose jazzy vocal contrive to weave some musical magic while 'Rain' is the long player's best ballad ... the mournful organ, a nod to soul's rich archive.

My only criticism of this album is that it's just too long. There are seventeen tracks here and some are interchangeable. This is often the problem with self-produced albums; an extra "ear" and some outside influence could maybe have tightened things up and brought out a proper, soulful focus to bear.

However, investigate for yourself @ www.lydellwilliamsmusic.com

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 20:48

 

SPYDER TURNER: Is It Love You’re After (bbr/Whitfield)

Thursday, 25 May 2017 12:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBorn in West Virginia in 1947, David Dwight "Spyder" Turner is a Detroit-based soul singer who enjoyed a hit way back in 1966 with an audacious cover of Ben E King's 'Stand By Me' on which he mimicked contemporary soul greats – Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Billy Stewart and David Ruffin amongst them. The record was produced by sometime Motown staffer Clay McMurray and it was the McMurray connection that brought Turner, in 1975, into contact with Norman Whitfield. Whitfield had just started his own label in association with Warner Bros and he remembered Turner from his Detroit days and duly signed him as artist and writer, quickly placing the Turner-penned 'Do Your Dance' with the then hot Rose Royce.

We're told that Turner and Whitfield enjoyed a love/hate relationship – often arguing over writing credits and that old chestnut, "artistic control", Despite that the Spyder man cut two albums for Whitfield – 1978's 'Music Web' and 'Only Love' from 1980. Both meant little at the time (Turner claims Whitfield and Warner Bros put no effort into promotion) but now, of course, both sets are collectors' items.

To satisfy the demand bbr have just reissued both albums on a single CD and notwithstanding the lack of contemporary promotion, you can hear why the long players didn't take off. Spyder Turner is a proper soul singer – passionate, fierce and intense. But the late seventies were a tough market place for soul singers – disco was still in demand and punters preferred gimmicks to commitment. Great songs, though, will always win through but sadly there aren't too many here. Best single cut is Spyder's version of 'Is It Love That You're After' – the first recording of the tune, we're told – but of course this version was overshadowed by Rose Royce's take. Elsewhere there's just too much disco-by-numbers and despite the presence of top session men (Keni Burke amongst them) and Whitfield's production, neither project really takes off. However, collectors will be delighted to have access to the albums at a decent price.

Spyder Tuner, by the way, is still active. He works the concert circuit and he's also recorded with Four Tops drummer, Drew Schulz.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 May 2017 13:06

 

CHARLIE BYRD: Sixties Byrd (El)

Monday, 22 May 2017 13:50 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altCharlie Byrd was once described by eminent jazz critic Leonard Feather as "the most versatile guitarist ever to play jazz". Many might argue with that but it is undisputable that in the late fifties/early sixties Byrd was a key player in bringing Brazilian music into mainstream culture and (along with people like Stan Getz) helping make the bossa nova hugely popular.

If you're not that familiar with Byrd's work, then this new 24 track compilation from El Records will serve as a great introduction to his talents. The album's music is taken from the guitarist's tenure with Columbia Records and consists of his versions of well-known sixties hits. Like many sixties jazzers, Byrd regularly covered contemporary hits and you can probably guess from whose catalogues he chose his repertoire... yep, amongst the selections are tunes from Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and a band called the Beatles! The Fab 4 tunes to get a gentle jazz guitar makeover are 'Girl', 'Norwegian Wood', 'Michelle' and 'A Taste Of Honey' (yes, we know this wasn't a Beatle original, but they helped make the song popular). The Webb songs are 'Up Up And Away', 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix', 'Wichita Lineman', 'Where's The Playground Susie' and 'Galveston' while the chosen Bacharach tunes are 'Alfie' , 'The Look Of Love' and 'Who Is Gonna Love Me'. Other inclusions are the Seekers' 'Georgy Girl', the Zombies' 'Time Of The Season' and Bobby Hebb's 'Sunny' – possibly one of the most covered tunes of all time.

Byrd gives them all his own distinctive, gentle acoustic guitar treatment and given what we said up top you won't' be surprised to learn that many are given a distinctive Brazilian flavour. However if you want the full bossa nova hit, then there's also versions of 'The Girl From Ipanema', 'Corcovado' and 'Meditation' – classics from Jobim canon!

Maybe this collection won't prove Leonard Feather's assertion – its remit's a little limited – but it does show that Byrd had a unique signature sound – gentle, easy-on-the-ear and hugely influential (think Earl Klugh).

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 22 May 2017 14:03

 

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