ARETHA FRANKLIN; A Brand New Me (Atlantic Rhino)

Friday, 03 November 2017 12:02 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altA few years back, music producers Nick Patrick and Don Reedman were asked to celebrate the music of a certain Elvis Presley by adding new, imaginative, orchestral backing tracks to a selection of some of his best loved songs. The result was generally well received, though veteran Elvis purists weren't completely convinced.

Right now the soul world is celebrating the 50th anniversary of ARETHA FRANKLIN joining Atlantic Records, and to mark the occasion the Atlantic/Rhino execs decided that it would be a "good idea" to bring in Patrick and Reedman to do the same with the Queen's back catalogue. As they did with the Elvis project the pair brought the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra into the Abbey Road studios to create the new tracks over which Ms F's classic vocals would be floated. With a little technical wizardry and a lot of love, the album is now available and cleverly titled 'A Brand New Me' after one of the set's key cuts.

And that Gamble-Huff song (originally recorded by Aretha on '72's 'Young Gifted And Black' album) is typical of what you can expect. The production is massive, and here Patrick and Reedman dip their brushes into the big swing band palette and it works beautifully. Elsewhere productions and arrangement are even bigger and much more lavish –witness the opener 'Think'. For this the producers try the Phil Spector "kitchen sink" approach. Indeed Spector's 'River Deep Mountain High' seems to be the inspiration behind the treatment here.

SJF's favourites, right now are 'I Say A Little Prayer' and 'Angel'. Both were things of total beauty in their original incarnations and with the new arrangements they remain just that. On 'Prayer', Patrick and Reedman preface the song with sweet, shimmering strings while on 'Angel' those RPO strings work the same magic; on both, THAT sumptuously soulful vocal remains right up front – the star of the show. The producers know that's the secret. No point in tampering with a masterpiece; maybe enhance or renew the frame!

As with the Elvis project, 'A Brand New Me' won't please every Aretha fan. But while we wait for totally new material, this will satisfy. At worst, it gives food for thought and a chance to debate; at best if offers the opportunity to enjoy those knee-trembling vocals all over again!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 03 November 2017 12:08


VARIOUS; Soul Festival (Expansion)

Wednesday, 01 November 2017 14:14 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Soul Festival' is a new compilation series form modern soul brand leaders Expansion Records and we're told that the series will focus on "the period from when new soul music took influence from the Northern soul we enjoy at UK clubs and events". The date span on the covers defines that period as 1971-1979. "A time", the compilers say, "when records became more lavish in their arrangements and grander in production, but always with that essential soul feel".

Rather than rabbit on, though, best perhaps to give you some examples of the flavour that 'Soul Festival' offers. The set kicks off with Margie Joseph's 1975 outing 'I Can't Move No Mountains' and finishes with Richard Stepp's light and lovely 'Caught Up In A Whirlwind'. Both are indeed "grand" and "lavish" and, yes, "soulful". In between there's lots more of the same. Big favourite here right now is Ed Robinson's 1971 version of the Knight Brothers' Chess classic 'Temptation 'Bout To Get Me'. It's one of my favourite songs and to my shame never ever knew about this lovely updated version. Another gem is the included version of the anthem 'Funny How We Change Places'. Most know and love Debra Anderson's version but it here it comes courtesy of "Dede Schwartz"... the name Dee Dee Warwick used during her tenure at RCA Records.

Other highlights here at SJF include Gerald Sims' 'You'll Never Be Sorry', sometime Young Rascal, Felix Cavaliere's 'Never Felt Love Before' and Ben E King's 'What Do You Want Me To Do'. Other featured artists include Bobby Thurston, Leon Ware, Timeless Legend, Patti Austin and Chuck Cissell... those who know his version of 'Love Is Missing From Our Lives' will love his sprightly 'Don't Tell Me You're Sorry'.

'Soul Festival' offers 20 classy cuts. Let's hope the series takes off and becomes a soul institution like 'Soul Togetherness'

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 November 2017 16:02


SA-HA-RA: Past Present Future (SHE Records)

Sunday, 29 October 2017 19:50 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThink it was back in 1985 that a Brit band called Sahara impressed all and sundry with a timeless dancer, 'Love's So Fine'. The brains behind the band were a team known as "The Producers" – collectively Peter Hinds, Steve Sinclair and Kevin Ellis. The trio had served their soul apprenticeship in bands like Light Of The World, Beggar and Co, Incognito and Atmosfear and for reasons never best explained Sahara kind of petered out with the guys going on to other tasty projects.

Last year they got together again and reissued their iconic tune under the new(ish) name SA-HA-RA and it (and the several new mixes) took off all over again, encouraging the boys to work on an album... and here it is! Released on their own SHE Records (I'm guessing S – Sinclair, H – Hinds and E – Ellis), the title 'Past Present Future' aptly describes what the set's all about – yep – plenty of retro grooves (including 'Love's So Fine') lots that's current and a nod to what's next.

The set's first single was a well-received (by radio and club jocks) 'You Are My Everything' and it still sounds good – a definite retro groove matched by the inclusion of the band's 'Love's So Fine' anthem. More retro flavours on the opening cut, 'Why The Hate'. Tough vocal on this from Jenny Ingram Brown who rides the 80s Weekender groove with real panache. More great 80s Weekender flavours on the semi-instrumental that is 'Summer Reprise' ... the tinkling keys here might remind you of Shakatak!

Amongst the more ambitious tracks are 'Let's Get It On' and 'Easy Come Easy Go'. The former is not the Marvin tune; rather, a hypotonic slab of electro funk embellished with chinking Chic guitar. 'Easy Come Easy Go' is different again – a melancholy ballad with sensitive vocals from Helen Louise Jones and lovely muted Chet Baker style trumpet form Light Of The World's Kenny Wellington. As intriguing is the album closer, a new take on the traditional gospel song 'God's Gonna' Cut You Down'. Here SA-HA-RA place the biting lyrics (delivered by Yvonne Sinclair) over a sinister modern soul shuffle.

SA-HA-RA's 'Past Present Future' is out now and is available in all formats including vinyl and what's really good about the set is that it's a simple nine tracker. The quality is concentrated ... much better that the lengthy, overblown, self-indulgent sets that too many soul artists create these days. Here, clearly, each track has been crafted with love and merits inclusion in its own right while complementing the other tunes and the overall vibe.

((B) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 October 2017 20:06


VOICES OF EAST HARLEM: 'Voices Of East Harlem' and 'Can You Feel It' (Soul Brother)

Sunday, 29 October 2017 09:58 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Vocal aggregation, Voices Of East Harlem, began life as the offspring of an inner city youth project in 1969, put together by Chuck Griffin and his wife Anna. They rapidly gained fame in the early '70s, performing their Afro-topped variety of gospel soul  at major music festivals, including the UK's own Isle of Wight festival in 1970, where they appeared on a  bill that included The Doors, Sly & The Family Stone, and Miles Davis.  The same year, they released their debut album, 'Right On Be Free,' for Elektra. It was the first of two LPs recorded for the label, the other being  an aborted album project with Donny Hathaway at the helm, provisionally titled 'Nation Time,' which was never released. But Voices Of East Harlem did their best work for Woodstock music festival promoter, Michael Lang's indie soul imprint, Just Sunshine, during the years 1973 to 1974. They released two LPs for Just Sunshine -  1973's 'Voices Of East Harlem' and 1974's 'Can You Feel It' - both of which are now reissued as a tasty twofer  by the UK's rare soul specialists, Soul Brother.

The vocal ensemble's eponymous debut for  Just Sunshine featured music and production from Curtis Mayfield along with his Curtom sidekick - and, ironically, the singer that replaced the 'Gentle Genius' in The Impression - Leroy Hutson as well as arranger, Rich Tufo. It yielded a minor US R&B hit single in the shape of the shimmering, sophisticated  ballad, 'Giving Love,' co-written by Hutson with his wife Janice and some of his band. Another Hutson co-write, and without doubt the album's catchiest cut, was the superb uptempo number 'Cashing In,' which mystifyingly wasn't a hit when issued as a 45 in 1973. It remains Voices Of East Harlem's most memorable and enduring record, beloved of both Northern and Modern soul fans. Also worth singling out for praise is the funky 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' - a bonafide rare groove classic - and 'Little People,' a blaxploitation-style cut with layered, contrapuntal vocals, framed by cinematic orchestration, which ride on a funky backbeat.    

The group's sophomore outing for Just Sunshine was 1974's 'Can You Feel It,' which retained the services of Leroy Hutson. Though it lacked  an out-and-out killer cut in the shape of 'Cashing In,' it nevertheless proved a solid set with plenty of good moments and starts off in fine style with the opening funkafied title cut, co-authored by Hutson (and which is stylistically similar to the music that he was producing for Curtom during the same timeframe). Also memorable is 'Jimmy Joe Lee,' a slice of storytelling filmic funk but even better is the gentle, soul-infused, groover 'Rare So Rare,' which features Berneice Cole's plaintive vocal and also has some deft jazzy touches. Also listen out for the soulful, dance groove, 'Take A Stand' (which is also available from Soul Brother on a 7-inch vinyl single together with 'Cashing In'). It's driven by a pulsing bass line and characterised by a passionate female lead vocal. There's also the Voices' version of the Hutson co-written tune, 'March Across The Land,' which Linda Clifford recorded as a 45 B-side for Paramount in 1973.

Sadly, Voices Of East Harlem didn't make any more LPs after 'Can You Feel It,' and faded into obscurity. These two albums, which haven't been available on CD for a couple of decades, are undoubtedly their best recordings and having them together on a handy twofer is a great way to appreciate the Harlem ensemble's super-soulful work. If you're a dedicated fan of '70s soul, put this double reissue at the top of your wants list.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 October 2017 20:06


CHANTAE CANN: 'Sol Empowered' (Atlanta Records)

Saturday, 28 October 2017 10:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                         altBased in Atlanta but raised in Chicago, angelic-voiced Chantae Cann first came on the radar of soul music enthusiasts via her session work on albums by Maysa, India.Arie, Avery *Sunshine and Snarky Puppy. But she had too good a voice to stay in the background and it was no surprise that she stepped into the spotlight to forge a career a solo artist. After a memorable 2015 update of Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway's immortal dance floor duet, 'Back Together Again,' with the UK's own Tony Momrelle, she went and cut her debut album, 'Journey To Golden,' which topped iTunes' jazz chart. Now she's back with this, her superb second LP, and with any luck, it should consolidate the success she reaped with her debut.

There's a deliciously laidback '70s jazzy soul vibe on 'Sol Empowered.' Its sound, seductive and alluring, features lashings of blissfully-chilled-out Rhodes and Wurlitzer piano a la Roy Ayers as well as some piquant yet subtle Latin seasoning. Floating above this lightly funkafied  backdrop is Chan's lithe, honey-drizzled voice, which is light and airy but also imbued with a deep soulfulness. Impressively, she writes most of the songs herself though employs the services of  Justin Timberlake associate, Justin C. Gilbert, to helm the majority of the record.

Standouts are abundant, and include the shimmering 'Happy Song,' the sunshine-drenched 'The Light' and a gently bubbling opener, 'U Gotta Love Ya.' Ear-catching, too, is 'Craters,' a slow, simmering but ultimately uplifting duet with Maroon 5's PJ Morton (its key hook line is "we belong together like craters on the moon," sounds absurd, perhaps, but it actually works within the emotional context of the song). Listen out also for a perky slice of driving pop-soul with an infectious chorus called 'Hey Watcha Say' and 'I Rise' where Chan joins forces with Snarky Puppy on a sizzling, brassy Latin-esque groove. 

All in all, then, this is an impressive sophomore outing from the Windy City chanteuse whose warm vocals are a beacon of refulgent light and energy.  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 October 2017 20:07


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