SARAH ELIZABETH CHARLES: 'Free Of Form' (Ropeadope)

Friday, 27 October 2017 11:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


An alumnus of Manhattan's famously progressive New School - a fertile breeding ground for fresh contemporary jazz talent that has produced the likes of Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, Marcus Strickland, and José James - Sarah Elizabeth Charles is a Massachusetts singer/songwriter who has forged her own distinctive style since she emerged with her debut album, 'Red,' in 2012. This is her third and most impressive offering so far. It reunites her with the outstanding New Orleans' horn blower, Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah, who co-produced the singer's second album, 'Inner Dialogue' in 2015. Scott turns up as co-producer again on 'Free Of Form,' and also contributes molten trumpet lines on four of the set's twelve tracks.

Sarah Elizabeth Charles is a fascinating artist who combines a pure, clear, almost ethereal voice devoid of R&B melisma with poetic, introspective lyrics. She is patently not, then, your archetypal jazz singer but brings something new and unique to the genre. She's brilliant at creating brooding cinematic soundscapes, and though her sound is not often easily digestible on first listening, it benefits with repeated plays. That's because what she is doing is free of cliché, trendy gimmicks, and familiarity. It takes time, then, to get acquainted with her musical world, but it's one that's well-worth investing your time in.  

'March To Revolution Part II,' featuring Christian Scott's burnished trumpet, is one of the set's standouts, and so too the more earnest, 'Learn How To Love,' with its declamatory vocal. Scott again compliments Charles's limpid voice on the inspiring ballad, 'Change To Come.' By contrast, 'I Will Wait,' is a gentle rumination on life's vicissitudes while 'The Fold' is a mellow jazzy groove that summons up the spirit of Roy Ayers. And the closing track, with its echoing, layered voices, is a free-form piece that is nothing less than haunting. All but one of the songs is self-penned - the exception is an intriguing cover of Irish pop/rock group The Cranberries' anthemic Delores O'Riordan-written 'Zombie,' which is reconfigured in a way that gives the song new meaning, resonance, and emotional power.

Sometimes, the best music isn't always immediately accessible. And sometimes, it requires patience and perseverance on the listener's part to make an emotional connection and fully understand the music and what the artist is trying to say. This is one such album. A bona fide slow-burner, it yields its secrets gradually but deserves repeated listens - and they will eventually reveal Sarah Elizabeth Charles's unique musical universe in all its beauty and spellbinding splendour.  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 27 October 2017 19:05


VARIOUS: Two Beats One Soul (RVMK/Sony Latin)

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 20:03 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe 13 track 'Two Beats One Soul' album is an exciting and imaginative project that was birthed by Ray and Vivian Scott Chew. Both are music industry veterans with a love of Caribbean and Cuban music and culture. Vivian, in particular, is known for introducing the music of Jamaica to the mainstream US audience. Here, with working partners, Mark and Cathy Grier, they turn their attention to the music of Cuba – focusing especially on how Cuban music has fused with American sensibilities; in essence – how "two beats" have created "one soul".

To help them deliver the concept, the team have drafted in what seems like a cast of thousands who between 'em have garnered 16 Grammy Awards! Amongst the contributors are Shaggy, Latin pop stars Jean Rodriguez and Anané, Cuban stars Ruben and Gabriel Rodrigues, Xlomara Laugart and Milagros Hodelin and American soul and pop stars Eric Benet, Jon B and Josh Milan.

And it was the Josh Milan-vocalised track 'The World Is A Family' that was chosen as the first single from the set. Helmed by the redoubtable Louis Vega, musically and lyrically it encapsulates the spirit of the whole album... with an appeal that goes right across the board. No wonder it was chosen as the album-heralding single! There's more great Louie Vega mixes of the tune available too... check them out! I'm guessing that the soul fraternity will also single out the sensual 'Havana Moon' from Jon B and Eric Benet's 'The Rhythm'. Benet has never sounded better; he has his own album out right now, by the way – watch out for a full review very soon!

Those three songs have English lyrics, but even if you don't "have Spanish" you can't help but be moved by things like 'En La Habana' from the Rodrigiuezs and the lovely 'Me Enamore' from Milagros Hodelin. Fans of Gloria Estefan will love this one and I don't really know what it all means, but it gets my vote!

The PR people call this album "a love letter to Cuba's rich musical influence". You can make up your own minds... but I just wish I could pen love letters like this! Barack Obama relaxed relations with Cuba... who knows what Mr Trump will do... in the meantime break open the Bacardi, take off your shoes, forget the oncoming European winter and enjoy some great, warming, life-affirming Latin sounds!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 October 2017 20:15


THE KENNEDY ADMINISTRATION; Kennedy Administration ( KA)

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 20:01 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altFor the past several months the European soul world has been in thrall to an insidious Latin shuffle of a tune from a new, New York-based band, Kennedy Administration. Tune in question is 'Don't Forget To Smile' and research reveals that the band is built round a gorgeous female vocalist who just wants to be known as "Kennedy" and said tune is the lead single from the band's eponymous debut long player.

Commentators have compared 'Don't Forget To Smile' with Stevie Wonder. Not only is it, like the best of Stevie's output, a wonderfully catchy melody with a jazzy undertow delivered with tuneful conviction, it also boasts plenty of Wonder-esque harmonica (courtesy of band member Gregoire Maret).

Now the good news is that the 10 track long player offers plenty more of the same. The beaty opener. 'It's Over Now' is a good example. It's a tough, tight old tune that is the more remarkable when you think that this is, in fact, the band's debut album!

Right now, we're also enjoying the breathy ballad 'Finally' while those who like to cut the odd rug or two will enjoy 'Let's Party' –the title says it al!

The long player also boasts two covers of classic soul cuts.... a measure of the band's confidence! First up there's a take on Billy Preston's' 'Will It Go Round In Circles' – this new version isn't a million miles away from the original though there's lashings of lovely gospel conviction too. The second cover is much more ambitious ... and brave.... Al Green's classic 'Let's Stay Together'. This is what I call a worthy cover – i.e. very different to the original! Here after a slow tortured opening, the band and Ms K open up, take wings and fly – injecting jazzy licks and rock garnishing to the familiar soul credo! Purists probably won't like it – but hey... applaud the bravery!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 October 2017 20:16


THE DETROIT EMERALDS: I Think Of You (Ace/Westbound)

Monday, 23 October 2017 17:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPeruse almost any general soul compilation and its odds on that you'll find a track or two by the Detroit Emeralds. Yet despite the popularity of tunes like their 'Do Me Right', 'You Want It You Got It' and especially 'Feel The Need' there aren't that many collections devoted to the Detroit Emeralds themselves. So, here, to rectify that, Ace, via its licensing deal with Westbound Records, offer a comprehensive 23 track retrospective that collects together all the music (A and B sides) from the trio's singles output at Westbound.

Sure all those great and catchy pop soul hits are here and despite their age they still sound good. Things like 'Feel The Need', despite being regularly aired, have that wonderful timeless quality... probably why they are aired regularly.

However, and this is what's so good about the collection, there's clearly a lot more to the Detroit Emeralds than those well-known hits. Take as an example the two songs on their first Westbound single... 'Holding On' and 'Things Are Looking Up'. Both are classic Detroit sweet soul sounds and if you think they feel like Ric Tic Records you wouldn't be far wrong. Despite their name, the Emeralds hailed from Little Rock, Arkansas but moved to Detroit in 1967 where they added the city's name to theirs. There they inked a deal with Ed Wingate's Ric Tic Records but when Ric Tic folded they moved to Westbound. However for their crucial first Westbound single they worked with Ric Tic alumni Herman Weems and Norma Toney and the result is, as we've just said, classic Detroit sweet soul. Little wonder 'Holding On', in particular, became a big Northern tune!

More variety in their repertoire stems from the fact that Westbound boss man Armen Boladian regulatory had the Emeralds record in Memphis with Willie Mitchell and you can hear that distinctive Memphis sound in tunes like 'I Bet You Get The One Who Loves You'.

By the way, this collection is named for the UK only single 1973's 'I Think Of You' and it ends this much-needed tribute to an undervalued soul outfit. As ever, like all Ace releases, the sleeve notes fill you in on all the recording and (complex) personnel and personal issues.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 23 October 2017 18:00


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


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