Reviews

MATT BIANCO: 'Gravity' (Must Have Jazz/Membran)

Saturday, 02 September 2017 09:08 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Initially a quartet, London's Matt Bianco seamlessly blended infectious pop with jazz and Latin flavours and were regular visitors to the UK singles charts between 1984 and 1989, scoring ten hit singles (their biggest was 1988's double A-side, 'Don't Blame It On That Girl'/'Wap-Bang-Boogie') and three smash albums. Though the chart hits dried up as the '80s became the '90s, the group soldiered on then slimmed down to a duo (with singer Mark Reilly and keyboardist Mark Fisher). The records kept coming but their days of mass exposure were a thing of the past. After the passing of Mark Fisher last year, Mark Reilly vowed to carry performing in the guise of Matt Bianco. This new studio album, Matt Bianco's thirteenth so far (excluding their compilations) , follows in the wake of last year's 'The Things You Love' EP, a collaboration with Holland's New Cool Collective funky jazz band.

On this new 11-track opus, Reilly's assembled a superb supporting cast of noted British jazz musicians,  including saxophonist Dave O'Higgins, bassist Geoff Gascoyne, pianist Graham Harvey,  and trumpeter, Martin Shaw (who've all worked as sidemen for Jamie Cullum) plus MJ Cole singer, Elisabeth Troy.  Top Swedish sax and flute man, Magnus Lindgren, also features. 

Although back in their heyday they were loved by some and loathed by others (especially the blinkered jazz purists), Matt Bianco's zeal, commitment and energy to their art was never in question and on this new set, Mark Reilly adheres to the tired and trusted musical values that served the band so well thirty or so years ago: namely, catchy tunes allied to strong musical content and danceable, jazz-inflected grooves. On that basis, 'Gravity' doesn't disappoint.

 'Joyride' is a blithe opener, riding on sinuous rhythms with Reilly's Georgie Fame-esque vocals punctuated by cool horns. The brass - a prominent component of the record -  are funkier on 'Invisible,'  whose blend of chirpy catchiness and cool nonchalance encapsulates the stylistic essence of Matt Bianco. The album's title track, with its muted horns, has a deeper bluesy feel, while 'Heart In Chains' is a lovely nocturnal ballad about unrequited love where Reilly's lead is counterpointed by Elisabeth Troy's responses to create a dialogue effect. Striking, too, are the swinging shuffle groove, 'AM/PM,' the sleek, supple Latin groove 'Summer In The City,'  and the mellow, 'Before It's Too Late,' featuring some wonderfully emotive sax work from Dave O'Higgins.  

Appended as a bonus cut is Mark De Clive's remix of 'Joyride,' which loosens up the groove, imbuing it with a laidback ambience. Overall, then, a fine, stylish return from the irrepressible Matt Bianco, who have matured over the years like a vintage wine.  

(CW) 3/5  



Last Updated on Saturday, 02 September 2017 12:51

 

ZALON: Liquid Sonic Sex Volume 1 (Soul Royalty)

Wednesday, 30 August 2017 19:18 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Liquid Sonic Sex' is the debut solo album from UK soul man Zalon (Thompson). The young Londoner, though, is no new kid on the block. Committed to music from an early age, he started his career as backing singer to US soul man Freddie Lee who worked the UK circuit with DJ Bigger. Soon a feature on the London soul scene, Zalon met Amy Winehouse who asked him to tour with her. What was to be a temporary gig lasted for three years and in between Winehouse commitments Zalon also found time to work with Dionne Broomfield... he's the male voice on her version of 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough'.

Zalon was one of the first artists signed to Amy Winehouse's 'Lioness' label and the duo set to work on an album with Mark Ronson. Then the tragedy that was Amy's sad and unnecessary passing... Zalon was devastated personally and his project was left in limbo.

Years later, our man's picked himself up... stronger and, I'm guessing, wiser, he's got himself his own label and at last he has an album out on the sales racks... an album that's pickling up discerning radio plays and plenty of positive reviews... and this particulae piece can be added to those already out there.

On 'Liquid Sonic Sex', Zalon lays his cards on the table right at the start with his opener. 'Love (Interlude)' is a great summation of what we could call the "Zalon sound".... laid back and languid, more a vibe than a song, the vocals caresses the simple lyric in the way that people like Maxwell and D'Angelo have perfected. But the voice you'll hear is neither of those Neo-Soul Gods, rather you'll hear the influence of a certain Marvin Gaye.... and it's MPG that you'll hear right though this 14 tracker.

Highlights? Well like all of Gaye's late career classics, it was never a question of highlights: rather his albums were singular bodies of work that demanded to be listened to from beginning to end. The same is true of 'Liquid Sonic Sex'. If pushed, though, and to convince you of Zalon's worth, I'd point you to the beautiful plaintive ballads that is 'The Deeper I Go' or the similarly layered 'You Baby'... lovely, both.

If I were to make any criticism , it would be that there's little change of pace... till the end - with the beatier 'Erica' and 'Declaration Of Love' which actually sound a wee bit odd given the nature of the album... odd, by the way, doesn't mean, any dip in quality.

You will have noted that this album is tagged 'Volume 1', I look forward to the second instalment.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 31 August 2017 17:52

 

BRENDA HOLLOWAY: Spellbound (SoulMusic.com)

Monday, 28 August 2017 14:57 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBased over on America's West Coast, Brenda Holloway admits she was never a fully integrated member of the Motown family. Indeed in her interviews Brenda often complained that some great songs intended for her were snatched away by artists like the Supremes and Gladys Knight.... artists "in Motown situ" as it were. That said, mentored by the redoubtable Hal Davis, Ms H did enjoy some chart action at Motown – most notably with 'Every Little Bit Hurts', You've Made Me So Very Happy' and the ever lovely 'When I'm Gone'. At this juncture I need to come clean and declare a vested interest. That last song – 'When I'm Gone' – was one of the tunes that began my soul odyssey. An acned youth frequenting the mid sixties Liverpool cellar clubs, I was in thrall to the beat merchants till one evening the enlightened Cavern Club DJ, Bob Wooler, played 'When' I'm Gone' and I was hooked... hooked onto Motown, hooked onto soul and hooked onto Brenda Holloway. I wasn't the only one. Why, a little known band called the Beatles demanded that Brenda support them on one of their US tours; Stevie Winwood (then with the Spence Davis Group) covered 'Every Little Bit Hurts' and countless UK soul connoisseurs began tracking down Brenda's recordings.

Over the years and particularly in the reissue era, said connoisseurs have been well served with much of Brenda Holloway's Motown output becoming easily accessible. Now there's much more to enjoy as SoulMusic.com release a mighty 2 CD, 33 track collection on Brenda Holloway. 'Spellbound' is sub-titled 'Rare And Unreleased Gems' and that's a perfect summary of what you get. I thought I had most of Brenda's output, but to my surprise and delight all but a couple of these tracks are brand new to me!

So what are the highlights? Well as a fan, I'd say everything... but let's just mention a few choice cuts. 'Girl On The Run' is a lovely mid-tempo groove... the same vibe as 'When I'm Gone'; 'I Feel Your Love Growin' On Me' is a classic Motown light dancer; 'The Land Of Make Believe' is a delightful little soul samba.

Elsewhere? Well, being a proper music factory, some of the tracks see the Motown people recycling ideas. So 'Deep Freeze' is based loosely on 'Heatwave' while 'What Have I Done To Myself' and 'Strange Things' are obvious attempts to recreate the magic of 'Every Little Bit Hurts' and even though my ears are old and battered I'm sure that Brenda's version of 'What Good Am I Without You' uses the exact same backing track as Gladys Knight's better known version. None of that though detracts from the quality. Brenda's vocals are consistently soulful and with two sets of sleeve notes (from Motown experts Sharon Davis and Paul Nixon) I'd say that this album is essential for anyone who cares about proper soul music... but, like I said, I'm a wee bit biased!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 28 August 2017 15:09

 

SUGARAY RAYFORD: The World That We Live In (Blind Faith)

Thursday, 24 August 2017 18:09 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSugaray Rayford is a Texas-born blues and soul man who, after paying considerable dues, may just be about to win the recognition that his considerable talent deserves.

Caron "Sugaray" Rayford began singing aged just 7... that's right, in his local church. His childhood was tough; his mother passed when he was still young and brought up by a grandmother, he decided to make gospel his career. Then in the early 00s he switched to the devil's music, fronting a band called Urban Gypsies. Then he moved over to a blues outfit, Aunt Kizzy's Boys, with whom he recorded the albums 'Trunk Full Of Bluez' and 'It's Tight Like That'.

Moving to LA, Sugaray decided to go solo and found plenty of live work – concerts and festivals worldwide while he also made quite a name for himself in musical theatre.

Just last year, Italian soul entrepreneur Luca Sapio heard Sugaray and knew straight away he needed to record him.... and the result is this wonderful, old school soul album, 'The World That We Live In', released on Sapio's own Blind Faith Records. The 10 tracker is named for a steady slow rumble with a killer hook in the chorus but what makes the cut so attractive is Rayford's world-weary, lived in soul vocal and Sapio's authentic, Golden Age soul backdrop – all recorded in analogue (of course!)

Other highlights include 'Home Again' and 'Don't Regret A Mile' but dip in anywhere and you'll hear (and enjoy) wonderful, vintage soul with a blues undertow and if someone told you this album was recorded in Malaco or Muscle Shoals not Italy, you wouldn't doubt 'em. Even the album art work echoes soul's Golden Age... the back layout in particular is a memory-jerking recreation of those great 60s Atlantic soul albums. Of course, though, it's what in the grooves that counts and in these grooves there's old school soul a plenty.

Find out more @ www.sugarayblues.com

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 August 2017 18:21

 

LAURA RAIN AND THE CAESARS; Walk With Me (LCR)

Wednesday, 23 August 2017 19:45 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLaura Rain and the Caesars are a soul and blues band working in and around Detroit. At their core are husband and wife team – guitarist George Friend and vocalist Laura Rain. Last year the band won their first Detroit Music Award for "Outstanding Blues Songwriters" and listening to this new 12 track long player you can hear what convinced that judging panel –a contemporary take on classic urban blues with an undertow of funk and a garnish of vintage R&B.

The album's title track sums up where this outfit are coming from. 'Walk With Me' is an energized blues romp with a Northern soul feel to it. There's a big chorus, biting blues guitar, hard hitting beats and some lovely parping brass. Topped by Laura's convincing and committed vocal, you'll hear why the album was named for this cut.

'Don't Lose Your Way' offers more of the same. This reminded me of those great 60s Little Milton Chess tunes while 'Learned the Hard Way' brought to my mind the Stax blues of Albert King. 'Cake' is a slower blues with a peculiar mannered vocal from Laura. Her peculiar delivery here ad throughout gives the album a very special feel... very different to anything else out there right now.

Amongst the other noteworthy tunes are 'In My Life' and the catchy 'Pleasure Zone' that should please fans of the Daptone sound. Indeed the whole Daptone thing is a good reference point for the sound of the Caesars. Like the Daptone crew, George and Laura recorded the album in analogue (at Magnetic Recording in Pontiac Michigan to be precise) and it does make a difference.

if you enjoy that special difference you can learn more @ www.laurarain.net

(BB) 4/5

 

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