MFSB: The Definitive Collection (Robin Songs)

Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:24 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAll soul collectors know that all the great labels had their own studio band.... Stax, Motown, FAME and more used the same players over and over again giving the music that the labels issued an easily identifiable sound. Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International label was no different. Right from the start (with their earlier labels like Gamble and Neptune) the dynamic duo knew the value of using the same musicians and working out of Philadelphia, they were spoilt for choice. The City Of Brotherly Love was chock-a-block with top, seasoned session players who'd worked for earlier, influential labels like Cameo-Parkway and Arctic while many of the city's large Italian immigrant population had retained a love of and an ability to play Italian string-driven operatic and orchestral music ... the "sweetener" that Gamble and Huff used consistently to make their records a little different, a little more polished, a little more sophisticated. And the studio players they assembled at Sigma to back the O'Jays, the Three Degrees, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the Intruders and many more did just that – created a very special sound.

That sound was so special that in 1973 Gamble and Huff decided to release records specifically by their studio orchestra and when a name was needed they opted for MFSB - "Mother, Father, Sister, Brother" or something ruder, depending on whom you believe. Soul buffs will know the names of the key players. People like Thom Bell, Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, Earl Young, Don Renaldo and Vince Montana are the stuff of soul legend; ditto the music they crafted.

Over the years many of MFSB's albums have been reissued but it's hard to remember anything that resembles a definitive retrospective. Et voila – here we have one! Robin Songs have just issued this delightful 2 CD, 32 track collection that pulls together all the big moments from MFSB's history... none bigger than 'TSOP' – the catchy, signature earworm that perfectly sums up the MFSB sound. Elsewhere there's a moody version of 'Backstabbers', the smooth jazz precursor 'Old San Juan', the obligatory cover of Elton John's 'Philadelphia Freedom', the vocalised (one of several) 'Let's Clean Up The Ghetto' and much more.

For those who want to know what's what and who's who, the sleeve notes come courtesy of SJF's redoubtable Charles Waring. They describe the music with the insight it deserves.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:31


ZZ HILL: That’s It (Kent)

Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:20 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altA few reviews back we explored an Ace/Kent album that spotlighted southern soul man, George Jackson. Now the same label offers an insight into the career of another southern soulster who enjoys the same kind of status as George Jackson. You see, like George, Texas' ZZ Hill is almost anonymous to the mainstream, but just like Jackson, Hill's oeuvre is revered by knowing collectors and they will be delighted with this new 2CD, 49 track collection that rounds up everything he recorded for Modern/Kent between 1964 and 1968.

Born Arzell Hill in 1935, ZZ's first musical forays were in the church but mentored by his brother Matt, he eventually signed a deal with Kent/Modern . There he recorded a slew of singles and one great album, 'A Whole Lot Of Soul'. Neither the singles nor the long player were particularly successful but as the collection proves, lack of success doesn't mean lack of quality. Hill's work at Kent/Modern is right up there with the best of southern soul – a tad bluesier, yes (Hill's roots were in Texas, after all) but still mighty soulful and always authentic.

This collection's first CD offers all of Hill's Kent singles and across the 27 tracks there's so much quality that it's impossible to cherry pick. Sound wise, the music is typically Texas soul blues much in the manner of Bobby Bland, though, oddly maybe, you can also hear traces of Joe Tex. Some of the cuts are a little more polished, a little more uptown- notably 'No More Doggin'', 'Set Your Sights Higher' and the pastiche of Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure's 'Don't Mess Up a Good Thing' that is 'Gimme Gimme'. The gloss on these tracks is probably down to producer Marc Gordon (later owner of Soul City Records) who at that time, as well as working for Kent/Modern, was also representing Motown on the West Coast and it's probable that some of the Motown ways were rubbing off on him even then. All the tracks on CD 1, by the way, are in mono.

The first half of the set's second CD offers Hill's 1967 album 'A Whole Lot Of Soul' – appearing for the first time on CD. The 12 tracks are in stereo and the repertoire consists of Hill's covers of well-known soul hits like 'When Something Is Wrong With My Baby', 'Knock On Wood' and 'Steal Away'. Interestingly there is a Bobby Bland cover – 'You Gonna Make Me Cry'; the most intriguing cut, though, is the take on Bettye Swann' 'Make Me Yours'.

The remaining tracks on CD 2 (some previously unissued) are tracks that Kent/Modern owner Joe Bihari "doctored" after Hill had left his label. In the early 70s, working for his brother's MHR label and Jerry Williams' Mankind, ZZ started to achieve moderate success so, to cash in, the ever-hustling Bihari tried to improve old ZZ Hill material – adding strings and so on – to score hits of his own. Most interesting of these "new" tracks is 'You Won't Hurt No More' – a blatant rip off of Brenda Holloway's 'Every Little Bit Hurts'. It's quite lovely but it was never released – it seems Bihari got cold feet and sensed that the Motown plagiarism lawyers would have had a field day!

ZZ Hill's 'That's It' is out now on Ace/Kent

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:31


VARIOUS: Brian Power Presents Soulhouse Volume1 (Soulhouse)

Tuesday, 06 March 2018 20:43 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBrian Power is a much loved and respected spinner on the UK soul and soulful house scene. Quite remarkable really when you learn that he only started DJ-ing in 2013 at the age of 50! (There's hope for us all!). Since that Damascene gig at London's Vintage Bean Café on Brick Lane, Mr P's played out all over (including the obligatory Ibiza gigs) and worked with luminaries like DJ Spen, Mike Delgado, Ronnie Herel and Richard Earnshaw. Brian also presents the monthly SoulHouse Radio Show on Mi-Soul Radio and, more importantly, last year he launched his own SoulHouse label.

In a short space of time the label has become hugely successful via a series of beautifully crafted and soulfully inspired singles – many of them have scaled all the credible charts and most have graced savvy DJ sets worldwide.

Why has the label been so successful in such a relatively short time span? Well several reasons. First and foremost, Brian's a fan – a huge soul fan of forty years standing and a committed clubber for more years than he cares to remember. He understands the genre and he knows what the people want. Because of that he knows how to craft a good tune and when the occasion demands he also knows how to pick a classic to cover. (The SoulHouse tweak on Luther Vandross' 'I Wanted Your Love' was a massive club hit). Then, because of his status, he can get some of the genre's top players to work with him.... people like bassist Ernie McKone, guitarist Luca Feroni and ace keyboardist Mike Patto. And finally he uses only the best vocalists to front his creations.... none better than the lovely Rebecca Scales who fronts two songs on this – SoulHouse's first album ... a compilation of the best of the label's singles.

Ms Scales fronts 'So Long Gone' and 'Have You Ever'. The former comes in two mixes – a Richard Earnshaw mix and one from Eric Kupper. By common consent the Kupper mix was THE soulful house tune of 2016. Everything about it was right. Most notably Rebecca's emotion-wringing vocal. Naturally it's one of this compilation's highlights. Others include the aforementioned 'I Wanted Your Love' with a Vandross style vocal from Ali Tenant and a cover of Jeffrey Osborne's 'I Really Don't Need No Light' fronted by Lloyd Wade.

The compilation boasts three brand new cuts - 'You Mean The World To Me' with house legend Marc Evans at the mic; a big Samba school workout, 'Memoria De Roberto' and 'You Win' which is a showcase for newcomer Michelle John. Brian spotted Michelle on The Voice (she was last year's runner up) proving again that he knows what makes things work and there's lashings more evidence on this 2Cd set that offers one satisfying eleven track disc and a big, big Brian Power master mix that segues all the highlights on a second disc.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 March 2018 21:01


JACKIE DESHANNON: 'Stone Cold Soul - The Complete Capitol Recordings' (Real Gone)

Sunday, 04 March 2018 11:44 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                  altOriginally from Hazel, Kentucky, Jackie DeShannon started her recording career as a precociously-talented teenager in the late 1950s but it wasn't until the following decade that the singer born  Sharon Lee Myers started making an impact on the US pop charts, racking up a slew of chart entries for the Liberty/Imperial labels between 1961 and 1970. Her two biggest hits were  'What The World Needs Now' from 1965, and 'Put A Little Love In Your Heart,' recorded four years later. But when 1970 arrived - ushering in the age of the singer/songwriter -  DeShannon, whose recordings had become increasingly soul-influenced,  was seeking a change of direction, and opted to join Capitol Records as 1971 approached. It proved to be a brief stop, with the singer/songwriter  releasing a lone album for the label ('Songs,' issued in June 1971) before being poached by Atlantic Records' Jerry Wexler.

This new 25-track retrospective offers us an opportunity to re-evaluate Jackie DeShannon's brief spell at Capitol Records. It proves to be a revelatory archival discovery - one that reveals that the former pop princess was morphing into a rootsy, southern soul sister. Capitol initially sent her down to Memphis in January 1971 to record at producer Chip Moman's American Sound Studios, a veritable southern hit factory that had produced chart smashes for Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Neil Diamond in the late '60s. The sessions yielded an album's worth of material helmed by Moman using the formidable talents of the studio's ace session crew (guitarist Reggie Young, keyboardists Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood, drummer Gene Chrisman) but Capitol rejected after the single, 'Stone Cold Soul' (co-written by Mark James, who wrote 'Suspicious Minds') failed to take off. They canned all of the remaining Memphis material, except the jaunty, Kurt Weill-influenced cabaret song, 'Show Me,' which ended up on DeShannon's eventual LP for the label, 'Songs,' recorded during April '71 in California.

Though 'Songs' (whose content is mainly included towards the tail-end of this set) is a good album (its main highlight being Bob Dylan's 'Lay Lady Lay,' reconfigured as 'Lay Baby Lay'), the rejected Memphis tracks helmed by Moman form the most impressive part of this compilation which includes five never-released-before tracks. They show how much DeShannon had developed as a vocalist since her pop days at Imperial. Her voice is husky and soulful, blending gospel, blues, and  Americana elements into a singular style. She really impresses on an all-too-short version of William Bell's 'Don't Miss Your Water,' which offers tantalising taster of what she can do. The Goffin-King ballad, 'Child Of Mine,' is recast as a country ballad with gospel inflections and she also delivers fine interpretations of songs by George Harrison ('Isn't It A Pity'), Van Morrison (a terrific version of 'And It Stoned Me'), Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn ('Sweet Inspiration,' where DeShannon's vocals are counterpointed by responses from a gospel choir), Arlo Guthrie ('Gabriel's Mother's Highway'), and Emitt Rhodes (the anthemic 'Live Till You Die'). DeShannon also submits some fine self-penned material in the shape of the plaintive  'Now That The Desert Is Blooming' (she also contributed 'Bad Water, 'Salinas,' and 'West Virginia Mine' on the 'Songs' album).

Hats off, then, to Real Gone for making available all of Ms. DeShannon's Capitol sides for the first time ever. It's a thoroughly engaging set that anticipates the singer/songwriter style of her much-lauded Atlantic output of the early '70s.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 March 2018 16:37


VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Wants List 4 - The Return Of The Soulful Rare Grooves' (Soul Brother)

Saturday, 03 March 2018 12:24 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altOne of the UK's leading soul, funk, and jazz reissue labels, Soul Brother resurrects its critically-acclaimed 'Wants List' series with a fourth volume a decade on from their last instalment. You'd require a lot of money to snap up some the rare items in their original format on this compilation but thankfully, but due to Soul Brother's resourcefulness in exposing forgotten soul gems to the wider public, you get untold riches for the price of a double LP or CD. That sounds like an absolute bargain but the proof, they say, is in the pudding. Well, let me just assure you that unsurprisingly, given Soul Brother's impeccable track record in the past, the "pudding" here is delectable and well worth shelling out on.

There are twenty-one tracks on offer and all of them are gems even if they are stylistically very varied.  There's a cinematic, blaxploitation-era feel to the Harold Wheeler Consort's instrumental opener, 'Black Cream,' taken from the keyboard-led outfit's 1975 RCA LP of the same name. It's a succulent starter but there are even more delicious morsel to come - like Motor City singer Almeta Latimore's Mainstream 45 from '75, the super-soulful mid-tempo groover, 'These Memories,' and husky-throated Mississippi-born/LA-based Ty Karim's in-demand soulful swinger,  'Lighten Up Baby.'  More great but largely unsung recordings from female singers included here come from Jocelyn Brown's gospel-infused soul ballad, ‘If I Can’t Have Your Love’ (recorded a few years before she became famous with 'Somebody Else's Guy'); Mary Clark's ‘You Got Your Hold On Me’; Dee Edwards ‘Deal With It'; Pat Lundy's chirpy 1978 side for Pyramid, ‘Let’s Get Down To Business’; Maxine Weldon, who offers a different, mellower, interpretation of  ‘I Want Sunday Back Again,’ a song recorded for Atlantic by Bettye Swann; and stentorian-voiced Debbie Taylor, whose string-laden 1975 Arista 45, ‘I Don’t Want To Leave You,’ is a forgotten treasure.  

R&B groups are also well-represented. Zulema's ‘Wanna Be Where You Are’ is a driving rare groove from '74, while Natural High's 1979 indie track,  ‘Trust In Me’, is much mellower. A post-Mayfield/Hutson Impressions offer cool harmonies on the 1974 track, ‘We Go Back Aways’ and another notable soul harmony group, The Manhattans, serve up 'Give Him Up,' a classy George Kerr-helmed side for the deluxe label from 1971. The Ebonys also impress with their soulful 1976 take on the Average White Band's groove ballad, 'A Love Of Your Own.'

More familiar names to the mainstream soul fraternity included in the compilation are ex-Spinner G. C. Cameron (the sweetly soulful 'Love Just Ain't No Fun'), Margie Joseph (the excellent Arif Mardin-helmed ‘Ridin’ High’ from 1974), Carolyn Franklin ( '76's 'Sunshine Holiday'), and her older sibling, Aretha, whose earlier 'Day Dreaming' - which Carolyn wrote - is probably the most familiar cut on 'Wants List 4,' an impeccably compiled collection that leaves the listener wanting more. Let's hope it's not another ten years before 'Wants List 5' surfaces.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 March 2018 16:37


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