Reviews

VARIOUS: Baby I’ve Got It (Ace/Motown)

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 10:01 Bill b E-mailPrintPDF

altEvery time an album like this comes out we reviewers are forced into using the same words, clichéd as they might be. Essentially we marvel at the depth of the Motown vault and ask the (same) question about why so much great soul has stayed unreleased for so very long.

What we have here is another wonderful collection of early Motown treasures curated with care and complied with love by UK reissue specialist Ace Records. The 24 tracker focuses on the distaff side of Berry Gordy's roster and, back to those opening words, 16 of the cuts have never been available anywhere before while the other 8 had a "soft release" as downloads only in 2014. Motown buffs, of course, know that a non-release didn't mean a lack of quality. Fact was that the Motown studios worked like a Detroit production line and so much stuff was recorded that it would have been impossible to release everything. Enter Gordy's famed "Quality Control Committee".... the final arbiters of what won release and for whatever reason everything here was rejected! We'll never know why but, thanks to Ace, we can now enjoy a stunning collection of Motown gems – each one aurally defining that special early/mid 60s Motown sound that was so beguiling and attractive. If you weren't around in the early 60s then it must be hard to understand just what that magic Motown sound meant. Fed on a bland diet of Brit pop (till the Fab 4 arrived), Motown music offered something quite different..... intoxicating, exotic even!

Enough blather; what has 'Baby I've Got It' got? Well, in short lots and lots... so much class and quality that it's difficult to know where to start. Maybe the first track is a good idea.... Gladys Knight and the Pips' 'In My Heart I Know It's Right'. This was the first recording the group made for Motown and crazily the Johnny Bristol/ Marvin Gaye/Harvey Fuqua song was left gathering dust till it came out as a download a few years back! Gladys's other included track 'Is This Why' suffered the same fate... crazy!

Amongst the other "big" names on the album are Brenda Holloway, Martha and the Vandellas and Kim Weston whilst the "lesser" names number people like The Lollipops, Liz Lands, Little Lisa, Thelma Brown, Oma Page and the Lewis Sisters whose 'Honey Don't Leave Me' is a classic '66 Motown sound even though it was recorded on the West Coast.

Motown collectors might recognize two tunes – the Marvelettes' 'Playboy' and Mary Wells' 'She Don't Love You' but the inclusions here are different takes to the ones released while the set also boasts some really interesting covers like the Marvelettes' version of the Chiffons' 'Sweet Talking Guy' and LaBrenda Ben's look the Impressions' anthem 'It's All Right'. Both stay close to the originals which bring us to the track here which really does define the mid 60s Motown magic.... Martha and the Vandellas' 'I'm Willing To Pay The Price'. Essentially, it's a remake of their first big hit – 'Come And Get These Memories' but none the worse for that. The quality control team rejected it in favour of 'Heatwave'. Interestingly, parts of the song (including the title) were recycled on Marvin Gaye's 'Little Darling Need You'. What a great housekeeper Berry Gordy was!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 April 2018 18:42

 

BARRY WHITE: 'Love's Theme - The Best Of The 20th Century Records Singles' (UMC/Mercury)

Friday, 20 April 2018 08:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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It's 45 years since the man with the deep, treacly voice originally from Galveston, Texas - I mean Barry White, of course -  made his debut for the 20th Century label (which was a subsidiary of the movie company, 20th Century Fox, and was later sold to Casablanca and is now owned by Universal). White was a reluctant solo artist at first and preferred the less conspicuous role of songwriter and producer but was encouraged to step out front into the spotlight when 20th Century's boss heard some demos with White's voice on that the big man was preparing for another male singer. It was a move that changed soul music history. Very quickly, White's basso profundo voice combined with his opulent orchestral backdrops ushered in the age of the symphonic groove ballad and also lit the touch paper for the disco movement.   

To mark White's explosion on the music scene, Universal are issuing a clutch of splendid retrospectives. The biggest and most magnificent of them is a box set of ten 7-inch vinyl 45s called The 20th Century Records Singles (1973-1975), which is bookended  with '73's 'Love Theme' and ends with '75's 'Let The Music Play.' That's for the serious collectors, and so too is a 3-CD/LP set,  'The Complete 20th Century Singles 1973-1979,' which contains 46 tracks (all the singles and their flipsides).  If that seems a  little excessive then the single disc distillation,  'Love's Theme - The Best Of The 20th Century Records Singles,' might suffice. It's a veritable cornucopia of riches, which takes the listener on a journey deep into the heart of White's remarkable oeuvre.

This particular collection opens with the evocative instrumental  'Love's Theme' (released by one of White's side projects, the Love Unlimited Orchestra), which functions as the curtain-raising overture to twenty brilliant White songs, ranging from the smouldering erotic funk of 'Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up' with its heavy breathing and shimmering Gene Page orchestration to propulsive disco grooves like 'Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe,' featuring one of the singer's deep-voiced monologues, to lush bedroom ballads exemplified by 'I've Got So Much Love To Give.' Other classic  tracks include 'You're The First, The Last, My Everything,' 'I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby,' 'It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me,' and White's soulful take on Billy Joel's 'Just The Way You Are.'  Thanks to new remastering (at Abbey Road studios no less), all of them sound as fresh and vibrant as they did back when they were first cut in the 1970s. This 'Best Of' is also available on double vinyl which includes as a bonus Love Unlimited Orchestra's 'Satin Soul.'  It will be 15 years in July since Barry White died but this 24-carat sterling collection, which commemorates his genius, attests to the immortality of his music.

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Friday, 20 April 2018 08:34

 

THE TEMPTATIONS; All The Time (UMC)

Thursday, 12 April 2018 13:58 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThere just aren't enough superlatives with which to describe the mighty Temptations and their garlanded career. The Emperors of Soul first got together in 1961 and in more than fifty years, they've weathered countless personnel changes, endured the loss of charismatic lead singers and embraced changes in musical styles and tastes. Not counting compilations, the Tempts have released 45 albums and to prove that they can still deliver, they're all set to release this new collection.... 'All The Time' at the start of May.

'All The Time' is the group's first release for nine years and it sort of illustrates why the Temptations have survived at the top for so long. You see, the long player proves that the Tempts aren't afraid to experiment; to push that envelope and embrace change. So, for the 12 tracker the veteran quintet have dipped deep into the songbooks of a selection of key contemporary artists – people like like Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, John Mayer and Ed Sheeran and to help them deliver they've employed a producer known for working way beyond the boundaries of traditional soul. The man at the boards is Dave Darling known for his work with, among others, Glen Campbell, Brian Setzer, Tom Waits, and Janiva Magness and he manages to bring a freshness to the sound while retaining all the components that make the Temptations what and who they are.... that's to say the searing lead vocals and the beautiful harmonies.

Hear all that on the album's focus track.... Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me'. Otis and the gang make it their own taking it from dear old Bishops Stortford right down to Soulsville.... and if you want to crank up the song's soul quotient, then it also comes in a special gospel mix.

Amongst the other cover highlights are a plaintive version of Ed Sheeran's 'Thinking Out Loud' (complete with signature spoken intro from Otis Williams) and a sprightly take on John Mayer's 'Still Feel Like Your Man' (a great vehicle for Ron Tyson).

The album also boasts three original songs. 'Be My Wife' takes the honours. This is a classic Temptations outing and destined to become a steppers anthem; 'Waiting On You' is a sweet ballad; while 'More Than Britches' harks back to the sound of 'Standing On The Top'. It comes in two mixes too.... both funky as hell!

So back to where we came in.... why have the Temptations survived? Well, guided by founder Otis Williams, their sound is ever-evolving but rooted in the old school soul qualities and values that have been hallmarks of the group for over fifty years. 'All The Time' is the embodiment of all that!

Find out more about this album via our interview with Otis Williams in our interview archive

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 April 2018 14:14

 

EN VOGUE; Electric Cafe (Eone)

Wednesday, 11 April 2018 13:37 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altWell, it's been a long time coming, but at last we have a new album from the new look En Vogue. I think it was almost twelve months ago that we were treated to a new single from the trio.... 'I'm Good'. We were told back then that the release heralded a new long player and isn't it a good job that fans are a patient bunch?

Whatever, the collection 'Electric Cafe' is now available and the trio Cindy Heron-Braggs, Terry Ellis and Rhona Bennett deliver what long-time devotees have come to expect - good-time, pop-flavoured contemporary R&B garnished with sweet harmonies and, when required, a soulful delivery.

Sadly, that soul delivery is all too often swamped by electro gimmickry, instrumentation and effects. Apologists would, of course, argue that the album is called 'Electric Cafe' so that's what we should expect. Yes, OK, and that's what we get. Cuts like 'Oceans Deep', 'Live' and the title cut are just a wee bit synthetic to hit the soul spot, while 'Love The Way' is dire Euro pop.... so bad it could win the Eurovision!

On the plus side that 'I'm Good' still sounds good but the best soul cut is the unprepossessing 'Déjà Vu'. This is a proper song with a an old school feel about it but I've noticed on En Vogue fan sites that this is the one most of the trio's devotees don't dig. Shows you what I know! I think, though, that we'd agree that the Snoop Dogg collaboration, 'Have A Seat' is a good 'un.... a contemporary R&B rumble, tight harmonies and a bit of typically, tongue in cheek humour from Mr. Broadus.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 April 2018 13:47

 

THE TEMPTATIONS: 'Puzzle People,' 'Psychedelic Shack,' 'Sky's The Limit,' 'Solid Rock,' 'Masterpiece' (Elemental/Motown)

Saturday, 07 April 2018 12:33 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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1968 was a pivotal year for both The Temptations and their label, Motown Records. When the group fired charismatic and popular frontman David Ruffin - whose sense of self-importance and ego-driven demands threatened to rip the vocal quintet apart - it seemed like a suicidal move in commercial terms, but the acquisition of replacement, ex-Contours singer, Dennis Edwards, eventually proved inspirational, and the group enjoyed even more success than they had before. But Edwards arrived at a time when the group's producer, Norman Whitfield, who had begun tuning into the psychedelic movement and the late-'60s counterculture revolution, was in the process of rejecting the traditional upbeat Motown sound, and giving them a radical stylistic makeover  that would alienate some of their fans who adored the group for their romantic balladry. 

Grainy-voiced Edwards debuted on the single (and subsequent parent album with the same title),  'Cloud Nine,' in 1968, which officially marked a juncture in the group's history denoted as their 'Psychedelic Soul' era. Sonically, it was tough, funky, fiercely contemporary, and uncompromising, and as the '60s became the '70s, Whitfield's songs were more like socio-political sermons while his production was more grandiose and cinematic, defined by elongated grooves. The group's 'Psychedelic Soul' period is vividly brought to life by the reissue of five Temptations' albums (all remastered and served up in gatefold mini-LP replica sleeves) that followed in the wake of 'Cloud Nine.'

1969's 'Puzzle People' continued where 'Cloud Nine' left off, showcasing the group's more pugnacious style. The driving 'I Can't Get Next To You' - with all five Tempts sharing lead vocals, a Whitfield production trait - was the killer single from an album that mixed potent original material - 'Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down,' 'Message From A Black Man,' and the 7-minute-long 'Slave' - with covers of The Beatles' 'Hey Jude,' the Isley Brothers' 'It's Your Thing,' and Bobby Russell's pop tune, 'Little Green Apples.' Even the inclusion of the latter song - one of only two ballads on the 11-track album - didn't dilute the raw power of the Tempts' new sound, whose righteous militancy struck a chord with African-American record buyers.

1970's 'Psychedelic Shack' was arguably an even stronger, more ambitious, album, kicking off with a long version of the hit single of the same name, and including the politically-charged 'War' (a hit for Edwin Starr later the same year), the existentialist meditation, 'You Make Your Own Heaven & Hell Right Here On Earth,' and the filmic funk workout, 'Hum & Along And Dance,' where Whitfield's production work eclipses the group's vocals. Whitfield was also fond of having different acts under his command recording the same songs, so here, the Tempts serve up two songs that the producer had written with Barrett Strong and had cut first with Gladys Knight & The Pips - 'You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You),' and 'Friendship Train.'

Despite the toughness, anger, and virility of The Temptations' music during this period, it's ironic that the second biggest single of their psychedelic soul period was a wistful romantic ballad from 1971 called 'Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),' spotlighting Eddie Kendricks' seraphic falsetto.  Its parent album was 'Sky's The Limit,' an underrated gem in the Tempts' canon, which also included  the message song 'Unzenga Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)' and an epic 12-minute version of 'Smiling Faces Sometimes,' an ode to paranoia that Whitfield later re-cut for his protégés, the Undisputed Truth.

By the time that The Temptations released their next Motown album, 1972's 'Solid Rock,'  Eddie Kendricks had left and Paul Williams had retired due to ill health. In their places came falsetto specialist, Damon Harris, and Richard Street. There were still socially-aware pieces - exemplified by the slow-building anti-Vietnam diatribe, 'Stop The War Now' and more strident 'What It Is' - but overall, the mood was less intense than previous albums. Highlights included the upbeat 'Smooth Sailing (From Now On),'  'Take A Look Around,' and the Dennis Edwards-led ballad, 'It's Summer,' which reprised the sweet soul balladry of 'Just My Imagination.' The album's most successful single was  the funkafied 'Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are),' a stinging riposte to ex-Temptations, Ruffin and Kendricks, who had purportedly been critical of the group after leaving.

After 'Solid Rock,' The Temptations' next album (1972's 'All Directions,' not reissued here) yielded one of their most iconic Whitfield-era songs in the shape of 'Papa Was A Rollin' Stone.' Their next hit was 'Masterpiece,' whose parent album is the final CD in this set of reissues.  The album version is an immersive, widescreen soundscape arranged by Paul Riser that is  built on a simple bass line and last 13-minutes (the vocals don't enter until almost four minutes into the track but are only heard for three minutes). It's undoubtedly one of the best songs that they cut with Whitfield at the helm though some of the fans decried the group's minimal involvement and apparently The Temptations, themselves, weren't totally happy with their reduced role in the producer's grand scheme. Other great cuts here include 'Law Of The Land,' and 'Plastic Man,' while controversially, the dreamy closer, 'Hurry Tomorrow,' featuring Damon Harris' sweet falsetto, seems to condone the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.

While some of the key singles from the Norman Whitfield epoch are familiar to many soul fans, some of the albums they came from are not and so this clutch of well-produced reissues from Elemental is well worth investing in, especially for those wanting to explore the Temptation's psychedelic soul period in more depth.

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 April 2018 13:07

 

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