PHILLIP BRANDON: The Story Begins (Phillip Brandon llc)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017 18:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPhillip Brandon is a new-ish kid on the soul block. Raised in LA by music savvy parents (Phillip Sr was a jazz buff while mother Brenda was a member of Ray Charles' legendary Raelets) young Phil took a degree in marketing before embarking on his music career. Early jobs included working the cruise ships before he became in demand on the musical theatre circuit... most notably working in the BeBe Winans theatrical biog-show. Eventually Phillip landed a job with multi-platinum-selling rock group Trans Siberian Orchestra but in 2013 he struck out on his own with a 5 track EP that hit the smooth jazz charts and won Mr B plenty of live work. Now he's all set to release this – his first full long player and, with production input from Preston Glass, 'The Story Begins' is already winning praise in discerning soul and jazz circles... and it's easy to hear why. The album is an effortless and intriguing listen from start to finish with Phillip's approach drawing comparisons to artists like Will Downing and Gregory Porter.

Indeed Porter is a particular hero/role model for Brandon. He says; "Mr. Porter gave me the most current inspiration to do what I do. He once stated that it was his hope that he had opened a door for others to be unique" and on 'The Story Begins' you can hear the GP influence straight away on the LP's title cut – a lazy, melodic, soul-jazz meander where Preston Glass allows Brandon's plaintive tenor/baritone do the work. The gentler 'Stay In The Moment' is another album highlight and as a bonus Phillip coaxed his mother, Brenda, to join him on the song. Their voices meld beautifully on the title hook.

Elsewhere, 'Looking For You' channels a Stevie Wonder flavour, while the uplifting 'Chocolate Child' references messages voiced by pioneers like Oscar Brown Jr, Donny Hathaway and Curtis Mayfield. Listen up too to the lovely-piano-led ballad that is 'A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Goodbye' and the pitch at the lucrative "Wedding Song" market that is 'The Promise' –though I could have done without the rocky guitar towards the end.

The album boasts one focus cover – a version of Luther Vandross' 'Wait For Love'. It's a measure of Brandon's confidence that he tackles a Vandross number and to be fair he doesn't stray too far from the original though he does attempt a "jazzier" feel in the vocal and both song and delivery fit perfectly the overall mood of 'The Story Begins'.

Phillip Brandon sums up his music philosophy thus: "I love the music of yesteryear...when Pop wasn't a format, just what was legitimately popular. I want to get back to a day when that comes back. In the meantime, I create songs from the heart and a spiritual space of hope." Judge for yourself if he's succeeded when 'The Story Begins' wins official release on October 20th.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 September 2017 18:24


TED WINN: Stand In Awe (Shanachie)

Sunday, 24 September 2017 15:20 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAward-winning Gospel star, Ted Winn was born and raised in Memphis but latterly he's been working out of Atlanta and Washington DC. 'Stand In Awe' is his second long player and the ten tracker is a musical manifestation of his beliefs – sure the traditional Gospel messages are here, but Winn goes much further than what we would probably best call the Gospel establishment. Ted believes that Gospel artists should, indeed must, speak out through their music on issues that affect black people. He says: "Just because you go to church and you believe in God, doesn't mean anything. Your'e still black... you still experience all the other issues that people of colour are experiencing ion a daily basis."

Hear Winn's message throughout the album and most notably on the big opener, 'The Greatest Power' which features Gospel don, Hezekiah Walker. Elsewhere – on the title track for instance, the messages are more subtle. Musically the soundscape owes much to the pioneering work of people like Andrae Crouch and the Winans with Ted's own singers, Balance, offering stellar support alongside guests Lisa Knowles and Maranda Curtis who features on one of the albums best inspirational ballads, 'Grateful'.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 September 2017 15:25


TIM BOWMAN: Into The Blue (IM/Purpose Jazz)

Sunday, 24 September 2017 15:14 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Into The Blue' is guitarist Tim Bowman's seventh studio album and it was heralded by the rightly lauded single 'My Heart To You' which featured a sensual vocal from Angela Johnson. If you liked that cut you'll also love the set's other focus vocal – 'All I Need Is Love' with the seemingly rejuvenated Stokley at the mic. It's a tougher ballad than the Johnson cut but if you enjoyed the Mint Condition man's solo set, you'll need to investigate this one.

'Into The Blue' features one more vocal and 'Amazing Grace Party' is actually one of the album highlights and certainly the set's most ambitious offering. The title tells you what the cut's all about .... it's an up-tempo rendition of the classic hymn, 'Amazing Grace' and it really works. There's a big party atmosphere, Bowman's guitar hits a funky jazz groove and the singers, Tom Bowman Jr and Jonathan DuBose energise proceedings segueing the hymn into other inspirational songs like 'Wade In The Water'. Inspired stuff indeed.

Elsewhere, well, 'Into The Blue' ticks all the right smooth jazz guitar boxes in a kind of George Benson meets Earl Klugh kind of way. There's classical flourishes - 'Hello', 'Goodbye' and 'Madrid'; sweet ballads - 'Tan Hermosa', 'You Are' (yes, the Charlie Wilson soul tune )and 'Love Forever'; a nod to funk – 'Detroit Funk' and lashings of groove-based smooth jazz like the LP's title cut.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 September 2017 15:26


NAJEE: Poetry In Motion (Shanachie)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 19:03 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Poetry In Motion' is sax man Najee's 17th long player and he describes the collection as his homage to two of his musical heroes – Al Jarreau and Prince. However, don't expect a collection of covers of their songs; rather Najee suggests that it's all about tone, approach and atmosphere –the only obvious, overt homage being the cut, 'We'll Be Missing You'. The title of the song explains what it's all about and the rather predictable lyric is vocalised by Will Downing – a man enjoying something of a soul renaissance right now. His is a lovely soul, reassuring voice and predictable or not, it's a good smooth soul/jazz cut – and a proper duet...Will's voice duelling, as it were, with Najee's soprano sax.

The other vocal guests on the album are Eric Roberson and Maysa. Erro brings his talent to bear on 'Is It The Way' – a pleasing smooth soul shuffle, while Ms Leak treats us to 'Don't Make Me Wait'- more smooth jazz than searing soul but that lady's voice is a always a winner!

Maysa, despite a stellar solo catalogue, is often mentioned in the same context as Incognito and – what a coincidence – the Incognito team (well Bluey, anyway) is an album guest too. He features on the LP's best instrumental track 'Let's Take It Back' This one's a driving, urgent soul groove that wouldn't be out of place on any of Incognito's best albums. It's good.

Elsewhere? Well expect the usual Najee recipe – smooth jazz at its glossiest and slickest best with our man switching effortlessly from alto to tenor to soprano to flute as the lead instrument. Defining track is the ultra smooth, soul-based groove 'Song For The Ladies'. Helping Najee on various cuts are top, top piano man Bobby Lyle, and guitarist Blake Aaron but it's Najee's show and if you're a believer (and many are) you'll love this.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 September 2017 19:13


RANDY CRAWFORD: Naked And True (bbr)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 19:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe uniquely-voiced Randy Crawford came to prominence when she voiced the Crusaders' 'Street Life' epic in 1979.Then a series of fine albums with Warner Bros made her a major soul star, particularly favoured in the UK and Europe. After 17 years and some 11 long players with that label, Warners decided not to re-sign her. Tastes, they argued, were changing and maybe the Macon-born soulstress sounded a tad dated. Step in WEA Germany. Knowing Ms C had a faithful European fan base , they promptly signed her up and, pairing her with producer Ralf Droesmeyer, they set to work on a relaunch with the 1995 album 'Naked And True'.

The 11 track album has been sadly neglected by the reissue companies but now it's available again on bbr and, as is the current fashion, the reissue comes with a plethora of bonus cuts... in this case 14 extra tracks that turns the package into a 2 CD, 25 track Randy Crawford extravaganza.

For 'Naked And True', Droesmeyer's original plan was to showcase Randy on a set of new songs but the WEA suits thought differently, They believed that to maximise impact it would be better if the songs on the album were familiar soul outings, taking the singer back to her roots, as it were. So the set began with Randy's version of Herbie Mann/Cissy Houston's 'Cajun Moon' and ended with a cover of Aretha's 'All The King's Horses' and in between there are new readings of songs like 'Give Me The Night',' What A Difference A Days Makes', 'I'll'' Be Around', 'Glow Of Love' and 'Forget Me Nots' which was the album's lead single. There's also a look at Simply Red's 'Holding Back The Years' which becomes a slinky, atmospheric soul groove that's different enough from the original to keep the listeners' attention. Indeed that was the recipe that producer Droesmeyer seemed to work to throughout – i.e. put a new spin on the familiar and allow Ms Crawford's remarkable voice to take centre stage. And it worked. There's some lovely soul music here and the European audiences agreed. It charted throughout Europe and despite some US critics claiming it was too smooth, 'Naked And True' was nominated for a Soul Train Album of the Year award.

The bonus tracks on the "Deluxe Reissue" are remixes, radio mixes and instrumentals of key cuts. They include the Chill Night Mix of 'Give Me The Night' which became a surprising club hit. It still sounds good as does the Mousse T mix of the same tune and the Femi Fem mix of 'Forget Me Nots' but with the distinct and remarkable voice of Randy Crawford almost everything sounds good!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 19:16


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