MAYSA: Love Is A Battlefield (Shanachie)

Tuesday, 04 July 2017 08:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn their careers most recording artists feel the need at some time to do two specific album projects.... the Christmas collection and the covers one. The musical jury has never agreed on the merits of these projects. Grudgingly many accept the raison d'être of the seasonal set but covers albums provoke much more debate with some commentators describing them as aural equivalents of writers' block indicating a lack of or a  loss of creativity. One soul man who escaped that kind of criticism was dear old Luther Vandross. His long players bristled with covers and his 'Songs' set was a whole collection of 'em. Luther got away with it for two reasons. First he dramatically reconstructed the songs he choose to cover (we need only to point at 'A House Is Not A Home') and secondly with THAT voice he could sing anything in anyway and get away with it.

Now Maysa (Leak), a lady with an equally unique and soulful voice, offers her covers album and like Vandross, Ms L succeeds spectacularly. The chief reason (which we've just alluded to) is her magnificent voice. The oft quoted cliché is that she could get away with singing the Yellow Pages, so she's bound to delight with versions of Jerry Butler's 'Mr Dream Merchant' and the Whispers' 'Can We Talk'. And therein is another clue to why this album is so appealing. The songs Maysa's chosen to cover aren't obvious... she's taken lesser known songs from the catalogues of people like Atlantic Starr, Natalie Cole, Odyssey, Sam Dees and the Isley Brothers. Why, she's even got the bottle to tackle a song originally recorded by someone called Justin Bieber! That one, by the way, is 'As Long As You Love Me'. And to get back to Luther Vandross, Maysa treats us to one of his best too... 'Because It's Really Love'.

On that and indeed on most of the tracks Maysa and her producers (amongst them Chris "Big Dog" Davis and Jason Miles) don't take too many liberties – staying fairly close to the original arrangements with just a garnish of subtle new shadings. The one track that is radically different is the LP's title cut. Pat Benatar's 'Love Is A Battlefield' in its original incarnation was a brash, slice of AOR; here Ms Leak transforms it into a sensual soul ballad but once again it's that remarkable voice that is the chief attraction. And without seeming to labour a point that is the attraction of the album... whether it's on a well-known song, a lesser known tune or a re-imagined classic, Maysa's pure soul voice is the constant. Hugely recommended!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 July 2017 09:00


STOKLEY WILLIAMS: 'Introducing Stokley Williams' (Concord)

Saturday, 01 July 2017 09:50 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Stokley Williams shouldn't need any introduction, especially to those who are long-time aficionados of R&B and American urban music. He is the voice (and drummer) of Mint Condition, the super-talented, self-contained, Minnesota band that lit up the US R&B charts in the '90s with the memorable big hits 'Breakin' My Heart ('Pretty Brown Eyes),' 'U Send Me Swingin',' and 'What Kind Of Man Would I Be.' The band are still a going concern today - indeed, they released a Christmas album, 'Healing Season,' just two years ago - but 49-year-old Williams and his record company thought 2017 a good time to announce his arrival as a solo artist. It was a good call as the contemporary R&B scene is crying out for a record like this one -  one that is stylistically varied yet aesthetically cohesive, and possesses great songs, glistening production values, and is topped off with superb vocal performances. All of which begs the question: why has it taken Stokley Williams so long to make a solo album?

But let's not be too picky or analytical about it, but rather be thankful that he's stepped outside of Mint Condition for a moment to show what a singular and versatile musician he is. The opening track, the mid-tempo single, 'Level,' sets the tone with its sinuous vocal, deliciously infectious hook and skilfully orchestrated groove. Other highlights come in the shape of the rainy day ballad, 'Forecast,' and the cool, jazzy 'Cross The Line,' where staccato layered vocals ride on a silky, Latin-esque backbeat.  Different again is 'We Me,' a slice of message-laden old school soul about personal transformation while the ethereal 'Way Up' is an atmospheric electro-infused slow jam featuring rapper Wale. Other guest cameos come from  Brit songstress Estelle (remember her?), who duets with Stokley on the quirky groove ballad 'U & I,' and keyboard wiz, Robert Glasper, who contributes to the anthemic 'Art In Motion. ' Jamaican singer, Omi, drops in on the album's euphoric closer, 'Wheels Up,' a Caribbean-tinged dance number complete with evocative steel pans.

Despite an assortment of striking cameos, none of Stokley's guests detract from the fact that he is undoubtedly the star of the show. It's an album that is not so much just a collection of songs but rather something more profound: a sonic manifesto of intent, revealing Stokley Williams in all his glory. We in the soul fraternity always knew that he was musically gifted but perhaps didn't realise the extent and range of his talents. But now it's out in the open and his secret is out. From here, the only way is up. A star is belatedly born.

(CW) 4/5





Last Updated on Saturday, 01 July 2017 10:01


JEANETTE JONES: Dreams All Come True (Playback)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017 16:03 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJeanette Jones is one of soul's great enigmas. She's revered by a coterie of deep soul buffs even though little is known about her (no one's even sure if she's still alive). Equally she was never prolific as a recording artist. There are maybe a dozen tracks credited directly to her though she also fronted several gospel ensembles who made records... and right away that word "gospel" should tell you why those who've heard her revere her. Yes when it came to church-reared, committed testifying Ms Jones had it all.

Anyway, here's what we know about her. Young Jeanette Jones, it seems, was "discovered" by Leo Kulka- owner of San Francisco's Golden State Recorders. She was the lead voice in the 60 strong Voices Of Victory gospel choir and in 1965 the choir hired Kulka's studio to make some recordings to sell at their concerts and services. Kulka was immediately impressed by Ms Jones and he tried to get her signature on a solo contract. At first she refused; she wanted nothing to do with the devil's music but in 1967 encouraged by Jay Barrett (later her manager), she put pen to paper. Recording mainly Barrett-penned songs, Jeanette believed a successful career beckoned but Kulka wasn't too impressed with the results and failed to place the recordings with any established labels.

Ever-persistent Mr K then had Jeanette put vocals over pre-recorded backing tracks – one from H B Barnum. no less. But still success remained elusive. Then the singer was set to work with singer/songwriter Wally Cox and two cuts were issued as a single on Golden State, even though Kulka lacked a distributor. Eventually Kent/Modern showed a little interest – but the interest bore no fruit.

Through all this Jeanette Jones was still fronting the Voices Of Victory who were to cut more sides at Golden State but as that ensemble lost momentum, it seems that Jeanette quit to join Mike Bloomfield's Mill Valley Bunch project before voicing an ad campaign for (oddly) Swiss Colony Wine! Then nothing... even with the wonders of the internet soul detectives have failed to uncover much more.

What we do have are the Golden State Recordings and over the years Ace/Kent, who own the rights, have issued odd Jeanette Jones tracks on various compilations while more recently they issued a vinyl LP of the lady's 12 solo songs. Now Australian label, Playback, treat us (on CD) to what they believe is the whole of her catalogue. That's to say, the 12 solo songs, the six she fronted with the Voices of Victory and a couple she cut with the Mill valley Bunch.

Outstanding track is the deep soul classic 'What have You Got To Gain By Losing Me'. The Gerry Goffin/Barry Goldberg song is a perfect vehicle for Jeanette Jones' gospel-reared, true soul voice. Wally Cox's 'The Thought Of You' offers more of the same passion and pathos but in truth, dip in anywhere here and hear a remarkable voice ... a voice that so impressed Leo Kulka so much back in 1965. What a pity he lacked the resources and contacts to do really big things with it!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 June 2017 16:11


TY CAUSEY: Tyangles (Tyvonn Records)

Friday, 23 June 2017 13:43 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSoul folk in the know, know all about Ty Causey. Without huge hype the Indie soul producer/singer/songwriter/performer has steadily built up a coterie of fans since he debuted in the late 90s working with Najee.

His own debut solo set was 2004's 'N-tysing' and since then his releases have continued to impress discerning soul fans who appreciate proper songs, sung in the old fashioned way but with a hint of the contemporary about them.... maybe a bit Maxwell-ish, though with a musical menu that's a whole lot more accessible. A classy, classic soul man would be a good definition of Mr C though he prefers his nickname "Mr. Consistent".

Over the last couple of months we've been treated to a flow of singles from the man's album, 'Tyangles' and now the long player is officially available this side of the pond. Those singles 'Rock With Me' and 'Ya Something Kind Of Wonderful' are still standouts but there are plenty more cuts here that are just as polished, smooth and sophisticated. 'Won't You Be My Lady' has the same easy-going vibe as the early singles while 'Be A Man About It' veers more towards the smooth jazz arena – sax courtesy of the wonderful named matt Cashdollar. He's there too on the bumpier 'Let Me Ride'. However, maybe the best cut to sum up the art of Ty Causey is the lovely 'Hot Tonight Medley' – not too sure about what it's a medley of (don't have the benefit of sleeve notes) but it sums up perfectly the attraction of modern soul in general and Ty Causey in particular.

By the way, this European release comes with the bonus of a special extended UK mix of 'Rock With Me' -perfect for the modern soul room.... but you could say that about the whole album!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 23 June 2017 13:47


VARIOUS; Nothing But A House Party (Kent)

Wednesday, 21 June 2017 15:01 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altEven the most casual of soul fans know about the importance of Philadelphia in the evolution of the genre. However, most of 'em will only know about Philly's golden age.... the period of Philadelphia International's dominance. But proper soul fans know that the City Of Brotherly Love has a soul history that predates the imperial reign of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. To satisfy those discerning fans and to bring others up to speed Ace/Kent have just released this splendid 24 tracker that surveys the Philly soul scene just prior to the establishment of Philadelphia International. The music here spans the years 1967-71 and most of it was recorded in what was to become Philly's most important studio – Joe Tarisa's Sigma Sound.

The compilers know that over just 24 tracks it's impossible to offer a full portrait of early Philly soul; that said, they have included plenty of key cuts. Amongst them is 'Every Day Is A Holiday' from the Intruders. That group (as all Philly connoisseurs know) were favourites of Gamble and Huff and the duo took them wherever their corporate musical journeys took them. Recorded in 1969, 'Every Day Is A Holiday' was the B side to 'Old Love' and it's a perfect definition of the early Philly soul sound.

Sticking with Gamble and Huff, this collection also includes examples of their outside production work, when big labels used the duo to sprinkle some magic soul dust on their artists. Examples here include Jerry Butler's magnificent 'Never Give You Up' and Archie Bell and the Drells' still evocative 'My Balloon's Going Up'.

Other Philly legends who contribute include Thom Bell, Jimmy Bishop, Alan Felder, Jesse James, Bobby Martin, Norman Harris and the underrated Len Barry. Blue-eyed soulster, Barry is best remembered for his hit '1-2-3' but his career goes back to the fifties when he performed with the Dovells before his solo success. Barry was also a key backroom boy, writing and producing all over Philly but he's featured here as a singer with his version of Archie Bell's 'Girl You're Too Young'.

Amongst the other featured artists are Cliff Nobles (with 'Love Is All Right' –the vocal version of 'The Horse') , Honey and the Bees, Lou Jacksons, Freddie Scott, Winfield Parker, Barbara Mason and the Showstoppers whose 'Ain't Nothing But A House Party' gives this excellent album its title.

(BB) 4/5


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