MICHAEL HENDERSON: 'Take Me I'm Yours - The Buddah Years Anthology' (SoulMusic Records)

Saturday, 03 March 2018 12:18 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altSteve Wonder was probably left speechless when, after his show at New York's Copacabana venue in 1970, Miles Davis, who had been in the audience, walked up to him and uttered the immortal words, "I'm taking your fucking bassist." Davis was notorious for stealing musicians from other bandleaders - just ask saxophonist Charles Lloyd, from whom Davis purloined Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, also in 1970 - and people rarely complained. When Miles called, musicians had to obey his command, and so it was with 19-year-old Michael Henderson, an R&B-oriented  Detroiter  who had also played bass for Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Unlike Miles's previous bassists, Henderson did not come from the jazz tradition, which was what the trumpeter sought for his new look band which gravitated more to funk than jazz. The young bass player stayed with Miles until 1975, contributing to a host of albums, including  'On The Corner' and 'Get Up With It.'

With Miles retiring from music in '75, Henderson was left looking for new opportunities and quickly found one when another eminent jazz man, drummer-turned-producer, Norman Connors, came knocking. Connors, who knew that Henderson was a good singer with a distinctive voice as well as top-notch bassist, recruited the 25-year-old for his next album which came to be called after a song Henderson wrote and sang - 'You Are My Starship.'  It was a memorable smash hit and it resulted in Connors' record company, Buddah, signing Henderson as a solo artist. Between 1976, Michael Henderson released seven LPs on Buddah, and scored eleven charting singles in the USA. All of them, along with key album tracks, can be found on this ace new anthology from SoulMusic Records.

It's fitting, given that it changed people's perceptions of Henderson and helped to launch his career as a singer, that this 2-CD set opens with Norman Connors' classic 'You Are My Starship.'  The retrospective  also includes three duets that the singer recorded under  Connors' supervision - one with Jean Carn ('Valentine Love') and two with Phyllis Hyman ('We Both Need Each Other' and 'Can't We Fall In Love Again,' which assisted in transforming Henderson into a romantic soul balladeer. Indeed, his biggest hit single, 1978's 'Take Me I'm Yours,' which hit the US R&B Top 3, though credited solely to Henderson, was actually a duet featuring Rena Scott. It's an anthemic song with a good groove and features terrific vocal performances from both singers. Henderson's collaboration with the wonderful Roberta Flack, 'At The Concert,' an often overlooked lengthy  jazz-infused album cut, is also included here (listen out for a delightful Miles Davis-esque muted trumpet solo from Marcus Belgraves).   

Indeed,  it's fair to say that Henderson wasn't a one-dimensional soul man and the proof of that comes in the shape of adventurous tracks like the instrumentals 'Time' - a slab of heavy funk-rock - and the bass-driven, fusion-esque 'Solid,' with its wild synth effects, both attest. But it's hits that sell records and Henderson, despite going off piste on some of his self-produced LPs,  had plenty of those. His second biggest, '79's 'Wide Receiver,' is another highlight on this collection, along with the slow ballad 'Be My Girl,' plus 'Made It To The Top,' 'I Can't Help It,' 'Prove It,' 'Reach Out For Me' and his final Buddah smash, 'Fickle.' Totalling thirty-four songs, 'Take Me I'm Yours' offers a vivid and thoroughly enjoyable portrait of the versatile Motor City musician who's still going strong today at the age of 68.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 March 2018 16:38


MUDDY WATERS: Can’t Be Satisfied (UMC/Chess/Spectrum)

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 20:32 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIconic, legendary, mould breaking – epithets and adjectives bandied around in abundance by music journalists, commentators and bloggers as they seek to lionise artists for whom they can't find a more fitting description. Even a quick and cursory analysis of modern popular music would allow said journalists, commentators and bloggers to realise that only a very select few deserve that kind of tagging. Who? Well, let's start with Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Bo Diddley and a certain McKinley Morganfield, better known, of course by his working name – Muddy Waters. In a lengthy and influential career Muddy Waters defined modern popular blues music and in doing that he influenced a whole generation of artists and bands – amongst them The Beatles, The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones who even named themselves after one of Muddy's songs.

Every home should have a Muddy Waters album and if yours doesn't, then UMC/Chess/Spectrum have just released the very thing you need. 'Can't Be Satisfied' is a 2 CD 40 track compilation of the very best of the man's Chess output (1947-1975) and, yes, he did record for other labels (notably, Blue Sky) but it was during his Chess period that he defined modern blues and carved his iconic, legendary and mould-breaking niche.

The album begins with 1947's stark 'Gypsy Woman' and finishes with 1975's swinging 'Let The Good Time Roll'. In between there's all of the man's big tunes – none bigger than 'Hoochie Coochie Man', 'Mannish Boy', 'Got My Mojo Working' and of course 'Rolling Stone'. In between there's a comprehensive and chronological sweep of Waters' career that allows you to enjoy early rarities and material from his later conceptual albums (like 'Electric Mud'). There's cuts too from his rare 1967 London sessions LP on which he's backed by people like Steve Winwood, Rory Gallagher, Ric Grech and Mitch Mitchell. They play with respect for the master – following in the footsteps of people like Willie Dixon and Little Walter who backed Waters on his early Chicago recordings.

Yep... iconic, legendary, mould breaking for sure. If you disagree argue out with Mick Jagger or Keith Richard.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 February 2018 20:45


GEORGE JACKSON: Leavin’ Your Homework Undone (Kent)

Friday, 23 February 2018 19:56 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altGeorge Jackson is the archetypal Southern soul hero....revered by cognoscenti of the genre but practically anonymous to the mainstream. That George is little known is hardly surprising. In a lengthy career, working at labels like Goldwax, Fame, Sounds Of Memphis and Malaco, he only ever released one album and just 20 singles – none of which were hits. The chief reason for this is that the bosses of the labels he worked for saw George primarily as a writer. His followers will reel off a litany of singers who profited from the man's songs but amongst his chief beneficiaries were Clarence Carter and Wilson Pickett.

Because of his reputation as a writer George Jackson was given unfettered access to the studio – to lay down demos of his latest creations and to occasionally work on his own output (meagre though it was). Over the years UK reissue specialists Ace/Kent have issued a plethora of George Jackson material – his released album and singles and also all kinds of other material – stuff that was meant to be released but never was and, of course, his demos.

'Leavin' Your Homework Undone' is Ace/Kent's fourth George Jackson collection and it offers 24 previously unissued cuts recorded at Fame studios between 1968 and 1971. In truth they're all demos but some are so polished and "finished" that they could well have been released. Best examples are the pounding 'If This Is Love' and the forceful 'I Got A Feeling' – both right up there with the best of Fame. Southern soul fans will love both tunes.

Of the rest? Well those fans might recognize just four songs – 'I'm Gonna Hold On To What I Got, which George re-recorded as the B –side to one of his singles; 'Never In Public' which Candi Staton cut; 'A Man And a Half' which Wilson Pickett recorded for his 'Hey Jude' album; and this album's odd one out – 'Your Love Made a U Turn'. This is the only song on the album that George didn't write. It was penned by his buddy O B McClinton and went on to be recorded by both James Carr and Jimmy Hughes. No one can explain why George recorded it but it doesn't sound odd or out of place with the other included 23 southern soul gems.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 23 February 2018 20:09


VARIOUS; Chess Northern Soul III (UMC)

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 20:55 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn this digital world soul collectors have been spoiled by the reissue specialists as rarity after rarity and collectable after collectable has been pulled from the vaults and made easily available. More recently as vinyl has enjoyed a renaissance and new fangled things called records players have become cheaper, clever label execs have started to exploit their in-demand back catalogues and reissue material in various vinyl formats. UMC have been one of the brand leaders in this trend, issuing lashings of rare Motown on vinyl. They're also stewards of the Chess archive and over the last year or so they've released some wonderful vinyl box sets featuring music from the venerable Chicago label.

This week UMC are releasing another fab, vinyl box set paying homage to Chess. The box offers seven 7" vinyl singles featuring 14 in-demand, Northern-soul flavoured tunes from both well-known Chess names and plenty who are maybe best described as label second stringers. That though doesn't make their work any less worthy. Case in point is the soulful swayer 'Foolish Me' from Jo Ann Garrett. Written by Billy Butler and Andre Williams, the cut offers everything that is good about vintage Chicago soul. Equally anonymous are the Starlets but their Billy Davis-penned 'Loving You Is Something New' is just as classic a "Chicago sound". A little less "Chicago" are Jeanette Nellis' 'Wait' and Amanda Love's politically incorrect 'You Keep Calling Me By Her Name'. Both were licensed in by the Chess brothers; the former from New York and the latter, recorded elsewhere in Chicago, is decidedly more blues orientated.

Amongst the bigger names in the collection are Bobby Womack, Terry Callier and Gene Chandler. Womack's cut is a self-penned 'See Me Through' which he recorded just as the Valentinos folded; Callier's offering is the evergreen 'Ordinary Joe'; while the Duke of Earl delights with his wonderful 'Such A Pretty Thing' – the epitome of the Chicago 60s soul sound.

Other featured artists include Harold Hutton, Johnny Nash, Mitty Collier, Maurice McAllister and the sadly underrated Knight Brothers. The sleeve notes will tell you all you need to know about 'em while the actual vinyl discs come in the UK Chess livery – some with silver lettering, others with the rarer gold. And by the way, for those who still "do digital", the box comes with a download card allowing you access to MP3 versions of all the tracks.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 February 2018 21:01


ERIC “DEBONAIR” MCNAIR; This Could Be Love (Debonair Music)

Tuesday, 13 February 2018 19:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altDon't know too much about Eric McNair save that he rejoices in the nickname "Debonair" and that, though born in Akron, Ohio, he now lives and works out of Texas. Working the Texas scene, it seems that young Eric has built a name for himself with an approach that combines contemporary flavours with good old, old school soul flavours. Indeed commentators who've seen him perform have made comparison to a certain Luther Vandross and on the evidence of this début album they're not far off the mark.... Mr McNair's music is smooth and soulful and in places powerful; and if we take "debonair" to mean sophisticated, it's certainly that too.

My only problem with 'This Could Be Love' is that it's just too long. There are 17 tracks and the whole thing clocks in at almost one hour twenty minutes and there just seems to be too much to take in; it's kind of overwhelming in its quantity but that said the quality never wavers. The music is consistently classy and like we said soulfully sophisticated in that special Vandross way.

The most obvious Luther connection comes with the seven minute plus of 'Something I Had To Do'... and emotion wrenching, dramatic ballad on which Eric employs many of dear old Luther's vocal inflexions. It's one of the album standouts.

Amongst the other highlights is the simple and sweet 'Pay Your Love Back' – lovely, proper old school soul. Even "older school" is the equally lovely 'These Three Things' – a gentle throwback to the golden age of R&B crooning and more Bobby Bland than Luther Vandross. There's some great trumpet here too.

And that's another thing about this long player. Though Eric's the marquee name and the star of the show, he's also brought in lots of guests to help him deliver. Amongst the contributors are Deon Q, Vandell Andrew, Linda Loi and Take 6. Ms Loi and the veteran vocal group help out on the harmonica-led album title track. Don't know whether it's that harmonica or the meandering melody but there's a Stevie Wonder thing going on here. That title track also comes in an odd rock and roll style remix. Equally odd are the interludes – 'Don't Fuck With Kiki Green' and 'The Slammy Sammy Show'. They're amusing in places and offer intrigue but not sure what they add to the album. Without them we'd be talking about yet another 2018 five star album, that's how good this is; but, hey, we've still got a great modern soul album here. Highly recommended!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 February 2018 20:11


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