Reviews

DIANE SHAW; Second Chance (Mecca)

Wednesday, 07 February 2018 21:04 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altBy now every self-respecting soul fan should be award of Ms Diane Shaw. The UK singer has been an in-demand session singer and live backing vocalist for many, many years while her 2015 long player 'Life, Love And Strings' was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Indeed one soul commentator went as far as describing the album "the best soul set of the 21st century so far!"

How on earth can you follow that up? Well, quite simple really – offer more of the same. Select some proper songs (you know ones with memorable melodies, meaningful lyrics, beginnings, middles and ends), arrange and produce them sympathetically, use real instruments wherever possible and allow one of the best soul voices in the business to do its stuff. In essence, that's what 'Second Chance' is all about.

The long player is a 13 tracker and though it's an overused cliché, there's isn't one dud amongst them. That said, it's clearly churlish to cherry pick standouts and highlights. Each cut offers up its own treasures but here's a selection to give you a flavour of what to expect. Here at SJF we've always been big, big fans of the songs of Jimmy Webb and we were  really excited to see that Diane has included a rarely recorded song of his on 'Second Chance'. Tune in question is '(Come Back) Halfway and it's a true delight – like a Fifth Dimension classic. We're told that Webb wrote the catchy song during his tenure with Motown (just before he broke through) and the surprise is how Berry Gordy let this one get away... kind of proves he wasn't always right!

Gordy also let Holland-Dozier-Holland get away (he didn't have much choice) and Diane offers her version of one of the mighty trio's songs here. It's 'Remember Me', which, I think, H-D-H penned for Laura Lee and here Ms and her team turn in a performance that Eddie, Brian and Lamont will, I'm sure, be proud of. It's one of the album's up-tempo moments; one of the memorable slower items is a reading of Michael McDonald's 'Someone Like You. Then there's the ab fab burner 'Through The Rain'.

But hey... we weren't going to cherry pick! So enough .... suffice to say that 'Second Chance' is every bit as good as its predecessor so the pundit who made the above grandiose "21st century" comment might well need to re-think. We'll just say that already in 2018 we'vem awarded five stars to two albums – James Hunter and Sir Wick. Now here's our third!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 February 2018 21:20

 

CROWD COMPANY: Stone & Sky (Vintage League Music)

Friday, 02 February 2018 19:24 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThis album's been around since the back end of last year but the 13 tracker has been steadily building up a reputation and sales via the connection with producer Alan Evans of Soulive.

The band, Crowd Company, are a British 8 piece outfit with a mutual passion for vintage soul and funk; their USP is a trio, of lead singers - Rob Fleming, Esther Dee and Jo Marshall while the instrumentalists like to keep things authentic. To that end they decamped to Evans' Iron Wax studio to cut 'Stone & Sky' – the follow up to their 2014 debut 'Now Or Never'. Like that one, this new set offers plenty of toughness and raw energy best typified by the opener, 'Take Off That Crown' . There's a big blaxploitation feel to this, though the funk's never too far away. 'Soar' is another funky workout driven by wah wah guitars.

The album's most soulful moment is the stark ballad 'Can't Get Enough'. The roots of the music here are down in Muscle Shoals and Memphis and there's a convincing vocal from either Jo Marshall or Esther Dee. My copy doesn't make it clear which singer features on which track.... but whoever it is does a fine job.

Elsewhere expect plenty of raw, contemporary funk delivered with energy, passion and a respect for the genre.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 02 February 2018 19:46

 

KATHY KOSINS; Uncovered Soul (Membran Records)

Monday, 29 January 2018 16:13 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThroughout 2017 we heard a lot of and about Detroit soul and jazz singer Kathy Kosins. With a well timed series of singles and remixes, the PR people built up huge anticipation for the parent album which seemed to be constantly dropping back in the release schedules. Well, alleluia, the album is with us at last (well, it's released, for sure, on February 9) and the 12 tracker is, I can assure you, worth the wait. Worth the wait that is if you appreciate sophisticated, sensitive soul and jazz delivered with commitment, artistry and respect for the genre. 'Uncovered Soul' is, I think, the sometime Don Was mentee's fifth or sixth long player but with production from Gregory Porter collaborator Kamau Kenyatta and the aforementioned expectation, this should be the album to deliver Ms Kosins to a wider audience.

By now proper soul and jazz fans will be familiar with some of this album's songs – notably the title track and the Paul Randolph song, 'Could You Be Me' which was championed by Gilles Petersen and even won dance exposure via a tight and funky Opolopo mix. They still sound strong but there are plenty more treasures to be had.

To give you a flavour of what to expect you need to know that the set features plenty of covers and the choice of those covers will perhaps tell you something of the influences that have helped shape Kathy's oeuvre and the aspirations she has for her art. For 'Uncovered Soul', Kathy has dipped into the catalogues of artists/writers as diverse as Eugene McDaniels, Curtis Mayfield, the Neville Brothers, Blue Nile, Bill Withers and Burt Bacharach. At least once in a career most jazz and soul artists feel the need to tackle a Bacharach classic and here Ms K offers her version of the sweet but sad, 'Any Day Now'. Running in at just over 6 minutes, it's what a cover should be – a new perspective on the familiar. Kosins and Kenyatta eschew the familiar piano riff and starkly reconstruct the song (even more radically than the great Bacharach "reconstructor" Luther Vandross did) to create a forlorn ballad that recalls the best of Carmen Lundy.

Other highlights include the Latin-inflected reading of The Neville Brothers' New Orleans classic 'Voodoo' and the sparse funk of Mayfield's 'Ms Martha (which Curtis fans will know and love from his 'New World Order' album). Out of the orignals, the lazy meander that is 'A To B' boasts a strong melody that allows Ms Kosins' world weary vocal to shine. 

Kathy Kosins 'Uncovered Soul' is officially released on February 9th and she'll be appearing live on April 17th at Piazza Express' Chelsea Pheasantry.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 29 January 2018 19:03

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Stax Singles Vol. 4 - Rarities & Best Of The Rest' (Craft/Rhino)

Friday, 26 January 2018 08:56 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                       alt

Issued to conclude Stax's 60th anniversary celebrations, this fourth and final instalment focusing on the iconic Memphis label's singles output collects together all the rarities and odds and sods from its catalogue. At 6 CDs and 145 tracks, it's a huge, almost indigestible cache of material even for a Stax completist with the most prodigious appetite. Some of Stax's big hitters are featured - think Isaac Hayes, Carla and Rufus Thomas, Booker T & The MG's, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, and William Bell, who are all represented by some of their more obscure cuts and B-sides - but it's the label's more esoteric and unsung acts that dominate the track listing.  These include forgotten vocal groups -  among them The Astors, Ollie & The Nightingales, Baracudas, The Canes, The Cobras, Jeanne & The Darlings, The Newcomers, Barbara & The Browns, Hot Sauce - male singers (Sid Selvidge, Casper Peters, Clark Sullivan, Chuck Boris, Ben Atkins) and female songbirds (Ilana, Karen Casey, Connie Eaton, Ruby Johnson, Shirley Walton).

Anyone who though that Stax was exclusively an R&B label will need to think again after delving into discs 4, 5 and 6. Disc 4 brings to light some of the label's country music exponents. Black singer, O. B. McClinton (aka the 'Chocolate Cowboy')  was arguably the most famous of their country critters and is featured twice but there was also Sid Selvidge, a group called The Caboose,  and deep-voiced cowboy, Casper Peters. There were also pop singers like Clark Sullivan, old school crooners such as the resonant-voiced Billy Eckstine,  and even noted jazz drummer, Chico Hamilton, who recorded for the label in the '70s (though with little success). Disc 5, which focuses on some of the label's rock and pop  roster, including the excellent cult Memphis group, Big Star and psych-rock acts Finley Brown (whose hard rock-oriented 'Gypsy' is a standout) The Little Rich Kids, Lonnie Duvall,  The Knowbody Else, and the Doors-influenced Southwest F.O.B. It's a mixed batch of material but certainly an intriguing one.

In acute contrast, disc 6 concentrates on Stax's gospel output, featuring sanctified sides by the Rance Allen Group, The Dixie Nightingales, The Jubilee Hummingbirds, The Stars of Virginia and Roebuck 'Pops' Staples. But if it's pure, unadulterated Memphis soul music you want, there's plenty to hand here on the first three discs. The Staple Singers are represented alongside such redoubtable Stax luminaries as Johnnie Taylor, Frederick Knight, The Soul Children, Shirley Brown, Mable John, The Mad Lads, Judy Clay, and Lynda Lyndell. An 80-page booklet featuring liner notes from Stax authority, Rob Bowman, plus essays by Lee Hildebrand, Alec Palao, and co-producer, Bill Belmont, puts the music into its rightful historical, political and cultural context. It provides the proverbial icing on the cake to what is a fascinating retrospective that offers plenty of surprises, even, perhaps, for the most knowledgeable of Stax fans.

 (CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 26 January 2018 09:06

 

JULIA BIEL; Julia Biel (Rokit Records)

Thursday, 25 January 2018 14:45 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altFor the past several years Julia Biel has been making quite a name for herself on the London club and jazz circuit. Brought up in the capital but of South African heritage, young Julia mastered the piano and after graduating from Oxford with a languages degree she became a fixture on the London scene with her musical and life partner, bassist Idris Rahman. Her first album was the low key 'Not Alone' which won Ms B a "Rising Star" at the 2006 BBC Jazz Awards. It took nine years for a follow up to materialize but 'Love Letters And Other Missiles' brought a MOBO nomination, an Urban Jazz Award and plaudits from taste makers like Jamie Cullum.

Maintaining the momentum, Julia is all set to release her third album at the start of February. The long player was prefaced by the single 'Wasting Breath'. The broody jazz/pop tune was played out on some of the more sophisticated jazz stations where listeners expect and appreciate elegance, artistry and commitment. Indeed those are the dominant traits of the album. Hardly surprising when you learn that Julia's heroes and influences number icons like Billie Holliday and Nina Simone. No surprise too to read that commentators have made comparison between Julia and Amy Winehouse; those same influences were dominant in the tragic North Londoner's formative years.

The musical soundscape and vocal styling of this eponymous 12 tracker recalls much of dear old Amy's work (I'd suggest a similarity to Corinne Bailey Rae too); the difference, however, is that though Ms Winehouse could "do bleak" she could also work up a head of optimistic steam... think 'Valerie' or even 'Rehab'. At this stage though Ms Biel is happy (not quite the right word) to stick with the bleak. Song titles like 'Critical Condition', 'The Wilderness', 'Dead Slept Rough' and, especially 'You Could Turn A Rainbow Grey' sound like their titles... melancholic, introspective and yes, bleak. An elegant and intriguing kind of bleak, but it would have been more intriguing to hear some optimism and joie de vivre. 'Emily' is as about as "up" as this album gets, but, hey, maybe the music reflects exactly where Julia Biel is right now.

BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 January 2018 21:02

 

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