Reviews

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

 

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

 

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