Allan Harris is a Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based soul and jazz vocalist/guitarist/bandleader/composer who made his recording debut way back in 1994 with ‘Setting The Standard’. Since then, he’s released over a dozen acclaimed long players, shared stages with people like Tony Bennett, Dionne Warwick, Diana Krall, Abbey Lincoln, Natalie Cole, Al Jarreau, Al Green, Lee Ritenour, Michael Feinstein, Cassandra Wilson, and Wynton Marsalis and performed all over the world. However, Allan is still something of a mainstream unknown in the UK and Europe despite a spellbinding performance during the London Olympics, regularly working with the London Jazz Festival Orchestra and being described as “My favourite singer” by a certain Tony Bennett.
Next month, Allan will be releasing his newest album, ‘Kate’s Soulfood’ and sneak previews reveal that the 10 tracker might just be the record to break Mr H to a wider, more appreciative audience. Why? Well, quite simply, ‘Kate’s Soulfood’ is a collection of beautiful songs beautifully presented; each song has been crafted with love and a depth of life experience, and each one offers food for thought – some more provocative than others but, consistently, here, there are messages-a-plenty!
The album opens with the scene setter, ‘I Grew Up (Kate’s Place)’ – it’s Harris’ paean to Harlem; indeed, where he grew up. The “Kate’s Place” in the title refers to his Aunt Kate’s soul food luncheonette, just around the corner from the Apollo and where the singer spent plenty of time in his formative years. With percussive hand claps and a nostalgia-fuelled lyric that lists plenty of soul and jazz greats you may well be reminded of Gregory Porter’s ‘On My Way To Harlem’ (more of that later!).
The album boasts plenty more of Harris’ memories of the streets beyond 110th. The ominous ‘One More Notch’ is the plaintive story of guns and gun life; the soulful 70s ballad style of ‘The Colour Of A Woman Is Blu’ is the singer’s homage to the music that was constantly being played on the juke boxes of neighbourhood barber shops while ‘Shallow Man’ is inspired (if that’s the right word) by Harlem street corner hustlers.
There are lovely personal moments too. Harris says that cuts like the beautiful harmonica-led ‘Autumn’, the gorgeous ’99 Miles’ and the reassuring ‘New Day’ are songs about the love and hope he was showered with from family and friends and if we’ve been as lucky as him, we can all identify. If you’ve not been so lucky, we sympathise. But you can still lavish in these wonderous songs.
The album ends with ‘Run Through America’ – beautifully presented, it’s Harris’ reaction to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others.
Earlier we mentioned Gregory Porter and it would be easy to draw comparison with him, especially as ‘Kate’s Soulfood’ has been produced by long time Porter collaborator Kamau Kenyatta and like Porter, Harris possesses a warm and soulful baritone voice. We might also suggest that there are shades of José James here too while the often clever and incisive lyrics are in a line that can be traced back to Oscar Brown Jr. Throughout, though, Allan Harris is his own man and here he’s managed to pull off something quite difficult. He’s crafted a quite beautiful, personal album that also has the ability to speak to all of us. Proper soul music if you would.
Allan Harris’ ‘Kate’s Soulfood’ is released on Love Productions on February 12th and, as you might have guessed, it comes hugely recommended.