2009’s been a vintage year for indie soul compilations and this new 15 tracker from Los Angeles’ Trans Phatt Records is right up there with the pick of the crop. However, it’s not quite right to describe this collection as a “various artists” set. Sure, each track features a different singer but the production and concept is down to Astral 22, the alter ego of L.A. based writer and producer Armand Tulumello. His vision gives the album a distinct unity and direction that so many compilations lack, but don’t think that means that this album is samey and stuck in one groove. Far from it. Armand here works with musicians and singers from around the world and allows them to operate as free agents. His skill is in imbuing each cut with a kind of spirituality and his respect for the music is evident throughout. That spirituality, I guess, is most obvious on ‘Imperial Theme’ from Stephanie Renee. It’s a spoken word piece that has a hint of Jill Scott about it but it wouldn’t be out of place on those famed Ibizan Café Del Mar chill out albums. More up-tempo (though not frantic) are ‘In This Life’ from Rena Scott, LeNora Jaye’s ‘A Silent Prayer’ and Katie Cole’s ‘Think About It’. That last one has delightful retro feel about it and will delight sophisticated modern soulsters. Ms. Cole’s gentler ‘Back Into The Sun’ is another highlight… guaranteed to bring warmth to the approaching winter. There’s more gentle, insinuating soul on ‘The Reason’ from Rogiers, ‘Starting Over’ from Simone and Shuane’s ‘Make Me Wanna Fly’. That one offers just a hint of Latin rhythms while Fernando Cardo takes his vocal on ‘Nunca Sabras’ in Spanish, though his other track (‘You Never Know’) features English lyrics – handled with the album’s most overt old school soul vocal. More variety comes with the shuffling ‘Fair Play’ from Mz. Pat, the intricate rhythms of Heidi Martin’s ‘Ism’ and the languid harmonies of LeNora Jaye’s ‘Do You Wanna’. Astral 22 holds all this together with his commitment to quality in new soul music. His label’s mission statement is to ‘Give you back what you’ve been missing’… he’s made a great start. Available from all the usual internet outlets.