BOBBY HARDEN and the SOULFUL SAINTS; Bridge Of Love (Dala/BQE)

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This just released album is one of the most eagerly awaited soul sets of the year so far. That status was established via series of singles (notably the album title track) which made serious soul fans suddenly pay real attention to the almost unknown Bobby Harden. A little investigation revealed that Bobby was something of a veteran having paid his  dues as a member of the Blues Brothers Band which  saw him working alongside legends like Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd. Bobby then went on to work with people like Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, Robert Cray and Delbert McClinton and professional contact with such established stars clearly  had an impact on Mr H as he began to craft his own authentic take on classic soul that impressed all who saw him live. Amongst the impressed was Billy Aukstik, trumpeter with the Charles Bradley Band – another outfit who, you’ll know, peddle a 21st century take on classic soul. After Bradley’s untimely death, Aukstik set up his own label, Dala, and Bobby Harden was one of the first signings and this ‘Bridge Of Love’ is the first real fruit of the partnership (apart, of course, from  the album-heralding singles).

‘Bridge Of Love’ opens in a boisterous, roisterous fashion with a beefy, brassy ‘It’s My Time’. It’s a proper Southern soul throwback  and there’s plenty more of the same sort of up-tempo beaters… cuts like ‘Played A Fool By You’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Raise Your Mind’  and ‘One Tribe’ – all could’ve come  straight out of Memphis or Muscle Shoals, though on the last one you might just notice a little Norman Whitfield thing going on.

They’re all good,  “for real” sounds but the 10 tracker yields far greater treasures. The sweet ‘One Night Of The Week’ (one of the singles) still sounds good but is maybe bettered by the more uptown sound of ‘Feels So Good’ – I guarantee that one will make you feel good!

‘Wounded Hearts’ is different altogether – a sombre, melancholy, Southern soul ballad that if it had the illustrious Goldwax stamp on it, you wouldn’t be surprised. Diametrically opposed to that one is ‘Runnin’ To Get To Your Love’ (another of the singles). This one’s fast and pacey and will bring smiles and maybe the odd head spin to the Northern  fraternity. That brings us to the album title track. ‘Bridge Of Love’ (the song) has won universal acclaim from all the savvy soul media. And no wonder! It’s proper soul music as it was and how it should be. It will  tug at your emotions in the way that all the soul classics you know and love did and it will remind you exactly why you got mixed up in this crazy soul world in the first place. Yes, it’s good and a fitting title track to a superb real soul album.

Production’s down to Billy Aukstik while  the Soulful Saints provide exactly the right accompaniment and so they should  – seeing as how their collective CVs include wok with people like  Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Lee Fields & The Expressions, The Budos Band, Mark Ronson, Antibalas, The Impressions, & The Wu-Tang Clan. Top musicians, top producer, top songs… and Bobby Harden. What more do you want?

(BB) 5/5