NOEL McKOY: Brighter Day (Label: Tri-Sound)

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NOEL McCOY: Brighter Day

A stalwart of the UK soul scene, gospel-reared singer/songwriter Noel McKoy – who possesses an athletic voice that can range from a tortured Levi Stubbs-style rasp to a seraphic Curtis Mayfield-like sweet falsetto – has been plying his trade for over twenty years now. Mostly, he’s appeared as a background singer – singing with acts as varied as Cliff Richard, Incognito and Atlantic Starr – but every so often, he releases a long player under his own name. His third album, ‘Brighter Day,’ follows in the wake of 1998’s ‘Please Take It Personal’ and proves to be the South London musician’s finest offering to date. It opens with the title song, a slow, plaintive, old school ballad that doffs its cap to Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come,’ especially with its plucked guitar arpeggios and McKoy’s emotionally-charged, gutbucket vocal. The second track, ‘Great Big Gap,’ is another strong original tune and sounds like a Holland-Dozier-Holland-penned Four Tops’ outtake with its stomping Motown/Northern Soul groove. By contrast, the elegant mid-tempo ‘Special Delivery’ – a duet with the lovely Ebony Alleyne – resembles the kind of urbane pop-soul hybrid that Burt Bacharach and Hal David successfully created for Dionne Warwick in the 1960s. There are shades of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions on the mid-tempo love song, ‘Fly Away With Me,’ which highlights the sweet soulfulness of McKoy’s delivery – by contrast, the ’70s-influenced track, ‘Love In The City,’ salutes Mayfield circa ‘Superfly.’ On the propulsive dancer, ‘Read Between The Lines,’ McKoy employs a grittier approach that vividly conjures images of ’60s vocal groups like The Artistics. Obviously, ‘Brighter Days’ wears its influences proudly on its sleeve – but like the recently acclaimed Mayer Hawthorne and Raphael Saadiq retro-hued albums, Noel McKoy’s plundering of soul’s rich past combined with his sincerity and soulful commitment elevates this collection of songs above hollow pastiche. Not everything works, though – the cheerfully upbeat ‘Shadow Of A Dream,’ with its ’80s overtones, doesn’t hit the spot. Ditto the vacuous ‘Skating On Thin Ice,’ but overall, this is a pleasing and at times, very impressive, album.
(CW) 4/5