JALEN NGONDA: Come Round And Love Me (Daptone)

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At the risk of repetition, 2023 has been a vintage year for contemporary soul albums. We’ve been treated to a plethora of wonderful long players from people like Paulette McWilliams, Joe Leavy, Kevin Fingier, Lack Of Afro and Bobby Harden – all proving that despite the naysayers, real soul is alive and very well! Pundits and punters alike are however puzzled as to which is the absolute best and now the conundrum’s got that bit more difficult with the eventual release of one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated sets – Jalen Ngonda’s ‘Come Round And Love Me’.

First a bit of background. Young Jalen (he’s 28) grew up just outside of Washington D.C. where his father introduced him to all things soul and Motown. Jalen is now based in London, having studied the musical arts in Liverpool at the famed Paul McCartney-funded  Institute for Performing Arts (other graduates include Andy Platts of Mama Gun by the way). In 2018 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Jalen was voted top emerging star and it’s clear that the judge’s verdict  was spot on from what we’ve heard from him  so far.

Fast forward to a  last minute opening slot for Jools Holland where Jalen was spotted by Daptone co-founder, Neal Sugarman. Jalen was signed up and an album was planned right away. Then something called Covid got in the way – but when the world breathed easily again Jalen and producer/arrangers Mike Buckley and Vincent Chiarito (both members of Charles Bradley’s Extraordinaires) and a top team of Daptone sessioneers got busy on what is now the 11 track ‘Come Round And Love Me’.

The album has been flagged up by six singles – all blending the smooth sophistication of Motown and Philly with the grittier, for real sounds of Stax, FAME, Goldwax et al. The six singles all appear on the album and if you’re a soul fan/collector you’ll know that things like the album title track, ‘If You Don’t Want My Love’, ‘So Glad’ and ‘What A Difference She Made’ are things of soulful beauty – retro for sure but they’re not imitations. They have a fresh feel; an energy  and a vitality that is rare in modern music.

The album’s five “new” songs (i.e. those not released as singles) are just as special. There’s a Southern flavoured ballad, ‘Lost’; a string laden, harmonic slowie, ‘Please Show Me’; a so catchy, soaring, gorgeous ‘Give Me Another Day’; a shifty, moody ‘It Takes A Fool’; and a sweet, pacey ‘Rapture’. All have their roots in classic soul but offer fresh perspectives on the genre. More importantly they allow Jalen’s voice to soar and roar. Why… even the Guardian has raved enthusiastically about the album and Jalen’s proper soul voice – comparing it to both Marvin Gaye and David Ruffin! There you go!

We’ll leave the finals words to Mr N: “I love music from the 20th century— I listen to it all the time, but I’m in this world and the 21st century. …to a stranger, I’d describe my music as modern soul and R&B, while trying to fit in the Beach Boys and the Beatles somewhere in between.”

Yep, like Gaye, Ruffin – even the Beatles and Beach Boys – Jalen’s music is superlative – timeless!

(BB) 5/5

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