JOEY NEGRO & THE SUNBURST BAND; The Secret Life Of Us (Z Records)

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Joey Negro (Dave Lee to his mum and dad) and his Sunburst Band have been crafting great soul-based dance music since the late 90s and though it’s been nigh on four years since their last long player this new collection sees them still at the very top of their game. Why? Well, Mr Lee/Negro has a deep-rooted passion for all things soulful and his core team (Tony Remy, guitar; Julian Crampton, bass and Frank Tontoh, drums) share the same enthusiasm. Not for them the formulaic playing by numbers that marks out a lot of modern soul; rather they constantly seek that new groove, those new beats, that new flavour that creates a freshness and vitality so often lacking in a lot of new, retro-flavoured soul. Moreover Joey’s status in the soul world is such that he can draft in the very best vocalists to flesh out his creative ideas. Here the singers include Pete Simpson, Darien, Donna Gardier, Vivien McKone and Angela Johnson.

Ms. Johnson brings her soulful subtlety to the album’s big cover cut – a version of Brenda Russell’s’ ‘In The Thick Of It’. It’s a typical Sunburst confection – at once familiar, yet interestingly novel. The same could be said for ‘Caught In The Moment’ and ‘Where The Lights Meet The Music’ Both are annoyingly familiar. The former has hints of the Doobie Brothers’ ‘What A Fool Believes’, while the latter shapes up like Booker Newberry’s ‘Love Town’, but after the opening bars they take on their own intriguing identities.

Elsewhere there’s a lovely 2-Step boogie (‘My Way’), a chunk of electro jazz (‘Jazz The DMX’), a loping, bass-led, Chic homage (the album’s title cut) and lots and lots of pacey dancers that will satisfy both the modern soul crew and the soulful house brigades. (I’m thinking here of the insistent ‘Why Wait For Tomorrow’, the mellower ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ and the choppy ‘Trust Me’) .When it’s time to slow things down a tad then try the closing ‘Love One Another’ –yes it’s a “message song” – but not right in your face… rather, it’s inspirational and insinuating in a subtle way. ‘Opus De Soul’ is another highlight – more a groove than a song… the lush, live strings are a delight. But in truth there are abundant delights throughout the 15 cuts. Each track has been constructed with the passion and attention to detail that we alluded to up top. Making great soul is clearly a labour of love for Joey Negro/Dave Lee. It shows.

(BB) 4/5