Leroy Burgess is the archetypal underground soul hero. Few in the mainstream will have heard of him but soul connoisseurs will know that the man’s CV boasts a litany of achievements that better known artists would be mightily proud of. Related to soul’s Bell clan (the great Thom and Robert “Kool”), Burgess broke through with 70s band Black Ivory – managed by Patrick Adams. A spell as a solo artist was followed by a stint with Aleem, though he continued to work on all kinds of other projects, particularly with Adams. On his own he wrote and/or produced material on Rick James and Fonda Rae and for a time he was involved in the whole Salsoul thing. His music is/was always aimed straight at the dance floor and his huge involvement with the New York disco scene led to all kinds of personal problems which meant for a time he “disappeared”, re-emerging in the 90s as a born again Christian and working on the Gospel scene – most notably with Vanessa Bell Armstrong.
Over the last few years Leroy’s been very, very busy collecting together the parts of his back catalogue that had slipped away from him or had never been quite finished in the way he’d intended. He’s polished them up – re-recording bits, re-mixing sections and generally bringing them to a standard that he can be proud to issue publicly. Last year he issued a first volume of such tracks and this new 13 tracker is the second instalment. The music here was originally laid down between 1983 and 1986 and was recorded in that part of Harlem known as Sugar Hill –an area which Leroy insists has a huge creative energy. Well, that may be so – I’ve never been – but what the music does have is a big optimism and “up” feel about it. Clearly our man is happy to be reacquainted with his old material and you can almost feel the joy he’s gained from working on what must be to him, “old friends”.
Like we said up top, Burgess’s forte was in getting people to dance and almost any of the cuts here would sit nicely in any modern soul DJ’s set. Almost all are built on irresistible tight beats – never frantic, but foot tappers all – best typified by the lovely ‘Money Goin’ Out’ which is also blessed with a sweet melody and great hook. The slightly slower ‘Ever Change’ offers some pleasing harmonies while the only “slowie” is a respectful version of Skip Scarborough’s ‘Don’t Ask My Neighbour’. Best comparison to make with the sound here is to link it to the stuff that the Cool Million people are doing… no surprise then that the album’s released on their Sed Soul label – a great chicken and egg conundrum. Leroy Burgess was clearly first – but Sed Soul and its sound allow him to re-flourish. All tautology, I suppose – and irrelevant really when you have such great modern soul to enjoy.