LEELA JAMES: Let’s Do It Again (Label: Shanachie)

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LEELA JAMES: Let's Do It Again

Over the past few years the Shanachie label has carved out as respectable little niche for itself by having some great soul singers work on albums that consist of (chiefly) covers of well-known soul songs. Leela James (remember her wonderful ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ album?) is the latest artist to be offered the opportunity and she turns in a remarkable performance. What makes this album so darn good is Ms. James’ gritty, aggressively soulful delivery. It makes the album’s overall tone a tad funkier than what people have come to expect from the Shanachie stable. Even on the anodyne AOR staple that is ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ the young Los Angelino proves that a church-based vocal apprenticeship can work wonders on the limpest of material. Ditto the lady’s attack on the Stones’ ‘Miss You’, on which Mick Jagger’s vocal posturing is shown as just that. Much, much better though are the ‘proper’ soul songs. There are great versions here of Betty Wright’s ‘Clean Up Woman’, JB’s ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’, Curtis and the Staples’ ‘Let’s Do It Again’ and Bobby Womack’s ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’. On lesser albums they would be real standouts, but here there’s even better…Womack and Womack’s ‘Baby I’m Scared Of You’, for instance. The classic is given a light steppers’ groove and it’s quite irresistible. Same goes for the breezy take on the Phyllis Hyman mainstay, ‘You Know How To Love Me’. Here the light, jazzy lilt of the original is retained though the vocal has more of an edge, making it different from, but just as good as the original. Leela also offers homage to Angela Bofil with a version of ‘I Try’ and again you’d find it hard to select between this and the original version. Takes on George Clinton’s ‘I’d Rather Be With You’ and Al Green’s ‘Simply Beautiful’ reinforce Leela’s credentials as a committed balladeer and round off an excellent collection that’s a lot more soulful – in the good old fashioned sense – than the usual Shanachie sound.
(BB) 4/5