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  • MADELINE BELL AND OTHERS; Themes (Vocalion)

Here’s an interesting, unusual and most welcome album that was recorded back in 1976. Madeline Bell, of course, needs no introduction here. She was – indeed, still is an incomparable soul and jazz vocal stylist who has never quite achieved the major status her talent deserves. The “others” referred to on our title are a group of UK session musicians (Mike Moran (keys), Alan Parker (guitar), Les Hurdle (bass), Frank Ricotti (percussion) and Barry Morgan (drums)). Back in 1976 they called themselves The Themes International Rhythm Section. That awkward moniker was because they did a lot of work for a “library music” label called Themes International. There, they laid down dozens of basic instrumental tracks that were never meant for commercial release; rather, they were intended as incidental music for TV and films or for radio jingles and commercials.

In ’76, the Themes International people were looking for some classy soul music and the band suggested that Madeline Bell be brought in to help them craft the sounds that producers, ad men and radio execs might be tempted to invest in. The musicians and Ms. Bell decamped to Munich and cut 12 tunes that were right in the then contemporary soul bag… but they all felt that they were so good that they should be recorded as “proper songs” and Madeline was asked to drop her wonderful vocals over the tracks. The results of all this can be heard on this new Vocalion album – the first time, I believe, that the music has been commercially available.

The album opens with the 12 vocal recordings and throughout Madeline is a good as ever. ‘Love Is All’ – the opener – is particularly strong; sweet and slinky. ‘You Got What It Takes’ is every bit as catchy with a structure built around a great hook. ‘Crumpet’, ‘Flying High” and ‘Move And Shake Your Body’ are different again. They are a polite take on funk… not too wild (remember the tunes were meant to be sold on to radio, TV and ad men) but Ms Bell does a great job. Indeed the measure of how good some of these songs are is that she re-recorded four of them for the “proper” album, ‘This Is The Girl’.

The seconds half of ‘Themes’ offers the dozen backing tracks – the “library music” if you would. Don’t know if any were ever used, but they’re as good as anything that was broadcast back in the 70s… a rather superior kind of incidental music, and like I said up top –” interesting, unusual and most, most welcome”.

(BB) 4/5