LAMAR THOMAS: No Rain No Rainbow (Label: Thomtay Records)

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LAMAR THOMAS: No Rain No Rainbow

I know Lamar Thomas won’t mind me calling him a soul veteran. Born down on the Mississippi Delta, he’s spent most of his working life in New York City where he’s made numerous recordings, wrote hundreds of songs, authored a trio of books and produced an important Civil Rights movie. En route, Lamar’s picked up a hatful of Grammy nominations but for the last 16 years he’s worked selflessly in Swiftwater, PA as director of studies for the school board. His specific responsibility was to create diversity in the curriculum through the arts and the spoken word but now he’s decided the time is right to get his musical career back on track. This new 13 tracker is self-produced and Lamar wrote all the songs in partnership with his wife – and therein lies one of indie soul’s perennial problems. With no one to offer constructive criticism it’s easy for the self-produced artist to get carried away with the perceived brilliance of his/her own ideas. Add to that, budgetary constraints and an over reliance on poorly programmed drum machines and you have the recipe for a very ordinary soul album. It pains me to say that, ‘cos I believe that Lamar Thomas has a lot to offer – both musically and in his ideas and concepts. Musically he has a fine world-weary soul voice. It reminds me a lot of Jerry Butler – indeed the album has a feel of the Ice Man’s 1992 ‘Time And Faith’ set but where that one contained a batch of excellent songs (from the likes of Willie Nelson, Curtis Mayfield and Jimmy Cliff) ‘No Rain No Rainbow’ lacks really big songs. The title cut offers a clever lyrical conceit but it’s overwrought while the ideas behind ‘If I had My Way’ (no war, no poverty no racism etc) have been explored hundreds of time before – and in more imaginative and sensitive ways. Best cut on the set – by a long way – is the crisp beater that is ‘You Do Magic’. It’s quite lovely but half way through there’s a little rap from a gentleman called SMIGGZ. It’s not needed and I’m sure an outside producer would have told Lamar so. The opener ‘I Found Love’ is half-decent too and boasts a tasty Benson-esque guitar break. Elsewhere, though, things are bogged down by poor drum machine patterns that are often quite at odds with Lamar’s valiant attempts to create soul. Sadly, I’ll pass on most of ‘No Rain No Rainbow’. It says nothing new and its recycling of the old is not particularly interesting or exciting.
(BB) 2/5