PAULETTE McWILLIAMS; These Are The Sweet Things (Expansion)

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That doyen of UK soul labels, Expansion, does sterling work reissuing classic soul tracks and sourcing stellar new material – but, of course, you didn’t need me to tell you that! The label’s latest album (out July 28th) falls into that latter category – it’s a set of, yes, “stellar” new material from a real soul icon – PAULETTE McWILLIAMS.

If you’re new to soul you might need to know that Ms McWilliams is a garlanded soul/jazz singer and songwriter with a career that spans the decades. A native of Chicago (born 1948), inspired by jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald, she made music her vocation at an early age (she made her first public appearance on the television show “Little Stars” at the age of 11, performing alongside the iconic Sammy Davis Jr). Paulette  cut her first record in 1965 (the wonderfully titled, ‘He’s Nothing but a Teenage Dropout’) and eventually went on to join Chicago band, The American Breed as lead singer and indeed when they morphed into Rufus, it was still Paulette who fronted the group. When she decided she wanted some family time, Ms Mc introduced her friend Chaka Khan (never heard of her!) to the band and the rest…

After relocating to Los Angeles, Paulette was inundated with session work of all kinds – from ad jingles to work with people like Quincy Jones. That Jones connection brought in plenty more deals and in 1977 she released her debut solo album, ‘Feel Good All Over’ but she was still an A list session singer, collaborating with people like Bette Midler, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and, most famously, Luther Vandross. Those musical giants and many more all relished and profited from Paulette’s experience and extraordinary vocal range and versatility.

Hear both those remarkable qualities (and more) right across the 13 tracks that make up this new collection, ‘These Are The Sweet Things’. It’s Paulette’s first set since 2020’s ‘A Woman’s Story’ and across the album you’ll discover that Paulette can go from a  hushed gentleness to a funky feistiness at the drop of hat. Feel the funk on tracks like ‘Baby Think Again’ (a funk that has a jazzy undertow), the live-flavoured ‘Teddy’s Got A Plan’, the grinding ‘That’s How I Am’ and ‘Sometimes Your Eyes’ where you’ll hear where Chaka Khan learned her licks.

Enjoy Paulette’s more tender side on cuts like ‘Tell Me You Love Me’  and the lovely title track. Both have a distinct Anita Baker flavour. Indeed, on the former Ms Baker is referenced by the lyric, “caught up in the rapture”! And while we’re talking “referencing”, can we point you to one of the LP’s undoubted highlights – a gorgeous ‘New Tunes, Old Grooves’. It’s one of those great soul “litany” songs, so beloved by the modern soul crowd. It cleverly  name-checks many of our heroes and heroines and the groove perfectly matches the sentiment. On the cut, Paulette is joined on the vocal by Pam and Philip Groves while two  former Luther Vandross luminaries, drummer Ivan Hampden and keys man Nat Adderley Jr add their respective talents. The whole thing’s just lovely and like everything on this album proves once again that in this crazy soul world  there’s just no substitute for experience. Across this album you’ll enjoy a wonderful, emotive  voice offering a classic blend of soul, jazz and funk while the lyrics tell captivating stories and delve deep into varied emotions and sentiments. Can’t ask for much more!

(BB) 4/5