For a good few years now soul connoisseurs have known all about Baltimore’s mighty Marcell Russell. Despite his wonderful ‘Hopes Too High’ (a Teddy Douglas production) and four properly soulful, indie albums, the man dubbed by insiders as “The Voice” remains one of soul’s best kept secrets. Maybe that’s set to change as he hooks up again with chief Basement Boy, Teddy Douglas for this collection that’s sure to set the soul world alight… well, that’s if there’s any justice.
The 11 track ‘Retro Soul’ was heralded by a trio of leaked tunes back in February. The first taster was a sweeping, brash ‘Only A Fool’ that married gospel testifying with the energized rhythms of soulful house. ‘Wonderful’ was a whole lot slinkier… a great modern soul groove with a hypnotic dynamic; the third cut was the down and dirty ‘Clap My Hands’ with input from the P-Funk Horns. Three different kinds of soul but all given a unity by Marcell’s expressive, convincing, soul baritone and those who’d hadn’t come across him before started (like many earlier Russell aficionados) to make comparison with Luther Vandross and Donny Hathaway.
No surprise, therefore to realise that this album’s two big covers are ”Till My Baby Come Home’ and ‘Valdez in The Country’ (yep, that one’s an instrumental… but it’s an obvious nod to Mr H!). Given the vocal similarities with Luther, it would have been an easy option for Teddy and Marcell to go for a carbon copy; wisely they don’t. They up the tempo, taking it just into soulful house territory and it works. Luther would, I’m sure, love it. Equally, Mr Hathaway would be smiling at the respectful, instrumental treatment of ‘Valdez’.
On most albums those two tunes would stand out but there’s plenty more soul excellence here. For starters try ‘Good Morning Love’ – a jazzy, Hathaway-esque ramble with sensual input from Floetry’s Natalie Stewart. Then there’s a samba flavoured romp, ‘Forever’, on which Marcell shares the vocal spotlight with the ever-wonderful Maysa.
You should have guessed by now that this is an unmissable soul album … in the frame for 2016’s best and in praising ‘Retro Soul’ we shouldn’t forget producer/facilitator Teddy Douglas. He says that he was trying to do with Marcell what Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff did with their Philly superstars all those years ago. You know what? He’s succeeded magnificently and crafted an album that’s easily the equal of all those PIR classics.