Within a comparatively short space of time, Phil Driver’s Soul Unsigned set-up has established itself in the premier league of UK based soul labels and with this new 16 tracker the label expands its horizons considerably. It sounds obvious, I know, but Soul Unsigned was set up to offer exposure to unsigned soul acts – artists who made great music, but because it was perceived as unfashionable by the big labels was destined to remain ignored – till Phil and team stepped in. Phil’s research, however, quickly revealed that there was also a huge number of quality soul acts who released their material independently and, again, because of the big retailers’ perception that what they were producing wasn’t saleable, the music just wasn’t getting enough exposure and it was almost always hard to track down. Hence ‘The Contemporary Soul Songbook’ – a collection of (largely) previously available music that deserves a wider audience. The set kicks off with a real stormer – a remix of Ashanti Munir’s ‘I’m Staying Home Tonight’. The credits are reticent as to the source of the remix, but whoever was at the at the controls had clearly been listening to his/her old Drizabone albums – it’s that good. Featuring the stunning sax of Elan Trotman, the cut has all the ingredients that make a modern soul room classic. The album’s other big dance tracks are Woody Cunningham’s ‘Never Say Never’ and Nash Reed’s ‘Saying Less’ … both already well-known on the scene. With the odd exception (Sophie Nelson’s ‘Over’ and Eddie Sea’s ‘India’), the rest of the album is downbeat and reminiscent of those classic Expansion Wind Down albums from back in the day. Real soul fans will already be familiar with stuff like Antoinette’s duet with Howard Hewett – ‘Where Do We Go From Here’, Trish Andrews’ ‘On My Mind’ and Tammy Harris’s ‘Come Over’ but collected together like this they still have considerable impact. The newest cut is ‘Living For Today’ from LeNora Jaye (from a forthcoming album) while the oldest track is ‘Tongue Tied’ by Lisa Zuré. Recorded back in 1996, this one really does have all the feel of those aforementioned Wind Down collections with which Expansion blazed a trail. With that label currently quiet, and outfits like Soulchoonz and Dome seemingly deep in the dreary doldrums (we’ve not heard anything from them in months!), it seems that Soul Unsigned is rising to the occasion and filling a newly-created gap in the UK soul scene… hopefully Volume 2 won’t be too far away.