This is the first in a new Soul Unsigned series designed, we’re told, to explore the more urban areas of modern soul. Well, I’ve never been a big fan of genre definitions and I positively switch off when anorak fans start listing all kinds of various sub-genres and musical hybrids. I’m with Berry Gordy and his simple two category definition of music – good and bad, and going on his past track record, compiler Phil Driver knows a good tune when he hears one and he’s packed this long player with plenty. Sure, the sounds here are a little tougher than some of the music on previous Soul Unsigned compilations. Some of the cuts have a heavy, “street” feel about them and some – God forbid! – include raps and though they may lack a little sophistication and polish, believe me, they’re no less soulful than previous outings on the Soul Unsigned imprint or, indeed, any of the independent compilations to which we’ve been treated this year.
Let’s illustrate the point with a concrete example. One of the best cuts here is ‘Tonight’ from Ms. Monique. It’s an unashamed and brash soul celebration from a feisty, real woman who likes to tell it like it is (if you remember her ‘Mr. Do Right’ you’ll understand my point). Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges – but aren’t lots of past classics similarly rustic. If you like polish, though, go straight to ‘Anguish, Love And Romance’ from The New Congress. It’s a lovely, sweet group sound with a catchy melody and the crispest of beats– a bit like a down time Tower of Power cut. What makes it “urban”, I suppose, is the fact that it features a rap… from the celebrated Talib Kweli, by the way. But his rhymes don’t make the cut any less enjoyable. His words are organic and grow out of the group’s music and it’s such a shame that some blinkered modern soulsters will shy away from the cut because of it. My contention is that they don’t understand the evolution of black music; they’d be happy if soul stayed stuck in one style – their preference – the antiseptic, retro sing-along, predictable beats school of soul. How arrogant! Don’t get me wrong; I love that kind of music too and frequently champion it. But real soul fans know there’s a lot more than that to be explored and enjoyed – and to quickly sum up, this album allows us to do just that without too much effort. We’ve only mentioned two cuts – but briefly other included goodies are ‘A Good Time’ from Charizz (a lazy, jazzy roller), Sule’s ‘Feel’s Good (hints of Robin Thicke) and ‘In Your Dreams’ by J Red (a Jon B throwback). Do yourself a favour – check ’em out (and all the rest)… you may just surprise yourself and like them.