Sunday, 19 July 2009 06:46 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


The ever-lovely VANESSA WILLIAMS broke through musically in 1988 with 'The Right Stuff' - a sassy blend of dance grooves and smooth soul. Since then she's not only continued to make quality music, but she's developed a tandem career as an in-demand actress starring in both award-winning movies and acclaimed TV series of which the current smash 'Ugly Betty' is just one. VANESSA'S recently released her latest album on Concord Jazz - 'The Real Thing' - and we here at were delighted to be asked to talk with the lady about it. First though, we wanted to know why it took her so long to deliver the album … bearing in mind that her last was released in 2005

You know I normally take three years between albums but in 2005 I was working in a show called 'South Beach'; then, of course, we started shooting 'Ugly Betty' and now we're getting ready for series four. I just try to do as much as I can and I end up making music between my other commitments.

So when did you start on 'The Real Thing'?

I was signed to Concord a couple of years ago and we started to record right away - in L.A actually, then they moved the show ('Ugly Betty') to New York… then I was down in Nashville working on the 'Hannah Montana' movie. So it's been about two years in the making.



Tuesday, 14 July 2009 14:12 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


MAYER HAWTHORNE'S debut album - 'A Strange Arrangement' - is taking the UK soul world by storm. Since was the first UK-based media to feature MAYER, it was logical that the enigmatic Detroit-based artist wanted to speak with us before anyone else… we obviously wanted to know how he concocted that delicious mix of retro flavours and contemporary nuances - but first what about his musical background?

I grew up just outside of Detroit, Michigan. I've been DJ-ing, collecting records and playing in bands most of my life, but until recently I was primarily focused on hip-hop. This whole Mayer Hawthorne thing started off as sort of a joke. I wrote and recorded a few soul tunes just for fun. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect that it would lead me to this point.

Since you grew up near Detroit - I'm presuming (a bit obvious from the music) that Motown was a huge influence….

Absolutely - the Motown sound is a very big part of Detroit. I'm extremely fortunate to have grown up there. No other city in the world has more soul.

Was it strange for a white kid to be into Motown?

Strange is a good word. I think what most people find strange is that I'm a white kid who is creating new, Motown-inspired music.

What about your other musical influences?

I listen to Slum Village, Steel Pulse, Prince, Smashing Pumpkins, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Helmet, Coldplay, Stereolab, Smokey Robinson, The Police, Public Enemy, and many, many, many more.

Now let's talk about the album -

Yep - my debut album 'A Strange Arrangement' will be released this fall on Stones Throw Records. I wrote, produced, arranged, recorded and sang nearly everything on the album, and played the majority of the instruments.

What exactly was the sound you were trying to create 'cos there's a lot going on in there - Motown, Curtom … harmonies like the Esquires - even the Beach Boys?

I honestly didn't really think that much about it. I tried to just create some good soul music, rather than try to reproduce any certain style. You'll probably hear a little bit of everything that's influenced me.

What's you favourite track… and why?

I like all the tracks for different reasons - but I'm probably most proud of the title track 'A Strange Arrangement'. It's the most complex song that I've written, both lyrically and musically.

What are your hopes for the album?

Hopefully people will listen to it with an open mind. Maybe it will help someone cope with a difficult break-up? Hopefully people will dance to it, cry to it, make love to it, sing along with it... Mainly, I hope it will be successful enough that I can keep making more.

And what abut your future plans - long and short term?

I'll be touring the US and Europe this fall to support the album. I'm also working on a lot of new projects. I'm always looking to the future, working on new music, and trying to stay creative. Follow me at


MAYER HAWTHORNE'S 'A Strange Arrangement' album is released in September … full review on soon…



Thursday, 09 July 2009 13:55 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


By general acclaim MARCUS JOHNSON'S 'Poetically Justified' album is one of the year's best smooth jazz sets. It's groove-heavy and so, so soulful, so caught up with MARCUS to talk about the album but first the piano man wanted to put us right about smooth jazz ….

I don't necessarily agree with the branding of smooth or lite jazz for my music. I would like to think that what I do is just good ole music or an instrumental take on the urban groove that's chic, sexy, and cool. Look, I studied jazz with GERI ALLEN at Howard University, and studied music from a car radio my entire life. My influences are RED GARLAND, OSCAR PETERSON, AND JAY-Z. Jazz is supposed to be a life story. Mine is unique and different from others - especially growing up in DC. And all I can be is me. So for those who label it lite or smooth, I offer them the chance to sit down with me - any day- with an acoustic bass player and a drummer and we'll see just how smooth or lite I can be.

Fair comment - so who else have had an influence on your music and style?

My mother was my initial inspiration. She was the most incredible pianist of all time (to me). I used to sit under the piano and listen to her play for hours. She was a psychotherapist and never performed live but oh how she should have. It's kind of funny because I used to end up in the same position under my father's desk listening to him do business deals. I remember pretending to be asleep so that he would carry me to bed. I always knew that I was loved. But better yet, I was raised to be an individual. That is key to my success. My stepparents come in a close second. I know, though, that you want my musical influences here but I don't think I can talk about QUINCY JONES, EARTH WIND AND FIRE, JOE SAMPLE and GEORGE DUKE without the influence of my parents and the exposure to the different types of music that existed. They were my conduit to the rest of the world.

Tell us a little bit more, then, about your musical background…

Although, many people were exposed to my music with 'Chocolate City Groovin'', my first CD was actually 'Lessons In Love'. I produced my first two projects while I was pursuing my Law Degree and Masters of Business Administration at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Before I graduated, I released another CD entitled 'Inter Alia', which is a Latin legal term which means "amongst other things." This was a fitting title given to me by one of my close friends who was practicing law at the time. She was trying to figure out how I played music, produced, performed, played soccer (Georgetown intramural), and still had enough time to study and not get kicked out of school. You know, as I read all this back, I must have been a nut. Once I graduated, I decided to continue with my entrepreneurial aspirations and started Marimelj Entertainment Group, Inc. out of my mother and stepfather's basement. This is where I met CARL GRIFFIN with N2K who decided to put the best of 'Lessons in Love' and 'Inter Alia' together to create 'Chocolate City Groovin''. Once N2K was sold and the label shut down, I decided that God must want me to stick to the original plan and I began to produce the CD 'Coming Back Around'. Kinda fitting, hey? It was like I was coming back around to my senses after seeing the insides of a record company and recognizing that the existing model would never work going into the future. At that time I made the commitment to myself to stay independent and do all that I could to assist other musicians in realizing their dreams.

Let's now focus on your latest album - how did it come about and why the title 'Poetically Justified'?

All of my life, everyone has always told me what I cannot do. I can't do music, I can't do law, I can't do business, I can't do them all at the same time, I can't produce my own CDs, I'm too young to have a company, Why would you do jazz? Why dream? We all live with this type of discouragement. When it comes from your family, you have to know it's out of love. When it comes from others, it's generally from a perspective of hate or self hate. Regardless, when we dream, it is our responsibility to follow our dreams through to the end. Is it rough? Yes. Will you have failures and obstacles? Yes. But so did CHURCHILL, ROOSEVELT, CARNEGIE, BRANSON, and WINFREY. The key, as stated by author PAULO COELHO - in 'the Alchemist' - is to fall down seven times and get up eight. Then, you too can be poetically justified. The record and its title allow me to spread this good news around the world - I'm not any more special than you. If I can succeed, you can too. So…Do it!

How did you get Maysa to work on the project… what's she like to work with?

She is a friend and lives about 50km up the road in Baltimore. She is incredible. We wrote the songs in the studio and 'Master Of My Heart' just happened. So awesome! We were actually working on the 3rd verse of the song and she started those scats using "La." It was over. I told the engineer if he stopped the recording I would kill him. When the song ended and she said the last "La" with my piano scale, we all just sighed. She's the best.

You cover the JACKSONS' 'This Place Hotel' on the set … why? And how poignant now MICHAEL'S been taken from us…

My feeling is that if you pick a cover, you want one that is just right. Not the one that everyone does and not the one that no one knows. You have to do one that's just right. The groove on this is undeniable. Also the chord progressions allow you to have a lot of fun. And you see we took some liberty to add a little on the end, because, after all, it's about playing your heart out for your supporters. As for him being taken from us, what a heartbreaking story and life. It's probably too much to go into here but I don't think that people really understand what it's like to live a life like his. I wouldn't want it. Not like that. When you hear about his will, it's pretty obvious that he felt that he could only trust two people, his mom and Diana Ross. Can you imagine that? All of the people that he has helped and he only trusted two of them?

And Marcus Johnson … where does he go from here?

I want to keep on growing! I read all of the time. I wish I could practice more, but I will get the chance soon enough. I work out 4-5 days a week and try to take care of my body. I can guarantee you that we will put out more and more music in more places. Marcus Johnson, Flo Brands, and Three Keys Music are here to stay. Our hope is to create the new classics that will be enjoyed by many for years to come.


MARCUS JOHNSON'S 'Poetically Justified' is out now on Three Keys Music - full review on our reviews pages.



Sunday, 31 May 2009 14:07 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


After almost 4 years, the UK's favourite soul princess MICA PARIS is back with a new album - intriguingly titled 'Born Again'. tracked the ever-lovely MICA down to find more about the long player but before we delved into the set we wanted to know why it had taken her so long to get back into the studio…

The simple fact is that I couldn't get a deal … no one wanted to sign me. Even my previous album, 'Soul Classics' was only recorded because of my radio show. Yes, the truth is I just couldn't get a deal. So I ended up doing more TV and radio - that's where I was getting the love from. With the record companies I think it was a cynical thing. It was like they were saying 'well she's had her time' … yes; there was a lot of cynical feelings towards me.

So how did the new album come about then?

I got a call from BRIAN RAWLINGS (the album's producer and head honcho at Metrophonic) and he said - incredibly - that some hedge fund guys had come along and wanted to put the money up for me to make an album of original material… Incredible but true - so I was allowed to do what I love - go into the studio with a whole blank canvas.

Listening to the album though - and particularity looking at the title - it seems that you've filled that canvas with plenty of songs of survival and renaissance… Is this your comeback album?

No! I don't see myself as making a comeback but I do see myself as a trier. I don't stop trying. I just keep going. I'm one of those people who, if I was told I wasn't going to get anywhere - well, I'm still going to kick it. I'm not making a comeback … I've never stopped. The songs on the album? Well, they're a set of songs that are reflective of everything that I've gone through. So maybe you could say subconsciously it was like a kind of comeback - but that idea certainly wasn't premeditated.

The two most soulful cuts on the album are versions of ERIC BENET'S 'You're The Only One' and KEYSHIA COLE'S 'I Remember'… tell us about them…

Another incredible story - ERIC BENET sent me a message via my My Space page saying that he was a real big fan and had I listened to any of his work. When I told BRIAN we checked out 'You're The Only One' and it was incredible. So we went in and did it my way and when those soul chords came in - well it was like a marriage. I originally wanted it to be a duet with ERIC, but after one take it sounded just so, so good. The KEYSHIA COLE song was down to BRIAN but after we recorded 'I Remember' the rest of the album just fell into place - before that it wasn't quite happening.

There are lot of other flavours on the album too - notably, on the opener 'Baby Come Back Now' there's a definite feel of that contemporary UK sound associated with DUFFY and AMY WINEHOUSE - again, was that a conscious thing?

No - not at all - for starters it wasn't written by me. It's a JAMES MORRISON song, of course... he wrote it for me and when I heard it, it so reminded me of back in the day… of Motown… of 'Nutbush City Limits'. It just had that vibe and no one has heard me sing like that before. It's a fresh MICA PARIS. No, I wasn't trying to be like DUFFY or AMY. I've been around longer than them. You know, when I started people compared me to DIONNE WARWICK - but now I'm being compared to all those girls! But don't get me wrong - I love AMY, DUFFY, ADELE … in fact I've know AMY a long, long time. She's an amazing vocalist - one of the best this country's ever seen.

… and what about the future for MICA PARIS?

Well for the immediate future I'm going to promote the hell out of this album… I'm doing everything - even selling my intestines!!! And for the long term… well, I just want to get myself into a place where I can consistently make records so I don't get to where I was in the past. No, I don't wanna be back in a place where I can't make records just 'cos I'm not being funded. That's my dream - I'm happiest when I'm singing great songs.

MICA PARIS' 'Born Again' is released on Rhythm Riders on June 1st.



Sunday, 24 May 2009 05:54 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF



By common consent JAMES DAY'S 'Natural Things' album is one of 2009's best modern soul releases. Its delightful and varied grooves have wowed the worldwide soul crowd, but, surprisingly, for such an acclaimed album little is known about its enigmatic creator. To put that right set its soul sleuths the task of tracking down MR. DAY. The genial Bostonian was delighted to talk with us. He told us that he was born in the famous fishing town of Rockport but lived in New York in his late teens and twenties where he immersed himself in the magic music of the Big Apple. Dogged, as he was, by all kinds of adversity, JAMES was determined to make music and he's now rightly acclaimed … but first we wanted to know more about his musical background… so what about favourite artists and those all-important influences?

..The first album I ever owned was NATALIE COLE'S 'Inseparable'. It was given to me by my grandfather. But the other influential albums, songs, writers, producers and artists of my childhood were ASHFORD and SIMPSON, DIANA ROSS ( especially 'The Boss' album), CHAKA KHAN, ROD TEMPERTON and QUINCY JONES, BACHARACH/DAVID, GOFFIN and KING, GAMBLE and HUFF, BARRY GIBB … even COLE PORTER, GERSHWIN and IRVING BERLIN.

But what about a particular favourite … the biggest influence?

That's kind of hard, but when I was at college - training to be to be a singer and dancer- I lost my hearing and balance from Menieres Disease…yet even after surgery which removed my hearing and balance function from one ear, my love for music continued and I resolved to be a songwriter. So I was kind of different and needed to be free of my own life struggles; two songs therefore really impacted on me - DONNY HATHAWAY'S 'Someday We'll All Be Free' and his 'Little Ghetto Boy' … I was a different kind of boy, an outcast in a different kind of ghetto…but I knew what DONNY was feeling and when he sang 'everything's got to get better' I needed to believe him…

Did that finally make you take up music as a career?

Well, after a little success in NYC as a dancer in a nationally syndicated TV show and appearing in a couple of videos including one by CHAKA KHAN, the Menieres syndrome finally took my hearing and balance on one side and my dream of singing and dancing went with it. After a period of believing music would no longer be any part of my life …I even covered my albums in sheets because they were too painful to look at (my bedroom looked like a cemetery) Then I slowly let music back into my life and began writing songs…mind you, I was in a school for sign language and deaf studies and bear in mind I lived with a 1 in 4 chance of the same thing happening in the other ear…but nevertheless I kept writing and eventually won first place and grand prize in both the Billboard Magazine and JOHN LENNON song contests (Gospel and R&B categories) and The Songwriters Hall of Fame/National Academy of Popular Music presented me with the ABE OLMAN Award for Songwriting Excellence which is given to the most promising up and coming songwriter chosen by ASACP. One of my heroes, music legend HAL DAVID presented me with the award. It was at that time I knew I was good and went on to pursue some major labels - but mostly in the teen pop genre which is what was available to songwriters at that time.

Tell us more about how you create your music…

I write lyrics and melodies first, then arrangements and production ideas come into my head and I share them with the musicians, co-writers, and producers I work with and we build up the track together. I also like to be very involved in the vocal arrangement, vocal recording/production and mixing. The vocal is KING!

… And how do you record it?

I believe in the old fashioned way of making albums…not the modern way - one man behind a computer with samples and beats. You need to start with a great song and if you've got great songs, you'll get great singers. Then, build a great production letting everyone do what they do best…singers sing, writers write and the players play.

Tell us how you hooked up with Expansion Records?

UK DJ ROGER WILLIAMS and his wife LETTIE discovered my music online and started spinning 'Don't Waste The Pretty' …it became a single, then appeared on an EP - 'Remember When'; then Expansion put out the full length album 'Better Days'. Expansion is a great supporter of mine and I couldn't have made this new album without them. And I originally chose Expansion based on the quality of their catalogue which I think speaks for itself

Any views on the current state of soul music?

In my opinion it's just beats, samples - tracks with random mindless words slapped on top … computerized oral noises. It doesn't work for the mind, body and soul - which is what real soul music does for me. Most of the stuff masquerading as soul doesn't even penetrate my mind for a full minute. There are exceptions though - notably the great LALAH HATHAWAY and WILL DOWNING

What about your plans for the future?

Simple - I need a wealthy soul music devotee who wants to invest in my future so I can continue to write and produce songs and other projects at an even higher quality and in greater quantity and at faster speed. More immediately though, I am very excited about a song I recently wrote with LALAH and I'm looking forward to her next release. I'm also hoping to come over to the UK with one of the great singers from my album performing some of my songs.

JAMES DAY'S 'Natural Things' album is out now on Expansion Records. Check out the review on our review pages and for more information and the latest news from JAMES go to


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