Reviews

TY CAUSEY: Tyangles (Tyvonn Records)

Friday, 23 June 2017 13:43 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSoul folk in the know, know all about Ty Causey. Without huge hype the Indie soul producer/singer/songwriter/performer has steadily built up a coterie of fans since he debuted in the late 90s working with Najee.

His own debut solo set was 2004's 'N-tysing' and since then his releases have continued to impress discerning soul fans who appreciate proper songs, sung in the old fashioned way but with a hint of the contemporary about them.... maybe a bit Maxwell-ish, though with a musical menu that's a whole lot more accessible. A classy, classic soul man would be a good definition of Mr C though he prefers his nickname "Mr. Consistent".

Over the last couple of months we've been treated to a flow of singles from the man's album, 'Tyangles' and now the long player is officially available this side of the pond. Those singles 'Rock With Me' and 'Ya Something Kind Of Wonderful' are still standouts but there are plenty more cuts here that are just as polished, smooth and sophisticated. 'Won't You Be My Lady' has the same easy-going vibe as the early singles while 'Be A Man About It' veers more towards the smooth jazz arena – sax courtesy of the wonderful named matt Cashdollar. He's there too on the bumpier 'Let Me Ride'. However, maybe the best cut to sum up the art of Ty Causey is the lovely 'Hot Tonight Medley' – not too sure about what it's a medley of (don't have the benefit of sleeve notes) but it sums up perfectly the attraction of modern soul in general and Ty Causey in particular.

By the way, this European release comes with the bonus of a special extended UK mix of 'Rock With Me' -perfect for the modern soul room.... but you could say that about the whole album!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 23 June 2017 13:47

 

VARIOUS; Nothing But A House Party (Kent)

Wednesday, 21 June 2017 15:01 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altEven the most casual of soul fans know about the importance of Philadelphia in the evolution of the genre. However, most of 'em will only know about Philly's golden age.... the period of Philadelphia International's dominance. But proper soul fans know that the City Of Brotherly Love has a soul history that predates the imperial reign of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. To satisfy those discerning fans and to bring others up to speed Ace/Kent have just released this splendid 24 tracker that surveys the Philly soul scene just prior to the establishment of Philadelphia International. The music here spans the years 1967-71 and most of it was recorded in what was to become Philly's most important studio – Joe Tarisa's Sigma Sound.

The compilers know that over just 24 tracks it's impossible to offer a full portrait of early Philly soul; that said, they have included plenty of key cuts. Amongst them is 'Every Day Is A Holiday' from the Intruders. That group (as all Philly connoisseurs know) were favourites of Gamble and Huff and the duo took them wherever their corporate musical journeys took them. Recorded in 1969, 'Every Day Is A Holiday' was the B side to 'Old Love' and it's a perfect definition of the early Philly soul sound.

Sticking with Gamble and Huff, this collection also includes examples of their outside production work, when big labels used the duo to sprinkle some magic soul dust on their artists. Examples here include Jerry Butler's magnificent 'Never Give You Up' and Archie Bell and the Drells' still evocative 'My Balloon's Going Up'.

Other Philly legends who contribute include Thom Bell, Jimmy Bishop, Alan Felder, Jesse James, Bobby Martin, Norman Harris and the underrated Len Barry. Blue-eyed soulster, Barry is best remembered for his hit '1-2-3' but his career goes back to the fifties when he performed with the Dovells before his solo success. Barry was also a key backroom boy, writing and producing all over Philly but he's featured here as a singer with his version of Archie Bell's 'Girl You're Too Young'.

Amongst the other featured artists are Cliff Nobles (with 'Love Is All Right' –the vocal version of 'The Horse') , Honey and the Bees, Lou Jacksons, Freddie Scott, Winfield Parker, Barbara Mason and the Showstoppers whose 'Ain't Nothing But A House Party' gives this excellent album its title.

(BB) 4/5

 

GWEN McCRAE: 'Lay It On Me - The Columbia Years' (P&C/Reel Music)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017 14:54 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                       altGospel-reared Florida soul singer Gwen McCrae scored her biggest US hits for Henry Allen's Miami-based Cat label (a subsidiary imprint of TK) between 1973 and '76, the biggest of which was 'Rockin'' Chair' in 1975. McCrae's recording career began in 1970 at major label Columbia where she just failed to crack the American R&B Top 3 with 'Lead Me On,' a simmering slice of sultry southern soul. Four more Columbia 45s followed during the next two years but failed to crack the charts, resulting in the singer and the record company parting ways. A few years ago, soul indie Reel Music combined all of McCrae's Columbia sides (which comprised eleven tracks in all) into an album called 'Lay It On Me,' which after being deleted, has now been reissued.  

'Lay It On Me' contains some of Gwen McCrae's most potent work. She recorded all the tracks in Memphis in the company of the celebrated Memphis Boys session group with Steve Alaimo in charge of production. 'Ain't Nothing You Can Do' is a great opener to this collection but flopped as a single. It's hard to see why. The song's strong, the arrangement is top notch (reminiscent of Elvis's 'Suspicious Minds,' that the Memphis Boys also played on) and Gwen McCrae's performance is magnetic. The Elvis connection is even more tangible on McCrae's soulful version of  his 1972 hit, 'You Were Always On Mind' (co-penned by Mark James, who wrote 'Suspicious Minds').  'Goin' Down The Road' is a delightfully slice of rolling country-soul while 'Leave The Driving To Us' is a pro-feminist anthem with funk undertones that recalls Aretha Franklin's finest Atlantic work. 'Been So Long' with its thumping back beat and declamatory vocal is similarly strident. More mellow is the hypnotic 'I'm Losing The Feeling,' boasting soft horns, bluesy guitar licks and a subtle but steady funk undertow. Ballad-wise, there's some good stuff here too - the piano-led slow jam, 'He's Not You,' is tenderly romantic and augmented with orchestral strings. Much overlooked, Gwen McCrae's short stint at Columbia yielded some great music that deserves wider exposure - with any luck, this superlative reissue will help spread the word. Get it while you can. 

(CW) 4/5



Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 June 2017 20:30

 

JAMES DAY: Songs, Soul And Spirit (Song King Records)

Friday, 09 June 2017 19:36 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJames Day is the modern soul connoisseurs' soul man of choice. The super songwriter and uber producer is well known to the savvy soul crowd and despite a serious listening disorder, James has won numerous awards - most notably the Songwriter's Hall of Fame Award for Songwriting Excellence which was presented by Hal David... someone who knew a good tune when he heard it! Day makes no secret of the fact that songwriting craftsmen like Bacharach and David are his particular musical heroes. They have taught him what a proper song should be; equally he reveres the art of Quincy Jones – a producer who knows how to get the very best out of the material in front on him – be it through a particular arrangement, a quirky nuance or, simply, matching the song with the right singers and musicians.

Indeed that special matching of material to artist has been James' forte on his past albums and on this new 10 tracker he shows that he's a master of that particular skill. Helping him deliver on 'Song, Soul And Spirited' are people like Glenn Jones, Tony Terry, Tim Owens, U-Nam, Sandra St Victor, Lin Rountree, Maysa and Lalah Hathaway... all handpicked (or so it seems) to offer something very particular.

The lead single from the long player was the quite lovely 'Speak Love' – a cool and sophisticated groove that dominated the soul airwaves on release. That one featured many of Day's team and his fans recognized the song right away. It originally appeared on his 2009 album 'Natural Things'. Here, though, it's given a makeover and comes on like a whole new tune. And why not recycle excellence? The aforementioned Burt B was big on re-imagining his work and what's good for Burt is sure good enough for Jimmy!

'Speak Love' is one of four songs that have appeared before. The others are the ethereal 'Dreamland' with Lalah Hathaway up front; 'It's All Divine' here in a classic Boogie Back remix that totally respects the Trina Broussard vocal; and the Maysa-vocalised 'We Dance' that is showcased in a typical Cool Million mix.

Elsewhere one of the cleverest songs is the Gordon Chambers' collaboration, 'Forgiveness' while the sweetest ballads are 'Stand On My Shoulders' (lovely sax work from Walter Beasley) and Tony Terry's 'Who Can Tell The Heart'. Then there are the big, big productions like 'Battlegrounds', 'No Son Of Mine' and 'Love Is My Bible' –all totally different to each other and much more complex than the simpler fuel for the feet of, say, 'It's All Divine', but they combine to show the range of James Day's art and his dedication to the craft of making proper grown up music in the tradition of the maestros who've gone before.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 June 2017 08:08

 

SIMON LAW; Look To The Sky (Dome)

Wednesday, 07 June 2017 20:12 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBack in March the soul world was treated to a lovely, frothy spring vibe of a tune called 'Morning Love'. The cut was credited to "Simon Law featuring Caron Wheeler". The savvy soul crowd recognized Caron right away.... one of the signature voices of Soul II Soul. But Simon Law? Well some knew but others quickly discovered that Simon was also a key member of the Jazzie B collective. The ex head chorister at Hereford Cathedral, played keys with Soul II Soul and co-wrote their two Grammy-winning songs 'Back To Life (However Do You Want Me)' and 'African Dance'. He worked on all their albums except one, producing and co-writing many of their UK hit singles and he still performs regularly with the band.

Now Simon thinks the time is right to release his own solo album but to call it a solo effort is not entirely accurate. Mr L has called in old friends and some-time collaborators to help him deliver the music that's been spinning around his head for some time. So on 'Look To The Sky' (the title suggests Simon's belief that the sky is an endless source of creativity) you can enjoy the talents of people like the aforementioned Caron Wheeler, Maxi Priest, Chante Moore, Lain Gray (ex Nu Colours), Simon's partner Jen Schaffer and someone called Jazzie B!

Indeed its Jazzie's resplendent tones that get the long player started. He brings his distinct gravitas to the album's title cut and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd stumbled across a long lost Soul II Soul artefact. Given Simon's CV it's not surprising that some of 'Look To The Sky' is redolent of Soul II Soul. Simon readily admits that when he makes music the Soul II Soul vibe is always there but as the 16 tracks of 'Look To The Sky' unwind you'll discover that there's much, much more here than a Soul II Soul pastiche.

For starters there's some proper Caribbean vibes.... hardly surprising when you learn that Simon spent four years of his childhood on Trinidad. So if the sounds of the islands are your thing then sit back and enjoy the cool of 'Sunshine Girl' and 'When You Love Somebody' – both vocalised by Maxi Priest.

The biggest departure from the classic Soul II Soul sound comes right at the end of the album in a sequence of five songs that begins with 'Your Light' – that if we had to pigeon hole, we'd say was smooth jazz with a hard edge. Then there's the semi-acoustic, almost country-fied 'Precious Child' – a beautiful plea for love and mindfulness sung by Lain Gray. That's followed by 'My Heart Is Ready' (vocal from Joanna Law) and 'She Walks At Dawn' – ambient and ethereal, both. Then the lengthy closing track... 'Heart Of God'. Like much of the album it's a reflection of Simon's spiritually (he's a great respecter of the teachings of the Taizé community) and I defy you to categorise it.

Therein lies a problem. Music writers, fans and collectors love to categorizes and first reaction with Simon Law's 'Look To The Sky 'would be to say here's a Soul II Soul spin off: it's not... this is a Simon Laws album with its own special sound and message.

Look out for an in-depth interview with Simon Laws here at SJF very soon.

(BB) 4/5

 

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