THE DEVONNS; The Devonns (Record Kicks)

Friday, 20 March 2020 19:14 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altWe first became aware of contemporary Chicago soul band The Devonns back in 2018 when they released the delightful single 'Come Back'. We learned that the band (whose name is pronounced "De-vaughns") got together in 2016 when multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mathew Ajjarapu dropped out of medical school and found himself unemployed and drifting round the Windy City. Being a music collector with a love for 60s and 70s soul and being in Chicago he was immersed in the sounds of people like Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Johnny Pate and Leroy Hutson. He soon made contact with like minded people – notably Khalyle Hagood (bass), Khori Wilson (drums), Cam Cunningham (guitar) and The Devonns were born. Then that lovely single. 'Come Back' was simple and catchy and, boasting real strings (courtesy of Paul Von Mertens whose credits include Mavis Staples, Paul McCartney, and Elton John), it had an old school magical charm all of its own.

We were soon promised an album, but, as is the way of the indie music biz, these things take time. Now our patience has been rewarded with the arrival of this eponymous 10 tracker – small, yes, but perfectly formed. So perfect, in fact, that all the best soul media alongside the switched on soul stations are giving it max exposure and touting it as a potential album of the year ... and, you know, it is that good... that is if you're a proper old school soul fan.

Proof? Well go straight to track 3... 'Tell Me'. Totally fresh and contemporary but with its roots and influences in those classic Curtis Mayfield/Johnny Pate collaborations like 'It's All Right' and 'Woman's Got Soul'. Enjoy more of the same on 'Think I'm Falling In Love' (the official B side to the lovely 'Come Back' which, of course, is another album focus). The current single 'Blood Red Blues' is a touch heavier while 'More' is maybe the album's most complex offering – more great strings from that man Paul Von Mertens.

Add to all that some emotion-tugging ballads ('Long Goodbye', 'So In Love With You', 'I Know') all in the mode of the Impressions' 'I'm So Proud' and you have a delightful, smile-inducing collection... potential album of the year? Most definitely!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 20 March 2020 19:27


LINDSEY WEBSTER: A Woman Like Me (Shanachie Records)

Tuesday, 17 March 2020 19:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBy now (if you're a proper soul fan) you'll know Lindsey Webster had a new album on its way. For the past month or so all the decent soul and jazz stations alongside the savvy media have been playing/covering her lovely Bacharach-esque single 'Feels Like Forever'. We were told it was the preface to the album and now the collection is good to go ... hitting the sales racks March 27th.

'Feels like Forever' begins proceedings here and it sets the sonic tone for the rest of the long player... that's to say it's classy (very) laid back soul-jazz; soporific and gentle; relaxing and soothing... though never bland, twee or crassly sentimental. The instrumentation is sympathetic and polished and on 'Feels like Forever' some commentators compared Lindsey's warm, soulful tones to dear old Dusty Springfield's. I wouldn't argue. Elsewhere you can hear shades of other star female vocalists...people like Sade and Norah Jones (most notably on 'Close To You') though on the lovely 'The Unknown' the clear reference point is Anita Baker's classic 'Sweet Love'.

Amongst the other highlights are the meandering album title track and the hushed 'One Step Forward'. Interestingly, the shortest track on offer – the atmospheric 'Rain'  - clocks in and 5 minutes 16 seconds; the length of each track allows Lindsey to grow the emotion and enrich the messages in the music. Equally it allows the excellent band to stretch out. Ms Webster enjoys such status now that top players queue to work with her. Amongst the sidemen here are drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Nathan East and percussionist Luis Conte. All are marshalled by Lindsey's long time collaborator, and now, sadly (?) ex husband Keith Slattery. He offers his usual crystalline keys throughout and he's co-producer and co-writer on most of the original songs. The only cover here is a new reading of the 'Wizard Of Oz' song 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'. Intriguingly Lindsey treats us to the rarely heard introduction before offering a passionate take on the familiar theme. It brims with  optimism and hope – yes, hopefully things might, indeed – can - get better. God knows, in these fraught times we need all the hope we can muster. Music can help us through and Lindsey Webster's 'A Woman Like Me' won't make the problems go away but it will take us to a better place... if only for a short time.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2020 19:59



Friday, 13 March 2020 14:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAs followers of the funk will know ABC stands for Austin Bogie Crew Records. The indie was founded in Texas in 2014 and their mission statement was to showcase the best of new music that took its reference point as the synth heavy sounds of 80s soul, funk and boogie.

If you're not familiar with ABC, or, indeed are a big fan, the label is releasing a 21 track compilation celebrating the very best of their output over the first five years. The set features plenty of modern funk heavy hitters like XL Middleton who gets three tracks – 'Enjoyable Sunburn', 'Nervous' and 'Digital Devils' – which perfectly capture the sound and spirit of 80s funk. Amongst the other known names is Diamond Ortiz who opens proceedings with 'Goodies' – his debut recording. San Francisco's Rojai (pronounced Row Juh) offers one of the album highlights –the soul groove that is 'So Special' (sounds like a classic 80s weekender tune) while his 'Soul Step; is one of this set's more mellow moments. Trailer Limon's 'Dancing With Somebody' is another laid back groove while his classic 'Love Don't Pay The Rent' is another that wouldn't have been out of place at those famed seaside weekenders... by the way soul fans will know Mr Limon via his acclaimed work with the Pendletons.

Another "famous/not famous" name on this collection is Brian Morgan. He's the "B" in B and the Family but he's best known for playing guitar on certain 'Rappers Delight'! His two cuts here – 'A Good Time' and 'Just Want To Love' both have a little flavour of that classic!

And really that's the charm of this collection... the music is totally contemporary but it will get the old nostalgia buds working overtime.... nothing wrong with that!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 13 March 2020 14:23


IZO FITZROY; How The Mighty Fall (Jalapeno)

Thursday, 12 March 2020 19:38 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altWe had our first real introduction to London-based singer/songwriter IZO FITZROY back in 2017 via her 'Skyline' album. We learned that Ms F's entry to the music biz was via Gospel. When she was just 19, Izo joined London's Soul Sanctuary Choir; then in 2013 she formed her own Great Sea Gospel Choir. Moving on and embracing the influence of the female blues singers she cites as influences... people like Janis Joplin and Beth Hart, she toured with her own 8 piece band that included a four part gospel-influenced backing vocal line up. During this time she worked the circuit over in New Orleans. Indeed whilst a resident in New Orleans Izo wrote the songs for 'Skyline' and the influence of the Crescent City was clear on the set.... back then we described it as "gritty, gutsy soul/blues with a rocky undertow....pitched somewhere between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, with a tough, organic soundscape".

Izo's new collection, 'How The Mighty Fall' continues exactly where 'Skyline' left off... more raw, emotion wrenching music... yes "gritty", "gutsy", "tough" and "organic". It's apparent right from the start with the bluesy meander that is 'Ain't Here For Your Pleasure'. Replete with F words, it's a committed declaration of emotional independence. There's more emotion baring on the quite lovely piano-led ballad, 'Give Me A Moment' (listen up for the beautiful hooks) and the Southern soul steamer that is 'Purify'.

'Red Line' lightens the mood with its busy contemporary sound but this album's big "up" moment is 'I Want Magic'. We first heard this last May (I think) when in its Dimitri from Paris mix it scaled all the credible soul charts and brought Ms F to a wider audience. Here the shortened version still sounds good.

Apart from Dimitri, the other producers are Colin Elliott and Shawn Lee fresh from his work with Young Gun Silver Fox (see our previous review... coincidence or what!). They're all savvy enough to simply allow Izo's remarkable gospel-reared voice do the bulk of the work... the more wondrous, given that in 2018 the singer was hospitalised with vocal chord issues! Also helping out are the famed Haggis Horns and, a nice touch, Izo's old sparring partners, the Soul Sanctuary Choir who bring their sweet gospel harmonies to the affair. Between them they shake/stir a satisfying cocktail of varied Brit soul.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 March 2020 20:12


YOUNG GUN SILVER FOX: Canyons (Monty Music/Candelion)

Wednesday, 11 March 2020 15:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altYOUNG GUN SILVER FOX are a pair of inventive and prolific music craftsmen ...Andy Platts from Mamas Gun and multi-faceted muso Shawn Lee. Platts and Mamas Gun have won acclaim for their blue eyed soul albums while singles like the recent 'Say You'll Be Mine' - a sweet, soulful ballad featuring K-Pop vocal star Kwon Jin-Ah – have been soul chart riders. Lee for his part is a proper music chameleon. The 55 year old Wichita-born multi instrumentalist is a noted producer and award-winning video game, TV and film composer. Of mixed ancestry (his mother enjoys Lebanese and American Indian ancestry and his father is Irish American) and now based in London, he's recorded solo and as a member of various bands across different genres. Amongst his various recorded incarnations is Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra.

The pair bring all their past experiences and influences to the Young Gun Silver Fox sound, which, on the sleeve notes to this, their third album, they describe as "Westcoast, AOR, soft rock and boogie". To flesh that out we could say that the sound is a hybrid of America, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon, Hall & Oates, Michael McDonald and 70s soul and disco. It's unashamedly old-fashioned, melodic and harmonic (some, I believe, call it "yacht rock") and by now you may be familiar with it via this album's first single, 'Kids'. The sound is sweet and accessible but the message in the music is a little more enigmatic (yes, in the Steely Dan way!) The pair say that 'Kids' is all about "living through the lens of a child – or placing yourself in the shoes of a child" while the general theme of the 'Canyons' album is the story of "the arc of a relationship – with diversions into semi-autobiography, fantasy and removed observation".

Make of that what you will... but the music is terrific. Highlights abound.... 'Long Distance Love Affair' is all enveloping in its beauty... the single in waiting; 'Danny Jamaica' comes on like a 70s TV theme (think 'Rockford'); while 'All This Love' is as plaintive a ballad as you'll hear this year.

Platts' falsetto is sweet and pure throughout; while Lee's inventiveness seems to know no bounds. It's all very clever and very smart but each track packs its own accessible punch.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 March 2020 15:40


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