GEORGE JACKSON: Leavin’ Your Homework Undone (Kent)

Friday, 23 February 2018 19:56 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altGeorge Jackson is the archetypal Southern soul hero....revered by cognoscenti of the genre but practically anonymous to the mainstream. That George is little known is hardly surprising. In a lengthy career, working at labels like Goldwax, Fame, Sounds Of Memphis and Malaco, he only ever released one album and just 20 singles – none of which were hits. The chief reason for this is that the bosses of the labels he worked for saw George primarily as a writer. His followers will reel off a litany of singers who profited from the man's songs but amongst his chief beneficiaries were Clarence Carter and Wilson Pickett.

Because of his reputation as a writer George Jackson was given unfettered access to the studio – to lay down demos of his latest creations and to occasionally work on his own output (meagre though it was). Over the years UK reissue specialists Ace/Kent have issued a plethora of George Jackson material – his released album and singles and also all kinds of other material – stuff that was meant to be released but never was and, of course, his demos.

'Leavin' Your Homework Undone' is Ace/Kent's fourth George Jackson collection and it offers 24 previously unissued cuts recorded at Fame studios between 1968 and 1971. In truth they're all demos but some are so polished and "finished" that they could well have been released. Best examples are the pounding 'If This Is Love' and the forceful 'I Got A Feeling' – both right up there with the best of Fame. Southern soul fans will love both tunes.

Of the rest? Well those fans might recognize just four songs – 'I'm Gonna Hold On To What I Got, which George re-recorded as the B –side to one of his singles; 'Never In Public' which Candi Staton cut; 'A Man And a Half' which Wilson Pickett recorded for his 'Hey Jude' album; and this album's odd one out – 'Your Love Made a U Turn'. This is the only song on the album that George didn't write. It was penned by his buddy O B McClinton and went on to be recorded by both James Carr and Jimmy Hughes. No one can explain why George recorded it but it doesn't sound odd or out of place with the other included 23 southern soul gems.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 23 February 2018 20:09


VARIOUS; Chess Northern Soul III (UMC)

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 20:55 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn this digital world soul collectors have been spoiled by the reissue specialists as rarity after rarity and collectable after collectable has been pulled from the vaults and made easily available. More recently as vinyl has enjoyed a renaissance and new fangled things called records players have become cheaper, clever label execs have started to exploit their in-demand back catalogues and reissue material in various vinyl formats. UMC have been one of the brand leaders in this trend, issuing lashings of rare Motown on vinyl. They're also stewards of the Chess archive and over the last year or so they've released some wonderful vinyl box sets featuring music from the venerable Chicago label.

This week UMC are releasing another fab, vinyl box set paying homage to Chess. The box offers seven 7" vinyl singles featuring 14 in-demand, Northern-soul flavoured tunes from both well-known Chess names and plenty who are maybe best described as label second stringers. That though doesn't make their work any less worthy. Case in point is the soulful swayer 'Foolish Me' from Jo Ann Garrett. Written by Billy Butler and Andre Williams, the cut offers everything that is good about vintage Chicago soul. Equally anonymous are the Starlets but their Billy Davis-penned 'Loving You Is Something New' is just as classic a "Chicago sound". A little less "Chicago" are Jeanette Nellis' 'Wait' and Amanda Love's politically incorrect 'You Keep Calling Me By Her Name'. Both were licensed in by the Chess brothers; the former from New York and the latter, recorded elsewhere in Chicago, is decidedly more blues orientated.

Amongst the bigger names in the collection are Bobby Womack, Terry Callier and Gene Chandler. Womack's cut is a self-penned 'See Me Through' which he recorded just as the Valentinos folded; Callier's offering is the evergreen 'Ordinary Joe'; while the Duke of Earl delights with his wonderful 'Such A Pretty Thing' – the epitome of the Chicago 60s soul sound.

Other featured artists include Harold Hutton, Johnny Nash, Mitty Collier, Maurice McAllister and the sadly underrated Knight Brothers. The sleeve notes will tell you all you need to know about 'em while the actual vinyl discs come in the UK Chess livery – some with silver lettering, others with the rarer gold. And by the way, for those who still "do digital", the box comes with a download card allowing you access to MP3 versions of all the tracks.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 February 2018 21:01


ERIC “DEBONAIR” MCNAIR; This Could Be Love (Debonair Music)

Tuesday, 13 February 2018 19:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altDon't know too much about Eric McNair save that he rejoices in the nickname "Debonair" and that, though born in Akron, Ohio, he now lives and works out of Texas. Working the Texas scene, it seems that young Eric has built a name for himself with an approach that combines contemporary flavours with good old, old school soul flavours. Indeed commentators who've seen him perform have made comparison to a certain Luther Vandross and on the evidence of this début album they're not far off the mark.... Mr McNair's music is smooth and soulful and in places powerful; and if we take "debonair" to mean sophisticated, it's certainly that too.

My only problem with 'This Could Be Love' is that it's just too long. There are 17 tracks and the whole thing clocks in at almost one hour twenty minutes and there just seems to be too much to take in; it's kind of overwhelming in its quantity but that said the quality never wavers. The music is consistently classy and like we said soulfully sophisticated in that special Vandross way.

The most obvious Luther connection comes with the seven minute plus of 'Something I Had To Do'... and emotion wrenching, dramatic ballad on which Eric employs many of dear old Luther's vocal inflexions. It's one of the album standouts.

Amongst the other highlights is the simple and sweet 'Pay Your Love Back' – lovely, proper old school soul. Even "older school" is the equally lovely 'These Three Things' – a gentle throwback to the golden age of R&B crooning and more Bobby Bland than Luther Vandross. There's some great trumpet here too.

And that's another thing about this long player. Though Eric's the marquee name and the star of the show, he's also brought in lots of guests to help him deliver. Amongst the contributors are Deon Q, Vandell Andrew, Linda Loi and Take 6. Ms Loi and the veteran vocal group help out on the harmonica-led album title track. Don't know whether it's that harmonica or the meandering melody but there's a Stevie Wonder thing going on here. That title track also comes in an odd rock and roll style remix. Equally odd are the interludes – 'Don't Fuck With Kiki Green' and 'The Slammy Sammy Show'. They're amusing in places and offer intrigue but not sure what they add to the album. Without them we'd be talking about yet another 2018 five star album, that's how good this is; but, hey, we've still got a great modern soul album here. Highly recommended!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 February 2018 20:11


DIANE SHAW; Second Chance (Mecca)

Wednesday, 07 February 2018 21:04 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altBy now every self-respecting soul fan should be award of Ms Diane Shaw. The UK singer has been an in-demand session singer and live backing vocalist for many, many years while her 2015 long player 'Life, Love And Strings' was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Indeed one soul commentator went as far as describing the album "the best soul set of the 21st century so far!"

How on earth can you follow that up? Well, quite simple really – offer more of the same. Select some proper songs (you know ones with memorable melodies, meaningful lyrics, beginnings, middles and ends), arrange and produce them sympathetically, use real instruments wherever possible and allow one of the best soul voices in the business to do its stuff. In essence, that's what 'Second Chance' is all about.

The long player is a 13 tracker and though it's an overused cliché, there's isn't one dud amongst them. That said, it's clearly churlish to cherry pick standouts and highlights. Each cut offers up its own treasures but here's a selection to give you a flavour of what to expect. Here at SJF we've always been big, big fans of the songs of Jimmy Webb and we were  really excited to see that Diane has included a rarely recorded song of his on 'Second Chance'. Tune in question is '(Come Back) Halfway and it's a true delight – like a Fifth Dimension classic. We're told that Webb wrote the catchy song during his tenure with Motown (just before he broke through) and the surprise is how Berry Gordy let this one get away... kind of proves he wasn't always right!

Gordy also let Holland-Dozier-Holland get away (he didn't have much choice) and Diane offers her version of one of the mighty trio's songs here. It's 'Remember Me', which, I think, H-D-H penned for Laura Lee and here Ms and her team turn in a performance that Eddie, Brian and Lamont will, I'm sure, be proud of. It's one of the album's up-tempo moments; one of the memorable slower items is a reading of Michael McDonald's 'Someone Like You. Then there's the ab fab burner 'Through The Rain'.

But hey... we weren't going to cherry pick! So enough .... suffice to say that 'Second Chance' is every bit as good as its predecessor so the pundit who made the above grandiose "21st century" comment might well need to re-think. We'll just say that already in 2018 we'vem awarded five stars to two albums – James Hunter and Sir Wick. Now here's our third!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 February 2018 21:20


CROWD COMPANY: Stone & Sky (Vintage League Music)

Friday, 02 February 2018 19:24 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThis album's been around since the back end of last year but the 13 tracker has been steadily building up a reputation and sales via the connection with producer Alan Evans of Soulive.

The band, Crowd Company, are a British 8 piece outfit with a mutual passion for vintage soul and funk; their USP is a trio, of lead singers - Rob Fleming, Esther Dee and Jo Marshall while the instrumentalists like to keep things authentic. To that end they decamped to Evans' Iron Wax studio to cut 'Stone & Sky' – the follow up to their 2014 debut 'Now Or Never'. Like that one, this new set offers plenty of toughness and raw energy best typified by the opener, 'Take Off That Crown' . There's a big blaxploitation feel to this, though the funk's never too far away. 'Soar' is another funky workout driven by wah wah guitars.

The album's most soulful moment is the stark ballad 'Can't Get Enough'. The roots of the music here are down in Muscle Shoals and Memphis and there's a convincing vocal from either Jo Marshall or Esther Dee. My copy doesn't make it clear which singer features on which track.... but whoever it is does a fine job.

Elsewhere expect plenty of raw, contemporary funk delivered with energy, passion and a respect for the genre.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 02 February 2018 19:46


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