Reviews

DES'REE: 'A Love Story' (Stargazer)

Tuesday, 29 October 2019 13:58 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Des'ree left the "music business" - an oxymoron if there ever was one - in 2004 when Sony Music decided not to renew her contract. Although she'd been with the label for an unlucky thirteen years and four albums, ultimately the success she had brought the company didn't seem to count for much. Even with hit singles, platinum albums and several awards to her name (including a prestigious Ivor Novello trophy for her anthemic hit, 'You Gotta Be'), Des'ree, then 36, was left on the scrapheap.

Being treated as a commodity had taken its toll and left her feeling weak, used and empty. Her health was suffering, and so rather than get back on the pop treadmill and find a new label, she wisely chose to take a break to recharge her batteries. She discovered satisfaction via other art forms (ceramics, pottery, painting, and designing jewellery) and eventually branched off into the field of alternative medicine. She became a qualified nutritionist and later became a naturopath. Music, it seems, had been put to one side and left simmering quietly on the back burner.

But now, 15 years later, Des'ree is back after an unfeasibly extended hiatus with her fifth album, 'A Love Story.' The music is just like you'd expect from the Croydon singer/songwriter: thoughtful, sometimes poetic, but also deeply soulful and delivered via seductive, storytelling soundscapes. In fact, listening to it, it seems like Des'ree has never been away. The whole thing is beautifully produced and includes elegant orchestral arrangements, which at times elevate the music to a cinematic, almost epic, level. A case in point is the slow-building opener, 'A Call To Love,'  which is deliciously laidback and propelled by an elastic bass groove. In terms of its theme, the track sets the tone for the rest of the album, which meditates deeply on love and life.

'Drunk On Your Kisses' is another highlight of the nine-track set. So too, the more overtly dramatic ballad, 'Honey,' where pizzicato violins pull on the heartstrings. There's a subtle gospel feel to 'Love Me,' a heartfelt plea for affection while 'Nothing I Can Do' focuses on rejection. The best cut, though, is left to the end. It's called 'Fake It' and is a slinky, simmering mid-tempo groove with Des'ree at her most sensuous. It caps a fine return from the talented South London singer, who has got back to doing what she does best. Let's hope that we don't have to wait another fifteen years for a follow-up.  

(CW)  4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 October 2019 14:08

 

BLINKY: 'Heart Full Of Soul - The Motown Anthology' (Real Gone)

Friday, 25 October 2019 13:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altIt's difficult to see why a voice as expressive and magnificently soul-stirring as that belonging to gospel-reared California singer Blinky Williams wasn't promoted more by Motown Records during her six-year tenure with the company. She was with them between 1967 and 1973 but despite cutting a slew of tracks for Berry Gordy's iconic label, most of them remained gathering dust in the company's vaults. She did, of course, gain a fair degree of exposure via her moderately successful duets album, 'Just We Two,' with Edwin Starr in 1969 but her much-anticipated solo career never took off  and only a handful of singles were released under her name. Now, though, the underappreciated and criminally overlooked Sondra Williams (that's Blinky's real name) gets her time in the sun thanks to the folks at the specialist archival label, Real Gone, who've exhumed a complete lost album ('Sunny And Warm') along with some rare live material and a plethora of unreleased sides which they've added to the clutch of released 45s from the late '60s and early '70s.  

There are 46 tracks in all and they're spread across the two CDs that make up 'Heart Full Of Soul.' The first disc begins with a dozen songs that comprised the unissued 'Sunny And Warm' album, opening with a superb ballad: the Ashford & Simpson-penned and produced  'I Wouldn't Change The Man He Is,' which was released as Blinky's debut single in 1968 but flopped. It demonstrates the soulful majesty of the singer's voice.  Other highlights from the shelved album include the poignant  'Is There A Place (In His Heart For Me)' - which shows off the singer's sensual side - plus a bolero-style take on Stevie Wonder's 'For Once In My Life'; a revamp of Fontella Bass's 'Rescue Me'; and the Hal Davis-helmed I'll Always Love You,' also recorded by another Motown cult heroine, Brenda Holloway. The lost album is appended with sundry bonus cuts, including several released 45s: a revamp of Barrett Strong's 'Money (That's What I Want),'  the Gil Askey-arranged 'T'Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do' (a jazz number plucked from her cameo on the movie soundtrack, Lady Sings The Blues), and the beautifully dreamy 'You Get A Tangle In Your Lifeline,' a soft-rock tune co-written and produced by Clay McMurray that was originally scheduled to appear on a shelved album called 'Softly.' Closing the first disc are three dynamic live tracks from a Motown Revue tour, which range from the stomping 'Turn You Loose' to a soulful rendition of Billie Holiday's 'God Bless The Child,' with is enlivened by a smattering of James Brown-style drama at the performance's climax.  

The compilation's second CD is devoted to a cache of unreleased studio cuts (22 in all). Interestingly, Blinky puts her inimitable spin on several pop hits by British beat groups: namely The Yardbirds' 'Heart Full Of Soul,'  the Rolling Stones' '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction,' which is sensationally transformed into a gospel rave-up, and The Beatles' psychedelic ballad, 'The Fool On The Hill.' The latter is much less suited to Blinky's dramatic voice but she gives it her all. Much more impressive is a long, jazzy rendition of Stylistics 'People Make The World Go Round,' which is terrific while another early '70s R&B hit, the Main Ingredient-associated 'Don't Let Me Be Lonely' also gets a run out but eventually loses steam when it breaks down at the end.  Other highlights include the passionate mid-tempo song, 'You're The Loser Now,' the slinky groover, 'I'm Just A Woman,' the soulful ballad 'Morning Light,' and a slice of MOR sunshine pop called 'Feel A Lot Better.'

Signing with Motown might have initially seemed like a dream come true for Blinky Williams though ultimately it turned into a bit of a nightmare, especially in terms of the disproportionate ratio between the amount of music she recorded and what Gordy's rather blinkered label saw fit to release. But justice is finally done with this splendid anthology, which reveals that the Oakland-born singer was a versatile performer who could handle all kinds of different material.  And she was soulful with a capital 'S.'

'Heart Full Of Soul - The Motown Anthology' is available from November 11th.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 25 October 2019 15:46

 

CALVIN RICHARDSON; Gold Dust (Shanachie)

Friday, 25 October 2019 13:07 Bill b E-mailPrintPDF

altSouthern soul man Calvin Richardson is the real soul fan's soul man. Raised in North Carolina, he was brought up in true soul tradition. His mother was a pro gospel singer and young Calvin was part of her Wondering Souls ensemble. She wasn't, though, the stereotypical gospel matriarch who shunned the devil's music. Rather, she encouraged her son to listen and enjoy secular music too; so Calvin immersed himself in the music of people like Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway and, especially Sam Cooke and Bobby Womack. Indeed as Calvin built his career with albums like 'Country Boy' and '2.35 PM' many soul commentators suggested that the man that they now dubbed "the Soul Price" was evolving the legacy of Womack, just as Bobby had done with Sam's. True soul fans connected too; however, they were dismayed when, last year, they learned that Calvin had lost his voice after stretching it too far with a hectic live touring schedule.

Their dismay was dispelled earlier this year when Mr R released a new single – the gentle, mid-tempo soul groove - 'Let Me Love On You.". The man was back... and better news, we learned that the single was the herald to a new LP... and today, that album, 'Gold Dust', wins official release. More good news? Well, the concise ten tracker sees Calvin back at his best, despite his voice problems. Indeed the lay off and the pressure to get back on track seems to have encouraged a sharper musical focus. He says: "When I signed the deal for the recording I gave myself a six-week window to complete it. After my hit single "Can't Let Go," I definitely started off feeling the pressure. You know they say pressure burst pipes and I thought if this pipe bursts, it would be filled with Gold-Dust!"

Album highlights? Well, there are plenty. Right now I keep coming back to the lovely old school duet 'Do You Wrong'. It's a happy—go-lucky thing, very much in the manner of Sam Cooke and while we're making comparisons and talking about influences, 'Beautiful Woman' could've come straight out of the Bobby Womack songbook. Why, it even features a gritty Womack-style monologue – in sound and message à la "everyone wants to win but nobody wants to lose". Elsewhere, do you know any song, in any genre, called 'Macaroni And Cheese'. Well, that's the title that concludes 'Gold Dust' and it's a great little ending... "he'll be the macaroni if she'll be the cheese". So, not quite a recipe; rather, Calvin describes it (and the album as a whole) as an auditory manual for love. There you go – Gold Dust indeed!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 25 October 2019 13:30

 

KIRK WHALUM; Humanité (Artistry/Mack Avenue)

Thursday, 24 October 2019 18:18 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altGrammy award winning sax man Kirk Whalum's music has always been imbued with a certain spirituality. Hardly surprising, he's a minister's son and, growing up in Memphis, the sounds, the messages, the rituals, and the Christian ethos were never far away. An adage of the Jesuits "give me a child till he's seven and I'll give you the man" might well be apposite in Kirk's case. That spirituality was there from the start. When he began his musical odyssey in Texas in the early 80s, his sound fused the blues and soul of his home town with the gospel of his family heritage. Soul-drenched, emotional and melodic, little wonder his playing was soon in demand from people like Barbra Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Quincy Jones and Whitney Houston (anoraks will know that it's Kirk's sax on her 'I Will Always Love You'.

Kirk's solo career has taken him all over the world (he now divides his time between Paris and Memphis) and brought him into contact with all kinds of artists from all kinds of genres. He says: "I kept bumping into these amazing artists from all over the world and I wanted to make some crazy music with them and prove this point – that we are all one." Hence the title of Whalum's new long player, 'Humanité'. Amongst the guests on the 14 tracker are Japanese jazz pianist Keiko Matsui, the young bass phenomenon Barry Likumahuwa, gifted singer/songwriter Grace Sahertian and global pop star singer/actor Afgan, all hailing from Indonesia; vocalist/guitarist Zahara, one of South Africa's biggest stars; Kasiva Mutwa of Nairobi; and the veteran UK jazz vocalist Liane Carroll. Ms Carroll fronts the emotion-tugging ballad, 'Wildflower'. Kirk and Liane turn Doug Edward's 70's pop standard into a stirring soul anthem. And there's plenty more soul power on 'Humanité'. Indeed the album kicks off with a vibrant reading of Curtis Mayfield's 'Move On Up' (Brendan Reilly on vocals) while soul folk will also enjoy the visit to the Philly classic 'Wake Up Everybody' with Afgan's vocals melding beautifully with Kirk's mellifluous tenor. 'Get Your Wings Up' (featuring vocals from the song's writer, South African-born Andrea Lisa) is another soul gem. And of course, all three of those songs perfectly suit the album's message.

Jazz fans will enjoy 'Korogocho' – essentially a heavy duel between bassists Marcus Miller and Barry Likumahuwa. Miller needs no introduction here; Likumahuwa is an Indonesian bassist for whom Miller is an absolute hero... props to Whalum for bringing them together! There is though much for all to enjoy here including the closer, 'East From The West' which musically and lyrically underlines 'Humanité's' theme and overt spirituality.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 October 2019 18:26

 

THE PENDLETONS; 2 Steps Away (Bastard Jazz)

Wednesday, 16 October 2019 18:06 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altTHE PENDLETONS are am experimental soul and funk duo working in and around San Francisco. They are E da BOSS and TRAILER LIMON and they debuted in 2010 with the well-received single 'Coming Down'/'Waiting On You'. They won themselves a cult following – amongst those - fans Gilles Peterson - who licensed some their music for his 'Brownswood Bubblers' compilation. Always a sign of quality!

Then this spring the soul world enthused mightily over a Pendletons single 'You Do You'/ 'Life To Me'. The former became particularly popular on the modern soul scene and featured a wonderful guest vocal from Howard Johnson from Niteflyte; the latter had a lovely 70s/80s vibe to it and though we were told there was a full album on the way, we've had to wait till now for '2, Steps Away'. The good news though is that the concise 9 tracker delivers what that single promised – that's to say a thoroughly contemporary soul album with its roots in soul and dance's rich heritage.

As with that exceptional single, the duo use special guests to help them flesh out their other ideas. First up there's Gizelle Smith, the front woman of The Mighty Mocambos and daughter of a band-member of the legendary Four Tops. Her pedigree shines through on the busy, bustling 'Keep Working'. Long time collaborator K-Maxx is upfront on 'No Regrets' – which channels that lovely 80s weekender vibe, Feli's at the mic for the bumpy, jazzy 'There Goes My Mind' while Ishtarr storms the barricades on the soulful house tune '19 Flavours'. To catch the essential Pendleton sound, though, try the opener, 'Blessings For The World' an intoxicating jazzy, R&B/soulful cocktail. Album highlight though is the set's title track. It begins with sweet, harmonic scatting before developing into a smooth and sophisticated modern soul, sedate dancer... little wonder the band chose it as the album's title and focus and it even has a spine tingling monologue!

Pendleton, E Da Boss has said "With this album we have tried to take boogie/modern soul back to its essence. We were happy to create with a room full of the Bay Area's top musicians, who took our direction and turned our thoughts into magic." I think they've succeeded magnificently.... another great 2019 album to add to the list!

(BB) 4/5

 

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