THE CLARK SISTERS: You Brought The Sunshine (Westbound/Ace)

Saturday, 22 February 2020 16:52 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAny self-respecting gospel fan will tell you all about the Clark Sisters. They'll be delighted to tell you that, marshalled by mother Mattie Moss Clark, Elbernita, Jacky, Denise, Dorinda and Karen changed the face, image and sound of modern gospel music, giving it a contemporary edge and widening its appeal. If you don't know too much about the Clark girls or indeed gospel, this new 17 track compilation from Ace Records' link with Detroit label Westbound will serve as a most excellent introduction.

First though a little background. Clark matriarch Mattie was a leading figure on Michigan gospel circuit in the 60s and she raised her five girls in the true gospel tradition. As a group, the Clark siblings made their recording debut for their uncle's Bilesse label. What they recorded was traditionally gospel but their panache and passion (especially of lead voice Elbernita, dubbed "Twinkle") soon brought the girls plenty of attention from the secular record business. Armen Boladian of Detroit's Westbound label was particularly impressed and despite some misgivings from mother, he signed the Clarks to his Sound Of Gospel subsidiary and tasked producer Bernie Mendelson to give the group a more contemporary sound in the way Stax had done with people like Rance Allen. Mrs Clark was dubious but her girls were now adults – they enjoyed the music of Motown, Aretha and Westbound colleagues like Denise LaSalle and the Detroit Emeralds – and in Twinkle they had a feisty and determined leader so the move to a more contemporary sound was in many ways inevitable.

Hear that contemporary sound at its best on this collection's opening cut (and the track for which the set is named) – 'You Brought The Sunshine'. Written by Elbernita and loosely based on Stevie's 'Masterblaster', the song was championed by people like Frankie Crocker and it quickly became a club hit... the Clark Sisters were even invited to play at Studio 54 – a far cry from the store front churches they'd been used to! Naturally this secular success didn't please everyone in the gospel community (echoes of Sam Cooke?) but the girls were on a roll and enjoyed more ensemble success while Elbernita recorded her own solo material too. The best of all that output is all here.

The Clark Sisters disbanded in 1994 when their mother died; some of the girls went on to record solo and they reunited briefly in 2007 for a live album but their collective, best, pioneering work is all included in this lovely  Ace retrospective.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 February 2020 16:59


ROBIN MCKELLE: Alterations (Doxie/Membran)

Thursday, 13 February 2020 20:00 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altFor her ninth album, 'Alterations', US soul and jazz chanteuse Robin Mckelle has chosen to do something very different to her previous recordings; she's chosen to record a set of covers – though not just any covers. The song selection on 'Alterations' (with one exception) is drawn from the repertoires of celebrated female artists... people like Joni Mitchell, Adele, Nina Simone and Janis Joplin. Robin explains that after recording a few albums of her own original music she wanted to focus once again on her first passion – just singing and, by extension, interpreting the music and lyrics of others. So she set about choosing a set of songs which spoke directly to her emotions allowing her interpretative instincts to take flight... and how!

'Alterations' is no "karaoke covers" album; rather it's a personal journey in music with each song given a totally different reading to the original version. That's most apparent on Robin's reading of Dolly Parton's 'Jolene'. Where the original was sprightly, jaunty even, this new take is almost a southern soul meander on which the lyrics seem to have more desperation and meaning. Janis Joplin's wish-list 'Mercedes Benz' is another southern country/soul steamer. The vocal's smoother than Joplin's but no less raunchy.

Much more sombre is the visit to Billie Holiday's 'Don't Explain' which is offered with a pleading reassurance, as is the cover of Lana Del Ray's 'Born To Die' where amongst the highlight is Marquis Hill's trumpet solo... and that's another of this collection's attractions. The players, marshalled by keyboardist Shedrick Mitchell (Maxwell's MD by the way), seem to understand the concept and play with love and empathy. Their CVs tell us that they are all rooted in jazz /soul and rock - and it shows. As an example try 'Alterations' version of Sade's 'No Ordinary Love' where the band (notably guitarist, Nir Felder and bassist Richie Goods) work nimbly with Ms McKelle to gear up from a subtle understatement to an electric climax.

The only original song on the album is McKelle's own 'Head High' - a song that tells a story about the strength and the power the female singer – so, lyrically and, importantly, musically it chimes with the album's theme. The other cover songs are Joni Mitchell's 'The River', Adele's 'Rolling In The Deep', Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' and Carole King's 'You've Got A Friend' which, with just simple, tasteful piano accompaniment from Shedrick Mitchell, brings the collection to a most satisfying of ends. Find out more about this album by accessing our recent Robin McKelle interview.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 February 2020 09:45


ALEX PUDDU: Discotheque (Schema Records)

Monday, 10 February 2020 17:38 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altModern soul followers will by now be familiar with the name Alex Puddu. The Italian multi instrumentalist has been around for quite a while but at the back end of last year his was the marquee name on a couple of fine modern soul tunes... 'You Are My Fire' and 'Don't Hold Back'. Both ticked all the required modern soul "quality" boxes. Biggest tick was in the vocal department. Authentically soulful, the vocals belonged to Gene Robinson of Philly group, Breakwater who Signor Puddu brought in to take his tunes to that next level. It worked.

Now the parent album is amongst us and the good news is that there is another Robinson-fronted track that offers the same quality modern soul as those two earlier singles. This one's 'Be My Lover' and after a classic brief spoken intro, it opens up into a steady, hook-laden 70s/80s groove.

The 11 track set offers three more vocal tracks. First there's 'Back Against The Wall' with vocals from Duane Hobson. It's a jazz/funk era throwback featuring some nice vibes. Duane's the main man too on 'Saturday Night' – a fairly predictable and pedestrian "party tune". Then there's the reggae-inflected 'Release The Catch 'with young Danish vocalist Sawa at the mic.

As you can probably guess the remaining 5 cuts are instrumental allowing Alex to flash his credentials. Sadly only the title track ignites. This 'Discotheque' though is a late night affair. The tune is bumpy, bassy and, in places, slinky. If it's real slinkiness you're after however, try 'Love Affair'. It's right out of the blaxploitation era... that part of the movie when the love interest kicks in. You won't be surprised to learn the track features a little heavy breathing and the occasional whispered vocal interjection!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 10 February 2020 17:55


LAWSON ROLLINS: True North (Infinita)

Monday, 10 February 2020 11:09 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLawson Rollins is an American smooth jazz acoustic guitarist whose music has often echoed his passion for travel. Many jazz guitar fans will have fond memories of his 'Traveler' album – a set that gave listeners a flavour of the places that Rollins has visited – as a "traveller" rather than a tourist. Since then Lawson has continued to travel and use those experiences in his music. More recently however, he's dabbled with film music. First there was the album 'Dark Matters: Music For Film' followed by his score for the feature movie 'Stay Out Stay Alive'. Lawson says that working with film has expanded his horizons and brought a different kind of discipline to how he now works. That, he adds, is why 'True North' is a little different to his earlier work.

Lawson Rollins fans needn't worry though. The differences are subtle. The album still delivers the guitarist's crystalline yet delicate signature guitar sound. The different shadings are maybe most apparent on the album's title track which opens proceedings. Midway through there are electric guitar flourishes complementing the earlier (and later) acoustic work while 'With The Wind' and 'Dead Ahead' are noteworthy too for their immediacy, (slightly) tougher textures and tight focus on the main melody. Rollins' guitar virtuosity is most apparent on the evocative 'Bluewave Bossanova' which though thoroughly contemporary harks back to the golden age of acoustic jazz guitar.

'True North' is the first full album that Lawson has produced himself and though he may argue that it is a different animal to his earlier work; in essence it isn't. Fans will delight in it as it cements his standing in Guitar Player magazine's "Transcendent Acoustic Guitar Players" listing.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 10 February 2020 11:29


VARIOUS; Spring NYC Soul (Kent)

Thursday, 06 February 2020 19:58 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSpring was a New York based indie soul label that was active though the 60s, 70s and 80s. Over the years much of its material has been successfully reissued by Ace/Kent – plenty of single artist albums and well-received compilations. This new compilation brings together a generous 24 tracks from the Spring archive and its subsidiaries, Event and Posse. This collection's USP is that there is plenty of "new" material included – "new" in the respect that the material has only just come to light and never been previously released.

Maybe of most interest to collectors is 'Falling In Love' from Victor Tavares (yes of the Tavares clan). It's a quiet storm harmony ballad – not a million miles away from plenty of "real" Tavares material. Amongst the other previously unissued tracks is a brace from Ray Godfrey – who anoraks might know from his Raeford Gerald alias – a name he used in his song writing. His two offerings here are the sprightly 'I Love You More Than Anything' and the energetic 'Hold On'. The album also boasts four other Raeford Gerald songs including the tremendous soul ballad 'I'm The Other Half Of You' – here in a previously unissued version from Maxine Weldon.

Familiar names on the collection include Joe Simon, the "Locomotion" girl Little Eva, Phillip Mitchell, Garland Green and Spring mainstays, the Fatback Band. Their contribution is the downbeat 'If You Could Turn Into Me' – a far cry from their funk signature sound. And that's the beauty of this compilation – it throws up plenty of surprises and oddities - like one time Northern soul hero Ronnie Walker's Philly, falsetto-led, Vince Montana-penned 'Magic's In The Air'... very Stylistics! Then there's 'Forever' from Clare Bathé. The song was written by the Alessi Brothers of 'Oh Lori' fame while Chic experts will know that Ms Bathé was one of the vocalists on Chic's first LP. Intrigue, interest, surprises and, above all, excellent uptown modern soul... all here!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 February 2020 20:06


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