Reviews

BRIAN OWENS and the DEACONS OF SOUL: Soul Of Ferguson (Nia Music)

Tuesday, 21 February 2017 19:58 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBrian Owens is a US soul man who is proud to hail from Ferguson, Missouri. Sadly the little town was little-known till 2014 when Michael Brown was shot dead by police... an incident that sparked off the whole Black Lives Matter movement. The tragic events of 2014 hang heavily over this album, indeed one of the set's key cuts – 'Prayer For My Children', was inspired directly by Brown's killing. Owens says: "I wrote this song as part of a suite after that tragic moment that happened in 2014. I was thinking about how I'm raising my kids at a time when things like this are happening. If anything happens to me, I want them to know exactly how I feel about God and exactly how I feel about their mother. This song is very specific about these things: 'Colour and country don't define who you are. God's love is the only thing that sets each one of us apart but binds us together'". Those sentiments could, of course, have come right of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' and Owens' opus pays musical homage to the Gaye classic... check out the sensual sax, the layered harmonies, the passionate vocals. You'll quickly agree it's one powerful soul song!

Elsewhere the song that's been garnering attention is the 70's flavoured 'For You'. This song's USP is the presence of another son of Ferguson, Michael McDonald, helping out on vocals. Together they create a kind of Tommy Sims (remember him?) jam but there are plenty more gems on the concise nine tracker. 'Pretty Fine Thing' is another winner... a musical outpouring about the joy of love (think dear Curtis Mayfield). 'So High' is another properly lovely soul tune... full of 60s feel but with a truly contemporary edge. 'When A Grown Man Cries' has an authentic southern soul feel to it (you'd guess that by the title wouldn't you?) while 'Benediction' and the brief 'Outro' are looser... free soul actually. Throughout, the wonderfully named Deacons of Soul offer testifying support underpinning the convincing vocals and messages of their leader, Brian Owens, a singer who knows his soul history. Throughout he's his own man but it's clear he treasures the memories and music of Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. If you doubt his love of MPG, just check the cover pic!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 February 2017 20:07

 

OLETA ADAMS: Third Set (www.oletaadams.com)

Saturday, 18 February 2017 15:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIt's been a while since we've heard anything new from the lovely Oleta Adams. Now fresh from enjoying her duet with Jose James on his latest long player, we're treated to a whole new album from the Kansas singer/songwriter... her ninth solo set and her first for 8 years.

Oleta's people tell us that she's been making her very special music for an amazing 45 years and the title of this new collection harks back to her very early days. Long before Ms A was "discovered" by Tears For Fears, she earned her living by playing bars and jazz lounges right across the states. The gigs would involve at least three sets across the evening and for the third set, usually very late on when the customers were few and not too attentive, Oleta could indulge herself a little, playing what she wanted to play and trying out new, creative arrangements on her favourite songs.

So here, on 'Third Set', Oleta offers imaginative readings of material as diverse as Sinatra's 'Only The Lonely' and Dylan's 'Blowing In The Wind'. As befits a live "third set", the treatments are intimate and hugely personal, totally different to the familiar versions. Of the covers, perhaps the most soul-stirring (and certainly the one getting the air play) is Oleta's reimagining of Joni Mitchell's 'Don't Interrupt The Sorrow'. Mitchell fans will also enjoy a cover of 'River'. Joni Mitchell, clearly a heroine of Ms Adams, as is Nina Simone and Oleta pays homage via a reading of her bluesy, sombre 'Do I Move You'.

The album also boasts four of her own songs, but two are re-workings of a pair of her best... 'Evolution' and 'Rhythm Of Life'. Both are given acoustic, "third set" stylings. The two new songs are 'Wilted Roses' and 'His Loving Eyes' and stylistically they perfectly fit the mood and sentiment of the collection. The set's unity is further enhanced by the use of the same three piece band (James Harrah, guitar; John Pena, bass; John Cushon, drums) throughout, but the real unifying factor is Ms Adams' still distinctive, blues-tinged, world weary voice which has lost none of the passion or soul that we enjoyed in the days of 'Get Here'.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 February 2017 15:54

 

THE FIFTH DIMENSION: The Complete Soul City/Bell Singles (Real Gone)

Sunday, 12 February 2017 18:44 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe wonderful FIFTH DIMENSION are not everybody's cup of soul tea but their blend of committed lead vocals, sweet, on-point harmonies, polished production (usually courtesy of Bones Howe) and a canny knack of spotting great songs has won them legions of fans and kept the band in business for fifty years. To celebrate that auspicious anniversary, re-issue specialist Real Gone Music, have just released this three CD set that brings together all group's singles recorded for the Soul City and Bell labels.

The Fifth Dimension's genesis, however, goes back further than fifty years. Indeed it was back in 1962 that photographer Lamonte McLemore and "Miss Bronze California", Marilyn McCoo, formed a vocal duo called the Hi-Fis. In '63, McLemore was assigned to photograph that year's Miss Bronze California pageant which was won by Florence LaRue. Struck by her looks (and those of his singing partner) he had the idea to invite her into the group and then to expand the band with two friends, Billy Davis and Ron Townson. Now dubbed The Versatiles, they failed an audition for Motown but landed a deal with Bronco for whom they recorded one single. They then caught the attention of singer Johnny Rivers who signed them to his Soul City label. Rivers had them record two Willie Hutch songs for their first single. It meant little so Rivers suggested a name change; then as "the Fifth Dimension" they enjoyed moderate chart success with their next two singles, 'Go Where You Wanna Go' and 'Another Day Another Heartbreak'. The big break through, though, came in 1967 with their evergreen version of Jimmy Webb's 'Up Up And Away'. This classic slice of "Sunshine Soul" made the Fifth Dimension household names and the hits continued to flow. There were more Webb songs of course but some of the Fifth's most cherished recordings were penned by Laura Nyro. Things like 'Stoned Soul Picnic', 'Wedding Bell Blues' and 'Sweet Blindness' remain smooth soul classics.

All those wonderful songs are, of course, included here but they're not the only gems. Soul connoisseurs revere the Fifth Dimension's version of 'Working On A Groovy Thing' and surely their treatment of Bacharach/ David's 'One Less Bell To Answer' is that song's definitive version?

This collection also includes the two singles they recorded as The Versatiles as well as their only Arista single... 1975's 'No Love In The Room'/'I Don't Know How To Look For Love'. So, over 61 songs (all the A and B sides) you can trace the evolution of a very special soul sound.... a sound that's optimistic and always uplifting... "champagne soul" as one critic christened it!

Original member Florence LaRue still tours with an incarnation of the Fifth Dimension (Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis left in '75 for a successful career as a duo; Ron Townson died in 2001 and health reasons forced Lamonte McLemore to retire in 2006). You can bet that when Florence and her new partners perform, that sparkling, gorgeous "champagne" still flows.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 February 2017 18:51

 

PHIL PERRY; Breathless (Shanachie)

Friday, 10 February 2017 14:49 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPhil Perry is the consummate smooth soul man. A slew of fine solo albums from the ex Montclairs front man has cemented his position as a major league soul star and this, his 12 solo set, only underlines why artists like the about-to-retire Al Jarreau consider Phil Perry "the real deal".

Like most of Perry's long players, 'Breathless' is a mix of original songs and well-chosen covers. The two big covers here are versions of Stevie's 'Love's In Need Of Love Today' and Bacharach and David's 'One Less Bell To Answer'. Both are perfectly suited to Phil's style and approach... quality material for a quality voice. 'Love's In Need...' is treated with the respect it deserves. The piano solo from producer, Chris "Big Dog" Davis is a delight and Perry (naturally) nails the vocal allowing the message to percolate, and boy, if we ever needed to heed that message, we do now. 'One Less Bell...' is given a subtle, smooth jazz undertow via Joe Cunningham's sensual sax while Phil's effortless, caressed vocal makes a great song greater. It's the album highlight, though the long player's title tune, 'Breathless', runs it close. Co-written by Davis, it's the most up-tempo item on offer but, of course, it's never frantic – just a joyous. optimistic groove and Phil even gets to do a little scatting.

The majority of the other tracks see Phil in more familiar ballad territory. 'Someday We'll Meet Again' is particularly atmospheric; 'Heaven's Away' is deceptively simple but annoyingly catchy; 'Is It You?' (a Lee Ritenour song) comes highly recommended too, though the sweet, acoustic guitar passage from guest player, Tony DePaolo is, sadly, just too short. Not a complaint, that, just an observation.... like all of Phil Perry's work there's nothing not to like here.

(BB) 4/5

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Last Updated on Friday, 10 February 2017 15:06

 

MARVIN PARKS: Marvin Parks (Schema Records)

Friday, 10 February 2017 14:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBorn in Baltimore, jazz singer Marvin Parks now works out of Paris. He arrived in the City Of Light in 2013 for a three week holiday but he quickly decided to stay. To support himself he sang in the corridors of the Metro and his unusual style (you don't get too may buskers singing Cole Porter and George Gershwin!) won him plenty of supporters. From there he got to play jazz clubs and bars, where he earned himself a reputation as a consummate interpreter of the Great American Songbook.

In 2012 he released his first EP – 'The Very Thought Of You' which contained a trio of three original songs alongside 3 standards. That brought Marvin to the attention of respected Italian muso, Nicola Conte and eventually a deal with Schema Records, the vehicle for this new 13 tracker (Conte's the producer, by the way).

The set's a mix of Parks' beloved standards and three originals though one of those, 'Awakening', is an old collaboration between Nicola Conte and Jose James. The other two are Conte's 'Sea And Sand' and Parks' own 'African Other Blues'. That one recalls the art of Oscar Brown Jr and, interestingly, one of the covers is a version of Brown's 'Brother Where Are You?'. Clearly Mr P is a big Brown fan and good to hear the great man's songs getting another airing. Indeed though Parks here is dipping consciously into the American songbook, several of his choices don't get covered that often. Here Parks offers things like Billy Strayhorn's 'A Flower Is A Lonesome Thing' and the movie song 'Charade' which more often than not comes as an instrumental. If you like the tune you can enjoy it here in two versions.... the (I'm guessing) "original" mix and a "Swing Version". Little to choose between them... both are treated imaginatively. Indeed even on the familiar ('Nature Boy', 'The Very Thought Of You' etc) Parks and Conte avoid the obvious and throw fresh light on old friends. Maybe it's the coming together of Park's heritage and gospel singing roots with Conte's European sensitivities that brings the freshness; then we haven't mentioned the contribution of the players ... a tight septet that plays throughout. Pianist Pietro Lussu and saxophonist Daniele Tittarelli, in particular, offer sensitive, soulful support.

(BB) 3/5

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 February 2017 16:37

 

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