Reviews

THE SOUL MOTIVATORS; Do The Damn Thing (Do Right Music)

Sunday, 02 February 2020 16:50 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altTHE SOUL MOTIVATORS are considered Canada's premier funk band and it was the back end of 2019 when they flagged up the release of this new album by releasing the set's title track. We said then that 'Do The Damn Thing' (the track that is) is uncomplicated, brassy, old school, raw funk! Lead vocalist Shahi Teruko told us then that the song's title came from "a phrase we used during rehearsals to get us back on track when we started to overcomplicate things." And that policy and tough, rough,raw funk sound is apparent right through the 10 tracker.

Big voiced Ms Teruko leads the charge on items like 'Drag And Drop', 'Say What You Mean', 'All the Way To The Bank' and 'Mindblastin'' She stands back to let the band stretch out on the instrumentals 'Savalas' and 'Black Rhino' while on the wild, James Brown flavoured 'Tell Me' she shares the vocal spotlight with the song's creator, Florida funkster, Rickey Calloway who does a great take on the Godfather's sound and style.

The album offers (thankfully) two lovely down moments which show that there's much more to Ms Teruko that chest-beating bravado. First up there's the semi-ballad 'Miss Those Days' which is attractive but outshone by the album highlight, 'Modern Superwoman' – proper old school soul music in the Daptone tradition... poignant and introspective, it's the single in—waiting.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 February 2020 17:02

 

CHUBBY CHECKER: Twistin’ USA (Jasmine)

Friday, 24 January 2020 15:48 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altQuiz time!!! Only two records have ever topped the US singles chart on two separate occasions... one is Bing Crosby's 'White Christmas', what's the other? Well, I'm guessing you'll be scratching your heads for some time ... not the Beatles, not Elvis, not Frank Sinatra, not the Beach Boys... it's Chubby Checker with his Cameo Parkway recording of 'The Twist'. His souped up version of the Hank Ballard dance item hit #1 in 1960 and again in 1962 and unless you're an old-timer (like me!) you'll find it hard to believe the impact that that record had. In the early 60s the twist and, by definition, Chubby Checker were ubiquitous. The one time Ernest Evans – a chicken plucker from Philadelphia (honest!) -  became a super star. I can remember him being interviewed on the old BBC Home Service's breakfast programme (the equivalent of today's Radio 4 Today show) and the TV, newspapers and magazines were stuffed with twist features and stories. Society from top to bottom was smitten by the twist and plenty of artists fed the fad with twist songs ('Twist And Shout' anyone?). As you might guess Chubby was in the vanguard – offering 'Let's Twist Again' (a massive UK hit), 'Twistin' US', 'Slow Twistin'' (a duet with a young Dee Dee Sharp) and the wonderfully named 'The Lose Your Inhibitions Twist'! When twist ideas dried up Mr C tried dances like 'The Hucklebuck', 'The Fly', 'The Limbo Rock' and 'The Pony Time' (a Don Covay song); then there was the catch all, 'Dancin' Party'.

Enjoy all those and more on this new 30 track retrospective that brings together all the A and B sides of his Cameo-Parkway singles between 1959 and 1962 and apart from the dance themed items there's plenty more interest – most notably the "imitation" songs. Chubby began in the music business as a musical impressionist and on things 'The Class' and 'Jingle Bell Imitations' you can hear him singing things like 'Jingle Bells' in the manner of Elvis Presley and Fats Domino! Bizarre, yes, but never less than interesting... and of interest too is that many of the Cameo-Parkway session men playing on these tracks would go onto to work at Sigma with MFSB.

Chubby Checker, of course, went on to became a Northern hero with things like 'At The Discotheque' and 'You Just Don't Know', sadly not included here (not within the album's remit) and at 77 he's still working – mainly on the Las Vegas circuit. I'm guessing most of the songs  on this album will form the core of his act!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 25 January 2020 14:17

 

BRIAN SIMPSON and STEVE OLIVER; Unified (Shanachie)

Friday, 17 January 2020 15:57 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPianist Brian Simpson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Oliver are respected and prominent members of the US smooth jazz fraternity. Together and solo, they have Cvs to be proud of. Simpson has worked with people like Janet Jackson, Teena Marie, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Boney James and Dave Koz while Oliver's credits number collaborations with the Neville Brothers, Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Reid, Larry Carlton, Rick Braun, Acoustic Alchemy and Gato Barbieri, to name  just a few. The pair first came together when Oliver worked with Simpson on his last two solo albums; the chemistry they achieved encouraged the pair to work on a whole album together and the 11 tracker that is 'Unified' is the result.

The album's mission statement is "to allow music to heal and bring people together by allowing minds to wander along the path these songs take and perhaps listeners will have a brighter day, or connect with their deepest emotions." Well that's very much a personal thing and time will tell, but Lord knows we could do with some (plenty!) of coming together and healing right now....Presidential impeachment/Brexit/climate change/et al anyone?

What 'Unified' offers is a relaxing, easy-on-the-ear set of tunes with Simpson's crystalline keys and Oliver's Benson-esque guitar blending empathetically; classic smooth jazz if you would. So plenty of gentle groove-laden workouts (like the title cut) and some very pleasing balladic moments (like 'Last Summer' and 'A Distant Love'). Catchiest cut is 'Café Du Monde' – a melodic appeal for unity while the all too short, acoustic closer, 'And Then You Loved Me' channels the best of Earl Klugh. No bad thing in this reviewer's book!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 17 January 2020 16:51

 

OMAR; The Anthology (Freestyle)

Friday, 10 January 2020 16:44 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOmar (or to be precise, Omar Lyefook MBE) is a unique British soul talent. He's one of those very rare UK artists with an immediately recognizable voice and style. And if you dare to doubt that, may we point you to an upcoming retrospective of the man's best work on Freestyle Records. 'The Anthology' offers a massive 32 track sweep and from the opening, 'Pass It On' (a collaboration with Terri Walker) through to the closing, quirky, waltz that is 'Deja Vu' there's no let up in panache, quality and soulfulness. Little wonder, that a certain Stevie Wonder numbers Mr F amongst his favourite singers and as we know Stevie put his money where his mouth is by collaborating with Omar on 'Feeling You'.

That track is one of many big name collaborations that Omar has worked on and is included here. Here you can also enjoy his collaborations with people like Carleen Anderson, Caron Wheeler, Kele LeRoc, Leon Ware, the Floacist Robert Glasper and of course Erykah Badu. The big Badu/Omar pairing is, of course, their version of 'Be Thankful'. The measure of the cut's class is the fact that though William DeVaughn's original is just that – the original, the Omar/Badu version is acknowledged as equally excellent and stands proud in its own right... not really seen as a cover at all. It's one of this collection's big highlights – a benchmark. The other clear highlight is, of course, the one that started it all off... 'There's Nothing Like This'. It still sounds vital and fresh and, you know, the word "classic" is overused in the music press, but 'There's Nothing Like This' is just that – a classic.

This collection's big sales pitch is that there are two previously unreleased tracks ... the Terri Walker duet 'Pass It On' and 'Long Time Coming'. I'm not entirely sure about the latter but the former, in fact, has been out before... last September, I think. It doesn't really matter, I suppose, still a great tune!

Sadly no space here for the Angie Stone mixes of 'Be Thankful' or the 2013 re-recording of 'There's Nothing Like This' but that's more than made up for by the sheer quality of everything else!

Omar's 'The Anthology' will be out 31 January on Freestyle Records

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2020 17:12

 

JAMES REESE & THE PROGRESSIONS: 'Wait For Me: The Complete Works (1967-1972)' (Now-Again)

Thursday, 02 January 2020 12:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                               altA trombonist, bandleader, arranger and producer from Spartanburg, South Carolina, James Reese is one of soul music's more esoteric figures whose work is only known to those that consider themselves among the genre's cognoscenti. Reese recorded a couple of lowkey indie 45s in tandem with his band, The Progressions, for his self-funded Najma label during the late '60s and early '70s and then quietly slipped into obscurity. That was until Now-Again's founder and this album's curator, Egon (aka Eothen Alaplatt) chanced upon some Reese 45s when he was working as the manager of Stones Throw Records. He tracked down the South Carolinian musician and licensed two cuts for the much-lauded Stones Throw compilation, '16 Funky Corners.' Now, under the aegis of his own label, Egon unveils 14-track LP/CD of James Reese's music sourced from the original multi-track masters. Mixing the group's singles with a cache of previously unissued material, 'Wait For Me' proves to be an astounding compilation that illuminates the prodigious talent of a musician whose endeavours deserved a wider audience.

Reese and his band straddled the divide between soul and jazz. They were able to serve up a combination of funky, jazz-infused instrumentals that channelled The JB's - the wonderfully breezy 'Let's Go (It's Summertime),' and the super-propulsive 'Jody's Freeze' - with more R&B-oriented vocal material. The standouts include 'One Girl,' a gutbucket soul ballad fronted by a raspy-voiced male singer and 'He'll Never Go,' a Marvin Gaye-esque number. Then there's the more strident Motown-style soul anthem, 'A Fool For Love,' with its earworm chorus.  Engaging, too, are 'I'll Find A True Love' and 'It's Not But So Much Love Can Do,' which, with their falsetto male vocals, both come across like a jazzed-up take on Philly's Delfonics. The killer cut on the set is the Kenny Dope-mixed 'Throwing Stones,' a simmering groove ballad featuring Rosalyn Foster whose sweetly soulful vocals are framed by yearning string lines.

There's much to appreciate, then, on this lovingly-curated album, which brings James Reese & The Progressions out of the obscurity of the soul shadows into the light of recognition. A revelation.  (Release date: January 17, 2020)

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 03 January 2020 19:20

 

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