Reviews

RUBY TURNER: 'Livin' A Life Of Love - The Jive Anthology 1986-1991' (SoulMusic Records)

Saturday, 11 November 2017 11:25 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                         altBorn in Jamaica's Montego Bay and raised in Handsworth, Birmingham, MBE-decorated Francella Ruby Turner is regarded as a national treasure here in the UK, where she's had hit records, sung background vocals with pop and rock royalty (everyone from Mick Jagger and Jools Holland to Brian Ferry and Steve Winwood), and acted on stage and screen. This excellent new anthology takes us back to the dawn of Ruby's solo career when her stint as a backing singer with Culture Club led her to sign a solo deal with Jive Records, then a rising R&B label. She was with the label for five years and her stay there yielded five albums, the highlights of which can be found on this 32-track retrospective which includes all her charting UK and US hits as well as key LP cuts and some essential extended mixes.

For those that are only familiar with Ruby via her more recent association with Jools Holland's Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, 'Livin' A Life Of Love' might come as a surprise in terms of the singer's versatility and range of material. The fact that she scored a US R&B chart-topper in 1990 with 'It's Gonna Be Alright' shows that thirty years ago she was comfortable with being at the cutting-edge of pop-slanted soul despite the fact that she began her recording career doing covers of soul classics  - namely, her duet with Jonathan Butler on The Staple Singers' 'If You're Read (Come Go With Me) and Etta James' 'I'd Rather Go Blind.' Ruby also did an LP devoted to Motown songs ('The Motown Songbook') and included from that set here are faithful revamps of The Temptations' 'Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),' The Four Tops' 'Baby I Need Your Lovin'' and Jimmy Ruffin's 'What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted' (all three songs feature cameos by the original Motown recordings artists, namely the Tempts, Tops and Ruffin).  

As good as these Motor Town reboots are, Ruby shines even brighter on contemporary material. The best of these is 'In My Life (It's Better To Be In Love),' a deceptively simple but hauntingly beautiful and poignant  beat ballad written and produced by ex-Time keyboardist Monty Moir, who helmed Alexander O'Neal's 'If You Were Here Tonight.' Thankfully, this compilation contains the superior 12-inch extended version, which arguably is Ruby's best ever recording. Other highlights on the anthology come in the shape of 'It's A Cryin' Shame,' the Brixton Bass Mix of 'It's Gonna Be Alright,'  the dance floor-oriented 'The Vibe Is Right,' and the Soul II Soul-influenced Club Mix of 'Rumours.'  They all conspire to etch a vivid portrait of Ruby Turner's fertile and hugely satisfying tenure at Jive Records in the late '80s and early '90s.  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 November 2017 18:08

 

SYLEENA JOHNSON: The Rebirth Of Soul (Shanachie)

Friday, 10 November 2017 15:15 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altThe lovely Syleena Johnson is a proper soul singer with a real pedigree. Her father is soul/blues man Syl Johnson –most famous for his oft-sampled anthem 'Is It Because I'm Black' and the original waxing of 'Take Me To The River'. In her career, Ms J has produced some blistering soul music – some of it helmed by her father. Now she treats us to a whole long player which was conceived and produced by Syl. It's a simple concept – a set of covers of soul tunes, some better known than others; but what makes this so special is that clearly the two key participants – dad and daughter- know, respect and love the genre. What's more, to keep it real, live instrumentation is used throughout and Syl has used his clout to persuade legendary session players like Tom Washington and Willie Henderson to get on board. The end result is a beautiful tribute to classic soul music – not a pastiche, not a karaoke exercise; rather an injection of freshness and energy into the familiar... a "rebirth" indeed.

The album was heralded by the single 'We Did it' and anoraks will know that the song was originally recorded by Syl himself (they'll also tell you that that original was arranged by Donny Hathaway) and on this new version you can hear the joy of two people working on a project inspired by love. Syl gets Syleena to tackle another of his songs – the aforementioned 'Is It Because I'm Black. Like the original, this is dark and brooding... sinister even. Other sombre moments include versions of 'These Arms Of Mine 'and 'I'd Rather Go Blind'. Yep, great soul music can be a downer!

But great soul also has the ability to lift you up and make you smile and there are plenty of examples here. Chief amongst 'em is a belting version of Major Lance's 'The Monkey Time'. The two Johnsons play it like it should be played... chinking guitar, parping brass and wonderful second line harmonies. Dear old Curtis would be proud of it! The other big "up" moment is the cover of 'Make Me Yours' while for you old romantics, there's 'The Makings Of You'.

I've noticed that several US soul sites have made 'Rebirth Of Soul' their Album Of The Month".... you can't argue with that. Syl and Syleena have produced a proper soul Renaissance!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 November 2017 15:39

 

BOBBY BYRD: Help For My Brother (Ace/BGP)

Friday, 10 November 2017 15:12 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altMost soul fans know of Bobby Byrd and his association with James Brown. However, it's my guess that only Brown anoraks know that without Byrd there may have never been a James Brown! The pair first met in 1953 at a baseball game. JB was playing for the Alto Reform school where he had been incarcerated and after falling into conversation with Byrd (a boy from a respectable, church-going family) he convinced the Byrds to plead for his parole. They agreed and Brown was indeed released, joining Bobby's secular vocal group, the Flames. The group's new member quickly became the big draw and when Brown quit for a solo career Bobby opted to join his backing group - The Famous Flames. The rest, of course, is history and as Brown established himself as a major player he won record deals for many of his "people", including Bobby Byrd. Indeed Byrd went on to enjoy hits in his own right through the 70s- hits that became a cornerstone for the hip-hop sampling generation.

Most of those hits (thing like 'I Know You Got Soul') are fairly accessible, but Brown recorded Byrd in the 60s too and this new 24 track Ace/BGP collection focuses on Byrd's output between 1963 and 1968 when he recorded for Federal, Smash and King.

The sound, helmed mainly by the future "godfather", is the sound of early soul and R&B. Tough and rough, you can almost hear the duo searching for a new, muscular direction for the embryonic genre. The set begins with 1963's 'I Found Out' – classic early 60's with a whiff of Sam Cooke about the simple melody – and ends with the tougher, funkier 'You Gave My Heart A Song To Sing' – a 1967 King recording that presages what was to come in the 70s. In between hear the evolution of a sound. Tunes worth investigating include the jaunty 'We Are In Love' and an odd cover of the Dells' 'Oh What A Night' where a twee female chorus replaces the soaring harmonies of the original. Like many of the cuts herein, clearly experimental but to soul historians valuable and intriguing.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 10 November 2017 15:37

 

CAMERA SOUL; Connections (Azurra Music)

Wednesday, 08 November 2017 20:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altCamera Soul is an Italian soul and funk band led by Piero and Pippo Lombardo. Piero is a kind of behind the scenes guy – handling writing and generally managing things; Pippo helps big bro with song writing and also plays keyboards. The core of the rest of the band is Beppe Sequestro (bass), Liviana Ferri (percussionist), Fabio Delle Foglie (drummer) and the lovely Maria Enrica Lotesoriere who handles the vocals.

The band work out of Barri in Southern Italy but with three acclaimed albums under their belt the band have a following throughout Europe and in Japan and their last collection – 2015's 'Dress Code' - topped all the credible soul charts in the UK. On the back of that success Camera Soul will be touring the UK at the end of November, taking the opportunity to promote this – their new long player – 'Connections'.

The 18 track album is already winning praise from soul commentators while savvy DJs have cherry picked a couple of cuts for heavy rotation. Those tunes are the set's title track and a lovely sweet n'smooth 'Tonight (in This Night'). 'Connections' (the song, not the album) is being aired in two versions; the original which is a tight, melodic soul groove and in a Tom Glide remix. The TG mix cranks up the beats into almost soulful house territory and, oddly, I think, omits the gorgeous vocal. What Monsieur Glide creates though is one huge modern soul groove that is both hypnotic and irresistible. 'Tonight' is different again – smooth jazz meets modern soul; but a lovely melody, beautifully delivered and produced... quite charming!

Elsewhere, ones we like right now are the Latino-inflected 'Meu Carnival', the poppy Northern soul pastiche 'Never Enough' and 'This Is Not The Right Way' which mines a similar groove to 'Tonight'. Listen up too to the poignant tribute to Maurice White - 'In The Stone'. It's far too brief and segues into the aforementioned 'Tonight'. Clearly EWF have been a big influence on the Lombardo brothers and I think dear old Maurice would be impressed by what Camera Soul have produced here.

Camera Soul's 'Connections' is out now and you can find out more @ www.camerasoul.eu

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 November 2017 21:03

 

ERIC BENÉT; Eric Benét (BMG)

Tuesday, 07 November 2017 11:13 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThis eponymous 12 tracker is Eric Benét's eighth studio album and his first since 2012's 'The One'. The delay may have disappointed fans of the Milwaukee-born soul man, but they won't be disappointed by the new collection; it offers everything that those fans have come to know, love and appreciate abut Mr B!

First off there are plenty of those on point contemporary R&B beaters that Eric's always excelled at. Best example is the brash opener, 'Can't Tell U Enough'. The MC Lyte guested 'Holdin' On' offers a similar flavour. Slightly different but equally satisfying and danceable is the funky, Prince influenced 'Cold Trigger'... clever and quirky with a sampled Vincent Price (I think) short, spoken intro. My ears can also hear the influence of Prince on the ponderous but sexy beater that is 'Insane'.

Highlights of Benét's long players, though, have always been the sweet ballads – tunes to showcase the man's fragile falsetto. Best of the bunch here is the big production (courtesy of Demonte Posey) that is 'Fun And Games'. 'Broke And Busted' is lovely too, while 'Floating Through Time' is as ethereal and atmospheric as the title suggests. Most intriguing ballad though is the melancholic 'Never Be The Same'. Sub-titled 'Luna's Lullaby', there's clearly a personal story behind this one.

This album's biggest surprise is the huge Latin romp, 'Holdin' On'. With guest input from celebrated trumpeter, Arturo Sandoval, this is full on salsa – uplifting and optimistic. Clearly there's a connection here with Eric's recent contribution to the Cuba album 'Two Beats One Soul' (see our review section).

The album's lead single is the sweet, building floater, 'Sunshine' – a good choice; a showcase for Eric's famed falsetto.

'Eric Benét' is out now.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 November 2017 11:27

 

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