Reviews

VARIOUS; Los Angeles Soul Vol.2 (Kent)

Wednesday, 30 October 2019 20:53 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe latest compilation from UK collectors' label Ace/Kent is another dip into the archives of US label group Kent/Modern. Kent/Modern (for whom the UK's Kent label is named) was founded in Los Angeles in the forties by the Bihari Brothers (Saul, Jules and Joe) and till its demise it released countless R&B and soul gems on names big and small. During the 1990s UK's Ace Records (who'd previously licensed plenty of Kent/Modern material) bought the whole catalogue and over the years they've sensitively reissued plenty of the Bihari's material.

This new album offers 24 cuts recorded between 1963 and 1972 and represents a cross-section of black music genres -soul, R&B, blues, gospel, funk and jazz tinged flavours sit cheek by jowl as do familiar names and the not so well known. The soul cognoscenti will recognize artists like Johnny Copeland, Lowell Fulson, Clay Hammond, ZZ Hill, Vernon Garrett and Felice Taylor. They may be less familiar with people like Jimmy Bee, the Other Brothers, the Four Tees, Earl Foster and Bobby John – who all came to the Biharis looking for fame and fortune but found both elusive! Indeed contributions from Jeanette Jones, Earl Foster and Chuck Walker represent just one side of their only 45! In the case of Walker we're treated to both sides of what is probably his only single. The cuts are the rough hewn ballads 'I'll Be Standing By' and 'Peace Of Mind' which top and tail this collection. On both the singer is backed by the "the VIPS with Bobby McVay" and though another Chuck Walker single exists... a 1973 outing, the Ace/Kent 'tecs can't be sure if it's the same singer. His "unknown" status, however, doesn't make his contribution to this album any less worthwhile than, say, ZZ Hill's Bobby Bland –influenced 'Where She At'.

Kent's Los Angeles Soul Vol.2 is out now.

(BB) 4/5

 

VARIOUS: 'Music That Inspired The Blues Brother - 75 R&B Classics' (Masters Of Music)

Wednesday, 30 October 2019 13:21 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

 

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Love it or hate it, there's one thing about Jon Landis's 1980s musical comedy movie, The Blues Brothers, that no one can dispute: it was hugely popular and profoundly influential. Starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as a couple of music-mad siblings, it certainly took vintage black rhythm and blues music to a new and younger audience. And though it probably upset the genre's purist brigade, there was nothing disingenuous about the film, both in terms of the love it showed for blues and soul music, and the respect it gave the artists that brought those sounds to the world.

This excellent 3-CD set is packed with original versions of classic tunes (mainly from the '50s and early '60s) that inspired the concept behind The Blues Brothers. Whether you agree with the marketing concept behind this album (promoting authentic black music via a white pastiche act), there's no denying that it contains some superlative music. It opens with Henry Mancini's 'Peter Gun Theme' and also includes Elvis Presley's 'Jailhouse Rock,' Frankie Laine's 'Rawhide,' Tony Hatch's 'Perry Mason Theme' and Gray U.S. Bonds' New Orleans, but apart from those tunes, it's prime grade blues and soul sounds all the way: from John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Bo Diddley to B.B. King, Junior Wells, Bobby Bland, and Buddy Guy. There are some significant soul cuts, too, from a pre-Atlantic Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, the Staple Singers, The Dells, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Ike & Tina Turner, Booker T & The MGs, Little Willie John, The Contours, the Isley Brothers, The Impressions and Etta James. They are all legendary names, of course, and when you hear how fresh and exciting this music still sounds, you're reminded of what an incredibly fertile time the 1950s and early '60s was for R&B music and how it laid the foundations for what we now know as soul. With a UK retail price of around £10, this collection is well worth picking up.  

(CW)  4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 October 2019 13:29

 

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

 

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