RANDY NAPOLEON; Common Tones (Detroit Music Factory)

Sunday, 13 October 2019 18:11 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altMichigan guitar man Randy Napoleon was once described as "the forward thinking, tradition loving jazz guitarist" and listening in to 'Common Tones', his just released 13 tracker, you can hear why. The set is a well-balanced mix of pop covers, Napoleon originals and takes on the Great American songbook ... traditional and contemporary in equal parts but all delivered in a thoroughly 21st century manner.

Nowhere is that best illustrated than in the opener – a swinging version of Brian Wilson's 'Wouldn't It Be Nice'. Like the jazz guitar greats before him (notably Wes Montgomery), Napoleon shows that a great tune transcends genre. Here he makes the Beach Boys' classic really swing in the manner of the best soul-jazz. Amongst the other covers are versions of Rodgers and Hart's 'I Married An Angel', Hammerstein and Kerns' 'The Song is You' and Donald Walden's 'Signed Dizzy With Love'. The late Walden in fact was one of the guitarist's teachers and the track is included in homage to him as is the poignant ''If DW Were Here' – six minutes plus of gentle guitar and piano (courtesy of Xavier Davis) duelling. Here Randy avoids, as Walden regularly advised, the obvious.

Napoleon was also tutored by the bebop trumpeter Louis Smith and homage his paid via the track 'Mr Smith' - a cheerful bebop outing that recalls the great Grant Green. The delightful trumpet part here comes from Etienne Charles. Not sure whether Mr Charles was a student of "Professor" Napoleon (Randy is indeed a respected music teacher) but we're told that many of the players on 'Common Tones' have had the benefits of his teaching. Thus to get back to where we came in, these new, young players collaborating with their tutor keep the evolutionary process flowing... yes, plenty of tradition here but also plenty of movement and contemporary flourish.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 October 2019 18:23


CORNELL CARTER; Absoulutely (CDC Entertainment)

Wednesday, 09 October 2019 19:04 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altWe've said it plenty of times this year already, but we need to say it again. 2019 has been a vintage year for modern soul albums. We've enjoyed a bumper harvest of fine, new material and now adding to the crop is the long awaited new LP from Cornell CC Carter... aptly titled 'Absoulutely'.

As is the modern music marketing way the album was flagged up nice and early... July to be precise when Mr C released the set's first single - a lovely, smooth and gentle sophisticated modern soul dancer 'I See Love'. That single absolutely whetted our collective appetites but to keep us in suspense the single was beautifully remixed by the Metlife team (Michael Gray/Jon Pearn). Now, the waiting is over and the album is amongst us and the good news is that there are plenty more potential modern room floor fillers amidst the ten tracks. 'I See Love' still sounds good but 'Say Yes' and 'I Could Never' are cut from the same cloth. If you want something a tad more frantic then try the interesting 'Ghosted'... proper pace here.

However, the album's big focus cuts have to be the two covers and by his selections, Cornell shows that he's confident to tackle the giants – Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. CC offer his perspective on Curtis' 'We're A Winner' and Marvin's 'Come Live With Me Angel' and he treats both with respect – these new versions aren't too far from the originals and vocally Mr C's close to both maestros. Indeed the spirit of Gaye, in particular, can be felt in numerous places around the album. For instance the track that precedes 'Angel' is a seven minute plus, sensual 'Earn It' that could've come right out of the Marvin Gaye and/or Leon Ware songbook. We all know that Marvin was a master of duets too and here there's a corker of one... 'Morning Touch' on which Cornell teams up with Naté Soulsanger.

That particular track, by the way is produced by James Day though the bulk of 'Absoulutely' was produced by Carter himself in tandem with Kirk Crumpler. Also helping out is Cornell's old pay master and mentor Narada Michael Walden who must be "absoulutely" delighted by what his protégé has achieved here. Yes, another fine album in vintage year!

(BB) 4/5


HANNAH WILLIAMS; 50 Foot Woman (Record Kicks)

Thursday, 03 October 2019 11:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBig voiced UK soulstress HANNAH WILLIAMS first came on our radar back in 2012. At that time she was fronting a funk combo, the Tastemakers and together they were promoting their debut long player, the enigmatically titled 'A Hill Of Feathers'. Craig Charles championed it and most other soul commentators gave it the thumbs up!

That early success was followed by a string of gigs here in the UK and over in Europe. Then came another long player - 'Late Nights & Heartbreak', which was credited to Hannah Williams and The Affirmations and it was never fully explained if they were a totally new bunch, remnants of the Tastemakers, or indeed the Tastemakers with a new name! The constant was Ms Williams' fiery, full-on, take-no-prisoners vocals and that voice carried the day on the hit 'Tame in the Water' and the LP title track that went on to be sampled by Jay Z.

And it's THAT remarkable voice that dominates the lady's new album.... '50 Foot Woman'. The title track opens proceedings and with its furious Northern soul tempo, blaring horns, chinking guitar and frenetic backing vocals, the tone is set for what follows... a fierce, unrelenting take on old school soul. There are plenty more wild flavours on offer so the slightly more sedate 'I Can't Let This Slip Away' offers some (a little) respite.

The album also boasts some fine bluesy, emotional ballads like 'Sinner' ( a nod to her upbringing... her father was a vicar?) and 'Please Be Good To Me' while if you like sweet harmonies then try the opening to 'What Can We Do' (another nod to her upbringing... Hannah was a church chorister and worked in the University of Winchester University music dept.for 10 years?)

Produced by Shawn Lee (credits include Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys and Young Gun Silver Fox), Hannah says that she's never been as proud of anything in her life as she is with '50 Foot Woman'. You can hear if that pride's misplaced when the album is released on Italian label Record Kicks on October 18th

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2019 11:51


VARIOUS: This Is It (Kent)

Sunday, 29 September 2019 17:45 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altIt was back in 2010 that Kent/Ace issued a compilation that highlighted the writing/production/ arranging skills of Van McCoy. Now, even casual soul fans will know that McCoy was hugely prolific... (he worked on over 300 projects between 1959 and 1979, we're told), so, after a 9 year hiatus, the Kent crew have (rightly) decided that the time is right to dip into the McCoy repertoire again.

'This Is It' is a wonderful 24 track selection from his output between 1962 and 1977 and it's named for Melba Moore's big 1976 hit. The album boasts plenty more big name and big tunes like Gladys Knight's 'Baby Don't Change Your Mind' and David Ruffin's 'Everything's Coming Up Love'.

There's also plenty of less well known items from soul second stringers like The Choice Four ('If I Don't Love You'), Toni Lamarr ('Just In The Nick Of Time') and Francine Baker ('Mister DJ'). Soul collectors will, obviously, recognise other names like Bill Harris, Brenda and the Tabulations, the Spellbinders, the Vonettes, the Ad Libs, Sandi Sheldon, Chris Bartley and Major Lance for whom McCoy penned 'Wait Till I Get You In My Arms'.

Yes, quite a line up here but whether it was a big star, a faded legend, or a soul wannabee, Van always worked with the same care and passion and employed the same production values; knowing that anything with his name on had to be nothing less than perfect. So, this really is it.... another great tribute to one of soul's great backroom boys.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 September 2019 17:49


VARIOUS: Soul Togetherness 2109 (Expansion)

Friday, 20 September 2019 18:27 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altProper soul fans know when autumn beckons... no, it's not the kids going back to school, nor is it the shortening days and chillier nights. Neither is it the falling leaves.... it is, of course, the release of Expansion's huge celebration of modern soul – their annual 'Togetherness' compilation.

The 2019 edition is almost good to go and this instalment is something rather special... you see, this is the 20th 'Togetherness' set – wow, yes, hard to believe but true – 'Togetherness' has been around longer than the Brexit debate! That said, there's nothing stale, old-fashioned or complex here.... just 15 tunes that offer the very best in modern soul all serving to  remind you why you got involved in this crazy soul world in the first place.

Now let's state the obvious. Most "proper soul fans" (the ones we mentioned in the first line) will either have, know and/or bopped the night away to most of the music here but that doesn't make the compilation any the less valuable; rather it underlines its importance and value. What you have here is an accurate sonic snapshot of the state of modern soul in 2109 and as such it's essential!

With a collection of such excellence, it's churlish to pick highlights but any review worth its salt needs to focus on a few of the goodies – so let's start with a real gem... 'Same Number' from someone called Angie Stone! Yes that Angie... here she is in all her glory gracing an Expansion compilation. The track, of course, comes from her new album 'Full Circles'.

Other big names on the set include Raheem, DeVaughn ('Need To Know'), Rockie Robbins ('Good Life') and Glen Jones ('You And Me'). Those who know her album will know that Terri Green will be a big name too very soon. She's here with 'Giving It Up' – her best outing this year!

Lesser luminaries featured on 'Togetherness 2019' include DCR, Solati Music, T L Shider and Steal Vybe who offer their version of the Donna McGee/Inner Life track 'Make It Last Forever'... an old song with a lovely new treatment. And speaking of oldies... those familiar with the 'Togetherness' format will know that Expansion head boy, Ralph Tee likes to include a venerable oldie. This year's "blast from the past" is the delicious 'All My Life' from Steve 'Doc' Willoughby. From 1978 and emanating from New Jersey, this has all the sophistication and class of those old Lou Rawls' classic. We need say no more, save to save it brings the 20th 'Togetherness' collection to a rather satisfying close. It will make you smile (I guarantee that!) and, yes, you'll also agree with what we just said: musically, that aforementioned crazy soul world is THE only place to be!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 20 September 2019 18:43


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