Reviews

CLYDIE KING: 'The Imperial & Minit Years' (Label: Stateside)

Tuesday, 12 February 2008 03:26 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

CLYDIE KING: 'The Imperial & Minit Years'

As a background vocalist in the 1970s, Texas-born singer, Clydie King, sang with anyone who was anyone in the spheres of rock and pop music - as an in-demand back-up singer, she contributed vocals to best-selling albums by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan (she was also his girlfriend for a time), Steely Dan, Barbara Streisand, Joe Cocker, Elton John, Neil Diamond and even the redneck rock group, Lynyrd Skynyrd. But as any soul connoisseur will tell you, this former Raelet was much more than a mere background vocalist - her career started way back in the '50s when as a 13-year-old she cut a 45 as Little Clydie for the RPM label. A precociously talented youngster, Clydie also cut sides for Specialty and Phillips before joining Liberty's Imperial imprint in 1964. The church-reared chanteuse's tenure at Imperial is the focus of this superlative new compilation - put together by David Cole and Bob Fisher - which also showcases material she cut for Liberty's Minit label in the latter half of the '60s. Clydie's early Imperial sides are prime examples of delicious mid-'60s femme pop-soul boasting an epic Phil Spector-style production sound: 'The Thrill Is Gone' is a dramatic big ballad, while the superb 'Missin' My Baby' - which can exchange hands for £200 in its original vinyl form - is a gorgeous slice of dreamy, sophisticated, soul-infused pop reminiscent of '60s girl groups like The Royalettes. By contrast, there's a palpable Motown feel to the driving 'He Always Comes Back To Me.' Clydie's stint at Minit yielded a couple of strong duets with Jimmy Holiday (the Motown-esque 'Ready Willing & Able' and 'We Got A Good Thing Going') and a fantastic ballad called 'One Of Those Good For Crying Over You Days.' A real coup for this collection is the inclusion of eight previously unissued songs Clydie recorded in 1968. Among them is a noteworthy version of Bobbie Gentry's 'Ode To Billie Joe' and a slice of funkafied country-soul called 'I'm Glad I'm A Woman.' A worthy addition to any soul collection.
(CW) 4/5

 

MARY J BLIGE: Growing Pains (Label: Geffen)

Wednesday, 06 February 2008 06:49 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

MARY J BLIGE: Growing Pains

'Growing Pains' is Mary J Blige's eighth full studio set and it seems we've been waiting for its release for some time - begging the question as to whether the waiting was worth it. Well, for fans of the self-styled Queen of Hip-Hop soul, the answer is a very definite yes. However, for those who've never been absolutely convinced, then the doubts will remain. The 16 tracker is everything we've come to expect of the lady - musically, lyrically and physically. The packaging is glossy, the artwork is flawless, the music is polished and the lyrics explore similar sentiments to her most recent outings. But the set lacks the big blockbuster and/or the shock value that made 'What's The 411?' such a throat-grabber. Mary's even employed some new producers this time around. But for whatever reason people like Tricky Stewart, Pharrell and the Stargate people have failed to forge new directions and, in honesty, her fans would say there's no need to. The old adage of not fixing something till it's broken springs to mind - so here we get the same mix of feel-good beaters and self-exploratory ballads. Of those quasi-biographical songs, 'Roses' is possibly the edgiest and most honest as Mary opines that she now loves her man, knows her place, but needs a little more love, 'cos it ain't all roses. 'Work In Progress' (subtitled 'Growing Pains') is another fierce personal statement with a plea for everyone to look past her celebrity. Both cuts have a broody, introspective depth but feel-good moments are never too far away. The set opens with the very bright 'Work That' - complete with a lovely tinkling piano, while the lead single, 'Just Fine' is full of real soul energy too. The beats on 'Til The Morning' are more complicated, while the Ludacris collaboration that is 'Grown Woman' will keep the R&B crew smiling. The Usher duet, 'Shake Down' is another ultra-catchy cut though 'Fade Away' with its tight beats is possibly the best modern soul dancer. As with all Mary J albums, 'Growing Pains' offers value and real variety but some harder-nosed critics might say they've heard it all before.
(BB) 4/5

 

DIONNE WARWICK: The Love Collection (Label: Sony BMG)

Wednesday, 06 February 2008 06:48 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

DIONNE WARWICK: The Love Collection

Every home should have a Dionne Warwick compilation and God knows there's enough out there to choose from. This latest 20 tracker is as good - and in many ways better - than most that are already available. There are a couple of reasons for this. First - the set is aimed directly at the Valentine's Day/red heart/ bouquet of flowers market. So each and every one of the cuts says something about that most elusive yet most appealing of human emotions, and though you've heard all the songs a million times before the lovely lady from New Jersey made them special when she recorded them and that special, fragile magic remains. Secondly, unlike lots of previous Warwick collections this one is a fairly comprehensive sweep - taking in not just her Wand/Scepter glory days but visiting lots of her later high spots. There are plenty of collaborations too - notably the oft-neglected 'Love Power' with Jeffrey Osborne and 'I Don't Need Another Lover' with the Spinners. Good too, to have the Isaac Hayes-penned 'Déjà Vu' included - you don't get that on too many other collections, while wherever soul fans meet the argument rages about whether Dionne's version of 'I Say A Little Prayer' is better than Aretha's. It's all academic of course - both are excellent - as is each and every cut on this lovely collection.
(BB) 5/5

 

Arthur Alexander: 'Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter' (Label: Hacktone)

Sunday, 03 February 2008 05:26 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Arthur Alexander: 'Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter'

After experiencing many disappointments in the music business, in the 1980s US singer/songwriter Arthur Alexander - whose seminal early '60s songs 'Anna (Go To Him)' and 'You Better Move On' were recorded by The Beatles & Rolling Stones respectively - decided to call time on his singing career and got a job as a bus driver. However, A&R staff at Elektra/Nonesuch persuaded the singer to come out of retirement in 1991 and record a keenly anticipated comeback album called 'Lonely Just Like Me,' which was released in 1993. But just as it seemed the fates were being kind to the man from the town of Florence, Alabama, tragedy struck - a few weeks after the album's release, the singer died suddenly of a heart attack while on a promotional tour. Sadly, as a consequence of this, the album also died and faded away despite positive reviews in publications like Rolling Stone. Happily, since his death 15 years ago, Alexander's profile has been increased by several notable reissues resulting in him receiving belated recognition as a true pioneer of country-soul. Now thanks to Hacktone Records, Alexander's valedictory opus for Elektra is granted a reissue - and a fabulous package it is, too, featuring an hour's worth of extra music (including 8 live tracks from '93, 4 demo tracks recorded in a hotel room in '91 and a live version of his classic 1962 song 'Anna' recorded at New York's famous Bottom Line club the same year). Not only that, but the packaging is superlative - there are replica photos from the original session, loads of absorbing liner note commentary to plough through and even a miniature reproduction of the man's funeral service booklet. But what about the music? Well, those who are aficionados of country-infused soul will lap up this Nashville-recorded session - especially when they realise that Muscle Shoals' luminaries like Spooner Oldham, Donny Fritts, and Dan Penn are among those providing the instrumental accompaniment. Alexander, whose voice sounds fabulous even though he'd been away from the music business for over a decade at the time, has a hand in all 12 songs on the original album, with the upbeat 'There Is A Road,' the plaintive 'In The Middle Of It All' and a revamp of his old tune, 'Go Home Girl,' being the immediate standouts. A marvellous musical monument to one of soul's unsung heroes.
(CW) 4/5

 

KIRK FRANKLIN: The Fight Of My Life (Label: Zomba)

Friday, 01 February 2008 11:40 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

KIRK FRANKLIN: The Fight Of My Life

Sadly, too many so-called soul fans don't get gospel. They seem to have a built in resistance to anything vaguely spiritual. Craving simple beats and hook-laden melodies, they fail to see that gospel and real soul are one and the same thing… indeed without the former we wouldn't have the latter to enjoy. Committed, long term soul lovers know that simple fact full well and they also know that Kirk Franklin is perhaps the current, leading gospel-soul practitioner. Franklin debuted in 1993 with his 17 member choir dubbed his "Family" and together they laid down a template that has served their collective ministry well for more than a decade. That template involves Kirk's emotive, testifying semi-spoken vocal trading licks with sweet ensemble choral work and though that idea might seem limiting, Franklin's albums are never one-dimensional. Indeed with imaginative production work, varied material and creative arrangements the Family's albums never cease to delight and (like all good soul music) provoke and challenge with their lyrics. This new 16 tracker is typical of Franklin's oeuvre. The template we've described is obvious, but with a great mix of up-tempo material, sensitive ballads, old school soul, R&B, traditional gospel - even rock, there're plenty of variety. For those who like to dance, 'Declaration' is the heavy-hitter. The LP's first single, it recalls prime time Sounds Of Blackness, while 'Hide Me' will delight those who like things more sophisticated. This one's a light summery sound with a gentle hint of Earth Wind and Fire and a killer melodic hook. Ballads? Well, 'Help Me Believe' is sweet, 'Still' is classic old soul while 'Chains' is big and dramatic. From a personal perspective I wasn't too taken by the rock guitar that dominates 'I Am God' or the booming R&B beats on 'I Like Me' but I understand why they're there and they're more than made up for by stuff like the modern soul dancer that is 'Jesus' and the almost funky 'Little Boy'. Believers will connect immediately with 'The Fight Of My Life' while for the doubters we mentioned up top, I'd recommend the album as an excellent starter pack to help unlock the soulful wonders of modern gospel music.
(BB) 4/5

 

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