Reviews

AL GREEN: 'Lay It Down' (Label: Blue Note)

Saturday, 24 May 2008 05:12 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

AL GREEN: 'Lay It Down'


"The music sounds different. It's like fresh cream, baby - it's like the first time I ever made a record. It's so fresh and so new and so frisky - just like a 16-year-old girl! It's music to kick your ass to." These were the hyperbolic words of a wildly enthusiastic Al Green talking about his forthcoming album when I spoke to him last year for Blues & Soul magazine. The album was slated for an August 2007 release but failed to appear. Now, thankfully, almost a year down the line from our conversation, the album that the Reverend Al waxed so lyrical about is here. And though it's not quite as sensational - or indeed different - as its creator so extravagantly opined, it is, without doubt, a very fine soul record. After two long players for Blue Note with Green's long time collaborator, Willie Mitchell, at the helm, the Arkansas-born singer elected to try something different and as a result teamed up with producers James Poyser and Ahmir '?uestlove' Thompson. What has transpired, though, is a record that doesn't deviate much from the template of Green's classic Memphis Hi sound - sure, Thompson's Roots-style drum sound has a crisper, more contemporary feel, but in the main, the music and arrangements (which include lashings of sanctified Hammond B-3 organ, horns and strings) are very 1974. However, with cameos from Anthony Hamilton (on the delectable title track and 'You've Got The Love I Need'), Corinne Bailey Rae (on the slow, plaintive ballad, 'Take Your Time'), and John Legend ('Stay With Me By The Sea'), Green is obviously attempting to interface with the younger neo-soul/R&B crowd. Mercifully, though, he hasn't compromised his sound in trying to embrace this new audience, and - thanks to the respectful sensitivity of Poyser's and Thompson's contributions, who acknowledge Green's past and soul music's traditions - has made a magnificent record that stands proud alongside the classic albums of Green's canon. There are eleven tracks on offer here and none are sub-standard. Green's tenor voice - even at 62 years old - is still amazing: it's lithe, pliable, athletic and supremely expressive. The standout cuts include 'No One Like You,' the infectious mid-tempo 'All I Need,' the driving 'I'm Wild About You,' and 'Just What I Need.' Though it's not quite as 'new' or 'frisky' as Al Green claims, 'Lay It Down' nevertheless represents a superlative return from the sweet-voiced Southern soul man.
(CW) 4/5

 

ADAM: Determination (Label: www.musicmontaj.com)

Friday, 23 May 2008 07:58 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

ADAM: Determination

This album has been around for some time now but recent high-profile session and live work with Elton John, Patti Labelle, Nile Rodgers and Joss Stone have encouraged Adam L McKnight to re-promote his solo set. The thirteen tracker is a solid and steady indie soul set that suffers from too many songs being stuck in the same groove. The opening trio, for instance, are decent mid-tempo cuts but none of them have that magical hook that might make you take serious notice. More, they purport to be "serious" songs which explore heavy issues but their platitudes don't quite work. The best bits on this album come when Adam and his team offer something a little different - like 'You Inspire Me'. That one opens with a burst of brass and has a feel of Malaco about it - though it's just a tad too restrained to be totally convincing. 'Many Times' offers something a little different too. Here there's a lovely jazzy sax part from Michael Burton which trades places with Adam's convincing vocal - shades of Tyrone Davis? Elsewhere 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' is a busy tune that might inspire some footwork from the dancers but with such a lot of material like this out there at the moment, it's just not that different to make it really stand out. Indeed that the best way to describe the album - decent, bread and butter modern indie soul.
(BB) 3/5

 

BERNARD: Kingdom Of Love (Label: Cross Town)

Friday, 23 May 2008 07:46 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

BERNARD: Kingdom Of Love

Bernard (Stevenson) is a respected indie soul and gospel performer and so confident is he of his abilities that he's written, produced and arranged all 13 songs on this new album, and generally speaking he's done a good job. He has a fine soul voice and the songs he's come up with aren't traditional in-your-face-pulpit-thumping gospel affairs. They're that special kind of modern gospel music which non-believers can readily connect with and, taken out of context, the love and commitment they speak of could so easily apply to secular situations. More, modern soul dancers who like to look for the rarer, more esoteric groove could do worse than investigate the opener, 'Everybody'. The cut has crisp, thumping beats and lovely harmonic chorus. The overall feel reminds me of the Oliver Cheetham revival of 'Never Too Much' from a few years back. 'Your Love' also offers dance floor beats but it's possibly too disjointed to find favour with the modern soul crew. This album's most enduring moments, though, are the ballads of which 'Those Without' is probably the best. Bernard's voice has a genuine warmth that reminds me of the late Al Wilson. Hear it to good effect too on the Luther Vandross-flavoured 'They're Lookin' For Your Love'. Elsewhere the flute on 'Somethin' More' gives it a seventies feel, while the synth intro to the LP's title cut should call to mind classics from the SOS Band and Loose Ends. 'Kingdom Of Love' is a decent, if unspectacular modern gospel set and is available via the usual internet outlets.
(BB) 3/5

 

GERALD VEASLEY: Your Move (Label: Heads Up)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008 15:07 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

GERALD VEASLEY: Your Move

Gerald Veasley is a prolific jazz bassist. His pleasant plucking has graced countless albums - both as sideman and lead artist and despite a limiting instrument like the electric bass his solo sets have been surprisingly varied and this new 10 tracker is typical of what he's previously offered. The album does, of course, boast several bass heavy cuts on which Veasley shows his virtuosity. The opener, 'Hear Now' is a good example. The cut boasts a propulsive groove as too does the LP's only cover - a version of Sly Stone's 'Thank You Faletinme Be Mice Elf Again'. Elsewhere though you'd be hard pushed to believe that this is a bass player's solo set. A lot of the music is gentle, smooth jazz and in places - notably on 'Greenwood' and 'So Close To The Sun' I'm reminded of the work of ethereal sax man John Klemmer. For the rest, the album's title cut is busy and bristling while 'Cross Currents' is possibly the truest jazz offering. That one's a lot looser than the rest and almost becomes adventurous with some great keys from Donald Robinson. Other players include Will Brock, John Swana, Chris Farr and Chuck Loeb whose contributions add to the overall inoffensive smoothness.
(BB) 3/5

 

BILLY GRIFFIN: Believe It Or Not - The Billy Griffin Collection (Label: Expansion)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008 07:37 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

BILLY GRIFFIN: Believe It Or Not - The Billy Griffin Collection

In 1973 Billy Griffin was handed one of the most difficult jobs in soul history - he was asked to replace Smokey Robinson as lead singer in the legendary Miracles. By general consent Griffin did a good job but by the early 80s a solo career beckoned and with the crisp anthemic 'Hold Me Tighter In The Rain' he scored a decent hit - and, for complicated reasons, he also won a special place in the hearts of the UK soul fraternity. The UK link blossomed with Griffin's association with Expansion Records and that's the label responsible for this pleasing 16 track retrospective. The set offers tracks from his Columbia albums 'Be With Me', 'Systematic' and 'Respect' alongside a brace from his most recent Expansion set 'Like Water. There's also a couple of his Miracle highspots - 'Love Machine' and 'Spy For The Brotherhood' but the big bonuses are 'Believe It Or Not' (a rare Atlantic single) and 'Olivia' an often overlooked duet with Ahira Jimbo. The proceedings start, of course, with 'Rain' and in truth few of the other 15 cuts come near to matching its ageless quality. It's one of those songs which, as Ralph Tee opines in his sleeve notes, helps to define an era and though it is very much an 80s artefact it is timeless. Some of the other cuts haven't travelled quite so well - it's clear that the producers like John Barnes were still trying to perfect the use of synths in soul - but for those who came to soul in the early 80s the collection is unmissable, while Griffin fans will be delighted to get hold of cuts that have never been legally on CD before - notably the extended mix of 'Understand' which features the inimitable Gerald Albright on sax.
(BB) 3/5

 

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