Reviews

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Blame It On The Dogg: The Swamp Dogg Anthology 1968-1978 (Label: Kent)

Monday, 12 May 2008 11:52 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Blame It On The Dogg:  The Swamp Dogg Anthology 1968-1978

To describe Jerry 'Swamp Dogg' Williams as one of soul music's true mavericks is something of an understatement - in a career that stretches back to the 1950s when he modelled himself on rock and roll shouter, Little Richard, and was known as Little Jerry, Jerry Williams has penned and produced pop and country hits as well as R&B smashes; he's also tried his hand at opera (a blues version), supplied music for TV and radio commercials and got nominated for several Grammy awards. According to the man's website, his achievements also include being Atlantic's first African-American in-house producer - in that role, he helmed the Commodores' first record and persuaded Lionel Richie to drop the saxophone and sing - and producing the first ever 12-inch single back in 1971, several years before it became an accepted format. This new 24-track compilation showcases music Swamp Dogg produced for the Atlantic, Musicor, Mankind, Stone Dogg and Fungus labels in a fertile ten-year period. The variety of Swamp Dogg's work here is astonishing, ranging from Gene Pitney's 'She's A Heartbreaker' and Gary US Bonds' throat-shredding stomper, 'I'm Glad You're Back,' to C & The Shells' cult soul side 'On Your Way Home' and The Drifters' 'Your Best Friend.' Also featured are rare sides by Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles, Arthur Conley, Ruth Brown, Eleanor Grant, Slick 'N' The Family Brick, Inez & Charlie Foxx, Tommy Hunt, Kenny Carter, ZZ Hill, Helen Curry, Little Charles & The Sidewinders, and the oddly-named, Wolfmoon (aka Tyrone Thomas). Fittingly, there are five sides by Williams himself - 'Shipwrecked,' 'Your Man,' 'Straight From My Heart,' 'Run Run Roadrunner,' and 'Don't Throw Your Love To The Wind.' A sterling vintage soul collection.
(CW) 4/5

 

GWEN GUTHRIE: 'Gwen Guthrie' (Label: PTG Records)

Friday, 09 May 2008 07:09 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

GWEN GUTHRIE: 'Gwen Guthrie'

Before she recorded this debut album in 1982 for Chris Blackwell's Island label, sweet-voiced Gwen Guthrie from Okemah, Oklahoma, had built up a strong reputation in New York as a talented songwriter and background vocalist - she co-penned 'Supernatural Thing' and 'This Time I'll Be Sweeter' for Ben E. King (the latter was also covered by Marlena Shaw and Angela Bofill) and sang backgrounds for the likes of Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack. Guthrie's first stab at solo stardom was this delightful 10-track opus produced by drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare - reggae's toughest, most formidable rhythm section - at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. Evidently, the location had a bearing on the resulting music, which is characterised by grooves that are bright, sunny and imbued with elements of dub music. Guthrie enjoyed a Top 30 Billboard R&B hit with 'It Should Have Been You,' which is an infectious dance floor number. Even better is the propulsive, febrile floor filler, 'Dance Fever,' together with club favourites 'Peek-A-Boo' and 'Your Turn To Burn.' Guthrie tries her hand at reggae on a commendable, warmly-harmonised version of Bob Marley's 'Is This Love.' Ballad-wise, the lovely, gentle and sweetly melodic 'For You (With A Melody Too)' is ear-catching, as is a slowed-down version of 'God Don't Like Ugly,' which Guthrie originally penned for Roberta Flack. This first-time reissue includes two bonus tracks - extended versions of 'It Should Have Been You' and 'Peek-A-Boo.' This gem of an album reminds us what a beautiful voice Gwen Guthrie possessed - and soul music certainly became poorer for her premature death from uterine cancer aged 49 in 1999. Get it from www.vinyl-masterpiece.com
(CW) 4/5

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Atlantic Soul 1959-1975' (Label: Rhino Handmade)

Thursday, 08 May 2008 11:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Atlantic Soul 1959-1975'


This new, utterly fantastic, 82-track 4-CD box set (which is housed in an eye-catching sepia-tone 12-inch LP-style package) is a must-have for soul collectors. It's imaginatively compiled by singer-turned-soul historian, Billy Vera, whose insightful liner notes give an insider's perspective as to how arguably the greatest R&B label functioned during its heyday back in the 1960s. Interestingly, Vera hasn't gone for any easy options in relation to the tracks he's selected - rather, in the main, he's avoided the label's over-familiar big hits (there's no 'Respect,' 'Soul Man,' and 'Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay' for example) and picked songs that singers like Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin recorded that have been overlooked by all but the devoted collector. Book-ended by Ray Charles's plaintive ballad, 'Come Rain Or Come Shine' from 1959 and The Trammps' disco-fuelled 'Hooked For Life' from 1975, this collection chronologically traces the evolution of Atlantic soul, charting its progress from rough-hewn, gut-bucket R&B in the '60s to sleek '70s disco-soul. All the Atlantic big hitters are featured, of course - Aretha, Otis, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Ben E. King, Carla Thomas, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, The Spinners and Donny Hathaway - but there are plenty of great performances by the label's less-heralded acts: namely Doris Troy, Esther Phillips, Mary Wells, The Vibrations, The Falcons, Tami Lynn, Don Covay, Willie Tee, Soul Brothers Six, The Sweet Inspirations, Harvey Scales & The Seven Sounds, C & The Shells, The Dynamics, Walter Jackson, Betty LaVett, James Carr, Garland Greene, Judy Clay, King Floyd, Jackie Moore, Bettye Swann, and Howard Tate plus many more. A particular favourite of Vera's seems to be singer Baby Washington, who recorded a few sides for Cotillion in the late-'60s - Vera, in fact, includes three rare Washington tracks here, including the chanteuse's marvellous interpretation of the Dusty Springfield-favourite, 'Breakfast In Bed.' There are a few surprising omissions - for example, some soul fans might lament the absence of artists like Laura Lee, Dee Dee Warwick, Margie Joseph, Black Heat, Archie Bell & The Drells, Blue Magic and Roberta Flack - but overall, this is a stupendous collection that reveals the depth of talent on the Atlantic roster in the '60s and '70s. This box set is available exclusively from Rhino's new website, www.rhino.co.uk

(CW) 4/5

 

WEBSTER LEWIS: Four Reissues (Label: Expansion)

Thursday, 08 May 2008 11:46 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

WEBSTER LEWIS: Four Reissues

The late Baltimore-born/LA-based keyboard sorcerer, Webster Lewis (1943-2002), was immensely popular with British jazz-funk aficionados in the late-'70s as a result of a clutch of slick fusion albums he released for Epic Records. His first LP, the little-known 'Live At Club 7' for the Counterpoint label, came out in 1971 and largely fell on deaf ears. Five years later, though, Lewis - who, apparently, was also a decent clarinet player - hit the big time by inking a major label deal with Epic. Between 1976 and 1981, he produced four albums for the company, all of which have now been reissued by Expansion (three come to CD for the first time and also contain rare, previously unheard bonus cuts). The keyboard maestro's first outing for Epic, 1976's 'On The Town' was credited to Webster Lewis and The Post-Pop Space-Rock Be-Bop Gospel Tabernacle Orchestra & Chorus (thankfully, Lewis dropped the pretentious name on subsequent albums). Released when the disco inferno was burning at its brightest 'On The Town' is understandably packed with slurping hi-hats, funky bass lines and baroque-like string orchestra parts. A mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks, it's camper than Butlin's but enjoyable nevertheless, with 'Love Is The Way' and 'Do It With Style' standing out. There's also a previously unissued track in the shape of an instrumental cover of Curtis Mayfield's 'Let's Do It Again.' 1978's 'Touch My Love' dropped a lot of the disco affectations and proved to be a better album - the killer cut is the Rare Groove favourite, 'Barbara Ann,' which is characterised by a winning blend of percolating Latin dance rhythms, percussive Rhodes piano and soft, breathy female vocals. Amazingly, four studio outtakes from the same sessions have been discovered in the vaults and appear here. The best is the propulsive, fusion-style instrumental, 'Japanese Umbrella.' In 1979, Lewis produced a third album for Epic, '8 For The 80s,' a set co-produced with Herbie Hancock (Lewis was musical director of Hancock's group at the time). Featuring an impressive cast of A-list session personnel (James Gadson, Paul Jackson Jr, Nate Watts et al) plus a cameo from singer D.J. Rogers (on 'Heavenly') it's undoubtedly one of Lewis's best records. Soul fans will recall it for the song 'Give Me Some Emotion' - which Merry Clayton turned into a Stateside hit - and the excellent 'The Love You Give To Me.' Lewis's Epic swansong was 1981's 'Let Me Be The One,' regarded by liner note writer, Ralph Tee, as the keyboard player's most cohesive set. It contains the brilliant Latin-tinged instrumental, 'El Bobo,' the soulful groover, 'Bout The Love' and a plaintive ballad, 'Open Up Your Eyes.' This new reissue includes two terrific bonus cuts - 'Reach Out,' and 'Boston.' After leaving Epic in 1981, Webster Lewis recorded 'Welcome Aboard,' an album in tandem with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra and also produced albums by Gwen McCrae and Michael Wycoff. Sadly for soul fans, after that Lewis largely abandoned recording and focused his energies on TV and movie work. Now thanks to Expansion, Webster Lewis's unsung genius is celebrated by this batch of superlative reissues. Get them now at http://www.expansionrecords.com
(CW) 4/5

 

MILLIE JACKSON: 'Millie Jackson's Soul For The Dancefloor' (Label: Kent)

Thursday, 08 May 2008 11:44 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

MILLIE JACKSON: 'Millie Jackson's Soul For The Dancefloor'

Raspy-voiced Millie Jackson put the sex into soul in the 1970s with a series of risqué and humorous raps that got progressively more explicit, cringe-worthy and foul-mouthed by the time the 1980s arrived (think 1989's 'Back To The Shit,' with its jaw-dropping front cover of the singer sat on a toilet). Jackson's controversial antics to court publicity have often overshadowed her true abilities as a singer and her sensitivity as a song stylist. Of course, ballads are regarded as her forte - rightly so, given her dramatic, soulful delivery - though as this superb 22-track collection illustrates, tucked away on Jackson's numerous Spring LPs are a plethora of uptempo tracks that have the ability to pack soul dance floors. Compiled by Sean Hampsey and Ady Croasdell, this absorbing terpsichorean collection kicks off with a previously unissued mix of 'If That Don't Turn You On,' and includes classics like the driving yet poignant 'House For Sale,' the Phillip Mitchell-penned 'You Can't Stand The Thought Of Another Man Loving Me,' and strong cover of Don Covay's 'Letter Full Of Tears.' Even when there's a strong hint of disco in the arrangements, the cathartic soulfulness of Jackson's delivery guarantees that her performance transcends the vagaries of ephemeral dance floor trends. A personal favourite is the slower, slinky, mid-tempo number 'Put Something Down On It,' penned by the Womack brothers. Other gems include the brilliantly-titled 'You Can't Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On),' 'Love Doctor,' and a passionate rendition of George Jackson's 'A Little Taste Of Outside Love.' A tremendous, deeply soulful, collection.
(CW) 4/5

 

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