Reviews

SOULNATURALS; 'Love Says Yes!' (British Soul Standard)

Tuesday, 14 March 2017 21:16 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altThough they've been around for quite some time (2004, I think), the greater soul world first really got to know about Tony Cannam's Soulnaturals via their edgy, old school 'Rise Brother Rise' back in 2012. Then in 2015 came the equally anthemic 'I Never Knew A Hell Like You'. Now, almost two years later, Tooting's finest bandmaster is all set to unleash a full album.... 'Love Says Yes!'. Proper soul fans will already have enjoyed the set's first single, the energetic 'You Make Me Feel Like I Can Change The World' which featured a fab vocal from Australia's premier soul diva, Kylie Auldist.

The good news is that there's a whole lot more soul excellence crammed into the grooves (not sure what downloads or CDs have) of 'Love Says Yes!'. Right now we're all loving the jaunty 'Oh Lord When Will You Free Me' featuring a feisty vocal from Portugal's Nadia Pimentel. There's a touch of reggae swagger about the song and it's quite a little ear worm. No wonder that Cannam, and his team have sorted it as the next single. Equally infectious is the proper old school soul groove that is 'Gotta Get My Hands On Some Good Loving'. Here the vocalist is Davinia Vincent.

Fancy something a little tougher, funky even? OK flip to 'I Am The Lost That Do Not Want To Be Found' ... odd title but an uncompromising cut with Mr Cannam on lead vocals. 'I Got Sunshine (Enough For The World)' (Jo Kelsey at the mic) is another 21st century take on classic funk. Oddly you'd think that a song called 'A Room Full Of James Browns' (Danny Toeman on vocals here) would be a funk fest too. However it's not really... it's a rumbling slab of psycho-soul; more Norman Whitfield than JB! Interesting title though and equally interesting lyrics, even if the cut starts to, meander near the end. 'Moody Judy' is another intriguing cut.... cinematic , a whiff of 'Trouble Man' about it

If you prefer things a tad slower then 'Let Freedom Ring' and 'My Love For You Is Not Of This Earth' dip their sonic paintbrushes into the Southern soul palette. Vocalist on the latter is Bre-Antonia while on the former Dave Barker takes the vocal responsibility. Dave by the way was (indeed is) the "Dave" of Dave & Ansell Collins who had the UKs first Reggae No.1 hit with 'Double Barrell' back in the olden days! And therein lies part of the secret of Tony Cannam's success with the Soulnaturals. He knows lots of people in the business and can call on great musicians and talented vocalists to help him flesh out his ideas. They all want to work with him and share his positivity and despite some broody moments on 'Love Says Yes!', the overall thrust is upbeat and optimistic. Tony enthuses: "'Love Says Yes!' is a positive reaction to the hatred and negativity that is building in the US and Europe with far right populism, Love Says Yes but Hate Says No – hate never built a school, a hospital, happiness or freedom, and it never will." Can't argue with that!

'Love Says Yes!' will be released on April 15th 2017 on British Soul Standard.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 16:53

 

JAMES BROWN: 'Sex Machine' (Culture Factory)

Monday, 13 March 2017 21:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

               alt 

This is generally regarded as one of James Brown's greatest live LPs - right up there with the seminal first volume of 'Live At The Apollo' recorded in 1963 - but the reality is that half of 'Sex Machine' (it came out as a 2-LP set on King in 1970) was recorded in an Augusta studio and then was drenched in extra reverb and overdubbed canned applause. But this deception - which was quite commonplace in the '60s and '70s, especially where James Brown was concerned - doesn't really matter because the album is a stone cold classic and a searing funk manifesto that launched a thousand hip-hop samples. All four sides of the original vinyl have been squeezed onto a single CD for this hi-def remaster by France's Culture Factory label, though they've packaged it in a facsimile of the gatefold sleeve it was first issued in.

'Sex Machine' was an album that premiered JB's new band of young guns, including Bootsy Collins on bass and his brother, Catfish, on guitar and they bring a streetwise rawness and urgency to the proceedings, especially on the album's classic title cut , where The Godfather's  polyrhythmic funk aesthetic reached its apotheosis. 'Brother Rapp' digs into a deeper groove - a relentless, mesmeric juggernaut - while 'I Got The Feelin,'' 'Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose,' 'Mother Popcorn,' and 'There Was A Time' are driven by a turbocharged sense of propulsion (thanks to the late Clyde Stubblefield's and Jabo Starks' kinetic drums) that crystallises the febrile combustible intensity of a Brown concert in the early '70s.

Not everything happens at an explosive 100 MPH, though, and offering a brief respite from the remorseless funk rollercoaster ride are some slow ballads (among them, JB's faithful standbys,  'Bewildered,' and 'If I Ruled The World')  demonstrating that James Brown could sing as well as scream and holler. While 'Sex Machine' was a double LP set that confirmed that Soul Brother Number One was the undisputed king of funk in 1970, it was an album that also paid tribute to his past,  as the inclusion of his old hits 'It's A Man's Man's Man's World' and 'Please, Please, Please,' prove.

Forty-seven years after the fact, this superlative reissue shows us that 'Sex Machine' has lost none of its power and, whether totally live or not (it's a moot point), it remains not only one of James Brown's defining albums but also is undoubtedly one of the very best that soul and funk music has to offer.

(CW) 5/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 March 2017 10:45

 

TANIKA CHARLES: Soul Run (Record Kicks)

Sunday, 12 March 2017 15:48 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThey soul community first got to know about Toronto-based soul singer Tanika Charles last year when her oh so catchy 'Endless Chain' won lots of support from the savvy modern soul crowd. Little wonder it was (indeed is) a great tune. Totally contemporary but with its roots in classic uptown soul it boasts lovely harmonies, tight beats and a committed vocal from Ms Charles. Indeed it has everything that makes great soul music so damn satisfying.

'Endless Chain' is the centrepiece of 'Soul Run'... a long player that had limited release last year on Tanika's own label. Now, licensed to Record Kicks, the set's rightly being re-promoted and if you haven't heard 'Endless Chain', now's the time to rectify the situation. You won't regret it.

Other cuts worth investigating are the sprightly 'Sweet Memories' and the Northern soul-flavoured 'Love Food' and 'Two Steps'. Elsewhere, the mood is more sombre, dark even (witness 'Heavy'). Maybe the melancholy stems from the journey Tanika made to make this album. Growing up in Edmonton, we're told that she was trapped in an abusive relationship, eventually escaping to Toronto to start her singing career. She hustled gigs singing covers but realised to be really free she needed her own focus. So with a shoestring budget she began recording her own album and thereby enjoying real emotional release. Her people say that her favourite song on the album is 'Darkness And The Dawn'. The title accurately describes the song's message ... yes, escape from a difficult relationship and eventual respite. "Once the song was recorded and finished, I cannot begin to tell you how therapeutic it was", confirms Tanika. Maybe it was that release which enabled her to go and write something as uplifting as 'Endless Chain'.

Tanika Charles' 'Soul Run' is released on Record Kicks on April 7th

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 March 2017 16:03

 

THE RASCALS: The Complete Singles (Real Gone/Rhino)

Wednesday, 08 March 2017 20:38 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe Rascals (or as they were sometimes billed the "Young" Rascals) were probably the first blue eyed soul group. The New York-based foursome, of course, will forever be remembered for their 'Groovin'', the ultimate "easy like Sunday morning song" but there was a lot more to the band than just that anthem. If you doubt that, then investigate , pronto, this wonderful 2 CD, 47 track retrospective that collects together all the outfit's Atlantic and Columbia singles... all the A sides and all the B sides.

The Rascals evolved out of the early 60s New York club scene and originally comprised keyboardists/vocalist Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish, singer Eddie Brigati and drummer Dino Daneli. Originally a covers band, they signed with veteran music manager Sid Bernstein who scored them a contract with Atlantic Records. Teamed with Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, the quartet released their first single, 'I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore'/ 'Slowdown' in 1965 and, we're told, the boys were horrified to learn that Bernstein and the Atlantic execs had changed their name on the disc to the Young Rascals. The band felt the new moniker made them sound like a lightweight, pop/bubblegum group but their pride was soon collectively swallowed as the single entered (albeit briefly) the hot 100. Three more moderately successful singles followed till '67's 'I've Been Lonely Too Long' made the top 20. In the same year they hit the top spot with 'Groovin'' and their indignation with their adopted moniker was soon forgotten.

More hits followed, but as chart success slowed down the pressure of touring was cranked up and the band began to implode. Brigati and Cornish quit and Atlantic dropped them. Cavaliere and Daneli brokered a deal with Columbia which allowed them to go back to being the Rascals but despite working with top session players like Robert Popwell, David Sanborn, Ralph MacDonald and exiled Merseybeat luminary, Adrian Barber success eluded the Rascals. Their time, it seems, had passed.

In a tiny nutshell that's the story of the (Young) Rascals; the 47 tracks on the album tell the story much, much better. Here you can enjoy the early recordings (covers like Larry Williams' 'Slowdown'... a Beatles cover too, that one), all the hits ('Groovin'' comes in three versions... the original, and Spanish and Italian versions), vintage blue-eyed soul/"Sunshine pop" ('A Beautiful Morning' and 'Ray Of Hope' stand out), 'Sgt. Pepper-fuelled psychedelia (try 'Away Away') and even late career jazz fusion and funk!

In 1997 the Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; 12 years later Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The justification for those inclusions is right here across two wonderful CDs.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 March 2017 20:47

 

JAY KING; Helen’s Son (King Jay Music)

Tuesday, 07 March 2017 20:08 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSince the beginning of the year the soul airwaves have been regularly featuring a lovely, haunting tune, 'Good Kind Of Lovin'' from Jay King. It is a sweet 70s style groove that had commentators making comparison with people like Marvin Gaye and Barry White! So for some, it was a surprise to learn that the artist was none other than Jay King, former front man of Club Nouveau.

We learned that the lovely 'Good Kind Of Loving' was the lead single from Jay's album. 'Helens' Son' which is now officially available and it comes highly recommended, that's if you like sensual, smooth soul of the 'Good Kind Of Lovin'' variety, 'cos the long player's stuffed with a lot more of the same.

Let's start at the beginning. The "Helen" of the album title is Jay's mother...who died on January 27, 2007, by coincidence King's birthday. The LP's title cut is homage to her and it's a lovely, gentle eight and a half minutes of sweet contemporary soul. Cleverly, it avoids the sentimentality that a song of this nature might induce and in some ways (I think it's the gentle piano passages) it reminds me of Van Morrison in ballad mode. However, I need to say, maybe oddly, it doesn't "sound" like a Van Morrison song... it just reminds me of his work.

Given that this album's centre piece is so reverential, it shouldn't be a surprise to learn that the overall soundscape of the collection is as gentle and laid back. Amongst the other balladic highlights are 'I'm Where U Belong' and 'Tryin' To Get U Back'. There are some up-tempo moments – notably the 1980s flavoured light, funky 'The One' and if Helen was the woman Jay describes in his homage to her I'm sure she'd love this little rug cutter.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 March 2017 20:17

 

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