BETTY DAVIS: 'Betty Davis - They Say I'm Different' (MVD)

Wednesday, 01 January 2020 10:14 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Betty Davis was so far ahead of her time that she was deeply misunderstood and even vilified for her pioneering work as a female funk musician. Indeed, the raunchy, overtly sexual nature of some of her recordings and stage performances brought controversy, public censure, and strong condemnation from the NAACP and conservative religious organisations in her native USA. Radio stations succumbed to pressure from her vociferous critics. They boycotted her records and in 1979, when her then record company decided to shelve her fourth album, the singer, then 34, retreated to Pittsburgh, where she lived in seclusion and never recorded another note. Forty years on, Davis, now 74, is still there, living in the shadows away from the glare of the spotlight. She refuses to do interviews, and though her contribution to this 53-minute DVD documentary is minimal (she appears fleetingly, as a voice on the other end of a telephone), she gave the green light to British director/writer, Phil Cox, to make a film about her life. 

Cox, to his credit, has made a fabulous, deeply engaging, film about a highly influential but largely neglected artist. It is visually stunning, interspersing vintage film of Davis performing with her band with colourful, animated psychedelic collages and impressionistic cinematic images. In between these is talking head-style commentary from Davis' erstwhile producer, Greg Errico, along with writers and Betty Davis experts, Greg Tate, Oliver Wang, and Vernon Gibbs. An elderly Davis is represented by an actress/narrator (though we don't see her face) reflecting on her life. This part might sound cheesy, but it works well, filling in some crucial gaps in the narrative.  A key component of Cox's film, and which helps us gain more insight, is the participation of the singer's family, friends and members of her backing band. Their contributions are vital, helping to flesh out a vivid portrait of a mysterious trendsetter whom her ex-husband Miles Davis once described as "Madonna before Madonna, Prince before Prince."  

What this film achieves is that it makes Davis is less of an enigma though ultimately, her reticence - perhaps strange and at odds with someone so bold and outspoken as a young woman - continues to shroud her in a pall of mystery. But it is much less impenetrable than it was and you leave the film feeling that you know Davis much better than you did. Though Davis retired early, her music - defined by churning, heavy funk grooves and wild, feral, declamatory vocals - has continued to resonate with people and its influence has been far-ranging. It would be true to say that without her, there would be no Janet Jackson and Grace Jones - women who cultivated a strong persona and were uncompromising in their musical vision. Betty Davis was, then, a trailblazer, opening the door for a lot of today's female performers, though sadly, many won't even be aware of her. This film goes some way to righting that wrong and making the world more aware of an important musical pioneer. (Release date: January 20th, 2020)

(CW) 4/5

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Last Updated on Sunday, 05 January 2020 11:52


VARIOUS: Everything Is Gonna Be Alright (Westbound/Ace)

Monday, 23 December 2019 19:25 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOver the past several years the UK collectors label Ace Records has released plenty of material from one of Detroit's most important labels ... Westbound Records. The label was set up fifty years ago by Armen Boladian and, incredibly, it's still in business and still helmed by Boladian! To celebrate this remarkable achievement, Ace, via their special Westbound link, has just issued this 24 track retrospective of the very best of Westbound's soul and jazz output (the label, by the way is multi genre.)

This collection, named for the popular Bill Moss gospel track, opens with Westbound's first release... 'A Letter From Vietnam' by Emanuel Lasky and ends with the Mike Theodore Orchestra's 1979 disco outing, 'High On Mad Mountain'. In between there are offerings from well known names like Denise LaSalle, the Ohio Players and the Detroit Emeralds; though perhaps the most important artists on the album are Funkadelic. Those who know their Detroit music history will know that originally Funkadelic were the backing band for George Clinton's vocal group, The Parliaments. When the two camps combined, the results were remarkable to say the least. The Funkadelic axis has two tracks here, 'I'll Bet You' and 'Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On'.

Based in Detroit, Westbound would, of course, use plenty of players with Motown links. Amongst those "Motown linked" highlights here is guitar ace Dennis Coffey. A prolific Gordy session player, he enjoyed success in his own right working on CJ and Co's 'Devils Gun'. The Fantastic Four were Motown alumni too and here you can enjoy their gangster-themed disco outing 'Alvin Stone'. The Fantastic Four were one of countless Detroit vocal groups hustling for deals in the city and there are more excellent groups here – amongst them The Magictones and Unique Blend whose subtle and sweet Yes I'm In Love' is an album highlight while Northern collectors will be delighted to have the Houston Outlaws' 'Ain't No Telling' included.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 23 December 2019 20:23



Thursday, 19 December 2019 18:19 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn 2020 Liverpool's the Real Thing will be celebrating 50 years in music and to commemorate the occasion BMG have just released this new 'Best Of...' set and the 2 CD, 31 track collection really does show what an important and successful team the Real Thing were... indeed are. The quartet emerged from Liverpool's Toxteth area in 1970 with one band member, Eddy Amoo joining the ranks after a spell with seminal Liverpool band, the Chants – for whom the Beatles once provided live backing at the famous Cavern!

There have been a few Real Thing 'Best Of' sets before but the USP of this new collection is a previously unissued recording ... the jaunty and soulful 'Someone Oughta Write A Song About You Baby'. Penned by Ken Gold and Mick Dene, it has all the charm of the same team's 'Can't Get By Without You' and 'You To Me Are Everything'.... both massive hits and the centre pieces of this collection. They're included in original formats and in 1986 remix formats... they all still sound good.

The album's other big focus is 'Children Of The Ghetto' – a track from the group's second LP – '4 From 8', an ambitious and seriously themed album about their native Liverpool and the difficulties of life for immigrant communities. Interestingly the Beatles wanted to record a "Liverpool LP"... they only ever laid down 'Penny Lane' and 'Strawberry Fields'... where the Beatles failed, the Real Thing succeeded! Whatever... 'Children of The Ghetto' has become something of a soul and jazz standard covered by people like Courtney Pine, Mary J Blige and Phillip Bailey.

'Best Of...' includes plenty of other great music... stuff like 'Love Is Such A Wonderful thing', 'You'll Never Know What You're Missing' and 'Raining Through My Sunshine' – all underlining what we've just said – "an important and successful team the - Real Thing". This compact little collection would make a great little stocking filler for the soul fan in your life!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 20 December 2019 07:22


BUDDY RICH; Just In Time (Gearbox)

Monday, 16 December 2019 16:00 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altPowerhouse jazz drummer Buddy Rich is a true music icon – evolving a style and sound that had huge influence not just on his jazz confreres but on drummers from other genres like John Bonham and Phil Collins. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1917 to a show business family, Rich began drumming at only 18 months old and by 1921 was known as "Traps, the Drum Wonder" whilst performing with his parents' vaudeville act. His performance routine soon took on tap dancing, singing and comedy, and he became the second highest paid child performer of the mid-1920s. From there he went onto play with people like Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Art Tatum. In 1966, Buddy put together his own successful big band, which, over the years, featured mainly young, unknown players. Interestingly, maybe it was the youth element, the Buddy Rich Band's repertoire featured plenty of jazz interpretations of pop and rock tunes and the ensemble was soon winning a new audience of jazz fans with band albums winning wide acclaim and decent sales.

With Rich's music enjoying a recent renaissance, Gearbox Records have just issued this fine, live album... 'Just In Time'. The 13 tracker is the drummer's last ever album and it was recorded live in 1986 at Ronnie Scott's Club, London and amongst the players are Cathy Rich, Matt Harris (piano) and, Rob Amster (bass) alongside a mighty 12 piece brass section.

With such a powerful line up and the Buddy Rich name on the marquee, you know what to expect... big, brassy, brash treatments of the familiar and the not so familiar- all driven frantically onwards by Rich. Amongst the highlights is 'Harco Shuffle' – a tune that harks back to Buddy's days in burlesque and vaudeville while on 'Ready Mix' and the LP title track Matt Harris' piano is particularly sweet. Cathy Rich -the drummer's daughter, by the way, takes vocals on a version on Lambert, Hendricks and Ross' 'Twisted'. That track concludes the album which opens an hour or so earlier with Ronnie Scott introducing Rich as "the world's greatest drummer".... on the evidence of this, you wouldn't argue!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 16 December 2019 16:11


BROOKLYN SOUL STEW; Hits Where It Hurts (Riverside)

Friday, 06 December 2019 19:41 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBrooklyn Soul Stew is a big (ten piece!) soul band from Sweden. Marshalled by bassist Pir Lindbloom, they take their inspiration from 70s soul most notably from bands like Tower of Power. 'Hits Where It Hurts' is their third long player and the first to offer a repertoire of all original, band-crafted songs.

The LP's lead single was the well-received 'Secret Love'... a brassy, mid-tempo groove that clearly shows the influence of TOP. The Soul "Stewers" four piece brass section blow for all their worth while joint lead singer Annsofi Wigert comes on like a 21st century Dusty Springfield... beefy pop/soul at its best! Ms W is out front on the album opener, 'Hold Your Head Up High'. Here the sound is more Memphis than Brooklyn while the inspiration for the lyric (and we're told, the message of the whole album) comes from a famous quotation from Cannonball Adderley... "There are times when things don't lay the way they're supposed to lay. But regardless, you're supposed to hold your head up high and walk tall".

It appears that Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali to our younger followers) is clearly another band hero. The art work references him while there's a whole track named for him and this 'Cassius Clay' is a busy, bustling affair with the male lead voice Par Grell out front and there are spoken voice samples from Clay himself. Amongst other cuts, Grell is the lead on the brash 'That's What the Doctor Ordered' and 'Brooklyn Girl' – both lovely songs but Grell's vocal is just a little too "European" to sound convincingly soulful... blue eyed soul maybe, classy pop for sure!

The real strength of this album lies in the power of the brass playing. The band boasts a four piece, core brass section and on a clutch of tracks they're joined by a guest trumpeter and between them they make quite a sound! Brooklyn Soul Stew cooked up in Scandinavia.... a great recipe!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 06 December 2019 19:49


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