BETTE SMITH: 'Jetlagger' (Big Legal Mess)

Monday, 22 January 2018 19:38 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Bette Smith has a voice that is the sonic equivalent of an exploding volcano. And that's putting it mildly. Perhaps that's because it has a deep, intense, pent-up quality and pours forth from the singer's throat in a deluge of cathartic emotional release. It's got a rough, sandpapery texture, too, and even though the singer is in her early thirties, it's a weathered, lived-in voice that sounds like she's not had the easiest of lives. The nearest equivalent I can think of to Smith's cavernous contralto tone is gospel-soul veteran Mavis Staples (interestingly, the younger singer covers the Staple Singers' 'City In The Sky' here on her debut album) but one listen to 'Jetlagger' will tell you that Bette's got her own distinctive 'thang' going on.

Though Bette Smith was born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, the album evinces a decidedly old school, southern soul sound.  Appropriately enough, she recorded it in Memphis, with Jimbo Mathus, who's played with Buddy Guy, and more recently, Valerie June, at the helm. While their collaboration has resulted in a retro-hued album that could squeeze into the soul revivalist category alongside  the likes of the late Sharon Jones & The Dap-tones, it's not a totally comfortable fit. That's because there are some heavy blues-rock overtones to Smith's work. There's also an epic, psych-rock dimension on the incredible opener, 'I Will Feed You,'  where Smith's  craggy voice is framed by haunting Mellotron-style strings.

The album's energised title song is another memorable tune though it comes across like a fusion of the Stax sound (with its heavy horn blasts) and the '60s psych-band, Love. Stylistically, then, 'Jetlagger' seem to occupy the space occupied by 1971 Stax album, 'Down The Earth,' which was an attempt at soul-rock by Eddie Floyd. The next track, a wild rave-up called 'I Found Love,' is even more rock-oriented with its slashing guitar power chords, though there's a palpable tinge of gospel and R&B in its DNA (it's actually a cover of a Lone Justice song from 1986). The uplifting 'Flying Sweet Angel' (written by Famous L. Renfroe) is slightly more sedate by comparison, featuring a gospel choir and channelling  the spirit of Al Green and Hi Records, while both 'Shackles & Chains' and 'Moanin' Bench' are imbued with a Stax/Atlantic '60s soul feel. Different again is 'Man Child,'  a slice of strutting blues-rock  and the excellent 'Durty Hustlin','  a softer slice of '70s-style  cinematic soul, again spotlighting Smith's magnetic, once-heard-never-forgotten voice.  The album's rounded off with a couple of strong covers - Isaac Hayes' evergreen Shaft-era groover, 'Do Your Thing,' and The Staples Singers' 'City In The Sky,' both of which are reconfigured to reflect Bette Smith's voice and personality, though are respectful to the originals.

So much contemporary soul today is plastic, passionless, and pre-programmed, but this is the real deal. It won't be everyone's cup of with its blues-rock colourations, perhaps, but on this evidence, there's no doubt that Bette Smith is a new and exciting soulful vocal force to be reckoned with.  

 (CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 15:03


SIR WICK: A Tale of Two Fools: Novical Soundtrack (Sir Wick Music)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 21:39 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSir Wick's 'A Tale of Two Fools' has been winning rave reviews from the more savvy soul media since its release in December. Checking it out, we can understand why. The long player is a monumental, genre crossing piece of work (25 tracks) that offers all kinds of everything and, in short, it's every bit as good as the early reviews have made it out to be!

First a little biography. Sir Wick is the musical alter ego of Detroit trombonist / keyboardist / percussionist/ composer Chad Hughes. "Sir Wick", we're told, was his schoolboy nickname. A music graduate of the University of Michigan, Chad's first proper band was Sir Wick and the Odyssey, but it was under his Sir Wick moniker that he released his first album, the acclaimed 'An Interpretation Of A Universal Language'.

Now some ten years later, Sir Wick is back with a mightier opus 'A Tale of Two Fools' which he describes as the soundtrack to a "novical" – a cross between a novel and a musical. We're not told if it exists or whether it's still a concept but the story focuses on perfectionist trumpeter Eli Brooks whose desire to be the best turns him into a sort of social hermit. However he unexpectedly falls in love with Alexandra an ambitious MBA student with offers of a big salaried marketing job. She realises she loves Eli but doubts if he can ever deliver the material luxuries that another boy friend can. We're not told the denouement, but over 25 cuts Sir Wick musically tracks the relationship and its high and lows. Genre-wise he offers light classical, jazz, hip-hop, gospel, neo-soul, soulful house and , of course, lashings of proper old-fashioned soul music.

The story's main protagonists are voiced by Anthony Saunders and Angela Birchett. Both possess classic soul voices and, though, we're not told, it's clear that Ms Birchett's roots are in gospel. She fronts a number of modern gospel tunes – notably 'What A Mighty God We Serve' and an inspired version of the traditional gospel song. 'Down By The Riverside'. Mr Saunders has a fine set of pipes too – comfortable and convincing on both the soul and jazz numbers that Sir Wick puts his way. 'I Love You' – a Philly style ballad – is one of his standouts.

However, with an album of such consistent quality, it would be churlish to cherry pick. Right now, though, we're loving the lazy 'Give My Love' (redolent of Take 6), the Friends Of Distinction flavoured 'Antoinette' and the meandering modern soul groove that is 'You Are My World' complete with some crazy trombone from Sir Wick himself. Dancers will love the self-explanatory 'Dance Tonight' while romantics everywhere will cherish the sweet ballads and the classical interludes.

We did say that we wouldn't cherry pick... so let's leave it there. Just to say that Sir Wick and his team have crafted each and every track here with maximum care and an overload of love... it shows!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 January 2018 19:30


THE JAMES HUNTER SIX: Whatever It Takes (Daptone)

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 20:46 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altFor an ex-railway worker Neil Huntsman's not done too badly for himself. A colleague on the railway turned a young Neil onto blues and soul; then mastering the guitar and with a trio in tow, the newly dubbed Howlin' Wilf and the Vee Jays hit the London circuit. A further name change to James Hunter, gigs with Van Morrison and a series of superbly crafted LPs that melded 60s soul sensitivities with a contemporary indie vibe turned the ex-signal man into a cult figure. (Oh, and we've forgotten to mention his GRAMMY nomination). Quietly pleased to be known as UK soul's best kept secret, James Hunter enjoyed the devotion of a coterie of fans who embraced his quirky and quite unique take on classic soul.

Last January though, the landscape began to change. Signed to the legendary Daptone label, James' 'Hold On' album was a huge success and brought our man to a much wider audience – his profile boosted by glowing praise from outlets as diverse as Mojo, Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal.

James' upward and onward trajectory is set to continue as he releases the official follow-up to 'Hold On'. The new collection, 'Whatever It Takes', is out in February and it continues Hunter's liaison with Daptone and its enthusiastic head honcho, Bosco Mann.

Musically, 'Whatever It Takes' is the logical extension to 'Hold On'. The set's first single set out the stall. 'I Don't Wanna Be Without You' is typically Hunter; typically Daptone.... lazy, laconic, sweet and soulful. We're told that the song was inspired by Mrs Hunter and indeed she's the muse behind much else of what's on offer. The ultra domestically content Mr H has put together a collection that speaks of true love and loyalty rather than the staple R&B/soul stories of lust, shallow seduction and cheating in the next room.

Highlights? Well every one of the ten cuts has considerable merit; all delivered with passion from a man and band - Damian Hand (tenor saxophone) Lee Badau (baritone saxophone) Jonathan Lee (drums) Jason Wilson (bass) and Andy Kingslow (keyboards, percussion)- who clearly relish what they're doing. Try 'Show Her' to hear what I mean.... redolent of early Motown (think 'You Beat Me To The Punch'), it's a joy in this digitally airbrushed musical era. And we could say the same for the other 9 cuts –even the driving instrumental that is 'Blisters'.

'Whatever It Takes' is released on Daptone Records on February 2nd and it's shaping up to be one of 2017's first BIG albums.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 January 2018 20:58


THE BRIT FUNK ASSOCIATION: Full Circle (Expansion)

Thursday, 04 January 2018 19:36 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLast summer we enjoyed the first fruits of a UK soul "supergoup" – The British Collective; a team that consisted of star vocalists Don E, Junior Giscombe, Leee John, Noel McKoy and Omar. Now as we enter a new year, another UK "supergroup" arrives to treat us to some fine music. The Brit Funk Association is made up of former members of Beggar and Co, Hi Tension, Central Line and Light of the World and though the various members have known each other for a long, long time it was in the autumn of 2016 that they decided to get together. The catalyst was UK soul entrepreneur Fitzroy Facey who brought the players together to play at a gig promoting his Soul Survivors magazine and from there things just took off and if you're a listener to Jazz FM or equally switched-on internet soul stations you'll already be aware of the band. Tracks from this, the band's debut album have been regularly rotated and easy to hear why. The music is easy on the ear, adult soul – perfect for radio but also perfect for the dance and club scene.

The tune that's been attracting the attention has been the sweet and steady dancer that is 'Stand Strong, Stand Tall'. The cut stands out here and it's also a focus track on Expansion's annual Luxury Soul compilation. The brash and brassy 'I've Found Someone To Love' is another potential floor filler while tracks like 'Get Up', 'Water' and 'Make It Funky' deliver the gritty funk inherent in the collective's name. 'Seventeen' and 'Lucky' are sweet ballads and if you liked the unique sound that Light Of The World achieved back in the day with 'London Town' and 'Bahia', you'll love 'We Love The Sunshine On Our Face' and 'The BFA Theme (Let The Music Blow Your Mind)'... both written and produced by Kenny Wellington ... but you'd probably guess that from the soundscape.

The Brit Funk Association's 'Full Circle' is out now on Expansion Records.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 January 2018 19:51


JACKIE MOORE: ‘I’m On My Way (bbr)

Tuesday, 26 December 2017 18:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJacksonville's Jackie Moore is revered by soul collectors for her signature sounds – 'Precious, Precious', 'Sweet Charlie Babe' and 'Both End Against The Middle'. Pacted to Atlantic and working chiefly with Dave Crawford, Jackie delivered everything in a passionate southern fashion though her work was maybe a little glossier than what you might expect from the southern studios. After Atlantic Ms Moore moved on to work with Brad Shapiro at Kayvette before pitching up at Columbia in the late 70s. There the execs paired her with Philadelphia's Bobby Eli. The Philly guitarist/arranger/producer had already worked with Jackie at Atlantic (he and the team at Sigma Sound had provided the sweetening on things like 'Both End Against The Middle') and between them they crafted the long player 'I'm On My Way' which was released on Columbia in 1979.

The long-neglected album has just won reissue on bbr Records and as you'd expect from the above and the date of issue, the 8 tracker was/is a great example of the sweet Philly soul sound. All the usual Philly suspects are on board.... including Don Renaldo and his strings and with Jackie's southern-bred vocals riding on top there's nothing not to like.

On offer? Well, there are plenty of swinging disco items.... amongst them the charting 'This Time Baby', 'Can You Tell Me Why' and 'How's Your Love Life Baby' and some great ballads – the best of which is the quite lovely 'Joe'. Jackie had originally recorded the song at Atlantic and here Eli resurrects it beautifully. Crate diggers are well advised to seek out dear Dusty Springfield's version too.

This reissue offers up the album's original 8 cuts alongside 6 "bonuses" – different mixes of 'This Time Baby' and 'How's Your Love Life Baby'. Dancers will love 'em all especially Mike Mauro's 9 minute re-working of the former.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 December 2017 19:09


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