VARIOUS: Luxury Soul 2019 (Expansion)

Wednesday, 16 January 2019 19:43 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe annual Expansion Records sponsored LUXURY SOUL WEEKENDER is now a permanent fixture in the UK soul calendar (thankfully) and, as ever, the 2019 instalment comes (came) with its very own triple CD compilation. This year's Blackpool bash starred Bluey and his Incognito team, so no surprise to see a clutch of Maunick-associated tracks on the album. In sequence they are; 'Living For Today' by Dira – a new cut, written and produced by Bluey; Maysa's 'Pressure' another Bluey creation; Kloud 9's 'Everything Is Good 2Nite' another Bluey song with Incognito guesting on the track; Olga Makovetskaya's 'Got To Keep Movong On' - more Incognito input and 'Brighter Tomorrow' from the Diplomats of Soul – another guest spot from Incognito on this 2015 floor filler. You'll know most of the songs, I'm guessing, but if you don't, you'll know that the Bluey Maunick link is a guarantee of quality.

The collection, though, is not all about Bluey. There's plenty if class and quality right across the 34 cuts. Here's just a sample of the highlights – by coincidence, tunes that we've highlighted here @SJF over the last 12 months. We've championed Brian Power's Soulhouse project from day 1 and it's one of that label's cuts – Marc Evans' 'Falling Back Into Love' that starts this whole collection off. We're also big fans of the genial Chris Jasper and his laid-back 'Show Somebody Love' shines brightly here. Good too to see the Boogie Back team with their own tune ('I Want You Back') rather than just meriting a mixing credit. Then there's Victor Haynes' 'Hopping, Skipping, So In Love' – the Bobby Womack-flavoured cut that was used to promote the collection initially; Darien Dean's gorgeous 'Last Song' , Philip Leo's subtle and sweet 'Don't Judge Me' and Lindsey's Webster's 'Free To Be Me' with cool jazz licks from Norman Brown's guitar all come hugely recommended.

All those recommendations are new/newish tunes but as ever Ralph Tee and his Expansion team have included the usual generous ration of classic and in-demand oldies. Real soul fans will never tire of stuff like Ronnie McNeir's 'My Baby', Jimmy Cobb's lovely, old-fashioned 1983 'So Nobody Can Hear' and Chris Ballin's equally charming 'Stay Away From You'. Then there's Rockie Robbins' 1991 'I'll Always Love You'... we're told, by the way, there's a new Rockie album on the way soon. That's going to be on Expansion too – another quality soul album addition to the Expansion catalogue; just like this 'Luxury Soul 2019' set.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 January 2019 20:05


JOHNNY MATHIS: 'I Love My Lady' (Real Gone)

Friday, 11 January 2019 09:29 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


For some, the idea of svelte-voiced crooner Johnny Mathis joining forces with disco-funk sophisticates Chic might represent a marriage made in heaven - though for others, perhaps, it's nothing less than a musical marriage made in hell. It is, without doubt, though, an intriguing if unlikely union and the fact that it actually happened - in late 1980 - is not widely known. That's because their combined efforts in the studio (which resulted in an eight-track LP called 'I Love My Lady') never saw the light of day - that was until 2017, when it crept out as part of a gargantuan, limited edition, 68-CD box set (called  'The Voice Of Romance,' retailing at £350) chronicling Mathis' long tenure with Columbia Records. Now, though, US reissue specialist, Real Gone, are finally putting out 'I Love My Lady' as a standalone release and given the current global interest in a revived incarnation of Chic, who are riding high with a new album, 'It's About Time,' it's sure to attract attention.

Those, like this writer, disappointed by Chic's latest opus will find something to savour in the songs served up by Rodgers and Edwards here. Stylistically, they tie in with the stripped-down, muscular vibe of Chic's largely unheralded 'Real People' and 'Take It Off' long players of the early '80s. While Rodgers-Edwards worked wonders with Sister Sledge and Diana Ross during the same timeframe, it's not difficult to see why Columbia got cold feet and shelved the Mathis album (the disco backlash may also have been a factor influencing their decision). It just doesn't gel. Mathis's vocals often sound stiff, wooden, and unconvincing in acute contrast to the fluidity of  Chic's simmering disco grooves. 'Love And Be Loved,' which closes the album, is one of the better, more cohesive cuts, and the moodier 'Take Me' initially promises much with its hypnotic cycle of chords, but ultimately, Mathis sounds uncomfortable, particularly when he has to sing a staccato vocal line, which goes against his modus operandi as a smooth crooner. This leads to an inherent tension in the music which is present throughout the set's eight songs. With a different, more flexible and perhaps demonstrative vocalist, this could have been a classic set. Even so, while it's far from perfect, it's still an absorbing listen and for Chic fans, it's indispensable, of course. The CD version is bolstered with three remixes and is available from February 1st.

(CW) 3/5


Last Updated on Friday, 11 January 2019 09:45


MICHAEL FRANTI and SPEARHEAD; Stay Human 2 (Thirty Tigers)

Thursday, 10 January 2019 15:51 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altMichael Franti and his colleagues in Spearhead have never been backward in coming forward to air their views and ideas on society, politics, the economy, injustices and anything else that takes their fancy.... and the team's new album – a second volume of 'Stay Human' – continues that trajectory. This time, though, there is a subtle difference. The 14 track LP is a tie-in to a film – unsurprisingly called 'Stay Human'. Franti tells us that the movie tells the stories of heroic everyday people who helped him to discover more deeply what it means to be and "Stay Human". We can't speak for the film; it's not premiered till next week but we can say that if it's half as good as this provocative, yet optimistic album, then it's the first must see movie of 2019!

The music on 'Stay Human 2' is stuffed with familiar Franti themes, but as ever he manages to avoid being heavily didactic, holier-than-thou and pessimistic. Rather the music is largely upbeat and despite the messages, it manages to be optimistic. There are a number of key note tracks that sort of sum up the overall message of the album. One is the breezy 'This World Is So Fucked Up'. Here, the singer/songwriter wishes he could express things more subtly but he can't; he gets straight to the point... "We're fucked!" The coda, though, is that he's never going to give up... he knows that with the right approach things can get better! The album title track explores similar themes. "When I was a boy my mama told me this world isn't always a paradise" is how the song begins... but again the point is don't give-up... stay being what is essentially "human". Part of staying human is supporting others; helping those who need help, love and sympathy. That message is hammered home on the sweet 'Nobody Cries Alone'.

Musically Franti and Spearhead wrap their messages in a variety of flavours. Many of the cuts have a rocking Caribbean flavour – like the 'Just To Say I Love You', while 'The Only Thing Missing Is You' is a gorgeous reggae/lovers rock item – reminiscent of those great old Aswad tunes. Best straight soul tune is 'Show Me Your Peace Sign' – a lovely ballad. Elsewhere 'Take Me Alive' is a polished slice of indie rock, 'When The Sun Begins To Shine' is country rock with a hint of blues while 'Summertime Won't Last Long' is a catchy, Bob Marley name-checking slab of optimism and this is where 'Stay Human 2' wins... despite the messages and seriousness of the issues, there is an undertow that says we can get there, we can achieve anything if we stay human!.

'Stay Human 2' will not be officially available till 15 February; pre-orders, though, are being taken and come with instant downloads of the tracks 'Just To Say I Love You,' 'Stay Human 2' and 'Flower In The Gun'. And remember, Franti practises what he preaches... this album is part of his ongoing community work- notably his foundation. With his wife, Sara, Franti works to improve the quality of life for veterans, disadvantaged children and those with terminal illnesses.

(BB) 4/5


BOB BALDWIN; Abbey Road and the Beatles (Red River/City Sketches)

Wednesday, 02 January 2019 20:25 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn the olden days, I'm talking the early 60s, time was when pop performers plundered the catalogues or R&B, jazz and early soul performers to beef up their own repertoires. Classic example, I guess, is the Beatles. The Fab Four's early live sets were crammed with covers while their first long players were stuffed with their unique takes on soul, R&R and R&B. Then, of course, things changed. As soon as the lovable, Liverpool mop tops hit the biggest of big times – all kinds of artists queued up to cover their songs. For a period you couldn't pick up a soul or jazz LP without enjoying a "new" version of a Lennon/McCartney or Harrison tune; why some even recorded whole albums of Beatle songs! And so it continues...

Late last year we mentioned an upcoming collection from jazz keyboardist, Bob Baldwin that was his particular take on the oeuvre of the Beatles. The set was heralded by a single – Bob's interpretation of John Lennon's 'Imagine' . Aiding and abetting the piano man here was smooth sax man Euge Groove and if you enjoyed the cut, you'll be delighted to learn that the parent album has just won release and there's plenty more to interest both smooth jazzers and Beatle fans. If you know the Baldwin/Groove take on 'Imagine' you'll know it combines the melody with Louis Porzilli's 'Living As One' – and that sort of sets the template for the whole album. You see what you get here are not precise covers; rather Baldwin's reimaginings and here and there he even embellishes things with the addition of elements of other songs (as on 'Imagine'). So, for example 'Michelle' is enhanced by Bob's own 'My Girl' while 'Yellow Submarine' is welded onto Donovan's 'Mellow Yellow'.

The collection also offers three vocals – Ce Ce Peniston fronting '(Don't Wanna Be)The Fool On The Hill' (another embellished track and very EWF-ish) and Lori Williams on two cuts – 'My Love' and a totally new song – 'Abbey Road' – penned by Baldwin and Williams, it gets to name several of the best Beatles' tunes. Like the whole album, It's an interesting concept and a brave attempt to get away from "straight" Beatle covers. Beatle pedants, of course will tell us that two of the songs here – 'My Love' and 'Imagine' weren't actually "Beatle" songs – they were, of course, McCartney and Lennon solo outings. But c'mon, music like this isn't for pedants and everyone knows that the Beatles made a joyous music to be enjoyed not dissected and mulled over (though, sadly, all too often it is). Here, there's plenty to enjoy and clearly Bob Baldwin has captured the spirit in which the music was originally made.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 January 2019 20:37


THE NEW MASTERSOUNDS; Nashville Sessions II (One Note Records)

Friday, 21 December 2018 17:02 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altOriginally from Leeds, the prolific New Mastersounds have been around for quite some time and despite being the band that gave Corinne Bailey Rae her start the Mastersounds have never really cracked the big time. Not that that seems to bother the group's core –Eddie Roberts (guitar), Simon Allen (drums), Pete Shand (bass) and Joe Tatton (organ). They're content to enjoy what they do best – playing live and recording the jazz and funk that is their driving force. Indeed the team have a raft of albums under their belt – the last one being 'Renewable Energy' from earlier this year.

Amongst the band's back catalogue is an LP they cut back in 2016 in Nashville. Imaginatively titled 'The Nashville Sessions' it became one of the Mastersounds better sellers. so their latest LP offers more of the same.... 'Nashville Sessions II'. The ten tracker was recorded in the same Nashville studio as volume 1 and like it, it was recorded live in front of an audience straight onto audio tape. The soundscape is much the same too... indeed the signature Mastersounds sound – rough hewn soul-jazz and leggy, loose funk . There is though a subtle difference; this time around Joe Tatton eschews the organ to play various pianos and a vintage analog synth. Despite that, what's produced is typically New Mastersounds - best exemplified by tunes like 'Dusty Groove' and 'Pudding And Pie'. Both those and indeed all bar one of the cuts are band originals; the only cover is a take on John Cameron's cult classic 'Afro Metropolis'.

The New Mastersounds press people say that this album "perfectly captures the energy of the band" and that it's "an essential buy for band devotees". And that just about sums things up. The energy positively crackles here; equally there's not enough light or shade or subtlety to attract those outside the band's immediate fan coterie.

(BB) 35

Last Updated on Friday, 21 December 2018 18:44


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