Reviews

DIONNE WARWICK: 'Why We Sing' (Label: Rhino)

Sunday, 02 March 2008 04:30 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

DIONNE WARWICK: 'Why We Sing'

Given the strength and indeed depth of her gospel music roots - her career started in church as a member of The Gospelaires group - it may be surprising to some that this world-renowned singer from East Orange, New Jersey, has only cut two out-and-out inspirational records in her long career. This new album is her second foray into church music - previously, she recorded a devotional LP entitled 'The Magic Of Believing' for Scepter in 1968, which was largely overlooked because it came at a time when Warwick was experiencing a fertile period in the pop sphere as the protégé of songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Forty years on and the 67-year-old chanteuse embraces her formative musical roots with a 12-track set helmed by her son, Damon Elliott (who's previously collaborated with the likes of Beyoncé, Pink, Destiny's Child and Eminem). The added presence of Warwick's other son, David Elliott, and her younger sister, Dee Dee, makes this a bona fide family affair. Material-wise, it's a mixture of the old and the new - of both traditional and contemporary gospel songs. It kicks off with the deeply patriotic 'Battle Hymn Of the Republic' and also includes heartfelt renditions of gospel staples like an organ-infused 'Jesus Loves Me,' 'The Lord Is My Shepherd,' and 'Rise, Shine And Give God The Glory.' A more contemporary stylistic patina is provided by Be Be Winans, who pens three of the album's twelve tunes and provides a typically soulful vocal cameo on the uplifting 'I'm Going Up.' The title track is a slow, Kirk Franklin-penned ballad, featuring the plaintive vocals of Warwick's junior sibling Dee Dee. More upbeat is the propulsive 'I Lift My Heart,' featuring thrilling antiphonal interplay between Warwick and her background vocalists on the chorus section. Though Warwick is unlikely to acquire new fans with this solid opus, it will certainly please the most loyal of her disciples.
(CW) 3/5

 

DIANNE REEVES: 'When You Know' (Label: Blue Note)

Saturday, 01 March 2008 05:04 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

DIANNE REEVES: 'When You Know'

Following a couple of small label LPs in the early '80s, Detroit-born Dianne Reeves signed to the legendary jazz label, Blue Note, in 1987, where she's remained ever since (save a one-off Grammy-winning soundtrack outing on Concord for the George Clooney-directed 2005 movie 'Good Night And Good Luck'). Four years after her last Blue Note album, 2004's 'Christmas Time Is Here,' this four-times-Grammy-winner returns with a soul-infused set produced by her cousin, keyboard maestro, George Duke. Listeners who liked Reeves' earlier forays into soul-jazz - exemplified by her Blue Note debut, 'Better Days,' and 1990's 'Never Too Far,' both helmed by Duke - will find much to savour on this, her twenty first long player. The set opens with a delightfully dreamy reading of The Temptations' ballad, 'Just My Imagination,' and also includes a pleasant reworking of Minnie Riperton's Stevie Wonder-scribed classic 'Lovin' You' - the original, complete with background bird noises, was too twee and saccharine for my taste but here, Reeves reduces the song's sugar content to a level where its sweetness is no longer cloying. Duke's sympathetic production really brings out the translucent beauty in Reeves' voice - especially on the gentle 'I'm In Love Again,' where she has soft, jazzy guitar accompaniment. Her rendition of 'Midnight Sun' is also memorable, with Duke and his cohorts - including Russell Malone on guitar - providing a silkily syncopated rhythmic undertow that has a smooth soul feel. The album's closer, 'Today Will Be A Good Day,' is a striking Reeves original that is remarkable because it's acutely different from the previous tracks on the album: it's a raw, aisle-shaking, gospel-blues with a jaunty '50s-style R&B beat. It ends the CD on a euphoric highpoint largely because the sobriety and sophistication of the other tracks is replaced by a playful earthiness that Reeves rarely reveals on record. A fine album from a phenomenal talent.
(CW) 4/5

 

LUTHER INGRAM: 'I Don't Want To Be Right: The Ko Ko Singles Volume 2' (Label: Kent)

Friday, 29 February 2008 12:36 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

LUTHER INGRAM: 'I Don't Want To Be Right: The Ko Ko Singles Volume 2'

It's quite feasible that Luther Ingram - the honey-voiced soul singer from Jackson, Tennessee, who died in March 2007 - could have been a household name in the mould of Al Green. He certainly had the vocal talent but it's probable that a somewhat dubious management and record deal prevented him from becoming a bigger star. Sure, Ingram did achieve a fair degree of commercial success - the memorable title track of this collection was a big crossover smash in 1972, topping the Stateside R&B charts and making number three in the pop lists - but he was certainly unable to capitalise and build on his early triumphs. Soul historians point the finger at entrepreneur/producer Johnny Baylor as the figure responsible for Ingram's chronic underachievement. Baylor owned the Stax-distributed Ko Ko label and it's widely believed that his ruthless, gangster-like management tactics - he reportedly once pulled a gun out to get money from Stax - stymied Ingram's career prospects. Even so, Baylor seemed deeply supportive of his chief acquisition and released a slew of 45s on him between 1967 and 1978. Compiled and annotated by former B&S scribe, Tony Rounce, this second and concluding volume of Ingram's Ko Ko 45s is a real humdinger. Of course, the collection's undoubted highpoint is the classic cheating ballad from 1972, '(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right' - even today, 36 years on from the date of its original release, this tasty slice of Southern Soul still sounds superb. And although the likes of Millie Jackson, Isaac Hayes, Barbara Mason and even Tom Jones have recorded it, Luther Ingram's indelible, intensely-soulful reading of the song remains the definitive version. But this is patently no one track album - spanning the years 1971-1978, this 19-song compilation includes other gems like 'I'll Be Your Shelter (In Time Of Storm),' 'Let's Steal Away To The Hideaway,' 'I'm Gonna Be The Best Thing,' 'Do You Love Somebody' and the Marvin Gaye-style groover, 'Get To Me.' To my mind, and on this evidence, Ingram belongs in the pantheon of great '70s soul singers alongside Al Green, Barry White, Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass. Superb.
(CW) 4/5

 

GURU: The Best Of Guru's Jazzmatazz (Label: Virgin, EMI)

Friday, 29 February 2008 09:12 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

GURU: The Best Of Guru's Jazzmatazz

Within the whole hip-hop/rap firmament, it's my contention that Guru is the artist with whom most soul and jazz purists can identify with. The reason, I guess, is obvious. In 1993 he launched the first of his acclaimed 'Jazzmatazz' series and showed that hip-hop can work (and work damn well) within the frontiers of soul and jazz. Indeed earlier, with Gang Starr, the man had already shown huge respect for soul and jazz traditions, formats and conventions. It was clear that that was were his influences lay, and working with people like Roy Ayers, Carleen Anderson, N'Dea Davenport, Ronny Jordan and D.C. Lee it was no surprise that the first 'Jazzmatazz' LP was so widely acclaimed. And its little wonder that a goodly selection of cuts from that mould-breaking album are featured on this 'Best Of…' set. Two tracks in particular still standout - 'Down The Backstreets' and 'Loungin''. The first, of course, features Lonnie Liston Smith and the playing is as sublime and other-worldly as anything Smith's ever worked on. 'Loungin'' is a showcase for another jazz icon - Donald Byrd and again the cut rivals his very best. There are great selections from the other 'Jazzmatazz' LPs too - notably 'Respect The Architect' (with Branford Marsalis), 'Keep Your Worries' (vocals from Angie Stone) and 'Plenty' (featuring Erykah Badu). As a bonus there's new mixes of 'Loungin'' and 'Respect The Architect' and a rare cut that's only appeared on a soundtrack - it's 'Choices' featuring N'Dea Davenport and Bobbi Humphrey. The whole 'Jazzmatazz' canon is hip-hop as it should be and proves beyond doubt that the genre shares the same evolutionary pedigree and DNA as soul and jazz and if your musical conservatism previously forced you to deny this assertion, here's an opportunity to cast aside your blinkers and sample what you've been missing all this time.
(BB) 4 out of 5

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 9: 1969' (Label: Hip-O Select)

Thursday, 28 February 2008 03:36 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 9: 1969'

1969 was the final year of what had been a turbulent decade. The so-called 'Age of Aquarius' had begun with the threat of Armageddon when the USA and USSR played a tense game of brinkmanship over the presence of nuclear missiles in Castro's Cuba. When that crisis was averted - much to the relief of the whole watching world - more were to follow, especially in regard to the USA: there was a neo-colonial war raging in Vietnam, of course, and on Uncle Sam's home soil, much blood was spilled (and lives were lost) on the streets as African-Americans sought to achieve equality via Civil Rights protests. American popular music vividly reflected the zeitgeist and even at Motown - which had resisted making records that commented on events in the 'real' world earlier in the decade - many of label's songs had become politicized by 1969, thanks to writers and producers like Norman Whitfield, who gave the company a reality check and helped The Temptations claim the company's first Grammy award. 1969, then, was a year characterised by both idealism and loss; of Woodstock and Altamont, of the first moon landing and the Manson murders - Motown, too, couldn't resist the inevitability of change and in 1969, Diana Ross stunned Supremes' devotees by announcing that she was leaving the group. Also, Berry Gordy quit the Motor Town to live in LA while his company shifted its business operations from the quaint Hitsville building to plush, new, state-of-the-art offices in downtown Detroit (three years later the company would follow Gordy to LA). On a sadder note, Shorty Long and the Funk Brothers' drummer, Benny Benjamin, both died. But on the plus side, Motown signed the Jackson 5, a young Afro-topped quintet from Gary, Indiana, that burst on the pop scene with the infectious Stateside chart topper 'I Want You Back' in November 1969. Significantly, that momentous Motown smash, which ushered in a new era for Berry Gordy's Detroit company, is the vinyl 45 attached to the front cover of Hip-O Select's latest instalment of their incredible retrospective series, 'The Complete Motown Singles.' Anyone familiar with the series format will know that the packaging to each volume is unimpeachable - the track by track annotation is richly informative, while archival colour photos bring the era vividly to life. And then there are personal recollections of Motown that give an insight into how the company was run - this time, it's the turn of Shelley Berger, former west coast man for Berry Gordy who also managed The Supremes, The Temptations and the Jackson 5. There's also a thoughtful essay by Stu Hackel, who expertly puts the music into its historical, political and cultural context. But it's the music that's the true star of this compilation series and in 1969, Motown was still on fire and its hit records kept burning up the charts. Former Temptation, raspy-voiced David Ruffin, made his solo debut with a slice of cathartic deep soul called 'My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me).' It stalled at Number 2 in the R&B charts, but the Mississippi singer's career was off to an auspicious start. Other Motown hits in 1969 came from big hitters like Diana Ross & The Supremes (the line-up's valedictory single, 'Someday We'll Be Together'); The Temptations ('I Can't Get Next To You'); Marvin Gaye ('That's The Way Love Is'); the Four Tops ('Don't Let Him Take Your Love Away' - the group's only chart entry that year); Gladys Knight & The Pips ('Friendship Train'); Edwin Starr ('25 Miles'); Smokey Robinson & The Miracles ('Baby, Baby Don't Cry') and Stevie Wonder ('My Cherie Amour'). Lesser known acts, too, were cutting singles the same year but not all made a huge commercial impact - like white 'comedian' Soupy Sales, whose 'Muck-Arty Park' (a lame parody of Jimmy Webb's 'MacArthur Park') is possibly the worst ever record to come off the Hitsville presses. Other unfamiliar names present here are The Honest Men, Joe Harnell, funk guitarist Wes Henderson, blue-eyed soul group The Rustix, The Five Smooth Stones, Dorothy, Oma and Zelpha, Terry Johnson, The Lollipops, Stu Gardner and the brilliantly named novelty group, Captain Zap and the Motortown Cut-ups, who issued the zany comedy single 'The Luney Landing.' Some of the above acts recorded for Rare Earth, a new Motown subsidiary aimed at the rock longhairs and which also spawned a group of the same name (their debut 45, 'Generation,' is included here). This stupendous 6-CD set also features great 45s from Bobby Taylor, The Originals, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Shorty Long, Earl Van Dyke, Chuck Jackson, The Marvelettes and the Spinners. As retrospectives go, 'The Motown Complete Singles' series is arguably the best there's ever been in the CD age - and this current volume, like previous instalments, is a musical cornucopia that will bring hours, even years, of pleasure and enjoyment to Motown aficionados the world over. It's limited to 5000 copies, so buy it while you still can.
(CW) 5/5


 

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