Reviews

DIANE SCHUUR: Some Other Time (Label: Heads Up)

Tuesday, 01 April 2008 08:58 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

DIANE SCHUUR: Some Other Time

Washington's Diane Schuur has enjoyed a long and distinguished career. Blessed with perfect pitch, her particular take on jazz - often melding it with pop, country and blues - has won her two Grammys and countless lesser awards. Here on 'Some Other Time' the blind vocalist/pianist returns to her straight jazz roots and offers a selection of songs that were particular favourites with her jazz-loving parents. So the thirteen tracks are, by and large, taken from the catalogues of the great American songwriters, and are featured in classic jazz quartet format. But Schuur and arranger Randy Porter (whose piano features on all but three tracks) along with producer Marc Silag deliver them in new colours and contemporary shadings. So, for instance, on the opener, the Gershwins' 'Nice Work If You Can Get It', the band set up a rich harmonic platform for Schuur's clear vocal, while on the same writers' 'I've Got Beginners Luck', the time signature is strangely flexible - even elastic, but the vocal keeps it together. Schuur takes piano duties herself on two tracks - Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's 'Its Magic' and the Tony Bennett hit 'The Good Life'. On both she shows that her playing is sadly undervalued. Interestingly, the album ends with two very personal cuts. First there's a version of 'September In The Rain' which Diane recorded for her parents back in 1964 (she was just 10) - and despite her tender years there's real gusto in there. Then there's a new recording of the Irish air 'Danny Boy', which Schuur has recorded specially in memory of her mother. Poignantly, you'll hear the mother's voice (recorded again in 1964) asking for the song. Yes, I know its sounds contrived - some might even say over-sentimental, but the heartfelt reading of this most plaintive of songs makes the whole thing sound just right. It gives a kind of closure to the album - a unique ending to a very decent straight jazz vocal set.
(BB) 3/5

 

WAR: 'The Very Best Of War' (Label: Rhino Avenue)

Sunday, 30 March 2008 14:27 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

WAR: 'The Very Best Of War'

Back in the 1970s, this interracial octet hailing from Long Beach, California, came to prominence as one of the West Coast's leading exponents of head-nodding, groove-based music. Fronted for a short time by ex-Animal, Eric Burdon, War melded hot funk and sweet soul with buoyant Latin rhythms. Above all, what helped define War's distinctive sound was the liberal sprinkling of a plaintive, bluesy harmonica sound (courtesy of Danish-born member, Lee Oskar). Although the group was at its creative pinnacle in the '70s, War has remained active up to the present day (the reissue of this compilation coincides with a War/Burdon reunion at the Royal Albert Hall on April 21st). This new 34-track double set focuses on the band's most popular moments spanning the years 1970-1994. Two tracks ('Spill The Wine' and a version of John D. Loudermilk's popular perennial, 'Tobacco Road') originate from the period when War was led by the Tyneside rocker Eric Burdon. Far better is the music the band cut without Burdon, including the seminal 'Cisco Kid, 'All Day Music,' 'Slippin' Into Darkness,' and the anthemic 'The World Is A Ghetto.' One of the band's biggest commercial successes was provided by the catchy, groove-fuelled 'Low Rider' which more recently enjoyed fame in the UK providing the soundtrack to a Marmite TV advert. This is indubitably a classic collection and, if you're an aficionado of '70s soul and funk, it's one worthy of your utmost attention (for those interested in Eric Burdon's association with the group, there's also an Avenue CD, 'Best Of Eric Burdon & War,' which has just been reissued).
(CW) 4/5

 

HONEY BROWN: Honey Brown (Label: Platinum Rush Music)

Saturday, 22 March 2008 10:53 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

HONEY BROWN: Honey Brown

Eddie Kendricks' fans will know Honey Brown as one of the Thin Man's solo cuts, but this Honey Brown operates out of, I think, Atlanta and this eponymous album is currently available through CD Baby and other internet outlets. If you seek it out you'll discover a very decent indie set that sits right on the cusp of street R&B and modern soul - genre demarcations that seem to divide UK soul people, but which may mean little Stateside, where almost all non-jazz and non-gospel black music is branded "R&B". That said the big attraction of this album is Honey Brown's wonderful vocals. It would be easy to describe her voice as sweet and smooth - and in places it is, but it also has real passion and strength, tempered with the purest high octave falsetto that recalls Minnie Riperton. Hear that soaring attack on a version of Roger Troutman's 'Go On Without You' - a great old school soul ballad made more authentic with some fine Hammond playing. 'Never Again' is another fine ballad while Tony Ozier's 'Up In The Air' offers some interesting instrumentation. For those who want to dance, there are lots on offer. Best cut for the modern room brigade is the hugely optimistic 'Feeling Good'. Lightweight, maybe, it has the feel of those great Sunshine Anderson/Koffee Brown anthems from a few years back. 'Co-Star' is good too, if a little more sedate while the R&B brigade will connect more with 'The Sound Of Flirting' - clearly based on Beyonce's 'Crazy In Love', that one. 'Hot Daddy' is another take on street R&B with a rap from John Que while 'Ghetto Story' offers a snapshot of urban life. That one comes in two mixes with the rap-less opener offering more passion… and it's passion that defines this album. Honey Brown has it in abundance and soul seekers (old and new) will find plenty to satisfy here.
(BB) 3/5

 

DIONNE WARWICK: 'Sings The Bacharach & David Songbook' (Label: Music Club)

Saturday, 22 March 2008 07:09 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

DIONNE WARWICK: 'Sings The Bacharach & David Songbook'

A protégé of ace songwriting duo, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, New Jersey chanteuse Dionne Warwick achieved international fame in the 1960s at New York's Scepter Records with memorable slices of sophisticated pop-soul like 'Walk On By' and 'Anyone Who Had A Heart.' The defining moments from Warwick's Scepter canon can be found on this excellent 22-track collection, which functions as an exemplary introduction to the gospel-reared singer's '60s oeuvre (interestingly, this is a revamp of Music Club's original budget-priced Warwick collection, which went on to shift a staggering 400,000 copies). All the key tracks are here and unlike Warwick's voice - which sadly is a faint shadow of its former self in terms of tone and timbre - they have not been ravaged by the passing of time. Songs like 'Walk On By,' 'I Say A Little Prayer,' 'Alfie,' 'What The World Needs Now Is Love,' 'A House Is Not A Home,' and 'The Look Of Love' have an appeal, relevance and sense of aesthetic beauty that the years simply can't diminish or erode. Die hard Dionne fans will have all these tracks but if you're a neophyte, there's no better entrée to the singer's work.
(CW) 4/5

 

ARETHA FRANKLIN: 'One Step Ahead' (Label: Edsel)

Saturday, 22 March 2008 07:06 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

ARETHA FRANKLIN: 'One Step Ahead'

Rumour has it that the Queen of Soul is currently ensconced in the studio putting the finishing touches to 'Aretha: A Woman Falling Out Of Love,' which is slated as the chanteuse's debut album for her new label, Aretha's Records. There was a time, of course, when the prospect of a new Aretha album would send a nerve-jangling frisson of excitement down the necks of soul fans - not any more. The truth is that most soul fans aren't particularly interested in Aretha's future plans - rather, perhaps like me, they find more excitement listening to her old records. Talking of her old records, here's a commendable twofer that presents a couple of her early '60s LPs for Columbia ('Unforgettable' and 'Runnin' Out Of Fools'). The general consensus amongst soul buffs is that Aretha's pre-Atlantic sides are not up to much and that Columbia didn't know how to utilise the singer's talents - the latter is patently true, I think, though the former contention is somewhat dubious, especially after you've given this CD a spin. Sure, there's nothing here to match the incendiary soul majesty of 'Respect' or 'Chain Of Fools' but only a fool would dismiss this music out of hand. 'Unforgettable' is a homage to blues matriarch, Dinah Washington, cut in 1964, with Washington's erstwhile producer, Clyde Otis, at the helm. Aretha was only 22 at the time but you'd never know it from the mature quality of her vocal performances. 'Unforgettable' proves an attractive mixture of jazz, soul, gospel and blues. Interestingly, there's a strident, upbeat, slightly funky, soul tune called 'Lee Cross,' which hints at the direction that 'Re' would take three years later under the aegis of Jerry Wexler at Atlantic (Incidentally, 'Lee Cross' was issued as a 45 after Aretha enjoyed two R&B chart toppers at Atlantic and made the US Top 40 in 1967). 'Runnin' Out Of Fools' was also helmed by Otis, and dates from 1965. It opens with a cover of Inez & Charlie Foxx's 'Mockingbird' and features Aretha doing remakes of '60s soul hits 'Walk On By,' 'Every Little Bit Hurts,' 'My Guy' and 'The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss).' I think the album's principal weakness is the rhythm section arrangements - they sound like stock session charts and lack the fire, grit, and funkiness of Aretha's later work. Perhaps, then - as this CD seems to reveal - the key to Aretha's Atlantic success was not solely down to her choice of material, but was also due to the nature of the backing arrangements and quality of the supporting musicians. This commendable CD also includes three non-album bonus cuts: 'Can't You Just See Me,' 'Little Miss Raggedy Ann' and 'One Step Ahead.' Overall, this is an excellent musical snapshot of Aretha Franklin before she hit the big time and I'll bet it's more interesting than her forthcoming album.
(CW) 4/5

 

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