Reviews

THE ALL STARS COLLECTIVE: All About The Music (Label: Specific Records)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007 10:29 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

THE ALL STARS COLLECTIVE: All About The Music

The All Stars Collective are just that - a loose ensemble of top musicians who've played around the UK soul scene (live and in the studios) for more years than most of 'em would care to remember (that's if they could!). Their numbers include Guy Phethean, Mark Mondair, Randy Hope-Taylor, Matt Clackett, Klaus White and the equally redoubtable Hamish Stuart and Jim Mullen. Add to them a stentorian phalanx of vocalists of the calibre of Jocelyn Brown, Mary Pearce, Julie Payne and Roy Hamilton and you know we're talking serious soul here. Musically the crew cook up a sound that combines mellow moment Tower Of Power with prime time Incognito - garnished with 'A Love Of Your Own' period Average White Band - not surprising given the presence of said Mr. Stuart as overall producer. That said, though, in places the All Stars' music sounds nothing like any of that. Case in point is the closing track - 'Time Will Tell'. This one's a semi-acoustic indie-folksy-rocky provocative cut that questions the sense of war - but it's not doomy and gloomy. Those adjectives don't fit into this band's palette - by and large their music is big, joyous and life-affirming. For proof go straight to the bubbly opener 'Sometimes' - brash and brassy, it's a delight … rivalled by the lovely 'Hey Listen Up' - which just about shades it as the LP's best cut. Clearly Hamish and the boys had just been listening to Donny H before cutting that one. Other goodies include 'Remedy' and 'Satisfied' and though I could've done without the reggae-based 'On My Mind' I know that people who dig James Hunter and John Mayer will connect with it. To check out this excellent album (which again proves that when we put our minds to it UK musicians can "do soul") go to www.soulchoonz.com
(BB) 4/5

 

VARIOUS: Stax Chartbusters Volumes 1 - 6 (Label: Stax, Universal)

Tuesday, 18 December 2007 13:38 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: Stax Chartbusters Volumes 1 - 6

Every real soul fan knows all about the importance of the legendary Stax label and the magnificent Memphis music it produced in its heyday. Over the years that magnificent music has been re-released and re-issued in all kinds of ways and on all sorts of compilations. Now, using the old Motown Chartbusters series as a template, Universal have just released six brand new Stax budget compilations that really do deserve that 'magnificent' adjective that I've already used twice. Each album - which can be bought separately by the way- has a generous 18 tracks, and is arranged on purpose in an haphazard way. That's to say there's no particular structure: the music's not arranged chronologically, by artist, by flavour or indeed by hit status. Rather, we're presented with a wonderful mixed bag that really does show the variety of music that originated in that old movie theatre down on East McLemore. Naturally there's steamy southern soul and lots of blues but when they wanted to, the crew could turn out tunes as sophisticated as the big uptown soul labels - witness Carla Thomas' delightful 'I Play For Keeps' (Volume 1) to hear what I mean. Stax were also pioneers of so-called blaxploitation - enjoy Melvin Van Peebles' 'Sweetback's Theme' on Volume 5, or any of the Isaac Hayes inclusions - though, of course, Ike, like his label, is impossible to pin down accurately. Add to that the sophistication of the Temprees, the passion of the Soul Children, the joys of the Dramatics, the abandon of Johnnie Taylor and top it with the fabulous 'So I Can Love You' from the Emotions (featured on Volume 6) and you have a tremendous 6-CD tribute to a great old label.
BB 5/5

 

CHARLES WRIGHT & THE WATTS 103RD STREET RHYTHM BAND : The Charles Wright Remasters (Label: Rhino)

Sunday, 16 December 2007 13:59 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

CHARLES WRIGHT & THE WATTS 103RD STREET RHYTHM BAND : The Charles Wright Remasters

Although a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi - the birthplace of John Lee Hooker and located in the heartland of delta blues country - guitarist/pianist Charles Wright found fame in the late 1960s as one of funk music's leading lights. He fronted a west coast multi-racial aggregation that reached its undoubted creative apogee with the freewheeling and subsequently much-sampled funk anthem, 'Express Yourself' in 1970. The band recorded six albums between the years 1967-1972, all of which have just been reissued in the UK on CD for the first time on Rhino. As well as being remastered from the original studio tapes, the majority of the CDs are supplemented by a large cache of previously unissued bonus tracks that have been discovered languishing in the Warner Bros. vaults. The group was originally formed in 1967 by producer, Fred Smith, who was looking for musicians to back up comedian, Bill Cosby. The majority of the group were members of Wright's band, The Wright Sounds, but under Smith's direction, changed their name to the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. The outfit's debut album, 'HOT HEAT & SWEET GROOVE,' was attired in a wacky, pop-art-style cover but sounds more contrived and rigid than truly 'far out' - it's a curious blend of rambunctious party R&B ('Caesar's Palace'), kitsch pseudo-psychedelic covers ('Yellow Submarine' and 'Girl From Ipanema') and loping, bluesy, sax-infused proto-funk (the Ramsey Lewis-tinged 'Spreadin' Honey'). With Smith's influence waning, the group had loosened up by 1968's sophomore effort, 'TOGETHER.' The grooves are more fluid, exemplified by '65 Bars & A Taste Of Soul' and the super-soulful 'A Dance, A Kiss & A Song' (penned by the group's drummer, James Gadson). On the downside, the album features a host of covers (ranging from James Brown's 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag' to the Stones' 'Satisfaction') but there's no denying the group's energy. The new CD reissue contains eight additional tracks. The group's loose-limbed, sunshine funk evolved further by the time of 1969's excellent 'IN THE JUNGLE BABE,' which from a sonic perspective illustrated that they had discovered their own identity at last. It contains the group's big Stateside smash, 'Love Land' (another superb Gadson tune), the epic ballad 'Comment' and irresistibly funky morsels like 'Till You Get Enough' and an incendiary version of Sly Stone's 'Everyday People (In The Jungle).' The pivotal album in the group's output was 1970's 'EXPRESS YOURSELF,' by which time Wright had separate billing from the rest of the band. As well as the anthemic title song, the band revamped 'Express Yourself' on the 1971 LP, 'YOU'RE SO BEAUTIFUL,' which also contains 'Just To Settle My Nerves.' However, according to Wright in the accompanying liner notes, tensions within the group resulted in it being the singer/guitarist's final official recording with the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Wright's valedictory opus for Warner Bros was 'RHYTHM & POETRY' a solo venture from 1972. Consisting mostly of lengthy, funk-fuelled jams ('Soul Train' and the interminable 'Run Jody Run'), it patently lacks inspiration and sounds like Wright was running out of creative gas after the core of his band (including Gadson and Ray Jackson) had defected to join Bill Withers. Completists, of course, and funk fanatics will want to acquire all six reissues - however, a more discriminating listener will probably find ample reward in just picking up a copy of 'In The Jungle Babe' or 'Express Yourself,' which represent the pinnacle of this pioneering funk group's canon.

(CW) 4/5

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Dedicated To Soul' (Label: Expansion)

Thursday, 13 December 2007 03:20 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Dedicated To Soul'

As the booklet to this CD reveals, compiler and former B&S scribe, David Nathan, may have sported some dodgy hair-dos back in the '70s but his musical taste has always been impeccable and far from hair-raising. This enjoyable new collection focuses mainly on the '70s and early '80s and features some of soul's big hitters (Aretha, Dionne and Gladys to name three) alongside more esoteric acts like the vocal groups Revelation, Dynamic Superiors, Special Delivery and The Reflections. In fact, the CD opens with four tracks from these groups. Revelation, a quartet including Benny Diggs and Phillip Ballou in its ranks, is largely forgotten by all but the cognoscenti - their superlative track, 'Get Ready For This,' deserves to be remembered, though. Motown quintet, Dynamic Superiors, also impress with the Ashford & Simpson penned 'Face The Music' while New York's The Reflections, offer more gospel-infused harmonies on 'Three Steps From True Love.' A real find is 'The Wind,' a deliciously dreamy ballad which is a previously unissued Aretha Franklin outtake from her Luther-helmed 1983 Arista LP, 'Get It Right.' In fact, Nathan has plundered the Arista archives for several unreleased buried treasures for this collection: there's Dionne Warwick's version of Roberta Flack's 'Only Heaven Can Wait For Love'; Angela Bofill's 'All The Reasons Why' and 'Love & Marriage'; and 'I'm Not Asking You To Stay,' a Thom Bell-produced outtake from Phyllis Hyman's 1983 'Goddess Of Love' album. Add to this a brace of cuts from Trina Broussard's cancelled So So Def LP, 'Inside My Love' (including the lovely 'Sailing'), and great tunes from Martha Reeves (the gospel-flavoured 'Love Strong Enough To Move Mountains'), Gladys Knight & The Pips ('Hold On' from the Curtis Mayfield-penned 'Claudine' soundtrack) and Mtume ('Closer To The End') and you've undoubtedly got an album that will bring most soul connoisseurs to a state of orgasm. The title says it all really.
(CW) 4/5

 

BOBBY WOMACK: 'Roads Of Life' (Label: Expansion)

Wednesday, 12 December 2007 11:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

BOBBY WOMACK: 'Roads Of Life'

After a fertile five-year stint at United Artists in the first half of the '70s (which yielded classic albums like 'Facts Of Life,' and the 1974 US R&B chart topping 45, 'Lookin' For A Love') Bobby Womack decamped to Columbia where he recorded a couple of moderately successful albums ('Home Is Where The Heart Is' and 'Pieces'). The gravel-voiced soul troubadour nicknamed 'The Preacher' then moved on to Clive Davis's fledgling Arista set-up. However, Womack's tenure at Arista was all too brief and yielded only a solitary album, 1979's 'Roads Of Life,' which has just been reissued for the first time. Though often dismissed by aficionados of Womack's earlier work as being too disco-tinged, 'Roads Of Life,' in my opinion, represents something of an overlooked masterpiece in the Womack canon. It's not without significance that the 8-song set is co-produced by L.A.-based keyboard player, Patrick Moten, who would go on to helm Womack's perceived magnum opus, 'The Poet,' four years later for the indie label, Beverley Glen. Womack's voice here is, as you'd expect, gritty and magnificently soulful, contrasting with Moten's super-slick, string and horn charts. The title track is a great opener, though it's eclipsed in terms of quality by 'How Could You Break My Heart,' an infectious mid-tempo groover, which due to demand, was granted a belated UK 12-inch release in 1987. 'The Roots In Me,' is another fine number, featuring an opening spoken monologue by Womack, lashings of churchy organ and silky background vocals from Leon Ware (Womack's co-writer) and Melissa Manchester. The tempo rises several notches for 'What Are You Doin',' a frenetic disco-inflected number, though with its messy lead vocal on the verse section, it proves to be the album's weakest cut. Much better is the mid-paced 'Give It Up,' and the closing ballad, 'I Honestly Love You.' Soul fans and Womack devotees should snap up this CD immediately, of course, though even casual browsers who only buy an occasional soul record will discover much to savour here.
(CW) 4/5

 

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