Reviews

THE MAIN INGREDIENT: Spinning Around: The Singles 1967-1975 (Label: Kent)

Saturday, 10 November 2007 07:10 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

THE MAIN INGREDIENT: Spinning Around: The Singles 1967-1975

In a heady purple patch between 1970 and 1976, this sweet-voiced New York harmony trio notched up sixteen smashes on Billboard's R&B chart. But despite their popularity Stateside, in the UK it was a different story and the group could only muster a solitary British chart entry with 'Just Don't Want To Be Lonely,' which reached the lower end of the Top 30 in 1974. This fact is almost certainly responsible for the conspicuous absence of Main Ingredient CDs in the racks of British record stores. Now, though, that lamentable situation has been remedied by Ace's reliable Kent imprint, which has released this fabulous 22-track singles retrospective that should both appease and please the group's UK fans. What makes this chronological collection exciting - and a cut above the many available US compilations - is the presence of the group's late-'60s RCA 45s when they were known as The Insiders (before this, the trio comprising Tony Silvester, Luther Simmons and Donald McPherson, called themselves The Poets). There are three Insiders' tracks here, of which the Impressions-influenced number, 'I'm Better Off Without You' from 1967, stands out. By 1969, when the group had morphed into the Main Ingredient, the harmonies were tighter and the arrangements slicker. 'You've Been My Inspiration' was the group's debut US hit in 1970, but it was preceded by several tasty chart flops - most notably, the superb 'Brotherly Love,' with its laudable message of racial unity. Just as fame beckoned, though, tragedy struck - singer, Donald McPherson, died of leukaemia in 1971 just shy of his 30th birthday. His death didn't halt the group's progress and with his replacement, Cuba Gooding, on board, in 1972 they scored their biggest hit with 'Everybody Plays The Fool.' The group's undoubted forte was for romantic ballads, which they rendered with sweet - but not sickly or cloying - harmonies. They could also handle uptempo material with style and aplomb too, as the driving 'Black Seeds Keep On Growing,' 'Happiness Is Around The Bend' and 'California My Way' all vividly demonstrate. Like fellow soft-soul harmonisers, Blue Magic, the Main Ingredient have been often overlooked and underrated in recent years. With any luck, though, this stunning compilation will help revive interest in one of soul's greatest harmony groups.
(CW) 5/5

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Soul Togetherness 2007 (Label: Expansion)

Friday, 09 November 2007 13:21 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Soul Togetherness 2007

With hordes of soul devotees about to descend on Blackpool this coming weekend (9th and 10th of November) for the annual 'Togetherness' weekender, Expansion has released this tasty 15-track assemblage devoted to showcasing some of the tastiest Modern Soul morsels doing serious damage on the specialist dance floors and airwaves. The album kicks off with 'Don't Take It Too Hard,' a storming uptempo slice of retro-disco-soul from Finnish singer/songwriter, Tuomo. In fact, Tuomo, is one of several European artists featured on this superlative compilation - others include Wahoo from Germany (the hypnotic 'Don't Take It Personal'); Tassel & Naturel from France (the gorgeously mellow 'Let Love Shine'); Seven from Switzerland (his 'Brother & Sister' features vocalist, Tamar Davis); and Danish twosome, Cool Million, whose 'Naughty Girl' is fronted by singer, Lene Riebau. But the international connection doesn't end there, as the lovely Incognito-style 'Beauty-Flow' by Japanese act, Jazztronik illustrates. Of the Stateside tracks present here, gospel chanteuse, Darlene McCoy, impresses with the irresistible testifying groove of 'U-N-I-T-Y.' There's even more Holy Roller spirit in 'I Really Love You,' an aisle-stomping gospel number by Norman Hutchins but the track that really catches the ear is a brilliant brand new cut called 'Satisfied' (exclusive to this collection) by veteran vocalist, Alicia Myers. If that wasn't enough, there is a couple of tasty golden oldies in the shape of Rena Scott's 'We Can Make It Better' (an addictive slice of Mtume-Lucas helmed disco-soul in the vein of Phyllis Hyman's 'You Know How To Love Me' from 1979) and Billy Griffin's 'Romantic Number' from 1992. All in all, then, a terrific collection and one that offers a vivid snapshot of today's 'Togetherness' Modern Soul scene.
(CW) 4/5

 

BLUE MAGIC: Blue Magic (Label: Rhino)

Friday, 09 November 2007 12:23 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

BLUE MAGIC: Blue Magic

Soul historians often argue why Philly quintet Blue Magic weren't bigger stars. They debuted in 1974 with a wonderful eponymous 9 tracker that used the cream of the then Philadelphia scene. The band scored a run of deserved single hits but by the end the seventies they seemed a spent force, and despite comebacks, they're rarely mentioned in the same breath as Philly's big, big hitters from the same period. Hopefully with this new Rhino re-issue of that remarkable debut LP, Blue Magic might soon enjoy some belated glory. Essentially what you get here is a master class in sweet soul harmony singing which rivals anything laid down by the O'Jays, The Spinners, the Blues Notes, the Delfonics or the Stylistics at that time. The big hit 'Sideshow' kicks things off. You'll know it's a beautifully poignant ballad that's matched by stuff like 'What's Come Over Me', 'Stop To Start', 'Spell' and 'Answer To My Prayer'. If you like things a little more up-tempo, there's the crisp 'Welcome To The Club' and the crisper 'Look Me Up' while if you like to make direct comparisons try the Magic version of 'Just Don't Want To Be Lonely' in all its seven minute majesty. This re-mastered album includes three bonus cuts - two single B-sides ( 'Guess Who' and 'Where Have You Been') and the Tom Moulton mix of 'Look Me Up'. Main Magic man, Ted Mills has just made a comeback as part of the Three Philly Tenors, and though that trio's album is hugely enjoyable, there's nothing there that matches the wonderful seventies soul herein. Time now for everyone to catch up on the magic of the blue… this album incidentally is part of Rhino's big re-issue programme that also sees classic albums from people like Leroy Hutson, Ace Spectrum, Prince Phillip Mitchell, Ronn Matlock and Gwen McCrae deservedly back on the racks.
(BB) 5/5

 

THE STAPLE SINGERS: The Very Best Of (Label: Stax)

Thursday, 08 November 2007 10:55 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

THE STAPLE SINGERS: The Very Best Of


Any seasoned soul fan worth his or her salt will probably possess numerous Stax 'Best Of' compilations in their respective record and CD collections. However, novices seeking to acquaint themselves with a Stax act or two - or even inveterate collectors looking to update their collections - will find something of interest in a newly remastered batch of 'Very Best Of' titles issued by the revitalised Memphis soul label. The stellar Stax careers of William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MGs and the Dramatics are all individually featured in a clutch of new Rob Bowman-annotated compilations. The one that caught my ear, however, is devoted to those pioneers of gospel-infused soul, the Staple Singers. Led by Mavis's lusty, volcanic vocals and Pops' blues-drenched guitar, the quartet's unique brand of sanctified Windy City soul achieved global popularity thanks to memorable songs like 'Respect Yourself' and 'I'll Take You There' in the early '70s. Naturally, both those tunes are included on this sterling 20-track retrospective, which also features 'Heavy Makes You Happy,' 'If You're Ready (Come Go With Me),' 'Touch A Hand, Make A Friend' and 'City In The Sky.' The remastered sound quality is excellent and its transparency allows every nuance of the original recordings to shine through. Bowman's perceptive liner notes are a bonus, too, helping to reaffirm the fact that when it came to message-laden gospel-soul, the Staples were absolutely peerless. If, perchance, you're searching for the meaning of soul, have no qualms - you'll find it here.
(CW) 4/5

 

RAMP: Come Into Knowledge (Label: Blue Thumb)

Wednesday, 07 November 2007 11:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

RAMP: Come Into Knowledge

Forgotten cult soul-funk group, RAMP began life as Saturday Night Special, a Cincinnati-based covers band formed in 1975 by guitarist, Landy Shores, and drummer, John Manuel, who had previously earned a crust backing up the Spinners on US tour dates. Roy Ayers got to hear the band a year later after a recommendation from Spinner, Billy Henderson, and suitably impressed, signed them to ABC's Blue Thumb imprint where he had a production deal going. Ayers rechristened the band RAMP (an acronym for Roy Ayers Music Productions) and helmed this ultra-rare one-off LP in 1977, which was largely forgotten until A Tribe Called Quest used 'Daylight' from the album as the basis for their 1990 smash hit 'Bonita Applebum.' Now available on CD for the first time, 'Come Into Knowledge' proves to be an absorbing cache of jazz-infused funk and ethereal cosmic soul. There's a great version of Ayers' summer anthem, 'Everybody Loves The Sunshine' - originally issued by the group as a single - but the searing guitar-driven funk of the album's opener, 'The American Promise', is even better and reminiscent, perhaps, of the vibes maestro's classic track, '2000 Black,' from a few years earlier. This is not surprising, perhaps, given the extent of Ayers' input - he's the sole producer here and pens/co-pens all but one of the album's nine songs. Sonically, then, the album differs little from Ayers' Ubiquity LPs from the same timeframe though it's distinguished by a conspicuous absence of the great man's signature vibraphone sound. The group's two lead female vocalists, Sharon Matthews and Sibel Thrasher, offer something different, contributing a spacey, soulful vibe to the proceedings, especially on the ballad, 'I Just Love You,' the haunting title track and the dreamy 'Daylight.' A tremendous reissue, despite the disappointing absence of liner notes.
(CW) 4/5

 

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