Reviews

OTIS REDDING: 'Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul' (Label: Rhino)

Thursday, 17 April 2008 11:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

OTIS REDDING: 'Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul'

If you asked a seasoned soul veteran to compile a list of the Top 20 soul albums of all time, there's a strong chance that it would include this classic opus, first issued in the States on Stax's Volt subsidiary in October 1965. Soon after its release, 'Otis Blue' topped Billboard's R&B album charts, cementing raspy-voiced Redding's position as one of the pre-eminent soul singers of the mid-'60s. It's been reissued on CD before, of course, but this new collectors' edition is a deluxe 2-CD set crammed with a heap of bonus material. The original 11-track LP has certainly stood the test of time. Otis's earthy, passionate, deeply sensual voice with its rich gospel inflections has a raw cathartic power that epitomises soul music at its very best. Like all great singers, he's able to transmute other peoples' songs and fashion them in his own image - just listen to the way he takes on the Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction' and transforms a classic rock song into a stomping, sock-it-to-'em soul workout complete with horn fanfares. He also reworks a trio of old Sam Cooke tunes ('A Change Is Gonna Come,' 'Shake' and 'Wonderful World') and injects them with a more intensely emotional sense of depth. The album, of course, contains the original version of 'Respect,' a self-penned tune which Aretha Franklin later transmogrified into a feminist anthem. It also features the plaintive, voice-shredding, angst-ballad, 'I've Been Loving You Too Long,' which was a key song in Redding's live shows. In this latest CD configuration, the mono version of the LP is presented first, followed by several alternate mixes (three of which are previously unissued) and six tracks recorded live at the Whisky A Go Go in April 1966. The second CD includes the original stereo mix of the LP and also features a later re-recording of 'Respect.' In addition, you'll find five live versions of tracks from 'Otis Blue' recorded in Europe during March 1967. To be honest, the bonus studio material doesn't really enhance our appreciation or understanding of 'Otis Blue,' though the live cuts undoubtedly offer a vivid snapshot of the singer's combustible in-concert performances. A landmark album from one of soul's greatest practitioners.
(CW) 5/5

 

TRINA BROUSSARD: 'Inside My Love' (Label: Expansion)

Thursday, 17 April 2008 11:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

TRINA BROUSSARD: 'Inside My Love'

Sometimes there are decisions made by record companies in relation to soul music acts that are absolutely unfathomable to fans and collectors. Why, for example, did Atlantic shelve fine solo LPs by Sam Moore and Bettye LaVette in the early '70s? And why did Motown elect to consign perfectly good albums by Brenda Holloway and David Ruffin to a cobwebbed future in the vaults? Of course, the record companies will probably cite what they perceive as valid reasons to justify their decisions - budgetary constraints perhaps or maybe even a disagreement with the artists themselves. Sometimes, though, just a change of regime and personnel at the company can affect the fate of an album. This preamble leads us to consider another - and much more recent - 'canned' album. Houston native, Trina Broussard - who sang backgrounds for the likes of Pebbles, Toni Braxton, Babyface and Mariah Carey in the '90s - was signed to producer Jermaine Dupri's So So Def label (then an imprint of Sony/Columbia) in 1997, where she recorded a version of Minnie Riperton's 'Inside My Love' for the 'Love Jones' movie soundtrack. Released as a single, the record made the lower reaches of the US R&B lists. The single 'Love So Much' followed two years later, a precursor to the parent debut album, 'Inside My Love.' Promo copies were distributed by the record company but inexplicably, just before its official release, Columbia pulled the plug and shelved the album. The reason behind their action isn't clear to outsiders but quickly the existing promos began exchanging hands for big sums of money. Nine years later and the in-demand 10-track album - hailed as a lost classic by those who'd previously heard it - finally sees the light of day thanks to the resourcefulness of Expansion. Almost a decade on and unlike a lot of modern R&B, it doesn't sound dated. It also boasts an impressive cast of A-list contributors, ranging from Rahsaan Patterson and Alicia Keys (co-author of 'Why Do I Feel So Sad') to Trey Lorenz and James Poyser. The title track is a sublime reading of the Leon Ware-co-penned original - it's sleek, sensuous and soulful. 'Sailing' is probably the killer cut: a gorgeously breezy cut with an infectious chorus. 'Not Around' also boasts an addictive hook, while the slower 'All Night Long' blends a churchy, gospel feel with jazz inflections. Also listen out for 'Remember Me,' a summery, sweetly soulful mid-tempo number whose gently undulating groove is seasoned with slivers of Hammond organ. The original 10-track album is appended by a bonus cut in the shape of the Yuletide tune, 'It's Not Really Christmas.' Broussard has her third album, 'Life Of A Libra,' scheduled for a 2008 release - but until that surfaces, this lost treasure should satisfy the most discerning of soul fans. Superb. You can buy it from http://www.expansionrecords.com
(CW) 4/5

 

LIZZ WRIGHT: The Orchard (Label: Verve)

Wednesday, 16 April 2008 11:18 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

LIZZ WRIGHT: The Orchard

Lizz Wright, I'm told, is the darling of the Radio 2 Sunday morning jazz crew. Her last album, 'Dreaming Wide Awake' was espoused by Michael Parkinson, and Ms. Wright soon found herself in the same category as Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and others of the Starbucks skinny latte and almond croissant brigade. However, though there are cuts here that are superficially light ('Another Angel' and 'Speak Your Heart' for instance), they're outweighed by those with a true, soulful introspection. The opening track, 'Coming Home', is a good example. It's a broody song and though not overtly gospel, its lyric and delivery betray the singer's rural church roots. Blues roots are at the heart of the version of Ike Turner's 'I Idolize You'; the late night piano of Kenny Banks adding to the mood there. 'My Heart' has a real hard edge too and together, those three songs will surely challenge the Sunday morning crew - as too will the LP's most beguiling cut - 'Song For Mia'. This one has a real country feel - accentuated by the acoustic guitar of co-writer Toshi Reagon but it's the oblique lyrics, taking us into Leonard Cohen/Joni Mitchell territory, that provide the stimulus. There's more questioning in the album's so-called 'bonus cut' - a plaintive take on the Mel Tillis-penned/Patsy Cline-associated country song 'Strange' which echoes the feel of the singer's 'Salt' long player. There's no doubts that parts of 'The Orchard' will find their way onto the Radio 2 schedules, but equally some of its fruit will add fuel to the contention that Liz Wright is a major and serious jazz player.
(BB) 4/5

 

THE EMBERS: The Show Must Go On (Label: Bluewater)

Tuesday, 15 April 2008 16:47 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

THE EMBERS: The Show Must Go On

The Embers must be the perfect modern soul group. The core members have been round the musical block several times while the sounds they purvey have that delicious, comforting retro feel. In other words they're not really "modern" at all but in the world of music biz tags, "modern soul" is how they're categorized… and I guess there's nothing wrong with that. The Embers, themselves, won't be bothered; they have a decent fan base and know how to keep their followers happy. Said fan base will revel in the "new" familiarity of the music here, particularly the big opener, 'The Last Time I'm Saying Goodbye'. It has all the key ingredients of what you can expect from the Embers - sweet melody, great vocals, sympathetic harmonies, real instrumentation and a precise rhythm that echoes the song's old-fashioned structure. You see most Embers' songs have a beginning, middle and an end … see what I meant about old-fashioned? Dip in anywhere here and you'll enjoy more of the same, what's more you'll be metaphorically scratching your head wondering where you've heard a particular line, a snatch of melody or a vocal inflection before. 'Loving On Borrowed Time', for instance, has the feel of an old Blue Magic ballad, 'Not So Long Ago' might recall the innocence of a Peaches and Herb duet while 'I've Done Things With You' knicks the opening line from 'How Do You Keep The Music Playing'. Over the dozen cuts, though, my main point of reference was mellow-moment Tower of Power. However, the Embers are Tower of Power without the power and indeed the passion. At the end of the day, the Embers make a polite, even sanitized, version of modern soul. Not that that will bother their fans - especially the Northwest modern soul crew. They'll lap up the cosy familiarly of 'The Show Must Go On' but I can't help thinking that there's something more adventurous, more exciting and, dare I say it, more truly soulful out there. This album's currently available via www.soulchoonz.com
(BB) 3/5

 

LITTLE MILTON: If Walls Could Talk (Label: Shout)

Monday, 14 April 2008 14:17 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

LITTLE MILTON: If Walls Could Talk

Despite a committed fan base - here and in the States - Little Milton (Campbell) never quite made it to the major leagues and this reissue of his fourth full album for Chess/Checker perhaps explains why. Born in a sharecropper's hut in rural Mississippi, his first love was the blues, and singing and playing a mean guitar in that genre for labels like Sun and Meteor he enjoyed some local success. That success brought him to Chess at the time when the label was beginning to experiment with what to become labelled "soul". Working with producers like Billy Davis and Calvin Carter, Milton's sound became a kind of hybrid of tough blues and the new soul music and though he did score a decent run of hits, maybe his music was too bluesy for the uptown soul crew and too smooth for the blues crowd. Here on 'If Walls Could Talk' you can clearly hear that dichotomy. There's plenty of straight blues and generous helpings of brassy soul along with a fetching mix of both styles - best typified by a frantic reading of 'Kansas City'. Standout cut though is a lovely version of Jimmy Holiday's 'Baby I Love You', which proves that the man was a contender. The LP's original eleven tracks are boosted with five extra cuts, including 'Grits Ain't Groceries' - which remains his best known cut in the UK. When Chess folded Little Milton went to Stax where he was allowed to return to a more full-on blues approach. After Stax and a succession of smaller labels he eventually found a home at Malaco, where his impactful blues won a Grammy nomination. Little Milton died in 2005 aged 75, leaving a substantial back catalogue which is worth serious investigation by anyone who cares about real, committed black music and this 17 tracker is an excellent place to start.
(BB) 3/5

 

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