KIRK FRANKLIN: The Fight Of My Life (Label: Zomba)

Friday, 01 February 2008 11:40 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

KIRK FRANKLIN: The Fight Of My Life

Sadly, too many so-called soul fans don't get gospel. They seem to have a built in resistance to anything vaguely spiritual. Craving simple beats and hook-laden melodies, they fail to see that gospel and real soul are one and the same thing… indeed without the former we wouldn't have the latter to enjoy. Committed, long term soul lovers know that simple fact full well and they also know that Kirk Franklin is perhaps the current, leading gospel-soul practitioner. Franklin debuted in 1993 with his 17 member choir dubbed his "Family" and together they laid down a template that has served their collective ministry well for more than a decade. That template involves Kirk's emotive, testifying semi-spoken vocal trading licks with sweet ensemble choral work and though that idea might seem limiting, Franklin's albums are never one-dimensional. Indeed with imaginative production work, varied material and creative arrangements the Family's albums never cease to delight and (like all good soul music) provoke and challenge with their lyrics. This new 16 tracker is typical of Franklin's oeuvre. The template we've described is obvious, but with a great mix of up-tempo material, sensitive ballads, old school soul, R&B, traditional gospel - even rock, there're plenty of variety. For those who like to dance, 'Declaration' is the heavy-hitter. The LP's first single, it recalls prime time Sounds Of Blackness, while 'Hide Me' will delight those who like things more sophisticated. This one's a light summery sound with a gentle hint of Earth Wind and Fire and a killer melodic hook. Ballads? Well, 'Help Me Believe' is sweet, 'Still' is classic old soul while 'Chains' is big and dramatic. From a personal perspective I wasn't too taken by the rock guitar that dominates 'I Am God' or the booming R&B beats on 'I Like Me' but I understand why they're there and they're more than made up for by stuff like the modern soul dancer that is 'Jesus' and the almost funky 'Little Boy'. Believers will connect immediately with 'The Fight Of My Life' while for the doubters we mentioned up top, I'd recommend the album as an excellent starter pack to help unlock the soulful wonders of modern gospel music.
(BB) 4/5


VARIOUS: 'Music From The Wattstax Festival & Film' 35th Anniversary Expanded & Remastered Edition (Label: Stax )

Tuesday, 29 January 2008 11:26 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: 'Music From The Wattstax Festival & Film' 35th Anniversary Expanded & Remastered Edition

The date: August 20th 1972. The location: the Los Angeles Coliseum. The event: Wattstax, black America's answer to the Woodstock Festival. Those are the bare facts, but what they don't tell is the cultural, political and social significance of a concert whose principal aim was to celebrate black unity and give financial aid to the impoverished Watts' community after the riots of 1967. It was also employed by Memphis-based Stax Records to gain a West Coast foothold. Stax historian Rob Bowman's absorbing liner notes tell the whole story with pertinent quotes from many of the key participants. The music, spread over three CDs, features many previously unissued tracks, and provides a vivid reminder of the day when 112,000 people crammed together to witness unforgettable performances by pivotal Stax artists like Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla and Rufus Thomas, The Emotions, The Bar-Kays and The Temprees. Also present is the rest of the then Stax roster: Mel & Tim, William Bell, The Rance Allen Group, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Frederick Knight, Little Milton, David Porter, The Soul Children, Johnny Taylor and Kim Weston (Luther Ingram also performed but due to an ongoing legal issue, his performance is sadly omitted from this 35th Anniversary package). Other highlights include Jesse Jackson's inspirational opening speech and a couple of comic interludes by comedian Richard Pryor before Hollywood stole his soul. This wonderful, culturally significant, musical artefact is available via Universal's Import Music Services.
(CW) 4/5


MARVIN GAYE: 'Here, My Dear' EXPANDED EDITION (Label: Hip-O Select)

Friday, 25 January 2008 11:04 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Out of the ugliness of Marvin Gaye's acrimonious divorce from Anna Gordy in 1977 something beautiful emerged: 'Here, My Dear,' a warts 'n' all autobiographical album that graphically chronicled his failed marriage to Berry Gordy's sister, a woman 17 years his senior. Given that Gaye wasn't going to profit financially from the album - he had agreed with the authorities to hand over the proceeds to his ex-wife to settle spiralling divorce costs - he surprisingly poured his heart and soul into the project to create an inspired, frank, confessional that grew into a sprawling, epic, double album. Ironically, Marvin's musical efforts largely fell on deaf ears and the album, despite being attired in an eye-catching cover designed by Michael Bryan, sold poorly in comparison with the singer's previous long players (it didn't even spawn a hit single). Its ignominious commercial failure aside, over the years this over-looked and under-appreciated suite of songs has grown in stature with fans and critics alike and is now regarded as one of the keystones in the Marvin Gaye canon. This expanded 2-CD edition features a remastered version of the original LP on the first disc and a clutch of new mixes on the second one. Now sounding fresher than ever, it's easy to see - and hear - why 'Here, My Dear' continues to captivate soul fans. Marvin's multi-layered vocal performances are among his best ever and both the songs and arrangements are top drawer. The key track is the plaintive 'When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You,' which is heard in three different incarnations during the course of the album, each appearance denoting a new significance as Marvin's disintegrating relationship with his spouse unravels. 'Here, My Dear' for all its thematic negativity isn't wholly dominated by romantic angst. There are dark moments, certainly - like 'Anger,' wrapped in a spiky, insidious, funked-up groove; 'Is That Enough,' a mesmeric track brimming with irony and cynicism; and the brutal, businesslike, sexual politics that infuse 'You Can Leave But It's Going To Cost You.' But thankfully, the darkness is leavened with light - there are refulgent shafts of sunshine that punctuate the dark clouds of divorce, exemplified by 'I Met A Little Girl,' which is a sweet, doo-wop-infused ballad reflecting Gaye's early infatuation with Anna Gordy. And who can forget 'A Funky Space Reincarnation,' the dirtiest, slice of low down sex-funk that Gaye ever recorded? Then there's the euphoric penultimate track, 'Falling In Love Again,' where the promise of a new love affair (with teenager Janis Hunter) gives Gaye a sense of optimism and acts as a balm to heal old wounds. The new mixes on disc two might seem redundant to some, but in actual fact they shine a light on Gaye's creative processes, bringing into the foreground musical elements that were buried in the original mixes or even left out altogether (to his credit, reissue producer, Harry Weinger, didn't allow the remixers to resort to overdubs, samples and contemporary studio trickery). Those allowed to tweak the multi-track tapes in a decidedly old-school fashion include Bootsy Collins, Leon Ware, Marcus Miller, Prince Paul, DJ Smash, Salaam Remi and James Poyser, and the results are largely fascinating. Thirty years ago, 'Here My Dear' was met with critical and commercial indifference - today, though, the album is heralded by some commentators (including liner note writer, David Ritz) as a masterpiece. Rightly so, to my mind - and if this album, by any chance, has passed you by, there's no better time to get acquainted with it.
(CW) 5/5


RAHEEM DeVAUGHN: Love Behind The Melody (Label: Jive)

Friday, 25 January 2008 09:52 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

RAHEEM DeVAUGHN: Love Behind The Melody

DeVaughn's debut album, 'The Love Experience,' announced the arrival of an interesting soul talent. Now with the follow up, 'Love Behind The Melody', to that "interesting" we can add "major". This new set, you see, is a cleverly thought-out affair on which producers like Mark Batson, Scott Storch, Kenny Dope and Kwame have crafted cuts that not only bring out the best in Raheem's emotive voice but which have appeal right across the back music spectrum. Truly there's something for everyone here - a fact best illustrated by the lead single, 'Woman'. Rightly Grammy-nominated, it's ultra-catchy … but more - its tight beats will satisfy the modern room dancers while its broody feel will surely appeal to the R&B brigade too. Elsewhere thing are more defined and less hybrid but there's still enough to satisfy all kinds of congregations. 'Energy' - with sinister bass runs that call to mind Gnarls Barclay's 'Crazy' - offers an R&B dance groove, underlined by the inclusion of Big Boi's rap while the stuttery 'Customer' will please those who dig the R. Kelly approach. Neo-soul is represented by cuts like 'Butterflies' and the Amp Fiddler-ish 'Try Again' and if you like slinky balladry there's plenty on offer. Catchy pop-soul? Well grab a listen to 'Friday (Shut The Club)'. Sampling the Temptations' 'My Girl', I immediately dismissed it as lightweight gimmickry. But, several listens later, its appeal had grown - if the label need a chart hit, this is the one. Away from the gimmickry, Raheem shows he can "do real soul" on 'Mo Better' and 'Four Letter Word'. The former is a long, 7-minute ramble with a real maturity; the latter is great old skool ballad. If that's not enough the LP boasts a tremendous Kenny Dope-produced central section. It begins with a spoken word piece from Malik Yusef and finishes with a Floetry collaboration called 'Marathon'. In between the multi-layered harmonies, the intricate rhythms and vocal whoops of 'Desire' and 'Midnight' will, believe me, remind you of Mr. Gaye and though it's not credited, 'Flying High In The Friendly Sky' is the clear inspiration. Like I said up top, Raheem DeVaughn is now much, much more than interesting …worthy of serious investigation this.
(BB) 4/5


JOHNNY ADAMS: 'Heart & Soul' (Label: Vampisoul)

Friday, 25 January 2008 07:43 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

JOHNNY ADAMS: 'Heart & Soul'

Big Easy-born soul singer, Johnny Adams, possessed a magnificent set of pipes - his athletic, gospel-reared voice was rich, resonant and wonderfully expressive - but fate, combining with the perplexing vagaries of the music business, conspired to prevent him from becoming a household name. Adams scored his first Billboard US chart entry for the New Orleans indie RIC as far back as 1962 with the Top 30 R&B smash, 'A Losing Battle' but another six years passed before Adams was able to make another successful foray into the higher reaches of the R&B lists. By then he was signed to entrepreneur Shelby Singleton's SSS International label based in Nashville. It was while he was with SSS that he scored his biggest smash, 'Reconsider Me,' which broke into the R&B Top 10 in the summer of '69. That fabulous country-infused ballad with its pleading refrain appeared on Adams' solitary LP for the company, 'Heart & Soul,' which now gets a welcome reissue courtesy of the Madrid-based label, Vampisoul. As well as the original 11-track album from 1969, six bonus tracks from the same timeframe have been added, making this a rewarding package for soul connoisseurs. The album kicks off with a magnificent opener, 'Georgia Morning Dew,' which marries soul with a distinctive country feel (not surprising given SSS's Nashville connection). Adams also delivers a brilliant soul-infused performance of the old country hit, 'Release Me,' which was an R&B chart-topper for Esther Phillips in 1962 and also a big pop smash for kitsch lounge crooner Engelbert Humperdinck in the UK. As well as striking ballads, there are some strong uptempo numbers on the album - like the funky 'You Made A New Man Out Of Me,' originally a non-album flipside, and the propulsive groover, 'South Side Of Soul Street.' Sadly, Johnny Adams - who resurfaced as a blues singer in the '80s and '90s - died from cancer in 1998 aged 66, thereby depriving the world of one of soul music's most compelling and passionate male voices. For those who are unfamiliar with the man dubbed 'the Tan Canary,' this compilation provides an essential introduction.
(CW) 4/5


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