BETTY LAVETTE: Scene Of The Crime (Label: Anti)

Friday, 19 October 2007 08:10 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

BETTY LAVETTE: Scene Of The Crime

In terms of chart success, this 61-year-old raspy-voiced chanteuse hailing from Muskegon, Michigan, hasn't had the best of careers. In fact, her biggest smash came way back in 1962 when she broke into the Top 10 with the Atlantic 45, 'My Man - He's A Lovin' Man.' Success-wise, though, things could have been different for LaVette if Atlantic (during her second stint at the label) hadn't inexplicably shelved a promising 1972 album, 'Child Of The Seventies,' cut in Muscle Shoals (it was only recently issued by Rhino Handmade). But these setbacks seemingly haven't deterred the singer one iota, whose comeback started with the album, 'A Woman Like Me,' in 2004. The album scooped a Grammy and a year later, LaVette signed to Anti- where she recorded the critically lauded 'I've Got My Own Hell To Raise.' The title of this new album refers to the fact that LaVette has gone back to FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where she originally cut the lost 'Child Of The Seventies' some 35 years ago. There's no similarity between the two albums, though, apart from the recording location. 'Scene Of The Crime' is dark, sombre, raw and visceral. And there's nothing half as good as 'Your Turn To Cry' on it. Despite that, LaVette's astringent vocals are magnificently compelling - though Patterson Hood's austere production sound (his band, The Drive-By Truckers, provide the backing) and choice of material leaves something to be desired. This album tends to follow the same route that Solomon Burke adhered to when he cut 'Don't Give Up On Me,' a few years ago. There's more rock than soul, as the presence of material by Elton John ('Talking Old Soldiers') will attest. In fact, it's the kind of record that rock fans will embrace but soul fans (especially in the UK) will probably ignore. The real crime, I think, is that LaVette didn't get to work with more imaginative musicians and better quality material.
(CW) 3/5


WALTER JACKSON: Speak Her Name , the Okeh Recordings Volume 3 (Label: Kent)

Friday, 19 October 2007 08:08 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

WALTER JACKSON: Speak Her Name , the Okeh Recordings Volume 3

There are few male voices in soul as luxuriously opulent and caressingly smooth as Walter Jackson's resonant baritone. The Florida-born singer spent most of his life on crutches - he suffered from polio - and tragically, died while only in his mid-forties back in 1983. Fortunately for soul fans, he left a rich musical legacy behind that includes recordings done for the Brunswick, Chi-Town, Cotillion and Columbia labels. Arguably, though, his most significant sides were cut for Okeh in the mid to late '60s. Ace's Kent imprint - and in particular compiler/annotator, Tony Rounce - has done a tremendous job in reissuing Jackson's neglected Okeh output on CD. This, the third and final instalment chronicling the final phase of the soul singer's Okeh tenure, is arguably the best. The first ten tracks belong to Jackson's 1967 LP, 'Speak Her Name,' which included the R&B smashes 'It's An Uphill Climb To The Bottom,' 'After You There Can Be Nothing' and 'A Corner In The Sun.' The album - an amalgam of smooth uptown soul and Tin Pan Alley covers - also includes the lovely Bacharach-David tune, 'They Don't Give Medals To Yesterday's Heroes,' which Jackson imbues with a mellow poignancy. There are ten bonus tracks: a collection of non-album 45s and their flips plus a brace of unreleased tunes. Jackson's two Epic singles from 1969 are also present, making this an excellent, value-for-money collection that dedicated soul fans shouldn't ignore.
(CW) 4/5


LEDISI: Lost And Found (Label: Verve Forecast)

Friday, 19 October 2007 08:05 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

LEDISI: Lost And Found

The soul cognoscenti have known about this Oakland-based singer/songwriter since 2001 when her jaw-droppingly good debut album - a compelling meld of neo-soul vibes, contemporary urban jams and a subtle but telling soupcon of jazz - slipped out on small indie label, Le Sun Music. That album, 'Soulsinger,' heralded the arrival of a supremely talented performer who not only had a fabulous voice but could write a decent tune and pen intelligent lyrics. After the jazz-oriented follow-up, 'Feeling Orange But Sometimes Blue,' a year later, Ledisi fell off the radar for a while until she surfaced on the Luther Vandross homage, 'Forever, For Always For Luther.' Recently heard on another multi-artist compilation ('We All Love Ella'), the diminutive powerhouse chanteuse now has the backing of a major label and with it an important opportunity to reach a wider audience and shake off 'soul music's best kept secret' tag. Three long years in gestation, 'Lost & Found' is a superlative showcase for Ledisi Young's extraordinary talent. There are so many highlights that it's hard to cherry pick favourites. 'Get To Know You' is a slinky mid-tempo affair while the funky Chaka-esque 'Upside Down' combines jazz scatting with a driving, danceable backbeat. 'In The Morning' is a sultry slow jam for the wee-small hours, as is the poignant title track, where Ledisi's plaintive voice is counterpointed by a solo violin over a bare piano accompaniment. With any luck this scintillating album should give Ledisi the breakthrough her talent deserves and transform her into a household name. Fingers crossed then.
(CW) 4/5


VARIOUS: Zell's Girls (Label: Ace)

Friday, 19 October 2007 08:04 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: Zell's Girls

Zelma 'Zell' Sanders was a Harlem/Bronx-based music entrepreneur who through the fifties and sixties ran a number of labels - notably J&S, Zells and Dice. She began in the business way back in 1955 when she managed The Hearts who recorded for the Baton label. Interestingly the Hearts featured the talents of Baby Washington and the skills of Rex Garvin as chief accompanist; a couple of their vintage sides are featured here. But the bulk of the 28 cuts come from Sanders' own labels and as the title suggests the artists are the various girl groups and odd solo chanteuses that Zell seemed to favour. Most famous of the groups is the Jaynetts - best remembered for their 'Sally Go Round The Roses'. That particular song isn't here - it was licensed to Abner Spector's Tuff label, but they do get a generous half a dozen cuts . Musically, it's the classic NY girl group sound that just predates the soul era and though none of the songs are truly special (Zelma wrote most if them for the royalties) there's no denying they have a certain innocent charm. Try the Jaynetts' 'Peepin' In And Out The Windows' and Taffie Lee's early Motown-esque 'Stay Away From My Baby' to get the feeling. The CD's notes come courtesy of girl group expert Mick Patrick and he fills in all the relevant details and even manages to make some sense of the tortuous comings and goings within the groups' ranks. A typical Ace issue this - one with real appeal to collectors.
(BB) 3/5


VARIOUS: Wants List 3 (Label: Soul Brother)

Friday, 19 October 2007 08:03 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: Wants List 3

As the titling indicates, this is the third Soul Brother Wants List compilation and the brothers behind the label claim it's the best to date - happily I have to agree. Here you get a very generous 17 rare groove 70s cuts from right across the soul spectrum and there really is something for every true soul fan. Anoraks will already know stuff like the Modulations' swirling 'It's Rough Out Here' and Arnold Blair's rightly-loved 'Trying To Get Next To You'. Diggers and seekers will delight in the Barry White-produced 'Just As Long As We're Together' from the underrated Gloria Scott and the ultra-rare 'Feels Good' from Michelle Wiley. My first few listens put that cut as the standout. It's a real roller of a song that really does make you feel good. Repeated listens, though, made me realize that there are no standouts here - everything is of the highest calibre and cherry picking becomes redundant. Worthy of brief mention however are Carl Davis's 'Show Me The Way To Love' (the veteran producer doing his own Johnny Bristol thing) and Ernie Hines' Curtom-esque 'Electrified Love'. Two other great and distinctive soul voices are on display too - Betty Everett with the lovely 'Wandering' and Archie Bell's with his 'Harder And Harder'. Other featured artists include Betty Wright, the Fatback Band, and Ken Williams. George and Gwen McCrae, Passion and William Bell - and vinyl collectors should note that the set comes in a limited edition vinyl pack too.
(BB) 4/5


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