NATALIE GARDINER: California (Label: Ramjac)

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 10:30 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


Despite this album's title, Natalie Gardiner hails from Uppsala in deepest darkest Sweden where in the long cold winters she immersed herself in her mother's extensive jazz and soul collection. 'California' is her second full album and repeated listens betray those influences. Ms. Gardiner has her own very particular vocal style. It's laid back and cool and you'll hear traces of people like Minnie Riperton, Sade and even Jill Scott and Norah Jones. Her laid back, almost laconic approach is matched by the music which is supplied by some of Sweden's top session players. However, their instrumentation is largely electronic and therein lies the problem. It all sounds too sterile to be truly soulful and though Natalie offers passion the players sound too detached from her particular commitment to the lyric. Occasionally it does come together - as on 'Summer Rain' and 'On The Low'. That first one boasts a decent if wistful melody line and creates its own tension; the other cut offers precise clipped beats and could almost encourage dancers … note - I say "almost". There, you see, is another of the album's drawbacks. The eleven tracks are all very serious - some would even say po-faced. There is nothing here that could be called optimistic. Even the deepest soul album usually offers a degree of lightness or maybe a hint of joy or the prospect of better times to come. Here Natalie and cohorts wallow in doom and gloom… maybe it's that Scandinavian winter… I don't know. I just feel that 'California' should have a little brightness.
(BB) 3/5


DORIS DUKE: Woman (Label: Shout)

Monday, 10 March 2008 10:45 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


The redoubtable Doris Duke is real underground soul heroine. Her reputation rests chiefly on her wondrous 1969 album 'I'm A Loser' - often cited as the definitive deep soul LP - though real anoraks will also recall the singles she cut as Doris Willingham. Her cult status brought her to England in 1974 where she recorded an album for John Abbey's Contempo label. Abbey, of course, was the founder and editor of Blues and Soul magazine and his label was a spin off from the magazine's then huge popularity. Using the cream of British session players dubbed "Ultrafunk and the Armada Orchestra", Duke and Abbey cut nine tracks which were issued as the 'Woman' album in 1975. The LP wasn't particularly well-received - possibly because it was heavy on cover versions - and till now it's lain in the vault - neglected and dusty. This welcome Shout reissue shows that the original indifference to the set was misplaced and though purists will say it doesn't match the heights of 'Loser' it does have many fine moments and even on fairly pedestrian material like Bunny Sigler's 'Grasshopper' and Gamble and Huff's 'A Little Bit Of Your Love', Duke's majestically world-weary and truly soulful voice carries the day. Amongst the real highlights are a cover of Carla Thomas' 'Pick Up The Pieces' and a slowed-down version of the Supremes' 'Love Is Here And Now You're Gone'. On that one the obvious influence was Margie Joseph's famous take on 'Stop In the Name Of Love' and like Margie, Doris quite transforms what is essentially a pop hit into a soul stunner. There's more not-to-be-missed deep soul in the covers of Harlan Howard's country song 'To Chicago With Love' and Irma Thomas' 'Full Time Woman' and listening to those it's hard to figure why the set was cold-shouldered in its day. Doris piles plenty of soul conviction into every cut and though the CD is short - running in at just over 40 minutes, investigation is recommended for anyone who cares about real soul and the unique stylists who craft it.
(BB) 4/5


NINA SIMONE: Tell It Like It Is (Label: Sony, BMG)

Wednesday, 05 March 2008 07:47 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

NINA SIMONE: Tell It Like It Is

There are probably more compilations and collections on Nina Simone than any other artist… and with good reason. Few musicians - in any genre - recorded as prolifically as she did. She once famously said, "Music is a monkey on my back. I can't get it off" and that monkey compelled her to perform and record whenever and wherever. Aside from "real" sessions, rehearsals, sound checks and actual performances were often committed to tape and that, coupled to the number of labels she worked for, explains the abundance of the lady's recordings. Here, though, with this new double 25 tracker we have something just a bit different. 'Tell It Like It Is' comes from Ms Simone's stay at RCA (1967-1973) and is made up of previously unreleased tracks, real rarities, and outtakes which include alternate versions of some of her better known recordings. As such it's a key album in understanding this artist's complexities and will appeal, rightly, to Simone collectors. However it will also serve as an excellent introduction for anyone who wants to come to grips with that huge back catalogue we alluded to up top. Here you hear Nina Simone in all her colours and complexions - tender love songs, jazzy romps, tortured personal introspections, feisty socio-political anthems, mournful blues, rousing spirituals and much more. And as ever, there are always surprises - like the Italian version of the Bee Gees' 'To Love Somebody' ('Cosi Ti Amo'), two very different versions of Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne' , a movingly, intense re-visit to Judy Collins' 'My Father' and the full ten minute plus Martin Luther King tribute, 'Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead)'. In those cuts alone you might just start to come to grips with the enigmas that made Nina Simone unique. To try to understand her totally there's an awful lot of albums to get through.
(BB) 4 out of 5


ERYKAH BADU: 'New Amerykah' (Label: Universal Motown)

Tuesday, 04 March 2008 12:19 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

ERYKAH BADU: 'New Amerykah'

Sadly, Erykah Badu's career has quite never lived up to the promise of her groundbreaking 1997 debut album, 'Baduism.' Steeped in a mixture of antique Billie Holiday records, new age mysticism and tripped-out hip-hop, 'Baduism' - along with D'Angelo's 'Brown Sugar' and Maxwell's 'Urban Hang Suite' from the same timeframe - helped set the whole neo-soul movement in motion. The album also spawned a host of Badu-inspired acolytes, including Philly soul-poet, Jill Scott, who has undoubtedly been the most successful of the idiosyncratic Texas singer's musical offspring. After 'Baduism' established her as one of the most original voices in black music, the singer born Erica Wright in 1971 released two further studio albums - 2000's 'Mama's Gun' and 2003's 'Worldwide Underground.' Although they went platinum and gold respectively in the States, they didn't - at least to my mind - have the appeal and attractiveness that characterised her debut. This new opus - only Badu's fifth long player - is a typically eclectic, and sometimes inscrutable, even self-indulgent, affair. It's intended, I think, as a satirical swipe at Uncle Sam and sub-titled 'Part One (4th World War)' - supposedly it's going to be followed up by a second instalment ('Part Two - Return Of The Ankh') later in the year. The brilliant, eye-catching cover is reminiscent of an old Funkadelic LP - and the CD booklet, too, is packed with bizarre illustrations and striking surrealist-style images accompanying Badu's often opaque lyrics. As for the music, well it's typical Erykah Badu - a sprawling, unpredictable melange of incantatory soul, jazz inflections, hip-hop attitude and R&B flavours. The funk-fuelled opening cut, 'Amerykahn Promise' is basically Badu and friends dropping a few spoken vocals over the 1977 Roy Ayers-produced RAMP track, 'American Promise.' By contrast, 'The Healer,' is an otherworldly piece with chanted vocals and minimal instrumentation (mostly percussion) that examines the intersection of hip-hop culture with the rest of the world. The hypnotic 'My People' is in a similar spaced-out vein. Much more direct is 'Soldier,' a haunting tune with a throbbing backbeat, and the lovely, jazz-infused 'Me,' with its lazy, summer-vibed groove. There's a harder, more aggressive edge to a brilliant track called 'The Cell,' where jagged pieces of fractured sci-fi funk beats underpin Badu singing about the destructiveness of drugs. Other highlights include 'Twinkle,' 'That Hump' - a sensuous mid-tempo ballad with horn seasoning - and 'Telephone.' There are a couple of bonus cuts - 'Real Thing' and the infectious single, 'Honey.' Like the last two Badu albums, 'New Amerykah' takes time to get into - but after a couple of listens, I guarantee you'll be hooked. And that's a promise.
(CW) 4/5


DIONNE WARWICK: 'Why We Sing' (Label: Rhino)

Sunday, 02 March 2008 04:30 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Given the strength and indeed depth of her gospel music roots - her career started in church as a member of The Gospelaires group - it may be surprising to some that this world-renowned singer from East Orange, New Jersey, has only cut two out-and-out inspirational records in her long career. This new album is her second foray into church music - previously, she recorded a devotional LP entitled 'The Magic Of Believing' for Scepter in 1968, which was largely overlooked because it came at a time when Warwick was experiencing a fertile period in the pop sphere as the protégé of songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Forty years on and the 67-year-old chanteuse embraces her formative musical roots with a 12-track set helmed by her son, Damon Elliott (who's previously collaborated with the likes of Beyoncé, Pink, Destiny's Child and Eminem). The added presence of Warwick's other son, David Elliott, and her younger sister, Dee Dee, makes this a bona fide family affair. Material-wise, it's a mixture of the old and the new - of both traditional and contemporary gospel songs. It kicks off with the deeply patriotic 'Battle Hymn Of the Republic' and also includes heartfelt renditions of gospel staples like an organ-infused 'Jesus Loves Me,' 'The Lord Is My Shepherd,' and 'Rise, Shine And Give God The Glory.' A more contemporary stylistic patina is provided by Be Be Winans, who pens three of the album's twelve tunes and provides a typically soulful vocal cameo on the uplifting 'I'm Going Up.' The title track is a slow, Kirk Franklin-penned ballad, featuring the plaintive vocals of Warwick's junior sibling Dee Dee. More upbeat is the propulsive 'I Lift My Heart,' featuring thrilling antiphonal interplay between Warwick and her background vocalists on the chorus section. Though Warwick is unlikely to acquire new fans with this solid opus, it will certainly please the most loyal of her disciples.
(CW) 3/5


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