IZZY JAMES: A Call To Conscience (Label: c. 2007 Izzy James)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 14:28 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

IZZY JAMES: A Call To Conscience

I don't know anything about Izzy James save that he wrote, produced and arranged this whole album. My first instincts were that Mr. James is a gospel artist - both the album's title and opening tracks indicated that here was something more than songs of love, lust, passion cheating and general good times. The opener, 'It's All Right' is a big, brash optimistic tune declaring that we should all look on the brighter side of life (though without the irony or humour of the Pythons). Track two - 'Change The World' is equally big and brassy - with horn charts that will recall the Tower of Power and lyrics that draw inspiration from gospel music. 'This Way', the third cut, is a dramatic ballad where, again, the lyrics urge us to seek solutions to the world's ills. Then things change. 'Fallin' Sky' is a tale of love cheats and this lyrical switch sets the tone for the rest of the LP, with the songs' messages alternating between romance and what, for want of a better description, we might call socio-religious themes. Vocally Izzy James is in fine form throughout. His voice is strong - though there's a gruff vulnerability in there that reminds me in places of Michael MacDonald - and more precisely a one-time MacDonald collaborator, Darwin Hobbs. Production values throughout are surprisingly expansive given that this is essentially one of those self-produced indie sets and overall it's a thoroughly decent modern soul set. It just lacks one really big tune to ignite proceedings. My vote for best cut would go to 'Stand Up'. This one's a lazy, laid back jazz-soul groove with some outstanding sax from Angelo Dirbraccio, but my guess is that's its too sophisticated for the average modern soulster. They would probably prefer the foot tapping potential in that opener,' It's All Right'. If you want to investigate more, the album's currently available through
(BB) 4 out of 5


JAHEIM: The Makings Of A Man (Label: Atlantic)

Thursday, 14 February 2008 14:13 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

JAHEIM: The Makings Of A Man

Amongst the varied new breed of soul and R&B singers, Jaheim Hoagland is possibly the one held in most affection by the old breed of soul fan. Despite his contemporary, street-tough lyrics and thug posturing, his music is steeped in old school soul tradition and his voice is the voice of the classic soul man. Indeed I've heard more than one commentator suggest that Jaheim is the true successor to Bobby Womack - not that said commentators would make the suggestion to Bobby's face - he's not about to give anything up just yet. Be that as it may, Hoagland pays respect to the Soul Poet with his new album's standout track - 'Lonely'. This lovely song generously samples Bobby's 'If You Think You're Lonely Now' and manages to take the sensitive passion play of the that original to new levels. What's remarkable about the track is that Jaheim shows that it's perfectly possible to craft something thoroughly contemporary and new from familiar, even stylised ingredients. He achieves the same wonderful results on 'Have You Ever' (where the sourced material is the Force MDs' 'Tender Love'), 'Life Of A Thug' (sampling Harold Melvin's 'Hope That We Can Be Together Soon') and 'She Ain't You' (with the uncredited melody coming from the Delfonics' 'La La La Means I Love You'). Even without resorting to samples, Jaheim shows that it's possible to make modern music and retain a dignified respect for the past. Best examples here are the R Kelly written and produced 'Hush' and the Babyface-helmed 'Just Don't Have A Clue'. Either of those cuts would star on a lesser set, as too would the sizzling duet with Keysha Cole that is 'I've Changed', but there's so much quality here that you have to listen again and again to appreciate that what at first appear lesser cuts are in fact real nuggets. It's a reviewer's prerogative to resort to cliché and claim "there are no duds here", but believe me, it's true. On the opener Jaheim claims he's the 'Voice Of R&B' and if we accept that that "R&B" here is what our US cousins refer to as modern soul, I, for one, am not about to argue.
(BB) 5/5


CLYDIE KING: 'The Imperial & Minit Years' (Label: Stateside)

Tuesday, 12 February 2008 03:26 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

CLYDIE KING: 'The Imperial & Minit Years'

As a background vocalist in the 1970s, Texas-born singer, Clydie King, sang with anyone who was anyone in the spheres of rock and pop music - as an in-demand back-up singer, she contributed vocals to best-selling albums by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan (she was also his girlfriend for a time), Steely Dan, Barbara Streisand, Joe Cocker, Elton John, Neil Diamond and even the redneck rock group, Lynyrd Skynyrd. But as any soul connoisseur will tell you, this former Raelet was much more than a mere background vocalist - her career started way back in the '50s when as a 13-year-old she cut a 45 as Little Clydie for the RPM label. A precociously talented youngster, Clydie also cut sides for Specialty and Phillips before joining Liberty's Imperial imprint in 1964. The church-reared chanteuse's tenure at Imperial is the focus of this superlative new compilation - put together by David Cole and Bob Fisher - which also showcases material she cut for Liberty's Minit label in the latter half of the '60s. Clydie's early Imperial sides are prime examples of delicious mid-'60s femme pop-soul boasting an epic Phil Spector-style production sound: 'The Thrill Is Gone' is a dramatic big ballad, while the superb 'Missin' My Baby' - which can exchange hands for £200 in its original vinyl form - is a gorgeous slice of dreamy, sophisticated, soul-infused pop reminiscent of '60s girl groups like The Royalettes. By contrast, there's a palpable Motown feel to the driving 'He Always Comes Back To Me.' Clydie's stint at Minit yielded a couple of strong duets with Jimmy Holiday (the Motown-esque 'Ready Willing & Able' and 'We Got A Good Thing Going') and a fantastic ballad called 'One Of Those Good For Crying Over You Days.' A real coup for this collection is the inclusion of eight previously unissued songs Clydie recorded in 1968. Among them is a noteworthy version of Bobbie Gentry's 'Ode To Billie Joe' and a slice of funkafied country-soul called 'I'm Glad I'm A Woman.' A worthy addition to any soul collection.
(CW) 4/5


MARY J BLIGE: Growing Pains (Label: Geffen)

Wednesday, 06 February 2008 06:49 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

MARY J BLIGE: Growing Pains

'Growing Pains' is Mary J Blige's eighth full studio set and it seems we've been waiting for its release for some time - begging the question as to whether the waiting was worth it. Well, for fans of the self-styled Queen of Hip-Hop soul, the answer is a very definite yes. However, for those who've never been absolutely convinced, then the doubts will remain. The 16 tracker is everything we've come to expect of the lady - musically, lyrically and physically. The packaging is glossy, the artwork is flawless, the music is polished and the lyrics explore similar sentiments to her most recent outings. But the set lacks the big blockbuster and/or the shock value that made 'What's The 411?' such a throat-grabber. Mary's even employed some new producers this time around. But for whatever reason people like Tricky Stewart, Pharrell and the Stargate people have failed to forge new directions and, in honesty, her fans would say there's no need to. The old adage of not fixing something till it's broken springs to mind - so here we get the same mix of feel-good beaters and self-exploratory ballads. Of those quasi-biographical songs, 'Roses' is possibly the edgiest and most honest as Mary opines that she now loves her man, knows her place, but needs a little more love, 'cos it ain't all roses. 'Work In Progress' (subtitled 'Growing Pains') is another fierce personal statement with a plea for everyone to look past her celebrity. Both cuts have a broody, introspective depth but feel-good moments are never too far away. The set opens with the very bright 'Work That' - complete with a lovely tinkling piano, while the lead single, 'Just Fine' is full of real soul energy too. The beats on 'Til The Morning' are more complicated, while the Ludacris collaboration that is 'Grown Woman' will keep the R&B crew smiling. The Usher duet, 'Shake Down' is another ultra-catchy cut though 'Fade Away' with its tight beats is possibly the best modern soul dancer. As with all Mary J albums, 'Growing Pains' offers value and real variety but some harder-nosed critics might say they've heard it all before.
(BB) 4/5


DIONNE WARWICK: The Love Collection (Label: Sony BMG)

Wednesday, 06 February 2008 06:48 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

DIONNE WARWICK: The Love Collection

Every home should have a Dionne Warwick compilation and God knows there's enough out there to choose from. This latest 20 tracker is as good - and in many ways better - than most that are already available. There are a couple of reasons for this. First - the set is aimed directly at the Valentine's Day/red heart/ bouquet of flowers market. So each and every one of the cuts says something about that most elusive yet most appealing of human emotions, and though you've heard all the songs a million times before the lovely lady from New Jersey made them special when she recorded them and that special, fragile magic remains. Secondly, unlike lots of previous Warwick collections this one is a fairly comprehensive sweep - taking in not just her Wand/Scepter glory days but visiting lots of her later high spots. There are plenty of collaborations too - notably the oft-neglected 'Love Power' with Jeffrey Osborne and 'I Don't Need Another Lover' with the Spinners. Good too, to have the Isaac Hayes-penned 'Déjà Vu' included - you don't get that on too many other collections, while wherever soul fans meet the argument rages about whether Dionne's version of 'I Say A Little Prayer' is better than Aretha's. It's all academic of course - both are excellent - as is each and every cut on this lovely collection.
(BB) 5/5


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