SYREETA: Syreeta:Stevie Wonder Presents... (Label: Motown, Hip-O-Select)

Thursday, 21 February 2008 07:56 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

SYREETA: Syreeta:Stevie Wonder Presents...

Universal's excellent Import Music Services have just started to bring in some of the Hip-O-Select range - that wonderful series of limited edition collectable albums that wouldn't normally get a reissue. First of the bunch is this lovely little twofer from the one-time Mrs. Wonder - Syreeta Wright. Ms. Wright came to Detroit to work in the Hitsville offices but was lured to the studio by Brian Holland. Their collaborations (as Rita Wright) had little commercial impact, but after a whirlwind relationship with Stevie Wonder (and a reversion to Syreeta) the lady made a full album debut with an eponymous collection that forms the first 9 tracks of this collection. Produced by her then hubby, the album can be seen both as a crucial part in Stevie's development and a major step in Syreeta's career. There's lots of that synth-inflected funk that was Wonder's trademark and a remarkable duet, 'To Know You Is To Love You'. But Syreeta is her own woman too - listen to the way she makes Smokey's 'What Love Has Joined Together' her own. For her second album, in an attempt to garner mores sales, Motown made the Wonder-link patently obvious and there's as much musical experimentation here as there is on Stevie's own same period albums. Indeed there's a sequence of segued cuts that recall the end medley of the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' and in fairness stuff like 'Waitin' For The Postman' haven't travelled that well. The cut which seems to have survived the best is the charming old school ballad that is 'I Wanna Be By Your Side' on which Syreeta duets beautifully with G. C Cameron… it's a delight. Both 'Syreeta' and 'Stevie Wonder Presents…' are 70s Motown and soul highlights and collectors will need to grab copies while they can.
(BB) 4 out of 5


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


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