CHARLES WRIGHT & THE WATTS 103RD STREET RHYTHM BAND : The Charles Wright Remasters (Label: Rhino)

Sunday, 16 December 2007 13:59 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Although a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi - the birthplace of John Lee Hooker and located in the heartland of delta blues country - guitarist/pianist Charles Wright found fame in the late 1960s as one of funk music's leading lights. He fronted a west coast multi-racial aggregation that reached its undoubted creative apogee with the freewheeling and subsequently much-sampled funk anthem, 'Express Yourself' in 1970. The band recorded six albums between the years 1967-1972, all of which have just been reissued in the UK on CD for the first time on Rhino. As well as being remastered from the original studio tapes, the majority of the CDs are supplemented by a large cache of previously unissued bonus tracks that have been discovered languishing in the Warner Bros. vaults. The group was originally formed in 1967 by producer, Fred Smith, who was looking for musicians to back up comedian, Bill Cosby. The majority of the group were members of Wright's band, The Wright Sounds, but under Smith's direction, changed their name to the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. The outfit's debut album, 'HOT HEAT & SWEET GROOVE,' was attired in a wacky, pop-art-style cover but sounds more contrived and rigid than truly 'far out' - it's a curious blend of rambunctious party R&B ('Caesar's Palace'), kitsch pseudo-psychedelic covers ('Yellow Submarine' and 'Girl From Ipanema') and loping, bluesy, sax-infused proto-funk (the Ramsey Lewis-tinged 'Spreadin' Honey'). With Smith's influence waning, the group had loosened up by 1968's sophomore effort, 'TOGETHER.' The grooves are more fluid, exemplified by '65 Bars & A Taste Of Soul' and the super-soulful 'A Dance, A Kiss & A Song' (penned by the group's drummer, James Gadson). On the downside, the album features a host of covers (ranging from James Brown's 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag' to the Stones' 'Satisfaction') but there's no denying the group's energy. The new CD reissue contains eight additional tracks. The group's loose-limbed, sunshine funk evolved further by the time of 1969's excellent 'IN THE JUNGLE BABE,' which from a sonic perspective illustrated that they had discovered their own identity at last. It contains the group's big Stateside smash, 'Love Land' (another superb Gadson tune), the epic ballad 'Comment' and irresistibly funky morsels like 'Till You Get Enough' and an incendiary version of Sly Stone's 'Everyday People (In The Jungle).' The pivotal album in the group's output was 1970's 'EXPRESS YOURSELF,' by which time Wright had separate billing from the rest of the band. As well as the anthemic title song, the band revamped 'Express Yourself' on the 1971 LP, 'YOU'RE SO BEAUTIFUL,' which also contains 'Just To Settle My Nerves.' However, according to Wright in the accompanying liner notes, tensions within the group resulted in it being the singer/guitarist's final official recording with the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Wright's valedictory opus for Warner Bros was 'RHYTHM & POETRY' a solo venture from 1972. Consisting mostly of lengthy, funk-fuelled jams ('Soul Train' and the interminable 'Run Jody Run'), it patently lacks inspiration and sounds like Wright was running out of creative gas after the core of his band (including Gadson and Ray Jackson) had defected to join Bill Withers. Completists, of course, and funk fanatics will want to acquire all six reissues - however, a more discriminating listener will probably find ample reward in just picking up a copy of 'In The Jungle Babe' or 'Express Yourself,' which represent the pinnacle of this pioneering funk group's canon.

(CW) 4/5


VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Dedicated To Soul' (Label: Expansion)

Thursday, 13 December 2007 03:20 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Dedicated To Soul'

As the booklet to this CD reveals, compiler and former B&S scribe, David Nathan, may have sported some dodgy hair-dos back in the '70s but his musical taste has always been impeccable and far from hair-raising. This enjoyable new collection focuses mainly on the '70s and early '80s and features some of soul's big hitters (Aretha, Dionne and Gladys to name three) alongside more esoteric acts like the vocal groups Revelation, Dynamic Superiors, Special Delivery and The Reflections. In fact, the CD opens with four tracks from these groups. Revelation, a quartet including Benny Diggs and Phillip Ballou in its ranks, is largely forgotten by all but the cognoscenti - their superlative track, 'Get Ready For This,' deserves to be remembered, though. Motown quintet, Dynamic Superiors, also impress with the Ashford & Simpson penned 'Face The Music' while New York's The Reflections, offer more gospel-infused harmonies on 'Three Steps From True Love.' A real find is 'The Wind,' a deliciously dreamy ballad which is a previously unissued Aretha Franklin outtake from her Luther-helmed 1983 Arista LP, 'Get It Right.' In fact, Nathan has plundered the Arista archives for several unreleased buried treasures for this collection: there's Dionne Warwick's version of Roberta Flack's 'Only Heaven Can Wait For Love'; Angela Bofill's 'All The Reasons Why' and 'Love & Marriage'; and 'I'm Not Asking You To Stay,' a Thom Bell-produced outtake from Phyllis Hyman's 1983 'Goddess Of Love' album. Add to this a brace of cuts from Trina Broussard's cancelled So So Def LP, 'Inside My Love' (including the lovely 'Sailing'), and great tunes from Martha Reeves (the gospel-flavoured 'Love Strong Enough To Move Mountains'), Gladys Knight & The Pips ('Hold On' from the Curtis Mayfield-penned 'Claudine' soundtrack) and Mtume ('Closer To The End') and you've undoubtedly got an album that will bring most soul connoisseurs to a state of orgasm. The title says it all really.
(CW) 4/5


BOBBY WOMACK: 'Roads Of Life' (Label: Expansion)

Wednesday, 12 December 2007 11:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

BOBBY WOMACK: 'Roads Of Life'

After a fertile five-year stint at United Artists in the first half of the '70s (which yielded classic albums like 'Facts Of Life,' and the 1974 US R&B chart topping 45, 'Lookin' For A Love') Bobby Womack decamped to Columbia where he recorded a couple of moderately successful albums ('Home Is Where The Heart Is' and 'Pieces'). The gravel-voiced soul troubadour nicknamed 'The Preacher' then moved on to Clive Davis's fledgling Arista set-up. However, Womack's tenure at Arista was all too brief and yielded only a solitary album, 1979's 'Roads Of Life,' which has just been reissued for the first time. Though often dismissed by aficionados of Womack's earlier work as being too disco-tinged, 'Roads Of Life,' in my opinion, represents something of an overlooked masterpiece in the Womack canon. It's not without significance that the 8-song set is co-produced by L.A.-based keyboard player, Patrick Moten, who would go on to helm Womack's perceived magnum opus, 'The Poet,' four years later for the indie label, Beverley Glen. Womack's voice here is, as you'd expect, gritty and magnificently soulful, contrasting with Moten's super-slick, string and horn charts. The title track is a great opener, though it's eclipsed in terms of quality by 'How Could You Break My Heart,' an infectious mid-tempo groover, which due to demand, was granted a belated UK 12-inch release in 1987. 'The Roots In Me,' is another fine number, featuring an opening spoken monologue by Womack, lashings of churchy organ and silky background vocals from Leon Ware (Womack's co-writer) and Melissa Manchester. The tempo rises several notches for 'What Are You Doin',' a frenetic disco-inflected number, though with its messy lead vocal on the verse section, it proves to be the album's weakest cut. Much better is the mid-paced 'Give It Up,' and the closing ballad, 'I Honestly Love You.' Soul fans and Womack devotees should snap up this CD immediately, of course, though even casual browsers who only buy an occasional soul record will discover much to savour here.
(CW) 4/5


NICOLE WILLIS: Keep Reachin' Up: Remixed (Label: ATC Recordings)

Saturday, 08 December 2007 08:11 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

NICOLE WILLIS: Keep Reachin' Up: Remixed

Nicole Wills and the Soul Investigators' 'Keep Reachin' Up' was one of the biggest underground soul successes of 2007. It crept out of the cold wastes of Scandinavia and quickly won over Northern soulies, modern room people, the chattering classes and media types like Jonathan Ross and Mark Lamarr. The album's appeal was obvious - like all best soul, the simple approach was shown to be the best and Nicole's committed vocals over the Investigators' tight tracks got it just right. In an attempt to capitalize on the LP's success, the label has offered the album to all kinds of trendy remixers and it probably won't surprise you to learn that, given what I've just said, by and large, they shouldn't have bothered. Clever, pretentious desk twiddlers like Raw Fusion's Simbad quite take all the soul away from stuff like 'Invisible Man', while Mike Slott's take on the 'Soul Investigators' Theme' is far too fractured to connect with the soul in the titling. Where the new takes work is where the new boys keep things simple. So on the new look at the title track Rob Life uses samples from the James Brown archive and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled across an old Lyn Collins' cut. Mr. Scruff conjures up the funk too on his look at 'This Ain't Love', livening it all up with Herbie Mann-style flute, while Aaron Jerome just about gets 'Feeling Free' right too - plucked strings and samba style percussion add interest. Elizabeth Shepherds' alternate mix on 'If This Ain't Love' is interesting too - setting the piece in the cool world of the jazz lounge - but for the rest, well, I'd stick with the original incarnations.
(BB) 3/5


THE DELFONICS : 'La La Means I Love You' and 'Sound Of Sexy Soul' (Label: Kent)

Friday, 07 December 2007 12:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

THE DELFONICS : 'La La Means I Love You' and 'Sound Of Sexy Soul'

Before his lush, symphonic production style and penchant for an infectious melody helped transform '70s soul groups The Stylistics and Spinners into household names, Thom Bell worked behind the scenes at Stan Watson's Philly Groove label with Philadelphian vocal trio, The Delfonics. Thanks to Bell's songwriting prowess and skill as an arranger, the group led by the soaring, sweetly seraphic falsetto voice of William Hart, enjoyed a slew of US chart hits (and three UK ones) beginning with an insanely catchy romantic ode called 'La La Means I Love You,' in 1968. It became the title song of the group's debut album, which is combined here on this new 'twofer' with the group's second opus, the dubiously titled 'Sound Of Sexy Soul,' from 1969. In addition to both albums, there's also a non-album bonus cut in the shape of the 45, 'You Got Yours And I'll Get Mine,' while detailed liner notes by Tony Rounce (who sources Tony Cumming's long out-of-print book, 'The Sound Of Philadelphia' for information) illuminate the group's background and musical roots. Like many soul acts of that particular era, The Delfonics were short of original material and padded out their LPs with cover versions - for example, 'La La Means I Love You' features the group doing MOR staples like 'The Shadow Of Your Smile,' 'Alfie' and 'The Look Of Love,' while 'Sound Of Sexy Soul' boasts revamps of 'Let It Be Me,' 'Ain't That Peculiar,' 'Goin' Out Of My Head' and 'Scarborough Fair.' The covers are fair to middling but what redeems the albums is the exceptional quality of the Bell-Hart scribed material - exemplified by gems such as 'I'm Sorry,' 'Break Your Promise,' 'Losing You,' 'You're Gone,' 'Can You Remember,' 'Loving Him' and the fantastic 'Ready Or Not Here I Come.' The orchestration, too, is a revelation, with Bell favouring mellow orchestral French horns, opulent strings, glockenspiels and swirling harps. His groundbreaking work here paved the way for future Philly groups like Blue Magic and the Stylistics. Believe me, Philly soul doesn't get much sweeter than this.
(CW) 4/5


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