RAMP: Come Into Knowledge (Label: Blue Thumb)

Wednesday, 07 November 2007 11:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

RAMP: Come Into Knowledge

Forgotten cult soul-funk group, RAMP began life as Saturday Night Special, a Cincinnati-based covers band formed in 1975 by guitarist, Landy Shores, and drummer, John Manuel, who had previously earned a crust backing up the Spinners on US tour dates. Roy Ayers got to hear the band a year later after a recommendation from Spinner, Billy Henderson, and suitably impressed, signed them to ABC's Blue Thumb imprint where he had a production deal going. Ayers rechristened the band RAMP (an acronym for Roy Ayers Music Productions) and helmed this ultra-rare one-off LP in 1977, which was largely forgotten until A Tribe Called Quest used 'Daylight' from the album as the basis for their 1990 smash hit 'Bonita Applebum.' Now available on CD for the first time, 'Come Into Knowledge' proves to be an absorbing cache of jazz-infused funk and ethereal cosmic soul. There's a great version of Ayers' summer anthem, 'Everybody Loves The Sunshine' - originally issued by the group as a single - but the searing guitar-driven funk of the album's opener, 'The American Promise', is even better and reminiscent, perhaps, of the vibes maestro's classic track, '2000 Black,' from a few years earlier. This is not surprising, perhaps, given the extent of Ayers' input - he's the sole producer here and pens/co-pens all but one of the album's nine songs. Sonically, then, the album differs little from Ayers' Ubiquity LPs from the same timeframe though it's distinguished by a conspicuous absence of the great man's signature vibraphone sound. The group's two lead female vocalists, Sharon Matthews and Sibel Thrasher, offer something different, contributing a spacey, soulful vibe to the proceedings, especially on the ballad, 'I Just Love You,' the haunting title track and the dreamy 'Daylight.' A tremendous reissue, despite the disappointing absence of liner notes.
(CW) 4/5


WHITNEY HOUSTON: The Ultimate Collection (Label: Sony BMG)

Saturday, 03 November 2007 15:23 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

WHITNEY HOUSTON: The Ultimate Collection

If we're to believe what we read, Whitney's on the verge of a comeback, so to stoke the fires, Sony BMG present us with this compact little 18-track 'ultimate collection'. I say 'compact' 'cos it supersedes the double CD greatest hits pack from a few years back. That one was confusing, including as it did, all kinds of remixes. Here, however, everything is straightforward with all the 'chosen one's' greatest hits, starting, of course, with 'I Will Always Love You' and running through to 'My Love Is Your Love'. In between you get stuff like 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody', 'The Greatest Love Of All' and 'One Moment In Time' as well as 'Saving All My Love For You' which still retains an honest and naive innocence despite the intervening years. There are also duets with Maria Carey ('When You Believe') and George Michael ('If I Told You That'). Sadly, there's no 'Fine' which people more passionate about the lady than me insist is actually her finest soul moment - but as with any artist we can all argue what constitutes 'greatest' or 'ultimate'. Here we have the marketing department's choice - take it or leave it.
(BB) 3/5


VOICES OF EAST HARLEM: Right On Be Free (Label: Rhino)

Friday, 02 November 2007 14:05 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


The Voices of East Harlem were a New York community choir who were to the late 60s/early 70s what the Sounds Of Blackness were to the 90s That's to say they emerged from their community/church roots to enjoy a measure of commercial success without compromising their integrity, sound or beliefs. In reality the Voices never enjoyed the huge success of the Sounds, but their 1970 debut set 'Right On Be Free' caused major ripples and you can hear exactly why on this new Rhino reissue that adds 11 bonus cuts to the original 10 track album. That original set was an energy-charged, passionate selection of thoughtful cover versions and what, back in the day, were called protest songs. The vocals (mainly down to Gerri Griffin and Cynthia Sessions) are fluid and there's a real live, committed feel to proceedings. It's the same with the bonus cuts, which include the single, 'Oxford Town' (produced by Donny Hathaway) and previously unreleased album tracks of which 'Nation Time' was written by an emerging Gamble and Huff. In fairness the music here is very much of its time and maybe hard to connect with in places where you can't contextualise. However, as a valuable piece of black music heritage, the set is vital. It's part of Rhino's big re-issue programme that also sees classic albums from people like Leroy Hutson, Ace Spectrum, Prince Phillip Mitchell, Ronn Matlock, Gwen McCrae and Blue Magic deservedly back on the racks.
(BB) 4/5


QUEEN LATIFAH: Trav'lin' Light (Label: Verve)

Friday, 02 November 2007 09:20 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

QUEEN LATIFAH: Trav'lin' Light

Career-wise, this 37-year-old Newark-born star of the recent movie 'Hairspray' has travelled a long way in only a relatively short span of time. Twenty years ago she was a struggling Big Apple rapper who broke into the big time in 1989 with the groundbreaking album 'All Hail The Queen.' Quickly establishing herself as the ruling regent of distaff hip-hop, Latifah's horizons were widened in 1991 when she appeared in the movies 'House Party 2,' 'Juice' and the Spike Lee film, 'Jungle Fever.' After starring in a US sitcom, 'Living Single,' in 1993, she caught the eye in the movie 'Set It Off.' By that time, her interest in hip-hop was on the back burner as movie roles came thick and fast. In 2004, Latifah released her fifth long player, 'The Dana Owens Album,' a collection of jazz standards that turned out to be markedly different from anything else she'd done and a world away, seemingly, from the street braggadocio of hip-hop. This excellent new oeuvre is the follow up to that revelatory offering and continues where 'The Dana Owens Album' left off. Latifah's metamorphosis from rough-hewn rapper to stylish songstress is truly remarkable, evidenced by the expert way she handles classic songs like 'I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl' (the old Nina Simone number) and the title song (made famous by the immortal Billie Holiday). There's a beautiful rendition of Phoebe Snow's 'Poetry Man' and a superbly soulful retooling of the 10cc pop classic, 'I'm Not In Love.' There are also noteworthy covers of material by Smokey Robinson, the Pointer Sisters (a furiously funky 'How Long') and a strong version of 'Gone Away,' as recorded by Roberta Flack back in 1970 (it was penned, incidentally, by a mighty soul triumvirate comprising Donny Hathaway, Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield). Talking of soul luminaries, Stevie Wonder supplies some suitably plaintive harmonica on 'Georgia Rose.' A classy jazz-meets-soul confection.
(CW) 4/5


DONNY HATHAWAY: Come Back Charleston Blue OST (Label: Rhino)

Thursday, 01 November 2007 14:54 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

DONNY HATHAWAY: Come Back Charleston Blue OST

I guess if you're reading this, then you need no introductory ramble about Donny Hathaway. Equally, I assume you'll be delighted to know that the great man's 1972 soundtrack album to the movie 'Come Back Charleston Blue' is now available on CD for the first time - and its been remastered and boosted by the inclusion of a couple of previously unreleased tracks. The 'Charleston Blue' movie came out at the peak of the blaxploitation era and didn't do too much box office-wise. Its release coincided with personal problems in Donny's life and for those, and other reasons, the soundtrack was overlooked…overlook it now at your peril. The album, you see, shows Donny Hathaway as the consummate musical artist with the ability to switch genres and styles with ease but, at the same time, injecting each of those styles with a deep passion that better writers than me would call soul. The album's flavours go from ragtime and Cotton Club-style jazz through to classy Latin American and onto classic blaxploitation via wonderful Basie pastiches. You also get the occasional vocal interjection, but the two big vocals are the title song - an inspiring duet between Donny and Margie Joseph and, of course, 'Little Ghetto Boy' - and it's two further versions of that song (one alternate cut and one live) that form the two bonuses. Working with Quincy Jones, here Hathaway has crafted one of the 70s best blaxploitation soundtracks. Like I said, miss it at your peril.
(BB) 5/5


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