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


JUA: Anticipation (Label: Chocolate Chi Muisc)

Wednesday, 05 December 2007 13:55 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

JUA: Anticipation

Jua's a new name to me, but on the evidence of this set, he's worth watching. Why? Well, first of all, Jua's a great singer. Dip in anywhere here and hear a true soul stylist at work - plenty of passion - but it's a passion that's controlled. Secondly, he's had the good sense to look outwards for his songs and producers. Too many new indie soul artists think they can do it all and with no one to tell them otherwise, their finished albums are often patchy to say the least. Here, though, Jua does contribute some writing and production, he allows others in on the act too - and the end result is the better for it. Thirdly, between them, Jua and his different teams have tried to move modern soul forward. They've attempted new approaches and (largely) avoided clich├ęs (musically and lyrically) - and though it doesn't always work, some of the cuts have a real, refreshing appeal. Signature cut is the LP's title track - 'Anticipation'. To contextualise; I'd describe it as a male version of what Jill Scott does so well. It's a jazzy ramble - partly spoken, partly sung, with gentle instrumentation and layered harmonies. It's not an easy song - but repeated listens will bring rewards. Like much of this album it has its own spirituality and provokes in all kinds of ways. 'Dream' is another excellent cut. It's the album's best ballad and like some of the stuff on Maxwell's 'Urban Hang Suite' it's ethereal, and otherworldly. In truth, some of the cuts are a little too complex while others take too long to kick in - but on the two I've mentioned Jua gets it just right. At the risk of repetition, neither are easy listens and any modern soulsters who want to take the bouncy castle ride will be disappointed, but if you like your soul a little more adventurous and interesting will allow you to at least investigate.
(BB) 3/5


DONALD SHAW: Made In Motown (Label: Day Star Records)

Wednesday, 05 December 2007 13:53 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

DONALD SHAW: Made In Motown

Donald Shaw is a soul crooner who works in and around Detroit, hence the title of this 15 tracker. That geographical link, however, is the only connection with Motown Records. Shaw's sound isn't proto Motown and there are no covers of old Motown songs; so don't come to the album expecting some Tamla bonanza; rather, expect a moderate modern soul set that has all the characteristics of current self-produced, indie collections. That's to say, budgetary concerns mean that some of the tracks are under-produced, while the writing royalty issue means that some of the songs aren't that great - BUT you do get at least one goodie. So let's deal with that first. The album's best cut by a mile is 'Smile Again'. Sub-titled, 'The Wedding Song' it's a sensual ballad with a lovely melody. Featuring some slinky sax and tinkling keys, it's no coincidence that the production values are much bigger here than elsewhere and hopefully Donald might get some of the wedding planners to use the song in their projects - like I said the royalties hurt no one. There's a couple of other decent ballads on the set - notably 'While We're Still Friends' (a pleasing duet with Roseann Matthews) and 'I Just Want To Love You', while the crisp 'Don't You Wanna Dance' might inspire some modern rug cutters who like the ego boost that less accessible indie soul gives them: in honesty it's not that's special. Synthetic beats never help anyway - which takes us back to those production issues. Shame really, 'cos Donald has a decent soul voice. It's a kind of raspy amalgam of Tyrone Davis and Dennis Taylor with a hint of Luther. The Luther connection is also apparent in the plucked, popping bass on cuts like 'Just In The Nick Of Time', but Mr. V, of course, had big budgets to plump up his albums. CD Baby will help you find this one, where I'd file it under "decent if unspectacular".
(BB) 3/5


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