RAUL MIDON: A World Within A World (Label: Manhattan)

Thursday, 01 November 2007 12:27 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

RAUL MIDON: A World Within A World

One of the last albums to receive production input by the late great Turkish-American music mogul, Arif Mardin, was Raul Midon's 2005 debut, 'State Of Mind.' Mardin, in fact, was responsible for signing Midon to EMI, having granted the blind New Mexico-born singer/songwriter a private audition. But despite Mardin's unimpeachable record as regards discovering and nurturing new talent, I have to confess I wasn't wholly convinced by the material and performances on Midon's debut. Judging, however, from the hyperbole and acclaim heaped on Midon from some of the broadsheets, my dissenting voice was a lone one crying in the wilderness. And so to Midon's sophomore opus, which retains the Mardin connection thanks to the input of the producer's son, Joe. Given my previous encounter with the Afro-Argentine soul man, I wasn't expecting my world to be set on fire or my mind to be blown. Indeed, as I anticipated, 'A World Within A World' still doesn't convince me that Raul Midon is the next big thing but the album does have many fine moments and certainly engages me much more than its predecessor. 'Pick Me Up' is a breezy opener driven by acoustic guitar featuring some Soul II Soul-style string parts. With its storytelling lyrics, it's reminiscent, perhaps, of Bill Withers (other commentators have even suggested Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder). The slower 'Save My Life' is more contemplative, while the upbeat but pensive 'All The Answers' - possibly the album's best cut - finds Midon musing about the cyber age glut of online information. The a capella 'Ain't Happened Yet' is an enjoyable, well-executed doo-wop inspired number that boasts some dense, Take 6-style harmonies while highlighting Midon's vocal versatility. With its subject matter ranging from declarations of love to world peace and moments of deeper metaphysical contemplation, 'A World Within A World' is definitely a cut above your average Noughties soul and R&B album. Well worth investigating then - but don't expect it to change your world.

(CW) 4/5


G. JOHN MARTIN: Black Ice (Label: Nitram Records)

Monday, 29 October 2007 15:21 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


Black Ice is the alter ego of US soul man Glynis John Martin, who these days, it seems, works most of the time out of Japan. I guess this 13 tracker might have been put together for the Japanese market but listening to it you'll discover that it's bob on the current US black music sound. That's to say, the music cleverly rides the cusp between old skool soul and contemporary R&B. In fact there's something for every kind of black music fan here. If you like to dance there's some more than pleasing rug cutters with the title cut and 'If Only You Knew' standing out in that department. 'Black Ice' is crisp and tight but the chorus seems to borrow rather a lot from the Bee Gees' 'Staying Alive'. In fact if I were a short-of-money-Bee-Gee, I'd get my copyright lawyers on the case right away. 'If Only You Knew' is better and vaguely reminiscent of something too (Next?) - but I can't quite put my finger on it. If you want ballads there's plenty on offer. 'Quiet Time' and 'Beg And Plead' are sweet but 'From the Heart' becomes a tad cloying with the addition of a child's voice. Elsewhere 'VIP' should please the R&B brigade - as too will the two-parter that is 'Rock Me Baby/In My World' - references a-plenty to booty spanking and Maseratis … you get the drift. Surprisingly for an indie album, production values are big and Mr. Martin coos as soulfully as many of our supposed big hitters. A decent album this - with that cut 'If Only You Knew' fast becoming a grower. Grab a trial listen on CD Baby.
(BB) 3/5


STEVIE WONDER: Number Ones (Label: Motown, Universal)

Monday, 29 October 2007 15:20 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


Look at the artist, the title and the track selection and it's clear that this album reviews itself. 20 Stevie Wonder number one hits - starting with 'Fingertips' and finishing with 'So What's The Fuss' - all quite excellent of course, but I'm at a loss to see the logic. Maybe with no new product from Stevie on the horizon the Universal execs needed something to keep the great man's name up there and in the process make a few bob for the company. But what a dull and uninspired idea! Yes, I know the album is part of Universal's 'Number Ones' series so the selectors were restrained by the statistics but it's still illogical. Stevie fans will have all the tunes (probably countless times over) and if you believe the gloomy CD sales figures, then casual buyers seem few and far between. Be that as it may, I've already said that the music is excellent (even 'Ebony And Ivory' and 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' have their charms) and when you hear stuff like 'Part Time Lover' and 'That Girl' again you realise how good stuff that was originally derided by some, really is. We don't get the beautiful 'Lately' of course, not a number one, but there's the almost-as-sublime 'Overjoyed' and we're also offered 'That's What Friends Are For' - a number one for Dionne Warwick if we're being pedantic. But with classics like these, there's no room for pedantry… great music, poor concept. The only innovation with the album is that it allows you internet access to tracks Stevie recorded at Abbey Road. My technology wouldn't allow me to investigate - nor was I interested in the dozens of Wonderous ring tones advertised on the sleeve. My five point score is for the music - not that concept.
(BB) 5/5


JOSEPH WOOTEN: Hands Of Soul (Label: Xplosive Joseph Music)

Monday, 29 October 2007 15:18 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


Joseph Wooten is the keyboard player in the Steve Miller Band and his input to said group has earned him the nickname "hands of soul" -hence the title of this, the man's first solo album. However, if you come to the LP expecting conventional soul music (if indeed such a thing exists) you'll be disappointed. A lot of what's on offer here has a rock edge to it - not surprising when you consider his long-tern involvement with Miller - and the guitar solos and screeching sax input are often at odds with the message Joe's trying to project. That said there are some good moments here, notably 'My Baby Shows Me' - a pleasant mid-tempo groove with a lovely keyboard interlude. Vocally, it reminds me of Howard Hewett. That Hewett connection is also apparent on the intense closer 'When No One Noticed Me' - a simple, jazzy piano-accompanied piece. 'Heidi's Waltz' has a jazz feel too; while on 'Meet Your Family' the jazz flavour's overlayed with some rock insensitivities. Elsewhere you may think of Prince (the sparse, funky 'I Work') or the Isleys in their Ernie I-fuelled hey day; so, like I said, not your run-of-the-mill soul set - but one that will appeal to the more adventurous. CD Baby should allow you to investigate.
(BB) 2/5


VARIOUS ARTISTS: The Complete Motown Singles Volume 8: 1968 (Label: Hip-O Select)

Thursday, 25 October 2007 13:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: The Complete Motown Singles Volume 8: 1968

The first record to roll off the Motown presses in 1968 was 'I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You' by a sweet-voiced young female singer who like Martha Reeves and Chris Clark before her had been working as a secretary in the Hitsville building. Her name was Rita Wright. Sadly, her record - though penned by Ashford & Simpson and produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier - bombed ignominiously and Wright didn't record again for another four years (when she triumphantly returned under her real name, Syreeta). Given Motown's astounding success rate during its peak in the mid to late '60s, the failure of Wright's 45 must have been hard to accept even if it was just a minor blip on the company's sales graph. But it certainly didn't set a pattern for 1968. The same month, Motown released the Four Tops' 'Walk Away Renee' and 'Gladys Knight & The Pips' 'The End Of Our Road.' Both were big smashes and the Motown hit machine marched relentlessly onwards. That was a blow for those commentators that were predicting that Motown would struggle in 1968 as a result of the company's principal tunesmiths, Holland-Dozier-Holland, leaving over a bitter royalty dispute. But as the music on this magnificent 144-track box set confirms, it was merely a case of business as usual. Norman Whitfield grasped the production reins, embraced the Zeitgeist and took the label into an exciting new era with the searing psychedelic soul of The Temptations' 'Cloud Nine' (which showcased singer David Ruffin's replacement, Dennis Edwards). Whitfield also masterminded Marvin Gaye's indelible version of 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine,' considered by many as Motown's greatest ever single (there's an actual vinyl 45 of it attached to this set's front cover). There were plenty of other great 45s issued by Motown in 1968 and all are included here of course: 'Love Child' by Diana Ross & The Supremes, 'For Once In My Life' by Stevie Wonder and a personal favourite, the beautiful ballad about inter-racial love called 'Does Your Mama Know About Me' by Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers. If you've purchased any of the previous volumes, you'll know that there's much here to enjoy besides the music. Packed with nuggets of fascinating Motown info, the track-by-track commentary is superlative. Then, of course, there's a plethora of rare archive photos which help bring the era to life. In addition, Temptations member, Otis Williams, supplies a personal reminiscence while historian, Herb Boyd, contextualises the music via a thoughtful essay. Another glorious instalment of a compilation series that has truly raised the bar for archival retrospectives.

(CW) 5/5


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