BLUE MAGIC: Blue Magic (Label: Rhino)

Friday, 09 November 2007 12:23 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

BLUE MAGIC: Blue Magic

Soul historians often argue why Philly quintet Blue Magic weren't bigger stars. They debuted in 1974 with a wonderful eponymous 9 tracker that used the cream of the then Philadelphia scene. The band scored a run of deserved single hits but by the end the seventies they seemed a spent force, and despite comebacks, they're rarely mentioned in the same breath as Philly's big, big hitters from the same period. Hopefully with this new Rhino re-issue of that remarkable debut LP, Blue Magic might soon enjoy some belated glory. Essentially what you get here is a master class in sweet soul harmony singing which rivals anything laid down by the O'Jays, The Spinners, the Blues Notes, the Delfonics or the Stylistics at that time. The big hit 'Sideshow' kicks things off. You'll know it's a beautifully poignant ballad that's matched by stuff like 'What's Come Over Me', 'Stop To Start', 'Spell' and 'Answer To My Prayer'. If you like things a little more up-tempo, there's the crisp 'Welcome To The Club' and the crisper 'Look Me Up' while if you like to make direct comparisons try the Magic version of 'Just Don't Want To Be Lonely' in all its seven minute majesty. This re-mastered album includes three bonus cuts - two single B-sides ( 'Guess Who' and 'Where Have You Been') and the Tom Moulton mix of 'Look Me Up'. Main Magic man, Ted Mills has just made a comeback as part of the Three Philly Tenors, and though that trio's album is hugely enjoyable, there's nothing there that matches the wonderful seventies soul herein. Time now for everyone to catch up on the magic of the blue… this album incidentally is 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 and Gwen McCrae deservedly back on the racks.
(BB) 5/5


THE STAPLE SINGERS: The Very Best Of (Label: Stax)

Thursday, 08 November 2007 10:55 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Any seasoned soul fan worth his or her salt will probably possess numerous Stax 'Best Of' compilations in their respective record and CD collections. However, novices seeking to acquaint themselves with a Stax act or two - or even inveterate collectors looking to update their collections - will find something of interest in a newly remastered batch of 'Very Best Of' titles issued by the revitalised Memphis soul label. The stellar Stax careers of William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MGs and the Dramatics are all individually featured in a clutch of new Rob Bowman-annotated compilations. The one that caught my ear, however, is devoted to those pioneers of gospel-infused soul, the Staple Singers. Led by Mavis's lusty, volcanic vocals and Pops' blues-drenched guitar, the quartet's unique brand of sanctified Windy City soul achieved global popularity thanks to memorable songs like 'Respect Yourself' and 'I'll Take You There' in the early '70s. Naturally, both those tunes are included on this sterling 20-track retrospective, which also features 'Heavy Makes You Happy,' 'If You're Ready (Come Go With Me),' 'Touch A Hand, Make A Friend' and 'City In The Sky.' The remastered sound quality is excellent and its transparency allows every nuance of the original recordings to shine through. Bowman's perceptive liner notes are a bonus, too, helping to reaffirm the fact that when it came to message-laden gospel-soul, the Staples were absolutely peerless. If, perchance, you're searching for the meaning of soul, have no qualms - you'll find it here.
(CW) 4/5


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


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