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


ARETHA FRANKLIN: Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul (Label: Rhino)

Thursday, 25 October 2007 12:08 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul

For a long time it was thought that a fire at a tape storage building in the late-'70s had destroyed any remaining unreleased Atlantic recordings by Aretha Franklin. That was certainly the reason cited for the conspicuous dearth of previously unissued songs on the 4-CD box set, 'Queen Of Soul,' back in 1992. Thankfully, though, a recent rummage in the Atlantic vaults by dedicated soul detective, Patrick Milligan, proved that this accepted wisdom was built on conjecture rather than fact - it turns out that there was a plethora of forgotten and long lost studio outtakes waiting to be discovered in the Atlantic tape archives. This fantastic 2-CD compilation masterminded by veteran producer, Jerry Wexler, features 35 rare Aretha tracks, 32 of which have never seen the light of day before. For Aretha aficionados and avid fans of classic soul music, it really is an amazing treasure trove of lost soul gems that will send shivers down the spine. The music spans the fertile period 1966-1973, when Aretha was arguably at her peak and enjoying what Wexler describes in his absorbing liner note commentary as her 'golden reign.' The collection kicks off with three demos from 1966 including versions of 'I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)' and 'Dr. Feelgood,' which would later become big hits and help catapult Aretha to superstar status. These are followed by a clutch of high quality studio outtakes from her late '60s LPs. The most ear-catching of these is 'Mr. Big' (co-penned by Re's sister, Carolyn), a tremendously earthy version of Holland-Dozier-Holland's 'You Keep Me Hangin' On,' and the plaintive organ-drenched ballad, 'I'm Trying To Overcome,' featuring the Sweet Inspirations. There's also a rare 45 flipside: a lovely version of the Van McCoy tune, 'Lean On Me.' Disc 2 opens with an alternate, horn-less, mix of the funky 'Rock Steady' from 1970, followed by eight left over cuts from the Quincy Jones-helmed 1973 LP, 'Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky).' They're all strong tunes but Aretha's mid-tempo rendition of the Gene McDaniels' song, 'Tree Of Life,' is absolutely sensational (and very reminiscent of her version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'). Also noteworthy is 'Ain't But The One,' a rousing, high-octane duet with Ray Charles recorded for a Duke Ellington TV special in 1973 that climaxes with a stomping, gospel-soaked finale. In fact, there's so much scintillating stuff on this collection, that it's difficult to do justice to it here. This is undoubtedly one of the year's best archival soul packages and re-affirms why Aretha was crowned the Queen of Soul. Stunningly magisterial.

(CW) 5/5


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