NAJEE: Rising Sun (Label: Heads Up)

Friday, 19 October 2007 03:50 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

NAJEE: Rising Sun

Smooth jazz sax man Najee's not the kind of artist you'll be reading about too often on this review site but I'm drawing the album to you attention for one particular reason - and that is the one, big vocal track from soul stalwart Phil Perry. Perry, I know, is a particular UK soul hero and there are Perry completists out there, and to them I say seek out the cut 'Romance The Night'. It's not the greatest song, but Perry's in fine form, swooping through the gentle, Latin-tinged quiet storm ballad as only he can. Elsewhere, the best grooves can be heard on the collaborations with the Pieces Of A Dream, team ('Come What May' and 'Out Of A Dream') and 'Smooth Sailing' (not the Maysa Leak tune, by the way). For the rest, I've always had a soft spot for the James Moody standard 'Moody's Mood' - but Najee brings little new to it, while cuts like 'Rising Sun', 'Brazilian Affair' and 'Child At Heart' are just a touch too bland … think Earl Klugh meets Bob James on a bad day. But do, at least, grab a listen to the Perry vocal - it won't ignite but it will add to his classy reputation.
(BB) 2/5


JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON: Untouchable (Label: Ace)

Friday, 19 October 2007 03:48 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


This flamboyant blues guitar-slinger from Houston, Texas, is probably best remembered for his funk-fuelled '70s hits 'A Real Mother For Ya' and 'Superman Lover,' both issued when he was signed to the UK-based DJM label (then home to Elton John). But Watson's story goes back much further, right to the birth of rock and roll in the mid-'50s when he scored a Top 10 Stateside hit with 'Those Lonely, Lonely Nights,' for RPM. This commendable 27-track compilation doesn't go back that far but it begins with 1959's rambunctious R&B offering 'The Bear' and then proceeds to collect all of Watson's early '60s sides for the Arvee, Escort, King, Jowat, Highland and Magnum labels. The lion's share of the material stems from a two-year tenure with Syd Nathan's Cincinnati King label. Amongst these is the big US hit, 'Cuttin' In,' and Watson's original blues-drenched version of 'Gangster Of Love' - as recently used in a UK TV ad - a song he later resurrected in the '70s with a funk backdrop and which dented the US charts (unlike the first version). Some of Watson's '60s sides are also treasured by Northern Soul fans - among them, rarities in the shape of the driving 'Ain't Gonna Move' and 'Big Bad Wolf,' both featured here and which illustrate the singer's move away from blues to soul. Copious and pertinent liner notes by Tony Rounce add to the appreciation of this antique collection.
(CW) 4/5


CHAKA KHAN: Funk This (Label: Sony BMG)

Thursday, 18 October 2007 15:48 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


It's been nine long years since this large-lunged, stentorian-voiced Windy City singer - who's now 54 - released a new album. Her last effort was 1998's 'Come To My House,' a partially enjoyable but somewhat patchy affair issued on Prince's NPG imprint. But there's nothing patchy about 'Funk This,' a sterling, cohesive collection of funky retro-grooves and heart-rending ballads. Here, Chaka sounds totally focused and re-energised. Evidently, the lengthy lay-off from recording has helped ferment her creative juices. Chaka even revisits a couple of antique Rufus numbers - an impassioned old school medley where 'You Got The Love' is segued with 'Packed My Bags,' - but the killer cut is undoubtedly 'One For All Time.' It's a great cut that recalls Chaka at her super-charged best during the early part of her tenure with Warner Bros in the late '70s. But that's not all. The ballad, 'Angel' is stupendous and there's a magnificent version of the Ed Townsend-penned 'Foolish Fool,' as recorded by Dee Dee Warwick and Marva Whitney in the 1960s. The infectious and mildly funky 'Will You Love Me' is also a winner, showcasing Chaka's trademark wails. The singer's penchant for high-decibel rock is exposed on her soulful version of Jimi Hendrix's psychedelic classic 'Castles Made Of Sand.' She also covers songs by Joni Mitchell and Prince ('Sign Of The Times'). Michael McDonald contributes his gruff tone to the duet 'You Belong To Me' while the queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J Blige, turns up on the high-octane 'Disrespectful.' Despite these star turns, it's Chaka Khan who really shines. It's the best album she's delivered in a long, long time. 'Funk This'? Not 'alf!
(CW) 4/5


ANGIE STONE: The Art Of Love And War (Label: Stax)

Thursday, 18 October 2007 15:45 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

ANGIE STONE: The Art Of Love And War

Given her elevated status in contemporary soul, it's hard to believe that this is only Angie Stone's fourth attempt at a solo album - and yet, as the most erudite of soul fans will probably tell you, the 45-year-old South Carolina singer first came into the public eye way back in 1980 as a member of the Sugar Hill-signed hip-hop trio, The Sequence. After the demise of that short-lived group, Stone - who's a gifted tunesmith as well as a deeply soulful singer - fronted another trio, Vertical Hold, who signed to A&M in the early '90s and scored a Top 20 US R&B smash with 'Seems You're Much Too Busy.' The group folded and Stone eventually signed to Arista in 1999, where she issued her debut platter 'Black Diamond.' Since then, Stone has never looked back, though sadly health problems - diabetes and a more recent diagnosis of congenital heart failure - have cast a shadow over her success. Despite this, the chanteuse-turned-actress sounds in fine fettle on this 14-track debut set for the revitalised Stax label. 'Take Everything In' is a stunning mid-tempo opener with an addictive chorus that showcases Stone's sensual lower register. Miami soul veteran Betty Wright has a telling cameo on the infectious 'Baby,' which utilises a dusty Curtis Mayfield sample. Ballad-wise, there's a clutch of strong cuts, headed by the haunting 'Make It Last.' Even better, perhaps, is the summer-vibed 'Sit Down,' and Jill Scott-style 'Pop Pop.' On the uptempo front, the most salient tune is 'My People,' an anthemic black pride disco groove featuring a cameo from James Ingram. The album closes on a euphoric high with the gently uplifting 'Happy Being Me,' featuring lush background harmonies counterpointed by plangent harmonica fills. A superior soul album.
(CW) 4/5


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