Reviews

IKEBE SHAKEDOWN: Kings Left Behind (Colemine)

Friday, 16 August 2019 16:11 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIkebe Shakedown is a seven piece instrumental combo that came together in Brooklyn in 2008. They named themselves after a classic Nigerian long player and describe their music as "afro-soul". They debuted in 2009 with the EP 'Hard Steppin' which was followed by a full eponymous LP. Two more albums offering their signature brass-filled sound got Ikebe Shakedown work with people like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley. And therein is another clue to the outfit's sound – they peddle that now very fashionable, tough and rough, retro brassy soul – though in their case they throw in Afro flavours, a touch of the cinematic and an undercurrent of psychedelic.

Hear all those signature flavours on this set's opener... 'Not Another Drop'. Funky, Afro percussion, psychedelic guitar and riffing brass – it's all in the mix. The album's title track offers more of the same – to recommend it I'd say it reminds me more of the classic Stax sound than that of Daptone. More big, old school flavours on 'Unqualified' - a big, big tune with a real catchy brass figure, authentic Hammond and stomping Northern soul beats. It also boasts that rough, unpolished 60s indie soul sound. I'll wager if you played this one out at a Northern soul event and claimed it as a long lost backing track from a label like Mirwood, Loma or Shrine none of the brothers (or sisters) would bat an eyelid... they'd just get on with the back flips!

Throw in a couple of more melancholic cuts – 'The Witness' for instance – and you have an intriguing, imaginative collection. In truth, 'Kings Left Behind' is never going to set the soul world alight – but if you like your sounds rough hewn and authentic, you could do worse than investigate!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 16 August 2019 16:18

 

THE EMOTIONS: 'Don't Ask My Neigbors: The Columbia/Arc Recordings 1976-1981' (SoulMusic Records)

Wednesday, 14 August 2019 13:14 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                             altAlthough it wasn't until the late '70s when The Emotions hit the radar of mainstream record buyers - following their No. 1 US hit, 'Best Of My Love,' in 1977 and their memorable appearance on Earth, Wind & Fire's big disco anthem, 'Boogie Wonderland' a year later - the three Hutchinson sisters were already an established and successful R&B act with a string of hits to their name. Originally from Chicago,  they started out as a family gospel trio called the Heavenly Sunbeams before becoming The Emotions in the late 60s. After a couple of 45s for local Windy City indie labels, they signed to Stax Records' Volt subsidiary in 1969 and scored a hit with the sensational single, 'So I Can Love You,' a big US R&B and pop hit. But it was later at Columbia (and its subsidiary, Arc)  between 1976 and 1981 where the soulful trio really hit their stride and it is that fertile period which is documented by this fabulous new  3-CD anthology.  

It contains all five of the siblings Columbia LPs - 'Flowers,' 'Rejoice,'  'Sunbeam,' 'Come Into Our World,' and 'New Affair' - plus a raft of bonus cuts, which include 12-inch mixes, non-album B-sides and single edits. With insightful liner notes by compiler, David Nathan, it all adds up to an essential package that no self-respecting soul music fan should be without.

'Flowers,' released in 1976, was the sisters debut LP for Columbia. Helmed by fellow Chicagoan, Earth Wind & Fire's Maurice White, it certainly upped the production ante compared with the group's earlier Stax/Volt albums. It's lead off cut, 'I Don't Want To Lose Your Love,' with its infectious refrain and punchy horn lines, was a Top 20 US R&B hit. Other great cuts from that set are 'Flowers,' 'No Pans For Tomorrow'  and a short a cappella vocal piece, 'We Go Through Changes,' which highlights the  beauty of the Hutchinson sisters' ethereal harmonies. 

It was '77's 'Rejoice,' though, which is widely regarded as The Emotions' magnum opus. It's a glorious amalgam of soul, funk, and gospel flavours and although the catchy, dance-oriented 'Best Of My Love' gave the group their first and only No. 1 single, there were even better songs to be found on the album: such as the mesmerising Skip Scarborough-penned ballad 'Don't Ask My Neighbor,' the super-sanctified groove ballad 'Blessed,' and the album's exultant title cut.

For this writer, '78's 'Sunbeam' didn't quite reach the same high level as their first two Columbia albums despite having Maurice White again behind the mixing board. It did have some good moments, though, like the upbeat 'Smile' and the string-swept Skip Scarborough ballad, 'Walking The Line,' stylistically a close relation of the previous year's 'Don't Ask My Neigbor.'

1979's 'Come Into Our World,'  their debut for Maurice White's Arc imprint, possessed more of a palpable disco influence, reflected by the driving, lushly-orchestrated title song complete with popping syn drums and the carefree 'I Should Be Dancing.' It contained some strong ballads, too, like the David Foster-co-written 'On & On' and the funky groove, 'Layed Back.'

The Emotions' final Columbia/Arc album, 'New Affair,' from 1981, was the least successful of their projects under the aegis of Maurice White but don't let that put you off. It's a little gem of an album featuring a blend of strong dance material and ballads. Pick of the bunch are the ace dancer, 'Love Lies,' and  the silky, jazz-infused funk of 'There'll Never Be Another Moment,' the latter the only track produced by White (the rest were helmed by Billy Meyers plus Wayne Vaughn together with his wife, Emotion's member, Wanda Vaughn).

'New Affair' appears on CD 3 of the compilation, which is filled out with bonus material: ranging from a 12-inch mix of 'Boogie Wonderland,' four single edits, and best of all, two single flipsides ('My Baby Dance' and 'Changes'), which, as far as I'm aware, have never been issued on CD before. This compilation, then, offers us a definitive portrait of The Emotions at their peak and as such, it's not to be missed.  ('Don't Ask My Neighbors' is released on August 23rd).

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 16 August 2019 11:10

 

COOL MILLION: Stronger (Cool Million Records 2019)

Monday, 12 August 2019 19:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altWell, we've been watiting for this album for quite some time. It seems a long time ago when the Cool Million team (Rob Hardt and Frank Ryle) announced they were working on a very special collection to celebrate their tenth year in the crazy world of modern soul. Finally, it's here and, yes, the waiting has been worth it. 'Stronger', the boys' sixth long player, is stuffed with classy, modern soul grooves – all harking back to the great 'Weekender' days of the 80s but all offered with a distinct 21st century twist.

The arrival of this album was signalled by the single 'Stronger' which featured a typically powerhouse vocal from James D Train Williams... and that's the track that kicks off the album. A mighty fine opening gambit and, yes, groan at the cliche, things then get even stronger!

The long player offers plenty more big, danceable modern soul grooves – stuff like 'Skin Tight' (featuring the Boogie Back team), 'Keep On' and the fine clipped beater 'Share The Light' are all drenched in the classic "Cool Million dance sound". But Rob and Frank can do much more than provide fodder for the feet. 'Stronger' has some great slow jams – the semi-whispered 'No Matter What', the slinky 'Slow Burn Love' (D Train proves he can "do slowies" too) and – best of the bunch – 'Come Back Home'. This one derives its inpsiration from people like Teddy P and Barry White – and a great lyric... our protagonist gets out the massage oil, turns down the lights and lights the candles in the hope that the love of his life will "come back home". The cut features some ultra slinky sax work from Alexander Hartmann and a sensual vocal from David A. Tobin.

And that's why this album is so damn good. Cool Million's standing is such that they can call on the top session players and the very best vocalists to help them flesh out their ideas. So, amongst those featured here are guitarist Maic Burkhardt and vocalists Seest, Kevin East, Yolonda Lavender and Matthew Winchester. And let's not forget that Mr Hardt is no mean keyboardist while Frank has a great ear for that special sound.

So, ten years down the line; five LPs; sixty singles – and Cool Million are still getting stronger. Here's to the next ten years!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Monday, 12 August 2019 20:02

 

NICOLAS BEARDE; I Remember You (Right Groove)

Sunday, 11 August 2019 18:19 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIt can't have escaped your attention that 2019 marks Nat King Cole's centenary. To celebrate the "100 up" much of the maestro's back catalogue has been reissued alongside plenty of rarities (particularly an "international" version of his hits), at the same time plenty of artists have offered their own tributes via their own interpretations of the Cole repertoire. Most prominent, of course, was the Gregory Porter collection.

Latest to offer a Cole tribute is acclaimed jazz baritone Nicolas Bearde... a lifelong fan of Cole and one of his chief inspirations and influences. Refreshingly, Bearde's King Cole homage is a little different to most of the others available. For starters Nicolas has avoided covering too many of Cole's "big songs". So no 'Mona Lisa' or 'Nature Boy' here; 'L-O-V-E' is probably the most "Cole-associated" song on this menu. Instead you can enjoy things like 'The Rules Of The Road', 'Thou Swell', 'That Sunday, That Summer', 'Funny Not Much' and 'I Remember You' for which the album is titled.

The second way in which this Cole collection is a little different is in the song treatments. The arrangements are new and fresh and all but three of the tracks use the classic piano, drums and bass accompaniment. Eric Alexander's tenor sax adds colour to 'That Sunday, That Summer', 'Funny Not Much' and 'Thou Swell'.

Thirdly, it's Bearde's elegant baritone that makes this song selection special and different. Nic's warm and caramel-infused vocals offer fresh perspectives without losing any of the inherent romance and heartbreak of the Cole versions.

Nicolas Bearde: 'I Remember You' is released on August 30th and Nicolas will be appearing at Pizza Express Soho on Wed. August 21st.

(B.B) 4/5

 

THE LEWIS EXPRESS; Clap Your Hands (ATA RECORDS)

Friday, 09 August 2019 18:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe Lewis Express first steamed into our consciousness last year with a lovely, eponymous soul jazz album that recreated (with a 21st century twist) the piano led jazz of people like Ramsey Lewis, Young-Holt, and Ray Bryant. We learned that the band were made up of George Cooper, Piano; Neil Innes, Bass; Sam Hobbs, Drums; and Pete Williams, Percussion and that they'd started off as the studio band for Leeds-based ATA Records. ATA, by the way, stands for "All Things Analogue" – so that should give you a clue as to where they're all coming from.

Last month we were delighted to learn that a new album was on the way – signalled by the single 'Clap Your Hands'/'Stomp Your Feet'. The former is a Ramsey Lewis ''Hang On Sloopy' kind of thing while the latter is ultra mod dance floor friendly – perfect for those who like to boogaloo!

The new album – named for 'Clap Your Hands' – has just been released and both 'Clap Your Hands' and 'Stomp Your Feet' are featured. The remaining six tunes offer more of the same carefully crafted soul jazz – plenty more to boogaloo and/or walk the dog to (we're bopping to 'Flat Palm Avenue' right now. If, on the other hand your dancing shoes are more of the Latin variety you can opt for the irresistible 'Danca De Duas Maos' or the even more exotic 'Moola Umemo'.... great stuff!

All eight tunes are band originated and just maybe it would have been interesting if they could have tried their hand at a big soul cover – in the way that Ramsey Lewis always did.... maybe next time? In the meantime, climb aboard the Lewis Express time machine and enjoy the trip back to mingle with the in crowd at the Bohemian Caverns!

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 09 August 2019 18:24

 

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