Reviews

VARIOUS; On The Detroit Beat (Ace)

Friday, 19 April 2019 07:07 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altHard to believe, but yes... it took the mighty Motown empire a while to secure a foothold here in the UK. Berry Gordy began his odyssey in 1959 but it wasn't till 1964 that he enjoyed his first UK success – Mary Well's 'My Guy'. That's not so say that Motown hadn't tried. Between '59 and '64 Motown released some 40 singles in Britain on labels like London, Oriole, Fontana and Stateside (it goes without saying that those original releases are now hugely collectable!) but to little or no avail. However that doesn't mean that Motown music was totally neglected. It became the music of choice for the mods; it was played in the best cellar clubs while savvy record company A&R men and music managers had many of their artists record (mostly unknown) Motown material in order to win some UK chart action. Lots of the more switched on early 60s artists loved Motown anyway. Both the Beatles and the Stones included Motown material in their early sets and you may remember that the Beatles' second LP featured no less than three Motown covers! Yes, so though Motown wasn't a chart presence, there was an awareness of the Motown sound... and this lovely, new, memory-jerking 24 track Ace compilation amply proves that point.

Here the ace Ace team have put together a varied selection of UK covers of Motown songs – all recorded between 1963 and 1967. The album offers some big 60s names – the Hollies, the Small Faces and dear Dusty Springfield amongst them. There's also a surprising inclusion from Cilla Black – a raucous version of Jr. Walker's 'Shotgun' – proving that at onetime at least there was more to Cilla than sweet balladeering and silly TV presenting! Amongst the 24 cuts there's also plenty of 60s wannabees like Guy Darrell, Louise Cordet and Truly Smith whose inclusion is a sweet version of Carolyn Crawford's 'My Smile Is Just A Smile Turned Upside Down'.

There's lots of anorak type intrigue too. For instance Everton FC supremo, radio DJ, ex Corrie actor and mega theatre impresario , Billy Kenwright's in here... fronting the Runaways, he warbles manfully through Chris Clark's 'I Wanna Go Back There Again.' Ex Searchers lead singer, Tony Jackson, gets a track too... a take on Martha and the Vandellas' 'Never Leave Your Baby's Side'.

It's all stirring stuff and,wonderfully, I think, the collection boasts what I (humbly) consider to be the best three UK Motown covers – Georgie Fame's take on the Spinners' 'Sweet Thing', the Action's cover of Martha and the Vandellas' 'In My Lonely Room' and the Spencer Davis Group's emotion-stirring take on Brenda Holloway's 'Every Little Bit Hurts'. That one's every bit (pun intended!)as good as the original and impossible to believe that Stevie Winwood was only 16 when he cut that so soulful vocal!

Interestingly too, 7 of the 24 artists here are from Liverpool, while another 5 are from the city's immediate hinterland - proving that while Detroit was vital to the emergence of soul, Liverpool was absolutley key and pre-eminent in the evolution of UK pop... we knew that anyway!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 19 April 2019 07:20

 

THE O’JAYS; The Last Word (BMG/S Curve)

Sunday, 14 April 2019 18:03 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altAll good things must come to an end so it was with great sadness that, last Autumn, we learned that the O'Jays were soon to retire. Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Eric Nolan Grant announced that sometime in 2019 they'd hang up their stage suits and get on doing what most seventy somethings do! However, they promised that before they shuffled out of the limelight, they'd deliver one final album – and here it is... a lovely, concise 9 tracker with the apposite title 'The Last Word' and , I'm pleased to report that the trio are going with heads held high and plenty of great music. 'The Last Word' is every bit as good as any of their earlier classic LPs – even those they cut at PIR! How sad it would have been for such an iconic group to bow out with a shoddy set or a wallow in nostalgia and self-indulgence. No – 'The Last Word' is fresh and vital and a wonderful way to end an almost 60 year career.

'The Last Word' (due April 19th) has been prefaced by a series of three singles each one serving as a delicious hors d'oeuvre for the LP. First up we had the gritty 'Above The Law' - a tough, hard hitting throwback to their socially conscious music of the 70s. Then we enjoyed 'I Got You' - another reminder of the great days of Philly.... lush, smooth and sophisticated and there's more of those lovely Philly flavours on the new single - the zippy, string-filled 'Start Stoppin'' .... lovely as it is, we're told there's a Boogie Back mix of the song on the way too. It's easy to hear why those three have been chosen as lead off singles but in honesty any of the nine cuts would have been great teasers for the set.

The Bruno Mars-penned 'Enjoy Yourself' is another highlight and those of you who like your soul to scorch, try the Betty Wright produced and written 'Pressure.' (Betty was at the controls too for the aforementioned 'Above The Law'). My standout pick is the memory-jerking ''68 Summer Nights' – lyric, tune, sentiment and the song's vibe remind me of just why I got caught up in the crazy world of soul in the mid 60s. The only other bit of nostalgia that the trio affords themselves comes with the last track – a new version of 'I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow' – a song the O'Jays first recorded in 1967! It comes with an Eddie Levert spoken intro and it's a magnificent way to end an excellent last LP!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 April 2019 19:50

 

ELI "PAPERBOY" REED; 99 Cent Dreams (Yep Roc)

Wednesday, 10 April 2019 07:55 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altBoston blue-eyed soul man Eli 'Paperboy' Reed (the "paperboy" bit refers to a nickname he had as a child for wearing a US paperboy's hat) has been on the scene for a few years now and despite plenty of acclaim and lashings of fine music, he's not quite made it to the premier league. He almost got there in 2010 with his long player 'Come And Get It'. The set won great reviews in the heavyweight press and was actually "album of the week" on dear old BBC Radio 2. Sadly it didn't quite get over the line, despite backing from the parent label, the mighty Capitol. Reed's next album was also on a major label – Warner Bros but again despite lots of praise, it just didn't cross over. Undeterred the singer continued to make the soul music he loved and was welcomed by the indie company Yep Roc who were glad to help him deliver his special sounds to his devoted coterie of fans – people who know and care about soul music and know and care about Eli Reed.

And its Yep Roc that's home to Reed's newest set – the 12 tracker that is '99 Cent Dreams'. If you know the Paperboy's work, you'll know what to expect – raw, gritty, old school, honest soul. If you're not familiar with his work, well that just about sums it up... massively obvious from the first bars of the first track – the jaunty 'News You Can Use'. The soul quotient is still high on track 2, the Sam Cooke-flavoured 'Said She Would'. The Cooke connection comes via the song's gentle melody and honest feel rather than the vocal. Where Cooke's vocal was honeyed and supple, Reed's is raw and edgy. Hear that raw and rough edge at its roughest and rawest on 'Tryin' – the vocal is a hybrid of the great chest-beating Southern soul men and the Godfather of Soul.

Amongst other album highlights are 'Coulda Had This' (complete with a 'People Get Ready' intro), the slow bluesy grind of 'In The End' and the moody album closer 'Couldn't Find a Way'. On those (and indeed throughout the album) vocal support comes from veteran Memphis soul harmony group, the Masqueraders.

In truth I could have done without the frantic 'Lover's Compensation' and 'A New Song' but maybe that's an age thing – mine, not Reed's! The good news is that there's plenty to compensate – like the classic 60s flavour 'Bank Robber' and the clever title track – the message here is that the things that don't cost a lot (or maybe don't cost anything) can inspire love and joy. Can't argue with that!

Find out more about Eli Reed and this album by accessing our interview archive.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 April 2019 15:00

 

GEORGE BENSON: Walking To New Orleans (Provogue/Mascot)

Wednesday, 03 April 2019 13:55 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn a long and garlanded career, George Benson has released something like 45 LPs. I've not heard all of them but I'm guessing that he's never issued anything like this one before. You see for an artist known for changing direction from time to time, 'Walking To New Orleans' is in a direction you'd never imagine Mr B taking. Surprisingly, some might say, the concise 10 tracker is his homage to two of his "musical heroes" – Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and what's more the set was produced by Kevin "the Caveman" Shirley who's better known for his work with Iron Maiden .... George Benson and Iron Maiden in the same breath – now that is a change of direction!

Mr B says, "I'm a great appreciator of the music made by both of those guys. Chuck Berry was a great showman and a great musician, and Fats Domino cut nothing but hit after hit after hit." So here we get George and Kevin's versions of five songs from each of those music legends. The Berry songs are 'Nadine', 'You Can't Catch Me', 'Havana Moon', 'Memphis Tennessee' and 'How You've Changed'; the Domino offerings are 'Ain't That A Shame', 'Rockin' Chair', 'I Hear You Knocking', 'Blue Monday' and 'Walking To New Orleans' for which the album is named.

The Nashville-recorded soundscape (the album was recorded in that city's Ocean Way studio) is rough and rocky but tight – a far cry from the lushness of George's previous long player – his Nat King Cole tribute. Throughout he's supported by a team of top players (drummer George Morrow, guitar man Rob McNeeley, pianist Kevin McKendree, bassist Alison Prestwood and a joyous brass section) and what they create are versions of well-known songs that are sufficiently different to the originals to sustain interest throughout. On most of the tracks (most obvious on 'Nadine') Benson gets to deliver his signature scat/guitar breaks while the guitar riffing on the famous Chuck Berry numbers is in the manner of Benson rather than Berry.

Most importantly George and his team manage to capture the honest enthusiasm and spirit of the originals while on the Berry numbers all the humour and irony is retained ... catch 'You Can't Catch Me' to hear what I mean.

On completing the album Benson was heard to say: ""We did have us a ball!".... Listen in and you won't disagree.

'Walking To New Orleans' is released on April 26th.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 April 2019 15:58

 

BILLY PAUL: Me and Mrs Jones – The Anthology (SoulMusic Records)

Monday, 01 April 2019 13:19 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altThere are certain, very special records that you remember exactly where and when you first heard them. One such is Billy Paul's epic tale of secret love and clandestine passion, 'Me And Mrs Jones'. I won't bore you with the details save to say that since 1972 the song's never failed to amaze, enthral and bring on the goose bumps and it's impossible to say why. The storyline, the melody, the production, the instrumentation, the vocal? Who knows ... and indeed who cares! 'Me And Mrs Jones' is one of those very rare recordings where everything works perfectly – including the wonderfully sensitive vocal from Billy Paul. Back in '72 we didn't know anything about Billy Paul; soul buffs knew a little about the writers/producers, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and their flagship label, Philadelphia International Records... so a little research was needed. Even without the internet we quickly learned that Billy Paul was a jobbing Philly jazz singer and that he'd worked with Gamble and Huff in the late 60s and when they set up PIR, he was one of the first artists they signed up. We also learned that 'Me And Mrs Jones' was recorded as a filler for Billy's '360 Degrees Of Billy Paul' LP but when it was released as a single it rightly became a worldwide hit, earning Billy a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. The singer went on to release 8 studio albums and 1 live set for PIR and I'm guessing that most proper soul fans will have many of those albums – or at least selections from them

However, if you need an introduction to the art of Billy Paul, this new 2 CD, 31 track collection from SoulMusic Records will serve as an excellent primer, pulling music from right across his PIR catalogue. All the hits are here, of course... naturally THAT song but also Billy's version of Paul McCartney' 'Let 'Em In' (now featured in a lottery TV ad), 'Am I Black Enough For You' and 10 other charting singles. There's also plenty of classy album tracks that together show that Billy Paul (aside from 'Mrs Jones') was also a powerful purveyor of musical messages - many of which still resonate.

The collection comes with insightful sleeve notes and a personal reflection from SoulMusic's David Nathan.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 01 April 2019 13:32

 

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