Reviews

BLUE LAB BEATS: Xover (All Points)

Monday, 30 April 2018 12:20 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAll the serious soul media has been featuring Blue Lab Beats over the last 18 months or so. The consistent comment from almost all has been that the music making duo , NK-OK and Mr D.M are not every one's cup of soul tea but they do offer something which is almost hypnotic... irresistible even. Yes, so much so that they've enjoyed high profile play outs on all the credible soul stations while discerning DJs have held their nerves and given several of the pair's singles several spins. I've lost count of how many singles that have come out of the Blue Lab (remixes have made the count more tricky) but now the long-promised album is here and over the 16 tracks you'll be taken on an extraordinary musical journey – hearing soul nuances, jazz garnishing, electronic sweeps, laid back ethereal horns, boom-bapping beats and off the wall, intriguing vocals.

If you've been following the progress of Blue Lab beats by now you'll be familiar with tunes like 'Blue Skies', 'Pineapple' and 'Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye' and maybe that last, intriguing, iconic title is a good place to get to grips with what Blue Lab Beats are about. The track isn't really a tribute to two of soul's all-time greats; rather it's a jazzy, hip-hop reflection on the power of nostalgia. It's not "nostalgic" (like many soul "tributes" are) but a statement that we all need our heroes and rather than copy their style and sound , we should emulate them; in this case, like Marvin and Sam – stay ahead of the curve and offer something new and exciting. I think Mr C and Mr G would approve!

Though we've singled out that one cut as a sonic example and kind of mission statement, cherry-picking isn't what 'Xover' is all about. The 16 tracker is one, consolidated sound sweep that's meant to be enjoyed in its entirety. That said there are some specific special moments here. We have the gentle Latin rumble 'Pina Colada' on repeat right now. For two music makers so young (I think NK-OK and Mr D.M aren't yet 20), this is a work of considerable maturity...a quasi cinematic masterpiece. Helping the duo deliver here are Nubya Garcia and Richie Seivright and  right across the album there's a guest list of Cecil B De Mille proportions while on the outro a number of London soul and hip-hop "names" sing the duo's praises. One of them – Nina, photographer- calls the music here "just a vibe". And that just about sums everything up. 'Xover' is just one cool vibe – creating a new-age soulful hip-hop renaissance.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 30 April 2018 12:32

 

MAMAS GUN; Golden Days (Candelion)

Thursday, 26 April 2018 18:32 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altUK blue-eyed soul band MAMAS GUN was born in 2007. Put together by LIPA graduate Andy Platts, the band members shared a mutual love for soul and funk and named themselves for the classic Eryka Badu long player. Their 2009 debut album, 'Routes To Riches' won 'em plenty of friends and now two releases later and with the inevitable personnel changes, MG are about to unleash a brand new album.... 'Golden Days.'

The set is a little different to their first three collections in as much as this time everything is self-produced and, free from label interference (the band had an early career major label disappointment), the fivesome Andy Platts, Terry Lewis, Chris Boot, Cam Dawson and Dave Oliver were able to make the music exactly as they envisaged it and, at the same time, have a ball whilst putting it all together.

That sheer enjoyment and pleasure in making the music is reflected in the track 'Golden Days' –which the quintet chose as the set's title... reflecting the good times they had in the studio recording the album. A similar good-time optimism can be heard in the LP's opener – the very catchy 'You Make My Life A Better Place', the cheery, light 'I Need A Win', the brassy 'London Girls and the punchy 'On The Wire' which comes complete with some biting Ernie Isley-esque guitar. 'Strangers On A Street' is another album highlight – proof that despite their ages, Mamas Gun revere that magical irresistible 60s vibe.

The album also offer some prime down time moments – notably the sombre 'Diamond In the Bell Jar' (inspired by the work of Sylvia Plaith, I believe) and the simple and sweet 'We'.

Most ambitious and experimental of the 10 cuts is 'This Is The Day'. More a sound sketch than a "proper" song, Andy Platts' sweet and genuine falsetto soars over a plaintive backing track. And it's that Platts voice that holds the album together. Hear it in full flight on the atmospheric 'The Spooks'.

Already in 2018 we've enjoyed some fine Brit, new soul albums... notably those of Diane Shaw, Lisa Stansfield, Soulutions and more recently Jon Allen. Now we can add to that list Mamas Gun's 'Golden Days'. Highly recommended... check our interview archive to learn more about the band.

(BB) 4/5

 

VARIOUS: Baby I’ve Got It (Ace/Motown)

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 10:01 Bill b E-mailPrintPDF

altEvery time an album like this comes out we reviewers are forced into using the same words, clichéd as they might be. Essentially we marvel at the depth of the Motown vault and ask the (same) question about why so much great soul has stayed unreleased for so very long.

What we have here is another wonderful collection of early Motown treasures curated with care and complied with love by UK reissue specialist Ace Records. The 24 tracker focuses on the distaff side of Berry Gordy's roster and, back to those opening words, 16 of the cuts have never been available anywhere before while the other 8 had a "soft release" as downloads only in 2014. Motown buffs, of course, know that a non-release didn't mean a lack of quality. Fact was that the Motown studios worked like a Detroit production line and so much stuff was recorded that it would have been impossible to release everything. Enter Gordy's famed "Quality Control Committee".... the final arbiters of what won release and for whatever reason everything here was rejected! We'll never know why but, thanks to Ace, we can now enjoy a stunning collection of Motown gems – each one aurally defining that special early/mid 60s Motown sound that was so beguiling and attractive. If you weren't around in the early 60s then it must be hard to understand just what that magic Motown sound meant. Fed on a bland diet of Brit pop (till the Fab 4 arrived), Motown music offered something quite different..... intoxicating, exotic even!

Enough blather; what has 'Baby I've Got It' got? Well, in short lots and lots... so much class and quality that it's difficult to know where to start. Maybe the first track is a good idea.... Gladys Knight and the Pips' 'In My Heart I Know It's Right'. This was the first recording the group made for Motown and crazily the Johnny Bristol/ Marvin Gaye/Harvey Fuqua song was left gathering dust till it came out as a download a few years back! Gladys's other included track 'Is This Why' suffered the same fate... crazy!

Amongst the other "big" names on the album are Brenda Holloway, Martha and the Vandellas and Kim Weston whilst the "lesser" names number people like The Lollipops, Liz Lands, Little Lisa, Thelma Brown, Oma Page and the Lewis Sisters whose 'Honey Don't Leave Me' is a classic '66 Motown sound even though it was recorded on the West Coast.

Motown collectors might recognize two tunes – the Marvelettes' 'Playboy' and Mary Wells' 'She Don't Love You' but the inclusions here are different takes to the ones released while the set also boasts some really interesting covers like the Marvelettes' version of the Chiffons' 'Sweet Talking Guy' and LaBrenda Ben's look the Impressions' anthem 'It's All Right'. Both stay close to the originals which bring us to the track here which really does define the mid 60s Motown magic.... Martha and the Vandellas' 'I'm Willing To Pay The Price'. Essentially, it's a remake of their first big hit – 'Come And Get These Memories' but none the worse for that. The quality control team rejected it in favour of 'Heatwave'. Interestingly, parts of the song (including the title) were recycled on Marvin Gaye's 'Little Darling Need You'. What a great housekeeper Berry Gordy was!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 April 2018 18:42

 

BARRY WHITE: 'Love's Theme - The Best Of The 20th Century Records Singles' (UMC/Mercury)

Friday, 20 April 2018 08:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          alt

It's 45 years since the man with the deep, treacly voice originally from Galveston, Texas - I mean Barry White, of course -  made his debut for the 20th Century label (which was a subsidiary of the movie company, 20th Century Fox, and was later sold to Casablanca and is now owned by Universal). White was a reluctant solo artist at first and preferred the less conspicuous role of songwriter and producer but was encouraged to step out front into the spotlight when 20th Century's boss heard some demos with White's voice on that the big man was preparing for another male singer. It was a move that changed soul music history. Very quickly, White's basso profundo voice combined with his opulent orchestral backdrops ushered in the age of the symphonic groove ballad and also lit the touch paper for the disco movement.   

To mark White's explosion on the music scene, Universal are issuing a clutch of splendid retrospectives. The biggest and most magnificent of them is a box set of ten 7-inch vinyl 45s called The 20th Century Records Singles (1973-1975), which is bookended  with '73's 'Love Theme' and ends with '75's 'Let The Music Play.' That's for the serious collectors, and so too is a 3-CD/LP set,  'The Complete 20th Century Singles 1973-1979,' which contains 46 tracks (all the singles and their flipsides).  If that seems a  little excessive then the single disc distillation,  'Love's Theme - The Best Of The 20th Century Records Singles,' might suffice. It's a veritable cornucopia of riches, which takes the listener on a journey deep into the heart of White's remarkable oeuvre.

This particular collection opens with the evocative instrumental  'Love's Theme' (released by one of White's side projects, the Love Unlimited Orchestra), which functions as the curtain-raising overture to twenty brilliant White songs, ranging from the smouldering erotic funk of 'Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up' with its heavy breathing and shimmering Gene Page orchestration to propulsive disco grooves like 'Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe,' featuring one of the singer's deep-voiced monologues, to lush bedroom ballads exemplified by 'I've Got So Much Love To Give.' Other classic  tracks include 'You're The First, The Last, My Everything,' 'I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby,' 'It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me,' and White's soulful take on Billy Joel's 'Just The Way You Are.'  Thanks to new remastering (at Abbey Road studios no less), all of them sound as fresh and vibrant as they did back when they were first cut in the 1970s. This 'Best Of' is also available on double vinyl which includes as a bonus Love Unlimited Orchestra's 'Satin Soul.'  It will be 15 years in July since Barry White died but this 24-carat sterling collection, which commemorates his genius, attests to the immortality of his music.

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Friday, 20 April 2018 08:34

 

THE TEMPTATIONS; All The Time (UMC)

Thursday, 12 April 2018 13:58 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThere just aren't enough superlatives with which to describe the mighty Temptations and their garlanded career. The Emperors of Soul first got together in 1961 and in more than fifty years, they've weathered countless personnel changes, endured the loss of charismatic lead singers and embraced changes in musical styles and tastes. Not counting compilations, the Tempts have released 45 albums and to prove that they can still deliver, they're all set to release this new collection.... 'All The Time' at the start of May.

'All The Time' is the group's first release for nine years and it sort of illustrates why the Temptations have survived at the top for so long. You see, the long player proves that the Tempts aren't afraid to experiment; to push that envelope and embrace change. So, for the 12 tracker the veteran quintet have dipped deep into the songbooks of a selection of key contemporary artists – people like like Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, John Mayer and Ed Sheeran and to help them deliver they've employed a producer known for working way beyond the boundaries of traditional soul. The man at the boards is Dave Darling known for his work with, among others, Glen Campbell, Brian Setzer, Tom Waits, and Janiva Magness and he manages to bring a freshness to the sound while retaining all the components that make the Temptations what and who they are.... that's to say the searing lead vocals and the beautiful harmonies.

Hear all that on the album's focus track.... Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me'. Otis and the gang make it their own taking it from dear old Bishops Stortford right down to Soulsville.... and if you want to crank up the song's soul quotient, then it also comes in a special gospel mix.

Amongst the other cover highlights are a plaintive version of Ed Sheeran's 'Thinking Out Loud' (complete with signature spoken intro from Otis Williams) and a sprightly take on John Mayer's 'Still Feel Like Your Man' (a great vehicle for Ron Tyson).

The album also boasts three original songs. 'Be My Wife' takes the honours. This is a classic Temptations outing and destined to become a steppers anthem; 'Waiting On You' is a sweet ballad; while 'More Than Britches' harks back to the sound of 'Standing On The Top'. It comes in two mixes too.... both funky as hell!

So back to where we came in.... why have the Temptations survived? Well, guided by founder Otis Williams, their sound is ever-evolving but rooted in the old school soul qualities and values that have been hallmarks of the group for over fifty years. 'All The Time' is the embodiment of all that!

Find out more about this album via our interview with Otis Williams in our interview archive

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 April 2018 14:14

 

Page 7 of 431

    

Search

My Account

To comment on an article you must be registered and logged in.