Reviews

TOWER OF POWER: 'Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now' (Dutton/Vocalion)

Thursday, 12 January 2017 15:21 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Oakland's Tower of Power, with their famed horn section, are something of a soul music institution. Though they're still going strong today, forty-seven years after their formation, this Vocalion reissue (which is a high-res Super Audio edition of the album remastered from a rare quadraphonic mix, though it's compatible with standard CD players) takes us back to the band's halcyon days in the '70s.

Released in 1976, 'Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now' was the group's eighth LP overall and their debut for Columbia. It followed in the wake of an extremely fertile stint at Warner Bros, the commercial high point of which was the 1973 crossover hit, 'So Very Hard To Go.' But by '76, the band had already chewed up and spat out four lead vocalists (Rufus Miller, Rick Stevens, Lenny Williams, and Hubert Tubbs) and now had Edward McGhee installed as lead singer (though he only stayed with the band for this album and was superseded by Michael Jeffries).

Though it doesn't quite hit the creative heights of the aggregation's best Warner Bros albums (namely 'Back To Oakland' and 'Urban Renewal') it's a solid, decent long player that is characterised by soulful ballads and funkafied uptempo numbers that feature Tower of Power's trademark punchy horn interjections and slick ensemble interplay. The most ear-catching cuts are the effervescent 'You Ought To Be Havin' Fun' - a minor Stateside R&B hit - the chugging 'Can't Stand To See The Slaughter' (which is reminiscent of the band's classic Warner's side, 'What Is Hip'), and the mellow, mid-tempo, 'It's So Nice.' Despite the bravado inherent in 'Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now's'  title, ironically, the band's move to Columbia witnessed the start of a commercial decline rather than a resurgence, though this album was the best of the three they released on the label.

(CW) 3/5

 

VIVIAN REED: 'Yours Until Tomorrow - The Epic Years' (SoulMusic Records)

Thursday, 05 January 2017 18:43 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Pittsburgh singer, Vivian Reed, is a familiar name, perhaps, to avid music theatre goers in the USA, where her stage performances on Broadway (in acclaimed shows like Bubbling Brown Sugar) have received Tony nominations and garnered her a clutch of awards over the years. Less well-known is Ms Reed's career as a recording artist, which began in the late-1960s at Epic Records, when she was signed by the legendary A&R man, John Hammond, among whose 'discoveries' were Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin. Long forgotten - except by the most devoted of her fans - and out of print, Vivian Reed's eponymous LP for Epic is now reissued in full for the first time alongside a clutch of non-album 45s and their B-sides in this new 20-track Soul Music Records compilation. 

Reared on a strict diet of classical music, which led her to study at New York's prestigious Juilliard School of Music, Reed, who gave her first concert when she was 13, had to be schooled on how to sing in R&B and pop styles and certainly, listening to some of the tracks on this collection, she doesn't come across as a natural soul singer. Though note-wise she's pitch-perfect, her performances exhibit a sense of emotional control and restraint that you wouldn't get with someone like Aretha Franklin. But that's not a bad thing and certainly helps to distinguish Reed's distinctive style, which is reminiscent, perhaps - certainly in terms of its rich, expressive, contralto tone -  of Dee Dee Warwick (Interestingly, this compilation's title song, 'Yours Until Tomorrow,' was first recorded by Warwick, though Reed's version charted at #44 in the US R&B charts and proved to be her biggest hit).

The stylistically-varied material that graced Reed's Epic album - ranging from a cover of the Righteous Brothers' 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' to Leonard Bernstein's dramatic West Side Story showstopper, 'Somewhere' - revealed the singer to be a versatile performer who was comfortable in a range of settings. Some of the non-album singles for Epic from the early '70s highlight facets of Reed's musical personality that the earlier album didn't explore - such as the blues-drenched and dramatic 'Unbelievable' and two eminently soulful sides - 'Lean On Me' and 'Missing You' - the latter both written and produced by Van McCoy and Joe Cobb (Aretha Franklin later cut 'Lean On Me' as B-side and then Melba Moore scored a hit with it). Reed moved into singer-songwriter pop/rock territory with her final Epic 45, a soulful, energetic retooling of Carole King's 'I Feel The Earth Move,' produced by Richard Perry, who would go on to helm hits for the Pointer Sisters. It caps off a fine collection that illuminates the largely forgotten and overlooked years of a singer whose underappreciated recordings deserve wider exposure.

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 06 January 2017 15:22

 

WILSON PICKETT: 'In Philadelphia' + 'Don't Knock My Love' (Edsel)

Monday, 02 January 2017 12:23 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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January 2017 will mark the eleventh anniversary of the death of Wilson Pickett, the flamboyant, Alabama-born soul man who achieved immortality via such evergreen '60s R&B hits as 'In The Midnight Hour,' 'Land Of 1,000 Dances,' and 'Mustang Sally.'  This particular twofer is my pick of Edsel's excellent 2-on-1 reissue programme of Stax and Atlantic titles (five in all), combining  1970's 'In Philadelphia' with 1971's 'Don't Knock My Love.' The first album teams up  Pickett with then rising Philadelphia songwriters and producers, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who frame his raspy soul shout with string and horn arrangements, while the second album, finds Pickett on more familiar soil in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford at the helm.  

Though in terms of their sound, the two albums are quite different from each other, Wilson Pickett stays true to himself on both sets, delivering impassioned, throat-shredding vocals. While 'In Philadelphia' is certainly more urbane than any of Pickett's previous albums and boasts a greater musical sophistication in places, Gamble & Huff, while adding a bit of orchestral polish here and there, don't attempt to erase or replace the grittiness of the singer's raw, earthy style. He's in full-on scream mode on the funkafied hit single, 'Engine Number Nine,' though in acute contrast, the album's biggest hit single, 'Don't Let The Green Grass For You,' has an easy-swinging, jazz feel.

Bonus tracks for this set include single edits of the two principal chart hits already mentioned plus assorted non-album singles and their B-sides, a remix of 'International Playboy' and two live cuts from the same era - 'Funky Broadway' and 'Land Of 1,000 Dances,' both recorded in Accra, Ghana in 1971 (and recorded for the 'Soul To Soul' documentary movie).  

In contrast, 'Don't Knock My Love,' finds Pickett back in the south at his old Muscle Shoals stomping ground for what would turn out to be the singer's final studio set for Atlantic. It's an accomplished set, with sterling production from Crawford and Shapiro, whose use of the Memphis Horns and a string section add class and a glossy sheen to the proceedings but without relinquishing Pickett's trademark earthiness. Though its lead off cut, Pickett's combustible take on British blues-rock band Free's 'Fire & Water,' was a big US R&B hit in 1972,  its most impressive song is the title track, a throbbing slice of funk  which appears in two parts; the second part a mind-blowing symphonic instrumental excursion arranged by Wade Marcus that comes across like a Lalo Schifrin movie score piece. There are also seven bonus cuts added to this reissue, including five non-album outtakes from 1971 and '72 that weren't released at the time (and were only previously available on a 2010 Rhino box set). It all adds up to a must-have package that serious connoisseurs of vintage soul shouldn't ignore.

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 January 2017 17:16

 

DENNIS COFFEY: Hot Coffey In The D (Resonance)

Friday, 30 December 2016 17:04 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altDennis Coffey is a guitar legend. He was a key member of Motown's Funk Brothers, playing on countless hits. His is the distinctive wah-wah sound that marked the so called psycho-soul period of the Temptations' career but he's also revered by rare groove fans for his solo outings – notably the oft-sampled 'Scorpio' and the soundtrack, 'Back Belt Jones'. Like many of the Funk Brothers, Denis augmented his pay packet by playing the Detroit music bars and night clubs and a few years back, Dennis dug out an old, forgotten tape of one of his gigs at such a club. Club in question was the tiny Morey Baker's Showcase Lounge and the date of the recording was "sometime in 1968". At that time, the guitar man led a trio; the two other members were organist Lyman Woodward and drummer Melvin Davis. Both were "names" on the Detroit session scene, working with people like Don Davis and Ed Wingate.

"Sometime in 1968" the threesome decided to record their show and with equipment borrowed from the famous Tera Shirma Studios, that's just what they did... but it's only now that the recording has been made commercially available.

Sonically the bill of fayre is soul-jazz, though with Coffey leading there's a generous helping of funk too. The funk's there on the original tunes, 'Fuzz' and 'The Big D' and fans of Dennis's 'Scorpio' period will relish both.

The remaining five tracks are covers with the most interesting being reconstructions of Jimmy Webb's 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' and Burt Bacharach's 'The Look Of Love'. On the former, the trio raise the tempo while on the latter, the influence is Wes Montgomery. The other covers – 'Wade In The Water', Herbie Hancock's 'Maiden Voyage' and Ruby Johnson's 'Casanova' - are truer to their better know versions. Interestingly, the comprehensive sleeve notes reveal Coffey played on that Andrews track!

As an album bonus, the sleeve notes are excellent. Interviews with Coffey and Detroit insiders, including Bettye Lavettte, offer a real insight into the Detroit music scene of the mid 60s.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 30 December 2016 17:11

 

THE MAIN INGREDIENT: 'Euphrates River' (Vocalion)

Thursday, 29 December 2016 14:19 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Harlem's accomplished harmony group, The Main Ingredient, never scored a number one record in their long career but they got mighty close in 1972 with the memorable single, 'Everybody Plays The Fool,' which spent three weeks at #2 in the US R&B charts. Though noted for the consistency of their material and performances, the trio had to wait another two years before they were back in the R&B Top 10 with the Bobby Eli-Vinnie Barrett classic, 'Just Don't Want To Be Lonely,' which is one of several spectacular moments on their sixth album, 1974's 'Euphrates River,' a classic but frequently overlooked set which has just been remastered via UK reissue label, Vocalion.

Originally comprising Donald McPherson, Luther Simmons and Tony Silvester, The Main Ingredient debuted in 1970 with the single 'You've Been My Inspiration' and quickly blueprinted a distinctive vocal style where they blended tasteful covers with self-penned songs. McPherson's tragic death in 1971 from leukaemia almost derailed the group but his replacement, Cuba Gooding (father of the Hollywood movie star, Cuba Gooding Jr), proved a valuable asset and fronted the trio's biggest hits. His husky tones can be heard fronting the second Stateside hit from 'Euphrates River,' a wonderful widescreen remake of British R&B organist Brian Augur's 'Happiness Is Just Around The Bend,' which is an epic, cinematic groove garnished with dancing strings superbly arranged by arranger, Bert De Coteaux.

Other highlights on this varied includes mellow remakes of two songs by soft-rock duo, Seals & Crofts - 'Euphrates' and 'Summer Breeze' (which also received a famous R&B makeover by the Isley Brothers in '73) - and offers fresh perspectives on tunes by Ashford & Simpson ('Have You Ever Tried It'), Willie Hutch (the excellent 'California My Way'), and Stevie Wonder ('Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing'). The album demonstrates not only The Main Ingredient's sublime vocals and consummate musicality but also how reveals how good they were at taking songs from a variety of sources and remaking them in their own image. Every serious soul music collector should own this classic album and if it's not in your collection, I urge you to snap it up right away (this reissue, by the way, is a Super Audio CD - featuring the original quadraphonic mix - but it's compatible with standard CD players).  

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 December 2016 17:16

 

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