JOHN PIZZARELLI: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (Concord)

Wednesday, 02 August 2017 11:49 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBack in 1967 Frank Sinatra released one of his best, yet, oddly, least acclaimed of his albums. It was the great man's homage to the then contemporary musical craze that had bewitched American sophisticates. The 10 track collaboration with Antonio Carlos Jobim was 'ol blue eyes' take on the bossa nova and it was very different to anything he'd recorded before. Indeed he's said to have remarked after the sessions: "I haven't sung so soft since I had laryngitis'!

A month or two back, to celebrate the album's 50th anniversary, it was reissued with the addition of a couple of insightful bonus tracks and now American guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli offers his homage to 'Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim'.

Known as an inspired reinventor of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli tackles the Sinatra album in a new way melding some of the songs into medleys. So where Sinatra offered 'If You Never Come To Me', 'Change Partners' and 'I Concentrate On You' as single tracks, Pizzarelli pairs the first with the second and adds his version of 'Wave' to the third. He also includes Jobim's 'Agua De Beber' and 'Two Kites' (neither on the original Sinatra LP) along with three other "new" cuts – Michael Franks' tribute to Jobim, 'Antonio's Song', and two of his own , 'She's So Sensitive' and 'Canto Casual.' Then for reasons never quite explained there's no 'Girl From Ipanema' – the first track on the Sinatra long player.

The set's guest-in-chief is Jobim's grandson, Daniel who adds vocals and piano on a number of cuts. Given his pedigree and Pizzarelli's musical CV you can probably guess that their treatments of the classic songs are respectful, tasteful and true to the spirit of their creators while the original songs fit the template perfectly.

And the rasion d'être for the album? Well apart from celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original release, Pizzarelli was interested to explore the concept of "what if Sinatra and Jobim had continued to collaborate?"... this explains the addition of the new material, obviously. Obvious too, that both Sinatra and Jobim would have approved of what Pizzarelli has achieved here.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 August 2017 11:54


WENDY & LISA: 'Eroica' (Cherry Pop)

Thursday, 27 July 2017 14:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Guitarist Wendy Melvoin and keyboard player Lisa Coleman rose to fame as members of Prince's band, The Revolution, in 1984, starring alongside the diminutive Minneapolis genius in the blockbuster movie, 'Purple Rain,' which also yielded a multi-Platinum soundtrack album.  By 1986, the duo had signed a deal with Virgin to make their own records, and in 1987 issued their self-titled debut LP, which included the minor hit, 'Waterfalls.' Their second LP, 'Fruit At the Bottom,' came out a year later (it included their UK Top 30 hit, 'Satisfaction') followed by their third album, 'Eroica,' in 1990, which is now reissued as an expanded 2-CD 'Special Edition' set by Cherry Pop.  

Lisa Coleman contributes detailed reminiscences to the liner notes of this release and reveals that the duo regarded 'Eroica' (which takes its title from Beethoven's third symphony) as their best for Virgin as it was a record that didn't try to appease record company A&R people and as such was the truest reflection of what they wanted to achieve musically. What they delivered was a seamless amalgam of Minneapolis-style funk, R&B, pop, and rock flavours, with passionate vocals (mostly sung by Wendy) and intelligent lyrics. The original album has been remastered and is certainly a vast sonic improvement on the 1990 CD. The highlights include the insistent 'Rainbow Lake,' a brassy funk juggernaut called 'Skeleton Key,' the throbbing, wistful groove ballad, 'Staring At The Sun,' and  the slow, poignant confessional, 'Don't Try To Tell Me,' featuring Lisa doing lead vocals (which an orchestral arrangement by Wendy's father, noted west coast jazz man, the late Mike Melvoin).

The second disc in the set is packed with sundry bonus cuts, which range from  various 7-inch edits and 12-inch remixes of singles (including the catchy 'Strung Out,' and an ultra-funky 'Rainbow Lake'), an alternative version of 'Don't Try To Tell Me,' plus the non-album single B-sides, 'Stones And Birth,' and 'Balance.' The original 'Eroica' album came with a limited bonus CD of four solo, jazz-inflected piano improvisations by Lisa Coleman, which are also included in this package.  

While Wendy & Lisa can currently be found touring the USA to great acclaim in a reformed Revolution band (alongside fellow original members, bassist Brown Mark, keyboardist, Dr. Fink and drummer Bobby Z), this fine reissue shows us what they could do when they spread their wings and flew to musical worlds beyond Prince's orbit.

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 August 2017 10:13


SHAILA PROSPERE; Back To Life (Rhythm Records)

Monday, 24 July 2017 18:24 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altShaila Prospere is an English soulstress who impressed with her first long player, 'In My Shoes'. For whatever reason the album never really took off but with her soulful voice Ms P was never out of work doing sessions and BVs. Earlier this year she enjoyed a higher profile via a couple of tasty singles – 'Let Me Be Yours' and 'Family'. In both original and remix formats the tunes got plenty of plays with commentators drawing comparisons to Beverley Knight. Nowt wrong with that analogy and easy to hear why it was made. Both tunes had that peculiar 80s UK feel though they also bristled with contemporary flavours.

The good news is that Shaila has just released a new album and it's stuffed with similar soulful sounds. 'Let Me Be Yours' and 'Family' are there, of course and as bonuses you get the Soul Syndicate mixes of 'em too. The mix on 'Let Me be Yours' is particularly strong with samples, we think, of Cheryl Lynn's 'Encore' and Curtis Hairston's 'Morning After'. Sample spotters will also recognize the riff from Jones Girls classic 'Who Can I Run To' on the album title track, a lazy, rolling groove. There's the same feel on the set's most imaginative track – the cover of Sister Sledge's 'Thinking Of You' ... laid back, lovely and very different to the familiar original. The album's other key slower moments are 'That Place', 'Don't Ask Me To Stay' and 'Beautiful'.

But we think the modern soul crowd will be more impressed with the dancers and with UK soul veterans Everis Pellius and Phil 'Phillo' Nugent at the helm, there are plenty of them. We've already highlighted the two singles; then there's stuff like 'Love Like This' and the very catchy 'Break The Chain' while one of those ballads, 'That Place' also comes, thanks to Soul Syndicate, in a soulful house mix. .. impressive.

Indeed, overall this is an impressive UK soul collection – offering quality in all departments.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 24 July 2017 18:30


THE 360 BAND; 360 (3MS MUSIC)

Wednesday, 19 July 2017 19:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBack in January we reviewed an excellent album by the enigmatically named 360 Band. Fans of the dear old Average White Band were delighted to learn that the 360 Band were made up of AWB alumni... Hamish Stuart, Steve Ferrone and Molly Duncan, Yes we know that there's an incarnation of the AWB still working – made up of, we think, Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre but back in January we wrote that the 360 Band captured the spirit of classic AWB – a little less funky maybe, but still soulful, brassy and classy and fronted by Hamish Stuart's distinctive voice.

Well, for reasons never best explained, the January release of '360' never properly happened and AWB fans sought out the album without too much luck. Now the set is finally set for a full, proper release on 3MS Music and for what it's worth here is a re-run of our January review – 'cos, cutting to the chase, it still sounds mighty fine to us!

The lead single from '360' was/is 'Mighty Fall' and, sonically, it sets the tone for the whole album... slinky and jazzy, it oozes soulful quality and like many of the great soul and funk sounds of yesteryear it comes in parts 1 and 2...though radio programmers will be delighted to know that there's a radio edit too. If they need more incentive to play the tune then they'll also need to know that the song is the trio's homage to the 20th Century's greatest sportsman, Muhammad Ali- "a man with a mission".

It is a great tune but our favourites at the moment are the album's two mid way tracks... 'Some Other Time' and 'Too Hip'. Both are jazzy, brassy meanders that betray the experience that the trio has under their collective belt!

Elsewhere 'Loose Change' is a bit if an oddity... a sort of funk and reggae hybrid; 'Cherry Blossom Time' is sweet and smooth while 'Just For A Thrill' is a throwback to a whole different era. That song was written way back in the late 30s and is probably best remembered in its Ray Charles' version (check out the Bill Wyman/Georgie Fame version too). Here, the 360 Band give it a sort of early ("authentic") R&B feel.... lovely stuff.

Helping the original trio deliver are Steve Pearce (bass) Adam Phillips (guitar), Ross Stanley (keyboards), Andy Caine (guitar & vocals), Jim Watson (keyboards), Danny Cummings (percussion), Tom Walsh (trumpet and flugel), Neil Sidwell (trombone) and Hamish's daughter: Emma (backing vocals) and between them they concoct a quite lovely album... proper grown up music. If you like mellow moment Tower of Power, Van Morrison... oh, yes and the Average White Band, you'll love this!

The album is officially released on 18th August

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 July 2017 20:11


NICOLE ATKINS: 'Goodnight Rhonda Lee' (Single Lock Records)

Wednesday, 19 July 2017 11:37 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altSubmersion in nostalgia is something that people have gravitated to over the past couple of years – the election of Donald Trump (Make America Great Again) and the longing for an imagined and glorified past in the culmination of Brexit (Red, White and Blue Brexit). Nostalgia tends to get a bad rap not only politically but also in our personal lives. The dangers of looking at past events through rose tinted glasses and coming to the often-erroneous conclusion that last year really wasn’t that bad. However, in the context of music, nostalgia doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Nicole Atkins' latest musical creation, 'Goodnight Rhonda Lee,' proves the point. The record is a submersion in sonically and soulfully constructed nostalgia with Atkins bringing soul and blues from the '60s and '70s, and making it her own. There’s no imitation but rather a reimagining of soul music through Atkins’ musical and personal filter.

Woven together by intently introspective and self-aware lyrics, Atkins turns the past over in her hands but never in a way that longs for something or somewhere that never really existed ('I Love Living Here, Even When I Don’t') nor does she indulge in self-flagellation. She merely looks at the past for what it was and the person she used to be for who she was – no judgement, just compassion and a way to navigate her present.

Soul music has always seemed to me the music that people need when they’ve been sufficiently beaten down by the world, and just need something that can put them back together again. Whether it’s Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’, Sam Cooke’s 'Bring It On Home’ or Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, these are the songs that never fail to move or to heal.

'Goodnight Rhonda Lee' evokes the feeling of music of the past, which evidently is still so much a part of our present. Atkins takes the warm ambience that Carole King so effortlessly created in 'Tapestry' and brings it to ‘Colors’, spinning an atmosphere so perfect that it brings you to right back to sitting on the floor listening to vinyl on your parent’s old record player.

Atkins takes the rich tapestry that only soul music creates and weaves it into ‘I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t)' and ‘A Night of Serious Drinking’. With their understated arrangements that slowly and effortlessly build throughout, and the pull and push of emotion in Atkins' vocals; the songs swell and surge and then fade out gently into the world.

‘Sleepwalking’, a delirious song that calls up the ghosts of Motown records, which as we all know that no matter how infectious or sensual the groove is, the lyrics are bound to be dramatically sad and at times co-dependent. Atkins sticks with this recipe, creating a song whose opening bars have you immediately dancing across the room to the groove of electric guitars and soulful horns.

‘Listen Up’ a soulful and funky piece that has the ambience and texture of a recording from the ‘70s. Like the rest of the album it is honest and effortless, both in its writing and arrangement. Drums and percussion set the piece off followed closely by a piano and Atkins' soulful and breathy vocals. There are moments when it feels like Atkins is physically wrestling with her demons and battling out her past insecurities through the music.

As 'Goodnight Rhonda Lee' beautifully illustrates, nostalgia doesn’t have to be filled with sentimental longing or only seeing a part of a photograph. When coupled with self-reflection and seeing things as they were, nostalgia can be powerful motivator for change.

“I wish that we stay the same/ But hoping means nothing as darkness turns into day”, Atkins sings in ‘Darkness Falls So Quiet’. Perhaps this perfectly sums up the record; that change is inevitable no matter how much we cling to the past.

(Emily Algar)  4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 July 2017 16:16


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