Reviews

JAMES BROWN: 'A Soulful Christmas' (Culture Factory)

Friday, 23 December 2016 14:13 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Apparently, James Brown loved Christmas - so much, it could be argued, that he even decided to check out on Christmas Day. But seriously, he often did charitable work on the 25th December, handing out turkeys to the impoverished denizens of America's black ghettos (and it was a tradition that he maintained right up until his death). This was his second, and arguably best, Yuletide album. It was issued in 1968 on King when the Godfather's music was in a transitional phase, moving towards the harder funk style initiated by 1967's 'Cold Sweat' and which would define his sound  in the coming decade. Remastered in high definition (that's 24-bit/96kHz to the bat-eared audiophiles out there), 'A Soulful Christmas' is pressed up on a festive, red CD that's as shiny as Rudolph's nose and presented in a mini-facsimile of the original LP sleeve complete with a Japanese-style OBI strip. Needless to say, it both sounds and looks good. But what about the quality of the music? Well, though the Godfather's LPs could be patchy in the '60s, 'A Soulful Christmas' is a consistent effort that's stuffed with good tunes (and even the obligatory filler is of good quality).

The opener, 'Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto,' with its addictive shuffle groove  is a bonafide holiday classic and so too is the set's best cut, the funked-up title song features Maceo Parker's jabbing sax. 'Santa Claus, Santa Claus' is a pleading, blues-infused ballad that channels the gospel fervour of 'Try Me' and 'Please Please Please' while 'Christmas Is Coming' is a funky instrumental (in the vein of 'Cold Sweat') peppered with stabbing horns and jazzy vibes. A similar arrangement, with  a tinkling vibraphone to the fore, manifests itself on the infectious 'Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer).' Another funkafied instrumental, 'Christmas Is Coming,' is another strong showcase highlighting the interlocking, rhythmic cohesion  of Brown's band (led by Alfred 'Pee Wee' Ellis at that point). James Brown returns on  'Let's Unite At Christmas,' a smooth ballad with a message of harmony and togetherness. As regards the 'filler,' mentioned earlier, Brown included his then latest hit, the anthemic 'Say It Loud - I'm Black & I'm Proud' on the album as well as an instrumental cut called 'In The Middle' (which also appeared on Marva Whitney's 'It's My Thing' album and Brown's 'The Popcorn' LP, both released in 1969).

If you're a fan of The Godfather of Soul or a serious funk and soul disciple you'll need to own this. It's a genuine Christmas cracker that knocks the stuffing out of other seasonal albums. A serious stocking filler.

(CW) 4/5 

Last Updated on Friday, 23 December 2016 14:19

 

LINDA JONES; Precious (Kent)

Thursday, 22 December 2016 20:13 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altA goodly section of the serious soul community considers Newark, New Jersey-born Linda Jones the greatest ever female soul singer. Those Jones apologists will, therefore, be delighted with this new Ace/Kent 24 track retrospective of her career. Those who favour say Aretha or Gladys Knight will have the chance to reconsider, while those who are still to familiarise themselves with her art, here have the opportunity to rectify that glaring omission in their collections!

Born in 1944, Linda Jones began her career singing gospel (now there's a surprise!) but in her late teens she turned to the devil's music and after playing the bars and clubs of Newark she was signed to MGM aged just 19. Billed as Linda Lane, she debuted with a cover of Jackie Wilson's 'Lonely Teardrops'. The record bombed and Ms Jones went back to waiting tables and singing in the clubs when she could. It was on a club night that she was "discovered" by veteran soul man George Kerr who had her record a number of sides that he placed with Atlantic. Again success eluded Linda Jones and by 1966 she signed to Red Bird Records. That famous label was by then in financial straits and soon Kerr and his protégé were on the move again... this time to Warner Bros. subsidiary, Loma.

Finally, at Loma, Linda Jones began to taste success as her ever-glorious 'Hypnotised' scaled the charts. After Warner Bros. started to run down Loma, Kerr and Linda migrated to Gamble and Huff's short-lived Neptune operation; after Neptune, Kerr found Jones a deal with All Platinum's Turbo imprint. There she enjoyed moderate R&B chart action but by then, a hectic work schedule and a reported chaotic lifestyle had started to take its toll on Linda's health (she was a lifelong diabetic) and in March 1972 she collapsed into a diabetic coma from which she never recovered. Turbo posthumously released her version of the Impression's 'For Your Precious Love' and the passion and power of the performance took the record into both the R&B and pop charts.

This new Kent collection pulls together 24 key tracks from all the labels that Linda Jones worked for. You get, of course, that debut 'Lonely Teardrops' and her hugely charged swansong, 'For Your Precious Love' and in between there are all the well known recordings... 'Hypnotized' and 'You Hit Me Like TNT' amongst them. We'll leave it up to you to decide where Ms Jones stands in femme soul's hagiography, but before you make any quick or glib decisions take a listen to stuff like 'Give My Love A Try', 'Stay With Me Forever', 'I've Given You The Best Years Of My Life' or 'I Can't Make It Alone'. We guarantee that you'll enjoy soul music of a supreme quality... proper soul music that is right up there with the accepted "best".

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 December 2016 20:33

 

KURT ELLING: 'The Beautiful Day: Kurt Elling Sings Christmas' (OKeh)

Thursday, 22 December 2016 14:53 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Here's a Christmas album with a difference - one whose emphasis is secular, perhaps, rather than overtly religious, but which doesn't sacrifice the spiritual messages that are inherent in many Yuletide-themed songs.  Chicago-born Kurt Elling, whose voice is as pliable, controlled and virtuosic as any horn played by a jazz master, imbues a special magic into this 14-song selection, which ranges from unorthodox renditions of traditional carols ('Star Of Wonder,' 'We Three Kings,' and 'Wenceslaus,' the latter appearing three times as a recurring motif) to evergreen holiday-associated numbers ('Little Drummer Boy') and some festive songs that are less well-known (including three tunes by esteemed UK songwriter Leslie Bricusse). Together with his supporting musicians - including guitarist John McLean, keyboardist Stuart Mindeman and drummer, Kendrick Scott - Elling has crafted a set of arrangements and performances that show good taste, skill and musical ingenuity. Their version of 'We Three Kings' is particularly striking and seasonally atmospheric with its piano figures glistening like freshly fallen snow. 'Little Drummer Boy' is reconfigured into a bebop-esque workout for voice, drums and bass. Elling is at his plaintive, ethereal best on the dreamy winter medley,  'The Snow Is Deep On The Ground/Snowfall,' which is built on a foundation of gentle arpeggios. Those who know and love soul music will delight in Elling's classy take on Donny Hathaway and Nadine McKinnor's classic 'This Christmas,' which features harmonised horns, a jazzy guitar solo from John McLean and some sumptuous, super-smooth background vocals. It's the standout cut on an album that avoids the usual Christmas turkeys and clichés and serves up a stylish yet substantial musical feast.

CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 December 2016 14:58

 

Various Artists: 'Feeling Good - Funk, Soul & Deep Jazz Gems' (We Want Sounds)

Thursday, 15 December 2016 12:40 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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This superb 15-track compilation showcases recordings helmed by noted US jazz producer, Bob Shad, for his Mainstream label in the early 1970s. Born Abraham Shadrinksy in 1920, Shad reinvented himself by adopting a new name and began working in the music industry in the late 1940s. He eventually landed at Chicago's Mercury label in the early '50s, where his achievements included  birthing the company's EmArcy imprint and producing recordings by Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, the Clifford Brown/Max Roach quintet and Quincy Jones. He went independent and set up his own label, Mainstream, in 1964 though this compilation focuses on his company's output from the following decade when he re-launched it as a jazz imprint. It features some big names from the world of jazz - singers Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, horn blowers Blue Mitchell, Art Farmer and Clark Terry, and drummer Shelly Manne - all of whom were finding it difficult to get major label deals in the '70s as jazz lost ground in terms of sales, exposure and popularity to rock and pop.

There's a lot here that both seasoned crate-diggers looking for an antique groove as well as casual fans of funky lounge jazz will savour and appreciate. West Coast sticks man, Shelly Manne, serves up one of the set's most impressive cuts - an atmospheric tone poem called 'Mask.' Those looking for something funkier will dig Afrique's syncopated opener, 'House Of The Rising Funk' while cult singer, Alice Clark - of 'You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me)' fame - serves up the bluesy, soulful ballad, 'Never Did I Stop Loving You.' Trumpeter Blue Mitchell's 'Soul Village' rides on a mellow Fender Rhodes-driven groove garnished with cool horn riffs and Buddy Terry's 'Abscretions' hits even harder, pushing the funkometer into the critical red zone. Another cut marked by an unusual neologism as a title is 'Quadrivium,' an undulating Africa-meets-Latin America style piece by obscure flautist/reed man, Hadley Caliman. Another largely forgotten figure, US jazz guitarist Jack Wilkins, tackles Freddie Hubbard's classic 'Red Clay' and makes a good job of it. Another unfamiliar name - except to well-read collectors - is soul singer Ellerine Harding, who made a solitary LP for Mainstream before disappearing into the ether.   

Elsewhere, though, more familiar names deliver the goods with characteristic aplomb. Both Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae are in imperious form. More frivolous is the jaunty 'Rum & Mumbles' where legendary trumpeter, Clark Terry, gets stuck into a deep Latin mode.  By contrast, fellow horn blower, Art Farmer, concocts a delicious, gently-simmering piece of orchestral funk called 'Soulsides.' It's just one of many arresting performances that pay tribute to Bob Shad's impeccable musical taste. The liner notes, by the way, are penned by Judd Apatow, the American comedian and writer, who turns out to be Shad's grandson.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 December 2016 12:58

 

ARCHIE BELL and the DRELLS: Let’s Groove (bbr)

Monday, 12 December 2016 15:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altDespite a slew of hits through the 60s and 70s, Archie Bell and the Drells have never been considered soul major leaguers. Maybe this new 2CD, 44 track career retrospective from bbr will force a reconsideration as those with short and selective memories get to re-hear some of the great good-time soul that the Texan group crafted.

The boys' first label was Ovide Records where they recorded the single 'Dog Eat Dog' coupled with 'Tighten Up'. The catchy dancer was licensed to Atlantic who flipped the disc, promoting the even catchier 'Tighten Up' which went on to top the pop and soul charts in 1968. To keep the momentum, Atlantic execs teamed Archie and his band with up and coming, hotshot producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff ... the hits continued.

After Atlantic/Ovide the group switched to Glade Records before rejoining Kenny and Leon at Philly International Records and again the pairing brought artistic and commercial success.

This new collection offers all the hits, of course, but there's plenty to interest serious soul collectors, including some of their lesser known Atlantic tracks. These include versions of Hayes and Porter's 'Wrap It Up' and Philip Mitchell's lovely 'I Just Want To Fall In Love'. You also get the Glade recordings, most of them Philip Mitchell songs with Mitchell and others standing in for the Drells. Those tunes go to prove that it just wasn't Gamble and Huff who could bring out the best in Archie Bell's remarkable soul voice. The Glade materail  is every bit as good as 'Tighten Up', 'Showdown', 'Soul City Walk' and all the other hits... enjoy 'em all again and maybe you might be tempted to move Archie and the Drells up the soul pecking order!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 12 December 2016 19:01

 

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