ESTHER PHILLIPS: 'A Beautiful Friendship - The Kudu Anthology 1971-1976' (Soul Music Records)

Sunday, 16 July 2017 09:30 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altWith her nasal tone and dry, raspy, tart delivery, Esther Phillips didn't possess one of the most beautiful voices known to humanity, but it was certainly one of the most  soulful, expressive and nakedly emotional in popular music. By 1971, when the 36-year-old Galveston singer joined Creed Taylor's CTI set up (Kudu was an R&B-oriented imprint to Taylor's jazz imprint, CTI), she was seemingly on a slow, downward descent towards mediocrity after a spectacular  early-'50s heyday that had seen her score two US R&B chart-toppers as a teenager under the name, Little Esther. She scored her only adult number one with her indelible version of the country song, 'Release Me,' in 1963 and then spent a spell at Atlantic in the late '60s before joining Kudu. Known to be volatile and unreliable - due to her battle with drug addiction - no one anticipated her alliance with Creed Taylor, a mild-mannered white producer from Virginia, to yield ,much in the way of good music let alone last five years. It proved to be a time, though, that the singer revitalised her ailing career - and that key period in her life is chronicled by this fabulous 2-CD set compiled and annotated by David Nathan, and avid Phillips' fan who also knew the singer personally.

The set begins with arguably Phillips' greatest side for CTI; her harrowing version of Gil Scott-Heron's junkie epiphany, 'Home Is Where The Hatred Is.' She used her own experience with narcotics to imbue her performance with a haunting authenticity and by so doing, created the absolute definitive version of the song. She made it indisputably her own, as she did with every song she covered. She was a song stylist supreme and the skilful way she appropriates other people's songs and makes them sound like utterances from her own soul is a rare and uncanny gift. This collection trawls though seven albums' worth of material, cherry picking stellar highlights such as 'From A Whisper To A Scream,' 'Use Me,' 'Baby, I'm For Real,' 'Black-Eyed Blues,' 'Disposable Society,' and her disco hit, 'What A Diff'rence A Day Makes,' her mirrorball revamp of an old Dinah Washington tune. Though there were no chart-topping records during her CTI tenure, she produced the most satisfying and consistent work of her career under Creed Taylor's aegis. For those not familiar with the work of the singer born Esther Mae Jones,  this 33-track anthology is a great starting place. Highly recommended.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 July 2017 12:34


ERIC GALE: 'The Definitive Collection' (Robinsongs/Cherry Red)

Saturday, 15 July 2017 10:39 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altEric Gale was a guitar genius. The musical equivalent of a polymath, he had perfect pitch and could play convincingly in an array of styles, ranging from jazz, pop, reggae, and rock to blues, soul and funk. Between the early 1960s and his death from lung cancer in 1994, he appeared as a sideman on hundreds of recording sessions, contributing to major records by artists as varied as Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Billy Joel, Bob Marley and Quincy Jones. He was also a lynchpin of the '70s fusion supergroup, Stuff, and made several notable albums under his own name. This excellent new 2-CD set brings together 27 tracks, which are mostly taken from his own solo repertoire but also includes three cuts from other sources (two are Stuff tracks - 'Foots' and 'My Sweetness' - while the other is 'Tell It Like It Is' by Stuff's keyboard wiz, Richard Tee).  

Gale had an immediately identifiable sound: a bittersweet, B.B. King-esque blues cry with an acerbic edge. He style was also very economical - almost minimalist, in fact - defined by a 'less is more' ethos. Eric Gale never overplayed - rather, every note he played fitted perfectly. His 1973 solo LP debut came for uber-producer Creed Taylor's Kudu imprint - Gale played on a plethora of sessions for its parent company, CTI, as well - and you get four cuts from it here, including a lovely reading of Robert Flack's 'Killing Me Softly With His Song.' After a solitary LP for Kudu, Gale was snapped up by Columbia and in 1976 released his most famous album, 'Ginseng Woman,' featuring a memorable title cut penned and produced by keyboard genie Bob James, who also helmed the guitarist's second CBS platter, 'Multiplication.'  There's a goodly selection of cuts from those two albums here, which were stylistically very similar, and have a strong Bob James influence.

Gale's third Columbia LP, 'Part Of You,' saw him teaming up with Ralph MacDonald as producer and was a tasteful collection of songs showcasing Gale's eloquent guitar in a range of settings. The gentle title track, included here, demonstrated the guitarist's ability as a master of melodic understatement while the more driving 'Let-Me-Slip-It-To-You' is a slice of brassy disco-funk.  His fourth and final Columbia album, 'Touch Of Silk' had Allen Toussaint in the producer's chair and was more stripped back as a result. It also included the straight ahead, hard-swinging jazz groove, a remake Charlie Parker's bebop classic, 'Au Privave.'  It's here, in a jazz trio setting with Charles Earland on organ, where Gale really demonstrates just how good his chops were. This collection ends with three cuts taken from Gale's post-Columbia period, when he recorded for Elektra Musician in the early '80s. They close what is a good, solid overview of Gale's career during its peak years, though it's shame that some of his contributions to Grover Washington Jr's '70s recordings didn't make the tracklisting (especially Grover's take on 'Where Is The Love,' which contained a Gale solo that the guitarist claimed was his favourite of everything he'd ever recorded). If you've never heard of Eric Gale, this is a fine introduction to his unique and much missed talent.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 July 2017 12:34


DECOSTA BOYCE: Electrick Soul (Vintedge Records)

Friday, 14 July 2017 18:07 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Electrick Soul' is the most aptly-named album that I've come across so far this year. That's exactly what the 11 trcaker is ... contemporary soul delivered in an electronic soundscape by a young man brought up on Prince and D'Angelo and for whom music biz insiders are forecasting a big future.

Decosta Boyce hails from Stevenage and after leaving college he immersed himself in the London music scene eventually working with people like Beverley Knight, Mica Paris and Roachford. He even landed himself a spot touring with Heatwave – taking the great Johnny Wilder's part as front man! Then the solo career beckoned but sadly poor business choices meant a stalled start – so for the past two years he's been putting together 'Electrik Soul' – happy to be in charge of his own destiny.

'Electrik Soul' reveals a young man who's prepared to experiment with soul and take chances – as he admits on the intro and outro; he sings that he just wants "to try his best to be me" and to that end he (largely) throws the soul text book out of the window. Throughout the album he offers up quirky, electronic beats, gimmicky effects and odd melody lines. The conservative soul crowd will wonder why, but that's their loss – repeated listens reveal some gems, like the chunky, funky 'No Holding Back' and the hazy, phasey 'I'll Do Anything' where the obvious reference point is Maxwell. They both work well but elsewhere (as on 'I Can Already Tell' and 'Givi2me') you can hear a lack of focus.

That brings us to the album's two best cuts (to these veteran ears at any rate). First up is a wonderful Isley Brothers pastiche 'Do It For You' which comes complete with some great Ernie Isley style guitar and lovely memories of 'Who's That Lady'. Then there's the album's big set piece ballad... 'Don't Go (Across The River)'. This is a mournful, Southern soul, gospel-infused piece on which Decosta shows what he can do without resorting to electronic gimmickry. The reference point on this track is Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Elsewhere? Well we've already mentioned Maxwell and his early heroes Prince and D'Angelo. Throw in people like Sly Stone, George Clinton and the whole Funkadelic circus and you'll start to get an idea of what Decosta Boyce is all about.

Decosta Boyce's 'Electrick Soul' is released on August 18th.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 14 July 2017 18:13


JACKIEM JOYNER; Main Street Beat (Artistry)

Friday, 14 July 2017 18:04 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Main Street Beat' is Jackiem Joyner's sixth album and it takes off where his last set, 2014's 'Evolve' finished; that's to say the new eleven tracker continues to deliver classic, sax-led smooth jazz – polished, glossily produced soul-based grooves. Sample it at its classiest on the opening two cuts – 'Main Street' and 'Back To Motown'. Both are easily accessible (as the best smooth jazz should be) and make no demands on the listener... and there's nothing wrong with that. There are times to be bombarded with cerebral music challenges and equally times when you deserve to just let the music flow over and around you.

Enjoy more of the same on 'When You Smile' and the atmospheric 'Trinity' – a tune for the sax man's first child – her presence represented by sweet acoustic guitar from Steve Oliver. Jackiem's funkier side is represented by 'Southside Boulevard' and 'Get Down Street' –both with big bass lines courtesy of Daryl Williams. Then if you like things mellower try 'Don't Make Her Wait' though the LP's other big slow passage, 'Addicted' veers to the funereal.... Joyner, by the way, plays all the instruments on this one.

'Main Street Beats' boasts two covers too – Justin Timberlake's 'Can't Stop The Feeling' and Bruno Mars' 'Treasure'. The former is bright and brash with a relaxed, minimal vocal from Gabe Roland that weaves in and out Joyner's sax lines; the latter is big and brash too and again it's Gabe Roland at the mic.

Jackiem Joyner's 'Main Street Beats' is out now and you can learn more

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 14 July 2017 18:14


ARTHUR ALEXANDER: Arthur Alexander (Omnivore)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017 18:09 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt60s music buffs and those who were actually around back in those Golden Days will know all about Arthur Alexander. Born in Florence, North Alabama in 1940 and raised on Gospel music, he was the prototype Southern soul man. One of the first to record down at FAME in Muscle Shoals, in 1962 he enjoyed a top ten hit with 'Anna' but further, major commercial success eluded him and through the late 60s and 70s, despite quality recordings on various labels he remained in the commercial wilderness and eventually quit the business to drive buses! In 1990, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and on the back of that he started performing again and even recorded an album, 'Lonely Just Like Me'. Sadly as things were looking up again, the singer suffered a massive heart attack and died in June 1993.

Arthur Alexander was just 53 but his legacy was immense. In the early 60s, his songs were covered live and recorded by countless bands. The Beatles cut his 'Anna' while the Stones made a great version of his 'You Better Move On'. But other Alexander songs like 'Soldier Of Love', 'Everyday I Have To Cry', 'Shot Of Rhythm And Blues' , 'Go Home Girl' and 'Where Have You Been' were staples of the whole beat band generation. Even as late as 1988 Bob Dylan covered Alexander's 'Sally Sue Brown' on his 'Down In The Groove' long player.

Most of Arthur Alexander's well-known songs are relatively easy to find, but it's much harder to track down anything else of his. Here Omnivore Records make available his 1972 eponymous long player that he recorded for Warner Bros. The album was recorded in Nashville and was produced by Tommy Cogbill who drafted in a team of top Memphis session players (amongst them Bobby Emmons, Reggie Young and Eddie Hinton). Between them, the team crafted a masterclass in Southern soul which sadly meant little commercially. The record buying public and radio wanted lighter, less troubled, less anguished sounds while the mighty Warner Bros hardly lifted a muscle to promote the set.

Commercial failure, of course, doesn't always equate with a lack of quality and Southern/country soul collectors have long chased this album. They'll rightly point to wonderful cuts like the melancholic, oft-recorded, almost semi-autobiographical 'Rainbow Road', the gospel song 'Thank God He Came' and the remake of 'Go Home Girl'. In truth 'Call Me In Tahiti' is lightweight but that's made up for by stuff like Alexander's original version of 'Burning Love' – later a big hit for Elvis Presley, of course.

This reissue comes with six bonus tracks. There are the four sides of two Warner Bros singles that includes a cover of Clyde McPhatter's 'Lover Please' and two previously unissued cuts – the mournful 'I Don't Want Nobody' and the jauntier 'Simple Song Of Love'. Classic Southern soul all the way!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 July 2017 08:05


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