QUENTIN MOORE; Black Privilege (Quentin Moore)

Friday, 07 July 2017 15:11 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altQuentin Moore is a hard-working soul man from Austin, Texas. When we got to know him a few years back the enthusiastic and youthful Quentin told us that his musical mission statement was to keep old school soul alive. He calls himself the "last Mohican of Southern soul" and his recordings (especially his special Valentine's Day releases) have borne that out – flavours of Sam Cooke and Bobby Womack... indeed he once offered a great cover of Bobby's 'That's The Way I Feel About Cha'.

'Black Privilege' is his latest outing and it offers more of the same uncomplicated, homespun soul flavours – the kind of music that conservative, southern soul fans complain is made too rarely in these techno, electro obsessed days. Nailing his credentials to the mast, here Mr Moore is brave enough to cover an Al Green classic - 'Simply Beautiful' and his treatment, though different to the Reverend's original, retains all the soulful melancholy tinged with hope. Indeed that mix of despair and hope is one of the album's recurring themes. Time and time again, he tells us that times are hard, moneys tight and there's a head case in the White House, but when he's with his girl everything's brighter... so he wants to dance with her ('I Need To Dance'), he loses himself in the party ethic ('Party Drugs')... and so on. By the way, neither of those cuts, despite their titles, are full on dance or party tunes! Both interesting.

Even more intriguing is 'Peter Norman'. Athletic fans and/or students of black history will know that Peter Norman was the third person on the medal podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos after the 200 metres race in the 1968 Olympics. Norman (who was white) supported Smith and Carlos' podium protest and here Moore gives him full honours – "our hero" and "a man of courage" for standing with his sporting brothers. The soundscape on the cut is blaxploitaion à la 'Superfly' and fans of the genre will find more to enjoy –like the instrumental 'Enough Is Enough'.

Elsewhere there are plenty of rough shod bluesy funk workouts but the outstanding track is the ballad 'I Can Never Stop Loving You' – a big production with duet input from a very soulful Maya Azucena... good, old fashioned (as opposed to retro) soul and the whole album is worth checking by followers of the genre.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 07 July 2017 15:19


LIVE REVIEW: GLADYS KNIGHT: Apollo Manchester 5/7/2017

Thursday, 06 July 2017 18:55 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altA proud and unbowed Manchester played host to the final evening of GLADYS KNIGHT'S 2017 UK tour and despite reassuring and thorough door security the evening started on time with a spirited support set from local lad, ALEXANDER STEWART. Channelling a Michael Bubblé/Bobby Darin lounge jazz thing, he mixed interesting soul covers with a trio of his own songs but the polite audience were by and large simply waiting for Ms Knight... and sadly they had to wait.

Pretty and petite in a white bejewelled trouser ensemble and flanked by two candelabra, she appeared a full half hour after the announced time but fans are a forgiving lot and as Ms. K launched into 'Baby, Baby Don't Waste My Time' and 'Bourgie, Bourgue' all was forgiven. What followed was a consummate greatest hits set peppered with a few classy covers like Lionel Richie's 'Hello', Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me' and Bruno Mars' 'If I Was Your Man.' That one was delivered in a clever duet sequence with the male from her BV trio and it dovetailed beautifully with 'If I Were Your Woman' ... one of several properly spine-tingling moments of the evening. The others? Well, 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' (prefaced by a verse from Bonnie Raitt's 'I Can't Make You Love Me') was stunning and fully merited the standing ovation while 'The Way We Were' and 'Neither One Of Us' proved that the 73 year old Ms Knight still possesses a magnificent, emotive and truly soulful voice.

Yes, Gladys is 73 and little wonder she took time out to banter with the audience about the power of love and what she described as the mysteries of social media. She also gave time to her backing trio to come centre stage and offer a medley of Prince songs, joining them on the end piece, 'Purple Rain'.

The it was time for the 'Midnight Train To Georgia' and suddenly she was gone. Clearly the engine was running and she had no time for the expected encore. Those forgiving fans didn't mind; their heroine had delivered in spades and they went away knowing that in the soul world, pretenders may come and pretenders may go, but Gladys Knight is still "The Empress".

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 July 2017 19:03


LIVE REVIEW: Tony Bennett - Symphony Hall, Birmingham 3/7/2017

Thursday, 06 July 2017 08:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF



When you witness a performer getting a standing ovation before they've even sung a note, you know you're in the presence of someone extra-special whose talent is transcendent - someone who's so well-loved and respected that they can command an audience to rise as one from their seats and break out in spontaneous, rapturous applause  just by walking out on stage.  And so it was with Tony Bennett, a veritable living legend, who just a month shy of his 91st birthday, is still defying the odds by performing at the very highest level at large, sold-out concert venues around the world.

He is undoubtedly a marvel, a glowing exemplar of humanity at its best, perhaps, and judging from his memorable performance here, his elixir of life is clearly visible for all to see - it's his passion for performing for the public, in front of his legions of adoring fans. He basks and revels in the applause and ovations he receives; his eyes closed, wearing a beatific smile with arms outstretched imploringly. Even though you'd think by now that he must have done and seen it all, Bennett never seems to tire of the wild adulation that greets him wherever he goes. It's the fuel that keeps his inner fire burning. And as long as it keeps burning, Tony Bennett can keep going. He seems indestructible. A god among mere mortals. But then again, it's Bennett's human qualities - his humility, sincerity and the fact that he never takes his success or fans for granted - that has aided his popularity and elevated him above other performers in the pantheon of greats.

While he can still do what he did forty years ago and not embarrass himself, almost as remarkable as his ability to tour the world and give 90-minute performances that would sap the energy of someone half his age, is his ability to bridge the generational gap - as the audience at Symphony Hall demonstrated, Bennett appeals to a wide spectrum of people, from children to octogenarians and all ages in between. Perhaps that's his greatest gift, bringing people together harmoniously in a dissonant, fractured world. Indeed, Tony Bennett is one of life's reassuring certainties at a time when stability in the world is under threat.

Though Tony Bennett loves the limelight, he allowed his excellent piano-led quartet to start without him, warming-up by doing four songs before he took to the stage. But ironically, Bennett's voice wasn't the first one we heard - rather it was Frank Sinatra's, via a recording broadcast over the PA system, where he famously described Tony Bennett as "the best singer in the world." Few, of course, ever disagreed with Sinatra, and the audience here weren't about to. In fact, over the course of the next 90 minutes, Tony Bennett not only went on to live up to Sinatra's words but also went beyond them - I came away thinking that I had witnessed the best ever performer in the history of popular music. Of course, Bennett's voice - once a rich, virile, Bel Canto - is not what it was but time has not been too unkind to it. Today it has a slightly husky, weathered quality - which gives it a different character altogether - but the power and intensity are still there. It's still unequivocally the Tony Bennett of old, the Godfather of power ballads, who hasn't lost his gift of telling a compelling story with a song. And what stories, he told. Of love, romance and hard life lessons.

He covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes, featuring 27 songs (albeit just a tiny fraction of his huge recorded canon), most of which illustrated Bennett's gift as a peerless interpreter of the Great American Songbook.  It was a career-spanning set that included some of his earliest hits - 'Rags To Riches' and 'Boulevard Of Broken Dreams' - to imperishable classics like 'The Good Life,'  'The Shadow Of Your Smile' and his evergreen signature song, 'I Left My Heart In San Francisco.'

When he wasn't singing, the sprightly singer enjoyed listening to and urging on his band and occasionally danced  around the piano (he even did a pirouette of joy at one point). And that joy was infectious. He closed with 'Fly Me To The Moon' where he took the courageous step of singing without a microphone, allowing his innate power combined with the fine natural acoustics of the concert hall to project his voice clearly throughout the auditorium. 

After that came a wave of standing ovations (I lost count after five). Then the singer became the recipient of an award bestowed on him by Symphony Hall to coincide with his tenth appearance there - he was given his own special seat and also a framed commemorative photograph of the venue (which Bennett earlier had described as "the best concert hall in the world").

Although Tony Bennett is an endangered species and undoubtedly the last of his kind, this wasn't the performance of someone struggling to survive in an ever-changing world that was leaving him behind. Rather, it was a glorious, life-affirming celebration of one of the greatest careers in popular music. And long may it continue.

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 July 2017 08:49


MAYSA: Love Is A Battlefield (Shanachie)

Tuesday, 04 July 2017 08:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIn their careers most recording artists feel the need at some time to do two specific album projects.... the Christmas collection and the covers one. The musical jury has never agreed on the merits of these projects. Grudgingly many accept the raison d'être of the seasonal set but covers albums provoke much more debate with some commentators describing them as aural equivalents of writers' block indicating a lack of or a  loss of creativity. One soul man who escaped that kind of criticism was dear old Luther Vandross. His long players bristled with covers and his 'Songs' set was a whole collection of 'em. Luther got away with it for two reasons. First he dramatically reconstructed the songs he choose to cover (we need only to point at 'A House Is Not A Home') and secondly with THAT voice he could sing anything in anyway and get away with it.

Now Maysa (Leak), a lady with an equally unique and soulful voice, offers her covers album and like Vandross, Ms L succeeds spectacularly. The chief reason (which we've just alluded to) is her magnificent voice. The oft quoted cliché is that she could get away with singing the Yellow Pages, so she's bound to delight with versions of Jerry Butler's 'Mr Dream Merchant' and the Whispers' 'Can We Talk'. And therein is another clue to why this album is so appealing. The songs Maysa's chosen to cover aren't obvious... she's taken lesser known songs from the catalogues of people like Atlantic Starr, Natalie Cole, Odyssey, Sam Dees and the Isley Brothers. Why, she's even got the bottle to tackle a song originally recorded by someone called Justin Bieber! That one, by the way, is 'As Long As You Love Me'. And to get back to Luther Vandross, Maysa treats us to one of his best too... 'Because It's Really Love'.

On that and indeed on most of the tracks Maysa and her producers (amongst them Chris "Big Dog" Davis and Jason Miles) don't take too many liberties – staying fairly close to the original arrangements with just a garnish of subtle new shadings. The one track that is radically different is the LP's title cut. Pat Benatar's 'Love Is A Battlefield' in its original incarnation was a brash, slice of AOR; here Ms Leak transforms it into a sensual soul ballad but once again it's that remarkable voice that is the chief attraction. And without seeming to labour a point that is the attraction of the album... whether it's on a well-known song, a lesser known tune or a re-imagined classic, Maysa's pure soul voice is the constant. Hugely recommended!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 July 2017 09:00


STOKLEY WILLIAMS: 'Introducing Stokley Williams' (Concord)

Saturday, 01 July 2017 09:50 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Stokley Williams shouldn't need any introduction, especially to those who are long-time aficionados of R&B and American urban music. He is the voice (and drummer) of Mint Condition, the super-talented, self-contained, Minnesota band that lit up the US R&B charts in the '90s with the memorable big hits 'Breakin' My Heart ('Pretty Brown Eyes),' 'U Send Me Swingin',' and 'What Kind Of Man Would I Be.' The band are still a going concern today - indeed, they released a Christmas album, 'Healing Season,' just two years ago - but 49-year-old Williams and his record company thought 2017 a good time to announce his arrival as a solo artist. It was a good call as the contemporary R&B scene is crying out for a record like this one -  one that is stylistically varied yet aesthetically cohesive, and possesses great songs, glistening production values, and is topped off with superb vocal performances. All of which begs the question: why has it taken Stokley Williams so long to make a solo album?

But let's not be too picky or analytical about it, but rather be thankful that he's stepped outside of Mint Condition for a moment to show what a singular and versatile musician he is. The opening track, the mid-tempo single, 'Level,' sets the tone with its sinuous vocal, deliciously infectious hook and skilfully orchestrated groove. Other highlights come in the shape of the rainy day ballad, 'Forecast,' and the cool, jazzy 'Cross The Line,' where staccato layered vocals ride on a silky, Latin-esque backbeat.  Different again is 'We Me,' a slice of message-laden old school soul about personal transformation while the ethereal 'Way Up' is an atmospheric electro-infused slow jam featuring rapper Wale. Other guest cameos come from  Brit songstress Estelle (remember her?), who duets with Stokley on the quirky groove ballad 'U & I,' and keyboard wiz, Robert Glasper, who contributes to the anthemic 'Art In Motion. ' Jamaican singer, Omi, drops in on the album's euphoric closer, 'Wheels Up,' a Caribbean-tinged dance number complete with evocative steel pans.

Despite an assortment of striking cameos, none of Stokley's guests detract from the fact that he is undoubtedly the star of the show. It's an album that is not so much just a collection of songs but rather something more profound: a sonic manifesto of intent, revealing Stokley Williams in all his glory. We in the soul fraternity always knew that he was musically gifted but perhaps didn't realise the extent and range of his talents. But now it's out in the open and his secret is out. From here, the only way is up. A star is belatedly born.

(CW) 4/5





Last Updated on Saturday, 01 July 2017 10:01


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