CRACK OF DAWN; Spotlight (via CD Baby)

Thursday, 09 May 2019 13:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSadly, I've never heard of 'em till recently (much to my shame) but Canadian band Crack Of Dawn have been in business for over 40 years peddling their own brand of old school soul and funk. They were actually discovered by Otis Redding's manager and Canadian record sales statistics will tell you that Crack Of Dawn have sold more records than "big" bands like Earth Wind and Fire!

Over four decades there's been plenty of personnel changes but at the moment the band features the wonderful voice of Michael Dunston, guitarist and producer Carl Harvey (ex Toots and the Maytals), sax player, Alvin Jones, trombonist Trevor Daley (who has played with Third World), trumpeter Alexis Baro, keyboardist Bela Hayman, drummer Carl Otway, percussionist Mark Daniels and bassist Charles Sinclair (who has played with Al Green).

This new 'Spotlight' LP was heralded a month or so back with the mighty single 'Ol Skool'... an appropriate title for a tune that was a joyous throwback to the great days of the 80s weekenders. Brimming with the optimism that only upbeat soul can engender, the song featured one of those popular soul greats litanies....a winner!

The good news is that the 'Spotlight' album offers plenty more of the same. 'Keep The Faith' is crafted from the same ingredients; 'Somebody's Watching' is brassy and brash (flavours of Tower Of Power) while on 'Booby Rooby' the band prove that they can "do" funk with the very best! The album's title track is a sweet but not cloying ballad but the cut that keeps beckoning me back is the mid-tempo groove that is 'It's Alright'. It reminds me just a little of JJ Jackson's 'But It's Alright'... and it's not just the title... think it's the catchy hook.

Sadly it's taken me forty years to catch up with Crack Of Dawn... better late than never; here's hoping the wider soul community investigate the band.... they won't be disappointed!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2019 13:41


TRISTAN: The Spice Of Five (Isolde)

Wednesday, 08 May 2019 13:37 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altTristan is a Dutch band whose 2016 long player, 'Lifestyle' impressed plenty across the soul world. The music was a very particular hybrid of Incognito, the Brand New Heavies, Shakatak and Swing Out Sister. Though we need to say that what the fivesome create isn't like anything the above produce; it's just that there are elements of those sounds in the sounds that Tristan produce. Music always speaks louder than words so on 'The Spice Of Five' – their brand new LP – go first to 'Down Town' to hear the band's signature sound.... smooth (ish) jazz; light (ish) soul... that and more. The vocal of Evelyn Kallansee is sweet, light and melodic with an edge when required. It's a sunshine, optimistic sound – meticulously produced - and there's plenty more of it across the album's 12 tracks.

Other cuts worth checking are the wistful '1985', the lovely ballad, 'Where Do We Go From Here' 'Neon Girls' and 'I Left My Jacket In The Van'. Those last two boast clever and intriguing lyrics that are a cut above your average soul song.

Tristan tells us that the album title 'The Spice Of Five' is a sort of double entendre. It's the band's fifth long player and, like a great recipe, each of the band's five members brings their own special gifts to this particular dish. The songs are all collaborative efforts and on each cut each team member is allowed to shine. Naturally Ms Kallansee is out front as vocalist but keyboardist Coen Molenaar is never far from the action while guitarist Gut Nikkels provides bite when needed and the engine room of bassist Frans Vollink and drummer Sebastian Cornelissen keep everything on track. Indeed the listing includes two instrumentals - 'Travel' and 'Don't Skip This' –which allow the players to stretch and flex.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2019 14:16


SHIRLEY MURDOCK; Shirley Murdock (SoulMusic Records)

Wednesday, 08 May 2019 13:33 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altLike many soul singers, Toledo-born Shirley Murdock began her musical apprenticeship in the Church. And it was while she was working with the End Of Time Reveal Evangelic Crusade Choir that she was "discovered" by Roger Troutman who enlisted her services for his Zapp conglomerate. At first Shirley didn't even know who Troutman or Zapp were but she soon discovered they were on their way to "next big thing" status" via their use of the talk box and all its spaced out connotations. So, despite some reservations and after encouragement from keyboardist Dale DeGroat (who would become Shirley's husband) she signed up to the Zapp circus. Shirley featured on Roger's 'Cut It Out' and 'Computer Love' and before too long she had her own deal with Elektra Records.

Hit singles came in the shape of '86's 'No More' and 'As We Lay' and before long there was the obligatory album. The eponymous 9 tracker went gold, yet despite that success it's been out of print for some time. To oblige, David Nathan's SoulMusic Records have just reissued it with (as is the modern way) the addition of all kinds of extras and bonuses.

The original album is very much a time piece but 'As We Lay' can still bring out the goose bumps. I'm guessing it's the plethora of bonuses that will attract the collectors to this double CD. They come in the form of eight bonus cuts – that include five single edits; 'Computer Love' is there!

The second CD in the pack offers eleven tracks – various mixes of the original LP tracks and a big, extended version of 'Computer Love'.

Interestingly for a church-reared girl, much of the material is risqué but through it all Shirley kept her faith and after the heady Troutman/Zapp days she returned to gospel and is still recording in that genre.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2019 14:17


LIVE: Level 42 @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2019

Wednesday, 08 May 2019 11:32 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Forty years after they first formed, Level 42 are still going strong. And judging from the high level of enthusiasm that this well-received Bank Holiday Monday afternoon concert generated at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, they still can boast a devoted legion of fanatical followers. Though the news of former member Boon Gould's death six days earlier must have cast a dark shadow over the group, especially for surviving co-founders Mark King and Mike Lindup, they produced an upbeat 75-minute set whose only moment of solemnity was provided by the presence of the band's classic haunting ballad,  'Leaving Me Now,' which King dedicated to Gould's memory. "He was a brother, a friend, an amazing musician, and a fantastic lyricist," said the singer/bassist with palpable emotion in his voice while Mike Lindup's lone piano at the end of the song, with its glistening melodic filigrees, was poignantly evocative.

Elsewhere, the music was less reflective, dominated by King's omnipresent slapped bass, which propelled the group through a catalogue of big UK hits that brought the 1980s vividly back to life: from the chugging jazz-funk of 'The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)' and the turbo-charged 'Hot Water' to the anthemic 'Something About You' and 'Lessons In Love.'  Bolstered by a punchy three-piece horn section, this was Level 42 on steroids, injecting a new dynamism into their old tunes without jettisoning the spirit of the originals. For many of the audience, the gig represented an enjoyable nostalgic trip back to the '80s but also, more importantly, it proved that Level 42 are still a potent force on the concert stage while also reaffirming Mark King's place in the pantheon of all-time great bass players.

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2019 11:44


VICTOR HAYNES: Take It To The Top (Expansion)

Monday, 06 May 2019 15:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOver the years UK soul singer Victor Haynes has released plenty of choice soul and he's always in demand for live shows and sessions. He has a loyal following amongst the UK soul cognoscenti and this new 13 tracker will do his reputation no harm at all. Indeed his loyal fans will lap it up and if mainstream stations (like Radio 2 and Jazz FM) get onto it, 'Take It To The Top' might be the one to break Vic with a wider audience. And why shouldn't mainstream radio take a punt? Most of the tracks here are easy-on-the-ear and radio friendly and would fit admirably into most playlists.

Take the track that first heralded the album ... 'Hopping, Skipping, So In Love' first appeared on Expansion's 'Luxury Soul' CD and it won a great response. At risk of repetition it is easy-on-the-ear and radio friendly.... great melody, catchy hooks, soulfully sung and lavishly produced... as good as anything you're e liable to hear on any radio station. And this album has plenty more to offer. In fact the opening six tracks are crafted from the same template as 'Hopping, Skipping, So In Love'.... lovingly produced Brit soul dancers – with those sweet melodies and hooks that we've just described.

The second half of this album is a little different. Not experimental, but on things like the meandering 'Who Do You Love', the lithe Latin dancer 'Help Me Feel The Sun' and the obviously jazzy 'Jazz Street' Victor takes a few more chances. Those two musical halves are divided by the album's real highlight, 'My Sweetest Temptation' – a beautiful, mid-tempo swayer that not only references the Temptations in the title but also in its music and lyrics ... "sunshine on a rainy day" etc. Then there's the falsetto hook – quite lovely.

Add to all that a pair of gorgeous quiet storm ballads – 'Tapestry Of Love' and 'Giving All My Love To You' and 'Take It To The Top' shapes up to become Victor's best and most complete long player and with the right exposure it could just be the one to allow him to crossover... no one deserves it more!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 15:55


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