SMOOVE and TURRELL: Mount Pleasant (Jalapeno)

Thursday, 14 June 2018 10:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIt was back in 2016 that we last heard from North East duo Smoove and Turrell. They'd just released their fourth studio album,' Crown Posada'. The set was crammed with their distinctive, quirky take on soul and jazz/funk and, we were informed, that the album was the first part of a trilogy. It's been almost two years, but part II – the 11 track 'Mount Pleasant' is almost set to hit the sales racks.

So, to explain the chronology... 'Crown Posada' was a set of songs that set out to offer thoughts and reflections on the generation that preceded S&T. (Crown Posada, by the way, is a famous old Newcastle pub, frequented by the older, tough Geordie shipwrights and miners)) .The album track, 'New Jerusalem' examined the conflict between the old and the new, and so 'Mount Pleasant' moves on to look at that "new" in more detail. But not the new of now; rather the new of the pair growing up in the Gateshead district of Mount Pleasant.

Key cut in terms of nostalgia is 'A Deckham Love Song' – a warm, rose-tinted look back at growing up. Sonically, it's a little different for S&T. Best point of reference is possibly the work of Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley (though there's hint of Morrissey in the vocal too); it is a lovely tune.

Elsewhere the sonic palette is, by and large, more typical of the duo – that's to say, carefully-crafted dance grooves – some more frantic than others. The set's lead single is indeed of one the LP's big grooves – 'You're Gone'. With vocals from Jalapeno tablemate Izo Fitzroy, it's already winning plenty of exposure from taste makers like Craig Charles. Lyrically, it's the simple tale of who to turn to now "you're gone". Some of the other danceable tunes though have a more pointed message – like 'Hate Seeking Missile'. It's a tough groove with a tough message – inspired by (and written shortly after the murder of) MP Jo Cox.

If you prefer things a little down-tempo we recommend 'Billie' and 'Flames To Feed'. The latter (with a melody referencing an old Geordie folk song, I think) is another with a telling tale.... the perils of debt and spiralling interest: "Debt is the start of your slavery. You get that little bit of plastic it's not clear to see that you'll be shackled to these chains until the day you don't breathe. So stop and hold breath"... soul music with a conscience.

Smoove and Turrell's 'Mount Pleasant' is released on June 29th.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 June 2018 10:24


JEAN CARNE: 'Don't Let It Go To Your Head - The Anthology' (Soul Music Records)

Wednesday, 13 June 2018 12:13 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altThough she was originally from Columbus, Georgia, Jean Carne's name will always be synonymous with the 'City Of Brotherly Love,' Philadelphia. That's because she first made her mark as a solo artist at Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International label in the 1970s. She cut four albums for  P.I.R. (though the last came out on the label's T.S.O.P. imprint) and tracks from her five-year tenure with the label function as the foundation for this 2-CD/33-track, which also includes a couple of tracks from her solitary 1982 Motown album, 'Trust Me,' as well as a slew of collaborations with other recording artists.

What's mystifying is that despite recording some wonderful music for P.I.R., Jean Carne (or Carn, as her name was spelled back then), didn't score a major hit for Gamble & Huff in the USA. Her debut 45, 'Free Love,' the opener on this fine collection,  was her biggest solo chart entry in the '70s, but it couldn't break into the R&B Top 20 (in fact, Carne wouldn't tick that off as an achievement until 1986, when her song, 'Closer Than Close,' for the Omni label, topped the R&B charts). Even more surprising was the failure of one of her signature tunes, the ever-wonderful 'Don't Let It Go To You Head' from 1978, to stake a claim in the American R&B Top 50. It died at #54.

Another great tune of Carne's, the anthemic, disco-inflected 'Was That All It Was' released a year after - you get the elongated 12-inch version here - didn't even register on the R&B charts. In retrospect, the reason for Carne's inability to connect with the US public wasn't anything to do with bad luck, timing, or even marketing issues, but rather, I think, because her music was just a tad too sophisticated for mainstream audiences. Indeed, Carne had a classical music and jazz background and, as a consequence, projected more of a cosmic vibe and  lacked the earthiness that defined many R&B singers back in the '70s. But that didn't stop her making some great music, much of which has lasted the test of time. From effervescent disco grooves (check out the 12-inch single version of 'What's On Your Mind') to impassioned, storytelling ballads ('Love Don't Love Nobody,' her take on the Spinners' 1974 hit), Jean Carne shows what a supremely versatile singer she is. 

As well as some tremendous material cherry-picked from her P.I.R. days, her Motown single 'If You Don't Know Me By Now' (ironically, a cover of a Philly tune by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes), is included. It's B-side, Carne's amazingly ethereal take on the Minnie Riperton-associated song, 'Completeness,' is also featured. You'll find that track on the second CD along with collaborations with keyboard wizard, Dexter Wansel, Norman Connors (including 'Valentine Love,' a hit duet with Michael Henderson), Roy Ayers, and Grover Washington Jr. One of the set's best duets is the uptempo, 'Back For More,' recorded in tandem with the late Al Johnson.

If you only buy one Jean Carne CD in your life, make it this one. It's got everything you need - sublime vocal performances and first class material together with top-drawer arrangements and exquisite production values. It all adds up to a vivid portrait of one of soul music's unsung heroines.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 June 2018 10:22


MARLENA SHAW: 'Go Away Little Boy - The Columbia Anthology' (Soul Music Records)

Wednesday, 13 June 2018 09:52 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                           altPossessing one of the most distinctive voices in soul, blues, and jazz, Marlena Shaw, a former singer with the Count Basie band,  had recorded for the Chess and Blue Note labels before arriving at Columbia in 1977. The singer, born Marlena Burgess in La Rochelle, New York, spent three years with the company, recording the albums 'Sweet Beginnings,' 'Acting Up,' and 'Take A Bite,' all of which provide the source material for this fabulous 28-track, 2-CD anthology. The album takes its title from Shaw's biggest hit on Columbia, 'Go Away Little Boy,' which dented the US R&B Top 30 in 1977. Though Shaw had recorded the Goffin-King tune before - on her 1969 Cadet LP, 'The Spice Of Life' - what was different about the '77 version was its jazzy intro, titled 'Yu-Ma,' which was a humorous, self-written spoken narrative where Shaw gently chides her vain, narcissistic lover before segueing into 'Go Away Little Boy' proper. Though it's considered Marlena Shaw's signature song and, with the exception of the earlier 'Woman Of The Ghetto,'  has eclipsed almost everything else she had done, this compilation reveals that her work at Columbia was consistently good. Those who love Shaw's sassy monologues will also lap up 'Shaw Biz/Suddenly It's How I Like To Feel,' which exudes a similar vibe to 'Go Away Little Boy.'

Shaw joined Columbia when the disco inferno was gathering momentum and that's reflected in the music, which ranges from funky dance grooves tracks with subtle mirrorball tinges ('Sweet Beginnings,' 'Haven't We Been In Love Before,' 'Pictures And Memories') to overt dance floor extravaganzas, exemplified by epic versions of the Diana Ross tune 'Touch Me In The Morning' (a rare remix version is featured here), 'Love Dancin'' (we're given the eight-minute 'Special Disco Version') and  'Suite Seventeen: It Was A Very Good Year/I'm A Foster Child (Medley).' If you tire of the dance grooves, there are more varied flavours and moods to be found on the collection's second disc, which illustrate the singer's more expressive side. 'Look At Me, Look At You (We're Flying)'  is deliciously jazzy, with swirling strings and flutes, while the ballad, 'Moonrise' is soft, sensuous and dreamy. Fittingly, the album closes with a couple of rousing churchy songs - 'Mamma Tried' and 'I'll Be Your Friend' - that find Shaw accompanying herself on piano and embracing her gospel roots. With their simple, unadorned arrangements, they're very different from the sophisticated material that makes up most of this compilation but they offer a more intimate taste of Marlena Shaw's unique talent. Highly recommended.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 June 2018 10:23


JAKI GRAHAM; When A Woman Loves (JNT Music0

Friday, 08 June 2018 12:53 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThough she was the first British black female solo artist to enjoy 6 consecutive top 20 hits, Birmingham's Jaki Graham somehow tuned out to be the forgotten woman of Brit soul. Despite a properly soulful voice and a great back catalogue, it seems Ms G's struggled to find a niche in a musical world dominated by "talent" and reality show wannabees. Well, after what Jaki herself calls an at times challenging life journey, things might be set to change as she launches an excellent 14 track "comeback" album, 'When A Woman Loves'.

The set's most revealing track, as I hear it, is 'Get It Right'. Ostensibly it's a bright, 80s style dancer but the lyrics and indeed the title are telling. I mean, the whole thing implies that she got things badly wrong last time and though "everyone's funkin' like the 80s", this time things will be better. Who said there's no future in nostalgia! 'Get It Right' is one of several 80s style boppers – others that are noteworthy are the opening 'Sometimes' and the bumpy Loose Ends flavoured 'About Your Love'.

All good stuff, but the best bits of this collection are the ballads when Jaki does what she does best... sings her pants off. 'News For You' is one of the most memorable ballad moments. The Eric Benet song is given a dreamy Earth Wind and Fire 'That's The Way of the World' style treatment. And speaking of EWF, sleeve note readers will notice the name of Maurice White amongst the credits. He penned 'Eye To Eye' - presented here in a bluesy, southern soul kind of way... there's a lovely hook in the song too.

Interestingly the album boasts three Michael McDonald songs – the introspective 'Through The Rain' and two gentle, reflective items - 'Song Inside Me' and 'Someone Like You'. Indeed that last one is an album highlight. It has an almost mystical quality rather like the Van Morrison song with the same title. Equally satisfying is the big production "not-quite-a –ballad" 'Ready For Love' which proves that Jaki Graham still knows how it's done! Brit soul's forgotten star? Don't think so.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 11 June 2018 13:32


VARIOUS; On The Soul Side (Kent)

Thursday, 07 June 2018 15:22 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBy common consent UK reissue specialist, Ace Records' subsidiary, Kent, has done the most sterling of work for soul collectors. The label began back in the 80s issuing (mainly) compilations drawn from the back catalogue of US label group Kent/Modern (hence the "Kent" name). One of the first long players that featured non Kent/Modern material was the acclaimed 'On The Soul Side'. The 16 tracker offered soul rarities and in-demand items from labels like Capitol, Liberty, Minit and United Artists and, though over the years Kent has released hundreds more soul compilations, I suggest that few match the variety, class and soulfulness of the pioneering 'On The Soul Side'.

Well if you missed it first time around, those nice Ace/Kent people have just reissued it on a CD with the original 16 tracks enhanced by a further 10 cuts that perfectly match the feel of the original collection. In respect for that original LP, the first 16 tracks are sequenced in the same order as before and from Patrice Holloway's 'Love And Desire' through to Timi Yuro's 'What's A Matter Baby' you'll hardly draw breath. If you don't know the album, let me just list a few of the cuts – The O'Jays' 'Lipstick Traces', Bobby Sheen's 'Dr Love', The Showmen's 'It Will Stand' and Jimmy Holiday and Clydie King's 'Ready Willing And Able for starters. That should convince you that my use of the "classy" adjective up top was spot on!

Then there's the ten "newcomers"... none more welcome than the mighty 'Love Is A Hurting Thing' from Lou Rawls; still a majestic definition of sophisticated soul. The other nine cuts come from Clydie King, The Magnificent Men, Patrice Holloway, June Jackson, Bobby Womack, Earl King, Sylvia Robbins, Marv Johnson and Merry Clayton and if that's not enough to get you investigating, you shouldn't really be visiting this site!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 June 2018 15:33


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