JAMES HUNTER SIX: Nick Of Time (Daptone)

Monday, 09 March 2020 16:01 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIt was last December that Daptone announced they'd soon be releasing a new album on everybody's favourite UK blue eyed soul boy – James Hunter (not forgetting his famous "Six"). Well that "soon" has turned out to be roughly three months – but the wait has been worth it. The 13 tracker that is 'Nick Of Time' is right up there with the onetime Essex railway man's very best. That's to say it's a delicious contemporary take on early soul – the kind crafted by people like Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield in the Impressions' early ABC days.

By now you may be familiar with this album's opening track... 'I Can Change Your Mind'. It was released as a single in January and, rightly, it received max airplay on all the savvy radio stations. It sums/summed up the art of James Hunter and the soundscape of this collection. That's to say, a delicious almost languid rolling soul sound with parping brass, big Hammond stabs, cutting guitar and Hunter's distinct vocals that manage to be both committed and laid back.

Yes, it's a reviewer's cliché but there are no duds or any filler on 'Nick Of Time' and space precludes a focus on each highlight – but here's a few. The album's title cut starts like Burt Bacharach's 'Always Something There To Remind Me' before developing a call and response life all of its own; Impressions' fans will recognize the homage to the group's 'Too Slow' on the jazzy 'Till I Hear From You'; there's a jazzy flavour too on the Oscar Brown/Jon Hendricks flavoured 'Paradise For One' while 'Ain't Goin' Up In One Of Those Things' dips its sonic brush into the soul/jazz palette. Pushed to pick the album's real highlight though I'd plump for the sweet, sweet 'Never. It's clear that James and the band have been listening long and hard to Barbara Lewis' 'Hello Stranger'... and why not! It's one of the greatest recordings in soul's whole canon.

Indeed listening over and over again to this album (it merits multiple plays) I'd still draw some comparison to the Impressions and Sam Cooke while Mr H's people say the set is "a voyage between beautiful, mid-tempo rumba recalling early King/Federal releases, while lush arrangements summon lost tracks from early '60s Burt Bacharach sessions". However, what's coming through much more strongly is the influence of Detroit record producer Ollie McLaughlin. Proper soul fans (James Hunter included) will know him and this 'Nick Of Time' set is redolent of the music that McLaughlin crafted for people like Deon Jackson, the Capitols and the aforementioned Barbara Lewis. Daptone is the perfect home for the set!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Monday, 09 March 2020 16:21


JOSÉ JAMES ‘No Beginning No End 2’ (Rainbow Blonde Records)

Thursday, 05 March 2020 19:17 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSoul/jazz stylist Jose James entered our consciousness back in 2008 with his 'The Dreamer' album and since then he's built a faithful following –a following that grew hugely after his 2013 Blue Note album, 'No Beginning No End'. James told us then that the album (his first for Blue Note) was inspired by a meeting he had had with Leon Ware and indeed the set, which drew on the softer soul sounds of the late 60s/early 70s, had atmospherics and a vibe that could be traced back to Ware and the sounds that he created.

Since then James has released four more acclaimed albums and issued a special 10th anniversary version of 'The Dreamer'. That was in 2018 so the savvy soul and jazz crowd were excited to learn last year that the Angolan-Panamanian-American singer was gearing up to release a brand new LP; the excitement grew when they learned that the set was to be a revival of the inspiration and ideas of 'No Beginning No End'.

Now, at last, the 12 tracker is with us and it features a wondrous guest list. Amongst those helping JJ to deliver are Laura Mvula, Christian Scott, aTunde Adjuah, Ledisi, Lizz Wright, Erik Truffaz, Hindi Zahra, Taali and Aloe Blacc. By now you may well be familiar with the Blacc collaboration, 'Turn Me Up'. This was the album-heralding single. The funky, feisty mix of jazz and neo-soul was rightly a soul chart rider and it still sounds relevant nestling as track 3, following the frantic 'Feels So Good' (a duet with Cecily), the Outkast throwback that is 'You Know What It Do' and the opening cut – the meandering Ledisi collaboration, 'I Need Your Love'.

However, the standouts on 'No Beginning No End 2' are the ballads – notably 'I Found A Love' (a simple, piano-accompanied duet with Taali that will remind you of the best of Stevie Wonder), the closing 'Oracle' (featuring Erik Truffaz' cool blue trumpet) and the acoustic 'Miss Me When I'm Gone'. All three allow the beauty of James' wonderful voice to shine.

And speaking of wonderful voices, the old school, hand-clapping opening of 'Nobody Know My Name' (a duet with Laura Mvula) might remind you of a certain Gregory Porter. Remember though that Jose was doing his thing before Greg, so maybe somewhere down the line the cat in the jazz hat owes a little something to James? Interestingly Porter has a new album out very soon. He'll have to go some to match the variety, beauty, quality and consistency of 'No Beginning No End 2'!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 March 2020 20:01


SISTER SLEDGE: 'Thinking Of You - The Atco, Cotillion & Atlantic Recordings 1973-1985' (SoulMusic Records)

Sunday, 01 March 2020 10:42 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                             altSister Sledge are a bona fide household name, of course,  thanks to several big worldwide hits that sealed their immortality and confirmed their inclusion in the annals of popular music. Their most famous recordings include the empowering feel-good anthem 'We Are Family,' along with 'He's The Greatest Dancer,' 'Lost In Music' and 'Frankie,' which, with their catchy refrains and danceable grooves, are indelibly seared into the consciousness of millions of people around the globe. But although Philadelphia sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy Sledge have been stereotyped as a disco act, this comprehensive six-disc box set shows that they were so much more.

'Thinking Of You' spans twelve years and contains eight complete albums they recorded for three WEA-affiliated labels: 'Circle of Love,' 'Together,' 'We Are Family,' 'Love Somebody Today,' 'All American Girls,' 'The Sisters,' 'Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls,' and 'When The Boys Meet The Girls.' There is also a generous supply on bonus material, including several non-album singles and a clutch of 12-inch remixes (the latter are grouped on the final disc).

Though they shot to fame in 1979 when they teamed up with Chic's main men, producers/songwriters Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the group's recording career began six years earlier.  That was when as teenagers they signed to Atlantic Records' Atco subsidiary and cut a clutch of non-album 45s.  Among them was the gorgeous, dreamy ballad, 'The Weatherman,' helmed by The Young Professionals (writers/producers Phil Hurtt, LeBaron Taylor and Tony Bell) and the funkafied dancer, 'Mama Never Told Me' (their first UK hit).  Both cuts are appended on this compilation to their debut album, 1975's 'Circle Of Love.' That particular album, produced by Bert DeCoteaux and Tony Silvester, was a decent set, yielding the US R&B Top 40 hit  'Love Don't You Go Through No Changes On Me.' In between their next album, 'Together,' the girls released a couple of non-album singles, including 'Thank You For Today' and the Bobby Eli-penned and produced 'Cream Of The Crop,' which both made the lower reaches of the R&B singles chart. But 'Together,' their debut long-player for Cotillion,  is arguably Sister Sledge's most overlooked work. Helmed by Michael Kunze and Silvester Levoy, it included the charting single 'Blockbuster Boy,' but unlike the sisters' debut LP, failed to dent the R&B albums chart. Even so, it was a solid, if unspectacular, effort: its standout being a souped-up disco version of Stevie Wonder's 'As.'

Just as it looked as if Sister Sledge were going to slide into obscurity, rising disco producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards - the brains behind disco band Chic - signed up to produce the girls' next LP, 'We Are Family.' It was a game-changer, of course, for Sister Sledge, and catapulted them into the music mainstream. Forty-one years down the line, the album still sounds spectacular. But the girls' next album, 1980's 'Love Somebody Today,' also helmed by Rodgers-Edwards, didn't have the same impact, arguably falling victim to the growing 'Disco Sucks' movement. But as this box set reveals, it was an excellent collection packed with good songs, ranging from the bubbling funk of 'Reach Your Peak,' and jazzily soulful 'Let's Go On Vacation,' to the driving 'Pretty Baby,' propelled by Nile Rodgers' scything rhythm guitar. 

1981's 'All American Girls' LP saw them collaborate with rising producer, Narada Michael Walden. Ironically, its first single, the dancefloor-friendly title track co-written by the late Allee Willis, proved to be a bigger hit than the singles culled from 'Love Somebody Today.'  Another highlight from the album was the ballad, 'Next Time You'll Know.'

Despite a fruitful liaison with Walden, the sisters elected to produce themselves on their next LP, 1982's 'The Sisters,' which included a reworking of Mary Wells' Smokey Robinson-penned Motown hit, 'My Guy.' Interestingly, the girls also recorded a song called 'All The Man That I Need,' which Whitney Houston would transform into a global hit in 1989.

Their follow-up LP, 1983's 'Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls' put Sister Sledge in the studio with keyboard whiz George Duke, whose production style at that time relied on synths and drum machines, giving the girls an ultra-contemporary R&B sound. From it, 'B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Baby)'  was a Top 30 US R&B hit. Al Jarreau contributed a jazzy rap on the album's title track, which is a horn-laden dance groove in the style of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' opener, 'Wanna Be Starting Something.'

1985's 'When The Boys Meet The Girls' LP put Sister Sledge back in the studio with Nile Rodgers, minus Bernard Edwards. Sonically, though, the album was pop-oriented and very different from their disco style of the late '70s. It didn't make a significant commercial impact in the group's native USA but the single, 'Frankie,' was a surprise UK No. 1, spending a month at the summit of the British hit parade. Other highlights include 'Dancing On The Jagged Edge,' also a single.

The final disc in this collection is a rewarding listen for fans of Sister Sledge's disco period. It contains ten remixes, including a Tom Moulton-tweaked 'Mama Never Told Me' and extended club mixes of 'Lost In Music' - the ace 1984 revamp by Nile Rodgers - 'We Are Family, ' Thinking Of You' and 'He's The Greatest Dancer.'

An extended and absorbing accompanying essay, featuring Kathy Sledge's and Phil Hurtt's reminisces, completes a definitive and magnificently-produced overview of Sister Sledge's storied career. The box set is available from March 20th, 2020.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 02 March 2020 18:59


DIONNE WARWICK: Déjà Vu...The Arista Recordings (Soul Music Records)

Friday, 28 February 2020 19:11 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altTo most, Dionne Warwick will forever be remembered for her time at Scepter/Wand where, working with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, she crafted countless, timeless soul and pop classics. Genuine Warwick fans, however, know and revere her time with the Arista label which she joined after a short post-Scepter tenure at Warner Bros. Dionne was with Arista for 15 years (longer than at Scepter) and during that time she enjoyed her most commercially successful period and her faithful followers will tell you that many of her very best recordings were made for Arista.

We can all test that assertion with consummate ease via this wonderful 12 CD box set just released by David Nathan's Soul Music Records in collaboration with Cherry Red. The box contains all of Ms W's Arista albums – beginning with 1979's eponymous LP and ending with 1994's 'Aquarela Do Brasil' and, as is the way with box sets, there are plenty of bonus cuts appended to each disc.

With such a treasure trove, it's hard to know where to begin. Maybe we should start with 1982's 'Heartbreaker' LP. With over 3 million sales, this is easily Warwick's most successful album. Largely crafted by the Bee Gees, the title track remains fresh and vital while the bonus cut here is a Dionne demo duet with Barry Gibb on the evergreen 'Let It Be Me'. Apart from the Gibb boys, Warwick worked with plenty of other big name producers/artists at Arista... none bigger than Luther Vandross. Vandross got to work with one of his inspirations and soul heroines on 'How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye' and though the '83 LP didn't quite ignite throughout as fans had hoped it did at least yield the amazing 'So Amazing' and the lovely 'What Can A Miracle Do'.

Amongst other collaborators during the Arista period are Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, Johnny Mathis, Kashif, Jeffery Osborne and our own Lisa Stansfield. Lisa and her husband, Ian Devaney, worked with Dionne on some of the cuts on 1993's 'Friends Can Be Lovers' album – a particular favourite with avid Warwick fans. The title cut is often cited as one of Ms W's very best. And speaking of "best", the song 'Extravagant Gestures' (from 1985's 'Friends' set) is regularly voted as the lady's most sensitive/soulful recording on fan forums... but this box includes plenty that could secure the "very best" accolade. I mean any takers for – 'Déjà Vu', 'Love Power', 'Run To Me' or 'That's What Friends Are For' (with that famous guest list, of course)?

We've just said this is a treasure trove... for sure it is .This review has just scratched the surface. There's just so much here that deserves attention and as a bonus the extensive sleeve notes come via David Nathan, a long time friend of Dionne. His incisive words will guide you onwards an upwards!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2020 19:36


MATTI KLEIN: Soul Trio (Shuffle Shack)

Wednesday, 26 February 2020 19:36 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAvid esoteric sleeve reading anoraks might well have come across the name of Berlin based keyboardist Matti Klein. You see Herr Klein is the MD for Brazilian favourite Ed Motta and for some time he fronted the jazz outfit, Mo' Blow. Now he's stepping out on his own – though not quite. As the title of his first "solo" set implies this 11 tracker is very much a trio affair – Klein on keys, Mo' Blow colleague Andre Seidel on drums and Lars Zander on sax and bass clarinet and between them they deliver a varied and intriguing musical menu.

Click on the album's opening track, 'Kill It With A Pill' and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd stumbled across an old Impulse soul/jazz gem. Here Klein's Hammond trades simple yet tough figures with Zander's sax while drummer Seidel keeps things rock solid. The mood then changes to something a little "more Bob James" as the leader takes to the Rhodes on 'Fairly Odd Stories' and 'Seraya Blues' while the trio grind out funk on 'Gringo Funk'( obvious yes) and 'Home Is Where The Beat Is'. The mood is almost Ibizan chill on the laid back 'Take Heart Catch Life' and 'Windy Move'. Different again is 'Tastes Like Chocolate, Strawberry' which recalls Isaac Hayes' love themes from 'Shaft' or indeed any romantic Blaxploitation moment. This one clocks in at over 7 minutes but, time wise it's surpassed by the eight minute plus 'River Journey' – a travelogue, we're told, of a canoe trip on the Jongunjoki river in Eastern Finland. So yes – 'Soul Trio' – "varied and intriguing". Not too many albums take you from 60s smoky New York jazz clubs to the tundra of Finland in less than an hour!

(BB) 3/5


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