Reviews

VARIOUS: Soul Togetherness 2109 (Expansion)

Friday, 20 September 2019 18:27 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altProper soul fans know when autumn beckons... no, it's not the kids going back to school, nor is it the shortening days and chillier nights. Neither is it the falling leaves.... it is, of course, the release of Expansion's huge celebration of modern soul – their annual 'Togetherness' compilation.

The 2019 edition is almost good to go and this instalment is something rather special... you see, this is the 20th 'Togetherness' set – wow, yes, hard to believe but true – 'Togetherness' has been around longer than the Brexit debate! That said, there's nothing stale, old-fashioned or complex here.... just 15 tunes that offer the very best in modern soul all serving to  remind you why you got involved in this crazy soul world in the first place.

Now let's state the obvious. Most "proper soul fans" (the ones we mentioned in the first line) will either have, know and/or bopped the night away to most of the music here but that doesn't make the compilation any the less valuable; rather it underlines its importance and value. What you have here is an accurate sonic snapshot of the state of modern soul in 2109 and as such it's essential!

With a collection of such excellence, it's churlish to pick highlights but any review worth its salt needs to focus on a few of the goodies – so let's start with a real gem... 'Same Number' from someone called Angie Stone! Yes that Angie... here she is in all her glory gracing an Expansion compilation. The track, of course, comes from her new album 'Full Circles'.

Other big names on the set include Raheem, DeVaughn ('Need To Know'), Rockie Robbins ('Good Life') and Glen Jones ('You And Me'). Those who know her album will know that Terri Green will be a big name too very soon. She's here with 'Giving It Up' – her best outing this year!

Lesser luminaries featured on 'Togetherness 2019' include DCR, Solati Music, T L Shider and Steal Vybe who offer their version of the Donna McGee/Inner Life track 'Make It Last Forever'... an old song with a lovely new treatment. And speaking of oldies... those familiar with the 'Togetherness' format will know that Expansion head boy, Ralph Tee likes to include a venerable oldie. This year's "blast from the past" is the delicious 'All My Life' from Steve 'Doc' Willoughby. From 1978 and emanating from New Jersey, this has all the sophistication and class of those old Lou Rawls' classic. We need say no more, save to save it brings the 20th 'Togetherness' collection to a rather satisfying close. It will make you smile (I guarantee that!) and, yes, you'll also agree with what we just said: musically, that aforementioned crazy soul world is THE only place to be!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Friday, 20 September 2019 18:43

 

THE BRAND NEW HEAVIES: TBNH (Acid Jazz)

Monday, 16 September 2019 15:25 BILL B E-mailPrintPDF

altDon't know too much about wine, so no idea what the upcoming Beaujolais harvest will be like... vintage or not! But I do know that by any stretch of the imagination 2019, so far, has been a proper vintage year for soul albums. Within the hallowed pages of soulandjazzandfunk we've highlighted any number of four and five star albums.... think Tony Momrelle, Cool Million, Terri Green, Durand Jones, Tony Lindsay and more! Now as autumn beckons we can add to that list another ab fab soul set.... 'TBNH' from The Brand New Heavies - now essentially Simon Bartholomew (guitar) and Andrew Levy (bass).

'TBNH' was flagged up way back in June with the single 'These Walls'. The Kendrick Lamar song was produced by self confessed BNH uber-fan, Mark Ronson. Ronson and the Heavy boys give the tune a big, Latino treatment and to add a dash of proper BNH flavour the vocals are down to long-time band collaborator N'Dea Davenport. Ms D is there on one of the album's other big tunes – an optimistic and groove-laden 'Getaway' which offers added dance sparkle via a sample from the Emotions' 'Best Of My Love'. Little wonder it's winning plenty of plays.

In honesty, though, each and every of the 14 tracks offers something positive and if you factor in some other big, big name vocalists you'll understand why we said up top that 'TBNH' is one of THE soul albums of the year. Let's just look at a few of the other goodies on offer, starting with the opener, 'Beautiful'. With a typically convincing vocal from Beverly Knight, it sets out the album's stall from the start. Big and "up" in every way – like 'Stupid Love', which follows hot on its heels... Angela Ricci on vocals here.

Angie Stone (yes!) is at the mic for the bluesy 'Together' while Siedah Garrett (yes, again!) fronts 'Just Believe In You' - as near to the classic old school Brand New Heavies' sound as you can get.

Even is such august company Simon Bartholomew will always fancy his chances in the vocal department. He leads the charge on 'The Funk Is Back' where the inspiration seems to be the dear old Average White Band. The LP's other guest singers are Honey LaRochelle, Laville and Jack Knight who fronts the EWF flavoured 'Little Dancer'. Jack wrote the song too.

The band is on the road through October and November – a diligent web search will give you the details. No details yet who'll be taking the vocals but you can be sure the shows will feature plenty of these new songs. You can be sure, too, that 'TBNH' will add to the already impressive chart and sales stats that the band has chalked up.... sixteen Top 40 hits and three million album sales! Plenty more to come!

(BB) 4/5

 

THE TERRI GREEN PROJECT: ‘What A Feeling’ (Euro Musik)

Sunday, 01 September 2019 12:04 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe Terri Green Project is essentially sax man/keyboardist/producer/ writer and general all round good guy, Euro muso, Toddi Reed (real name Torsten Abrolat) and Washington born soul diva Terri Green. House anoraks will know Terri from her collaborative house hits that have dominated European dance charts over the last few years. Soul heads will know and love her from the two Terri Green Project singles ('Night To Remember' and 'Giving It Up') that have been omnipresent in various mixes this year.

Now the duo treats us to their first full album... 'What A Feeling', which was recently signalled by the single 'Dance Tonight' ... a big, big tune that is a kind of hybrid of Chic and Earth Wind and Fire. Indeed the mighty EWF are just one of many top soul and dance acts name checked in the song. In it Terri also bigs up Chaka Khan, The Spinners, The O'Jays, Teddy P, Kool and the Gang and many, many more. And therein lies the (yes, obvious) clue where Terri and Toddi are coming from. They want to bring back the good times and, boy, do they succeed! Alongside those three ab fab singles, the 13 tracker is stuffed with plenty more great dance tunes – songs brimming with optimism and an atmosphere that will just make you smile!

That's all obvious from the start with the mighty 'What A Feeling'. The album title track takes the Philly sound as its reference point and if you were told that Kenny and Leon were at the controls you wouldn't doubt it. The Philly flavour's there too on the pacey 'Fight No More' complete with Larry Gold style strings. 'Never Gonna Let' is another earworm. It actually reminds me of those pop/soul classics from Liverpool's The Real Thing... not a bad thing in my book!

With one exception, all the songs are originals. The cover is a new look at Burt Bacharach's 'The Look Of Love' and it really is a "new look". Like all good covers, Toddi and Terri don't try to replicate the well-known versions. Rather, like dear old Luther used to do, they recreate it. Here they start with shifting strings and later add melancholy cello courtesy of former London Philharmonic cellist Rebecca Carrington to enhance Terri's soulful rendition. Toddi's sax solo is mighty impressive too. The duo are clearly proud of the achievement because they include the song again right at the end in mix that features Rebecca's husband, Colin in duet with Terri. It's all very grown up and sexy, and indeed, that's how Toddi describes all the music he sets out to make with his Project. He's patently succeeded... 'What A Feeling' IS "grown up and sexy" and a lot more besides!

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 September 2019 12:13

 

OLA ONABULE: Point Less (Rugged Ram Records)

Friday, 30 August 2019 18:29 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBritish/Nigerian singer/songwriter OLA ONABULE has been making music professionally for two decades. He's performed at prestigious soul and jazz festivals worldwide, has filled theatres and clubs, entertained at numerous high profile private events (including the Beckhams wedding) and has recorded prolifically. Proper soul fans will know and love his classic tune, 'Soul Town' while his last long player – 2105's 'It's The Peace That Deafens' garnered plenty of critical acclaim and soul chart success.

Earlier this year we were told a new album was on its way and it was heralded by the single, 'I Knew Your Father'. The song turned out to be a complex, rhythmic affair telling of the aftermath of a young man fatally shot in the presence of his partner and their infant daughter, yes – not the stuff of your "normal" soul song. We knew from that track that the parent album , 'Point Less', was going to be an intriguing, challenging and , yes, difficult affair. It's just been released... and it's all of those things and more.

You see, 'Point Less' is – for better or worse, what used to be known as a concept album. Ola tells us that he sees the 14 tracker as his 'What's Going On'. On it he expresses his views on social injustice, violence, immigration, xenophobia, betrayal, dignity and much more.

So, as we've said, 'I Knew Your Father' deals with reactions to a domestic murder; that shooting is depicted in 'Ballad Of The Star Crossed' while 'The Old Story' is written from the point of view of a man who has just taken the life of another. Yes, he has the authority to do so but nonetheless the extent of his powers does not sit easy with him. More issues? 'Throwaway Notion' deals with immigration; 'And Yet' discusses our interaction with the marginalised; 'Conceive It' looks at a dystopian future. Issues? Yes, plenty to think about. Suffice to say the title track discusses the pointlessness of violence and many of the other explored topics.

Sonically these "stories" and "ruminations" are delivered in various styles – ranging from contemporary soul, through to jazz and on to Latin and Afrobeat. There is no one sonic template here – the variety heightened by occasional surprises, like the lovely harmonica intro on 'Pas Famille'. What brings the unity is Ola's remarkable voice... warm, tender and convincing.

We were promised am ambitious project and 'Point Less' is exactly that. We won't pretend that it's an easy listen; it isn't. The messages and the music are provocative and often disturbing. 'Point Less' will challenge your preconceptions of what soul music is actually all about.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2019 18:53

 

HAROLD MELVIN and the BLUE NOTES Be For Real (SoulMusic Records)

Monday, 26 August 2019 18:50 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altHarold Melvin and the Blue Notes were in the vanguard of the upward advance of the mighty Philadelphia International Empire. Fans, though, will know that the group has a history that begins long before Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's ascendancy. Indeed they were formed way, way back in 1954 as the Charlemagnes then, after becoming the Blue Notes, they made their recording debut in 1956. Internal group disputes led to member Harold Melvin breaking away with his own "Blue Notes" as rivals to the remaining "Original Blue Notes". It was the Melvin-led combo though that enjoyed more success, recording for labels like Landa and TK whilst making a reasonably lucrative living on the cabaret circuit. Indeed it was at a supper club show that Gamble and Huff saw the band and decided to sign them to their fledgling PIR label. Soul myth has it that the duo was mightily impressed by the group's drummer/singer, Teddy Pendergrass. Philly histories tell us that Kenny and Leon always wanted to sign the Dells to work with the mighty Marvin Junior and in Pendergrass they thought they'd found the next best thing!

Whatever... Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes signed to PIR in 1972 and there and then started a remarkable run of success... four wonderful albums and a slew of hit singles and now that entire PIR repertoire has been brought together in this wonderful 3 CD box set from SoulMusic Records.

The collection begins with one of the greatest soul group albums of all time... the seven tracker that was originally issued as 'Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' before being hastily renamed 'I Miss You' after the epic 8 minute plus opening track which became a smash hit. If you doubt the aforementioned Dells envy – take a real good listen to 'I Miss You' and though the LP's other big tune, 'If You Don't Know Me By Now', is often cited as the group's anthem, it's 'I Miss You' that remains the Blue Note's masterpiece. Never mind remembering where you were when Kennedy was assassinated (yes, I'm that old!) every proper soul fan can remember exactly where they where when they first heard 'I Miss You' – and it will still make those neck hairs stand on end!

After that, I suppose, everything else was bound to be something of an anti-climax but Harold and the boys (soon billed as "featuring Teddy Pendergrass") recorded plenty more classics – 'The Love I Lost', 'Satisfaction Guaranteed', 'Where Are All My Friends', 'Bad Luck' , 'Wake Up Everybody' and many more. They're all here – alongside plenty of magnificent LP tracks (listen up to  'Be For Real' – almost as good as 'I Miss You') and as bonuses, the third CD in this pack offers 6 "rarities" – their version of 'Everybody's Talkin' (from the 'Clean Up The Ghetto' album), two Tom Moulton mixes and three live recordings. One of them, I need to mention, is 'I Miss You' – this time around 11 epic minutes!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 26 August 2019 20:02

 

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