Reviews

JONATHAN BUTLER: Close To You (Artistry)

Wednesday, 05 September 2018 20:03 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altLike the Christmas album, most long serving recording artists feel the need sometime or other to have a bash at the Bacharach/David songbook. It might well be a well chosen cover or two on a new long player or it might be a whole album of the duo's best songs... and it's that latter path that South African singer/guitarist Jonathan Butler has chosen to tread for his latest project. 'Close To You' (bit of clue there) is JB's homage to one of the most influential writing teams of the modern era... well almost. You see the 11 tracker has an odd cuckoo in the nest... a new tune, penned by Butler, called 'Cape Town' – a bright and breezy vocal tribute to the South African city.

There seems to be no explanation as to why it sits amidst ten Bacharach/David songs... but there you have it... odd. And what of the Bacharach/David covers? Well if you're covering old chestnuts there seems to be two choices.... a faithful rendition based on well-known versions or a completely new treatment. By and large Butler opts for the second choice. In truth he doesn't go the whole hog as, say Luther Vandross did. Luther was beloved for his deconstructing the songs and building radical new versions; Jonathan treats his choices with a  little more respect but he does offer fresh arrangements bringing a new perspective to the very familiar.... sometimes it works... sometimes it doesn't.

The set gets off to a great start with a samba styled look at 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose'. The beats shuffle beautifully allowing Butler's guitar to deliver the lovely melody with sparking panache. The cover of 'I Say Am Little Prayer' works well too and I'm always impressed by 'Alfie'. It's such a great song (Bacharach's own favourite... do yourself a favour... dig out his heart-rending version).

Less impressive is the up-tempo cover of 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' ; it quite loses the ironic pathos of what, I think, was originally intended. Two other classics – 'Close To You' and 'Walk On By' become meanders rather than concise paeans to love and loss respectively. The other included songs are 'This Guy's In Love With You', 'The Look Of Love' and 'What The World Needs Now'.. all a bit predictable. Maybe if Mr Butler had chosen some less well-known Burt B songs, we might have had a more exciting/intriguing collection.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 September 2018 20:16

 

SAM RUCKER: Redemption (Favor)

Friday, 31 August 2018 18:25 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThe 11 track 'Redemption' is smooth jazz sax man Sam Rucker's third long player as leader and we're told that the recording and release of the album has provided a cathartic release for the Virginian musician. You see, when he released his last album 'Tell You Something' he was going through a divorce. The pain and the heart searching that go with marital difficulties often leave deep scars, but by opting to record what is essentially a feel-good, gospel-based album , Sam believes he has broken through to better times; indeed he's newly married and looking forward rather than over his shoulder.

That said, for all its inherent optimism, 'Redemption' is tinged with an element of sadness. Tragically two of the set's featured guitarists, Justin Taylor and John Calisto died shortly after recording their contributions to the collection – the gentle 'Overcomer' , the seven minute ramble that is 'True Love', 'Forever Forgiven' and 'I Am With You' – those last two being balladic moments with the former featuring a short vocal from Wanda Jay who sweetly caresses the gospel message of the lyric. 'Down On The Inside' and 'True Love' (the set's lead single) are focus vocals too while 'Please Child' has J Regina Blackwell's vocal duelling with Rucker's tenor.

Throughout, though, the star of the show is Rucker's old school sax sound – raw and real, it's clearly the source of his redemption.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 31 August 2018 18:34

 

BRIAN BROMBERG; Thicker Than Water (Artistry)

Monday, 27 August 2018 12:25 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBrian Bromberg is an American jazz bassist with an enviable CV. He started off way back working with Stan Getz, and has since gone on to play alongside some of the biggest names in jazz and soul. As a leader, Brian's recorded over 20 albums and 'Thicker Than Water' is the latest in his catalogue. His status is such that when he goes into the studio he can call on plenty of big names to help him craft his musical ideas. So, on this 13 tracker you can enjoy the artistry of people like Randy Brecker, Marion Meadows, Najee, Everette Harp, Lenny Castro, Paul Jackson Jr, Brandon Fields and Gary Meek. In a poignant moment, there's also a cameo from George Duke. The keyboard maestro features on 'Uh, Uh' – a mid-tempo jazzy/soul groove that also has input from Randy Brecker, Bromberg believes that the track is one of the last performances from Duke. His sparkling electric piano solo is as you'd expect.

Amongst the other album highlights is the opener, 'Is That The Best You Can Do' – a funky, deep rumble that recalls those classic collaborations between Marcus Miller and David Sanborn. Everette Harp is the featured soloist on this one. Ballad highlight is the gentle 'Your Eyes' (sweet keys from Brian Zink) while Brian pays homage to Japan on 'Land Of Rising Sun'; Bromberg (like many smooth jazzers, is "big in Japan"). The track is led by Hiroshima's June Kuramoto on koto and also features bamboo flute fills courtesy of Mark Hollingsworth. 'Minneapolis 1987' is another tribute piece; this time to people like Prince and Jam and Lewis.

This is, though, a Brian Bromberg album and he allows himself plenty of scope to highlight his own musicianship via number of solos – the intros to 'Coup De Ville' and 'It's Called Life' and the closing 'A Familia' – a 2 minute plus upright bass master class.

For those who like to know these things, 'Thicker Than Water's' 13 tracks are all originals and there are no vocals. It's out now on Artistry.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Monday, 27 August 2018 12:44

 

PAUL CARRACK: These Days (Carrack)

Friday, 24 August 2018 18:45 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'These Days' is Paul Carrack's 17th solo album and though the 11 tracker is unmistakably the "sound of Carrack" that sound is a wee bit different. The first difference that long-time followers will notice is that there are no covers here. Unlike Paul's more recent album outings which featured fab versions of stuff like 'When My Little Girl Is Smiling', 'I'm Losing You' (the Brenda Lee song, not the Temptations), 'If Loving You Is Wrong', 'You Don't Know Me' and 'Share Your Love With Me', everything on 'These Days' is original. Secondly, for five of those originals, Paul has collaborated with Chris Difford. The pair, of course, have history. They worked together in prime time Squeeze an on a number of the tunes here there's a definite Squeezy flavour – most notably on 'Life In A Bubble' – a reflective piece that wonders why so many of us become preoccupied with our trivial "first world" problems while the "second" and "third" worlds face monumental issues and problems.

'In The Cold Light Of Day' is a little different too. Here the soundscape is country-rock... more Nashville than the cities (Chicago, Detroit?) that spawned Paul's early influences. On the LP title track the musical mood has a gentle Caribbean flavour... not quite reggae, but going in that direction. The musical message here, by the way, is to appreciate what we have while we have it. Mr C is becoming more and more philosophical in old age! (Whisper it – he's 67!)

'You Make Me Feel Good' takes us back to what Paul's best-known for - "blue-eyed" soul – the southern variety on this one. Brash and bold, the track features top flight brass, marshalled by no less a horn man that Pee Wee Ellis. Ellis' brass arrangements are a highlight throughout the album. They grace the opening, 'Amazing'... a classic slice of Paul Carrack; melodic, harmonic, polished, thoughtful, proper grown-up music. The gentler 'Dig Deep', 'The Best I Could' (Celtic echoes on this?) and 'Where Does The Time Go' merit the same adjectives as too does the swinging, Steely Dan-flavoured 'Perfect Storm'. Maybe it's a coincidence but the drummer on this one (and throughout the album) is Becker/Fagen alumnus, Steve Gadd.

So yes, 'These Days' has plenty of what you'd expect from a Paul Carrack album yet also offers some subtle surprises. As ever, what holds it all together is the Carrack voice (little wonder he's dubbed "the man with the Golden Voice") and the obvious joy and love with which Paul works. Share that joy and love when he takes to the road again in the new year. His annual tour begins on 18th January in Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall, and ends on 24th March at The Lowry in Salford. 'These Days' is released on 7th September on Carrack-UK.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 24 August 2018 18:52

 

WILLIE HIGHTOWER: Out Of The Blue (Ace)

Thursday, 16 August 2018 13:42 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altWillie Hightower is a real soul veteran. Well, he is 77! Born down in Gadsden, Mississippi he came to soul music via the oft-trod gospel route and in a lengthy career he's recorded for labels like Fire, Fury, Capitol, Fame and Mercury. All the singles he recorded for those labels are revered by serious Southern soul collectors; some of Willie's singles even became reasonable hits – 45s like 'It's A Miracle' and Willie's version of 'Walk A Mile In My Shoes'. However, even Mr H's devoted fans would admit that he never (sadly) became a soul major leaguer. But the man's still working – playing the clubs and bars in and around his hometown. He's also in demand at soul festivals and it was on the festival circuit that he hooked up with veteran producer Quinton Claunch (yep, the Goldwax man). Big Q (he's a sprightly 96, by the way) is still working the business and he had a hunch that it was time Willie Hightower got back to making records. The pair decamped to Muscle Shoals' Wishbone Studios and with top notch musicians like Billy Lawson, Clayton Ivey and Travis Wammack they set to work cutting tracks and the finished long player is set to be released at the end of this month by Ace Records and without wanting to sound too hyperbolic I can tell you there won't be a better, proper, authentic soul record released all year. In short, this is classic, good-time, old school soul – the stuff that young shavers like James Hunter and Van Morrison (sometimes) try to create. But the original is still the greatest and here, enjoy some great music.

The album opens with a gorgeous 'I Found You' – brassy, melodic, sweet Southern soul and ends with 'Who Who Who' – more sombre but every bit as "authentic". In between there's plenty more excellence – try 'Raining All The Time' and 'Somewhere Dry' – two classic, heartbreaking Southern "story songs" in the 'Rainy Night In Georgia' vein. Then there's 'Everybody Wants My Girl' and 'You Can't Love Me (Better Than You're Loving Me Now)' – standouts on any album. Willie and the team even make a remarkable job of Andy Kim's pop hit 'Rock Me Gently'.

Despite the years, Willie's voice has lost none of its attraction and charm and each track just grooves along effortlessly; here there's nothing forced or gimmicky... just sweet soul music as it was and as it should be and 'Out Of The Blue' is such an apt title. The album has come, it seems, from out of nowhere. Till hooking up with Claunch and Ace, Willie had just about given up hope on ever recording again! Remarkably, despite a six decade career, 'Out Of The Blue' is only Hightower's second long player! Fingers crossed it's not his last.

(BB) 5/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 August 2018 13:53

 

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