MICHAEL HENDERSON: TAKE ME I’M YOURS: THE BUDDAH YEARS ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
Compiled by SoulMusic Records’ founder David Nathan, this is another in the celebrated anthology series, so respected by serious collectors of soul music. Here we enjoy Michigan-born Michael Henderson, talented bass guitarist of both the fusion and jazz/soul eras who – citing Motown’s James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt as his prime influences – has a history steeped in varying musical achievements. Briefly, he paid his dues working with The Detroit Emeralds and a young Stevie Wonder after meeting the latter at Chicago’s Regal Theatre, before contributing to recording sessions at Motown with Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and David Ruffin, among others. Probably best known for working with the renowned jazz artist Miles Davis during the early seventies, after a chance hook up at New York’s Copacabana, Michael and Miles spent seven years together before Michael embarked upon a solo career at Buddah Records. So, with the first track and hit “You Are My Starship”, featuring jazz drummer Norman Connors, the adventure began in establishing Michael as a bankable artist in his own right. We’re then introduced to tracks spotlighting major singers, Phyllis Hyman, Roberta Flack and Jean Carn, which are, of course, an absolute delight. On the other hand, the pace changes as Michael hits the funk/dance market with “Wide Receiver”, with its passing reference to smoking dope, while he pulled on his working with Marvin Gaye to record “In The Night-Time”, and paid tribute to Jackie Wilson with “To Be Loved”, penned by Berry Gordy, and featuring Philadelphia International’s wonderful MFSB. This release offers all fifteen of Michael’s US hit singles – the top five R&B charter “Take Me I’m Yours”, and crossover titles including “Be My Girl” and “I Can’t Help It” – and represents a compelling retrospective of this multi-talented guy during his tenure at Buddah Records between 1976 – 1983, where the music ranges from blistering rhythms, graceful melodies and mellow, sympathetic vocals, and all from the man who learnt to play the bass guitar because he loved James Jamerson.
Put on your pjs and settle down for a relaxing couple of hours with this highly acclaimed South African singer/composer and this anthology of his work that divides itself from scorching upbeat to deep soul ballads. And, of course, it’s the latter that instantly grabbed my attention, so with that in mind, I wrapped myself around the second CD’s music. Easing in with “One More Dance”, brimming over with undiluted soul that’s both gentle and persuasive, followed by “Say We’ll Be Together” offering a simple yet strong melody, I was basking in a glorious world of make believe. Both songs are intensely satisfying to this lady’s soul. A crass slice of synthesised funk, “There’s One Born Every Minute (I’m A Sucker For You)” interrupted my love train, but then, bam, in comes the biggie “True Love Never Fails” featuring Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Strong, intoxicating, with a vibrant blending of voices, bring home most dramatically the power of love. Draining, of course, but in a bewitching way. Thankfully, the following tracks “Melodie”, an instrumental, and “It’s So Hard To Let You Go” with its sumptuous sax break, soothe away all the previous drama and passion. Soft calypso flows through “All Grow’d Up” where the climax is a welcomed burst of support voices, and this mood follows into the little busier “Heal Our Land”; a potent statement song. Let’s not forget either the emotionally charged “Sarah, Sarah”, one of Jonathan’s biggest hits. Turning to the first CD now, where a highlight is his duet with Ruby Turner “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”, their take on the Staple Singers’ classic, although the emotionally charged “Love Hurts So Bad” is my personal favourite here. With a tempo change in “I’ll Be Waiting For Your Love”, and the atmospheric and compelling “Afrika” and “7th Avenue South”, this is a well-rounded CD. The Anthology covers Jonathan’s best between 1985 – 1990 released via Jive Records, a company he joined in 1977. Combining instrumentals, with sweet soul ballads to die for, and a handful of fast hitting movers across thirty-plus tracks, this is the most satisfying afternoon I’ve spent in a long while.
Being protégés of Kool & the Gang, these guys were a spin-off group that forged a place for themselves in the funk/R&B singles chart. Although not nearly as successful as their mentors, the Kay-Gees did make respectable strides to generate excitement and sales in this somewhat exclusive market. Until now, my knowledge of them was next to little, so was pleasantly surprised to be treated to acceptable, occasionally outstanding music. The driving force behind the Kay-Gees was Kevin Bell, younger brother of Robert and Ronald who co-founded Kool & the Gang, so similarity between the two groups is to be expected. This double CD package covers their first trio of albums plus bonus tracks including two 12” mixes of “Kilowatt”, a mighty, powerful cannon of sound. The US R&B hits are all here, starting with their first, the party-themed “You’ve Got To Keep On Bumpin’”, the part-title of their debut album issued on the Gang label, set up by Kool and the guys to cater for their side projects, under the mother company De-Lite. The second hit, with its chanting vocals, “Master Plan” peaked in the top sixty, much lower than their first placing, while “Get Down” returned the group to the top forty, earning them their biggest selling item. The theme from the US television show “Party” was next – “Hustle Wit Every Muscle”, while the catchy, hypnotic “Waiting At The Bus Stop” was, ironically, one of their poorest sellers. Yet its striding, stimulating beat is so immediate thanks to the repetitive chorus, just begging to be bought and played over. However, it’s not all dance floor material with relentless funk beats because the semi-paced “On The Money”, preceded by a peaceful “Find A Friend (Prelude)” breaks the mood. Likewise, “Be Real”, an upbeat soul injection of sound, while “Thank You Dear Lord” has pure, layered harmonies from the band, Tomorrow’s Edition and Something Sweet. Obviously, Kool & the Gang’s influence is noticeable throughout: masses of brass, synthesiser interludes, tight harmonies, choppy guitars and mountains of likeability. It’s the group’s razor sharp approach to funk that enabled them to make a huge footprint on the dance floor, without dropping the rawness that launched them. So, if Kool & the Gang are for you, then this release will sit easily in your record collection. Me? I’m funked out!
It’s been a long three year wait but Diane’s second album wasn’t simply released – it exploded like cannon fire into the public domain. Such was the anticipation for this album that her management was badgered for sneak previews from the day she announced she was in the studio recording it. Me included! Tell me, can there be a soul fan who hasn’t heard of Diane Shaw – our very own, home grown soul stylist who, modestly, has eclipsed many boasting the same title? I doubt it. So, how do you follow “Love, Life And Strings”, easily one of the best releases of 2015? Well, you don’t do you. You move gracefully forward with sights set upon delivering another landmark album, and by all things emotional, Diane has cracked it again. Already dominating most respected soul charts across the country, this collection of material is high octane – from the choice of songs, the music arrangements bringing out the very best from tight, sympathetic and well-honed musicians, and of course the obligatory support vocalists. The opening track “Remember Me” is cleverly paced as it strums along side stepping a deep unobtrusive rhythm, while “Through The Rain” gently weaves itself around sweeping melodies and plaintive voices; the calm feeling is almost contagious with its familiar sound. Cherry picking songs from the American soul songbook, Diane’s faultless presentation in voice and lyric interpretation is unique to her individual persona and the recognisable timbre of her voice, as she switches from ballad to uptempo with ease. Already lifted as a single, “The Day I Found Myself” gave a little insight into the pending album while not preparing us for “Shall I Wait For You” as it slowly manifested itself into a top rate soul track, nor the sultry, yet gracious “All Or Nothing”, with its impeccable sax work. This made way for a meaty, funky “I’ve Got To Feel It” complete with that recognisable rhythm which Diane loves so much, leaving the full, upbeat and brassy “Love Has No Right” – complete with hot blooded vocals – to deliver the punchiest of hook lines. With its relentless beat, the album’s title “Second Chance” easily becomes addictive, while…..Hah, I’m thinking now there’s little point in highlighting individual tracks because, quite simply, they’re all flawless – and that’s rare for someone like me with an inbuilt cynical system to admit. So, has Diane Shaw successfully followed her 2015 album? Hell yes – and then some!
Founded by keyboardist Bob James, the Tappan Zee label was named after the bridge he regularly drove over spanning the Hudson River, connecting Westchester County with the Metropolitan New York area. That aside, disc one is a welcoming mixture of blistering passion and sedate, easy listening with each track holding committed hook lines and melodies. Yet I felt the music failed to reach that ‘wow’ factor we’ve come to expect from such an articulately talented man. However, Richard Tee’s cool and soulful “Tell It Like It Is” brought a smile, likewise Mark Colby’s “On And On”. The second disc is a tad more adventurous, where mellow hits upbeat more aggressively, like Mr Tee’s funky “Jesus Children Of America” which perfectly flatters his gospel-tinged vocal cut “Every Day”. Mark Colby hits the funk edged road again with “Skat Talk, leaving “Peace Of Mind” to quieten the pace. Of Bob James himself, there’s six titles, including the somewhat reflective “Angela”, the theme from the television series “Taxi”, for which he provided all the music; “Brighton By The Sea” featuring Grover Washington Jr’s sax work, and “Westchester Lady” from his much acclaimed “Bob James 3” album. Wilbert Longmire’s “Black Is The Color” is the full length version, and his “Love’s Holiday” is a very convincing version of the Earth Wind & Fire track. Mr James is, of course, steeped in music history, from being discovered by Quincy Jones, who signed him to Mercury Records to release his first tentative step into jazz with the album “Bold Conceptions” in 1963. From here, he worked with Sarah Vaughan, Creed Taylor, and later Stanley Turrentine, among others. Cutting a long and productive story short, Bob James opened his own label, Tappan Zee, to produce some incredibly classy music, which, I’m afraid, failed to capture my interest.