REISSUE REVIEW (May 2019): MARVIN GAYE - YOU'RE THE MAN (Tamla)

REISSUE REVIEW (May 2019): MARVIN GAYE – YOU’RE THE MAN (Tamla)

Why this was hyped as the ‘lost’ album is confusing because the material isn’t new as such which I think we were led to believe in the pre-publicity.  Most of the tracks have snuck out as individual items in one form or another, on compilations like “Marvin Gaye: The Anthology”, “Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye:Never Before Released Masters”, “The Master: 1961-1984” and so on. So strictly speaking, the songs weren’t lost.  However, having said that, I can fully appreciate why the album stayed under wraps as the track “You’re The Man Part 1” bombed when released as a single in America only during April 1972. Here’s a little back track. Hot on the heels of Marvin’s “What’s Going On” project which ignited music from the soul for the soul. A work dictated by human conscience, highlighting in music intense, soul searching issues that included unlocking the secrets of environmental disasters, and crying unashamedly over the futility of war.  “What’s Going On” was a masterpiece on so many levels and changed, not only Motown’s strict code of recording, but that of the industry as a whole, and inspired other artists, like Stevie Wonder for instance, to have the courage to tread into previously forbidden territories.

Following the release of “What’s Going On” Marvin toyed around with ideas, fielded off third party material, with a state of mind that was far from solid. Gutted that “You’re The Man Part 1” died, and Berry Gordy’s directive that the proposed project be squashed, he said “I had a whole album planned around that track because I very much wanted to work in the movie field and I wanted to use this music as a soundtrack.”   So, he strove to regain public acceptance once more, and while Motown was cautious about taking too many chances with his work, they both realised it was an impossibility to follow “What’s Going On”.  Every aspect of Marvin’s life conflicted at this time; his personal life changed for the worst while his career expanded, yet Marvin lived one day at a time. “There were disputes over financial matters, over promotion, over a whole heap of things. Also my marriage was beginning to run into difficulties. Anna (Gordy) and I had in fact separated.”

Making music was all he had, yet his next project was an unexpected move which once again stretched Motown’s promotion department to the limit.  In the wake of Isaac Hayes penning the movie soundtrack for Shaft and the growing popularity in low budget, semi-violent black flicks, Marvin jumped on the merry-go-round to write his only film score “Trouble Man”.  He totally immersed himself in the project, adopting the role of the film’s main character ‘Mr T’ to write the whole album.  The result was moody and jazz-tinged, almost a sinister reflection of his darkest moments.  Despite offering film-goers similar ingredients as the other black flicks, “Trouble Man” was a non-starter, much to Marvin’s annoyance.  Without the film’s visuals to support the music much of the excitement of “Trouble Man” was lost. “I wanted to say that I could divert from ‘What’s Going On’ and actually go into another area completely.”  Following its release, Marvin admitted it wasn’t the official follow-up to “What’s Going On”, but rather a diversion, because he planned to write about his two passions in life – women and sex – and the “Let’s Get It On” ball breaker was conceived.

So, here we are, back to now, re-living songs recorded during this experimental period of indecision, where Marvin was in a dangerously fragile state of mind, where his sense of normality was scorched, and his cluttered mind bursting with ideas and emotions that made him unpredictable.  His musical route was born from his confusion and this compilation is the result. From the opening and title track where he mercilessly attacks the political way of thinking which, to be honest, has changed not at all, we’re treated “The World Is Rated X” where Marvin returns to dissect certain aspects of “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”.   Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer’s composition “Piece Of Clay” is divine as it weaves through the way people are moulded like clay by dictatorship, while “You Are That Special One” is an upbeat Willie Hutch song, and a favourite of mine. Marvin’s unique falsetto voice inspires “Where Are We Going” and it’s an optimistic singer who sings “We Can Make It Baby”.  Listening to “Symphony” sent shivers up my spine; beautifully conceived and styled; likewise “I’d Give My Life For You”, leaving a more funkier style to seep through on “Try It, You’ll Like It”.  I smiled at the cheeky inclusion of “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” because it’s relevant to the period in Marvin’s life, yet so out of place here.

With a fresh vision injected into some of the songs by Salaam Remi, wiping the dust from the grooves, this compilation is a previously-loved collection of songs, and bringing them together as an 80th birthday present, was a stroke of genius, or was it a stroke of a quick dollar? However, accepting it as the former, it’s with a sad and happy heart that fans like myself will play this again and again, reminding ourselves that despite the tormented traumas Marvin was living through at this time, these songs are reflective of his unquestionable talent. As an aside, I wonder if the man himself would have approved?

Rating: 10

 

 

CD REISSUE REVIEWS - APRIL 2019

CD REISSUE REVIEWS – APRIL 2019

BILLY PAUL: ME & MRS JONES: THE ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
Now this is an interesting 31-track package as it spans the ten studio albums between 1969-1985 by a man who’s considered to be one of the top soul/jazz stylists of our age, and one of the most distinguished names on the Philadelphia International artist roster. Mr Billy Paul, known to the world for his 1972 chart topping single “Me & Mrs Jones”, recorded powerful political songs alongside the tenderest of love tunes, with a sincerity that convinced the listener Billy suffered or enjoyed every moment. Telling of an extra-marital affair between and man and his lover, who meet in secret ‘every day at the same café’, “Me & Mrs Jones” tugged at millions of heart strings; some experiencing the same situation or others wishing they could. With a nice pulsating beat, “Bring The Family Back” is slightly overshadowed by “Brown Baby”, with its subtle support vocals melting into the hookline. While Paul McCartney took a personal view in his composition “Let ‘Em In”, Billy Paul pulls back the shutters to take on a civil rights stance with explicit lyrics, snippets of speeches from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, alongside mentioning past civil rights leaders like the Kennedy brothers and Elijah Muhammad. A landmark release, but not the only one to carry a message: check out “We All Got A Mission” or “False Faces”. Then, on the other hand, Billy re-works Elton John’s “Your Song” to the extreme, by dramatising and, perhaps, soul-ising the pop song, with the added attraction of over-vocalising in sections.

This Anthology features all thirteen American hits for Philadelphia International, like, the up tempo funky, message laden “Am I Black Enough For You”, the follow-up to “Me & Mrs Jones”; “New Day, New World Comes” and “Thanks For Saving My Life”. I was instantly drawn to his version of Jerry Butler’s “Only The Strong Survive” which, lyrically alone, begs attention. Of the ballads, there’s “This Is Your Life”, or “Sexual Therapy” which respected/acknowledged his friend Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. So, there’s a mood, lyric and style for everyone here; political statements and love whispers, so what’s not to like?
Rating: 9

 
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THE BAR-KAYS: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (ROBINSONGS)
This is a mammoth Bar-Kays release across a 3-CD package covering 1967 – 1989, combining releases on Warner Brothers, Volt, Stax and Mercury, tracing the Bar-Kays evolution from a raw Memphis-based unit into a global, headlining act. Of the 46 tracks here, all their top ten R&B hits are included like, of course, their evergreen anthem “Soul Finger”, their debut single. Reviewing their career would cover pages but suffice to say it covered “tragedy to triumph, plane crash to gold discs, Otis Redding to Isaac Hayes” – and they survived all to tell the tale and play on. Some titles also crossed over into the US mainstream chart, including “Son Of Shaft”, a top sixty hit in 1971; “Shake Your Rump To The Funk”, top thirty in 1976; “Too Hot To Stop”, top eighty, a year later; “Move Your Boogie Body”, top sixty in 1979; “Today Is The Day”, top sixty, a year later; and “Freakshow On The Dance Floor”, top eighty, 1984, from the film “Breakin’”. And there’s so much more here that highlight the changing styles of a dedicated bunch of musicians, like “Dirty Dancer” and “Let’s Have Some Fun”.

From a studio session group at Stax Records, the Bar-Kays were chosen by Otis Redding as his backing group, exposing them to growing audiences. Throughout the years, their membership altered for various reasons, but the music continued from early R&B through to the funk years of the seventies. Next to Motown’s Funk Brothers, the Bar-Kays rose from nowhere to everywhere, with musical visions that went a long way to define the music we love.
Rating: 10

 
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TOMMY HUNT: COMPLETE MAN – 60s NYC SOUL SONGS (KENT RECORDS)
It was Dusty Springfield’s version of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” that encouraged me to seek out more from Tommy Hunt, who, as you know, recorded the original during 1962. Then, when the Four Tops recorded “It’s All In The Game”, I looked some more. Tommy’s early life wasn’t easy. When he was ten years old he was released from reform school to move to Chicago with his mother, where, following a stint in the US air force, he deserted to be with his then dying mum. He subsequently served a prison sentence, then pursued his love of music. He formed The Five Echoes, which later led to him joining The Flamingos, where he enjoyed several hit singles including their top twenty pop hit “I Only Have Eyes For You” in 1959. Leaving them a year later, following musical clashes, Tommy met Luther Dixon who signed him to the Dynamo label. Here the pop-slanted “The Parade Of The Broken Hearts” with the slowie “Human” on the flipside, was released. His deeply rich and powerful voice, coupled with his smooth talking ways and the hippest of struts, he became very much in demand.

Although his British success had been limited to the soul market, Tommy excelled as a headlining act at several Northern Soul events, and following a deal with Spark Records, went on to savour a couple of UK mainstream hit singles, “Crackin’ Up” and “Loving On The Losing Side”, followed by “One Fine Morning” during the mid-seventies. Anyway, back to this release which is a kaleidoscope of goodies. “One Of These Days” is a cool ballad of note, while the real romantic side of the man seeps through with songs like “Girls Are Sentimental”. The beat escalates with “The Work Song” and “The Pretty Part Of You”, and of the unissued Scepter recordings, there’s “What’s The Matter Baby” previously only released by The Shirelles. Tell you what, if you’d like to know more about this intriguing singer, do check out his autobiography “Only Human – My Soulful Life”, published by Bank House Books in 2008. Words with music, a great combination!
Rating: 7

 
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SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: RARE GROOVES (WIENERWORLD)
“Dance To The Music”, “Everyday People”, “Family Affair” – can’t be anyone else can it? Headed by Sylvester Stewart, this group of men and women was one of the first racially integrated units, who were a pioneering force in the development of psychedelic soul. Their music, therefore, was a melting pot of funk, rock/soul and psychedelia with huge influences from Stax and Motown thrown in for good measure. With their recognisable fuzz bass and wah-wah guitar, they enjoyed a hugely successful career. As Sly Stone became lost in the world of drugs, so the band suffered until it disintegrated during the seventies, whereupon Rose Stone recorded a solitary eponymous album for Motown under the name Rose Banks in 1976 and supported Marvin Gaye on tour. “Rare Grooves” is their re-named ‘comeback’ album “Back On The Right Track” from 1979 for Warner Brothers, with the bonus track “Somebody To You”. Singles “Remember Who You Are” and “The Same Thing (Makes You Laugh, Makes You Cry)” were poor sellers and, of course, this reflected on the album’s sales. Nonetheless, with several of the original members on board like, Rose, Pat Rizzo and Cynthia Robinson, Sly captured much of the group’s original funk/soul magic, without meandering into their previous darker social commentary. Check out the opening track “It Takes All Kinds” or “Sheer Energy” and you’ll see what I mean. A very worthwhile and enjoyable release for sure.
Rating: 7

CD REISSUE REVIEWS - MARCH 2019

CD REISSUE REVIEWS – MARCH 2019

REGINA BELLE: SHOW ME THE WAY – THE COLUMBIA ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
What a wonderful melting pot of sounds this 29-tracker is from this remarkable songstress. Drawn from four albums between 1987-1995, this package holds the original album versions of ten American hits, kicking off with the likes of “Show Me The Way”, “So Many Tears” – paying homage to Billie Holiday – and “How Could You Do It To Me” from her debut album “All By Myself” released in 1987. Two years on, “Stay With Me” was crammed with top selling items, including her beautifully crafted duet “All I Want Is Forever” with James Taylor, “Baby Come To Me” and “What Goes Around”. The set also spawned her first British hit “Good Lovin’” before the album passed gold status in America. “Dream In Colour” is taken from her third album “Passion”, while “Love T.K.O.” is the only single from 1995’s “Reachin’ Back” album. In between these, there’s a couple of stylish duets – “I Can’t Imagine” with Peabo Bryson and “Better Together” with Johnny Mathis. Having played these CDs over and over I was hypnotised by the Regina’s commitment to easing every emotion from the lyrics whether she’s being defiant, passionate or fervently devoted to the love of her life. Her voice combines resilience and vulnerability, while being surprisingly restrained in guarded musical moments. Music for the soul from the soul.
Rating: 9

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GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: ON AND ON – THE BUDDAH/COLUMBIA ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
Well, what can I say about this 2-CD release that you don’t already know. Suffice to say, the hits are here! From the group’s Buddah years, we’re treated to the poignant “Try To Remember”/”The Way We Were”; the soulful upbeat “Midnight Train To Georgia” through to the impacting “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” – and that’s all before you can draw breath. Then we’re thrown into the absolute idyllic musical dream with “Baby Don’t Change Your Mind”, “Come Back And Finish What You Started” and “It’s A Better Than Good Time”. Pure bliss while evoking memories of rather wonderful times in the past, but, having said that, they’re as relevant today as they were when originally issued. With her Pips, Gladys Knight brought home the goods every time with the most potent of songs that covered the whole emotional gamut, in her easy, relaxed way. Turning now to the Columbia years where the hits continued with the likes of “Landlord”, “Taste Of Bitter Love”, “Save The Overtime (For Me)” and, of course, the irrepressible “Bourgie, Bourgie”. This package is an innovative and comprehensive collection of pure diamonds and among the 22 American hits over a twelve year period, there’s a selection of first –rate tracks given that special GK touch, including a special version of “Wind Beneath My Wings”. As I’m going to see Gladys at the Royal Albert Hall in June, this is a timely reminder, if I needed it, of the remarkably talented soulful and grounded superstar whose music has been a backdrop of my life for as long as I can remember. And, believe me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rating: 10

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CHARLES EARLAND: COMING TO YOU LIVE/EARLAND’S JAM/EARLAND’S STREET THEMES (ROBINSONGS)
The sun is shining through my office window and this double-CD package is playing in the background, setting the mood for an idyllic afternoon. Born in Philadelphia, this extraordinary jazz musician, nicknamed ‘The Mighty Burner’ mastered the saxophone while in high school. At the age of 17 years he played tenor sax with Jimmy McGriff and during the early sixties formed his first band, before learning the organ to play with Pat Martino. From here he joined Lou Donaldson’s group for a year until 1969 when he hooked up with Grover Washington Jr. So that’s set the scene for the first album released in 1980 where the stand out has to be its title track with its soulful vocals and jazz funk riffs followed by “I Will Never Tell”. Other titles like the opening “Cornbread” introduce what would be known as smooth jazz which, I have to say, sums up the entire release here, except for the scorching “Take Me To Heaven”. Moving on two years with “Earland’s Jam”, another slice of intoxicating jazz based tracks like the outstanding “The Only One” plus there’s interesting takes on the Doobie Brothers’ “You Belong To Me”, Barry Gibb and Barbra Streisand’s “Guilty” and “Never Knew Love Like This Before” from Stephanie Mills. A musical cocktail here, where most interpretations work beautifully. The final album, “Earland’s Street Themes”, from 1983, moves on a pace to take inspiration from urban music and contemporary R&B which infiltrated the opening track “Be My Lady (Tonight)”. Others to check out include the dance/funk slice of upbeat in “Go All The Way” and the gospel discharges apparent in “Walk With Me”. Also, among the several bonus tracks included here, is the 12” version of his only UK hit “Let The Music Play” in 1978. Well, it wasn’t the afternoon I’d planned yet, thanks to Mr Earland’s unhurried, gentle approach to his music with the occasional lively bite, it was a rewarding couple of hours. And the sun is still shining!

Rating: 8

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VARIOUS ARTISTS: LOWRIDER SOUL (KENT)
To be honest I’ve not heard the phrase ‘lowrider’ before now but I’m led to believe it’s derived from American automobiles which are customised to cruise the streets of South Carolina. Or to be more precise, a customised vehicle with hydraulic jacks that allow the chassis to be lowered nearly to the road! Anyway, this compilation features some of the music played from these vehicles which originated from Mexico, South and Central America. Covering the period 1962-1970 we’re treated to doo wop and sweet mid tempo outings like The Four Tees’ “One More Chance”. Artists so familiar to soul fans including Barbara Mason, The Whispers and Brenton Wood are featured with a trio of gems. Mason’s “Oh, How It Hurts” overflows with emotional angst, while The Whispers’ low-key, doo wop “As I Sit Here” is a joy, leaving Benton’s “Where Were You” simply begs for attention. And let’s not forget William Bell with “Crying All By Myself”, a stylish performance; The Vows’ “I Wanna Chance” who, with a changed membership, recorded “Buttered Popcorn” for Motown’s VIP label in 1965 or “Second Hand Happiness” from Jimmy Conwell, a wonderful slice of deep soul. As always with Kent’s compilations, an informative, full-coloured booklet is on hand and, while an education for me in the nicest possible way, think this CD would appeal only to soul connoisseurs.

Rating: 7

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VARIOUS ARTISTS: ON THE DETROIT BEAT/MOTOR CITY SOUL UK STYLE 1963-67 (ACE RECORDS)
As much as I applaud these artists for paying homage to Motown, I’m angry because they could have denied the originators a place in the British charts. Then, looking at the situation from a different angle, perhaps Motown would have suffered a longer non-identity without them. Or, which is possibly more relevant, maybe we weren’t ready for this raw, young sound from Detroit preferring to enjoy our own tried and tested music with the occasional interruption from established American acts. Then, on top of this, of course, was the dictating British radio which steered its programmes towards adult listening until Bill Haley swept all sense of respectability from under its feet. Whatever the reasons, and I guess I’m thinking out loud here, Motown and its artists did smash through the barriers and into our charts – eventually. It goes without saying that the sterling work done by Dusty Springfield in promoting this new cult sound was invaluable to its growth here, culminating in the iconic “The Sound Of Motown” television show screened in April 1965, and often referred to as the longest music advertisement ever! And she paid her respects to several company acts during her career, kicking off with The Supremes’ “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” on her debut album. In the same breath, The Beatles were also trailblazers when they too rifled through the Motown catalogue for their second album, yet none are featured here. At the height of their career, the Fab Four not only recorded company songs but also requested Mary Wells join one of their UK tours, and Brenda Holloway on their second American tour. Where The Beatles went, others followed, hence fellow Liverpudlians like Cilla Black and Sounds Incorporated recording Jr Walker and the All Stars’ “Shotgun”, and Billy J Kramer, “I’ll Be Doggone”, the Marvin Gaye classic. An adventurous Helen Shapiro took on “You’re My Remedy”; Bill Kenwright and the Runaways tried “I Want To Go Back There Again”, while The Hollies tackled “Mickey’s Monkey”. When Motown’s artists began infiltrating our charts in their own right, the cover-versions more or less ceased, except for Springfield of course, who regularly included one or two on her albums. However, let’s face it, nobody could match, let alone emulate that glorious young Detroit sound, either vocally or musically because, to be honest, our musicians were certainly no match for the Funk Brothers. Although this type of CD isn’t normally reviewed here, I couldn’t really let it pass because, at the end of the day, our acts were saluting a record company that defined our musical backdrop for decades. So that should count for something.

Rating: 5

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VARIOUS ARTISTS: SOLAR SOUL (SOLAR RADIO)
Wasn’t sure what to expect with this collection of tracks from artists who have enjoyed airtime on Solar Radio over the past two years but I have to confirm it’s exactly what it says on the tin – 21st century soul. I believe this is the second project, the first in 2001 released under “The Soul Sound Of Solar Radio”, and the formula is the same – supporting artists who have hit the station’s Sweet Rhythms Chart, plus remixes and recent favourites. Randy Muller featuring Carolyn Harding’s “Beautiful Feeling” which begins the musical adventure was one I instantly gravitated towards with the percussion steering the mid-paced tempo, allowing Carolyn to weave in and out the melody, interrupted only by stabbing strings or something similar. “Roma” is another that grabbed my interest. Hannah White’s vocals highlight this dance-slanted mover, which does, remarkably, err on the side of a continual laid-back feel through to the Donna Summer interlude, which is a slice of musical ingenuity. Then there’s the smooth saxophone (I think) introduction on “Latino Girl” from Mather & Kingdon which is replaced by a decisive melody with an unexpected key change part-way through. Or the quirky Ray Hayden track “Things Will Get Better” which, to be honest threw me a little, as was unsure where it was going. Never fear, it settled down under an atmospheric overcoat with an infectious melody. A couple more to mention: “Mystified” from Bashiyra with its lovely chugging feel and double-tracked vocals, and Groove Association featuring Georgie B’s “Feeling Happy” where the clipped beat, warm vocals and catchy hookline exude a certain kind of magic. Packaged in a gatefold sleeve and 8-page booklet, this was one surprise I actually enjoyed.
Rating: 9

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CD REISSUE REVIEWS - January 2019

CD REISSUE REVIEWS – January 2019

THE DEELE: STREET BEAT/MATERIAL THANGZ/EYES OF A STRANGER (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

This American outfit’s star rose during the eighties with hits like “Body Talk” and “Two Occasions” and, among other things, gave birth to a pair of rising producers Kenny “Babyface” Edmunds and Antonio “L.A.” Reid. This expanded box set of three CDs reminds us of their first three Solar albums, focusing on the extraordinary artistry of the group as they ploughed their own brand of funk and pop fusion into the lucrative market of two decades ago. I have to confess, some of it is lost on me, but what I like, I love. The Deele’s debut album “Street Beat” in 1983 carried their first hit “Body Talk” which stormed into the top three R&B listing, before crossing over to peak in Billboard’s top eighty singles chart. As an aside, the song was featured in the pilot tv programme of “Miami Vice”. “Just My Luck” and “I Surrender” were also R&B hits. Two years later, “Material Thangz” hit the shops, but failed to repeat the success of its predecessor. Nonetheless, it held credible titles, highlighting “Sweet November” as the overall prize. In 1987, “Eyes Of A Stranger” upped their game to become their most commercially successful album so far, due to a couple of exceptional singles – “Two Occasions” and “Shoot ‘Em Up Movies” – the former a top five R&B hit and crossover top ten charter; the latter peaking in the R&B top ten. Following the release of this top selling album, Babyface and L.A. Reid left The Deele to pursue other production work. However, this trio of discs, with several interesting and outstanding songs, like “I’ll Send You Roses” and “Video Villian”, and ten bonus tracks, is a must-have collection for lovers of hard-edged funk/R&B wearing a pop overcoat with an eighties’ dateline.

Rating: 8

 
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VARIOUS ARTISTS: FAME NORTHERN SOUL (KENT RECORDS)

This is an interesting release because it’s yet another dip into the Fame catalogue of rare gems. For instance, while searching for tracks, no less than thirteen Candi Staton titles were unearthed, and one such find “One More Hurt” is included here. In the same breath of excellence, another artist thrilled researchers, namely, Spencer Wiggins with “I’m At The Breaking Point” and “Holding On (To A Dying Love)” – both much-wanted by fans. Unlike Motown, who used the same backing tracks time and again on different acts, irrespective of whether any had been hits or not, Fame adopted a different approach when re-visiting songs. Their intention was to inject new ideas, and new twists of sounds, into the original tracks, resulting in a ‘new’ song entirely. And this compilation gives an insight into their way of working. Otis Clay’s take on Jimmy Hughes’ “I’m Qualified” is a good example. Club and soul favourites are here like Arthur Conley with “I Can’t Stop (No, No, No)” and Clarence Carter’s “Looking For A Fox”, spicing up the overall feel of the compilation. Fame earned respect by producing some of the classiest Southern Soul music at their Muscle Shoal studios, yet the company wasn’t afraid of standing up against, and contributing to, the music of the day delivered by other labels like Stax and, of course, Motown. Excellent, informative notes, as always, support this twenty-four tracker, which is another valuable appreciation of this remarkable company’s stylish roster of artists.
Rating: 8

 
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THE ISLEY BROTHERS THE EARLY YEARS (WIENERWORLD)

This previously released collection of songs is now available again courtesy of Wienerworld, and all but one track – “I Need Your Love” – were included on the Isley’s second studio album, “Twist & Shout” released on Wand during 1962. It appears that “I Need Your Love” is actually The Impressions, wrongly credited to the Isleys. That aside, and recognising these tracks are pre-Motown when the trio became a vital part of the magical Motown Sound, the “Twist & Shout” theme seems prevalent throughout. “Let’s Twist Again” has a sharper edge to it than the huge international seller by Chubby Checker, while “The Snake” is obviously repetitive in lyric and chorus, as it chugs along in an almost raw fashion with masses of brass which, again, is apparent across all the songs. “You Better Come Home” is a direct “Twist & Shout” clone, with the pace quickening for the somewhat frenetic “Rubber Leg Twist”. This makes tracks like “Hold On Baby” a pleasant distraction as the sharp tempo is slightly slower. The Isley Brothers would fully come into their own upon joining Motown, although while there, they suffered the fate of recording other acts’ songs. Yet, they still secured their successful niche in the charts, steering as they did, the Detroit sound that defined soul music. With their Motown tenure behind them, the best was yet to come. And that’s a whole different story.
Rating: 6

CD REISSUE REVIEWS - December 2018

CD REISSUE REVIEWS – December 2018

TOWER OF POWER: YOU OUGHT TO BE HAVIN’ FUN/THE COLUMBIA/EPIC ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Another two-CD package in SoulMusic Records’ anthology series, featuring this time the Tower Of Power, a defining funk and soul group for almost four decades. The 35 track anthology covers titles lifted from the Columbia released “Ain’t Nothin’ Stoppin’ Us Now”, “We Came To Play” and “Back On The Streets” (1976-1979), while the second disc covers “Monster On A Leash”, “T.O.P”, “Souled Out” and “Rhythm & Business” issued by Epic Records (1991-1997). Aw, and there’s some sweet soul sounds to be enjoyed here too. “You Ought To Be Havin’ Fun”, their debut Columbia single, is one: full of instant hooklines and chorus against a chugging beat. Likewise, “Bittersweet Soul Music” and “Somewhere Down The Road”: magic in those grooves for sure. They move and sway at an easy pace. The driving “Soul With A Capital ‘S’” kicks off the second disc, with its little JB riff, before the group play homage to the man himself with “Diggin’ On James Brown”. Lashings of brass introduce the steady “How Could This Happen To Me”, leaving the leisurely “Come To A Decision” to warm the soul. The fullness of the music is a rich backdrop that gravitates towards the soulful, but rarely restrained, lead vocal, itself complimented by a sympathetic chorus. Not every track passes muster but, I have to say, on the whole, there’s not a lot to dislike here. The material covers all the emotions from resilience to vulnerability, commitment to betrayal, love and hate, through some of the finest exponents of soul deliveries.
Rating: 8

 

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THE SUPREME VOICES COLLECTION: FEATURING FORMER LADIES OF THE SUPREMES: JEAN TERRELL, SCHERRIE PAYNE, LYNDA LAURENCE, CINDY BIRDSONG WITH SUNDRAY TUCKER, FREDDI POOLE, JAYNE EDWARDS (ALTAIR RECORDS)

This long awaited 3-CD package has enjoyed unprecedented social media promotion and support, liken to, say, the announcement of a forthcoming Star Wars movie. When word first escaped this project was nearing completion, ripples of music were available online to tempt us. With some of the finest female voices in the business, these tasters left us wanting more. As you probably know, I’ve always had the highest regard and love for these ladies of soul and song who, despite great odds, have with the approval of Berry Gordy and Diana Ross, kept the name of The Supremes alive. Included in this musical package is a dvd of their 20th anniversary gala concert recorded at Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre in California. The ladies perform classics from The Supremes’ catalogue, like “Reflections”, “Where Did Our Love Go/Baby Love”, through to “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking”, with a sideways dip into “Respect” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. However, what I loved the most was the friendly interaction between artists and audience; the feeling of mutual respect and the easy exchange of bantering. Awards were presented to every Supreme, past and present, and it was such joy to see Cindy collecting hers in person. Moving to the second disc featuring remixes and bonus tracks, most produced by the trio’s most dedicated of producers, Rick Gianatos. To be honest, I’m not a great lover of extended remixes, alternate versions and so on, but absolutely appreciate there’s a value to them on several levels. “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, “Stoned Love”, “Sisters United (We’re Taking Control)” and “Moving On Up” are among the titles included here. So, on to the first disc. And what an incredible experience it is with their dynamic harmonies: listen to Lynda soar to heaven and back on “Breaking And Entering” for instance. She’s absolutely flawless! This gal takes no prisoners. The ladies’ impeccable vocals that sweep and soar across and beyond the driving dance beats so prevalent through the majority of the tracks here, are emotionally charged, enhancing the overall scorching excitement. Their sizzling debut single “Give Me The Night” is a fine example of this as it hits the explosive disco nerve right on, without losing sight of the song’s original delivery. Fabulous! “Somewhere Out There” is awesome as it gnaws away at delicate emotions, while the burning “Road To Freedom” engages instantly with its strong delivery. As a whole, this CD is gutsy and spiritual; crammed with musical visions against a background of solid, driving music, while bursting with stylish, elegant presentations from four main players in the Motown story. Need I say more.
Rating: 9

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ULTRAFUNK ULTRAFUNK/MEAT HEAT (ROBINSONGS)

Well, these two CDs set my memory into overdrive by revisiting the seventies with some of the smoothest, funkiest sounds that got dancers getting into the groove on nights out. Apparently, these tracks are all of Ultrafunk’s known recordings, and is a timely release to placate their rising cult following, although it’s rather perplexing to see a half naked lady holding a nonplussed chicken on the front cover of “Meat Heat”. (I dread of think of the connotations surrounding this) Recording on the much-revered Contempo label, the group was something of an enigma as their pictures didn’t appear on album sleeves, nor did they conduct media interviews. Years later though, their identity was revealed but I won’t give the game away here. However, the well respected Charles Waring, who penned the excellent CD notes, does reveal the membership and confirms the group was the brainchild of Gerry Shury, a bespectacled white guy, who had mastered the piano, saxophone and clarinet. From here, Shury successfully wrote for acts, notably “Guilty” for The Pearls (later covered by First Choice) and Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting”. Also much in demand as a session singer, Shury’s name was attached to Jimmy Helms, Major Lance and The Real Thing, among others. Certainly a man of many talents. During the early seventies, the studio group, Ultrafunk, was formed to be signed to Contempo, itself born from the import record shop of the same name run by John Abbey, Blues & Soul magazine’s first editor. In actual fact, John chose the name Ultrafunk, and their later sister group, The Armada Orchestra, his take on MFSB. Although the group never enjoyed mainstream chart success, their name was synonymous with best UK dance music, and it’s easy to see why from the music playing now. Check out “Kung Fu Man” featuring Freddie Mack, or the re-worked soul titles like Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” and “I Wish”, plus Bill Withers’ “Who Is He And What Is He To You” and “Use Me”. There’s also four bonus tracks including the instrumental and 7” single versions of “Kung Fu Man”. Ultrafunk injected a new styling into British funk; plenty of brass against cool chugging beats, with plucking guitars highlighting the changing grooves. Nothing hurried; the music just eases along at a steady pace which is typical of most of the tracks here. And therein lies their beauty.
Rating: 8

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ZAPP: THE NEW ZAPP IV U/VIBE (ROBINSONGS)

There’s no pausing for breath with this pair of CDs from the stylish funk outfit simply known as Zapp, under the leadership of Roger Troutman. Following the reissue success of their first trio of albums, here we have the next couple. First out, “The New Zapp IV U” from 1985, crammed with electronic devices capable of reproducing a plethora of freaky sounds that was so relevant to the group’s overall music. This state-of- the-art technology put them head and shoulders above their competitors, and as such they became major players in the business. Their take on “I Only Have Eyes For You” is disconcerting to say the least, with its distorted vocals and sharp beat; the song’s actual title is the only line I recognised. Spawning the singles “It Doesn’t Really Matter”, “Itchin’ For Your Twitchin’” (eh?), and the biggest of all, “Computer Love” which is compulsive listening and elevated the album to gold status. It was, I believe, the last to feature Troutman who decided to pursue a solo career. Hearing this today, the all embracing sound is rather passé to these ears, especially the precision-styled funk beat, that was, at the time, so on-the-button and excitingly engrossing. Four years later the “Vibe” album followed, featuring the harmonised Smokey Robinson composition “Ooh Baby Baby” which The Miracles recorded to perfection. “Been This Way Before” and “Ain’t The Thing To Do” are surprisingly welcoming with their low-keyed melodies, while a couple of highlights are a version of The Ohio Players’ seventies hit “Fire” and the burning “I Play The Talk Box”. Summing up then, these CDs left me ‘funked out’ from an unpleasant trip, with moments of unexpected respite from the electronic cacophony. Did I say this out loud?
Rating: 5

RECENT REISSUE REVIEWS - September 2018

RECENT REISSUE REVIEWS – September 2018

JEAN CARNE: DON’T LET IT GO TO YOUR HEAD:THE ANTHOLOGY  (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Wonderful! Just wonderful! Those simple words came into my head after listening to the first disc in this CD package, another in the super anthology series. Culling tracks from her four album tenure ( “Jean Carn”, “Happy To Be With You”, “When I Find You Love”, “Sweet And Wonderful”) at Philadelphia International Records, SoulMusicRecords’ David Nathan has selected some absolute gems, particularly for the first CD.  With her five octave vocal range, the Georgia-born singer’s career began when she met and married Doug Carn while studying at the Julliard School of Music in New York.  Relocating to Los Angeles, Jean recorded at least three albums with her husband and worked with Earth, Wind And Fire, before hooking a deal with Gamble and Huff’s Philly operation.

Her debut eponymous album in 1976 merged the finest seventies’ jazz and soul music with Instant Funk and MFSB providing support music and voices. The lazy, yet chugging rhythm on “Free Love” kicks off this package; enthusiastically full of Philly magic, while the next, “No Laughing Matter” instantly catches, before moving to a lower level only to rise again, completely rounding off this compulsive track. Her dancers are here, like “Was That All It Was” and “What’s On Your Mind”, the latter making its debut on CD. Then the relaxed ballad “When I Find You Love” breaks up the mood; so stylish with the sympathetic orchestra adding to the beauty of the song, it shows Jean’s innate ability to successfully tackle any tempo with confidence. Dipping into Motown’s catalogue, she performs a crisper vocalled “Love Makes Me Do Foolish Things”, following Martha Reeves’ lead by giving the song that essential raw edge, resulting in a real sixties’ feel and mood. And then the gem of gems, the totally outstanding “If You Should Know Me By Now” with the instantly recognizable Temptations on support vocals.  Total class!

From Philadelphia International  Jean had switched to Motown to record the solitary “Trust Me” album which included the before mentioned title, released as a single.  The album struggled, but the single garnered huge R&B sales. A scheduled follow-up album was canned; more’s the pity.  “If You Wanna Go Back” holds a compelling chorus and rousing feel, while “Happy To Be With You”, a little J5 to start off with, strides into a bop, until the song takes off with a regular beat.  Of the duets, there’s “Sweet And Wonderful” with Glenn Jones, and a trio of Norman Connors’ titles featuring Jean; one duetting with Michael Henderson.  She’s a featured vocalist on Al Johnson’s “I’m Back For More”; on a couple from Grover Washington Jr, including the coolest of cool versions of “The Look Of Love”. Jean further adds her voice to Roy Ayers, Dexter Wansel, and Universe titles.  As the promotional note says – this anthology is a remarkable testament to the timeless artistry of this soulful supernova.  I’ll say no more.
Rating: 9

THE WHISPERS: ONE FOR THE MONEY/OPEN UP YOUR LOVE/HEADLIGHTS (ROBINSONGS)
Three albums across two CDs is what you call real value for money from a group best known for their dance tracks during the eighties. With these releases, they lay the foundation of what was to come and it’s easy to see how The Whispers grew to oak trees from these acorns. Released in 1976, “One For The Money” was their debut on Don Cornelius’s Soul Train Records. Taking a leaf from the growing Philadelphia Sound’s songbook, with the sweeping sumptuous strings and tight vocals, the group didn’t quite make it because the material let them down. “Sounds Like A Love Song”, for instance, a beautiful ballad is grossly hampered by the non-impacting chorus lines. David Gates’ “Make It With You” from the “Open Up Your Love” album left me squirming, while “I’m Gonna Make You My Wife” (featured in “Waiting To Exhale”) left me begging for more. Released in 1977, this album was their last for Soul Train.“Headlights”, a year later, on Solar Records rounds off this trio of albums. “Disco Melody” is so-so, at a steady pace, but largely nondescript. An exchange of comments open the album’s title (also the first track), to introduce a get-down funk, sprightly horn section with a mid tempo groove. Then there’s the slowie, “(Olivia) Lost And Turned Out”, lamenting a young lady’s life on the streets, but by staying on an even level, the full meaning of the song is lost. However, was there a surprise waiting? You bet. “The Planets Of Life” suddenly did pump life into disc two. Against a pulsating rhythm, with bags of atmosphere, this really touched the spot, and was a re-recording of their first official album on Dore. Loosely speaking, The Whispers were formed during 1963 in Watts, California by twin brothers Wallace and Walter Scott. After being invited to San Francisco by Sly Stone, they eventually relocated there, building up a solid fan base via their live performances. Global success, however, was on the horizon when, during the eighties, “And The Beat Goes On” launched them into a different league altogether, proving their professional relationship with Solar really did the trick. The hits just kept on comin’. Rating: 6

THE SPINNERS: WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (KENT RECORDS)
Well, this is a turn up. I just remember the group’s “2nd Time Around” album in 1970, capitalising on the single “It’s A Shame” penned by Stevie Wonder, Syreeta and Lee Garrett, which was a UK top twenty hit. However, alongside “2nd Time Around”, there’s thirteen bonus tracks including ten unissued items spanning 1967 to 1970. Containing most of the group’s singles, with the exception of “Message From A Blackman” and their second hit “We’ll Have It Made”; the first a powerful, thoughtful song, and the second, a commercially slanted item directed at the mainstream market. Although the guys were regular visitors to the recording studio, resulting in over one hundred songs being logged, their released output was twenty-six tracks, covering two albums and a rack of singles. Not only were they competing in the market place but also in-house with other acts, who, it was felt, were more viable money makers. This state of frustration eventually led to them switching companies to Atlantic Records, where, with a name change, they received the accolade they’d worked for and deserved.

Anyway, spread across this release is a mouth watering list of writers and producers – Edwin Starr, Smokey Robinson, Johnny Bristol, among them – with the outcome being a super collection of solid, tip top tracks. Moving from The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Baby” which is divine, there’s “Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music”, also recorded by The Supremes, and a highly credible, stylish “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)”, with which David Ruffin scored an international hit. I’m thinking, maybe this album wouldn’t have attracted re-issue status by itself, so the bonus tracks are such a massive buying magnet. Please don’t overlook “Satisfaction Guaranteed”, “Gonna Keep On Tryin’ Till I Win Your Love” or “When It Starts To Rain It Pours”. Magic! Personally speaking, The Spinners really deserved more support while at Motown; their combined talent equalled that of other male groups, so where did it all go wrong? Thankfully, Stevie took up the challenge and elevated them to the position they deserved. Incidentally, the CD’s title “While The City Sleeps” was recorded in 1965 on the West Coast, while the album is G.C.Cameron’s last as a Spinner, and by the time Philippe Wynne replaced him, they were signed to Atlantic. An excellent release and goes a long way to reminding us that success is possible the second time around. No pun intended. Rating: 9

LALOMIE WASHBURN: MY MUSIC IS HOT (CHERRY RED RECORDS)
This lady tries to live up to the CD’s title on some of the tracks here, her first solo album released in 1977, but all too often, sells herself short. Cutting her teeth with the seventies’ soul/funk groups Love Craft and High Voltage, Lalomie was also a support vocalist for Ike & Tina Turner, Chaka Khan and Ray Charles, among others. She also worked with composers for Aretha Franklin and The Brothers Johnson. So, huge pedigree here for the Memphis-born singer who, I guess, ranks as one of the industry’s unsung names. At least she was to me but, thankfully, with this re-issue that’s been corrected. With all the tracks on her first album included here, together with flipsides and – as appears to be the norm these days – alternate mixes of her early releases, this presents a well-rounded collection of material highlighted by her often deep, rich vocals delivered from the heart. “Give Me Love With The Music” opens the CD, with luscious harmonising vocals and rising chords, leading the way for a quartet of singles – “Double Funkin’”, a loose brassy, jazzy beat which, according to the CD booklet, is a celebration of sexuality without shame; the mid-paced “My Love Is Hot” chugging across the beat with a repetitive chorus; the dancer “Man Power (Can You Do It)” leaning towards tender funk on a conveyor belt; “Two Sides”, a surprising addition by comparison, as it’s a take on The Carpenters’ original version. Not to be dismissed because Lalomie’s take is ultra cool and smooth in delivery. A non-album single that’s included here in both mono and stereo form. From the CD’s pictures, Lalomie looked to be one feisty lady who strutted along the fast lane, with her heart on her sleeve, but that’s sadly not reflected here. However, if this was the taster for her future career, her next releases surely gave her more latitude and freedom to express a sassy, funky side, as I suspect she took no prisoners! Rating: 6

 
KENNY LATTIMORE: NEVER TOO BUSY: THE ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
Another in this top selling series, this re-issue is drawn from the singer’s two Columbia albums and his 2001 Arista release, clocking up a 2 CD-package holding a massive thirty tracks. While presenting his own style, which is easy and welcoming, the Washington DC-born Kenny pulls influence from the likes of Marvin Gaye, adding the polished touch we’ve come to expect from singers raised on soul music. His debut eponymous album in 1996 spawned a pair of top twenty singles: the mellow “Never Too Busy” and the Grammy-nominated ballad “For You”. So successful was this release, thanks to the singles, that sales tipped gold status. Also here are two commercially-slanted duets with Chante Moore – “Figure It Out” and “Tonight (2 Step)” – the latter earning them a place in the lucrative gospel market. Kenny’s professional career started during the eighties in the group Maniquin where he took lead vocals on their self-titled album on Epic Records.

Relocating to New York, he signed with Columbia where his solo career kicked off with the before mentioned “For You”. His next classically styled soul project, “From The Soul Of Man” in 1998 gave birth to a couple of hit singles, “Days Like This” and “If I Lose My Woman”, further cementing his presence as a money making artist. Although Kenny easily slips into the soul ballad singer box, and that’s no mean tag to have, he brings with him an often cautious approach to his music, although never stilted, cultivating a seamless move from soul/R&B ballad to uptempo. with a full-blooded, gloriously encompassing musical backdrop. His warm, emotive voice mixes resilience and vulnerability and probably sums up his ability to inject believability into the lyrics. And that’s what makes him stand out from the rest! Rating: 9

WILLIE HIGHTOWER: OUT OF THE BLUE (ACE RECORDS)
Listening to this reminded me of sitting in front of the fire, wearing a pair of worn out slippers and sipping a mug of hot chocolate. Every thing about this country soul material here is relaxing, laid-back and non-fussy, and so easy to listen to. I’m reminded of Sam Cooke too but that’s hardly surprising as he was one of Willie’s musical influences. So the deal is, 77 year old Willie Hightower hooks up with 95 year old Memphis producer, Quinton Claunch in the legendary Memphis Shoals, Alabama, to record this album, and as the CD’s blurb so succinctly puts it – “it’s like turning back the hands of time to soul music’s heyday in the 1960s. Not only is this a completely new recording but there are real musicians playing real instruments with real songs.” From the opening track “I Found You”, the mood is set as we meander through unobtrusive melodies, full-padded music supporting Willie’s lifetime of stylish vocal expertise. Gravitating to “Rock Me Gently” because it’s a song I readily recognised, I stepped out to “Tired Of Losing You” and “Everybody Wants My Girl.” Hotly followed by “Raining all The Time” and “No Gettin’ Over Me”. The weather outside my window might be grey and miserable, but these few minutes spent in the company of Mr Hightower has undoubtedly lifted my spirits into a tension-free zone. These guys may be in their twilight years but the music has never sounded so satisfying. Rating: 9

 
JACK ASHFORD: JUST PRODUCTIONS VOLUME 2 (KENT RECORDS)
Following the great response to the first release, this compilation is the last from Jack’s independent soul productions, covering 1967 into the mid-1970s. Of course, Mr Ashford is no stranger to us, being a vital member of The Funk Brothers with whom he laid down the defining Motown sound, and he’s a guy I had the pleasure to meet following a London performance by the group. Here we have a melting pot of tracks recorded under his Just Productions company where, on occasion you can hear strains of Motown, but, on the whole, it’s a much harder, funkier style throughout. Interestingly, Jack sings on a couple of tracks – the ballad “Let Me Take Care Of Your Heart” and a brassy “This Ain’t Just Another Dance Song” – and, while he preferred to let others take this role, his voice is warmly inviting. The Perfections take on The Temptations’ “Since I Lost My Baby”, while Softtouch, who recorded on Motown’s Prodigal label, are featured here with a snappy “Say That You Love Me Boy”. Check out a Northern Soul gem “There Can Be A Better Way” from The Sound Of New Detroit, or the sweeping ballad “How Long Has It Been Since You Had A Love Affair” courtesy of Cecil Norman Jr. There’s loads of goodies on offer here but just don’t take my word for it, hear them for yourself. Rating: 8

 
ROSE ROYCE: GREATEST HITS LIVE (WIENERWORLD)
Actually, for a ‘live’ CD this isn’t bad and Gwen Dickey’s voice has a lot to do with that comment. My, that lady can sing: she soars and dips the scales, holding notes as she gets down with the music. Pure soulful magic! As you know, Norman Whitfield’s group, Rose Royce, was elevated into stardom with “Car Wash” in 1976, and in the wake of that film’s runaway success, the group could do little wrong. The movie’s title gave them their debut UK top ten hit, and during 1977, two further singles hit the listing big time – “I Wanna Get Next To You” and “Do Your Dance”. Their star was rising fast. However, the biggest selling titles were waiting around the corner, namely, “Wishing On A Star”, “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Is It Love You’re After”. All carrying the Rose Royce brand: strong hooklines, chunky melodies that either swept along in a ballad, or strutted in a funky mid-tempo tune. And, they’re all included here, recorded during one of the group’s 1993 performances, where the musicians are tight, full-blooded, with masses of natural on-stage interaction. Also, as with most live performances there’s a dose of audience participation. Here it takes place during an over-long “The Magic Touch”, where it’s often difficult to hear whether there’s an actual response. However, all in all, this is an above average ‘live’ set but, I’d have thought, only attractive to Rose Royce fans. Rating: 7

 
IKE & TINA TURNER: GOLDEN EMPIRE (CLASSIC WORLD)
This appears to be a mish-mash of previous releases under this name, which themselves were a haphazard reflection of the career of one of the most volatile, exciting, hard-driving hybrid of soul and rock acts. And, of course, there was Tina, a ferocious whirlwind of energy, power and voice. This twenty-two song compilation skips all over the place with titles spanning albums released during their career as a professional couple. The monster hits are here – “”Proud Mary”, “Nutbush City Limits”, “River Deep, Mountain High”, and “I Want To Take You Higher” – but what is particularly outstanding, if you like, is their version of Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” which I’ve not heard previously. Making up for it now! Some of the tracks are sketchy, raw in the extreme, making listening a bit edgy which I found disconcerting. However, there’s no letting up of the pure electricity between Ike and Tina; the blending of voice with his distinctive guitar plucking, working in unison with the trill support vocals. “The Locomotion” is interesting; “Come Together” is exactly what it says on the tin, and “It’s Your Thing” grabs attention. To be honest, I’ve heard better and the fact that there’s little information in the CD packaging is frustrating. Rating: 5

 

RECENT REISSUE REVIEWS - July 2018

RECENT REISSUE REVIEWS – July 2018

L.T.D: SOMETHING TO LOVE/TOGETHERNESS/DEVOTION/SHINE ON (ROBINSONGS)
The ten-piece group, Love, Togetherness, Devotion, with Jeffrey Osborne on lead vocals, made heavy musical inroads during the seventies, and just released is a reminder of the impact they made. Hailing from North Carolina, the unit, with a changing membership, signed with A&M Records in 1974 to start their journey which, due to the fierce competition from the likes of the Commodores, Maze and Gap Band, made their escape from the ‘also ran’ level that much harder. However, L.T.D held their own to release some dynamic slices of disco and ballad, with sweet grooves, stomping funk, set against textured vocals. And this is typified by the four albums here – “Something To Love” and “Togetherness” (1977/1978); “Devotion” and “Shine On” (1979/1980). There’s an elaborate mix in this melting pot of music, including the group’s mega-selling “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again” with its commanding commercial funk styling, and the solid dancer “Never Get Enough Of Your Love”. Of the ballads, check out the smooth and mellow “(Won’t Cha) Stay With Me”, hugely attractive; likewise “We Both Deserve Each Other’s Love”, “Concentrate On You” and the tear jerking “Where Did We Go Wrong”. Then switch over to “We Party Hearty”, complete with its chanted chorus, sitting alongside the gospel influenced “Make Someone Smile, Today”. “Share My Love” is another yearning slowie, while “Stranger” has an interesting take on adultery. Then saunter into another pair of thoughtful gentleness with “Will Love Grow” and “Lady Love”. Some of the songs here lack the magic of the moment but all evoke memories of the past. Will their cultural musical impact travel across the decades? I don’t know. However, what I’ve heard I liked very much.
Rating: 8

LAKESIDE: SHOT OF LOVE/ROUGH RIDERS/FANTASTIC VOYAGE (ROBINSONGS)
Three albums on a double CD package from a group that was tagged ’The Rolling Stones of Funk’ because no act wanted to follow them on stage, although that doesn’t really live up to the music included here. Maybe I’m missing something. Anyway, let’s talk Lakeside. Born from The Nomads, The Montereys, The Young Underground, and the Ohio Lakeside Express, with a succession of changing members, the group eventually edited its name to Lakeside. Managed by Dick Griffey, they hooked up with Frank Wilson who signed them to Motown in 1974, for an unproductive tenure. When Frank switched to ABC Dunhill in 1976, the group followed. A year later, Lakeside issued their eponymous album featuring “If I Didn’t Have You”. Long story short, after being feted by several record companies, they joined Griffey’s Solar Records. Incidentally, Norman Whitfield was also seriously interested in securing them for Whitfield Records, but when Griffey offered them the additional option to compose and co-produce their own material, it was a no-brainer.

Released during 1978, “Shot Of Love” featured the top five R&B hit “It’s All The Way Live”, and “Given In To Love”, a top eighty R&B hit. A year on, “Rough Riders” followed with the extracted singles, “Pull My Strings” and “From 9.00 Until”; both were top fifty hits. However, it was “Fantastic Voyage” which proved to be their biggest selling album yet, soaring into the top twenty pop chart. The title track topped the R&B singles chart for seven weeks, later crashing into the top sixty pop listing, while its follow-up “Your Love Is On The One” hit the R&B top twenty, bypassing the mainstream market this time. Exceeding all expectations, this album elevated Lakeside into a bankable unit.

From here, a string of R&B hits followed, sustaining their pulling power into the eighties. Griffey’s Solar set up had a heavyweight presence in the market place, affording their artists meaty promotion and support, but when the in house competition included Shalamar, The Whispers and Midnight Starr, perhaps Lakeside didn’t get the attention they deserved. Their music across these two CDs goes from nowhere to everywhere, with a balanced diet of dance, funk and ballad. Presentation is faultless yet some of the tracks are sub-standard inasmuch that they’ve not travelled the years gracefully. There’s earthy, gritty sides; sentimental and emotional going hand in hand, but I do feel some of the tracks are pieced together, lacking the essential ingredient that stamps its mark on a hit song. Having said that, I enjoyed what I heard but, I’m afraid, nothing left me begging for more.
Rating: 6

RECENT REISSUE REVIEWS - May 2018

RECENT REISSUE REVIEWS – May 2018

THE POINTER SISTERS: THE POINTER SISTERS/THAT’S A PLENTY  (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Oh yeah! This is wonderful and it feels good to hear both these albums again.  Released in 1973 on Blue Note, the Sisters’ first album has always been a huge favourite in my collection. Cleverly packaged and marketed, it shot to the top of the US R&B chart, passed gold status, proving they were here to stay and this debut was testament to that. The imaginative use of vocals from Bonnie, June, Ruth and Anita which are often combined, sometimes scat and jazz-tinged, but always with an edge.  They drive and wail, pitch and touch their voices in and around tracks that are excitingly divine.

With the album cover showing them in 40s’ styled clothes, we knew we were in for a treat, starting with their take of “Yes We Can Can”, both sassy and cool.  The quirky full-spirited, energetic “Wang Dang Doodle” and the amusing “Old Songs” with its pounding rhythm steering their voices reminded me of Bette Midler.  Hell.  Should I have written that? With the ability to mix R&B with a fresh approach, and with cover versions rubbing grooves with a couple of Pointers’ compositions – “Jada”  and “Sugar” – this was a brilliantly conceived launching pad for them. Check out too “That’s How I Feel”;  rather zany, with improvised vocals and nonsense lyrics, with their voices used as instruments.

Ragtime starts “That’s A Plenty” with “Bangin’ On The Pipes/Steam Heat”.  Both fast and furious, totally impulsive and crazy because how can a song about a radiator be so deliriously lovely?  With lyrics that mean nothing but rather highlight a scat/bebop vocal which they do so well, “Salt Peanuts” races along like a speeding train over its tracks, taking no prisoners on the way.  Change of style with the country-flavoured “Fairytale” which gave them their second top forty hit, crossing over into the C&W chart enabling them to become the first African-American vocal group to star at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.  The song also won them their first Grammy Award for Best Country Performance.  Glorious tight vocals shine across “Grinning In Your Face” against a steady, unhurried beat, while a young Bonnie Raitt plays slide guitar.

The Pointers’ self penned “Shaky Flat Blues” is followed by “That’s A Plenty/Surfeit USA” crammed with surprises as it shifts from one genre to another in quick succession, and from the sounds of it, great fun and laughter resonated around the studio.  Meanwhile, “Black Coffee” instantly stills the mood with low key, heartfelt Blues, sedately presented.  So cool.  The “That’s A Plenty” album sleeve, while not colourful, does strike an impressive pose in stark black and white, silhouetting the four ladies dancing.  There’s absolutely nothing to fault across these two albums; they’re both steeped in originality whether from a soul, jazz or Blues songbook, and the Pointer Sisters (while probably out of breath most of the time!) are incredible.   Absolutely priceless!

Rating: 10

SHALAMAR: UPTOWN FESTIVAL/DISCO GARDENS/BIG FUN  (CHERRY RED RECORDS)

It was the five bonus tracks on this double CD package that excited me the most.  These single versions of the biggest disco tracks around in the late seventies/early eighties, had my blood pressure rising, adrenalin bubbling and voice singing at full pelt. Let me remind you – “Uptown Festival”, “Take That To The Bank”, “Right In The Socket”, “The Second Time Around” and “I Owe You One”. Know what I mean? Hard driving dance that never lets up, with building chorus and hooklines, they’re so totally addictive and so epitomise the best in disco.  Formed in 1978 by the producer and host of the innovative US music show “Soul Train” and featuring Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley and Gary Mumford, the trio couldn’t sing a bum note as their string of UK hits proved.  OK, so the line-up changed slightly but so long as Jeffrey and Jody were there, we knew we were onto a winner.

On offer here are Shalamar’s first three albums, “Uptown Festival”, “Disco Gardens” and “Big Fun”, and on the first we’re treated to ten Motown tracks sung non-stop over a seventies disco beat.  Two further company songs are given the Shalamar treatment, namely, “Ooo Baby Baby” and “Forever Came Today”.  For “Disco Gardens”, with the membership of Jeffrey, Jody and Gerald Brown, the highlight hinges on the hit “Take That To The Bank”, with occasional inspiring musical moments via “Shalamar Disco Gardens” and “Leave It All Up To Love”.  It’s one long dance party although listening to it now, am sad it hasn’t travelled well.  The third, “Big Fun”, however, boasts the classic membership of the two Js and Howard Hewitt, and is just what it says on the album cover.  Fun!  It also way outsold its predecessor thanks to the included hits, like their biggest seller “The Second Time Around”.   Shalamar have such an instantly distinctive sound, said to be the very heart of Solar Records, and it is true to say their singles are immediately recognisable from the opening vocals, despite some of the cuts falling short of the excellence we came to expect from them.  Nonetheless, a worthy compilation for disco fans.

Rating: 8

MARLENA SHAW: GO AWAY LITTLE BOY:THE COLUMBIA ANTHOLOGY  (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Being the gal I am, I immediately headed for Marlena’s version of “Touch Me In The Morning” – and what a wow! track it is!  Taken at a dance pace, the song dips and rises through this remix, grabbing attention as the Diana Ross ballad is transformed into a disco classic.  Fabulous! So, now calm and my curiosity stemmed, here we have another in SoulMusic Records’ much loved anthology series from Ms Shaw, revisiting her Columbia Records tenure between 1977 – 1980.  Not being too familiar with her musical heritage I researched her background and rise to fame while listening to this diverse collection of music which earned her the title of soul/jazz legend.  Her uncle and jazz trumpet player, Jimmy Burgess, introduced her on stage during one of his performances at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, and from here she studied music.  She dropped out of the course to get married and sang in jazz clubs as and when.  During 1963 she auditioned unsuccessfully for Columbia, before signing to Chess Records to release a pair of albums on their Cadet imprint, followed by five albums for Blue Note.

“Yu-Ma/Go Away Little Boy” from her Columbia debut “Sweet Beginnings” in 1977 is obviously a highlight on this anthology, soaring into the US R&B chart where it stayed for 11 weeks.  Love her spoken rap here which, by all accounts, she perfected while performing in an upstate New York club. Van McCoy’s beautifully styled ballad “Walk Softly” mixes easily with “Look At Me, Look At You (I’m Flying)”, a lustrous cool jazz item.  Her acapella introduction on “You Bring Out The Best In Me” leads into a compelling song, while the mood changes for “Mamma Tried” with its gospel feel, where Marlena accompanies herself on keyboards. Her first three charting singles for Columbia are here – the lively “The Writing’s On The Wall”, “Pictures And Memories”, upbeat and catchy, and “No Deposit, No Return”, her own composition.  Then the beautifully haunting “Theme From ‘Looking For Mr Goodbar’ (Don’t Ask To Stay Until Tomorrow)” from the 1977 film is quite outstanding.  I may not have known too much about Miss Shaw before hearing this, but now, after listening to this 2-CD package, I feel like we’re old friends.

Rating: 9

April Reissue & Recent CD Reviews

April Reissue & Recent CD Reviews

CROWN HEIGHTS AFFAIR DANCE LADY DANCE-SURE SHOT-THINK POSITIVE (ROBINSONGS)

So here’s the deal: three albums across two CDs crammed with dance, funk and ballads. Some have full blown group vocals while others the lead singer with sympathetic support voices, but all melting together in the style so significant in the late seventies/early eighties when competition was fierce. Founded by Donnie Linton in 1967, the group from New York City had a sketchy start until their “Dreaming A Dream” in 1975 registered them as crossover US hit makers. The opening cut on this set, “Dance Lady Dance” shot into the US top twenty and hit the UK top fifty, marking their third chart entry. The guys bought to the table their own brand of disco; a rich, all-inclusive sound, almost on the verge of overflowing with horns, percussion and keyboards. Amidst the dance, the occasional ray of eloquent soul shines through. “Empty Soul Of Mine” is a good example. A strongly flavoured ballad of emotional moments that gently tug at the heart. “Heart Upside Down” is another, with its impassioned vocals against a warm, comforting musical backdrop.

To be fair, the uptempo cuts are on the ball, of the minute, bringing home a healthy blend of decisive beats and attractive hook lines that often are quite inspiring. Check out “Think Positive”, a hard hitting rap track where the repetitious, grinding pace is highlighted by vocal breaks, while “You’ve Been Gone” jogs along like a train travelling over railway tracks. Then there’s the tempo change in “I See The Light” which reminded me of Earth Wind & Fire, and “Use Your Body & Soul”, with a rap section midway through, interrupting blistering vocals over a clipped disco beat. And last but certainly not least, classic Crown Heights Affair with “You Gave Me Love”, their biggest selling UK title, hitting the top ten. Heavy, meaty dance where the high spots are the repetitive ‘whoo hoo, whoo hoo’, and I can just imagine a dancefloor crammed with jumping dancers imitating this chorus. Think I’ll join them.
Rating: 8

M.F.S.B.: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (ROBINSONGS)

I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally receive this Collection because my love for this orchestra is on the same level as my feelings for the Salsoul Orchestra, which, of course, is totally reasonable. Why? Well, when M.F.S.B. fractured due to financial disagreements with Gamble & Huff, several musicians actually switched to the Salsoul Orchestra, spearheaded by Vince Montana Jr. Anyway, back to this review. A pool of thirty-plus hand-picked studio musicians who worked with Gamble & Huff in the Philadelphia Sigma Sound Studios, M.F.S.B. (an acronym of Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, in line with the spiritual views of Gamble & Huff, although another meaning was given to the initials by musicians when complimenting another’s musical expertise) were legendary in providing lush and sumptuous music for artists like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The Stylistics and The Spinners. Comprising a mixture of multi-talented musicians of all ages, some self-taught or classically trained – like Norman Harris, Bob Babbitt, Earl Young, Vince Montana Jr and Bobby Eli – who became household names, unlike, say, Berry Gordy’s inhouse unit because he insisted they remained nameless, despite them being responsible for the very foundation of what is known as ‘The Motown Sound’. Then, in the early seventies, M.F.S.B. thankfully became recordings artists in their own right when their second single, the theme to the US groundbreaking music show “Soul Train” was released under the title “T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)” with the added attraction of The Three Degrees. This timeless slice of sophisticated dance tore the international charts apart, selling over one million copies in America alone. The same combination was used again on “Love Is The Message”, another beautifully orchestrated piece, perfect in every respect, and a true legacy of the Philadelphia sound which would grow into a musical giant across the world. The song became one of the first to be inducted into the newly formed Dance Music Hall Of Fame in 2004.

So, this first “Double Definitive Collection” includes full-length versions of their biggest tracks, including “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto” featuring the Philadelphia International All Stars. This was a project initiated by Gamble & Huff to support a five-year inner city programme, with all profits earmarked for this cause. What else? There’s “K-Jee” featured in the film and soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever”; a semi-funk “Backstabbers”; an earthy delivery on “Family Affair”; a spiced up “Philadelphia Freedom” which go hand-in-hand with a mellow “South Philly” and a powerful disco based “Get Down With The Philly Sound”. The entire 2-CD package overflows with a musical elegance, enhanced with a dusting of classy melodies and hook lines that extend far and beyond the confines of session musicians. Whether the track is dance orientated, pulsating up tempo or dreamy ballad, the unique orchestral styling of M.F.S.B. is immediately recognisable, and it’s faultless in presentation. They are the very soul of Philadelphia. OK, I realise I’m biased but can’t help myself.
Rating: 10

HAYWOODE: ROSES: REMIXES & RARITIES (CHERRY RED RECORDS)
The gal with the crazy hairstyle and floppy straw hat! Hey, but that was the eighties. One of our precious homegrown singers, Sid remained the girl-next-door, a fab friend and a great talker, and this never changed when her star began rising with crossover hits. We met regularly, and her CBS press agent discovered it was best for our interviews to be at the close of the day because Sid and I like to party afterwards. Anyway, that aside. Released as the companion to the top selling “Arrival” reissue, Sid’s music on this double CD package has been re-mastered from original CBS tapes, and bring together a selection of her most sought after re-mixes. All from the eighties, these cover some rare sides and previously unreleased titles spanning her stay at the record company. It’s wall-to-wall dance music – pop, hi- energy, hard funk meets classic eighties disco – re-mixed by a host of influential names of the decade, like Mike Barbiero and Steve Thompson, who would later work with Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin, among others. And their mix of “Roses”, her third single, starts this sometimes frenetic journey. “It’s funky pop and the lyric of not having a man mess me around resonated with me” she said. Her debut single “A Time Like This” here mixed by Nick Martinelli (both 7” and 12”) is quite amazing. Recorded in Philadelphia for her debut US market outing, the track was canned in preference to “Roses”. Bypassing, her second single “Single Handed”, a Detroit extended mix of “I Can’t Let You Go” – which I’ve always loved – has an amazing driving beat. “…totally re-recorded in Detroit with Bruce Nazarian and Duane Bradley it gives the song a more ‘live’ jazzy band feel” said Sid. “(Together with) the sax and piano flavoured pop-soul-funk elements that I was personally vibe with.” Interestingly, there’s a couple of groovy instrumentals here too, “You’d Better Not Fool Around” and “I Can’t Let You Go”, a pleasant diversion for sure.

Talking about “I’m Your Puppet”, Sid’s take on the James and Bobby Purify classic, she explained it was her father’s favourite tune which inspired her to record it. “Music was like food in our house…I was uber-delighted when I found out I was to record it in the home of Philly Soul and work with Nick. These memories of that trip stand out for me.” All credit to her, the song is beautifully constructed and delivered. Sid co-wrote “My Kind Of Hero”, a welcoming ballad sung with a certain commitment – “It does have a Tina Turner feel to the backing track which wasn’t intentional on my part, although she is an inspirational stage goddess for me.” Stock, Aitken and Waterman were the power behind “You’d Better Not Fool Around” which was partly re-recorded and re-mixed before hitting the public as a single. “I like the vocal melody and ‘man, get ya act together’ lyric.” It’s another full-on slice of dance, with a scorching feel and atmosphere. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the CD, in its eye-catching packaging, closes with The Haywoode Mega-Mix comprising five belting tracks that take no prisoners. Summing up, this package is overflowing with energy, youthful enthusiasm and Sid’s total commitment to her music. And there’s more to come as a new album is in the planning stages for release this year, with a promise of UK dates. What more could we want? “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your interest and support of my music over the years. It truly means the world to me.”
Rating: 9

NORMAN BEAKER BAND: WE SEE US LATER (WEINERWORLD)

Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame during 2017 as a legendary blues artist, Norman Beaker wrote and produced this studio album, which I believe has previously been available digitally, and features sixteen tracks covering different styles – but all with a deep rooted blues feel. I’ve seen the Norman Beaker Band perform at my local theatre several times, both as support to Chris Farlowe and as a separate unit, where their music bounces from the stage into the standing room only audience. They really are party nights. Although Norman is deadly serious about his music, he performs with a sense of humour which he believes is a good balance between the music and old comedy, like that delivered by Tony Hancock, whom he also loves. This is openly apparent when the group perform with Chris Farlowe because they’re for ever scoring points off each other. Seriously though, Norman and the guys have toured extensively with the likes of Graham Bond, Chuck Berry and Van Morrison, and worked as session musicians for James Booker and Jack Bruce, among others. The opening track here, “Only I Got What The Other Guys Want”, sets the pace, and the journey into the world of the blues according to Norman begins. Particular highlights are “Time And Tide” featuring Steve Ellis on vocals, and “I Don’t Want A Lover” with Larry Garner supporting on vocals and guitar. Also highly recommended – the earthy “Hard To Be Somebody” and the tormented “Cheating Love”. Norman Beaker has been at the forefront of British blues for over four decades, and although the genre isn’t a particular favourite of mine, I’m grateful to him for educating me through his visits to my town.
Rating: 7

 

 

 

March Reissue & New CD Reviews

March Reissue & New CD Reviews

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.
Rating: 9

JONATHAN BUTLER: SARAH, SARAH: THE ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

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.
Rating: 9

KAY-GEES: KEEP ON BUMPIN’ & MASTERPLAN/FIND A FRIEND/KILOWATT (ROBINSONGS)

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!
Rating: 7

DIANE SHAW: SECOND CHANCE (MECCA RECORDS)

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!
Rating: 10

VARIOUS ARTISTS: THE VERY BEST OF TAPPAN ZEE RECORDS (ROBINSONGS)

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.
Rating: 6