CD REISSUE REVIEWS - August/September 2019

CD REISSUE REVIEWS – August/September 2019

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUENOTES: BE FOR REAL:THE P.I.R. RECORDINGS (1972-1975) (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Without wishing to go into a lengthy history lesson because 1) soul fans don’t need reminding and 2) I’d soon run out of space, suffice to say these guys were originally known as The Charlemagnes, and unsuccessfully recorded for several labels before hooking up with Philadelphia International where their story really began in earnest. Their membership had changed constantly until Harold Melvin recruited Teddy Pendergrass as lead singer, previously of The Cadillacs. Joining Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International launched Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes on an incredible career across several decades, marking them as the first group to achieve international success within the first year of the company’s trading. So, let’s get started.

With the unexpected success of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, the “I Miss You” album, the group’s debut for Philadelphia in 1972, was later re-marketed under the name “Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes”. Anyway, originally penned by Gamble & Huff for Labelle, the single was chosen as one of the Songs Of The Century by the RIAA: rightly so. Steeped in warm, emotional stylings, musically supported by a sympathetic orchestra, it was an authentic soul classic, and marked the group’s debut in the UK chart where it peaked in the top ten. Such was the power of the song that it’s been re-visited by many including the UK unit, Simply Red, where another hit was enjoyed. However, while this song is so powerfully attractive, there’s others on “I Miss You”: “Be For Real” for starters, with its interesting diversion, and their take on Billy Paul’s “Ebony Woman”.

In 1973, “Black & Blue” arrived with another block busting title lifted for single release – “The Love I Lost”, a song that was conceived as a ballad but re-arranged to make it attractive to the growing lucrative disco market at the time. A second UK hit but in the top twenty this time. And, my, that solid, driving beat exemplified the changing Philly sound with the arousing unison of soul voices. “Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)” followed, a top forty UK hit, while you can’t ignore “It All Depends On You” and “I’m Weak For You”. Next out, the “To Be True” album, the first of two issued during 1975, where you instantly zone in on “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon” because of Sharon Paige’s involvement. The young singer toured with the group and had released her first single “Let’s Get Together Soon”, later recorded By Dusty Springfield on her “Brand New Me” album. Other notable slices of soul included on “To Be True” are “Bad Luck” and “Nobody Could Take Your Place”. So, onto the “Wake Up Everybody” album (the last to feature Teddy Pendergrass) which kick starts with “Where Are All My Friends”, but once again, among the powerhouse titles, two immediately catch on – the album’s title and, of course, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. Both were UK hits at no 23 and no 5 respectively. The latter track competed against Thelma Houston’s version which, although a much deserved hit for the lady, she lost out to the group’s version by peaking at no 13. Listening to these CDs now, apart from a few hiccups, music doesn’t get much better than this, and to chose a particular favourite is nigh impossible for this ol’ lady. Enjoy!

Rating: 9


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THE EMOTIONS: DON’T ASK MY NEIGHBORS/ THE COLUMBIA/ARC RECORDINGS (1976-1981) (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
I don’t know about you, but when I see one of these colourful boxes arrive in the post, I feel my spirits lift. Not only are they great value but the music within has been well researched and lovingly presented. Well, that’s earned me a few brownie points if nothing else! Together or singly The Emotions have worked with the best including Earth, Wind & Fire, Smokey Robinson, Nancy Wilson and George Duke. As recording artists they were nominated as one of the most influential female groups of all time. With a changing membership over the years, they first stepped on the public platform as a gospel group named the Hutchinson Sunbeams, before hitting the R&B market building up a staunch following in their home state Illinois. As The Emotions, they joined the Volt label during the late sixties, working with David Porter and Isaac Hayes, to release their first album “So I Can Love You”. The title track hit the R&B top ten and top forty mainstream listing. Here we have the ladies’ Columbia and Arc recordings spanning 1976-1981, covering five albums on this 54-track, three CD box set. It was in 1976 that The Emotions hooked up with EW&F’s Maurice White and his Kalimba Productions with the resulting “Flowers” album, when “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love” elevated them into the dance market. For me the highlight is the melancholic “How Can You Stop Loving Someone” and the gospel tinged “God Will Take Care Of You”. Into the chart topping “Rejoice” album and the global runaway hit “Best Of My Love” which, apart from being a multi-million seller, won the Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals Grammy in 1977. Check out as well, the placid “Key To My Heart” and “A Long Way To Go”.

Their gold status “Sunbeam” album opens with “Smile”, upbeat and instant; “Spirit Of Summer” hints at jazz and “Walking The Line” is wonderfully delicious. So, a pot pourie of sounds, indicating that once again, no style is alien to these ladies. Unfortunately, “Come Into Our World” failed to reach its predecessors’ heady heights. The idea behind the release was to move forward with changing musical public demands, but somehow, apart from a handful of tracks like the R&B hit “What’s The Name Of You Love”, The Emotions had lost their impetus. Finally, the album “New Affair” from 1981, a poor seller yet it spawned the up tempo “Turn It Out” and the EW&F influenced “Here You Come Again”. It was also their final Arc release.

Following a short interlude, The Emotions recorded an album for the Red label in 1984, before releasing the one off album “If I Only Knew” for Motown in June 1985. From this, “Miss Your Love” and “If I Only Knew Then (What I Know Now)” were issued as singles. All were only moderate sellers, despite the power of Motown behind them. Rounding off this box set are various bonus tracks including “I Should Be Dancing”, “Flowers”, “Boogie Wonderland” with Earth, Wind & Fire. What’s there not to like?
Rating: 9

 
 

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BILLY OCEAN: REMIXES AND RARITIES  (CHERRY POP)

During the eighties Billy Ocean was the most popular Trinidad/British R&B singer to hit the UK chart.  After a shaky start, “Love Really Hurts Without You”, lifted from his self-named album in 1976, stormed into  the UK top two.  “L.O.D. (Love On Delivery)” and “Stop Me (If You’ve Heard It All Before)” followed to peak in the top twenty.  The next year, Billy enjoyed a solitary hit with “Red Light Spells Danger”, another top two single.  From here he struggled a bit with “Are You Ready” and “Stay The Night”, then came the new decade when his star began to rise again.  During 1984, his album “Suddenly” spawned a single that remains as popular today as when first issued – “Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run)” – compelling hooks and singalong chorus.  “Loverboy” was next, top twenty, until the album’s title, the smooth sounding “Suddenly” was issued to become a top four seller, paving the way for “Mystery Lady”.

Billy’s star had not only risen but was shining brightly.  “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going” (the theme from “The Jewel In The Crown” movie)  hit the top in January 1986, with “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” stalling in the top twelve.  Two further top fifty hits followed this year – “Love Zone” (the title track from the double platinum album) and “Bittersweet” – with the ballad “Love Is Forever” and “Get Outta My Dreams Get Into My Car” , hitting the top forty and top three respectively. The latter track’s lyrics sat uneasily with some and I must admit I was concerned.   A pair of singles in 1988 charted but sales were sluggish. By any stretch of the imagination, Billy’s career was the envy of many. So, yeah, he  was definitely one of the defining voices of the eighties, and now we have a number of these titles wearing different musical overcoats – dub, club, 7th Heaven and instrumental mixes. There’s driving rhythms, heavy percussion and hard cutting sequences steering the songs, adding a new dimension to the original recordings.  Drum riffs blast out, Billy’s voice is often distorted and the relentlessness of the music drives the in-demand alternate versions, some appearing on CD for the first time.  Anyone liking Billy’s music the first time around, will welcome this totally new take although I do confess some of the extended versions just don’t know when to stop!

Rating: 8

CD REISSUE REVIEWS - July 2019

CD REISSUE REVIEWS – July 2019

GROVER WASHINGTON JR: SACRED KIND OF LOVE:THE COLUMBIA RECORDINGS  (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

A saxophonist of many talents in the soul/jazz and jazz/funk field and considered by many to be one of the founders of jazz fusion, this cracking 5-CD package focuses on Grover Washington Jr’s Columbia tenure. Already established in his field, he signed with the company in 1986 after spells with Kudu and Elektra Records. “Strawberry Moon” is self-produced barring two titles: “Summer Nights” where Marcus Miller takes production credit and “I Will Be Here For You” co-produced by Grover and Michael J. Powell.  The former was released as a top four R&B single, while the actual album was his first in three years and his debut for Columbia.  Worth checking out here is B B King’s contribution to the mid-paced “Caught A Touch Of Your Love”, while one of Bacharach and David’s finest emotive ballads “The Look Of Love” features the unequaled Jean Carn.  She’s featured on the more upbeat “Keep In Touch” as well.

Released in 1988, “Then And Now” moved away from his recognizable R&B sound, to feature Herbie Hancock and Tommy Flanagan on keyboards.  I zoomed in on a pair of ballads, “Just Enough” and “Something Borrowed, Something Blue”; both pure magic.  Recorded in Philadelphia with a studio full of musicians, “Time Out Of Mind” offers some credible dance titles, including the funk-slanted “Split Second (Act II The Bar Scene)”. That aside, feel the Latino beat in “Nice ‘N’ Easy”, or relax to the reflective “Protect The Dream”. However, not to be missed is the mid-paced “Sacred Kind Of Love” featuring the wonderful Phyllis Hyman on vocals.  “Summer Chill”, co-penned by Grover’s son and nominated for a Grammy, is a feature on his 1992 release “Next Exit”. This time a trio of guest vocalists are major attractions.  On the soulful  “Till You Return To Me”, you’ll hear the Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs; Nancy Wilson on the slow paced “Your Love”, and Lalah Hathaway on the string based “Love Like This”.  Excellent teaming of voices and music.

The 1994 “All My Tomorrows” was, at the time, considered to be Grover’s first all-acoustic album, returning to his roots as he plays soprano and tenor sax with the help of several A-liner musicians, including Hank Jones and Eddie Henderson.  A couple of immediate highlights here; Grover’s take on Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall In Love” and the slowie “For Heaven’s Sake”, where Cole’s younger brother Freddy duets with Dizzy Gillespie’s daughter Jeanie.  Almost unrecognisable is Grover’s jazz re-working of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” which is a pity.

The final CD in this box set but not his last for Columbia – “Soulful Strut” from 1996 – is probably more commercially slick than the others, while Grover hangs on to his soul/jazz groove. He mixes hip/hop and jazz/funk with “Uptown”, while takes on a laid back seam on “Mystical Force”.  In this musical pot pourie, jungle sounds introduce  “Poacher Man” and immediately grabbed my interest as Grover (rightly) condemns illegal rhino and elephant hunting in Africa.  Authentic African voices close his heartfelt protest. There are extensive notes by our respected Charles Waring tucked away in this rather lavish package, and a personal tribute from David Nathan, re-issue producer and founder of SoulMusic.com.  Congratulations to all concerned.

Rating: 10

 
 

================================================================================VARIOUS ARTISTS: MASTERPIECES OF MODERN SOUL VOLUME 5 (KENT)

What an impressive selection of tracks, covering most music genres from major and less-major artists. I was instantly grabbed by the opening song – The Mighty Whites’ “Given My Life”. Smooth as silk, with a lifting chorus and well-crafted vocals. According to the blurb, the unreleased master was originally issued as an inferior title under the Brotherhood moniker in 1978. Anyway, Millie Jackson’s “I’ll Continue To Love You” took me by surprise; a previously unissued dance edit, and, my, does she strut her stuff. From the start, you’re immediately in the groove – another favourite. Likewise, “Mrs So And So’s Daughter” from Loleatta Holloway; again an unissued edit from a lady whose voice often defied gravity. Such an under-rated artist in commercial quarters.

Major Lance’s “That’s The Story Of My Life” and Freddie Scott’s “I Guess God Wants It This Way” are also compulsive listening, while Lee Porter & Peaceful Persuasion’s “Nobody’s Doin’ A Doggone Thing” is an interesting insight into social commentary without being dictatorial. Eddie Floyd, The Headliners, The Independents, and the recently-discovered C.J. & Co’s re-visited “Rainmaker”, previously recorded by The Moods, are compelling on several levels. In fact, this is a wonderfully rounded compilation and one that will instantly appeal to collectors of rare soul items, but not, I’d have thought, to commercially-slanted buyers.
Rating: 8

 
 

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

FULL TRACK LISTING, BUY NOW LINK
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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