Friday, 29 April 2011

A new era

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Monday, 7 March 2011

Carla Thomas - Presents Nine To Five - 2011 - Carla Thomas

Carla Thomas - not THE Carla Thomas, you understand - is a refreshing new UK artist who is rolling up her sleeves and wading into the waters to try and attract your attention. Vocally Carla is nothing like her namesake. For my well-bashed ears, Carla lies somewhere between a subdued Evelyn 'Champagne' King and a lilting Mica Paris. Carla has written or co-written all 12 songs on her debut set, and influences abound on here, all of which are healthy. The first track on this prospective release is a healthy early Zapp-like affair. Think 1980 - 1983 and their first three days. Almost, too, a flavour of Kool & The Gang. Damn right when Carla recants that "working nine to five doesn't pay the bills". So is the experience of most decent, hard working people today. Soul music is supposed to strike a chord and resonate. Carla manages this, and reminds many new artists and their money-orientated besuited corporate record execs that there is more to music than a quick buck.

"Sunshine" - something we seem to be enjoying, dare I say it at the moment! - is a very Mica Paris-like track with a lovely ethereal synth line and gentle guitar line. Both relaxed yet groovesome, this young lady is at home on this sort of groove. I really think that songs like this should garner some solid airplay for her, especially exhibiting her knowledge, appreciation and huge musical nod towards Mr. Roy Ayers and his 1976 Classic "Everybody Loves The Sunshine"! Talking of Roy Ayers, "Mystic Voyage" is sampled - shamelessly! lol - on "Leave Me Alone". The spangly guitar of "Satisfy" flows very nicely with a great mid '90s beat and rhythm that reminds me of US groups such as UNV or Portrait. this is a really, really good song. This is a song that will really get into the old grey matter and get the old fingers and toes going. Not whilst driving, though...I know the old 'steering wheel bongos' are tempting but please don't tap your feet whilst in motion!!!

"Hard For You To Say" is a quality item throughout with a flexible vocal performance and features a few lines from Alexander O'Neal's "A Broken Heart Can Mend" as an interpolated lyric, showing yet again a healthy musical background and influence. The 90s-like "Show Me" also pleases the ear and shows us that Carla is no one-trip pony. The cautionary "Caught Out" sees our heroine the victim of a cheated heart and is followed up by a tasty number called "Know You Got The Rhythm" with plenty of soul, warm keys and edgy guitar. Aping Aretha Franklyn's "Respect" and taking her hat off to what is "the groove", Carla Thomas delivers what I feel is the strongest track on the album. Easily a standout, one can hear Carla at her best and gives us an indication of what we may have with a bit of time, dedication and support. Classy! Please check out this Lady and support a new UK act with her head and heart in the right place.

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe

Monday, 28 February 2011

Donald Sheffey - Between You And I - 2011

Donald Sheffey has already impressed us over recent years with sets full of real soul, mellow vibes and toe-tappers. 2011 sees another release that will not fail to make a strong impress. This twelve-tracker sees a more rounded, more confident and – dare I say – smoother Donald Sheffey. The set, entitled “Between You And I” is more than a romantic patsy – more like a deeper, vocal / musical covenant between Donald, his writers and producers and you and I, the listener. Oh, and there is dynamic here and mutual transaction. It’s obvious that Donald and the gang have put their heart and souls into this album and many tracks elicit from us warmth, joy and definitive, solid appreciation. Vocally I am still as impressed as I was on first hearing his voice; his warm, resonant vocal quivers with the timbre of either George or Louis Johnson. It’s this silkiness that makes the set a real winner. Fans of Y2K real soul will melt into the lullaby-like “For Your Love” which gets more and more essential on each play. This is independent soul that really has some solidity to it. A real treat is the slightly Latin “Gifted” with a sumptuous backing and gorgeous sax, dreamy keys and lyrics that are positive and heart-warming. Written by Soulchoonz’ very own Di-Lee and features keys from from legendary Producer Tony Camillo, and sax solo by Scott Grimaldi. If you’re tired of the drab, grey and wet weather and long for warmer days...then hit track 2 and dream along to this!

Track 3, “Good Times” with its freaky keyboards and clapping beat takes us back to the 80s again, a place where I am very comfortable indeed. The uptempo “I’m Bumping” is a twist - no pun! - on the old dance, "the bump" which was a big thing from the 50s right through to the days of Soul train. The song, fun and vibrant injects more than a little warmth, and I think that you'll really get into the bump! I am also inclined to delve into the warm pool that is “In Love”. Unashamedly romantic, Donald Sheffey reminds me, yet again, so much of one of the Brothers Johnson on vocals and the tune is akin to something that we may expect from, say, Bryan Loren. Taking on a jazzier note with a persistent metallic rolling beat, “Loving You Today” adds some real vitality and spice to the proceedings. Back in the 80s we were inundated with tracks entitled “Stepping Out” – think 10dB and George Howard for starters – and here we are again in 2011 with a slightly Housed up beat that will appeal to fans of Soulful House as well as all the Chicago Steppers out there! Fans of a funkier, 70s keyboard will like the appeal of “Take You Home” and the driving, live feel is particularly impressive. Talking of which is our tenth track, “Time Out For Love” which is immaculately structured and paced. Donald, being a proper bonafide singer is perfect on this kind of song. I would say those who don’t dig to deep may find this song twee, but if so then it may well be that one hasn’t tuned in enough. It’s a piece that plays on Donald’s nuances, his flow and the flute and live drums act as a hushed support for his ever-present vocal abilities. The set closes with its dancing shoes on and “What You Need” draws the curtains on “Between You And I” nicely. Available from March 15th!
Barry Towler
The Vibe scribe

Monday, 3 January 2011

Al Olive - Dream - 2010 - Al Olive

This is the album I have been eagerly awaiting. "Slow Down", played on radio by Ralph Tee and included on Soul Togetherness 2010 is, for me, one of THE standout tracks of 2010. We've not had to wait too long for a full album from this massive talent, and I am sure that there will be something for everyone on it. The hit song is included here as you would expect but in a slightly remixed and extended form. It's lost THAT special fluid 1980s flavour, perhaps, from the original version for me and that's still not important. Why? It does, though, have extra haunting synths that are really, really tasty. STILL the song is a monster and this is EXACTLY the type of soul / R&B record that I want to hear in 2011. Record companies, are you listening? No, I thought not. Where I compared this groove to the sadly missed Luther Vandross, on many tracks we hear echoes of the vocal facets of Gerald Alston, Al Johnson and even Brian McKnight in the vocal arrangements.

Track two, "Dream" could easily be lifted from Brian McKnight's latest set. A song that totally floored me was track four, "There For You". Imagine Al Johnson produced by Brian McKnight on a song similar to "Anytime"...that is how essential this song is. I was in my car driving up the M25 when I first heard this and I can honestly say that if I hit repeat once I must have hit repeat half a dozen times. You know a certain song that grabs you, makes you really sit up and take notice...this is one of those songs. Add to this the amazing female backing vocals wow. Almost on par with this is a song called "Never" and the haunting synths and piano line work well and the real instrumentation is second to none. The programmed "L.O.V.E" is worth a spin too, and the smouldering "Heartache" will appeal to fans of the old Soul'd Together compilations in the early 90s. Think Randy Wilson or Claytoven. Whatever happened to these artists and that label?! Anyway, fans of the man from the song they have heard will not be disappointed, and enough exists on here to appeal to a wider, radio-frindly pop/soul audience. And there's nowt wrong with that. What Al Olive has done is keep true to himself and NOT pander to the thug element. 'Nuff respect, Al. Keep on doin' what you're doin'.

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe

Friday, 17 December 2010

Jameil Aossey - The Euphonious Suite - 2010 - Aossey Entertainment

The Euphonius Suite is a mix of various styles, all of which are music to the ears. Fans of Impromp2, Skalp and Jon B should find this set really in their comfort zone. Musically we are talking Impromp2 territory with an emphasis of a funky, warm Fender Rhodes filled summertime early '80s vibe. For some there may be too much reliance on rap BUT this isn't the brain-dead, finger-pointing, booty-shaking sort. Think classy with a Patrice Rushen / Freddie Washington vibe with the slab bass, soaring sax and warm keys. This set should have been in my hands in the summer, albeit typically brief. On the first track, Jameil lays out his stall. "Classy" says it all really. Sweeping aside who he calls the 'booty rappers' Jameil's guest rapper is Charles Lane and the vibe is SUPERB! You cannot fail to get into this groove, you really can't. The sax here is almost in Ronnie Laws' territory. Soulful rap with real spirit, and expertly laid down to boot. I really have all the time in the world for material like this that strikes a good balance and embraces long as it's done well. Jameil and his colleagues have certainly done that..

Charles lane's rap on "Koolwhip" is perfect for the summery 80s groove - fans of Snoop Dogg will dig this, as will those who appreciate funky early 80s vibes. My favourite track is the luxuriant downtempo ballad featuring Charles Lane on vocals sounding very much like Johnny Britt from Impromp2, complete trumpet and flute. This is SUPERB and I cannot stop playing this song!!! "We Don't Know" ups the tempo and includes some great alto sax from Andre Matthews, Charles lane sounding very much like A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip. Please do NOT be put off by these songs as they are very, very soulful and the rap - you know I am NOT a fan - is actually very good indeed. "Dreamin'" may well cool the brows of those who don't - the eerie synth and 80s flow is brilliant and the rap is more along the lines of Impromp2 or Skalp. A jazzy effort is "Classy Lady" featuring Rob Lee on Rhodes and Bass. This soon kicks off into a funky groove with plenty of tinkling ivories, stoic beats and cool, cool real singing by the multi-talented Charles lane. Add the sax and piano then this adds up to a great, great song. An all-round classy, fresh and jovial set that spans Soul, Funk, Jazz and Hip Hop. An excellent year-ender!

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe

Thursday, 16 December 2010

SounDoctrine - Inspire - 2010 - Nianana Records

SounDoctrine by virtue of name and artwork may fool you into thinking that it's some rubbish rap / Hip Hop album along the likes of D12 or something. Well, thankfully, it isn't. Billed as Funkjazzfusion, this album represents a number of talented artists who collaborate on a set of quality soul tunes, jazzy instrumentals and contemporary - yet not crass - R&B efforts. A few names on here are familiar to us all - Carlton J. Smith, Marlon Saunders and Jere B to name a few, and other lesser known names work together to deliver a fine set of independent soul, funk and jazz tunes. Jere B is the man overseeing this project, and 14 tracks have been created for your listening pleasure. Sets like these have helped make 2010 a very good year for our music.

Marlon Saunders never fails to deliver, be it on his own work or production for other artists and on "Just Think" he has given us yet another strong, strong effort. Again, Marlon relies on real instruments and melodies and the warm keyboards, funky rhythm and scratchy guitar and pieced together with a summery guitar that takes us back to the early 80s. Asking us to think about better times, happier times and those things and people that we once had Marlon encourages us to re-evaluate our place in the world, taking it to the streets. Socially conscious, Marlon is a master of this type of theme and gets full marks for this effort. The synth that ends the song, too, is as haunting as you like and has had numerous rewinds so that I can enjoy it again and again and again! The conscious theme is continued with Larry Johnson and Stefano NuSoul with "Brother's Keeper. Filled with positivity, they implore us to let our lights shine. Nothing wrong with that and songs that not only mean well but contain real wisdom and not superficialdom always win my vote!

Instrumentals "Marriage" and "Sacred Place (For Gary)" are both SUPERB. Real instrumentation and properly in the jazz fusion bag we are not left wandering around a shopping mall or going up and down in an elevator on these tunes. The Wes McCann guitar is perfect as are the vibes and sax on both. Delicious! A song that I implore you to listen to carefully, and give a real chance to, is "Meant To Be" which is a contemporary R&B ballad featuring Stefano NuSoul and Jasmine Thompson. The music is lovely yet it has an appeal to the younger ear...if an old grumpy guts like me can appreciate this song then I'm sure you will like it too. The lyrics are lovely and the vocal arrangements are also quite clever. No use of auto-tuning either, to their credit. This almost sounds like a new track from, say, Najee or Brian Culbertson. Think Avant and Faith Evans for example guesting. Not usually my bag, but the gorgeous melody, the lyrics and Keith McKelly's sax is SUPERB. Think Najee and you're right there. Another funky instrumental features Keith McKelly, sounding very much like Everette Harp, along with Cliff Barnes and Paul Douds on piano and acoustic guitar. Topping everything, though, is the final song, "(That's Why) It's Called Love" featuring Kent Wallace, Nadir Omowale, Janet White and Janis Jones. This is real quality modern soul and renders the CD essential. A must-have release and no better to end 2010.

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe

Friday, 3 December 2010

Eric Benét - Lost In Time - 2010 - WEA

Since Eric Benét stepped out on his own we have been treated to some awesome work and, like other 21st Century soul artists such as Kem, have been allowed by their Major label masters to create what they do best - soul music, and NOT what the homeboys – those not even born in the late 1980s, or were still in diapers - want. This rates as Eric's most consistent and essential set to date. On here Eric relates to us his true soulful nature and his healthy love and respect for the sweet Philly soul sound. It's blatantly obvious that Eric is a fan of the likes of Thom Bell. He has worked with his team to create a faithful representation of that idyllic sound but in a 2010 setting and my only regret is that he has not worked with Thom Bell himself...I would give anything to have this great man make a return to the recording studio and the likes of Eric Benét would be ideal a vehicle for his talents.

Every track is a winner...the Stylistics-like groove, complete with lush strings and sitar is immediately present on our platform track, "Never Want To Live Without You". To be honest, I would have bought this CD purely on the strength of this and this alone BUT the fact that every other song on this CD is equally as essential just makes my heart and soul sing. Kiddie's artist Faith Evans even sounds good (albeit with some computer tweaking) on the Emotions / EW&F sounding "Feel Good" and adds to her recent album that sees her start to grow up musically, albeit a little. Fans of New York City and the Stylistics early 70s sound will so love track 4, "Always A Reason" - a phenomenal track that really hits my heart. Songs like this with real talent, real orchestration and crafted with love and quality make me feel so warm, and this great sound feels perfect at this time of the year. I'll be playing this yet again today as I get the Christmas tree ready!

The Philly connection is strong with the legendary Eddie Levert stepping up to the mic to deliver the string-laden, wah-wah filled uptempo number "Paid". This is SUPERB! It’s really great to hear Eddie back in the studio doing his thing. The great man has had such devastating losses recently and this performance shows his inner strength coming to the fore. Chrisette Michelle workd well on the wonderfully arranged effort "Take It", the bassline is to die for as is the flute and piano lead. The vocalist is also competent and certainly far better than a lot of today's nasal whiners. The strings and horns that fill "Stir It Up" are magnificent. Again, "Lost In Time" gets a Thom Bell approach and ticks all the boxes and Ledisi comes on strong with a great performance with "Good Life" Mind you, ANYTHING is better than her last album which was the biggest pile of doo-doo I'd heard in ages. Welcome back, Ledisi! As usual, Eric Benét ends the album on a mighty strong note..."Something's Wrong" is a KILLER and with sadness we realise the CD is over. It is a magnificent thing that a major label today can allow a beautiful CD like this. Of course, many moons ago before the likes of Teddy Riley and his clones swept away adult R&B, this was perfectly normal as a release from the big boys. Hopefully some sanity will set in and these labels will release we are not ALL rap fans, ganstas or children. Albums like this are timeless and replenish the soul. More!

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Eumir Deodato - The Crossing - 2010 - Expansion

Deodato is a legend...his own work, his Latin pieces and his Funk offering with the likes of Kleeer in the 80s are sublime. I was overjoyed to see this, his new album, and what a corker it is. Full of blinding midtempo numbers with plenty of real rhythm and beautifully warm keyboards. Listening to this is, I'm sure, melting the 6-odd-inches of snow that I can see from my window! With this album, Deodato draws upon a wealth of vocal talent to bring his already vibrant songs and melodies to extraordinary life. It's thanks to this man that we have the best vocal work from Al Jarreau this side of his "All I Got" album in 2002. Al Jarreau gives us a top-draw performance on no less than three songs, "Double Face" both as an ordinary mix and a radio mix, and with the talented group Novecento and their lovely vocalist Dora Nicolosi on the gorgeously sexy "I Want You More". The famous scat is prominent on the aforementioned effort that almost spans 6 minutes. Surely this is the best midtempo Mr. Al Jarreau has given for years! Al is vocally strong as ever, undeminished and still very much in command of a song as he was 35 years ago. An international treasure, we surely have the man at his 21st Century best here.

An odd inclusion to proceedings is, perhaps, Londonbeat who gave us a few chart toppers in the late 1980s here in the UK, but here they are on this awesome funky groove and they sound FANTASTIC! Deep, powerful, distinctive and captivating are the only words to describe Jimmy Helms' vocals. Nice to hear this guy's great vocals again. Definitely on this type of material too. We only have to skip forward two songs to "No Getting Over You" and we are treated to Londonbeat again. This time we have a more summery, dreamy track and one that suits Jimmy's vocals perfectly. Guitarist John Tropea adds his ample skills to the Latin flavoured "Night Passage", and with an electric guitar performance akin to Santana or Carlos Rios, this effort is very much in an essential vein. He also provides his licks to the equally impressive instrumental "Summertime", and this time supported by a superb string section and warm 70s keys that take us right back to the days of Eddie Russ and Lonnie Liston Smith...this is a winter blues buster!

Continuing in a Jazzy and funky vein is the superb "Rule My World" which features the sublime Novocento and their delicious vocalist Dora Niciolosi pitted against Billy Cobham's experb drumming. Billy Cobham is a legend and so is Eumir Deodato...two legends and a sexy young talent such as Dora and her amazingly talented band members is simply out of the box! Legends aplenty here with Brazillian percussionist Airto Moreira on board with "Border Line", and proceedings really do get hot on here. I particularly like the sexual, rhythmic bassline, the eerie synth and warm 70s keys...sheer brilliance :) Closing the set is an edit of Al Jarreau's wonderful opening effort, and although this is but a 9 track set EVERY track is a winner...I did not expect the set to be as strong as it was, and on that basis I think that it would be a great idea to scribble down this title on your Christmas list and lob the letter up the chimney to Father Christmas ASAP...this would definitely be better than an old Satsuma in the jolly old stocking! Three cheers to Santa Tee and all soulful little helpers at Expansion!!!

Barry Towler
the Vibe scribe

Thursday, 25 November 2010

JD73 - Pure Gold - 2010 - Z Records

Having a healthy respect for Z Records and all things Dave Lee is a good starting point when talking about new music from the great man and his label, and this new set from this amazing UK group based in Leeds. No longer do the Great Cities of the US have monopoly on great music. That they gave up many years ago. Influenced by legends such as Herbie Hancock, Patrice Rushen, Bob James, Quincy Jones, Bruce Swedien, Rod Temperton, Michael Jackson, Pfunk, Eddie Henderson, George Duke, Pleasure, Prince, D'Angelo, Jimmy Smith, Brian Auger, Dexter Wansel and others group members Rachel Modest (vocals), Johnny Heyes (guitars), Jay Irving and Simon Moore (drums) deliver a KILLER album of soulful, upbeat boogie tunes that whisk us back to the early 1980s yet still have their roots firmly in 2010 and all things Z!!! One of the best albums of 2010 I can do nothing but heap praise on this set. Today's yester-now sound fused with storming basslines, soulful vocals, real instruments and more grooves than you can shake a stick at, "Pure Gold" serves as an apt title for this remarkable album.

Kicking off with an Earth, Wind & Fire groove we have a track called "Fantasy" - NOT an EW&F cover but a truly scintillating uptempo number with brassy flairs and gorgeous funky moogs. Vocalist, Fraser, works the groove with his smooth style and in places reminds me of Jamiroquai. This is no bad thing, but I hope he doesn't overtake me on the A12 as madly as dear old JK does in those flash cars of his! Brass and groove is the order of the day and Miss Modest lays down vocals on the awesome groover, "Pure Gold". These two tracks alone make the set more than essential but hey! We have the rest of the album to go through yet! The UK's very own Nate James has never sounded so good on the brilliant early 80s sounding "Written In The Stars", and fans of the Sunburst Band will immediately fall into line with these songs, they really will. Again Frazer steps up to the Mic for "Step By Step", and blows the cobwebs away.

"Think Twice" featuring Ella May is pure Sunburst Band and oozes summertime flavours. Although this is not a cover of the Donald Byrd song from 1975, the vocal refrain is certainly aped on here and, again, is a nice throwback to a far warmer, friendlier musical age. From this era we move to a crackin' mid 80s synthy soul / Club vibe with "Round And Round" - this adds some real light and shade, and what better than a stomping 80s groover on an icy, cold and snow-threatened day such as today?! The sound familiar to us a la The Controllers' "Stay" hits us on the 80s inspired interlude "Storm Chaser" - this deserves to be a full song. I LOVE this type of groove. Brilliant stuff!!! This leads into a foxy 70s outing that would make Randy Muller smile. "Supersexy" has elements of Messrs Muller and Burgess, and will get a few feet moving on the dancefloor! Trust me, this is one hell of a CD and you can order this blind. An amazing release and perfect for the festive season that is fast approaching!

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Nicola Conte - Other Directions (Expanded) - 2010 - Schema

This superb Jazz set was issued, originally, in 2004 and provide my first ever contact with the SUPERB Schema Records. This was an instant love affair, and one that continues to this very day. A label of high esteem and quality we can be rest assured that nothing lacklustre will be unleashed on us from this strong, strong label out of Milan. Roll forward to 2010, and in their wisdom Schema have released this set again, but this time as a double CD with new, bonus cuts on disc 2 as well as alternate versions of songs such as "Wanin' Moon" and "Nefertiti". Some songs were - shock! horror! - only released previously on the dreaded vinyl so appear here properly for the very first time in crystal clear CD quality. We deserve no less, us connoisseurs! These songs, "Bohemian's Dilemma", "Waltz Of The Sirens" and an extended version of my all-time favourite, "Kind Of Sunshine" appear and thank heavens to Betsy for it too with it's extended and frenetic percussion and horns. If you're not familiar with this set, then I highly recommend a listen as I know that fans of Mario Biondi, Was A Bee and Alessandro Magnanini will also love this. My favourite song remains as "Kind Of Sunshine". Man, when I first heard this song I had a proper bonafide Adrenaline rush! Playing this loud the latin percussion, hectic percussion and Fabrio Bosso's Fred Wesley-ish trombone solo truly nailed it for me big time and having a slightly longer version is a real treat too.

On disc 2, "Charade" is a track that I am hitherto unfamiliar with, and with a great piano based line and floating flute, vocalist Lisa Bassange is able to create a deliciously jazzy atmosphere that is both romantic and rhythmic. Michael Buble, anyone? No, I thought not. Unreleased, "Danubian" with a seriously strong double bass, vibes and drums by Lorenzo Tucci this is a KILLER track. The backing vocals are not credited but hark back to those used by classic Brazilian artists such as edu Lobo back in the heady Bossa Nova 1960s. Call this Nova Bossa Nova if you will. Also unreleased is "Teardrop Painted Blue", a bouncy effort complete with vibraphone and Bembe Segue on vocals. This great '60s sound in a smart, snappy and 2010 fashion proves that what is magical and timeless will always remain so. Also unreleased is the superb vocal cut, "Quiet Stars" featuring, again, our heroine, Bembe Segue. This material could have been recorded many years ago but is very Today, Modern and on-the-ball. It's a brilliant, brilliant song and I hope that Schema stay true to their colours and maintain a level of musicianship, craft and quality that we have grown to know and love. Total respect to Nicola, Schema and all the multi-talented musicians, singers and staff involved. This lover of REAL music salutes you all.

Barry towler
The Vibe Scribe