Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Donald Sheffey - Let's Be Lovers - 2008

This album is a very worthwhile effort out of New York, and the styles are nicely varied making this an inspiring, fresh and lively listening experience. For example, if you love the warm balladry and quivery style of The Brothers Johnson, or even Keni Stevens then this CD is for you! Also, if you love the more uptempo soul / house flavours of Paul Simpson or Richard Rogers you will also be happy! To me, this is a very healthy balance and one that a lot of R&B sets today cannot or will not accommodate. Please let me introduce you to the superb Donald Sheffey and what better than the opening song, “Just Because”. This oozes the Brothers Johnson vocal style with the ghost of Michael Henderson's phrasing thrown in for good measure...with real instrumentation too, this is a classy little number. Track two, “Sweet Heart” has a faster pulse and a pulsating rhythm more suited to the dancefloor. The late Salsoul beat and synth are retro yet still oddly in tune with today's sounds...the backing vocals are largely dominated by a Paul Simpson / CeCe Rogers / Richard Rogers touch which adds quality. Creating a sonic bell-curve, the tempo drops again for the lovely, subtle and bassy Keni Stevens styles number “My Love”. In fact, I could imagine the likes of Chris Ballin taking to a song like this.

I was surprised, and delighted, to hear Donald cover a lesser-known but yet essential Philly recording of the late, great Phyllis Hyman, “I'm Truly Yours”. Musically this is very, very similar and a great job has been done on it. “Let's Be Lovers” is a sheer delight, and the Johnson vocals are back to the foreground and the gentle, almost too distant harp in the background adds depth, balanced between some great live drumming and synth. “At The Party” is more of a stepping groove, and although starts off a bit cheesy and shaky the groove becomes more substantial very quickly and soon develops into a first-rate midtempo groove. More immediate is the winner “Don't Throw Our Love Away” which utilises some tasty keyboards oft-used in today's vibrant garage / house scene – think Harley & Muscle or Tortured Soul etc. The bassline is slave to the funky, soulful deep house synth and the tapping hi-hat keeps the whole affair in check. I feel that Donald may have needed to have been a bit more forthright or gruffer in his vocal approach...this groove needs the likes of Colonel Abrams, CeCe Rogers or even David Ruffin Jr and would give it more credence. I also like the completely chilled “Fly Away” which opens with piano, then hits in with an 80s drum machine flavour, mainly as it allows Donald to shine vocally. All in all, a nicely balanced set with a few nice surprises.

Barry Towler

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