Monday, 23 February 2009

J-Funk - Breakthru

The strong heavy hitting albums are still coming at us, even this close to Christmas. J Funk (aka Justin Stephenson) is a totally fresh, new artist and brings to us a solid sense of authority and grandeur that belies his youth and relative immediacy onto the scene. J Funk understands that songs need to be driven by a melody and he not only knows this, but also understands about many more complex characteristics which owe more to the 1980s than today's clonking, heavy-beat driven R&B market. This soul stew has many musical ingredients and although very much his own man we know that there is a healthy respect and emulation towards the past (but still musically present) greats. I have to say that I for one am impressed. Looking a bit like Robbie Williams on the front cover, I was not totally prepared for the soulfulness that struck the ears with “Close”, complete with real instruments and a strong melody. With my ears well and truly pricked I was eager to launch into “'Cause Suddenly”, a heavier, more programmed effort but still very much in the quality soul bag; a great contrast too, and the slap bass filled “Playin'” sandwiches this stepper very nicely. By now I have to say i am hooked by the CD I love surprise releases like this, and also love CDs like this that we can put on and leave on. Don't touch that remote control! Oh, the warm Rhodes keyboards of the title song, “Breakthru” are great enough but his soulful vocals really merge well with this and for my money is a cream track amongst many classy numbers. Fans of a steppers groove and an 80s flavour to boot will, like me, thoroughly enjoy “For Our Night”, complete with dreamy Lonnie Liston Smith type keys, this is really the dogs dangly bits. I really love the melody that J-Funk uses on “Give It To Ya”. The piano, complete with echo and timbales is a prelude to a programmed beat, but as I said earlier, the soul and feeling – that most important ingredient – is not at all lost. I immediately hear the more than strong influence by Kem's “Find My Way” on “Believe It”. Like that song and you'll also like this. The jazzier, stripped down piano led “Hold U” relaxes the pace a lot and eases in to the final cut, a live (and very fresh) version of “Closer”. This is great soul music – and out of Europe yet again. America is really getting left behind isn't it? When the quality and quality is like this then who cares? They can keep their Jay-Z and all the rest of the rag-tag and bobtail. I'll keep with the real stuff, thanks.

Barry Towler