Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Johnson and Branson - Packed And Waitin' - 2003 - Soul Japan

This now impossible-to-find CD is an unadulterated SOUL album with its feet firmly in an 80s groove with a 21st Century edge, and lush ballads that really cut the mustard. Well crafted and executed, "Packed & Waitin'" has no fillers and nothing weak - this is very much a 'put it on and leave it on' job! Basically, if you love their 80s material then hunt down this rare CD. Those who fear a nasty and unnecessary remake of "So Fine" need not worry - this updated version still nods its head to the superior dance sound of the mid 1980s but has that rough edge that so characterises the sound of now. Similarly, the exciting "Still In Love With You" utilises the freaky keyboards and instrumentation we would not expect to hear in today's stripped down, sampled and minimalist music. "Love It Like You Do" and "Say You Will" are exquisite midtempo offerings, the latter laced with a dream bass line in the vein of Mary Jane Girls' "All Nigh Long" and Kool & The Gang's "Summer Madness" keyboard riff - so one for the beach again, folks! The breezy "Hang Around Me" is really fresh and showcases Howard Johnson perfectly - the light backdrop not drowning out his unique vocals one iota.

The cream cut comes in the form of "It Really Doesn't Matter" which has a guitar and keyboard so reminiscent of Leon Ware - and vocally Regis is a dead ringer for dear old Luther! The talented singer called Portia Griffin 'duets' with Howard on the ballad "You'll Never Need" and "Just A Chance" lifts the tempo and mood, jumping back into a classic 80s groove yet again. If "It Doesn't Really Matter" wasn't killer enough, check the chunky floater "King Of Fools" which is such a STRONG record complete with baseline and fender rhodes. Regis Branson is allowed control over this song and shows that he really can deliver the goods big time! You will also be aware of Will Downing's tasty version for GRP later that year! Following the cheerful dancer, "Every Little Thing" comes the gentle "Mystical Persuasion" which is simply delightful in every way. The closing song isn't the best uptempo cut here, but is a fairly decent closing song for a well balanced album of groove, seduction, rough and smooth vocals and that magic ingredient…Soul! Soul Japan was a label that promised a lot but has sadly disappeared into obscurity. Such a pity. If you see it, grab it.

Barry Towler

The Vibe Scribe