Various Artists - Keepin' It Mellow - Soul Vibe Recordings
As you can see from the title, this 12 track compilation from the blossoming Soul Vibe people takes a peek at the mid-tempo, mellower side of modern soul. All the music comes, I think, from a licensing deal with Live Out Loud Music and the 12 cuts offer various combinations of artists who work for that set up. Most well-known name is Nate Best who for a time worked in one touring incarnation of the O’Jays. Nate gets three tracks of which the best is a cover of the Friends of Distinctions’ ‘Check It Out’. Nate gives it his best (sorry about the pun – couldn’t resist it!) and it’s a lovely tune but he’s ultimately defeated by the low-budget production, and that’s the problem with most of the material here. By definition mellow grooves demand full, lush arrangements (as on the original Friends track). Clearly the Live Out Loud budget didn’t stretch too far. That said, there’s still some gems in here. The Val Lewis/Anson Dawkins’ ‘Let It Ride’ has a great old time feel to it – hints of Latin and a lovely retro flute too. On ‘Keep Coming Back' that duo are augmented by Eric Dawkins and here the production is a touch bigger with great sax break underlining the hook-laden melody. Elsewhere much of the material is bland – typified by Odeen Mays’ ‘Wrong About You’. You can hear that they’ve set out to create s a Stevie-style ballad, but only succeeded in making something that reminds me of Bread’s MOR ‘If’. The weakest cut is ‘We Steppin’’ from Eric Watkins and Nelson K. It lacks energy and any commitment and shows how good, the best stepping tunes really are.