As a teenager our default LP’s at parties were Motown Chartbuster Vol’s 1 & 3; which laid the groundwork for a lifetime loving Soul Music of all hues and styles. Devin B Thompson was also brought up in a house full of music, eventually gravitating to one singer above all others; Frankie Newsome aka Little Willie Parker; who he eventually got to know and become friends with. Even if I hadn’t known that ‘fact’ I think I would have eventually guessed that Parker was a major influence on the music; but so many others are too! As I checked out the artwork on the CD before playing the album I was left confused as to what to expect; as the actual cover pays homage to Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, while the inside photo looks like something from a Blue Note album (which I think would have made a better actual cover). So, I was blown away by the oh so sweet sounds that did come out of the speakers; as Thompson purrs his way through Bobby Blue Bland’s Love To See You Smile; even sounding like Smokey at times; which is no bad thing; is it? There follows a step back in time for a sultry rendition of I’m Gonna Cry a River; which instantly had me on my feet and doing a lonely shuffle in the office; imagining Mrs. Magpie was in my arms. Even two songs in you quickly realise what a great singer Devin P Thompson is; and he has the ability to not just make you dance but think about the words and stories on offer within the songs themselves. The first three songs are all covers; but it’s when we get into the singers’ own songs that things really get interesting. I Ain’t No Good is a stone cold sleazy heartbreaker; that many men will associate with and ladies will raise their eyebrows to; while still consider going home with ‘him’. This being a Soul album; there are broken hearts around every corner; and the way Thompson sings them both men and women will appreciate and understand the content, the way he croons Can’t Get Over You and especially Back Together which sounds like it should have been released way back when on the Atlantic label. Alongside this Trademarked Sweet Soul Music; Thompson also releases his inner Funkateer on Read Your Mind; which features the magnificent Robben Ford on guitar extraordinaire. This being 2020, no Soul album would be complete without something really deep and meaningful, and even without it being ‘a worthy cause’ Tell Me was written in the wake of Devin seeing the hostility that faced Footballer Colin Kaepernick; is a stinging Soul song that is easily my Favourite Song here; and it opens with: “Tell me what it is about my skin that you don’t like,” and in the chorus he begs the question; “Tell me what would you do if you watch people die because they look like you do?” and in the chorus he asks the listener to ‘walk in his shoes‘; Dear Lord; this is 2020 ……. why is this song and those like it still necessary? The song closes proceedings and almost demands that you then press ‘play/repeat.’ I’ve dropped some very big names in here and there; but there’s one more singer that comes to mind; and that’s Jeffrey Osbourne; a favourite of our in the 80’s who also had the musical ability to stop you in your tracks then make you want to dance and holler; which is quite some talent; and Devin B Thompson sounds like he’s cut from exactly the same cloth.
A couple of years back I booked a cheap round trip to the States and ended up with a delay that merited a 27 hour layover in Philadelphia airport on my return. They had a compilation of Philly soul on heavy rotation 24/7 which gives the place a chilled, summery feel – and everyone there is real nice to you – that’s the same cool groove that I get from this, Nick Corbin; formally of Acid Jazz Groovesters New Street Adventure’s debut effort; the whole feel is of warm days, 70’s Soul and city life. “Sunshine In” and “Don’t Break the Mould” fit this relaxed feel well, but add some carefully chosen dynamics with featured flute and brass instrumentation too. Earlier tracks “Long Long Gone” and “Can We Do It Again” carry signs of Blue Eyed British Soul with some slight but telling musical nods on the former to some Madness rhythms and the latter with Ian Duryesque bass-led funk, which I like a lot. Vocally, Nick Corbin very clearly has a distinct London twang and this is used to best effect on the opener “The Sweetest Escape” and “Never Did Look Like Love” where the juxtaposition of sweeter backing and down to earth vocal creates something greater than the sum of the parts. Lyrically, “Thought it Through” which name-checks Anthony Joshua and “I Need Reminding” with its “I’m one step short of confident” line stands out in terms of lyrical voice – “It’s Alright to Change Your Mind” steals a famous riff and changes its instrument while commenting on the evils of social media and all three go more strongly beyond the pleasant , catchy MOR-ish Style Council type soul of “Gotta Get Back To You” and “Can’t Say Goodbye”. Overall, an album where Nick Corbin is finding his voice – clearly a respectful, knowledgeable fan of Soul Music and able to write a good tune, the highlights for me are where he steps beyond his most obvious influences and things then shift up a gear – the Mod and Scooter crowd will love this album and Corbin’s future could be very bright indeed with the right exposure.
Ruthie Foster Live at the Paramount Blue Corn Music
A Big Band and a Big Sound That’s Full of Blues, Soul and More.
Recorded in January 2019 at Austin’s Paramount Theatre, this album bears witness to Ruthie Foster’s “Big Band” sound. Introduced by her daughter, opener “Brand New Day” puts her big voice to the fore – drawing on the tradition of traditional work and gospel songs, Ms Foster draws a powerful soulful sound sans band in the first half of the song, before punctuating the vocals with ever increasing instrumentation. “Might Not Be Right,” which follows is a co-write with William Bell and is fine late night Southern Soul that juxtaposes the state of the world with the state of “this girl” and her love. The first cover of the album is Ruthie’s take on “Ring of Fire” but as she herself says in introduction – “This isn’t your grandfather’s ‘Ring of Fire’”. Lyrics apart, everything is deconstructed – melody and delivery are completely reinvented to get to the dark essence of the song; even the opportunity to use the ubiquitous horn riff with the big band is spurned to create something anew and well worth seeking out. “Stone Love” which follows, starts with jazzy piano before transforming into a rambunctious late Motown shouter and judging by the audience response was a deserved crowd-pleaser. “The Ghetto” strips the sound back to largely guitar and vocal, which again pushes Ms Foster’s powerful use of soulful dynamics within a song and helps to affirm the hopeful (but tautologous) message that “there won’t be no more ghetto for me”. “Death Came a Knockin’ (Travellin’ shoes)” continues the journey through traditional forms and launches into ferocious gospel territory, with its use of an acapella opening, call and response and insistent brass, along with a lovely bit of distorted psychedelic guitar wig out. “Singing the blues” which follows – after prolonged applause – isn’t the old Guy Mitchell chestnut, but the fact that it name-checks Bobby “Blue” Bland will give some idea of the classic R & B stylings contained within. “Runaway Soul” ups the tempo again with walking bass; and to these ears is a fuller sounding “Dust my Broom” with a fine ascending saxophone solo that dips in and out and calls and responds with the lead vocal. “Woke Up this Morning” (technical note) actually starts quietly (on this review copy) at the end of track 9 before getting a whole track to itself – at the point where the full band sound kicks in on the song; shifts of tone, rhythm and instrumentation help to build around the simple lyric. “Joy Comes Back” continues the redemptive gospel, whereas “Phenomenal Woman” is grounded in more personal sentiments and is a proud celebration of womanhood fittingly done in an Aretha style. The final two encore tracks “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Mack the Knife” take the listener into Sinatra-esque territory – the big band even evokes Nelson Riddle arrangements on the former and the final track pays homage to Ella Fitzgerald in both its introduction and delivery. The album ends with a long fade and thanks to the band and bookends the show. Often with live albums, there is a disconnect between the “I was there” experience and the recording, but here a fine effort has been made with thoughtful sequencing and a well-separated, loud mix to give every player their due.
Samantha Fish Kill or Be Kind Rounder Records/Proper Records
A Heady Mix of Sleazy Soul, Heartbreaking Blues and Fizzing Rock & Roll!
#SPOILER ALERT! I’ve never really been convinced by Samantha Fish just being pigeon-holed as a Blues Rocker, as I’ve always believed she had much more in her tool-box than that; and hot on the heels of her ‘game changing’ BELLE OF THE WEST album; I’m pretty sure I’m finally being proved correct with this fabulous release. While there’s still a lot of ‘Classic Blues’ in Samantha’s riffs on opening track Bulletproof, it is actually a bonafide Rocker of the finest hue; and will blow the minds of fans from her earliest days. This is a love song that purrs and growls in equal measure; owing as much to Tina Turner and Sister Rosetta Sharp as it does Muddy Waters. Leaving us gasping for breath, Ms Fish thankfully slows things with the slow and sensuous title track Kill or Be Kind which comes next; and this time male listeners will be left all hot and bothered as her sleazy guitar licks and salacious lyrics combine in a way that is still illegal in several Southern States. It’s a given that Samantha Fish is a fine and often fascinating guitarist …… never just relying on meandering solos to catch your attention; as is proved here on She Don’t Live Around Here and Watch It Die which show beyond all comprehension what an amazing guitarist she is. I know most of these songs are collaborations; but listen to her lyrics and stories but one of the joys about the songwriting and storytelling here is that in Samantha Fish’s hands the likes of Try Not To Fall In Love With You and even more so perhaps; the fabulous whizz-bang, rocking and rolling Love Your Lies are feminist Power Pop for the 21st Century; but it wouldn’t take much imagination for a male singer, or even Country singer (male or female?) to alter them slightly and make them into huge crossover hits; such is the skill in Ms. Fish’s writing. That’s not to say the singer herself doesn’t deserve to have hits with either song herself; I’m just saying she’s a damn fine songwriter and song interpreter in every capacity. If you want ‘radio friendly’ try the soulful heartbreaker Dream Girl, which is quite timeless and the quiver in the singer’s voice will really, really tug at your heartstrings. For my Favourite Song I’m torn between the thoughtful and starkly beautiful Fair Weather and the lecherous Dirty, which finds Samantha tip-toeing into Etta James territory, but with a ouch of Dusty in the shadows too; so I’m actually choosing the latter as it has so much going for it. In the Press Release Samantha use the word ‘vintage’ several times; and I can easily hear why; but that’s not to say anything here is old-fashioned in the way she mixes The Blues with Super-Cool Soul and some fizzing Rock & Roll too when necessary creating her very own distinctive sound, and one that that will surely make KILL OR BE KIND her best seller to date.
Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters Beyond The Blue Door Stony Plain Records
Really and Truly Keeping The Blues Alive For a New Generation
While guitarist extraordinaire Ronnie Earl has been treading the boards for several decades now, winning as many accolades as he and his band win Awards; he and they were a brand new discovery for RMHQ back in 2016 with their Luckiest Man album. So, it was with great delight we received their latest release a few weeks ago; and I’m pleased to say they tread a very similar path with their trademark blend of Yer Blues with the Coolest Jazz you may ever hear. While the band obviously revolve around Earl and his guitar; opening track Brand New Me finds the wonderful Diane Blue and piano player Dave Limina front and centre, with Earl and the shimmering horn section doing their ‘thing’ in the shadows. Earl steps forward on the next song though, making his guitar gently weep as Kim Wilson’s harmonica screams and squeals alongside on Howlin’ Wolf’s Baby How Long; and the result is quite outstanding. Oh man; what would I give to see and hear The Broadcasters play this album from start to finish in downtown club or bar; especially Earl’s own A Soul That’s Been Abused and also Peace of Mind, where Diane sounds uncannily like Etta James the way she purrs her lyrics and Earl and band pour their collective hearts and Souls into making these two songs shimmer and shine. As expected there are numerous cover songs here; and Ronnie Earl throws curve balls left, right and centre. Little Walter’s Blues With a Feeling; featuring (starring?) Kim Wilson on harmonica and vocals is as stunning as it’s actually expected in this company; and their rendition of Timmy Thomas’s Why Can’t We Live Together shouldn’t really be a surprise, should it? But reinventing His Bobness’s It Takes a Lot To Laugh into a down and raw Country Blues is mildly mind blowing ……. and well worth seeking out. There’s so very much to like here, with Drowning in a Sea of Love taking us deep into the cold, cold heart of the Blues, whereas T-Bone Stomp reaffirms the power great music can have on a lost and lonely Soul (mine btw) as does the spectacular Bringing Light to a Dark Time. Choosing a Favourite Track is never going t be easy on an album of earthly delights such as this; and currently I’m torn between the captivating instrumental Blues For Charlottesville and the stomping The Sweetest Man which finds Diane Blue in startling form as the bandleader takes us on a guitar trip that links BB King, Freddie King and even Chet Atkins but is always unmistakably Ronnie Earl; so I guess I’m going for the latter …… but I may change my mind tomorrow. Over the years I’ve seen many great Blues and Jazz guitarists in vunes of varying sizes; but very, very few can create such a consistent and awe-inspiring Groove as Ronnie Earl; who also has the good grace to let others take the spotlight while he strums his guitar in the background.
Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul SUMMER OF SORCERY Wicked Cool/UMe
A Very Rock & Soul Summer Soundtrack.
Stevie Van Zandt is many things, and I won’t bore you with a list (as it would be very long); and with so much going on in his work life I think he forgets that first and foremost he’s a Rock n Roller of the finest hue in his very own rites! I was first aware of this release about a month ago when his PR Company sent a list of forthcoming releases and this diamond was tucked away in the middle…… no fanfare, no dancing girls, no fireworks…… nothing. At RMHQ we believe Little Stevie Van Zandt deserves a a big whizz band furore whenever he releases a new record; but we are funny like that. Hey ho! Steve himself must think so too, the way The Disciples of Soul throw every they have into the intro of Communion which ‘blasts the bloody doors off’ the start of the disc! For a man who has lived the life he has, Van Zandt’s voice doesn’t deserve to be this good, or indeed ‘sexy’ on a truly explosive R&B infused Rock n Roller. This is followed by the first and possibly the biggest surprise here, Party Mambo ……. but why the Hell not? Steve has always had a love of music from all 4 corners of the world (check out his radio shows) and I’m sure this delightful little missive will be a highlight of his imminent tour, probably kick starting the encores? There is something here to please everyone; with the gorgeously epic Rockers Summer of Sorcery and Superfly Terraplane sitting alongside the swinging 60’s R&B of Soul Power Twistin’ and Vortex, while the band get their funky party groove on with Gravity; and the surprise is that it’s no surprise at all that this heady concoction works. He’s done it before, but for me Stevie hasn’t quite cracked the lovelorn crooner act before as well as he does with Love Again and more especially the creamy smooth Suddenly, during which he embraces his inner Bobby Darin. Finding a Favourite Track this soon hasn’t been easy, and I’m sure this choice will change as I delve deeper into each track over the coming months; but this morning I’m going for the feisty and powerful A World of Our Own over I Visit The Blues because I love inflection and warble in his voice on the former whereas the latter is exactly what I’d dreamed of and hoped I’d hear again from the Prince of Little Italy, therefore less of a surprise. OK there are elements of E Street Band in here; and why not; but there’s also plenty of nods to Curtis Mayfield, Joe Cocker and maybe even Stevie Wonder in the shadows of a couple of tracks too…… but this is 100% Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul at their finest and indeed, grooviest from start to finish. I love the way the album swoops and sweeps with highs and lows that will blow you away the first time you hear it; and a few times you will find yourself instinctively going for the replay button; don’t just sit back and enjoy the ride……. it’s like a winding trip at sunset along the coast in an open top sports car.
Susan Williams & The Wright Groove It’s About Time Self-Released
Heartbreak Doesn’t Get Much More Soulful or Blue than This.
With all the ‘big hitters’ due for April release written and posted I was looking for something new and ‘interesting’ last night and flicked through 9 or 10 releases listening to snippets that would catch my attention…….. nothing, nada, nowt. Then I scrambled through the CD box and came across this; which (presumably because of the uninspiring cover art) wasn’t on my laptop. ‘That voice’ inside my head told me to give it a go……. Ooohhheee Mary and Joseph! Even the first few chords of opening track Tell Me You Love Me piqued my interest; but when Susan William’s wise, smoky and soulful voice entered the frey, I swear I got a shiver down my spine. To a greater or lesser degree a tale of a woman done wrong by her man should be dull as ditch-water in 2019, but Susan’s words sound like something that everyone from Billie Holliday through to Bonnie and Lucinda could and should have sung; but Susan Williams and her razor sharp band offer us a killer insight into this sad ole tale of a broken hearted woman. There’s the age old adage that you should never upset a songwriter; but whoever this scoundrel is in Ms Williams life is (or was) doesn’t just get it with both barrels across these crisp Soulful and Blue songs; but Susan sprays him from every angle with venom and metaphorical buckshot on One Way Street and Meet Me In The Middle. *As a side note One Way Street itself and possibly I’m Sorry could both easily be turned on their head and be sung by a man who is just as broken hearted. #JustSaying I’ve got to be careful how I talk about some of these articulate songs; as the Feminist Brigade could well come after me; but while Susan does take on the role of the woman who begs her man not to leave her on the sorrowful Please Come Back To Me and the funkilicious I Love What You Do; you can’t feel sorry for her as she just sounds lonely and desperately in L.O.V.E with a cad who, we all know is no good; but Hell…….. we all know someone like her (and him) don’t we? The singer, Bless her does get feisty too and threatens to give as good as she gets on the stinging You’ve Got Another Thing Coming ……. and I found myself rooting for her and mentally shouting “You go girl!” Hahaha. What makes these songs extra special is the classy way that Susan Williams inhabits her character and imbibes her songs with all the articulate detail normal folk only think of three days after an argument! While I’ve instantly fallen in love with this whole album two songs which actually morph from one to another tie for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song. Shame On You is not your actual run of the mill ‘cheating song;’ with Susan taking on the role of downtrodden housewife that knows she should leave; but life is not always that simple, is it……. plus in the background the band’s twin basses create a brooding atmosphere that is only lightened by the cool harmony singers; and the final line is a bonafide killer! This is immediatly followed by I’m Sorry, which may or may not be about the same characters but this lady has now found her backbone ………. and……. well; I ain’t gonna spoil the magic for you 😉 There’s a lot going on here; not least Susan William’s delightfully ‘lived in ‘voice, which is perfect for her songs; but every now and again the band are allowed the freedom to highlight the lyrics with either a seamless or stinging guitar solo from Mike Gallemore, or a taut and strained drum solo from Rob Davies, while Mike Cruse supplies the occasional flourish on the keys that makes the song take on a whole new perspective. But what really makes this album and band really special is the intriguing use of two basses; Susan Williams herself and Darryl Wright who can alternate from Jazz Lite through Funk and into Memphis Soul in the blink of an eye. I’m not altogether sure but it looks like these songs, and possibly the album itself have been around the Chicago Blues scene for a couple of years; but is now getting a worldwide release as it’s being entered into the 2019 International Blues Challenge; and if I’m not mistaken I can’t think of many, if any other ‘Self-Produced’ albums that comes even close to the heights IT’S ABOUT TIME reaches.
A Collection of Lost Gems Create an Absolute Diamond of an Album.
Yikes! Who knew there was a ‘Great Lost’ Marvin Gaye album? Well, many of the songs here have actually turned up on those horrible re-hashed budget records that litter the Sale bins, but never in a fully formed format like this, as YOU’RE THE MAN is an accumulation of everything the Great Man recorded in the year following the original release of WHAT’S GOING ON, but was shelved by Tamla as the lead single and first track here; You’re The Man stalled in the charts at #50, which they thought wasn’t good enough. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this song before; and listening today this ‘sarcastic riff on political non-action’ may not be as hard hitting as anything on What’s Going On; but that funky Sly Stone guitar and bass coupled to some biting lyrics is as relevant today as it was nearly half a century ago. I always worry when I hear tracks that have remained ‘in the can’ as I always reckon they weren’t released for a good reason…… they weren’t good enough. Unlike the Tamla Motown Executives I’m not going to compare and contrast this album with What’s Going On, which was groundbreaking and rightly argued about as one of the greatest albums of all time; I’m just taking it sing by song and putting them where they belong in 2019. The only thing I will say on that point is, I find it really sad that so many songs here really are still relevant today as I type; starting with The World is Rated X, originally written about Gaye’s brothers experiences in Vietnam; but could have been written last week about our soldiers still patrolling the streets in the Middle East in the 21st Century. A superb song on a sad, sad subject. One of the key ‘selling points’ about this remarkable album will be the three remixes by SaLaAM ReMi; My Last Chance, Symphony and I’d Give My Life For You; all of which slide easily into any retrospective of Marvin’s finest work, especially the beautiful ballad My Last Chance, which finds the troubled genius at his crooning best, in my humble opinion. Obviously there are surprises around every corner; and good ones at that, with the smoother alternate take on You’re The Man having a super-cool back-beat, which is guaranteed to get yer Soul Shoes shuffling; as will Checking Out (Double Clutch) which surely influenced at least a dozen hit Soul-Pop songs in the intervening decades. I understand why they’ve been included as they come from the same sessions; but there’s always something really odd about listening to Christmas songs in March! I Want to Come Home For Christmas is a super song that will touch many hearts; but when you peel away the wrapping and realise it’s actually about a captured soldier (in Vietnam) singing to his sweetheart your heart will surely burst. I don’t normally associate Marvin Gaye with instrumentals so the rare b-side Christmas in the City; although ‘of its time’ is well worth the entry fee alone, as he sounds a very troubled man indeed. Selecting a Favourite Song here hasn’t been easy, as I’ve been swept up in the history of everything here more than once; but I’m going to throw two at you, the modern mambo beat of Woman of the World must have been groundbreaking in 1972; but leap forward to 2019 and Marvin’s prophetic words could easily be an anthem for Women all over the world. The other is actually a song I already knew; but tucked away here the heart-aching ballad Piece of Clay is heady stuff indeed and has stood the test of time as well as anything else Marvin has possibly ever recorded; and deserves to be a huge hit for our dear departed Marvin. Now I’ve played this album 4 times; I just think Marvin simply recorded them at the wrong time; if this album had been released before What’s Going On it would surely have been a hit and a natural lead in to what was coming; but I guess the ‘decision makers’ subsequently wanted Marvin to record a copy-cat follow up; and not this fascinating, mature and often very intelligent bunch of songs. God Bless Marvin for having the courage to initially record them; and the nice people at UMC/Island who have lovingly put everything together to celebrate what would have been Marvin Gaye’s 80th birthday in a package that I’m sure the singer would have been proud of.
Released 2LP Gatefold Vinyl and Digital 29th March 2019 Released CD April 2nd 2019.
Sugaray Rayford Somebody Save Me Forty Below Records
Enough Rhythm, Blues and Soul To Re-Energise Your Heart.
As soon as you hear the opening rumbling bass, on The Revelator you know you are in for a Bluesy flavoured Soulful treat; but when Sugaray Rayford groans “I’m a revelator Come with me I’m a freak of nature I ain’t no honey bee I’m an unknown creature The like’s you’ve never seen Wahoo wahoo wahoo” you just know that this album is about to take you on a ride into the dark streets of Soulville last trod by Teddy Pendergrass, Otis and Barry White….. mmm mmmm mmmm, this is my kinda music. Most people immediately think of Motown or Stax when it comes to Soul Music; but the cognoscenti know that most of the coolest stuff was always on Atlantic, Casablanca and more recently Daptone; and that’s were these earthy, gutsy and….. dare I say it….. often sexy songs belong. A heady mix of Rhythm, Blues and Soul Music can be great ‘party music’ when done right; and Rayford ‘certainly does it right’, but it can also be the perfect music for late at night when you are either feeling very sorry for yourself or in the mood for seduction; and that’s when You & I, I’d Kill For You Honey and especially Dark Night of the Soul will come into their own; and make you feel like a hormonal teenager again. Then, on Sometimes You Get The Bear (Sometime the bear gets you) Rayford reflects fondly on his younger days ‘talking toot’ as part of ‘a bunch of roosters looking for the hens’ but eventually ‘working 9 to five, 7 days a week/anything to kill our buzz’ and before you know it, we’ve all got old and only have our memories…… but what memories they are! As with all of the best Soul/R&B albums, there’s also a thoughtful slice of Social Commentary tucked in behind a great dance beat, Time To Get Movin’ sounds like it’s influenced by a night watching the TV news then listening to Curtis, Marvin and Sharron Jones until the wee small hours and then the words just poured out. *There’s some really sizzling and red hot harmonica solos from Eric Corne who not just produced this album with a golden touch, but wrote all the songs too btw. While I’ve simply adored the fast and funky upbeat songs here; the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Track goes to a really special ballad; which shows what an amazing voice Rayford really has and if this album had been released in February would have been the first track on a Valentines Day CD for Mrs. Magpie. My Cards Are On The Table proves that a love song doesn’t have to be mushy and slushy; but can be thought provoking, heart-string tugging and sentimental too. Woah, woah and thrice woah is this one helluva special song! SOMEBODY SAVE ME is the big man’s fifth album; and on by far the biggest label (Forty Degrees) which suggests that he is about to be catapulted into the Big Leagues, where his powerful, yet skilful singing voice deserves to be.