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DEEP # 3/2015 (May)

 I’m sure that each one of you has buzzed your lips and made those ‘brrr’ sounds at some point in your life.  Take this lip play or gymnastics to the ultimate level, lip – or more precisely - human voice acrobatics and we’re talking about a virtuosic a cappella group called Naturally 7, who not only sing and harmonize but create their own instrument sounds, as well.  I was fortunate enough to meet the group and talk about their career and music.  They’re very lucky, of course, not having to carry heavy instruments from one venue to another. 

My regular sections include two new southern soul CDs, one book by Sharon Davis and four retro compilations.  Among them, there’s one thrilling and heart-warming CD from Garnet Mimms.  I talked to him last time seven years ago, and now I decided to make another call.

Content and quick links:

Interviews:
Naturally 7
Garnet Mimms

New CD release reviews:
Ms. Jody: Talkin’ Bout My Good Thang!
Lacee: Beautiful

CD reissue & compilation reviews:
Garnet Mimms: Looking for you/The Complete United Artists & Veep Singles
Jackie Wilson: NYC 1961-1966
The Fame Gang: Grits & Gravy/The Best of the Fame Gang
Various Artists: Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities, volume 5

Book review:
Sharon Davis: Mighty Real: Sharon Davis Remembers Sylvester






INTRODUCING... NATURALLY 7 *

On April 29 in my home town of Espoo, Finland, at Sellosali I witnessed a magnificent concert by a highly entertaining entity called Naturally 7.  Their 1 h 40 min long performance contained sixteen songs, including some of their most popular numbers like Keep the Customer Satisfied, Jericho, Run Away, Wall of Sound, Feel It and Ready or Not.  Such familiar tunes as Rivers of Babylon (Boney M) and Englishman in New York (Sting) allowed the group to add some humour to its act, which only lifted the positive and feel-good atmosphere that prevailed throughout the whole set.  The heartfelt Simon & Garfunkel Medley and the “instrument-wise” complex Herbie (Hancock) Medley changed the mood from choral serenity to jazzy funk, whereas George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps allowed us to hear fierce “mouth-born rock guitar” solos.  The show was a mixture of serious singing, vocal acrobatics and eye-catching choreography with elements from soul, R&B, hip-hop, rock, pop and gospel.  The highlight for me was the impressing big ballad, Fix You.  Should this highly energetic and talented group come your way, don’t miss it!

LAST APPEAL

 In 1975 in the U.K., a Manchester-based gospel sextet called The Kings Proclaimers released a 12-track spiritual album titled The Kings Proclaimers Keep So Busy on Hollick & Taylor (HT/LPS 1460).  One of the members was Tony aka Hopeton Thomas, who’s a native of Jamaica, and he was married to a lady hailing from Guyana.  They had four sons and one daughter, and two of those boys are now members of Naturally 7, Roger and Warren Thomas.

Warren: “The Kings Proclaimers performed in the U.K., and they didn’t get anywhere else after that.  They weren’t as dedicated as we are.” (laughing).  When Roger was ten and Warren nine, the family moved to New York - to the Bronx first - because of Hopeton’s studies in psychology. 

Roger: “I’ve been singing together with Warren nearly all the time.  I think it was only a year or two that he wasn’t in a group with me.  He was in a gospel quartet called The Estatistics of the Bronx, NY.

Warren: “We created a group in our church with some friends.  That group changed members, and that group became this group pretty much.  That group was called Last Appeal, and it existed from 1986 until 1999.” 

Their sextet called Last Appeal, with Marc Dwyer in the line-up, won the McDonald’s Tri-State Gospelfest in 1989 and later a Gospel Academy Award for “Group of the Year.”  Al B. Sure signed the group to a record deal with Capitol in 1991 and a producer named Dave Hall signed them to Sony in 1995, and – although an album was slated for early 1996 release – neither deal resulted in any issued recordings.

Naturally 7 came into existence in 1999, but for a minute – after Last Appeal – the group was called simply Seven.  Warren: “It was very briefly.  We just couldn’t use that name.” 


In the pic above: Warren Thomas

ROGER and WARREN THOMAS

Not only a musical director, writer, producer and arranger for the group, Roger also sings 4th or 5th tenor and does some rapping.  Prior to Naturally 7 he was an entrepreneur.  Roger: “I used to be into telecommunications and sales and marketing and often giving motivational speeches, getting people to get into the telecommunications industry.”

As his influences and favourites, Roger lists such names as Take 6, Simon & Garfunkel, the Jacksons, New Edition and Coldplay.  Roger: “All of them inspire me, but I put Take 6 first, because of the a cappella intricate harmony.  That was a big influence.  Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics inspired me to write.  The Jacksons had that energy and soul in the music.  There are many more influences from early hip-hop, like Doug E. Fresh, The Fat Boys, people that started making music, doing beats and stuff like that with their mouth.  With Coldplay I really like the song-writing and I like the experimentation of trying to discover different things.  We had the opportunity to meet Chris Martin.  He came to one of our shows a few years ago in London, and he already was a fan of the band.  We got a chance to hang out with the whole band the next day, and we’re now doing one of their songs, Fix You.”

Warren: ’s favourites include – alongside James Brown and Sade – such genuine gospel groups as The Gospel Keynotes and The Violinaires.  Warren: “I also love The Beatles, and I’m a big fan of a lot of rock.  In church I was introduced to gospel music. When I was about 17 years old, I started singing at the same time in a group that was similar to The Violinaires.  I was the youngest in the group, and the older guys in the group let me listen to a cassette with The Gospel Keynotes, The Violinaires and those types of groups.  I’ve been in love with them ever since.”

Warren: is the drummer in Naturally 7, and his solo drumming is one of the show-stoppers on stage.  His amazing human voice drum set was also the main catalyst to develop the musical concept for the group in the first place. Warren: “Even before we were Last Appeal we had a band, and in our repertoire there was the drumming.  We also had songs, where there were trumpets and a guitar, and everybody had a talent to play an instrument.  I made the drumming - separated from everybody else – with my mouth, and they said ‘Oh, that thing that you’re doing, let’s see if we can use that in a song.’  That’s pretty much how the idea came about.”


DWIGHT STEWART

Dwight Stewart is one of the original five members of Naturally 7 in today’s line-up.  His instrument is trombone and vocally he’s the 2nd baritone, although sometimes he reaches tenor highs.  Dwight: “I’ve been blessed with a good amount of range, so usually my duty in the harmony is basically to stay down low.  Then there are times, when Roger might have arranged some harmony structures pretty high.  When it comes down to lead, it seems that sometimes the demand is for the vocalist to get up.”  Dwight has the lead on Run Away, and he has parts in Wall of Sound and Simon & Garfunkel Medley.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Jamaican parents, before mid-90s Dwight had his own solo career running.  Dwight: “I think I joined Last Appeal in 1995.  Before that I had done a lot of showcases around New York.  I had my own band.  I performed in a lot of nightclubs.  I’m also an Apollo winner, and I was on a show called Big Break, which was looking for talent.”

One of Dwight’s influences is his father, Alton Stewart.  Dwight: “He was a baritone singer in the Caribbean.  He’s also a singing evangelist.  I grew up in a home, where music was always being played.  My dad was always playing the piano, writing and singing songs.  He showed me how to write songs and showed me how to harmonize.  I learned a lot of music theory from him.”

Other influences of Dwight include The Winans and Commissioned, both urban contemporary gospel groups from the early 1980s.  Dwight: “I’ve always loved that contemporary sound, like BeBe and CeCe [Winans].  It was very close to pop music, and I like pop.  I like nice and catchy melodies.  I’m also into producing, so I love good pop production – all production in general.  I like Quincy Jones and Timbaland.  He’s very creative.  When I’m writing, I’m always looking for what’s the next sound.  What can I do that you don’t hear on the radio.”  Dwight’s own favourites in Naturally 7’s repertoire are Broken Wings and Say You Love Me

ROD, GARFIELD, “HOPS” and “POLO”

The two 1999 inducted members are Roderick Eldridge and Garfield Buckley.  Rod is the first tenor and also the DJ, who makes those scratching sounds... plus he’s one of the trumpet players.  Born in Rochester, New York, he adds to the list of influences and favourites such names as Earth, Wind & Fire, Fugees, Smokey Robinson and Mint Condition.

Garfield: is the second tenor, harmonica and trumpet player.  He’s the third Englishman in the group, as he was born near London but moved via Jamaica to the United States.  Besides such soul artists as Donny Hathaway, Erykah Badu, Jennifer Hudson, Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder, he’s also influenced by Donnie McClurkin, a leading black Gospel artist, who, since 1996, has two gold and two platinum albums under his belt.

Marcus Davis (bass) was the sixth member in the 1999 line-up, but he was replaced by Andre Edwards for a short while in 2006, until Armand “Hops” Hutton replaced him that same year.  Warren: “Andre had just got married and he didn’t realise how much time this thing takes.”  Also Hops left in 2014 but did one more farewell show with the group in Huntsville, Alabama, on April the 2nd this year.  Warren: “Hops is now in Nashville.  Not too long being married, he wanted to come off the road.  He was in the group for about eight years.  We got him while he was still in school, in university.  Now he wants to do something different – perhaps start a record label, try something else.  Being a member of Naturally 7, you can have an exciting life, but it can be rough.”

The seventh member in 1999 was David LaRoche (4th tenor and guitar), but he was soon replaced by Jamal Reed.  Warren: “David wasn’t there for very long.  He was replaced probably within a year.  David and I went to school together.  When we decided that we want to do this as a career, he just couldn’t wrap his head around that and we replaced him with another friend of ours, named Jamal Reed.”

Jamal stayed in the group for ten years.  In 2010 he passed out on stage out of exhaustion.  Warren: “He had very small children that he wanted to be close to.  Travelling as much, and how we do, can be very exhausting.  When we go home, we try to decompress.  We’re on the road more than we are at home.” 

His replacement was Napoleon “Polo” Cummings, who – similarly to “Hops” – left the group in Alabama on April 2nd, 2015.  Warren: “In 2014, Polo had a family emergency, and Jamal came out to South Korea to take his place, but it was temporary.  We did two good shows with Jamal.  We’re all still friends.”

KELVIN and RICKY

The two latest members are Kelvin “Kelz” Mitchell and Ricky Lee Cort.  Kelz took Hops’ place in bass – also contrabass and trumpet – and also, this New York-born musician, has Jamaican parents.  Among the new names on his list of favourites, we can spot such jazz-related artists as Wynton Marsalis and Singers Unlimited, a vocal group with fifteen released albums so far since 1971.  On his list there is also a modern gospel artist named Doobie Powell and a Swedish a cappella act called The Real Group.

Ricky replaced Polo as the 4th tenor and a mouth-guitarist and trumpet player.  Roger: “Every member that we’ve ever had has always been a friend of mine or a family member of mine.  Rod Eldridge came from a cousin that I have, Jason Thomas, and his wife, Carmen Thomas.  Over the years they’ve kept their eyes open for singers and they recommended Rod, many, many years ago.  Then they recommended Hops and Kelz... and now Ricky.  Ricky is Guyanese, like my and Warren’s mother, so we have a strong West Indian & Caribbean thing in our group.”


Roger Thomas

VOCALPLAY

Naturally 7 call their art form “VocalPlay” and they describe it as “singing AS instruments, and BECOMING an instrument with the voice.”  They truly are a self-contained group.  All seven vocalists are also their own instruments.

Roger: “Obviously what we do is a cappella, but singing without instruments is a section of a cappella.  We coined the phrase ‘VocalPlay’, so if you’re imitating instruments as a very deliberate thing – I’m trying to be a guitar, I’m trying to be a trumpet – we call that ‘VocalPlay’.”

Are there actually any competitors in the business?  Warren: “To do what we do? Not really.” 

“We’re familiar with a solo artist named Bobby McFerrin (Don’t Worry Be Happy) and in the a cappella field with such trailblazer acts as The Persuasions out of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Take 6, now based in Nashville, TN.” 

Warren: “We did a show with The Persuasions in England.  We told them how much we loved them and how we grew up listening to their stuff.  We knew Take 6 from when we were little.  Hops went to the same church as two of them.  Marcus Davis went to school with those guys.  Ricky goes to the same church as Alvin Chea from Take 6.  We’re in the same circle of friends.”

The group writes mostly its own material.  Warren: “Sometimes, somebody has a melody in his mind and presents that to the group.  There can be a beat in somebody’s mind, or a rap, or just a horn line.  Some things can take thirty-five minutes to finish, other things can take three months.  It depends how complex the arrangement is, but we’re getting faster and faster.  If somebody asks ‘can you come up with a song or a jingle’, we can come up with something fairly quickly.”

“If you want to do somebody else’s song, a full cover, then you want to be just as good... if not better.  You don’t want people to say, ‘Why did they touch that?  They should have left that one alone’.  So we always try to work a song really well.  Sometimes that can take two weeks of rehearsing, when we’re on the road.”

NON-FICTION

In 1999, the group won The NYC Regional Harmony Sweepstakes a capella competition and finally “The Harmony Sweepstakes”, a national a cappella competition in San Rafael, California.  Warren: “That’s when we realised that we’re the only act out there who didn’t do it professionally.  We were like, ‘Wow, there’s a possibility to do this for a living’.  That’s when the idea hit us.  And we actually won!  It was pretty much there that the flight took off.”

In May 2000, Naturally 7 released its debut album, Non-Fiction.  Warren: “When we won the competition, the guy that ran the competition was like, ‘Everybody has albums, and you don’t have an album.  You need to have one.  I will sponsor and pay for the album for you guys to do.  Go ahead!’  We went into the studio and put some songs that we felt were close to us.  We wrote some songs and did some nice covers, like Bridge over Troubled Water, and put that out.”

Released on John Neal’s PAC (Primarily A Cappella) Records, there are sixteen tracks on the CD, and six of them are short interludes.  Other familiar songs along with Bridge... are Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To), Blessed Assurance – a Christian hymn from 1873, - the traditional Bless This House and to a degree, Train, credited to Curtis Mayfield, Roger Thomas and Stevie Wonder.  Down-tempo, soothing tracks dominate this elegant set, and the ones that deserve a special mention are Roger’s smooth All of You and the inspirational Last Days, written by Dwight and Roger.


Warren: “It was a learning experience.  We spent a lot of time in the studio and that’s when we lost David (LaRoche).  I don’t think he recorded anything on that album.  He couldn’t make it to the sessions, so we had to do his parts.  From there we started touring the country very heavily, doing a lot of colleges and universities – basically, just East Coast.  That really gave us the understanding, how to put a good show together.”

“Actually, we recorded the CD right across the George Washington Bridge in Teaneck, New Jersey.  We went there every night.  Most of us had jobs.  We would be there all night and pretty much, go from there to work.  It was a very long, hard process.”

“The CD sold very well.  We sold it on tours.  This was when people were actually buying CDs a lot.  We’d go to schools and they just loved what we did and they would purchase the CD.  Students usually don’t have money, but they liked it so much that they said, ‘I’m going to either borrow beg or steal from somebody, so I can get this project’, and we felt really honoured.”

John Neal is the executive producer, but in terms of actual producing and arranging, Roger Thomas, Dwight Stewart and Kevin Deane are in charge.  Warren: “Kevin Deane is a good friend of ours, and he’s worked with us for a long time, from the Last Appeal days.  In the early years he used to play keys with us every once in a while.  Actually, the studio in New Jersey was his studio.  Then he moved to the Atlanta area after we had moved down there.  He had a studio there and we kept working with him.”  Kevin is a Grammy Award-winning producer, who has worked with Atlantic Starr (on Legacy in 1999), Cynthia Biggs, Will Downing, Horace Brown and Alyson Williams, to name a few.  Today, Kevin is CEO of Soul Syndicate Music Group LLC, and he resides in Los Angeles, California.


WHAT IS IT?

 The sophomore album, What Is It?, was released in Europe first in 2003.  Warren: “It was released in the GAS countries – Germany, Austria, Switzerland – and in Japan.”  It was signed to Sony (Festplatte/Transglobal).  With fourteen, mostly self-written tracks, again Roger Thomas, Kevin Deane and Dwight Stewart are in command of production and arrangements, with some help from Jeff Coplan.

This time the emphasis is slightly more on the urban contemporary field with rap, rock, hip-hop and modern funk elements popping up here and there.  Warren: “This was deliberately taken in that direction, because - based on how our music would sound – we still wanted to be on the cutting edge.  Roger and I were in the Bronx when we started.  We watched this hip-hop thing develop, and it was infused into us. That’s why you still hear that in our music.”

“We’re still experimenting with what exactly we can do with our voices, how far we can take it, and the next step was What Is It? – a very interesting album with some good songs on it.  We definitely took our time doing it.  And we had a number one hit, Music Is the Key, with a German singer, Sarah Connor.” 

Indeed, Music Is the Key is the most beautiful and melodic song on the CD, a bit country-tinged.  It charted in Austria (# 6), Belgium (# 3), Switzerland (# 2) and Germany, where it went all the way to # 1.  The song also appeared on Sarah Connor’s Key to My Soul CD in 2003.

The romantic Another You is a tender love song.  Roger: “Another You became a fan favourite all around the world.  It was a single release after Music Is the KeyGone with the Wind is a big song in Japan.”  In addition to the mid-tempo Gone with the Wind, there are many memorable tunes on the CD, such as the down-tempo Say You Love Me, Closer and the churchy Grace.  Familiar tunes this time include Mr. Mister’s melodic mid-pacer, Broken Wings, and Extreme’s ’91 ballad, More than Words


In the pic above: Joerg Beuttner

The manager of the group, Joerg Beuttner, can tell a story about the devotion of the group to their music.  Joerg: “When we did the recordings for What Is It? I drove with them.  We met in New York and drove around the city picking everybody up for about three hours, before we left for the recording studio in Minneapolis (Skyland Studios).  We didn’t fly to Minneapolis.  We took the car and saved some money.  Coming from Germany, I know, of course, that the U.S. is big, but I didn’t know that it was THAT big.  The entire trip took something like 26 hours, and we never stopped – only to use the bathroom, for food and gasoline.”

 “On the way the guys worked on the arrangements.  Some of us had discussions about politics and whatsoever.  Some of the fellas were sleeping.  We arrived at the hotel at 3 o’clock in the morning.  I was totally dizzy.  Then one of the guys said, ‘Hey, now we can meet in one room and still work on the arrangements, and at 9 o’clock we can go to the studio’.  And the only one who was late? – it was me.”

DVD & CHRISTMAS

Naturally 7 released their first DVD, Live in Berlin, for the European market in 2004.  It was shot at Meilenwerk Berlin on March 13, 2004, and this 84-minute set featured twelve group favourites at that point, including Bless This House, Broken Wings, Say You Love Me, Another You, Simon & Garfunkel Medley, Have I Ever Told You and Music Is the Key.  Roger: “It did relatively well, although not as well as the next two we have done.”

In November 2004, the group released its first holiday album on EMI Music Distribution entitled Christmas... It’s A Love Story.  It has as many as 28 tracks on it with many familiar carols like O Tannenbaum, Little Drummer Boy, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night and White Christmas.  There are also brand new Christmas songs written by the group: What Day Is It?, Love Story, No Christmas Without You, In Your Eyes (Baby Girl), Can I Play My Song and If the Lord Allows.  Overall, the CD offers beautiful, mostly slow music, which suits the holiday spirit to a T.

Roger: “The album is more than ten years old, and it was reissued in 2011.  We probably will release our first Christmas EP this year and a new Christmas album in 2016.”  On the reissue with a shortened title, Christmas: A Love Story, they cut the number of tracks down to fourteen, and this CD was released on Hidden Beach Records.  Steve McKeever is the CEO of the American label, and since 1998 they’ve released CDs on Jill Scott and Angie Fisher too.


READY II FLY

Naturally 7’s fourth studio album, Ready II Fly, was released on Virgin Germany Records in 2006 and worldwide a year later.  Almost all eighteen new songs are “in-house” compositions, and again no instruments are used.  One number that was borrowed from outside became the second big hit for the group.  They added some lyrics to Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight, which was certified gold in 1981, renamed it Feel It (In the Air Tonight) and it climbed the charts: Belgium (# 3), France (# 15), Germany (# 55) and Italy (# 14).

On the CD (with a running time of 68 minutes), among urban and rap tracks, there’s the usual heavy dose of beaty mid-pacers (4Life, What I’m Lookin’ 4) and smooth slowies – How Could It Be?, Forever For You, Let It Rain) – including personal favourites, Comfort You and True Friends (and Family).

Besides France, the album charted in Australia (# 14), where they were soon to tour with Michael Bublé, a Canadian singer, songwriter and actor, who has released eight highly popular CDs since 2003 (www.michaelbuble.com).  Roger: “That came from our European agent who we had at the time.  He was the son of Michael Bublé’s European agent.  In 2007, in Europe, Michael had a need for an opening act that didn’t take up too much space on stage, because he has a big band.  The son said to his father, ‘Listen, you want an a cappella group?  I want to give you the best.’  We just tried out one leg, and the marriage worked so well that from there we went to Canada and to Australia.  We ended the third world tour with him this March in South Africa.” 

Michael and the group also visited Finland – Hartwall Arena in Helsinki – in February 2014, and the first time Naturally 7 was here by themselves occurred in the fall of 2012, when they performed in the cities of Espoo and Tampere.

Roger: “We have to weigh our regional popularity on the amount of people that come to our shows.  I would say that Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia and maybe England and Canada would be the hotter markets for us.”


LIVE AT MONTREUX & Q

 Almost four years after their first DVD, Naturally 7 released Live at Montreux 2007 in March 2008, shot at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in July 2007.  The concert on this 88-minute DVD offers ten songs.  It’s a cocktail of earlier hits and some new songs from the recent Ready II Fly CD, such as Fly Baby, Can Ya Feel It?, In the Air Tonight and Open Your Eyes.  Roger: “That was an opportunity provided by Montreux.  We were excited to do that.  That DVD and Quincy Jones’ 75th Birthday Celebration Concert have been the most widely seen, because of the Montreux name.”

The tribute concert to Q took place in Montreux on July 14th 2008, and there exists a double-DVD on that event with dozens of guest artists, including Patti Austin, Petula Clark, Ledisi, Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan.  Naturally 7’s songs in the show were Billy Jean and Wall of Sound, and they also participated in State of Independence and the grand finale, Stuff Like That. 

Later, the group was featured in the title tune of Q’s Soul Bossa Nostra CD in 2010 alongside rapper and actor, Ludacris.  Roger: “We found Quincy very endearing, very supportive.  He felt that we are the future of where this trend of all-voice music can go and should go.  We’ve been on three tours with him, on things like ‘Q and Friends’, which I believe we did in Bermuda and in Morocco.  We felt very honoured to have the title track on the album.  This is the only thing we’ve done recording-wise with Q so far.”


WALL OF SOUND

When you hear or read the words ‘wall of sound’, most probably Phil Spector is the first thing that comes to mind.  In this case, however, we’re talking about the title of Naturally 7’s next CD, which was first released in late 2008. 

Roger: “Wall of Sound incorporates music from What Is It? and Ready II Fly, with five songs that you can only find on that album.”  One of them is a tender rendition of the old Jagger-Richard-Oldham song, As Tears Go By.

The CD was issued first only in the UK and Ireland, and it charted at # 29 in the UK.  Roger: “There was a big marketing campaign for a TV commercial.  I think it was right on the heels of doing the Royal Variety Performance.”  Traditionally attended by the British Royal Family, Naturally 7 took the stage at the London Palladium on December 11th 2008.  Roger: “In doing the Royal Variety show, Universal said, ‘Hey, let’s do an album.’”

Roger: “Wall of Sound got more attention for us also in the United States.  We went on several top shows – The Ellen Show, The Tonight Show, etc.  That particular song, Wall of Sound, got a lot of attention along with the fact that the demonstration video became very popular.  Prior to that, most of our activity was outside of the U.S.”  Those days, the group also performed in Las Vegas, Madison Square Garden and later, in February 2011, at The BET Honors with a tribute to the Musical Arts Award Honoree, Herbie Hancock, which resulted in the Herbie Medley in Naturally 7’s show today.

VOCALPLAY

The 6th studio album got its title, VocalPlay, from the name the group came up with for their own style and concept.  Released in May 2010, again most of the songs are self-written and again among nice mid-tempo tracks (You’re Beautiful, Is There Nowhere for Me to Run?) and fast pulsators (Jericho, 768, Ready or Not) there are such pretty and tender ballads as And That’s When You Love Me (written by Hops), the pleading SOS (Anybody Out There?) and If You Love Me

Roger: “There’s a very special opening that goes with If You Love Me, in a very classical and medieval style.  This song alone gave the inspiration for the next album.”  The jazzy Relax Max features Michael Bublé and it’s a tribute to Dinah Washington – her original recording was released in 1956 - whereas the atmospheric Be Still, My Soul is based on our own Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia.

The CD comes together with a DVD, including solos live from Madison Square Garden.  Roger: “That comes from the fact that we realised that we’re very visual, and it’s good for people to be able to see us.  We put together some DVD material that was from our portion of the Michael Bublé show from Madison Square Garden, some music videos and interviews.  There are two versions.  The CD from Canada has the song Hockey Night in Canada on it.” 

Especially in later years, Naturally 7 has made guest appearances on other artists’ CDs, and one such friendly visit took place on Michael Bublé’s Christmas album in 2011 with Silver Bells. A German singer named Xavier Naidoo is another beneficiary, and the group also appears on a soundtrack for the film Animals United.

NATURALLY 7 -LIVE

Originally titled All Natural Live, a live set from Hamburg, Germany, was released in late 2012 with as many as twenty-two tracks on it.  It opens with the emotive All The King’s Men – almost like a Gregorian chant – and proceeds into such movers as Can Ya Feel It?, Boom Bap Boom and Jericho before taking it down to the more romantic Say You Love Me and If You Love Me.  After the medleys and “the Motownesque” Ready or Not, the old chestnut Shout closes the show.  Roger: “Funnily enough, both All The King’s Men and Shout were very specific for that format.  We’ve never opened with All The King’s Men and we never ended with Shout again. There’s also a DVD, but it’s for select markets only, as the DVD market is smaller and smaller these days as the world is moving more and more to digital as we go.”


HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT

Naturally 7’s eighth CD, Hidden in Plain Sight, was officially released on Hidden Beach Records in February this year, in the U.S., and in April, worldwide.  Roger: “I particularly do not like, when an artist says that this particular album is their best album, just in case the person they’re talking to prefers another album.  But it’s fair to say that it’s the album that we’ve worked on the longest.”

On the DeLuxe Edition there are 19 tracks on this 70-minute CD, and thirteen of them are brand new, self-written.  It features a great cover of Coldplay’s 2005 hit, Fix You, and there’s a touching official music video to go with it on YouTube.  Roger: “We have two artists appearing on the album that are not us.  There are vocals from Mahalia Jackson on Mahalia and we have Queen on the song, Galileo.”  The mid-tempo Galileo samples Bohemian Rhapsody, and on the slow and churchy Mahalia her voice derives from her 1959 recording of Trouble of the World.

Roger: “Moments is taken from Art of Noise.  We imitated the instruments from their Moments in Love, and we wrote the melody and lyric over that song.  It’s a mixture of us and something that existed already before.” Another hybrid is the fast Life Goes On (Let It Go), which borrows from Wham’s Everything She Wants.

Among the up-tempo tracks are Need You With Me (another single) and Take It (Golden Gates), while Can’t Take the Credit and Don’t Go Changing are mid-pacers.  Keep the Customer Satisfied and Run Away are down-tempo numbers.

The intro to the album is named Tempus Fugit (Motus I).  Roger: “Like I said, If You Love Me from the VocalPlay album was the inspiration for Hidden in Plain Sight, so the entire theme, run into the entire album, has a classical, medieval concept – even if we’re doing a very hip-hop or R&B-driven piece.  We wanted the bridge of the song, the interlude into the songs or the outro of the song to have a classical feel.  So this theme runs through it, and – as far as delivering our vocals – I think that when you go back to the Ready II Fly and What Is It? albums, a lot of times people said, ‘I can’t believe that it’s all vocal’, because we had done, in many cases, so much processing that sometimes people just couldn’t tell.  On Hidden in Plain Sight and VocalPlay, we’ve come back to a place where we learned how to deliver it so it sounds like a band, but at the same time, you, the listener, can hear that everything is the human voice also.  I think we mastered that concept even more so on Hidden.”


PERSPECTIVE FOR A CAPPELLA

For the upcoming Christmas EP this year, the group has already cut God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  Roger: “We will probably add three or four more songs, so we can have an EP.  We will also consider probably doing songs in a live studio setting, performing on video like five songs from Hidden.  We’ve never performed live in the studio.”

With as many as seven members creating music, can we talk about democracy in the group?  Roger: “I have a point system, and in some decisions I get an extra vote.  We vote, and if the majority wants to go in particular direction, we’ll go there.  Musically, I’m very much in the driver’s seat, but the group gives a lot of feedback.”

How does Roger see the future of a cappella and vocal play?  Roger: I think the popularity is growing, with our popularity and with groups like Pentatonix.  There are competitions all around the world.  A cappella pitches perfectly for the movies.  It’s now making it to mainstream TV.  A cappella has always been popular on college campuses, especially in the U.S., and people love a cappella everywhere in the world.  It’s funny that when you speak on the chart level, when it comes to Billboard, very few a cappella groups have been able to have hit songs.  It’s surprising.  We have Bobby McFerrin, we had Boyz II Men at one point, Billy Joel had For the Longest Time... You can literally count them on two hands in the last 50-60 years of rock history.”

“We want to make a change in that area, to bring a cappella just a little bit closer to people for them to take it seriously as a serious art form and open up hopefully even a Grammy category.”

www.naturallyseven.com (interviews conducted on April 29 and May 5, in 2015; acknowledgements to Naturally 7 and Joerg Beuttner). 


SOUTHERN SOUL STEW

MS. JODY *

  We can now celebrate Ms. Jody’s 10th Ecko CD, and I like all of them.  With the kind of straightforward and grabbing music she does these days, her popularity doesn’t surprise me at all.  On Talkin’ Bout My Good Thang! (ECD 1160; www.eckorecords.com) there’s only one slow song – a big-voiced bluesoul piece called If He Knew What I Was Thinking – which only goes to show that her present audience prefers uptempo action.

  Joanne Delapaz herself co-wrote six songs with the producer, John Ward, and Henderson Thigpen co-wrote four with him.  The jolly Just Let Me Ride Again is actually like part II of a similarly titled song on a previous album, and the “pop meets rock ‘n’ roll” type of Shake a Tail Feather comes from the same mould as The Bop, The Rock and such.  The irresistible A Piece on the Side and Double Dealer should also fill the dance-floors in no time at all.

  Half of the tracks – that means six - are mid-tempo numbers.  I Ain’t Gonna Lie This Time and a duet with John Cummings, When the Show Is All Over, are the most melodic and memorable songs, although the laid-back You Got Your Hooks In Me and the mellow Don’t Say I Love You are good chasers.  Talkin’ Bout My Good Thang! is another solid and inspiring set from Ms. Jody.

LACEE

  I believe that Beautiful is Lacy Reed’s fifth CD, and it’s produced and mixed by Jerry Flood.  Together with Lacee he also co-wrote eleven songs, and the only outside tune is the opener, a blues romp called Juke Joint Jump, which was written by Vasti Jackson and comes from his 2010 CD, Stimulus Man.

  I talked to Lacee right after her debut CD, The Songstress, and you can read her comments on that album and about her earlier career at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep106.htm (please scroll down a bit).  On this new set there are as many as five nice mid-tempo floaters, including a toe-tapper named Hoe Digger and a party song titled Last Drink.  I, however, favour more the sunny title track, Beautiful, and a track which kicks off like a Philly dancer, Don’t Know Where You At – I was actually expecting the Three Degrees to come in and sing.  Also the positive closing song, I Got Your Back - arranged and co-written by Anthony Roberts - leaves you in a good mood.

  On the four slow songs, vocally Lacee is strongest on two power ballads, Oh Well and Messy, but I think the wistful Call Me is the current single. With partial but non-intrusive programming, Beautiful is a quite entertaining and vivid CD.


COMP-ART-ment

GARNET MIMMS *

  This is magnificent music!  Simply some of the best gospel-infused soul music ever made!  Now I’m talking about Garnet MimmsLooking for you/The Complete United Artists & Veep Singles (Kent, CDTOP 423; www.acerecords.com; 28 tracks, 77 min.; notes by Tony Rounce), which contains in chronological order the A’s and B’s of Garnet’s thirteen singles between 1963 and ’66, his peak period.  Additionally there are still two album cuts, the imposing Welcome Home - Walter Jackson managed to hit the market first - and the stomping As Long As I Have You.  I’m also glad that I have Mr. Mimms here to make a few comments on that period.

  It wasn’t just big ballads with impassioned singing.  Garnet was convincing also both on such mid-tempo numbers as Tell Me Baby, Look Away and A Little Bit of Soap, and dancers like the motownish All about Love and a northern soul favourite called Looking for You.  However, when listing personal favourites, they all turn out to be gorgeous soul ballads: Cry Baby, Baby Don’t You Weep, One Girl, I’ll Make It Up to You, It Was Easier to Hurt Her, I’ll Take Good Care of You and My Baby.  Good runner-ups include For Your Precious Love, Anytime You Want Me, One Woman Man, More Than a Miracle and The Truth Hurts.

  Garnet Mimms: “Cry Baby has to be one of my favourites.  That was the biggest that I had.  I also like Don’t Change Your Heart, Tell Me Baby, Look Away and One Girl... There are quite few of them that I really like.”

  Nine of these songs charted and still four bubbled under hot-100 in Billboard.  Also the first of Garnet’s three UA albums, Cry Baby and 11 Other Hits, scraped the bottom of Top Pop Albums charts at # 91 in 1963.  In hindsight, the success of those records doesn’t really correlate with the quality.  Only Cry Baby’s placing - # 1-r&b and # 4-pop - seems to be fair and well-deserved.

  Jerry Ragovoy was Garnet’s producer those days and he worked for “Bert Berns Production.”  Jerry and Garry Sherman arranged, and the main composers in the beginning were Jerry and Bert, and Garnet’s long-standing singing partner from the 50s and a member of the Enchanters on those first UA recordings, Samuel Bell.  Later we can spot such names as Mort Shuman, Doc Pomus and Jimmy Radcliffe.  “Ragovoy produced, but Bert Berns was on a few of things.  He was in the studio for Cry Baby and Baby Don’t You Weep, those first singles of mine.”  After those two powerful ballads, they decided to release a mid-tempo toe-tapper called Tell Me Baby.  “We had spoken with Jerry Ragovoy about doing some uptempo stuff and he agreed.  It’s the kind of song that I like, so that’s why we did it.”

  The Sweet Inspirations were on background vocals on those first recordings.  “In 1966 on the I’ll Take Care of You LP there were Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford.”  Those days everybody was in the studio at the same time – the vocalist, producer, arranger, recording engineers, musicians, background singers... “I thought that was fantastic.  You hear everything you want to hear live, rather than soundtrack.”

  Those days Garnet co-wrote one big ballad named Anytime You Want Me and wrote a mid-tempo toe-tapper titled Keep on Smilin’, and on Verve still two years later Stop and Think It Over.  “When you have producers and writers like Ragovoy and Berns, they want to do their thing.  They were beautiful together.  They were on the same mind course, they were thinking alike and I think they worked very well together.”

  You can read Garnet’s earlier comments on Jerry and Bert, as well as Howard Tate and Lloyd Price in my interview with him seven years ago at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep408.htm#garnetmimms.  There he also tells about his gospel recordings in 1999 and 2005 and his secular CD, Is Anybody Out There?, in 2008.  Today Garnet is deeply engaged in church activities in Philadelphia and has been preaching for 33 years.  “As of right now I’m thinking about writing a book on my life.  That’s the thing on my agenda right now.” (Interview conducted on May 12, 2015).


JACKIE WILSON *

  NYC 1961-1966 (Ace, CDTOP2 1428; 48 tracks, 2 h 12 min) is an interesting double-CD, because the tracks are placed “counterclockwise”, starting from 1966 and ending in 1961, but Rob Hughes’ illustrative notes go clockwise.  It was also an interesting phenomenon to observe that I grew more and more excited as the tracks got older and older.  The most worthwhile feature in this package is that it exposes 25 unissued tracks, of which as many as 16 songs appear here for the first time.  The rest nine are alternate takes.

  Living up to his nickname, “Mr. Excitement”, there is twice as much uptempo material than slow songs on display, and – as expected – those dancers and stompers are for the most part punchy and full of energy, witness All My Lovin’ (no, not that one), the rocking I’m So Lonely, the doowoppy Watch Out, the swinging Silent One and the bit poppy Start the Record Over, co-written by Jerry Ragovoy.

  On the first disc (1966 -> 1964) on the slow side, the ones to impress me most were the powerful I’ve Got to Get Back (Country Boy), the three slightly bluesy songs - I Can’t Stand Another Hurt (in My Heart), Expressions and No Pity (in the Naked City) - the operatic Change Me, the old-fashioned She’s All Right (again with doowop elements) and a duet with LaVern Baker, Please Don’t Hurt Me (I’ve Never Been in Love Before).

  On the disc two (1963 -> 1961) on the more frantic front, the tracks vary in style from the Caribbean Love (Is Where You Find It) and the razor-sharp Call Her Up and the storming Shake! Shake! Shake! to fast and poppy melodies, such as You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too, What Good Am I Without You, Baby, That’s All, Tears (Don’t Care Who Cry Them) and the sing-along Sing (And Tell the Blues So Long).  They all have those nice and cosy, early 60s musical ingredients in them.  You can still add two fast and grabbing dancers, The Dancing Man and I’m Comin’ on Back to You.

  There are also two rousing duets with Linda Hopkins - Say I Do and I Found Love - but equally impressive is their slower cover of Shake a Hand.  The mid-tempo Years from Now has an uptown feel to it.  I was quite surprised at the high quality of those previously unissued songs, which hopefully also motivates you to give this double-CD a listen.

THE FAME GANG

  The third Fame session group in 1969 and ’70 had nine permanent members in its rhythm and horn sections: Clayton Ivey (piano, organ), Junior Lowe (guitar), Jesse Boyce (bass), Freeman Brown (drums), Mickey Buckins (percussion); Harrison Calloway (trumpet, trombone), Ronnie Eades (baritone and tenor sax), Harvey Thompson (tenor sax, flute) and Aaron Varnell (tenor and alto sax).

  This group known as the Fame Gang released two singles on Fame in 1969 and ’70 and one album on Capitol in 1969, Solid Gold from Muscle Shoals (SKAO 4200), which was a 16-track collection of covers of current hits.  However, more valuable music was created in Gang’s repeated jam sessions at the studio, but unfortunately those masters remained in the can. Now for Grits & Gravy/The Best of the Fame Gang (Ace/BGP, CDBGP 288; 25 tracks, 74 min.) they have unearthed 17 of those lost tracks, produced by Mickey Buckins and Rick Hall.  For the liners Alec Palao has interviewed Clayton, Junior, Mickey and David Hood.

  On all four single sides – Grits and Gravy/Soul Feud and Twangin’ My Thang (written by Travis Wammack)/Turn My Chicken Loose – the instrumental music is funky and brassy.  Two samples from the album, Your Good Thing and Choice of Colors – are quite mellow, whereas on the third one, It’s Your Thing, hard-hitting funk rules again.

  There are four more slow, intimate and at times jazzy jams – Shoalin’, Hey Joe, Sunrise and Smokestack Lightning – and two mid-tempo tracks (Groove Killer and Walk Tall), but the rest are fast and funky numbers and full of solos and improvising from the Gang.  Grits & Gravy is for tight and skilled instrumental music fans.


MISCELLANEOUS NORTHERN DANCERS

  Not all the tracks on Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities, volume 5 (CDKEND 432; 24 tracks, 65 min., notes by Ady Croasdell) are quick-tempo dancers and stompers.  I found as many as four mid-pacers among them, and It Ain’t No Achievement by the Millionaires is actually sophisticated.  If you want gritty and masculine singing, look no further than Big Joe Turner and his mid-tempo Two Loves Have I (1970).  Other tracks, where you can hear similar singing, are Pins and Needles by Eddy Giles and I’m the Reason by Cleo Jackson with Huck & the Soul Patrol.  At the opposite end we can listen to poor singing from – surprise, surprise! – J.J. Barnes on It’s Alright to Cry Sometime, the Soul Brothers on Lover Man and Mel Davis on Just Another Smile.

  This compilation covers the years from 1965 till ’75, and it has six previously unreleased tracks on it.  Three of them are actually quite catchy and lively – When the Boy that You Love (Is Loving You) by the Avons, Break Somebody Else’s Heart by Jeanette Jones and This Man Wants You by Jesse Cowan.  Two other guaranteed floor-fillers are the melodic and almost poppy I Can’t Get Hold of Myself by Clifford Curry and the fast Butterfly by the high-voiced Ballads.


BLACK BOOKCASE

SYLVESTER

  Sharon Davis has written a sympathetic book about her friend Sylvester James, Jr. (1947-88), and in this book she focuses on the late 70s, when she worked as Sylvester’s publicist and toured with him around the U.K.  Inevitably, also such figures as Sylvester’s producer and manager, Harvey Fuqua, and his background vocalists, Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes – later Two Tons O’ Fun and the Weather Girls - repeatedly pop up on these pages.

  Foreword by Bob Fisher, Mighty Real: Sharon Davis Remembers Sylvester (Bank House Books & Media, ISBN 978-0-9573058-9-2; 100 pages, 22 with photos) is Sharon’s 11th book.  She writes about Sylvester’s early musical influences – jazz, blues and gospel – and goes through his first serious musical steps in a troupe called the Cockettes, later the Hot Band and their first releases on Blue Thumb in 1973.

  The disco period on Fantasy Records - Sylvester, Step II, Stars, Living Proof, Sell My Soul and Too Hot to Sleep - between 1977 and ’81 is described in detail, especially the history of You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).  Not only does Sharon review the music, but she also tells about unexpected incidents on tours and behind the scenes.  Sylvester is very well portrayed not only as an artist, but also as a human being.  His last years, when he recorded for Megatone and Warner Brothers, are also documented. 

  Mighty Real is an easy and quick read.  I suggest that you put on your Sylvester records, avoid dancing but instead lie down with this book on the sofa for a couple of hours and just enjoy listening and reading... and yourself.

© Heikki Suosalo







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