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Gwendolyn Collins: Storytelling Side I, The Simple Things

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 8/ 10

Soul Express CD of the Month - July-September 2014

UK Independent Harmony Entertainment CD, 2014
Buy this album from our CD Shop

1) I Am Storyteller Intro 0:51
2) Take a Walk With You 4:55
3) Beautiful Fantasy 4:32
4) Be Happy Smooth Soul 4:38
5) Be Brave 5:02
6) The Simple Things 6:34
7) Beautiful Girl 4:20
8) Promise to Yearn 4:24
9) Mars 3:59
10) Share 3:55
11) Heaven Sent 5:07
12) Take a Walk Soul Step (Remix) 5:52
13) Peel Me a Grape 4:44

Neo-soul trend arose quickly in the late 90s, but sadly faded away in about ten years, and I really miss those cool, jazzy neo-soul sounds that female artists like Ledisi, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Antoinique, Emerald Jade and many others performed in the early this millennium. For anyone who enjoyed jazzy soul -inclined neo-soul ten years ago, Gwendolyn Collins is a more than welcome new name, as her music is just like Badu, Jill Scott and other heroines of neo-soul recorded 10-15 years ago.

Gwendolyn Collins was born in New Jersey but started her musical career in Maryland, just outside of US capital Washington DC. Her debut album Storytelling Side I, The Simple Things was released in July 2014 and it has been highly acclaimed especially in the U.K. end Europe and Gwendolyn is currently on tour in the U.K. and France, visiting Jazz Cafe at London and Biz'Art in Paris.

Storytelling Side I album was topping Solar Radio's Sweet Rhythm Chart in July, and the tracks that have caused most of the stir include Take a Walk with You and Beautiful Fantasy. Take a Walk with You is a Badu-ish neo-soul piano-based ballad with some stylish trumpet adding a distinct jazz flavour to it. Very cool and impressive, but even much better is the new single pick Beautiful Fantasy. Now this is a real dream-come-true jazzy neo-soul track with tasty saxophone and trumpet playing over the two-stepping rhythm and jazz piano soloing. Gwendolyn is perfectly at home in this delicious jazzy soul setting.

The next tune is titled Be Happy Smooth Soul but despite its title the track is built over a very tight bassy beat and the overall feel is not far from Impromp2's mixture of soul, jazz and hip hop. The piano solo is really impressive, genuine jazz soloing.

The titled track Simple Things is dedicated to Gwendolyn's parents, and it's an ethereal ballad tune with some elegant piano soloing on background. A couple of more hip hop inclined tracks follow, with less real musicianship, but at least the Erykah Badu fans should be happy with very Badu-ish ballad tunes like Beautiful Girl and Heaven Sent.

The album closes with Gwendolyn's reading of the jazz standard Peel Me a Grape, which is backed by a classic jazz trio with drums, double bass and piano - sheer class.

Surely, this kind of jazz-oriented neo-soul album cannot reach masses or US radio play today, at least not on those stations that stick to idiotic autotuned R&B format, but let's hope Gwendolyn reaches enough fans at least here in Europe to be able to follow her sultry, sophisticated jazzy neo-soul style.

Listen to the sound snippet's on Gwendolyn's own site - and then rush and get the CD!

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