Soul Express CD of the Month - May 2009
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UK Expansion CD, 2009
1) Speak Love f. Mikelyn Roderick
2) Happy On Hold f. Jeff Ramsey & U-Nam
3) Sponsored By Love f. Ian Martin & Deanna
4) Natural Thing f. Audrey Wheeler & Walter Beasley
5) Love Makes f. Tim Owens & Audrey Wheeler
6) If You Didn't f. Jeff Ramsey
7) Skin You're In f. Karen Bernod
8) Any Kind Of Love f. Mikelyn Roderick with Tim Owens
9) Outta The Funk f. Gavin Christopher
10) Stormy f. Mikelyn Roderick
11) If You Didn't f. Jeff Ramsey
12) Speak Love f. Mikelyn Roderick
Producer James Day's debut album
Better Days on Expansion in 2006 was one of the best soul CDs
of the decade, and this, his sophomore set, is equally essential. The focus is
slightly more on the uptempo tunes this time, but the ballads contain
some real killer tracks, and the list of guest vocalist is even more
impressive than on the debut.
Audrey Wheeler and Jeff Ramsey are again the prime
lead singers, but now we also have Mikelyn Roderick, Tim Owens,
Karen Bernod and Deanna contributing on vocals.
Mikelyn Roderick (former By All Means member) was already
featured on James' 4-track EP Remember
When in 2005, and I was disappointed to notice that she was replaced
by other female vocalists on the Expansion debut. Luckily, we now have
three excellent songs delivered by Mikelyn here. The opening tune
Speak Love is a catchy, sax-drenched mid-tempo mover, a perfect
summery tune to open the album, but the other two tracks sung by Mikelyn
are even better. The duet with Tim Owens (a former MCA recording
artist who has recently been touring with Al McKay All Stars),
titled Any Kind of Love is my favourite track on the whole set,
and a strong contender for the soul track of the year. It is based on
a classy soul melody (written by James) backed by a jazzy piano backdrop,
and the atmosphere reminds me of late 70s ballads by Earth, Wind & Fire.
Mikelyn is really in her element while singing the beautiful melody.
The same can be said about Stormy, which is the jazziest track on display,
and reminds me of the best songs on Mikelyn's debut solo CD on Dome. It has the
feel of a classic jazz song, but the melody is brand new, again written by
Audrey Wheeler was the female star on James' first album, and here
she shines on a sax-laced (Walter Beasley) ballad titled Natural
Thing. Audrey's spirited duet with Tim Owens, Love Takes has also been included on
this CD; the song was released
earlier on the U.S. version of Better Days.
Jeff Ramsey sounds again very impressive on the two tracks
he sings lead on. Happy on Hold is a relaxed mid-pacer
featuring French jazz-funk guitarist U-Nam, and If You Didn't
is a track that grows on you over time.
Of the more dance-oriented cuts, our old Soul Express hero Ian Martin
guests on the 70s flavoured uptempo tune Sponsored by Love,
whereas Gavin Christopher is the gritty male vocalist on the old-school
funk attack Outta the Funk.
I really wish James Day gets a chance to produce a whole album for some of the
great vocalists featured here, but while we're waiting, please make sure
that you won't miss out on this CD.
- Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express Video Pick from YouTube
James Day: Song Collage from his new album
of the Month in 2009
of the Month in 2008
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