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Soul Express CD Review




OTIS & SHUGG
We Can Do Whatever

UK Expansion, 2005
Journey - Fantasy - If You Want It - My First Mistake - My Choice - Thank You For My Baby - Right On Track - What Does It Take - Never Known - Something Inside Of Me - Peace Of Mind - This Is My Phone Call - Interlude - Round And Round - Indiana - Goodbye (Alt Phone)
If you bought the single, "Journey", back in the spring of 1996 then you will have waited anxiously for this album to be released, only having our hopes dashed. Thanks to Ralph and the gang at Expansion we now have the chance to own this incredible CD that should have seen the light of day 9 years ago. Listeners to Ralph Tee's show were treated to various cuts from the tape and will know what to expect, but for those who have not heard it all I can say is go and buy.

Production is superb and Raphael Saadiq takes the credit for this. If you loved the excellent Art & Soul album which was released back in 1996 then you will know exactly what to receive with this. This is definitely the more adult side of Saadiq, who dropped a very bland and cookie cutter based set on us back in 2002, and I wish he would put his attention to us grown-ups more often as he really can cut the mustard. 1996 was the inception of what is deemed "neo soul" and these were the pioneers of that movement. Raphael and the two half brothers have crafted a very 90s set but founded strongly in 70s and 80s sensibility.

The opener, "Journey", is just magnificent as we know, and is followed by a more contemporary effort which is rather nice. I prefer the 80s boogie feel of "If You Want It". The temperatures have raised here considerably and I cannot wait to drive home with this track on the car stereo! "My First Mistake" will warm the jolly old cockles of your hearts with its two-step appeal, but for me the real killer has to be the ESSENTIAL "Thank You For My Baby" which is just an amazing song. The warm synth, the summery flute and the beats all merge into a great moment of soul; I particularly like the tender lyrics which are thoughtful, personal and obviously written from the heart and from experience. Makes a change from the tripe the majors unbelievably try and pass off as R&B today!

The tempo lowers for the soulful "Right On Track"; the harmony from these two gents is superb - as it is throughout the set - and this is superimposed against a delightful and simple combo of piano and finger clicking. This works very well, and allows the chaps to showcase their ample vocal talents. I can recommend far more than this, however, and suggest the listener pay attention to the gentle swayer, "What Does It Take" for starters. For ballad lovers, please check out "This Is My Phone Call" which really cuts the mustard and has THAT quality early 90s sound to it. What more could we ask for?

"Round And Round" continues in an early 80s fashion with quirky keyboard touches - rather akin to the material recorded by Saadiq with Tony! Toni! Toné!. This material could almost be suited to the vocal talents of K-Ci and Jo-Jo in their more grown-up personas. Another ESSENTIAL outing can be found at the tail end of the CD - this being the eerie and mightily atmospheric "Indiana". I particularly like the slightly Jesse Johnson-ish guitar on this song. There is a superb Minneapolis 80s flair to this and I am partial to a slice of that now and again, and so this really suits me to a tee. The closing song is also a real must-listen-to ballad and with all things considered I cannot recommend this CD enough. Goodness knows we have waited a long time for it, but worth the wait it definitely was.

What's more, Otis Cooper has his own CD available via - yes, yes, - CD Baby and that I highly recommend too. I hope to review that album soon, but if I can't then rest assured you will appreciate that album to. The legacy continues, then, for the vaulted Otis & Shugg and I am thankful for anything from these talented guys. Do not overlook.
- Barry Towler


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