The Lowdown - CD reviews, part I: R&B

All CD's reviewed by Glenn Hoskins & Barry Towler exclusively for RECORD CORNER, which is one of the leading soul shops in the world. These reviews are not featured in our printed issue.
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THE GAP BAND Love at Your Fingatips
(9th Floor / Universal)
Why You Wanna Funk Around? - Love at Your Fingatips - You Dropped a Bomb on Me (Victor's Remix) - Got It Goin' On - Where's My Glasses - First Lover (LP Mix) - Closin' the G.A.P. - First Lover (Remix) - Here We Go - Over the Funkin' Hill - You Dropped a Bomb on Me (Remixes)

This was a release from the blue (actually it's a revised edition of their 1995 set; editor's note). The boys return with a rather odd, yet essential set, which will appeal to their old fans. Recent outings such as Y2K and Charlie's new solo set are excellent, and have a foot firmly in the contemporary R'n'B stable. Rappers such as Snoop Dog and DJ Qwik add appeal for a younger set of ears. This album has a foray into garage / house which is interesting. The reworking of You Dropped a Bomb on Me has no less than FIVE versions - one of which, the Johnick Henry St. Remix is essential dance floor material. If the recent Masters at Work / James Ingram 12" is to your liking then this slab of soulful garage will be a winner. However, if that is NOT up your alley, than thank God there are a further 8 excellent songs for you to savour.
I must say that this is their most "traditional" work in years and definitely harks back to their Outstanding / Oops period. The funky opening shot, Why You Wanna Funk Around starts the set as it means to go on, in the right musical direction. Love at Your Fingatips is a classic Gap Band beat ballad and is doing business in my CD player at the moment - a sure fire winner with a seriously soulful early '80s flavour! The funk of Got It Goin' On is, of course, excellent. The LP Mix of First Lover is a contagious dancefloor thumper in the vein of Oops... the funky guitar and the serious bassline is second to none. Funky enough? No? Check out Closing the Gap with the dirty funk keyboards la Slave / Steve Arrington / Kleeer. George Clinton adds his loony funk style to Over the Funkin' Hill - a response to all the whippersnappers who think the older artists can't lay down the beats. Truth is, they still can - and MUCH better!!!
Well recommended.

REN Ren
(Music Mind/Orpheus)
Breath Again - Ooh Wee - Come Around My Way - Close Your Eyes - Calling My Name - Build Your House - Some - Everything - I Fall So Deep

It would seem that 2001 is shaping up to be a very productive year indeed when quality soul releases are concerned. The album we have here is yeat another shining example of new quality music from a young artist. Musically, the flavours are very much in the Portrait / Maxwell bag with vocals heading in the direction of Tevin Campbell with real edges of Willie Clayton when Ren realy exercises his chords.
OK, so there are only 10 tracks to deal with here - wo do expect more nowadays, but there are so many sets that are crammed with crap filers what I would, and do, prefer a short and very sweet album with few fillers. Here it is!
The set hits the ground running with the beautiful Breath Again (no, NOT the Toni Braxton hit) with its slap bass, keybaords and rough, soulful vocals and is quickly paired with the bassy head-nodder Ooh Wee. This is pure sumertime. Lovers of summery guitar and melodies will love Feel It with the classy female backing vocals. This sort of warm head-nodding groove is carried into the Eric Benet-ish Come Around My Way which is also a delight.
As far as I can say, Close Your Eyes is where the real treats begin! Real instruments, melodies and a loose, carefree flavour permeates the second half of the album - think A Lil Sumpin Sumpin and you're half way there. Very comparable to the style of India.Arie's Motown offering, too. A strong modern feel but real, laid back and unashamedly rooted in the watm West Coast '70s vibe. Gorgeous! Close Your Eyes is a soul lover's dream and that is no understatement!
Calling My Name is an infectious, sultry groove featuring a female vocalist called Christiana Sanchez, and a very good she is too. Build Your House with both acoustic and wah-wah guitars is very low-down with a slight contemporary choppy beat, and it isn't a bad track but is easily shadowed by the lovely Some which is definitely a song to put on repeat. I Fall So Deep closes the lid on the album nicely, thank you very much and I hope that we hear more from this young man in the future. There is a lot of potential here. Recommended.

DOC POWELL
Life Changes
(Samson Records)
Life Changes - Brother to Brother - It's a Guitar Thang - We'll Make It Last Theme - Yours Unconditionally - Moments - Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need - Cruisin' - New Blues - For the Soul in You - I Know That's Right - Loving You Always - Life Changes Theme

Hot on the heels of Wayman Tisdale's new set comes Doc Powell. Once Luther Vandross guitarist and now a star in his own right, Life Changes adopts a similar tack as his precious set. Warm, laid back Smooth Jazz grooves with a drizzling of soulful vocals for good measure. More about those later, though.
Plenty of guests aid Mr. Powell on this album. Patrice Rushen lends her acoustic piano to Brother to Brother - a gorgeous song that shoots straight from the early 80's. The piano has that Bobby Lyle feel to it - as does, I must say, all of this set. As we can only expect from Billy Preston, his organ gets a thoroughly good workout on this saxy offering which includes Kirk Whalum on duties here. Lovers of vocal scat will adore the George Benson / Norman Brown inspired Yours Unconditionally, which featureds Kevin Toney and Munyuongo Jackson also.
Lovely stuff indeed, but highest praise must go to the KILLER Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need, a tasty revamp of the Leonard Caston song featuring the powerful and immensely soulful voice of Ollie Woodson, ex-lead from The Temptations. Sincere, warm, deep and smooth in one glorious amalgam.
Ollie adds his weight to the jazzy For the Soul in You where the gentleman's gritty voice really does the business! Why this gentleman doesn't do another solo set I have no idea! All in all, a solid jazz-fusion set - nothing radical - but well worth a purchase and has enough dazzlers to keep everybody happy.

SUNSHINE ANDERSON
Your Woman
(Atlantic)
A Little Sunshine (Intro) - Better off - He Said, She Said - Heard It All Before - Vulnerability - Letting Down My Guard - Where Have You Been - Saved the Day - Luch or Dinner - Last Night - Your Woman (interlude) Airport (Skit) - Being Away - Crazy Love You Do You - Spoken Word - A Little Sunshine

Much noise is being made about this brand new talent. One automatically assumes that it is all flibbity jibbit and a load of the old proverbial. Well, after years of transient untalented kids springing up with samey albums it isn't unforgivable if you take a look at this young lady ands say "next"!!! But wait. Yes, she is young, but she certainly doesn't sound it! Jazz FM's Peter Young aptly summed this album on his Sunday show: "New School flavours but with Old School sensibilities.
Her head is very much in the now, but her vocal tradition and her arrangements certainly have their roots in the traditional (and best!) soul traditions. Being a rabid supporter of REAL soul, I can still get excited by this album. The beats are very much 2001, but the inclination is definitely more classy than most youngsters today. Better Off is a a most able example - give this a litsen and you will hear exactly what I mean. Rough, yet soulful in a neo-classic soul fashion. Vey nice indeed.
If you need any moe encouragement give the excellent He Said, She Said a spin. Breathtaking modern R'n'B with a strong vocal that artists like Ann Nesby or Chaka Khan would be proud of. My personal favourite cut is the immensely powerful 70s influenced nodder Heard It All Before. The wah-wah-guitar and REAL instrumentation is extremely funky and is a truly strong track in the vein of Lyn Collins or Marva Whitney. I cannot stop playing this track. Awesome stuff indeed. As is the repetitive yet irresistible groove of Letting Down My Guard with its Vulnerable intro.
All in all, a very solid set that will go far to impressing both lovers of traditional and modern sounds. One not to ignore.

REGGIE CALLOWAY
Walking Through Raindrops
(UK Expansion)
Sabrina – It’s You – Bring Back The Love – Man’s Gotta Do – Walking Between Raindrops – I’m The Very One – Hotel Lonely Room – Going The Wrong Way – My Lady – Drop Watcha Doing – Why – Got To Get You Out Of My Mind – So In Love – Why (remix)

The man behind Midnight Star back in the 1980s returns in 2000 on Wise-Guyz Records, and is released in the UK by Expansion. Yes, the voice behind all the old classics, including my favourite "Close To Midnight" offers a competent set of soul offerings that are a perfect fusion of his more traditional ‘80s outings and contemporary quality soul. The man aiding in production is a very old friend of The Lowdown, Derek Nakamoto from the wonderful Hiroshima. The kick off song, "Sabrina" owes a fair bit to the formulaic "Curious" beat, and is a good track, although it is not the best to be found. Gerald Albright’s saxophone entices us into the summery and warm "It’s You" which is miles better, and better still is the 80’s sounding "Bring Back The Love" which compares very favourably to any of the highlights on Atlantic Starr’s last album. Vocally, Reggie is excellent on this song and the song really credits the album. Excellent too, is the warm "Man’s Gotta Do" which has Reggie sounding very much like Lionel Richie! And that is NOT a bad thing. The Nakamoto-penned "I’m The Very One" is another favourite, but I must admit that it feels as if something’s missing…That feeling does run through this album, I must admit. I’m not sure what it is…but it doesn’t detract a jot from the general and very real appeal of the album. All through it, and especially on the super "Drop Whatcha Doing" I am reminded how good soul vocalists were (are!) in the 1980s in comparison to today’s monotone post-pubescent whiners. There sure is not another "I Desire You" or "Set The Table" type of song on here, and I suppose the production is more low-key, being a small label concern, but the Man has not lost the gift he has apropos writing and singing. A welcome return, and I hope it does both Reggie and Expansion well.

DAVID LASLEY Expectations Of Love (Expansion)
What’s It Gonna Take – Expectations Of Love – Good Magic – Meant For You – Revelations – Will To Survive – Dancin’ On The Smooth Edge – Joey (I Believe In Our Love) – Night Of Our Lives – Change All Of That – Love’s Forever – When Will I Know Love – The Right Way

THIS ALBUM IS BEAUTIFUL. I was enticed by the title of the album, and the interesting song titles promised a great deal to me. I was not to be disappointed. Not on iota. Having waited a whole 10 years since his Japanese "Soldiers On The Moon" set from 1990 this CD had to deliver, and deliver it does! THIRTEEN tracks, all as important as each other and all important in their own right as far as praise and appropriate applause is concerned. David’s passionate and soaring falsetto is as good as ever and his ability to pen gorgeous songs founded in the best traditions of soul, jazz and Adult Pop has not deserted him. Lovers of quality soul / jazz vocals will be welcoming this with open arms – guest musicians include David Benoit, Bobby Watson (of Rufus fame), Phillip Ballou and our dear friend Arnold McCuller. As I say, I love the whole set, but I feel that the soul lovers will be more rooted in the first half of the album: "What’s It Gonna Take", the title song and "Good Magic" are absolutely perfect examples of soulful delivery. I deign that "Good Magic" is the clear winner for me on this album, the opening seconds of music and David’s voice really grabbing my stomach. Oh! This is such a superb song I cannot rave about it enough! Such QUALITY! The opener, too, is musically reminiscent – my poor old brain cannot place if it a cover or not – but WHO CARES? Yes, this is what we want expansion to concentrate on – REAL QUALITY SOUL!!! The title cut is grabbing, too, and so is the early ‘80s sounding "Meant For You". This CD is a real must, a true soul treasure and one that has earned a place in the Class of 2000. 100% ESSENTIAL.

David Lasley's web site: http://www.davidlasley.com

WOODY CUNNINGHAM
Universal Love
(UK Expansion)
Oh Yeah – Ghetto Girl – Rock And Roll – Get Out Of The Way – Mr. Radio – Waiting For Your Love – Perfect – Ooh With You – My Turn To Be Blue – Rock’n You Eternally

Yes, this is VERY GOOD album….but it certainly does NOT compare to the CLASSIC "Never Say Never" album from 1997. That album was a milestone CD for these ears. It joyfully captured the hard edged 80’s funk style and merged it both seamlessly and perfectly with the bass-driven dance sound of the ‘90s. It was my hope that "Universal Love" would continue this exciting musical journey along the same road, but alas it does not. I really do like this CD, honest I do, but I am afraid that where the first oozed groove, funk and soul with such vibration, this set is a lot more low-key and you are left wondering on the odd song whether the pace is ever going to get going. Songs like the beat ballad "Perfect" and the Hiroshima-ish "My Turn To Be Blue" are absolute CORKERS, real soul masterpieces, and will not disappoint his many devotees, but the overall atmosphere of this album feels decidedly British in terms of production and imagination whereas the last set wasn’t. That aside, almost every track is a winner, apart from the boring travesty of "Rock’n You Eternally". It is a dreary rendition that tries its best to update something that should NOT be attempted and falls flat on its face. Please listen to Leon Ware’s original and see that there is but one version of the song to be taken seriously. Tracks such as "Oh Yeah" and "Ghetto Girl" fair much better, but I am still left feeling very sorry that this CD stands obscured inside the tall shadow of its predecessor. "Waiting For Your Love" is the STAR TURN on the CD for me – the style is right back into the Kleeer mid-‘80s genre and Woody’s sweet vocals are allowed to a free reign and be flexible whereas he sounds more constricted on other more British sounding tracks. All in all a solid set.

THE TEMPTATIONS
Ear Resistible
(US/UK Motown)
1) I'll Just Go Crazy (Intro) 2) I'm Here 3) Your Love 4) Elevator Eyes 5) Selfish Reasons 6) Kiss Me Like You Miss Me 7) Party 8) It's Alright to Be Wrong 9) Proven & True 10) Got to Get on the Road 11) I'll Just Go Crazy 12) A Little Bit Lonely 13) One Love One World (Interlude) 14) Error of Our Ways
After the schorching success of their platinum selling Phoenix Rising, the Emperors of Soul return pronto with a set that will be equally successful. However, one thing concerns me - they have opted to attract younger audiences by adapting their sound on a number of tracks and by doing so they sound like the Temptations. Dabbling with young artists such as Joe and Donnel Jones is OK for younger ears but does little for the mature listener.
Those aside there are sme SERIOUSLY STRONG songs on here. Kiss Me Like You Miss Me is a KILLER song and is just mouth-watering: Narada Michael Walden weaves his magic well on this beat ballad with full strings and has managed to recapture the famous "wall of sound" vocals that was expertly delivered on the last CD. These are The Temptations I want to hear! Narada is also responsible for the upbeat Party which is a slab of unadulterated good-time funk with bass vocalist Harry McGilberry Jr reprising his vocal style a la Party Time Man from his days with the Futures. Essential.
Gerald Levert's Proven and True is the best thing he has produced in years and easily overshadows his latest drab, dreary and painful solo offering. Pure class! Got to Get on the Road is a real grower and is a good vehicle with excellent vocals and funky slap bass and quirky freaky keyboards. Evelator Eyes and Error of Our Ways have been rehashed and destroyed - so leave well enough alone! Some superb songs, but don't receive this expecting Phoenix Rising Part 2 as you will be disappointed.

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Simply Soul Flavas III (First Experience)
RANDY WILSON - Finishing Touch / NICOLAS BEARDE - Everyday / BADWATER BRIDGE - Let Me Love You, Don't Take Your Love Away, Always / HAROLD WHALEY - Plaything, Brand New Life / BABY LEE - Don't Hurt Me / AUDREY WHEELER - You Got The Best Of Me / TODD BROWN - I'll Wait For You / CLAYTOVEN - Caught In The Act / MARGERY MOORE - I Miss You
First Experience Records is a label that I have had serious eyes on for well over a year now. Clearly outshining labels such as Expansion and About Time for quality new soul from the US, First Experience is proving its metal not once, nor twice but three times - not to mention the release of the Bridge album. Those who are familiar with the previous CDs will do no wrong by adding this SUPERB collection to their collection. All twelve songs are well above standard, and as far as I am concerned there are four songs that are heavey hitters.
Our first is the smooth and velvety Luther-esc Randy Wilson and his monster ballad Finishing Touch. Such as a song should be raised above and exulted in serious soul circles. A mini LP is doing the business for this man - I hope that a full-blown project will soon be with us. Next up, Baby Lee's seductive groove Don't Hurt Me is a top-drawer number - soon followed by her very own CD. What a taster for now, though!!! Audrey Wheeler's modern You Got The Best Of Me carries on the quality work that he persued on her I'm Yours Tonight CD back in 1991 - tempo slow, a soulful melody and catchy hook will soon win you over. An old Lowdown friend is Claytoven who delivers another delight with the midtempo Caught In The Act sounding very much like the early '90s Orpheous / Hush Productions material. Three songs come from the excellent Ron Hollins with Badwater Bridge and none of these older gems will disappoint either.
Another winning compilation.

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