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Soul Express Album Review


RONNIE McNEIR
Ronnie Mac & Co
UK Soulchoonz, 2007
1) What Goes Around 2) Look at All the People 3) I Love You 4) I'm in the Mood 5) Summertime Medley II 6) Ain't It Good To Know You've Got a Friend 7) Song for My Brothers 8) I Need You Around 9) Funkin In Las Vegas 10) I Really Need Your Help Father (My Personal Testimony) 11) Down in the Neighborhood 12) Tell It Like It Is 13) Don't Feel That Way Today 14) Such a Shame People Have to Live This Way 15) Bonus Track: Angel In My Life

This is, for this scribe at any rate, the best and most consistent album Ronnie McNeir has ever produced. It has been 10 years since “Down In The Neighbourood”, so it is with immense pleasure that I have soaked up this album over the past few weeks. Ronnie is one of the greatest unrecognised talents of our time. This album lays any reservations to bed on that score. Joining Ronnie on this set are Kirk Whalum and the Ridgeway Sisters amongst others, adding extra spice. I would rather have seen this album titled “the many facets of Ronnie McNeir”as the master weaves a colourful blanket of sounds from jazz, quiet storm soul, funk to urban contemporary. Ronnie covers all aspects of life and love here, and shows that he is more than socially conscious – he is completely and utterly socially awake.

The proficiency of his observations set to music is a damning indictment of the way many live toady. From this I see that Ronnie not only has a big heart, he cares enough to try and do something about it. Its also an unashamedly personal album about himself, warts and all. Amongst the topics on display here, Ronnie tackles how he feels about losing his father, eldest child and his “big brother”, Four Top Renaldo “Obie” Benson, whom he co-wrote songs with for years. If anyone pays a tribute to me one tenth of what Ronnie does to Ronaldo on “Angel In My Life”, then my life would not have been in vein.

So is this not what soul music should be about? Life, love, pain, happiness, regret and sorrow. It is also about hope and having a damn good time. Ronnie apportions all of life's textures within this soulful blanket and does nought but receive total commendation and praise from me. This is an album that I can put on and leave on and, on more than one instance, hit the repeat button. I had eagerly been awaiting this from last Summer when I heard “Tell It Like It Is” on the radio. This is an immediate attention grabber, as was “All Over My Face” which, sadly, does not appear on this album.

“What Goes Around” is the first song to greet you and if you are not won over instantly then there is definitely something wrong with your soul! Ronnie is right in the 2007 quality groove from the first instant; he hits the ground running and simply does not stop. From this excellent track we find ourselves in pure jazzy and slinky territory with “Look at All the People”. This is a tune that you would expect Al Jarreau to excel at. In fact, one could possibly see where Mr. Jarreau got some of his influence. “I Love You” is a warm, bassy number that sashays along to some tinkling piano and finger clicks. This song is simply excellent.

“I'm in the Mood” sounds a little older – perhaps one of the earliest recordings on this set – and is a funky, brassy effort that, again, Al Jarreau would do well to perform. Updated for 2007 is “Summer Medley”. I loved the introduction on the original version BUT after that I fear I lost the song completely, but this version is a real cracker. All that's missing is the summertime. Honestly, it's the end of June here and we have our heating on at night. Can you believe that? Anyway, “Ain't It Good To Know You've Got a Friend” should warm the cockles. Musically it reminds me of a cross between Betty Wright's 90s material and Michael Sutton's “Hopeless Romantic”. Vocalist Kathy Lamar also appears alongside Ronnie on this.

Ronnie hits a sultry Afro-Cuban note with the semi-instrumental effort “Song For My Brothers”. This is a cheeky little number with a definite tongue-in-cheek approach. “I Need You Around” finds Ronnie in the romantic groove again, his voice smoother than a bar of galaxy on a silk sheet, but is completely juxtaposed by the chunky, funky and self-indulgent “Funkin' In Las Vegas”. This sassy number does nothing but add more texture to the album. Fans of ex-Temptation Theo Peoples will be happy to know that he has a new album on the way, and a taster for this is this toothsome delight as he supplies his raw, powerful and gritty vocals as emphasis to the SUPERB personal reflection of “I Really Need Your Help Father (My Personal Testimony)”. This is such a strong track anyway, but Theo's gutsy, ripping performance takes an already excellent track to a higher level.

Ronnie co-wrote “Down In The Neighbourhood” along with Renaldo Benson over 10 years ago, and this song is revisited here. The song is bleak about what is happening in the communities out there. Ronnie McNeir is literally telling like it is. There is no bravado, no revelling in the fact that guns are commonplace, that children die for no good reason that because they wear the wrong colour in the wrong street. “Don't Feel That Way” and “Such A Shame People Have To Live This Way” are also poignant tracks that amount to a lot more than navel gazing. The man has been pointing out for years about what is wrong in society – the world - for years. Is anybody listening? Obviously not anyone who like to think they are in power.

The scene stealer is the essential “Tell It Like It Is”. By the end of first hearing this song on radio I was scrabbling around the internet hoping to find it on CD! Well, you can download this album from Ronnie's web page www.ronniemcneir.com or visit www.soulchoonz.com for further information. Whatever you do do not overlook this album.
- Barry Towler

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