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CARLTON JUMEL SMITH – A “TIMMION MIRACLE”

On the back cover of his latest album Carlton Jumel Smith has a serious look.  Carlton: “The look on my face is because I want to let everybody know that I mean business.  I’m serious.  It’s taken me a long time to get an album out, but I’m finally here with a record I am very proud of.”  In my feature on Carlton last year (https://www.soulexpress.net/carltonjsmith_interview.htm) he said that “I was raised in Spanish, Harlem --- and that’s why I named my upcoming album 1634 Lexington Avenue, because that’s where it all began for me.”  The release date of 1634 Lexington Avenue (TRCD/LP-12006) is May the 10th in 2019 and it was recorded, mixed and mastered at Timmion Records in Helsinki, Finland (https://timmion.com).

All ten songs were written and produced by Carlton and Cold Diamond & Mink.  “The three guys – Seppo Salmi, Sami Kantelinen and Jukka Sarapää – would send me a track and I would write the melody and lyrics to it that night.  I would record it on my computer and send it back the next day.  They would say ‘we love it, come and let’s record it’, and I would come back and record it.  That’s pretty much how it went, back and forth just like the glory days of Motown and Stax.  We would work out any additional stuff right there in the studio... the cats would get back on their instruments and we would recut whatever needed to be worked out.  No pro tools, just straight up one and two takes.”

On the set Seppo plays guitar, organ and tambourine, Sami is on bass and Jukka on drums.  In the horn section Jukka Eskola plays trumpet – he also did the horn arrangements – Jimi Tenor self-evidently plays tenor and Pope Puolitaival baritone sax.  For the full line-up, add still Janne Auvinen on congas and Tuomo Prättälä on organ, piano and background vocals.  Carlton’s local manager, Kirsi Rouhiainen, remembers that “the first week it took maybe three days and the second time maybe a couple of days.  It was completed in a very short time.”  Carlton: “After those two weeks of sessions, they added the horns and the rest afterwards.”

This album will be distributed on an international level by Daptone, the recording home of the late Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley and of the current acts the Budos Band and Menahan Street Band, among others.  “Daptone appreciates the music that Timmion puts out, because it has the same spirit with their output, so that’s a musical match made in heaven.”

WOMAN YOU MADE ME

The opening track, Woman You Made Me, is a driving dancer with a busy beat and features horn-heavy and skilful backing.  “The title was given to me by Jukka, the label owner.  Then he sent me the track and I began to sing it over the track.  When I say those title words or ‘all that I am or all that I ever hope to be’, I owe it to my mother.  That’s how I feel.  Women really helped to shape us as men and that’s my tribute to them.”

Love Our Love Affair is a more relaxed and slightly jazzy downtempo number.  “It’s smooth.  ‘This dating I’m doing with you is going to lead into something great.  I’m so tired of running around, sneaking all over the town.  All I want is something real and true and I believe that’s you.’  Every woman wants to hear what I wrote in those lyrics.”

Remember Me is a mellow mid-tempo song with a hurried beat and energetic, powerful vocalizing from Carlton.  “In New York I usually do this song with a girl.  She sings the first part and I sing the second half.  She’s a phenomenal singer.  Her name is Irene Blackman.  Her father is Don Blackman.  He recorded some great albums in the 70s.  Irene and I are going to do a lot of work together, so when I go back to New York I want to re-record that song as a duet, give it to these guys here and hope they’re going to put it on the flip side or on the next album as a bonus track.  This sounds very different with two people singing it.  I enjoy this song so much and Tuomo Prättälä put some extra smooth background vocals on the recording.  That guy is a major talent.”

Carlton Jumel Smith and Heikki Suosalo (photo by Marjo Parjanen)

“IT’S GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE”

The fourth song, Help Me (Save Me from Myself), is slow and melancholy.  In the vamp Carlton repeatedly sings a phrase made familiar by the Royalettes in 1965 and Deniece Williams in 1982 - it’s gonna take a miracle.  “They sent me the track on my birthday in 2017 and I just sat down and wrote something right away to it.  I opened up saying ‘it’s gonna take a miracle’, and they really liked that.  The song is about how sometimes we have to be rescued from ourselves, because we do things that are clearly not in our best interest.”

An atmospheric ballad titled Ain’t That Love? finds Carlton in a most romantic mood.  “Affirmation, perpetuity and eternity; every woman wants to know that it’s affirmed that I want to love you forever, just on and on until eternity.”

THIS IS WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE!

The opening track on the B-side of the vinyl version of the album, This Is What Love Looks Like, is a mid-tempo, catchy number and it’s also the current single release.  “I have all of my father’s love letters to my mother.  He would write her all the time.  Even when he was around the house, he would write a little note and put the date on it.  His letters and notes were just so beautiful: ‘my darling dear, as I lay here looking up the sky I think of the loveliness of you, and I long for your tender embrace.  The last night was so good, and I felt so...’  Then I looked at the date – oh shit, that’s me!  I counted nine months... here we go.  I’m here!  Who has the love letter of their conception?”

“We’re already recording songs for the next album, which I’m going to call Corrine.  I’m going to name it after my mother.  There’s a song I wrote for one of the tracks called The Loveliness of You.  It was in one of my father’s letters.  It’s a beautiful song.”

If you purchase this album in a CD format, the track # 7 is titled You Gonna Need Me.  It kicks off like a song from a Motown catalogue until this bittersweet number settles down into a mid-tempo rolling mover.  “My mother would always say ‘be careful what you say going out, because you have to come back through the same door.’  The basic of the story is don’t burn the bridge.”

I’d Better is a mid-tempo floater co-written by Lawrence Taylor Worrell, and the song was first released on Soulchoonz Records in the U.S. in 2007 (see last year’s feature above).  “I played the song to the guys in the studio and they liked it, so we redid it.  They rearranged it and made it more like our own.”

Carlton Jumel Smith live at Kouvola, March 2019 (photo by Marjo Parjanen)

I CAN’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE

We’re All We Got is a quick-tempo dancer.  “...like Curtis Mayfield’s Move on up.  It’s a song about unity.  This is one of the first tracks they gave me, and living in Trump America... I had to write something like this.  He has unleashed an ugliness that was once well hidden, so in a sense it’s good that it’s out in the open now.  The better for us to rise above it.”  The concluding song, I Can’t Love You Anymore, is the first single that was released already in early 2018 and here it features a very Curtis Mayfield sounding Pratt, aka Tuomo Prättälä.

1634 Lexington Avenue takes a few listens before it really sinks in, but - once it hits you – you keep coming back to it.  Also one can’t help noticing that throughout the whole album Carlton sings at full voice – “I have these outbursts of soul!” - and avoids nuances and softer bedroom sound.  “On the next album there’s a lot more of that softer bedroom sound but you can expect a few ‘outbursts’.  On this album I wanted to be heard, to show that I mean every single word that I wrote, and sometimes the only way to get people’s attention is to yell.

A year ago we also discussed Carlton’s upcoming book.  “All that Matters is the Music, that’s the name of it.  I’m about three chapters away.  I need to complete it, work with the editor and present it to some publishing companies.  It’ll be out by the end of this year or the beginning of next year.”

“My other future plans are first to get a perfect band, which I believe I’ve found in a Finnish band called the Funky Sound Foundation, but I’ve rechristened them the Soul Voyage, because they help me to take listeners and audience members on a soulful voyage through music.  They’re incredibly tight and professional and they dress very well!  It’s an honour sharing a stage with them.  ‘Love and blessings for us all.’”

(Interview conducted in Kouvola the 6th of March, 2019; acknowledgements to Kirsi Rouhiainen).

© Heikki Suosalo


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