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Soul Express Album Review

Retro Blackness

US Morning Crew, 2006
1. Love Like No Other 2. Do You Know 3. Old School 4. Loving My People 5. Healing 6. Down Hill 7. My Blackness 8. As If 9. Soul Murder 10. Thought I Knew You 11. Ghetto People 12. Woman Of Color (restated) (with THE WHISPERS)

Gary Taylor has never let me down. To me he is the epitome of the "thinking man's" soul singer. In an ever-increasing world where marketing and target groups merge with what I call the globalization effect where music, games, video and film are being molded together there is little or no scope for quality artists to express themselves exactly how they feel fit. In other words, there is no room for individuality and uniqueness.

Gary Taylor was well ahead of this game when he realized that he and major label thinking were not compatible. Thankfully this was the making of Gary Taylor and through his own efforts he gives us exactly what he wants us to have. As it happens it is exactly the sort of material I want to hear. Furthermore I feel that "Retro Blackness" is a defining moment in Gary's career. Gary has always addressed issues of love and relationship, and rightly so, and he takes this theme of love to another level, and also a lot deeper. Love for his people, for his culture and his hopes and fears are all here. It is a piece of powerful music, strong, positive music all wrapped up in that unique blend of haunting, erotic, soulful sound that we all love. I can’t really pick out a favourite song. Just put it in the CD player and press play. This album deserves massive airplay and recognition. For me it is a timely release, and serves as an evaluation for all who wisely invest their time listening to it. I get the impression, through Gary’s music and this CD in particular that he is a very serious, intelligent and very deep man. Gary himself admits that he can be ‘opinionated’, and this CD lets him do that in a very poignant way. Many out there – especially in the rap community – comment on Social issues as they see them, but none so deep, relevant or pertinent as Gary. The Family is a very important institution, and although lots has been written about this, I have not heard anyone really talk about the love relationship the way it is spoken about in the first track "Love Like No Other". Love, as they say, "is a many splendored thing", and Gary pinpoints the different love from his parents, his children and the love returned from himself to them in turn.

"Do You Know" is a real goose-bump maker; an exercise in ethereal beauty. This sumptuous song is followed by a real gem called "Old School". This song focuses on the man / woman love relationship, reminding us of the days when R&B was more discreet and poetic about the act of love, unlike many of today’s discourses of graphic crassness. Community pride is another important issue tackled in the funkier "Loving My People". It is a real celebration of family and community life. There is such a pride revealed in this song, and if only more took this sentiment to heart then the world around us would be a much better place.

I absolutely adore the haunting synths that Gary utilizes here, and hope that he uses them more in the future. In "Healing" Gary speaks of a lonely man: "Life is not supposed to be this way" he sings, and in it he is tired of his "cold and broken heart"; "love is not a foolish game we play". This type of sensitivity explores one man’s pain in relation to the world. Love is important and needs to be handled with care. A song that gives me chills is the beautiful "Down Hill", complete with THOSE wonderful sounds that he deployed on his "Take Control" set from 1990. Oh, I love this song…so beautiful. Love is chance we take, and what Gary is saying is for us to trust and ‘let go’. I feel that this is a leap of faith. It is an encouraging song for the individual and sung by a man who knows his own mind, emotions, and more importantly his own heart. "My Blackness" celebrates being black. This is something that we don’t really hear about any more – not in any positive way anyway. Gary is totally at ease with himself, his family, community and his heritage. What a very lucky man he is. I feel that the CD is a beautiful statement of total confidence and oneness, and he holds his mind out to those in "Ghetto People". Those who "float on their own" and hope that the streets will "occupy their mind". It is hard-hitting and follows on from the sentiments that past masters such as Curtis Mayfield, and Gamble & Huff had espoused.

"As If" is another song that really hits the spot and deals with the warmest of love. Infidelity is also tackled in an intelligent way on the somber and dark yet haunting "Soul Murder". Gary sings of "ordinary in extraordinary pain looking for answers that give meaning to their names" who look for their soul mates in "garbage cans". I love how this man thinks. "Retro Blackness" is such a beautiful record with intelligent lyrics. Every song on here has a rich musical tapestry interwoven amongst the words of truth and wisdom that Gary sings. The melodies, instrumentation and sheer synchronicity of emotion with purpose and direction is really awesome. This is not simply just another Gary Taylor album – and if it was it would still be essential – it is a landmark recording for the man, and an album which needs to be widely heard to encourage free thinking more than anything else. It is emotional, it is thoughtful, it has passion and pain. It is outstanding. One of the best albums of 2006, pure and simple. -Barry Towler

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