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Soul Express Album of the Month - July 2006

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James Day Better Days
(UK Expansion, 2006)
1. Remember When (Intro) 2. Better Days 3. Don't Waste The Pretty 4. She's Not The Girl 5. Love's Taking Over 6. One Good Thing 7. Brick By Brick 8. Can't Argue Like This 9. Remember When 10. Will You Still Believe 11. Better Days (Steppers Mix) 12. Don't Waste The Pretty (Bonus Mix)

James Day is a songwriter, arranger and producer, who released a brilliant four-track compilation EP Remember When in 2005. It contained four tracks of modern quality soul, and this album continues in the same manner, being the strongest contender for the album of the year at this moment.

The original EP contained one track sung by Audrey Wheeler, one by Jeff Ramsey and two by Mikelyn Roderick. Audrey Wheeler is Mrs. Will Downing, but she was of course also a recording artist and a well-known backing singer before marrying Will. As a solo artists, she has released two albums, her debut Let It Be Me on Capitol (1987), and the follow-up four years later, I'm Yours Tonight. The debut set was a rather mediocre effort, including two above-average tracks, titled Irresistible and Love on the Inside. The second LP was slightly better, including four classy tracks, the peak being the opening track of the album, If You Need Someone. In the same year 1991, Audrey also performed a glorious duet with Omar Chandler, the old Brainstorm song This Must Be Heaven. Earlier Audrey had also been featured as the lead vocalist on the Unlimited Touch hit Searching to Find One (1981) and on Jeff Lorber's Step by Step (1985).

Audrey was already pretty convincing on the previous mentioned tracks, but today she sounds better than ever, having a really strong soprano voice that she uses in a very soulful way. The pre-release EP contained the excellent melodious mid-swayer Brick by Brick (our Quality Time top 50 of 2005 pick), and the new title track, the sax-drenched mover Better Days is arguably even better. The third track with Audrey on lead vocals is She's Not the Girl. The same song was featured in the pre-release EP, but then it was sung by Mica Paris-sounding Mikelyn Roderick, formerly one of the members of the group By All Means. The tune is a first-class soul ballad, and Audrey's version is as spirited as Mikelyn's version. Hopefully there will be a whole album later both by Audrey and Mikelyn.

Don't Waste the Pretty is the track that has caused most the stir in the U.K., and it is sung by masculine voiced Jeff Ramsey (in the picture left), stylistically not far from James Ingram. The song is a tuneful mid-tempo handclapper that is also highlighted by a jazzy keyboard solo.

Another cut sung by Jeff is Can't Argue Like This, on which Jeff also sounds superbly soulful while duetting with Lorenda Robinson this mellow mid-pacer.

Remember When, the title track of the pre-release EP, was originally sung by Mikelyn Roderick, but here she is replaced with Catherine Russell, and the tune sounds like a regular Stevie Wonder ballad, especially as it features a harmonica solo (by Gary Schreiner). Russell continues as a lead vocalist also on the next track Will You Still Believe, another neat mid-tempo ballad. Russell has released a solo album last April, entitled Cat (on World Village label). The album contains jazzy blues.

Love's Taking Over reminds me of Shalamar's catchy uptempo tunes, with vocalist DQuest having a voice close to Howard Hewett. Jill Zadeh (in the picture right) is the bright soprano voice on the serene beat ballad One Good Thing. Jill was also featured on Ian Martin's splendid debut set One and its follow-up CD The Way, our album of the month in November 2005.

This CD closes with two unnecessary remixes, but there are no duds at all, and this CD is an essential purchase to all soul devotees.
-Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

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