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Soul Express Album of the Month in July 2008

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Self Portrait
US Stax/Concord, 2008

1) Let Go 2) Breath 3) On Your Own 4) For Always 5) That Was Then 6) Learning To Swim 7) 1 Mile 8) Little Girl 9) What Goes Around 10) Naked Truth 11) Udo 12) Tragic Inevitability

SUPERB! One of THE albums of 2008 and worthy of the coveted 'Album Of The Month' places for Soul Express in 2008. And there's a LOT of healthy competition out there too...This set appears on the revamped Stax imprint, and I'm not too sure what to make of the revamping of Stax BUT it's nice to see it back and it would be great if someone with an ounce of intelligence did the same with Motown and Philadelphia International too. Timeless music, timeless labels. Come on, let's have a new lease of soulful life Messrs Gordy and Gamble & Huff! LOL.

For me, this is the best release from the new Stax to date - though what I hear of Leon Ware's "Moon Ride" is equally wonderful. “Self Portrait” is a consistent listen from a mature woman for the mature listener. No street positioning and mack diva nonsense with this, thank you very much. The single release has certainly caused a real buzz in the UK, and a very wholesome, chunky song it is too. A modern number, yes, but with plenty of old-school sensibility a la The Gap Band's "Outstanding" to boot. The percussion, slap bass, horns and keys all add layers to it and allow it to stand out from the crowd. If this song has already pricked your ears up then you will simply love the album.

"Self Portrait" flows along beautifully and smoothly, but for my money probably needs to contrast a little more for my particular fancy, as Eric Benét has done on his spectacular "Love And Life" set which is dropping on September 9th. An album of the month if ever I heard one! Nevertheless, this CD a SOLID and soul-satisfying listen. Take “Breath” for instance. The airy feel, gentle rhythm and acoustic feel is perfect for another warm day like today, and if this is your bag – as it is mine – then you will be impressed. I really am impressed with the 70s Isleys feeling of “On Your Own” as well - again a warm weather recording. This will, I am sure, be a top tune of many Quality Time devotees in 2008. This is classy adult music, no more no less. Songwriting like this is not surprising when we look at the credits to see that Rex Rideout and Rahsaan Patterson are responsible! Pure class.

The song “For Always” is a similar groove as the single release, but the dreamy “That Was Then” takes precedence without doubt. The sensual, deep nature of Lalah Hathaway as a singer really comes to the fore on a number like this, and I feel that the likes of Rideout and co-writer Sandra St. Victor are well placed to showcase this for the beautiful, sexy Lady. The brilliant Marcus Miller is unmistakable on bass (check out his new CD, too!) on the Lalah Hathaway produced and written KILLER “Learning To Swim”. This, musically, is a delightful mix of quiet storm soul and jazz and has an appeal to those who may – as I do – love the works of Joni Mitchell. Lyrically and musically strong, I feel that this is a hands-down winner. The guitar work is extremely captivating too, and if widely and openly played would attract her greater fandom from outside the R&B scene. No bad thing at all in my humble opinion.

The cut “1 Mile” is a bit too contemporary for me, but isn't crass. Instead I prefer the Rideout / Patterson / Victor number “Little Girl”, which again works on everything best about this sexy young Woman. For a drop-dead slice of jazzy soul check out “What Goes Around” which is perfectly paced and so suitable for her unique style. Intelligent lyrics, too. The only let-down for me personally is that there is no “If U Ever” of “Boston” on here - those being so wonderful and powerful to me i cannot express the words adequately - BUT the album flows and is, as a result, more consistent than anything that has preceded. Unmissable real grown-up soul for 2008 and perfect for your "quality time" with that special person. Enjoy.
- Barry Towler

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