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Soul Express Album of the Month in August 2008

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Reflections of Soul
US Modeste Records, 2007

1) I Wanna Get Close to You 2) I Can't Believe 3) And I Love You 4) The Love I Let Slip Away 5) Since the Day I Met You 6) Never Give You Up 7) Just Because '8) This Time It's Real 9) What She Don't Know 10) You're Gonna Miss Me

Leonard Julien III is one of the most acclaimed newcomers of the soul scene in recent years, and you only have to listen to this album once to realise why!

Admittedly, the production on the album is quite typical indie production with not-so-glorious sounds, while one person, Daryl Smith, is responsible for all instruments except bass (Thomas Dunn) and saxophone – which is played by Leonard himself! Leonard plays soprano, alto and tenor sax on the CD, and he has contributed to other artists' recordings as a sax player as well, so he is no novice in this respect, either.

Still, the main course on this album is Leonard's singing, which is really stunning. I was amused to note that he was described on Soultracks as a "silky smooth singer", while Leonard really has an amazing vocal range and a truly gravelly voice that has already been compared to David Ruffin, Sam Cooke, Tyrone Davis or, of the more modern singers, to Gene Rice, Keith Washington and Rodney Mannsfield. Personally, I got a feeling that I was listening to the 70s and early 80s soul singers who were following the footsteps of Teddy Pendergrass, like David Simmons, Lew Kirton, Randy Brown etc. – but anyway you get the picture of what calibre of a soul throat we are talking about!

The music on the album is practically an all-ballad set of sax-laced modern soul ballad material. All the songs are new and written by Leonard together with his producer Daryl Smith and bassist Thomas Dunn, except the 1968 Jerry Butler hit Never Give You Up, which was written by Jerry and Gamble & Huff. Leonard's version is a great demonstration of his vocal skills, but I still prefer the original material on the album.

The grittiest vocal performances can be heard on the second half of the album, when Leonard interprets tracks like Just Because, This Time It's Real and What She Don't Know. On the closing track You're Gonna Miss Me Leonard deliberatly sings in a Sam Cooke style, and also the composition sounds like an old-time classic, although it's a new and original song.

In Leonards's biography there is a mention that he received a phone call from Otis Williams of the Temptations, asking Leonard to sing David Ruffin's parts on the NBC Mini-Series of The Temptations. However, the Leon who performs in the film is a different person than Leonard Julien. Anyway, anyone that Otis Williams asks to sing over Ruffin's parts can't be a bad singer, can he?

- Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

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