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Soul Express Album of the Month - January-March 2016

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MIKI HOWARD: Live in Concert - I Choose to Be Happy

(US Slimstyle CD, 2015)

1) Ain't Nobody Like You 2) Georgy Porgy 3) Soon I'll Be Loving You 4) Love Won't Let Me Wait 5) This Bitter Earth 6) Blues In G 7) Beer For Breakfast 8) Until You Come Back To Me 9) Come Share My Love 10) My Man 11) Pillow Talk 12) Days Of Wine 13) Try A Little Tenderness 14) Panther

Before hearing Terisa Griffin's fabulous Revival of Soul CD late last December, this live set by Miki Howard was my favourite album of 2015. To be honest, I've never been a great fan of live albums of soul music, but there are some great exceptions, and this is definitely one of them. Miki is backed here by an extremely solid band including funky bass (Chris Golden), saxophone (Schelia Gonzalez, trumpet (Jeff Jarvis), drums (Forest Robertson), violin (Emily More), and keyboards by band leader Noriko Oliling), and the tasty playing by these musicians inspire Miki to deliver very powerful and colourful readings of many of the highlights of her long musical career.

Miki opens the show with her # 1 soul hit from 1992, Ain't Nobody Like You, but otherwise the selection of songs is not based on her biggest hits, instead she has decided to play a lot of jazzy and even bluesy songs, plus some delicious versions of some well-known soul classics. Starting the old songs from the 70s, Miki performs a superb version of the Toto / David Paich song Georgy Porgy, which she originally recorded in 1980 when she was the lead singer of Side Effect. The violin solo in the middle of the song makes this version quite unique, and the meaty bass lays a wonderful backdrop.

Another throughly enjoyable version is Miki's interpretation of the Sylvia Robinson hit Pillow Talk, which was the title track of Miki's all-cover album on Shanachie in 2006. Here she takes the tune into a swaying jazz mood and imitates trumpet playing with her scatting along with Jeff Jarvis' real trumpet solo at the end of the song. Miki is really equally at home performing jazz, soul or blues. Noriko Oiling plays the breezy keyboard solo.

Surprisingly, she has also chosen two songs form her rare 2008 indie album Private Collection): the funky Beer for Breakfast (self-written by Miki together with Chuckii Booker) and the atmoshperic reading of the jazz standard (Henri Mancini - Johnny Mercer) Days of Wine and Roses, again with violin and trumpet colouring the backing.

The only track that seems to be completely out of place on this album is the closing track Panther, a modern R&B attack using also completely other musicians, so I guess it was never a part of the same concert as the rest of the album.

In the early June this year, a film based on the biography of Miki Howard, titled "Love Under New Management - The Miki Howard Story" was published - hopefully there will be a DVD version available soon!

Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

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