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Soul Express Album Review

Heart & Soul (Nexus)

US Comin' At Cha Records, 2004
My Soul - Help Us - This Is My Story - Free - Trust Him - My Brother - My Soul (Reprise) - Radio / Video - Prayin' Man - Brown Eyes - Personality - Song For You - Comfort & Peace - Always - CP PC (Reprise) - So Beautiful

This is one of my albums of the moment. I simply love this gentleman's voice, his arrangements and the stories that Parkes tells within these songs. I have long admired the work of this man; first coming to my attention as vocal arranger with the mighty Commissioned, offering us some KILLER songs such as my favourite, "Hold Me". Normally a voice like this would annoy me before too long. Other similar voices come into the "whiny" category and I think there are two reasons why I love Parkes so. Firstly it has to be his vocal acrobatics which have a lilting, 'sing-song' temperament which I think really suit his lyrics. Secondly, we cannot really divorce his lead vocals from his breathtaking and unique backing vocal arrangements which are gripping and very haunting. Parkes knows exactly what buttons to press to get my old spine tingling - and he manages this on numerous songs on "Heart & Soul".

Few tracks actually do not impress me, and it is also worth pointing out that this is not a wholly Gospel outing as some would possibly expect. Parkes touches on his ministry and tempers this with gorgeous love ballads, songs of a more physical devotion we could say, and songs addressing social commentary. Certainly, and unarguably, "Heart & Soul" is from the heart - indeed the nexus - of the man and what a basis to start a CD!

I will start off with the excellent Commissioned-like "My Soul" which is a full blooded plea to Black America to get real and get back on track, citing Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Parkes sings that "somewhere along the line we lost the dignity, got a hate mentality..." and that his "soul cries out". Mine too, mate, and let's hope everyone sits up and listens to you. Here we have a socially conscious tune that gets right to the heart of the matter without expletives and innuendo. Excellent, especially with nods to Donny Hathaway "The Ghetto" and Stevie Wonder's "These Three Words".

Following this is a superb stepper called "Help Us" which is a timely continuation from the theme of track one. I hear echoes of Marvin's "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" in the pleading backing vocals. This theme stops with the luscious, rich and essential ballad "This Is My Story" which was, incidentally, one of the first real 'grabbers' on here for me. Real instruments, real singing and simply dripping class I cannot recommend this song enough; for believers and heathens like me alike!

The track that really and seriously goes straight to my heart is the ESSENTIAL "Trust Him" which is simply awesome. I cannot hear this song without coming over all emotional. This is straight of the classic Commissioned period and I doubt that I have been affected by a song in such a way for a very long time - certainly since Larry Gold / Bunny Sigler and Bacharach / Isley from last year. The acoustic melody accompanied by the piano, synth and haunting vocal arrangements are so unique to this man. I was instantly transported to "I Really Love The Lord / Hold Me" and "I Am Here" and this makes me rejoice in the fact that someone out there is still making music out there so beautiful that it can elevate my soul more than a few grades higher. Enough said.

Marvin is echoed again on the socially conscious "My Brother" and is notable for the heavenly choir vocals that Parkes adopts. Amazing. "Praying Man" is a very touching and warm song that echoes Babyface to a greater degree and is just a lovely, lovely song. Do not miss this.

Another KILLER is the ballad "Brown Eyes" which I heard on Manchester's Jazz FM some time ago. Vocally, the man see-saws and whirls his tones along vocal slipstreams that are straight from the heart. Such a great song; I certainly cannot stop playing this on repeat and I know that many readers will love this too. The first real midtempo stepper that I was impressed with can be discovered at the tail end of the album. "Personality" is a chunky, loping bass rumbler that is completely secular but with Gospel influenced backings.

If you fancy another KILLER then look no further than "Song For You". I was chilled to the bone by this beautiful record and it reminded me, musically, of the real quality soul material from the mid 1990s. Talking of the 1990s, I would say that lovers of this period would love "Comfort And Peace" also as well as the luxurious Boyz II Men / Babyface orientated stylish ballad "Always". I could hear this being a big hit on US Adult R&B radio. I hope it is, along with the Mario Winans (Motown era!) orientated "So Beautiful".

I think "So Beautiful" aptly sums up this CD, I really do. This is yet another "no risk disc" and a dead cert to be in my quality time 2004 listings. ESSENTIAL. -Barry Towler

Albums of the Month in 2003
Albums of the Month in 2002
Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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